This is "Crowd Control: Heaven Makes a Killing," CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel written and edited by readers around the world. New to the story? Click here to start. To read other past installments, visit our table of contents.
Adapted from the diaries of Cindy Parker.
An undisclosed location, Terra Superioris, June 20, 2051
With Charles gone, it was Cindy's turn.
"I have to get in touch with Dad, Mom. I'm worried about him. It's been weeks now and he doesn't know we're alive. He thinks he killed us. When we saw him through the Ring..."
Her mother's brows furrowed. "I know, honey, I know. But I should be the one to go, we can't be totally sure this works..."
"But we saw Charles through the Ring! He made it! It sounded like him, it had to have been him!"
Cindy refused to relent. She felt responsible for her father's despair. She had left him on purpose. But she convinced her mother by explaining that her body was still preserved in the cryotube back on Earth, making it easier for her to return.
"Besides, the last thing we saw through the Ring was Charles wandering around in your body, right?"
"Thanks for the reminder. Talk about feeling used."
Josephina helped her daughter into the isolation chamber and then went into the control room via a large glass door.
A soft clanging sound could be heard as someone seemed to be trying to force their way into the room from the other side.
Cindy felt a sudden pressure inside her head and a ringing echoed throughout the room. She heard shouts and clanging noises coming from somewhere beyond the hallway. The red lights along the walkway suddenly changed to bright white and the black glass on the top half of the darkened walls revealed itself to actually be transparent when illuminated somehow.
Behind the windows she could see a dozen uniformed men and women in various states of chaos -- pointing at her, shouting, gesturing to unseen legions behind them. In the other direction, Josephina was frantically working controls, trying to get the Ring started up, but it did not appear to be working.
"We need to get out of here. They can't find us."
The pair fled the lab through the nearest hallway on the opposite side of the room from their pursuers.
Two of the women held what Cindy recognized as nonlethal electrical weapons; at least she hoped such technologies looked the same here as on Earth. She shivered to think what weapons Superiorans might be capable of developing.
She could also now see through the window of the locked doorway. Two more uniformed people wearing dark masks were running toward her down the adjacent hallway. Unsure what else to do, she took four steps back from the door and simply sat down in the middle of the corridor. She felt the anxiety drop into her stomach and she took a deep breath.
Chicken comes home to roost
The screen just below the window now filled with the outline of a helmet switched on. The background was blue. A clanging sound indicated the door was now unlocked. It slid open quickly and Cindy saw a bulky boot being flung over the threshold in her direction.
She threw her hands up in the air and then lay down, spreading her entire body on the floor, one of warmest she had ever felt. She was giving herself up. She waited to be lifted up and then restrained.
"No, Cindy..." she heard her mother say before the voice trailed off.
But a moment went by and no hands were laid upon her. Cindy noticed that the corridor had gone silent. She opened her eyes and saw only white. The floor was no longer warm. It had grown freezing cold and Cindy realized she was somewhere else entirely.
Her hearing was the third sense to return to her after what felt like waking up from a very brief blackout. She heard familiar voices. They sounded muffled and distant. In a violent, screeching motion, the white ceiling above her was lifted up and away, revealing the smell of musty air, also familiar, and the face of her father was there staring back at her.
When Cindy returned his gaze, he lit up and immediately collapsed into a sobbing, shouting mess that lurched toward her face.
"My chicken! My chicken is back!" He leaned inside the cryotube and kissed her forehead several times. "Can you hear me? Are you OK? Let's get you out of this horrible freezer."
He shoved one of his arms under her knees and the other under her shoulders to lift her out of the tube and onto a sofa in his lab.
"It worked!" he shouted to anyone who might be listening.
Cindy noticed a commotion about her, but the figures all remained steps back. Slowly they began to applaud, an awkward smattering of claps.
"Don't worry, chicken, just relax. You're home now. Now it's time for you to rest and get back to normal. You've just had quite a long journey."
A vein-finding autonutrient bracelet was wrapped around her wrist and attached to a medical hydrator/fabricator. Sensors around her forehead felt warm against her skin. She felt incredibly exhausted. Looking down, she saw her father's hand holding hers. She closed her eyes, feeling no anxiety in her stomach or anywhere else in her body.
Editor's note: Following Dr. Alex Parker's hallucinatory encounter with The Committee and a room full of Shakespeares, he was struck with what some on Earth with a more limited understanding of the brain sometimes refer to as a "Eureka moment." Over the next several weeks he dedicated himself to designing and building a rudimentary version of a bidirectional portal-and-ring system similar to the one that had just transported Charles Danish from T.S. to Earth, unbeknownst to Dr. Parker.
Alex had been focused on tuning his prototype machine to search for his daughter's unique particle signature, finally managing to locate and pull her consciousness back into its native universe to reunite it with the body in cryostasis she had once occupied.
Meanwhile, on Terra Superioris, Meta returned to find his home in disarray, with anxiety on the rise as numbers of unassigned and unemployed migrants in Tenochtitlan increased, although most seemed to spend their time simply sunbathing rather than causing any actual trouble. Charles had vanished and his parents assumed the Peraltas had finally offered him a job with access to the Mazatlan space elevator that he had always joked about.
But when he recognized the new neighbor down the hall as famed Earth physicist Dr. Josephina Parker, whose face he'd been wearing on Earth, he was quick to conceal his identity from her and decamp back to Cortes' training facility to develop a new plan.
The Parkers also did their best to keep in touch covertly via their rudimentary interuniversal communications system. Only a handful of people aboard the Washington were aware of the new revelations about the multiverse and the technology that had brought Cindy Parker back from the other side. For the time being, Alex Parker and his most trusted assistants had pledged to keep the truth secret until the best course of action could be determined.
Josephina Parker decided that her position of trust with the Superioran leadership was too important to give up, no matter how much she desired to return home at times. She saw herself as an important ear for humanity inside a civilization that possessed an uncertain amount of power and will to manipulate life on Earth for its own gain. She was easily the most exposed spy in the entire multiverse. Besides all that, with her old body currently occupied, she had no interest in returning home, only to wind up in a decrepit old shell of a body.
From "Meta: Biography of a Diplomat," Tenochtitlan Digital, 2077.
An undisclosed location Terra Superioris, June, 2051
The Chair rubbed her gray temples. "We don't have room for all the migrants at once. We don't have the infrastructure, nor the jobs to hold all of them," she said.
Meta had been watching the discussion proceedings since the morning, and the people in charge were talking in circles. However, it was clear there were three sides to the arguments. Trainer Cortes was still of the opinion that they should keep everyone in TS. The new migrants could be kept in cold data storage, he said.
"No need to waste resources fabricating bodies for them until the backlog is cleared and they can be processed and onboarded expediently," he told the seated Committee members. "Seems like the most humane way to go about it to me."
Josephina spoke up, calling the notion of putting an incoming consciousness in temporary storage on a server prone to failure somewhere "the only true death," and "cruel and unusual punishment."
She was supposed to sit quietly in the corner and only speak when spoken to. She had risen quickly to become the highest ranking migrant on Terra, but they only allowed her to be present for the discussions as a courtesy to Meta who requested it. Regardless, she refused to stay quiet while the future of her world was determined.
The Chair wanted to turn off the rings completely, which Cortes and Meta opposed vehemently. "Losing any people would break the links that tie our migrants together, which help them adapt to the new life here," Cortes said.
The rest of the room expressed their views that untrained and uneducated migrants unleashed unto the population were a danger. Some worried that T.S. would be completely taken over.
Josephina countered, "With the way things are going now, we might lose everyone! We may never have any more migrants! We need more families to step up and take in more migrants. They, we, are no danger to anyone!"
Meta fiddled with his pen. He had drawn all the arguments in a circular pattern in a notebook. Things going round and round. It dawned on him.
"We could send them back!" Meta announced.
All eyes were on him.
"I've seen the nanobiotics technology on Earth up close. It is even more advanced than we had assumed. We thought it posed a threat to our way of life on T.S., but now our meddling has pushed things further out of balance. We need to try and reverse the damage that's been done for the sake of both of our worlds. This Committee...and the resistance on Earth, I suppose, pulled the plug on my mission just as I was coming to this realization and working to change course. If we can begin to send the new arrivals back, and send me back as well, I have a plan that could end the bothersome war on Earth and enable a return to normalcy here at home."
Meta's earnestness and conviction surprised no one more than himself.
A few murmurs began to rise around the room, followed by scattered applause.
"But how we would accomplish that?" The Chair silenced the room. "When we sent you over, it took all of our energy. Half of our district was out of power."
"Yes, I've heard that, Madame Chair. But I believe Dr. Parker and her daughter may be able to help with that problem."
The Chair was struck with a look of realization and suddenly shifted her attention back to the migrant in the room. "Where's your daughter, Dr. Parker?"
Josephina averted her gaze, but the truth still tumbled out. "She's returned to Earth."
The Chair's eyes were wide and round, as she stared at Josephina, speechless.
"How did you manage that?"
"We can send the migrants back more efficiently now," Josephina continued, "We have the technology."
"So the Diplomat's plan is feasible then?"
"Well," Josephina was beginning to sweat. "We would need manpower to retrofit the rings, but I worry that this plan takes unnecessary risks..."
The Chair slammed her gavel down in front of her, interrupting Josephina abruptly, and silence fell over the room. "We thank you for your input, Dr. Parker. I'd like to see all resources dedicated to retrofitting those Rings immediately. We need to stop this war before it destroys both our worlds. Diplomat Nahuat will assist in planning the next phase of his mission. Cortes, please assign your diplomats to diplomat away. Send them back to Earth and broker some peace."
"My pleasure, Madame Chair," Cortes said. He looked at Meta and gave him a nod with his chest puffed out in pride, before heading out. Cortes obviously approved, and Meta appeared pleased he could still make amends by fixing the war he had sparked.
Next up: Even in a story without true death, there are zombies.