1 of 4 | Chapter 18

Truth

 

In 2080, on a sunny April morning which, as usual of late, had warmed up rather early. Students all carried cold drinks against the ruthless heat in PrEUST park, the young scholars occupied the cool islands of shadow alongside the lake, that gave them relief from the heat wave. The odd gust of wind sprayed a mist of water droplets from the fountain across lucky ones every now and again.

The number of university students in the third year had dramatically decreased with less than twenty thousand people remaining. Many of those who had simply not taken the expectations of their lecturers seriously, after being expelled, applied for the entrance examinations again, trying to start over. The university's popularity had grown along with its educational value, and the demand for a PrEUST education rose each day in just the same way as the demand for equities on the stock market rose with positive market perception of a company.

PrEUST did not deal with different types of degrees; there was only one, meaning that ASEC recognized that a successful PrEUST graduate's academic credentials made them the world's most accomplished specialists. What was even more significant was that major research companies from all over the globe sent their senior scientists to the PrEUST institute for training, which meant that the park was also dotted with older students who, like their younger peers, studied for a full five-year period, without exception.

During that five years, even the youngest of students matured and were forced to grow up. The standards that they were required to adhere to at once transformed, not only their personalities, but their physical appearance as well. Many of them moaned and whined about wrinkles appearing on their faces because they felt that they'd been studying there for an eternity, even though they had barely completed half of their courses.

It was always a special occasion when an IRD commander returned to the university campus to meet his educational obligations, but more often than not, they were away on missions.

“I don't believe it! Who do we have here!?” exclaimed Arch, jumping up from the ground. He was just cooling himself with an ice cream when his friend appeared.

“Wow! Not Jeff Hayes, the legendary commander?” Pat also joined the ranks of fans.

“Hey, guys!” he said with a tired smile. “Nice to see you.” They hugged as if they hadn't seen each other for many years. “What's up with you?”

“Nothing special. Arch and me came to do the art exam. After that, all that's left is the sports exam. When will you do them?”

“At the request of the IRD we've been given exemptions from those exams, 'cos we have plenty enough to do,” he said sighing with exhaustion.

“Yeah, we heard,” Archer said. “Africa's a hard place, huh?”

“You would not believe how hard. The horror that's going on there at the moment … you really don't want to know,” he said faintly. His friends had noticed his unusual condition, but put the wheezing down to the heat.

“What brings you then here?” asked Patricia.

“I postponed some biochemistry exams and I've just been catching up,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow. “So what's up with you, man? I hear we're going to be colleagues,” he said, turning towards Arch.

“Yep, that's right. I'm spending my summer internship working on automated systems development at ASEC. I'll show them how a real robot engineer works.”

“Good, we need your ideas,” Jeff gasped.

“And anyway, how are you, Jeff?” Patricia asked anxiously. She could see that something was wrong.

“I'm fine,” he said, but did not sound his usual hearty self, especially with his pale legs buckling under him as well.

“Jeff!?” said Archer, who found Jeff's seeming weakness strange. He had always been a staunch guy, his strong character masking any problems.

Jeff became visibly agitated and seemed to momentarily become dizzy. He started gesturing strangely and indeterminately.

“Did you know that we're sitting on a time bomb of shit!?” he asked suddenly.

His two friends looked at each other in surprise. They hadn't seen that coming. It was one thing for someone to be weary after a period of intense combat, but quite another when it also had a serious impact on their behavior.

“What's wrong, Jeff?”

“The ASEC can't pull the world out of trouble by itself. To do that we'd need eleven billion people,” he said, wide-eyed, as if he was just about to faint. Just then, an ASEC vessel appeared above them, and Commander Murinko himself descended with two men.

“Take him!” he instructed his people, who put their arms around Jeff and lifted him up.

Murinko turned back to Patricia and Archer.

“Malaria! A few of us picked it up on the last mission. Commander Hayes has been fighting it, but soon he'll be fine, don't worry,” he told them, and disappeared into the ship, which then took off over their heads.

“That's just great,” Patricia said, turning to her friend.

 

The hidden passage

Since the year before, something had changed about Sean Steersman. There were days when he was a mere shadow of himself, and other when the colored exhilaration of memory overcame him. Karen sometimes found him frightening. She wanted to help, but Steersman always assured her that everything was being taken care of.

Well, thought Karen, it wasn't at all.

Karen had exiled Surinder Neelam's team and two thousand technicians into space for the assembly phase of the space fleet, and while she directed of the assembly phases, Steersman often paid visits to the biological R&D department, where evolutionary processes were being simulated with human tissues and cells. He had become almost obsessed with the program.

What Karen found particularly interesting in his behavior was that, by the time they met for their evening discussions, he always seemed to revert to his usual self, just as he had been before. Then, the next day, as if he had a split personality, he changed again beyond recognition.

Karen knew it was not an illness and also knew that, when the time came, she would know the reason behind his behavior. She was sure of that, but it didn't make her feel any better. It was the first time that she had ever been afraid of him, not physically afraid, but rather on some instinctive level she was disturbed that he was behaving so strangely.

 

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CHAPTER 1 | EXCOLOPOLIS
CHAPTER 2 | MACHINES
CHAPTER 3 | A NEW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER 4 | ATTACK
CHAPTER 5 | THE SOURCE
CHAPTER 6 | THE SCIENCE CENTER
CHAPTER 7 | UNIVERSITY CITY
CHAPTER 8 | GLIDECRAFT
CHAPTER 9 | SECTOR TWO
CHAPTER 10 | THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE
CHAPTER 11 | GRAVITOR
CHAPTER 12 | INSTALLATION
CHAPTER 13 | ENERGY WAR
CHAPTER 14 | AFTERSHOCKS
CHAPTER 15 | INITIATION
CHAPTER 16 | PREPARATION
CHAPTER 17 | DEFENSE CORPS
CHAPTER 19 | BEYOND EARTH