10/04/2012

Cosmic Flash - Chapter 8: Memory Lane




The entire group stopped by the cafeteria on their way to the Memory Log.  Tome helped Zach pick out a cuisine that he felt he might enjoy.  The whole place resembled a cafeteria from Earth only the bulbs that kept the food heated were small, baseball sized, and glowing a bright red.  The trays that were taken with them were transparent but sturdy and the food he gathered onto it consisted mostly of exotic but tasty-looking fruits, grains, and a few slabs of cooked meat that resembled steaks.  He didn't want to ask what animal it came from, knowing that he probably didn't want to know the answer, not when he was this hungry nor would he be able to identify it anyway.  Zach, for once, had many eyes on him here, staring curiously from afar, mostly because he was being accompanied and cared for by the Chairman of the North Circuit himself, but he was far too hungry to care what they thought at the moment.  He sat down at a table in front of the Chairman and Doctor Stihl and they continued to converse as he ate.

"So how are you feeling these days, Zach?" Tome asked him.

"Um," Zach said, chewing hard so he could regain the ability to talk.  He'd been given very strange-looking silverware to dig into the food with but they seemed to be effective.  "I feel pretty good.  Optimistic, I guess."

"Great to hear.  Once we get that pin of yours and possibly your memory back, we can start working towards seeing that you receive full psychiatric recovery and be placed back in the field in no time."

"Yeah," Zach said, stopping for a moment.  "About that.  I don't know if I really want to go back into the military.  I mean, right now.  This is assuming the memory thing doesn't work.  If it does, I'll probably welcome it with open arms.  But if it doesn't, what will I do then?"

"Well, its entirely up to you.  I'll be happy to get the right people to re-educate you on the culture of the North Circuit and you can simply choose whatever profession works for you here.  We'll make sure you receive the proper training to make that career path an option as well.  Or if you so choose, we can just send you back to Earth."

"What?" Doctor Stihl said, turning to him.  "You would let him go back?"

"I don't want him to stay if he doesn't want to.  Its entirely his choice."

The two looked back at Zach and he looked off in thought.  Now he had options.  If he wanted to go back, he could.

"No, I'm fine.  I kind of like it here."

Tome and Doctor Stihl took a sigh of relief.  "I'm glad to hear that, Zach," Tome said gratefully.  "You're a hero, we'd like to see you live comfortably like you deserve.  No offense, but Earth is not a good place for humans.  I mean, the average life-span of an Earth-Human is 80 to 100 Earth years, can you believe that?"

"Wait, it's not that way here?"

"Heavens, no.  Humans from Eden can reach the ages of 900 or more, the oldest ever living past 1000.  By Earth years."

"Whoa," Zach said incredulously.  "So, I can live that long?"

"Yes, now that you no longer have those Earthly toxins inside of you," Doctor Stihl answered.  "Even if you went back now, you'd still live longer than any of them ever would.  At least up to 500 or 700 years."

"That is unbelievable," Zach said, still eating.  "I vaguely remember some religious text stating that a few early humans lived that long.  One of them, Methuselah, lived up to the age of 969, oldest ever.  Guess he was the longest living human from Earth."

"Interesting," Doctor Stihl replied.

"So I've been meaning to ask," Zach started.  "And forgive me if I'm overstepping, but why do some people seem to have a problem with you.  I mean, you seem really nice and competent enough to lead.  Why the animosity?"

Tome exchanged hesitant looks with Doctor Stihl before answering.  "Did Doctor Stihl inform you about the Terra Renaissance and King Sinter?"

"Yeah, he did."

"King Sinter was my father."

Zach was slightly thrown by the sudden revelation.  "No way."

"Its true.  I was actually born on Earth and spent my first few Earth years of life there before he was overthrown and killed by the Blackgriffon Militia.  I was then raised on Eden in a foster home and my remaining family members, most of whom were in hiding as they were wanted for war crimes, tried to ensure that no one knew of my connection to my father or his legacy.  The Blackgriffon Militia at the time were ruthless; they pretty much slaughtered my entire family.  They had good reason to though.  The majority of them were tyrants who considered the entire Alfimese race inferior to humans and attempted to kill the self-esteem, hope, and pride of our entire culture.  But the Militia also killed the innocent members of my family as well and if they'd found out that I was Sinter's son, they'd have killed me too, even though I was only seven years old.  By Earth years, that is.  Due to my time on Earth, I have a habit of measuring years based on their calendar rather than the Arian one, so you'll have to forgive me if I confuse you."

"No, its fine, its actually easier for me to understand.  Go on."

"So my foster parents had my name changed from Tome Closs to Tome Knightgrief and I spent my entire teenage and adult life completely unaware of my relation to the tyrant that nearly tore my home apart.  My childhood was a very confusing time for me.  My father wanted me to be raised on Earth by my human mother and I was, but as soon as he died, my uncle, who was killed a few years later, took me back and that's when I was placed into foster care, so my Earth memories and North Circuit memories were being thrown together in a strange way.  It ended up working out for the best though.  I went to the best schools, received my merits, delved into politics, and took office ten Earth years ago.  It wasn't easy, since word got out of my lineage well into my campaign, but it didn't seem to deter enough of the North Circuit populace to cost me the election.  But it was almost evenly divided, so that's why there's still so much opposition against me."

"But why?  They don't think that you're going to become like your father, do they?  I mean, they can't hold your birth against you, you can't change who's family you were born into.  You still worked hard to get where you are, probably harder than you needed to."

"This is true, but I'm afraid many people don't see it that way.  The Royal Blackgriffon Family that came to power after the fall of the Closs Family definitely did not see eye to eye with me.  The Patriarch and previous King of Alfheim, Deter Blackgriffon adamently went out of his way to slander my name, but it didn't work.  He passed away shortly after I was elected and his son, Maxim took his place on the throne."

Tome leaned in closer to Zach, speaking in a whisper.  "Between you and me, and this is completely off the record, some part of me believes that Maxim was the one who ordered the assassination attempt.  He likes to lead me to believe that he doesn't carry the same animosity as his father and that there is no longer tension between us, but I swear the men hired to kill me were employed by him.  The investigation into it led in that direction but ran into a dead end, most likely because the Blackgriffon Family severed any ties tracing it back to them.  I'm not prepared to make any public accusations, but its just a feeling I can't seem to shake."

Zach nodded once Tome leaned back.  "Sounds pretty serious."

"It is, but there's nothing we can do about it now.  With my tightened security and departments like Cosmic Flash working around the clock to intercept any leads that even smell like another attempt on me or my family's life, we'll come to a conclusion fairly soon on who the true culprit behind the attack is.  In the meantime, it allows me to focus on keeping the North Circuit strong and progressive."

"You know, I'm just thinking out loud here," Zach said, in thought as he continued to eat.  "And I don't want to sound like I'm selling out a friend, but Jeila's father does work for Blackgriffon"-

"This is true, but I've known Lance Halos for quite some time, I know he has my best interesting at heart.  He's always been supportive, one of the many reasons why he remains Ambassador to the Alfheim throne.  Logically, I can see how that might be unsettling; having someone so close to me who's working with the faction that might be attempting to kill me does sound like trouble but Maxim is a very intelligent man.  He would never make an attempt on my life if he knew it could be traced back to him, it would cause a diplomatic catastrophe."

"Another Civil War?"

"Not even that.  He would simply lose his seat on the throne.  Alfheim's monarch system has changed since Sinter's rule, it's no longer absolute.  The King can be forced off of his throne if his Court and the Alfheim people see that he is no longer worthy or fit to lead.  The Blackgriffon Family themselves made sure of this before they claimed their royalty to ensure that nothing like what happened with Sinter would ever happen again.  Maxim wouldn't risk making that mistake.  I appreciate your concern though."

"No problem.  If someone's gunning for your head, its best to analyze every possibility and source.  I don't think you're overstepping your boundaries by speculating its a member of the family that opposed your campaign in the first place.  Just curious, do you have limits to your terms?  Like in how the US Government only allows two terms per President?"

"Actually yes, we are allowed three terms, each one lasting 28 Arian years.  There is an election each term featuring the current Chairman and a separate candidate voted to oppose the current Chairman."

"So its about 7 Earth years for each term, right?" Zach asked.

"Correct.  I've already been in office for ten Earth years/42 Arian years.  Next Arian year will mark my 11th Earth year as Chairman.  I won the last election by a landslide after my opponent inexplicably dropped out of the race and I'm currently serving my second term.  The next election starts in 2 Earth years/6 Arian Years.  I'm hoping before then this whole assassination business will come into light so that I can make my last election a fair and safe one."

"So you run for 18 Earth Years.  Which is 72 Arian Years.  So what's today's date?"

"Vanir 4."

"It was November 3rd when I left Earth," Zach said aloud, trying to wrap his head around it all.  "Aesir, Vanir, Nair.  December will be Nair and January will be Aesir, the start of the new year for both calendars.  It lines up perfectly, yet still feels so confusing."

"You'll get used to it, trust me," Doctor Stihl said chuckling.  "But please, continue eating.  We need to get to the Memory Log as soon as possible."

"Yes, I imagine we are pressed for time."

"Right," Zach said, as he continued to finish off his tray.  The food tasted nothing like anything he'd dined into on Earth, in fact it tasted ten times better and it was difficult to stop from making orgasmic noises while he consumed what he had left.  When it was all gone and he was stuffed and thoroughly satisfied, he got up and brought his tray over to a machine that sucked up each tray inserted to it to be cleaned off and re-used.  As he stepped towards it, a figure walked in his way and he accidentally bumped into him.  "Sorry."

When Zach saw him, he realized that it had been Otizel, the Angrefian he'd seen back at the Points Bank.  His arm was once again reattached, meaning the operation was a success.  When Zach addressed him, he turned around with a deep scowl.

"Damn right, you're sorry," he replied sourly.

"What's your problem, man?" Zach asked him.  He normally wasn't this confrontational but he felt that the remark had been uncalled for.

"You're my problem, English," Otizel snapped but passive-agressively.  "Do we need to go through this all again or do I need to remind you with a blow to the face?"

Zach kept quiet.  This guy knew who he was and had beef with the Zach English from here, not this one.  Knowing there was no need for things to go further, Zach turned from him, put his tray in the machine and walked back to the table as the Chairman, Doctor Stihl, and the guards prepared to leave.  Otizel watched him closely and didn't move to continue his business until they were all out of sight.

The group of them continued onward back down the hall.  Once outside, he saw Tome pull out a Cosmer from his suit-jacket pocket and toy around with it for a moment when suddenly a large section of the floor around them lit up and a much larger lightlift raised them several floors higher into the Monolith.

They stopped at what might as well have been the top floors of the building, because once they'd walked by the nearest window, which was noticeably thicker than the ones on the lower levels, all that Zach could see were clouds trailing below and a trail of space junk orbiting around the outer atmosphere of the planet.  When the lightlift had stopped, they walked on until they came to a room with walls that looked like they were covered in individual safes, all resembling square tiles with numbers and letters electronically displayed on them and there were also what looked like hospital beds scattered across the room with high-tech side panels hooked onto the bedside of each.  The guards waited by the door as they walked in.

"This is one of many Memory Rooms located on the last few floors of the Monolith," Doctor Stihl explained.  "This is the 47th E-Room."

"47th?!"

"Yep, there are a lot of soldiers in Star Crest with a last name starting with E.  Yours is in here somewhere."

After a moment of searching, Tome came across it on the far right side of the room, its display with heading "ZACHARY PHARAOH ENGLISH - 79 AY, ML: 41%, CPL: 49%, Last Update: Vanir 30, NGY- 60K451."

"Well that answers the question of whether you updated your Memory Log before you disappeared," Tome said, surveying the safe.  "Unfortunately, we won't be able to discover the events leading up to your disappearance.  But you should at least be able to find the pin."

"What does all of this mean?" Zach said, referring to the display.

"79 Arian Years, that was your age last time you scanned; Memory Log has been updated with 41% of your memories; the Cesspool Log has been updated with 49% of your memories and your last update was on Vanir 30, New Galactic Year, 60,451; Nine days after the assassination attempt on my life and about a month before you went off the grid."

"Right," Zach said with a deep sigh.  This was it.  Time to find out what I've been missing, he thought.  "So are we ready?"

"Yep," Tome said, reaching in to type the access code into the Memory Vault and its metal cover shot out slightly from the crevice between two other Memory Logs belonging to other soldiers in Star Crest.  Tome pulled the cover back and there were two slim floppy disc-like devices sticking out from an embedded portion of a plush interior.  Tome pulled one out and handed it to Zach.  "This is the Log that contains the 41% of your memory.  We'll put it into the mainframe of one of these stations and you'll be able to access them from there."

"I'm guessing that other one is the Cesspool Log?" Zach said, referring to the second floppy disc device left inside of the vault just as Tome closed it back.

"Right.  Since you don't know the code to access it, we won't be able to use it, so hopefully your pin will be somewhere in here."

"Do you think that maybe the code to the Cesspool Log will be in there?"

"Its unlikely.  Anyone who is authorized can access the memories inside of your Memory Log, so I doubt you would have left something like that out in the open for another person to find.  Its possible you might have left a clue for yourself somewhere in there, so who knows?  Just keep your eyes peeled."

"Excuse me?" One of the guards called.  Everyone turned to the entrance of the room to see Soter standing with the guard by the door who was holding on to his shoulder and preventing him from fully entering the room.  "This is a restricted area.  Do you have clearance?"

"He's with me," Doctor Stihl said, moving over to Soter quickly.  "I apologize Soter, I forgot to tag you"-

"Can we talk outside for a moment, Doctor Stihl?" Soter asked sternly as Doctor Stihl stopped walking and reluctantly nodded.  Soter turned and headed for the door with Stihl following closely behind him.

"Go ahead and get started," Doctor Stihl said to the others.  "We'll return momentarily."

"That's fine," Tome said, leading the way to one of the beds located in the center of the room.  "Go ahead and get in."

Zach hopped onto the cushion and positioned himself face up as Tome circled around to the side panel and inserted the Log into an opening on the side, twisting it like a key to an ignition.  The panel lit up brightly and Tome pressed the glowing holographic buttons, selecting the right options that would initiate the impending stasis.  After a while the back half of the bed slid upward until Zach was in a sitting position like he would be in a hospital bed on Earth.  When Tome got to a stopping point on the panel, he looked up at Zach.

"Now, what you're going to be experiencing are the memories of your life from the Arian age of 70 to the Arian age of 78.  That's from 17 to 19, ending a full year ago.  You'll be experiencing it right from your eyes as you remembered it, so things will be happening fast, especially...Well you know"-

"The assassination attempt," Zach said.  "I understand."

"You'll need to pay attention as best you can.  We'll see you in a bit."  Tome pressed a final button and a large glass cover ejected from the bottom of the bed, curling up and completely covering the surface of the station.  Tome nodded encouragingly before going back to the panel just as a billow of smoke shot from invisible pores on either side of the bed, instantly emmersing Zach in darkness.

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Zach walks into the hospital clutching a spot on his abdomen, blood leaking from it profusely, his face red with pain.  "Help!" He screams as he falls to the floor and nurses rush to his aid.  He vomits blood from his mouth onto the floor and passes out in their arms.  When he wakes up, he's in a hospital bed where a man is sitting by him.  His name is Brand Valentyne.  He is human.  He says he's here to help.  He tells Zach that he knows what has happened to him and that he can help him obtain a better life.  He hands Zach a Cosmer and an electronic file before walking out.  Zach looks at the file through the Cosmer to see that it is a tech panphlet containing information about Star Crest.  With nowhere to turn, Zach fills out an application for Star Crest and is accepted the day before leaving the hospital.

A few days pass and Zach appears at the Monolith for basic training.  He runs laps with the others.  He does push-ups with the others.  He sleeps very little like the others.  He gets yelled at by his superiors like the others.  Within a few days, he makes friends with a young Angrefian named Otizel.  The two share a sleeping pod together.  Their squad learns how to use high-tech firearms ranging from plasma pistols and advanced machine guns to tentalite grenades and reaction chargers.  They spend a good portion of the training on a space station orbiting Arias where they learn "Wartigh," an Ichthian form of Martial Arts focusing on anatomical balance.  After three weeks, Zach and Otizel graduate from basic training.  Zach is assigned to the Motor Infantry Epsilon and begins a five year long tour of duty.  He sees little action the first year.  Now at legal voting age, Zach votes to keep Tome in office for his second term.

Zach goes on shore leave for the first time for three weeks after four Arian years of service (1 Earth year).  He stays on Eden in an apartment alone.  He meets a young academic named Opera Fiendeye at a restaurant where she works part time while studying to be an intelligence analyst.  He asks her out.  They mate once before he goes back on duty and they keep in touch.  His next four Arian years are spent on the deserts of Linaeo where he reconnects with Otizel and his squad while they attempt to end the violence started through guerrila warfare.  They see a fair amount of action.  Zach witnesses the death of his Squad Commander and is forced to take his place as he had previously been assigned as Second-In-Command.  His leadership sees to both squads safely being extracted from the war zone.  He receives a promotion.  With the help of local militia, the two squad's successfully capture Linaean Rebel, Nationalist, and Ringleader of the group responsible for most of the violence, Song Squall.  They are told to bring him in alive.  The night before extraction, Song hacks his way out of his restraints, kills several soldiers guarded at his post, and almost escapes but is confronted by Zach.  The two fight and Zach is forced to shoot Song dead.  Due to the circumstances, Zach, Otizel, and the rest of the squads involved are still rewarded.  Zach goes on his second shore leave with a mild case of PTSD, which he recovers from with the help of psychiatrist, Doctor Stihl and his girlfriend, Opera.

During this shore leave, Zach proposes to Opera and the two are married.  Before his shore leave is up, Zach is given a high-profile assignment: to secure and protect UoS Chairman Tome Knightgrief during a peace summit on the planet, Paradius.  Zach accepts and departs from Opera once again.  He learns that Otizel and his old friend, Brand Valentyne of the Artillery Corps will be joining him along with several other soldiers.  The convoy departs from Arias on Vanir 20.

They laugh, joke, and bond with one another on their way to Paradius.  Zach has a sip of an illegal elixer brewed from the deepest slums of Harpeia.  Otizel makes a bet with Zach that he won't be able to handle it and Zach loses, succumbing to its depressant effects immediately.  Zach accesses his account to transfer his points to Otizel.  153373.  Brand throws Zach a belated bachelor's party that Tome happily participates in, due to his easygoing nature.  When they arrive in Paradius, Zach, Brand, and Otizel do their jobs exceptionally and the peace summit is a success.  Tome leaves the summit and travels in a separate Overgate from the others.  A large explosion destroys the Overgate in the front.  Zach, Brand, and Otizel exit their own Overgate just before it detonates as well.  Gunfire erupts.  Zach grabs Tome from his Overgate and leads him to safety before it explodes.  They are surrounded.  Civilians begin to flee.  Brand leads the squad into a nearby building and they attempt to lose the assassins inside.  The building is then swarmed with enemies and in the middle of the fire fight, filled with tentalite explosives.  Realizing this once it appears that the guerrillas are retreating, Zach tries to escape with Tome while Brand provides a diversion.  The building explodes with him inside.

Now drawn back out into the open, Zach and Otizel soon become the only soldiers accompanying Tome as the others are gunned down in the chaos.  While still pursued along the rooftops of a building, Otizel is shot and falls off of one of the roofs.  Zach doesn't look back.  Now backed into a corner, Zach stows up in an abandoned bunker and continues the fight solo.  He spends the entirety of the day shooting and killing the guerrillas attacking them until they stop engaging.  He lost his communicator during the beginning of the attack, so they are now without any way of contacting outside resources.  They spend the night in the bunker.

Tome fears he won't ever see his family again and Zach comforts him, giving him hope that they will make it out.  The two bond through the traumatic experience.  In the morning, a lone assassin enters the bunker and attempts to strangle Tome in his sleep.  Zach awakens in time and smashes the assassin's head in with a slab of rock.  With the bunker compromised, Zach and Tome leave, traveling through the Paradian wilderness for another day before spending the night in front of a campfire started with tentalite supplies Zach carries on his person.  The next day they reach civilization once again and are taken in by local Orbital Police.  They ensure that Tome will receive a safe trip back to Arias but Zach insists on accompanying him, acutely lacking any trust in the authorities.  He comes to the conclusion that the attempt on Tome's life was set up and believes that anyone working for the Military or UoS could be involved.  He ensures that Tome returns back to the Monolith and leaves, still paranoid.

Zach takes his fame with a grain of salt.  He is called a hero by the media.  He becomes a trending topic on the S.I.N.  He visits talk shows, receives celebrity endorsements, etc.  The points and medals he is awarded help him provide for Opera and they talk about starting a family.  But he doesn't lose himself in it, in fact, he becomes heavily involved in the investigation into the events of the attack.  He remains in close contact with Tome.  His race for answers turns into an obsession.  Opera sees that it's unhealthy for him.  Another psychiatrist diagnoses it as apart of his PTSD but Zach doesn't believe it because it isn't a diagnosis from Doctor Stihl.  Zach soon learns that Otizel survived the fall on Paradius and made a full recovery.  He harbors a deep displeasure for Zach, believing him to have left both Brand and himself behind to ensure that he maintain his status as "hero."  Zach accuses him of jealousy and the two enter a fist fight broken up by authorities.

Zach's awarded paid off-time expires in one week.  He barely gets to see Opera in the time he has off.  It isn't long before his name is forgotten by the media as everyone becomes engulfed in the next big trend.  Overcome with stress, he decides to follow advice given to him by Tome and heads to the Monolith to have his mind scanned for a Memory Log.

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When Zach opened his eyes again, Tome wasn't there to greet him.  Instead, standing at the foot of the bed were Soter and Doctor Stihl, who were staring at him intently as he came out of stasis.  Soter shot forward, excitedly.

"You doing all right, English?" he asked, attempting to hold back his energy.

"Yeah," Zach croaked weakly as if waking up after a long slumber.  "How long was I out?"

"Twenty clicks.  What do you remember?"

Zach leaned up from the bed and scooted up to the foot of it, thinking hard.  "Unfortunately, I'm still the same old Zach from Earth...but now I know what the Zach English from here knows.  Well most of it anyway."

"What about the pin, were you able to get it?"

"Um, yeah," Zach said in thought.  "I'm pretty sure...actually yes, I know I've got it."

"So what is it?"

"Um," Zach said, searching through his thoughts.  He was having a hard time putting together what he'd just experienced but it was there.  "153373."

"Are you sure?" Doctor Stihl asked.

"Yeah.  Its derived from his - my - birthday.  Aesir 5.  1-5.  The three in the middle is random but the the last three digits are the last three digits of my birth year, 60K373.  So...what now?"

"You've done well, Zachary," Doctor Stihl said warmly, tapping him on the shoulder.  "We appreciate your cooperation...And for the life of me, I am deeply sorry about this."

"Sorry about wha"- Before he could realize what was going on, he felt a sharp pain surge through his body that caused him to convulse so violently, he slipped off of the bed and fell onto the hard floor beside it.  Soter stood over him and smashed his foot onto Zach's forearm to keep him still before leaning down and pulling out a slim pen-like device from his belt pouch.  With it in hand, he lifted the jumpsuit sleeve of Zach's right arm and pressed a button on the device, causing a light to shine over the end of it.  Grabbing hold of the arm, Soter ran the light over Zach's recent scanner brand and once he was done, he turned off the device and put it back in his pouch.  "What the hell are you doing?"

"Shut up!" Soter shouted at him before delivering a vicious kick to the side of his face, causing him to roll over in pain.

"I've done everything you've asked of me, Soter," Doctor Stihl said sternly, now shaking with anxiety.  "Now you let my family be.  They don't have any part in this."

"On the contrary, Stihl, you made them apart of this when you notified Tome of our business," Soter said sinisterly.  He turned his attention to Stihl slowly with unforgiving eyes.  "You must think I'm the densest fellow in the fucking North Circuit, don't you?"

"Soter, I...." Doctor Stihl stammered.  "Please I - just"-

In the blink of an eye, Soter had the weapon he'd concealed behind his back drawn, a blaster pistol which was aimed right at Doctor Stihl's chest.  With loud Earth gun-like shots, Soter fired the pistol at him three times and Doctor Stihl fell to the floor with large red burn marks on his suit, which he held precariously as he lay there in shock.  Soter turned back to Zach, who he expected to see lying on the floor, but when he looked at the spot where he'd left him, he was gone.  Soter turned around and was immediately suckerpunched in the face, causing him to collapse onto the bed.  He immediately regained his composure and turned around, swinging his pistol at the enemy but it was knocked away by Zach, who followed up with several vicious punches to the face that sent Soter vaulting over the bed and onto the floor beside it.  Before long, Soter was back on his feet and on the defense.

"So I see you've retained some of your knowledge of that Wartigh, English," Soter said, wiping away the dark red blood seeping from his lips.  "You never were much of a fighter though."

"Who are you really?" Zach asked aggressively, keeping his own guard up.  "Did I really save your life?"

"In a matter of speaking.  Hardly matters now though.  I'd say we were about even."  Soter launched forward and the two sent blows between each other that were easily evaded and blocked until the two managed to go several moments without landing a hit.  Finally, the two broke apart, realizing that they were evenly matched.

"What did you do to my arm?"

"None of your business."

"Seriously?  You brought me all the way here from another planet for this, I'm pretty sure its my business.  You're trying to crack into my account, aren't you?"

Soter shot forward once again, but Zach was ready for it and blocked his strike, following up with his own, a shot to the stomach.  Soter doubled over from the force and Zach grabbed for his head, slamming it against his knee and sending Soter flying onto the floor behind him.  Soter quickly hopped back onto his feet and the two were at it once again.

Eventually, Soter got the upper hand, grabbing hold of Zach's oncoming fist and using it to pull him back and lift him into the air.  With all his might, Soter tossed him across the room where he collided with a nearby bed's panel, sparking it to life as he collapsed onto the floor.  Now that he was out of the way, Soter walked over to the gun that had been knocked from his hand and pointed it over at Zach.

"I wasn't going to kill you, English," Soter said, walking to him casually as  Zach struggled to his feet, the gun pointed directly at his face.  "I figured leaving you without a point to your name would be bad enough.  But now that I see you're probably going to be a thorn in my side from here on out, let me put an end to my troubles here and now."

"You wish it was that easy," Zach muttered before he sharply hit the button he was holding behind his back which he'd taken from Doctor Stihl's fallen body at the start of the fight.  Soter felt a sharp pain volt through him and he dropped his gun, falling to the floor and succumbing to the same taser-like patch that had been put onto his back as the one placed on Zach just a moment ago to subdue him.  Zach walked over to him, leaned down and repeatedly struck Soter in the face, then reached for the pouch on his side that held the pen-like device.  But before he could pull it away, Soter grabbed hold of his arm, his face full of anguish as he attempted to pull the device back and Zach struggled to get out of his grip.  In desperation, Soter turned the device upside down in Zach's hand and forced Zach's finger onto the button on the side, causing the bright scanner to shine in his eyes.  The pain from the light briefly incapacitated Zach enough for Soter to strike him in the face and knock him off.  Soter grabbed for the gun he'd dropped and turned back to Zach with it, just as the doors to the Memory Room burst open and a brigade of armed soldiers in bright red armor with Artillery Corp Emblems fixed onto their shoulder plates stormed inside, their weapons pointed vigilantly at the lone Ichthian.  Walking up from behind the soldiers was Tome, who looked more in charge than Zach had seen him before.

"I get it," Soter said with a humorless smile.  "Stihl told you my plan when he first arrived so you got your men ready to spring from the moment English was out of the Log and Stihl had confirmation that his family was safe"-

"There's no where to run, Mr. Soter," Tome said with authority.  "Turn yourself in and this will all work out in the end.  We can talk about this.  Think about it, you've got no where to go."

Soter chuckled arrogantly.  "You all really think I'm so stupid that I would come into the Monolith without an escape plan?"  Soter kept his gun trained on Zach, his hostage, and reached into one of his pouches.  Out of view from the others, he pressed onto something that began to glow a mixture of bright green and blue in the pouch and suddenly there was a large blinding light and a loud explosion that rocked the entire room.

 Zach could feel him self flying through the air as a gust of wind began to suck him across the room and he swung about freely without any direction in his path.  Suddenly, he felt a rough tug on his right arm and when his vision cleared, he could see Tome standing above him, holding him by his arm.  The room was now sideways and Tome was standing on what looked like a wall but what was actually the floor from where Zach could see.  He looked down and spotted Tome's boots glowing a light yellow at the seams and around the edges, keeping him stationary on the floor as whatever was sucking him from behind kept him floating through the air.  Zach looked down and could see that the entirety of the wall at the back of the Memory Room was gone, a hole replacing it leading out into the endless vaccuum of space just above the planet's atmosphere.  Zach could see it: Soter, floating along the invisible current of dissipating air particles that rushed him forward, had hitched a ride on a starship waiting for him with its main port open for him to slide in.  Just as he disappeared inside, it closed, and shot off away from the planet and into the endless abyss ahead.  Once it was gone, a pair of large metal doors slid down from the ceiling of the room and slammed shut at the floor.  Tome finally let go of Zach and he began to float in zero gravity until the room stabilized and he fell back to the ground.

"Are you okay, son?" Tome said, bending down to help him up.

"Yeah, I"- Zach started before he realized what had happened to Doctor Stihl.  In the chaos, he had seen that the other soldiers, who were kept stationary as well by their specially-designed gravity boots, had been holding down Doctor Stihl's body during the comotion.  When he saw by how the soldiers were interacting with him now that he was showing signs of response, he sprinted over to him and leaned down by his side.

"Zachary," he muttered hoarsely, his breathing steady and sporadic as a stream of dark red blood leaked from the corner of his mouth.

"I'm here," he said, grabbing hold of his hand.  "I'm right here."

Doctor Stihl turned his head to Zach, his eyes swelling with tears as they fixed themselves onto Zach's blurring face.  "I'm...I'm so sorry."

Eventually, his expression went blank and his eyes closed.  His head fell back onto the floor and he was gone.  Zach closed his own eyes and held tightly to Doctor Stihl's hand, now numb from feeling a single emotion.  It was a strange feeling.  Under any other circumstances, he would probably be overcome by his feelings, his eyes filled with tears as he bawled his heart out.  But all he could feel pressing up against a stream of profound sadness was a numbness to any real feeling, like there was a mental shield being placed over his mind to prevent any stronger emotions from flooding in.  A defense mechanism maybe, as a result of taking on the memories of his former life here.  The old Zach was a hardened warrior who had trained his mind to prepare for this kind of loss, even well before he'd joined MIE.  Something was off about that.  He turned his head over to where his Memory Vault was across the room.  The Memory Log had only started him from the catalystic moment that fueled his decision to join Star Crest but nothing before that.  Whatever came before must have been left in the Cesspool Log, he thought.  The real reason for why he couldn't feel anything.  The other 49%.

Tome walked over to Zach just as the soldiers proceeded to set up a crime scene in the Memory Room, some Orbital Police Officers and what looked to be futuristic paramedics joining them after a while.  Tome was hesitant when he spoke.  "He was forced by Soter to comply with his every command.  Or else"-

"He'd kill his family, I heard," Zach said, blankly staring down at Doctor Stihl's lifeless body.  "Mr. Chairman, I need you to help me with something."

"Sure, anything, Zach."

Zach turned to Tome with a determination that Tome hadn't seen in his eyes since the day of the assassination attempt.  "I don't really have a reason for why I'm here.  I don't have an explaination for what's happened to me in the last few days or why I only remember being from Earth.  I don't remember everything that the old Zach English knew and I'm not sure if I ever will.  But right now, if I ever do choose to leave this place, I won't until I make sure that Doctor Stihl's family is safe and that Soter is either in custody or dead.  I refuse to leave until that happens."

Tome nodded assuredly.  "Understood, Zach.  Soter works for a dangerous outfit, but they aren't anything that the Cosmic Flash branch can't handle."

"Then that's where I need to be.  Cosmic Flash.  I understand there are some qualifications I need to meet to get in, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes."

"You needn't worry about that.  I can put the right pieces in place to see that you have a guaranteed position in their Training Program.  However, Its going to take a while; you're going to need to go through the same routines that the other trainees go through before you graduate and become a certified operative.  That means relentless analytical and economic study, rigorous physical exercises, and your mental stamina will be tested on a constant basis.  The entirety of the Program is to find out where your breaking point lies, so you will be pushed to your absolute limit.  You have to be ready for that."

"Whatever it takes, I'm willing to do it.  As long as you can make sure that Doctor Stihl's family is secure, wherever they happen to be."

"Don't worry, Soter won't have Stihl's family killed.  They are important figures, whoever Soter is working for is going to want to use them as hostages to get what they want.  They aren't going to get rid of them, at least not for the time being.  Gives us time to track him and his employers and crush them."

"I hope you're right," Zach said in thought.  "Either way, I'm going to need your help in this.  I know you're a busy man, you've probably already got a lot on your plate, but I just need you to give me the building blocks so I can go at this on my own.  I don't exactly have a purpose here other than that.  I owe it to Stihl."

"Understood.  I'm afraid Soter got away with a copy of your scanner brand with a replicator, an outlawed device that we thought we'd prevented the manufacturing of until now.  He also has your pin number.  We've been able to lock your account for the time being, but unfortunately, that means you won't be able to access it yourself for quite some time, at least until we're sure that your account can't be accessed by anyone.  But we can start separate one for you.  Under a different name.  Through that, we can transfer the rest of your military benefits and your salary into it."

"That's fine.  If it weren't for Doctor Stihl notifying you, Soter probably would have bested me in that fight and probably would have killed me.  He took Stihl and his family hostage to come all the way here for my sake.  I just can't get over that.  And Soter took his life just to get it.  Inadvertedly, Stihl died over something of mine.  So we can't let Soter get his hands on it.  We have to make sure he doesn't gain access to my account, if only to make sure Doctor Stihl didn't die without receiving some retribution."

"You're absolutely right," Tome said softly.  "He was a great man.  He'd do anything for his family.  That's why we have to see to it that he didn't die for nothing.  Anyway, I need to make sure that all of the legal trouble this whole thing has caused is dealt with and work on my address on the incident.  The press is going to have a field day, but I'll leave your name out of it for the sake of secrecy.  And right after that, I'll make sure to have your MIE records, application, and my personal referral sent to Cosmic Flash immediately.  The referral will pretty much guarantee you a position in training.  In the meantime, take this."

Tome reached into his coat pocket and handed Zach a small transparent card with small print and the Star Crest insignia of a symbol ">:<" embedded in the center.

"That is a Level 7 Security Clearance Card.  Please don't lose it, there are only five of them in the galaxy.  It will give you access to my suite, where you can stay comfortably until Cosmic Flash has verified your entry."

"Thank you, Mr. Knightgrief," Zach said gratefully.  "You've been a big help so far.  I really appreciate it."

"It's no problem at all, Zach.  I've got to go.  We'll talk later."

As Tome turned and headed for the door, Zach looked down at the card intently and thought of something.  He called back out to him.  "One more thing, Mr. Chairman."

Tome turned to him patiently.  "Yes?"

"The intern you met a while ago, Jeila Halos.  Can you give a personal referral for her too?"

"Sure.  I'll take a look at her records and see what I can do."

"Okay.  Thank you.  Goodbye, Mr. Knightgrief."

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