The ground. So distant. Moved slowly to the eye. But Brook knew better. He felt the gel around his body. He felt subtle sensations in his body. A tingling in his back. A pain, near the left top side of his head; he had never noticed this dull pain until it had left. Shooting down into the giant Central Nexus, through a small opening on the side of a grassy knoll; Knowledge awoke. Although being in separate pods, Brook could speak to her. They were head down, dropping, dropping into darkness, then through a layer of goo. Lights, purple, lavender, blue. Pods of different sizes, transparent and silver and black, egg-shaped, spherical, some as small as body-fitting, some as large as cabins, flew in every direction. In and out of what looked like, to Brook and Kenya, glassy tubes, or just through dark spots on the caverns many layered walls. A turn. First Brook then Kenyas’ gelatinous body suits stopped. Their pods turning effortlessly, silently horizontal – where’s the propulsion? – Kenya knew about propulsion from her father’s books on rocketry. He’d worked with some space programs when he was young. Two seconds. Three. Another slight vibration and they flew into a dark hole in the wall. Lights, dim red lights, illuminated a narrow corridor. The round corridor, by slight degrees, tilted upwards as they flew through it. A minute passed.
Without noticing they had stopped, they both found themselves inside a bright, blue chamber. The two stood naked. The gel packs had dissolved. Something like ground, so soft, so incredibly soft, held their feet. They both stood, some two meters apart. Clothing, perfectly tailored to their frames, simple black trousers and shirts, materialized around their bodies. The air temperature changed. It went from warm and humid to cool and dry within an instant. A thin, pale person with jet black hair cut just above their shoulders, wearing a thick, long black garment, not a dress or a shirt but something almost like a jacket that went to to their ankles, approached Brook.
“Hello, I am Kyoto. I am the Acting Deputy of…”
“Hello, I am Kyoto.” They made no effort to shake either Brook or Kenyas’ hands. Kyoto looked directly at both of them. They made no effort to make the two comfortable. This was not a time for comfort, and they had not been sent to welcome them, but rather to question them and then, if their message could be verified, act.
“The paper does have Dr Marianne Smithson’s DNA print on it. She licked the back. Fingerprint match. This is authenticated.” Kyoto’s eyes moved back and forth while saying this. They must be reading something – Brook and Kenya both thought, as they looked at each other. The ocular interface they had in the pods was gone. But after experiencing it, they knew that reading and information, in Marin, could be processed directly into one’s vision, and perhaps in other ways.
“Why did she send you two?”
“Well, Ms Kyoto…”
“I am genderless. Kyoto is fine.”
“Genderless, that’s fascinating, in Park we have people who are transgender, and they often come to Marin, to here, for…”
“I know, I am not transgender. I am Kyoto. I have no gender. My people, well, one of my parental units’ people, do not have genders. The genes of that parental unit, what you would call father, for my mother is from here, are dominant.”
“So your mother is from here, and you’re other parental unit… Is from where?” Kenya uttered this question with a hint of trepidation. “Also, we do have quite a few people who don’t identify with any gender.”
Kyoto ignored the question, but did remark, “That is not the same.” They began walking towards a circular opening in the blue chamber. “Come.”
Brook and Kenya looked at each other, again with degrees of emotional and intellectual amusement, bewilderment, curiosity, and disorientation. Their feet, rough from walking barefoot in the summer on the hard Earth, softened. The floor seemed to act like an instant pumice stone. Callouses gone, they felt the firm but pliable gel-like floor stiffen as they walked. Outside the chamber they entered a long hallway, light in various shades of blue and lavender glowed softly. Kyoto’s dark hair, black long robe, and white bare neck and feet stood out in the otherwise empty passageway. They walked about thirty meters to a metallic door. Or it seemed to be a door. It was metallic silver, unlike the rest of the rounded hallway, and it sat inside a small insert on the left side of the corridor. Kyoto’s presence made the door slide up.
“What the…?” Brook said quietly to Kenya. He held her by the arm.
An immense beam of bright, white light – seemed to go upwards forever. It was thick too.
“How tall is this? How thick is it? What is it?” Kenya’s queries immediately turned to Kyoto. She found herself demur after thinking that she had put these questions too bluntly, too aggressively, but she was tired. She wanted to know.
“Roughly two kilometers high and fifteen meters in diameter.” Kyoto did not look at either of them. They simply stared at the light.
“And what is it?” Brook said, trying to get an answer to Kenya’s last question.
“Your people, well, the people here in Marin, the few who know about it, call it The Smithson-Alcubierre Graviphotonic System.” Kyoto laughed slightly, “my … father, one who enjoys learning languages and puns, calls it SAGS, because it is really quite basic. But it works.”
“For what?” Kenya sighed. Brook let go of her arm. Kenya grabbed his arm back.
Kyoto did not respond directly. “You are here only because of this. Dr Smithson wants us to execute an emergency response to the exile of her adopted child? Correct.” Both shook their heads. “Well, the premier has authorized it, but he wants to remind her – remember this – that she must come back here for a period of a year to help with… To help.”
“To help with…?”
“It is in the mutual cooperation agreement settled some three decades ago. I am not interested in archaic Earth law. I only know that is the message. You both know you are Marin citizens. Brook, did you know you had a brain tumor?”
“No.” Brook almost shouted.
“It’s gone. Both of you have undergone and extensive biomedical analysis and update. Genes have been corrected, and so on.”
“Without our consent?” Kenya asked, her head tilting slightly to the left, her mouth slightly grimacing and her forehead crinkling, with an almost palpable sense of anger. “Not that I am angry, I am grateful, as I am sure Brook is, but we just generally don’t do that sort of thing, I mean, without someone’s consent.”
“I am grateful!” Brook rubbed his long, slender fingers through his floppy, blonde hair. His locks has softened as a result of gel. Kenya’s hair too was soft, flowing and no longer in Park’s current hair-locks frenzy fashion.
“Brook, the tumor was not severe, but it could have caused you issues at some point. In any case, you are now citizens of Marin. I am sure Dr Smithson told you that was part of this transmission, one we predicted would come with a sixty-two point seven percent positive rating during Shattered’s isolation. Given Dr Smithson’s attachment to Shattered, that increased to nearly one-hundred percent after his exile. We did not expect her to send two. In fact, we expected her to come. But her age, which for your temporal reference is quite advanced, precluded such a hasty journey. Now, as citizens of Marin, you are not only entitled to this, but require it. It helps maintain a certain level.”
“Level of what?”
Kyoto ignored Brook’s follow-up question about maintaining levels. “Your friend, Shattered, is in the Central Valley. His genomic signature has been isolated. Follow me.” They took the two to a side room. Brook thought it to be about the size of large rectangular barn, but looked nothing like a barn. Translucent screens with symbols, numbers, dots and dashes appeared and disappeared. Kyoto walked to the fourth screen on the left. It remained and solidified. All the transparent screens, disappearing and reappearing, seemed to hang in nothingness. Overhead all was black. The floor was black. Two other people, both in dark lavender, stood near the same screen.
“Oh here they are, Brook Woods and Kenya Cohen! Hello darlings, here just in time for the big rescue! Hello, hello, I am Meghan Zed and this is Zhang Xiu Ying-Foo. Your friend is grave danger. His biological profile shows incredible undernourishment and physical damage.” The two women seemed to be best friends, and they were, having come from two of the world’s only lasting dynasties; they had something very particular, very peculiar in common.
“Um, his biological profile?” Kenya asked with a sense of complete disorientation.
“Oh yes, as he was traveling with the expedition team, so he had nanos placed in him; they were deactivated in Park but reactivated, since our agreement restricting technology no longer applied, when he was exiled. Fix and repair; monitor and so on. All of that. But those hooligans used an EM pulse, suspecting something, and so we can’t repair him from here. But we do know exactly where he is.”
On the screen, now a perfect circle, a very clear bird’s eye view of a large white mansion appeared. A drone had been dispatched. The same type that had intercepted the two near the border. Down, down, down. Then to the front door. “It will try to find a non-invasive way in,” Meghan Zed remarked.
A shot rang out. The drone’s three-hundred and sixty degree vision identified two men, immediately giving a visual reading of their height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, and health conditions – one of the men had early stage syphilis. The taller one wielded a machine gun and the other, plump and shorter man held an EM pulse rifle. Neither of these would be effective against the drone. It was specially designed to withstand both archaic devices. The two men both spoke, shouted, but this was not relayed to the viewers in Marin. The men’s mouths moved almost comically as the drone entered the front door. It found the door to the basement, opened it using some sort of magnetism on the bright metal knob, and entered. Shattered lay dying in the corner. He coughed up blood. He sat in his own urine and feces; his face had been beaten purple, orange and black. His shoulder was dislocated. A man came down from the stairs. Blood gushed from Shattered’s side. He’d been shot. The drone immediately drew the young man’s body into the same transparent gel that Brook and Kenya had traveled in.
“Will he survive?” Kenya uttered as she stared – in blank horror – at Shattered holding his side.
“Yes, the travel field should heal his injuries by the time he is here, in roughly twenty minutes.” Kyoto, waving their hand, turned off the screen. They turned to Brook and Kenya. “I will let Meghan Zed and Zhang Xiu Ying-Foo take you from here. They can show you your accommodations. You will need to stay with us while we perform temporal, medical and psychiatric testing on Shattered. I am not good with human interaction, although my mother is one of you. All the best.”
*featured image: by Gertrude Ambercrombie