Friday, February 6, 2009

Avalon Bek, What Dreams May Become

This is the story of Avalon Bek, a warrior, a scientist, a champion of justice, who got screwed by the "Powers That Be" and became thier tool. He was one of the first men to be implanted with the most advanced cutting edge micro science bio-computer hardware mankind had so far invented, and the first man cryofrozen and shot into space in a manned interstellar probe. He was also one of the first men lost between the stars. Until he was rescued.

This is also the story of a boy and his dog, and a place where high fantasy meets hard science in a race both to claim a far away world and save our own.

The wheel turns, the cycle is unbroken.

Chapter 1

"Arilla? Arilla Renghe? What are you doing on Nexus?" James Shaffert said, as the slim young lieutenant came in through the forward bay, planted her feet firmly on the grav-ring and sauntered over.

"I could ask the same of you, Gentek," Arilla said, a smile lighting up her face. "I thought you’d be in trans on Vega, or has Jan finally wised up and left you?"

"She is waiting at the shunt, actually. I’m just under the wire and heading that way myself, as soon as Stoggy gets here that is," James said, smiling back at her quip. "Meantime, what can I do for you?"

"I’m under the wire too, actually. I need a fix," she smiled sweetly, batting her long black lashes and closing on him.

He groaned in apparent vexation as she slid up to him.

Wrapping his arms around her slim frame he said, "What else is new? Okay, what do you need?"

"I’m signed on the Acchilli as PSS, and the Captain sent me to fill the ranks," she said, cuddling into his embrace and staring up at him.

"Primary Science Specialist, huh? and on a ramship no less? The Acchilli is slated for deep space isn’t it? That’s quite a move for you, Arilla, considering your politics."

Her smile became a bit forced and she pulled out of his embrace, turning to survey the room. It was wide, round and filled with cryo tubes like large silver coffins all lining the walls, ceiling and floor, accessible via robotic jack-hoist. A grav-ring went around the room covered by a slab of light emitting flooring that hid the g-pads, super condenser coils which gave off artificial gravity at about a tenth of earth normal.

"So," she said, changing the subject as artfully as ever. "Do you have anyone for me?"
He was about to say something, to dredge up their past, old feelings, mutual need, to say something about the pain they had shared, and about her pain, things he could not share. He was about to, but like so many times before, he stopped himself.

She turned her back on him, pulled away, and he just let it go.

"So you want a bioprobe?" he asked instead. "I thought that was against your politics too. What are you looking for?"

He moved his fingers above the scanboard, bringing up a list of inventory as well as the logs of the ramship Acchilli.

She ignored the remark and turned to view the scanboard records over his shoulder. The lists corresponded to the cryo tubes covering the room, each of which housed a single cybernetic bioprobe. Some of the bioprobes were under construction, or waiting for various upgrades, but most were simply waiting for reassignment.

"Maybe a VX-22," she said sweetly. "Something with advanced micro scans and long- ranged sub-particle communications?"

"Yeah, you wish you could get a scan on that, but no chance. That’s restricted tech," he said, his fingers spinning through the mist of text dancing above the scanboard. "We only ship those out on Hierarchy craft, you know that. Or did you forget all your honest Gentek training now that you’re a Spacer?"

"Hmm," she said, pouting a bit for his benefit, "that’s why the captain sent me, I suppose. She thought I could get a favor."

"A favor?" James laughed. "I’m giving you favor enough just talking to you!" Then his look of vexation returned, but for another reason entirely.

"Where is that Stoggy?" James said. "I need to get to that shunt before third turn or my wire will be up and burnt."

"I’ll mind the stores if you need to get going," Arilla offered. "I’ve done it enough before. Just check my cred-chit before you go, so I can pick out someone nice for the Acchilli."

"Someone huh? Same old Arilla," James said, shaking his head. "Still persistently believing bioprobes are people too. At least your fantasies are consistent, mine never were."

She ignored him and his attempt at levity, letting the comment go; they had argued the point raw, there was no reason to bring it up again. They stood on opposite sides, that was all there was to it.

"One more favor for your old friend before he leaves you again?" James asked, breaking the silence awkwardly, something like regret coming through his words.

"Don’t worry, you and Jan are made for each other," she answered, a smile lighting her face that almost touched her eyes. "Besides, you’d never catch me signing a breeding contract with Megacor, even if it is the only way you can get a kid nowadays."

"I know," James said quietly, that look of regret lingering.

"Anyway, I would gladly take your offer, but it's against regs, and Prime Control would not like it if something went wrong on my click, and I was not here," James added, almost apologetically.
She moved closer, taking the scanner hot point from him, her fingers sliding along his wrist and extended fingers in a slow exaggerated motion to gather the cyber strand.

"Look, silly," she said, flash questing her bioprint and opening her main file. "I am still listed as temp in Core Records, and I have the clear for Gentek spec manipulation. I’m sure desk jockey falls lower than that, don’t you think?"

"Putting it that way, I suppose you’re right," James said, almost acquiescing to her will. "But there’s still a problem."

"Such as?" She asked, her eyebrows on the rise.

"I need to do a shutdown, and I know how you hate that," he said.

"Oh," she said, so quietly she almost seemed to be talking to herself. She almost blurted out an apology, almost bolted from the room; then she stopped and took reign of herself. She could do this, she must; she had quit Gentek Core because of this, she had become a Spacer to get away from this, but her past still haunted her. Space Core had put her in charge of the ship's bioprobes because of that past, and if she wanted to remain a citizen, with all the rights of that position, she would have to take one or the other. She steeled herself, and then she spoke the words, leveling a practiced look of disgust at James as if he had just insulted her pride.

"I can do it," she said, eyes daring him to say she couldn’t. "I am PSS on a ram-ship, after all."

"Okay,’ he said, backing down. He had seen Arilla angry before, and he did not wish to repeat the experience anytime soon. And while he did not really believe what she was saying, he could see that this was important to her. He used his voice command to unlock the stores for her, allowing for one bioprobe of her choice to be signed to the ram-ship Acchilli, and then he gathered up his things and headed for the core, thanking her profusely for the favor.

"I’ll check you out when you get back," James said, poised at the hatch. "I should have a family by then."

Arilla smiled as he departed. She had loved James once, or thought she had. They had both earned parent-right, permission granted to bear a child, genetic compatibility assured. They had found each other in Comp match, the company's computerized dating and mating system for parent-right earners. It was a perfect match from the start, they were both gentek trained, they liked the same tri-vids, had the same tastes in food court, and enjoyed each other's sexual styles. Their friends said they matched when they came to core gathering, like they had been together for years; that they fitted together. It was perfect, would have been perfect, but then life came and taught her some lessons which he could not fathom. They had lost each other across a scantable when the biomaterial they were manipulating became too personal to deal with, at least for her. He had never understood, and from that moment on, she could not love him; she could not even understand him anymore.

She pushed it away. It was the past.

She turned back to the scanboard and started tracing through the inventory lists. She refrained from bringing any of the VX scans online, though she thought of it, but not in a clandestine way. It was purely technical interest on her part. She had been a tech fanatic, and new tech always thrilled her. She had been attached to Gentek Core before switching to Spacer, before her brother's accident, before it had become too personal to manipulate humanoid biomaterial and create genetically engineered machines. It had been her life once, before she understood what she was doing, and who she might be called upon to do it to. But all that had changed. She refrained from looking up the VX scans not because it was illegal, she was good enough to cover her tracks in that respect. She refrained because she just wasn’t that person anymore, because she did not want to be that person anymore.

Instead of looking at the VX she brought up the shutdown list and accessed the block for current jobs. She opened the file list and switched to eyescan, flashing through the info blocks with unnerving speed. The file she was looking for clicked in almost immediately, showing three bots and one probe. The bots were phase-worn and definitely worthless; their frames were contaminated and their brains would no longer process information because of high radiation damage from the ore, but the probe seemed pristine at first glance, though something was not right about it. The kill specs were fine, there was the usual order for termination from Prime Control, the central authority of Gentek Core, but there were oddities that gave her cause to wonder. Oddities like the fact that the termination order had been routed from Alpha Core, Megacor's head offices on Earth; Alpha Core almost never concerned itself with Nexus Station or the outer ring. But it went deeper than that. The bioprobe had been shunted through Tarius Station after being picked up by a robot miner. Tarius was fully automated; a dump point for ore from the asteroid belt and a bot store for passing ships heading into the Rift, it was also fully outfitted with automated Gentek operations units for upgrading biobots and bioprobes used in prospecting operations. For some reason Tarius Station did a full upgrade before shipping this bioprobe to Nexus, which was odd because that kind of thing almost always took an order from Prime Control. And more so because as soon as the bioprobe hit the docking ring the termination order had come down.

Without stopping to think about what she was doing, or why she was doing it, Arilla accessed the bioprobe cryotube itself, her mind locked into the mystery and needing some conclusion that would answer it. She was looking for the reason the bioprobe needed to be terminated. She did a primary scan, doing trace for radiation contaminants and bimolecular virus mutations that might make the bioprobe a walking death machine, but she found no evidence of these. He was totally clean.

Next she brought up his body scan, marveling at the intricacies of his engineering. He was old, she could see that immediately; probably first or second generation. That would mean he had been out in deep space for a long time, probably in one of the early cryo-units; bulky tubes that relied on cold sleep rather than total stasis. The difference was slight--both caused the body to hibernate, but stasis was a complete shutdown of all faculties while in cold sleep it was said a subject still dreamed.

He was among the finest pieces of work she had ever seen; his implants were fully subcutaneous. That was illegal, had been since the Cyber War two hundred years ago. Before the war there had been cyber warriors, men honored for their choice to blend their flesh with machines for the good of mankind. But now any human with a cyber implant was considered a second class citizen if they were considered human at all; which most were not; even when someone chose to serve the company and blend with machines for the good of the company. Her brother had been one of these; over-zealous in his belief that the company would never sell him out if he gave everything he was to them. He had been a fool.

She could do this, she told herself. She was just stalling. She just needed to shunt the tube contents into the clean room and wipe it with the disintegration unit. Every bit of biomaterial would be gone and all the mechanicals would fall to the slot to be recycled, then she could go about her business. But she could not. Instead she brought up a picture of the bioprobe, scanning its sleeping face for something she couldn’t quite place.

Then it struck her. He looked like Tam.

Tamarin Renghe had been her brother. He had been a top jump jock in the Spacer Core, and he had given himself totally to his work. He had taken implants to better interface with the cascade, a computer model for accessing commands directly from an enhanced human brain. But something had gone wrong, something in the quantum curve of folded space time had driven him mad, or maybe q-kaon time reversal was just too complex for the human mind to comprehend. When he returned, his mind broken from his final test run, the company did not try to heal him. Instead they dissected him.

He could be Tam. He was older. Tam had been twenty-two cycles, while this man looked like he was at least ten cycles older, but the resemblance was uncanny. He was totally human in appearance, and she wondered if that was enough for the company to terminate him, but realized that there must be more to it. Megacor never wasted an asset, even where legalities were concerned.

She realized, too, that she could not be the one to terminate him.

She made her mind up almost too quickly. Everything fell into place; the steps she would need to take were clear in her mind. It would take an expert programmer, someone with her unique mindset, and a great deal of luck. She had the first two, she could only hope for the third.

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