“Tell me a bit about Lethe,” Eve told the computer as she eyed the approaching murky-grey marble planet.
“LETHE, AN E-CLASS WORLD IN THE GEHENNA SECTOR. ECCENTRICITY OF 0.65. SIZE IS 1.7 EARTHS. ORBITAL PERIOD IS 224.2 EARTH DAYS. PLANET’S SURFACE IS 98 PERCENT WATER, 2 PERCENT ICE. SURFACE TEMPERATURE RANGE IS 149 DEGREES CELSIUS AT THE EQUATOR IN SUMMER TO -60 AT THE POLES IN WINTER. LOCAL FAUNA IS SENTIENT BUT UNDEVELOPED AND NON-SAPIENT. TORCH PRESENCE: LETHE-1, LUX MOBILE RESEARCH BASE, INACTIVE. LETHE-2, LUX SESSILE RESEARCH BASE, ACTIVE, STAFFED BY 139 LUX SCHOLARS.”
Inactive, eh? “What rendered Lethe-1 inactive?”
“LETHE-1 WAS RENDERED INACTIVE IN THE YEAR 46 AJ. RECORDS STATE THAT THE BASE WAS DESTROYED IN AN ‘ACCIDENT.’ ALL FURTHER DATA SEALED BY LUX CHANCELLOR HYPERION APRILIS. ALL 89 LUX SCHOLARS STAFFING THE BASE WERE KILLED. IN 47 AJ, CONSTRUCTION ON LETHE-2 CONCLUDED. ALL FURTHER DATA ON LETHE-2 IS ALSO SEALED BY LUX CHANCELLOR HYPERION APRILIS.”
Destroyed? What could have caused that? And more importantly, what could have compelled LUX to build a second base with even more people in it afterwards?
Eve had still been with LUX in 46. She had never heard of Lethe-1. Hyperion certainly had never mentioned it to her. There were thousands of LUX bases on hundreds of planets, moons, and asteroids… it may have simply slipped by her.
No, unlikely. The base was destroyed and the entire staff killed. That didn’t happen every day. It should have been a major scandal, warranting discussion and debate in the newsphere.
The fact that all information was sealed was the giveaway. Hyperion had hidden the base’s destruction. Hidden it from TORCH, from LUX… even from Eve.
Hyperion. Eve’s willowy, severe, whip-smart daughter. What was she doing right now? Probably hard at work in TORCH‘s capital city of Chantico, indefatigable in her activism and merciless in the political arena. She had always been cagey, but to hide a catastrophe like this from her mother…
Eve shook her head. Hyperion was light years away. They had not spoken in four years and would never speak again. There was no point in entertaining thoughts of her- she wasn’t Eve’s daughter anymore.
The ship shook and rattled as it began atmospheric re-entry. Eve took the time to pack her things into her small glasswove bag. Three robes and one pair of shoes, a bypassed watch with all her books and notes, toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and soap, a diamond saw that she used for grooming… all she owned. On her first years on the run she had worn contacts and prosthetics, but then a black market surgeon had altered her face so nobody would recognize her.
Eve headed to the cockpit to get a better look at the approach. Reentry was so fast that a bubble of burning plasma formed around the craft, and streaks of light skimmed past. The surface grew closer and closer, and a loud hissing noise emerged as the craft automatically dispensed coolant.
And then she landed. There was a moment of violent shaking and then a pleasant weightlessness as the craft floated on the surface of the murky black ocean. A successful touchdown, with no effort on Eve’s part.
“SWITCHING TO SUBMERSIBLE MODE,” the computer informed her. As the craft groaned and twisted into its new shape, the comms crackled to life for the first time.
“Hiiiiiiii!” a voice burbled. “Hi hi hi! You’re right on time!”
Eve smiled. In spite of herself, she was pleased to hear the voice of another living thing again. “Kelvin?” she asked. “Did you know talk the same way you type?”
“Yes! And it’s such an honor, oh my gosh, to finally meet you!” Kelvin gasped. “I’m fangirling right now, oh gosh, the Mater Veneficis, the Queen of Wands, the founder of LUX herself, is going to be at my base! Oh gosh, oh gosh, give me a sec…”
When people found out who Eve was, they were typically frightened. Or suspicious, or furious. The bravest of them were curious. Very rarely, and worst of all, they would pity her. Never excited, never pleased.
“I’m not the Mater Veneficis anymore,” Eve said carefully. “Or the Queen of Wands. Or anything. I was stripped of all titles when I went on the run. I’m just… Eve now.”
“Okay, sorry, I’m good now,” said Kelvin. “I don’t care what the bureaucrats in Chantico say about you, you’ll always be a Mater to me. I’ve been a fan of yours for as long as I can remember- and can I say, I much preferred LUX when you were in charge!”
“Thanks.” Eve distantly felt her temper starting to flare. “Can we talk about something that doesn’t conjure so many painful memories?”
“Ohhh, of course. Welcome to Lethe! We have a magnificent ocean, zero beautiful beaches, and a lovely resort here at the bottom of the sea. When do you dock?”
“Just about an hour.” Eve paused. “I assume you’re here in your capacity in neo_SMOKE… not LUX.”
After SMOKE had been snuffed out, its leaders executed and its rank-and-file scattered throughout the rest of TORCH, a new branch arose: neo_SMOKE, a decentralized black market syndicate. Criminal elements throughout TORCH conglomerated into one loose umbrella organization- and their influence skyrocketed.Even non-members like Eve used their forums, chat clients and marketplaces for extralegal activity.
In real life, Kelvin was just a low-level LUX scholar of no particular import, but online she was a superhero. neo_SMOKE‘s Calico Contraband Network ranked her as one of the top ten smugglers in the Gehenna Sector, with an excellent reputation for successful delivery of exotic goods. Her specialty was living cargo, which was why Eve had sought contact with her in the first place.