DATE: Sat 25 Sep 2021 16:52 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net

Denouement // Part 9.

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

Afoot.

The next few hours were a whirlwind of activity. The new room was catalogued, cleared and scanned. The corpse was held in a bio-field and taken to the tent for deep scanning. Libby still in sim-mode, acted as an interface for downloading and mapping everything she could find on the facilities network. It was slow work but only due to the limitations of the facilities technology, she could have done this in the blink of an eye on modern hardware.

She sat cross-legged on the desk next to the computer with the cable held in place across her lower neck with a medical bandage; She looked like she was meditating. In fact she was analysing and isolating the data as it came in, checking it for viruses, activating defensive software and security tags. She was then transmitting it to the relay computer-core in the main area of the facility. She would re-sync herself once she was sure that the job was done. No matter how confident she was that this computer system was unable to outwit her, there was no way she would put her core at risk. Zal had opted to stay with her as loyal guard.

David was sitting at his desk in the tent studying the data as it came in and watching the analyst-AI structure it into something coherent.

Omi’s body was in a similar meditative state to Libby’s but instead of copying data very slowly, they were not actually in their body at all. Omi was instead exploring the facility using their conciousness, looking for any way to see a little more of it in and its structure in hopes to gleam something useful. We didn’t hold out much hope, that dampening field was very effective.

Lea was still rebuilding the rocket ship outside and apparently doing a great job. She had at a some point gone from repairing to teaching the apprentice engineering team about thrust dynamics. I left her to her class.

I was in the tent with Ta’ra, Raf and the corpse. Raf was someone I had not spent much time with he seemed scholarly and stern. He had scanned the corpse down to the molecule and now a theory was beginning to form. “I know we don’t often see eye to eye on things Ta’ra but I’m certain that the atomic signature is different enough to be of importance” Raf spoke thoughtfully. Ta’ra was looking at a data-tablet that he had passed her a few minutes ago. “Does this also work for the ashtray?” She asked. “Not really. The difference is nowhere near as startling. Its a decay rate, or an alignment effect. Possibly it only works as consistently with bio-mass.”

I saw her flip the information on the tablet back to the first page and read again. I sat on the counter looking at the corpse. It wasn’t pleasant but at least now it was in a bio-field it didn’t smell. I wasn’t following as much of this science talk as I would have liked to but from what I did follow; There is a structure to all atoms. Measured in many ways, one of which was the gaps between the components. The distance between the electrons and the nucleus as well as the speeds at which things travelled inside. This was pretty standard science, or at least that’s what they had told me. This was called a ‘structural resonance frequency’ and it was essentially the same for every atom in the universe. All atoms of oxygen for example would match within a limited variance. Doesn’t matter if they had come from Sol, Vampire space or another galaxy entirely.

In this corpse however it was different. Not a lot different but different enough to indicate that it was not from this universe. This corpse was the first thing ever discovered which was assuredly not from our reality. Or at least that’s what Raf was certain of. Ta’ra wanted to look over the data again.

“Okay.” she finally said. “I agree.”

Raf didn’t woot or punch the air with pride or excitement he simply nodded at her and said “I’m pleased. Now what does it mean?”

“Can you test me?” I asked, jumping off the counter. “You think you may not be from this universe?” Ta’ra said with a raised eye brow. “No. I’m pretty certain I’m not. What I want to know is if I’m from the same one as this corpse.”

Ta’ra looked at me like I was suddenly quite mad. Raf just shrugged and started scanning me with a palmed device. The threads were a lot faster moving than those from scans I had encountered in the past.

Libby walked in. Startling all of us. “Copying is done!” she said. Her eyes were green again, my Libby was back. I stepped away from my scan to kiss her. I didn’t care that her body was missing patches of skin. She was my Libby. “Welcome back” I said. She smiled in that way that only she could. Raf followed me with the scanner. “I need medical foam. The stuff you give humans when they are missing skin!” she asked allowed. “Do humans often find themselves missing skin?” Ta’ra asked. “Its like cure-all but in a foam applicator.” Libby continued, ignoring Ta’ra’s comment. “She’s looking for regenerative mesh gel” Raf said, still scanning me. “Not foam?” Libby asked. “The foam if for my kind. The gel is for human tissue.” Raf replied. Ta’ra passed Libby a small can of something from one of the medical packs on the wall. Libby thanked her and the promptly took off her shirt. It had an arm missing and enough bullet holes that it wasn’t actually covering much of her anyway, she was wearing a grey military issue bra under it. She began applying the gel to her missing patches of skin. A generous squirt went on her neck where there was a large patch of her robotic sub-dermal components showing through. Ta’ra tried passing her a small regenerator tool. Libby didn’t take it. “Would you mind?” she asked turning to face her. Ta’ra activated the tool and a comb of green energy came out of it. When it touched the gel it went purple and the occasional spark lit up before it cooled down and faded into reddened skin. “Humans usually have pain medication for this” Ta’ra said with concern. “I don’t feel pain, not like organics. Its just a data source to me” Libby replied. I watched the process with my own concerned eyes, though I knew it wasn’t required. “Interesting” Raf said. Suddenly finding all eyes on him. He was looking at his scanner with great interest. He had finished my scan. “I’ll need an hour or so to process this information.”

Libby’s bullet holes were gone now. Her new patches of skin were red and tender looking but was at least now intact again. “Jon. I think we need to talk.” She said sternly. “Excuse me Doctors” I said with a polite wave. They nodded.

Libby stepped into a small room that was being used as storage by the security team and started rifling through the boxes that were still all packed away. “How long?” she asked as she found a stack of grey vests with Mercia logos on them. “How long?” I replied. She pulled out the smallest one she could find and put the rest back. “How long have you known?” The vest looked good on her. “Why do we have spare clothes?” I asked. “Security team” she said as if that was explanation enough, “How long have you known?” she demanded. “Which bit?” I replied. “I’ve seen the computer records. Been attached to the technology. This stuff isn’t old. It’s not artefacts of the past, its from now. Just not our now.” She rubbed her neck where her new skin was still red, she may not feel pain but it was irritating her. She began to raise her voice now “I thought this facility was from before The Event. These computers should have been undisturbed for almost a hundred years. I checked the access logs, they were in actual full working use a little under a hundred days ago. Regular use too. Then nothing.”

“I didn’t want to go into too much detail because I was hoping I was wrong.” I said quietly. “How did you know? That I knew I mean?” I asked. “I didn’t” She replied, “Not really, I just always assume you know more than everyone else. Old habits I guess.” I smiled. “I always assume you do too.”

We stepped towards each other there in the tiny little store room and hugged tightly. “What does it mean?” She asked. “I’m not sure, not quite yet” I replied. “The test that Raf and Ta’ra ran. You’re from the other reality arn’t you?” she asked “I think so” I said with a lump in my throat. “And all the memories you lost. The time we shared.” We were still hugging. “I don’t know where your memories come from but I don’t think I ever had them.” I heard my own voice crack. I was terrified that this was the moment she would reject me. I was always half expecting her to realise she didn’t need me, or want me. Her voice sounded like it should have been accompanied by tiers that I knew she could not have, “Jon. Perhaps there’s a reason I have these memories. Perhaps when it was all re-written… Perhaps we need each other and that’s why the universe put us together. You, Lea, Jo, Kay… I cant imagine being me without you all.”

I let go of her and we separated a little, I was going to kiss her but she got there first. “Just a few more pieces of the puzzle and I’ll tell you my theory.” I said hoping she didn’t push me to give her my half baked ideas. “Okay” she said “Who else knows?”

“Just Jo” I said. “She got there before me I think, the data dump you got from the Correctionist ship gave her the clues she needed.” Libby smiled and sniffed a little as she made sure she looked presentable. “Sometimes I think she is smarter than both of us” I smiled.

The next day started earlier than I would have liked, If it wasn’t for a deep desire to take a shower I’m not sure I would have left the tent at all. Somehow David was there when I left and was there when I returned. He looked fresh as daisy and was wearing a clean shirt. I was still habitually cleaning my one outfit in the ‘magic light’ every day. No-one seemed to care much. I had skipped breakfast at the hotel so David fist caught me at the buffet table, which as always had been replenished by some ghost in the night. Honestly, if the rest of us could have been half as organised as the catering team we would have been done in the first afternoon. “I have actually wired it directly into the BNC network in the facility.” David said enthusiastically. “Wired what to what?” I asked, “I have emulated the facility command system, the same way Libby did” I looked at him blankly for a moment “My doctorate is in history David. Assuming you have read my file like I told you to; you will also know that I have forgotten everything I ever learned.” I took a bite of a chocolate doughnut. “Okay, yes. My circlet can now control every piece of technology on the facility network.” He said with pride. Libby wondered over and passed me a cup of coffee. She looked at the Circlet screen he was showing me “Oh, that’s a good idea.” She said with a supporting nod. “Can you share that access with my circlet?” She asked. He made a noise of agreement and started tapping away. I took a whole box of doughnuts and headed out the back of the tent, Libby stayed with David opening her Circlet expectantly.

There she was, as I suspected. Lea was asleep in the cockpit of the now pristinely assembled rocket ship. I banged the side and she woke up with a start. “Ugh! What time is it?” she asked. “Nine… ish” I said offering her a ring from my box. He looked at them with a disgusted face and then took one anyway as she climbed out of the ship. “You got it all working?” I asked. “Yeah” she began with a mouth full of chocolate. “All pilots are trained in pretty advanced shuttle repair, this whole shuttle isn’t much different from the emergency landing thrusters on Thirteen. But really big and super basic.”

As I walked around it I saw some modifications. There were blue tinted glass panels on it and trace wires going the pilot chair. The chair was new too. I hopped inside. There were all the controls that had been there when we first saw it but now it had something similar to the Circlet interface wired into the control panel too. “Impressive work Lea!” I said as I removed myself from all the buttons I was scared to press. “Omi got a bunch of apprentice engineers to help me.” She said finishing her one doughnut. I was on my third already. She laughed to herself for a second covering her mouth “The engineers are convinced you are going to throw them off the project when you see the modifications” I grinned at her in reply. “Will it fly like a proper shuttle now?” I asked. “Not sure I would want to take it off world but yeah, its got modern adjustment systems now as well as a control system that is more than point-and-accelerate.” She was happy with her work. “Then tell the engineers they can stay.” I smiled. “Also, Lea. Come get some drinks with Libby and I this evening? I want to let you in on an official secret or two.” Lea nodded with great interest “I was worried that I was going to be on the outside of all this to be honest.”

I gave my friend a hug and assured her that even though it had been a busy few days, there was no way she was ever going to be an outsider to Libby and I. I wasn’t sure how she would take it when she found out that her entire reality was only two months old. But that was a problem for later. I was just hoping there would be enough Elix in the Hotel bar to help her process it all.

A lot of doughnuts and a few hours later the command was sent. The facility was opened up. Every door that the computer had access to was now open. The defence system was silenced and these archaic systems were firing up. We were finally in.

I forbade use of the elevator system, given that the one Lea and I used to get into the facility originally collapsed on its first outing I thought a few stairs would be a better option than potentially plummeting to our doom. Though I was also pretty sure that the ones behind the door were perfectly safe, I felt I should support the pretence.

Zal insisted that every team was accompanied by one of his armed guards. He was remarkably cautious, I planned on making a special note of how well he did his ‘babysitting’ to Jo and Ba’an when I got back to Mercia.

Omi’s engineers went directly to the lower levels to take a look at the vehicle and technology stores that the maps we had seen promised. They were documenting and cataloguing not tinkering. Not just yet.

Ta’ra and Raf’s teams were fanning out through the labs and offices. Like Omi’s team this was an information gathering pass before we started poking things with our very scientific sticks.

The only people that were intending to poke things were Libby and David. They were heading down eight levels to the computer core with some technical people who David seemed to hold in high esteem. Libby was instantly pushed into sim-mode the moment she started climbing down the stairs. She wasn’t even sure how it was possible to dampen her connection with such basic technology, but she was sure the answer would be in the computer somewhere and there were still files she couldn’t access stored locally on the server.

That only left Lea and myself. We had no teams of people to manage or topics to research. I wanted to simply look for diaries and notebooks, Lea wanted to see of there were any more information about the purpose of the rocket ship. We decided to head down to the area that the map informed us was ‘classified’ We were also free from Zal’s shadow because technically Lea was a military officer. We had free run of this place.

We climbed down the staircase to the floor that was marked as ‘restricted access’. It was a sliding mechanical door similar to the large hatch that had protected the ramp that we took the rocket ship out via. I flicked open my Circlet, finally feeling like I may have gotten the hang of it. “Libby You there?” I asked. “For you, always” she replied. “This door on level twelve isn’t opening, can you or David get it open with the Circlet thingy? Maybe I get Lea to shoot at it?” I smiled, Lea pulled her tiny pistol out and brandished it gleefully. “That should have been opened with the rest of the system. Let me send a direct signal to it for you. Also I’ll share David’s Circlet hack with you.” A few moments later I had a new option on my Circlet menu called ‘DA_IWOG’ and the light above the door went green. “Its open. Whats D A I W O G stand for?” I asked. David’s voice came over Libby’s microphone “David Atkinsons Impressive Work Of Genius” I rolled my eyes and closed the link. “That guy is really annoying” Lea said. I nodded.

I pressed the large button to open the door.

I didn’t know what the others had found on their adventures but I had some confirmations I think I both needed and was terrified by. “Jon. This….” Lea began before trailing off. “I know” I replied. I took a step back mostly because I thought I was going to fall down.

The door had opened and right there in front of me had slid aside and revealed a fairly small room. It had a brown carpet and to my left was a leather arm chair, in the middle of the room were three tall tables making a ‘U’ shape. Screens on each one. To the right was a large door with a sign above it that said ‘Archive’ To the left was a little kitchen. There were books lying around in stacks all over the place.

“Jon…. How?” Lea said with an air of confusion that was crossing over into fear. It was item by item recreation of my own Lab on Mercia, but with the Pre-Event technology of the rest of the facility. “I have a pretty good idea how” I said. I walked into the Lab and waved by hand across the desk. Nothing happened. I looked at the physical keyboard on the desk. I pressed the space bar. All three of the large screens lit up. The middle screen had no login or password. It simply said in green writing over a black backdrop “Begin” I pressed the return key on the keyboard and was shown some kind of ancient graphical interface. There was a puck looking thing on the desk with a wire trailing from it. I gave it a careful prod and as I expected a triangle on the screen responded. It was an input device.

“Jon…. I don’t understand how this exists.” Lea said with fear and wonder haunting her voice. I glanced over at her. “I was going to tell you about this tonight in the Hotel bar.” I began. She nodded. I continued “I think that this is my lab. Or at least it belonged to the version of me who lived in the reality that this comes from.”

“There was a version of you from before The Event?” she asked.

“Sort of.” I paused for thought. “Lea, I think in some way I am the version from before The Event. And the reason its the same layout as my Lab on Mercia is because I decorated both to my tastes. I don’t really understand all of it quite yet but I feel like I knew this would be here.”

“Yeah, sure. That makes sense. I think.” She muttered. “You don’t age like a human. No reason you cant have been around before the event.”

“Lea… This isn’t a hundred years old.” The next thing I said was going to be the big one. “I think this is my lab from a little over two months ago.”

She looked at me blankly.

“The Event, it started a hundred years ago. But I don’t think it finished until the storm, and the accident that ‘wiped’ my memory” I said, carefully choosing my words.

She sat in the arm chair. “If that’s true then…” she looked thoughtful for a long second. “If that’s right then how come I remember… My whole life?” She thought about this as she looked around. “Wait, are you saying I’m only two months old?” she suddenly said in shock. I tapped away at the archaic computer as I spoke “I feel like I know the answer to that but I can’t find the words to explain it. Your whole life happened, just not inside the same flow of time we have now.”

She was now sitting on the floor in front of the armchair thumbing through the stacks of books all around her. “I feel like were not supposed to know about any of this. Not really” I said. I stopped typing and glanced over at her. She looked a little sad and thoughtful. “It doesn’t really change anything not really. Its a scientific fact. It doesn’t really effect any of us.” She stood up and nodded. “Okay. Tell you what, I won’t think about this terrifying concept any more, if you buy the drinks tonight!” I used a firm nod and a wide smile and my answer.

The computer had vast amounts of data and it wasn’t connected to any wider network. I assumed that whoever built this place, that this version of me was shielding it in the same way that a version of me had shielded my own lab. I walked to the room off to the side, as expected it was rows and rows of archive data. I suddenly appreciated Dex a lot more.

I used my Circlet’s recording function to take perfect scans of the whole lab. Though I would have to arrange for a team to box up all of the books and notes for transport back to Mercia.

I looked at the desk. The wires were all attached to a large beige box, it was tall and had wheels and a leather strap on the top. I was considering when I would have time to get Libby to come and interface with it when I realised why it had wheels. It wasn’t on the network. If it needed maintenance or archiving it would have to move. I pulled the cables out of it. “Did you break it?” Lea asked. “I hope not. I’m going to take it to David. See if he can copy all the data to my Circlet, or to Dex” She shrugged. “Hey, if you really think this was your office I know how to tell for sure” Lea said with an excited tone. “Go on” I replied. She went to the kitchen area and began looking through the cupboards. “aha!” she exclaimed. She came back with a large bottle of something brown and alcoholic looking in a plain glass bottle. She handed it to me proudly. “Oh, I have to try it?” I said, “Maybe its not booze and just drain cleaner” she said waving the bottle at me. I unscrewed the lid and took a sniff. It smelled pretty good. I took a drink from it. “Well?” she asked. “Warm, dry and gritty. Its like really crap Elix.” She grinned and swiped the bottle from me. She took an enthusiastic draught from the bottle. She then coughed for a few seconds. “Yep. That’s terrible, I love it!” She screwed the top back on and put it inside her jacket. “Well?” I asked. She nodded “Yep. Booze all over the place, its your lab for sure.”

We were about half way back up the stairs when Lea started to complain. “Look, I know how bio-static works. But how are you not even a little tired?” she said breathlessly. I was carrying the large computer and feeling as fresh as I did when we started the climb. I realised that this was the first time I had got to experience my endless stamina. I was feeling a little hungry but other than that I felt fine. Lea on the other hand, who was a Brick and as such blessed with superb physical prowess was ready for a break. We got to landing where the stairs changed direction and I suggested we stop for a little while. “Taking pity on me are you?” she joked as she took off her jacket, placing her bottle on the step next to her. “I reckon you could carry me as well as that computer you know” I shook my head at her. “I’m immune to fatigue. I don’t have super strength.” I said, half wondering if I actually could. “I know why you said we couldn’t used the elevator. You just like watching me sweat. Pervert!” She joked. “Not at all. I still have a sense of smell.”

I think it was about to devolve into a faux argument but my circlet began making a noise. I flicked open the screen to see Jo’s face. “Hi” I said happily, flicking it into public mode so Lea could listen in.“We’ve been trying to get in contact with you for an hour” she barked. “Were inside the facility, there’s a dampening filed we still haven’t managed to deactivate.”

“I wanted to let you know, Mercia has to leave orbit, we’ll be gone for a day or so.” her voice held a vein of worry.

“Why? What’s happening?” I asked.

“We don’t know. We got a distress call from a research base a few sectors away. Its probably nothing but were going to investigate it. It means we’ll be out of communication range for a while. Just wanted to let you know.” She said. She was hiding something.

“What are you not telling me Jo?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Its at the edge of Sol territory. All ships that entered Sol space via the warps are accounted for. There shouldn’t be anything advanced enough be dangerous out there dad. There’s a reason were taking Mercia not just sending a scout”

I was instinctually worried. “You’re staying on board? Can’t you leave before the ship sets off?”

“Mercia is the most powerful ship in the known universe. It can take on a fleet alone. It’s not dangerous for us to investigate a single distress call. Besides we left over an hour ago, were at the edge of our live communication range already.” She smiled at me “I want to come visit this Facility of yours so don’t break anything. I’ll come visit when I we get back” And with that she closed the link.

Without saying anything at all I dialled Libby’s address on Mercia. She answered instantly “Oh, Jo got in touch with you before me did she?” she smiled. She wasn’t in her white Virtual reality room. I could see that she was walking through a corridor. “Yes. Are you okay? Are you safe?” I asked. “Jon. This is what Mercia does. It’s been in more fights than Lea has had drinks. Don’t obsess. Were safe. Honestly.” Libby had known full-well that my first thought was of her safety. Something I had no right to worry about. Not really. She was far more qualified to take care of herself than I was. “You have a new body synced?” I asked. “Yes. Given how you won’t have that dampening field down any time soon and my body down there has a sketchy connection at best I was starting to feel a bit cabin crazy. I synced a new one and went shopping.” She tilted her Circlet to show me the commercial area of Mercia and the big space window. The stars were moving past like rain in the wind. “I love you, stay safe.” I said, mostly because there wasn’t anything else to say. She returned the mantra and closed the link.

Lea put her arm around me. “Jon. She’s on Mercia. Literally a ball of guns with a nice shopping area. You don’t need to worry.”

“I know, I know.” I said “But I’ve never been without her before” I said picking up my computer and making a start on the last bank of stairs. “She is a good ship” Lea said seriously. “I was talking about Libby” Lea shrugged.

We eventually got back to the main facility area and used the Fold to get back to the Tent. I was pleased to see that David was back in his work area. I placed the computer on the desk next to him. “What’s this?” he asked. “I need all the data on this imaged and sent to my Circlet and Libby. But I don’t want anyone seeing it. Can you do that?” I asked in my most ‘Project leader’ voice. “I can. But why?” He asked. “I literally can’t tell you that without telling you” I answered. He nodded. “understood, I’ll download it now.”

I looked around the tent. Artefacts were appearing thick and fast now. Everything that could contain information was being catalogued and bagged. Diaries, portable computers, note pads, printed documents. There were even people collecting and bagging examples of clothes from wardrobes in the living areas of the facility. “Hey, David.” I asked. He looked up at me from his desk. “Anyone found any staff rosters or anything similar yet?” He thought for a moment. “Not as far as I know.” I felt my brow ruffle. “Let me know if you come across anything would you?” He nodded and went back to the computer I had tasked him with. “Where’s Libby now?” I asked. He gave me an irritated glare “Do you want this computer fixed or not?” I waved for him to get back to the work.

I was about to pop out my Circlet to find her and I heard her laugh from behind me. There she was, sitting in the dining area sitting with Ta’ra and Raf. Lea and I joined them. I liked that the tent was mostly open plan. Most non critical areas were only separated with half walls. It made it easy to get a sense of what was happening.

“Hey Jon! Did I manage to get in touch with you?” Libby asked as I sat down. I saw Ta’ra raise an eyebrow at the sentence.

“Yeah, apparently you’ll be wearing your amber eyes for the rest of the day right?” I said, trying not to sound unhappy about it.

She knew I unhappy anyway. She always knew. For me it was like she was disconnected from her own soul. It bothered me on some fundamental level that I couldn’t fully articulate, especially not to her. “I’ll try not to be too much of a disappointment” She said the worlds in a friendly playful tone but I knew it was meant as a jab at me. I accepted it.

I think Ta’ra distracted us from a very polite argument by being interested in us. “You’re relationship must get really confusing at times.” she said, phrasing it like a question. “Not really. When I’m synced I have all the memories of all my bodies. For me bi-location is just normal.” Libby replied. “I’m getting more coffee, anyone else want one?” Raf asked, I don’t think he was particularly interested in the topic. “Sure” I said, Lea was drinking from her bottle of brown liquid she had liberated from the (my) office.

“What about for you?” Ta’ra asked. I wanted to give her question an honest answer but the reality was I hadn’t quite figured it out myself. “At first I couldn’t help but think of amber eyes and green eyes as different people. But I think that’s just something to do with Humans and our tendency to think of everything in Human terms.” I was pleased that the Traffic-Life-Chip system of eyes was well known enough that my words didn’t need explaining. “Yeah. Humans are fascinating. You guys even have a word for projecting your own values and feelings onto non-humans right?” Ta’ra asked. “yeah, the curse of anthropomorphism” I replied. A little impressed that I pronounced it without the customary thinking time that accompanied the word. Raf passed me a coffee.

I drank from it the moment it was in my hand. He smiled at me. “That’s too hot to drink Jon. You have to be better than that at keeping your secrets” I swallowed another sip, “Whatever do you mean?” I asked. “I explained you’re Bio-stasis to them” Libby said. “Oh, that. It’s not really a secret. I’m told its better to keep the details behind a higher security level is all.”

“I knew that there were Bio-static humans out there, Doctor Ka’ona Michaels, your grand daughter I believe” I nodded, he continued “She published a great many papers on the topic but never named her subjects.” Raf said with intrigue. “Well, as it happens her subject was herself, her mother and me.” I said now proudly drinking coffee that was too hot for humans as if it were a demonstration. “It’s not all fun and games” Lea injected. “How so?” Ta’ra asked. “He can’t get drunk!” she said passing Raf her brown bottle. He sniffed it and passed it back. Libby laughed. “Also he eats like a small town, forgets to breathe if he’s distracted AND never knows when he should take off his jacket.” Libby’s words were scornful but warm. We held hands across the table. “Does the lifespan perk make you feel disconnected from other humans?” Raf asked. The question was like a sudden poker in my mind. I had one of those moments of unravelling thoughts. “Honestly, other than David over there I don’t really know any other humans” I said as the thought rattled around me.

I hadn’t really thought about it in any real way before. Humans, their lifespans were finite. They would all die. From what I understood all races expected that eventually they would face death. Vampires were known to reach a sort of expiring mindset about a thousand years into their lives and most would traditionally fly a shuttle into the sun when they tired of life.

Bricks were an excitable bunch and eventually would get into some misadventure averaging out at just shy of two thousand years from the reports I had read.

Thinkers would eventually merge with another and form a new entity every few hundred years. It was both birth, death and marriage to them.

Elves liked to retire to religious sects after about six hundred years, then eventually they would reach enlightenment and simply stop being alive one day, usually before the thousand year mark.

All the so-called elder races either died by accidental death or more commonly tired of life one day and willingly let go of it. There was no biological reason why the couldn’t live forever. Some of the older beings in the universe were many tens of thousands of year old. For humans though, it was not their choice. Time would hunt them and eventually pull them down and they would go, kicking and screaming sometimes. Never living long enough to know why they should feel gratitude.

“Jon!” I heard Raf say sternly. I shook off the trance of thoughts I had fallen into. Ta’ra and Raf both looked worried for me. Libby was just gently smirking and enjoying their confusion. Lea had apparently left at some point. “What happened?” Ta’ra asked when it was obvious I was back. “Err” I said. Libby came to my rescue. “Were not sure if its a family trait for a Bio-static side effect to be honest. Sometimes they just fall into a little hole of their own thoughts. Jon is far more prone to it than Kay or Jo but they all do it.” Raf decreed that my tendency to ‘fall in a hole’ was fascinating and he wanted my permission to scan me the next time he observed it. I nodded, I was always happy to get scanned. It was becoming a hobby for me. “Ah, speaking of scans…” I asked. “Ah yes.” Raf began. “I did message you my findings.” I thanked him.

“Okay breaks over. Time for the stairs.” Libby said sternly. “Stairs?” I asked. “We have located a blueprint of the facility. Right the way to the bottom north most corridor is the generator control room. Now I have an exact location I could measure it against the dampening field. I’m pretty sure its generated from there, as we expected.”

“And I’m coming why?” I asked. “You, me, David and Zal actually” She replied. “Why?” I asked again. “David and I are going to do our computer stuff. Zal wont let us go anywhere new without a guard and YOU are needed for the dangerous bit.” she said grinning. “Dangerous bit?” I asked. “We have a lot of data coming in right now form all the stuff that’s being catalogued seems they may be using some insane nuclear based power system down there.” I looked blankly in return. She sighed. “If its ruptured from lack of maintenance I’ll need a Bio-static to go and fix it. It would mess up my bodies processing core, no-one else on the project is immune to radiation.” I nodded now that there was a compelling reason. “Okay, let me grab some snacks and I’m good to go” I said as I headed for the seemingly endless buffet.

Depths.

“Adults don’t just keep chicken in their pockets Jon” Libby chastised as we slogged down the stairs. I didn’t care, I liked chicken and as it happens its very portable. Zal had brought two of his guards with him. They had tried to keep up with Libby and I but eventually fell a little way back with David. I was enjoying chatting with Libby as we walked down the endless stairwell. I told her about the lab that Lea and I had found. She was as concerned about the implications of that, as was I. David was loudly complaining from behind us. I offered him some chicken, he seemed to feel the same way about pocket chicken as Libby did.

Eventually we made it to the bottom. I had lost track of the stairs. Even thought technically we had only gone down a handful of levels more than last time I had made a trip, the last floor was separated from the one above by a ludicrous amount of steps, whatever this generator was doing it required a lot of space to do it. I was starting to think it maybe smarter to get someone to take a look at those elevators. Libby slowed for a moment. “Problem?” I asked. “The dampening field its intense here. I can actually feel it effecting my cognitive abilities.” This concerned me “Are you okay?” I asked. David tapped into his energy reserves and jogged down a few steps to get close enough to scan her. After a few seconds of reading his scanner and then his Circlet screen he concluded “that’s really interesting” with little else in way of explanation. Both Libby and I glared at him. “The field is on a frequency that is literally identical to your own mental cycle rate.” he said excitedly. We glared again. “Its having the effect of muddying your signal processing. Its complicated, I’ll send you the scans as soon as were back online but your internal processing ability has been slowed by five hundred percent, or there about. Your thinking speed is ball-park the same as a human right now.” He was enjoying this. “I think Jon may be smarter than you right now” he added to hammer home the point. “I may have a slower brain right now but I still have perfect recall, a massive database and two fully powered energy blasters built into my arms.” He was suddenly less smug. “Is it dangerous?” I asked. “No, its just proximity to the dampening field once its off she’ll be fine.”

We were finally at the bottom. The security team and David had to take a minute to recover. I was feeling fine still. Bio-stasis was really starting to suit me. I ate some pocket-chicken to top off my energy reserves. “How do humans live like this?” Libby asked rubbing her eyes. “Like what?” I asked. “I have to shift my attention constantly just to know what’s around me” she complained. “You get used to it. Also, we usually don’t worry too much about what’s around. As long as its not moving or making a noise.” She rolled her eyes. Her lack of cognitive resources made her grumpy “What a wonderful filter evolution has a equipped you with, if something cant kill you its invisible?” I nodded. “seems about right” She forced out a smile. “Also, Jon. Next time fill your pockets with travel rations not chicken. Okay?” I shrugged.

We headed past all the pipes and controls to the back of the corridor, it opened up into a large room. It looked more like modern art than a power station. It was essentially a room filled I with pipes and access panels. There were computer stations and analogue pressure valves decorating most areas too. Zal and his two guards fanned out, guns ready and sweeping the whole area in front of us. “The control room should be that shell at the back” David said consulting the map he had downloaded onto his Circlet. Zal headed over there, “Clear” He said, which was Zal talk for “come on in.”

The office was on a raised platform and was made from what looked like an old shipping container. Half of the height had been removed to make room for a long window. It look rather retro even by the standard of the facility. I assume this was the kind of thing you didn’t mess with unless you had to.

Inside were consoles, more than computers. Things that were designed for single uses with dials and form moulded keyboards. There was one more-traditional computer set up and running on the desk closes to the middle of the back wall. Libby and David headed right to it. Zal’s two men guarded each side of the door. I wasn’t sure where Zal had gone but he was probably doing ‘security things’ outside. His two gards, like the rest of the security team basically never spoke. They did seem friendly enough but all the security team were all business. I suppose the profession required this, or the fact that it was common knowledge that I would be reporting directly to the Vice president kept them on their ‘A’ game.

I sat down on one of the stools at the back. I began looking around, taking in the sights. I glanced around and saw a large speaker in the corner, then near the door I noticed multiple pairs of ear protectors. “Hey. Libby, David. Shouldn’t this place be louder?” I asked. “What do you mean?” Libby asked. “This place uses all these pipes for something right? Cooling I would guess. And the lights are all on, so how is it operating so quietly?” Libby and David turned to me. “That’s a good point. I’m sure I was supposed to think of that.” Libby said still annoyed at her own brain. She started looking around the controls, “Ah.” she said and slapped a large blue button. A large section of the wall next to us slid away to reveal a thick glass window. We peered out and down to what should have been some kind of reaction chamber. We were frozen by the sudden realisation of what we were seeing.

Libby was the first to make sense of it “Shit!” was her only response, she spun around instantly and raised her arms, eyes switching to a glowing red. I pulled David down the to the floor by the scruff of his neck. “What?” he asked, still piecing it together. Two shots fired from Libby and about twenty in rapid succession returned. “We need to leave NOW.” I barked at David as we crawled behind the console desks.

When the window had opened we had all looked out and down to see not a reaction chamber filled with science and power but instead one single large and very modern power cell. A battery. The kind that was powering our own shield around the tent all those floors up. One of the very big ones. Wired into it was a very large and quite nefarious looking transmitting unit. It took me only moments to put it together.

There was no way this could be there unless someone had been here before us. The reason the dampening field was so effective was because it was modern technology not the ancient crap that the facility was built on. If modern technology was down here then someone wanted us to come here. The only reason that someone would want us here was for the one perk that this place had over the rest of the facility. Its effect on Libby.

The shooting was intense. “Do you have a personal shield?” I asked David as we crawled. “No? Why would I?” he called back over the gunfire. A ball of some hot plasma impacted the console above my head. I reached inside My jacket and pulled my little silver disc off of my arm and slapped it on his. “You’re welcome” I said sternly and pushed him to move as another plasma round hit above us. We crawled forward some more and found ourselves at the back corner of the room. David looked terrified he was huddling into the corner and holding his legs in close. There was a scream from one of the security officers that seemed to get cut off half way. Then the shooting got serious. I heard movement, guys and the smell of burning fresh filled my nose. I heard Libby grunt and scream herself. Then there was silence. Only cautious footsteps now sounded. I grabbed David’s shoulders and looked him right in the eyes. “This is going to go very wrong in a few seconds. Stay alive and retrieve Libby’s body, her memory needs to get synced back to her when Mercia comes. Okay?” He was panicking now. I grabbed his face, trying to get my instructions to sink in. “Memory file. Libby. Got it?” I said with fire in my voice. He focused on me for a moment and nodded. The footsteps were getting less cautious now.

I stood up. There was Zal, He looked like hell. Those few seconds must have been quite the sceptical but other than a smouldering burn on his upper arm he was relatively intact. I assumed Libby had tried to shoot off his personal shield.

The other two guard were covering part of the large window by the door, there was too much blood to expect them to be alive. I looked over at Libby she had most of her chest missing and at least one arm was burned to molten metal. She turned her burned head towards me. Her forehead was dented and the skin burned away. Her left cheek was hanging off and some of the wires under her sub-dermal armour were exposed and sparking, her eyes now a sorrowful orange. She didn’t have anything left to fight with, there was nothing in her dangerous enough to activate her red gaze, no matter how much she wanted to kill something. All I could do was look at her.

“Where’s Doctor Atkinson?” Zal demanded. “Died of fright. You know how cowardly he is.” I replied, not really sure what my plan was. “Stand up and I’ll shoot you in the heart. You can leave a good looking corpse. Make me come find you and it will be in the face.” Zal’s voice was gravelly and remorseless. This was not idle threat. Zal had let his rifle hang next to him and pulled out a side arm. “David. Get up.” I ordered. “No point delaying it.” To my surprise he actually did stand up, first time. He had found his bravery now. I was oddly proud of him for getting it together.

“Reasonable offer Zal. I’ll take it.” He said and stood proud. “Well… I lied” Zal said and then shot David in the face with quite literally no hesitation. I knew from a conversation with Lea that personal shields were pretty good against projectile weapons but I wasn’t sure if gas-plasma rounds counted. I only told him to stand up because I was pretty sure he would survive a chest shot. I fought my instincts to check on him. I needed to shift the attention somewhere else on the off chance he was alive.

“Baaaaz mup” Screamed Libby with an electric echo and a plume of smoke. “No idea what you are trying to say robot, also not interested.” He said without so much as a glance. “I think she called you a bastard.” I said. I glanced over at her and she twitched as if trying to nod. “I love you. Don’t worry about me” I said to her. “They need me, for some reason.” Zal smiled grimly. “Yes. We do. But I assure you the moment your task is finished I’ll personally cut your throat. You fucking animal.” The man before me matched his stature a lot better than his good solider act did.

“What did I do to piss you off then Zal?” I asked. “Killed my entire planet. But I’m sure you don’t remember that. Now. Stop stalling and head out. Were taking the elevator up.” He pointed with his gun. I glanced back at Libby as I left, Zal was looking my way now. I knew that this wasn’t really Libby lying there dying, it was just one of her bodies. But at the same time I knew it WAS her. In some way. I had a pang of sadness and rage. She opened her mouth and a static buzzing came out then the words “My love” came from her robotic scrambled noises. I stepped out of sight. I summoned a resolve inside me. I had things that I needed to accomplish.

..