Setting

The year is 327 AEW (After the End of the World). The place is Terra One, a world ship located at the Earth-Sun L4 Lagrangian point, 145 million kilometers from an Earth no longer inhabitable by humans.

Hiatus

I have been AWOL on this blog for a while now. My attention has been focused on a novel. Having said that, I am going to end the story of Terra One and start an entirely different story based in the same universe but elsewhere in the solar system. I will post here when I have it ready to go.

Episode 49

In which Oz discovers he has lost his memory.

Oz woke up in a bed. A man and a woman stood on either side of him. The room had the sterile look of a hospital room.

“Mr. Wilde,” the man said. “I’m Dr. James. I am a neuropsychologist. I would like to ask you a few questions if I may.”

Oz shrugged. The man looked too young to be a doctor, but at Oz’s age pretty much everyone looked too young to be anything other than too young. How old was he? He wasn’t sure, but the doctor interrupted him before he could work it out.

“I’m going to give you three numbers to remember. A little later I will ask you to repeat them back for me. Okay?”

Oz nodded, puzzled.

“The numbers are thirty-seven, twelve, and sixty-two. Can you repeat them for me?”

Oz repeated them.

“Good. Now, what is the last thing you remember before waking up a few moments ago?”

Oz thought back, and was surprised to find … nothing. Just glimpses of people and places that seemed familiar but weren’t, flashes of sounds and smells; elusive fragments skittering away when he tried to focus on them, as if he had reached out for something, only to have it fade away as he grasped hold of it. He was becoming alarmed. Something was very much amiss.

“Mr. Wilde?”

He stared at the young man who claimed to be a doctor, but he didn’t know what to say.

“Dad?” The woman looked concerned, almost frightened.

“I can’t remember,” he said.

The doctor nodded. “What’s the last thing you do remember?”

A panicky feeling began to assert itself. Something was terribly wrong. He needed to get away from here, to get someplace familiar, someplace safe.

“I have to go,” he said. He tried to push the covers off, but the doctor put a firm hand on his arm.

“Where do you need to go? Perhaps we can take you there.”

“I don’t know. I just have to go — “ He was sure he had someplace definite in mind, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

The doctor said, “Do you remember the three numbers I gave you?”

Oz stared at him. “What numbers?”

 

Episode 48

In which Oz tries to escape from the hospital.

Oz waited for the woman to answer. She stared at him with a blank expression. Then her eyes widened and her mouth popped open. When she finally said something, it came out in a strangled whisper.

“I’m Wileyanie, dad.” She blinked furiously at him. “Your daughter?”

Oz was good with faces, and he was pretty sure this was a face he had never seen before. He was alarmed that he had no recollection of how he got here, and the story about being poisoned and then rescued by a monk and a cat — well, that was too weird for words. The woman reached for the call button, but he grabbed her wrist.

“Don’t.” he said.

“I should let the nurse know you’re awake.”

“Where are my clothes?”

“They want to keep you here for a few days for observation dad.”

He was in a hospital room. Or at least that was where someone wanted him to think he was. There was obviously a lot more to this than met the eye. He needed to get away from here.

His clothes were probably in the tall closet across from the foot of the bed. He threw the covers off, swung his legs out of the bed and sat up, forcing the woman to push her chair back to get out of his way. A sharp pinch made him aware of the IV, which he grabbed and ripped out of his arm. He was surprised how much it hurt. He stood up, lost his balance, and fell into the woman’s lap, eliciting a shriek.

“Sorry,” he said automatically.

He got back on his feet and staggered over to the closet. Sure enough, his clothes were there. He didn’t bother putting them on. He just gathered them up and ran out the door into a large open area with a nurses station in the middle and rooms all around. A man in white saw him and began moving toward him. Two women dressed like nurses moved the other way to surround him.

He ran, gown flapping, toward what he took to be an exit.

“Dad. Wait.” The woman calling herself Wileyanie had followed him out of his room. The look on her face was a combination of frustration and anger. Obviously he had upset her plans by escaping.

He yanked the door open and charged into what turned out to be a stairwell. He tried to stop his forward motion, but it was too late. Tripping over his feet, he tumbled face first down a flight of stairs, clothes flying every which way, and collided head-on with a wall on the landing below.

A woman’s voice echoed in the stairwell. “Dad,” and faded into the distance.

Episode 47

In which Wileyanie and Oz have a strange conversation (1 min 9 sec)

Wileyanie woke with a start. The steady beep-beep-beep of a heart monitor reminded her where she was, and brought with it a tumble of memories: the call from dad’s office, the flurry of activity to get someone to cover for her, the rush to the hospital, the helpless waiting and unhelpful reassurance that “we’re doing everything we can.” Finally a doctor who looked too young to be a doctor had found her in the waiting room.

“We think we got it out of his system soon enough to counteract the worst effects,” he said. “But Sapphire’s Bloom is tricky stuff. We’ll keep him here for a couple days just to be sure.”

They moved him to a private room, where she spent the night beside his bed in a truly uncomfortable chair.

“Where the hell am I?” He said.

Wileyanie’s breath caught in her throat. “You’re awake.”

“Of course I’m awake. I wouldn’t be talkin’ if I wasn’t.” He ripped the oxygen loop off his face. “Now somebody tell me what the hell’s going on.”

He was getting himself worked up, and that didn’t seem like a good idea. She pulled her chair closer to his bed and took his hand in hers. He jerked it away.

“Don’t go fawnin’ on me woman.”

“You were poisoned.”

“Poisoned! How?”

“Sapphire Bloom in your coffee.”

That brought him up short. He thought about it for a few moments. “That’s not the sort of thing that happens by accident,” he said.

“No, it’s not. Someone tried to kill you.”

He just stared at her, apparently in disbelief.

“The only thing that saved you was Frankenstein and the monk.”

“Who?”

“Frankenstein and that strange monk fellow.”

“What the hell are you talking about, woman?”

“Your cat and – “

“Say, you’re not a nurse are you?”

Now it was Wileyanie’s turn to stare. “Uh, no.”

“Then who are you?”

Episode 46

In which Trinity learns there is more to her sister’s death than meets the eye (1 min 30 sec)

Trinity found Dresden Fontana in a small bunker-like office two levels beneath the surface. He was the only person there, and given the size of the office, it was possible that he constituted the entire security presence in Lightbringer Village. A wall monitor cycled through various security camera views of the village, both above ground and below. Coverage was sparse compared to The City.

“Officer Fontana?” she asked, extending her hand.

He didn’t offer to shake her hand, so she let it drop to her side. His standard issue uniform hadn’t been pressed anytime in the recent past. Nor had he shaved yet today. In fact, he looked like he hadn’t shaved in several days. He stared at her for several long seconds, as though trying to place her.

“You’re not from the village,” he said. “I know every face in the village.” His fingers drummed on the desk. “But I know you from somewhere.”

He didn’t say he knew everyone in the village, only that he knew every face. An unmade bed was visible through an open door behind him. She glanced at the monitor, and wondered how often he left the bunker.

She said, “You were the officer on duty when a transport brought the body of Serenity Byzantium to Terra One. She was my sister.”

He nodded slowly. “I remember now. You look a lot like her.”

“Identical twins.”

His eyes narrowed. “What do you want?”

“I have a few questions about her death. I’m hoping you can help me.”

“I can’t tell you anything,” he said. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask.”

“Doesn’t matter. I can’t tell you anything.”

“Can’t? Or won’t?”

He said nothing.

“I read your report. It was sketchy and incomplete, and wasn’t signed. Can you explain that?”

When he did not reply, she continued. “I also looked for the autopsy report, but couldn’t find one. Do you know why that is?”

He maintained a stoney silence.

“You were transferred to Lightbringer Village about that time. Any connection?”

He sat up in his chair. “I think you have learned as much as you are going to learn here. You should leave now.”

Another person might have concluded that the visit to Lightbringer Village had been a waste of time. But Trinity wasn’t another person. As the tram sped back toward The City, she reflected on something Flynn had once said: “You can learn as much from what is unsaid as from what is said.” Dresden Fontana had left a lot unsaid.

Episode 45

In which Anselm meets Danielle Pergola and Frankie behaves badly.

The old man pushed the gray hood back, revealing a head entirely bald except for a fringe of gray hair that completed a tonsure formed by nature and age alone. He peered out from under unruly eye brows, and fingered the end of his long beard, more white than gray. The young man whose fortune he had told the previous day walked toward him. Same black beret, same silver-handled walking stick, same confident gait as though he expected the masses to scatter before him. The Cambodian District market was indeed crowded, but the sea of humanity did not part for him, or even moved aside. It wasn’t that kind of district.

Accompanying him was a young lady; perhaps twenty years of age, tall and thin, head held high, red hair flowing wisp-like to her waist, where a dark blue skirt continued down to booted ankles. He recognized her: Danielle Pergola, scion of Jedediah Pergola, whose family had made a fortune in the early days of the rush to establish mining operations in the Belt.

He leaned down and whispered into the ear of the one-eyed cat lying on a cushioned chair beside him. “Do you see, Master Frankenstein? The boy returns, bringing with him his fiancee.”

Frankie extended a paw and batted at the strings of hair dangling from the end of Anselm’s chin. When Inspector Wilde had been taken to the hospital, Anselm didn’t know what else to do with the cat except hold on to him until his owner recovered from the assassination attempt. Assuming he did in fact recover.

The young couple stopped in front of his stand. “Master Anselm,” the man said. “May I present my fiancee, Danielle Pergola. And since I did not introduce myself properly yesterday, I am Marco Magellan.” This also was a family name that Anselm recognized. Theirs was a marriage that would unite two of the most powerful families on Terra One.

The woman hesitated when Marco sat in one of the chairs across the table from Anselm, and then seated herself beside him. Her pinched expression told him that she was not pleased to meet him. It was also clear from her body language that the young love one might expect to find in such a couple was entirely absent.

She met the old man’s gaze with her own unyielding stare. “I take it,” he said, “that this is to be a marriage of convenience, not of love.”

Marco opened his mouth, but Danielle cut him off with an icy, “It is.” Marco’s face fell.

Frankie’s head popped up at the sound of the woman’s voice, and he glared across the table at her. He stood on his chair and emitted a low growl, which climbed in volume and pitch until it reached a screeching crescendo that ended abruptly in a hiss.

Anselm was taken aback by this overt display of hostility. But before he could chide the cat, the communicator in Danielle’s ear lit up. She tapped on it. “Yes?” She listened for several seconds and then said, “Calm down. Where are you?” She listened again. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

She broke the connection. “I apologize, but I have an urgent business matter that requires my immediate attention.”

She was already on her feet, but before she could get away, Anselm took her hand in his, bowed his head, and said, “It has been my pleasure, Miss Pergola. I hope we can continue our conversation at a more convenient time.”

“Most unlikely,” she said, and withdrew her hand from his.

Anselm watched her walk away, Marco hurrying to keep up with her. He sighed and said to Frankie, “Nothing is ever as it seems, is it my friend?”

Episode 44

In which Flynn and Cinnamon track Lilith’s kidnappers to the warehouse district.

It was slow, painstaking work. Flynn would bring up a video feed, skip to the approximate time span they were interested in, and scan forward until he found the tell-tale snow. When he found it, Cin would mark it on a map of that section of the world ship, extrapolate where they most likely went from there, and give him the ID of the next camera they would pass by. Sometimes they would have to try several before they found the right one. Flynn didn’t like how long it was taking.

“Eventually someone’s going to notice us poking around in the system,” he said.

“That’s all right. They’ll track it back to a kiosk in The Rathole.”

He stared at her. “Girl, I’m sure glad you’re on my side.”

She grinned, her face taking on a slight pink tone. Apparently the compliment embarrassed the nine-year-old, but she was obviously pleased.

It was the better part of an hour before they lost their prey in the warehouse district, a labyrinth of tall buildings separated by narrow alleyways.

“They must have gone into a building,” he said. “Let’s try some cameras further away from the last jammed one.”

The first three got them nothing, but the fourth showed the cart turning down an alleyway. As it did, the top of the crate burst open, leaving an angry looking Lilith standing in the now topless crate.

The two seconds it took her captors to react was all she needed. She exploded — the best word Flynn could think of to describe it — out of the crate and landed between two of them. She crouched low and executed a snap kick to the knee of one of the men. His first reaction was an expression of utter surprise. Then he went down with a howl. At least, Flynn assumed he was howling. The camera wasn’t close enough to pick up sounds, but that kick had been fast and strong, and had likely shattered the kneecap.

Lilith put a fist into the second man’s crotch, which he responded to predictably enough by doubling over, covering his personals with both hands, and then falling on to his butt. She turned to face the third man, who was driving the cart. He pointed a hand gun at her and pulled the trigger. It was a projectile weapon — illegal on Terra One. The bullet expanded into a net that wrapped itself around her.

She toppled over, and the man replaced the weapon with a stunner. He calmly walked over to the thrashing woman and touched her shoulder with it. Her body convulsed for a few seconds and then she was still.

They got her body back in the crate, and drove the cart into the alley and out of view of any cameras Flynn could find. They had lost the trail.

Cin asked, “What now?”

Flynn was wondering the same thing.

Episode 43

In which Flynn and Cinnamon discuss Killer morality.

Flynn found the security feed for the pedestrian ring outside the docking bay where he and Lilith were attacked. When they came to the time frame they were interested in, the image was a whiteout, just as it was for the feed inside the bay.

Flynn looked at Cin. “They left their jamming device on to interfere with any security feeds they happened to pass by. I thought we’d have to study each feed to find the ones that captured them. But now all we have to do is look for places where the feed was jammed.”

She grinned. “Not very smart, are they?”

“Thugs rarely are.”

“Dylan is smart,” she said.

“You know Dylan?”

“Ever play 3-D zeegee hide-and-seek?”

“Uh, no.”

“He’s really good at it.”

Flynn’s brain turned inside out trying to wrap itself around the image of Dylan playing hide-and-seek with Cinnamon. The man was big and mean and angry, and Flynn knew very few people as cold-blooded. Apparently there was another side to the man.

“Okay,” he said. “You got me on Dylan. He’s one smart cookie. And apparently has a soft spot for children.”

“Don’t tell him that,” she said solemnly. “He’ll rip your head off and toss it out an airlock.”

That brought Flynn up short. In a few short sentences she had called out two very different sides of Matthew Dylan, one light and the other dark, and seemed equally comfortable with both.

“Cin, doesn’t it bother you that Dylan runs an illegal enterprise and kills people?”

She tilted her head — so reminiscent of Trinity that it was eerie — and gave him a puzzled look. “Have you ever killed anyone?”

“Only when it was necessary.”

“I see,” she said. “What if some very bad people come to take me way? Will you risk your life to protect me from them?”

The conversation was starting to feel like conversations he sometimes had with Trinity, and it was making him just as uncomfortable.

“Yes,” he said.  “I would. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“They will, you know.” She twirled her hair with her finger. “Would you kill someone to protect me?”

The conversation had gone completely off the rails. “Yes, I suppose I would.”

“So would Dylan,” she said.

The way she said it left him with the feeling that she was not speaking hypothetically. It was clear that she and Dylan — a dangerous man by any measure — had a history together. And it was clear that she was used to danger. What kind of childhood had she had? In some ways she was still a little girl, but in other ways she was old beyond her years.

“Let’s get back to finding Lilith,” he said.

She nodded. He wasn’t sure, but he thought she suppressed a satisfied smile. Or maybe it was his imagination. The effect was the same either way. He had been schooled by a nine year old girl.

Episode 42

In which Trinity meets Filliander, the village Greeter.

The man scanned Trinity’s wrist, and studied the scanner. “Trinity Byzantium. Pilot. Citizen of Terra One.” He looked at her again, studying her face, presumably comparing it with the image on the scanner. “State the purpose of your visit.”

“I’m looking for Dresden Fontana, Terra One Security.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

The question caught her off guard, and for a moment she felt like she had done something wrong. Then indignation took over. Why did he care? And what business was it of his anyway? A bird’s trill broke the silence of the forest, high at first, then sinking quickly at least two octaves. The sound of children laughing found its way to her ears. A door slammed shut somewhere. She reigned in her indignation, and chose a different approach.

She made a show of looked around. “You have a small community here.”

“It is large enough for our purposes,” he said. When she continued looking at him without saying anything, he continued. “We number one hundred twenty-six souls.”

“You’re an offshoot of Buddhism?”

A spark of interest showed in his eyes. “We are Taoists.” He hesitated, and then held out his hand. “I am Filliander. I am the village Greeter.”

She took his hand. It was a rough hand, a hand used to manual labor. She met his eyes and smiled, still holding his hand. He smiled back.

“Well, Filliander,” she said. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

He stood there, his hand in hers, looking uncomfortable. Finally he pulled his hand away from hers.

She asked, “Are you allowed to show me around?”

The village turned out to be more extensive than it had at first appeared, extending into the forest in two directions, with a sizable garden area in which about a dozen men, women and children labored, a carpentry shop, and a blacksmith shop.

“My God,” she said. “Why do you have a blacksmith shop?” Virtually anything could be manufactured easily by computer-controlled machinery. Yet here was an old-fashioned blacksmith shop, complete with a forge.

He turned to her. “We believe there is something deeply human about working with one’s own hands, creating with one’s heart and head, instilling into the works of your hands a little bit of yourself. Most of our materials come from The City. But we leave a little room for things hand made.”

He pointed back toward the garden. “We have a hydroponics garden beneath the surface, but we allow ourselves this piece of land to produce the fruits of our own labors. In this and in many other ways, we try to retain our connection with Old Earth.”

Trinity didn’t know what to say. In any other setting, she would have burst out laughing. But Filliander was so sincere, so authentic, so real that she felt empty, unreal, two-dimensional by comparison. It made her uncomfortable, so she changed tack.

“Where would I find Officer Fontana?”

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 41

In which Trinity travels from The City to Lightbringer Village.

Terra One’s twelve kilometer length was divided into three sections. At one end were the docking bays, industries, businesses and houses where most T-Ones lived and worked. It formed a three kilometer wide band running around the inner circumference of the O’Neil Cylinder, provided forty-seven square kilometers of space for what was affectionately called The City. Part of it was above ground, the rest below ground.

The second section of Terra One was another three kilometer wide band dedicated to farming. Advances in crop management and animal husbandry ensured that The Farms produced more food than Terra One’s inhabitants needed, allowing the colony to be a net exporter of food to the other colonies. A narrow band of water called The River separated The Farms from The City.

The third section, occupying half of the total available land on Terra One, was intentionally undeveloped. The Wilds attempted to emulated a BEW Boreal forest, providing a home for a variety of trees, plants and animals that had once thrived on Old Earth before the End of the World. It was separated from The Farms by a one kilometer wide lake, called simply The Lake.

It was beneath the surface of this lake that Trinity now sped through a tram tube, watching fish-rich gray water flash by. Abruptly the dim underwater view gave way to darkness as the tube traded water for the earth beneath the The Wilds. The tram slowed to a halt at a single-platform underground station. Trinity was the only passenger to disembark, which wasn’t surprising since she was the only passenger. She took the elevator to the surface and stepped out into a cool morning mist that the sun tube hadn’t burnt off yet.

Terra One didn’t have a sun, of course. It had a sun tube. Sunlight was captured by giant mirrors and directed into one end of the tube, which ran down the middle of the O’Neil Cylinder. By managing how much light was allowed into the sun tube, a twenty-four hour cycle of day and night could be maintained. In the colony’s early days, the engineers had experimented with different day-night cycles, but eventually concluded that the twenty-four hour cycle was too deeply ingrained in the human species’ DNA to be easily changed. The result was a twenty-four hour day complete with dawn and dusk, but without sunrise and sunset. It must have been strange for the first generation. Nobody thought much about it anymore.

An army of giant conifers surrounded the village, towering over a handful of wooden structures as though standing guard; it was a small village.

“I require to scan your ID chip.”

The voice startled her, and she turned to see a man wearing stained coveralls standing nearby, obviously expecting her. His voice was flat, devoid of emotion, neither welcoming nor hostile. He held a scanner.

“And to know the reason you have come,” he finished.

Well, she thought, welcome to Lightbringer Village.

 

 

Episode 40

In which Trinity investigates her sister’s death.

Everything on Terra One was within walking distance of a tram station, and the trams could get you anywhere in the World Ship that mattered in a matter of minutes. But the Belgian District, which housed most of Terra One’s government offices, was adjacent to the docks, so Trinity didn’t bother with the tram. She soon found herself in the office of Cinnamon’s case worker.

“How is she adjusting?” the woman asked.

“Well enough, I think. Better than our first meeting would suggest. Spends a lot of time in the hydroponics garden.”

“You moved her on to a spaceship?” She looked alarmed.

“It was the easiest way to provide a zeegee environment for her. All we had to do was move it to a zeegee dock.” Trinity was a little irked that the case worker was second guessing her decision. “Cin spent most of her life on spaceships.”

“Cin? Why do you call her that?”

Trinity sighed. “Because that’s what she prefers to be called.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that.”

There was a lot Cin’s case worker didn’t know about Cin, but Trinity could think of no good reason to enlighten her. She didn’t much care for bureaucrats. They represented authority, and Trinity wasn’t very good with authority. Trinity decided to come to the point. “I’d like to talk with the officer who first took custody of her when she was brought aboard.”

The woman frowned. “Why?”

“That would be my business.”

“It is an unusual request.”

Trinity said nothing while she did a slow count to five. Then she stood, placed both hands on the desk, leaned toward the woman and said in a voice both level and cold, “I have asked for information concerning the welfare of my niece, who is my legal ward. Are you going to give me the information I have asked for? Or do I have to stop being nice?”

The woman sighed and did a lookup on her smart pad. “Dresden Fontana.” She read some more, and her face brightened. “It appears he is currently assigned to Lightbringer Village.”

Oh Great. Lightbringer Village. Wasn’t that just peachy.

“What did Fontana do to piss someone off?”

The woman smiled. “That would not be your business.”

Trinity resisted the urge to punch the woman in the face, and instead walked away.

 

Episode 39

In which Bront reveals his plans for Terra One.

Bront never tired of watching the rings of Saturn. Great bands of dust and ice and rock in concentric circles around the gas giant, guided and shaped and managed by shepherd moons and by the gravitational interplay of the planet’s many other moons. To most people, especially those who grew up in the Saturnine system, the rings were just visual background noise — uninteresting, mundane. To Bront they spoke of balance, of immeasurable forces in opposition arriving at a temporary equilibrium. But only temporary. Over time, the rings changed. In time they would vanish  completely. For nothing remained in equilibrium for long. Nothing remained the same.

The scent of lavender found its way into his consciousness.

“Elena,” he said, not turning away from the vast mural before him.

“Things are not as you wish them to be on Terra One,” she said. Her voice was low and throaty.

“Sharp talks too much.”

He felt her draw near and then she was beside him with her hand resting almost imperceptibly on his arm. It was, as always, an electric touch, a seductive touch, a dangerous touch because it seemed to drawn him into her, as though he were falling into a great void. He no longer even tried to resist her power over him.

She said, “Trinity Byzantium is not to be underestimated. She will seek knowledge about her sister’s death.”

“I am dealing with it.”

His eyes met hers, ice blue set against a delicate face of ivory framed by long, flowing black hair. Full red lips formed a hint of a smile, a promise of more.

“Dylan is also one I do not trust,” she said.

“Dylan will do what he’s told.”

“Until he comes to know that you would destroy Terra One. Then — ” She shrugged.

He felt a twinge of anger. “In a few days, Terra One’s fate will be sealed, and it will be too late for for Matthew Dylan to do anything. Or for anyone else to do anything. Even the Emissary.”

“Ah,” she said. “The Emissary. Always it comes back to the Emissary.”

He returned his gaze to the banded gas giant with its signature rings. “Three hundred years ago she re-constructed human society into a static system of interlocking social and political forces, each set in opposition to the others, in perfect balance, in equilibrium.”

Elena spoke softly. “Perhaps that was what was needed at the time to preserve the human race.”

“Perhaps,” he said. “But the cost has been our own evolution, our own advancement as a species.”

“And you,” she said, “intend to disrupt the balance, and set us free from the tyranny of stability.”

“That’s exactly what I intend to do. And it will start on Terra One.”

She tilted her head to one side. “With the girl.”

“With the girl.”

Episode 38

In which Bront Leyton receives some bad news.

Bront floated at ease in front of the wall-sized viewer, one hand resting lightly on a floor-to-ceiling pole. The rings of Saturn spread out below him, like a gray scale rainbow, racing in a great arc into the shadow cast by the gas giant. The shepherd moon Daphne was visible near the sharp line separating light from dark, quietly going about its of job of keeping the Keeler gap clear of errant dust and rocks, as it had done for uncounted millennia. A reminder that the race of man had appeared only an instant ago from the solar system’s point of view, and that this gas giant had gotten along just fine without him for five billion years and would get along just fine for another five billion years after he was gone. A moment, a blink of time, that was humanity’s history and, most likely, its future. Bront thought a lot about the future of the human race.

A tiny disturbance in the air informed him that Sharp had float into the observation room. He didn’t turn to look.

“A report from Terra One,” Sharp said. “The girl has been given into the custody of her aunt, and is now on board the Therion.”

Bront let a flash of anger flare up for a moment, and then pushed it aside. There was steel in his voice when he spoke.

“I thought I was clear. Trinity Byzantium was to be eliminated before she got to Terra One.”

“Your orders were understood.” There was fear in Sharp’s voice. Bront rewarded loyalty and success. He had no tolerance for failure.

Bront pulled himself around the pole so that he was facing Sharp. “Then why is the Therion now docked at Terra One? Why is the girl now in the hands of Trinity Byzantium and that damnable Flynn Archimedes?”

“The Crow matched their trajectory as they left Luna One and came up behind her, but she managed to outmaneuver them, and they couldn’t get a grapple on –“

“It’s a goddamn freighter,” Bront said. “It couldn’t outmaneuver a stationary asteroid.”

Sharp visibly shrunk back. “This is Trinity Byzantium we’re talking about.” He swallowed. “And they had a cannon.”

“A cannon?“

“Well, some kind of projectile device. It took out the Crow’s targeting array and pushed both ships on divergent trajectories. By the time the Crow got back on course, they were accelerating away at a higher acceleration rate than a Wanderer class freighter should have been able to manage. The Crow eventually had to abandon pursuit.”

Bront scratched his chin while he thought. “Who’s second in command?”

“Pierce.”

“Contact him and tell him to take command of the Crow.”

“What about Randall?”

“His services are no longer required.” He thought some more. “And set up a call with Dylan on Terra One.”

Bront continued looking at Sharp until the man turned and propelled himself out of the room. Then he turned back to the viewer and the rings of Saturn.

 

Missing In Action

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the abrupt absence of episodes. Circumstances at work and at home have conspired to occupy all available time and energy. I will try to post one or two episodes next week. Thanks for your patience.

 

 

A Little Side Trip

The writers among you might enjoy this: It started with that damn cat.

Episode 37

In which Anselm makes an unexpected diagnosis.

The gray-robed, hooded man watched calmly as the two medtecs bent over Inspector Wilde’s limp body. The one-eyed cat held its ground on the old man’s chest, hissing and swatting at them.

“Let me,” Anselm said. He stepped close and swept Frankenstein off his master’s chest, and tucked him under one arm. The cat continued to hiss at the medtecs, but didn’t struggle.

One of them slapped a wired patch on the man’s neck and stared at the device on the other end of the wire. “No pulse.”

He ripped the Inspector’s shirt open and the second one stuck two electrodes on his bare chest. They both stood back and let the defribulator’s AI take over. A rising whine followed by a fwap sent spasms through the old man’s body. It was followed immediately by a second, jerking his body violently, and then a third one that nearly lifted his substantial mass off the ground. The monitor started beeping in time with the old man’s heartbeat, and the defribulator wound down with a sigh.

“Okay,” said the first medtec. “His heart’s going again. And he’s breathing.” He looked around at the gathering crowd. “His chip doesn’t show a history of heart problems. Was he showing any unusual symptoms before his heart attack?”

Anselm spoke quietly, but forcefully. “It was induced by a dose of Sapphire’s Bloom. You’ll want to administer the antidote soon, or he’ll have another one.”

A uniformed officer said, “What makes you think it was Sapphire’s Bloom? That stuff’s pretty rare around here.”

“I smelled it in his coffee cup.”

“And how exactly would you know what Sapphire’s Bloom smells like?”

Anselm peered at the officer from under his hood. “Let’s just say it’s not as rare as you might think.”

Another officer joined them. “How did you know to smell the coffee, Mr. — ?“

“Anselm. My name is Anselm. I run an apothecary shop in the Cambodian District. I am familiar with a great many plants, both natural and man-made. I was suspicious of the coffee because the Inspector began showing symptoms of disorientation after a few swallows of the coffee.”

The first officer said. “You are a ways from home. How is it that you happened to be here at precisely the moment Inspector Wilde had a heart attack.”

“I was returning his cat. He turned up in the Cambodian District. A check on his chip brought me here.”

The second officer asked, “Is that blood on the cat’s claws?”

Anselm looked at Frankie’s paws. “So it would appear. He attacked the man who gave the Inspector the cup of coffee. Quite viciously. Enough to draw blood, as you can see.”

“What man? Can you point him out to me?”

Anselm scanned the growing crowd. “I don’t see him now. I’d say he has taken advantage of the confusion to make his escape.”

 

A Personal Note

My son Joshua died two years ago. I have written a short piece about him. I Thought About Joshua Today.

Episode 36

In which Flynn and Cin access Terra One’s security videos.

A few minutes after Cin finished modifying the probe, Flynn was through the last firewall, and inside the world ship’s surveillance system. Watching her work had left him feeling giddy. It was like a high but without the drugs. But actually using the modified tool was an exercise in astonishment. She was good. Really good. Not many things in Flynn’s life managed to create in him a sense of awe. Cinnamon Byzantium had done exactly that. Who was she? What was she? What would she become as she journeyed into adulthood?

A century ago, a philosopher at the University of Mars had put forward the theory that humanity’s forced flight from Earth into space had resulted in a kind of accelerated evolution, which would continue until the species had fully adapted to its new circumstances. Flynn had seen things that gave credence to that theory. Lilith, for example. She was different, not quite human; or perhaps more than human, perhaps human plus, human 2.0. Was that what Cin was? Human 2.0? He was in awe of her, in awe of something beyond his comprehension, awe tinged with a touch of fear.

“They’ve made it easy for us,” Cin said.

“How so?” he asked.

“They use the Geronimo system for organizing their data.” She reached over and tapped in a few commands. “It’s a nice, clean system. Easy to navigate.” A set of objects appeared. “These are the surveillance objects. See? They’re organized by district and then by timestamp.”

She was right. He tapped on the main docking bay data object, and then on the timestamp just prior to the attack. A video image appeared, showing the empty bay. They watched as he and Lilith came into the bay. Then the screen went grainy white.

“What happened?” Cin asked.

“I was afraid of that.” He tapped in a few commands, but the screen continued showing grainy white. Then the picture resumed, but the bay was empty.

Flynn sat back. “They set up some kind of interference to jam the video.”

“Wow,” Cin said. “So what now?”

“I don’t know.”

Episode 35

In which Flynn discovers something unexpected about cinnamon.

Flynn selected another probe from his electronic hacking kit, and began exploring what he hoped was the last defensive line between him and access to the world ship’s surveillance system.

“Don’t,” Cinnamon said.

Flynn stopped. “Why not?”

“There’s a level seven tripwire in there. Your probe won’t make it past it.”

“Level seven, huh?” He stared at the code sequence. “I don’t see it.”

“Trust me,” she said. “It’s there.”

He knew his probe wouldn’t fool a level seven tripwire. But then, he didn’t expect to encounter one. There really wasn’t any reason to put that kind of security here. “What makes you think so?”

“I’ve seen this configuration before.”

She said it matter-of-factly, as though she was describing this morning’s breakfast, not an incredibly sophisticated security system. What kind of nine-year-old was familiar with a state-of-the-art world ship security system?

“Well,” he said. “This is the highest level probe I have. So I guess I’ll have to take my chances.”

“No,” she said.

He turned to face her. “You got a better idea?” Her smug, self-assured attitude was starting to irritate him.

Her large zee-gee eyes stared at him. “I’ll rewrite the probe program.”

“You’ll rewrite the probe program.” He heard the sarcasm in his own voice, and felt bad about it. But, dammit, she was becoming a nuisance. He didn’t believe for one minute that she could rewrite the code, or that she’d ever seen anything like a world ship’s security system.

“Sure,” she said, and unbuckled her belt. “Come back in an hour.”

“Whoa,” he said. “I’m not going to let you mess around with my best probe. It cost me a thousand creds.”

“Really?” she seemed surprised. “You got ripped off. But I’ll make a backup of the original before I start messing with it.”

He couldn’t think of an objection to that. Besides, he was feeling a strong urge to bring her down a few pegs.

“Okay,” he said. “Impress me.”

He swapped seats with her and sat back to watch her muck around with a very sophisticated program, one designed to thwart some of the best security software ever built.

The first thing that impressed him was the speed with which she worked. He wasn’t really much of a programmer. He mostly used code other people had written. But he was somehow able to follow her as she spun through subroutine after subroutine, always simplifying the code rather than making it more complex, building subtle and elegant relationships he would never have thought of, at every turn producing something that was completely obvious once he saw it but that he knew he never could have created himself.

It took her more than an hour, but when she was done he knew he had witnessed the creation of a masterpiece by a master. She looked at him with those big eyes of hers and he said, “I’m impressed.”

Episode 34

In which Flynn begins his search for Lilith.

Flynn approached the next firewall with the electronic equivalent of a gentle poke. It didn’t trigger any alarms. At least not that he could tell. He had been working his way through the defensive layers of Terra One’s security system for two hours, and hoped this was the last one. He only needed to get in far enough to access the colony’s surveillance system. Of course, it was always possible that his intrusion had already been detected and that security personnel were even now locking the Therion down so that he could not escape. It was a huge risk. Terra One’s security people did not take cyber attacks lightly.

“Are you in yet?” The voice behind him made him jump. He swiveled his chair around to face Cinnamon.

“Gods, girl. Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

Her face fell. The transformation was so dramatic, and Flynn felt bad for snapping at her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to yell at you.”

His voice sounded gruff, even to him. He wasn’t comfortable around her. Not because of her physical appearance. Like Trinity, he was used to zee-gees. You couldn’t spend much time beyond the Belt without running into them. His problem was that he didn’t know how to treat a nine-year-old girl. Fast-talking merchants? Sure. Shady traders? No problem. Pirates? Came with the territory. But a nine-year-old girl? No clue.

Her face assumed the neutral expression that she normally hid behind. She would be nearly impossible to read in a play poker game. A single finger pushed her away from the command deck entrance, and her body performed an effortless, slow-motion somersault that completed its revolution just as she arrived above the seat next to Flynn. She barely touched the back of the seat, but it was enough to stop her forward motion and pull her into the seat, where she snapped the waist belt into place with no fuss whatsoever. The entire maneuver was a thing of beauty in its economy.

He turned back to the computer. “I think I’m at the last firewall.” He looked at her. “How do you know what I’m trying to do?”

She tilted her head to one side, a mannerism eerily similar to Trinity’s.

“One, your friend is missing, probably kidnapped, possibly in danger.” She tilted her head the other way, and then back as she explained.

“Two, you are the kind of man who will want to find her.

“Three, your only starting point is the place where the two of you were attacked.

“Four, you want to see the security feed of what happened. Of course, you could just go to the authorities and have them access it for you, but either you or Lilith or both have good reason not to want to involve the authorities.

“So, five, you are hacking into the World Ship’s security system to get the security feed yourself.”

Flynn stared at the girl, who merely stared back with an expression that seemed to say, QED. He didn’t know much about nine-year-old girls, but he was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to be like this nine-year-old girl.

She said, “Need some help?”