Ghosts of Voltariis 6 Pt. 02byJames Cody©
Landers Brecht never had what would be considered an adventurous existence: his parents loved him; his social skills had developed beyond the virtual interactions of the psynet; when he entered university, his innate skill with languages -- both organic and technical -- drew accolades and he was on the path to a flourishing career as a teacher and researcher.
But the Starcane Foundation came knocking and along with it came Deirdre. Then, Deirdre died at the hands of an unknown assailant during a secret assignment for the Foundation. She had come into his life shining like a bright star and their love had been the kind fuelled by a mutual respect, admiration and devouring lust. Her death lead him to seek out the most isolating affectation the Foundation could provide. But she had come back to him as a ghost in a machine. A pity the reunion was doomed to end in fire.
Araa had survived the impact of the life pod with little damage – and what damage there was, her nanotech structure could repair easily. Brecht had not shared that same fortune. Under the light of some flares Araa had found, Brecht's moans of agony signalled he was fully aware of the pain he felt: his right arm was crushed and right leg was a jagged stump. His femur bone was exposed, surrounded by the meat of his shredded, dripping, thigh muscle. Blood left crimson stains all around the debris of the life pod. The pale, greyish, bone of the right side of his skull was exposed as part of his scalp was torn to a bloody piece of meat. Araa hovered her hands over him while a diagnostic glove cast a holographic cross section of his innards.
"Breathe slowly," Araa whispered as sections of the hologram were magnified and a detailed list of the damage appeared along with possible treatments. She furrowed her brow and her concern deepened. "Breathe slowly or the oxygen saturation in your blood with make you delirious. It might even drown you."
"Noo ..." Brecht moaned. "I mourned you. Deirdre. How can you be here? Space isn't supposed to be full of ghosts ..."
"I'm Araa, Lan ... Professor. Just Araa."
Brecht lapsed into a moaning unconsciousness. Araa foraged for a med kit and found some pain killers – she quickly loaded a hypo-syringe and injected Brecht in the neck. His moans subsided but his body shook as a seizure overcame him. Araa stifled a gasp and held him down in a attempt to prevent him from harming himself. Her artificial muscles modulated to compensate for the lesser gravity and not add to his injuries.
"I wont mourn you again," Araa said. The sentiment was not hers though. A memory from the woman Deirdre surfaced as she looked upon the professor. He had once been studying to be a teacher of xeno-linguistics – he was referred to as the professor because he was already and associate in a few virtual universities. Deidre had met him in a preparatory class where he was teaching them the importance of cross cultural symbolism in linguistic referencing when dealing with proto hominid cultures. Deirdre fell in lust at first sight. It had been mutual.
Araa held Brecht's head gently on her lap after his seizure had subsided and applied an organic regenerative adhesive to his torn scalp – while his skin began to rebuild, the new cells forming from the stem structure in the adhesive, Araa recalled the sensations she felt as they copulated while the life pod tumbled towards Voltariis 6. From Deirdre's memories the word fuck emerged. Araa understood that she and the Professor had fucked, like humans do.
Araa closed her eyes as she was awash with her own singular memory of the pleasure she felt as he fucked her – it was clearly connected to the sensations Deirdre had felt, but the core reaction was her own. Araa proceeded to set Brecht's crushed arm – she used a nano structure to reconnect the bones and she formed a protective barrier over the stump of his right leg. She pondered Brecht's comment about mourning Deirdre – the word conjured a memory where Deirdre had received word from the Starcane Foundation that Brecht had died in an accident. Grief had deadened her skills and in her insouciance, she fell. When the stranger's blade had pierced her, he had apologized – he also used the engram decoder that served as Araa's upgrade module. The Foundation, Araa though, worked in mysterious ways.
Z'eth'I's skin was a scabbed, oozing wound that dragged as the young Vik'sh crawled to what could only be the skeleton of the great blazing beast that had fallen to the ground and had stirred the ire of the core dragon. Z'eth'I hoped that if the heart of the beast could be found and offered to the core, a blessing would be apposed and the Passing would be achieved.
But Z'eth'I was the anointed heart.
Araa found a water container and poured some on Brecht's chapped lips – her med analysis showed that his internal injuries were more extensive than she had initially believed. She did not have the skill or the equipment to treat him. She looked around and began to rummage through the debris with deliberate speed as the planet's lesser gravity was hampering her search. A few moments later, she found her objective: it looked like a discarded spinal column comprised of 24 black interlocking segments. When she picked it up, her mind became aware of the a.i. that resided in the apparatus and knew it was called a sub-spine. They scanned each other and when the challenge codes were authenticated, Araa knew she held the key to saving Brecht's life. It was a logical decision, but she felt a conflict she had never endured before – a moral conflict. Was it right to use it to save him when, through Deirdre's memories, she knew he had always sworn never to use any kind of enhancements? She understood it could be argued she had suffered the same fate – yet she had not chosen the engram enhancements. It had seemed logical considering the limited parameters of her previous version; she had no concept of choice. Brecht was also currently without the power of choice and his life was now in the hands of someone for whom choice was newly acquired. So, she chose and she was now ready to accept his hate if her decision allowed for him to live.
Araa deposited the apparatus, gently lifted Brecht off the scorched earth and lowered him onto the sub-spine. At first, nothing happened, although Araa was monitoring the progress of the symbiotic a.i. Brecht moaned when a series of neurogenic tendrils grew from the modules newly grafted to his back and pierced his skin and laced with the nerves extending from his natural spine. It was the battle armour the Foundation had sent – an experimental armour designed by the Gate Keeper alliance, said to have been reverse engineered from ancient alien technology. The tendrils spread across Brecht's entire nervous system, including creating a weave within the frontal lobes of his brain. His mouth snapped open in a silent scream his eyes rolled back into his head as the tendrils burst from the cap that covered his right leg stump. Blood dripped from the eerie strings as they fanned out from his wound, causing Araa to reflexively jump back – they had found his severed leg and were dragging it back to where he laid. His leg was reattached, torn and missing flesh replaced by layers of nano tubes. An ebony web of nano particles spread from the sub-spine and covered Brecht's limbs before sinking into his skin.
The armour had been designed as a weapon -- its battle systems synced with Brecht's senses and installed wet drive networks in his frontal lobes to allow Brecht control of the armour's advanced infiltration and defensive grids. After the drivers were installed, the sub-spine extended overlapping layers of nano tubes that covered his body from head to toe. The final touch was single molecule thick layer of exotic alloy – the same that created the the hyper-gates. While the armour's external structured was finalized, the nano web had spread in Brecht's body, repairing his extensive internal injuries while augmenting his natural systems to better cope with the demands of the armour.
Araa watched as the mono-molecular armour changed Brecht, the symbiotic a.i orchestrating his rebirth as a melding of organic and tech. She projected the anatomical renderings she had coveted in her previous version of the man and was saddened. The armour sealed itself across his face and a single green, illuminated slit occupied the faceplate the armour had created – the armour itself seemed to glistened as its dark, sinewy appearance completed its reptilian design.
Before she could reflect on her decision and his condition any longer, the armour retracted from his body and Brecht was exposed and whole before her. He was naked and his skin glowed in the firelight as though he was a newborn. Araa rushed to his side and brought the flares with her, hoping their greenish flames would be enough to warm him.
Minutes passed until Brecht opened his eyes and took a deep breath. Light flickered in his dark eyes and he slowly ran his hands over his body. He touched his head, his arm, and finally his right leg – he felt the ban of nano tubes that held the limb in place. He jaw muscle tightened as he sat up and reached behind his back – he found the sub-spine and his mind was given access to the data the symbiont a.i. had recorded during his reassembly. Araa observed as Brecht stood and took a few hesitant steps. He clenched his fists and hung his head. She joined him but hesitated to touch him. He turned and faced her.
"Is space haunted?" Brecht asked.
"Lands – only by our memories."
"Does that make us ghosts, Araa?"
Araa regarded him solemnly. "We are alive, Lands." She noted his ironic smile. "Some more so than others. But we have the means to survive. The Foundation saw to that."
Brecht rummaged through the debris of the life pod and found a grey utility tunic and slipped it on and then located the matching boots. Brecht paused for a moment and shook his head – everything around him was suddenly brighter than it had been only seconds before. He understood that the symbiont a.i. was augmenting ambient light. As he scanned the debris with new vision, he quickly identified the slender stalk of the particle beam rifle. With swift motions, he inspected the weapon and slipped a cylindrical power cell into the rifle's top mounted retaining clasp and the weapon whirred to life and a green bar illuminated the area above the standard trigger. The a.i. linked to the weapon and a targeting grid appeared before Brecht's eyes.
"They did indeed," Brecht hissed as he struggled and concentrated, forcing the symbiont a.i. to switch to safe mode, allowing him to be mostly human. "Odd that they should equip us to fight a war and yet take the time to have an engram module planted in the supplies."
Araa ran her fingers through her hair. "Do you believe you'll ever answer those questions?"
"That'll depend if we survive and make it off this rock." Brecht put the rifle by the heat flare and began to assemble a pack sac with food and water. "Araa, may I ask you a question?"
"Of course, professor," Araa said, reverting to her original appellation for him as she tore at some scarlet fabric and fashioned a bikini like apparel for herself.
"All those times you would walk into my quarters while I was exercising or showering – were you trying to see me naked?"
Araa was slipping the extra power cells for the rifle into a pack with heat and light flares when she turned and looked at him. "I was."
They were silent for a moment – suddenly, a sphere popped up in Brecht's line of vision. It contained two green dots in close proximity and a yellow dot with a vector line and the header 51 m over the line.
"Something's out there," Brecht whispered.
Beyond the unsealed hatch of the life pod, Brecht and Araa were met with a deeply red sliver of light as Sedna Voltariis broke above the horizon in the east and flooded the area around the life pod – charred and blackened grasses glowed with an amber hue while the sky drifted from green to blue as the star rose in the sky. Sedna Voltariis steadily turned orange as the oxygen in the atmosphere refracted the blue wavelengths of light. The beauty of Voltariis 6 was unlike anything the images Brecht had studied had prepared him for.
Hoisting the particle beam rifle over his shoulder, Brecht took Araa's hand in his and they ventured under the this strange sun.
"This reminds me of the time we ran around the habitation ring at the Capsys station," Araa said, reminiscing about a vacation Deirdre had shared with Brecht before she left for her fatal assignment.
Brecht disregarded the fact that the memory was not Araa's – instead he squeezed her hand gently before letting her go and moved ahead of her. The proximity sphere the symbiont a.i. was projecting swirled as Brecht advanced amidst the crash site until a bearing to the unknown contact was established. A window popped up in front of him, asking is he wanted to change his status from safe to defensive mode – Brecht declined and walked towards the unknown contact.
Araa joined him and cast a vigilant eye across the edge of the red coloured treeline that formed the boundary of the clearing where the life pod had crashed. She kept a relaxed finger in the trigger guard of the old fashioned sub machine gun she had discovered before the life pod had launched – she had great confidence in her skills with the .45 calibre gun. More precisely, she had confidence in the skills she had inherited from Deirdre.
Brecht rounded the edge of a wind swept mound, the grasses flattened and the air filled with exotic scents of unknown flowers – but where he expected to find a single contact, three Adult Vik'sh stood around the scabbed and charred form of one of the androgynous members of the local community. Brecht stopped in his tracks and placed a hand on Araa's belly when she joined him -- borrowed instincts made her cock the weapon and assume a firing position and aim at the natives.
The male and two females looked at the alien newcomers and appraised Brecht and Araa. One of the females had a small leather-like pouch tied to her slender waist that she loosened and tossed to Brecht's feet. Brecht was struck by the commanding beauty of both the female Vik'sh – he looked over his shoulder and noticed Araa was studying the male with similar lust. His dark red skin covered ripped muscles while the females were graceful, with long legs, flared hips and smallish, firm breasts. They all had long, yellow and green hair that was either braided or simply pulled back and tied with some manner of string.
The male lifted the wounded Vik'sh and carried the body to Brecht.
"What am I supposed to do?" Brecht asked as he clutched the ravaged body to his chest. He was shocked by how light the body was. He was more shocked by the slight tug he felt at his finger as the wounded Vik'sh touched him. The touch sent a shiver up his spine and sub-spine. A female looked down at the pouch with her opaque orange eyes.
"We really don't know a lot about them, do we, Lands?" Araa said even before realizing she reverted to addressing him by the nickname Deirdre had used – she kept the Vik'sh in her sights as they disappeared into the forest.
"No we don't, Araa," Brecht answered, regarding his new charge curiously.
"It should have been vaporized in the crash," Araa said as she examined the wounds with the diagnostic glove from Brecht's pack – the med a.i. showed conflicting signs of cellular damage and regeneration on the Vik'sh's flesh.
"The Vik'sh are tougher than they appear," Brecht said as he started back to the crashed life pod.
Araa gazed one more time onto the forest where the Vik'sh returned to before putting the safety back on her weapon.
The Foundation had included many xeno-biological files when it had set up the station that had become Brecht's last rest stop before his rather unfortunate planet fall. Few had survived and those they had were sealed in amber as coded DNA files by Araa, ready to be opened when they were back in core space. Araa was pouring over what she had saved in her memory's synaptic coding and little of it had to do with the Vik'sh.
Brecht had laid down layers of blankets on the ground of the life pod and had set up an inflatable threshold at the hatch. Smart lights floated about the wreckage and illuminated the nest Araa had set up for the Vik'sh – a cube rested on the floor and projected a magnified version of the info the med a.i. had collected. Brecht observed the images, highlighting areas he thought to recognize. He was happy for the distraction – Araa was moving with the same kind of easy elegance that had characterized Deirdre. He remembered telling her that watching her move was like a free recital from a seasoned dance troupe.
His scientific mind was puzzled and elated by the presence of a wounded Vik'sh. The internal organs were not readily identifiable beyond the muscles and the skeleton. But the unresolved sex organs were clearly identifiable. Brecht opened the pouch a female Vik'sh had laid at his feet and he examined its contents: it was a biological based ointment with multiple layers of cellular surfactants. He scooped some of the ointment and spread it across the skin of the Vik'sh – Brecht's hand tingled as he worked the balm into the damaged skin of the native. As he did so, he watched the images being rendered by the diagnostic glove – the undefined nature of the organs was familiar to him.
"Araa!" Brecht shouted as he continued to use both hands to massage the Vik'sh -- his hands appeared to be working of their own accord. "The med scans? Were there any definite genetic markers?"
Araa looked up from a file she was holding and gazed at the frantic pace with which Brecht was massaging the Vik'sh – she rushed to her feet and tried to pull Brecht away from the native.
"Its all right." he reassured her. "The ointment is overriding my neural pathways and jamming the symbiont – just check for genetic markers."
Araa eyes flashed with an anger he recognized all too well – she was taking on more and more of Deirdre's traits. Nonetheless, she slipped on the diagnostic glove and summoned a virtual control panel that appeared in her palm and recalibrated the sensors for DNA analysis.
"There aren't any telomeres," Araa said. Brecht looked at her while he was massaging the Vik'sh chest. Flecks of scabbed skin fell off the body.
"What does that tell you?"
"No telomeres imply that DNA replication would not degrade the sequences." Araa said. Brecht knew Deirdre's experience was guiding Araa's reasoning. "Naturally evolved DNA would also show signs of past mutations. There should be introns and dormant genes."
"The Vik'sh aren't native to Voltariis 6, are they?" Araa asked, understanding blooming behind her artificial, grey eyes.
Brecht wanted to speak, but he was still massaging the Vik'sh – he understood that the ointment had somehow extracted DNA from his skin and was spreading it across the wounded being. His eyes grew wide when he realized he was not actually massaging the Vik'sh, he was molding the young being's form. The DNA rich ointment had made the Vik'sh flesh as malleable as clay and Brecht had been instinctively reforming it. During his last exchange with Araa, he had just finished forming breasts on the Vik'sh chest. His hands had shaped lovely firm breasts and worked meticulously to create perfect nipples for the breasts. He felt Araa's glare pierce him when his hand slipped between the beings legs and began to carve a vulva.
"It's been bothering me since we were stationed here but I never took the time to work it out," Brecht mentioned as he pushed a finger into the centre of the newly created vulva. "Voltariis 6 shouldn't exist."