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TRIBUTARY THREE: "Jump the Fence"
By Rob Barba

 

Tributary Three:
Jump the Fence

Kei looked at the dizzied, dazed woman once more, then back at the hologram sign.  Then back to the woman.  Then back to the sign.  She couldn't possibly make the two connect.  There was no way in hell she could make the two connect.  This woman couldn't possibly be...I can't even think the word!  This whole thing had to be one simple coincidence--plain, simple coincidence.

But something told her otherwise.  As the effects of cryotrauma began to secede away from the woman's body, Kei got a better look at her...no, still couldn't picture the word in her mind.  This woman's skin was darker, her hair a bit redder.  From what she could tell of the woman's dilated eyes, they were brown, unlike her own green orbs, and she was several centimeters taller and, Kei hated to admit it, better built.

How can she be...?  No, Kei finally decided.  It's fake and I can prove it!  Aboard all 3WA starcraft, there was a Portadoc first aid kit.  One of the items in it was a handheld medical scanner, though not as powerful as anything in a doctor's office.  Still, it should get me the information that I need.  Then I can get this woman to the authorities that can help her.

 

"Hey, kid," the woman said woozily.  "What the hell's going on?  You can tell me if it's a 3WA op.  I used to be a senior TC."

Kei turned around and faced the other.  "I know, but you resigned and joined the local cops, so I can't.  Company rules, you know."  Kei felt odd saying that--it was completely out of the norm, but considering what she was going through at the moment, she was allowed a few minutes for utter confusion.  In any case, she already had the basic data on Garcia here, courtesy of an aged ID chipset cryoed along with the woman--a good thing that the 3WA still used the Coppermine Information System.  And why is an ID chip using Coppermine encryption, anyway?

Her voice still trembling from the trauma, she answered, "Look, I know that I'm still suffering the icicle shakes, but don't snowball me, kid.  What the fuck happened?"  The woman's voice turned dangerously low, and for a rare change, Kei got the distinct feeling that she was in the presence of a predator slightly more dangerous than herself.

Kei decided she didn't like the feeling of being threatened, not one bit.  "Listen, this is going to sound a bit disturbing, but...look, Garcia, this isn't easy for me to say, but...."

The icy tones of the other woman seemed to frost the air.  "What.  Happened.  To.  My.  FAMILY!?!?!?!"  When a couple of seconds passed, Keisha turned her head in the general direction of Kei, clarity setting in.  "You won't say...because...."   The older girl turned her head away, too dehydrated to loose tears, even though the wracking sobs were no less real.

"I'll leave you alone for a while, miss," Kei said, a tinge of sympathy for what the older woman must be going through.  "I won't be far.  Call if you need me."

 

Stepping away from the Carter family mausoleum, Kei could hear the chirp of the birds in the trees, singing a pleasant melody that was completely out of tune with the one in her emotional sphere at present.  In the past few days, her entire universe had just been turned upside down: she'd discovered that she, an orphan, had parents; and that she was born on Earth instead of Workoh.  Racing to a dead world in the middle of the galactic nowhere, she'd been attacked (as usual), only to find a crypt with a secret entrance and a secret more potent than even that.  A child, with her name.  Born and died, a century ago.

And the child's mother, set in suspended animation outliving her only daughter and husband, now brought into a new world where she was nothing more than a relic.  That woman crying over by the mausoleum--Keisha Garcia, a person brought out of time and into an unfamiliar, unprepared future.

My mo....  Kei stopped herself from completing her words.  I can't even get myself to say it.  I just can't even believe it.  It's impossible, and yet....  She shook her head.  No, for the thousandth time, no.  This just had to be a coincidence, and when she got Garcia to that medical scanner, the DNA would explain all.  It would have to explain it all.

Still, though, it wouldn't explain that Keisha Garcia, former 3WA agent and AZPD officer, would be displaced decades out of her time, or why Kei herself would be led to this location.  The answers were messier than usual, and it wasn't something that Kei was up to feeling.  But as a law enforcement official, she at least had to ensure that she got Garcia the help she needed.  Once that was done, she could return to duty and be done with this whole mess.

 

 

"Hey, kid," the woman called to her.  Kei looked at the other woman, and saw a pain in her eyes that radiated emotions that the younger woman couldn't comprehend, and the 3WA agent wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.   "Look, there's a few things I have to know," Keisha asked, her tone too flat to be a simple request.  "Why was I in the icicle works, anyways?"

"I don't know," the 3WA agent answered.  "I only got a message that I would find something here.  I wasn't expecting it to be a body fridge, okay?"

Despite it all, Keisha leapt to her feet and snarled, "Listen, do you think I wanted to be a meat pop?  I have no idea what the hell I was doing in there, and all you're offering me is vague answers and insults, you little shit!  I don't have time for this!"  She would have taken a step towards the 3WA agent, except that she immediately leaned against the wall, staggering as she did so.  "Damn body's still not adjusted to normal physics," she explained, an empty tone in her voice.

Something in Kei seemed to echo that feeling.  "Look...I don't know why you were in there, or why I was called out here.  I really don't know anything, other than the information was sent to me."  Kei knew that she was leaving out quite a few things intentionally, but there was no reason whatsoever to get this woman to believe in false hopes.  "Look, I know this is a bad time for you, but can you tell me anything--anything--why you might have been put in there?"

"I should be dead."  The older girl's voice came out like a whisper, a tap across the ages from one 3WA agent to another.  "I don't remember much right now--it happened fast enough that it caught me by surprise, and I was trying to get my husband and child out of the house."  She paused, her empty stare looking at the blue skies that had floated over her home since time began.  But before Kei could take the time to ask, Keisha simply whispered an "I don't want to talk about it right now."

"Okay, maybe later then," the younger girl responded, still not sure where this conversation--or anything else currently--was going.  "Tell you what: let's get to a local AZPD station, and from there maybe we can figure out what to do next.  At the very least, you're going to need a medical checkup to make sure that you didn't suffer any neuro damage from extended ice cube time."

"Sure," the woman answered without conviction.  "I guess that's as good a place to start."

 

"Too bad you're not going to get the chance," a voice called out as sulfurous beams of yellow energy blared into the area, a stampede of light leaving the carbon mark of death every surface it flit upon.

"Get down!"  Kei pushed the woman to the ground, even as she unholstered her own blaster.  Turning in the general directions the blasts were coming, she returned fire, loosing ruby shafts of power in the direction of the shooters.  "C'mon, we've got to get behind this building!"

"Why?  Who the hell's shooting at us?  Gimme a gun, dammit!" Keisha gasped in order, acting on instinct and still not remembering that her eyesight was less than perfect.

"I don't have a spare!" Kei answered, now wishing she hadn't gotten rid of the rifle even though her trick had managed to get rid of an earlier problem.  Rounding the corner of the mausoleum, she could hear the lasers missing them by less than a meter, carving nasty holes into the marble fa?ade of the tomb.  Waiting for a second for another volley to ring out, she dived into the fire zone and cut loose, her rounds cutting down two of the gunners tracking them.  Not waiting to confirm the kills, she dived back behind the safety of the huge edifice. 

"Great, just great," Keisha said, woozily.  "What're we going to do now?"

Kei simply moved partially around the corner, opened fire two more times, then hit the power pack release, letting the clip hit the ground.  Reaching in her pocket, she fished out another pack and slid it into position, charging the pistol with twenty more rounds.  "I've got a bike over there by where they are, and if we can get to it, we'll be home free.  The only trick is getting to i--"

A humming whistle split the air, getting louder by the second.  "DOWN!!!!!!" Keisha screamed, as plumes of green fire barreled into the side of the tomb, blowing off a clear section of it.  The introduction of proton missiles into the game indicated that they were getting serious about it, and still neither woman knew why they were being hunted.

"C'mon out and let us put one in your skull," the man jibed.  "It'll make it that much easier for us, and then we can go home in time for dinner."  His words were punctuated with a heavier barrage of beams, in various colors of the rainbow.  "Look, I can bring as many people as I want out here, and there's just two of you, with one gun and a limited supply of ammo.  Give it up."

"What the hell do you want us for?" Kei screamed, shaking not entirely from the same conditions as earlier, but also now from helpless rage and the inability to protect herself, much less give back what they were sending her way.

"Because you came here to poke where you weren't supposed to, Trouble Consultant Carter," he answered.  "As for the woman with you, sorry but she's just cannon fodder.  Nothing personal, just business."  He paused for a second then started up again, his voice now carrying a much more uncomfortable tone.  "Well, it seems that our mini-cannon has arrived, so it doesn't matter whether you come out or not, as we'll just lase the building to rubble and you along with it."  Behind him, the telltale whine of a turbolaser charging up sounded, its tones the harbinger of death.

"You know, the AZPD's going to be on your tail in a second!" Keisha shouted.

"Lady, half of us are on the AZPD," came the response.  "Believe me, don't expect the cops to get you out of this one, 3WA!"

"We are so fucked," Kei whined, unable to believe that she would now die on the world that she was apparently born on; and ironically, if that sign from earlier was correct, die in the place where she was supposed to have a century ago.

"Got an alternate plan?" the older woman asked.

"Yeah.  If I'm going down, I'm taking a few of them with me!" she snarled.

"You don't have any backup?"  Keisha's tone was incredulous.  "Some TC you are!"

"Believe it or not, I'm here on vacation.  I took personal time for this one, because the conditions required it.  I have no idea why they're even after me, if it doesn't involve you," Kei shot back.

"Last chance to come out and end this easily," the man taunted.  "A single burn through the base of the skull is easier than being sliced to ribbons by a mini-cannon, you know."

But the older woman wasn't listening to either of them; instead, her attention was fixed on the sky.  "Great.  Just great."

"What?" Kei asked, not comprehending.

"Bad enough they brought a mini-cannon, but it looks like they brought air support as well.  Listen." 

"Listen to what?"

"Can't you hear it?" the woman asked again.  Sure enough there was the faint sound of AG repulsors carrying something through the air, and it was closing in on them, fast.  "We're sitting ducks on this end, and fried food if we uncover ourselves."  Keisha sighed, before adding, "At least I'll be with my family again."

"I don't know about you, but I'm not gonna die sitting down and giving up!" Kei screamed.  Making sure her pistol was ready, she prepared for a suicide run, her only chance at survival.  "Okay, ready or not, assholes, here I come!!!!"

 

In answer to that, there was the sound of starcraft-grade laser cannon roaring, followed by multiple explosions and painful screams.  The signature hiss of antigravity fields filled the air as the craft passed above them.  The large unit shot straight up, performed an Immelman, then dived sharply, loosing a brace of missiles at what was left of the attack group.  Large explosions tore up the immediate area, spreading chunks of earth, ferrocrete, plasteel, and body parts to the four winds. 

Keisha looked up, her vision improved slightly.  "Never seen that type of ship configuration before."

Kei, on the other hand, was a bit more cheerful.  "Hey, it's my ship!"

To confirm it, the large red cutter known as the Lovely Angel initiated a hover pattern, as a slightly gravelly yet squeaky voice announced on an external comm broadcaster, //Thought you might need me to pull your fat out of the fire, so I thought I'd wander in this direction.  I have your StratoMiG in the docking clamps on top.//

"That's my partner," Kei explained to Keisha before she could ask.  "Hey, we're gonna need a lift up, and I'll need you to prep the medlab for neurocheck.  I've got a person here who just came out of extended cryostasis."

//I always knew you were out of your neurons,// the voice from the ship boomed.  //AG fields should be lifting you up to the ship any second now.  And I'll have the medlab ready.//

From his office, Miller watched the whole proceeding on the remote camera.  A 3WA patrol cutter.  That pretty much confirms it: they know about us and are making their moves.  It was a shame about the three men the boss sent, but there was no way that they or the twelve others sent in could have known they'd end up massively outgunned.

Tapping a comm code into the control panel, he spoke.  "Sir, this is Miller.  The three men you sent me failed.  3WA brought in more firepower, and we're going to reciprocate.  Carter has escaped, and took another woman with her.  Likely she's 3WA as well.  Awaiting further instructions."  With that, he closed down the channel.  He hadn't expected a response; it was a voicemail channel anyway.

Miller's secretary poked her head in.  "Sir, Mr. DeWitt is here to see you."

"Good.  Send him in," Miller sighed, rubbing his temples.   This was not turning out to be a good day.  As the man strolled in, Miller welcomed him in.  "Well, well, well.  Frank.  So good to see you.  Can I get you something?" he asked, heading for the wet bar

"Derrick, a pleasure as always," DeWitt answered in return.  "And I'll have a scotch, if you don't mind.  So, what can I do for you?"

Miller bade the other man to sit down at a nearby pair of sofas, facing each other.  Pouring the man a scotch and himself a gin and tonic, Miller passed it to him as they sat down.  "Just to tell you up front, it's not going to be an easy job, and I've already been instructed to let you name your price."

DeWitt's brow furrowed.  "If you've been told that, then it definitely ain't a cakewalk.  I take it I'm tapping a government official somewhere?  Someone high up?"

"Easy for you to get to, but not to take out," Miller replied in response.  "I need you to take out some 3WA agents for me."

"Thanks for saving our butts back there, Yuri," a relieved and relaxed Kei answered when she walked into the cockpit area.  Looking out the window, she could see the outline of Earth and the moon as their cutter pulled away from the edge of Earth's gravitational influence and headed out to space.  Not wanting to deal with the government at New Manhattan, they took off in the opposite direction of Mars.  "By the by, what brought you out here, anyway?"

"Chief told me that you might find yourself in trouble as usual, so I should come bail your big fat heinie out of the fire.  I don't know why I even bothered," the other girl retorted hotly.

"Oh, Chief did, huh?  Hah!  I bet you were just worried about me," Kei wheedled.

"Not on your life, Kei!" Yuri barked back.

"Yeah, right.  Just keep staying in denial; we all know the truth, anyway."

Not wanting to deal with a constant stream of arguments, Yuri changed subjects.  "Whatever.  Anyway, so who was that you brought aboard, Kei?"  The lavendar-maned beauty met with a wall of silence, she then added, "Seriously.  You usually tend not to worry much about civilians as long as they keep their heads down."  When the redhead still hadn't responded, Yuri mentioned, "Now that I think about it, the Chief told me you were out here searching for your family, am I right?  So, is she a lead on where your family could be?  Maybe even a relative?"

"You might want to keep it down a bit.  She needs some time to herself right now, and I'll explain later as to why."

"Kei, according to internal sensors, she's still in medlab, undergoing that physical, and that's on the other side of the ship.  Why the paranoia?"

Kei uncharacteristically sighed in response, seating herself at the co-pilot's seat and began to run some sensor information.  Peeking at the screen, Yuri was surprised to see that Kei was bringing up her last physical, the information apparently only a few days old.  Before she could ask why, the redhead spoke to the computer.  "Computer, record and hold in search cue medical scan on individual in medlab.  Also perform records data search in 3WA database, all possible leads on subject name Keisha Garcia."  The computer complied, beginning scans on the woman in the other room.

"I thought you said she wanted to be left alone," Yuri asked.

"She does.  She just found out that her husband and child were killed.  She herself should be dead she says, but someone put her in a cryo tube and turned her into a meat Popsicle for a century," Kei explained.  "According to this archive entry, she was killed about a century or so ago.  She claims she used to be 3WA, but a cursory search on her has no evidence of her in 3WA records, much less amongst the list of Senior Trouble Consultants."

"What are you looking for?  Why is she so important?" Yuri asked.  "C'mon, Kei. You can tell me."

"Why should I?" Kei answered as she tapped on more keys.  The data from her own scan came up, as well as data from the scan on the older woman.  To the computer, Kei commanded, "Okay, now find the last known historical date on subject, in Arizona Police Department files.  Focus on personnel dossiers."

"Because we're partners, as much as I hate to admit it, and I think we're kinda sorta friends too, to a miniscule degree," Yuri answered with uncertainty.

At that, Kei gave Yuri a flat stare.  The glance seemed to last for a dozen eternities, before the redhead broke it, her face showing strain.  "Okay, I have to tell someone or I'll go insane.  I'd rather it be someone I trust, but if I have to tell someone, I guess it can be you," Kei said in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Gee, thanks.  You're all heart, Kei," Yuri deadpanned.  "So what's the big deal?"

In a soft, muted voice Kei replied, "Although I don't know how it could be possible, there's evidence that the woman in medlab...is my mother."

Yuri was confused by that revelation.  "Your mother?  But she's not much older than we are!  We're both nineteen, and she doesn't look any older than thirty."

"Like I said, she was placed in cryogenics for about a century or so," Kei reminded her.  Seeing the puzzled look brought on by that, she added, "She had a child named Keiko Carter that died, twelve days old, born in 2151."

"Well, that's the same name as you, but that's about 100 years ago."

"Right.  According to historical files, the entire Carter family was brutally murdered.  And when I visited the gravesite, I found that she wasn't in a coffin, but a cryo system.  And the coffin for the baby was completely empty, with no trace that it had ever been used."

"That's weird, but according to your service jacket, you're from Workoh, not Earth."  When Kei gave her partner a funny look, Yuri explained.  "Look, I may as well give you the full deal.  Chief told me about everything you're doing at the moment.  He sent me out here because you needed a friend, and as far as he knows, I'm the only one you've got."

"So nice to know I'm such a reachable person," Kei muttered.

"Exactly.  But realistically, it should be impossible.  The Sol and Gr?fika systems are too far apart, and in fact Workoh was only colonized fifty years ago.  There's no way that you could be related to her, much less be that woman's daughter."

There was a flash on the computer, and both girls looked at it.  "There's only one way to tell for sure," Kei said in a tone that implied she wasn't sure she wanted to find out.  "Computer, do a genetic match between medical information currently in holding buffer and genetic information from my medical file."  As the system began the check, she added, "But there's another problem as well.  Someone's shooting at me, and I don't know why.  Is there something going on I should know about?"

"Maybe it's just your fan club, at work again.  Honestly, though, I don't have an idea why.  Chief didn't tell me about anything going on, and we're between missions at the moment, so there's no one that we really have to watch out for at the moment.  Maybe you stumbled on to something by accident?"

"No, I don't think so," Kei replied.  "They've all come towards me, and other than a courtesy call to the Arizona PD and Terran military, I haven't bothered with anything close to work-related."

The computer dinged, signaling that the information was ready for display.  Kei tensed, unsure if she wanted to see the information.  It could answer one of the biggest questions in her life, but at the same time, it could open up yet more questions, ones she wasn't sure she wanted to know.

Kei turned and found Yuri staring at her.  "Kei, for what it's worth, I do hope that it's what you're looking for, whatever it is."

Kei looked at her partner, and found the tender moment uncomfortable.  They might--might--be friends, but it was a friendship where bantering and verbal jibes were the norm.  Tenderness and tea parties were not for the two of them, and for Yuri to show a softer side towards her partner wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just a disconcerting one. Kei's mouth was a tight line, but she gave a nod of thanks to the other girl.

"Computer," she said, her mouth suddenly dry, "display results of scan."

SCAN COMPLETE:

Subject: Garcia, Keisha ? DNA file, Homo Lucien

Cross-reference: Carter, Keiko ? DNA file, hybrid, Homo Lucien/Homo Sapiens

Subject DNA matches Cross-reference DNA to 50%.  Lucien traits are 100% match.  No genetic markers found; match is a natural occurrence and not through genetic manipulation or cloning.

"So that's it, then," Yuri said.  "As weird as it is, that woman in the medlab is your mother."

Kei didn't answer.  She merely looked at the accompanying data, a confused look on her face.  The confusion clearly didn't come from the accompanying raw data, which Kei couldn't have understood anyway.  Instead, the confusion came from the undeniable fact that everything she'd ever known about her life just became a labyrinth of questions.

Seeing the response, Yuri put her hand on her friend's shoulder.  "Look, I'll go talk to her.  You need some time alone, and after the ordeal she's been through, she probably needs some food and sleep.  I'll show her to one of the guest cabins."

"Don't tell her," Kei whispered, more in general than to Yuri directly.  "I'll deal with it...when I deal with it."

"I understand how you feel, Kei.  I was sorta like this the day I found out that I was adopted.  But it didn't matter to me in the end, as I had a family that loved me, and that was the important thing.  Maybe now you have that chance, too."

System: Estrella Amarillo
Planet/Location: Segundo, Southeastern quadrant, Nuevo Cadiz Norte district
City: Puerto Flores
Site: 42701 Avenida de la Merced (3WA Starport)
Date: Marc 2 138 (April 3, 2250 Earth Calendar)
Time: 0941 Calderon Standard Time Zone

The pair stood at the base of a boarding ramp to a 3WA shuttle, having a final conversation before one of them was about to board.  "Chief, they're beginning to come out of their dens.  They attacked her twice," Kali reported, her tones no longer that of the cutesy admin type that she'd pretended to be, but of a seasoned, galaxy-weary person long used to pointless conflicts.

The Chief nodded, agreeing.  "Did Kei find what you sent her to look for?"

"Yes.  Now if you can get the message out to them to head towards the rendezvous point, then I can do what I have to."

"Are you sure that's a wise idea?"

"No, it's likely not.  But like I said, debts are owed on all sides, and I think it's time that the books get balanced.  The enemy is now not only out of their hiding places, but are also now in motion, and that's more than we've got at the moment.  We have to move, and we have to move now.  And if that means that I have to shock Kei Garcia around a little, then I have to.  I'd rather not, but in a perfect galaxy I wouldn't have to...and I don't think I need to point out that this isn't a perfect galaxy."

"Agreed.  Just take care of yourself, Kali.  I'd hate to see you get killed before you came out of deep cover."

"If I do get killed, it's because I deserve it.  And if Kei Garcia's the one who does it, you'll know that's because I really deserved it."

The Chief watched the operative board the shuttle, which would transport her to the rendezvous site, a place that Kei and Yuri weren't aware yet that they were to go to.  Not yet, but soon enough; perhaps all too soon.  Tapping his lapel com, he said, "Comm center, this is the Chief.  I need a message to go out to the patrol cutter Lovely Angel, and I need the message to be completely untraceable--don't ask why, just do it.  Here's the information I need you to send...."

Site: 3WA Patrol Cutter Lovely Angel, in Warp space
Date: Unknown
Time: Unknown

Kei Garcia slipped on the clothing they'd given her.  Somehow, they'd got her measurements right, and the clothes were pretty nice in style, too: a black sleeveless, button collar T-shirt; a pair of jeans; and a pair of black, synthleather boots.  It was something she'd wear in the old days, back when she was a young and brave (though some said reckless) 3WA STC, before she'd married Carson, left the 3WA, and joined the AZPD.

However, one look at the chrono against the wall told her exactly how old those good old days actually were.  It's a century ahead.  I'm 129 years old.  Kei ran that thought through her head, unable to comprehend it.  My family--my sweet, loving husband and baby have been gone for a century, and only I survived.  And I don't know why.  Why?  Why the hell did I live, and they die!  Goddamn it, it's not fair! 

"I should have died with them," she moaned silently, the tears now finally beginning to come since she'd been re-hydrated during her physical.

 

There was a knock at the hatchway to the medlab, and Kei muttered, "Come in."  After all, it wasn't her ship, and the 3WA members that were currently escorting her were kind enough to get her some clothing.  But why, not to mention how, did they come get her?  And why had they been attacked right outside...Say it, Kei, she chided herself.  Say it and get used to it. Because you'll have to get used to it sooner or later.  Why did they attack you outside the family mausoleum?

"Hey, I thought you might be hungry, so I brought you some food.  After that, you can get some sleep in the guest cabin, and then we'll figure out what to do at that point.  We've done some data searching, but we can't confirm your identity at the moment, so we're going to continue on to the nearest 3WA outpost, and see if they have anything."

"Thanks, I appreciate that," Kei said, initially not looking up at the girl as the tray was set on the table.  Grabbing the sandwich, she looked up to thank her benefactor, and found herself staring straight into the past.  NO!  It...it can't be!  "Yuri?" she breathed, unable to trust her eyes.

"Um, do I know you?" the girl asked.  At that, a little more of reality sank into Kei's eyes.  Though the girl had the same build, size and facial features as her old friend, the hair was a far different color, and the eyes were a lighter shade of blue than the Yuri the older Kei had known a century back.

"I'm...sorry," Kei said, her pain increasing even more now.  Yuri had already been dead for three years by the time whatever happened had occurred, but seeing the girl brought back bittersweet memories.  Eyes unashamedly dripping the liquid trails of sorrow, she said mournfully, "You look like my old partner.  Her name was Yuri, and she was the best damn partner a TC could have.  She was also a great friend, too."

"I see.  Well, by coincidence, my name's Kagawa Yuriko, though I just go by Yuri.  And you are?"

The woman smiled, extending a hand.  "Keisha Garcia, but everyone I know just calls me Kei."  Both ladies shook hands, while Kei held the sandwich in the other.  "Say, where's your partner?  The redhead?  I didn't get a chance to really thank her earlier, so maybe I should."

"Kei...her, that's her name, Kei...is in the cockpit right now doing some course correcting," Yuri said, the tone in her voice slightly shaky.  "She's not really a people person right now, and figured I should come down here and talk to you, since I'm better at it."  The last of course was a bald-faced lie, but the older woman wasn't going to know that.

Kei nodded.  "Well, I guess you'll have to call me Keisha, then.  Makes it easier to identify myself," she corrected, punctuating the sentence by chomping down on the sandwich.  Wolfing down the rest of it quickly, she asked, "So what's next--you mentioned something about a nearby 3WA facility?"

"We're headed off to the local 3WA station on Yomin's World, where we'll try to get more information on you--so far, we've gotten bits and pieces, but nothing really more than that, and especially not in 3WA references."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised," Kei said, a measure of vitriol in her tones.

"But I'm sure that we can get the information," Yuri resumed, without missing a beat.  "Once that's done with, you can decide what you want to do, whether you can go back to Earth, or if you want to re-sign with the 3WA.  I don't know how old you are, but I'm sure you're too old to continue past the retirement age.  You'd have to get a waiver to come back to the Association."

Kei was about to tell the girl off, when she realized that it hadn't been an insult, but a plainly stated fact.  "Biologically I'm only 29," she explained, "but I guess it does cause a problem when you tack on a century's worth of downtime."

Yuri nodded.  "But then, I don't think there's a person that's ever been in your situation before, so they'll take that into account, too."

"Plus I'll want a shot at those bastards who were shooting at me.  But right now, if you don't mind, can you show me to that cabin you were talking about?  I need some sleep...and some time alone."

Yuri looked at the empty, haunted eyes of the slightly older woman she was talking to, Kei's very own mother.  Sympathizing with the pain that the older Kei was feeling and the helplessness that Yuri couldn't even tell the woman that her adult daughter had unwittingly been the one to rescue her, Yuri silently escorted Keisha out of the medlab, down the passageway to the place where she could stay for the moment.  As the older woman walked in and closed the door, Yuri couldn't help but hear the muffled bawling as the combined loss finally weighted down on Keisha Garcia.

 

Walking back up to the cockpit, Yuri found the younger Kei doing one of her regular things, namely performing maintenance on her gun.  Barely looking up from her work, she asked, "So how'd it go?"

"You know, you really oughta be ashamed of yourself, Kei," Yuri answered in a monotone.  "That woman is crying because she's lost everything she ever loved.  And you don't even have the balls to tell her that you're her daughter."

Kei looked up at her.  "But that's the question, Yuri.  I've been thinking about it since you were back there with her, and I had to actually ask myself: is she my mother?  I don't know."

"But the computer said--"

"I KNOW WHAT THE COMPUTER SAID, DAMMIT!!!!!!" Kei snarled, slamming her hand down on the table where she was working on her gun.  "The computer said that likely that woman gave birth to me, as impossible as it seems.  But I never had a mother, Yuri.  I never had anyone there for me.  How can she be a mother to me if I lived my entire life alone, an orphan on a planet that wasn't even discovered at the time when I was supposedly born?

"Plus, there's the fact that I'm part Lucien.  In case you forgot your history in school, Lucien humans are considered monsters, evil creatures just as bad as those Nazis they had on Earth centuries ago.  And I'm one of them, thanks to her.  Maybe she was one of the good ones, one that wasn't a babykiller or whatever they did.  But do you think people will know that?  No, all they'll see is the computer interfaces in her neck and behind the ears--bet you didn't notice them, but I sure did!

"Do I want all that as a heritage?  Can I accept it?" she inquired, more to herself than her partner.  "I don't know if I can, Yuri.  And until I can accept it, if I can accept it, that woman is going to be alone in this world."

Nothing more was said between the two as they fell into an uncomfortable, tense silence.

 

The void of interaction continued for another seven hours until the computer signaled that there was a priority call coming in.  Alpha priority, with Argon-class encryption on it.  Upon hearing that, the pair looked at each other in surprise.  3WA rarely sent out Alpha messages, especially ones with top-level encryption.  Whatever it was, it was serious and enough of a reason to make the pair cancel their vacation on spot.  Upon confirmation of receipt, Yuri immediately began to decode the message, while Kei prepped the ship for whatever fate the message would give them: usually TCs who got Alpha messages were wandering into the most heated of hot situations.

The first few words of the message chilled them both.  "I don't believe this.  I really don't believe this...." Kei moaned.

"Well, orders are orders," Yuri pointed out, headed towards the guest cabin.

In the guestroom afforded to her on the ship, Kei Garcia got little sleep, and no piece of mind.  Her dreams (if they could be called that) were a nightmarish jumble of watching everyone she ever knew and loved dying and fading away into nothingness, ending that cycle with the three most important people to her.  She watched them die and fade into nothingness, over and over again.

In the distance, she could see her mother, a proud and strong Hispanian woman, still crying that her only daughter had entered the United Galactica's special crimes unit, rather than follow the family tradition of their restaurant.  Her father, she couldn't picture: when she announced that she was going from her college studies to the 3WA Academy, her father disowned her and never spoke to her again.  From time to time she spoke to her mother and her younger brother Pete (who did take over the restaurant biz), but never again to her father.

Other faces filled in the crowd as well: several men that she'd been dating; her mentor Dierdre; her one-time friend Shasti, who betrayed her and eventually became one of the worst criminals in the galaxy; a myriad of people she'd known, cared for, and eventually lost.

And as always, it turned to the Big Three.  First off was Yuri.  By the time Kei had turned 26, Yuri had already been killed in the line of duty twice; the third Yuri was just as much a friend as her previous two incarnations had been.  But that was before the incident that ended it all.  They had both been investigating an alien infestation on the world of Niemitz, when they'd been caught in the middle of the creatures' nest.  Since the colonists appeared to be dead, both Lovely Angels were free to waste the bugs as needed.  However, in the process, Yuri had been bitten by one.  At first it didn't seem like much, but as the hours passed, the truth became apparent: most of the aliens they'd been vaporizing had been transformed colonists; this truth became apparent as Yuri began to change into one of them as well.  She held on to her humanity long enough for the pair to defeat the queen drone; after which she begged Kei to put an end to her, because she couldn't live her life as one of the monsters and possibly remain a threat to humanity.  Kei tried to talk Yuri out of it, that there had to be a way to reverse the condition.  Eventually, Yuri succumbed to the alien cells within her, and what Kei put several rounds through barely resembled the woman who'd been her best friend.  In the end, Kei used a gamma laser cannon on the sun to destabilize it and nuke the whole star system.  Alone and broken, a heavy-hearted Kei returned to their home base on Honiara.

It was somewhere between filing the report and the announcement that they were going to manufacture a fourth Yuri that Kei snapped.  She realized that she could be forced to do the deed once more, and she found that she couldn't do it--Yuri was too close of a friend for Kei to have to go through with that again.  So, she strode into the cloning labs and intentionally destroyed all of Yuri's bio data; her friend was gone, and maybe it was best that she stay that way.  Before the 3WA's Internal Investigations Unit could put her up on charges, Kei resigned and moved as far away from the galactic mainstream as possible.  During that time, she'd found herself blacklisted for most jobs, and rightly so: who would ever want to be anywhere near the surviving member of "the Dirty Pair"?

Within a year of that action, she'd found herself on Earth, the war-scarred traditional home of humanity that was being terraformed (an irony, that statement) to repair the damage done from the effects of the Nanoclysm.  In one of the few currently livable areas on Earth, she joined the Police Force; most of the people there were busy with other things in life and thus had never heard of the Dirty Pair.  Even so, in a frontier place that Earth had become, the Arizona Police Department was thrilled to take a 3WA washout amongst their ranks.

It had been during a routine burglary investigation that Kei had met the man who changed her life.  A local boy who'd make it big amongst the stars and had come home to try to improve things on Earth, Carson William Carter was one of the richest men on the planet (no big thing on a planet that had a fraction of its original population) and was the local golden boy and philanthropist.  When someone had broken into his charity foundation, Kei was the investigating officer on the scene, and during a brief conversation it was love at first sight; she was completely taken in by his boyish looks, blonde hair and blue eyes.  A year after she'd solved the crime (it had been his personal secretary who'd done it), the two were married.

Little Keiko was born about a year after, and for twelve days, they'd been the perfect family.  Kei was itching to get off maternity leave and return back to the force when it happened.  For reasons she didn't understand, on a dark, rainy night in town, bands of men came to attack them.  By the time Kei had broken out her personal cache of weapons and called several of her coworkers at the AZPD, shots had already rang out across the Carter mansion.  Racing downstairs and dropping the first two thugs, Kei tripped over an obstacle and discovered that the obstacle had been the body of her husband, dead from several blasts to the chest.  In his hand, he held the tattered remnants of what looked like Keiko's swaddling.

Screaming in rage, Kei detached herself from Police professionalism for the first time in years and became Kei the "Lovely Angel", mercilessly killing anyone with a gun she came across.  Finally, it took no less than fifteen of the bastards to take her down, and the last thing she saw was an unidentified woman pointing a stun laser at point blank range to her right temple.  The woman had said, "This is for the River, Lovely Angel," and fired.  It didn't matter that it was a stun pistol; a stun shot at point blank range to the head was as effective as sticking one's head in a microwave.  The last thing that she could remember at all, she wasn't even sure she hadn't imagined: a ghostly, somehow familiar voice saying to her, I'll do what I can for you and your child, my friend.

But now she was alone.  Lost in an unfamiliar future, with nothing, not even the name people had called her for so long.  And it looked like it was going to stay this way.

So far in her nightmare, she'd relived this sequence of events forever, and she was about to start at the beginning once more when she was gently roused from her sleep.  Opening her tear-stained eyes, she found Yuri--the girl with the same name as her long-dead friend--looking at her.  "I know you didn't get much sleep."

"I doubt I will for a while," Keisha moaned, wiping her eyes both of sleep and of tears.  "So, are we there now?"

"No, unfortunately we had to divert to another part of the galaxy," Yuri explained.  "And part of that reason is you.  Can you come up to the cockpit?  There's something you have to see."

"Sure," Keisha moaned.  "I've got nothing better to do with my life, anyway."

 

Stepping onto the cockpit, Keisha was completely amazed at how much things had changed.  Granted, there wasn't much difference in the way cockpits were throughout the ages, but the difference in technology amazed her. From what it seemed, things that were prototypical or even just hypothetical in her time were now the norm here.  After a few seconds, she seemed like she was doing nothing but gawking, so she quit that immediately and tried to put on a game face.

"I can imagine this all seems a bit uncomfortable for you, Mrs. Carter," another woman said.  Keisha turned around and saw the redhead that saved her life.  There was something familiar about her, now that Keisha had seen her with full senses, and that was that she looked a lot like her husband, or rather a female version of, save for the red hair with the thatch of blonde in it. For a fleeting minute, the older woman thought that this could be her daughter, grown up and reunited at last; that thought faded away as reality sank into Keisha's mind.

"No, it's Garcia, not Carter.  I never went by my husband's last name for some reason I don't really remember," she answered.  Sticking her hand out, she said, "But I owe you a lot, Kei...isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," Kei answered, taking the woman's hand.  "And you don't owe me anything.  I was just doing my job.  Although, I do have to admit that when I went down there, I wasn't sure what that that job entailed, but we just got this message ten minutes ago, and I'm less than eager to find out, now."  Turning to the computer, the younger Kei announced, "Computer, play back incoming Alpha transmission.  Authorization code Argon-Delta-1126-3476, match against voiceprint.

"VOICEPRINT CONFIRMED," the computer answered dutifully, then began to play the audio portion of the message, even as a text version of the file came up on the forward viewscreen/cockpit glass:

ALPHA-LEVEL COMMUNICATION
TRANSMISSION ONE

FROM: Personnel Directing Entity, Worlds Welfare & Work Association
TO:   Keisha M. Garcia, Terran ID Number 1TRWYUY-ERT350

SUBJ: REINSTATEMENT AS 3WA OFFICER

1.      Effective immediately, subject named personnel is hereby reinstated into the 3WA, at the rank of Lieutenant.  Lt. Garcia will be assigned to work with current operatives until completion of operation.

2.      This reinstatement and promotion will be subject to a review of Lt. Garcia's fitness for duty.  Reason for review: age of officer beyond that of maximum limit for retirement.

ALPHA-LEVEL COMMUNICATION
TRANSMISSION TWO

FROM: Operations Directing Entity, 3WA
TO:   Lt. Keisha M. Garcia, 3WA, ID Number KMG-001-11943576

SUBJ: IMMEDIATE OPERATIONAL ASSIGNMENT

1.      Effective immediately, you and troops under your command are to report to Yocha in the Ross 248 system.  There, you will rendezvous with other 3WA elements and will be issued an order addendum on spot.

ALPHA-LEVEL COMMUNICATION
TRANSMISSION THREE

Personal communication for Lt. Keisha M. Garcia

The computer entered standby mode, waiting for her command.

Keisha was overwhelmed.  Within the past 24 hours, she'd found out that she was brought into the future, her family had been killed and she had nothing left, and now she was being brought back into the 3WA three ranks higher than when she'd left in disgrace.  And on top of that, she was being ordered to take command here and proceed to Yocha, a place she hadn't been to in ages--the asteroid colony where Yuri (the original) was from--and summarily buried.

Something was up, and she didn't like it one bit.  And she was given no time to recover from her trauma, but instead had to fight her way out of it.  Par for the course for her.

"Well, congratulations, L-T!" Yuri said behind her, cheerfully happy, while the other Kei simply muttered a soft "Congrats."

"Thanks," Keisha said without any real emotion.  Perhaps in an earlier time, she'd enjoy it.  Maybe somewhere down the line, she might do so as well.  But not here and certainly not now.  "Do me a favor, Yuri.  I'm going back to bed.  Can you have the computer shunt the personal trannie to my cabin?"

"Sure thing," she replied.  "Have a nice sleep."  Kei said nothing, merely giving her an appreciative nod and waved a good night.

The minute they were sure Keisha was out of earshot, Yuri turned on Kei.  "I can't believe you, Kei!  Didn't you see the look in her eyes?  She's in pain, dammit!"

"Well, if you're so worried about her, why don't you go tell her that you're her long lost daughter," Kei seethed.

Yuri gave her partner a dark stare.  "I can't do that, because I'm not.  And if you can't be kind enough to ease your own mother's pain, then maybe you shouldn't bother, either."  Nothing more to say, she left the room, leaving the redhead in a silent space and a lot to think about.

Walking back to her cabin (and getting lost twice aboard the cutter in the process), she finally managed to make it.  Stopping by the medlab briefly to get a sleeping spray, she went back to her cabin and dropped back on the bed.  "Computer," she called out, repeating the words she heard earlier, "Computer, play personal Alpha transmission.  Authorization code Argon-Delta-1126-3476, match against voiceprint."  The computer complied, and began transmission via hologram.

ALPHA-LEVEL COMMUNICATION
TRANSMISSION THREE

TO:   Lt. Keisha M. Garcia, 3WA, ID Number KMG-001-11943576
FROM: {undisclosed address}

Kei, by the time you get this, events will be in motion, and you'll have to act quickly.  I did what I could for you and your child, just as I promised.  Now it's up to you to stop the flow of the River before it swallows everything.

The message was unsigned, and when she asked for a trace on the sender, the computer was unable to trace past the first relay satellite.

Keisha Magdalena Garcia n?e Carter, newly-reappointed 3WA officer, stared at the message, a harbinger from beyond that seemed to not only know that she'd survive the events of a century before, but planned it; she hadn't been imagining that final voice after all.  Which meant that she was either about to be used like the proverbial pawn on the chessboard, or had an ally that she could never have imagined.

Either answer wasn't to her liking.

 

Brave new world my ass, she thought, staring at the holographic message before her.  Whoever said the best is yet to come never spent five minutes in my shoes.  But if whoever's done this to me is responsible for the death of my family, they'll pay.  By God, I'll make those murderous bastards pay!

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