His crew consisted of seven other men and one woman cook. Asteroid mining had not been his first choice when a child nor had it become an adult passion. After years of vagabonding around some of the nearer core planets, adventuring, trying his hand at this or that, he kind of fell into it. One night in a strange bar on a wild outpost planet called Vendanna-Four, he'd wound up drinking and playing holographic billiards with a grizzly group of miners on leave. They were a rough but friendly lot. Almost all had families back on Earth, worked hard and sent most of their earnings home. But when they were on their own and responsibilities had been taken care of, it was time to party, understood as a birthright immune to the clutches of normal society.
Derek found himself drawn to their lifestyle. To him they seemed free and alive, far moreso than the stick people working at boring office jobs where he'd been heading when a student and had ordinary aspirations. He thought, what the hell, and got the address of their home office. As it turned out, they were always in need of new recruits and hired him over the sub-space transceiver. Their base was on Rigel-Three, only two lights away as the crow flies, if crows could fly through gamma-ray soaked black space. One month of training, operating the massive and highly technical digger-smelter-refiner-purifier machine, and, according to his instructors, he was ready. However, it had all been on simulators and he received very little class time on the structure and inner workings of its moving parts. It wasn't wormhole generation, but considering his background, it proved complicated enough. He had to smile at his arrogance towards the miners he met on Vendanna-Four. On the surface they appeared as simple rough-housing muscle-heads, but now he realized that each of them was disguising a keen and agile intelligence.
While traveling to the asteroid named Potato-GH-27, he studied the manual in desperation, trying to understand how its many parts interacted so seamlessly. He wasn't expected to be able to build one, even theoretically, but when it broke down, as mining equipment often did, he wanted to know how to fix it. But he sensed, or rather imagined, that the reason he'd been given such a superficial education on the overall process itself was out of secrecy and not from a lack of qualified instructors. But what could they be hiding and why? All they were doing supposedly was digging calassium ore, a fairly new mineral not found on Earth or much of anywhere else, for that matter. Its properties were unprecedented and highly classified; its real world application was exclusively under the auspices of the military. He knew of no civilian application, not as a power source or as subtrate for the organic computer industry. But if the latter were the case, he wouldn't know anyway, not being very familiar with the architecture or operating principles of biogenetic circuitry.
Derek was smart at one thing, when confronted by facts that were somehow connected but didn't present a clear big picture, he suspected a conspiracy of intentional confusion. Something about the giant processing machine and the calassium was being kept quiet for purposes that if the public became aware, there'd be an outcry, a protest, an inquiry. It could all be quite innocent, of course, he didn't have all the information that could, possibly, fill in the blanks and remove unfounded anxiety. Perhaps the corporation worried about trade secrets only; this particular processor was relatively new to the mining industry, maybe that's all it was. But there was just something about how his instructors had acted when he sought them out for questions. He knew when someone was trying to avoid revealing too much. If it was trade secrets only they were trying to protect, they could've just said that and be done with it. But they didn't, it made them too nervous, the questions he asked, so it didn't occur to them to put him off with a simple lie. They were engineers, not politicians. And so, they engendered the feeling that something was going on beneath the surface, something that few people knew about, something of major importance that could prove deadly.
He arrived at the asteroid base along with the rest of his team without mishap, the trip had only taken a few days of wormhole jumping, one after another--tedious. They were to replace the crew who'd been there for only three months. Usually, mining crews were on a six-month contract, but there'd been problems and the men complained about abnormal events, loudly and somewhat incoherently, not making a lot of sense. That's what he was told, nothing more. When one of their crew had been killed mysteriously while performing a routine maintenance job, that was it for them.
They refused to do any more digging and wanted off. The dead man had been found by his mates outside the cave, out in the open, wearing only the barest of protective gear. One of the crew who was also a medic reported cause of death as over-exposure to gamma and cosmics rays. But he had only minimal medical knowledge and equipment, so at best, he was guessing the obvious by appearance and circumstance. How the deceased managed to get outside when the lead-knickle doors--main and personnel--were sealed by selenium sheathing was unknown. They wouldn't be unsealed until the cargo ship arrived. In fact, rumor had it back at home base that the report stated quite a few unknowns, dismissed as the ignorance of the man who initially examined him. Once his body was retrieved and returned to the corporate medical facilities on Rigel-Three, an autopsy would clear everything up; at least, that's what was believed.
The Hawkings particle, responsible for Dark Matter separating out (spontaneous supersymmetry breaking) from the Dark Energy background, was discovered around 2164. In fact, what was previously referred to as 'dark' matter was renamed the Hawkings Containment Membrane (HCM); although, in the working world of physicists, it was still called 'dark matter,' far less cumbersome and the mantra of it rang familiar bells of thought associations.
Almost simultaneously it was theorized that the HCM derived from or was projected from a deeper dimension of spacetime; nowadays the idea is accepted as an inferred principle: spacetime itself is not one continuous static though elastic substance, but has many dynamic layers each of which can be contacted--that's how the physicists thought of it--via a Hawkings field interface set at various quantum frequencies. These layers came in pairs of sheets held in each other's embrace by the powerful set of dark sparks that cohered as the Hawkings particle. A mysterious void partitioned these pairs into a hierarchy of densities. Since then, research into Hawkings field applications, although not at the fever pitch it was in the beginning, has gone unabated around the world. Innovations come online that are so novel and unprecedented that maintaining technical secrecy is a matter of life and death.
As the Cosmos of concentric spacetime-shells evolves, it mutates, bifurcating along force lines as new properties emerge to form the next stage. The singularity at the center of the hypothetical spacial-temporal ball signifies the supersymmetric fusion of Dark Matter and Dark Energy as gravity/anti-gravity pair, coming together as one in the vacuum of sub-space. In the beginning, the Hawkings particle broke this symmetry and, as a result of the splitting, imbued dark matter with gravitational energy. The concepts of mass and gravity were seen, in the history of physics, as emerging from the same source and as a consequence of cosmic evolution. As this energy percolated up through layers of spacetime pairs, it grew weaker.
Four-point-six percent of the universe is made up of visible matter--our layer of spacetime where atoms and photons of light reside--an offshoot of dark matter. Electromagnetism outside the range of human vision is still categorized as visible matter for purposes of discussion. This bifurcation was caused by the photon of electromagnetic force, the necessary requirement for and essence of our physical existence. And if we were not susceptible to this force by virtue of being visible matter, we would simply pass through everything like dark matter does. A moot point for without it there would be no we.
Moreover, this force resides only on our layer; visible matter is a product and the reason-for-being of the membrane-universe we inhabit and are confined thereon, and is restricted by this force from seeping beneath to lower shells, like continental crust floating on the mantle of Earth. No spacially-manifested object--visible matter--can leave our spacetime. If it did, it would lose both the Higgs and the photon and become dark matter exclusively, or would simply fall apart without the visible matter binding force, dark-matter gravity being insufficient to maintain internal, or atomistic, cohesion.
The Higgs boson gives visible matter its mass making it susceptible to the gravitational effects on gravitiy's weakest level or shell, the topmost, where we reside. But this force is derived from, or more correctly, inherited from, the Hawkings particle and is seen in the scientific community as a variant on the Hawkings and may have nothing whatsoever to do with the gravitational susceptibility of dark matter.
Visible matter resides exclusively on the topmost layer; dark matter projects onto it but is not of it, as gravity is not of it, from the point of view of the singularity. The 3-D image of this multidimensional construct is one of concentric and self-enclosed spherical shells pairwise distributed. However, there's no reason to preclude any other models; beneath is, after all, only a directional vector signifying a hierarchy of evolving forces.
"Before there were space and time, there was empty, formless stillness. The vacuum seethed with ghost virtual particles coming into being in conjugate pairs of matter and anti-matter."
"Spacetime is but a large-scale manifestation of some more fundamental entity."
"Space and Time can be born and thus can die."
From: Barrow, John D.; Pi In The Sky
But even though this was all ancient history and common knowledge among the millions who read popular science books and magazines or watch documentaries, Derek was oblivious of it. He'd been a shuffler and a scuffler all his adult life, breezing by, doing whatever he could to survive.
He found his room assignment in the honeycomb of the best in off-world fabrications. It had a bunk, a dresser, a closet, and a sink with a table next to it, and sitting right in the middle: one large old leather chair someone had kindly left behind. He was excited and a little scared. But he was familiar with that kind of fear, it only served to heighten his awareness. He put his stuff away and left, making a mental map of his warren as he ventured down one corridor after another, reading signs, trying to get the layout of the massive crew-workshop-laboratory quarters. He poked his head into one small cafe set up for coffee drinkers and smokers of the latest thing from the home world, a luxury he was to learn not to underestimate. He poured a cup and sat at a table next to an old hand wearing a rough but serviceable jumpsuit about twenty years out of fashion. The latest thing was a flexible carbon-titanium exoskeleton laminated over synthofiber. What this guy was wearing, he could only guess.
"Excuse me," he said to the old man staring hard at the round table in front of him. Not getting a response, Derek pushed it, "Sir? Excuse me."
The man squinted at him sideways, but that was all. Suddenly, he gulped his coffee, stood up, grabbed his duffel bag off the floor, and hissed to Derek in passing, "Get out. Get out now. While you still can." And with that he left to catch the tram back to Earth or whatever colony lay in between, like Verdanna-Four. He smiled at the memory, but the darkness and intensity of the old man, his voice and message, washed over him, evoking his prior thoughts of a conspiracy. Something was happening here, that man couldn't wait to leave, and the kitchen crew in this self-service joint had already left, apparently. He recalled the report: one man dead--unusual problems affecting production--crew want off. That's all corporate would let out.
He drank a cup and looked around; nobody else came in. He wasn't to meet with the others for work assignments and a tour of Central Control for an hour. The atmosphere was heavy in spite of the blowers running full speed. He let his mind go to consider the big picture, only then would he be able to gradually work down to the source of his misgivings. His asteroid was one of thousands in a field on the far side of the galaxy suspected of possessing all manner of unknown metals and minerals. His, Potato-GH-27, large by comparison, was 600 miles long and 300 wide at the middle of its tapered form; the narrow end facing the direction of orbit around a sun 10,000 times larger than Earth's. The planets and moons of the system had yet to be fully explored. Two were located in the habitable zone, but no complex life forms had been found to date. An exploratory robot ship sampled the minerals in the field and chose this one for its large cache of calassium. It was the foothold, the first to be mined, to work out any anomalous bugs, and to see how much calassium was there. It's believed it was manufactured inside a neutron star, its properties only beginning to be discovered. Initially, it was placed in the carbon family; however, although nonconductive, it retains metallic properties, and its density is a thousand times that of diamond.
He stood to refresh his cup--he had time--and as he poured marveled at the familiarity of gravity. He wished he'd been one of the frontiersmen, the wild bunch who first ventured forth to populate the outer reaches fifty years ago. That land rush was made possible as a result of one of the first major applications of the Hawkings field. A field generator, an adaption of the original wormhole generator, connected to amplifiers placed at various mathematically ascertained nodes around the base as well as outside the enormous cave, working as a network, concentrated and magnified the asteroid's weak gravity to that of Earth's. With that invention, the entire universe of asteroids, planetoids, moons, and planets opened to discovery, exploration, and colonization. Obviously, it had a crucial impact on terraforming operations, inducing atmospheres to form, which in turn were subjected to chemical transformation and climate control. Biofeedback did the rest.
Spaceflight had been made reasonably safe from cosmic and gamma rays by the novel technique of spherically surrounding a ship with a network of interconnected magnetic-field generators collectively forming an enclosing shell of protection; they would be telescoped from the body of the ship and set in place after leaving Earth's orbit. They maintained position by mutual intersection at the core: a microbially infused and thereby molecularly reorganized--at the atomic-lattice level--pure germanium ball at the gravitational center of a ship. On a vaster scale, using self-correcting and artificially intelligent satellites, a planet, moon, or asteroid of whatever shape could be relegated safe from harm and with their atmospheres maintained where producible. It was obviously a much more complex problem with asteroids where irregular jagged lumpiness was the rule; however, much had been learned from practical circumstance. For instance--effective resonance imaging--interior shells of reinforcing satellite networks as well as land-based amplifiers [enhancers] could be adjusted to optimize the overall magnetic field by focusing on specific variations in real time, speed of feedback no longer being an issue. The technique was almost identical to the software-controlled ability of optical telescopes to continuously adjust each tiny mirror of a mosaic of thousands of such mirrors in order to cancel out atmospheric aberrations. The electrical component was channeled into servicing the needs of the base and processor. It was a rather efficient set-up; nothing was wasted.
Derek wanted to be a part of it, the frontier, the adventure, the freedom. So he was determined to do a good job, a failure now would put him back on Earth, away from the stars and the incredible novelty of space. But he wasn't all that happy with his first job, on an asteroid mining a newly found mineral with unique classified properties that somehow was the cause of multiple problems with the processing unit as well as the mysterious death of one of the crew. His survival instincts were lit up. Whatever was going on here on this outback post, he was determined to find out, before it killed him.
The head honcho led him to the grease storeroom; he would not at first be working on the processor. He had to prove himself, adapt to his surroundings physically, mentally, and emotionally. Life on an asteroid--hurtling through space in a densely-packed asteroid field, going around a distant sun a thousand times more massive than Earth's, and undergoing artificial gravity which, in spite of its field equivalence to that of Earth's, the body could somehow tell wasn't quite right, with queezy consequences--puts one through some serious mind- and body-altering changes. But these surface adaptations were nothing compared to how the environment worked its way into your subconscious, into your dream life.
His job was to keep all the moving parts of the many vehicles and lifting equipment well-lubed and operational. What that last part meant, he didn't know. The head honcho appointed an experienced crewman from Derek's team to show him. He didn't have a name; he refused to introduce himself. Derek was a greenhorn and experienced hands held them in contempt; so few passed muster. These were miners, not microbe designers. He told Derek he'd show him how to do his job once, so he'd better pay attention. He did.
A week into it, the head honcho left on the tram that brought his replacement and a control-room crew of three. They all kept to themselves, a world apart. The new overseer was something of a recluse, in fact, spending most of his time in the control room and the rest in his quarters, ostensibly reading. Derek suspected, however, that he knew something and wasn't sharing. The cook, now with two kitchen helpers, fed him wherever he happened to be roosting.
Derek had been a loner for a long time, so he kept to himself when off-duty. He took it upon himself to learn about his situation; the base library was well-stocked with holgraphic vids and electronic reading material of every category, a tiny cube of organic cicuitry contained more than the old Library of Congress. He read about the Hawkings field, an overview of the most important concepts. He wondered about the artificial gravitational field imposed on the tiny asteroid, tiny by comparison with Earth. It increased the curvature of the local spacetime without compressing and increasing the mass of the asteroid--rocks, minerals, elements--and by so doing altering the configuration of the atoms that made it up. It was as though the grav field pulled a web of space-strings, an elastic mesh of interlocking fibers, towards a central hub, concentrating them, like a pupil dilating, with the resulting field manifesting only on a horizontal plane; the asteroid didn't sink any deeper into the jello of spacetime. The artificial grav field wasn't sufficient to hold an atmosphere, incredibly thin though it would be, to the rough asymmetric surface of Potato-GH-27, of course, but it was of no consequence, within their massive cave, blower-purifiers produced a reasonable facsimile of breathable air. Additionally, the magnetic field generator, intended for protection from solar wind and cosmic rays, reinforced the cohesive integrity of the asteroid's constitutents which strenthened gravity.
But what about its orbit? Why didn't the superimposed grav field cause the asteroid to decay into a collision with other asteroids or even fall into the star? He read: The Hawkings field targets dark matter as it interpenetrates visible matter. Although dark matter interacts with visible matter gravitationally, it doesn't increase the mass of visible matter because it doesn't stick to it, inside or out. The two forms remain indifferent to each other's existence, like two soliton waves passing through one another. And, therefore, the grav field radiated by the generator through its web of amplifiers accentuates that of the asteroid itself, but does not increase its mass density, and as mass density dictates curvature, the asteroid experiences no change in orbit trajectory through spacetime.
Derek was unsure. It was all a jumble. His art was finding patterns, but this was way beyond him so far. Under suitable pressure and temperature, carbon atoms would rearrange to form diamond, that he knew. Earth's gravity wasn't strong enough to do that, not on the surface, and that's all we have here. It's artificial--surface gravity--it doesn't emanate from an iron-knickle marble surrounded by untold cubic tons of magma, rock and ocean.
He laid in his bunk looking at diagrams of the processor. The smelting procedure appeared straightforward. The raw ore was placed in the large belly-chamber where it was subjected to superheated radon gas. This freed the calassium crystal, in a very rugged form, for the next procedure: purification. Taillings and sledge were systematically removed by bathing the crystal in a bromide-acid solution for a long period. He flipped the page expecting the next procedure--refinement--to be imaged and schematically spread before him, but instead met a 'no-access' sign. Is that what's so troubling that it has to be expunged from the manual? he thought. He turned a few more pages to a description of the process. Each calassium crystal emerged from its captive matrix and spontaneously formed a unique configuration, the many facets aligning in perfect symmetry, different from any other like snow flakes. The radon-lasers honed the surface of each facet down to the atomic lattice level, precisely ordering the arrays of atoms. And at a thousand times denser than diamond, it possessed novel refractory properties as yet not fully fathomed. At certain angles of light beams, groups of facets would radiate a confluence of frequencies, forming a pattern of transfixing beauty and emergent complexity. At other angles, only one would express its intense still simplicity, the other facets remaining opaque as though in deference. These spontaneously self-organizing structures changed expression with subtle light-angle changes, like individual synapses joining with others to form patterns not possible or predictable otherwise. The best quantum crystallographers were busy studying calassium, but what was known was kept under the lock and key of the military.
Mulling it over, relating one idea to another, looking for edges to dovetail as though a jigsaw puzzle, he eventually fell asleep. He dreamed he was in a one-man submersible traveling through thick muddy water, unable to see, nothing to hear, his only sense that of movement. In front of where he sat were two extended control sticks. He pulled one back and forth, then the other, trying to gauge what they did. When both were back towards him, he felt a surge of gravity. Suddenly, he jettisoned into the sunlight, blue sky and water as far as he could see. At the top of the arch, he became weightless momentarily, before plunging back into the sea of mud. Diving down, he tried to gain control, level his trajectory. But to no avail, onward he dove, the sight through the narrow viewscreen getting darker. He sensed the tiny submarine slowing down as though finding resistance and not from anything he was doing with the controls, like a ship going aground on a sandbar. Then he stopped. No sound, no sight save pitch black. In the middle of the control sticks was a large red button, flat, about two inches across. Out of desperation, he pressed it. Alarms went off, loud alarms, all over his tiny cocoon.
Suddenly he felt gravity again, only much stronger, as though he were being quickly pulled up by a giant hand. He popped out, rose several feet, then plopped down with a discernable splash. No one and nothing was visible save the endless blue sky and calm sea. He waited, not knowing how he managed to get into this situation in the first place, he had no idea how to get out of it. A floater appeared on the horizon, quickly approaching. It hovered overhead for a time, then rays of greenish yellow light shone down. It lifted him to the floater, through a portal, and put his ship down in what looked like some kind of vast storage area. The portal beneath closed. He was again thrust into utter darkness. Quiet. Serene. Still. Then the sound of footsteps getting louder with each step.
At the end of the first month, the crew had merged into a team. The experienced hands had accepted the three greenhorns to the point of actually recognizing their existence. To mark this first important hurdle, it was traditional to have a celebration. They decided to throw a one-month anniversity party in the rec-room. It was the largest after the gym and was well-stocked with virtual reality booths, participatory holgraphic movies and documentaries, and all manner of games, including chess, both two and three dimensional. With all the technically complicated electronic gadgetry to keep them entertained, chess, quiet, peaceful, thoughtful, relaxing chess was still the favorite among men whiling away off-time, talking about down-to-earth concerns, smoking herb and drinking good coffee with a shot of bourbon in it. At least that's what Derek enjoyed. The latest mildly psychoactive drug from home had arrived on the last supply shuttle, and nobody turned it down. There were strict rules about smoking on the job; drinking was far too dangerous, so that was never an issue, no rules necessary. Even so, Derek discovered, quite by accident, mind you, that he could perform his menial tasks adequately while stoned. In fact, he found he got more into it, his body moving smoothly at its own pace through each and every detail, while he busied himself thinking about other things. He had no problem rationalizing it. Here in space on an asteroid, doing what he's doing--he might as well be in some factory on Earth.
His mind free, he let it wander amongst the chaos of ideas about the processor, its physics underpinnings and reason for being as he understood it. To this he tried to tie, overlap, cross-reference how the problems the last crew experienced--especially the death of one of their own--could have occurred. He felt he needed much more information, and not just a barrage of extraneous facts about the operation, something you'd find in an investment brochure, but the right information. Thinking about the events of the previous crew, concentrating on actualities, he cut away a lot of flotsam that was irrelevant, including copious references about failsafe features in the introductory pamphlet that smelled like intentional misdirection and overemphasis. Was it an effort to cover up something known to be dangerous? Or was the source of the problem simply too crucial and therefore too secretive to openly reveal? Regardless, thought Derek, they should let a guy know what he was into.
He'd tried to find out what'd happened his first day in the coffee cafe, but that old man was too scared or shell-shocked to feel like chit-chatting. He did give that ominous advice, however, on his way out; Derek guessed he couldn't help it, he had to say something. But they all left posthaste, and nobody said a word. Could be they signed some kind of agreement with the corporation. In any event, he knew nothing except that problems occurred during the refining procedure only. He gathered that from scraps of paper he found in the bottom drawer of his dresser. A journal or diary of sorts, written by hand on actual paper, a practice hardly anybody ever did anymore. There were constant references to the refining process, attempts to sabotage the machinery, fear of working that detail. And some incoherent jabbering about ghosts and shadow beings moving about. Hallucinations, thought Derek when he read it. They warned us about that. The stress of deep space, being so far away from our ancestral home. There's a tendency to lose touch, start seeing things, imagining other people from our past long dead, loved ones and those we fear. It was in the introductory pamphlet. Another excuse, another rationalization?
At the rear of the hewed out cave the tunnels leading to the interior of the asteroid and the mine started. A single mag-bar wended its way down the middle of each, guiding the antigrav calassium cars back and forth. Having a skeleton crew of five miners for what amounted to a test drive of the equipment and an assessment of the mineral kept the pace at a slow and manageable rate. A full-fledged mining operation employed dozens of miners, processor workers, engineers, a full kitchen staff, and infirmary with two doctor and a few nurses. Now only one medic was in attendance. So this small-scale operation was ideal for Derek while he learned the life. Some day he'd be invited into the mine itself, down one of the windy tunnels into the bowels of the asteroid. For now, though, he was content with oiling machinery topside.
Real oil and its derivatives had been practically phased out by the middle of the 21st century. Nuclear fuel cells, synthetic lubricants, and frictionless bearings contributed to their demise. However, the use of the term oiling hung on as a tradition; it was easier to say, oiling the machinery than synthetically lubricating. Most of Derek's time was spent oiling the dozens of zerk fittings on the huge machine that loaded raw ore into the smelter hopper. None was easy to get to, a difficulty Derek never stopped muttering about.
The final curtain came down on the oil and automotive industries with the discovery of the graviton (force particle of gravity) in 2046. Its application included antigrav air vehicles (grav-cars) which essentially put the kibosh on the tire and aerospace industries. Many others directly and indirectly related that had been intricately woven into the workings of the world also suffered. It was an unsettling period of major transition in societies around the globe, to put it mildly. Man had invented the wheel, and now its time was over. However, the vehicles and loaders Derek had to maintain were all wheel and fuel cell machines; antigrav technology had proven inappropriate and dangerous in these kind of circumstances due to the tenuous nature of artificial gravity. If it were to abruptly shut down, for any one of a number of glichy reasons--software, field intermittance, human error--the consequences could be disastrous, people could die. Calassium ore is ridiculously heavy.
Despite slight local differences in the gravitational effects on the passage of time--compensated for by computer calculation--standard clocks were set to Earth time, the duration of an hour the same. The artifical gravity assured this. Nonetheless, day and night had no meaning; Derek didn't care when he worked; he punched in, he punched out. This shift his mind flitted between the evening's celebration--the head cook was beginning to look more attractive with each passing day--and searching for patterns in what he knew about the operation that might reveal what happened to the former crew, or, at least, cast serious doubt on the official view. He realized he had to suspend any and all presumptions and personal perceptions in order to arrive at an explanation that fit the picture, even if it sounded totally absurd and impossible. Abruptly thrust into an extreme alien environment helped, ironically, to declare null and void the content of his perceptual filter system. Almost nothing he'd learned in his life and leaned on as real and expected survived the transition. Thoughts concerning society, relationships, problems were irrelevant. The reality of the civilized life he knew drifted away from lack of application like dandelion seeds on the wind.
He thought about the dead crewman found outside the main doors dressed in only a work jumper. He was not suited for being outside. Though close to the massive star, surface temperature varied as the asteroid spun forward. When facing the star it was an almost balmy ten or so degrees centegrade, but in the shade it was close to absolute zero. And a rotation took only a few hours. Those who first constructed, dug out, this gigantic cave had to have been extremely tough. Supposedly, they had a small enclosure to start with; they quickly hollowed it out and hung the tall main doors in a matter of weeks. Derek didn't think he had what it took to ever be one of them, but, he didn't know, especially at this early juncture. The challenges of this life have a way of not only transforming a person externally, but also correcting his opinion of himself, his level of confidence, as his identity takes on varying shapes and sizes, becoming eccentric in leaps, with a person ending up doing that which he never before imagined. But with experience also comes resistance to taking unnecessary and potentially deadly risks. You learn where your limits are, and taking a stroll on this inhospitable as hell chunk of mean rock was way beyond anybody's. That crewman wouldn't venture outside the protection of the heated and radiation defensible cave to gander at the night sky or for any other reason. At least, not willingly.
Squeezing between a massive arm that supported the ore cradle and the superstructure, his mind glimpsed the pages of the diary. What could the writer have meant by shadow beings? Had everyone seen them or only he? Were other diaries left behind in other rooms, as a deliberate act to warn their replacements? Should he ask them? He hadn't thought of this before because it hadn't occurred to him that these shadow beings, whatever they really were, had something to do with the crewman's death or the problems with the refining process. Nervously, he scanned his immediate area. Did he hear a noise, a creak, a shuffle? Was he losing it?
He finished the zerk and decided to take a break; he was on his own so stopped whenever he felt like it. The job was endless, no single zerk could be considered the last of the series. Near the front of the processor, where the refining module was located, a makeshift rest area had been constructed, a windowless room complete with tables and chairs, sixty feet from the two main gates. As he walked the distance over the rubberized floor--sections of two-inch thick, twenty-square-foot puzzle pieces joined together--he scanned the bare cave walls with its jagged rock facade--the result of blasting--jutting out here and there. The lighting hung from the ceiling and walls promised coherent uniform light everywhere. That was in the brochure, in practice it was spotty at best, and in places adjacent the high housing of the machine, darkness blended with odd-shaped protuberances. Were these the cause of the shadow beings, the ghosts? he wondered.
In the middle of the empty breakroom stood a table holding sample crystals stacked in a pyramid, the finished product. Even though he'd been using the room for a month, this was the first he'd seen them. He assumed the overseer had done it or had it done, but why here and why now? thought Derek, his conspiratorial mind back in the saddle again. The ceiling lamps reflected tight spectrums of light off the crystal facets, mingling and blending with rainbows from others, bathing the greyish-white walls with overlaying abstracts, rich colors emerging from multiple vortices seemingly embedded in the walls. The total effect changed dramatically as he shifted view. He put his cup on the table and hefted one; it was indeed far heavier than it appeared.
The entire operation, from ore to finished crystal, transpired inside the monstrous machine. There were no viewscreens to monitor what went on inside. Computers watched, regulated, and manipulated the product. Each individual calassium crystal emerged from the refining module encased in a translucent hard plastic which would sublimate when exposed to strong EM at a certain mixed frequency (trade secret), unharmed, cleansed, and pure. But these crystals piled on the table--the larger ones as big as his fist--were bare of plastic-coating wrap, crisply defined and perfectly honed. Because the ship was due, thought Derek, the overseer must have put these here as samples of the finished product; an inspector from Corp-central would no doubt be onboard. But could that just be a coincidence?
Non-humanoid robots carefully placed the product into platinum-iridium crates lined with the softest memory-foam; it changed shape to conform to the contours of each uniquely configured crystal. Ordinarily, with a full crew, a cargo ship would land outside once a week to be packed for the trip back to Earth. But with only this skeleton crew, their visits would be monthly. Robots performed the loading, no humans would venture out into the thin asteroid air unless a malfunction made it absolutely necessary and only when the sun was shining.
Derek held the calassium up to the ceilng light, varying its distance from his eye. The light was fairly weak, too diffuse to get a real show of refraction in motion. As part of his introduction he was shown a holo-vid of the colors displayed by banded-laser light aimed perpendicularly at the geometric centers of each facet. The colors were almost painfully intense and vivid, the edges sharp and the transformation from one complex structure to the other evoked deep emotions, emotions unpredictable, overlapping, and uncontrollable as the ensemble of frequencies converged in perfect symmetry then disentangled and curved away like ballet dancers to form yet other elaborate ensembles.
He poured a cup and sat down at a nearby table. During this month he hadn't seen anyone else here; the other two greenhorns were working in the tunnels assisting the miners loading the cars. Why he got selected for this duty was a mystery, but he suspected it had something to do with his work history and psychological profile. Several written tests and one interview with a coroporate psycholigist must have had an overriding influence; although, it could very well have been random. He didn't know and didn't care, he liked being alone.
The crystal was half the size of his hand. He tossed it into the air a few times, amused that its value was probably more than he'd earn these six months. Trying to steal one was not an issue, everyone was thoroughly searched before leaving the station. The soft ambient light was not enough for Derek, he turned his high-intensity hand beamer on and laid it on top of his cup. The crystal had more sides than he could count. Slowly he rotated it in front of the beam. Frequencies beyond the visible spectrum merged with an overall complex of infinite color possibilities to create a phase-shifted whole that stood out above the parts. A change in angle acted like an old-fashioned kaleidoscope; as he turned it, the elaborate pattern would suddenly jump from one distinct form to another.
He placed the beamer on the table and the crystal in front of it to take a sip of coffee. Abruptly, all light from the room and his fuel-cell beamer disappeared, leaving him in total darkness. He froze. In placed of the crystal, an inky spot the size of his thumbnail shown blacker than the surroundings. Transfixed, it began to spread like spilled synth-oil, slowly but inexorably. What was going on, what had he done? A power failure would not explain why his beamer went out.
He began to feel tension on his body as though it was being pulled or drawn forward towards the crystal. Gripped with fear he jumped up, bumping the table and knocking his beamer onto the floor. Instantly, the room lit up, the crystal again radiating colors that danced across the walls and ceiling. Unsteadily, he put the crystal back on the pile and left the room. He stood in the cavernous expanse somewhat shaken. What the hell was that? he wondered in amazement. Going back to greasing the gargantuan machine now seemed unimportant. Instead, he decided to seek out the overseer; he needed answers.
On his way to the boss's office, Derek ran into him in the hallway heading for the control room. Derek knew him by his picture on the visiscreen in the main dining hall. After preliminary introductions--who are you and what are you doing on my asteroid?--they retired to the coffee cafe. The boss-overseer wanted to be called captain. He'd been a captain in the military, a space ranger, and so held onto the rank as his claim to legitimacy and social position. Derek, however, was just Derek. The captain was ostentatiously plebian, wanting to appear as one of the guys; he wore a smile like an ordinary man wears a hat, slightly slanted with showmanship. He got his own coffee and even poured Derek's. They sat at a table furthest from the door, the captain put his back against the wall and glanced furtively in the door's direction as though expecting someone he didn't want to see. His exaggerated friendliness was punctuated by the fleeting look of a mouse caught out in the open. Abruptly, as though a faucet had turned off, he withdrew, adopting a serious demeanor, stating he had to get to the control room so had little time to dally.
"Now what is it you wanted to talk about, young man? Dexter, is it? Having trouble adjusting to the life? I understand, it's a common problem among new recruits. This is your first assignment, it can be hard on a man's resolve. When we have a full regiment, there'll be counselors to talk to. I remember my first time working on an asteroid. It was in the Beta-Centauri system. A rough job that. We lost three miners in the first month; everything was brand new. The equipment kept bogging down. A friend of mine named,..., oh, what was his name..."
"Sir, excuse me. You don't have much time and I need to tell you what happened."
"Oh, very well." The bossman sat back, weary and under strain. "Let's hear it, but no whining, I warn you."
The captain sipped his coffee, studying the open doorway. Pushing his cup aside, Derek leaned forward. "In the breakroom, today, there was a table piled with finished crystals. Did you put that there?"
The captain choked on his coffee. He stared incredulously at Derek, then hard at the entrance. Derek continued, "I picked one up and sat down to look at it. Colors shot out in all directions. I put it on the table with my beamerlight behind it and all of a sudden the room went dark. I mean really dark, black as the inside of a rat. And the weirdest thing of all, I could see the crystal because it was blacker still. And it started to pull me into it. You know. Suck me in like a grav well. I could feel it, it grabbed me, this tiny crystal smaller than my hand. Why? What's with that?"
The bossman put his cup down, narrowed his eyes and said in a low voice, "A table of crystals? Who has access to that room besides you?"
"I imagine everybody does. It's for the crew, but I've never seen anybody else in it."
The captain stood abruptly to get more coffee, but changed his mind and sat down, staring at the doorway. He was deep in thought, an internal battle was being waged. Finally, he leaned forward and said in a low voice, "I didn't. I gave no authorization to display crystals in the work area or anywhere else, for that matter; they're far too valuable." Louder, in need of a confidant, he said, "Listen. I requested this assignment, the man who died was my friend. Something is amiss and I intend to get to the bottom of it. The corporation has been more secretive than usual about this operation. That's why we only have a skeleton crew, the real reason. This material, this calassium has properties never before known, capable of changing the balance of power in favor of whoever controls it. You say it tried to draw you in?"
Derek hesitated, feeling overwhelmed by what he'd been told. The undertow he experienced with the crystal was matched by the pull of what now appeared to be a conspiracy, with him in the middle of it. "Yes, it drew me, or, I mean, I was sitting there and suddenly all the lights went out. And I felt my body, my skin, crawling, being sucked towards the stone. If I hadn't jumped up when I did, I don't know."
The bossman stared at him hard, almost angrily. Derek continued with, "I found a diary in my room left by the last resident. It says something about shadow beings. Do you know anything about them, what he was referring to?"
The captain's eyes widened, he glanced at the doorway. "I don't want to talk about this anymore here. Later, after the celebration. It won't be much, just miners getting drunk and loud. Afterwards, we'll talk more about this diary. In fact, bring it with you, I'd like to see it. There may be spies, probably are. Somebody or some thing, maybe a workbot, put that pile of crystals there. Bait. An experiment. And you were the mouse. Get back to work and stay out of the breakroom until I can get those crystals removed. And don't say anything to the others about this, understand?" He gave Derek a hard serious look, then left in a hurry, leaving Derek alone.
The tiny cafe was quiet, none of the usual kitchen sounds could be heard. The staff was efficient and what little they had to prepare in advance was completed by mid-morning. Everybody else was busy, either in the mine or at computer central. In spite of the captain's advice, he thought to go back to the breakroom, but the hairs on the back of his neck suggested otherwise. This evening would be the drunkfest, so nobody would care if he quit work early. He punched out and returned to his room. Once again he studied the diary of his predecessor, looking for clues he hadn't already seen. At first, it'd been merely out of curiosity, but now, after his conversation with the bossman, it carried a heavier weight as though trying to tell him something he was too dumb to see. The first cargo ship was scheduled to land soon, possibly tomorrow. Was its arrival and the table of crystals somehow connected? Was he actually baited into picking one up? No, no one would guess he would do that, but coming close to examine them, who could resist? A workbot could be programmed easily enough to set it up. And who would do that? In fact, who presently on the asteroid possessed the necessary degree of expertise besides the three people in the control room? And why target him?
Work continued, their hatlights and beamers lending additional illumination until, inexplicably, everything went out, emergency lights, hatlights, flashlights. All movement ceased as they waited for help from without. Certainly, sensors would trigger an alarm bringing others, including workbots, to their aid to rescue them and fix whatever was the problem. They called to one another down the tunnel, asking the most experienced among them if they had any idea what happened. No one did. The foreman of that gang reassured everyone and told them to stay put, don't try to leave, take it easy, help is on the way. But nobody came. Several minutes into it, nerves getting frazzled, shouted curses aimed at management and their lack of concern, the lights suddenly came on, all the lights. And one more thing Derek noticed that he'd glossed over on his first reading: During the time they waited in darkness, he had the distinct feeling someone was trying to communicate with him telepathically. A voice unlike his own in his mind, probing at will.
He sat wondering what could've caused the lights to go out, but his lack of experience hampered any analysis. He was no believer in telepathy, but the author might've just grabbed the first idea that popped into his head to describe the experience. He had to get into a tunnel, find out what that was all about, the atmosphere, the sights and smells and sounds. While lost in thought, his door opened, startling the bejeesus out of him. The intruder stopped dead, surpise crossing his weathered features. Derek thought he knew everyone on this tiny crew, even the mysterious computer and kitchen people, but he hadn't seen this guy before and he was sure he would've remembered. They stared at each other, frozen in time. Finally, Derek said, "Who are you and what doya mean bargin' in without knockin'?" He stood to confront the man who remained in the doorway, holding the knob. The unwelcome visitor began to glower, then caught himself in mid-furrow.
"Sorry. My mistake. I was told this room was empty. I don't like the one they assigned me, too noisy, down at the other end near the mine." In his vagabond days, Derek had met all kinds, and as a matter of survival, learned how to read a person from a block away. He suspected this guy was lying. "Well, who are you? I know everybody on this rock, ain't never seen you before."
"We just got here, with the cargo ship." He let go of the doorknob and let his arms relax at his sides. The way he held himself seemed practiced, not natural, as though he was ready to spring into action. Derek felt his stomach knot; the intruder was several inches taller and Derek could see through the man's long-sleeve shirt that he was well-muscled. The man smiled but an air of malice remained beneath. Derek felt cornered and didn't like it.
"Well, this is my room, so maybe you should get reassigned." He stood his ground, a habit of years. Something was all wrong about this, Derek knew, but he didn't have the nerve to question it just now. Controlling the situation seemed the better choice.
The man hesitated, then said, "Yea, you're right. Somebody screwed up. Sorry again." He nodded and turned to leave, closing the door behind him.
What the hell was that? thought Derek. It was very unlikely there'd been a screw-up with room assignments; they had dozens open at this time. The cargo ship had arrived. That means there'll be lots more people at this evening's get-together, most likely. Derek remained standing, his composure somewhat disturbed, the sheets of diary pages still in his hand. Something told him to hide them. Why, he couldn't say, just a feeling and he'd learned to go with such feelings. He put it in a secret compartment in his bag he'd sewed in himself for passing through customs. He ate a light dinner in his room, delivered through the automated chutes available for that purpose, and then went to the rec-hall. He wanted to talk to the others to see if they'd found diaries waiting for them as well. For the first time since arriving, he made a point to lock his door; it hadn't seemed necessary before. The captain had instructed him not to mention the table of crystals; maybe he wouldn't be so obedient. Something was up and he might need others to know what was going on. At any rate, he definitely needed a drink.
The recreation hall was the second largest room of the complex, after the main cafeteria. As he entered he expected to hear loud talk and laughter, but such was not the case. The cargo ship men were there, just a few; they didn't need many, the manual labor was performed by workbots. His crewmates he recognized in spite of hardly ever seeing any of them except for meals in the caf. The virtual reality booths seemed empty; although you couldn't tell, some programs were very quiet, trips down the Colorado or hikes in the woods were popular. In the center, his crew had commandeered three tables on which sat bottles of booze, glasses and icetrays at random but within reach of everyone. As well, smoke from the latest herb billowed around them, enclosing them in a warm embrace. They seemed morose, deep in thought, engaging in half-muted conversation. Derek spotted the man who'd showed him the ropes a month ago, what felt like a long time now, and sat across from him. The man didn't even appear to notice. Derek filled a large glass with ice and poured some bourbon into it, grabbed a joint from the community plate and fired it up, took a long drag, then a slug of bourbon and leaned back in the cushioned chair to eavesdrop.
He picked up bits and pieces, parts of sentences spoken in a rush, occassional curses and exclamations. Emotions ran from anger and irritation to dismay and wonder. They had news from the cargo crew that he couldn't quite make sense of. Finally, he leaned forward and quietly asked his teacher, "What's this about the former crew? What happened?"
The man looked up slowly, his eyes blurry and inconsolable. "Dead." was all he said, finishing it by draining his glass and pouring another.
"Dead?" Derek responded. "How?"
"They don't know. That's what they said, anyway. On the way home their cocoons malfunctioned. When they arrived at base, they were all dead." He leaned forward, his breath on Derek's face. "They were tampered with, you can bet that. There hasn't been any suspended containment pods malfunctioning for fifty years or more. They're practically fullproof. And for all of them to fail at once." He glared, took a long pull on his drink, then leaned back, staring at Derek with a knowing look. Derek couldn't face him, he hadn't known any of those men, but he believed this man had, perhaps friends. He wanted to talk about it with the others, what the implications were. His crew, these people, were the second experimental group. That in itself made him wonder. He knew from working on the huge processor that it performed perfectly, no gliches or maintenance problems had turned up the whole month of his babysitting. Working out the bugs had to be bogus. If this stuff was as valuable as they say, why not crank it up? Why not have a full contingent, a full crew, dozens of workers and support staff?
He raised his voice towards the lead miner, a grizzled-faced man clearly older than the rest. They all started at once, staring hard. The man next to him whispered, "Shut the frell up! This whole damn complex is bugged. Everything that's heard funnels back to the main office on Earth; it's how the corporation runs all its mining camps. Why do you think no one ever talks in the cafe? Why no one hardly ever goes in there. We talk in the mine; the minerals shield voices. Our rooms are bugged as well. I found the ones in mine and tore them out. Look in your room when you go back. They're tiny, no bigger than a centimeter across, hard to spot. Turn on your base radio and walk around with it, listen for crackling."
Derek, suitably chastised and feeling unusally naive--how come everybody else knew this, the price of working alone--sat back and smoked some more. The intruder. He'd walked right in as though expecting the room to be unoccupied. He probably had a key but tested the knob first; it was customary for crewmembers to leave their rooms unlocked. But why? The diary. His conversation with the bossman in the cafe. Overheard. He finished his drink and with joint in hand, raced back to his quarters.
It wasn't a shambles as he half-expected it to be, but it was easy to tell that someone had gone through it. Even his mattress had been overturned. His satchel had been searched but the diary was still there, sheets of paper too thin to notice. At that he remembered he wanted to ask the others if they'd found diaries in their rooms. He filed the diary away inside his shirt, from now on it would travel with him, and returned to the rec-room. By the time he arrived the events of the day had gotten his Irish up; he was in no mood to play the submissive rookie. He stopped by the door and scoured the room looking for the intruder. As he was doing so it dawned on him that the intruder's story about assignment to a room was no doubt bogus. Crew rooms were not large and were scarcely furnished. His stateroom on the ship was probably plush by comparison. In any event, he wasn't there. Derek charged into the virtual reality booths, not bothering to knock. Any player would be so absorbed in his choice of world that he wouldn't notice his impropriety, and they didn't. Only three booths were occupied by members of the cargo ship and his man was not among them. Derek regained his chair with his teacher, poured a stiff drink, and wasted no time on his former tentative attitude.
In a low strained tone he asked him point blank if he'd discovered a diary or journal in his room. The man's eyes grew wide at this impertinence but recognized the intent of Derek and realized at once that it may have significant bearing on their survival. Something was obviously going on behind the scenes that concerned all of them and no time need be squandered in its pursuit. He confided that he had not and asked Derek what it concerned. Derek thought to show him there and then but decided against it. No one could be fully trusted at this juncture. Derek told him, however, everything he'd read, wishing his teacher to shed any light he could. Others nearby had overheard in dribs and drabs and leaned in. Quickly, they all knew what Derek was talking about, it concerned them all. In that moment they bonded as a crew, a group of men on a strange asteroid far from home who found themselves in an unknown dangerous situation, and they had better figure it out pronto. The deaths of the previous crew was a shock and an event that seemed unlikely to be accidental. He told them of his room being searched which, he believed, was for the diary left behind. No one else spoke of having found any written work; it was the luck of the draw.
He didn't mention his experience in the breakroom, he chose to keep it to himself; it was too strange to casually work into conversation, at least not yet, not until he learned more and could trust all of his compatriots. His teacher introduced himself, finally, as Simon, born on an outworld near the border planets. They speculated that the last resident in his room may have been hallucinating about the shadow beings. It wasn't unheard of for miners and others working on these alien hunks of rock far from the familiar security of their home world to have psychological problems, problems of adjustment resulting in aberations and imaginings of beings seen and heard. That's why preparations were so intense, the psych evaluations and simulations so extreme and thorough in detail. It was important to weed out the weak-minded and the less than self-possessed. There was always the possibility of some subtle trigger setting off a psychotic event, one that might be dangerous to the rest of the crew or the operation. Prolonged exposure to an alien environment and separation from the familiar could initiate unforeseen problems. Some, however, did manage to slip through the cracks occasionally. That's why assignments were limited to only six months.
He talked about the incident in the mine shaft with the last crew when the lights went off, if they had similar experiences. They hadn't. Not lights going out for no apparent reason or any strange phenomenon, no ghosts, no shadow beings, no flickering lights; all had thus far been normal. However, the crew was small and so worked together in close proximity. Something inexplicable could've transpired in another part of the extensive mine and nobody would've known about it.
Bonding into a team--the whole purpose of this event--they continued to drink and smoke, ignoring the cargo crew. Their chatter became louder as they talked of personal matters, home, loved ones, family, experiences, and stories of people in mining camps they'd known, as much to distract the strangers, especially if any were spies, as to lighten the mood and relieve the building tension, circumstances were wired enough as it was. They also took time to solemnly salute the lost crew, a few speaking of friends on that ill-fated ship and what they'd done together, how they met. Derek could see that sharing the hardships and dangers of mining life on one planetoid after another, and the wild partying in between, strengthened friendships and built relationships closer and more lasting than blood family. Risking your lives together did that.
He returned to his room hours later quite stoned and stood at the foot of his bunk. What had been seclusion now felt like isolation, remote from the rest of the crew, far from help. Because of its location, there were empty rooms in this sector unspoken for. The idea of crashing out drunk knowing someone could enter during the night unnerved him. He decided to check out and find another room down the corridor without letting anyone know. At random, he chose a room three doors down. He tossed his bag on the floor and piled a few knickknacks, pictures and such onto a chair. Plopping onto the bedspread, he fell asleep in moments, the stress of events and the copious amount of alcohol and herb having their way.
The ceiling lights in the hallway placed in front of each door were out. He confronted utter blackness. Fear froze in his chest, but also an intensifying annoyance at what he considered harrassment. Why, he thought in his present paranoid state, were they, whoever they were, picking on him? Thoughts went back to the schoolyard when he was just eight years old. A bully, older and bigger, always searched him out to push and tease and humiliate. That was all he needed. He turned on his beamer and with a quick ferocious jerk on the door handle, flung the door open, aiming the bright arrow of light straight down the corridor towards the disturbance. Nothing. But not nothing. Just passed his former room a strange oily blackness as tall as the ceiling undulated away. Around it his flash showed the corridor, but the space it occupied was only a silhouette, of what, he couldn't be sure, its shape looked like a puzzle piece with elastic appendages extending and retracting like a jellyfish. As it moved away, it grew smaller, shrinking disproportionately to its distance until, with a snap, it was completely gone. Simultaneously, the overhead lights came back on.
Derek stood in the doorway unable to move. A cold breeze broke his trance and he withdrew, closing the door quietly but firmly. He stood there, adrenaline cascading through his body, his heart pounding. He staggered to the bed to sit and whispered the light to be on. Flicking his beamer to the side, he clutched his knees, his brain wrapped in a painful hangover fog. What was that? He didn't know what to do or what time it was. Fortunately, they had the day off, it was loading day and nobody would be in any shape to work anyway. Thoughts floated about like shredded clouds whisking here and there by the random wind. Nothing made any sense so he just let his mind wander while his adrenal and sweat glands resumed normalcy. He recalled he was supposed to meet with the bossman after the party. He'd completely forgotten. Eventually, the wordless thought of coffee gripped him as something solid, an anchor he readily threw out. Unsteadily, he stood to make it, then watched absently as the machine went through its paces. He sat again on the side of the bed and drank, sipping, hoping his mind would clear and a way to act present itself.
A memory of something that happened when he was a teenager lept out of nowhere. He was lying in bed one early afternoon feeling alienated and at odds with the world. The usual teenage angst. He was alone in the apartment, his bedroom door closed. Suddenly, he imagined he'd heard a noise, a scraping sound as a chair sliding across the floor. He knew he had to investigate, but found himself unable to move, paralyzed. He tried desperately to break his bonds, fearing that if indeed it was a burglar he would enter his room and there he'd be, frozen, at the mercy of whomever. It dawned on him to completely relax, to let himself feel and be totally vulnerable to his surroundings. At once, he was free to move. He jumped up and pulled his door open. It was no one, just his overactive imagination. Now, with recent events, including yesterday, that were definitely not conjured in his imagination, he knew he had to take charge and the way to do that was to open himself to it, to go out to it, to be unafraid, at least in his mind. He decided to get dressed and head out into the complex. Visiting the bossman was on the agenda, but first he wanted to go to the breakroom, to see if the table of crystals remained.
He opened the door a crack to peer down the hallway; all seemed fine. Gathering courage, he proceeded. Approaching his old room he felt queezy, sick, as though spotting a former friend he'd abandoned. Forcing himself, he pushed the door open and ordered the lights to come on. Everything was as he'd left it, except for the man lying on the floor. Derek stared in shock and disbelief but recognized the man as the intruder. He checked his pulse; he had none and there was no visible sign of the cause of death, no blood. He studied the room looking for any anomalies, for anything out of place. He lived in the tiny space for a month so knew its idiosyncrasies and nuances by heart. But all was the same, except for the dead guy laying at the foot of the bed and a curious narrow black tube, tapered at an end, about a foot long laying beside him. The air had a tang to it as though the aftereffect of lightning. He had to report this, but then, he thought, the room was registered in his name. Wouldn't they think I had something to do with this guy's death? He stood there at the doorway, uncertain and nervous. He could drag the body into the empty and unregistered room on the other side or even down a ways into another. But eventually, it would be found and questions asked. He decided to postpone doing anything about it, for the time being.
He ordered the lights out and the temperature lowered, shut the door and strode down the hallway. Simon, --he thought of him; he needed a friend right now, things were getting a little too weird, and dangerous. Usually, when matters got too complicated in the past, he'd just pick up and leave. Now, however, that was impossible. He had to become aggressive, confront the situation before it spiraled out of control, if it hadn't already, else he could end up on the wrong end of a very ugly stick.
When he arrived at the breakroom, he hesitated, took a deep breath, then pushed in and immediately looked to where the table of crystals had been. It was gone. He could hear the workbots loading crates of calassium outside the huge doors. Apparently, they'd already removed them from the interior storage area during the night, gathering up the table crystals in the process. Maybe. He had no other explanation. While there he decided to have a cup of coffee, he needed it; he was hungover and fluttery, anxious. He sat at a middle table which was his custom. The room had twelve tables; he counted them every day. They were all spotlessly clean and undisturbed; no one else ever used the breakroom, or so it seemed. Along one wall were three coffee machines with an assortment of different things to add, two trays of white cermaic cups, and a buffet shelf ostensibly intended for pastries and donuts, although he'd never seen any. While he sat taking in the empty sterile ambience, occasionally hearing the muffled sound of work beyond the thick metal doors, an impression so clear as to be truth popped into his head: I am the only one who's ever used this room, and besides a kitchen person who came to remove his one cup and replace it and the coffee, no one else has ever entered it this whole entire month.
Why would they bother? he wondered. And if that truly was the case, for whom was the table of crystals intended? He drank another, the coffee was hot and fresh, as usual, even though today everyone was off. The headache pills were beginning to take effect, and the coffee was working its magic. The memory of yesterday's experience with the crystal crept back in; it seemed long ago. And now, something else on the edge of his awareness raised the hairs on his neck. The electric odor in the hallway after whatever it was shrank and vanished was now present in the breakroom. He was certain it wasn't there when he entered a few mintues earlier. Quickly, he scanned the vacant space, but all was bright and white, too clean, in fact, for a mining operation; there was nowhere to hide. A twinge of fear creased his tense calm. He tried to think: What was he do with the dead man, and what was that rod laying next to him, and more importantly, who killed him? A low ringing sound coming from nowhere in particular filled his ears. He gulped the last of his coffee and almost ran from the room. He wanted to talk to the bossman, he had to let him know about the latest, especially the body in his room; afterwards, he'd find Simon.
He figured the head honcho would be in his office filling out transport forms. As he walked through the maze of hallways he noticed how extra alert his senses were. The slightest sound caught his attention. He had five months to go on his contract and the thought of living in such an unnerving environment was not what he wanted to do. He thought to abandon ship, to quit and take the cargo shuttle back to Earth. Let them hold my pay, he whispered, I need to get the hell out of here. He knocked on the bossman's door and in short order it opened. But it wasn't the boss who greeted him; rather another man he'd never seen before, a large man with thick eyebrows and a face like the intruder, only smoother.
"What is it," he snarled.
Derek caught himself and said, "I'm looking for the boss, I have news he needs to hear."
"I'm the boss," he spat out, "who are you?"
Derek took a step back and resisted the urge to run. Something was seriously wrong, but it was no time to back down. "What happened to the other man? I spoke with him just yesterday. The captain."
The man snorted. "He's been relieved, on the ship," he waved his hand as though tossing a piece of trash, "now I'm in charge. What's up?" he glared down at Derek. "I'm busy."
Derek knew he didn't want to give this guy the time of day, but on the other hand, he didn't want to raise any suspicions. So he froze. The new boss peered, scrutinizing Derek's demeanor. He felt the man was about to grab him and demand he tell what was on his mind when he heard his name being called from down the hall. It was Simon, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans. "Hey Derek, what's up, bub? I thought we were supposed to meet in the rec-room for some pool. Got some good shit to smoke."
Simon didn't care who knew what he was doing. He risked his skin for the company, and so as far as he was concerned, they could kiss his ass. As they walked away Simon whispered, "What was that about and who is that guy? It looked like some shit about to happen."
"He says he's the new boss," Derek whispered back. "I don't get it. I talked to the bossman yesterday. We were supposed to meet after the party but I completely forgot. He didn't say anything about being replaced."
They went to a corner of the rec-room where couches and comfortable cushioned chairs sat in an arrangement reminiscent of a large earthy living room. A circular wood table sat in the middle and against the wall to the right of the couch was a mock fireplace that appeared very authentic, flickering, popping, and gyrating in a very soothing manner. There was even a refrigerator stocked with beer and a thick Persian rug bounding the area. A few of the men from the cargo ship were playing holographic pinball, but the rest of their crew were apparently still asleep. It was the first day off in a month and they had to be hungover, enough said.
Simon plopped into a chair and immediately fired up a joint; Derek sat at the near end of the couch. They smoked a bit in the quiet calm atmosphere, resonating with their newfound friendship, neither one bothering to look the other in the eyes. Derek leaned forward and said, "I've got somethin' to tell you, about this morning, you won't believe it." He handed Simon the joint and got up to get more coffee. As he passed two of the cargo crew he couldn't help but notice how they scrutinized him, not casual or friendly but with malice in their eyes. In his many travels he's seen that look before, and now, as then, he ignored it. However, given what's been happening lately, he couldn't help but think there was more to it than just the normal hostility of the mining crowd.
When he got back he blurted out the story of how his day began, every detail; he'd decided to trust his teacher completely. He then tossed the diary onto the table in front of Simon. He flipped through the sheets, scanning the material as though looking for something specific. "Shadow beings," he mumbled over the rim of his cup. "Sounds like that's what you saw this morning in the hallway. That rod, next to the dead body. Could be a Jason stick."
"A what?" asked Derek.
"Jason sticks are used to liquify rock from within. You drill a small deep hole, then shove one of those down it, fire it off and it reduces the density of the rock making it easier to drill. If somebody were to punch one of those in ya'..." he left off.
"But why?" asked Derek, confused and lost. "Why the hell would somebody want to kill me? What's going on here? And who the hell killed him? And why?" Lots of questions, no answers.
Simon shuffled through the stack of about 20 pages, stopping occasionally to stare off, his brow furrowing. When he finished, he said, "I didn't know this guy, the only one on the last crew I didn't know. I mean, the others weren't all my friends but at least I'd seen them before, around the circuit, in transport waiting areas or bars."
"Maybe he was a rookie, like me," offered Derek.
"I don't think so. From these notes he didn't just haul the cars back and forth like the two greenies we have in there now, he worked the ore, knew what he was doing. But," he stated, collecting the diary into a neat pile and sitting up straight, "I don't know everybody either. It's a big galaxy and the corporation is stretched far and thin."
Simon stared off again, peering into the emptiness, then said, "I don't know why they're after you, whoever they are, maybe it's the diary, afraid of what's in it. I don't know, but we better find out. It could be larger than you. Keep in mind the whole crew was killed off in that bogus accident, and it was bullshit, believe me. Maybe that something that vanished into nothing killed your friend. First what I think what we ought to do is move the body somewhere far away, as far as we can go without being seen." They gulped down their coffee, Derek refiled the sheets of diary in his inside pocket, and they left the rec-room. Simon glared back at the cargo crewmen as he passed. Because of his upbringing on a rough and tumble outworld, he didn't see things as Derek did, a product of 23rd century earth socialization. Realizing this, Derek felt having a friend right now who wasn't easily intimidated could be very beneficial.
When they arrived at the room, Derek hesitated; he was not used to dead bodies. Simon, however, had no such compunction. He brushed past Derek and opened the door, immediately ordering, "Lights." The body was gone. Just for the hell of it, they checked the tiny closet and under the bed--nothing. Simon sat in the corner chair and stared at Derek; his expression said, are you sure?
"It was right here," he responded, pointing to the floor at the foot of the bed, "and that thing, that Jason stick or whatever was right beside it, him."
Simon got down on his knees and scoured the area, feeling the bare floor with his hands. If there had been a dead body here, whoever removed it did a thorough job of cleaning up afterwards. "Let's look around, check the other rooms. How 'bout across the hall. That one empty?"
Derek shrugged his shoulders. They checked it and the ones on either side. Nothing. They decided to retire to Derek's new room, it was larger than his previous one and had two chairs and a round wood-like table in between on which sat an ashtray and earth-time clock, positively opulent by crew quarters' standards. In the opposite corner sat a prized possession--an old-fashioned leather chair that was obviously a personal item, not corporate furniture, left behind by someone on the building crew, perhaps. Derek locked the door and the two sat in the chairs around the low table. Simon fired up an herb-stick; as they passed it back and forth they discussed the situation.
Someone had entered his room, the intruder from earlier in the day--Derek recognized him--with the intention of doing harm, why else the Jason stick, silent and deadly? But, someone or some thing killed him before he had a chance to do the deed. It was no coincidence that Derek's mysterious shadow creature appeared outside in the hallway and the man in Derek's room was dead. Why was their former boss relieved of duty? He'd told Derek that he wanted this assignment to find out what happened to his friend, the one who died from exposure on the last crew. He wouldn't voluntarily leave. Derek had told him about the diary he'd found, information that apparently was overheard by the powers that be back in the home office. Subsequently, Derek received his visitor--the intruder. Where did the body go? Who took it? And why did Derek feel that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? He toyed with the idea of asking to return with the cargo ship, but recalling what happened to the last crew, and what had already happened here, he decided it would probably be safer to stay right where he was and try to figure it out. They sat and smoked, uncertain as to how to proceed.
When Derek was a child, he had his sights set on a career in the relatively new field of cognitive engineering, or as the insiders called it, brain twisting. He wanted to help those who were having difficulty processing information and organizing their surroundings due to injury or disease, some form of psychic damage or trauma, into cogent pictures. He had a knack, he knew, of being able to see patterns where others could not and wanted to use that talent to help people. But after his father died in a mag-train accident while he was away at school, leaving his mother and sister, he fell into a deep depression and decided to take some time off, away from studies, to get his mind straight. That was ten years ago. During that time he traveled for the sake of experience, and when anything got too weird or unduly stressful, he'd pull up stakes and head for the next randomly chosen point of interest. He never had to stand his ground like now, never had the inclination, and for that uncertainty he was glad Simon was with him. They considered bringing the others into it, but Simon cautioned that at this time they didn't know who to trust. Corporate spies were all over the system and the two other greenhorns were completely unknown by him. But the old-timer, Felix, had worked with Simon on other jobs; he felt he could be trusted, and besides, he'd been in the military, a borderguard, in fact, before becoming a miner, his experience and special skills might come in handy.
Calling on the crew-quarter phone network was definitely out. A personal visit was the only way, assuming he was awake after last evening's bash. When cargo was being uploaded, there was no work for the miners; so the atmosphere became rather festive, people milled about in the small modular inner town. To be outside of it was to be in the cave. As they were about to leave, a sharp buzzing sound vibrated in the hallway. They froze in mid-stride, eyeballing one another, then stepped to either side of the door, backs to the wall. Simon was on the side that opened and peered through a crack down the hall towards Derek's old room. A brightness flashed on his face, and then was gone. He closed the door and stared at Derek in the semi-darkness. "What was it?" asked Derek.
Simon said plainly, "The space outside your old room brightened, then collapsed in on itself and vanished. Probably, something was in the room, looking for you, Derek, or the body. I don't know, we don't know." He waved a hand towards the hall and whispered, "That must've been one of your roomie's shadow beings. He probably killed that guy and came back,..., for what?"
"To talk to me," said Derek.
Derek stared at the dim light of the lamp on the end table, then back at Simon. He whispered, "It thinks I'm the guy who was here last, the one whose diary I have. The dead body, that guy, he was trying to kill me, trying to get that diary. So, maybe, the flash-of-light guy saved my life and came back because he wanted to talk to me.
Simon stared hard into Derek's eyes, looking for familiar signs of breakdown. Derek knew that look. "Whatever is going on," Derek began, "your friend Felix isn't going to be of much help. I think we're way beyond borderguards. We need to find out what's going on. I don't want what happened to the old crew to repeat itself. There's something in this diary that we're just not seeing, a message or where to look for some important piece of information, a key. " He spread the thirty sheets out on the table, they lit a joint and sat upright examining them one at a time, then twos, threes, and more at a time, fragmenting each page into paragraphs, sentences, stitching them together at random, then in coherent ways, matching phrases and repeated words.
What Derek had previously thought were just the sloppy scratch writings of an illiterate miner were now looking more like deliberate marks made to appear like accidental ink smears and penpoint brushes. He wrote down where they appeared and the words adjacent. The result was a collection of ideas and not a message precisely. 'Shadow beings,' 'calassium,' 'lights in mine,' 'buzzing sound,' and other sounds and visions Derek had first thought were dream sequences, one of the more pronounced effects of being on the asteroid.
"He communicated with the electric guy. For some reason, they were working together, on something, that the powers that be don't want known. For what reason? What does this calassium stuff do? I mean, I know it tried to suck me into it. At least it felt that way." He grabbed a handful of diary sheets and began to point out what he'd seen when the room lit up like a Christmas tree.
Blinded and startled, they pushed back on their chairs and stood, a little shakily. The light subsided, but the unmistakable presence of some hard object close by forced them to open their eyes and look in that direction. A shape, a silhouette, an outline of a person shimmered nearby. Derek and Simon didn't know what to think or do. They suspected it was the shadow being who wanted to talk. So, being good hosts, and too scared to move besides, they waited.
He, the wire being, spread his hands inviting them to sit. He approached and spoke directly into their minds, but part way along he began to move his mouth, words seemed to come from it. "I will speak this way so it would be more comfortable for you." Considering his electric appearance and alien origins, the adaptation supplied minimal comfort. Derek was surprised that he sounded like an earthling, including an accent and attitude he couldn't quite put his finger on. Perhaps that was part of the mindmeld or whatever that was.
"I know that both of you are probably a little shocked, seeing me. But, please get used to it, there's no time to waste. Let me explain the situation. Callassium in its purest most refined form slows down time so that we beings can enter the window of the visible light universe. It has its roots in dark matter. Although we can interact with the resistance fields, we never leave our realm. We are dark matter, you are visible matter. Dark matter is moving through you right now, continuously. To move from your realm into ours, the change would transfer your matter back in time when the universe was an infant. Using calassium properly you'd have to increase your vibrational signature until a window into the dark matter universe opened. Then, in one of your ships fitted with a precisely-designed piece of calassium, you could travel through visible matter as though it wasn't there. You could sneak up on your enemies. The wormhole technology is fine for generating connections between areas of visible space. With calassium, ships can potentially travel through a dark matter hole without worrying about restrictions imposed by visible matter. That's what they believe.
"However, no wormholes exist in the dark matter universe. To artificially create them would destabilize the entire cosmos. Their very presence would generate gravity-ripples in time. To enter dark matter space is to see nothing, but with calassium, a mapping from visible matter is imposed on the dark matter structure. Our universe made visible, in a sense. Within each dark matter atom an electron can be inserted that is susceptible to light photons, while the dark matter atom remains static, mere scaffolding.
"Why they haven't started yet, acording to my friend like you, is that they have yet to configure the wormhole generator for dark matter properties. They don't know how. To maintain a wormhole, magnetic flux forces are required. But our realm has no magnetic properties, so they'll have to manufacture their own magnetic forces which will further destabilize the dark matter universe, and with it goes all the rest of the cosmos. Why can they not understand that?" He gestured helpelessly, then plopped down into the leather chair in the corner.
"His name was Nicholas, the man who lived in your room," he said, pointing an electric finger at Derek. We care nothing of your wars, your conflicts. But what he was doing was gathering evidence, with my help, on what the corporation in collaboration with the military is planning to do with this overwhlemingly powerful technology. He said that the destabilization of the cosmos by undermining the dark matter underpinnings was beyond their comprehension and so wouldn't receive the desired reaction. But a coup, on the other hand, that gets everybody's attention."
Finally, Derek found his voice. He had a million questions, some relevant to the present situation and others, not. But he started off with, "Did you kill that guy? I found a body on the floor, and now it's gone."
"I caused him to enter dark mattter without the protective cloak of calassium. His body ceased functioning. He was intent on killing you and obtaining the diary. I didn't know that then, I thought another person,..." He trailed off. "I left it there for you to see, so you'd know the stakes and the danger you're in. Afterwards, I allowed the process to continue." If an electrically outlined being trying to look like a person could appear pensive, he did.
"Well what about that pile of crystals in the breakroom? I almost got sucked into,..., what? Another universe? The dark matter universe?"
"No, not possible. I put that pile there for you. I knew you would pick one up, you visible matter people, you need to handle things, especially a sparkly crystal, children. Besides, I was there, I guided you. I needed to know if you were a replacemnt for my friend. You're not, but, they think you are. Your life is in danger."
Derek ignored the warning for the second time. To him, it seemed his life had always been in danger. "Well, what was the spy guy going to do with the information? How could he tell his bosses that dark matter beings exist and that the military, in collaboration with the galaxy-spanning mining corporation, was planning a coup? How could he convince them?"
"What calassium enables one to do puts the rest of the world at a serious and tragic disadvantage," began the electric man. "That's what my friend said, that was his conclusion. He thought he could find out where they're sending the majority of it, the exact coordinates in the Siberian Desert, but his collaborator in the control room couldn't locate the facility. All transmissions mentioning the site's position were encrypted, we never broke it. The small amount that makes it to the designated government research facility, its whereabouts a matter of public record, works on simple civilian applications, but at the main terminus, its location unknown, that's where the corporation is in high-gear, trying to enter dark matter space and keeping the whole operation classified and secret."
"How is it you know what the corporation is planning to do?" Derek asked.
"When your people discovered the calassium and after a superficial study realized it had almost supernatural properties that needed to be explored, we decided to step in. Nicholas and I found out much but could prove nothing. I saw it on the minds of a few people involved in the conspiracy but they were very careful not to leave evidence laying about. It's all very tight-looped."
"Why not just stowaway on board a cargo ship? Find out where it goes."
"I can't. I can't travel through wormholes. I can't maintain my three-dimensional manifestation in the confines of a wormhole. The mere presence of one causes me to drop into dark matter space."
"It doesn't matter," said Simon flatly, now at ease with this apparition from a universe not known before. He lit a joint and said, "We don't know who your friend the spy was working for, who to report to. What agency? Who do you report a coup to? How many of those does the department of whacky threats get in a day? We need to know who that is, and we need something hardcore to turn over to him."
"My friend never told me," said the electric man, "we never discussed it. He understood. He said he came out here to find out what was going on. Too many unknowns and mistakes were cropping up; the official manifest didn't jibe with the actual amount mined. The number of cargo trips made compared to how much calassium was said to have been mined, the books didn't line up, unless the cargo ships were only carrying one-tenth their capacity. Not very likely from a cost-effective standpoint."
Who IS this guy? wondered Derek. Does he run his own business in dark-matter-ville? "How do you know all this stuff?" asked Derek. "You sound like a professor."
The electric man smiled, then said, "My friend knew how it worked, the terms were there in his head, already integrated. Images, models, diagrams, that type of thought is not part of our nature, but when interfacing with visible matter space, it's possible to conceive of them." Once again the being looked off, thoughtful, perhaps grieving.
Derek told him about the crew dying under questionable circumstances, about the man found dead outside, and the sudden replacement of the head honcho, a man he spoke to about the diary in the cafe, within earshot of the corporation, no doubt.
A voice in Derek's head said, anyone who knows about the shadow beings and the military-corporate collaboration might turn up dead. "They're paranoid," exclaimed Derek. "They fear someone knows their plans. They don't know what's in the diary; they only know of it. Nicholas figured this out. How?" he asked electric man.
He explained in a friendly way, as though telling a story about his dead friend. "A man worked in the control room, a computer expert, a friend of Nicholas. They would gossip casually in the cafes and the man would tell him what he saw in passing while using the computers for other purposes. He explained that he'd been working on a system problem, whatever that is, and so had access to the main computers, including classified paritions. As a matter of routine, he built and installed a program that made it easier for him to access anything whenever he wanted; a backdoor, Nicholas called it. He freely discussed the kind of hardware the corporation was transporting to a site in the Eastern Siberian Desert and the distinguished scientists hired to work there. He said all records of the project were classified, which didn't stop him any. The only satellite surveillance was the corporation's, a no-fly zone had been declared.
"When Nicholas heard the list, he recognized the components for a complex multi-faceted machine that would generate wormholes in spacetime. And the scientists, he was familiar with the work of most. Experimentalists and theoreticians of their caliber would be employed working only on a major problem. And if that's the same place where the bulk of calassium ends up, he figured, there must be a connection.
"I helped him fill in the blanks. I told Nicholas how calassium can be used; how visible matter can be stripped of what makes it visible, allowing for it to exist in dark matter space; and the danger of wormhole incursion, how it would destabilize dark matter and hence, the universe. I told him of its uses and he put that together with all the other facts. He left to expose the whole sordid mess."
He paused, lowered his head, and rubbed his electric hands together. "I didn't know that when I came back. I didn't know he'd left. I thought that man was trying to kill Nicholas."
"Well don't apologize," said Derek. "I'm thankful the mistake turned out the way it did."
"This is just frellin' great," sneered Simon. "If a master spy can't get the word out, how are we? We can't even get off this rock, unless,..., unless somebody was critical and had to be taken to an off-world hospital, outside the clutches of the corporation."
"Or maybe you're just taken back to headquarters," finished Derek.
Peering at one another, their eyes widened like two fish caught in an evertightening net. At once they realized their employer was unwittingly about to destroy the entire universe and in cahoots with the military to pull off a government coup, and, oh, kill Derek for what he might know--he has the diary of Nicholas, the spy--and Simon by association. He could've walked, hanging out with someone doesn't mean you know what they know. However, the new bossman had seen them together earlier, and the corporation was thorough, especially considering the circumstances. Why take chances? They didn't.
It's the end of the world, and here they sat, the only people--including one electric person--aware of it. Nobody could be trusted and nobody would believe them anyway. They were in a hell of a pickle, and they knew it.
Simon didn't care about governments. Whoever was running the show was going to need natural resources, things he knew how to produce. He was a miner, what did he care about a coup? But, the other thing, the destabilizing a strata of the universe holding everything together would not be good even if he was guaranteed a lifelong job with plenty of retirement benefits. He felt a surge of energy coursing through long dormant parts of his brain like old rusty machinery waking up, working, churning, processing. He had to breathe faster to keep from blacking out. He started to think.
"We need to find out who Nicholas was supposed to contact when he got back to port. If he hadn't already done so. I'll bet he tipped someone off that he had something, to expect him, protect him. Yea, he was supposed to be here six months, but they trip-shorted unexpectedly. So Nicholas probably had to tell somebody that. And that somebody knows by now that the entire crew died on the home trip, accidentally. We have to find out who that was and how to contact him."
The electric man pondered. Derek sat. Because of the way he lived his life, he managed to avoid knowing anyone of any political or any other kind of clout. Who could he possibly call? Get on the Net and log onto a government bureaucracy site and inquire? To whom it may concern: The world's about to end and the military is about to launch a coup. Could you do something about it? He didn't think that would be the most profitable approach.
"I got it," said Simon in his deepest whiskey voice. "We've been trying to hide the diary imagining it has coded information hidden in it. Well, it might very well have, but why leave it where it could easily be found? Why not burn it or just tear it up and throw it in the trash, that stuff gets burned. He wanted the next person to find it. Whether a replacement or not. Maybe he was expecting one, but, then again, the return trip to home base was on short notice. Maybe they, whoever 'they' are, didn't have time to set up a ringer miner. But he left it, nonetheless, to be found. Maybe he suspected they knew about him and he wouldn't make it home alive. He had to think that way after they found that man outside, dead. That was the man who Nicholas befriended from the computer room."
"How do you know that?" asked Derek.
"I had friends on that last crew, I asked them about him, thought I might know him. They said he wasn't a miner, worked with computers, so he had no business being out there, out in the cave. I'll bet, knowing what we do now, that he was your friend's hacker."
"Okay, well, you said I got it, got what?"
"We've been hiding the diary, what else do we have as evidence of anything? That diary is it."
"But the diary doesn't state with proof anything to point to the corporation's involvement in a potential coup or what they're working on with the callasium."
"But they don't know that. And they're paranoid. We need to get the existence and the contents of the diary out there into the public arena. We need to get the right attention, from whoever Nicholas was supposed to contact. Have him contact us."
"We'll get a lot of attention, all right, Simon," said Derek, staring at the floor. "The corporation already knows, in case you forgot about that. They sent assassins along with the cargo crew. One's gone, but how many more? We don't have any time to waste waiting for an opportunity that we both know will never happen. We're going to have to go over the top, and right now, today. The cargo ship leaves in two earth days. How many crew do they have on these ships? Five, eight, ten at most? We need to take over the ship, comandeer it and drive to,..., somehwere. Maybe we'll find navigation information on where the calassium is being sent, where this whole plot is unfolding."
Simon accepted this plan at once, he saw his destiny in it. "Let's talk to the rest of the crew," said Simon, "the ones I know, at least. If they don't help us, I don't know how we can pull it off."
"I can help," said the electric man quietly. He'd been holding his breath, so to speak, listening, following the development, the leaps of reason. "I can incapacitate the entire crew if they're implanted with calassium as your assassin was, a time traveler. It sets up a morphogenetic field encompassing the body's biomagnetic aura, a person can then travel through time. I eliminated the assassin by neutralizing the strength of his chip of calassium. He then dropped into dark matter space completely. The body loses all cohesion."
"We don't necessarily want you to kill the entire crew," countered Derek, leaning forward. "In fact, we actually need to turn one or two of them, we need experienced hands."
"No, I'll just disorient them, shift time in dark matter space. They'll experience the sensation of the ground moving under them while remaining in place. The calassium chip is intended to regulate those time dilations for ease of wormhole travel--its first discovery--moderating the stress, so tampering with it will make them sick. To be free of it, they have to remove the chip. It was a brilliant though crude and incomplete discovery by one of your scientists. They're sure to figure out the technical problems on the wormhole generator before long. We have to act.""
But they, the leaders of the Council and most influential of this group, resided in Amsterhagen in the northwestern sector of Old Europe. And Derek and Simon were here. They couldn't believe what they were planning to do. A drifter vagabond with no allegiances or attachments and a hardcore miner, used to living a life of total irresponsibility, carousing in mining towns on moons and asteroids across this part of the galaxy. And yet, here they were, hatching a plan to save the cosmos and thwart a coup d'etat.
They needed help. Simon knew of one rather disgruntled young man who'd worked on the ferry ships for a few years, taking people to the outer moons and Mars. "They have the crew learn how to navigate just in case it comes up. He would be valuable. And Felix, he's old and ready for a fight."
Derek sat back, thoughtful. "They have armed guards at the entrance to the ship. Even if we were able to take it over and figure out how to run it to Amsterhagen, they'd be looking for us immediately, and they would know our path. And even if we eluded them and made it, then what? We have no physical proof of any of this, just our word." The room quieted as though a heavy mist had settled over it.
The electric man began to talk, to no one in particular. "We are able to communicate in dark matter space because we have access to other dimensions of gravity, a whole new configuration of gravitational connections, how its energy works in that realm. Using these dimensions we can send gravity waves of information across the universe immediately. We are one. We are only we here in your matter space."
Derek was beginning to feel sick, queezy. His head swooned.
"When thresholds are crossed, " he continued, "there is a space where all is nothing, random, incoherent, amorphous, then a new arrangement appears, the crystal reforms, new ingredients of information, different rules, different patterns emerging from the void, a new dimension branches out and gravity drains into it, reshaping dark matter space. We who live there can endure the pressures, but visible matter beings like yourselves would not fair well during the transitions, any of them. However, with a well-carved piece of calassium crystal near enough to your nervous net it's possible to enter darker regimes without your substance reality discorporating."
A long quiet pause ensued. Simon lit another joint and passed it to Derek. The master went on.
"I am a watcher. I learn. I look at the images, how thought is intertwined with feelings and ancient urges. I look at the images in the minds of the light people. They don't understand the true nature and inner dimensional structure of dark matter--its complexity. They have a blind spot. They can't understand how matter can even be without light."
He was through. He had thrown out ideas for them to chew on. He marveled at the human mind, how it could leap from facts to a conclusion not in the facts. He withdrew into himself to commune with his fellow beings. They were concerned.
"We need weapons, if we're going to storm the ship," said Simon dryly.
Derek stood and went to the end table, grabbed a bottle of bourbon and two glasses, then returned, set the glasses on the coffee table, and poured. He arranged the pages of the diary in three rows of ten, then in five rows of six, six rows of five, and then ten rows of three. He positioned them in a circle, their corners touching. He walked around it, studying it from every angle. Suddenly, he stopped, bent over and reshuffled them into the five by six pattern. Occasional small numbers that were spread throughout and seemed to mean nothing--dates and times, perhaps--matched up on adjacent pages if tilted just right. The words, if looked at from a far enough distance, became the schematic of the barracks complete with rec room, computer central and the admin's office, as well as all the cafes and corridor junctions. What Derek thought previously was a rough drawing of an ore car now appeared as an 'X' marks the spot. It was so many feet from a corner of the rec room. What could it be?
They knew it was something; they couldn't believe it was nothing. That simply wasn't the way things were going. Electric man opted to drop out; see ya' when the deed was done. He vanished with that distinctive flash and pop into a tiny nothing. Forthwith, Derek and Simon lit out for the rec room. It was a mixed crowd, everybody off work, most of the cargo crew were present. Anyone could be an assassin, thought Derek. They made their way to that corner, sitting at the closest table drinking a beer. Derek eyeballed the rough measurement. It was behind a stand-up 3-D videoconsole. They stood to pretend to play it, and when no one was looking their way, pushed it out and checked the wall. It was smooth and grey like the rest of it. They rubbed their hands over it , Derek felt a different texture, he picked at it, a clear plastic tape pulled loose. He untaped whatever was behind it, a smooth flat disc of what appeared to be a circuit enmeshed in a matrix of green pearl-like material.
They feigned anger at the broken machine and returned to their beer. Back at their room, what was now headquarters for the counter revolution, they placed the disc carefully on the coffee table. The electric man appeared in a burst of light before settling down to a warm glow.
"I wish you'd warn us about that," Simon protested. The electric man only smiled as he regained his easy chair. "We found this," he gestured towards the disc. "What do you make of it?" He tried pressing it in various points, but nothing happened. "Some kind of recording device, but how do you turn it on?"
The electric man studied the object on the table, then passed his hand over it. At once a holographic image of his friend, Nicholas, appeared above the disc, about two feet tall. Holocards were a common method for sending messages to friends and family when away for long. But this one appeared home made, for reasons only Nicholas knows, or knew, and touching them is ordinarily required to initiate the projection and audio. The electric man, however, had triggered it from a distance.
Nicholas began with, "If you're seeing this you've found my diary and deciphered the drawing as per protocol and Patrick is with you for only he can activate the disc. That was my failsafe. Whoever you are, and if Patrick's with you then you're probably on the right side, with the help of my collaborator, who was terminated but won't be forgotten, I sent an encrypted report using the network password he gave me. It enabled me to bypass the heavy security firewalls. Whether it was received or not, I can't know at this time. Our departure was called abruptly. Supposedly, it's because the crew had become alarmed at the number of odd occurrences in the shafts. Sightings of shadow beings, they're called. But I have my doubts. Maybe they found out about me and want me out of here. I don't know. After I conceal this I'm leaving for home and a meeting with the Council. If my report was received and believed and acted upon, this facility is now being run by a proxie government agency and the military personnel involved in the coup and the corporate leaders and henchmen are in prison if not dead. The production of calassium has to be completely controlled. It's properties are unknown and dangerous with possible devastating consequences if used improperly." His toned softened as he said, "We must be careful engaging with the shadow beings, for their sakes as well as our own. My report describes the one I'm familiar with; he's been very helpful. I call him Patrick."
Electric man waved his hand again and the projection collapsed. The room was silent. Patrick, the electric man, spoke first, "He sent that message over a month ago and nothing's transpired. Either it never fell into the right hands, or those hands are not as right as they could be. Or it never made it through the network."
Derek jumped up and almost stuttered, "What about his mail? I'm still registered for his room. I've never checked my mail because I don't expect any, but he may have some. A simple message disguised from his great aunt Tillie. We need to find out."
"But," began Simon, "if they know Nicholas was a spy, won't they be watching? Besides, there's some people actively interested in killing you, remember?"
"Maybe they are, maybe not. Maybe all that guy wanted was the diary."
"He had a Jason stick, Derek, remember?"
"Okay, ok, but I'm going to check it, right now, come on. What else do we have?"
Derek and Simon walked quickly passed Derek's old room as though some evil might reach out and grab them. On their way they changed direction and headed for the library, the rec room would be too busy this time of day. Derek logged in, his former roomie had several messages, four of which were personal. The oldest was dated a week after Derek arrived. All the messages were pretty much the same. The first read:
We have received your analysis but don't understand all of it. We need to ask you some questions. If you could cancel your contract early and return to the main office, we would appreciate it. We can't act until then.
CEO, Global Chemicals
"The deaths of a mining crew inbound from an obscure asteroid didn't make frontpage news," said Simon.
"Apparently not," said Derek. "They don't know about that. If they did, you'd think they'd be all over the corp's computer network, into their inner secrets. How could they not know? If it wasn't officially reported in the first place, that would work. There's a lot of empty space out here, the outlands, too big to police. You know, they may have wanted to get rid of the whole crew because of all the gossip and stories that would be told about shadow beings, and Nicholas just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know what that feels like. If that's the case, up until he left, the powers that be didn't know he was an undercover agent. But when they found out about the diary, they had to get it, not knowing what was in it."
He read the last message, dated a week ago.
It was common knowledge in the mining world that a corporation's government contract demands they submit periodic reports of any testing results. They were also supposed to submit how much they were taking out, but evidently, they weren't being entirely forthcoming. Whoever these people were who sent this mail must have scientific reports from the government research facility. But not what the corporation was focused on at their secret base.
It was too late in the day for being cryptic; it was pretty obvious who and what they were talking about; you didn't have to be a trained spy. The cards were being put on the table.
Simon wanted to leave, to get a beer, but Derek stopped him. "Where will we go?" He asked. "What's our next move? We're here, in front of this computer. Why not send a reply, leaving nothing to misunderstanding. Spell it all out, clear as a bell."
"Don't you know the corp monitors all messages? They'll never let it through. Besides, who knows where it'd end up. Some server in the Far Eastern Region?"
Derek was determined, however, to do something. He spoke the word Reply and a message page came up. He said, "Nicholas is dead. The report is accurate. No time to waste." The words appeared on the sheet of light. He then looked at Simon, who nodded woefully, then shook his head. Derek said to the computer, "Send."
"What the frell could they possibly need to hear?" asked an exasperated Derek. "They have the report, all they need do is check it out. What are they waiting for, some magic word? How could the corp have a hidden place to work on wormhole engineering and calassium-assisted travel through dark matter and have its whereabouts unknown? It would have to be a huge collection of buildings, a compound, with military units patrolling the area and supplies coming in on a regular basis. In the Eastern Siberian Desert. Well, frell almighty, that's a mighty big place."
"It doesn't have to be there, that was what the computer guy read. It could be a coded name. That's more likely, why state it straight out? They could have it anywhere on the face of the earth or within it," blurted Simon. "Block out all communication, no publicly accessible entry. They have their own net, unassailable. Once a ship, a cargo ship or crew, a corporate registered earmarked ship, enters Earth-space at the moon's orbit it's immediately tracked and a pilot goes out to meet it and guide it into port. Now, if that's been happening, they would know about the secret facility."
"Not necessarily," interjected Derek. "If the mineral is first delivered to the government one, then it could be clandestinely transfered to the other, where all the shit's going on, or more than one. We don't know. They could have operations spread all over the Northwest Region, and maybe other Regions, at the end of the Far Eastern Region in no-man's land. Maybe there's allies to the coup plan. Those who've been let in on the new potential technology and want to be on that side and not the victim's side."
These were self-serving desperate times on Earth. They thought as corporate people, a new species, instilled from birth with corporate consciousness. They would prefer to merge rather than become the victims of a hostile takeover, very hostile. For this and other reasons, those who'd been born on and grew up on outworlder planets, used to working and living independently, were not so indoctrinated and socialized; in fact, they thought outside-the-box as a rule. And Derek's reason for dropping-out, to be free of corporate-think.
Suddenly, a bright light blinded them, quickly toning down. Patrick's entrance, never anticipated. He sat and asked smoothly, "Where are we, gentlemen?" No one made of light could be that suave, mused Derek. With each visit, he appears and acts and talks more human.
Derek ignored the question and said to Simon, "We can't just leave it at that, sending mail to frell-knows who and hope it got through and those dumbshits act. They don't know who sent it even if they receive it. I mean, we can't just return to work like nothing's happened in the last three days. I can't."
Simon had nothing to say, he knew he was right, of course, you don't find out about a conspiracy by the military in league with the mining corporation to overthrow the government, invade dark matter space and destabilize it drilling wormholes and saturating it with powerful magnetic fields, thereby jeopardizing the entire universe and all the lifeforms that dwell therein, as well as, as well as, discover the existence of dark matter beings who can vanish into thin air and appear with a flash and walk away. You don't let all that into your world and then just go back to work as though everything is normal.
"Okay, Brainiac, what'll we do?" said Simon while firing up another joint.
"If I may speak?" asked Patrick, a smile on his face. "If you could travel to this Federation Headquarters you speak of with the disc of Nicholas, do you believe you could convince them of the danger and the need to act immediately?"
They both laughed. "I don't think we have the firepower to hijack the cargo ship," said Derek. "Aside from that, I don't see us leaving here anytime soon. If I'm not killed and we survive our entire six months contract before heading to Earth and then to our respective homes, it'll be too late by a long shot. The coup will be over and the invasion into your space begun. There might not even be a universe by then, or before then. No universe, no Earth."
Patrick leaned forward, a gesture that filled the room with a soft yellowish light. "Let me explain to you what calassium really is. It allows a visible matter being to enter dark matter space, but not as a destination one travels to. Calassium is exceptional for the reason that it exists both in the dark matter universe and in yours simultaneously, otherwise you wouldn't be able to mine it or even see it. You felt its pull, Derek, in the breakroom. I read your mind and saw the contents of the diary and so I allowed that to happen to see if you could endure the dark realm, you were in no danger. At the time I didn't know Nicholas was dead or that you were in his room. I should have, perhaps. How else would you know of the diary?
"What calassium does if inscribed correctly is to separate out and suppress visible matter, the surface side, and manifest its dark side only. Once that space is entered, a person can move through it without resistance."
He paused as he leaned back. "We express the consciousness of the energy that brings forth dark matter. An energy so complex and all-pervasive that it became conscious of itself long before visible matter came into the cosmos. I am but a singualr point of reference. When solely in the dark world, I partake of the collective mind of the whole energy field, a network of beings. I am all as one.
"If you choose to have calassium implanted, you could enter dark matter space and using the tendrils that connect it, move your mind to your destination. Once there, forcing the mineral into its visible state by an act of will--and I will show you how--will cause your body to materialize. I taught Nicholas this, he used the invisibility to gather information and to eavesdrop."
Simon and Derek stared at each other, unable to speak. A few days ago, Simon's biggest worry was running out of herb. Now, he's being presented with a chance to enter a potentially deadly world of beings he didn't know existed just hours ago, and travel, somehow, countless light years to one specific spot on Earth, then magically appear; hopefully, not in front of anyone and with all the parts in the right places.
"Doesn't the corp know about this?" asked Derek. "In their research? They must. If so, why bother with wormholes."
"They don't," said Patrick. "They've found out that its properties are unleashed when a small piece is placed near the electrochemical net, a person can enter dark matter space and be invisible. But in order to reenter visible matter space they're convinced the calassium has to be removed, a procedure fraught with calamity. And they don't have any idea how to use it to travel through dark matter using their mind and will or even that it's possible. If they did, we would know."
It all sounded farfetched and dubious, not to mention frightening, to Derek; Simon, on the other hand, was beside himself, his eyes ablaze as he sucked hard on the joint and handed it to Derek. He blew a cloud of smoke and asked, "What does it feel like? Will we be able to move, or do we have to stay perfectly still? Will we be able to see anything?" Simon had obviously already decided.
"Entering dark matter," began Patrick quietly, "for you it would be similar to Dreamland. You're not aware of your body but it's not what you use to move. Your unconscious mind becomes center. You see as you do now, but it is only an illusion manufactured by your mind. But, it does produce navigational aids, different layers are configured differently, according to their natures and inherent properties. Traveling across interstellar space--in your matter space--can be accomplished by letting your energy, your essence, enter the plane of life in the universe of dark matter and then focusing on a single point."
"How fast can you go?" asked Simon.
"Distance in dark matter has no meaning as angles and lengths have no meaning; every point is equivalent to every other point. So velocity has no meaning. When a beam of light is born, it is traveling at its maximum speed immediately. Why do you think that is?" He didn't wait for an answer. "There is gravity and there is an immanent energy, orchestrating and organizing. Traveling thus takes no time in your sense of the term."
"Jesus," said Derek. "If the military and corporate people knew that, they wouldn't need any wormhole machinery."
"Yes," said Patrick emphatically. "That is another danger I hadn't mentioned, until I could trust you more. That knowledge can never be discovered. It would be the end if they learned how to go about it. You must never tell anyone."
"No problem," they both said at once. Who would believe them?
Derek and Simon looked at one another, trying to communicate telepathically. They each sought adventure in his own way. And now they were being offered an opportunity to do something humans had never done. Were they scared? Emphatically yes. But if they chose not to try, what would happen then? Would they, because of trepidation, be responsible for the end of the cosmos, forget the end of the government of the Northwest Region?
"We focus on where we want to be--Amsterhagan Administration Building--and automatically, we're there?" asked Derek.
"Not exactly," replied Patrick. "When do you want to do this?"
They looked at each other once again in that telepathic way. Postponing meant not doing, they both knew that. Simon looked over at Patrick and asked, "Where exactly is this piece of mineral implanted?"
Patrick smiled. He held out his right palm, amidst the muffled shimmer could be seen two tiny discs, tan in color. "I place these on your temple, and because of how I fashioned them, they absorb into your skin immediately, painlessly, and adapt to your nervous system's primary resonance--your psyche. Ordinary refined calassium will not do that, it has to be designed by someone who knows how. Even if it occurred to them that they could use it to move through dark matter independently of a ship, they would still have to know how to inscribe the crystal lattice. But, I know they're experimenting on various patterns of arrangement. Accidental discoveries occur quite frequently in your science."
He stood before them and gently applied the discs to their temples. It vanished under their skin. "Do you feel anything?" he asked.
They both nodded in the negative. He then reached into his body, or so it appeared. The room blurred as though flattening out, then rebounded as he removed his hand. In it he held a goblet, that's the best way to describe it. He handed it to Derek and told him to drink some and give it to his friend. Simon handed the goblet back to Patrick who commenced to drain it. "That's good stuff," he said, licking his lips. He regained his chair, got comfortable and asked, "Have either of you ever taken psycedelics?"
As with most everything else about Patrick, this stopped their clocks. Derek said yes and Simon, no. "Well," went on Patrick, "here's what's going to happen and what you have to do. In a few moments you're body will become unnoticeable to you. You will still be able to see the room and everything in it, including me, but that will be an illusion brought about by your visible matter mind attempting to hold onto three-dimensional space. In actuality, you will be in dark matter space, able to suspend that dimension with an act of will. The calassium opens that door. The drink I gave you smooths the entrance. Now, let's begin."
Patrick stood before them once again. "Sit back and relax," he commanded. "Do you possess an image of the place?"
"I've been to Amsterhagen many years a go, in my twenties, but never near the corporate-governemnt buildings, I stayed downtown pretty much," replied Derek.
"Never," said Simon flatly.
"Doesn't mater. Let me explain," began Patrick, now taking on the electricfied demeanor of a teacher. "Dark matter does not resemble light matter in any way. There are no atoms, no nuclei, no electron cloud in continuous turmoil surrounding and engulfing it. Dark matter has no underlying space as does visible matter. There is no quantum reality, no quantum effects or pressures. It's geoemtry only. Higher gravitational planes layer it all the way to the center, the beginning that still is." He paused in acknowledgement.
"Now, as each dimension is entered, the arrangement of gravitational influence alters both time and space. What was on one level a separate identity merges with another, not only spatially by geometric factors, but temporally by resonance--as one piece can become a whole, a whole can become one piece." His tone was one of imparting wisdom to the savages.
"In other words, closeness is a question of equivalence in any gravity realm, until all is one at the center," he said solemnly. "Each vector, if you will, originating at the center of the dark matter universe and ending at its topmost layer, maps to a position in visible matter space, your world, a world of quanta. Your world is discontinuous, forces jump from place to place. In the realm of dark matter all is continuous, it was the cosmos before quantum space was born."
He seemed finished, he'd concluded his brief simplified summary. From his point of view, delving into and attempting to explain, with the limitations of their language and understanding of the universe, the actual complexity of dark matter's nature and propensities, its nuances and idiosyncrasies--its beauty--would be meaningless and confusing.
Simon and Derek couldn't help but notice that Patrick had stopped talking and didn't seem inclined to continue. "Patrick," said Derek as though waking him from a nap. "How do we do this, what do we do now?"
A smile coursed Patrick's face, he then turned serious. "I have prepared a device which will enable you to travel to your original home world. Humanity's signature is pressed into it, a parametric configuration of unique vibrations that align with the underlying dark matter template." Derek and Simon exchanged glances.
"Once there, you'll have to navigate to your local destination." He looked into their eyes and saw doubt. "Have no misgivings, I know you can do this. You'll appear above the Earth, looking down as you approach. Being in dark matter space, you'll be immune to any atmospheric effects. You won't be falling out of control; you'll have control, you'll see."
As he reached into his body once again, blurring and distorting the room as though it was immersed in water and a wave had passed through, there was a knock on the door. At once, Patrick vanished. Whatever he'd given them to drink was having a strange effect. Derek had trouble feeling the floor as he stood to answer the door, and his movements were effortless, he felt weightless. Similarly, Simon barely floated to the other side of the door, holding his knife, a common companion any outworld miner carried.
"Who is it," asked Derek in his best annoyed tone.
A rough voice said, "Are you Derek. I'm looking for Derek, I have an important message for him."
"How'd you know I moved?"
At that, the door came crashing in; swinging on its hinges, it slammed into Simon, knocking him hard against the wall. A tall burly man stepped over the threshold, his eyes intent on Derek who backpeddaled as he scanned the room looking for a weapon. Suddenly, the man slowed, a shocked look on his face like he'd stepped into a hole in the floor. A bright light emerged from his torso, almost blinding Derek, and then simply went out like the snuffing of a candle. The man was gone.
Patrick appeared by the door attempting to close its shattered remains. Simon was on his feet; he'd seen the disappearing act from the floor angle. As Derek, disoriented and overwhelmed by the power of Patrick, turned shakily to go to his chair, he bumped into a corner of the bed, or rather, would have had he not gone right through it. He stopped dead, staring at his legs protruding from the mattress. Then at Patrick who only smiled.
"Sit," he said, "both of you. It is time." Standing in front of them he opened his palm. He held two wafers of what looked like yellow bread, and a smooth bar-shaped crystal, pale green in color. "Take the crystal and carry it with you, don't lose it, it is your safe passage there and back." He paused to look at them. He was about to say something, then ceased. "Are you ready?" he asked, a warm emotion filling the room. Their bodies felt like loose molecules about to melt into amorphous blobs.
They nodded yes as they stared all around themselves, both wondering how they could sit in chairs yet walk through other material things.
"Will power," replied Patrick to their thoughts. "That is what you need to travel through dark matter and emerge in your world at the position etched on this wafer." He then administered them, placing each on their tongue. The flavorless wafers dissolved instantly, followed by a rush of emotion that was palpable. The last thing they heard was, "Don't be afraid, your unconscious mind will guide you."
Time had no meaning, Derek had no sense that it was passing. They were moving backwards in time, or downward to the beginning of the universe when dark matter and dark energy were born as one. Suddenly, all went black as coal, pressure tightened its grip threatening to squeeze the life out of him. Then relented smoothly as though releasing a fragile figurine.
This layer presented a completely different picture. Two-dimensional shards of every shape imaginable each held an inscrutable image, mere outlines twisting and turning from one form to another, pasted or inlaid on what appeared to be soap bubbles, a film of some kind, so gossamer thin the next shard could be seen through it.
Just as his mind was on the verge of making alien sense of it all, imagining he perceived a pattern of cause-effect, his surroundings went black as ink again. Pressure pushed against his will. When they entered this dark realm, Derek was unable to see his body, now, on this level, he lost all sense of it. Somehow he knew Simon was nearby, but in a way unfamiliar, as though he'd transformed into another kind of being, an insect with antennae reading chemical signals in the aether.
Patrick had advised them to let their unconscious be their guide. Only now did Derek try to fathom what he meant. In real space, the one he's used to, they would be plummeting pell-mell through utter darkness amidst a dense forest of misshapen illuminated window panes. They contained pencil drawings of improbable animals, uncluttered alien landscapes and figures of intricately detailed complex geometric apparitions continuously transforming through shattered transitions. Revealing depth and texture, they appeared three-dimensional. The incongruities of each should have caused a feeling of dissonance, yet the local assemblage taken as a whole had a pleasing, almost euphoric effect, a commonality beyond his scope to see.
It suddenly occurred to Derek that he might be in one such window. But how would he know? He had to assume that was the case as everything else was. He sensed Simon was in it with him. Growing impatient, he thought, now what? And as soon as he did, all went black again. This time, however, there was little compacting pressure, but a definite feeling of having entered a deeper layer of dark matter space. This one was different. No frames of bubble pictures and patterns, here they were caught in a swirl of nightmarish fingerpaints, a viscous torrent of churning clouds. Through his calassium eyes he saw a brightness surrounding the contours of a vast ocean of moving matter. They were but flotsam bobbing along.
There were no sounds or smells or feeling of air against skin as they continued to alter perspective. Are we moving or is it moving through us? wondered Derek. He attempted to analyze the situation and discovered that his thinking processes worked with a lucidity he rarely had ever experienced.
If we drop down to the spherical center of the universe, he began, dark matter being the original cosmos, we will eventually reach somewhere near the origin point. From there, if we redirect our angle and then rise upward, we'll surface on a different place in our visible matter realm. He smiled to himself when he thought realm. It'd taken this long and having to go through this experience to accept the true state of reality. Visible matter, only 4.6% of the universe, was just the surface, the veneer, the tip of the iceberg of a far grander, inclusive, and, elementally more important gravity-space.
This realization had a reorienting effect on his mind. It was as though thought itself, one of those realities of life he never wondered about, just accepted as there, like the senses, had taken on a nature all its own. He felt he was losing himself, and there was nothing he could do about it; he had no choice. Surrendering to the dark matter universe, thought energy freed itself from the tight, narrow grooves it'd been forced into. And along with it, Derek's personal perception of reality emptied itself of all constricting concepts and learned predispositions. As a result, terror filled his soul, his thoughts were like escaped wild animals flowing and mingling without any controls he could muster. Quickly, however, the paralysis of mind passed in the same breath as the recognition of life's true raw unadulterated potential. He felt larger, much larger, expanding exponentially in ever increasing increments. He wondered briefly if Simon was experiencing the same thing. But he couldn't hold that thought; it slipped away, lost in the tumult of writhing whirls of dark matter.
Independently, or so it seemed, the question in Derek's mind--of their current position on this trip--spread out before him in a geometric form, a twisting rumpled surface spiked like the spool of a music box. Then all went black again. Pressure reafirmed itself but in a less alarming way. Once more they were in that dimension of framed soap bubble images and drawings, moving and undulating--joining, merging, superimposing--and by so doing increasing the complexity of the cluster, then an instant later decomposing into a million tiny multi-faceted frames, elemental components of thought created and nurtured from nothing by virtue of having been a part of something intricate and sublime.
But they were just passsing through. Blackness descended again and just as quickly was replaced by a strange orange-yellow light that pervaded the entire surface above. Derek's impression was one of looking up at the bright sky from under water, the sea. He hadn't noticed the lack of color in the dark matter world, preoccupied as he was with everything else. He was indeed a creature of the light, a warmth spread through his body at the sight of what could be Earth's sun.
They were at the top layer, Derek knew with genuine relief. His mind had acclimated almost by force to this new universe as though iron filings in the presence of a magnetic field. He felt a familiarity and a profound sense of belonging welling up from the collective memories of all who had gone before him, from the depths of his psyche, from the turbulence and creative energy of his unconscious mind, aspects of his identity he hadn't ever bothered to try to understand. Accordingly, he was certain that the interface between the two realms was about to be transited--the significance of the orange-yellow light--made possible thanks to the calassium and whatever Patrick had given them. Derek felt the physical sensation of his body with profound relief, or was it instead the interpenetration of everything else? He wondered how the return-ticket bar of calassium could possibly afford them a safe trip as Patrick had promised. What were its powers? How did it work? Is it really their return ticket or is it just a security blanket to make them feel protected?
He still couldn't see Simon, if he was indeed near enough to see. An unanticipated flash of pain throbbed at his temple where the calassium splinter dwelt. Patrick never warned us about this, thought Derek a little irritated. His extremities burned slightly as though he'd been running for miles. Slowly, in stages, the sensation of his body intensified. The light became brighter; he closed his eyes against the glare. A shearing sound surrounded him, metal against metal; he almost cried out. Then, abruptly, it ceased; he sensed utter stillness. He opened his eyes. He was in a park or the woods, he couldn't tell yet. Simon stood beside him rubbing his eyes, sweat beading on his wrinkled forehead. The sun shone and the air was warm. They could hear birds and after a time children laughing. They glanced at one another and started to walk in that direction; it was a good feeling--hard electromagnetic fields under their feet.
They found a red brick walkway that led through a tree line. On the other side was a field of grass stretching on both sides as far as they could see. A couple of dozen people strolled along flowered paths, sat on benches to eat and chat, picnicked on the short well-kept grass. Laughter could be heard intermittently. Such innocence and enjoyment, thought Derek. They have no idea of the calamity that's brewing.
They stopped next to a plum tree, its delicate flowers in bloom, petals lay on the ground. Before them, across the wide busy street, a palacial building took up the entire block. A huge cathedral-like dome with many open portals set a few feet apart around it lent an air of religious authority, which wasn't far from the truth. It sat back about a hundred yards or so from the street and was encircled by a ten-foot high rock wall with armed guards at the main entrance, two were visible but more than likely others lurked about along with snipers in strategic vantage points, of which there were many.
Derek and Simon stood enthralled, overwhelmed by the sheer size of their audacity. To think, the way they looked and were dressed, that they could just walk up to the gate, ask to see so and so, and it was done. They'd be politely escorted to the head honcho's office where he'd be waiting, having dropped whatever meeting or involvement with Federation businesss he'd been engaged in.
The open spaces, sunny sky, friendly atmosphere, and apparent hopelessness of their endeavor were having a predictable effect on the two intrepid ambassadors of Dark Matter with respect to their nervous systems, especially considering their most recent experiences. They were stressed, to put it mildly.
Simon suddenly felt heavy, his arms and legs leaden, the tension of his body suddenly collapsed in on itself. He plopped down on the sweet-smelling grass, folded his legs beneath him, lowered his head, and dug his hands into the dirt. Derek scanned once more the imposing monolith of a building, examining groups of windows, butresses, oversized doors, spires on all the corners, tall marble columns at the top of the wide steps leading to the front doors, concrete walkways, small trees and bushes running along its length, and the overall inflexible facade of hard rock, stone, and brick. There was even gragoyles protectively overlooking the huge field in front. It was intended to intimidate, and it worked. Then he too sat lotus fashion. For awhile they just sat, taking in the warm spring air, the scent of flowers wafting on the gentle breeze, and the laughter of children playing nearby.
Simon tossed a handful of grass aside and pronounced, "We're screwed." Derek said nothing, his mind was churning in spite of his tiredness. "Look," said Simon, "we need to regroup, let's find a bar that serves food, I'm starved, I need food and a stiff drink, or two or three."
"What're we gonna use for money?"
"Hah," Simon's eyes brightened, "I have money, uni-bucks. The corp brings you back here after a contract, so I make sure I have pocket change while waiting for my settlement check. They take their time. You didn't know that?"
"I hadn't thought about it. And then they pay for your travel home?"
"Yeah," he snapped as he stood in one motion. "Let's go find a bar, Derek. On me. I think we deserve it, so far."
Derek let the events of the last few days wash over him. He couldn't believe what he'd gotten himself into. And not only himself, but he managed to pull Simon into it with him. He shook his head, kicked back his first shot, and gestured for more to the waitress. The bourbon hit him like a ton of bricks; only then did he realize how incredibly stressed he'd been. And who wouldn't? he thought. He sipped on his beer and waited, for what, he didn't know.
Simon, being bred to opportunism by a childhood of hard knocks and rough terrain, was considering what could be salvaged from the situation; he'd given up on their quest. He was upset with himself. He's always tried to be practical, think things through, but this time, the circumstances were so bizarre, what with dark matter beings and traveling through their multi-dimensional space composed of oddites never before seen or imagined by humans--visible light inhabitants--and ending up here, thousands of light years away, it was all too much for his down-to-earth thinking processes. There was no down-to-earth. So he drained his shot, requested another as the waitress walked by, and forgave himself. In any event, it was too late to whine about it, they were here and something must be done.
Sitting back, Derek slowly spun the base of his beer glass, his eyes intent on the glint of overhead light off the crystal. "The boat is sinking and we're the only ones who can save it," he said, continuing to stare at the glass.
"Bullshit," jabbed Simon. "The boat has done sunk and there's nothing we can do about it. Besides, we don't know for sure that even if the corporation can figure out how to create wormholes in dark matter space, we don't know if it will work. They may not be able to. We saw what it's like, all those windows of strange shifting whatevers, that coiling murky soup, those strings of incadescent, somehow, tendrils going every which way, what are they going to do when they confront that? They'll be screwed."
Derek let that sit for awhile. He drank another shot, the waitress had experience with such characters so she was bringing two at a time for each. "But what about the coup? The military in that Region wants to take over the world. Can we let that happen without warning the Federation Council?"
"Who cares," snapped Simon. "We live way out there," he gestured dramatically, "we can live our lives on those other worlds and never have to visit Earth again."
"Yeah, but what about all the billions here? What about them? This is our home planet, you know. And what about what Patrick said. If they figure out how to travel through dark matter, his world will be in jeopardy, not to mention if they're successful, it could mean the end of the cosmos and there goes our walkabout lives, along with all our friends." He paused as he sipped some beer. "I don't know Simon. I don't see how we can just walk away from this. I don't have any money or a job here on earth. I have no place to live, no clothes." He began to laugh; it was all so absurd. "We can't just move in. Look around, at these people, how they're dressed, and these are the casual ones. What choice do we got?"
Simon sat awhile, finishing off one shot, then another. He finally said, "Okay. Let's take a breath." Their food arrived and they focused on eating, they truly were starved and were getting drunk faster than usual. Fatigue and hunger. After devouring several mouthfuls, they slowed down enough to talk.
Simon spoke first. "Here's the conundrum. Our spy slash miner sent a report by hyperspace radio to his contact in the Federation. At least we assume the Federation; could be some agency of the corporation's regional government. Its intelligence apparatus. Maybe they suspect this coup and sent Nicholas to find out about it. We don't know for sure so we can forget about it."
"But if the corporation chooses the government officials, why bother to stage a coup?"
"Maybe the government is rebelling, going their own way. What's to stop them? You sent that reply through the corporate network so there's a good chance it never got through. But assuming it did, his contact might not know that Nicholas was terminated in a supposed accident, or he might have found out through some means and would therefore suspect he was being misled. Now, if we knew who was on the other end of that mail, we could maybe find him to let him know that the Federation was having trouble coming to grips with believing what the Northwest Region military and the mining corporation were planning and how."
Derek interrupted him, "You're confusing me." He shoved his plate to the side and leaned forward, putting his forearms on the table and folding his hands. "We have the holo-message from Nicholas. His appearance must be on record somewhere for them to check. We, ourselves, will never be believed by anyone, much less the heads of the Federation, over and above an official report by an experienced spy. What we have to do is get that to them somehow."
"But even if we do, they still have to find the secret location where the corporation's working on all this shit. And with the military helping them, it's bound to be well-hidden and protected."
"We can't worry about that. It's their job to locate things. They have the means. What I still don't understand is why they haven't taken the report at face value and started investigating anyway. Just to err on the side of caution, if for no other reason. There's something going on here that smells like crap. A bona-fide spy sends a report and the people he works for don't believe him. That doesn't make any sense. So here we are, trying to get them to take it seriously and act. Something is horribly bent."
Simon perked up. The prospect of a good old-fashioned twisted conspiracy always intrigued him. It was the currency of life on his home world. "Yeah, that's a good question. Why haven't they done anything? They can't be in cahoots with the corporation and the military to overthrow the NWR's government. What would be the point, they already control it, don't they? And why were they so persistent in those mails that Nicholas make a personal appearance? Their excuse, now, looks totally bogus."
When they were way out on the asteroid, their perceptions were affected by that milieu, not conducive to sober thinking. But now, here, on Earth, within spitting distance of the grand administration building, and the benefits derived from bourbon, Derek could see that they'd been sent on a fool's errand. Nicholas had been taken out of the way, and now they too were, by dint of the impossibility of their task, removed from the picture. In fact, he and Simon were the only people, outside of those who were involved, who knew what was going on. This realization struck him hard; he shared it with Simon.
"But Patrick enabled us to do this, to come here through his space," countered Simon. "Could he've been pretending to believe we'd be successful? Did he just want us out of the way? Why would he do that? From what he told us, he has a vested interest in getting the Federation to do something before it all falls apart."
"I think Patrick is legit, he's just not familiar with human protocols. But what about Nicholas the spy? Why send a false report accusing the military of collaborating with the corporation to bring down the government and take over the world? It got him killed, for God's sake. And who's responsible? The corporation or the Federation?"
"Well suppose the coup story is unreal, what are we left with? Wormhole technology through dark matter. Why would he want to stop that before it starts? Patrick told him his reasons, the end of the universe is a pretty persuasive argument. Could it be," he stopped to drink some bourbon, "could it be that the Federation heads are in league with the corporation in order to wield absolute power over the entire world? And the coup story is a cover to give them a legitimate reason for declaring martial law?"
"They wouldn't have to declare martial law; they could simply call up the military in all cooperative Regions, it's in the charter, I think. If one Region is about to start a war with all the others unless they submit or give up beforehand. But suppose the Federation isn't in cahoots and the story about the coup is legitimate, if they wait too long and the NWR shows how they can materialize an army right in the middle of opposing forces, or anywhere for that matter, the Federation and the rest of the world will likely capitulate."
"Once the Federation calls up the military from the core members," Simon added, "they could say that the Northwest Region, where the corporation is based, is not only in cahoots with their military but with those Regions that maintain their independence."
"And what did Nicholas know? Who was he really working for? The Federation doesn't want his report to get out before the corporation has completed its research and development, until they've learned how to wormhole through dark matter with the help of calassium. If it does, if it went public, they'd have to act, shutting down the operation. Or at least making a pretense of doing so. In any event, what the corp was up to would be out in the open with their plan of conquest "
Simon ran his fingers through his long black hair, leaned on the table like Derek and whispered hoarsly, "I think Nicholas didn't know; elsewise, why would he let them know that he knew about the wormhole drilling through dark space? He was too good of a spy. But, why would they send him on that mission in the first place if they wanted to keep it a secret? For whose benefit? Why send him on a job to find out something they already knew and didn't want anybody else to know?"
"Somehow Nicholas learned of a military takeover, he just had the players wrong. So maybe he wasn't a double-agent, he was a true believer in the Federation, a loyal son."
"Or," started Simon, warming to the game, "Nicholas was playing both sides of the street after all. He was working for another group, dissidents, rebels, but didn't know about the Federation's plot. He was trying to get them to shut the corporation's project down."
Derek sat back in a huff. They were in over their heads. Who to trust, who to turn to, what could they do? Whoever Nicholas's contact is has to be working for the Federation. Finding him to give the holodisc to might be a meaningless pursuit, if indeed the Federation was up to no good. Derek's thoughts circled like a roulette ball, then dropped into the fact that they were the only ones, apparently, who knew what was going on, or imagined they did. He was about to remind his compatriot of that salient point when their privacy was interrupted by a tall woman dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, and a red flannel shirt; curly red hair covered her shoulders, an air of urgency brightened her green eyes. She took their breath away.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," she began in a soft yet tense voice, "we need to talk." Derek was dumbfounded and suspicious. What now? he wondered. Nothing to lose, or so he believed, he invited her to sit beside him. She did so at once and ordered a drink from the perpetual-motion waitress as she zoomed by. They sat in silence, waiting; she for her scotch on the rocks, Derek for her to speak. Simon, however, didn't care if she ever spoke, he was in love.
She took a pull on her drink, it seemed to calm her somewhat. She scanned around furtively, then began her story. Her name was Rebecca. She was a member of an underground group working for the Independents, those Regions which refused to sign the charter of submission, as she called it, and Nicholas had been one of their leaders. She knew of Patrick and the shadow beings. In fact, Patrick had informed them through a local dark matter incarnation about their arrival and intent. He passed on the signature resonance of the crystal bar he'd given to Derek; that's how she found them. She pulled a thick flat disc and a smaller version of Derek's from her shirt pocket. Aligning the crystal over the tan-colored flat disc--it looked something like a compass--a bright red line shone on its surface, pointing directly at Derek.
"With the old United Nations subsumed under the Federation," she said disgustedly, "appealing to that puppet body would not only be a waste of time but would no doubt be dangerous in a life-threatening kind of way. It's the Federation that's trying to pull off a coup; they want to establish a new world order with them in charge."
"Well then, what the frell can we do?" asked Derek. "And why would Patrick not tell us about all this, let us go on this hair-brained mission to contact the Federation knowing what they were up to? Suppose we'd just walked in there and told the Chancellor what was what, showed him the communique of Nicholas?"
She studied her drink and smiled. "You must be joking," she said flatly. "Look at yourselves. Besides, only dignitaries are granted an audience with the Chancellor. He doubted you'd get to see him. And more importantly, if Patrick had told you everything, what he'd learned working with Nicholas, you might've gotten yourselves into trouble, captured, taken prisoner and interrogated. They have extensive and very unpleasant means of making people talk. Torture, drugs, and the cerebral net when they're looking for detail. It can translate brain engrams from memory into three-dimensional holographic projections; it's like watching a video of your past. We've done a good job so far of keeping ourselves off the radar. But time is running out."
Derek was annoyed. "Let me get somethin' straight. You and your group knew all about this. Why haven't you told the Regional leaders what the Federation is planning? Let them deal with it. Why get us involved at all. Patrick could've told us coming here was a waste of time. I mean, except for the fact that they, somebody, is trying to kill me, probably still are, I could've missed the trip and not been disappointed."
"Of course we told them," she said, indignation in her tone. "They know what's going on, what the Federation is up to."
"Well then, why don't they call them on it, this Chancellor guy? What's the holdup?" He and Simon waited for a response, but none was forthcoming. "Here's a question then," began Derek, irritation showing in his tone, "if Nicholas knew what the corporation was up to, why send a report to the Federation letting them know? Did he have a death wish?"
"He had to. In order to keep on good terms with the Federation and not have them suspect him, he had to do his job. He could've reported he knew nothing, couldn't find anything out because of security reasons or some other excuse. They would've been surprised and suspicious and probably would've removed him from the assignment. Then he'd've been out of the loop, no longer in the middle of the action. Plus, in his report he said he didn't know where the corporation was performing their experiments. They probably didn't believe that."
"Well then," Simon said, "if you know all this stuff, everything, I reiterate, what the frell are we doing here?"
"We don't know where the corporation's secret experimental installation is. That's where you come in."
"What the frell do you mean?" asked Derek, exasperated by all the teeth-pulling. "We don't know anything of the kind."
"The holodisc," she whispered. "The one of Nicholas you possess. It's on it. Where their shop is. That's why you're here."
"So we were just couriers," said an angry Simon, abruptly over his infatuation. "But I saw the message, the projection of Nicholas, the whole thing, it was brief, he didn't mention a place."
Just then a commotion erupted by the front door; Rebecca's back was to it. She peered over her shoulder. "We have to get out, now," she whispered hastily. "C'mon." She calmly walked to the back, through a door, then another and out onto a back alley. She waved at the shadows where the alley met the street. A black grav-car silently pulled up, its windows tinted obscuring the occupants. The back door opened and she motioned for Derek and Simon to get in. Not having any other options, and not knowing what had prompted their departure, they jumped in; the mysterious redheaded rebel squeezed in between. In the front seat two men with thick necks and long hair sat like rocks of granite in a stream; neither bothered to turn around.
They sped off down the street away from the administration building. When they got to the main road, they rose to the highest highway level, set the auto-pilot in a direction out of the city, and sat back in the plush cushions. Nice ride for a bunch of rebels, thought Derek. "What the hell was that all about?" he asked. "And where are we going?"
Rebecca touched a screen on the back of the forward seat; it came alive detailing a map of the entire area. A screen adjacent showed a dynamic picture of the roads surrounding the administration building. On Earth at this time, with a population of over fifteen billion, surveillance cameras were everywhere. And with it, very sophisticated facial recognition software. As she removed her wig, revealing a short crop of dark brown hair, she explained that she had taken a hell of a chance coming so close to the Federation's main headquarters. And although her group of dissident rebels was largely unknown, she, along with a few others, were, unfortuantely, quite familiar to the intelligence apparatus of the ruling Global Corporation Alliance, the official name of the Federation. It'd only been a matter of minutes before they tracked her down.
While their car silently flew out of town and into what remained of the countryside, one question after another popped into Derek's head. He finally voiced the most obvious one. "What the hell do you want us for? What possible good can we be to your cause? You said we know where their secret research facility is, but we don't, I told you, it's not on that disc of Nicholas's."
The car banked sharply to the left over a small clump of scraggly trees, Simon stared at them, dumbfounded; the story through the grapevine was that there were no more on the home world. In a language unfamiliar to Derek, Rebecca said something to the driver who only nodded without looking back. She then turned to Derek and spoke as though to a small child she wished to keep calm, "It's on the disc, believe me, but you need a key to access it. That was done just in case the federalees got a hold of it. Mere encryption means nothing anymore, any code can be broken. We needed you to bring it, and we appreciate it."
Derek, tired, irritable, confused, and aware of being in the middle of something he suspected strongly could end his life, blew up. "You appreciate it." He pulled his hands through his hair. "What the frell do you mean? We risked our lives coming here on a bogus mission no one believed we could accomplish just so you and your crazy bunch could get your hands on the disc, and you say you appreciate it?" With effort, he reigned in his anger and said in a much calmer voice, "I have another question, why the frell didn't Patrick, or one of his doubles, give it to you directly? Huh? You said you've had meetings. Why couldn't he do it?"
The car dropped suddenly to ground level; Derek and Simon reached for the ceiling, weightless. "It doesn't work that way," she said, her voice even, indifferent to the car's motion. "The visible matter properties of the substructure of the material itself can't be sustained through dark matter space without proximity to visible matter--you."
Derek felt used, sullied. They were just packages, Simon and him. They were earnest. They would have concocted some hairbrained scheme to get the message to the head honcho. They believed in the cause, and pursued it sincerely at the risk of their lives. Rebecca sensed his thoughts and feelings. She said to both, "If Patrick had told you, and believe me he probably wanted to, if he'd told you to contact us by going to a certain location and waiting, and the reason why a warm body had to travel with the disc, and the real important information on it as to where the corporation's shop was, and the fact that Nicholas was a double-agent on our side, and you agreed to do it anyway, as new faces not in the database, if you were detected and arrested before I could find you, and they put you in that cerebral net chair, they'd know everything, about us, about our plans, and the fate of the entire Independent Alliance--nine billion people--would be in serious jeopardy." She reached forward and retrieved a bottle of some brown liquid and took a swig, then passed it to Simon. They sat for a while in silence drinking and watching the sights.
The car slowed to a stop, hovering about two feet over a blackened flat circular plate stretching beyond the size of the car. What layed before them was an old abandoned carbon-dioxide processing plant, its metal sides rusted and pitted, what windows remained were sooted. The wire fence surrounding it had collapsed onto the barren mud-colored earth. Abruptly, all went pitch black, the distinct sensation of freefalling nauseated Derek. Instinctively, he reached out to touch something or someone. He felt Rebecca's firm thigh reassuring him, she did not object. Long moments passed during which he heard nothing, not a sound, not even breathing. The slither of calassium in his temple vibrated sending a sharp pain through his entire body. Suddenly, lights came on overhead and along the vast walls of a cavernous expanse. Derek could make out furniture, tables, chairs, islands of human occupation separated by open spaces.
Rebecca reached over Derek and opened the door, then stepped out inviting them. The two men in front were already walking away towards a cluster of people bordered by desks and tables covered with screens of various sizes displaying images and streams of numbers. Derek and Simon followed Rebecca dutifully. A tall elderly man with a short grey beard, wearing an old tweed jacket, jeans and cowboy boots stood holding a map. His balding scalp shined in the glare of the overheads. Cowboys, thought Derek. We're in with a bunch of cowboys.
"The man smiled and said, "Welcome, my dear," to Rebecca. "You found our wayward messengers, I see." They approached, he introduced himself as Professor Samuelson, a paleontologist, retired. He knew their names, only not who was who. Derek found this disconcerting, but considering the overwhelming nature of their present predicament, not all that disturbing. Simon, considerably more streetwise than Derek, didn't care for unknowns to have the upperhand, especially as his life seemed to be on the line. He always wanted to have control over his destiny, that's how he grew up on the backworlds, and that's what he strove for. Pragmatically, he sought another source of confidence within himself. He was a street fighter, by necessity, and that seemed his only option at the moment, an identity to cling to.
"Let me show you gentlemen something," said the professor, his demeanor abruptly shifting to a serious tone. They stood around a wide screen, on its right was a list of placenames, unfamiliar to Derek. The rest of the display was taken up with a map of the Earth, at various points red dots stood out over particular cities. In what appeared as empty featureless expanse, orange circles enclosed nothingness. Samuelson gestured at them, like he was teaching children how to look. "These are suspected locations of possible experimentation by the corporate governance of the Northwest Region. We believe they're operating outside their Region of influence. However, we don't know for certain. Has Rebecca informed you of what we're doing?" He peered at her, his eyebrows raised.
"Yes, professor," she responded, "I told them what their true mission was and its significance. They know."
He nodded briskly. "Good," he said with finality. His nervousness held just below the surface flickered across his features, then subsided. Asking Derek and Simon to accompany him, they, along with Rebecca, walked towards the far rear of what must've been a warehouse of some sort in the distant past. While they walked, the click of boots on concrete resonating against the walls, Derek asked, "How did we get down here, wherever here is? We plummeted like a rock through water in total blackness. I had no sense of my own weight, but I could still feel." He glanced sideways at Rebecca.
Samuelson turned on his heel. "On your journey, you passed through dark matter to get to Earth. We all have slips of calassium embedded, and Patrick has shown us how to use it to transfer visible matter through the dark medium. The electromagnetic field is displaced by a phase equivalent to a full wavelength of quantum time. Dark matter is bereft of quantum reality, so there is no danger of accidentally, almost with certainty, entering an alternate timeline. The transfer of particles is thus rendered smooth and continuous. That's how." His lecture finished, he spun about and resumed leading the parade.
How many Patricks are there? wondered Derek. He referred to himself as we. Can he then appear anywhere as a separate self yet no more nor less than this we?
In a corner stood a makeshift room--a box, really--enclosed by walls of prefabbed metal sheathing, the only building material available. These people are operating on a tight budget, thought Derek. Sophisticated electronic equipment, quantum and bioplasmic computers, state-of-the-art communication beams networking the whole shebang, yet, their living arrangements left much to be desired.
They entered the room. A round table of actual wood, a well-worn couch, and a few stiff-backed chairs were engulfed by shelves of books and stacks of loose hempsheets, assorted statuettes and curious-looking rocks that seemed to glint in the soft lamp light as perspective changed. The table was empty as though in preparation. At its center Samuelson placed a flat circular sheet of some greenish opaque mineral. He then solemnly requested the disc of Nicholas from Derek. He pulled it out from a pocket sown inside his shirt and handed it over, unabashedly relieved it was out of his possession. Simon had already plopped onto the couch and was in the process of firing up a joint. Rebecca joined him; he passed the herb to her with a smile as though the gravity of the situation was nowhere near as important. He needed to step out of everything for awhile, it was his way.
Samuelson carefully positioned the disc in the center of the round plate. He then removed a hand-sized grid of grooved stone from a drawer under the table, and with a touch of ceremony, passed it over the disc. The projection of Nicholas appeared as before, about two-feet tall and crisply rendered. Derek was glad it hadn't been damaged on their tumultuous journey. That thought made him realize his significnace in all this, as a package, sure, but apparently an important one. Nicholas's speech began as before and proceeded down memory lane. Samuelson was momentarily mesmerized by the image of his now dead collaborator and friend. Breaking free of its hold, he reached into the drawer once more and produced a thin rod of some material that shimmered and seemed to vibrate. As though performing surgery with a a laser knife, he pushed one end of the rod into the center of the disc. Immediately, another projection overlaid the original. It was not of Nicholas but rather showed a view of Earth from miles out in space. Incrementally, it shifted scope down towards the Earth by layers of magnification. Samuelson wrote quickly on a hempsheet, glancing at the changing image, then writing. Finally, overlooking an area on the eastern edge of the Siberian Desert, it stopped. The disembodied voice of Nicholas emerged.
"As you can see, no evidence of any activity is detectable for miles in every direction. Nonetheless, I'm certain this is the hub of experimentation on wormhole technology through dark matter. The corporation is operating completely underground. On the other side of the Earth, in the Northwest Region," he narrated as the image spun the earth and then zeroed in on another apparaently innocuous undergound site. Samuelson wrote. "The military is guarding this facility where actual test trials are being conducted. In order to knock them out, both places have to be eleminated simultaneously and without notice. If they have time to prepare, they'll move operations and then we'll be back to square one. My report to the Federation tells them only that I have discovered what the coroporation is up to, but not where; I confessed ingnorance. I know I showed my hand by telling them that much, but if I'd said nothing, they would suspect betrayal and acted accordingly, moving both operations to, probably, already existing bases. The Alliance must be informed. But only after we destroy those facilities. Elsewise, there's too much danger of a leak. If we can cripple their research and reveal the Federation's plan to the rest of the world, we have a chance to overthrow the bastards and regain independence and freedom for all." The voice paused briefly as the image changed perspective.
"It is no small matter," he continued, somewhat somberly, "that the stability of dark matter space is threatened by what they're attempting. They don't understand the consequences of their actions. The physics is unknown to them; they're unable to see past their preconceived notions. The entire cosmos is in jeopardy, which makes warring over political dominance meaningless by comparison." Another long pause, and then, "I wish I could be with you, my friends. But I sense trouble afoot and I'm boxed in. In fact, if you're listening to this, I'm probably dead. In which case, I wish you luck."
Samuelson stared at the map image, straining to hear more, but none was forthcoming. He removed the stick and the projection collapsed. With noticeable effort, he dropped the disc of Nicholas into a burner tray on a workbench tucked in a corner and it vanished in a puff of acrid smoke. He bowed his head and stood, quiet and absorbed. Facing away from them, he said, "We need to gather all the teams, Rebecca. It's time." Distracted, he then turned and with Rebecca hurried out towards the others, leaving Derek and Simon alone.
"You know what happens to packaging after it's opened and the gift's removed," stated Derek. They looked at one another, then took a seat on the couch; Simon lit up an herb-stick and, in fits and starts, began to laugh. Derek did the same. They laughed hard until tears streamed. And slowly, like wind-up toys running out of spring, they stopped. Simon pulled the return-trip crystal Patrick had given him out of his pocket. Pliably smooth to the touch, rectangualr with curved corners, dull green in color, its crystal features stretched longitudinally, no barbs poked out. And although slightly opaque on the surface, if you concentrated on a single spot long enough, you could discern the lattice structure; it seemed to move and girate in place. Patrick had told them the signature of its internal vibratory complexity was attuned to both Derek and Simon; in other words, it wouldn't work for anyone else. Half the size of his palm, he held it between them and asked, "How the hell do you think this thing works? We kinda forgot to ask."
He flipped it over, studying its every angle like a miner examining the quality of raw ore. An experienced eye might see something, Derek hoped. Simon felt its surface with his thumb, carefully, gently, holding his breath unconsciously. In one corner he stopped, smiled at Derek, and said, "This spot is softer, I can feel it wants to give. It may be a button; I doubt it's just a weak joint in the structure."
He shrugged his shoulders as if to ask, what do we have to lose? Derek nodded, Simon pushed. The lights went out; they were immersed in a gruel of turbulent dark matter, unable to see. Derek thought with his will, Push it again. Simon reacted as though it was his own thought. The lights came back on but they were not on the couch. They were in the grav-car watching the two men from the front seat walking towards a small group of men huddled around a bank of active display screens. Rebecca turned and invited them out. Derek and Simon hesitated and looked at one another. "You see what happened?" Derek asked, alarm in his tone. Simon just nodded, then said quietly, "Play along, let's see where this goes."
They stepped out as before; everything went as before, the introduction to Professor Samuelson, the brief interrogation, then walking towards the far corner where the small enclosed room lay. The first time, Derek had asked how they managed to get down here through solid earth, if indeed they were down anywhere, and the professor had responded with his cryptic synopsis. This time, Derek decided not to. Nonetheless, when they arrived at that spot, Samuelson turned on his heel and said, "If you're wondering how you passed through solid earth to get to this former underground storage room, here's how." And he proceeded to give the same lecture, word for word, as far as Derek could remember. It didn't make much sense then either. And, once again he spun about and resumed walking.
When they arrived at Samuelson's private office, they looked around at everything they hadn't the first time, now familiar with what was about to happen. Nothing stood out as remarkable, but the objectivity of their space allowed Derek to think clearly about their plan. When Samuelson had gone through all his previous motions, said all the same things the same way, and turned to leave, Derek stopped him.
"Professor, I know I'm no expert at strategy and tactics, but I think you need to reconsider your attack plan."
Samuelson stood erect, his eyes glazed over. Could this interuption in the timestream cause a serious change in the near future? Derek asked himself, worried he might've initiated a fatal sequence of events for the good professor by the look of him. But then he thought, let the chips fall.
Samuelson's eyes refocused and he asked dryly, "Why?"
Derek paced, Simon stood his ground. This was their moment, they'd gone through much and were not to be discarded now. It was Derek's turn to instruct. "Even if you succeed at destroying both facilities, you still have no evidence tying the corporation to the Federation. They'll just say it was terrorists. And how do you intend to prove what they were up to, what they intended to do with the wormhole maker and the calassium, which hardly anybody knows about, by the way, that it even exists much less its bizarre properties. And talk about dark matter beings and they'll put you away. You'll have accomplished nothing except to have your people branded as terrorists."
The professor slumped into a wooden chair, it creaked with age, a holdover from a bygone era. He layed his notebook with the locations of the corporate facilities on the table. "You're right, outworlder. I've been so consumed with destroying their technology before they have a chance to use it, I assumed once that had been accomplished, the Federation would be exposed for what they are and their intentions. Righteousness can blind one to practical realities. You're right. How would anyone, besides the Independent Alliance, know the reason for destroying two compounds owned by the same ruling corporation. They'd think it was some kind of vendetta, a war between corporations like in the last century. All the sabotage and chaos and death that caused, culminating in the establishment of the Global Corporation Alliance. They've held sway all this time; at first, they brought peace and prosperity, but they've become internally corrupted by their own power and greed."
Before he went off on an historical rant, Derek said, "You said the Independent Alliance knows about the Federation and the corporate experiments, so they know the danger and the shortness of time to do something about it before it's too late."
Samuelson sat up. "But they didn't know where the facilities were," he said, "if they moved on the Federation Headquarters without knowing, the corporation would've moved everything, or destroyed the hardcopy, the machinery and absconded with all the computers, the schematics, mountains of research. They'd just set up shop somewhere else and the Independents would be seen as invaders trying to overthrow the global governing bodies. Moral legitimacy would be lost. World war would most likely ensue."
His eyes brightened with the intensity of a single clear thought emerging from the morass of emotional obsession. He stood and paced, stopped to scan a book, pulled it out, caressed its ancient binding, respectfully pushed it back, turned to his waiting audience and said, "The timing must be absolutely impeccable. If our forces can take over and hold their operations facilities, and at the same time, the Independents move to take over the Federation Headquarters, rounding up all the leaders involved, they'll have the attention of the global population with the justification in hand, our hands.
"But if the Federation gets wind of it, and informing all the leading members of the Independent Regions involves a lot of people, people who may be trustworthy, but who talk. Too many variables. They can't know the locations until the last second, when we occupy the facilities. In fact, just to be absolutely on the safe side, we don't need to tell them at all.
"No. The only safe way is for us to take over the facilities and then give the Independents the go ahead. Otherwise the Federation will fall back on the Charter. If the members of the Charter act quickly, world attention will be on the invasion by the Independents, and our attack on the corporation's facilities will be seen as something unrelated. So the truth of their collaboration must be broadcast right away; it then becomes mandatory that we have proof of the corporation's experiments and their collusion with the Federation before the Independents move."
"What difference does it make whether before or after as long as you have the stuff in hand?" asked Derek, confused by such thinking.
Samuelson looked at Derek as though he were from outer space, which he was. "As soon as Federation Headquarters is attacked, and preparation for that operation has been in the works for some time, the corporation will know and they'll also know the reason why. Computer records can be tranferred to a secret location and the drives at these facilities wiped. The wormhole generators at the final testing site can easily, no doubt, have all traces of calassium removed and some backup experiment set-up, complete with computer files. All bogus, of course, but sufficient to throw off any suspicions of what the Independents would accuse them. It would only take minutes to accomplish. Knowing the corporation, they probably have just such a contingency plan in place.
"So, Derek, we must act first and we must be successful."
If nothing else, he was extremely confidant that, in spite of the military defending the testing site, they could secure it and then defend it themselvs. Derek had to give him credit for boldness and optimism, but he couldn't help but think the old professor had a card or two up his sleeve he didn't care to share with the outworlders. He was to find out. They now had one up their sleeves as well, one they agreed not to tell anybody about. After all, they had a universe to save.
Entering this realm proved impossible, at first. Rules, order had to be imposed on the chaos. Also, in the beginning, the right amount and configuration of a calassium piece had to be discovered, as well as the optimal place closest to the epicenter of our bioelectric energy system, to insert it. As well, problems with design were dealt with on a trial and error basis. Many animals and people died. Incongruent design--the person is crushed instantly by the pressures; projection weak--the light field is not dampened sufficiently to allow for a clean release from this realm, the person is torn apart.
Finally, however, they succeeded, to a degree. Being able to enter the realm of dark matter cleanly and still exist and be able to reenter visible matter space anywhere you will was still unknown by the horde of scientists working on the project. The map from dark matter to light had not yet been conceived. And their designs missed essential features that would allow them to safely pass through thresholds separating dimensions of the dark matter universe. All they knew, from debriefing those who managed to survive their short-lived immersion, was the surface only; naively, they accepted that as being the whole of it.
The crews on the corporation's ships have a slither of calassium embedded near the base of their neck; it eases the experience of wormhole transits. Why that's the case is at the root of attempting to outfit wormhole machines with calassium. They saw a connection, but was it the right one?
Additionally, at this time they were working on configuring the magic mineral for vehicles and ships so they could not only enter dark matter space but travel through it. Meta-questions hung over the entire endeavor. How do you move through it? How does a vehicle propel itself? There's no roadsigns or lights to show the way, so what direction do you head into? Does the idea of direction have any significance? Is dark matter the same as visible matter, only impervious to electromagnetic fields? Is traveling through it the same as traveling through visible matter, only you need to bring your own lights? Is it structured the same, and if so, can it be mapped?
The forest eluded them, they saw only the trees.
Samuelson and his crew knew how, Patrick had taught them and supplied the proper calassium chips. That was one of the cards the professor had up his sleeve. Besides the fact that their paradigm and mode of reasoning won't allow for a backwards approach, the essential features missing in the corporation's attempt to have vehicles travel through dark matter purposefully towards a specific location in the visible matter world, to pop out, as it were, is that the final destination must be pre-inscribed (etched, imposed) into or onto the calassium. Its position--its quantum numbers--are represented by barycentric coordinates, refined to the nth degree and therefore dimension, of the topological complex overlaying all space and time.
Also, for people transit, the calassium must be fine-tuned to the dark matter resonance of the individual. Think about the grain pattern in a piece of finished wood, a plank. Take the median complexity of any sample of wood grain times ten to the gazillion to represent the morpholgy of the psyche and its tributaries. But that's what must be etched into the calassium for it to resonate without any dissonance. With a vehicle, it's a different story. The psyche, being human and thus animal, transforms on countless levels simultaneously--faster than light. Space and time have no hold on it, present no constraints. It manifests as a pulsing that conforms to a single signature. Whereas machines like ships and cars don't have that problem. Metal and the moving parts of engines and motors behave collectively in a nonlinear fashion; the separate parts don't reinforce one another, they get out of tune. So the overall harmony needs to be kept within specific parameters to maintain its signature. It is far less complicated to inscribe a chip with a program that continuously adjusts and adapts to the soliton of any particular vehicle than to map out the soul of a being with but a few strokes. In the case of vehicles, one size does fit all. The destination coordinates are defined by magnetically imposing a field representation, an interpretation in magnetic language, onto the calassium. Otherwise, the chip is generic with the capacity to learn and form engrams.
The shadow people have been around since the beginning of time; they know their art.
The crews that ship the corporation's fleet experience occasional violent headaches and periods of blacking out because their chips are not aligned with their individual dark matter signature. If they were, they could conceivably do more than just have their passage through wormholes less discomforting.
Derek and Simon took in the view and smell of the ocean from the back porch of Rebecca's beach house. Simon was smoking a joint and drinking bourbon on the rocks. Derek had the same drink and was reading from a journal of Samuelson's he found on the sidetable by the sliding glass doors. He had already read one diary that belonged to another, and look how much trouble that brought was a thought that popped into his head. Nonetheless, it was too late to care about such things. Besides, it was sitting out in the open, maybe it's required reading. Thoughts of Professor Samuelson. He flipped it open to a random page and read the brief inscription:
Patrick had said drilling holes through dark matter would destabilize the underpinnings of the entire universe, visible matter being a derivative by force only, a land mass floating on the surface of a molten planet. Destabilize the planet, and that's it. He put the book down on the deck and stared out at the calm sea, the sky a perfect blue, the sun high.
A barefoot Rebecca came out wearing cut-offs and a blue tee-shirt; the outfit revealed her contours quite nicely. Derek decided he liked the short brown hair, it accentuated her high-cheek-boned face and green eyes quite nicely. Although, the red-haired wig wasn't a bad look either. She stood by the railing off to one side staring out at sea. "I love this time of day," she said just loud enough. Derek was having difficulty remembering why they were here. He took a long swig on his drink, the ice was melting. He couldn't resist it any longer. "I have to go walk on the beach, feel the sand on my toes. Have to." He finished his glass in one swallow and strode down the stairs leading to the beach. Simon and Rebecca let him go. Rebecca to give him space, to walk, to listen to the waves lapping, to clear his head, and to feel the salt in his veins. Simon, for his part, was content to sit and drink and smoke, to feel the sun on his bare chest, and to take in the beautiful view, not the least of which was Rebecca.
But Simon only appeared to be indifferent to their present predicament. He'd been in tougher straits, only he couldn't remember when. "Rebecca," he began, a trifle too low for her to hear. "Excuse me, hon," he said, above the background of waves and gulls. "I've been wondering. I don't get it. Why would the Federation send Nicholas on a mission," she blanched inwardly at the sound of his name, "to find out about the discrepancy in the cargo manifests? On the surface, they wanted to know what the corporation was doing with the excess. They knew of their installation working with that Region's government, but were pretending not to know about their secret operation. Why would they give him this mission if they already knew exactly what was going on?"
Rebecca sipped her drink and put the glass on the cap rail. She turned to Simon. "Paranoid tyrants, all tyrants are paranoid. They heard a rumor or had an informant tell them that the corporation was planning on betraying them in spite of their agreement and the enormous financial support they receive from the Federation. Nicholas's job was to find that out, if there was any competition they need worry about, and they gave him just enough true information. If that was the case, they would've pulled funding and put the kabosh on the corp's experiments. Nicholas didn't want that to happen. The corporation would just move their operations; they have almost limitless resources around the world. It was actually good for us to find out that we didn't have to deal with any other Regions on a power grab."
"But Nicholas lost his life over it. Didn't he see that coming?"
"The Federation may have wanted to only imprison him, so there'd be no leaks, until after the takeover. He was too good at what he did to just throw away. I think it was the corporation responsible. Too much talk about shadow beings and back-to-back cargo ships; the first loaded light, the second getting a much larger share. Experienced miners would smell something fishy, and talk, they love to talk. He sent us many mails through the backchannel network of the corporation we hacked into. Nevertheless, he was dangerously direct, not hiding anything. I think he knew the jig was up and didn't care. He knew the whereabouts, but thought it might be captured in midstream, altered, and then sent on. He had to figure they'd bested our hack and were listening in. Those coordinates would, no doubt, trigger flags, many flags.
"They killed off all the crew, and Nicholas just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. If you hadn't found that disc and brought it here..."
She slumped into a lounge chair and lay back. She still hadn't come to terms with his death, over a month ago now. She grieved but refused to allow it to depress her. There was work to be done and to honor Nicholas's life, she'd turn that grief into anger. They were more than mere colleagues, mused Simon. More that soldiers in arms. He let her be to savor the soothing sounds and smells and soft breeze on skin.
Derek reached the ocean and walked along the water's edge, enjoying the foamy crisp wavelets washing over his feet and ankles. Only a few couples could be seen off in the distance. Strange, he thought. Such density of people and yet hardly anyone here on this beautiful warm day. But where is here? They'd stepped into the grav-car in the warehouse, then all went black until they broke into daylight here, in her driveway. For reasons he couldn't fathom, he didn't care. A secluded spot in this crazy overrun world.
Eyes set on the sand in front of him, he strode with a purpose; then amused at himself, slowed down and scanned the ocean, watching the waves break far from the beach, then cascade through smaller and smaller replicas of themselves until crashing softly on the eternal sand, crystals of another sort. About a half-mile from the house, he stopped to gaze at the distant horizon, somehwhat hazy but discernable. In all my travels, he thought, I never dreamed of a life at sea, far from society troubles. He knew himself, he'd always avoided situations where he had too much responsibility. It was better to be alone, no commitments, no attachements, no fear of screwing up.
His father had left them when he was still a baby, never to be heard from. His mother was overly protective and strict. His will was not his own. Finally, he broke away from the whole thing, repressing the guilt of abandoning anyone as he had been, especially his mother, even though her love and support had usually been sparingly doled out. To prove to himself that he was not a coward and to free himself from constant anxiety and paranoia, he embarked on a quest to assert his true idenity and become fearless through understanding, through deconstructing his personality and relationships to the physical world and to people. He traveled, working at odd jobs for the experience and always looking for new country to explore and get lost in.
He tried to remember when he quit doing what he was supposed to, what society expected of him, and headed out into the world, to experience, as nobody. He followed his heart and lost track of his mother and sister; he hardly ever thought of them anymore. And now, here he was, at the threshold of what might be the end of civilization. And making that a moot point, the end of the cosmos and all who live therein as well.
He walked into the cool envigorating ocean up to his chest. The thought of drowning himself crossed his mind. A throb of pain at his temple where the calassium lived caused his legs to falter. Salt water splashed his face and went up his nose. He laughed, the laughter reverberating through his entire body. The space around him seemed to expand like a bubble of force in all directions, and he with it. He couldn't resist it by an act of will even if he wanted to. He was all of this; no longer separate. He felt wide open and free, the oppressive strain and stress he'd been wrestling with vanished with the next wave bouncing off his torso. He turned back to the beach and plopped on the warm yielding sand, and laughed some more.
Simon grew drowsy with the accumulation of sun, bourbon, and herb. The sight of Rebecca stretched out in the lounge chair, her arms and legs glistening with vibrant health, stirred feelings he hadn't experienced for a long time. After working in a mine on an asteroid, it was almost too much to take. He dozed in and out, resisting sleep, but eventually, it won.
He dreamed of a bar he used to frequent on a moon of the planet closest to his birth-world. The detail was extraordinay. Crowded and noisy, the smells earthy, he could see the hundreds of memorabilia bordering the monstrous wall-to-wall-to-ceiling mirror. The signs advertising known brands, stuffed animals of dubious types, partially-full bottles of booze sitting on the shelf in front of the mirror appeared real, tangible. He could make out dust on their surfaces.
The bartender lady, with whom he was madly in love, sauntered up, a smile on her lovely animated face and her deep blue eyes flashing interest. Her every pore delicately and seamlessly joined with every other. Her tight flannel shirt with the cowboy buttons open at the top lay on her body with such a soft caress that Simon's sense of time passing ceased altogether. It was too real. He could feel sweat on the back of his neck, running down his back; it was a hot day. He finished the drink in front of him and slid the glass to the lady with the long curly jet-black hair, examined the bar's top where he'd carved his intials one drunken night, and then stared at his dirty hands, wondering what he'd been doing beforehand.
What's going on here? he asked himself. His experience with dark matter space had opened him to nonconventional posibilities. With a visceral surenes, he knew he was actually living the dream and was not on Rebecca's back porch. He turned to the crowd, some playing holographic pool and vids, others milling about, the tables full, talking, laughing, yelling. He could smell them and sense their realness. Could the calassium be doing this? I'm not back in time, it's a different scene, it's new, happening right now. So what is now? How did I do this? I willed it somehow. That's what Patrick said. The will guides the unconscious with the aid of the mineral, and the unconscious is how we travel through dark matter. The bartender returned with his drink, grabbed some money off the bartop, smiled mischievously, and left to wait on others. That's it, he thought. I have to get back to Rebecca's porch, right now. At once he felt the heat of the sun and saw Rebecca standing in front of him. She was finishing a sentence, "...about sleeping quarters, Simon ole buddy."
He wanted to tell her what just happened but the words got all tangled. How do you explain something you know nothing about? "Can you travel through space and time and visit places you've been but only it's not a memory but is really happening in some present?" Magically, he put it together, a sense of clarity rising above the drugs and alcohol surprised him, it usually didn't proceed that way.
"You just had an event." she said casually, a knowing smile creasing her warm features. "The calassium has properties we're still finding out, with Patrick's invaluable instruction, of course. We've been working with it, occasionally discovering new tricks and how to use them. Generating from memory a place in your mind's eye and then infusing your visible matter self into it creates that place and time. Other people in it are real but may be existing in another timeline, another visible matter universe, with different memories and allegiances. Or, you may have been experiencing some event in the distant future instead. How can we know? The trick is to be able to use that ability to channel yourself into this timeline and to be able to tell the difference. There are cues, but the determining factor is that our will is intimately linked to our timeline. That's how we're able to travel through dark matter space. Dark matter is timeless, it embraces all timelines without preference. Once fully submerged in it, all times and places, past and future, become available."
She could see Simon was overloaded and was no longer listening. "You'll find out more about it at the meeting tonight. From the looks of you, and considering what you've been through lately, I suggest you get some sleep." Simon smiled and took her in with a twinkling glance, unabashedly.
She laughed and backhanded his shoulder. "Maybe later, big boy." Mocking sweetness, she cooed, "Come along now, I'll put you to bed." She walked into the house, Simon managed to get to his feet and catch up, but not too closely, he appreciated the view.
The word was about to come.
The car picked them up at dusk, their two escorts in the front seat as stony-faced as before. They drove conventionally, following the beach road south. The sandy scrub-grass scenery gave way to trees and shrubs as they headed slightly inland. They pulled down a dirt road for a mile or so and stopped at the gate of a compound, a main house at its center and an old-fashioned red barn off to the right, a few outbuildings could be seen here and there.
The man sitting next to the driver punched a few keys on a mobile transmitter and the gate slid sideways. They parked immediately in front of the main house and got out, a man standing there simply nodded as they walked by and proceeded to park their car in a less conspicuous locale. At the door they were met by two robust men wearing suits and ties, their hair cut close. One lead the parade, the other remained at the door. He proceeded down two flights of stairs. These people give new meaning to the word underground, thought Derek, already weary of the cloak and dagger routine, however necessary it may be.
The lower level emptied out onto a vast yet comfortable room. Couches, thick leather chairs, glass tables with vases of flowers, thick print rugs decorated with all manner of characters and designs. Against one wall stood an enormous display screen. On its right were news items on trouble spots in the world, conflicts and uprisings, wars over water and farm land, the black market economy, hunting the last of the wild animals and the illegal trade in timber, all attributable to the current governing paradigm overseeing global activities and controlling popular communications, the Net. Absolutely nothing was allowed that unduly criticized the methods and policies of the corporate worldview.
But the bulk of the screen was taken up with schematics of buildings, three-dimensional projections that could be turned to any angle for perspective. Samuelson nodded to Rebecca and her two friends who'd brought the vital information they needed. Derek recognized the group from the warehouse, but not the two dozen other men and a few women; they looked anything but friendly. Everyone took a seat and quiet gradually descended. Professor Samuelson, holding a short pointer, began.
He explained what they were looking at--the two facilities of the corporation. One, located in the Eastern Siberian Desert, was where the mineral calassium was being tested for various properties, comparing its nature to that of other known minerals, why its gravitational force was so intense, where did it come from, etcetera, all with an eye on the bottomline--how can this or that feature be used to aid the company. The other one, located in the heart of the Northwest Region, was where final testing on the wormhole generators and traveling through dark matter was taking place.
"As you can see," he said, clearly relishing his role as teacher, "these diagrams were taken by the corporation's own satellite in infrared and x-ray. You can see here," he used his pointer, "we have outlines of all the machinery and other equipment inside this main building, the others are for storage and labs, purifying, shaping, and ingraving the calassium. These two large machines here in the center are wormhole generators. That's one of our targets. Our plan to destroy them, however, has been canceled."
A murmur reverberated through the room. They wanted an explanation. Samuelson quieted them with a raised hand and proceeded to elaborate on the necessity of being able to prove to the world that indeed the Federation and a handful of its charter members wered collaborating to take over the world, and this is how they planned on doing it. Without evidence, he concluded, we'd be seen as nothing more than a terrorist group destroying a law-abiding corporation's equipment, equipment used to conduct experiments that could, possibly, lead to benefits for the people of the world, something unheard of in this day and age.
"Instead , what we need to do is occupy these two buildings and hold them until the Alliance completes its mission--taking over the Federation Headquarters in Amsterhagen and capturing its leaders. Underlings will be rounded up also. Someone who does not want to be executed for high treason and duplicity will be forthcoming with testamony, no doubt. They're not a group with much integrity; their allegiance is for their own survival. On our side, besides neutralizing the compound where this building lies," he tapped the screen image, "we have to capture the corporate heads. Now, it just so coincidentally happens, due to their heavy micro-managing tendencies, a few high-ranking members of the ruling government will be in conference with corporate heads during this time, that is, now. If we could catch them all together, it would help enormously to connect the two, obviously. Computer memory, terabites of research files, pictures and videos of the workplace, all will be invaluable in nailing the coffin down on these bastards."
"And where might they be holding this little soiree, Professor?" came a question from the crowd.
Samuelson snapped the pointer against the screen. "Several miles to the north lies a chateau surrounded by a rock wall with guards at both front and back gates. For strong reasons I won't go into, we suspect that's where the meeting is going to be held. The calassium chips for all three locations have been completed. They need only be installed in your vehicles. At the Eastern Siberian site there is little visible security, don't want to get the Far Russian Region upset when they do their surveillance. But in the Northwest, the Region's military are strongly represented."
Samuelson's personal entourage handed out hempsheets with the respective diagrams and essential barycentric coordinates of each location overlaid. What facility each group was to attack--their particular assignments--had already been determined based on skill requirement and familiarity. But not the new strategy.
Samuelson began, "To reiterate, we're to occupy and control, not destroy. Michael and Geofrey have selected a team for the capture. What we need to do is work out the details of what I have in mind. And, as usual, criticism and comments are anticipated."
He pointed to and circled the electronic structures revealed by x-ray absorption spectroscopy of the two wormhole generators, an outline in 3-D. On the surface, concern over these seemed superfluous, traveling through dark matter and appearing in visible space anywhere at any time was the threat of the core collaborators. But, whoever could reach out even farther into space to colonize planets, moons, and asteroids would own the universe. And moving through dark matter was almost instantaneous. The corporation had its own agenda.
"What I would like to do," he began softly, his trained professor's voice reverberating through the large room, "is to appear at these points around the wormholes," he held the pointer for a good second at each, "and adhere dark matter generator discs to the machinery's casing itself. It would vanish and become intangible to human groping. And we control its reappearance. Then, we vanish, back here if need be. The military guarding the compound won't know what hit them. Or, we can appear, jump style, from military man to military man and take them out with a jolt of superconducting electricity. I prefer the subtle approach. It demonstrates finesse and a certain appreciation for what they regard as significant. Just so they know we know. Any questions?"
"Assuming this all works out the way you plan," began Derek, way in the back of the room sitting at the bar, "and the Independents capture the Federation and its leaders, what then? Who else is involved in this conspiracy, shouldn't they be addressed as well? Do you plan on throwing all of them together, these captured people, and see what shakes out? "
Simon, sitting at a table nearby, couldn't help but turn to stare at his companion, deeply amused. Who is this person? He's a greenhorn miner on an out-of-the-way asteroid shaped like a potato. Or is he?
Samuelson, never at a loss for words, started, "We know of five Global allied Regions that are in cahoots with the leadership of the Federation. And there are a few small enclaves who've tied their hopes to the prospective conquerers of the world. The Caucusus sector, for example, has always been a washout, they resisted transformation to a corporate worldview, attempting to accomplish minimal societal ends by dictating terms, and so are isolated. There's the Brazilian Region, the Amazon, now all but completley clearcut for farm land. The runoff from fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides along with dumping of toxic waste and mining tailings have polluted the river, killing off the less resilient species of fish and river mammals and the wildlife, what remain in the sparse woods, that come to drink. They lost their trading power long ago, but desire to once again be at the forefront.
"The Southeast China Region, what remains of old China, Vietnam and Thailand; the entire central and eastern parts of China have been exclusively agricultural for two hundred years. The rest of old Asia has fallen into anarchy. In Africa, the player of note is the Central African Region, they own resources that were once valuable--diamonds, gems, the last of the trees--unfortunately, nobody wants them anymore. However, they'd like a seat at the table. And we can't forget the Eastern Israeli-Arab Region, forever in disarray and trade poor since the oil ran out, their monarchies disintegrated, factions within factions, but vocal nonetheless. That brings us to the Euro-Russian Region with the northwest sector of old Europe the seat of the Global Alliance.
"The Northwest Region of North America is the calassium mining company's headquarters. After convincing the government of the scientific and economic potential of the mineral, its possible use as a fuel and power source, they requested and received a garrison of troops to protect the experimention station. The weak government presiding in name only seems to be oblivious to what the corporation has really been up to and is intent on realizing. Reports are phonied with scant innovations and discoveries. Just enough to keep funding rolling in and curious eyes out.
"The installation in the country outside Vancouver-Victoria is where the government-approved research is being conducted; their secret site was not known by anyone outside the inner circle of corporate and Federation collaborators, where the brunt of the military actually ended up. I say was because now, thanks to Nicholas and our couriers, Derek and Simon," he pointed to them, "we know. The fact that the Region's administrative bodies have had no clue that research and development on such a potentially catastrophic scale was taking place right under their collective noses is testament to how far corporate dominance has come; worn down we accept, and allow ourselves to be worn down even further.
"The Independent Alliance, most notably, the Australian-Polynesian Region that includes the last few remaining islands of former Micronesia, the North African Sector in consolidation with southern European countries, and the Western South America group of Eight, want an end to the tyranny of the Federation. They want a new way to govern. Not by corporate will and focus on the bottomline. But by people taking charge of their own lives and demanding a governing body that places the quality of that life first above all else. The corporations and its model have run things long enough. It's corrupted; it's the nature of the beast. The Independents' refusal to sign the Federation Charter has put them in a defensive negotiating position on the global stage in the present corporate environment. Governments run by corporate mergers and acquisitions, with position in the power structure determined by stock ownership and affiliation, as a global means of conducting affairs--food, water, energy--everything, no matter how necessary for survival, is brokered on the basis of choosing whether or not to surrender sovereignty. Cutltures, customs, traditions--the scaffolding of any society--compromised by laws that satisfy corporate demands, gradually erode away, replaced by product-inspired and intrusively managed lifestyles. Trade deals conducted in secret, the Net blocked out from procedures. The Global Alliance has used this intimidation to pressure Independents into conciliatory behavior. It's insidious and paralyzing, a pandemic of desperation."
He stopped to take a sip of water, then walked into the lamp-lit room away from the bright screen. "We need to bring them down, to show the world their deceit, the bankruptcy of their governing model, and their reliance on greed to maintain control among its members. No loyalties exist in a corporate world, only undisguised self-serving acts, narcissism as world religion."
Samuelson ran out of breath, he was under a lot of stress. His passion for their cause was all he lived for, occasionally inspiring him to oratory. They were at a critical threshold. The professor refreshed their history, laid out the big picture, reminding them of the importance of their mission. And what Derek found ironic was that their familiarity with and acceptance of dark matter reality and its beings--being?--were the reasons they would be able to accomplish their objectives, if at all. They intended to deny the Federation abilities and tactics--traveling through dark matter space--by using those very same tactics against them. This band of rebels intended to use them first. They'd show the world how indefensible such knowhow can be.
Rebecca was to lead the attack team on the test facility in the Northwest. Samuelson was explaing the new objectives and how they were to be achieved. "Our fresh assignment--capturing the corp leadership--will take extreme deftness of skill if none of them is to be killed, but if that happens, it happens. At the operations station in the Siberian Desert, there shouldn't be much opposition. We'll insert ourselves into their space and immediately neutralize, holding the workers and scientists in this structure here," he pointed to an outbuilding that looked like a two-story house. "By the time the corporation learns of it, it'll all be over. Communications between this facility and corp-main is sketchy and seldom at best. For security reasons but also because they're not the center of attention."
He removed his glasses and wiped his brow with an old-styled handkerchief. "Now, let's get to the test facility. We see here the two wormhole generators, huge machines, forty feet long and with a cylindrical diameter of twenty feet tapering to about ten feet at one end," he tapped the screen. "We need to appear at these locations, and affix pre-inscribed discs of calassium on the cylinders, somewhere near their middle and at both ends. That will enable us to drop them into dark matter space rendering them invisible and intangible. As we know, a person can't hold dark matter, it slips through the fingers."
"What about the heavy military presence, Professor? asked Rebecca. "Originally, we were going to take them out prior to destroying the shop and the generators. What now?"
"Only if confronted. Ideally--for whatever that's worth--using the essential barycentric coordinates of Nicholas," silence deepened and proceedings paused at the mention of his name, "we'll manifest vehicles behind this structure. From there, we'll be able to appear precisely within the building adjacent the generators. Surrounding them are computer consoles connecting their research network. If we have time, its contents would be an invaluable asset towards proving their intent. Our hackers can download all relevant files--schematics, diagrams, progress reports--onto calassium pencils. If we have to drop them into dark matter, we'll then be able. This part of the operation must be accomplished with all due haste. I'm sure they have a contingency plan for wiping the quantum drives if necessary. A simple sequence of voice commands. So, we arrive, we stop them from doing this. Kill them if we have to."
He ceased like a run-down toy, collapsing into his tweed coat, smiled grandly and pronounced in his trademark professorial voice, "That concludes our formal presentation." Laughter rumbled through the room. "All three missions are important. I wish you luck and a safe journey through dark matter."
With that, the room erupted into conversation, groups separated out and coalesced, leaders of the missions surrounded Samuelson. Rebecca, however, went to a back room with a handful of tough-looking men and one woman all dressed in jet black. Simon and Derek didn't know what to do. They weren't soldiers and had little training in traveling through dark matter. Nonetheless, they were familiar, as far as they were concerned, with the deeper plateaus of the dark matter realm from their experience coming here, and understood, as an overview, the principle allowing for such transit.
They discussed the situation in the way that men do who already know where it's heading. Despite all they'd been through, sitting on the sidelines while the rest of these people risked their lives to save the world didn't go down well. It struck Derek as funny that the only people here who didn't know Nicholas were they and yet he was the main reason they were in the midle of this. They decided to ask Rebecca what they could do.
When they walked in, everyone stopped talking and stared. Rebecca introduced them, explaining what they had accomplished, what their role in all this was. Immediately, all were smiling and hand shaking, congratulating them. The significance of transporting the disc of Nicholas with its secret information still had not registered sufficiently with Derek. He understood how essential knowing the whereabouts of the corporation's secret facilities was, that's obvious, but the key role it played in the larger picture was lost on him at this time. Consequently, he didn't believe they deserved all this praise, but he was smart enough to appreciate how much it meant to them.
Derek spoke up, "Simon and I would like to participate. What can we do?"
Rebecca scanned the faces of her team. She didn't hesitate, she'd accepted the two couriers as trustworthy and so shall they. "Our plan is to take three grav-cars and appear inside the compound behind this building, this barn-like structure. It's an extrapolation on the barycentrics of Nicholas." She had her own screen with the x-rayed blueprint of the entire compound and the interiors of all the buildings. "We ascertain that the guards will be at the perimeter for the most part, leaving this area clear. Once inside, we'll be able to move through dark matter and reappear inside the testing building next to the generators, here and here, enclose them with a calassium field by adhering plates at various locations around the generators, and download whatever we can from the network simultaneously. It shouldn't take us more than ten minutes, tops, probably less, our hackers know the system and the backdoors to get in. We'll see how good they are." She smiled at a young man and woman sitting together writing on diagrams in front of them. They feigned umbrage and meekly protested.
"But before that, one of us has to enter to sound the overload alarm. The threat of an explosion will drive everyone out of the building. Alarms are everywhere but most likely, by this mechanism's configuration," she pointed to a location near the rear of the building, "the main one will be here. That'll be my job. Twenty seconds after the alarm goes off--that should give them enough time--we operate. Anyone left in the building will be neutralized."
Derek and Simon didn't know what to say. Where could they fit in? The group mingled, talking among themselves in a quiet easy way as though planning a day at the park. Rebecca invited the couriers into a smaller room facing the backyard and an expanse of short trees, barely visible in the dusk. It was summer, mid-July, maybe. They sat in wicker chairs on the veranda in the pale yellow lamp light, the overhead fan whirling slowly. Derek wanted information, what he had now wasn't enough to suggest anything.
"Okay, Rebecca," he began.
"Call me Becky," she interjected.
"I've heard what we carried was barycentric coordinates. Now what are they and how do they play into all this? And is that a meaningless question based on ignorance?"
She laughed. "No, not at all; in fact, you hit the nail right on the head." She went to her drawing screen and drew a large triangle, placing points at vertices and midpoints of line segments. She connected them with straight lines, they intersected at the center. "That is a barycentric coordinate; the points stand for mass. Now what we can do is further refine the interior of this triangle with more lines and intersecting points until it's completely filled in. Refinement, coordination of the entire space. Every point of a simplicial complex overlaid on the planet, similar to latitude and longitude, has its own unique barycentric coordinates.
"When the number of masses increases geometrically, determining the center becomes a very complex nonlinear problem. And in our case, the context we're dealing with, for mass read force, gravitational and morphogenetic. The centers are where all opposing forces come to rest. The morphogenetic field takes over. Perfect symmetry.
"That's how we travel through dark matter space. We navigate the waves by finding the flat path of sequential barycentric coordinates moment to moment. That's where the will comes in. The will at your center finds the path to your destination point. It can work in two opposite ways. Either the calassium transcribes the engram image of a destination into itself, mapping it to a set of coordinates. Or, knowing the coordinates, focusing on them exclusively acts directly on the crystal lattice like a magnet on iron filings, by resonating. The unconscious mind, naturally in sync with dark matter, will then seek out that flat path, no friction, no wind, no seasickness." She smiled, hoping some of that got through.
"When we leave the cars tomorrow night in the compound, we focus on Nicholas's coordinates and we'll drop into dark matter and emerge adjacent the wormhole diggers. Traveling can also be done line-of-sight. The destination becomes the engram. Initiating dropping into dark matter is performed by letting the calassium's natural tendency to take over have its way. It doesn't take much willpower to maintain a visible matter state, but the calassium can be removed. Because the discs assimilate immediately once placed on the temple, pervading our entire bodies, all its cells, only Patrick can do this."
Changing the subject, Simon asked, "Where the frell are we, anyway? I've been trying to guess. When I've been here over the years, it's only been to get paid for a job. After which, I'd gravitate to the nearest drinking establishment while waiting for transit."
She took out a map of North America. "We're along this northeast coast," she said, her finger tracing the coast up to the desert where the state of Maine used to be. "This is the Americanandian Region. It includes these islands in the Carribean and up north to the Arctic Marshlands and west to the Mississippi. It's the staunchest Independent, we're safe here. When the takeover at Federation central begins, they'll be at the forefront. They've been ready for three months. Tonight the professor will give them the word, the go ahead, the time of our attacks. Timing is absolutely essential. They have to wait until we've secured the facilities before capturing the Federation leaders and the federal building. On the other hand, if the Federation finds out about us before the assault by the Independents, they could get away. Where, I don't know, but knowing those characters, they probaly have some escape plan. We need to round them up, justice will prevail. Even by their rules, they're guilty."
It's all so surreal, thought Derek, in stunned shock at the idea of what they were about to do. Launch an unprecedented assault on a heavily fortified and guarded secret corporate facility where experiments to travel through dark matter were being conducted in earnest, with the additional overriding concern that the end results of these experiments were intended to be used by what was called the Federation to conquer the world. And we are part of it.
Derek fought the urge to jump up and run down the beach, to get lost in the masses of people, find a place to hole-up and ride out the carnage, the transition as world civilization collapses and begins the long haul back to health and sanity. Was it the end of corporate rule? Derek couldn't say, too many variables, and he just wasn't that smart, his brain didn't work that way. His gift was seeing patterns in otherwise random bits of information. Which also worked to see holes of incompleteness when the pattern lacked something integral. He examined their plan of attack looking for defects, but could find none. The plan was solid. Besides, they knew more about it than he did. What troubled him was their cockiness, an overconfidence in their attitude on the previous evening. Justified? Better than feeling insecure and uncertain? Of course. Maybe it was just enthusiasm and fervor he sensed. His mother had given him advice over the years, homilies, only a couple of which did he remember. Don't underestimate your opponent was one of them.
Noise in the kitchen, Rebecca was up. She was a genuine anomaly to Derek. A warrior with a brain and a knowledge of dark matter who happened to be drop-dead gorgeous and athletic. And she could cook. She would most likely lay down her life for this cause. So there was passion and integrity and commitment and, no doubt, a fierce loyalty about her. And what was he? A vagabond drifter playing at being a miner who just happened to check into the wrong room and found someone else's diary. Was it the wrong room? he asked himself. If he hadn't, he never would've heard of all this stuff, never met Patrick, of all things, never traveled through the mutiple levels of dark matter space, never got involved in a revolt, never met Professor Samuelson or any of the others, never met Rebecca. And suddenly it finally hit him like a ton of plasticine. The fact that he and Simon had brought the information they did was the key to all this stuff happening. It wouldn't otherwise because they didn't know where the facilities were. His mind zeroed in on a hole in the pattern.
How did the corporation keep their locations secret and yet Nicholas, living on an asteroid thousands of light years from corporate headquarters on Earth, found out? He never asked Patrick that. He imagined he had his computer collaborator hack into the main computer network and discover where the larger load of calassium was being taken. But the corp probably didn't bring it directly to its experimental stations, one in the Eastern Siberian Desert and the other in the Northwest of old America. They could've, but it'd make more sense logistically and secretively to bring it down to a staging area they own in the middle of nowhere, unsurveilled by security satellites forever watching, and then dispense using local traffic. The security satellites.
Every ship that leaves and enters earth space is checked by customs for destination, their cargo manifest scrutinized, no plants or animals indigenous to far-reaching planets are allowed in, among other things. Wouldn't they know where the heavy load of calassium was heading? A magnetic tracking beam is held on an incoming ship until it lands. How could the government not know about the secret one right there in their own backyard? The one where they're testing the wormhole diggers? If the transcription code had been tampered with, the destination could be falsified, and the tracking beam recording a ship where none existed. But who would or could do that? Well, both the corporation and the Federation are sufficiently motivated and have that expertise readily available. And what about the government in that Region, such as it is? They could be aware of it, but if that's the case, because they're part of the conspiracy, they pretend not to know. Lying to their people and sending the military to guard it. That makes more sense. The government would surely notice the absence of military units. But Samuelson thinks, by what he said, that they didn't know what the corporation was up to. That they're innocent, that they don't know about the secret installation.
But that doesn't answer the question. How did Nicholas find out these so-called barycentric coordinates? Would the corporation have them on their private network? Not necesssary if they used a staging area. The Federation would know. They visited, inspected, talked to researchers. They knew where the test facility was, the one in the Northwest, the one Rebecca and friends intend to assault. Suppose the Federation, having sent their spy Nicholas, a double-agent, to an asteroid to try to find out why there was such a discrepancy in inventory, knowing full well why, set the whole thing up. Rebecca said they sent him in order to uncover any competitors for the wormhole research, but that's questionable. They probably have a very tight leash on the corp heads, trust in the game they play is not advisable.
In the process Nicholas discovered the corporate conspiracy colluding with the Federation, only he didn't put that in his report, he stated it was a collaboration between the corp and the military to take over that Region's government in a coup. But somehow the Federation knew he found the coordinates which told them he was a double-agent. Maybe they were a plant, to test him. Maybe they suspected him, a top agent privy to all classified information, and planted false coordinates. And corroborated them with computer-fabricated illusions of compounds and buildings and outlines of generators and consoles and other machinery and even people milling about. Why?
He jumped up, startling a mellow Simon. "Rebecca," he yelled as he strode into the house.
"Becky," she said. "Call me Becky, everybody else does, except for the Professor."
He stood facing her. She was wearing a thin multi-colored robe of indescribable material, it rested lightly on her body. An anomaly, yes. "Becky, you have to call off the assaults, all of them, even the chateau kidnapping."
She stared at him as though he were a ship sailing off into the distance. "Whatever for," she finally managed to say. She placed her cup of coffee on the counter between her and Derek. She began to smile but saw the alarmed look in Derek's eyes and caught herself. Simon couldn't help but hear what Derek had said and was standing by the doorway. "It's a plant, a fake, the coordinates are false. Has anyone gone to these sites to check if they're there?"
"We planned on sending recon patrols out this afternoon, just as a last minute check of security, where they position themselves. Flying in there blind is not a good idea."
"You won't find anything, empty space or some shopping mall. Anything but research facilities."
"Why are you saying this? How do you know?"
"It's a set-up. You might see compounds, but the buildings will be empty or have dummy duplicate machinery, and plenty of guards, more than is needed at posts and others in hiding. The Federation wants to crush the rebellion by capturing or killing all of you in one stroke. Even if you succeed in neutralizing all the guards, you'll have captured nothing to drop into dark matter space, no wormhole generators redesigned with calassium, no network files of their state of research. The proof you seek to connect the operation to the Federation leaders is elsewhere."
Stunned silence filled the room, the smell of bacon and eggs and coffee couldn't do enough to relieve the tension. Becky came around to the sofa, sat, sipped coffee, put the cup on the wicker coffee table and said, "I don't know why you're saying this, but even if it is a set-up, we can appear out of darkness and if there's danger, we can melt back in and vanish."
Derek stood straight, an index finger on his temple where the chip had been assimilated. "There's a reason why you won't be able to do that, resubmerge into dark matter. Something." He sat down on the other side of the sofa just in time to be nearly blinded by an intense focused light by the front door, brighter than the sun now shining directly through the picture window. It faded rapidly and was gone. In its place stood the electrified outline of Patrick, a broad smile on his face, quickly morphing into a more serious demeanor. He nodded towards Rebecca and then at Derek and Simon as he walked to the center of the room and said, "It's good to see you all again, safe and sound." He received no response, at first. Abruptly popping into existence preceded by a bolt of lightning does that to people.
"I've been monitoring events from afar. I learned of the coordinates for the facilities and went there myself to reconnoitre. As Derek just said. The Eastern Siberian Desert station isn't at its supposed coordinates, if it exists at all. Instead, on the ground they've placed a large metal plate enclosed by tall poles each of which is equipped with a device of some sort, electromagnetic or protoplasmic, and surrounding that are mobile barracks of the corporation's own security force right out in the open. Otherwise, there's nothing but flat empty desert in all directions. The other, the test facility in the Northwest, is but a facade, fake neoprene generators with a few decoy consoles. The structure itself is encircled by a heavy military presence. And the chateau where the meeting is to take place, a two-story apartment complex. It's all been a sham, a very elaborate and ingenious ploy. They had to have known Nicholas was working for the Resistance and fed him just enough to hang himself and vanquish Samuelson's people, thereby undermining the Independents' efforts to overthrow the tyranny of the Federation. They saw an opportunity and used it well. I hadn't looked as Derek has. The grain and grooves track the spirit along the proper path if one but looks. I assumed, because of Nicholas's skill and certainty, so I didn't check." His head dropped slightly as he took a seat in the leather-bound easy chair.
Patrick stared harder than ususal at Derek as though trying to see into his skull. While still peering at him, he said, "It seems the corporation is further along in their research than we surmised. They've taken an inverted, more defensive approach. Hardly surprising for a paranoid group. Derek is quite right, Rebecca. Once you appeared at the test site you and your team would be unable to retract into the dark matter world. They've surrounded both installations with a system of calassium field-dampening contraptions, dampening a field incurs feedbacking on its inherent molecular configuration--very subtle and yet they were able to manufacture one by rearranging the crystal's natural inclination in just the right way. How many experiments did they run? How lucky did they get? Does it mean they also know how to travel through dark matter? It seems they anticipated an enemy eventually getting hold of the secret to doing just that and so prepared for it. Even if they themselves don't yet fully understand how to travel. Military secrets are the shortest-lived of all."
Rebecca was aghast, stunned disbelief and fear shaped her features. "That can't be," she stammered. "What of the Independents? They attack the Federation building this evening, right after we were supposed to capture the labs. What now?"
"Yes, Derek?" Patrick asked in a droll tone. "What now?"
Simon strode into the room and confronted Derek, "How the hell did you know all this shit? These folks have been working on this deal for a long time. Samuelson is one smart character. How were you able to see it and they weren't?"
"I don't know," Derek said, reflecting on his reasoning on the porch. "Something felt out of whack. This conspiracy includes everyone concerned. According to the Professor, the government of the Northwest is above suspicion. But he made that assumption based on the phony report Nicholas sent the Federation. I mean, he knew the report was phonied, but nothing ties the government to the Federation. That's the unknown variable, the one not taken into consideration. Nicholas's report stated that the government doesn't know because the corporation is collaborating with the military to overthrow the government. That was a deception intended to mislead the Federation. But the Fed knows that's not the case. So when the barycentric coordinates were believed found, they were easy to accept as true--in a remote area, of course. But, if we include the government in the conspiracy, then the location of their testing site no longer needs to be out in the boondocks, restricted to areas away from central headquarters and spying eyes."
Derek sat upright with a jolt. "It's hiding in plain sight. I can see it. It's below ground beneath the government headquarters. And the absence of certain military units, supposedly guarding the corporate facility, a convenient explanation for positioning them where trouble might ensue after the fact, at the borders perhaps. And there is no other preliminary facility. They've concentrated their efforts in one basket, so you can expect it to be heavily guarded with the inclusion of these dampening fields."
Waves crashing on the beach were the only sounds. Finally, Patrick spoke up, "Reality has one truth in your timeline. In rare instances does the calassium align with the mind of a visible matter being--there've been cases with other sentient life forms--to reveal those lines of truth. You are seeing beneath the surface without first passing through the filter of reason. I believe you people call that intuition; we call it union with the one." He paused to take in Simon. "And you, sir, I watched as you traveled into the future, living it and not merely dreaming. That's another rare effect of the mineral for your species. What you two must do is find the source within yourselves from where such gifts and abilities emanate."
"Meanwhile," interjected Rebecca, "should we trust Derek's speculation, Patrick? Blindly invade the basement of the government building? Suppose that too is a trap?"
Patrick looked at her and then at Derek. "Can you see it?" he asked, a half-smile on his electric face.
Derek sat quiet for a bit, then, in a soft absent tone, said, "I see a huge storehouse, larger than your warehouse. In it are machines, two at center are wormhole diggers--from pictures I've seen--and around them on three sides are stacks of consoles, screens displaying experiments and simulations. Many people mill about. Stairways lead up to personnel doors at the front. Soldiers surround the building. Yes, I'm sure that's where it is."
Suddenly, Derek was having trouble breathing, he held his head, his face grew flush. Rebecca ran to him. "Derek, are you all right?"
Patrick stood over him and rested an electric hand on his shoulder. Momentarily, he calmed, resuming regular breathing. He said, "Go out, walk on the beach, clear your head."
Derek stood, a little wobbly, and with Simon hit the beach. Rebecca dressed quickly, she had to go to Samuelson to warn him and the others, to call off operations and reformulate another plan, one that would bring all three teams together.
Patrick remained seated. He thought to travel to where Derek had said the secret installation was. To find out for certain. But he knew without having to do that. He'd seen through Derek's eyes; he knew he was right. Very seldom in his experience has he come upon a light being in tune with the substrate of dark matter and its mode of seeing. He himself was not so gifted, he couldn't see directly across space and time, he had to visit places in order to determine what was there. The interpenetration of dark and light energies, a synthesis to a higher consciousness, was an accidental occurrence, unpredictable. It was all very curious.
He sat and enjoyed the physical sensations of the warm salty breeze, the smells of eggs, bacon and coffee, and the view of the ocean undulating in greens and blues. Life in the visible matter realm, evolution's quintessential creation.
"Simon," Derek said, his voice twisted with anxiety. "You still have our return ticket?"
He pulled the flat bar from his pocket and indicated the corner to push. "What're you thinking, pardner? Running out? We have to see this through. Besides, how could we just go back to work like nothin' happened? Not knowing if the universe is going to end or not?"
"No, that's not it, I'm not going anywhere. When we used it we went back in place and time, along our path, our trip. If we push the button and wait, we'll end up in my room on the asteroid before all this happened. I can't believe Patrick meant for us to return before we left. Back then. When we travled back before and ended up in the car, everything and everybody was as they were the first time, only difference was we were aware of it. And the same sequence of events down to what was said and how, the emotions, all repeats. If there were any discrepancies, I didn't notice."
"Looking around his office was a discrepancy, but it didn't seem to disturb anything. Not significant enough to cause a phase shift."
Derek stared, eyebrows raised.
"I read. There's a lot of down time on mining jobs. We played our parts, but suppose we hadn't? Suppose we acted totally differently? Would we've pushed the timeline so out of whack that it changed direction?"
"I wonder," Derek began, "could we just go back to then, in the park, and knowing what we know now, rendezvous with Becky and tell her what we discovered. Think of all the effort they'd save planning assaults on facilities that don't exist."
"But, we didn't know, or you didn't know that stuff until we were here in Rebecca's house, with time and events gone by that somehow did something to your brain so you could see the way Patrick was talking. None of that would've happened." He paused, then said, "Remember walking across the warehous floor with Samuelson, you deliberately didn't ask him about how the car got down there and yet he turned at the same spot and explained it as though you had. If we went back to the park and tried to introduce what we know now into the timestream, would it change anything? And how long do we count before pushing the button to reenter the visible matter world? We could end up anywhere along our line."
Derek took the bar of magic. "We traveled through place alone coming here, we didn't go into some distant future. Maybe there's more buttons. I wish Patrick had given us a run-through on this thing."
"He might've. He said a lot of things I didn't understand, maybe it was in there somewhere."
Derek held the bar gingerly, afraid to accidentally push something. He ran his fingers delicately over its smooth face, turning it over and over. Holding one thumb over the corner they knew was the button that would take them back into the past, he placed his other thumb on the opposite corner of the narrower side and the entire face lit up suddenly. On its surface was the static visage of Patrick in all his electrifed bizarreness.
An audio of his voice said, "You finally turned on the tutorial. Congratulations. Here's the overview. If you're seeing me correctly, the corner in the upper right is a button that when pushed will take you back home, or anywhere along that time trajectory. The bottom left corner is a button which will drop you into dark matter space and take you to wherever you are directing your will at some future time, an image, an engram, a set of coordinates. Be very careful with this function. Besides not knowing what you'll find, timeline bifurcations in your spacetime sprout spontaneously everywhere. It takes strength of will and familiarity with the dark realm to navigate successfully. Small steps at first, gentlemen; until you get the hang of it. Now, if you push both buttons simultaneously, both of you will drop into dark matter, rendering you invisible and intangible, and from there you can travel to wherever you are directing your will. This feature might come in very handy as it supercedes your personal temple chip. Okay, good luck, my friends, and take care."
The screen went blank, the mineral's opacity restored. They stared at one another. "What the frell?" was Simon's reaction. Derek sat rigid, then gazed at the bar as though it might suddenly envelop them in a bubble of ether and soar off into the cosmos, or any of a million other tricks. Space and time in their hands. "How can we use this to help Becky and the Professor?" mused Derek out loud.
"Here's how I see the plan unfolding," said Simon, sitting back in the sand on his palms. "We have to travel across country to get there, that city whatever it's name is. Then say, they fly through dark matter to the new barycentric coordinates of the government building basement. I'm sure they have that on file; it's a known. They pop into visible matter, locate the generators, create their dark matter field and drop them into it. Then, if they have time, or not then, that hacker couple, they'll be copying files at the same time, assuming they get into the system. Okay, so what's the problem with that scenario?"
Derek thought for a bit, then said, "If they have these calassium dampening-field generators in place like Patrick said, they'll be screwed, they won't be able to get back into dark matter and vamoose. They'll be captured or more likely killed, otherwise they'd have to keep them in a continuous field. And not only that, they'll have failed to drop the generators into dark matter, the dampening field will prevent it."
"Right. Before they launch their attack, we need to neutralize, turn-off, blow up that field generator. Assuming there is one and I believe there must be, Patrick said. If he's wrong and there isn't, no problem, back to plan A."
"We? And how do we intend to do that? We're not exactly soldiers."
"No, we're miners, outworlders, independent freedom-loving operators. I can't remember how many different kinds of generators I've worked on and tinkered with in my life. This'll be just one more. Maybe you could look at the basement with your newfound calassium-enhanced superpower and see where it is. That way, we pop in, destroy the bastard, then pop out, slicker than shit."
It sounded far too bold and audacious to Derek. Simon was caught up in the heroic adventure of it all: crash in, kick ass, and blow up whatever needs blowing up. Derek was apprehensive, but not for himself. "What if we fail"? he asked. "Then what? We'll have blown it for everyone. That's too much responsibility."
"Why doya always think that way? Failure. Look, with this device of Patrick's, we're the only ones who can do it. If we get jammed, we can back out, they won't be able to. That's the deal, shlameel. Now buck up and let's go back to Rebecca's." As they walked, Simon said, "You didn't think we were going to come all this way and do nothing, didya?"
"Simon, there has to be someway to get all that machinery into the basement, underground. A slanted roadway or an elevator; they sure as hell didn't carry a 40-foot by 20-foot wormhole generator through the main door and down the stairs."
"Yea, I know. And there has to be personnel entrances from the outside to avoid public scrutiny. You can't walk through the building and take the elevator down carrying equipment of some sort all day long without ordinary people getting suspicious and asking questions."
"So what are you saying? We locate one of those and sneak our way in, not cloaked in darkness?"
"No. Those entrances are bound to be heavily guarded. But the thing about cloaking is, we have to have it in our heads exactly where we're going--our destination point--to make it work. Rebecca knows how, so do all those people we met last night. We have the means in our temple. But we don't know how to use it."
The front door opened and in walked Rebecca, she looked intense and preoccupied. As she passed them heading for the backroom and her computer set-up, she waved to them to accompany her. Once there, she wasted no time firing everything up. She pushed a short memory stick into a port and spoke a few commands, the screen lit up with a detailed schematic of a building, all three floors including the basement, which, in fact, looked more like a massive warehouse.
"Here's the deal," she said. "The old blueprints we have of this building show an almost empty underground storage area. So, using their surveillance satellite, we took x-ray snapshots of the current structure and after filtering out the top floors, saw this." She pointed to two large wormhole generators at the center and around them consoles of computer hardware. Other machinery was scattered throughout with cables and wires criss-crossing the floor. She pointed to the floor and said that the old prints showed a concrete floor but now it had a dark glossy hue to it as though covered by some material. Around the walls she pointed out tall posts of metal with square-shaped devices of some sort hanging from them at intervals from top to bottom. They were also hanging from the ceiling.
"We believe these produce the dampening field. Somehow the floor material plays a part, but we don't know. What appears to be generators are here and here," she showed. "Maybe they all work in consort, or maybe they're backups for the main one, and which that might be is anybody's guess." With a smirk she waved a hand over the screen and said, "There are no guards, no one with a weapon, just scientists and engineers and technical people. Once we get in there, we shouldn't have much resistance."
Derek stared at the diagram showing all the equipment as silhouettes only, outlines without substance. What Becky had said at the end troubled him. She accepts the probability that they have in place a calassium field dampener that Patrick mentioned and described; it looked similar to what Rebecca had pointed out. And yet she's more than willing to invade and try to knock out the diggers anyway.
"You know," began Derek, "if the dampening field is active, you won't be able to drop the diggers into dark matter. And you and your team will be stuck there."
"Yes," she said, "we know. Once in, we have to locate the main generator for the field and knock it out."
"That'll take some time," Derek pleaded. "Look at the size of this space. Anyone of a dozen pieces of machinery could be running the show. It could even be hidden elsewhere, or disguised as part of the computer network."
Rebecca took a seat, her optimism and faith in herself and her people was under duress. She was tired, worn from the continuous strain, carrying the plight of the world on her small shoulders was getting to her. Derek blanched, he had no intention of taking the wind out of her sails. Her confidence was what would pull her through.
Annoyed at Derek's pessimism, Simon stepped in and said, "We have a plan. Listen. Derek and I can get in there and turn off the dampening field. We leave and then you and your people can travel through dark matter and do your thing."
Both Derek and Rebecca stared at him, for different reasons. A chime on the porch tinkled, the wind was picking up. Finally, Rebecca said, "You have little experience traveling to a destination point."
"We've traveled through dark matter, on all its levels. We know the principle, the brain engram thing, you give us the proper coordinates and we can hit it."
She studied the rug on the floor as though trying to read some truth in its many curling and intertwining patterns. "But you don't know where the source of the field is. You'll be wandering around looking for it and you'll be grabbed."
"No," retorted Simon. "Even if they have a field operating, we can drop into dark matter and navigate back to wherever we started." He removed the flat return ticket and showed her, explaining its functions as per Patrick's tutorial. "This button here will override their field, if they have one and it's not another hoax."
Rebecca brightened. She knew what she and her team had been about to do was a suicide mission. If the dampening field couldn't be neutralized, they'd hafta fight their way outside away from its influence in order to drop out. And then, the diggers would still be sitting in the basement. The field had to be terminated. Her enthusiasm and boyancy at the prospect had been an artifice. But now, she was once again herself, the smart, practical, resolute, realistic, beautiful warrior princess. That's how Derek saw her anyway. The sober serious Becky said, "You must know its whereabouts first; I'll show you how to use the plasmics. Protoplasm genetically altered to merge with metal. Once a plasmic touches the surface of a material, ity penetrates it on a molecular level, living matter fuses with the nonliving causing the structure to collapse into a tight ball of mush."
"How about this instead," said Simon. "We drop it into dark matter--poetic justice--once there, it'll lose all integrity, collapse on itself and vanish into the world of dark matter." Simon recalled with a shudder how the man who attempted to attack Derek had been vanquished to the realm of dark matter by Patrick.
"That only works if the object isn't fitted with a properly designed piece of calassium, like we are. That's what saves you from disintegrating into nothingness due to the absence of EM force; it's the calassium's hold on the visible matter realm, it acts as an interface and conduit. A machine will also maintain its structure if it's encased by a calassium field, like our vehicles. We'd hafta expect the field generator to protect itself within the field it's generating."
Derek faded away, no longer hearing what they were saying; his mind awhirl with thoughts of imminent death. They came to an end point, it was Derek's turn to do his thing. They both looked at him, waiting. With effort, he collected himself, forcing his mind to center on the here and now. At once, that clarity he'd known when Patrick had pressed him to see opened his mind to a level of consciousness that was as engaging and inspiring as it was nerveracking. Like standing on the top of a mountain looking up at the night sky, vertigo tugged at his lifelong underestimation of his abilities and potential. But he knew he had to try.
He approached the screen, examining every outline of everything in the x-rayed schematic, discounting those obviously not relevant. Nothing that remained stood out suggesting its nature. Doubt crept in, he countered by imagining what a calassium field-dampening generator does. The chip in his temple throbbed momentarily; whereupon, he found himself drawn to one large cube of a machine sitting in the middle of the second-tier walkway at the rear of the basement. Its outline vibrated and he could see invisible traces of radio waves leading to the many field projectors attached to the poles encircling the wormhole diggers, the focus of their experimentation. They had not as yet discovered how to drop a wormhole generator into dark matter to begin its job. Something about the magnetic fields used to give stability to the inner walls of the hole that clashed incongruently with the mineral's properties. Applying that trick with grav-cars, however, was something Becky and her gang had already figured out. With the help of Patrick, of course.
The cube of dampening generator stood on a three-foot high block of whitish plastacine. The generator itself was no more than three-feet on a side. Its surface was smooth and empty of protuberances except for a series of small buttons on the top along one edge.
Derek pointed, "That's it, the field generator. There's cable attached from the gen to this computer array, probably networking the whole system in case of power failure to one part. If your team's mathematicans can figure out the barycentric coordinates to place us right there," he tapped on the screen in front of what he concluded was the dampening generator, "we could adhere one of your plasmics and vamoose before anybody was the wiser."
Simon and Rebecca gave Derek the stare. He stared back. The chimes sounded again, more forcefully. A storm was coming. Rebecca went to her personal communications device linked to Samuelson's by piggy-backing off the corporation's own security satellite, and informed him of the proceedings, of the bar of calassium Patrick had given them and its capabilities, and of Derek's offer and certainty of the location of the field generator. A long silence ensued. Samuelson knew their plan was suicidal unless they could find and deactivate the dampener, but didn't want to get people involved who weren't trained operatives. Anything could go wrong; they were inexperienced travelers of the night. Besides the possibility of being killed, if they were captured, what they knew would be fatal to them all. But something told him to believe in Derek. Samuelson was sufficiently knowledgeable of the capabilites of calassium to suspect it held secrets of which he was unaware. And if Patrick had given them this means of travel, it must be foolproof. Perhaps they could pull it off. Rebecca sent the schematic with the generator marked X.
He informed her a courier would arrive with the coordinates requested. It was up to her to show Derek and Simon how to use them to transit the dark zone. And it was also up to her to demonstrate the proper use of plasmics, you didn't want to get one stuck on yourself, he reminded her. Actually, this was impossibile due to the skin-cell membrane's protoplasmic resistance to assimilation, but the Professor liked people to think it might happen so they'd be extra careful and attentive when using it.
Hunger finally set in with feeling. Simon's breakfast seemed to have been made lifetimes ago, yet there it sat on the counter, cold but eatable. They heated it up and ate ravenously, the chimes quickened. Taking this time to step out of the coming rush of events, Derek asked why Patrick couldn't do everything himself, why he couldn't just jump into that warehouse, impervious to the dampening field, drop the diggers into dark matter space, and zoom out to wherever he spends his time.
She explained--two reasons. "No doubt there are surveillance cameras covering every square inch of that place. They'd record a dark matter being. The world learning of the existence of dark matter beings, and that could be corroborated by a cursory description of the properties of calassium, would definitely overshadow the Fedration's plan of world domination regardless of form. In fact, it would be to the Federation's advantage, galvanizing the other Regions in a battle against the dark matter invaders wanting to sabotage our efforts to use their space harmlessly. The new frontier. Travel to distant planets to colonize in less time than it takes to fly to the moon. Terrorists. Dark matter terrorists. It'd be an easy sell and would mask their takeover. The distraction would not only shift focus away from their ultimate plan, but put them in the position of protector and defender of all humanity. Everyone would do whatever they said. Unseen enemies are the best kind, you never arrive at an end.
"And the other reason is the magnetic flux capacitors. Why Patrick can't fly on ships through wormholes, the magnetic fields generated to maintain the integrity and cohesion of the walls of the hole cause him to drop out into dark matter space. So if they're activated for experimentation purposes, and they probably would be given the patience of the Federation, to sufficient strength, he wouldn't even be able to make an appearance, to manifest in visible matter."
"Where exactly is this building, and do we fly there?" asked Simon, sipping coffee laced with bourbon. "I know where we are now, somehwere along the northeast coast of the Americanadian Region. But what's the layout? Like I said before, I'm not all that familiar with Earth. This other place across country?"
Rebecca explained that west of the Mississippi River the country was a combination of desert, sagebrush, red rocky ground, and grasslands leading up to the Rockies. Not many people live there, enclaves of villages. Nothing grows anymore, the soil is sterile, the result of growing genetically modified crops for decades. They give nothing of nutrients back to the soil, so crops gradually used them all up, fertilizer alone isn't suffficient and only poisoned the water. And the herbicides and pesticides killed off all the pollinators and migrating insects. It's a wasteland. They have to trade with other Regions and they have little to offer, whatever they can produce on a community scale. Corporations feed them and clean water is at a premium, corporate-owned and sold for debt, bonded.
Wild animals use to roam those plains, but they were all hunted out long ago. Poaching was widespread and uncontrollable, everyone was desperate after the first environmental collapse, agriculture plummeted, droughts lasted for years at a time, getting longer and longer with each passing decade. They're in disarray and it might always be. Consequently, the Middle Arid Region has little clout in global affairs, corporations find no use for that area, the minerals of value are also long gone.
"The Rockies mark the eastern border of the Northwest Region. We're going to its headquarters in Vancouver-Victoria on a small island near the ocean. They talked of moving the entire city if the ocean continues to rise, but thankfully, they never followed through. Knowing the latitude and longitude of the government building isn't enough. The barycentric coordinates we use to travel and locate points in space are of dark matter as it translates into visible matter space. There'd be problems. Our old x-rayprint of the government building had already been canvassed and coded with barycentrics; we were planning to take it over once and terminate a few people, but the professor deemed them harmless." Noticing her irritation, she paused to gather herself. "It's at the center of town, and in its basement, the wormhole diggers."
"Maybe," offered Simon, "they stalled moving because they've been working on their shit for a long time and didn't want to have to move the whole supposedly secret operation. Calassium was discovered in that asteroid field we were working at least ten years ago, earth years. But at first they considered it only as a substitute for diamond and as a potential power source. It had to have been only by accident they found out its dark matter properties. In fact, how could they have done that? Somebody got a slither in his temple and away he went? To nowhereville? Dark matter's existence has been known for the last couple of centuries. Could their scientists know enough about it that they recognized results from some haywire experiment as being the signature of dark matter?"
"I don't know, Simon," spat out Rebecca. "I never heard of it until Professor Samuelson approached me three years ago when I was doing research at the university in Amsterhagen. He was Nicholas's contact with the underground. What he told me the Federation was plotting was incredible. He'd been introduced to Patrick through the assurances of Nicholas. Patrick explained the situations to him, the earth-bound one and the end-of-the-cosmos one. He understood the ramifications of both and became passionate about stopping them. At the time I was studying the magnetic field effects on various materials when the force that aligns their natural lattice alignment is disrupted, materials science was my profession. Samuelson thought I might be interested in working with calassium, he needed my help. He introduced me to Patrick, which, I must say, is the trauma of my life."
How Derek could be more impressed than he already was defied analysis. Nonetheless, he couldn't help it. Simon, for his part, tried to keep his head in the action. Accordingly, he lit up another joint from what appeared an infinite stash. He did have his priorities.
"So we're going to travel there by grav-car through dark matter, is that it?" Simon asked.
"Yea," replied Rebecca. "Actually grav-trucks, three of them, they're being fitted as we speak. It won't take much time. However, there's no view on this flight. We'll have a staging area hopefully set up by our people in that area by the time we arrive. I want to be as close to the objective as possible. You and Derek will have the barycentrics to focus on when you drop into dark matter; the closer we are, the easier it'll be for you. When you emerge into visible matter, apply the plasmics and press your return button with the place where you started firmly etched in your mind. Traveling through dark matter takes a great deal of concentration. You need to practice. Now is the time. And I'll show you how to apply the plasmics, it's easy but must be done right."
Finished eating, Derek sat staring out at sea through the large window, the waves building in size and speed. His mind wandered, he let it. He remembered when he was a young man still in school and doing well, he and his mother were sitting around the dining-room table talking. The conversation ended abruptly when he told her he wanted to be a scientist. She burst out laughing, got up and went into the kitchen. When this memory pops into his head unexpectedly he always recalls how he felt. In fact, each time he tries to dig that much deeper, to viscerally relive the whole experience, to hear her laughter, the way her eyes glinted, to feel the disdain and derision, the absence of motherly emotional support, to know once again that feeling of having the wind leave his sails and to know he was on his own.
After breakfast the work of the day began. Rebecca had them use their device to drop into dark matter and return by focusing on the living room and exerting their will. She then showed them how to accomplish the same thing by using the calassium chip Patrick had applied to their temple. This was more difficult, but once the symbiotic relationship between calassium and assertion had been established, a groove stood out in the darkness, the path of least resistance Rebecca spoke of. They needed only to conjure dark matter space, and they were in it.
It felt like diving into a pool of water, only without the sensation of liquid flowing around your body. The familiar brown-black tendrils of the first tier--they'd known all three--was what you traveled through. There was no need to plunge more deeply. For Simon, this awareness gave him an enormous boost of confidence, charging his mind and will to the task. Derek found the womb effect strangley liberating, the usual tension that was his constant companion melted away. He was immersed in the oneness of mind and will, moving yet remaining perfectly still, no resistance, no friction, smooth sailing.
With Rebecca's direction, Derek and Simon carried an old generator from her storage onto the back porch. She used it for backup in case the electricity went out, everybody had them, you had to. She showed them how to pack the plasmic dough into a disc shape for maximum effect, then attached it to the side of the generator. She pushed them back several feet and waited. Five seconds is all it took. The gen-set made harsh screeching tearing sounds as it compacted in abrupt stages to the size of a large fist. Derek and Simon were amazed and deeply impressed.
"How'd you discover this shit," Simon asked, relighting his herb-stick.
"Nanites. Protoplasmic nanites, a fusion of organic material and discrete self-replicationg intrusion machines that take over individual molecules like a virus and disassemble their matrix. Organic material is required because the genome can be manipulated dynamically to control expression, and it's been engineered to express itself by spreading the nanites throughout whatever metalic substance it's placed on. The cells do the replicating, the plasmic material is alive in the sense that all the attributes that define life are embodied in the artificially created material and enclosed in a callassium-tissue membrane. It's self-organizing as well as self-replicating and manifests a morphogenetic field giving it cohesion. Molecular force generation drives the cells' complex dynamics at this supramolecular scale. In turn, cell replication infuses otherwise generic nanites with congruent directed behavior by a complex cascade of crystal frequencies resonating throughout the mineral. The result is similar to a star collapsing into a dwarf of some kind."
She was way over Derek's head, he knew. The further away she seemed, the more attractive she became. All he could do was stand on her backporch gaping stupidly. She smiled as though reading his mind and said, "We leave at dusk, a few hours from now, from the professor's compound. You probably won't need any weapons, but you never know; it's better to have them and not need them than, you know. Here's an electric-pulse rod that short-circuits a person's nervous system, it has a range of fifty meters, after that, the optimal charge drops off rapidly. We have longer-range weapons, but you won't be needing them. Hopefully," she smiled, "you won't be needing these either."
She hefted a small parabolic-shaped disc, about an inch thick, from the table by the porch door, curiously laying next to Samuelson's journal. "And here we have a sound wave inducer; it radiates a parabolic envelope of sound that expands exponentially as it progresses. At its wattage it puts out quite a punch." While aiming its curved surface towards the object of rejection, the palm-sized inducer was activated by pushing one's thumb down on a recessed button. A child could do it.
"I'm familiar with the lightning rod," said Simon, "they're a hot item on some of the rougher outworlds, mining towns can sometimes be rather unpleasant. But not this sound thing." She demonstrated its use by blowing the porch chairs out onto the beach. They were rather lightweight, Simon pointed out, but she assured them it worked for objects up to several hundred pounds.
The day was wearing thin; it was the middle of the afternoon. Rebecca felt she could keep going right through till tomorrow, she was that keen and jazzed. But she thought of Derek and Simon and so suggested they all take a short nap, rest. Eat light when they awake, dress, weapon up, rehearse, memorize, and wait for their transit vehicle to take them to Samuelson's domain. Simon readily agreed and left for his room. Rebecca assured Derek everything would go according to plan. Derek wished she hadn't said that. She smiled, told him to get some sleep, and then retired herself.
Derek went into the living room and sat in Patrick's chair. He was alone in the quiet sanctuary, the chimes hanging by the porch steps tinkling with growing enthusiasm, the sea building in intensity, the smell of raw salt air invigorating. He was about to do something he never could've imagined a week ago. It was all new and all happening very quickly, like gears meshing faster and smoother as oil's applied. Was he meant to do this? Was this his destiny? His purpose?
Simon gave him strength through his confidence and independent, irreverent attitude. He was comfortable in the world and his demeanor portrayed it. He knew who he was and accepted it, Derek could see that. And he refused to be intimidated. That's how Derek needed to be on this trip--fearless. He was determined to be successful.
He crashed out on the couch, the room in darkness, the sun on the other side of the house, listening to the breakers rush onto the beach and the chimes roughhousing. The fate of the universe hung in the balance, yet all he could think of was how nice it would be to lie down with Becky, the warrior princess. In a moment, he was asleep.
Becky was busy in the kitchen, trying to be as quiet as possible. He sat up, the light blanket sliding to the floor. The heavy red curtains were drawn across the picture window; the only light a small shaded lamp on the counter separating the kitchen from the living room; this side of the house had no interior walls, just furniture, spacious yet cozy at the same time.
Derek was shaken by his nightmare, but instead of fearing it as an ominous prophecy like he usually did, he saw it as a warning and channeled the terror and panic into resolving to concentrate like his life depended on it, which, of course, it did. Becky finally noticed his shaggy-haired head drooping ever so languidly and poured him a cup of coffee which she placed on the table in front of him, waving its aroma into his face. He laughed; she laughed back and then began to hum a song as she returned to the kitchen to continue preparing what may be their last meal. She's acting like they're about to go on some fun-filled excursion, he marveled. With regret, he thought of a picnic on the beach, something they hadn't done. No time for such simple pleasures; only the hint and whiff of their possibilities.
The porch doors were closed, a curtain covered them. He peered out, the chimes danced crazily, the sea beyond was awash in foam, surf crashed angrily on the beach, and the sky was a sinister grey. "Do you ever worry about a storm destroying the house?"
"We're pretty far away, I've never had any trouble, some big storms too, bigger than they used to be just ten years ago. That's when I first found this place, my dream house. I used to travel to different cities to study and do research, but could never wait to get back here, home. The last hurricane we had covered the entire length of the Americanadian Region, from the Caribbean to the Beaufort Sea. With all the ice gone, there's that much more ocean heat to suck up. But this old house held its ground, the surge went underneath through the pilings and angled around the bluffs on either side. I was lucky, other houses up the coast weren't so. I was thinking at one point of dropping the entire structure into dark matter space, having it all set and ready to go, but Samuelson assures me if it gets to that point, I'm likely to reappear in a deep ditch." She finished the meal while they talked and brought it around to the table. "It was quite a coincidence, the professor living so close. At least, I think it's a coincidence." Fish and white rice and something green. Derek dove in--fish was hard to come by--as Simon stumbled out of his bedroom.
He made a beeline for the coffee pot, poured a cup, sipped twice, murmured to himself, then came around and sat next to Derek on the couch. They ate in silence, listening to the muffled sound of rain pelting the outside deck, wind shearing the corners and edges of the house, and the chimes threatening to vacate the premises.
Rebecca was lost in thought. Finishing her fish, she leaned back, cup in hand, eyes wet and bright, and went off on a tirade, filling in the big picture for these two outworlders. "Corporation councils, those who dominate a Region or sector thereof, basically choose government officials to run society, functionaries. Members of the oligarchy, they're no diferent than the dynasties and wealthy families who've always run things. Some members sit on several councils; they set the agenda. The Global Alliance, the Federation, is composed of the leading interregional corporations, they have power to shape policy for all the charter members, whether they sit on their respective council or not. They in turn establish administrative duties through corporate-approved departments, social-net programs for certain segments of the populace--that keeps the edifice from crumbling--and bureaucracies and agencies whose regulations serve mainly to support corporate interests. For the average person they present a labyrinth of hurdles to jump in order to do or get anything. The government collects taxes which become available as assets for any company or corporation in need of a loan, a hand-out, actually. In the old days they used to call it a subsidy, but as the practice of underwriting the risks of corporate expansion, it became more and more the custom, the lines of difference blurred. Now it's just presumed that a certain percentage of taxes belongs to the ruling corporations.
"All information is filtered through corporate mediators, they edit and censor everything that comes out of the government. They make sure people don't become completely disastified, they keep them right on the edge, supplying minimal services through the auspices of the government so it appears the government is running the show. They own the prisons, which is where most slave labor comes from for their factories and infrastructure contracts. The judicial divisions supply prisoners for the workforce. A surge in arrests and the round-up of homeless usually precede major government work projects. This way the corporation running the prison receives a sum for each prisoner while supplying a free workforce for, possibly, another corporation on the same council with the contract, bought with appropriate kickbacks, of course. Symbiotic. Our economic reality.
"The corporpations employ their own security and intelligence forces which work hand in glove with the government policing agencies. And the military, their mission to defend the population, to protect the lives of the people, is presumed to be under the control of the government, but in actuality, corporation collaborations formed to secure some valuable resource from a non-aligned-Region, for instance, determine where the military is deployed, its declared mission a disguise to appease the populace. After the last of the water wars, corporations owned all clean water rights. This effected the final subjugation of the last of the independent farm co-ops. The job of protecting the homeland against nutjob fanatics fell on the many intelligence agencies."
She smiled at her last comment and paused to sip coffee. As she did, a loud banging noise of something landing on the roof--deck furniture?--caught her attention. She peered beyond the open-beam ceiling as though confronting the wind and rain. The storm threw giant fistfuls of sand against the house violently, angrily.
"A few years ago, based on our sources--Nicholas mainly--the Federation became ambitious. Once they discovered the magical properties of calassium and its relation to dark matter, they began using their vast collective resources to develop the ability to enter dark matter space and techniques for jumping through it--unsuccessfully thus far--with the ultimate intention of militarily dominating the entire world unless the Independent Regions submit to the will of the Federation and abide by the rules, duties, and responsibilities under the GCA charter. If that happens, it'll be the end of civilization's hope, period."
She stood to pace, a force of nature. "The corporations of the Alliance of Independents resist takeover by the Federation, the Global Corporation Alliance. The Independents want a higher quality of life and their corporations support that. Populations satisfied with their lives, not living in abject poverty, make more desirable consumers. And they're more likely to join the military whenever a war or conflict over resources presents itself.
"Why throw toxic waste into a river that's used to irrigate crops? Everybody knows what little natural farmland remains. The people will boycott their products and outlets, those that aren't necessities like water and food. And others will then come up with alternatives; that's competition, something they don't want.
"That's not everywhere, of course. People in the Regions governed by the Federation are broken in spirit. They have little control over their lives. They complain but eventually get worn down by deliberate inaction, no matter how serious the problem and how popular the demand to act, and relent. And so it goes."
She stopped and turned to face them. "If they only knew, all the people, about dark matter beings, that whole other universe right beneath our feet, permeating everything we see including ourselves, occupying the same space and time, only not. What would that do? This knowledge? Would it change how people thought about the universe, how they perceived their situation? Would priorities shift from day-to-day survival concerns to a rejuvenation of the human spirit, to a global recognition that we are responsible for visible matter as visible matter beings, and what corporate rule has done is destroy that, our Earth, this once visible matter paradise."
She lowered her head and seemed about to cry. Derek wanted to go to her in this rare instance of vulnerability, but Simon cut him off with, "Well then, lass, we strike a blow for freedom tonight, and for rejuvenation." Like popping a balloon, the intensity in the room subsided.
Becky raised her head, a smile on her feral features. Emergent, warrior princess. "We'd better get a move on, our ride 'll be here any minute."
They retired to their respective rooms and shortly regrouped in the living room. They were dressed in black, black jeans, black pull-over shirt, and sneakers as in running shoes. They had their pulse rifles in hand as well as the sound-force device tucked in a pocket. Simon secured their return-ticket calassium bar, as always. It'd been tacitly decided at the beginning--he's the oldest, the most experienced, and the toughest. Let him hold it.
Standing, they finished their coffee just as their ride arrived. Derek and Simon stepped onto the side porch adjacent the driveway, a flight of stairs below on the pea-gravelly sand. Rebecca stopped at the doorway to survey her inner sanctum, warmly, fondly, with affection and appreciation, nodded, then slipped out and locked the door. Wind and rain met them, a wet sandstorm coming down off her southern bluff almost obscured their rescue vehicle. After carefully navigating the stairs, holding firmly to the railing, they rushed into the backseat of the waiting grav-car. The same two men were in the front, stoic as hell, neither bothered to turn around, as usual. They must be Becky's personal guard, decided Derek. He wondered how they could drive, it was a hell of a way to start this fandango. He forced himself not to think of the weather as an omen, that was the old Derek he must leave behind.
The windshield was a blur of light-brown sludge as the wipers fought a losing battle, yet the driver and his companion talked nonchalantly about the coming mission. The car raised a few feet, then backed out to the road, invisible somewhere beneath them, and drove what Derek could only surmise was the same route as before, not being able to see anything except for the occasional impressions of shrubbery and tiny trees bending in pain. As they raced the coast road, sheets of spray shot over the high dunes, merging with the rain to flush the sticky muck from the windshield, only to have it nearly covered again almost immediately. When they cut off onto Samuelson's road, the wind dropped markedly and the billowing sand was left behind.
Except for a rush of a breeze at ground level, the weather was subdued, the sky clear when they arrived at the professor's door. As before, someone parked the car in a less obvious place as their two guards led them inside to be greeted by the well-dressed doorman who escorted them to the grand meeting room downstairs.
Derek estimated about twenty people sat about in small groupings. Professor Samuelson was bent over a huge desk covered with maps and drawings and schematics, a magnifying glass in hand. Murmurs of conversation followed them as they approached the professor. He was studying an x-ray print of the objective, the basement of the government headquarter's building in Vancouver-Victoria. His furrowed brow told Rebecca something was amiss.
"What is it, professor? You look concerned. Is the plan changed?"
He looked up and smiled, his features softening. Rebecca had that effect. But the smile vanished when he spotted Derek and Simon behind her. "We have a problem, gentlemen," he said. Drawing their attention to the schematic, he said, "The consoles overseeing the dampening-field generator have cables running from them through this outer wall." He showed them. They were difficult to see because of the top-down angle, but they were there. "I suspect they connect to a backup generator off site, possibly in an outbuilding somewhere in the compound. If that's the case, we won't have much time to dump the diggers after the main generator is deactivated." Facing Rebecca, he said, "If you and the rest of the unit are inside when that backup field generator kicks in, you'll be trapped. Probably as soon as the dampener is neutralized, the soldiers outside will be alerted, an alarm or something will go off, and they'll rush into the building through these personnel doors. There may even be some security inside, we can't know the degree of their paranoia."
"Well, what should we do? The Independents are set to attack the Federation tonight, right after we give them the word that we accomplished our mission. Proof of their madness and treachery. If they launch their assault and we don't, they'll lock that building down tighter than a drum and move the diggers and all their equipment to another secret site, probably one already set up for that purpose."
"Not necessarily," interjected Derek. "They can't know you're about to invade the basement and drop the diggers into dark space. So they have no reason to move anything. They probably feel pretty safe where they are."
"True, Derek," agreed Becky, "but the Federation has plans for every contingency. We can't be sure. We have to go. If necessary, we can fight our way outside, away from the influence of the dampening field. Then we can drop into dark matter, right in front of them, that oughta give them pause."
Derek couldn't help but be amazed at her bravery and sense of responsibility, her committment. But he was also fearful, for her, she could be killed. "But what would that accomplish? The diggers will still be there. There may not be sufficient time to drop or hack anything if the backup kicks in right away. You're betting on an unknown. The dampening field has to be eliminated; otherwise, what's the point?"
Simon stepped into the conversation, "If we could locate the backup gen, we could shrink it to nothing too. How many of these outbuildings are there?"
Samuelson pulled an overview map of the entire compound from the pile on the table and gestured at the variously-sized buildings surrounding the main administrative building. This was a detailed picture in normal light. Derek borrowed the professor's magnifying glass and examined the grounds with his calassium-enhanced vision. He noticed the slightest of mounds of dirt running from the back wall of the main building across the yard to a tiny shed at the far rear of the compound near the wall. He tapped on it lightly with the glass and said, "That's it. That's where the backup gen is. I have an idea. We first, me and Simon, dismantle that one, then we enter the basement and deactivate the main cube."
"Sounds good to me," agreed Simon. "They have guards on all these buildings, no doubt, but especially around that one. If we could reappear inside that little one, then from there travel to our original coordinates in the basement, we could nail them both."
Samuelson gave them a hard look, his body rigid, flashes of concern, uncertainty, and admiration flickered across his features. He scanned the others, then gestured for a man in the back. He came forward carrying a notebook and a map of his own. Samuelson introduced him as their resident mathematical genius and cartographer.
"Michael, is it possible, I mean, can you precisely determine the barycentrics for the inside of this building. I estimate it's ten-feet high and eight feet on a side. Very nondescript and out of the way, I have to commend them."
Michael examined the building, then placed his transparency of the very same map over it. His building and that of the professor's lined up exactly. On his he had written barycentric coordinates for each building. He explained that he had time and the inclination, thoroughness was his hallmark. Samuelson looked at his two unlikely operatives, smiled knowingly, then brought the gathering to attention.
Utilizing his pointer on a map of the compound displayed on the large view-screen, he fleshed out the new plan to everyone's satisfaction. "Timing will be everything. Two people on each wormhole digger applying calassium units to drop it into dark matter space, two men each with pulse rifles guarding each of them, that's twelve people, and the four hackers will search the network for files, downloading them onto pencils. This is very important, possibly more important than taking the diggers. Each two-man team will have two guards watching their backs, that's eight people. Twenty all together plus a few extra walking this observation catwalk above, sharpshooters."
Rebecca designed the calassium discs herself, she knew how to use them, exactly where to place them around the huge machine, and what to do if something went wrong, always a possibility. And she led her team, so she would be one of the people attaching discs to a digger; her two guards would be the same two tough sons-of-bitches from the front seat. Nonetheless, Derek was worried for her; he and Simon had to succeed.
The mission parameters laid out, people mingled as they discussed individual assignments, who would be on whom. At length, in groups of twos and threes, they proceeded to the backyard where three stretch grav-cars sat, each capable of carrying ten people plus all their gear, weapons, plasmics, protective vests, and a dozen calassium units for dumping the diggers into the realm of dark matter. Eight was all that was needed, but it was a good idea to have extras, just in case something went wrong. Automatically, they'd then be transported to a pre-inscribed location within the city itself.
The first leg of the expedition entailed traveling through dark matter to the staging area out west. Derek thought he was ready, having already experienced the thrill and terror of moving through it across light-years of space in very little time. He and Simon were in the same rig as Rebecca. Everyone suddenly became very quiet and still. It was best, he was told, to free the mind of any extraneous thoughts in order to resonate with the passage; it helped, in other words, if everyone focused on the barycentrics of the destination locale in his or her mind.
Momentarily, they dropped in. Derek once again felt that peculiar sense of familiarity and peace. As before, he couldn't see anything, of course, or feel his body, so there was no sensation of movement. Emotions and will and awareness were all he knew. In this timeless space it seemed fruitless to count seconds. How could he know if the duration of one second in his mind equaled that of a second in the visible realm? Asking that question prompted a slew of others. As one piled onto the next, a threshold was reached triggering a splitting field of thought as when a cell's nucleus divides. He saw the difference between visible world thinking and what pertains only to the dark matter realm clearly and at once understood how the two worked together. He saw the roots and body of a tree and its leaves feeding off a sun. He saw the grain in wood and the fiber that made it up. He saw the skeleton of logic and the flesh of eros. His mind filled the entire space as though it always knew its true underlying identity and only now owned it.
Abruptly, they materialized in a broad black-topped expanse in the same relative positions. Facing them was a massive building, a warehouse, apparently abandoned, the chain-link fence surrounding both building and field fallen down in some places. It was late afternoon here out west, the sky overcast, a light drizzle falling. Two personnel doors on either side of the tall main doors opened, several people emerged dressed in black and moving quickly towards them. They disembarked onto the hard wet surface. Derek found the sensation of weight and the resistance of the ground as satisfying and reassuring as he had that very first time when they traversed the heavens and surfaced in the park. Being able to see the surroundings was no small pleasure either.
Smiles all around, warm greetings, hands shook, hugs and backs patted, laughter and loud talk gradually descending to undertones of thanks and appreciation, then everyone shifted to the serious job at hand. They were led into the warehouse. At its center three long tables were arranged at right angles to one another enclosing an empty area about twenty-feet square overlaid with a thin carpet. On the tables were computers and screens, maps and schematics, notebooks and rulers, and assorted other items. This must be their headquarters, evidently, thought Derek. A brief discussion ensued between three men of the local group and Rebecca and two men holding customized quantum computer pads, the lead hackers. The rest divided up into three groups and each was escorted to makeshift rooms lining the wall on the left.
After a few minutes, Rebecca turned and waved for Derek and Simon to follow. Accompanied by her two ever-present guards, they walked to a room against the opposite wall. Their footsteps echoed in the vast expanse. Derek fought to breathe normally; the surrealness of what they were about to do made him lightheaded. He tried to wrap his mind around it but it was no use, he had nothing to relate it to. He quit trying and focused instead on the sights around him in the here-now present, especially how Rebecca looked walking in front of him. Gliding effortlessly like wind over water, her tight synthopants accented her every well-toned muscle. The well-educated scientist transformed into a lithe, graceful animal. Again he fought to control his breathing, only this time it was for an entirely different reason.
Inside the room were several comfortable chairs arranged around a central circular table on which sat a large bowl containing crystals; the walls were overlaid with a thin veneer of greenish stone, calassium. Derek couldn't help but wonder: how the hell did this group, probably others, and Samuelson's managed to procure so much calassium? Enough to surface the walls, design chips for travel and for dropping wormhole diggers into never-neverland. He could only guess. Both the floor and ceiling were painted black over some hard yet slightly yielding material.
Rebecca gestured for them to sit. Facing them, she said, "Okay Derek, Simon, we have no time to lose. We've heard from the Independents; they're poised to attack. Their commandos are on the move to a staging area in the province of the Independent region bordering Federation territory. From there they'll launch their assault on the compound, surrounding it and hopefully capturing the leaders. It's the middle of the day there, so they should be home having tea." She smiled that wolfish smile of hers and sat in the chair directly across. "Let's go over this one last time. After you depart, we'll wait for your return or two minutes, whichever comes first. It shouldn't take longer than that. Don't dilly-dally. As soon as you apply the plasmics, get out." She smiled at both of them, a glint of concern in her deep blue eyes. She took a deep breath, then said, "It's time. Ready?"
Simon sat up and said, "Let's roll." He checked the sachel, counted the plasmics, laid his pulse rifle across his knees and said, "Give the word."
Derek could not duplicate Simon's cavalier attitude. In spite of being utterly committed to the project, as he believed himself to be, he surprised himself by feeling hesitation. He was fine before when he only imagined this moment of truth, but now that it was here, it was like jumping out of a plane for the first time. But he knew himself, he always felt misgivings at the beginning of doing anything he hadn't before--and what he was about to do definitely qualified--but once into it he had no problem. That ingrained and habitual trepidation had always restrained him when growing up, dogging his every endeavor, deflating his desire and enthusiasm for the new. Inevitably, he'd convince himself he would only fail and so wouldn't try. He hated it, hated the fear, the doubt, the feeling of inadequacy it brought on. He rebelled against it, fought it, forced himself through it, used his mind and heart to deconstruct the psychological mechanisms involved, seeking to dissolve its tyranny and binding power through rational understanding. An envelope of fear he refused to allow to circumscribe and dictate his destiny. But intellectual understanding alone proved unsatisfying. That's why he chose the life of a vagabond, to go out into the world exploring and experiencing the new, why he was on that asteroid in the first place, which, by a long and twisted road through seamless space and fractured time, got him here. Got them both here. He wouldn't let himself forget that Simon wouldn't be in this predicament if it wasn't for him, and he was ready.
He recalled an experience he had long ago when working at a dangerous job for which he had no background. It was like stepping over thresholds one after the other into the unknown. He nodded and bit his lower lip.
The guards stood silent by the door. Rebecca held up an index finger, the signal they practiced at her house. Derek and Simon leaned back into the leather chairs and almost at once fell into a deep meditation as Rebecca had taught them. If nothing else could be said about these two outworlders, thought Rebecca, they were all business when it came to the job at hand. They concentrated on the barycentrics of the tiny shed where the backup generator sat. Momentarily, the lights went out.
Diffusing the power of the calassium chip through their nervous systems and thus into every cell, they moved through dark matter without sensation, fluidly. Abruptly, they felt weight and smelled the dankness of damp metal and concrete. They had arrived in darkness. Simon flicked on a small flashbeam. He scanned the room; it was only about ten or twelve feet on a side with a single overhead light, on a low platform at dead center sat the generator, computer and power cables plugged into a side were bundled together with tape here and there, strung across the floor and run through a rough hole cut into the bottom of the metal door. The general impression was of a hurried job, carelessly done, rustic and amateurish. Apparently, they weren't expecting this generator to play a significant role. Derek motioned for Simon to turn off the light as he crept to the door to listen, putting his ear against the metal.
He whispered, "Okay, let's do it and get the frell out of here." Using their flashbeams, they attached two plasmics to opposite sides, then stood back to watch, exactly what Rebecca told them not to do. They couldn't help it. Within seconds the generator began to implode, collapsing in on itself in discontinuous steps, jagged edges and sharp corners smoothing as it compressed. They'd forgotten the practice trial on Rebecca's backup, that horrible noise of shearing, ripping, and breaking as the machine compacted to a ball of crushed metal. They were stunned, frozen in place. Immediately, the door burst open and in charged two soldiers, flicking on the overhead as they entered, consternation on their face. Derek and Simon were behind the door but could see the guards. Transfixed by the tiny ball of dense metal floating in space, an outer shell of translucent light enwrapping it like an atmosphere, they stopped dead in their tracks. That was enough to shatter the ice encasing the two outworlders; recovering, they seized the moment. They raised their rifles and fired, blasting the soldiers against the wall, a huge burnt hole in their chest. Other soldiers could be heard running towards the shed. Simon pulled Patrick's return-ticket bar from his pocket and without further ado, pressed the two buttons simultaneously that dropped them into dark matter. They'd rehearsed this on their own at Becky's house. If things got crazy and they weren't able to focus well enough to use the temple chip--they were being honest with themselves here--they'd pull the plug.
Once in dark space, they relaxed sufficiently to zero in on the target coordinates of the main generator in the government building. In no time they emerged beside it on the second-tier metal walkway; it extended from the back wall about twenty feet and turned the corner, running the length of the enormous basement. The first-tier walkway was taken up with calassium-chip design, more art than science, important in itself but only a derivative process based on computer simulations. From their vantage point by the guardrail; they could see the entire complex. Below them at floor level sat the two massive wormhole generators--diggers--side-by-side in the middle. Oases of tables covered by computer equipment and display screens dotted the concrete landscape; engineers and scientist were coming and going, busy, purposeful. They would have to be eliminated when Rebecca and her team arrived. Their knowledge and expertise could not be allowed to leave this room for future experimentation; they'd lost any redeeming credibility.
At the back wall, on the other side of the dampening-field generator, a long table of consoles and screens ran the width of the cavernous expanse. Two dozen people sat facing them spread apart in groups of two and three. Derek and Simon scanned around. No one as yet noticed their arrival. Giddy with adrenaline, barely able to suppress laughter, the shock of what just transpired numbed them from fear. They'd killed two soldiers--two people--and now here they were in the global-domination research facility and nobody saw them standing there about to participate in the wrecking of their whole damn dream. They were part of the revolution now, there was no going back. Simon retrieved two plasmics from his satchel, handed one to Derek and circled the generator to place his on the other side. That movement caught the eye of a computer operator halfway down the line. Despite shock, he stood and yelled.
The other techies turned but retained their seats, confronting armed strangers was not in their job description. As Derek and Simon applied the plasmics without interference, all hell broke loose. The techie standing slammed a button on the table beside his console and a loud siren splintered the peaceful ambience. At the same time, Rebecca and the assault team manifested in full glory everywhere at once. Outside, soldiers stormed down gangways that led to personnel doors at the front of the building; the massive side-elevator that'd lowered the diggers into the basement was far too slow. They arrived on the floor in confusion, but the sight of the black-suited strike team scattered on every level firing electronic pulse rifles soon caught their attention. No one had gotten past them; nevertheless, there was no time to consider how they managed to be here. The intimidating element of the unknown bordering on the supernatural short-circuited their training. They were easy pickings.
The hackers with their pulse-rifle guards popped into sight on either side of Derek and Simon. The computer people were ushered away to a corner room and locked in. The hackers went to work. Derek and Simon completed applying the plasmics and stood back to watch, naturally. The sharpshooters on the catwalks and the extra guards on the side walkways rained indifferent ions of death onto the disorganized soldiers, covering Rebecca and her team of wormhole thieves on the ground floor. Rebecca's two guards flanked her and sent out a stream of energetic particles at anyone, civilian or soldier, who dared come near.
Moving with the dexterity of a well-orchestrated ballet, their guards glued to them like shadows, the calassium applicators went about their task. The ball of mush that was once a dark-matter field-dampening generator hovered in space while gunfire and men screaming waged around Derek and Simon. Derek looked for Rebecca down below; he spotted her racing around a digger, her angels of death covering her butt. She stuck the last of the calassium discs to the inside surface; that was the agreed upon spot where the team would assemble. She brought up her rifle and sprayed heavy fire from between the two diggers towards the front of the warehouse, clearing all who might interfere. The guards layed down suppressing fire in a circle, then quickly moved to form a cluster with the others around Rebecca, the queen bee. Before the soldiers, what was left of them, could recover, they disappeared along with the two diggers, emptying the main ballroom save for a handful of dumfounded soldiers and civilians amidst the dead and wounded.
As Derek continued to observe from his perch, an ethereal yet substantial shock wave radiated out from where the two diggers had been, expanding like a bubble, throwing everyone against the front wall, bathing them in superheated gas, plasma. The magnetic flux capacitors proved too much to be forcibly dropped into dark matter without protest. By the time it passed him it had dissipated to a tingling splash of warm oily water. After it evaporated, a heavy silence descended on the entire warehouse. That much concentrated mass entering dark matter space at one time, wondered Derek, what could be produced by a hundred times that much?
He was startled out of his reverie by the hackers shouting, the two on the east side of the walkway holding up pencil sticks of holographic memory. Time to go. The marble-size ball of generator laid on its platform, the energy produced by the nanite hyper-gravity having run its course. Hackers and guards gathered together around Derek and Simon. With eyes closed, they stood rigidly still, and abruptly, without so much as a good-bye, vanished from sight. The extra guards and sharpshooters followed suit from their stations individually. It was done, mission completed.
Back in the warehouse it would ordinarily be time to celebrate, but Rebecca had to know how the assault on Federation Headquarters was faring. She conferred with the leader of the local group; he knew nothing conclusive at this time but was in communications with their field command base. What he could tell her was that squadrons of air-commandos had landed on the grounds in such numbers that normal security was no match. They surrounded the main building and were forcing their way in. The upper floors would be most protected, they were laced with locally networked computers in a hierarchy based on security-clearance status. There was no time to waste, no demand for surrender was or would be made. They had to take possession of the quantum drives before they could be wiped or destroyed. That was their top priority, not far behind was capturing the leaders.
Simon put his boots up on the round table in the room where they began and fired up a joint, handing it to Derek who inhaled deeply. They were in the cool-down phase, adrenaline gradually leaving their systems. They smoked in silence, neither looking at the other as they handed the herb-stick back and forth. Finally, Derek said in a surprised tone, "We killed two people."
"They were soldiers who would've killed us if they had the chance."
After a thoughtful pause, "Yea," is all Derek said softly. He sucked on the joint and handed it to Simon. Leaning back, he thought, nothing will ever be the same again, and stared at the black ceiling, seeing beyond with calassium eyes the nether realm where life and death had no meaning.
The sun beamed down on Simon and Derek as they shoveled sand off the porch, hills of sand. It felt good to do something ordinary and physical, reinforcing in every way their identity with resistant visible matter. Stopping to catch their breath, they stood beside one another and looked out over the berm at the sea, now calm and detached as though nothing had happened, innocent of all wrong doing. Inevitably, Simon lit up an herb-stick and passed it to Derek
"Now what?" Simon asked, but not as though he was seeking an actual answer. Derek didn't respond, he just kept looking out at the horizon. He tried to recall the face of the soldier he shot, but it happened so fast, he couldn't. And in his heart, he didn't want to. He watched a couple walking on the beach, holding hands, wondering what that would be like. His idle rambling was interrupted by Rebecca calling them in for a break, lunch was on the table.
It'd been three days since the raid; a great deal had transpired in that short time. The news went out across the world via the Net; streamed as it was happening, little else was being reported. The Federation leaders and conspirators, from top to bottom, had been detained; the GCA charter dissolved and burned publicly. The people of the former charter members demonstrated in the streets all over their respective Regions by the countless millions. Governments were ousted, those officials found to have supported the program of world domination were arrested and tried in their own reborn judiciary. The corporations that controlled them claimed they knew nothing about the conspiracy, which no one believed--the tail does not wag the dog. The calassium mining corporation and their government appointees were arrested and taken to the nearest Independent--Americanadia--and tried for treason against humanity, conspiracy to incite conflict by disrupting the economic system--the corporate model--and co-conspiracy with the Federation leadership to conquer the world. The corporation's stock plummeted to zero overnight; the mining operation on the asteroid Potato-GH-27 was suspended indefinitely until a new arrangment could be established between the Independent Alliance and another mining corporation, one that would be heavily supervised, their research projects limited to positive uses of calassium for all of humanity.
The revelation of the existence of a dark matter world through which it may be possible to travel vast distances of space at next to no time with the help of the mysterious mineral, calassium, though interesting, wasn't significant enough to eclipse more urgent life and death issues on the ground. However, many who had long since given up on the current world and its cruelties and injustices, people who managed to live apart, were totally engrossed and revitalized by its discovery. What role did it play in the overarching function of the universe? How intricately intertwined was it to the reality they knew to the degree they comprehended, the visible matter universe? How does this calassium work? There would be more time for these and other questions after the serious business of cleaning the slate and reasserting civil order--the ordeal of change--had progressed to a reasonably stable stage along the path to a new social contract.
The diggers had been transported to an undisclosed location in Americanadia where they were being studied by scientists from all over the Indpendent Alliance. Streamed videos of experts in the physical sciences explaining in elaborate detail what the mining corporation had been up to with regard to fitting the wormhole generators with engineered calassium played on the Net continually. The scientists performing the expositions had been left out of the loop; consequently, they had to play catch-up with the theory, principles, and working knowledge of the new and mysterious mineral, of which hardly anyone on the planet had ever heard. Confiscated materials, which included such items as: results of experiments on individuals and the wormhole generators, analyses of the mineral's properties, electron- and quark-microscopic images of the internal morpholgy of the crystal structure, theories attempting to explain its curious vibratory motion when at rest, helped the scientific community get onboard. Papers had already been writtten and submitted to reputable journals by the more astute. And as far as the conspiracy went, an abundance of proof gleaned from hundreds of computer drives underscoring the Federation's duplicity left no doubt as to their guilt; their punishment would be commensurate.
The assault by the Independents caught the Federation with their pants down. The sheer arrogance of their imagined destiny left them complacent and vulnerable. The corporate oligarchy that'd ruled for over two hundred years found itself teetering on the verge of dissolution, the paradigm of self-governance was resurging, loud and determined. But the ingrained worldview and economic interrelationships would not simply evaporate or transform, morph into a fresh structural perspective, by the an act of will and rational thought alone. Much dedicated and responsible work needed to be done, not merely social and political reform and the cessation of social engineering as a legitimate and practical tool for fashioning the ideal state, but a whole new way of thinking and feeling would have to be engendered. The Independents were already in that zone in spirit; they acquiesced to corporate rule because that was all they knew, as had their parents and their parents before them. It wouldn't be easy to overcome, but having been on the verge of a world war because of it was a serious wake-up call and inducement to overthrow the old and embrace the new.
By tacit approval, conversation was confined to the immediate present, a casual meal on an ordinary summer morning with three friends. They'd become closer by having fought together, risking their lives for a just and meaningful cause, a rite of passage that bonded them. Consequently, pretensions, not having been much of a problem in the first place, were completely abandoned.
Quiet music played in the background. The chimes had held on and now hung silent. The porch doors opened to the freshened salt air. Peace reigned; however, Derek found the ambience strangely suspect. The others couldn't be more at ease, enjoying the food and the warm summer air. But that old twitch that was more habit than prophecy bedeviled him and wouldn't let go. It was a fine day, he was getting some much needed exercise, and he and Simon had become brothers; plus, Becky appeared, at least, more accessible. She no longer intimidated him, he'd grown, he was a larger person and liked the way that felt. So, what gives?
As though triggered by his thoughts, a bolt of lightning lit up the living room, followed by none other than Patrick, the electrified dark matter ambassador. Although they knew instantly the reason for the light burst and expected Patrick, the shock of such an event still left them speechless. There was just no getting used to it, period.
Carrying their cups into the living room area, they joined the being from the dark side who had already reclaimed his favorite chair. As soon as they got comfortable, he began, "I'm pleased to see you're all in good health." Without waiting for a repsonse, he launched in, "Surveillance cameras recorded the raid. And, of course, it went out over the Net. I'm sure you're aware of it." They were, they were pinned to the screen for two days but decided to take a break from it all today. "What repercussions do you anticipate, Rebecca?"
Patrick's familiarity with human society and technology continued to amaze and surprise Derek. He'd spent so much time amongst visible matter beings that his understanding of the workings of their world far exceeded the average human's. He was naturally curious and found humans fascinating if not completely acceptable. The visible matter world was one of contact, resistance, domination, expressions of the force that made the difference. He also had a vested interest in their success in this particular endeavor as it affected the existence of the entire cosmos. No small motivation to learn.
"The professor thinks we can explain it away as a shielding device, making us only appear to vanish."
"But what about the wormhole machines? How did they disappear and end up in a building on the other side of the country?"
Rebecca went to the coffee pot and stood before it, thinking. She poured a cup and from the kitchen said, "I don't know. Even if we make up something plausible, it won't take a genius to put together the research on dark matter and what the corporation was trying to accomplish with what's seen on the surveillance video. The professor feels we should let nature take its course. Scientists will want to find out how we used the mineral to do what we did, including, most definitely, what happened with the diggers. We have knowledge, thanks to you, that must remain secret. Let them find out for themselves, if they ever can."
She returned to her chair and said, "The governing body of the Americanadian Region has sworn sancturay, no other Region can forcibly remove us for questioning. And if they watched that raid video carefully, they'd be crazy to try. Besides, the conspiracy is more important, it affects everyone. Dark matter, that's something for the eggheads to worry about."
Patrick sat silent as though conferring with others unseen. Simon lit up a joint; he was on vacation, as though that mattered. Derek sat thoughtfully reflecting on the future, not the future of Earth, his. At length Patrick checked back in and said, "An understanding must be agreed upon that the wormhole machine not be used as the corporation intended. The reasons must be made clear and committment to that end forever remain inflexible."
"Samuelson appreciates that and anticipates a discourse on the subject. He already knows who he'll most likely confer with, people with integrity and the brains to understand the repercussions. Right now is not the time, the world is in tumult, matters of survival and security will take precedence over the secrets of dark matter and calassium for some time to come."
Patrick nodded several times. He then turned to the outworlders. "Well, you boys are out of work. The asteroid is closed down and who knows when it'll open again. And by the way, you were excellent couriers." He laughed, a sharp metalic sound that was yet surprisingly warm. "You, Derek, have received a gift, an accidental congruence between your psyche and the energy organizing dark matter via the calassium chip I designed. Every so often, I've noticed with other intelligent species, a meshing of the two worlds is synthesized by an individual on a higher plane. Why it is that you can see the truth of reality."
He sipped from a glass that wasn't there a second ago. "And so, here we are, my two friends. Your tasks are completed. More than you bargained for, I dare say. So, it's up to you. Now what?"
They were both caught off-guard. They hadn't had the time or inclination to think about what now. Derek had begun to wonder about his future, but he saw only a blank wall. Simon said, "Using that return ticket you gave us, we can go back in time or back in place only, but we can also travel into the future. To tell you the truth, I was thinking of returning home, all the way home, to the planet of my birth. Yea, I think that would be best. My mother is still alive and the town I grew up in, I wonder how it looks now. Is that possible, Patrick? To travel there with this callassium bar?"
He smiled and leaned forward. "You don't need that bar anymore, Simon. You know how to travel there, precisely where you want. Distance has no meaning in the dark matter realm. You can go anywhere in no time passed in the visible realm. The chip has become one with you, and you have become one with dark matter through it. You have but to imagine that place, focus on it, visualize it if you can, drop into dark matter space as you've learned how to do, and travel."
Simon didn't know what to say. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. He stood and walked over to Patrick, shook his electric hand, and retired to his bedroom.
"And what about you, Derek? You started this whole thing with your discovery of the diary of Nicholas. You could've ignored it and went about your business, but something in you wouldn't let it go. This was your destiny, Derek. And here we are at last, at the end of that road. What now?"
Derek had no one he wanted to see, his mother and sister were lost in the world somewhere. He confessed to himself long ago that he had no stong feelings for them at any rate. He looked over at Becky. She smiled and said, "Let's go for a walk. Patrick can entertain himself, I'm sure."
Patrick smiled as they left for the beach. The warm sand and briny ocean smell tempered the turmoil that now reigned in Derek's heart. They walked along the water's edge, quietly, saying nothing but sharing thoughts. They were inside one another's head without willing to be. And then it happened.
She slipped her hand into his and held it tight, all turbulence ceased. He felt a release of inner tension--that tight fist in his head--he always believed absolutely necessary in order to hold onto his identity. It was his identity, his sense of self. By maintaining this effort at all costs, he bolstered his body's presence. But now, it seeped away through cracks in his personal shielding, and along with it, the shielding. His surroundings rushed in with a richness of color and vividness of detail he'd never known before; he responded by expanding outward to meet it, to become it, like that day he walked into the sea and water went up his nose. He surrendered to it, holding nothing back and without reflexively pushing it away to set as separate and objective, imagining control by doing so. There was no one to do the pushing.
His entire adult life, it seemed, he'd spent trying to be someone he wasn't, a character in a story all his own. An artifact that now disintegrated like pieces of confetti thrown into the wind, vanishing into the void. As a vagabond, he'd been on his own, directing energies towards experiencing for its own sake, like asteroid mining. That life was all about him and him alone, learning about himself and the world; while in the process, avoiding relationships and committment. It all seemed so hollow and meaningless now.
He never wanted to be the man running the show, taking responsibility for ultimate decisions. Assistant, second-banana, crewman, all job descriptions he's known, never head honcho. He learned to accommodate, to fit in like a gear meshing. But adapting and conforming to circumstances was one thing, fearlessly expressing true feelings and assuming responsibility for the lives of others, quite another. He felt genuinely free, poised and ready. But he also felt a profound tranquility he would have distrusted in an earlier time.
In the past, he would tentatively open his heart to the prospect of happiness, but, plagued by fear and unworthiness, would undermine it, collapsing within to the dark realm. But not this time.
The grounded sureness he sought to know all his life settled into place as though it'd always been there, waiting off-stage. A shell of consciousness that surpassed his ordinary perspective by rendering its constraints mere illusions, shadows.
He knew who he was, who he'd become, beyond a shadow of doubt, and no one could convince him otherwise.
And he knew where he wanted to be.
They walked hand-in-hand sharing thoughts and feelings as the bright sun showered them with visible-matter warmth. Wavelets lapped at their feet. The squawks of gulls and the rushing of breakers were the only sounds. They were creatures of the light who could know the joy of the senses, of touching, but also the oneness of dark matter. Both worlds intermingled, the imminant and the transcendent, and both were theirs for the sharing.
They each stopped at the same instant and turned to one another. Hugging, they kissed ever so gently, savoring the electric tingle and tender touch of each other's lips, then more deeply as the surge of life caught them up.
Patrick watched from a distance. Then smiling like the Cheshire cat, withdrew into his realm.