Chapter 1

My name is James, and I’m an alcoholic. Isnt that how I am supposed to start a meeting, to start a diary … to introduce myself nowadays?

Please forgive the outburst I just woke up. It was only a little while ago … I dont know the time because there’s no clock in here. All I found was this book and pencil. When I woke up I was in the corner. I was on the floor. Why was I on the floor? Where? Where am I? Where did the rest of them go to? How did I end up in this room? Why does the room have no furniture? No door. I have light but there are no light fittings.

Start again. I know I was drinking. I was out with the usual crew, drinking near the docks. It was a terrible bar only good if you’re looking for “cheap”: cheap drinks, cheap women and of course the cheap thrill of watching a fight between innebriated idiots. Speaking of cheap women, I saw Billy leaving with one. I dont know who I feel more sorry for: she doesnt know the depths she’s about to plumb with him as a client, but I cant imagine Billy walking away unscathed either. I must remind him to visit the local clinic when I see him next.

What else? I remember the last whiskey being pulled out of my hand, and my body being lead out of the bar by one of my drunking crew. All I could see was my last drink receding into the near distance in the hand of the barman. I cursed Drew as he lead me outside. Did I throw a punch? Rubbing my knuckles feels like I must have hit someone or something. Yes. I believe I swung for him and landed a nice one on his jaw. Some men have a glass jaw. Drew has the opposite. What is the opposite of a glass jaw? Hurt like I’d just swung a punch into a wall or something. Drew’s response was simple. He dropped me into a puddle.

That reminds me. Why are my clothes all dry? Have I been in here that long? No hangover. Damnation. That long. But if it has been that long why am I not hungry? Why am I not craving a drink? Where’s the bathroom?

A figure dressed entirely in a form fitting black outfit stood and stared at a translucent patch of wall, her hands resting on a slim featureless console, attached to the wall just below the window. Every inch of her slim five foot frame was covered in black. It clung to her like a second skin giving her the appearance of an animated shadow.

“Report” a voice said behind her.

She turned. A six foot four inch masculine figure stood by the door. Like the slim woman he was dressed in form fitting black. He radiated an air of command despite the fact that his features were entirely hidden. The woman’s posture straitened but she didnt salute.

“Two test specimins lifted from the local population.”

She inclined her head slightly to indicate the translucent wall. The man stepped closer. Beyond the window was an isolation lab with two naked figures stretched out on observation slabs. Tubes entered their bodies at a variety of locations connecting them to the slab, to equipment standing nearby and a gleaming metal node at the centre of the ceiling.

“What’re they running right now?” the man asked.

“Simple literacy. The results are markedly different though. Specimin A on the left found the book and pencil and began writing, exploring the VR matrix and piecing together his memories. Specimin B on the right saw the book and kicked it across the room. The only time he returned to it was to wipe his ass on torn out pages.” she answered.

“You simulated bodily functions on them both?”

“No. Just him. I find Specimin A’s writing behaviour to be fascinating. I dont want to interrupt him – I think I can gain a lot more this way. I have the computer running a live translation as we speak.” She waved a hand and part of the window darkened as a computer display overlaid the previous view. Text was scrolling up the display at a relaxed pace.

“His clothing, grooming habits and now level of literacy place him as lower-middle class dating from 1860.”

The man turned to her and nodded slowly, “Makes sense. Yes.” He turned back to the translated text and continued reading.

I find my lack of emotion at my confinement strangely disconcerting. Shouldn’t I be hanging on the bars of my cage calling for a jailer to free me? Should I not plan an escape? Yet here I sit with book and pen writing memoirs as calm as can be. I still have no passage of trim. If I write consistently, fill the pages, I get a measure of time. I want to say about 500 words in an hour or so. Given my frequent pauses and introspections I cannot say if that is an accurate estimate of current progress. I remember Captain Coleman’s anger at my tardy arrival, the one morning I attempted to “get up with the sun.” Two weeks probation and a personal citation on my record. He claimed that police officers should be better than the common folk. We exist to inspire. To draw out the best in society by our example, and not just to catch criminals. One session of him pacing the room and barking at me was enough. They told me his bark is worse than his bite but I would rather not find out! Needless to say, I no longer trust my body-clock. It runs slowly. Prefers sleep and inactivity. The Reverend Monkton seems convinced that I’ve the devil in me. “The devil makes work for idle hands” he tells us all. Told me that I was in the grip of the devil of drink, I have a slothful spirit. Is he right? Am I damned? Will these twin evils be the downfall of me?

The man turned from the scrolling text, “What language did you say he was writing?”

The woman gestured and the scrolling text was replaced with an animated branching tree, “The root is English, circa 1860, with regional variant wording that I’ve pinned down to London based slang. That is, accounting for some measure of drift.” As she spoke the tree zoomed into and highlighted one branch of the tree.

“The computer has memory mapped one small segment of the VR matrix and is applying a live linguistic transformation. We are reading in real time what he believes himself to be writing.”

The man in blank grunted, “Im calling for a Quorum in one hour. Get your ducks in a line. I mean it this time. All departments will need to report under Protocol Seven classification.” He turned for the door and strode out.

Fifty eight minutes later the slim woman arrived at the Quorum to find only two figures already seated at the table. She snorted to herself. The mess-hall had many purposes but to call it a conference room for something as important as a Quorum gave the room too much glory. At least the surfaces were clean and utentils stowed for once. The table and chairs were configured to allow all six members of the crew to sit, assuming they turned up. She took a place at the table, making sure that there was an empty space to her left, and two empty spots to the right of her. Unbidden a psych profile flitted across her forebrain, “distances herself from fellow crew, antisocial, views them as rivals and not team…”

The captain swept into the room and took a position to the small woman’s right, closing the gap but not eliminating it entirely. His action only seemed to increase her sense of distance and isolation. All four wore the skin-tight black outfits that clung like a second skin. All four had their faces covered. All had their secrets closely guarded.

The Captain pushed his chair back and stood, turning to gaze at each of the assembled crew in turn, “This Quorum will come to order. Be it recorded that today, day 1420 of 1461 shiptime, I am enacting a Protocol Seven lock-down. As noted in regulations, I am empowered under Protocol Seven, to extend our tour of duty until due dilligence has been made to complete all mission objectives in incremements of no more than 40 days per meeting of this Quorum. So, let shiptime be adjusted to reflect this as day 1420 of 1501. Each department will report in turn on mission progress: Biology/Genomics, Psych, Military and Athropology.”

The crew sat in stunned silence as he sat down. Finally one stood.

“Shawna Jenkins, biology lead.”

The captain nodded and she continued, “Every effort to passively sample the local population has been taken. Wide scale genomic mapping required an unobtrusive sampling mechanism. Thankfully the environment provided that for me: the common mosquito and its natural predator the dragonfly. I re-engineered the local genome to include the post-mortalis gene.”

The others around the table gasped. The figure to Shawna’s left spoke, “Which markers?”

Shawna answered him without hesitation, “PM-1 through PM-18.”

“That’s virtually the entire thing. What the hell were you thinking. Zombie mozzies?”

Shawna shook her head, “No. Simply the ability to collect a blood sample and survive the digestive tract of the dragonflies. A protein marker in the wings of the engineered mosquitos will suppress the normal digestive processes as a secondary measure. Simple collection of the dragonflies has resulted in a particularly clear Genomic picture of the population. I estimate another thirty to fourty days and the survey will be complete.”

Her challenger put his hands on the table, face down, and began to rise as he spoke, “The post-mortal lobby knows the limits of the law. How can you think to flaunt it so? The post-mortalis gene must not jump species, not again, not ever.”

Shawna faced him, “What are you aftaid of Eric? Do you think I want the consequences of that ruling to go against us? I know the law. Genomic markers PM-1 through PM-18. Coding for haemovore traits and the hunger you so desperately fear were excluded. I thank you not to step on my toes.”

The Captain, silent until that point, stood and called for silence. Both parties sank into their seats, compliant but the argument far from over. He spoke, “Is that all from Genomics?”

Shawna nodded.

The Captain turned and gestured to the slim figure to make her report.

“Li Phan, Psychology.”

He nodded and she continued, “Two test subjects presented themselves. One represents a true basline for the population. What we might call blue-collar. The other is a study in contrasts. Clear a white-collar worker. Initial testing suggests we might be facing a highly stratified society. Literacy, financially … clear social classes … but I cannot be certain at this preliminary stage of the investigation. Linguistic and social analyses indicate a level of cultural sophistication akin to Earth of 1860. Investigation of a foreign substance on one specimin’s knuckles – most likely residue from a thrown punch – indicates the presence of synth-flesh.”

Another collective gasp. Shawna challenged her, “Protocol Seven requires biology and genomics to verify a finding like that. All assertions of a controvercial nature must be verified and documented clearly.”

Li nodded, “Please do. You will have the samples an hour after the Quorum. I have further tests I need to run on the specimins though. You cant have them.” She sat.

Eric stood, “Eric Jakobi, Military.”

The Captain nodded and waited for his report.

“We have over eight-hundred years of progress on our side. There’s no significant military threat. They cannot harm us or raise a significant enough resistance to jeopardize our mission. As representative of the military segment of this crew, I officially stand down from active readiness and accept Anthropology’s invitation to provide covert protection to their immersion studies. Patrick has already shipped out and I will follow later today with your permission Captain?”

The Captain paused then said, “Granted. Now, as for Anthropology …”

His words froze as a ghostly shape shimmered into being. It floated for a moment as unformed ectoplasm above an empty chair before expanding and taking the transparent form of a woman. Her dark hair was pinned back and she wore a floor length jade evening dress, a string of pearls around her neck. Around her bare shoulders she had wrapped a fur.

Shawna muttered, “That’s obsene. All that naked skin. I cant believe she would go native like this, ditching her sensor net to walk around with the primitives, wearing nothing but bare skin and a few rags.”

The ghostly woman turned and flashed Shawna a wide smile, “Oh come now Shawna. There’s more to life than that. Sorry. Yes. Protocol Seven.”

The Captain nodded slowly.

“Magdalena De Rosa, Anthropology.”

“It’s a stratified society. You got that right Li. Your specimins have been noted as lost but their lives were unremarkable. Minor issues resulted but their abduction was far better executed this time around than the last time. Well done Li.” The apparition smiled.

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