Project: AKRA pt 12

***

The short cycles of the planet had given way to day as they trudged forward with no resistance, back to walking on the razor grass sawing slowly in the sunlight.  They marched forward with four of them still fully ‘armed’ in the limb sense of the word but at this point met no enemies.

Everyone knew what was coming before they actually rolled onto the bare ground, based on the loud roaring starting to filter through the trees.  Though Leio and Ziko were both reduced in combat efficiency, their squad was still in fairly good fighting capacity.  They made it through the surprise of the night, and still had four people capable of shooting larger weapons.  However, this new challenge they were coming up to was going to prove trying.

“There is no way we are making it across that,” Ziko said.  He knelt down to let Leio off of his shoulders as she sat down on the ground so he could better look over the edge of the cliff.  They stood next to some rocks and a tree, using the light cover as they looked over the shear corner of the massive cliff to the rumbling water hardly visible through the mist below.  On both sides of them the deep gorge was cut through the rock with no easy way down, and the height did not get any less extreme anywhere close that they could hike to make the descent easier.

“The two of them could not hope to swim across that water,” Agrest said, keeping his head turned upwards most of the time for any drones that might come flying over the tree tops.

“I have faith they could, but the risk is too great.”  Raist looked up and down the escarpment they were located on.  “It’d be better if the two of you stayed here to cover our escape.”

From where they were, the tip of the peak was barely visible against the tall trees of the other side of the river.  Their goal was close, but in every way seemed farther with every step they took.

“From here you guys should be able to build a pretty good choke point in the rocks over there.  The three of us are going to do a sprint to the target, and come back.  There is a good chance we will need as much cover fire and a clear path as possible on our way back.”

Agrest pointed to the rocks.  “It’s a good plan, since I’d hate trying to descend and climb back up with things shooting at us.  If you two have this locked down, it should help our escape.”

Raist finished, “Ziko, I am going to need you well-rested because as soon as we get here, we are running back to the extraction zone. I do not want to be in the forest again for another night.  The three of us should be able to handle AKRA, and I know you are strong, but we cannot be slowed even if you are carrying Leio.”

The problem was they had to make it back out of anti-air range to call their shuttle down.  Even if it was capable of firing, with how defended their target was, calling it anywhere close was risking being trapped here.

The group worked for a bit, positioning rocks and checking sight patterns so that the two staying behind would have clear cover fire on the three advancing members, both on the descent, the swim, and the climb before they disappeared into the other side.  Natural rock walls covered their backs, and a few shots through the rocks gave them some gun holes to fight anything that did come from the forest.  The three advancing soldiers dropped all but one weapon here so they could move faster now that the mission had become one of a sprint.

“Goodbye, Raist,” Leio told him as they embraced.  Raist was having to hold her up.  “I hope I see you again.  I really do.”  Her foot was realigned, but the large section of meat missing from her calf was something he tried to not look at.

“I’ll be back soon.”  He gave her butt a light squeeze as he turned away from her.  They spiked their rappel systems into the rock and Agrest and Philira already jumped over the edge.  Raist was preparing to do the same when a strange thought came to him.

‘Look at her one more time; it might be your last.’  He turned to face her, and she did a small wave, smiling at him, the normalcy making him think he was over-thinking again.  He turned back towards the cliff and crouched and launched off.

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Project: AKRA pt 11

“It’s okay…I know.  I can get a bio amp replacement if we make it through this.”

“Hey, you guys over there?”  Agrest’s voice shouted.  “Get over here now!”

Ziko pushed himself off the tree, they all grimly watched for a moment as what remained of his arm was quickly chopped and consumed by the blade grass and its acid once the suit’s structural integrity had been broken down.  “I hate this fucking place.” It seemed to be an understatement from Ziko as he watched his arm get eaten by the grass.

The three walked over to Agrest, his huge sniper rifle leaning against the tree.  Raist realized it was Agrest’s shot that killed the diving bird before it killed them.

Leio was sitting on the ground, her knee looked crushed, and everything under it was gone.  Her other ankle was broken, bent back up to her calf.

“What are you going to do with me?” she asked, looking straight at Raist.  He felt his stomach drop a bit with the implication of one entirely real option he could take to save the rest of the group time.  This was a woman he was intimate with, yet the mission was now at risk of being compromised due to both her legs.

“What happened?” he asked, trying to buy some time to think this through.

“The ankle was from the fall, and this,” she pointed to her missing calf and the crushed knee, “was from that bastard over there.”  She indicated a large dead beast.  “Heh, damn.  I’ve never seen such a hostile fauna before.”  She leaned back while they crouched down to inspect her damage.  Even with her mutilated legs, she still was amazingly lusty, along with a slight independence still obvious in her countenance.  “No wonder they put their fortress here.  Secure the skies, and let the planet take care of the ground.”

Raist could feel everyone waiting for him to decide what they were going to do with the obvious change in plans the injuries and the planet presented to them.  Maybe they were especially waiting to wonder if he would leave Leio, or kill her.  The latter might be humane.

He stood up.  “We are not leaving anyone behind.”  He looked to Ziko before continuing, “I am taking you off Assault-role.  It’s too dangerous to not have a combat-able person not firing, so because of your injury you are the one who will carry her.  Leio, you are staying on the Sweep.  The rest of us are changing our weapon configuration.  Agrest, switch to your Silvershot for faster shots, I’m moving down to the ‘Saw and Leio you go with whatever you can shoot while still staying on Ziko.  Z, you can either go weaponless or take a one-hander.”

“And me?” Philira asked.

“Stay with the Plaz-Shot.  It is obvious to us now most of the fighting is going to be close range.  I need Agrest and Leio to be on drone watch out.  We are not that far in raw distance to our target so we are going to press on.  I do not think resting is a wise decision.”

He walked over to Leio. “You know what we have to do right?” he asked.

“Of course, get it done already.”

They dragged her to an area devoid of the grass where it looked shot up from the battle.  He handed her the handle of the SSAW with its softer grip, pressing it towards her mouth, she opened it and bit down on the handle.

“Hold her,” he commanded.  Philira and Agrest knelt down and held her body and arms down.

“Heh,” she muttered out of her jammed mouth, turning her head towards the sky.  “Never…get used…to this.”

Raist knelt down by her foot, grabbing the misplaced foot, and, without waiting for any okay or any delay, pulled downward and backward.  Immediately her leg started flailing while the other two struggled to hold her down, letting out a painful ‘guuuaaaaa!’ through her gritting mouth.  It was clear she was trying to maintain control despite the massive pain and compared to a scream most would have let out, her moan was fairly benign.

He continued pulling back until it was straight, and pushed it softly back into the semi-correct position.  He held her foot still for a moment while she stopped moving; she spit the gun handle out.  “I’m okay…”

All three of them let her go as she sat there.  “Should be walk-able in about a cycle.  I feel my nanites reforming the bone already.” It was quiet for a moment before she continued. “Well, stop staring at me already!  As much as you guys like to do it, let’s get this going.”  He reluctantly managed a smile at her pride hiding her shame of slowing the group down.

She lifted an arm up and Raist grabbed it, hauling her body over his shoulder then transferring her to Ziko where she sat on his shoulders.  She used her one leg to wrap under his shoulder to his back and was using her hips to hold onto his head.

“Not pretty, but it will work.  Z, can you still function?” Raist asked, handing him a pistol for his one remaining arm.  The chemicals in them and their advanced nanites could keep them functioning at conditions worse than this, but still wanted to make sure.

“You mean with that hot ass wild woman riding him all night?” Agrest joked.

“I think his head is facing the wrong direction for anything wild,” Leio said, giving Ziko a tight squeeze.

“Damn Raist, no wonder you like her.  I can tell she’s probably into bondage,” Agrest responded.

“Don’t make me squeeze his head off.”

“Why would you punish me for your two perverted minds?” Ziko said while he practiced moving around a bit with Leio on his shoulders.

“I think he’d like that.” Agrest added, “Either getting his head squeezed off, or your ‘punishment’ that is.”

At least their spirits…and chemicals… were still high enough to joke.  Raist looked at the Spreading Squad Assault Weapon he was holding in his hands, its neon blue lines pulsing an incredible power just waiting to be unleashed.  He was practicing drawing his knife out of the SSAW Philira had hidden in it in the event of a surprise.  Raist was glad their spirits were still good for now though.  He knew how bad missions could get.

Project: AKRA pt 4

Continuing the story, they are about to get down to the planet

 

Ziko was by default the group mule based on his strength, but on raw speed no one could touch Philira.  For a moment her bright pink hair became visible, as did her youthful body as she disabled her camouflage to readjust some equipment.  Soldiers had specific natural hair colors based on their Class: Female Scouts were pink, female Supports were bright orange, male Supports were light blonde, Leaders had black and so on.  They could be manually overridden, but was rarely done.  Almost all combat was conducted in combat suits or stealth fields so this issue did not matter.  For most soldiers, their class was a mark of pride.

“Damn, I thought a saw an angel there for a moment,” Agrest said.

“Of death?”  Raist asked, slamming an energy clip into a pistol and watching the counter read ‘full’ before the text dissolved into the number ‘100’.

“Maybe, I don’t know. I was a little confused though…”

“Why?” Ziko asked.  Raist smiled, and tried to hide his laugh that Ziko fell right into a trap.

“Well, aren’t angels supposed to be hot?  I thought she’d be a bit bigger if you know what I mean.”

“Agrest…” Ziko started.

“Bigger?”  Philira asked.  “But I am not the shortest here.”

“Bigger like Leio over there.”  Agrest disabled his cloak to hold his two hands out in front of his chest.

Raist was snickering while he watched what shimmer was likely Ziko trying to catch Agrest while he was shouting, “Why the hell do you always fill her head with your perverted shit?!”

“Everyone has at least three-range cover in their weapon choices, right?”  Leio was updating a graphic overlay showing the positions of the squad, with colored ovals representing the effective range of their weapon choices.

Philira, being the lead, naturally had a powerful, short-range weapon; the graphic showed a dark red oval that covered a short distance in front and behind, covering from Ziko up to Raist in his middle position.  Conversely, at the back of the formation, Agrest’s personal Rail Rifle had by far the biggest range, but in an intense close range firefight could not keep up, and thus his main oval was less colored; nevertheless the vast coverage could still assist any of the team in a fight.

“Raist, you are a little weak on the close range,” Leio said, looking over the constantly updating data. “Not sure the pistol will cut it in these quarters.”

“Throw me the SSAW.”  A strange looking blue weapon was flung through the air and caught by something invisible.  “I’ve been meaning to try this out.”

“It’s slow on the recharge,” Philira commented easily.  “Here, let me show you something.”  A Vibro-Knife was picked up off the table, and Raist handed the SSAW over to the invisible tug.  She revealed herself and walked next to Raist, her hips touching his as she held the gun to show him.  “You can store a knife here in the lower duct.  Useful on the downtime,” she smiled at him and stepped away.  It was a slightly flirtatious or sensual move, but given her naivety in relationships, likely didn’t understand what she was doing.

He held the weapon in his shoulder, pretending to fire it then letting it drop while he drew the knife from where it was held.  “Damn, that is a pretty nice trick. That really is a good place to hide it.”

“Saved my life before.”  Raist wondered what creature or alien had a Vibro-Knife stabbed through its head to save Philira’s life.

“I’ll show you a trick later, how’s that sound?” Raist asked her slyly.

“What kind?” Philira asked, totally innocent.

“One that will leave you feeling real good.”

“Not Raist too…” Ziko moaned.

“Survive first, and I’ll show you.” He only did those jokes because he enjoyed how defensive Ziko would always become.

“I will,” she said firmly.  “No matter what.”

“Okay, looks good.”  Leio showed the planned formation to everyone, leaving comments open for anyone to input.  The unspoken rule they had acquired over the battles was that you made no recommendations about anyone’s main weapon, but you could request a change in either of their two sub-weapons, since it was often your ass that depended on it.

“Agrest,” Ziko began, “can you swap that inductor for something with a bit more range?  Maybe the Silvershot?”

“Aww, feeling lonely near the front, lil’ buddy?  I think Philira has enough firepower for both of you.  But even that still leaves my little angel up there out of range.”  Agrest gave Ziko a hard time, but swapped his weapon without protest.  Upon further review Ziko was indeed a bit bare on the covering fire.  Philira had him supported heavily, but only Raist had him within range of powerful rapid fire support.

He had finished, and at this point it was mostly small things others were finagling with.  “Orbital Sync in five…” Raist said.  Everyone stopped their banter, and shoved any supplies or extra energy cells in, packed up quickly, and went to the launch bay.

“Synch up?”  Leio asked.

Yes – Everyone responded on the Inter-Connect System, an implanted communication system that could reduce talking to a near-psychic level of communication.

Launch in three – Leio’s voice played in all of their minds while the air in the ship was pressed back into tanks, leaving the room they were in devoid of atmosphere, their suits protecting them against both the low pressure and the lack of air.

Two – The door opened up, the huge planet’s blue, green, and purple forests standing defiantly against the black of space.  At this distance the beauty defied the danger.

One – Each of them could feel their suits change as they prepared for entry.  The first change was the locking in with the launch system.

She didn’t have to say ‘zero’ or ‘go’ as the moment they were pulled out of the ship with by the launching system was obvious enough.  The catapult system was designed to ensure the even spacing of the entire team, as even the most trained jump could result in a vast dispersion pattern from orbit.  A pentagon shape of the five of them fell through space towards the planet.

Proud Infinity pt 24

I am working on my first paperback, and it will probably be out in the next 2 weeks or so.  Here is the cover art

vl-chron-final

Of which Proud Infinity is a part of!

 

Anyway on with the story as Trego is navigating his way through the time loops:

 

I walked over to the space port, spending more time with the android, Mitreah.

I waved when I walked in and she gave a friendly wave back, but did not know me from anyone else at this point.

“Hi, Mitreah.”

“Oh hello!  I don’t remember your name.  Have we met?”

‘A few times…’ I thought to myself.

“Mitreah: Farewell Fallen Sword,” I stated cryptically.  Her face went blank like it always does, before her bright eyes returned.

“Override confirmed.  What are you orders?”

I waved my hand.  “Nothing major, I simple want to talk to you a bit.”

“An odd request, but certainly.”

I spent a long time talking to her.  Unlike the old man, she was much more fun, but I learned less.  There was not as much applicable to me due to her combat android form and background.  She could teach me so much about fighting, but not as much about the world.

Before the end of this loop I wanted to fight her more to train my combat ability.  That was perhaps the biggest boon from her, other than eventually using her to break into ReCorp.

To her, my words were novel, “Mitreah, I want you to train me to fight.  I want to use my pistol, and anything you can teach me.  Execute training protocol number 2.”

She smiled at me.  “This is so much more fun.”

She left to go get some training supplies she had in her personal locker.  I had never figured out why an ex-combat android ended up here, I could never get it out of her.  The best I could figure is that she was injured slightly, or had served long enough she got to retire.

Mitreah came back with a training pistol that would fire visible lasers that did not actually do anything but would respond if I hit her and she could react appropriately.  Combat androids could fight with guns, and melee weapons, but there most signature weapon was their arm would form into a very sharp blade, essentially like a nano blade.  Something like this would kill my obviously, so it was more like a blunt bat I was struck with.

She tossed the training pistol to me like always.  I caught it and started firing at her dashing form.

Probably an old Aelisha combat android based on Solarian form, evidenced by her dashing style was leaning super far forward: the same way Aelishas ran.  She slashed at me with her blade arm, I blocked with the pistol and dodged, firing at her.  I knew her moves well enough at this point I could end it easily.  My main goal at this point was to build up my own reflexes, not to use known paths.

I dove awkwardly a few times just to get off any previous path I would ‘remember’.  I felt blind once again which I liked.  Mitreah could easily take me out given her superior programming and speed but limited it during the training.

I fired a few times at her, impressed by how my own skills were coming along; she had to dodge which slowed her assault down.

She got close, swiping at me hard and connecting.  Her blade arm of course was dull for training, but in real combat I would have lost my arm.  Regardless it gave me a strong shock that made it numb.

I dove to the ground, grabbing the pistol out of my numb arm, turning around rapidly and hitting her in the chest.  A spray of the laser beams struck home, and if it was a strong enough weapon she would have been killed.  My aggressive push of not running and doubling down on the attack was enough to win.

“Uh…”  She moaned in pain from the ground a bit before standing.  We helped each other up.

“Dang, that was fun.”  We with standing there, hugging each other for support.  I was breathing hard.

“How are you so good?  I had to go to the very limits to even catch you.”

I stepped back.  “I’ve done this before.”

“Who was your teacher?”

“You.”  I pulled out my real pistol, aimed and reset.

 

***

Proud Infinity pt 21

Never seeing her proved okay for a while, but then the regret grew, and with no counter to my dark thoughts, they surged endlessly.  My thoughts turned back towards something I had fallen into early in the loops: could I kill myself out of this nightmare?  I tried…oh god, I tried.  But no.  I would die, and then the universe would later in the cycle, the time fracture traveling backwards past the point of my own death to the morning as it always did.  Each cycle, wake up, grab the pistol, pull the trigger.  Instantly wake back up in the same room, but dealing with the emotional fallout of ‘surviving’ a suicide.

I felt my body shaking from the fear of itself from the horror I had inflicted on it in the name of escaping.  Or trying to anyway.  I could not get out.

“I’m so so sorry…” I whimpered to myself, hugging myself to try to believe it.  My eyes were watering.  This was so painful, so confusing.

I was shaking hard at the overwhelming memories.  ‘The positive, just focus on it.  Just focus…’ But all I could do was grit my teeth at yet more regret.  How the hatred I felt at myself for taking advantage of Proud that turned to suicide, then to unrequited rage at the girl who was the singular cause of the nightmare I was in.

I was on this endless rollercoaster of extreme emotions throughout the loops.  Even after all the regret towards Proud, it then turned to anger.  Blaming her for somehow involving me in all this.  I didn’t want any of this, I didn’t want this nightmare.

My teeth hurt from how hard I was biting down, trying to not remember the time I tried killing her.  Despite the slow learner I seemed to be with everything else, I only did this once.

I leveled the Liner pistol right at her.  ‘Die bitch’ I had said to her confused face.  I pulled the trigger, unloading half the clip into her, but…but it went right through her.  I fell to my knees.  ‘You really are just a figment of my imagination,’ crying at how crazy I was.

‘Would it make you feel better to actually let you shoot me?  Try it Trego, if you really want, as dark as this path has become.’  To which my teary face pulled the trigger again at her, and was shocked when he body recoiled away, blood, or something similar, exploding out the backside.  ‘Proud?’  I asked to her dead body, the bloody ribbon covering a massive crater in her head.  The shock was so severe I turned the pistol on myself, and the darkness only crept on.

“No!”  I shouted, trying to forget.  Just remember the good, the times I actually was productive, not lost in despair or hatred.  “It was not always bad!  That was when I started changing!”  I yelled to the world, trying to make it real.

Yes, focus on how during my self-killing spree, Proud came to me one trigger pull away and asked if there was anything she could do.  I had not seen her since the crime of killing her, or perhaps crimes, I committed against her, and her innocent appearance before me nearly caused me to follow through yet again with the trigger.  But I stopped long enough for her to tell me it pained her to see me this way, and ask why I was like this.  She was here to help if I would only ask.

I told her reluctantly a big part of it was how bad I felt for taking advantage of her when so much was at stake, both having sex with her, and later shooting her in another iteration.  When she laughed loudly, I lowered the pistol out of confusion.  ‘How did you take advantage of me, if we both wanted it?’ she asked.  She did not even mention the time when I had shot her because to her it was nothing.  She said she was entirely joyful for the experience, and did not regret anything and wondered why I did.  She said that the physical plane was overwhelming in its feelings, and to have experienced something like that with me, well, she’d remember forever.  She said she loved me and hoped I would have asked earlier, or again.  She lowered my pistol and we held hands, me crying for hours in her simple embrace until the end came again.

Proud Infinity pt 18

Thanks for liking and commenting!

 

“Uhh…” I woke up, looking at the beam of light on my colored pillow.  I woke up from something that had just killed me, of that I was fairly sure.  The longer I sat there thinking the clearer and more coalescing my thoughts became.  I had recalled variations of the unfolding day, at first thinking it was just dreams within dreams but they were too vivid, too painful.  On some level something really messed up was happening here.

I felt this aura or field around me, as if it was a physical medium.  It was dark and thick, like the feeling at graveyards but a thousand times stronger.  The more I lay there the more I could slowly start feeling experiences of sorts wash over me.  It was strong ones at first: fear, anger, lust.  But it had an instructive element to it, that I was relearning or recalling old knowledge or skills I had.  Like grabbing a bicycle after not riding it, I ‘remembered’ on a vague level of stuff rushing back to me.

What was this, the third?  The fourth?  My head swam, and I had a grim feeling somewhere in my mind it was much higher than that.

Maybe I had finally remembered simply by raw repetition of being unraveled.  It appeared to be true what that girl named ‘Proud’ had claimed: I was stuck in a time fracture.  Something at ReCorp had created a particle that was so destructive to our reality that either it or the universe somehow reverberated that destruction back into time to before it occurs to ensure it never actually occurs.

And according to Proud, I was the one who had to stop this.  My stomach dropped; the universe was probably screwed.

At this point I was seriously trying to decide how many times had I ‘lived’ this day.  I remembered the couple recent ones.  But it seemed like the further back ‘times’ I remember, the vaguer they were.  It was entirely possibly I had been through this a thousand, or a million times.

I got up and splashed some water on my face, helping remind me ‘this’ was real.  I sat down against the wall, trying to think critically.

Last time I actually seemed to gleam a lot of information.  I recalled the last loop in pretty good detail, but looking back on it, I knew things I should not have.  There were a lot of things I remember personally saying I was not sure I might normally understand.   I was accepting of a lot of Proud’s crazy ideas, and jumping to conclusions that did not necessarily follow.  What this meant to me is that somehow I knew things I normally should not have.  Maybe indeed I was many iterations into this fracture, and that knowledge was slowly accruing within my consciousness packets or whatever she said I had.

So, the question then was, when do I remember?  Right now I was piecing a little together, but not to the extent I was talking to her last time.  Wait….‘last time’ certainly isn’t the right word, but what else to call it?

I saw my white shirt on the desk and remembered her changing it to pink.  Today was definitely a new cycle, but her show definitely had something important to it, I just could not grasp it yet.  What did it mean that she could change a shirt, but I could not?  There was something profound I was missing.

Sitting there holding the white shirt I was thinking of the people I ran into this day, and how any of them could possibly help me.  One thing that was clear is that I seemed to only remember the most recent resets clearly.  There was no telling how many I actually endured, I might be really early, or really far in.  I’d have to keep that thought in mind.

There were a few major characters excluding Proud that stuck out and maybe had some clues for me.  There was the bartender, either of the two guys I fought, that old man at the pit, and the android girl.  They likely had some key to this.

Proud Infinity pt2

Hello readers, here is the 2nd part of the story Proud Infinity that is the new story I am putting together.  Enjoy and comment, I like to see your reactions!  Yesterday we read about Trego seeing a strange girl at a bar and how he was attacked and left.  We pick up right where we left off:

Trego and Proud

 

Pt 2:

 

As soon as I was outside I ran.  The only safety I had from anyone in there was raw distance.  At the very least I was no longer angry, just a little shaken.

I ran a couple of blocks until I was sure I was out of there and no one was behind me.  I doubted anyone actually would come after me after such domination, but I was just being safe.  A bit further ahead was a fence that appeared to be next to a pit.

I walked over and realized it overlooked the ReCorp complex.  Only a few steps in front of me was a steep cliff into a pit that surrounded the entire complex except for the single road in.  The small community’s buildings rose ominously from the void of ground all around it.  A few pillars of smoke or steam rose off the power plant that had been built strictly for this.  Even during the day, I could see the black buildings with their endlessly burning lights from here.  I switched my eye filters to pick up thermal, and the heat signatures radiating off of them disgusted me with the environmental damage they were probably doing.

“Some sight huh?”  I blinked and turned towards the sound, my eyes returning to normal.  It was an old man further down the fence looking at the eyesore, that cancer of the city, that tumor on our fair planet, that blight of aesthetics, a veritable citadel of pain on our hopes and dreams…

I waved the comment off.   “Yeah, if you mean totally disrupting to the entire culture and planet that was already here.”

He started walking towards me, but I didn’t really feel like talking.  He lifted a hand up towards me as if to include me. “Yeah, you are young enough that I am sure you were displaced by what occurred here.”

“ ‘Occurred here’ is right.  Like it was some sort of disaster.  Which is what it was.”  Where was a portable nuke launcher when I needed one?  I fantasized about sighting it up, then watching it all get blown away.

He turned back to overlook the pit and the city beyond.  “I retired here.  I was in the Solarian Space Force my whole life, and Center always intrigued me.  I have an off-planet account, completely filled with gems.  This depression has actually made me relatively more well off.”

I went to walk away once more. “Great for you, join the rest of us.  Unless you are going to give me money I don’t want to hear how much you got.”

“Hey, wait, I guess I got carried away.  Sorry about mentioning money.  It’s just… Look at you.  You clearly are not, or at least were not, in the dregs of society.  Tickets off-planet are not the expensive.  Why didn’t you get out?”

I laughed once. “I thought I was going to be hired.”  I looked back at the place I hated now.  Maybe I still wanted to go back.

He lifted his hands, trying to encompass the whole compound in his arms; it seemed he liked using his hands to communicate.  “Ahhhhh.” His hands came back to his side, and he turned back to me, smiling a bit crazily.  “That’s the mystery, isn’t it?  Being near Center, there are a lot of phenomena that is still being researched and even new discoveries happening fairly regularly.  Since this planet is within Center, naturally it makes sense that it was a beacon of research.  Let me guess, you were a researcher?”

At this point, I was a bit cautious of his craziness, but also intrigued as he seemed to know what was going on.  “Of course.  Just about everyone here was.”

He leaned his face in a bit towards me. “See that’s what strange.  What were you researching, if you don’t mind me asking?  If it’s not classified.”

“It was, but I don’t care anymore.  Everyone betrayed me so what’s the point of a misplaced loyalty?  We were studying the fabric of reality, component particles, its intervention with time and all that.”  I added the ‘all that’ because I am sure he had no idea what I was talking about.  “Notably that reality seemed to be potentially constructed differently near Center, and scales away from there based on distance.”

The man nodded. “That’s what adds to the mystery.  You clearly were in the know, but a large corporation comes in, buys out everything, and doesn’t even take any of the staff?”

I froze for a moment.  How’d he know all the staff got whacked?  I never mentioned it, which made me wary.

“Tell me about it,” I agreed, slightly suspicious.

He turned back to me. “Since you told me something, I’ll tell you something.  I am a bit intrigued by this, and looked into it, used some of my old contacts.  Guess what: ReCorp is not that big of a corporation.”

“Really?” I asked, intrigued quite a bit now by this guy I thought seemed crazy.  I had assumed that due to ReCorp’s massive buying power it had to have been huge, near empire status itself.  I couldn’t look up anything on it which was suspicious itself, so it always remained a mystery.  I suspected the void of information was just a payoff somewhere.

“Ha, got you interested?”  The old man’s eyes looked brighter than I gave him credit for; he still had a spark of life in him.  “Well guess what?  ReCorp does not even exist off planet.

“What!?”  My mouth dropped open.

“Yeah, ‘ReCorp’ is nothing more than a puppet organization propped up by probably nothing less than a full-on empire.”

I shook my head. “I could see that now that you mention it.  Pisses me off.”

“It’s completely true.”

“Oh, I have no doubt of that.  It makes perfect sense.”  The info void and firing the old staff being the largest offenders.

I stood there for a few more moments, thinking about what he said before he told me, “Keep an eye out, reality has an…interesting aspect to it,” and left.  Well that sure was a random but interesting encounter.

Maybe I should buy a ticket off this dump like that guy suggested.  I figured I’d walk around the city like I usually do until something came to me for inspiration to get out of my plight or perhaps what to do for credits.  As I passed people again and again out on the streets, not doing anything, and having nothing to do, my thoughts drifted back to that man’s question as to why I just didn’t get out.  I had more than enough credits originally, but the thought had not crossed my mind.  I had no loyalty to this place; it was an odd decision for me to have made now I thought about it.

I continued thinking as I mindlessly walked forward, nearly stepping on a slumped body on the sidewalk. I stepped around the stagnant figure, not even sparing it a second glance as I kept walking. I honestly had no idea if the person was dead or just sleeping, but I didn’t really care either way. I saw this quite often around here, so I suppose I became immune to it in a way. I ignored the still body as I went back to my contemplating.

Part of the problem about me leaving though was that I was not ‘technical’ minded.  I had gotten my job because of a friend who indeed was good with the details and rote memorization of minute facts.  My skills lay in assimilation of facts and creative solutions or ideas.  I was actually lucky I had fallen into the position I had, but it was a very good relationship for both me and the research unit.

My big ‘breakout’ was when we were faced with some proof of time running differently within the same system.  The data was checked, and experiments reran, but it appeared that on one planet in the system, time indeed did ‘run faster’.

My suggestion was simple in my mind, but everyone else found it really profound.  I suggested we take a look at some of the old theories of time non-linearity and let’s assume it might not actually be linear everywhere.  I suggested that the five dimensions of space perhaps exhibited preferential pathing for the three physical dimensions, along with time, and gravity.  If we looked into the gravitational attraction constant we could see if it might be different, or at the very least gravity could be affecting the time dilation effects.

Ha, yeah.  That was back when I was a hero among the researchers, not some chump with a gun cruising the streets.  The fall from grace was pretty rapid, and in my own mind I still felt like I was ‘different’ from the rest of these fools.

‘I’m not just a chump, I’m a cut above.  At least advanced chump,’ I thought wistfully to myself.

I heard a rumbling of a large truck that drew me out of my reverie.  The grav plates must have been loose, because even though the truck was balanced as it floated down the street it was extremely noisy.  No surprise: it was a ReCorp truck.  I kind of just wanted to shoot the driver and drive the truck off the bridge.  Me inside?  I don’t know.

Anyway, my theory was probably about a solar cycle ago, and indeed we did find some data that seemed to correlate with my thoughts.  I was living on high for a while there, but then ReCorp came in, shut down all the research, bought out everything, and made their own compound isolated from anyone who was employed prior.

Maybe it was part of some big government cover up, like they didn’t like what we found out.  Made sense why all of us would be out.  What we had found was still in the early stages, so if that was true it’d be more to shut down the info rather than use it for themselves.

Oh, and my friend, the one good with the details and was actually pretty instrumental in getting our project to be so successful?  Committed suicide.  I found him in his room, took a tie and hung himself off the doorknob.  It was pretty fucked up, I doubt he died quick.  The claw marks at his neck suggested he thought twice about it after it was too late.  All because he ran out of credits…or maybe hope first, I don’t know.  For me, I still had credits, so I guess I still had hope.

In a lot of ways, what was once a vibrant city was rapidly falling apart.  Though not everyone here was involved in the massive research complex as researchers, it was easily the primary employer from logistics to food service and so on.  There were still a fair amount of people around, but I have noticed a decline in the amount still here.  I didn’t know if they left the planet, were murdered, or pulled their own pin.  In evidence of the later I found quite a few bodies just dumped in the streets.  I didn’t really pay that much attention after a while.  Really, you stop counting after about five.

I sat down for a moment, looking at the empty sky.  It was really calm now, and I mean that in a bad way.  There used to be a vibrant trade through here with ships coming and going through the sky; now only a single ship came once a cycle for supplies for ReCorp.  I can’t think of the last time I saw an alien…probably an Aelisha a few planet cycles after ReCorp came in and shut everything down.  I didn’t even see Aelishan patrols anymore; that was pretty odd itself.

I wonder if I could leave here now.  Could I have even left back then?