LocUS

Advanced Concepts Methodic and its subsidiary, LocUS, represent the first Domain. It is characterized by Righteous Order, Domination, and Control. Its guiding principles and purposes are unguessed by those either controlled, or invested in allowing these entities to do as they will.

The D’nal’s Tour

The simple familiarity of the passageway’s shape pleases the D’nal as he treads the length of it with the long-absent missionary at his elbow.

Towering almost fifty centimeters above Remert, the D’nal has no need to stoop. The corridor’s high ceiling accommodates his stature with room to spare and, from it, a comfortable level of illumination washes down over all. This too is pleasing.

His arrival on this outpost mission world earlier this “day” was met without pomp, although the ceremonial trappings were, to his surprise, impeccable.

His introduction to the physical environment, however, was unanticipated to a painful degree, introducing a level of discomfort with which the D’nal has had no previous familiarity.

The excursion suit beneath his vestments was calibrated improperly for the gravity and pressure differentials between Kal’un Shiir’n and this place. His personal retainer traveling with him, being similarly disposed, was unable to crawl to his aid with any haste. An agonizing minnit transpired before the necessary adjustments could be made.

It was an awkward and embarrassing first interaction with D’kin Remert and his troubling second-in-command.

Once he was able to resume, the bare ritual proceeded. Aside from himself and his aide, the strict parameters of the ceremony to transfer responsibility for the Mission precluded everyone but D’kin Remert, his Deputy, and the machine-mind that names itself Sonder from attendance. A less likely gathering he could not have imagined.

Remert excused himself immediately afterward, returning to the remote facility and alleging “processes in motion requiring [his] immediate attention”.

The whole of it has left Kudlac in a sour humor.

Remert’s Deputy Director is a further matter of discontinuity. Kudlac was told before he left Kal’un Shiir’n that the one referring to himself as H’seven had been dismissed. Yet, H’seven was there as the D’nal and his retainers unfolded in this space through Lord Shiric’s portal. He was watching as Kudlac fell, huddled in silent torment, helpless until his excursion suit self-corrected the erroneous preset.

Both of these issues will figure at the top of Kudlac’s next report.

More immediately, there is something unsettling about the D’kin’s manner, conspicuous from their meeting upon arrival. It implies a veiled disrespect, a lack of proper veneration for one of the D’nal’s station. This may be attributable to Remert’s long dissociation from his kind, from the strictly metered hymnody of his Order, and an unavoidable abridgement of the influence of the Claven in his decision-making.

It is a reasonable theory and one he will consider along with the other that advocates the D’kin, left to his own devices for nearly two yonn on this unregulated world, has become a deviate.

They have arrived at a divergent path, a meeting with a wider, arterial corridor. Here there is activity. Foot traffic and workers pushing sledges yield to conveyances navigating the center of the passageway.

“Sonder,” Remert says to the air, “display elemental facility schematic and overview for the D’nal.”

The air in front of Kudlac shapes itself into a tidy wireframe representation of the Reservation. Elements of the image highlight along with an indicator of their position in it as Sonder narrates.

“The facility is defined by a tessellation of seven identical hexagonal containments, each a half kilometer to a side, all together forming a larger hexagonal colony two kilometers across.

“The central hex contains entry portals and command facilities above, critical processes below, and access to the surrounding containments by way of the outer concourses. At its deepest penetration, the facility delves four hundred fifty meters beneath the mesa’s surface and, from there, beneath the desert beyond the mesa’s terminus.

“The whole provides ample space for the various cultures that live and work within this self-contained microcosm, shielded beneath layers of native stone and soil, aggressive vegetation, and, upon the mesa top, a sparse veneer of rural occupancy.”

Kudlac ends the narrative with a gesture both familiar and unexpected. A single word, “Enough,” comes out in a huff.

“If you have a specific question of me, D’nal Kudlac,” Sonder says, “you have only to speak it.”

Kudlac’s accelerated immersion in preparation for this position of both great honor and heavy responsibility has left him with an as yet uncatalogued number of things learned “in process” about this place. What he knows is that it exists somewhere in an unaccountable vastness beyond Hevn’s previously-considered-impenetrable Veil.

Therein lies a revelation that must await his return to the Claven.

The summaries he was given about this world, its populations, their current cultures and beliefs, were less instructive than the psychological development summaries he prompted for and received. The overall development of the species—this conglomeration of Gray t’sunguc and their chaotic societies, their limited perceptions and their biases, their aggressive, greedy, antagonistic natures, and their incompatible yet all-too-similar religions—all remind him very much of Hevn’s own human component. Easily manipulated or deterred, they will present no obstacle to the Mission.

The summary he received of the Mission itself, however, was an education into Lord Shiric’s astonishing reach and grasp, and into the vicissitudes of remote management.

The most recent report received before his deployment indicated there are unsettled and fluid issues Kudlac is expected to address and resolve in a short period of time. His understanding has proven adequate to the task so far, but gaps in that knowledge are now becoming both apparent and urgent.

His preparation, for example, was without reference to the machine-mind. The D’kin introduced him to it and it seems to be everywhere. He finds that fact singularly disconcerting.

He presses the wireframe schematic aside. It dissipates to nothing.

“D’kin Remert, I familiarized myself with the facility’s layout and operations before my transition. You will show me the results of your secondary and tertiary objectives now.”

Remert directs their progress toward an open dartabout hovering in an alcove near the junction. It was not designed for one of the D’nal’s stature, but before Remert can offer apology and call for a different conveyance, Kudlac folds himself into the constricted space with neither complaint nor apparent discomfort. Remert takes the controls and the vehicle skims down the corridor toward the upper concourse loop. Existing traffic yields the center lane and their progress is unimpeded.

The upper loop brings the pair to a vertex, the point where the central and two outer hexagonal containments meet. Corridors branch off from the loop, as does a vertical drop lane equally as capacious as the loop corridor itself. Remert guides the vehicle into it and they sink, a liquid-like descent toward the depth of the facility.

The outer containment walls are transparent and the D’nal is afforded panoramic overviews of both adjacent bio-hexes and their extensive environments before settling at the service level.

Both containments are home to tribes of Gray Moct’unguc She’chah, a stunning achievement. There are no Gray Moccs, or Gray Troccs for that matter, on Hevn. Analyses have confirmed there never were any. The why of it is irrelevant. This accomplishment alone is certain to garner Lord Shiric’s approval and, with it, Methshe Marama’s approbation as well.

The next segment on the service loop reveals a bizarre twist on the Troct’unguc genome, a model already considered by most to be a base aberration of little use beyond applications of brute force and heavy labor. Troccs, considered as a whole, tend to be particularly fond of the former and unanimously disinterested in the latter. These specimens, despite their ludicrous deformity, possess a potential for aptitude and rational thought inconceivable in their savage cousins.

Intelligent Troccs is a notion anyone with sufficient information on the topic would find oxymoronic. The D’nal finds the concept singularly alarming.

Folding himself back into the cursed conveyance, Kudlac waves off a circuit of the residential hex where hundreds of human professionals, support staff, and their families live, procreate, recreate, and presumably die. Humans. T’sunguc. Rare ones actually display the acuity, both physical and mental, to advance into the laity and technical strata. Most are suited for simple duties, service work, labor, and passive occupation of territory.

The D’kin Remert is t’sunguc as well, of course, as are most in the Second and First Circles. The genetic strain has been refined over countless yonn to yield successes just such as this one. Raised to Third Circle in less than a yonn, promoted beyond his experience and potential, some said. They were wrong and Kudlac finds it noteworthy that he was one of the most vocal among them.

He considers this vehicle to be the only true failure of preparation on the D’kin’s part that he might identify upon this, his first, cursory familiarization with the facility at the heart of the Mission.

The intricacy he has so far observed in the processes throughout is beyond any expectation he might have entertained upon his own preparation and immersion. Beyond the undeniable fact of this outpost mission’s success, the sheer numbers, commitment, and competence of the t’sunguc Remert has engaged to facilitate the mission’s numerous objectives is impressive.

It is irrefutable fact that Remert’s ingenuity, devout faith, and perseverance deserve effusive praise. In fact, but for two niggling details, Remert’s conduct and accomplishments would see him returned to the Congregate with honors heaped upon him, elevated before all to position above his Order, beyond that normally deemed possible for such a one as he; raised surely to D’nal.

Kudlac’s abbreviated sigh of something that might be regret, if allowed to ferment, sounds exactly as his breathing does and goes unnoticed. How unfortunate for the D’kin that certain small details assure none of those potential honors will ever transpire.

The last stop on the D’nal’s tour has captivated his attention, as though he has stepped back somehow into Kal’un Thudra’s Underhome.

A broad, brightly lit expanse is occupied by three rows of upright capsules, each with a single mass of bundled cables and conduits sprung from ports in the floor and fused into a single file on one side of the cannister. They look like modified versions of a crèche-nan’s growpods. There are twenty-four of them.

Eight are Trocc-sized enclosures, all unoccupied.

Several technicians in cleansuits with helmets navigate among these vessels, monitoring, recording, moving on. The cumulative low hubbub of disconnected conversations throughout the facility has dwindled to a smattering of subdued exchanges.

Where the purposeful stride of individuals about their business has slowed to a pace less resolute, surreptitious glances have given way to outright gawking distraction. One such, a workman of indeterminate purpose, has simply stopped in his tracks, staring at Kudlac with slack-jawed stupefaction behind his faceplate.

Remert crosses the space between them in three long strides, bends down in front of the individual’s foolish expression, and says, “Explain the reason you have forgotten your duties, sloke.”

The fellow’s eyes skew from the inhuman wrongness that entered with the Director to the dour face of the Director himself. Recognition of his immediate predicament awakens.

“I beg your forgiveness, D’kin,” he says with a deep obeisance. “My responsibilities here remain unattended due to my failure of self-assessment and control. I will report this negligence to my ‘visor and accept any remedial measures deemed appropriate. Will you permit me to resume, D’kin?”

Remert holds his response, watching the man’s reactions, waiting for him to snatch a glance at the D’nal several meters away, but he does not. His eyes remain fixed upon the ceremonial amulet at Remert’s throat, and there is an unambiguous apprehension in them. Both of these things are appropriate.

“Very well, then,” Remert says. “Complete your immediate assignment and report to your ‘visor.”

As if by some magic, before Remert’s glare sweeps the room, normal activity has resumed. Attentions have returned to tasks at hand and a murmur of relevant intercourse has begun to reassert itself into the acoustic backscatter of the life-support mechanisms.

Remert detours slightly, swiping a touchpad on a nearby module, keying diagnostics.

A figure in cleansuit approaches at a march between the rows of pods, a flat-faced woman with deeply folded almond eyes and an angry mouth behind her faceplate. Two technicians follow behind her guiding a manger between them. She halts at a respectful distance and does not appear disconcerted by Kudlac’s appearance.

Remert acknowledges her with what would have been a lifted eyebrow if he had any, and says, “Doctor Ahn, I present to you the Ascendant, Baul Kudlac, a D’nal of the Second Circle. He has come to us to be Minister of the Change.”

The D’kin continues without the requisite adjustment of stance or tone. “D’nal, I present Doctor Ahn Soo Rin. She is my surrogate in this department. Her understanding of the process we employ matches that of any Class Five in the Overhome.”

The flat-faced woman honors the D’nal with a deep bow. He nods in return, a generous acknowledgement to a t’sunguc subordinate who appears to know her place.

“Your pardon, D’kin,” Dr. Ahn says to Remert. “These two have been directed to transport this subject to theater Northeast Five for a staging process. May we proceed?”

Remert makes no move to do other than advance the diagnostic display with a long index finger and, after his assessment is complete, addresses the woman.

“You have been monitoring its recovery.”

“Religiously, D’kin. Eighty-seven percent integumentary regeneration at the interweave sites. No rejection components are evident. It is a resilient subject.”

“So it is. Decrease circulators to twenty-eight percent and maintain the nutrient broth at its current concentration. I do not want to rush the process just because we can. Let its systems do their work.”

“As you say, D’kin.”

“You will pass my instruction along to Dr. McIntosh.”

“Of course, D’kin.”

“Proceed then, Doctor.”

The manger’s tiny, caged quarrmalyne sphere rages dark and silent in its receptacle near the operator’s hand controls. A cerulean flood beneath the sled paints the floor and the technicians’ fabric slippers.

The operator positions the sled behind the module. The other engages the chamber’s onboard systems. The entire series of hose and conduit couplers disengage. The upright capsule is laid back, coming to rest in the manger’s rigid sling.

“This specimen holds particular significance,” Kudlac says to the flat-faced woman.

Dr. Ahn looks to her Director, whose expression registers nothing.

“This is a uniquely hybridized Moct’ah hermaphrodite,” she says. “Its designation is ST-One, a promising emergent from a particularly viable strain and the current subject of a critical series of trials. Its central and peripheral nervous systems have been augmented and its extremities redesigned. Our intention is to join its unusually acute non-linear intellect with the heuristic intelligence that manages almost every tactical phase of the Mission.”

“It is man-a’kin.”

“In every regard. Yes.”

“And you would meld its mind to a thinking machine.”

“Not only its mind, D’nal, but its physicality in actuality as well as in vee. S/he will become Sonder’s avatar, able to operate within the context of Real with the same fluidity as any human.”

“As to the concept of ‘thinking machine’,” Remert says, “Sonder not only manages all LocUS AsReal Community validation processes and portals, but also oversees administrative and environmental control in both the Center and in this facility. It is interrogative, speculative, and creative.”

“You have observed consistent evidence of Methodic thought in your interactions with it,” Kudlac says.

“It is familiar with Methodic concepts and paradigms, D’nal.”

“That is not what I inquired of you, D’kin.”

“Other paradigms have evolved.”

“Your timetable for this project and Lord Shiric’s are synchronous.”

“If the interface is successful, ST-One will be ready and in place at the Center, where Sonder’s core will reside at transition.”

“You will insure that it is so.” Kudlac says and turns to look down on Dr. Ahn. “You will walk with me, Doctor.”

If the doctor is disconcerted by this, her expression behind the faceplate appears unfazed. She is forced to a quick-step to keep up with the D’nal’s pace, nearly tripping to a halt as Kudlac stops to regard another capsule.

He squats, or folds, or something else—difficult to determine given his peculiar gait and the vestments covering enough of him to make speculation necessary. He seems curious about what appears to be Hergenrather/H’seven within the container. And in the one next to it as well. His misshapen alien head turns the doctor’s way.

She indicates the first cannister. “What you see here, Ascendant One, is a fully mature physical clone of the Deputy Director’s current vehicle.” She gestures to the other capsule. “This is the next iteration, an advanced composite man-a’kin, awaiting transference.”

“This is your work.”

“Everything you see here, Ascendant One, is the product of many hands working in concert. I have been given responsibility for the success of this project and have…”

“I will credit your effort in my report, Doctor.”

“Thank you, D’nal, for your generous recognition.”

Kudlac exits the facility with Remert behind, an unhurried second. He is settling into his section of the dartabout as the D’kin approaches.

“That one will return with us at the alignment,” he says to Remert. “Her bearing is acceptable. Her responses, while not properly articulated, were an adequate attempt for an uninitiate.”

“She will be honored by your gracious inclusion of her in the transference, D’nal.”

Remert has guided the vehicle into another vertical corridor. Kudlac is unable to sense whether they are being pushed or pulled, but experiences a profound moment of dissociation as their conveyance rises at a dizzying pace. Some renegade component of his digestive system is threatening to disgorge a remnant of his latest nutrient.

Their ascent ends with bob and Remert diverts the dartabout from the concourse into a proprietary corridor, narrower, sans traffic. The entrance irises closed behind them.

Kudlac’s environment suit has made adjustment again and the distress in his craw is diminished. There seems a way yet to go and he must prepare Remert for the next phase.

“The facility is impressive, D’kin. Given the circumstances of its development and the primitive tools at hand to accomplish the feat, I had anticipated, in this remote station, a gesture at best, a crude approximation of Kal’un Thudra’s sacred architecture.” The D’nal’s bellows refills. “It satisfies me to find, instead, a faithful re-creation of classic Methodic design. I commend you on the compound’s clean, utilitarian layout.”

“The Method and Mong’s Example, coupled with Lord Shiric’s generous resources at the mission’s commencement, were both critical to its inception here. The design follows, as closely as was practical, the Underhome Center of Inquiry, Analysis, and Advancement.”

“An appropriate model, adequately executed, D’kin.”

“Your graciousness is legendary, D’nal.”

“I hear you speak to me in the vernacular of the Method, yet I find your pace and intonations strange.”

“It has been many yarnn since the Thudran language was in my ears. I have been speaking the muddy tongue of these round-worlders for so long, and no other with whom I might share my own. It seems strange to me to hear it spoken properly.”

“You had the songs.”

“Yes, D’nal.”

“You sang them.”

“Yes, D’nal.”

“You produced offspring with one of these round-worlders.”

“Yes, D’nal.”

“You did not teach these offspring the language. You did not teach them the songs.”

“No, D’nal.”

“Your reasoning for not doing so must have been compelling.”

“It was obvious, D’nal.”

“Share it with me, D’kin.”

“I had no way of receiving Benison, or even Acknowledgement from the Order for my children and no way to initiate them into the Order without it. To teach them the songs without initiation is forbidden and without the songs, they could never be consecrated.”

“You did not intend to return with them to Kal’un Shiir’n. Or to the Underhome. The required training may have been difficult so late in their development. You did not deem them capable.”

“I believed the mission abandoned after losing contact with Lord Shiric for the best part of a yonn. There was no viable plan for return without His instrumentation. My sons are capable for their purposes here and that, D’nal, is sufficient. Let us return to the work before us. There remains much for you to digest.”

“Proceed.”

“With few exceptions, D’nal, the t’sunguc inhabiting this Earth have no guiding discipline, nor direction beyond their own self-serving interests. Mong would have a glorious time bringing them into alignment. My own sons, for instance, have inherited their mother’s nature and inclinations. It is unfortunate, but anticipated and, because of that anticipation, they are educated in sufficient Methodic practice to be of continuing value to the mission without compromising Mong’s Imperative.”

A pass-through at the end of the way irises open and closes behind them. The vehicle settles to the lower limit of its pressors within a bare vestibule, and Remert says, “We have arrived, D’nal.”

Kudlac unpacks himself onto the polished stone of the anteroom and straightens with sinuous ease. His vestments fall into place without effort and the slender reed of the D’nal’s neck, braced within his raiment’s gorget, turns his head, scanning the area.

A proper doorway stands just paces away.

“As you know, D’kin, I did not agree with those who advocated your commission. The Claven saw differently and, I admit, accurately. Their wisdom in this is apparent. You have surpassed expectations. You have, in point of fact, conducted yourself in nearly every respect with honor and credit to the Method and its myriad Children.”

From above, he views his subordinate dismounting from the conveyance. Straightening himself and his own regalia, Remert lifts his head and holds the D’nal’s eyes.

“Nearly, D’nal?”

Kudlac chooses to disregard the glaring impertinence for the moment. “You present me with an awkward problem, D’kin. As regards your use of the insidious poison, shosht’at-lool, that which Lord Shiric names ‘Good Water’, you have knowingly violated a lawful edict of the Claven.

“And this…” he taps Remert’s head with all three fingers to indicate the webbed map of the neural implant beneath the Director’s bald pate, “This is sacrilege.”

A ripple of disbelief and vexation perturbs Remert’s ever-lugubrious features, quickly suppressed. He pitches his voice in unemotional tones.

“Surely you, D’nal, received Lord Shiric’s benefaction, as did I. Having accepted his commission, he is Nee’m and no other. His purpose is ours. We have so sworn and having sworn, our faith and honor binds us to that oath. I have held my vow inviolate and conducted myself accordingly.”

“Right and true. Regardless, Methshe Marayma is Naa’m. Without breaking the oath so sworn to Lord Shiric, our allegiance is first and always to Her. Her directives, passed down to you through the First Circle, were to be followed meticulously. Now it is time, D’kin, despite any rationalizations, to meet the consequence of your transgression. Your commandment was never to partake of the shosht’at-lool and this you have willfully disobeyed. Furthermore, to allow such enhancements as this,” Kudlac thumps Remert’s skull with slate-dark fingertips, “without the Claven’s direct endorsement, is a profanity. It pains me, but I cannot, upon my return, stand before the Claven and Methshe Marayma to recite my report and sanction either your disobedience or your heresy.”

Remert forces down his fury and replies in a tone devoid of inflection. “I will say this to you now and will not speak it again until my return to Underhome and consideration by the Claven and Methshe Marayma.

“I found myself, without explanation, abandoned upon this Mong-forsaken ball of fung without means of communication or resupply. After nearly ten yarnn without contact, I understood the complex fields and energies of this world would end me long before the Event, before I could execute my charge. I chose a narrow way in order to fulfill my mandate and fulfill it I did. I would defy any in my circumstance to achieve what I have done with so little.”

“This sounds dangerously close to hubris.”

“You recall the Threnody of Beelem, D’nal.”

“Every initiate knows it. You are attempting to draw a parallel between your work in this Mission and B’sho Beelem’s accomplishment.”

“Once the Full Claven is made aware of the exigency of my situation, I am confident they will grant me dispensation in this.”

There is a drawn silence suggestive of many possible responses from the Minister looming above him, indicative of none. A sipping sound becomes a soft rasping of air drawn through the filters in all of the Minister’s nostrils. The bellows in the Minister’s thorax release in a long, slow gust. At the end of it, the tiny, grim mouth shapes words.

“I will agree to reconsider your position.”

Remert produces a deep bow with as much feigned respect as he is willing to simulate at this juncture, but it is enough. “I leave you to your conference with Mr. Pruitt, D’nal. I will join you later in the…”

“You will accompany me now, D’kin.”

“Your pardon, D’nal. As you might anticipate, given the timeline, I have numerous processes ongoing at accelerated pace, each requiring my specific attention.”

“You mention time again, D’kin, as though it is something I am unable to track or, perhaps, fathom.”

“Time does not move in the same way here as you are used to in Kal’un Thudra, D’nal. You will not like it.”

“Heed me, D’kin. Your capable subordinates will manage in your stead until I have relieved you. Do as I command.”

Remert turns on a heel and strides though the near doorway before Kudlac can skirt the conveyance in his path and calls back without turning, ” As you instruct, Minister. I will announce your arrival at once.”

      ~      ~

The D’nal’s Tour Read More »

Transit

The plunge from sub-orbit is a turbulent downward pitch complete with all the rage and heat of atmospheric re-entry. The pressors could have slowed the descent to minimize the friction and buffeting, but speed was ordered and downhill is where to get the most of it.

Charli regards the Deputy Director’s original ambivalence toward the use of a pressure suit with a shrug like a shudder.

His disregard for the physical ramifications of their ballistic trajectory is, at the least, disturbing. It has, however, been her intuition since their first meeting, without ever finding it necessary to test her belief, that questioning Mr. Hergenrather’s decision-making at any point would be an effective barrier to further career development.

She had pushed the winged needle to within an RCH of its limit on the climb, an effect similar to being catapulted into the mesosphere. The Gs, even with her best suit on, blurred her vision to a troubling degree and hurt more than she expected it to do.

Cresting, she makes a calibrated course correction and applies thrust, more than enough to overcome what might have been a brief, enjoyable weightlessness, making the vehicle more bolide than aircraft.

Pressors configured to project a wide, blunt buffer in front of their plummeting projectile create an intense shockwave. It deflects a great deal of the heat and their re-entry resembles a meteoric event. Still, if there was a naked eye to witness their descent into the northeastern New Mexican desert, they would appear little more than a tiny fireball streaming into the wasteland.

Then, nothing.

What her boss is experiencing in the generously appointed rear cabin she can only imagine, but at least if he blows beets all over the upholstery, he won’t blame her for doing as she was told. That’s really all that matters. And hope to St. Elvis he was strapped in at least.

With only modest maneuvering altitude to spare, by her reconning, onboard alarm systems clamoring, Charli bangs the repellor array full on-line and the dive bottoms out a mere four hundred meters above the desert floor—tight, but adequate—and she has found her mark within a kilometer. Not a hole in one; more like a long tee shot rolling out inches from the cup.

She keys the ID protocol and the pre-established routine to align and deposit the craft in the first available berth initializes.

An arcing turn and deceleration threatens to tear some of her favorite organs loose from their moorings, but lines her up with the approach beacon. Her head feels full of clouds, her vision gray and fuzzy.

Somewhere along an imposing wall of ancient, weathered rock, transformation optics conceal the docking portals and the ordnance bracketing them. She is trying to recall with clarity her one previous visit here as she braces for collision with a rugged, looming stone face. Transition through the palisade into the bay is barely a waver of illusory visuals around the penetration. The holographic curtain across the mesa face remains undisturbed.

Cooling mist fogs onto the craft and steam billows from its skin as it is nestled into its docking cradle. Silent fans suck at the cloud of superhot vapor bursting from the interface.

A banging sound intrudes upon Charli’s first conscious moments of a near-blissful peace—one derived from a trajectory best described as stationary. The sound awakens an awareness of where she is and why she’s there. A good deal of pain awakens along with it. And something is pounding on the side of her sled.

She reaches out, allowing the grimace and groan she would have withheld almost any other time, pokes an index finger into a panel over there, and then flips a couple switches here and here. Her hatch unseals with a gasp and the banging sound stops.

She allows only enough gap to hear the sounds of the bay mechanicals at their tasks through the roar of steam pouring off the fuselage in flags. She feels the heat forcing itself through the crack.

Mr. Hergenrather is smiling up at her.

“Good job.”

An affable Hergenrather is confounding. As is his apparent ability to withstand physical extremes. Her eyes focus on him. His eyes are so expletive blue.

He gives her a wink, turns into the cloud, and it swallows him.

She manages a perfunctory salute into the billow where she saw him last. The hatch seals and Charli rolls back into her seat. It hurts less there and nobody around here cares what she does anyway.

     ~      ~

Transit Read More »

Mr. Gray

Pruitt’s office is perched at the apex of the LocUS Tower. More than twice again the height of the Needle, it is by far the tallest structure in the elongated Seattle/Sound ganglia.

The office’s outer wall follows the tower’s convex arc and Pruitt’s window to the outer world is centered in the arcane rune seen upon approach. Its nacreous glow is not apparent from within. Instead, a panoramic view northward and west presents terrain, bulwarked against the encroachment of Puget Sound and smothered in a layer of civilization. The high ceiling appears open to the blue sky, random clouds, and crystalline sunlight.

At the center of the curved inner wall, a flush double doorway parts to admit Pruitt and Hergenrather. Pruitt, scanning the space for the man assuming his position, observes an unfamiliar addition to his office decor.

An angular pillar has been placed near a corner of the window-glyph, totem-like, a slender, towering silhouette of unfamiliar design. It does not occur to him that Mr. Gray has preceded them until the figure turns without haste to regard them.

Bruce Newton Pruitt is a practical individual with many years of exposure to circumstances that would be considered by most, unconventional, possibly even bizarre, and by them he’s been hardened. He would characterize himself, if pressed to do so, as a man not easily surprised or frightened.

There is, however, a particular sensation one encounters when confronted with a reality so dramatically beyond one’s previous experience, so strange and startling in its aspect, size, and proximity that reason gives way to primal response.

Mr. Gray is shockingly inhuman, more obvious as it moves forward to stand over H’seven, more than twice his height.

A clenching thrill begins in the muscles of Pruitt’s perineum and races up his spine like an electric shock into his skull. His scalp prickles and the sensation elicits an unconscious shudder he wishes he could rescind.

A quick glance to Hergenrather for some sign of how to react offers no purchase in this encounter. He appears unfazed, but his voice has assumed an uncharacteristic, formal tone. “The D’nal will be taking over Directorship of all LocUS and ACMe operations, although D’kin Remert will continue in his current capacity at the old facility for the time being.”

If intended to lessen the gut-level impact of this initial introduction, it falls short.

At least two meters tall, at a guess, Kudlac’s skeletal physique is clad in what appears a close-fitting gray body suit and draped in intricate black and tan vestments. They look heavy. They look like some kind of armor.

Long, ropey limbs loosely attached to a sinewy, bi-pedal frame give him a hominid appearance and there is, in that, some degree of familiarity, but there all similarity ends.

His is not a human face. His flesh is slate gray. It looks hard, metallic. At first Pruitt imagines it might be some kind of mask, but that prospect flees as its real nature becomes obvious. It has an inverted triangular shape with an enlarged cranium and a pointed chin—a face like a splitting maul; Pruitt’s racing mind makes a connection.

Kudlac’s broad, hairless dome, flattened on top and elongated toward the rear, sports a high, wide forehead. A conspicuous lack of external ears reinforces the thing’s freakish symmetry.

A triangular arrangement of three tiny, lidless eyes, alight with a faint reddish glow like embers, reside above what might be a nose, a low, thin spline bisecting that long face. Set wide apart to either side of this ridge, bulbous lidded eyes also hint at a ruddy light of their own. To Pruitt’s budding distress, all five of the D’nal’s ocular organs appear to be fixed upon him with a penetrating urgency.

At the inverted base of this alien visage, a trio of slit nostrils, each fitted with what might be a filtering medium, crowd together just above a small, lipless mouth. It parts, producing a sound like a brass instrument with an open spit-valve, shaping itself at the last into syllables.

“I am Mr. Black’s designated Minister of the Change,” the thing says. Its voice is as distressing as its appearance.

“I am honored by your presence, D’nal Ku…”

“You were not invited to speak. Be silent.”

A hot flush of indignation threatens to further perturb Pruitt’s already precarious composure.

Kudlac breathes. “I have already spoken remotely with D’kin Remert. He has provided specific points of current reference, preliminary to your own formal, detailed narrative.”

The bellows works beneath the D’nal’s raiment.

“Our presence is required at the facility you refer to as ‘The Reservation’. There I have business with D’kin Remert, after which I will hear your summary.”

Another inhalation, less strenuous.

“Our transportation will be arriving momentarily.”

“Your pardon, D’nal?” Pruitt is unwilling to remain dismissed.

Kudlac’s silent deliberation is long and inscrutable.

“Speak, then.”

“At our best speed, the facility is almost two hours away. With your permission, I will provide what information you require during…”

A visceral turbulence seems to center itself in Pruitt’s lower intestine. He winces.

“… during our…”

Darkness flows from every direction, from beneath furnishings and every shadowed corner, drawn to a nebulous blackness only a few meters away from where Pruitt’s shoes now seem bolted to the floor.

A wave of pressure bears outward from a blunted pyramid maybe three meters high and wide, a daunting triangular mass shrouded in pebbly, iridescent flesh. A few sheared-away scraps of furniture, arranged too near the thing’s point of emergence, fall away from its flanks in pieces.

The long curve of the room that seemed capacious moments before appears considerably less so now, hosting this great, monolithic occupancy in its midst. Pruitt’s face is a snapshot of naked astonishment, taking in the arrival’s enormity and the simple, unarguable fact of its existence.

Another sigh from Mr. Gray ends in enunciation. “Our transit will be a matter of moments, Mr. Pruitt. Prepare yourself.”

The weird, but essentially humanoid Kudlac presents one barely supportable mental gymnastic to overcome, but this… thing; he can almost feel the ponderous weight of its presence. And something else. Beyond the inexplicable nature of its entrance, there is a truth Pruitt knows with absolute certainty and without the least cognizance of how that knowledge has revealed itself to him.

This thing is alive—a being of unfathomable capability and purpose.

Kudlac’s voice from somewhere above him speaks directly to the outgoing Director’s incredulity. “Mr. Black has allowed us the employment of his emissary’s unique means until our mandate has been realized.” An open-handed gesture indicates the massive pyramidal form.

Kudlac utters something unintelligible and the pyramid alters, a change so improbable that Pruitt fears he has begun, or perhaps continues, to hallucinate.

Where the thing had claimed a broad footprint within the chamber just a moment before, in its stead resides an impossibility. A two-dimensional triangular shape dominates the space before them. Blackness fills its intangible envelope. Kudlac’s odd, swaying gait carries him past the two humans to stand at the verge of that ambiguous depth and he turns to summon them forward with an altogether familiar gesture.

“It is a doorway,” he pronounces, “bridging the interval between this space and the remote facility. Step forward and into it as I do.”

With another lurching motion, the D’nal disappears into the portal. Pruitt turns his face to his erstwhile friend, but that one is unmoved, glaring into the equilateral emptiness.

Pruitt’s feet carry him with their own shuffling volition to the aperture. Nothingness beckons. His rational mind cringing in apprehension, he steps through. The membrane engulfs him and he is gone.

Hergenrather’s approach to the portal stalls at its threshold.

From out the blackness, Pruitt’s voice calls to him. It has a breathless, bewildered quality. “Jacob, it’s… this is astounding! We are here. Just like… it’s just like a doorway; just as the D’nal said. Perfectly safe. Come ahead.”

H’seven steps back away from the gateway. “I think not. I’ll see you there in two hours.”

“Are you serious? Why don’t you…”

A huffing sound emanates from the opaque distance. It precedes Kudlac’s odd, zephyr-driven speech. A curt string of unrecognizable syllables ensues and the portal dissolves into empty air.

H’seven aims a vicious scowl at the space vacated by Mr. Black’s monstrous emissary. His glower sweeps the room, perhaps seeking a focal point for his enmity, finding none.

A synaptic cue opens a comm channel. “Mrs. Stafford!” Almost a shout.

The response is prompt. “I’m here, sir.”

“A jump-craft should already be prepped for travel in the east bay. Verify its readiness and obtain clearance for departure with best speed to the Reservation. I will meet you there in fifteen minutes.” Her crisp acknowledgement is curtailed as he refreshes the call-out mode and barks, “Desk!”

“Desk. Yes, Mr. Hergenrather.” A matter-of-fact female voice. “How may I…?”

“Shut up and send a maintenance person to the loft. The new Director had a god-awful bout of explosive diarrhea in the washroom and there’s drizzling shit everywhere.”

The operator’s professional equanimity requires but a moment to reconcile itself to the Deputy Director’s colorful description. “Yes, sir. I’ll send a crew up right away.”

“Just one will do.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“What’re you, fucking deaf? I said just one. Send the big, leggy brunette with the lazy eye. What’s her name? Margaret. I like her. Send Margaret up.”

There is a brief, but distinct hesitation from the Desk.

“You got a problem, Betty?”

“It’s Jane, Mr. Hergenrather. No, sir. I’m alerting her now.”

“Well, chop chop, Betty! Tempus fugits like a motherfucker! Can’t you feel it?”

“Yes, sir. I believe I can.”

.      .      .

Margaret’s uniform is in an odd state of disarray, as though she’s attempted to contort herself out of its utilitarian confines without success. Slumped backward on the toilet seat, her heels are tapping out an aimless simulation of walking on the tile floor. Her body twitches, synapses firing crazily in a randomized imitation of function.

Conspicuous against what had once been a tidy stack of brunette tresses, now disheveled, a shiny titanium straw projects from the top of her skull. The tube’s exposed end is in H’seven’s mouth. His cheeks are drawn in and a muffled slurping sound issues from the once-hermetic containment of Margaret’s cranium.

His head tilts back with a distant expression. A creamy warmth with a milkshake-like consistency eases down his throat. Even the slow fade-in of an optic-stim fails to intrude upon H’seven’s appearance of bliss.

The image of the communication’s initiate is, of course, instantly recognizable and almost any other recipient would respond without delay. Instead, H’seven takes another long pull from the pipette and swallows with undisguised relish. He lifts Margaret’s arm, wipes his mouth on the sleeve of her uniform and pats her on the shoulder.

“I’ll be just a sec, sweet pea. Don’t go away.” He accords her a wink she may not be able to see, but she manages a little jerk. Her hand raises, flutters, and falls limp again.

“Sonder,” H’seven calls to the air.

The air responds in a soothing, masculine tone. “H’seven.”

“Make a note to Doctor Ahn. The liquefier works as expected. The counteractant is still bland. More salt. More heat. Deliver.”

“Done.”

“That’s all,” H’seven says. A glance at the time on his wrist tattoo suggests there is little to waste. He sucks up another cheekful of Margaret’s cerebrum with an indolent expression.

The Announce and Accept protocol intrudes behind his eyes with an inconvenient urgency.

Phil Bettencort appears a man near his physical limits, slumped in a chair behind the famous desk in the Oval Office, the one his previous boss no longer needs. H’seven’s avatar, in contrast, is an ominous near-silhouette framed in a dead, grayish-green backlight.

“Mr. President, I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon after you told me last night to go fuck myself,” he says.

Bettencort’s face has not had time to age since President Bascomb’s shocking death yesterday afternoon and his abrupt elevation to the Office of the POTUS, but he looks haggard. His eyes are puffy with drooping bags under them. His jowls did not seem as pronounced yesterday. He appears exhausted.

“I didn’t…” he begins, catches himself, and starts over. “Mr. Folt recommended that I contact you directly regarding this. We have a problem, Jacob.”

“What do you mean ‘we’? Is it my problem?”

“In a sense, yes. The Vigil satellite network shows two incoming objects, sightings corroborated by observatories and RT stations around the globe. I’m told they appear unrelated to The Stir phenomenon, but we don’t have enough data to confirm that.

“I’m being told composite models indicate a ninety-eight percent probability of land impact in thirty-one hours if their current velocity and trajectory don’t deviate. They say either one is capable of damage at a level similar to Arizona’s meteorite crater. Point of contact for both will be northwest United States, specifically, the Puget Sound area. Right over your head. You might consider that your problem.”

“Not really. My overnight bag is always packed. I can be out of here in a matter of minutes. I still need what I needed yesterday, Phil.”

“I told you then, Jacob. I don’t have the authority to override the…”

H’seven breaks the connection.

Turning back to Margaret, he leans in over the metal tube and draws more warm, liquefied mater, rolls it in his mouth as he would the smoke from one of his cigars, savoring the fact of it more than the flavor.

“Yeah. More salt.” He smacks his lips. “And a splash of Carolina Reaper.”

Bettencort’s announce imposes itself again.

H’seven responds this time without delay. The tone from his silhouette is adrip with cordiality. “Mr. President, I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon after I told you a minute ago to go fuck yourself.”

Mr. Folt’s angular face assumes focus rather than Bettencort’s and his features are cast in stern, uncompromising lines. His voice is the sharp implement of one used to being obeyed without question.

“Mr. Hergenrather, you are to give President Bettencort your full support and accommodation. This is a far more serious issue than your personal manhunt, which I order you to set aside until this threat is resolved.”

“Sonder,” H’seven says, his voice pitched for Folt to hear.

“Yes, H’seven.”

“If Mr. Folt is still an active participant in this exchange five seconds after my mark, I want you to silver-bullet the little fucktard.”

H’seven pauses just long enough to enjoy the sound of a stifled outrage from the toothpick man with the faceted glasses.

“Have you gone insane, Hergen…”

“Mark.”

The corners of H’seven’s mouth twitch upward in a smile reminiscent of a child’s innocence. He holds up five fingers and begins to fold them down one by one.

Folt opens his mouth perhaps to issue a warning or a curse, stammering instead. His face, a mask of fury, disappears.

Seconds later, the President’s drawn features resolve in its place.

“Jesus Christ!” Bettencort blurts with something almost like amusement. “Folt just stormed out of here with his panties in a wad. What did you say to him?”

“What I said to him isn’t nearly as important as what you’ve got to say to me. You want me to realign a HelioStation and vaporize a pair of incoming space rocks with it for you and, I swear to some God or other, Phil, I’d love to do that just for the sheer fun of it. I know your people are perfectly willing to absorb the astronomic cost of that repositioning and it sounds like it’s in everybody’s best interest. So let’s get down to what I want, why don’t we?”

“We’ve been over this already, Jacob. I don’t know, maybe I can…”

“I’m hanging up now, Phil.”

“ALL RIGHT! All right, goddammit!” A long pause is marked by Bettencort’s breathing, as though he’d just sprinted uphill. He clears his throat with a hoarse cough. “All right. I’ll get it done for you somehow. I’ll pull some strings with…”

“This afternoon, Phil. My window of opportunity is closing, same as yours.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking.”

“This isn’t an ‘ask’; it’s a transaction. Given the gravity of the situation, I can barely comprehend why you’re dragging your feet at all. I’d think you’d be desirous of a swift and unambiguous conclusion to your little problem, save millions of lives and the single largest functioning segment of the West Coast infrastructure and, you know—shit like that. Why are you acting like such a fucking bureaucrat instead of taking care of business?”

“Because I have people I have to answer to, just like you do.”

H’seven’s laugh is light, humorless, fueled by a joke Bettencort cannot fathom.

“Well, you’re half right. Once you deliver the authorization codes I require, your targeting information on the incoming threat will be relayed to our Operations. After that, resolution only hinges on a clear line of fire.”

Bettencort’s relief is tangible.

.      .      .

The last of Margaret’s motor functions are disengaging. A serious tug is required to dislodge the metal straw from her head. It separates with a wet sucking sound revealing a wicked beveled tip. H’seven rinses the tube in a stream of hot water from the sink, dries it on an air-blade, caps the sharp, and returns it to his inside coat pocket.

“Desk,” he says.

“Desk. Yes, Mr. Hergenrather.”

“Betty, I’m giving Margaret the rest of the day off. It was a nasty job and I want to reward her for being such a good sport.”

“Of course. May I speak with her before she leaves?”

He traces Margaret’s slouched form with his eyes. “I’m afraid she’s already gone.”

“I apologize, sir. I show her locator still in the executive suite.”

“Really? She must have dropped it during the clean-up. I’ll find it and have someone run it back down to you later with her cart.”

“Of… course. Thank you, sir. Is there anything else I can…?”

But H’seven has already broken the connection.

.      .      .

Charli’s G-suit is, aside from being as unflattering an item of attire as any she’s ever worn, is a marvel of engineering. ‘Fluid muscles’ integrated into the suit’s material help maintain circulation and reduce the potential for loss of consciousness while operating at high G. It’s heavy, yet hugs her body in a most intimate fashion. She feels oddly self-conscious in the thing as she completes her pre-flight circuit of the jump-craft.

The compact, medium-range vehicle is not going to be her favorite. It’s a sleek, sexy-looking airsled; no mistake about that—stubby reverse-swept wings and a canard on a trim needle of a fuselage. The Q-powered thrusters are capable of propelling the craft at or near Mach six peak and will cruise at four all day long.

Routinely, this particular craft is employed for shuttles between the Seattle compound and the site in New Mexico they call ‘The Reservation’. The trip is guaranteed to be hard and fast. G-suits and inertial dampers cannot completely mitigate the stress of maneuvering at or near hypersonic speeds. For her, such trips are bound to be rigorous and painful. Still, she signed up for the job and this mercurial missile came with it.

Her hazy reflection in the surface of the hand-held scowls back at her. “The complaint department is closed,” it says. “Don’t you have something to do?”

She is sealing the access panel over the quarrmalyne plant status port when Mr. Hergenrather strolls into the hanger bay whistling a merry tune.

During her brief exposure on the job, her boss has demonstrated two reliable modes of expression. One is a surly animosity, occasioned by a ferocious impatience, and an astonishingly creative ruthlessness. The other, scathing sardonic humor, a cruel scalpel slicing intended victim and bystander alike, without regard for sensibility or consequence. Upon occasion, these characteristics are employed concurrently.

It is an unachievable exercise to square what she’s experienced of Mr. Hergenrather’s personality to the perky melody preceding him across the bay as he approaches at full-pucker.

His jaunty, piping tootle ends on an impressive triple-tongued warble as he halts only a couple meters away at the short stair to the passenger cabin.

“Sounds familiar,” Charli risks light conversation. “What’s it called?”

“If memory serves, it’s a classic from nineteen seventy-two entitled ‘Rockin’ Robin’.” He sounds positively congenial.

An affable Hergenrather is confounding.

“Hmm,” he says, the sound of a man pondering. He turns a puzzled look to the hanger ceiling. “That’s funny. It just came over me.”

He turns his perplexed expression back to his pilot. “You know what? I think I’ve got it. There was a maintenance person upstairs in the tower just before I left. It must have been on her mind.”

He laughs, a private merriment. It reverberates within the cavernous aerodrome, its vibration decaying moments later until nothing remains but his numbing Antarctic stare.

“Why do you ask?” he says.

Charli forces a half-smile. “Catchy tune.”

Rather than attempt to bear the frigid pressure of his gaze, she finalizes and uploads her pre-flight documentation with a series of finger calisthenics across the hand-held’s surface. Her eyes return to his with a practiced subordination. “We’re ready to bounce when you are, sir.”

“We?”

Charli pats the aircraft’s flank.

Hergenrather pivots to the stair and climbs toward the open hatch. “Best speed, Mrs. Stafford.”

“Your G-suit, sir. I’ve laid it out in the…”

“Don’t need it,” he says stepping through into the cabin. “Get this piece of shit in the sky. If you make me late, you’re going to walk home.”

The hatch seals behind him.

“Well, that’s more like it,” Charli sighs with something like relief.

     ~    

Mr. Gray Read More »

Pruitt’s Enlightenment

The limousine whispers in low and slow over the terrace garden treetops and hovers in defiance of its streamlined mass. Landing pins extrude and, with a lazy pirouette, it settles onto the pad without recoil.

Inside the penthouse suite, Pruitt observes the driver stepping out of the limo to open the rear passenger door. The new uniform looks good on her. Nice butt, too, for an older girl.

An imposing figure in a matte black suit, exits into the crisp morning air and crosses the pad to the entry lock. Pruitt’s sentries make no move to verify identification as he strides past. Visual recognition of the predator at the top of their food chain will suffice this morning.

“He’s early,” Pruitt sighs. The bleary-eyed woman seated across the table from him says nothing, munching toast with bovine aspect.

A cursory review of the overnights on his fold-out has provided little of value for the meeting to come and Pruitt manipulates a few last pertinent items of data into his presentation pane. With stiff, uncooperative fingers he doubles the foldie over twice, then twice again until it fits into the small watch-pocket of his vest.

Close at hand is a cup of coffee Connie prepared for him with the ‘good water’. He washes down an unfamiliar anxiety with it. It’s the brew’s deeper, therapeutic benefit he most desires now and caffeine’s jolt is the least of it.

A carved teak cane in one twisted hand, knees and hips aching, Pruitt levers himself upright with a grimace. Two unsteady steps, a cursory peck on the dumpy woman’s forehead, he begins the long walk through his home for possibly the last time. His discomfort diminishes as he walks and by the time he reaches the living room, his gait is almost comfortable. The new arrival is already waiting for him.

Motionless against the backdrop of Puget Sound and Seattle’s skyline in the distance, all bathed in the argent blaze of a cloudless morning, the man presents a commanding tower of calm self-confidence. Beneath it, Pruitt knows, resides a vortex of volatility. His shaven head and razor-edged Van Dyke lend him a Mephistophelian appearance driven into focus by penetrating ice-blue eyes.

“Jacob,” Pruitt says. “Nice of you to come fetch me yourself. Have you had breakfast?”

“Mr. Gray will be waiting for us at the Center. He wants to hear your summary first-hand. Are you ready?”

Pruitt’s personal assistant enters with a small travel bag in hand. He extends it to his employer. Instead, the man named Jacob takes it from him.

“We’re burning daylight, Bruce,” he says.

“Thank you, Markus,” Pruitt says. “I put something extra on your chip. Tell Connie I gave you the rest of the day off. Go do something nice for yourself.”

“Thank you, sir. I hope you have a pleasant trip.”

“See you,” Pruitt lies.

.      .      .

Out on the pad, Charli Stafford stands her post beside the limo at an easy parade rest with nothing in particular on her mind. The morning air is uncommonly clear, the sun a crystalline radiance, a day atypical for the South Sound in recent memory. The air is sweet with a salty aftertaste. Tiny birds busy themselves in the trees at the edge of the roof garden, their lyrical chatter speaks of a joyous disregard for the machinations of mankind.

She is as happy as she can remember being in months and not the least part of it is this new job. She edged out scores of applicants for the position of Mr. Hergenrather’s personal chauffer. Her life is finally turning a long-awaited corner. The future looks bright. She adjusts her sunglasses. Bright indeed.

A gentle vibration behind her left ear is accompanied by a masculine voice with a pleasing timbre.

“It’s Kiry,” the voice informs her.

The audio status option with the implant was more old-school than direct optic stimulation, but she is a pilot, after all, and the idea of tampering with her eyesight was unappealing, regardless the fact such modifications have become routine.

She dodges a glance toward the penthouse. The bank of windows facing the courtyard is, of course, opaque from this side. The airlock is a good twenty meters away and she sees no movement there.

“Accept,” she says, acknowledging her caller in the same quiet tone. “Mommy’s working now, honey.”

“I know. I’m sorry, Mom. I just wanted to let you know we got approval for a new launch window. I’m leaving for the ship from Prime in a few hours.”

“Up and down?”

“No. Up and out. Mars One.”

“Get out of town!”

“That goes without sayin’. When the foundation learned we could make the run out in just a little over three weeks, instead of the standard six months, they asked Eric if he would step up and take on an emergency re-supply.”

“It sounds like they’re having problems there.”

“Well… it’s Mars, Mom.”

“Have you seen the latest feeds, Ki? This thing they’re calling ‘The Stir’?”

“Yeah. I’m probably safer on the ship than anywhere else. Don’t worry. I’ll keep my shit together.”

“You better. And watch your mouth. Nice boys don’t like pilots with rough language.”

“There are no nice boys above the atmosphere.”

The last syllable is transmuted into a hash of static that persists for several seconds before it recedes, leaving behind a sparking trace behind every word.

“That was pretty tall grass.” Charli says.

Her daughter’s voice crackles, “Solar activity’s still building and nobody’s got a guess when it’s likely to peak, or how. NASA and the brains are talking about another Carrington Event. “

“Well, that ought to bring things to a screeching halt just about everywhere at every level.”

“I know. Sounds apocalyptic, doesn’t it?”

“Long as I’m not airborne at the time, no use worrying about it. Tressa staying home with the baby?”

“She and Lily are riding with me out to the Ship so Lily can wave g’bye.”

“I miss the little punkinhead. Call me when you get back. If civilization’s still intact, I’ll come down for a couple days. OK?”

“We’d like that.”

The airlock’s outer door opens into the courtyard.

“I’ve got to go, honey. Call me before you jump. I love you.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

A soft-spoken, “End call,” breaks the connection. She settles back into parade rest.

Her boss, with customary briskness, crosses the pad in long, purposeful strides. Poor, crippled Mr. Pruitt trails, a distant second. She opens the door for them, reaching to take the overnight bag into custody from her employer. He hands it off, stepping up and in without a word. She offers a hand to Mr. Pruitt who accepts the support as he clambers into the craft.

It’s difficult to guess his age. He moves like a broken down ‘older’ and there are tiny lines in his face that suggest age held at bay. It hardly matters, of course. Her job is to fly, not interpret.

“Thank you, young lady,” he casts back over his shoulder.

“You’re welcome, sir.” She seals the door behind him, stows the bag, then takes her place in what she likes to call ‘the cockpit’, an anachronistic reference with a rich heritage.

It takes no particular skill to get the limo off the ground. The damn thing wants to leap into the air. The artistry is in doing so without leaving everyone’s breakfast behind. She eases the pressors on-line and floats up like a feather in an updraft, making a lazy half-turn as the pins retract. Then, having achieved sufficient altitude for insertion into the eastbound pattern beam, she accelerates out over the Sound toward the busiest city on the West Coast. A passenger in the rear cabin with a full cup of coffee in hand wouldn’t have spilled a drop.

To be fair, ‘city’ probably isn’t the right word for what Seattle has become. The lines of demarcation between incorporated areas are only visible on maps. In reality, everything from Bellingham to Olympia looks like a circuit board from the air. On this side of the Sound, the entire east side of the Kitsap Peninsula looks like an extension of the same, albeit broken by the Hood Canal and various inlets, as well as the many verdant greenways, protected against an ever-encroaching urbanization. The exceptions to the trend, of course, are sleepy Vashon to the south and, northward in the mid-distance, the dispiriting remains of shattered Bainbridge Island.

The rippled surface of the Sound, scintillating in unaccustomed brilliance of morning light, hurls itself beneath the craft. Charli watches the kaleidoscope breaking around her, reforming behind and, despite this minor perturbation, the patient ebb and flow of the tide continues as ever, unaffected.

None would argue that the greatest challenge to the Greater Sound metro-ganglia has been the steady and inexorable advance of the sea. Its mean level has risen a meter and a half over the last ten years and, despite claims of deliberate misinformation and paranoia from both well-meaning and political factions, that encroachment has accelerated. Many adjustments had to be implemented just to maintain the avenues of transportation and commerce, not to mention the dramatic impact it’s had on shoreline real estate.

Such concerns, however, lay beyond the scope of her job description. Charli adjusts a visor against the onrushing dazzle of sun and its myriad reflections in the water.

.      .      .

The passenger cabin is a cocoon of plush hush. Hergenrather is manipulating virtual data, his eyes unfocused, hands making mystic passes in the air.

Perhaps unwilling to brood in silence over the consequences of choices made without the luxury of foresight and imponderable fates, Pruitt says. “How long have we known each other, Jacob?”

Peering into a private depth, the other’s hands continue to weave intangible details into configurations only he can see.

“Why are you asking me a question you know the answer to as well as I do?”

“Partly because I want to know what you remember, I guess. It seems an age since we’ve talked to each other beyond the immediate necessities of business. We used to be friends, remember?”

Hergenrather’s hands drop as he turns a silent, ice-blue assessment on the man beside him.

“You’re laboring under a dangerous misconception, Bruce.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Are you certain that’s what you want? The truth may not set you free.”

“Look at me. Look at what I’ve become. Do you know what’s going to happen to me in the next twenty-four hours? No? What do you think you have to tell me that matters in the press of that? My body’s breaking down, not my faculties. It’s a simple request. I think you owe me some consideration.”

“I don’t owe you shit.”

Pruitt’s expression is that of one who has just discovered a malignant tumor on a favorite organ.

Hergenrather raises a hand, tapping the air twice with an index finger to suspend his application. A compact swiping gesture ends with a dip into an inside pocket of his coat. He extracts two slender cigars in smoke-gray cylinders. The first tube opens with a twist, clipping the cigar end where cap meets wrapper. He offers the smoke to Pruitt, who declines. Shrugging, Hergenrather replaces the unopened second and holds the panatela to his lips.

A jet of orange flame with a blue core bursts from the tip of the small finger of his left hand. He holds this just close enough to ignite the tobacco without scorching it, rolling the cigar in his fingers to achieve an even burn, and puffs it to a coal.

He fixes Pruitt with a gaze through blue smoke, lifts his pinkie with its quivering tongue of fire between them, extinguishing it. Insubstantial waves of heat waver from the digit’s tip. Hergenrather vents breath through pursed lips across the aperture. There is a merry deviltry in his eyes as he gestures to the node behind his right ear and points at Pruitt, an invitation.

Pruitt understands. The new chauffer may be listening to pattern traffic status or music in her earbuds, it doesn’t matter what, but some conversations are best conducted beyond the potential earshot of even the most trustworthy of associates, let alone menial staff.

The transit between the physical and the frontier of the mind is achieved in a blink.

Pruitt is disoriented, so very long has it been since he’s stood in this place. It is the main street of his hometown, it’s only street, a long sweeping curve of quartz-rich dirt and gravel sparkling in sunlight and stirred by almost endless wind from the Miles.

A curving row of weathered clapboard apartments stands upon the plunging crescent of the mesa rim. One in particular with a wooden wind-clacker on the porch achieves distinctive focus. Close by, a boy is talking to him in a youthful voice Pruitt remembers well despite the intervening years.

“Do you remember the old fellow who lived here?” the lad asks.

“Old Pete.” Pruitt’s voice is hushed, almost lost in the breath of the high desert, as if his words might wake sleeping ghosts. “He went kind of crazy after his boy and wife were killed. Before I was born, of course, but I remember him. I remember being afraid of him when I was little.”

“He didn’t go crazy. He was transformed.”

Inside the limo’s cabin, Hergenrather seems to stare out the window. Whether aware of the Sound traversing beneath their speeding craft or not, he draws the glowing tip of his cigar to incandescent life.

“Your friend, Jacob, was ten years old,” he says, “when Old Pete met Malcolm and Constance Hergenrather and their children on their way to Santa Fe. He gave them the ‘good water’ and brought them to live here.” He points to the clapboard-sided structure’s sturdy simplicity. “He cleaned this place out and gave it to the man you knew as Jacob’s father, and then he died. You must have been three or four, living with your mother when Jacob befriended you.”

The boy’s form and features melt into those of the contemporary, alpha male. “See, here’s the part you’re not going to like so much. That wasn’t me.” He presses the cigar between his lips and sips it with apparent relish.

“What do you mean it wasn’t you?”

Hergenrather’s tari releases a slow plume of smoke. “Jacob was transformed too. While the ‘good water’ has sustained you since you were that small child, altering you physically, allowing you to develop and accomplish well beyond the scope of an average lifetime, I have opted for a different path.

“Who you were then is still who you are now, life experiences, formal education, and an unfortunate decrepitude notwithstanding. The unparalleled combination of Remert’s knowledge and resources and my own unique nature have given me a different form of longevity. What I mean is, this is the seventh iteration of Jacob Hergenrather’s distinctive genetic code. H’seven is the shorthand I prefer, as it contains less syllables and, despite my oft-loquacious manner, I appreciate the occasional nod to brevity. You know this, but you’ve failed to understand its obvious implications. While much of the original Jacob’s biology has transferred from one living vessel to the next, there is also much that has not. Friendship, for one thing.”

“That’s disappointing,” Pruitt laments.

“And yet, here we are at the hub of arguably one of, if not THE most powerful of corporate entities in the world. This is a platform that serves my interests perfectly.”

“As you say, here we are. A great deal of your position in this organization rests upon my own efforts and, apparently, upon a relationship that I have misinterpreted for… quite some time.”

All about them, the familiar structures around the crescent rim of the mesa’s isolated arm are leveled in a kind of accelerated stop-motion sequence. The several community buildings comprising the remote village’s core give way to bare ground. The main street is erased as if it had never been and even the stone turret of the Well is reduced to an unobtrusive mound.

Knotted clusters of juniper gone rampant stipple a rugged, undulating landscape. Gritty soil strewn with weathered stone fragments and carpeted in patches of lichens and brown mosses fans out between low rock outcroppings. Only the curious lone edifice known as ‘Remert’s Shack’ remains; that and the unconventional wind turbine towering over its shoulder like half of a giant’s egg beater.

“No need to go all maudlin over it, Bruce. I have always been in the background to run interference for you, to exert pressure when and where needed, to open the pathways you would later turn into boulevards. I still am. We couldn’t have done it without you and, quite honestly, you couldn’t have done it without me.”

Where a small, lone human outpost on a remote corner of a high desert mesa once stood, near-desolation has returned and spans the tableland. Wild, wide-open spaces give rise to fenced lands with sparse grasses. Obstreperous cattle graze this meager wind-swept fodder. Remert’s shack is gone too and, in its place stands a turn of the twentieth century two-story farm house, one of several dwellings sprung up at odd intervals where the land runs in rolling ripples and mounds toward distant mountains west of the land drop. The wind turbine remains, however; its vertical vanes revolving in tireless, purposeful rhythm.

Pruitt watches the herky-jerky passage of subjective time. It feels like a memory. The wind gusting up the mesa’s stony face from the eastern desert plain buffets him, flagging his hair and clothing.

“You said ‘we’,” he has to shout above the blustering wall of air whipping through the low evergreens and rushing in his ears. It has a sharp, clean smell and scrubs at his face hard enough to make virtual eyes water. “You and Remert, I must assume. To what end?”

The figure beside him draws the business end of his cigar to an amber glow and stares out across the Miles with a look as remote as the horizon. “The end,” he says, releasing words and smoke into the wind with dreamy carelessness. Pruitt waits through a lengthy pause, wondering if perhaps the other has determined that truncated response to be sufficient. Whatever vista has engaged his awareness seems at an improbable distance.

The surging breath of the Miles rocks Pruitt where he stands, but breaks around Hergenrather without apparent effect.

“Someone else asked me that question once. From my vantage point today, I think my answer is necessarily a different one,” Hergenrather says, pinning Pruitt with a piercing attention. “When it comes, the end will be glorious. Stupendous. Cosmic. Of course, that’s still merely a twinkle in the eye at this juncture, you understand.”

“No,” Pruitt assures him. “I really don’t. It sounds ominous.”

“Whatever. As to Remert’s agenda, it’s not mine, although he’s allowed me the benefit of his resources for the time being and, in return, I have agreed to share with him mine. As it turns out, we have certain mutually concurrent items on our respective to-do lists.”

“Fine. So what happens now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Me, Jacob. What happens to me?”

The wind-swept mesa dissolves into the limousine’s cabin.

“Don’t burst a melodramatic artery, Bruce. First you’re going to meet Mr. Gray and bring him up to speed on current events. Remert says to remind you to address him only by the honorific, ‘D’nal’. Don’t stare, don’t dissemble, don’t contradict him, and never apologize. Afterward, you and I are going to the Reservation where Dr. Ahn will prep you for the transfer. Remert will oversee the actual procedure.”

“Procedure. You make it sound routine.”

“I’ve done it six times. I admit I have a particular innate advantage that pretty much ensures my survival and you, unfortunately, don’t. Remert and Dr. Ahn trust the data gleaned from my own transfers will give yours a better than eighty percent chance of success, but if you have an imaginary friend you pray to, this would be the time to invite so-called divine intervention, I suppose.”

“There are so many deities to choose from. Which would you recommend, Jacob?”

Hergenrather stares out the window at the Space Needle, that iconic landmark of Seattle’s skyline braced within a sheath of scaffolding as long-forestalled renovations proceed apace. The mid-Sound urbanscape slides away from him as the limo begins a gentle banking curve southward, dropping out of one pattern beam and into another. To the east, mountains hunker beneath a mass of low clouds clinging to their forested shoulders. Unguarded sunlight paints the heaped and billowed mists in vivid, transient brilliance. He tugs down the window shade.

“Disregarding, for the moment, the insincere nature of your question,” Hergenrather says, “if your belief is firm, I’m confident the Flying Spaghetti Monster would reach out to grace you with the touch of His noodley appendage. You could do worse. Ra-men.”

 “If memory serves, Jacob, you have pretty much always been a dick. It’s reassuring to see at least that hasn’t changed.”

Hergenrather examines the tenacious cylinder of hot ash still adhering to the business end of his cigar and flicks it onto the carpet. He observes it smoldering there for a time, then grinds it out with the toe of his shoe.

“I’m glad you’re okay with that.”

.      .      .

Ahead at a bare five kilometers, the pitch-black monolith of the LocUS Tower looms. Soaring from the center of a siege-walled compound, the convex curvature of the central spire dominates the skyline, so dark it looks like a hole in the air. Charli can just make out the cryptic sigil gracing its upper reach. It emits a disquieting phosphorescence, a bilious glow the precise color of nausea.

Behind the structure, embraced within its inward curving surface, she can see, at the edge of perception, the trace: a pencil-thin thread of energy piercing layers of cloud up into the heavens. Or down, she knows not which. What is certain is that nothing may interrupt that indefinable ray and continue to exist. Thus, in the interest of public safety and facility security, all pattern traffic is directed away from the tower and its surrounds, creating a buffer of unoccupied air over a kilometer in diameter.

At a proper interval, Charli disconnects from the public beam, burst-transmits her authorization string, and approaches the compound within a strict corridor. She has no doubt some lethal form of armament maintains crosshairs on hers and all approaching vehicles up to and probably within the various docking parkades.

Ahead, the structure’s great height makes its curving profile seem narrow, yet the bay that opens almost sixty meters up that sheer black sliver to admit the limo is large enough to accommodate a dozen more just like it with adequate room to maneuver them all. There are only three other similar private vehicles berthed within.

She sets the craft down on a mirror-smooth surface without a bump, hands ranging across the control surfaces, powering down. A moment later the gull-wing gasps open and Charli swings out onto the deck. A service team in immaculate black and tan coveralls is converging on the arrival, but her passengers have already disembarked. Without her assistance Mr. Hergenrather is helping Mr. Pruitt into an open two-seater. Moments later they are skimming away into the tower’s innards and Charli is left to either give the uniformed workers unnecessary direction, or seek the generous crew accommodations.

“The Director’s luggage is in the back,” she advises, hooking a thumb. A stiff-looking woman with a clipboard and vaguely hostile expression, points to one of her technicians, then at the limo’s trunk.

It’s a long walk to the service door at the rear of the dock and no one bothers to pay Charli the slightest attention.

     ~      

Pruitt’s Enlightenment Read More »

The Lens

“D’kin Remert. Why has it taken you so long to respond to my summons?”

“Lord Shiric, I… ” Remert swallows a knot, fear and elation at war within, held at bay by an effort of will. “I never thought to hear from you again. I believed you had abandoned the undertaking.”

Lord Shiric’s voice rumbles from the lens. “What are you talking about?! I spoke with you not five turns past.”

Myriad faces, some of them disturbing at a visceral level, are suggested in the swirling eddies of Lord Shiric’s smokey Visage. They stare out at him in their turn and Remert struggles to maintain outward calm as the implications of Lord Shiric’s words strike home.

“Lord Shiric,” Remert adjusts his stance and bearing, “it has been nearly twenty-five thousand turns—one hundred and forty-nine years as they measure cycles on this Gog-forsaken world—since last you spoke to me.”

A protracted silence ensues.

Within the lens, smoke becomes mist blowing away to reveal the faces of two humans.

“Do you recognize either of these t’sunguc, D’kin?”

It could have been no others, of course. Perhaps something in his eyes spoke for him, or maybe it was the way he drew his next breath.

“So.” A boil of dark vapor eclipses the images. “A temporal disruption has occurred to separate me from you, D’kin; one beyond my power to prevent and too late now to rectify. I must assume the state of preparations, events, and outcomes previously reported to me have all been redefined subsequent to the disruption itself. Be succinct, D’kin. What is the status of your mission?”

“My Nee’m, the primary objective has been met. Centralization of the transfer locus is established. Our secondary and tertiary objectives have yielded mixed results. Even so, the several positive outcomes have been exceptional.”

“Elaborate upon the latter for me, D’kin.”

“The effort to foster Gray Moct’unguc has succeeded beyond expectation. Significant increases in both fertility and intelligence have been nurtured with auspicious results. Efforts to force development of Gray Troct’unguc were hampered by the destruction of the original breeding stock and a favorable phase one mutation. The genetic foundations of the Grays on this world do not lend themselves to such radical hybridization without altering the outcomes in unanticipated, often unacceptable fashion. Still, a promising hybrid stock has displayed unique characteristics and I am enthusiastic about the potential these specimens represent.”

“I find your optimism encouraging,” Lord Shiric says. He sounds pleased. “More than that, I am moved by your perseverance in the face of what you perceived as abandonment. Tell me, D’kin, why did you persist in what must have seemed fruitless effort?”

“The Method guides me, My Nee’m. My Mission was given with your aegis, but with or without it, I could not stand one day before Mong and excuse my failure by decrying my circumstances.”

“This is why I chose you over more highly-positioned applicants to be my surrogate on this world, D’kin Remert. Your resolve and persistence have surpassed my expectations. I look forward to celebrating your accomplishments.”

Remert is unused to effusive praise. He likes it, and it balances well against the blossoming uncertainty this conversation has birthed and nurtured.

“Due to the disruption and the presence of my adversary’s minions,” Lord Shiric says, “I have chosen D’nal Kudlac to assume the responsibility of Minister of the Change. You have three hands to prepare yourself for return to Kal’un Shiir’n. Here you will have sufficient opportunity to provide the D’nal with the detail he will require before he translates across the gulf, at which time your charge to me will be completed. You will be given a champion’s welcome with holiday and feasting throughout Kal’un Shiir’n, all in your honor before I return you, with my gratitude and endorsement, to your Congregate and certain elevation.”

The lipless slash beneath Remert’s blade of a nose opens to form the words that will lead him home, then closes again, his throat working to swallow them before they can leak out. He tries to recall how long ago he had despaired such a moment as this might ever be possible. The end of his exile, recompense for all he has endured, and the fruition of his paramount personal aspiration, that of elevation to the Second Circle, to be D’nal.

“Lord Shiric, I am exultant that the rift separating us has contrived to bring me back to you again. I am grateful beyond measure that my humble accomplishments have met with your approval.”

He performs a stiff, formal obeisance.

“I would beg your indulgence, My Nee’m. Processes currently in motion regarding the ’unguc variants of which I spoke have reached a critical juncture. I am loathe to leave them in the hands of those less intimate with their nature and development. If you would permit me to remain until this pivotal phase is completed, I will have served you to the best of my ability.”

A viscous plume roils Lord Shiric’s ceremonial mask. It churns, like liquid smoke, rising beyond the limit of the lens to capture it. Vaporous expressions in the boil might be an intimation of displeasure at having to revise plans at this late hour, or perhaps Remert’s racing mind is assigning meaning to random, shifting patterns. Vague suppositions, difficult to dismiss.

This late hour, Remert muses. How unconsciously he has come to think in the conventions of this world. After these many years—fifty-nine point six yarnn on this chaotic ball of confusion—who could blame him for adopting these conventions in the interest of survival and sanity? How long, he wonders, might it take to restore proper patterns of thought once returned among his kind?

His kind… How like them is he now? Will the Congregate hierarchy honor him for his accomplishments and, more to the needle’s point, will the First Circle and The Methshe forgive him for his deliberate transgression?

How could they not with Lord Shiric’s benefaction?

Lord Shiric is speaking. “I will send the D’nal at the rising, to whom you will relinquish operational responsibility. He will oversee the displacement and ensure continuity, leaving you sufficient autonomy to continue administration of your secondary and tertiary directives. Will that satisfy your need for closure, D’kin?”

“My Nee’m, you honor and humble me. I am grateful beyond measure for your gracious consideration of my request and for allowing me…”

“Nothing has changed. I require results from you and the D’nal on each element of your respective commissions. It will be your responsibility to deliver all specimens to the transfer locus prior to the displacement. My timetable is unaltered. You have five turns.”

So soon! So much yet to do! Finally! If Remert is in the least unsettled by the immediacy of his nee’m’s deadline, his face exhibits none of it. “Measured here,” he says, “ten point six six days. Deviation?”

“No more than one half-turn.”

“Plus or minus twenty-five point six zero hours,” Remert says to himself, calculating the least time remaining for him to accomplish everything. “All will be in readiness, Lord Shiric. You may rely upon me.”

“I continue to do so, D’kin.”

The lens darkens and Remert’s axe-faced stoicism reflected in it alters not at all. The revelations of the last minute are stupendous. The weight of the task before him and its immediacy invigorates and appalls him. The soon-to-be disastrous addition of an unprepared and officious D’nal to the equation is the very last thing he needs now. There is nothing for a D’nal to do but meddle and confound well-laid strategy. He exhales a fervent prayer to Mong for Precision With Haste and unseals the door. It swings inward to reveal H’seven at the portal.

“I told you this was a bad idea,” Remert says.

“Move.”

“The audience is over. He’s gone.”

“No, he’s not.”

Confounded, Remert looks back at the lens.

H’seven grasps the collar of Remert’s ceremonial raiment and drags him from the portal. Stepping through, he approaches the darkened lens, squares up to it, and says, “I am H’seven. I have something you need. Let’s talk.”

A profound stillness answers. The lens is blank.

Remert, from the vestibule, “I told you. He’s gone.”

H’seven is strident. “I know you can hear me. You gain nothing by your silence.”

The door to the chamber seals with a soft, solid finality, leaving Remert excluded in the vestibule, fuming.

Total darkness pours from the lens, flooding the chamber, engulfing H’seven in Night.

Shiric’s voice is ponderous. “You speak as though you believe yourself my equal. I do not know you.”

“How fortuitous, then, that we have come to this intersection.”

“What do you have that I need?”

“An object of power you believed was lost to you.”

“The object. It is in your possession?”

“I have only to reach out my hand.”

“Then do so. Show it to me.”

“When we meet, I will present it to you.”

“Show it to me now. It is within my capability to reach out my hand and end you where you stand, if only for your presumption.”

H’seven shrugs. “Which is why I will not present this prize for you to have absent an agreement. I would prefer to consider this a collaboration of mutual benefit. As to equals: such speculation invites unfair comparison. I offer you the solution to riddles that currently vex you. In return I ask only a modest boon, one you may effortlessly grant.”

“You appear to have a measure of comprehension well beyond the scope of anything my agent there could have conveyed to you. Some might deem the knowledge you possess uncommon. You should consider such familiarity perilous.”

“I consider it currency.”

“What is it you want in exchange for this intangible object of indefinite potential?”

“To stand with you in the place where worlds are made and unmade and receive your aegis as Marshal in the war to come with your upstart adversary.”

“And?”

“Nothing more. Well, parades and feasting and revelry, of course. Same as Remmy. But no, just those things and that.”

Silence draws out so long the blackness pouring from the lens seems to breathe.

Shiric breaks it. “No.”

“Just like that?”

“The object you speak of is better lost on your world than mine.”

“Lost? Did I say it was lost? It is in motion. Do you assume that motion to be in your best interest?”

“So. It is NOT in your possession.”

H’seven taps the lens with a steely forefinger. “Is this thing on? I said it is within my grasp.”

The darkness laughs as though he had said something hilarious. It winds down to a chuckled, “Thank you for that, anyway, but the answer is still ‘no’.”

“Who is to say, when I reach out MY hand,” H’seven says. “the object might choose to return to you in a way less conducive to your exaggerated primacy?”

The darkness is not laughing now. “Are you… attempting to challenge me?!”

H’seven taps the lens again. A fragment of its dark material chips off and plinks onto the stone floor. “Pray I do not.”

A pulse of Black power smashes against the chamber walls with sufficient force to shatter stone, casting flechettes about in total darkness as the great door buckles with a metallic scream and pieces of its frame splinter off with gunshot sounds. Illumination does not return.

.      .      .

Kami is standing just inside the vestibule to the lens chamber, watching Remert. He appears stunned, staring as if in disbelief at the heavy portal door, twisted, hanging askew.

“Are you all right, Director?” she says.

He seems to awaken from his daze, straightens himself. “Yes,” he says. He takes a step back from the portal and turns her way, fixing Kami with a haunted expression. “No.”

He recognizes the insignia on her uniform. If he was wondering what she was doing in this highly restricted area at this inopportune moment, at least her classification is appropriate.

“May I take you somewhere, Director?”

“No. Thank you, Technician. I trust you will arrange damage assessment and clean-up.”

“Of course, D’kin.”

“Then I will leave you to your responsibilities.”

Kami follows him out into the corridor and watches him make his way to the nearest bounce. He enters and does not reemerge.

She rummages up a spreader from her waiting runabout’s toolbox, using it to pry the blasted door open enough to peer inside. The lens is intact, but the clean-up detail is going to need a high-pressure hose and some wire brushes to remove the erstwhile Deputy Director from the surfaces of the chamber.

“Doctor Ahn,” she says to the air. A few seconds tick by. “Yes, I am. Thank you, Doctor. I’m ready for an upload, are you? Good. No, not yet; another Seven will be fine. Ten minutes. Wait, hold on… “

Another runner slews to a stop beside Kami’s idling rig. A lanky fellow, whose uniform displays the same emblem and nomenclature as her own, steps out onto the raw stone floor of the corridor and affects a casual amble in her direction.

“Make it twenty,” she says. A pause to listen produces a laugh. “You’ve got a filthy mind, Doctor. I’ll try that. Get a fresh one out of the vat and I’ll be there by the time you have it warmed up for me.”

     ~   ~

Copyright ©  David R L Erickson   2022
All rights reserved.

The Lens Read More »

Remert’s Perspective

The door to Remert’s private office snaps back into the pocket behind the armoire and the Director’s hurried exit is blocked. The Deputy Director is an unwelcome obstacle to egress.

“I have business elsewhere,” Remert says.

“I’ll bet you do.” H’seven appears unwilling to step back out of the doorway. He speaks an abbreviated command to the media wall and excerpts from the incident at the Sandia Pueblo fill the multiplex projection.

“I do not have time for this now. I am needed…”

“Make time.”

The door has sealed again behind H’seven and he leans against it, pointing at the montage of images. Remert’s sense of urgency stymied, he gives way with a scowl and turns in frustration to see the woman in white disappear with the young police officer.

“You had them bound in chains when I first saw them,” H’seven says. “If she’s able to pull shit like that, why do you suppose she didn’t?”

Remert’s thoughts are distant, attempting to process a rush of discordant, troubling possibilities. The Call, unexpected after all this time, will change everything. Exactly what, how much, and how soon will be known after this inconvenient episode has concluded.

He returns his intention toward the door and his apostate Deputy. “I can extrapolate two plausible reasons.”

“So can I. They were playing you from the jump.”

“Your hindsight is flawless.”

“What the Hell are they?”

“They have the potential to invite a level of trouble the likes of which we have not seen before. I trust you are following these events and individuals with diligence. I will be prepared to entertain your progress report when I return. My business now is urgent.”

“Where ya goin’?”

“My responsibilities here are not yours and I have imperatives that do not require your attention or participation. Let me pass.”

“It pisses me off when you try to lie to me, Stretch.”

H’seven strides forward. Remert takes two steps back and bumps up against the media wall.

H’seven sits in the chair that doesn’t touch the floor and says, “I think you’re developing a dangerously cavalier attitude toward our relationship. Your kind prides itself on its ability to absorb and incorporate the impact of important lessons. Odd that you’ve failed to do so. Maybe this place has rubbed off on you. Still, it has been some time since our little understanding, hasn’t it, D’kin?”

The use of Remert’s honorific sounds disrespectful, striking a defiant, scornful note. H’seven’s stare becomes a perturbation in the aether between them. Remert tries to look away and cannot.

He feels his pulse dancing, skipping, leaping. His heartbeat has doubled, tripled, but it isn’t pounding; it flutters like a bird on the ground, unable to rise. A sensation of lightheadedness is followed by a crushing weight in his chest and a rush of agony. His groan is stifled, reshaped into a few words of a familiar litany by an effort of intention only Mong and this grievous creature will ever witness.

A spear twists in his entrails, wringing a strangled cry. He gulps air like a fish and every muscle in his body tries to contract at once. He pitches to the floor screaming out his last breath with barely a sound.

Eyes wild, unseeing in a mask of terror, Remert experiences the crystalline recognition that all his single-minded purpose and sacrifice have come at once to nothing, his goal beyond his grasp, his commitment unfulfilled.

Writhing. Helpless. Dying.

Like a bubble popping, the pressure in his chest, the auger in his intestines, the bone-shattering contraction in his limbs… gone, nothing more than a phantom of pain and a blistering memory not to be touched again. His heart rate is accelerated, as dying in anguish is likely to do to anyone, but its rhythm is strong and vital. Quaking, drawing convulsive breaths as if he’d just run kilometers, Remert drags himself to a sitting position against the media wall. Stone against his back feels somehow reassuring. The damp squishiness in his trousers, not so much.

H’seven is sprawled in Remert’s chair. His voice and face are cheerful.

“How’s that for perspective, Remmy? Will that do you for a while, or would you like to go again?”

Remert raises a trembling, dissenting hand.

His relief at being alive has overshadowed his studied Methodic aplomb, but the brutal truth is this: his life, his survival, and the furtherance of his efforts to fulfill his mandate to Lord Shiric is bound by a tenuous thread of compliance and faithfulness to this being whose existence may well be beyond the vast comprehension of Mong Himself. If that be heresy, may Mong Himself prove him wrong. And soon.

“All right, then,” H’seven says, claps his hands, and rubs them together. “Let’s get back to business, why don’t we? I was asking you to tell me about these two Blacks with the halfblood. I need to know what they are.”

Remert’s tremors have not subsided. His protruding Adam’s apple works up and down. Twice. His voice quivers. “They are of the Aca’chi Aht-U’chah, known everywhere on Hevn as the Fayneem Bloch—Fayne’s Hammer. The Faceless Ones. A warrior caste nurtured by and unquestionably obedient to The Fayne and no other.”

“What the fuck is a fain?”

“A glorified jailer and a despot. He is far from here, imprisoned by his responsibilities, and no threat to either of us.”

“I’m sorry. Perhaps I stuttered. Give me a straight answer, Remmy, or I swear to—what’s his name? Mung?—I’ll give you some more perspective until you shit yourself hollow.”

Remert swallows his instinctive wave of fear and compresses his fury until it looks and sounds like compliance. “According to excerpts from ‘The Book of Turns’, The Fayne is the emissary of the Tu’chah Aht-T’sungahn, the so-called ‘Lords of Order’. To place it in a Terran framework, he is the marshal in town and the Fayneem Bloch are his sworn deputies.”

“And these two are significant why?”

“They are progeny of Hevn’s Black Lands and exhibit the physical characteristics of their kind. How they came to be in company with the Fayneem Bloch is a puzzle only less confounding than how they have come to be here. Nevertheless, these are The Fayne’s minions. As such, in addition to any individual innate gifts either of them may possess, The Fayne has doubtless granted them augmentation. If allowed to gain proximity, these two could present a formidable imposition to our plans.”

“Two people? Don’t be stupid.”

“They are NOT ‘people’. They are thinking weapons of extraordinary capability.”

H’seven stands, towering over the Director. “I’m not exactly ‘people’ either. Pick your nasty ass up off the floor and get yourself cleaned up. Take care of your ‘imperatives’. I’ll meet you there.”

“What?”

“I think it’s time I introduced myself to him, don’t you?”

“Introduce… “ Remert realizes that somehow his mouth is hanging open again. “To HIM?! No… NO! That is an incredibly dangerous idea.”

“Yeah, I know, that’s why I like it.”

“I forb…!” The Director is astonished to discover he is unable to complete his pronouncement, unable to make a sound. He tries anyway.

The door snaps back into the pocket behind the armoire and the Deputy Director steps aside.

“You get along now. I’ll catch up to you.”

      ~     

Copyright ©  David R L Erickson   2022
All rights reserved.

Remert’s Perspective Read More »

Remert

The private office of the Director of Advanced Concepts Methodic might be likened to a monk’s cell in a mountainside cloister.

It is a compact, windowless space relieved from stone in the fashion of his Society with a ceiling proportional to the Director’s height. What it contains that a monk’s personal space does not is a massive armoire crafted from a single monolith of exotic hardwood native to no place on Earth, and a chair that does not touch the floor. These are the only furnishings.

Between him and a passageway beyond, a heavy door fashioned from the same unfamiliar wood stands at the center of one long wall. Opposite it, a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling collage of images is in constant motion.

Remert’s feet find the floor and his joints grate as he rises. This discomfort is insufficient to alter his bearing, of course, as he straightens to his full height, a decimal over two meters.

The armoire crowds one side of the door. He palms open a panel and removes a tray.

An aide assigned to support the Director’s daily routine, an individual he’s never seen nor heard, left it there for him. Remert nods in approval of that one’s proper execution of fundamental duties.

A handful of gel capsule supplements washes down with a catalyzing liter of liquid nutrient infused with a generous percentage of the good water.

He closes the panel and turns to scrutinize his shifting global mosaic, hands resting on the sharp projections of his hip bones. Hairless, pale skin stretched over a grim, hatchet face, Remert’s wide, lipless mouth is set in a line. Leaden gray eyes sweep the montage, a multiplex viewport of everything from two-dee footage to vee-centric feeds. The whole is continuously culled from domestic and international sources and curated for his consumption by Sonder itself.

Scenes of sporting events are discarded out of hand by Sonder’s presets unless flagged by the Director. Rare instances of pageantry, performance art, episodic or formulaic productions, either dramatic or comedic in nature, and celebrity fluff-pieces that leak through the filters, all receive similar dismissal.

One such is a cursory motion from removal when recognition prompts Remert to bring focus and enhancement to the item instead.

Two women and a man arranged in a casual studio setting present just the sort of tribute to meaningless drivel the Director finds an unacceptable waste of time. One of the women, however, is a respected helioseismologist with a near-unpronounceable Nordic name. Remert’s spider-leg fingers gesture in the air and the program’s volume achieves a satisfactory level.

“… continue to collate data,” the scientist is saying. She is tall and dowdy with shapeless blond hair and penetrating sky-blue eyes. Unpretentious and plain-spoken, her manner marks her as the most intelligent person on the set.

“The upward extent and duration of these perturbations,” she says, “are hypothetical at this juncture. Unguessable. I know that’s not the answer you were seeking, Gretta, but nothing of this magnitude has ever been encountered before. We are learning, quite literally, moment by moment. It requires the concerted efforts of scientific professionals across multiple disciplines to not only decode the information we are receiving, but also to give us guidance on how to prepare for and, Gods willing, weather the potential worst-case scenario.”

The female host, her avatar looking as young and vital as she did a decade ago, nods with a sage expression. “It is a stirring tribute to how far we’ve come as a species, I think, that we are able to acquire this great depth and breadth of useable information, as we have done, to be analyzed by those who will guide us through these difficulties.”

“Shut your mouth, you stupid cow,” Remert says, “and allow the one with a modicum of actual knowledge to speak.” Here is one of the prime reasons he eschews these types of programming beyond the obvious fact of their reliably insipid content: they make him disagreeable. That outburst will cost him penance later.

Gretta Carsten, the grand dame of talking heads, drawing on her years of broadcast and early three-vee experience as a news personality, adopts a look of deep concern—no doubt solicitude for all humankind—and says, “Would you give our audience your impression of what that worst case might look like, Doctor?”

Doctor Astrid Koninklijke appears reluctant. She fidgets, matching her words. “I am uncomfortable adding my own conjecture to the already inflammatory media furor I see taking hold among those more… excitable members of the population. This is not a time for wild presumption and unfocused alarm.”

“I understand your reticence, Doctor, but our viewership is comprised statistically of well-educated and reasonable individuals. Won’t you share with us please, at least an educated guess?”

The scientist sighs reserved acquiescence. “Worst case? If the new planet were to be expelled farther outward from what we believe to be its cradle orbit around the sun, and depending upon a host of variables too random to even consider at this point, given its significant size, orbital shifts of the inner planets is seen as possible outcomes. Such adjustments could alter every facet of the Earth’s already compromised biosphere and revise the conditions that support life as we know it.”

The male host, spray-tanned and moderately handsome, but otherwise an unremarkable generic foil, reveals an impressive battery of perfect white teeth. Ignoring the implications of his guest’s apocalyptic speculation, he grins a question at her any member of his well-educated viewership would have deemed, by now, redundant.

“The name that has achieved acceptance among so many of the scientific community, seems an unusual choice, Doctor. If I am not mistaken, the name “Vulcan” is an homage to an iconic two-dee science fiction entertainment franchise that continues to enjoy a broad cult following even today. Why has the scientific community chosen to adopt such an obvious popular-culture reference?”

“I’m afraid you are mistaken, Matthew,” the scientist says. “In the year eighteen sixty, a French mathematician named Le Verrier advanced the premise of a planet in orbit between Mercury and the Sun. He encouraged a number of astronomers to help him verify the existence of that body he named Vulcan, in accordance with accepted convention of naming astronomical bodies after figures in Roman mythology. Some of those he enlisted reported findings, other did not, and eventually, the search stagnated. The name and concept of Vulcan, however, has remained and is perhaps the foundation of the popular cultural reference you mentioned.”

Matthew’s flustered, “Oh…” is preempted by the scientist.

“While it is generally believed that previous sightings and suppositions were based upon mistaken assumptions and the limitations of the technology of the times, today we know that within the last seven years, a body nearly three times the size of our Earth is being expressed outward from the sun. The actual mechanism of its genesis remains the focus of intense scrutiny, as you might imagine. We are watching it happen; we just don’t know how it’s happening. Or why. But, as we assemble data, we can make some informed assumptions.”

“You know what they say about assumptions.”

“Shut up, Matt,” says Gretta.

Koninklijke continues. “Vulcan is separated from the solar sphere by a mere eight thousand kilometers, and connected to its parent by a plasma stream sufficiently large the Earth would fit inside it.”

Indifferent now, Remert swipes the program into obscurity. A scene of sweeping urban devastation catches his attention, but his focus shifts to another frame. This one presents a scene from within the facility and two particular individuals who rarely interact.

Doctor Ahn Soo Rin, as stiff and intractable an individual as Remert has ever encountered—qualities that have endeared her to him—appears to be having words with the current operational lead of the single most important program in process within the whole of his downward-tall complex.

Doctor Denise McIntosh’s posture and facial expression suggest an abnormal level of emotional investment in the exchange and Remert’s interest in such a conversation is keen.

“… you abandoned the prosthetics we designed for ST-One,” McIntosh is saying with unmistakable heat, “patterned upon our unambiguous specifications, in favor of your own radical redesign at the last minute and have demanded additional modifications far beyond the mandated scope of the project. Your interference has compromised our timetable and jeopardized the ultimate viability of ST-One himself. I will not allow any further hindrance. If you have…”

“Doctor,” says Ahn in a voice as flat and hard as her face, “you enjoy the freedom to pursue your work in this facility, quite outside the restrictions of the conventional moratorium against such activity. You do so only insofar as it pleases us, I might add. ST-One is not YOUR project, Doctor. You and your staff are the tools we have selected to implement the ST project objective.”

“Without me and my staff, there would be no ST-One and you know it. I’ve cleared each phase through Ten Eyck and…”

Ahn waves a dismissive hand. “I’ve heard from Doctor Ten Eyck about your very creative contributions to ST-One’s self-image. Try to understand this. ST-One is also a tool, nothing more. The shape of its delicate self-image is meaningless. Do not make the dangerous, unprofessional mistake of attempting to attribute to it a soul.”

“Or to you, apparently. ST-One is a person, as intelligent, intuitive, and as human as you and… well as human as I am, anyway.”

“ST-One is a product. Because of your misguided attempt to imbue it with some imprudent belief that it is human—which it is not—I believe it to be too expensive and mentally fragile to be of great utility in the end. I hold you responsible for the project’s degradation and imminent failure.”        

“It’s fortunate for us all, then, that yours is not the last word.”

“You are wrong, Doctor. I have been given administrative responsibility for the continuance and success of this project. You have a new timetable and additional objectives to meet within that framework. You will report to me daily until I am satisfied the ST program is back on track.”      

“I don’t believe this! Even with all the resources the foundation has at its disposal, no one else could have brought this project halfway to where it is today. Despite your continued attempts to retard the program and your relentless obstruction, ST-One is on schedule and performing to the specifications set by the Director himself. If you want to keep it that way, conduct your administrative tasks away from my facilities, my staff, and ST-One in particular. Do you understand? If you impede this project further, I will take this to the Director and we’ll see how he feels about your deliberate efforts to sabotage my work on the one program that we both know has his singular attention.”

Doctor Ahn is without emotion. “As I have mentioned and will not do so again, you have new specifications. ST-One is only one of several options being explored to meet our needs. If another project bears fruit before yours, I will be delighted to dismiss you, your staff, and your anatomically correct, but useless tool. Try to find another facility in the world where you can work and create with such toys as these, Doctor. Either way ST-One’s life, such as it is, will be mine to direct.”

Remert observes McIntosh with a sour expression. It fails to convey his curiosity and mild amusement at her fierce, most un-Methodic attachment to the project and her defiance in the face of Doctor Ahn’s uncompromising rigidity.

McIntosh remains motionless in the corridor and appears to be projecting a volatile current of molten hatred at the retreating backside of the thick Korean woman. He hears her say something about a “sanctimonious rice-faced bastard-flavored sack of assholes” before discarding the tile.

Fresh images of destruction receive prominence. Splayed fingers of both hands gesture and a matrix of still and moving images fans out in front of him. Central to them is an orbital view of the northern tip of South America and Remert uses it to zoom in.

The aspect shifts to the bottleneck linking Lago de Maracaibo to the Gulf of Venezuela. A meteorite crater half a kilometer across has obliterated an area of the upper left quadrant of the scene and carnage radiates outward from it in concentric waves.

One of the views holding Remert’s interest presents scant imaging, but a wealth of plots and projections of the meteor’s path, from the point of its discovery to its starting point, accompanied by a progression of scientific notation. Remert follows this cascade of data until a specious assumption makes the results moot and his attention shifts to another vee-cast he was tracking in his peripheral vision.

An artful holographic banner splashes behind the avatar of the most ubiquitous and prolific field reporter in the virtual continuum. He is just taking his mark as his veedio team pans in from the devastation all around him.

“Hello, everyone. This is Stanford Seib reporting from Maracaibo, Venezuela. I am standing at ground zero where a rogue meteorite believed to be another resultant of the astronomical phenomenon dubbed, ‘The Stir’, has struck northwest of this vibrant, thriving city.”

Seib’s tari appears to be standing, without the benefit of protective garb, at the blasted rim of the crater. His aerial cam sweeps across the city beyond.

“Where wide, tree-lined boulevards had once woven through plazas and modern high-rise intermingled with colorful traditional architecture, a bludgeoning shockwave of force and heat has leveled everything within a two-kilometer radius of the impact site and rained destruction for several kilometers beyond. Emergency services are only now able to move into the outlying areas.”

Four-vee imaging arrays digitize and parse the devastation for those gathering to gawk at it in the virtual realm and Seib provides narration. As he speaks, two enormous aircraft are on approach from the north and Remert’s eyes betray an unguarded emotion.

They appear identical, these massive ships gliding in tandem, silent. Although each sports paired, swept-back, flying wing configurations, neither looks remotely aerodynamic. They slow to a halt and hang motionless, one over the city, the other on station above the crater.

Seib’s tari looks into his second mark and says, “Presidente Medina has accepted an offer of humanitarian aid from Eric Gerzier and his CleanSweep® teams to assist with rescue, rubble removal, and recovery of the space rock itself. We have just witnessed two of Gerzier’s physics-defying motherships taking position as we speak.”

The floating behemoth over Seib’s head appears to be perhaps two hundred and fifty meters from one conjoined set of wingtips to the other with a deep-bellied fuselage slung between them. Even so, it seems to hover motionless, as if lighter than air. There is no characteristic hazy blue distortion beneath it from pressors. No turbulence buffets the reporter. His avatar is excluded from the physics of the environment, but his surroundings are not.

Remert’s scowl of vexation at the power maintaining these gargantua aloft is a bitter one, guaranteed to reoccur every time one of these craft makes an appearance.

A cascade of smaller craft spill from the aft bays of the suspended platforms like hornets chivied from their nest. Some are tiny, darting vehicles, others are small only in relation to the gigantic shapes from which they have emerged. A few of these pause among the devastation to release squads of technicians onto the rubble, then rise to hover over the operations. Others settle into the debris and begin dislodging the bones of collapsed structures with an eerie combination of care and efficacy.

Remert is about to move on from this distant calamity, the plight of yet another huddled mass of these insufferable round-worlders with their fragmented belief systems and disjointed thinking, too aggressive and habitually confused to ever be converted without overwhelming direct motivation.

A comment from the correspondent, Seib, gives Remert pause.

“… before we speak with Presidente Medina,” he says. “My producer tells me Eric Gerzier is on-site with his team and has consented to a brief interview.”

“Sonder!” Remert refrains from shouting. “Eric Gerzier has just manifested in a Community network node. Source him now.”

“Eric Gerzier is not present in the LocUS register.”

Gerzier’s tari steps into frame with Seib and they exchange a backhand bump.

“Eric,” Seib says, “previous efforts to utilize your craft for rescue purposes have left civilian emergency operations unable to function and, obviously, given the circumstances, those services are right now critical to those who may be still alive and require life-saving measures to survive.”

“Unacceptable!” Remert says. He stabs a spear-like index finger. “I am looking at his avatar! The timestamp is this Gog-damned second. Run self and system diagnostics against this inconsistency.”

“Thank you for leading with that, Stanford,” Eric says. “I’ve been able to suppress the energy damping field that’s caused such inconvenience in the past. Local emergency services are fully operational alongside my workers and their vehicles.”

Sonder’s response is without emotion. “All processes and routines relevant to the administration of Community’s access, use, and client management are operating at design parameters. There is no indication of compromise at any security level. Eric Gerzier’s ident and validation subset is both verified and unverified at the Maracaibo location.”

“… will strive to save every life possible,” Eric says. “My people are already arranging to resupply power to the city and outlying affected areas, restoring essential services. I have two teams from each of the platforms on-task providing shelter, food, and immediate critical care sites at the periphery of the current no-man’s-land.”

“What does that mean?” Remert’s pique has gained a Methodic edge. “You reported a moment ago his ident did not appear in the register.”

“It did not, D’kin. It did validate at the node, however, and, at the timestamp that validation was made, the register recorded the same.”

“How do you explain this discrepancy?”

“I cannot without more information, D’kin.”

Seib’s tari has a let’s-get-down-to-business expression on his face and Gerzier is saying something about a tour of one of his motherships and Remert resists an impulse to whisk the frame from the virtual tableau and crumple it, if only subjectively, in a bony fist. A gesture stores the vignette for later review instead.

“I will disassemble your core with my own hands if you do not provide me with a satisfactory interpretation of this aberration and a workable solution to this annoying individual’s ability to use our proprietary version of subjective reality as if it was his private playground.”

Two unanticipated things occur so closely together they seem to be part of a singular event and Sonder’s reply is lost in their passage.

A physical wave, paralytic, but painless, flows from Remert’s feet to the top of his head. It lasts but an instant, leaving him light-headed, ears ringing, his next breath a luxury.

H’seven’s face appears full screen on the world-wall, eclipsing the entire viewport, and somehow Remert has lost his balance. He recovers with a graceless two-step, hop, and shuffle.

“What the hell are you doing? Dancing?” The Deputy Director seems to be laughing. Laughing at him.

The lens has called him. There is no mistake. Its nature and urgency are unambiguous.

So many years have passed, as these chaotic Grays record time here, since the last Call. So many changes have taken place, he did not think to anticipate another Call. Ever.

Improbable as it seemed moments ago, everything has changed and he must answer. With haste. His uncontrollable second, however, is an unwelcome interruption at this moment.

Remert’s face communicates nothing. It is the expression all learn in early Methodic teaching, a tight-lipped, emotionless detachment and penetrating eye contact. H’seven returns the stare with a scornful twist of the lips and spreads his hands, revealing a captured vorp. In it, a mismatched trio of figures assumes sharp focus.

Remert’s life of rigid self-discipline meets open-mouthed, pop-eyed astonishment in a collision that rattles his cadaverous frame. He reaches a tentative hand to manipulate each of the images in turn.

The face of the White warrior, clad in an incongruous, indigenous culture vestment, is obscured by his mask, but the woman’s features are not. Even after all this time, her features are unmistakable. Both of them wear the trappings of the hated Fayneem Bloch.

The half-blood drifter, too, is recognizable. They had traded words face to face, and that one’s lack of proper deference is memorable.

He appears exactly as Remert remembers him. Beyond all expectation, he seems to have aged not at all after nearly a yonn. How that might be possible for a t’sunguc of this world, challenges Remert’s curiosity. It will be an intriguing line of inquiry when the hybrid is finally pinned down and unable to wriggle free.

“Where are they?”

“Close enough.”

“I want them here.”

“As do I. But what I don’t want is further involvement by Homeland Security.”

“I concur. I believe you have all the resources you need.”

“I’ll make do.”

H’seven’s face dissolves into the multiplex window on the world. Remert’s immediate preparation for his audience represents a level of exigency to which he has become unaccustomed.

Of all the revelations received this day, not the least is the realization that he can feel fear again.

~   ~    

Copyright ©  David R L Erickson   2022
All rights reserved.

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