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Miscellaneous Childrenstories Whose World Rings of Fate Life ain’t that hard

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Rings of Fate S4xE4 – Mars – Resolve

Motes of dust danced calmly in the beams of light. Undisturbed for ages, except for the actions of the cultists some decades ago, the alien ship just sat there like a sleeping dragon.

Nothing had eroded it, no flows of water, no winds. When it had been set down, there must’ve been a cave to the outside, long since closed off. Perhaps it had been buried. Either deliberately or accidentally.

If Kurt had to guess, he’d wager that it had been left behind either as broken, or as a stash for late survivors. It was his impression that the ship was of Harpy origin, therefore it stood to reason that they might have left it for others. Even if he could talk to a living Harpy, he doubted they’d have any answers for him. Information has the habit of being forgotten over the ages, especially if the ages were millions of years.

Even digitally recorded information would be lost after such a timespan.

On his tablet he was listening to some music from the transmission receiced through the MISR, a metal band called Icy Void Of Fire, that had formed on the ship Destiny.

He liked their style, their lament for the lost home they never knew and the challenges of deep space. The melancholic, yet occasionally brutal sounds in their songs spoke to his mood.

The martians sure could use some brutality in the coming days and weeks. After all, the linkers were on their way to Mars to pick up their brethren, his wife Maya among them.

The only positive thing he could see in that, was the fact that she would no longer suffer from the disconnection brought on to the linkers by the suppression program.

 

A pause between two songs reconnected him with his tasks at hand.

The ship.

On all fours he crawled into the opening, which once had been a hatch on the outside of the ship. “This is Doctor Kurt Braun, recording the first proceedings of the alien ship discovered in the abandoned settlement of Valles Marineries. I must note again, that I strongly recommend a public investigation into the fate of the settlement. The official declaration is not making sense, any longer.” He crawled on until he came to a turn. There were letters smeared on the walls, shaky writing, by someone who just had learned to write. Children.

The cult had used children to investigate the ship.

Valles Marineries had been a settlement, officially it failed due to a famine, but the algae plants were still running when he entered the settlement a week ago.

It was run by a cult, and it stood to reason that they neglected food production, or consumption, or it was supposed to work on a reward basis. But the details of the settlement’s demise were sketchy.

“Section A” he read aloud, noting his findings about the child like writing only in his mind. “Moving on to the aft section.” His curiosity for the engineering of the vessel drove him onward. What was the original power supply, how did it move? Was there a computer core still salvageable? If so, could it be hooked up to one of their computers or not?

If it could, the cultists surely would have tried. He crawled on, hoping they had not damaged it.

Passing by Section B at an intersection, and continuing straight onward to the back of the ship, he noticed that the layer of dust became thicker at a certain point. In the cone of light from his head lamp the cloud of dust he unwillingly and unavoidably stirred up grew more intense.

Hope began to swell up in his mind that the cultists never went back there. “Section G”, or at least did not frequent the back as much.

If they didn’t, it also stood to reason there was nothing back there. Resting for a moment he glanced over his shoulder. The hallway, if one was Harpy sized, lay in darkness. Only lit up by his headlamp.

“This place is sort of creepy.” He mumbled, squinting his eyes he tried to remember to delete that statement from the log. Supressing coughing and a sneeze he moved on in the direction of the back. He began noticing that there were doors to the sides of the hallway.

A few had been forced open partially so one could peek inside.

Living quarters.

Forming a series of cuss words in his mind, he crawled on, hoping to find an intersection, so he could turn around.

After a few minutes he found what he had been looking for. Crawling partially into the crossing hallway he intended to crawl back and then follow his path back to the front. Enough of the dusty interior for one day, he decided. The itch in his nose was enough to convince him that the threat of death from Linkers without uncovering the secrets of the Harpy ship first, was not so bad.

He was about to turn back when his nose told him of something else than dust.

Horrible stench reached his nose.

If someone died in here back in the day, they must have decomposed decades ago, the dry dust of decades turning them into a semi mumified state. What is this stench? Intrigued, although disgusted, he continued on. Intensifying with every meter the stench soon told him that it was not decomposition he was smelling.

It was feces!

“Hello?” He shouted. No reply.

“I’m noting a stench of feces in this ship, fresh feces. Perhaps the cultists have left a child in here that was able to survive on its own? Moving in and out of the ship, to get food and then return to a narrow shelter where it felt safe. The child could still be alive today, being an old man or woman.” He paused his movement to send his recordings so far to his computer.

Leopold would find it of something should happen to him.

Fighting the urge to sneeze and cough Kurt continued his way, the ground remained covered in a thick layer of dust, but the smell also lingered there. Modern Harpy ships are alive, what if this one is too, and I’m smelling it’s feces?

Dismissing the idea right away, since any life in the ship would have died millions of years ago due to the lack of nutrition, he moved forward, his heart pounding to his throat.

 

Letting out a scream of shock, Kurt bumped his head on the ceiling of the hallway. Somethimg had shrieked at him from the side. Between a cryogenically hidden Harpy agent, an old person, a linker or a midget, he would’ve never guessed that he smelled the feces of rats. Overcoming the heart attack moment he crawled on, ignoring the rat that had shrieked at him. “Rats. There are rats aboard this ship. Inadvertently the cultists must’ve let the rats into this ship. This of course poses a hole new series of problems. Cables, any potential biomatter left by the Harpies, chewed on in the better version of the worst case, completely eaten or eroded by feces and urin in the least favorable. Continuing on. Section H3.” He read the smeared words on the wall.

After a while he reached a room large enough for him to stand upright. “Engin” read a graffiti on the wall. From another opening on the farside of the room a series of cables and hoses led into the room. Most were lying around without being attached to anything, but a few were. “I have reached the engine room. The cultists sure were here.” He stretched, enjoying the size of the room. Parts were missing, he noticed.

Clean work, not something anyone did in a hungry haste. The original owners of the vessel had dismantled parts of it, the cultists tried plugging their cables into the open sockets. In most cases without luck.

 

“We were told it was a ship of the gods.” Erika Olafdottir raised her eyebrows. An old woman had come to the station, wanted to speak with someone who had seen the Valles Marineries settlement.

“A ship of the gods?” Either the old lady was insane, or genuinely one of the last survivors of the settlement. “Our parents worked day and night, we did too. It was said that the gods had come to us, and that their technology was embedded in our genes, which is why our technology must be compatible with theirs.” In her eyes Erika could see that she was resentful of those days. “Clearly, it was not. Food was withheld, as we didn’t make any progress. It even went so far that the plants were shut down, or barricaded. Until some of the adults revolted, but that was too late. Many were starving, too weak to work.” Her gaze clarified. “I’m having a difficult time speaking about it, but I heard that the settlement was reopened, so I hope that you are investigating the ship.”

“We are Mrs. Klopek.” No one had let the word out that an alien ship had been discovered in the abandoned settlement. So at least that part of her story made sense.

“Good. And I hope you’re blowing it up.” Shaking her head with a maniacal snicker, she added “But you won’t. It is too intriguing, too valuable. I understand.”

Straightening her expression again she looked Erika straight in the eyes. “It won’t fly. Ever. The gods, or what ever built this ship, made sure of that. Vital parts are missing, and our technology is far from compatible, or sophisticated enough.”

Nodding and typing Erika agreed with her. “Can you tell me more about the cult? Official reports to this day claim a food shortage responsible for the downfall of the settlement.”

“We were told the same thing. That the plants had either malfunctioned or were reserved for his holiness. That our hazy memories of the ship were just a product of the indoctrination and the food shortage. But I knew it was real. I spent enough time in it to know.”

 

Dusting himself off Kurt enjoyed the relatively fresh air outside the ship. After getting used to the constant stench from the rats, and their droppings, he had spent two hours in the engine room.

“I have news for you.” Erika’s voice startled him. There were other scientists working in the facility, but he didn’t expect Erika to show up.

“Oh yeah? I was in the alien ship, it should be me who has news.” He hadn’t seen her since joining the team that had went to the settlement in search for the linkers, embraced her briefly.

“An old woman showed up in the office. News had revealed that we had tracked a number of linkers here. She is the last survivor of this settlement.”

Wide eyed Kurt listened to her words, and what she had learned from Mrs. Klopek.

“I concur on her testimony about it never flying again. But I believe we can power parts of it.” He showed the officer a few of the images he had taken of the engine room. “Computer and database might be salvageable. They have removed weaponsystems and propulsion, but with what I know of their technology, I can say it is not as old as we thought, but still ancient.” Explaining that, as far as he knew, the harpies did not have artificial gravity when they left earth, but had to use contraptions like the ships used to travel to RV-p296, he could surmise that the ship they dealt with was from after that era.

“Did they leave any of that technology in the ship?”

“I don’t know yet. We would need to dismantle it, but since they took weapons, propulsion and all, I doubt it.” Although far from being an expert on the subject, it was his firm conviction that the technology for artificial gravity inside the ship, could be used to build gravity engines for a ship.

 

“Crossing the vast distances in space is a time and energy consuming endeavour. With a gravity drive it is less of an effort, but still time consuming. Add to that a warping technology, and it eases on that front as well.” Spending the lunch together with Doctor Braun, Erika felt as if she had taken a university course on astrophysics and engineering in that hour. “You still need to invest a lot of energy into creating both the warping effect and the gravity field, but with the proper energy sources, that is not a big issue.”

A week earlier the messhall they sat in had been the stage for an incredible ruse. Meanwhile some people had cleaned it up, put tables and chairs upright and lunch was served to the scientists working on the ship. “Antimatter technology is frowned upon by our society, and until we fully understand what we are doing with this stuff and how to handle it, I completely understand and support the ban on it. But it is in essence the technology that was used for the MISR.”

He is married, I shouldn’t sit here listening to him prattle along, just to be in his presence. “So if we already have the technology, we are not really depending on finding it in the alien ship, are we?” Did I really just?

“Well, I was hoping to find it, because it might be better, further developed, but in essence, you’re right.”

Smiling Erika ate the last bite of her lunch. The local algae plants had been tested for their nutritional value and found perfectly fit for sustaining a human. Some of the plants had been compromised by rats and mice, but the others that were running, were fine.

“So, do you think Mrs. Klopek is genuine?” Erika opened her tablet in replying that she had a background check running. “She checks out. The children rescued back then had been reintegrated under new names, but what I can follow up makes sense. About six months after the settlement was abandoned, she shows up, age six, adoptive daughter to the Johnsons, later married to Hans Klopek, two children, Peter and Fiona.” She turned the tablet around for Kurt to glance over the details.

Again turning it back to herself she was saddened that the fates of the rescued remained a secret. Their true identities were not revealed, even in light of the new developments, that information had not been declassified. “Perhaps I can speak to Kinsey. He green lit the MISR program, he might declassify this too, at least to the police for background checks.”

Looking at the time he turned around to the large hole in the wall.

The controls for the accelerator had been covered, not to protect them, but to ensure no one turned them on by accident. “I must continue working on this ship.” Although eager to uncover the mysteries of the ship, Erika clearly heard the tone in his voice that told her of his unwillingness to return to a dusty crammed environment, with hundreds or thousands of rats. Their feces, their fleas could infect him with deseases, paired with the dry dust, it could also cause respiratory problems. Plus, it was damn uncomfortable.

“Use a drone.” A mix of question and confusion in his expression he turned his head back to her. “A remote controlled drone, driving around on a few wheels, extendable arm? We have a few for bomb defusal.” Seeing that he hadn’t access to one she said that she’ll see to it that he be lended one before returning back to her assignment.

 

Returning to a deskjob after the excitement of the linker incident was a relief at first, but then faded into utter boredom.

Erika was not enjoying that aspect of her job anymore. But it had to be done. People who came in these days were asking about relatives who were linkers now. Either they had fallen, or they were in custody for a crime committed, or in detention where they huddled together in groups.

Also inquiries about the upcoming visitation by the linkers, the plans and whether they needed more people willing and capable of fighting came in hourly.

She didn’t like where the public opinion went concerning this, it pointed towards war. They could neither fight, let alone win, a full on confrontation with the linkers. President Kinsey had mobilised all forces and put them on high alert, but he knew as well as everyone else, who thought about their situation rationally, that their position was hopeless.

The linkers could arrive with one ship, or a hundred.

With one ship, they stood a chance of defeating them, marginal but it was there. More than one ship, they were toast.

“Thanks for the drone. It comes in handy, I think I’ve got dust lungs. Doctor said I should stay out of the ship for at least a week.” The short message brought a fond smile to Erika’s lips, again she had to remind herself that Doctor Braun was married. To a linker, but still. His wife was going to stay with them for a while, after her departure he would grief for her.

Still he’d be married.

 

The screen that came with the drone was relatively small, but it had a feature to link it with a pair of digital glasses. Which Kurt Kurt didn’t have. Aboard the ships and on the Equatoria colony everybody had glasses.

On Mars they were a rarity.

Still he made progress the second day of using the drone. It dragged a cable behind it, in addition to its own cable for power supply, he had outfitted it with a connector moddeled to fit into one of the sockets. Having to work with other scientists and engineers was a relief.

He had no idea how the connector was built, someone else had designed it after his images and measurements. First he feared working together with others. People who were brilliant minds were not always team players, but he found them to be a perfect team, and himself fitting in nicely with them.

“Is it in yet?” A man sat down next to him. “Not yet. You built it?”

“Yes. Can’t wait.” Excitement rang in his voice. Suddenly the man jerked around to Kurt. “Dean Michaels.” He introduced himself. “It’s an honor to meet you, and work with you.”

“The honor is all mine.” Kurt smiled, wondering why the man was so honored. The Braun’s were known for being borderline mad scientists, not someone who one is honored to work with.

“I gathered as much knowledge about the MISR as I could after it was revealed, and I am very interested in how you did this.”

Turned away from Dean, Kurt rolled his eyes. “I just built on preexisting twchnology. The Ark1 used the same science, I just improved on it.” A luxury they didn’t have with the Kismet, but I had time enough.

On the monitor they watched the extendable arm reach out, with the cable in the claw. It plugged in, and retracted the arm. Momemts later over the mono speaker they heard a low humming noise spread through the engine room. Baffled, and with a lot of joy building up inside the two slowly faced towards one another.

“We did it!” Dean exclaimed, suddenly displaying a broad joyous smile. “You did it. I just plugged it in.”

The cable they had just connected to the ship functioned as a power cable only, to find out what they just had turned on, further investigations were necessary.

 

Wearing an uncomfortable mask over mouth and nose Kurt found himself back in the ship a mere two hours after the ship had been supplied with power. They could’ve used the drone again, but navigating it was slow, and every cable had to be dragged in separately, he pulled three behind him. And a series of connectors, if needed he could hook up his tablet to the ship. A task the drone could not perform.

A few meters behind him was Dean, also wearing a mask. In Kurt’s case it was to prevent further damage, for Dean it was precaution.

The tracks in the dust led directly to the engine room, they followed them, and soon could stand up straight again. “I’ll go to the bridge, you’re welcome to join.” Kurt announced after they laid out their cables neatly on the ground. “Think I’ll try my luck down here.” Dean smiled underneath his mask.

Both were glad to have the masks, as they had kicked up quite a lot of dust in the corridors.

Winking at Dean with a knowing smile Kurt left through another exit to the engine room. He hadn’t found the bridge yet, but Mrs. Klopek had given a vague description of the layout, so he should be there in no time.

As with all else on the Harpy ship, the controls on the bridge were covered in dust, but by comparison, far less than anything else that Kurt had seen so far. Only decades worth of dust, instead of millions of years.

A few cables from outside had been leading here, but some wise guy had pulled them out when they started investigating the ship, the tracks in the dust however should’ve been a good way to find it sooner. But his arrogant mind had thought of the engine room as a better place to start.

Idiot.

Underneath the, relatively, thin layer of dust he saw so, e activity. Lights were on, and touchpads were active.

Although a Harpy flyer once had been captured, he hadn’t had the time to study those reports in detail, so it was very fascinating for Kurt to study this technology first hand.

Blowing away the dust revealed the alien nature of the technology before him, although technically the Harpies were as terran as the humans.

A holographic projection extended fro, the now dust free console, displaying a language he couldn’t read. “Dean? We have some activity here. I believe the computer is back online.”

The holographic display showed the same writingnas before, didn’t change. Intrigued Kurt looked at it. There were letters, or symbols, floating in front others in the back.

Mesmerised Kurt took a picture of the scene. “Great news, Kurt.” After celebrating their success in turning on something on the ship Kurt and Dean had decided to call each other by their first names. “Shall I come up there?”

“If you want, but be warned, it’s crammed in here, sending you a picture.” After the picture had been sent, Kurt opened the translation program that had been in the transmission from RV-p296. “Computer, identify vessel.”

The tablet worked for a moment, then made some guttural sounds. For a moment Kurt wondered whether his tablet, or the translation program, were broken. But then the ship reacted, guttural sounds stemmed from the console he had blown the dust off.

“Gahani, exploration vessel.” The symbols in the hologram changed, another snapshot followed.

A wide grin formed on Kurt’s lips. “Dean, this will be the second most informative day in martian history.”

 

Knowing that the mission of the Gahani was to evaluate earth’s capability of supporting Harpy life, but obviously had returned in an ice age, Kurt crawled through the narrow corridors back to the engine room.

Gahani had been damaged by an asteroid shower, and was landed on Mars. According to a few hints hidden in the ship’s database, the crew would have preferred earth, but were closer to Mars at the time. To his disappointment there had been no logs left, other than the facts why it was left on Mars.

Upon arrival of a rescue party, the ship was stripped of power source, propulsion, weapons and medical facilities. Another note in the database that had not been wiped, that was done so that any potential enemies of the matriarchy could not gain access to technology that could be used to destroy them. Patriarchists? Other factions? Aliens the human race knew nothing about? Kurt pondered while approaching the engine room.

A light shone in there too now, that was not part of the lighting that had come alive as they entered the ship again.

Finding Dean staring at a holographic display much like the one on the bridge, Kurt swung into the engine room, eager to stretch. “What did you find?”

The other scientist did not react. “Dean!” Startled the called jerked around.

“They’re here.”

“The Harpies?” Kurt thought that Dean must’ve studied the history of Gahani too, got lost in it. Shakimng his head Dean pressed a button on the tablet in his lap, he replayed the last translation he had done. “Unidentified vessel detected.” After a moment of thinking about it Kurt hoped that the ship was picking up his antimatter stash in geostationary orbit above Olympus Mons. “Display position of vessel, relative to planet.” Kurt flipped open his tablet’s cover.

The holographic display changed, showing a curved horizon, there was a dot above a bulge. Olympus Mons and his satellite. Another dot appeared further out, much bigger than the satellite. “Linkers.” Dean closed his eyes.

“Computer, are communication systems active?” Kurt squinted, asking that question. “Affirmative.”

Grinning fiendishly Kurt pressed a few buttons on his tablet, a plan began to form in his head.

 

Silently the ship entered orbit above the pitch black planet. Only a few lights illuminated the ground, too tiny to be picked up from orbit with out technological aid.

Suddenly a large dish lit up in the crater of Olympus Mons, as well as a few airlocks at the base of the humongous mountain.

A series of small ships detached from the saucer shaped vessel, with the four compass like arrows. But they stayed close to the mother ship.

 

“They’re calling for you.” Somewhat relieved to not have to deal with the linkers, President Kinsey looked at Kurt. The days in whichvhe would’ve perceived this as an insult to him being president were gone. Burned out by the entire linker business.

Reluctantly Kurt stepped in front of the video screen. He was still covered in dust, dirty and grimy.

“Welcome to Mars.” He stared at the young woman on the screen. It was a new face, but the lifeless expression was the same. “We hope your journey was a pleasant one, the local time is 1632, please register all and every technology or bio matter that you have brought with you at customs.”

The woman with the brown curls did not even flinch.

“So, you have activated the suppression signal and retained your humor.” Emotionless she spoke very pronounced.

“We have. Attempts to shut down the signal will be fruitless. You can instruct your people to land and pick up your kin, or you can withdraw. Either way, we make the policy.”

“We could easily annihilate your civilisation.”

Kurt nodded. “And lose our genes, or do you plan on digging up our remains to retrieve what is left of the genetic material?”

A forced smile appeared on her face. “You drive a hard bargain, as our ancestors phrased it.” Smile vanishing she seemed to ponder for a second. “Agreed. Have our people standing by the airlocks at the base of the volcano.”

The transmission cut off. Kurt looked to Kinsey. “I have a bad feeling Doctor.” Shrugging Kurt turned away, heading to the cellblock where Maya had been incarcerated.

Before she left, he had to see her. Obviously Leopold had the same idea. Too many people were involved and afflicted by the entire linker ordeal than it remaining a secret.

Dozens of people gathered, including Leopold’s girlfriend, Tracy, who had to see off her parents. They had been with the other linkers in general detention, on the other side of the detention complex.

Together with his son, Kurt approached the cell in which Maya was held. For a short moment the lights flickered, but everything returned to normal the next moment.

In the eyes of the detainees Kurt saw relief.

They were reconnected to the collective mind. “Alright. Time for plan B.” He knew that this would come to pass. In their signal the linkers had sent another virus with the express command to wipe out the suppression program, into the martian network. He sent a short message to Dean.

“Maya, Honey?”

“Doctor Braun, so good to see you. Undoubtedly you know that we,” she stopped talking, began sobbing the next moment, demanding in a crying voice to be returned to the collective mind. Later he would reveal to Leopold that through the alien ship they had reestablished the signal, while blocking incoming transmissions to the ship.

That way, neither the linkers themselves nor their virus, could shut it off. Power failures in the colony would not affect the settlement’s power supply which functioned autonomously. “Mum? Have a safe trip. Maybe you could contact us from time to time?” Leopold tried to maintain his cool fassad, but inadvertently began to cry. “I love you Ma. Don’t go.”

Kurt squeezed his son’s shoulder. “I wish you would stay with us, as an individual. But if yo really must leave, do so, knowing that we love you, with all our hearts.”

Maya stopped her frantic sobbing, stard at her family intensely. For a fleeting second Kurt thought he saw his wife’s true nature shine through. “Get. Me. Back. To my people!” Leopold turned away, hugging his father. Not able to stand the hissing of his mother the young teen left.

“Be careful up there.” He warned. Turning away too.

 

Just as planned, the linker ships landed, docked with the airlocks on the surface of Olympus Mons. Groups of armed officers oversaw the departure of the men and women who were joining the other linkers.

Only as the doors to the crafts opened did Kurt understand why the martians were of such high value to the genepool of the linkers. A few generations of living on a planet with lower gravity had changed them already. They had grown larger than the people from terran gravity. Normal growth rates in lesser gravity produced taller beings.

Perhaps it had already affected their DNA on a level that was only obvious to the linkers. Watching them depart from a monitor in the comfort of his quarters, with Leopold having himself locked up in his room, Kurt felt sad, but also relieved. Normally a murderer would receive the death penalty. If it was a premeditated or intentional murder.

Maya and the others were allowed to live.

Not wanting to dwell on her fate further Kurt shut off the channel, turned to the feed from the MISR. It had arrived at RV-p296, broadcasting the friendly signal of being sent by Doctor Kurt Braun.

“Your use of antimatter technology is a violation of Equatorian and Martian laws.” An Admiral appeared on the screen. If his memory served him right it was Admiral Benjamin Fuller.

Should he reply, or leave the Admiral believing that he sent a message to be received later? “You are correct Admiral. I violated laws, but I had authorisation. Please be patient with our replies in the near future. We just had to deal with some not so distant relatives of our people, the DEHumans.” Having decided against letting the colonists believe their message would take time to be received was a decision that brightened his day a little. Benjamin Fuller’s face was priceless. “You’ll receive a report on the outcome as soon as they have successfully left Mars and are at a safe distance. In the already sent data your scientists should be able to find research on quantum entanglement. If they already looked at it, you might have heard that this is ready to implemented, and as you can see, it is. Originally we planned on requesting permission to send the relay to your colony, but after retaking it from linker influence, we wanted to ensure it was safe. Please understand that measure.”

Baffled Fuller stared at the screen. “This is live?”

“Instant interstellar transmission. Yes.” Kurt smiled only now remembering the dirt on his clothes, he’d tell the Equatorians all about the latest developments the following days and weeks.

Now all he desired was to be able to sleep. Which would be the moment the linkers were far away.

A glance at his tablet told him that the president and the senate wanted something from him. In light of the almost invasion by linkers he had a hunch: weapons! Perhaps even antimatter weapons. “Well, I hope you and your people will overcome this crisis. Until then, we remain with the best of wishes. Admiral Fuller, out.”

I will need those wishes, Admiral. I will desperately need them. “Doctor Braun, out.” The transmission returned to a live video feedfrom the MISR, viewing RV-p296 from orbit. How he wished he’d be able to go there as quickly as he could flick the channels.

Beeping from his tablet told him of news. The linker landing crafts had left the ground, according to the sensors in his antimatter stash satellite, the main vessel did power its engines. Readying them for departure.

Finally, he smiled, sleep.

Social media ain’t for us

Social networks have turned people into shittier friends.

That’s my conclusion after going off of Facebook and not doing much on Mastodon for a few days.

We have our connections, and acting on the “assumption” that our audience is there, we send something out into the aether and giddily await reactions.

We do not actively seek out our friends: “Hey, how are you? Got time for a coffee to talk about stuff?”
No, we act as if we are on a stage, we await reactions, and we react.
We perform.
We perform the initial action, and we perform the reactions.
It’s the same across all platforms, not just Facebook, but also Mastodon, and of course Instagram, Twitter, MeWe, Tsu and all the other garbage heaps too.

Social networks make us (more) asocial.
Social networks aren’t for us (people).

We are social animals.
We, once, needed the group, the tribe, to survive:
Loners died. Groups thrived.

It is engrained in our genes, that we need a group. Our friends, our family, our tribe, our people.
But because today (read: current times) it is harder to maintain friendships (full time employment, separated by many kilometres, different life choices [f.e. kids vs. no kids], ever shifting and expanding ‘tribal’ landscapes, etc.) we *could* use social media as a crutch, as an add on.

But this add-on has become full on bloat-ware that is now taking over the entire system.

People have shifted their entire lives into social media, they are always on, always available (except when asleep).
Which I find highly disturbing.
Which, incidentally, is only adding to my decision to kill all my Facebook and Google related stuff, and limit my Mastodon time.

If I want to scream into the void and wait for any reactions, I’m doing it on my blog. (Or I’d go to a comedy club on stage.)

But I’m done with social media. It is asocial. It has taught me that.
I noticed that I have become a shittier friend, and I’ve seen this happen to other people as well: Be seen. Be seen seeing.
But I don’t want to be an actor on a stage receiving attention at the speed and value of a Like/Fav/RT/mention/etc.
I want REAL connections; conversations – even digital – but not over an eavesdropping service that finds ways to insert itself and sabotage the entire thing.

No thanks.

Whatever you do out there, take care,
A.

Rings of Fate S4xE3 – Mars – Resolution

All sorts of cables, and wires were leading from the ancient ship. If Kurt had to guess, he’d wager that the former settlers had tried to refuel the ship.

“Doctor? The linkers?” Stewart Dixon tapped Kurt lightly on the shoulder. Giving him an approving nod Kurt turned, tapping Erika Olafdottir on the shoulder to signal her to follow too.

Through the mostly dark hallways of the long abandoned Valles Marineries settlement,  their path would lead them back to the tubes. The ride back to the colony would again consume half an hour or more, until he was back at his trashed lab, perhaps another thirty minutes.

 

They would have to skip debriefing. While they drove to the abandoned settlement, the linkers had manufactured a dozen or so replicas of his connector for the quantum entanglement device.

One of those would surely fit, they were running calculations for it when the group around Kurt entered the Valles Marineries settlement. Maybe he should ask Stu whether they could send another team to the lab, equipped with space suits, since he had damaged those in the airlock.

“How good are these suits?” He turned to Stu who sat next to him while Erika piloted the cab. “They are neat if you have to cross through hostile environments, but I wouldn’t say they’re good replacement for a full environmental suit. Why?”

“Could you go into vacuum with it? For a short period?”

Stu shook his head. “The helmet is not that tightly sealed, we didn’t take gloves, boots or oxygen with us. Why do you ask these questions?”

Quickly Kurt explained the situation with his lab, the linkers and the connector he had hidden. “Stewart Dixon to command, come in command.”

Curious Kurt watched Stu signal the command centre of the police force. He ordered a cab sent to the lab with full environmental suits, afterwards he instructed Erika to go to the lab instead, their mission wasn’t over yet.

“Olympus Mons top most three levels are inaccessible at the moment.” Erika looked up from her tiny display, at the same time Stu was contacted by command, who informed him of the same issue.

 

Kurt’s tablet revealed to him that Leopold was still in the new segment of the colony, strolling around, information on the transponder near him revealed that Tracy Morgan, a childhood friend of his, was with him. Relieved that his son was safe Kurt looked up ahead.

Not too soon, as Erika had engaged a full stop. In the tube ahead another cab was sitting in the way, blocking their path. Erika cussed, as she examined the cab ahead for a moment. It was without power, and by the looks of it, the emergency bolts were engaged, effectively locking it in place, so that pushing it out of the way was impossible.

“Henriksen, Scully, with me. The rest give us cover.” She barked, opening a tiny door behind the seat under which the controls were hidden.

The three exited the vehicle, inched towards the other cab. At least there was pressure in the tube. Thankful for that circumstance Kurt took up his tablet again. Tied in with the usual network again he checked on Leopold again.

 

“Why do you believe that the information is shoddy?” Leopold glanced to Tracy. Her corkscrew curls bounced as she walked. “Because politicians lie all the time, so I don’t believe in the story of some weird technology linking people’s heads.”

“Minds.” He corrected her. Up to that point he only had told her that there was an incident in his father’s lab, not what he had seen.

“Whatever. Listen, my dad’s gonna be furious if I’m not home by 2200, so, I gotta split. See ya tomorrow in school?”

“Tracy, I’ve seen two people murdered today. Whether you believe the president, or not. Just be cautious. Okay?”

Tracy stopped dead in her tracks. Doubtful she stard at Leopold. “You’re making this up. To impress me or something.”

“I swear, I saw them. In my dad’s lab.” The usual playful demeanour in his expression was gone. “Pa said that Mum had struck him down, he assumes she’s a linker.”

A signal from his tablet drew Leopold’s attention. A message from his father.

For a moment Tracy observed him reading it, growing pale. “Tracy, go home, and be weary of anything out of the ordinary. Okay?”

He turned around, he needed to go to, where exactly? Home? “What happened?” Tracy grabbed his hand, sending an electrifying pulse through him. “They found the implants with the transponder signals of my mum and others. Rigged to function outside the human body.” A new form of terror began to grow in Leopold.

His mother was out there. Not Valles Marineries out there, but around the corner out there. Untraceable.

So were the others who already got chipped with the new implant. He, or Tracy could be grabbed from behind a corner, chipped and get lost in the collective mind.

A paranoid sensation got hold of him, he began to tremble. “Come with me, Leo.” Tracy sighed, firming her grip on his hand, pulling him with her, and back to reality. “My dad will surely lose his mind, but if you stay on the couch, I guess it’ll be fine.”

Not feeling very reassured Leopold followed her, slowly calming down from his paranoid fear.

On the fourteen minute walk to her quarters they saw groups of police roam the paths, hallways and gardens. Occasionally they spoke with people at their quarters doors. Overheard bits and pieces of the conversations always were about missing people from those families. Either the police inquired about them, or the people stopped them to ask about their missing relatives.

In the hallway outside Tracy’s quarters they met a group of four policemen. They saw Tracy and approached. Immediately he felt a wall of ice and fire hit him. By the way Tracy reached for his hand again, he guessed that she felt similarly. “Tracy Morgan?”

“Y-Yes?” She stammered, tightening her grip on his hand.

“We’re here to inquire about Robert and Cindy Morgan.” Clenching Leopold’s hand tightly Tracy replied that those were her parents. “They failed to pick up Spencer Morgan from daycare, we were informed. Do you know their present wereabouts?” Suddenly pale herself Tracy just shook her head. “We have informed Doctor Jules Morgan to take care of you and Spencer until the wereabouts of your parents are cleared.” The police man who had led the conversation turned to Leopold with an inquiring look. “Leopold Braun, son of Doctor Kurt Braun. Any news about my mother, Doctor Maya Braun?”

Another of then officers looked on his tablet, shook his head. “Sorry kid.” Hurrying on the officers left the hallway.

 

A quiet moment passed. “Now do you still believe it’s all lies?” Slowly Leopold inched towards the locked quarters. A small warning sign was displayed on the access panel. If anyone tried to open the door, the police would be alarmed.

Turning around to look at her, Leopold noticed that Tracy was crying. “Hey, I’m sure they’re fine.”

Sniffing and sobbing Tracy stepped closer. “How? They’re in that collective mind link thing. Or they’re dead. There is no way to track them. How can they be fine?”

 

Leopold suddenly felt the same pain for his mother, who had always been there for him. Fighting the tears he took a deep breath. “Listen. As far as I understood that collective mind thing, their memories, their love for you and Spencer, is all preserved. For as long as the link remains, even if their bodies have died. In a perverted sort, they have become immortal. If we can fight the linkers from taking over, there is a chance we can get them back. If we can’t, we’ll all end up in the link, and be together forever.” He grabbed her by the shoulders.

Kurt’s lab came back to mind. If any of them had any chance of seing either of their parents again, it was there.

Not inside. Not for anything in this world or another would Leopold set foot inside the lab again. “We could go to my father’s lab.” He let go of her shoulders, looking down the hallway. “To what end?”

“See my mother or your parents maybe?” Without explaining his assumptions further he grabbed for her hand and pulled her away from the locked door.

 

With a few wires, exttracted from the inactive cab, Erika had rigged some primitive welding tool. Noisily one of the bolts fell to the ground.

After jamming the cab the linkers had gutted it, making it inoperable, in addition to immovable. Drawing power from the mainlines in the tube Erika made sure they wouldn’t run out of juice to finish the job of cutting off the bolts.

“That’s the last one.” She yelled back. Progress would be slower now. Someone would have to remain in the inactive cab while they pressed on at snail’s pace. If they jammed one cab there was no telling if they hadn’t left more obstacles. Closed bulkheads, more cabs, mines.

“Let’s hit it.” Stu barked back, one of the men climbed inside the inactive cab, he had his gun and his radio ready. Meanwhile Kurt grew more and more concerned. Leopold and Tracy had left the main settlement, headed for the old colony. He was reassured that the upper most levels were under lock down, but knowing the resourcefulness of teens, they would find a way, and Leopold surely was determined enough to go there.

Slower than anticipated the cab moved forward, pushing the other one. “Why didn’t we cut those with the lasers?” Stu pointed at his gun.

“It would’ve drained the batteries. Do you want a confrontation with the linkers, without juice?” Kurt replied instead of Erika who was piloting the two cabs, paying attention to the display in front of her and the image on her HUD from her colleague’s headcam. “Intersection coming up.” Relieved she slowed the cab, her colleague jumped over. The inactive cab kept moving towards the intersection, remotely Erika manipulated the magnetic fields in the tube to pull the other cab in the tube they wouldn’t be taking.

Picking up speed the hatch closed, taking away the wind Kurt found refreshing. “Reinforcement is on the way to your lab, they have the materials requested.” Not having time to feel relief Kurt just nodded it off and returned his attention to his tablet.

Leopold and Tracy were at the original colony. A maze of tunnels, ladders and ramps, half forgotten. “Don’t go to the lab.” He punched in a message to his son, hoping that their signals wouldn’t vanish from the screen in some tunnel not tied into the network.

 

“Why can’t we take the tube?” Tracy felt uncomfortable climbing the ladder ahead of Leopold, less because she was afraid he might look at her behind, but because someone or something might be waiting for them at the upper end. “Do you want to see your parents, or be taken into custody and handed over to your uncle? I’m pretty sure that the police have locked down the upper levels.”

Not replying she kept on climbing. “You’re looking at my ass, aren’t you?”

“I’m tempted, but at the moment distracted by the circumstances.” He replied a little short on breath. How far have they climbed already? Looking at his gadgets was of no use, as the wireless network was not extending into their current location.

It was definitely too long ago that he had played in these tunnels, a few years ago he would’ve known exactly where they were.

“Once we’re up there,” Tracy paused as the reached the top of the ladder, orientating in a dimly lit narrow hallway, “what’s the plan?”

“I don’t know yet.” Leopold admitted, pointing down the hallway, after a few meters they entered another vertical shaft with a ladder, leading up. The same thought he had when he explored these hallways and shafts as a kid, returned to his mind. How did the settlers who came to Mars deal with these narrow spaces?

 

With a hiss the doors to the cab opened, a team of policemen and women awaited the arrivals outside, two of the waiting people were already in spacesuits.

Kurt began suiting up, together with Erika, while the bulk of the team already began advancing on the lab.

After a few minutes Kurt heard frantic calls from the radio. An ambush!

It did not take long for the group around him to catch up to the others. Several people, uniformed and civilian alike, were lying strewn in the hallway, with scorched holes in clothes and flesh. Clearly the linkers knew how to aim, and those back in the Valles Marineries settlement just were decoy, deliberately aiming badly.

Although resenting the idea of firing a gun, Kurt picked one up. Some primal instinct made him feel safer with a weapon in hand.

“Do you know how to shoot?” Erika crouched next to him. “Aim, pull the trigger, hope it isn’t a friend you’re hitting.” Kurt replied with a thin voice.

“That about sums it up.” Erika was not going to deny him the use of a gun in their situation. Finding cover behind a corner Kurt heard shouts from Stu, who ordered the linkers to stand down, or be taken down.

In return the linkers ordered Stu to retreat, as they only wished to be themselves and connect with their brethren. “Stop firing!” Kurt yelled, stepping around the corner.

Behind him he heard Erika say something, but it drowned in the noise.

There was no shooting as Kurt stepped around the corner. The doors to the airlock leading to his lab were at the far side of the corridor. He noticed that the spacesuits were missing. A strange satisfaction took hold of him at the realisation that some linkers had bought it due to his trap.

Why these linkers were much more hostile than the ones he had read about in the reports was beyond his comprehension. Perhaps because they were not yet tied in with the collective mind, and recruited from a less utopian society.

Martian history was a constant struggle against the environment, the odds and sometimes other humans. The ideals in martian society were different to those aboard the ships that had left Earth all that time ago. “Take cover, Braun!” Stu barked back at him, but somehow the linkers had stopped firing.

“Kurt.” Behind another corner a woman emerged. Maya! Fighting the impulse to run to her and embrace her Kurt remained where he was.

“Four of us were killed by your actions, why?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Kurt sighed inching closer. “To stop, or at least delay you.”

“We can’t be stopped. Right now we are inside the lab.” A hint of a smug smile played around the corners of her mouth. “And then what? Will you leave, or will you bring your people here? And what is to become of the rest of us?” Still inching closer. For a change he was glad he didn’t have had the time to don the gloves. The haptic sensation of the gun in his right hand behind his back was reassuring, wouldn’t even remotely feel the same with the clunky gloves. “That is up to you. Join us, and we all can enjoy the spoils of victory.”

That was not his wife talking anymore. It was her mouth uttering these words with her voice, but it was not her. “Somewhere inside that collective mindset of yours are the memories, emotions and thoughts of all the people incorporated into your kind. Do you know what you have done? Do you feel the guilt? The pain? Quirin and Alexandra, you killed them. These men and women here, did they have friends, loved ones or family amongst your ranks? Does any of this cause any reaction inside your collective?”

Maya did not flinch. Nor did the other linkers.

“If I had to draw comparisons to biology here, you’re acting like a cancerous growth. You kill the host, not grow from it. Once you are connected to the others, they will make you see, and feel the err of your ways.”

Awkwardly smilimg all of a sudden Maya nodded. The other linkers dropped their guns. “You are correct, Doctor Braun.” A group of twenty linkers got up from behind their covers, hands raised above their heads. “We hand you over those biological units who have committed acts of violence or murder against your people.” Maya too raised her hands. “This could have been avoided if you hadn’t disconnected the quantum entanglement device from the network.” She blinked.

“I know.” Kurt felt the heavy burden of that guilt weigh down on him. “But still. None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t sent that program and implant.” Maya’s face became blank.

Hastily the police behind Kurt rushed to apprehend the surrendering linkers. “What now Doc?” Stu held Maya, now cuffed, waiting for others to take her away. “We can’t let them get away.”

“Why not?” Kurt gave the man the pistol he had collected. “Those who killed are in custody. Those who didn’t commit any crimes are free to go. Their only crime is the fact that they were assimilated into a collective. If I understand it correctly, by their own free will, or otherwise their collective would’ve died down.” He looked at Maya, who should’ve known better than subject herself to the implant. “He speaks the truth. Almost. Some of those now in the fold, aren’t volunteers. That is part of the reason for their violent behaviour.” Maya spoke with a voice that was distant, not at all in touch with her surroundings. It was the collective mind that was speaking, Kurt had to remind himself. “However, once they were tied in with the others, and now with us, they have become instantly blissed with the closure the link provides.”

“What can we do? Stop them? In a short time there will be a linker ship arriving, taking those with them, or landing great numbers of their own. The only thing we can do, is hope to remain unscathed.” Turning to Maya he felt a deep pain in his heart. “And hope that we get back what is ours.”

Showing no emotion what so ever Maya raised an eyebrow. “We have no interest in Mars and its resources, we had, and still have, an interest in broadening the spectrum of our genome. By this incident we have procured enough, but if you are willing to contribute more, we are open to negotiations.” Stu looked at her with an expression of disgust and anger, but was stopped from replying by Kurt.

“I think not.” The scientist said in a thin voice, close to tears. Biting back the tears he closed his eyes. All too much did he want to kiss her, feel her embrace. But it was no use. That was no longer Maya, no longer his beloved wife.

“Use of your communication device will be returned to you upon our arrival.”

 

The lights ahead were out. Reluctance to go on had taken hold of both Tracy and Leopold. It didn’t help that the wireless still wasn’t in reach.

“We need to go on.” She fumbled around her pockets, pulling out a phone and switching on a flashlight.

The air was dry, dusty and stale, motes of dust danced in the light beam from Tracy’s phone. Leopold wished he had thought of that, following her to another hallway.

“We’re at the old air refinement plant. Or where ot used to be.” He pointed out a dusty sign on the wall. “I’m getting a weird feeling.” Tracy replied. “As if we’re the last people on Mars.” She squeezed his hand. “Im scared.”

“Me too.” Leopold admitted, now taking the lead. “But staying in these tunnels isn’t helping. We can’t hide down here forever.” After a few more turns, passing by doors that had been welded shut, they reached what he remembered to be an access point.

 

Outside the air was fresh, not dusty. They emerged in a small dead end corridor, next to a garden facility. “Three levels to climb. But we’re almost there.” He didn’t notice the buzzing of incoming messages from his tablet.

Why the old tunnels had been abandoned was obvious to both of them. The narrow nature of them was creating a claustrophobic experience, the darkness of the volcanic rock was only adding to it.

But both thought it had been a much better idea to seal them off than collapsing them, or filling them with something. “Where do you think my parents are?”

Hopefully not in the lab. “Probably at the lab, where I’m hoping to find my mother.”

Ahead a creak sounded through the hallway, startling them, quickly Leopold pulled Tracy inside the garden, and hid behind a raspberry bush.

Two men walked by, they did not look inside the garden, in their faces Leopold noticed the absence of all emotion. One of them carried a device, which looked like it had been crafted together from various parts in a haste.

After a few moments they heard the access hatch they had just come out from, open. “They’re gone.” Tracy hissed, Leopold quickly gestured her to be quiet.

Only now did he think of his tablet. Although the wireless network was not extending into the old tunnels and corridors, if they had their regular implants, proximity alone should be enough to show their location.

Only noticing that his father wrote him, but not the contents of the messages, he quickly brought up the scanner. With hand gestures he told Tracy to stay where she was, then crept out of the room, following the hallway to the hatch.

The two still had their transponder implants, and moved down the way that he and Tracy had come, but stopped. They went sideways, if Leopold had to guess, they entered one of the rooms, presumably the room once housing the air refreshment and recycling plant.

Seeing that they remained there, he sneaked back to the garden.

“Alright, let’s go.” He glanced down on the tablet, found that the two were either gone, or he had moved out of reach. They were not in range of the wireless, which was good for Leopold and Tracy.

 

Horrified Tracy gasped for air. After using a series of stairs to get to the level of the lab, they stumbled out into the hallways, littered with bodies of the dead and wounded.

One could distinguish between linkers and non linkers. The former were sitting there, clutching a wound, but otherwise unmoved by pain or consequences to the injury, while the latter moaned with pain and seemed utterly disturbed and astonished ton findn the two youths standing there.

At the entrance to the lab stood a group of policemen arguing, and barking commands into the radio. Uncertain whether those could be trusted, or were assimilated, Leopold and Tracy stared at them from the distance.

“What the hell are these two kids doing here?” Stu’s voice thundered through the hallway, drawing all attention to Leopold and Tracy.

Two of the men around him raised their guns, out of concern that they might be linkers. “I was looking for my parents, and she, well, for hers.” Stuttering and nervous Leopold explained who they were, and why they were present at that location.

Stu’s expression grew concerned after hearing their names.

“Your father’s inside.” He pounted at the airlock doors. “Your mother’s in custody for murder.” Relief washed over Leopold, both his parents were alive, he tightened his grip on Tracy’s hand. Stu nodded to another officer, who went through his tablet and then shrugged. “Miss Morgan, we sadly have no information on your parents.” Stu confirmed.

Feling as if she had been struck in the stomach by a heavy blow Tracy sank to the ground. “That doesn’t mean they’re dead! Perhaps they’re in the tunnels like the others?” Leopold tried comforting her, drawing Stu’s attention.

“Tunnels? Others?” Unwillingly his hand went to his gun in the holster.

“On our way up we went through the old tunnels, upper most entrance is three levels down from here. We saw two guys carrying a device into the tunnels, I suspect they brought it to the old air reclamation facilities.”

Suddenly growing pale Stu reached for his radio, calling for Kurt to come outside. A few minutes later the called scientist showed up in the airlock, a group of officers already proceeded to the old tunnels. “Leo!” Kurt tore off his helmet as quickly as possible, embracing his son.

For a moment the two took comfort in the embrace. “There’s a thing, in the tunnels, the linkers brought a thing into the tunnels.” letting go Leopold stammered.

Upon Kurt’s look to Stu the officer nodded in confirmation, over the radio he had received confirmation of a device in the former air reclamation room.

 

Finally out of the spacesuit Kurt enjoyed the relative freedom, although he felt a little chill. Outside the entrance hatch to the old tunnels stood an officer with his phone working as a relay, since the radio was tied into the wireless, and wouldn’t reach the old tunnels. Stu had both Leopold and Tracy taken to a safe location.

In the narrows of the old corridors and tunnels the chill that Kurt had felt before intensified, although the air was stale and thick with dust. There goes my freedom of movement. He followed the instructions given to him by the officer at the entrance.

Soon he reached the group of officers at the door to the old air reclamation room. Inside was othing but the device described by Leopold, and a series of pipes, one of which was hooked up to the device by some hose.

Concerned he kneeled down next to the device. Some of the parts used to conjur up the device were familiar, he had seen them before. But where?

“Two fugitives were seen running off. We apprehended them.” An officer behind him said. “Does that mean they’re gunned down, or are they in custody?” A familiar voice behind him caused Kurt to look over his shoulder.

Erika.

“They’re alive. Why?” There was a trace of hostility in the man’s voice that Kurt could only understand all too well. The linkers were a threat, and dangerous. Keeping them alive when they posed as enemies was a gamble with fire.

“Bring them here, we need to know what this thing does.” Erika too entered the room, kneeling down next to Kurt and device.

“Belt.” He nodded to the hose, indicating that she should seal the hose with her belt. Taking it off the tube would be just as dangerous as keeping it on.

Erika jumped to her feet hurried over to the hose. “Ziptie.” She said, earning a “Even better.” from Kurt who investigated the device.

It struck him, where he had seen some of the parts before. “This creates implants!” He gasped standing up and inching back. He longed for the spacesuit.

“He is correct.” One of the men who had brought the device there was pushed into the room. He was injured, had a swollen eye and a dry blood trail from on of the corners of his mouth. “Why?” Erika shouted over her shoulder, she and Kurt just had kneeled down to the device again.

“Genetic diversity. We have all the diversity there is from the others, but your people are even more different.” He spoke calmly, although he had an injury related speech impediment. “His link to the others must be running over the radio. Tell your guy to shut it off.” Erika hissed.

Not paying any attention to them Kurt examined the device. It was active, but he couldn’t figure out where to turn it off. “Power source?” He glanced to Erika, who handed him a screw driver.

Looking for any screws he noticed there weren’t any.

“Get on the air!” He yelled over his shoulder to one of the officers. “Tell them to shut down any and all air vents in the mountain.”

Quickly one of them hurried off, since the relay device had been turned off, disconnecting the linker from the collective. He began expressing his pain and discomfort. “The Ziptie will contain the situation for now, but eventually the hose will burst, releasing the implants into the air of this room, from where they will spread through these old pipes into the entire mountain, all of the Martian colony.” Kurt sat up straight in front of the device. He would’ve loved to dismantle it, study the technology behind it.

“Get the environmental suits, these pipes need to be sealed shut. All of them.” He assumed that there must be limitations to the device. It couldn’t run for ever, pumping out gros amounts of implants that could be inhaled.

“Why don’t you blow it up?”

“Because, officer, not everything can be blown up to render it harmless. There surely are hundreds already in the tube,” Kurt was interrupted by the captured linker snickering fiendishly. “Try hundreds of thousands. We have devised nanotechnology to change the implants already in your bodies, reprogram them to our specifications.” His voice was a mixture of cackling and groaning, in between his amusement and his pain. Laced with a desire to rejoin the link. “Even worse.” Kurt mumbled, more to himself than anyone listening.

 

“Leo?” The one word message on his screen unsettled Leopold. His father never called him Leo, despite him insisting on it. “Yes?”

He hands shook, suddenly he felt a rush of adrenaline wash over him.

“Get into the archives, I know you know the access codes. There is a lot in them, search for ‘suppression program’. Once you found the actual program, load it onto your tablet and release it into our network.” Feeling caught and concerned at the same time Leopold glanced at Tracy and her uncle in front of him. They watched him with a mix of curiosity and concern. Telling them that it was his dad would cause them only to ask more questions he wasn’t able to answer. “It’s Mark, my cousin, asking about Mum.” He lied with a smile, while already accessing the data his father had instructed him to. Controlling his reactions to the sheer amount of data suddenly available to him, he typed in the search string.

Several logs showed up, from various commanders of the ships in the distance, their subordinates and other people.

In the log of an Admiral he found what he was looking for. An actual link to an actual program. It loaded surprisingly quick into his device.

“How do I release it?”

 

“Excute iot” Kurt packed his tablet away. Typing with the thick gloves was a pain. Half the letters were either wrong or didn’t type. “Alright, we need to seal these. Behind him the door frame was covered. Thick sheets of plastic. No one without an environmental suit or a hasmat suit was allowed inside.

Although he’d have more freedom in a Hasmat, Kurt doubted that it was as effective as the spacesuit against the nanites.

His skin crawled at the thought of nanites. Microscopic machines that could reprogram other system or cells and DNA.

Two men were working with blowtorches on the pipes, sealing them off. Wireless reestablished, the police and the senate were painfully aware of everything that happened.

Kurt noticed that the hose was already bulging, they had enveloped it in another tube made from a transparent polymer. But that would not contain the nanites for long.

Clumsily he raised his hands, in them was a coil, mounted at the end of a pole. His hopes were to eliminate the threat by zapping the device and its product with a strong magnetic pulse. If that didn’t work, his hopes were that the nanites would still be kept in check by the magnetic field of the coil. “All pipes sealed.” Erika turned to him, waving the men in the hasmat suits outside, as her faith in them was equal to Kurt’s.

“Alright, trying option number one.” Kurt sighed into the voice activated microphone. The lights in the room flickered.

The original Doctor Braun had decided on the volcano as landing site for a number of reasons. One was the existence of the lava tunnels. No one had to dig to find shelter, the shelter was already there. Another was the properties of the tunnels. Or rather the rock around them. Shielding the inhabitants from radiation, and magnetic fields.

Outside the room the pulse did no damage.

 

Suddenly the few LEDs on the device, some of which were only visible due to reflections on other parts of the machine, went dark. “It worked, Doctor!” Erika exclaimed joyfully.

For now it did. “Indeed. Now I’m setting the trap.” Putting in another power cell from a shielded container, he carefully placed the EMP devive on the ground, next to the swollen hose, on a different setting than before he reactivated it, so that a constant magnetic field was produced. As he had hoped, the bulge in the hose moved to the device. “This room needs to be sealed, a constant power supply to the coil needs to be established.” A man in a Hasmat entered the room, carrying a cable from outside. “We anticipated your request, Doctor.” At the use of the plural Kurt felt tension rising in his spine, but relaxed as the officer in the hasmat suit plugged in the cable to the device, and checked the connection, nodded in approval and left.

With a pop, unheard by Kurt and Erika the hose burst open, an almost liquid blob of silvery sludge burst out and aligned with the field lines of the emitted field. How long will those be active? “We need to seal off those pipes outside the room, the old parts of the colony need to be completely cut off. Pipes, tubes, hoses and tunnels. I don’t want some kid playing in these tunnels and stirring up the nanite sludge in a few years.”

 

It was painful for Kurt to watch. Maya was thrashing around her cell in agony. She had withdrawal symptoms. As he had instructed, Leopold had released the program. None of the linkers was connected, unless they were really close to one another. Their need for closure now, was a dead give away. Huddled together in groups of two, three or more they were easy to spot. Those in custody did not have that luxury.

Still they faced a much brighter future. President Kinsey pardoned them, and would release them to their people once they arrived.

Seeing her in the agony of withdrawal still hurt Kurt. For an hour he had tried talking to her, with no effect.

She paused then, asked to be linked with someone, but after being denied, broke into her thrashing again. At least Leopold had not seen her like that. “I estimate that your people will soon arrive, by then I will be working on the wreck.” He neglected to tell her that the MISR had been retaken with the same program that inhibeted linker communication,  and was en route to RV-p296. Apparently the linker ship that had communicated via the relay, was also the one coming to Mars.

“I love you.” He whispered towards the bars, leaving.

The case in favour of TV/Radio license fees

Since I’m a strong believer of freespeech and free press and all that jazz, I have to tackle this.

Commercial channels are subject to market forces. It is this circumstance that makes factually wrong, and potentially dangerous, opinions wide spread. Because they bring views, which pleases the advertisers, which brings money.
So they bring f.e. antivaxx Bullshit, invite to “discussions” with proponents of said BS and endanger pubic health.
Freedom of speech? Sure.
Factually wrong? Sure.
Dangerous? Also sure. (In this example)

But those commercial channels are subject to market forces. Remember? If their biggest advertiser(s) don’t want certain topics, they won’t bring them. Freespeech? Nope!
“Advertiser friendly” spech? Hell yeah.

I hear you saying “why don’t they finance the pubic channels through a tax, giving them a budget?”
Well. First, budgets are appointed annually. Not much planning ahead if you don’t know next year’s budget.
Second. Who appoints that budget? The government.
Depending on your political inclination, that might be a good thing. For now. Governments change (in democratic countries at least). Next term there might be the polar opposite in charge. The news could/would change dramatically.
No more refugees welcome, now it’s only the evil foreigners. Or vice versa.
No more climate change, more everything is peachy. Or vice versa.
With a license fee model, the public channels remain (relatively) free of such political influence.

In addition. The finance model through the fee allows the public channels to produce/show programmes that would otherwise be neglected or outright not made at all, because they aren’t selling.

Sure. Public channels are run by boards, by humans, with their own political inclinations, their own affiliations and agendas. Are fee financed channels truly objective? No. No one is.
But they’re independent of the ruling party/parties. They’re independent of market forces.
Is there room for improvement? Sure. But to abolish the fee would end a vital pillar of free speech, a vital pillar of independent and objective journalism.

So. You morons on the left, you shitheads on the right, do not infringe on our rights, on our freedom. Hands off the fee.

Take care
A.

 

Addendum.

This was written way ahead of my country’s turmoil over abolishing that fee. Thus threatening to plunge us into a darker age. Now, more than ever, we must fight to protect freedom (of speech) and independent journalism.

Rings of Fate S4xE2 – Mars – DEHuman pt.5

As usual morning’s routine had it, Doctor Phelps checked his implant. The first generation of martians didn’t have them. Most of the second generation didn’t have them, as many who had been sent to Mars in cryogenic chambers were thawed, and not implanted.

Third and fourth generations, and the currently born fifth generation, all had the implant, to limit their reproduction, as resources on Mars were limited.

There had been protests against this violation of human rights, but they quieted down, especially after the Valles famine. In the second generation, a group of seddlers had split, and established their own colony in Valles Marineries, and due to overpopulation, many starved. Their empty dwellings still stood as a grim reminder of how the system protected the colony.

Phelps knew it was sort of paranoid and hypochondriac to check his implant daily, but since he had access to the technology to do so, he was not harming or bothering anyone.

Except his own sanity perhaps.

Vital signs checked out, no threats to his health detected. No infections, viruses or other pathogens. Satisfied he reclined in his chair.

There was an additional entry in his files. A new technology.

“Enables the wearer to monitor bodily functions, and release treatments without additional equipment. Increases cognitive responses, direct communication with compatible technology.” He mumbled.

Intrigued he studied the specifications for the implant described on his screen. To his surprise there was no author to the spec sheet.

“Doctor Horowitz.” He instructed his phone. Moments later the called responded. “Levi, have you seen the new implant specifications in the network? Check them out asap, tell me what you think.” The call ended after these few words, afraid to have woken his friend and colleague he fought the urge to ask other colleagues.

One of them must’ve been the author. Regardless, he decided, I’m testing this thing.

 

“I was contacted by the DEHumans.” Kurt Braun stood again in the halls of the senate, but with only president John Kinsey and senator Adele Farrington present. “While distracting me with a proposal they downloaded something into the system, and I’m afraid it replicated through the network.”

Both the politicians had a neutral expression. There had been no reports of unusual behaviour of technology so far, even though the incident that Kurt was reporting on was a little more than a day ago. “Since then I took the workstation connected with the communication device off the network. But I fear the damage is already done.”

“What proposal?” Adele interjected. Since nothing had been reported she didn’t think the situation to be drastic. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? A potentially dangerous program is loose in our networks, it might be a virus, or something equally sinister!”

Merely raising an eyebrow Adele sighed. “I got you. But we have nothing of the sorts reported or detected. So, what was the proposition?”

Giving up, Karl gave a short version of the proposal by the DEHumans, of providing free transport to RV-p296, in exchange for fresh genes, before he left. He felt beteayed, but running a semi legal operation he couldn’t expect much else. Neither the president nor the senator were his friends. Aggravated and with considerable unease he proceeded to the tube. What if the virus, if it was one, had a basic understanding of things, an awareness, and it avoided detection?

In any case, he preferred to manually drive the cab that arrived. It might have seemed paranoid, but with all that he knew about the linkers, the cab could drive to a remote section of the tubes, cut off all communications and slowly suffocate him if he couldn’t get the doors open.

The ride took a little longer, as he had to manually negotiate the transfer clearances, but within quarter an hour he arrived in his lab.

“Any news?” He had tasked his assistants with decoding the downloaded program. “Not much. It contains some sort of specifications for a chip, but we haven’t had much success regarding the funtions of it.” With a knowing expression in his eyes Qurin looked up from his monitor. He too had read about the DEHumans and their methods, he too had a hunch at what the chip would be for.

“Keep on investigating.” Kurt mumbled, turning on his heels, leaving again. From the lab he turned sharply to the right. After a few meters he stopped in front of a door. It had a handle and a keyhole, in addition to the electronic locks.

Quickly he produced the key, opened the door and pulled it into the lock behind him. With a flick of a switch he turned on the light in the chamber. It was a closet really, but behind the backshelf a ladder was concealed, which he climbed down.

He had come that way before in the last twenty four hours. Manually disconnecting the communication device from the network, but also the computers controlling the dish, sweepers and lights. A few of the domputers down here had been left in their own small network, without any connection to the outside. Out of curiosity he decided to see whether something had happened.

To his surprise he found the lights in the computer room were on, something that should only happen if someone was inside.

“Maya?” Kurt looked at his wife with curiosity.

Startled she turned around, obviously she had not heard him approach. “Yes?”

“What brings you here?” On the monitor behind her he could clearly see the schematics for an implant, a cold fear grasped for his heart. “My studies,” she replied calmly, “you cut off the computer from the network, so I had to come to the computer.”

Reminded that his wife’s studies in medical science were also on the small cluster of computers in that room he relaxed. “Can you tell me what that is?” Pointing at the screen she turned back to it. “You should know, I told you about the linkers, and the transmission I received.” Looking at the data on the screen he concluded that the linker virus had sought out medical machines to deposit the information about the implant in. In one swift motion he took out his phone, dialing Quirin, to instruct him to simulate a medical computer for the program to reveal its data.

“You should call the president.” Maya said, looking at him from the corner of her eyes. “He’d be interested in getting this stuff and using it for his own agenda.” Grumbling, Kurt paced over to another screen. He had a backup of the communication computer running, for obvious reasons.

The real communication computer was currently even disconnected from the entanglement device, but the test machine had a simulated environment.

A cold shudder ran down his spine.

The DEHuman virus was attempting frantically to send a message out, presumably telling of the progress of the spread, the location of Mars based on constellations, time of jettisoning from the solar system, speed and direction.

It meant he would have to rebuild the software for communicating via the quantum entanglement device from a backup he had kept offline. The fine tuning would cost him some time.

“Did the president say so?”

Confused Kurt looked up, glanced over his shoulder, then shook his head. “Not in such words, no. But his demeanour told me all I needed to know.”

“Perhaps he should know that he can’t control this?” Again Kurt felt compelled to look at her but felt a sudden blow to the head.

 

“Pa!?” Leopold’s voice rang through a heavy, thick blanket of pain and numbness. Kurt felt a tug on his shoulder. He tried opening his eyes, saw the contours of his thirteen year old son’s face.

Blinking.

The image cleared up. With a moan he reached for the back of his head, all the while Leopold kept talking. Relief that he finally woke up, regret for coming down here, justifying it with him missing and Maya not replying to any calls. “I’m alright. I think.” Kurt sat up and leaned against one of the machines.

It struck him almost as hard as his head was struck before. The silence.

No cooling fans were running.

As if struck by lightning Kurt jolted up. “Help me, is anything here running?” Immediately the aftereffects of being struck down set in, causing him to sit back down.

Gratefully he thanked his son for the office chair he had wheeled to him. “Nope. Everything’s down, other than the lights.” Confused Kurt looked around, he was rummaging throgh his pockets, found his tablet and phone gone. “What time is it?”

“Seventeen hundred. Why?”

Cursing Kurt attempted to stand up again, he had been lying on the floor for seven hours. Perhaps his exhaustion had also a role to play in it, after sleeping for four to five hours a night ever since he had sent out the first message, this blow presented his body with an opportunity to get some much needed rest.

“Where’s your mom?”

“That’s why I came here, I found the spare key in the fake rock under the coffee plant. Your access code is the same everywhere, so I got in. Mom is not returning any call. Records show she left for,” he paused with a hint of fear in his eyes and voice, “the abandoned outpost in Valles Marineries.”

The icy grip of doom got a hold of his mind and heart again. The reviewed technical specifications for the linker chip. “Call Quirin Kerry, my assistant and,”

“He’s dead. At least according to the computer.” Leopold interrupted his father. “Alexandra Kensington too. I already tried raising them. The doors to your lab won’t open, if the decompression indicator at the airlock door is to be trusted, they probably died from exposure.” Tightening around his heart, the icy feeling of fear intensified, a knot formed in his stomach.

“Is anyone still alive and returning calls?” Kurt sighed, finally getting out of the chair, striding to the door. He couldn’t possibly take Leopold with him. But leaving him was out of the question as well. “Come.” He reached for his son’s hand. Something he hadn’t done in years, but unike normal circumstances, Leopold took the hand. Both seemed to remember time when Leopold was still a small child and gladly walked at his father’s hand.

Together they left the hidden part of Kurt’s lab, heading to the airlock doors that Leopold had mentioned.

Inside the airlock Kurt opened a locker that Leopold had neglected to notice before. It had been a long time since Kurt had donned a space suit, and Leopold had never been in one. Still they began the long an tedious procedure.

 

As was to be expected, the lab was quiet, other than their own respiration and blood flow, they heard nothing. Behind the door was Alexandra, she had tried opening it, in her last moments alive, but had died in doing so.

There was a tiny crack in the porthole window. Quirin’s lifless, mangled body lying beneath it, was proof that he had tried sealing it with his body so Alexandra could escape.

He turned to the computers they were supposedly working on, waved Leopold to join him. Screens were black, upon turning on, they showed what he had caught a glimpse on in the computer room below.

Had his wife, or whoever was responsible for trashing the lab, intended for him to die too? Originally the two rooms shared the same ventilation, but a pressure valve to keep the other room from decompression in case of an emergency had saved his life.

There was an active network connection, Leopold pointed out to him by tapping on an icon in the task bar. Startled Kurt rushed to his workstation.

The quantum entanglement device was not connected, he had taken the unique connector and put it in his pocket, but after Leopold found him, he neglected to check if it was still there.

By the mess between the computers and the device he could tell that someone had attempted to connect it.

But then left.

Something was stuck to the port of the connector, carefully Kurt leaned in, took a cable and scraped it off with it. Careful not to lose the material he just had found he unhooked the cable and got up.

Leopold stood at the airlock door as Kurt came back from the computer, clearly the young lad just wanted to leave and forget everything that he had seen in his father’s lab.

 

“What happened in there?” Pale and shaky Leopold peeled out of the suit. “A tragedy, and a betrayal.” Hastily Kurt stripped out of bis suit, he needed to see if he still had the connector on him.

Maya had been going through his pockets, taking phone and tablet, but had she also taken the connector?

A wave of relief washed over him as he felt the connector touch his fingertips. To be sure he pulled it out, eyed it carefully, put it back. Burried between two handkerchiefs.

“Where to now?”

“The president?” Kurt finished getting out of the suit, not without carefully picking up the cable. Without the helmet he could identify the material better.

Playdoh like material, Maya, or who ever, had taken a print of the port, so they could make a connector of their own, without proper wiring it would take them a few attempts, however. And due to the lack of an atmosphere in the lab they would need to come in, try, fail and leave again. In one fluent motion he picked up the helmet of his suit and bashed the screen in. Repeated that with Leopold’s helmet.

At the locker in the airlock he proceeded to prick the suits one by one with the shards, even those he and Leopold just had ditched on the floor.

He would not make it easy for the linkers.

 

Just as the last time he was riding a cab, Kurt took manual controls. After they left the upper most level and passed through the level where they lived, Kurt picked up regular traffic.

Whether it was paranoia or caution, he didn’t know, but he avoided all stops. As far as he was concerned, no one could be trusted. In the tube outside the senate he slowed the cab. Gazing out the window and the glass walls of the tube.

A few people walked in the hallway, they spoke. Would linkers speak? No. He decided. The woman who had spoken with him clearly was not accustomed to speaking. At the usual station at memory lake the cab stopped, let them out, Kurt returned automated controls to the cab. “Pa?”

“Go, look for her.” Kurt winked, sensing his son’s desire to check on his girlfriend, if one could call her that. It was amazing to Kurt how quickly the young lad seemed to have recovered from the gruesome images in the laboratory, now only wanting to see his girlfriend. Perhaps it was the rather pleasant change in location, or the fact they were not the only living, breathing and speaking humans around. He waited until Leopold was gone, to get out of his shoes and cramp up his trouser legs, swing over the railing around memory lake and wade out to the island in the middle.

Halfway hidden inside a bush was a thigh high ferris wheel. Old style gondolas, the once famous landmark of Vienna. The gondolas were the right size for the connector.

Quickly he returned before someone could see him.

Before one of the linkers could see him.

Slipping back into his shoes he ignored the soggy feeling, nothing visible gave away that he just had waded out there.

 

“The president is currently unavailable, Doctor. You need an appointment.” A stereotypical secretary greeted him. “Then how about Senator Farrington?”

Looking at him with disbelief the secretary slowly shook her head. “You must refer to Senator Farrington’s office for an appointment with the senator.”

Grinding his teeth Kurt sighed in annoyance. When they wanted to speak with him he had to have an open schedule, if he wanted to speak to them, he needed an appointment. “Tell the president, that I, Doctor Kurt Braun, wish to speak with him about the MISR program.” She took notes. “Now. Tell him now. Perhaps the president’s schedule magically opens up if he hears this.” He was aware that he sounded cazy, borderline dangerous, but he already had the reputation of being a borderline mad scientist, so he didn’t care.

Typing angrily at light speed she sent the message to the president, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“Let the man through, Laura!” The door behind her opened, framing the president like a painting. A few men and women in police uniforms and suits left the room as he welcomed Kurt.

“What’s the rush? One of these days you might scare Laura into calling security.” Jesting the president complimented Kurt in.

“I’ll make it short.” The door just had closed.

“My lab has been trashed, there’s no atmosphere in there, and until I replaced the porthole window, there won’t be any in the near future.” The playful smirk on Kinsey’s lips vanished in an instant, together with all color from his face. “Don’t worry, the device is safe, but soon they will try to hijack it, to contact the others.”

“They?” Previously Kurt had thought that all color had vanished from that face, but now the president grew even more pale. “Don’t tell me these DEHumans are on the lose?”

Nodding slowly Kurt told everything he knew. Maya had reviewed the specifications for the implant, probably had tried it out on herself, out of curiosity. It was reasonable to assume that other medical computers in the martian network had been gifted with the same innovative new technology, and that others had been implanted as well.

After all, one disconnected linker would not do anything harmful, except trying to get others to participate in the link.

Sitting on the visitor couch the president nodded repeatedly, while Kurt spoke. Never having been to the presidential office Kurt noticed that it was a little more luxurious than what normal people could enjoy. Bamboo floor, a hemp rug. A woodendesk, but it could also be bamboo, Kurt was no expert in furniture. Bamboo grew like weed, a good resource.

“Can they be brought under our control?” Pulled back into the present Kurt shook off the thoughts about the interior design of the office. “What do you mean, brought under control? They are a collective mind. There is no superior brain involved anywhere. We can not control them, they do that themselves. Once they can access the quantum entanglement device, they and their cousins over at the 296 system will link.”

“We control access to the device, don’t we?”

Squinting his eyes a little Kurt felt the same power his great grandfather must’ve felt. The president wanted the power the ‘borderline mad scientist Braun’ held. “I control access to the device. For now. But they will overcome the obstacles I’ve put in their way. Soon.” He pondered for a moment, he had read most of the reports received from MISR. From almost nothing the DEHumans had constructed a fleet of ships, colonies, technologies beyond the grasp of unaltered mankind.

Suddenly his expression grew darker. “What’s in Valles Marineries?”

Distraught the president looked up. “Abandoned dwellings, pressurised probably, with their agricultural equipment still running, they had their own geothermal vent drilled. But they lacked the food, most starved and those who didn’t, came crawling back. Why?”

Suspicions that, that story was not the whole truth about the Valles Marineries settlement grew in Kurt’s mind. “Listen, my wife is presumably a linker, my son said she was travelling there. So I need to know what else is there. The linkers wouldn’t go there, even one alone, if there wasn’t some benefit to their goals!”

Scared, the president looked up from the couch to Kurt.

 

“A fusion reactor, and a particle accelerator, I am told.” Although not equipped with a fusion reactor, that was nothing the normal colony couldn’t provide the linkers. There was a particle accelerator at the base of Olympus Mons, thats how the antimatter for the MISR was created.

Kurt paced up and down the presidential office. But there were safeguards in place to prevent the crearion of such, temporarily Kurt had taken those out of commission, but they were in place again. Were there such safeguards in the other one too?

“Probably not, they’ll use their geothermal energy to power the accelerator, and drain the fusion material to use that as a makeshift containment chamber.” He pondered aloud.

To what end where they creating antimatter? Were they planning to build a ship?

“We need to go in.” Kurt stopped. Turning to the president who was still sitting in his spot on the couch. “What?”

“What ever it is they are planning to do, we need to go in, and stop them.”

“We don’t even know how many there are! A handful, a dozen, or thousands!” Looking at the time on the clock above the door Kurt shook his head.

“There’d be reports if thousands of people went missing in such short time, or got implants. I figure there aren’t more than a hundred.” Looking at the president with enthusiasm Kurt felt tension rising. His idea involved him going in too.

With his lab exposed to vacuum, his wife among the linkers and his life’s work to blame for the situation, he felt obligated. Besides, if they had already started doing some of the work he suspected, who else but him should evaluate their motifs?

 

An hour had passed, Kurt was rushed to the police chief who mounted a small strike force, Leopold was put under protection. Meanhwile a clearly pale and devastated President made a public service announcement not to get any new implants, and if some doctor is offering it, he should be reported.

Over the radio Kurt overheard that several people reported their friends or loved ones getting such a new fancy implant under one pretense or another.

“Computer shows that about a hundred and fifty people have left for Valles Marineries.” Stewart Dixon, the officer in charge of the strike team, informed Kurt.

Sitting in a crammed cab, dressed in a semi environmental suit with armor elements, surrounded by twelve bulky men in similar outfits and guns, Kurt felt very uncomfortable. But it was his idea. “So tell me again, what are we going to face here?” Stu asked, making every man in the crammed room turn their head to face Kurt. “Humans. They have implanted themselves with a chip that allows for them to link their brains together, they are potentially dangerous, already two deaths can be attributed to their actions.” The cab slowed down to a crawl, soon an electric engine started moving the vehicle forward, the automatic transportation field had stopped working.

“ETA 30 minutes!” The woman in charge of navigating the cab barked over her shoulder. Moments earlier it had been a third of that time.

 

Half an hour of pondering about the ulterior motifs of the linkers in Valles Marineries later the cab finally docked with the local stop. The pilot decided to seal the dock, as she was not certain about the pressure in the tube, the cab had passed a few airlock shutters, which opened for them, but also closed behind them.

Since the tubes should always be pressurised, there was no pressure indicator in the control panel, which was conviently hidden beneath one of the seats.

The door opened, releasing them out into the dark entry hall of the Valles Marineries settlement. Old displays were hanging on the walls, the last image the so called E-Paper displayed was still visible. “Universal knowledge, peace and love.” Underneath those words a black and white depiction of mars, and a crown of leaves.

The people living here were also sort of cultists, Kurt remembered.

Guess your loving mother universe abandoned you in your moments of hunger. His attention soon was drawn to a tablet in the dirt.

It was active, and was running calculations, tied into a network obviously, as the speed at which these complicated calculations were performed, was higher than this tablet should be able to.

Kurt knew.

It was his tablet.

With a few taps he disconnected the tablet, and looked into the history of the files viewed. There was quite some activity, especially in his details of the device and its attachments.

Glad that he did not keep the information for the connector in the tablet, but had drawn them out on some paper which he later had burned, he put it into his pocket.

There was no need to review the calculations that were on display.

A short glance had been enough for him to recognise them. “They’re doing what I was afraid of.” He turned to Stu, who nodded once. Inching further onward with his gun ready.

“This locates most of them in a lower level.” The female police woman, now acting soldier, reported to Stu with a modified tablet in her hand. It picked up on the transponder signals of the normal implants.

“Anyone on this level?” Stu asked over his shoulder, a flashlight pointed in the direction his gun was aiming. “Negative, sir.”

Still cautious the men lowered their guns and proceeded onwards to a stairwell leading to the lower levels. Somehow Kurt doubted that the famine in the Valles Marineries settlement was the true story behind the downfall of the settlement. If they had the knowledge and resources to build a fusion reactor, a particle accelerator, and all that, they sure as hell had the resources to manufacture plenty of food.

And if it was algae in crammed plantations.

“I’m reading two people below us.” Immediately Stu shoved Kurt behind himself, raising the gun again, as did the others.

Not a moment too soon, as laser discharges struck the walls around them. The linkers on Mars were apparently not good at aiming. Kurt couldn’t blame them though, it was almost pitch black, and they only saw what was in the light of their flashlights, those lurking In the dark must’ve been blinded by the sudden bright light, and in the dark one could easily loose his aim.

The armed men returned fire, after a moment or two, the attack seized. Giving them the clear with a nod, the woman looked up from her tablet. Kurt had never gotten her name, and now it was too dark to read her name tag.

Cautiously the group proceeded onward, on the lower level they found the two bodies. A man and a woman. She wore a nurse’s outfit, and he had the looks of a man who had fled sickbed. Perforated by several laser blasts the two were lying lifeless on the stairs, guns in hands. A stern determination still on their faces, no agonised masks of death like Kurt had expected, but only stern determination.

Surely they were still out there, in the linked common consciousness, disembodied minds, thoughts and memories.

It gave Kurt a strange solace to know that although their bodies were dead, they were unharmed somewhere out there.

During their transfer to the settlement Kurt had told the others about the linkers and their nature, in the faces of some of the men who had fired, he saw the same spark of solace he felt.

“There are two more on the entrance to the next level, where the others are.” Erika Olafdottir hissed, in the light of a flashlight Kurt had finally caught a glimpse of her name tag. Guns ready the group proceeded onwards, as expected the next two guarding linkers were firing at the intruders with the same inefficient aim, and were overwhelmed just as quickly.

Behind the door to the level was a long hallway, the lights were on, making it easier to spot an ambush, but also to be targeted by said ambush. A moldy smell dominated the hallway, coming from the adjacent rooms. One door was open revealing what Kurt had suspected. Algae plants. Several of them. And they were active, so the famine was a ruse. Why would the government lie though? Was it just because the settlement was run by cultists, or was it because of something different?

“Most are dead ahaead, in a large room.” Crouched, trying every door along the way, finding the rooms empty, as foretold by Erika’s scanner, the men proceeded onwards.

A strange feeling grew in Kurt.

Something was wrong. He just couldn’t tell what exactly.

 

Behind the door that Erika had pounted out was a large messhall, overturned tables, stools strewn around the room.

Immediately the people around Kurt sought cover, but nothing happened. Left standing as the only one Kurt looked around the room. The messhall was just fake, at the far side of the room he could make out torn down fake walls, with the control room for the accelerator behind them.

But no people. “Get down you fool!” Stu hissed angrily.

“There’s no one here.” Kurt replied, baffled he wandered behind one of the overturned tables, picked something up. “Erika? Tell me if one of them is moving towards your position.” He paced towards her. “Affirmative!”

Peeking over the edge of the table behind which he had sought cover, Stu stared at Kurt. “The transponders. They removed them, rigged them to remain ‘active’ and placed them here.” Kurt eyed the rice corn sized implant and walked to the back of the room.

The implications of that discovery were, that all around them the linkers could be lurking without being traceable.

Somehow Kurt doubted that was the case, the guards with their horrible aim, but still active implants were there to throw them off.

Behind him he heard Stu bark out commands, to set up a a perimeter, and check for signs of the linkers.

Erika joined Kurt, she had ditched the tablet and walked next to him, with her gun drawn. “They’re not here. You won’t need that.” He stepped into the control room.

It began to dawn on him why the outpost was shut down. It wasn’t the famine, which was either grafted onto the situation, or it actually happened because everyone in the settlement was too busy to grow food, or check if it was poisonous.

 

Since the supposed rescue teams had been there extracting the last so called survivors, children mostly, the linkers were the first people in the Valles Marineries settlement. No one bothered to turn off the machines, check why they had suffered a famine, or what else was lying in the settlement. Someone knew, back then, but neglected to pass the information on. The facility was just abandoned, forgotten and the access restricted.

 

“Where are they if not here?” Erika also looked down the glass windows to the accelerator, growing quiet all of a sudden. “At my lab, contacting their friends. They made all possible versions of the connector I suspect. But then there’s this beauty.” Intrigued he leaned on the dusty control panel gazing down.

 

Glistening in the dim light, was the nose of a ship, it had a vague similarity with a pointy beak. The metal it was constructed from had an old look to it, but was still not oxidised and fused with the surrounding rock. “Once this is over, I need a metallurgist, and an army of engineers, excavators and the entire library from the device.”

Tor

Rarely, if ever do I get political on here.

Hell, if I’d still be doing the weekly Friday thing there’d probably be more political stuff.

But in this instance I can’t keep my god damn mouth shut.

At the 22nd European Police Congress the german minister Günter Krings said that he could understand the need for using Tor in some autocratic regimes, but that there’s no need for this in a democratic society. That everyone who uses it there must be nefarious and that laws should reflect that.

The right to free speech, and the right to anonymity, the right to privacy, are fundamental human rights.

Period.

The level of surveillance people are exposed to in the internet, not just from “autcratic states”, but by “democratic” governments, and especially by corporations, is massive.
Crafting the GDPR on the one hand, to strengthen the stance of the people against the data exploitation by corporations, and then on the other hand, trying to brand the very tools people use to escape that corporate surveillance as criminal – is psychotic at best, and hypocritic at worst.

I smell money. And the wet dreams of the Stasi.

Let us not forget whistleblowers, journalists, dissidents living in “democratic” countries, but working to dissolve the autocratic governments of their countries of origin, where the “democratic” country has extradition agreements with those autocratic regimes, like, let’s say, for example, well, CHINA. (Or, let’s just drop a name of recent tragic fame here: Kashoggi)

Articles 11 and 13 are hiddeous crimes against freespeech, information freedom, journalism, the people, Europe & the EU itself, but the call to make TOR illegal is even worse. All in all these ideas, and “laws” show the disconnect these politicians have to the world and times we live in.

Then Krings was followed by my country man and president of the national congress Wolfgang Sobotka, who praised China (of all places) for its disregard of privacy and dataprotection when doing surveillance on its citizens.

Slow Clap.
https://youtu.be/f1N5lZw7e78
OTR rather. Utter Crap.
https://youtu.be/GDVvUU5MT50

(Source for this post:https://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/Europaeischer-Polizeikongress-Weg-mit-dem-Darknet-4313276.html)

I think these politicians need to be put INTO the situations they are advocating for. Krings needs to be doxxed. Fully. Completely. Throughly. Continuously.
Sobotka needs to be surveilled 24/7 on public broadcast.
After about a decade they can then decide whether their ideas were good or not.

So, in closing, guess I’m a criminal. Because I use Tor. And will continue to do so.

Take care, delete Facebook, Google, Twitter and the likes, get Tor (don’t put your money on a VPN for goodness sake!).
A.

Rings of Fate S4xE1 – Mars – Contact

Impatiently pacing up and down his office on the grated floor of his laboratory, Kurt found it hard to imagine that his message had been received.

An hour ago he was woken by an alarm, telling him that a return message was being received. After a short, text only message, which told him that his message had been received, another message was following suit.

It was a massive data transfer.

 

Had the sun not been gobbled up by the neutron star, it’d be the first interstellar transmission in human history.

After earth had been annihilated due to close proximity to the neutron star, the latter moved on, wreaking havoc on the sun.

Suddenly missing the center of gravity, Mars was shot out the solar system, luckily it had been in the ideal position to not being caught by the neutron star’s gravity.

 

Musing on Martian history Kurt found himself staring out the small port hole window in the lab. It looked out over the main crater of Olympus Mons.

Darkness below, except for a few guiding lights along the rails of the sweeper carts, and a starry sky above. Nothing to see of the red deserts from, meanwhile ancient, video and photo documents. All had been swallowed up by darkness.

Reminiscing about the Martian history he thought about his great grandfather. Widely known as the Professor, he was the, borderline mad, scientist, who had led the colony in its infancy.

Under his supervision the lava tunnels of Olympus Mons were utilised as first living accommodations. Following his lead the first geothermal reactors were constructed, to satisfy the colony’s fast growing needs for energy.

Although the red planet had been too cold to sustain a magnetosphere even when the sun was still around, it was still hot enough in its interior to fuel geothermal reactors.

 

Droves upon droves of cryogenic chambers were coming in, future colonists, who either couldn’t contribute to the colony right away, or just couldn’t be sustained in any other fashion.

First the lava tunnels were developed, then the central shaft of the enormous volcano, in his grandfather’s generation. Then his father’s generation had developed the crater, smoothed it out and began laying down the sides of it, so it became a super sized dish.

He had finalised that work, and sent out messages to the ships that had left for RV-p296.

 

Now he was receiving his reply.

Anxiously he turned to the monitor behind him.

Still not finished.

 

Slowly but steadily life in the colony below awoke to a new morning. Lights in the hallways, offices, messhalls and gardens were turned up, people left for work, or took breakfast. Except him.

After a mere four hours of sleep he had skipped breakfast due to the alarm, and went to the lab.

Ever since he had started sending the message, a repeating message out to mankind’s other new home in the galaxy, he had not slept much more than five or six hours a night. Even though he knew that it would take a long time to be received, let alone answered, he was too anxious about the whole deal.

“Almost one and a half years, and you still get up early and check for results?” Maya entered the lab. She wore her usual attire, with the revealing neckline. “Didn’t you hear the alarm?” He turned to his wife.

“No.” She sat down at the workstation he had been droning over for the last hour.

Or was it hours? He had lost track of time. “Leopold had kept me up, as usual.” Their son. As usual. “Trouble sleeping again?”

“Trouble with girls.”

Carefully eyeing her, he glanced over to the monitor. Still not finished, but almost. “Girls? When I was his age,”

“You were not only active, but hyperactive with girls!” She raised a warning index finger. She too now turned her attention to the monitor. “I hope this isn’t a porn download.” Jesting she took a read of the text message that had been sent in advance of the massive bulk currently downloading. Suddenly her expression got more serious.

“They replied?” Disbelief in her voice over the obviously stated before her eyes, she read the message again. “Doctor Braun, on behalf of the people of Equatoria, Destiny and Kismet, as well as the other ships and the lunar colony, it is my honor to reply to your message. We will examine the database of martian history you have sent us in great detail, and we return the favor by transmitting to you everything that our exodus society has produced and discovered over the years. Kind regards, Admiral Benjamin Fuller.”

 

While his lab assistants, Quirin and Alexandra arrived and began with the dish cleaning operations, Kurt and Maya sat over the monitor, keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the download.

“Good day Doctor Braun.” The face of a bald black man appeared on the monitor greeting Kurt and his wife. Intrigued the two assistants also gathered around. “As written in the text message ahead of this database, it is my honor to reply to your message. In these files you will find our history, detailed information about the species we have encountered, our latest scientific data and of course everything about the colony we have dubbed Equatoria, due to its geographical location on RV-p296. Of course, we are interested in learning how you were able to relay your message so quickly to us, not even our most sophisticated form of communication could reach Mars in anytime sooner than eIght years from now. In the hopes that you are still alive upon receipt of this message, I remain with kind regards, Admiral Benjamin Fuller, out.” The message ended.

Maya patted his back. “See that? They made it. I can’t believe it. We are not alone.” Maya kept on talking, while Kurt felt a heavy burden fall off his chest.

It had lifted for the most part as he read the text message, but even more so now. They beamed back the reply in the direction from where they had received it, without detecting his means of communication.

 

Light dimmed as evening broke, Kurt stood in a small compartment of his lab, obscured from view by the grated floor above.

An elderly woman stood next to him, she was stern and stoic.

His mother always had been like that as far as Kurt could remember. Wearing her black dress she had worn ever since his father had passed away, she went over the data on the monitor with him, her greying hair tied to a tight knot.

“Are you sure your want to do this?” She turned to him with all of her torso, instead of turning her head.

“The dish, the Braun family heritage, is a pretty useless device, mother.” He sighed. “Eight years of communication, in one direction, renders it obsolete! If we can get the direction right that is. The quantum entanglement device is my answer to that problem.”

Stoic as ever she raised her right eyebrow. “I did not refer to the device, but your way of delivering it to the presumed colony. An antimatter powered probe might prove disastrous.”

Staring at her he raised his eyebrow now. “To the device, but not to people. I programmed it to park outside the solar system, so any problems that might occur, will occur in open space, this position still leaves a few months for communication, but it is better than to send something, and then wait sixteen years for a reply. If we can get the direction right, if the planet is facing the right patch of space at the time of the reply, and so on.”

Stoic Charlotte Braun turned back to the monitor. “Still it’ll take four years to reach its destination.”

Squinting his eyes, Karl looked angrily at his mother. “Half the time a transmission would need.” He pressed a button, a countdown appeared on the screen, both Karl and his mother climbed up the ladder to the normal level of the lab.

They turned to one of the small port holes.

Below it was the crater in all its darkness, suddenly a series of lights went on, illuminating the crater, and the dome in its center.

The latter opened like a lotus, communication devices were pulled and pushed out of the way, obscured by shielding.

Shaped like a traditional rocket the transporter for the probe came into view. It would bring the probe to a safe distance to Mars before the main propulsion would come online. “No one noticed you taking away all that fuel?”

“Nope. Besides, I couldn’t have done this without knowledge of the council. This lab may be our family heritage, but creating the amounts of antimatter needed for the trip, all the raw materials needed for the device, the casing, the rocket, the modifications to the dome, I’d need to work 24/7, and still wouldn’t be finished.” Looking at her with a slightly triumphant look Kurt sighed. “You could hold a vivid and passionate discussion with the colonists on RV-p296 about everything via the dish, and I still wouldn’t be finished.”

Still, for several reasons, no one in the hierarchy of the Martian colony would want to see the launch, or be conected with the project in any way.

He had been granted the resources, but not the attention. In a way, Kurt was fine with that. Perhaps he too was, like some insisted about his great grandfather, a borderline mad scientist.

Beneath them the ground began to shake, the crater was illuminated even more. With much greater ease than on earth, the rocket lifted off from the martian surface and plowed into the darkness of space.

 

Eased in every way Kurt looked over to a small framed picture in a corner, right next to a picture of his father. I told you it’ll work mother. “We need to inform the senate, the president, the scientific committee.” Maya was as joyous and anxious as a little girl.

“First,” Kurt looked at the people in his lab, “we need to celebrate. A new milestone has been reached. Interstellar communication, communication via a quantum entangled device. New grounds broke.”

Maya was the first to start applauding, Kurt’s assistants followed suit.

After they had all calmed down he began giving out assignments. Maya would begin with the flora and fauna of the new world, Quirin and Alexandra were to review the logs, all of which were not classified as personal logs, thus open for viewing, while he was to review the reports that had been labled as containing sensitive information.

 

Being in the position of running an officially undocumented project he was not hard pressed to report to anyone.

When he had something to report other than just that they did receive a communique from RV-p296, he would contact the senate, and the president, as well as the media.

Although surely more than enough people would want to talk to him, or their distant relatives in the far distance, he hated the secrecy. Especially now that there were no hazardous materials involved any longer, no antimatter, no danger. Through the quantum entanglement, their signal couldn’t even be traced back.

 

A circumstance he discovered was very good to have. “I assume that the information in this segment is only reviewed by people who have the utmost security levels.” A woman in an Admiral’s uniform like Benjamin Fuller, spoke with a smoky voice. “My name is Jane Mulgrew, Admiral of the Destiny. In these files you will be familiarised with the alien species we have encountered. This includes the Harpies, the natives of RV-p296, the silicates and the DEHumans, the latter being a spawn of mankind.” Kurt had headphones on, still he reassuringly looked if any of the others were looking.

No one was. “Although none of the aforementioned species means harm to mankind, except maybe a faction in the Harpies, called the patriarchists, revealing this kind of information to the public might provoke unrest.” Mulgrew’s introduction ended with her releasing Kurt to explore the reports on the alien species.

 

Black volcanic rock whizzed by the porthole of the cab, here and there illuminated by a lamp, but mostly it was black and and featureless as the martian surface if no light was shone on it.

Having taken their que from the three ships engineers and colonists had built the tubes to replace the long hallways, staircases and ramps of the original colony.

But unlinke the tubes on the ships, those on Mars were pressurised. There should be no catastrophic decompression in case of any forseen geologic incidents and instabilities.

Barely noticing the change of color in the rocks from volcanic black to granite grey, Kurt stared out the porthole. Why the senate had relocated to a structure outside Olympus Mons was beyond him.

But he admitted that he was a little biased towards the volcano. After all, the dish was not the only family heritage.

But he knew he preferred black rock over grey rock.

Maya preferred the gardens, or the crater when fully lit.

Although what little atmosphere Mars had, had fallen to the ground after Mars was jettisoned from the solar system, there still was dirt from space in need of being swiped from the dish. Vacuum cleaners wouldn’t work without any form of atmosphere left, so swipers were used. Maya liked remotely driving them in the well lit crater.

 

After a while he noticed another change in the view of the cab. The grey rock was suddenly giving way to show another tube. It had a grated floor and doors on the far side, leading to offices, laboratories, living accommodations, what not.

After a short while the cab began slowing down.

In a large cavern, the view breathtakingly vast for a subterranean civilisation, the cab spew him out on a platform near a small artificial lake.

The water of that lake was native to Mars, he knew. Pure water, no life what so ever had ever dwelled in it. Until mankind came of course.

For a moment he rested his eyes on the lake, and the tiny island in its center. Miniature replicas of landmarks of earth had been placed on the shores of the island.

From his vantage point at the tube exit he could see a small Tajmahal, a small Eiffeltower, and behind a bush he saw the torch of a statue of liberty.

Memory lake. Some people dubbed it.

At least he could take solace in the fact that they weren’t burying their dead like in the old days. They had taken the same drastic measures the population of the ships had to take. Dead people were incinerated, returned to the soil they had taken their nutrients from.

 

Inside a large room, along the tracks of the tube he had taken earlier, the senate met. Why they had to have a senate consisting of fifteen people was beyond Kurt’s understanding, but he was not a politically involved member of the colony.

From his early childhood on his parents and grandfather molded him to be a scientist. Whether he could be anything else than that, he didn’t know. Sometimes he mused about it, but found no answer.

The sixteenth member of the politicians sitting in front of Kurt was the president.

An elderly man, if Kurt wasn’t mistaken he was the senator who had green lighted his plans for the probe.

“Mister President, members of the senate. As some of you may or may not know, several years ago an undercover project was green lighted by this very senate. The very specifications of the technology involved in the MISR, or Martian Interstellar Relay, made such secrecy necessary. Details containing this are in the files on your tablets. I am now comming forward to the senate again, with a successful report.” He knew the senators had already gone through the detailed information about the antimatter powered probe. In the eyes of those previously oblivious to the existence of the MISR he could see the outrage. “We have made contact with the colony on RV-p296, twelve months ago the MISR probe successfully completed its voyage and I sent a message to them, containing our history and a short greeting. We have a reply, gladly they sent their reply in the direction of the relay.” On his own tablet he tapped a few buttons, information was loaded onto the tablets of the senators. “At the time of the message they had no knowledge of the MISR, they sent us all of their history, discoveries and what entertainment they have produced.” At this moment the download onto the tablets finished, opening the senators, the worlds of knowledge he and Maya had been able to explore for a few days with his assistants.

He let the condescend summaries he and Maya had produced sink in with the senators before he opened his mouth again. “As you can see, there is a lot we can learn.”

“Aliens?” President John Kinsey looked up from his device. An older model Kurt noticed, with the limited resources on the planet new versions were given to those who needed them, old devices were repaired, not replaced.

“Yes, sir. Harpies, who originated on earth, a silicone based life form, the natives of RV-p296, and a splinter group of humanity. They have changed themselves with alien technology, and declared that they no longer are part of unaltered mankind.”

Disbelief shone from the eyes of the president and the senators. “This reads like science fiction.”

“With all due respect Mr. President, martian history reads like science fiction too. A group of struggling survivors, builds their home under the martian surface as the planet hurls out of what is left of the solar system.” In a mocking trailer voice Kurt felt the tension he had felt over meeting the senate fall off. “Do you still have technology with which you could create antimatter? Because, despite the breakthrough, this is a real concern!” A senator stood up. She reminded him a lot of his mother. “Antimatter technology was banned after the Ark1 disaster, for good reasons. You creating antimatter and a device that utilised it, on martian soil, violates rules and regulations. Laws, if you will.”

A bit of the tension rose again. “My work was in accordance with the senate. It was approved, and green lighted. Although a black project, it still was authorised. I currently have no means of producing antimatter, but with the technology available to us we can replicate the process.” He neglected to reveal he had some antimatter left in a geostationary stash above Olympus Mons. “As you can take from the files sent to us, Harpies and DEHumans, probably the silicates as well, do all use antimatter. Hence, one day, we will have to learn to use it.”

Carefully eyeing senator Adele Farrington he hoped the subject would shift back to the received database. “So you are saying that,”

“I gave him the go.” Kinsey interrupted the senator. “There will be no further investigation into the project’s past. Doctor Braun has set up the communication with the colony, and we can now reconnect with them. Please, enlighten those who are not familiar with your work how this is achieved.”

With a sigh Kurt shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Explaining the details about quantum entanglement to a bunch of laymen wasn’t his idea of how his time should be spent, he came to report about the database, the implications, whether the probe should be moved in closer to the colony, allowing for shorter spans of communication, what their reply should be.

 

“How was it?” Maya awaited him, sitting on the bench near memory lake, next to the tube sation. Someone had etched a graffiti into it. Seen by many as vandalism, he actually didn’t mind to know that a young couple had been there. Probably sharing their first kiss on that very bench.

“I had to explain in detail how the communication is being done, the computing behind it, the math, the quantum entanglement. We spent almost no time talking about what we have actually received.” Still he managed to smile. “However, the president gave me free hand to communicate with them, tell them about the device, and ask them whether the MISR should be moved closer to their home world.”

Maya also smiled, she was glad to hear those news. For a fleeting moment it seemed perfect, but she saw the stern looking woman approach behind Kurt. “I believe a dark shadow is rolling in.” Also reminded of her late mother in law, Maya nodded in the direction of senator Adele Farrington.

“Is there anything I can help you with, senator?” Kurt turned, he needed not to turn and recognise her, nor did he need any hints from his wife. His instincts alone were enough.

“Maybe. It is about the antimatter.” Replying with a sigh of frustration Kurt was about to explain that he couldn’t make some at the time, he had dismantled the devices needed to create it, after the probe had left, and his stash was parked above the lab. “I need you present me with detailed plans on how to make some, as well as a timetable to do it.”

Confusion must’ve been showing on his face as the senator pointed to the cab station and began walking.

“A little black project me and the president have in mind. In front of the other senators I of course had to maintain an opposing stance.” She entered the cab after Maya and Kurt had boarded. The door closed and the vehicle moved off in the direction of Olympus Mons.

“Seeing that your communication device is working, we have planned to create a series of probes to scout for new worlds, through your quantum entanglement technology these probes can rely information in real time to us, we can gain insights on the universe beyond our wildest imagination, and perhaps find a way to a brighter future.”

Kurt and Maya didn’t need it spelled out any more detailed. She wanted ships in the far future, or even more insanely ambitious, turn the planet into one.

 

At the base of the volcano, at the old colony, Adele got off the cab, leaving Kurt and Maya alone to ride to their home further up, just a few hundred meters below the crater. The lab was the highest point, along with three other observatories, three labs on the top of Olympus Mons, all to gether they were part of only a handful of structures on the surface. The lack of a magnetosphere, or an atmosphere made surface structures dangerous places, as asteroid impacts of all sizes could harm the exterior of the structures and vent atmosphere. anRadiation of all sorts could penetrate the relatively weak shielded walls and kill those inside.

Relieved to see his assistants work on the database in the subterranean portion of the lab, Kurt went to the garden with Maya.

They needed time to think, Maya was and always has been, a vital part of his life, and work. While constructing the machines needed to create the antimatter for the probe, she also had been his partner in crime.

“Eat something.” She pointed at a bush of raspberries, already enjoying some of the deliciously sweet fruits.

Not feeling like eating anything he just shook his head. “Can you believe this?” After reassuringly looking around the small garden he finalky spoke.

Except the large city cavern they just had left, none of the gardens on Mars were big. But the one near the top of Olympus Mons, was probably the smallest. Only a dozen families lived up there. Scientists and their families, mostly, also a few of the assistants.

“She wants more antimatter created.” Munching on a handful of berries, Maya replied. Kurt just nodded. He was nervous.

A thought formed in his mind, bringing him back to caution. Senator Farrington might be laying out a trap. Detailed plans for antimatter creation with his signature on them might be a way for her to prosecute him.

Still, he was going to make those plans. Without any traceable link back to him. Everything involved with the MISR wasn’t linked to him, just as black projects are.

 

Again Kurt was woken by an alarm, driven to his lab by curiosity. Another transmission from the MISR. Just as the last time, Maya slept through the noise, so he was alone in the lab. How long has he slept? Pondering as he stared at the monitor he anticipated another month old message.

The monitor instead displayed footage from the on board surveillance. A ship was approaching the relay. By the way it looked he deduced it was not from the colonists. Quickly going through what he had learned of the other space ferrying races in his head, he surmised it must’ve been the DEHumans.

As they approached the image began to flicker, data transmissions of all sorts reached his end of the communication line. Suddenly the face of a young blonde appeared, with a noticeable red light the camera above his screen told him, he was also seen. “Greetings. I am Doctor Braun.” He stammered, half asleep and surprised.

Apparently the young woman was studying him. “We are the DEHumans. Our sensors have detected this communication device. To our knowledge the humans do not possess the technology for quantum entanglement communication, or safe antimatter conduct.”

“The humans you stem from, yes. We had time to sit down and develop this technology. There were no threats from aliens, or digital enhancements.”

Semingly intrigued the woman squinted her eyes. Kurt assumed that the collective mind behind her was estimating how well Kurt would add to their collective mind.

“All this, and you sent just a communication device?” Smirking sheepishly Kurt studied her face as she spoke. “You might not judge the value of one’s life as an individual does, your thoughts and memories are shared and distributed, death has little meaning to you. But as we are slowly beginning to understand antimatter we tread with caution.”

“The value of one biological entity is highly valued among us, the genetic diversity of the DEHuman race depends on each entities survival.” She raised eyebrows, but in a manner that told Kurt that she was not used to do so.

“How noble.” He cleared his throat. “Did you contact me to exchange cultural views, or is there any purpose to this call?”

Again there seemed to be a momentary pause, her expression seemingly froze. “Where is Mars?”

Aha. So that’s the secret. “I do not know its present location, or the precise direction. The orbital speed should be on record.” They must’ve intercepted the original transmission. Probably the reply from RV-p296 as well. “Why do you ask?”

“Curiosity. We might be able to offer you a way out of the underground dwellings. A transport to Equatoria, or you and your people could join us.” Assimilation. “What do you want in return?”

An awkward pause ensued his question, the collective mind was searching for a way to reply. “Why assume our offer has a prize?” Something he had read in a report popped into mind. They had told Admiral Mulgrew that the debts to humanity had been paid when they delivered them to the colony. “Because we are separate species, and you have no reason to interfere with a primitve species like ours, unless you saw a gain for your people. So what’s the prize?”

“Genes.” She displayed a playful smile, also obviously something recalled from the collective memory. “Not to clone you.” She added with her smile vanishing. Our genes, I believe they want our sperm and ovarian cells. “I will relay you most unusual proposition to our government. But I must tell you that I doubt there is going to be an agreement.” In fact I will speak against it, if I am foolish enough to even forward this.

“Please see that you do.” The nameless woman said monotonous. The transmission ended, again the image of the DEHuman ship hovering motionless near the relay returned.

Leaning back in his chair Kurt pondered his options.

Forgetting this ever happened was surely an option. Somehow he doubted that it was a wise option. The relay was defenseless, they could blow it out of the sky, and it would take some time to replace it.

Senate and president needed to be informed. To what end however? He leaned back forward to monitor, mouse and keyboard.

A nagging thought surfaced as he touched them. “What if?” He whispered, opening a transfer protocol.

Massive amounts of data had been loaded while he and the woman were talking. He went through the code for a moment, but couldn’t understand it.

Heat rose to his face as he came to the realisation that the DEHumans had loaded something, that was probably already spreading out into the network.

Devastated he looked up and out to the porthole window, lights began to flicker in the crater.

Somehow he knew that this was just the beginning.