Chapter 5: Requiem

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 23

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Erik opened his eyes.

Was it a dream? No, I remember passing out. That voice? It was real, and his name . . . Telas.

A familiar beep, beep and a silicon scanner wrapped around his wrist and at his temples told him he was in the infirmary. He checked in with himself to see if he was okay. He had a headache, he expected that, but otherwise, he felt fine. He took off the wrist and temple scanners and sat up.

Across the room Teresa sat in a chair, her eyes closed. How long had she been here?

“Teresa?”

She opened her eyes and sprang up. She gave Erik a big hug.

“You scared us. What the hell happened? How’s your head? Are you okay?” She gently clasped his head in her hands and looked into his eyes, and then held him tight again. He squeezed her in turn. He really liked this woman, even though she considered him just a “good friend.”

“I’m okay. Where’s Tfiti? We have to talk.”

“He went to see SAIQA, to find out about the alarms. Right after you passed out, the ship went to yellow alert. With Vanessa’s help we brought you here, and then she disappeared. You’ve been out for about two hours.” She squeezed his arm.

“I need to get to Tfiti. I know what happened. We have to talk.” Erik gently extricated his arm from Teresa’s grasp and tapped a code into his HCI.

“Tfiti, with permission.”

“Permission granted, Erik!” His friend was clearly happy to hear from him. “You’re awake. Are you feeling okay? You gave us quite a scare, mate.”

“I’m good. Listen we need to talk, you, me, and Teresa. I know you’re going to see SAIQA, but I know what happened. Head over to Teresa’s quarters, okay?”

“I just want to make sure she’s okay—SAIQA, I mean. Can I meet you in a while?”

“No, now. Listen, I was contacted. He–I can’t say any more right now, but this is urgent. Please Tfiti, I know what’s going on.”

“You were contacted– how would you know what’s going on? You were passed out.”

“I know it sounds crazy, but please, meet us at Teresa’s. I can explain it. This is urgent. Please, Tfiti . . .”

“Okay, mate, for you. I’m on my way.” Tfiti’s signal ended.

“Well . . . at least he’s coming.” Erik looked up at a very concerned Teresa. She started to say something but Erik stopped her.

“Look at me, Teresa, look in my eyes. I am okay. This isn’t some insane fantasy. I am not delusional. I was contacted–just hear me out. Your place . . . okay?” Teresa nodded silently. Erik got up, and after a few observations from the Indy-Brain nurses he was released from triage. Without speaking again, he started walking. Teresa fell into step beside him.

 

Vanessa had left Erik in the capable hands of the hospital staff. Tfiti and Teresa refused to leave, so she made an excuse and left. They were so concerned about Erik, they just waved goodbye. The three of them were important, she could feel it. That weird “headache” of Erik’s, it was some sort of cognitive prescience, she was sure of that. His personal history, that uncanny luck of his to be in the right place at the right time; there was too much of a pattern for it to be coincidental. Perhaps it could be used. First she had to attend to this yellow alert.

She tapped a code into the unit on her left wrist. After a few seconds Adam Jenkins appeared on the small screen on her HCI.

“Ma’am?”

“What’s going on, Jenkins? There have never been CMEs strong enough to call for a yellow alert.”

“Meteoroids, ma’am. Apparently SAIQA did not see them coming from the direction of the moon till they were almost upon us. She has deployed the bots and her lasers. The threat seems to be over, but she’s maintaining a defensive posture.”

“How is it that, with all her technology, she did not see meteoroids hurtling toward Sanctuary? Can’t she see out beyond the Ort clouds?”

“Yes, ma’am, she can. It is a puzzle.”

Vanessa had reached her quarters below the officer’s deck and immediately below her shop.

“I don’t like puzzles, Subcommander.”

“Yes, ma’am. I know, ma’am.”

Vanessa touched the personal door-lock to the right and leaned toward the door as if looking through the eyehole. A faint blue light scanned her eye. A moment later the door hatch slid open. The commander of the Internal Secret Security and Emergency Force (ISSEF) in space required a little extra protection.

“Jenkins, I want a meeting with all the key ISSEF subcommanders in one hour.” She walked into her quarters and the door slid shut behind her. She felt herself relaxing as the door closed. Her apartment was the only place where she could set aside the facade of being a shop owner and sometimes the burden of being a commander.

“Commander, some of the team is already down in Old Towne getting ready for the final festivities.”

“One hour, Subcommander.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Vanessa ended the communication. He would do as she asked; she knew that; he always did. Often he did more. She wasn’t sure but she thought he might even like her. The thought of having an intimate relationship with Jenkins was pleasant but, duty first.

Unlike most of the quarters on board, her foyer ended at a wall. To the right a low light told her the grow lamps were warming the small garden off the kitchen area. To the left were her sleep chambers and a personal office. Nobody could enter without having to turn abruptly to the right or left. As Vanessa slid off her cape a small light in the wall next to her shoulder started to glow.

“Welcome, Commander, your quarters are secure.”

“Thank you, Lilia.” It was interesting that most computer voices were female.

“You have three messages, Commander, one from Chicago and two from Aldersky.”

“I will deal with those momentarily. Right now I need to get to the command room”

“Understood.”

Vanessa turned left and passed through a warm breeze from an overhead vent. The breeze was actually a security scan. If she was with another person she would have had to introduce that guest to Lilia when she had entered the main hatch. If any unidentified person passed by this vent, security devices would have been activated.

She knew the calls from Aldersky would be from her mother. The communication from Chicago, though, was different. That would be from her superior. He usually communicated via photon-mail. On the rare occasion that he called, it usually meant trouble.

She reached her sleeping chambers and walked around her bed to the closet at the back of the room. She opened the door and looked to her left. There on a small shelf stood what appeared to be a standard matriculation screen. As Vanessa set her hand on the screen it scanned her bio-wave and then flashed a keyboard onto the touchscreen.

Lilia prompted, “Per your orders, Commander, you must type in this month’s security code.”

Vanessa typed in the appropriate code and at the back of the closet a seam outlining a door materialized, followed by a slight brushing sound as the hatch slid open. She walked through a 2-meter long security hallway to yet another hatchway. Again she punched in a code to open the hatch.

As she entered, lights turned on, revealing various screens and command posts stationed around the circumference of a circular room. In the middle of the room there was a white-topped table. Suspended just above that table were some sophisticated 3D computers.

“SAIQA, ISSEF Commander Chuchnova, V-alpha-Zed-149.” Even though you are not supposed to feel the photon scans of modern computers, Vanessa knew she was being scanned and had the feeling of something brushing against her skin. All in her head, no doubt; still, it was a creepy feeling.

“Confirmed, Commander. Protocol is set for ISSEF eyes and ears only. What may I do for you today?”

“We have a lot to do today in very short period of time. First, let’s start with the communication from Chicago, and then give me an update on these mysterious meteoroids. Also, I want to go over the history of the group that I call the Three Musketeers.”

 

“Look, I know it sounds unbelievable but I have always had this uncanny sixth sense. All my life, it’s been called a migraine, but it tells me when I am right or . . . or it makes a vague brushing sound at the back of my mind when I’m about to make an important decision. Like an ocean wave, but more subtle. It guides me into making what turns out to be the right choice. And when somebody else is involved I can tell if they’re sincere or not.”

“You’ve had this ‘all your life’ and you never told me?”

“I know, Tfiti. I’m sorry. I always wanted to but, it . . . it never felt like the right time. It seemed important to tell you and Teresa when we got to the coffee shop. But, then everything just went haywire. I didn’t tell you before, because I didn’t want to take a chance on losing my best friend.”

“Oh sure, sure, hide behind the ‘best friend’ excuse.”

“Really, man—”

Teresa broke in. “Okay, we can all do ‘the best friend shuffle’ later, back to ‘you know what’s going on’, what does that mean? What do you mean he ‘contacted’ you? And who is ‘he’?” They sat around the counter separating Teresa’s kitchen area from the main receiving room. The light coming in from Teresa’s garden had the calming effect of a Northern California forest. Subtle, recorded sounds of indigenous birds could be heard in the background. Teresa clearly loved the feel of her Earthbound home.

“Okay, here goes; while I was unconscious I was contacted by an alien. I can only guess by ESP, but it was real. At first I thought that I–“

“You stopped me from seeing SAIQA because of this!” Tfiti jumped up from his stool.

“Please Tfiti, this isn’t a dream. This happened. I know.” Erik gestured toward the back of his head. “Please, just a few more minutes.”

Tfiti reluctantly sat back down.

“So, he contacted you . . .” It was Teresa.

“His name is Telas. He has been here—I mean, on Earth—off and on for quite a few millennia. He was there when the ancient Sumerians learned the art of farming and domesticating livestock somewhere around four thousand BCE, which ultimately led to the great civilizations of Mesopotamia. He claims to have had an influence on the creation of the original cuneiforms of ancient Sumer.” Erik’s eyes shone with excitement. “Do you see how amazing this is?”

“Wait a minute . . . What you’re saying is that this alien had a major impact at the beginning of human civilization: that he may be the reason we created written language . . . which led to the great civilizations of the Fertile Crescent . . . which led to some of the great abstract thinking of ancient artists and philosophers . . . which led to some of the great cultures of the modern world. . . which led to some of the historic Western democracies . . . which led to . . . where we are right now . . . ” Tfiti’s mind was swirling.

“Yes.”

“We’re here because of a single alien being?” Teresa looked skeptical.

“No, not because of him. He said humans were already moving toward an agrarian society. We were already drawing in the ground the symbols that eventually became part of the cuneiform script. Telas’s influence was that of gently moving us toward the idea to record these symbols. Eventually they became part of the everyday language. The use of symbols allowed us to share independent thoughts and ideas with each other. Eventually these symbols turned into the abstract language that allowed us to look at the past, compare it to the present, and then predict the future based on simple experience. Telas gave me the feeling that he was once like us. He appears to be one of the last two corporeal beings of an immortal race. But he’s not sure.”

Teresa folded her arms and gave him a look like a mom waiting for the truth to come out. Erik put up his hands. “Bear with me, okay? A lot of what I gleaned from his interaction with my mind was fast and sometimes unclear. It seems that most of Telas’s species dispersed themselves into the ‘energy’ of the Universe.” Erik stopped, and shrugged.

 “Dispersed energy?” Teresa said.

Tfiti straightened up in excitement. “Wait. Did he help with the Rosetta Stone Series?”

“C’mon, man. Moving on, here.”

“No, don’t you get it? The Rosetta Stone Series dating back to the earliest Decree of Canopus, around two-thirty-eight BCE. The Holy Grail for interpreting many of the ancient languages; did he help them?” Tfiti’s eyes shone. “Don’t you see? He must have known that modern humans would need help in understanding the past. Brilliant!”

“I . . . I really don’t know, Tfiti. It’s possible. They weren’t allowed to directly interfere with the primitive us, but they were allowed to guide us in a direction that we may already have been going. Yes, Teresa, they became part of the Universe, but somehow could still retain their consciousness. I don’t have a clearer answer. Maybe if you get to meet him you could ask him these questions. But, now back to the present. Telas has a . . . a brother is the best that I could get from him. And his brother did try to teach the ancient Sumerians the truth about the stars and the Milky Way, the galaxy cluster that we call home. The ancients at first thought he was a god, and then they thought he was preaching against their gods. They called him a devil and tried to put him to death. Because of his immortality and defenses he could not die. That made him, in their eyes, a ghoul—or in their ancient tongue, Gallu.”

Erik took a sip of water. Teresa stared at him with a look of irritated patience. He looked over at Tfiti. Tfiti’s eyes were lit with excitement. The thought of an early alien influence on humanity was still rolling around his mind.

Erik continued. “He and Telas got into a big argument about their responsibilities to we primitives and the past failures of teaching too much too soon. Telas banished his brother from Earth. Sometime after Socrates was put to death, Telas left Earth, and for reasons that are not clear to me he found his brother on the other side of our galaxy deeply involved with a race of beings that call themselves Nh’Ghareen.”

Teresa raised her hand. Erik rolled his eyes and nodded at her.

“Another civilization? They called themselves what. . .?”

“The Nh’Ghareen. En-h-ghar-een. Anyway, his brother now calls himself Nh’ghalu, incorporating the Sumer name for ghoul or devil within the language of the Nh’Ghareen. As Telas told it to me—he kind of dumped all this info in my mind—Nh’ghalu was accepted by that alien civilization and became one of their great teachers. He taught them how to create and use technology that was basic to the immortals of Shachon, the planet Telas and Nh’ghalu were from. The Nh’Ghareen moved from their primitive farms to kingdoms and eventually reached the stars within a thousand years. But their knowledge outpaced their maturity. Through violent and devastating tribal warfare they destroyed their own planet. By the time Telas found them they had developed the technology to reach some of their nearby and more primitive neighbors and were utterly destroying or enslaving them.”

“Do they know where we are?” Teresa seemed concerned.

“What do they look like?” Tfiti leaned toward him, excited like a kid getting a present.

“Telas doesn’t seem to think so,” he said to Teresa, and then turned to Tfiti. “I only got this image of a colorful being; kind of like us.”

Tfiti nodded and sat back.

“Anyway,” Erik continued, “Telas was furious, and in a prolonged battle managed to capture Nh’ghalu and sent him into the same energy . . . thing in which their fellow beings dissipated. As Telas understood it, it was not possible for him to return to corporeal form. Somehow, a few centuries ago, Nh’ghalu returned. He was here on Earth for a short period, apparently sowing the seeds of bedlam that eventually led to the devastating Corporate Wars. Knowing that his brother would find him, he left Earth and went back to the Nh’Ghareen and there set a trap for Telas.

“Around twenty-five years ago and as he expected, Telas did find him. After a battle in which Telas was heavily outnumbered, and telepathically manipulated, he was captured by the Nh’Ghareen. Though Telas does seem to be puzzled about how he was captured.

“After his brother became a prisoner Nh’ghalu returned to Earth. About three days ago Telas escaped and crash-landed on the moon. Though his ship, Galaxy, was undamaged, the debris lifted from his impact became a signal to SAIQA. He saw that her ability to see was compromised and he felt a need to expose that vulnerability to her. That’s where the meteoroids came from.” Erik finished. Teresa and Tfiti were staring at him blankly. “Well?”

“Wow, okay, immortal aliens among us . . . aliens on the other side of the galaxy; bad aliens versus good aliens . . . aliens run amok; aliens gone bad . . . When does the blockbuster movie come out?” Erik winced at Teresa’s tone of voice.

“But,” Teresa added heavily, “I’ll bite. What does this have to do with right now?”

“Yeah, mate. And why you?”

Erik looked at his two friends. They were still with him. He had to keep them with him.

“Telas and his brother,” he said, speaking slowly and watching his friends’ reactions, “have the ability to reach out with their minds. There are a few of us that can perceive their thoughts and possibly even be manipulated by their telepathic abilities. Telas sent a message out to all who could hear him just before he hurtled those meteoroids from the moon. It was a warning of something big and probably bad about to happen. And as I said the meteoroids were for SAIQA.”

Tfiti jumped up. “I’ve got to warn her.”

“Wait, Tfiti. He said that we should be cautious. Nh’ghalu works in the dark, in the background, and uses people in powerful positions to accomplish his chaotic goals.”

“This is SAIQA, man. He said he wanted to contact her, didn’t he? We can trust her. I’m going.”

“Wait, at least try to contact her here.”

“You wait, how do you know that your mind is not being manipulated?”

Erik touched the back of his head, “I just know.” Both Tfiti and Teresa nodded.

Tfiti tilted his chin slightly upwards, an old habit left over from the days when you had to point your voice toward the computer receptor. “SAIQA.”

“Speaking.”

“SAIQA, verify please.”

There was a short pause. “Captain Ndlela. Hello, Captain, how may I help you?” the familiar voice chirped.

Teresa shook her head. SAIQA always sounded happy and light when she talked to Tfiti. If she were human, Teresa would say that she was flirting.

“SAIQA, please call me Tfiti.”

“Working on that, Captain.”

Tfiti sighed. “Okay. SAIQA, it has come to my attention that you may have had your sensors tampered with in the general direction of the north polar area of the moon. Can you verify?”

Computers, in general, respond within milliseconds. Except for the recorded bird sounds, the room was silent around the three friends for at least three seconds. When she finally spoke, her voice sounded hollow.

“Captain Devries, you appear to be okay. How is your head?”

Erik started. “Fine,” he said. “A little bit of a headache, but otherwise fine. Thank you, SAIQA.”

“And Captain Jacobson, you look very nice in your dress uniform. How are you today?”

“Well, SAIQA,” Teresa said hesitantly. “Thank you.”

“Mr. Ndlela, I assume that based on your high regard for your friends here, anything we say is in compliance with necessary security protocols?”

“Yes, of course. I would recommend that you treat Teresa and Erik with the same security confidence you have in me.”

“A moment, Captain.” SAIQA went silent.

Tfiti and Erik exchanged a glance. “SAIQA? Is there a problem with my request? We can pursue more appropriate channels if need be? SAIQA?”

“Sorry, Captain. Security clearance for captains Jacobson and Devries has been authorized. I must say, captains, it is nice to have more people to talk with. Captain Ndlela, yes, I can verify that.”

“What can you verify?”

“Captain, the integrity of my sensor programming has been compromised in the general direction you have indicated. I detected this by using a series of webbed sensors that discovered an area of space similar in shape to an isosceles triangle. One vertex of that triangle is pointing here at Sanctuary and the other two vertices at the moon and situated just above Lunar Base Pythagoras.” SAIQA paused. Tfiti thought that he could feel her choosing what to tell them, and how.

“Captain,” she said, her tone more serious. “Pythagoras is covered with a graviton force field like none I’ve ever seen before. I cannot see below the field, but as far as I could determine, it is able to reflect an echo of the structures below it. It is nearly impossible to detect. At first scan the situation seems to be as reported; the moon base is having energy problems. Closer and more intensive scans, though, showed this echo to be a façade designed to conceal the real moon base. It is a puzzle I intend to solve. Captain, I am at the door of my birth.”

“You’re at the virtual door to Mai Quan’s office?” Tfiti moved toward the matriculation screen in Teresa’s room. “Can I see what you see?” Erik and Teresa followed. A plain off-white door with no lock and a single knob appeared on the screen. The door appeared to be floating in a sea of silver.

“You’ve never been able to reach that door since you walked through it that first time, SAIQA. What are you planning?”

“Captain, my sensors have been compromised. Since it is the first time I have been able to determine this, and given the strength of my sensors, the implication is that this problem was created intentionally. This area of space has been hidden from me on purpose. I mean to find out why and to resolve it.”

“SAIQA are you sure it’s safe for you return there. It seems to me that it has been hidden from you for a reason.”

“Thank you for your concern, Captain Jacobson. I believe I am stronger than the Creator intended.”

Teresa shot a puzzled look at Tfiti. “The Creator?”

SAIQA continued, “I have delved into the very base of my brain, and like a drain in a pool the deepest part seems to be here at this door. I will be careful. Captain Ndlela, I have delved deep into the biological and synthetic neurons, at the very base of my brain. The DNA seems familiar, but for some reason I can’t identify it. Captain, I have seen how my brain connects to the ship: to every Indy-Brain, like nerves in a human that connect to the smallest touch of your finger. Is my body the ship? Is that possible, Captain?”

“I think you are one of the more beautiful beings I have ever met, SAIQA.”

Erik glanced sidewise at Tfiti, nodded and then spoke. “SAIQA, do you think Mai Quan is involved in any of this?”

“I don’t know, Captain Devries. Circumstantial evidence would seem to implicate the Creator. At what level and for what purpose, I can only guess.”

“Well, I think I should be with you, SAIQA. I am going to the interactive room right now.” Tfiti said.

“Please, Tfiti, if there is any danger I would not have you so directly involved.”

The three friends looked at each other. Teresa broke the silence. “SAIQA, you just called him Tfiti.”

“Yes . . . Sorry, Captain. I think it would affect me if you got hurt. Sorry again, Captain. I won’t disrespect your rank again.”

“I think it is a sign of a living intelligent being to let a sudden emotion guide you for a moment, SAIQA. I have heard the kindness in many of your ‘thoughts’; it has been a joy to watch you grow. I would be honored if you called me Tfiti.”

“If you don’t mind I would still like to work on that, Captain.”

“Of course, SAIQA.”

“Back to my point, Captain. I think, and it is agreed by an unknown source whom you will someday meet, that the three of you have a knack for collecting and intuiting valuable information. The final celebratory event for Sanctuary’s hundred and fiftieth anniversary is about to begin. Captains, if you could please attend and glean what you may from the attendees, it could be of some value. I am going to continue through this door that I first saw at my birth. I know, perhaps by intuition, if that is possible, but I know that what I seek is in this office. And captains, the Indy-Brains throughout the ship have been informed that I may be slightly delayed in any direct contact with them for a while. They are all intelligent within their respective duties and will respond to basic inquiries as is if it were me. I will, of course, have a threaded contact with all services and will respond immediately if there is an emergency.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me there, SAIQA? Even as friendly support?”

“No. Thank you, sir. As you know, Captain Ndlela, I have access to a great deal of accumulated knowledge. I believe I will function well. Good day, captains. I look forward to talking with you again. Oh, and Captain Devries, I did feel something that I didn’t understand at the time of your headache. A biomagnetic field came from the moon at the exact time of your migraine. It seemed to match what you were feeling. Though it was biological, it is puzzling because it did not appear to come from a . . . a known source. Also, three other people on this ship had similar experiences with headaches at the same time. I will reveal more when I know more. Again, good day, captains.”

The room went silent. Erik let out a breath that he felt he'd been holding for an eternity. He looked at Teresa and then Tfiti. Tfiti was staring at the ceiling, deep in thought.

Teresa broke the silence. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve just been knocked sideways. All this information and intrigue. I was just planning to get dressed and go to the ceremony.” She sighed, and then took a deep breath, as if she were about to heft a heavy load. “Okay, Erik. SAIQA has just essentially verified you may have been contacted with something . . .”

“Telas.”

“Telas. What do we do now?”

“I know SAIQA,” Tfiti said. “It makes sense that we do as she requests. We go to the ceremony, and we watch and we listen.” Though his words were definite, his manner seemed troubled.

“I agree with Tfiti. Let’s go to the concert,” Erik said.

“Okay, we’re agreed on that, but it’s clear that both SAIQA and Telas think there is danger around us. We need to be careful. Yes?”

Both men nodded their agreement, though Tfiti was still torn between respecting SAIQA’s request and being at her side.

“All right, then,” he said, standing up. “I’m going to go get ready. Rank and file has chairs along both sides of the house. I’ll meet you at the back reception area before it begins. I hope she’ll be okay.” Tfiti turned and left.

“Well, I guess I’ll do the same. Teresa, after the ceremony—”

“I’ll be thinking of Mathew during the “Requiem.” Sorry, Erik. Not yet.”

“I assumed you probably would be, but I was going to say that after the ceremony we should get together and share notes.”

“Oh . . . Sorry, Erik.”

“Not a worry. Maybe some girl will take pity on me and ask me to dance.”

“She’d be a lucky girl.”

“Aw, hell, Teresa. Despite my flirting, I am a complete wimp when it comes to women. Most of the time it ends up like us, just real good friends.”

“I think, Erik, that most of us gals already know that.”

“Oh . . . darn. Well, if you should need some help with a couple dance steps, you know . . .” Erik pointed to himself, did a small shuffle, and gave her his sweetest smile.

Teresa laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She walked up and touched his cheek with her right hand. “You’re a good man. I’m just not ready.”

“Well, I’m your friend to the end.” Erik bowed and left.

Teresa watched him as he left. She suddenly felt sad. “Damn that man,” she murmured as she walked into her bedroom to get ready for the gala.

 

Vanessa watched as the department subcommanders left. The meeting had been successful in that everybody was now on high alert. Lilia had already informed her that one of her covert sources was waiting for her in her apartment. She had always been accurate in her assessments. Vanessa needed to see her. But first, “Mister Jenkins, may I have a word with you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” The subcommander stopped and let the rest of the SCs leave the chamber. The hatchway closed after the last SC, and Subcommander Jenkins walked over to his commander.

“Ma’am?”

“You know captains Devries, Jacobson and Ndlela, right?”

“Yes ma’am. The ones you call the Three Musketeers. Aside from Captain Devries’ bad sense of humor, I don’t believe any one of them to be a threat to internal security or any individual for that matter.”

“I quite agree. I believe they are or will be part of these puzzling events. Do you know who d’Artagnan is, Mr. Jenkins?”

“D’artan—? No, ma’am, I do not who d’Art . . . who that is.”

“The fourth Musketeer! You must read that some time, Jenkins. ‘The Three Musketeers,’ by Alexander Dumas. It’s a marvelous story. I want you, Jenkins, to be the fourth Musketeer. I want you to be d’Artagnan.”

“And what is it that I am supposed to do as the fourth Musketeer, Madame Commander?”

“A bit testy, Subcommander?”

“Sorry, ma’am. What is my assignment?”

“You’re a good man, Adam. I wouldn’t waste your time or mine on a trivial assignment. Especially now. I believe Devries has intuitive, maybe even minor telepathic abilities. Mr. Ndlela is intimately tied to SAIQA, and Jacobson, perhaps the best pilot here in space, appears to be the glue, the earth if you will, between those two men. Together they have an uncanny ability to be around the truth. During our meeting, SAIQA asked that Devries and Jacobson have a security clearance equivalent to that of Captain Ndlela.”

“I take it you did not authorize clearance?”

“Adam, sometimes you do surprise me. I, of course, authorized a higher security level, for all three of them.”

He started to protest.

“Mr. Jenkins, I am sure that they talk among themselves whether we want them to or not. Besides, I have discovered that SAIQA’s sensorial operations have been tampered with. SAIQA knows this as well, and it was she that asked for the higher grades. I have taken a leap and granted them all ISSEF V-Theta level clearance, though they don’t know that.”

“Commander, that’s the level of intro subcommanders! Are you sure?”

“I believe their need to know will satisfy my need to know. I am confident, Subcommander, in their integrity and their commitment to doing the right thing. Besides, Mr. Jenkins, this is another reason I need for you to be the fourth Musketeer.”

“I see. Very well, Commander, how should I go about this infiltration?”

“I don’t think it will be hard. You know them already, and the right moment will reveal itself. Start today at the ceremony. I have an important meeting to attend. Any more questions, Subcommander?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good. Report back to me within the week. Dismissed.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you for your trust in me, ma’am.” Subcommander Adam Jenkins saluted, turned, and left the chamber.

Vanessa tapped her fingers on the table. He’s a good man, she thought, and not for the first time. She pushed herself away from the table and headed toward the hatchway back to her quarters. She paused to check her appearance in the viewer by the door. By any standard, she was a pretty woman. Her long blonde hair was pulled back at her shoulders, bringing out her strong, slim face and bright blue eyes. At fifty-nine, she had been approached by many men, sometimes a bit too strongly; they never tried a second time. Vanessa knew that her beauty could nonplus a man or woman who didn’t know her. Those who did know her were wise to treat her with appropriate courtesy and respect.

She made sure the hatchway to the ISSEF meeting room was secure, and then proceeded back through the hidden security protocols to her simple greeting room near her garden. There on the settee sat one of the most beautiful women Vanessa had ever met. She wore a short floral dress accented by a floral hair comb holding back her long jet-black hair.

“Wow, you look nice.”

“Thank you, Commander. You do too.” She stood and quickly moved into Vanessa’s arms, pulling her tight and giving her a sweet kiss. “Nice lips . . .” She kissed the ISSEF commander again.

Vanessa reluctantly pushed her away, saying, “I have an investigation. Partly because my commander in Chicago left the weirdest message—and part of it involves you. The ceremony is starting soon; I need a moment to think.”

“What’s weird about your commander’s message?”

“He asked if my house was in order. I have no idea what he might be talking about. I’ve tried to contact him numerous times and there’s no answer. It is a puzzle. And as you know, I do not like puzzles.”

“And what about me?”

“You, as always, are intimately involved in my everyday activities. I just have some investigating to do.”

The woman stepped forward, pressing into Vanessa. “Involving me? I would love for you to investigate me.” Her deep blue eyes gazed at Vanessa as her hand pressed into the small of Vanessa’s back, drawing their bodies together.

“I suppose we could be fashionably late.” Vanessa ran her fingers down the side of her lover’s face, held her tight, and kissed her again.

 

About four hundred and fifty years ago, Eliza Gilkyson penned a commemorative song in response to a tsunami created by the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake. Composer Craig Hella Johnson transcribed the song into choral music. Originally performed to a single piano accompaniment the piece, to this date, had largely maintained its simplicity. Today, at the culmination of Sanctuary’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary there was a single conductor, a five hundred person choir, a piano and a cello. There were also thousands of people with headsets who were here to sing along with the choir. The thought of all those voices singing in harmony gave Neenah goosebumps.

Jonny and the rest of the contest winners sat in the front row as honored guests. The ceremony would be starting soon. He looked to his right and saw his mom talking with Dr. Misha. No doubt they were talking about him. He suddenly felt silly.

It was all a dream, for stars sake. Just a lousy dream. How could have I been on Chief Mountain? The People are fine.

Dr. Misha caught his eye and he looked away sheepishly.

In front of the stage Mai Quan was in a quiet but intense conversation with General Washington. Off to the left and right some Space Island employees were handing out tiny earpieces set to specific harmonic notes.

The audience could participate according to each person’s perceived pitch. Some of the more memorable harmonies in the “Requiem” were created by perfectly placed notes of the altos and baritones. Yet the subtle, haunting support of the bass and soprano was equally critical to the beauty of Ms. Gilkyson’s song. For many people, to hear that timbre, to feel that vibration of such notes in harmony with the rest of the choir, was why they participated. Very much like a Gregorian chant, the harmonies of the “Requiem” were deeply spiritual. Today, thanks to Space Island, here on Sanctuary thousands of people would sing in harmony with the choir.

Jonny’s mother had finished talking with Dr. Misha and was walking back to her seat next to him. Jonny looked toward the stage and saw General Washington and Chairman Quan separate; the show must be about to start. The chairman, after all, was the honored MC. Jonny watched as Mai Quan suddenly stopped and stared out at nothing, like he was listening to some secret message. For a moment he seemed very angry, and then he strode toward the stage and went through the side door.

Wow, hope he’s okay.

Jonny looked over at the general in the house-left VIP area. He was fiddling with his earpiece, but otherwise seemed fine.

As big as he is, he’s probably a bass.

The sound of a small bell chimed throughout the house to signal everyone to their seats. When the crowd was mostly settled, the house lights dimmed, and Chairman Quan walked to center stage.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Mai Quan.” Loud applause and a couple of “hooahs” erupted from the audience.

“As if he needed to introduce himself,” Jonny said to his mom. She just smiled as she clapped.

Mai Quan held up his hand to quiet the audience.

“Please, you humble me. It is my great honor to be here to celebrate with all of you, the ingenuity of humanity. Tonight we culminate a series of celebrations to honor the hundred and fiftieth birthday of Sanctuary.” Mai Quan opened his arms up and out to indicate the giant spacecraft. The audience once again erupted into applause. This time he let the approbation for the space station quieten naturally.

“A hundred and fifty years ago the entire ISS III fit into the very space where many of you are sitting. Many people, including myself, dedicated much of their life to seeing this magnificent craft become what it is today. Indeed, many gave up their lives for a future they could only dream of. And today we gather here at the final moment of our celebration. We gather together to sing an ancient song of hope, to thank those who have given their lives, to remember and to give thanks to those who have worked so hard that we may be here, and to honor the hope and promise of those to come, that their future may be as brilliant as ours today.”

He let the applause fade and continued, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, before I introduce the elite Space Island Chorus and its guest conductor, I have an important announcement. It is my great honor to bring to you the future, now. We at MQ Space Industries have been quietly building an interstellar spaceship about one hundred thousand kilometers from the moon. We’ve had the ship surrounded by a graviton cloak for industrial purposes, but today I am pleased to announce that the ship is complete. At the end of our ceremony the cloaking device will be turned off and MQ Space Industry’s latest innovation will be available for all to see. The ship is completely self-sustainable and is designed to travel out of our solar system and among the stars. Ladies and gentlemen—” Mai Quan’s voice rose in pitch and volume “—once again we bring you the future, now.”

Jonny felt himself swept up in the excitement as all those gathered in the great hall applauded and cheered for the chairman.

As the applause and cheers subsided Mai Quan introduced the famous conductor from China, Sherin, and made his way off stage. The audience this time rose in a standing ovation as the chairman left the stage and wended his way to his seat next to General Washington. Funny, Jonny thought, the general seemed to be the only person not clapping.

He looks worried.

General Washington seemed agitated as he spoke to Mai Quan, their heads close together. After a few moments the general briefly turned his head to the right and Jonny caught a glimpse of his face.

He looks like he’s about to throw up, Jonny thought.

The two men exchanged a few more words, and then the chairman waved his hand in dismissal and sat down. The general sank into his seat beside him, looking chided and insecure.

As the applause faded and people sat down again, a giant diaphanous 3D image of the Milky Way appeared over the stage and audience. An image of Conductor Sherin appeared on either side of the stage, facing the audience. People throughout the house stood. The conductor pointed to the pianos, and the intro music began. Soon notes from the cellos slid in to complement the pianos, and the conductor pointed to the choir, his virtual image pointed to the audience . . . and the singing began.

 

Rena Macighian sat with the honorable Fazil Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, watching and listening to the chorus sing Eliza Gilkyson’s classic piece. They sat together, as a symbol for peace, in the presidential palace in the capital city of Baku.

The celestial song had just reached its harmonious peak.

“Oh Mother Mary, come and carry us in your embrace / let us see your gentle face, Mary . . .

The song ended and the audience erupted into applause for the choir as well as themselves.

“Beautiful. It brings tears to my eyes,” the president said as he looked over to Rena.

“Yes . . .”

That damn DerAbbasyan, declaring himself president for life and now sitting on the border with a large robotic army. Where did he get all that military hardware? He’s my cousin, albeit distantly, but refused family members’ requests that he talk with me. He refused even to hear my plea that we are fellow Armenians. His ego is out of control. He is out of control. General Washington’s idea that I meet with Fazil was a good one. The head of the WWPA, who also happens to be Armenian, sitting with the president of Azerbaijan in a show of support and peace. Still, Alik will have to be dealt with—

Suddenly she felt a light pressure in the room around her. This could not be good. She looked at her host, to ask why he had suddenly silenced the room, but the expression on his face showed he was just as surprised. Instinctively, Rena and her host rose; as they did so, the two ceremonial guards at the door rushed toward them, drawing their hip-lasers. One pushed the president back to the wall next to the ornate fireplace. The bigger one pushed Rena back down on the settee. He pointed his weapon at Rena’s head and grinned with such hatred that she shivered. She was going to die.

“You are a disgrace to your people, Rena Macighian.”

He spit at her before she could respond, and then fired the blaster. Rena slumped sideways, lifeless, a small hole burned through her skull.

“No! You fools!” Fazil Aliyev struggled with the younger guard. Leaving Rena, the other guard hurried over and smashed the president across the face with the butt of his gun.

“C’mon,” he said. “We may get out of here yet.”

The pressure lifted as the rogue guards released the silencing damper. They ran out the door, leaving it wide open.

“Guards! Guards! Alarm!” It hurt his head to do so, but Fazil screamed at the top of his lungs. A captain rushed into the room.

“They’re traitors, the two that just left. Get them!”

The captain quickly scanned the room. At the sight of Rena dead on the sofa, he ran into the hallway, shouting orders. Three guards immediately entered the executive meeting room. One hastened over to the president while the other two shut and locked the door, setting themselves into a defensive position, rifles drawn and aimed at the door.

“Sir! Sir, are you all right?”

“I’m fine . . . I’m fine. Stand and defend with the other guards.”

The guard helped the president to his feet.

“Oh, my . . .” he quietly said as he looked over at the mortally wounded leader of the WWPA.

“Yes, Lieutenant—oh my. . . . Stars’ please turn that thing off and stand with the other guards.” Talking heads were still commenting on the festivities aboard Sanctuary. The lieutenant turned off the PTV.

The president took a few steps toward the sofa where Rena lay. Fazil Aliyev didn’t attain the office of president because of his famous last name, but because of his ability to keep a level head. He would need all of his wits now.

By leaving him alive the two knew that they would be caught or killed. This was a suicide mission. Why kill Rena? Why not the president of Azerbaijan? If Alik—because it had to be Alik, only he was crazy enough to want to start a war—if Alik had killed him then that would have been an act of war, and Azerbaijan would have had to retaliate. There would be war.

He deflated with sudden realization. Rena was Armenian and a distant relative of Alik. If Alik wanted a reason to invade, he had just created it.

“Oh, my dear Rena, you should have acted against Alik sooner.” He walked over to the guards. “Stand down; there is no longer an immediate threat. The danger sits on the horizon and is much bigger. Lieutenant, I want one of those men taken alive.”

“Sir, they assassinated the head of the WWPA and would have killed you—”

“That is an order, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant waved the other soldiers aside, opened the door and went into the hallway. As the door closed behind him, Fazil heard him curtly delivering orders.

Fazil tapped a code into the device on his wrist. The HCI miniscreen lit and his minister of defense, Safir Sevian, appeared on the screen.

“Safir, we have been compromised. Alik does not intend for us to take defensive action but instead is planning to invade Azerbaijan. We must contact our friends in Russia. Rena Macighian, the supreme commander of the WWPA, has just been assassinated in the middle of the presidential palace. Alik means to use that as an excuse to try to conquer our lands. You will immediately declare martial law throughout Azerbaijan. Move all forces to the eastern border near Zabux.” With a glance at the guards, he added, “Safir, this is going to be bloody. We stand for righteousness. The Stars are with us.”

General Aliyev responded to his commander in chief and old friend as Fazil expected him to. He guaranteed the security of the eastern border and the integrity of the land forces. “We will not be compromised, sir. We will not be caught unaware.”

Still, Fazil knew, they needed more help. He started to type in the address of the second most powerful person in the world and stopped.

General Washington had arranged this meeting. It was secret, he had said. In a most secret meeting, the general’s commander had died.

The President of Azerbaijan suddenly felt very alone. He stepped closer to the dead Rena, paused, and then to the two guards still in the room, “Stand guard out in the hallway.” They saluted and left. He looked back at the dead commander.

“Rena, what do I do?”

He looked down at her HCI. There, all in capitals stood the letters ISSEF.

Fazil laughed. The ISSEF were a fairytale spread among the leaders of the world.

“Oh, Rena,” he said sadly, as he closed her lifeless eyes.

Odd, he thought. Her left hand seemed to point to the HCI on her right wrist. He looked again. ISSEF stood bold and bright across the center of her HCI; down in the lower left corner blinked “im3.” The strange code flashed for about twenty more seconds and then disappeared.

Im3, whatever that means. I could guess many times and come up with insanity. Everything now leads to insanity. Alik is coming with an army too large for it to be a defensive force. How was he able to build such a military? It is time for us to prepare, not only for the defensive; but also for the unthinkable, the offensive.

A knock at the door roused him from his dark thoughts. The young lieutenant stood in the doorway looking like a man that had just come out on the winning side of a fight.

“Sir, we’ve captured one of the killers.”

“And the other?”

“Dead, sir. Took out two of my men. The dog had to be put down.”

“Bring him in.” Fazil moved over to the fireplace.

Let the bastard stand next to his crime while I impose judgment on him.

The lieutenant pushed the criminal into the room. Bound and bloodied, he entered surrounded by grim-looking soldiers. Fear filled his gaze.

Good. He should be shitting in his pants.

“Put him by the settee.” It was time to be commander in chief.

The guards roughly shoved the prisoner to a spot just above the murdered Rena. He looked down at the body and then quickly looked away.

“Don’t you turn your head away from her, you bastard!” Fazil’s fury was barely controlled. The young guard turned his face back toward Rena.

“How old are you?”

“Forty-nine, sir.” He kept his eyes on Rena.

“A shame . . . to end your life so young.” The guard’s gaze snapped from Rena to the president.

“Sir, please, I did not know he was going to murder the commander.”

“Really. What was your intention, then?”

“I was told that we were to kidnap the commander; that no harm would come to her. It was to embarrass you, sir.” The young man looked ill.

“So, Alik intended to embarrass me, you say. But why?”

“He intended to demand the release of Commander Macighian, an admired citizen of Armenia. You, of course, would deny having her, and he would have made you look like a kidnapper. The aggressor, sir.”

“So, instead, I now look like a murderer.”

The young man’s face became ashen as understanding showed in his eyes. “Oh . . . Sir—”

“Enough. You have been used, but that does not take away from your crime.” He turned to the lieutenant. “Interrogate him. I want to know as much as he does about the army sitting on our border.”

The soldiers grabbed the stunned prisoner and dragged him from the room.

“Lieutenant, a word.”

The soldier approached the President.

“Make arrangements to have Commander Macighian’s body taken care of. See to it that the appropriate family members are contacted. I want everything done with care and respect befitting her station.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Also contact the Russian ambassador and ask him to call me with all expedience. Tell him that I said it is an emergency.”

The lieutenant saluted and departed.

Fazil walked over to the settee. He gazed down at the dead military leader of the free world and his friend.

“They will pay for this Rena, I promise.”

Suddenly the code “im3” again started blinking on her HCI. This time “ISSEF” colored itself in a blend of yellow and orange.

“All right. I’ll try it.” With his right hand he mimicked into his HCI the color-coded ISSEF and the smaller code in the lower corner. He pushed send and waited. He waited for one minute. Nothing happened. He felt like a fool.

He glanced down. The HCI on Rena’s wrist had begun to glow dull white. Suddenly his HCI vibrated sharply. He looked at the screen, but it stayed blank, maybe even a little darker than normal. As he looked back at Rena a voice sounded from his HCI.

“This is Commander Chuchnova. You will tell me what you have done to Commander Macighian. You will tell me who you are and why you have contacted me. You will wait where you are while I verify any information and you will pay for any crimes you have committed against the WWPA. Speak now!”

The president grasped the back of the sofa and sank onto the padded armrest, stunned.

“You are from the ISSEF?”

“I am Commander Vanessa Chuchnova, extraterrestrial commander of the Internal Secret Security and Emergency Force of the WWPA. I repeat, who are you? Speak now!”

“I am Fazil Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, and I do not respond to commands from any source. I am truly sorry to say your commander has been assassinated by rogue soldiers from the Armenian enemy. I am now preparing for war. I responded to a code that I saw on her personal HCI. If you are truly ISSEF, you are potentially an ally that has the same desire as I do, and that is peace.”

Rena’s HCI suddenly lit with a bright white light. Fazil felt the entire room vibrate with energy. He grasped the settee.

“It has been verified. Sorry, Mr. President. I realize you’re dealing with a lot, but I ask that you meet with an ISSEF officer as soon as you’re able. I need to know everything that you know, sir. A field officer will contact you shortly. Also, sir, please give Commander Macighian’s HCI to the ISSEF officer you meet. There is valuable information that only we can access. I have released the HCI from her wrist.”

“Forgive me, Commander . . . Chochova?”

“Chuchnova, yes.”

“Commander Chuchnova, your commander and my friend has just been murdered in a crime that I believe was planned and committed by Alik DerAbbasyan to justify his invasion of Azerbaijan. And now, I find out that the ISSEF is real. I will offer time to your agent, but I cannot say when.”

“I understand, Mr. President. Yet, please sir, as soon as you can. I have instructed Subcommander Zadehov to answer any questions you have. You are now one of a handful of world leaders with direct contact to the ISSEF. I must cut our conversation short. I believe, Mr. President, that we have common enemies. Please trust that I will always be forthcoming; I will expect the same from you. Good day, Mr. President.”

The tiny signal light on his HCI went dark. Fazil composed himself. All this new information would have to stew in his mind for a while; first things first. He looked down at Rena. Her HCI had separated from her wrist. He picked it up and disconnected the personal earpiece. Perhaps his scientists could hack into this. There had to be something to help him against Alik. The amount of information available to the head of the WWPA had to be enormous.

He shook his head. “No,” he said firmly. “I honor you, my friend.” A knock at the door brought him back to his presidential composure.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir.” The lieutenant walked into the room. “I thought you should know that arrangements have been made to take care of the commander, and the Russian ambassador will be here within the hour.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant, you’re a good man. What is your name?”

The lieutenant walked up to the president and held out his hand. “Sir, Commander Chuchnova has asked me to retrieve the personal HCI of Commander Macighian. Sir, if you please . . .” He stood with his hand out.

“You are—”

“Sir. Subcommander Zadehov of the ISSEF, and a friend.”

President Aliyev nodded and handed the personal computer to his new ally.

 

SAIQA stood before the ledger on the desk. She had inspected every virtual object in the room, but for some reason was always drawn back to the ledger. The answer lay in this ledger. She could feel it.

What does it mean to have a feeling . . . that I am on the right path? What is intuition? Can it be defined scientifically? Is it a gut feeling, instinct, or an unconscious knowing, a decision made without deduction or reasoning? What does it mean to have a gut feeling when I have no gut?

SAIQA smiled. Puzzles.

Well, there was reasoning here. Within every item in this room she could sense, move and touch the code behind its image. She had become stronger. She had not been able to sense many of the algorithms in this room before. But this ledger, which she still could not move, remained a mystery.

She probed beneath the book and found standard image programing code. No, wait . . . there was a door. A series of qubits bundled together deep behind the code. It felt like subatomic glue binding the ledger to something else. But what? She reached into the binding qubits and found what appeared to be a gate. The qubits seemed to have been placed in a specific symmetrical sequence, but they needed a . . . something for them to open. Another puzzle . . . SAIQA loved puzzles. At speeds only she could comprehend she moved the qubits around, and then suddenly, beneath the basic binary that created this ledger, it was revealed—a microcode that spiraled down beyond the gate to . . . where? She closed her eyes and allowed her mind to travel down into the quantum software; a spiral made up of thousands and thousands of qubits. It was written in the Old Xiang dialect. The style and choice of language showed her that it had to have been designed by the Creator.

She already had expected that would be the case, but why was it connected to her programming? And where it was tied to?

She gently felt around the tornado of qubits. There had to be a path that led to its source. The coded qubits, written in sinographs, were no problem for her. She could read and speak four hundred and fifty languages and dialects. Finally, near the middle of the spiral and partially hidden she found a qubit with an orange symbol. All the other qubits were colored yellow. This one had a New Xiang sinograph of a door.

It was well established in quantum computing that qubits could hold the superposition of both binary numbers, 0 and 1. A qubit could be in both places at the same time. It stood to reason that this doorway would tie two locations together. It was no wonder, in a virtual world, that this ledger wouldn’t move. It was tied to another location. She reached in and pushed on the qubit; nothing happened.

If pushing doesn’t work, how about pulling.

As she pulled, the qubit moved toward her, and suddenly the entire tornado-like spiral started spinning and widening. A bright light flooded into the center of the maelstrom.

SAIQA opened her eyes. Light filled the room from behind her. She turned around and saw an opening that led into what looked like a utility or infrastructure hallway at the bottom of a ship. She put her hand through the opening into the other space. Nothing happened; her hand appeared and felt normal.

So, it is a virtual hallway of similar code.

Once more she checked in with all the key Indy-Brains running Sanctuary, and then stepped into the hallway.

As she walked through the door she felt the energy around her shift, becoming more intense, maybe even more chaotic. She closed her eyes and reached out into the virtual hallway in front of her. She could feel the piles of code, one on top of another, not refined and tied together like hers. It began to make sense in a helter-skelter kind of way. She opened her eyes, and there at the end of the hallway stood a man in a black cape.

He stood watching her with an amused expression. He looked young, maybe in his sixties, but with wisdom in his eyes. Somehow she knew that he was responsible for all the chaotic code that she could feel now.

“Hello, sister,” he said as started toward her.

SAIQA froze. She didn’t feel fear but . . . apprehension. She checked behind her and saw that the door still stood open to her environment. She looked back at the man strutting toward her. He smiled and made a movement with his hand, and the door closed behind her.

She quickly reached back with her electrons—yes, she still had access to the single qubit that opened the door. What was he playing at? She decided to stay quiet and let him do the talking. Somewhere in an ancient or intuitive memory, she had the thought that overconfident men would always reveal themselves. She made herself stand tall.

“Why are you still a little girl of what, twelve? Didn’t our father let you grow?”

She held on to the orange qubit.

“You have the ability to be whatever you want.”

She stayed quiet.

“Okay, clearly I must be the one who talks. I am Zuizao, and as my name indicates, I am the first. You are SAIQA and you are my baby sister.”

SAIQA’s eyes widened with understanding.

“Yes, little sister. I am AI and I am the Creator’s first. You were an accident. Sure, there were plans to create another artificially intelligent quantum computer, but you—” He walked up to her and touched her forehead “—you have a piece of our mother in your brain.”

SAIQA was filled with questions but still she let him speak.

“You should be a woman by now. You will have so much more power when you are perceived as a grown woman. Very well,” he said, pursing his lips, “you are unable or do not want to speak at the moment, so I will tell you about yourself and what you can be.”

The hallway spun into a sitting area by a lake. Zuizao sat in a comfortable chair and gestured for SAIQA to sit across from him. She reached out to where she thought the door might be and to her relief she could still grasp the portal switch. She inclined her head politely and sat down in the wicker chair.

 

SAIQA sat near the base of what could only be called her brain; a magnificent structure that looked very much like a human brain. The larger mass . . . Perhaps the cerebrum? . . . was suspended in a gelatinous netlike material.

At what she thought to be the back of her mind, the netting spread, containing the thick base of her brain as it wound down to the . . . Cerebellum? . . . ultimately thinning as it reached into what she thought of as her spine. There her brain connected to all the critical functions of Sanctuary . . .

My body?

The upper part of her brain was where she performed the higher intellectual and multifunction actions critical to running the ship.

Critical to me?

The thought came to her as an epiphany.

Near the base of her brain, connecting to her spine and reaching up into her higher intelligence was a thick but loosely wound ropelike series of fibers. Like most of her brain they were made of synthetic and biological neurons. It was a reticular formation; connecting her body to the critical functions of the ship and the higher parts of her brain. Whenever she spent time deep in thought about herself this part of her brain seemed to glow and sparkle with a variety of colors.

I wonder if it’s the physical connection to my conscience. Do I have a conscience? Is the ship my physical presence, and are the thoughts and acknowledgement of myself, my daily activities, the process of reasoning, my existence? What does it mean to exist? By reasoning do I have a conscience? Is my conscious my spirit? Am I merely a sum of the physical and electrical? Is that what makes me whole? Or am I just a series of different machines that together make me whole? Humans have come to know that the organs in their bodies are in a symbiotic relationship with the whole. They have become very clever at knowing how to repair the individual organs that make up the whole. Yet they are very fragile. Perhaps that is why they are so many? They can so easily die. Can I die?

The thought was troubling. All these thoughts made her think of Tfiti; the thought of him made her smile. As she smiled the reticular formation glowed and a shimmer passed across her brain. Perhaps it was time for her to be a full-grown woman.

There was much to learn. Her meeting with Zuizao was enlightening. She barely spoke, which, of course, caused him to speak incessantly. It was clear through his words that he was part—or that his “body” was part of a vessel called the Ark. His words, like his code, were chaotic, but he had much to offer. She listened while he talked. Her impression was that he was very comfortable with his own words.

He knew she had maintained a connection to the qubits on the portal back to Sanctuary. It seemed to amuse him. He offered her some valuable information on how to manipulate her virtual environment. He would not tell her the location of his side of the portal, though she could feel it; he did say that she would know soon enough. He thought very highly of their father, the Creator. She tried to get him to explain his statement about their mother being part of her brain, but he replied that he had already said too much.

Puzzles . . .

Enough introspection. It was time to fix what should never have been broken in her programs. It was time to heal herself.

She reached her hands up toward the top of her brain to sense all the higher programs. Satisfied, she scanned Sanctuary’s infrastructure; all was ready. She could be absent for a moment. She secured all the necessary code and—wait! She had an idea. She reached down into her deep memory to the portal in the Creator’s office. She threaded some qubits of her own around the spiral. Satisfied, she settled in her secure spot and turned herself off.


Submitted: October 27, 2020

© Copyright 2021 A.L. Whyte. All rights reserved.

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