Continued from The New Real, Day 2

Chapter 20 Questions
#2D1D #c20q1 Action or reason?
#2D1D #c20q2 Heads or tails?
#2D1D #c20q3 A song on the radio.
#2D1D #c20q4 Another song on the radio


Chapter 20 Answers
Action or reason?: RT @1889ca Action or reason? // reaction by am_harte
Heads or tails?: Can\'t tell with that species by Bismod
A song on the radio.: Do it All Night by Dance Dance Revolution by janoda
Another song on the radio: by janoda

Chapter 20: Surrender

The Thomas Terra slowed down sharply as it entered the Terran system, the only object visible was the sun, a small glowing ball in the distance. Darvey looked out the viewport at the darkness, the lack of planets, the lack of anything at all. It felt so cold.
"Nothing's here," he said.
"Planets don't orbit in sync," said Aphid. "It's normal."
"I guess," he said.
Lucas pulled up diagrams onscreen, navigated them ably.
"The Tweep ship is approaching Earth," he said. "They are slowing down. You appear to be correct, Darvey."
"How fast can we get there?" Darvey asked.
"Regulations forbid speeds in excess of-"
"Two minutes," said Aphid, and powered up the engines.
Lucas said nothing for a moment, then said: "We are not able to engage in communications this close to Earth."
"We CAN'T or we SHOULDN'T?" asked Darvey.
Lucas stared at him.
"You will agitate the Orillians," he said.
"I sure hope so."
The ship tore towards Earth, and as it approached, lights flashed on the console, and the screen magnified to show the Tweep ship easing into position against the bright blue sphere.
"I see the ship!" Kaps called over the intercom. "What do I do?"
"Give me a second," said Darvey. "Aphid, can we call them?"
"One second," she said, and tapped a few buttons. The screen flickered, and a small icon appeared in the corner, surrounded by what looked like signal strength meters. Aphid nodded to Darvey.
"This is the CSA vessel Thomas Derra," said Darvey. "We know what you're up to. Shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded."
He motioned to Aphid, and she cut the connection.
"How was that?" he asked.
"I would surrender," she purred.
The console blared suddenly, and three fierce, glowing streaks shot towards them. Aphid's arms shot across the console, and the ship lurched sideways, rolling out of the way of the blasts.
"What do we do?" asked Darvey.
Lucas said nothing. Aphid clicked happily.
"I will take evasive measures? Countermeasures perhaps?"
"Sounds good. Do it."
The intercom buzzed and Kaps cleared his throat.
"Can I help?" he asked.
Darvey looked to Aphid and Lucas. Both shook their heads. The Tweep ship fired again, and Aphid barely got them out of range in time. Darvey reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter, turned it over.
"Heads, you do nothing. Tails, you kick their ass. Got it?"
"Sure," said Kaps, tension in his voice.
Darvey tossed the coin, caught it, put it to the back of his hand. He held it out to Lucas.
"Which is it?" he asked.
"I do not understand your pictograms," said Lucas, looking away.
Darvey checked the coin.
"Kaps? Ass-kicking time."
The intercom went dead, and a second later, a massive barrage of shots flew from behind the viewscreen and hit the Tweep ship over and over again along its backside. It rocked sideways, and its engines cut out. They started drifting downward.
"Mission accomplished," said Kaps. "I took out their engines."
"Wow," said Darvey. "That was… really efficient."
"I've been saving it up."
"I can tell."
Darvey motioned to the screen.
"Let's try calling them again. See if they're ready to talk."
Aphid hit some buttons on the console, and they looked up in time to see the Tweep ship explode in a quick burst of fire. No one spoke for a moment.
"Their generator is right next to the engine room," said Kaps. "It was hit or miss."
The intercom went dead.
Lucas turned away from the screen, walked to the door, and turned back briefly. His eyes here narrow, and for the first time, he looked genuinely angry.
"This will take much effort to fix," he said. "I am already receiving calls from CSA headquarters. What should I say?"
Darvey shrugged.
"We did our jobs," he said.
Lucas left without another word. Aphid was playing with the console, twitching her head to the side as if listening. Darvey sat next to her, trying to hear.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Scanning frequencies," she said. "Without the Tweeps to question, we still have no idea where Jyi is."
"You think she's sending a distress call?"
"I hope so. It's what we're trained to do, if we can."
"So what are you hearing?"
She looked around, then snapped back to attention.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I forgot you can't hear that frequency. Here…"
She pushed a button, and the cockpit filled with noise. Static, random chatter, a mish-mash of languages that were too distorted for his translator to pick up, he guessed. He strained to listen as it cycled through channels, searching.
"These are a bit fainter than usual, because we're filtering out all the Earth-based transmissions. Normally, it would be a lot clearer. And it will be, once we get further away."
Darvey nodded. He listened through the creaks and the echoes and the scrapes and other odd noises until it all sounded like white noise, so fuzzy he couldn't focus. He put his head in his hands, tried to make sense of it… and then he froze.
"Wait," he said. "What was that?"
Aphid frowned, dialled back. He hit the desk as she passed a channel filled with faint music.
"There!" he said. "Where's that coming from?"
"Let me see," she said, tapping some buttons. The song became clearer, and they sat in silence at the chorus sang them a pulsating serenade: "Oh do it all night, Do it with me, I'll take you to heaven if you make me feel free…"
Darvey and Aphid looked at each other for a moment.
And another moment.
"You know this song?" she asked quietly.
Darvey smiled nervously.
"It's called ‘Do it All Night.'"
"I see…"
"It's a long story."
"Where is it coming from?" Darvey asked, snapping out of the daze. "If you're filtering out Earth-based transmissions, then…"
"It's from your Kuiper Belt," she said. "And it's not a bounceback. It's a relay!"
Darvey smiled.
"It's not a relay," he said. "It's our distress signal."

Chapter 21 Questions
#2D1D #c21q1 Jyi or the Girl?
#2D1D #c21q2 Dead or alive?
#2D1D #c21q3 Heads or Tails?
#2D1D #c21q4 Yes or No?
#2D1D #c21q5 Chuckling nervously or crying?

Chapter 21 Answers
Jyi or the Girl?: The Girl by mjgolli
Dead or alive?: Both (Schrödinger\'s cat ftw) by Rok
Heads or Tails?: Kaps,attempting assaniation, hits the coin instead by porlob
Yes or No? : YES YES YES by am_harte
Chuckling nervously or crying?: nervous chuckle, but sounds like malevolent laugh by porlob

Chapter 21: A Dark Place

The Tobor burst back into the room with Hash Prime ready, and Eshilia screamed as they stormed towards her. Jyi twisted in her seat, fighting against the straps. The needle pressed against Eshilia's arm.
"Hey!" Jyi shouted. "Leave her alone!"
The Tobor turned on Jyi, bared his teeth.
"Wait your turn, slug!" he snapped.
"Come here and say that again."
He put the needle down and grabbed Jyi's face in his hand, squeezed tight.
"Wait… your… turn…"
He let go and turned back to Eshilia, so he didn't see Jyi pull her leg free. Her knee hit his spine with a crack, and she twisted herself around, catching his neck in the crook of her leg, and slammed his head into the chair. He roared in pain.
"Let her go!" Jyi shouted to the other Tobor. They had their hands on their guns, trying to decide what to do.
"Kill her, you idiots! She can't hurt you! Do it!"
They pulled their weapons out, took aim, and then the lights flickered. A crackling noise echoed through the room, and the intercom came to life.
"Hello Tobor!" said Darvey, his voice bursting with an energy Jyi had never heard. "I'm calling to demand you surrender, and return our people to us unharmed. You have… five minutes to comply. Hope that works for you."
The two Tobor looked to each other, about to speak, and then the lights went out completely. The backup generator threw up emergency lighting, flickering and yellow, and there was a long silence in the room as everyone looked to the disruptor on the far wall.
Its light was not on.


Darvey and Kaps arrived, weapons ready, to discover the Tobor resistance weeping under their desks. They found Jyi and Eshilia still strapped down, but their captors were nowhere to be seen. Jyi said nothing as her straps were undone, her eye twitching with the effort of holding so many people at bay for so long.
Eshilia fell out of her seat when she was freed, curled on the ground, and began to cry. Jyi knelt down next to her, rubbing her back, and the others left them in peace. Jyi whispered softly, catching the hints of consolation and hope in the air, and amplifying them every chance she got.
"You're okay now, Eshie," she said. "You're going to be fine."
"I… I can't… I can't…"
"Shhh," Jyi said. "You're going to be fine."
"They're… the Tobor are going to be… they're going to find me…"
"They're not going to find you," Jyi said. "You're safe."
"They're so scary…" Eshie cried.
"No they're not. Do you know the joke about the fat Tobor?"
Eshie shook her head, but wouldn't look up.
"He was so fat," Jyi said, "that when he entered a solar system, it caused an eclipse."
Eshie choked on laughter, rubbed her eyes..
"That's terrible," she said.
"That big guy over there told it to me," Jyi said, pointing to Kaps. "If you want to be tortured, you can ask him for more."
Eshie laughed, and Jyi boosted her happiness, her elation, until the terror was nothing more than a speck in the room. They stayed there, huddled on the floor of the Tobor ship, while the world crawled along without them.

Chapter 22 Questions
#2D1D #c22q1 Threaten or praise?
#2D1D #c22q2 Big crime problem.
#2D1D #c22q3 Understand or miss the point?
#2D1D #c22q4 A poisonous liquid
#2D1D #c22q5 Alcoholic Beverage
#2D1D #c22q6 Three things you might see an in acid trip
#2D1D #c22q7 A way to kill someone
#2D1D #c22q8 Three weird foods
#2D1D #c22q9 A large item

Chapter 22 Answers
Threaten or praise?: praise by am_harte
Big crime problem.: @1889ca Flashing old ladies on the street by _hyacinthgirl_
Understand or miss the point?: Understand by Possums
A poisonous liquid: janoda juice by am_harte
Alcoholic Beverage: Rum by alienmongoose
Three things you might see an in acid trip: expanding lightbulb, growing vines, god by porlob
A way to kill someone: Bury them alive by Possums
Three weird foods: rok, golli and jan by am_harte
A large item: 2 lbs. tellarian ether spice by Hbullseye

Chapter 22: Requiem

Jyi put the cold pack to her knee, wincing at the sensation. She eased back onto her bed, leaning against the wall, and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, Lucas was standing in the doorway, his face blank. Jyi motioned to her chair, and he moved inside, sat down.
"You survived," he said.
"Just barely."
"You do that often, I have noticed."
She nodded, moved the ice.
"Are you all right?" he asked, leaning forward slightly. Jyi smiled at him, shrugged.
"My knee will be fine," she said. "And as for the other matter… yeah, it's taken care of. The antidote was there. I'm fine now."
Lucas sat back, taller, smiled like a creature that was taught how to smile.
"Excellent news," he said. "I will have nothing to report about your health, then."
"Thanks. How much trouble are we in over the Darvey situation?"
Lucas thought for a moment, then spoke carefully.
"Assuming he does not stay with us much longer, we should not risk losing our status in this District."
"Good," she said. "As long as we get to stay here-"
"We would never be assigned to your District, Jyi."
She laughed, got to her feet, put the cold pack down the desk chute, and walked past Lucas into the hall. Down the hall, the last of the Tobors were being filed into the holding cells, hands latched behind them, faces downturned, tired, defeated.
Jyi and Lucas arrived at the cockpit as Aphid was pulling up schematics onscreen. She turned as they entered, clicked happily, and nodded.
"I hear you had quite the adventure," she said.
Jyi shrugged.
"I've seen worse."
"Well SPEAKING of worse… guess who we've got on the line right now?"
Jyi glanced at the call signature, exhaled slowly.
"Orillians. Great."
"Yeah," said Aphid, getting out of her seat. "So have fun. And good luck."
Jyi hit the button on the console, and Gazoo appeared, suit fully pressed, standing as straight and proper as he could possibly muster. She had a hard time not rolling her eyes at him.
"I hear congratulations are in order, Captain," said Gazoo, giving her his best smile. "A plot to destroy one of our most cherished planets defeated, and a the Governor's daughter recovered safely. We could not be more pleased."
"Thank you, sir," she said without a hint of emotion.
"We are truly impressed at your work in this matter, and will be recommending a commendation to the CSA at our next council meetings. They should know of your excellent policework here."
Jyi nodded
"Though… it's not all finished yet, sir," she said.
Gazoo froze.
"No?" he asked.
"No sir," she said. "We're following some leads that suggests the Tobors might have been working with someone else. A mastermind behind the Earth plot. Someone with connections and brains."
Gazoo licked his lips slowly, nodded as if thinking.
"I see," he said. "But Captain… don't you think that's a little far-fetched? The Tobors are notoriously independent. Why would they-"
"Maybe they were offered something they wanted more than independence," Jyi said coldly. "Like revenge."
Darvey entered the cockpit, stood at the back after a warning look from Lucas. He watched the scene, arms clasped behind his back, eyes narrow at the sight of Gazoo again.
"It sounds very much like legal posturing to me," said the Orillian. "Shifting blame, trying to drag others down with them. Don't you worry, my dear. We'll take care of all this in District Court when they're tried for genocide. It will all be investigated thoroughly, I promise you."
Jyi nodded, looked to Darvey, whose face was contorted with rage.
"I'm sure you will," she said, and turned off the comm.
"What in the hell was THAT?" boomed Darvey. "Is it just me, or did he just tell you there's going to be a coverup?"
"They're going to be a coverup," said Jyi. "If you didn't see it coming, you haven't been paying attention. Even if Gazoo himself isn't involved, he's not going to let the CSA go looking into the comings and goings of the District Authority. There's just no way."
"So what? They get off scott free? You can't be serious."
"They don't have control of the Council."
"You mean because Earth's still there."
"I still don't get why that's so important to them," said Darvey. "I mean, it can't just be about prestige, can it? They can't really need to be in control that much?"
Lucas stepped forward, clasped his hands like a professor again.
"Rezoning of District land requires unanimous agreement of the council. The Terran system and adjoining areas are largely undeveloped real estate with extremely lucrative business potential. The Orillians have been trying to gain access to your solar system for quite some time, but have never been able to sway your Council representative. If they were to gain control of that last vote, the human race could find itself a stranger in its own home."
Darvey looked at the screen, the blackness of space, the grid of the Terran system before him.
"So they're stopped now, right? They can't do that."
"No," said Lucas. "They will not try to take over Earth again. The discovery of a credible terrorist threat to your planet has triggered a new level of Confederation protection for Earth. There will be blockades and agents in the area within days, now that this has been identified as a possible war zone."
Darvey crossed his arms, frowned.
"So they're safe? The Earth is safe?"
"Relatively safe."
"That doesn't sound good," Darvey sighed.
"The last time a non-spacefaring planet got this designation," Jyi said, "it brought all the scum of the universe down on them, looking for easy marks. Until now, Earth's been a nothing on the galactic scale. Not even a blip on the radar. After this… every criminal out there knows you can't defend yourselves."
"Great," said Darvey.
"Murder, assassinations, petty crime, flashing old ladies on the street… the whole deal. It's coming."
"And more work for you, I bet," he said.
"The drugs are always first on the scene. But we're ready."
"I hope so."
Jyi smiled an icy smile.
"I'm surprised you're still around," she said. "You couldn't find a spare gun lying around? Hang yourself in your room? Bury yourself alive?"
"I'm claustrophobic."
She laughed, then took her gun off her belt, handed it to Darvey. He looked at it, turned it over in his hand, looked up at her.
"We'll give you some privacy," she said.
She and Lucas started to leave, but Darvey caught her by the arm.
"You know what?" he said. "Not today."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Not today? Then when?"
"It's like this," he said, putting the gun back in her hand. "If all the scum of the universe of coming to Earth, they're going to need the best law enforcement they can get. And you guys? Not a chance. I'm not risking my homeworld to someone like Kaps. He'll blow up the Vatican by mistake."
"He won't be allowed near those guns again," Jyi said with a smile.
"Yeah, as if anyone listens to YOU."
She laughed, and Darvey felt better than he'd felt in months… or even years. And even though he knew in the back of his mind that Jyi was doing it to him, he didn't say anything, didn't fight it. Try as he might, he couldn't see the girl on the bicycle anymore, couldn't feel the shame. He knew the elation wasn't real, but by god, he was willing to accept this "new" real, if only for today.


That evening, they ate their first real meal together as team. Aphid explained the dishes to Darvey: rok, a kind of phlegmy substance that looked like Ogro's children; golli, a bamboo-like treat whose main selling point was that it flayed open in your mouth and made you bleed; and jan, a long, flat bread that was the most normal of the options, so Darvey took a bite, and tried chewing.
"You don't like it?" asked Kaps. "It's from my planet."
"It takes like rocks," Darvey said, spitting pebbles onto his plate.
"It kinda is. You eat it with a cream paste."
"No thanks," he said, and dropped the rest into the disposal chute.
Lucas finished pouring their drinks, and they all stood up, glasses in hand, and made a toast.
"To suicide!" Kaps shouted, and they all cheered, drank.
Darvey's eyes opened wide when he tasted it. He looked to Lucas.
"Rum?" he asked. "How did you…"
"Pure ethanol is not good for you," Lucas said. "For long-term alcoholism, I would recommend this instead."
They talked and laughed and ate for hours, until sometime in the middle of the night, Darvey started to see the echoes of his wife around the edge of the room, and Kaps fell off his chair, too drunk to stand.
"Everybody," Aphid said, stumbling into the sludge machine with her cup in her hand, "I have a confession to make."
"Confession!" cheered the group, a little less in sync than before.
"I laced the food with oda juice, so we can all have a great time tonight."
"Aphid!" said Jyi, scolding but not too seriously. "That's… that's illegal, you know!"
"So arrest me!" laughed Aphid. "If you can!"
"The lights are expanding!" wailed Kaps from the floor. "They're getting bigger and bigger and… whoa!"
"There are vines on the walls," said Jyi, laying back in her chair. "And onto the ceiling. It's so pretty."
Aphid looked to Lucas.
"I see god," he said. "Though that is not because of the food."
Everyone laughed, and Aphid turned to Darvey.
"What do you see, biped? Tell me, tell me!"
Darvey looked across the room, saw Lisa smiling at him, waiting for him to come to bed, and he sighed.
"Nothing real," he said. He turned to Aphid.
"How about you?"
She clicked happily, stood up straighter.
"Well," she began…
And the sludge machine exploded, blowing a hole in the ship.

Thank you all very much for all your support and crazy ideas over these last two days. I'm really glad to have gotten to know you all, and I hope you enoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Yes, there will be more of Darvey, Jyi, Aphid and the gang... in one format or another. To keep up to date on it all, visit my site, where the insanity festers. Oh, and if you found this story entertaining, you could also check out The Vector, my viruscore novel.

I also want to thank io9, especially Annalee and Graeme for helping get this off the ground, and for putting up with my over-long posts and crazy requests. As many io9ers said in tweets and emails to me during my writing: this really is the best place for scifi on the web. I'm so proud to have been able to launch The New Real with all of you. Thank you!