Here are links to the other chapters, just in case you've already read this one or would like to start with the Prologue.
Prologue: Freeground Alpha
Chapter 1: Day One
Chapter 2: Patrol
Chapter 3: The Message
Chapter 4: Parallels
Now that you've seen that, I have more for you, but first, a preamble.
The question of how Jacob Valent will change after the events of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 8, specifically, being remade again, have been on my mind of roughly two years now. I honestly didn't think that I had an ending for Broadcast 8 until I realised that I would HAVE to end the book with the sudden transformation of Jacob Valent, even though that meant ending yet another book on a cliffhanger. Most people probably think I love cliffhangers by now, but I actually dislike them a great deal in my own work. I love answers, and answering questions.
There is something deeply satisfying in answering the simple question of "what happened?" to the satisfaction of the asker. The act of writing a cliffhanger and leaving it that way for a year (or a little more), is like extending the question, but sometimes that's the best you can do when you have to release a book instead of spending another year working on it, continuing it.
So, was I satisfied with the ending of Broadcast 8? It was a satisfying cliffhanger that extended one question (what happens to Jacob Valent?), and asked a few more. Sadly, as I said before, I don't like cliffhangers, so I was not entirely happy with it. That works to your benefit, however. The less happy I am with the ending of a book, the more excited I am to return to the series and start giving you the answers you crave.
Just a peek into my brain, I hope it makes sense to everyone.
So, without any further delay, here is the beginning of an answer to the question; "What happened to Jacob Valent?"
Spinward Fringe Broadcast 9: Warpath (Formerly: 'The Gathering')
Written by Randolph Lalonde, 2014-2015
Copyright © 2015 Randolph Lalonde
Spinward Fringe is a Registered Trademark of Randolph Lalonde
All Rights Reserved
The comfort of the bed Jacob Valent laid in was unfamiliar, but magnificent, all enveloping. He didn’t want to move, or open his eyes and let the world in. The last thing he remembered was Ayan’s face looking down at him, filling his view, trying to smile, making all the right promises.
The rest came in a flash, that he had been rebuilt, but he couldn’t remember the details of the surgery, or being saved from whatever attacked him. Without opening his eyes he flexed his fingers and toes, curling the soft, warm bedding in them. It felt like everything was where it should be, but at the same time, Jake was filled with the sensation that he was different.
There was a weight on his chest, only slight, but a weight nonetheless. He opened his eyes a crack. There was a little Nafalli mouth and above that, a tiny pink nose. She was laying above the sheets on his chest, flattened out on her stomach. “Zoe?” he whispered.
Her slumbering response was a puff of air from her twitching nose, then she yawned widely, revealing rows of sharp juvenile teeth. Her dark eyes barely opened as she smacked her lips and stared at him. Jake gently pulled a hand from under the sheets and the comforter and lightly stroked the top of the pup’s head and neck. There was no doubt that he was using his own hand to pet the youngster, but it didn’t feel like his own, it didn’t look like it either. The fingers were thicker, they looked stronger, and that arm was bulkier, more muscular than the one he’d had before.
Zoe cooed and closed her eyes, fidgeting for a moment before flattening out once again. “Wonder who left you here to watch over me?” he asked in a croaking whisper. It was almost his voice, but the difference was unmistakeable. He looked around while stroking the young nafalli’s back. He wasn’t in Haven Shore, that was for certain. The light he initially mistook for morning rays were reflecting across the atmosphere of Tamber. None of the construction or finishing looked like the Triton, but the sounds of a mid-sized ship were absent, so he was most likely aboard a station.
The door opened soundlessly, letting in light his eyes weren’t ready for. Doctor Messana with Alice close behind. Zoe and Jake both groaned at the sudden light, to the amusement of Alice, who sat down on the edge of the bed and took Jake’s free hand. She was beaming, grinning from ear to ear.
Doctor Messana smiled as well, taking a seat in a bedside chair. “How do you feel, Jake?”
He was about to answer, but was interrupted by Zoe, who stood, stretched, then said; “Better now.” She kissed him on the nose and ran from the room. He smiled at the toddler before responding. “Good, different, but good.”
“There are going to be differences,” Doctor Messana said, nodding. “Some big differences, just like we discussed before you agreed to go into the development tank, but physical therapy will be easier, and your physical strength will be closer to what you’re used to. Not nearly as impressive as it was when you had the framework system, but your muscle mass is sixty percent higher than the average healthy human.”
“I don’t remember that discussion,” Jake said, still not alarmed. “Can you refresh my memory?”
“It was the first day of physical therapy, and you noticed there were still a few scars left, and you were having a lot of difficulty with the basics. I offered to put you in a maturation tank for a few weeks so we could program your muscle memory, heal some deep scars that would take months to disappear otherwise, and build your muscle mass. The six weeks you were in there saved you nine months, most likely much more time.”
“Okay, that seems familiar, but six weeks? I wouldn’t agree to that long,” Jake said. His whole body felt different, but he wasn’t uncomfortable. What surprised him was how unburdened his mind felt. His head was clearer and less troubled than he could ever recall it being before. “Oh, and am I on something?”
“No, nothing at all,” Doctor Messanna said. “I’m afraid you’re right, you didn’t agree to six weeks, Jake, you agreed to two. After the two weeks passed, I didn’t see the kind of progress you would expect, so I gave it more time. Now I know you’ll be pleased with the level of development your body has accomplished.”
“I didn’t get a say, dad,” Alice said quietly.
“Next time,” Jake said, “You listen to her, but I’ll let you off the hook this time. Seriously though, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my mind, it’s hard to describe.”
“The framework has been interacting with your brain throughout your entire life,” Doctor Messana said, “It was one of the discoveries I made while researching your unique circumstances, so I knew there was a chance you’d feel different mentally as well. Part of that extended time in the maturation chamber was spent making sure that you could identify with your new body. It was essential that your mind did not reject your body, as it happens to clone transfers often enough.”
Jake couldn’t help but notice Alice, who watched his every reaction to what Doctor Messana was saying. “All right, did it work?” Jake asked.
Doctor Messana looked to Alice then back to Jake. “Your reaction to the reality of your situation will tell me that. Everything that made Jake Valent ended up in the bin. Nothing could be saved. Your brain, your everything was rebuilt or replaced while you were alive, so you’re not going to feel like there was any interruption in your thoughts, and there wasn’t, but every cell in your body is different. Genetically similar, but fresh, it’s a miracle that medical science has gone so far that your brain could be destroyed and rebuilt at the same time, while we were able to make this body for you through a series of transplants and reconstructions. The end result is a completely new life with your mind intact, now without the restraints and directions of framework technology. That is how you should look at this, as a new life. If I were you, I’d keep my mind open to taking a whole new approach at how you live this one.”
“Well, I’m not having a seizure, violent flashbacks, or even a case of mild surprise, so I think I’m good,” he said, smiling at Alice. “So the framework is gone,” Jake said.
“Yes, everything you were, except for all but your short term memories, are gone,” Doctor Messana replied. “You’re starting out with a clean slate, completely human. I’ve programmed your body with functional muscle memory, and I’m amazed at how well you’re speaking, but I’m sure you’re going to have to spend some time learning how to do a lot of things. Do you feel like trying to stand?”
“Yes,” Jake said without hesitation.
Doctor Messana and Alice pulled the sheets aside to reveal a thicker, more muscled torso than Jake had before. His body felt heavier, but good, solid. He was wearing clean, white knee-length shorts. “So, I had trouble with recovery?”
“Yes, your muscle memory map didn’t take, so you could barely speak, let alone walk.”
“Okay, so what about this time? Was six weeks in the tank worth it?”
“So far you’ve been able to control your arms, you’re speaking clearly, and we’re about to find out if you can walk. I’d say it’s much better this time, and you may be able to skip the first two or three months of physical therapy.”
“It was bad, Dad,” Alice said. “You couldn’t stand being out of control, I’m glad you can’t remember.”
“So you might have opted for the six week treatment anyway?” Jake asked.
“If it meant avoiding that, yes,” Alice replied. “But they wouldn’t give me much information, so I didn’t get to weigh in.”
“That’s all past,” Doctor Messanna said. “Let’s see if you can take a few steps today.”
“All right, time to get mobile,” Jake said. He sat up, was immediately dizzy, and steadied himself. “Head just spun for a minute, I’m all right.”
“Okay, take my hand,” Doctor Messana said. “Alice, take the other one, just let him put his weight on you for balance.”
“Don’t worry, I could dead lift him,” Alice said, immediately cringing as the words were heard. “Sorry, bad choice of words.”
Jake laughed a little. “Time to get me on my feet,” he said.
“Now, take it one motion at a time, relax and let your muscles tell you how it’s done,” Doctor Messana said, “that’s what the muscle memory treatment is for.”
Jake pulled himself up off the bed and onto his feet. His legs felt strong, but the deck seemed to sway a little. “Sure the dampeners are working here?” he managed to say before he lost his balance and began to fall to his right. Alice caught him under his arm and propped him up.
“Relax, Jake,” Doctor Messana said.
“Just put your feet under you,” Alice whispered, helping him by gently pushing his foot back into place. She was a short pillar of strength and stability under his shoulder, unyielding and strong. “Now put your weight on it slowly.”
Jake did so, and, slowly he found his stance. He leaned on Alice less and less, until he could feel himself starting to fall backwards. Alice supported him in time, her arm reaching as far across his broad back as it could. “I got you,” she said. He leaned on her for stability and she practically held him up herself. He could move his legs, but his feet weren’t listening nearly as well. He needed the support of his daughter and Doctor Messana to walk.
“That’s a lot of progress for the first ten minutes,” Doctor Messana said. “How about a first step?”
“No,” Jake said, laughing nervously, then he instinctively stepped forward with one foot, and the other. He felt as though he were about to fall backwards, but leaned on Alice briefly to compensate.
“Well done,” Doctor Messana said. “You’ll be jogging in no time. There are a few people waiting for you in the next room, do you feel up to it?”
Jake nodded, slowly sitting back down on the bed with Alice’s help.
“Good, the sooner we get you back to normal activities – moving, socializing – the sooner you’ll be in shape. I’ll go brief them.”
Jake waited for her to leave. “Someone should tell her I wasn’t the most social creature before all this.”
Alice gave a short laugh. She pulled a regular vacsuit out from a box at the foot of the bed. It was already black with the markings of a captain, and WARLORD printed in white across the shoulders. “I don’t feel like I’ve earned that back yet,” he told her quietly.
She looked at it for a moment then used her command and control unit to change its colour to navy blue and remove the markings. “Better?”
“Looks right,” he replied.
The suit did most of the work of dressing him, creeping across his skin as he put his feet in, but Alice helped him lean the right way so it could get access. It was a little demeaning, but Jake pushed his pride away. “I never thought about what it was like for you when you were first born as a human,” he said to her.
“I’d almost forgotten that,” Alice said, “I guess it’s one of those things the framework is suppressing, it’s all foggy. I sort of remember learning how to walk, talk. I was lucky, I had people there to help, mostly from pity I guess.”
“I wish I was there for you,” Jake said. “You didn’t waste too much time waiting for me to hatch again.”
“I visited,” Alice said, looking a little guilty. “But, no, I didn’t waste much time. Remmy convinced me to re-enter the Rangers when Anderson invited me back in. They’ve gotten better now that the standards are higher, I’m almost finished with the advanced tactical and encounter analysis training.”
“So you’re going back to the Rangers?” Jake asked.
“Yes, but Governor Anderson tells me that I’ll be leading another team of rangers aboard the Warlord when it’s back in full service, with your approval, of course. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll leave again and join your crew.”
He was glad to see that she’d been busy while he was practically dead, and he would have to thank Remmy later for getting his daughter back into the Rangers. They would be a good option for her, since he didn’t want her on the Warlord any longer.
“You okay, Dad?” Alice asked.
“Just wish I could have been there for you way back when you were taking your first steps,” he lied.
“Ancient history, besides, you didn’t even know,” she said as he positioned his left arm so the vacsuit could close around him. “Ready to go?”
Jake took a deep breath and let it out. “Time for the great unveiling. I feel like I owe this to Doctor Messana. I’m her big success.”
“Just concentrate on yourself,” Alice said as she helped him up.
With her under his right arm, Jake took ponderous steps towards the door. When he finally made it across the room it opened to a hallway, where Ayan, Minh-Chu and Ashley all watched from a door on the other side.
Ayan was across the space and pressed into his arms in a moment. Minh-Chu put himself under his other arm. “Did they have to make the new model bigger than the last? I felt short before, but now I feel like a ten year old.”
“Don’t knock it, I hear it was the only model on the lot,” Jake replied.
The room across the hall was filled with senior staff from the Warlord, the Triton and a pair of people who aided Doctor Messana while he was being rebuilt and his muscles were reprogrammed. He didn’t remember them, but they spoke to him as though they’d known him all his life.
They brought him to a plush seat in the middle of a social room. There were several sofas and seats in a rough oval, and he could see imitation wood tables folded up and stacked in one corner. Everything looked relatively new, and he couldn’t help but ask; “Where am I?” with a chuckle, amused that he couldn’t piece it together himself.
“Oh, you’re aboard the Solar Forge,” Alice said.
Jake had never heard of the ship. His expression – a mix between bewilderment and mild irritation – must have indicated that to Ayan, who was sitting on the arm of his chair. “It’s the ship construction and repair facility Lordander Corporation traded to Triton fleet.”
“What did they trade for?” Jake asked.
A little of Ayan’s joviality visibly drained, “we agreed to give refuge to a group of issyrian exiles who were escaping Clark Patterson and the Order of Eden.”
“Did they know anything about them that we can use?” Jake asked.
“Part of the deal was that we wouldn’t involve them in the fighting,” Ayan explained quietly, “We’ve invited them to share what they want with us, but we haven’t heard anything back about that yet. They’re good people though, it seems like they really only want peace.”
“Defectors from the other side’s inner circle get to live in and near Haven Shore, but the people there won’t have them. Those spoiled civilians protested, so you’ll find most of them up here, learning how to run this place and going about their business while we figure out if they’re really out of the war,” Frost said as he entered the room with Stephanie and a few newer Warlord crewmembers in tow. He didn’t let his irritation with the situation spoil the occasion. His grin could have lit up that side of the room as he took Jake’s hand in both of his and shook it. “Still made of miracles, Captain,” he said, and Jake could have sworn that there was a tear in the older man’s eye.
“Not anymore, Frost. Looks like I’m just human now,” Jake replied.
“Not to me,” Frost replied, “Welcome back, lad. The Warlord’s waiting, repaired and tested.”
“Acting Captain Vega has us on long range patrols, dropping sensor buoys. I’ll admit, being able to come back to Tamber near every night has been good for the crew, restful, but the room fees are piling up. Makes me wish Stephanie, oops, sorry, Acting Captain Vega and I could have a little flat of our own down there.”
“Frost,” Ayan said, an edge to her voice that caught the attention of everyone on that side of the room. “I’m forgiving that entire tab for the Warlord’s crew.”
“But I just paid in full,” Finn said, burying his forehead in his hand. He was just entering the room.
“I’ll make sure you get a refund,” Ayan said.
“Your little council won’t like that,” Frost said.
“Triton Fleet owns Haven Shore now, so I won’t hear about it,” Ayan replied, putting the order through on her arm unit, a thick transparent blue bracelet. It matched her dress, which was loosely fitted from hips to knee, and a tight scoop-neck design from the waist up. “And I was going to wait to announce this, but I just got word today. The Core World Authority has sent the final verdict down about ownership of the Rega Gain system. I technically own Tamber, while Triton Fleet has been acknowledged as the rightful victors over the Carthans, making this solar system our property. I’ll give up Tamber to Triton Fleet again when I get the chance to do the paperwork. Owning a moon the size of Earth is a little too much for me to take on.”
The room erupted in a wave of applause that made Ayan raise an eyebrow and smile. “So no more of this ‘Queen’ or ‘Your Highness’ business,” she shouted over the din. “You call me ‘Commodore’ or ‘Ma’am’.”
“One last time then,” Frost said, grinning as he stepped directly in front of her and bowed so low that his nose nearly touched the floor. “Greetings, your Majesty,” he said with a flourish. Finn shook his head and Agameg cocked his. The majority of the room was tickled by the display, as was Jake.
Ashley broke through the semicircle of people that had gathered around Jake and nearly smothered him with an enthusiastic hug. “You look better than ever!” she said. “And you’re smiling, a lot!”
“I swear she was picturing you in stitches and braces the whole time you were in recovery,” Minh-Chu said. “I kept telling her; ‘he’s being remade, not stapled back together.’”
“How do you feel? I didn’t hurt you, did I?” she asked, ignoring Minh-Chu.
“Better than before,” Jake replied, conscious that his daughter, who was still a framework construct, was sitting to his right.
“Really? Wow, the Doc does great work,” Ashley said. Zoe landed on her shoulder, jumping or falling from such a distance that Jake couldn’t figure out where she’d come from. “This one spent the whole morning begging to visit you because I told her you were sick when she saw you wheeled by,” Ashley said, holding one of Zoe’s tiny hands.
“Better now,” Zoe protested at full volume into Ashley’s ear.
“Yes, we know,” she replied, “Thank you Zoe.”
“Thank you for your help,” Jake said, capturing the Nafalli child’s attention. “I don’t know if I would have ever woken up if it weren’t for you.”
Zoe bounced onto Jake’s chest, hugged his head, kissed him on the forehead then bounded off again. She used Ashley’s shoulder as a post to look from then leap from when she spotted Panloo. “Off she goes, to tell everyone that she saved you,” Ashley chuckled. “She’ll be telling that story all week.”
“She’s growing faster now,” Ayan said. “Last time I saw her she was five centimetres shorter. Are you sure it’s all right for her to jump around like that though?”
“Panloo tells me Zoe is from a tree tribe,” Ashley said. “You can’t stop them from doing it at this age. She’s broken her arm once though, so Panloo put a few rules in play, and Zoe’s listening so far. I can’t imagine what she’ll be like when she’s full grown.”
“Beautiful, I’m sure,” Ayan said with a smile that seemed a little too sure.
The rest of the night continued with a similar jovial feeling. Jacob never thought his survival would make so many people happy. He believed he had a core group of friends, and allies that would be relieved, but the room was full for hours, and when he was brought back to his bed, he couldn’t recall how many people had stopped in front of where he sat all night to congratulate him on his recovery.
Alice was quiet for most of the evening, fetching non-inebriating drinks and listening to everyone who wanted a moment of Jacob’s time. She left him with a kiss on the cheek as she said; “love you, Dad.”
Ayan fixed him with an affectionate gaze, her big blue eyes unflinchingly staring into his as he looked up from his bed. “Thought I was about to lose you forever,” she said.
“I’m here, more than ever,” he replied, a question he refused to ask while he was so tired nagging at him. He aired another thought he’d been hiding all night instead. “It’s as though I was experiencing everything from the opposite end of a long hallway, or through a thick filter before, and now that’s gone. The framework was in the way before.”
Ayan glanced to the doorway, where Jacob’s daughter had passed a minute ago, then back at him. “You think she’s having the same problem?”
“I don’t know, but she’s talked about suppressed memories, the framework won’t allow her to age more than a few months, and I’m sure there are other things going on,” Jake said, keeping a yawn from interrupting the last few words.
“Something we can talk more about tomorrow,” Ayan said, sweeping Jacob’s hair out of his face.
He caught her hand and squeezed it. “I’m still surprised you came back to me, if that’s what this is,” again, the denied question repeated itself in his head; why did you leave in the first place? Was it for Liam?
“That’s what this is, if you want me back,” Ayan said.
She had to know that he checked on her status, read her public reports and had pictures of her in his Crewcast profile. She was asking a question he was sure she knew the answer to already, but he didn’t mind. “Yes,” was all he said.
“On that note,” Doctor Messana said as she seemed to appear in the doorway. “It’s lights out. You start physical therapy tomorrow morning.” She walked on, looking down at something she was reading on an old fashioned touch pad.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Alice will be here when you wake up,” Ayan said, kissing him lightly. Her pillow-y soft lips lingered a moment before she hesitantly stood and left.
He laid there for a few moments longer, going over the events of the evening. He’d seen everyone who he considered important to him, with only one exception, Oz. He’d lost track of all the other people who cycled through the room.
It was easier to name the people who were conspicuously absent. Oz sent him a warm message, but could not leave the Triton, which was understandable. What Jake found slightly alarming was the absence of anyone from the British Alliance. He tried not to let it bother him, but he was sure there was something he was forgetting.