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ISBN-10: 1-55404-581-9
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 204 Pages
Published: June 2008

From inside the flap

During a routine file conversion job, a hologram of beautiful, charismatic Dr. Isabella Castillo captures the attention of Benjamin O’Rourke, data-tier specialist for the Committee for Off-World Settlement (COS). Originally established to help the Committee gain a foothold in the uncharted quadrant, the Eilithian colony Isabella and her team founded ceased transmissions – leading COS to classify it as defunct. But the shadowy O’Rourke discovers the colonists have doctored their data files. This, he calculates, will be of very special interest to mega-corporation Nova, which has formally announced the development of a technology predicted to revolutionize space travel, opening up trade and exploitation of other world resources.

Over the decades, society in the lost colony of Eilithia has evolved, largely ignorant of its origins. In a country village a young girl, Kaylee, experiences frightening prophetic visions. The Mah-reef, head Preistess of all temples summons her to the capitol city Bastira. There, Kaylee finds herself at the center of a dangerous power struggle as the Mah-reef focuses on her as a key player in her plans for regaining stability. The young, naive Kaylee fights to find herself and to deal with her attraction to a young Temple worker, whose loyalties she questions. As her own role becomes more complicated, their relationship intensifies, leading to a deadly showdown.

Meanwhile, with a COS team, O’Rourke heads for Eilithia aboard the Nova ship Westerly. Once in orbit, after getting no response to hails, a landing party sets out for the planet. Despite non-interference directives, the COS crew quickly find themselves embroiled in Eilithia’s political and religious upheavals. The captain and crew of the Westerly, all fervently working to further their own personal goals, become caught up in Eilithia’s strange destiny. Sides must be chosen, as they all feel a force beyond their understanding pushing them towards the future.


Chapter 1

Benjamin O’Rourke rested his arm on the old Compnet panel. Most of the synapse circuitry had burned out, probably years ago. He could dance on it if he wanted to and he wouldn’t activate a thing. His assignment, COS data retrieval, had a sniff of irony to it. He’d earned a degree from the Beijing Institute, wanting to explore and evaluate-that is, join the E&E Division of COS. True to his persistent bad habits, he’d quashed his chances through lack of savvy and a "lower urban" attitude. Pictures from his old neighborhood flashed through his mind-"lower-urban" had been the polite epithet, most people called them crawlers. O’Rourke chuckled at the thought. He fitted his reader card onto one of the panel’s bridge platforms, adjusting his monitor to pick up its signals.

Now a truly hopeless battle had been facing the independents for a slot with no serious contacts or real credit accumulation. Easier trying to find an available lot in New Taiwan. He’d ended up employed by COS after all. O’Rourke looked down at his badge and mentally patted it-yep, they’d hired him as a twelver. A T-12 data-tier specialist in the maintenance and upgrade division, a job he would have been qualified for at half his education and skills.

Numbers began flicking over his screen; O’Rourke absent-mindedly entered routine notations. He pulled out a scanner and began checking the relays. Why’d they want to convert these files anyway? Tosser-junk using up valuable space. What if he just cleared the synapse tubings and called it a day? O’Rourke’s finger paused over the command key on the make-shift override he’d installed for the conversion. He pressed down, feeling the plastic coating give reluctantly. The function indicator lit up briefly, then faded. Bad karma from a bad idea. Now he’d have to spend another God knows how many hours rechecking the connections.

He undid the bindings and flipped the panel over, then began tinkering with the nodes and neural-fiber structures. Actually, it was a lucky thing, if Jo Jo-san found out he’d deleted any of the old files there was a good chance he’d kick him right out of COS. Not a good time to be unemployed, most government agencies were laying people off, not hiring. Colonization projects were a money making proposition, however, and the Committee for Off-World Settlement held some pretty impressive purse strings. They were the ones who granted land claims, mineral, ore, metal, and all other natural resource rights.

After a half hour the power indicator finally flashed on-not bad, he’d thought he’d be at it a lot longer. Now, if the synapse tubes weren’t too corroded...3D static filled the round holo-platform in front of him. O’Rourke jiggled the adjustment bars and the static gelled into a form-not quite recognizable yet, but no doubt one of those goofy COS secretaries they’d installed as part of their programs fifty years ago, designed to "humanize" the Compnet directory.

"Audio would be good," he whispered to himself. With a micro-resonator he cleaned the build-up off of one of the sonic chips-a very outdated element. If this baby didn’t work he’d have to replace the entire sound system. A crackling blast of chirps emanated abruptly from the hovering blob. Bingo! The fine-tuning would be the easy part. He pressed play, and before long the directory had a face, a plain Nordic-looking woman with a friendly smile; a slim figure dressed in loose coveralls.

The crackling loosely followed the movement of her lips. O’Rourke switched to the English setting and reconfigured the audio parameters until the noises became words. "Welcome to COS Compnet. Please enter your user identification." Jo Jo-san had given him a high-security code from when the program had been active, his fingers punched the numbers into the panel. The directory’s smile widened. "Thank you. Welcome to the COS Compnet directory. You should enter your name now. Thank you, Ghengis, how may I help you?"

O’Rourke grinned. "Show me what you’ve got, sister." He entered the file range coordinates, alpha by sector. The directory faded with a snap, and an old-fashioned tier, complete with mini-briefings, constructed itself before him. Ms. Directory came back. "Please specify which tier you’d like to enter first, Ghengis."

O’Rourke picked a tier, the info-patterns spread out and up: old colonization applications, scanning data, probe analyses. He smiled. Back when he was a kid, he’d tacked cheap holo-posters of system maps over his bed, collected 2-Ds of new world panoramas. His fantasies, aside from the ones featuring female companionship, centered on him as a colony head, the first to contact an intelligent life form (there had to be something out there better than human beings, God knew). Now, before him hovered the real specs.

He knew he needed to set the tier to project data at a speeded rate for faster conversion. On another iffy impulse, he chose a slowed frequency. A star map appeared. A chart unfolded over a piece of galaxy giving a list of star-classification breakdowns and other astronomical phenomenon. "Directory, skip tabular displays." The galaxy was back. "Directory, any audio?"

"There are three audio options available for this portion of the tier, Ghengis: Claims, subclassification by Corporation or individual, subclassification, history of claims; colonization prospectus submissions, subclassification by organization, which is further subcatagorized into organization, background and history; research and discovery, which has a number of subclassifications available--should I list them for you, Ghengis?"

"No!" Some things just shouldn’t be humanized. He stared at the swirling clusters of white dots hovering in front of him.

"Directory, let’s have colonization prospectus submissions, sub by organization, sub background and history, sub project proposals, short display with audio."

He settled back, watching prospective colonizers appear on the holo-plate, self-conscious grins across their faces as they awkwardly read prepared synopses of their proposed colonization plans. A gentle reminder beep came from his Handcomp-Jo Jo would be calling soon. He tapped his fingers on the panel, annoyed. If he didn’t speed the display rate he’d end up taking way too much time finishing the conversion.

His Audiocom buzzed. Jo Jo-san.

O’Rourke switched on the receiver. "O’Rourke here."

"Status report."

"Well, I’ve been working on this G724 equipment for about two hours now..."

Jo Jo cut him off, "Follow form, O’Rourke. I record these reports for posterity, remember?"

O’Rourke rolled his eyes, glad COS was too "budget oriented" to spring for a visual set. He gave the date and time, followed by his progress update.

"I should tell you, O’Rourke, between you and me, you’re the last of the six people in your conversion schedule. Did you encounter any special problems with the equipment that you failed to mention in your report?"

O’Rourke took a deep breath, no use getting mad. His last director transferred him to this department, agreeing not to add any official censure to his employment file for insubordination-they couldn’t get along. Jo Jo-san showed every indication of being much harder nosed than Polkowski had been.

"The neural fiber connections were corroded, it took me quite a while to go through and check those..." There was a silent pause on the Audiocom-Jo-Jo was thinking about it.

"I’ll put that in the report. Anything else?"

Something pulled at his brain. General frustration with life? Abnormally early burnout? However he analyzed it, it all came down to this urge: he just really, really wanted to spend some time with the old records. O’Rourke thought fast. What delay would be plausible? A faulty analyzer that misaligned the entire system? That would mean in order to get the old files to react with the conversion commands he’d have to retrack at least three of the relays, maybe more. That could possibly give him another day. What could he do? Otherwise they’d lose everything from this sector. Complications happened. Luckily Jo Jo-san wasn’t the kind of director to waste another team member to check up on O’Rourke’s story-too many other repairs and rewirings and clean-up jobs waiting to be done.

"Yes, Sir. I may have a more serious problem, too."

Jo Jo’s voice sounded suddenly tired. "Report."

O’Rourke steeled himself for the lie. "An analyzer I was supplied with is no good. And I’m not sure yet, but I think it may have caused some misalignment." He held his breath waiting for Jo Jo-san’s response.

He heard an audible sigh. "OK. Now listen, I’ll see if I can send someone with a replacement. Make sure you log-in when you receive it, O’Rourke. Try to improvise in the meantime-there should be quite a few bins of miscellaneous equipment up there. Once you have the updated tubes, log-in again. By then you won’t be able to contact me directly, I’ll be in meetings for the rest of the afternoon and most of tomorrow morning. Rydstrom will have to brief you for the next job. Think you’ve got all that? Good. Jo-Jo out."

O’Rourke switched off the receiver and picked up the "faulty" analyzer. He hadn’t tried it yet.

"Ms. Directory-restart display." A short, pudgy man evaporated and was replaced by a dark-skinned muscular one, O’Rourke listened to the drone of his deep voice. Escape to Eden, that’s what they all wanted. "Directory, next file." O’Rourke sifted through the images, watching the ghostly figures appear then vanish. Female colony heads. How many had he seen so far? Not more than a handful. That seemed funny. "Directory, limit display to primary applicant, gender female." New groups of basically nondescript faces started to flick by.

"Whoah, wait a minute. Directory freeze." O’Rourke sat up staring at the glowing woman on the holopad. Long black hair tied in a simple ponytail, tall and perfectly proportioned, she stood waiting to give her spiel with a special charisma none of the other applicants he’d seen so far had had. Her short-sleeved tunic revealed toned and nicely tanned arms-graceful arms. Her legs were covered by loose-fitting, ankle-length pants, but, O’Rourke guessed, they held the promise of being just as amazing as the rest of her. Her vivid blue eyes stared straight at him, making him nervous. Jeez, what a woman, he was almost afraid to hear her speak. "Directory, end freeze, slow display to real time," he whispered.

"Dr. Isabella Castillo, currently a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, biophysics with a subinterest in evo-molecular models. Group registration number 87656GB7, case prospectus title ’Eilithia.’" She paused and beamed a killer smile. O’Rourke shivered-if a significant percentage of the deciding panel was male or gay females, Dr. Castillo probably could get whatever she wanted with that gesture alone. "Directory, how many files are stored here with links to prospectus Eilithia, registration number 87656GB7, say, with a pertinence rating of 6?"

"Genghis, that would be 3,752 files, 1,582 with subreference information attachments." O’Rourke let out a whistle of surprise. "Would you like me to begin displaying them?"

"Directory, hold that thought." He wasn’t about to reduce Isabella to a simple bleep in a storage receptacle. After a few trips to the equipment bins and a little retooling, he’d rigged a make-shift recorder that would work with the converter to make his own extra copy. He’d had to modify the analyzer to fit all the components. The apparatus started to hum as the job processed. O’Rourke sat back and waited.

An hour later, O’Rourke noticed the flashing warning box on his monitor. "Whazzis?" He scrolled through the display screen. Puzzled, he started making notations and place marks. "Isabella, what were you and your gal pals up to? Hot dog," he whispered to himself.