Regas thought he was the only human-animal hybrid on The Empress, the ship belonging to a mysterious organization known as T-Tech. When another hybrid comes to set him free, he is torn between the world he knows, and one that seems too good to be true. The other hybrids want to escape to a whole new world, trusting their fates to their swift little ship called The Canary, as they engage in a desperate attempt to escape the universe’s collapse by a phenomenon known as The Big Crunch. Will Regas trust this band of seemingly loony hybrids, and attempt escape? Or will he follow T-Tech in believing that there isn’t any danger at all? Adventure awaits, and only time will tell . . .
Chapter One: Tea and The Abyss
In a Ship Called The Empress, in the Laboratory
Year 12,212,012 A.D.
Regas shuddered, as a group of T-Tech agents walked by his cell. For the first time, he felt insecure there, knowing that the walls could not protect him from the guns of the Empire. One of the men stopped to stare at him, a look that pierced Regas with its animosity and made his hackles raise involuntarily. It’s like they know—like I’ve somehow become the enemy to them. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this kind of treatment, but I do know that it’s not fair. The winds of change stirred in the air—not real wind, but the manmade breezes of the ship’s life support system. Still, something had changed imperceptibly overnight, and he looked out into the lab with new eyes, new wishes, and a newfound sense of curiosity. He was hoping that Rory, the lab tech, would be working today. Regas had two more hours left between then and now, and this somber thought put him in a pensive mood. “If only I knew what to do . . .”
He looked around his cell at the same old familiar, albeit boring, surroundings. He checked the schedule. A new visual display showed on his cell’s wall each day, on an area no larger than a dinner plate. He read through the listings—no tests or exams until tomorrow. The rest of the day stretched out before him, filling him with its own kind of dread. How will I fill the hours of my life that stretch away and away? No—I should rephrase the question. How CAN I fill this time? What CAN I do? He looked over at his text reader. He could read literature, but he would have had to put in a request first and get the approval of the Program Administrator—a man he’d never met and probably didn’t want to know. The whole process could easily take a week. A growl slipped from his throat. I don’t feel like filling out another request. It was easier to play video games or drink tea. Neither of those activities required any sort of approval.
A plain white mug weighed in his paw, reassuring him. I do feel like tea.
Setting the mug onto the small platform of the tea dispenser, he pressed the button for Earl Grey, then watched as the dark brown liquid began filling the mug’s interior with a familiar brew that held its own sort of comfort. At least there would always be tea. He grasped the mug and, walking to the other end of his cell, sat on his cot and warmed his paws on the ceramic life preserver. What else can I do?
The video game system sat at the far side of the cell, programmed with a vast library of programs and simulations, yet today they held no interest for him. The one thing I really want, I can’t have. Sure, I can walk around the ship, one hallway at a time, with an armed escort. That isn’t freedom. I’ve imagined life being so much better.
Every day, he felt the acute sting of the crew’s projected fear and anger. Even if I broke out, would I truly ever be free? I’ll always be a hybrid—I’m doomed to a life of second-class citizenship forever. He sipped the Earl Grey, the only kind of tea he’d experienced onboard this ship. He’d learned that back in the days of Ancient Earth, they’d had hundreds of tantalizing varieties—but Earth had died long ago, the only existing records a series of digitized notes: a reference of sorts, called the AEctionary—the Ancient Earth dictionary. And as much as Regas could read about the tigers of Ancient Earth, as a human-tiger hybrid, he was something else, entirely.
The world outside the lab was a frightening place. He didn’t dare escape. Where would I go? What would I do? He didn’t know the layout of the ship. What if it’s all just a complex of multiple warehouse-style laboratories, like this one? But then, another little voice, deep inside, said, “What if it’s not?” He let his mind wander for a few indulgent moments as the Earl Grey steeped. What if it’s larger and grander than I’ve ever imagined? What if there aren’t just labs, but schools, hospitals, control observatories and libraries? What if there are others like me?
Thus, the war within manifested itself in his mind—to leave or to stay, and always there remained the lingering inner voices, questioning what he would find in the great beyond outside of his cell. Could there be others? He’d certainly never seen one before, but their existence seemed logical.
All of which led to a logical conclusion. Having this entire program for a single hybrid doesn’t make sense. He stood up and walked over to the Plastiglass. I’ll start by asking a simple question. Spying a female lab worker, he tapped on the cell wall. Humans would consider her beautiful, with arched eyebrows and full rose-colored lips. She looked at him over her glasses and beneath a dark veil of hair.
“Excuse me,” he said, knocking again on the Plastiglass. “I have a question.”
She appeared to pretend not to notice, and returned to her paperwork.
Maybe she didn’t hear me. He decided to try again, knocking louder, and this time she looked up, annoyed.
“What do you want?” she asked, tapping her stylus on the table.
“I was wondering if there are any other hybrids like me.”
She shook her head, but whether this was an answer or a dismissal, he could not tell. I guess that tactic won’t work. He owed his whole life to T-Tech, but lately, so many strange thoughts swarmed in his head. They’re keeping me in the dark, and I’m tired of it. No—I shouldn’t be thinking that. After all, they’ve graciously supported me all these years. He looked down at his Earl Grey. They provide me with all the necessary comforts—shelter, food, water, and even luxuries like tea and coffee, and a modicum of knowledge, through access to the AEctionary. And yet, as he looked at the young lab tech, something stirred in his soul. I need to get out of here, even for just a little while.
Something else troubled him, tickling the far reaches of his consciousness; a phrase he’d heard one of the scientists mention in the course of conversation. Boston Tea Party. In the dead of a recent night, he’d stayed up past lights-out, checked for guards, then signed in to the AEctionary from the terminal in his Plastiglass cube. These new words intrigued him. He’d learned a lot in the course of casual conversation with the few lab technicians who would actually talk to him, like the friendly bio-technician Rory. Regas had even learned a new word yesterday—Luna. He slowly lowered his mug of tea to the floor; remembering, contemplating, careful not to look suspicious, making the movements he’d always made before. After all, the AEctionary had a thing or two to say about the art of illusion and disguising one’s true intentions.
He slowly walked over to the terminal and accessed the AEctionary, typing hastily on the keyboard on the shelf before him, entering the word into the prompt—Luna. There’s got to be an explanation somewhere on the computer’s database. He’d heard the word in an offhand remark from Rory a couple days before. Luna was the spherical satellite, the moon the people of Ancient Earth saw in the heavens, it had glowed up there like a magical disk. People prayed to it, guided their ships by it, attributed the power of gods and goddesses to it. It must have been a wonder to behold—but then he dropped from imagination to the present—so was the interstellar corporation known as T-Tech. He respected T-Tech as a powerful entity, building itself up as every company must, and yet . . . and yet he wanted to dump his one luxury into T-Tech’s harbor, like the men in the story of the Boston Tea Party had done. That, and an idea gripped his heart like a vise. I want to see Earth’s moon. But so far as he knew, Earth no longer existed, and maybe even Luna had been destroyed in the wars of Ancient Earth. He’d made a mental note to try to read more about the subject later.