It was midday and a young woman in a nurse's uniform stared out a window along the southeastern corner of the hospital on Kanangar Prime. She was in her early twenties and had straight dark brown hair, blue eyes, and a figure that just about anyone would expect from a scifi story. In truth she was the culmination of thousands of years of eugenic canalization: she was a Beta Replicant, a clone with imprinted memories and an occupation that she had been born into in order to pay off a debt that had accrued in order to bring her to life in the first place. Replicants like her came in a number of different varieties: Deltas were essentially robotic automatons made mostly of human flesh; Gammas had below average intelligence and performed working class jobs; Betas had above average intelligence and performed white collar jobs; and Alphas were so gifted yet unpredictable that only a small number were permitted to be produced at any point in time….
It wasn't an entirely oppressive system: she had been born with the memories of making a decision to pursue her current vocation, and her contract would be fulfilled within two decades, but she was not entirely free either. There were no such "Blade Runners" who would go after someone like her (at least not that she knew of), but if she ever did decide to quit her job she would still be required to pay the same birth debt to her original employer even if she took another job, and if she tried to go rogue or circumvent this system in anyway she would have a difficult time buying or selling on a civilized world. Replicants like her came in a number of different varieties: Deltas were essentially robotic automatons made mostly of human flesh; Gammas had below average intelligence and performed working class jobs; Betas had above average intelligence and performed white collar jobs; and Alphas had such high mental abilities that only a small number were permitted to be produced at any point in time….
The nurse had never actually met an Alpha Replicant--at least not that she knew of--but some of the scientists at RC35 came across as Alphas. One such individual was a young woman named Alison White (http://dreaminghero.deviantart.com/art/Alison-Template-353309058). Alison had been adopted by someone from a task force during a reconaissance mission. Alison had come from what was said to be a suspicious star ship, but that was about the only thing anyone really knew about the whole ordeal. Alison had a reputation for being highly intelligent, and it was rumored that she had telepathic as well as telekinetic abilities, which would not be surprising if true. At this point in history roughly ten percent of humanity had some kind of telepathic aptitude, whether it be genetic, a cybernetic augmentation, or a combination of both. If Alison were indeed an Alpha Replicant, chances were that she would be on the upper end of the spectrum in terms of telepathic ability.
300 meters away a frigate--Jack's frigate--was landing at the spaceport nearby (http://my.deviantart.com/art/Spaceport-Map-353212636). Jack was the nurse's lover, and he was just the kind of space jock any woman would want: he was in his late twenties; he was tall, dark, and handsome; and he had a sexy goatee. He also had an attractive muscular build and dark brown eyes that revealed glimpses of a tough kind of maturity that could only have been developed through some kind of mysterious past adversity. But the dashing young freelancer had a personality slightly different from the fabled "Han Solos" and "Malcolm Reynolds" of yesteryear: while he shared their cavalier attitude, he wasn't one to fill his speech with sarcastic remarks and witty repartees. The two of them had met once by accident in the Recreation Commons, and it had not been long before they had fallen head over heals for each other. Neither of them could really be described as being extroverted, but when the two of them accidentally bumped into each other and made eye contact, it didn't take much…
As the nurse gazed at the starship she could see new battle scars on the vessel's starboard hull as the VTL craft landed on one of the tarmacs. She wondered whether or not the new scars had been made some of the pirates Jack had told her about--the ones who used the planet Rodinia (http://one-planet-at-a-time.deviantart.com/art/The-Planet-Rodinia-with-moons-Eros-and-Demos-279086532) as a safe haven. A week earlier Jack had been sent on an urgent mission to obtain and deliver a high priority shipment needed by scientists in the Zoological Research Center. The corporate research station he had traveled to was one of the few places in this region of the galaxy that produced reliable monoclonal antibodies for newly discovered proteins from the Kanangar Sector, and the Terran Spacing Guild was notorious for delays even when the products of their suppliers were reliable. The guild bankers residing within the colony hub would be in uproar once they learned that the scientists had bypassed the usual channels in order to make this purchase, but that was insignificant. The scientists of Research Colony 35 were in a race against time to secure a patent for a new substance that had recently been discovered on a nearby world, and millions of credits were at stake.
The nurse stared off into the distance beyond the outer wall of the colony and spotted a group of two-dozen floating plant/animals floating along the grassy savannah region to the southeast. The creatures were the size equivalent of small shuttles, and they were famous among the colonists for the low pitch cello-like sounds that they sometimes used to communicate with one another. Crinomilvum volanaraboris was the scientific name that had been given to them.
Other than a few cumulous clouds above the Sargasso Ocean to the west, the sky was completely blue today, and the woman could see two of Kanangar's three moons. To the north a mountain range extended along the coastline, and to the east the savannah gradually melded into an arid wasteland where few things survived. It wasn't nearly as desolate as the Great Desert that lay beyond the Sargasso Ocean, but it was harsh enough. The Terran Mining Guild was busy exploiting the mineral wealth of the Great Desert, but they were already making plans to expand operations to the Equatric Tundra and it was no secret that the guild bankers were hoping to open up the Hadrian Rain Forest as well as the Mossterra subcontinent due to the abundance of fossil fuel deposits in those areas. The only thing standing in their way, of course, was an economically self-sufficient research colony, which in theory should have traded away much more of the planet's surface area for additional funding long ago.
The RC system had been established by the TriGalactic Federation Parliament fifty years ago in order to support research for planets with complex ecosystems in areas that lay outside the main TGF territories. The reasoning behind this, as promoted by politicians from the Populist Party, was that because these regions could not easily be controlled anyway, chances were that other factions were likely to exploit the planets for their mineral wealth anyway, so why not find a way to research the soon-to-be-endangered species of these worlds while there was still a chance. In reality, however, powerful special interest groups, who only sought to bend the rules to their own favor, had actually been the driving force behind this policy. Thus, a new era of capital cronyism began, in which outlying worlds with complex life could be exploited by guilds but not corporations or freelancers.
The nurse sighed and turned away from the window of the corner break room. She then walked out the door and into the main corridor of her floor. She passed a number of rooms before reaching the first patient of her shift: an unlucky research assistant who had almost been killed by a group of arthropods on the other side of the Sargasso Ocean.
Rift opened his eyes and noted that many of the objects around him appeared to be somewhat accentuated in color. Rift was a young nineteen-year-old with blonde hair, tan skin, and a slightly muscular build. A few days earlier he had undergone surgery in order to replace his irreversibly damaged eyes with a pair of prosthetic ones. In the meantime, a specialized lab within the hospital would soon get to work in order to regenerate a new pair of eyes for him.
He shifted his eyes from right to left, and noticed that he could change the resolution of his vision at will, and in a way it was like looking at the world through a prism. Rift knew that the vision from cybernetics would be far superior to whatever organic eyes were produced later, and he wasn't entirely sure if he would want to go back to organic eyes once he got used to these. The doctor had cautioned him to set boundaries for himself so that his central nervous system would not become too integrated with the non-organic aspects of the software interface. The eyes he had now were mainly intended to continue normal stimulation of the optical area of his brain before transplantation, not to browse the internet and play video games when people weren't looking.
Rift heard the door open and noticed a young woman in a nurse's uniform enter his room. She was remarkably attractive, and appeared to be just a few years older than Rift. The woman had a friendly persona tempered by a degree of reserve that spoke of years of professional refinement.
"How are you liking your new eyes, William?" the nurse asked (his legal name was William). Rift recognized her voice because she had been the one taking care of him for the past few days.
"Still getting used to it," Rift admitted. "The doctor told me not to use it for Internet browsing unless I wanted to stay a cyborg."
"That's right," the woman responded. If only a normal human like him could know what a burden it could be to try to give up such conveniences…
Windy, that's what her name is, Rift thought to himself. Now I remember.
"That's why I brought you this," the nurse said as she handed him a data pad. "One of your coworkers gave us this the day after you were admitted."
"Thank you," Rift replied as he took the data pad from the nurse. Rift sighed, "I can't believe I walked right into a Trillaspitter nest during my first day in the field."
"So that's why you were flown in. It's a good thing that you were only blind and anemic when you were admitted. I've seen a lot worse."
"Yeah," Rift said as he began to enter queries into his data pad, "When I left Valcore for this place I thought I was taking a pay cut for safer working conditions. Never thought some but would actually try to make me its dinner while I was on the job."
Windy glanced at the image displayed on Rift's data pad and asked, "Is that the place where you worked?"
"No, but you're close. This is Boreas (http://arsheesh.deviantart.com/art/Boreas-313448879), one of the moons of Tantros IV. I worked at a mine on one of its sister moons called Sisyphus."
"Tantros is in the Sierra Sector, right?" the nurse interjected.
"That's right. The Tantros system is rich in asteroid deposits, but Valkor prefers to strip mine planets first because it's marginally cheaper. A lot of work went into the mine on Sisyphus, but I heard it got shut down a week after my contract ended. I saw that coming, but I'd had enough of mining anyway."
"So what made you decide to come here?" the nurse asked.
"Well, other than dangerous work conditions, there's also been a lot of spooky that's been going on in the Sierra Sector lately. First I heard some rumors about this really weird military buildup around this moon, and then one of my buddies from a different star system who works on a freighter (http://sargy001.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d5potnt) for the Alpha Mining Corporation told me they found some kind of creepy tomb full of artifacts that had Chaanian inscriptions on them. A few weeks ago I tried to contact that guy, but it was as if he'd just disappeared all of a sudden—and nobody I talked to seems to have any idea what happened to him."
"Yeah, that's pretty creepy," the nurse said as she glanced away. "Listen William, I'm gonna have to draw some blood from you."
"Alright," Rift inhaled, "Just do what you have to do," he said as he tensed up.
The nurse saw his reaction and smiled. "Relax William," she said, "or is it just Will?"
"Actually, all my friends just call me Rift."
"Rift?" she said with a grimace, "That's an unusual name."
"Yeah," he smiled bashfully, "It's kind of a long story."
"Alright," she said as she grabbed his bicep used her other hand to find a vein. "Let's get these stem cells."
Rift cringed as she slid the needle into his arm. It hurt a little bit going in, but that wasn't the worst of it. The needle dug around a little bit, and that's when it really hurt.
"Oops," the nurse sighed, "Looks like it missed that time. Let's try it again." Unfortunately for Rift, the nurse's fine motor skills were not quite up to par with her looks.
"Ahhh," Rift gasped as she stuck the needle in again. This time it went in right and the nurse managed to draw a couple tubes of blood. Rift had been given a transfusion of artificial blood prior to surgery, but the doctors still expected there to be enough circulating stem cells in the blood stream in order to get what they needed.
"There we go," the nurse said enthusiastically as she placed a bandage on his arm. "That wasn't too bad, was it?"
Billy didn't reply until a few moments later.
"So why did you take blood for stem cells? I thought those were mostly in the bone marrow."
"Well, they're mostly in the bone marrow, but back in the early twenty-first century scientists figured out that you could also find them circulating in the blood stream. Originally there some sort of debate over whether or not to get stem cells from embryos, but it turned out that adult stem cells worked better because then you didn't have to worry about issues with MHC compatibility."
"The molecule that causes transplant rejection," the nurse sighed. "Anyway, they also figured out that you can transform ordinary skin cells back into stem cells, but eventually they learned you could get stem cells from the blood anyway so why bother."
"So then why was the whole embryo thing such a big deal?"
"Well, with embryonic cells they're really young, so you don't have to worry so much about DNA damage caused by aging. Most people these days just have their umbilical chord frozen when they're born, so that's where we usually look for stem cells that we use for most people. Of course, your umbilical chord wasn't saved when you were born, so we had to do it this way. Anyway, Dr. Zarthabog wanted me to let you know that you're being discharged tomorrow after lunch. Let me know if you need anything, Rift," she said with a smile.
"Thanks, it was good talking to you," he replied.
"My pleasure," she said as she opened the door to the corridor. She smiled politely and then walked away.