The Rembrandt Legacy
This is my entry into the Geek Pride Day event on premiummediagroup.ru. Heartfelt thanks go out to my lady love, bikoukumori, Etaski, LoquiSordidaAdMe and Voboy, for inspiration, editing, beta reads and for generally being awesome.
All participants in sexual activities are considered 'adults' in their respective species.
* * * *
The slightly distorted voice roused me from my slumber.
"Inmate 34257-alpha, wake up!"
I sat up and looked around. In front of my cell, behind the stun-field, waited one of the guards. Their blue-and-white armor was built to hide their identity, from the gender-obscuring hardshell plates protecting them from impacts and energy blasts to the faceless mirror visors and voice modulators built into their helmets. Probably done to prevent retaliation if any one of their clients ever got off this icy rock. An orange "52" was painted on the right shoulder pauldron.
My cell was bare, apart from the bunk built directly into the armorgrade wall paneling and a basic set of hygiene facilities. It was as low-tech as they could build it. No electronics, nothing I could tinker with. At least I had working heating. A small shelf along the left wall held my sparse possessions, a dozen tattered paperback books and extra sets of socks and underwear.
"About time," the guard snarled, lowering his concussion gun. "You have a visitor. Get yourself presentable."
I chuckled wearily and padded towards the wash basin. The water was lukewarm, but at least there was some today. Maintenance finally had been able to repair the damage a few of the Terran Liberation Army boys had wrought in the waterworks during their latest riot last week. After toweling myself down, I pulled my bright orange work suit from its peg and slid into it.
"Back to the rear wall now, nice and easy," the guard ordered.
I knew the spiel and obeyed. The last thing I wanted was a shock rod to the stomach. Food was scarce enough and puking out the few energy bars I had for breakfast today wasn't my idea of fun. I turned my back on the cell and clasped my hands behind my back. The barely audible hum of the force field subsided and I heard the guard step closer.
The power cuff clamped around my neck. I gnashed my teeth. That was the worst bit. Once it activated, it felt as if someone had pulled a sack of gauze over my head. Its like the feeling you have before a major bout of the flu hits, that "I'm a little bit off". I remembered the prison mentalist explaining it as a "forced disruption" to my metapsionic field. Whatever the cause, it wasn't pleasant.
And the worst thing? It didn't work.
The cuffs around my wrists barely registered to me after that.
"Let's walk," the guard said, clapping my shoulder.
"You sure the visitor is for me?" I asked the guard as we walked along the corridor of cellblock 13-alpha.
"Yes. The warden's office knows what they're doing."
I wasn't so sure about that. In the last month alone, the TLA terrorists locked up alongside us had tried to take over the prison twice, with frightening efficiency. They even killed two guards. So I was a bit skeptical as to the warden's ability to manage this madhouse. But then, where else would Earth deposit their worst? Ever since the abolition of the death sentence on Earth and the hesitation to adopt the Nor Republic's system of 'personality remapping', Titan was the last stop for the wicked.
My cell neighbor once jokingly cited some ancient reference when we last talked about this. "Remember, we're not locked up here with them, they're locked up here with us."
We trotted through the prison halls in silence. Around this time of day, most of the prison populace was down in the mines, carving tunnels into the ice of Titan's crust or in the numerous workshops trying to keep the prison ticking along. I was deemed too dangerous to be near any kind of tool or machine, which in essence confined me to my cell.
We reached the visitation area. It was much cooler than the rest of the facility, probably it had been unsealed not too long ago. Few people ever came out here so this area was usually locked up tight and most legal counsel was done via video communication or the VRNet.
The guard steered me towards the only lit and occupied booth. My visitor rose when we approached. She was a female Aquarian, and a stunning one at that.
She wore a dark, asymmetrically cut open business jacket over a semi-translucent full-body suit. Her pelvic area was shrouded by the clothing equivalent of frosted glass, but the rest was open for inspection. Her skin was of a dark blue, almost black on the back of her arms, hands and neck. It faded to a bright sky-blue on her breasts and stomach, and presumably her crotch as well. The suit covered her from the chin down and I could see two sets of gills on her neck open and close rhythmically.
Her hair was of a striking teal with darker, green streaks throughout and she wore it short, with only a few strands going below the high neck of her suit. An expensive, gold-plated comms unit adorned her left wrist and an empty holster was slung around her hips. A surprisingly genuine smile gave her slender, angular face a much-needed touch of warmth, even though the smile never reached her cool, blue eyes. Behind her, on a bench in the booth, a sleek hardshell case stood.
"Ah, there you are. I thought Big Willy didn't want to let him go. Are the cuffs strictly necessary?" she asked the guard.
Her English was very good, no hint of the strange inflection aliens tended to adopt when they spoke Earth's semi-official trade language. Or she had a high-end real-time translator. But I didn't hear any of the delay usually accompanying such devices.
"Procedure, ma'am. Alpha-level inmates have to be restrained and dampened any time they are out of their cells. It's for your own protection."
"I'm certain Mister Sharpe won't do anything foolish. Uncuff him, please."
"You'd need to sign a waiver and hand it in at the warden's office," the guard began.
My mysterious visitor reached into a pocket of her dress jacket and flicked an item the guard's way. 52's reflexes were fantastic. He easily sidestepped the item and snatched it out of the air. At the same time, 52's concussion gun came up. But the battle stance lasted only a moment, until the guard recognized the item. It was a cred chip and 52 pressed the small button on the chip's side. A small, five-digit display flared up. The gun's nozzle came down and the chip vanished somewhere in 52's tool belt. A moment later, the cuffs and the dampening collar were gone.
"Give us some privacy," my visitor said. "If you have to, you can watch from over there and train your gun on Mister Sharpe."
"Rembrandt. Or Rem." I cut in.
"Fine by me. Let's sit and talk a bit." With superhuman elegance, she slid onto the bench built into the visitation booth. I took the seat on the other side, opposite her. 52 took up position on the far end of the large visitation hall. And had his gun aimed at me. Paranoid bastard.
When I returned my attention to my visitor, she had placed a few items on the table between us. I recognized a portable holoscreen projector, but the other item was alien to me. She activated the holoscreen and I could see what looked like an Interpol document to me.
"Let's make sure I got the right guy," she said, not unfriendly. "Rembrandt Sharpe, age 32. Convicted of grand larceny. Says here you and your colleagues tried to steal a battlecruiser. Recognized as an alpha-level mutant, with the ability to discern and modify technology on an instinctive level. Accurate so far?"
"Mind showing me your stuff?"
A quick glance at the guard fidgeting on the opposite side of the room. "Am I allowed to ask questions?"
"Sure, once I am certain you're the real deal." She pushed one of the items my way. It was some kind of disc-shaped object, smooth outside, with a thin band of tech-detail running along the outer perimeter. "I guess you have never seen one of these before?"
"No. No idea what this might be. But I can find out."
"Go ahead. There's no rush."
I took the item in my hands. It was cool to the touch and rattled softly when I moved it. Another glance at the guard, but 52 seemed to be more interested in my visitor than in me. I inhaled slowly. It's been five years since my arrival on Titan and in this time, they had kept me as far away from any tech-related item as possible. But using my powers, well, giving myself up to them, that was instinctive.
I closed my eyes, let my fingers do the exploring. Every imperfection on the item's surface, every intricacy of the decoration was a clue, and suddenly it happened. My consciousness compressed until it was only a tiny fraction of a much, much bigger whole. It drifted through an enormous space. Whirling through this space were billions and billions of tiny particles, each one a piece of technology. My hands, still drifting over the object, sent more and more data and the streams of particles thinned, from a deluge to a river to a trickle to a single, shining pearly drop.
Slowly spinning in front of my mind's eye was the item, or one very much like it. A Grey stasis grenade with a time fuse. And the one I held in my hands was broken, the leads connecting the fuse to the detonating agent had been severed.
All it needed to fix was to apply pressure here and...
My eyes snapped open. The stasis grenade was on the table in front of me, the case neatly folded open like a metallic fruit and my fingers were twitching helplessly. Without a tech kit, I couldn't mend the item, could not reconnect the leads. And the stasis core was missing. I balled my hands in frustration.
"What's wrong?" my visitor asked.
I told her.
She laughed, a joyous, tinkling sound. "I would be pretty stupid to bring a live grenade into a supermax facility. But you passed the test. Good job. Only seasoned weaponsmiths and Grey demo techs know about the quick-release latches. You truly are the guy. I know someone who would give both his balls to spend an afternoon with you."
"Oh? Will I be meeting him?"
"Depends if you take my offer. But first, let me apologize for my lack of courtesy. You can call me Lily Waters, after one of your beautiful Earth plants."
"Nice to meet you, Lily."
I reached across the table, offering my hand for a shake. She closed her fingers around mine. Lily wore thin gloves made from the same translucent material like the rest of her suit. As I gently shook her hand, I could feel cool liquid move through the fabric. My mind's eye tried to overwhelm me with information on Aquarian wetsuits, but I fought down the images, instead concentrating on her. She studied me with a delicately curled eyebrow.
"Am I your first alien?" she asked, a playful purr in her voice.
Remembering to break the handshake, I withdrew my hand. "No. I'm from Unity's Landing. I've seen my share of off-worlders. Gravon, Zuthrian, Grey, Nor. But you're my first Aquarian."
She leaned back in her seat, offering a magnificent view of her body. "And? Like what you see?"
"Is this the time or the place for that?" I asked her, prepared for an angry outburst. Instead, she pulled her jacket closer around her shoulders, sat up straight and favored me with another of her smiles. Somehow I seemed to just have passed a test.
"I like your attitude. No, this is neither the right time nor the right place. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind an audience. But the sooner we're out of here, the sooner you can start paying me back for my generosity."
"You're making me awfully curious. And what do you mean by 'we're outta here'? Last I checked, I still have fifteen more years-"
She cut me off with an imperious slash of the hand. "I made a generous donation to this prison and in exchange they allowed me to take you with me, provided I get you out of the Terran jurisdiction. You are costing the tax-payers an inordinate amount of money each day you sit in your cell and don't work in the mines."
"I presume you're not doing this out of the kindness of your heart."
"You presume correctly. I'd like to have you aboard my ship, as a fully-paid crew member. Interested?"
"Let me think. Choice A: Spend the next fifteen years cooped up in a cell, reading the same couple books over and over again, probably die in one of the regularly occurring riots or going insane. Choice B: Flying through space with a mysterious, and might I add, gorgeous Aquarian as a captain." I favored her with a smile of my own. "Hard choice."
"So you want to go back to Big Willy?" she asked, a predatory grin on her lips.
"Around here, he's called Dorgar, and he's a mean Gravon who eats lesser inmates for breakfast. Thankfully, as an alpha-level mutant, I don't have to share the shower with common mass murderers." Much more seriously I added: "Get me out of here, please."
Her smile became radiant, this time even reaching her eyes. She closed her hand over mine, which had unconsciously played with the broken halves of the stasis grenade, and squeezed it. "I promise you won't regret it." She picked up the items and dropped them unceremoniously into her briefcase before standing up.
"I'll take him, no need to wrap him up," she airily said to 52. "Can you deliver him to my ship ASAP?"
52 nodded and joined me at the booth. A few moments later, I was cuffed and dampened again and 52 marched me towards the processing area.
* * * *
Half an hour later, with my few possessions in a vac-sealed plastic bag under my arm, I walked into the prison's hangar bay. Two heavily armed combat dropships rested on landing pads under the enormous metal dome. The third pad was occupied by a graceful civilian ship. It gleamed creamy-white under the harsh spotlights, an at least four-hundred feet wide all-wing design, nothing but sweeping arches and smooth panels. The hull stretched into a split "tail" which most likely housed the vector-thrust engine modules. On it's back, three large translucent cupolas allowed for a spectacular view. The name "Lumia" had been pinstriped along the tail.
Next to the lowered entrance ramp, a pale-skinned, purple-haired Nor male waited, arms crossed in front of his narrow chest. A red gem had been affixed to his forehead, right between the eyebrows. He was almost a head taller than me, but probably weighed a good twenty pounds less. Despite his civilian clothes, he had a certain rigid bearing I tended to associate with military types. His holster was empty, like Lily's had been but when I came to a stop a good arm's length away from him, I could feel a current radiate off him like a low-intensity force field. His eyes were of an unnerving orange and they studied me curiously, barely blinking.
"You are her latest recruit." It was an observation, not a question.
"Yes. Rem Sharpe, nice to meet you." I reached out my hand. He ignored it.
"Praecor Thal. I'm the chief medic and Mentalist on this ship. Before you're allowed to roam free, I need to make sure you're not a threat to the ship or the crew."
I sighed. "Let me guess. A scan tube and a mental exam?"
"Exactly. Any objections?"
"Since you guys seem to know so much about me, why not have my medical records pulled from the prison servers?"
"Because your people have no idea what they're dealing with."
"And you do? Even before you've met me?"
Praecor made a smart about-face, gestured at me to follow him and strode up the ramp. The ship's airlock hissed open. I joined him in the narrow chamber. The outer door shut and the airlock cycled quietly.
"You are not as unique as you think. But I'll explain everything once I have made sure you're no threat to us. This way."
The inner airlock doors opened. The interior of the ship was even more luxurious than the exterior suggested. The floor was covered with what looked like precious wood parquet. Everywhere I looked, soothing bright colors covered the ceilings and walls, with indirect lighting emanating from cleverly covered illumination units.
This was a far cry from the ships I had been on, first the ramshackle freighter which my former crew had used to get to the naval refit facility near Mars or the battlecruiser we tried to steal there. No bare metal was visible, and even the Sickbay we eventually entered appeared more like a well-lived in salon than a place where one had to deal with blood, guts and sickness on a regular basis.
One corner of the room had the ubiquitous scan tube, a clear round compartment going from floor to ceiling, with adjustable handrails at around waist level. An operating table, with a dizzying array of medical tools hanging above it, dominated the center of the room and several cabinets and desks lined the remaining walls.
My hands itched as my gaze wandered over all the medical devices and machines. Gnashing my teeth, I fought the impulse to touch and analyze everything. Balling my fists helped too. When I looked up again, I caught Praecor openly studying me with a knowing smile.
"What?" I tried not to snap, but failed miserably.
"You have the urge to know. To touch and learn, right?"
"And to improve and repair, even if there's nothing broken."
He nodded sagely. That man was a curious study in contrasts. He moved like a soldier and had the thought processes of a scientist. Aliens.
"Yes. This overlaps nicely with my own research into this topic. Please strip and enter the tube. The sooner we're done with this, the sooner we can talk. I'm sure you are curious to learn more about your condition."
"You have no idea," I said as I shed the bland, grey set of coveralls the prison had given me for the trip to the hangar bay. "Imagine my father's mood when he found me in the garage, with a completely dismantled 1969 Mustang around me. And I had no bloody clue how it had happened."
"How old have you been?"
"Is that the age when humans begin to mature?"
Again that nod. "What happened afterwards?"
I stepped into the tube and grasped the handrails. "You mean when I could walk again after the beating he gave me?"
I chuckled softly. "I snuck back into the garage and tried to put the car back together."
"Did it work? You might want to close your eyes."
I did as he asked and held still as the tube worked. A bone-shaking thrum went through me and even behind closed eyes I could see a bright sliver of radiance cross my field of vision. When the thrumming subsided, I shook my head. "Whatever caused me to meticulously dismantle the car, sort the pieces by size and screw type and pile it up neatly around the garage, it didn't come back until much later. But I had ran away from home by then. Done?"
"Yes. You may leave the tube and dress again." Praecor stood next to a desk. Half a dozen holograms of me hovered over the table, displaying layer after layer of my bodily functions and assorted readouts. Circulatory system, bone structure, internal organs and several displays I didn't understand. "We need to put you on a diet. You are almost twenty pounds underweight and your nutritional balance is a mess. I will give you a synthesis engine program to rectify that."
I zipped my coveralls up and joined him at the table. "Anything else?"
"The good news is that at least they take inoculation seriously. No pathogens we need to worry about. And curiously, you do not possess any measurable FX level."
"Odd. The authorities have classified me as an alpha-level mutant."
"Like I said, your people have no bloody clue what they're dealing with. You are not a normal psycho-active member of a Precursor species. You are something different. Which is good news for the both of us. I can spare us the hassle of a deep mental scan." He typed some quick commands into a terminal next to the scanning station and pulled a data chip from it. "Here. Feed this to the synthesis engine in your cabin. About two weeks worth of high-vitamin and high-carb diet should get you back on track. If you experience any issues while on board this ship, don't hesitate to call on me. Oh, before we go, do you want a contraceptive shot?"