I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

 

listen to my words

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Tabitha Reeves: SPACE GIRL! Parts I -

Part I: Awakening

Gasping. Confusion. Panic. Choking. Vertigo. Collapse.

Tabitha Reeves hit the metal grate covering the floor on her hands and knees. She vaguely felt the blood leaking through the skin on her knees as she coughed over and over. It felt like dry heaves, but a little liquid came out each time. It looked a little like blue mucus, she thought. What the hell is going on?

Then strong hands grabbed her shoulders, and flipped her over. Everything was blurry, but she made out a huge man holding her down. She was suddenly acutely aware of the fact she wore no clothing.

Panic and bile rose to her throat as the man set his knee across her legs and pinned her shoulders to the floor. Then another set of hands shoved something hard in her mouth, lodging it between her back teeth to hold her mouth open. Then some sort of tube went in and down her throat. Another object went into her nose and she felt it hit her throat as well.

A second later there was suction in her lungs and her gut, then the blue mucus started to flow through the tubes. Her body started to relax, and as it did she felt the man move off of her. She tried to sit up but found that didn’t work so well, and she felt another bruise form on her elbow. So she laid there, waiting for her strength, sight, or breath to return.

As Tabitha waited she was given a towel by one of the people with her. She wiped her face, noting finally that her body was covered with a thing layer of something very like the slime being withdrawn from her body. As she toweled off and her mind relaxed she was able to remember how she’d gotten here.

She’d been in stasis – that explained the slime, it provided her body with oxygen and nutrients and even simulated the benefits of exercise for her muscles and bones while holding her aging at bay. The ship she was on was bound for Chigon IV. Even at faster-than-light speeds propelled by the dark matter drive it was a trip that would take decades.

She hadn’t imagined waking up was that unpleasant. She’d read the documents they’d given her. Disorientation and minor sickness was all she remembered. But she thought they used beds and restraints to avoid some of the trauma.

She finished toweling off and she was handed another towel — no, a blanket. She wrapped it around her body and looked up and around to try to get some bearings, but everything was still blurry.

The big man grabbed her arm and she felt a sharp pinch. She tried to pull away but he held her fast while injecting her with… something.

She was distracted as suddenly she started coughing again. The last of the blue fluid had left her body, which she could tell because the tubes were clear now. She couldn’t get her body to breathe on its own, though.

The second figure came to her rescue and quickly pulled the tubes from her face, then slapped her back till she had one final, wet cough and drew her first, ragged breath.

“Thanks. I…” she couldn’t hear herself. She felt panic rise for the third time when the figure who had just helped her made calming gestures. A hand held forward, fingers slightly splayed, telling her to wait a moment.

As she stared, she started to make out more details. The second figure was a woman. Above average but not too tall. Jet black hair, dusky skin and blue eyes, indicated a mixed genetic heritage. She wore a tight uniform of gray-blue, identifying her as crew on the ship. She sat on the floor, holding the used towel and smiled kindly at Tabitha, showing white teeth.

The big figure was indeed a man. Genetically designed, it appeared. He had the purple eyes that indicated such. Which explained his size: he was squatting but Tabitha could tell he was at least seven feet tall, and at least half that shoulder to shoulder. Every bit of his body was muscled, and she could tell because he wore a uniform similar to the woman’s. It didn’t hide much on either of them.

Tabitha drew the blanket tighter around her, suddenly embarrassed at her nakedness.

The man said something, but Tabitha still couldn’t hear. The woman responded, and it went back and forth for a few moments.

After a few moments Tabitha was able to make out the names sewn on the left breast of her companions’ uniforms. The woman’s read “Genzi.” The man was “Schwartz.” Last names, clearly.

“… long will it take.”

Tabitha jumped as her hearing suddenly returned.

Genzi laughed softly. “Apparently that long. Can you hear me, honey?”

Tabitha nodded.

Schwartz grunted. “Finally. We don’t have time.”

“Come on, we need you.” Genzi held out a hand.

She was still confused, but she took the proferred hand and rose to her feet, stumbling slightly.

Genzi led her through a door, and Schwartz followed them.

“Get dressed,” Schwartz growled. He held out a uniform similar to the ones they wore.

Tabitha took it gingerly but hesitated.

Genzi spoke up again. “Schwa, dear. Give her a moment of privacy.” Schwartz grunted again but stepped back through the door and slid it closed. “You want me to leave too, honey?”

Tabitha wasn’t sure, but she needed answers, so she shook her head and started to dress. She noted that the name on the uniform said “Kronopolos.” It wasn’t made for her. She hoped it would still fit. “What’s going on?” she asked. “I wasn’t supposed to be revived until we got to Chigon.”

Genzi grimaced. “I’m afraid you’re not going to like the answer.”

Part II: Escape!

For some reason, that didn’t surprise Tabitha. She hadn’t liked being woken up at all. Why should not liking the reason for it be a shock? Tabitha didn’t respond, she just waited for Genzi to continue. Which she did a moment later.

“The ship’s been hailed by another vessel.”

“What?” Tabitha paused, her arm half in one of the sleeves. “What are the chances that two ships can get close enough to hail out here?” The space between Chigon and anywhere civilized was vast, even by astronomic measures.

“Impossible. Or near enough to not matter any. Unless they had a means of tracking the ship. It wouldn’t be that hard to install something if they got to the ship before it departed.”

“But, why would they?”She finished sliding her arm in.

“If they wanted something from the ship and found it difficult to acquire while in port, they could reach it in space, where security would be easier.”

“So these guys are crooks? Ok, fine. But why are you waking me up?”

Genzi gave a humorless grin. “Honey, you’re what they want.”

“Me? That doesn’t make sense. My family isn’t rich. They can’t get a ransom.” Tabitha finished dressing and the break along the front sealed seamlessly as she ran her finger along it. Whoever this Ms. Kronopolos was, she has small feet and a small rear end, but a much larger bust. It was almost too tight to walk in the legs but quite roomy up top.

Genzi shrugged. “You’re Tabitha, right?” Tabitha nodded. “You’re who they asked for. We’ve woken you because they’re going to board. We don’t have defenses strong enough to repel them. On board security teams should probably be able to stop them, though. We just don’t want to risk they’ll make it this far and get you.”

Genzi was right, Tabitha didn’t like the answer. She swallowed, her throat dry. “Ok.”

“Ready, honey? Ok, let’s go.” She slid the door open and greeted Schwartz.

Schwartz nodded and started walking.

The room was full of passengers in stasis. Rows and rows of tanks, all of them filled with blue, viscous fluid in which a human body floated motionlessly. It was eerie to see them all in so much silence. There had been a lot more movement and noise when she’d entered the tank before departure.

Schwartz didn’t pause, moving forward with the ease and directness of someone who was familiar with such sights and had something else to get too. Tabitha was behind him, Genzi bringing up the rear.

They exited through a door on the far side of the room and passed through close, dark corridors, turning every now and then. The walls curved away from the floor and then back together to the ceiling, making the halls resemble tubes. Tabitha was unable to keep track of the path they took.

Before long, the distant sounds of fighting could be heard. Shots, crashes, small explosions. Though it was cold, Tabitha felt perspiration forming on her body. The uniform quickly swept it away, but she was still aware of it.

They encountered a small pack of men. They weren’t dressed in uniforms, but they carried firearms of various models and styles. One of them grinned. “How much you bet this is her?” he cackled.

Tabitha’s eyes went wide, but Schwartz didn’t hesitate. He ran forward, yelling incoherently at ear-damaging volume. The invaders fired but that didn’t stop Schwartz as he waded into the middle of the crowd, throwing enemies to the side. He was probably wearing something to block the attacks, but that he didn’t even break stride was impressive.

“Come on, honey,” Genzi said, pulling Tabitha down a side passage. Tabitha followed, not willing to wait and see how the fight ended. Genzi held her wrist and pulled her along. They were moving than Tabitha believed she could run. Soon Tabitha was breathing hard, but Genzi kept going.

A man blocked their passage. His purple eyes showed he was genetically designed, but he was nothing like Schwartz. He was smaller, narrower, wiry. He had corded muscles on his arms and legs that made them look like braided steel cables. And his arms were long, like an ape. He raised his arm and his arm grew at least five feet.

Genzi dropped low and grasped the man’s wrist. His arm shrunk back to its previous size, even as his other arm stretched out again, grabbing lower to keep Genzi from ducking again.

This time Genzi dodged to the side and ran up the round wall before pushing off and launching herself at the man. A knife appeared in her hand and she stabbed the man’s neck. Blood sprayed everywhere.

“Let’s go,” Genzi said, waving to Tabitha.

Tabitha stood for a second, taking in what happened. “How did you do that?”

“Honey,” Genzi hissed. “We don’t have time. There’ll be more.”

Tabitha finally found motivation to move and stepped to Genzi. The dark-skinned woman took Tabitha’s wrist and started running again. She hid the knife back on her sleeve as they moved.

The sounds of fighting grew louder and closer. Genzi stopped to check a computer panel, bringing up a display that looked like ship floor plans. Red and blue dots blinked all over it.

“Cark!” Genzi spat. “They’re everywhere. We can’t get to the secure hold.”

“What do we do? Surrender?” Tabitha tried to keep the fear from her voice, but the rising pitch almost certainly gave it away.

“If you want to be a pirate’s slave, be my guest, honey.” When Tabitha didn’t answer Genzi continued. “We could take an escape pod, but at this point the pirates are just as likely to win as the crew. ” She stared at the screen for a few more moments. “We could walk.”

“Walk? We’ve been running…” Tabitha realized suddenly what Genzi meant. “You mean… outside?” Genzi nodded. “But I’m not rated for… I’ve never even done it before! What if I float off?”

“Honey, we can stick to the outside of the ship. The bad guys are either driven off or leave when they can’t find you. Afterward, we go back in and you’re safe. We’ll tether together so you can’t get lost. I don’t see another option.”

Part III: Clinging to the Surface

No other option? Tabitha could think of a few. Fighting their way through was one. Genzi was more than competent, it would appear, having taken out that Gen-D without breaking a sweat. They could take the escape pod, which was much less terrifying than the prospect of a space walk. But Genzi was right. With the outcome of the battle up in the air, who knew who would pick the pod up? If either one did at all. Both ships could be disabled and then where would she be?

Tabitha closed her eyes. “Alright. We’ll walk,” she heard herself say. She shivered as she did so. She opened her eyes to see the humorless grin on Genzi’s face.

“Let’s do it then.” She took Tabitha around a corner to an airlock. A variety of space suits hung in the hallway by the iris portal.

They both began to dress, Genzi in a navy blue suit, Tabitha in a pink one. When she had her feet and arms in, Tabitha couldn’t figure out how to seal the suit. She touched the zipline but it didn’t respond.

“They don’t work that way. They’re designed not to respond to touch – that makes it too easy to open the suit in space.” Genzi set the helmet – a transparent bubble that looked a little like a slightly flattened fishbowl – on Tabitha’s head and pointed at a screen by the hanging suits. “Everything in the suit is controlled by eye movements. The seal command is pretty complex because, well, you don’t want to accidentally open up your suit out there. Just follow the dot with your eyes.” She pressed a button and a blinking purple dot appeared on the screen. For several seconds it moved in circular patterns that crossed over each other and then turned into back and forth and up and down. Tabitha could see why they had the screen help, because she couldn’t imagine ever memorizing the pattern.

When the dot disappeared, she heard the soft thumb and tearing sound of the suit sealing. The inside surface of the helmet was suddenly covered with a variety of lights in complex data displays. Charts, read outs, lists, arrows – she couldn’t make sense out of any of it. She stumbled backward, then held as still as she could, trying to overcome the vertigo caused by the display superimposed over the real world.

Inside her suit, she heard Genzi laugh. “You can’t see, can you?”

Tabitha shook her head.

“Using the HUD is at least half of the rating program for using one of these. Move your eyes right-left-right-left.”

Tabitha relaxed as the display disappeared, replaced by the solidity of the real walls.

“You can talk, you know,” Tabitha told her. “The comm is voice activated and defaults to broadcasting to local suits.”

“Ok,” Tabitha said quietly.

Genzi held the end of an orange cable. “The tether,” she explained. “Turn around.” When she did Genzi pushed the cable against the back of Tabitha’s suit. “Move your eyes in a clock wise circle three times.” The cable sealed itself to Tabitha’s suit. More accurately, the suit sealed itself to the cable, Tabitha thought.

Genzi held out the other end of the cable. It was about 20 feet long. “Push it against the square on my back.”

When they were both connected to the tether, Genzi started pushing buttons by the screen again, but seemed to ignore the button for opening the lock.

“I’m hacking the registry so there’s no record we went out this way,” she explained. We don’t want them to know where to look for us.”

As Genzi worked, Tabitha became aware of how silent it had become. While dressing, they had heard the sounds of the ship operating and the fighting going on. But inside the suit the silence was absolute. Tabitha couldn’t remember anything being this quiet.

At last Genzi finished and opened the iris door to the airlock. “Let’s go, honey.”

Tabitha stepped in, and the iris closed behind her. It was dark inside the lock.

“Why isn’t the other door opening?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.

“They’re pumping the air out. Interstellar travel teaches you not to waste. They don’t want to lose the oxygen that was in here.”

Tabitha nodded, forgetting that Tabitha couldn’t see her.

A moment later the external iris spread open. Genzi stepped out onto the surface of the ship. Tabitha followed awkwardly, unused to the strong attraction between the boots and the ship, but grateful for it so she didn’t fly off into space.

“We’re not sharing air,” Genzi said with a chuckle. “So feel free to fart, it won’t bother me.”
Tabitha had an image of what a spacewalk would be like. There would be long dark shadows along the ship from its irregular features, with a bright, blinding glare from the nearest sun. This was nothing like that. For one thing, the surface of the ship was smooth, a fact she should have remembered, since she had seen it before. It was smooth to minimize the damage and chance of accidental collision with space debris. Very little of space was completely empty.

For another thing, it was dark, nearly pitch. There was no nearby sun. They were far in between stars. There were a very few lights that indicated where view ports were, but none of it illuminated onto the surface of the ship. The only light in their area were the arm-mounted lights on Genzi’s suit.

They took a few strides and then stopped. Genzi turned off her lights. “Shutting off anything that will help them find us,” she explained. “Now we wait.”

It was queer not to feel a sense of down. There was a pull at Tabitha’s legs where her boots attached to the ship’s surface, but she could her body trying to drift away from it. Her inner ear had no idea which way to orient her. It made her more than a little nauseous and she worried about throwing up inside the helmet. She tried to distract herself by looking around.

Tabitha had never imagined herself afraid of the dark before. But she had never been in darkness so absolute. There were stars in view, but far fewer than she had imagined. Mostly what she saw was black. Black nothing. Emptiness. Void. She had never felt so isolated. There was a woman tied to her, she knew, but unless Genzi spoke, Tabitha couldn’t hear her. And she couldn’t see her. She peered into the void and it didn’t peer back. Nothing did, because there was nothing there.

She could feel her heart rate start to increase. Perspiration dripped down her temple. She began looking all round her, back and forth, hoping to see something, anything. Somewhere in her head she could tell she was panicking, but she couldn’t stop herself. The HUD in her helmet started to flash on and off intermittently as her eyes moved frantically. She crouched down into a fetal position. Her boots released from the ship and she started to float away. She felt the tug as her inertia was stopped by the tether to Genzi.

“Honey?” she heard over the radio. Tabitha couldn’t respond.

“Honey,” Genzi said again. “Honey! Listen to me.”

An incoherent whimper was all Tabitha could manage.

“Honey, close your eyes. Close them tight. I’m going to help you, but you have to be able to do what I say.”

Tabitha nodded.

“Honey, I need you to answer.”

“Y… yes…” Tabitha managed.

“You got your eyes closed?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, sit like that for a moment. Imagine you’re in your bunk, tucked up. You got a mom?”

“N… no. Dad raised me… She… d…”

Genzi interrupted. “Ok, your dad. He’s with you, sitting next to you on your bed. He’s got his hand on your hand, he’s keeping you safe.”

Tabitha pictured it, trying to keep it in her mind.

“Ok, hold your breath. Control it. In slowly. Out slowly.”

“Yeah,” Tabitha said, letting her breathing slow. The tugging on the tether stopped and she felt Genzi grab her.

“Ok, honey. Stretch your legs out, let them re-attach to the ship.”

She felt the movement stop, but was glad Genzi didn’t release her. “Ok, eyes still closed?”

Tabitha nodded again, then remembered that Genzi couldn’t see it. “Yes,” she said.

“OK, open your eyes slowly, tell me if the display is on.”

Tabitha opened her eyes, quickly shutting them again. “No, it’s not there.”

“Ok, this is going to be hard. But I want you open your eyes again. Then turn on the display. Right-left-right-left.”

It took her three tries, but at last she managed to control her eyes enough to get it to come on.
She took a strange relief in the appearance of the colored display. It has disoriented her in the ship, but now it was a comfort just to see anything.

“You doing ok now, honey?”

“Tabitha let out a long breath. Yeah, I think I’m alright. Thanks, uh… Ms. Genzi.”

Genzi laughed. “I guess I never introduced myself. I’m Neva. I guess you got my last name. The muscle’s name is Percy, but for obvious reasons we just call him Schwartz. I’m sorry about this. I had no idea you’d be a kenophobe.”

“A what?”

“Kenophobe. Someone frightened of, well, space. It’s not the stuff in space, it’s the nothing in space. It’s not uncommon, I just… wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s ok, I didn’t know either. All of this… is so weird to me.”

“Heh, honey, you ain’t seen nothing. This is a big galaxy, and there’s some bizarre things in it.

“Look, I need to work on something, but we want to keep your mind from wandering off. There’s a help manual in the HUD. Down-up-down-left. That’ll give you something to read. Sorry it’s not more entertaining.”

“What? No romance novels?”

Genzi laughed. “Sorry honey.”

Part IV: Purple Haze

Tabitha read for a long time. It was impossible to tell how long – though the HUD had a clock synced with the ship, she didn’t take note of the time when she started and didn’t know how to access the HUD’s logs. After a while, though, her eyes began to swim and dry out. Her brain had dried out long before, but she kept reading, even though she didn’t understand most of it, because she didn’t want to succumb to her kenophobia again.

She wanted to rub her eyes, and even reached up to do so, and felt sheepish when her gloved hands bumped into the bubble over her head. She laughed nervously.

“Incoming,” Neva said over the suit communicators.

Tabitha looked around but all she could see was the wall of text that covered the inside of her helmet. She bit her tongue before she could cry out in irrational panic. She flipped her eyes from side to side to deactivate the HUD and tried to see what Neva was talking about.

It didn’t take her long to find it. A wide shadow was blocking out stars and shining lights onto the surface of the ship in a search pattern. The black spot grew larger till the reflection of the light it emitted finally gave Tabitha a sense of its shape. It was broad, and seemed to be flat in comparison. It was a diamond shape, with one of the longer sides in the lead, the extended points out to each side. The back end of it had a long triangular tail. As it was nearly on top of them, Tabitha realized the size was sort of an optical illusion. Compared to her it was big, but it was probably only a couple hundred feet from one wing-tip to the other. It was clearly not large enough for interstellar travel, and probably belonged to one of the two ships in conflict.

That was confirmed a moment later when the light shone directly on them with blinding brilliance. The ship stopped moving and narrowcasted to their helmets. “This Sergeant Blod of the Inverness, attached to the cruiser Passagarde. Maintain position. We will pick you up.” The connection snapped off just as quickly. Tabitha relaxed. It was from the good guys and not the pirates.

All the same, she heard Neva curse over the suit comms.

Tabitha held up her hand to block some of the light, but she still couldn’t sense anything. A few moments later a smaller pod landed on the ship’s surface just a few feet away. She could feel the vibrations through her legs and feet.

A square door in the pod opened and two Gen-D’s stepped out. Tabitha thought one might be Schwartz for a moment, but they were too short to be him. Their guns were massive things. Nearly the same size as their body. Impractical for most to use outside of a zero-g environment, but with a Gen-D, it might be what they used all the time. The soldiers motioned for the women to enter the pod with them.

After they did so, the door shut. Tabitha thought it was completely dark at first, and she felt some bile rise in her throat till she realized there was a light dome on the ceiling, and it was just the comparison to the search lights that made it so dark. No one opened their suits, and there was no gravity in the pod. But she felt it move, the ship above, the Inverness, Tabitha supposed, reeling them in at what felt like a rapid pace. A moment later, the door opened again and she had a view of a large area. The pod was in the center of a large room with brown floors, and a huge arching dome over head. Around the edge of the circular room servicemen sat at computers. A man sat in a chair nearby, turned to face them. He must be the commander of the vessel. He lounged comfortably, slouching. His splayed fingers steepled as he regarded them without expression.

The Gen-D that had picked them up removed their helmets, and one held a datapad in front of Tabitha’s face. A dot moved in strange patterns across it. It took her a moment to realize it was the code to unlock her suit. She pushed the “restart” button at the bottom of the pad than dutifully followed the dot. When it finished, she was rewarded with a soft hiss as the seals on the suit released. One of the Gen-D took her helmet before she could even move. She looked over and saw that Neva was being treated the same way. They left the space suits on them.

“I see,” the seated man said finally, looking at Neva. His face twitched once, ever so briefly showing anger or hate or something similar before he restored his stoic appearance. “Contain her,” he said, pointing at Neva. “Don’t let her speak.”

“But, she helped me!” Tabitha said in confusion. Neva didn’t say anything.

“Indeed.” He waved to the Gen-D soldiers and they dragged Neva away.

“What’s going on?” Tabitha asked.

The officer finally stood. He wore a uniform identical to the ones she’d seen on Schwartz and Neva when they’d revived her, except the name and he had decorations on the shoulder. Tabitha assumed the indicated rank or medals. “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” he said. “I’m Commander Tarsak. And as a commander I’m not cleared to explain much. You’ve already seen that pirates have boarded the Passagarde in an attempt to kidnap you. Beyond that, I’m not allowed to explain. I’m sure the chief captain of the Passagarde can help you further. We’re taking you to her now.”

Tabitha tried to think of what to say. Before anything came to mind Commander Tarsak returned to his chair and rotated to face the front of the ship.

Tabitha watched out the dome as the ship propelled itself along the length of the big cruiser. As they moved toward the front she could see the pirate ship disengage and pull away from the Passagarde. It seemed to happen in slow motion as the two huge ships drifted apart silently. Compared to the Inverness, the pirate ship was huge — easily a hundred times as large. Even at that, it was only a quarter the size of the Passagarde.

Every interstellar ship in the galaxy either belonged to a giant conglomerate (which ran their fleets like military), a government (which made them a part of an actually military), or to pirates (which either ran their ships like military or barely controlled anarchy). The Passagarde, while government (and thus military) was not a combat ship, which meant it had very few weapons. So while the pirates looked gutsy, the Passagarde was actually the kind of ship they found ideal to attack.

So why were they retreating? Were they simply incompetent or under armed? Decent pirates could take the ship, or at least enough of it to demand something to get rid of them. And they had that Gen-D on their side. The one with the freakish arms. Something was weird about all that.

But Tabitha couldn’t put the pieces together. So she stared at the pirate ship starting to distance itself from the Passagarde. The Inverness was moving faster, relative to the Passagarde, so they managed to see some details on the pirate vessel before they distanced themselves. There was no name printed on the side like legitimate ships had, but there was a huge, if dirty and faded, emblem on the side. A scorpion with a devil’s face, in what was once a deep red, was painted on the vessel’s metallic hull.

It made Tabitha shiver.

A few moments later and the pirate ship was starting to gain inertia and really separate from the Passagarde. The Inverness slowed as it approached a thick tower jutting from the Passagard’s primarily smooth surface. There was a mechanical whirring and thumps, and the smallest shiver through the hull of the Inverness as it docked.

Tabitha was escorted by the same two Gen-D soldiers back to the Passagarde and through a maze of tunnels. She tried once to speak to them, noticing that the name on one of their uniforms said “Blod,” the sergeant that had hailed her earlier. But the men just grunted. Eventually they arrived at a gold-painted double door with the Earth League’s crest on it, centered over the crack where the doors met.

Sergeant Blod tapped the computer on his wrist and the doors opened. Neither soldier stepped forward but instead saluted by making a fist over their heart.

There stood the coldest looking woman Tabitha had ever seen. A pinched nose, sunken cheeks, pale, nearly translucent skin. But corded muscle evident under the skin and the same skin-tight uniform. She had shaved her head, but not recently, and stark black stubble stood out on her scalp.

That’s when things got very strange. A purple, cloudy haze drifted through Tabitha’s field of vision. “What is that?” she asked, but no one else seemed to react at all to the violet fog. Tabitha’s adrenaline spiked, and she fell back into a ready stance, not sure if she was about to be attacked and ready to flee if she was. The mist grew thicker, obscuring everything, and eventually hiding it entirely. She held up her hand and couldn’t see it until it was mere inches from her eyes.

Then shapes started to form from the purple clouds, making images, new colors. Small actions, like tiny vignettes acted out by players on a stage, but some of the players were people she knew. A vision of Schwartz firing a large gun into a crowd of silhouettes. Her own hands, covered with blood, the woman officer at her feet. Neva being carried away by a mob. The pirate ship trading weapons fire with an unfamiliar ship, swarmed about with fighter craft. Flashes of even shorter scenes she doesn’t have time to make sense of.

Then a flash and the purple haze drifted away faster than it had appeared. Tabitha stumbled in place before catching herself and rubbing her eyes. What the heck had just happened?

She looked up. The woman officer raised an eyebrow. “Are you well?”

Tabitha hesitated then nodded. She wasn’t well, she didn’t think. But she didn’t think it would help to tell this woman that.

“Good.” The officer nodded to the Gen-D soldiers. “I am Chief Captain Talia Zenzoff of the E.L.S. Passagarde. Please come with me, we have much to discuss.” She moved back through the double doors into a small antechamber. Opposite the doors was a large room with screens, computers access panels, and a small crowd of officers. An empty command chair sat perched slightly above the rest of the room.

To Tabitha’s left, between the main ingresses of the antechamber, was a single door emblazoned with the Earth League’s seal. Zenzoff led Tabitha through this door into a small but impressively appointed office. The walls were covered in a fine, burgundy, velvety material. Soft Light emanated along the tops of the walls. Hanging on the wall were pictures featuring the chief captain with various official looking people in and out of uniform, and not a few letters of commendation. In the center of the office there was a desk, which looked to be actual wood – an extreme luxury.

Zenzoff saw Tabitha’s reaction and smiled with co ld pride. “Yes, it’s a family heirloom. For four and a half centuries my family has commanded ships of the Earth League’s fleet. The desk was carved from trees found on our ancestral estate before Earth was evacuated.” She moved around the desk and sat in a high-backed chair. She indicated Tabitha should sit in one of the smaller chairs.

After a moment Zenzoff held up a datapad. “I’ve been reading your files. Trying to see what motivated the pirates to come for you.”

Tabitha caught a glimpse of the contents, wondering what information they kept on her. The heading read “Tabitha Kronopolos.” Unconsciously, she looked down at the name on her ill-fitting borrowed uniform, which also said “Kronopolos.” She felt a chill.

Zenzoff appeared not to notice. “You are a xeno-biologist, specialized with research in arthropod analogs, yes?”

The 22nd Century

History

In the 2060′s unrest in the Middle East had not quieted significantly. The United States maintained a large military presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, as well as small forces in other key Arab countries (such as Saudi Arabia). It was in this state of affairs, with military forces stretched far too thin, that prompted the Second Civil War.

Texarkana (formerly the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas) had been planning a secessionist move, quietly building up their national guard units. Oil tycoons had recently been extremely prosperous in that region, with several new locations of untapped crude discovered. Businessmen and politicians in the region had realized that, without the consumption of the other 46 states (Puerto Rico voted for statehood in 2052), Texarkana would be an oil exporter. With the military strained, Texarkana was able to dissolve ties with the US without much of a fight in 2065.

Under these circumstances, public confidence in Middle Eastern peace-keeping efforts fell dramatically, and by 2073, all US forces had been withdrawn from the region. Without US military solidarity, what fragile peace existed in the Middle East died completely when a Syrian nationalist group systematically destroyed Saudi oil fields, blaming their westernization on their great wealth. Sides in the war were taken, but just as quickly swapped as the fighting became more intense. For nearly a century now, The land from the Sinai to Afghanistan has been in a constant state of chaos and war under the acrid smoke of burning oil fields.

Texarkana’s first move after separating from the US was to join OPEC. Within a decade, however, the chaos in the Middle East left Texarkana, Venezuela, and Indonesia as the only members. The near total loss of oil available in the world left people looking for alternatives.

The US capitalized on this search by finally supporting ethanol manufacturers. With switchgrass-based ethanol, Des Moines, IA, and Omaha, NE became home to some of the wealthiest men in America. Since Ethanol was no so much cheaper, most of the world started using it instead of petroleum, which in turn nearly bankrupted Texarkana.

In the 2090s, The US felt up to playing world police again. Tensions were on the rise in Pakistan and India, and the US, with relations warming with India while cooling with Pakistan for the last half-century, agreed to send a large force to help India suppress a Pakistani insurgency.

It wasn’t until the 2130s till anyone learned that China had perpetrated the incident, but in 2097, a “dirty bomb” was set off on a US military installation just inside the Pakistan border. The Pakistan government blamed India and claimed it was an attack, and immediately launched nuclear warheads. They had secretly been producing more of the weapons for decades, and the destruction was terrible. India responded in kind and now the region is destroyed. Cruises are available to see the destruction, but the inhabitants of the region are still stunted and sickly, and very few have the courage to explore more than the very fringes of the area. New nuclear explosions are detected every few months, proving that most organizations had vastly underestimated the number of warheads in the region.


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China had made the bomb and given it to local terrorists to blow up, as well as planted people in the Pakistan government to encourage officials to act rashly. They had done this to rid themselves of potential opposition and to hurt the US’s military capability. They were successful, and the US again withdrew their forces back home. The US has not sent a significant military force to foreign lands since.

China used the opportunity, and their alliance with North Korea, which they dominated, to take total control of the Far East. By 2143 they controlled everything from Indonesia to Mongolia, including the Phillipines and Japan, and even parts of eastern Russia. While successful, their military campaign had been very costly, and they still desired to take more of Russia to increase their ethanol production capability. In a deal supported by most US businesses, the US agreed to buy Japan from China.

In the early 21st century, Hong Kong had split with China, and, joining with Taiwan, had formed the New Chinese Republic. The NCR has little in the way of natural resources or production facilities, but they are the biggest and richest banking center on the planet. There are very few business in the world that do not have some sort of representation in the NCR. Due to it’s economic importance, China decided that conquering the NCR would not help their situation, and the rest of the world were sure to defend it, thus the NCR remains independent and financially important to this day.

Egypt, being more western than most Arab states, but not having the wealth that Saudi Arabia commanded, managed to extricate itself largely from the problems in the Middle East. Instead it turned to it’s own imperialistic designs. Absorbing Ethiopia and other surrounding nations, they formed the Grand Kingdom grew slowly, but Egypt was clear about establishing it’s authority, and took to building obelisks and pyramids in the regions it conquered. The Grand Kingdom controls most of Mediterranean and northeastern Africa.

A second empire, established along the Ivory Coast, holds less permanent and exclusive control over its territory. The African Empire claims to control nearly all of the Atlantic coast, but there are many cells of resistance and locations where the Emperor has no control at all. The African Empire is brutal in its attempts to control its people, however, and genocide is not infrequent. Many of those who resist imperial control are small tribes, and they are wiped out entirely rather than pacified. The remainder of Africa remains controlled by small groups: villages or tribes or even family groups. The major exception is South Africa, which remains autonomous and relatively strong.

In 2031 a minor gold rush sparked some interest in Peru, but the fervor quieted quickly. A few prospecting groups remained, however, and in 2059 a group sponsored by Gomez-Martin-Smith, a Venezuelan investment firm, discovered rich uranium deposits. Several others were also discovered by agents of the Peruvian government, and Peru began to use it’s wealth to gain dominance in South America. A major university was developed as well as a state-controlled arms and computer research organization. Because wages and resources were so abundant, some of the greatest minds in the world were soon employed by Peru. By 2088, Peru felt they could attempt anything. They quickly took Much of eastern and northern South America, however, Brazil prevented further movement to the south, and aggressive Peruvian expansion seemed to be complete by 2119. Today Peru is the major power in South America, and is perceived as a bully by the other nations on the continent. They have solid production power and a well-trained military, and are not afraid to use either to enforce their interests

Australia, though ideologically close to many of the major players on the world stage, chose to sit out the various wars and struggles by avoiding entanglements on all sides; the nuclear devastation of Southeast Asia has acted as a buffer zone giving them an extra layer of separation from world affairs. In light of this, Australia has become a haven for people from all over the world seeking to escape the turmoil or oppression of their native region; its primary defense is a lack of offense. While Australia has a healthy economy, it doesn’t have anything so desirable that the five major powers of the world want to expend resources to control the distant region. It doesn’t seek to tell other geopolitical entities what to do, and thus it is largely left alone. Australia has discovered a number of oil producing sites in Antarctica, which they remain quiet about hoping no one will take it from them. Thus they have very little dependence, if any, on the US for fuel and energy.

In the 2080s, Europe was decimated by several plagues. Livestock diseases led to contaminated food. Even when it was detected before sale it led to a decline in the availability of food, leading to malnutrition. But contaminated food was reaching consumers with greater frequency. Then some strains of livestock virii mutated and began infecting humans directly. The borders of Europe were almost entirely closed, with the exception of food imports.

The EU was faced with severely declining birth rates, and rising death rates due to disease and terrorism (most of it originating from European groups). Many business were failing simply because there was insufficient labor or professionals to keep things running. To save itself from burning out altogether, the EU governing body declared martial law and took complete control of all industry in order to improve the situation. Only the United Kingdom, by refusing to allow EU policies to take their independence, remained separate, though they continue to suffer from many of the same problems. Perceiving Ireland as a backdoor threat, the UK (with semi-secret US support) conquered it and now occupies the island with overwhelming military force. European citizens are stereotyped by the rest of the world as unmotivated drunkards, but the government is desperately trying to reverse the massive depopulation problem and rebuild their infrastructure.

The 2110s saw an economic depression in most of the world. The two countries to endure it well were the NCR and the US. The US used large grants of aid and loans to coerce most Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean into policies favorable to US interests. Over the next several decades, US control became more strict, and eventually most of these countries voted to become states in the US in order to have more say in their governance. Newfoundland, Greenland and Haiti (comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic) are the only non-US controlled territories in North America or the Caribbean, the remainder have become US states.

A New Development

In 2150, the world was witness to the longest total eclipse of the sun ever documented. It was predicted to be 7 minutes in length, long in and of itself, but for reasons astronomers try to explain with terms like “interstellar cloud” or “dark matter manifestation,” the sun was hidden for more than ten minutes, and this “eclipse” was visible over the entire sunward facing hemisphere. It is to this event that the origin of metahumans is typically traced.

Each geopolitical entity has its own position regarding the existence of metahumans. The NCR has firmly established them in their legal and judicial systems, affording them identical protections as ordinary humans. The US, EU, and China, however, officially deny their existence, though the normal man on the street generally acknowledges their existence. The “average person” attitude toward metahumans is one of fear and suspicion. Violent demonstrations and beatings of metahumans are not uncommon, and in governments that don’t acknowledge their existence, these are not treated as hate crimes.

The Order of Lichtburn, named after the first metahuman “martyr,” is a covert, private organization, operating primarily in the US, that seeks to discover and protect metahumans. Little is known about their further agenda or motivations, but their operatives, primarily metahumans themselves, are extremely dedicated and effective.

Metahumans are not uber-powerful supermen. They have less glamorous abilities and less raw power than you read in most comics. Someone who could control fire is incredibly powerful, whether or not he could create it. Most powers eat up a lot of stored calories when used, leaving the person using the power exhausted and hungry afterward. Metahumans are also still uncommon. It is estimated one person in 100,000 may have metahuman talents, though actual documented cases are much more rare. Thus there are a possible 100,000 metahumans alive among the 10 billion people on earth, though the more conservative estimates place this at 10-50,000.

US Business in the 22nd Century

By the end of the 21st century the US was more or less crippled militarily, at least in an international sense. However, far from turning the US into a third-rate power, the US found itself an economic powerhouse. Being in control of the “Fuel Basket” in the mid-west, the US controlled fuel prices like OPEC once had. They also retained control of much of the industrial infrastructure in the world, since the EU had collapsed. Thus the most powerful NGOs on the international stage are American. And the most important of these is ASI.

ASI Corp, or Auditing, Security, and Investigation, is a private organization with branches in nearly every nation on earth, including Australia and Korea. The US government often uses ASI for contracts and oversight matters, even though they grumble about ASI’s use of metahumans. ASI is also looked at as a neutral, impartial party in inter-corporation disputes, and is used for mediation more often than the US courts, especially in international cases. It is also well known secret that ASI can be depended on for espionage and counter-espionage, though how far into “black ops” they will go is not commonly known. There has never been substantial evidence to litigate ASI, and they are extremely careful not to abuse their position or to use the information they gain (or are given) except as it relates specifically to the contract. ASI is seen as a scrupulous group by some, and just this side of evil by many. However, it is universally recognized as a necessary and largely impartial entity, and is used even by groups who don’t like them. There exists no better intelligence or security organization on the planet.

ASI is the largest business in Century City, where their world headquarters is located, and a good half of the population works for ASI on some level. Most other local businesses depend on contracts with ASI for their continued well-being, including the prestigious Century City University. There are several buildings and academic programs at CCU named after ASI CEOs and board members, including the physics, chemical, and biology programs, the science building, the political science and law schools, and, oddly, the Classical Studies programs.

Every ASI employee spends at least 6 months in Northern California for training and grounding in the corporate culture. Due to its connection with ASI, Century City is one of the few locations in the US that can openly acknowledge metahumans and not suffer significant consequences on the national level. The stigma associated with metahumans is much less prevalent here, which is why most think that the Order of Lichtburn, known to have an antagonistic relationship with ASI, is also headquartered there.

ASI resources are vast, and include several R&D divisions, technology development, and their security force. Most corporations have a small army (usually referred to as a “security force”), but ASI’s paramilitary security force is larger than most states, if not all of them.

Every business has at least one security employee or contractor (often contracted from ASI) who is trained to kill intruders (no rent-a-cop 60 year olds anymore; security is an important, directly physical business). This has contributed to the blasé attitude toward violence in the US. When you grow up seeing heavily armed soldiers standing around McDonalds, you aren’t bothered seeing men beating each other bloody on TV.

The sports industry has also changed. The culture of violence led to the legalization of manslaughter in most places for “arena sports,” which include things like the new football league and demolition derbies. Gladiatorial exhibitions are common, but this is often viewed as outright murder because it is more intentional, so these fights are usually taken to the point of incapacitation instead of death. Since it is cheaper to repair a robot than pay a human to die, a culture of robotic sports has grown up, but fans still appreciate “real humans” in the games and get more excited about these “Genuine Games.” Many large businesses sponsor a team in at least one sport; the less prosperous ones sponsoring robotic teams, and the rich participating in Genuine Games.

Space programs have been on hold for many decades everywhere. There is enough unrest on the earth to make interest in other planets close to nil. Still, there is the occasional religious group that enters an interstellar craft bound for distant stars at half the speed of light. Obviously, no one has ever heard of these expeditions again. There are rumors that ASI is making plans to set up moon colonies, but since most people have a grandfather who knew someone who died when the last lunar settlement failed, this is typically written off as insane speculation.

Notes on US Politics

While civil rights are still a major internal issue for the US, there is much less concern for what goes on in other nations—cops beating the Hispanic guy next door will cause violent demonstrations, but genocide in the Grand Kingdom will get very little attention.

The federal military is almost non-existent, and most experts agree that a moderately sized company could defeat them. Security forces with other companies prevent this, however. A large majority of the 92 states have a beefed up National Guard force, and all of them have laws compelling corporations to supply military aid in the event of need. Thus government spending on military is much lower, allowing for much lower taxes and great social services.

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In the vids, the stars all raced by, like comets. Or like meteors burning brilliantly in the atmosphere. In the hundreds of years since humans had first achieved space travel, still not enough people had seen space while they were actually out in it to know it didn’t look anything like that. Even with faster-than-light travel with dark matter drives, there was only a slight blurring. Stars were so far apart that you didn’t see much change as you went.

Charlie put up his feet and stared at the unchanging space. It was his watch, this was his job. Music from 21st century earth played. It was much more racous and energetic back then — 26th century music favored slow tones, alternating subtlely, very little repetition. In the 21st century, they hadn’t been into subtlety. Or slow. He believed the band playing was called Linkin’ Park, but it could be anyof a hundred bands. He didn’t know the difference between them that well. He had a couple favorites, but mostly it just stayed on as noise. He liked it, but he couldn’t sleep with it playing. Not at this volume.

Charlie born at the end of the 23rd century. He was passenger on a ship to HD 10307 — the first star system with a planet that wouldn’t even need terraforming to colonize. They’d even renamed it Gaia — the Greek word for earth, to show how much faith they had. Charlie had fought and pulled in favors and spent money — a lot of money — to get on that ship.

He’d spent two and a half centuries in cryosleep, and woken to find the ship to find that two centuries earlier FTL had been created and that there had been not just colonies but full blown cities and a thriving populas lived on Gaia. There was a great party and a parade and galas and events and interviews. No one in the 26th century had ever met someone from the 23rd before, and the passengers on the Starry Hope were oddities and celebrities. Through all of it though, Charlie had been in a depression. He’d wanted to be the first. Or at least among the first. And where had he been while human life was first established on a distant planet? Sleeping somewhere in the middle of space.

It was, at best, frustrating. Which is probably why he’d turned to piracy. That and the fact that even with his celebrity status he had no money whatsoever. They’d paid for rooms, food, travel. All until no one wanted to hear from him. He’d been ready to make his way as a modest mechanic/technician/electrician on the first colonies of Gaia. He’d been completely unprepared to make a life in the bustling metropoli that spanned the western spiral arm of hte Milky Way Galaxy when he’d been revived. He snorted at the memories. He was still angry about it all.

His break had come when he’d first taken a tour of a modern space ship. He’d been a futurist and a space buff for his whole life. So, of course, he’d played all the video games before he had boarded the Starry Hope. Turned out that the man who’d designed the most popular simulation game for space ships had been much more educated than your typical video game designer. He’d gone on to work for multiple space programs and even now the primary designs for small space craft were remarkably similar to the controls on the game Charlie had played.