This is beautiful! 😍
Awesome! Could you post a picture of the whole layout?? Want to see the rest!
We need a video, please.
[OC] Uplift Protocol. Chapter 61
We were in Voyager on an away mission. God, I still love calling them that. So cool.
Jim and I were bantering in the dining area of the human section of the ship. He was saying that he sometimes worried about being attacked by more aliens after what happened on Ninsara II. I pointed out that every Australian animal is lethal and can kill a man from five-hundred paces through only making eye contact, and that alien life couldn't be much worse than what he was used to. He laughed like he hadn’t heard that joke two dozen times from me before.
Elijah and Sarah were sitting at a table, and Jim and I decided to go say hi. Also, Kepler was there and I wanted to pet him – who doesn’t love dogs? Kra joined us shortly after. Poor Kra, how she would tag alongside Elijah like a lovesick schoolgirl.
We were discussing the mission and how it would go. I think it was bringing up some bad memories from the one before that, with all the bloodshed. So, I decided to change the topic to something else to take their minds off things.
I looked at Elijah and I said “so, where do you think you’ll end up living after you get back? Thunder Bay doesn’t seem like a place an interstellar ambassador would live in, surrounded by moose and doughnut shops.”
He said “well, working in any official capacity would probably mean I’d live in Ottawa, but I’d want to raise my kids in Thunder Bay. Life in a small city is just so much better for raising children, and I’d want tons of space for three or four.”
So then I say “three or four? Are you planning on marrying a rabbit?”
Sarah kinda looked a bit taken aback by what Elijah said, and mentioned something about not wanting to by tied down by kids. I knew exactly what was going to happen next, and I knew I was right when Kra said “oh, really?” in a sort of passive aggressive way.
So then, Jim and I gave each other a look and—
“Parnana, you’re doing it again.” Lakshmi gave an apologetic grimace.
Arjun snapped back to attention as if waking up from a deep sleep. “Hmm?” He squinted at her through his cataracts, the foggy haze in his eyes’ lenses making her look a bit fuzzy. “Did what again?”
“You know I love hearing about when you were younger, but there’s just so much filler sometimes... can’t I hear about your cool interstellar adventures without all the romance?”
Arjun rolled his eyes at the girl. “You youths these days! No respect for your elders. I’ll tell my story with as much filler and romance as I want.” He sat up from the sofa, greatly appreciating the fifty percent Earth gravity produced by the spinning of the ship’s torus. It made his arthritis feel not so severe. He felt himself drifting off momentarily.
A woman put her hand on his. She was pretty... dark blonde hair and amber eyes, with a milk-like complexion, and looked to be in her twenties. But, everything seemed to blurry. Was he not wearing his glasses? “Parnana, do you want to go to the dining hall to eat? You love the dhal they make.”
Her Hindi was excellent, but she seemed sort of try-hard with the bindi dot and wearing a sari that looked like it was a modern take on a very traditional piece of clothing.
He looked at her with some confusion. “Huh?”
The woman looked crestfallen. “Parnana, don’t you recognize me?”
She was using the Hindi-Urdu term for one’s mother’s father’s father. Oh! Of course, how could he not recognize her? He must’ve been having a senior moment. “Lakshmi! Yes, let’s go get...” he wasn’t sure if it was time for lunch or supper, “let’s go get some food together.” At hearing her name, the girl gave a relieved smile.
She’d gotten so big! He remembered her as a baby. How time flew. She helped him up from the couch (again, he was thankful for the low gravity) and acted as some balance against the coriolis effect. They weren’t docked... where was the ship going? He couldn’t remember. The ship wasn’t as modern as the ones he was accustomed to. It was old, probably having lived an industrial existence in Mraa space before being retrofitted as... whatever it was now. A space liner, probably... meant to move people from one planet to another through the vastness of the interstellar milieu in relative comfort. The interior was dark and smooth, with a few Earth house plants here or there. The design made him think of a parlour, with lots of comfortable looking couches, armchairs, and the occasional virtual reality immersion headset for entertainment. The temperature was a bit higher than normal, at perhaps twenty-eight Celsius, with high humidity. It reminded him of his childhood, and so did the passengers and their familiar looking South Asian visages.
He didn’t recognize anyone he passed in the hallway on the way to the cafeteria, but everyone was greeting him with a smile, sometimes even bowing to him and using terms of respect.
Arjun was exhausted from the short trip to the dining hall of the ship, and was glad to tuck in to some dhal. “This is good,” he remarked to the girl. “I want some chicken briyani with it, though.”
Lakhsmi frowned. “You’re vegetarian now, parnana. I’m supposed to remind you of that.”
“Vegetarian?” He squinted, trying to recall the reason. He couldn’t remember, but gathered why from the traditional robes he was wearing. “Of course.” It must’ve been for spiritual reasons.
The disappointment he felt must’ve been obvious. “If it makes you feel any better,” said the woman, “I’m a vegetarian too while with you. In solidarity!”
The man smiled at her. “I appreciate it, my dear.”
Who was she again? Was she a handler for him on a diplomatic mission? The feds had told him he had shown enough maturity to not need one anymore. He had a verbal filter and everything! And... wait, no. That was Lakshmi! One of his many great grandchildren.
“My memory isn’t very good.” He rubbed his eyes, blinking as if trying to see through the cataracts. “Why is everything blurry?” He looked down at his hands, verifying that he wasn’t dreaming. That was an old trick he’d learned when much younger... one could always tell if they were in a dream by looking at their hands.
He’d switched into English while speaking, as he had a habit of doing. She responded in the same language, but in an accent that was quite artificial, a result of having learned at an international school with little exposure to native speakers. It sounded like a blend between British and American dialects of the language, but more of the former.
“You stopped taking your anti-aging medication, great grandpa. Remember? I know you want to live naturally right now, but I always have some nootropics if you want to help your mind clear a bit.” She produced a little orange, semitransparent plastic container filled with tiny white pills, rattling them for added effect.
He began to panic. No anti-aging meds!? Why the hell would he ever do that?
She explained before he could properly articulate himself, as he was briefly stumbling over his words.
“You wanted the end of your life to be as god intended. You know, Sannyasa?
The last stage of one’s life. Spent simply, without complication. Peacefully. He calmed down upon hearing the explanation. His parents would’ve been happy with that decision. He doubted they’d have wanted him to live beyond what was biologically the norm. Of course, he’d probably already lived longer than he ever would have naturally. Lakshmi was his great granddaughter, and she seemed to be in her late twenties or early thirties, so that made him at least... well, pretty fucking old.
Or was she his great great granddaughter? Parnana could’ve meant that too, in theory. Oh dear.
At least thinking hard had jogged his memory. He finally remembered where they were going!
“I can’t wait to get back to Earth,” he said with giddy excitement. Having forgot about it gave him the satisfaction of remembering, and then the excitement of realizing he would get to go back home again.
“Do you miss it?”
She took a bite of her food. “I’ve never been there, grandpa.”
He looked at her, confused, but then nodded. “Ah yes, yes, of course.” Had she been born off-world? She didn’t have the lanky body of someone who grew up on a space station or out of a gravity well, so at least experiencing one Gee wouldn’t cause her any discomfort. “It’s beautiful. It’s true what they say: every human should make a pilgrimage there at least once in their life if they were born off-world.”
“I hope I adjust well,” she said. “Earth just has so many people. Sure, I’ve been on space stations with a high population density, but never on a planet with such a high concentration of people.”
“It’s a quintessential part of the experience,” said Arjun with a chuckle, wondering just how much the woman identified with his part of the family tree. He couldn’t for the life of him remember Laskhmi’s parentage, but she looked like she might only be one quarter South Asian. “That, and haggling at open-air markets.”
“Can’t I just shop at a kiosk manned by an AI?”
“No! What’s next? Staying at a place with air conditioning?” He’d become a bit of a crotchety traditionalist since he got off the anti-aging medication. Why did things seem to come and go? It was as if a veil was shrouding his mind.
She refilled his tea for him. “Good point, parnana. I suppose the whole point of this pilgrimage is to live simply.”
“Agreed.” He had finished his bowl of dhal, and was trying to ignore the urge to help himself to chicken briyani. Oh, how he missed meat! Maybe he could have just a taste? He was an old man, after all. Life’s pleasures were all that he... no! He had to avoid the temptation. His soul would thank him.
His tea tasted funny. A bit chalky, like... oh, he needn’t be so paranoid.
“So, how did that away mission go? I mean, everyone knows how it ended, but...”
“The one you were telling me about before. The trip to Roseus II? It started with you in Voyager’s mess deck, remember?”
“Ah, yes.” He gave a smile in nostalgia. Roseus II was quite the adventure, like something out of a fairytale. “But surely you know how that one goes already? It’s in all the history books and documentaries.”
“But it’s different when I hear it from you. The history books leave out all the juicy gossip!”
“I’m... not sure I want to tell that story right now.” The chatter of the vessel’s crowded dining area was reminding him of those evenings spent on Voyager with his friends. He’d been so young! So enthusiastic and full of energy. It had seemed so recent. “No one tells you being old will be like this, you know. One day you’re young and healthy, and one day you wake up and realize that time’s passed before your eyes.” He looked over his shoulder, and then the other, making sure no one would hear what he said next. Then, he gestured with a hand for the woman to lean closer before speaking in a whisper. “What year is it?”
She told him, and he groaned.
“Dammit, I’m so old!”
“But you lived such a long, fulfilling life, parnana!”
He’d take her word for it. “I suppose I did.” He looked around at his surroundings. “Where’s this ship going to, anyways?”
“Earth, great grandpa.” She gave a somewhat tired looking smile.
Earth? “Oh, good! I’ve missed Earth. I-- “
He was interrupted when sudden warning sirens were heard, and a voice came over the ship’s intercoms. “This is captain Singh. It is my unfortunate duty to inform you that a vessel has matched our speed and is using threat of force to board us.”
Lakshmi gasped. “That doesn’t sound good! C’mon, let’s get you back to your quarters—“
Arjun gave a curmudgeonly wave of his hand. “The hell is this? We’re just letting them board? Does this ship not have weapons?”
“It’s a pilgrimage ship, parnana! Many of the passengers would rather be killed by whoever is boarding than to commit acts of violence.” Oh, that was right. It was full of people undergoing [the ascetic lifestyle].
But... fuck it. “It’s been years since I’ve had a proper adventure, my girl!” What was her name, again? Parvati or something? “Let’s go confront some pirates.”
“Who says they’re pirates?” She helped him get out of his chair, but he shrugged off her attempts to support him after he’d risen.
“I call every potential enemy in space a pirate, my dear! Makes me feel badass, like I’m in a space opera or something.”
“We don’t even know what they want.” The panic was evident in her voice. “They might leave once they see that we’re ascetics with no material wealth.”
“No material wealth?” He gave a little, condemnatory tongue click at her naivety. “How much do you think this ship costs, Lakshmi? If we don’t fight back, and they’re criminal enough, they’ll just force us into the escape pods and take the vessel.” He frowned. “Or, if they’re really immoral, just force us out an airlock.” He began thinking of possible strategies, his mind seeming sharper than it had been in weeks. “To which government or anarcho-conglomerate is this vessel registered?”
“The Republic of India.”
He smirked at her. “So then I’m the highest ranking person aboard?”
She frowned at his seemingly rekindled bravado. “Parnana, your titles are symbolic. Besides, you’re in no state of mind to—“
“Respect your elders, young lady! Now, let’s go to the airlock and see who these douchebags are.” They took an ‘elevator’ that didn’t elevate as much as it did move them clockwise or counter-clockwise down the length of the ship’s torus. Getting out near the ship’s airlock, they saw the hooligans who had boarded them.
The douchebags in question were members of a human supremacist group, something they were happy to announce while embarking onto the ship. Not one of the major ones, but a little splinter faction made up of colonists from some backwater planet. Just a bunch of dumb, punk kids in their late teens to mid-twenties, dressed in clothes that screamed anti-authority. Judging from the smug looks they had on their faces, it wasn’t too often that they captured a vessel.
“A human nationalist group and yet you guys are boarding a vessel registered to a terran government, one that has only human crew and is carrying only human passengers.” Arjun gave a sardonic clapping of his hands, sarcastically applauding them. “Masterful tacticians indeed.”
The ‘leader’ looked like he was barely twenty years old, with piercings and animated tattoos which shifted very slightly, cycling through sixty or so frames before starting again, essentially pigment cinemagraphs. He was ethnically ambiguous, with dirty blond hair, high cheekbones, and amber eyes with a hint of an epicanthic fold. His height and build hinted that his home world had less gravity than Earth’s. He had twenty or so partners in crime, all of them armed. “Cashayin’ away any xenos, mah powt? The keulu and I are oppsin’ for aquas.”
“The hell kinda mouth-noises were those?” asked Arjun with a grimace. Off-world patois always sounded so awful. Luckily, that Magistrate tech in his inner ear had kept on ticking, even after all those years. It had only been programmed with languages that existed at the time of its inception, but it translated the French and Korean words (“my friend” and “crew” respectively), so he caught the gist of the man’s meaning. ‘oppsin’ was a bit of a mystery, but he supposed it could’ve come from the military term for ‘operations.’
"No need t'be fashay, mawn vioo." The man smirked at Arjun, his teeth studded with enameled diamonds. “Bit low on Gees for a terran raumschiff, no?"
“Because this is a pilgrimage vessel,” said Lakshmi, who seemed to have found her voice. “Full of ascetics heading back to Earth to die—“ she bit her tongue, rephrasing, “to spend the remainder of their lives back on the human home world. Most of the crew are geriatric, and the half-Gee is to ease their arthritis and help them be more mobile.”
“Dunno ‘bout that, m’dam.” The punk looked up and down the curved hallway that formed a torus, the main deck of the habitable portion of the ship. “Seemin’ like a good couvrir for cashayin’ xenos. Tu comprend?”
A small crowd had gathered to confront the... rebels? Extremists? Arjun’s mind was cloudy. He would just categorize them as pirates... anyone he didn’t like in space he considered to be a space pirate. Huh, deja-vu...
One old man, who was still probably decades younger than Arjun, spoke up. He was probably decades younger, but looked at least ninety in terms of biological age. Anti-aging treatments made judging another’s chronology quite difficult indeed. In Hindi accented English, the elder said “We aren’t hiding any aliens, you arsehole!” Whatever happened to the meekness and non-confrontation of ascetics? Whatever: Arjun instantly liked this guy. His like for the man was enhanced when the elderly pilgrim added the words “you bastard bitch” in seemingly an even thicker accent directed towards the intruder, and Arjun tried not to laugh.
“Feels ‘bout the right Gee for Zids,” said a compatriot of the supremacists who Arjun would’ve found attractive if he had a thing for tomboyish punk space pirates. “Keskah tu ponse, Kapitän Schafer-Kim?”
“Opps for Zids,” said the leader, who Arjun supposed was Herr Schafer-Kim. “Deck par deck, mes chingus.”
Arjun rolled his eyes as the heavily armed thugs began splitting into groups of two and searching the vessel. “Do you douchebags have any idea who I am?”
He ignored Lakshmi, who was trying to lead him back to his room in a way that clearly said ‘don’t give them any ideas about taking you as hostage, my beloved but senile great grandpa.’
Truth be told, Arjun didn’t much remember agreeing to become an ascetic and give up life’s comforts for the last year or two of life to die as a withered, arthritic old man with dementia. It did seem like something he’d suggest in one of his excitable moods, and he had bits of pieces of the memory... but still. Fuck it. He wanted to take a little detour on the way home where he was held captive by an extremist group, and to have one final grand adventure before death and his inevitable reincarnation.
“Do people seriously not recognize me anymore?” he insisted. “I’m a historical figure and hero of Earth!”
The leader was staying in front of the airlock with two bodyguards, apparently quite bemused by the small crowd of unarmed geriatrics and the occasional younger family member who was escorting them. “And who are you, mawn vioo? Someone I should know ‘bout?” He put his hand to his chin while looking at Arjun, as if thinking. “Famous Bhangra muscian?” His bodyguards laughed.
“Oh man, I wish.” Arjun gave a wistful sigh, earning some laughter from the other passengers. “No, my child. I’m one of the Chosen.”
The man quirked a brow. “Is that vrai? Which one, mah powt?”
The man furrowed his brow, and then took out a small handheld tablet computer. Human purists: no cybernetic eye implants. That made sense, considering their supremacist ideological inclinations. Upon pulling up a page of the digital encyclopedia downloaded to his device, the man gave an appreciative whistle. “Well shiiiiiiiit. A livin’ legend!” He gave a little,appreciative click of his tongue. “Just barely livin’, evidemaw. You’re choosin’ to go out the right way, Patel-nim . Sans anti-agin’ tech, ayy? Old school.”
“Okay, can you like... codeswitch to English or something? I feel like I’m having a stroke here,” groaned Arjun. “Shit, maybe I am having a stroke? I’m like, well over a hundred years old. Maybe you’re speaking normally and I don’t even know?”
“You don’t like my lingua d’espace, mon ami?” The second half of the sentence was spoken in proper French instead of the patois. “You’re a funny mec, mawn vioo. Just like in that old biopic. Never before did I think I’d meet someone like tu. A real hero. A livin’ legend. Enchanté...” He gave a little, slow nod and inhaled from an E-cig before finishing introducing himself. His casual, slow mannerisms reminded Arjun of a cowboy more so than a terrorist or political rebel. “I’m called Johan Schafer-Kim. Now, here’s how it’s gon’ be, harabeoji. I’m gon’ let my keulu cherch y’all’s raumschiff for xenos. Had a lil‘ altercation with Zids a few weeks back, and all of us are itchin‘ for a bit of action... a bit of vengeance. Tu feel me, harabeoji?“
“He isn’t the captain of this vessel,” said a turbaned man Arjun assumed was captain Singh, who had apparently ran there from the deck. “We should discuss this privately—“
“I’m talkin’ to harabeoji Patel here,” said Johan, who looked a bit peeved at being interrupted. “He’s the only reason I haven’t sortied y’all out a luftschleuse yet.”
That shut the other man up, and he seemed quite happy to let Arjun be the diplomat that he was. Why... was he there, anyways? Had he been sent off-Earth to solve some conflict? He couldn't quite recall. But oh well! It had been awhile since he’d had a proper adventure!
“Now,” continued the leader of the terrorist band, “let’s parlay, mes powtes. It’s gon’ be awhile ‘till mes keulu finished searchin’ this schiff. I wanna posay some questions to this here livin’ legend.”
He was sipping some tea in a room with a man sat across from him. “This is plus comfortable compared to my own Unterkünfte, I have to admit.”
Arjun frowned at him. Who was this stranger? He didn’t recognize the man at all. “Hmm?”
The man smiled, leaning forwards and speaking gently. “Your memory’s not so good anymore eh, harabeoji? Part of life, I pense.”
He looked around, noticing people with guns. Hadn’t he just been hanging out with Jim and Elijah in a trip to Geneva? Or was it Belgium?
Or wait... weren’t they in The Sanctum, goofing around?
Or had he just been at a cricket game back in Kolkata? Or... no, it had been his first day of ninth grade...
“Who are you people?” They all looked so strange, and had weapons. “I’m scared. I want to go home.” He began rocking back and forth gently. “I don’t know anyone here.”
“Listen, harabeoji.” The man looked at him cruelly, and Arjun was slightly startled when a voice inside of his head told him that harabeoji meant grandfather. “Everything’s gon’ be alright if you do what I say. Understand?” He took a puff of something before speaking in a different language. The voice in his head continued to turn the words to Hindi. “I’ll switch from patois to Korean to make it easier on you, even if it makes me sound too posh for my liking. That lil’ chip in your head will translate everything perfectly anyways.”
Arjun nodded meekly, wanting to do whatever he could to appease them.
“You know,” said the strange man, “I’d have done everything differently if I had been in your position. But that doesn’t matter, does it?” He was looking out the window, at the stars. “But then again, they wouldn’t have put someone like me there, would they? Humanity was coddled by beings with a very specific agenda, one immensely different than mine.” The man gave a shake of his head. ”Such a shame. Think of what could’ve been. If you’d done things differently, maybe humanity could already be on top instead of having to claw our way up there.”
Arjun had no idea what the man was talking about, nodding and pretending to understand.
A shudder went through the floor, and several large vessels slowly came into view, seeming to float away from whatever building he was in. Were those... spaceships!? He must’ve been dreaming. Space ships only existed in movies, and... and... he felt so confused. Why was everything blurry?
“The crew’s gone now, mister Patel. I respect you enough that I sent them off in the escape pods instead of just spacing them. Ever been a hostage before?”
“I... please, I don’t understand what’s going on!” He began impulsively rocking back and forth again. “Don’t hurt me, please! My father can pay the ransom. He’s... he’s a very rich man!”
The man gave him a look of pity before getting up and leaving the room.
He had to remember! Remember something... it felt like he was on the verge of remembering something of utmost importance.
Something called Roseus II. It had something to do with Roseus II...
Firstly, I'd just like to thank everyone for reading this far. I acknowledge that there are major issues with this story, but keep in mind that the entire thing is a work in progress and the final version will be extraordinarily different. This is basically because I've been making things up as I go along (I know, it shows) and I wasn't sure how it was going to end until recently.
Now, about this chapter:
I had a lot of fun with this entry. First of all, just to be clear, this isn’t a dream sequence, but a flash-forward. No tricks. This is the last "off topic" chapter, and the next one will feature the main members of Group Gamma again.
I’ve always hated when authors use invented patois/creole in their stories because it has a tendency to make things incomprehensible, but I found that it was incredibly fun to write the dialogue for this group of space rascals, so maybe it’s one of those “well it sucks when other people do it, but if you’re the one doing it it’s strangely fun” sorta things. Patois says a lot about a people’s origins: this group’s home world had a lot of American, French, German, and Korean colonists, and their language reflects this. Technical and engineering things are always in German, but most of the patois that combined with English was French in this case. Yes, it was mostly French because it’s the only other language I can (sorta?) speak and I’m lazy like that. It was written phonetically because that tends to be the convention for French creoles/patois, and also because it makes it look a bit less posh.
when the Alzhaimers hits you hard
Oh yeah, time for SENILE ARJUN AWESOME SPACE ADVENTURES!
Okay, I'm going to post some spoilers about Sarah/Elijah. I don't know if spoiler tags work across all platforms/devices, so if this spoils it for anyone using the mobile app or anything I'll take it down:
Oh but Antifa
And this doesn't even include the far-right terrorists riding around in police cars.
Antifa are just sweet angels aren't they
Originally a page from the NicoMaki SID manga, colourized by me (along with the rest of the chapter).
This is the supreme meme.