“Good morning, doctor.”
“Good morning, Ada. Does the Carter Monarch engram show signs of mental illness?”
“This psychosis, he was immune?”
“The data suggests otherwise, doctor.”
“Carter Monarch was involved in several altercations where he saw it fit to engage in fisticuffs with far stronger, better trained Deimos. He also shows strong indicators of obsessive compulsive disorders and suicidal tendencies.”
“OCD and foolhardiness can probably be modified in a useful way. We may need to do more work on the deathurge.”
“Of course, doctor. Gathering Engram node: 03”
The thing in the landing pad was the kind of inelegant that made one’s eyes water. It was a shiny contraption of chrome and a kind of dark gray that a more arrogant person would call ‘charcoal’ or ‘umbral.’ it was something like a cross between a limousine and a sleek grav flier. The door nearest to Carter slid open and a man in a black formal suit stepped out and gestured for Carter to enter. Despite his mood. Despite everything that had happened. Carter found himself smiling at the image of this cultured, formal man waiting for him. He looked down and smiled at the Ill-fitted, gray trousers and the matching tee-shirt. Then he shrugged and entered the craft.
The formal man entered the vehicle as well and in a short time, they were flying. The formal man went through some kind of rehearsed introductory speech. His name was Theodore or Theo and he was an assistant of Mr Hearst-Monarch. That he would guide Carter through the onboarding process and that the situation is very different here. Carter had stopped listening when Theo began explaining what we knew about our new alien neighbors. He’d already read what was currently known. It wasn’t much. Instead, Carter made himself familiar with the new world outside his window. Lush forests, a shimmering blue ocean and wide green fields stretched out seemingly forever. The sense of space and scale was dizzying.
Theo, noticing that no attention was being paid to him, sullenly pointed out a small, metallic box. In it was a set of clothes. Black slacks, red shirt, black jacket, black tie, and a pair of shoes that looked dressy but we made for running. Mr Hearst-Monarch had done his research. It was an outfit that Carter preferred to wear when working. Malcolm had teased him relentlessly about his self-imposed ‘uniform.’ He said that it made him look like some kind of contract killer. Carter laughed along but knew that killing was sometimes part of his job.
Theo lapsed into awkward silence when Carter removed his old clothes to wear the new ones. He briefly wondered where Mr Hearst-Monarch had hired this little man but was interrupted by what was waiting at the bottom of the box. The weapon was gunmetal black and obviously some kind of pistol but it had no discernable way to load ammunition. He had figured that once he had Woken Up, limitations like food or ammunition would be impediments.
“It’s, uh, a type of energy weapon,” Theo said.
Carter simply put on the shoulder holster and stared at Theo, waiting.
“Oh, it’s not really new but I’m still getting used to it all. No need for ammunition.”
“I noticed. Explain, please,” responded Carter.
Theo took a deep breath, “oh, well. I don’t know much myself but I believe that it has some kind of battery. 8 shots, I think. Then, you have to wait while it recharges.”
“So, no reloading but waiting instead. Doesn’t seem like a real improvement.”
“Yes, well, ballistic weaponry may be outlawed.”
Carter cocked an eyebrow.
“I’m not supposed to say much, sir. All that I’ve heard is that some kind of treaty is going to be worked out. Part of it is about ballistic weapons.”
Carter nodded and slid the weapon in his shoulder holster. For the first time since being Awoken, he felt a certain comfort in the feel of the metal and leather. The World may be new but, people and apparently aliens, are always the same.
Despite himself, he smiled.
An hour later, Carter met his first alien.
When Theo landed at Mr. Monarch-Hearst’s building, a squat thing that stood proudly from a series of other hastily constructed buildings. This was the new home of Humanity. When he stepped off the landing pad, Theo nodded politely to the armed guard and continued past them. Carter followed suit and followed him through the labyrinthine structure. Carter quietly counted doors, turns and even the placement of lights above. It was a habit that assisted him in keeping calm and grounded but, it was invariably helpful when needing to make rapid egress. Some days, the counting rose to the heights of a compulsion but, most days it was just another habit.
Angelina had once called the counting Malcolm’s “super power.” She used to quiz him on things like how many steps they had taken from a particular place or how many stairs were in a particular span in some place or other. Carter didn’t always have the answers but had them often enough to impress his daughter. It was one of the small joys that he held close to his heart.
“Mr Monarch, please wait here for Mr Monarch-Hearst to be able to receive you.”
Theo’s measured tone of voice pulled Carter out of his reverie and he quickly nodded.
“Thank you, Mr… Theodore.”
“It was my pleasure, Mr. Carter, sir.”
Theo flashed a small, professional smile and gestured to the couch.
Carter continued to look through the comms screen while waiting. The robots that were automatically deployed had functioned fairly well, considering the considerable amount of time before humanity awoke. They had taken quickly to seeking out a suitable building zone and begun building habitations, factories, and even a transit system. It was as if humanity was a seed that took root and instantly bloomed a city. Hearst-Monarch wasn’t the only corporation that had quickly established themselves, several others had quickly set themselves up to be in the position to poach the best talent as it is Awoken.
Human capital was in high demand in this place. In the simulation, the endless masses of humanity forced a cruel caste system to arise. Ostensibly, all humans were treated the same but as the numbers grew, processing time went into high demand. Eventually, every human was granted only four hours of real time for every 24 hour period. By spending money, one could purchase more hours. Some people spent all four hours frivolously at once. Others stretched the time out and operated in a time-stretched fashion. For Carter, time was literally money. The optimization of that time is what separated the dregs drifting along at 1/6th time and those living in realtime.
This world seemed to turn everything on it’s head. In the place of the relentless quest for space was a world that seemed to stretch forever in all directions. Time was an endless gift here. He wasn’t naive enough to assume that efficiency had no place here but, the simple idea that all people would always be in realtime in this place was amazing. Robots were already cultivating food in massive, vertical complexes filled with bioengineered plants and cultivated biomass products. The past couple weeks waiting had swept a strange feeling over him. He found himself idly wondering things like how society would function here.
Mostly, he wondered how the natural inequality that humanity seemed to always fall into would express itself in this world of seemingly endless bounty.
His musings were interrupted when the door was opened by a massive, hulking thing that looked like a man in thick armor. The man was so tall that he had to bow and turn on his side to pass the door’s threshold. The door handle was a tiny thing that he used his thumb and two fingers to hold. His skin was a dark color, almost like red mud. He wore his head in an untamed set of braids and loose black strands with beads and metal adornment. The armor itself seemed to be shined as if this were the monstrous man’s formalwear. As he stepped through the threshold, his vibrant blue eyes trained on Carter and he briefly felt like a specimen pinned to a table. The most striking feature was the massive pair of horns that grew from the man’s forehead like a crown made of bone or chitin. This man, this thing was one of the aliens called Deimos.
Carter stood formally and waited for the deimos to acknowledge him in some way. He didn’t know if there was some kind of cultural ritual or custom that they did when meeting new people and preferred not to risk bringing shame to his employer. The hulking man drew up to his full height, horns scraping the ceiling and looked down at Carter for a time. He stared Carter down with an intensity that made Carter feel like he was going to be eaten. However, Carter had not risen to his place by backing down. He stood tall and stared back at the mountain of a man. After a short time, the huge thing slowly smiled. Exposing fierce canines and a carnivorous grin.
“You. I like your fire,” he said.
“Thank you,” Carter responded, not daring to pull his gaze away from the monster.
“Yes. You serve your master well.”
Carter said nothing.
The huge man-thing took one step and was suddenly closer to Carter. Carter willed himself not to flinch or show weakness. The mountain extended arms like tree trunks and lay hands larger than Carter’s own head on his shoulders. It squeezed slightly, smiling and then nodded as if some kind of agreement was made between them. Satisfied with whatever social interaction he was doing, the deimos man turned sharply and left the room. After the deimos man left, Carter blinked and swallowed.
His throat was suspiciously dry.
From within the office, Carter could hear Mr Hearst-Monarch call for him to enter.
“Hello again, Mr Monarch. May I call you Carter?”
Carter sat in the proffered chair and said, “Yes Mr. Hearst-Monarch. I don’t mind.”
“On the…uh… Inside, what did we call you?”
“Carter, sometimes Agent Carter.”
Mr Hearst-Monarch nodded, deep in thought.
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“You’ve met Wilheim,” he began “of the Hew-gore people. I think that’s their god or ancestor or something like that. Anyway, these guys.. These things are tense. These guys seem really human but at the same time, they’re weird. There doesn’t really seem to be a normal power structure. Things are weirdly violent and they like to play it friendly. They’re up to some underhanded stuff.” He stops and appears to be deep in thought. “They’re head lady, Thiel-something. She’s being intractable about the orbitals around the planet they are settling. If you call that hell-rock a settlement. We’re entering negotiations. She wants to do it in person.”
After a short period of silence, Carter spoke up. “This is where I come in, I assume, sir?”
“Yes, Carter. I’ve got plenty of muscle but, well… they aren’t quality. You adapt fast. You keep your eyes open. I want you there with me.”
“Certainly sir,” Carter responded. “If I may sir, do you expect some kind of trouble?”
“No, not really. I just want someone who will watch everything and keep me informed. You’ve shown a good eye for details. I think that we’ll need that.” He took a slow and deep breath. Then he said, “To be honest with you Carter, I need someone who can control their emotions. I need someone who doesn’t show fear. I think that you’re the one.”
“I understand sir,” Carter responded, “I can familiarize myself with your ship and pilot it. I will do everything in my power to keep you safe, sir.”
Something unexpected briefly flashed across the face of the undisputed chairman of the Monarch Conglomerate. Carter turned the expression over in his mind. He couldn’t decide whether the expression was fear or guilt.
That night, Carter dreamed that he was being chased.
Something immeasurably old and hungry was following him through a jungle of strange, floating architecture. As he ran, he felt like he was pushing through something. A thin film that separated him from the world. The people there didn’t see him but they felt his presence. They felt the force of his determination. He pushed and could feel his body and bones knitting themselves together. He screamed as the hot, searing pain gave way to something else. A rage that he had never felt before.
He ripped his way through the film and fell into a world of light and shadow. As he rose to his feet, he faced a man. But, it wasn’t a man. It was an enormous deimos man. He wore bulky, heavy armor that seemed meticulously shined and cared for. He balled his hands into fists like meteors and swung a punch that screamed death at Carter’s throat. But, it would not find it’s mark. Carter had already dove between the huge man’s legs. He used the floor as leverage to kick the monstrous man behind his knee.
The deimos’ knee buckled and he dropped to one knee. Carter tried to press the advantage by spinning a kick to the deimos beast’s head but it was like kicking a steel pipe. The thing dove for Carter with a speed that didn’t seem compatible with his size. Carter attempted to jump forward and over the man but his shoulder still caught Carter’s foot with a force that sent him spinning. He crashed to the floor and barely managed to turn the tumble into a roll.
Somehow, he felt probing fingers in his mind. They reached back to him. Not the him that was fighting for his life but, the him beyond. They reached for the dreamer. It was all that he could do to maintain hold, to keep himself. He counted prime numbers. He drew complicated geometric shapes in his mind. He pushed every piece of knowledge that made up the being known as Carter forward in a tidal wave of emotion. Lastly, he thought of Angelina. Malcolm’s face was lost to him but not his love. Carter had lost everything and he refused to lose himself.
He screamed, “No” at the top of his lungs.
The deimos responded with a punch like a tsunami hitting a city. The force was impossible. He was knocked off his feet and slammed against a wall. The thing found him. It was hungry and demanded to be fed in blood and pain. The world was made of blurry cutouts and seemed to dance before him. He realized that his eye must be hurt pretty bad. Maybe the skull was cracked. Carter spit teeth and blood on the ground as he rose slowly, unsteadily to his feet. He had ragged, short breaths that felt like razor blades in his chest.
“Okay,” he grunted, “Mr Orpheus.” He put his fists up and took a different stance. “Let’s try this again.”
“Ada, stop the simulation.”
“Do we have records of the Orpheus clan at that time?”
“Can we get facial recognition on that engram?”
“Yes, doctor… Processed. The face is that of Mr Iago Orpheus with a 91% confidence.”
“Okay. I’m going to need to speak with management.”