Temporal Incursion. Stellar Flash Book Three. By Neil A. Hogan
Episode 1: The Hand
The violet underside of the twelve-meter-sided, triangular interdimensional ship passed through the ceiling of the North Australia Space Port monitoring center in Darwin, and continued obliviously on its way. Admiral Wei Zhou watched it with awe, then smiled at the circumstances that had brought her there.
She had joined the Earth Council long ago and worked her way up the ranks. But as is the habit of Earth Council, once you’ve been a captain for ten years, you’re offered a promotion to allow the next recruits their chance at a captaincy.
She did miss it, but now she was monitoring the interfrequency and interdimensional ships that crisscrossed Earth’s orbit, ready to offer assistance if anything Earth was doing interfered with their journeys. If she couldn’t go out into space, then at least space could come to her.
Billions of ships passed through the Earth every day, and it was rare for one to pass along the surface of the planet, let alone through the actual monitoring station in Darwin. Most went through the upper atmosphere or through the crust of the Earth itself. Since Frequency Shift in 2033, most of these vehicles could be seen by the general population, and had long since become part of the background. But, occasionally, like this one, they were worthy of attention.
Now that it had faded through the wall, it was time to return to answering her staff. Admiral this, Admiral that. Sadly, that wasn’t as exciting, and she was tempted to flash back to Guangdong province for a quick cup of tea.
“Admiral,” called one of her assistants. Zhou looked up and recognized the brown hair, weathered skin and long beard. Bruce Jones, one of her Australian staff.
“Yes, Bruce, what is it?”
“Another delivery of powdered iridium from Saturn, just flashed into the base. Begging your pardon, ma’am, but, don’t you think we have enough now?”
Zhou raised an eyebrow. “You do know how much this stuff is in demand on Earth, right? All those people getting their mindview systems removed. That’s a lot of medical equipment.”
Jones frowned. “I do. It’s just that, there’s no more room in storage. Would you like me to organize storage in Sydney?”
Zhou had had no idea that they’d already filled all their storage areas in Darwin. The Stellar Flash ship must have brought back quite a lot. But she’d promised she would take it off their hands, and a promise is a promise. “Very good, Bruce. Yes, Sydney for the rest of it. Was there anything else?”
“Going to go fishing on the weekend. Was wondering, you know, if you’d like to come along?”
Zhou could tell he was trying to be casual about it, but his voice went a bit high at the end. She gave him a winning smile. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m strictly an indoors gal. Steel walls, lots of conveniences, and an A.I. not far away. Not sure what I’d do in an outdoor area. Probably get sunburned. I can’t even swim!”
“No worries!” he replied. He was about to turn away when he noticed something and pointed at Zhou’s left arm.
Zhou looked down to see that a light on her flash sleeve was blinking. “Oh! Thanks, mate.”
He smiled shyly, then turned back to his hologram.
She knew he had a thing for her. Not her type, though. She preferred her men to be a bit more feminine, thinner, hairless, and spend much of their time in space.
But now she had something else to attend to. She looked quizzically at her flash band. She usually got messages at her station stand. Why did it come directly to her sleeve? And who has that channel, anyway?
She quickly opened the message.
“Admiral Zhou, Admiral Heartness has disappeared. Please meet me at Heartness’ office on Space Station X-1a asap.”
Victoria had disappeared?
It was like anyone on Space Station X-1a would eventually disappear for one reason or another. She was beginning to think that the station was bad luck. Especially as it was being constructed with the number 1 on it during a snake year.
But she knew what she had to do, and quickly began getting ready.
She noticed the message was from Doctor John Patel and quickly understood the secrecy. He didn’t like to do things that were too public.
She checked her appearance in the mirror. No makeup smudges. Foundation was holding, short black hair shone healthily and didn’t need a comb, black jacket fitted well, long black pants were unlined. Should she put some bright red lipstick on? No. She grinned quietly to herself. She didn’t want to distract anyone else.
She quickly gathered some essential items into a handbag, set up a ‘called away on urgent business’ message at her console, then hit the relocation button at the bottom of the message.
A bright white light enveloped her, and moments later she was one billion kilometers away, inside one of the corridors in Space Station X-1a circling Saturn. She quickly stepped out of the way of a bloated blue balloon-shaped alien that floated past her, and did her best to adjust to the slightly different gravity, air pressure, and smells.
The coordinates she’d been given were directly outside Heartness’ office. She waited until another blobby alien squirmed and squelched past her, then reached out and tapped the door.
5:30pm in Darwin translated to 8:00am on the Space Station. Flashlag was going to be a bitch, she thought. Then she fell into a sneezing fit as her nose began to react to all the differences.
The door dissolved, and Patel appeared, standing in the center of the room. He handed her a tissue. “Wei, so good of you to come!”
Zhou took it gratefully and wiped her nose, before putting it in a pocket. “Sorry. You know it’s thirty degrees Celsius in Darwin. What is it here? Twenty?”
Then she realized that Patel was holding his hand outstretched indicating Heartness’ seat.
“Please,” he said, as though expecting no debate.
Immediately annoyed, Zhou threw her bag down on the table and turned on him. “Cryptic message, and I flashed here quickly, as agreed. But you can’t just expect me to take over the station at a moment’s notice every time. I have other responsibilities at the Space Port!”
Patel carefully lowered his arm and frowned. “Wei, I’m sorry. With Heartness gone, we need you here. You’re the best for this position.”
Zhou put her hands on her hips. “I’ve done research since then. Admiral Rasskator is best for this position. Pull her out of retirement.”
Patel shook his head. “I don’t want to sound sexist, but some delicacy is involved. And you have proven yourself time and time again that your feminine energy is superior when it comes to mediation. We haven’t forgotten your help with the Mars-Earth treaty. Basically, I need you to take care of this station of families, and any cultural conflicts that may arise. In fact, it is why I usually recommend a female for this role. I’m really not good at looking at anything other than the big picture, and males can be, how shall I put it, a bit too logical? We forget to allow our emotions to have a say.”
Zhou lowered her tattooed brows and stared at him. “Get that fabulous Admiral Klimova from the Russian outpost near Barnard’s star, then. He’s more feminine than I am! Even my muscles are bigger than his! And you should see his dance moves!”
Patel held up his hands. “I need you here. The station needs you.”
Zhou frowned, then walked around the table and slowly slid into the seat. “Fine. I’m here, again.” She sighed. “Fill me in. What’s happened to Victoria?”
Patel took the seat opposite and grinned as though the exchange never happened. “Excellent! Now, changing the subject. You know, I’m always tempted to take advantage of my power here, but I do my best not to let it get out of hand.”
Zhou almost laughed. “Really? Did you disable to cameras on the way here, again?”
Patel opened his mouth, then closed it again. “How did you… Never mind. Yes.”
Zhou smiled to herself. A point to her. Patel was the most intelligent person in the Solar System, but he allowed his hubris to get in the way – a lot. He did his best, but he could forget the little things. She’d feel sorry for him if he wasn’t so obliviously arrogant about it.
She took a deep breath, relaxed, and focused on the task at hand. “I guess the reason you needed me here so quickly is because you need something from this room before Earth Council sends its investigators. Something that only I can give as the admiral now in residence.”
Patel nodded again.
Zhou snapped her fingers. “You want me to officially access her files first! See if something is there that could tell you where Victoria went without Earth Council knowing you had looked!”
Patel sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “I’m impressed. You should be a detective.”
Zhou smiled, despite herself. “I might have been, if the A.I.’s hadn’t already taken all the detective jobs. Holographic scan of the crime scene, evidence analyzed in seconds, images sourced from recordings of wall reflections, DNA, fingerprints, faces located in the database in minutes, maybe two to locate the criminal, five minutes to arrest her, him or them and lock them up. That’s if the crime hadn’t already been predicted, or caught in the act first. Detectives disappeared decades ago. Not to mention the drop in crime since Frequency Shift.”
“Still, there are cold cases that the A.I.’s can’t help with.”
Zhou shrugged. “It’s all moot, now. In any case, Secret Services man. What are you hoping to find?”
Patel was silent, but raised an eyebrow as if to say, You’re smart. You work it out.
Zhou touched her chin with a finger. “Assuming Victoria was kidnapped from this room, and the investigation hasn’t started yet, then there might also be a recording.”
“Bingo!” exclaimed Patel.
Zhou looked at him quizzically. “Bingo?”
“Oh, sorry, it’s an old 21st century term for a gambling game. Before your time.”
“I see. So, like ‘Mahj!’”
“Oh, it’s from an old game from 2,500 years ago.” She waved a hand dismissively in the air. “Before your time.” Zhou looked at the screen, and it immediately unlocked for her. She peered at the processes. “The last complete room recording was half an hour ago. The current one is…disabled.”
She squinted at Patel and he shrugged. She let it pass, then looked up at the ceiling. “A.I. Replay room recording from the previous hour. Authorization Admiral Wei Zhou.”
“Confirmed,” said the A.I.
For a moment there was silence, and then a shimmer filled the room. In the center, a short, pale, dark-haired woman in a blue, short-sleeved jumpsuit, appeared to be looking for something while circling the floor.
“Can I get everything?” asked Patel.
“Pause playback. Everything?”
“I want to access her brain waves, thought processes, everything. I want to rule out any chance she has been mentally taken over. We have been working on something together that is still top secret. If whoever took her read her thoughts…”
“Accessing recordings of any person’s thoughts is usually reserved for extreme cases.”
“When not on a mission. All thoughts are recorded as standard on vehicle that has a flash system. We’ve got years of Heartness’ thoughts on record as Captain.”
Zhou stared at Patel with a look of distaste.
“Now, I know she’s a friend of yours,” he continued. “But flash jump records indicate a robot officer has taken an Admiral. If this is the start of another robot uprising, the whole of humanity could be affected.”
Zhou frowned at this new piece of information. “A robot? Any other nuggets I should know?”
Patel shrugged again as if to say, I don’t know what information to give you that you need to know.
She looked up at the ceiling. “A.I. Access entire recording of the appearance and disappearance of the boff and Admiral Heartness. Overlay reality with a holographic version, and give mental access to Heartness’ thoughts for me and… my guest. Brain wave vibration authorization Admiral Wei Zhou.”
“Confirmed,” said the A.I.
“Thank you, Wei,” said Patel.
Reality around them blurred and changed, and the recording began.