Episode 5

First Contact

The word echoed through the vast, forgotten chambers of her mind. For a moment, she sensed a deeper thought, a primal voice that hearkened back to some remote corner of her mind. It whispered at her not to heed the voice, and then, like a fleeting shadow, it was gone.

Run, run, run….

But why? As the word pounded repetitively in her mind, she watched the ground cars driving slowly below, their linear dance choreographed by lights. Above them, the aerovars soared past, moving much faster in animated, vertically stacked lines. She realized she was hungry. How long was it since she'd last eaten? She couldn't remember. So much of her past was lost to her in that glaring light that had purified her, sanctified her, burned her to the core.

Fiat lux! On the first day, there was light. But before the light came the voice. Before the light came the words.

“Avoid being seen in public until it is necessary.” The admonition came to her unbidden, just as all her thoughts came unbidden to her now.

Looking around the room, she spotted a comm unit and ordered breakfast. When it came, she ate heartily, all the perturbations and strange feelings she had known earlier vanishing. She was Myranda Flare—the Myranda Flare—and there was no one in the galaxy, man or machine, who could do what she could do. Now she was on a mission of the utmost importance, of such extreme gravity, that she was, for the moment, depersonalized, dehumanized, concealed, and programmed to react to preordained events. It was necessary, that much she knew beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Still, it left her in a strange, inhuman state. She felt empty, as if some vital part of her was missing. Like a body without a soul, she thought. This is how such a body would surely feel.

Once she finished eating, she showered and dressed, slipping into a simple white sheath dress and the bright multi-colored sandals that were apparently in fashion here. Her bag also contained a wide-brimmed, floppy straw hat which she would wear once she went outside. The clothes had been carefully selected for her by one of Dr. G's lieutenants, as they would protect her from Valatesta's blue-white sun as it poured down its summer heat. They would also hide her face from the ubiquitous public visicams.

She searched the bag, found a piece of thick black tape and placed it over the screen's visicam. Then she called the screen to life and began perusing the list of hotels in Forpania, a large city on the other side of the planet. As she looked over them, she waited for a name to appear in her mind, but nothing came to her. She shrugged. Apparently it didn't really matter which hotel she chose.

It occurred to her that this occasional freedom made her actions much harder to analyze and predict. Two or more minds making the decisions, alternating as if at random, meant that there would be no pattern that the hunters could detect and then anticipate.

She examined the list of hotels. There were thirty-four from which she could choose. She immediately eliminated the four most expensive and the twenty least-expensive. Nothing too ostentatious, and nothing that would risk the sort of police oversight that always haunted the cheapest accommodations.

There was one that caught her eye on the city's outskirts. It overlooked a shimmering blue sea called the Sea of Arala and suited her specifications exactly. Rising more than a thousand feet above the shore, it was called L'Albergo sul Mare, a large vacation resort that was, based on the reviews, very popular with various industry conferences. It was a vast, sprawling complex, complete with a golf course, and absolutely full of nooks and crannies capable of concealing a body.

She booked a room for three nights through the automated system under a burner ID, beginning the following night. After that, she booked passage at the interstellar gateway for one Anatolia Dorcas to the planet Weksler, third from the giant sun Urctaran. Dorcas was, according to the identity card, a citizen of the agricultural planet Ulixis. Although she'd never been to Ulixis, she found that after seeing the name Dorcas, she knew enough about the planet to answer any questions that were likely to be asked. It was odd to know and yet not know. It gave her an uncertain sense of mental dislocation. The ground shuttle would leave for the orbital station in just under three kilosecs, which gave her plenty of time to take a taxi to the shuttle launch and perform the task for which she had come.

She didn't even need to speak to anyone human to reserve the taxi; the hotel's AI concierge was bright enough to reserve it for her through the screen. She waited patiently at the launch station, flipping idly through a colorful book of various places deemed to be of interest to tourists. Then, when the first boarding was called, she walked over to a public communicator. Glancing around to make certain she wasn't under observation, she slipped another piece of tape over the comm unit's small visicam and punched in a code that would block the caller identification. Then she entered the contact number of a man named Mather Shek.

First Contact image number 1

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