Chapter 1Mature

This is fan-fiction for Star Citizen.
Emma was the best operative in training the Advocacy had ever seen. Groomed to work for the High Advocate herself, she and her brother formed the perfect team. On the day she graduated, she decided to quit for unknown reasons and ended up working as a research assistant at The Ark, leaving behind both a shocked brother and boss. But its hard to forget such skills when the universe decides to notice you.

The room smelt of dry earth and oil and left a metallic taste in her mouth like only the circulated air here could. The room was dark except for the occasional indication of another exit. Not that she needed much light to see anyway. It felt small due to the low ceiling and the never-ending rows of shelves that made it more like a maze than anything else. Her fellow researchers always joked about this place being the perfect spot to hide a body. You only had to remember the alphanumerical code, currently four digits, and you would even be able to retrieve it. Almost perfect, if not for people like her. She enjoyed walking around the archive, picking up a random crate and then bring it to her office to see what was inside. The best part was that she was paid to do it. It wasn’t a part of her job description, but her curator allowed it as long as she delivered on her other tasks. Last time she had found an ancient, ceremonial weapon from the Banu’s. Apparently it didn’t have any real value, except if you knew something of its lineage, which they didn’t. So it had ended up here, in what they called the Lost and Forgotten section of the Ark. Things that didn’t belong to the Ark’s mission, but couldn’t be thrown away either. She was nearing the location of her next crate when her MobiGlas went off.

                “Yes?”

                “Hi Emma, it’s Liu. There’s a guy waiting outside your office. He hasn’t announced himself or anything, apparently he had access. Just wanted you to know.”

                “What does he look like?”

                “Cute.”

                “No, I mean, what is he wearing?”

                “He’s not naked. Yet.”

                “Liu, you are hopeless. And for your information, it’s probably my brother.”

                “Ah. I definitely have to go and say hello then. Ciao!”

                “No, you really don’t…”

The connection broke. She really hoped that it was her brother, and that she had not loosed Liu on some poor stranger. That woman’s appetite for men was almost a working hazard. Two more rows to go. He could wait. If he didn’t want to tell her in advance, he couldn’t expect her to be ready, even though today was that day.

                She found the crate labelled ABBA. As always, she had chosen the crate before she had entered the room. Last time it was ASAP. It was easier that way. If she were to start scanning the tags, she knew that she would never be able to choose. ABBA was a small crate, small enough to carry it would seem, but when she tried to lift it, it was surprisingly heavy. She ordered a Lifter to pick it up and float along with her. The ID tag was hanging there, tempting her to scan it, but she resisted. Better to talk with her brother first.

                He was half leaning towards her door, his arms flailing around as always when he was telling one of his stories. Liu and another girl were standing there, smiling and laughing at him. Josh was considered handsome by many, especially after they had been affected by his charm. Judging from the looks from the girls they were already smitten, and other bystanders would have thought that Josh was charmed as well, but Emma knew better. It was the little things, like checking his MobiGlas with a mixture of politeness and disinterest, his torso not leaning forward, his hands near the girls, but never touching them. He saw her almost immediately and gave her a big, warm smile.

                “There you are! The girls here suggested that we send a search and rescue part after you if you didn’t show up soon,” Josh said.

                “Nah, I had to finish something first.”

Josh and the girls looked at the Lifter and the crate trailing behind her.

                “In the Lost and Forgotten? Did you happen to see my love life?” Liu asked.

Emma gave her a glare and pretended not to see the look Liu sent her brother.

                “Let’s step into my office, shall we.”

She opened the door with her MobiGlas and stepped inside.

                “Ladies, until next time.”

Emma cleared one of her desks and aligned the Lifter with it, then made it tilt enough to let the crate slide off onto the desk. Josh closed the door behind him, but not before she could hear Liu and the other girl giggle.

                “Friends of yours?” Josh asked.

                “After they met you, oh, most definitely.”

                “I have missed that sarcasm of yours.”

                “I’ve missed you too.”

Emma went over to her brother and hugged him.

                “You’ve bulked up.”

                “Just a little bit. Was not really planning to, but you know. You seem exactly the same.”

                “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Josh didn’t say anything, just smiled.

                “So, what exciting crate have you found today?”

Emma searched for any hint of sarcasm in him, but didn’t find any.

                “I don’t know yet. Haven’t scanned the tags yet, and now I might as well just open it. Or, I was going to wait until after.”

Josh laughed.

                “Come on, I know you want to open it straight away, you never could wait, you little instant-gratification-child.”

                “Whatever,” Emma said, but starting opening the seals. “You’re just as curious as me, admit it.”

                “Of course. I am still hoping that you’ll find a FTL drive which somebody mistook for a vase.”

                “Haha. Very funny. Now help me with the seals instead.”

Together they quickly removed the seals and Emma entered the confirmation code for the lock.

                “Ok, are you ready?” Emma asked.

                “I was trained to be ready.”

They opened the lid together, which revealed another box inside. It looked to be carved with symbols, but the surface was metallic, slick and cold to touch.

                “Recognize the symbols?” Josh asked.

                “Not really. Maybe that one.”

She touched the symbol with her finger. It felt odd under her skin.

                “So, a box within a box. If we find another box inside that box, I’m calling a bet as to how many boxes there really are.”

                “Just help me lift it, and stop feeding your gambling addiction.”

                “Let me. I have bulked up you know, just for this.”

He lifted the box carefully and placed it on the desk. Every side were ornamented with the same symbols. Emma reached for the desk camera and scanned all sides.

                “C. Analyse symbols and identify known matches.”

“Searching,” a male voice responded. “No symbols matched. Symbols have 52% similarity to three known languages.”

                “That’s odd,” Josh said.

                “Probably means that it’s art, nothing more.”

                “Check the tag.”

                “Not yet. Now how do we open this thing?”

                “I think we have to press these.”

There were four crevices in the box, each big enough for a finger.

                “Good thing you came along then.”

The box opened, spreading a slight odour of stale air.

                “Airtight as well. This thing could probably survive quite a lot,” Josh said and leaned forward on his hands.

                “Somebody is getting very curious indeed.”

                “It still going to turn out to be something completely boring.”

                “We should savour this moment then. When our hopes are the strongest and our imagination is running free.”

                “You mean, the moment before our hopes are crushed by an alien gardening hose?”

                “I have never found garden equipment.”

                “Oh, now you really jinxed it.”

Emma shook her head. How easy it was for them to fall into their old habits. She, always the optimist, he always the realistic pessimist. Sometimes she suspected that was the reason she usually got the better of him. She took the lid of the box and removed. It was surprising light, considering its look and the weight of the box itself.

                “At least it’s not a gardening hose,” Josh said.

                “Don’t underestimate alien gardening technology.”

Inside the box there were two rows with six identical objects on each row. Their surface were rectangular and flat, working like perfect mirrors. They were small enough that she could fit maybe two in her hand at the same time. She tried to lift one up between her thumb and index finger. It should not have, but the weight of it still surprised her. She lifted the piece up and saw that it was very different on the other side. It seemed that mirror surface was actually the bottom of the piece. She turned it around and placed it on the desk. It was between three and four centimetres high, its top looking like nothing she had ever seen before. No, actually she had seen something like this before. It reminded her of something called a sarcophagus.

                “What are these things?” Josh asked while lifting up another piece and putting it on the table.

They took out all the pieces, found out that there was another layer underneath, making a total of twenty-three small, but heavy boxes.

                “I was almost right,” Josh said.

                “What do you mean?”

                “It was boxes within a box. But can you please scan the tag now? I want to know what these things are.”

She was the most impatient of the two. Her brother could be very patient when working, but privately he was almost as bad as she was. She held another one close to her eyes and studied it. There seemed to be buttons on the side, but nothing happened when she pressed them.

                “Oh come on, tag, now, pleeeease!” Josh said.

                “C: Give me keys of tags, please,” Emma said.

                “Crate A-B-B-A. Gift from Banu Trader to Ivar Messer. Year: 2632. Original origin unknown. Set of music boxes. Name translated as Music/Sound/Vibration of the Universe.”

Josh picked up and shook it.

                “Music boxes, huh. I would have preferred a gardening hose or a FTL drive.”

                “Stop being so damn practical always. You played the piano before.”

                “Only because I had to.”

That was perhaps the one thing she was jealous of him. She loved music, but for some reason the feeling was not mutual. She was ambidextrous, but give her any instrument and her hands evolved to have five thumbs. Apparently a dying cat could hit more notes than her, but she liked to sing anyway. Her theory was that her brother got all the musicality, which was a waste, because he really didn’t care for it.

                “They seem to be broken,” Josh said, left the desk and sat down in the small sofa.

                “Maybe, but a gift to Ivar Messer, that’s interesting.”

                “Not really. That madman most likely got more gifts than the rest of the known universe together in a year.”

                “Still, it’s twenty-three music boxes. I wonder what they play.”

Josh shrugged and looked at his MobiGlas.

                “So what else is new? If anything,” he said.

                “Not much. I’m going on a trip very soon.”

                “Yeah, I know.”

Emma stopped looking at the music box and instead regarded her brother. It was something in the way he said it.

                “You know?”

She could see her brother grow uncomfortable.

                “Yeah. I know. Or perhaps more correctly, she knows.”

                “Oh, for god’s sake, just ask me, and I’ll say no, like always.”

                “There are two questions this year.”

She didn’t like the sound of that.

                “Can we assume that one of them is the usual one?”

                “Yes.”

                “No, I will not be re-joining the service. What’s the other one?”

                “We need your help.”

At least he had the sense to phrase it that way. Or maybe she did. She didn’t feel the need to respond with an answer.

                “It has to do with your upcoming trip. It’s nothing dangerous, but it’s sensitive. One of the Vanduuls coming to meet you will be carrying a small data packet, and we hoped that you could act as a courier for us.”

                “Why don’t you go then?”

                “I would, except that there is another situation that takes priority. Look, this was actually my idea, not her’s.”

                “And that’s supposed to be better?!”

Josh crossed his legs, something he usually did when he was about to give a lecture, but instead he was all quiet. She wasn’t sure what that meant, and that she really didn’t like.

                “It’s getting worse sis. A lot worse. We don’t even see the big picture anymore. The system is like a boat that’s leaking, just a tiny drop, but consistently everywhere. Most people only see one or two drops and don’t think much more about it. And it’s not something you can go public with. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Emma nodded. She did understand, even though she had preferred not to. The thought was not an encouraging one. If the High-Advocate and the Advocacy couldn’t keep up with the current events, no one could.

                “So what do the analysts say?”

Josh snorted.

                “They are clueless as ever. But they agree on some things, and their best-case scenario is ten years, and to be honest, I would not bet against them.”

                “Ten years before people realize that the boat is sinking, or ten years before the boat is sunk?”

                “Is there really a difference? Once people realize, the panic is going to set in.”

                “Have you talked to dad about this?”

                “He’s aware of it, but his focus is on the Vanduul attacks. Still, we do exchange information from time to time.”

                “What?! Why?”

Josh shook his head.

                “You aren’t listening. I told you it was bad.”

If it was bad enough that the Navy and Advocacy was exchanging information, that was even worse than she thought. Their father loved them dearly, but he had never given them even a scrap of information.

                “But why? Why now?”

                “Although the current situation is a natural consequence of what someone could call misguided politics, there are also indications that certain elements are trying to escalate it.”

                “Are you saying that…”

He cut her off with a sharp movement of the hand.

                “I’m not saying anything, except that things seem to be moving quicker than they should.”

Josh tilted his head and looked at her. Figure it out yourself, he said, don’t make me say it out loud. She sat down on the desk and ran a finger over one of the music boxes’ edges. They were so smooth. Song of the Universe. She closed her eyes and let her hands explore the box. Someone was pulling strings to unstable the system. Father was focusing on the Vanduuls, but sharing information with the High Advocate. The answer seemed obvious enough, except it violated everything she knew about the Vanduuls. The vanduuls she was about to meet in little less than ten days.

                “Ok,” she said. “I’ll do it this one time, but this time only. I made my choice.”

Josh gave her a nod, retrieved a data crystal from his pocket and threw it to her.

                “Thanks, but you do remember that you were the one who agreed to be asked on this date every year.”

                “Ah, shut up. What choice did I have? She wouldn’t let me go.”

                “Why would anyone let go of their best candidate ever?”

She did not have a reply for him, but he said it casually, like it didn’t bother him anymore. She hoped it was true. Josh stood up.

                “What do you say about we get some dinner before I have to fly off this thing?”

She had completely forgotten about that.

                “What are you flying?”

                “Finally! I thought you would never ask!”

She did not miss much from her training days, but flying was definitely one of them. The grin on her brother’s face told her all she needed to know. He flew something fast.

                “I think perhaps dinner can wait a little bit.”

The End

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