Slipping Ghosts, Pt 2
She stopped moving. She stopped shaking, she stopped beeping, buzzing, and my sweat and blood froze in the cabin in front of me. Timeless. I was staring out at the nexus.
The Endemon was perched at the edge of the creation of space. And, I found it, here, in the Kartegan sector. At least, I thought that was where I was.
It, this nexus, was outside my window, shifting in and out of focus, an inflating and deflating balloon, a magician's scarf trick, a fractal explosion of kaleidoscopic color, one second blue, the next red and orange. It was crystalline, the sharp edges ripping through the surrounding blackness, tearing it like a knife and exposing me to the other side of the universe, then it was soft and tumbling on itself like the bubbles in a bathtub. It vacillated, varying in size so that I couldn't get a proper estimate of how large or small or far or close it was. I had to take measurements. I had to take readings.
I shifted, rapidly moving my fingers over the buttons and switches and knobs. None of them worked.
Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw the nexus splinter and explode. A wave was erupting toward me, and I braced for impact.
The window transformed, looking like waves under waves. It shook violently, then it shattered. The nexus flooded into my ship and washed over me. That was the last I remembered.
"Enceladus Gravitational Authority to unknown spacecraft. Please identify yourself."
I slowly opened my eyes, my head pounding against them.
"Repeat per Statute 097. Enceladus Gravitational Authority to-"
"Benny Taro, Subspace Photodynamics and Tachyon Displacement Field Analyst, Chronicon Research. Vessel is The Endemon, Authorization code 1196653-D, modular transport and subspace class." I'd rattled off my authorization codes so frequently, I didn't need to be fully conscious to recite them.
It usually doesn't take this long, I thought. "Um, is there an issue?" I said after a couple minutes.
"Endemon, please proceed to Detainment Station Delta immediately. Coordinates are being transmitted to your navsys."
"Sorry, gentlemen, but what does this concern?" A new shock of wakefulness pulsed through me.
"Your vessel, and you, are not in our database. Nothing to worry about. We'll just need to get you registered if your numbers check out with the Webcomm.
My ship autopiloted to the detainment station on the southern edge of Etna. There were several Truskan cruisers, a couple Delvian blunderpasses, and a large ship I'd never seen before. The design was similar to the Yllarian Star Feeder, but those were a thing of myth nowadays.
I assumed there was a burp in the system. Maybe the nexus nixed my photoinducive transmitter and somehow erased my backtrail. I didn't care. I needed to get out of my ship. I needed time to deconstruct my assessment. I needed to see if I imagined it all.
The detainment officers tagged me with an infrared signal that could be tracked down while they scanned my ship. They would need to see it for a few hours, and it would take that long to get contact established with the universal Webcomm to check my supporting documents. Until they had their scrubbers search the ship, I wouldn’t be able to access my cameras or data spreads. They let me go into the city since I was tagged. I knew exactly where I was headed first: Anthe's Dive.
The bus disembarked and I took in a good lungful of Enceladus air, which was crisp and refreshing.
Beorn probably already had a drink for me; I’d hoped so. It’d been a long shift. I opened the door, but was met with organic resistance. There was someone standing right next to it, but he scooted out of the way after he heard me say excuse me. The bar was crowded, so much so that I had trouble pushing my way to the bar top. It was never really this crowded, but it seemed there were a lot of people docked. Was today a holiday?
Beorn had his hands full with drinks, and I didn't see any of my usual friends parked in their usual seats, so I scanned for an empty booth.
There weren't any, so I made myself awkward and shuffled to the handoff and tried to hail down Beorn with a wave.
He turned to me and said, "Be right with you, bud. Little busy. Be thinking on what you want." Then, he turned the corner of the bar and skidded off two Flaming Noxians to a couple of Betraxans.
What was that? I asked myself. Maybe he's too busy. Just happened to glance through me, not at me.
A Gallian female looked me up and down and winked one of her thirteen eyes. I decided to rustle back through the crowd toward Beorn.
"Beorn!" I shouted over the din. "Beorn! What's going on?"
At the sound of his name, he stopped and turned to face me. A face I'd never seen before. He put a fist on the bar top and leaned over, his face red and creased. "No one. NO ONE! Calls me by that name any more, jackass." He motioned over to one of the bouncers, bouncers that had never been here before - I assumed they were bored patrons- and they started walking over to me.
"Beorn?" I asked weakly, then I turned and struggled to go the opposite direction of the bouncers. Elbows. Shoulders. I'm sorries and hands in places they shouldn't be. I was pushed and shoved and spat upon by some strange new alien species I had never seen before. I saw Mack and Fran stand up from their table I must have missed, fists clenched, jaws set, and eyes ablaze.
"Grab my arm," she said. "Now!"
I reached out, and where the bar once was, with Beorn's red face, and the bloated bodies of the Betraxian bouncers, was now Etna's Central Park and the magnified sunlight from Sol. I turned to face the woman who got us here, spun too far, and fell back onto my ass. I fought an upswelling of stomach matter, and choked it back.
"My name's Anazia," she said flatly. "And you are not supposed to be here."