by Dragos Jieanu
The United Governments military had accidentally shot down a Tenasi diplomatic vessel during an embarrassing first contact. Humanity had worried this would throw them into a conflict, then the Phone Company stepped in and, using methods unknown to even humanities intelligence agencies, brokered a peace with the Tenasi. In exchange, the PC demanded they be above the laws of humanity and had since then worked autonomously.
Other alien races refused to communicate with humanity unless they went through the PC first. Thus far, humankind has expanded beyond the reach of Saturn but is kept back by the PC's refusal to share FTL travel technology they are suspected of possessing. They are, however, capable of constructing orbital stations from nothing more than inert metal, using their Element-specific gravity generators.
The story opens with Jason Write in his private cabin aboard a shuttle, watching a video playback of a woman thrashing in a hospital bed. He could do nothing for the woman right now, not until he reached Evensong - an orbital platform hanging between Saturn and Uranus, and the frontier of humanities conquest in space. As the shuttle begins to dock with the Evensong, his support operative, Lanna, enters Jason's cabin informing him that his colleagues have been sent on assignment elsewhere and she is the one that will be accompanying him. Lanna has booked Jason in to a hotel under a peculiar alias, suggesting that Jason is actually an agent.
As they prepare to depart, Jason notices his control disk being tapped. Sending Lanna a coded request in the form of a question Lanna responds in kind. Someone had managed to tap Jason's control disk. While Lanna could easily install a tap block, Jason doesn't order it. Strolling off the shuttle he steps to one side and apparently searches for his ID while watching the other passengers walk by, knowing the one that tapped his control disk should be there. The report of a murder on the news feed sets Jason into a hurry.
Captain Orson Ansed of the Evensong police department meets his officer, Ken Harris, outside the scene of a crime in Topside's slums. They find the corpse of a missing Varvax ambassador inside a cylindrical burner. A newcomer bustles onto the scene that Orson believes is the press at first. Upon seeing the man's silver bell pin on the lapel of his suit, Orson realises his jurisdiction has come to an end with the arrival of a Phone Company (henceforth, PC) operative. Jason now has authority at the scene.
Jason begins to question the time of death of the victim and makes note of Orson's regard for him. As a member of the PC Jason is accustomed to the general annoyance at the interference, but also the relief that the PC were there to deal with an alien ambassador. Having his own mystery to solve regarding a missing scientist, Jason hands the investigation back over to Orson.
Outside, reporters have gathered but Jason isn't interested in the slightest at giving an interview. They also know this and allow him to leave without commotion, but not before Jason has had a chance to scan the crowd of people for the one that got off the same shuttle as him. Sensing the man following him, he gives Lanna the code to shut off the hack to his control disk and leads the man to a nearby cafe.
Coln Abrams observes Jason Write, trying not to look suspicious. Coln works for the United Intelligence Bureau and shows some reservations against the PC; Write in particular. Suddenly, the wire-tap Coln had been using to listen in on Jason and Lanna's communication indicated that his cover had been blown. Showing that he'd noticed Coln, Jason asks him to come talk to him. They talk and Coln supposes Jason thinks he's there officially - the UIB regards the PC with little trust. As Coln stands to go, regretful that he wouldn't be able to discover anything now, Jason surprises him by allowing him to tag along.
At that moment Jason senses something awry, shortly before a hail of bullets tear through the window. Jason lashes out with his mindblades, splitting each bullet in two. Feeling for the sniper he can't sense him outside any more. After analysing the bullet holes in the window Jason concludes that they had been aiming at the UIB agent, and not himself. Wondering why he scans the cafe with his Sense and notices a nondescript man watching him with slightly unfocused eyes. Without bothering to see if Coln follows, Jason leaves the cafe.
Sonn, the Varvax Foreign Minister converses with Jason about the recent murder of his ambassador. Meanwhile, Lanna has been running up Coln's background and it turns out he's a fugitive from the UIB training facilities. He hadn't been caught because they never expected him to make it as far as Evensong.
Coln is showing remarkable interest in a picture of the PC's FTL communications apparatus that had been taken by the only spy to infiltrate the PC's central headquarters. Coln is of the impression that Jason had ordered a hit on him back at the cafe, oblivious to Jason's psionic abilities that had saved him. Lanna explains over the comms why she and Jason are here: Two months prior a scientist name Denise Carlson disappeared from Eversong's PC research facility. While enroute, Jason got word of Miss Carlson being located and taken to a local treatment ward for severe mental problems. Jason is here to escort her back to Jupiter Fourteen for proper treatment.
Arriving at the hospital they find a mentally unstable Denise Carlson; amnesia, says the nurse. On their way out with Denise, Jason recognizes a man from the cafe hiding behind a door with his Sense. Jason mulls over why she'd been taken while they all eat. In her amnesiac state Jason also wonders what they did to her and if they'd been successful. Denise says there's something odd about her food and Jason figures because she's amnesiac she can't find the word to describe it. Pouring salt into his hand and asking her to taste it confirms what she was referring to.
Lanna has arranged their return to Jupiter for 10:30 PM local time. But Jason suspects something might be amiss, that the ambassador's death and Denise are related. Jason then contemplates the vast differences between their races, how underdeveloped humans are while quoting from Virgil a passage of the Elysian Fields. Comparing it to Elysium, space is the place heroes go when they die.
While contemplating Denise's fate after she'd been kidnapped, Jason comes to a startling conclusion. Rushing into her room he experiments with the light settings - making them harsher than a regular human could stand - and reveals her to be a Varvax imposter. Trying to settle his theories Jason makes his way back to the hospital. Telling Lanna to inform the police to ignore reports of a madman attacking an orderly, Jason enters the orderly lounge and locates the man he'd seen back at the cafe - the one who'd hidden himself when he'd taken Denise from the hospital. The man turns to run but Jason catches him and implants the idea that he can read minds.
Back at the hotel, Jason convinces Coln to take Denise to Jupiter Fourteen, handing Coln his PC pin so officials at the office won't give him trouble, but only if Jason will tell him if the PC have FTL drives and are keeping them back from humankind or not. As they are about to leave Denise becomes unresponsive and Jason realizes a faint whiff of gas in the room. All three are rendered unconscious.
Having his Cytonic Sense disabled, his link to the outside world severed, Jason is trapped both physically and figuratively. Without his Sense the darkness swallows him whole, sending him into a blind panic as he is unable to answer the voice interrogating him from above. If he doesn't co-operate within three minutes the girl dies it says.
Coln is similarly imprisoned, but unlike Jason he can see the confines of his "prison" for the storage closet it is, with Denise sat beside him. Suddenly, Jason's intercom crackles in his ear and Jason tells Coln to cut the power. Somehow. Not sure if he can trust Jason, Coln does as he's asked anyway, finding a power jack on the wall.
Unable to escape the darkness, Jason slips further into insanity, wanting nothing more than to find bliss in unconsciousness. Then his Sense returns, only for a brief moment before the backup generators kick in and re-energise whatever was suppressing his Sense in the first place. He wouldn't allow that to happen though, lashing out with the destructive force of his mindblades and shredding apart his telanium prison and the suppressor along with it.
As Coln severs the power jack the room next to his explodes. Looking into the room he is stunned to find Jason at its epicentre. Jason only tells Coln to take Denise and go when Coln questions what he is. The same voice that had interrogated Jason comes again from a wall speaker. Jason demands that the owner show himself and punctually a man appears down the hallway outside. The man is Edmund, a man Jason supposedly knows from his past. And another thing occurs to him: the shooting in the cafe had been to test his mindblades.
A battle, unseen to normal eyes, rages between Jason and Edmund, both men possessing the mindblade ability. Jason is surprised to find that Edmund has surpassed him and he gambles that the Varvax taught Edmund to use them effectively; to which Edmund discovers Jason's bluff about reading minds. Realising the potential difference in ability, Jason uses the only thing he can think of to gain the advantage. By focusing Sense in on himself he is able to step outside normal space and vanish. Reappearing moments later with his hand inside Edmund's chest, gripping the man's heart. Edmund's mindblades explode where Jason had been and Jason squeezes the man's heart, killing him. In his last moments, Edmund reveals why the Varvax would need to learn Cytonic suppression technology, which Jason doesn't want to believe.
Using FTL, Jason transports Coln, Denise, and himself to the PC headquarters on Earth, revealing the PC do infact possess FTL technology, and that they were keeping it from humanity until they were ready. The machine Coln originally thought was the FTL drive is in fact a coffee machine. The real FTL drive is the man - dressed up as a security guard - seated beside it. His mind is the link for millions of FTL transmissions. Lanna rushes into the room and is introduced as Jason's wife.
Jason is contacted by the Varvax Sonn who explains how the Varvax compel their subjects into submission, including other alien races they have subjugated, as they will with humanity, all in the progress of peace. Huamnity has not been the one trying to infiltrate the Varvax to gain their technology; on the contrary it is the Varvax who have been trying to infiltrate humanity for, Jason says to Sonn, their weaponry, as it can destroy the Varvax ships with ease. The reason the Varvax and other races progressed so quickly in FTL technology was their sacrifice of technological advancements - their ships are amongst the most powerful, most advanced in the galaxy, and yet were shot down by a single human missile. Jason subtly implies this as a threat to which Sonn calls "disturbing." Jason agrees before severing the communication.
In the last moments of Defending Elysium, Jason sits back and tells Lanna to prepare a press release: tell humanity that the Phone Company has finally developed faster-than-light travel, and that it will be released to the public. His last words are a hope for the illusion he'd believed in for so long.
- Jason Write
- Considered to be the top operative of the Phone Company he is a powerful psionic looking for a missing scientist on the Evensong orbital platform.
- His philosophy is that space and their relation with the alien species is some sort of paradise that humanity is working towards. He believes the Varvax have found Elysian by becoming a space-faring race and can't imagine them as anything but peaceful.
- Lanna Write
- Jason's support operative in the field. She handles all of Jason's intel and is revealed later on in the story to be Jason's wife. A stern woman Jason describes her as being one who few would dare cross. Though in her communications with Jason she is often teasing him or displays affection.
- Coln Abrams
- Works for the United Intelligence Bureau tasked with tracking Jason Write as he enters Evensong. He is interested in Jason for personal reasons, having performed case studies on the PC operative back in his academic years. His main desire is to uncover the truth that the PC possess faster-than-light (FTL) technology.
- Denise Carlson
- She is the scientist that Jason has been searching for. However, when they do find her at a local hospital she is amnesiac. Later, they discover this is due to her being a Varvax imposter - a dissenter trying to escape her own people. Jason takes her to the PC headquarters on Earth at the end of the story.
- He is a Cytonic like Jason who kidnaps him in order to discover whether Jason really does possess mindblades.
- Phone Company
- The PC were the first to make contact with an alien specie and had negotiated humanity out of a disaster following the Tenasi incident. The PC had brought FTL communications to humankind.
- They are completely autonomous to the constraints and laws of humanity following the Tenasi incident that only they were capable of mollifying. As such they deem humanity not ready for the perils of space and have been secretly withholding FTL travel technology from them.
- United Intelligence Bureau
- The UIB is humankind's (supposedly) largest intelligence agency in the entire solar system. They mistrust the Phone Company because of their apparent shadowy motives.
- A breakthrough in psionic development. Those possessing this technology, such as the Varvax, are able to use an ability called "Sense" to see the world around them with supernatural senses. To Jason, his world is a vibrating kaleidoscope of colour - from black that is "quiet" and reds that vibrate violently across his vision. With Sense, a Cytonic who is blind is able to paint an accurate picture of the world.
- Faster-than-light travel has been acquired by all species except humankind. The Phone Company possesses this technology but has withheld it from them for so long. The technology is not powered by standard electronics as would be expected, but by cognition. The technology developed from Cytonics.
- Jason is the only character seen actually using this ability in the story, but for Lanna to be on Earth at the end would suggest she had used it too.
- It involves Sensing inwards on yourself and removing yourself from normal space, apparently moving through a different dimension to reappear at a different point in normal space light-years away in seconds.
|Characters||Jason Write · Coln Abrams · Lanna Write · Denise Carlson · Sonn · Edmund|
|Groups||Phone Company · United Intelligence Bureau · Varvax · Tenasi · United Governments|
|Other||Cytonics · Tenasi Agreement · Evensong · Telanium|