Remert

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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