Rael sought cheap entertainment by heading for the gathering ur-crowd near the exit of the medical complex. He tried to ignore the stink of decontamination chemicals in his coat and stifled the humiliation of having his word doubted despite the presence of a fellow Faiize witness.
Alpha draft flaws. Fellow species compensation.
"There's a Faiize," someone in the gathering throng said. "They can withstand anything."
"Can you afford me?" Rael countered.
The crowd passed a hat.
Great. Hired by impromptu committee. Could his day get any worse?
He should never have asked. The universe at large resented such questions being asked and was really quick to provide a positive answer.
The anomaly drawing in the curious looked like a pinpoint of light, floating at about waist height. It was physically there, he could see the way it changed the shadows. Even the Terrans were keeping a respectful distance. Any unknown could easily become harmful.
Permanent residents, long-term residents, all learned early that unknowns were best met with caution. Humans learned it too, for all their societally-agreed-upon craziness.
Rael girded himself. "In the interest of scientific curiosity," he said, and stuck a finger at it.
It was so cold it burned.
The fingertip was black, a fact he hid from the crowd. Even though he could not hide the fact that his exterior surface turned silver from distress. The crowd stepped a pace back, humans and all. Rael, though, wondered why the tiny, glowing sphere wasn't gathering a cloud of condensation. He took his passive scanner out and aimed it at the starlike object.
It barely had a chance to turn on before the anomaly shot something that looked like arcing plasma beams at his scanner and entire person.
The tiny star seemed to hiccough, and grew larger. Started moving faster.
"The lightning doesn't hurt, but stand back," he warned.
People hemmed in by the crowds got in its way and got arc'ed. They did not get frozen, or even chilly.
Rael checked a sample of his instruments. No charge in any. A statistical impossibility. Even his JOAT coat-charger had no power bars.
He cleared a path for the anomaly, even though the arcs were taking things from a wider and wider radius. Someone was calling the emergency response teams. Vendors in the anomaly's path were packing up their more fragile and expensive wares.
Then an arc found a light panel, and all kinds of chaos broke loose.
He didn't see much, since the floating light flared before all the lights in the area went out. There were screams and people trying to run.
Something solid flew into him, knocking him into what was left of a display of alcoholic beverage bottles, and then down behind the counter. More screams, and finally... silence.
The thing most people forget about space travel is the need for artificial lighting. It's so ever present, but so easily ignored. Unlike air. Air required regular maintenance. Light, once properly installed, could sit harmlessly in the background for years.
Only noticed when it was gone.
Rael certainly noticed the near-black, trying to adjust his eyes so he could see something definite. He knew he was now behind the counter of a beverage shop. He'd felt the counter top as the something fast and slightly squishy had knocked him over it and into the shop area with the owner/staff. There was the woman who ran the kiosk, feeling about for a wind-a-light under the till. And there was a stranger. Sprawled amongst broken glass and spreading fluids, some of them their own. The currently living body was in just the right place to have arrived from the anomaly.
Jane, the owner/staff, turned on her wind-a-light, pointing it at the wall to diffuse the beams over the biggest area of the... scene.
Rael automatically reached for his medkits; selecting the ones that didn't need power to work. Spray Seal worked on pure pneumatics, and packed an adhesive mixture guaranteed to keep a beings insides inside and prevent any further incursions from the outside. It was technically inert, so no biology could react to it. All Rael really had to do was keep the natural apertures clear, which he did as a matter of routine.
Nice thing about the standard humanoid body model. Almost everything important was in roughly the same place.
ERT's were swarming through access points. Local squads, followed by heavier equipment. Most ERT's carried their kit on their backs, where they couldn't make it fit into JOATlike pockets in their survival suits.
He could hear the calls from the more able survivors.
"One green, One amber!" Jane called. She cast a worried look to Rael and mumbled, "...um..."
"One green," Rael added. Nobody knew enough about his species, yet, to speak for him. Yet another anti-benefit of being a relatively new bio-product. Something, alas, that had already been added to the class action lawsuit against his creators.
The nearest ERT split off from the group. They had their own, shielded power packs and suits that could protect them from the roughness of hard vacuum and interstellar radiation. This one had hir mask on, just in case.
"Bleeder, unidentified humanoid." An almost supersonic scan, "Diagnostic says carbon based." Ze slid from there into pure Medtech.
Rael assisted with the stretcher, adding sprays from his own supply of Spray Seal where needed. The med-speak translated out as, lots of bleeders, lots of broken bones, possible concussion, definite allergic reaction. And, judging by the way Rael had to trot to keep up, this was an emergency case.
The patient moaned. Tried to move.
Damn. Not enough language to know how to respond. Rael tried one of the more.... intergalactic words. "Yeh?"
"...summon ge' th' numb'r o' the truck...?"
What? Rael almost tripped as he and the ERT entered the emergency Tube carriage. "That... I swear that sounded like late twentieth-century English..."
The ERT, typically unconcerned with everything nonmedical and not an emergency, merely shook hir head and shrugged. Both motions that clearly communicated, Not my problem. Ze attached monitors and started recording everything, then made hand signals for Rael to strap himself in by the patients head.
The ERT strapped the patient into place, and then placed themselves in the caregiver seat. Right where the best access to most of the body was. Zhe commenced buckling themselves in.
"My name Rael," he began. He was shaky on the ancient languages, and had forgotten more than he'd learned from his last freelance translating job. "You know where you is?"
"Uh... Cannae feel tha' far. Summint metal?" Some effort in breathing. "Th' gods... They promised me..."
The Tube carriage jinked into life.
"Take ease," he said. "Time is plenty."
"They promised..." Pant pant. "They were..." Pant pant, "sendin' me home."
"Get some facts," instructed the ERT. "Name, homeworld, species... That sort of thing."
"I'm doing my best, but I can barely understand her." Rael flipped back to his half-forgotten old English. "We need know. What you name?"
"...shed... with a why..."
Wait. What? Rael tried another tack. "What you home world?"
"She says she's from Earth..." Rael boggled. That didn't fit. Terrans didn't have pointy nails, very few of them had literally black skin and only the elderly had stark white hair. This individual bore no other signs of aging.
The ERT made a derisive snort just as the Tube carriage pulled up at Med Central. There was a team of hazmat-suited medtechs waiting. "Decon for me," said the ERT, "ECU for them." Zhe almost tossed their suit's datachip towards the team chief and saw hirself out.
Rael unbuckled himself and assisted with the patient transfer. "This is a weird one," he said, getting his facts established as soon as possible. "Carbon-based humanoid, arrived via spontaneous anomaly, received subsequent injury. I think she just said her homeworld's Earth."
One face behind their suit's shielding raised an eyebrow. "You think?"
"The dialect's a little... weird." He mentally ran himself through his lessons from SPOE, the Society for the Preservation of Original English. "It starts off in Wales, then tours the northern areas of the British Isles, then takes a more global trip through everywhere with a vaguely musical accent. I swear it's an affectation... But she's panicking. People don't bother with affectations when they're panicking."
"...time went wrong..." mumbled the patient.
"Or delirious," added Rael.
Two medtechs per side pushed the gurney into the operating zone, a low-grav bubble surrounded by retractable technology in enough room for ten people to stay out of each other's elbows whilst operating on an eleventh.
"You're already exposed, you're on cleaning and vac," decided one of the swarm. "Get that debris off her."
The medtechs, being medtechs, didn't bother with things like fasteners when getting clothes off a person. They merely applied shears to the lot. Not that the patient's journey through the anomaly and most of a bottle shop had done much for their clothing's integrity in the first place.
"Presents humanoid female," noted the team chief. "Cleaning with pure water."
"Scanners see multiple frac's. Ribs, arms, legs... consistent with a high force impact."
"Multiple contusions and abrasions."
"Rael! Get her allergies!"
Rael imitated her peculiar accent when saying her name. "Shed... You know anything as make sickness? Bad foods, bad drink? Suchlike?"
"Ye wont me allergies?"
"...'m allergic t' alc'hol..."
"Crap," said one of the swarming medtechs, and quickly swapped out instruments.
"Shed? Shed? Can you hear?" He checked the monitors. Unconscious.
"Check the bloods. Sample the loose stuff, yes? Run full tox, we have plenty. Then get as much as you can back into her, clean."
Rael, keeping busy by running debris out of her hair, mentally catalogued the scrattle as it ran into the filters. Glass, lumipanel fragments, possible dander, air plankton, a dead fhitt, a leaf, a feather, a fragment of a dial switch... and the unclassifiable muck that everyone wound up calling dirt. Forensics would have a lot of joy in deducing where she had been from this lot and the remnants of her clothes.
What he did notice was a complete absence of livestock. No parasites whatsoever clung to the comb, nor fell free into the vac-scoop. None inhabited her clothing, from what he could see.
Rael had always been under the impression that twentieth century Terrans had been, essentially, two-legged habitats. Either this being was abundantly clean, or her story was delusion or out and out fabrication.
She jumped and shrieked when the Epi-pen went into her thigh. No Terran had elongated canines, either.
Was she an alien? Someone of a species that came to Earth after the return wormholes finally opened up? And if so, why was she speaking ancient English instead of any of the modern variants? Or even GalStand?
Questions for later. When she was awake to answer.
Around him, the medtechs continued their work. Fortunately for them, their patient didn't have any large chunks missing, which could have provoked guessing from the medics.
"Injecting bonemend nanos."
"Watch for reactions."
"Going full dose."
"Suturing the injury sites. All bleeders isolated."
"Head trauma minimal. Triple R."
Rael knew that one. Recommend rest and recuperation. Which meant that the concussion wasn't too severe. Bloods would reveal anything hallucinogenic in her system, and. Her mysteries would be solved one by one.
He watched until the medtechs placed the patient carefully in an ICU drawer for full monitoring. She would not be expected to move, so they left her only the room she needed.
Temporarily off the hook, or at least, running through decon again, Rael sent off a quick message to the sanest SPOEn he knew.
He was going to need some lessons.
Shayde woke. After long years in this body, she'd learned how to wake up in strange, new locations without opening her eyes and running the risk of being killed as a demon. Even with her powers an an ebb, there were ways to find out where she was without taking a look.
They were playing meditation music. Glass harp and strings and an oboe... And the sound of wind in grass. The sound system was good. She couldn't immediately identify the shape of her chamber based solely on the way that sound echoed in it.
Lavender clashed with orange and a subtle undertone of pine. Lavender to relax. Orange and pine implied cleanliness.
They wanted her to feel at ease. Whoever 'they' were.
Given that 'they' had already patched her up, it might be safe to assume that their motives were pure.
Still too weak to move, much, she explored the limits of what her skin could tell her. Smooth fabric under her palms. Clean, crisp cloth encompassing her body. Comfortable warmth.
There was no pillow under her head, but something harder. Structural.
She opened her mouth and sampled the air. The nose didn't always detect subtleties but the tongue somehow grasped them. No cloying undercurrent that belied artificial perfumes. They were using natural scents, somehow.
Shayde stretched her other senses. The ones that had existed in the subconscious, before the gods had changed her.
Bed. Monitoring equipment. Her headrest was something morticians back home had used to cradle corpse heads. Once upon a time, Egyptians called them pillows.
And walls. Just beyond stretching room. All around her.
They put her in a box!
The put her in a heathen coffin!
Terrans were crazy. Everyone who spent any space of time with them learned that. If they were lucky, they managed to avoid the concept that there was a sliding scale of craziness that Terrans were prepared to indulge in.
This one was an expert in her chosen field and bought her own equipment with her everywhere. This included an actual physical pad of old-fashioned cellulose paper, a likewise old-fashioned pen, and a peculiar headdress called "earphones". They were speakers that the user actually put outside their ears.
"Doesn't that ruin your hearing?" asked Rael.
"Shh," cautioned Mostly Sane Dave.
The expert cupped her hands over her ears, sealing the speakers inside. She closed her eyes and nodded once. Mostly Sane Dave pressed replay.
Rael watched the expert's lips move.
"She's not saying 'shed'. It's shade."
"An extended region of shadow?" translated Mostly Sane Dave.
"Also an ephemeral being, most likely from the spirit world..." The hands whipped down from the sides of her head to snatch at the pad and pen. Furious scribbling ensued. "Shade with a why.... Spelling, of course! The letter 'Y'. Her name... is Shayde." Ovoids surrounded the letters. But so did other notes.
Rael was beginning to regret bringing them everything he had.
"Terran origin plant life in her hair. The retro-tech fragments. The radiation in the dirt. It all makes sense. Occam's Razor says she's a genner from a planet that thinks it's actually Earth... And they somehow managed to replicate the Hackmeyer Effect."
Rael leveled a special Look at them. It said, Are you going to explain this rationally, or do I have to run away very fast, right now? It was a look he used a lot around unfamiliar Terrans. "Should I know or even care what that is?"
"Try not to foam, C-twenty-one."
C21 barked a brief laugh and flipped a page. This time, her frantic hands took care to neatly write some notations. She turned up the paper so he could see, "This is a unique set of radiation bands associated with wormholes. Everyone knows wormholes are dimensional breaches to Hyperspace. But Hyperspace is just one of potentially billions of neighbouring dimensions with different rules, history, physics or anything else that still makes it a viable universe."
"Theoretically," added Mostly Sane Dave.
More notes, the notebook flipped again. "This set of radiation bands is only known to have happened once. It's a now-obscure technically-failed physics experiment known as the Hackmeyer Effect."
It was very similar to a wormhole 'door'. Not completely alike, Rael could tell.
Mostly Sane Dave took out some knitting with a sigh.
"Almost five hundred Standard years ago, pre-shattering Earth. More intelligent parts of society are realising that an environmental movement they vilified twenty years prior was correct and that burning fossil fuels is a really bad idea. Late in that century, a groundbreaker physicist named Ernest Hackmeyer comes up with a formula to breach the walls between dimensions and give the Earth a source of free energy. Like most ideas, he gets it in an inconvenient place, so he takes a paper napkin," the demonstrative C21 followed her own story at this point, "unfolds it, jots down the formula and uses it as a bookmark." Most of the paper napkin was now hanging out of her paper notepad. Rael could see the words Nobody knows what was on this bit on it. "He runs around doing errands etcetera and refines the formula in his head. Months go by. A machine to make functional use of the theory is built by himself and some of his students." She tore the remaining piece of paper off. "The machine fails, effectively evaporating a spherical hole in the building they were using and killing one of the students assisting in the project. All that was left of her was her left shoe. I think it's in a museum, somewhere."
"Stay on track," reminded Mostly Sane Dave.
"There's a big to-do behind closed doors, because the local military got involved. By the time it rolls around for him to write up the official version, the only thing Hackmeyer had of his original magic was half a formula. The Fermat's Theorem of its time."
It was gibberish to Rael, but he could see one symbol on a torn seam. It could have been anything. An A, an O with a connecting line, a mathematical unit... or a telephone number.
"Even the paper was covered up for years. Hackmeyer didn't want it out until he'd remembered or figured out what the rest of it was. Unfortunately for the rest of us, he never did get the other half of the formula. It was eventually published posthumously."
"It's still all the rage with some folks," said Mostly Sane Dave. "There's a whole section dedicated to Hackmeyer in the Mystery Math Tour. Relics and a copy of his office as they found it after his death."
"That's where the shoe is," crowed C21.
Mostly Sane Dave flipped through C21's pages. "I get it... the radiation in the debris in your friend's hair, and her clothes matches the Hackmeyer bands. And since our wormholes lead to a shortcut dimension... this energy dimension might be the same..."
"That poor kid. She must've got thrown halfway across the universe. I mean, if she survived the trip, it must've been awful..." C21 started jotting down notes on a new page. There were a lot of drunken question marks.
"So a genner world could be out there. While they were adapting their bodies to survive the potential rigours of inter-dimensional travel, they were also working on solving and completing the Hackmeyer equation." Mostly Sane Dave's expression of gleeful realisation drifted into confused pondering. "I don't know why her dialect's so weird..."
Just in the nick of time, Med Central called him before the SPOEns could drag him back into their growing argument.
"Something the matter with our patient?"
"She's panicking and we can't figure out why. We need you down here, stat."
Rael made a polite escape while the two SPOEns devolved into debate.
Once more in the labyrinth of MedCentrals ICU, where the halls were just wide enough to move an incapacitated patient around, Rael found his charge gasping for air in a half-opened ICU drawer.
"I ain't dead. I ain't dead..."
"Please calm her down," said the attending Medtech. "Calm is essential for healing."
Rael was glad he got lessons out of the SPOEns before he got theories. "We know you are not dead. We want to keep things as good. Make better."
"Dinnae put me back in t' coffin... I cannae stand wee bitty spaces..."
Rael translated as best he could.
The Medtech made a face. "She's claustrophobic? How could anybody be claustrophobic?"
"Leading theory from the SPOEns I consulted is she's a genner from a lost colony."
The resulting eye roll and minimalistic grunt told volumes of the Medtech's opinion of the SPOEns. They almost always got everything wrong.
"Room to move is expensive," Rael tried to explain to the puzzling Shayde. "Now you can't move. You have care for not move. When can move, have care for can move."
"It's still a coffin."
She had to be Terran or of Terran descent. No other species was capable of that much illogic. "It is med bed. Made for get better. Has air, has monitors. Has friendly staff on hand."
Rael sighed. "No have coffins. Recycle dead. This is just like sleep nook, yes?"
"It's never a bed, it's a fookain coffin!"
This conversation was starting to make his brain hurt. "We're going to have to improvise," he told the attending Medtech. "Are there any decon suites vacant?"
The medtech silenced Shayde’s agitation with a sedative. "Not this week. Five separate cases of mutated immunoflu on six different cruisers."
And since the immuno-rhinovirus was a use for the common cold, mutated variants were hazardous to the overall ecology, let alone the health of everyone who came in contact with them.
"What about the higher primate lab?"
The Medtech gave him a Look. It said, You have got to be kidding me.
"It's just a little bit of file-shuffling. She's an unclassified, unknown primate descendant. She needs to be kept in comfort so she can recuperate and the higher primate labs are a fully-customizable environment that still has medical facilities."
"We'd still have to have someone study her while she's in there..."
"Isn't that what interns are for?"