DATE: Sun 08 Aug 2021 07:32 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net

Denouement // Part 5.

Part 1. (web)
Part 2. (web)
Part 3. (web)
Part 4. (web)

Phoenix.

The pain filled me a moment before I opened my eyes. I was on my back. The ceiling was the ambient white glow that I had come to expect. I tried to sit up. “Careful” came Libby’s voice from the side of my bed. She pressed the buttons to make my bed prop me up. “I have to stop waking up in hospital beds.” I coughed. Not realising how dry my mouth was until I had started talking.

I wasn’t in Kay’s medical centre. I was In a private room there were machines attached to me with wires. I felt like I had electric running though me, every nerve burned. “What happened?” I asked as I looked over to Libby.

I looked at her eyes first, emerald green. I was relieved. Libby was perfect and pristine. No metal showing, no burns and absolutely no flesh missing. I assumed she had created a new body for herself. She was dressed in a red tank top and denim shorts. Her blonde hair fell freely about her shoulders in perfectly styled curls.

“You survived. They’re running cure-all through your body. You should be fine in half hour now your awake.” Her voice was soft want timid. “Kay? Lea?” I asked in a horse dry cough.

“Kay is in a similar state to you right now. Lea isn’t doing as well.” she licked her lower lip nervously. “She’s going to be okay but its going to take a little longer. They had to regenerate her entire epidermis. There was damage to her lungs and brain.”

“What? Will she be okay?” I barked again, with raspy breath and dry lips.

“She’s going to be fine in a day or so. She’s got the best doctors and we are past the scary stages. They’re keeping her unconscious until she’s healed. No reason to put her through the pain.” Libby said. Again sheepish and reserved. She passed me a glass of water. I drank it all. “More, please” I asked as I pointed the glass at her with a great dry need. She filled it from a cravat on a table to her side. I drank three more glasses.

“And you? How are you?” I asked now that I had moisture in me again. “Me? I’m a NOLF Jon. I Just disengaged that body and synced a new one” She forced a smile as she spoke but it fell short of genuine. “I know what you are Libby. I wasn’t asking about your body.” I corrected as I lent forward and stretched out my arms in hopes that some of my muscles would ease. The tingling was subsiding.

“I, I did a lot. Whenever I load memories of a time my body was in simulation mode I’m always annoyed that it did things differently than the real me would have done. The longer I’m out of sync the more the simulation diverges from the decisions I would have made” she said apologetically. “I’m pretty certain that I could have escaped faster. I think there would have been better options than a Blue-tube if I was in control. Lea may not have had to go through that.”

I began pulling the wires from me. “What are you doing Jon?” she asked with an eye roll. I pulled the pipe from me that I assumed carried the Cure-all into my veins. It dribbled onto the floor. I pulled the sheets around me and stood up. Libby stood to support me. “Where are my clothes?” I asked.

Libby spent the next half hour trying to convince me to stay in the room but eventually she presented the clothes she had brought for me. My old ones were torn, burned, radiated and frozen. I was annoyed. I liked that jacket.

I smiled to myself as once again Libby had presented me with a bag of clothes. I was also getting pretty sick of waking up in hospital beds. I dug though the bag. Jeans, boots, a simple black T-shirt. I put them on. I didn’t ask Libby to leave. I was still a little wobbly. “I think your simulated self okay Libby.” I said as I tied up my boots. She didn’t reply.

“Let’s go visit Kay.” I demanded. Libby nodded. We left the room. We were in a larger hospital ward. A nurse noticed me. He was a Vampire and wearing the all-in-one suit that I had come to read as ‘medical’ in nature, along with a white tabard. “You Shouldn’t be up Doctor Michaels” He called as he came jogging over to me. “Hello.” I said politely trying not to show him how much I was actually leaning on Libby. The nurse popped out a Circlet screen and said “Doctor Ashwa. Doctor Michaels is wake and he’s out of his room.” He closed his screen. Literally seconds later an over weight human man came dashing out of an office. He was wearing the rubber looking silver grey suit of a medical professional too but covered it with a long buttoned white coat. He had a grey beard and a bald head. “No! No! No!” He called to me as the came over to us.

“What are you doing out of bed young man?” He bellowed. “Young?” Libby smirked.

“Hello Doctor.” I said. Again trying to look healthier than I was.

“You need at least another six hours of Cure-all before you even think about being up and about. You cant just go flying around space without a shield and expect to walk away like nothing happened!” He shouted. Literally shouted at me. He was quite the character.

“How long have I been unconscious?” I asked.

“Two days.” He replied.

“Then I guess if I fly around space without a shield I can just walk away. Just takes two days.” I smiled.

“You are Bio-Static. Not a machine, Doctor Michaels” He said seriously. I saw Libby raise a less than amused eyebrow as he said ‘machine.’

“From what I understand about Bio-Static biology a good meal will do more for him than week on Cure-all” Libby added supportively. “And the only person that really understands how it works is in that room” she said as she pointed to the door next to mine.

As the Doctor began to grumble again, the door to Kay’s room slid opened. Kay was leaning against the frame. Looking rougher than even me. “Ashwa!” She said sternly to the Doctor. She was wearing a hospital robe and her hair was a mess. “Bio-Static’s need nutrition. Not Cure-all you damned fool!” She took a few breathes before mustering a more stern tone “Now someone get me some clothes and something to eat!”

Once Kay was awake and throwing around her medical seniority its wasn’t long before we were all sitting in the military dining room. It was on the same deck as the Hospital, or sick bay as I was informed a ships hospital was called. I still thought of Mercia as a city not a ship.

Kay and I were sitting eating an insanely large amount of food while Libby sat watching us silently smiling to herself. I had a classic combination of burgers and fries. Kay had opted for an unreasonably large Pizza. I traded some fries for a slice. It felt like we were in a food trance. After a few more minutes of feeding up we were more able to function like normal people. The frenzy slowed.

“How is food making me feel so good?” I asked, covering my mouth.

“Doesn’t have to be food. Just nutrition hitting your stomach. Gets converted into biomass and your body expresses it around to repair damage, return to the template.” Kay started drinking from a truly massive jar of orange juice almost before she stopped speaking.

“I made a paste once that works even faster but if we need a fix, the feeding up just feels so damned good” She said panting from the massive gulp.

“You realise everyone in the room is pretending not to be watching you two?” Libby said. Lea and I looked around not even realising how full of military people the room was. They really were all half watching us.

As I looked up as a person entered the room. It was Kieran. He walked directly over to our table and saluted us. I greeted him, happy to see a friendly face.

“I hear you three took down a Correctionist spy base and threw it into the sun.” He said loud enough for the whole room to hear.

“That’s mostly true, though that wasn’t what we set out to do” Libby said.

“You flew out of there on a damned Blue-tube! Saved Lea’s life and got more intel’ on them in one mission that we have in forty years. That all true?” He asked, again loud enough for the whole room to hear.

I stood up, Kay and Libby followed my lead. It seemed like the right thing to do. I wasn’t really sure from the tone what was happening. “Yeah. That about sums it up.” Libby said at the same volume as Kieran.

Every one in the dining room stood up. It was truly unnerving. Kieran saluted us. Everyone in the room began clapping. Kieran held his salute.

The clapping halted and everyone in the room saluted but not to us. Joanne and Ba’an and just walked in. “Well don’t look at us! Their the ones who pulled off a damned miracle” Ba’an yelled and clapped us himself. The mood in the room was humbling, though I wasn’t sure we deserved the praise. All we did was react to situations as they came up. It was Libby who did all the incredible things.

The clapping died down. Joanne came over and hugged as all one by one. Vice President or not. I was her father, Kay was her daughter and Libby was one of her closet friends.

Ba’an said something to Kieran quietly, he smiled and walked off hurriedly. A few moments later a screen appeared projected against the back wall of the large dining room. It was filling the wall. Kieran was setting up the projection by placing his Circlet on a table. “Jon, Ka’ona. I doubt you have had chance to catch up on the news feeds yet” Ba’an said gesturing to the screen.

We all turned to watch the video. It was news footage quickly transitioned to some video that had been taken form the camera on a mining ship. The video placed the edge of the sun to the left of the screen so that you could just see its curvature poking into frame. The video showed Mercia appear with a flash as it disengaged its TD drives. It appeared hanging in space as flash of pure white rage left the edge of the sun, I assume the moment the shields were dropped on the ship we were on. A blue beam of light shot from Mercia into the bright area and the white flash turned into an ejection of plasma of some sort. The video then zoomed in to show four little outlines of people zipping up the line of blue. The footage had to be slowed down to track the figures movement. The moment the figures vanished into Mercia its sparking Blue-shield blazed into existence as that lick of fury from the sun engulfed it. A few moments later Mercia fired its huge engines left the burning arm of the sun. The people in the room let out excited cheers as if they hadn’t already lived this moment once. Mercia moved back to safe distance its shields still flickering with expended energy. The video then flipped back to a news anchor who seemed to be explaining what had just happened. The side of the screen was filled with fuzzy zoomed in photos of our faces. Kay looked like she was mid scream, I was in a Zen like trance, Lea’s skin was burned and her eyes were closed tight. She was tinted bluer than the rest of us because of the added layer of her own shield, not that it seemed to be doing much. The bottom picture showed Libby’s burned metal skeleton, being the last out she was most exposed to the sun. There were only moments between us all leaving as the shield went down but the difference was enough to make the difference between toasty and inferno. The Video blinked off.

Everyone in the room was whooping and cheering. It really did look impressive. Probably the most impressive looking thing I had ever done, or seen. But from the point of view I actually had while it was happening I was living though a nightmare and Lea wasn’t standing next to us enjoying this moment of victory. I glanced over to Kay, she had a complicated expression but looked back at me with a very real smile emerging. Libby was beaming with pride but not in herself, in us.

Ba’an waved for everyone to calm down. “Elizabeth Michaels” he bellowed in his most presidential tones while gestured towards Libby so everyone not familiar knew who he was talking about. “She calculated the most ludicrous rescue operation in the history of space travel. It was her timings that allowed us to blaze in there already having coordinates for the beam and the exact amount of time between firing it and raising the shields.” He paused for a moment, to build dramatic tension “She simultaneously briefed her team inside the spy ship and stole the ships entire database on he way out. Bringing it home safely, taking great personal harm while doing so.” everyone clapped a little. Ba’an quieted them again. “Well Elizabeth Michaels seems to think that she doesn’t deserve a damned medal for this!” the crowed gasped. “She has been dodging my Screen’s and messages to the extent that I had had to come to the mess hall myself to tell her that everyone on that team is getting a ‘Sol-Crest’ medal… Except her!” The crowed began to cheer then aborted into a gasp in an almost scripted way. “Because! She is going to be the first NOLF in Sol history to receive the ‘Defender of Earth’ commendation” there were literal cheers across the dining room. Ba’an let it go on for a few long seconds before nodding to Joanne.

“Okay knock it off people. We got business to conduct.” She ordered.

The good natured circus left us and no-one was brave enough to even glance our way once Ba’an and Jo sat down. The tables directly next to us vacated quickly too. The respect and awe they commanded was remarkable. Ba’an ability to work a crowed was impressive too.

“Really? You couldn’t just send her an e-mail?” Kay said with a deeply annoyed tone. Ba’an looked apologetic. “Come on, its good for morale!”

“You were recording that whole thing, I assume?” Kay asked. “Of cause we were” Jo cut in while taking some of my fries.

“Are you aright Kay? I know you don’t do well in combat situations” Ba’an asked without any performance or agenda. “Yeah, its over and I’m seasoned enough to know not to dwell on it.” She replied with a sincere nod.

“Dad, You got any more memories back?” Jo nudged.

“No, and there are very few old ones still in me I’m told. Doesn’t matter though I’m making new ones.”

Jo smiled at me “I had a feeling you would get your old spark back once you got a few people trying to kill you again.”

“Actually. As odd as this sounds. I feel like that may actually be true.” I said honestly and with consideration.

“You know, in the two months while you were in a coma no one blew up a single spy ship.” Libby said.

“It was actually a really nice two months” Ba’an added with a cheeky smile across his blood red lips.

“Cheaper too. I’ll bet” Kay threw in.

“Now you mention it, yes! I should bill all you for all the burn damage across the stern of the ship.” As Ba’an poked fun at me I glanced up and noticed his hand across the table, his fingers out flat. It was only for a moment but I saw it. His hand touched Kay’s and her face was betrayed by a moment of warmth for him. He noticed their touch and retreated before she reacted.

Everyone laughed with each other and the conversations went on with more good natured back and fourths for a little longer. Until Joanne said something that seemed to make the table’s mood darken a little “… Anyway given recent events we the captain wants to take Mercia back to Earth for a once over.”

“Yes. And after so long away, sorting out the recent transport issues I need get back to Sol anyway.” Ba’an followed.

I noticed Kay’s dejected look as her mood changed “Well have a good time, I have work to do.”

“Sorry Kay, I’m arranging quite the gathering for Friday night. I need you to join us on Earth to get your medal.” Ba’an said, I think knowing what was to come next.

“No. I do have commitments, my work.” Kay said, standing up.

Ba’an looked her in the eyes before replying “Kay. You’re getting a Sol-Crest! Consider it a presidential order if you have to but You are coming to this.”

Kay sighed pushing down some anger that I didn’t quite understand. “Fine! Send me the info, I’ll make my own way there.”

“Ka’ona, make sure you’re off Mercia by twenty two hundred hours. That’s when its leaving.” Joanne said with a motherly tone that didn’t quite suite her.

Joanne hugged Kay and told her that they would talk later. Jo was worried about her daughter. The parental instincts that she had for Kay were obvious to us all but struck me as out of place considering that they both looked the same age.

Our presidential party stood up and left briskly nodding and waving to people as they did.

The work.

Kay excused herself to go and check on Lea’s recovery. I told Libby that intended to go back to my lab. “I’ll come for a little while” she said. “Oh, and on the way I want to pop into the commerce area. I need a new jacket.” I told her. We left the dining room and headed to the closes elevator.

As the elevator door closed I decided to break the silence before it set in. “Hows the new body?” I asked. The elevator moved. “Much like the last one” she replied. “Does it feel odd, getting a new one?” Before she answered me I added another layer to my question “Does it hurt?”

The doors to the Elevator opened. And we got out by the space window with the little artificial grass and the bench. There were a lot of people and even a few families, most showing their kids the stars moving as the ship was adjusting its position, I assume in preparation for the move back to earth.

“I don’t process pain in the way organics do. Its sensory information, nothing more. My concious point of view is always split between my core and my body. Its more like part of me is refreshed. I imagine its like humans, when they have to sleep” She said thoughtfully as we walked towards the shops. “So getting a new body is like waking up refreshed from a good nights sleep?” I asked. “Yeah, I guess so.” I figured that would be the end of her response but she continued. “Going from that battle damaged body, out of power and about to shut down to a newly synthesised one was a hell of an upgrade though.”

We stopped outside a shop selling men’s suits. “Here?” she asked. I made a disgusted sound and walked farther down the road. “Wait, I just realised. I don’t even know our financial situation. Do we have to pay someone for he bodies?” I asked, instantly realising that I was saying ‘we’ and assuming we shared a wallet. I was also realising that it may sound like I didn’t think it was a good investment. “I mean, not that…” I trailed off trying desperately not to sound like a absolute arse.

Libby let me stumble over my words for a few seconds before nudging me with her shoulder and laughing, “Well you can still afford a new jacket Jon. I’m not quite burning through our reserves just yet.” she was shaking her head in a mocking over acted hurt expression making sure I knew how funny she thought it was before clarifying as we reached what looked like a military surplus store. “Jon, my lo…” She caught herself before she slipped into old habits. “Jon, I’m one of the most well known philosophy speakers in known space. Also, I designed the technology that my body uses. Money is not an issue for us.” I didn’t know what to say but a sincere “wow” left my lips before I could catch it. I also felt warmed that the real Libby almost referred to me as her simulation-mode version had. ‘Progress, my love’ I thought to myself.

We stepped into the surplus store. An older looking but athletic man with slightly pointy ears and alien eyes was reading from a Circlet screen. He saw us and flipped it away. “There you go, you get a new jacket and you can finally meet an Elf” Libby announced as she saw him. “Meet an Elf?” Said the shopkeeper. “You must not get out much.”

I left the shop with rugged Charcoal coloured Elven jacket. The shop keeper told me it was popular with Elven hunters who lived on their third moon. Libby told me that it was a mass produced knock off of a pretty pedestrian hiking jacket that had been out of fashion on all the Elven moons for around a decade. It looked like a hard wearing weave that was reminiscent of polyester with double layered padding around the elbows. It also had more pockets than my old one and was fastened with magnets which I thought was pretty cool. Libby also told me that it was massively over priced. I told her that ‘some woman’ outside had told me I could afford it. I wore it out the shop, proudly admiring it as I caught my reflection in the glass of the store across the street.

“Street.” I said to myself. “Yes. Street.” Libby said confused as to why I was so perplexed by the word. “Were on a space ship the other end of the galaxy from Earth and I’m walking down a street like its just a shopping trip in the city. There are streets and people and even coffee shops” I explained. “It’s amazing!” I added. Libby took my hand and we walked to the next elevator and on to my Lab. We didn’t speak as we went but it was a different type of silence now. A relaxed, thoughtful silence that we shared.

I entered the Lab and the lights came on automatically. Dex came walking in from wherever it is we went when he was alone. “Welcome back” he said in an almost musical tone. “Hi Dex. You miss me?” I asked. “Yes. A great deal” he replied. I knew it was a programmed response but I enjoyed the back and fourth. I looked around at the room. The books, the trinkets and the lighting that set the mood of secrets and wisdom. This really was as close to a perfect room as I could hope for. Made sense considering that I set it all up.

I waved my hand and the desk lit up. I pressed a large button on the floating controls and the screens popped into existence like I hadn’t been gone. Libby stood next to me “Time to see the footage, I assume?” She asked. I nodded.

She pressed some buttons on the desk and typed in a security code. “This video is considered an official secret by the Sol alliance. Other than Ba’an, Joanne and myself no-one has seen this.” she said in a very serious tone.

I was apprehensive at the thought of it. I was about to see how I lost my memory

The video blinked onto the large floating screen above the desk. It was my face filling the frame. My hair was longer and my face had an impressive beard on it. The version of me on the screen was bouncing around a lot. As he adjusted the camera he backed away from it a little showing that he was alone in a desert of some kind. Behind him in the distance were mountains. The area around him was a cracked sandy surface like a dried up lake on Earth. The purple afternoon sky gave away that it wasn’t Earth. The version of me on the screen began to speak.

“After a long conversation with Libby about why I shouldn’t do this. I’m doing this. We have been poking at this device for almost ten years now and we still know next to nothing about who made it, what its purpose is or how it survived ‘The Event’… Libby I love you and I know you’re going to be furious but I have come to literally the most isolated place on Central. I can’t make it any safer unless I take it off world and you know what happened last time we tried that.”

I, or rather, he then adjusted the camera to show A large, object that looked like a pill only it was about eight feet long and appeared to be floating at waist height under its own power. It was charcoal coloured but its surface seemed to be broken up by a circuit pattern in thin silver lines. While it was clearly floating there was no blue light or other sign of power on it. It just floated there. He walked up to, and then past the camera. From the sounds of boots on metal I assumed he was going into a shuttle behind the camera. He walked out dragging a large power cable like the ones I had seen in the shuttle dock but with some adapters on the end. He laid the cables on the floor and ran back into the shuttle. He emerged a new moments later with a large box that had a handle on and some sticks under his arm. He put the box down and slammed the sticks one by one into the cracked sandy floor around him. He made a circle with them around the floating object. A few cables later and I realised what he was doing. It was a Blue-field generator. He was erecting a make shift shield around the object. He then connected the large cable to the floating object. It looked like a lot of the work had been pre-prepared as there were smaller wires affixed to the cable. They went over the object like a spider web. He took a few steps back towards the camera and made sure it was still lined up.

He seemed to freeze for a few seconds and he mustered the resolve to press the button. He pulled out his Circlet screen and first pressed for the Blue-shield to come on. It popped and buzzed for a moment but once stable it seemed to hold as a rough dome over the object. He checked some information on his screen then stepped back behind the camera.

“Okay! Here it goes.”

The wires attached to the object sparked for a few seconds and then the silvery pattern that was all over the object was lit up a bright and glowing blue. “Power is now on” He shouted from behind the camera.

After a few seconds he stepped back into frame and quickly walked towards the object. “It didn’t explode. I told you it wouldn’t” he said smugly to the camera.

He pressed a button on his wrist and the Blue-shield blinked off. He stepped a lot closer to the object which was still glowing blue. He raised his hand towards it and I could see a scanner appear in his palm, one like Kay had used on me too many times now. The little scanning threads of light shot out of it towards the object and he used his other arm to project a screen from his Circlet so he could read the data. After a few moments I noticed the area behind him get darker as a storm appeared over the mountains. That was a few seconds before it got strange.

As the lightening struck behind him, the floating object responded but flickering. It literally seemed to flicker out of existence for a few seconds. Like it was a bad special affect in an old movie that was trying to use computer graphics way before they were ready. Then it flickered back into the film.

He carried on scanning the device like nothing was happening but it reality was vanishing and reappearing every few seconds. Sometimes it would vanish but its electric lines would stay. Sometimes it would be entirely gone, cables too. But he just kept scanning it like nothing was happening. The storm behind him suddenly rolled in. It looked like the background of the video was being played back too fast while the foreground was normal. The object was still blinking in and out of visibility but not fading it was like it was being removed and replaced in-between frames of the video. It was happening more frequently now.

The rain started coming down on top of him. He didn’t respond to it at all. He just kept scanning like he hadn’t noticed. “It looks like, for whatever reason the power source is having no effect at all on the object” he said, slightly too quietly behind the sounds of the rain and the wind that apparently he hadn’t noticed. “It makes no sense. Something should have happened” He said in a deep state of thought.

He flicked his scanner away and pressed the button on the screen that powered down the cable. The indicator cuff on the end lost its glow but the object suddenly shifted from blue to magenta. The glow got brighter and then the rain froze. I don’t mean it stopped raining, I mean the droplets were frozen in the air, it was like the whole frame except him was paused.

He checked the power cable was off and then calmly said “Well Libby, all this worry and nothing happened.” with that he put his hand on top of the object, I assume to remove the power cabling. The magenta glow stretched out and outlined him. As it did both him and he device vanished from the frame for a moment. Then as if nothing was amiss the rain started moving normally again. He reappeared in the same position.

He instantly fell to the ground. The device did not re-appear. He started shaking and his muscles shook in some kind of seizure. Then after a few moments the twitching oh his body stopped and he lay still on the floor face up in the rain. The storm then blinked out and there he, or I, lay unconscious and still on the floor. The beard and long hair was gone. He looked exactly like me now. Even had my old jacket on.

The video ended after a new more seconds of nothing.

“Did you notice it?” Libby asked. “The beard?” I returned.

“No Jon. Though, that’s part of the many things wrong with this footage. Did you see the lightening?” She asked in a haunted voice.

“I, I think so. I mean I saw lightening.”

“No. Let me play it again, I’ll slow it down.” She rolled the footage back to the moment the storm started behind him, me. Then she turned a dial on the interface and the video slowed to a crawl. The lightening struck and as it did its glow lit up buildings that weren’t there. With every strike the light reflected off things that didn’t exist. There was a city, a Gothic arcane looking city with sweeping lines and huge buildings. But only its reflective glory. It was still a mountain range and a desert once the glow faded.

“And this is just one of the many things wrong with this footage.” Libby quietly said. “What else?” I asked. “Well. Actually I’m not sure where to start.” she said with a thoughtful tilt of her head “The entire thing from start to finish is seventeen minutes long but according to all AI analysis of it the shuttles internal clock only moved by seventeen seconds. Then there’s the beard. Because of your biology your hair grows incredibly slowly. A beard like that would take you quite literally two decades to grow. I’m pretty sure I would have noticed.”

“Okay. That is odd.” I mused as I ribbed my chin. “Oh, That’s not all of it.” she said. “That’s not even the start of it.” She pressed some buttons on the desk “This is footage from my own optical uplink. Once you passed out your Circlet AI went into SOS mode and transmitted your coordinates to the whole family. I was first on to arrive. This is how I found you.”

Another video started on the screen. It was recorded from Libby’s perspective out of her own eyes. Her vision wasn’t like a humans. It was much wider in both field of view and spectrum. It had constantly running information streaming into her. Showing objects and information about everything she saw. There were high speeds and in pure streams of code across the edges. Things were highlighted as she looked at them. I was so distracted by how she saw things that it took me a few seconds to realise what she was seeing. I was on the floor in the same position as I was on the other video but bow I wasn’t in a desert. It was lush green forest. As she ran over to me she glanced over to the shuttle. It was completely covered in foliage growth. It looked like it had been there for years. There were even branches of trees and plants growing into the back of it. She looked down at me and I was covered in grime and dirt and unconscious. Her visions gave he information. My pulse was erratic and my temperature was high, way past what should kill a normal human. The footage ended as she picked me up.

“Okay, that doesn’t match up with the other video at all.” I observed. “That storm.” She replied “It wasn’t just where you were. It was everywhere. Every city on Central. Every moon colony. And every planet in known space. In every planetary body in known space a storm appeared. Even places without atmosphere.”

“What!” I exclaimed. “Yeah, We were all on lock down. Waiting for the storm to pass. Here’s the kicker. It lasted for exactly seventeen hours.”

“Seventeen hours?” I queried. “Yes, well sort of. In the entire of known space everyone sheltered from a storm for seventeen hours. Every clock that we are able to check from inside the storm says it went on for seventeen minutes” Her tone was somewhere in-between terrified and enthralled as she recounted these facts. “All we know for sure is that the universe was broken for an amount of time that was between seventeen seconds and Seventeen hours.” She then shrugged. “It matches the description of the original event from peoples writings from nineteen hundred. Though after the original event the entire of reality was different. This one doesn’t seem to have changed much. Though were not sure if we would even be able to tell”

“Libby, I hope this doesn’t come across as ignorant but what’s your perception of how time flowed?” I was relieved when he looked enthusiastic to answer “Oh, The body I was synced with at the time registered seventeen hours from the planet. My core, on the ship registered seventeen seconds. That’s where the time difference comes from, ships were unaffected. Only celestial bodies seem to have felt the storm.”

We watched the footage again, this time stopping constantly as we remarked on moments and artefacts. We analysed each frame and cross referenced every comment and frame looking for some clue as to what happened. Libby had already done this while I was in my two month coma. She already had most the answers that I asked for, even before Dex.

“Okay. What about the day of the accident. What led up to it?” I asked.

“That’s actually part of the mystery.” she said with a sigh. “We woke up in our apartment. You had breakfast then you said you were taking a shuttle to a remote township to help Jo with a meet and greet at a school. You took your own shuttle. Then the next time I hear from you it was your Circlet paging me. I was at a university the other end of the planet when the storm hit. As soon as it was over I got the page and got over to you as fast as possible”

“Other side of the planet? But between the Circlet alarm going off and you arriving it was only a few minutes.” I wondered how she got there so fast.

“Yeah, I know. But I cant tell you for certain it took me forty minutes to get to you. I can only assume that whatever oddness was going on with time wasn’t over.”

“And you have never seen that capsule thing before?”

“Nope, and I assure you, you didn’t have a beard when you left!”

After a few more runs through the video Libby had ran out of time. She had other commitments in her capacity as an educator. “You have to go? I thought you could be in two places at once.” I asked half joking. “I can. I can be the on-screen version of me and in a body at the same time but I can only sustain one body. I can’t teach from a screen. Seems rude.” She replied. She lent over and kissed me on the cheek as she turned to leave. We both were struck by the familiarity of the action for a moment but neither of us dared to say anything. “Try not to get distracted by any pretty girls while I’m gone.” she said from the doorway as she left.

I instantly thought of Lea, of her face on the news feed. I hoped she would be back with us soon.

Aurora.

I woke up with back ache. At some point I had sat in the old armchair that was in the corner of the lab. I had used a pile of old books as a foot stall and made myself a little too comfortable. “Dex, what time is it?” I asked. “Oh Eight Hundred” he replied. I looked over at him, sure enough he was in the same place he was when I had last seen him. “Don’t let me keep you if you have things to to do Dex.” I said partly because his constant gaze was a little creepy.

“Would you like me to leave?” He asked. “No. But you are kinda robotic. You don’t have to constantly stand to attention. Relax or something.”

Dex kept looking at me.

Eight in the morning. I considered the time and scratched at my chin. “Dex. Where’s Libby?” I asked. “She is in your assigned room” he answered instantly. It occurred to me that I hadn’t really thought about time when I had woken up in the hospital.

“Dex, what time did I enter the lab?”

“Nineteen hundred hours” He answered tilting his head at me in a way that was both annoying and oddly adorable.

“What time did Libby leave?”

“Twenty three thirty.” The head straightened.

“She was teaching at that time of night?” I asked, more to my self than Dex.

“No. Her lecture was at oh nine hundred. In North Africa.” There was silence for a few moments while he considered his explicated “I believe you are failing to account for the time differential between Mercia and Earth’s local zones.” He looked oddly pleased with himself, though I’m not sure how I could tell.

Earth. I almost leaped to my feet. I was so wrapped up in the video and the data that I had totally forgotten. Mercia was transitioning to Earth at eleven.

I grabbed my jacket and sprinted up the corridor. The elevator opened and I pressed for the Commercial deck. Within moments the doors opened again. I ran down the street to the observation area.

Earth. There she was. I wasn’t the only one either. There were quite a few people admiring her.

Mercia was in low orbit over Europe. I couldn’t actually make out cities or even places really. I didn’t have a trained eye for any of that. But there she was. The home world. The one place I felt a connection with. Earth.

The blue gem was actually blue. Clean skies, vast areas of green and a pure twinkle that told me she was safe. No pollution, no damage. No war no poverty and no inequality. It was Earth as it always should have been. Not like the echoes of washed out memories I had resurfacing.

“I fucking hate this planet” came a soft voice from behind my ear. I turned sharply. There was Lea looking pretty well all things considered. She was in a military jump suit and a lot paler than normal but she looked functional and not at all in pain. “Lea. How are you? I was going to come and visit you!” I blurted out. “Cure-all really is a cure for all things.” She said with a pained smile. “saying that, I could have gone for another few hours of it.”

I hugged her. “Are you okay? I mean really?” I asked her as I let go the hug. “I’ll be fine. I’m told I arrived pretty messed up. They kept me unconscious while the nanite soup fixed me up. They let me out but I’m not allowed back on duty for a few days” She make an obviously tired attempt to look happy.

“You sure you are okay? You went though a lot Lea.” I was genuinely concerned.

“Jon. You forget I’m not a human. I’m a Brick. We are hardy and not just physically. I’ll be fine. Honestly.” She was either doing a good job of sounding convincing or, she really was fine.

“I’m going to get a few hours of nanite free sleep. I was just on my way to your lab so you knew I was still alive. I know how obsessive you can be.” She was right. I was obsessive. I hadn’t really noticed.

“Thank you. And if you need anything at all just Screen me. Anything!” I said. I meant it. It was my fault she had been put though all of that. I wanted her to know I appreciated her and I was sorry.

After some more sleepy exchanges she left me. Insisting that she didn’t need any help getting home. I think it was a matter of pride so I let her go alone.

I turned my attention back to Earth. The space in her orbit was packed with ships and stations but everything looked clean and futuristic. There were ships visible at the edge of the window Seemingly docking with Mercia. I watched the edges of them as they moved, unable to get a clear view from this angle.

After a while I sat on the grass lay back against the lamp post and stared through the railings at the gem. I felt drawn to her. I sat there watching for, well I don’t know how long before watching wasn’t enough any more, I needed to get down there.

I stood up and brushed the dust from the fake grass off of my legs, more out of habit than necessity.

I made my way back to my temporary home on Mercia and stopped at the door. I almost knocked. I realised that this was supposed to be my apartment as well as Libby’s but I couldn’t help thinking of it has hers. I thought about that for a moment and then with a concious resolve stepped towards the door. It opened and to my surprise, there was Libby. Asleep on the sofa. She looked totally at peace. She also looked delicate. Like a princess from and old fairly tale. I stepped close and felt a little like an intruder. The first thing I noticed was that she was breathing genitally. I wondered why she would keep on wasting power simulating biological requirements, even while asleep.

After a few more moments of watching her I realised I was stuck. It seemed rude to wake her. It also would feel creepy to not wake her. I backed towards the door. As I turned her voice followed me “Jon? How long have you been there?” she asked.

“Good ears. I was about to leave so not to wake you.”

“I wasn’t sleeping. I don’t sleep. Not really” she said as she sat up, stretching and looking exactly like someone who had woken up from a nap. “I moved my point of attention to another location. I was working on my next book and supporting a student over a video link. No point keeping this body active at the same time if I don’t have a reason to.”

“Okay… You done with all that now?” I asked. “No, I’m still in the Screen, and still working on my book, books. My proximity sensor told me that someone else was here so I shifted my attention back to here”

I was suddenly very aware that she really wasn’t like me. I knew it of course. When she had gone full kill bot on the spy ship. When she had thrown a tank out of window and when she had changed personality as her eyes had changed colours. I knew it on every level one could know something. But this was the moment that I understood it.

Her life was a series of points on a map that no organic could really understand. She was projecting a part of her self into a Screen communication. Helping a student understand something. She was in her own mind in whatever place her conciousness came from outputting ideas to her work, her book. Then she was also here, just another point of interaction for a wider mind. It wasn’t like her student or I was actually getting less of her attention. We were both the complete focus of that version of her. But she was never really in one place. She was intelligent and poetic and deep and free. She was not like me. She was never going to see the world like organics. It would have just been too small for her vast mind.

Now I suddenly understood her, I had to ask myself how that changed things for me. She looked over at me, realising that I had frozen in my own thoughts for a moment. It was then that I noticed that her smile was little dopey. She could argue that she wasn’t sleeping if it made her feel better. I’m sure from her point of view it was totally different but honestly, it just didn’t really matter.

“We got to Earth. You didn’t remind me.” I pointed out as I sat next to her on the sofa. “Yeah, I guess you would have wanted to see the moment we moved through the warp?” She asked in a slightly apologetic tone. “Yeah. I would have loved to have seen it!”

“Well you were so deep in your work and we will be leaving again in a few days.” She justified.

“You keep saying ‘my work’ all I was doing was rolling a video back and forth.”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Jonathan Michaels. Are you really going to tell me that your bizarre brain didn’t gleam something totally new from that footage?” She stuck out her finger almost accusingly.

“Well I had more questions than answers but I need to let some things float around my head for a bit.” I replied, a little pleased with myself, I did have some thought and I wasn’t ready to share them. It would have been like taking the pot off the boil. Slowed down the mental bubbling.

“I want to see Earth. I want to go and walk around it and see what its like now.” I proclaimed excitedly. It was also a small redirect to stop her from asking about my ‘work’

“Okay.” She said. Just ‘Okay’ I felt the smile spread out across my face. “Lea is out of the hospital.” I quickly remembered. “I know!” She said, “I Screened in to her the moment I got a notification that she was being released. She said she was going to swing by and talk to you before she went home.”

“Is there nothing you don’t know?” I asked. “Not when it comes to my family and my friends.” she replied a little more seriously than the tone of the conversation required.

..