Book 3: Redemption
Year 3456 AD (1376 PR)
With a horrified expression on her face, Estar took a step backwards, away from Rei, lowering her arm in the process. The shock of what she had seen in Rei’s mind forced her to temporarily resort to a verbal command.
“Execute him,” she commanded the two guards, “Now!”
“No!” Rome shouted. She leaped up and grabbed Estar’s hand, forcing it to point straight up.
The guard closest to Rome turned in place, away from Rei, reaching down to unholster his plasma gun. It was not there. He realized he had given it to Estar.
Meanwhile, from on the exam table, with his free hand, Rei launched his fist backwards and hit the guard standing on his right side squarely in the face, breaking his nose. Blood spattered everywhere. As the guard’s hands went to his face, Rei reached down and grabbed the weapon from the injured guard’s holster, yanking it out forcibly. He twisted his arm and pulled the trigger, all in one motion. The weapon discharged, blowing a fairly sizeable chunk out of the guard’s abdomen. The first guard, the one closer to Rome, heard the blast and started to turn back to grab at Rei. Rei twisted around and squeezed the trigger even as he was swinging his arm upwards. The weapon fired continuously and when it got in the general direction of the first guard, the sizzling beam hit him with a glancing blow that severed his arm just below the shoulder. The guard fell to the floor holding the stump of his arm, writhing in pain and bleeding profusely.
On the other side of the room, Rome struggled with Estar. She squeezed Estar’s wrist harder, pushing her captor’s arm higher. Estar tried to grab at Rome with her free hand but Rome seized that as well. Estar brought her knee up to hit Rome but Rome twisted in place, blocking the blow with her thigh. The action caused the weapon to discharge, blowing a hole in the ceiling and exposing the living rock that was behind the ceiling tiles. As the two women struggled, Estar’s weapon fired bolts of plasma upwards again and again.
Finally, the roof had enough. With a crack, a large portion of the rock that formed the ceiling of the lava tube broke off and fell and hit Estar directly on the head, shearing off a piece of her skull. She collapsed to the ground. Rome looked down and saw the contents of Estar’s head emptying onto the floor. To her horror, what Rome saw spilling out was not brain matter. Instead, it was tiny little wriggling worms that looked like maggots or memrons.
“Rei!” Rome said, pointing at the floor.
Rei looked at where Rome was pointing but the growing puddle didn’t phase him. He removed the other restraint from his left wrist and jumped off the exam table. He shouted, “Romey, grab her gun and let’s go.” He waved his arm forward.
“Go where?” Rome asked, frozen with terror.
“Here,” he said. He rotated a knob on his hand weapon and turned it to maximum power. He fired it directly at the wall behind them. The resulting blast revealed a clearing behind the wall, a large round tunnel, more of the lava tube.
Rome bent over and retrieved Estar’s weapon. Rei grabbed his wife and they ran. As soon as they were 20 feet into the tunnel, Rei pushed Rome ahead of him and then stopped.
“Move,” he barked. As Rome started backing away, Rei turned and fired his weapon at the ceiling by the entrance, causing some rocks to come loose. He took two steps backwards and fired again. More rocks came loose. He could see back into the room and the door was opening and people were starting to flood in.
“Romey, come back. I need you,” he said, pointing. Rome turned and aimed Estar’s weapon at the entrance as well. Together, they fired their beams of destruction and within seconds, their target groaned with large rumbling sound.
“Run!” Rei shouted as the whole ceiling started giving way. A cavalcade of rocks emitted a roar and a rush of air and dust as they made their way down the tunnel. They were plunged into inky blackness.
“Come on,” Rei said, grabbing Rome’s hand and moving forward. While Rome’s infrared vision could use their body heat to illuminate the space directly in front of them, Rei’s sonar-vision could see much further as their footfalls and the rumblings of the rockslide bathed the tunnel ahead in a dense swatch of sound.
On and on they ran, following the tunnel deeper and deeper. After a few minutes, Rei pulled on Rome’s arm to hold up.
“What?” she said.
“How much charge do these pistols have?” Rei asked, breathing hard.
Rome looked down at her weapon. “They must be powered by Casimir pumps so, in theory, they never run out of charge.”
“Great,” Rei said. “Then we have to do it again.”
“Collapse the tunnel,” he said, pointing upwards.
“Why?” Rome asked.
“Because they’re going to cut their way through in no time. We have to make it as hard on them as possible,” he said through gritted teeth.
“And then what? Where are we going?”
“Down,” he said.
“Down to where? How will we get out of here?”
“I’ll call MINIMCOM,” her husband answered. He closed his eyes and activated his circuit. However, there was no response on the other end. He tried again. It was no use. The circuit was dead. He opened his eyes. “Romey, you try it,” he said. “I think they messed up my brain or at least my circuit.”
Rome closed her eyes and tried to contact MINIMCOM. All she heard was silence. There was no response on the other end.
“I cannot do it either,” she said. “The signal is still jammed.” Rome looked up and around her. “Or perhaps we are under too much rock.”
Rei squatted down. He put his hands up to his face. “This is not what I planned,” he said. “I figured once we got away from them, MINIMCOM could swoop in and beam us out of here.”
“What does that mean: beam us out of here?” Rome asked, confused.
“When I was a kid, there was an old science fiction show that transported people from one place to another. That’s kind of my pet name for what MINIMCOM can do with his whoosh/pop snap PPT tunnels.”
“I see,” Rome said pensively. “That is still a good plan. Let me try something else.”
“What?” Rei asked.
“Aason?” he answered, confused.
Rome nodded. Once again, she closed her eyes but this time, she tried to open a connection to her child. “Aason?” she called out.
“Yes, Mother?” the child replied sleepily. “Where are you?”
“I am with your father,” Rome replied in her mind.
“But where?” Aason insisted.
“I will tell you later. First, I need you to do something for me.”
“What?” Aason asked.
“Can you contact MINIMCOM? You have the same abilities as your father and I. We call it a telephone.”
“Of course,” Aason answered. “But he told me to call him Onclare MINIMCOM.”
“That is very nice, Aason, my love,” Rome thought. “Can you contact him now?”
“All right, Mother.” After a moment, the boy said, “He is responding. What do I tell him?”
“Aason, my child, I cannot tell you how to do this but do you think you could put us together? So that I could talk to MINIMCOM directly?”
“I know how to do it,” Aason replied happily. “Onclare MINIMCOM?” Rome heard him inquire.
“Where are you?” came MINIMCOM’s voice in reply. “I cannot find you on my scans.”
Rome breathed a sigh of relief. “We are deep within a dormant volcano,” she said. “They were going to kill us.” In her mind, she flashed back to the scene of the wriggling little worms issuing forth from Estar’s skull and it made her shiver. “We need you.”
“I am on my way,” answered MINIMCOM. “At my present rate of speed, I will be there within the hour. I can fly faster if you want but then I run the risk of detection.”
“No, we can wait an hour,” Rome thought. “We are on Havei, the Big Island, in a lava tube, within the volcano, Kilauea. I do not know how far down we are but I do know that our EM link does not work. That is why I had to contact you via Aason.”
“That is sufficient information,” replied MINIMCOM. “I will find you when I get there. Do not be concerned.”
“All right, MINIMCOM,” Rome thought. “Thank you.”
Then to Aason, she thought, “Aason, you did well. You have saved your father and me.”
“Saved you?” Aason thought with some panic. “What is wrong?”
“We are beneath a mountain. We are all right for now.”
“Can you come home?” he asked.
“Not just yet,” Rome replied. “But Onclare MINIMCOM is coming to rescue us. We will be there as soon we can, my son.”
“Please Aason, be patient.”
“All right, Mother,” Aason replied.
“I will be contacting you again, soon,” Rome thought. “Your father and I must attend to our business now.”
“Yes, Mother. Hurry home.”
“Yes, baby,” said Rome.
Eyes closed, Rei turned his face up at his wife. The sounds of their breathing were the only “illumination” he had so her face was not distinct. But he could tell that she was smiling.
“Did you get him?”
“Yes,” Rome said. “MINIMCOM is on his way. He will be here within the hour.”
“How did you do that?” Rei asked.
“Aason did it,” Rome replied. “He has my connection using PPT resonance and he has your telephone circuitry. He was able to patch the two together so that I could speak to MINIMCOM directly.”
“That’s pretty incredible.”
“Yes, our son is very talented,” Rome said with pride.
“He sure is,” Rei said. “So, until MINIMCOM gets here, let’s make it as hard for them as we can.”
Together they fired their weapons at the ceiling and caused another collapse. They continued down the tunnel, stopping every quarter mile or so to collapse the roof. The farther down they went, the tunnel narrowed and it actually became easier to cause a slide. At one point, Rei had a pang of guilt that they were destroying something that was of great geological value but his need to survive and save Rome was the stronger impulse.
Down they went. The original tunnel was obloid in shape and roughly 20 feet across and about 25 feet tall. At irregular intervals, stalactites, lavacicles really, hung down from the ceiling and gave notice that the tunnel was about to change size, usually growing smaller.
After they had gone a healthy distance, the roof of the tunnel was perhaps only 15 feet tall, the walls maybe 12 feet across. Along the sides of the tunnel ran a ridge that jutted out a good six inches or more. Rei guessed the ridge was formed by some residual lava flow a long time ago.
“How far do you think this tunnel goes?” Rome asked.
“I don’t know,” said Rei. “I didn’t get that from the Overmind or whatever that was in my mind. I do remember when I was a kid, I recall reading that some lava tubes stretched as far as 45 kilometers or more. I can’t be sure but I think we’re heading toward the ocean.” Rei sighed. “In other words, I don’t have a clue,” he said.
Rome digested this and said, “A better question would be how far do we have to go until MINIMCOM gets here?”
Rei looked ahead, Rome’s words echoing in the distance and returning an image of the tunnel was as clear as if it were lit by torchlight.
“I guess this is far enough,” he said. “Is it safe to assume that MINIMCOM will call when he arrives?”
“As long as Aason relays that message, I would say yes.”
“OK, let’s stop then.” Rei walked over and put his back along the left wall, sliding down until he caught the ridge. The ridge was wide enough to act almost as a bench.
“I am thirsty,” Rome said. “I did not think to grab any supplies.”
“We didn’t have the time.” Rei paused then said thoughtfully, “Romey, you know we had to do it, right? To shoot them?”
“Oh yes,” she replied, coming over to where Rei was resting. “When Estar said to execute you, I was fairly certain it was not going to end well.”
Rei laughed gruffly. “I was in their Overmind,” he said thoughfully. “It was not what I expected.”
“What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know. Like, when we link up with bands, I’m in your mind. You are like, a spirit. I can feel you and see you and your history, all intermingled. But I know it’s you.”
“I am not part of that Overmind, if that is what you are saying,” Rome said.
“No,” Rei said, trying to find the words. “I just expected other, humans, something living. What I saw was something else. Cold. Mechanical. They weren’t spirits, they were just points of accumulation. Hard, not soft. There were no actual beings there. Your Overmind, the one you described, was like a big, person maybe? There was no person where I was. Just, data.”
“That is very strange,” Rome said. “It must have been hard for you.”
“That blue crystal thing you said to me. That saved me. It was from OMCOM.”
“Yes, I know,” Rome replied. “That was the secret that MINIMCOM told me in private, back at the beach. OMCOM had sent this phrase along for just this moment. It was a trigger but I did not know for what.”
“I’ll tell you for what,” Rei answered. “Do you remember back at Tabit, the first time we went into OMCOM’s memory chambers? I went in and looked at his long-term, I don’t know, holographic storage crystal thingies.”
“I remember,” Rome said. “You were gone some time. I remember being concerned enough that I was going to come look for you just as you came out. What happened in there?”
“I’m not exactly sure but I think OMCOM hypnotized me or maybe it wasn’t that deliberate. Maybe I just got hypnotized by the lasers, the crystals. But OMCOM sure didn’t miss an opportunity to implant some sort of post-hypnotic suggestions in me. He saved me, of course. Those words put up a kind of wall that prevented them from getting inside my head until I was ready. How did he know to do that? And why?”
Rome thought for a minute. “I cannot be certain because most of my perceptions of OMCOM were modulated by my participation in the Overmind. Once I was Cesdiud, I saw things differently. All I can tell you is somehow, OMCOM changed.”
“Changed how?” Rei asked.
“He was a computer,” Rome said. “He was only as friendly as required by the Vuduri, which was not very much. But when you were first awakened, he became more animated. He mentioned to me that he had a personality module that you forced him to exercise. But even that was not it. Something happened to him. Something fundamental. He became… - I cannot call him a person, because he is not. I cannot say that he became intelligent because he was already vastly overpowered in the intelligence arena. No, he became, I am going to say, caring. It was as if there was a true living spirit inside him and your arrival triggered that awakening in him.”
“That’s pretty heavy,” Rei said. “I never really saw a difference.”
“I did,” Rome replied, “after we used the bands.” She slid along the ledge until her legs were touching Rei’s. She leaned into him, putting her arm around him. Rei did likewise. “I think that act awakened something in OMCOM. I want to say compassion. Before that, he was simply intelligent.”
“And all of this,” Rei said, waving his free arm toward the tunnel. “You think this all is a result of that awakening?”
“What else can it be?” Rome asked. “He has always been one step ahead of each of the crises we have encountered. Almost as if he computed all possible futures and gave us the tools we need to counteract whatever fate was in store for us.”
“If that’s true, there’s still one tool that has me stumped,” Rei said.
Rome leaned back a bit. “And what is that?”
“Here, take my hand,” Rei said. He slid it along his thigh, showing her the bulge in his pocket.
“Rei!” Rome said a little indignantly. “I do not think this is the right time for that.”
“No,” he said, laughing. “That’s not it. It’s a pouch that MINIMCOM gave me.” Rei reached in his pocket and pulled it out. The heat from his hand illuminated the bag and provided more than enough infrared that Rome was able to make out its shape.
“What is in it?” Rome asked.
“VIRUS units,” Rei said.
“VIRUS units?” Rome questioned. “That seems so dangerous.”
“It gets worse before it gets better.”
Rei hefted the bag in his hand. “These units can have their oxygen sensor disabled. They can be activated within the atmosphere.”
“And MINIMCOM gave them to you?” Rome exclaimed, terrified. “This is irresponsible. It could destroy the planet.”
“I know,” Rei said. “But MINIMCOM designed these units to report to us. They take their orders from my telephone circuit, from our telephone circuit. If it works, I mean.”
He had a thought. “Does it work now?” Rei asked Rome internally.
“Yes, I can hear you,” Rome replied silently.
“OK,” Rei said out loud. “Then it was just Estar’s equipment that was interfering between you and me. Not our brain circuitry.”
“If that is the case, let me try MINIMCOM again,” Rome said. After a moment, she shook her head. “We must be too far down.”
“Probably. But we are close enough to activate and deactivate these VIRUS units whenever we want. If I sprinkled some on the floor here, I could turn them on and they’d start burrowing for us.”
“But they would grow without bound,” Rome said with a slightly horrified tone. “They would eat through to the core of the planet. They would eat us.”
“No,” Rei said firmly. “MINIMCOM said these units cannot eat organic matter. Now the core of the Earth, that’s a different matter. We would have to tell them to stop before they got that far.”
“So what are they for?” Rome asked. “Burrowing down would not seem to be very useful. What else would you do with them?”
“MINIMCOM had no idea,” Rei said. “He said they were a gift from OMCOM and that’s all he knew.”
“So confusing,” Rome said. “Obviously you did not need them back there.” She became quiet for a moment as she recalled the melee. She squeezed Rei’s hand. “What did you tell them when they were inside your mind?” she asked. “It frightened them beyond measure. All of the blood went out of Estar’s face. She became as gray as I have ever seen a living human being. What did you say to them?”
“Romey,” Rei said quietly. “I don’t even want to tell you. They thought the worst of me and I gave them exactly what they expected to hear. Bad things. Horrible things. Things that I didn’t even know I was capable of thinking.”
“But they are not real,” Rome posited, with a small amount of fear.
“God no,” Rei said. “I simulated this horrid creature, the Essessoni of their dreams - their nightmares actually - and I let him say what they thought he’d say. But it wasn’t me. Not ever.”
“Then I trust you. I do not need to know any more,” Rome said. “You did what you had to do.”
“Yes, I could read their thoughts, too,” he said. “I knew they were going to kill us. Kill you. I couldn’t allow it. You’re everything to me. But even that is just selfish. Rome, you are a good person and you did nothing wrong. You didn’t deserve it.”
Rome sighed and rested her head on Rei’s shoulder looking up at his face, marveling at it. “You are so good to me, mau emir. I love you so much.”
“And I love you too, Romey,” he said.
Rome sighed again and leaned more fully against her husband. She closed her eyes, which seemed unnecessary because they were sitting in the pitch black. Then she snapped her eyes open again.
“Rei,” she said, leaving the sentence hanging.
Rome stood up and took a step back. “I can see you.”
“So what?” he replied. “You have infrared vision. Big deal.”
“That is not the point. I can see you better than I should be able to.”
“You can see the heat from my face, you know that,” Rei pointed out.
“No,” she said. “There is more than just your body heat. When I see a face that is only illuminated by internal warmth, there is a certain lack of features. But you, your face, it is all lit up. That means there is an external source of infrared. Let me look.”
Rome scanned the tunnel. The far wall was illuminating where they were sitting, in the infrared sense. “There,” she said, raising her finger. She knew that her voice would be sufficient for Rei to see where she was pointing. “That wall. It is radiating heat.”
Rei turned to where she was pointing. He stood up and walked across the tunnel to the far side. Slowly, carefully, he ran his hand along the wall.
“I can feel it,” he said and then paused. “Uh, Rome, this might not be good.”
“Why?” she asked.
“For one thing, we’re sitting inside a volcano maybe?” he said.
“A dormant volcano,” Rome pointed out. “Kilauea has been dormant for as long as we have recorded history. Which means since your time.”
“Yeah but there’s always a first time.”
Rei bent over and put his face near the warmest spot. He turned his head so that he could put his ear to the rock. “Wow,” he exclaimed, “can you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Rome replied. “I hear nothing.”
“Shhh. Let me listen again.”
“All right.” Rome held her breath and stayed perfectly still so Rei could attend to the sounds.
“Come here,” he said.
Rome came over to him.
“Here,” he said. “Put your ear to the rock.”
Rome complied. She listened for a bit then lifted up. “I do not hear anything,” she said.
“Well I do.” Rei responded.
“It is not surprising given that you do have super hearing,” Rome said condescendingly.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, grinning.
“What did you hear?” she asked.
“Water. I heard drops of water. The echoes are telling me that it’s hollow in there.”
He reached over and felt along Rome’s side until he found what he was looking for. He pulled out her hand weapon. He dialed down the intensity to the minimum and handed it back to her. “Here,” he said.
“What do you want me to do with this weapon?” she asked.
“I cranked it down to the lowest setting. I want you to fire it up the tunnel. But be careful.”
“What will that accomplish?”
“It’ll light it up. Like a torch. I want to look with my eyes.”
“Very well,” Rome said. She turned and aimed the weapon up the tunnel and pulled on the trigger. A blue-white flame of contained plasma jumped out, traveling up the tunnel until it dissipated off in the distance. The arc-like light was sufficient for Rei to bend down and examine the wall close up. He took out his pistol and used its handle to gently rap the stone in a series of lines.
“This section here,” he said. “It looks like rock but it’s a different density. I can almost chart out the region…” He started clawing at it with his fingers. “There’s something on the other side of this wall,” he said. He rapped the stone one more time, harder, and something gave way.
“What are you doing?” Rome asked, carefully turning her head so that she could see where Rei was pointing.
“This isn’t rock at all,” he said. “I made a hole. I can stick my finger in there. What’s behind it is hollow. I can kind of map it out. It could be like a chamber or something. I think that’s where the water is.”
Rome stopped firing her weapon and came over to where Rei was standing.
“Go back up the tunnel as far as you can,” Rei instructed. “I’m going to use my gun to blow out this panel and I want to make sure you are out of the way.”
Rome looked up the tunnel then back to Rei. “Please be careful,” she said.
“Of course,” Rei answered. “Now go.”
Rome nodded and walked up the tunnel until Rei’s infrared signature was almost undetectable.
“Are you away?” Rei yelled to her.
“Yes,” she called back.
“OK,” Rei shouted. “Fire in the hole.”
“What?” Rome’s question was lost in the reverberation of a blast. Her internal optics compensated instantly for the flash in front of her. “Rei,” she called out. “Are you all right?”
There was no answer.
(End of sample)
REDEMPTION: BOOK 3 OF THE ROME’S REVOLUTION SAGA