The Lost in Superposition

Steve B Howard

Jah Arc read the flashing red message from the Department of Health and Welfare on his screen again.

“Find Astor Wilcott and bring him to OWOH headquarters immediately.”

“No more info?” Arc thought. “They can’t give me nothing?”

Arc was the primary search and locate detective on the O.W.O.H Off World Orbital Habitat. In fact, he was currently the only S and L detective on the OWOH now. The OWOH’s stationary orbit was between the earth and the moon.

In 2140 the OWOH was a temporary off world habitat for a group of ultra-wealthy Mars colonists who needed a place away from earth to wait for their habitat on Mars to be built. In 2060 the wealthy.02% pissed off to Mars and left the OWOH in its lonely orbit

In 2170 a group of earth-side Crime Syndicates took it over and turned it into an off world casino. This lasted until 2185 when the OWOH was raided because of too much illegal activity and too many bodies floating in space outside the airlocks. The syndicates that decided to fall in line and follow the rules got to keep three of the casinos and their monopoly on the 20 million tourists that visited the OWOH each year.

The Department of Off-World Habitation had been in charge of the OWOH for the last fifteen years. Arc had been here for twelve years. He’d been an S and L detective for seven of those years. There were only 2.8 million permanent residents in the OWOH, but with millions of tourists visiting every year and all the cheap ID masking tech, a multitude of criminals, terrorists and even savvy teenagers would try and hide out here. Arc had a case load on his computer that took him five minutes just to scroll through. He found it odd that he was now being tasked to track down a local.

Arc called up his Holo-Database of missing persons on the OWOH and ran a check for Astor Wilcott. “Hmm, nothing much here. Came to the OWOH five years ago, earthside transfer from the WHO to the OWOH DOFW. Wait a sec,” Arc said.

POLICE RESPONSE AND MEDICAL: 2/18/2194 9 PM

Police and Medical Team responded to a medical emergency at the residence of Wilcott Astor. Chang Anna believed deceased.

******REPORT CLASSIFIED BY OWOH INTEL******

“What the fuck?” Arc thought.

In the seven years he’d been a detective he’d never seen a standard police and medical report classified before. Arc leaned way back in his desk chair and stretched out his long thin body thinking about what his next move was. His long thick silver dreadlocks hung almost to the floor.

He ran his forearm in front of his Holo-Laptop and copied Astor Wilcott’s address into his implants. Then he dressed in a light tactil uniform. This would give him some stealth and some minor defensive weapons. To the untrained eye his uniform looked like a standard issue. No more special than what security guards wore on the job.

He left his office and caught the Aerial Shuttle across the city to the bottom of the West Terrace District. He linked Wilcott’s address from his forearm implant to the Aerial Shuttle’s nav-system so it would drop him off near the apartment building. As the packed the Aerial Shuttle whisked along between the skyscrapers that marched through the city he caught quick glimpses of the dense city through the window. As the Aerial passed landmarks and corporate headquarters Holo-Infomercials would pop up from the window. Arc had learned to filter them out mostly when he rode the Aerial by looking past them out into the passing scenery. The ghost of one by Paradigm Shift promising the safe experience of Superposition with built in auto safety observers to bring you out drifted just under Arc’s awareness.

The OWOH was a standard triple layer Hadron Habitat Cylinder, the outer layer constantly rotating to provide gravity. The second layer acted as shielding and projected artificial daylight or darkness that matched Earth’s 24 hour cycle. The original Mars colonists had opted for a semi-tropical climate, so the OWOH remained a constant 28 C year round.

The final layer contained a roughly San Francisco sized city where the 2.8 million residents lived, worked, and sometimes died.

There were four districts, the North, South, East, and West Terraces. The city was a giant seven layer terrace. The more wealthy and important you were the higher you lived on the terraces. Astor Wilcott lived in a tiny 2nd floor corner apartment near the bottom of the West Terrace District.

He exited the train and walked 300 meters to a block-shaped brown carbon fiber building. Arc took the exterior stairs to the 2nd floor balcony and found Wilcott’s apartment, unit 207. He used a DigiLock Reset tool to gain entrance to Wilcott’s apartment. The DigiLock looked like an ancient Zippo lighter. It was a leftover from when he was still earth-side and working as a Special Operator for the military doing snatch and grabs mostly. One swipe across any electronic locking systems and the access codes were instantly reset to all zeros, basically a factory reset. “Love this thing,” Arc thought as he entered the apartment.

Inside he could tell that the cycled air was stale, a sign that no one had breathed it in a while. A small blue light indicating the apartment had been in power saving mode blinked to yellow, normal mode, as it sensed his movement. The apartment was an older style, but it was clean, no dust, so he assumed it was running a modern auto-cleaning system.

“Wish my hole in the wall had one of those,” he thought.

He walked through the apartment checking in each room looking for clues as to where Wilcott may have gone. There was an empty coffee cup on the kitchen table. The MitsuZon Holo-Laptop Emitter in the center of the table had gone into sleep mode. Arc powered it on and the log in screen hovered above the square white plastic table. He scanned it with his DigiLock and it beeped and flipped to the factory start up screen. He touched the screen with his forearm and his implants initialized the proper factory password for that model of Holo-Laptop.

“Okay Astor, where and what the hell have you been up to?”

Arc skimmed through Astor’s data history noting that the last time this Holo-Laptop had been used was over a week ago. Most of the data were messages from the Department of Health and Welfare where Astor worked. The OWOH departments used an encryption system that even his DigiLock couldn’t break, so there was no way for him to read any of them. He did find one of Wilcott’s personal notes that wasn’t encrypted though.

“Fail safe my ass! Zen Tech killed her! There is no safe auto-observer!”

Slowly the window Paradigm Shitft ad on the Aerial came back to Arc. Super Position users were a new type of addict. They called them dingers on the street. Years ago the earth-side authorities had given up on the centuries old drug war and instead had started finding safe ways for people to use drugs and even continue to live productive lives as addicts. But companies using better and better tech had just come up with more sophisticated ways to get people high and addicted.

Originally, dingers had bought black market devices to put themselves into Super Position. Arc had been tracking them down, often unsuccessfully, on the OWOH ever since. The OWOH had become a hotbed for dingers since it was one of the few places you could find uncrowded areas to ding. Anyone observing the spot where you initiated the ding would collapse the wave function and blow your high, so empty space with no people was prime real-estate for the dinger crowd. If you didn’t prepare and no one collapsed the wave function in a few days though, you would most often drop the ground as a corpse, dead from dehydration.

“Nothing more disgusting than a month old dinger splattering on the ground when you found their dumb ass,” Arc muttered.

Arc had learned that dingers often hung out in an unfinished section of the OWOH called New Town. It was supposed to be a series of low income apartments for temp workers, but financing fell through. It was now a bare unfinished modal that had intermittent gravity and a lot of empty space. Arc had gone out to New Town a few times trying to track down dingers that were reported as missing persons, but the crowd out there was pretty tight lipped and he rarely got much information from any of them to help him track down the people he was looking for.

“Never can find those damn dingers,“ he muttered to himself.

He hadn’t been out there in a while, but he’d heard from an undercover officer working that area that there was now a cult out there with a small temple and hooded silver robbed priest-like monks. They called themselves the Void Guardians and supposedly they knew the exact location of every dinger in New Town. They collapsed the wave function of dingers that wanted to come out of their ding alive and left those alone that didn’t. Arc’s contact said the priest-monks called the dingers not coming back Light Children of the Void. The undercover officer calling herself Zoe had told him that company executives and government officials from both the OWOH and earth-side had been disappearing for months. High level people thought the Void Guardians were responsible. She’d been posing as a dinger to try and get close to them, but he had told Arc she hadn’t had much luck.

“OWOH security won’t stand for much more of this shit,” she told Arc. “A full invasion of that place is coming soon, I think.”

Arc scrolled through more of Wilcott’s files. He was surprised by the sophistication of the data blocks on some of the files. He didn’t think Wilcott would have had the skills to put those in place. Many of them were way beyond commercial or even government grade.

“Damn, ff these fools are dingers into black market tech shit, I’ll probably never find them,” he thought.

Then he saw what he was looking for, a link for Paradigm Shift. A few years ago Paradigm Shift had released a product named Zen Tech, what they claimed was a meditation device that allowed users to safely experience Super Position. “The truly safe way to experience everything and nothing at the same time,” their ads said.

“Can’t get into most of the messages, but I can see if there were any Zen Tech buys made from here.”

Arc ran a search and found two Zen Tech purchases, the first the day before Anna Chang died and the other bought a little over a week ago.

“Shit, right about the time old Wilcott disappeared.”

Scrolling a little further he found a purchase for a military grade neural upload link a day before Wilcott bought his Zen Tech.

“Expensive,” Arc thought. “What the hell would he need a neural upload link like that for?”

He skimmed through the data again to see if there had been any neural uploads from this Holo-Laptop made. All he found were a series of data blocks again, but one of them did have a bio-signature indicating it might have been a neural upload.

“And a shit ton of data too,” Arc said.

Speaking into the audio receptor on his forearm, he recited a security override code from memory. Then Arc ran his forearm in front of the Holo-Data Stream and began to download the contents of Wilcott’s Holo-Laptop. He couldn’t by-pass the data blocks himself, but now that this was a potential suicide he could pass the data from Wilcott’s Holo-Laptop on to OWOH’s tech staff. In cases like this where the info might potentially save someone’s life the tech staff could essentially hack a device and retrieve all the data.

“With little bit a luck I can dump this whole mess on someone else’s ass,” he muttered.

Speaking into his forearm again, he voice contacted the OWOH’s security tech department.

“Yeah, uh detective Arc here from S and L. I need a data hack on a Holo-Laptop, this is a very probable suicide attempt or worse. I’ve already downloaded the data into my forearm unit. I can stream it to you when you are ready.”

“Sure detective, what’s the name?”

“Wilcott Asto……..”

Arc stared at the lost transmission message scrolling across his forearm readout screen. …Transmission Lost….. He hadn’t heard of any forecasts for solar storms that would cause the transmission to cut out, but occasional freak storms did knocked out stuff briefly on the OWOH.

Arc stepped out of the apartment to see if he could get a connection again. As he stood on the balcony trying to restart his forearm implants the apartment next to Wilcott’s opened. An elderly woman stuck her head out the door.

“Hi, I’m a detective with the OWOH. Have you seen Mr. Wilcott recently?”

The old woman said something in rapid earth-side New Spanish and slammed the door. Arc caught just enough to confirm what he already knew. She hadn’t seen Wilcott in over a week and she didn’t know nothing.

He reset the lock code on Wilcott’s apartment and headed back to the Aerial station. He didn’t relish the idea of going directly to the OWOH security tech department. He liked to stay away from the head offices as much as possible. But with his forearm link down he didn’t see any other option.

He checked his forearm again to see if he could contact the Tech guys again hoping to save himself a trip. The connection was still down. But his forearm implants did detect what might have been someone tailing him from Wilcott’s apartment. Algorithms scanned for these type of stalkers for every OWOH employee that did potentially dangerous or sensitive work. Kidnappings for ransoms and bodies with high tech implants like Arc’s being parted out and sold on the earth-side black markets weren’t uncommon.

He took a stairway up to a transit bridge that ran above the monorail that ran through the center of the city at the bottom of the OWOH. There were only two ways onto this bridge. Arc waited in the center. He watched the Holo-Scanner on his forearm for the tail. The the Holo-Screen went black.

“Damn. They’re running heavy data-blocks. That explains the transmission cutting out.”

Arc still had a good view of both staircases onto the bridge though. The OWOH was stacked deep with apartments, high-rises and various businesses, so getting a good line of sight here was almost impossible This bridge was about the best he was going to get. He checked his forearm again to see if he could scan anything. A burning surge through his forearm doubled him over. His Holo-Screen blinked on and in angry red scroll the screen flashed, “OWOH Emergency Audio Transmission Override”. Breathing heavily he accepted the transmission.

“Detective Arc here.”

“Detective, this is the OWOH Vice Administrator.”

Arc paused for a second to catch his breath and process this. The OWOH VA was the second most powerful person on the habitat and one of the top ten most powerful people in the entire solar system colonial system.

“Uh, yes, how can I help you sir?”

“You are trying to locate Astor Wilcott, correct?”

“Yes sir, that is correct. I, uh, obtained some data, but a lot of the info on him is either classified or has data-blocks. I’m making progress, but it has been slow.”

“Mr. Wilcott was the product safety investigator for the Department of Health and Welfare. Recently, he was made prime liaison to Paradigm Shift. If you don’t know already, their parent company is Core Strike Industries.”

“Core Strike sir?”

“Yes. Mr. Wilcott stole something from them that, well, let’s just say if you aren’t able to recover it could have serious repercussions for the entire OWOH and possibly the rest of solar system as well. I’m looking at your records here detective Arc. Your employment contract and OWOH visa come up for renewal in six months. Be a shame to lose you.”

“I understand sir, I will do…..”

The transmission ended abruptly. The blank blue Holo-Screen flickered above Arc’s forearm.

“Rude mofo, that one, “Arc thought. “And what the fuck is Core Strike doing in all this?”

Arc knew Core Strike was a heavy grade weapons designer for military contacts all over the solar system. There were also rumors that they made custom merc clones and cyborgs as well. He couldn’t even imagine how they were connected to all this.

Now, not only was he tasked with finding a dinger that didn’t want to be found in bad way, assuming he was still alive, but the Vice Admin himself was threatening to dump Arc earth-side if he didn’t come through. Arc’s testimony had put some heavy people away for murder in earth-side prisons over the years. Exile to earth-side would probably be a death sentence for him.

He checked his forearm again to see if maybe the transmission blocks had dropped and his tail was back. A small red light was flashing on his forearm indicating that his forearm implants had started their diagnostic mode.

“Assholes probably fried something with their override surge,” he thought.

He started to leave the bridge and head back to the Aerial. Just as he was about to walk down the steps A booted foot appeared fast out of no where and kicked him back onto the bridge. He knelt trying to catch his breath as he watched the boot materialize as a person on the bridge.

“Tactile suit,” he said catching his breath.

His tail stood on the bridge in a lime green military grade tactile suit. Arc stood up as the tail began advancing. A discharge blade activated in the tail’s left hand.

“Wants to burn my suit out,” Arc thought.

The tail rushed Arc swinging the blade for his throat. Arc pivoted out of the way and slammed the blade hand down hard. Another feedback surge sparked along Arc’s forearm. The blade sparked blue blots as it sliced through the bridge railing. It clattered out of the tail’s hand and fell with the bridge railing to the train tracks below.

A second blade activated in the tail’s other hand and they spun and swung again at Arc’s throat. This time Arc stepped back and kicked the tail in the side and off the bridge. The blade nicked Arc’s shin and half shorted his suit as the tail tumbled off the bridge and dropped six meters to the train tracks below.

Arc watched as two silver robbed figures with hoods materialized and pulled the tail off the tracks before disappearing again.

“New Town?” Arc thought. “Gotta be. Silver robes. Maybe I can find the undercover agent out there and solve this with her help,” he thought.

He checked his forearm again, but now it was just a blank white screen. Completely burned out and dead. He took the Aerial back to his office and got a new tactical suit. He ran a charge through his forearm implants to see if he could reboot it. The read out said 11%. Enough to maybe contact Zoe, the undercover agent and possibly send a Hail Marry transmission to call in the cavalry if things went real bad. He sent a quick transmission to the undercover agent asking her to meet him near the entrance of New Town. He watched as his forearm implant’s charge dropped to 2%.

“Hope this fool is worth it.”

He took the Aerial to the far south end of the OWOH. The empty modals that made up New Town were out beyond the very last Aerial station. The OWOH light cycle was slowly switching to twilight. He would have to walk to New Town from the station. There had never been any transportation infrastructure built after the project lost all its funding.

Refracted moonlight was shining into New Town. Arc could see all the dark carbon fiber girders that made up the structure. A white coat of polymer had been sprayed on the ground floor. He switched on his tactical suit and faded into the background. His wasn’t military grade, but he hoped it would fool any sensor systems the Void Guardians had.

He reached an abandoned low-grav construction bot about the size of a house just outside the entrance to New Town. He was surprised to see a circus tent like structure at the entrance that he assumed was the temple the undercover agent had told him about.

He never saw the energy bolt that hit him. He woke up inside the circus tent. He could smell the melted circuits in his tactical suit. There was a dull metallic taste in his mouth and his body felt like it had been shoved out an airlock without a space suit. He was lying on the ground when he woke up.

As he sat up three figures in tactical suits materialized. He recognized the undercover agent Zoe, Anne Chang, and Wilcott instantly. Half a dozen silver robbed monks materialized behind them. Their robes were sparkling a pale blue in the weak moonlight.

“What the fuck?” Arc asked aloud.

Zoe stepped forward.

“Sorry Arc, I didn’t want it to happen like this, but we don’t have a choice.”

Arc looked past the undercover agent and pointed at Anne Chang.

“You’re are supposed to be dead.”

“It had to look that way,” Anne said. “So the OWOH would think Astor stole Core Strike’s weapon.”

“He didn’t?” Arc asked.

“No, I did,” Anne said. “We wanted the OWOH to look for Astor. As far as they were concerned I was a missing dinger, most likely a dead one. Core Strike’s weapon is in my head now.”

“What is it?” Arc asked. “Why go through all this shit?”

Wilcott spoke. “A high level engineer at Core Strike alerted me to it when I was a liason to Paradigm Shift. Imagine a weapon that can put an entire planet into Superpostion.”

“My god,” Arc said.

“Now you understand why we did this,” Wilcott said.

“Okay, but what do you want me to do?” Arc asked.

Wilcott showed him a Zen Tech. Arc could see that the Auto-Observer fail safe had been removed.

“Go back to OWOH headquarters. Tell them I’m a Child of the Void. Say the Guardians know where in New Town I dinged at. We are watching Core Strike. If they try and develop this weapon again The Guardians will collapse my wave function and Core Strike’s weapon will activate. The OWOH, earth-side, and most of the Moon will be gone.”

“None of us want that,” Anne said. “But no one can have a weapon like that. I’ll do what has to be done if they don’t listen. Understand Arc?”

Arc nodded and left. As he walked back towards the Aerial station he thought about what his life earth-side would be like six months from now.


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I mainly write about fly fishing in Washington State, Classic Muscle Cars, and Stand Up Comedy.

Seattle, WA
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