Identity Theft, Chapter 22

Title: Identity Theft
Author: Ardath Rekha
Chapter: 22/?
Fandom: TCOR AU
Rating: T
Warnings: Adult themes, controversial subject matter, harsh language
Category: Gen
Pairing: None
Summary: It’s bad enough trying to get around a new town at the best of times. Add in only being halfway in its universe, and having to deal with a very frisky shoreline on the other side of the threshold, and Jack and Kyra have a lot to deal with.
Disclaimer: The characters and events of Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury are not mine, but belong to Universal Studios. I just wish I were in charge of their fates. No money is being made off of this. I’m writing strictly for love of the story.
Feedback: Absolutely, the more the better! Shred me, whip me, beat me, make me feel grammatical! I post “rough,” so I can always use the help. 😉

The Phantom Tides of New Marrakesh

High tide crested some two meters above the Scarlet Matador’s hull and began to recede almost two hours after the first attempt to board the ship. Four hours after that, the water had withdrawn completely from the landing site. With no idea how long it would be until the phantom tide turned again, the ground crew moved quickly to reboard the Matador and evacuate its occupants.

Jack, who had listened to the comm discussions about the planned boarding, had also determined that Tangiers Prime’s spaceport was another customer of her father’s old security company. Well before the ground crew boarded, she had added her pseudonym, “P. Finch,” and Kyra’s “J. Houlot” pseudonym to the roster of miscellaneous ground crew workers press-ganged into managing the evacuation. They attached their name tags, which Jack had previously hidden on the closet’s top shelf, to their suits, and even joined the roll call over the comms, reporting for duty from inside the ship. Jack had to nudge Kyra when it was her turn to respond; the conversation was in Arabic, which hadn’t been spoken on New Dartmouth or in the hospital, but which Jack had picked up pretty quickly in the Al-Walid household. In the hurried pandemonium that followed, nobody noticed when Jack temporarily “glitched” the camera feeds and they slipped out of the utility closet to join the relief efforts.

It helped that both of them had run through simulations of disconnecting cryotubes dozens of times. Their speed and competence got them more than a few words of gratitude from actual members of the ground crew, some of them even in English.

Two hours in, after carrying a liberated cryotube down to the waiting transport, Jack and Kyra joined the team that would reconnect them at the other end in the hospital. True to Ground Control’s word, they were transported via air. Below them, the city spread out. Trying not to rubberneck like a tourist, Jack studied it, noting that there appeared to be a coastline to one side, running along the land from the spaceport to the urban center, and wondering which universe that water existed in.

Most of the other members of the ground crew were chatting in Arabic, too quickly for Jack to follow what they were saying, but a few were talking quietly in English nearby.

“Man,” one of their coworkers, wearing a tag identifying him in four languages as T. Alami, Ground Operations, gave an expressive, exaggerated shudder before leaning back in his seat. “This whole thing gives me the jeebies bigtime.”

“Seriously,” another—H. Aziz, Ramp Agent—chimed in. “I kept expecting some kinda monster to come charging around the corner at us, any second.”

“I wonder what it’s like for them,” Alami said after a moment. “You heard about the captain getting knocked over by an invisible wave, right?”

“Yeah,” Aziz groaned. “Jeez. Tomlin was standing right in front of her at the time.”

“He’s the arrival controller, right? The one in charge of this mess?”

“Yeah. Good guy. I’m glad he was on duty when the shit went down. Khalil says he slept in the control tower last night so he’d be there if they tried to reach him.”

That, Jack thought, explained why Ground Control had always answered with the same voice. She’d assumed it was an AI until a man with that voice walked in through the airlock.

Aziz tugged at her helmet, adjusting it a little. “Damn, I want out of this gear. Anyway, Tomlin said that after she fell down, he could see water all over her. Kinda. Like, her hazmat suit looked wet. And so did the floor of the ship. But he couldn’t see any of the water itself and there wasn’t a drop on him.”

“That’s mental.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait to get done with this and go home.”

Now it was Alami’s turn to groan. “Don’t you wish. You heard that we’re all supposed to get debriefed by the Quintessa Corporation rep before we can go, right?”

“Shit, I forgot. Damn it…”

Jack and Kyra exchanged a silent look. They were going to have to find a way to ditch their gear and get away from the rest of the ground crew before that happened.

At the hospital, Jack caught a glimpse of a man with Ground Control’s voice, now out of hazmat gear and in a smart military uniform, arguing with a hospital suit about the elevation of different hospital wings. His Arabic, she noticed, was as flawless and un-accented as his English. The laden ground crew milled about for a few minutes until word came down that, in an abundance of caution, the cryotubes would be taken to the hospital’s highest levels. Patients on those levels were being relocated to other wings in preparation.

Probably a smart move, Jack thought, but shuddered a little. There had been times, on the brief flight over, when she could feel the other universe’s pull, the sensation that the transport’s floor was illusory and she might fall through it at any moment. She hoped that wouldn’t actually happen to any of the cryotubes… or their occupants, once they were released.

Another transport flight arrived with even more cryotubes. As the area became increasingly crowded, Jack nudged Kyra and nodded towards a door with a familiar keypad beside it.

One Ghost Code later, they were hurrying down a flight of steps with signs that pointed to a garage, stripping off their suits as they went. The lights on all of the stairwell cameras were dark, having switched off the moment Jack input the code. In ten minutes, they would switch back on and the system would report a minor power glitch as cover.

“Damn,” Kyra whisper-hissed as they went. “That Paris guy must’ve been some really hot shit. His codes work everywhere.”

Jack grinned and nodded, recalling how she’d sneaked up on him and put a boomerang to his throat.

At the base of the stairs, they straightened their wigs one more time before wadding up the hazmat suits into the smallest bundles that they could and stuffing them into a pair of discarded shopping bags Jack had spotted on the way. Now dressed in ordinary street clothes and carrying the bags, looking like two ordinary teens who had been out store-hopping, they walked out into the hospital’s parking garage.

They were one level below the street entrance, Jack figured, and she was suddenly glad they hadn’t gone any lower. The ramp down to the next level ended abruptly, just a third of the way down, at a smooth plain of what looked like drying sand with seaweed strewn across its surface. Something small and crustacean-like was scuttling across the sand. As they watched, it seemed to pass through the concrete of the ramp and vanish.

Jack was just glad that they hadn’t encountered the other ’verse’s ground level before they’d been able to leave the stairway.

“We’d better find some higher ground fast,” Kyra said next to her. “This part of town is definitely going to be underwater when the tide comes back in.”

Jack nodded. “That Tomlin guy seemed to think that anything at an elevation of twenty meters above sea level—I mean, this ’verse’s sea level—should be safe.”

“How high up is the hospital’s ground level?” Kyra asked.

“Ten meters above.” Jack grimaced. “Let’s get somewhere where we can pull up an elevation map. We’ll pick a good spot to go to ground above the water.”

Nobody gave them a second glance as they left the hospital garage and headed toward a cluster of towers in the distance.

Tangiers Prime, like many large colonies, provided street signs in multiple languages. Arabic topped the signs, followed by Berber, then French, and finally English. As Jack recalled, most of its original settlers had been Moroccan, although it had diversified in the centuries since.

“What’s this city called?” Kyra asked, as she scanned one of the street signs and shook her head.

“New Marrakesh.” Jack led the way, mentally sorting through all of the guidebooks she’d flipped through when she had originally set out for this destination. The plan, back then, had been to arrive on Tangiers Prime roughly a year after she had left Deckard’s World, wait a few weeks, and then either bribe her way onto or stow away on one of the semi-annual supply ships headed for Furya and her father, a mere two-month journey away. It had all been timed so carefully, until it had fallen through so spectacularly.

Well, she’d made it this far. Finally.

After a few wrong turns, they found their way to an open air market that mixed centuries-old aesthetics, from old Morocco of Earth, with contemporary technology: carved wood screens with elaborate geometries concealed crass, ordinary information and banking kiosks. Before anything else, Jack sat down in front of a banking kiosk to acquire a little bit of the local currency.

And got a nasty shock.

Error. Card unreadable.

The kiosk spat the card – one that should have had roughly the equivalent of one hundred New Dirhams on it – back out of its slot. Jack felt as though she had just been tossed into ice water.

One by one, she and Kyra tried all of their money cards, with the same results. Unreadable. Unreadable. Unreadable.

“What the Hell?” Kyra hissed, struggling not to draw attention to them by raising her voice. “I know these were working back on Helion!”

Back on Helion…

“Ohhhh, damn it,” Jack groaned. “They’re straddling universes just like we are.”

“Oh.” Kyra sat down hard next to her. “Shit. So they’re only half here?”

“Yeah. Maybe that’s weakened their magnetic charge too much. Or maybe the other universe’s string frequencies are interfering with it.” Jack picked up one of the cards and held it to her, trying to will it to be part of just one universe. We are in U1. Only U1. The thing in my hand belongs here and nowhere else…

She sighed and pushed it into the slot, expecting the machine to spit it right back out again.

Welcome. Please provide your passcode.

“Holy… fuck.” She stared at the screen for a moment before giving Kyra an enormous grin.

Taking no chances, she had the banking kiosk issue replacements for each of the cards they had brought from Helion. Somehow, her Hail Mary was actually working, but she wasn’t going to assume that it would stick. They needed cards made out of materials strictly bound to this ’verse.

Aware that they might be running out of time, she decided to hold off on replacing their IDs for the moment. Instead, she pulled up an elevation map of the New Marrakesh area—noting, as she did so, that the coastline she’d glimpsed from the flyer was real—and identified which parts of town were safely above the other universe’s hypothetical high tide mark. Next up was a search for affordable rooms for rent in those regions.

“Fuck,” she muttered after half an hour of searching. “Why does every town in the Federacy make its heights so damn expensive?”

They had only two available options, both in an area that she suspected had gone into decline and was probably a little dangerous. Oh well. We’ll probably fit right in…

Kyra looked over the listings. “I like that one,” she said, touching one of the images on the screen. “Top floor. The higher the better, just in case.”

“Okay…” Jack submitted their application and deposit, putting a hold on the unit. After a whispered conference with Kyra, she entered the security code they agreed upon to use as a key in place of their possibly-fragged fake ID cards, aware that the option to do so indicated how seedy the place would probably be. “Let’s go claim it. We’ll figure out the rest once we’ve got it.”

Kyra quirked her lips. “I know that look. You think it’s got bugs?”

“We may have to fight them for territory, yeah.”

They took a moment to study a city map before setting off. The roads narrowed and became more and more winding as they hiked upward, the buildings becoming less ornate and more weather beaten and grungy. She hadn’t been wrong in her assessment; in the heights or not, this part of town was not prosperous. The haves and have-nots of New Marrakesh, she noted, weren’t divided along racial or ethnic lines; she and Kyra didn’t particularly stand out.

Score one for Tangiers Prime…

Her father, she mused, had been right about Deckard’s World.

It had been during one of the loudest pre-divorce arguments her parents had, when he’d shouted at her mother that they were raising their daughter on a racist planet. Thinking now about the cross-section of people she’d met while living on Helion, and saw in the low-rent district of New Marrakesh, she finally understood what he’d been so upset about. Virtually everyone in their moderately well-to-do part of town, and almost all of the kids at her school, had been white and had treated anyone with darker skin, who showed up in “their” parts of town, with unease and suspicion. Or as invisible, if they were gardening or engaging in some other role of quiet servitude. She’d gone offworld too quickly to even think about it at the time, but if she had needed to try to hide out in what passed for slums in her hometown, she never could have blended in.

Jack wondered if it ever occurred to members of her family, outside of her father, just how unjust all of that was.

“Deckard’s World!” the tourist brochures all touted, “Recreating the best elements of small-town America!” How much of that, she wondered, had been code for something far less pure and noble? How much of that code did her family understand and agree with?

They found their building as the light level started to change and the wispy clouds began to turn into fuchsia streamers above them. Their code opened the inner door into a dimly lit lobby. Several lights were either missing or burned out. A sign was taped over an elevator door, scrawled in Arabic and Berber but forgoing French and English.

Fortunately, Jack had been enrolled in “remedial” Arabic classes while she lived with the Al-Walids.

“Elevator broken. Please use the stairs.” She quirked an eyebrow at Kyra.

“No wonder the top floor unit was available.”

“At least we don’t have to tiptoe on these stairs,” Jack laughed. “C’mon.”

The stairwell smelled. Jack tried to ignore the odors—most of them biological—as much as she could. Maybe, once they knew their way around the town better and she’d set up some more resources through the other Ghost Codes—assuming those hadn’t been discovered and shut down while she and Kyra were in cryo—they could pick out a nicer place.

For now, it would do.

Eight flights up and they were on “their” level. Jack identified the unit they had reserved and punched in the security code they had chosen.

The space was cramped, musty, and dim. Jack touched the panel by the door and, after a few seconds, lights came up. One flickered, threatening to go back out at any moment.

The unit was furnished… more or less. Jack had the suspicion that someone had been evicted a while back and hadn’t been allowed to clear out most of their things before being given the bum’s rush. There was a ratty-looking couch and a rattier-looking chair, arranged to face a pitted and scarred table that had probably once had a vid screen sitting on it. Behind the table and a small half-wall divider, pots and pans, plates, cups, and utensils were jumbled on a kitchen counter, awaiting a washing that might be weeks or even months overdue.

“Yeah, we’re definitely going to be doing battle against the bugs,” Kyra sighed. “I sure can pick ’em.”

A small hallway led off to the left. Jack peeked into it and realized that it led to a single bedroom with an attached bath. Again, the rooms were technically furnished, with dilapidated furniture strewn with clothing and various possessions that had been left behind by the last tenant, most of which probably needed to be disposed of. The air had a chemical aftertaste to it; the place had been fumigated even if it hadn’t been cleaned.

“I think the battle with the bugs is over. We’re just gonna have to dispose of their remains.”

“Really not much better,” Kyra said beside her. “But what the hell…?”

She walked over to one of the windows, which had its curtains drawn and shades pulled, but which was leaking vibrant, magenta light around its edges. She pulled everything open and then gasped.

“Damn, Jack, you gotta see this.”

The window faced west. Twilight was fully upon New Marrakesh. The clouds had caught fire, molten orange at the horizon rising up to lava red and fuchsia, through dusky rose and a deep, muted purple before the color faded back to dark gray. The sky, between the clouds, was a gem-bright shade of blue that felt, to Jack, like it was searing its way into her heart. The shoreline she’d spotted from the flyer was visible, their lower perspective making it seem closer to the city than she remembered, its water glittering and reflecting the clouds’ riotous shades. Sloping down to that shoreline, New Marrakesh glowed like the mass of jewelry that had spilled out from one of Paris’s “sarcophagi” when he had ransacked his goods for weaponry, blazing and sparkling in the beam of Fry’s flashlight.

Jack wasn’t sure when she’d last seen anything so beautiful.

“You’d think, with a view like this, the owners of this building would have no trouble renting,” she breathed, feeling awed.

“Okay, maybe I can pick ’em,” Kyra murmured back. She looked mesmerized. Had she ever seen a view like this before?

Jack took a closer look around the unit. The woodwork, she realized, was carved—or at least, where it hadn’t been buried under a dozen coats of paint, there were signs of elaborate Marrakesh-style embellishments. Decades ago, she thought, this building had been the hot commodity in the town, and its views had commanded a premium.

She wondered why that had changed, exactly.

“Hey, Jack… uh… I think the tide may be rising again.” Kyra’s voice had become uncertain.

Jack looked out the window again and felt her breath catch in her throat. The shoreline had moved even closer.

“The base of this building is twenty-two meters above Tangiers Prime sea level,” Jack told Kyra, trying to reassure herself at the same time. “We’re on the ninth floor, roughly another twenty-four meters up. We’ll be fine.”

The lights along the shoreline were dimming, as if veiled… or overlaid by water from another universe. Moving lights of vehicles began to vanish and appear along that edge… and the edge was creeping closer.

At high tide, Jack realized, all of New Marrakesh’s downtown would disappear beneath the water. Her eyes were drawn to the glittering twenty-story central tower of the hospital. She hoped that all of the quarantined passengers and crew of the Scarlet Matador had been moved to its top levels by now.

Behind her, Kyra was moving around the room. Jack turned to look.

Kyra had set down her shopping bag by the bathroom door and had draped her auburn wig over it. She was gathering up all of the strewn clothing decorating the floor and furniture of the room and piling it on the bed. When she finished, she pulled the corners of the sheets and blankets on the bed out and turned the clothing pile into a wrapped package.

“I saw a chute labeled ‘incinerator’ out in the hallway,” she explained, as she hauled the large package off of the stripped mattress. “Back in a few minutes.”

Jack nodded, aware that she needed to start helping with the clean-up too, but drawn back to the view out the window. The waters had reached the city center and the gaudy lights of the market square, that they had sat in only a few hours before, were going dim. What had formerly been the shoreline had gone completely dark.

It’s okay, Jack tried to reassure herself. It’ll come close to where we are, but it won’t go over it. Kyra picked the perfect place for us. We can learn how to time the tides from this window, and we can plan trips to town around them. And plan when we can get off-planet around the tides, too. We’ll be fine.

We’ll be fine.

They spent the next hour hauling things out of the bedroom, stripping it down to the basics and keeping only things that were already clean or could be cleaned easily. None of the clothes were in their sizes, and most of them were so stained that there was no point in offering them to the building’s other tenants.

They left the other rooms for later; they were far too tired to do the whole place. The last— thirty? Forty? God knew how many—hours were finally catching up with them. Once the stained mattress was clean and the sources of various unpleasant smells in the room had been eliminated, and they had wrestled the windows open to let in some fresh air, they took their small collections of money and identity cards out of their smalls, set them on the battered dresser, and collapsed on the mattress together.

Jack later thought that she’d fallen asleep the moment that her head touched the mattress. She didn’t even remember to take off her shoes.

She dreamed that she was back on the crash planet, watching the eclipse overtake the sky. But now, instead of strange creatures emerging from rock formations, even more bizarre-looking things were emerging from the ground below her. One of them reached out with a warm, wet tentacle and wrapped it around her ankle—

She woke up, gasping. Warm water slapped her foot again.

The room was bathed in strange, bright moonlight that seemed to pierce the ceiling as it fell. It glittered on the rippling water sloshing back and forth a few inches below the mattress. Another wave rolled across the surface, just above the height of the mattress, and splashed her again.

“Oh fuck,” Kyra said beside her.

Jack gave her friend a worried look and climbed out of the bed, sloshing her way to the window. Ground Control—Tomlin—had said that the water was the temperature of bathwater. He hadn’t been wrong. About that much, at least.

An enormous full moon hung in the sky almost directly above them. Beneath it, sparkling waves had engulfed all but the tallest buildings of New Marrakesh. The water, she calculated, was almost forty-seven meters above local sea level. Only the top five floors of the hospital tower, now an island jutting out of the dark waters, were still visible in the distance, an impossible lighthouse.

And the phantom tide was, Jack realized, as another wave broke against her legs, still rising.

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*bounces!* NZWs!!! I told ya once and I shall tell ya again, I loves them. And the little crab dude, too. 😀

I loves the image and glimpses of the worlds overlapping!

This was another awesome chapter! *claps wildy!*

Ardath Rekha • Works in Progress