The shuttle the two clones flew in was small, cramped and dirty. They talked to pass the time.
Jinx asked, You guys do a lot of intelligence work? The copilot turned and answered, I have no idea. Probaby. When you wake up with all your scars gone and a big wad of money in your bank account, you get to thinking...
The tiny ship approached the hundred meter long sleek white intelligence corvette. I'll take it from here.
Have a good one, Jinx.
Nice meeting ya.
Jinx rematerialized in the rear of the vessel, in the small observation deck near the crew quarters. Simon Nexton, dressed in a black uniform jacket with a grey leotard, was waiting for her. She watched as the batteries destroyed the tiny shuttle.
They got their money?
Their doubles have already spent most of it. We need to talk. Simon Nexton gestured towards the short passage to the bridge, and Jinx followed. The entered a briefing room and sat down around a holographic disply.
The briefing was short and to the point.
Some hundred and fifty years ago, a period of expansion and exploration began. Interstellar communications and hyperdrives were still in an early stage of development, but with tensions escalating on the homeworld between the followers of Sedgwick and the Reyll Theocracy, colonization was considered the best chance for everyone to find a place to live in peace and quiet.
Hundreds of expeditions, funded by the Sedgwick Corporation and the Reyll combines, were launched from Sedgwick Station. One particular series was intended to survey deep space, well outside the twenty light-year radius of the stellar cluster the homeword's sun belonged to.
Since the developing technology could accelerate a crew to relativistic speeds within a span of a few years, a combination of time dilation and suspended animation was used to preserve the crew and minimize consumption of oxygen, food, and water for missions that would last, relative to the observers back home, up to a hundred years. After much dickering, families were chosen to serve as the crews on these missions - and suprisingly many volunteered.
Noone had thought that their homeworld would be a charred, uninhabitable wasteland in fifty years. Noone had thought that the fragile peace treaty between the Reyll and Sedgwick would disintegrate within a decade, plunging the home solar system into chaos and isolating the colonies from the homeworld for the next twenty years.
Because no one had thought of these things, no one had ever heard anything from these deep space probes ever again - until three weeks ago.
Simon Nexton was logged in to a remote listening post when the distorted message in the old lanugage came through, carrying over thirty-five years of distortion. Simon struggled to understand the words, long-forgotten and now no longer used except in some few science and magic texts and historical chronicles.
Simon could understand some of the message, but he had to consult the ship linguist to finish the job. The tale was remarkable, but the implications were downright terrifying.
We believe we have contacted Sej'wi's aliens, or a closely related species. We have been speaking with one of their leaders, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy of the United States of America. We have been shown great hospitality. Unfortunately, our hosts - seen as a planet - are riven by political and military strife. A rival power is aware of our presence, and has moved crude nuclear ballistic missiles within immediate striking range of the territory controlled by our hosts. During this crisis, John Kennedy suffered a brain aneurysm. Through use of a cybercore, I was able to replace the damaged function of his brain. Relations between the two rival alien factions have returned to normal, and the situation seems stable. I will keep you informed of further developments. This is Mage Wenst N'smit, out.
Jinx nodded. They cored his brain. That's incredible -
It was an accepted medical procedure at the time. The misuse of an implanted cybercore for total mental domination over a machine interface was simply considered a collateral risk, replied Nexton. Since repeated scans could not locate any further transmissions, we are forced to conclude that the aliens figured this out. If so, we have a situation where a full-scale military intervention is unavoidable.
Jinx shook her head. Why?
I do not know. I heard this from the General Staff when I reported this incident. We appear to have signed a treaty with this species - of which I know nothing - and this incident violates the terms of that treaty. They gave me fourty-eight standard hours to find an alternative solution.
Jinx started. How generous of them. What are you going to do?
Nexton narrowed his eyes and looked at Jinx. You have a great deal of experience with hyperspace. I think you know what we need.
Time travel? Are you -
You have three mission objectives - locate the crew of the vessel and determine their fates, salvage or destroy any Sedgwick Corporation intellectual property you find on the planet, and terminate John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Nexton pointed at his head. Ideally, with a head shot. Has to do with objective two.
The money better be damned good.
The apartment was on Little Rock, in one of Sedgwick Station's better areas, an area inhabited mostly by celebrities, upper level managers and loan officers. Large, open and luxurious, it housed the highest-earning superhero, three years running.
Victor was working out on his customized strength trainer. He had the weights set up to a metric ton, and was on his fifteenth rep when the room chime got the notification from his doorbell.
Victor set the bar back up and deactivated the tractor beam that simulated the enormous weight. He pulled on a bathrobe and made his way to the front door, through a living room packed with the latest in home entertainment electronics, along the front hallway decorated with tasteful sculptures, to the armored, armed front door with the fashionable "Automated systems authorized to use lethal force" sticker.
The guests were three grey men in grey uniforms. They did not smile, but Victor did. One was carrying a metal briefcase. Victor invited them into his home.
They sat down in the living room, around the table-like 3Dvid display. The grey man with the case opened it, revealing a set of blood collection vials and a small handheld gadget with electrodes. He started taking blood from Victor.
Have you had any health complaints?
Any unexpected loss of fur?
The second grey man spoke. So your physical health is good. Fine. And your spiritual health? Are you achieving everything you can with your gifts?
The grey doctor reached for the gadget. I'm ready.
The grey doctor placed the electrodes on Victor's forehead. The third grey man took out a small dictation box and put it on the expensive table. The second grey man seated himself opposite to Victor and held the device in his hand.
That's good, Victor. Please relax, and look me in the eyes.
Victor did as he was told. The grey man stated counting down while turning a knob on the device. Very good. I will ask you some questions now. Do you mind if I ask you some questions, Victor?
Very good. I will start where we left off last time. Is that ok?
Ok. When it hurts in your gut, what are you thinking?
Last time, I was worried about the shooting schedule-
Evasion. Please answer the question.
I am always thinking about different things when my gut hurts.
An honest answer is a simple answer. Tell me an honest answer to the question.
I am afraid I am not doing my job-
The grey man looked at the readout and cut Victor off with a glance. Simplify that.
I am afraid.
Why is the fear in your gut?
The session lasted well over six hours.
David White, 1998, all rights reserved