part 3 of The Vanished Timeline
by Grace Grieve-Carlson and Channing Jones
(a fictional story in the Galactic Era universe)
part 1 here
Deed sat in a sterile, white room. She was handcuffed to a chair behind a large octagonal table. A door opened – she hadn’t even seen the door until it opened – and in came a balding man in a long black coat, a uniformed guard, and Kyrin, crouching to fit in the doorway. Deed’s heart dropped even lower. You are the last cat I wanted to see.
The unknown man stretched out his hand.
“Hello, Deed. Dr. Kier Danenbrow.”
Deed jangled her cuffs.
“Ah – sorry about that.”
He motioned to the guard, who came and unlocked the cuffs.
“Dr. Danenbrow. You run research and invention.”
“Yes. And I want to say first: I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance yet to congratulate you on your discovery.” Dr. Danenbrow paced slowly around the table and eventually sat across from her.
“It was very impressive, and we’ll keep a note of it on your record. I hope you continue to make great discoveries for us, and I promise you, you will be rewarded. But this site….needs to be kept secret for now.”
Deed chose not to look at Kyrin, whose eyes were surely shooting daggers at her.
“Just from what we’ve seen so far, we can tell it’s quite powerful – so powerful that its protection is a matter of intergalactic security.”
“As I said, your discovery will not go unrewarded by the ICC. You are clearly a gifted archaeologist. That said, we have very strict policies on employee behavior. But if you promise to keep the contents of the ruins confidential, you’re welcome to keep your job on the dig team.”
Deed nodded. “I can do that.”
“Thank you. It’s been very nice meeting you.”
Dr. Danenbrow walked around the table and extended his hand again. This time, Deed met it with hers and shook.
“And Kyrin, I’ll see you tonight for our meeting?”
“Yes sir, I wouldn’t miss it.”
The two of them smiled at each other as they shook hands, and Dr. Danenbrow and the guard were gone again through the silent door.
Deed studied the door, avoiding Kyrin’s eyes.
“Are you completely determined to disrespect me?”
His voice was calm and measured, but his words bit. Deed, usually proud and self-assured, could feel an apology welling up inside her. But she didn’t have a lot of practice apologizing.
“This really isn’t about you, Kyrin.”
“It’s my team, my dig, my employee. It’s all about me.”
“I’m sorry,” Deed choked out.
“What was that?”
Deed looked up at him.
“I’m sorry. I’m sure dealing with me is the last thing you want to be doing. I just felt like if I didn’t take things into my own hands, I was never going to see the ruins again, and that would have driven me crazy.”
“I hope you’ve gotten it out of your system. Consider yourself on probation.”
“I’m – well, as long as I’m on the team and study the ruins with the rest of you -”
Kyrin shook his head. Deed froze.
“They’re bringing in a team with more clearance,” he responded.
“Oh my Neptune…” Deed trailed off. The relief she felt a moment ago melted away, and again she was on edge. “And Danenbrow couldn’t say that to my face?”
In lieu of a response, Kyrin walked away from her and opened the door to the hallway.
“Come on. This is your first time in the prison wing, I assume. I can guide you out.”
As they walked, Deed realized she really hadn’t ever seen this side of Mars’s ICC headquarters. She worked in the headquarters sometimes, archiving records from digs, and had vague memories of seeing other parts with her mom as a child. But this side was new to her. Helmeted guards like the ones who apprehended her in the cave milled the halls. The headquarters was underground and labyrinthine. Not even employees had a map of the entire thing. Well, I don’t but I bet some employees do, Deed thought. Ones with higher clearance. Deed knew the ICC was a huge organization that provided technology and consulting for planets in multiple solar systems, but before today she’d never considered how deliberate it was in keeping its secrets.
“So…are you at a higher clearance than I am?” Deed asked as they stepped into an elevator. Kyrin was silent for a moment.
“Is it based on how long you’ve worked here?”
“Not exactly. It’s based on the work you do, your trust with the people above you. I got where I am by building relationships.”
“I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just funny to see how different you are with Danenbrow.”
“You’d do well to learn to schmooze, Deed. Schmoozing means knowing what you want, knowing what the other person wants, and figuring out how the two of you can help each other. You have to think about someone other than yourself.”
“Ouch.” Deed chuckled, but she was hurt. She’d never been good at building relationships, and had few friends.
“Being a Feline, it was even more important to prove that I’m trustworthy. So I make this team my life every day.”
In that sentence, there was much unsaid but understood between them. The home planet of the Felines was conquered by Dracos, a warmongering reptilian empire a few solar systems away. The ICC often dealt with the Dracos, whose operatives still had capture-or-kill on sight orders for renegade Felines. Though Felines were allowed to work for the ICC, they tended to live nomadically or in small hidden villages. Those who wanted to be a part of Martian society had to work against old stereotypes: rebellious, sly, untrustworthy.
“I understand feeling stepped on. But if you can keep going with us, you’ll find more knowledge and power staying aligned with the ICC than going off on your own.”
Deed smiled at him weakly.
“Yeah. I’ll see you at work tomorrow.” She still didn’t know what she thought or what she was going to do, but she appreciated his honesty. They were back on ground level, in a vestibule she recognized.
“You know the way back from here,” Kyrin told her, and before she could respond, he’d vanished.
Back in her apartment, Deed felt shook to her core. Her conversation with Kyrin left her embarrassed of her outbursts. In her position, she was going to face lots of confusion and mistreatment – it was her decision whether she let it turn her into a temperamental child, or just kept doing her work. She realized she’d hardly had time to process the things she’d seen the cave, the powerful stone, which now felt like a dream. She thought about her day, staring at the ceiling, until she finally fell asleep.
She dreamt of destruction. From a spacecraft, Deed looked out onto a solar system that she slowly recognized as her own solar system from an unfamiliar perspective. Then she saw movement – Saturn’s rings vibrated and shifted, coming together at one point and forming a beam which blasted apart a distant planet, then Jupiter, then another in the distance. Dust and debris flew in all directions. Excited applause hit her ears like electric shocks.
The next day, Deed was in a field with her team, shoveling a test pit in their new dig location. It was only a few hours in that she remembered the dream. As she dug, her mind wandered back to first digging through the earth to the the ruins and reaching a new world – the impossible height of the columns, the detail of the etchings – and into her mind popped the tablet covered in a huge illustration of a ringed planet with an emanating beam. Last night’s dream flashed through her mind – Saturn’s rings formed a beam and blasted three planets into dust. Was that a vision of something that really happened? She continued to dig, but weakly, feeling nauseous.
“You okay, Deed?”
Deed attempted to contort her face into a neutral expression.
“Yeah, I’m good, thanks.”
The older archaeologist smiled and went back to her trowel.
After all the problems Deed had caused over the last 3 weeks, she wasn’t eager to draw any more attention to herself. She wanted to prove that she could shut up, do her job, and be a trusted member of her team. But the longer she stood and shoveled, the more she thought about what she’d seen in the ruins. That illustration wasn’t a vehicle blasting off, it was a weapon. But could my dream actually be real? It was this solar system, and all the planets are still there. If the ruins were records or blueprints of a weapon like the one from her dream, it would explain why the ICC was being so secretive.
I should ask mom. She’s the only person who might know something and actually tell me.
“Deed!” Kyrin bellowed.
Deed froze. What now? I’m doing my work.
“Over here, please.”
Deed fixed her posture and her face and walked confidently (tried to, she could feel her face turning red) over to Kyrin a few yards away. Other archaeologists glanced at one another, trying not to stare.
“You’re being summoned to the headquarters. They’re sending a plane out for you.”
Deed’s heart started beating overtime. I haven’t done anything wrong. Did something get out?
“What’s this about?” she asked Kyrin.
“I was about to ask you the same question.”
At the headquarters, the room Deed was led inside was much different from the bare cell the day before. It was an office decorated with big cushioned armchairs, high marble ceilings, and old-fashioned paper books lining the walls on ornate shelves.
The guards who led her inside stood on either side of the door.
“Dr. Danenbrow will be in momentarily.”
Deed paused before answering, looking around at the office.
Deed walked around the perimeter of the room looking at the paper books. She’d only seen a few in the archives when she was in university – never a collection this large. She leaned in to read the titles: The Prince, The Communist Manifesto, On the Origin of Species, The Source Field Investigations –
“No touching those. Back away, please.”
When she spun around, the guards had the same blank expression – she couldn’t tell which of them had reprimanded her. She pointed at one of the armchairs and looked up at them with her eyebrows raised. The guard on the left nodded curtly.
As she sank into her chair, she heard the door open again.
She spun her head around.
“Hi, Dr. Danenbrow.”
“Thank you for coming in on such short notice. I’m afraid I was a little hasty yesterday -”
Dr. Danenbrow paused as he sank into his own chair across from her and adjusted his coat.
“Hasty when I told you to…forget about the ruins. I now have a question for you.”
Dr. Danenbrow seemed calm, but panic rose in Deed. I know too much. This chair must be over a trapdoor or something. She tried to answer, but couldn’t, her mouth glued shut by inertia. Dr. Danenbrow went on.
“When our team took its first look at the ruins you found, we noted a large opal, mostly buried. It wasn’t a priority. But the next time the team came – after you weaseled your way in – the energy readings had completely transformed. They were able to trace it back to that opal – they measured enough energy inside it to power Ares Alpha for a week.”
“Wow.” Deed chuckled, incredulous, thinking how large the capital city of Mars was. She wasn’t surprised that the stone had power, but it was something else to have it explained scientifically.
“So the question is: how did you activate it?”
“I…all I did was touch it.”
Deed caught a flash of frustration on Dr. Danenbrow’s face.
“Well, whatever you did, the team hasn’t been able to replicate it. The energy levels are back to normal.” He paused, and they stared at one another in silence for a moment. Deed could feel her heart beating.
You seem to have some special ability with these ruins, whether you fully understand it or not. So, I’m prepared to recommend you for a spot on the team in charge of them. You can study the ruins, continue your…streak of discoveries. How does that sound?”
Deed should have been elated, but she was totally calm. This is what I wanted, isn’t it? Her intuition, which usually screamed at her during decisions like this, was totally silent.
“You can start right away, we just have to get you your new uniform.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Danenbrow. I don’t know what to say.”
He stared at her, and this time Deed couldn’t tell what emotion was behind his eyes. Deed continued:
“From what I’ve seen so far…these ruins are a blueprint to something.”
“It looks that way. Technology from an ancient civilization.” Dr. Danenbrow responded.
“A weapon.” Deed knew he knew – she just needed him to say it.
Dr. Danenbrow smiled.
“Seems like you know a little more than you’re letting on, too.”
“And you and the ICC want to recreate it.”
“Yes, if the ruins are complete enough. Effectively, we want to learn as much about it as we can – which would be our goal whether it was a weapon or a children’s toy.”
“I just want a little time to think about it.”
“Of course. Take the day. I’ll call you tomorrow around this time, and we can talk more. And don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions.”
A few hours later, Deed was on her mother Neela’s doorstep – the one person who might know enough and care enough to help her. Over two cups of steaming blak, Deed explained the events of her day. But before she could parse the decision she had to make over the next 24 hours (actually 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds in standard Earth time) she had an incoming call from Kyrin.
“One minute. He probably just wants to know where I am.”
“Okay,” Neela stepped off her high-top chair and went to fiddle with some old tools on her couch.
Deed pressed a button on her phone and a hologram of Kyrin’s face popped out in front of her.
“Where are you?”
“I’m with my mother. Listen, I got an offer from Dr. Danen -”
“I know. He came by and talked to me. Be very careful with this. I’m afraid you coud be in danger.”
Deed was suddenly glad she had her phone set so that only she could hear Kyrin, not her mother a few feet away. She responded carefully, trying not to alarm Neela.
“Explain what you mean.”
“He came to try to get me to convince you to join their team. They told me to tell you how great it is to gain power in the ICC. Whatever they think you can provide for them, they need it bad. Even if he played it cool when he talked to you earlier.”
“Well, isn’t this a good position to be in?” Deed responded.
“Danenbrow said he wants my help to get you on board the easy way. Implying that there is…a hard way they would try next. I don’t think they would hurt you, but,” he sighed. “I don’t know what to think. I’ll be there in Danenbrow’s office with you tomorrow, okay? Be safe and stay calm until then.”
“Okay. Thank you, Kyrin.” Deed ended the call and turned back to her mother.
“Yeah, all good.” Deed’s voice cracked. She felt tears well up in her eyes. Neela noticed and rushed over.
“Deed, baby, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing.” Deed fought to keep composed and wiped away at the small tears forming. “I’m sorry.”
Neela held her, though as she was shorter and Deed was still sitting in the tall chair, she wasn’t much higher than her waist.
“This is a lot of pressure. But I know you, and I know the ICC wants you because of your amazing talent. It might be stressful, but you won’t fail at this,” Neela told her. Small tears continued to fall onto Deed’s cheeks.
“I don’t know what to do. My intuition is gone, I don’t feel it at all.”
“Not gone, baby, clouded. Take some time to yourself tonight, get your mind off it and then come back. Meditate. And even if you don’t find your intuition tonight, I’m sure your mind can lead you to the right decision.”
Deed started crying harder.
“I don’t want to help build a weapon!”
Neela held on tighter.
“Well there you go, baby. Maybe that’s your answer.”
Heading to the headquarters again the next day, Deed practiced how she would announce her decision to Dr. Danenbrow. It is the actions of hundreds of people “just doing their jobs” that create war. It’s rare for one person to have the chance to stop it. Deed walked in nervous, but confident in her decision, even though she still didn’t have her usual gut feeling behind her. Kyrin and Dr. Danenbrow were already sitting in the office.
“Deed, thank you for joining us.”
“Of course. Hi.” Deed remained standing. “I won’t waste too much of your time – I’d like to decline this project. It is the actions of hundreds of people -”
“Deed, please. Before you continue, I have another chip I’d like to add to the board.”
Deed looked at him, then at Kyrin, who was frowning down at his hands.
“Your memories are not accurate. You were not born on Mars. This life you remember – most of it – is a lie.”