Somewhere in Fantasma Colony in the Caloris Antipode region of Mercury, in the deepest, darkest tunnels branching off of Level Three, there is a place where things are stranger than the rest of the underground city. Take a left at the main lift, follow the outside arc tunnel to the deepest section of Three, and you will find an unmarked door. Enter here, and you will be inside a simple residential tunnel. If you were to try the doors, though, you would quickly find they were dummies. By this time, though, it would be too late, and you would find yourself drawn deeper down the tunnel, past the point where the lights stop, and around a long, gentle arc.
Lights flash in your eyes, your optic nerves playing tricks on you. But you wonder if it is indeed a false light or something real. You continue further down the tunnel to investigate. The air itself seems to take on a life of its own. As you reach a certain point, you stop, and stare.
The air itself shimmers, and you know it is no trick of your light-deprived eyes. You can see yourself now, and the tunnel walls, illuminated in a ghostly golden glow. You stand transfixed, as the light forms a vortex, and wraps around you. If the light approves, you continue into it, if not, you simply turn back, and remember nothing...
Razorback was wandering the Colony, looking for something to do. Altas had taken over Ops and was engaged in a complete sky-mapping exercise that he insisted required all the Ops computers. Xenogears was running a backup Ops from her server in her quarters. Del was still missing. Icey, Tycho, and Jehrico were down in the Core trying to contact Maria. Ko'ah was on an inspection tour of the Colony. So Razorback was left without anything much to do for awhile.
He had tried to sleep. That was a mistake. He had visited the Herc bay to work on his super-Goad, and had refitted it so even he was satisfied. Until his duty shift that night, he would have nothing to do, nothing to distract him from his own dangerous thoughts.
So he walked, stalking the colony in silence like that mysterious cat that no one had seen for several days. There was a bounty on the creature's head, since it had proven itself dangerous. He circled the residential level, and when he saw an unfamiliar tunnel entrance, he entered it.
He walked down the tunnel, wondering just how long it was and where it had come from. Another of Maria's little hideaways? He still had no idea how she had been able to dig the sanctum out without being detected. There were two ways to dig tunnels in Fantasma: with a slice-and-siphon method of cutting or melting the rock, and with nanites that would reduce the rock to powder, outgas the volatiles, and steal the silicon and metals to create more of themselves.
Both of these were pretty visible.
He reached a bend in the tunnel and noticed the lights were out. He activated his wrist light and shined it down the tunnel.
He continued on, and he saw a small box sitting on the floor, humming quietly. He turned his light on it, and raised an eyebrow.
It was a printer, spitting sheets of black metaplas into a growing pile nearby. Razorback reached to pick them up, but drew his hands back with a yelp as an electrical shock burned him. He shined his lightover the sheets, which were written on with gold text, in a tall, elegantly canted script. He couldn't see anything conductive anywhere near the sheets, so where had he received a shock from?
The printer spit a final sheet at him and shut itself down.
This time, when he reached down to pick the bundle up, he received no shock.
He flipped through the sheets, raised an eyebrow, and ran his fingers over the lettering. It was a pretty fair simulation of Maria's handwriting.
It was April of 2797 when we reached the orbit of Nereid, Neptune's outermost, rocky moon. Neptune was a small, dark-blue sphere against the stars, and our objective was a silver dot beside it, gleaming dully in the viewscreen's enhanced contrast. The real scene would have been different: the darkness of the outer system would have been nearly impenetrable to the human eye.
I was used to Jupiter's system, the eternal twilight of Saturn's satellites, and I'd even seen the mist-filled gunmetal gray sky of Chiron, but I had never come this far. In my mind I knew that the darkness was simply the way of things, and that the brighter light of the inner system was actually the anomoly. But in my heart, I was chilled, as if the eternal cold of space was invading my bones even as I fell into Tartarus, or Dante's Ninth Circle.
I raised an eyebrow at these errant thoughts, and focused on the small console on the arm of my chair. We were preparing for our OIM-1 burn, which would put us into a long, elliptical orbit around the blue planet. We would then spiral slowly into the magnetosphere, altering our orbit to precisely intersect Triton with a minimum of course corrections when we were within the Cybrids' main sensor sphere.
Detection would be death, even though this torchship had a powerful main shield generator and engines. If we came under fire, we would be able to survive long enough to run, but then the Cybrids' small, vicious fighters would chase us down and cut us apart. We had to land, fulfill the objective, and flee.
The objective, despite what the crew thought, was my own, not the Empire's. Sure, we would rescue the stranded dropship as we were expected, but to me that was secondary.
One day, what I would soon discover would be necessary to create a new life for an entire world, indeed, a new kind of life. Unfortunately, the future that I had seen was by no means predestined, and I might have to sell my soul to see it become reality.
After that first page, the letters became gibberish, and all two hundred pages in the stack were meaningless to Razorback. It must have been some kind of cipher.
It didn't matter. He read the first sheet again, and decided he already had plenty to think about. And, he thought with a trace of amusement, he really didn't have anything else to do anyway.
He pulled his pocket computer from his belt, and began to scan the second page...
Delithita awoke, startled from sleep by a gentle rocking. As her eyes opened, she saw her hammock was swaying in a breeze, blowing steadily outward from the door. She frowned. Nothing could cause a wind like that, except a breach in the hideout's atmospheric integrity. And that would be blowing toward the door, not from it.
She picked up her suit from where she had dropped it on the floor, and put it on quickly. Then she went to the door and passed through it, not noticing that she hadn't opened it, and found herself outside the hideout.
She looked up into the sky, and gasped.
A curtain of shimmering red hid a swarm of glittering blue stars, brighter than any she had ever seen. Nearby, other stars of other colors filled the sky with a dazzling light show, and a group of comets in a cluster shot arrows at the sun.
She had known Maria had done something recently, but she had not known what. Now she did.
Not even bothering to get her vehicle, she pointed herself toward Fantasma Colony and began to run.
"Maria...?" Icey called, but recieved no response, just as he had recieved no response the last twenty times he'd called.
"Give it up buddy," Tycho said glumly, sitting beside the lake staring at the tiny ripples that disturbed the beach sand. "She isn't available."
"Probably has a hell of a headache from moving the planet a couple thousand light-years," Jehrico mumbled, and kicked a pebble into the water. Icey only shrugged, and dropped down to a convenient rock.
"Hmm," Tycho said, turning to stare at Icey. "You got a problem buddy."
"Oh yeah?" Icey glanced at him with a puzzled frown.
"Not so much a problem, persay..."
"Out with it man!"
"Your, ah," and Tycho tapped the side of his left eye.
Icey frowned, pulled his pocket computer from his pocket, looked at himself in the polished surface. "Eh...?"
His eyes were glowing, with a steady gold light. Holding his hand near his face he could see the glow on his skin.