Authors: Scott Rhine
by Scott Rhine
Copyright 2014 Scott Rhine
To my wife, Tammy, who
is always right.
Thanks to my editors Linda
Branam and Weston Kincade, as well as my beta readers Jackie Lynch and Steve
Cover art by
Dr. Ahunga O Te Ika Whenau Whanganui, a
– Rafael Herkemer, a Polish bomb technician for the UN and head of
security trained in underwater rescue and firefighting. Body Override talent.
Married to Risa.
– Thirteen-year-old daughter of Oleander Dahlstrom and the deceased
Johnny Bartilucci. Gene spliced with Magi DNA.
– Captain Kai Llewellyn, a handsome Welsh pilot who acquired Strange Attractors
and Ideal Planets. Married Mercy.
– Mercy Smith Llewellyn, born in Brazil, dual US citizen. A childhood
friend of Red’s. She placed her large inheritance into a charity fund to
educate third-world girls in science, technology, and math. Gravity Generation
and Icarus Field talents. Married to Lou.
– Miracle Redemption “Red” Zeiss, a US math prodigy and heir to the
Fortune Aerospace billions. An aggressive pilot with Index, Pattern
Simplification, Collective Unconscious, Empathy, and Quantum Computing talents.
Married to Zeiss.
– Specialist Oleander Dahlstrom, an experienced Norwegian space hand who
did jail time for bombing bank offices but once rescued Mira’s aunt and uncle.
– A woman from India who specializes in economic flow models and space
colonies. Married to Auckland.
– Sonrisa Belinda De Gama Herkemer, a Panamanian expert in solar power
and space construction, Herk’s wife, and Red’s former roommate. Alien
structural engineering talent: superdense ice and algae acrylics.
– Alien AI computer that runs the giant spaceship. Takes commands from
the planning committee and has bonded with Mercy.
– Japanese manga artist, computer programmer, and alien-interfaces
expert. Mind-machine Interface and Red Giant Locator talent.
– Stewart Angus Llewellyn, eighteen-year-old son of Mercy and Lou. A born
pilot with a fondness for sculpting.
–Yvette Chenonceau, a psychologist and nurse who specializes in
high-risk pregnancies. Ethics and Empathy talents.
– Commander Conrad Zeiss, a tall and quiet Swiss astrophysicist and
navigator. His talents include Quantum Computing, Rubber Sheet Theory, and a multi-species
version of Collective Unconscious. Married to Mira.
Crew of Ballbusters
Israeli huntress, auburn girlfriend of
Evangeline. Loves to intimidate men.
Team nurse from New Orleans.
Attractive, blonde huntress and former bodyguard
for Mary Smith.
Grant Thisbe, investigative journalist, and
Devil’s Advocate for men.
Show’s creator and director. A former celebrity
cyberstalker, he catapulted to fame when he spotted an assassin waiting for
Hacker and technical expert. Heavyset Greek woman
who doesn’t like being on camera.
Legal council. Oldest member and former judge.
Other Citizens of Earth
An unknown Earth hacker with the Mind-Machine Interface talent.
– Only daughter of Tetsuo Mori. Former rock star and astronaut candidate.
Unanchored, her Quantum Computing talent causes her to unplug from the physical
world. Zeiss was her teacher at Sirius Academy and her only visitor at the
– Empath nurse, Onesemo’s girlfriend. Contagious disease specialist.
– Kieran Llewellyn, Lou’s cousin with an accounting degree, a way with
women, and a splash of noble blood.
– Laura Salome Zeiss, daughter of Commander Zeiss. Heiress to billions.
Managing researcher at Mori Genetics with a hundred patent applications thanks
to her talents in Quantum Computing and Simplification. Her gift of Empathy
allows her to influence key legal disputes for the company.
– Dr. Lena Maurier, foremost expert in Active medicine, and Mary’s
physician. Married to Luca.
– Luca Maurier, a former Swiss guard, head of Fortune security, and
married to Lena.
– Posing as Mira Hollis. Mercy’s sister. The richest woman in the world
and CEO of Fortune Enterprises.
Corporal Onesemo, member of the Rescue Corps from American Samoa. Override and
– Amanda Mori, Kaguya’s mother. Supports her husband Tetsuo above all
– Ruthless billionaire board member of Fortune Enterprises. Founder of
Mori Electronics and Genetics. Resolved the last war to his advantage.
The crowd of reporters at Cardiff airport thought they knew
everything about Mira Hollis, the CEO of Fortune Enterprises. News drones
stalked the thirty-something blonde around the clock. What she lacked in raw
beauty, she made up for in glamour and elegance. Most often compared to Lady
Diana, she was corporate royalty, born and bred. Because she was the richest
woman in the world, her security handle was Golden Goose.
Inside the privacy of her armored
limousine, her smile faded. Rolling through the green of the Welsh coast, she
complained, “Thirteen years after landing on the artifact, Mira is still ruining
Her plump Brazilian assistant,
Gabriela, smiled at the third-person reference. “You agreed to stand in for Ms.
. You liked the deal well enough when she paid for you
to attend business school in Paris in her name.”
Mary Smith had been Mira’s best
friend growing up. Wealthy, overprotective parents had kept either from
appearing in photographs. The trade had seemed harmless at first. As heiress to
the biggest aerospace and media company in the Solar System, too many people
would have been watching Mira for her to pursue her dream of becoming an
astronaut. For Mira’s final space mission, she stole a prototype shuttle to
visit an alien artifact that the UN had declared off-limits. “I agreed to a
couple of weeks playing media shadow for my best friend, not sacrificing my
“No,” Gabriela corrected. “Our
loved ones at Alcantara are the ones who sacrificed their lives.” When the artifact
had turned out to be a starship, war broke out among those wishing to control
the new technology. The bombing of Alcantara Spaceport had killed all the
family and friends Mary had on Earth. All but three members of the Fortune
board had been assassinated, leaving Mary, the pretender, on the throne.
The two women observed a period of
silence at the mention of the home that they could never return to.
On a screen on the back of the seat,
Gabriela watched several of the bloggers who covered the popular CEO. “If this
topic is so painful, why did you sneak a visit to the
Museum onto our itinerary?”
Mary had done so yesterday, on
Gabriela’s day off. She lowered her eyes at the deception. “It’s just a short
one to see their new exhibit.”
“Every time the stolen shuttle is
mentioned in public, your company’s stock drops. When you visit that place, it
looks like you’re endorsing the theft.”
“Kieran invited me.” The infamous curator
of the museum happened to be Mary’s longest affair to date.
The handsome redhead was the most eligible
bachelor in Wales and still hadn’t settled down.
“He’s ten years older than you, and
Llewellyns are all womanizers.”
wouldn’t have made it through the funeral without him,” Mary said. “He lost family
in the bombing, too.”
switched to the romance-gossip channel. “This is a PR disaster. You’re already
the lead story. Viewership is increasing, and so is the chatter about you.”
her face, Mary asked, “God, what are those hateful people saying?”
been eleven months since your last
, and the Golden Goose
needs to get laid.” Cinderfella was what the bloggers called the men “Mira”
slept with and then made into successes—all of them heading subsidiaries of
a generous lover.”
giving, in fact,” Gabriela said with a chuckle. “Didn’t you catch him kissing
one of your security decoys in the back pantry?”
fired both of them, with generous severance packages.” Mary had loaned him
millions to renovate the family estate and turn it into the museum.
what would possess you to set yourself up for that heartache again?”
complicated.” On her computer pad, Mary examined a photo of the eighteen
astronauts from the first human interstellar mission, including her older
sister, Mercy. Mere months after launch, the crew had reported all manner of
discoveries from the Tau Ceti system. The radio transmissions from the
spaceship, however, had taken over twelve years to reach Earth.
zoomed in on the image of Kai Llewellyn, known by the nickname Lou. She handed
the photo to Gabriela. “Mercy announced her marriage to
pilot, Lou.” Her voice softened. “They’re expecting.”
marvelous!” the assistant exclaimed, hugging her. “Congratulations! I didn’t
hear a thing about it in the media.”
because I have an advance listening post three light-days from Earth, near the
dark-matter observatory. I have the observatory transmit messages by quantum
channels, which arrive here ahead of the radio waves.”
Thank goodness for
the time lag
. Each broadcast from
rocked the science
world, overturning apple carts and causing a scramble to redirect research. The
delay gave her management team time to prepare.
sister was always too bookish. The match will be good for both of them,”
Gabriela said. “Are you thinking that you gave up too easily with Kieran? That
you could have had a future with Lou’s cousin?”
little. Mainly, I have to clean up a mess before everyone else gets the
transmission.” Mercy had suspected that her personal finances might be seized
for participating in the crime, and she also prepared for the possibility that
the space mission might last a lifetime. So before she left, Mercy had placed
all of her finances and inheritance into a foundation to help educate poor
Brazilian girls in science, technology, and math. The university also made Rio
a favorite hub for global engineering and aerospace companies. With the death
of her parents at Alcantara and matching funds from various charities and
alumnae, the foundation was now worth billions. “Mercy didn’t make Lou sign a
prenuptial, and that could leave her STEM foundation open to claims from his
the Brazilians, Mercy was a heroine second only to the Virgin Mary. By pair-bonding
with Lou, Mercy had shared her gravity sense. This healed the pilot’s blindness
and enabled the space mission to continue.
They’ll probably call that a
miracle. Talk about living in your older sister’s shadow. To the rest of the
world, Mary Smith was just a party girl who vaporized in her parents’ mansion
at Alcantara. No one misses her.
The limo slowed to a
halt in front of an ornate iron gate. The gate opened automatically, revealing
the well-groomed lawn and flowers beyond. In a black T-shirt and Armani jacket,
Kieran greeted them at the door of the limo. After he helped Mary out of the
car, he kissed her hand.
eyed his muscular frame. “You’ve been working out.”
fencing,” he replied, posing for the camera drones.
banner over the museum entrance announced the exhibition,
The Fountain of
. She wondered why Kieran would feature this topic in a scientific
one side, a model of
floating staircase rose from a polished
marble base. Kieran led them into the museum, gesturing to an archway on his
left entitled Life Sciences.
not complete, but I suppose I could give a private tour to such an important
benefactor.” The last time Kieran had uttered this phrase, she had ended up in
the Louis XIV bedroom.
first room past the arch featured the image of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and
data from the Human Genome Project. The centerpiece was a game where she could
compute her lifespan. Kieran helped Mary play the game at the console. The
theoretical maximum was 122 years. Mary stopped after a few questions. “This is
no fun. Every answer subtracts from my life expectancy.”
in love adds seventeen years to your lifespan, not to mention reducing stress.”
Kieran ran a finger down Mary’s arm, causing her to shiver.
next room held a wall tank of giant Japanese koi. The sign below the colorful
fish read, Longevity 226 Years. The enormous goldfish had been donated by Tetsuo
He’s on the Fortune board, and his own company specializes in biotech
and quantum computing.
What is his interest in this museum?
knew her identity but had kept silent in exchange for medical patents and a few
of them, Gabriela gasped. “Disgusting!” Her assistant pointed to the magnified
image on the wall. A wormlike creature with seven writhing tentacles wriggled
on the screen.
explained, “The hydra is biologically immortal.”
joking. A worm that lives forever?” Gabriela made a sour face.
the cells in your body divide, each copy is imperfect. A chain called a
telomere gets shorter, like a fuse. When it’s gone, boom. You stop. Hydras are
the only creatures without this built-in self-destruct mechanism.”
recalled her human biology class. Telomeres were one reason that clones started
at the same cellular age as the sample from the parent. “In embryos, cells
divide about fifty times in rapid succession while the fetus is formed. Then,
the person gets about that many more replications during their entire lives.”
Hayflick limit,” Kieran said. “Senescence is the final stage of aging where
your cells no longer renew themselves. Barring violence or disease, it is the
death that awaits the entire human race.”
nodded. “No matter how far we push medicine, every birth certificate comes with
an expiration date.”
Anxious, Mary asked, “What does
this have to do with
Kieran led them into the final room
of the exhibit. A picture of Mary’s sister Mercy filled the wall. “Some of Dr. Baatjies’
personal notes made it into the fitness evaluations due to a buffer sizing
error. His observations on Miss Smith were fascinating. We already knew that
the alien decontamination process changed her.” A segment of Mercy’s DNA
fingerprint appeared below the photo, offering a before and after comparison.
“Yes. Erased all her breast cancer
The more attention this DNA data receives, the greater the chance
that I could be exposed.
“Dr. Baatjies’ hidden notes
revealed something new. He believes that because of the alien intervention, her
telomeres have stopped shortening.”
Mary blinked. “You mean the entire crew
has found the Fountain of Youth?”
That’s what Mori wants!
auction such a treatment to a small subset of the rich and powerful until
people rioted or stole the secret. Of course, the process would be disastrous
to the world at large. She already spent almost a third of employee
compensation on medical expenses. If people didn’t die of old age, the majority
of the planet would starve within a generation.
“No. The others are normal. The doctor
calls Mercy a mutant witch. Normally, we would dismiss such a claim as
imbalanced ramblings. However, from Commander Zeiss’ log, we know that as the
first person into the ship Mercy has a special link with its artificial intelligence,
Snowflake. He cited several instances where this AI has protected her or bent
rules in her favor.” Kieran paused. “Making her immortal is not outside the
realm of possibility.”
My sister has been promoted from
saint to goddess
Her heart raced. “That’s all pretty
extreme supposition,” she said, struggling to keep her voice even. “I wouldn’t
want you ridiculed. As a friend of the Smith family and head trustee of her charity,
I’d like to avoid smearing Mercy’s name. What would it take to persuade you to
scrap this entire exhibit?”
“I’m listening,” Kieran said.
“Come to Rio with me for a while.
You’ve proven your skills managing a non-profit.”
And showing gratitude.
presidency of STEM University just opened up. I can make sure the job is yours
for as long as you want it.”
I can also put a clause in his employment
contract to protect the foundation from Llewellyn family financial claims—two
birds with one stone.
“I don’t speak Portuguese,” he
Mary leaned against him. “Come with
me on my jet tonight, and I can teach you,” she said, her voice husky.
“There would have to be more substantial
“I’ll throw in a seat on the board
of the foundation.” When he vacillated, she whispered the current worth of the
endowment in his ear.
After Kieran signed the agreement, Gabriela and Mary waited
in the limo while he packed for the trip.
Gabriela whispered, “He’ll never
know he could have had it all if he hadn’t demanded the bribe.”
“I had to protect the trust,” Mary replied.
Gabriela pulled her close. “I was
talking about you,
. I’m sorry.”