“All passengers fasten your seatbelts to prepare for jump. Jump will commence in 30 seconds”.
“FTL drives engaged.”
The seats rumbled as the Olympian’s FTL drives spin up energy. Rebus’s passive face turned into a light frown as he realizes this ship is fitted with a pre-war Alcubierre drive. No matter. What are the odds of the drive snapping today, right here, right now? It’s just that he is used to the sweet, rumble-less comfort of a modern Alcubierre drive, one that has no moving parts physically connected and uses the smooth levitation of electromagnetic fields instead. The war has been over for shy of 30 years, and nowadays even the middle class can afford the mag-lev tech that was once reserved for capital ships. The aching pain in his lower abdomen is not doing him any good, and is certainly not letting him have the luxury of waiting for a mag-lev cruiser. He needs a doctor soon, and for now the pre-war Olympian will have to do.
“Jump finished. Welcome to the Solar System. We will now travel at sub-light speed, and will arrive at Europa in 6 hours. Lunch will be served in a moment. Thank you for flying with us and enjoy your flight.”
Everyone starts chattering happily around him. To most people, Europa is a cost-effective version of a dream – boundless oceans, infinite ice fields that is cheap enough for the masses to enjoy, unlike the beauty of Earth’s nature, now reserved for the rich and powerful. Circling around Jupiter as one of the Solar System largest moon, Europa is covered by miles thick of ice, and with a liquid ocean underneath to boot. Despite being far from the system’s star, the ocean beneath the moon’s surface manages to be in a liquid state thanks to the heat of tidal flexing. Jupiter’s massive gravity pushes and pulls on the moon’s mantle every day, keeping it fluid in a manner similar to tectonic energy. Underwater resorts, ski lodges, flight schools, concerts are the mainstay of Europa’s economy.
But Rebus is not here for that. He must be the grumpiest looking chap aboard the Olympian, since he is only taking the safe route to the orbital base of Europa for an early med checkup. The work’s stress is killing him, and he would like to know if the pain is more sinister than he had hoped.
Rebus works as a stellar consultant. A stellar consultant would need to go to everyone using an old-school thorium reactor, and convince them to switch to a fusion reactor for their Alcubierre drive instead. In layman’s word – he is a space-age battery salesman. Rebus is more than a simple salesman, however. His jagged looks, his ever-lasting grouch and his stubbornness to stick to the traditions of the day before the quantum computers made him somewhat of a personality in his company. He is known for being against novel technology, even those that predates his birth or of his own company – something that people attribute to his living with his grandfather all his childhood. His young age made it all even more perplexingly interesting. When Rebus approves of some tech and said it is a go, then people trust him, because it is common knowledge that he only goes with reliable things.
This is why he is rushing to his first ever full scale health checkup on a dilapidated craft called Olympian, instead of quickly teleporting like his other equally rich contemporaries. Rebus has never been comfortable with the idea of teleporting, even when his lower abdomen feels like a burn that desperately needs help. To teleport, you would have to have yourself ripped to atomic particles, have the composition of your body at that instant digitized, sent to your destination as a file, and reassembled there. To many that is instant travelling, but to Rebus, that is committing suicide. Wouldn’t you be dead if you have your cells crumble like biscuits? Would the “you” that come out of the other machine be the same “you” that was disassembled here? 6 decades after the advent of teleportation, to the populace, those philosophical questions were discarded to answer the more relevant questions of convenience and efficiency. Not so to this stubborn consultant. He’d rather do an FTL jump in a cheap rust bucket with a tummy ache. At least the atoms in his body would have been his all along.
Outside the windows gleamed the eerie light of the greatest star that has ever shone on humanity, the Sun. From the Outer Rims, the Sun looks no larger than a shining dot. Only the intimidating stature of Jupiter dominates the scene. From the window, Rebus could see the shape of Saturn at a distance. A fuzzy feeling propped up when he think of home.
Rebus was an unfortunate kid by origin, but his life was dotted with luck at the right moments, as if someone planned it all for him. He never knew his parents. He was told that he was left at an orphanage on Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, on a night of September. The moon Enceladus was part of Ta’aluma Industries, a powerful inter-stellar company with a clandestine nature, but is always ready to help someone in need. The company has a somewhat notorious reputation, as Ta’aluma is the only company with no personal military branch that manages to keep that many planetary bodies in their private economy zone. It was his luck that only 5 minutes after he was dropped at the Ta’aluma Orphanage at Enceladus, the very founder of the company came for a visit at the orphanage, and took him in. For 24 years he lived with the founder, calling the founder his grandfather, and knew little of the prestige of the man that raised him but only kindness and care. The day Rebus knew who his grandfather truly was was the day he was left to make a choice – to live a sedentary life with his inheritance, or to try and get himself a new beginning. Rebus chose the way that he thinks would make the old man proud. And he did.
Rebus remembers the only time he has ever participated in the specialty of Enceladus’s darker side. It was his birthday, and as a gift he gave himself for adulthood, Rebus wanted to give it a try. His grandfather, a usually stern and ethical man, oddly, gave him the green light, and even suggested a place that the old man trusts, after seeing Rebus “researching” the qubits. “Are you a frequent to this place?”, chuckled a-younger-Rebus. “No”, the old man answered, with the eyes filled with more of an enigmatic gleam than usual. “I went there once”, said the founder of Ta’aluma Industries. “Was it really that good?”, pondered Rebus quizzically. “No. But it changed the universe”, said the founder in a unusually sincere voice. “Ok then”, accepted Rebus. The whole thing after that was a blur. The owner of the “house” insisted that he takes room number 22, and promised to give a 50% off if he does it blindfolded. Which Rebus did, enthusiastically – and the feat wasn’t half bad. He was given protection, and went in. The girl was about his build, and less slender than the girls he normally thinks off, but it was okay. He never knew what became of her. She might still be working there.
Not that he cares about anything like that now. His lower abdomen is getting worse by the hour, and he barely got through the space lunch. He needs a doctor quick.
“Anyone stopping at the Europa Orbital Station, please prepares your luggage, and be considerate to those who will continue the journey to Europa’s surface. We will board the station in less than 5 minutes. Those who will go straight to the surface, please fill out your forms. Remember that while you may only physically bring no more than 10,000 Confederation credits, Europa is filled with credit stations. Journey to your heart’s content!”
Europa Orbital Station. There are many stations like this throughout the Confederation, but the only three in the Solar System that is fully owned by Ta’aluma are on Europa, Earth and Enceladus. Earth is out of the question – landing there alone could throw him into debt for months. Enceladus is home, but is also home to sad memories now, since the old man died half a year ago. Maybe the stress of excess work that Rebus brought upon himself to rid of the emotional pain is what brought his physical pain right now. At least the Europa Orbital Station is rigged with the best medical care Ta’aluma Health can offer, and he was going to use the last of his benefits anyway. He promised the old man to never leech a single dime from the company, and start a legacy just as great, by himself. The final proud look in the founder’s eyes only steeled his conviction.
And now he has a physical pain to deal with.
Tests were made, as he takes a nano-bot pill and let the bots do the inner works like blood work and fancy picture-taking, while the doctors give him a quick scan. The austere and slightly concerned face of the doctor as he approaches Rebus gives the hapless salesman a bad feeling.
“What is going on with me?”, Rebus says, worried.
“Have you ever done any health tests before”, started the doctor.
“No, I haven’t. I was left in an orphanage, you see, and they can’t afford health tests for anyone. As I grew up, the old man…I mean my grandfather never even let me set foot in a hospital. I have been strong all my life, and he had this weird aversion to medicine, so no, no health test. Ever.”
“Well it is a bit of a problem now, now when it’s a tad bit too late”, says the doctor.
“Am I going to die?” Rebus gives a shocked gesture, as the doctor chortles and assuringly pats Rebus’s shoulder.
“No, you aren’t. It’s a relatively simple procedure – expensive, but simple. It’s only that now you have no choice whatsoever.” The doctor looks calmer than Rebus is comfortable with.
“What do you mean I have no choice? Of course I am going to do whatever it takes to keep my health back to normal.” Rebus answers rather loudly.
“No, that’s not what I meant. You see, you are a congenital hermaphrodite.”
“I am a what?” Rebus asks confusedly.
“A hermaphrodite – someone with the sex organs of both sexes, since birth.”
“But I am a guy! I had sex, even. As a guy, I mean” Rebus is on the border of screaming now at the doctor.
“Yes you are. Which leads to our problem. You see, although you have the sex organs of both, only your male parts – and hormones – were fully formed, while the female parts was growing slowly and then got stuck in the inside, never showing out. Now it is almost fully formed, and as it starts to want to go out, it was blocked, and thus giving you these periodical pains.” explains the doctor sympathetically.
“Continual pain. So what do you mean by no choice?”
“Well, were this to be found out earlier, you could have had a choice between two genders, and it would lead to no problems. A minor surgery, and a few months of hormonal treatments at the onset of puberty and you would have been elsewhere right now. Only that now you have fully matured and identified yourself as a male, it leads to some complications.” the doctor says troublingly.
“Well, we would have to remove the female parts, but it is sharing some vital parts with your male organs right now. The only way would be for us to remove the male part, cryonically preserve it, let the female part matures fully, so that the surgery of removal won’t mess with the parts that your male organs need. We can’t do it with our nano-bots, since every case is different, and programming them for a minute surgery would be as expensive as a vacation on Earth. The most cost-effective way would be letting you grow as a woman for a year, then remove the parts, then reattaches the male organs and use hormonal treatment to bring you back up to speed as a guy again. It would be very expensive, but not nearly as much as a minute surgery with nano-bots.”
And then blank. The next thing Rebus knew was that he is lying on a hospital bed, monitors connected to him, and a hospital gown on his body. And feeling very, very, tired.
“You passed out. The complications were quicker than we expected, so we had to act fast. The surgery was completed. After the hormonal treatment, and a year of waiting, you’d be ready to go for the reconnecting surgery, and it’ll be all done.” the doctor appeared by Rebus’s bedside.
“So I am a woman now?” asks Rebus.
“In a way, yes, you are, for a year, until you are made a man again, no worries” said the doctor. “Don’t fret about the costs. Someone already paid in full for you, on the grounds that you will be a time traveler with him. Time traveling! What a weird guy! Rich as the Lord of Ceres, too, seeing that he can pay that amount of money without dropping a sweat. Otherwise we would have never gone through with this whole thing. Your Ta’aluma benefits can barely pay for the preparations of the surgery alone.”
“Wait, someone did that? But time traveling is impossible!” Rebus exclaims.
“Ask him! There he is, that crazy guardian angel of yours! Never left you a second as if he is your father. Really, time travel. Crazy.” says the doctor as he hurries to his next patient.
Rebus’s benefactor walks next to his bed. While Rebus has never met this man before, he is obviously a built man, judging by the breadth of the chest plate of the full body armour that he dons. The armour is pitch black with edges of silvery white, gleaming like metal, but the texture is unlike any material Rebus has ever seen before – and being an experienced salesman for FTL drives for ships throughout the galaxy, that means a lot to Rebus. The only part visible to the public – the stern, knowledgeable eyes behind the slit of the helmet, are obviously human. They are the same deep blue as Rebus’s and the old man’s eyes, but only in a late middle age, sharp but already show the signs of time. Aside from the full body armour, the mysterious benefactor is unadorned, except for a short rod on a holster, a belt full of small pouches, and a rather ornate golden gauntlet on his right hand that doesn’t match the style of the rest of his kit. Despite looking simple, the man emanates a commanding presence that permeates the atmosphere of the hospital room, without uttering a single word.
“You are doing fine as usual I see.” The man says in a low but warm tone, much like Rebus’s grandfather, as he offers his left hand out for a hand shake.
“Grandpa?” Rebus isn’t quite sure what he sees. He cordially shakes hands with his benefactor. The black material of the armour is firm and solid but oddly warm, and has a weird feel as if it is alive.
“No, do I already look that old to you? Get some rest, and I’ll explain everything tomorrow. Get your mind less befuddled from the anesthetics.” says the benefactor in almost a brotherly manner.
“Rest up. That’s all I ask for now.”
The armoured man walks calmly to the door. Just as he is about to leave, he turns back, make a quick gesture as if saluting Rebus.
“Oh, and Rebus, one more thing. Glad to see you again.”