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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Epsilon 2078

Epsilon 2078


I was on E deck of building 5 when I first met Bashira. I don’t have a photographic memory, but I can still remember every detail of my surroundings in the few seconds before my life went a little crazy (again).
I was leaning against the railing, staring through the thick plexiform walls at the Night Wings of our space station- everyone used the solar panels for a clock since they were the only part of the station that didn’t spin, instead rotating to follow the sun. Judging by their angle it was about 11 hours into the day. Scientist had found that depriving people of a natural rhythm of sunrise and sunset (in addition to making them a little batty) drops them onto a 27 hour waking and sleep cycle.
Nobody knows why. As a result all of Epsilon 2078’s computer driven cycles- from the buildings that ran mock sunrise and sunset programs to the jet propulsion systems that kept us from getting sucked into Earth’s atmosphere and regulated our speed of orbit- were set to a 27 hour day. There was no a.m. or p.m. as my father remembered it.
Memories of my parents were a painful subject. It had been only 3 years since they passed, and while pop psychology told me that the pain would fade to almost nothing with time it seemed like 3 years was nowhere near long enough. Besides, pop psychology was written for normies- and I didn’t dare access any files on the psychology of psychics. It had been over a decade since the witch hunts of the late 60s, but we were still a persecuted bunch. Tagged and monitored, or so everyone liked to believe, our branches in every military disbanded.
It was necessary to keep people at an arms length, or that’s what my parents had drilled into me. It was easy for them to say, they’d had each other, and me. Now I had no one, not another psychic to share a mind with, not even a normie. I stared out into the emptiness beyond the plexiform windows and struggled not to think of the old Earth philosopher my father was so fond of. What did he say? Something about staring too long into the abyss…
I tore my mind away, moving on quickly. Glancing around at the people wandering past, contented looks on the majority of their faces, I wondered what it was like to be a normie. To not have the constant buzz of almost-thought in your head. It was a soothing hum most of the time, your average person thinks half in feelings and half in poorly formed imagery. They don’t project very far out, just brushing gently against you as their owners walk by.

“SHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT!!!!”

Except that one. My head jerked up and I scanned the hallway, unsure where it was coming from. I had never had the benefit of full military training. My parents had drilled me mercilessly, well aware of how dangerous our ‘talent’ had become, but that was nothing compared to the programs that had previously been available to every nation’s psi-troops. As a result I had to scan the crowd for several seconds before locating her. She was doing a good job keeping her face neutral, and her pace even, but her head twitched slightly as she fought the urge to look over her shoulder.
Three members of Station Security were walking brusquely down the hall, ignoring the vid screens that lined the walls and ceiling advertising everything from shaving cream to body sculpting. Their eyes scanned the crowds, their mouths set in firm lines, and their thoughts ran a checklist every time they examined a new civilian on the promenade.
Chocolate brown hair, right…” the SS moved to where he could see a face and frowned “Blue eyes, wrong.” They were definitely looking for her, and unfortunately she was exotic enough to be easily found.
Her dark brown hair was wavy and caught the light as it poured down over her shoulders and grazed the top of some very interesting curves. Nice. Everything kicked into overdrive as I continued examining her, not even the stray thoughts around me registered anymore. Her eyes were tilted slightly, and though it was hard to see the color from here, the SS was searching for green- a person favorite of mine. Full lips were pursed slightly in fear. Her walk swayed a bit, despite her brisk pace. She was definitely hot- something that would work against her if she was trying to escape notice.
My pulse sped up as I detached myself from the railing and fell into step when she reached my section of the hall. Her thoughts were a jumble of images and expletives. She’d been pulling some sort of shady job and gotten nailed. Blue lights circling indicated some sort of security breach, and every time she remembered them she got another rush of adrenaline. She knew she was being followed and had just enough self control not to panic and run.
By this point we were almost at a maintenance access hallway and I still hadn’t skimmed enough off of her to figure out whether or not to help. In a couple minutes it would be too late, the SS weren’t far behind and the next several blocks of corridor were just that, hallways with no real hiding places. This was the only place that was nearby where we could lose them. I’d been drifting towards her, herding her to the far wall as we approached. The sane part of me argued that this was ridiculous and I should walk away.
Pop psychology says that we cannot survive without human contact- real relationships- that we go crazy. It looks like three years and one good looking girl had done it for me. I casually put my hand onto her elbow and steered her down the short hall to the metal door at it’s end. A fine sheen of sweat broke out over my entire body. If SS had been looking in our direction when we slid away at least one of them would follow. I had thrown in with a girl I knew nothing about, and we were on the run.
Gritting my teeth I blocked out the suddenly fearful whirlwind of her thoughts as she struggled to adjust to this new change in direction, my own emotions were hard enough to push aside, I didn’t need hers crowding on top of them. I punched in the access code and shoved the door open as quickly as possible, pulling her through and shutting it quietly.
You idiot- I thought to myself even as I pictured a schematic of the maintenance hallways, selecting our escape route, never ceasing to move- If you wanted a girl that bad you should be at Madame Cheri’s. My mother would have fits if she knew where parts of my inheritance had gone. With a slight shake of my head I pushed the guilty feelings from my mind, trying to focus on the present.
My father would have fits if he knew I was risking attention from SS this way. Parents- they were impossible to please. What good was all the random crap they’d trained me for if I never used it? Memorizing the blueprints for an entire space station hadn’t been fun, and I’d never found a purpose for them before today.
We had just rounded the first corner when she tore her arm free from my grasp.
“Who are you, where are we going?” Her mind was a mixture of fear and anger, an image popped into her head- a body on the floor. Someone close to her had dropped the ball on their job, and paid the price. She was off balance and it was making her fear worse. I had to keep her moving, but right now asking for trust was going to be completely futile. She’d just had someone she cared about fail her in the worst possible way.
I kept walking, and breathed a silent sigh of relief when she instinctualy followed. We had to get to C deck and into another building- fast. I blessed my parent’s paranoid habits as we reached the first set of stairs, fitness was a major priority. Despite three years without them I had kept myself in good enough shape to take the stairs at a light run and still talk.
“You can call me Zee.” I told her. Giving out my real name never even crossed my mind. Nobody knew it anyways, I was on my third ident card since we’d gotten to the station. Anyone I dealt with on a regular basis just called me Zee.
“We’re headed to C Deck, we can cut across two buildings on that level and lay low.” The exit to C Deck maintenance corridors grew closer even as I spoke and I opened it, turning right down the access halls.
“How do you know I’m in trouble, and why are you helping?” Her thoughts were calmer. Now that the immediate danger was gone she was settling remarkably fast, despite the image of the body that kept cropping up in her thoughts. I glanced back at her, assessing. Whatever shit she was into, she was a pro. Quick on her feet, sexy- I jerked my eyes forward. There was no doubt in my mind why I was helping, not that I would tell her that. She was hot, what guy wouldn’t step up for that?
“Your head kept twitching towards those three SS guys behind you.” I told her, hoping she wouldn’t notice that I had skipped the second question. We went through another door and merged with the crowd walking across the bridge to Building 4, slowing our pace to blend. The bridge was beautiful, made of solid plexiform. As we crossed we were surrounded by stars, only partially blocked by the walls of Buildings 4 and 5. The Earth lay below us, but was quickly shifting position as the station rotated.
Building 4 was much more commercial, and we were quickly bombarded by the sights and smells of a mini mall. My only warning was a quick burst of thoughts, it took me a moment to sort through them, and by the time I realized she had broken away from me she was cloaked by the mass of shoppers. For a moment I considered following her, she would have gone into a shop with multiple floors it was the only way to lose me. With a shrug I left well enough alone.
She’d been thinking about meeting back up with her team, thinking they’d need to recruit another Muscle- probably at the Games. In under two seconds she’d run through all the things she needed to do to get out and figured out an escape route- then acted on it. She was quick.
I followed my original course to building 3 and got some Lo Mein from a Chi-Merican restaurant on D Deck. Chin’s served up good food, it tasted like home to me. As I worked my way quickly through the pint and my orange ElectroBalance I thought of all the reasons that I should go right back to my normal life and forget all about this girl. They were compelling arguments, which didn’t sway me in the least. I knew that two days would find me at the Games, blowing the carefully tailored low profile life I had led for several years now.
Boredom is a bitch, it was going to get me killed.
#
              It wasn’t my first time at the Games, they were popular with just about everyone on Epsilon 2078. The station’s rotation added (quite literally) a special twist that no athlete could resist testing themselves against, and as a result we wound up with some fairly famous Earthies competing with the local favorites. They inevitably lost. No amount of training could prepare you for the fact that, on a space station, when you dropped something straight down it fell in a curve.
              This was, however, my first time competing. The Jerk had given me a truly skeptical look when I brought him my ident card to modify, asking for a semi-pro sports background. His bright red hair bounced slightly as he shook his head in disbelief. It didn’t stop his long spidery fingers from snatching up the cash chits and shoving the ident card into his Portable. His fingers danced across the touch screen, almost too fast to track as he muttered to himself. I’d never seen him work with a real console, although I had a theory that his Portable must be connected to one in some way. There was no way that little thing could work all the techno-magic I’d seen it pull on its own.              
Shaking the ident card free The Jerk handed it back and stood, towering above everyone at McCarthy’s. He drained his pint of Guinness and shoved in his chair, pausing for just a minute before he left.
              “Be careful about the girl, okay?” Without waiting for an answer he walked away, his long legs carrying him quickly from the Pub. I wasn’t surprised that he’d pegged me right, every stupid move in history had been over a girl. Men are a predictable species, mom used to say- sometimes fondly, sometimes in exasperation.
              The Oreo Sports Center consisted of three floors, the main arena was on the ground level where most of the action took place- football or basketball, or every once in a while hockey. The hockey players did better than most since the puck stayed on the ground. The second floor house the courts for one on one athletics, racquetball or tennis, fencing, wrestling- the works. It also housed the equestrian center. There had been talk of adding a golf course, but I doubted they’d be able to cram it in there, although the craziness that the station’s spin would work on a golf ball would make it a popular draw.
              I rounded the platform for the second floor entrance and continued to the third, unofficially known as ‘The Battleground’. I showed my ident card at the door, I had enough sports in my background to make a good player and they let me in with a minimum of questioning. I’d showed up early to assure myself a spot in the upcoming game. The Battleground was open every three days for a game of Red vs. Blue- some sort of old video game reference. It was fairly simple, two teams started on opposite sides of the immense indoor landscape. Whichever team lost all of its members first was out. The other team won. The two team captains were already in place and were reviewing our profiles as the players entered. They’d come up with a basic plan of attack or defense which would hold for about the first half of the game. After that things tended to descend into anarchy.
              I jogged a circuit around the arena to get the lay of the land. The designers had gone with rolling hills crisscrossed with small creeks. Scraggly trees provided some cover, and a few looked tall enough to climb- if you were bold enough to pin yourself down like that. On my second jog around  I saw her again, selecting a seat near the plexiform windows. There were two men with her, older. One had the look of ex-military, dark brush cut, square jaw, ramrod straight posture. The other was possibly a programmer. Something about the constant movement of his fingers reminded me of The Jerk. He was shorter than The Jerk by a lot, but had the same pasty complexion that implied very little time spent exercising or exploring SunDecks. His hair a mess of unruly blond curls.
              I hadn’t slowed and was past them quickly. I debated whether to work my way over to this section of the arena during play and decided to be safe. They’d be able to see my performance on the vid screens, no need to get close enough to be recognized. The girl might react with suspicion if she saw me again so soon after I’d randomly popped into her life, I’d rather wait until after they approached me with their offer for us to be reintroduced.
              I checked one of the screens as I continued jogging and noted that I’d been picked up by the Reds. The giant time clock in the lower left hand corner sent me flying to the Red’s weapons locker. My team leader, a tough looking little blonde, nodded at me briefly, her fingers flying as she made her final selections at the monitor on the wall. The little cul de sac was only slightly fortified, a few stray boxes giving us cover. There were only four of us there, and so I waited patiently until our remaining six teammates arrived, grabbing a Tag stick and helmet from the wall of our base.
              Within two minutes the last stragglers came in and equipped themselves as well. The blonde surveyed our group, frowning slightly and then sharply gestured us in.
              “I’ve played against the Blue’s captain before, and he’s an aggressive s.o.b.” She told us seriously, “We’re going to play mostly defense, it will leave us in a corner, but it’ll allow us to dig in. I want to snipers on some high ground covering our base, any volunteers?” I paused a moment, deciding whether that would play to my best advantage, then dismissed the idea. They would be looking for a Muscle, so I would do best showing how I handled myself in a tight situation.  Muscle only came into play when things went wrong, they were handiest at covering an escape. By the time I finished my train of thought two of the men had raised there hands. She nodded at them briefly and they picked up their Tag sticks and headed out to find some cover.
              “The rest of us are going to buddy up. Each of you should spread out about thirty feet from the team behind you and position yourself at an angle so you’re watching each other’s blind sides. If it gets hairy, fall back and the team behind you will provide cover fire. Try not to give ground to easily, we don’t want to get boxed into Base.” Anything else she might have said was cut off by a loud buzzer signaling the beginning of the Game. She grabbed my arm and headed forward, hauling me along quickly, trusting in the others to follow her orders.
              We moved forward and to the left about sixty feet, leaving room for a team behind us and one to the side. No sooner had we found decent cover- a small circle of trees behind a smaller hillock- than I felt a buzz of excited thought. I hit the deck with a warning to my partner just ahead of the pulse from my enemy’s Tag stick. I swore softly scooting behind a tree and popping my head out. I yanked it back in quickly feeling the patter of shredded bark- apparently our opponents were working in teams as well.
              Two women were heading towards our position around either side of the hillock in front of us.  Blonde leaned out from cover and took a shot at the brunette on my side of the hill. I took a deep breath, reminding myself that a shot from a Tag only disabled my shields and did likewise for her opponent. We both scored a hit and the cradle of our Tag lit as a ball rolled out of the handle and dropped into the net. I stepped forward and flicked my wrist, hitting the brunette closing on my partner with the energy ball. Blonde missed and I suddenly found myself up close and personal with a tall redhead.
              I dove to my right, hearing the sizzle of a bolt whiz by my head, and flipped to my feet. Instead of attempting to retreat further while my Tag recharged, I closed, dropping my stick to grab hers and flipping her onto her back. She fought me for control, continuously discharging bolts, but I refused to be distracted. I felt the buzz of two more minds approaching just as another ball began to roll down into the cradle of my stick. I didn’t have time to get to it, so I simply rolled onto my back, forcing my enemy between myself and Blonde.
              “Get down!” I screamed as the burst of light faded, but my warning was a second too late. Her shield failed as it was hit with a bolt from the next pair of Blues. A bearded man grinned fiercely at her and lobbed a ball just as my energy bolt hit his shields. She swore fiercely and dove away, falling back towards base. His smile dropped into a grim line as his own shield dissolved, and turned to a look of shock as his partner‘s shield followed. It was good to know our snipers were doing something.
              I lobbed the ball at the bearded man, covering for my partner, before turning my attention to the tiny pixie of a girl he had paired with. In the second it had taken me to dispatch him she’d fired off a bolt and disabled my shield. She grinned fiercely, the glow of the ball lighting her features in a decidedly eerie way. Instead of diving or running I took a deep breath and focused, waiting for the moment before she took her shot, when her thoughts would tell me to dodge.
              She was quick, the time between her taking aim and actually swinging the stick was so small that she would have gotten me if it weren‘t for her aim- clearly an Earthie. She didn’t hesitate at all after she missed- she turned tail and ran. I pursued, grinning fiercely, casting out in front of us for the thoughts of any Blue members. It was rare I got a chance to exercise my gifts and I reveled in the freedom that the Game gave me. My scoop was glowing with another energy ball as she led me into range of one of their snipers, and I got off my shot before he did. I retreated quickly, circling around to his position.
              This guy really knew what he was doing- at least I assumed it was a guy. He was buried so deep in leaves and dirt that I could barely make out that he was a person at all. Great cover for sniping, terrible for dodging. I took down his defenses and tagged him with a ball before he could regain his feet. The buzzer sounded again, letting me know that the match was over, and I jogged to the sidelines, more specifically to Sideline Café, to re-hydrate and check my stats.
              I grinned fiercely as I pass the status board. In addition to my Kills and Assists had scored the highest for Defense, they gave me a Save and a Cover- no one else had either. I would be exactly what they were looking for.
              As I had anticipated, She was there, along with her two male friends. One of them nodded to me, gesturing towards the stats, and she turned to look. I felt the spike of nervous anxiety in her as she recognized me, and she turned back to her friends shaking her head vigorously. I grabbed an ElectroBalance and sat, keeping my talent focused on them as they fought while letting my body innocently study the screen. Apparently the older ex-military thought that the fact I had already helped out my girl was a plus, not something to be afraid of. I felt the moment he decided to ignore her and caught my breath at the overwhelming sense of relief.
              They might be criminals, I thought as they began walking towards my table, but really where else was I going to fit in? All I knew was that there would be no more days staring out into the vast emptiness of space, wondering had gone insane from isolation- or if not then when I finally would. The old Earth philosopher that my father had a fondness for cropped into my head, and his quote echoed in my mind as they stopped and regarded me.
              “If you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back.” I shivered slightly, although not so much that they noticed. Ex-Military assessed me slowly before seating himself at my table. As the other two joined him, he began.
              “I have a proposition for you…”  






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