“The CD cases and discs are covered with scuff marks--these ain’t bootlegs--they’re the genuine article! Where’d you get them, Sis? They’re practically priceless!” I gasped as I examined the parcel’s contents.
Jessi squeezed my hand affectionately. “Happy Birthday, Bro. You are happy, right?”
I gave her one of those looks. “You think I’m faking this, Kiddo? I’ve been searching for these antiques for decades. And here you are, giving me not one, but all three twenty-first century Ayumi Hamasaki Cyber trance presents ayu trance albums!” I cocked my head mischievously to one side. “I want to hear them now--you think I can skip the presentation?”
“Come on, Mike, you’re a war hero. Go get your medal. Then we can jack into the net and pop these albums on continuous play until we’re all ‘tranced’ out.”
It was a struggle, but somehow I handed the discs back to my younger sister before standing to straighten my uniform.
Reality, however, took a right turn into the realm of hallucinatory dreams when the ayu trance 2 disc disintegrated into a cloud of microscopic dust--dust which of its own accord proceeded to envelope my sister’s exposed arm.
“Arrr…ungh…get them off me!” Jessi shrieked as her skin began absorbing the dust. It was like watching a mold spore’s explosion played backwards in slow motion.
Although I swatted frantically at the dust, this barely even impeded its progress. A moment later all traces of it were gone--assimilated by Jessi’s arm. She tried to grab me but collapsed, arching her back in agony while mouthing voiceless screams.
The door chimed.
The timing was too precise to be a coincidence.
“Open,” I snapped.
The door swished open to admit two corporate-types in black suits and mirror shades.
“What have you done to my sister?”
“Cooperate and we’ll remove the nanites. Don’t and we’ll let them replicate--inside her.”
“What do you want?”
The suit stepped forward. “The president pins a medal on your chest in two hours, Mister War Hero. Thanks to his orbital’s dampening field rendering our nanotech inactive, we can’t touch him. So you’re going to terminate him for us.”
Eight thousand orbitals had warred for seven centuries: millions had died. Not only did President Berenger broker the ceasefire, but he also kept the peace. Remove him, and the conflict would resume. Aghast, I looked at my sister.
“You have any idea of how much she loves you? She spent a decade’s wages buying those ‘albums’ from us. You just gonna let us waste her?”
I hung my head. Jessi, my sister, had been my best friend, my lifeline to sanity, for two centuries. “I’ll do it.”
“Of course you will. Now hold out your left hand.”
Another cloud of nanites descended upon my outstretched hand, which absorbed them in seconds. I watched, immobilised, dismayed, as the nanites opened my hand, rebuilt the bones inside into a fully functional needle gun that was undetectable by known security devices, and then closed up the wound. The nanites poured back out of me.
“When Berenger pins the medal to your chest, make a fist, aim it at him, and squeeze the hand.”
President Berenger was pinning a medal on my copilot’s chest. I was next.
I thought of my sister, contorted in agony, waiting for release. Her life was in my hand, literally. A lifetime’s memories flashed through my mind. Oh, the times we had spent together, the things we had seen. The support we had given to Berenger as he fought to end the chaos.
My face burned as guilt consumed me. Everything that so many had worked for, for so long, would collapse when I assassinated the only man whom could maintain the peace. The government would fall, chaos would ensue, arms traders would resume their lucrative business, and millions more would die as orbitals resumed open warfare--all because of me.
President Berenger was shaking my right hand while placing a medal on my chest.
Pulse roaring, I made a fist with my left hand and aimed it at his heart. One squeeze and it would be over. My sister would be safe, and the Orbital Coalition would collapse.
“Well done, Wing Commander Daniels,” said the President. Then, for my ears only, “Thanks, Mike--I could not have done it without you.”
“Forgive me, Sis,” I mouthed, lowering the hand.
A tear fell. My heart died.
“You okay, friend?” asked the President, about to move on.
“Emotional day, Sir.”
Nanite – microscopic robot
Orbital – short for ‘orbital habitat.’ A space station orbiting the Earth that serves as a permanent settlement
Matthew 10:28 (NIV) Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
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