Her eyes were closed to the world, but her mind was fanned out, porous and active. Images played and replayed in her memory.
Eddie shouting at her. “I hate you!” Eddie running. Eddie in the rain on the roofdeck of an old house, head hung down. Eddie far, far away.
With the wind and the distance, she hadn’t been able to hear him. But she could see him still, and she knew that he had followed her. Eddie had physically exerted himself and risked entering a dilapidated structure that could have fallen apart around his ears. No. The last words that she had heard him speak couldn’t be true. He couldn’t hate her.
She couldn’t move, but felt the cool ring of white gold still smooth on her finger. No, he couldn’t hate her. But…
Her heart grew heavy at the possibility that he might.
She would keep her most precious memories of Eddie locked up in that safe place in her brain — the section strictly reserved for her being, and her being alone. Free from memed messages, from official scans, from noise and interference. She knew what would come soon, and her time on Earth had been too precious to cease to exist with the loss of those memories.
She passed through the portal. She opened her eyes.
The female once called “Lenina” found herself sitting on a warm seat in the cold, softly glowing hall whose ceiling stretched into blackness above — a place she recognized as the bridge of the ship. She was wearing a blood-red cloth so soft it felt like a caress on her bare skin. Her hair flowed loosely around her shoulders. She felt… relaxed, yet tense.
Struggling to adjust mentally, she dug up a long-buried identity and the memories that came with it. The ship had been hidden, she remembered, among the masses of waste and debris orbiting the planet Earth. Humanoid figures milled about — they seemed to be waiting for something. Fifteen chairs were arranged in a brightly-lit circle; all but two were full. Beyond the circle of chairs were rows of benches. All of them were full with people sitting shoulder to shoulder in the darkness. People looked from one to the other in silence.
As she came to full consciousness, then attention, she awkwardly slipped back into to her native way of communicating. It had been so long. It was odd not to hear sounds through her ears, but feel ideas in her mind. Once she felt her brain flex, she took a closer look around the room full of strangers. But she knew that these people weren’t strangers. Memories would return eventually. But she immediately recognized the face of her trusted friend and assistant sitting in the front row of benches directly across from her.
Unconsciously, she touched one hand with the other. Her skin had returned to being silky smooth in the climate-adjusted chamber. She remembered her research.
“Apologies for not fetching you sooner, Princess,” the Regent thought in mock-apology. “We saw the signal as early as Wednesday. X64 .returned. Last lunar cycle, he came back with the 0001–0001–0001. Just in time, too. We were down to 0.0001 percent energy. He was only able to complete the repairs on the energy system of the last ship four hours ago. It took a few hours to link with the others, but. Well — you see that we are well on track.”
“Wednesday would have been too early anyway,” interrupted another thought. It was PP0925. “I had enough time to pack away enough of these.”
PP0925 held up a curious-looking object with a sphere, a crescent and a shaft, that fit perfectly in PP0925’s slender hand. “This,” she said, “when set to a particular energy level, will enable us to create super-soldiers.”
The Regent sent out waves of delight. “It certainly worked!” He flexed his muscles. “We have the chance to defeat the Usurper and reclaim the kingdom.”
“I was able to siphon off a thousand units directly from the printing line,” said the being once called Morgana MacDonald.
The human once called Lenina controlled her thought emanations. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. She held her mind still and didn’t let it wander into the realm of her recent triumph on Earth. The treatment. They could cure everyone. Despite being under the Usurper, these subjects were still her people.
“You couldn’t have left me out of this?” The entity sitting immediately beside her whined.
“I’m sorry, my Prince,” The Regent mocked. “You are still needed to unlock The Seals.”
“You fuckers!” The being formerly known as Seamus squirmed in his seat.
“Now, enough talk. Lock together all of the ships. Let’s go home to reclaim the land. Then we’ll come back here to finish exploiting the vast opportunities we have come across.”
The being formerly known as Lenina closed her eyes. She allowed her deepest thoughts, cloaked from general communication, to wander for a moment to the place she had called home. To the man she would never forget. Who wore her ring. Without the ring, the Regent wouldn’t be able to unlock The Seals. Perhaps he would kill her when he found out.
But maybe she could find a different way. She began to plot, and braced herself before the Sleep took over. The sleep that would envelop them during the entire duration of the long voyage back. Yes, it would be difficult, but not impossible to foil The Regent’s plans. As difficult as it would be, as long as there was a possibility, they must fight. And so she would…