DATE: Fri 17 Sep 2021 11:44 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net

Denouement // Part 8.

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

Toast (redux).

Lea was more than a little pleased when she got the transfer order though. I know this because she had come and rang our door bell at eight in the morning. I had been awake for all of about ten seconds. She sat at the table with Libby and I. “And when I asked they even let me have shuttle thirteen. Its shield system is being upgraded right now!” she said excitedly as I tried to focus on the waking world. “I’m pleased that you’ll be looking after him from now on. I was worried that sooner or later he would have to get a ride with another pilot and they would notice how odd he is!” Libby joked.

“Oh, I wanted to talk to you about this last night, Jo has put me in charge of the research team that’s investigating the facility we found. She wants you to help me. Also for some reason she have given you overall control of the military team she’s organising down there.” Libby looked at me with a faux annoyed face. “I bet she literally said she didn’t trust you in charge of anyone with guns.” I smiled. “Are you on-board or do I need to find another ‘Defender of the Earth’?” I asked. She laughed. “As a defender of possibly the worst planet in the alliance, how can I possibly say no?”

I went to the food hatch and got my usual early morning toast pile; and coffee. “You want anything Lea?” I asked. She shook her head. She still had coffee and didn’t want anything to do with my ritual bread worship. “Besides, I knew about this already. I read my e-mails while I was in down-time last night.” Libby said. “The one thing I still can’t get used to is that you’re in down-time mode here with me and also off in the digital world doing all sorts of things.” I said through the toast temple. “Actually its all a cover I’m having an illicit affair with an ice machine AI from Central Prime.” She joked. “Oh? Is he hot?” Lea asked. “Only when he’s broken.” Libby replied laughing to herself. “All this technology and you haven’t found a way to make yourself funny.” I smirked.

“When do we leave?” Libby asked. “Shuttle should be ready in an hour or so, they are only swapping out the Blue-field generator.” Lea said. “I assume the research team is going to have all the equipment I could need so I’m good to go whenever you two are.” I took the time to tap out a message to Kay on my Circlet screen. I wanted to ask if she wanted to join us on Earth this afternoon. A message back almost instantly saying that she took her shuttle directly back to Central right after she left the venue. She also added that she was hoping we would be coming ‘home’ to Central soon. “Are shuttles expensive?” I asked. “Yeah.” Lea replied. “One that is for interplanetary travel?” I added. “That’s not a shuttle, that’s a ship” Lea clarified. “Why?” Libby asked. “Kay’s back on Central already. Said she took her own shuttle. I’m still trying to figure out how much things cost” I admitted. “I don’t have my own personal shuttle. Just good old thirteen. None of the Human pilots seems to want to fly it.” Lea said, ponderously. “I can solve this mystery.” Libby started “Thirteen is an unlucky number in most human cultures. And Ba’an got her the ship.”

“Ba’an Ty? The president? He got her a ship?” Lea barked.

“Yeah”.

“Why did the president get Kay a ship?” Lea pressed.

Libby made an ‘oops’ face. “It was a gift. She feels about Earth how most sensible people do and Ba’an was stuck here. It was a few years ago when Mercia was having that big re-fit. He wanted to make it easy for her to come and visit, so he got her a ship. He even splashed out for an pilot AI.”

“Why did he want her to come and visit?” Lea asked processing the new information. I hadn’t known all the history but had worked it out a lot faster than Lea did. I was a little bit worried about how long it took her to come to the answer “FUCK!” She suddenly said “There we go.” Libby smiled.

“How long were they seeing each other? Was it a secret? WAIT! Are they still seeing each other?” Her eyes went large as she asked her rapid questions. I wanted to know too, to be honest.

“They broke up just after you had your accident Jon. When that storm happened she had to find out he was okay from a news conference. She was hurt that he didn’t think to contact her fist. He said the alliance had to come before his personal life. She felt like he chose his work over her. He felt like she was asking more of him than the could give. She’s still getting over him.” Libby was very casual about this whole thing.

“Kay dated the president of the alliance and you didn’t think to mention it to me?” Lea exclaimed pointing at Libby. “When they got together, it was just after Kay got her own medical practice in the embassy. She was worried that the press would make out it was how she got the position. Wouldn’t help her professional reputation much. They decided kept it quiet. Then it just became a habit to keep it under the radar, I think.” Lea looked genuinely stunned “I thought that he and I had a connection the other night” she mumbled “He was probably just trying to maker her jealous.”

“Getting drunk and falling asleep on someone’s shoulder isn’t a connection” I fired out with a big grin.

“Hey Libby. Did Jon know about all this?”

“Of cause he did.” She replied. Lea leaned over and smacked me on the side of the head. “How could YOU have not told me?” she barked. “I have no idea! I lost my memory remember. I’m finding out about this for the first time too.” apparently very real amnesia was no defence.

Command.

I put my jacket on as we left the apartment. “Have you really attached your medal to your jacket?” Libby asked as she glimpsed it. “What else should I do with it?” I asked. She smiled at me and we made our way to the dock. I looked down at my Medal. When I had inspected it, I had found that it had another part in the box, a backing that seemed to work like a magnet but way stronger. I had removed it from the ribbon and used the backing to clamp it to the front pocket of my jacket. It was a pretty trinket and I liked it, so I wore it. Also, given that I was to be leading a team with absolutely no memory or any experience of any kind, I needed all the social ammunition I could get.

Thirteen was just having its last diagnostic run when we arrived. There was one lone technician clearing away his equipment, he saw us coming and quickly pulled out a data tablet. “Flight officer Kay-Ra?” He said reading from the screen “Ra-Kay, but close enough.” Lea said taking the tablet and signing off the work. “Thank you.” She said. The technician left in a hurry.

Lea strapped into the flight seat and Libby into the co-chair. I was stuck on the bench behind, again. “If were using this regularly can we get a third seat fitted?” I asked. “You’re the boss. Place a work order.” Lea said as she flipped switches that fired up the engine test. Libby blanked out for a second and then shook her head a little. It was something I had seen her do before, her attention had dropped away for a moment. “You okay?” I asked putting a hand on her shoulder. “Yeah. Sorry.” she said taking my hand. “Happens when I get too wrapped up in my core-self. I was updating my simulation mode. If this facility of yours blocks graviton transmissions I don’t want an old version of myself driving. Oh, that reminds me Lea, can you authorise me to have administration access to the shuttles computer please?” Lea looked suspicious for a moment and then shrugged. “Sure” she pressed a series of button on the console and leaned forward for an optical scan. “Thanks.” Libby nodded and began typing on the terminal in front of her at a speed I doubted any human could match. “You mind if we get out of here?” Libby gave her a thumbs up without looking away from the display. The shuttle door closed at the back and the moment the light went green we fired out of the dock.

We landed Thirteen on the street where we left the facility the night before last. There had been a structure erected already. It looked like a big grey tent but had solid walls. Apparently the Sol alliance knew how to get things done.

“Lock shuttle door.” Lea snapped at her Circlet as we walked away. The door closed and her wrist beeped in agreement. “I thought we didn’t lock things on Earth” Libby said snippishly. Lea didn’t bother with a response she just rolled her eyes.

I was instantly concerned that no one had come to check our credentials. We were able to just casually stroll up the to the tent-like structure and walk in. Inside was a little jarring. We stepped from the peaceful summer afternoon of Victoria City to a noisy and dark warehouse with people setting up all kinds of equipment, others doing a lot of pointing and arguing.

“Well this isn’t what I expected.” I observed. “Scientist” Said Lea with a shrug. “The military staff should be more organised though. Would you mind finding out who’s in charge of them please? I want to know how we wondered right in here.” I asked. Lea nodded and vanished off into the mess of people. “And us, dear husband?” Libby asked resting one arm over my shoulder. “Lets go make friends.”

After some wondering around it was clear that there was a few things happening. There were staff here simply to set-up the equipment, and they were doing it fast and efficiently despite the mess. There also seemed to be multiple researchers who as far as we could tell were all together arguing about… Something.

We began making our way through the noise and disorganised mess towards the arguing rabble. Before we could get to them we were a little distracted the sounds of a very angry man who seemed to be kicking a large stack of crates. “You okay there?” Libby asked taking a small detour from our target. I planned on carrying on with my intended route until I saw the man desperately try to topple the four high stack, which ignored him by virtue of being heavy, metal and stacked firmly. “Yes, yes. I’m fine. The crate I need is at the bottom and the technicians with the gravity generators are apparently more interested in erecting walls than allowing me to get started with my work. I’m sorry for all the noise. I’m just quite frustrated at this point.” The man was good looking, had excellent hair and was was wearing a dark green shirt with cargo trousers. He looked quite out of place against all the eighties fashions in the room and honestly, he really was very handsome. “Here. Let me help you.” Libby said picking up one of the crates and moving it like it was a toy. “Oh!” he said, stunned for a moment “I think I may need to workout more.” Libby smiled at him in-between her crate stacking. I pushed one, out of curiosity; as expected they were not movable to us mere organics. The large metal crates seemed like they were designed to be moved by machines not people. Even empty they would have been too heavy for me.

“Not to sound ungrateful miss but how exactly are you doing that?” He asked “With my arms Mostly. Also I try and keep my back straight” She replied with a warm smile. “Yes. Well… Not quite what I meant.” He mumbled in awe. She moved the last one to expose the crate he needed access to and answered him with more honesty “It’s Mrs actually. Doctor to be more accurate. And I’m non-organic.”

He shook her hand in thanks “Oh, Doctor? So you’re working on this project are you? That’s good news. I’m Doctor Atkinson, David Atkinson.” She smiled back politely “Elizabeth Michaels, Libby.” Doctor Atkinson pushed some buttons to pop open the lid of his crate and peered in excitedly. “What’s your field Doctor Atkinson?” Libby asked. I was staring to feel invisible. “David, and its not particularly interesting I’m afraid. My doctorates are in electronics and computer security.” I suddenly went from feeling invisible to replaced. He was handsome, well dressed and also an expert in things Libby loved. Time to make myself seen “Good to meet you Doctor! I’m Jonathan Michaels, your new project lead” I then, instantly felt overstated. He popped his head out of his crate and shook my hand “Excellent. The husband I assume?” I nodded. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you non-organic too?” his smile genuinely interested. He had a piercing gaze. “Nope. I’m just a regular guy” I said with my most valiant grin. Now I was too understated. “Well. In that case we should grab some lunch when they get a dining area set up.” I nodded. Damn it; it was going to be hard to loathe this fine looking charmer. We made our exit as he began to dig through his crate again. A wall on wheels was rolled out in front of us, seems he was already in his office before it was even formed. The team assembling the inside of the tent were not interested in anything that wasn’t related to their tasks. We tried saying hello but they wanted to finish and leave as soon as possible.

“You don’t need to be jealous, you know that right?” Libby said as we dodged another wall in transit. “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I lied indignantly. “I mean, I don’t complain when you spend most your free time with the most attractive organic I have ever seen.” “Dex isn’t organic.” I replied. “You know exactly who I’m talking about, Lea is stunning. You’re married not blind.” Obviously I had noticed. You can’t not notice. “There are lots of attractive people in the universe Libby. But You’re the only one that can tear me away from Dex.” She laughed “I have no idea how I should feel about that.” Her words had a sing-song tone and a quiet smile.

We finally made it to the group of arguing people. Though they had dispersed a little now, an Elf man and a Vampire woman with no wings remained. They were getting quite heated now.

“Excuse me?” I said. They continued the arguments. “Hey.” I tried. They ignored me still. “Settle down.” I said in a stern tone. They looked at me confused, apparently they had only just noticed Libby and I. “Yes?” said the Vampire woman. “I’m Doctor Michaels… Your project lead.” I said trying to keep my stern tone. Libby gave a polite wave “Also Doctor Michaels” she added. “What exactly has you all shouting at each other?” I asked. “We were discussing the best way to proceed with the project” The Vampire woman explained. She seemed too young to be in a position of authority if anything she looked too young to be out without an adult.

“What’s the disagreement exactly?” I asked.

“Well” began the Elf man, short and older wearing a thin brown jumper. Though I think everyone would look older next tot his Vampire girl. “I have pointed out that given we have been told that this facility holds artefacts of before the Event we should try and use deep scan techniques and sensor imaging technology rather than opening the main door and contaminating the whole site.”

“Which would take months” The Vampire replied.

“Even the air in there could prove to hold information about pre-event Earth.” The Elf argued back.

“No matter what the air holds its not worth the time it would take to pull samples when there are fully operational computers and records in there somewhere.” she continued woman rebutting. “Its got power so we need to worry about security before science” she added, as if an after thought.

“Stop, please” I said sternly. “If you don’t mind. We already have a plan. Were going to use a shield and put a dome around the door when we open it. We will take air samples, if you think it will be helpful. After that we will check for security systems and disable them” I had no idea where this plan of mine came from. I think something of my previous memory rich self was leaking out of me.

“The Sol security people are not scientist they wont preserve the site.” The Elf man said “That’s why Libby is going in.”

“Who’s Libby?” asked the Vampire. I pointed at Libby.

“She is a scientist, she knows how to preserve the site and can disable any security systems without a problem.” I said

“Say she is qualified, it maybe dangerous” The Elf man pointed out with an ernest concern.

“Its fine” Libby said “I’m non-organic if this body is destroyed I’ll get another one.”

“Well that sound convenient” the Vampire muttered.

“It is.” she replied.

“Once the site is deemed safe we explore” I said. They seemed to agree to my plan.

“No one has tried to open the door yet?” Libby asked thoughtfully.

“No!” the Vampire said. “The entire site has been sealed with a shield since before the tent was erected.”

My circlet chimed, I answered, it was voice only “I found your security staff. They have just got here.” came Lea’s voice. “Out front” she added. I closed the call. I made my excused and left the group. Libby stayed behind, I assumed to make sure that these two didn’t devolve into debate again.

As I started walking towards the tent door I realised how rapidly the team was working already Doctor Atkinson’s open area was a walled off room and cables were being pulled down from above to give people power. I guessed there was four or five teams of about eight people each. All my responsibility. I wasn’t at all qualified for this, or at least if I was I couldn’t remember. I was starting to think that Jo had made a mistake putting me in charge.

I stepped outside and was a little blinded by the sun. The tent had still been on emergency lighting and I hadn’t realised how dim it actually was in there. As my eyes adjusted I could see a very large ground shuttle had been parked up next to Thirteen. It was not only large but also very long. So much so that it even had a pivot in the middle to make it more viable for road travel. It was a military grey and its only light was the blue cushion of energy that it rested on. There weren’t even any windows. Just a single hatch at what I assumed was the back. Eight or so military staff were marching out of it. Mostly Human at first glance. Lea was leaning against Thirteen and chatting to a stoic man who looked far more like a biker than a soldier. His uniform was well worn and he had a desert scarf around his check, I assumed for for visual flair than function. He had a rifle slung over his back.

“Jon. Over here!” Lea waved. I walked over to them, quite aware that I was being eye-balled by every one of the ‘troops’. “This is Commander Zal. He’s from Earth force.” Lea said formally. “Commander, this is Doctor Jonathan Michaels, he’s running this project.”

Zal shook my hand. I was not a small man but compared to Commander Zal I was a child. He was so muscular that I wondered if he were actually human. “Glad to meet you Doctor. I hear you were concerned that there was no security when you arrived?” Zal’s voice was so bass filled that it was like being punched when he spoke to you. I nodded, he commanded the kind of respect that demanded silence. “Truth is that Sol command screwed up the orders. Seems like Earth Force the assumed a team was coming from Mercia and Mercia knowing it’s not their jurisdiction assumed Earth Force would action the order” I nodded, not entirely sure I knew the difference between ‘Sol Command’, ‘Earth Force’ and ‘Mercia’ as political entities. “Were here now though and I promise you your project is in the best hands now” Looking at the man, I believed him. “Thank you Commander.” Was the most I could muster. He Had neutralised any complaints I may have had.

“By the way Doctor, I saw you on the news feeds.” Zal said. “Oh?” I replied. “First when you took out a Spy ship, then the other night getting a Medal for it.” I wasn’t quite sure how to reply. “Its an honour to be working with you” he said with a nod. “Thank you” I said. Nothing else seemed to be appropriate.

I turned to leave and almost walked directly into a thin person who seemed to be made entirely of slices of natural wood; complete with bark and a leaf or two. “Greetings!” said the wooden person. “Hello” I said cautiously. “I’m Omi!” they said in an angelic, harmonic voice that sounded like three people talking at once. “I wanted to introduce myself” The wooden person said. I blinked at them blankly. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be overly familiar sir. I am Doctor OmiOniaiLiaoRioNikorataton reporting for duty… Sir.” now feeling quite overwhelmed I replied with “Its nice to meet you Omi.”

I spent the next few hours meeting new people, answering pointless and arbitrary questions about placements of walls that I didn’t care about and being asked questions that I didn’t understand by people who seemed smarter than me.

The afternoon had crept up on all of us. Thankfully the dining area had just been set up. There were coffee pots, a large fridge filled with cans of something and a buffet table that seemed to be getting populated by a catering team who arrived from nowhere. Being the first to succumb to temptation I sat down with a cup of coffee and a large pile of what seemed to be chicken steaks but I wasn’t quite sure.

I put my Circlet on the table in front of me and popped open the screen. A keyboard was projected into the air in front of it. I pushed it in front of me knowing that it would just be a fuzzy square from the other side. I was hoping it would serve to telegraph my desire to be left alone for a little while. The coffee was bad and the chicken was cold. It was almost a perfect combination of slightly disappointing things that went together incredibly well.

Someone sat next to me, I was relieved when Libby’s voice calmly said “You look like you’ve had enough of this already” I nodded and took a bite of cold chicken. “I’ve been here hours and I haven’t even set foot in the facility yet.” I complained. A shadow crossed my vision, I closed my Circlet with a tap revealing Lea to me. “Wow you look like you’re done with this!” she said. I looked at her plate of salad and glass of water with a little disgust.

“He’s pissed that he can’t ignore them all and go into the facility” Libby said. “Understandable” She replied. Another figure appeared in the remaining seat, I looked up. “Hi” said the smiling Doctor Atkinson. “You look like hell… Sir.” I glanced at his plate, a slice of quiche and some tomatoes. “Just Jon.” I said after a gulp of terrible coffee. The dining area was filling up now, and the assembly crew were leaving with out a word. It was quieting down. I enjoyed the lowering volume.

“That’s too much chicken Jon. People are going to notice that your a freak” Lea said delicately peppering her salad. Doctor Atkinson looked nervous at Lea’s lack of formality. “My doctor tells me I need to take in bio-matter whenever I feel unwell, or fatigued.” I said as if it were a medical directive. “Oh, no stamina?” She smiled. “Tired of your shit” I said with a grin. We both laughed at each others poking. Doctor Atkinson began to smirk a little, now grasping Lea was my friend not my subordinate; or as well as, I suppose. He suddenly looked a little more at ease. “Does your doctor often prescribe chicken steaks?” He asked. “Well David, the answer to that really does depend on your security clearance.” Libby answered on my behalf, as I was currently involved with said chicken. “How so?” He asked. “Well if someone with a security clearance even one level below yours asked, then my husband eats like a child and we all have a good laugh. If someone with your clearance and above asks, then yes. His doctor really did prescribe vast quantities of food to him.” Libby went on to explain to him about my biology and its requirements. He was fascinated and a little shocked that he had never heard of it before. Libby then had to explain that there were only the three of us who had this ‘gift’. He was also reminded that it was considered a classified piece of information.

I finished eating too much chicken and felt suddenly amazing, as I always did after a feast. Add fine cups of coffee to that and I was ready to re-join the project.

“What do you want me to do” Lea asked. “I’m no help with the science stuff that’s about to happen and its not like you need a bodyguard on Earth.” I shrugged at her “Once we get started I want you to find out everything you can about the rocket ship, scan it, check its systems, see if its still functional and get a repair team if its not. I want that thing back to the state we found it in.” I ordered. Not really feeling like someone who should be issuing orders.

“Rocket ship?” David Atkinson asked. “You’ll see, actually you can’t miss it.” I replied. I suddenly realised that I wasn’t sure where he fitted into the hierarchy, “Doctor, are you a head of a team or department here?” I asked. “Please, David. I’m the head electrical engineer here and the only computer security specialist, I have a little team of three enthusiastic rookies with me.” He had told me to call him ‘David’ a few times now and it didn’t seem to be irritating him at all that I kept ignoring him. He really was actually a very nice guy. I still didn’t like him but he had won this one, David it was.

I waiting for my team to assemble at the large conference table that had been set-up by the rear exit of the massive tent. Zal had been true to his word, there were guards posted at both the front and rear entrances of the tent and a their shuttle had generated a shield that made our little project impenetrable from the outside.

My little meeting comprised of Raf the Elf gentleman who’s demeanour made him seem older than his apparent years. Ta’ra the very young looking Vampire woman, who had been arguing with Raf earlier. Omi,David and Zal. Libby and Lea were also considered by me at least to be honorary members of the command team. No one objected.

I used my circlet to show a three dimensional recreation of what was to be our project. “Here’s what I have. The Earth police were kind enough to seal the section of the street behind the tent with a shield so we know its as I left it.” I gave them some back story about how I discovered the facility and the rocket ship that we used to punch our exit. All that they had been told was that there was large Pre-Event facility with a locked door. When they actually saw my three dimensional map of where we had explored and the photos of the layout of the structure we expected to find below they were very excited. No one had expected an entire subterranean building to explore. This was the first slice of pre-event reality that they had ever had chance to see, aside from the occasional random artefact that somehow survived and many diary entries from people who were around at the time.

To most people the Event had been romanticised by movies and books, painters and poets. It was, to these scholars and scientists the most amazing thing they would ever be asked to research. I decided not to tell them that I thought there might be many other such places hidden on Earth.

Once I had brought them up to date I waved for the security team to open the large shield that served as a door at the back of our massive tent. They nodded and pressed a few controls on the frame. It switched from shield to ‘glass’ but the kind made of energy, you could pass right through it but it served to keep out the cold and the noises.

We trotted out to the blue tinted street behind the tent. There sat our rocket ship, buggy almost on its roof and a large hole in the body of a slopping hill. It was all exactly as we had left it. The shield that Earth police had placed was to stay, and the whole area was bathed in a cold but comforting blue twinkling light. One of our technicians had already began to hook up power to the shield generator. I was told it was good for weeks but it was always a good idea to keep shields powered properly.

“I can see why you were arrested” Libby said “Detained” I replied. She smiled. Lea headed to the rocket ship, a few people followed obviously eager to poke around it. Some others took great interest in the Buggy. Others stared at the hole is if they expected a monster to appear from it.

“May we see the facility now?” came the almost angelic voice of Omi from behind me. Omi who had introduced themselves to me earlier had explained that they were a Thinker neutralist. Thinkers were by nature without gender, in no small part because they were able to procreate by a method of splitting themselves into smaller conciousness that would then diverge from the original. When they left their home world they would usually accept whatever gender people assigned to them simply because they honestly didn’t care. Omi was a younger Thinker at only a few hundred years old and was well educated in alien affairs. Omi had decided that they would not accept these childish gender roles. I respected this stance a great deal, mostly because it was nice to meet at Thinker that was willing to talk about their home world for a change.

“Sure.” I said. Omi, Libby and I walked towards the hole. Omi hesitated a little at the opening. Given that Thinkers were essentially indestructible .I assumed it was out of reverence more than fear. “Don’t worry. The lights are on.” I said reassuringly and walked on down the ramp. It took me over ten minutes to get to the bottom. When I had exited I was in a buggy and not exactly going slowly. I hadn’t really gotten a good sense of distance.

I was the first to emerge at the bottom with Libby and Omi not far behind me. The lights were still on. “Well what do you think?” I asked “It’s beautiful!” Omi exclaimed. “Its a mess” Libby added. I turned to her, planning on explaining that it was actually pristine when we Lea and I first got in here. I was jarred to see her eyes were a flickering amber now. “Whatever is blocking our signal is still active then?” I said. She shrugged. “We should have the technical team put repeaters all the way down the ramp. Also we can’t take a ten minute walk every time we want to come here. We should set-up a Fold to come and go.”

I was trying my best not to think of Libby’s simulated self as a separate person but I was hard for me. She was a separate person until she got her signal re-established. Then she wasn’t. She had made an effort to make me understand that treating her simulation in any way differently to normal caused her sadness, she hadn’t used those exact words but her meaning was clear. She never did quite use the words that would most clearly explain her feelings. Philosophers!

Omi looked quite out of place in this Facility. I had come to accept that Thinkers were a strange race of naked robot looking people but Omi had chosen a form made of assorted slices of wood. They looked like a strange moving tree. Every time they moved it looked like magic. More so than the metallic balls or silver cubes that most Thinkers created their forms from. With Omi it was like a fantasy tale in motion. For some reason it struck me as less natural than the others of their race. This was quite absurd of course. Their species would have used wood and stone on their home world long before they had space ships and warps.

I shook off my distraction. I had began to realise I ran the risk of ‘checking’ out in the same way that Libby did, granted for far different reasons but being deep in thought and getting absorbed by your core-self wasn’t that different in outcome. I was doing it again.

“It was so clean and intimidating when we arrived. I have all the recordings on my Circlet. All this soot and debris wasn’t here. It was like a slice of another world” I said trying not to go off on a mental tangent.

“That’s the fabled door is it?” Omi asked pointing at the locked door with a finger that seemed to be made of some carefully arranged twigs. “It is. As far as Lea and I could tell when were here last, its operated from the other side.” Omi nodded. “Do you mind if I touch it?” I gestures for them to go ahead “Don’t try and open it. I want a full team here before we break the seal” I added. Omi nodded.

“I’m going to check one of those buggy’s” Libby said. “Oh, you may need one of these” I passed her the pile of access cards that I still had in my jacket pocket. I followed Omi.

The door was large, made of horizontal metal slats and looked from the design like it would roll upwards when it was opened. Omi crouched down next to it and put one of their hands against it. The energy that all Thinkers flicker with; an orange glow in Omi’s case stretched out from their body and into the door. It zipped around the edges of the slats and their wooden body seemed to lose its spark of life. Omi spoke again, but this time their voice came from the door not the wooden form. “Yeah, this is isolated and locked with vertical slats on the other side. The two panels together are about a meter thick. I don’t have the focus I would need to move all of these at the same time. I think there maybe some kind of gearing system holding it all in place too.”

“That’s great! Don’t try. Can you sense anything from the other side?” I asked. The door made a ‘hummmmmm’ sound in Omi’s voice and then said “No. There’s definitely a dampening field being generated from inside. I’m essentially blind if I try and look past the door it’s self”

Looking at Omi’s lifeless body was a little unsettling. It was just as unsettling when the glow from the door seemed to flash back into it and even though nothing quite perceptible changed, it was alive again. “You Okay?” I asked. Omi stood up with ease “Oh yes. I don’t know how much experience you have with my kind but I am not this body. I’m the Wraith that lives inside it. We are quite immortal, I assure you.”

“Good to know. I guess.” Omi seemed nice, refreshingly sincere. “You’re not quite what you appear to be either are you Jon?” They said with a serious tone. “No. I’m not. If you don’t mind I would like that to remain between us.” I replied. “Understood. But… What are you?” They asked in that angelic voice that was hard not to trust. “I’m Human. Just a very old one.” I said, it was enough of an answer that I didn’t feel like I was lying. I honestly wasn’t sure what their security level was and didn’t want to go into too much detail until I could check. “Hummmmm” came the reply. I was saved from further interrogation by the sudden appearance of Libby, in a buggy.

“This is thing is the stupidest design I have ever seen!” she said with a grin as she came to a stop “It’s got wheels!”

After taking the buggy to the surface and making sure that Libby’s eyes flicked back to green as we did, I arranged with David for signal repeaters to be added at regular intervals the whole way down the entrance ramp. David also suggested that we take a computer core down there too to give us local Circlet use even if we ended up cut off from the larger network. It seemed like a reasonable precaution to take.

The young looking Vampire, Doctor Ta’ra Kl was about the most qualified person on the team. She was only forty years old, barley an adult by Vampire standards. She had recommended that we set up oxygen generation units down there too in case the other side of the door had contaminated air or even worse wasn’t a compatible air mix. It was a solid suggestion that I had totally overlooked. How quickly breathing had become a secondary concern for me.

Libby contacted Mercia and requested a portable Fold generator with enough juice to punch through the dampening field but it would take a few hours to get it Blue-Tubed down to us. We were losing the day fast “Okay. Today we get things in place. Tomorrow we get someone with a cutter down there to get that door open. Get everything in place and call it a night guys” I ordered. There was no reason rush this work yet.

I ended the little meeting and everyone scurried off to make the plans a reality. Which left me with very little do. “We have a Hotel room you know” Libby said as the last person left. “How sordid!” I joked. “Not really. Our presidential sponsor has hired the whole place for the duration of the project. Everyone who doesn’t live in Victoria is staying there.”

We got to the hotel a little later that evening, there was a room already assigned to us. I wasn’t sure if it was because we were the only couple or because Libby had tweaked the booking but we were put in the honeymoon suite. It was half of the top floor, the only floor accessible through a Fold set up in the lobby. Because this was Earth though there were no locks or room keys, just a person in the lobby who would tell people what room they had been booked in to. Commander Zal had arranged for guards to be posted outside of the hotel. His team were staying there too. Possibly the only people in the whole city who were also carrying large guns. With this and the drone police force that patrolled Victoria invisibly we all felt quite safe. I wasn’t sure if anyone on the team, other than the security staff knew that this was a potential Correctionist target but I saw no reason to make everyone jumpy.

The room was huge, larger than our apartment on Central and far larger than our rooms on Mercia. Libby came out of the shower actually wet. Being planet based our hotel shower had both the familiar cleansing lights as well as running water if you wanted it. She was towelling down her hair and apparently unconcerned with her nudity. I looked up from my Circlet “You know there are no locks on any of the doors here” I said admiring her, unsure as to how much attention was polite. She carried on messing with her hair “I’m armed. If anyone happens to see my shame they won’t live long enough to realise.” She threw her towel at me. “You should try it. Water showers are really strange.” Her hair a tangled damp mess. Though wasn’t paying much attention to her hair. “I’ll stick to the magic lights” I said unintentionally forgetting to breathe. “You really have to stop calling them magic lights.” The rest of the evening was spent in a very unproductive way.

Unlocked

By the time we got to the tent the next morning everyone else was already set up and it seemed waiting for me to tell them to start. There was now a white platform in the centre of the tent. The little platform had no less than three power cables running to to it. “Fold all working?” Libby asked as we got close to David. “Yes! Its was a little hard to set up with it not being directly above the destination but once we got enough power into it, it settled down nicely” He was wearing a different green shirt today but his hair was as perfectly windswept as yesterday. “I didn’t see Lea at the hotel. Is she already here?” I asked. “The pretty pilot? She’s taking that rocket ship to bits right now.” he said. Libby let out a little giggle at the words ‘pretty pilot’ there was no way Lea wasn’t hearing that one. “Repeaters?” I asked. “All in place, and I need your command code to add the computer core to our local network.”

We all stepped into the Fold platform at the same time and the world seemed to blink off for a moment. We stepped again and was in the facility right in the centre of the room on another white platform. I looked at the power cables coming from it. They were all trunked together with some others and were trailing up the ramp. “We plugged all this into the cities power grid?” I asked “yes. But all equipment has its own battery backup too.” David replied. He seemed good at answering my concerns before I voiced them. It would seem that he was annoyingly good at his job.

Ta’ra and Omi were setting up what I recognised to be a Blue-field generator outside of the locked door. It was about the size of a desk and had many screens and open panels across it. There were also some dome like extrusions across the rear and the top. Zal was watching from a respectful distance with a rifle in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I gave him a wave “Good morning!” He nodded back at me. I liked Zal. He was all business and I respected that.

“You need a hand with that?” Libby called to Ta’ra. “Please!” she replied looking relieved. Libby walked over and started messing with settings on the generators screen. A few moments later some small mesh antenna extended from its sides. She twisted a few of them and then turned the device a little to the left. “Computer core?” David said in my ear, no doubt wanting to get his systems up and running before the work got in full swing. “Right. Yes.” I said.

I hadn’t seen a computer core before. The unit was actually built into one of the delivery crates. It was set-up next to the Fold platform I wasn’t sure how Folds worked but I assumed this computer core assisted it somehow. It was entirely blue armour plating with a transparent glass like dome on the top that seemed to house sensors and what looked like computer chips but there were a lot of them all layered. The glass of the dome its self was etched with hairline silver circuits that was being occasionally touched by threads of white light, the circuits lighting up as it went along them. It was like looking at a work of art. David noticed my interest in it. “Ah, remind you of Libby?” He said. “I’m sorry?” I replied. “The core. I assumed its a similar type that houses Libby.” I didn’t want to tell him that I hadn’t actually thought to go and see Libby’s core. “Yeah” I replied. He lifted the glass dome revealing it to be a sphere. It seemed to have its own power. He rotated it to show the Sol Alliance markings on the under side next to what seemed to be a series of connectors. “As you can see its a secure core” He said as if it should be self evident. “This isn’t my field David.” I said, quite honestly. “You know the protocol Jon. I have to show you.” I didn’t. He lowered the ball into the slot and it resumed its light show. He pressed a button in the crate that housed it and a screen appeared above it. ‘S01 Compute core - Objective: Data storage and communication management. Allow access and management to Local network?’ the screen said. There was a logo of an eye below the text. I pressed it. A thread of light scanned my right eye and then asked for my command code. David turned away politely, I entered the code that Libby had forced me to commit to memory, remembering information like this wasn’t something I struggled with I entered my code ‘QTP3B8CK’ it beeped in acceptance. The glass core seemed to frost over in just a few seconds it was so cold that it was radiating a chill. “Okay, all done.” David said and slapped me on the shoulder. I still didn’t like him.

Were ready to go. Repeaters in place, shield ready and a backup computer core picking up the slack if there was an unexpected break in data. With no reason to wait I gave the okay for Libby to being.

Commander Zal insisted that only those required for the mission be attending. This advice was bent a little as we had myself, David, Omi and Ta’ra present. Libby was to be doing actual work. She was standing inside the shielded area in front of the large door. A Large energy cutter next to her and a heavy looking satchel across her shoulders that housed a very powerful portable scanner. She also carried a pistol on her hip as a backup that wouldn’t cost her any energy. There were three armed security men taking position around her on the outside of the shield. Zal himself was at the side monitoring a screen and checking communication and sensor readings from the whole area. He seemed to be in a constant state of expecting a fight any moment.

“Doctor, are you sure you are okay doing this? My only job is keeping you all safe” Zal asked for the third time at least. He was not happy about this. “Commander. I am a Non-organic, this body is a receiver of my conciousness even if there is some blood crazed defence system in here the only danger I’m in is the cost of a new avatar.” Libby said with her signature calm. Zal had insisted that the rest of us be behind a physical blast shield he had set up a little back from the door. We had a large floating screen behind our metal shield with us, Ta’ra was taking ‘control readings’ of radiation levels and air mix. Omi had using their Thinker abilities to watch for unseen things, leaving their body crouched and dead, David was sitting on a box and seemed to be reading a book. He didn’t have a lot to do until the door was open.

“Ready?” I asked. “As ready as we will ever be” Ta’ra said with a sigh. “Yes” came Omi’s voice from all around. “David?” I asked. He glanced up from his reading and pressed a button on his circlet. “Transmitting a holographic video to the team up stairs and recording everything” he nodded.

“Libby, Zal. Ready when you are.” I said through the communication system. We watched the blue shield seal Libby and the door off from the rest of the facility and her check the readings on her scanner pack. Then the cutter lit up.

It took her almost an hour to cut through the first layer of the door. Once she had cut the slats each side she had to stop, lower the shield and throw the removed metal planks out. She restored the shield and went back to work without saying anything. “That cutter is really heavy. Doesn’t she get tired?” Ta’ra asked. “I’m a Vampire and I can barely lift it” she added. “She won’t stop until its open, at this point she’s probably not even actually in there.” I said sitting on a crate next to David. “Wait, you mean she can just shift her attention and leave her body doing things?” He asked. “I think so yeah. Not something we really talk about.”

“I would want to know everything” Ta’ra said almost hungrily. “It’s not that I don’t want to know. Here. Let me show you something” I said and pulled out my Circlet, I hit the button to call Libby, but not her Circlet. I called her address on Mercia. It flashed and her face appeared on the screen. I unlocked the screen so everyone could see and hear her. “Hey. How you doing?” I said. “Fine. Just cutting stuff.” she said with a smile, probably already aware of the demonstration I was making. “Where are you?” David said glancing at the screen and then at Libby’s body still operating the cutter. “I am on board Mercia. In orbit. As I always have been. My body is down there with you working on getting that damned door open.” she said to the group. “You seeing this Omi” Ta’ra said aloud “Yes. Hello” came the disembodied voice. “Actually I doubt Omi thinks my bi-location is unusual. Thinkers exist as energy separate to their bodies. Its not drastically different from me except I’m digital and have enough compute to exist in two or three locations at once depending what I’m doing.” Ta’ra and David asked a few more simple questions about ‘what it was like’ and ‘which one was really her’ before I cut them off and switched the screen back to private, wondering a little way away from them to signal a desire for a little privacy “You okay?” I asked. “Sure. This is not interesting work” she shrugged. I smiled. “How much attention are you giving it?” I asked with a smile “Basically none.” she said as if I had discovered her secret. “I hope you didn’t mind the call. I don’t want you to think I was trotting you out like stage magician or anything.” I was honestly a little worried I had made an error in judgement. “Not at all Jon. I’m a teacher remember.” I smiled at her, “See you in a bit My love.” I said, getting it in before she did. She seemed to blush a little in her white room. I smiled back and closed the screen. “You guys are cute.” Ta’ra said with a wide smile. Now I blushed.

My circlet rang again. I flipped the screen open and there was Lea’s face. “Jon, I’ve been trying to get in touch. Heads up! The Buggy up here is flashing a warning on its screen” She said a with urgency. “Warning?” I asked. She nodded and pointed her screen at the buggy’s panel “Hanger security breach” it said in black text on a red background. “Okay, thanks Lea. Deactivate the buggy. I’ll let Zal know.” She nodded and I closed my screen.

“Zal” I shouted. As the sound of old Earth machine gun fire filled our ears. The monitor showed the shield behind Libby lighting up an electric blue. We couldn’t see what was happening. Zal shouted something and his men readied their guns. The shooting stopped. The blue sparks faded and we could see a lot of dust and movement. Libby was standing there with the barrel of a large gun in her hand. “Turret behind the door. I broke it.” we all breathed a sigh of relief. “You okay?” Zal called. “Yeah. Tore up my epidermal layer a little but nothing that I can’t fix.” as the dust and smoke cleared a little more we could see the silver of her internal structure showing through her arms and neck. I was unmoved. Ta’ra and David gave me judgemental eyes for my lack of concern. I ignored them. “There’s an automation coming towards her” came Omi’s voice from the floor “Libby, you got company. I said over the intercom.”

There was more gunfire sounds and then a flash of light and the familiar fizz of Libby’s energy bast. Again we had to wait for smoke to clear. “Got it” she shouted. “Anything else Omi?” I asked, directing my question to the air. “Movement a little deeper in the structure it the dampening field is stopping me seeing more. Wait… There’s a spike in energy.” there was a pointed silence for just a moment “BOMB!” Omi exclaimed. “Libby. Its a bomb. Get that security grid off-line.” I said through the speakers. “Got it” she called back. “Should we leave” David asked. “No point. It’s a very big bomb” Omi replied oddly nonchalant. “It won’t take her long to get this sorted. Don’t worry.” I reassured him.

Libby’s voice came through the screen on the desk behind our blast shield. “I found an office, there’s a computer here, and something else. I’m trying to access it. Hack my way into the network. No ports! No Obvious IO at all.”

David jumped up, now paying attention “Libby, from what we know about the technology in there you wont have wireless access of any kind. They don’t seem to use it, if you have a way of doing it you maybe able to get physical access via a coaxial cable in the back of the computer.”

“I see it.” she replied.

“You can connect directly to the cable its an ancient ring network, you should be able to patch it directly into any modulation system you have.” David was frantically trying to transmit the notes he had made on the technology he had seen here.

“I have to disconnect from my core if I’m going to interface directly.” She said “Seems you have about twenty seconds.” Came Omi’s voice. “Do it now.” I said sternly.

The next few seconds seemed to last far too long for any of us. Zal and his men didn’t so much as blink, guns trained on the shielded doorway not even a flicker of doubt in their eyes. A shadow moved behind the shield and we heard gunfire begin then stop abruptly.

Silence echoed.

“Omi” I asked.

“Were safe! The energy has just started discharging!” they replied.

“Libby?” I asked to the com-system. No reply.

“Doctor do you want us to head in.” Zal asked me.

I glanced at David “Could this have damaged her?”

He shrugged at “Depends on a lot of factors.”

More movement filled the doorway. Rifles clicked in readiness. Then Libby stepped out from the shadows. Her jumpsuit had a missing arm and a chunk of skin was missing on her lower neck exposing a panel and some wires that she seemed to have intentionally pulled out “Stand down Zal. Were good.” she said as she brushed some dirt from her chest.

She began checking her scanner satchel. “Well; Were not getting untainted air samples. Pack got shot. She said.”

“Security status?” Zal barked. “Neutralised. Took me a second to take control but I disabled everything and locked all the doors and elevators. Right now its secure.” She had to reassure Zal at least once more before he agreed to lower the shield.

I ran over to her to take a look at the damage. Her eyes were a crimson fire, as soon as we got close they faded to a safer amber. “Wow. You look like a bad ass” I said admiring her look. Missing sleeve, bullet holes all over her including her head and neck. The satchel she wore obviously trashed. I took her hand affectionately. I knew that she wasn’t actually in any danger, and didn’t feel pain in a way that could be described as hurting her but I was pleased she was okay. Omi came wondering over behind up. “That was exciting”

“Do you need medical attention?” Zal asked. “A good mechanic maybe” She replied looking at her holes.

Given that Lea and I had trashed the loading area of this floor and now Libby had ended up starting a fire fight behind the doorway it seemed our very carefully thought out plan had failed. The facility had not been pristinely preserved.

But now it seemed that we had free access to this floor and most useful of all, access to a computer that was attached to the network. We were in. I sent a message to the lab tent telling the team of onlookers that we were secure and they could come down now. The Fold began working almost immediately.

I followed Libby into the doorway. It’s disconcerting when you see the woman you love with bullet holes all over her. It’s even more disconcerting when you realise that you understand how it all works enough that there’s little to no concern in your mind when you see her. If anything the concern you do show is a performance for others. I wasn’t sure how I felt with myself about this. I would talk to Libby about these feelings when she was back, when her eyes were green again.

The corridor was as wide as the large door and worn with age. There were tyre tracks on the floor, things had been driven down here. It was a tunnel more than a corridor. It looked old, and it was dusty and there was a section of the ceiling that had been torn out. The turret that Libby had first met was on the floor in a molten lump. I took a deep breathe, not because I needed the air but to see how it tasted. To help build the picture of this place. It was try and gritty air. Air that had not been moved for a long time. I thought for a moment that this was air from a time and place that no longer existed.

We walked some more. Libby turned lights on using switches on the wall. It looked so drab, so tired and hopeless. The walls were painted. The bottom half blue, then half way up the wall it was grey with a red stripe separating the colours. It was not only old and faded but also tasteless. “The computer is all the way down here?” I asked realising just how much ground we were covering. She must have ran down here, I glanced behind me, there was Zal our silent guardian.

There was the first thing Libby had dealt with, some kind of automated guard unit. It was like a stubby little tank, or it had been. It was now a mostly molten lump of metal.

The corridor widened now and there were two large elevator doors each side of us. In the middle was a large window to an office and next to it a security door. The door had been ripped free and was on the floor with another automation. She seemed to have used it as a large swatter and smashed this one into pieces rather than melting it.

I stepped into the room. Inside was a single computer and a desk. My eyes scanned around the room. The first thing I saw was an ashtray on the desk next to the computer, it took me a moment to realise that there was a hand resting a burned out cigarette atop of it. I traced the arm to the chair where lay a dead man. He wasn’t a skeleton or a preserved mummy of some sort. He was dead, fleshy and gooey. He was wearing what had been a white lab coat and brown trousers on. I took a breath of the air the smell made my stomach flip. I heard Zal pull out a breathing unit and slap it over his face. He didn’t say a word. I decided not to breath again for a while.

The computer had been pulled aside, away from the dead man. Libby had been careful not to disturb the copse. Not out of any sense of reverence but as a scientist the less she contaminated the scene the better. The computer had been rotated and we could see the coaxial cable that she had used to gain access to the network. She pointed at her missing skin on her lower neck, and then to the cable “I had to work fast, it wasn’t clean” she said. She must have tore a chunk from her felf to gain access to the communication point she needed to press the cable in.

“You have total access to the facility now?” I asked. “Yes. I copied all the codes and encryption keys before I disconnected. The dampening field cant be turned off though. It seems to be related to the facilities power system but I ordered all security systems to power down. It wasn’t hard to hack.” She said that as if that bothered her.

“You have concerns?” I asked.

“These people. This technology. It’s… Jon, it’s a joke. This computer here, is silicone. It’s power isn’t even measurable in modern compute cycles. It runs in hertz!”

We stepped out of the room. The presence of the corpse made it hard to focus on anything else. Even Libby seemed to take unwilling glances at it from time to time.

“When can you re-sync?” I asked. She shrugged. “I was having issues maintaining a connection and I cut it in-case there was any counter security but this hardware isn’t capable of that. It doesn’t even have an AI core. As soon as we get some repeaters in here I’ll re-sync.” As she spoke I could see movements of her sub-dermal components through the holes in her skin.

“Floor is definitely secure?” I asked. Wanting to be certain.

“Yes” She replied.

I knew I didn’t want to get anyone else in here until we had made sure there wasn’t a biological hazard, thought thanks to the invention of medical nanites and “cure-all” it didn’t seem to be something that anyone actually worried about. Still. I wanted a medical expert down here. From what I knew Ta’ra was the person I needed to give us the green light.

“Okay. Lets go get you patched up then.” I said as we headed for the exit.

..