Just broke 60,000 words on Parallax today and I am excited about where the story is going. It is gratifying to see that which was previously just an idea in my mind coming to life on the Blank Page and I am over the Moon right now how everything is coming together so well.
So, in honor of this particular milestone, Here is an excerpt from Chapter 16 for your reading enjoyment:
Chaffee Park was just as he remembered it, though it was a far cry from where he knew he should be. One of seven converted agridomes that ringed Earth Station One’s spindle shaped main section, the wide domes supplemented the station’s life support systems with oxygen from the botanical gardens as well as providing crew and visitors with an often needed reminder of life back home while presenting a breathtaking view of Mars’s Northern Hemisphere, complete with a snowy icecap courtesy of terraforming efforts.
Terraforming efforts? He thought as he felt grass crunch under his shoes. Wait a minute, that was almost a decade ago, when I stopped by for a visit prior to graduating from the Academy. Back then, he was just a guy with a Bachelor’s in Physics and overbearing naval officers for parents. Crap, I’m still in the simulation. Still, the attention to detail was extraordinary, he noted to himself as he slapped at what felt like an insect bite on his neck. He stopped at a red faux wood railing that ringed the base of the geodesic dome windows and looked out at Mars while clusters of small lights suspended on overhead cables added a subtle of twinkling lighting effects.
He felt another insect bite, this time through his blue cadet uniform shirt. His memories ticked over, comparing what he knew then with what he knew now. The automated microbots that tended the agridomes were designed to maintain pollination, not bite visitors. He sensed a pause in the simulation as the operating system detected new data and adjusted itself accordingly. The insect bites stopped, but his clothing fabric felt rougher as it moved over his skin. Tricky little bastards.
Still, the view was nice after so long out on the frontiers of Union Space, so he allowed himself to drink in the vista and lose himself in the moment. As he put his hands on the railing to lean against it, he felt a prickly sensation go up his spine and spread across his lower back like centipedes on a forced march. He suspected that They were doing something to his real body, out there somewhere separate from the consciousness they were trying to pacify with pretty flowers and meadows.
“Quite a view, eh?”
Pratt turned to see a security officer dressed in a gray two piece uniform standing next to him. The officer didn’t turn to look down at him, but he could tell the man was of hardy stock and apparently well armed by the oversized sidearm he carried in a shoulder holster strapped across his right shoulder. I don’t remember this guy, he thought, but what the hell. I’ll play the part for a while. “Taking leave on Phobos Station was definitely worth the Union Credits.”
“Indeed.” The officer turned to face him, his face eerily familiar as he spoke in a low rumbling voice. There was something familiar about the way he spoke. Something very familiar. “I understand that on a clear day, you can see the ice miners working at Planum Australe. It can be most breathtaking if one allows their emotions to have sway.”
“Planum Australe? But that’s the South Pole.” Pratt started and caught himself. “Oh, I see. Yes, I would imagine that it would be quite interesting.”
The officer nodded with a sly smile, tipped his cap, and strolled away.
So, there is a way to throw a monkey wrench into this system, Pratt thought as he busied himself by pretending to stare out the windows. Now to make this work for me.
Time, he learned, had no meaning in this place. Even the digital clocks that normally proclaimed the local time in brilliant block letters appeared to him as clear squares and ovals showed only a jumble of numbers and letters, making them useless for timekeeping. He already figured out that his thoughts dictated what appeared so he experimented on small yet simple objects that he hoped wouldn’t appear out of place to his captors. His first attempts at directly influencing the system met with failure as the simulation paused and adapted, frustrating his efforts once again.
“I’m stuck in a god damned computer game.” He muttered as he took a seat in one of several that ringed the center of the park, shaded by specially grown and planted fruit trees. Frustrated, he bent over and pulled at his hair, feeling it longer than he imagined. He plucked out a hair and was surprised at no sensation of pain. There should be pain. God damn it, he thought, the bastards won’t even allow me some self-inflicted pain. He felt a flush of anger flow through him and although the simulation paused, the pause was longer and brought everything around him to a complete stop. Strong emotions, he thought, could it be that simple?
Two medical technicians dressed in long white uniforms, shiny black boots, and red crosses on their sleeves appeared in front of him. Their faces were covered by surgical masks, but they came overly equipped with medical trauma kits and a stretcher on wheels. He looked up.
“I’m fine. Go away.”
The taller of the two looked down at Pratt. “We received a call of a medical emergency here. Are you feeling all right, Sir?”
Pratt nodded. The system was confused by his new inputs and was using its own constructs to deal with it. “I said I was fine.” He raised his hands. “It’s a beautiful day, not a care in the world.”
“Would you come with us, Sir? We would like to give you a checkup to be sure.”
Pratt pointed to their equipment. “You have half a hospital strapped around your necks. Why don’t you use that?”
“Please come with us, Sir.”
Pratt’s anger rose, making the simulation flicker to the point where large patches of scenery were being replaced by large black squares. He jumped to his feet and raised his fists. “Why don’t you make me?”
The taller of the two medtechs stepped up and placed a hand on Pratt’s shoulder, earning an arm around the back and a push away for his trouble. The second got a lesson in acrobatics as he rushed forward and found himself flipped over Pratt’s back to land heavily on the other side. More and more medtechs appeared and Pratt found himself in an ever increasing brawl that was approaching epic proportions. The fighting fueled his anger and more importantly, the simulation was becoming a vast dark void with him at the center and growing angrier from each encounter. He began to hear a ringing in his ears as the simulation ground to a complete halt.
He opened his eyes and heard alarms ringing all around him. He was in an isolation tube, similar to a Quarantine Pod, but connected to bank of alien electronics that he had never seen before. He ripped out a large collection of connecting tendrils and punched and kicked at the sides of the tube until, by pure blind luck, he managed to hit something that flung the front of the pod open. He climbed out of the pod and found himself confronted by a pair of cloaked aliens. His first punch landed solidly on the lead alien’s head and he felt the bones in his right hand creak as they struck something solid and very unyielding. During the struggle, the cloak’s hood came down and revealed an expressionless metallic face made of a material that reminded him of liquid metal as it turned its head to grab hold of him. He was soon overpowered by the pair and as they tried to forced him back into the pod, he spied a power cable that ran from the pod and only a kick away. He struggled free long enough to give it a good couple of solid kicks. The cable broke free from the pod and began to flail about like a wild fire hose before coming into contact with the flooring. Pratt swung his legs up as the cable’s power surge passed along the floor and completed a circuit with his two opponents. They immediately released him and reached for the offending cable as their internal circuits melted and fused. Eventually, the cable finished discharging its contents and the pair fell inert to the floor. Pratt swung himself down and surveyed the damage.
“The Signiferians use robots.” He observed. “Another question to add to the list.” He straightened his clothing, rubbed some feeling back into his sore hand, and went in search of Koren.
Even in suspended animation, the Locknar was still defiant with claws outstretched and pressed against the pod’s door. It took a few minutes to figure out how to open the pod, but once Pratt got it open, he reached inside to rouse his comrade.
And got a large clawed hand around his throat for his trouble. Choking and gasping, Pratt shook Koren as best he could.