In September 2212, the artificial intelligence running the Near Earth Object Observation Program at Big Pine, announced impassively that it had discovered a new asteroid that would impact the Earth in about five years’ time. It estimated its size to be similar to that of Australia. I’ve often wondered who it told first, and how they reacted.
WARNING: The following story is about time travel and will, therefore, be very confusing. Just read it through slowly and don’t be embarrassed if you have to go back and reread portions to make sure you’ve got it all. Hell, I wrote the damn thing and even I’m not entirely sure what’s going on.
I realised something unusual had happened as soon as I entered the lab: dead cotton rats littered the floors of many of the cages. I hadn’t expected fatalities so early. The team had only given them the flu virus the day before and we thought it would be a few days before they developed symptoms. The powers that be had told us the virus came from South East Asia but that could mean a lot of things. It might be a natural mutation, or it might be of Chinese Government manufacture. It made little difference to us, our job was to assess it not trace it, and epidemiologists use cotton rats because they’re a good model for studying human influenza.
I wake up sprawled across the crash couch.
The taste of AmphaTab’s sticky on my tongue and last night’s detritus strewn along the cushion–liquor stains, hashish crystals, something that smells like lavender.
And a splitting headache. That damned noise again.
Once per year, Vicar meets her child at Altar. The event is a scheduled appointment, and means as much to both participants as an annual dental cleaning had meant to a First Form human being. For whatever reason, Awesome insists on yearly Vicar-class “mother-daughter” contact, which will terminate the year the color of the child’s skin changes from topaz to jet, thus signifying spiritual maturity. At that point onward, they will neither see nor think about each other again. Vicars are happily solitary beings, in keeping with Awesome’s self-image.
‘Hello, Tycho Centre, this is shuttle Nostromo, over.’
‘Yes Nostromo, Tycho here, over.’
‘There was a hell of a judder as we left the rail launcher, and there’s a red light flashing on the front control console, over.’
‘Hold one Nostromo, checking, over.’
Awesome meets Vicar’s link, travels deep into the Shog’s past, and gleans the stones. Awesome’s activity is represented in Vicar’s mind as a rotating red orb. This is the Third Form symbol for gleaning; when the orb turns blue Awesome will reveal the correct stone in Vicar’s mind. And at that time only will Vicar wield the glorious power death.