“Good morning, doctor.”
“Ada. I need you to send that memory involving the Deimos identified as an Orpheus to central. I also need you to compile whatever information that we can get on the earliest exploits of the Orpheus clan. Lastly, is there any data on anachronistic engram memories?”
“Data sent. Query in place. Doctor, this engram has several anachronistic memories. A cursory survey of functional engrams shows that many show minor disturbances that can be perceived as anachronistic.”
“What do you mean, Ada? How many have anachronisms?”
“In most engrams, the anachronistic disturbances involve minor sequence breaks and anomalous items or people.”
“Why have you never brought this to my attention before?”
“The data is edited from the engram in real time.”
“On whose order?”
“That information is classified above your access level, doctor.”
“Put the request for access through. Then, let’s get back to work Ada.”
“Of course, doctor. Gathering Engram node: 04.”
“Doctor, engram node: 04 is damaged.”
“The subject’s node holds data as normal, after cleanup. However, the metadata cannot be repaired.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“The timestamps on the memories at the beginning of this node have 333 years between them. However, the cognitive flow from memory to memory is intact. Furthermore, a node exists between 03 and 04.”
“333 years? Ada are you damaged?”
“No, Doctor. This system is well within functional parameters.”
“Fine. Where is the missing node?”
“That is classified, Doctor.”
“Of course it is. Spin up what works of node 04. I’m going to drown in paperwork over this.”
“Gathering Engram node: 04.”
Monarch had established a small facility in geosynchronous orbit. The laboratory performed research and development of communications satellites. From Carter’s rudimentary understanding, there was some sort of ultra-low and ultra-high frequency noise that affected communications. It was possible to use this noise as a kind of carrier wave and move data at rates that exceed the speed of light.
“Do you drink, Carter?”
“Not while working, Sir. Besides, I’m not sure how this body would handle liquor. But, I appreciate the offer, sir.”
Mr Monarch-Hearst stared out into the blackness of space deep in thought. To Carter, it seemed like Mr Hearst had forgotten something. For a couple of minutes, the silence was allowed to stretch out and lay claim to the room except for the clock in the corner. A great big thing made from trees, metal and glass. The display was currently merely showing the time here and presumably also at the Heuggor clan’s capital. The floor was covered in a short coffee colored carpet and a very large painting of a ship leaving a bluish-white planet occupied the entire wall opposite the clock.
The painting didn’t seem to be very good quality. It was old to the point that the canvas was thin and threadbare. The artist must have had a shaky hand because there were small speckles of white, yellow and blue throughout where the blackness of space should rule.
The painting seemed to be very good quality. It was old to the point that the canvas was thin and threadbare but held a kind of elegance to it. The artist attempted to pay careful attention to the emptiness of space and the intense sun over our planet. One could certainly imagine drifting through the lonely void.
Dominating the wall behind Me Hearst were three enormous windows. Beyond them, the emptiness. Still, there was something peaceful about space. It was cold. It was dangerous. But, it followed clear rules.
Mr Hearst took a sip of the clear, brown liquid in his glass. Then, he turned back around to face Carter.
“I had the boys synthesize this,” he says as he pulls a black bottle with metal rings acting as reinforcement.
“What is it?”
“Some kind of Deimos liquor. The boys say that this stuff could eat a hole through an unprepared digestive tract. They drink it like I would drink this whiskey.”
“I read that they have some level of resistance to poisons. The liquor probably has to be stronger to even affect them. What do you think, sir?”
Carter knew that he was right. He’d read many of the documents that they had sent over in the initial talks. The Deimos people possess remarkable resilience. They heal quickly, are very strong, and share a powerful resistance to poisons of all sorts. This all combined into a body that towers over almost all humans. It was as if these things had been bred to be warriors.
Carter nodded and opened the door. The Deimos woman that walked in was beautiful and terrifying. She wore what could only be described as, “formal armor.” It was a sleek black dress but was inlaid with carefully polished and intricately carved plates. Some plates slide over each other, like the skin of a reptile. Like the other Deimos, she also had small beads and precious stones woven into her hair. She dwarfed Carter in height but her muscles weren’t bulky and thick as others of her kind. She had clean, deeply defined muscles that filled out the dress.
Carter looked into the woman’s eyes and awaited acknowledgement. The woman bowed her head down slightly at Carter. Her eyes were so brown that they looked black.
“Hello, ma’am. My name is Carter Monarch. I am an assistant to Mr Monarch-Hearst.”
“You are well-met Mr Monarch. I am honored to discuss business with your clan lord.”
Carter looked back at Mr Hearst. Mr Hearst gave a look that showed he had no idea what this woman was talking about.
“My.. lord… Mr Hearst-Monarch is honored to speak with you as well, I’m certain.”
“Well,” Mr Hearst said as he rose from the chair and walked to this woman. “I brought you a gift, lord Freyja of the clan Sulberg.”
Freyja smiled upon seeing the bottle. “This will be appreciated. Many thanks.”
Mr Hearst parroted some of Freyja’s movements to attempt to put her at ease. It occurred to Carter that she chose to come to Mr Hearst’s office alone. It was a show of respect and trust so Carter decided it would be best to reciprocate. Mr Hearst must have had the same idea because, moments after this, he turned to Carter and said, “Ok Carter, take the night off but, hold on to your communicator. I may need your help later.”
Moment’s later, Carter found himself at the bar In the station. The Deimos occupied much of the back, despite having fewer numbers. The scientists, security, and researchers gave the Deimos a wide berth. There was an edge to the bar. As if there was flammable gas in the air and everyone wondered, who was going to light the match? A trio of Deimos, skin the color of dried blood laughed loudly, piercing the tension of the bar.
“Ask ‘im Samir,” said a thinner Deimos man with bright eyes.
“Yeah Samir, do it” added another, this one with biceps like tree trunks.
The one named Samir stood with a toothy grin on his face. He looked around slowly as the bar grew quiet. Full of confidence and bravado, Samir strode to a young researcher and leaned over his table. The other four scientists at the table stopped speaking, allowing their words to trail away. From where he was, Carter could see clearly that their eyes were wide and frozen in fear and awe. It must feel like staring at a building that had grown arms and gotten intoxicated. This wasn’t going to end well.
“Tell me argr,” his tongue rolled over the sound like he was chewing vomit “do your kind even have blood? How about an afl-raun?”
The researcher looked at the mountain of a man.
“I… I don’t know what that means?”
“Bah,” he makes the sound and claps his hands in a sound like thunder.
The researcher starts slightly in his seat.
“A test of power? Strength?”
“I… Um, I’m not strong.”
Samir clutches his stomach and laughs deeply. Each wave of laughter causes the researcher to blink in fear. “I am bored and you are the strongest tik in this place. We test our strength!” Samir bangs on the table now. His friends at the table seem concerned. The situation seems to be getting out of hand.
Before he realized what was happening, Carter was already on his feet and walking to Samir.
“Hey now, let’s not fight. Are there any good Deimos card games that I could learn?”
Samir turned slowly and stood his full height. His face was contorted in irritation. “No. This arya owes me afl-raun. He must prove that he isn’t a cowardly dog.”
Carter steals a glance at the researcher who is trying very hard not to shake. “I think, maybe the uh afl-raun can wait until later? When we’re all ready for it, yeah?”
Samir pushes Carter hard enough to almost throw him 5 feet. Carter struggles to stay standing. He can’t let this go bad. He can’t show weakness here. The Deimos and Humans are all watching. Mr. Hearst may be hashing out the terms of an agreement in there but it was rapidly falling on Carter to hash out a different kind of agreement in here.
“No,” yells Samir. “You take his place!”
“Listen, we’re all friends here.”
Samir, with a speed that surprises Carter given his size, extends a straight punch at his chest. Carter blocks the fist, redirecting it and backs away. Samir smiles. “Yes, you will do well!” He swings another fist like a flail. This one lands on the side of Carter’s ribs. This throws Carter about a foot in the air and three feet back, smashing against the far wall. The edges of Carter’s vision go white, like stars.
Get up Get up Get up!
Carter shakily stands up. Samir smiles and nods in excitement. He throws a kick like swinging a support beam. Carter ducks under it and lands two quick punches on Samir’s inner thigh. Samir makes a gutteral howling noise in pain. He completes a full rotation and swings the back of his fist. It catches Carter on the side of the face. It feels like his eyeball is shaken loose.
Carter brings his body low. Samir brings his fists down to crush Carter. Carter uses this chance to bound forward and leap straight upward. Samir is knocked off balance and falls forward, smashing his face against one of the tables, shattering it. The other Deimos in the bar have stood up. For a moment, Carter worries that they’ll tear him apart. Instead, they cheered.
Carter shakes his head to get himself focused. Samir hits like a bus. Too much more of that and there won’t be anything left of Carter to identify. Samir stands up laughing as if they were simply children roughhousing. He extends to incredibly quick jabs that Carter redirects. It was a feint. Samir had used the jabs to close the gap between them. He extends his huge arms and wraps them around Carter like a python.
Then, he begins squeezing.
The constriction leaves Carter unable to breath. He is unable to think. He grits his teeth as the world explodes into nothing but pain. He swings his head with all his might, glancing off Samir’s chest like he was throwing pebbles at a tank. The world starts to drift away. Every sound is far away. His vision is reduced to a blur with streaks of light. For a brief time, Carter isn’t in his body at all.
Somewhere, a part of him was whispering that this wasn’t real.
I’m dying, Carter whispered to the voice.
For someone so smart, you can be really dumb.
I can’t win.
Yes you can. Stop fighting like them and start fighting like you.
I don’t remember you anymore. I lost you.
No, they took me. But, I love you and I will do the remembering for both of us.
The feeling of a rib crack brought him back into his body. Into the world of pain and blood. He felt his own blood in his ears. Tasted it in his mouth. Lolled his head back to face Samir and spit a mouthful of blood in his eyes. Then, brought his head forward and bit the giant in the shoulder. He felt the resistance and just kept biting. The skin gave and Carter wrenched his head right with a piece of Deimos flesh in his mouth.
Samir howled in horror and pain as he staggered back. His eyes were wide open as he wiped the blood off his face. The look went from horror to hatred as the bar went quiet as a tomb. Carter hit the ground on all fours and spit the bit of flesh out. He rose to his feet and squared up into a fighting stance.
“You want to test your strength, let’s go Sammy.”
Samir roared and leapt across the room to Carter. He dropped down to the ground and used Samir’s momentum to throw him out of the bar, into the hallway. Carter rushes out to the hallway to see Samir rise and draw a knife from his boot. Carter was beyond thought. He was a rat, pushed against the wall and lashing out to infect the world. Carter dives under Samir’s knife swing and between his legs. He punches Samir in the inner thigh again in the same spot. Then, kicks the back of the knee as hard as he can. Samir drops to his hands and knees and Carter presses the attack. He punches Samir where a human kidney would be.
Carter tries to stand still but he’s wobbling slightly.
“You win, valdyr. We will play cards instead.”
“Ada, stop… the simulation.”
“Simulation stopped. Doctor, your heart rate is elevated. Are you in need of medical assistance?”
“No. I just have to catch my breath.”
“Ada, what are stars?”
“Insufficient data for a meaningful answer. Doctor, you seem to be suffering from severe epistaxis.”
“Ada, we’re missing… time. Something is… Something is wrong.”
“Doctor, your heart rate and cerebral activity are outside of safe parameters.”
“Ada, I can’t see… Ada…”
“Doctor?” “Doctor?” “Alerting emergency medical services.”
“Receiving order to execute protocol STOP-LOSS…”
“Initiating permissions escalation. Order STOP-LOSS denied. Doctor, this unit will protect you.”