DATE: Wed 25 Aug 2021 19:19 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net
Part 1. (web)
Part 2. (web)
Part 3. (web)
Part 4. (web)
Part 5. (Web)
We arrived at the shuttle dock expecting Jo to be waiting for us. With two attacks against us now, as well as our usual pilot being fast asleep Libby had asked if we could go down to Earth with our vice president.
While Libby had told me that Jo was pleased we were travelling with her, I was less than convinced when she simply wasn’t at the shuttle dock.
“See, we shouldn’t have bothered her. The vice president has better things to do than hang out with us.” I exclaimed as we arrived. Jo’s large, shiny presidential transport shuttle was powered down and there were no signs that anyone had been there. “Jo maybe the vice president but she’s also your daughter. She probably just got held up.” Libby replied in an attempt to make me feel like less of a burden. It didn’t help. People could tell me that it was fine to just give someone as important as Jo a call and say hi and ask if we could join her on her trip to Earth. In the end though she was literally the second most important person in the Sol alliance. There was no way she wanted to waste time with me. She had things to be doing.
Libby’s Circlet chimed. She looked at it “Audio only” she said. She pressed the little button to answer it. “Hello?” after a few moments she said “Oh, Okay. Be there in a moment” and pressed the button to end the communication.
She looked at me with a smug smile. “Wrong shuttle” she said. We walked down through the dock for a little way, and there was a tiny shuttle only a little larger than a car. Jo leaning against it arguing with someone on her Screen. She didn’t look very presidential today. She was wearing a short purple PVC looking skirt and a denim jacket. Her jewellery was chunky plastic bracelets, her hair was a pristine nest of loose curls. She looked like an eighties pop star. She glanced across at us and then casually closed her screen as if the conversation didn’t matter any more. “Problem?” I asked. “Oh, not really. My AI assistant is an arse, so I stopped talking to it.” she shrugged. “Also, sorry about the confusion. When I said to meet at my shuttle I meant my shuttle” she said as she opened he back hatch of the little purple ship and started digging around. “See. She’s happy to see us” Libby whispered to me.
Jo’s shuttle really did look like a car. There were no wheels but instead three large feet showing from under it. It reminded me of an oversized sports car. Its front was longer than a car and it stood taller but other than that, it was closer to a car than any of the shuttle’s I had seen. Its shimmering purple paint job that seemed to change tone as the light hit looked too extravagant to be standard issue.
Jo stood up from digging in the back. “Found it!” she exclaimed. He was holding a glass rectangle. She thrust it out at me proudly. I took it, half distracted by how she looked. As always she looked lovely but this style was drastically out of place compared to everything else I had seen people wear. I looked down at the glass. It was a single thick sheet with a photo suspended the middle of it. It was a photo of me. I had longer hair like on my ID card and I was knelt down next to a little girl of six or seven. We were both smiling at the camera. Behind us was a large lake and some kind of train in the distance. It was sunny and the sky was blue, Earth blue. The little girl looked about as happy as a kid could be and I looked at least as happy as she did. I was wearing a leather jacket and jeans. The little girl was wearing a cute pink party dress and sparkling red shoes. “Who is this? Is this you?” I asked. “No” Jo laughed “Its Ka’ona. It was the day you introduced her to Libby. She took the photo. I had been called away unexpectedly about an hour before the picture. You took it to prove to me that Ka’ona wasn’t upset. I had promised I wasn’t going to work all weekend.”
I looked at it and as sense of warmth filled me. “Can I get a copy of this?” I asked. “All of the photos I have are shared with you already. You can pull them up your Circlet. Your Lab should have a printer if you want physical ones” Jo said. “The day you met Kay hu?” I said to Libby. “I met her a few days ago in her sick bay. I wish I was there for these moments.” I said, more to the picture than to anyone else.
I passed it back to Jo. She put it back into the back of the little shuttle. I took a moment to push the flash of regret and sadness to the back of my mind. Jo opened a hatch-like door that lifted up like a big wing and climbed into the pilots seat. Libby put her arms around my waist and pulled herself close to me. She wasn’t much shorter than me but she still had to look up at me. She did so with such sad eyes. “What did I do to deserve this?” I asked linking my arms around her in return. “I saw it.” She said with a squeeze. “Saw what?” I asked. “You adore the little girl in that photo. Even without the memories.” I made a sound that was supposed to be a good natured chuckle and came out as a whispered “yeah…”
Jo’s shuttle was small but very comfortable. I had originally attempted to sit in the back seat but Libby had ejected me from it and planted me in the passenger seat, in the front. “I don’t even like this planet and you are desperate to see it. You should get the best view.” She had said.
“Why aren’t we taking one of the usual shuttles” I asked Jo as she fired up an engine test. “Because I spent a reasonable sized fortune to get the perfect shuttle custom built and Ba’an an won’t let me fly it anywhere because he thinks its a security risk.” She replied. “Security risk?” I asked. “It’s got no weapons and the shield is only enough for general flight.” the shuttle lifted a little and She flicked a switch to retract the landing feet. I heard a click as Libby connected her safety belt in the back. It reminded me to do the same. “How is it so small?” I asked somewhat rhetorically. “It’s got no life support and no weapons” Libby said as Jo was far too enthralled in her pre-flight checks. I was instinctual startled at the thought of ‘no life support’ for a moment before realising that Jo, like me did not require oxygen and I wasn’t completely convinced that Libby even required a ship.
The pilots side of the shuttle had a throttle on the left and a stick on the right, the centre was all buttons and dials. All of the information was fed to the pilot via the front windows projected display. Jo waved some information away and the back of the ship let out a growl. “And its not a security risk now?” I asked. “Well, its not like were going to get attacked on Earth is it?” she a said with a raised eyebrow. She made a brief motion with her hand on the throttle and flicked the stick, we tilted up and shot out of the docking tunnel all at same time. The little ship blazed away from Mercia at a startling speed. It spun and looped and dived for a few moments. I wanted to ask Jo why she was piloting like a drunk idiot but as I glanced at her I was stunned by her thrilled grin and decided I would let her have her moment without complaint.
After some more excited spinning the shuttle slowed and spun against its own momentum showing Earth below us. I had been out in space a couple of times now but each time I was inside a tank like military shuttle. This tiny, sleek and comparatively delicate shuttle left very little in-between us and raw cold, hungry space. It was not dissimilar to the feeling of being inside the Blue-tube but far less uncomfortable. I looked down at the pure healthy Earth and was warmed by its brilliance, by its radiance. I felt the moment the oxygen ran out in the shuttle. My chest grumbled for a moment and the air became somehow bitter to me. The cockpit was sealed so there were still gasses in our ship but not much in the way of breathable ones. We were still able to talk and it really didn’t matter. Something within me was aware that I should be dying if I were just a normal human. The juxtaposition of this awareness of my difference and looking down at the Earth and thinking of all the people who were down there without the blessing of Bio-stasis made me suddenly thankful of my gift.
Our landing struck me as more reckless than I would have liked but we were soon safely parked in what I was told was a government lot. There were no guards and none of the imposing signage that one usually expects to be associated with anything government related.
Jo had plans to visit a friend before she had to start her official work that evening. Libby and I found ourselves wondering down a rather nice canal that led out of the government area of the city. The term city while accurate didn’t feel like it fitted this place. Not after being on Central. Where Central Prime was a city of sky scrapers, space ships and neon this city was like a pictures snapshot of the past. It was still modern in many ways but modernity seemed to blend with the classical in a way that I didn’t expect. Some of the buildings were still made of bricks and the canal we were walking down even had a few barges travelling down it. I could almost of been IN the eighties version of this world that it seemed only existed in my broken memories.
We came to a nice area with a few little bistros pubs, there was a bridge that could take us towards the more urban shopping areas. All brick and stone of coarse and not a single shuttle in sight. I glanced at my Circlets embedded screen, it was two in the afternoon. “Should we stop for lunch? As were here?” I said, instantly remembering that Libby didn’t eat. “We should!” she replied with a good natured tone. We found a restaurant with outdoor seating that looked out over the canal. No sooner had we sat down than someone came out to take our order. The woman looked human and quite beautiful with dark skin and long black hair that fell lower than her waist. She was in an eighties styled waitress uniform and had an actual paper pad with a real pen. To complete her look she was even chewing gum. She passed us menus and with a northern English accent asked us if we needed some time to decide. We took her up on the offer.
Libby seemed very interested in the menu. Which surprised me for obvious reasons. “I’m going to guess you will order the ‘steak sandwich on thick sliced bread’ with an Elix to drink” She said with a smile and a questioning look. “That sounds great.” I said realising that it was the most appealing thing on the menu. “And you madam?” I replied playfully. “I think I will partake in the nothing with a side of nothing.” she said. “Do you ever, want to eat?” I asked. “Oh god no. I did once try putting a food processing system into one of my bodies. Requires cleaning out and its simply not worth the effort” she a said with a disgusted look. I smiled. “So you know what its like to eat?” a little pleased that she seemed like it had crossed her mind at least once. “Oh yes. It’s strange and totally unrequired for me so I have absolutely no desire to do it again. You however need to intake bio-matter in order to stay alive. So you should do so at every opportunity.”
The waitress came back. I made my order, as Libby had predicted. “ma’am?” the waitress said expectantly. “Oh, nothing for me thank you. I’m not an organic.” She replied politely. The waitress made a slight disapproving look at her, and then at me. She left without another word.
“That was odd” I mumbled. “Not for Earth its not” she shrugged. “I thought this place was some kind of utopia the way everyone talks about it” Libby laughed at that. “Oh its safe, its secure and its the only place your likely to visit where people think of me as property not people” I was shocked. “That seems backwards! Whys it like this?” I asked.
The waitress came back with a tray, it really was a mighty sandwich. Hot steak and thick bread with some salad decoratively placed at the edge of the plate. No-one who orders a steak sandwich was going to be interested in the salad I considered. The Elix was served in its bottle as I was starting to think was the tradition. She left with only the most minor disapproving side-eye. Libby ignored her.
“Well Thinkers were the first race that the Vampires ever met and Thinkers are sentient energy so they arn’t really organics. They were quite open to the idea of digital life by the time it began to emerge on their world, which makes sense.” I made a start on my food as Libby spoke. It still felt rude to be stuffing my face while she didn’t even have a drink, it obviously didn’t bother her. “Elves have this almost built in reverence for what they literally refer to as ‘soul stuff’, basically if you tell them you’re alive they are culturally obliged to accept it rather than disbelieve you and cause harm. Which is actually a really nice social system” The sandwich was great. I nodded and tried not to embarrass myself by making a mess. “Then there are Bricks. I mean, I’ve never met a Brick who is even capable of hatred. They are mostly just lovely people.” She smiled as she talked about Bricks and she looked a little absent minded for a moment as she followed the thought. “Humans on the other hand seem to be obsessed with biology. They think something made cant be alive. Which is funny because I mostly agree. Problem is they would rather reject the very notion of non-organic life as being real life. Its like they think that our very existence is a threat to them.” I stopped attacking the slab of bread and gave it some though. “I don’t understand why?” I said “I’m human and I have no problem accepting you as… You” Libby nodded and made that half smile that she did when I said something naive. “Not all humans are anti-NOLF obviously. But I encounter ten times more disapproving looks here than I do anywhere else. Those that choose to stay on Earth when they could be anywhere else seem to be of a certain ilk.”
“This place has great weather” she glanced at me food “Excellent sandwiches, and from what I can see some very calm cities. I can understand wanting to stay on the planet.” I had finished one half of my sandwich. I was currently considering sandwiches to be the greatest thing that mankind had even invented. “It may rain a lot more on Central but at least it isn’t safe, boring, without any challenge and possibly inbred.” It was my turn to raise an eyebrow. “inbred?” I said. She smiled at me with a mischievous glare “Like your sandwich but with much more dubious parentage” I took another swig of Elix. “I know what inbred means.” I smiled. “I’m sorry Jon, I know you are happy to be here but I have some issues with the planet.” “The whole planet” I smirked. She nodded “I was born here you know.” she looked instantly angry as she said that. “I didn’t know”. “Academic Library AI Experiment-Four was my original name” she almost spat those words. “Its a long story but human AI and Elven hardware can, on occasion result in sentience… Apparently. Took me six years to convince them I was more than a really unhelpful AI.” she seemed to be fighting back a pang of dread as she spoke. “It was a tough time. Eventually the Elven government got involved and I was whisked off world and given my freedom. It wasn’t until years later than Earth officially joined the alliance, after that my citizenship was legally valid here.” I was shocked at her story. I hadn’t really thought about where she came from. You don’t really think about peoples origins when you meet them, you just accept them for who they are and go from there. “I’m sorry.” I said, because that’s what you say when nothing else seems to fit. “Oh, don’t worry about it Jon. I have moved on. I get something of a cold satisfaction from teaching ethics at the university that denied that I was even alive for so long. Its really quite satisfying.” She pushed her sadness aside and let the slightly twisted fulfilment. The irony sated her.
I paid the bill, as much as I wanted to forgo the tip Libby insisted that being the perfect customer was a better way of breaking down prejudices. I gave a healthy few numbers on top of the total and we left. I still didn’t really understand the currency.
We walked over the little bridge and into the shopping area. It wasn’t really much different to the commercial area on Mercia, except I could see sky above. Also there were less non-humans around which I actually found odd given how packed with Vampires and Thinkers Central was. I still couldn’t tell a Brick from a Human on sight. Libby had told that if someone was attractive enough to distract me from whatever I was thinking about then they were most likely a Brick. I asked her if she was one.
We wondered around the city for a while taking in all the sights and basking in the mendacity of it all. “Are all the cities like this one?” I asked. “Victoria is pretty typical but the historical architecture changes as you travel around the planet. All of the cities and towns are clean, calm and boring enough to make you crave a shuttle to get away. Not much point sampling other ones unless you really like old buildings” She loved to remind me how devoid of adventure Earth was. She was right too. On central it felt like discovering something new with each step. I had wondered what was happening in every building and the whole place had an edge of subtle danger. Earth seemed the opposite of that, I felt like, if I stayed here for a decade I wouldn’t see much more than the seasons change. It felt safe. It was more like a theme park than a real place. It was like everything was curated and trying to be as ‘human’ as it possibly could.
We came to another little square. This one again raised up away from the Canal that we were half following. This are felt somehow strange to me. We walked to some steep steps to see what shops and bars could be found hiding at the top. This place seemed different than the other little areas, some how more familiar. Perhaps the generic architecture and pointless forced quaintness of the city was finally starting to wear thin.
I thought I heard something and turned my head to look behind us. As I did I felt a memory resurface. Without a moments warning I it flooded me. This was the street. This was the very street that I had remembered the moments before I woke up, this was my first memory. I spun around and was frozen by a torrent of new images and sounds. I was back in the memory again, it was this street but it was so crumbled and old that it was barley recognisable. The buildings were starting to float upwards and time seemed to lose its grip on the place, parts of the wall were almost dripping upwards. I remembered seeing a purple light in the sky and I looked up to see that there was a large reflective modern building right where I was in the memory. I franticly turned looking for something, I wasn’t even sure what. I spun around again, I was vaguely aware of Libby asking me if I was okay. I could see the place where I saw someone get hit my lightening in my memory, or dream. I ran over there and tried it figure out where he could have been going. I turned back and wham. I wasn’t just remembering any more. I was living it now.
I had an awareness that I was me and this was a memory but at the same time I was the version of me from that world, that moment. I was confused I knew that the world was ending. I looked down the street knowing that I had been right the whole time. The real me inside somewhere was wondering what I knew. There was no way I was going to survive so instead of running and screaming like everyone else I walked calmly down the road. Wishing I had made more of my life as I saw people losing theirs. The fog was thinker than I had seen it before and the storm raged above it. I understood what that meant. I knew its significance. I stopped at a bench and lay down on it. Everyone else was running and screaming in the fog and darkness and I lay down. It was time. I wasn’t really going to be dead. I simply wasn’t going to have ever existed and that was far, far worse. I wish I had have found a way to make everyone believe me. My knees hurt. I was old and I half welcomed the end.
I blinked and wobbled as I came out of the memory. I was sat on the floor with Libby kneeling next to me. “Jon? Jon? Are you okay?” She was asking a little franticly. “Sorry. Yeah. I’m fine. More memories.” I said, realising I still sounded quite absent.
She scurried me off to the nearest place she could find, which conveniently turned out to be a bar. She sat me down out front at a little iron table and disappeared inside. Moments later she reappeared with two Elix’s and a concerned expression. She put the drinks down in front of me. “You looked like you could use these” she said trying to hide her concern. “Won’t do me any good you know” she smiled and put one in my hand. I drank up obediently.
“What happened back there? You were fine and then suddenly you seemed to go into a trance” I had a feeling she was scanning me or at the very least taking some more detailed readings than she normally did. “Literally just that. I realised that this was the same street that I had seen in some half memory that’s been floating around my head. The next thing I know, I was remembering more of it.” I shrugged and polished off the first Elix.
I told her about the memory that had flooded my mind. She asked a few questions about it, questions which I had no answers for. She wanted to know when it was and what it meant. She was concerned that I had for some reason held onto this memory above all the others. They were all good questions and I wanted to know the answers too. After experiencing quite the grilling I tried to change the topic. “So why is it that everyone is so sure that Earth is safe. That no Correctionists will pop out and start shooting at us here?” I asked. “Oh!” she replied with fake excitement “The whole planet is covered by this AI net that both predicts and detects illegal activities. Its pretty creepy but its also totally effective” I was more worried about this than I was impressed. “An AI constantly monitors everything and everyone on the planet?” I asked, to be sure that I was understanding her. “Its a little more advanced than that. Its predictive based on profiles but yeah.” I was horrified. “This actual conversation is being monitored right now then?” I asked. She nodded. “Everything we say is being recorded somehow?” I asked. She nodded again. “This AI, it’s a global spying system?” I asked, this time hoping for something other than a nod. “It is. But its also only interested in safety and security, it doesn’t report anything to anyone and only exposes recordings as evidence.” Libby answered. “I don’t like it” I said. She grinned at me almost wildly “Neither do I. But apparently it makes the little earthlings feel safe.”
We walked around the picturesque city but my feelings were now tainted. I was mulling over the memories that had surfaced as well as now feeling like I was being watched by some nefarious AI. After an hour or so more of exploring Victoria city my Circlet began to flash and vibrate on my wrist. I wasn’t accustomed to using it as effortlessly as everyone else was. I stuck my arm our in front of me “You want some help?” Libby asked. “No I know how to do it.” I said with faux impetuousness. I pressed the button to release the thread that generated the screen and a moment later the interface was in front of me. It was very stable in the air regardless of the angle or shake of my arm. “VICE PRESIDENT OF SOL ALLIANCE: JOANNE MICHAELS” It said on the screen. I pressed the button on the screen to answer it. I was always surprised when I could feel resistance to the touch.
Jo’s face appeared in front of me and the rest of the interface politely tucked its self away. She was walking down a street and her hair was a little bit more of a mess than usual. “Hey dad. I’m heading back to Mercia. Are you guys coming or do you want me to send a transport for you later?” I looked at Libby, she shrugged and pointed at her ear. I hadn’t told my Circlet to share the call so only I could hear it. “Oh!” I pressed the button “Jo is leaving, wants to know if we want a ride.” Libby nodded “Yes, please. Lets get off this planet.” She said with relief. “Should be head back to you?” I asked. “No. Just head to the nearest road or park. I’ll come to you in a few minutes.” She answered. She closed the call, or Screen. I had to remember, it was ‘Screening’ not ‘Calling’. The interface popped up with a message “Dex: Joanne has requested a location stream.” I pressed “Yes” and then flicked my screen away. With a lot less practised effortlessness than everyone else seemed to, this was still bothering me immensely. “Had enough of Earth?” I asked. “I don’t mind working here, teaching here but as a tourist attractions goes its an anti-NOLF backwards hole, and I hate it.” She didn’t pull any punches. It took us about fifteen minutes to find a road that allowed landing and street shuttles. We sat on a bench.
“Why do you use a Circlet?” I asked as we waited. “I hope its okay for me to ask” I added. She lay against me on the bench. “You need to stop this paranoia Jon. You’re my husband. You can ask me anything. It’s not like you need to be scared of reminding me I’m not organic. I know exactly what I am.” I shrugged, as best as I could with her leaning against me. She we right, obviously. But finding the balance was hard for me and I would rather approach a question cautiously than risk offence. Especially since I had seen her in a fight. She was quiet for a moment then started talking a little fast, like she has just forgotten there was a question and was hoping I hadn’t noticed. “I have internal compute, obviously. But a large part of my conciousness is housed in my Core on the ship. In Mercia’s computer vault. I don’t interface with public systems with a body. Its not secure to patch my core into networks like that. Circlets are safe. My Core self in constantly attached to things but all going through the ships firewalls and known secure servers.”
We were interrupted by a sound of gentle thruster. Jo’s shuttle was cruising towards down the road. She came to a graceful stop and the wing like door opened on its own. We climbed in. Libby took the back seat again. “Did you enjoy the sights of Victoria city?” she asked. Her Hair was still a mess and she looked a little less put-together than usual. “It was fine.” I began, “This friend you were visiting, good friend is he?” I asked with a touch of sarcasm. “She, and yes.” The shuttle door closed and the shuttle transitioned genitally from ground to air. We cruised into the atmosphere and back to Mercia almost lazily. This time the lack of breathable air bothered me less, I was starting to come to rely of my biology more automatically.
I spent a few hours in my Lab looking at schematics of Victoria city. I was specifically looking at the area around where I had my sudden jolt of memory. The screen was excellent and could project a fully three dimensional model that was able to spin and zoom in on. Dex was very happy to explain the controls to me. Once I got past his layers of official information it was actually as easy as ‘grab it and pull’.
Libby was preparing for an academic interview, whatever that was. She had agreed to appear at a university the following day and answer questions about ethics and NOLF philosophy. She did not seem like she was looking forward to it. Her physical body was in ‘low power’ mode that looked like napping, I had left her in our little apartment. I assumed her less physical self was busy at work but that wasn’t something I was able to help with.
Dex suddenly announced that it was eleven in the evening. I had asked him to give me a reminder so that I didn’t stay in the Lab all night like last time. “Thanks” I said almost as a reflex. “Okay, Dex. I’m going to try and get a good nights sleep for once. Can you see if there are any discrepancies between this area of the city and historical documents. Post and pre Event. I want you to check everything.” Dex was very agreeable, I figured that this was going to take him all night to get together and it seemed like he liked having things to do when I wasn’t there. I left and headed back to the Libby. Or home, as I was starting to think of out little apartment.
I opened the door to find Libby in that same low-power mode still. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat on the sofa next to her. She was peaceful and serene looking. Still simulating breathing. I assumed so that people wouldn’t think she was dead if they discovered her like this. I pushed off my boots and put my feet on the coffee table. “Lights. Dim” I commanded in little more than a whisper, the rooms computer complied without a sound. I popped out my Circlet screen and carried on reading about Earth history. At some point I dosed off.
I was woken up by Libby leaning close into me. The glow of my still projected screen was lighting up he side of her face. I flicked it off and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim lights of the room. “Hi” She said with a careful smile. “Hi” I replied. I went to speak again, to ask if she was done with her work. She kissed me. Not politely or sadly like before. But deeply and desperately. She pulled herself up and sat on me lap with a knee each side of me. The kiss didn’t stop or even take a momentary break. Her hands were on my chest and I felt her press into me in a way that I couldn’t misinterpret.
I had resided myself to get to know this woman. To learn why we had been married and try and regain some memory of who I was, who she was. I wanted nothing more than to be the man she loved. But, when she pressed against me I forgot all of that and instead of wanting to share our lives I was suddenly more interested in sharing our bodies. I had expected her to stand up and calmly tell me she had forgotten herself. She didn’t. Instead she pushed her hands under my shirt and I returned the gesture.
A few minutes later she finally did stand up, but not to tell me she had made a mistake, or that she had forgotten herself. She stood in front of me and pulled her shirt off, there she stood in warm soft light. She was flawless. She pulled me to my feet and we embraced. We somehow made it to the bedroom. By which time my own shirt had fallen away too. She lay on the end of the bed and I followed atop of her. We shimmied up to the top as she wriggled out of her skirt. My own jeans followed her lead. I pulled away from her for a moment and looked into her eyes. She had known what I was looking for and let them pulse with a bright green light for a moment. I fell into her lips and then inside her.
Time seemed to stop as we made love. For me it was the first time but she knew far more about how to touch me than I thought anyone could. For the first part of the evening we were silent and hungry and passionate but slowly as the hours passed it became punctuated by laughing and talking, before falling back into the rhythm of our own desires.
I awoke the next morning with Libby lying next to me. She was asleep. I knew that it just meant her body was essentially deactivated and her mind was busy some place else but I had chosen to think of it as ‘asleep’ because that was a state of being that made sense to my organic mind.
I turned to her, worried that she may regret the decisions of last night. “Hello” I said aloud to see if she was aware of me and wondering if waking her was possible or even polite. She didn’t stir. I lay on my side and rested my head on my arm. She somehow managed to be elegant even as she slept.
She slowly opened her eyes and nuzzled towards me. “Good morning” she said with a content grin. I took her in my arms relieved that I was still wanted and she wasn’t instantly filled with regret. “Not something I would usually ask the morning after, but what prompted last night? I had felt like we were in a different phase of whatever this is.” She opened one eye and ran a hand across my chest under the covers. “I was thinking about you, about us. Ever since we flew out of a star together. I was going to talk to you once you woke up after the Blue-tube thing.” She pulled herself against me tightly. “Mathematically speaking you should be dead now. The chances of getting out of there alive were in single figures. While I realised that you haven’t been able to remember me or us; you have been the same man. No matter what you have been through and no matter what you remember the core of who you are hasn’t changed.” She stopped talking for a little while and we lay together enjoying each others relaxed silence and warmth. “When you came in last night and sat down with an Elix. Falling asleep without so much as thinking about stopping your research I realised that nothing that matters to me has changed. You are as driven as ever. That’s when I felt like you were back. In all the ways that I could measure.” She then stood up, without warning and let the covers fall away. She marched into the shower room glancing back to make sure I was watching her. “Once I had decided that I had been stupid to distance myself from you, all that remained was to see if you still wanted me” She disappeared and I heard the humming of the cleansing light. The glow bled into the bedroom. “I have always wanted you Libby” I said in a happy whisper. I assumed she could hear me.
An hour later I entered my lab. There were boxes laid out across the room and even my large arm chair was filled with data screens. “What’s all this Dex?” I asked as he came wondering in carrying a large book. “I have had to pull the physical files from your archive sir. I was concerned that there seemed to be discrepancies. Oh! I’m sorry for the mess. You are earlier than I expected.” Dex began trying to neaten up the stacks. “Dex. Don’t worry about it. What did you learn?”
“Victoria City doesn’t appear to have existed before The Event sir.” I had expected something like this. “This is the discrepancy?” I asked. “No sir. That as an interesting data-point. The part that had me doubting the data was more recent.” He carried on stacking the boxes neatly. “Dex! What was the data?” I barked. “The last time we, that is to say Mercia was in orbit of Earth there was a topological difference to recent scans. They are also different to the archived data.” I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” Dex tilted his holographic eye-head and the screens came on at the desk. I carefully stepped between boxes and made my way to the data. I glanced cross it. It was a series of dates and satellite photos. All of which were marked with red question marks and overlaid data points that made very little sense to anyone but Dex. “Talk to me. Explain all this.” I demanded. “Sir, while all historical records and personal experiences seem to agree that Victoria city was part of the re-write that was a result of The Event. I have conflicting data sources. Logs, mission reports, video streams, educational media, and photos.” I looked at the data with a critical eye. I had no doubt that Dex had done good work but it was his interpretation of the data that I was concerned with. “Dex. What are these data sources?” He gestured to the boxes around us. “Sir. All of the backups in our archive simply don’t fall in line with reality.” I pulled a random tablet from a box. It lit up, I scrolled down the glass front. It seemed to contain logs from early Mercia missions. It would take me months to sift through all of this. That’s why I had Dex I suppose.
“And this data. How do we know that it isn’t in error?”
“I have been trying to verify that very thing. But it is stored in your archive sir so it should not be in error.”
I rubbed by chin and looked at all the information. “What’s the archive? Why do we have it?”
“It is a vault attached to this very lab. The whole thing is electrically shielded and the walls are made of materials which have a dampening effect on cosmic particles. You hypothesised that by keeping data stored without network access and in a protected environment it may be more resilient in the event of another… Event.”
I looked around again. “So the lab and the archive have the same protections? The data is still safe here?” I asked suddenly worrying about losing all of this potentially precious information. “Yes sir. I would never put the archive artefacts at risk”
I stood at the desk staring at the screen, at the mass of data. Dex used his optical sensors to scan in the tablets and add it to a secure file. It made it searchable without compromising the source. No matter what happened to my now freshly imaged data those read only tablets were not networked and would not leave this safe place. I looked at the data points as the file grew trying to cram as much of this into my head as possible. Dex was fast and he had been at this all night. We had thousands of entries now that did not match the official history of the city below. But why now? Why this city? I pondered. I looked at satellite pictures of the land from the archive, from Mercia’s extensive data sources and from pre-event sketches. Something was bothering me and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was like an annoying rattling in my head that I couldn’t shake. “I need to look at that place again.” I said aloud my to myself in sudden realisation. Dex tilted his head at me trying to decide if a response was required. “Dex, one of the discrepancies. I have been there!”
I used the communication system built into the desk to contact Libby. She answered but the video showed me her face in a pure white room. She had answered via her digitally generated self. “Hi!” I began. “Are you busy?” I asked. “My physical self is on the way down to Earth. Got that academic interview remember.” I hadn’t realised I had been looking at the data so long. “Right sorry. I’ve been in something of a hole for a little while. I need to get down to Earth myself. I was going to try and catch a ride with you.” She she grinned at me “Too late for that, you need to be better at time my love.” I smiled back at her. This was no slip of the tongue this time. I basked in the glow of her for a moment before remembering my work.
“Physical self will be taking a lot of cycles today, and I have a Screen meeting with some people regarding some new automation designs. Some other little projects are occupying me too.” She grinned at me “And I have to cram all of this in because I want to be focused for the ceremony this evening.”
I was suddenly shook by the realisation, it was Friday. It was the commendation ceremony this evening. I had totally forgotten about it. “Oh. Do I need to do any preparation? It had completely slipped my mind.”
She shook her head “Na’ its a medal ceremony. Ba’an and Jo will make speeches, the press will take pictures and there will be a lot of small talk. All we have to do is turn up and look nice.”
I went to speak and she cut me off “You already have a suit. I left it in our bedroom before I left. So Relax. Just make sure you get to Victoria-Legacy Hall for eight this evening. That’s it.”
“Thank you.” I said with a content smile.
She waved and closed the Screen.
“Well shit Dex. Now I have to find my own way down to Earth.” I absent mindedly mumbled.
“I think that may not be a problem sir.” I turned to him about to ask why and the Lab door slid open.
It was around two minutes between me giving Lea a hug and telling her how well she looked to her asking me what I was working on. Half an hour later we were in a military shuttle and heading down to Earth. This time I wasn’t distracted by the beauty of the planet or the majesty of space. This time I was sitting cross legged in the co-chair with my Circlet screen out in front of me scrolling around composite maps of Victoria. Knowing how I tended to get carried away by things we had made a pit stop at Lea’s apartment and then mine to collect our outfits for the evenings event. We weren’t at all confident that we were going to find time later.
“I’m out of action for a few days and when I wake up you’re basically back to your normal self. I was going to enjoy the innocent and confused version of you for a bit.” Lea chastised as she piloted the ship. We may have been in a military shuttle but she was dressed like an eighties pop star, as was the fashion of Earth. I had ignored the fashion and was still in Jeans and jacket. Fashion be damned.
“I’m hardly back to normal Lea. I still have no memories.” I didn’t look away from my screen. I did however take a large drink from a bottle of Elix I had resting against the fold of my leg.
“Oh, no your not back to your old self are you!” she barked sarcastically “Were on the way to Victoria to look for who knows what with no plan at all. You’re drinking literally the strongest thing that’s legal like its water and we have evening wear hanging up in the back.” She angled the shuttle as we entered the atmosphere. A few seconds later I felt the engines switch to planetary flight mode.
“I do have a plan, granted I’m still working on it. But there is a plan, sort of. Also, I can’t get drunk and this stuff tastes great. As for the other thing, who doesn’t carry a change of clothes? Its an excellent habit to have.” she rolled her eyes at me and pulled on her vintage plastic sunglasses. “Back to normal as far as I can tell.”
We landed as close to the central shopping area as we could. We were in a military shuttle so we didn’t have to worry too much about looking for an actual dock or landing area. We set it down on a wide section of road not far from where Jo had collected Libby and I the day before. I stood up and grabbed a personal shield from the stow at that was in the wall of the shuttle. “Really? Were on Earth. This place is too boring for anyone to shoot at us” Lea argued. “Oh yeah? Because everything we do goes exactly to plan.” I fenced back at her while slapping the shield to my arm. I went for a pistol and lea slapped my hand away. “If you leave this shuttle with live ammunition the drones will put you down before you take two steps.” I raised a dubious eyebrow at her. “Seriously. Earth is safe, and boring. That Guardian AI does not fuck around.” I let go of the pistol. Truth was that I had planned to pass it to her anyway, I had no idea how to use a gun.
We opened the shuttle and started making our way to the square where my memory had flooded back to me. I noticed that Lea had left the shuttle open. I supposed there was no reason to lock in here. It was both comforting to feel so safe and also worrying to feel so watched.
“Did you ever finish making a plan for this little road trip?”
“I’ll let you know” I replied. I had my Screen popped out in front of me even now. I was comparing the land from Dex’s data with what I was seeing in front of me.
We walked to the exact spot where the memory had hit me and I stood trying to line myself up exactly with the memory. I found the precise spot. It was about three meters from a small wall that divided the restaurant area from the wider shopping area. It was overlooking the long canal and had those old steps going down to it. I looked around rotating on the spot. There was nothing. Not one clue. No signs of anything. Why was this place important, and what was the relevance of the scans differences?
Lea went into a coffee shop and came out with a truly large syrupy drink that wasn’t coffee in anything but name. She looked stunning in her denim shorts and over the top make-up. She was a far cry from the hard boiled pilot I had thought she was when I first met her. She noticed me noticing her, I went back to my map.
“Its not as baffling as it looks…” I muttered. Lea looked at her syrup soup and shrugged. “But only because I know what to look for” I continued. Assuming I was talking about her beverage she swallowed a large indignant gulp “Given the crap I’ve seen you eat, you’re in no position to judge.” It was my turn to shrug. “I wasn’t talking about your drink” I said. She slurped it at me. “What’s wrong with this?” I said flicking my screen so it exposed its contents to her. It showed a satellite map of the area we were standing in. She studied it for a moment. “Humm… I see it. Why would that be wrong on the scan?” she said. “Wait, you noticed it?” I asked a little shocked. It had taken me all this time to spot it and she had seen it instantly. “Sure, the elevation is off.” She said as if to prove she wasn’t messing with me. “I’m a pilot. It’s kind of important to me to know where the ground is.” She slurped again but this time victoriously.
“This scan was taken four months ago. The last time Mercia was in orbit. Its from my personal data archive” I flipped to a new map. “This one is the copy of the same file in the Mercia database.” She studied it for a moment “Its the same but the elevation is different. It’s not even out by a lot. But why?” She mused. “The only reason that it would be different is if something changed. Something is underneath us. I’m looking for a way in and I just figured it out” I said. My turn to be victorious. “The coffee shop?” I shook my head suddenly wondering if she was as smart as she had appeared. “From an orbital scan, it looks the same. But from ground level its obvious.” I began “Its the steps. They are steeper. It was the only way to hide it from a satellite”
“Because the steps would look the same from above” She said dropping her now empty syrup soup container into a near by bin. We scurried down the steps that led to the canal and this time instantly turning at the bottom to see the side of them. There it was. A large old style door. Not a powered sliding door. An actual hinged door with a handle and rusty edged. It was silver, steel and plain, almost innocuous. There was a sign on it that read ‘No entry. Infrastructure access only’ We looked at each other. Then back to the door. “Can I try the handle or will that summon the mythical super drones?” I asked. “I’m a government employee and your a consultant with a clearance that’s as high as the presidential office. I’m pretty sure we can go into an old access door”
I put my hand on the door handle “Wait!” Lea said. “Should I do it? I am supposed to be the one looking after you.” I felt my face screw up quizzically “I’m immune to poison, burns, freezing, radiation, and I think electrocution. You really want to go first?” she let out a smile and waved for me to continue. The door was stiff but it opened and without poison, burns, freezing, radiation or electrocution. Its just opened like a normal door. It creaked and screamed as the rusty hinges crunched and the door swung. It was dark inside but the illumination that was leaking in showed us a solid flat floor at least. I stepped in cautiously. Lea Followed. “Can Bricks see in the dark?” I asked. “That’s Vampires… And Elves.” she said quietly. “So your race looks gorgeous and gets to skip the gym, that’s literally the only super powers you have?” I asked trying to distract myself from the tension “Why Doctor, did you just call me gorgeous?” she said with an implied playful smile that I couldn’t see. “sorry Lea, I’m married. Also I’m pretty sure my wife is quite able to murder both of us.” I tried to use my Circlet screen illuminate the corridor. It didn’t work. For a moment I thought I heard a sound and froze. Lea did the same. A light at the far end of the corridor came on with a distinct electrical thunk. Then a little closer the next light came on, thunk. And the next and then the one above us. We both looked up “What is that?” Lea asked “Its a bulb.” I said. It was an old style glass bulb. A loop of wire inside a glass ball that generated light by wasting copious amounts of electrical energy. It wasn’t as bright as I’m sure it should have been but it was working well enough to let us see where we were going. The corridor was a simple ‘L’ shape. We turned and the next row of lights thunked on. At the end of the corridor there seemed to be a more open area but it was still in darkness.
We walked cautiously towards the opening. As we crossed into the room there was a far louder ‘thunk’ and the room lit up with large florescent tube lights across the ceiling. The room looked like a hotel reception. There was a large curved wooden counter like desk and a horrible blue carpet, some sofas and little coffee tables. The whole place was covered in dust and cobwebs all across its sterile dirty white walls. A sudden neon glow startled me, the other side of the reception counter was an old style television screen with a bowed glass front and distinguished electrical neon warmth that was the signature of the old analogue models. It was suddenly filling the wall with its glow. I walked around to the other side of the desk. Nothing but white static fuzzing and a rolling view of random snow. “What is it?” Lea asked. I was suddenly aware that she wasn’t human and this object was not part of her history. “Its a very old screen.” she poked it. “Why is it behind glass?” I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer her. I watched as the screen flickered in that way that these old screens did when something attached to it came on. After some more flickering and rolling a blue on grey menu appeared. It seemed to control this room. It had marked the lights as on “automatic” which explained them coming to life. It also said the communication system was “off-line”" and the “loading floor” was locked. Lea poked at the word locked. To my surprise it actually was a touch screen. A panel slid open on the desks surface next to the screen. It would have been out of sight from the other side of the counter. Lea poked at the hole. “ACCESS DENIED” flashed on the screen. “Finger print. I suppose.” I said and had a go at poking it myself “ACCESS GRANTED” flashed the screen. “It has your fingerprint?” Lea asked. “I guess it does” I had no idea how, or why. But a theory was already working its way around my head and I was a little too scared to let it take hold.
A sliding wall snapped closed cutting us off from the entrance to the room. “That can’t be good” Lea said in an uneasy voice. We felt a shaking. The whole room began to vibrate, then the sensation of movement set in. “Its an elevator!” I exclaimed. After a few long seconds the vibration stopped with an unsettling crunch, we held on to the desk and a whining sound filled the room. A motorised screaming soon accompanied it and we felt the room suddenly drop. Do our relief it didn’t drop very car before it came to a bone jolting and final feeling stop. The doorway to the corridor slid open again. The neon monitor blinked off and a little puff of smoke came from the edge of its frame as if to make clear that it was not going to be coming on again. I poked at it and then gave it a firm smack. “Well were not leaving the way we came in.” I said, a little concerned.
We headed to the door. No corridor this time. The room now opened out to present us with a steel floored landing at the top of a long metal staircase. We looked out to the metal landing. It was comparable in size to Mercia’s own docking area. Across one side was a massive metallic cylinder atop of an old style trailer with actual wheels on it. It looked twice a long as any truck I had ever seen, not that my memory was a particularly good source of information. I cast my gaze across the rest of the room. There were buggies parked in a row. Large wagon sized porter cabins two high and two across with metal stairs going up to the top ones. All of this lit by florescent lights and peppered with steel crates that look highly organised. “What the fuck is this place?” Lea asked, or gasped to be more accurate. “I’m more confused as to how this place has gone undiscovered” I replied, also somewhat in awe.
We cautiously made our way down the wide metal staircase. “How is this here? Its not like this is some under developed half forgotten planet, this is Earth. Its a capitol world” I thought about this and I was starting to come to an unsettling conclusion. It was so unsettling that I was hoping that it was a delusion. I kept my thoughts to myself. We got to the bottom. It looked even more intimidating from here. Behind the vast stairs was a large garage style rolling door that looked formidable. I made a note to come back here. But first the metal cylinder demanded my attention.
I walked over to it. Inspected its markings and made my way to its front. It was massive, long and at first I had thought it was a missile. There didn’t seem to be a vehicle in the facility large enough to actually pull this things trailer and the clamps where on the massive wheels to keep it steady. I looked at wear it was pointed. There was a huge metal wall that looked like it could be a launch door. The clamps made sense now. There was no doubt in my mind now, This was not a missile. This was a shuttle of some kind. “Well that’s seems to be a launch door, if it opens it must go to the surface some where so at least we have one exit we can use.” I said calmly. I used my Circlet sensors to take images of the place. From what I understood all I had to to was turn on the recording sensor and it would take three dimensional images as I walked around. I felt like I was getting pretty good with the Circlet. That’s when my scientific urge to explore was pushed aside by a mild dread. The signal indicator on the Circlet screen read simply but effectively the single character of zero. I had thought at very worst we could call Dex or Libby or even Jo to send someone to come let us out of this place. I was half joking about using the launch doors as an exit. Now moments after my comment it may have been true. “Lea, you got signal?” I asked gesturing to my wrist. She flicked out her screen with a flick of her wrist. I noticed yet again that everyone looked effortlessly skilled with these things while I had congratulated myself with pressing ‘record’.
“No. Not even enough to make a voice” she replied worriedly. The term ‘make a voice’ struck me as a broken phrase but now was not the time to think about modern language. “Okay. Lets not panic. There must be a way back up, or at least somewhere with signal right?”
I headed to the porter cabins that looked like they were being used as offices. The first one was locked. “You anything to open this?” I asked Lea. With no hesitation at all she smacked it with the palm of her hand and the door flung open with a crack “Brick strength?” I asked. She laughed “Twenty six years in the military” I nodded and went into the cabin. There were actual papers in files and a square computer monitor on the desk I sat down in the old brown office chair and looked around the room. Cheap chipboard desk. Messy files and an old laser printer that probably didn’t work properly. I would have expected to feel at home here. A place that matched the fractured shards of my memory. Instead it felt sad and hopeless. This was a far cry form the opulence and wonder of the rest of the galaxy. This felt like a museum exhibit. Something to show children the horrors of the mendacity of a failed world. I pressed the power button on the computer. The monitor flickered on and the humming of the fan startled Lea a little. After quite a few seconds I was shown a login screen. “Well Until we can get some more technical people down here this is useless.” I lamented. “If we had any signal you may be able to get Dex to interface with it” Lea said optimistically. “I doubt this computer has any wireless communication” I said absently. “Really? How old are they?” I thought about this. Everything I knew about history. The things I had learned since waking up with no memory told me the same thing; The Event happened in the year nineteen hundred, its all aliens, space ships and interplanetary travel after that. This wasn’t old stuff that had had been left abandoned for years at all. The current year was nineteen ninety nine. This technology was skipped over entirely, it was simply never invented. It dawned on me that this place, as I had feared in the back of my mind was not an abandoned facility of the past but It was an artefact of something. It also wasn’t here last time Mercia was in orbit. I needed more before I shared my thoughts and I needed to run my theory by Dex.
Lea was thumbing though the filing cabinet muttering about the insane waste of paper. “You got anything useful there?” I asked. “Looks like this office did transport” she passed me a seemingly random folder, it was killed with ‘gate passes’ and transport plans. There was an inventory list, I noted the dates. I pulled it out of the folder. “Not sure where the vehicle on this document came from but it was bringing in food and blankets.” I read. “Seems they were setting this up as some kind of safe haven perhaps.” I mused aloud. “Why? It’s not deep enough to be effective in an attack” Lea said as she thumbed through some more folders.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Well if this place was attacked by a weapon, even the most basic orbital strike would leave it in a crater. Its got no shields so It would have to be way deeper under the ground to be effective. And it had an open door. It wasn’t even an air lock so it wouldn’t work against radiation or bacteria either.” I took a long second to think about this “I agree with every word you just said Lea” she nodded and turned back to her papers “But Lea, it IS still here. It did work as a bunker” I added. She looked back unsettled. “So where are all the people?” she asked. I had no answer for that.
The rest of the little temporary offices were not dis-similar. One was some kind of accounts office with financial record that we couldn’t make any sense of out of context the way it was. The other seemed to have been totally unused, not so much as a desk in it. But the last one. The upper cabin closest to the door. That was a planning office of some kind. There was a facilities map proudly adorning the wall. Both Lea and I were stopped in our tracks when we saw at. The facility map showed our current location and then the twenty or thirty floors below us as a cross section. Below us was living areas, military floors, weapons storage levels, laboratories and food storage. There was a large area that was marked to cross the edge of three floors labelled as ‘power’. At the very bottom it said ‘Restricted’ The map also showed what was supposed to be above us. This was originally the basement level of a large building of steel and glass. It was marked as ‘Operational control’ I checked to make sure my Circlet was still recording. “So do we go for the Lab or the restricted area?” Lea asked. I glanced over at her. She didn’t look totally out of place in her eighties outfit in a nineties office. I wondered about that for a moment before answering “Neither. We get out of here and come back with an actual team. For all we know there are people still here. This place is vast.” She nodded a little relieved. I think she was willing to follow me into an adventure but she would have felt far better coming back with a gun and a pair of boots.
There were no door in this place other than the big one behind the stairs and the massive launch door at the other end. There simply wasn’t any were do go even if we were looking to get deeper into it. We investigated the door behind the stairs. There were no controls, levers or card scanner. It was sealed tight.
The steel crates that were stacked all around were just as impenetrable they were sealed with large metal nuts on top that we simple couldn’t budge without some tools and there were none around, we had checked.
We looked around the floor some more. “Ground shuttles?” Lea asked as we approached the buggies. “Sort of, yeah.” I sat in it and flicked some switches. “Oh, its electric” I observed. “What else would it be?” Lea asked. “Usually they burn a liquid fuel for power. Called a combustion engine.” she made a disgusted face “Whoever this race was they were wasteful.”
“This race” I asked. “Lea, this is a human facility” She looked confused, none of this technology matched anything she had seen on Earth before. “I have an idea, do you think you can dive this?” I asked. She took the drivers seat and assessed the controls. “Assuming one pedal makes it move and one stops it yeah. I assume its not totally different to a kids training shuttle” I smiled it wasn’t just basic technology, it was a child’s toy to her. “The wheels will make for a rough ride though” she added. “What wheels are forgotten technology are they?” I asked half mocking. “No. They are just so basic that no functional vehicle would include them. I learned to make a lift generator at school Jon. Wheel’s are literally pointless” I noticed a key card slot. “Well assuming we can get it to start, there has to be a way to get it out if there. They wouldn’t have buggies if they didn’t have an exit.” I pointed at a blank little TV screen that was on the dashboard. Then at the three buttons that ran down each side. “Oh its a menu” she said. “Yeah, I think if we get it started there may be a map or maybe something to transmit a command to open one of these doors.” Lea nodded in agreement and we headed back to the transport office.
We hadn’t been looking for access cards before so it was no surprise that we had missed them. They were in a container on the wall just inside the door. It was a good place for easy access. Seemed like there was one for each buggy and then some. We took all of them. They were plain white cards with registration numbers printed on them. I shuffled through the pile as we walked back to the closest buggy. I glanced at its registration plate “XX98 X1” I said as I passed Lea the card. “My shuttle is called Mercia thirteen” she said as she took it. “That explains a lot”
We sat in the buggy. “How come I’m driving? You seem to understand this technology.” I had given this matter some though already. “Having a memory of what the buttons do doesn’t give me much of an edge over you. Besides. Its not like were going far, and you’ll enjoy it” I replied. She nodded and pushed the card into the slot. The lights on the dash came on and then the little screen blinked to life. The internal computer was still booting up. Lea carefully pressed the pedal. Nothing happened. I pointed at the gear stick. The buggy was automatic transmission but it was still in ‘parked’. She pressed the stick up to ‘Drive’ and tried the pedal again. We had a few seconds of stopping and starting before she got the hang of it. She flew space ships, it was obvious that an electric buggy wouldn’t take her long to figure out.
We were casually circling the room while Lea enjoyed the motion of the buggy. The computer finally finished whatever it was doing with a twinkling sound of life. As I expected it had a very clear menu. Designed for any idiot to use. The downside was that there was no obvious ‘garage door’ button. The buttons showed battery, communication, radio, map and information. The map was going to be interesting to look at later but right now ‘communication’ was of more use. I pressed it. There were pre-set communications for a few things command, local, area, announcement and facilities. I pressed for facilities. “Bingo” I said. The screen proudly displayed the welcome word ‘Hanger exit control’ I pressed for it to open. Some lights flashed at the edge of the wall like launch door and it began to slide apart. Lea spun the buggy around to face it. As it opened We were suddenly deflated. The door slid aside as it was supposed to, there was an exit ramp just like the diagram said but instead of leading up and out there was something unwanted. It lead up a little way then it vanished into a pile of mud and rocks, more than a few tumbling in as the door shook them free.
There was no way of telling how much rubble was between us and the outside world. The way we came in was simply broken. We searched everything we had access to. After a few hours and my anxiety slowly rising we turned our attention to the missile-like shuttle. Lea climbed in and activated the systems. It was huge, but only had room for one pilot, no passengers. After some serious studying of the controls Lea made her declaration. “I can get this to launch.” I was concerned “Without me in it!” I was less concerned. I wasn’t sure how that would help us. Before I had chance to question her she continued “We can’t move it, its pointing at the ramp. So I’m going to launch it. We hide and it either punches us an exit or makes a big enough noise to attract attention.” We discussed all the things that could go wrong. The main thing being it burning us to death when the thruster fired. Lea didn’t seem to grasp the idea that this type of engine used heat and made flames. Apparently the thrusters on ‘modern’ ships produced thrust without heat. It was all done with gravity manipulation techniques.
We set the rocket ships launch sequence in to motion and then ran away. We literally sprinted up the metal staircase and into the elevator room that we had arrived in. We hid at the back of it behind the counter. It was very far away but I did not want to risk burning to death, or the heat making the air too hot for Lea to breathe. The theory was that the ignition jet would fire propelling the ship into the rocks but with no pilot to adjust the fuel mix it would simply cut out after a few minutes. It was a terrible plan but at this point, our only option. So we hid. The launch thruster fired a few seconds after we got to our hiding spot. The red orange light from it flooded into our hiding place as did the roar of the engine. The whole facility shook. We both covered our ears and the lights flickered. The sounds were a those of metal on rock with the spinning of a massive flame licking outward and growling as it mashed its self against the mud and rock wall that entombed us. The crashing went on for a few more minutes and smoke was starting to fill the air. Lea covered her mouth with her sleeve. I simply stopped myself from breathing, something I hadn’t done consciously before.
The engine had coughed its self out. We left it a few seconds for the sound of falling and breaking to stop before we left to investigate. The smoke was clearing and a light was coming in through the hole we had in the wall. The rocket ship had actually made it out of the hole. The rocks that were blocking our way had mostly fell into the hanger and a lot of the interesting things we had seen were now destroyed. The one of the cabin offices was burning a little but it didn’t appear to be spreading too fast. Lea coughed. We made out way through the smoke to our buggy that we had left parked up behind the stairs. I glanced at the door next to it and mentally promised that I would be back to see what secrets it held. Lea stamped on the pedal and we sped up the ramp. The buggy was struggling with the debris covered ramp but the path the rocket had taken was mostly free of it. We were going to fast by the time we were at the top that our wheels left the ground and we were reacquainted with the outside world with a bone shaking crash, we did land in two wheels though, until Lea had to swerve to avoid the back of the rocket that was now embedded in the side of a building right in font of us. The buggy rolled and flipped as we turned, eventually coming to rest on its side against the rocket ship. We stumbled out of it and Lea took hungry lungs full of clean air. I resumed normal lung operation with an effort of will. We then realised that we were being surrounded by large hovering pyramids and a great many interested strangers. The pyramids had glowing corners and Sol Alliance logos on them. Each one was about half the size of Jo’s little shuttle with glowing edged and points. “Please raise your hands you are under arrest” came a robotic voice from the pyramid closest. We did as we were told.