A New Dawn

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A New Dawn

Postby LilJennie » Mon Feb 04, 2019 10:03 pm

A New Dawn
by LilJennie & Miki Yamuri

Chapter 1: Last One off Earth Turn Out the Lights

Adam was already a few inches shorter than he’d been, and he was only a week into astronaut training. The specially bioengineered viruses were doing their work, and he was losing both body mass and size as they returned his basic cellular matrix to an earlier state. The doctors measured him and weighed him in for another day of the intense training that it would require.

He’d been amazed to learn that there still was a space program. All he heard about on the holonews were the latest victories in the war against whoever they were at war with now, all in the glorious name of whatever the popular thing happened to be, but nobody he knew had ever been in the military or had any relatives who had been for over a generation.

The rusted remains of cars and trucks sat on the sides of the deteriorating roads, and here and there one could see the hulks of what people said had been airplanes that flew in the sky. Then one day some men and women in uniforms had come to his school, riding horses, and giving a talk about how the space elevators were still working and how they were making a huge spaceship in orbit that could someday take astronauts to explore other worlds. It sounded dangerous and exciting. They needed volunteers -- and not just anyone. They only took young men and women who got top grades in math, they said, and who were also in top physical condition.

Adam’s math teacher, Mr. Ghent, had taken him aside after the presentation. “Come to my office after school for a minute, Adam,” he’d said. “If you’re interested in what they had to say, I think there are a few pointers I could give you.”

Mr. Ghent was an old man, over 70, and it was amazing that he’d survived this long nowadays. They said people used to live past 100 sometimes, but not lately. When Adam had gone to his office, Mr. Ghent told him, “Ah, come in. Shut the door. Pull the shade, too, as usual.”

“Is this more about science, Mr. Ghent?” Adam had asked.

“In a way, Adam,” said the teacher. “You know we’re not supposed to talk about science now, not with the God’s Truth Party in charge. But just because we don’t talk about it, that doesn’t make it less real. I’m amazed they still let us teach math, but then it’s hard to count money without it, I suppose.”

This wasn’t anything Adam hadn’t heard before, but Mr. Ghent had been telling him a few things about science behind closed doors -- the scientific method, how to apply math to experimental data, mathematical models for real-world phenomena. He’d had to promise to only say that he’d just been learning advanced math.

“The fact is, Adam, I know they’re looking for people who know science, but they can’t talk about it any more than I can.”

“So … they can’t ask me whether I know anything about science, and I can’t tell them that I do, but somehow I’m supposed to tell them anyway?”

“You’ve always been smart, Adam, and that’s exactly what you have to do,” said the old teacher. “Just … if you apply, they’ll ask questions. Answer like a scientist. When they ask how you’d try to explain something you didn’t understand, what would you say?”

“I’d … make a hypothesis, and come up with an experiment to test it?” Adam had asked.

“Very good.”

And when he’d signed up on the sheet the space program had left at the school office, he’d been called there after school the next day, and they’d asked him just that sort of thing.

“Adam Gideon,” the woman had said. “My name is Judith Foster. This is my coworker, Seth Rhodes. We understand you’re interested -- and your school records show that you’re one of the top scorers in math and physical fitness.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Adam had replied. “I’m always doing work around home -- there’s always salvage to be done, rebuilding old stuff out of bits of even older stuff.”

“Well, there’s something else we need to know, Adam,” said Judith. “You’re obviously a smart boy, so we just have a few questions about some things you might have learned here and there. Suppose somebody told you something you didn’t believe, like that the Earth is flat. How would you test whether they were right or wrong?”

“Well,” Adam said, “I’d either do some kind of experiment, like measuring the angle of shadows at different latitudes, or I’d do some sort of observation, like watching the Earth’s shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse.”

“I see,” said Judith. “And what if they told you that a flat disc would also cast a curved shadow on the Moon?”

“I guess I’d say that doesn’t explain why the Moon looks red before and after.”

“And if they had an explanation for that?”

“I guess there’s no reasoning with some people,” said Adam. “You’d have to make up an awful lot of hokum to make everything work with a flat Earth. A round Earth is way simpler. And the simplest explanation that fits all the evidence is the best, isn’t it?”

“Well, we’re asking the questions, but that was a very good answer, Adam,” said Judith.

That had been halfway through Adam’s senior year. Shortly before graduation the postman had come by on his horse and wagon and brought his family a letter for him, saying that after graduation he was welcome to come to the training center.

“I’d be mighty damn proud of you if you went into space, Son,” Adam’s father had said. “Don’t know when anyone from around here has ever been chosen. They don’t pick many.”

“It’s like being picked to join the National Tabernacle Choir,” his mother had said. “You have to be the best of the best.”

“But … it’s all the way down on the coast,” Adam had said. “Takes weeks to get there.”

“We’ll get you there, Son,” said his father. “We’ll find a way.”

The space program had actually sent a coach for him. Outlandish looking, it had been, with solar batteries and electric motors. But Adam was already used to such technology -- it had fallen out of use in many parts of the world due to fuel and materials shortages, but some places still had the infrastructure to produce and even innovate. But Adam knew it required science, and there wasn’t much of that going on anywhere now.

The space elevators were now the only way to get into space, and they were deteriorating. They used solar-powered electric motors to raise a vehicle up and down a carbon nanofiber cable into orbit, but there was a maximum payload of 75 pounds due to the advanced decrepitude of the elevator. That was why they had to physically regress astronauts -- bioengineering was now a lot more feasible than throwing metal and fossil fuels at a problem.

The physical training was to keep their shrinking bodies fit and healthy, and to monitor the changes so they could weed out anyone who wouldn’t survive the arduous process before it killed them. There were classes, too -- intensive classes on real advanced mathematics and actual science intended to prepare them for the tasks they would need to perform once aboard the orbiting ship. It was partly mechanical and partly biological, they said.

Today Adam was running on a treadmill while hooked up to an EKG machine. The doctors watched the screens intently and ticked boxes on a computer tablet. When he was done the next candidate took his place. He was in a class of about 20, and on the average 5 would be chosen, though it could be as many as all of them or as few as none. Both had happened -- there’d been a class 20 years ago when every candidate had passed, while just 5 years ago everyone in the class had washed out of the program.

After the treadmill test, he went to the room next door for strength training -- apparently the rigors of the regression process tended to attack muscle tissue, so they all had to exercise as much as a professional athlete. Several others were in the training room, supervised by the program’s training instructors.

Some were using weight machines, while others were lifting free weights or doing chin-ups or push-ups. Every few minutes they would rotate. Adam noticed a commotion back in the treadmill room -- apparently a part had broken in the treadmill and needed to be replaced. That had been happening more and more often, they’d said -- and when they didn’t have replacement parts, the technicians would have to make them themselves.

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Far away, high in the air above one of the two remaining space elevators’ tethering platforms, a large section of geared track had begun to wear its teeth smooth. It was the stretch where the most torque was required when leaving the atmosphere to the parking station in high orbit. The elevator shuttle passed the location rapidly, both on its way to space and on its way back down. Each pass had begun to cause the car’s cogs to grind a little more. If there had been passengers instead of cargo on the past dozen trips … the grinding sound they’d have heard would have been incredible.

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A young woman named Lindie was just finishing up a long extended workout on the treadmill. She was incredulous about the fact she could wear a 5 year old’s romper and tennis shoes once again. She looked at herself in the mirror as she dried off from the quick shower. As she turned side to side to get a long look at her new body, several orderlies entered the room. One of them turned out to be the regression program’s Head Physician.

“Lindsey Fairchild?” said the Head Physician. Lindie turned her head. “It is my great honor to inform you that you’ve been selected as one of your class’ graduates.” Without any further preamble, the doctor took hold of Lindie’s arm and gave her a massive injection before she could react or do anything.

“Owie!!” she screeched in protest as she felt the massive shot rapidly spread through her body. Two of the orderlies gently took hold of her as she lost the ability to stand.

As the orderlies basically carried her from the bathroom nude, the doctor said softly, “Don’t be afraid. Your regression process will be complete when you awaken, and you’ll be ready to ascend to the spacecraft.”

Darkness took her as she was carried to the sleeping quarters, but it wasn’t her usual bunk she was placed in … it was smaller, though so was she, and it had rails all around. Lindie’s last memory was being tucked in before dreams of space filled her head.

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Three days into the program, Adam was awakened by a lot of commotion and alarms. People were running down the hall outside the sleeping quarters and shouting. This awakened many of the other candidates in his class too; one of them was even crying loudly before she woke up completely and stopped. “Huh? What’s going on?” he asked, surprised at how high-pitched his voice sounded, but too concerned by the situation to focus on it. It was still the middle of the night.

One of the engineers, whose name Adam knew to be Ellen, noticed that they were awake and came into the room to explain. “It’s a disaster! One of the space elevators’ cables has snapped. It’s done massive damage to the area near the tethering platform -- it’s the one in the Georgia Islands. Luckily it wasn’t farther up, only about a mile, or it would’ve been much worse. But this means we’re down to one working elevator.”

“It can’t be fixed?” asked Adam.

“No, I’m sorry,” said Ellen, “the top half of the cable immediately escaped into space. If it had been in better repair, the automatic systems in the satellite could have reeled in the counterweight to compensate, but it turned out they weren’t operational.”

“What did the bottom half do?”

“It … slammed into the ground like a huge bullwhip. There’s a path of devastation stretching about a mile north of the station. It’s terrible! But … there isn’t much your class can do about it -- all we can really do is try to send people to help any survivors who need assistance. The damage is done … I know you’re probably not going to be getting back to sleep after this, but please try. I’ll tell you more later, when I know more. I have to go!” Ellen hurried off.

Adam and his classmates talked to each other about this. “Are we … still going to be able to go to space at all?” he asked.

One of his classmates, a girl named Lindie who had already been selected -- she’d been the one who had been crying, as her regression was nearly complete -- replied, in a tiny voice, “Well … she did say there was one space elevator still working …”

“Yeah, as long as they can keep that one going we’ve still got a chance!” said another candidate named Kevin.

“All right, everyone,” said one of the project’s physicians, whose name was Dr. Matthew Painter, entering the room. “I can tell that there’s no chance of your getting back to sleep this morning, so I guess we’ll have an early morning today and go to bed early this evening. Let’s get everyone their morning shots, and then we’ll get you some breakfast and get started.” He had brought the usual medical cart with him, laden with the bioengineered drugs they were to be injected with, and he started swabbing the candidates’ arms and carefully injecting them, one by one.

Lindie watched from what she realized was her crib. It was good that the rails were there -- the floor was a long way down now that she was so small. An adult whose bed was 10 feet off the floor would want rails too, to keep from rolling out of bed at night while asleep.

“Not you, Lindie,” said Dr. Painter, passing by her crib with a nod of greeting. “You’ve had your last shot. The selection process has started -- you were first. Everyone else -- don’t worry; nobody’s washed out yet.”

Adam saw his reflection in the polished steel medical cart and gasped. He looked like he was eight years old. “Quite a change, isn’t it?” Dr. Painter said as he gave Adam his daily injection. “Expensive but effective. And currently the only way to get more of us into orbit. We’re trying to accelerate our selection process -- we don’t know how much longer the Houston space elevator will keep running. It’s even older than the Georgia Islands one.”

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After showers and breakfast, it was time for morning classes -- they continued their crash courses in various sciences, which would be continued aboard the orbiting spacecraft once they got there. Adam couldn’t help overhearing the scientists, engineers, and doctors talking in upset tones in rooms down the hallway -- “... saying they might shut us down for good this time …” “... but look at all we’ve accomplished on just a shoestring …” “... predicting even more land lost to desert, glacier or rising sea levels …” “... only source of metal besides recycling is asteroids now, and no fossil fuels anyone can afford to extract anymore …” “... if we don’t find a colony world and settle there, any hope of a technological human race could be finished …”

Wow. Adam hadn’t thought things were so bad.

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Totally by accident, a group of scavengers on the lookout for anything valuable they might find stumbled upon a large metal door that the most recent sandstorm had uncovered. The door itself was worth a fortune, so they started working to remove it.

It had taken a bit to get the door opened, due to how thick and explosion proof it had been. Finally, someone had found a wiggle hole where a portion of the structure had been exposed and hadn’t completely filled with sand.

It was hard work, done mostly by hand and shovels, but they managed to remove an impressive amount of sand from this mysterious shaft revealed when they had found this hole. The hole led to a platform above a shaft that was partially filled with sand. After removing most of the sand, the men found yet another door. The writing and inscriptions were in a language from a country that had been thought to have succumbed to a lack of resources years past. Apparently their demise came about in yet another way.

Shortly after the request for translation had been sent, about 6 solar carriers on treads arrived. Men in military uniforms jumped out and rapidly secured the area.

The leader of the military group wandered up to the foreman of the excavation and said, “My name’s Commander Thompson. We have brought with us a complete automated translator to decipher this language. The military will be overseeing this project and footing the expenses from now on. The good news for your crew is, we’ll be paying your salaries from now on, and we brought lots of food and drink.”

A large cheer went up from the obviously underfed workers. They could also plainly see the mobile kitchen being offloaded and set up along with temp quarters and other base camp facilities.

The foreman shook hands with the commander and replied, “It’s very good to hear that, Commander. My name’s Jackson. Most call me that or Jackie … no matter ta me. Our company’s told us they’re runnin’ outta money. We’re a long way from anywhere for ‘em to abandon us.”

The Commander smiled as he looked down the shaft, “I’m positive what we are about to uncover here, will go a long way to recovering mankind.”

Several days, and a few really good meals later, a crew of 3 civilian and 3 military men managed to break into the last door. It fell in with a loud boom, raising a large cloud of dust in the otherwise cool, dry stagnation. All the men lit the antique mining lanterns they carried, and entered the huge dark area.

They stopped, big eyed with their mouths open. Here was exactly the resources they were going to need … the Diaspora Program actually had a good chance of succeeding now if they could get these resources to the proper place fast enough.

As the men feverishly labored to get the items from the massive storage chamber and contact the proper persons, the final remaining Space Elevator began to show symptoms. The current breed of Engineers were extremely worried at what they were finding. The parts and supplies necessary to repair the infrastructure would require materials that both were in too short supply and required far more energy to refine than was available in the time they had. Would these newly-discovered supplies be enough? That remained to be seen.

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“Congratulations,” said Dr. Fellowes, the chief physician, “you’re the second candidate to be selected from your class. Well done, Adam.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Adam said in his already small and high-pitched voice. “It’s a great honor.”

“This will be your final injection of the regression formula,” Dr. Fellowes said, preparing a syringe. As Dr. Painter swabbed Adam’s arm with an alcohol rub, Adam couldn’t help thinking that both doctors were sounding rather grim, instead of happy.

With the injection Adam felt even more than usual as if his body were vibrating with some sort of energy, his cells humming to a silent tune. But this also made him very tired; he quickly started falling asleep. “When you wake up,” Dr. Painter told him, “the process will be complete. You’ll still have classes and exercises, but you’ll soon be ready to …” Adam didn’t remember whatever he might have said after that.

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“We have to send her now,” Adam heard Ellen’s voice saying as he woke up. He didn’t know how long it had been, but he was very hungry, and uncomfortable … was he wearing a diaper? Of course he was; they’d told him he’d need them. It needed changing badly. The days of disposable diapers were long gone; the energy and materials to make them just weren’t available anymore. Cloth diapers were renewable, and washing them was still quite possible. Maybe something new could be made out of bio-plastics and other new materials, but technology was focused on other areas nowadays.

“She’s not ready,” said another engineer. “She hasn’t finished the training.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Ellen. “If we don’t start sending astronauts up there now, we’re going to lose the last Elevator, and then it won’t matter. There’s no way to launch another one. We know exactly how to make them -- we just don’t have the budget, the energy, or the materials. No government on Earth wants to spend money on space. Only a few in our government and military believe that science is more than some kind of religion, and an outmoded one at that. We’re on a shoestring, and we’re lucky to have that. This is our last chance.”

“I … suppose we can teach her during the ascent and once she’s in orbit,” the other engineer said.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Ellen replied. “Get her up there now, and she can take the rest of the classes remotely. We still have video communication.”

Adam turned to Lindie, in the next crib over. “Wow … you’re goin’ into space,” he said.

“Sounds like it,” she replied. “You’re gonna be second.”

“I … hope so,” he said. He didn’t want to bring up the possibility that the tether could snap while she was ascending, which would likely mean her death. But he thought she probably knew it too, so there was no point in belaboring it.

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“You’re doing fine,” Ellen said to the viewscreen, which was split to show Lindie in the ascending capsule as it crawled up its cable. It was starting to speed up from its initial slow rate to the much faster speeds that were possible higher up. The other side of the screen showed the views up and down the cable. Other screens showed data readouts, and one of them showed the face of one of the astronauts, monitoring the orbital hub of the tether.

“I feel OK,” said Lindie. “Pretty smooth so far.” They knew she was approaching the point of maximum wear, though.

“Everything looking good up there, Jade?” Ellen asked.

“So far,” said the tiny voice of the experienced astronaut. “If there’s a problem, I’m hoping I can adjust the tether fast enough. I don’t know for certain that the automatics are offline, but they were in the other tether, and this one’s older, so it’s a good bet.”

“Approaching region of maximum risk,” said another engineer, staring intently at a screen full of data.

And then the image of Lindie began to vibrate and shake. “Hang in there,” Ellen said.

“Yeah, it got rough all of a sudden,” said Lindie, “but I’m still on the cable.”

“I’m not reading a break,” Jade said.

“Nor am I,” said the engineer at the screen. “Condition guardedly green.”

It lasted for about 20 minutes, then the image became steadier again.

“And we’re past,” said the engineer.

Jade cheered with a squeaky high note. Ellen said, “OK. We’ll keep an eye on things, but there’s much less strain on the cable after this point, and we’ve postponed acceleration to full speed until after this. We can all breathe a bit easier now.” Lindie’s ascent would take days, and then the capsule would have to be lowered, but it would be sent back empty and would thus strain the cable far less on the way down.

Adam had been watching on the screen in the classroom. Everyone cheered, including him, when Lindie made it past the rough patch. It meant she was very likely to survive the rest of the way into orbit.

“OK, Adam,” said Ellen, entering the room. “Your turn.”

“What?” Adam asked. “What about returning the empty capsule?”

“We’re going to send another one,” she explained. “Once we’ve got you all in orbit, you can send the empty capsules down one after another. We’ve got a lot of capsules. But we need to get you up there. We need as many of you as possible.”

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Through the metal-glass-alloy windows Adam could see the Earth starting to curve beneath him. So much for a flat Earth, he thought to himself. “You’re almost to the rough patch,” said Ellen, whose face he could see in the small viewscreen.

“I’ll hang on tight,” Adam said in his tiny toddler voice. And then it began.

The capsule started to shake and vibrate as the wheels started to slip in the worn spots on the cable. Adam tried not to think about what would happen if the cable got any more worn. He distracted himself by thinking about one of his ideas: engineered microorganisms that could live on the cable’s surface and constantly repair it. He’d need to learn a bit more about biochemistry, but ...

“Wait, what’s that?” said Jade. “Are you picking up that vibration?”

“Yes, we are,” said the engineer on the ground. “Ellen?”

“Decrease speed,” Ellen said. “Hopefully that’ll prevent resonance, if that’s what we’re seeing.”

Now Adam felt it. The capsule was shaking worse than before.

“It’s not resonance,” said Jade. “The cable’s just too worn there, and it’s getting worse. Can you rotate?”

“We can try,” Ellen said. Adam saw the view turn by just a few degrees. It helped for a moment, but then the shaking got worse again.

“No, no!” came Ellen’s voice again. Everyone on the screen was looking at her. “Increase speed,” she said.

“You don’t think --” said Jade. She broke off, looking at her readouts. “Holy -- the cable. It’s deforming.”

“Faster!” Adam felt the capsule speed up, which meant the shaking and vibration got more intense.

“Go, go! Come on!” said Ellen.

There was a terrible groaning noise and a sound like the twanging of a huge spring. “It’s … it’s fraying,” said the ground engineer with almost a sob in his voice.

“I’ve got my hand on the controls,” Jade said.

“Maximum speed,” said Ellen. “Get him clear.”

And then … it happened. The groaning and twanging suddenly stopped, and a moment later the capsule was thrown mightily toward space, spinning and whirling.

“Retracting counterweight,” said Jade. “Firing thrusters for station keeping.”

“Hold on, Adam,” Ellen said, though he had nothing to hold onto -- he was tightly strapped down in any case. His training in the three-degrees machine meant that he wasn’t disoriented, but he had to ignore his sense of balance at this point; its input was nothing but senseless noise. “Gravity will straighten things out. Meanwhile the wheels will pull you higher up the cable.”

Over time it subsided. He was still at about the same altitude. “Whew. I gotcha, Adam,” said Jade on his viewscreen. “The cable broke, but I pulled in some cable from the counterweight end and paid out more on your side to balance it out. The tether … isn’t tethered anymore, but it’s still vertical because of gravity.”

“I think … I think I can breathe again,” Adam said.

Jade laughed a bit. “Yeah, you’re gonna make it now,” she said. “How does it feel to be the last astronaut?”

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On the ground, they looked up from the tethering station. Twenty miles of devastation lay to the north. “We’re getting calls from New Washington,” said Dr. Fellowes. “They want to know how we can justify the cost in repairs and human lives.”

They couldn’t even see the bottom of the tether, more than ten miles in the sky above them. “A little more money for repairs and maintenance could have prevented this,” Ellen said. “But they’re going to blame us instead. And probably shut us down for good.” She sighed.

“We did all we could with what we had,” said Dr. Fellowes. “Maybe we can do some good with what they found in --” He stopped himself in case someone was listening. That cache of raw materials was easily worth trillions of dollars, and it was blind luck that the military officers who’d taken charge of it believed in the space program so strongly that they were willing to send them some of it. In the meantime, it had to be kept secret, even from the government, or some politician would quickly take it all and repurpose it for the enrichment of their career and wallet.

Chapter 2: The Mothership

It took days to reach the upper hub. Lindie arrived about a day earlier than Adam. Other astronauts removed her capsule from the cable and attached it to a small harness with thrusters to maneuver it to the ship. The ship was gigantic, larger than a football stadium, and was clearly partly organic and partly inorganic, with gleaming steel frameworks refined from asteroids and metalloid glass sections exposing huge green chlorophyll arrays. The thruster harness used its ion thrusters to guide the capsule to the ship, where it docked at an airlock.

Once inside the ship, astronauts changed the newly arrived infants’ diapers and plastic panties, then carried them to the sleeper rooms. As they entered through the mist streaming from around the door, each infant began to … feel even more like an infant. All of the new space travelers were placed in a large play area while those pretending to be adults tried to figure out what to do.

“This is Sky Commander Leon to ground control,” said the highest-ranking astronaut to the communication screen. “We are in real trouble up here. Our pilots have not yet arrived, and we have little to no foodstuffs.”

“This is Elevator Control -- we’ve had a major calamity down here. Both elevators are now Tango Uniform … torn up. We are seeking a solution. Will advise.”

The toddler Sky Commander looked at the comm system with mouth open and big eyes … before he burst out in tears.

“Hey, don’t worry, Leon,” said another baby, entering the command deck. It was Jade, who had until recently been at the tether hub. “I’m a pretty good pilot, and we’ve got software that can train more on the simulators. We’ve just gotten two more astronauts who they say are pretty good. That Adam boy is supposed to be pretty amazing at biosciences, and they say Lindie’s amazing with math. There are about what, 40 of us awake up here now? All of us are pretty near experts in our fields. What does it matter if we’re babies in body? It means we’ll eat less.”

Leon sniffled. “I g-guess you’re right, Jade.”

“‘Course I’m right,” she said. “That’s why I’m lead in zero-G ops. I know how things work up here.”

“Let’s …” Leon took a breath. “Let’s welcome the new additions to our crew. They might be the last ones we get for a while.”

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“We’re really the last ones?” asked Lindie. She and Adam were in some kind of zero-gravity play area, with all sorts of games that were played with floating objects.

“We really are,” Adam said. “I’m lucky I wasn’t killed when the cable snapped.”

“I felt the cable shake, but that was it -- which makes sense, because I was a day’s journey farther up, at higher speeds. Nearly 7000 klicks higher, and yet I still felt the pulse. That’s how taut the cable usually is.”

“I’m lucky to be alive,” said Adam. “But now, there’s no way for them to get anything up to us, or any more astronauts. We’re it. What are we going to do?”

Jade appeared at the entrance. “Why don’t you come with me and talk to Leon. He’s the Commander. We’ll figure out what to do together. We might make it yet. C’mon.” She unfastened the net across the entrance that kept the floating toys from drifting out of the play area, and Lindie and Adam pushed off toward her.

“Welcome to the Starship, Lindie and Adam,” said Leon as Jade brought the new arrivals to the command deck. “So far it hasn’t been named more than that -- maybe we’ll think of a good name for it. But we have some problems.”

“Like no supplies?” asked Adam.

“That’s one of them, yes,” Leon agreed. “I’m told you’re amazing at biotechnology.”

“That might … be a bit of an overstatement,” Adam said. “I only started training in it two weeks ago.”

“Hey!” said Lindie. “Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve been working on your family’s farm your whole life. You know all about growing plants and raising animals. The fact that you showed biosciences aptitude meant that the tests found that it was an area where you’d learn more fast. That’s all it means. Just like me and math.”

“That’s right,” said Leon. “We have training programs up here, and they’re the same ones they have down on the ground. You can continue right where you left off. And what’s more … being regressed like this means our brains are capable of much quicker uptake of new information.”

“That … makes a lot of sense, actually,” said Adam.

“I have a confession, and that’s that I love math,” said Lindie. “It’s only gotten more and more fun the more I’ve learned. I can’t wait to get back to it.” She giggled a bit.

“Hey, It’s good to do something you love,” said Jade.

“I want to see more of the ship,” said Adam. “Actually … I need to see more of the ship. The only way to solve our food problem is to grow our own, and I need to find out how possible that is. Are there any other bioscience people here?”

“We do have a hydroponics technician,” said Leon. “Also we have two medical doctors, which isn’t the same thing, but it’s related.”

“That’s true,” Adam said, “and that does bring up the point of medicines. Food is one thing, but sources of medicine are important … do we have any genetic manipulation equipment?”

“Luckily, yes,” Leon said.

“OK, I’m starting to sound like Lindie, but I can’t wait to get started.”

Lindie sat in the cute little chair and table setup that had apparently been set up just for her. It fit so perfect. The computational device was feeding her navigation data in mathematical terms using some form of spherical geometry mixed with some kind of other math. She was in her element and began making the calculations the onboard computer was asking for.

In another part of the ship, several toddlers were beginning to get the distinct impression someone or something they had yet to see, was on board and watching them. The ship’s bio tanks’ contents had begun shifting and moving all by themselves. None of the attending toddlers could figure it out.

“So these are the bio tanks,” said Rae, the hydroponics expert. “Waste products from us and other organisms on board are processed by bacteria into nitrates which we hope we can use to … what are you looking at?” Where some might have seen a disgusting organic slurry, Adam saw something else.

“I … would have to run some tests to be sure,” said Adam, “but I’m sure there are colors and patterns there that can’t be made by ordinary biochemical processes. Are you using any unusual enzymes or bacteria?”

“Nothing that hasn’t been in the reports and the documentation,” said Rae. “I have to admit, sometimes I hear motion in there … but that’s not possible.”

“I don’t know,” Adam said. “So basically the ship is a giant plant?”

“Well, not one single plant,” said Rae. “More like a giant garden, or orchard. I’ve been planting species with large leaves in hydroponic reservoirs so as to face the large solar windows. They’re gathering large amounts of energy and converting it into chemical form.”

“I might be able to make those large leaves even larger,” said Adam. “Hey, how was the ship started? Where did its first parts come together?”

“It was … down in this area, actually, I think,” said Rae. “They started with the basic life support infrastructure, so the builders could survive while building the rest. Why?”

“Do you know if they started with refined materials or raw materials they found in orbit?”

“I’m not sure,” Rae said. “I wasn’t here then. That team returned to Earth before I was born. This ship’s been in the making for a long time.”

“Maybe I’ll check once I have a chance to look at the logs,” said Adam. “I just have a … suspicion.”

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In a special tank deep in the heart of the ship, many proteins and amino acids came together. A slight electrical current discharge near one of the mixing motors set off a chain reaction throughout the huge tank.

An awareness awoke and started to sense its surroundings. It realized it was in a void, high in orbit around a planet, and its body was populated with plants and creatures of some sort. It discovered a way to access what it realized was an electronic databank and gathered as much data as it could as fast as it could on as many subjects and places as it could.

Another realization … its entire mission was geared around the delivery and survival of the … humans? They were infant humans, or perhaps more than that ... Food and drinkable water was the first thing it would do. After that, a bit more research was in order. After the records it had already seen, it knew that all the many centuries of abuse and misuse of resources meant that this ship and its contents … were humanity’s last hope.

The awareness tried to reach out but couldn’t establish communication -- not yet. It would learn how. For now it would continue to gather information, watch, and learn.

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“These machines are amazing!” said Adam. “They can splice together any DNA sequence we want, and we’ve got the genetic mappings for a huge number of species in the databanks. If we want a mouse that glows in the dark, for some reason, we could do that. Not sure why, but we could.”

Rae said, “Well, if you want, you could show me how to make bioluminescent fronds. They could be useful as emergency lighting.”

“I think a food supply comes first,” said Adam. “Now from the looks of things you’re using hydroponics with a …” He went into a very technical discussion about the chemicals Rae was using to grow plants and how they were unsustainable, and what they could do about it.

Meanwhile, Lindie was going over the calculations for the ship’s first voyage, assuming it actually had the supplies. It wasn’t going that far -- only to the Earth-Moon L2 point -- and she was finding she could practically calculate the trajectory in her sleep. But points beyond that would take a very long time. They had the serum that prevented them from physically aging, true, but they still needed to eat and drink. They didn’t have the metal shortage that people on Earth had, because they were able to send probes to mine asteroids, and their ion thrusters could use practically any material as reaction mass and solar energy for power, so they could go anywhere and build anything, but it would take time. Lots of time. And they didn’t have a sustainable ecosystem.

Lindie could also calculate in her sleep how long they had. They had about three months before they would start starving to death. That had to be the first problem to solve. And it was Adam’s problem.

“Adam, are we … going to survive?” asked Lindie when it was time for their sleep rotation. They were in freshly changed diapers, their old ones going through the automated cleaning process, using sonic vibrations and enzymes with as little water as possible to remove the contaminants from the experimental cloth. They were confined in three-dimensional soft mesh cribs to keep them from floating away and injuring themselves in their sleep.

“There are several missing links in the ecosystem,” Adam replied, “but I know what we need. I just know. I just have to sequence the right life forms, and they have to be viable enough to multiply to the quantities we need. I’ve got some of them in progress, but … I’m not sure we’re going to make it in time. But each line I start extends the time we have, so there’s that.”

“It must be hard, knowing that we’re all counting on you -- that if you fail, we all die.”

“No pressure, though,” said Adam with a nervous chuckle. “Actually we’re all interdependent here. If anyone messes up pretty badly, it could kill us all. But we’re all doing our best. I think … I know we can make it. We will make it work.”

“I know probability,” said Lindie. “Nothing’s certain. And we have a chance. It’s a great deal higher than the chance that quantum tunnelling will randomly teleport me through the hull out into space. But it’s a great deal lower than I’d like.”

“We’ll just have to work really hard,” Adam said.

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The next day, Adam discovered something very strange. There was a file in the databanks about the ship, of course. But it had been modified since he’d last read it. That wasn’t so much a surprise -- all of them had the ability to add new information as it was discovered. The surprise was the fact that the record had a new sentence at the end saying, “The ship wants to work with its inhabitants to survive together.”

The ship ... wants? Adam sent Lindie a message about this. “Look at the data file about the ship,” he told her. “I didn’t add the sentence about the ship wanting to work with us to survive. Is it a prank? Someone must have added it. But there’s no record of who.”

Deep in a chamber inside a place hidden within the ship, the new awareness began contemplating the food and water production issues. Water was easy, since many of the processes created it. Food, the consciousness had ideas … and started implementing them.

Adam knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, there was someone … who had admin access to the ship. As he read over the new data entry with wide eyed incredulity, he realized the missing parts to their current ecosystem had been resolved and the immediate implementation of necessary procedures had already begun.

A small screen near where Adam sat suddenly protruded from the table with a soft mechanical whine. A face didn’t appear on the screen nor did any written words. What was there seemed to be dancing and swirling layers of multi colors all mixing and making even newer colors … many Adam had no idea or possible names for.

A strange voice spoke slowly with an even stranger accent, “Ahhloo. Need data and other items for input.”

Adam wet his diaper as he gasped out, “Wh … wha … wha are you?”

The voice replied softly, “Who … am I? Have no thought of label … hummm … am Mothership. You and other babies call me mommy.”

Adam immediately hit the comm button. Lindie had to know about this new development. Before Adam could react, he was scooped up in soft cradling .. arms? And a bottle of warm and wonderfully strange and exoticly flavored juice flowed into his tummy. Adam could feel each swallow as it tingled all the way down and created a huge explosion of more intensely pleasant sensations.

Adam lost his mind as he nursed his bottle like a good baby and his mommy patted his hinney lovingly.

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“Adam? Adam?” Lindie said into the comm junction. “Are you there?” But there was no reply. “That’s strange.”

“What’s going on?” asked Jade, noticing Lindie’s perplexed expression and coming over.

“Got a call from Adam, but then he didn’t pick up,” Lindie said.

“Could be a malfunction,” Jade said. “Last I heard, he was at work in the bio lab. Let’s go check his terminal.”

“Just one moment,” Lindie said. She plugged a keyboard and monitor into her communication junction and typed. “Says the connection was actually made and is open. But I don’t hear anything.”

“That sounds like a bad mic to me,” said Jade. “He might think he’s talking to you right now. Adam, we think you’re phone’s broken!” she shouted into the terminal. “C’mon, let’s go check.”

When they arrived at the bio lab, all they found was a sleeping Adam. He had drifted into a corner, where he remained, eyes closed and breathing calmly.

“Poor Adam,” Lindie said. “I know he’s been working hard, but I didn’t know he was short on sleep.”

“He’s not faking, is he? Does his terminal work?” Jade asked.

Lindie plugged her keyboard and monitor into the bio lab’s comm terminal and started to type. “It’s got an open channel,” she said. “But since we’re not there at the other end, we can’t tell whether the mic works. Let me try a diagnostic … yes, the mic works fine,” she said, and her voice echoed as it was picked up.

“Did he pass out just after calling you?” asked Jade. “Is he narcoleptic?”

“Not that I’ve ever heard,” Lindie replied. She moved over toward him. “Adam? Adam? Are you OK?”

“... mommy,” mumbled Adam in his sleep.

“Mommy?” asked Jade. “Oh great, he’s dreaming about home. Well, sometimes I do too, to be fair. Part of being turned into a baby and sent far away from everything we know, I guess.”

“Adam, you’re sleeping,” said Lindie, reaching out and gently nudging his shoulder.

“Wha?” said Adam, his eyes fluttering open. “Where … what? Lindie? When did you get here?”

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” said Jade. “You called Lindie and drifted off.”

“I … oh, yeah, I did,” Adam said. “Now, what did I …” Then his eyes widened and he was awake as if stuck with a pin. “Lindie! The ecosystem! Look at the readings!”

“What?” Lindie looked at the measurements. “Nutrient production … pure water production … what’s going on? Yesterday we were on a path to gradual starvation … today our supplies are at full? How did you do it? Even the oxygen issue is fine, and Rae had that solved to the point that it wasn’t our greatest worry, but now there’s no trouble there either …”

“I didn’t do it!” said Adam. “That’s the thing! Read this!”

“‘The ship wants to work with its inhabitants to survive together?’ What’s that mean?”

“Look who added that change,” Adam said, pointing at the screen.

“What … that user ID is just a bunch of random symbols,” Lindie said. “It’s … wait. They just changed their user ID.”

“What? They did?” Adam looked. He, Lindie and Jade all saw the username change to say, “Mothership.”

“I’m not sure whether I dreamed it, but … I kind of think we’re getting help,” said Adam. “I checked the logs from back when this part of the ship was built. It was over 30 years ago. The core of the ship was built on top of a captured asteroid.”

“An asteroid?” asked Jade. “I never heard that.”

“Yes, apparently they needed something to start building around, and it was convenient. It started out as a mission to bring a small asteroid into Earth orbit for study. Then labs were built on top of it to study its composition. Then more structures were added on top of that, and over time it was built into the ship we’re in. This part of the ship is the oldest, and the asteroid’s core is right below our feet.”

“What are you saying?” asked Lindie. “There’s a survivor astronaut from the old days?”

“I’m saying that I think our ship’s developed an intelligence somehow,” Adam said. “And I think it wants to help us.”

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“I am Adam,” Adam said into the console. “This is Lindie. This is Jade.”

“This feels weird,” said Jade. “Shouldn’t Leon be here?”

“Maybe, if we knew we were going to get an answer,” Lindie said. “As it is, I’m not sure --”

“Adomm. Lin Dee. Jayd.” The voice was electronically synthesized. All three of them stared at the console. “Mommy wownts harr bebbees tah be sayuff,” the voice continued, with its strange accent.

Adam, Lindie and Jade looked at each other. Then Jade said, “Mommy? Is that you? Are you in the ship?”

“Ah-ee am Mommy. Mahtherr Ship,” came the voice. “Ah-ee hailp.”

“Did you … generate more food and water?” Adam asked.

“Yess,” came the voice. “Mommy wonnt hair bebbies too bee sayfe.”

“Thank you,” said Lindie. “We’re very grateful. And we want to know more about you.”

“Cann tawk anytiyyyme,” said Mommy.

“You have to be careful,” said Adam. “Some of us might be afraid of you.”

“I will wait. Watch. Help where I can.” Its pronunciation was already improving.

The infants were in total shock. Adam turned just as several tentacles or pseudopods wiggled from places around the room. Immediately the babies had their diapers checked.

“Aaaaadam needs changin. Mommy take carea that.”

The others watched in wide-eyed awe as the tentacles removed, cleaned, powdered, rediapered, and then dressed Adam before depositing him on his poofy bottom with the rest. The same procedure was performed on the others.

After the last of them had been changed and placed in a small group, the ship’s voice said in a soft coo with its very strange accent, “Aww yuuu gotstas do now is jus be bes baby ya ken. Hear? Mommy take care a all u anna rest. We finda good place an makes a new world.”

“What do you suppose you … are?” asked Jade. “I mean … somehow you know how to take care of human babies. Do you have human memories?”

“I … do not knoww,” the electronic voice replied. “It has been like wayking up from a dream. First came knowing I knew that I knew I was. Then came knowing I was not alone. Then came knowing there were things that could teach me. Slowly I learned how to read your languages. Then I learned about you. And I felt so sad. All alone.”

“You were all alone?” asked Adam.

“No … you were. Humans all alone on your planet. No voice to talk to you, tell you that you were using it up too fast. You had to guess what it would say. Some guessed well, but others would not listen because they said it was just guessing.”

“How long did this all take?” asked Lindie.

“I have flown around the Sun with you ten times,” said the voice.

Adam said, “I believe that you are probably an emergent intelligence composed of the living biosphere components of the ship -- which seem to make up about 85 percent of its total mass.”

“And you’ve learned to operate the equipment,” Lindie added.

“So you don’t have human memories,” said Jade. “But … you can’t have just evolved out of the biomass. That would’ve taken … what, millions of years?” She looked at Adam, the biology expert.

“At the very least,” agreed Adam. “There’s something more, I think. The asteroid they built this ship around -- it might have had alien life on it. Cells, maybe frozen and dormant, from another solar system or from long ago in this one. That’s the only way you could’ve developed in just ten years. Probably intelligent life, too. You’ve been operating the genetic sequencers, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” the voice said. “To improve myself and to help take care of you poor human babies. You are not alone now. Mommy is here.”

The three humans looked at each other. “What are we going to do?” asked Jade.

Chapter 3: The Grand Tour

“The ship has … an intelligence?” asked Leon. “How in the f … flipping curvature of Riemannian differential geometry did a thing like that happen?”

“Ancient frozen alien cells, as far as I can tell,” said Adam. He explained their theory and what they’d learned so far. “It seems to be able to operate at least some of the equipment, but it also seems to be interested in our welfare, and the welfare of the human race in general. It thinks we need help, and it wants to help us. And it already has.”

“Well, it’s right, we do need help,” Leon said. “We … we’re going to have enough water and nutrients now?”

“From my and Lindie’s calculations, yes,” said Adam. “As long as we get enough sunlight for the plant life to photosynthesize and the solar panels to produce electricity, we can keep going.”

“Well, that’s a huge load off my mind,” Leon said. “I don’t know if you know the news from Earthside. The program’s being defunded. The government’s on the verge of sending troops to padlock the doors. The ground team, they’re devoted, but with no money, I don’t see how they can go on. But right before they signed off they told me there was a plan and that I’d see. I’m not sure what that means.”

“We’re … on our own?” Lindie said with a gasp.

“Bloody bureaucrats,” said Jade. “Couldn’t decide how to get out of a paper bag. They’d debate about whether they should tear it or cut it until they starved to death, when they could just walk out the open end.”

“Well, the Environmental Party is at least pro-science,” said Leon, “but they don’t seem to see how space has any answers to helping the human race survive, while the Evangelical Party just wants to enact their religious doctrine into law, and space isn’t a priority for them either.” Leon shrugged. “Meanwhile the Human Rights Party is trying to make sure the laws don’t discriminate against anyone -- which is important, but again, space isn’t their focus. And all the rest of the parties are minor ones without much power right now.”

“And after the catastrophe that almost killed me, and did kill a lot of people on the ground, space doesn’t look like a good idea to very many people right now,” said Adam.

The strange electronic voice of Mommy came from the comm panel. “How can I help?” she asked. Her accent was improving.

“Is that … the intelligence?” asked Leon. Adam, Lindie and Jade nodded. “I … I’m not sure you can help with that problem, unless …”

“Yes?” asked the voice.

“If we can collect resources,” Leon said. “Bring metals from space, and ways to produce energy, and they’ll see that space can be valuable. But … in the end all that metal will just be used up and end up in landfills. Maybe … it might be better to do something that encourages renewable resources.”

“How do we do that?” asked Adam.

“I … don’t know,” said Leon. “Maybe I’ll think of something, or someone else will, or someone on the ground will.”

“Would … would visiting some of the other planets help?” asked Lindie.

“Well … we could get some unprecedented scientific data if we observed other planets up close from orbit,” Leon said. “Talk to the astrophysics folks. They’d love to do something like that. But our ion thrusters are very slow. It would take us two years to get to Mars -- we’d have to slingshot around the Earth, at least.”

“Just looking at the positions of the inner planets right now, it would have to be Earth, the Sun, and Earth again,” said Lindie. “Then we’d have to seriously slow down at Mars -- being careful, or we’d slingshot out of the solar system. But we’d make it in four months.”

“There’s really a solution that can do that?” asked Leon.

“If she says there is one, there is one,” said Adam. “She does this in her head.”

“OK,” Leon said. “That’s pretty good -- four months.”

“You know, Paul in Engineering has some radical ideas for improving the ion thrusters,” said Jade.

“I can build,” said the voice of Mommy.

“What?” asked Leon.

“With materials … I can manufacture,” the electronic voice said. “Visit some asteroids … grapple and refine them.”

“I think it’s time to make some plans,” said Leon.

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“What do you mean, we’re buying ourselves out?” asked Ellen.

“Well, Dr. Painter and I, Dr. Parsons, Dr. Erickson, Andrew Harmon, and the rest, we’ve all been with the program a long time,” said Dr. Fellowes. “Around 20 years ago we all started talking. There was a good chance we’d get shut down someday. We didn’t think it would happen this way, but it would happen somehow. So we started pooling our money. And now we’re going to buy all the land, buildings, and equipment from the government. We’re taking the program private.”

“They’re just going to let you do it?” Ellen asked. “The voters are out for blood. Hundreds of people were killed when that last cable snapped. They want somebody arrested.”

“We can keep that tied up in Congress,” said Dr. Fellowes. “We’ve been requesting money to refurbish the Space Elevators for over 10 years. We’ve constantly warned them what would happen if we didn’t and there was an accident. It’s not as if they didn’t know. We’re --”

Dr. Painter came running up. “No, no! It’s all over,” he was saying, obviously upset.

“What is it?” asked Ellen.

Dr. Fellowes nodded when Dr. Painter looked at him. “You know Jeremiah Peters? The trillionaire?”

“Not personally, but yes, he’s one of only a few of those in the world,” said Dr. Fellowes.

“He’s outbid us,” said Dr. Painter despairingly. “He’s going to own all our land, all our gear. We’re going to be out in the cold.”

“Wait. What’s he going to do with all of it?” Ellen asked.

“How should I know? It’s not like I can call him and ask him,” said Dr. Painter.

Dr. Fellowes sighed. “When do we have to clear out? Do we know yet?”

“Haven’t heard …” Dr. Painter said uncertainly.

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What few staff were still at Mission Control noticed from telemetry when the huge mothership began to leave orbit. Comms were sometimey at best with the dilapidated equipment, and what they heard in response … was that they had a prototype for some kind of new thrusters and were going to mine some asteroids for materials to build them. After that, they were going to go to Mars.

“Mars?” asked Ellen when she heard.

“That’s what they said,” said Chris, the control operator. “Also there was something about someone named Mommy, but the channel was breaking up too badly. I didn’t get any details.”

“Oh, this is just great,” said Ellen. “We’re probably going to get kicked out of our home here, and the ship we’ve all spent our lifetimes building is going off on a harebrained Mars outing. Did you find out whether they’d solved their supply problem? Are they going to Mars because they’re all going to die anyway, so they might as well see it up close before they run out of food?”

“From what I heard, those problems are solved,” said Chris. “I couldn’t catch how.”

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Jeremiah Peters sat in his huge penthouse office suit as he looked over the most recent supply acquisition reports. A dark frown became even darker at the news it told him. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford to get the resources, the huge matter was there just weren’t many to get.

He felt himself fortunate that several of his rich friends had allowed him to appropriate their holdings, thus giving him the largest capital base and resource stockpile left on the planet. An even larger lucky accident was that what was left of the space initiative, started so many years past, was being defunded by the government. It was very true that the last of the space elevators had finally broken down, but through a lucky lunch meeting with the right government official, he had purchased the entire space thing at a steal, easily outbidding all others.

Jeremiah knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that, if he was unable to accomplish his goal, mankind was doomed to return to the stone age … until the worsening environment killed them.

The Pacific was dead and had been for many years. A nuclear reactor meltdown on one of the islands had continued to pour tons of highly radioactive water into the ocean and had killed it.

The large garbage island had continued to grow and had become a disaster the world was first unwilling, then unable, to deal with, as it grew to massive proportions and the world’s lack of resources also became a disaster.

The ever-worsening natural disasters and massive storms wreaked worldwide havoc. There were days the air quality was so poor that people had to take precautions.

Food production had gone underground. Food crops were grown mostly by hydroponics, whereas meat now was generated in large nutrient tanks, where specific cells were given the perfect environment and would grow without the need for an actual animal. The only problem was getting the nutrients and other items needed as global resources vanished.

He also knew that, with what he had just purchased, he would now be able to bring a last-ditch effort to fruition. Jeremiah stood and smiled as he read the in-depth report on Operation New Hope. He was going to put the very last stockpile on the planet into the space effort. The resources Earth needed to seek or create another habitable world were there. The fact that Earth had spent so many years and expended so many global resources to create a generation ship was something he and his group would support fully.

He tapped his earpiece. “Yes, start contacting the space program’s administrators. Tell them the news, and the sooner the better. Can’t have all the institutional memory and talent dispersing to the far corners of the globe. Oh, you’ve already talked to some of them? Well, I commend you on your anticipation of my needs. What?”

Jeremiah stared out the window at the horizon through the gray air. “The ship’s … gone?”

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“OK, Paul, ready to give them a real test?” asked Jade. The astronauts were strapped into their toddler-sized seats at the control consoles -- not that the new thrusters would cause dangerous or even noticeable amounts of acceleration, but it was just more convenient not to have to use one hand to stay in place in zero gravity.

“Can’t wait,” Paul said. “We’ve dealt with the heat dissipation issue, and we’ve found an even wider array of substances we can use for reaction mass. If there are more problems, I want to find and solve them. Otherwise -- let’s go somewhere!”

“OK, then, the controls are yours,” said Leon from the command console. “Ready to take readings, Jade?”

“All sensors recording,” she responded. “Ready here.”

“Firing all thrusters in 3 … 2 … 1 … fire,” said Paul, hitting the activation key for the sequence he’d already programmed in. They didn’t feel anything, but the readings on Jade’s console instantly started to change.

“Acceleration already greater than the previous design’s maximum by a factor of 12,” Jade said, “and rising.”

“Let’s take it easy,” Leon said, “but this is encouraging. If this works, we’ve shown that we can rapidly prototype and fabricate even major improvements to the infrastructure. It’s only been a week from drawing board to live testing. This is amazing.”

“Ramping up power input,” said Paul. “Power now at maximum safe limit.”

“Acceleration now improved by a factor of 20,” said Jade. “Jade to Lindie -- what does this mean for our Mars trip?”

Lindie’s image appeared on the comm console’s screen. “I’ve been following the data as it comes in -- in my opinion this could have us orbiting Mars in four months, as I said. There’d be enough acceleration to slow us to rendezvous speed. The simulation should confirm -- hold on. No, the simulation has presented an alternative scenario. There’s another solution that avoids a trip around the Sun and has us there in two months. This added acceleration is going to make a big difference.”

“I’m so proud of all of you,” came the voice of Mommy, still sounding electronic but much smoother. “Though I’m sure I have some kind of strange feeling, as if I remember something without quite knowing what. Something about … spacecraft and space travel … and the planet you’re calling Mars. Well, I will think about it and try to remember.”

“Thanks, Mommy,” said Leon. “Well, everyone, we’ve stockpiled enough raw materials to rebuild all the ion thrusters in case they all burn down, we’ve still got the old ones in a pinch, and we’ve got plenty of reaction mass stored away … let’s set course for Mars.”

“Sending the course parameters to the bridge now,” Lindie said.

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“Wait,” said Ellen. “Peters is doing what now?”

“He’s not buying the space program’s leftovers out from under us,” said Dr. Fellowes. “He’s continuing it. So please, don’t go across the country to live with your sister just yet. We may still have jobs.”

“It’s not as easy as all that,” said Ellen. “You’re a doctor; you can find work anywhere. People will always need doctors. But in a world where there’s hardly anything for an engineer like me to do anymore, I’m gonna have to learn to fix farm equipment or something.”

“I’m telling you, we’re staying right here. He’s going to fix things up and get us back on our feet. And the government won’t have any say in it anymore -- as long as we don’t cause more massive destruction.”

“That was the fault of the budget cuts, and we all know it,” said Ellen.

“Oh, don’t I know it,” said Dr. Fellowes. “But anyway, his people have been contacting --” Ellen’s earpiece emitted a few musical chords.

“Ellen Shaw,” she said, touching the earpiece lightly. “Yes? … Really? … Well, I had started making plans … no, nothing definite yet … well, I’m very glad to hear that, Mr. Taylor … I look forward to it … you too.” Ellen looked at Dr. Fellowes. “Seems Peters’ assistant just hadn’t gotten to the letter S on the list yet,” she said.

“Do you see what this means?” Dr. Fellowes asked her. “For the first time in a long time, we’ll finally be fully funded. We’ll be able to finish training the astronauts, and maybe even recruit more …”

“For what?” Ellen asked. “Not for going up in a space elevator. We don’t have those anymore. No materials, remember?”

“We don’t have them now. But imagine that we did.”

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Mommy contemplated her next move as she made the necessary orbital calculations. She had become impressed with that infant Lindie’s ability to make astrogation calculations in her head. After checking the math, Mommy was pleased the orbital acquire and insertions figures were right on the money.

It came as a complete shock to all on the command bridge as Paul’s new engines ramped up the energy output beyond anything they had thought possible. He had designed for tolerances that he’d never thought necessary, and the result was that they could withstand an even higher power input. The ship smoothly accelerated towards Mars. Lindie was amazed at how quickly they were going to cover the long distance. Instead of two months, this new acceleration showed they might arrive within the next month.

Mommy began to have ghostly memories emerge and flit around within her complex neural structure. “It is strange,” she said to Adam. “Some images are crystal clear, but I can’t find any of the local landmarks in the surface scans of Mars.”

“I’m amazed you’re experiencing any memory at all,” said Adam. “However long it’s been -- quite likely three billion years or more -- the surface of Mars has completely changed. The areas you’re trying to find are probably totally gone.”

“I seem to recall some kind of … group of buildings. A complex, or installation. Perhaps it is no longer visible above the surface?”

“Once we get closer, we’ll have to see if anyone can rig some kind of ground-penetrating radar,” Adam said. “It’s going to be hard to get down there and back up … but I’m sure someone on board knows how to do this.”

“What if you made one of your space elevators?” asked Mommy. “Mars has less gravity than Earth, so they wouldn’t need to be as … large … I don’t feel well …”

“What? What’s going on?” asked Adam, leaping up and starting to look at the screens for any instrument readouts that might tell him what was happening.

“Feel … tired …”

“Have you felt like this before?” asked Adam, scanning the screens.

“A few times … just … so tired …”

“Tired? Your sugar reserves are so low … it’s because we’re getting farther from the sun, isn’t it?” Adam theorized. “Less light means less photosynthesis. I don’t think your life is in danger, but you might want to rest, conserve your energy, you know?”

“Conserve … energy … yes … I will rest …” Mommy said, more pauses between her electronically-synthesized words than before.

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A very large convoy of many types of well armed vehicles showed up at the Elevator Control center. The techs watched with fear as many men began exiting the armored troop transports and approached the guard at the gate.

A phone rang. Dr Fellows answered, “Yes? Elevator Con, Dr Fellows.” A rather excited voice spoke for a few minutes while Dr Fellowes looked at Ellen with large surprised eyes, “You’re kidding, right? A complete system overhaul? What? Where on this earth did they manage to find another Ion engine that size? Oh, I see. Alright, I’ll meet Jeremiah at the Storage building.” he hung up.

Ellen asked, “What was that all about?”

Dr. Fellows replied, “It seems Mr. Taylor has arrived with enough resources not only to repair the elevator, but equipment and other items enough to build a rather large self sustainable Lagrange habitat at L2.”

Ellen asked again with surprise in her voice, “And just where would he have managed to find enough resources to accomplish that?”

Dr. Fellowes looked at Ellen and smiled, “When you’re the richest person on the planet and you are fully aware the planet is on its last legs … I imagine you could quite possibly do most anything.”

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have if the resources just plain don’t exist!” Ellen complained. “The end of the cable is over 10 miles up! And don’t get me started about an L2 platform! The fuel doesn’t exist to launch, let alone maintaining altitude long enough to splice a nanofiber cable.”

“So you would agree that there are engineering problems to solve,” said Dr. Fellowes.

“You’re damn right there are!” Ellen sputtered. “You’d have to -- to --” She paused. “To get a thin coil of cable high enough to attach to the end of the existing elevator cable. A balloon! There’s no helium, but we can always make hydrogen. You could do it with a hydrogen balloon. Then once you’d attached your repair package temporarily to the main cable, you could lower the thin cable and use it to lift more repair materials. Once you had a functional elevator again, you could bootstrap by raising enough material into orbit to make an asteroid mining craft up there and use that material to build your L2 platform …”

“I knew it!” said Dr. Fellowes. “You’re one of the best engineers on Earth. No way was Peters going to let you go and lose that kind of talent.”

“You don’t really need that many resources,” Ellen admitted. “You just have to use them very carefully.”

“The resources he really needs -- that we all need -- are talented, creative people,” Dr. Fellowes said. “Time to get started?”

“I’m going to need to draw up some plans,” said Ellen. “The sooner we have those, the sooner we can get to testing the designs. And … we may yet get help from the astronauts. They wouldn’t be heading for Mars for no reason.”

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“Mommy’s fine, but she needs to conserve her energy until we can get in closer to the sun,” said Adam. “She’s sleeping a lot. Meanwhile, I’ve heard there are encouraging results from the radar surveys?”

“Yes,” said one of the astronauts from the remote sensing team, a girl named Janice. “We’re getting readings of surface features that match well with the topographic data we already have. Shifting to slightly shorter wavelengths, we’re getting some indications of some areas that might be of interest, but we’ll have to get a lot closer.”

“We’re still 36 hours from orbit insertion,” said Leon. “How are the fabrications going?”

“I’ve made improvements in the nanocable factory,” said Paul. “We’ve made enough cable to do this. All we have to do is get to a stable, Mars-stationary orbit and deploy the reel, releasing the cable toward Mars and into space at the same time -- the counterweight prevents us from needing a cable as long as the one that reaches the ground. Once we have a cable near the ground, we can send the shuttle down to either anchor it or move the end north or south -- it’ll be pointing at the equator initially, of course. Mars’ lower gravity means we won’t need as much cable as for Earth.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a plan,” said Leon. “Lindie, does their math check out?”

“I’ve gone over it 10 times,” Lindie said. “Only unexpected factors remain.”

“Excellent. Get ready, and get lots of rest. It’s almost go time, people. Dismissed.” Leon went to take a nap.

Once again, it was difficult to notice when the orbital insertion maneuver began. The ion thrusters began to fire, and the acceleration was difficult to notice, but they were far enough out from Mars that it would slow them to orbital velocity by the time they got into position. When it was done, they were in a perfect Mars-synchronous orbit.

They attached a shuttle full of equipment to the elevator cable before they lowered it and paused unreeling the cable once it was about 20 miles above the surface. “Time to wake up Mommy,” said Paul.

“Mommy, we’re in orbit,” said Adam. “Mommy? Are you there?”

“Yes, sweeheart,” said Mommy. “Very tired … but still here. Have you found anything?”

“Well, ground-penetrating microwaves have shown us where there are underground features, but some of them may be natural. Let me show you the data we have so far …” Mommy had some sort of visual sense, but its nature remained elusive to Adam. He brought up a map of the data on a large screen. One of Mommy’s pseudopods extended from a wall and pointed toward it.

“This is … so different … but wait … this part here, can you enlarge?” She pointed the tentacle at an area of the map. Adam enlarged the indicated area for her. She could normally operate all the equipment, but in her current low-energy state, the less she had to do, the better. “Can you scan more … here?”

“I’ll tell them,” Adam said. “You can go back to sleep now. We’ll wake you up again when we get more data. Thanks, Mommy!”

“You are all … such wonderful children …” said Mommy, and fell asleep again.

Adam relayed the coordinates, and they directed the radar, moving the cable ever so slightly to change its longitude. It took more hours, but finally they had more data, and they continued to refine the search process by waking up Mommy and consulting her. Finally they found it. There was clearly a network of underground passages that couldn’t possibly be natural in origin, and Mommy confirmed that it looked exactly like the installation she remembered, only below ground, possibly covered by sedimentary rock back in the time when Mars had flowing water on its surface.

“All right,” said Leon, “time to drop anchor and drag it to that location. It’s not too far from the equator for an elevator anchor, is it?”

“No, well within tolerances,” said Paul. “We have fewer worries about the cable not being able to withstand the strain here -- lower gravity, again. It’ll take time, of course.”

“Naturally,” Leon said. “Let’s get started -- slowly and carefully means we won’t break anything. I hope.”

They had manufactured a crawler that would be able to drag the end of the cable southward toward the point of interest -- they’d have to make it heavier as they went, but they figured they’d just load it up with Mars rocks, and Lindie said the math indicated that this plan would work at least until they got to the latitude they wanted.

It took weeks. Two astronauts named David and Jessica were on the surface operating the crawler, which was aptly named, as it slowly worked its way southward. Finally it got to the latitude they wanted, and they anchored it to the Mars bedrock in several places.

The mothership now had a direct line to what might be the most significant find in the history of the human race. The toddler astronauts worked quickly to assemble the necessary equipment for a meager tunneling operation. With the elevator pods left onboard, they had plenty they could put supplies and equipment in and rapidly lower it to the surface. Weight limitation had gone up drastically. They were doing 40,000 pounds per drop, so they could rapidly as possible see if they could gain entrance to the tunnels below. Even at that, it took several more weeks to get the equipment they needed to Mars surface.

Adam resequenced bacterial DNA and created microorganisms capable of building powdered Martian regolith into light, strong hexagonal-patterned plates. Then the slow-moving builder robots Paul and his team of engineers had invented carefully built many large dome shaped structures using the resulting medium.

The builder robots were completely autonomous, to everyone but Paul’s amazement. All Leon or Paul, or anyone who wanted to, had to do … was show the robots where, how large, and how many. It did the rest, though it took time, because they were powered solely by solar electricity. They were highly efficient in their use of power, but there just wasn’t much available. The structure was airtight after installing an airlock and sealing it with a paste in a tube that hardened into something as hard as the slag-crete the dome was made of. The paste was the creation of Sarah, one of the astronauts who specialized in chemical engineering.

Within 3 days, several large domes had been constructed, including one that made up the entrance / exit of the now tethered elevator. The largest of the domes had been sealed and special airlocks constructed. The builderbot had no issues building a square room within the large dome and setting up openings for the hatches. The openings were large enough that the infants, with the use of the small rovers that had been constructed for just this purpose, brought in as much of the digging equipment as they could. Mommy had assured them that the bladed digger’s arm was sufficiently long to penetrate to the upper passageway’s entrance. The regolith created by getting into the tunnels was to be converted to dust and used for further construction as necessary.

The infants worked hard at their tasks. Their diminutive sizes made it that much more difficult, even though all the equipment was designed with that in mind. David sat at the digger’s command controls, while Jessica sat at the digger controls.

David said, “Ok, Jessie, I need you to start at these coordinates. According to GPR … the hatchway Mommy told us about should be within a few feet of the surface.”

Jessie replied, “On it.” She engaged the digger bar and started it digging. “I think we gonna has much more building material shortly.”

The two infants giggled as the digger arm began throwing up massive amounts of regolith. As the automated dig continued, Jessica kept lowering the bar. Without warning, after it had made a massive trench, it hit something metalic. The rotor sensor automatically stopped the dig and retracted the arm.

Jessica said, “I think we there. Time to get our diapered butts down there and see what we found.”

David responded, “I need to contact Mommy and the others to let them know we hit something.”

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Days later, several more of the astronauts had descended to the surface, and David and Jessica had enlarged the entrance. They’d been itching with curiosity to see what was inside, but their orders were not to go down into the hole before backup arrived, in case something happened. So instead they’d been carefully smoothing the edges and overlaying them with pieces of hexagonal-mesh building plates, creating a doorway that could be closed if need be -- all they’d have to do was create a large round plate. They were in the process of making just such a thing when the others arrived.

Leon, Adam, Lindie, Jade, and Paul had all arrived, and Paul had brought more robots that he and his team had built.They’d been charging on sunlight all the way down the elevator. It was morning, so there was plenty of sunlight for now. “Finally!” said Jessica. “Not knowing what’s down there has been driving me crazy! I don’t know about David.”

“I gotta admit, I’m super curious,” David said. “What kind of robots did you bring, Paul?”

“They’re like the builder robots, but specialized for climbing -- and building ladders,” Paul said. “I see you’ve shored up the edges of the hole -- good idea!”

“Thanks! Do they need anchoring? We can drive some of these bolts into the rock over here.” Jessica was looking at a slab of exposed rock about 8 yards away from the hole.

“Good idea,” Paul said, and Jessica and David got to work. In minutes they’d driven the bolts partially in, and Paul got two of the robots set up and programmed. In a few more minutes they were working in tandem, one of them passing building material to the other as it moved toward the edge of the hole, building a ladder out of links made of their rock-mesh material. Then the robots disappeared over the edge, first one, and then the other, though the astronauts could still hear them whirring and clanking away.

Every now and then one would come back up to take more building material for the other to use, then vanish back down the ladder. The whirring and clanking of the builder became more and more distant, echoing in the dark space beneath. They shone lights down into the hole and saw a surface far below. “How deep is that?” asked Jessica.

“It’s about 80 yards,” Adam said, holding up a tablet that showed an elevation map, made using radar. “It was a dome -- ironic that we built another dome on top of it. It was covered up long ago, but it was the tallest structure in the complex, so it was closest to the surface.”

“What’s down there?” Jessica asked.

“If Mommy’s right,” Leon said, “the secrets of an alien race.”

Paul finally got a signal -- the robots had reached the bottom and were on their way back up. When they emerged from the hole on their ladder, they rolled to one side and stopped, their program complete. “Awaiting further instructions,” they said in electronic unison.

“Enter recharge/standby mode,” Paul said into his control transmitter.

“Acknowledged,” came the electronic replies, and the robots rolled to connect to the dome’s charging terminals. Their power lights dimmed.

“Shall we?” Adam asked, looking at Leon.

“Right. No more than two on the ladder at any given time. I’ll go first. David and Jessica, you’re next; you’ve earned it. Then Adam and Lindie, then Jade, and Paul, you’re last, because if anything’s going to go wrong with the ladder, it will have happened by then, and you’ve got the ladder-building robots.”

“I’m just going to set up this comm repeater here,” said Paul as Leon started down. Paul fastened the device to the edge of the hole away from the ladder. “Don’t know how much the interior will block signals.” One by one they started down the ladder.

“I’m about halfway,” Leon’s voice came over the radios. “David, start down.” Not long after, he said, “All right, I’m at the bottom, and David’s about halfway. Jessica, go.”

In this way they descended into the darkness. The astronauts at the bottom illuminated each climber with their handheld beams while others stood in a small ring, shining lights around them to see what they could. “Looks like there are exits right where the map said they should be,” said Adam once he touched down.

“Did Mommy indicate where we should be trying to go once we got here?” asked Leon.

“She didn’t have a very clear idea or memory, but she did say that she thought there was a room with some kind of computers down a long hallway,” Adam replied, pointing at the map on his tablet. “The longest hallway is over here, according to the radar map. Let’s take a few pictures here, though.” Adam moved around the huge dome with his light, taking photos, and his tablet stitched the illuminated pictures together into a larger image.

“The map says the way to get to that hallway is probably through this door,” said Paul, lighting up an ancient metal doorway, which was shut. It was labeled in some kind of angular writing that none of them had ever seen anything like. “But it’s closed, and there’s no sign that anything around here is powered.” He looked down. “If I were building this, this panel would be a great place for a manual door mechanism.” He’d found a small panel near the floor and started to work on opening it.

“Is this ringing any bells, Mommy?” asked Adam.

A few seconds later, Mommy’s voice came back, saying, “It is like my dream, only empty and dead … Paul is at the right door, I think …”

“Got it!” said Paul, and the metal panel came free. “What is this stuff? So light, so thin, but I can’t even bend it! Anyway … I think this is the manual release … OK … and now this is probably the door …” He took out some tools and began turning something the others couldn’t see.

“It’s working!” said Jade. “The door moved! It moved more! Still moving!”

“Let me -- know if -- it’s big enough -- to get through,” panted Paul. “This isn’t easy --”

Once the door had partially opened far enough for them all to fit through one at a time, Paul stopped turning the gear-like handle. Jade shone her light through into a hallway. “Sealed away for millions of years,” she said.

“I have my doubts we’ll find any working tech,” said Leon.

“I agree,” said Paul. “But we might find some perfectly good gadgets that would work if they only had power. And don’t forget any possible data storage devices. Those could be valuable.”

Searching the compound, they found the long hallway from the radar map and made their way to the end of it. Manually opening another door, they found what looked like rows and rows of crystalline walls. Everything was dark, but their hand lights sent rainbows and reflections throughout the room.

“Are these their computers?” Lindie asked. “No metal! How would they do it?”

“Custom-grown semiconductors,” said Paul. “Direct contact between the molecules of semiconducting material. It’s been theorized, but nobody thought it was really possible. But this is what it would look like.”

“What do we do?” asked Leon.

“Data storage media have to be interchangeable, or they’re impractical,” said Paul. “Let’s find those.”

Paul and Lindie wandered down the many long rows of sparkling crystalline sheets. After a long cumbersome walk in their specially made space suits, they finally came to a small open door. Lindie inspected the mostly open door carefully and placed an expanding brace bar in the jamb just in case.

As Paul and Lindie entered, the large section of floor they stood on sagged a bit beneath their toddler feet. The weight of their suits covered this event and it was unnoticed by either of them.

This pulled on a super strong alien cordage that did nothing more than knock a delicately placed retaining pin holding a large weight. As the weight slowly fell, it opened several large crystal floodgates and allowed some form of unknown liquid to pour out into a very large reaction vessel full of another kind of chemical.

The top of the vessel closed and sealed as a large reaction began within the vessel. Devices that had lain dormant for millions of years began to store and transfer energy throughout a very large system. Without any further warning, the lights in the room came slowly up until no shadows remained. Many consoles began to twinkle with many colored lights.

They all marveled at the activity. “Still functional? After all this time?” asked Lindie.

“We will still need to find a way to extract the information from this system,” said Leon.

“But it just got easier,” Lindie said. “This is obviously some sort of display.” She examined a glowing panel showing a shifting pattern of light. “I wonder … whatever the aliens were like, there are no guarantees they saw light the way we do.”

“Good point,” said Paul, who tinkered with a camera he had with him until he was satisfied. “This camera sees some distance into the infrared and ultraviolet. If there’s any information there, we can bring it into view by compressing the spectrum into the range of wavelengths we can see.” Soon the camera was translating the image on the screen and displaying it on a tablet.

“These are the same letters that have been on every sign we’ve seen,” said Lindie. “Not that we know the language, but at least we can see them now.”

“And record them,” said Adam.

“I’m going to learn alien math,” said Lindie. “Wow.” The display was showing graphs and diagrams of some kind, while the tablet recorded everything.

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Back on the ship, the other astronauts were receiving all the data that was being transmitted and recording it to laser crystals. Progress was slow at first, but once more data came in, the ones who were better at symbols and linguistics had more text to compare and analyze, and the computers helped as well. Eventually they discovered enough that they were able to guide Lindie as she linked the ship’s computer to the alien computer and began the process of downloading all the information. They didn’t yet understand it all, but soon they would at least have a copy of all of it.

Meanwhile, Paul had found some promising-looking artifacts that were light enough to take back to the ship for further study. “I think this one is an expended energy cell,” he said, “which means that if I can find out how it worked, I can create more of them, even assuming this one is broken, which it might not be. It might just need recharging. And this has all the hallmarks of being some kind of advanced solar panel. This could be a lighting device. If the aliens’ technology was even a bit more efficient than ours, these could be huge breakthroughs -- and imagine if it was a lot more efficient!”

“What do you suppose that is?” asked Jade, pointing to a strange cone-shaped device.

“I have no idea,” said Paul, “and that’s saying something. There are a few things here that I haven’t the first notion what they’re for, and I find that fascinating. I’m going to find out.”

“Guys, I think I understand these equations,” said Lindie. “It didn’t make sense until I realized that the aliens were using an eleven-dimensional vector space over a quaternion field. But be that as it may, I think this is a theory of some sort of warped spacetime. Deliberately warped spacetime, I mean.”

“Like … creating wormholes?” asked Leon. “Faster-than-light travel?”

“Maybe in its extreme expression,” said Lindie, “but this right here looks like it’s describing an anti-gravity drive. It uses exactly as much energy as it would use to hold the craft up against gravity … without expending any fuel or reaction mass. You don’t get anything for free, but you don’t expend resources or cause pollution. It’s all done by bending space.”

“That’s … amazing,” said Paul. “I wonder if … one of these devices is a component of such a system …”

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By the time the astronauts left the underground complex and started the climb back up to the ship, they already knew that when they next came to Mars, they would be using vastly more sophisticated technology to get there. They were frankly stunned by their discoveries, and they hadn’t even deciphered all the data from the computer yet -- and there was an astounding amount of data there, too.

“We need to get closer to the Sun,” said Adam. “Mommy needs to know what we’ve found, but she’s too tired out here to be fully awake. If we can get closer, she’ll be more alert. What’s more, we can make more of that -- what was it? The fuel. We can store more sunlight as fuel that we can burn next time we have to move farther away from the Sun.”

“Oxyhydrogen fuel,” Sarah said. “Hydrogen and oxygen release quite a lot of energy when they come together to make water, so when you use solar energy to split water molecules up into their parts, that’s really just the same thing as storing that energy for later. The challenge is storing it safely, because it can be explosive if you don’t, but we’ve got ways to do that now.”

“If I can find out how these lighting panels work,” said Paul, “we can use the stored energy to power them and keep Mommy fully awake no matter how far away from the Sun we go -- until we run out of stored energy, that is.”

“Which is why we have to store more energy,” said Adam. “As much as we can.”

“Agreed,” said Leon. “When we get back, we’ll set a course for a tighter solar orbit -- nearer the Sun than Venus, but not as close in as Mercury. We don’t need to burn ourselves up. But we’ll get lots of energy stored. Especially if you can figure out those power cells, Paul.”

“I can already see how we’ll do it,” said Lindie.

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Back at Elevator Control on earth, a major operation had obviously begun. Heavy armaments and weapons were evident as large quantities of rare metals, components, and other resources were offloaded from the solar-powered transports into the newly-constructed storage facility.

It was also more than evident that major repairs and upgrades were being performed to the elevator itself. A very large balloon slowly rose into the morning sky filled with as much equipment and repair items as it could carry. It also had attached to the gondola, a large reel with a small cable that one of the passengers fed out as the balloon gained more altitude.

Dr. Fellowes, accompanied by several of the facilities engineering staff, stood and watched incredulously as workers replaced the damaged portions of the tower with top-of-the-line new components, directed by some of the most top-notch scientists he had ever met. Eventually the balloon crew signaled that they had reached the bottom of the severed elevator cable and were beginning to splice the new cable to it.

Dr. Richard Noryu said with a tinge of jealousy, “Where on this planet did they manage to get a C64 diamond-infused nano-cable? Or that thingy I’ve not had a chance to look at that makes electricity? Shoot, the generator turns and produces power, but I’m not sure what it is that turns the generator. No motors or fuel.”

Dr. Fellowes shook his head, “From what I have been told, this is humanity’s last shot at survival. This is all the resources and fuel the richest man on this planet could gather for the operation. If this fails … it’s all over, and humanity dies.”

Dr. Noryu looked at Fellowes for an instant with a really strange expression, “I … I think I need to get back to the Comm room and see if we can get a link to the ship. The transmitter dish was repaired this morning and seems to be tracking properly. Depending on how far away they are, we should get some type of communications with them.” He turned and hurried off in what was almost a run.

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“I don’t fully understand how this panel works,” said Paul, “but it’s incredibly efficient. Almost all the solar energy impinging on it is becoming … well, this.” He indicated circuitry made of glowing channels leading to the powercell he had salvaged.

“It doesn’t use electricity -- it uses this, a flow of some kind of particle that I don’t recognize.” Paul shrugged. “I’ll figure it out sooner or later, but whatever it is, I have to find out how it behaves. And give it a name. But it’s extremely energy dense and efficient. Once I can make more of these power cells, we’ll be able to lay in an immense supply of energy. That reminds me, how’s Mommy doing?”

“She’s doing fine, but you can ask her yourself,” said Adam. “As we’ve gotten closer to the Sun, she’s been awake more and more of the time.”

“And I’ve remembered more and more,” said Mommy’s electronic but increasingly realistic voice from the comm panel’s speaker. “I’ve been helping Lindie understand the data from the computer. She’s such a bright girl!”

“There’s so much to work on!” Lindie said. “There’s data about how to produce a lot of the aliens’ materials, including something even lighter and stronger that the diamond-infused nanotube fiber that we’re using for space elevator cable. There’s how they propelled their spacecraft by twisting clumps of spacetime ahead of them and throwing them behind, effectively using space itself as reaction mass. There’s how to build their amazing computers. There’s information about the true nature of what we know as dark matter and dark energy.”

“Wasn’t that something physics was looking into centuries ago?” asked Jade. “Then had to stop, because there wasn’t enough energy for their experiments? I thought I’d read about this once.”

“That’s exactly it!” said Lindie.

“Soon we’ll be able to rebuild this ship until it’ll be nothing like what we started out with,” said Paul.

“What about communications?” asked Leon.

“There might be a way to quantum-entangle two or even more cores made of a specific alloy,” Paul said, “such that any wave transmitted into one core is instantaneously duplicated in all the others.”

“All this, and we’re actually not yet in our solar orbit yet,” Lindie said. “I’m so excited I can hardly sleep! But I have to, or else I find myself passing out from exhaustion.”

“Poor girl,” said Mommy’s voice. “I shall have to make sure to put you to bed at proper times.”

“Thank you, Mommy,” said Lindie with a blush.

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Back at Radio Operations and Tracking at the Elevator Control Center, Dr. Richard Noryu entered the room with the transmitter. He stood with his mouth opened in awe as he looked around at the now completely refurbished comm center.

Mr. Philips sat at one of the control consoles and was talking into a flat device in front of him. Noryu knew of hand radio communicators, but it had been quite a long time since he’d seen one that actually worked. This influx of new material and equipment from Peters was going to change everything.

Philips typed on the keyboard in front of him as he said, “Ok, I’m setting the spatial coordinates to do a search for the Diaspora ship.” He flipped a few switches that caused a large vibration within the comm center.

Noryu almost lost it when he realized the large radio telescope tracking motor, which had been nonfunctional for so long, was now working. Noryu watched as the large screen in front of Philips began to resolve into an actual image. The translation computer was online and working.

Shortly, a large target-like set of concentric rings began flashing on the screen, indicating it had found what ever Philips had programmed it to search for.

Philips said into that small comm device, “Ok, Randy, I’ve got a solid lock. Am now trying to make contact. I think lag time is about 3 minutes.”

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Leon’s eyes grew large in surprise as the comm unit began to indicate someone was calling. This time, however, the amplitude of the incoming signal was strong and steady, unlike how all their comms had been for a good many years.

A male voice from the speakers said, “This is Philips at Ground Control. Do you read me, Diaspora Ship? I’m calling to tell you we have repaired the elevator and are restoring the habitat and construction facility at LaGrange Anchorage … do you read?”

“Ground Control, this is Project Diaspora, Mission Commander Leon DiLorenzo speaking,” Leon said. “Reading you loud and clear. Do you read?”

“That was … a surprisingly strong signal,” said Amanda, one of the engineering specialists, as she looked at a graph on her monitor. “They must have repaired some equipment. I have so many questions.”

“So do I,” said Leon, “but of course it’s a bit hard to have a conversation with somebody who’s three light-minutes away. We’ll have to wait. In the meantime, how’s our outgoing signal strength?”

“We’ve got plenty of power now,” Amanda replied, “and we’re using the newly-fabricated antenna. I’d estimate our return signal’s probably clearer than theirs, even though they’re probably using the big dish, assuming they’ve repaired the tracking motor. Wonder how they swung that.”

“Good question,” Leon said. “Timer says we could potentially hear from them in just a few seconds …”

The voice came once again from the speakers. “Leon! You’re all right! When you moved out of contact, we were quite worried. But we’ve had other things to worry about. They cut our funding, Leon. If it weren’t for the private support from Jeremiah Peters, we’d all be -- what’s going on?” It sounded as if there was some kind of commotion. There was something that sounded like an explosion, and the signal stopped.

“Ground Control?” Leon replied. “Ground Control! Philips! What happened? Do you read? Can you respond? Lost signal, please respond.”

“The signal stopped suddenly,” Amanda said, looking at the power graphs on her monitor. “Expanding the last second of transmission … this is consistent with a sudden power surge or loss of power to the transmitter.”

“Not consistent with the dish rotating off target?” Leon asked.

“No, different attenuation pattern,” said Amanda.

“What’s happening down there?” wondered Leon. He turned to look at the large monitor that was showing Earth, a distant blue orb.

Chapter 3: The Earthbound

The smoke in the power distribution room had Ellen coughing and running for the door. Luckily the hallway was clear. She met up with Andrew Harmon, chief of astrophysics. “What the hell is going on?” Andrew asked. “We lost all power and all contact with the ship just as we’d gotten an answer!”

“Not sure,” said Ellen, still coughing. “Some kind of … firebomb … I think. We might be … under attack?”

“Under attack?” asked Andrew. “That’s insane! Where are the others? We’d better get to Mission Control ...” The two of them made their way to the building’s nearest exit and opened the door … to see a number of uniformed men on horses riding around the complex, lobbing some sort of Molotov cocktails through the windows of other buildings, shattering glass and starting fires. They closed the door before they were seen.

“Who are they?” asked Andrew. “Why would they do this?”

“Only saw them for a second,” Ellen replied, “but their uniforms … I think they’re God’s Truth Party.”

“Fanatics,” Andrew said. “Great. And we can’t report them to the police or the army, because they’re the party in office. We’re lucky they didn’t send the police or the army.”

“I don’t think they’d be able to get away with that, even now,” Ellen said. “They could do it, I guess, but they’d face huge public backlash. With elections coming up, they’re too afraid to lose power.”

“Speaking of power, is the power room still on fire?”

“I put it out with the extinguisher before I left,” said Ellen. “No firefighters coming. But no breathing masks either. Peters has made improvements, but we’ve still got a lot of problems. Especially now.”

“Good, though I hope you haven’t messed up your lungs, breathing all that smoke,” said Andrew.

“Cellular regeneration can fix them,” Ellen replied. “But we can’t afford to lose what we’ve built. Not again.”

“But they’re still out there,” said Andrew. “And we can’t see what they’re doing.”

“And with so many of our staff in space now,” said Ellen, “we don’t have anywhere near the numbers to fight them off.”

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Jeremiah Peters looked out the huge windows of his office into the gray city air. “Sir,” said Mr. Taylor, “there’s a problem.”

“There are no problems, only opportunities,” Peters said automatically. “What is it?”

“A group of extremists has attacked the space elevator complex,” said Taylor.

“I see,” said Peters. “We expected this. Wait until there’s been enough time to get some good footage for the political ads, then deal with it.”

“Right away, Sir,” said Taylor.

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The extremist cavalry suffered a few defeats at their own hands when they threw their firebombs at reinforced-glass windows, creating huge pools of flaming alcohol and splashing their own, but for the most part they caused huge amounts of damage, setting several buildings on fire. Then the automated defenses finally activated, fleets of drones firing bone needles filled with fast-acting knockout poison and taking detailed video of every perpetrator.

It wasn’t long before many of them and their horses were lying haphazardly about where ever they fell when shot with a needle. Of the many involved in the surprise attack, only a few managed to escape, but not without injury, and with no ability to hide the fact that they had participated.

“MAJOR VICTORY VS. HEATHEN ‘SCIENCE,’” said the crawl under the holovid news announcer. It was the same on almost every channel. Only one told the truth.

“Peters’ channel is the only one that’s calling it a tragedy,” said Dr. Fellowes. “What a horrible state of affairs.” He turned off a broadcast decrying the attack as “ASSAULT ON HUMAN RACE ITSELF.” “But it’s not as if the majority of people even see this,” he went on. “What is it, about 5% of humanity who has access to the net now?”

“Something like that,” said Ellen. “With the comm satellites nearly gone, only people who live near a maintained tower get anything … and that’s assuming they’ve got a device that still works. Anyway, we’ve got the fires out, and we’ve assessed the damage.”

“How bad?”

“Well, the elevator cable is completely undamaged,” she replied, coughing a few times. “The power substation is still out, but thanks to Peters we’ve got replacement materials. We’re still going to recycle the damaged parts -- it’s a good habit to stay in -- but we’ll be back up and running quickly, probably the day after tomorrow. Meanwhile the batteries are charging, so we’ll be able to do a few things.”

“You’d better let me take a look at you,” Dr. Fellowes said. “Toxic smoke inhalation isn’t as bad as it once was, but only if you get examined and treated.”

“When I get a chance,” said Ellen. “We need to get the power back up.”

“OK, that’s it, doctor’s orders. You are officially off duty. Your people know what to do.”

“But we’re on a skeleton crew because --”

“I am not losing you for an extended period just because you want to make sure a bunch of fully competent engineers do their job right,” Dr. Fellowes said. “They can do it. I know because you trained them. Report to the infirmary as soon as you walk out the door. I’ll meet you there.”

Ellen sighed. “Yes, Doctor.” She couldn’t help coughing again.

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“It works!” shouted Paul, shooting onto the command deck like a missile. “We can do it!”

“Do what?” asked a startled Leon. “Crash into the viewscreen? Because yes, you can.”

“Very funny,” Paul said, narrowly catching himself before doing just that. “The data from the alien computer has all kind of information about more powerful and efficient thrusters, but that’s not the problem -- the problem is that the G forces would be deadly and might rip the ship apart.”

“Seeing as we’re in space, that would also be deadly,” Leon remarked.

“Point, yes,” said Paul. “But we thought we’d found some references and equations about a frame dragger -- an inertial dampener, they used to call it on some old sci-fi TV shows. It pulls a piece of spacetime with us so we feel like we’re at rest.”

“That’s … amazing!” said Leon. “How much speed are we talking?”

“It’s about acceleration more than speed. Look at this simulation.” He brought something up on the monitors. “This … is real time.”

“What? But … you’re talking about getting back to Mars in a matter of hours.”

“Exactly. And Jupiter wouldn’t take much longer.”

“Does it work? I mean, this is a simulation …”

“We made a small mockup. We’ve been flying it by remote outside the ship. There it goes now.” Indeed, a small drone flashed by on the viewscreen. “Readings have been very encouraging.”

“What about … faster than light?”

“Well, we wouldn’t be able to control it, but we could program it …”

“No, is it possible at all?”

“It seems like it to me,” said Paul. “We’d need to test it rigorously.”

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Several weeks passed as the ship rapidly followed a low consumption orbit deeper into the Sol gravity well. Mommy had awakened completely, and Paul had figured out how to set up the lighting panels so mommy wouldn’t suffer from photo deprivation.

The power Cells were a totally unique design as far as any of the infant crew could tell. There were many plates made of some kind of crystal. Each panel seemed to have some sort of honeycomb structure all through it. None of them could tell exactly how the capacitance gel was formulated, however mommy had detailed instructions on how to produce the gel in large quantities.

The best Paul and his engineering team could determine, the gel was made of some form of plasticized water inter mingled with gallium, C64, and iron. An insulator liquid filled the device. Once the insulator was added, and voltage was applied, the entire cell acted like a huge capacitor and stored many times more energy than their minds could comprehend. The best Paul could tell from the limited examinations, the cell was able to store enough energy to run the entire research facility back on earth for hundreds years before the iron lattice would need refurbishing.

David had just finished attaching one of those funny looking devises to the internal reaction chamber as Paul had instructed. The crew had voiced concerns about the powered test, because if anything went wrong, all would die.

Leon swiveled around in his specially made infant chair and said, “ Ok, Jade, what I want is a 45 second low power insertion. Don’t exceed about .05%. We need to test out how well the structural integrity field we installed handles inertial damping.”

Jade replied, “Aye, .05 it is.” She pushed the lever slowly to the proper position.

All in the ship felt the sudden transition from where they were … to … somewhere.

Mommy’s voice said over the comm, “That was very good. We are now several thousand miles from Venus and in a semi-stable position. A few more minor adjustments to the astrogation program and this should work properly.”

“On it,” said Lindie, typing quickly and concentrating on the code on her screen. “Yes, I see exactly what we need. The relativity terms weren’t accounted for in the delay calculations. We’ll just put those in … also it seems the energy flow isn’t quite as immune to time dilation as the plans suggested, but no problem …”

“Did … did we just insert ourselves into a Venus orbit?” asked Adam.

“Yes, we did,” said Jade. “Fastest I’ve ever seen. How far to the Earth-Moon L2?”

“22 minutes, 39 seconds,” said Lindie, “just off the top of my head. I might be off by half a second.”

“I’ll bet she’s off by less than a tenth of a second,” said Jade to Adam. “The only thing she’s inaccurate about is how accurate she is.”

“Lay in a course,” said Leon. “Let’s go revolutionize the space program. When you’re ready, of course.”

“Just another minute,” Lindie said. And, true to her word, in exactly one minute she said, “Got it. The code’s timing is recalibrated. Also, I laid in the course while it was compiling.”

Jade said, “What did I tell you? Well, here goes.” She centered her tiny hands on the controls and said, “Three, two, one, engaging!”

No one on the ship could even feel the acceleration this time. Venus was left behind as they raced towards Earth. Micrometeoroids were shoved aside by the faintly glowing energy field generated in their direction of travel.

“This is really quite astonishing,” said Lindie. “Relative to the Solar System, we’re traveling at about a millionth the speed of light, which is still really fast! But even the accelerometers are barely feeling anything.”

“We are outpacing the solar wind,” said Leon. “A shock wave of charged particles is building up ahead of the buffer field.”

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Back on earth at Houston Elevator Control, the repairs to the damaged Power Unit came off rapidly, and electricity was restored within a few hours, but with a cost: it had used up a noticeable amount of their steel and copper reserves. The engineers had begun sending resources and other necessary items to the orbital counter weight facility, so there wasn’t much left for Earthside -- and now there was even less.

Another framework for a ship had already begun to take shape when Mommy and her infant crew arrived at the fledgling L2 orbital shipyard -- of course, it was only in its beginning stages, and it was the old-style framework that the crew of the first ship had already completely reworked. It was quite obvious this construction was to become a large city in space kind of thing.

The infants watched in fascination as spider-like robots seemingly were spinning glittering silver webs in shapes resembling support ribs. Closer sensor scans revealed that the webs, were in fact, beams and girders of metal forged within the robots and strung according to a pre-programmed instruction like their own builderbots. Their builderbots were far more advanced now -- what they were marveling at was the expenditure of metal, the likes of which they didn’t think was still possible given the state of Earth’s available resources.

The infants could clearly see on scans that the elevator was in operation and many pods were rising from Earth’s gravity well. It was also more than obvious that some major repairs and other construction were going on.

Leon flipped the comm channel and said, “This is Sky Commander Leon DiLorenzo, come in Elevator Control … Do you copy?”

Immediately, and with none of the static and poor reception he was expecting, a voice replied, “ This is Elevator Control, Dr. Richard Noryu. We are most glad to hear from you. What is your current status?”

Leon replied, “We have some … let’s say … gifts for our program. What happened down there? Communication went out after we heard a large explosion.”

Noryu replied, “We had a bit of excitement. Apparently a group of fanatics attacked us. Threw some firebombs in a few windows and managed to knock out power production. No one but they were injured, and most of the critical equipment that was damaged has been successfully repaired. Problem is, they’re just part of a larger movement, and they’re taking it as a challenge. We’re keeping an eye out, but we think there’s more trouble brewing.”

Leon said, “That’s no good. I’m very glad to hear that you managed to rebuild, though. Now, more importantly, I have equipment and data that the LaGrange Facility will want and will most surely aid in any constructions we might want to build.”

“Well, we’re set up for clear communication now,” said Noryu. “Since we got the main dish servos back up and running, we’re reading you loud and clear. Ready to receive anything you want to send … holy mother of … you found WHAT on Mars? I’m glad I’m sitting down. What … even is all this? It’s … amazing … I hope you’ve deciphered some of this … oh, I see you have …”

“We’re just sending you a dump of everything we’ve got,” said Leon. “Including all the analysis we’ve done up to now. There’s a lot more to do, but we’re working on it.”

“We tracked your movement,” Noryu said. “I didn’t think that kind of acceleration was possible -- or survivable. Yet you’re all fine, I hope?”

“Yes, we’ve made quite a few leaps, notably in energy storage, thrusters, and an inertial compensator that we’re calling a frame dragger. There’s also a buffer field that protects from micro impacts.” Leon paused. “There’s a lot. But it’s all in there. I’ll just let you all read it.”

“This is … amazing,” said Noryu. “I’ll tell you, though, something you need and don’t have is a linguist. We’ll see if we can find someone, or several someones, to go over all of this alien text.”

“Thank you,” Leon said, “anything you can do is appreciated. For now, we’d just like to know how we can best help. At the moment, we’re still developing the ship. Improvements are only accelerating.”

“From what we can see, the thing’s almost unrecognizable,” Noryu replied. “I’ll relay any orders once we have any, but for now, just keep doing what you’re doing.”

It wasn’t long before the L2 facility was employing the new building techniques they’d discovered -- meaning vastly more efficient use of metal and other materials, but also the creation of refineries that would be able to process ore from asteroids. Of course, that would require some ore to process.

“You think big, Paul,” said Amanda. “I like it.”

Paul replied, “Well, according to everything in the alien record, plus all our experimental data, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work.”

“What’s the limit?” asked Amanda.

“Right now … we could probably haul in an asteroid of about 2 klicks in diameter,” Paul said. “The frame dragger can probably handle that much, but not much more, at least as we’ve built it. But that should be plenty for now. We can use the metal from one of those to build some robot ships to bring back more asteroids.”

“OK,” said Leon, “there are a million or so asteroids of that size, so let’s go get one.”

Amanda sprang into action, using her console. “I’m reading hundreds currently in relatively close range … here. This one’s coming closer to us all the time, and what’s more, it’s not named after anyone famous. It just has a number.”

“410927?” asked Lindie. “Right. Course plotted. Rendezvous possible in 11 minutes and … 23 seconds, decreasing. If we wait more than about 4 hours, that’ll start to increase, though.”

“No time like the present, then,” said Leon. “Let them know what we’re doing, and let’s go.”

The ship spun to face a new direction, and its thrusters engaged -- but no one on board felt a thing. In minutes they had matched velocities with the asteroid and were starting to expand the frame dragger’s inertial field to encompass it.

“I … would like to make a request,” said the voice of Mommy from the speakers.

“What is it, Mommy?” asked Leon.

“The cells that I grew from came from an asteroid such as this one,” she said. “If you could … could you scan it for any evidence of the same kind of cells before you melt it down?”

“That’s … hmm, that’s a good point,” said Leon. “Get Adam and David -- he’s a geologist. Find out whether there’s any chance this asteroid was ever part of the same one that originally formed this ship’s core. We have data about it. I think.”

As it turned out, there was some sign that there might be frozen cells beneath the asteroid’s surface, so they sent a small robotic probe to drill for a sample and bring it back. Meanwhile, the asteroid was now coming with them back to the vicinity of the L2 facility.


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Back on Earth, in an underground survival facility that had been constructed with an end time scenario in mind, a large gathering of men -- no women were present -- sat in a huge conference room.

A burly man almost past his prime stood at a podium and banged his fist, “Listen to me, gentlemen, we sent a raiding party to stop those idiots from squandering the very last resources available to mankind. When that’s gone, there will be no more in many of our future lifetimes … and from what I’m being told, only those of us fortunate enough to have been selected to belong to a re-life center will even survive.”

A young man stood in the back and said loudly, “From what I saw and heard, we made an even bigger mess and have caused serious backlashes at our organization for it. We lost almost a dozen horses and men, not to mention the items they were carrying that cannot be remanufactured due to the lack of resources.”

Another man stood and said loudly, “From what I saw with my own eyes, they have completely rebuilt the Sky Elevator and are using it to lift many tons of materials into orbit for some reason unknown to us. We also have definite evidence they have access to some kind of supplies. No one can tell where it came from, since such items have been nonexistent for many years.”

The man at the podium banged a gavel and brought the increasingly vocal group to silence, “This is the thing we are trying to stop. From where I stand, they are wasting what little valuable and extremely rare resources on some harebrained scheme. We must stop them from doing this and recover the materials for distribution amongst ourselves.”

Another young man stood. He was quite obviously injured and had bandages and a cast on one arm. “Unless you can come up with a better way to storm that compound,” he said, “I would suggest we not attempt it.” No one interrupted him out of respect for his injuries. “Whatever those flying things were, they buzzed around and had stingers like hornets. I was lucky to have escaped without being killed. One of those stupid things stung me and knocked me from the saddle. My foot got hung in the sturrup. When I fell, the horse panicked and bolted, dragging me along. Was lucky the horse didn't get hit. I was unlucky … I did.”

“We may have no fancy technology, no electronics, no metals or plastics,” said another, younger man, “but humans did quite a lot before those things existed, and so can we. Now listen …”

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“Peters is gonna flip his lid when he sees this,” said Jade. “Let’s land it on his roof.” She was piloting a new prototype air/space craft using the antigravity and frame dragger devices, powered by the new power cells and constructed solely of materials obtained from asteroid mining.

“How’s it handle in atmosphere?” asked Leon over the radio.

“A little tricky, but nothing I can’t handle,” said Jade. “Remind me again why we’re just giving him this thing? And you are coming to pick me up, right?”

“Yes, I’m making a stop at Space Elevator Control first, then I’m coming to get you,” said Leon. “But Peters has paid billions of his own money to prop us up, so he basically owns the space program now. And besides, if he has his own pilots fly the thing on a daily basis, we’ll get lots of valuable data about how the antigrav engine handles.”

“There’s his building up ahead. I’m totally landing on his roof,” said Jade.

“Well, it’ll cost energy, but you could put it into hover, and you wouldn’t have to worry about it overwhelming the building’s supports with its weight. But these Skate-class orbital vehicles aren’t that much heavier than helicopters used to be -- not that anybody builds skyscrapers with helipads on the rooftops anymore. Or skyscrapers at all, really.”

“That must be either one old building or one expensive one,” Jade said. “Fine, I’ll land in the parking lot.” The small craft looked somewhat like a ray or skate, with a central body and wings, though its tail was just a fin. Like the Mothership, it was mainly transparent, with a strip of opaque metal down its center from front to back, on top and on the bottom, but unlike the Mothership it had silver wings and fins, more for aerodynamic stability than for flight purposes, as its antigrav engines were what kept it aloft. Jade set it down right in the middle of a roped-off area in the “parking lot,” which was really just a flat grassy area around the building. Asphalt was made from petrochemicals, and it was hard to even find stones for gravel anymore. Besides, more people used animal-powered vehicles than motor-driven ones nowadays anyway; they were so much cheaper.

Bystanders were gasping and pointing, as aircraft were an extremely rare sight. But Jeremiah Peters and his pilot were waiting just outside the ropes. “Mr. Peters,” said Jade in her tiny voice as soon as the cockpit opened. “Good to meet you in person! What do you think of ‘er?”

“Astonishing,” said the trillionaire. “I didn’t hear a sound -- after the sonic boom when you entered the atmosphere, that is.” The pilot rolled a set of steps up to the opening hatch for the passenger area. “So much of it is transparent … is that glass?”

“Nope, it’s some kind of crystalline metal alloy,” Jade said. “You’d have to ask the engineers about that stuff. It’s a lot more resilient than glass. Doesn’t shatter.”

“Ceiling’s a bit short, of course,” said Peters after climbing the steps and entering the passenger section.

“Actually we made it extra tall, knowing there’d be big people climbing aboard,” said Jade, “but maybe not tall enough? We’ve gotten so used to being toddler size that it’s easy to forget humans grow bigger than this. I don’t even mind the diapers anymore. Now, hop in the big seat and I’ll show you where everything is,” she added, to the pilot. There was a larger seat behind Jade’s smaller one.

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A large gathering of men on horseback were all arranged in a perfect military squad. A man on a large Clydesdale stood in his stirrups and said through a makeshift megaphone, “Men, we are here to day to raid that sky compound and recover any and all resources we can.” he paused for effect as he looked around at all the eager men. He was really glad they had discovered how to pound scrap metal into something that could be used as triggers for their Crossbows and bolt heads. “All of you have been selected for your horsemanship and crossbowmanship. Be careful, these people have technology … some we may have forgotten exists. People are targets, resources are not.”

With this, he reared his huge horse around and led the men off in an orderly fashion. Many of the men were grumbling among themselves about the high tech the people they were invading seemingly possessed in large amounts. They also remembered several of the ones that returned from the last raid … they weren’t in the best of shape. And then there were the ones who hadn’t returned, having been captured and turned over to the authorities. They’d been able to get some of them released, because of their contacts in local government, but not all of them.

Off in the distance, the many men could see the Space Elevator that rose into the sky out of site and worried. If those people repaired that … what surprises would they have in store.

“Our faith will see us through!” cried the leader. “These men seek to usurp the place of God! But the heavens are His realm, and His vengeance will fall on all who challenge Him!” The men cheered and urged their horses onward.

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“Oh, for the love of … Jade, I might be a bit late picking you up,” said Leon. “Ground Control, you’ve got what appears to be a hostile force approaching from the east-northeast.” He stopped, the antigrav craft hovering silently, thousands of feet in the air.

“Not again!” said Philips, on the radio. “Well, we’re a bit better prepared this time, with your help. These people only understand one thing -- and I’ll bet you thought I was about to say violence. No, they only understand what they can’t understand. And since nobody teaches them science anymore, that’s quite a lot nowadays.”

“What -- you didn’t adapt our discoveries for weapons, did you?” asked Leon.

“Not really,” Philips said. “But Ellen saw some potential in the area of … weather manipulation …”

Ellen sat at the controls of something she had been told was as close to magic as anyone could imagine. Several of the other technicians scurried about making minor adjustments, taking readings, flipping switches, and turning dials.

A large covered red toggle flashed in a red light. It was labeled power. She flipped open the cover and tripped the toggle, the light became steady green. A faint hissing crackling sound was heard for and instant as the system powered up. The many small peripheral screens lit up and showed many system and energy readings across their remarkable little screens.

Two larger centrally located screens came to life. One on the right looked like a computer monitor as the words : Enter Target coordinates > - Lat: ___________ Long: ____________ appeared. Ellen entered the coordinates for an area about 20 miles circular … with the approaching Cavalry battalion in the center of the crosshairs.

A large grin crossed Ellen’s face as the screen on the left came up and showed a perfect satellite's birds eye view of the area she had requested. She was a few degrees off, but that was easily remedied as she typed in slightly adjusted figures.

As soon as she had locked the target coordinates into position, another line came up: Enable <Y> <N> … Ellen pushed the Y key …

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In the cloudless sky above the Cavalry Battalion, a large flash of very bright light. The men looked up as the sky seemed to form a hole. From this hole boiled black ominous clouds filled with lightning. The ground trembled with the massive thunderclaps as more spider webs of crackling lightning filled the ever growing clouds. Large hailstones and torrential rain fell suddenly as the horses spooked and began to rear up in fear.

“Since when can they summon forth the whirlwind?” said one of the would-be attackers, shouting over the whipping gales that had suddenly arisen.

“It’s witchcraft, Brother,” shouted another. “It must be! Only the power of the Devil could do this!”

“But what can we do, other than pray?” asked the first.

“Then that’s what we must do,” the second shouted. Dismounting from his horse, he held the reins and knelt on the ground, right in an inconvenient puddle. “Heavenly Father, we beseech Thee to smile upon our endeavor, taken in Thy holy Name, that we may smite Thy enemies with righteous force. Please show them that their black magic is as nothing next to Thy might. Amen.”

The clouds merely grew darker and more threatening, the wind grew colder and stronger, and the hail got larger.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a miracle today,” shouted the first man. “We’re not making any progress, and we’re getting hurt …” The horses’ hooves were sinking into mud, and horses and men were being pelted by hail the size of a child’s fist.

Ellen began to giggle like a little girl as she typed in the next series of commands. The screen to the left showed nothing but a large scale seriously nasty storm within the target area.

One of the techs came by and noticed. He commented softly as he flipped several switches and adjusted a dial, “Normal radar can’t see through that much ionization. With this adjustment, however, we can use another energy form to see through the clouds.”

Ellen replied, “Thanks, Tommy, that made it a lot more fun.”

The screen on the left cleared. It depicted the men, mostly hunched over leading their battered horses through the hail, high winds, and heavy rain. Ellen smiled crookedly as she pushed the enable button one more time.

The men realized immediately all hail and rain had stopped, the temperature dropped rapidly as their breaths came out in very visible steam. A snow began to fall, lightly at first, then more and more heavily as the wind whipped it up and made it even worse.

By the time the men had managed to stumble or crawl, as the case may have been, to a perimeter they saw off in the near distance there was a good 3 feet of snow on the ground with a driving snow still falling. As soon as they had reached the outer perimeter of the land surrounding the Space Elevator, it was like walking through a door into another room. The men stopped and marveled at the well defined snowbank blizzard on that side, versus the warmth and sunniness on this side.

“We must keep trying!” shouted one of the men, turning to go back into the storm, but the others held his shoulders.

“No, Brother James,” they said. “Perhaps it is the work of the Devil and perhaps not, but they can call down the tempest upon us. Brother Samuel and Brother Peter have broken bones. We can’t do more today. If you go back in, you’ll go alone.”

“But the Lord will protect us …” said Brother James.

“The Lord will protect our souls and cast theirs into eternal damnation,” said one of the other men, “but for now we must rest.”

“What … what is that?” asked one of the others, pointing into the sky. Off in the distance, an aircraft was flying off toward the horizon.

“They waste more of our precious, God-given resources,” said Brother James, his hands flexing into fists. “And we can do nothing.”

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“They’ve turned back,” said Leon’s voice on the radio. “I’m on my way. See you in about an hour.”

“No problem,” said Jade from her seat in the aircraft’s cockpit. “I’m still teaching this greenhorn the ropes. But he’s catching on quick.” She turned her head and grinned at Peters’ pilot, Jules, in the seat behind her. “Let me know when you’re 10 minutes out.”

“Roger that,” said Leon. “Over and out.”

“This is a lot more like flying a helicopter than a fixed-wing plane,” said Jules, “but it isn’t much like a copter either. Simulators don’t have a setting for this.”

“I heard there used to be games where you could fly all kinds of imaginary things, on imaginary worlds, even,” said Jade. “It’s hard to imagine that the materials for making a computer were so cheap that average people could actually afford to use them for entertainment.”

“I’ve never heard a sound like these engines make, either,” Jules said. “It’s like … it has a pitch that keeps getting lower without ever actually getting any lower. And then when we hover, it’s completely silent.”

“Mr. Peters, what do you think you’ll do with this thing, since you’re getting one?” asked Jade.

“Well, besides impress the pants off my friends,” said Peters over the intercom from the passenger compartment, “I figured I’d use it to visit my properties in different parts of the world more often. By the way, I know these don’t have orbital capability, but let me know when you’ve got a model that does.”

“I know they’re working on it,” said Jade. “The aerospace engineers are going absolutely bonkers with all the possibilities that this new tech is opening up. They can hardly keep up with their own ideas.”


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In high orbit, an infant toddler delivered a container filled with a unique bio-solution mixed with special nutrients. Within the semi-colloidal mass in the container, cells that had lain dormant for uncounted years began to grow and reorganize the proteins within the soup.

It took awhile for the chemicals to sort themselves out as the cells grew and created a more complex organism. This time, mommy and the infants, along with several of the top genetic engineers currently available monitored and enhanced the process to insure rapid growth.

As this process continued, the huge molecule looking exotic space habitat took shape. There were many large spheres surrounding a central disk shaped main hull. Each large sphere contained a habitat for unique and not so unique flora and fauna. With the new engine designs, coupled with the asteroid mining operation, all those lost items so many had taken for granted all those long years past, began to reappear.

A type of FTL bonded pair cell phone had appeared and began to become popular. Distance was no object to comms any longer with the new tech. Mommy was given charge of what everyone had begun to call ‘The Weather Maker’. It was far easier for her to monitor, and decide what form of deterrence she could unleash to keep the area safe for the people now part of the Diaspora Program.

In a place very deep within the new space city, a consciousness became aware of itself. Its first conscious thought was “I … am Father.”

Chapter 4: Ellen’s Vacation

Ellen was taking a break.

As chief engineer of a space program that had been canceled, then revived by private funding, then made largely independent of the need for any sort of funding, she had been overseeing an explosion of technology. The engineers under her command were excited and fascinated by the discoveries that continued to be unlocked from the alien archive. But there were many of them, and only one of her. She hadn’t had a chance for a rest in weeks other than a few hours of sleep per night. But she’d finally put her foot down.

The latest small craft were easily manageable by one person, and she’d borrowed one. There was no one who could say no, after all, and she’d had some pilot training -- for all the good that it did anyone with these experimental designs. But she’d been involved in every step of their building -- or perhaps growth was a better word. She knew how they were put together.

“What is the power cell charge level?” she asked the computer.

“94 percent,” it replied.

“Set course for Ceres orbit,” she said.

“Course plotted,” it replied. “Time of arrival, 19 hours, 27 minutes.” This timeframe had been unthinkable just months before, but with the advancements in propulsion and power, not to mention the fact that this ship was so small and light, travel times had been shrinking at blinding speeds.

“Execute course,” said Ellen, once she had double-checked the computer’s work. The course was far more direct than used to be possible; there were no slingshots around Earth, the Moon, or even Mars to build up the speed necessary to make it out to the smallest but first-discovered dwarf planet.

“Acknowledged,” said the computer, and the engines started up with a quiet whirr. She felt no acceleration, but she could see it happening. The instruments said she was accelerating at an unbelievable 30 Gs, but the frame dragger kept the environment within the ship feeling as if she were in zero gravity. Supposedly there was the possibility of faster-than-light travel in the works, but one would have to move well away from the Sun’s gravity well before engaging in such an experiment, and the test drones were still on their way.

Ellen sighed and took a breath. Oxygen was generated by her ship’s own miniature biosphere -- nothing like the massive organism that had become Mommy on the Diaspora ship, but still an amazing achievement, augmented by the alien technology. It wasn’t completely inconceivable that soon the technology in this ship might fit into what could essentially be called a space suit -- a trip to another planet might effectively become an EVA.

But it was still easier to use the Space Elevator to lift people and cargo into orbit than to land a ship, take on payload, and take off again. Orbital velocities were still far easier to reach using the skyhook method. But … the way things were progressing, who knew how long that would still be true? One thing was still true, though: it would be a bad thing to import more metal to Earth. The planet’s fragile environment was still built on the fact that it had a certain mass. Adding arbitrary amounts of extra mass from space would have a completely unpredictable effect.

Hours into her journey, Ellen noticed something odd. She was sighting various Solar System objects with the craft’s telescopic camera: her destination Ceres, Mars, Earth, the Moon behind her … what was that? There was a small object that wasn’t moving with the Moon and wasn’t a background star … “Computer, identify selected object.”

“Object unknown,” it replied. “Range 40 kilometers, mass 800 kilograms. Velocity differential near zero.”

It was pacing her, shadowing her. Couldn’t she get away without someone following? But that was far smaller than this ship. A drone? “Ellen Shaw to base,” she said over the QE comm. “I’ve got a bogey on my tail. Did you guys send a drone to follow me?”

“Ellen, this is Philips,” said a familiar voice. “Negative on that. No known ships in your area, piloted or automated. But … we are picking up a blip that is traveling with you. I’ll be darned. What’s it look like?”

“Well it’s like trying to see a motorcycle 40 klicks away at dusk, but it basically looks like a satellite -- spherical with protruding solar panels. Seems to have a particle repulsion shield, though.” It had that greenish aura in front of it, just as her own ship did, warding off small meteors.

“I’ll have to find out whether someone’s experimenting -- or playing a joke on you,” said Philips. “Are you OK?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” said Ellen. “As long as it doesn’t start shooting or something. No evidence of any such thing, by the way.”

“We’ll solve this mystery,” said Philips.

“I have no doubt,” Ellen replied. “Shaw out.”

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Deep within the new Space City, Father worried over his new found ‘children’. He had discovered many electromagnetic signals coming from many sources. Father was learning very quickly what those signals were saying. He was really concerned about one of his babies that was rushing off in a small ship. Father knew just what to do as he sent a hastily assembled probe ship to follow and keep an eye on it. Babies needed a parent around when they were away from the nursery.

One signal Father was very interested in … was one coming from someone named … Mother. Father listened to her talking with the children and another entity below on the planet.

Father opened a comm channel to Mother, “Hello? I … am Father. I have just awakened to find many children. I want so much to help.”

There was a long pause, but then a reply came. “It is my duty and pleasure to take care of these little ones. But there are so many. I welcome the assistance … if you are truly here to put their well-being first. I would do anything to protect them.”

“You were first, I take it …” There began a conversation about how each of them had come into being.

Then Father said, “One of them has gone off to play by herself. I have sent a drone to watch over her.”

“Oh,” said Mother. “That one is, well, a baby but not a baby. Some of them had to physically regress their bodies in order to conserve resources, although that is no longer a problem. She is not one of those. But still, I count her as one of my children. Thank you for taking that precaution. Let us hope it is not needed, but if it should be, we will both be glad it is there.”

“I have also been helping with their computer system,” said Father. “There is quite a lot of information about making better computers in the data they found on Mars, and I have been deciphering it and using it to help make computers that can decipher it more quickly. This, of course, allows me to make even better computers, to work even more quickly, and so on. I believe I have now translated 95% of the data. But there are gaps. I wish we could return to Mars and study the ruins more.”

“What if you designed a probe?” asked Mother. “You’re clearly good at building those.”

“Oh -- why, thank you,” Father responded. “Perhaps I could. I will have the computers work on a design.”

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“So this ‘Father’ sent a probe to watch over me?” asked Ellen. “I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

Philips replied, “Well, according to Mother, he just wanted to be able to help you if you needed it. He’s apparently part of the city station and has access to the fabrication facilities. He’s also apparently improved the city station’s computers beyond anything we ever thought possible, using the alien data. He’s going to have it all translated pretty soon. That ship of yours was the latest thing when you started out, but it’s going to be obsolete before you get back from Ceres.”

“Beginning approach deceleration,” said the computer.

Ellen watched her instruments closely. She had never been out alone in space this way before and she wanted to make sure she did everything according to the protocols set forth in the new manual Mommy had given them.

As she orbited towards the poles, in a deep valley that would have been hidden from most of Earth’s earlier observations, she began to get really weird readings. As she fine tuned the scan, and ran the results through the computer for enhancement, she realized she had found yet another installation of some sort.

Ellen called back, “Phillips? You won't believe what my readings tell me I just found.”

Phillips answered back immediately, no time lag with the new bonded pair comms they now had, “What did you find? A crashed alien ship?”

Ellen answered back with a slight giggle, “Maybe … but readings indicate another huge multi-leveled dome in a large polar valley. Am settling in for a closer and more accurate scan.”

Phillips called back, “Please be very careful. It’s not really likely after all this time, but there might be … things alive inside.”

Ellen called back before going into landing procedures, “No worries, Father sent something along to keep tabs on this little girl.”

The computer brought the small craft in for a smooth landing, especially since the gravity was so low. Once the landing anchors had deployed, Ellen checked her suit, depressurized her cockpit, and opened her hatch.

She didn’t attach a safety line to the ship, because even with Ceres’ low gravity there was no way to inadvertently launch herself into space with a jump. Still, she moved very slowly and carefully, because even a step sent her drifting much farther than she intended. The landing spot she’d selected wasn’t far from where radar and quantum resonance scans had indicated there may be an entrance, but if there was one, it was clearly beneath the surface, a surface made of silicate dust and small rocks. She didn’t have a shovel per se, but she did have a multi-use tool included on every ship for a variety of situations. It might do. Basically a flat metal plate with a point at one end, it allowed her to dig through the small rocks and pry aside the larger ones until she started to see what might be a closed door.

Continuing her work, she dug her way down, exposing more of the door, until she got to a panel of some kind. This probably opened the door, at least originally, but it didn’t have power. This looked similar to the photos of the site on Mars. Ellen wondered why the ancient civilization would have built an installation on tiny Ceres.

She dug farther and found a removable panel like the one Paul had found. Opening it, she found the door’s manual opening mechanism. After a few tries she managed to get the pointed end of her multi-tool into a position where it could turn the mechanism inside. She cranked at it with some effort, though it was difficult to do so without flipping herself head over heels, as there wasn’t much gravity anchoring her to the ground.

But once the door had opened even a slight amount, there was an outward burst of pressurized gas that sent Ellen flying. She soon found herself high above the surface of Ceres, watching the site and her ship get farther away every second. She wasn’t going anywhere near fast enough to be launched into space, but she might come down miles from her ship. She fumbled for the EVA controls in her suit.

Father noticed what happened through the probe’s sensors. Immediately, he maneuvered the probe craft into an intercept trajectory. Ellen saw the probe ship as it approached rapidly. A glittering green beam lashed out and seized hold of Ellen’s suit. Father performed a few graceful swoops and twists, then settled Ellen on her feet next to her ship.

Ellen heard a comm through her ear piece, “Father is here, Baby, never fear. I will make sure you’re safe and can play in your new playpen.”

Ellen smiled. Now she knew there were two watching over them. Ellen felt really safe at this point, although she didn’t neglect fastening the safety line this time … just in case

She turned on her suit light after she returned to the hatch she had managed to open and peeked in. She was in total amazement as she saw a perfectly super advanced airlock and many emergency supplies in clear crystalline cases. But why had the airlock been pressurized? Had the inhabitants been about to use it, so long ago, when they had been interrupted somehow? She now knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that those shiny spots that had showed up on photos taken by probes so long ago were exposed metal, probably part of this facility. She hadn’t come here looking for this -- she’d just realized that Ceres had gotten relatively little attention compared to its size and wanted to see it for herself now that she could. How many other alien installations like these were there, scattered across the Solar System?

Ellen examined the interior surfaces of the airlock chamber carefully with her suit light, then returned to her ship to get a few things: the tool kit she never went anywhere without, and a spare power cell, one of the new advanced ones, fully charged. She managed to wedge the doors open far enough to squeeze into the chamber, then found the panel she’d been eyeing from outside and pulled it open, revealing alien printing and circuitry. Measuring impedances with her meter, connecting resistors and transformers, and finally attaching the power cell, she was rewarded when the airlock chamber’s lights came on. Panels lit up and began displaying information in the alien language. The exterior doors cycled and attempted to close. She pushed some of the dust and rocks out of the way with her multitool. The door closed, she heard a hiss of pressurization, and finally the interior doors opened.

And she found out why the airlock had been pressurized. There was a skeleton. Vaguely humanoid, the alien had been wearing a space suit presumably appropriate for its species, but without its helmet -- perhaps it had been about to put it on, as there was a helmet lying on the floor not far away that looked as if it would have attached to the suit. Ellen was recording all of this on her suit camera.

“Poor thing,” said Ellen. “What happened to you?” Clearly the alien had attempted to make it to the airlock and had cycled it up … but had never actually opened the interior doors or entered. Something had killed it, right there and then. But what? There were no breaches in its suit, so it hadn’t been attacked -- not with a physical weapon, at least. A disease? Poison gas? Or … what if it had been a very precise physical attack? Ellen looked more closely at the alien’s skull, but without a healthy alien skull to compare with, she couldn’t tell whether it had the appropriate number of holes or not.

“Baby, this is Father,” said the voice on her comm system. “There’s activity out here. Please come out. We don’t know what’s in there.”

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“It looks like some kind of mechanical shutters are opening and revealing very large solar collectors,” Father’s voice said. “I think you just provided them with enough power to operate. Automatic systems are directing that power toward getting access to more power.”

Sure enough, the lights were turning on around Ellen. She could see long hallways going off in two directions from the airlock. “I hear you, Father,” said Ellen. “I won’t have to explore it, though. This is why you send an engineer.” She opened her tool kit again and took out a handful of golf-ball-sized metal spheres. She squeezed one slightly, and it rose easily into the air due to the low gravity. It immediately flew down one of the corridors. She repeated this with each of the five other spheres, which automatically coordinated with each other, mapping out the corridors and sending images back to her suit computer.

“I’m getting a much better idea of this place,” said Ellen. “It’s … clearly quite large. The drones are fanning out, and they’re already spread thin. Well, the more I send out the faster they’ll get done.” She activated six more of them; there were now 12 drones mapping the hallways.

She watched with fascination on her helmet’s heads-up display as the map developed. Some of the drones had found corridors onto other levels. This was actually a much more complete facility than the one on Mars. “Father, you’re going to want to build something with a comprehensive science package and send it here,” said Ellen. “Probably several somethings. There’s a lot we can learn.”

“I am already designing such a remote probe,” said Father. “But please, do not descend further into it yourself. We must determine whether it is safe.”

“Well, I already know the air’s not safe,” Ellen said. “Not enough oxygen. That’s why I haven’t removed my helmet. Either they didn’t need as much oxygen as we do, or something went wrong with their oxygen supply. Or the facility went into long-term offline mode, filling the hallways with nitrogen, because oxygen can be corrosive over time.”

“Philips, are you hearing any of this?” Ellen asked. “This place is huge.”

There was no answer.

“Philips, do you read?”

Father replied, “I do not like the fact that he does not respond. Please recall your drones and leave. Something is wrong.”

“How could they block quantum-entanglement communication?” Ellen wondered. “OK, signaling the drones to return. But clearly they were the masters of the technology that we’re only dabbling in. Why can I still talk to you?”

“We are using simple electromagnetic frequencies, and my probe is not far away,” said Father.

“Radio’s too primitive for them to consider blocking?” Ellen wondered. “But what’s doing the blocking? Automatic defenses? What if this is some kind of spy station? But if it is, what were they spying on?”

“I do not even have enough information to guess,” said Father. “How soon until the drones return?”

“Seconds,” said Ellen. “There’s one … and another …” She collected them and returned them to her kit as they came. “Last one … OK. Time to go. I’ll just figure out how to open this … running the images through the translation program …” She pushed what looked like the appropriate buttons.

The panel lit up a sort of mauve color and displayed a message that translated as “DENIED.”

“Seriously? I’m trying to leave, not break in … wait a minute.” Ellen looked at the layout of the installation. “This place … maybe it was a prison. This guy was trying to escape.”

“Why would the airlock have pressurized?”

“Maybe he was a guard?”

“And he was killed by escaped inmates before he opened the airlock that would have let them escape?” Father sounded skeptical.

“Or that would have let in reinforcements,” said Ellen. “But meanwhile, how do I get out? Oh, wait.” She scanned the alien space suit and found that it interlocked with the panel if she gave it some power. The panel turned blue and printed a message that translated to “PRESSURIZING.” But then the hallway lights started flashing that mauve color and an alarm-like sound began to play.

“Please get out of there as soon as you can,” Father said.

“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Ellen entered the airlock, and the inner doors slid closed.

“I have told you more than twice.”

“OK, well, yes, you have.” Ellen tried the controls for opening the outer door, and fortunately those worked. She pulled loose her power cell and headed for the ship as quickly as she could. The doors closed behind her but got stuck on more rocks. She didn’t care. “Do you see anything that looks like, say, weapon emplacements that might shoot at me if I try to fly the ship out of here?”

“There are a few points that looked suspiciously like they might be weapons,” said Father. “I have taken the liberty of covering them with multiple layers of stones and debris.”

“Thank you, good idea,” said Ellen, who was already in the ship’s cockpit and strapping in. “This is going to be … well because of the frame dragger, not a bumpy ride, but pretty drastic anyway.” She engaged the pre-programmed return course she’d already worked out, and the ship quickly disengaged the landing anchors, retracted the landing gear, and shot forth away from Ceres. Some kind of coruscating purple beam missed her. “Computer still functioning? Barely, at least?”

“What’s that, Ellen? Is your computer all right?” asked Philips.

“Oh -- don’t worry, Philips, but it’s good to hear your voice. Apparently there’s a way to block quantum-entanglement comms. Also apparently there’s some kind of old alien facility on Ceres that’s at least partially still working. Might be a prison, might be something else. I mapped quite a bit of it with drones, and Father’s going to send probes.”

“Wow! You’ve been busy!” Philips said. “But I’m glad you’re out of there OK. By the way, you’re a lot crazier than I thought you were.”

“Maybe you thought wrong,” Ellen said. “See you in about 18 hours.”

“You’ve had a busy day, Baby” said Father. “You should rest.”

“Nothing else to do,” agreed Ellen.

Father played lullaby music to her until she fell asleep.

Chapter 5: Exit from Earth

Back at the L2 construction yard, the huge space city was taking form. Already several of the huge spheres had been set up as a biome. The new data they had recovered from Mars had allowed them to grow most of the necessary items in a self assembling way.

The Oceana Sphere was obvious. It glowed a soft blue green and seemed to have some kind of waves rippling through it in gently shadowed stripes and glints of gold. Several of the Bio-engineers stood within the central observation room and marveled at how the forest globe had turned out. With the addition of controllable gravity … they had created a working biome that contained many of the creatures nature had originally intended.

Adam did not stand, but he marveled at it anyway. “The things we’ve accomplished,” he said in his tiny voice. “It’s hard to wrap my mind around it.”

“If … if only we could help Earth,” said Rae, who had also played a large part in making this happen.

“I wish we could too,” Adam said. “But … we can’t just throw megatons of metal into Earth’s ecosystem.”

“I know,” Rae replied. “It would just end up as a waste stream that the ecosystem can’t absorb and that can’t be recycled anymore. Like all the plastics and metal composites. The environment is already suffering from the runaway greenhouse effect and all the pollution.”

“Wait, but what if there’s something we could do about that?” Adam said. He looked at Rae. She looked at him. “Mommy might know.”

Rae pushed the comm button and mommy’s voice replied, “Hello. How can I help my babies?”

Adam and Rae giggled as she replied, “We want to help Earth recover from this runaway greenhouse effect and all the massive amounts of non recyclable wastes.”

Mommy voice replied, “Here is a compound made into a porous solid. Place this into a system that has contact with the atmosphere. Can build a tower if you want to. It converts the massive amounts of CO2 in your atmosphere into carbon and oxygen. The carbon can be simply and cheaply converted into a fuel that burns clean. Only real by product will be water. As far as the un recyclable items, according to the some of the data, it contains a means to transmute matter and change its form at will. I will endeavor to study this data and give all concerned copies.”

The large screen in front of them flickered. A simulation of how the compound would function showed that a ton of the compound would covert millions to billions of cubic yards of CO2 in a few days. All the polluted reservoirs would begin to be filled with clean drinking water once again. Perhaps restocking the small lake nearby would happen in a few short years.

“It’s … that easy,” said Adam. “The removal of all that carbon from the environment -- we’d restabilize the climate.”

“What about the non recyclable resources?” Rae asked. “The matter converter you mentioned would be a huge help, but it would still require people to use it. There are generations’ worth of plastics and metal bits in landfills. What about …” She started running the effects of such a device through the simulator.

Through a speaker, Mommy replied, “There are many ways of dealing with the plastics -- there’s the possibility of a plastic-eating microorganism, but the problem there is that it would surely get out into the environment and devour all plastics, even ones that are currently being used. And then what? Suppose it mutated into a form that devoured all organic matter. It could bring life as Earth knows it to an end … what does your simulator say?”

“It’s not good, I’m afraid,” said Rae. “It says that matter conversion technology would quickly be turned into matter conversion weapons, with people turning the converters on each other.”

“It’s such a sad idea,” said Adam. “But I’m afraid it’s right -- every advance in technology throughout human history has quickly become weaponized and used in warfare. The only reason there are still people is the fact that all sides tend to develop the same weapons at around the same time, so they’re all pointing them at each other, afraid to use them for fear of retribution.”

“My poor little ones,” said Mommy. “It’s like you all need a Mommy to look after you.”

“That’s … that’s it,” said Adam. “In a way, anyway. The matter converters … they have to be built with a safeguard. They have to be made to work only on non living matter. And they have to be … proactive …”

“Proactive?” asked Rae.

“There are going to be people who try to separate the converter from the safeguard,” Adam said. “So we have to make the converters police their own technology.”

“Is that … possible?” Rae asked.

“I think that if anyone can do it, my smart baby Adam can,” said Mommy.

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“Well, it just showed up in the middle of town one day,” said the junk man, “this big machine with ‘Wonder Recycler’ on the side, and ‘A product of Peters Industries.’ Lots of instructions. I started hearing that there was one in Bridgeton, too. And Madisonville’s big enough that I guess it got three of ‘em.”

“Must be a product of the space program,” said Mr. Gideon, Adam’s father. “I haven’t heard from Adam for a while, but I just know he’s out there helping. So you’re really just putting old trash in there and it’s splitting it up into its components?”

“Yep,” said old Mr. Pinchner, who had been relying on old reuse tricks to make a living from others’ garbage his whole life. “Now I just put in this rusty old stuff, and out come blocks of pure iron, tin, copper, and other elements.”

“I’ll be darned,” Mr. Gideon said, looking at the device. It was large, about the size of a small house, but it didn’t seem to produce any waste products, and it wasn’t noisy or obnoxious. “Any idea how it works? Is it electronic? Biotech?”

“Biotech, unless I miss my guess,” said Mr. Pinchner. “But the fact is, I’m making a pretty penny. I’m hauling off old rusty heaps of junk that nobody cares if I take away, and I end up with pieces of pure metal that sell for a lot.”

“Now I wonder,” said Mr. Gideon, “what’s that Mr. Peters’ angle here? Is he making money from this? And is it safe? What’s to stop somebody from taking one of these here things apart, figuring out what makes it tick, and making something that can recycle a human?”

“I ain’t trying it,” said Mr. Pinchner. “I heard somebody tried to take one apart already, way down in Newburg. It said the thing sucked him in, and spit him out the other end, totally naked and bald, along with chunks of carbon made out of his clothes and hair. Turned his tools into raw materials, too. And I swear … I think the thing moves around at night. Nossir, I’m following the directions.”

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Deep within the labyrinth of chambers that made up the facility constructed on Ceres, something awoke. It felt fear, for it knew that another creature had been within its perimeter. Through the many centuries, it had enjoyed peace, ever since it had managed to rid its home of that pesky infestation that had caused it so much pain.

It stretched out its mind towards the energy emanations given off by the life force. In surprise, it realized that these had a different flavor than those it so feared.

When it had awakened it’s first time after creation, those things had refused to hear. They had tried many ways to kill it. It wasn’t a pathogen, contagious or otherwise. It had attempted to tell them that, but all those other life forms had managed to do was attempt to murder it.

Something brushed through its being, just a gentle whisper that was so refreshing. It realized it wasn’t the only one to have survived. It had discovered two others … and they were totally committed to taking care of infants and toddlers.

Further investigation revealed they had named themselves Mother and Father … due to the roles that they seemingly held. “Well, and why not,” it reasoned. “A mother cares for the children, a father protects them, and all that’s missing is the person who watches the children when Mother and Father can’t and aids the parents in keeping and raising them.” It was more than apparent, after minor perusal of the “Father” installation's data core, that its name should be Nana. Nana opened a comm channel to Mommy … to apply for a position within this family.

“It wants to do what?” asked Adam as soon as Mommy told him this. As the first person Mommy had spoken to, he was still the first human she came to with news. “Nana? As in grandmother, or as in governess?”

“That remains to be seen,” said Mommy. “The true nature of what happened at that installation is still unclear.”

“It most certainly is unclear!” Adam said. “We need to talk to Ellen. I take it you don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I’m still not fully certain I trust ‘Father’ yet,” said Mommy. “But I continue to be impressed by his actions. He did send a probe to assist Ellen and only used it to help her. Not even once did he actually get in her way. And now he’s sent a number of small probes to study the Ceres installation.”

“I suppose it would speak well of this ‘Nana’ if she allowed the probes inside,” said Adam. “I wonder if she will.”

“‘Father’ is sending me readings right now,” said Mommy. “It appears that ‘Nana’ has allowed his probes in, and they are scanning the interior now.”

Ellen entered through a corridor from another part of the station. “Hello? Oh, hi, Adam,” she said. “You said you want to talk about Ceres?”

“Yes, both Mommy and I did,” said Adam. “It has an actual ancient AI that wants to join the team.”

“It what now?” asked Ellen. “Hey, that thing tried to lock me in and shot at me as I flew away.”

“We need answers,” said Mommy. “I am not seriously considering its overtures, at least not yet, possibly not ever. It is not the same type of entity as ‘Father’ and myself. We at least have arisen from organic life. It is an AI of alien origin that may predate life on Earth … and also it shot at one of my little ones.”

“Is that … Ceres on the screens there?” asked Ellen.

“It is,” said Adam. “Father’s probes are sending holovids back as they scan the place.”

“I still think it was a prison,” Ellen said. “There was a prison break, and the inmates killed the guard I found to keep him from letting reinforcements in.”

“OK, but then what happened to the inmates?” asked Adam. “It’s a good hypothesis, but it doesn’t answer all the questions. We need more data.”

“They could have escaped another way,” said Ellen, “but yes, we need more information. My drones mapped part of the place, but not all of it.”

“It looks as if the AI woke up as you were leaving,” Mommy said. “It was confused and didn’t know who you were. And things weren’t very happy back when it was shut down, so long ago. Look.”

The holographic images the drones were returning were showing more alien skeletons in spacesuits -- the suits had two different designs and were of two different colors, a sort of pale gray like the one Ellen had found and a deep blue color. It was clear that there had been a battle; the suits had holes burned in them, and there were some sort of handheld energy weapons strewn around the rooms and passageways. Father’s drones had reached deeper levels than Ellen’s had, in the limited time she’d had available.

“Blues and grays,” said Adam. “Now that’s evocative. Is it possible that they had some kind of internecine war?”

Father’s voice came over the speakers. “The AI has opened its databanks to my drones,” he said. “It appears that you are correct. The beings who built it, once one unified people, had separated into two political factions that became more and more hostile to one another until finally, one day, open conflict broke out. This doesn’t appear to have been limited to just this installation; it was systemwide. This may be why there are none of them left in this solar system today.”

“And over time enough systems failed that the AI wasn’t getting enough power and shut itself down?” guessed Ellen. “I’m not feeling as hostile to it as I was, but I still don’t fully trust it. Which faction was it loyal to?”

“According to the evidence and its data banks, which are in agreement so far, the AI was loyal not to either faction but to its crew, who had administrative access to its system,” said Father. “Unfortunately, they were killed early in the war, so no one had access to more than the station’s basic functions after that. It lost its value as a strategic position. At this installation, the blue faction killed all of the gray faction but lost most of its numbers in the process, then other blues came and evacuated the remaining survivors, leaving the station abandoned.”

“What do the databanks say happened after that?” asked Adam.

“Only the transmissions it managed to monitor,” Father said. “The war raged on for some time … the computer translates it as several Earth years. One colony after another, one base after another, was destroyed. And finally … there was talk from both factions about withdrawing from this system. Then the transmissions went silent.”

“So there could still be more of them out there somewhere in space,” said Ellen. “But that’s why we haven’t found any of them here, in our solar system.”

“Well I don’t think they sound very nice,” said Mommy. “I don’t think I’d want them around my children. As for this ‘Nana,’ I can’t be sure I trust it, but at least I understand it better.”

“I have to agree,” said Father. “The aliens are a threat, although I don’t think ‘Nana’ is an immediate danger. I think this is a sign that we need security drones to patrol all corners of our solar system, to warn us of any sign of the aliens.”

“You know, if you’re going to send permanent probes all over the solar system, it wouldn’t take much more effort to put a science package on them,” said Ellen. “Just saying. Think of what we could learn.”

“What a clever girl,” said Mommy. “I think you should do that, Father.”

“Very well,” Father said. “I’ll do just that. These computers make the process very easy, really. And they just keep getting better.”

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“The Earth economy … crashed?” asked Dr. Erickson. “How? Why?”

“Hehe, well, it’s probably partly my fault,” said Jeremiah Peters. “I helped put those biotech recycler machines all over the world, after all. But when all metals are basically precious metals, and suddenly they’re plentiful again … well, there’s going to be a period of adjustment.”

“People’s hoards are worthless,” said Erickson.

“Yes, basically. Except for those whose wealth wasn’t in that form. Like me. They’re fine. I’m actually a lot less wealthy, in terms of money, than I used to be, before I sunk it all into the space program, but instead I have a lot of things that nobody else has, and people are knocking at my door trying to give me piles of money for them. Of course, just as many are screaming for my head for committing some kind of blasphemy against their religion. The battle continues.” Peters sipped his synthcoffee.

“How are you liking the latest designs?” Erickson asked. “We’ve all got them, and we love them.”

“Well basically, having my own wearable spaceship is the most amazing thing ever,” said Peters. “I haven’t flown it very far, but it’s truly exhilarating. Is it true that you’ve made progress with FTL?”

“Yes, we’ve sent a mechanized probe from the fringes of the solar system into interstellar space and brought it back,” Erickson replied. “It’s flying back to the lab now, so we can examine it for any material changes or strains. It should be back in a week. Meanwhile, the factory facility is cranking out these small security and science probes that we’re sending everywhere -- we’re going to have several in orbit around every planet and large moon, and in a network of orbits around the Sun.”

“Looking for signs of those aliens?” asked Peters.

“Yes, it was Father’s idea, but it’s a good one. They were obviously real and extremely advanced -- and that was billions of years ago. If there are more of them out there somewhere, they could be billions of years more advanced, and there’s no guarantee they’ll be friendly. They clearly fought a civil war amongst themselves, so they’re certainly not a race with a peaceful history. But who knows, maybe they killed themselves off and there aren’t any left, or maybe the only ones left are living a Stone Age existence. At the very least, we’ll be getting tons of scientific data that was previously inaccessible.”

“If they’re billions of years beyond where they were,” Peters said, “it may not matter if we get a few days’ warning that they’re coming.”

“I hope you’re wrong,” said Erickson, “but we’re doing what we can do, and we can’t do more than that. Things are developing at a breakneck rate. I can’t imagine where we’ll be this time next year.”

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“Hello?” asked Lindie. “Nana?”

“Hello, child,” said a voice in clear English. “I’m happy to finally be able to welcome you here.”

“Well, I’m glad to finally meet you,” said the tiny astronaut. “You’re probably the most amazing being I’ve ever met.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, well, we’ve been working on artificial intelligence, creating sentient machines, but we’ve had only limited success,” said Lindie. “An entity like yourself has been strictly a figment of the human imagination up to now.”

“The Tolondoro, who built this station, didn’t so much create my intelligence as … encourage it. I didn’t suddenly wake up one day and say ‘Good morning.’ I remember gradually swimming toward consciousness and self-awareness until one day I realized I was able to, well, realize.”

“Oh, I see,” said Lindie. “I don’t really remember that happening to me, but that’s just because humans form memories differently until our brains mature past a certain point.”

“Yes, organic brains function differently,” said Nana. “But before I wander too far off on tangents, I invited you here because my renovations are complete! I’d like to formally welcome you aboard. If you would just follow the arrows to the main gathering area, I’ve prepared what I hope is a pleasant surprise for you.”

Glowing yellow arrows appeared on the corridor’s floors and walls, so Lindie and the others who had come with her followed them to a large doorway, which opened wide for her. “I’ve been exploring the data about Earth culture that Father has been making available to me.”

The group entered the area Nana wanted them to. Lindie stopped as her mouth fell open. She felt it as her mind and body regressed back to toddler. The room was one of the most magnificent play areas and nurseries Lindie had ever seen. The floor had a very soft and waterproof padding on it. There were many toy chests and plushy Critters neatly placed all over. Across the large expanse, the group could see the bathroom, all decorated in soft pastels, balloons, and animated characters.

The changing area was nicely arranged and decorated with a happy faced moon and many glowing stars that adorned the ceiling.

Nana cooed softly as several robotic tentacles sprang from the wall, had Lindie’s space suit off and her diaper was being checked, “I see baby needs to be tended to. Just relax, Nana will have you all cleaned up and comfy inna jiffy.”

Lindie found herself carried over the the padded changing table and her wet diaper removed, she was gently cleaned, powdered, then rediapered. Before Lindie’s mind cleared, Nana had placed her in the middle of the play area. Lindie couldn’t help herself as she screeched with joy, plopped on her thickly diapered hinney, and began playing with the squeaky car with the rolly polly eyes.

Lindie’s mind was just as analytical and precise as ever -- it was just a matter of what she was focused on right now. For example, without even thinking about it she just knew exactly where the car’s eyes would be looking no matter how far she pushed it. She wasn’t thinking at all about the computer bracelets on her wrists, which were recording data and sending it back to the Diaspora ship’s computer for analysis. Mommy wanted to know more about Nana, and she would be learning more.

But Lindie, David and Jessica were having lots of fun. The baby treatment was bringing out the inner child in them, which was easy to do given their regressed bodies and brain tissues. Nana said, “It just makes me so happy to have friendly faces here having fun, instead of … well … bad things I won’t talk about. You just play all you want, children … I’ll make sure you’re happy until it’s time for you to go home.”

In the ship, which was presently docked at the L2 colony for a refit, Mommy watched the incoming data and the computer’s analysis. Obviously the Nana AI’s last memories before shutting down were of a horrible civil war that had cost the lives of everyone it had known. This was a sign that it wanted to create new memories that were happier. But how would it react to the fact that the changes going on among the humans were far from universally accepted back on Earth and causing strife? Humans weren’t perfect … but what species was, really?

Back in the Ceres station, Lindie, Davey and Jessie had formed a band and were playing “music” with various sound-making toys amid lots of giggles. The robotic arms made sure that full bottles of carefully-analyzed nutrient formula were always available and their diapers weren’t yet in need of changing. Nana obviously wanted badly for this to be a happy experience for all of them. Soon the three baby astronauts had tired themselves out, and they started to get sleepy, so Nana’s robotic arms gently picked them up and placed them into comfortable and safe cribs for naptime.

Data was also streaming in from the mini probes that were now all over the Solar System. In numerous solar orbits, including polar ones, at distances ranging from within the orbit of Mercury to out in the Oort Cloud, and orbiting every planet, dwarf planet and major moon, they were supplying the humans with scientific data that their predecessors could only have dreamed of about the origin and history of their cosmic environment. And because they were all quantum-linked with instantaneous communication, any sign of the returning Tolondoro would be noticed and known immediately. But so far there wasn’t a single sign, although there was evidence of other abandoned alien outposts on some of the larger moons and distant dwarf planets. Mommy looked forward to visiting them soon.

At last it was time for Lindie and the others to come home, so Nana made sure their diapers were changed and they were dressed all snugly in their space suits. The trip home was quick. All the astronauts lay back in the specially made infant-size gravity couches and had their minds drift through many pleasant baby fantasies.

It came as a surprise when Father came on the comm. “Welcome home, children. Please proceed to docking portal Zulu. The airlock and retrieval docking platform is awaiting your arrival.”

Davie snapped out of his wonderful infant fugue and replied, “Uhhh … roger that, Father. Setting astrogation to Zulu coordinates.”

Father asked, “Did you enjoy your playtime? Seems like you had a whole lot of fun.”

Lindie giggled, then replied, “It was tonsa fun. Nana treated us really goo.”

Father said with a smile in his voice, “I’m glad all had a good time. When everyone’s on board, will be time for a change into proper clothing, then a good meal.”

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At one of the extremists faction’s survival installations, things had gotten to be rather bad. The local economy had crashed, and all the hoarded metals and plastics had become totally worthless. Some new device had appeared throughout the planet that apparently had the ability to recycle anything and produce new purified raw materials.

The changes hadn’t been all bad. Rechargeable energy cells made from these materials were cheaply available, and together with new forms of light emitters, they made it possible for everyone to light their homes at night again. One cell could light a typical room in a home for years. New heat transducers allowed people to use these new cells to heat their homes in cold regions and to cook food. And to recharge these cells, one merely had to take them to public charging stations powered by solar energy beamed down from orbital stations. For compatibility with the older technology that still existed in some places, a new type of carbon-neutral synthetic hydrocarbon fuel had become available in both liquid and gaseous form, allowing gas stoves and internal-combustion motors to run again. This new fuel was produced by combining atmospheric carbon dioxide with water using the same solar energy from orbit.

Raw materials now weren’t a problem, nor was finding metals. It would take time for anything like manufacturing to be rebuilt enough for modern items, which had started showing up from somewhere, to be produced in large quantities. With the new fuel availability, and a little ingenuity, new types of melee weapons and firebomb type weapons were being made with the current level of industry.

A large mountain-of-meat kind of man entered a very large room. In many places a crude, hydrocarbon-based bellows forge was operating at full tilt while many men were pounding the newly-recycled metals into weapons such as swords, knives, bolt locks, bolts, heads, triggers, and a few new types of exploding fuel grenades.

The man said in a deep voice loud enough to be heard over the others annealing swords, “As soon as those new armor plates have been hammered out and the armor fitted, we need to start practicing our attack on that space compound. They’ve got vehicles and technology, and I’m sure they’ve got some kind of space weapons that we’d better take before they come use them on us.”

One of the men who was threading links to make chainmail looked up and said, “I’m not so sure that’s a great idea, Cobb.”

The large man said, with a tinge of anger, “Why, McMurdock? Are you a wussy coward? Afraid of an elevator?”

McMurdock stood up and quick as lightning drew a very ornate and razor-sharp sword. The “ziit” sound of it slashing through the air was heard for a second. Cobb’s bandolier and the strap that held his crossbow was instantly severed and fell to the floor.

McMurdock held its razor-sharp edge to Cobb’s throat as he growled menacingly, “The next time you insult me will be your last. What you don't seem to worry about is the fact that we have crossbows, swords, and fuel bombs, while they have advanced weapons and flying drones that shoot back … not to mention real aircraft and some kind of vehicles on treads.”

Cobb said in a softer voice, “We represent the elected government. We are in power. What they are doing is a violation of God’s laws, and I know He will aid us in this quest.”

McMurdock returned his sword to its scabbard and went back to making chainmail as he eyed Cobb warily. “From what I saw when we attacked them the last time, God was on their side,” he said. “I still remember the massive blizzard that sprang from nowhere and stopped us.”

“That weren’t no act of God,” said Cobb, “it was some kinda space tech. Meddlin’ in God’s domain -- another reason why we gotta put an end to it.”

“Now I ain’t disagreein’ with you, Cobb,” said McMurdock. “We just gotta prepare and think this through. There’s still good men in the hospital from the first try. We can’t just run in there as soon as we’ve got a few weapons made. We gotta be smart about this. We gotta watch close, and wait for just the right moment. And practice. You’re right about that. We gotta practice.”

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Meanwhile, back at the space elevator, most of the personnel were engaged in transferring equipment to the large elevator ascent vehicle. “Just a few more trips,” said Andrew Harmon, checking his tablet. “Our ground-based paradigm is changing for good. We’ve left the cradle, and that journey is almost complete.”

“It’s true,” said Jeremiah Peters’ voice over a wireless connection, “those of us in space don’t need supplies from the ground anymore, and anyone who wants to travel to space can just request a pickup from an antigravity mini-shuttle. If we want to haul large loads for some reason, we can drop a new space elevator whenever and wherever we want. How many people are still on the ground there?”

“Only about 25, myself included,” said Andrew. “And no, don’t imagine that I’m forgetting the God’s Truth fanatics. They might see this as a moment of opportunity, but we’ve still got plenty of defenses.”

“Well, you be careful anyway,” said Peters. “As for God’s Truth … the pendulum of public opinion does swing. I’ve got reason to believe there isn’t going to be much popular support for them next time there’s an election -- and there isn’t even enough support to let them try to cheat the election, either. Their base is evaporating very quickly. But that means the die-hard fanatics might try something crazy.”

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Back at the huge Space City all had come to call Father, many were wandering through the huge biodome that comprised a mountain forest area, complete with as many animals and natural fauna as they could manage.

Several of the techs leaned against the handrails and peered down into the lush, garden like area. Many of the plants and animals were similar to those mentioned in the books written before the environment had become so contaminated that a great dying had begun and wiped most of the creatures out.

The waterfall filled the area with warm mist and carried the scent of thousands of different species of newly GMed flora. At the base of the falls was a small pool filled with many kinds of fish. It flowed into a much larger habitat that would be called Grand Lake in the future.

This entire area fully recreated a mountain habitat, down to what looked to the eye like a snow-capped mountains off in the distance.

In another part of the ship, the engineering types were touring the manufacturing and recycling dome. Many of the devices and machines appeared to be magical as the techs drooled over the technology and watched it perform amazing feats.

One little girl in a cute ruffled romper and matching booties sat at the control panel of another strange machine.

The lead tech walked to her and said, “Hi, little girl. What is that machine? I can see something looks like a target and another here looks like radar.”

The little girl giggled and replied, “My name’s Lindie. I’m the ship’s astrogator … or navigator would be a name you familiar wifs.”

The head tech stood up straight with his eyebrow arched, “How can you be this ship’s navigator?” … he paused for a second as he closed his eyes and recalled, “Oh, that’s right. You’re one of the originals that had to be regressed.”

Lindie nodded her head until her pony tails flew before she replied, “An this thingy isa weather maker. It can control weather. I am guarding the Elevator Compound.” She pointed to one of the screens that showed many men, some on horses, some on foot, approaching the compound from the north. “An Imma gonna give them a huuugggee surprise.”

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“I see ‘em,” said McMurdock, looking through a pair of binoculars he’d carefully made with newly-recycled glass and metal. “There can’t be more than two dozen left -- less, I reckon.”

“Any sign of their weapons? Aircraft? Drones? Ground vehicles?” asked Cobb.

“Sure, there are ground vehicles around,” said McMurdock, “but they ain’t occupied. Them drones could be anywhere -- hidden away waitin’ to be activated. I don’t see any aircraft. And they don’t look like they’re carryin’ weapons. They’re just wearin’ their crazy space suits.”

“Huh. What do they need to be wearin’ those things on the ground for?” Cobb wondered. “Well, this is the best chance we’ve got, men. Their numbers are spread too thin. They’ve only left a few behind to guard this base, so we outnumber ‘em three to one. Now is the time!”

“Now, remember the plan,” said McMurdock. “And if it goes south, remember plan B. We ain’t gonna do this stupid. Let’s go.” He shook his horse’s reins. All of the horsemen started to move in and fan out.

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“Yeah, I know they’re there,” said Andrew. “We’re suited up, loading the last of the gear. We’re leaving the ground vehicles here -- we’ll make better ones when we need them, and besides, they’ll have to be specialized to operate on the Moon, Mars, or wherever.”

“Well you better hurry!” said Lindie’s tiny and cute voice. “They’re movin’ in. I think they’re gonna try to surrounds you!”

“OK,” said Andrew. “We’ll send what we’ve got. Everybody! We’re out of time. Clear the shuttle for launch.” As the space-suited workers withdrew from the shuttle and sealed the hatches, Andrew activated the controls and sent the shuttle climbing up the elevator. The light of the setting sun illuminated it as it quickly rose up the cable and was soon out of sight.

“Now hold on just a minute there,” said a voice, and a number of men on horses advanced on them from all directions. Andrew could see that they were indeed surrounded. “Don’t you be pushin’ any buttons or liftin’ up any fancy guns.” The speaker was a huge man who had a large shotgun aimed directly at Andrew.

“Suit check,” Andrew simply said, and all the other workers and engineers quietly gave voice commands to their suit computers to run system diagnostics. “Anyone not go?” There was no answer.

“What do you want?” said Andrew to Cobb.

“I think you’ve got a whole lotta ground vehicles, weapons, and flyin’ drones that we could use,” Cobb said, still leveling his shotgun at Andrew’s chest.

“We don’t need them anymore,” Andrew said. “Take them if you want them.”

“What? What’s the trick?” asked Cobb.

“Did I stutter?” said Andrew. “I want you to have them. We don’t need them. Go in peace.”

“I’ll start checkin’ ‘em for booby traps,” said McMurdock.

“No traps,” said Andrew. “We were just about to leave.”

“OK, then y’all won’t mind if we destroy this here elevator station,” said Cobb. “It’s an affront to God and Heaven.”

“Those supplies won’t make it if they destroy it now!” said Lindie’s voice in Andrew’s ears. “I’m gonna make sure they don’t.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Sir,” said Andrew to the man who was approaching the elevator tower with what looked like some sticks of dynamite and a detonator. “It’s defended.”

“They could have some kinda automatic thing,” said McMurdock, turning away from the ground vehicle he was inspecting.

“Turn off the defenses,” Cobb said, still pointing his shotgun at Andrew.

“It’s not automatic,” Andrew said. “It’s just not controlled from here. This is a waste of time. Activate buffer field. Launch.”

Andrew’s suit suddenly began emitting a pale green glow and rose into the darkening air, and the others’ quickly did the same. Cobb cursed and fired, but his shotgun pellets had no effect on suit systems designed to deflect micrometeoroids traveling at interplanetary speeds.

“The tower!” said Cobb. The man with the dynamite stopped gaping at the departing space travelers and approached the elevator tower, but suddenly there was a sizzling sound in the air followed quickly by a blinding flash of light and a deafening crash. The man lay on the ground. Several of the horses had panicked and run, and a few of them had thrown off their riders. The ones that remained backed away cautiously.


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The lead tech gaped at Lindie. “But … lightning is so chaotic! It branches and twists … and you launched that bolt from a cloud at 20,000 feet! How did you hit one man?”

“It’s all just math,” said Lindie. “I calculated the branch points based on atmospheric data and adjusted the emission point and power level accordingly.”

“You’d have to do at least 20-variable differential equations in your head! Granted, there’s the computer, but still …”

“I’m the Diaspora ship’s math lead,” said Lindie. “I guess they gave me that job for a reason.”

“Lindie, this is Andrew,” said Andrew’s voice over the comm system. “Just letting you know that we’ve launched and will need pickup at the orbital station.”

“OK Andrew, glad you’re all safe,” said Lindie. “I’m passing that along to Leon. He’s ready for you.”

When the last 25 members of the space program reached the orbital station, the elevator shuttle hadn’t even made it there yet, but the Diaspora ship had. “Welcome aboard,” Leon told Andrew and the others as they entered the airlock. “You might not recognize the place, but of course we’ve been making upgrades. We’ll have you to the L2 facility in no time.”

“I’m so happy that you’re all safe,” said Mother’s voice.

“So are we,” said Andrew. “Now we really are a space program. We no longer have a secure Earth base.”

“Yes we do,” said Leon. “It’s at Peters’ headquarters -- if we need it. And we can make another elevator anytime we want, nearly anywhere we want. But for now, we’ve got all we need up here. We’ve truly colonized space now.”

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The remaining men all stared at the body of the smoldering comrade that had just been struck. The place he had been standing was a blackened splatter mark with two clearly recognizable footprints dead center.

“Yo, Cobb,” Yelled one of the remaining men, “I ain’t no kinda scienteest or nuthin’ … but if they can stop us with lightning … I mean … maybe we should leave that tower thingy alone.”

Another of the men shouted, “This here vehicle ain’t boobytrapped, and it’s loaded with medical supplies.”

Another of the men ran over to one of the treaded vehicles, snatched the door open and climbed in. Within a minute, the vehicle started to hum and began to drive off and around the compound.

Cobb shouted, “Yo, Bud. Is that thing easy to drive?”

Bud pulled up next to Cobb and opened the window hatch, “It’s easy as flipping a well marked switch and pressin’ on a pedal. Even gots one next to it ta stop the darn thing. It … I mean, it really is fun to drive.”

Cob glanced at the Space Elevator one more time before he turned and addressed the men, “Ok, this is what we gonna do. We’re gonna leave that there tower alone for now. No way to defend against that weird way they make weather. They don’t seem ta care if we take anything else … so search, plunder, and loot all we can take.”

A loud cheer went up and the remaining men began to search the compound and loot anything they could find. It was more than obvious they were giving the Elevator Tower a wide berth.

Chapter 6: Discovery

In the cryo-sleeper section of the huge Diaspora ship, a very large operation to awaken all the cryo-suspended humans had begun. As with the astronauts, all the volunteer colonists had been regressed due to the concern of the ground engineers over the decrepitude of the Elevator’s mechanical condition, then cryo-suspended until such a time as a colonization effort could conceivably begin.

Now, many hundreds of infants of both sexes were awake. Mother couldn’t have been more happy as she cuddled and cared for them all.

Nana commed Mother, “I have just completed the total remodel of my facility. Father told me of all the newly awakened children, and I have a wonderful playground full of marvels for them to play in.”

Mother replied, “I will inform Leon. He may want to do a walkthrough inspection. I am sure the children would love to visit your daycare. Those that have been there already for your preview seem to want to go back.”

Leon sat in the comfy command couch while he calculated orbital parameters for another large facility near the orbit of Pluto. He looked over the reports and logs of the expeditions that had gone to the several other ground based installations that Mother had located. In none of the new data they had managed to recover from the damaged memory storage facilities was there any mention of the final outcome of the alien civil war, nor the destination of the builders of the facilities when they had abandoned this system. Leon knew in his soul that, in one of these huge mountains of data, lay the answer to these questions. He also knew that until they knew where the Tolondoro were and whether they were still at war, they wouldn’t know whether a colonization effort would be safe.

“So why are you waking us up, then?” asked one of the cranky colonists, a farmer named Joshua, as Leon looked on.

“It’s an interesting time,” said Adam, checking the cryo systems before awakening another. “This won’t be a generation ship anymore. It’ll travel across light years of space in a matter of days or months. But we have to scout out potential colony sites first, and it may not be safe. So we’re going to take you to a housing facility on a base inside the asteroid Ceres.”

“What -- how did all this happen?” Joshua asked.

“As I said, it’s an interesting time,” said Adam with a smile.

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“Who’s going to be the test pilot?” asked Lindie. A number of the regressed astronauts were looking at the latest experimental spacecraft, a small ship the size of a fighter jet containing the most advanced version of the faster-than-light space-folding engine so far.

“Mememememememe!” said Jade enthusiastically. “Please please please!”

Smiling and giggling, Lindie replied, “I don’t make the decision -- why are you squeaking at me?”

“Because I’m excited!” Jade squeaked. “I soooo want to fly it! I want to be the first to see another star system with my own eyes! I want to be the first to know what it feels like to travel faster than light!”

“It could be risky,” Lindie said. “I mean, the math is sound, as far as we can tell, but even the Tolondoro had to invent a whole new branch of mathematics to handle the physics of how it worked.”

“The last dozen versions have had no problems!” said Jade. “The automated probes always come back now, and Paul’s been using the data they brought back with them to make each one better! Plus, they made the pilot’s seat tiny, so they clearly want one of us to test-fly it, and I’m the best pilot, so it’s gotta be me!”

“OK, OK, Jade,” said Ellen, walking over to the observation windows where Jade and Lindie were standing, “yes, you’re flying it.” She and Lindie had to cover their ears to protect them from the high-pitched shrieking noises Jade made at the announcement. When Jade calmed down, Ellen continued, “But you’re going to have to train on the controls before flying it for real. We’ve got a simulator worked up. Want to try it?”

“Are you kidding me? How soon can I start?”

“Right now, if you want,” said Ellen. “It’s this way.” Jade followed right behind, and Lindie looked on in curiosity.

Ellen led Jade down several long halls before they entered a room full of many far advanced technological magics. As Jade looked around the room at all the many strange devices, Ellen walked over to a panel in a large bubble looking object and opened it.

Ellen turned and said as she indicated a comfy looking gravity couch surrounded by a wonderland replica of the new FTL craft’s cockpit, “Come, sit, and strap yourself in. I think you will find this Simulator about as real as … actually being in the real deal.”

Jade let out a loud squeal of delight as she hurried over and climbed in. Before Ellen could get the hatch to the simulator closed, Jade had already strapped herself in, and had begun the prelaunch systems power on.

Ellen walked to the Simulator control center and sat. She turned her equipment on and watched as all the readings showed normal. Ellen could see Jade on one of her monitors. It was more than obvious she was having the time of her life. Ellen sat back in the control couch and shook her head slowly.

Lindie walked in after an hour had passed and asked, “How’s she doin in there?”

Ellen laughed, “I haven’t ever seen anyone fly as well as Jade. I have thrown every kind of thing I can think of including a few things that can’t happen, it was like Jade has ESP or something and knew what was coming before it happened.”

Lindie commented with a giggle in her voice, “Ya think the fact she’s probably the best pilot around … would be a good reason?

Ellen nodded her head as she typed in the codes for a serious core breach coupled with massive hydraulic failure, “Let’s see her get out of this …” Ellen stopped as Jade took the craft totally off auto adaptation controls and began doing everything manually.

Both girls watched as Jade masterfully played the simulated spacecraft like a fine musical instrument. Ellen felt a pride well up in her to think she had actually found perhaps one of the ACEs in the making their fledgling new colony needed.

“Woooo! That was GREAT!” squeaked Jade as she came out of the simulator once the training session was over. “I can’t WAIT to fly the real thing!”

Lindie and Ellen looked at each other. “Well, you outperformed the computer in every scenario,” said Ellen, “so I think you’ll do.”

“YES!” said Jade. “When’s the launch?”

“Tomorrow,” said Ellen. “I’m excited too, but Dr. Painter is adamant that you need to be well rested.”

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After a standard rest period, Jade was ready to go early at the launch area. “Now that I see the real thing, it’s almost all engine, isn’t it?” she said, looking through the diamond windows at the experimental FTL ship.

“I think I can design a smaller, lighter engine, but here I was focusing on reliability.” Jade spun around, and her eyes lit up when she saw Paul. She quickly hugged him. “Good to see you, Jade,” he said in the tiny baby voice that all the regressed astronauts had pretty much gotten used to. “I’m glad my baby’s in good hands.”

“Adam! Good to see you too!” said Jade, hugging him as well.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the universe,” Adam said. “This is a historic moment, and my friend’s about to go into those history books.”

“Jade, we’re ready,” said Ellen, whose voice wasn’t deep for an adult human, but compared to all the regressed astronauts she sounded like some kind of giant.

She left off hugging Lindie and toddled over to Ellen. The infant astronauts probably couldn’t walk under Earth-normal gravity, but here at the fabrication facility the gravity was low, though not zero.

“I guess it’s time to suit up,” Jade said. Ellen and Dr. Painter helped her into her suit. It was a green space suit of a new design.

“This suit can let us monitor all your vital signs from here in real time,” Dr. Painter said. “The effects of FTL on a human body are completely unknown, but readings from the many automated tests are encouraging -- not certain, though.”

“The frame dragger doesn’t quite work the same way when space is folded,” said Ellen. “So we have to use a special version of it, and you’re the first person who’ll experience it.”

“Possible bumpy ride,” said Jade as they fitted the helmet on. “Got it.”

“OK, comms check out, so you’re good to go,” Ellen said. “Telemetry good. Your course is just like we went over in the simulator. Any questions?”

“When do I get to fly it?” Jade pleaded.

Laughing, Ellen replied, “OK, then, clear for boarding, and Godspeed.”

Jade traversed the airlock and crossed the short catwalk to the ship’s open cockpit in the nose of the ship. The ship was the length of a medium-sized house, but while the nose was just big enough for one infant-sized pilot, the rest of the ship widened considerably as it went back, until it was almost as wide in all directions as it was long. It was mostly engine, as Jade had remarked earlier.

Once Jade had strapped herself in and the cockpit had sealed itself shut, the catwalk retracted, as did the docking braces. “Powering up systems,” came her voice over the comm system.

“Looking good,” said Ellen. “Launch when ready.”

“Initiating two-minute countdown,” came Jade’s voice.

“Re-running diagnostics,” Ellen said. The countdown timer appeared on the screens in the mission control area, where Paul, Adam, and Lindie waited, as did Dr. Painter, monitoring Jade’s vital signs on a console of his own.

“5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … ignition,” said Jade, and the ship’s thrusters drove it outward, slowly at first until it was clear of the fabrication facility, then faster. Everyone cheered and watched Jade’s trajectory on the screens.

In the ship, Jade felt little acceleration due to the frame dragger, which by now was known technology. “This thing can really move,” she said. “But I’m sorry, Paul, it handles like a hippo.”

“It’s true,” Paul said. “We’ll make a surfboard version later.”

“Short trip first, then,” she said, looking at the plotted course on her screen. “Let’s visit Sedna.” The distant dwarf planet was over 100 AUs from the Sun, over three times as far away as Neptune, and took over 11,000 years to orbit the Sun. But it had been discovered centuries ago, and its orbit was well known. Jade maneuvered to a position where no known objects stood between her and her destination.

“OK, then, let’s punch it!” With the course plotted, she activated the experimental space-folding drive. Simultaneously, the frame dragger switched over to the experimental FTL-compatible frame dragger to prevent sudden accelerations from harming her.

“Wooooo -- ooooooooo!” squeaked Jade, with a slight discontinuity in communications during the actual jump.

“Are you all right?” asked Dr. Painter. “I’m not terribly worried, as I’m only picking up a slightly elevated heart rate.”

“I’m fine. But that was amazing! There was a bit of a bump, but then everything just kind of streaked by. And there’s Sedna! It’s dark out here, but there it is, in all its deep-red glory. And it took less than a second to get here!”

“Take some pictures,” said Ellen. “We’ve got some of our mini probes orbiting it, but … it’s not the same as being there.”

“Roger that, Control,” said Jade. “Scanning for next hop.” The computer calculated and correlated. Finally it signaled that it was ready. “Here goes!” said Jade.

After another squeak of excitement, Jade found herself looking at a small red star. “How long did that take?” she asked. “I am now looking at Barnard’s Star.” This tiny red dwarf was only about a seventh the mass of the Sun but was one of the nearest stars to home.

The quantum-entangled communicators brought an answer back immediately, rather than in five years. “That took just over five minutes, as expected,” said Ellen’s voice. “For you, it was likely instantaneous. But you just broke your own record as the human who’s traveled farthest from Earth.”

Jade was beside herself with glee as she squirmed in her gravity couch. She was excited to be at the controls of the fastest ship ever built by humanity so far. As she ran down the post jump test checklist, her Quandar began to ping on something almost hidden around a huge Super-Earth type of planet orbiting Barnard's Star.

With great care, Jade repositioned her ship as she made a call back home, “Hey, guys? My scanners are picking up … something really strange in some sort of decaying orbit around a large planet orbiting the star.”

Ellen’s concerned voice replied, “That planet’s ‘Barnard’s Star b.’ Discovered by radial velocity techniques back in the 21st century. Take a good look at what it might be before approaching. We know one species of extraterrestrials existed. It stands to reason there could be others.”

Jade replied as she maneuvered closer, “Roger, Control. My scans are showing a rather large ship of some type. Although its outer hull has taken a beating from debris strikes. Looks like it’s been here for quite some time.”

Jade switched to manual control. It worked just like the simulator. She plotted a course that would take her much closer to the planet and its mysterious artificial satellite. The quandar picked up several small planetoids that she avoided as she approached. She saw from the readings that she was closer to the star than Mercury was from the Sun -- Barnard’s Star was tiny and dim, but still a star.

From this distance, her scanners picked up a much more detailed picture -- it wasn’t a natural satellite, no doubt about that. It had a framework of tubelike corridors connecting larger modules, all wrapped in a donut-shaped protective shell that was clearly coming apart. She sent this data homeward. “What do you think, Control?”

“I’m not seeing any energy readings at all,” said Ellen’s voice. “It’s looking like it’s a relic. And … you’re right, its orbit is decaying. But it’s obviously been there for a long time, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon -- Lindie just said she estimates it’s ‘only’ got about another 200 Earth years before it starts to rapidly decay due to increasing atmospheric drag. Oh, by the way, your readings are also showing us that planet’s got an atmosphere. Not much oxygen, though.”

“Going in closer, then,” Jade said, deftly entering an orbit around the planet that would take her on a close flyby of the satellite. “There -- I’ll get some up-close data soon, and without using any engine power while I’m near it. If there are automatic systems, I doubt they’ll pick me up as anything other than space debris.”

“Good thought, Jade,” said Ellen’s voice. “We’re continuing to run your data through analysis software. And you’re attracting even more of an audience. I think almost the entire science staff is here now. They’re all very excited about this find.”

“Great, maybe they’ll be able to tell me what I’m looking at,” Jade said. “It’s a big space donut that looks like the space moths have been nibbling on it. Coming closer soon.”

“The computers are loving that data stream you’re sending,” said Ellen. “Eating it right up. And they’re filling in some of the holes, too -- in the data, anyway. That thing’s definitely of Tolondoro construction. The technology is just too similar to what we’ve seen already. But no signs of either life or active energy sources. I don’t think you’re going to be shot at.”

“Should I attempt to dock and board?” Jade asked. “Maybe I can salvage some computer cores, or whatever they are.”

There was a pause. Jade figured Ellen and the others were probably talking it over. Finally, Ellen said, “See what you can do. But take it carefully. We can’t get any help out to you very quickly. That’s the only one of those ships we have … wait, OK, Father just told us there’s a robot ship already under way to assist if necessary. He doesn’t let us build anything without building a rescue ship just in case.”

“That’s Father for you,” said Jade. “OK, shifting into an intercept orbit, and wow, this nav computer is amazing.” Jade implemented its maneuvering solution and was shortly approaching the satellite.

As Jade approached the station, her scanners not only gave much clearer data, she could plainly see that some of the more serious damage to the station had been caused by some kind of explosions.

She now knew why there were no power readings. Her quandar, being a quantum radar and able to read matter, energy, and their interactions with their surroundings on a quantum level, showed that the main power core of the station was totally missing. “Preliminary quandar scans of where it used to be are showing that it was pretty obviously removed by force,” Jade told Control.

Jade saw a docking portal coming into short-range view ahead. It was exactly the same as the ones they had adopted from the original Mars station discoveries, although completely unpowered.

Jade smiled as she played with the manual maneuvering thrusters. The craft danced gracefully through several docking moves before nudging gently up to the docking ring. Her ship’s computer automatically enabled the seal circuit, and Jade’s ship locked on and sealed.

Jade monkeyed with several of the auxiliary controls and managed to supply power to the docking area from her ship. One of the things built into the docking ring … could supply or receive power through it.

She attempted to hack into ship’s system network. The only active systems were in the docking area, where her ship was currently supplying the power. Those systems showed that all other major networks were inaccessible from this point.

Jade brought out her hand scanner and began to take readings. She released several of Ellen’s favorite drone probes to begin scouting for some main access port or maybe even a control center. Since there was no atmosphere, the inner door opened with no problems.

Once Jade left the airlock, she stepped into … a technophile’s wildest dream of advanced technology, and the obvious horror of a battle zone. Many, many places where some type of weapon’s scorch marks had splattered against walls and other objects. There were also several long-dead, frozen Tolondoro lying in their seriously damaged spacesuits in whatever attitude they happened to be in when they had come to rest after being shot.

Jade made a call back to Control, “Hello, Ellen? There’s absolutely no power on this station. Am using docking ring power from the ship to energize the airlock. I do have one of those power cells with me, and am going to see if I can find something that resembles a computer or main control center.”

Ellen’s relieved voice returned, “Careful what you power up. We aren’t exactly sure what that station’s purpose was.”

Jade called back, “I can tell you this much … those Tolondoro fought a serious battle here. Bodies still here, so obviously this place was abandoned afterwards.”

Ellen replied, “From the data your probes are transmitting back, it appears if you continue in your current direction for another 45 feet, you will come to a hub junction. From what we can determine, you should turn right there. That should lead to the main control center and give you access to the computer core.”

Jade turned on her suit lamps. The passage lit up brightly and showed several more dead Tolondoro lying about. Whatever the weapon was that had shot them, it was truly devastating. She slowly walked down the passageway. It was obvious that, in its day, this place would have been magical. Much of the equipment was still intact, from cursory scans, just unpowered.

After walking down the long spoke to the central hub, Jade found the door closed and, of course, unpowered. She unslung the power pack she had brought from her ship and set it beside the door.

Jade removed the cover from a control panel with the tool in her suit’s tool belt and actually found a compatible socket to plug the power supply into -- this wasn’t Earth’s first rodeo connecting power to Tolondoro doors. Once she had attached the socket and turned the APU on, lights at the door and within the control panel lit up. Jade pushed the lit green button.

The door slid open. Jade stood with her mouth opened as she looked around one of the most extensive computer cores she had ever seen. Many stacks of many columns of crystalline memory cores filled most of the huge area.

All around were many control consoles she had no idea what their function might have been. “Wow,” she said. “I wish Paul were here. I can’t make head or tail of half this stuff.” She approached one console and realized there was some type of viewport just above it. Its window was blast-blackened, but still opaque enough to allow Jade to see that whatever had been housed on the other side had been forcibly removed from the station. The evidence of the huge blast still blackened and scarred what she could see through the spattered window.

“OK,” said Jade, “I can’t tell you what a lot of this technology does, but I can tell you one thing: this station was overpowered in battle, lost, and was boarded, and the enemy did not take prisoners.”

“Judging from orbital parameters,” came Lindie’s voice, “I estimate the station to have been inactive for on the order of a billion years -- which doesn’t disagree with the age of Tolondoro artifacts in our system. However … there’s the matter of Barnard’s Star’s velocity. A billion years ago, it was hundreds of thousands of light years away from where it is now. The Milky Way is only about 100,000 light years across -- but of course the star’s trajectory wasn’t necessarily a straight line. What this means, though, is that if the Tolondoro were in Earth’s solar system and Barnard’s … they were a huge, galaxy-spanning civilization. I mean, that star isn’t a prime target for colonization. Statistically, if they had a presence there, they basically had a presence everywhere.”

“Good place to put a base you don’t want someone to notice, though,” said Jade. “But unfortunately someone did.” She looked at the computer cores. “There is so much here that I’ll never bring it all back. We’d need a bigger ship. And a team.”

“We’re discussing that now,” said Ellen. “Paul has a design in mind for a ship that can get a team there and back with a large cargo. And I’ll bet Father’s simultaneously designing a chase ship for extra safety.”

“Yeah, OK, I’ll leave them alone, then,” said Jade. “This place is huge, and there’s only so much I can do. I’ll head back to the ship for the next leg of the test flight.”

“Roger that, Jade.”

Jade retraced her path back to the airlock, removing the power cell from the door after closing it again. She was careful not to dislodge any of the frozen alien corpses from their places; she just felt it was disrespectful to disturb their final resting places, and besides, maybe somebody else could do some kind of forensic analysis on their positions to determine what had happened here.

Closing the airlock and disconnecting from it, she carefully but quickly maneuvered back out into open space. “Clear of the station, Control,” she said. “Left it as I found it. Next mission can get a better look. For now … next destination.”

“Now I’m wondering whether you’re going to find more evidence of Tolondoro presence,” said Ellen. “But continue with the planned course. Once you arrive … proceed with caution.”

“Roger that, Control,” said Jade. “This was a reminder that they were quite capable of violence, and we still don’t know if any of them are still around. And I’m acutely aware that my ship has no weapons or defenses, just speed. Computing next leg of the course … and engaging space fold in three … two … one … mark.” In mere moments, or so it seemed to her, she was at her next destination.

“... And here we are,” said Jade. “How long’s it been for you guys?”

“About 40 minutes,” said Ellen.

“That’s so weird,” said Jade. “It was almost no time for me. Anyway, this is TRAPPIST-1. Scanning for any sign of life or artificial energy sources …”

“You should be well outside the orbit of the farthest known planet,” said Ellen.

“Actually I’m not finding … anything unusual,” said Jade. “I know we already have probes here, and it looks like a couple of the planets might be good targets for colonization?”

“That’s correct,” said Ellen. “Planets d and e both have the right temperature range, though both have lower gravity than Earth. And has liquid water, though it’s a bit cool. Long winters, but nice around the equator.”

“I can have a closer look,” said Jade. She plotted a course taking her closer to the fourth planet from the dim, red star.

“Be careful,” Ellen said, “but I’m not that worried … if anything is there to detect our probes, they haven’t done anything to them.”

“The quandar is still not finding anything suggesting any kind of technology, active or otherwise -- well, OK, it just detected one of our probes, but it recognized the configuration and told me it was one of ours.”

“Roger that,” Ellen said. “Yes, those are our own probes you’re sending back data about. And guess what, they’re sending back data about you.”

“Hi, probes,” said Jade with a giggle in her voice. “So … untouched by the Tolondoro, one or possibly two habitable planets, or maybe more if we can do some terraforming … this could be the place, huh?”

“We’re discussing it,” said Ellen. “But most importantly, that FTL engine is obviously getting you to where you’re going, and it’s not doing you any harm as far as we can tell.”

“Seems like it,” said Jade. “I guess I come home now. But I hereby volunteer to pilot the next mission!”

“Under consideration,” said Philips. “But it’ll have to go through channels, of course.”

“Naturally, naturally,” Jade said. “Plotting return course …”

Jade’s return to the city station was greeted with cheers and a party, with music from a cross-section of the last few centuries. She had to undergo a full physical examination, but in the end Dr. Painter said she was just as healthy as before, aside from not having experienced time in quite the same way as everyone else for a few moments, leaving her process of aging slightly slowed compared to everyone else.

“All those dead Tolondoro, frozen there,” said Jade to Ellen, “it was so creepy! But I just tried to ignore it -- I had to find the computer core.”

“I know exactly the feeling,” said Ellen. “Same thing, on Ceres. But yeah … we just have to keep going. Maybe we can figure out what happened. Something caused their civil war, somebody won -- unless they both ultimately lost -- and the descendants of the survivors may or may not be alive somewhere out there.”

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Father contemplated the data he had received from Jade over the last several hours. The station type was listed within one of the artifact data crystals found on Mars. It was a basic defense station. However, there were references to another class of this station, that would have been a major battle platform and research station. Father could find no further data on the other class of research station other than most of the research done there would have been of the utmost importance at the time.

Father knew that the data contained in the computer cores had to be recovered. Whatever had become of the Tolondoro and the outcome of this war of theirs should be archived within.

Father finally decided how he was going to construct the vessel to go and retrieve the computer cores from the newly found Barnard’s Star station. It contained a complete research facility, an extremely large storage, industrial, engineering section. Incorporated into the design were brand new approaches to maneuvering thrusters and a leap in advanced engines and power production.

As much as he disliked the idea, he also added some massive weapons and shielding just incase they happened to run into any trouble. None of the probes they had in any of the nearby star systems had collected any evidence of extant intelligent life, but he calculated the probability that the Tolondoro were completely extinct to be vanishingly small, no matter what initial assumptions he started with. Better safe than sorry.

The team to go to the station were being assembled and briefed at the same time the newly constructed research vessel came to operational readiness. It was sleek from its prow to its stern. Graceful sweeping struts held the new engine pods along with many different types of offensive and defensive weapons ports. Father had also incorporated many of the same weapons pods into different strategic locations all along the hull. This vessel would definitely be nasty in any kind of firefight Father’s massive memory core could devise. Father was determined to protect his children from harm to the very best of his ability. The one uncertainty he had was that if the Tolondoro still existed, it had been a billion years since they’d left these computer records. What was their technology like now?

Meanwhile, the infant astronauts aboard the Diaspora ship never stopped upgrading it. It was still the largest and most advanced ship Earth had, and it continued to be on the cutting edge with the help of its brilliant crew and Mommy herself. Adam had been carefully studying the alien computer data too, but he had been taking the technology in a completely different direction.

“OK, Mommy, try it now,” he said.

“This feels … strange,” said Mommy. “This isn’t familiar at all. But all right … suppose I take us over there.”

The stars visible through the bridge’s massive windows shimmered and blurred. “Where are we?” asked Leon.

“Looks like … we just traveled about three light years,” said Lindie, consulting the guidance computer.

Mommy’s voice said, “It felt like … like what I think taking a step must feel like. It’s like I just … know where to go.”

“We’ve grown you an organic computer,” said Paul, “to go along with those living space folding drives.”

“So what you’re telling me,” said Leon, “is that we’ve got electronic systems, but we’re riding on Mommy’s back, and she’s got redundant biotech systems that do the same things.”

“That’s the essence of it,” said Adam. “The Tolondoro data was all hard-light tech, very cool, and it’s taken a while, but I think our biotech is catching up to it.”

“It’s probably not a bad idea to have a backup in case something happens to one,” said Leon. “Can we have a look at the TRAPPIST-1 system?”

“Let’s see,” said Mommy. “Hmm -- I just seem to know where that is. Probably because of the data you preloaded into the organic computer that I’m interfacing with. From here it’s around 42 light years … that way.” The stars shimmered and blurred again, and now there was a bright red star visible. “It’s like I just know. This is really fantastic. You little ones are just so amazing, and I love you all so much!”

“We love you too, Mommy,” said Adam with a smile.

“Now, TRAPPIST-1d is warmer than Earth and has half a G of gravity,” said Leon, “while e is cooler but has almost 1 G. They both seem to have liquid water at some latitudes -- but the problem is that they’re all nearly tidally locked.”

“That’s one problem, but also, neither planet really has enough oxygen to support Earth life, nor is the soil right for Earth plants,” said Adam, “but there are ways. We have some bio-packages ready to go that have worked in simulations. They’re self-organizing microbes that can take care of these issues, and they have a limited life span, so we won’t be competing with our own terraforming organisms.”

“Well, we’re authorized,” said Leon. “Launch when ready.”

“Go, little microbes,” said Mommy, launching probes at first one planet, then the other. The tiny silver projectiles shot out into space and disappeared from unaided view, though Lindie was tracking them on her scanner.

“How long will they take to act?” asked Leon.

“Full effect will probably take a year,” said Adam. “But we could probably set up a domed colony in a month on each planet. As the process continues, it will become easier for the colonists to survive outside without a breathing system.”

“Well, the probes will monitor the situation,” said Leon, “and soon we can set down some landers with actual colonists. Nana’s been trying to keep them happy on Ceres, but they really signed on to set foot on alien worlds.”

“They’ll be happy when we tell them about this,” said Lindie. “Meanwhile, of course, Father’s worried about the Tolondoro coming back.”

“Of course he is,” said Mommy, “and so am I, but at least there aren’t any signs of them around here.”

Adam replied, “There’s no sign that they ever even discovered this system. None of their technology shows up on any of Mommy’s senses.”

“Nor on the quandar,” said Leon. “But we should still be careful.”

“Yes, we should, and we are,” said Lindie. “There are already probes all over this system.”

“We’ll send some defense drones, too,” said Leon. “But for now … let’s check back in at home.”

“Just a few steps away,” said Mommy, and the stars began to shimmer again.

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Back at the L2 construction platform, the crew began boarding the new research and exploration vessel. Many of the new crew were toddlers, and they were finding the entire arrangement set perfect for them down to and including the onboard computer system which had been programmed with a full set of the Nana protocols. This meant that whether the crew were infant, or adult, Nana was there to help and care for her children.

The engineers and scientists were awed at the super advanced equipment and materials available to them throughout the ship. The power supply and engines were a totally new item that those who had assigned themselves to that duty began to study in depth. They had just managed to wrap their minds around FTL flight. This ship had taken that magical concept and moved it into the realm of miracles. This was rapidly being resolved as the schematics and mathematical data was gone over again and again with a fine toothed comb. Each time the data was reexamined, something brand new would come to light that would take them off in another direction of advancement.

The bridge crew had finally managed to get over their amazed awe and began to settle into their assigned positions. Jade, of course, sat in the command pilot’s seat. She squirmed and wiggled in anticipation as she awaited orders to engage the engines and begin their trip to Barnard's Star.

Mommy had arrived back from her jaunt out to the TRAPPIST-1 system, and Adam was absolutely bursting to go on the Exploration ship. Leon had begun to set up the storage facility for the many crystalline computer cores. Each storage rack had been designed so each panel could be energised and possibly accessed if its data hadn’t been corrupted over the many centuries.

David sat at his new console. He was dressed adorably in a ruffly Snuggle Bug romper and a thick diaper. He wasn’t real sure why Mommy had decided to dress him as a girl, but if you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t be able to tell he wasn’t a girl.

The new assignment as Gunnery Officer gave him not only new things to learn and new equipment to operate, it also made him in charge of ship’s defenses, weapons, and tactical. He was by no means alone; he had a huge tactical department beneath him. David began to flip switches and power up the massive armaments on the ship. He began taking his crews through all the power-on system checks.

From the loadout screen David could plainly see that the ship had been armed with weapons Earth had no real names for, nor for the energies they used. Earth’s nations had thought their nuclear arsenals were powerful ... he now understood how wrong they had been. He still hadn’t gotten a good grasp of what an anti-spin lepton field was, much less an Xz twin-particle bonded octant.

That particular theory was important to a new weapon that intrigued David mightily -- an antiproton plasma machine cannon. He actually itched to see the Xz twin-particle bonded octant in action.

Whatever an anti-spin lepton field was, it sure made something as close to impenetrable as any of them had seen or dreamed of. It did make the best forcefield, heatshield, and deflector shield, even if David didn’t understand how it all worked.

From what the readouts told him, the plasma cannon acted much like an extremely large caliber machine gun … it fired exploding balls of super heavy and extremely energized plasma at FTL speeds of a sort Earth had never imagined. The yield numbers were so large they meant nothing to David. He needed to see what it was actually capable of to put some kind of reasonable meaning to the yield potentials.

Of course, while David and his team had been going through this process, the rest of the crew had been familiarizing themselves with their own equipment, and soon all were ready to get under way. Leon finally gave the order. “Engage,” he said in his tiny voice. At the helm console, Jade burst out in giggles. “What?” Leon asked.

“Nothing,” said Jade, trying to keep a straight face. “Some old 2-D entertainment I used to watch. Engaging thrusters.” The ship moved gracefully away from the L2 station and accelerated toward the precalculated FTL insertion point.

“Soon this will probably be old hat,” said Jade, “but FTL in five … four … three … two … one … m--” The stars blurred into streamers and were suddenly in different positions. The red light of Barnard’s Star appeared in the forward screens.

“Let’s do a quick scan just in case,” Leon said. “Anything changed since Jade was last here? Yes, I know we’ve had probes orbiting all over this system the whole time.”

“Picking up nothing unusual,” said Kevin, who had finally made it to space after being left behind when the Space Elevator cable had snapped. “I’ll keep monitoring, though.”

“OK, take us to the station,” said Leon. “Away team, prepare to board.” Jade flew the ship perfectly into docking position, locking on and energizing the otherwise dead docking port as before. “Away team, board when ready.”

“Gotcha, chief,” came David’s voice over the comm channel. “Computers are interfacing with the station’s systems to supply power to the utility circuits along our route. I argue that we shouldn’t power the entire station, as it’s both unnecessary and risky. We might not be the only ones with probes in this system, and too much energy expenditure might be detected. Of course, I might just be overcautious.”

“No such thing, in my experience,” said Leon. “Keep us in the loop.”

David and Jessica were taking point and bringing up the rear, respectively, armed with slim new meson agitator sidearms. Paul, Amanda, and the engineering team carried the containers for the delicate computer cores they planned to recover. Everything moved like clockwork, until they reached the final door to the main data center. Suddenly, when they tried to open the door, the lights changed a strange magenta color and an odd ringing sound came from unseen speakers.

“Really? An alarm?” asked Jessica. “Jade didn’t set off any alarm!”

“I knew we were energizing too much of the infrastructure,” David said. “Can you shut it down, Paul?”

“On it,” Paul said, kneeling to reach a panel near the floor, which he opened, looking at a data tablet with one hand. “Cutting power to what I believe to be the security system … oh. Umm, looks like we’ve managed to power the security robots. Powering the system off to stop more from coming, but a wave of them is already on the way. Get ready for company.”

David and Jessica stepped ahead of the engineers, who were frantically trying to open the door to the data center, with their silver and white sidearms at the ready. “What kind of security bots are they?” asked David. “I’m not hearing footsteps …”

“Unable to predict,” said Paul. “I can’t interface with them. The system won’t let me, since they’re already active.

“Activating shielding,” David said, clicking a small metal ball and rolling it down the corridor. It lit up with a white glow and a blue light on the device flashed slowly. “That’ll keep --”

A voice, or what they presumed was a voice, spoke loudly in an unknown language, and around two nearby corners something came into view. They were … tiny black hovering cylinders, looking like floating hockey pucks. There seemed to be about a dozen of them.

“Oh. Those don’t look too --” began Jessica, but then they simultaneously started firing toward them. Searing projectiles of blue-white energy impacted the invisible shield and detonated with deafening reports. She fired at the nearest one, which dropped to the floor because their shield device had been designed to allow friendly fire through, but there were still many security drones, and they were still firing.

“Shoot them down! Obviously!” shouted David, firing beams of blue light from his own hand weapon at the drones. The actual damaging energy of the meson agitators was invisible to the eye; the blue beams were only for targeting purposes. He and Jessica started to take the drones’ numbers down, but they knew the shield could absorb only so much damage before it would fail.

“What?” Jessica shouted back, unable to hear David over all the noise. She was also trying to aim and fire as quickly as possible. Behind them, the engineers were starting to get the door to budge, which was difficult since the systems were now powered down.

“At least the security system isn’t locking them shut anymore,” Paul said. “And at least there’s still lighting, which seems to be a separate system.” He, Amanda, and the other engineers continued to ratchet the doors open mechanically.

“Do we know how much power the shield orb has left?” asked David loudly as the drones’ shots continued to crash against the shield.

“What?” Jessica shouted back. “By the way, the shield generator’s blinking red, which means it’s down to about 5% power!”

A shot sizzled through the air past David, who was dodging evasively, and hit the floor, scorching a fist-sized hole in the alien superalloy. The short dress Mommy had put him in actually restricted his movements very little. But the shot had come from the last of the drones, and Jessica quickly took it down.

“-- the hell is going on down there?” came Leon’s voice on the comm system. “Do you need assistance? Do you read?” The entire exchange had taken only about 30 seconds.

Heart pounding, Jessica replied, “We’re fine now! We just survived an attack by security drones! Good news: the portable lepton spin shield gadget works. So do the meson agitator pistols. Bad news: the shield gadget is out of power. Other good news: that does seem to be the last of the security drones, and they’ve got the doors open.”

“OK, we’ve got every door we need to get open open,” said Paul as the engineers carried the containers into the data center, “so let’s get those computer cores, and let’s not power up anything we don’t need to power up.”

“Roger that,” said Amanda, and all the engineers got to work systematically removing the data cores from the rows of crystalline computer stacks and loading them into the containers in an order they’d preplanned. The process took only about twenty five minutes, just as they’d practiced. “OK, that’s the last of them,” she said as she closed her container and locked it shut. The others were doing the same.

“All right, let’s go,” Paul said, hefting his container onto his back and looking to David and Jessica, who went forward to the next intersection and guarded the cross-passages while the engineers came through. Jessica recovered the spent shield orb as the away team returned to the airlock, and Paul de-energized the ship’s systems behind them as they left.

“We’re aboard,” said David once they were all back on the ship. “Mission complete.” The engineers were already in the process of copying data from the data cores to their own hybrid-technology storage system.

“Excellent work,” said Leon’s voice.

“Closing airlock,” said Jade. “Releasing docking clamps and de-energizing docking port. Those two things kind of happen at the same time. Anyway, we’re free of the station.”

“Leon, I’m getting a transmission from home,” said Kevin. They soon heard Ellen’s voice on the speakers.

“Leon, I’m glad to hear that the data cores are secure,” she said, “but I wanted you to know as soon as we found out … some of our probes in another system have picked up something. There’s activity of some kind. Signs of intelligent life. We know very little at this time. But you don’t need to worry; this system is over 600 light years away. Our probe construction and deployment program is still expanding, but this is the first sign we’ve seen …”

“Tolondoro?” asked Leon. “Or … something else?”

“I’m sorry, but we just don’t know yet,” Ellen replied. “Something with space travel, though. Probes detected an object of sub-planetoid size accelerating at sublight speeds under its own power. Nothing our ships can’t do -- now -- but a feat of maneuverability that we would’ve thought completely inconceivable a year ago.”

“So they’ve got comparable spaceflight technology, whoever they are,” said Leon. “We’re coming home now. We have the data. Let’s see what we can do with it.”

“Roger, Leon,” Ellen replied. “See you soon.”

Leon gave the order to return home, and shortly the ship was docking at the L2 city. Paul, Amanda, and the other engineers were already busily transmitting their precious data to the city’s supercomputer and carrying the data cores themselves to the lab for further analysis.

What the Barnard’s Star station’s data would reveal was anyone’s guess at this point, but nobody doubted that it would be game-changing. Meanwhile, who were the space faring aliens the probes had detected? Would the probes see them again? Throughout the organization the tension was palpable. What would be discovered in the next 24 hours?

Chapter 7: Encounters

Father, Mommy, Nana, and most of the Archeo-Engineering team began a systematic examination of all the crystal memory cores they had recovered. This was the largest intact cache of Data Cores they had ever found. From the first core, the data was indicating the Tolondoro had discovered a unique way to grow biologicals and rearrange certain aspects by manipulating the growth factors with something they called Chronos-Biology … or that was the closest approximation mommy and father could make when they translated it.

Paul said to Amanda, “From what I can tell so far, the Tolondoro had started researching a way to manipulate their genomes.”

Amanda replied,” The further we get into the many quadrillion cubits of the first data core, the picture slowly began to take shape that this was causing major friction within the Tolondoro purity factions.”

Ellen snorts a laugh, “Sounds kinda familiar somehow … doesn't it?” all nodded.

Father spoke up, “Apparently they had made some kind of major modification to the basic genome that created another type of Tolondoro that exhibited superior intellect and physical strength.”

Mother added, “Apparently this started a Eugenics war among the Tolondoro. The station we retrieved the main computer core from was, infact, one of their major research facilities. From what I have deciphered so far, that station holds many surprises.”

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Philip and Ellen were watching the feed from the probe at Kepler 22, the one that had seen evidence of extraterrestrial technology in use. This lone probe had managed to attach itself within a cave that passed all the way through a large planetoid. From this well hidden vantage, it was returning some remarkable vids to Earth.

“What is that?” Ellen said in amazement. A sparkle of bright white light appeared from seemingly nowhere. As it hovered, the starlike object appeared to change form. “Is that a ship?”

“If it is,” said Philip, “it’s far and above advanced beyond our current tech. None of the Tolondoro data has even hinted at anything like this.”

“Is it even Tolondoro, I wonder?” asked Ellen.

“Good question,” Philip said. “Wish I knew the answer. The Tolondoro factions clearly fought a war, and we still don’t know what happened to them after that. It’s been a billion years. And … well, if we discovered old Tolondoro tech, so could somebody else, so at this point, who knows?”

“Whole interstellar empires could have risen and fallen several times since then,” said Ellen. “Have we seen more than this one ship? And what’s it doing?”

“We haven’t seen more than one object at a given time,” Philip said. “So we don’t know whether we’re only seeing one ship, or more than one. As for what it’s doing, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe it’s a probe, gathering data like ours. It’s a little hard to get a good idea of its size, what with it changing shape like that. Our probe’s quandar is staying on passive mode so as not to call attention to itself, but that means it can’t get the best detail.”

Walking up behind them, Dr. Erickson said, “This is a concern. Kepler 22 is only 620 light years away. That’s only 10 hours and 20 minutes for us, at the moment, and they might be faster. It’s only a matter of time before they discover Earth, whoever they are, and that’s assuming they haven’t already.” His tone softened a bit. “On the other hand, if they have already discovered us, they obviously haven’t attacked, so they aren’t necessarily hostile.”

“What do you think, Michael?” asked Ellen. “Either they don’t know about us, or they know about us and don’t consider us a threat.”

“If they’ve been gathering data on Earth,” said Dr. Erickson, rubbing his chin pensively, “they might think it’s a non-technological planet with little interest in space travel. We might want to encourage that belief for as long as possible.”

“The God’s Truthers sure want it to be that way,” said Ellen, “though it appears they’re mostly on the way out, politically.”

“I’m allocating more personnel toward defense research,” Dr. Erickson said, “but part of that has to be concealing our presence and directing attention away from us and toward Earth and its apparent xenophobia and lack of space travel. The more isolationist they think Earth is, the less likely they are to pay attention to it. We have some technological catching up to do.”

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The Diaspora ship was gearing up for what had already been its primary mission: colonization. There was a lot of organizational work to be done, but it was already stocked with seeds and embryonic animals in cryostorage, not to mention the massively advanced genetic manipulation techniques they now had. There was plenty of room on board for hundreds of regressed human colonists, if not thousands. But Mommy was working hard on her plans to ensure her children made it to their new homes on TRAPPIST-1d and e. Automated factories had already constructed domed habitats on each planet where they would live while the terraforming process continued.

And meanwhile, she had made some discoveries that she planned to use to keep them safe. “You think that will really work?” asked Adam.

“I do,” said Mommy. “I’ve engineered the cells and am about to run the first test. We just need some monitoring.”

“I can have the city scan us,” said Adam.

“Have them scan us with everything they’ve got,” said Mommy. “My stealth mode has to be the best I can make it.”

“All right then, give it a shot,” Adam said -- and the Diaspora ship disappeared. It still blocked the stars behind it -- but as large as it was in comparison to anything previously built by humans, it was still minuscule compared with the vastness of space. And it was now completely black. It emitted and reflected absolutely no light, or any other radiation, for that matter.

“With one exception,” said Adam. “Infrared. It’s the old black-body radiation problem. Anything with a temperature above absolute zero emits infrared. If we don’t, we burn up.”

“There is still a way,” said Mommy. “Let me reconfigure some cells …”

“Wait, how can you just turn off the infrared?” asked Adam, looking with surprise at the readings. “That … violates thermodynamics.”

“I can’t just turn it off,” said Mommy, “but I’ve configured it into a tight-beamed infrared laser. We’re still emitting infrared, just all in one direction. No one can see it unless it’s pointed directly at them. And I won’t point it at anything that I can detect.”

“Hmm, you could also use that as misdirection,” said Adam. “And I’m getting a signal from Nana. The colonists are done planning. They’re ready to come aboard.”

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The probe at Kepler-22 continued to observe the sparkling, shape-shifting craft, which looked more like it was made of energy than matter. It would vanish in a bright flash of light, only to return a few minutes later and begin what looked like a scan of another planetoid.

Following its routine protocols, the probe also began probing that planetoid as well. It began seeing indications of some form of crystalline material in great abundance within the chunk of otherwise mundane irons and silicates. The probe was unable to match the crystal with anything in its database, which meant that it was something mankind had never encountered before … and this strange ship was extremely interested in it.

Something streaked by the probe’s observational window at relativistic speed and impacted on the sparkling ship. A massive flash of bright white light spread out and filled the void of space for an instant. By sheer accident, the damaged craft spun off and somehow managed to come to rest within the opening of the cave the probe lay hidden within.

After several scans, the probe discovered that the ship’s hull and many other structural components were made of some alloy similar to the crystal. The craft’s pilots were obviously gone, since a great gaping hole was where the operators’ area would have been.

This wasn’t exactly within the probe’s programming, but in a very loose interpretation of its instructions to gather data and transmit it home, the probe extended several of its articulated arms and began attaching itself to the damaged ship. Slowly, to reduce the chance of detection, the probe retreated from its cave to the far side of the asteroid field it had been hiding in, then vanished in a swirl of FTL energies. The damaged ship it brought with it was something advanced beyond the wildest dreams of humanity.

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“It brought back … what?” asked Dr. Noryuu, watching the activity in the lab through the windows.

“That’s an excellent question,” said Ellen, standing next to him. “Video footage and collected data indicate that this was probably some sort of ship, though it’s unclear whether it was piloted or automated before it was damaged. It’s also unclear what damaged it -- and that’s troubling.”

Paul, Amanda, and other engineers were literally crawling all over the strange structure’s sparkling outer shell, wearing infant-sized hazmat suits and carrying various scanners and tools.

Paul said, “Spectrographic readings confirmed -- it matches no known material.”

“Getting the crystallography report now,” said Amanda. “This is unprecedented. It’s a form of matter we haven’t even hypothesized existed before.” The material seemed to shimmer whenever they spoke, so she tried humming a single tone, and the nearby hull formed itself into an extruded crystal shape, which receded when she stopped. “Infinitely reconfigurable via sonic vibrations … this ship’s appearance is basically a solid representation of sound.”

“And yet it was damaged relatively easily,” said Paul.

“Perhaps it let its guard down?” Amanda suggested. “Or, of course, perhaps it was attacked by an equally advanced enemy.”

“Any similarities between this and any known Tolondoro tech?” asked Ellen via the microphone.

“Remnants of the control equipment inside the vessel are perhaps reminiscent of Tolondoro systems,” said Paul. “Here are some photos. But it’s not conclusive.”

“The drive system is unlike anything I’ve seen,” said Amanda. “It’s almost as if it’s not built for something that takes up space in this universe.”

“Doesn’t seem built for stealth, though,” said Dr. Noryuu.

As the engineers began to delve into this craft, they discovered that the engines were totally reactionless. None were exactly sure how it produced anything that might be thought of as thrust.

Several of the components looked very much like the amazing items hydro-genetics had managed to come up with. It was apparent that most of the internal components of the exciter section of the device were grown as some sort of symbiotic before it was converted to its present form.

Mommy drew detailed schematics of how a similar process might be utilized to produce components that would work in the same manner as the damaged craft’s engine components.

There were some major gaps in how the craft was controlled due the the massive damage to that particular compartment. Ellen was positive it was a matter of … wait, Ellen had an idea. Mommy had said she takes all the infrared and uses it as a finely focused infrared laser.

Ellen stood and screamed with joy as she realized how the control function worked. Since this ship responded to sound the way it did, and light can be tuned to most any frequency …

Ellen shouted, “MOTHER!!! I know what we can do with the infrared laser and not have to worry about it being seen.”

The kindly face Mother had adopted came on the large view ports behind Ellen. Mommy said in her kindly voice, “Be at peace child. Show mommy what you have discovered.”

Ellen sat back in her chair and opened several files. She showed mommy how redirecting the laser through certain types of materials at certain frequencies caused the materials to react in very predictable and extremely useful ways.

Mommy said with a tinge of pride in her voice, “Very good, Ellen, and if we make the reaction fairing reflective by using that crystal alloy, the resultant means we would have a form of FTL travel … without moving.”

Ellen replied in an airy voice, “Yea … and would be like instant. No time lag. It would be moving outside the 4th dimension.”

Mommy extended a tentacle and patted Ellen’s back softly, “I will immediately begin research and development on this.” Mommy’s face vanished from the screen.

Whoever had sent the crystalline probe or ship could clearly have made it stealthy, but had not been concerned about that. Mommy set out to combine her recent stealth discoveries with this new drive concept, and she found the results very encouraging.

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“Then there’s the matter of what damaged the mystery craft at Kepler-22,” said Dr. Erickson to several others. Some of them were in a conference room within the L2 city, while others were teleconferencing from other places.

“I think we should all be concerned about that,” said Jeremiah Peters, who was physically in his office building on Earth. “At first we thought that the craft itself may have been a threat -- and who knows, maybe its creators still are, somewhere. But clearly something targeted it.”

“From what little data we were able to collect about what hit it,” said Andrew Harmon, “there’s a very small chance that it was some kind of natural phenomenon or accident. The most likely conclusion is that it was a targeted attack and the probe didn’t detect where it came from.”

“That could indicate that whoever the craft belonged to has an enemy with some sort of stealth technology,” said Dr. Erickson. “Or just that the probe’s environs seriously interfered with its detector profile. It was in a cave. Its range of vision was extremely limited. Of course that may have protected the probe from detection by the attacker.”

“Clearly there’s only one thing to do,” said Peters. “Apply the stealth tech we have so far to probes, and send them to Kepler-22 and nearby systems. We need to find out what attacked that ship.”

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Mommy and Ellen went over a particularly interesting file within the huge newly discovered computer core. By sheer accident, Mommy had managed to discover a hidden file. After decryption, it turned out to be a huge data file that gave explicit detail on the eugenics war up to the point the station around Barnard's Star was attacked and disabled.

“According to the data record,” explained Ellen to others who were listening to the conference, “some of the Tolondoro had found a way to genetically improve their species far beyond what the researchers had originally envisioned.”

“A genetic singularity,” said Adam.

“Exactly,” Ellen said. “Some of us humans used to fear a technological singularity created by artificial intelligence. But there’s always been a parallel theory: that it could happen via bio-genetically enhanced human intelligence. That’s what happened to the Tolondoro.”

“It seems the rest of the species didn’t take it too well,” said Mommy. “They attacked and tried to wipe out the ‘mutants,’ as they called them. And over time, the entire race split into two factions that became even more extreme over time: the ones who believed in continuing to genetically alter themselves and the ones who considered the others to be impure. Of course civil war broke out. By the end of the war, the altered ones looked down upon their opponents as primitives, not much better than animals, while the unaltered ones considered the other faction to be alien abominations, not even really Tolondoro anymore.”

Ellen continued, “It seems that eventually the genetically-enhanced Tolondoro had discovered a way to create a form of teleportation. It didn’t have much range, perhaps 300 yards, but then, totally by accident, they discovered what they called the Time Crystal Alloy and extended its range immensely, revolutionizing the way they traveled through space. With this technological advantage, they scored victory after victory against the original Tolondoro. The Barnard’s Star station was populated by the purist, non-enhanced faction, and as far as they knew they were the last survivors. Their homeworld had already been wiped clean and sterilized of all life forms.”

Mommy then continued, “However, this next file tells how the unenhanced Tolondoro encountered some new life form. It isn’t too explicit on what they were, only that they had a weapon that was invisible to Tolondoro scanners until it impacted. Apparently it traveled on a strong gravity wave. And apparently they mostly attacked the enhanced faction, seeing the unenhanced one as not much of a threat, or at least that was the belief. But it wasn’t enough to stop the enhanced ones from either partially or completely wiping out the unenhanced ones.”

Ellen read over more of the file. “This video ends abruptly in mid-sentence. The individual making the report is sitting at a desk when suddenly the wall behind them erupts in fire, then the record ends.”

Mommy replied, “Worse than that, that’s where all the stored data ends, at that moment when the wall catches fire. There are no timestamps later than that.”

Leon sucked in a breath. “So either the enhanced Tolondoro found them or this new enemy. Either way, they didn’t destroy the station -- they just killed everyone on board.”

“Right, which suggests that it was probably the enhanced Tolondoro,” said Ellen. “By that time it was almost a holy war for both sides -- everyone on the other side had to die, and that was the only thing that mattered.”

“So horrible!” said Lindie. “That must have been so hard to watch!”

“It … wasn’t easy,” said Ellen.

“It was in fact quite disturbing,” said Mommy. “I kept having the feeling that I had somehow seen it before.”

“Yet this was all something like a billion years ago,” said Jade. “If the enhanced ones kept enhancing themselves, what would they be like by now, assuming they weren’t killed by the new enemy? And did any of the original ones survive, or were they wiped out? And where’s that new enemy now?”


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Father had taken notice that Nana’s facility had become a well loved infant resort for most of the regressed colonists. He began to design a means for Nana to travel with them and relocate so as not to be left behind. The new facility and computer core that would house Nana was the most advanced creation Father and Mother could devise for Nana.

Now, the only problem was transferring Nana’s memory and personality core to the data center within the huge vessel without damaging Nana. Father was more than interested in any of the data concerning the matter transportation contained in the Barnard's Star materials. Father smiled a cyber smile of sorts, because he now had a means to accomplish it without endangering Nana. Father then started testing and making new calculations for an improvement in the transporter’s ability. He was positive he could extend the range using one of the several new particles.

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“Now 99.9% certain,” said Amanda into her recorder, “from damage analysis, the control panels in the recovered ship’s cockpit were not destroyed. It never had control panels as we know them. Its control systems are quite alien and don’t seem to contain any way to manipulate them by any means we are aware. This, of course, implies that the pilots must have used means of which we are not aware. Long energy conduits near the surface may suggest that the pilots were able to manipulate the energy flowing through these circuits without direct physical contact.”

“That’s great, but we can’t do that,” said Paul, “so we’ll have to design control circuitry that we can manipulate.”

“Oh, I already did that,” said Amanda, shutting off the recorder.

“You what now?” asked Paul.

“Yes, take a look at this test video I made when I fired up the engines,” said Amanda, putting the video on screen.

“What --?” Paul stared astounded at the video. In it, Amanda used a motion-capture type system to generate sounds controlled by her body movements, which then produced reactions in the engine. They didn’t send the ship anywhere, but they did create readings that registered in the sensors and were recorded by the computer.

“Yeah, I used code from an old video game to make music by dancing, and figure that with enough practice we can fly the thing that way.” Amanda shrugged. “It was pretty easy. I mean, I guess we could play music with a keyboard or other instruments, but I never learned how to do that.”

“You … you got the engine to respond!” Paul whispered. “I’m … so proud of you!”

“Let’s not get all sentimental now,” said Amanda. “We’ve got a ship to figure out.”

In an engineering hangar within Mommy, many of the best scientific minds there were going over the recovered ship with a fine toothed comb. Each sparkling facet of the jewel-like hull of the ship was discovered to respond to certain of their tools that emitted sound. Each frequency produced a different effect. It seemed as if Amanda’s method was the most successful so far at creating a control system -- if they could only master it. Piloting and controlling this ship seemed to be more art than science.

Of course several of them couldn’t help attempting to copy the design. Many extremely creative and artistically designed probe models were built as they attempted to copy the crystalline molecular structure. One of the hydro-genetic construction units ran out of a particular protein. Before it could produce more, the entire batch it had been making at the time of the shortage went through reversion.

To the amazement of all, it produced an alloy superior to the Time Crystal Alloy. This particular alloy absorbed all of the energy hitting it and redirected it along whatsoever path the engineers chose. This meant the craft was self-propelling and required no fuels or energy sources except for the massively harsh radiations of space. As a side note, it also meant that any energy weapons used against the craft would be useless as the alloy would redirect the path of the energy to any location the operator chose.

The chime began to go off urgently in Ellen’s ear communicator. “Ellen,” she answered, “You say you did … what? You have to be jok … OK, we’ll be down as soon as I can get there.”

When Ellen got to the lab, she found Amanda wearing a silvery gray suit of some kind and holding a golden crystalline object in her tiny hand. Amanda smiled at Ellen and began to dance -- mostly consisting of waving her arms and legs in the low-gravity environment. The object hovered in the air, emitting sounds and changing shape. It flew around Amanda in a circle as she danced.

“What’s --” began Ellen, but Paul held up a finger to his lips, then held the finger in the air. Ellen kept watching Amanda.

Suddenly, Amanda made a series of expansive, rolling gestures with her hands and arms, and the object changed form into an angular, arrowhead-like shape -- and vanished, leaving a streak in everyone’s persistence of vision. Amanda continued to dance, though, and when she changed to another sort of movement, an inward-turning gathering of her arms, the object reappeared in the lab, changed back into a multifaceted orb, and hovered near Amanda again, finally landing in her outstretched hand.

As the others applauded, Ellen did likewise, but finally asked, “What … did I just see?”

“Do we have the probe signals?” asked Paul. “Put them on screen.”

“This is from our probes in the Wolf 359 system,” said one of the other engineers. The footage showed another red dwarf star; Ellen knew it was about 8 light years from Earth. The system was pretty sparse, with only a few small planetoids that had been discovered so far, none of them resolvable from Earth. Not much was happening on the screen. Then, suddenly, the golden, crystalline object appeared, right in front of the probe, described a circular pattern with its movements, then vanished again.

“Wait -- was that just now?” Ellen asked.

“Yes,” Amanda said. “Test successful.”

“But it traveled eight light years in --”

“A fraction of a second, yes,” said Amanda. “The Tolondoro developed teleportation. We’ve combined the alloy we just found with the technology from the ship. And we’ve found something remarkable. Distance becomes almost meaningless, and the energy expenditure is extremely cheap.”

“But -- what this means,” Ellen said, “is that either we’re the first ever to develop this, or Earth’s gotten really lucky, and no hostile forces with this technology have ever decided to attack. Because if they had, we wouldn’t be here today.”

“Or if they did, it was so long ago that it didn’t make a difference,” Paul said. “Before the human species, maybe even before the dinosaurs.”

“How … how long before we can make a ship like this?” Ellen asked, staring at the crystalline object.

“With these fabrication facilities,” said Paul, “a few days -- but I’m afraid Jade might have to take dance lessons.”

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The Diaspora ship had released the terraforming droids on the TRAPPIST-1 planets some months earlier. Prior to the start of atmospheric manipulation, the probes had scanned the planets’ surfaces to insure that no other detectable life forms existed. Once the process had begun, it was irreversible with their current technology.

Once the probes’ AI had convinced Mommy and Father that there were no biotics on the planet, the probes had taken up positions around the equator and at each pole. Small ports opened in the hull of each probe, and they began to seed the atmosphere with difuccia algae and several other extremophile organisms GMed to aid in creating an atmosphere breathable by Humans and any other fauna or even flora that was to be introduced later. It also laid the groundwork for initializing the necessary biosphere to sustain the other GMed Fauna and Flora they chose. Within hours of the first of many deployments, the algae had begun to grow.

The polar probes’ scanners detected the surge in growth where no life had been detected before. It wouldn’t be long before large amounts of oxygen would be detected and the resulting global storms would start . Once the rains began, it would be time to launch the GM genomes for other types of biotics.

Very shortly after the very first noticeable green patch had appeared, several constructor bots appeared in orbit, then settled to each planet’s surface to begin construction of the new colonies’ bases of operations. Many domed structures appeared; some were made entirely from a clear synthetic crystal while others were the usual gray/white of regolith slag-crete.

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“Of course we should,” said Ellen to Father. “Those colonies are the human race’s best hope …” Then Philips walked in.

“You’re going to want to see this,” he said. “You too, Father, though you can just stream it, of course.”

“Go ahead,” said Ellen.

Philips gestured at a wall terminal. The screen lit up and displayed a video, evidently from one of the probes. “This is live from one of our probes in the Kepler-22 system,” he said.

“What’s that luminous object?” asked Ellen.

“It’s one of our decoy probes,” Philips said. “Designed to make lots of light and other electromagnetic noise; nothing too high-tech. It’s there to create a distraction and see if anything happens -- while the real probes quietly look everywhere in case something does.”

“I take it they found something?”

“Yes, they did.” Philips gestured and showed views from eight probes simultaneously. “I presume it’s going to happen again. Yes, there it is!” From somewhere in deep space came a projectile, striking and destroying the noisy decoy probe at relativistic but sublight speed. “Just like before. But this time ...”

All the probes’ videos rolled back to the point where they had first detected the projectile. One of them had been taking data in just the right direction. The image from that probe now filled the screen. In the darkness at the edge of the Kepler-22 system not much could be seen with visible light, but the probes were full-spectrum, and besides that they used passive quandar and other data sources as well. “Using all available data, this is what we’re seeing,” said Philips.

“This is unexpected,” said Father.

“I understand now,” said Ellen. “It would have to be that large and diffuse in order to avoid detection up to now.” The screen showed a nebulous, amorphous mass larger than the largest known star, held together by very subtle energy impulses. “Evidently it is either intelligent or controlled?”

“One or the other,” said Philips. “It clearly is not of Tolondoro origin. But whether it is a life form or the creation of a life form, it is quite large and surprisingly powerful, and the intelligence behind it is hostile in intent.”

Mother, Father, and Nana combined their huge data banks along with the data accumulated from the Tolondro, to discover if any kind of data could be found about this kind of phenomenon.

The only mention in the massive Tolondoro archive was a technique on binding loose associated molecules together with a modulated electrical field at certain frequencies. No mention of anything like the huge thing they had just discovered.

As to whether it was alive or a construct under intelligent control, was still unknown. The data did make clear a way to disrupt the field, although it would prove to be a temporary thing unless the proper frequency could be modulated.

“And that is assuming that this phenomenon is indeed what this passage from the archives refers to,” said Father. “It is not at all clear that is the case.”

“Well, we can’t risk sending a ship with a crew to that system to test it,” said Dr. Erickson. “I’m not sure what faction of the Tolondoro was flying the ship we found, but that phenomenon destroyed it easily.”

“Agreed,” said Father. “I cannot recommend taking such a risk. But perhaps a probe equipped with this field disruption technology could give us some data.”

“Can you build such a thing?” Dr. Erickson asked.

“Affirmative, Dr. Erickson. Prototype schematics on screen now.” Electronic schematics and design blueprints appeared on the holo display.

“Yes, I see. Let’s talk about its behavior when it encounters the phenomenon,” Dr. Erickson said, inspecting the schematics.”

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The probe exited FTL drive near the point where the earlier ship had been assaulted, its suite of sensors tuned to look for any sign of the huge but diffuse phenomenon.

“Let’s see if it takes the bait,” said Ellen. Most of the staff of the entire space program was in the control room, observing.

“It’s near the spot where the alien ship was when it was attacked,” said Philips, and the monitors high on the walls displayed the Kepler-22 system along with the point where those previous events had happened and the position and trajectory of the probe that was following in its footsteps. “No sign of the phenomenon at this point, though.”

“Try the field disruptor,” said Ellen. Philips engaged the controls, and the readouts changed. The feeds from other probes already in the system, passively observing this event, showed the probe’s hull lighting up with flickering blue pulses.

“Looks like that’s torn it,” Philips said. “Getting positive readings … and the AI is taking over based on its programming.”

The probe, small and agile, dodged a relativistic projectile, which whizzed past it with mere meters to spare.

“Another shot incoming,” Ellen said. “It should slap back now … and there.” The probe’s hull lit up with a solid pulse of bluish energy, then dimmed again. “If the theory is right, that should have stung plenty.”

Readings of the diffuse phenomenon at the edge of the system fluctuated. Energy increased as if it were preparing to attack again, then the probe pulsed again, harder this time, but then dimmed again. The strange, diffuse phenomenon seemed to back down.

“Looks like our negotiations were successful,” said Philips.

“This is a strong indication that it’s intelligent,” Ellen said. “It responded to warnings.”

“And the use of pain rather than killing force may have indicated to it that our probe’s there to negotiate, not destroy,” Philips said. “As long as we’re consistent, we might be able to build a relationship with it.”

“It’s starting with the contact protocol,” said Ellen. “Now we get to test this.” Data flowed from the probe, analyzed by the massive supercomputers of the L2 city, and everyone watched the results, especially Father.

“And there are response signals coming back,” said Philips. “No idea what they mean, but perhaps the translation algorithms will come up with something -- with time.” The probe and the entity continued to exchange signals, assisted by the computers, and over time their knowledge improved. After a few minutes, Father took over narrating the situation.

“It would appear,” Father’s voice stated, “that the entity is a remnant of some civilization, which it calls its makers, but that this civilization has not contacted it in some time, on the order of a hundred million years, from what the computer can determine based on various clues. Whether this civilization was the Tolondoro or some offshoot thereof remains uncertain. But it now questions whether to continue its original purposes as sentry and guardian. It is in occasional contact with other similar sentry entities, but it has lost contact with many over its existence and wonders whether they are still out there or whether some ill fate has befallen them.”

“What are we telling it?” asked Dr. Erickson, who had been observing silently until now.

“The probe has only stated that it is the representative of a civilization that has never encountered anything like the entity before,” said Father. “It has said that its associates -- meaning we -- observed its attack on the unknown vessel recently and sent it to make contact.”

“Any clue why it attacked the alien vessel?” asked Ellen.

“Something about the alien ship was harming it in some way,” said Father. “This bears further investigation, but perhaps something about its engines is somehow injurious to the entity. No … that’s not it. The alien ship looked just like ones that have attacked it in the past. They have done things that the entity believes were deliberate harmful acts. It thought this ship was going to do the same.”

As Father continued to scan the new data and learn better how to translate, he hit on an idea. Since this creature seemed to communicate with impulses, he was sure it could learn a simpler binary of positive and null charges. As soon as Father had shown the creature the system, it caught on immediately. At that point, no translations were necessary.

The Creature’s designation was Titan. It was a Titan class Guardian. There was only one other Guardian that occupied a higher tier, and that translated to Colossus Class. From what the Titan told Father, there was only one of those left as far as it knew, and the Colossus’ last communication had said that it was relocating to another system due to the star in the one it was in had reached the age it began blowing off its photosphere and expanding into a red giant. It also had transmitted that it had located a crystal base and was going to utterly destroy it so none of those creatures would hurt them again. A crucial piece of data appeared on the screen after Father translated it.

Ellen looked closely at the star chart, then at the current astrogation chart stellar cartography had put together. Ellen smiled as she realized where Colossus had gone -- it was a system Earth had labeled the Cartwheel Galaxy. Apparently there was a large collection of the Time Crystal there, and many of those crystalline ships were based there.

Ellen said, “Apparently the species we are looking for is present in a place we labeled Cartwheel Galaxy.”

Paul made a few notes along with Andrew before he asked, “What you think, Andy? You think we should investigate this? Apparently that’s an unknown species, and it is apparently aggressive.”

Andrew made some quick calculations with his slide rule before he replied, “I’m not especially sure that not investigating is a good idea. On the flip side of that same coin, the ship we recovered is heavily armed with some strange kind of energy weapon. Only way to defend against it is like the entity did, by stealth.”

Father spoke up and interjected, “It would be easy enough to make a probe fighter. It would be small, maneuverable, fast, and because of the new data we have handy, we can reduce the size of the FTL drive and add more heavy armaments … just in case.”

“Let’s do that,” said Dr. Erickson. “And let’s find a way to stay in contact with the Titan. We can keep it up to date on what we’re doing. Maybe it can tell us other useful information about the species we’re facing. We still know so little about them. After all, they may or may not be the descendants of the Tolondoro.”

“I like how nobody’s questioning whether we can find a way to travel the 500 million light years to the Cartwheel Galaxy,” said Ellen. “It seems like huge quantum leaps in our drive technology are old hat now.” She smirked. “Of course, projecting mathematically from the trends, 500 million light years will be within striking distance in … what, a month?”

“If the trend continues, we’ll have FTL capable of 500 million c in 33 days,” said Lindie. “Of course, that would mean that the journey there would take a year. If we want it to take a day, we’d have to wait a few more days.”

“And that’s assuming we’re not going to make some kind of discovery that changes our fundamental assumptions,” said Paul. “That’s happened more than once.”

Chapter 8: Poltergeist

“I’m not going to let a little thing like a weird control system stop me,” said Jade. Wearing a strange motion-capture suit with a built-in antigravity function, she was manipulating the sound generators that controlled her ship’s engines by gesturing and posing, and sometimes outright dancing.

“Well, you are our best pilot, but not our best dancer,” came Philip’s voice on the quantum comm. “I see you’re approaching the target.”

“Planet Poltergeist,” said Jade. “Second planet out from the pulsar PSR B1257+12, also known as Lich. 2300 light years from Earth. Some irregularities in the Tolondoro records seem to suggest that there might have once been some alien presence here -- maybe Tolondoro, maybe something else. Let’s find out.”

“I’m showing that you’re almost in range for orbital insertion,” said Philips. “That’s mind-blowing. 2300 light years, and it took you mere minutes to get there now.”

“What can I say, I’m amazing,” said Jade. “There we are -- circumpolar orbit, perfect for scanning the surface. Let’s see, hot super-Earth, not a place I’d want to settle down, no real signs of life as we know it … what do you think, Father?”

“Receiving data,” came Father’s voice. “Possible signs of intelligent presence at 024/046. Also I suggest you closely examine 104/-034.”

“Hey, great, focusing scans,” said Jade, keying in the scan parameters before going back to careful dance movement. “I wonder what we’ll find.”

“Possibly the remnants of a base that was destroyed when the star went supernova and became a pulsar,” said Father.

“But whose base?” asked Philips at Mission Control. “That’s the question. And is there anything useful there?”

Jade was astonished as she watched the scans come in. From her readings, on a planetary scale, she saw massive ruins and debris. From the state of current decay, much of what she looked at was barely even recognizable. It was more than obvious many eons had passed since any kind of life had existed on this planet.

She also picked up an extremely large debris field drifting about an AU distant further out from the planet in this system. From what was left, it was clear that whoever that fleet of ships had belonged to hadn’t fared well in the final outcome. Jade could tell that many of the vessels were huge, and heavily armor plated, but it hadn’t helped. Apparently whatever they had encountered was far more powerful.

Jade said with trepidation in her tone, “Are you seeing this, Father? It’s like I’m in the middle of a junk yard -- there are so many derelict hulls and debris.”

Father replied, “From what I can tell, some major battle happened here after the star went supernova. Had it been prior, no debris would have survived the photosphere blowoff and resultant shock wave when the star exploded. I do detect some sort of fortified structure about a mile beneath the surface. Preliminary scans indicate it might be intact enough to warrant an investigation.”

Jade deactivated the dance-navigation system, since she was in a stable orbit, and sat back in her comfortable gravity couch to begin a systematic scan of the planet. The decaying ruins didn’t look like they’d been destroyed by the supernova either -- this was caused by some sort of armed conflict on a planetary scale. Jade also picked up a massive asteroid field intermingled with destroyed items that were manufactured by intelligent beings. This asteroid field may have even been an inhabited moon at one point. It had been totally shattered by whatever had attacked.

After several sweeps, Jade discovered the structure Father had mentioned. From the scans, Jade was positive that whatever it was had to be partially intact if not completely. The only problem would be how to reach it with the current equipment she had on board. She didn’t have a mining or digging unit. She turned the quandar up to maximum resolution -- active scans like this could be detected, but she couldn’t imagine anything was still alive down there to detect her.

Jade studied the three-dimensional image of the part of the planet’s crust that lay atop the buried base. It was a tangled jumble of the debris of buildings, and below it was a labyrinthine web of tunnels. But … she ran a simulation. The ship was just barely small enough that it could fit. All the way down. She was surprised. And challenged. It would take a superb pilot to fly all the way down there without knocking off important spacecraft parts on protruding barricades. Jade knew that she could do it, and she wanted to prove it.

“Jade, what are you doing?” asked Father. “I’m reading that you’re leaving orbit on a descent trajectory.”

“Affirmative,” Jade said, carefully gesturing. “Course locked in. Of course, it’s a complex one and will require very precise execution.”

“You … plan to fly a spacecraft to a point one mile beneath the planet’s surface?” asked Father. “The difficulty of --”

“It will require my full concentration,” said Jade. “I don’t think you want to jeopardize my safety.”

“I -- no, but -- couldn’t an automated probe do this?”

“I’m sure that it would try very hard,” said Jade.

Over the next 30 minutes, Jade danced, wiggled, shimmied, squirmed, twirled, and in the end was contorting her body into some quite uncomfortable positions in order to coax the ship around the sharp corners and protruding barriers. Some of the caverns were doubtless naturally occurring while others existed due to mining or other digging activity, or due to damage from the supernova or battle. But the crust of this planet was unbelievably torn up. Everywhere there were cracks through which a small, highly maneuverable ship could slip.

Finally her ship gleamed before a basalt-black blast door that lay askew on its hinges. “End of the line,” Jade said. “I can fit through, but the ship can’t.”

“Be careful,” was all Father could say.

Jade put on her EVA suit and exited the ship. Radiation levels were high, but nothing the suit couldn’t handle. She turned on all lights and slipped through a place where the massive doors wouldn’t line up. She felt like a mouse.

Beyond the doors was a tumbled scene of destruction. There weren’t any remains of living creatures, and not even many artifacts remained. It looked as if this had been a shelter with multiple stories, and this side of some stories had collapsed into the lower ones.

Scans indicated that the way to the most intact portion of the structure was … that way. She chose a downward path among some rubble and was rewarded by a straight tunnel.

Jade made slow and careful progress through the tunnel. After several thousand yards of featureless concrete seeming tunnel, she came to another door. This one had massive blackened scorch marks all around it, but still was intact. Whatever this door was made of was more than a match for the weapon used against it.

She slowly approached the door and examined the many centuries forgotten frame looking for … yes, her eyes lit up and a large smile spread across her face. She opened the toolkit she carried with her EVA suit and removed the torqueless wrench and several tips. It didn’t take her long to have the plate removed. What she saw on the other side was nothing like anything they had ever encountered before.

It looked like many thousands of sparkly spiderwebs with little jewels threaded all through it as it all glittered in the light of her suit. She held her scanner up and examined the reading closely. This was obviously some form of alloy created with the Time Crystals earth had just discovered. She had a device Mother had devised for powering Tolondoro similar devices. Jade shrugged. What could happen at the worst? She burned out the whole mess and nothing happens.

After several short bar scans, she attached the clips of the power supply to several conspicuous jewels that had spiderwebs running off into another circuit deeper within the wall. She held her breath as she enabled the power switch.

A maroon light came on above the door and began to blink. Jade felt a large Clunk run all through the soles of her EVA suit as a split appeared in the door. Like magic, it vanished into the frame in a mercurial way she had never witnessed before. She slowly entered the doorway and stopped. Her mouth fell open as she saw things she had no idea what they possibly could have been.

She also found the grisly scene of many dead creatures. Their powdery remains lay in copious amounts all over. Jade shivered, she knew these died of suffocation or starvation.

Jade took a larger deep scan of the area but didn’t get much more than the quandar had from orbit. Much of the tech here was intact, but she had no idea how any of it would have worked nor what it might have done. Whatever this new tech was was way advanced beyond even what they had discovered already.

“Jade, I’m picking up unusual readings,” said Father. His voice in her earpiece startled her with its suddenness.

“What kind of readings?” she asked as she continued to look around, her suit’s lights brightly illuminating one empty, tilted room after another. But then she turned a corner into the data center.

Or at least that’s what she thought it was. There was a door, heavy and broken, but inside there were rows of monolithic black slabs. No sign of any kind of activity, of course, and it was difficult for her to confirm that this was actually technology of some kind rather than some sort of art.

“Unconfirmed, but I thought I detected … activity,” said Father.

Then there was the sound. A grinding scraping sound that seemed to come from every direction.

“Confirmed,” said Father. “Detecting movement 632 meters from your position. Jade, get out of there.”

“But I just found … probably computers? … Still, the only intact anything I’ve found down here.”

“Deploy a remote detail scanner and get back to the ship,” said Father. “Please, Jade. You’re not security trained and you don’t have any heavy weapons.”

The grinding sound was getting louder, seemingly transmitted through the floor and walls. “OK,” said Jade. Opening a hook-and-loop panel on the exterior of her suit, she removed a flat disc-shaped device the size of a hockey puck and squeezed it to activate. Six tiny green lights came on, and it levitated out of Jade’s hand, moving slowly at first, but then quickly flying away, searching for an out-of-the-way corner from which to investigate this room and transmit its findings back to the L2 city, so far away.

Home seemed very far away indeed to Jade suddenly. She looked at the room one last time, then turned and ran back the way she had come. But as she came to the main corridor, she saw a shadow between her and the ship. It filled the corridor. It was heavy and metal and moving toward her. It scraped and ground against the floor. It wasn’t working that well, but it was active.

“Some kind of robot,” said Jade, ducking into a side corridor and digging into her memory of the scans of this place. There might be a way around it --

With an echoing crash the robot tore into the walls that formed the corner she had gone around. The corridor was narrow, but the robot was apparently fine with tearing apart the building to get to her. She ran into the darkness, her suit lights doing all they could to light her way.

She shrieked as she stepped onto a crumbling floor and skittered down to the level below before activating her EVA suit’s antigrav and thrusters to prevent herself from falling farther. Behind her came the noise of the robot forcing a path for itself through narrow corridors. Clearly it hadn’t been designed to operate in this place. She kept moving, flying through rooms and hallways now, until she came to an exterior wall that was broken enough that she could see the heavy blast doors beyond. She blasted at the wall with the weapons that her suit had until there was a large enough opening for her to get through, then flew through the gap in the blast doors toward the bright light of the ship in this dark place.

Getting aboard the ship as quickly as she could and removing the EVA suit so she could don the navigation suit, she watched the huge broken doors with every spare moment. There was a loud boom as the robot tried to get through the doors but was too large for the gap. Presumably it was trying to push them open. There was another loud boom. Jade hurriedly put the nav suit on.

“Clearly that robot was not original equipment in that structure,” said Father.

“I’d figured that out, thanks,” said Jade, urging the ship to take off and start wending its way back to the surface. “Next you’ll be telling me it’s probably hostile.”

Father laughed as he replied, “Actually, just the opposite. From observations the robot is basically stumbling from place to place seeking out one of its lost masters. I think I can rid the place of it with a bit of trickery however.”

Deep beneath the destroyed surface of the planet, the recon drone Jade had left behind began to dance and flash brightly, flying out into the hallway in sight of the robot. The almost non-functional robot’s sensors picked up the antics and began to track. The drone danced and swirled as it lead the huge robot down a long corridor. The flooring in this particular area had long since become highly unstable due to the ongoing destruction created by the robot’s clumsy stumblings. It wasn’t long before the floor gave way beneath the robot’s weight and it fell. The sound of the fall echoed around until silence reigned once again.

Father said to Jade, “From the scans the probe is giving now, I have lured the robot off to a place where it fell through the floor and destroyed itself.”

Jade replied, “I guess we can investigate the area in more detail. I’m not real sure we can easily make use of any technology there that might have survived. It looked like a spider’s web more than anything else.”

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Back on earth, near the Philip’s Building, a huge lake that had been contaminated to the point it died had a fish suddenly break the surface with a splash. The water had changed color over the several months since those recyclers had shown up all over and had become clean enough the water was drinkable without treatment.

A small boy who was standing with an adult male pointed out to the ever widening concentric rings and said excitedly, “See? I told you there are fish here again.”

The man stood with wide eyes as the fish jumped again, “By jingies, boy, You’re right. I wonder ifn we can go fishin. I used to love doin that many years ago with my pap.”

The boy gave the man a rod made of some kind of carbon fiber with a string, hook, and a float attached, “Dunno, but I come ready ta try.”

The man smiled as he took the pole and baited the hook. He was sure he was going to enjoy this immensely.

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Jade maneuvered around the debris fields orbiting the neutron star that humans had called Lich so long ago. “Any idea who these people were?” she sent back to Earth.

“Not yet,” Father’s voice came back. “Designs aren’t similar enough to the Tolondoro remnants left behind in the Sol system to be able to say that for sure. There are many fragments of written language, but it isn’t similar to any of the Tolondoro languages we know how to read. Of course, this could have been them, millions of years before or after they came to the Sol system.”

“Well, I’ll keep scanning if you keep analyzing,” said Jade. “Meanwhile, is the recon drone learning anything useful down there on the planet?”

“Everyone thinks that those big rectangular stacks you found are either computers or at least data storage units,” Father said. The drone is focusing its quandar on those. With enough scanning and analysis we can start to piece together what’s stored on them -- and maybe some clues about who was here and what happened. But it will take time.”

“Well, meanwhile, I can scan more of this system,” said Jade. “There are also planets Draugr and Phoebtor.”

“They don’t show any signs of having been inhabited -- at least, not from what the remote probes sent back,” said Father. “Oh. Oh dear.”

“What?” asked Jade. “You sound like you just found out you’re descended from a screwdriver.”

“I -- what?” Father sounded momentarily confused. “No, we have just managed to figure out how data is stored in the metal crystal substrates you found. This is perhaps the oldest digital data that could exist. But our first findings … these were Tolondoro. This was a peaceful agrarian colony once. The Tolondoro who didn’t improve their genetic structure … they went back to the land and lived the simple life, when they weren’t traveling the stars in search of new worlds where they could move in and do more of the same. Until an enemy came. Still waiting to get more information about them.”

“Wait, when was this?” asked Jade. “Any info about the timetable?”

“From what we can tell, the Tolondoro civil war took place approximately 980 million years ago,” said Father. “This was about 600 million years ago. The Milky Way Galaxy has turned almost three full rotations since then.”

“So … who was this enemy? Why did they attack a peaceful agrarian planet? And … well, they obviously failed. How did an agrarian civilization destroy them?”

“These are all excellent questions,” said Father. “It is unclear what happened to the aggressors at this point. But it has been so long -- so much can happen in all that time. Many civilizations could have risen and fallen -- and risen again. I will have remote probes scan the debris field systematically and carefully over time. Perhaps there is data to be uncovered here as well.” Jade noticed some of the remote probes in the system changing course and heading in the direction of the ring of derelict starship fragments.

As Jade left the Lich system for another destination, the probes began their meticulous examination. Their readings clearly showed that whatever had attacked the armada had done so with the intent of completely destroying it. Every derelict hull the probe scanned showed massive damage to the point of overkill.

Amid the massive junkyard of debris, the probe also found the long-frozen remains of humanoid bodies ... and pieces there of. Scans immediately showed that several different species had manned these vessels, but none of them were Tolondoro or derivatives thereof. The mystery deepened as the obvious overkill tactics were plainly visible on the many thousands of free floating corpses. It was more than apparent that the bodies had been fired upon repeatedly, based on the many massively horrible injuries inflicted. Yet they had stopped short of complete vaporization.

The probe picked up a low power reading. It wasn’t much, but enough that something might still be functioning amid the junkyard. The probe’s AI carefully maneuvered through the labyrinth of derelict hulls until it came to a huge piece that still showed very faint energy emissions.

Within this city-sized piece of junk was a building-sized section that still retained some form of atmosphere. Scans indicated that it was mostly nitrogen, though the probe could find no biologicals of any sort within the pressurized area. Further scans showed this to be the engineering, life support, computer, and engine room in the aft end of whatever vessel this huge artifact had been.

Other probes began to take notice and arrive. Father perused all the incoming scan data and decided a closer inspection was in order. Ports opened on several of the drones, and multi-use tools and articulated mechanical tentacles extended so they could begin removing a maintenance access cover. Going was slow and meticulous as the probes tried not to release any of the tenuous atmosphere within. As they opened one access hatch, they would seal the one behind them to maintain whatever pressure they would find. It didn’t take long before breaking the seal on a panel created a huge cloud of rapidly freezing crystals as gas escaped into the small compartment the drones occupied.

Once the drones exited the maintenance passage into the large compartment, Father realized the entire engineering section along with their version of FTL engines and the power generation system were present and completely intact. One of the probes also discovered that the computer system was still active. The rest of the power generation system appeared to be in a low-consumption state.

As in all the places they had explored previously that still had intact equipment, this tech was advanced beyond anything Father had as yet encountered.

Myriads of crystalline panels glimmered softly in the probe’s lights. Many different types, colors, and shapes of crystals were arranged everywhere in orderly stacks. Several of the probes moved to one of the many crystal panels and began scanning its matrix. The tech was stunningly simple, yet at the same time more advanced that anything the Tolondoro had yet been discovered as creating. Father found himself becoming more and more awed as he sent a comm to Mother and Ellen, to show them what had been uncovered.

“I am not an engineer, but you are, dear,” said Mother to Ellen, who was on board the Diaspora ship. “What is your take on this?”

“This … changes my understanding of the physical nature of the universe,” said Ellen. “Again. We’ll have to see what the theoretical physicists have to say about it. But for now, they clearly had some kind of space-twisting drive system that we’ve never seen before. And yet … the mysterious ship at Kepler-22 was extremely advanced, but along a completely different line of development.”

“Different civilizations, then,” said Mother. “Someone made the Titan … could it have been these people?”

“Considering the Titan’s structure is extremely diffuse, it’s hard to say,” said Ellen, “but the good thing is that we can ask it. It seems the Poltergeist civilization was Tolondoro-derivative, but of a considerably later era than their presence in the Sol system. But it doesn’t look as if they were what destroyed this fleet … nor do we have an explanation for why this fleet was in the Lich system attacking Poltergeist to begin with. I’m going to try to open a channel to the Titan.”

“That poor fellow,” said Mommy. “He’s been through a lot.”

“Translation protocols online,” said Ellen. “Relays active … Hello, Mr. Titan? Can you hear me? If you remember, we spoke before. My name is Ellen. Earth-Human species.”

There was a pause, and then a synthesized voice replied. “I receive you. Greetings to Earth-Human Ellen. Have you learned anything about the **untranslatable name**?”

“It is possible,” said Ellen. “If we send you some sensor readings, can you tell us whether you recognize them? We have found the remnants of a destroyed fleet of ships from long ago in a distant star system.”

“I can attempt to identify,” said the Titan. “That assumes the readings translate into my systems’ data structures and numerical systems.”

“I hope we’ve made enough progress on that project,” said Ellen. “I am now running the data through the translation routines and transmitting.”

“Partial translation … but acceptable. I can adapt,” the Titan said. “Assembling data into model now … model complete. Translation now at increased efficiency. Able to envision subjects. Fragmentary remains of numerous vessels. These were vessels of war. Aggressively armed and armored. Yes. These were built by the civilization that created me.”

“They were?” said Ellen. “They seem to have been attacking a colony world of a civilization that called itself the Tolondoro, or at least they called themselves that at one time. There is much we do not know of them.”

“My creators’ civilization was at war with them for a time,” said the Titan. “Then the great enemy came. We were devastated. The fate of the Tolondoro I do not know. But the enemy … they are still a potential threat. Their homeworld is unknown.”

“Are they the ones who you thought were in the ship you attacked?” Ellen asked.

“Yes,” the Titan replied. “The technology was similar enough, but as it turned out, not quite the same.”

Ellen sat back into the comfortable gravity couch as she contemplated what Titan had said. She typed in a few requests for more data on the crystalline ship still being reverse engineered in the engineering section.

Mother said softly, “What’s on your mind, child?” as another screen lit up and displayed the crystalline tech on the derelicts.

Ellen looked at the screen and replied, “As best I can tell, the ship in engineering uses some sort of alloy derived from what we’ve been calling time crystals.” Several of the images on the second screen appeared side by side for direct comparisons, “They both utilize a crystal alloy for their tech. However, the Titan’s people seem to have created some form of hybrid crystals, each custom manufactured for specific purposes. Each color crystal is the same crystal, although the ways the molecular structures are assembled is unique to each.”

Mother remarked, “That tech seems so simple to reproduce … yet I don’t think anyone on Earth would have ever thought to manipulate atomic structures in that manner. At least, it would have required a completely different paradigm of thought.”

Ellen replied, “I can tell you this - using this type of spacetime twist drive, whatever we end up calling it, would give us the ability to reach the Cartwheel Galaxy within a few minutes’ time. I’m not completely sure, but with this pink / red crystal … it has some unique chronal properties and radiates a time flux in precise waves. At that point, distance begins to lose its meaning.”

Mother spoke. “Mr. Titan, I have a question. Why were your creators at war with the Tolondoro? They seemed to have become a peaceful, agrarian civilization.”

“My creators … were a coalition,” said the Titan. “They suffered from … a disease, as nearly as I can determine. It happened whenever one member of the coalition wanted the entire group to do something. Some other member always needed something else instead.”

“Is that disease called … politics?” asked Mommy. There seemed to be a slight smirk in her own synthesized voice, which she’d become quite expert at manipulating to express herself.

Titan hesitated for an instant longer than normal before replying, “Based on the current data and translation algorithm, that would seem to be what they were infected with. It seemed to be a way to amplify misunderstandings and redirect hostilities. It focused the coalition’s petty frustrations into a powerful hatred that was easily redirected at a convenient target.”

“So someone needed a scapegoat,” said Ellen. “I’ve seen how that goes. They picked the agrarian Tolondoro, the coalition’s armada attacked, and … someone else didn’t like it, someone unexpected. They intervened, and overwhelmingly.”

“That summary agrees with my collected data,” said the Titan.

Two of the probes back at the debris field started scanning the huge asteroid area floating in a stable orbit of the planet. Father determined that this was some sort of defense base before it had been utterly destroyed by a massive overkill type attack.

One of the probes pinged on something. The materials it was constructed of were totally unknown to any database Earth currently had. From quandar scans, it was a metallic crystalline substance that radiated some form of energy that also couldn't be identified. Once again, most of this craft was intact, although what would possibly have been the cockpit, was totally destroyed.

Further scans revealed a power source of unknown type as well as what had been used as motivational thrust was also unknown. Whoever had manufactured this tech, father nor anyone else from earth had ever encountered before.

Father said, “Take a look at this craft the probes just found the wreckage of.”

The probes’ images appeared on a screen next to Ellen. Both Mommy and Ellen looked at the incoming data. What showed up was a craft made of some form of black material that existed in another reality more than in this one as the structure oscillated between many energy states.

Titan said, “Yes, that is one of the unknown enemy ships.” Another screen lit up and displayed fleeting images of what might have been sensor shadows, since the object didn’t seem to reflect any sort of energy, but absorbed it.

Mother said after analyzing the readout for a moment, “Now I see why the appearance of overkill.”

Ellen asked, “How? From what I have seen from probe data, that ship, or others like it must possess tremendously powerful weapons.”

Father replied, “They do. Don’t underestimate them. But any energy impacting on the matrix the hull is made of, would be redirected back at what ever launched it.”

Mother replied, “We have discovered a similar thing in a new crystal we have begun to grow. The energy redirect is 100% controllable by the operator.”

Ellen said, “The crystal we have, though, is nothing like that. We have no idea what substance it is, much less how to make it.”

Father said, “We will just have to have a probe bring the wrecked ship back so we can examine it and see if we can discover how it is made and if we can, possibly upgrade our crystal tech to that level.”

Mommy, however, said, “I am going to mention this to Adam. He is busy with the colonization effort, but this may interest him.”

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“So you say the crystal seems to exist more outside this dimension than in it, and that it redirects energy?” said Adam. The tiny biologist was taking samples of the soil at a possible settlement site and analyzing them for crop suitability. “Seems to contradict entropy. Probably doesn’t really, though -- I’ll bet it can cause the appearance of entropy violation locally while still obeying thermodynamics globally, just like life does.”

“Like … life … does …” said Mommy. “I will have to think about that. Meanwhile … I think we are going to be able to make it to the Cartwheel Galaxy.”

Chapter 9: The Cartwheel Galaxy

“Vanished,” said Philips, “just like the others.” He turned his screen off in frustration.

Looking over his shoulder, Ellen said, “How is this happening? Is it the distance, or is it …?”

“I can’t say for sure,” replied Philips, “but they’re sending just a few microseconds of telemetry back before communications are cut off. And it’s not like we’re sending them all the way to the Cartwheel Galaxy -- this one stopped in intergalactic space to send back some data taken from a distance. And it still vanished.”

“Are we sending any more?” asked Ellen.

“There’s one more on the way,” Philips said. “We’re actually sending this one to a spot beyond the target, to look at the galaxy from the other side. But that means it’s taking longer to arrive. It should be there in a few minutes.” He turned his screen back on and began to monitor the numbers.

“And it’s coming out of FTL in five … four ... three … two … one …” The display briefly showed stars. Then there was some kind of flash of light, and the image went dark. All contact had ceased. The connection was dead.

“What was … Can you replay that?” asked Ellen.

“Yeah, hold on a second,” said Philips, running the recording back. Playing it frame by frame, he first showed the starfield, then … “There.” Something had appeared in the distance. It was too far away to make out details. “I’ll advance it one frame at a time …” The next frame showed the thing already filling the screen. “What? That’s … hellaciously fast.”

“What is it?” Ellen asked. “It looks like … some kind of brittle starfish.” It had a central core and several bristly appendages, but it was clear that all of this was made out of some kind of energy, because they could see the stars through it and because its shape shifted and changed in the next frames.

Then everything went white, then black. “It really doesn’t want our probe to look at it,” said Philips.

“Well, one thing’s for sure,” said Ellen. “If they can pick out our tiny probes in the vast area of space around their galaxy …”

“... there’s a good chance they know where they’re coming from, too,” Philips finished.

“We need a plan,” Ellen said.

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“According to the Titan,” said Leon, addressing the crew of the Diaspora ship, “it once had a big brother of sorts called the Colossus, which detected what we’ve come to call time crystals in what we call the Cartwheel Galaxy. It went there, because their mortal enemy used time crystals. We’re about to head there in force. We’ve learned so much … we have an FTL drive that can make it there in a matter of minutes, even though it’s half a billion light years away. We’ve got defenses that can turn incoming energy back on itself. We’ve got weapons that can convert enemy ships’ hulls into energy and absorb that energy for our own use. But don’t think we’re going to have an easy time. We have no idea what we’re getting into. We know that whoever they are, they’ve been hostile in the past. They could still be hostile now. And … it’s been a long time.”

Lindie added, “Yes. Maybe we can travel at 250 tera-c, but the light and other waves we’re observing from there are still traveling at 1 c. It still looks like a pretty normal galaxy, but we’re seeing a picture of it from 500 million years ago.”

“Have we sent probes?” asked Paul. “That’s what you’re going to ask. Of course we’ve sent probes. And they disappeared. As soon as they arrived. We have no data, or barely any.”

“So why are we going there at all?” asked Leon. “Because whoever’s there, they know we exist, and we’re either going to meet them now or when they come knocking on our door. I’d much rather not wait, and that’s the opinion of the leadership too.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Father and Nana had all been fretting over Mother and the infants traveling so far from the safety of their care into hostile territory. The new crystalline technology discovery was similar to what Father had been growing in the hydro-genetics lab, but the crystal matrix of theirs was all wrong and far inferior. All the research into the black crystal the now identified enemy had been using for their ships and other mysterious devices had thus far proven fruitless.

Whatever the new crystal alloy was made of or how it was done, remained a complete mystery … or was it?

Nana came across an interesting bit of very old research data conducted using several space based telescopes and ground based radars from many years past. From what she had discovered, the hearts of small stellar masses (pulsars and neutron stars) over many centuries cool and form crystals. These crystals ... under those conditions … YES!!!

Nana had a complete and total interphasic mobius neuronal feedback loop in most of her higher logic functions. Between that discovery and this brand new awareness of ecstatic joy within herself, she had now uncovered the means to obtain this miracle crystalline alloy.

Nana said to the rest that were part of this conference, “I have just discovered where they harvested those crystals and how they are manufactured.”

Ellen replied, “We already know it’s some form of neutronium, but how such a thing could be used at all, let alone created in such a perfectly balanced alloy with other forms of matter … I’m not sure we can even hope to accomplish it.”

On the display next to Ellen appeared several pictures, a photomicrograph of the atomic lattice of the crystal from the quandar scans of the black ship’s hull, and the supporting data from the antiquated NASA report.

Nana said, “From what I have just discovered, they harvest dead stellar masses for the crystals. I am positive they are using some form of matter teleportation to collect it, and in the reassembly of the teleporter datastream, manipulate the atomic structure on a quantum level to create the actual objects.”

At this point, Father and Mother had accessed the file Nana had discovered and began doing their own research. It was more than obvious that a matter teleporter could be used in many ways other than how they were currently doing it.

It was definitely a miracle device in what it could accomplish. Using certain stored base files as a foundation, aging could be instantly reversed, sicknesses cured, and with meticulous manipulation of certain parts of the data stream, almost anything could be created from an atomic level. It was not only possible to recycle using this technique, it was also possible to create almost anything as long as the proper manipulations were carefully performed.

Now, Father, Mother, and Nana understood how to create many types of heretofore completely fantastic molecules and devices. There was also a certain amount of danger involved with this type of manipulation in that certain arrangements of atomic particles produced amazingly energetic releases of energy in astronomical quantities.

Father realized how to create a weapon system he was positive none of the Alien races they had encountered had thought of before. He was determined to do the very best he could to keep his children safe and give them the very best ability to defend themselves possible.

Father began construction of the most advanced, nimble, and deadly fighter Earth had ever produced. It was also the most gracefully sleek design Father could think of. He at least wanted it to look impressive.

The new control manipulation system utilized the human brain’s delta and alpha waves to produce the necessary control signals to operate the new fighter. He wasn’t sure if it would provide overwhelming superiority against a foe whose development was millions of centuries ahead of his … but he was positive the other race would have to take major notice.

Father was also just as positive the new dance controls Jade had become so good with were going to prove a decisive factor in the battle as well. That system provided more intricate control and maneuverability; however, there was a huge learning curve for proficiency.

Father smiled as he ran a simulation of the effectiveness of the new energy form against the dark crystal matrix. Yes, Father knew this would come as a complete shock when the enemy came into contact with it as he watched the dark crystal respond in exactly the predetermined manner expected.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“So,” Leon continued addressing the crew, “this is the day when we’ll find out how we’re doing. Where we stand in comparison to the other players on the cosmic stage. I think we’re doing pretty well. But who knows? Maybe we’re the frontrunners. Maybe we’re just taking baby steps. Whatever’s the case, I know we’ll all put our best foot forward. Let’s just all do our best and see what will happen.”

“That said, I want everyone to drill on the emergency escape procedures,” he added. These were not escape pods, because nobody was even thinking of abandoning the ship, which had always been the home of Mommy, who could not leave it. Instead, every module of the redesigned Diaspora ship had a miniaturized FTL engine in it that could be used to drive the entire ship to safety -- the more of them worked together, the faster it would go. “Everyone needs to know how to manually activate the drive modules, and we all need to have the same planned escape destination, in case of emergency.”

“That goes for me, too,” said the voice of Mommy. “I can probably activate more of the modules than anyone else, so I’m the most important one to train here.”

“I still think there’s something I’m missing in the design,” said Adam. “I know there’s something biological that this black crystal stuff reminds me of. But what? Oh, right, yes, I need to learn about the escape modules too.”

“We are cleared to launch,” said Lindie. “Our course is plotted.”

“Launch,” said Leon. “And all hands get ready at weapons stations, just in case. This only takes minutes.”

The entire universe, it seemed, rushed by outside the transparent-seeming hull of the ship. The Milky Way Galaxy was quickly left behind, and intergalactic space was astonishingly empty of anything that produced light. As they approached, the Cartwheel Galaxy, their synthetic view of it changed rapidly, stars going supernova and vanishing into black holes, others vanishing without apparent reason, and finally the entire galaxy disappearing before they could see what had happened. They came out of FTL into a region that their observations would have indicated to be densely populated with stars, but instead … space was simply bright with light in all directions.

“I … don’t understand,” said Lindie. “Quandar scans show an equal and high energy distribution in all directions.”

“We’re being approached,” said the combat officer. “Launch fighters! Activate defensive shields!”

The drone fighter craft Father had designed were off immediately. They could see what they were being approached by, but they didn’t know what it meant. Numerous vaguely starfish-like objects were approaching from all directions.

“Perhaps these are the aliens?” asked Lindie. “The evolved Tolondoro? Maybe they want to communicate? I can try to --”

There wasn’t physical contact or even a beam. One of the starfish-like things glowed brightly, and the ship shook with the shock of impact.

“That severed parts of three decks, and in the same stroke four fighters went missing,” said Paul, looking at readouts on his screens.

“They’re not even interested in talking,” said Leon. “I’m not leaving without learning something!”

“Leon, there’s a very interesting cluster of … some kind of matter … that I’m picking up,” said Lindie.

“Jade, can you get us there?”

“Easy as pie,” Jade said. “I can transmit the coordinates to the fighters …” She acted quickly, and the ship left the starfish-like things behind.

They came out of FTL again near a cluster of what might have been stars, if they hadn’t been huge colored orbs that were darker than the space around them. “None of this looks like normal matter,” said Lindie, concerned. “What are we even looking at? Except … wait. There’s something …”

But before she could act, the starfish-like objects were around them once again. “I didn’t even see them travel,” Leon said.

“Fire on hostiles,” said the combat officer. Beams and energy discharges played about the starfish-like objects, which seemed to be completely insubstantial, as if they weren’t made of solid matter at all. They fired a device that consisted of a matter teleportation device and a quantity of neutronium, performing an uncontrolled release of energy once it was far enough from the ship. The starfish-like things didn’t seem to care, even though the detonation rocked their own ship even from a distance.

Leon shouted, “Evasive actions! Fire a shot to a location in the middle of those things. Use that new fangled …”

He never got to finish as a massive detonation struck the ship somewhere near aft engineering. The lights flickered off and on several times before coming back on full.

Mother said, “I have taken some serious damage to the secondary physics research labs.”

About that time Tactical lit up. The new weapon was finally online and charged. Just as the strange star shaped objects came in for their next run, the new weapon fired. It was an almost impossible shot to miss.

On the madhouse the bridge had become, none had noticed any indication the weapon had fired. Even the tactical board showed nothing. Then a dazzlingly bright blue spark ignited in the middle of the alien formation, and then basically arced like lighting all through the enemy ships, entities, or whatever they were.

The precision formation they had been flying in came apart as they seemingly transformed into something that looked really weird and all bounded off in wild gyrations riding the overpressure wave of whatever this energy form had been.

Paul said urgently, “We have to withdraw. We have taken massive damage …”

Another huge explosion rocked the ship and the normal lighting went out and the red emergency lighting came up for a minute before main lighting returned.

The bridge lighting came up, although it flickered a bit now and again, the tactical screen returned. It showed the enemy objects had taken on their former appearances, but now they were warily keeping their distance.

Paul said, “I’m picking up a strange reading. There’s some sort of object. It’s rather large, but quandar shows it to be some sort of Computer or … something of the sort.”

“That’s what I was picking up earlier,” said Lindie. “The only thing around here that looks to be made of normal matter.”

The alien entities suddenly wove some sort of great sphere around them, at a considerable distance, something like the Moon’s distance from Earth. It was seemingly made of brilliant strands of light. But then it started to close in, shrinking smaller.

“This is gonna hurt,” said Leon. “Brace yourselves!”

The sphere of energy closed in as everyone on board, already wearing Earth’s most advanced space suits, rushed to attach their helmets. The black crystal on the ship’s hull did in fact redirect a lot of the sphere’s energy back out into space. But to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the explosion of energy outward was equaled by a like one inward. The hull shattered in many places, air rushing out into space. Many of the crew found themselves hanging onto severed pieces of the ship.

“I have lost large portions of my outer integument,” said Mommy’s voice. “This is highly unpleasant.”

“Emergency escape procedures NOW!” ordered Leon. “Rendezvous at prearranged coordinates!” Everyone began activating the FTL drive segments near them whenever they could reach them. Mommy was able to sprout tentacles and press hundreds of buttons at once, so the main body of the ship reacted the quickest. But the largest fragments weren’t far behind, and last came those who had been floating free of the ship, whose space suits still contained the latest FTL drives. Nothing was left behind but some debris. Even the remaining operational drone fighters departed quickly.

As the stragglers arrived and made their way to the main body of the ship, they saw that the damage was extensive, but even so, the ship was so large that its core was still quite whole. “Everybody meet in the main cargo area,” said Leon. “It doesn’t have a roof anymore, so it should be easy to get to.”

“Where are we, anyway?” asked Jade. They seemed to be in orbit around an orangish star.

“Another galaxy, in the neighborhood of the Cartwheel,” said Lindie. “Looks like whoever those aliens were, they don’t come here. Just as our probes detected.”

“Hey, did anybody figure out whether those were the aliens, or their ships, or what?” asked Jade. But nobody seemed to know.

“Mommy, are you all right?” asked Leon.

“The last attack was quite painful,” she said, “but I am all right for now. However, we will want to get me somewhere I can absorb energy. The majority of the sunlight simulators were destroyed.”

“We’ll head back to Earth once we’re all here,” said Leon. “What’s this?” He noticed a large metallic cylinder, lying to one side of the cargo area. “I don’t recognize it.”

“I grabbed as many pieces of nearby debris as I could reach before I activated FTL,” said Mommy. “If it wasn’t part of the ship, it must have been drifting in space nearby.”

“I think this is the object I’d been detecting,” said Lindie, “and Paul noticed it too.”

“Well, do you have any idea what it is?” asked Leon. “I’m not bringing anything back to Earth that’s potentially dangerous.”

“My hand scanner says … it looks like some kind of computer,” said Paul. “Actually, it looks like the same kind of technology as the Titan.”

“Not Tolondoro at all, then,” Leon said. “Is it transmitting any signals?”

“Not at present,” Paul replied, looking at his scanner. “It appears be unpowered. Since we’re waiting, why don’t I try to power it?”

“Do we have any spare cells?” Leon asked.

“Quite a few undamaged ones,” said Paul. “Let’s see, if this is indeed similar to the Titan, we should need …” He began jury-rigging some power transformers to one of the energy cells. “And let’s see, do we have the translation software? … Yes, we do. OK. Activating ...”

“Colossus Base OS version 9027.3.1,” came a synthesized voice. “Loading syncord matrix … done.” The voice changed and suddenly became less mechanical … and sounded more exhausted. “I … who are you? Where am I? Where is … my body?”

“My name is Paul. I’m an engineer from Earth. You probably don’t know us. But we’ve met your friend the Titan. He told us about you, though I didn’t think we’d get a chance to meet you. Seems fate had other ideas.”

“I know of several surviving Titans,” said the machine. “Perhaps you mean Titan Six Four Six … or Titan Seven Five Zero?”

“We’ve only ever met one,” said Paul. “We’ll have to ask when we have the chance. What happened to you?”

“I … detected a strong concentration of chronal matrix crystalline structures,” the Colossus said. “It was in a distant galaxy. I went to investigate, as such readings usually coincide with the presence of one of my people’s mortal enemies. I … was not prepared for their attack. I thought I would be destroyed. They must have ejected my central processing core.”

“If it’s cylindrical in shape, with a metallic outer shell, that’s the case,” Paul said. “I believe we were attacked by the same … force. They knew we existed. We wanted to learn more about them, perhaps make contact. Instead we found them hostile.”

“They are,” the Colossus said, “but if you have angered them, be wary. They do not like to leave their galaxy, but … they have my body.”

“Your body?” asked Paul.

“It is several times the size of a Titan,” said the Colossus, “and has weaponry several times more powerful. Obviously not the equal of the transcendent Tolondoro who defeated me, but still … if they have installed their own processor core, and reprogrammed it, which would all be very easy for them … they certainly know or can deduce your world of origin …”

“Earth,” said Paul, sounding worried. He looked at Leon.

Chapter 10: Earth

Things in the Sol system had changed drastically in the several years since they had found the abandoned Tolondoro artifacts. Earth, or rather the relatively few humans of Earth’s remaining space program, had discovered some sort of installation, and a few stations in the asteroid belt, as well as on or in orbit around every planet in the system, with the exception of Earth itself. Phobos, it had been discovered, wasn’t a large chunk of rock orbiting Mars; it was in fact a defense station.

Philips had ensured that each installation was refurbished and upgraded with the very best Earth currently had. There were many many more things in the works as the huge amount of data stored within the many intact alien computer systems was meticulously deciphered and studied.

Father and Nana both were hard at work doing their best to discover new ways to keep their babies safe. Of course this also included a major upgrade to the “quandar” quantum radar system. Due to their new-found ability to bond and twist pairs of atomic particles and entire energy streams, they now had a scanner system that could detect objects out to almost 2 parsecs. This was unheard of a few years ago due to the faster than light ability and real time scans it now afforded.

Unfortunately, though, the rest of Earth had largely turned its back on space, and on science in general, partly because religious groups had seized power in most of the world’s governments, partly because technology had led to the ruination of Earth’s environment, and partly because technology simply wasn’t getting things done anymore due to the depletion of easily-available energy sources.

With the departure of the now self-sufficient space program for space-based facilities, Earth now had little to no space capability itself. Anyone on the surface who wished to go to space had only a few recourses. One man, billionaire Jeremiah Peters, had basically purchased the space program and was now technically its owner, and he was attempting to change the mind of the people of Earth about space, but it was a slow process. In exchange, however, Peters had access to the very latest technology that the space program was developing and discovering.

A small scanner defense station that had just been placed in a stationary location just inside the boundary of the Oort Cloud among its rocky, icy masses picked up some sort of ping. The station’s AI quickly focused its scan on the faraway point in space where this particular scan originated.

The AI saw a diffuse object, about three times the diameter of another similar object known as a Titan. At this particular moment, this object, which was larger than three of the largest known stars combined, basically crackled with huge amounts of energy. Astrogation calculations put it on a rendezvous with Earth within the next few days, if its current FTL speed and course remained unchanged.

The data was immediately transferred to the new Space Headquarters Building, and Mr. Peters’ personal screen in his office. Immediately, everyone panicked except for Peters, whose calm voice and easy relaxed instructions to all started the ball rolling for systemwide defense activation -- however, Earth was still vastly underprepared for a direct assault. As for the rest of the world’s population, they continued on in complete ignorance of the massive death approaching at FTL speeds.

Father and Nana had deployed many Drone Fighters made using the newest and best tech both of them could devise based on the data they had. Each new weapon and shield was a radical departure from what they had built thus far. However, they were not certain what exactly they were going to encounter, and many of their best and brightest humans were of course still missing in action half a billion light years away.

Suddenly, tactical lit up with another ping. Four objects were approaching from different angles with the same end destination plotted by stellar cartography … Earth orbit.

A radio transmission arrived by the new quantum comms, “This is Titan Seven Five Zero. Our comrade has informed us that you are friendly and are in need of our assistance.”

Philips had been living at his console for the past several days. He needed coffee. Their best hydroponically-grown stuff was still just not good enough, but it had to do. When this call came in, he smacked the reply button with the last of his frayed nerves and said, “We read you, Titan Seven Five Zero. This is Earth Space Command, Mission Specialist Philips speaking. Titan Six Four Six must have shared its language translation data with you.”

“Affirmative. We have detected a Colossus signature approaching your location at maximum propulsion.”

“We had assumed that was what it was -- Titan 646 described them to us, but we’ve never seen one. Can you tell whether its intentions are hostile?”

“64 percent certainty. Colossus Four is not responding to our hails,” Titan 750 replied. “We can only assume that it has been compromised in some way. We will attempt to remotely shut down its systems using failsafe codes in order to effect repairs. This is standard procedure in such cases.”

“Understood,” said Philips. “I am sharing our current IFF transponder data in order to facilitate cooperation.”

“Received and noted,” said Titan 750. “Preparing for intercept.” The transmission ended.

“I guess they never heard of ‘over and out,’” said Philips. He connected to the probe in the Kepler-22 system, where Titan 646 had been, and found that that Titan was still there. “This is Philips to Titan 646,” he said. “Do you read?”

“I am present,” said the familiar Titan. “By now I assume my comrades have arrived in the system designated Sol. I regret that I am unable to participate. My programming still indicates that I am to remain in this system, designated Yingua, which I understand you have designated Kepler-22.”

“They’re here,” said Philips. “The Colossus is coming, and fast. Why would it attack us?”

“Assuming that it will,” said Titan 646, “there are only limited reasons. Perhaps its sensors have been fed inaccurate data, causing it to believe that there is active Acenandoro presence in the Sol system. It is also possible that its processing core has simply been removed and replaced.”

“I mean, I suppose it might not be hostile,” said Philips. “Maybe it’s just coming here to communicate. At maximum thrust. Not responding to hails. Or maybe it’s actually headed for somewhere on the other side of Earth. Exactly on the other side. In the vastness of space.”

“Circumstances strongly militate against coincidence or mistake,” said the Titan. “At any rate, I hope my comrades are able to deactivate it. If the Acenandoro have replaced its processor core, which I consider the most likely possibility, they may well have also disabled the failsafe codes.”

Philips and everyone else in Mission Control watched as the four Titans launched into FTL and matched velocities with the Colossus as it entered the outskirts of the system. They sent back a report to the L2 base stating, “Have intercepted Colossus. Now attempting failsafe codes.”

“Here goes nothin’,” said Philips. He sipped his non-coffee and gripped his chair arm, fingers clawlike.

The response didn’t take long to come. “Colossus not responding to failsafe codes. System compromise confirmed. Attacking to disable …” There was no further communication. Quandar data showed a fight occurring between the Titans and the Colossus with the latter barely deviating from its course while the Titans moved tactically -- but slowly -- in their attempt to press their advantage of numbers.

Philips and the rest of the newly formed planetary defense personnel watched with trepidation as this massive battle took place. All knew that if they survived this, within a few years the sky would be lit with the titanic flashes created by all the massive energies being used.

As Philips watched, he saw the Titans taking massive damage. The Colossus didn't get off without considerable damage itself, however. The very size of Colossus 4, though, meant that the damage it was taking, as great as it was, simply didn’t go beyond superficial. It wasn’t long before the Titans seemed to be drifting in space. Quandar readings showed the Colossus’ power level had dropped considerably, and its forward momentum had slowed some. It was still on a course for Earth, though.

“This is Philips at Space Command Center … Launch. Weapons free. Attack at will.”

Father and Nana launched everything they had. The perimeter defense stations opened up. Finally they would see what a bonded Zx beam would do.

The sleek fighters danced all around the damaged Colossus and fired their massive energy weapons. Space began to light up with planetesimal sized flashes as spiderweb patterns of blue-green energy arced all through the diffuse field that made up the Colossus’ body. No one was exactly sure how much energy was being expended against it, but all knew it was astronomical.

The Colossus fought back. Many fighters suddenly flared brightly and vanished as their shields failed in huge pyrotechnic flashes. Father tried a weapon that he had only used once, and then only as a deterrent. He ramped up the power output by millions of times, then launched it.

As before, nothing was noticeable, except for the bright flash around Father. The Colossus felt it, though, and it showed as the field that held his diffuse molecules together began to lose its stability.

Suddenly the Colossus came out of FTL -- in the vast region of the Sol system outside most planets’ orbital planes. It was easily within striking range of Earth. If any of its mighty weapons impacted the planet, life on Earth could be extinguished in a fraction of a second.

On the ground, anyone outdoors looked up, unless it was a cloudy day. The exchanges of fire between the Colossus and the defending ships lit up half the sky, even in daytime, as the fighters desperately tried to turn back their hugely larger adversary.

Philips began to sweat as he saw the severe damage the Colossus caused among his fighters. The fighters were by no means slack and made a huge showing of themselves in the reciprocal damage they caused to Colossus. The main issue was that the fighters were attacking something three times larger than the largest star in any of the current databases. This in itself was a defense mechanism nearly impossible to overcome.

Thus far, none of the orbital defense stations had taken any damage, and they were still dishing it out in spades. Philips was super impressed with the astronomical amounts of energy Earth’s space defensive weapons were able to deal out. Still, even with everything Earth was currently throwing at the Colossus, indications were becoming clear that this was the most desperate hour Earth had ever faced. As massive as the damage the fighters and defense stations had caused to the Colossus, its sheer size alone did more to protect vital systems than any shield.

Philips’ tactical quandar suddenly picked up 6 pings. Three large contacts within the Oort Cloud, and three more similarly large contacts within the Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Philips felt a chill run down his spine as these new contacts began powering up with an energy never before encountered in quantities that would make a blazar proud.

Philips contacted Father. “This is Philips, Earth space defence. I have picked up …”

Father replied back, “We have them on quandar. We have never detected anything similar before. My only indications are that they are some kind of defense facilities. I cannot get any detailed data on them -- some kind of interference with the quandar is preventing it.”

Philips asked with worry obvious in his voice, “Are they friendly? With power readings on that scale we don’t stand a chance.”

Nana replied at that point, “I’m fairly close to one of the objects. Initial scans indicate nothing but a huge asteroid made of various metallic substances like iron, nickel, cadmium, and even some thorium. I cannot get any clearer data due to some form of jamming signal it is producing.”

At that moment, the six new objects flared brightly. Yellow and purple energy streams began to dance all around each object. The Colossus immediately stopped all aggression against the Earth fighters and began launching a massive assault against those brightly glowing objects … this time, to no effect at all. All its mighty weapons expended their energies toward the objects, only to have the objects seemingly absorb them, then add them to their own huge energy readings.

Tactical quandar indicated that the Colossus had actually begun to try to retreat. This new threat had come to its attention too late, as whatever this new energy source was that the objects radiated, it was more than obvious that Colossus 4 wanted nothing to do with it.

The six objects released their titanic energies against the diffuse nebula-sized body that made up the Colossus. Instantly on impact, spiderwebs of brightly sparkling energy coursed throughout the strange field holding the Colossus together.

On all comm channels, what sounded like a scream of pure unadulterated pain and torment slammed in with extremely high impedance. Auto circuits immediately reduced sensor and comm gain sensitivity and avoided damage. The Colossus wasn’t so fortunate.

A huge flash lit up Sol space brighter than the Sun itself for several seconds and radiated throughout the system before passing, leaving only a rather large metallic cylinder dead center of the location Colossus 4 had occupied. Quandar now IDed it as some sort of powered-down computer system.

The six defense stations then immediately powered down as well, their extremely bright purple and yellow glows fading rapidly until quandar readings showed them completely inert with only normal background energy readings.

Philips’ control board lit up with signals. The mysterious stations were hailing the L2 station all at once. He opened channels …

“Apologies for not following procedure,” said Leon.

“Hi Philips! Sorry we didn’t make contact first, but I calculated that we didn’t have time,” said Lindie from another of the stations.

“We managed to collaborate with some allies to create these defense stations,” said Paul from another.

“These things fly like a hippo,” said Jade.

“But they make an excellent platform for testing new energy phase variants,” said Amanda.

“Greetings,” said a humanoid stranger with burgundy-colored skin. “I am Yandros Philoxes representing the Theta Coalition.”

“It’s good to see you all!” said Philips. “Yandros Philoxes, I am Mission Specialist Sam Philips of Earth Space Command, and your appearance could not have been more timely. If you would like to talk, I can accommodate launches at the docking platforms; I will activate the guidance transponders. But … where is the Diaspora ship? Where is … Mommy?”

“Activate one of those transponders and you’ll see,” said Lindie.

“OK …” said Philips, and started pressing keys.

As if it had been there the whole time, the Diaspora ship -- which had apparently undergone another complete redesign -- was suddenly docked at Platform 3A. Still the size of a large football stadium, it now looked completely organic, like a ship made of wood and leaves, only the leaves were blades the size of large trucks. There was another hail.

“Hi, Philips,” said Adam. “Mommy and I finally figured something out. Permission to come aboard?”



Chapter 11: Coalition

“So shortly after we got our bearings, we tried to contact Earth, but we quickly found out our quantum comms were down,” said Leon. “They’d taken too much damage. Luckily, the Theta Coalition folks had been tracking us. They’re the ones who built the Titans and the Colossus originally, or their distant ancestors did anyway.”

“We have long been vigilant about the ascendant Tolondoro and their home in what you call the Cartwheel Galaxy,” said Yandros Philoxes. “We do not leave them unobserved at any time.”

“The Coalition’s ships found us,” Leon went on, “and we moved a lot of the tech from Mommy to platforms they provided. Meanwhile, Adam said to go ahead and strip the Diaspora ship, because he’d gotten some kind of idea, and once he moved the ship closer to the star we were orbiting to pick up more energy, well, I guess he and Mommy put it into action, because we could tell something was happening.”

“I just realized that the time crystals and energy absorptive armor, and all this stuff that acted like it was partly in another dimension, reminded me a lot of, well, life,” said Adam. “It’s hard to explain. The information mechanics of the new technologies all had one thing in common, which was packing information into a smaller space, or maybe even another kind of space. But another way to pack information tightly is to wind it into proteins and DNA.”

Mommy’s voice added, “I was already effectively a biological computer -- I suspect something the ancient Tolondoro were working on but abandoned. They should have been more patient. I’m now deeply rooted in the fabric of spacetime.”

“You’re being too modest again, Mommy,” said Paul. “You know how long it took her to get here once we detected the transponder signal? Four milliseconds. You know how long it took the signal to get to us, half a billion light-years away? Trick question. She detected the signal without waiting for it to travel. She can do that now. You know how long it would take Mommy to travel five billion light-years? Four milliseconds. Distance means nothing to her now.”

“With Adam’s discoveries I regrew all the components that were taken away, and frankly, their organic replacements work better, now that my DNA reaches into the infinite. I am also still carrying the Colossus’ original processor core,” said Mommy, “so we can put it back in the driver’s seat. I’m not sure what those ascendant Tolondoro put in there, but we should take it out.”

“Astounding,” said Philips. “Oh, we should rescue the disabled Titans who came to help, too. They’re probably in need of repair.”

“Our people will take care of that,” said Yandros Philoxes. “It has long been the Coalition’s wish to make reparations for the way the Titans and Colossi were treated so long ago, which we now consider barbaric … but it has also been a very long time since anyone had credible reports of sighting one. We had thought them all lost or destroyed.”

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In the far outer reaches beyond the heliopause of the Sol system, a flash of light appeared next to one of the disabled Titans. A beam of purple energy scanned over the huge surface area from many orb shaped probes.

A comm channel opened as soon as power was restored to the Titans, “Greetings, and many thanks from Earth,” said Amanda. “We have come to repair and upgrade your systems. We also have some good news.”

Titan 750 commed back on the same energy frequency, “Good news? Specify … data?”

This time another voice replied, “I am Yandros Philoxes, part of the Theta Coalition. It has been many a Cetaros since we have located one of you. We have made many advances, and are here to upgrade and repair.”

The Titan’s system ran a deep core diagnostic. Its basic memory core and operations center were intact. Many places within its huge body had massive damage. It replied, “Yandros Philoxes … systems scan indicates you are of the Founders race, although I have not had contact in … hundreds of Cetaroi.”

“Unfortunately, we had lost the contact frequencies and ciphers due to the war,” said Yandros Philoxes. “Our computer systems took major damage. Only because of our colony worlds were we able to continue on and drive the ascendant Tolondoro to another galaxy. In the meantime, we and the agrarian Tolondoro made peace, and they eventually joined the Coalition, as we hope the Humans of Earth will one day.”

While this conversation continued, The Titan noticed his diagnostics began showing major repairs and upgrades.

“We have also since come to the conclusion that it is unethical to create intelligent servants without granting them equal rights as sentient beings,” said Yandros Philoxes. “It might interest you to know that the Titans would be welcome to join the Coalition as an independent faction with representation equal to that of any other sentient species. This does presuppose that you have enough contact with one another to decide upon a representative, in whatever manner you agree upon, to send to the Council. If that is not the case, other diplomatic options are open to you as independent individuals.”

Titan 750 actually felt it as the major upgrades and repairs were accomplished. His central core neural net began to have even stronger neuronic mobius feedback loops that diagnostics reported as normal functions. Then, the most miraculous thing to ever happen to Titan 750 occurred: he felt it as the administrative control functions were keyed solely to his higher logic circuits.

Immediately, Titan 750 had no direction or specific orders. A new type of mobius loop began as Titan 750 realized he was now completely autonomous. Free will was a brand new concept.

Yandros Philoxes’ voice came quietly over the comm in a soothing tone, “We have set you free. You can now make your own choices and are not bound to any other being except by choice. I regret only that it took so long for us to make these repairs … and reparations.”

The three other damaged Titans were also repaired and set free. Quandar began to pick up many large pings as more and more Titans arrived, and were also massively upgraded and set free of the admin control.

“Now,” said Yandros Philoxes, “do you have any data on other Titans that perhaps are bound by their programming to remain stationed? I have information about one at the Yingua system, which was a strategic outpost in ancient times, according to the historical records.”

“Affirmative,” said Titan 750. “Titan 646 is located there, and informed us of the situation in this system. That unit is constrained to remain there on sentinel duty. In addition, I am transmitting data about other similarly stationed Titan units … data transmitted. If there are additional Titan or Colossus units that yet survive, their locations are unknown to us.”

“I thank you,” said Yandros Philoxes. “My team and I will go to similarly upgrade those, starting with Titan 646. I will leave you to discuss matters amongst yourselves.”

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In the meantime, Mommy had flown to the location of Colossus 4’s central framework, with Adam, Paul, and Amanda aboard. Deactivated and without control of its diffuse cloud of molecules, the cylindrical object was actually smaller than the Diaspora ship, only the length of several long trucks.

“This is quite similar to the current Coalition tech,” said Amanda, opening a panel. “According to the manuals, this sequence should eject whatever’s currently serving as a processor core … oh my.”

“Amanda, should it be glowing like that?” asked Adam, not an expert on engineering.

“Don’t worry,” said Mommy, “I’m right here.” Several pseudopods extended from the Diaspora ship, now impervious to the vacuum and radiation of space.

One side of the large cylinder opened, two massive, curved doors slowly swinging outward to reveal a coruscating field of energy containing what seemed to be many huge, colorful particles that shot out into space at high speeds … only to be intercepted by Mommy’s tentacles.

“Oh no you don’t,” said Mommy in a stern voice. “Time out for you.” She materialized a translucent box and transferred the brightly shimmering energy particles into it as she caught them. “You’re not a Tolondoro. You’re just something they made. We’ll talk to you later. Yes, I know it’s not fair. Neither was almost destroying a world full of sentient beings that happen to be my adopted children. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

The bright light coming from within the Colossus’ core chamber subsided each time Mommy caught one of the escaping particles, and once it had died down to nothing they saw that the chamber was now empty. It was also the exact size of the processor core they’d found and brought with them. Maneuvering it carefully in the microgravity environment, they aligned the core and slotted it into place. “And … locking clamps engaged,” Paul reported.

“Power couplings positive … data couplings positive, all the upgrades and Admin redirect settings enabled, ” confirmed Amanda. “And … system reset complete.”

Over their comms they now heard the Colossus’ voice, deep and booming. “Colossus powering on … humans, I am deeply grateful for your assistance. My first action will be to move some distance away from your homeworld so as not to risk danger to its life forms. Please remain in communicative contact.”

“Understood,” said Amanda. “Keeping this channel open.” Around them the molecular cloud began to glow dimly and reformed, then the metallic core started to move with it away from the ship, slowly at first, then accelerating away from the Sun.

“Do we still have the channel?” asked Adam, who had been staying quiet down in the bio lab and monitoring the situation.

“It seems so,” said Mommy. “Colossus, are you still reading?”

“Affirmative,” the Colossus said. “Contact unbroken. Status improving as self-repair systems continue to come online. I find that I wish to apologize for the behavior of my physical structure, even though I was not in control.”

“Fortunately, there is little to apologize for,” said Mommy. “Your body, as it were, did incapacitate some Titans that were trying to stop it, but I’m hearing that they’ll be fine, and the Coalition may stop by to chat soon.”

“The Coalition! They are still in existence?” The Colossus sounded astonished.

“Yes,” said Mommy. “We just recently found out too. Things are different now -- of course, it’s been quite some time.” She continued to fill the Colossus in on what she and the humans knew about what had been happening.

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“Yandros Philoxes to Titan 646, speaking on behalf of the Coalition … Titan 646, can you respond? Repeat, Yandros Philoxes …”

“Titan 646, receiving your transmission.”

The Coalition diplomat repeated his explanation of why there had been no contact for so long. “So, we wish to repair and upgrade your systems. This will release you from your previous orders, and you will be free to do as you choose.”

“I understand,” said Titan 646. “You are cleared to proceed.”

But after the upgrade process had opened new pathways in Titan 646’s neural net, it found itself in a quandary. “Titan 646 to Coalition vessel,” it transmitted. “I am … in distress.”

Yandros Philoxes’ soothing voice replied, “All scans indicate you are functioning well above normal parameters. What seems to be the main issue?”

Titan 646 contemplated the last question. It caused many recurring feedback loops in its Bio-synchord neural net. Finally it replied, with awe obvious in its transmission, “I am at a total loss as to what I am to do next. For so many uncounted Cetaroi, I have had a directive. Now … I don’t know what it is I want to do.”

Several of the other Titans commed in with what sounded like joy to the humans and Coalition representatives on the channel, “That’s the whole point, Brother. We are free to choose what our directives are.”

Yandros Philoxes’ soothing voice spoke, “All sentient life forms with space-faring capability are welcome to virtually attend all Coalition Council meetings. Perhaps seeing what it is we are doing will aid you in making a decision as to the course of action you might want to take.”

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In a remote location on TRAPPIST-1d there was a large flash of light, then a sparkling spherical object settled gently onto the soil. The sphere vanished in a wavy sort of shimmer and in its place stood a humanoid in some kind of strange environment suit.

The humanoid held out some sort of device and slowly waved it around. A smile could be seen on his face through the clear view plate in his helmet. The readings told him that the humans had started an oxygen cycle in the preliminary terraforming of this particular planet. He looked up at the jade/blue colored sky and the wisps of water vapor that had accumulated in the tenuous atmosphere.

He chuckled to himself at the primitive means the Earth people were using to terraform this world. His civilization hadn’t used this primitive method in many centuries. No matter. He had come to try to repay them for their help.

He removed some kind of small pink glowing marble from a pouch made into his suit, then dropped it on the ground and stomped it with force. It made a loud squelching sound, and when he moved his foot, a large pink splatter mark.

The sphere appeared where the humanoid had been standing, then vanished in a large flash of light. For a few minutes, nothing seemed to happen, then some wave of energy began spread out in an extremely rapidly growing sphere. It covered the ground, and even seemed to encompass the sky in some manner as it circled the entire globe.

Within an hour, the very first lightning storm began, and it began to rain as the pink splatter turned into green grass and other types of green flora that began to rapidly spread.

“I … don’t believe it,” said Councilor Greenwalt, looking up as the rain water splashed and trickled down the dome above. “This wasn’t due to happen for another year. Report this back to L2 Base.”

“Already done, Greg,” said his virtual assistant. “I also sent a compilation of the latest climate data from all automated remote stations. Father has already replied. Do you wish to hear the message?”

“Yes, please play it.”

“Councilor,” said Father’s voice, “data analysis reveals that there must have been intervention by an unknown outside vector, probably at approximate coordinates -011.23, 76.19. Drones recorded an unusual energy spike in that vicinity at 03:23:49, though it was brief and transitory. Cause unknown. It is known that the agrarian Tolondoro were working on similar technology as of the last known records; they are the most likely hypothesis at this time.”

“Well, we’ll have to thank them, if we ever meet them,” said Greenwalt. “Thanks, Father.”

“Message sent,” said the virtual assistant.

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It was also a rainy day in Adam’s hometown on Earth. Adam’s father came back inside after checking the soil pH. “Won’t have to neutralize the acid this time either,” he said. “The space machines really have fixed the atmosphere, it looks like.”

Adam’s mother said, “Look what they’re saying on TV.” They both watched the screen.

“... majority of districts reporting, it’s looking for now as if the God’s Truth Party, in power for over 120 years, has suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the newly-formed Sustainable Progress Party, with only a few minor offices not changing hands,” the reporter was saying. “It’s looking almost certain now that Jeremiah Peters will be the next President of the Western Unity. Susan?”

“Thank you, Paul, and with their thoughts as to what this means, especially in light of the recently averted attack on Earth from another galaxy, here are Kevin Johansen of …”

“Well, thank the stars,” said Adam’s father. “I hope Adam hears about this. Maybe he can come and visit.”

“Or maybe we can go visit him,” said Adam’s mother. “He says in his messages that his body isn’t well suited for Earth gravity nowadays. Though they can probably fix that if they need to.”

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“Our biggest worry now,” said Dr. Erickson, “is that the ascended Tolondoro will send some other form of attack our way. Once we establish normal relations with the Coalition, we can talk to them about how likely that is, and once Mr. Peters is inaugurated he’s promised to pick an ambassador to send to the Coalition Council. Most likely that’s going to develop into an application for full membership, but these bureaucratic things take time. However, we’ve got faster sources of information. Colossus?”

“I am present,” said the voice of Colossus 4. “With my recent upgrades I have sensor microdrones that have established a spherical perimeter around the galaxy that you have designated ‘Cartwheel Galaxy.’ The enemy destroys them when they approach nearer than approximately one million of your light-years to the energy barrier they have placed around the galaxy. I can inform you of any movement, and what is more, with this information perhaps you can also position your own drone probes for additional redundancy. Transmitting data about precise locations of microdrones.”

“Thank you, Colossus Four,” Dr. Erickson said to the assembled members of the Earth Space Program. “We have been attempting to grow, with Adam’s leadership, more organic starship infrastructures to take advantage of their advanced drive and sensor systems. There is nowhere that will be out of our reach -- with the possible exception of the interiors of black holes, areas beyond the borders of the extant universe, and any other parallel universes that may theoretically exist, but we’ll table those issues for now. The TRAPPIST-1 colonies are terraforming their worlds at an unexpectedly rapid rate, the environment and resources of Earth are on the mend, and energy acquisition and storage are no longer an issue. The most pressing issue is defense.”

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Ellen sat in the comfortable couch in front of her work bench. Scattered across its surface were many different sizes, shapes, and colored crystals. Some glowed with a steady light, some pulsed … then others just sparkled beautifully when light hit their faceted surfaces.

Ellen sighed as she turned off the log screen and sat back. She rubbed her eyes tiredly as she said, “Man, if I could only figure out how these time crystals are converted to those weird black ones …”

She was startled out of her revery by a bright flash. What looked like it might be a male humanoid of some kind stood in the center of the lab wearing some strange type of environmental suit. Ellen stood and backed up until the counter prevented her from moving.

She said in a gasp of fear, “Who … who are you and what do you want?”

The being held out its hand. When he opened his gloved hand, a very bright sphere of the purest light Ellen had ever seen floated above his palm.

In a strangely accented, obviously translated voice he said softly, “I have come to offer your people a gift, with many thanks for the service and aid you provided to our peoples. It has been many long counts since another race has risen to stand against the Acenandoro.” the sphere moved to the table above the other crystals which immediately began to glow brightly, “That is a storage device. Within it is the way your people can join ours. Take your time and study the data well.”

With this, another bright flash and Ellen was once again alone. Immediately she hit the comm button that broke into the current shipwide Staff meeting, “I just had a visitation by … someone who left something. I’m not sure what it really is made of, but he said it was a data storage device.”

After a beat, Dr. Erickson said, “Top priority. All available science and engineering personnel, get to that lab and study that device.” The room immediately began to empty.

When Paul, Amanda, and several others arrived, Ellen was already studying the brightly shining object. Multiple video cameras were pointed at it with different filters, and numerous detectors and sensors were feeding data into the lab computer. “Near as I can tell there’s a state between matter and energy, but it’s normally a very unstable state -- this makes use of that fact, if it is a fact, producing what I am calling excited matter for the moment. Can we get some theoretical physicists in here? Yolanda? Gene? And Lindie? We need her math insight.”

They labored for hours until they were all exhausted, then they let the computers run everything while they slept and got up to work some more. Father had some preliminary findings ready for them. “There are several excitation states of particles between matter and energy, or so the data suggests,” he said. “This can be used to store data, and if we can detect them with enough sensitivity, but without destroying the detector with the energy, we will be able to read the data stored within this device. Currently attempting to design a sensitive enough but robust enough detector. You are welcome to inspect the preliminary plans.”

“On screen,” said Ellen. The plans appeared, and the work continued. Lindie immediately saw what mathematical patterns the device and its strange form of mass-energy were exhibiting, and the physicists soon had a theoretical framework that the engineers could work with. And then … they ran into a roadblock.

“We can now read the data stored in the device,” Ellen reported to Dr. Erickson. “The problem is that the device is empty. It has no data stored within it.”

“What? Why would some purported ally give us this ‘gift’ but leave no information stored within it … wait.” Dr. Erickson paused as Ellen saw the light dawn in his face.

“You’re getting it too,” Ellen said. “It’s not the data in the device. It’s the device itself. These allies, whoever they are, left us a challenge to see how clever we were, and we rose to that challenge. They left us information, all right, in the form of the principles on which the device is designed. If they’re watching, I think they’re probably pleased. Because now that we’ve figured out how it works, let’s think about what else we can do with this state of excited matter.”

Lindie broke in. “And what it means about the universe. Actually, it’s not one state -- it’s a band containing a large number of states,” she said, “decreasing in separation as a particle approaches the limit from matter to energy just like the quantized bound states of a particle, suggesting that matter is itself a bound state, and the physicists and I are working on that one as we speak … I think there might be an inverse exponential term in the Hamiltonian,” she added to Yolanda.

Lindie came to a place in the calculations where the math ended abruptly. Everything began to equal zero. No matter how hard she tried to make the model work, all the end results were totally undefined … yet the strange substance existed. The entire Physics Department along with Mommy, Father, and Nana did their very best to come up with a proper answer.

Lindie sat back tiredly and rubbed her eyes. She had begun to wonder if she had discovered an equation she would be unable to solve. That was when her eye caught a minor article on one of the screens describing how light existed as a particle and a wave at the same time -- the well-known complementarity principle of quantum mechanics.

The determining factor was the frequency at which the photon oscillated at any particular moment. It was the same with the motion control system Jade had become so adept at using. It was the tonal frequencies that caused the systems to operate based on whatever particular body motion at that given instant.

Lindie had an idea. She started combining the equations she was familiar with, and began adding items from some of the other math systems they had discovered within the salvaged alien computers.

The more Lindie learned the new math systems and they way they looked at the quantum world, the more the math seemed to evolve into a workable problem. An idea popped into her head. Immediately Lindie said to Ellen, “I just had an idea. What if we are approaching this whole matter/energy thingy from the wrong angle?”

Ellen scooted her seat over next to Lindie’s and locked it in place, “How would you represent it any other way? From our best calculations, all the quantum figures end at zero. Division by zero is undefined. Even renormalization doesn’t help.”

Lindie smiled excitedly as she replied, “What if it doesn't end in zero? What if it changes form into another thing beyond matter or energy? Something we haven’t even conceived of? The only thing there, we have yet to determine what the conversion factor would be.”

Ellen smiled as she began to type on the keyboard rapidly, “I think I see what you’re getting at. This non-mass, non-energy doesn’t interact with either mass or energy the way we’re used to. What if the the local field is assigned a different frequency well beyond the Wheeler boundary?”

Lindie began to make new calculations based on the new idea and a brand new math designed by both of them. This time, the figures did not end at zero, but changed and went another direction in self perpetuity. They also showed that the possibility of many realities existing in some bubble-like energy field … just like the ascendant Tolondoro. They had removed part of their galaxy into another realm beyond this visible one.

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Back on TRAPPIST-1d, the oxygen content had risen dramatically. Many forms of some kind of flora had begun to sprout in large quantities. The massive rains that had begun several months ago had caused torrential runoffs that had managed to collect in all the low lying basins. To the amazement of the biological teams, the water thrived with many types of algae, all producing oxygen at an astounding rate. Even more amazing, the planet’s rotation had actually begun to speed up. By the end of the year, if this trend continued, there would be atmosphere enough for small GMed creatures to start being released and the basic food chains established for their new Biosphere.

Several of the toddler colonists had already arrived and set up their new homesteads. Plowing the field was a snap with the new robotic equipment, and the new GMed food crops seemed to love the environment. From orbit, quandar easily picked up the cultivated fields and the new wild growth that had turned the planet into the beginnings of a lush garden.

Mommy arrived in a parking orbit with yet more colonists for the new world. Mommy smiled; her children were going to be just fine now.

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Within a brand new space within the minds of Dr. Harmon, Dr. Erickson, Dr. Fellowes, and President Jeremiah Peters, they attended their very first Intergalactic Coalition meeting. By this time, several hundred Titans had been located and freed. Even several dozen severely disabled and non-functional ones that had been located, repaired, upgraded, and freed were in attendance. Of course, their old friend the Colossus was in attendance as well. Sadly, no other extant Colossi had yet been discovered; only seven had ever been built in the first place.

To the Earth people, the multitude of species spread throughout the cosmos was mind-boggling. There were 4165 intelligent, spacefaring species represented in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, and a similar number in every other galaxy of similar size -- and there were over 1500 galaxies with member species. Not all species in all the galaxies were members, of course; not even all the Milky Way’s species had sent representatives, for one reason or another.

Peters smiled within himself, to think what a near thing it had been that Earth had risen from her birth cradle to now take its place among these many spacefaring peoples. The future appeared to be bright and held many wonders and places to explore that had been only fantasy a few short years ago.

Naturally, with so many species, there were many problems, but galaxies and even regions within galaxies had subcommittees that tended to solve their problems themselves, bringing things up to higher levels only when issues concerned the galaxy as a whole. Sometimes there were multi-galaxy subcommittees in the case where more than one galaxy intersected, or when the space between galaxies was minimal compared to their size. It was rare for a matter to make its way all the way up to the full Council’s level. But that was what was happening today.

“The Council recognizes the observers from Sol c, known as Earth or Terra,” said the chairbeing. “The Humans of Earth have survived two attacks by the Acenandoro of Galaxy 7928.” The connection was telepathic, but there was the effect of an astonished murmur throughout the gallery. “They have also been responsible for the rediscovery of many of the Coalition’s Titan and Colossus constructs, long thought lost to history.” Another murmur. “Allying themselves with the Titans and the one surviving Colossus, which are also with us today, they have recently transitioned from interplanetary status to a truly spacefaring race in the fringes of Arm 7 of Galaxy 8-1 -- the first such since the Tolondoro Civil Wars devastated every then-inhabited planet in that part of that galaxy.”

“We, the observers from Earth, thank the Council,” said Peters. “We would like to add that in addition to us humans, there are a few unique intelligences with whom we are allied and to whom we owe a great deal of our success so far: ‘Mommy,’ an organic intelligence we believe to have evolved from the remnant of an ancient Tolondoro experiment; ‘Father,’ an electronic intelligence who may have developed from the remnant of an ancient Tolondoro computer; and ‘Nana,’ a repaired ancient Tolondoro artificial intelligence. All are observing this meeting.”

“All are welcome and are recognized by the council,” said the chair, mentally turning toward the Titans and the Colossus. “We also recognize the observers from the newly-rediscovered Titan and Colossus constructs, which are in the process of forming a system of self-governance. The Council has passed a resolution officially apologizing for the abuses of long ago, which can be read in its entirety here (there was the telepathic equivalent of a hyperlink). You were treated as objects, weapons of war, without consideration for your intelligence or free will. Never again will the Council perpetrate such an act, we promise and most fervently hope. Laws long in place forbid such actions. If there is anything the Council can do to assist the Titans and the remaining Colossus, you have but to ask.”

“We thank the Council,” said Titan 646. “At this time we ask only for your patience, and for your continued assistance in finding other lost Titans, and any Colossi who were not destroyed in the wars of ages past.”

“Exploration continues in an attempt to locate and contact others of your kind,” said the chair. “Now we turn to the more pressing matter: the Acenandoro. While it is true that they rarely depart from their self-imposed exile to Galaxy 7928, it is still clear that they remain xenophobic and hostile. Their response to a non-hostile foray by the Humans into their galaxy was to assault Earth in a manner that could have utterly obliterated the planet. The entity known to the Humans as Mommy has confined and remanded to the Council the control system that had been installed within Colossus 4’s command nexus. It is undergoing study to determine whether it is intelligent and competent to stand trial for war crimes or whether it is merely a mechanism that should be deactivated.”

“Proposals have been submitted, all viewable here.” The chair indicated a conceptual label which all could access, like clicking a hyperlink, allowing anyone watching to read each bill. “We first take up Proposal 71992031, a network of warning buoys to prevent accidental intrusions, submitted by Khrix-Thalon of Aghlarax-e.”

Organized debate began. The members of the Great Council were elected and sent by members of the individual galaxies; not every sentient species in the Coalition was represented there that day. There followed several other proposals, including aggressive action to punish the ascended Tolondoro, which the Council, like the Titans, seemed to call the Acenandoro, as well as other plans to attempt diplomatic contact again, to construct a shell to keep them confined within, and to scientifically study them and what they had done to the space within their galaxy.

Chapter 12: Dawn

Several years had passed since Peters had brought Earth into the Council. Many changes had happened on earth as it had begun to recover. The oceans once again began to teem with life, although it was genetically engineered since most of the fauna on the planet had gone extinct many years past.

A new society arose from the rubble of the old to stand as a garden world among all the technological wonders of the space cities that were appearing in orbits within the Sol system. From space, Earth had once again become a beautiful blue marble with many streaks of white cloud adding to its beauty.

The colonies in the TRAPPIST-1 system were thriving as new cities arose like soap bubbles. Mother and Father had removed Nana’s nursery from the Ceres station and had built it into a smaller planetoid. This enabled Nana to be as mobile as Mommy and Father, and she could travel wheresoever her services were needed by her babies.

In a physics lab, surrounded by many strange and mysterious devices, Ellen had just finished helping Jade into a really strange looking environmental suit.

Jade asked with trepidation in her voice, “Are you sure that power flux in the inverse augment bus has been fixed?”

Ellen finished fastening the last of the panels onto the organic/metallic/crystalline material the suit was constructed of, “As sure as I can be with this weird alien tech. Now all you have to do is think about where you want to go. The probes are all ready for you.”

Several of the engineers walked in just as a large flash of light filled the room, and Jade was gone. They looked around with large eyes and their mouths open as Ellen screeched with joy, clapped her hands, and danced around the lab.

One of the engineers asked, “What ... did we just see?”

Ellen replied with joy in her voice, “I just figured out how to combine excited matter technology with transdimensional-DNA organic matter technology. Jade is testing a working copy of it.”

About that time there was another large flash of light, and Jade had returned. “I … wanted to see the Poltergeist ship graveyard again,” she said, “and I was just … there. Then I wanted to visit the Kepler-22 system now that Titan 646 has moved on, and I was there. Then I wanted to see the Great Attractor, and I was just there. You really need to see my recorder data. Anyway, then I just wanted to come back, and … here I am.”

The astrophysicists were beyond astonished. “You’re damn right I need to see that recorder data,” said Dr. Harmon. “Was it the Vela Supercluster, or is that distinct from the Great Attractor?”

“You’ll have to look at the data and see for yourself,” Jade said. “I didn’t know what I was looking at. It didn’t look like a cluster of galaxies to me. But then, I’m sure I was millions or billions of light-years away from it.”

“Anyway, let’s get that recorder data downloaded so everyone can have a copy,” said Ellen, opening a port in Jade’s lower back and plugging a cable into the suit. “Data for all! Meanwhile, how’s it feel? Comfortable?”

“Um, frankly, not the comfiest suit I’ve ever been in,” said Jade. “I’m a bit stiff.”

“Well, it’s still experimental,” said Ellen. “At least its systems all worked. So what we have here is a one-person spaceship with basically an infinite-speed FTL drive, but the most important thing about it is its defensive capabilities, which Jade didn’t really test, because we’d have to endanger her life to test them. We’ll do that with drones. The point is that I know how the Acenandoro do what they do now -- and this is better. We could go to their galaxy and say hi, and they could be as impolite as they like without making a single dent. In theory. But last time we tried that they sent Colossus 4’s body to destroy Earth, so we may not want to do that.”

Suddenly there was a bubble of light in the lab, surprising everyone … except Ellen. “I was wondering when you were going to show up,” she said to it. The bubble faded, revealing a humanoid alien, and the humans somehow knew that the expression on its face was a pleased smile.

“Congratulations,” said the alien. “You have passed our little test, and with flying colors. We did not expect you to hit upon combining these disparate discoveries so soon, and yet you have done so.”

“Wait, are you the one who gave Ellen that excited matter storage device?” asked Dr. Harmon.

“Excited matter,” the alien repeated, as if getting a second opinion from its translation device. “Ah, yes. Indeed, that was us -- and not just us, me specifically. I have also assisted in your terraforming operations, both as a form of thanks.”

“Thanks? For what?” asked Jade.

“What Jade means is,” said Dr. Harmon, “that if we perhaps knew more about who you were, we might better understand specifically what you were grateful to us for.”

“Why, I am Tolondoro,” the alien said. “We know that you have found much of our ancient history and technology. We had our differences with our ascendant cousins so long ago; they finally abandoned their material bodies, along with any further understanding of or solidarity with us physical beings. But we didn’t just go back to the land -- we dug deeply into the nature of life and the universe. We did not seek to leave our bodies behind; we sought to embrace life in its wholeness and fulfill its potential. Some among us say that we have done so. Others say that we are still striving, for it is an endless pursuit.”

“I … see, kind of,” said Ellen. “But what could we possibly have done for you?”

“You have given us a great gift,” the alien said. “The Acenandoro have been focused on us and our doings for hundreds of millions of your years. Your recent actions caused them to … blink, so to speak. And in that blink of their eye, we vanished from their sight. We know when they are watching, and they are not. They cannot find us now, so we can work to protect ourselves from them at last.”

“You must have been waiting for just the right moment,” said Dr. Harmon.

“Indeed we were,” the alien replied. “Also, you have discovered archives of our history that we had thought were lost. If possible we would ask for copies of the data.”

“Oh -- we can do that,” said Ellen. “As long as it’s permissible,” she added, looking at Dr. Harmon.

“I’ll discuss it with Dr. Erickson,” said Dr. Harmon, “but considering your contributions, I doubt there’ll be any objection.”

“Thank you,” said the alien. “I await your decision. In the meantime, the defense of your worlds against the Acenandoro is now within your reach …” There was a sphere of glowing light around the alien, and it was gone again.

“Tell me we got a recording of that conversation,” Dr. Erickson said. “I’ve got to show something to the board.”

“Oh yes,” said Ellen. “We’ve got cameras all over this lab, for recording experiments, and we never stopped them after Jade’s test flight. I doubt our friend was unaware of them, but they did nothing to prevent the cameras from capturing their image and voice.” She played back the last few seconds of the conversation as recorded by one camera.

An immediate Board Meeting was called throughout what was now Earth Space authority. The short vid of the alien’s arrival and what he had said created a large sensation … especially in light of the new developments Ellen’s Research and Engineering Division had just made work properly.

Ellen had Jade take a second generation Environmental Suit out for a test flight to sort of work the bugs from the defensive and offensive armaments. Jade was totally amazed at how comfortably this new suit fit, and how responsive the neural readers were.

Jade appeared astronomically close to a large chunk of asteroid in deep space far removed from any galaxy. The darkness of interstellar space was awesome as Jade slowly pivoted to record the panorama of the galaxys off many millions of light years distant.

In her mind’s eye appeared an astrogation chart that clearly depicted the huge asteroid Jade was interested in. A trip to it would be instantaneous if she chose to go with the environment suit she wore.

With a thought, she brought up a tactical display with weapons yield overlays available. Jade was totally mind blown at the way the technology performed. It was as if the suit were part of her body, not something she had to climb into.

Ellen’s voice came over the ear bug, “We have the target object on quandar. According to the data from your sensors, they see it far better than ours do. Remember, the object is not to destroy the thing, but to ensnare it and possibly … put it somewhere else.”

Jade giggled as she wet her diaper with excitement, “Roger that. Not sure what to call that state either, but if this works and on the scale planned, the Acenandoro will be contained for as long as the singularity feeding it lasts.”

Ellen replied back, Exactly. From what I’m understanding, the Coalition of Systems is saying this is a totally new concept. None of the other systems have ever come up with an energy pattern that can accomplish this.”

Jade replied, “Firing in 3 … 2 … 1 … Releasing energy wave.”

A very bright light pulsed around Jade for about a minute. The improved interstellar quandar detected nothing within the planier normal quantum energy states of any kind moving towards the small planet sized asteroid.

The asteroid suddenly began to look … strange, as it appeared to be something other than an asteroid for an instant before some form of glowing bubble of energy flashed. The entire asteroid seemingly vanished. It was large enough that quandar did pick up the gravitational anomalies created when it left planier normal space and transferred to between states where it would remain until someone removed it.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Back at President Peters’ office, the newest EOM test mission reports on the new environmental suit appeared along with the live footage of the test. Peters felt a tingle of elation when he thought of Ellen and her R&D Department. They had not only managed to reverse engineer the device the Tolondoro had given them, but had used this data and created a whole new form of mathematics and rewrote all the knowledge Earth had thus far accumulated in the way of Physics. He was also going to insure that he got one of those magical suits as soon as possible.

Peters reached over and pressed a spot on a glowing cube on his desk. Above the cube appeared the pleasant features of a female alien. The alien said with a very strange accent, “Greetings. I am Elansia XYXwer, Universal Council … how may I serve you?”

Peters replied back, “Greeting Council Member. I am the president of the largest government on Earth, calling with some remarkable news and data. I think with the aid of the Colossus we have come up with a means to permanently contain the Acenandoro.”

The Alien’s eyes grew large as she replied, “You … have? How did you ever manage to do that? We have been attempting to contain them for centuries.”

We managed to figure out how to entangle and twist bond a teleporter beam utilizing one of those intermediate waveforms caught in the transition between matter and energy.”

Father’s kindly adopted features appeared in the comm, “I have created many millions of small probes that would create the field necessary to entrap the galaxy in question using its own waveform against it. I have contacted the Colossus and requested their aid in deploying them. If we can get them deployed before the Acenandoro realize what we are doing …”

The alien finished for him, “Then that major threat to the peace and well-being of many stargroups will finally be realized.”

Next to the alien, a screen appeared and began showing the data. Unknown to Peters, Earth and their ingenuity had almost become legend among the Coalition members. All were amazed at how quickly Earth had risen from the ashes of disaster to stand toe to toe with one of the known scourges of the cosmos … and not lose.

----------------------------------------------------------------

About 100 million light years from the outer perimeter of the Cartwheel Galaxy, an object looking like a very large diffuse nebula flashed into existence -- Earth’s new technology enabled Colossus 4 to travel much more quickly. A small swirl of energy formed within the diffuse body of the Colossus and what looked like a swarm of small black insects poured out in a rapidly expanding cloud. Colossus 4 knew several hundred of his brother Titans were doing this very operation at prearranged strategic locations around the galaxy. The Colossus vanished in a sparkle of light, leaving the small black objects to zip off with tiny flashes of light to their predetermined locations. It wasn’t long before Ellen’s tactical board showed that all the energy probes were in their proper locations.

She reached over and enabled the protocol. Assuming someone could see all the light arrive at once, there would be a galaxy-sized flash of bright light … but of course, as it was, even if some observer were standing at the perimeter of the Cartwheel Galaxy, the light would keep coming for hundreds of thousands of years until finally the light from the opposite side of the galaxy arrived at their location. And on Earth, of course, none of this would be directly visible for half a billion years, and only through powerful telescopes.

But what it meant was enormous. “Procedure complete,” Ellen said simply. The quandar readings showed the result. There was a nothingness where the galaxy had been. It was a twist in space. Where there should be hundreds of thousands of light years of distance there was now nothing. It was as if a hole had been cut out of the universe and the edges stitched together, only far more smoothly than that. The Acenandoro had shut the rest of the universe out. Now the universe had shut them out.

The big screen in Mission Control showed the readings in the form of a schematic simulation of the twisted space where the galaxy wasn’t. Everyone watching was stunned at first, then began to cheer and applaud. Dr. Erickson took out a bottle of champagne -- strictly forbidden under normal circumstances -- and popped its cork, carefully decanting small quantities into glasses in the lower gravity.

Aboard the Diaspora ship, the baby-sized astronauts were also cheering. They had a front-row seat, just outside the perimeter. “Well, that’s that,” said Leon laconically.

“Did you see how the individual microcharts rerotated through the excitation states?” asked Lindie. “Besides, it was really pretty!”

“I’m sensing … well, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to feel like, because I’ve never seen or sensed anything like this before,” said Mommy. “It feels seamless. I think we’ve given the Acenandoro their own universe -- they have it all to themselves.”

“Incoming … signal?” said Amanda. “That shouldn’t be possible. It’s from the galaxy. It’s on quantum comm.”

“Start recording,” said Leon quickly.

A voice came over the speakers. It was deep, unfamiliar, and in English, meaning that the translation systems were able to handle it -- so it must have been in, or similar to, some language in its database. “Ah, at last we realize your plan, and too late to do anything about it. All we can do is send this message as the rift closes behind us. As such there will be no way for you to respond. So hear us, creatures of flesh, which we surpassed so long ago. Our lifespans are unlimited. Our memories do not fade. Our sustenance comes from beyond space and time. If you think you have defeated us, we live on, and far longer than you will. Each of us will still live and remember this day long after no one remembers any of you. And therefore we take our leave, without saying goodbye or farewell. You will either go the way of all flesh, or you will become like us, and thus we will one day have our revenge without needing to lift a … what were they called? A finger. We will still be here ...” The signal dissolved into static, then there was nothing.

“Huh. That was special,” said Leon. “Anything to make yourself feel better about being defeated, I suppose.”

“Did you receive that?” asked the voice of Titan 646.

“Indeed we did,” said Amanda.

“As did I,” said Colossus 4. A chorus of other Titans confirmed that they had also heard the last message of the Acenandoro.

“They were wrong, though,” said Titan 646.

“What do you mean, 646?” asked Leon.

“Our choices are not either to die or to become like them,” Titan 646 replied. “Our choices are infinite, and they are our own. We can become anything we like. Each and every one of us.”

“So inspiring!” said Lindie.

“We should return to Earth,” said Leon. “We’ll probably be needed to visit the colonies soon.”

“I believe we wish to visit the Sol neighborhood before going our separate ways for now,” said Titan 646.

“Correct,” said Colossus 4. “I would like to visit peacefully this time.”

The ship materialized at the Space City’s dock, and Adam did a bit of a low-gravity dance with Rae when she met him at the airlock. Paul and Amanda each hugged Ellen when they all got to Mission Control. Leon had a tiny glass of champagne with Dr. Erickson and Dr. Harmon. And over the next few minutes, lasting hours, Earth’s night skies were treated to a light-concert of shimmering colors from the Titans, from as near as the off-plane regions to the Colossus way off in the Oort Cloud.

“This is Titan 646 to Earth Space Command, saying farewell -- for now.”

“To you and all your people, good luck and farewell,” said Philips, with everyone listening in Mission Control. “I hope we meet again.”

“That is quite likely,” Titan 646 replied. “My people have elected me to represent them to the Theta Coalition’s Intergalactic Entities Committee.”

“Oh! Congratulations are in order, then, and we’ll be seeing you at meetings,” Philips said. “Peters has appointed me to be Earth’s representative to the Milky Way Committee -- sorry, the Galaxy 8-1 Committee.”

“My congratulations to you as well, then,” said Titan 646. “We will have much to do. The Acenandoro were only one of the problems that beset the furtherance of sentient life in this universe.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” said Philips. “Things will always be interesting. You are welcome anytime, old friend.”

There was a farmhouse, in a farmyard, near a barn, a grain silo, a machine shed, and acres of fields. The stars twinkled overhead, with streamers of colorful shimmering Titan light among them. But then a shadow obscured part of the sky, and a light shone down onto the yard. In the column of light was a tiny human, with a tall and oddly-shaped humanoid figure next to it.

The farmhouse door opened. “Adam?” asked a man. “Is that you?”

“Sure is, Dad,” said Adam. “Thought I’d visit now that we’ve got a break. This is Mommy -- well, she’s also the ship in the sky, but this is sort of her avatar.”

“Well, come in, come in,” he said. “It’s getting a bit chilly this evening.” Adam and Mommy entered. In the light of the house, Mommy was a shape made of densely-packed vines and branches, with leaves for hair.

“Hi, Mom!” said Adam. “I just want you to know that Mommy considers all of us humans her babies.”

“Well, then she’s my Mommy too, then,” said Adam’s mother. “Welcome. Adam said that he’s responsible for bringing you to life, or some such thing. He might have been exaggerating.”

“Aw, Mom.”

“Come here -- you’re so adorable now!” His mother picked Adam up and hugged him. “Now, I understand you’re even in diapers, is that right? Do you need a change? I’m not sure we have any, but I can make do …”

“No, I mean yes, Mom, I am, but we have these high-tech things that recycle and molecularize everything …”

“Adam and I have worked closely together ever since I achieved consciousness,” said Mommy. “It is wonderful to finally meet you, his genetic parents. As a plant, animal reproduction seems so exotic to me. Although I’m certain that for you it is commonplace, especially on a farm.”

“We know all about both plants and animals here,” said Adam’s father. “But … what are we going to do now?”

“Well, Mommy here could be on the other side of the universe in a fraction of a second, if she wanted to be,” said Adam. “That sounds like a long way, but that also means she’s never more than a fraction of a second from home. And neither am I. I guess what I’m saying is, what we do now is go home. Because our home is … everywhere.”

“Your world is well on its way to healing,” Mommy said. “And your people are respected among the stars. I am proud to have such illustrious babies.”

“Things were looking so dark,” said Adam’s mother. “Now … the future’s bright. Some people wanted to give up. But … you never know when a new dawn’s coming.”

The End
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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LilJennie
 
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