The Star Eagle Adventures: QD3 - Uncertainty Principle

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by CeJay, Sep 12, 2021.

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    [​IMG]

    The Star Eagle Adventures
    Quantum Divergence - Book III
    Uncertainty Principle



    Previously in Quantum Divergence: Book I – False Vacuum and Book II – State of Entanglement


    The starship Eagle is rerouted from an eagerly anticipated deep-space exploratory mission to a colony world of the xenophobic Krellon Star Alliance, suffering from a devastating medical emergency.

    But before they even reach the borders of that isolated empire just beyond the globular stellar cluster of the Amargosa Diaspora, Michael Owens is briefed by Starfleet’s secretive Department of Special Affairs, formerly run by his recently deceased father and now under the command of Jarik, Michael’s old Academy roommate.

    Jarik, working with Captain Amaya Donners, warns Michael of an impending threat to the entire Federation originating from within subspace and facilitated by powers within the Star Alliance.

    After uncovering a connection between Garla, a Krellonian Sentinel, and a mysterious race of subspace aliens, and with the help of Bensu, Eagle’s enigmatic bartender, the ship comes across the Ring, a massive megastructure hidden deep inside a subspace pocket.

    The ship is sucked into a vortex only to remerge in another universe where the surprised crew comes across familiar faces, including former first officer Eugene Edison, now in command of his version of Eagle and Amaya Donners and the Agamemnon.

    With both Jarik and Admiral Jon Owens on board, the latter having faked his own death, the crew navigates across this familiar yet strange reality to learn more about the subspace aliens and the threat they pose.

    Managing to work with a reluctant Garla, they are able to make contact with the aliens to learn of the Beholder, another piece of a puzzle that is only slowly falling into place.

    Forced to watch helplessly as the Ring wipes out the universe, Eagle barely escapes the same fate by traveling deeper into the quantum-verse and discovering an entirely different reality.

    Here they must face a much more ambitious Krellonian Star Alliance, along with a Federation divided by civil war.

    While Michael Owens embarks on a mission to rescue his abducted father, an away team to the Ring makes contact with Gary Seven, an agent of an interdimensional agency, who enlist the away team to assist in stopping the subspace aliens.

    After Jarik turns traitor, and with the assistance of a disillusioned Amaya Donners, Eagle manages to return to the Ring, only to once again realize that their efforts were seemingly in vain, as another reality begins to crumble around them.



    Prologue: Set the World on Fire

    1

    DZ -75

    It was an unseasonably warm spring evening in the city of Quagum when Themysa found him at his home, sitting just outside his house and enjoying a glass of fermented rice wine as had been his wont as of late.

    Although he was at least twenty cycles her senior, they had formed a close friendship ever since he had been her tutor in civics and political study at the university. It had begun, like many of those things do, as a romantic relationship, with her being attracted to his intellect and he had been smitten with her energy and enthusiasm.

    But they had both quickly learned that those initial feelings were borne out of passion rather than genuine affection and they had decided to remain friends rather than to carry on with a relationship that was destined to fizzle out and fail.

    He had remained her mentor and confidant even after she had left school to pursue a career in politics. It had helped that he too had moved back into that field, quickly rising to the highest levels of the planetary government.

    They’ve had their disagreements over the years, they certainly didn’t see eye to eye on several important issues, but she had been more than a little surprised to hear about his most recent vote in an assembly session just a couple of days earlier.

    “I had not taken you, of all people, as a sleever,” she said even as she approached him sitting on the porch of his rather modest single-story home located in one of the more affluent parts of the city.

    He afforded her with one of his beaming smiles that she had found so irresistible in her younger days when she had spent countless hours in his company speaking with him about anything and everything, from her childhood spent in the hill country, to her upbringing in the city and her dreams of becoming an assemblywoman someday. He’d had an almost uncanny ability to listen to her speak, oftentimes hearing things she hadn’t even said, always with that inspiring smile decorating his lips and never really noticing until much later that while she routinely bared her soul to him, he never once talked about his own past.

    “I don’t believe that is the preferred term,” he said to her as he had another sip of his wine with one hand, and gently stroked his white and bony protrusions that ran lengthwise down his bald, dark-skinned head in neat rows all the way to the back of his neck. Then he raised the bottle as if to offer her a drink.

    She shook her head. “I don’t care what they call themselves. But the idea of simply shrugging off your body to replace it with an artificial shell when it no longer suits you just feels unnatural. Our resources would have been so much better spent on more worthwhile pursuits, such as the space program.”

    He looked past her and toward the city behind her. Although his home was modest, the location he had chosen for it most certainly was not. Positioned on top of one of the taller hills, it afforded a splendid view of the metropolis, currently lit up in bright colors. “If you were to ask our forefathers about vehicles driving themselves or robots carrying out menial tasks to make our lives easier, things we take so much for granted now, I am certain there would have been some among them who would have considered such innovations unnatural as well.”

    “I’m sure you’re right,” she said calmly. She had long since moved past her early habits of arguing her points with a great passion, having learned to temper herself with rationality instead. A lesson he had taught her. “Perhaps the problem is that the Assembly is composed of old men and women, scared of the prospect of dying of old age and desperate to cling to any hope to artificially prolong their lives. Perhaps what the Assembly requires is an infusion of youth and vision.”

    At that, he smiled good-naturedly at her. “That, my dear, I do not doubt at all.”



    DZ -49


    “I cannot believe you did that.”

    Themysa was thoroughly astounded when she had found him sitting by himself at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, the leftovers of his recent meal mostly forgotten in favor of a half-emptied bottle of spiced rice wine.

    But it wasn’t that he had ordered an entire bottle for himself that had her so completely flabbergasted, it was the fact that he possessed only a passing resemblance to the man she had known for almost her entire adult life. He looked like himself, except years younger, as if he was the son she knew he had never had.

    Most disturbingly perhaps, he now looked younger than she did.

    “Was it true after all? You just wanted to live forever?” she said as she wiped the sweat off her brow.

    He looked up at her briefly without paying her much attention. “This isn’t a good time.”

    “You’ve been avoiding me for the last ten cycles, I’ve barely seen you more than a handful of occasions during all that time, and trying to contact you has become increasingly difficult. Now I’ve learned you’ve resigned from your assembly role and I find you hiding in here, wearing your brand-new shell that makes you practically look like a child.”

    He took another sip from his beverage. “The technology is really quite remarkable. You should try it.”

    She shook her head. “I am quite happy with my body the way it is, thank you very much.”

    “You’d be amazed by the results. I thought I knew what I had lost in old age. Turns out, I was only half right,” he said, although he sounded somewhat flat, his tone not quite matching the enthusiasm his words seemed to imply.

    “Is that what you’ve become? A cheerleader of sleeves?”

    He finished his drink and toggled the payment sensor at his table before he stood and headed for the doors. “I wish I had time for that.”

    She was not willing to give up so quickly. She had spent a significant amount of time and effort to track him down, had been surprised to be told that he was no longer working for the Assembly, it had almost been as if he had dropped off the face of Celerias altogether until she had heard of rumors that somebody matching his description, albeit loosely, had been seen frequenting this establishment.

    Now that she had found him, she was not willing to give up so easily. “Pray tell me what’s been keeping you so busy for the last few cycles if it is not working for your new masters at the sleeve builders?”
    They stepped outside and he stopped for a moment, looking skyward. “Hot day we’re having.”

    “It’s called a heatwave,” she said, not willing to change the subject

    He nodded and then glanced at her.

    “You were telling me what you’ve been working on.”

    “Do you recall our conversations back at the university about trying to make a real impact on the world we live in?”

    “It’s how you convinced me to go into politics,” she said, recalling those conversations quite vividly. She had been so optimistic and eager in those days, barely able to wait to graduate and start tackling the greatest issues facing their society.

    “I was wrong,” he said.

    A large skimmer pulled up next to them. It was white and sleek with no visible markings, like the ones people of affluence liked to ride in, those who had suddenly found themselves able to use their wealth to purchase new bodies as if they were suits of clothing.

    It was a fad, she had decided, a new fixation of the rich and famous to spend their money on. Rather than invest in houses or boats, they could now get younger and stronger, and more beautiful for the right price.

    Without another word, he slipped into the vehicle and drove off, leaving her to look after him.

    “What happened to you?”
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2021 at 11:36 AM
  2. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    The long-awaited continuation!

    This thing is starting to rival the Wheel of Time... Thanks!! rbs
     
    CeJay likes this.
  3. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Very cool back story! Can’t wait to see how it fits into the next part of this saga.

    And who is this mysterious “he” ?
    I have ideas but we’ll all have to wait for answers!
     
    CeJay likes this.
  4. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    I'm thinking about a Long Island Iced Tea - with a dash of Aldebaren Whisky...
     
    CeJay likes this.
  5. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    The first round’s on me!
     
    CeJay likes this.
  6. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    2

    DZ -33


    She didn’t recognize the face staring back at her in the mirror.

    It belonged to a stranger and yet it was now hers.

    The irony of it all, of course, didn’t escape her one bit.

    For most of her life, she had been an outspoken opponent of the sleeve program and determined to live out her natural life in the body she had been born with, even as the technology continued to improve seemingly with every cycle. And as it became more and more affordable, people from all walks of life were now drawn to the prospect of switching into a younger body, or perhaps even into an entirely different one.

    Many of her friends, she knew, had either already purchased one or joined the waiting list to receive their replacement shell once their natural body expired, enticed by the prospect of immortality.

    She on the other hand had stubbornly held out.

    Until the accident.

    Only twelve people had survived the maglev train derailment, and she had been among only two who would have died within days had it not been for an emergency sleeve procedure. She had approved the body swap at the time, lying in the hospital bed, barely conscious enough to understand what had been proposed.

    She didn’t regret her decision. After all, it had been the only way to save her life, even if the only body that had been available at short notice had been of the opposite sex.

    She had been told that she could change her shell again to something more familiar but she had stubbornly refused and instead decided to stick to what she had been given, and in honesty, she had been more than a little curious to find out what it would be like to go through life as a male member of her species.

    It had been somewhat awkward at first and she had found that she had to relearn certain parts of her daily routine she had long since taken for granted, but after an adjustment period that had lasted half a cycle or so, she had come to realize that, although she looked very different now, none of the things that truly mattered to her had changed.

    It hadn’t stopped her though from reconsidering some of her life choices. She had left politics and had started a career as an investigator, something she had quickly found to be a more rewarding occupation.

    It certainly had kept her busy.

    “I hate to add to your slate but I’ve got another case for you,” said Trayus, her affable supervisor at the agency she worked at as she returned to her desk. He slipped her a padd just as she sat down.

    “You cannot be serious. The heatwave has half the city acting crazy. I’m buried in cases.”

    He frowned. “Heightened solar flare activity is the preferred term.”

    “Right.”

    “And according to the Assembly, it is due to subside within the next five to six cycles. Until then we’ll all just have to bear the warmer weather and cope with its consequences. It’s got us all far busier than usual.”

    Themysa, who had decided to keep her pre-sleeve name, gave Trayus the same looks she always did when it came to the subject. She had worked for the Assembly once and their official statements didn’t fill her with a great amount of confidence. It was one of the reasons she was an investigator now.

    She glanced at the padd and brought up the case file. “What is it?”

    “Reports of unsanctioned activity in the Morta Flatlands.”

    “Morta? So what? Nobody lives out there.”

    He shrugged. “It’s still protected territory and access is strictly regulated.”

    “You have to be kidding me?” she said with an exasperated sigh. “I’ve got two dozen cases of city folk slowly going insane and you want to send me out into the middle of nowhere to look into somebody trespassing into a nature preserve? In this stinking heat?”

    He looked vaguely apologetic. “It’s the job.”

    She uttered another sigh as she began to review the case file on the padd. There wasn’t much there. A few reports from rangers working in the area and a few blurry high-altitude surveillance photographs.

    With so little evidence to go by, she hoped it meant she wouldn’t need to spend much time on this case. It would take her nearly two days to get all the way out to Morta.

    She was about to add the file to her caseload when she spotted something in the last photograph that caught her attention.

    Trayus noticed her sudden interest with a grin. “See, that’s why you are my favorite investigator. You see the details where others don’t. You’ll solve this one in no time.”

    But she wasn’t listening to him anymore.

    The image she had found showed a skimmer traversing the flatlands. It was too far away to make out any details but she could tell that it was large and painted white. It was an older model, one that had been quite expansive once and certainly not the kind of vehicle one would expect this far out in the sticks.

    She had seen it before.

    “What would you be doing all the way out there?” she mumbled to herself but Trayus had already walked away.




    DZ -25


    Conditions had not improved. If anything, things had gotten worse and the Assembly had only recently admitted that it had started to construct underground cities when the massive civil works projects simply became far too large to hide.

    Temperatures in the southern hemisphere of Celerias were now so high most of the time, that the majority of the population had started to migrate north, including into the city of Quagum.

    The large population increase in the capital had also spurred public unrest and crime rates have skyrocketed, forcing investigators such as Themysa to spend most of her time working as a peace officer rather than doing her actual job, meaning that many of her cases had fallen significantly behind.

    Her department had suffered in other ways as well, with a large number of her fellow investigators having left their positions when it had become clear that they would no longer be able to do the work that they had signed on for. One of those who had left had been her superior Trayus who had been replaced with a woman younger than Themysa and with far less patience.

    “We had another explosion in sector four this morning,” said Heleria, the chief investigator. “All signs point towards a terrorist attack. I need you to get out there right away.”

    But Themysa shook her head. “What’s the point? If it’s like all the other bombings, there’ll be nothing left to find. And we have enough officers on site for crowd control and evidence recovery. I think my time would be better spent following up on leads from here.”

    Heleria looked dubious. “What do you expect to learn from your desk?”

    Themysa, who had become quite used to her male shell over the last cycles, pointed at her computer screen. “From initial reports, these attackers used the same chemical compound to create their bombs as the last three. I think we are looking at the same group. If I can locate the source of those materials and determine who obtained them, I might be able to identify the responsible party.”

    Heleria regarded her screen for only a few seconds. “Fine. You have five days. If you don’t find anything, I want you back out there,” she said and then quickly left. Themysa had long since realized that there was little point in arguing with the chief investigator.

    She spent the rest of her day following up on purchases of chemical compounds in the city and the region.

    It didn’t take her long to realize that she was on to something. Purchases had steadily increased over the last ten cycles or so and she was able to identify a noticeable pattern as she dug a little deeper.

    Most of the purchases were carried out by companies that appeared unrelated to each other at first glance until she realized that all of them seemed to be nothing more than companies in name only with no physical locations or employees. And they were all owned by other, similar entities.

    It took her most of her five days to follow all the threads that to her utter astonishment led her to a very familiar name.

    The person who owned all those companies, it seemed, was somebody she knew very well. Or at least, had known very well once.

    However, there was no trace of him anywhere.

    He had sold his house overlooking the city cycles ago and nobody who used to work with him knew his whereabouts.

    She was out of options and her deadline to produce results was coming up fast. It was then that she recalled the last time she had thought she had spotted him. It had been a trespassing case out in the Morta Flatlands she’d never had time to follow up on.

    With no other leads to go on and Heleria breathing down her neck, she decided to leave the city.

    With the nearly unbearable heat during the day, she had to travel mostly during the night. It was a two-day trip to the nature preserve where she had picked up surveillance images of the skimmer cycles earlier. She found a cheap hotel to sleep in during the day and spend most of the night hours driving her skimmer into continuously more barren and rocky territory.

    People were scarce in this part of the world, as nobody ventured out here anymore and although it had once been an area teeming with life, the high temperatures had killed off most of the fauna and flora over the cycles.

    She arrived at his last known location after a six-hour drive. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find. In the back of her mind, she had told herself that this entire excursion had been a phenomenal waste of her time, after all, Morta was a huge area, and trying to find just one person within the flatlands was a fool’s errand.

    She spotted the massive spire almost immediately.

    It wasn’t man-made and at least a hundred meters tall, sticking out from the surrounding landscape like a sore thumb.

    She parked her skimmer half a kilometer away at the foot of one of the many rock formations in the area and then hiked a short while until she found a good vantage point on top of a ridge.

    The spire was part of an installation, perhaps thirty or forty square meters in size. There was a small storage building and she could see several canisters and containers arranged on a platform. The spire had been erected at the center of the platform.

    There was a missile-like device attached to the spire that launched just a couple of minutes after she had reached the ridge.

    The bright flash of its thrusters blinded her for a moment and when she could see again she found that it was shooting straight up into the early morning sky.

    The sun was already up, looming far larger than it should have been and generating enough heat to make her sweaty and uncomfortable.

    She followed the path of the rocket, having to shield her eyes with her hand, fairly certain it was heading right for the sun.

    After a few minutes she could no longer spot it in the sky and she began to head towards the installation. Halfway there she saw somebody getting into a large white skimmer and speed off.

    As she had suspected the many barrels in the storage building contained the chemical compound that had led her to this place. There were parts for many other rockets and upon closer inspection, she found that they were designed to deliver a specific payload. Since she couldn’t identify what it was, she took a sample.

    Before she made her way back to her skimmer, she spotted the many discarded beverage cans on the ground and picked one up.

    She recognized the brand immediately.

    Spiced rice wine.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2021 at 11:36 AM
  7. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Looks like Themysa has undergone a transformation... I'm really enjoying this thread and hope to see a lot more of it - really great science fiction. I'll leave a more detailed review over at AA after I recover from GenCon. I'll probably spend Monday sound asleep all day... Thanks!! rbs
     
    Galen4 likes this.
  8. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    There’s more than one element of intrigue here. First we have the obvious destruction or at the very least disruption of this planet’s civilization due to solar changes.

    Then there’s the concept of people being able to migrate their consciousness into artificial bodies. (Always cool and not as far fetched as it used to seem, BTW.)

    It’s also worth mentioning the concept of gender fluidity, which isn’t shied away from either.

    Finally how does this fit into the present story?

    Don’t know but anxious to find out!
     
    CeJay and Robert Bruce Scott like this.
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    3


    DZ -12


    Matters had deteriorated rapidly over the last thirteen cycles.

    A good half of the planet was no longer able to sustain life on the surface due to extreme temperatures and even in northern cities such as Quagum, spending more than an hour outside posed significant health risks.

    The Assembly had held fast to their narrative that the increased solar flare activity of the sun was merely a temporary condition but by now, several independent scientists were seriously disputing this interpretation of available data and large parts of the population were close to all-out panic.

    The construction of underground cities was no longer an open secret, in fact, mandatory evacuation orders were in full effect and Themysa spend the majority of her days supporting that effort.

    She had recently switched back into a new sleeve, one which looked a great deal like her former body, albeit younger than it had been when she had lost it.

    Although society had started to crack, the production of synthetic bodies remained at an all-time high, feeding the people’s ongoing desire to switch out shells at will for no other reason than vanity or excitement. With all the problems facing their world, the government highly encouraged sleeve swaps now that they were cheap enough to be affordable even for the non-wealthy.

    Themysa knew that it was nothing more than an opiate for the masses, something to take their mind off the fact that their world, their way of life, was crumbling all around them.

    But that belief hadn’t stopped her to jump on that same bandwagon. She had felt a little guilty, sure, but she had rationalized it with the fact that her current synthetic sleeve had started to deteriorate—it had been an early model after all. Not in any significant way, but enough to slow her down when she could least afford it.

    And she had to admit that she had grown increasingly nostalgic for the old her and eager to be a woman once more, both in mind and body.

    “Let’s keep it moving, people,” she shouted, not for the first time, as she herded a crowd towards an access tunnel to Quagum’s designated underground city.

    It was a thankless task, most of these people were strugglers who had no desire to leave the homes they had known for most of their lives to move to a barely completed and barely adequate home underneath the surface.

    Fights and resistance were commonplace and she had been forced to use her stun baton on a number of people who had refused her directives or tried to incite riots.

    She grabbed a particularly slow-moving man by the shoulder and dragged him forward. “Keep going. Don’t hold up the line.”

    The man glared back at her and then shoved back so hard, it caused her to nearly topple over.

    She responded in kind, bringing up her baton and striking him hard until he fell to the ground bleeding from his face.

    A few cycles ago she had been hesitant to use force against evacuees but things had changed. Their reluctance to cooperate only put more people at risk. She didn’t like herself for doing it, but she understood that decisive action was required for the greater good.

    She gestured a few of her colleagues over who quickly took the beaten man and dragged him away.

    The disturbance had given some others in line a chance to try and make a run for it. She knew the drill.

    She activated her comm unit and within moments hover drones appeared above, their bright spotlights quickly identifying the runners and firing tranquilizer rounds to neutralize them before they could escape deeper into the city.

    Themysa noticed that one escapee had seemingly eluded the drones and she took off after him. “Stop,” she yelled.

    The man didn’t listen.

    She hated this part. Chasing down evacuees through the narrow alleyways of the mostly deserted city was a chore with all her armor and protective gear.

    And he wasn’t making it easy on her.

    She could tell that he had a synthetic shell as well, and it was young and strong and doing a more than adequate job at running and jumping or dodging obstacles to keep his distance.

    What he didn’t have, however, was the law enforcement package. It had been a requirement when she got her new sleeve and it afforded her greater strength and stamina.

    In the end, it was enough to catch him.

    When she had closed in on her prey, she used the remains of a burned-out skimmer abandoned at the side of the road to propel herself into the air and forward to tackle the fleeing man from above.

    They both went down hard, with the runner taking the brunt of the fall.

    She rolled on the ground and when she came back up, her helmet beacon revealed a face she knew well.

    He looked younger than the last time she had seen him which, of course, was no longer much of a surprise.

    Finding him here was.

    She raised the dark visor of her helmet to show him her face.

    He didn’t seem nearly as startled at finding her. “You had an upgrade,” he said, breathing hard, as he slowly sat up against the destroyed skimmer. “I recall that you didn’t trust sleeves.”

    “Things change.”

    He uttered a laugh but there wasn’t much humor to it. “So very true,” he said and glanced up towards the night sky that refused to provide any relief from the relentless heat.

    “Where have you been?”

    He reached into the pocket of his vest to retrieve a small flask and took a sip.

    She could smell the spiced rice wine from where she was picking herself off the ground. Protocol required her to bring up her weapon or call for backup but she kept her sidearm holstered and her comms offline.

    “Oh, I’ve been busy. I’ve been so very busy,” he said, laughing again.

    “I know,” she said. “Out in the Mora Flatlands.”
    He seemed surprised by this.

    “I’ve followed you there once. Saw your contraptions. Shooting missiles into the sky. What for?”

    He regarded her for a moment. “I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand,” he said and took another sip but found his flask empty. He dropped it as he stood back up. “But I still have a lot of work to do. So you see, I cannot go down yet.”

    “What work could you possibly be doing?”

    “I’m reshaping the world, Themysa,” he said as he turned his back on her and began to walk away. “I’m reshaping the world.”

    She got some chatter on her comms, one of her fellow units required assistance. By the time she looked back up, he had slipped away into the darkness.

    She considered for a moment if she should follow him and take him in, force him back into the underground city as was her duty.

    She turned and left to return to her post.





    Day Zero -0 cycles


    Themysa uttered a little curse under her breath as she held on to the computer on her desk to keep it from falling off as the entire building around her trembled.

    It was bad enough that she now had to reside in a cramped underground city and spend the majority of her life below the surface, the recent tremors caused by sporadic solar flares could turn certain days into a living hell. The nights were worse.

    The shaking subsided after less than a minute, as it usually did, and everybody around her quickly went back to work as if nothing out of the ordinary had transpired.

    After two cycles of this routine, it had become a fact of life.

    A young man stepped up to her desk. She knew he was young in appearance only, Gethra was on his third sleeve and had been one of the department's laboratory technicians for at least two of them.

    “My team managed to get caught up on some of the work we’ve been behind on and we found a number of your requests in the queue,” he said and handed her a data slate.

    She took it and looked it over, her eyes widening slightly as she scanned the content. “Are you serious? Some of this stuff is thirty cycles old.”

    He simply shrugged. “We’ve been behind quite a bit.”

    “Some of this goes back to the time I first joined the department,” she said. “When we were still on the surface. What do you expect me to do with this now?”

    He didn’t seem all that interested and turned. “Not my concern.”

    “Wait a minute, what is this?” she said as she found the one entry on the slate that had no conclusive lab results listed against it.

    Gethra turned back. “Yes, that one. Must have been a contaminated sample.”

    “Why?”

    “Because otherwise, the results do not make sense. The sample showed chemical elements that are not native to Celerias.”

    “Extraterrestrial?”

    He smirked as if she had made a bad joke. “Sure, if that’s what you like to believe. But if you want a scientific explanation, based on those quantities, it is far more likely that the sample you obtained was contaminated,” he said and then quickly left, having accomplished his mission of sharing his findings with her, no matter how useless they were after all this time.

    She was mostly annoyed by his attitude and the implication that she had somehow corrupted evidence when obtaining it and decided to follow up on it. She had to search her case files to find what this particular sample related to.

    Although much had been lost in their rushed evacuations to the underground cities, thankfully data had not been among the things left behind and it didn’t take her long to bring up the correct file.

    She remembered it immediately.

    It was the sample she had collected from the launch station out in the Mora Flatlands. It had been part of the payload of the missiles he had shot into the sky.

    With everything else that had been going on, she had all but forgotten about that incident. But things were coming back to her now and she decided to dive into it a bit further.

    She checked the records and was surprised to learn that he was once again registered and employed, this time as an assistant to an Assembly science advisor. Something she found suspicious.

    She realized that over the cycles she had missed plenty of opportunities to attempt to get to the bottom of her old mentor’s strange behavior and probably let him get away with things she shouldn’t have because of the relationship they had once shared.

    But he had changed. So much so that he may as well have become an entirely different person with each new sleeve.

    She was surprised how little data she could find about him in the records but she did locate his registered residence.

    “We have another riot in Sector C,” Heleria, her supervisor, said as she came rushing over to her desk. The woman had just recently upgraded into another shell that looked identical to her old one and kept her eternally youthful in appearance. “I need all available bodies there now.”

    But Themyra had made up her mind. She was going to confront him once and for all and this time she would not let herself be distracted.

    “Where do you think you’re going?” Heleria called when she walked away from her.

    “Dealing with some unfinished business.”

    Her supervisor said something else but she couldn’t make out what it was as she was already out of the door. She very much doubted that one extra person would make much of a difference dealing with yet another riot, an almost weekly occurrence as of late.

    She had to cross almost half the underground city to reach his residence, a task made somewhat easier thanks to her security credentials.

    She still had to stop at least once when the city was gripped by another quake, this one felt worse than the others and she watched on as part of the buildings around her took serious damage. A few unlucky bystanders were hurt and she dutifully called it in but refused to stay and help.

    She had questions she needed answers to and she’d be damned if she didn’t get them.

    It was the late evening by the time she reached his residence, a modest apartment inside a large tenement building that like so many others had been constructed in a hurry and was already overcrowded.

    The door to his unit was slightly ajar and so she let herself in unannounced.

    She was surprised how bare the apartment looked as if he had only just moved in and had not had the time to unpack his belongings. According to his records, he had lived there for over five cycles.

    She found him in the living area.

    He still looked young, younger perhaps than she had ever seen him in his natural body and she wondered if he had replaced his shell yet again since she had last run into him during the evacuation.

    “What a pleasant surprise,” he said with a wide grin upon seeing her inside his apartment. “An old friend has come to see me.”

    His voice was slightly slurred and her experience immediately told her that he was inebriated. Then again, it didn’t require a detective’s instinct to draw conclusions from the many discarded cans littering the room.

    “Don’t have many of those anymore,” he said and headed for the open kitchen area. “Can I offer you a drink? I’m sure I’ve got one left here somewhere.” However, he seemed to struggle to find a can that wasn’t already emptied.

    “I’m good.”

    He turned to face her. “How have you been? You joined the peace corps, I see. Never took you for an authoritarian.”

    “I joined to be an investigator. As the cycles went on there was less and less need for investigators and I became a peace officer. But you know that. We’ve run into each other during the evacuations.”

    “Oh, we did?”

    “Yes, remember? You told me that you were reshaping the world.”

    He laughed. “Yes, yes, of course.”

    She wondered how drunk he had been back then. “And how did that go?”

    He finally found another can but instead of offering it to her, he opened it and took a sip himself. He laughed again and then spread his arms as if to indicate their surroundings. “Can’t you see? It is reshaped. I’m certain neither of us would have expected to live out our lives buried deep below the surface seventy-five cycles ago.”

    “What are you saying? That you’re somehow responsible for all of this?”

    He laughed again. “You are the investigator. You tell me.”

    A fit of sudden anger gripped her and she stepped up closer to him, slapping the beverage out of his hand and causing him to stumble back.

    “Maybe I’m starting to believe that you are,” she said. “A lot of things you’ve done haven’t made a lot of sense to me. The way you voted when you were still a member of the Assembly, for example. People are saying that if we had invested in a space program in those days, we could have established colonies on other worlds by now, instead of hiding ourselves away underground. But you and your vain assembly members supported the sleeve program instead.”

    He shrugged. “Neither of us would still be here without it.”

    “And what exactly did you fire up into the sky all those cycles ago? Lab tests show that it was material not even native to this planet. Did you shoot it into the sun? It seems to me things got a lot worse after that.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” he said and turned away.

    But she wasn’t finished. “Your behavior changed so much over the cycles I hardly recognize you anymore. And don’t blame the sleeves. I switched from a female body to a male one and back again, and while my appearances may have changed over the cycles, I never lost track of who I truly am.”

    “Good for you.”

    “I’m starting to wonder if I ever knew who you were,” she said as she continued, following him across the apartment as he seemed desperate to keep her distance. “I checked your records and there is nothing there about you before about a hundred cycles ago. No records whatsoever. No reference to where you were born or who your parents were.”

    “That’s a long time ago. Records get lost.”

    But she shook her head. “Just yours, it seems. See, I remember back when I was a young student and we were together at the university, I remember how you let me talk for hours about my life, my past, and my dreams. But you know what? Not once do I recall you ever speaking about your life.”

    Another tremor hit the city, strong enough to force them both to hold on to the walls until it had subsided.

    She reached out for his back now turned to her and spun him around. “Tell me, once and for all. Who are you and what have you done?”

    He looked at her and then started to laugh again.

    She shook him. “What have you done?”

    “Are you familiar with the stories of the Worldtaker?”

    “What?”

    “The legend,” he said.

    She shook her head. “Ancient myths and superstitions of a long bygone area.”

    “Maybe,” he said with a shrug. “Then again, maybe not.”

    “What does any of that have to do with you?”

    “Oh, my dear, lovely Themyra, can’t you see? It’s me. I’m the Worldtaker. I’ve burned it all down, I’ve destroyed your world.”

    “My world?”

    Another quake.

    This time he lunged at her, grabbing her and holding her so tight to his body that she couldn’t escape. “What are you doing?”
    “This is it,” he whispered in her ear.

    This tremor didn’t end.

    Instead, it only got worse.

    Panic began to grip her as she felt the building around her crumble and yet he still wouldn’t let go of her.

    “What have you done, Bensu?” she screamed.

    Then came a sudden burst of heat, worse than anything she had ever felt before.

    Then came nothing at all.
     
    SolarisOne, tax1234 and mthompson1701 like this.
  10. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    I'll have that Long Island Iced Tea with a dash of Aldebaren Whisky now that we know who the bartender was... Galen4 is buying. Worldtaker, eh? Sounds like he wasn't a very nice guy all those sleeves ago.

    In answer to a question you posed over on Ad Astra, it was Stephen Hawking:

    https://www.newsweek.com/stephen-hawking-warns-100-years-earth-extinction-593609#:~:text=Hawking%2C%20the%20English%20physicist%2C%20warns%20humanity%20needs%20to,become%20a%20multiplanetary%20species%20to%20ensure%20its%20survival.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2021 at 12:38 PM
    Galen4 and CeJay like this.