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The Journey of Rick Heiden
All Rights Reserved © 2020, Rick Haydn Horst
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This novel contains 50 chapters.
An eruption of rapid tang-tang-tangs reverberated inside my head the instant I arrived on Earth. My lagging consciousness reasserted itself, and I realized I sat amid a hailstorm of bullets pounding my ship from all sides. I braced myself in the seat and stiffened my head against the headrest for a rapid vertical ascent. The moment of downward pressure felt more familiar than Earth’s gravity, but the faster the ship moved, the less I sensed the motion.
My ship, the Berlioz, and I rose high into the air, well above the tightly gnarled sea of trees called Aokigahara, the suicide forest, where the portal had lain hidden for hundreds of years. Mount Fuji’s snowy western face had an orange glow; I had arrived on the island of Japan a few minutes before sundown.
The ship’s sensors alerted me that two fighter jets from a nearby military base had turned my direction, flying at Mach 2, and would be upon me in seconds. It was most likely the Americans. Thanks to years of subscriptions to various science magazines, I knew that Earth’s aircraft traveled less than Mach 5. Engaging the rear thrusters, I departed, rather than toying with them by waiting until the last second. They abandoned the pursuit when I surpassed their speed and altitude limit. I knew returning to Earth to save David would make a target of me again; it went with the territory.
David’s letters implied that diplomatic discussions with the Japanese had gone well, so I found it curious they allowed the Americans to garrison at the portal. Then again, given the position the Japanese were in with the Americans, could they stop them? Whatever the answer, I made a record of my unwelcome in the ship’s log.
A Jiyūvian named Gabriel had proclaimed himself Jiyū’s adversary. He caused my return to Earth. He claimed he sent what he called a Trojan Horse to Earth to hunt David and kill him. If true, I concluded he meant the mercenary named Salvatore Greco, as the Trojans were Greeks, and the name Greco means of Greece. Gabriel must have used his Prime-Sharer ability to program his mind to commit the deed. However, after having given Gabriel a Revertor vile in his juice that morning, he should rapidly lose that ability. Once I returned home, I would use my Prime-Share ability on him, force him to awaken Amaré and Dmitry, and then that will be that, but first I had to find David.
We had sent Greco and Lopez, the two American mercenaries we found at the second portal, back to Earth 30 days earlier at the beginning of the jear. Thirty days on Jiyū measured a rough equivalence to six days on Earth, give or take some hours. He had ample time to perform his task. Had I arrived too late?
My ship, the Berlioz, a stunning black beauty both fast and versatile, culminated hundreds of jears of Jiyūvian technology. An A.I. friend named Venn designed it, forged it, and at the request of Amaré, gave it to me. From where I sat, the 180-degree screen covered much of the cockpit interior. Panels of touchscreen controls surrounded me, and a holographic yoke for maneuvering floated within easy reach.
The ship’s computerized teacher released me from instruction before the beginning of the jear; so, I made the trip to Earth with the knowledge of the ship’s inner workings. I knew that upon detecting possible hull damage, the vessel would pressure test the envelope for leakage.
The Berlioz could do many things, but it could not cloak itself, so the potential of future engagements with various militaries worried me. However, the ship’s nanotube covering could absorb a range of electromagnetic radiation frequencies preventing ground radar from detecting the ship’s presence and weapons from locking onto it. Without that ability, and its collision avoidance systems, the Terrans firing an air-to-air or ground-to-air missile might have proved more than the Berlioz could handle, and I had no desire to put the ship to the test. So, we, the ship and I, hovered just below the ionosphere at 70 kilometers (43 miles) altitude for safety, but I would never find David at that distance. I contemplated how to land in London, avoiding the invasion of another country’s airspace during the descent. Before that could happen, however, I needed to make a phone call.
The pressure test revealed no holes in the hull of the ship. “Thank you, Venn.”
I left the cockpit to search the stowage between the folded jumpseats. While digging into my things, I glanced into the mirror I had attached to one of the cabinet doors. Although I had slept a full night’s sleep the previous evening on Jiyū, the shadow across my eyes and the expression of worry made me appear tired. I took a deep breath and istanbul travesti tried to think more positive things, like David’s amazement at seeing my full head of hair. I knew the greater musculature I earned in my gym (intended to distract me from the sexual drought I experienced in his absence) would please him. Also, he wanted me to grow and not feel as though he must hold my hand every moment. I had realized my capability by then; much had happened after he departed for Earth. One occurrence had left me with the bloody hope he would forgive me.
I found what I sought; I brought my mobile with me. The service would stay active thanks to the automatic payments taken from the money left in my London bank account. To reach the mobile service, though, we would have to drop down to no more than 10,000 feet, making the Berlioz an easy visual target. Instead, I had the ship’s computer hack into a European internet satellite, adapting an interface, the Berlioz could then transmit a local Wi-Fi signal for an internet call. The encoded, raw data took time to crack, but it proved no match for the ship’s onboard computer. It took less than 20 minutes to interface with the satellite. The instant it did, I called David’s mobile, but it went straight to voicemail. Either he had turned it off or it lay outside the network range. I left him an urgent message.
I called David’s friend, and member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet of the United Kingdom, the Right Honourable Amanda Newton. I knew nothing of British politics and little of its governmental departments. As a former exile from the United States, and an asylee of the United Kingdom, I couldn’t vote, so I never bothered to learn. David trusted Ms. Newton. He told me she would know where I could find him, but she never answered my call, and her overloaded voicemail refused my message. I concluded the time had come for the last resort.
Amanda Newton held the position of Secretary of State for Home Affairs, and it took time to track down a public number that could route me to her office. I accepted the impossibility she would answer, and fully expected to reach Amanda’s 38th undersecretary or some such distant functionary.
I thought to use the title that Mason insisted on calling me. Titles captivated the humans of Earth. They demanded attention, providing a level of distinction and respectability not afforded the likes of Joe Schmo from South Acton. The automated answering computer for her office left me on hold for what seemed like ages, listening to the most god-awful music, interspersed with assurances of speaking to an actual human sometime before Christmas.
“Secretary of State Amanda Newton’s office, Eliza Davies speaking, how may I help you?”
“I am Captain Richard Heiden of the SJS Berlioz, mate to the Jiyūvian Ambassador, David Levitt. I’ve just arrived through the portal in Japan. I have made an unsuccessful attempt to contact David’s mobile, and the attempt to reach Ms. Newton’s private number has failed as well. As much as I dislike having to go through channels, this public number remains my last-“
“Captain Richard Heiden or whatever,” she said, “I refused to fall for such nonsense two days ago, and I won’t fall for it now, good day.”
At which point, she rang off, hence the reason I have loathed contacting people through channels. In a less than polite tone, I called her back. After another lengthy wait, which provided ample time to fume over the situation, she once again gave me the standard greeting, to which I immediately injected, “Ms. Davies, do not hang up on me!”
“Captain Heiden?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“One moment, Captain.”
“Captain Heiden,” said a new voice, “I’m Caroline Walker, personal assistant to Secretary of State Amanda Newton. I don’t know if you remember me, but I wish to apologize to you for the confusion. As you might not realize, we’ve had the occasional prank call.”
“Yes, I remember you, Ms. Walker. What made the difference?”
“We record and log every call,” she said. “I had the secretary send a copy of all calls regarding Jiyū to my computer. I believed I recognized your voice from when we met the day you left.”
“Well, I appreciate that you took my call,” I said, “and I apologize for having to use the internet, but I have no mobile service in my ship forty miles above the Earth.”
“Is that the ship you had before?”
I paused a moment to consider her unusual question. “Oh, I get it; we must have certainty, mustn’t we? I didn’t have a ship before. Please, challenge me directly so we can get on with why I called.”
“Tell me the name of the ship you took from Genoa to Osaka,” she said.
“We took the Torekkā Maru from Venice to Yokohama, not that we made the full journey. Does that satisfy you?”
“Again, I am sorry. What can I do for you, Mr. Heiden?”
“For clarity,” I said, “I am Captain Richard Heiden of the SJS Berlioz. I need to speak with Secretary of State, Amanda Newton. As I said, she did not answer her private number.”
“My apologies, istanbul travestileri Captain Heiden. Let me give you another number to call if we lose the connection.” She did so. “Ms. Newton has a meeting until eleven o’clock this morning.”
“Does this meeting take place at the Cabinet Office?”
“No, she held a special meeting at the Home Office today,” she said.
“I see. Could you tell me the time and date in London, please?”
“It’s 10:57 a.m. on Friday, November 30th.”
As the Berlioz’s computer listened to our conversation, it noted the time and date, adjusting our clock to match Earth’s and when I glanced at my watch, I noted that it had changed to read the same time as the ship on a 24-hour dial, as I learned on Jiyū that the watch only appeared analog.
“Thank you for that. Ah…Please, tell Ms. Newton I called. She’s a busy woman, I know, but I must speak with her. I will arrive at the Home Office in half an hour. Due to the method of my arrival, I will require an escort into the building, so if she would have someone to, please, step out front at that time, I will meet them there. I know that’s a lot to ask, and I do apologize.”
When the call ended, I searched an online map to find the Home Office located at 2 Marsham Street. I programmed the ship’s computer to make a drop to the front of the building to let me out. The instant my body cleared the hatchway, the Berlioz would leave at high speed when its altitude doubled the height of The Shard, London’s tallest building. It would then place itself in geosynchronous orbit well out of harm’s reach.
The mini-bot I came to call a “Captain’s Attendant” shadowed me everywhere. Due to the incident on Jiyū, the vessel carried Venn’s upgraded version of them. He replaced the fly-sized original with an adaptive robot the size of a Japanese beetle bearing an intrinsic connection to the ship. It could contact the Berlioz regardless of my location, including underground. It could fly cloaked as a security measure, trailing me, providing a means of communication, or it could alight on my clothing to ensure I remained accompanied. I also had the ship monitor the frequency used by the communication enhancement that usually connected me with Iris on Jiyū. With it, I could call for the ship in the case of an emergency, but that means only functioned while in range.
I dug into my backpack to remove some of the gold Venn gave me. I thought to leave most of it on the ship. Venn gave me an equivalent of 500 one-quarter ounce blank rounds in aurum. The 139th Prime, known as Aurum, made them and named the coins after himself. He minted and marked these, inexplicably rigid, 5 troy ounce coins at 99.99% Fine. I gave one a closer inspection beneath a light. The bottom of the back of the coin had a tiny, embossed number in high relief: 000,000,000,000,021. Astonished, I searched the other coins in turn, and each one had its own number.
“You must be joking,” I said to myself.
After a thousand jears of automated mining and minting, Aurum’s enormous vault held hundreds of billions of coins, possibly a trillion or more. Had Venn taken them all? Did he have them counted and categorized by number? He must have, for in my hand, lay the first 25 coins, minted a thousand jears ago on Jiyū. My body trembled at the potential. Together, they amounted to 125 troy ounces of gold, valuable by themselves, I knew. I would have no difficulty selling the gold at the exchange, but the low mintage numbers might garner an above-market price. I put the first 10 coins in the side pouch of my bag, and the rest in stowage.
During my descent, I gave the military aircraft from any country, including the U.K., no opportunity to intercept us. As the Berlioz and I made the final leg of the drop, I donned my pistol harness and jacket. I took my backpack from stowage, tossed it over my shoulder, and squatted in the hatchway. I grasped the brace when I opened the hatch and squinted at the misty, chilled air that swept into the compartment. When the Berlioz made a gentle touch onto the street in front of the Home Office building, I stepped out, and the ship ascended once again. I blinked at the water droplets that formed on my eyelashes as I watched it leave. A few seconds passed, and I heard the distant sonic boom after the ship disappeared into the cloud cover. The people on the sidewalks, and the workers on the scaffolding across the street, saw the whole thing. I could have used some discretion by landing elsewhere and walking to the Home Office, but the British would find out about the ship eventually.
I arrived four minutes late on that damp, crisp, November 30th. I turned back toward the building to see that Amanda Newton had stepped out the “Passholder” side of the entrance shaking her head.
“Now, I understand why you requested an escort,” she said across the distance between us, “They alerted security here.” She turned up the collar of the wool coat she wore, which covered an over-dyed skirt and blazer of the same material. Behind her came a man travesti istanbul from security, wearing a blue jacket. “Stand down; leave it to me,” she said to him.
I tread past the security bollards at the curb, as if they were a point of no return, and we walked toward one another. “I apologize for the dramatic entrance.”
Amanda clipped a badge onto my coat. “I take it you’re packing heat,” she said, using an American idiom.
“Yeah, well, with the kill setting locked out, it’s more like packing warmth. Also, I carry fifty ounces of gold.”
She laughed in silence, shaking her head. “Just like David, you’re both guileless.”
I shrugged. “If you catch me lying, what reason do you have to believe me again?”
“In my experience,” she said, “that seldom stops anyone. This badge will keep security off your back, and for god sake, don’t lose it.”
“Thank you.” The badge contained my picture from when I had no hair. I couldn’t imagine where she got it until I remembered the government had taken my photo during my previous vetting process. “Is David here?”
“Don’t thank me yet,” she said. “We should talk about David.”
Amanda led me below the asymmetrical white screens into the glass-fronted building of the Home Office. We slipped past security and entered the central atrium. On every level, the modern, voluminous space with rows of glass-pane balcony walls had dozens of staring eyes following us as Amanda escorted me to the secured wing. I had never experienced the intensity of the eyes that observed me that morning. I could feel them upon me, like fresh meat entering a prison. I imagined that David had to cope with that level of curiosity every day.
Her office, one of the coveted corner offices, commanded the best view the building offered on the fifth floor with the tower of Big Ben and the London Eye in the distance. The room had lots of light. A broad, nutmeg-colored cherry wood desk of convex shape sat in prominence before the concave glass outer wall.
She hung her coat on the rack near the door to the left.
I opened my coat, showing her my weapons. “I should leave this on.”
“Probably best,” she said, then walked to her desk, picked up a white envelope, and proceeded to the sitting area of her office. She sat sideways on the tufted grey velvet Chesterfield, patting the seat in front of her.
I accepted her offer and dropped the bag at my feet.
“Would you like coffee or tea?”
“Thank you, but no. You wished to speak with me. What’s wrong with David?”
“I’ll get to that, but I have several things you should know,” she said. “I don’t know what David told you in his letters to you, but I’ll briefly fill you in on what’s happening here, especially the last ten days.
“The Foundational Enhancement has spread in the industrialized nations, but not as fast as we expected at this point. So far, it has advanced more quickly in industrialized countries that lack a decent healthcare system, namely the United States. The third world has not been hit yet, and David tells me that when it does, if it spreads solely by sexual means, the deaths there, in the places where they have less food, will slow its progression. KGSC released its gelcap of the enhancement two days ago. Japan will be the first to receive it, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess.
“The world’s economies have seen significant changes, and so far, we’ve managed to stave off a rapid decline, but the U.S. has suffered more than any other because they continue to be mismanaged. Corporations that can have begun to plan their response to it, and food production is up globally, but the projections indicate that long term, increased production is not sustainable.
“No one, especially the younger generations, like the name of the Foundational Enhancement. So, social media has provided one that seems to have caught on. They call getting the enhancement to cure your ailments, getting Ironed Out. People openly discuss looking for or selling some Iron.”
“Foundational Enhancement, FE, periodic table, iron, get the picture?”
“Ah! Clever, I actually like that better myself,” I said.
She nodded. “It’s catchy.” She paused a moment to think. “During the last ten days, after the repercussions became real to the people it will affect most, financially speaking, a backlash began. A few of the countries controlled by monied interests have begun speaking out against Jiyū. They represent mostly 20th Century technology. They fear that any technology that you will bring to this world will put them out of business, and it most likely will.”
“You mean the United States.”
“They are one of the main sources of contention, yes, along with all the major fossil fuel producing countries,” she said, “but virtually every country has at least a few speaking out.”
“No one here should seek to hold back progress.”
She nodded. “There are plenty of people here who will pick profit over progress every time. But, for a change, the UK agrees with your sentiment, and we are taking steps to meet the future. Much of the European continent also agrees, and many technology-loving Asian countries as well. There are people all over the planet who see Jiyū as a net good, even in the US. However, the world has its share of dinosaurs, fear mongers, and Luddites, many of whom are world leaders.”
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