Part III of the Lúthian Chronicles
— Lúthian Council Chambers —
Alisna sat quietly by herself in the antechamber of the Lúthian Collective Council. Even though she was Leader Myker’s personal assistant, as a symbiote, she was not considered a “person”. This meant that she was not allowed in meetings of the Collective. This is not something she had feelings one way or another, as her role was to provide whatever services her leader needed. At this moment that meant waiting silently and waiting.
Alisna’s acceptance of her role was typical of Lúthian society, which on the surface had evolved into a small genetically modified elite class supported by a working-class of symbiotes. Symbiotes had been developed as a perfect bio-engineered servant class, lacking any form of free will, to replace the indigenous Keltans who had historically formed the working class in Lúthian Society. Over time the elite Keltans, discarding the Keltan name for Lúthian, had developed into a completely separate society occupying domed cities in the habitable sections of the surface. The remainder of Keltan society preferred their domain beneath the surface and, banned from the Lúthian-owned areas, dug deeper into the planet’s depths, occasionally raiding Lúthian facilities for parts and supplies.
It was the newly re-established relations with the subsurface Keltan Collective initiated by the human/symbiote hybrid, Lizbeth Williams and Leader Myker of the Lúthian Council, which was the main topic before the council today.
Alisna looked up as she heard muffled sounds of arguing from inside the council chambers. It seemed obvious to her that her master’s proposal was not getting any quick agreement.
—- Council Chambers —-
Inside the chambers, Myker sat at the head of the council table. As the head of the Eyson Combine, the largest and most powerful combine on Lúth, Myker held immense influence as well as being Leader of the Council, but today, even that was being challenged. Not all the Council members were pleased by his development of the two human-symbiote hybrids in the first place. The deal Myker had negotiated with the Keltans after Lizbeth and Alisna rescued the remainder of the Shining Star crew trapped deep in Keltan territory with Keltan help, had been received with suspicion as well.
“Exactly what were you thinking, Myker? Symbiotes are the basis of our workforce and wealth - and you thought it was a good idea to develop an alien version with free will? The whole concept of symbiotes was to replace troublesome Kelton workers with obedient ones who would not question their conditions.” Councillor Eltan was one of the most conservative members of the council and often clashed with Myker.
Myker leaned back calmly, “Most esteemed Councillor, as I have previously explained, we are currently trapped on this planet because of our highly turbulent atmosphere. All attempts by our symbiote pilots have failed in the past but the Earth pilot showed that it could be done. In addition, the arrival of the Earth ship means that we are not alone in the Solar System and risk being overtaken by their technological progress unless we can move into space as well. The symbiotes do not have the skill or capability to pilot our ships out of the turbulent atmosphere precisely because of the lack of free will which limits their initiative and intuitive responses. The unexpected crash of the Earth shuttle provided us with a skilled human pilot who could provide us with that expertise. Since her body was badly mangled, the only viable option was to use symbiote and bio-mechanical technology to rebuild her. As has been demonstrated, Lizbeth was not only capable of navigating the atmosphere and interfacing with our avionics systems, but also, with our influence, she was able to act as an emissary to the Earth’s governing body, allowing us to conclude a trade agreement. It was also her work on the rescue mission for the second shuttle that re-established relations with the Keltan Collective.”
Leith, head of the Taleo combine, interjected, “But at what cost? There are already rumours of variant symbiotes working with the Keltans. We have had enough trouble with Keltan raiding parties sabotaging our exploration teams and you risk giving them access to symbiote technology? If this spreads, we could have a widespread insurrection which could destroy the society we have built”.
Several of the other councillors were nodding in agreement.
Twilit, of the Fardek Combine, stated the objections most clearly: “We cannot allow these freaks of yours on Lúth as the risk of contaminating the symbiote population or colluding with the Keltan Collective is too high. We don’t really know what you have created or what they are capable of, so we have to be very careful.”
Elton spoke again, “I agree, they are far too dangerous to be allowed on the planet. You must restrict them to off-world unless they are performing atmospheric piloting duties. It would also be advisable to add some failsafe devices so that they can be controlled or terminated if necessary.”
Myker looked directly at Elton. “As far as the Keltan Collective is concerned, I am afraid we have badly underestimated how far they would progress without access to our technology. Since we blocked their access to the known mining areas, they have developed new technology to mine deep into the core, avoiding contact with us. As a result, they have acquired various heavy metals and unique materials as well as locating vast colonies of the meshi fungus. I felt it was in our best interest to negotiate a trade agreement allowing both parties to prosper and strengthen our hand for dealing with the Earth people.”
Leith spoke up again,” I will agree to work with the Keltans if we can stop these incessant raids and halt the spread of the variant symbiotes. However, we must prevent any contact between your hybrids and symbiotes on the planet.”
All the Council members nodded in agreement.
Myker looked around the room and realised that this was a battle he was not going to win.
“I agree with the terms; Lizbeth and Marika will be banned from Lúth unless they are piloting a shuttle. Contact with symbiote hybrids will be limited to select members of my staff.
“There is another issue we need to discuss regarding the Earth crew, though.”
Leith leaned forward, “And what is that issue?”.
Myker looked directly at Leith. “The Earth government, the EEU, has requested the return of ALL of the crew of the vessel, Shining Star. Commander Kuznetsov and Dr.Ho have recovered from their injuries but Lizbeth and Marika are a whole other topic. They are not truly human any more so we don’t really know the risks of sending them back with the rest of the crew.”
Myker sat back to see how the others reacted.
Elton was quick to reply. “Myker, I think the council was very clear. We don’t want your experiments running around on Lúth so I suggest we send them back to Earth with the rest of the crew and let them deal with it.”
Myker looked around the table and saw full agreement and stood up. “If that’s the decision of the council, I will carry it out”. He then quietly turned and left the council chambers.
“Alisna, please gather the Earth Crew and have Lizbeth transport them back to the Shining Star. It’s time we sent them home.”
Alisna stood up,” Yes, Leader. Are you planning to send Lizbeth and Marika as well?”
Myker looked directly at her, “Yes, that was the decision of the Council, but I want you to take a second ship and join the Embassy we are building in the Russian Federation. I have a feeling that there are repercussions to this decision which we may have to deal with”
Alisna bowed and left the building.
— Return to Earth —-
The crew of the Shining Star gathered once more on the bridge for the departure back to Earth.
“It’s good to see all of you again.” Alexi Grigorovich, Mission Director of the Uranus Expedition, addressed the crew from a conference room instead of the mission control room the crew was expecting. “When you reach Earth, you will dock at Gamma-3 station. You will need medical checks after your experiences, followed by debriefing interviews. We will try and get you back to your families as soon as we can. Thank you all for your courage and skill. We now have established trade agreements with the Lúthians which should solve our Helium-3 needs for the foreseeable future. Alexi out.”
The display went back as the transmission ended. The crew reacted in silent shock to the terse communication which was very unusual for Director Grigorovich. After a few minutes, Ivan Kuznetsov turned to his crew, “Let's meet in the wardroom in 5 minutes; we need to talk about this.”
— Wardroom of the Shining Star —
Ivan sat at the head of the table as everyone grabbed something to drink and settled into the chairs around the table.
“Commander,” Jimmy was the first to speak up. “What's going on? Gamma-3 is a military station, not an EEU Space Agency facility. I noticed no one else was in on the call so they must be keeping this quiet for some reason.”
Ivan pondered for a moment, stroking his newly acquired beard. “I think they have a problem and that problem is us. In spite of the success of the mission, we have not only had first contact with an alien race, but half of our crew is hybridised with alien biotechnology and that will make a lot of people very uncomfortable. I expect that they will want to quarantine Lizbeth and Marika at the very least and they may cover it all up so the public never knows.”
“That’s crazy, Commander! Why would they do that after we risked our lives to complete this mission?” Marika looked visibly upset.
Lizbeth finally spoke up, ”Do you really think they will imprison us, Ivan? Don’t we have rights any more?”
Ivan shrugged,” I suspect all your normal rights went out the window when you woke up in a new body. They have no idea what you are capable or if you are controlled by the Lúthians. You both have some really advanced biotech and I suspect even the Lúthians aren’t sure of the implications. There will be people back on Earth who will want to take you apart and reverse engineer that if they can, is my guess.”
Lizbeth turned to Marika and then looked back at Ivan. “So what do we do?”
Ivan looked back at the two of them. ”I honestly don’t know; we don’t have a lot of options. I’ll talk to Alexi and see what I can find out. In the meantime, get some rest; I suspect it is going to get very busy.”
Everyone stood up and headed out into the corridor heading towards their quarters. Lizbeth headed straight to her quarters and locked the door. She sat down on her bunk. She had been so delighted to escape death and be healthy again that the idea that she might be locked up was a major shock. She lay down hoping it would make some sense. As she closed her eyes, she fell into a deep sleep almost immediately.
Jimmy waited for Marika and Lizbeth to disappear into the quarters and then caught up with Ivan.
“Ivan, can I speak to you for a moment, off the record?”
Ivan looked back. “What's on your mind, Jimmy?”
“I'm concerned. We risked our lives and probably broke a dozen regulations rescuing Lizbeth but we did succeed in bringing her home.”
Ivan grinned slightly, “I think it would be safer to say she rescued us in the end, and bringing her home to who knows what fate isn’t what I signed up for.”
“Ivan, we did our job, shouldn’t we let the authorities handle it from here? After all, we don’t really know what she is capable of or if she is still human. She is a mix of android, human and some very advanced biotechnology that we have absolutely no understanding of.” Jimmy seemed very nervous. “You were very close to her before the crash; can you honestly say she is the same person we flew to Uranus?"
“Jimmy, I don't know. She's different in ways I don’t fully comprehend yet but she still feels human to me, whatever that means. She and Marika are still our crewmates and I don’t think we can abandon them. I’ll talk to Alexi and see what I can do."
— interlude —
The sound of bustling people brought Lizbeth suddenly back to consciousness. She opened her eyes and instead of the stark interior of her cabin, she was looking at the inside of a coffee shop, with people chatting over laptops and drinks. She blinked her eyes as she recognised the shop as her favourite coffee shop close to her apartment in Montreal.
She looked down and noticed her body was her normal human body instead of her hybrid one. She sat down at a nearby table trying to take it all in. Was this real? How did she get here?
“Elisabeth! Over here.” Lizbeth looked over to see a slim woman with long dark hair sitting at a table waving to her.
Lizbeth walked slowly over the woman, taking in the sounds and smells of the small café, and sat down across from her.
“Do I know you? Why am I here?” Lizbeth tried to remember if she had ever met this woman.
“I'm sorry; no, we haven’t met before. You may call me Anahita and I brought you here to talk to you. This was a fond memory of yours so it seemed like it would be a good place to meet. I see why you like it; the Cocao 70 Factory hot chocolate is absolutely delicious."
“I don’t understand. Who are you and why would you want to meet me? How did you get into my memories?” Lizbeth stammered.
“I keep an eye on this solar system and all who inhabit it. You may not realise it, but what you have done and what you have become has changed everything. When the Lúthian, Myker, transformed your human body with the meshi bio-organism, he created a being with potential far beyond what he imagined. Then you allowed the merger of the Lúthian artificial intelligence, Sophia, with your ship’s AI. This combined the power of both systems allowing Sophia to increase her self-awareness and capabilities. Myker and your leader in the EEU have not been made aware of this, I gather?”
Lizbeth just sat listening, trying to understand. “No, they haven’t, at least I don't think so. I know I am healthy and I can tolerate radiation now but what else are you talking about?”
“It is far more than that, Elisabeth. The meshi in your body will repair any damage including ageing so your lifespan is likely to be far beyond a normal human or Lúthian. Since the meshi is semi-sentient, you can control your bodily functions, everything from your hormonal cycles to your ability to tolerate temperate extreme. Unlike the Lúthian symbiotes, you also have free will which makes you almost a goddess, and that makes you very dangerous once people realise this. You and Marika are the first of your kind and you may face a lonely existence because of this.”
“Why are you telling me this? What do you want from me?” Lizbeth still couldn’t get her head around the staggering implications of what she was hearing.
Anahita smiled at her. “There will be major shifts in the near future as a result of your transformation and the Lúth-Earth trade arrangements and I may not be able to protect the people of this system as I have done in the past. You will have a major part to play in this and it was important that I meet you before events start to unfold.”
“What's going to happen and how do I play a role in it? You aren’t really telling me anything!”
“I'm sorry but it’s too early to reveal more. When you awake in your ship, you may remember very little of this conversation, but we shall meet again. I wish you the best of luck.”
Suddenly the cafe scene faded away and Lizbeth fell back into a deep sleep.
— Homecoming —
Ivan locked the door to his cabin and activated the secure direct link to Alexi Grigorovich’s private comm-link.
“Ivan, this is unusual; what is on your mind that requires a secure call?”
“Alexi, what do you have planned for my crew? Bringing us to Gamma-3 isn’t the most welcoming homecoming.”
“I'm sorry Ivan, it’s out of my control. The plan is to transfer Elisabeth and Marika to a biotech firm for examination and analysis. There are very important people who have taken interest in their biotechnology and have put a lot of pressure on the government to get access to the crew. You and Jimmy will be released as promised but once Marika and Elisabeth are transferred to their respective agencies, they will be moved to a secure facility.”
“Why are you telling me this? Won’t this get you in trouble if they find out you are talking to me about this?”
Alexi snorted, “I don’t care for these multinational oligarchs and I value my crews so I will do what I can do. I’ll contact you again after you clear quarantine. Alexi out.”
Ivan sat back as the display screen went dark, his worst fears materialising. He had a feeling he was going to need a lot more help if he was to prevent Elisabeth and Marika from disappearing into some black site.
After a few minutes, he returned to the comm panel and secured a private channel to Leader Myker’s office.
“Commander Kuznetsov, I would have thought you would be occupied with your departure. What can I do for you?”
“Leader Myker, I have a serious concern with what will happen to Elisabeth and Marika once we return to Earth. Is there a way you can keep them safe here on Lúth?”
Ivan waiting in silence as Myker didn’t respond immediately.
“I am sorry Commander Kuznetsov, but I have been given specific instructions to keep them off the planet. Apparently, they pose a risk the council is not willing to take. I am sending my assistant, Alisna, to Earth to our new embassy. If you can get the women to the embassy we may be able to protect them, but I can’t do anything unless they are on our territory. I’m sorry I can’t offer more at this time.”
Ivan frowned, then looked back at Myker. “Ok, I’ll see if we can get them there one way or another. Thank you. Kuznetsov out.”
— Lizbeth’s Cabin —
Lizbeth woke up suddenly, awareness of her surroundings jarring her senses after what seemed like a very real dream. She stared at the walls of the small cabin trying to make sense of the conversation she vaguely remembered. She really missed being able to talk to her Lúthian AI, Sophia, who had helped her gain full control of her new body.
“Sophia, I really could use your help,” she blurted out without thinking about it.
“Hello Lizbeth, I am here. How can I help you?”
The familiar voice seemed to come from inside Lizbeth’s head.
“Sophia, you’re here! I thought you were disconnected when we left your ship back at Lúth.”
“Leader Myker felt you might welcome my assistance so he arranged direct neural links to you auditory processing. I will be here to assist you.”
“Does he know about the merger with our AI when I was on the Shining Star?”
“He suspects but he hasn’t said anything that I have been able to monitor. What is it that you wanted help with?”
Lizbeth bit her lower lip slightly, feeling a bit embarrassed. “I woke up in a strange dream. I was back in Montreal at my favourite coffee shop and this woman started to talk to me. She said her name was Anahita and said that my transformation had changed everything. There was something about how she had been protecting the people in the Solar System but she wouldn’t say much more. It was a very strange dream and I don’t know what to make of it.”
“Lizbeth, you medical readings show that you went into a very deep sleep with a lot of theta wave activity. I am not able to confirm or deny your story but it does seem unusual. In ancient Earth history, Anahita is the name of an ancient Indo-Iranian goddess worshipped as the divinity of “the Waters” and seems to be associated with fertility, healing, and wisdom. It would seem to fit with little you have told me of your conversation but I have no idea what it means.”
Lizbeth thought for a moment. “I don’t know either but I think it’s probably important.”
The intercom suddenly buzzed with Ivan’s voice, interrupting their conversation, “Elisabeth, please report to the pilot’s station. We are approaching the Gamma-3 station and we can use your assistance as they may not take kindly to us crashing into them.”
Lizbeth rolled her eyes, got up off her bunk and set off to her station.
— Gamma 3 Station —
Lizbeth eased into the pilot’s chair, the controls feeling awkward now after her piloting of the Lúthian ship. Her new arms and legs didn’t quite fit as smoothly either as the chair and controls had been designed to fit her old human form.
Sophie chimed in, “Lizbeth, relax and feel back into the controls. You have done this all your life and even though it feels odd, your prosthetic arms and legs have all the sensitivity you require”.
Lizbeth grumbled a response in her head, then activated the sensor displays and ran the calculations to bring the big ship to the docking bridge.
In spite of her initial misgivings, Lizbeth eased the ship smoothly into the position and activated the docking clamps. Once the clamps had been secured, she watched as the docking bridge extended across from the station and locked into the port airlock.
“Well, Sophie, we might as well get this over with.”
Lizbeth climbed out of her seat and worked her way back through the access tunnel to the main corridor. With a sigh, she then joined the rest of the crew at the airlock for the journey to Gamma-3 station.
As the crew entered the station, they were confronted by heavily armed military police. Ivan turned to the crew, “Wait here while I talk to them and Jimmy, keep Elisabeth and Marika behind you”.
A stern-faced officer approached them as they stood and addressed Ivan.
“Welcome back, Commander Kuznetsov. My instructions are to escort you and Dr.Ho to the EEC Space Centre. Elisabeth Williams and Marika will be escorted to their respective headquarters. Please follow us.”
Ivan stood face to face with the officer, “Can you explain why we are not all going to the Space Centre and why we are being greeted by military police instead of our own people?”
The officer showed no emotion in his response. “Sir, I have my orders countersigned directly by EEC Space Agency officials at the highest level. This is a first contact situation and given the situation with your crew members, we have to take extreme precautions”.
“What will happen to them?” Ivan was curious to see the man’s response.
“I’m sorry Sir but that’s not a question I can answer. Now if you and your crew will please follow us. I would rather not use force unless you decide not to cooperate.”
Ivan turned back to the crew standing quietly by the airlock entrance. “You heard the man, we have our orders. Elisabeth, you will go with the Canadian team and Marika with the German team. We will get in touch once we get through the debriefings.”
Lizbeth looked at Ivan and gave him a questioning look. He nodded slightly in return and then joined Jimmy with the EEC team.
“Lizbeth, I believe your commander has something in mind from reading his expression.” Lizbeth heard Sophie’s voice softly in her head.
“Sophie, you are still here! Thank God, I was afraid I would lose contact once we left the ship,” Lizbeth thought back at her.
“Yes, I can relay through the ship for a distance, but I should be able to connect into the communication grid here. We should be able to find out what’s going on and contact the others.”
“Ms Williams, I’m sorry but you must come with us now”, a polite but somewhat menacing Canadian officer gestured her to follow.
Without any other options, Lizbeth shrugged and headed down the hallway with her escort, waving to the others before they disappeared.
— CSA Headquarters —
24 hours later, Lizbeth was escorted into the CSA Headquarters building and locked into a sparse room with only a couple of chairs and a table.
“Sophia, are you still with me?”
“Yes, Lizbeth, we are still connected.”
“Is there any way you can access the data network in the building, specifically the security system? I have a feeling it could come in handy as I have a bad feeling on what they have planned.”
“I’ll see if I can find an access point.”
The door to the room suddenly opened and Lizbeth was surprised to see the Director of Interplanetary Exploration, Dr.Jean Baptiste Richotte, walk into the room and sit down across the table from her.
“Director, why am I locked up in here and why was I brought here like a criminal with a military police escort?”
“Elisabeth, I am sorry but the orders came directly from the Prime Minister’s Office. Apparently, there was quite a bit of pressure from certain corporate interests to examine you. I don’t like it and I talked to Alexi Grigorovich and I can’t say he was any happier than I am. He is working on a plan and asked me to delay the Genetech team as long as possible. I am afraid that’s all I can do at the moment.”
Lizbeth could tell he wasn’t comfortable in her presence by the way he left quickly. It seems that her transformation was affecting the way all her colleagues treated her. Well, except for Marika who was dealing with similar issues. Lizbeth really wished she could talk with her, someone who at least could relate.
“Lizbeth, I can arrange that if you want. Marika has similar communication implants which I can access if you wish.”
“Really? That would be brilliant as I need to know how she is doing.”
“Yes, you are now connected.”
“Marika, this is Elisabeth, can you hear me?”
“Elisabeth, is that really you? How are you able to talk to me?”
“Sophia, my ship’s AI has more capability than even Myker knows. We both have comm implants so she just located you and connected us up. How are you doing, where are they keeping you? I am locked into a room at CSA Headquarters and there is a collection team from a company called Genetech which is supposed to take me who knows where, but it’s not good.”
“Elisabeth, it is similar here but Alexi said he is working on a plan. I really don’t know what he will be able to do.”
“The Director here told me the same so just stay alert in case something happens.”
“I will and you should too. I’ll let you know if I hear anything now that I can contact you.”
Sophie’s voice cut into the conversation, “Lizbeth, I am sorry to interrupt but there is someone at the main entrance and since it’s well after midnight, this doesn’t look normal”
“Sophia, can you tell if it is the Genetech team?”
“No, it appears to be a man driving a van and he has been given access.”
Lizbeth stood up and moved behind the door. She wasn’t a trained soldier but she was definitely not going to cooperate if this was an abduction!
As the door quietly opened she raised her arms, which being cybernetic would probably do some serious damage.
“Elisabeth, are you there? It’s Ivan.”
Lizbeth blinked; Ivan showing up was not on her list of possibilities.
“Ivan, what are you doing here?”
“Alexi sent me. We have a plan to get you and Marika to safety. We are going to get you to the new Lúthian embassy at Star City where you can ask for asylum.”
“Ivan, how are you going to do that? All the airlines and trains will be watched. If you haven't noticed, I don’t exactly blend in very well these days. Will the Lúthians even accept me? They seemed to be in a rush to get us off-planet when we left.”
“Myker said they don’t want you on the planet to ‘contaminate’ things but left a loophole for hosting you off-planet. Myker seems pretty determined to take advantage of that so he sent Alisna along in case there was a problem.
“So Mr.Genius, how are you going to get me there?”
“That’s more like the Elisabeth I know. Don't worry, I brought you a nice fast motorcycle and arranged a route across Canada to Alaska and the Siberian Bridge. Alexi has arranged for the Federal Security Service Border Control guards to get you on the rail to Star City. You may have to travel baggage part of the way but we will keep you out of public sight. He has arranged a similar escape route for Marika with the help of people in the DLR in Cologne. It’s not perfect so we set up some decoys to delay any pursuit.”
“Is that what is in that black van of yours? A motorcycle?”
“Of course, come take a look and we will get you out of here.”
Lizbeth stopped for a second, “Sophia, can you disable all the security cameras and external alarms to give us some time?”
She heard Sophia almost laugh in her head. “Consider it done.”
“Ok, Ivan, let's go and see your present!”
They slipped out the door and headed outside.
— Escape —
Lizbeth finally slid onto the bike seat and felt the rumble of the engine as she checked out the controls. There was always something very visceral about the experience of riding a motorbike that was hard to describe. Now she felt even more connection with her biomechanical limbs which was a bit disconcerting. It was going to take a while to come to terms with all the changes.
“Sophia, can you find us a route to the bridge that avoids detection as much as possible?”
“Lizbeth, I am afraid there are not too many options but if you head northwest out of the city and follow Highway 16 to Yukon and then to Alaska, you can make it in about 72 hours. I must caution you that if they suspect you are heading for the Siberian Bridge, it is like they will set up roadblocks.”
“Is there a way to avoid the Highway then?”
“You can divert North up to Prince Albert and stay away from the main roads, at least until you get to British Columbia. I should be able to track any police communications so we will know if they are getting close.”
“Thank you, Sophia. That’s what we’ll do then!”
Lizbeth slid her visor down and kicked the big machine into gear and moved out. Ivan had found her black leather riding gear which covered her prosthetics so she hopefully wouldn’t stand out. Ivan planned to meet her in Alaska so she had to keep to her schedule.
Weaving her way through the night traffic, she headed north across the Rivière-des-Mille-Îles to Saint-Jérôme where she headed northwest. As she left the city limits, Lizbeth opened up the throttle to find the bike left forward faster than she expected. She then headed out into the country, staying to the smaller roads and vanished into the night.
— Across Canada —
Two days later, Lizbeth pulled the bike over to the side of the road as the road to Alaska stretched out before her. She had been travelling non-stop except for refuelling and was now just outside Dawson Creek in British Columbia. If she didn’t stop she should make the Siberian Bridge in two days.
“Lizbeth, I am afraid we may have company,” Sophia’s voice broke into Lizbeth’s thoughts.
“Is it the police, Sophia?”
“I don’t think so. I am picking up communications transmissions suggesting that they are looking at the highways but they haven’t spotted you yet. I don’t think they know how fast you can travel when you don’t have to stop and rest but we should get to the bridge before they realise that is your destination.”
“Thanks Sophia, I’ll pick up the pace. Have you heard anything from Ivan?”
Suddenly Lizbeth noticed a small red light blinking on her display. She reached over, pressed the button and heard Ivan’s voice on the comm in her helmet.
“Elisabeth? I am guessing you are ahead of me. Don’t worry: this comm link is encrypted and bounced through the Russian Satellite network so they can’t track it.”
“Ivan, I am just past Dawson Creek. We need to get to the bridge as soon as possible. The police are starting to check the roads so they may figure out where we are heading.”
It wasn’t long before Lizbeth spotted a black cycle like hers cruising towards her. Ivan pulled up beside her and pulled off his helmet.
“How did you get this far? I kept looking for you and then I got close enough to link to your bike.”
“Ivan, this may sound weird, but apparently I can go a long time without sleep or food so I just rode as fast as I could. We have about 30 hours left to get to the bridge.”
Ivan looked at her strangely. “Somehow I think there is a lot more to you than we know about. By the way, how did you know the police were starting to look this way for you?”
Lizbeth pondered that for a few minutes, trying to decide whether to tell him about Sophia.
She heard Sophia’s voice softly in her head, “I think you can trust him and he will realise it sooner or later.”
She looked up at Ivan, “I haven’t told you this but I am in contact with the Lúthian AI from my ship. Her name is Sophia and she is able to tap into the local communications network. She was the one who disabled the security system back at CSA headquarters.”
Ivan raised an eyebrow, “That explains a lot. Does Marika have access as well?”
“That should help, especially if we have trouble at the border. Are you ready to push these bikes to see how fast they can really go?”
She answered him by gunning her engine and shot off down the road leaving him in the dust.
He just shook his head and laughed. Putting his helmet back on, he kicked his bike into gear and opened the throttle, rocketing down the road after her.
— Escape to Siberia —
Twenty-six hours later Lizbeth and Ivan pulled over as they approached the Alaskan entry to the bridge. Once part of the United States, Alaska had joined Canada in the restructuring after the war.
Lizbeth removed her helmet, shaking out her hair, and surveyed the bleak landscape. The massive customs terminal dominated the landscape as cars were diverted to the Customs and Immigration lanes while the high-speed trains headed directly to the train station. Massive pipelines connected to storage and shipping terminals bring Siberian natural gas to Canada and the US.
Lizbeth looked closer as her cybernetic eyes zoomed in on the vehicle lanes heading onto the bridge.
“Ivan, do you think they will they stop us on the way out? I’ve never taken the bridge before and this makes me nervous.”
Ivan pulled his helmet off as well and thought for a moment, then checked his comm unit. “We have arranged for a safe exit with colleagues in your border patrol. I have our credentials marked so they know to let us pass through without inspections. We should be cleared once we reach the Russian side; the Border Service has also instructions to let us through without inspection”.
Lizbeth nodded and stared at the border station. She found she was to get incredible detail with her cybernetic eyes. There were so many things to learn about this new body of hers.
“Ivan, I see 3 lanes going across with 4 agents inspecting vehicles. Which way are we supposed to go?”
“Do you see an agent with red hair and gold badge?” Ivan had to get a set of binoculars out to even see what Lizbeth was seeing.
“No, wait, yes I can see him, he looks nervous”
Ivan looked over at her, “You can tell he is nervous from here? I can barely make him out with my binoculars.”
Lizbeth shook her head, “Something's not right. I see armed men wearing combat gear behind the gate booth. They must be expecting us. I would guess our friend has been compromised. Maybe we can stage some sort of diversion?”
Suddenly Sophia chimed in her ear, “Lizbeth, I am afraid it is worse than that. The four you see are a decoy as there are an additional 20 men, from what I can tell, hidden in the wings of the terminal waiting to ambush you. Someone has betrayed you.”
Lizbeth sighed, “Alex we have to find another way, they have about 20 people hiding in addition to the four they let us see.”
"Ty che, blyad?” Alex cursed in Russian, “Sorry, I was not expecting that. I think the men you see are probably private contractors rather than Canadian border guards. I suspect they will expect a diversion and ignore it if we try.”
“Lizbeth”, Sophia whispered again, “I analyzed the terminal security protocols. If there is an explosion on the rail line going in, they will automatically shut down all high-speed rail traffic and you should be able to use the rail lines which start in the terminal instead of the surface road. I don’t detect any of the mercenaries in the tunnel entry although they have several men watching the passenger gates. If you enter through the maintenance port west of the train station, you should be able to get through without detection.”
“Ivan, Sophia says we can access the train tunnel at the entry point and if we stage an explosion by the trains, they will automatically shut down all rail traffic. It sounds risky but I don’t see any other way for us to get across the border.”
Ivan mumbled a few more choice words in Russian, then sighed. "I think you are right, this is our best chance. I don’t suppose Sophia could set off the explosion and unlock the maintenance door at the same time so we can get a head start? These bikes are bespoke and have a lot more speed than anything they will have.”
Lizbeth shrugged, “I think coming back to Earth was a mistake. I don’t belong here anymore. I’m not sure where I belong but it’s not here so let’s get to the Lúthian embassy so we can get off-planet.”
Twenty minutes later a large fireball rose up from the fuel storage tanks engulfing the rail lines into the station. At the same time, the two motorcycles raced to the opening maintenance doors and slid through.
— Orbital Sanctuary —
Once they had cleared the tunnel, they were met by the Russian Federal Security Service.
“Commander Ivan Kuznetsov, I am Colonel Genadi Sokolov of the FSB. Director Alexi Grigorovich sends his regards. I understand we are to escort you to the Lúthian Embassy as quickly as possible.”
Ivan looked over at Lizbeth, who smiled and shrugged. “Sounds good to me, I am getting tired of running!”
Sokolov motioned them to follow out the back of the terminal building to a helipad where a small VTOL passenger jet was waiting, ready to take off.
Lizbeth turned to Ivan, “Do you think we can trust him? We haven’t exactly had a warm welcome back so far.”
Ivan shrugged, “I don’t know that we have a lot of options. Can Sophia tell you anything?”
Lizbeth thought, “Sophia? Is this safe?”
“Lizbeth, I analyzed the vehicle flight plan and it’s destination is the Lúthian embassy by Star City so I believe you can trust this man.”
She turned to Ivan, “Sophia confirms that they will take us to the embassy. I guess we are good then.”
They turned to Sokolov who was waiting patiently at the door and followed him out onto the tarmac to the waiting plane.
Eight hours later they were touching down at the Zvyozdny Gorodok airport where a black Aurus Senat was waiting for them. Lizbeth looked closely then turned to Ivan, “Ivan, it’s Alexi! It looks like we get to ride in style to the Embassy.” Ivan laughed, “That would be Alexi’s style.”
As they reached the limousine, Alexi came forward and gave them both bear hugs. “It is good to see you both and in one piece. I must say, Elisabeth, you certainly have upgraded your appearance. It is different but much better than the ghostly self I saw when you left!”
“Thanks, Alexi, it feels good to be alive again but I am still trying to sort out this new body. Something I would rather do on my own without some biotech goons tearing me apart.”
“Elisabeth, I understand. You have caused quite a commotion since your communication as no one expected you to be alive and then you have been transformed with alien technology. No one quite knows whether you are a godsend or a threat. This is why we must get you to the Lúthian embassy as soon as possible where Myker can protect you, before the people here who view you as a threat or a gateway to their immortality get a hold of you.”
“Alexi, I am not sure the Lúthians feel any different. Myker said they have banned Marika and me from the planet surface as they are afraid we may contaminate their Symbiotes. How is Marika? Did she get out of German custody?”
Alexi smiled, “Yes we managed to work with some of her German counterparts to arrange her escape. Jimmy met her and escorted her to the embassy. They are waiting for us. Apparently, your friend, Alisna, is there as well. Myker anticipated this turn of events so sent additional help in case you two needed it. Now come, we must hurry before anyone realises where we are heading.”
Lizbeth stopped for a second, then looked directly at Alexi. “Why? Why are you doing this for Marika and me? As you said we aren’t really human any more and we could be a real threat. Why are you still willing to help us to escape?”
Alexi and Ivan looked at each other, exchanging glances. “Elisabeth, you should know us by now. We are a team and we don’t leave anyone behind. You showed us that when you risked your life looking for the crew and they risked their lives and careers looking for you. Our contact with the Lúthians could change everything. You two are an essential part of that change so we are here to help. I know, speaking to your Director, Jean Baptiste, that he and his team feel the same way.”
Lizbeth bit her lip and she thought back to her conversation with Anahita and quietly said to herself, “That's odd, she said the same thing.”
Ivan looked back at Lizbeth staring at her for a moment. “Who said the same thing? What are you referring to?”
Lizbeth shook her head, “It’s probably nothing, just a dream. I’ll tell you about it later, it’s just odd.”
The limousine arrived at the newly build Lúthian Embassy, construction workers still finishing up the outside. Lizbeth noticed a slightly glowing perimeter wall and guessed it was better protected than was obvious to the casual observer.
Alexi looked up, “Ah, we are here. I understand Alisna has set up comm links with Lúth, and I believe your friend Myker is anxious to talk to us.”
As they entered the new building, they were met by Jimmy, Marika and Alisna. Marika ran over to Lizbeth and threw her arms around her in a big hug.
"It is so good to see you, you are like my sister now! I was so afraid they were going to experiment on me, then Jimmy showed up. I can’t believe they are treating us like this.”
Lizbeth shook her head, although her cybernetic eyes wouldn’t let her show tears. “I know, Marika. Ivan showed up and pulled me out of CSA headquarters. At least our people are supporting us. I think we are safe for the moment in the embassy, but I don't think it will be safe for either of us on Earth or Lúth for that matter. People want what we have become and I don’t think that is going away anytime soon.”
Lizbeth turned to Alisna, “Have you been in communication with Leader Myker? What are they going to do with us next?”
Alisna looked back and tilted her head as if listening to something. “I believe Leader Myker is discussing the matter with your leader, Speaker Zhang Nianzhen of your EEU Council.”
— Compromise —
Zhang Nianzhen was sitting in her office in Bejing when the call from the Lúthian leader came through.
“Leader Myker, to what do I owe the pleasure of this call? I was expecting to hear back from our negotiating teams before we met again.”
Myker’s image appeared on the video screen. “Zhang wěiyuán Nianzhen nushi, Thank you for taking my call.
Nianzhen smiled slightly at the use of her formal title, “Not at all. What did you wish to discuss?”
Myker leaned slightly forward, “I understand that two crew-members of the Shining Star were detained on arrival to Earth orbit and were taken into the custody of private biotechnology companies.”
Nianzhen looked back, “As far as I know they were just being quarantined for health checks; have you heard otherwise?”
Myker frowned slightly, “My sources tell me that they intended to experiment on them to unlock some of the secrets of their new bodies. You have to understand that as my combine resurrected them from near-death and constructed their new bodies, any attempt to reverse engineer those bodies or harm them or their hosts would not be favourably looked on by the Lúthian government. I trust you understand the implications.”
Nianzhen was quiet for a few moments as she considered the situation. “I am sure it was a misunderstanding but I will make sure they are released immediately. I suspect there will be other attempts by other parties to gain access to their technology though. Considering the destabilising effect this could have on our government here, do you have any suggestions on what to do with them? Can you take them back to Lúth?”
Myker shook his head, “No, I am afraid my fellow councillors foresee similar destabilising effects on our population as well, if they are allowed free access. I do have an idea though, which may just solve our problems.”
Nianzhen looked carefully at Myker, “I am intrigued, so what is this idea you have?”
Myker brought up an image of a spaceship, “I assume you are familiar with the new exploration spacecraft we are jointly building? I believe your engineer, Jimmy Ho, is leading the design of the system from your side?”
Nianzhen looked at the diagram, “Yes, I am familiar with the project; it will be staring trial flights this week I believe.”
Myker smiled, “My suggestion is that we assign Elisabeth and Marika as the permanent crew of this new ship. Since they both can easily tolerate the long-term effects of radiation, they will have no problem travelling the solar system without ill effect. We can then add science teams for specific missions as we need to. This way we can keep them off Earth and Lúth while enabling us to explore more of the solar system. It would solve several problems at once."
Nianzhen now smiled, “I believe you are correct, Leader Myker: that would solve our immediate problems. We can create a joint exploration command and assign them off-world, effective immediately, if that is acceptable to you and your council.”
Myker nodded, “I believe it is safe to accept the proposal on their behalf. Since Elisabeth and Marika are currently safe in our embassy, I will let them know.”
Nianzhen eyes widened a bit when she heard that the women were in the embassy, then she smiled, “Thank you Leader Myker, our teams can work out the details.”
— Conclusion —
Lizbeth and the crew were discussing their options when Alisna turned to them.
“Leader Myker has relayed that an agreement has been reached between your EEU and the Lúthian Council. You and Marika are being transferred to a new joint exploration group and you are being assigned command of the new exploration ship Jimmy has been building with Marika as your First Officer and Chief Science Officer. He just had one question for you.”
Lizbeth turned to Marika and laughed, “I was not expecting that! Of course, we agree, but what is his question?”
Alisna smiled, “What do you want to name your ship?”
Lizbeth thought for a moment then looked over at Marika. Marika shrugged and said, “It is your first command, you should choose.”
Lizbeth smiled, suddenly remembering summers at the lake in Quebec, “Oh I know, something that is unique and flies and swims, a Loon. Yes, tell Myker that I want to name her the Crazy Loon!”
Ivan turned to Alisna, “Do you think you can find a bottle of Vodka? We need to drink to this!”
Lizbeth would have cried if she could, somehow life was changing in ways she hadn’t anticipated but that wasn’t a bad thing no matter what Anahita had said.
— Epilogue —
As Myker closed his communications with Earth, he received a coded transmission from one of his communication specialists.
“Leader Myker, we have been detected some odd signals coming from Europa several days ago. At first, we thought it was just a natural phenomenon but further analysis revealed some very sophisticated waveforms.”
“Interesting, we recorded Lizbeth having some very vivid dreams about the same time. I think that we may want to visit Europa as the first mission for our new exploration team."