by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.
Ko-Sha was still chuckling to herself as she left the large gray laboratory building and to the local transit portal. The shape of the portal reminded her of that pod she saw at Event Hill the other night. “Coincidence,” she muttered, “purely coincidence.”
Stepping into the portal, she inserted her credit chit into a reader slot on the glossy black control panel and waited as it deducted her fare. Entering her access code, she watched as the machine projected a bright amber transit field. As she stepped through the field, she watched it ripple and shimmer. She would be home in a matter of nanoseconds.
When she reached her destination, she let out a piercing scream, before passing out.
When she opened her eyes again, she saw Na-Den looking down at her, his face ashen. “Where am I?” She asked. “Why does my mouth taste so strange?”
He put a hand on her forehead to comfort her. “That is a sedative wearing off. You were hysterical when the medtechs brought you into the emergency room.”
“Transit portal.” She murmured. Her eyes focused. “Yes, I was coming home when... I saw something in the portal...”
Na-Den tensed and shook his head. “You could not have, my dear. Travel through interdimensional transit portals is instantaneous.”
She shook her head. “It does not matter now, because I cannot remember. I have never had a reaction to a transit portal in my entire life.”
Na-Den smiled, his features relaxing. “You have been under a lot of stress the past few days. It is only natural that it should manifest itself somehow.” He leaned close and whispered. “What you need is to get back to work in the Eventology Lab. I prefer my apprentices to actually do the work before I certify them as journeymen.”
“What happened to me was all in my mind?”
“Quite possibly, yes.”
She sat up in the hospital bed, feeling the sheets crinkle under her. “How can you be so sure that I did not see anything?”
Na-Den looked over his shoulder for a moment, then turned back. “I am sure because when I was a little older than you, I helped to build the transit portal system on Turast. Trust me, there is nothing unsafe about traveling through interdimensional space. If there were, we would have known about it years ago.”
She sighed, swinging her legs onto the green-carpeted floor. “I guess you are right, Na-Den.”
He grinned and patted her back. “I am always right, as you well know. The weekend is here so take the time and get yourself together. I will expect you in my office at the beginning of next work week.” He handed her a small bundle. “I took the liberty of bringing you some clothes. Your residence superintendent allowed me access.” He pointed to a small white bag resting on top of the nearby cabinet. “The staff packed your things away in that.”
“I will see you soon,” she said as she took her things to the bathroom. “Thank you.”
“Thank me by taking care of yourself.” The door closed behind him.
She rushed into the bathroom and rummaged through the bag, relieved that the small box in which she had hidden the Event Hill specimens was untouched. She held the jar containing the red liquid up to the light. The suspension fluid in the jar kept the sample intact, but the globule was pulsing with a faint amber glow. She tucked it back into the box and changed into a pale blue shirt and black pants.
“What did I see?” she asked her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Or did I see anything?”
Her reflection stared back at her, impassive and unhelpful. She grabbed her things and left.
When she got home, she found her communications crystal pulsing with a dozen messages from Ra-Tor.
“Ko-Sha, check your hyper mail some time today. I have sent you the results of the tests I ran on those samples you gave me. The results are, shall we say, enlightening. I do not want to know where you got them.”
“You have the heart of the Seven Vanes,” Ko-Sha said as she checked her hyper mail account. As she read the data on the floating screen, her eyes opened wider and wider.
“Electromagnetic flux consistent with industrial grade transit portal operations,” she read. “Not recommended for long-term use.” She scrolled down the message, but she knew the information coming up. “Molecular breakdown of organic tissues possible.” Did that happen to Ko-Ren?
She stuffed the sample box into the right pocket of her long gray overcoat and left the apartment. As she walked toward a stop for air trams, she became aware of a group of men standing near the local transit portal. All five were dressed in simple dark jumpsuits, but they stood too tall, tried too hard to look casual. She felt their eyes on her as she walked past and her instincts warned her to pick up the pace. She felt a snowflake touch her cheek as she heard heavy footfalls behind her. Am I being paranoid? she thought as she fought from breaking into a run.
A hand came down upon her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks. She turned to look up at a gray-faced man with faded white head fur and dark eyes devoid of emotion. Metal implants protruded from both sides of its forehead. The grip on her shoulder was firm and unyielding. “Let me go, Cyborg,” she said.
“Negative. You will come with us to DEC Headquarters.”
She squirmed in the steely grip as she looked around for passersby at such an early hour. “Help! Help me!”
“Do not resist.” The cyborg repeated. “You will not be harmed if you cooperate.”
She tried kicking its leg, but succeeded only in hurting herself. “What do you want with me?”
The Cyborg signaled to his companions, who were busy setting up a pair of tripod meshes. When the devices were completed, the amber glow of a transit portal appeared between them. “You will come with us.”
Before she could say another word, her vision exploded into a haze of false light and shadows. She felt a new pair of hands grab her as the cyborg’s grip slackened.
“I am rescuing you,” a soft rumbling voice told her. “We must hurry. The effects of the black-light bomb will not last long.”
She nodded, numb, and allowed the voice to lead her. Her retinas registered another flash of light and the grip on her arm released. Her blurry vision registered that she was inside a building. “I cannot see.”
“That is a temporary effect of the black-light bomb I used. It was necessary to disorient the DEC cyborgs.” She felt a cup pressed into her right hand. “Drink this, it will help you feel better.”
She took a sip. The drink was bitter, but it eased the pain behind her eyes and the ringing in her ears. As her vision cleared, she found herself in a large room with no windows, filled with computers and crystal communication sets that blinked red and blue. Small yellow lights illuminated the room. “Am I a prisoner here?”
Her savior crouched before her. He was a not unpleasant-looking man with blue-gray skin, orange head fur and eyes the color of lavender. He was dressed in a gray shirt and trousers and regarded her with an air of guarded curiosity. “The DEC does not send their Tier 2 units unless there is a very good reason.” He scratched the back of his head. “I am curious why they would send units with Tac Packs and Tactical Teleport Units after a low-level Eventology apprentice.”
“You have not answered my question.”
He shook his head. “No, you are not a prisoner. I brought you here because my contacts at the Institute felt you had information that could help us.”
She felt inside her right pocket. “I do not know anything.”
He smiled, reaching into her pocket and pulling out the specimen box. “You lie badly, Ko-Sha.” He opened the box and looked at the contents for several seconds before closing the lid and returning it. “Now then, shall we begin again with more honesty this time?”
“Who are you?”
He nodded. “Fair enough. My name is At-Ka. I am the leader of Spyglass.”
“Spyglass. The conspiracy group?”
“We prefer ‘dissident movement’,” At-Ka replied. “We question the DEC and the Elder Council’s writing of our history regarding the Umanh.”
Ko-Sha opened her mouth to dispute the statement, but she did not have the heart. “I agree. There is something about the Umanh that the Government is unwilling to discuss. Even my Advocate, Na-Den—“
“Na-Den? An Advocate?” At-Ka cocked his head. “I must have been underground for a very long time if such as he is instructing the youth.”
“I do not understand.” Ko-Sha replied. “Na-Den has taught at the Institute for over one hundred years. He is considered a prominent member of the faculty.”
“I am sure that is what he and the DEC want people to believe.” At-Ka flipped a switch on a computer console. An image of Na-Den floated above the machine’s projector. “He may be an educator today, but two hundred years ago, he was the DEC Coordinator in charge of the Human Problem.”
She blinked. “Human? What is that?”
“It is amazing what they do not teach these days.” He shook his head. “The ‘Umanh’ as you call them now were known as Human when we first came to this planet.”
Ko-Sha’s head began to spin and she seated herself. “You mean we are not native here?”
At-Ka refilled her cup. “No, we came from a dying planet many light-years away. A Human deep-space probe found us and their society welcomed us with open arms. Unfortunately, no one was prepared for what happened next.”
“We destroyed them, didn’t we?”
“Not destroyed, precisely,” he said. “We brought a plague with us, one that was deadly to humans. We used our knowledge of transit portals to construct an interdimensional safe zone to transport the human population until a means could be found to inoculate them. Na-Den was in charge of finding that cure.”
“Did we fail to do that?”
At-Ka took out a small silver device and began to wave it over her. “We did not fail. We never even tried. The Council of Elders deemed the project as unsuitable for our intellect and abandoned it after the last human was locked away in interdimensional exile.” The device started chirping when it went over her specimen case. “I thought so. Take the box from your pocket, please.”
Ko-Sha did as she was bid, placing the box on the table in front of her. “Those are samples that I retrieved from Event Hill.”
At-Ka opened the box and removed the liquid sample and data recordings. “Nicely done, Ko-Sha.” He took the liquid sample to a large white analyzer and held it under a red light beam. “The first sample of human blood in two centuries.” He removed the sample jar and held it up. “This is how the DEC was able to track you; tracer tags in the suspension fluid. They were onto you the moment you left the containment zone.”
She stood. “I need to get out of here.”
He picked up a neural stunner that was shaped like a tuning fork and held it up to her. “I am afraid that will not be possible. You see, what you saw never happened.”
She backed up. “But you want the truth to be revealed as much as I.”
At-Ka pressed a communication crystal. “She is ready now. The materials have been recovered. You may take her for reconditioning.”
Ko-Sha felt the blue beam from the stunner strike her. “But why?”
The last thing that registered in her mind was the face of Na-Den as he walked in to the room and looked down at her. His elder face was sad as he picked up the samples. “Good work, At-Ka. All we wanted was the samples. Once we have erased her memories of this entire affair, all will be as it should.”
When Ko-Sha opened her eyes, she was in a hospital bed. “What happened?”
Na-Den smiled. “You collapsed at your ceremony, my dear. I suppose the excitement of becoming a credentialed apprentice was too much for you.”
Her mind felt as if it were full of cobwebs. “I feel strange.” She cringed from his hand as he patted her shoulder. “My work?”
“The committee liked your work and recommended you for full subsidies. You should be proud.”
She reached up to her face and felt a scar over her right ear. “I had surgery?”
“Minor surgery to correct a problem the doctors found.” Na-Den patted her shoulder again. “You will be fine.” He set a note down on the bed stand. “Your cousin asked that I leave this note for you. He is taking a trip and was unable to visit you. Good day.”
She picked up the note and read it as Na-Den left. The handwriting was Ko-Ren’s, but the content was curious. “Ko-Ren hates taking trips,” she mused.
Copyright © 2012 by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.