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Rated: ASR · Book · Sci-fi · #2222221
This is the beginning of a novel set earlier in the timeline of stories than Hellhounds.
#1001029 added December 29, 2020 at 10:00pm
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Chapter 2 - Time

Annette settled into her office chair after cheating time to get done with an appointment with Sinclair Chavez with plenty of time to type in notes on the meeting before her working lunch with Carl. She tapped away at the keyboard displayed on the touchscreen display of her desk. The notes were few. Sinclair was on track with finishing a prototype factor survival suit. He still needed a suitably complex program to run it. Annette sent a note to Tawny, one of the most complex programs in Refuge to see if she had any insights on breeding the right type of program.

Annette saw Carl approach and knock on the glass door of her office. Annette waved him in. “Chief, are you ready for lunch?” He held up a large-screened pop-pad. Annette nodded. When he turned to leave, she smeared scent suppression cream beneath her nose.

“Where are we eating?” Annette asked, snatching up her favorite pop-pad. There were butterfly and flower decals on the back and one decal that spelled out her name in leafy vines.

Carl walked over to the transport booth in the corner of the outer office. He answered her and programmed the booth “Hub Central Cafeteria.”

Annette stepped into the booth with him. He tapped the go key, and it transported them immediately to one of the more popular restaurants in the nearby city of hub. They walked from the transport booth into the restaurant. They bypassed the long line and went straight to a reserved table. On the way past the people many noticed Annette and gasped, waved, or pointed. They almost seemed to think she shouldn’t need to eat.

Annette sat at the table, across from the seat Carl always chose, before he could pull her chair out for her. He sighed and sat down. He placed his pad on the table and began with the working part of the lunch, “We need more people willing to work the farms.”

“I thought covered it with androids and robots,” Annette stated she picked up the thin flexible display that showed the menu. She was fairly certain what she would eat, but she always made a show of looking.

“The animals respond better to people. If the primary purpose was efficient food production, I wouldn’t worry about it, but that isn’t why we put in the farms. It was for cultural enrichment and biodiversity. Androids are fine, but they don’t really enrich the culture as much as a living farmer...”

“We were fine with that in the planning stages,” Annette tapped the menu to order her meal.

“When we planned, we didn’t expect five thousand refugees staying in temporary housing for months. I was hoping we could encourage some of them to leave the crash pads and move onto the farms.” Carl stated. He jabbed angrily at his menu.

“We have over fifty thousand crash pads down there. We aren’t running out.” Annette responded.

“I don’t like the precedent it is setting. If one sixth of all incoming refugees stay down there...” Carl left the ‘then’ portion of the statement to Annette’s imagination.

“Give them some time Carl, most of them literally lost their entire universe.” Annette shrugged at him.

Her response clearly didn’t satisfy Carl. He grunted at her and swiped through to the next item of his agenda.

“Carl, are you ever curious about time?” Annette asked randomly. It was an attempt to put off the next item of their agenda.

“What, like scheduling?”

“No, like the malleability of the fabric of space and time. I haven’t ever really gotten out into the field, and I am curious about time travel. What should I do about it? I mean yes, I am in charge. Does that mean I can’t pursue my own interests? Did I cease being a person when I became chief?” Annette ranted.

“Calm down, If you are curious about time travel, it might be some kind of gut thing. You might need to explore the interest to do your job. You know Max Xandari, Yllera’s pairmate? He was a catalyst that means he probably has a lot of experience in time travel. Maybe you should pick his brain. Now what about establishing minimum education requirements across species? I mean, Tanerians don’t mature like briaunti and humans look developmentally delayed compared to either. Everyone needs equal footing on becoming an adult...” Carl began.

Annette sighed, “The more I think about it, the more I think it might be important that I look into this time travel thing. It could be my gut trying to tell me something important. Maybe I should ask Angela what she would do?”

Carl shook his head, “The job left her burned out. A few months of retirement are not enough to restore the clarity of mind necessary to give reasonable advice.”

Annette had to nod at that. She knew better than Carl how far Angela had deteriorated in the last few years as chief. Angela had hidden from the job at the end. Annette wondered where she would be after forty years as chief. “I think I will go out and explore the idea on my own...”

Carl practically stood up to protest, “You have about fifty hours out in the field. That is barely over two days. Angela basically trained you as an administrator, not a field factor. You have no business going out there alone!”

Annette frowned and sighed, “Can you set up a meeting with Max for me this afternoon.”

“You have a meeting with Gene about the state of medical services. I don’t know how long that will take to get the information you need. It is Gene...” Carl replied.

Annette’s frown deepened. She leaned back in her chair because she saw the server approaching with their food. “I’ll talk to Gene but make sure Tina is there so I can get the information in less than an hour, and schedule the rest of the afternoon with Max.”

This time Carl sighed. He lifted his pad to make room for his plate and tapped at it to arrange the meetings. “Done.”

A young family who had just finished eating approached their table. The preteen daughter was grinning from ear to ear and the mother smiled apologetically, “Ms. Peterson, you are Margie’s hero. Do you think we could take a picture with you?”

Annette fingered her hair, as much to make certain it was in place, as to cover her embarrassment at the attention, “Yeah, come on Margie, you can even sit on my lap.” Annette pulled herself out from the table and rotated so she could accommodate the child.

Margie giggled and seated herself on Annette’s lap. The proud mother used her pop-pad to take the picture and handed it to Margie for examination. The girl squealed wordlessly with excitement.

“Let me see that a minute,” Annette suggested. The girl handed her the pad and Annette tapped for the autograph mode, and then signed the photo and pressed her thumb to the pad beside the signature. The photo would only print with the signature and thumbprint for Margie. Annette passed the pad back to the girl. Margie hugged it to her chest and jumped up and down, squealing.

The noise was too much for Annette. She was still having trouble with the hypersensitivity of her senses. She used her telekinesis to project a bubble of silence around her head. Carl took notice and gently urged the family to go. Tentatively Annette lowered the bubble. Even the ambient noise of the restaurant was bothersome. She gritted her teeth and began eating resolutely.

“I’ll schedule a lunch for tomorrow to finish going over business,” Carl barely whispered.

Annette smiled at him in relief. She picked up her plate and teleported to her office. With a few taps on her desk, she electronically noise isolated the room. The only sounds Annette could hear were her own noises and a light whisper from the ventilation ducts. Annette had dodged a boring lunch today, but tomorrow it would be twice as bad. She shrugged and ate her sandwich.
- - - - - - - - - - - -

Illora Peterson knew about what the factors had been before she was born. Her father Morgan, a briaunti; and mother Llonda, an Agurian, had been tertiary factors. That was until they had lost contact with Sanctuary. Neither of them could teleport. Their psi ratings weren’t strong enough. They depended on teleporters based in Sanctuary. Lack of contact virtually trapped them on their assigned planet.

Illora had been born some time after that. Her parents had raised her on near Utopian stories about Sanctuary’s society and people. It sounded so much better than the strife-ridden earth alternate she had been born on. Their theories of what happened to Sanctuary had over time settled into the idea that something somehow had destroyed or taken it over. Her parents had learned of several threats to Sanctuary during their factor training. The main one was the amorphous enemy, simply known as the darkness. At the time of its disappearance, the other threats were historical rather than contemporary..

The first possibility was a recurrence of The Inter-dimensional Empire. It had been an empire cruelly run by a race of humans with the power to wipe entire species from multiversal existence with a simple thought. Ellen, the mother of one of Sanctuary’s founders, had helped bring the empire down.

The second possibility was a recurrence of a zombie-like collective that nearly took over the multiverse. Seven diverse infectious agents that destroyed the minds and wills of its victims made up the collective. Riiad practically swallowed the souls of its victims.

All three of the possible ends Sanctuary had faced frightened Illora to the point of nightmares. It had meant night time reassurances from both her parents that none of the threats were after her. As she matured, Illora placed less and less stock in her parent’s stories. They became fairy tales to her.

Illora’s tastes ran to comic books and computers as she approached puberty. She had two favorite comic series, “Lady Monarch,” and “Fog.” Lady Monarch’s mother was empress of Taneria, her father was an Agurian servant. It was an illicit love, and her father sent her to earth for her own protection. On earth Lady Monarch went by Rebecca Young and her superhero name. In the books she had a full-blooded Tanerian man named Paul as a sometimes partner & paramour. He masqueraded as Viceroy.

Illora’s second favorite comic was about, “Fog.” In his normal life people called him Andrew Cannon. By day he was a rich dilettante-genius, tactiball player. By night he was Fog a telepathic crime fighter.

Her parents claimed having met Lady Monarch, but had never seen a “Fog” in reality. Those claims were as close as Illora got to the myths of Sanctuary past the age of eight. Comic books were her favorite source of entertainment, but Illora’s real heart was in computer hacking. By ten it was taking everything either of her parents could do to keep her from coming to the attention of the FBI for her hacking escapades.

It finally came to the point they had to take her phone, computer and library privileges. It really came to a head the night her best friend was arrested for hacking the pentagon with her cell phone. Illora’s mother took the call, “Hello, what?... I didn’t know they were messing around with that kind of thing… I will ask Illora if she knows anything.” Illora was creeping towards her room by the halfway point of the call. Her mother hung up the phone and yelled at her, “Illora Peterson! Did you hack The Pentagon?”

“I never touched the phone! I swear!”

“Illora! We have to keep a low profile! There is no backup. If we stand out, we could become targets of the groups we were here to monitor,” Llonda argued.

“What has she done now?” Morgan asked on entering the middle of the speech.

“She hacked The Pentagon!”

Illora shook her head, “I never touched that phone. Casey did it!”

“With your help?” Illora’s father asked.

“I never touched the PHONE!”

Illora’s mother clicked her tongue, “That is a yes!”

“You are grounded. From everything. No TV, no game systems, no setting foot outside of your room without us present to supervise!” Her father bellowed.

“But dad… How long?”

“Until school starts again, and we will not authorize library privileges for you! You will go to school and come home and go to your room!” her father answered, “You better hope that your bestie doesn’t rat you out to the FBI! Maybe this time we’ll let them have you!”
- - - - - - - - - - - -

Tina was pursuing her own personal interests in her free time. Since her split with her pairmate Nicholas, Tina had trouble occupying herself in the off hours. The split was a raw wound for Tina. All the responsibilities and stress of nearly running the medical operations left her with far less energy and enthusiasm to focus on their relationship. The split wasn’t a nasty one; it had been fairly amicable. Nicholas had wanted his own quarters so that the coms didn’t wake him with Tina to the bizarre interruptions of her job. She could still call him if she needed him. He spent some evenings with her. Still, Tina didn’t want to bother him with her problems.

Tonight Tina’s interests were in the Riiad Collective. That interest was because she received Yllera’s research and reports. Yllera was clearly worried, but not clear enough on the medical jargon of the reports she had forwarded. Honestly, Tina couldn’t understand all of it. Doctor Gustav Allegro compiled much of it. He had been the medical expert for Sanctuary on the collective, until it infected him. He disappeared from the containment complex closely attached to Sanctuary and was still MIA.

Two of the most important people in Tina’s life; Gene, her nominal boss, and Penelope Whitefeather-Harvey, Tina’s mother, had annotated much of it. There was no dealing with the history of Riiad without mention of Penelope. Somehow Tina’s mother had been the one to end the collective. There was no sign anywhere in Sanctuary or Refuge’s records of how. Her mother had to have told her cousin Angela, the former chief. All Tina could guess was that Angela had made Penelope promise not to divulge the mechanics of the overthrow.

Tina brushed aside thoughts of her mother and went back to deciphering Allegro’s notes, “Group R1, a semi-sentient collective viral or bacterial colony was one of the key agents of Riiad infection. It also typically acted as an immunosuppressant. It infects a host weakening both the immune system and the will, prodding the host to search out the main collective to complete the assimilation process.”

Tina had a blinding flash of insight. She looked into her own notes on Yllera. When she regained the species shape shifting abilities, Yllera had gone through a severe reaction to the Agurian plague hidden within her every cell. At the time, it had seemed to Tina that the plague might possess collective intelligence. The two entries had such similar sounding characteristics.

Tina slapped her forehead and began dictating a new entry for in her notes, “I now think there is every possibility that the Agurian plague could fall into the R1 category. This is very disturbing because Yllera is responsible for uniting Kavir, a formerly marine coalescent organism, with the complete Agurian genome. She actually came very close to turning him into an Agurian.” Tina tapped the button to hold the dictation on pause.

Tina swiped through Allegro’s notes as deciphered by Gene, “Group R7 The keystone element of any Riiad collective. It is one of any variety of coalescent colonial organisms. While usually aquatic, an organism that may possess the qualities has been located in a desert region on a small as yet unnamed planetoid. They provide a majority of the intelligence and consciousness for the collective as well as being the glue which stitches it together.”

Alarmed, she linked the entry to her dictation. “A prospective member of Group R7 has officially linked to an R1 organism.” Until that moment, Tina had believed Yllera had been seeing a house cat and ‘crying wolf’ this meant they might have at least a canine. Tina cross checked the more detailed biological readings and linked those to her notes as well. Then she began drafting a report for Gene and Annette. Neither recipient would be happy, but that was okay. Tina wasn’t exactly thrilled. Not even at the idea of putting important puzzle pieces together.
- - - - - - - - - - - -

In the months since their exile, Illeria and Kadin had taken on new identities. It was for their own protection. Kaviri weren’t an exactly popular species. They had taken on the names Hillary and Case Sampson. They bounced from world to world, trying to find one they fit into. So far they had no luck. On worlds that Illeria fit in, Kadin would flounder and vice versa. It seemed like the universe wanted to divide them.

Illeria didn’t care what the universe wanted. They had been together since the womb and nothing was going to separate them if Illeria could help it. Kadin showed far less determination. They were on a lush world full of plants of every type but few land animals. Many of the animals they had come across suffered from a strange sort of infection. What it seemed like was that some kind of plant had taken them over.

While it satisfied Illeria with staying near the human colony they had joined, Kadin wasn’t fitting in. He spent a great deal of time exploring the forests and thickets. Most days he came back with new plants that could hopefully add to the colony’s food resources. It was his place in the colony. Illeria was more interested in taking care of the children. She enjoyed the challenge of teaching them and keeping them out of trouble.

It almost looked like this world was going to be their new home. That was until the morning that the first people disappeared. At first it was just bothersome but as more people disappeared into the forest it was becoming alarming. Eventually all the colony’s leaders could come up with was sending Kadin into the forest to find out what was going on. The idea of losing her brother with no clue what happened to him terrified Illeria. She volunteered to go into the forest with him.

“Stay away from those vines,” Kadin warned within fifteen minutes of leaving the settlement. Illeria had stepped very close to a hanging vine covered in what looked like shaggy hair. “The hair will stick and itch until you can bathe with soap.”

Illeria suddenly realized how separate she and her twin had become. For the longest time, their skills and knowledge had been at least similar. Now she saw he had grown and developed an entirely separate skill set. They hiked into the forest for hours before they saw the first sign of the missing people. There was a shredded jacket lying across a bramble.

Kadin scooped it up and inhaled deeply the clinging scent. “That’s not good.”

“What?”

“This smells like a woolern possessed by the vegetation,” Kadin stated.

Illeria frowned, “The zombie weasels?”

Kadin nodded at the semi-descriptive term used by the colonists. “I am afraid that the plants are attempting to take over people. If that has happened, we are all in danger.”

“We could hunt the weasels down!”

Kadin shook his head, “We should leave this world. It isn’t safe! I don’t want to risk you.”

“We have to help these people. They took us in! They are practically family. What about our honor?” Illeria asked.

“What honor? Our father made it clear we no longer had any!” Kadin spat.

That hit too close to home. He blamed her for their exile. Secretly, she blamed him. He had been the one who formed the plan to cheat. She hadn’t known, but she had gone along with it. “He can not take what is not his. We have our own honor. Don’t let fear take it.”

Kadin nodded and began leading her deeper into the forest. A couple of hours later they came across a similar except more extensive scene. Kadin stalked around the small clearing, looking for clues where they should go from there. He had his back to the far side of the clearing. The leaves rustled behind him. Before either of them could react, a hoard of zombie weasels leaped at him and knocked Kadin to the ground. Thorned, whip-like vines sliced through his jacket and stabbed the entire length of his spine with thorns. He screamed in pain. The zombie weasels left the clearing, easily romping purposefully deep into the forest in the direction they came from.

Illeria ran to Kadin’s side. She pried away the vine and the thorns. Sprouts of green grew out from the holes, filling them with green plugs. Kadin moaned and stirred. She flipped him over and sat him up, “Kadin?”

He looked at her with unfocused eyes. He grunted.

“Kadin, talk to me!” Illeria put a hand on his shoulder, “I think we need to get you back to town, to the doctor!”

Kadin threw off her hand, “We, I am fine. I do not need a doctor. Keep your hands off of me!”

For the first time, Illeria sensed she was not a part of the “we” Kadin referred to. “Kadin come on, I need you!”

“We, I am done, with you.” Kadin pushed her away and ran into the forest.

Illeria kneeled in the clearing alone. The snarls of woolern on approach warned her it was time to retreat. Kadin, or whatever he was now, had left. It was time to start her life again, alone. She would follow his suggestion and leave this world to its fate. If Kadin could succumb, then how could she stand?
- - - - - - - - - - - -

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