Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 19, 2196

The world, and the way people lived in it, had changed dramatically since Leona’s original time in the early 21st century. The millions of cities, smaller towns, and rural countrysides were reduced to several hundred central locations. While still spread across the globe, people primarily lived in one of only a few kinds of constructs. There were the landlocked arcologies—like the one Leona and her friends had been living in for the last couple weeks—of varying designs of capacities. There were floating seasteads, for people who liked to wander around over the mysterious deep. They did so above underwater habitats, similar to those depicted in seaQuest DSV. Others lived in permanent orbiting satellites, off world on Mars, or the moons of Jupiter, or on generation ships bound for the great unknown. The rest lived in the Northwest Forest Circles, or the North Korean Isolate. Only a few pockets of anarcho-primitivists survived in secret camps, but most technology-resistant people were law abiding citizens of the inner forest rings.
Kansas City had asserted itself as the most dominant superpower of all exmunden establishments, which was the designation for any intelligent species ultimately deriving from Earth, be it human, android, combination thereof, or something else entirely. It was only used to distinguish from entities originating from alien locations, of which none had so far been discovered. It was odd being back in the closest thing to her hometown. Everything Leona had known had been completely demolished, and replaced with wildlife. This made her a little sad, but everyone else around her seemed perfectly fine with it, even those who had been alive to see the old world. It was time to move on, and what better way to do that than to lay her friend to rest in the safest place in the solar system.
A few ceremonies were performed to honor the fallen heroes who worked tirelessly against the Arianation, but a special one was scheduled specifically for Ecrin Cabral, and the cadet who had fought and died alongside her in the final battle, whose name was Platinum Creaser. Out of all the interesting names she had learned during her hurried journey through time, his was probably the best. The service was attended by tens of thousands of people, and watched by the whole world, along with parts of other worlds. A journalist had spent Leona’s interim year uncovering what she could about what had happened on that Panama arc, and how Ecrin had been involved. She had apparently uncovered proof of temporal manipulation, but agreed to leave that part out of her series for the sake of everyone. She even lied in one article in order to explain away why the memorial had to wait an entire year, by claiming that an important family member had to make the return trip from the inner Oort cloud. At the moment, Ecrin was probably the second most famous person in the system, bested only by Ulinthra herself. Even though her real name had long come out, most people were still referring to her as Arianrhod.
“That was a nice service,” Vitalie said to Leona as they were leaving the stage after having been silent honored guests. She had disappeared from the timestream about a week after Leona’s jump, and come back to it a month ago. Leona’s marrow transplant was waning in her, rather than quitting all at once. It was good that she would most likely eventually fall completely off of Leona’s pattern, but it also meant Ulinthra would not stay on it for much longer either. She had received a far smaller dose than the others, and if she returned to full strength before being found, things could get bad again. Brooke had spent the year leading the search, but came up short. Many presumed she’d managed to make her way off world in a darkburster, but this was unlikely. The few people who knew about time travel guessed she had escaped through some portal, but that was even less likely, because this was when and where Ulinthra had built her empire, and she would need to be here to do it again. No, she was hiding out somewhere, probably random, waiting for her link to Leona to be severed, so she could restart the war.
“It was,” Brooke agreed.
“What are you gonna do now?”
Brooke took a deep breath, then looked back at Ecrin’s service photo. “She and I talked about working together.”
“You did?”
“Yeah, she was gonna come out of retirement, and go back to her old ways.”
“Would you restart the IAC?”
“I don’t know what that is,” Vitalie said.
“Interplanetary Security. It handles crimes committed on multiple worlds, or elsewhere in interplanetary space. I would be the pilot, she would be an investigator.”
“You would be perfect for that,” Leona said awkwardly. Though Brooke turned out to be a double agent, and still operating on their side, their relationship had not yet healed from the irreversibly traumatic experience.
“I’m cooking tonight,” Brooke said after they walked a little further, speaking only to exchange pleasantries with random mourners. “That was an invitation,” she added after they didn’t respond.
“That would be lovely,” Vitalie said cordially.
“Great, come at six. I think we should probably...catch up.”
Leona and Vitalie returned to the executive safehouse where they were staying with Commissioner Tribaldos, who had spent the year running the Panamanian reconstruction remotely. It was a large mansion that accommodated all Panamanian arcstate leadership, like a trashy reality show, but without the cameras. They were presently locked in the situation room, where they were coordinating the continued hunt for Ulinthra, and her loyalists. Brooke normally led these missions, but she needed the week off. The two of them ate a little brunch, and then took a nap, before getting up mid-afternoon to prepare for the dinner.
That evening, they found Brooke’s door to be ajar, and an unusual smell coming from inside. Vitalie urged Leona to call security, and not go in herself, because of the baby, but Leona had spent this whole time as a time traveler doing things herself. She rarely had the luxury of calling for help, so it just wasn’t really habit anymore. She nudged the door all the way open, and cautiously stepped inside, keeping her head on a swivel. The place was a mess. It didn’t look so much like a struggle, but more like someone wanted it to appear like there had been a struggle. Objects had fallen out of their respective places a little too neatly. The cabinets above the food synthesizer were open, with rarely used supplies spilling out. That would never happen from a fight, unless maybe someone went looking for something afterwards.
The screen on the wall flipped on once they had come inside far enough. It was showing them either footage, or a stream of a group of soldiers walking towards a black ship. They appeared to be using helmet cams, but the view occasionally switched to a drone perspective.
“Is that a...?”
“Yes,” Leona said. It was a darkburster. They were a special class of extremely illegal, and dangerous, rockets. They were illegal because they used incredibly sophisticated stealth technology that rendered them almost perfectly invisible. They were dangerous, because the only way to achieve this level of invisibility was to block the darkburster’s sensors as well. Like human-driven semi-trailer truck drivers of old, who couldn’t see you behind them if you couldn’t see their mirrors, if the darkburster can see where it’s going, someone else can too. They were programmed to shoot straight up into the air, pass through the atmosphere, and head for a blindspot, while completely blind themselves. If something went wrong during this exercise, not even an artificially intelligent pilot would be able to compensate. They were used by smugglers and other criminals, to transport contraband and people between worlds, and their success rate was at about 50%. The more time that passed, the more advanced the solar system became, and the more difficult it was to avoid being detected without passing the system’s termination shock. Darkbursters were having to calculate longer and longer routes to stay hidden, and it was just not a sustainable business model. Before too long, the only thing small enough to not be sensed by a planet, a ship, or a monitoring buoy within the confines the helisphere, will be a coffin-sized escape pod.
The soldiers were not alone. The one with the helmet cam started slowing down, and allowing those behind him to pass. Two of them were dragging an unconscious Brooke Prieto between them. A small window popped up in the corner of the screen, showing Ulinthra at a desk, facing the camera. She was wearing a headset, and drinking a can of soda that was probably banned years ago. “Oh, I can see you. Can you see me? Can you hear me?”
“What are you doing?”
“Uh, you’re breaking up a little. Can you repeat that?” Ulinthra joked.
“Ulinthra! This isn’t funny! What are you doing?”
“Ah, you’re comin’ in better now. Yes, as you can see, this is footage of my personal darkburster, which I could have used to escape to Orcus and Vanth. I hope you appreciate what I’m sacrificing here.”
“Where are you taking her?” Leona questioned.
“I just told you. Orcus and Vanth.”
“Well, he was a god of the underworld. He punished betrayers, like Brooke. He’ll have a lot of fun with her.”
“Look up Orcus,” Leona whispered to Vitalie.
“What was that?” Ulinthra asked.
“It’s a bad place,” Vitalie said after pulling up a summary of the dwarf planet, Orcus on her tablet. “Only bad people live there.”
Leona glanced down at the tablet. “It’s a bloody crime den.”
“That it is!” Ulinthra agreed with excitement.
“She won’t make it. Not if you send her there on that thing.”
“Oh, not necessarily,” Ulinthra said. “She has a fifty-fifty chance. You seem to be such big fans of those, I thought I’d flip my own penny. I will admit that I flipped tails, but screw that, I make my own fate. Unfortunately, Miss Prieto doesn’t. The darkburster is going to choose for her. I promise that I have not sabotaged it in any way; I am a fair tyrant. If she lives, she goes to Orcus, and you might one day see her again. Hell, the powers that be might even just send you a solar teleporter, so you can retrieve her next year, who knows? That is a long time for her to wait, though. She’s gonna be there by tomorrow. If the darkburster doesn’t make it, then she dies. Not even a transhuman can survive the vacuum of space. But now it is out of my hands.”
“No, it’s not. Call them off.”
She sighed. “I’m good. But again, maybe the PTB are lookin’ to help you out. We can watch together, and see if √Čtude comes through for ya.”
√Čtude did not come through for them, and the darkburster did not survive its journey through the atmosphere. It barely made it off the ground before exploding. Just like that, Brooke was dead. Add her to the list.
“Now you really are dead,” Leona said.
“Nevertheless,” Ulinthra began, “she—”
“No,” Leona interrupted. “You can’t have that.”
“Fine.” Ulinthra frowned. “Bye, Felicia.”

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