Tales of Three Worlds
Fragment Five: Refugee
"Damn, where the hell am I supposed to go now?"
Harman Halveg had been on the suborbital shuttle when the news feed to his implant relayed that the family compound in Finland had gone up in a focused mini-nuke blast. This was the worst event he'd experienced in his fifteen years—except for the loss of his parents four years earlier in a freak accident...it was incredibly rare for an automated car to crash...but it had happened. Then there was the loss of a small aircraft that claimed nearly fifty people—among them his uncle Karel and his two cousins.
He had been vacationing in Atlantis Deep off the coast of Florida, taking in the marine life on the continental shelf, then was to spend the last month of his break from school at Hallbach-Sommers Institute near the Baltic coast. It hadn't hit him until a half hour later that many of his remaining relatives, like his grandparents, were now only radioactive dust. It was almost like bad luck and tragedy plagued his family more than any others...but with the destruction of the Compound, only an idiot could continue to believe that these were accidents—somebody was trying hard to erase his Line from the Earth.
Harman's thoughts were interrupted by a soft ping, then his news feed was replaced with a voice he didn't recognize. "Priority Red Flash...We are diverting your flight to land in Ecuador. Proceed at once to Sky-Hook. Transportation has been arranged. Do not delay, do not use your electronic devices—they have been masked. You will be met. Acknowledge..."
The last time he'd gotten a Flash, it had been Orange—the day his Uncle Karel and his cousins had been killed in the air crash...the same thing had happened when his parents died four years earlier. A Red Flash meant a situation of personal danger from sources unknown, and he was to follow instructions to the letter. It had been drilled into him since he was very young that his life would depend upon full compliance, so he sub-voced `Harman Halveg, confirmed.'
Sky-Hook! It had been twenty years since the last pod had been sent into space from the surface...everybody knew that the launch facility was now deserted, so why send him there? He wondered about school, but only for a few seconds—if the Compound was gone, then he definitely wouldn't be safe at the private academy near Denver he'd attended for the last ten years. There weren't any family members left now that he knew or had met in his short life—except maybe an ancient Great-Aunt who lived in a small chalet in the Bavarian Alps...and she disliked children immensely.
The other passengers on the shuttle were talking animatedly—if their own news feeds hadn't informed them of the diversion, then the automated announcement by the guidance comps had. About half of them were holiday-goers headed home from Florida, the rest were businessmen off to arrange deals in the EuroBloc. Harman didn't understand how even now, face-to-face meetings would be needed to finalize things that could have been done by telepresence. For a sphere which relied upon instant communication for financial information, it was ridiculous to find that these people put so much emphasis on physical interaction. Harman would have been struck dumb to know that somewhere, actual physical copies of documents still existed.
It was less than an hour later when he walked into the lobby of the shuttle terminal, and found himself greeted by a burly dark-haired man about his own height. His facial features were a little coarse, and his nose looked like someone had broken it at one point. "I've got a vehicle waiting, please follow me..." He thought about his luggage, but then remembered the `no delays' injunction, and nodded. He was burning to ask questions about why they were going to Sky-Hook, but he figured they could talk about it in private.
Harman had his doubts when he saw the battered air-car, but the man had sent him the proper code-word, so he held his tongue and climbed into the back seat. As soon as the man got in, the windows opaqued, and the old machine climbed into the lower level of traffic headed for the coast. The space elevator was as close to the equator as you could get in Ecuador, though since it had shut down, the shipping at the installation's sea-port had dwindled to almost nothing. Tropical vegetation slid away underneath them, broken by occasional towns and rivers, and roads for real surface cars! The weather was stiflingly hot as he'd gotten into the car, and he pulled his jacket off as soon as he entered, then unsealed his lavender shirt half-way to cool off faster. "What's your name? Why Sky-Hook? What about my luggage?"
That was stupid—my life's in danger, and I'm worried about clothes? He had a better view of his escort when the man turned his seat around to face him. In addition to his nose, the man's brows were heavier than normal too. "You'll be supplied with everything you need, in time..." He made a peculiar circular motion over his heart, before going on. "You may call me Blue Dragon."
"What's that, some sort of alias?" It sounded like something from an old holo-mystery. He had no love for that genre, so he was finding himself growing annoyed by the way his life seemed to have turned into one in the last few hours. This guy was the first person who might be able to answer his questions, but was giving as little information away as he could manage. "With my life being threatened, shouldn't you be giving me all the info you can?"
The man's jaw dropped slightly, then he checked their location using the air-car's navigation screen. The device looked remarkably new in relation to the outward appearance of shabbiness and neglect suffered by the exterior. "We'll be at our first destination in half an hour. Some time later, we will move on to the next way point. In the end, you will be in a place of safety...but for now, you have enough information." The man produced a small package from the front, and held it out to his passenger. "Perhaps you should eat?"
Harman eyed the proffered sandwich for a moment, then took it. He'd always liked roast beef and cheese, and it had been nearly six hours since he'd had breakfast in the Nemo Hotel in Atlantis. He also drank the fruit juice, letting its coolness ease his dislike for the humidity around their vehicle. He let out a yawn as he finished his meal, and it was only then that he realized he'd been given something to knock him out...
The last words he heard were Blue Dragon's: "...it's better this way..."
* * * * * * * * * *
"He's coming around," a female voice said quietly. "You over-dosed him."
Harman kept his eyes closed, trying to figure out where he was. He could hear a faint electrical hum, and a recurring whoosh-whoosh that sounded like some sort of fan. He felt a soft mattress and sheet underneath his body...and wondered why he was naked. The room seemed small if he could judge from the lack of any echoes, and his head was telling him that something wasn't quite right when he tried to move his head to orient on the voices. The man's was, at least, one he recognized—Blue Dragon''s.
"I was unaware that he had no `bots," the man said, sounding apologetic. "The records showed he'd received some for tonsillitis six years ago, so I assumed they were permanent rather than cure-specific ones."
The female voice again. "Thanks to the Genetic Authority, any injected `bots have restricted life-spans, unless the illness is terminal—then they are left in to minimize suffering from pain...a truly barbaric practice."
A lengthy silence ensued, but Harman hadn't heard any footsteps receding, so he knew that at least two people were nearby, maybe more. A faint odor made him think he might be in a hospital room or infirmary. No matter where you were, the overlying scent of antiseptic gave it away. He thought he'd play the drugged role a little longer, to glean more information. "So how many do we have?"
Blue Dragon's answer was tinged with sorrow. "Only seven...the ones that were in transit or in remote locations; most went up in the blast. The rest were taken out by teams or individual agents...This had been planned far in advance."
The silence grew until Harman thought he'd gone deaf, but then he heard a sniffling sound, and a rustling of clothing, like two bodies hugging each other. Blue Dragon spoke again, soothingly. "Two more died from wounds as we were transporting them, including the oldest one from Bavaria—she had no `bots at all, and no implants, so they surprised her. We killed the agents, but one had gotten a pellet into her arm, and she died of blood loss and heart failure."
"So many lost...my whole family was at the Compound...and my co-mates."
At the word `co-mates', Harman's mind raced, and his eyes opened in surprise...it made sense now; Blue Dragon was a `thal, and so was the unknown female. His head swam a little as he looked at the pair. They were, indeed, holding each other in an attempt to ease their grief. The female's hair was black, like Dragon's, but she had grey eyes, and a slightly finer bone structure, though still stockier than that of an average human. He'd only seen pictures of Neanderthals in history classes—it was assumed that they'd all been hunted down or migrated to the Moon a few centuries ago. Apparently, that was wrong.
Harman licked his lips, and croaked out the hackneyed line of all holo-vid characters who were waking up from unconsciousness.
"Where am I?" The answer stunned him back into silence...
"You're atop Sky-Hook, and we're evacuating you to Tycho Deep on Luna. From there, the choice is yours, Harman Halveg. You might join your Great-great Uncle Ernst-Karl on Mars, or stay at Tycho or one of the other lunar cities..."