Helionox – Chapter 1

helionox-ks-cover-new

Mercury’s Ashes

The cryo dream was always the same. They wait for me there – two great arms reaching out from the sun, enfolding, encircling, a playful dance of light and heat. As a child, watching from orbit, it reminded me of a gentle caress, the blessing of Helios – his fatherly embrace. An eternity slipped away, yet all too soon, the solar flares arced over surface of the world I had called home for my entire life. I’m not sure when I really understood what had happened that day but it didn’t take long before I realized that less than a quarter of Mercury’s population had survived the event.

“What is it, Veil?”

Ballard’s voice brought me out of my reverie. Damn cryo sleep. It may slow the body to the point of not aging but the dreams never stop.

“Nothing new,” I answered, “how’s our approach?”

Vesta. How long had it been since I’d touched down here in the Asteroid Belt? Not exactly a top vacation spot but the Interworld Governments wouldn’t dare send anyone snooping around here. The Cybernetic control of this region was unquestioned.

“Approach vector’s all set,” Ballard said. “How do you know he’ll come?”

“He’ll come because he’s out of other options.”

We landed within the hour. I instructed Ballard to stay aboard the ship and stepped out into the hollowed core of Vesta’s interior. The air smelled stale, like most false atmospheres, but even with overcrowding, these asteroid colonies never had issues with waste disposal – simply pile junk into an air lock and release it into space.

I wandered further into the labyrinthine underbelly of Vesta’s only metropolis. Built from an enormous mine shaft carved straight through the center of this hulking once dead space rock, the stone carved buildings and multi layered metallic streets staggered away both high above and deep into the asteroids core. More odd than the layered bridges and catacombs, however, were the teaming masses of Cyber citizens, Mercurian refugees, and other Interworld castaways.

Eventually I came to the warehouse district. Of course, he would show up early.

“Hello Veil,” Warp Captain Tiberius said with a grin, “beautiful as ever.”

“Flattery? I don’t care who sent you, the price is not negotiable,” I said.

“Not flattery – simple truth,” He said, “you are the most beautiful cyber human hybrid woman I’ve ever met!”

I sniffed, “For a living legend, you don’t act much different than other men I know.”

“Living legend, is it?” He mused, “Well, we are the architects of humanity’s future.”

So he had heard the rumors. Architects they were calling us – the solar system’s last hope for survival. Thin hope. Clearly the people who came up with names like Architect had lost all faith in the Interworld Government. Who could blame them for that? The Cybernetics had some interesting thoughts on survival but it didn’t involve saving humanity, at least not in the way we thought of humanity.

I shuffled over to the lock and scanned my forearm. Cybernetic tech. How close was I to losing my own humanity? The lock clicked, the security system powered down, and the door slid open.

“After you,” I said, gesturing to the opening.

Tiberius shrugged and stepped inside. The chamber swept away into darkness as the lights powered on illuminating a large metallic object in the room’s center.

“What is that?” Tiberius asked.

I smiled. He was with us now – whether he knew it yet or not. Our tech was better than anything on the market. Tiberius knew the importance of good tech, even if that tech was deemed illegal by the Interworlds and their Mercury Protocol.

“That,” I answered, “Is a Chasm Jumper.”

He raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

“Not terrestrial jumps, of course – chasms in space,” I said.

“How fast?” He asked.

“A touch south of light speed. The best part is that you can jump several times before re-energizing.”

That got a reaction. He turned and looked straight into my visor.

“How many jumps?” He asked.

I shrugged, “Why don’t you find out?”