“Let’s go for a bike ride.”

“Let’s go for a bike ride.”

With that simple sentence, Paulo Acosta unwittingly found himself at the center of a conspiracy that spanned a galactic empire and served to hide the cracks in the foundation of a body of law built over 300 centuries. He would expose and destroy not only the dark and vicious industries that served this grand lie, but also the ancient monsters—there was no more fitting word—whose minds devised its constitution. But it all began simply enough when should have been killed in a car accident, but wasn’t.

It was a sunny afternoon with a breeze. Paulo had the day off and convinced his husband, Elijah, to join him on a bike ride. Paulo was the cyclist, but he occasionally succeeded in getting Elijah to accompany him if the weather was nice enough. There was a path nearby that cut through the coniferous timberlands and circled Lake Felwedder. After an hour or so, they peddled back toward home.

They reached a four-way stop with a car across the way looking to turn in front of them. The woman behind the wheel looked like the sweet grandma pictured on the boxes of Elijah’s favorite cookies, and she waved them on. Paulo waved back in thanks and they made their way across the intersection. To the right, down that straight stretch of sunburnt asphalt, a modified silver pickup with a lift kit and chrome smoke stacks poking up behind the cab—it’s funny, the things you remember—came screaming toward the intersection at 90 mph with no intention of stopping. There was nothing between Paulo and the truck but a diminishing span of air, and Elijah. Elijah held out his arm, while Paulo found he could do nothing at all. It should have been the end.

Instead, as the pickup’s breaks squealed far too late, the grille connected with Elijah’s palm. Paulo watched horrified as if in slow motion. Elijah’s bike began to tip over sideways. The truck lunged onward. With his thin fingers Elijah grasped the truck, and as he fell to the pavement he flung it over his body and sent it sailing 30 feet across the intersection. The truck landed rubber-side-up and crinkled like a soda can. The darkly tinted windows shattered with a sick tinkling, and along with them, a piece of Paulo’s mind. Elijah saved Paulo’s life, and at the same time exposed the lie.

Elijah had been forced to choose between his two primary directives: keep Paulo alive, and conceal the truth of this world. He would be told later in no uncertain terms that he’d made the wrong choice. He was eventually decommissioned as malfunctional.

When the audit team arrived they explained to Paulo that for a species to lay claim to a world, it must be continually populated by physical living inhabitants. But living humans in particular were frail and prone to disorder. It was more effective to seed a handful of people across millions of worlds and give them each a few million androids to keep them company. This kept the bulk of humanity centralized and the resources flowing in one direction. It was manageable.

They’d given him the option, but Paulo refused to remain on this world they called G2V-4.83-27.2-a. It was alright, they said; there were two others here who could maintain the claim of ownership.

Two.

A whole world.

He refused to accept it until Elijah disassembled his hand in demonstration—an event that leant evidence to his diagnosis as malfunctional. Paulo was never right after that. But he was just a reflection of his time. The universe wasn’t right.

Paulo would make it right.

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