Ghosts of Forgotten Empires, Vol II: A Cord Devlin Adventure by Michael J Foy by Michael J Foy - Read Online

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Ghosts of Forgotten Empires, Vol II - Michael J Foy

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instability.

CHAPTER 1

Cord Devlin’s disembodied consciousness roamed a part of space-time where only subconscious thought exists. He sensed others, or at least their thoughts, and tried to orient himself. What had happened? The last thing he remembered was being irradiated by MIT’s neutron source. He’d been in the operating room under the reactor, bound to the table, as his adversaries looked on. The room was designed to target malignant tumors in cancer patients. It was meant to save lives … but not this time. Anatoly Dvorak and Andre Provost had watched Cord through the transparent bioshield as they manipulated the machinery to fire deadly neutron radiation through Cord’s body.

Part of Cord actually sympathized with them or at least with Anatoly, whom he respected. They feared him, as they should have, and how else could they have ensured his death? Certainly not with their guns. Anatoly had recruited Andre in this shadow cold war since Anatoly, by himself, was no match for Cord. Each of Cord’s antagonists could have toppled mountains with their metaphysical abilities, yet even that power wasn’t enough to overcome Cord. All three men were in possession of certain crystalline artifacts that endowed them with unbelievable abilities.

But in spite of having the crystals for roughly the same amount of time as the others, Cord Devlin had progressed to a level far beyond them. Something about his personal make-up, his unusual constitution, gave him an edge. The reason seemed incomprehensible, but an explanation would eventually come from the man Cord knew as his uncle.

Now, alongside the voices, Cord thought he heard music. He strained to listen. The song seemed familiar, yet he couldn’t quite grasp the tune. Competing with the other noises, the melody only came through as sporadic notes. Maddeningly, they lay just beyond Cord’s threshold of recognition.

Eventually, however, the background voices diminished, and slowly the song came into focus. What the hell? Cord heard the theme from Star Trek, the original series. Whatever passed for eyes in his bodiless state jerked open. All was now silent, and he had a weird sense that he was waking from a dream—but where was he? He found himself lying face down on a padded, kidney-shaped bed. Covering him was a thin blanket made of some metallic fabric.

Cord threw off the blanket with a start and tried to get his bearings. Cave-like walls surrounded him on two sides, while a large, rectangular stone wall made up the back of the small chamber. Turning around to the front, he looked out onto a corridor whose floor lay about eighteen inches below the level of the chamber he occupied.

Cord stood and went to exit the room, but to his dismay, a transparent barrier prevented him from leaving. With a quick flair of anger, he hurled his two-hundred-twenty-five pounds against the obstruction. It resisted as if it were made of tautly stretched rubber. He tried again, but to no avail.

Along the walls of the corridor, Cord could see similar cells marching down its length. Peering into one, he noted a furry humanoid with a boar-like snout and tusks. It ambled around on spindly legs. Eventually, it noticed Cord and moved out of sight.

Another room contained a large, bird-like creature with fluttering wings. On the outside of yet a different cell, Cord also could see plants and something that threw tentacle-like shadows.

These were all display cases, and Cord realized he was a captive in some kind of menagerie, just like those other creatures. At that moment, across from his cell, an elevator door opened, and Cord was shocked to see who exited.

Uncle Jamie?

His uncle walked over and smiled up at Cord from the floor of the corridor just outside his cell.

Hello, Cord. How’re you feeling?

Angry!

Yes, I suppose you would be. You’ve just been killed … maybe.

A chill went up Cord’s spine.

His uncle smiled weakly. All right, let’s catch you up. You’re trapped, or at least your disembodied consciousness is in a region of subspace. That’s the consequence of your maneuvering to get away from Anatoly. But you can escape with a little guidance from me. We’ll have to reconstitute your body and collect the scattered parts of your consciousness for it. His uncle gave Cord a reassuring look.

"But first, don’t you recognize where you are? I thought it was a great analog to your current situation. Something you’d find familiar, given your passion for Star Trek."

The light dawned. Talos IV? guessed Cord.

Of course. Jamie nodded in agreement. You’re a captive of your mind. Kind of like the way Captain Pike was a captive of his own mind at the hands of the Talosians.

Talosians? Where are they? Cord hadn’t seen any.

His uncle seemed to think over the matter. We don’t need them to get you through this. But if you’d like …

Jamie motioned for Cord to look behind him and to his left. There was Vina. Cord stood speechless. But then he thought of something to ask her. Are you real?

As real as you wish, she responded.

And now I say, ‘No, that’s not any answer.’ Cord understood, but he was still behind the barrier, or still disembodied, he presumed.

There you go, said Uncle Jamie. Now you’re getting into it.

Is this supposed to be helping me somehow?

A framework is important. And a familiar one will make becoming whole again, mentally and physically a little easier for you.

Uncle Jamie stepped up to the level of the cell’s floor and walked through the transparency as if it really was a Talosian illusion. He sat on the padded couch and looked at Cord. Vina drifted in behind him.

Now I have to tell you a story, Cord. Something about your unusual heritage. Maybe you had better sit down.

Cord hesitated. After a moment, he moved to take his uncle up on the invitation to sit but not before taking Vina’s hand. When he sat down next to Jamie, he had Vina on his lap. His uncle made a disapproving face, then started talking, but stopped, apparently thinking the better of it.

Do you want to do this later? Jamie asked.

Definitely, Cord wanted to wait. Do you mind? he asked. How often does a Trekkie get to live out a fantasy like this?

Fine. Enjoy yourself.

Two Days Later

You know, if you had a body, you’d be sore now, chided Jamie.

Well, it sure feels as though I have a body. And I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Whatever. Are you ready now for the truth about the McCords?

There’s a truth about the McCords? answered Cord. And then he immediately thought about his childhood. Every kid thinks his family is a bit different, but even as a boy Cord sensed that his was truly a little stranger than others. Does my mother know about this?

Yes. And now it’s time for you to hear about our roots. And the connection to what’s been going on with the crystals.

Could this conversation be real, and would Cord be able to trust his uncle’s information? At this point, he could but listen. Connections with the crystals? This ought to be interesting.

It will be, Uncle Jamie promised. "I just wish we were in the real world. There, I could hook you up to a device, a helmet of sorts, that would feed the information directly into your brain. And it would be far more impressive than the latest 3D version of Star Trek."

Cord just sat dumbfounded by what his uncle was saying.

Okay, let’s do this the old-fashioned way, started Jamie. What do you know about the Cretaceous period?

Cord’s grasp of the geologic eras had gone slightly fuzzy since he’d shed his body. There were dinosaurs?

True. But much more than giant reptiles made that period remarkable. Any paleontologist will tell you that humans didn’t exist one-hundred-million years ago. They’d tell you that, and they’d be wrong. Jamie grinned.

In fact, a sizable human community lived on Earth at that time. They were technologically advanced, far more advanced than even today. Earth was the seat of a star-spanning civilization. Except it wasn’t called Earth. It was called Vertropicus because lush green tropical jungles nearly covered the globe. Vertropicus means ‘green jungle,’ or at least that’s what the native language of the time translates into now. The world was a paradise with no permanent ice. People lived well past a thousand years, and everyone shared in the rich planet’s privileged position in the galactic civilization.

Cord’s disembodied consciousness was staggered. Wait a minute. What are you telling me here? Some fantasy? he demanded. Scientists have found no evidence in the rock records of any such civilization. Surely, if it existed at all, something of it would have been left behind.

Cord’s agitated questioning didn’t appear to bother his uncle at all. That’s a very good point, Cord, Uncle Jamie responded. And the reason no one has discovered it is because we haven’t arrived there yet.

Whaaaat?

Jamie stared at his nephew in serious contemplation. At least that’s the theory, he said. Sometime in the future, mankind will discover time travel and colonize the past. So since we haven’t gone back yet, nothing exists to discover right now. Understood?

Cord supposed he got the drift. You mean that we have to pass the point in time when time travel is invented. Then the remains will show up in the rocks. He didn’t want to ponder the point too aggressively, as it was a bit slippery.

Something like that. I was never that good with temporal mechanics, Jamie said. He shrugged.

Then a piece of logic popped into Cord’s … well, consciousness. Okay. Let’s say you’re right. But if no evidence of a civilization exists right now, how do you know all this?

Because I was there, Jamie answered calmly. One-hundred-million years ago, I lived on the shores of an ancient sea that split the North American continent. I lived and loved in those distant times. Your mother must’ve told you of a lost love of mine when you were mourning Laura. In my case, her name was Eroica. She was nearly a thousand years old. And she was absolutely stunning.

At that moment, the cage that Cord and Jamie sat in dissolved, and Cord found himself out in space. Or at least his perception was spaceborne. He moved in a long, lazy arc that meant he was spiraling down to a planet below that was mostly water. It wasn’t Earth. Or, more accurately, it wasn’t present-day Earth. Cord somehow knew that this was Vertropicus. Nearly one-half the planet was occupied by the young Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic, at this distance at least, looked as though he could step across it.

A huge land mass stuck out at the South Pole, and Cord knew it included territory that would eventually break away to become Australia. But the strange thing was that this continent on the bottom of the world was heavily forested. Cord saw no ice. The Earth had been a much warmer planet nearly one-hundred-million years before. And the biosphere thrived in those conditions. Maybe a little global warming wasn’t such a bad thing, decided Cord. Anyway, as his uncle described, North America appeared to be bisected by a wide sea that ran from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico.

As he appeared to accelerate toward the planet, Cord remembered the demonstrations of Kepler’s Laws at the Museum of Science in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He knew that his speed relative to the planet’s surface would increase as his orbit decayed. If he didn’t burn up in the atmosphere, he would certainly be smashed to bits upon impact. But then Cord sensed his speed decreasing. Apparently he wasn’t meant to die in this way.

What could only be described as space hotels orbited the planet. These structures were obviously meant for tourism, with frequent traffic going back and forth. The hostelries all sported gaudy Las Vegas-style lighted displays. One was a curved slab with the lower floor arced to follow the curvature of the world’s surface. It had a spire rising from the center of it to point outward and five smaller towers spaced equally around it. Windows pointed in all directions. Strangely, none of the space hotels had giant rotating wheels that used centrifugal force to simulate gravity. This civilization must have discovered an artificial gravity technology, Cord thought, since he could see people walking around inside the buildings as if they were on the surface of the Earth.

On his second pass, Cord spied North America on the horizon as he continued toward a gently managed planetfall. Now in the atmosphere, Cord looked down on what would one day be the western slopes of the Appalachians. Today, however, the eastern shores of a great inland sea there lapped at the white sands of a tropical shoreline. Green jungle covered the land as far as the eye could see.

As Cord descended, he started to make out further details. A bright sun glinted off the inland sea’s surface, which was pleasingly broken by small whitecaps. Moving through a layer of clouds, he noted a boat speeding along the water’s surface. It had a peculiar hull design and didn’t touch the water. The sleek, multi-cabin yacht floated above the surface like a hovercraft, except Cord could see no evidence of a powerful downdraft from any fans. The vessel was some futuristic plaything of one of the citizens of Vertropicus.

Eventually, Cord spied an estate on a hill overlooking the great inland sea. He willed himself to head toward it and eventually landed on a portico outside what seemed to be the back of the house. There, he stood midway between two pillars in a white marble vestibule. The columns were twenty feet apart and subtly suggested a transition from an inner living space to an outer one. The home struck Cord as a futuristic version of an ancient Greek temple.

Turning toward the interior, Cord noticed shapeless cubes that vaguely resembled chairs in a sparsely furnished common space. Lots of openings, not windows, let in plenty of outside air, light and fragrance. And plenty of riotously colored plants provided all kinds of pleasant scents. Walls were rare in the structure, making him wonder how the house would do in a storm. Probably button itself up automatically, if he could guess by the occasional iPad-shaped sensor panels built into the pillars and walls.

Cord soon spied his uncle and a woman standing close together in an affectionate embrace. If this was Eroica, she truly was stunning. She had exotic coloring like no one he had ever known.

Uncle Jamie?

Jamie ignored him, and Cord understood then that he was merely an observer brought here to appreciate the environment Jamie had just described. Looking back outside, Cord was taken aback to see a brontosaurus nibbling on the treetops about halfway down to the shore from the house on the hill.

The imagery vanished, and Cord once again looked out from the cage that had held Captain Pike from the The Menagerie episode of Star Trek. He had a deep-seated feeling that the fantastic account of Earth’s early history as described by his uncle might actually be real. Jamie still sat beside him.

That was Vertropicus?

Yes. That’s from some of my fondest memories.

So you’ve lived for millions of years? How is that possible?

Jamie laughed. Vertropicans are long lived but not that long. We had a crisis in my time that forced those of us with the capability to go into stasis to do so. If you want, I’ll explain, but for now let’s say our success contributed to our undoing. We were masters of thousands of worlds. And that included a few dozen sentient races.

So you were kind of like the Federation?

Jamie twisted his mouth before answering what seemed to be an uncomfortable question. Technically, we were more like the Klingon Empire. Our expansion was by conquest. But our reign was benevolent and peaceful. We actually tamed the destructive tendencies of several of our subject races.

Well, that’s disappointing. No high-minded principles like the non-interference directive?

No. We operated under no non-interference directive. But we did bring peace to previously warring planets. During our reign, this sector of the galaxy prospered for the benefit of all. We offered the galaxy order. Jamie seemed to be trying to convince himself as well as