“OH MY STARS…” BRIXIE REALIZED IN PANIC. HER MOTHER HAD RECORDED THIS MESSAGE AT THE HYDROPOWER STATION DURING THE RED MOONS’ ATTACK.
Brixie impatiently fidgeted. Ivey’s luxurious residence also included a complete holo-theater entertainment suite. She ordered her small army of housekeeping droids to remove the stadium seating so Brixie wouldn’t bump into anything in the holo-program’s immersive, virtual environment. Waiting for Ivey to download the data files into the suite’s projectors, Brixie positioned herself in the room.
“Try not to run into any walls,” Ivey suggested, her voice coming from an amplifier comlink nestled inside Brixie’s ear. She was seated outside the suite at a small control studio. The holo-theater room could show almost anything: from virtual reenactments and commercially-produced entertainments to participation games.
“I won’t,” Brixie nervously waited. She never felt so alone before—just her and her feelings inside this vacant space covered in reflective prismatic material.
The holo-projectors produced virtual imagery in three dimensions. Brixie wore tactiles; thin control gloves that would provide feedback against physical objects she encountered in the virtual space. If she reached out to touch a tree with her hand, she could “feel” the tree. She could also control the program or the environment using gestures with the gloves.
“You okay?” Ivey asked.
“I’ll let you know after it’s over.”
“Brixie.” The tone of Ivey’s voice changed to concern. Perhaps the young woman seated at the control console understood playing this part of the program would be a traumatic experience for her. “This imagery is a program. It won’t be empathic to your feelings. It just accepts input and relays information.”
“I know,” Brixie curtly answered. “I’m not going to fall down and cry like a helpless little girl, if that’s what you think.”
“What I’m trying to say is…” Ivey paused. “It’s okay if you do. I’m here if you need me. Any time you want, I’ll cut the program.”
Brixie bit the inside of her cheek. Ivey was only offering her help. She turned to the approximate location of the control studio behind a wall. The one-way reflective material made it impossible for her to see Ivey, but she smiled at her anyway.
“Careful, Ivey. Your good side is showing.” Brixie sucked in a breath and shut her eyes. The initial load-up of the program and the assembly of various holo objects could be disorienting. “You can start the program anytime.”
A rush of cool, clean moist air entered her nostrils. The holo theater was a completely immersive experience, that included sounds as well as smells and changes in relative humidity and temperature.
Brixie’s eyes blinked open. She was in the bio-sphere. Trees, some ancient with twisted boughs, rose like the arches of a cathedral. Branches and leaves whispered on a light wind pushed by circulatory fans in the high dome roof. Birds and creatures of a thousand different species chattered in her ears. Off in the distance she could overhear, a trick of the suite’s acoustical speakers, water churning from a stream. Her mother would be in that direction.
A kite-fox swooped past her head and alighted on a tree limb several feet off the ground, its vermillion fur ringed with splotches of light and dark helping it hide in the shadows. How stunning it was for her to see this creature when she was millions of lightyears away on a completely different planet. The kite-fox warily eyed her with iridescent goldenrod eyes that reminded her of Sully. She almost wanted to ask it.
“Having any luck with those squints?”
“Focus, Lady Brix.” Ivey’s voice interrupted her imagined repartee with the creature. “The path to your mother is on your right.”
Brixie walked a few steps. It was an uncanny effect. Her feet were moving but the dome’s forest rushed past her in great, exaggerated segments. This was called “distance compression”, a safety feature to keep her from colliding with walls. If she got too close, the sensors on the back of her tactile gloves would issue a warning vibration.
“This is some fancy holo suite you’ve got,” Brixie maneuvered through the foliage to reach the stream. The tactile sensors on her gloves responded when she touched a nearby tree limb, feeling as though it was really there. Curiosity got the better of her. “What do you do with a toy like this?”
“Invite coworkers and corporate execs over. We have party games like dance contests and snowball fights.”
“You?” Brixie couldn’t imagine Ivey being playful.
“I’ve got an image to keep up,” she remarked. “Now stop changing the subject.”
“Right,” Brixie sighed, getting back to the problem at hand.
A lone figure stood at the edge of the rushing stream, her back to her. Seeing her again brought a shiver to Brixie’s neck and shoulders. In the enlarged dimensions of the holo theater, there was no longer any doubt this was her mother. She could tell by the color and arrangement of her raven-colored hair and the familiar tilt of her head slightly to the right whenever she deeply pondered a problem. She wore a beige-colored tunic, trousers and slip-on booties familiar to those in the medical craft. The only difference was the dreaded five-pointed star of the Pentastar Alignment patch on her tunic’s shoulder. She was another slave of the Imperials.
Brixie wanted to reach out and touch her, new questions filling her head. How old was her mother when this image was compiled? Was it during the early days of her abduction or the latter? Where was her father?
“Hello? Mother?” Brixie spoke to her. The figure did not turn around or return her words.
“So much for that. I was hoping she would respond to your voice. I’ve tried everything I could think of to unlock her,” Ivey made a list. “Your name. Your father’s name. The names of her peers at the medical university. Her birthdate and citizen ident code on Entralla. It must be a phrase or something only your mother would have known.”
Brixie dug hard into her memories. She tried nursey rhymes. Favorite songs her mother sung to her when she was a child. Poetry. Even jokes. The passcode was either diabolically simple or painfully complex.
“I’m running out of ideas.”
Brixie grew frustrated with staring at the back of her mother’s head. She couldn’t believe she was this close and the image completely ignored her. The strange dream she experienced while under the bacta healing stasis reared itself again.
“Won’t you talk to me, Mother? Please? It’s me! Brixie! We never got the chance to speak before you were taken.” Brixie wrung her hands, agitated. “I was so frantic when you and Father disappeared. All I wanted was to hear the sound of your voice again. It was so bad, I kept the last voice message you sent….” she laughed. “…reminding me to do my dirty laundry!”
That was a point of contention between mother and daughter Brixie would long remember. She dropped her clothing in the bedroom of their old residence and every time her mother would complain about it. She didn’t want Brixie to rely upon their solitary housekeeping droid. Her mother wanted her to learn to take care of things herself.
The words “dirty laundry” must have meant something more to her mother than Brixie expected. The holo-image of Doctor Mari Ergo turned around and faced her.
“Voice phrase key accepted. Access to administration protocols granted.”
“Son of a Jawa!” Ivey laughed in Brixie’s ear. “You did it.”
Brixie took a jubilant step towards her mother, her arms wide, hoping the holo would do the same so they might embrace. The image only stood there, calmly speaking. Unlike in her dream, the avatar was only a recording.
“My name is Doctor Mari Ergo. My husband Praxis and myself were taken prisoner by a Pentastar Alignment agent named Ephron Zult. We have been forced to do his bidding. This holo program is a mental destabilization routine. Victims are susceptible to suggestions and commands issued through the program’s characters. If left continually exposed to the program, victims can remain trapped inside this mental illusion, resulting in disorientation, paranoia and violence. Agent Zult’s purpose is to create dangerous weapons out of ordinary citizens who are capable of attacking without warning. Even close friends or relatives…”
“Like what Hugo did to Sully,” Ivey’s voice added through the comlink in Brixie’s ear.
“I nor my husband wanted to see Zult succeed. I have implemented these administrative protocols which can override the nurse character in the holo story. I have given that character special attributes that can dismantle the illusion and help return patients from their delusional state. My husband Praxis has been secretly siphoning data from Agent Zult’s private data servers. He has hidden the information inside the kite-fox routines found in this bio-sphere. I beg you to send this information to the New Republic. Zult must be stopped. He has already killed too many innocents trying to perfect this experiment.”
“Looks like your parents sabotaged Zult using his own program…” Ivey noted.
“During our abduction, Zult used a sleep gas on us. When we awoke, we discovered tiny explosives had been implanted at the base of our skulls. Zult controls these. He threatened to kill either of us, right before our eyes, if we did not cooperate. He also threatened to harm our daughter Brixie, showing us images of two dangerous killers tracking her throughout the capital on Entralla.”
Brixie gasped. The two thugs stopped by Colonel Stormcaller weren’t there because they thought she was an easy mark to rob. They were threatening her life to extort her parents into helping Zult.
Her mother’s expression changed from anger to fortitude.
“As I record this message, an assault is taking place at the hydropower plant where we are being held prisoner. Zult has activated the self-destruct on his data servers and droids. No doubt, he will soon send the commands to kill us too. My husband and I have resigned ourselves to our fate. We do not expect to be rescued. But we control our own destiny.”
“Oh my stars…” Brixie realized in panic. Her mother had recorded this message at the hydropower station during the Red Moons’ attack. When she was there!
Her mother wasn’t alone. A familiar-looking man stepped into the multi-angle camera’s field of view. Her father was as handsome and rugged as she remembered, more worn down than she expected, but his gaze was still defiant. Despite a terrible wound that cut across his Imperial tunic, he put his arm around his wife and drew her close as he spoke to the recording unit.
“To anyone listening to this message,” Doctor Praxis Ergo declared. “We have a wonderful daughter, Brixie, named for the most beautiful star in Entralla’s night sky. She has always been in our thoughts. We hope she is safe. Her light is an example for others to follow. Please find her and give her this message. Remember us like this, daughter, and not what some madman did to us. Remember us, Little Brix. You’re the best of us.”
It did Brixie little good to control herself. Tears streamed down her cheeks like the endless brook running through this haunted forest.
From behind his back, Praxis Ergo displayed two small blaster pistols.
“The security droids won’t be needing these.” He turned at some distant explosion picked up by the recorder’s microphones. “Zult is leaving. He’s going to send the rest of the destruct codes, my darling. He thinks he’s won, but he hasn’t. We need to act now.”
“Brixie!” Ivey’s voice warned in her ear. “I can cut it…”
Brixie moved towards her parents, waving her arms to get their attention, forgetting these images were from the past.
“Why didn’t you wait? I was there! I was there with the Red Moons! If only you had waited! I could have saved you!”
Mari Ergo took one of the pistols from him. Husband and wife lingered for a moment, looking affectionately at one another before parting hands. She faced the camera one last time as the two of them slowly backed away out of the holo camera’s range.
“Recorder droid, transmit this program to the master storage facility on Ord Mantel and merge with the bio-sphere construct program. End recording.”
She was too late to save them, even now.
Brixie rushed forward. Her mother and father became shadows of light and dark before disappearing from her sight. She fell to her knees, her arms wrapping around only the cool air in the lonely forest.
Somewhere among the high trees, a kite-fox called out for its mate.
The holo program switched off. Despite Ivey rushing inside to comfort her, Brixie still found herself alone inside a black box full of reflective shimmers.
Her parents were only ghosts. But for her to see and hear them again was worth more than all the misgivings and confusion she had before. They had snatched Zult’s petty triumph away from him. He had no power over them. She would always remember her parents for their defiance, their ingenuity and their bravery.
And they never forgot their daughter.