A month into his stay at a Sector West rehabilitation center, Kevin found it more difficult everyday to resist its warm embrace. By any standard, the facility provided a level of comfort and concern for his well-being far beyond the expectations of the average citizen. His private dome, while not the absolute height of luxury, was nonetheless several times more spacious and feature-laden than most people dared hope for.
The airy kitchenette featured state-of-the-art food and beverage replicators. The foot-massaging pile of the ultra-soft carpeting lent a cozy feel to his every step. Combined with the infinite gradations of light, shade and temperature afforded by the dome’s AI monitor, they made Kevin’s quarters the perfect cocoon for his fragile soul.CONTINUE READING
The view of RehabCenter 151179 from the hovercar landing pad took Kevin by surprise. Its sprawling, one hundred-acre campus was as thoughtfully landscaped and carefully manicured as any botanical garden on New Denver.
“I was expecting a minimum security facility,” he said.
“Oh, no,” said Reah. “You’re free to leave — if you’re willing to starve. With your implants shut off, you have no access to credits, so no food delivery. You’d never be allowed to farm state lands and there’s no other kind. You could beg, but every Enforcer knows begging is a crime that would land you … where?”
Kevin stared at the pastel-green gravel walkway under his feet.
“In a RehabCenter,” he said. “I was … just making conversation.”
“Doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the truth, though,” said Reah, “even by accident. Truth, Mr. Walsh, is your friend. Get to know her.”CONTINUE READING
The trip to WorldUnion RehabCenter 151179 by maglev train was the longest eight-hour stretch that the former Regional Enforcer had ever endured. All the way out to Sector West, the name “Kevin Walsh” ricocheted around his reformatted mind, and set off a flood of memory. The eleven years of his childhood, before he was pressed into the Integrity Force, opened out in panoramic detail.
He saw a small town in a region formerly known as South Dakota. Also lumbering through his memory was a creature with a spotted pelt, which was once a major source of unrefined protein. It was replaced by the image of an abandoned warehouse and children playing a game with a polished stick and a stitched white ball. And there was snow: feet of ice crystals that immobilized the townsfolk for weeks.
No weather control, thought Kevin.
Back then he was known as “Kev,” or “Kev Junior,” for reasons that escaped him.CONTINUE READING
17Kevin37 ran his life with a minimum of disruption. Protocols observed. Maintenance schedules upheld. Duty rosters completed. Leave time taken. Sleep, meals, exercise, sex: on schedule. He was in peak physical condition: strong and clear-eyed, with the reflexes of a cheetah.
But make no mistake, 17Kevin37 could never have achieved his level of compliance in the WorldUnion Integrity Force without personal initiative. It expressed itself in his unwavering commitment to the Ideals set out in the Integrator’s Tablet. Not the current Integrator, mind you, but 43Dalia67 — originator of the One Reality, inhabited solely by validated citizens of the UniversalOrder.
The Tablet contained both a ground-breaking set of specs for cyber-integration and the ethical precepts of Regulated Living. For citizens of the WorldUnion, every aspect of daily life was governed by the Integrity Rating (IR) they attained at work, at home, in social interactions and on mandatory ceremonial occasions.
It was due to his meticulous observation of The Tablet’s protocols that 17Kevin37 had earned the rank and privileges of Regional Enforcer for the Epsilon Eridani Sector. His list of commendations, awards and other marks of distinction were a source of personal pride. Despite The Tablet, they were also a source of disgruntled envy.
All of which made the present state of affairs so incomprehensible. Today, instead of running a scheduled raid on a cadre of unregulated cohabitants in the Rand Asteroid belt, 17Kevin37 sat in a functional office cube. awaiting the arrival of a WorldUnion Adjudicator.CONTINUE READING
Cerberus Sick Bay was packed tight with patients. A medbot met Allida at the entryway and helped her on with a chartreuse hazmat suit. Once her helmet was sealed, the medbot issued a stern warning.
“One breach of protocol, and you will be confined to the ICU,” it said.
Allida prayed she wouldn’t be there that long. The medbot stood aside and she entered the main room. One of the nurses recognized her.
“Doctor Leung is waiting for you,” he said. “Gotta warn you. What this bug does to people … it’s hard at first.”
Allida stepped through the narrow archway the nurse pointed to, and saw Arthur bent over a comatose patient. Between his pallid skin and the scaly deposits the poked out all over his body, the patient resembled a member of an alien species. Allida winced as the hypodermic in Arthur’s hand entered the patient’s arm with no resistance, as if his entire body had turned into gelatin.CONTINUE READING
While Allida and Arthur cowered under the glare of the armed Selethan, Reshma Laghari was analyzing the sphere’s steady stream of emissions — and noticed a spike in intensity.
“It’s like a door just opened,” she told her lab assistant.
When Reshma heard Allida’s call on the PA system, she hurried out of her dome. By then, the menacing Selethan soldier was already hovering in the sky above the dig site. Reshma raced back into her dome to check her sensors.
“A massive energy surge, like a transmat,” she said, “but no physical presence. Craters, that Selethan soldier is only a holojection!”
Yet a holojection was, in theory, capable of interacting with the real world, provided it was wrapped in an electromagnetic field of sufficient intensity. Reshma’s readouts confirmed her suspicions: The dig site had just experienced a massive spike in EM radiation.
“We have to shut that projection down” she said. But how?CONTINUE READING
Usually, the arrival of a Pelax ship would have made Allida Voba cringe. The few times she’d participated in a joint archaeological project with them, she’d fought hard to hide her revulsion.
It was easy to see why. The Pelax, a species of sentient amphibian, had rounded pale-green eyes that oozed white slime whenever they were agitated. And they were always agitated. Ironically, the Pelax were also uncommonly sweet. Allida had often been charmed, in spite of herself, by their complements.
But with more Selethans appearing in the vicinity of the sphere every day, Allida brushed her bias aside and trotted over to the lander pad the moment the alien ship touched down.
“Draldriveen,” she said. “Welcome.”
The Pelax’s nasal twang resonated in the crisp morning air.CONTINUE READING
It took some doing, but between Allida, Arthur and surprisingly, Ertonul, the eleven newly arrived Selethans were finally persuaded to return to their quarters. Arthur then sent for a team of orderlies to take Kelly back to her hospital bed. The scene made Allida wince.
“I must fulfill my destiny!” Kelly kept shrieking.
Allida glared at Ertonul.
“That sphere gives your species a bad reputation,” she said. “You obviously don’t value free will or sentient rights.”
Ertonul hung his head.CONTINUE READING
Just as perplexing as Hal Stanton’s clones was deciding how to care for them. Allida Voba’s mission charter covered only a set number of housing units. The more recent arrivals from the military and the larger scientific community had bunked up in their landers.
As a result, Allida had to contend with twelve disoriented humanoids, crammed into three tiny conference rooms. While replicating a pair of outfits for each was no strain on her budget, feeding her uninvited guests had led to food rationing — for they were voracious eaters. She decided to consult the mission’s chief medical officer.
“By every measure,” said Arthur Leung, “the clones are growing.”CONTINUE READING
Based on Sapiento’s startling analysis, Reshma and her team compared the spatiotemporal coordinates of the sphere to its surroundings. The discrepancy was off the scale.
“That … thing … shouldn’t even be visible,” said Reshma Laghari.
“I see it plain as day,” said Lt. Colonel Shelby. “Faulty calibration is my guess.”
“If we’re wrong,” said Reshma, “so’s your darling android. Sapiento spotted the anomaly immediately.”
“There is a fissure,” said Sapiento, “in the boundary between our universe and that inhabited by the sphere and its makers.”
Allida Voba suggested they consult the Pelax.
“They claim to have a ceremony,” she said, “in which they can view neighboring universes.”
“You botch the analysis,” said Shelby, “and then grasp for a religious explanation?
“Colonel!” said Reshma. “You have no call to impugn Dr. Voba’s motives.”
A series of piercing screams cut their altercation short.CONTINUE READING
The member worlds of the Sky Alliance had traditionally made scientific research in all fields a core priority. Due to the enormous expansion of space technology over the previous two thousand years, a sizable percentage of that work was carried out off-world. State-sponsored astronomical and astrophysical teams explored and categorized innumerable exotic phenomena. Other specialists tested new means of space-based engineering, or wrestled planetary ecosystems to advance the science of terraforming.
Whether off-world or planet-bound, a typical government-funded project was assumed to yield data of practical value, even if years later. The study of genetics, for instance, had produced a population of enhanced humans, whose lightening reflexes made them unstoppable in battle. Similarly esoteric work in quantum computing had finally realized the dream of fully independent artificial intelligence. The list was long and the benefits of well-funded R&D were incalculable.
Yet the painstaking work by a small cadre of Sky Alliance archaeologists, fell into the category of “pure research.” It was enough, the Alliance believed, if their work contributed to a broader understanding of sentient life in the universe.CONTINUE READING
Ambassador Frenzhal led his fellow cephalopod to small electric cart, which he drove out of his mansion’s entryway into a high-vaulted laboratory. As they rode past rows of computer servers and a host of other gadgets that Beliaz couldn’t identify, he wondered aloud how his life could have gone so wrong.
“Entropy,” said Frenzhal. “You’ve fallen victim to the essential randomness of the universe. It was a compensatory measure, I’m sure. Judging from your manner, I assume you must have been leading a frightfully regular life.”
Beliaz squeezed his round eyes shut.
“You’re saying I brought this on myself?” he asked.CONTINUE READING
The trip to Ambassador Frenzhal’s house was eye-opening. Though hardly a student of interstellar sociology, Beliaz was sure that Earth boasted a Level 4 society. But based on the condition of Ted’s ground car and the view from its cracked side windows, this version of Earth was nothing like the world Beliaz had expected.
For starters, judging from the car’s foul smell, Beliaz guessed that it ran on fossil fuels. But the scenery on either side of the pockmarked road was even more telling
At least fifteen hundred cycles out of date, he told himself.CONTINUE READING
Though barely conscious, Beliaz could still perceive a voice in his mind, unlike any he’d heard in his long life. Worse, it was devoid of any attribute that might betray its origin.
Nor did the arrival of a second voice enlighten him.
“An entire classification of sentient life bound up in Time?” said Voice Two.
“I thought you’d find this fascinating,” said Voice One.CONTINUE READING
When Dretholien returned to Beliaz’ workbench, her face lit up like a brilliant sunrise.
“It’s a masterpiece,” she said. “Though it does look sturdier than the Chalices made by your predecessors.”
“I suppose I got better with practice,” he said.
Dretholien’s eyes narrowed.
“You didn’t alter the specs, did you?” she asked.
After decades of running a high-end pottery atelier, Beliaz knew just how to handle difficult, demanding customers. The tiny shrug of his eight shoulders was the essence of genteel nonchalance.
“Why would I?” he asked.CONTINUE READING
Dretholien continued to hold Beliaz at gun point as she nudged him over to a broad, stainless steel workbench a few meters to his left. Considering her bird-like proportions, he was surprised at how strong she was. But based on what she’d told him, her appearance might well have been a holographic or telepathic illusion.CONTINUE READING
The route to the distant tower led Beliaz and Reahidor through jungle overgrowth to a small village at the base of a hill. From there, a steep flight of stone steps paved the way to the tower’s imposing entrance.CONTINUE READING
Seconds of subjective time after the Caliaphon Dahlatri had sealed Beliaz into an unknown ancient device, his round eyes looked out into a darkened room. But was It a room? As he stood up from what had been the temple floor, he heard a faint chirp.
Insect? Amphibian? Bird? He struggled to identify the sound and correlate it with the damp breeze that brushed his face and brought with it an assortment of musty odors.
“A rainforest?” he whispered.CONTINUE READING
As astonished as Beliaz was, he managed to keep his voice steady.
“It embarrasses me to say it, Your Holiness,” he said, “but I’m not sufficiently enlightened to understand you.”
For the first time since they met, the Caliaphon’s legendary composure dissolved into laughter.
“Celestial Realms!” he said, “the look on your face. Come with me.”
The tall Galuri turned away in a swish of silk and hurried out of the chamber. His head in a sweat, Beliaz hurried after him, though he longed for all the world to slip out a side door and hop an express transport home.CONTINUE READING
The mercenaries’ ship was crowded, smelly and certainly didn’t offer inflight meals. Yet despite being ravenous, Beliaz didn’t dare ask for food. So after hours of silent suffering, the weary Cephalopod was relieved to hear the ship’s AI announce:
ENTERING THE GALURI SYSTEMCONTINUE READING
The commuter shuttle between Archion 3 and the Geliatra asteroid belt was the lifeline of Validoor Sector’s burgeoning business juggernaut. For the past seventy-five years, entrepreneurs from every major industry had depended on the shuttle’s unbroken record of reliable service.
Among the thousands of commuters who boarded the short-range space folder four days a week, Beliaz Grymithol was one of the oldest. Year in and out, the blue-skinned craftsman plunked his rounded frame down in his compartment. He’d doze, lose himself in a holopuzzle — or tap at a virtual keyboard, in a frenzy to meet a looming deadline.CONTINUE READING
“What?” said Hahlyk. “Don’t you have a family, or some friends?”
“You don’t understand,” he said, “I’m not an organic life form — or a life form at all, really. I’m a force of Nature.”CONTINUE READING
“What the flaming boson pie,” asked Hahlyk, “is ‘a-dimensional parkland?’”
Ynthasis reshaped himself to resemble a large, bottle-blue water beetle, yet somehow still managed to sneer.CONTINUE READING
Across the entire Kyrathoid colony, the metaversal instability continued to replace objects and personnel at an alarming rate. As sad as these losses were, there was one glimmer of hope. The instability delivered a humanoid from the same world that had sent them the alien air scrubbers.CONTINUE READING
With Commodore Zalynk missing, due to a bizarre case of metaversal instability, the logical thing was to track down Vice Commodore Larlynch.
“Where the crackling ionosphere is she?” asked Hahlyk.CONTINUE READING
Hahlyk scowled at her instrument panel. For the third time in as many hours, the air quality inside the main dome was substandard.
“Makes no sense,” she said. Every diagnostic she’d run showed no hint of malfunction. Or was there a bug in the diagnostic system? Her helplessness was driving her crazy. If life support degenerated any further … but maybe it was too soon to panic. She grabbed her dark green comlink.CONTINUE READING
The look on Raul’s face made ‘Uncle Gilberto’ laugh.
“Don’t be so shocked,” said the alien impersonator.
“You said you wanted me to stop the Associated Fleet from ever starting the war,” said Raul, “by going back in Time. I was gonna ask you how but … if you know how, why do you need me?”CONTINUE READING
By now, Raul’s reconnaissance vessel had taken him light years from the Slingharen’s asteroid observatory. That would have made him feel safe, were it not for one nagging doubt. The same cortical implants that had twice helped him escape, most likely emitted trackable signals.CONTINUE READING
Though Raul was grateful to have found a safe haven, he wasn’t sure that arriving at a Resistance enclave qualified as “escape.”CONTINUE READING
In his haste to reach the Kuiper habitats, Raul had made a crucial miscalculation. Because his tiny escape pad was intended to be no more than a high-tech lifeboat, it had limited speed and maneuverability and was useful for short distances only.CONTINUE READING
Though Raul pretended he didn’t know who’d threatened him at gunpoint, his cover was blown. He was ordered off Kuiper habitat Seven A and whisked away by lander to the military transport he’d arrived on.
A few hours later, Section Leader Ian Hazelton called Raul in for interrogation.CONTINUE READING
Raul peered out at Roxanne and marveled at how much Time had changed both of them. Here he was, an agent of the Associated Fleet’s Intel Corps and she, with little doubt, was a member of the cyber terror cadre his superiors had labeled “The Enemy.” CONTINUE READING
All through mission training, which was carried out onboard a military cruiser disguised as a standard commercial vessel, Raul wore himself out, trying to devise an escape plan. Trouble was, everyone else on the seven-member drop team was as intellectually gifted as he was - and would notice any hint of subterfuge. CONTINUE READING
Raul’s eyes fluttered open from a tortured sleep for the fifth morning in a row. The nightmares, he’d been told, should have ceased by now. But just as before, his tired mind had been bombarded by a tidal wave of data from every angle. Once again, he was forced to wonder if the GenMod team had pushed his mental development too far. CONTINUE READING
The lander that took Raul from the detention center on Kaligir 3 to a military transport about ten AU away wasn’t what he’d expected. Considering that Fiona Marsh had represented herself as a human rights attorney, he’d expected the ship to be a commercial or private vessel. Instead, it was unabashedly military, down to the insignia hovering over every bulkhead entrance. CONTINUE READING
One hot summer night on a remote island on Kaligir 3, Raul Wexler was awakened by a terrible row. A twenty-three-year-old hotel steward, Raul couldn’t imagine what had made him the target of so much shouting. A recent arrival, he’d enjoyed a peaceful life so far: a steady paycheck, modest quarters and a chance to watch the idle rich play at a major resort.
But here was this violent commotion, complete with the chilling phrase “Sector Enforcement.” CONTINUE READING