Duplicity in Layers

The hardest part was over. Hope echoed the words silently to herself as she forced deep breaths, but her heart beat a frantic rhythm that would not be cowed. As a surgeon, she had trained to be calm, calculating, and controlled, but she now couldn’t stop watching her escape play over and over in her mind.

The Lineae Institute was known across the solar system for several reasons. It was undeniably the oldest of humanity’s forays into the Jovian system—and the first permanent human settlement outside of Earth’s orbit. A remnant of the now-defunct Europan Discovery Initiative, the Institute was established after a team of EDI scientists departed Earth to investigate the cracks in the icy moon of Jupiter. After relaying the successful penetration of Europa’s crust and establishment of a base of operations in the underlying ocean, the Earth didn’t hear from the team again for decades.

Through a strange twist of fate, Lineae was the only extra-terrestrial colony that was not financed and executed as a corporate venture. Only after the exodus from Earth did the Institute once again ‘open its doors’ to the outside world—though nobody would call the ‘doors’ of Europa ‘open’ by any means today. The scientists in the sub-surface aquatic stations have proven to be reclusive, isolationist, and incredibly miserly with the technology they offer to off-worlders. But yet every ten cycles, corporate liaisons from across the system—GLME, BioCal, Rec6, and even 4-SEC—meet at the solitary surface-based station on Europa to bid on the undeniably mind-blowing technological offerings the Lineae Institute has to offer.

Hope had planned her escape for several cycles, and called in every favor she had earned in order to be selected as part of the minuscule team of representatives that brought their developments to the surface for corporate representation. She had traded some of the most valuable resources from her personal medical library for the scant off-world currency to be found sub-surface—all of which she had spent to convince a corporate representative from BioCal to smuggle her to a medical research facility on Callisto. The few resources she had taken with her from the underwater facilities were dwindling; whether she didn’t bring enough to barter with corrupt guards or she was too naïve to haggle a fairer price for silence, she couldn’t say.

“Dr. Mikkelsen?”

Hope was caught off-guard by the record clerk’s query. “…y-yes, that’s me. I’m sorry, what was it?” The young man waved a handful of docucards and a full-size BioCal libropad towards Hope and gently lay them on the counter. He opened his mouth to explain them, but Hope inadvertently interrupted him as she identified the materials she had given her last cache of Lineae tech to purchase. “Oh, excellent. Excellent! Accreditation for Bio-Medical certification, CV of a BioCal medical researcher, and… Oh, you’ve outdone yourself! This is one of the older libropads of the First Planetary Bio-systems Alliance, isn’t it!?”

“That’s right. Careful with it! That’s Earth-tech there, and only well-connected docs still use those here on the Far Moon.”

“Lars, I can’t thank you enough!”

When Hope tried to reach around him for a hug, the clerk didn’t smile, but instead raised his hands and took a half-step backward. “Be cool. That tech you gave me is good shit, but you better keep a low profile. I’d be surprised if the Institute hasn’t already sent out folks to recover their assets, you know what I’m saying? You best know what you’re doing—or at least make yourself scarce.”

“I’m not completely helpless,” Hope quipped defensively. “…but thank you.”

“Yeah, alright.” Lars looked over Hope’s shoulder, watching a lift door open and several people enter the spaceport terminal. “Alright Dr. Mikkelsen. Departures are right that way.” He nodded towards the lift, and Hope surreptitiously turned to follow his gesture. “That said… I’d check the bar down the concourse a bit. Unless you’re still totin’ any Institute tech, you’re gonna have to find a cheap pilot.”

Hope couldn’t tell whether he was being helpful or dismissive, but she couldn’t afford to ask. He’d guessed correctly—she only had enough credits to her name to buy meal or two. She nodded to Lars, turned, and walked down the concourse. Before she could enter the bar, the portal opened and a young man staggered backwards.

“Drink’s ain’t free, Callahan. Pay up or I take your ship!”

Hope smiled and gestured to the irate restaurateur. “Actually, his drink is on me.”

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7 comments
  1. This was fun! Enough real-world references to make it accessible for me. I liked how you incorporated the prompt. It was seamless and natural. Well done!

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  2. The setting everything is very well laid out. The background is clear. The fear is palpable. I liked this story although I don’t read much of science fiction as such. :)

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  3. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write science fiction! I liked how you explained the setting in the initial paragraphs.

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  4. Laura said:

    This definitely made me interested in Hope’s character – she rolls with the punches. Some of the worldbuilding in the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs felt a little overwhelming – it certainly made the Institute sound like an unpleasant place, but I’m still not sure why Hope is so desperate to escape. The other sci fi terminology felt natural and believable, though, especially in her interaction with Lars.

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  5. This was a fun chance for me to “escape” as well. This struck me as just a taste of the world you have built. Perhaps this will be a series or part of a longer work?

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  6. Emgee said:

    I can dig that. I tried to put a bit more of the “background” of the world I’ve been working on for X many years into this one (as opposed the others in the series which haven’t really looked beyond Kip’s crew at the planets they inhabit).

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  7. Emgee said:

    You’re right on target – this started out as an idea for a radio drama or novel, and I’ve turned it into something like an episodic series of shorter vignettes.

    Liked by 1 person

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