**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
The sirens of security vehicles blared in response to reported alarm indicating a security breech in the dome near the railcar station. Agents of the Colonial Authority were waiting, having been given ample advance notice. They were warned. Paul was unarmed but extremely dangerous. He had already killed in order to escape.
He was practiced in the fruits of the attributes. Penetration of the veils, piercing through the mass illusion of reality, was but one of the many things he’d acquired through the training of the orb. He didn’t enjoy the sensations associated with the experience, but it certainly came in handy during his escape.
His command of the gifts was more useful than he realized. He did not have to use his telekinetic abilities if he could slip through the veils disappearing in one place and reappearing in another. It was just that he had never tested the extreme cases. For example, he wondered whether he could actually slip from one city to another. However, he could pass through from a slow moving railcar as it slowly approached the outer airlock at Star City to the security perimeter inside of the dome.
All that he wanted to do was reach Raven’s doorstep. But it was on the far side of Star City from the railcar station. He realized that he was pretty much trapped, at an impasse. Although the authorities did not know precisely where he was, they were confident he was there.
For the moment, he dared not move. He did not need to give away his position. He needed to regain his strength and wits after his recent use of his gifts. Lying close to the bare ground as he was seemed to aid his efforts.
Paul killed Harold at the relay station. Actually, he facilitated the onset of an impending heart attack. Maybe he had taken a few days off the old man’s life. It would look like a natural death except that the agents were there and they knew that it happened around the time of his escape. They would blame him and call it murder. They were apt to pin everything imaginable on a fugitive. A good scapegoat could forgive many sins. They could easily trump up support for seeking maximum penalties against such a cold hearted, dangerous killer, trying a suspect in the media before all the evidence was collected. The strategic leaking of tantalizing tidbits of half-truths to the ravenous reporters for world viewer’s news-starved all day/all night channels was something the Authority did to perfection.
If they wanted to pin murder on him the agents surrounding him would be authorized to use deadly force. It really didn’t change much since he was already wanted for subversion and sedition. There were already multiple death warrants out for him. The authorities might have already killed him except that they needed information from him to connect the seemingly disassociated pieces of the puzzle, incriminating others in the process. Their mistake was underestimating him, allowing him the time he needed to focus, using his gifts to escape.
The Resurrection might have abandoned him except for his knowledge of the attributes and his connections to others known to possess the gifts in abundance of potential. He didn’t know whether anyone else with the attributes realized as he did that there were certain gifts that came more readily than others. Anyone with the attributes could acquire any of the assorted gifts to use whenever needed, but a few were dominant and specific to each individual.
As he remained quiet and motionless, his attention was drawn toward the shadows to his right. There was movement nearby. The authorities were searching for him or if they had located him, they might be advancing, closing in their perimeter.
“We know you’re here, Paul. You must realize by now you’re trapped,” an amplified voice came toward him but came from several directions simultaneously over a common public address system. “Surrender and it will be much easier for everyone. No one else needs to get hurt.”
Paul closed his eyes, attempting to locate individual sounds of movement, isolating one from another. Surveying for any weakness, an unprotected place that he might hide until he was ready, he could find no gaps in the defense. Completely surrounded, it was only a matter of time before they narrowed in on his location and subdued him. He could fight several of them, but probably not the 40 agents that he sensed – there could be more.
How to create a diversion? He needed to misdirect their focus to the wrong place for a moment. An instant was all he needed.
He focused on the agents’ vehicles, not knowing whether his telekinetic abilities would reach that far. He tried to release the parking safety on the closest coach, but failed. He needed to find something closer, something else that would draw attention away from him.
There was a power transformer enclosed within a protective fence. It supplied power to not only the railcar station, but also to the nearby buildings and streetlights. If he could somehow short it out, it would cause an explosion and knock out the lights in the immediate vicinity. It might work. Although he was dangerously close to it and he really did not know how far the effects of the explosion and the possible shrapnel from the metal case on the transformer would fly. The surrounding fence would contain some of it, enough of it, perhaps.
With his focus and concentration he mentally pictured two of the wires closer together – so close that they arced. A significant discharge of plasma erupted. Then he brought a third wire closer to the other two until there was a shower of sparks and a hum that grew in intensity. Another transmission line arced, followed by a powerful explosion that illuminated the evening. Pieces of debris and balls of flame hailed the open area.
Some agents took cover wherever they could. Others collapsed onto the ground. Then, in the darkness, once the explosion was over they ran toward the transformer, illuminating the area with their hand lanterns. They were looking for Paul, or rather his body, figuring that he had been responsible but could not possibly have survived such an event.
The reaction pattern of the agents produced many gaps. Some were surprisingly wide. Paul seized the chance to exploit one weakness. Under the cover of the suddenly dark sector of Star City, he managed to escape through the authorities’ perimeter.
He stayed to the shadows in the alleys, not wanting to be recognized. Soon enough they would determine that he escaped. They would fan out across the city in pursuit. He was far from safe. He needed to reach the other side of town. Raven had to help him, surely he would.
Wending his way across the southwestern cityscape, ducking into places that were never really intended to be anything more than a narrow gap between buildings. All he really needed to do was get close enough. Several times he had successfully navigated through the strange, oddly bright world of the white light beyond the veils of reality, but only for relatively short distances.
When he reached the downtown Star City, he needed to call Raven but his implant would not work without the travelmod tuned for the city. That was confiscated with his other belongings. Every one of Paul’s contacts in the city would have been compromised when he was captured had he not taken the precaution of a security lockout that would erase all contacts in the event of three attempts to bypass the password. He had a backup of the information stored in a safe place but that was in Haven.
He did not recall Raven’s number, so using a local communication was not possible. Vaguely he knew where Raven lived. It would not be hard to locate once he was in the right section of town. There was only one estate in Star City that would resemble a Medieval European castle, after all. In the entire world Raven estate was unique. It was just that only those with the attributes and the other Couriers knew him as Raven. To everyone else he was a reclusive artist who was rumored to be quite old. Apart from the Couriers, Cristina and maybe a couple of others with the attributes, no one in recent times had seen him.
It was a long shot. Maybe he was expecting more of Raven than he would allow, but Paul had no other option, at least none he was aware.
One of the unique aspects of living in Star City was that from the outset there was a very effective infrastructure for mass transit and as a means of enticing people to relocate to Star City in the charter mass transit granted free to anyone in the city.
Everyone in the world knew about the ‘Starport’ mass transit system. Other cities, including Haven had looked at Star City’s model but had never implemented it, as it was a drain on the city government’s budget. Although the same system might have worked in other cities it remained unique to Star City’s quality of life. No one really needed floater coaches, personal floater pods to get around. A scooter to get to and from the Starport stops was all anyone needed.
People still owned personal vehicles to transport large objects or for business purposes. As a means of transportation they were superfluous to the transit system except that some of the wealthy did not want to live their lives around mass transit schedules.
Starport was efficient, well maintained and hardly ever late. The dependability had become a hallmark of the operation and had lent credibility to Star City’s statements about the quality of life in the city that was in the heart of the continental desert.
A city commuter coach approached a stop that was just ahead of him, out on the main street. He rapidly walked toward the marker and waited the coach to pause, then its door opened and he boarded. There were several other riders, but he said nothing to any of them. None of them seemed inclined to look at him. He consulted a copy of map of routes and after carefully studying the shortest path to get to the far side of the city, he would need to get off at the second stop ahead, then wait for the ‘cross-town’ that would take him to a route called ‘The Hills’.
Paul sat down and quietly tried to relax and catch his breath. His mind whirred with the implications of the events of the last few days. Obviously, he was betrayed. Now he was in Star City and despite all of his planning, the authorities had been waiting for him to arrive.
Paul had been through Star City before but had never lingered long enough to know more than what he learned as a school child. His instructors talked about the history and development of the various cities. As Paul listened he had wondered at the engineers’ decisions of where to build cities. He understood Haven and New Milan. They were close to the coasts and protected to some degree from the gale force winds of the early terraforming history by the mountains that were close to each city. The placement of Star City had never made a lot of sense to him as it was not remotely close to anywhere else. He had wrongly believed that it represented a place to stop on the way to other places. Even if it that logic had served him in his travels, it was not the reason the engineers had chosen the site where Star City rose from the desert.
Regardless of the truth, he had never been more grateful to the planners for building the city where they had than he was at the moment. It was precisely where he needed it to be. Even though as an adult he had learned more about the methodology used in the terraform projects, he still preferred his child-like logic. What did he care that every city within the interior of the continent was placed geographically close to one of the three great continental aquifers?
The sources of abundant water seemed to validate Paul’s childhood theories about why cities had been built where they were. In truth the planners knew that Star City would require abundant water and in the longer term once the desert around it was turned into grasslands, the water would prove essential to ongoing irrigation projects that would transform the entire region.
Paul exited the coach at ‘The Crosstown’ stop. He waited out in the open as he saw his next coach approaching. Maybe it was coincidence but the efficiency impressed him. It was much easier than bothering with a private floater coach having to undock it each time it was used and dock it afterwards. Using Starport, all he had to do was sit back and wait for his interim destination.
As he rode toward ‘The Hills’ stop, he wondered how he would know which stop to get off once he was on the next coach. As the name of the route implied, there were a number of hills that the coach would have to weave its way through. Any stop might be the right stop. Besides, ‘The Hills’ route started well before the stop where he planned to exit ‘The Crosstown’. He didn’t know which direction to go. He might have to ride to the end in one direction before getting onto a coach going in the opposite direction.
He tried to be logical in his considerations. Where would a reclusive sort choose to build an ostentatious estate? Where would the city planners allow such an estate to be constructed when land anywhere under the dome was a scarce and precious commodity? He consulted the route map. There was an area toward the northeastern edge of the protective dome. There were only eight stops in that direction while there were nineteen going the other way. Even if he were wrong, it would take less time to recover from mistakenly riding on an eight-stop route than it would riding the other way.
When he finally reached the stop for ‘The Hills’, he exited. He waited but only for a few minutes before a different coach headed toward him and paused allowing him to board.
There was plenty of room onboard. Except for an elderly lady and a man and a woman who seemed to be engaged in an intimate conversation, he was alone. He paid attention to the houses of each block that the coach traveled. Getting progressively larger and more impressive, first one stop then another passed without an estate that matched the description of Raven’s residence. Then as the coach approached the next to the last stop on that branch of the route, Paul saw it. Just a few hundred meters from the stop, atop a hill stood an estate that reminded him of pictures of historical medieval castles. It had to be Raven’s place.
He exited and quickly ascended the hill. When he reached the doorstep he tugged on a rope that was attached to a bell that rang inside. He waited and waited. Then, as he was just preparing to pull on the rope again the door opened. An odd looking fellow that smelled of solvents and mustiness stood inside the threshold. “Yes?”
“I’m here to see Raven.”
“You do not have an appointment,” it came as a statement not a query. “The Master sees no one without an appointment.”
“Look, tell him it is Paul from Haven.”
“He will not care.”
“He will recognize my name. I’m Cristina’s brother.”
“Cristina,” the servant seemed to smile at the mere recitation of her name. “You will wait where you are. I will consult with The Master.”
“Tell him it’s urgent.”
“Anyone having business with the Master always believes it is urgent, even when it is not.”
“Well this is a matter of life and death,” Paul said as rudely the servant closed the door in his face.
Several minutes passed. Perhaps it was his ego, but Paul expected to be greeted straight away. That had obviously not happened. Still he was self-assured that Raven would see him.
When the servant returned he opened the door. “The Master says that if you are in trouble here that you need to go back home where it is safer. The authorities may not expect you to be there.”
“I can’t. I have to get to Andromeda. Cristina is there. Tell him. All I need is a place to rest, some clothes and, if he can arrange for it, a new identification profile.”
“The master was specific. I am not to allow you in and I am to send you away,” the servant said.
Then as Paul attempted to push past the servant, fully intending to barge his way not only into the residence, but also into whatever room Raven occupied, the servant grasped him about the neck and suspended in the air, feet dangling. “What are you? You’re not a man!”
“I am a DOMLIB,” the servant announced, but it did not dissuade him from continuing to support Paul by his neck, at the end of his extended arm.
Paul was struggling for breath, becoming light headed and feared losing consciousness. He had to do something, anything.
He focused all of his attention into slipping beneath the veils of reality and into the foyer past the front door. When he did, the DOMLIB immediately responded to his disappearance, searching and scanning the immediate vicinity. Having spotted Paul, he turned and immediately pursued him.
“Raven!” Paul shouted. “Help me!”
An older gentleman appeared from a doorway down the corridor, apparently amused at the sight of Paul fleeing his servant. “You were doing so well against a much stronger and quicker adversary. I’m certain you can figure something out. You’re a grown man. And, you’re very resourceful from what I’ve recently observed.”
Paul turned and without laying a hand on the DOMLIB, the servant flew down the hallway toward the foyer where he came to rest. Immediately, the DOMLIB regained his feet and persisted in executing his master’s instructions. Showing no emotions, the DOMLIB approached Paul, intending to remove him from the residence.
“Dom, stand down,” the older man commanded just as the DOMLIB had again reached for Paul’s throat. Obediently, the servant halted and if possible appeared to relax. “See, you are quite capable of defending yourself,” Raven said. “You have no real need of me. Anyone that can take on a DOMLIB and survive is a formidable enough adversary to be highly credible against anyone.”
“I got lucky,” Paul said.
“It was not luck. It was the attributes, the result of you learning how to use your gifts involving no chance at all.”
“I need your help, Raven.”
“Do you really? You have made your own problems. You should be able to come up with your own solutions, preferably ones that don’t involve me.”
“I need to get to Andromeda to see my sister, Cristina.”
“I’m impressed that you know she is your sister. It’s touching that you want to see her. The problem is I don’t see any need to do the sorts of things that you have requested. I won’t tell you why but you will learn soon enough that you never needed to go to Andromeda.”
“Then give me a place to stay for the night. I need clothes and a shower, nothing else.”
“Why should I risk harboring a fugitive?”
“I’m going to fix the mistakes of the past.”
“Really, do you intend to fix every version of everyone’s past or only the ones you connect to? I think I’d love to see you attempt the previous, but I fear you’re too narrowly focused on the latter.”
“What if I could solve all of them?”
“If you have to ask me, then you can’t. You’re just another disappointment in the process.”
“I cannot fix everything,” he confessed.
“Perhaps you could if you really knew what was wrong. But alas we are all myopic, aren’t we? So it goes for each of us into our own petty concerns for the version of the world that only each one of us can personally understand. Not even the truth can grasp our attention once we have determined to tarry down the path of the tyrant’s objectives.”
“Surely you understand that the attributes would not be part of the tyrant’s design. The attributes are intended to serve very different aims, mostly peaceful. You have usurped the powers and are on the verge of bringing war and destruction to the world, terraforming it in a way that is ironically far too Earthlike for my tastes,” Raven said. “I refuse to allow that to happen and so, the only way to prevent it is to ensure that you make your own way in the world and as a result of your hubris you will fail. In that way there is a chance you will learn what you need to know in the process, as that really is the only possible salvation. If not, someone else will take on the responsibilities.”
“You won’t help me then, not even to give me shelter for one night?”
Raven laughed. “You will find your own way, but not while any of the Couriers coddle you. Of all those with the attributes, you alone have mastered the orb to such a high degree that astounds all of the Couriers. Yet you did so in isolation from the others with similar concentrations of the attributes, what the Colonial Authority would call the Twenty-Four. You have learned from the orb and achieved the point of nearly knowing its concealed purpose. How are you ever going to achieve that final goal if you rely on what others can do for you?”
Paul turned away, looking directly at Dom. “No hard feelings.”
“He may not even understand that.” Raven chuckled. “Although he is an organic android he is a machine and has no human weaknesses like emotions.”
“If he is organic he’s alive,” Paul said.
“Yes, that has been a contentious point with them all along,” Raven said. “As for you, Paul, I wish you well in your endeavors. As advice I would say to trust no one and you will not be in this situation again.”
Paul left through the front door, disappointed and disillusioned. He had expected at least some assistance from a Courier. Perhaps they were not all like Raven but he understood that as a group they had a separate agenda in conflict with what he saw as the future. They were adamant in their resolve to give up on the greater numbers of mankind surviving. It was their conviction that the only way to continue the culture, tradition and languages of Earth was to isolate those with the attributes from the general population. They felt that it was risky to even consider diluting the genetic code of those with the attributes with normal men and women. They believed that it would merely extend the inevitable demise of mankind without providing an alternative to extinction. The Couriers believed the attributes must remain pure!
Paul understood their position. He also understood the attributes were the one hope for all mankind to avoid extinction. He didn’t know which he would support. He understood points favoring each course. Regardless of which course was taken, within fifty years the birthrate would fall below the ability to sustain the population except for those with the attributes and their progeny.