Identity Theft, Chapter 24

Title: Identity Theft
Author: Ardath Rekha
Chapter: 24/?
Fandom: TCOR AU
Rating: T
Warnings: Adult themes, controversial subject matter, harsh language
Category: Gen
Pairing: None
Summary: Learning how to predict the phantom tide cycle of their new, temporary, home leads Jack and Kyra to a disturbing discovery. With many other lives at stake, the two roll the dice and reach out to a stranger for help.
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. 😉

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

“This is too fuckin’ weird.”

Jack looked over at Kyra, who was staring up toward the library ceiling again. Filtered through water that only they could see, the lights were brilliant aqua. The whole room was bathed in blue-green light. A large school of fish darted around above them, casually passing through the stacks like particolored ghosts.

Around them, oblivious to the massive ocean that was passing over and through them, dozens of people sat at tables, researching different topics. Just to top off the strangeness, several of them were working with holographic replicas of ancient texts, sometimes forgetting themselves and passing their hands right through the pages as if they, too, were transdimensional fish.

“That’s a serious understatement,” she murmured back.

To the right, suspended on one wall, the chrono displayed three different clocks: two forms of Standard Time—based on the old Earth time system, using its years, months, days, hours, and minutes, one readout three hours ahead of the more universally used system—and Local Time, which Jack had been stunned to realize was necessary to account for the fact that one Tangiers Prime day was almost two Standard days long.

Most of the worlds that humanity had terraformed and colonized, like Deckard’s World and even Helion Prime, were much more similar to Earth. Helion Prime’s day was a mere fifteen minutes longer than a Standard day, while Deckard’s World’s day was just eight minutes shorter. Aside from some periodic calendar resets to realign themselves back to Standard, adapting had been easy.

But Tangiers Prime, one of the oldest of all colonies, had been among the first to be chosen and terraformed, and colonists back then been a lot less choosy about the kinds of worlds they’d attempt to make Earthlike. The extra-long days and nights might have caused severe extremes in temperature, but the thick upper atmosphere acted as an insulator. Still, few people were ever out during the hours of midnight or high noon, some twenty-two hours apart from each other.

For the inhabitants of this strange world, it meant that those were the two sleep periods most people engaged in, breaking each rotational period into two shortish “days” with the peak activity occurring in the twilight hours.

The locals were used to it, only considering it any kind of potential hardship during the month of Ramadan, when—according to a chatty food cart owner, anyway—the daytime period was still fourteen hours long, making fasting quite unpleasant. Only one sect observed that stricture; the other, dominant sect on Tangiers Prime had found a clever work-around by deciding that fasting only need occur while it would be daylight in Old Mecca, back on Earth.

Which meant that almost everyone in Tangiers Prime had chronos displaying the time in Federacy Standard +3, which she’d been told—by the chatty food vendor—matched up with Arabian Standard Time back on Earth.

No one could actually go there, of course; the original Mecca had been lost in the Great Asian War, which had irretrievably poisoned almost the entire eastern hemisphere of Earth and forced virtually all of humanity to leave. But it was immortalized in art and literature, probably romanticized to an unrealistic level, and still prayed to by tens of billions across the Federacy.

“You getting anywhere with that?” Kyra’s question pulled her back into the moment.

“Almost,” she answered. “How does this look to you?”

On the screen, a complex waveform formed above a time code. The first wave peaked roughly an hour before the code marking Tangiers Prime’s noon hour. It descended, crossing a line marked “sea level” five and three quarters hours later, dropping down to a “low tide” at the 11.5 hour mark and then rising again to meet the vertical line marking midnight, reaching a loftier height than the first peak. A second sine wave appeared, warping the downward sides, raising the overall form back up before it could reach “sea level” and generating new mini-peaks of its own after each of the “high tides.”

Kyra frowned. She pointed to the slight trough when the original wave had almost reached sea level, only to reverse. “So we landed then?”

“Yeah. The landing zone was ten meters above sea level, but the water was still fifteen meters above.”

“So five meters on the tarmac.”

“And it was already starting to rise again as we landed. It went up roughly another five meters.”

“Which is why that Tommy guy—”


“It’s why Tomlin thought anything above twenty meters should be safe for everybody?”

“Yeah. I couldn’t figure out why it would do that, or be so high, until I remembered the other two moons looked like they were about four or five hours behind the main one. They’re close enough to each other in the sky right now that they’re reinforcing each other’s gravitational pull.”

“If you say so,” Kyra sighed. “Damn it. I hate being from a place where everybody insisted math and science were ‘Men’s Business.’ I’m starting to think maybe the assholes of New Dartmouth were right about a lot of shit…” She shook her head. “So this is what you got when you added those two moons?”

“Yeah. See how low the tide would have gone without their influence? Instead, it was already starting to climb again when we were evacuating the ship. We just barely made it to Le Rif in time.”

That, she’d learned, was the name of the down-on-its-luck hillside suburb they’d rented in, named after a mountain chain in Old Morocco.

“And about five hours after we fell asleep, the water showed up in our room?”

“Yeah. Megaluna generates a big pull.” She grinned as Kyra rolled her eyes. That was her name for the enormous moon, and she was sticking with it. “It was full, so that’s probably as high as it will ever go… but I want to make sure because I don’t like how its wave seems closer to the wave generated by the two moons, this second time, than it was the first time.”

Watching the tide start rolling back in, hours before sunrise, only to roll out again, had bothered her enough to launch this whole research project. She didn’t quite understand why it had created a prickle of dread within her, but she was learning to trust those feelings.

“And those two moons aren’t the same as the two in U1?” Kyra asked.

“Nope. Elsewhere’s moons are totally different ones. Qamar and Taziri,” she said, naming the two moons of Tangiers Prime, “were both below the horizon at the time.”

“Okay, so how do we make sure?” Kyra, Jack had discovered, had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, something she was only just starting to explore. Up until now, virtually all of the schooling she’d received had been doctrinal in one way or another, and that was something she’d grown to reject. Now, especially with topics that directly affected their lives, her hunger to learn had come out in force. Jack found herself wanting to encourage it.

“Well, now that these two waves look right… match up with what we saw… and the program has calculated out the sizes, positions, and probable orbits of the three moons that would produce them…” Jack glanced at her friend and grinned, “we let it forecast the next several cycles and see what happens.”

Doing this project, which had taken several hours and required them to stay downtown when the next tide rolled in, had helped distract Jack from the awful story that had come up in the newsfeeds shortly after the sun had risen.

Eighteen Dead Among the Quarantined Scarlet Matador Passengers and Crew

The article had had a weird spin on it, suggesting without directly claiming that some exotic illness had forced the quarantine of everyone on board the Matador, but Jack knew what had really happened. Eighteen people had drowned before the deadly danger everyone was in was fully understood and the rooftop evacuation had begun.

Jack wondered where everyone else had been taken. Several of New Marrakesh’s tallest buildings had been tall enough to keep a dozen or more floors above the crest of the tide, after all.

“Okay,” Kyra nudged her. “So stop woolgathering and let’s see what happens.”

Grinning back at Kyra, Jack pressed the “Forecast” button on the touch screen, selecting a ten-day period.

The waves rolled out, the larger and smaller tides growing closer and closer to each other and then—

“Ohhhhh fuck,” Kyra breathed. Jack couldn’t speak at all.

Five cycles out, two and a half of New Marrakesh’s absurdly long rotational periods away, the waves merged. The graph shrank to accommodate the new wave that resulted, estimated at 90 meters.

“We need to find Tomlin,” Jack told her best friend, “and warn him.”

An hour later, Jack knew for a fact that none of her Ghost Codes had been ferreted out.

She’d had to go deep into the local systems, posing as law enforcement, to learn everything she needed to know. The surviving passengers and crew of the Matador had been moved to one of the glittering office towers at the center of town and given occupancy of the twenty-third through twenty-seventh floors. Jack located the architectural schematics, confirming that this put all five floors just below the new high tide mark. Tomlin was credited with organizing the roof evacuation and minimizing further loss of life after hospital staff had finally notified him that something might be wrong. Now he was in charge of the quarantine and was currently listed as “on leave” from his Ground Control job.

It was approaching noon; most people were in bed or preparing to go there. But the tide had been rising for the last few hours, so Jack had a feeling that Tomlin would be awake and reachable.

She was almost right about that.

Ground Control’s voice was unmistakable, but sleepy, when he answered his comm. “Azul?”

For a moment, Jack thought he was saying someone’s name. Then she remembered hearing that as a greeting throughout Le Rif’s thrift stores that morning, when she and Kyra had been replacing their soaked clothes—“We just moved in and the water line broke, can you believe it?”—before traveling downtown. It wasn’t Arabic or French, so it was probably Berber.

“Mr. Tomlin,” she said, making her voice sound as steady and authoritative as possible. “It’s urgent I speak to you about the Scarlet Matador and its passengers. They’re still in danger.”

“Who is this?” Tomlin was fully awake and speaking textbook-perfect English again. “How did you get this number?”

“The answers to those questions aren’t important. What’s happening to your charges is.” Jack held her breath. Hopefully the fact that she had been able to reach him via a completely masked line—something technically forbidden on most worlds—would convince him that he was dealing with someone in a position of authority.

Which made it critical that she didn’t sound, even for a second, like an uncertain teenage girl.

“Very well,” Tomlin replied, and she could hear the curiosity in his voice. “When can we meet?”

“We’re close. Name the time and place.” That, she figured, was the best way to cover up her miniscule knowledge of local geography.

“One hour,” he answered. High noon. He then gave her the address of the building she already knew contained the New Matador’s passengers. “I’ll be in the parking garage. Level A. I hope you have some real answers for me.”

“I will.” Jack cut the call without giving into the temptation to say, as was common on Deckard’s World, buh-bye to him. That felt incredibly out of character with the shadowy authority figure she was trying to create in his mind.

“You watch a lot of spy movies?” Kyra asked beside her, holding in a grin.

“One or two,” Jack answered, letting her own grin out. “Okay, let’s get this data over on the tablet…”

She began transferring the results of her calculations to the brand new unit, purchased just a few hours earlier before they arrived at the library. Part of her still couldn’t help but feel morose that the screen she’d originally built on board the Matador hadn’t survived high tide, but the replacement—costly as it had been—would work better for them. She also transferred the data to a chip that she could give Tomlin.

“…and now we can get over there and get ready.”

They stopped on the way to rent lockers to store their other purchases, just in case they had to cut and run. If Tomlin decided to have the police handy, they might need to.

Fortunately, they’d gotten in some good practice, during the hour that the tide was receding from their apartment, and had even worked out how to “isomorph” almost all the way over into Elsewhere. If they had to, they could escape by passing through the local walls. Holding their breath the whole time, of course. Megaluna’s rising tide was all around them now. It would crest roughly an hour after their meeting with Tomlin.

The streets were almost deserted; for most of the people of Tangiers Prime, the hours surrounding high noon were a sleeping period. Jack found herself grateful that the phantom ocean was filtering some of the intense sunlight, but suddenly found herself wondering if she and Kyra were going to end up sunburnt anyway.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun… It was a line from a song her mother had sometimes played. Suddenly it made perfect sense.

They arrived at the parking garage half an hour ahead of the scheduled time, walking in as nonchalantly as possible, dressed and acting like two girls, probably tourists, out shopping. Jack had discovered that Kyra needed a little coaching in how to “act casual;” the older girl had no experience with theatrics, or even much in the way of let’s-pretend games. The New Christy Colony had had strict prohibitions against theater and dance. Which was a shame, Jack found herself thinking; her friend’s ferocious grace would have been spectacular on a ballet stage.

They walked down to Level B, and from there, Jack tapped into the cameras. Ten minutes before the designated time, Tomlin arrived on Level A. Alone.

Apparently, he had his own ideas about how meetings like this were supposed to work. Maybe he’d had a few of them before. Jack watched with bemusement as he paid off the gate guard, who—after he received enough New Dirhams, anyway—shut the gates, put up a sign that said “Temporarily Closed” in four languages, and sauntered off. Tomlin leaned against the guard’s booth, just out of the sunlight’s direct reach, to wait.

“Might as well do this now, right?” Kyra murmured beside her.

Jack nodded and switched off all the cameras on Level A, setting the feed cycle in the building’s main guardroom to switch between everything except the blank cameras. Hopefully nobody would notice that Level A wasn’t appearing at all.

She switched out of Ghost Mode on the tablet and pulled up the tide cycle. “Let’s go.”

Tomlin didn’t realize, at first, who they were. He probably thought he was dealing with exactly what they looked like, a pair of teenage girls inconveniently appearing at just the wrong time. “Sorry, I’m afraid I need to ask you to—”

“Mr. Tomlin, it’s good to meet you in person,” Jack said.

That brought his words to a stop. He looked at them, really looked at them, and his eyes widened. “We’ve been looking for you,” he said after a moment.

Jack had not been expecting that. “You have?”

He nodded, his expression becoming both more certain and a little awed. “P. Finch and J. Houlot?”

Well, shit.

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*bounces!* NZWs!!! YAYAYAYAY!! I still freaking loves the image of the fishes swimming around in the library. And Ground Control to Mr. Tomlin is the man lol!

This was a great chapter! And I see there’s another one! Woohoo!

Ardath Rekha • Works in Progress