Bitter Oath (New Atlantis) - By Nhys Glover
Spring 2330, New Atlantis GAIAN CONFEDERACY
The brilliant light of the Portal illuminated the already brightly lit cavern of Start Point. The hum echoed hollowly off the roughly hewn stone walls that were covered in threads of rippling light. From the massive sandstone doorway stepped an ancient man dressed in nothing but a loin cloth and beads. His long white hair was drawn back and tied with a strip of leather, and there was a turkey tail-feather bound into a plait hanging down from the side of his skeletal, dark-leather face.
‘Well met, Rene York, welcome home,’ greeted a rather stunned technician who moved out to meet him from behind his computer terminal, one of many that radiated out from the ancient stone dais on which the Portal stood.
‘Well met Anders, it’s been a long time. You have not changed a bit,’ the old man replied with a toothless grin, as he hobbled down the four stone stairs that led up to the dais.
The middle-aged technician tried to keep the shock from his expression. He had worked at Start Point for over sixty years, being one of the first to join the Time Travel team. The number of Jumps he’d witnessed was in the thousands. Yet, when one of the long-term researchers went out and came back, it was always disorientating and somewhat frightening.
Only a half a minute ago, Rene York had entered the shower of sparks that filled the stone doorway as a handsome young man. His blue-black hair had been grown long and straight like a New Atlantean woman’s. His tanned, muscular upper body had been naked, and his thighs covered by a leather loin cloth. His only ornament had been a large leather medicine pouch he wore around his neck that contained his PA, Portal Activator.
The ancient, white haired man who stepped back out of the Portal, only seconds after he had stepped in, was so different as to be a stranger. And yet, the old man knew him by name, and joked about the time lapse he had experienced. How long had it been? From the look of him, and from Rene’s habits of the past, it would have been close to his limit. Possibly ninety years. What would it be like to live a whole lifetime in-situ?
As the old man made his slow way down toward the end of the cavern, where the lifts to the surface were located, Anders shook his head. Why would anyone let their body get to that painful state? Certainly, Rene was passionate about his ecological research, and this was his last clone, having reached his nine life limit. But surely that was reason to want to spend the remaining years of his life in comfort.
Anders was on his eighth and last clone too, so he understood the sense of finality that came with that ninth life. If he’d known back in the early years after the Last Great Plague that there was a limit on the number of clone bodies he could get, he wouldn’t have been so wasteful with them. He’d taken up new clones as soon as each started to age. This was the first time he’d ever reached middle-age in a body, and it irked him. The idea of being in a body as old as Rene’s was unimaginable.
The lift had arrived at the other end. Jac Ulster and his new Bonded Mate, Cara Westchester, a Newcomer who had recently been made a Retriever, stepped out into the cavern and nodded a greeting at the old Indian man. Jac looked tense and jittery, and was pulling at the lock of red-brown hair that fell across his forehead. He appeared to be a man who, having only recently made the transition into his final clone body, looked no more than twenty years old. Anders knew he was well over three hundred years old.
Cara strode along beside her Bonded, dressed as oddly as the Indian who had just left. Unlike Jac and the rest of the technicians in the cavern, who wore white, toga-like tunics, she was wearing a short skirt and floral blouse that befitted her Jump to Australia in 2009. Her pretty young face was pale with worry, and she kept casting Jac guilty looks out of the corner of her eye. This was only her second Jump, and there had been a lot of unrest amongst the Retrievers and Researchers since Hakon’s death in-situ yesterday. Maybe she was scared to go on this Jump?
The Portal had been