Week two of Corbett-877. Last week went pretty well for a first post. I’m hoping today builds on that a little.
We’ll start to get more into the theme today — you may guess this isn’t exactly a two fisted adventure novel we’ve started. It is, as was implied, a Star Trek pastiche, though that’s really meant to more set the stage than anything else. The characters are meant to be themselves, and no one else.
So far, I quite like them — especially Captain Liam Corbett, our commanding officer. Which is good. As you’ll see today, we’ll be seeing quite a bit of him in this story.
*** *** *** ***
Corbett stared at his younger doppleganger. “Dead?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Lee. I know this is a shock, but it’s true.” The man looked earnest, and a touch sympathetic. “You died at the instant the transmitter chief engaged your matter transmission.”
“What?” Corbett shook his head. “Are… are you saying there was some kind of… of transmission accident?”
The man shook his head. “It worked perfectly. As far as I know, anyway.” His expression — the sympathy — grew somber. “It did exactly what it was designed to do.”
“What are you saying? It alters matter into an energized state, and then transmits it down a conduit of particles, where it’s deenergized back into—”
“Exactly. It alters the state of matter itself, Lee. It completely energizes the molecules that makes up your body. It effectively disjuncts you, just like if you were shot with a disjunctor pistol.”
“It holds the pattern. It reintegrates—”
“Every molecule goes back the way it was. The brain goes back to what it was. The electrochemical patterns in that brain and body are restored. It’s exactly the same. But for those few seconds, all of that — all of that is energized into a plasmalike state. How could you possibly survive that, Lee?”
“People have been surviving that for three hundred years!”
“No, Lee — they haven’t.”
Corbett’s breath caught, just as he was about to shout something out. “…what do you mean? Are you saying every time the matter transmitter sends someone anywhere… they die?”
“Yes, Lee. Every time. Every time you’ve matter-transmitted, it’s killed you. Every time, Lee.”
“But… we arrive. We’re alive. Living beings appear.”
The man spread his hands. “That’s right. At the moment of reintegration, there is a living, breathing human being. One with all the memories, all the emotions, all the apparent experience of the one who was transmitted in the first place.” He reached over, and took Corbett’s shoulders. “But he’s not that being. He’s a new one. A new living being, born at the instant that pseudoplasma becomes matter once more. And the being who was up above… that… well, soul….”
“Is dead, yes.”
Corbett snorted. “You can’t possibly expect me to believe this. Do you have any idea how many people use matter transmission every day? Millions of people commute through transmission! The fleet has stations that are only accessible by transmission! Do you have any idea how many times I’ve transmitted, alone?”
The man took a deep breath. “Eight hundred and seventy eight.”
Corbett blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Trust me. I know. I am Liam Corbett, Midshipman Fourth Class, Alliance Fleet Academy. Sixth Student Fleet, Second Section. I never transmitted before I entered the Academy. Seven weeks into my first term, I was given his first field assignment — a three day bivouac on the Academy’s Australian grounds alongside my cadet squad. That squad — Gail Jackson, Augustus Macawber, Kameko Arakaki and me — climbed into the Academy’s number four transmission chamber. The coordinates were set, the satellite relay was established, the coils on transmission and receipt chambers were synchronized, and the system was engaged.” He looked intently at Corbett. “That’s my last memory of my life on Earth, Lee. The moment that happened, I experienced unimaginable pain for what seemed like an hour but was really just a second or two, and then I was in this lot. At the time, none of these buildings—” he waved his hand towards one of the high rises “—were here. All that came up later. It was just me, about two hundred meters ahead of the forward edge of the city. Two hundred meters to the south, Gail Jackson appeared, and Gus Macawber appeared two hundred meters south of her. Kammy had been transmitting for years, so that Kammy Arakaki appeared a few kilometers away, in the city proper. We were met by the shepherds, and we found out we were dead. Just like you’ve appeared here, and been met by me.”
“I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is — after those three days, the Lee Corbett who appeared in Australia and went on bivouac returned to the transmission chamber to transmit back to the Academy. The moment he and the others did that, that Liam Corbett appeared here, that Gail Jackson appeared two hundred meters to the south, that Gus Macawber appeared two hundred meters south of her, and Kammy appeared where the Kammys appear. That’s the way it works. A few weeks after that—”
“I get the picture,” Corbett cut in. “That doesn’t mean I believe you, but I understand what you’re saying.” He looked around. “I’m impressed that you could pull out names like Gail Jackson and Gus Macawber. I haven’t seen Gus for years — and as for Gail… well, I couldn’t tell you much about her. I never saw much of her or cared to look—”
The man laughed. “Nice try. Gus Macawber is still one of your best friends. He has been since those days. And as for Gail… you had a crush on her. A huge one. One that could have blossomed into more… only she didn’t survive the Academy, did she. She didn’t even make it to sophomore year. In the decades since, her death sticks in your mind like a needle — the ultimate might-have-been. A first love who didn’t even know she was a first love, permanently nineteen years old.”
Corbett’s eyes narrowed. “So you got ahold of my service record and even my personal log. Or you have some kind of… mind scanning technology. Either way, I don’t believe your story. This is a trick, whether it’s the Jliebians or the Pandar or someone else.”
“It’s no trick, Captain. But I don’t expect you to believe that right away. Liam Corbetts never do.”
“Stop saying that!” Corbett hissed.
“Stop saying… what?”
“Stop saying my name like it’s some kind of plural. I don’t know who you are, or where I am, but I am Liam Corbett. I went on that Australian bivouac as a cadet! I went to Gail Jackson’s memorial service! I am the Captain of the A.F.S. Vigilant! No matter what you say or do, that is the truth.”
The man’s smile grew sad. “I wish it were, Lee. I really do.” He cocked his head. “Want some coffee?”
Corbett blinked. “What?”
“There’s coffee right around the corner. We can talk more in there.”
Corbett looked at his doppleganger. “All right….”
“Great.” He turned and walked toward the street lights. Corbett watched for a second, then followed.
The street wasn’t hugely busy, but a few float cars were passing by on the road. The buildings were well lit, with storefronts. One place across the way offered “best rates for desynth.” Another offered italians done “the original Portland way.” That caught Corbett’s eye. He was from about fifty kilometers north of Portland, Maine, and the region claimed to be where the italian sandwich — a cut sub with meats, vegetables, cheese and oil — had been born.
“What’re you looking at?” The man asked him, stepping out of the way of a couple who were walking past.
“That Italian shop,” Corbett said. “I worked at one like that when I was a kid, out on Route 1. Real sandwiches, not synthesized, even if some of the ingredients came from a synthesizer.”
“You don’t say.” The man clapped Corbett’s shoulder. “C’mon.”
There was a cafe, right around the corner. “Corbett’s Coffee” was written across the top on a hand-carved sign. “Your place?” Corbett asked.
“Yeah — I own a few businesses, some real estate — I’ve done pretty well for myself.”
“Not bad at your age.”
“My age?” The man laughed. “In terms of experience and time? I’m exactly the same age you are, Lee. Except you only remember your life up to three months ago. I’ve actually lived through those experiences. Even the afterlife ones.” He opened the door. “Go on in.”
Corbett frowned. He was getting tired of the charade. At the same time, until he could get more information he had to play along. There really wasn’t any other choice. He stepped inside — it was a nice enough place. Bright color, a little jazz playing over the radio, the smell of toasted bagels… it was warm and inviting, as was clear enough, given how busy it was. He looked around at the people….
Corbett felt his blood run cold.
Sitting at a table, he saw… well, he saw himself. Lee Corbett, wearing the shipboard undress of the Vigilant. This duplicate wasn’t young, like the midshipman who’d met him. It looked exactly like him, instead. The same dark skin with the same scar on his face. Same close cropped hair. The same everything. He had a large mug of coffee and he was reading a datapad quietly. The only thing that was new was the circular badge he was wearing — it was another bronze colored badge like the midshipman’s. Liam Corbett was written along the top in the same way that the midshipman’s name had been. “Captain” was written along the bottom. And in the middle, where the alpha symbol had been on the midshipman’s badge, was written the number 871.
Corbett looked around. Two more Liam Corbetts were playing checkers in the corner. One wore the maroon and black uniform that the service had favored some twenty years before, and he had the insignia of a sublieutenant — he was the image of Corbett as a young officer on the A.F.S. Gauntlet. His opponent wore a formal uniform coat and Lt. Commander’s insignia — from Corbett’s time as an officer on the A.F.S Patroclus. He was sitting forward — Corbett could see his badge. His number was 492. Turning, he saw the man behind the counter — the one making coffee drinks, working the synthesizers — he was wearing a torn undertunic from an excursion uniform, but he looked Corbett’s age, or just a little younger. His badge said 699.
Corbett felt a little light headed. A strong hand took his arm. “Come on,” the midshipman said. “Sit right here, and have some coffee.”
“Can we make it gin?” Corbett asked.
“Already anticipated.” He helped Corbett sit down and next to a steaming mug of coffee — which looked the right color to have been prepared just how Corbett liked it — there was indeed a square bottle. Jessica’s Premium Gin was written on the bottle, with a bottle of tonic water next to that, and a highball glass filled with ice.
And next to both of them was a datapad, and a small closed box, with fake velvet on the outside. Ten centimeters by nine centimeters, or thereabouts. Corbett reached over, and opened it up. Inside there was a bronze badge like all the others. Liam Corbett across the top. Captain across the bottom. 877 in the middle.
“Is this supposed to be my badge?” Corbett asked.
The midshipman nodded, sitting across from him. He picked his coffee up. “Yup. And there’s some paperwork to fill out. Arrival information, mostly. We can talk about your options after that. I’ve taken the day off work — since I had two arrivals scheduled, it seemed best.”
“Sure. You, now. And the next Liam Corbett, just over six hours from now.”
Corbett felt the world shake a little. “Wait… you know when….”
“When a new arrival is due? Yes. Well, the temple does.”
“That’s what we call it. Call them, really. It’s not important right now — you’ll have plenty of time to ask questions like that and get them answered. First, we need to get you in the system so we can get your accounts set up.”
“Plenty of time? You mean eternity. If this is the afterlife, then this is where I’ll be for the rest of my existence, right?”
“Wrong. This is… well, most people call it Purgatory. If it has a real or proper name, I don’t know what it is.”
“Purgatory? The Catholic limbo, where people wait out their time when they have venal sins?”
“Well, it’s not that one. See, people like us show up here. And we stay here for a specific amount of time.”
“People ‘like us?’ What do you mean ‘like us?’ Transmission victims?”
“Mostly. What it mostly means is people who aren’t mourned — or acknowledged, more than mourned. From what we can tell in here, when someone dies and no one cares, they end up here. And they stay here for exactly one century by the Earth calendar, or thirty six klids, five hundred twenty four days by I.S.C.”
“One hundred years? What happens then?”
“They disappear. No lights or anything. It’s just like their arrival. One second they’re here, the next they’re gone.”
Corbett looked at the gin bottle for a second, then picked up the coffee and sipped it. It was very good — it tasted like hand press, though if it were then the beans were synthesized. They had that slight ‘off’ quality. Still, it was better than coffee synthesized already made. There was just enough cream and milk to balance the flavor, and no sweetener. Someone knew exactly how he liked his coffee.
Of course, if appearances were real, it was a pretty popular combination in this place.
“This is insane,” Corbett said. “All of it. There’s no way any of it could be real.”
“Fft. They were right. We do all sound like that.”
The voice had been slightly loud, and a little brash — but otherwise it had been Liam Corbett’s. Corbett turned around, looking for the source—
Said source was sitting at the next table. He’d been back to, wearing a torn excursion jacket. He’d apparently been lying low. He too looked like a Liam Corbett, of about Corbett’s own age. However, he had a barely healed cut on his face, and a bloodshot eye where the vessel had burst. His body was twisted, slightly — like he was in pain. His face, however, looked more angry than hurt. The thing that most caught Corbett’s eye, though, was the man’s leg. When he had been sitting before, the leg had been close to the wall and therefore hidden by the table. Turned around, he could see it was wrapped in a combination of bandages and a cannibalized excursion jacket.
“…the Corrigan VII mission,” Corbett said, softly. “The last mission where I transmitted. My God—”
“That’s right,” the man said, an ugly grin on his face. He adjusted his coat, bringing his own badge into view. Liam Corbett. Captain. 876. “I’m Corbett-876. Your predecessor. Welcome to Purgatory, 877. Welcome to death.“