Opher May 26, 2020
This is a Sci-fi novel set in the future. Elspin is born without a nervous system; a brain with no connection to the world. She is locked within her dreams in an infinite universe of inner space. She should have withered into nothing but against all the odds she prospered …
Politicians and Business-people are at each others’ throats. The world is in crisis. The Greens are split into factions. Passions are explosive.
A way is found of contacting Elspin. What happens when universes clash?
Will the world survive?
Chapter – 1
A flash of orange light exploded in the room with dazzling intensity.
The shockwave, following right behind, resounded with an echoey thud that hit the two people in the apartment with a solid thump.
Unperturbed, in fact looking bored, President Jane Muller of the Planetary Council sauntered across the room and surveyed the huge burgeoning mushroom cloud now filling the whole of the far side of the lounge area where her husband was sitting, with a look of critical annoyance. The explosion formed a livid ball of blazing incandescent heat swirling through inky black smoke, rolling and boiling its way up towards the ceiling. An angry red glow played across the skin of her face. The acrid smell of the smoke filled her mouth and nose with a scorching, choking intensity.
Still she was unmoved.
With no more than a frown she turned her attention away from the scene and directed it towards the reclining figure of her husband who was still carelessly sprawled in his usual place in his favourite chair.
“I do wish they would give some warning that they are going to do that,” she remarked, adjusting the intensity controls of the monitor in passing. It irritated her the way he always had the tridee turned up so high.
Her eyes caught her reflection in the large mirrored surface beside the door causing her to tighten her lips in a grimace of disapproval. The grey unipiece business suit and cropped hair presented the conservative, almost military bearing and hard-nosed image that she sought to foster but it could hardly be considered flattering. She turned slightly, pulling in her stomach tight and assessing the effect, tilting her chin quizzically. It wasn’t getting any better. Her frown intensified and her attention wandered back to the fire that was still raging at the end of the room.
Reaching the chair occupied by her husband Deryk, who was still studying the unfolding scene of devastation, she joined him in his assessment.
“……Appears the LPL have claimed yet more victims early this morning,” the commentator droned as the camera panned away from the ravaged chemical works to the panic and chaos surrounding the plant. “Following a message received in the early hours of the morning a huge thermite device was exploded in the works. Frantic efforts to find the device and shut down the plant failed and the IntSol Company say that insufficient warning was given.”
Deryk glanced up at her with a smile of greeting.
“Twenty people have been reported dead and there are many more missing. IntSol sources say that the final death toll will almost certainly reach into three figures.” The grim face of the commentator loomed out at them superimposed on the billowing clouds of the explosion, seemingly hanging there adrift in the air like a huge decapitated balloon.
“LPL still at it then,” Deryk observed dryly.
Jane Muller sighed but did not bother to reply. They both continued to stare morosely at the violent pictures unfolding before them.
“The only saving grace to this tragedy is that the explosion was timed to go off in the slack period between shifts in the early hours of the morning. This is a time when the plant is only manned by a skeleton crew sufficient to run the computations and deal with emergencies. At any other time the death toll would certainly have reached into the thousands.”
“The device appears to have been planted close to a pipe-line containing the new and highly inflammable DL17 rocket propellant. The initial explosions setting off a series of gigantic secondary explosions that ripped their way into the heart of the complex.”
“Survivors report huge shock-waves destroying all building in the vicinity followed by a rushing wall of flame whose searing heat engulfed streets and buildings.”
“A spokesperson for……………..”
Deryk shook his head and pushed himself out of the chair, patted her hand and wandered out of the room.
Jane continued to frown whimsically at the image still billowing in front of her, her thoughts momentarily caught up in the report. The scene behind the commentator changed to a sweeping panoramic view of the plant taken prior to the explosion. It showed an orderly complex of gantries and pipe-lines intermeshing with buildings and storage tanks. The image was clear and sharp and had obviously been taken after the rains when the plant was not shrouded in its usual mantle of smog.
With an even bigger sigh she deepened her scowl and pulled herself upright from the chair, stretching, suddenly overcome with fatigue and weariness. Her attention wandered to the Massalax. She was desperately in need of a period of calm and peace to drain some of that tension away. Things were not getting any easier. She was tired and hungry. The question was which to deal with first? A quick meal and a comforting drink or an ultra-sound massage to calm the mind and ease the muscles? They were both equally enticing.
With a practised jerk she tugged at the release straps on her suit and felt the seams relax to safety grip. Absently dialling in the code on the tunic belt she released the security grips and shrugged off the loosened fabric of her uniform to fling it in the nearest disposal chute. Tugging on the connector tabs she disengaged her underwear and they followed the suit down the chute.
She stood there for a moment as the soft light of the tridee played across her naked body assessing her profile in the mirror. It was a nice full figure, amply proportioned with little sign of the flabbiness of ageing. But then it ought to be with the amount of drugs and beauty treatment she had lavished upon it over the course of the years. She eyed herself coldly, running her critical eyes over her weaker points for signs that might point to the need for further treatments. Were her buttocks beginning to sag a little? Her breasts a shade too full? And her cheeks were definitely showing signs of droop. But then that could just be the tiredness. Even so, perhaps it was time to book another appointment with Stefan. It wouldn’t do any harm would it?
Resignedly she stepped into the Massalax. Age was a tiresome inconvenience that she could do without. Her presence triggered the mechanism and she felt the invisible forces closing around her as the luxurious waves passed back and forth across her skin soothing and massaging the tired tissues. She let herself go, sensually closing her eyes and relaxing into the flow of the energising programme.
“………..Buildings were torn apart and thrown into twisted heaps of metal.” The commentary continued on the periphery of her hearing, the shattered buildings littering the room went unnoticed, even the irritating burning smells fading away to be replaced by the gentle aromatherapy of the Massalax sequence. ” IntSol say there is very little chance of survival for any of their employees working in those areas. Both the intensity of the blasts and the tremendous heat would have made it……..”
The weariness drained out of her as the accumulated waste products were leached out of her cells with the blood circulation stimulated by the pulsating waves of the Massalax. Its deeper radiations eating into her very core leaving waves of contentment and pleasure in their wake. Her mind floated in the lazy internal seas it created as the world outside slipped away to some far away unreality. Everything receded. Time melted.
“……….What compounded the damage was the spontaneous combustion of the nearby river Gurde.”
The scene switched to a panoramic view of a sluggish brown river snaking its way through a sterile plateau of mud.
The thought of a burning river drew her back out of her reverie. Jane’s half opened eyes allowed the images to seep in. She was interested in a detached dreamy way. She knew that tomorrow she would have to deal with the aftermath. But then tomorrow was a long way off and interesting though the image of a burning river might be, it was not interesting enough and she was damned if she was going to allow it to detract from her enjoyment of the massage. She nudged the control to level 4 with her foot. After all ….. she deserved it. The pulsing of the massage became deeper and even more sensuous so that her body seemed to dissolve into the tingling world it was creating inside her. Even so, she still found that she kept a tiny fragment of her mind, despite all her intentions, tracking along with that report.
“………..The river has long been a source of concern to Environmentalists who have repeatedly claimed that IntSol’s dumping programme has made the river a danger to public health. No life has been recorded in it for more than half a century and twice before the river has spontaneously ignited.”
The picture switched to views of the river with pools of burning chemical and charred mud. Part of her watched in horrified fascination.
“Despite claims by IntSol that the previous conflagrations were caused by the build-up of methane gas coupled with hydrocarbons from natural sources, neither of which had anything to do with their dumping programme, subsequent investigations led to the company being fined on both occasions. Whoever is responsible this time, and IntSol are the likely culprits, it now seems certain that the present conflagration was a result of gasses released from an interaction of chemicals within those murky waters. The perpetrator remains to be officially identified. Whatever comes out of this investigation the facts of the matter speak for themselves. Gasses from the river were ignited by the explosion at the chemical works spreading flames down the length of the waterway. These flames engulfed everything in their path and have started up numerous secondary blazes down the length of the river.”
Despite the languid state of mind created by the Massalax her nose puckered in disgust as she caught a whiff of the pungent river smell that was now emanating into the room completely over-riding the aroma limitation controls.
The report moved into a sequence of shots of helicraft dumping clouds of white powder, a chemical fire retardant, onto a number of blazes.
“If it had not been for the fact that few people live in the proximity of the Gurde due to the corrosive chemical smog that extends for distances on either side of its banks the death toll and damage would………………….”
At this moment her tenuous attention was distracted by Deryk ambling back into the room. The door slid silently shut behind him and she became aware that he was holding two extravagantly filled glasses of amber fluid. The look of smug satisfaction mingled with anticipation left her in no doubt that this was not the usual synth concoction. It was a generous helping of his precious vintage brandy. She returned his smile as he placed the two glasses on the coffee table before turning and walking back through the door.
Her eyes followed him admiring the sinuous youthful fluidity that his movements still retained. He may be approaching the end of what might be described as middle-age but it certainly did not show. His perennial youthfulness was emphasised by his slight willowy frame and the casual cut and brightness of his unipiece, admirably set off by the furry ‘slippers’ he insisted on wearing which added a dash of eccentricity.
She nudged the dial to off and allowed the last tremors to settle through her as she luxuriated for a moment more. In some ways this was the time she enjoyed most. More than the deepest relaxation induced by the machine. This was the time she felt warm and snug just like that moment in bed before you push the covers aside and step out from its protective embrace.
“……….Fire-fighting crews are still trying to control the many fires that are still springing up in the wake of this disaster and it now appears that it may be many hours before the situation is fully under control.”
Deryk arrived back in the room clutching two dishes of brightly coloured vegetable and rice. The smell of seafood paella deliciously scented the air.
“Thought this might just do the number for you,” he murmured allowing his easy smile to pleasantly lift the corners of his mouth transforming him into a happy sprite as he stood there basking in the now contented expression on his wife’s face.
“Umm,” she murmured. “That smells good. You know, I thought you’d forgotten how to dial dishes as good as that Deryk.”
She boldly stepped out of the machine, noting his appraising glance, and dialled a loose-fitting robe out of the dispenser. Beaming her cheesiest grin she accepted the plate of food and sat with it in her lap.
He grinned back at her and slid down into his chair, spooning a mouthful of food in as he turned his attention back to the images still beaming into the room.
“……….This is the tenth such terrorist act carried out by the LPL this month and the eighth that has been directed specifically against IntSol.”
“The LPL admitted responsibility for the attack in a statement released to all tridee stations this morning.” The serious expression on the announcers face reflected the gravity of the situation. “The statement contained the familiar demands for industry to clean up its environmentally damaging practices and warned of further action if nothing was done. It would appear that IntSol has been singled out for special attention due to its poor environmental history……..”
Easing herself back into the cushioning of her chair she turned her full attention to the plate resting on her lap and took a small bite of the gourmet food Deryk had presented her with.
Nudging the smell factor on the tridee down to zero, so that the programme did not interfere with the meal, she, as the food began to melt deliciously in her mouth, began to focus on the man she shared her limited private life with. In contrast to the other men she came in contact with in the course of her work there was nothing arrogant, ostentation or affected about him. And she was glad. Here she could relax.
“I’m glad we had that gourmet model installed, despite the enormous cost,” she reflected.
“You can afford it,” he grinned. “Not even much of a luxury to someone in your position. If the President of the planet can’t afford it, who can?” He added.
“Well luxury or not. I’m glad we had it installed.” The food was delicious and Deryk’s choice was inspired.
He lifted his glass and toasted her. Touching the glass to his nose, he sniffed the amber fluid as he rolled it around the large glass. After watching the liquid swirl, and the oily drops run back down the sides of the glass into the main body of the classic brandy he at last allowed himself a minute sip, settling into the chair to savour the extravagance. He smiled to himself as the electricity of the flavour visibly radiated out through his body, relaxing him as surely as any Massalax machine. Despite all their claims to have matched every molecular nuance, no synth product could come near to matching this.
She reached for her own glass, repeating a similar process in pleasing mimicry.
The seconds drifted past as they slowly worked their way through the meal in silence, savouring the interacting flavours while the broadcast drifted over them, only partially registering on their senses.
She finished the last sip and emerged from her reverie feeling light and contented and deeply sated, gazing across with affection at the man she had been with for so many years. He was probably the only human being she could ever truly relax with, someone with whom their empathy produced an almost telepathic quality, someone with whom she was truly comfortable.
Within that richly contented moment she was overcome with a deep clarity. She saw him as he was – a supportive and generous man, contented and easy-going, quite happy to take the back seat through the course of her rapid rise to prominence. He did not relish public life and hated the glare and attention. Yet it had been his strength and stability that she had come to rely on; the foundations on which she could build the edifice of her political career. He had been there to pick up the pieces when things had gone wrong; to put them together again and get things in perspective, sometimes with support and comfort and sometimes with harsh advice —- the platform from which she had set off for the stars and achieved her ambition. She silently thanked him again.
For this brief moment she could truly relax. The day had been tough, fraught with the worry of big decisions, and tomorrow looked as if it was shaping up to be even worse. She pushed it aside. The taste of the meal was in her mouth. The brandy was in her head and she felt great. She smiled across at Deryk. Tonight she ceased to be the President of the Supreme Council and for the first time in a long while was just content to be Deryk’s wife.
“………..Magnus Rikson, the Chairperson of the Combined Business Confederation, was quick to condemn the act as an outrage committed by the lunatic fringe. He claimed the LPL were a crazed group of terrorist murderers who were out to hi-jack International Industry for their own ends. He castigated them for dealing in death and destruction and accused them of leaving a trail of maimed bodies and mayhem in their wake. In an angry address he ended by stating that they deserved to be hunted down like animals and shot like the diseased dogs they were.”
The round moon-like face of the fair-haired industrialist filled the room self-righteously glaring out at them with his piercing blue eyes.
“We will not bow down to these crass blackmail demands,” he growled menacingly. “Where are the police? Where is the protection for the working people these monsters are killing?” There are no foundations to these foolish allegations these terrorists are making. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way our industry is operating. It is not possible to go back. We have to go forward. People deserve a better standard of living.”
“He would say that wouldn’t he?” Deryk remarked mischievously. But Jane refused to rise to the bait and contented herself with a feigned glower of disapproval accompanied with a quick pout. He wasn’t going to spoil her mood by stimulating an argument concerning the attributes of one such as Magnus Rikson.
Deryk grinned back, toying with her. His tanned and deeply lined face alive with fun. He leaned back into his chair sipping his drink and studying her, his grey hair giving him the appearance of great wisdom that contrasted with the twinkling of his eyes.
“……….Rikson was joined in his condemnation by many political and religious leaders throughout the world. Earlier today President Muller described the explosion as ‘An outrage against humanity’. She was………”
Deryk’s face broke into a huge open grin. “And very well said too,” he stated. “That should pull in a few more votes in the next election.” He struggled to assemble his face into a serious look of mock agreement. “It’s good to hear my woman using such decisive language at a time of crisis.”
She sighed in outraged exasperation. Deryk was the only person on the entire planet that she would tolerate treating her in such a cavalier fashion. Anyone else and she would have exploded in extreme wrath…. and he knew it. That’s why he did it. Teasing her. He was the joker who brought her back to earth with a well timed remark; deflated her ego and stopped her from becoming too full of her own self-importance. He helped her to see the way others might see her words and actions. Stopping her from coming across as arrogant. Not only that but in doing it he lightened the darkness of each and every deadly crisis that threatened to plunge her into despair. Like in the midst of this environmental catastrophe they seemed to be sinking into. Extremists like Rikson and the LPL with her and her government caught piggy in the middle. She needed him……….. particularly at times like this.
These were the moments when she envied Deryk’s height and natural bearing. The image of herself in the mirror haunted her. Perhaps Stefan could not do anything about her height, not now, she was past the age, well past, but maybe some cosmetic work to make her feel better, so that she could take on the world with new confidence. Perhaps a pill to make her lose a few pounds and another to tighten that collagen in her skin, just so she would lose that puffy look. For men it was so much easier. Perhaps it was those generations of being in control that gave them that air. Or perhaps it was just the physical size. It did not seem to matter if they were plump or wrinkled. It didn’t detract from their self-image or status. The more hideous they were the more they seemed to bask in it.
How she could have used some of that regal stature now. The advantages it would bring when dealing with the kind of awkward characters she dealt with each and every day. It would have made life so much easier.
When you boiled it all down politics was simply about one individual imposing their will on others, promoting their views, pushing their ideas, forcing their decisions. It wasn’t a question of right or wrong, and intelligence certainly did not come into the equation. It was simply who had the advantage. Who held the power.
Sadly, Jane knew, the major part of that was image and confidence.
She knew she had it inside and projected it well. But oh, how much simpler that would have been from within Deryk’s body. He had all the inbuilt advantages. The strength and height ——- the sagacity.
She saw herself as short and dumpy. Stefan had worked wonders but the bottom line was still just barely passable. It left her short of many of the weapons a taller more sexy woman might utilise. Yet she had used her sex astutely, as an aspiring contender and was not above using it regularly in her daily contests. And now her arsenal might be lacking the tools of youth and the strength of masculinity but she had restocked them with an armoury born of maturity and understanding. She could be ruthless and often had to be. It was not something she had grown to enjoy.
The irony was that Deryk had no desire to use his stature and intellect in such a way. He never had, and now at the age of 67 was quite content to lead the quiet life of a semi-retired writer with little aspiration. To blend into the background with no need to impress or impose his views on anyone. As far as he was concerned the world could just go on in its crazy contortions, wending its way down the road to oblivion, just as long as he had a stock of his favourite brandy and his family were cocooned away from the harsher realities. It was going to happen anyway. There were just too many people and too little will to do anything about it.
In some ways, she had to admit, Deryk was a defeatist.
“………..Ishmael Rheem, the head of internal security, has stated that the cause of the explosion is under full investigation. He added that the security forces will not rest until they have brought the terrorists responsible to justice.”
Jane studied the surly image of her Chief of Security. The man in charge of the secret police. Heavy jowled and stony eyed. He did not look incompetent and yet there did not seem to be much success coming from his investigations into these acts of terrorism. It was beginning to wear a little thin. Perhaps it was time to have a change round. The murmurings intimated that the moment could be ripe. Then again there were always murmurings. The question was really, when it boiled to the essence, not if he was competent but whether removing him would assist her position or not. Nothing else mattered. This terrorism was becoming a problem. If getting rid of Rheem helped to solve a problem ….. then he was out. The only trouble was that he was a powerful man with many connections and a security network whose intelligence gathering was second to none. It would test her power to its limits to oppose him. Still if it needed to be done then that was precisely what she would have to do. He stared out at her with bitter intensity just as he had done for so much of today during their lengthy and sometimes acrimonious cabinet meeting.
She relaxed back into her seat thoughtfully. So why wasn’t he having any success? With his organisation? With its feelers into every nook and cranny? Surely they must have unearthed something? The whole business was beginning to undermine her and the whole integrity of the Government. It was a fact that was forcefully brought home to her with the continuation of the report.
“………….Rheem, along with President Muller, have come under increasing criticism in recent months over their lack of success in tracing and arresting any members of the terrorist environmentalist groups who have claimed responsibility for the acts of sabotage causing so much havoc with industrial plants across the world.”
“Security measures have been…………….”
Jane seethed and allowed herself the luxury of a withering glower towards the commentator that was really intended for Ishmael Rheem.
Deryk, noting the reaction, took another sip of the brandy. Closing his eyes he allowed the liquid to burn its way across his palate and slide to the back of his throat. He swallowed and savoured its hot descent, followed by the resonating after-taste.
She watched his actions from afar and observed the way he surfaced from the experience. It was a mystery to her. Brandy was strong and pleasant. It had a rich flavour and was relaxing but more than that she could not say. There was obviously some range of nuance that she utterly failed to detect. Something that Deryk experienced that completely passed her by. She could see the immense pleasure he got from the drink. The reverential manner with which he approached it. The intensity and depth of the experience. She just could not understand what it was. The fact that it was his greatest pleasure in life was strange but it was something she had come to accept. People were just different.
At least it had distracted her mind and brought her back to her state of relaxation. She settled back into her chair and mused over her feelings. She smiled to herself at the thought that she was jealous of a simple spirit. What if he did have a great love of cognac. It did not warrant full divorce proceedings. It was just that it made her feel as if she had been born lacking some vital sense, as if there was something faulty in her sensory apparatus, and there was a whole world of experience that was denied to her. A world that Deryk visited often. A world he found stimulating and fulfilling. It somehow made her insanely jealous. The smile spread into a big grin. God, it was only cognac.
“What are you grinning at woman?”
“Just you, my man. Just you.” Her attention wandered back to the documentary.
Deryk nodded musingly.
Through the smoke covered view it was just possible to make out the ravaged buildings of the part of the IntSol complex that had been the centre of the initial explosion. Through the swirling clouds and still exceedingly unstable structures, tiny figures could be seen picking their way through the wreckage. They were all encased in brightly coloured protective suits.
The commentator’s face rose above the scenes of devastation like a huge rising sun.
“Experts were today beginning their investigations of the stricken plant. Their first priority is to assess the dangers and attempt to make the installations safe. It is thought that many of the underground tanks have not been ruptured and enough chemicals are still contained within them to produce a blast on a similar scale to what has already taken place. Engineers are struggling to stabilise the site.”
“When the plant is secure the salvage teams will move in to try to ascertain the full extent of the damage and what if anything can be rescued. Initial reactions seem to indicate that the damage is so extensive that it is exceedingly unlikely that anything other than complete site clearance will be possible although there is an outside chance that the underground installations might be salvageable and the plant could possibly be reconstructed.”
“The cost of the explosion has been tentatively put in the billions but the peripheral costs will resound through the whole industry in the form of increased insurance premiums and increased security arrangements on other prime targets. It is hard to judge just…………”
The tridee broadcast wound up and moved on to another programme. Jane toyed with seeking something worth watching but let it rest as a background drone. She was content within her thoughts. Tonight was the lull before the storm. She could sense it. She might not have the opportunity to be this relaxed again for a long time.
Tonight she could feel at ease with herself and her achievements. She had had her share of lucky breaks but could feel secure in the knowledge that she had got to where she was largely through her own abilities and efforts. She possessed that strength of personality and charisma that made it possible.
She found Deryk’s eyes resting on her and smiled.
He raised his glass and took another lingering sip.
For now the Massalax and brandy had conspired to take the edge off her tension. Tonight there were no games to play, no fronts to maintain. They had no secrets from each other. This was the only arena left in which she could completely relax and lay aside her guard. She indulged herself. No need to talk. Just basking in each others company was sufficient. Business could wait.
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