DATE: Sun 03 Oct 2021 19:19 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net

Denouement // Part 10. (End)

Part 1. (web)
Part 2. (web)
Part 3. (web)
Part 4. (web)
Part 5. (Web)
Part 6. (Web)
Part 7. (Web)
Part 8. (Web)
Part 9. (Web)

Cower.

The elevator was already there wedged open waiting for us. “You won’t get out of this facility. You know that?” I said as I was prodded in the back with the barrel of his pistol. “I ordered my people to clean the facility ten minutes after we went out of range. I’m not overly concerned about our exit” He said calmly. “Against the wall. Arms behind your back Jon.” He barked. “No. You cant Kill me. Fuck you.” I said proudly. He smiled and without so much as a blink shot me in the lower left arm. I screamed. I hadn’t been shot before. Never mind with plasma rounds. It was like the wound was literally on fire. I felt it sear away the nerves and the skin, and then nothing. My lower arm had a round burned hole in it. I fell against the wall fighting back the pain, the panic and the tiers. “Now. That was the smallest setting Jon. I can put a hole in you as big as I did in your robot, without you actually dying. Jon” He kept saying my name, and each time he did he stretched it out like it was a curse. He grabbed my arm with one huge hand and jammed a thumb in the hole. Against my will, I screamed again. He smiled. With one arm he threw me against the wall like a rag doll. “Turn around” He barked. I did as I was told. My arm hurt enough that I couldn’t think straight. There was a great deal of things he could do to me short of death and I wasn’t entirely sure he was that committed to bringing me in alive. I felt him put cuffs on me. I turned back around. He slapped me with the back of his hand so hard I dropped to the floor. “What the fuck Zal!” I shouted as I got back to my feet. He slapped me again. “I can not express how much I would like to break you Jon.” There it was again, he revelled in saying my name. He was reminding me that he was in complete control. “I literally don’t have the words for how much of a fucking monster you are.” He said with a burning desire to hurt me some more. I stood up again. I stayed quiet this time. The elevator began to move.

I knew we were far down enough that it would take at least a couple of minutes to get to the top. I thought about my arm. I thought I could see the bone when I first looked at it. It was behind my back now, burning and raw. Given how hot plasma rounds were, raw probably wasn’t the right word it was that heat that was the only thing that stopped me bleeding out. It would have seared the wound and literally cooked the edges of the hole. The pain was making my mind fuzzy. I had to consciously disregard it and push for the underlying intelligent thought I was having because the only thing that was loud enough to hear in my head was fear, pain and the certainty that I was totally fucked.

The doors opened and we were in the corridor that led out into the main hanger. Zal grabbed me and threw me out in front of him, I stumbled and pulled my arm which made me scream. I looked in front, everything looked okay. No gunshot sounds, no screaming. The lights were still on. Maybe everyone was okay. I walked forward almost jogging to see what had happened. Zal let me wonder out ahead without a concern. He was casually strolling behind me. I stumbled out into the main hanger where I was almost immediately knocked by the butt of someone’s rifle. A rifle butt across the chin will kick almost anyone on their arse without fail. When you don’t see it coming it lifts you off your feet and when you have your hands shackled behind you the fall fucking hurts. When you have a hole on one of your arms the pain it too much. The sudden streaming of information into your brain shorts it out. I lost conciousness the moment I hit the floor.

I knew I was unconscious but I wasn’t sure if it was a dream or a memory that was flooding my soul. I was looking out over a sea of squares, like a city from high above, with the glow from the streets below the only source of light eliminating its vein like structure. From this point of view, wherever I was, it was stunning and seemed to stretch out forever. Then there was a shift, but a shift of feeling and emotion. I was suddenly aware of the silence that defined this place and the pressure that filled it. I knew something was happening. I stretched out a hand as if I was reaching for the world its self and it rippled the little boxes that were the buildings bobbing up and down as if they were built on the ocean. The cubes changed moment by moment, they were old, new, tall, small, sparse and dense. Then they were purple and blue and now they were Central Prime, a city I knew. I was looking down on a world I had seen before. Then the city erupted from the centre and from the middle came a mountain of light that threw the cubes and the purple glow aside. The light exploded towards space, a beacon of pure white glory that went on forever. I looked back down at the city and the base of the light shimmered and then in the space between thoughts it expanded and my little city was ripped away and turned to sparkling dust. I was in a place of white now and I turned. I knew this place now. I was in Libby’s white home. The one that only existed in her mind. I looked around for her and as I accepted that I was dead. That this place was my final thought I heard her voice, pure and crisp and as beautiful as it had ever been. “I’m coming for you Jon” and then the light left, a circle of black and haplessness grew from me in every direction and then there was oblivion. Another voice spoke in the darkness. “I’m here for you Jon.”

I opened my eyes. It took me a moment to realise that I wasn’t on the floor. I was in the medical room. My head hurt. I sat up. My hands were bound still but now around the front. There was a bandage over my arm. Though it hurt enough that I was sure little else had been done with it. I had no idea how long I had been out for. I flicked my wrist only to realise that my Circlet was gone. I don’t know why I was surprised, it would have been an ineffective kidnapping if I still had it. My arm was a level or two beyond hurting now. I sat up.

I looked around the room and was more than a little disturbed to find that the corpse we had found was still there. I actually jumped when I saw it. The slight green tint of the bio-field glistened in the low light. That was when I realised I had been out of it for a while. It was dark. I looked up at the semi transparent roof of the tent. It was dark and black. The slight blue tint of the shield above the tent was the only light coming in. I stood up, a little woozy, whoever had hit me did a good job.

I walked to the door and put and ear against it. Nothing. I opened it, wincing at my arm and my bruised chin’s complaints. I stepped out trying to look as healthy as possible. I walked out and into the large open area of the tent. There was a pile of bodies on the fold platform. A flash and they were gone. One of the security people looked up and half snarled at me. “There not all dead yet” came a voice, I turned, there was Zal leaning against the wall. He must have been waiting for me to come out. “Left some alive for collateral did you?” I asked. “Oh, no. Not at all. We kept a Vampire, an Elf and were still on the lookout for a Brick. Once you help to fix the time-line they will be all that’s left of their kind.” My brain was racing, the only Vampires and Elves were Ta’ra and Raf, that was good news. If they were still looking for a Brick then Lea was still free. I was hurt that so many others had been killed and violently but the people I had bonded with seemed to be all alive. This was something at least. I felt a wave of guilt for thinking like this. “If killing the freaks you call friends can convince you to do as you are required, I’m happy to do so. If required. I really would rather dissect them though.” He grinned. I turned to glare at him. “And Omi?” I asked. “The tree?” he smiled. “Thinkers are too dangerous to be allowed to stay live. We burned it, used the dampening field to keep it inside its body while it turned to ashes.” I felt a pang of anger that ran deep.

Zal looked at me and smiled. He liked that he had hurt me. He liked that he had killed almost twenty people to hurt me again and was going to kill more if he could. I was starting to wish I had a better idea of why he hated me so much. He actually smiled at me, it was like an echo of the gentle protector I had thought he was. A shiver went down my spine. He pulled something from his pocket. It was a pack of cigarettes. He lit one up and just studied me. Waiting for me to break I think. I wanted nothing more than to sit on the floor and cry until my soul was dry but some of my friends were still alive and Mercia would be back in orbit soon, there was no way Libby wouldn’t come for us, for me. I let a resolve take hold. I swear Zal could tell, somehow.

“Let’s go out front Jon. Our ride is almost here.” He said flicking the ash from his cigarette. It smelled terrible, reminded me of being on that spy ship around the Central sun. I turned and walked for the front of the tent. I walked slowly and he didn’t seem to be in any rush. I looked around at the dining area as I passed, there was blood across the buffet and pieces of someone on the tables. I looked across to Davids work area, there was little left of it. Someone had taken a plasma rifle to all of his work and compute units. I looked at the large door in front of me and as it slid open I steeled myself for what I would find outside.

I was blinded by a light, for a moment I thought I had passed out again. It was the flood lights in the front area, the area where the security teams big black ground-shuttle was and where thirteen was parked. I looked out on the large road area. The massive large shield that I was so pleased they had erected when they arrived now looked like a prison, separating us from the safety and peace of Earth, of Victoria city. It was now the dome that held that safety at bay. I looked around. The ground-shuttle wasn’t facing the tent any more, it was turned around and facing the road. Its large back section was open and it did not look like Sol technology at all inside. It was raw and had dials, levers and a lots of screens. It was the same technology that the Correctionists had used. At least I was sure who they were now.

The most concerning thing was a massive twin gunned turret that had been raised out of the roof. It looked large enough to take shuttle out of the sky.

Thirteen was still parked in the same place, though it had a lot of burn marks across its front. Someone had sprayed a circle with an ‘x’ in the middle. They had been using it as target practice. I stared at it. Zal prodded me in the back again. I took a few more steps.

“Jon!” came a familiar voice. I looked over and there was Raf an Ta’ra, they were cuffed in the same way I was only they were also chained to a crate. Zal casually walked me over to them and within moments I had my own leash, along with them. “Say goodbye to this fucking horror show of a planet. Shuttle coming for us any second.” and with that he turned to leave. “Oh, and to be clear. Not to labour the point or anything Jon. I can’t kill you. That’s why I have them. You step out of line and I’ll kill them slow. It’ll be on you.” He left.

“Are you two okay?” I asked. Ta’ra had a bruised face and a ripped jacket. Raf looked like he was having some trouble standing, he was leaning against the crate. “Were better than most. What happened to Libby and David?” Ta’ra asked. I considered my answer, considered that they maybe listening in on us. “Libby’s body was destroyed. David was shot” I left out the part where I thought there was a chance he was alive. Also, I wasn’t sure he actually was.

“Anyone else left from your teams?” I asked. Ta’ra looked down. Raf shook his head. “Jon. A few minutes after you left, they just started shooting. Those who died right away were the lucky ones. The rest were beaten to death. They enjoyed it.” He started sobbing “They fucking enjoyed it.”

Something inside me was burning. It was like that echo of the old me. The me that Libby had told me about; He was inside me and he was not going to let me die, he would have been able to save them. Zal wouldn’t have fooled him for a moment. The burning echo of myself was furious that I was the one driving. I wished he was more than an echo because I needed him now.

We stood in silence for a while. There was nothing left to say for us. So many people had died in service of getting to me. Now these two good people were only here to be tools, to ensure my cooperation. I was ashamed and that little part of me burned again. I couldn’t even imagine how they felt about me.

Zal and his people had all gone into the big black ground shuttle now, a guard was leaning against Thirteen staring at us. His hand had been on the trigger the whole time. He was hoping we would try something. “Ta’ra can you break your chains?” I asked quietly. “I tried that once, I’m strong but no. They saw me straining, that’s how I got the bruises on my face.” I nodded at her. “Raf, any Elf super powers that no one bothered telling me about?” He shook his head. “They have thought of everything. I think they have been planning this for a long time.” he said sadly.

“What about you?” Ta’ra asked. “Libby is my only secret-weapon. I’m sorry.” I replied, wishing I did have something I held back. We heard a sound in the distance, we looked up and into the blue tinted night sky. The shield made it hard to see at first but there was definitely something up there, a shuttle coming perhaps. It sounded like a big one too. Zal came out of his ground shuttle and looked up “Okay people get your shit ready. Its go time.” he shouted. His people started to move. I realised now why they had moved their shuttle. They had wanted to clear an area inside the shield so their own ship could land. Their shuttle was approaching fast.

We heard an explosion from the direction of the tent, we all looked over to it and from behind a streak of blue and red shot out from behind it. “The rocket ship?” I asked aloud. “It’s the right direction” Ta’ra replied. The large turret on top of the ground shuttle spun and fired twice in rapid succession. Two large purple plasma bolts streaked after the rocket ship. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Zal screamed “You fucking idiots!” He ran back into the ground shuttle and a moments later we heard shouting. Our eyes were fixed on the rocket ship. The purple streaks intercepted it and we watched it explode into a ball of red and orange fire, with the occasional fleck of blue. It rained down like a firework that had burned out. The whole thing can’t have lasted more than a few seconds but it felt like an eternity. “Lea” I said quietly to myself, she must have been inside. “Yes?” Came a voice from behind me. “LEA!” I exclaimed catching my own voice before it erupted into a shout. “Shhh!” she said franticly. “I fired the rocket by remote. This place will be knee deep in police drones any second.”

She pulled a tool from her pocket and with three zaps she broke the shackles we were wearing. “Get to thirteen. It’s ready to go.” We all turned to run, Raf stumbled. “Go without me” he demanded in a whispered shout of pain. “GO!” he said again. Ta’ra ignored him and supported him; throwing his arm over her shoulder. “Can you fly a shuttle?” Lea asked. Tara nodded. “I’ll buy you some time” she said pulling a gun from her belt. “Now YOU go!” she demanded to us. Raf and Ta’ra instantly started moving. I stood my ground behind her. I knew she had assumed I had gone too but there was no way I was leaving her.

The shuttle was coming in close now, we could see its blue breaking jets fire in the darkness. Ta’ra and Raf were covering the ground fast. I glanced towards where our guard had been, I could make out a mound on the floor. Lea had taken care of that problem.

Zal and his people came out of their shuttle and at least one of them had been beaten pretty badly. I saw Lea’s wrist tilt as she lined up a shot. Zal looked over at us, then over to Thirteen. It only took him a moment to realise what was happening, Lea’s wrist twitched as she fired. Zal’s body lit up with blue sparkles. He had already replaced his personal shield. Lea fired again and he stumbled back as the shot made his head glow bright blue. “Fuck you Zal” she screamed firing again. The sky blinked black as the shield was lowered and the shuttle behind us came in to land. I turned to see, there was a large triangle silhouette of a police drone edged red and blue neon following the shuttle as it came to rest, the shield blinked on again, the ground shuttle gun fired at the drone and Zal fired at Lea. I pulled her down as I saw him take aim. Lea’s arms swung as she fell, the shot crossing where her head would have been just a moment ago.

“Jon! You’re still here!” she exclaimed with an edge of rage. “Just give me a gun” I replied without apology. She reached inside her jacket and pulled out a pistol, like the one Zal’s people had. “Stay alive!” she ordered as she stood up and began shooting rapidly. I glanced over to Thirteen, the door was open. It was pretty dark but Ta’ra and Raf must have been getting inside. I was sure they were at least safer than us. Lea crouched back down to wait for her gun to cool off. Plasma bolts impacted the top of the metal crate that we were hiding behind. The large cannon on the ground-shuttle fired once more and we heard an explosion. The drone was now dust falling in the air. The gun fired again and we looked up, it was firing through the shield, there were more drones arriving and beginning an assault. “Plan?” I asked Lea as she reached over and flicked the safety off on my gun. “Stay alive until the drones get in” she said with a shrug. That wasn’t a bad plan, there should be an effectively limitless number of drones as well as police shuttles on the way to us. I stood up and took badly aimed pot shots before crouching again. “Aim, THEN shoot” Lea instructed with an unhappy sigh. “Well that was the first time I fired a gun!” I replied. She shook her head in disappointment. Much like Libby, on some level she enjoyed the danger of these situations. I think I did too but I didn’t have the training or skill needed to back up the excitement.

A shot fired at our feet. Not from Zals direction but from behind. We looked up at the shuttle that had landed. We hadn’t really been paying attention to it in all the gunfire. It had a single gun housed under its large curved front. It was glowing red. The moment we realised what it was lights lit up on its two sleek wings, illuminating a gimballed gun on the tip of each. The message was clear. “Are you finished?” Zal called out. “Area we?” I asked Lea. She glanced at me and shouted “Okay, we give up.” She stood up and put her gun on top of the crate. I did the same. We stood, hands in the air. We had no more tricks. Thirteen roared to life and lifted off the ground. Zal didn’t even glance at it. It raised shakily to the top of the shield and sparks lit as it tried to escape. The shield flickered. Zal was still looking at us. What was his play going to be. He said something we couldn’t hear and two of his people walked out of the ground shuttle and cuffed us again. We didn’t try and stop them. Our hands were bound behind us. I winced. Thirteen clashed with the shield again. “You don’t have enough power output to keep this up Zal” Lea shouted at him. The hatch on the shuttle behind us began to open. Zal wondered down and past us without so much as a glance. “Come” He said as he entered the shuttle. His people poked us in the back with rifles and we followed Zals path. “Go” Zal barked as the hatch closed.

We felt the shuttle lift before the door was even sealed. Inside the shuttle looked ancient. Its controls were all analogue dials and flippable switches. From the outside it looks as advanced as any other ship. The guards slammed Lea and I into flight seats behind Zal and the pilot. They sat behind us on bench seats at the back. I glanced behind me, they may be out of our sight but they still had guns trained on us. “Do it” Zal said into his circlet. Through the window we saw the shield blink off. The now fifty or so drones flooded in and were illuminated by the guns below. We could see thirteen in front of us, its engines looked like they were charging for a rapid acceleration “For fuck sake Ta’ra, GO!” Lea muttered, more to herself than anyone else. We watched as the drones converged around Thirteen and began to fire on it. “What!” Lea exclaimed. “What’s happening! Why are they firing on them?” she screamed trying to stand. The guard behind he stood up and slammed her into her seat with smack. He then slapped her with the back of his hand and sat back down without a word. Lea didn’t make a sound. We both just watched as Thirteen was overwhelmed by Drone and the shuttle we were in lifted without obstruction.

After a few seconds more our nose tilted up and the jets fired. We were space bound. This ship may look archaic inside but it was using modern engines at least. As we crossed from the planet to space Zal unbuttoned his jacked and rested back in his chair. He was relaxed. I felt a tier roll down my cheek. Ta’ra and Raf gone, along with Thirteen. I wasn’t certain they were dead but they dropped from quite a hight. There was a good chance we weren’t getting out of this one ourselves.

“What happened?” I asked with my eyes closed, pushing back the feelings. “We had a technician on Mercia fit custom ID-transceiver to your shuttle. I swapped our ID codes as we exited the shield. Drone thought they were attacking us while as far as they know Thirteen is flying to safety.” Lea looked down into her lap. It wasn’t sadness that was overwhelming her though, it was fight that she was pushing down. The rage was almost enough to make her twitch. “That technician kid who got my name wrong!” She seethed.

“Where are we going?” I asked swallowing my own feelings. Zal glanced back to me, “Thinker Space.” Lea’s brow furrowed in response. “Thinkers don’t like visitors in their territory.” Zal didn’t bother with a response.

A light flooded into the cockpit our our shuttle lit with a red-blue glow that seemed to streak to a halt in front of us. Zal’s demeanour changed almost instantly. “They’re early. Get us out of here. Now!” He barked.

The pilot flipped some switches and pulled on the stick in front of him like his life depended on it. As the ship changed its path the light in front formed into a shape and we saw the glorious visage of Mercia, shields lit and guns primed. A beeping filled the cockpit.

Zal flipped a switch and an unfamiliar voice filled the air. “This is Captain Curtis of the Sol ship Mercia. Come to a complete stop and prepare to be guided to a docking bay immediately.” I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting the man in charge of Mercia but I was impressed with his delivery.

“On who’s authority?” Zal asked.

“Come to a complete stop. Or I will fire on you.” Captain Curtis replied with a stone cold calm.

“Its a simple question.” Zal snarled. Gesturing for his pilot to get a move on. He was typing something on his console as fast as he could. He was stalling.

“The authority of the Sol alliance and the orders of the president himself. I have guns trained on you and am quite willing to take action to prevent your escape.” The captain said with gravitas.

“Impressive! This is Zal with the authority of the one true Earth and I think you have bigger problems to worry about.” Zal pressed a couple more button on the controls in front of him and we watched as the viewing window on the side of Mercia blew out into space. It was silent and terrifying. The shards of glass smashed against the inside of the shield and for a brief moment I could have sworn I saw people moving in space.

Lea and I watched in horror as the powered engine panels erupted into brief flames and the lights blinked off across the entire ship. “Thank you for your time captain, you are dismissed” Zal said and pressed another button.

Mercia’s TD-drive engaged and it vanished back the way it came in a red-blue rainbow of shifting colours. “Earth is launching ships.” The pilot said calmly. “We should have a clear path to the warp. Burn all the fuel you need.” The shuttle jolted as all of its engines fired. “You can’t take a shuttle though a warp. Its suicide!” Lea spat at Zal. “Oh? And what exactly about all this leads you to believe that I don’t know what I’m doing?” He asked leaning around his chair to look at her. She had no answer. His eyes were cold. He glanced at me before turning back to his console.

Lea and I sat in silence for a while as the ships gravity evened out from its acceleration. “How long to get to wherever were going?” I asked loudly. I was ignored. “Can Earth’s ships catch us?” I asked Lea. “Not before we hit the warp. Unless there’s something with a TD-drive in orbit. There are not many of those so its unlikely.”

“I assure you. Were getting to our destination without any more interruptions.” Zal began. “Oh and just to make sure were all on the same page; I need Jon to perform some tasks for me. The only reason you are alive Lea is so I can hurt you when he refuses to assist me. You understand that don’t you?” We both nodded. “I don’t matter. Don’t help him.” Lea said. “Oh shut up.” Zal shouted with an irritated tone. “Even if he does make a stand how long do you think I have to cut, burn, beat and degrade you before he’ll break? Just save us all some effort and do as you’re told Jon.” I glanced over at her. I didn’t know what was expected of me but I was concerned that she would be suffering because I wouldn’t be able to comply with them. She looked back an nodded at me with resolve. She was serious when she had told me not to help them. She would suffer and even die but she would never break. I knew inside me that I probably would, no matter how much I didn’t want to.

We flew in silence for half an hour at least. I sat wondering how they had accomplished all of this. Their planning, their people placed on Mercia, the distress call that had taken them out of orbit, the ID-transceiver on Thirteen. And then there was the way they had used the dampening field to lower Libby’s capacity so she could be beaten in a gun fight. Did Zal really plan all of this?

“Were here.” The pilot said. Zal looked up from his console. He pressed some buttons and twisted some arcane dials. “Zal to Traveller. Were here. Transmitting codes” With that he typed out something on his consoles physical keyboard. A large ship seemed to appear out of nowhere it wasn’t anywhere near as large as Mercia but it was still massive. “How is it doing that?” I asked quietly. “Its coming out of a warp.” Lea said with shock. “But there isn’t a warp this close to earth.” She looked confused. She had been watching the controls like a hawk since we had taken off, she knew exactly where we had been taken. As the back of the ship appeared we could see it in all of its glory. It was a large cylinder with lights all around it. Shimmering white lights pulsed down its length and its face held a series of holes that looked like docking bays. It was ugly and long and looked like a single barrel of a large gun. As it pulsed we saw lines of energy lighting up the circular warp behind it. “That’s not possible.” Lea said rising to stand. The guard behind her shoved her back in her seat. I had forgotten they were there. “What’s happening?” I asked not quite following what was happening. “That ship, its generating its own Warp. But that’s not possible!”

Zal let out a laugh. “It’s not possible for you. I know how arrogant you all are but I assure you this isn’t the most advanced iteration of reality.” And there it was, the confirmation I had been wondering about, ‘iterations’

We slowly entered one of the holes in the front of the massive cylinder. “Were in” Zal said to his console. Someone on the other end acknowledged him and the closed the communication.

The inside of this ship was the opposite way up than we had expected. The shuttle flipped over to alight its self with the outer wall, this place was built with the outer wall being ‘down’ where as Mercia was built top to bottom with everything being the same orientation this place treated its hull as a floor. Gravity seemed to take hold as we got close and suddenly it felt like the correct direction for the floor to be in. The docking area was packed with identical small ships, even to my untrained eye they were obviously fighters. There was an area clear for us. We came to a less than expert landing a few moments later.

We were marched at gun point through the landing area, it was huge and open. I could actually see the curvature of the floor as I looked across it my eyes followed the curve and I almost tripped backwards as I realised that I could see all the way around the ship. Directly above me was someone else’s ‘down’ with ships landed and people walking around feeling like I was above them. It was all made worse by the sheer scope of it. Those people above me were so far away that I could barley make them out. There was a large tube light affixed to a central beam that glowed down in every direction like a sun, I shielded my eyes. Mercia felt like a large well organised city. I never felt like space was just out side. In this ship the rumbling of the engines and the strange geometry promised to never let me forget it.

There were surprisingly few people in this hanger ring. Zal walked in front of us. The few technicians and mechanics we passed looked at him like a returning legend, then to Lea and I like monsters incarnate.

We were piled into a little transport truck, it had wheels and an electric engine. I had been in this situation before, but that time Libby had already been formulating a plan. This time my captors were far more competent. The truck drove us for a few minutes down the length of the ship. We turned into a tunnel, now there was a ceiling above us I was less aware of the curvature, it felt somehow more natural, we went up a long ramp and stopped in an open area with doors across each wall. Zal’s men open the closest door. We got out of the little truck and started towards our cell. Zal stepped towards us. I flinched, which I was somewhat ashamed of. He used a small device and my cuffs came off, he did the same to Lea, who didn’t flinch. We were pushed into the cell and the door was closed behind us.

The cell had grey metallic walls with wide benches across them. We stood in the middle of the room trying to acclimatise. A Red scanning light shot out of the ceiling and quickly scanned us, then blinked off.

I took off my jacked, rolled it up and placed it on the bench like a pillow. I then lay down on my back and closed my eyes. “What are you doing?” Lea asked. “I’ve been beaten and shot. Under this bandage there is quite literally a hole in my arm. You can see right through it. So Lea, I’m lying down and closing my eyes until Mercia comes to rescue us.” I said refusing to open them and face reality.

“Jon, Mercia had its sub-light engines blown off and there’s a hole in it where the observation window was. Zal activated its TD-Drive with no location set. Assuming they even know where they are when they stop, it could take them months to repair that damage out in deep space… And that’s assuming other systems weren’t damaged” Lea sounded desperate.

I refused to open my eyes again. If I was honest with myself I think I had ran out of hope, but I was going to keep faking it because the alternative seemed like nihilism. “Ba’an is on-board. Earth will call in all its TD-capable ships and have them found in a few hours. Then the whole fleet will come get us.”

“Jon, their communications may be down. Do you have any idea how big space is? We have no idea what their trajectory or end point was. They could be literally anywhere.” I head lea Lie down on her own side of the room.

“Libby will think of something.”

“The lights went off before it activated its TD-Drive. Libby maybe off-line.” Lea said with a defeated tone.

My eyes opened. “off-line?” I said. “uh hu” she replied. “She can be powered up again though right?” I asked. “Yeah, as soon as they get their power systems back up and running” she said. I sat up.

“Also, if this ship can really generate its own Warps then we could be in totally uncharted space in moments. They won’t find us Jon. Its not possible.” Lea said. Softly banging her head against the metal bench she was lying on.

It had been a while now since I had had a memory flood me, since I had been whisked away to somewhere else by a smell a sight or a word. But something about the gentle sound of Lea’s head rhythmically tapping against the metal of the bench triggered something inside of me. The memory took me.

I was in My lab, the one in the facility not my lab on Mercia. I was older, not by a lot but still. “You know this is the only way” came the woman’s voice. It wasn’t Libby, she walked in wearing long grey robes. Her hair was black and shiny. Her complexion was tanned and her eyes were pure white. “After Joanne died you said you wouldn’t have these doubts again.” The pang of my own fear and guilt hit me, or was it part of the memory? “I know, you’re right of course” I replied not really believing my own words.

The woman in the robes walked over to me and kissed me, I looked into her white eyes and the memory filled me with warmth. “I wish you weren’t the only person who can use it.” I said. She smiled and rubbed her nose on mine. “You’re the only one who could build it, it makes sense for me to be the only one who can use is.” The memory cast a sadness over me but it was accompanied by hope and guilt and a million other echo’s of feelings that filled him, me. “I love you Aygah” I said. “I know, my love.”

My memory raced forward now and I was in what seemed to be a more technical lab of some kind. I glanced out of the window and saw a storm raging across a mountain range. The mountains were grey and lifeless and the storm shot flashes of electric white. It almost looked like an old black and white horror Movie out there. The lights in the room flickered and as they did my eyes were drawn to a large device floating on the middle of the room. It was the device. The artefact that I had seen in the video of my own accident. Was it found, no; this was before it was lost. But it was different. It was open. I stepped closer. I could see a soft base and padded rest for the head. This wasn’t a weapon, it was a coffin.

My memory pushed forward and the room was now filled with people, all in white uniforms. They were all performing tasks that I didn’t understand, with implements that I couldn’t make out through the haze of the memory. The version of me I was seeing through this memory, he understood it all. He understood every single thing that was in that room like it was his own mind. There was a light above the coffin now and its circuit-like veins lit with a white glow. “Is it ready?” asked a voice, I turned and there was Aygah again, This time her hair was tied tightly back. “Yes. We can begin whenever you want.”

She walked over to the coffin and began to remove her robes. She was wearing a skin tight white rubber like suit underneath, much like the doctors in our world would wear. Her suit was made of two pieces exposing her mid-section, her skin had purple marks tracing her veins, it looked like electrical burns though the memory told me it some kind of biological technology. She was barefoot. Some of the people in white had taken her grey robes from her like they were holy artefacts. The rest now stood silently watching. “It’s programmed? All of the iterations?” She asked me nervously. I nodded. “Its been checked every day for the last six years. We can’t plan it better.” I was older now, I knew it. She wasn’t. She was the same as she was in the first memory. She stepped into the coffin and slid down into it. Her head rested perfectly on the pillow. “Do we have the right to do this?” I asked looking at her through older wiser eyes. She smiled and looked at at me for perhaps the last time. “Jon. The people in this room are all that is left of humanity. We can’t make things worse. Now do it jon” I pressed a button on the side of the coffin and Aygah was frozen in place, her skin frosting over in mere moments. Her eyes turned from white to a vibrant glowing purple. I closed the lid on top of her. “Good bye” I said with feelings that were too deep for me to express.

I opened my eyes to see Lea’s concerned face. I was lying on the floor and my head was in her lap. I blinked for a moment. “Jon? You back with me?” she asked with tiers in her eyes. “Yeah, I think so.” I said sitting up. “What did I miss?” I asked. “You went quiet then had some sort of seizure. You were shaking and twitching. You kept saying things that I couldn’t understand. Then you passed out” she blurted it all out too quickly. “How long” I asked. “An hour or so.”

I stoop up a little woozy, which was becoming a standard for me at this point. I pressed my hand against the wall to stable myself and was quickly reminded of its injury, finding myself screaming and holding my limb. “Jon.” Lea called in concern catching me before I fell again.

“Where did you go?” she asked.

“Some memories came back”

“Which ones?”

“The first ones, I think” I replied with a stony stare.

“What does that mean?” She asked as she sat me down on the bench.

“I literally can’t explain, I don’t even understand myself, not yet” I stretched my good arm out my shoulder was aching.

“You stopped breathing.” Lea said.

“Yeah, I do that.” I replied with a smile.

“When someone passes out and they don’t need to breath its hard to tell if they are still alive. I thought you might be dead for the last hour” she said through a face that was suddenly filled with tears.

I felt horrible. My best friend was alone on a strange ship holding my corpse, as far as she knew and waiting for her own death to come at the hands of a lunatic and it was all my fault. “Lea. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to…” she cut me off. “You have have to apologise for a seizure Jon” she forced out a smile. I nodded and hugged her form the side.

“Its cold in here, put your jacket back on.” She told me, as sign that she was resuming her duties as my bodyguard. I did was I was told.

The door slid open and the slightly brighter corridor light made our room seem dim. “Were ready for you now” Zal said as a silhouette from the doorway. I walked out into the corridor. Lea behind me. One of the guards used the barrel of a gun to block her. “No. Let her come too.” Zal said, the man relaxed. We weren’t cuffed this time. It was obvious that we weren’t in control. There must have seemed no reason to restrain us. Everyone we saw was armed and were all looking for an excuse to have a pop at us.

The little truck ride took quite a while. By my estimation we had travelled the length of the ship. We were then pushed into a large elevator and taken upwards. The doors opened into a room with a large glass window, We were at the front of the ship and looking out into space. The floor of the room seemed to be a polished wood like an old dance floor. The Artefact, the coffin was in the middle of the room floating atop of a circular raised platform under a circular light. At the very front of the room was group of armchairs. Zal walked to the chairs and sat down “Feel free to take a seat. You are guests after all.” We were well guarded guest though. There were two by the seats, four by the coffin and two at the elevator door. There also seemed to be weaponised cameras in the corners of the room. Zal, no doubt also had his personal shield active.

“Okay.” I said. “What?” Lea replied. “May as well get a drink while he reveals his evil plan” I shrugged. We each took an armchair. “Good. More civilized than I expected.” Zal said with praise. Waiters came in with a trolleys. One filled with coffee pots and cake, one had wine and spirits. “So tell me, Lea; how did you evade capture when we cleared out the facility?” Zal asked as a waiter passed him a cup of coffee. “I got drunk on something we found in a lab and passed out on Thirteen” she said with a shrug. A waiter tied to pass her a coffee and she waved him away. I assumed she was worried about poisons. Smart. Not something I had considered.

“I’ll take the strongest thing you have” I said to the waiter, he picked up a green bottle and a shot glass, “I’ll just have the bottle.” I said taking it from him and twisting off the cap.

The waiters bowed and left politely, leaving the trolleys.

“And you Jon, when did you realise you had lost?” Zal asked as something of a subtle boast. “I’ll let you know when it happens” I replied, looking him in the eye and taking a large gulp of the green stuff. Zal laughed.

“I brought you here for the show” He said gesturing to the window. Three white beams shot out from beyond the window and slowly began to rotate on a single point ahead of the ship. The beams rotated around and around until all we could see was the white lights they cast. In the centre of the beams a black dot appeared and slowly grew larger or was it closer? Eventually it engulfed the ship and we felt the engines push as we went through the hole. We emerged around a grey planet that seemed to be covered in electrical storms. “Thinker home world.” Lea said astonished. “You can generate your own Warps!” She stood and walked to the window.

“Yes. But not permanent ones. Only the device can make ones that sustain themselves. We can syphon off its energy to open them, but for just a moment.” Zal explained proudly. I glanced back at the device, the coffin.

“But here?” Lea asked. “You can go anywhere, why Thinker territory? They’ll send a whole fleet to bring you down. They only let Vampire ships through their space” She looked back from the window awaiting an answer.

“Our ships energy field masks us from their senses. They have no idea were here” Zal said as if it were obvious “And I need to be here for the device to work” He looked at me.

“I think I’ve remembered most of it. But I’ll need you to fill in the blanks before I can operate it.” I said. “What?” Lea asked. “Seems reasonable” Zal replied, “What do you know so far?”

I began my monologue. “Humanity was essentially wiped out by another race. There was a woman with white eyes who had the ability to change reality. I’m not quite sure how it worked. I worked with her and created that thing” I pointed at the device. “The plan was to use it to re-write reality to make humanity the victors. But you can’t make changes that big, you have to do it over and over, making alteration after alteration, nuke and paving reality after reality until you get to the one you want.” I paused waiting for Zal’s correction. He liked to talk so I didn’t have to wait long.

“Humans were the only race with functional immortality. Humans were the kings of the universe. They were eternal and powerful. The other races were as children and Humanity guided them.” His already impressive chest puffed with pride as he spoke. “But the children didn’t appreciate their betters. They rebelled against the civilization Humanity had brought to them. They killed almost all of them. They hunted humans down and exterminated the race. Earth fell.” He took a deep breathe. “They couldn’t do it alone, obviously. And there were no more space fairing races in the galaxy. To beat humanity they made a race of super soldiers. They combined a little of each race’s DNA and made a perfect army of warriors. The power of a Vampire, the speed and acuity of an Elf, the physical perfection of a Brick and the stolen immortality of Humans. They called the race ‘Blades’ and they were very effective” He snarled as he said that last bit. “They were too effective, linked together with some sort of energy field that no one seemed to be able to define.”

He poured himself a large glass of one of the spirits on the trolley. “Obviously once Humanity had been beaten the alien alliance no longer needed the Blades. They used a genetic virus to wipe out all of them. It literally dissolved their bodies. Ironically it started here, on this very planet below us.” He looked glassy eyed out of they window. “The last of Humanity saved one Blade. A woman who had turned on her creators and fought for what was right” He said. “Aygah” I interrupted. “Yes” he nodded. Lea looked at me stunned, she recognised that name. Jo’s mother?" she exclaimed. I nodded, not taking my eyes off Zal.

I cut in now “Was it her plan?” Zal nodded. “I don’t know for sure, but yes. I think so.” I felt my own eyes going glassy now. “Their link, It didn’t die with them did it?” I asked. Zal shrugged “When all the Blades died their energy was left and Aygah, the last of her kind had access to it all.”

I was half remembering it now. I talked as it flooded back to me. “It was me, or a version of me that first realised the potential power that she had. The power to fold time and space. The mental capacity of an entire race in one person and the energy to match. She was a god not a woman. The genetic virus didn’t just kill her species though. She had defected to the Humans side a long time ago and when the genetic virus hit, it took out half of the lesser races in the galaxy. And it took her child. Half Blade, half human. They couldn’t get her to safety in time could they.” Zal shook his head, “You would know better than me.”

I let the memories guide me again. “I built it, it took me a dozen life times to do it. I build the device, with her help. It taps into her energy and intellect. It uses her brain like a computer and it folds reality. Then it looks at what it made and it folds again, and again and again. Constantly changing things, one iteration at a time. It was designed to stop when it reached a perfect reality.” I said, stunned at my own realisations.

“Yes” Zal said. “And the next bit, that’s why you are a monster Jon.” he said pouring another drink. Lea took my green bottle and swigged it back.

“What did you do Jon?” Libby asked. I wasn’t sure. I had some fragments of memories but I wasn’t sure what order they went it. I looked at Zal. He smiled bitter sweet.

“It folded reality nineteen hundred times before it stopped. The computers criteria fulfilled. A perfect reality. The alien races were all spread out and without organisation. Humans had their immortality and the other races were so-far behind us that victory was assured. We had won. The device stopped and went dormant. But he had made modification to the device before he turned it on, he left the Blade inside concious.” As he spoke I remembered, that was the thing I had been worried about, not the plan but the part where I left Aygah’s mind active. She had been adamant that she didn’t trust a computer to judge perfection. She had convinced me that she needed to be aware. I had had said that it was a torture for her to be awake for all of it, to know every reality and every decision that made it, we created a new way to present it all to her. I didn’t remember how it worked but as I understood it form her point of view she would be looking through infinite mirrors with reflections of possibilities. From her point of view at all would happen together at once and she would be able to tweak it and fold again until it was right. I tired to explain this to Lea and Zal. Zal already knew all this. “You created a god didn’t you?” Lea finally said. “I think so. Yes.” I said, it was a reasonable way of framing it all.

Zal punched the palm of his hand. “But in MY reality, in my damned near perfect reality we had managed to turn off the devices output. It took planning and luck and maybe even gods own apathy. We turned it off. We had set reality into stone. Then he happened.” He was looking at me with hatred again.

“He pressed the buttons, let it fold again. And god knows how many more iterations he did the same things again. Now here we are. Humans are the ONLY race that isn’t functionally immortal. We’re less advanced than the other races and we even have a fucking Vampire president. Over Nineteen hundred folds and he has to let it go again. He invented death for the entire human race! He robbed us of a galactic empire and doomed us to die. All of us.”

The room fell silent. “I don’t remember doing that but, turning it on didn’t make all that happen it let the woman inside choose to try again. She judged your reality and found it lacking.” I said. “And that arrogance is why you are histories greatest monster.” he spat with venom.

“How do you know any of this?” Lea asked Zal. “How?”

“It wasn’t a clean fold. There were people left with memories. Artefacts, bits of previous realities were scattered around out there. Including this ship. The fold had been rushed, an emergency iteration had been created. That’s why we have Thinkers now.” He said.

“What do you mean?” Lea asked. “Thinkers didn’t exist before Jon gave her back control. The device can only operate from this sector. As you know, no-one is welcome in Thinker space. Every other fold it was barren.”

“And only I can operate the device?” I asked. He nodded. “How does that help you? Everything will just fold again as soon as I activate it.”

“I don’t want you to activate it. Not in the way you think Jon. I want you to open it.” He growled.

“That would kill Aygah, I cant remember the science bit it was a one way trip for her.” I confirmed. He nodded.

He smiled and pulled a small device pocket that looked like a pen with an energy emitting node at the end. He pointed it at his eyes and pressed a button on it. A red pulse shot out and he blinked; he did the same to the other eye. After a few moments of blinking his eyes changed. They were pure white, blank with a subtle white glow. “I’m going to get inside it and fix everything.”

I stepped back in shock. “You’re a Blade? How is that possible?” I asked with shock and fear. “They made me.” He said pointing out of the window at the planet below. “In this loop those crazy bastards evolved on that planet, the lab where the device was designed is part of their history. In this reality they have spent the entirety of their history trying to perfect it. It took a lot of figuring out but my people got the gene codes. I had them altar me. It was not a pleasant experience.”

“You can’t just hop into the device and start mashing reality Zal. Aygah was born a Blade. She spent decades learning the science that makes it work. She helped build it. You cant get a little gene alteration and ascent to godhood Zal.” He just looked at me and grinned. “yes. I can and all you have to do it open it.”

“Or I turn it on and let it try again” I said with a firey resolve. “How about we see what happens to you if I let Aygah take another crack as perfection. See what she thinks of you and your plans.” Zal looked back matching my poker face.

Zal gave me his signature snarl and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. He pulled me over to the device. Lea turned to stop him and every gun in the room pointed at her. Zal threw me against the device with more force than a human should have been able to muster. He stood arms crossed waiting for me to do as I was told. “I’m syphoning off the devices power to charge our Warp generator. It can’t fold reality while its got no power. Open it or I’ll start hurting your little friend” He was serious. “Jon, you can’t help him.” Lea called to me.

I looked down at the controls. I knew how to use this. It was all just in my head somehow. I started thinking though my options. “I need to figure this out” I said glancing at Zal. “You have five minuites then her good looks start getting ruined.” he said pointing at Lea. He went and sat back down pouring himself another drink.

“Don’t do it Jon” Lea begged. I knew wasn’t sure what I would do when her torture started. I had to think this through carefully.

It was totally possible that Zal didn’t have anywhere near the juice required to make this thing work. But if anything happened to the woman inside it would all of her abilities go to the one Blade left in all of existence. I wasn’t sure I could risk it. Even without being in the device that kind of power would make Zal a force of nature.

What it he could do it, what if I opened the device and he simply used it to re-write reality until he got to his human totalitarian utopia. Everyone I knew would be gone, including Libby, and me now I thought about it.

How was I still me? Why were certain things preserved from iteration to iteration. I had no idea how it worked and I wasn’t sure I would be able to work it out. No point wasting time thinking about that.

Why had Aygah decided that his perfect human world needed another fold. What was wrong with it? I needed to focus on what I could do now. I needed to not let myself go down a mental hole here… Focus Jon. Focus.

I could do what Zal wanted and the entire of reality would be wiped out and there was no way he would keep me as part of his template. He would be the only person in the universe who even knew it had happened.

That got me thinking, why were there artefacts this time? Why were there things that were left from loop to loop? I shook off this line of thought. It didn’t matter. This wasn’t an academic puzzle it was the fate of reality.

Why were there Thinkers now and not before? Why was there suddenly a whole race of beings, where did they come from? Also this world. Why did the device only work from this location? Then I remembered the video, my accident. I had used the device, and I had spoken about Libby in that video. Zal was wrong. Also, if it was only one iteration between his utopia and this reality when did that accident happen. Unless it was before. Then my mind flooded with possibilities. I was questioning the mind of the architect of reality and I wondered if the things I didn’t know were also parts of her plan.

Thinkers. Mercia. Libby. Lea. Jo. Kay… Aygah. What was I missing…

Then like a million questions all consolidating into one single answer I knew it. With every fibre of my being I knew what I was supposed to do. “Zal.” I yelled. “You missed one tiny thing.” He stood up and tilted his head at me like a confused dog. “What’s that?” he asked. “She’s not in here” I said boldly hoping a hunch paid off.

“What?” He asked as a figure made of shadows stepped out of the glass behind him. The figure formed in moments and was suddenly the robbed form of Aygah from my memories. Her robes seemed to be made of the stars themselves and she moved with a nobility that I didn’t know a person could wield. She looked at me and time slowed to a crawl as an approving grin spread across her face. She disappeared into the shadows again.

Something had changed.

I was holding rifle and the guards who had dominated the room were now gone.

Zal pulled his side arm and I fired. Lea taking a moment to realise what happened kicked him in the side, he barley even noticed. My shot bounced off his shield. Lea ran away from him as we caught up with the current state of things. “How did you do that?” She asked as she got close to me. I tossed her the rifle. “It wasn’t me it was her.” I said. “Who?” she asked. She shot at Zal, but with far more accuracy than I had. His head lit up with a blue glow. He shot back, We docked behind the device. He wouldn’t dare shoot, not risking damaging it.

Lea stood up an took aim, she ducked again before firing. “Did you actually forget to shoot?” I asked. “The Device, is it really empty?” She asked.

“Yes. Why?”

“It has a stasis generator?” she asked.

“Yeah.” I replied.

“Open it up I need to take a nap.” She said franticly. “NOW”

I pressed some buttons and the lid opened. I looked up and saw what she was worried about. A Shuttle was coming right at the window. It was coming fast, and it was one of ours. “Go!” I yelled. She handed me the gun and clambered in, I pressed a button and her body frosted over. I closed the lid and armed its defences just in time.

The window smashed open with a force smashing it inwards before physics took hold and ot exploded outwards as the atmosphere rushed into space. I held onto the device. As expected it didn’t budge.

The noise of the atmosphere venting was deafening and then suddenly there was no sound at all. I looked up and the back end of the shuttle was against the hole where the window had been. The door opened and there stood Libby in all her righteous glory. She strolled out of the back. Zal hadn’t moved much more than the Device had. He had a lot more power within him that he had let on. I had no idea what a Blade really was or what it could do but apparently physics didn’t bother them much. The shuttle backed away from the hole and a shield blinked on. Libby stood looking at Zal. The atmosphere generators was flooding the room with air again. It was thin but it was enough to talk.

“Jon, you okay?” Libby called.

“I’m great.” I called back.

“Lea?” she asked.

“Inside here” I said pointing at the device.

“WHAT?” Zal screamed as he began walking towards me.

Libby sprang into action and launched herself at him. He batted her away, she flipped in the air and landed on her feet. She ran at him and this time countering his glancing blow. He flipped him onto the floor. He stood up his eyes now releasing smoke and glowing with a white fire. I looked at Libby. Her eyes were green. They engaged each other again. I ducked behind the device. If her eyes were green then Mercia was close. I tried to breath the air in the room. It tasted too thin still. Lea would need to stay in her coffin for a little longer yet. I looked at the door to the room. As soon as the air was breathable Zal’s people would flood in. I tried the air every few seconds waiting for it to be good enough for Lea to work with.

I remembered the Devices defences and I tapped some buttons to make its shield extend around me a little way. The air finally tasted like oxygen. I looked over at Libby and Zal fighting like titans locked in mortal combat. “Door” I said to myself and pointed my rifle at the entrance. The door slid open. I fired wildly at it. “All that power and you didn’t think to lock the damned door” I muttered to myself as I was pelted with plasma rounds. The shield held. “Sorry” came a voice from next to me. I turned and there was Aygah’s face for a moment, then a flash of stars and nothing. I looked up and the door was closed again, it looked like part of the frame around it had been crimped. It wasn’t going to be opening any time soon. “Thank you” I said to the air. I turned to see Libby get thrown against the shield by Zal. I looked down and suddenly realised my arm wasn’t hurting any more. I put my hand around my wrist. “Circlet!” I exclaimed realising that I was wearing one somehow, Aygah had corrected that little over sight too. I flicked my wrist and pressed the button for Jo’s direct address. Her face came on screen “DAD!?” she both asked and exclaimed. “No time to explain. I need you to fire everything you have into that window right now.” I tilted my Circlet so show her, if it was working the co-ordinates would be attached to the image. “I need everything in this room totally destroyed. NOW! Jo.” She nodded and relayed my request. “Arn’t you in there too?” she asked. “Doesn’t matter! I know how this sounds but the hole of reality depends on you taking this shot.” I hung up on her. I looked up to see Zal smashing Libby against he shield again. I ran around to the other side of the device and checked he controls. “I’m sorry Lea.” I said realising that she wouldn’t be making it out of here either. I looked on and saw Mercia lower into view through the shield. “Bye Zal.” Libby said throwing him back and running to me. She leaped over the device and crouched down next to me. “What?” I asked. Mercia took the shot and everything went blue. For a fraction of a second I saw the room around me turn into a fire and then I realised I wasn’t burning, it can’t have been more than a nano second before I began moving. “Blue-Tube” I said to myself and the comforting safe glow of the tube pulled me, Libby and Lea, coffin an all to safety.

I felt the tube end and I hit the floor with a thud. I sat up a few seconds later and looked around to make sure the device had come with me. Libby looked down at me and offered me her hand. I took it and she pulled me to my feet. I walked over to the device and pressed the combination of buttons to open it. Lea was still there in the same position as before. The energy frost across her face cleared and she looked up sleepily. I turned back to Libby and embraced her like never before.

“You let him think he had you beat?” I asked.

She smiled “I couldn’t take him so I kept him distracted while I waited for an option to present its self.”

“And the Tube?”

“I didn’t have time to place an order so I did the maths, hacked Merica’s computer and fired it myself.” she grinned.

I we kissed.

Conflict

We took an elevator to the ships Bridge. I hadn’t been there before but Jo had ordered our presence. The doors opened and we were prompted to enter by a security office. A real one, I hoped.

The bridge was smaller than I expected. It was a round room that used holograms of some kind to make it appear that we were simply open to space. There was four people sat in a row on padded chairs at the front. The captain stood behind them at his own station with consoles each side of him. There were also stations to the side of the room. I looked around in awe. Jo and Ba’an were standing at the back, leaning against a wall that was hardly visible at all against he holographic projection. They were leaving the captain to do his work. I realised that the holographic representation of space was not one to one when I saw that Mercia its self was floating in front of the captain it was little larger than a football and the cylinder ship was in front of it. According to the little diorama it was still firing at the ship. The planet was represented as a semi transparent image off to he side a little way. Fighters had launched from both sides, the battle looked like a video game. The captain was studding it all and shouting instructions to his crew.

“Mister President, are you sure this isn’t enough?” the captain asked. “Jon?” Ba’an asked as he saw me. “Don’t stop while there’s something left to shoot at.” I said sternly. “You heard the man captain.” he said. The captain ordered for another barrage of missiles to be fired. I watched as the cylinder ship crumbled into parts in front of me. “Sir, I have the Thinker government on the line, audio only” someone said to the captain. “Put it through then.” He said. “How did you appear in our space? Why are you firing weapons?” Came a scratchy synthetic sounding voice. “We are taking down a terrorist attack force and will be vacating your space as soon as it is safe to do so. Apologies for violating your territory.” The captain said carefully choosing his words. Ba’an signalled for us to follow him and headed out of a door at the back that we could only partially make out through the simulated space. We walked into a small office. Ba’an sat down behind the desk. I assumed it was the captains desk. I sat down in front of him. Libby next to me. Jo perched on the end of the desk and Lea stood to attention behind us.

“Jon, as briefly as possible I would like a few answers.” Ba’an said sternly. I nodded.

“Mercia was sabotaged and our TD-drive was fired. One moment we were heading into deep space with no way to stop the next the ship is fully repaired and we have a trip to Thinker space plotted in the navigational system”

I wasn’t sure I actually had much in the way of answers, not one’s he would be able to make sense of. “Sir, the long version would keep us all here for hours. The very short version is that I know pretty much everything you could ever want to know about The Event, My ex-wife maybe a god, of sorts and you are shooting at that ship to make sure someone who was trying to reset the whole of the universe is as dead as possible.” I looked at him and a grin spread across my face.

“Lea, does this fit your account of events?” He asked. She stood to attention “Yes sir. Exactly sir.”

“Not that I’m complaining but how exactly did Mercia get magically repaired?”

“My ex-wife sir.” I replied.

“Anything else I should know?” He asked.

“Yes. Thinkers have a lab that is left over from before the event and its entirely possible they have the technology to make a device for starting another one.”

“I expect a report on all of these events by tomorrow.” He said, which was Ba’an’s way of telling to leave.

We left the room and exited through the elevator. I glanced at the state of the cylinder ship as I walked past. It was in many tiny pieces now. There were less red fighters now more Mercia insignias in the projected battle. Mercia was still firing its smaller weapons to pick off the debris.

Lea left us and headed to her room. Libby and I got back to our apartment and sat on the sofa. I was exhausted. Which was something of a novelty for me to be honest.

“What happened?” I asked her. She lent against me. “We go to the distress call, found a confused colony with no idea what we were talking about. We scanned the area and headed back. We got reports that there was something happening at the Facility, I think someone launched the rocket ship, or blew it up. Drones were sent out to investigate. We pushed the TD-Drive as far as we could to get back to Earth and, well. I think you know the rest.”

“Mercia’s sabotage?” I asked.

“Captain Curtis and Ba’an are still trying to figure out who was responsible but it was when all the damage repaired it shelf that everyone really started freaking out.” She looked at my arm confused, again. “Jon, take off your jacket. I think there’s something wrong with your arm.”

“Theres something wrong with my jacket” I said looking at the hole in the sleeve.

I took it off and looked at my bandaged arm. She was right. There was something strange about it. There had always been a section of my arm that seemed newer than the rest. I had assumed it was an old injury, a re-grown limb. I unwrapped the bandaged from it. It was blood soaked and dirty. As I unwrapped I could see my arm, it looked as I expected, that is fine except that it still had a hole in it. I was confused, “It stopped hurting a while a go.” I explained. Libby scanned it with her palm. “Jon, your arm is synthetic.” I looked in confusion. “Since when?” I asked. “Since always, the skin layer seems to have masked it.” I looked in through the hole, the blood had run out and it was cleaner than before. The inside had began regenerating, or re-building. There was the occasional tiny flash of light as new sections seemed to appear. “What’s happening in there?” I asked. “Nanites. Rebuilding it.” she said stunned. “Jon, this technology is way beyond anything we have” She stared in awe of it. “Am I okay?” I asked now a little concerned. “I guess so. I mean. Sure, its your arm I suppose.” I looked at her through the hole. “Why doesn’t it hurt?” I asked. “The synthetic blood must have simulated the organic responses. It bled out so you cant feel the pain now. I assume.” she said apologetically. Still looking at it with great interest.

“Didn’t you wonder why only you were able to operate the device?” came a voice from the other side of the room. My head spun around, Libby shot to her feet and her hands glowed as her weapons charged. “Relax” said the figure. It was Aygah. Standing there in her robes made of stars messing with our food hatch. “I have not had a cup of coffee in something like twenty three billion years. Give a girl a break.” Her eyes were white and subtle smoke came out of them. “Who the fuck are you?” Libby asked still charging her blasters. “Libby. This is Aygah.” Her hands dimmed rapidly.

Aygah came and sat down on the armchair next to our sofa. She put her feet on our coffee table and sipped her large mug of sweet smelling coffee.

“It’s nice to finally meet you Libby” she said with a smile. “Err” Libby was literally unable to speak. “I don’t show up on anything other than your optical and audio sensors my dear. Your not malfunctioning.” She sipped her coffee and smiled at it contently.

“Can you fill in the gaps now?” I asked. Slouching back into the sofa. Libby sat down next to me, from her posture I could tell that she was still ‘armed’ “Libby, you may as well relax. You can’t hurt her even if you needed to.” she looked at me with confusion. “He’s quite right Libby.”

“The gaps?” I prompted. She sipped coffee.

“Everything you now know is correct Jon. Humans were almost wiped out. You and I, in our adolescent arrogance formulated a plan to re-write the entirety of reality to put humans back in charge. Eventually the computer did its work and reality reached that terrifying result. That’s when I was put back in the driving seat. It didn’t take me long to realise that I had created a fascist empire that was slowly removing freedom, creativity and joy from all of the universe. Humans, you see; are not creative explorers like they like to tell people. They are nostalgic small minded control freaks who naturally trend towards totalitarian regimes whenever left to their down devices. I spent another thousand iterations fixing the problem that we had created. But my influence over the way reality plays out is limited. All I am ever able to do it put pieces on the board. It’s a slow process.”

“You are the one who started The Event?” Libby exclaimed as she put all the pieces together.

Aygah ran out of coffee. “I don’t re-write anything really. It all happens then it doesn’t happen. There are still the same pieces on the board now as there were before the first iteration. I just move them around until balance is struck”

Is our reality only two months old?” Libby asked.

“No. Yes. I don’t know. Everything you know is real. It all happened and also so did a infinite number of other things. The best way to think of it is that, it doesn’t matter if it’s ‘real’ or not. Now is all that matters. Trust me. I have been doing this a long time.”

“Why am I here?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. Those gaps. Sorry.” she said. Suddenly she was at the food hatch getting more coffee. Then she was sitting on the chair again. It wasn’t like she stood up and walked over there. She was there, like he had always been there, then she was sitting down and she had never moved. Libby was glancing back and fourth. “Sorry my dear. The computational devices of your world can’t process temporal duplicity. That’s on purpose. I removed the science from your reality to stop anyone else making a device.” She drank her coffee.

Libby looked quite concerned at all of this.

“Gaps. I don’t usually communicate in order. I must focus.” Aygah began again. “You lost your arm in our first iteration. You built a new one. When we created the device you used the temporal encryption signature of its processor as an authentication device. That’s why only you could override its controls.”

“You were inside the device? How are you his ex-wife?” Libby asked.

“I can’t explain how it works. It took hundreds of years to figure it all out. I preserved the essence of our relationship from the first iteration and encoded it into the current one. I also preserved the part where I was no longer around. I’m not a person like you both are, not any more. I can’t be part of a family” She didn’t look sad. “I needed to preserve him. To keep him in every iteration. In all of them he was less than he is now. Defeated and drunk usually. Then on one iteration he met you. Totally by chance. He was better. So I kept you in every iteration that followed.” she smiled at Libby with genuine affection.

“I couldn’t find a way to get this reality, this very one. Then I realised that it couldn’t be everything at once. I had to leave some gaps in the foundations for it to work. Jon, you’re memory had to go, you had to know nothing, it made you notice more. Libby, you had to destroy that spy ship. If it was around when Zal struck there would have been no time to rescue him. If you hadn’t been able to get here in time Zal would have been able to get into the device and counter my work. Its all complex but every event was required. Some wont pan out for a little while yet.” Aygah looked happy to be talking to people. I wondered if she was lonely.

“Will humans get their immortality back?” I asked.

“No. After all this time, in every iteration where humans keep that gift they are the enemy of freedom. Short lives keeps them innocent. If they find a way to retrieve the genetic marker I’ll block it.” She was stern now. “Do not test this Jon.” I was confused. “I’m no scientist.” I said.

“Before I go. Gifts.” She said. She stood up and her robes flickered and sparkled. Libby rubbed her eyes. Aygah’s appearance was causing her some issues. “You already have medals and I have a feeling you will accrue more soon. But here goes. Libby, you are not a Defender of the Earth. You are a Guardian of Reality and as such you need your fullest capacity at all times. The graviton transmission that allows you to sync with your bodies will be encoded into the plan. No matter where you go within your own time frame there will be no force that can block your signal. No more sim-mode, unless you want it. I promise.” she waved her hand in a majestic gesture though nothing seemed to happen. “Anywhere?” Libby said. “Yes. Though no one will be able to explain why, I assure you.”

I was pleased that Libby had this gift. I never liked her sim-mode.

She turned to me. “I still have to visit Joanne and Lea. I wont forget them. But for you. Have all that you have forgotten.” and with that she simply wasn’t there any more.

“Wow. Your ex-wife is kind of awesome.” Libby said stunned and, from a computational point of view glad that she was gone I think. “She always was.” I said with a smile. “You remember her?” Libby asked. “Yeah. I remember everything.” I said, she hugged me, an embrace that was all consuming joy accompanied by a kiss that for the first time I was able to return with my truest deepest self.

Then my circlet buzzed. Libby’s buzzed. The Viewing screen rang and the door chimed. We ignored it all. Libby looked me in the eyes and grinned with joy. “All if it?” She asked. “I remember every moment of every iteration Every kiss, every fight and every adventure. I loved you in all of them” I whispered. “You didn’t know me in all of them” I kissed her on the nose. “Just because I didn’t know you, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love you.”

Someone over rid the doors lock. Joanne stormed in. “Why arn’t you answering anything?” she demanded. We ignored her. “I just had a visit from mom!” she said excitedly. “We know” Libby and I replied in perfect unison.

“The Thinker collective has just declared war on the Sol alliance.” Libby and I held our embrace and only replied with “Uh hu”

Foot steps came from the corridor. Lea came around the corner. “Oh hey, you’re all here. You wont believe who just visited me.” We smiled. “My mother?” Jo said with a raised eyebrow. “She gave me a location of some artefact were supposed to go and find and said she got me a new shuttle.”

“Cool” Libby said without taking her eyes away from mine. Jo answered the still ringing view screen. There was David Atkinson looked at us with a drone behind him “You’re on Mercia! Guys! They arrested me. This is my one call. Are you coming back?” Libby and I laughed, I finally turned my head. “Were on the way David. Oh and its called ‘detained’”

END // Part one.

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