14:32 – Monday, September 3, 2187 (Muhaze, Tapi-36)
Mikita held Marta securely in her arms as she stepped tentatively into the shimmering, glassy oval that hovered in front of her. Sensing Mikita’s anxiety, the little muidog began to squirm. She didn’t want to be restrained.
Marta was still a puppy, only a month old (a present from Zanthu) and Mikita wasn’t about to let her get away; not while she was making the most important decision of her 18 year-old life; not while she was about to turn her whole world upside down. Mikita needed someone with her – even if it was a mad, little pooch.
Zanthu’s gone away with his people, so what am I going to do? Stay at home and carry on as if nothing had ever happened? she thought to herself, as she stroked Marta’s head, calming the muidog’s protestations.
Mikita gingerly put one foot through the vertical, aquatic-blue surface and felt her body go cold while the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She forced herself to relax as she remembered Florina’s advice to stay calm in the portal or bad things might happen. Her leg and upper body passed through the emerald-framed gateway but Marta was wriggling again. The puppy’s bushy tail flicked up into Mikita’s eyes forcing her to stop half in and half out of the entrance. She frowned at her dog, then carried on through the portal. Mikita felt a sudden judder ripple down through her body as she entered.
Too quickly! she thought, and Marta wriggled again in her arms. Mikita began to question her decision to leave Tapi-36. Why am I doing this? Risking life and limb? And with a stupid, draining puppy!
Inside the portal, Mikita saw a vast emptiness, as if there was nothing there at all. Well, not ‘nothing’ – there is no such thing as ‘nothing’, of course – but what she saw was akin to what you see when shutting your eyes in direct sunlight: little sparkling patterns that seem to form in a flat blankness. Put another way, what she saw was a kind of fuzzy void, but with no depth or distance present – and the effect made her feel oddly vertiginous and dizzy. Mikita blinked several times in a futile attempt to clear her vision.
After a moment, Mikita felt a change to the portal’s interior. Slowly, she began to sense that she was standing still and everything else had begun to move towards her. Soft, muted colours flashed by, becoming white lines of motion as they whizzed past. Mikita was not sure whether she was stationary, and everything else was moving, or the reverse. Then a sound started up, like a babbling electronic river, full of convoluted, complex tones that seemed to enter into her and lift her up off her feet. Or, at least, she had the distinct sensation that whatever she had been standing on before wasn’t there anymore. To her surprise, she found this feeling of travelling (if that’s what it actually was) nothing like as disorientating, or as painful, as she’d anticipated. Then she remembered what Florina had said – she closed her eyes and let the portal take her where it would.
Mikita managed to fully relax her mind and body, and the portal was now doing its work. She could feel Marta’s little heart pounding away against her as they swiftly made their way to…? Where? It suddenly occurred to Mikita that she didn’t know where she was going. She had no idea where Plaateux-5 was. It could be anywhere – on the other side of the galaxy, for all she could guess. She only knew that when she got there she would learn how to control the Golden Circuit – the ‘gift’ Mikita had unknowingly been bestowed with.
But lately, the Golden Circuit had seemed less of an attribute and more of a curse. And as she progressed along the portal, the events of the past few months tore through her mind. Flashing by as if somehow they were being erased, or, if not erased, then at least soothed and calmed. She let it happen.
This is good, she thought. Here I will find peace, at last.
Mikita soon found herself losing all track of time. She didn’t know whether she’d been in the portal for a few minutes or a few hours. But eventually she felt a new sensation – that of slowing down. The white speed-lines were gradually decelerating; lessening in their blurriness and becoming more distinct, until, finally, they thickened and merged once again into the blank void.
Looking straight ahead, Mikita made out a small light that seemed to be approaching from the distance. It began to get bigger and bigger until she recognised a familiar oval shape, like the one in her front room earlier. It got closer and closer, until she could make out the rippling surface of a portal.
Marta, who’d fallen asleep soon after leaving Tapi-36, now woke and twisted her head around to see the glassy-blue mirror of light right in front of them. She squirmed out of Mikita’s arms and jumped straight through the oval exit!
“Hey! Wait! Marta, come back!” shouted Mikita. Then suddenly, she felt another rumble, as if the portal had recognised her distress. It threw her off balance. Keep calm, Florina had said. It is very susceptible to your emotions. Mikita forced down her feelings, and the rumbling subsided. She breathed a small sigh of relief, but then, she hesitated, the portal’s seductive phosphorescence seeming to hypnotise her for a moment.
Looking at the exit-way she realised that this was all that there was between her and her destiny; the next chapter of her life. She was here at the behest of people she hardly even knew. Could she trust them? Was she ready for this new challenge? Was she confident enough to take this big step into the unknown?
Come on, Mikita, what’s stopping you? she told herself. And anyways, what are you going to do, stay in this portal forever? Oh, fire! What the shizz am I doing?! Marta’s gone through already!
“Marta, wait!” she shouted, then put one leg through the glinting, green-rimmed oval, and went through to the other side.
14:41 – Monday, September 3, 2187 (Muhaze, Tapi-36)
Once Jon-7’s attack on the city had ended, the Muhazians had reacted badly. TAPCON had been defeated, but the entire population suddenly panicked and started looting. This regretful behaviour was soon quashed by a peace squadron put together by Captain Philip Jameson and the Argon crew, but the damage had been done, and now Tapi-36 was under the temporary control of the Interplanetary Federation of Systems (the IFS).
Plans had been put in place to rebuild the city, but it would be a slow process as the Froome had caused considerable damage. A mild state of chaos still ruled in some parts of town and there were new reports of forged Muhazian dollars coming into circulation – this could easily have the effect of bankrupting the planet.
In an attempt to restore order, one of the IFS’s primary objectives was to hold an emergency election; to quickly put someone in power and give Tapi-36 the leadership it so badly needed. And now, all across the city, posters and placards showed the faces of the two candidates taking part in the fast-track vote. One set of the massive billboards pictured a smiling, newly-coiffured Jon-7, replete with wrap-around sunglasses and sequin jacket. He had both hands held aloft, his fingers showing the peace sign.
But how the fire could Jon-7 be up for election?
Bizarrely, Jon-7 was now seen as a hero in the wake of Skirmish 2.3. The people of Tapi-36 recognised that it was the Froome who had bombed the TAPCON buildings which, in turn, had led to the downfall of TAPCON and their leader, David Sempre. Jon-7, being a complete egomaniac, took full credit for the victory, despite the fact that he had been shot down by his own rebelling forces, who’d found him a hopeless, ineffectual charlatan. Luckily, his ejection seat had saved him from the flaming, tangled mass of metal that landed on the roof of the Balmaha Shopping Centre. Unfortunately, his sidekick, Budgie, had not been so lucky. According to Jon-7 he’d become caught up in the parachute lines, landed awkwardly and broken his neck, and was now in the big aviary of dimwits in the sky. “Dear old Budge,” Jon-7 had said, wistfully. Now he was on the lookout for a suitable replacement; he still needed a lackey to do his errands and odd jobs for him.
Jon-7 had the V-Wing wreckage turned into a bronzed statue, complete with an inscribed placard detailing his heroic deed. The sculpture now stood outside his new headquarters, located along the entire top floor of the shopping mall where he’d crashed. He was rubbish at helping other people, but making himself look good was Jon-7’s forte.
The second candidate in the election was Janeee Swish – leader of the ‘People Against Sempre’s Immoral Violence’ protest group (PASIV). During the conflict, they had managed to infiltrate The Zip, TAPCON’s media empire, and broadcast to the planet revealing David Sempre’s morbid secrets and twisted ambitions. This had resulted in a revolution. Admittedly, the revolution hadn’t gone quite as planned (i.e. it culminated in the looting debacle), but her Zip speech had made a very positive impression on the public, and now she was up for President.
Janeee was a tireless worker. She was also modest, though very determined, and the polar opposite to Jon-7 when it came to making things better for others. She would put them before herself – always.
But Muhazians were an unpredictable, fickle bunch and nobody could confidently forecast how the election would turn out. The reality was that Janeee Swish had brains, sound ideas and a strong work ethic, while Jon-7 was a vain, egocentric buffoon. No contest, it would seem. But Janeee Swish needed to remember that the great populace of Muhaze were easily swayed by the more superficial aspects of a personality – good looks, an extrovert personality and the knack for a feel-good sound bite. All the things that Jon-7 possessed in spades.
Gompi whistled to himself as he drove through the derelict streets of Muhaze on his way to his next customer. He was now working for The Interspace Parcel Company, and it was a good job – much better than working for Mr. Dontai in his decrepit flats. Gompi loved that feeling of approaching a front door, ringing the bell and then giving people their parcels. Their faces invariably lit up, and that made him happy.
He enjoyed the personal contact, even when the punters were rude to him. That was unusual for a mutant, those feelings of emotion. He was definitely wired up differently from the rest of his kind.
Passing through the downtown area he noticed that most of the shop fronts were still boarded up, and that long queues were forming outside the stores that were open. Volunteers working with PASIV and several members from other protest groups were bringing in ration supplies from outside the city and distributing them to the stores. But it was slow work and things were taking their time.
Gompi had struck up a fine whistle of an old tune he remembered called ‘Satellite Superstars’ (a big hit for The Prism People last year) but, no sooner had he got to the bit where the words went: ‘Look at us, we’re really famous, we’re rockin’ out on Uranus’, when he saw two people squabbling in the middle of Nohinghu Stratis. Gompi slowed down his van in approach. He could tell that they were arguing over how much food they’d managed to get in their rations, and the fact that one person had got more than the other: they were both poking a pointy index finger into each other’s chests, then at each other’s bags – their faces like the storm clouds of Fuschia-2609(b) about to burst with noxious rain.
Gompi took these sorts of things to heart. And if he had been programmed to cry, he would have. There were definitely some issues with his PCB board.
They have lot of anger, thought Gompi. It make me sad. People need be kind to each other.
Gompi’s hand-held beeped and displayed a message. It was from his boss, Larri:
[You late for delivery, Gompi. Hurry up!]
Gompi sighed, then scrolled through his device to make sure he had the correct address for his next drop-off. He only had one more to do after this one, then he was done and could go home.
His device said: ‘Delivery No. 21 – The Andromeda Hotel, 154 Berry Rode, Entwarp, Arrondissement 26, Muhaze, Tapi-36’. Entwarp was on the very outskirts of the city, south of the old Sports Stadium.
Gompi’s brow creased. It wasn’t the most pleasant part of town – to put it mildly. He decided to lift his mood by putting on the radio. He pressed the ‘ON’ button and flicked through the channels. Every channel was playing the same music. Gompi had forgotten that The Zip was no longer broadcasting and, in its place, the IFS were playing some old Earth-based ‘mood-music’ that they used to have on when the TV channels were off-air in the daytime. But Gompi didn’t mind the sounds he was hearing. Quite the opposite. He found that he liked this kind of music. It was relaxing and tuneful. And sure enough, his whistling started up again and a smile came back to his lips.
After about 15 minutes of driving, Gompi arrived in Arrondissement 26 and immediately noticed a change of atmosphere. Down here, things were even worse than in Central Muhaze. The looting had left the area in a dreadful state – car and store windows smashed, debris and rubbish strewn across the streets – it looked like a storm had recently swept through; like a hurricane had churned up everything in its path and spat it out without a care. Nature could be like that. But this was not an act of nature. Humans were responsible for this mess.
Gompi then noticed another unusual thing: the area was completely deserted. Not a soul in sight. There was an eerie silence accompanied by a cold feeling in the air, and Gompi began to feel anxious. He was still smiling, right enough, but that might have been a bit of wind in his wiring from that second Borealis Burger he’d had at lunch.
Where was everybody?
Why had Entwarp been abandoned?
Gompi had no answers to these questions, but he did have a job to do. And, after a few minutes of searching, he found 154 Berry Rode. He could hardly miss it – there was so much noise coming from the building.