Aboard Section Six of what had once been a powerful military base led by Admiral Viola Santori, the usually chatty crew sat in stunned silence. Who, they wondered, was behind the booming voice that had greeted them when the ship’s fold engines failed and plunged them into a featureless realm.
After a stunned silence, Halidrak heard the captain’s trembling voice over the ship’s intercom.
“We apologize for our … transgression,” he said. “We only ended up here due to engine malfunction. As soon as we can effect repairs….”
“Accident?” asked the booming voice. “You were brought here by our design. Your transgression is not merely a single incident. It is generations of unethical use of physical laws. And for what? To dart about in fragile vessels for the sake of degenerate trade and trafficking.”CONTINUE READING
Over the next day and a half, Halidrak Tralin was pressed into service to help with the evacuation. Contrary to Santori’s expectations, there were several engineering problems to overcome before they could leave the poisoned planet that had been their home for too long. .
“Lesson 1, Lieutenant,” Santori had told him. “Never rely on anyone blindly. Fact is no one can see the Big Picture on their own. When a crew member tells me “all systems go,” I’m tempted to toss them in the brig. I don’t run my base on catch phrases, Lieutenant. I run it on facts.”
Halidrak’s lower mandible gaped open, but he kept his own counsel. Would he ever get used to the Admiral’s domineering personality? At the moment, the answer to that question was buried under sheer time pressure. The base’s central AI announced that a Drolati battle cruiser was only a few hundred light years away. Fortunately, Haldirak’s knowledge of Bolidan navigation systems came in handy. As it happened, Bolidan manufacturers had recently incorporated a novel approach to tracking a ship’s position when it came out of fold.
“Saves a quarter rote of recalibration, every time,” he said. “My fighter’s AI has a full set of specs.”
Admiral Santori pursed her lips.CONTINUE READING
Lieutenant Halidrak Tralin looked up at Admiral Santori from the landing bay floor of her hidden military base.
“Admiral, with permission,” he said. “my back was against the wall. I….”
“Get up Lieutenant,” said Santori. “The fact that I could deck you so easily tells me everything I need to know. Can’t believe you made it through officer’s training. No wonder the Drolati have whipped us so hard.”
His head bowed, the insectoid fighter pilot decided against arguing. Whiny chatter, he realized, would only lower him further in the Admiral’s estimation. Instead, he snapped to attention.
“Orders, Admiral?” he said.
“Knock it off,” said Santori. :You can’t redeem yourself with parade ground routines. You gave away my position to the Drolati, you little twerp. Or did you think that blowing up those drones would keep me safe?” She turned her angular face toward a member of her android bodyguard. “ArtiOne, how long would it take a subspace signal to reach Drolati Prime from here?”
The tall, shiny brown android’s deep voice echoed off the landing bay’s steel walls.
“With urgency coding, oh-eight-three rote, Admiral,” it said.
“Adorable, isn’t he?” asked Santori. “So you see, Lieutenant, not only did you not find safe haven here, you’ve doomed my entire post. How can a salute help that?”CONTINUE READING
The pilot’s dive into a dark planet’s toxic atmosphere was an act of desperation. A Drolati drone patrol had detected his fighter the second it entered its perimeter and was closing in fast. The Chalthantron cloaking device, which had cost him two month’s pay, had failed miserably. He slammed his helmet visor shut.
Can’t be happening, he thought. Only one chance.
His escape plan made winning the Galactic Lottery look like a sure thing. He couldn’t even verify that Admiral Santori’s base was still standing. Now his AI issued a dire warning.
“Hull pressure increasing,” it said. “Critical tolerance will be exceeded in zero-one-four rote.”
The pilot’s compound eyes bulged.
“Shields up,” he said, “Full power.”
“Currently at maximum,” said the AI. “Outer hull nearing shear point.”
The insectoid pilot’s four hands flew over his command console, to shut down nonessential functions and redirect processing power to his sensor sweep. He had to find Santori’s homing signal before the drone patrol found him — or his ship imploded in the planet’s dense atmosphere.
Where? his mind raged. Maybe it is just a myth.CONTINUE READING
Terrified as she was, Helen made a split-second decision. Because the multidimensional being could find her anywhere in space or time, she stood her ground — despite Roger’s whispered pleas to the contrary. She squared her shoulders and looked her own simulacrum in the eyes.
“You’re not welcome here,” she said. “You’ve no right to interfere.”
Her stomach turned as, momentarily, the simulacrum twisted out of alignment before snapping back into place.
“I have the right of power.” she said. “You are the unwelcome ones. I’ve tolerated your squatting in this region of space-time for millions of cycles. And I’ve decided to call a halt. All of these resources, wasted on fools.”
“And what will you do with our universe?” asked Helen. “Feed on it? You must have easier ways to gorge yourself. Supposedly, there are limitless uninhabited universes. Why not gobble down one of those? No pesky lifeforms to get in your way.”
The creature’s shrill laugh made Helen shudder.CONTINUE READING
With the Brighter Star parked in a geostationary orbit above Nautilus Prime, Inspector General Helen Dubrovnik of InterstellarOne tried not to fidget as her assistant, Roger, kept her lander on course. Though controlled descent was handled for the most part by the onboard AI, standard protocol called for a human monitor at all times.
At that moment, however, Helen didn’t care about InterstellarOne protocols. She was just glad not to face the Jolhadrian Empire on her own. Was their claim believable? Was the incident on Space Station 9/T-25 the work of a malevolent multidimensional being? Or was that bizarre story a cover for Jolhadi involvement?
The only thing that stopped her from returning home was the thought that the Jolhadi must have nothing like that kind of control over human lives. If they did, why exercise it on a remote station instead of on Concentra itself, the current seat of the GGB?CONTINUE READING
Even more astonishing than the surprise course change initiated by Captain Hayes, were the new nav coordinates themselves.
“The Nautilus system?” asked Helen. “That’s the seat of the Jolhadrian Consortium.”
“You’re too diplomatic, Inspector,” said her assistant. “The word is ‘Empire.’ And I get the feeling it’s not a ‘commercial empire,’ either.”
Inspector Dubrovnik took a deep breath to steady her nerves.
“Whatever … designation .. it deserves,” she said. “I can’t think why its government would risk a diplomatic crisis by diverting a GGB-sponsored mission.”
But as her assistant, Roger, was quick to point out, the GGB didn’t count for much outside of its home galaxy.CONTINUE READING
The use of AI monitoring systems was so widespread that all but the smallest spaceports were linked to InterstellarOne, the administrative arm of the Galactic Governing Board, or GGB. So that ought to have made all in-person inspection tours unnecessary. The GGB’s authority was absolute. Facilities with code violations were shut down, reorganized and assigned new management. Fines were issued, psychological profiles taken, rehabilitations scheduled. Within a month, the facility would be code-compliant, with any needed technology upgrades installed. And yet, to appease the public, administrative inspections were still carried out.CONTINUE READING
Nol was stunned. His ingenious attempt, to convince GolTrenka that Kishor’s homeworld was a powerful adversary, had succeeded too well. The rapacious military leader was now drawing up plans for a surprise attack.
Worst of all, Nol realized, the humans were totally defenseless. Though Kishor’s colony, “Aasha,” had been founded twelve hundred years before, the humans had really just stuck their toes into deep space. They’d stumbled into a sparsely populated galaxy, with the help of the peaceful, benevolent Ynold, and had never seen the need for planetary defense systems.
Meanwhile, NolJonra’s sensors told him that Kishor was already toiling in the radioactive mine shafts that would be his undoing.CONTINUE READING
Though NolJonra had overheard the heated exchange between Kishor and Commander GolTrenka, he had no idea how to save his young human friend.
An ingenious lie, he thought.
But in an unforgiving universe, he knew that Kishor’s cleverness was the thinnest of thin shields. Nol’s only hope, he realized, was to get advice from outside his immediate circle.
“If I may suggest, Commander,” he told GolTrenka, “my best vantage point for observing the human’s homeworld would be the second of its two moons.”.CONTINUE READING
Kishor awoke in what looked like a hospital bed. Actually, it was two beds pushed together. As it turned out, his insectoid hosts were about ten percent smaller than the average human. At the moment, the groggy teenager was too scared to give that much thought. Besides, as a heavily-guarded prisoner, his size advantage hardly gave him the edge. Come to think of it, he realized, it might have been better to be smaller.
Maybe I could hide, he thought.
But when it was all said and done, Kishor was too weak to get out of bed — let alone make a run for it. Worse, the pressure suit that his captors had crammed him into, was tight in all the wrong places. So while he was grateful to be breathing easily again, he could barely move.CONTINUE READING
Previously, the farthest Kishor had traveled was last year’s class trip to an orbital weather station. So when NolJonra switched off his time displacement engine at the end of their journey into the android’s past. Kishor was In for quite a jolt.
For starters, NolJonra’s creators were a species that Kishor had never heard of before. Worse, at this point in his young life, he’d never even met a member of the Ynold, the sentient ruminants whose generosity had gone a long way toward helping humans colonize space. But the Ynold, tall slender, graceful and strangely placid were nothing like the squat, lizardy beings he saw scurrying around on Nol’s world.
“What if they see us?” he whispered.
“Put your mind at ease,” said NolJonra. “For the moment, we exist outside of time. Until, that is, we interact with anything we find here. So please, don’t touch anything, unless I ask you to, and do exactly as I say at all times. We have one shot at this.”CONTINUE READING
Kishor’s heart sank. Had NolJonra escaped his house and was now running loose in Qeuloz City? It didn’t seem fair that his strange alien encounter had ended so soon. There were thousands of questions he was planning to ask. And who wouldn’t miss having a little android pal who could arrange a hover car for him — or anything else he needed — on the spot? It had been like having a genie in a bottle and now the genie had fled. In his place was a dark gray backpack that Kishor figured his Mom had bought for him while he was out.
“Nol!” he shouted. “Where the flaming quark cookies have you gone?”
“I’m right here, Silly,” said the android.
Kishor gasped as the backpack appeared to transform into the pint-sized android.
“I thought it best to activate my chameleon circuits,” said NolJonra. “Based on my scans of multiple human news services, it appears your species is quite distrustful. Why do you suppose that is?”CONTINUE READING
Inside the speeding hover car that NolJonra had ordered, Kishor marveled at its many creature comforts, which included a holovid entertainment center and a tempting wet bar. But Kishor was too nervous to fiddle with either of them. Besides, the smell of alcohol on his breath would have made his new girlfriend suspicious. What had he been up to, she’d wonder, so soon after the Learnin Center let out for the weekend? Had he even skipped school?
Kishor gulped. Laranya wouldn’t approve of that. Besides, she wasn’t just his latest love-interest, she was his first. Up until then, the girls in his class had been more interested in play-acting love than living it. Laranya, on the other hand, had taken him seriously from the start. Their kisses were…
DESTINATION APPROACHING.PREPARE TO DISEMBARK.CONTINUE READING
The sky train to Queloz City was twenty minutes late. Usually, Kishor would’ve shrugged that off. At seventeen, punctuality was not his main preoccupation. Sure, he’d get an earful from the Edubots at the Learning Center if he were late, but there was no reason to care. Anything he couldn’t learn on his own would eventually be mapped on to his cerebral cortex — even though every adult on his homeworld claimed that there was no substitute for “real learning.”
But Kishor was pretty sure there was no difference between students who struggled through Pre-Calculus only to forget it, and students who were “mapped” for Calculus, but never used it. Yeah, it was fun sometimes to dig into a topic — but not at the expense of video streaming, playing Pango Ball with his pals, or spending quality time with the lovely Laranya. And for that reason alone, the lapse in the sky train’s impeccable on-time record filled Kishor with a tangle of nameless anxieties.
If I’m late, she’ll never believe it was the sky train’s fault.CONTINUE READING
When I arrived on the Aldevari partner world, with eight other former prisoners of the Deltjorans, I was overwhelmed by relief and nostalgia. For Thultra 3 was the most civilized place I’d seen since before the Still Waters went down in that fateful Waldadrian assault.
Better yet, the city surrounding the spaceport where our landers touched down was a model of elegant design. I felt as if the world I’d lost had been restored to me, with interest. As advanced as the member worlds of Common Space were, the Aldevari had us beat by at least twenty parsecs.
I won’t even try to make a more detailed comparison, because you have no frame of reference for what real technology looks like. Yeah, you have a nice array of comforting gadgets and the Ulbantri supply all the interstellar transport you need — or that they tell you that you need.CONTINUE READING
Once my mind was connected to the Deltjorans’ galaxy-spanning mentallic network, my perception of space and time was radically altered. In hindsight, it was nearly fifty cycles before the Deltjorans met any opposition. At first, our mission went smoothly. We exerted influence on life forms from dozens of worlds. In some cases, we merely shaped the development of an existing civilization. In others, we actually guided the course of evolution. The Deltjorans had a specific model of sentient society that they sought to duplicate across the entire universe.
While their model contained admirable ethical values, it was a bit on the bland side. Besides, any society that fit comfortably in this mold was very easy for the Deltjorans to control. In the end, whatever benefits the Deljorans brought to “their” peoples had the sinister purpose of making them unlikely to think for themselves. By training and genetic inheritance, species under Deltjoran influence effectively locked themselves into their own gilded cages.CONTINUE READING
By now,, as I learned only later, the Waldadrians had more or less consolidated their conquest of common Space as well as most of the PartnerWorlds we’d relied on for hundreds of cycles. This was the low point in human history to say the least, the time I’m sure your grandparents assumed would be the end of everything they’d lived for.
The Waldadrians, once they’d reached their population quota, set about ferreting out everyone in hiding and putting them to work everywhere that machine labor wasn’t economically viable. Their attitude was: why use a Theta-story android to scrub toilets? What an unthinkable waste of expensive hardware. The remaining humans were also pressed into work in agricultural fields where, again, an AI-based solution would have been obscenely expensive. Besides, as every sentient species eventually learns, AIs just can’t stop themselves from dishing out a torrent of “helpful advice,” that makes organic managers, especially military officers, feel stupid and useless. Why, the organics ask, must the androids always be right?CONTINUE READING
Once I’d cast my lot with the Deltjorans, I never looked back. There was simply no reason to believe that striking out on my own at random would yield any better result than continuing along the equally random chain of events that led me to one of their interstellar transports. Though part of me desperately clung to the idea that I might find Xoltryndney again and have some hope of resuming my old life, I knew it was a foolish dream. Even if I continued to believe that Xoltryndney had been forced to abandon me by her family, I had to assume that the pressure on her to reject me a second time would have been too great for her to resist.
That was aside, of course, from the risk of darting around open space on my own, with the Waldadrians still on a rampage. And rampage they did. Even during the day-and-a-half I spent in a Gelhadrek escape pod, the news I picked up on the pod’s limited transceiver was grim. There were now more worlds in Common Space that had ben infected by the parasites than had not. The human race, and a wide swath of the other sentient species we’d dealt with over the past thousand cycles were doomed.CONTINUE READING
Though the workload was grueling, I soldiered on at the Gelhadreks mining camp for a simple reason. Given the choice between survival and decimation by a blood-sucking alien, there’s a lot I’ll endure. Besides. the food and my quarters, which included a state-of-the-art entertainment center, were superb. I even had every eighth day off.
Naturally, the odds that Lamda’s day off and mine would correspond were higher than a Halpaxtrian mastodon’s left shoulder. But that was for the best. After our “meet cute” moment with the androids, she showed not a hint of interest in me. I like to tell myself that the inherent danger of the intergalactic situation made her wary of getting close to anyone. Who knew what sweetheart she might have watched die before throwing her lot in with our mandible-champing masters?
Despite that, I looked forward to seeing her at the top of the morning shift. That’s what made The Incident so disturbing.CONTINUE READING
At first, it seemed as if the Gelhadreks were happy enough to take me in. I had no trouble obtaining a landing code from the control tower at Nolcadrehan, the planetary capital, and the customs process was fairly standard. I parked my mining ship in the designated berth. While it was disinfected, a bevy of servicebots and android inspectors combed it from top to bottom.
Naturally, they found the ore from my illegal mining expedition immediately. I’d been too distraught by losing Xoltryndney to ditch my contraband before heading out from the scavengers’ space station. Worse, my ship was contraband, too. Xoltryndney’s family had harvested it from a mining expedition in the Apishot Sector that had gone dark temporarily, due to a viral outbreak.
With two strikes against me, I figured I was heading for interstellar prison. What saved me, ironically, was the Waldadrian invasion. Their assault had been so brutal that, practically speaking, there was no interstellar government left to run such a prison. Besides, skilled workers like me were in now high demand. Everyone realized it would likely be a hundred cycles before professional training academies could open again.CONTINUE READING
Once we got past the objections of Xoltryndney’s aunt, Yanchurckey, and docked our damaged ship into the repair bay of the scavenger’s space station, our problems turned from technical to financial. Life being what it is, there’s no such thing as “a little bad luck.” The entire rear end of our ship’s main module was a gigantic paperweight. The repair work required was extensive and expensive.
As I expected, the Waldadrian assault on Common Space had reduced the human financial system to a tangled mass of corrupted data. In the few sectors of the human sphere that were still operational, inflation had wiped out the value of whatever accounts were still in tact. A few lucky devils did have significant holdings in commodities, but I’m sure most of that was paid out in bribes for favorable treatment.CONTINUE READING
The second that ship’s debris hit our habitat we were on the clock to escape. The only saving grace was that every bay in the ring was functionally independent. Immediately on impact, the affected sectors were sealed off so the rest of the habitat could maintain life-support. Trouble was, the damage was so extensive, we only had backup power, air and water for six hours. And that was provided that no aftershocks reached our other primary circuits.
We grabbed everything we could think of, starting with the two ready bags, each, that every spacefaring sentient has packed since the dawn of deep space travel. No matter how advanced you think you are, the infinity of the Cosmos can always dish up a body blow of unexpected bad luck. It was our turn to prove that point and we wasted no time cramming as much as possible into the larger of the habitat ring’s two probe ships. It was already well equipped but I was determined not to leave my rare gem collection behind.CONTINUE READING
I’ll bet some of you are skeptical. I mean, what has it been — a hundred and twenty cycles since the Still Waters was shot to Hell by the Woldadrians? Let me set you straight: Back then, we had longevity treatments that would seem like magic today. I managed to save up enough doses to get me this far, but now I’ve run out.
That’s why I look like a sack of edible tubers that’s been sitting in the sun too long. I never studied medicine, but I think I should have around another fifteen cycles before the end. It’s sad, really, I was hoping to see the day when our people regained the ground we lost. But that can’t happen now, without a revolution. Because once the Ulbantri “rescued” us from the Woldadrians, they made sure we never had more tech than necessary to make our upkeep affordable. For instance, instead of managing a vast interstellar hospital system, they trained the locals and supplied them with medroids to handle the complex stuff.
At first, the Ulbantri had their work cut out for them. The Woldadrians had destroyed everything and there were billions of infected humans to round up. So it was several cycles before Reconstruction got started. Then the Ulbantri moved in fast.CONTINUE READING
The way I figure it, no more than a quarter of the people alive today remember the night the Still Waters was destroyed. Word spread over the newsnets faster than anything I remember. Didn’t matter what you were doing, the sound of your jaw hitting the floor startled you out of it.
The Still Waters down!
Most of you will never have any idea what that meant to us. It was the lead ship of Earth’s proud intergalactic fleet that safe guarded the outer boundaries of Common Space for three hundred cycles. Ever since our defeat of the Kerdoniks in 3054 … well that’s a story for another time. It’s enough for you to realize we went to sleep every night with the thought that, no matter what else happened in the morning, the Still Waters would have our backs.CONTINUE READING
Faster than he expected, Kleem received word from a nervous Human officer that he must report to the war ship’s lander bay as soon as possible.
“The Velradrese have us by the short and curlies,” said the Lieutenant. The exact meaning of the expression was lost on Kleem, but he got the general idea. The Intelai had unleashed unbridled panic among the Humans. The upshot was that the teenage Galorn was soon strapped into one of the war ship’s five landers, each of which held a hundred residents of Helianu. It was the first of several waves of repopulation to cities all over Kleem’s homeworld. Seated nearby were several of his school mates, each with a story to tell about the Humans.
“Like, they were always worrying,” said Boors. “One guy spent the whole time talking about ‘The Overlords,’ and what would happen if their mission failed.”CONTINUE READING
All four of Kleem’s knees locked as he tried to process the dire news. An actual assault by the Velradrese? And here he was on the Human command ship. No sense hoping he could hide in a closet at the tail end of the fleet. He had a front row seat. Worst of all, the scene about to unfold would be nothing like the “exciting” battle scenes he’d seen in countless holovids or played through in video games.
Could actually get shot up or … or killed, his thoughts raced.
With no idea what else to do, he headed back to his workstation. Maybe the neural link in his new headphones would help him plan his next move. The ship was in chaos. Panicked Human soldiers and their new recruits tripped over themselves to reach their battle stations. Kleem could barely squeeze back into the maglev lift, but he was glad to catch some of the crews’ chatter. Unfortunately, the news was not good. The Velradrese, it turned out, had superior tech and were ferocious warriors. As one Lieutenant told her subordinates:
“Whatever you do, don’t let those … fur balls … fire a disinto at you. Turn you to dust in a second.”CONTINUE READING
After a short ride in the Human lander, Antonio led Kleem onto a large, menacing battle cruiser. The young Galorn was frankly overwhelmed by the ship’s scale and complexity. The Intelai, he remembered, had said that these Humans weren’t as technologically advanced as their ancestors. What, he wondered, must their ships have been like?
“Follow me, Kid,” said Antonio. They soon reached a glittering computer workstation, studded with three holographic view screens. In the ship’s dim light, Kleem’s compound eyes strained to take it all in.
“You’ll be my eyes and ears,” said Antonio. “I need somebody I can trust. Nobody else had the guts to tell me what Olivia and Natalia were saying about me.”
Kleem sighed. Now he wished he’d paid more attention in his Computer Science class.
“Thank you, Sir,” he said. “but I don’t know if I can operate this.”
“You worry too much,” he said. “Here, try these headphones. They’ll form a direct neural link to your brain and download instructions into your cerebral cortex. I’ll check back with you later.”CONTINUE READING
Kleem rushed to the Quartermaster’s office at 0600 the following morning, and stood on a long line of nervous, young Galorns who were just as scared as he was. To his right was a similar line for young Helianu which, predictably, moved much faster.
Worse, the attendant handling the Galorn line looked as if she were at least 80 cycles old. With a bit of reflection, he realized that, as boring as it was to wait, the situation was hardest on her. So much heavy lifting! Besides, despite her thick eyeglasses, she still held each requisition order no more than a centimeter away from her proboscis. When he finally reached the head of the line the exhausted attendant greeted him with a grunt.
“What are you?” she asked. “Fleet or infantry?”
“Dunno,” said Kleem. “I just have this slip of paper from Antonio.”
“Field Marshal Antonio49-γ, you little brat,” she said. “Let me see. There! It says ‘0237/T’. That’s Fleet, plain as day!”CONTINUE READING
By the time Kleem returned to Laltrana proper in the late afternoon, the normally bustling downtown was nearly empty, except for a few members of the police force. It was as if the entire town were under quarantine.
Did they… make everybody sick? he wondered.
Based on what he’d learned from the Intelai about Human tech, it wasn’t impossible that the newly arrived Humans had released a deadly pathogen. But if their goal was to enslave the entire population of Helianu, killing it would be counterproductive. Suddenly, an angry police officer ran up from behind and grabbed his left shoulder.
“Hey kid,” said the officer. “What’re you doing out after curfew?”CONTINUE READING
Kleem stared at the Intelai and wondered if he’d heard correctly.
“How … how did you know my name?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the ancient android. “You would think of ‘Kleem’ as your name. And as far as your family and friends are concerned, that is how they would see you. But you see, ‘Kleem’ is actually your model number.”
“Model number?” asked Kleem. “You mean, like on a toaster or a ground car?”
The Intelai looked up from the sonic disrupter it was building and stared into the young Galorn’s compound eyes.CONTINUE READING
As Kleem neared the spot where, two days before, he’d spoken freely with the Intelai, his tubular heart sank. The ancient AI was gone! But where?
Not like it needs a bathroom break, he told himself.
He figured the Intelai’s disappearance must be related to the Humans’ arrival. Maybe it didn’t like the red-suited bullies anymore than he did. But if the advanced-design android had gone into hiding, how could Kleem hope to smoke him out? It seemed his only option was to sit in the spot where he’d originally found the AI, voice his concerns, and hope that somehow, the android would hear him.
“Humans want to make us slaves again,” he said. “Think you can stop them?”
A few minutes later, Kleem heard a peculiar clanking sound to his right. He looked up to see the Intelai limping toward him from inside an immense Human building.CONTINUE READING
The following day, the message that Kleem was too intimidated to deliver during his police interrogation arrived in full view of the entire Laltrana Bay Area. A shiny blue Human lander floated down gracefully into Laltrana’s main square, which their ancestors had built centuries before.
A crowd of onlookers, barely contained behind hastily-erected police barricades, craned their scaly or exoplated necks to see the lander’s hatch open in a burst of steam and soft, yellow light. A murmur arose from the crowd as three Humans, two females and a male, dressed in bright-red flight suits, descended the lander’s charcoal gray exit ramp. The male, somewhat alarmingly, cradled a large particle rifle in his muscular arms.
Laltrana’s mayor, flanked by the provincial governor and a representative of the First Citizen’s office, stepped forward to greet them, as nervous police officers, including Pelidor, looked on. What, he wondered, would be asked of him that bright sunny fall day?
Look at them smiling, he thought, like they just got home from vacation.CONTINUE READING
The next morning, down at the local Laltrana precinct office, Kleem sat for questioning, accompanied by his mother, Traal. After more than an hour of recounting his eerie conversation with the Intelai to Pelidor, the nervous Galorn teenager was led off to a gray interrogation room. A Helianu sociologist, computer scientist and geneticist were waiting for him.
The latter had raced in from Nildtraj City by bullet train. Though they all were skeptical, they couldn’t afford to rule out what they’d heard so far from the Laltrana PD. If the Helianu and the Galorns were actually the product of genetic engineering, that might help explain several bizarre inconsistencies in the DNA of either species. Fact was, Helianu geneticists were unable to reconcile the internal workings of the two species with their general theory of evolution.
Though Kleem found his interrogation intimidating, at least Traal was unexpectedly supportive. She projected an air of empathy that boosted his courage. Besides, in the second interrogation room, surrounded by placid academics with curious outfits and eccentric mannerisms, it was impossible to feel too scared. It was all Kleem could do to keep from giggling.CONTINUE READING
All the way back home, Kleem pondered the strange tales that the Intelai had told about the mysterious Humans. If he could believe the ancient android, both the Helianu and the Galorns were the product of a Human genetics program. Rather than wear out expensive androids on society’s menial tasks, the Humans created a new class of servant.
Each of the two new species began as subsentient creatures indigenous to a Human colony planet. After years of painstaking work, the Humans upgraded the intellect and self-awareness of a tree-dwelling lizard from one world and a tunneling insect from another. The former were deployed on the world that would eventually be known as Helianu. The latter were used on Jentror, which later became the center of a grueling interplanetary war. But there was more to the story.CONTINUE READING
Kleem waited until dark, then slipped out of his bedroom window with the Human tablet tucked into his fleece-lined jacket. It was a risky maneuver, but the saving grace was that school had been suspended for a second day. The water main break in his school building had been just one facet of a major breakdown in the Weldrons, the Galorni section of town.
That meant, if his sneaky errand took longer than expected, his parents wouldn’t expect to see him at breakfast bright an early in the morning. But that was a mixed blessing. Breakfast had been canceled anyway, for lack of food.
Doubt the Intelai has anything to eat, he told himself, as he hurried along the dark, narrow side streets that led to the steep hills at the edge of his neighborhood.CONTINUE READING
“Shouldn’t we, like, try to help him?” asked Kleem.
Pelidor stared at the anxious Galorni teenager and tried to decide his next move. His first instinct was to report his sighting of what appeared to be a genuine Human artifact to his precinct headquarters so they could begin an investigation. Then it dawned on him. There was no way the Human who appeared on the tablet at his feet was crying out in real time.
“This has to be a recording,” he said. “There’s no way this … guy … is still alive. Last I heard, the Humans died out at least three thousand cycles ago.”
“Died out totally?” asked Kleem. “Or just died out here?”
Pelidor swallowed hard. That’s why he valued his time with Kleem. It wasn’t just that he was a “good kid.” Kleem’s quick mind ran rings around Pelidor’s by-the-book thinking. Pelidor had simply accepted the stats and specs he received from the Department and moved on to his daily routines.CONTINUE READING
As a general rule, Pelidor Granku knew police work to be heavy on the boredom and light on the action-packed adventure. Especially, that is, by comparison to the fantasies produced by the holovid industry. Besides, when anything “action-packed” happened, it meant he was liable to get his head blown off. The blast-resistant groundcar he patrolled in offered only so much protection. To survive, he needed the reflexes of a race-car driver more than those of a sharp-shooter.
Fortunately, Officer Granku of the Laltrana Bay Area Police Department didn’t see that kind of duty more than once every couple of years. It was only when the furry Vrelkas went on their ritual rampage that things got that heated. As it happened, Laltrana was a thriving metropolis on Helianu, a planet in the Braatro system. And the Braatro system was smack in the middle of the Vrelkas’ favorite space lane. Ironically, most of his time was actually taken up by filing the paperwork necessary to receive more paperwork.
But one of Pelidor’s other recurring duties was responding to domestic violence cases in the Weldrons, a neighborhood in the south of the city, which was mostly populated by Galorns. The translucent-red insectoids, who’d immigrated after the Jentror-Dumalis war, were the City of Laltrana’s greatest liability.CONTINUE READING
Inside the spatiotemporal rift that Reah had created, Kevin was confronted with a disorienting blur of contrasting perspectives, plus shifting patterns of light, color and sound.
One moment, he saw a large cityscape from 30,000 feet above. The next moment, he was at street level, jostled by an on-rushing crowd of morning commuters. He was also plagued by random shifts in time frame. At first, the city looked like it belonged to his era. Suddenly, the streets’ speeding ground cars were replaced by carts and carriages pulled by local beasts of burden — and the general level of technology reverted to that of the distant past. Yet, not long afterward, the scene jumped forward to the far future.
The look on Kevin’s face made Reah smile.CONTINUE READING
After hours, Kevin watched the latest developments in the Tellurian-Sinovian war from his spacious apartment in Consensus Village — at the heart of WorldUnion’s capital city. Predictably, WorldUnion newsnets praised the hulking, dark-red saurian Tellurians and demonized the fragile, pale blue insectoid Sinovians.
One news report included a close-up of a dying Sinovian soldier’s face. Despite its non-human features, the insectoid made Kevin think of comrades that he himself had lost in battle, during his brief stint in the WorldUnion armed forces three centuries before.
“Makes no sense,” he said.
Yet he knew better. The war, like all wars, made the sense of pure power. The fact was that the worlds colonized by the Sinovians were richer in natural resources than any others in the neighboring three galaxies. Even in societies like Kevin’s, where everything “natural” had been surgically excised, there was still no substitute for the raw materials produced by exogeology.
Now the conflict had reached new depths of cruelty.CONTINUE READING
The weeks following Kevin’s promotion delivered a constant barrage of unpleasant revelations. As became increasingly clear, the entire apparatus of the WorldUnion government existed solely to serve the ever-increasing demands of its Tellurian overlords.
“Integration?” “WorldOrder?” “The Perfection of Humanity?” Every one of the Integrator’s stated goals were simply code words for programs that ensured that Commander Kraath and his ilk received their tribute money on time, month-by-month. For the simple truth was that Earth and its fragile colonies on the moon, on Mars, Europa and Titan had been client states of the Tellurian Imperium for the last four centuries.CONTINUE READING
The gift that Reah Landesman had given Kevin — evidence of intelligence failure by his superiors — had the desired effect. With the detailed data Reah sent him through his subcutaneous transmitter, he built his case like a skilled litigator. His subsequent testimony before WorldUnion Court was devastating and he enjoyed seeing two of his superior officers squirm and tremble under cross examination.
As predicted, his successful prosecution of their “Dysunifying Malfeasance” won him first a coveted commendation from the Office of the Integrator and, a few weeks later, a promotion. Outside of his seven-month stint in rehabilitation, his new title initiated his first major life change since he’d been inducted into the force at age eleven.
NeathDirector 17Kevin37, as he was now officially known, was no longer engaged in field work. Barring revolutionary action, he’d lead no more raids and never again witness WorldUnion cruelty first hand. His brow furrowed. Would his distance from the anguished faces of his victims harden him to their suffering?CONTINUE READING
In spite of Reah’s message, the Integrity Force pushed Kevin back out into “the field.” As before, he was assigned a team of operatives and sent to rebel hotspots. Yet, how much his perspective had changed!
As he burst into a newly uncovered rebel hideout, he found no ruthless gang of criminals. Instead, he saw ordinary people cowering in fear, their eyes pleading for mercy. For the first time, he read their desperate attempt to escape oppression in the cramped, decrepit bunker where they’d hidden. These unfortunates had likely spent most of their remaining credits on a holographic projection they hoped would conceal them — only to discover they’d purchased the necessary equipment from an undercover government operative.CONTINUE READING
Over the next six months at WorldUnion Rehab Center 151179, Kevin’s new habit of early morning batting practice brought him out of his shell. Between those who, like him, had once played baseball, and others yearning for simple pleasures, he developed a new set of fast friends.
“Friend.” The word called up a universe of submerged emotion. Timmy Madison had been a friend, even if he could be such a dirty liar. Nothing unusual there, Kevin knew. Real friendship was a binding tug-of-war between two kids who stood together, whenever stupid adults made unfair demands.CONTINUE READING
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
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 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
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
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
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
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