A Gift from the Stars

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A Gift from the Stars

Postby Miki Yamuri » Fri Dec 18, 2020 8:53 pm

A Gift from the Stars

By: Miki Yamuri & LilJennie

It was a dark night, moonless but clear. Officer Jim Radcliff sat in his cruiser, hidden from the lonely stretch of highway he had the unfortunate luck to do speed control on tonight. He was glad he only had to do this particular task twice a week. Others had this task on a rotating basis so no one person was always stuck with it.

He sat back from the paperwork he was doing and turned off the interior lights. The stars overhead were clear and bright. The only other light was from town, appearing as a soft glow far off in the distance.

As he looked to the sky, he saw a large fireball streak across the sky and vanish beyond the horizon. Jim smiled as he said the rhyme from his youth and made an off handed wish before taking out his thermos and having a hot cup of coffee.

He laid his head back in the seat and stretched for a minute before getting out of his patrol car to answer nature’s call. It was in the middle of that when his radar went off, sounding the excess speed alert. Before Tim could get back into his patrol car, he managed to catch a glimpse of a very strangely shaped vehicle zipping past on the lonely highway below.

According to the radar, the vehicle was traveling at a steady 120 MPH. Jim grinned as he cranked his interceptor and dug out from his hidey-hole with sirene and lights blazing. The speedometer rapidly swung around to peg out at 145 MPH. Jim had the fastest interceptor on the squad. He kept modding it and tuning it to insure he could catch the newer sports cars.

As he quickly gained on the strangely-shaped vehicle, it instantly sped up and started to pull away from his patrol car. Jim was astonished. The next thing that happened almost caused Jim to wreck, as the vehicle ahead of him lifted off the pavement, the wheels folded into the body of the car, then it vanished in a very large flash of light, leaving Jim totally wide eyed and open mouthed in disbelieving shock.

Randy Colter sat at his desk with his head in his hands. Colter Electronics had done very well in the beginning - that is, until the large corporations had begun to somehow stop his supplies of badly needed materials and components.

He’d had to shut down a large portion of his production lines due to the loss of several big contracts because of this inability to obtain the necessary materials in a timely manner. He didn’t know how to tell his staff of the impending layoffs, nor how he was going to pay the bills that were starting to pile up.

Right in the middle of his doom and gloom, Jennie’s sweet voice came over the intercom, “Randy? There are several people here I think you should talk with. They have some interesting things to talk with you about.”

Randy sighed then replied, “Ok, have Miki show them in.”

Shortly, a very pretty young woman in a professional business suit opened the door and escorted two men and two women, also dressed in what appeared to be very expensive business attire, into the office.

Miki said, “Randy, this is Mr. Ooblinski.” She indicated a gentleman in a black business suit, who offered Randy his hand.

Randy shook the man’s hand firmly, “I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Ooblinski. How might I help you today?”

The man motioned toward one of the young women with him, who stepped forward and placed a device on the desk, “I have a proposition for you.” He pushed a place at the bottom of the device. A holoscreen appeared above it. “I will supply all the materials and necessary instructions if you will allow us to use your production facilities. You may keep all the rights to the technology we build. I promise you, it will place your company at the top of this … technology of your world.”

On the holoscreen appeared one schematic after another for a great many super innovative computer components and other electronic devices.

Randy asked, “How will I get those kinds of components and materials? Many of them are only obtainable through the very corporate entities that are trying to put me out of business.”

Mr. Ooblinski smiled as he indicated one of the other men with him, “This is Mr. Nirteel. He’s my … let us say, procurement officer. I’m sure he will have no problems getting whatever materials you need in whatever quantities you need. All we need is access to your manufacturing capabilities. We will even pay your company's bills while we are here. After we have completed our manufacturing, you definitely won’t need it any longer. I promise, your company will be more than self sufficient.”

“Well, this is tempting,” said Randy, “but I didn’t get this far without business instincts, and they’re telling me to ask what the catch is. What do you get out of this deal?”

Mr. Ooblinski nodded. “It’s astute of you to ask, of course,” he said. “Let me be frank. We have a problem that caused us to go to you instead of one of the large, faceless corporations. We’re not … here … in an official capacity.”

“Wait, you’re telling me that you’re illegal aliens?” asked Randy. “Well … ordinarily I wouldn’t risk trouble with the law, but I need the business badly. If you won’t tell, I won’t.”

“Illegal … aliens,” said Mr. Ooblinski slowly, looking at the others who had come with him. “I’m afraid that is basically accurate. We do not wish to involve any government immigration authorities.”

“All right, that explains it, then,” said Randy. “I’m here for business, not trouble -- and you just don’t seem like you’re here to make trouble for me.”

“Oh, no, we merely want to help you in exchange for your helping us,” Mr. Ooblinski said. “A more than fair trade for you.”

Randy said as he shook Mr. Ooblinski’s hand, “Ok, you’ve got a deal. Come with me and I’ll show you my production facilities. I’m sure they are still in operational order, although I’ve had to close that section down recently due to poor business.”

The group followed as Mr. Nirteel said, “I’m sure we will have no problems getting this anti … I mean, equipment in proper working order.”

Several of the others looked at Nirteel with a strange expression as Randy made note of it all. Something was not exactly normal, but the promise was too great to complain too much.

He led them through the doors into the Huge production area. One of the other women said with obvious joy in her tone, “This is more than perfect, Captain.”

Randy caught the nudge one of the men gave the woman as Mr Ooblinski said, “Lets get to it then, ladies and gentlemen. We need to get our team together and start showing these individuals how we need to build things.”

Over the course of the next week, several teams of highly skilled engineer types had arrived and begun showing Randy’s workers how to modify the existing equipment. As promised, Mr. Nirteel provided all the necessary money, materials and rare earth elements.

Randy was amazed at the computer components they had shown them how to produce. The process used a radical new method. It operated on a quantum level through a bonded molecular process unheard of before. Atom-sized transistor-like components, and lasers coupled with linear accelerators no bigger than a few molecules.

All were interconnected by a nanoribbon of 2 molecules in size. It was rapidly discovered that Carbon based electronic chips that operated using light instead of electrons used miniscule amounts of energy to function, and were not susceptible to the many hazards normal MOS devices currently in use were. This leapfrogged all electronic tech on Earth by many centuries.

One of the engineers, named Hptkie, began insisting Randy start advertising a new breed of quantum neural net computational devices that the engineer seemed to assemble right before Randy’s eyes out of the newly created components.

He had shown Randy this device solved all the issues everyone else was having with quantum computers and made it the size of a laptop with a computational power beyond anything mankind had ever dreamed previously. What was more it used a minuscule amount of power to do it.

The innovative new batteries were a miracle. They not only produced tremendous amounts of energy, they appeared to self-regenerate by taking energized molecules from the surrounding environment and storing the energy in a lattice of graphene and ferrous oxides.

The next massive innovation was the manufacture of robots and drones. The visiting engineering team showed Randy’s engineers how to create a wonderful array of polymers that were reactive to light impulses. When coupled with the molecule-sized lasers, it created an artificial type of nerve and musculature never before heard of.

The different colored molecule-sized lasers acted like nerve impulses coupled with a form of graphene fiber optics that acted as nerve fibers of a sort, which allowed the artificial polymer musculature to flex and contract like a regular biological muscle. It produced a muscle that was many times stronger than a human’s, and many magnitudes more durable.

This created not only workable limbs and appendages for robots and droids, it also created a new, fantastically advanced, and better than human prosthesis application for damaged and severed human limbs.

Android assemblies began to make their appearance around the production area, and Randy was told to offer them to the mining industries. A type of drone also was constructed that took on several forms.

With a far better way to create articulation in limbs, something that became known as a panther came into being. It had 4 legs and could run, jump, climb and basically maneuver exactly as gracefully as any cat.

The heavy loader drone had tank treads and six articulated appendages with grabbing reconfigurable ends. This made loading and unloading heavy and dangerous cargo a snap, not to mention the applications in mining and excavation.

Spiderbots and what would become known as the surveillance fly also came into being as the technology was planned out, then slowly manufactured to the specs specified in the technical data provided by Ooblinski’s team.

Brand new, fantastically advanced technology filled every workbench and assembly area throughout the plant to the extreme delight of the engineers and workers.

When the basic technology was created, the imaginations of Randy’s engineers and technicians ran rampant as new ideas from their fantasies were realized on paper, then manufactured using the new tech Mr. Ooblinski’s crew showed them how to make.

Randy was sitting at his desk about two months after the arrival of Mr. Ooblinski’s team when Miki, one of his engineering team, entered his office. He looked up from his computer screen at an unusual ‘tick tick tick’ noise as she entered. Following behind her was a black thing about the size of a large St. Bernard dog that looked like a spider, with six legs and several upper appendages that obviously acted as arms.

Randy sat back and said, “Who’s your new pet, Miki?”

Miki giggled as she replied, “It’s one of the drones R&D came up with using the new tech. I call it Sally, because it has a cute female voice.” She turned and pet it on what appeared to be its head. It made a cute squeaking noise, “Be a good girl, Sally, and give Randy a cup of coffee.”

A panel on the droid’s back slid open and a hot steaming cup of coffee rose out of it on a small plate of some sort. Miki took the plate with the cup and handed it to Randy. He took it and gave the steaming beverage in the cup a tentative sniff. His eyebrows rose in surprise at the best aromatic coffee aroma he had ever had the pleasure of experiencing caressed his senses. He lifted the cup to his lips and took a small sip. The taste was far superior to even the most expensive coffees he had ever tasted before this.

Randy said with obvious pleasure before he took another sip, “This is fantastic. I hope it can do more than brew coffee, but this is great.”

Miki replied, “It can do millions of things. And that coffee wasn’t brewed. It was fabricated using a technique Mr. Nirteel’s team showed us. It’s a bit complicated, but we are learning we can make anything from anything else that way. This is just the prototype droid R&D came up with. They asked me to take it out and run it through some paces, “ she shrugged, “So I’ve basically been giving it routine service tasks to perform. It has exceeded my expectations … it can even talk to me like a person.”

Randy smiled as he asked, “Well, Sally, what do you think of your duties so far?”

Sally replied in a very sweet little girl’s voice, “I think it’s ok so far. But I’m able to do so much more if Miki would just let me.” it even sounded like a little girl pouting.

Randy laughed, “I’m sure she will. But you be a good little pet and do as she asks.”

The bot seemed like it nodded of all things and replied adorably, “Promise.”

Miki said, “I need you to come to the assembly area. One of Mr. Ooblinski’s engineers has built a small working model of what he calls a Null Reactor. They also have something they are calling a Null Reaction Drive. It’s amazing. Produces thrust, but not in any way I or the rest of the R&D team can discover.”

Randy stood and said, “OK, let’s go see what they have cooked up. I’m sure it’s something mind blowingly advanced like all the other things.”

Randy, Miki, and the spiderbot left his office and proceeded to the assembly area. As they entered, they saw a softly humming object in the center of the huge room that looked like a lunar landing module the size of a small chest freezer sitting on its landing pods with glowing fibers and tubes wound all around it as it gave off a blue/green glow. Several of the engineers hovered all around it and monitored the controls.

Randy walked up to one of them and asked, “Jim, what is that thing?”

Jim didn’t look up as he made minor adjustments to one of the rheostats. “They called it a Null Reactor. Not exactly sure what makes it work, but I can tell you this, that little thing produces more energy every few minutes than Walker Nuclear Station can in 100 years.”

That was when the cute redhead computer tech, Jennie, noticed the indicator blinking on her screen. “Um, Mr. Colter,” she said, “remember when you told me to tell you if the new security perimeter sensors picked up anything?” Colter looked at her screen. “I think the direction this is coming from is … up.”

“What the …” Colter said, going to the nearest security terminal on the wall. “That’s not a normal reading. The frequency … the energy …” He looked at the Null Reactor. “They’re a lot like that thing there.”

“Maybe Mr. Ooblinski has other friends,” said Jennie.

“Trajectory’s neither ballistic nor aerodynamic …” said Colter. “Helicopters don’t just hover at 60,000 feet.” Then his phone rang. He looked at it. “That’s … I have to answer this. Do whatever you need to do,” he said to the people in the room. He stepped into a nearby unoccupied office and closed the door to answer the phone call.

“Mr. Colter, this is Special Agent Neil Shandry of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” said a voice on the phone.

“Yes, I got your letter, email, text, and voicemail,” said Randy. “Sorry I didn’t get back to you -- it’s been crazy busy here. And you didn’t say anything about anyone breaking any laws.”

“It’s not that we think you or any of your legitimate employees are breaking the law,” said Agent Shandry, “we suspect that you have an impostor in your facility who is in reality working for Shundue Heavy Industries.”

“What? They can’t do that!” said Randy. “Who is it?”

“That we haven’t discovered yet,” said Agent Shandry. “What I need to know is, have you hired anyone new within the past two months? We might need to interview them. As I’m sure you’re aware, spying for a Chinese firm like Shundue violates the Espionage Act.”

“I see,” said Randy. “I’ll get you a list of all new hires within the past 60 days, then. Is there anything else I can help you with today, Agent?”

“Is everything all right there?” asked the agent. “You sound like you’re under some sort of stress.”

“It’s just -- you know, the pressures of the job, day to day operations, that kind of thing,” said Randy. “If there’s nothing else, I really have to get back to it.”

“Very well,” said Agent Shandry. “I’ll look forward to that list.” He hung up.

The last thing Randy needed was a bunch of FBI agents showing up at the factory. He left the office and saw that they’d shut down the Null Reactor and opened the large garage doors that led outside, and Jim was tinkering with some other gadget now, some kind of antenna, which he was setting up outside on the concrete, pointing up at the sky.

Randy walked out to the antenna thing and asked Jim, “What’s that supposed to do?”

Jim replied as he hooked some type of transmitter / receiver device to it, “ Whatever it is that Jennie’s security scans found, I’m gonna get a high-powered scan of it with this new thing Mr. Ooblinski’s crew gave us.”

With that, Jim threw the power switch. Massive arcs of energy danced all up and down the spider like arms of the array. A screen that had been dark began to glow and show static and many wavy rolling lines.

Jim went over to the controls beneath the panel and started adjusting several dials. The picture on the screen cleared and became sharp. What it depicted was nothing like either man had ever imagined.

Jim said with awe in his voice, “Tell me I’m not seeing this”

Randy replied softly, “I can’t. I see it too. That looks like some kind of … UFO.”

Jim laughed, “Yea, right.” He looked back at the reactor for a minute before he said, “Randy? I have a sneaking suspicion all of a sudden.”

Randy said quickly, “Keep them to yourself. It wouldn’t be very wise to go telling everyone what you just saw.”

Jim nodded, “Yea, they already think I’m nuts.”

Both men laugh as Randy turned and motioned for Miki and Jennie to follow him. They, along with the spiderbot, all went back to his office. Waiting for them were Mr. Ooblinski and several of his people. This time, they were wearing a strange type of uniform instead of the business suits.

Mr Ooblinski said as he motioned to the others with him, “Mr, Colter, I think it’s time we gave you an explanation for some things. It has come to my attention there are others who have taken notice.”

Randy sighed as many thoughts began to run through his mind. “Ok, now you’re going to tell me some ultra-secret organization is coming to kill us all, right?”

Several of the men snorted a laugh as a large smile crossed Mr. Ooblinski’s face, “Not exactly. But I am going to enlighten you on a few things and perhaps give you a thrill of a lifetime.”

With this, he motioned towards the door. It was more than obvious he intended for Randy and the girls to follow. There were several escorts behind. Mr. Ooblinski led them out of the factory into the executive parking lot. Parked in one of the slots was the most exotic vehicle any of them had ever seen.

One of the men did something and a panel slid back. Within were several gravity couches to the rear, and two in front. There was also a control panel the likes of which none on earth had ever imagined.

Mr. Ooblinski said, “If you fine people would be so kind as to get in and fasten the harnesses, I have something I want to show you. I will remind you not to tell anyone. I don’t think it would go well for you.”

After Randy and the girls had gotten in and fastened their harnesses, the rest entered the vehicle. Mr. Ooblinski sat in the driver’s seat and one of the others sat next to him. The rest sat in the seats with Randy and the girls.

The panel slid shut with a hissing thump. The vehicle backed out of the slot and in a flash was on the highway. Randy knew instantly the vehicle became airborne as he felt vibrations of something in motion accompanied by thumping sounds. The front of the vehicle pointed straight up as they were pushed forcefully back into the soft embrace of the couches.

Within an instant, Randy knew they were leaving the atmosphere as the vehicle seemed to accelerate even faster.

“I knew it!” said Randy. “There was just too much that was new to us.”

Mr. Ooblinski chuckled. “And yet you didn’t say a thing,” he said. “Now, maybe that was because you needed the business and you didn’t want to stir up trouble. But I prefer to think it was because you wanted to find out the truth for yourself. Yes, we’re not from around here … ‘here’ meaning your solar system. We were exploring your neighborhood when we ran into a bit of a technical problem. Luckily, your planet was inhabited and had almost the level of technology to help us. But … we didn’t want to cause a worldwide scene. We just wanted our ship fixed, so we found you and made a deal. You make a few things for us that we need, and we give you the technology to do it, which you can easily find profitable uses for.”

“I don’t think I would’ve believed that story two months ago,” said Randy.

“I would’ve,” said Jennie.

“Me too,” Miki added.

“You should listen to them,” said Mr. Ooblinski. “They’re smart. Anyway, I should’ve known we couldn’t escape notice completely -- either from your fellow humans or from our people.”

Jennie and Miki giggled among themselves for a few minutes as the craft made orbit. Randy looked at them and said, “What are the two of you so overjoyed about?”

Miki said with glee obvious in her voice, “Doncha get it, Mr. Colter? We are actually being abducted by real aliens. All those times we talked about it ... and it’s really happening.”

Mr. Ooblinski said, “I wouldn’t say we are abducting you; we are just taking you on a bit of a tour of enlightenment.” He pointed at the forward viewscreen.

Randy’s mouth fell open in complete shock as they rapidly approached a craft similar to what he had seen on the scanner back at the plant. It was beautifully graceful and like something out of a dream in its advanced nature.

The smaller craft they were in approached rapidly, slowed down to enter a large opening, and glided smoothly into a landing bay beyond their wildest imaginations. As their craft settled into the docking clamps, the man next to Mr. Ooblinski removed his harness and said, “I’m going to the bridge, Captain. Tactical says there’s a Xerlov battle cruiser in the area.”

Mr. Ooblinski turned and said, “Please follow me. Stay close; I wouldn’t want any of you getting lost and into something. It could prove to be … detrimental in places without escort.”

Randy, Miki, and Jennie took off their harnesses and followed the Captain to a lift. When the doors opened, the three of them stood in stunned silence as they looked over the bridge. Words could not describe the advanced area filled with the bridge crew at their stations.

The Captain walked to his gravity couch and took a seat. He swiveled slightly and said, “Tactical, what you got?”

A young woman with a lightweight headset and her face turned toward several glowing bluish holo-screens replied, “It’s definitely a Xerlov battle cruiser, Sir. They have a new type of stealth, apparently, but a minor adjustment poked big holes in it. They’re fully armed and appear to have several drone swarm escorts.”

The Captain swore, “Damn, did they get a scan of us?”

The Tac officer replied, “No, Sir. I managed to ping them before they pinged us. I’m really concerned that they followed us here. We’re quite far from our system, and we’re just a research vessel.”

The Captain pushed a button on the arm of his couch. “Weapons, what’s our current loadout?”

A male voice replied with a really strange accent, “No’ sure we can do a long battle, Cap’n. Gots tha new NR missiles an’ a complete load of N wave particles.”

“How many total?”

“Can do a spread o’ ‘bout 75. Ifn we can catched ‘em by surprise, we can knock ‘em out afore that swarm thingy activates.”

The captain replied, “Stand ready to launch on my command. Until then, bridge out.”

A Highly Encrypted Satellite Communication in Chinese Code:

“Gong-Gong calling Nuwa and Fuxi, do you copy?”

“This is Nuwa, message received 5 by 5. Report.”

“ I have managed to infiltrate the perimeter of their R&D section. It’s like nothing you would believe. Did you get the package?”

“We received it. Is this chip for real? Or some kind of mockup? We can’t figure out how it’s made or what function it performs.”

“I promise you, it’s for real. It’s getting hard to function here. Security is tight, and with the new technology, I think they might be on to me.”

“We will attempt an extraction. Do not return to work in the morning. Be at the beach at midnight. Your extractor will be waiting.”

“Copy that -- beach, midnight ... out.”

“So I’m guessing that a Xerlov battle cruiser is … bad, then?” Jennie asked.

“Oh -- Captain, you didn’t tell us we had guests!” said the tactical officer. “Hi, I’m Moorlee! I couldn’t tell that you weren’t speaking our language -- one disadvantage to using otherwise very convenient translation computers. You must be some of the … humans, right? From this planet we’re orbiting.”

“Yes, we are,” Jennie replied.

“OK, welcome aboard!” said Moorlee. “Yes, the Xerlovs are pretty much bad news wherever they are. They’re aggressive and unscrupulous. But it’s strange that they’re here -- this is a neutral system, and it’s not like they can claim it, since there’s an inhabited planet in it. No idea what they’re doing here. Maybe Intelligence has figured it out, but it’s not my department. So you’re some of the people who are making the parts to fix the NR twist fluctuator?”

“I … guess?” Jennie replied. “I kind of think that we’ve been given different names for things, to keep everything secret.”

“Oh, well that would make sense,” Moorlee replied. “Also, I’m not an expert in NR helical propulsion dynamics. I mean, I can tell you that they perform simultaneous translation and rotary hyperinversion in NR space, but anyone can tell you that.”

“Wait, this sounds familiar,” Miki interjected. “I bet there’s a widget that emits a beam of … well, we don’t know what they’re called, but they’re particles with charge and spin of +2, which immediately decay into +1 particles spinning opposite directions just as they go down these two opposite channels … because we’re making those.”

“That sounds … familiar?” Moorlee answered. “I’m not the engineer here.”

“Me either,” said Jennie. “I’m just a software engineer. I do really like your computers.”

“Oh, yes, I’m not an expert on their code, but I know all about their operation and hardware -- we all have to train on that. Too much needs replacing too often.” Moorlee giggled.

“I know!” said Jennie. “It must be that way all over the galaxy! Always gotta have the latest doodads, or nothing works.”

“We have a report, Sir,” said the intelligence officer, a tall, thin person with pale skin and some kind of data visor over their face. Flickering readouts played across their features.

“Yes, Intelligence,” the captain replied, “go ahead.”

“We can’t directly scan the Xerlov ship without attracting their attention, but their drone swarms don’t have as sophisticated detection mechanisms.”

“There isn’t room on those tiny things for all those bells and whistles,” whispered Moorlee to Miki and Jennie.

“By scanning them and eavesdropping on the drones’ communication packets, we’re guessing that the Xerlov are here not to claim the system for themselves, but to prevent someone else from doing so. We currently can’t say who.”

“Valuable insight,” said the captain. “Thank you, Zoruu. Keep watching them; maybe they’ll slip up. And see if you can jam their drones -- don’t do it until I give the order, though.”

“Aye, sir,” said Zoruu, going back to his console.

On a very dark moonless stretch of beach far from the city, a man stood with his hands stuffed in his trenchcoat. He kept looking at his watch as it approached midnight. Without warning, he heard the sound of splashing water, then several men dressed in black wetsuits pulled a large black inflatable boat onto the shore.

In Chinese:



“Sorry we are a tad late. Seems there are patrol boats out and about. Get in quickly, the sub’s waiting just off shore.”

The man in the trenchcoat got into the inflatable. The men in the wetsuits followed. They quickly began paddling the small boat out to sea.

A very bright spotlight came on and shone right on them, and a voice from a loudspeaker shouted, “This is the Coast Guard. Heave to and be boarded or we will destroy you.”

The men saw another spotlight on the sub. There were many Coast Guard men on the conning tower and around the forward hatch.

The captain rose from his gravity couch and said cordially, “I’m sorry for my bad manners. Allow me to give you what Earth calls the nickel tour. I might even be inclined to give you some souvenirs to take back. The doctor has been itching to give you some modern medicines and get you off of those nasty snake oils.”

Several of the bridge crew snickered a little as Moorlee spoke up, “Now, wait. It isn’t nice to treat our guests like that.”

The Captain replied, “I’ll make a bet with you that after Doc gets done with them, they will actually agree.”

Moorlee replied, “It’s a bet.”

Zoruu spoke up and said, “Hey, I want a piece of that action. I want to show them a few things too in our R&D.”

The captain smiled as he held his hand towards the bridge elevator, “Ok, it seems you have my crew wrapped around your little finger. If you come this way, I’ll introduce you to Doc. I must warn you, though, Doc ... isn’t human. Well, not even humanoid.”

The three Earth people entered the lift with the captain. He said out loud, “Sick Bay.”

Once again, when the doors opened, they found themselves in a wonderland of their wildest fantasies. Amid mostly unoccupied sick beds there were medical robots standing ready and readouts of what were probably many crew members who weren’t even present. There was a holographic scan of the captain and each of the humans, standing right next to each of them, moving in real time, showing what they looked like without any skin or muscles. “Wow, look at the update speed of these graphics,” said Jennie, looking at herself.

“I can see my heart pumping my blood,” Miki said. “And the fillings in my teeth!”

“Well, I can see the stent in my coronary artery from my surgery three years ago,” said Randy. “Pretty amazing --”

“What?” said a voice. “They’re still doing that on your planet? Might as well be using leeches. Well, to treat an imbalance of humors. Leeches are actually quite good for preventing clots during microsurgery. But anyway! Here, let me fix that.” Something touched his shoulder, and there was a faint hissing sound.

“Hey, the stent just disappeared --” started Randy, but when he turned around to face the voice, he saw what looked like a large amoeba, an amorphous translucent blob with extended pseudopods acting as tentacles, carrying medical instruments and devices.

“I’m sorry, but I could not let that medieval quackery go on in good conscience,” a voice said, coming from the blob. “In case our captain hasn’t told you, I’m Dr. Oowooloo. And your blood vessels won’t be collapsing -- ever. You still need to get more exercise, though. No cure for that.”

“I know, I know,” Randy said. “Thanks, though. That’s going to confuse my own doctor to no end.”

“Young lady, you appear to have quite a sweet tooth!” the doctor was saying to Miki. “Just let me …” Miki’s holographic doppelganger no longer had fillings in its teeth -- or cavities. “There. Enamel regenerated.” It was pointing a device at Miki’s mouth, which she hadn’t even opened.

“Oh! Wow!” said Miki. “I didn’t even feel anything!”

The doctor had turned to Jennie. “Looks like some excessive bladder muscle tone compared to your psychological readings,” he said. “It must be a struggle, being a baby like that, with medical science so primitive. There, let me fix that. Now you’ll never have any problems with bladder control again. I’ll have one of the med bots change you.”

“What?” asked Miki, and Randy blinked.

“Oh, is there some sort of taboo I’m overstepping?” asked the doctor. “I’m sorry, if so. I thought you would all know that your friend here was a baby. I mean, she is wearing diapers.”

“I …?” asked Randy, not knowing where to begin. So many strange things had happened today that one more was almost like nothing.

As for Jennie, the med bot had just returned with her from a side room. It had given her some kind of lollipop-like candy, which she was sucking on. “Uh, thank oo,” she said to the robot, candy in her mouth.

“It was my honor,” the robot said in a mechanical voice.

“Jennie, are you …” Miki began.

“A baby?” Jennie replied. “I mean, yeah? I guess it’s kinda obvious now. Wait, is my bladder control gone? Like, for good?”

“Yes,” the doctor said, “unless further intervention is performed. But your profile indicates permanent dysphoric feelings linked to that area, commonly seen in those who use infantile behavior as a coping mechanism, one of the 823 known healthy psychological mechanisms for coping with daily stress. It also indicates feelings of embarrassment or inferiority linked to this coping mechanism, though, which probably signifies social stigma connected with this activity.”

“Yeah, it’s not exactly socially acceptable on Earth,” said Jennie.

“Well, it’s fine in space, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your duties,” said the doctor. “It’s uncommon, though. There’s only one crew member on this ship who does it …” There was a brief moment when the air seemed to blur around the two of them.

“What’s that?” asked Randy.

“Privacy screen,” said Ooblinski. “The doctor’s just consulting with her doctor-to-patient, now that he knows there’s a social stigma. Earth is so strange in many ways. What’s wrong with being a baby? Everybody is one, to start with. Might as well say there’s something wrong with being an athlete or a singer.”

“I … just …” Miki began.

“Just what?” asked the doctor, who seemed to have given Jennie some sort of necklace or choker type of device, which she put into her purse. “Your profile indicates dysphoric feelings linked to your height, which I gather is below average for humans, judging from the scans I’ve made of the planet.” He turned to Randy. “You have dysphoric feelings linked to your weight, which is far from rare on any world, but the treatment I’ve given you should make exercise far more productive for you. You still have to do it, though.” Turning back to Miki, he said, “There’s more than one choice about how to help you.” The privacy screen reappeared, this time over the doctor and Miki, and neither Jennie nor Randy could hear what they were saying.

“So … I guess you need to wear diapers now?” Randy asked Jennie.

Blushing, Jennie replied, “I actually always have worn them. I guess I’ll just have accidents now if I don’t. I’ve never let it interfere with my work.”

“Oh -- well, don’t worry about that,” said Randy. “I’ve never noticed, and your work is excellent. I’ll just … act as I’ve always acted around you. Or try to.”

Jennie blushed bright pink. “If I w-want to suck my thumb at work,” she said, “i-is it OK?”

“It doesn’t bother me, but you’re touching keyboards and surfaces,” said Randy. “I worry about you catching something. Isn’t there something else you can …”

Jennie took something out of a container in her purse. She popped a pacifier in her mouth. She was still blushing brightly.

“Ah, of course,” said Randy. “You can disinfect that, and it doesn’t have to touch any surfaces. Perfect. Well, it’s now company policy that pacifiers are allowed, and harassment of coworkers regarding their coping mechanisms is not.”

“Th-thank you,” Jennie stammered. “I actually feel a lot better now.”

After the privacy aura dissipated, Miki stood with a dazed look on her face. One of the Nurse-bots came to her and cooed softly as she held out her hand and wiggled her fingers, “Come with me, Sweetheart. I will take good care of you and make sure you are dressed properly.”

Randy watched with an amused smile on his face as the Nurse-bot took Miki by the hand and led her into another room like a little girl. A few minutes later, the Nurse-bot led Miki back into the main examination room.

Randy’s eyes grew large and his mouth fell open as he stammered, “Oh my … I don’t believe it. That’s just how I’ve Imagined her since I hired her.”

Miki stood, still with a dazed manner, and looked around. She was now dressed in a very adorable powder-blue fairy princess babydoll dress. It had puffy sleeves and a very short hem that showed off the matching powder puff panties. With this style of dress, it was very obvious that she too was in a diaper.

Randy walked up to her and knelt, “Miki, I’ve always thought of you as a living babydoll. This .. is exactly you. It’s perfect.”

Dr. Oowooloo said in a very joyous tone, “Yes, she is now a cute little babydoll person. Although I think you will have to hire a few nannies to take care of your new infants. They will need certain attention now and then.”

Captain Ooblinski said with a wave of his hand, “That’s not an issue, Doc. I’m assigning several Nurse-bots to take care of that.

Dr. Oowooloo replied, “Very good. I also have a med package I want to share with them. Since I now know their medicine is just barely above witch doctors dancing by the light of a full moon and snake oil …” He turned, picked up a large satchel and handed it to Randy. “I think your world will be overjoyed with some of the surprises in there.”

Jennie gasped when she saw Miki. “Miki!” she exclaimed. “Miki baby too?” Jennie’s diaper was all but invisible, but that was because she was wearing a dress that did a good job of disguising it -- the kind she usually wore to work, actually. One wouldn’t know Jennie was a baby right now except for her pacifier.

Miki said shyly, “Cuz am so short … awways thoughta myselfs asa Babydoll.” Miki looked down at herself then back at Jennie before she giggled, “Now, bof of us can play.”

Dr. Oowooloo said in a soft voice, “If you two infants want to play, I’ll have a Nurse-bot take you to the nursery while we adults do our thing.”

Randy smiled as he said softly, “That sounds like a wonderful idea. Jennie, why don't you take your babydoll friend and go play in the nursery while the Captain and I talk.”

“Well, as long as it’s OK,” said Jennie. “Come get me if you need me for anything …”

“It’s fine, go de-stress!” said Randy. “I de-stress by hitting baseballs in the batting cage. Or sometimes tennis or racketball.”

Before Jennie or Miki could say anything, a Nurse-bot had come and taken each of them by the hand and started leading them off toward a transparent door that hissed open and then quickly shut behind them. Randy could see the Nurse-bot sitting them down in what looked for all the world like a futuristic playpen. Jennie took that choker out of her purse and put it on, then tapped the button in the front. She got a big smile on her face and started playing with the toys. Miki was talking to the Nurse-bot, who turned to a panel on the wall and got her one too, helping Miki put it on. Soon Miki was playing happily as well.

“Looks like they’re well taken care of,” said Randy. “So … I take it that we aren’t in any immediate danger from these Xerlovs?”

“Oh, no, they don’t seem to have detected us yet,” said the captain. “Well, I think they might suspect our presence somewhere on Earth, probably because of the energy readings from your factory, but you shut those off. I should have thought of that, but I didn’t know they were here then. When we go back I’ll show you how to install some shielding so they won’t detect anything next time you test the Null Reactor.”

“OK, great!” Randy said. “So … what does need fixing?” he asked. “Your ship seems fine.”

“It’s a lot better than it was,” replied Ooblinski. “However, one particular part is the Null Reaction Drive, without which we cannot safely leave Earth orbit -- it’s irrevocably broken, and we don’t have a spare. We currently have only attitude control thrusters, which can keep us in orbit indefinitely, but we can’t go anywhere else. This is why we came to you, my friend. You are building us a replacement Null Reaction Drive. In return you have the blueprints and can build more of them if you wish.”

“Oh, I see,” said Randy. “And all the various technologies that go into the drive have other applications.”

“Exactly,” said Ooblinski. “Everything from nanoelectronics to helical polywave energy transmission."

“There’s something else, though,” Randy said. “I suspect espionage. And I also suspect that our government has discovered that espionage.”

“Hmm, that could complicate things … but as long as they don’t discover the true source of your technology, you’ll be fine. Just remember to let your employees learn as much about everything as possible, so they can innovate -- then everyone will just think you’re all geniuses!” Ooblinski said quietly, “Especially the ones who are babies … they tend to pick up on things really fast. Something about accessing the parts of their brains that are really good at learning quickly.”

“Oh yes,” said the doctor. “Babies of all species learn quickly, so those who cope using regression often have an easier time doing that too. I myself cope with stress by becoming water, but not every species can do that.” He made a shrug-like gesture with two pseudopods.

“Now, let’s see about getting you set up with some shielding, as well as some good detection software for finding those pesky spies,” Ooblinski said. “Thanks, Doc!”

“My pleasure,” the doctor said. “Don’t forget to look in the bag.”

“I won’t, thank you,” said Randy. “Great to meet you, and very interesting!”

“Before we go back to Earth, we’ll pick up your two adorable employees,” said Ooblinski. “But first, let’s go to Security.”

Randy followed the Captain back into the elevator. When the door whoosed open in its airy way, once again Randy found himself in a wonderland of technological magics. Many holo-screens floated everywhere showing just about every location on the ship, and a few that weren't. Several crewmen were there sitting in comfortable looking gravity couches. Each one of them had some type of helmet on with very unique goggles.

“This is why you don’t see security guards on the ship -- for the most part,” said Ooblinski. “There are cameras everywhere, fixed and mobile, and they’re monitored constantly, by crew and computers. The computers pick up anomalies and report them to the security staff, who check them out. Over time the computers have gotten very smart at picking out significant incidents. Pretty standard for a ship this size nowadays, really.”

“No guards?” asked Randy.

“Well, of course we have security staff,” said the captain. “It’s just that they only need to go where there’s a significant incident. There are security stations, designed so that staff is never more than a minute away, and there are drones that can be anywhere in seconds. It might give the impression that the hallways are empty, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“Sounds very efficient …”

“Which brings me to why I brought you here,” said Ooblinski. “I’m giving you some of these.” He went to and opened a cabinet, taking out and opening a carrying case to show Randy. “Some of our mobile cameras. You’ve already got a few of our computer units. They can learn your employees’ patterns pretty quickly. If anything out of the ordinary happens, they’ll raise a red flag. At which point you can send in your own people, or some of these.” He indicated the mobile drones. “Not too effective against an enemy starship, but against an individual or three … they’ll be stunned and helpless long before your personnel arrive.”

“What about … if they’ve already exfiltrated information?” asked Randy.

“They have,” said Ooblinski. “Not much, though -- some photos of a chip or two. No actual hardware yet -- it would’ve been missed. Our computer has been monitoring your planet’s information networks -- it’s pretty simple for it to find patterns that are out of the ordinary for your civilization. Some organizations you call ‘corporations’ in the country called ‘China’ have taken an interest in you, it seems, which means their government knows too, since they and their corporations seem to operate hand in hand.”

Randy swore. Ooblinski smiled, as his word choices had evidently been translated into the linguistic equivalent.

“Well, once information is out, there’s no getting it back in,” said the captain, “but with these, you can prevent them from getting their hands on more.” He closed the case and gave it to Randy, who took it.

“Thank you … again,” Randy said.

“Now we’ll stop by Engineering, where I can show you exactly where the component you’re working on will go,” said Ooblinski. “Should give you some insight …”

As soon as Jennie entered the playroom, the Nurse-bot asked her, “Do you wish to activate your regression device?”

Jennie took the choker necklace out and looked at it. The doctor had told her how to activate it and basically what it did, but she was a bit apprehensive -- also rather excited, however, as it promised to allow her to do things she’d previously only dreamed of. “I’d like to, but this is my first time.”

“I will watch over you,” the robot said. So, as Miki watched, Jennie put the choker band around her neck and tapped the clasp in back.

“Regression time?” a calm voice asked in Jennie’s head, which briefly startled her, even though the doctor had told her how it would work.

She recovered and replied, “Five minutes.”

Apparently it read her intent and translated the time into its own units, because she then heard, “Regression process, default settings, time: five Earth minutes. Begin.”

Things suddenly became quite different for Jennie. It was like her world suddenly shrank. There was the play area and its soft mat, which was wonderful for her to feel with her fingers, there were toys around her to explore, and there was her friend Miki, who was watching her with an astonished expression. And there was the Nurse-bot, whose presence Jennie accepted as comforting and helpful. Jennie sucked rhythmically on her pacifier and reached for some of the toys, which were a type that made sounds based on how they were touched and oriented, and she cooed and giggled in surprise and wonderment as she tried to make different sounds with them. She saw Miki and offered the toys to her. At no point did she attempt to say any words. Her thought processes had melted into a smooth-flowing stream, golden and undisturbed by any worry or care. She didn’t worry about how she looked, where she was, or even how to talk.

Miki said some things to the Nurse-bot that Jennie didn’t understand. What she said was, “Is … is there any way that I can have one of those devices too?”

The Nurse-bot replied, “Of course. You may try it, and if you find it effective at stress reduction, you may keep it. According to my sensors, stress indicators for the patient named Jennie are dropping dramatically, meaning that there is a high level of confidence that regression is her primary anti-stress mode. Perhaps it is yours as well. Oh, here comes a crew member who also uses this mode.” Tactical Officer Moorlee had entered the playroom.

“Oh!” said Moorlee, hopping up and down excitedly. “I knew it! You’re both babies too! I just had a feeling!” She took a breath. Jennie was looking at her with a smile because she was being funny, while Miki was just momentarily confused. “Sorry! Let me start over. I just got off my duty shift and came here for some baby time. This is soooo wonderful! I didn’t know Earth had babies too, but I suspected when I met you … oh wait!” She giggled. “One of you doesn’t understand a word I say right now.” Jennie was looking up at Moorlee, recognizing her and smiling at her happy tones of voice, but to Jennie what Moorlee was saying registered as nothing but friendly sounds. “Well, I’m going to join you. Be right back.” She went through a door into a changing area.

Meanwhile, another Nurse-bot had brought over another choker necklace, giving it to the first robot. “Here you are,” the robot said to Miki, giving it to her. “After fastening the clasp, tap it, and there will be a thought-activated interface process, where it will ask questions and you must merely think the answers in return.”

By the time Moorlee returned, dressed in adult-sized versions of what must have been baby clothes for her species, Miki was also playing happily along with Jennie. “Oh, this is going to be so wonderful to join them!” she said. “What a treat! Other babies to play with!” She already had a similar regression device on -- it visibly changed color to white, to match the mostly-white outfit she was wearing, again over rather obvious and thick diapers.

Jennie blinked and looked up at her. “Oh! Officer Moorlee!” she said. “You must be a … baby too! How wonderful!”

“How is it?” Moorlee asked. “You must have set a short time limit for your first time.”

“Yes, I didn’t know what to expect,” Jennie replied. “It’s … amazing. It’s like … the core of my being just returned to its natural state. I feel like I just slept for three days!”

“That’s great! And I need some of that same thing, so I’m going to join you,” said Moorlee. She pressed the clasp, and soon Moorlee was cooing and playing in happiness with Miki and Jennie, who had started her device again.

“Nurse-bot log entry,” said the robot. “Registering radical decrease in stress indicators in all three patients. Play session program in progress with more than satisfactory results. All three will require diaper changes soon, but not yet.”

When Randy and the captain returned, this had been going on for about an hour. “It’s always good to see crew members using the ship’s stress-reduction facilities,” he said. “There are always a few who are reluctant, but the doctor manages to get them to find their anti-stress modes and use them. They’re so much more effective when they do.”

“What’s yours, if I may ask?” Randy asked.

“The simulation units have this great flight-suit program,” said Ooblinski. “Powered antigrav flight above the beautiful canyons of Zintar 3 … or the forests of Tarayon Beta 5 … so beautiful. Just … soaring, just me and the wind … Not quite like the real thing, but so very close.” He had a misty look in his eye. “Point is, everyone’s different. Find how to work with the differences and not against them, and you’ve got a crew that nobody can beat.”

Randy wondered if he was making a comment on Earth and its often intolerant cultures or whether there were issues of intolerance out in the greater galaxy at large, but that was when the babies’ regression timers had been set to end.

“Wowww, so much deeper that time,” said Jennie before noticing Randy and the captain.

“I know,” said Moorlee. “I find that about three hours is the best -- for me, at least. Longer than that and the effect’s about the same.”

“So amazing,” said Miki. “I never imagined … oh! Sir!” She looked at Randy and looked at herself, blushing. She knew her diaper was soaked.

A large smile crossed Randy’s face as he said softly, “Don’t worry your pretty little heads over this. As a matter of fact, since it’s normal for infants, I expect the both of you to dress appropriately from now on.” Randy knelt and patted Miki on her wet bottom. It felt so wonderful for him to do that, “As for you, little girl, the office has a new dress code. From now on I expect both of you to be properly attired.”

The captain said, “I have something for the both of them to help insure they are properly cared for. Little girls their age need supervision.” Two young females entered the room. They were dressed in leggins and smock tops with flats on their feet. “Let me introduce your new Nurse-bots. The standard robot design has the capability to simulate many life forms so as to make patients feel at ease, though we usually just use the default aboard ship.” They looked quite different from the gleaming metallic Nurse-bots in the med bay and adjacent playroom. The captain walked over to one of them with dark hair and indicated her with his hand, “Let’s call this one Mommy TJ. She will be Jennie’s Nurse-bot from now on.” He next went to the other one, who had sandy blonde hair, This is Mommy Lisa, she will be Miki’s Nurse-Bot from now on.”

Lisa went immediately to Miki and made a huge deal out of checking her soaked and droopy diaper, “Don’t worry yourself a bit, Sweetheart,” she said, her voice sounding far more human than the Nurse-bots had sounded before. She bent and picked Miki up as easily as if she were the toddler she appeared to be, saying, “Mommy will have you all fixed up and comfy in a jiffy.”

To Jennie’s total amazement, TJ-Bot came to her and did the exact same thing, “Good little girl. Don’t fret any. Mommy will have baby cleaned and comfy in a flash.” With that, Jennie found herself picked up, same as Miki, and carried off.

The captain said, “While their mommies are tending to them, come with me to Engineering. There are a few things I want to show you before we return to your planet. I also think our head engineer has a few trinkets he wants you to have.”

Randy followed the captain back into the Elevator. It’s door whooshed closed. In a few seconds it opened again with its airy tinkle onto an engineer’s most fanciful magical dream. Randy walked slowly into the room with his mouth open in total awe.

The captain walked to a large control panel. Randy watched as he manipulated several controls. A huge panel slid back and revealed a large … something that was beyond Randy’s powers of description. Many men and women in strange suits were obviously working on it.

“This is where you’d normally find the Null Reaction Drive,” said Ooblinski, “but ours was completely wrecked -- hence the need for a new one. They’ve been busy salvaging what they could from the old one and getting the bay ready for its replacement.”

“Ah, Captain, is this the human in charge of building us a new Drive?” said a voice, and a small blue humanoid approached them. They came up to about waist height on Randy and appeared to have short, violet hair and yellow eyes, as well as four arms, two of which were holding some sort of complex tools that Randy didn’t recognize.

“Indeed he is,” said Ooblinski. “This is Randy Colter of Earth -- Randy for short -- and Randy, this is Chief Engineer Plindrix, of Tsurinata. A finer ship’s engineer you will never find. Seriously, he’s amazing.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Chief Engineer,” said Randy with a slight bow. He didn’t know how these people greeted each other, but with such an extreme mix of species and cultures there was probably a great deal of tolerance.

“Likewise, Randy,” said the engineer with a similar bow. “Please, call me Plindrix. I’m just recalibrating the linear preon flow reducer -- the angular section is next, I’m afraid; it’s a bit cantankerous.”

“Preons … are a real thing?” asked Randy. “They’re considered a fringe hypothesis.”

“Ah, yes, the captain mentioned that Earth was on a relatively primitive technological level,” said Plindrix. “Well, we’ll try to get you up to speed. I’m sorry we had to involve you -- probably quite the imposition -- but we simply don’t have the manufacturing facilities on board, or the space for them. It’s quite rare for an NRD to fail so completely so quickly. And yet there were no signs of battle damage or sabotage. I suspect shoddy manufacturing.”

“Er, well, we’ll do our best,” said Randy.

“And the new drive’s not going in before you give it a thorough once-over,” said the captain to Plindrix. “But that does bring up the fact that Randy here is going to need some pointers.”

“That’s true, it would be much appreciated …” Randy began.

“Well, no better time than the present!” Plindrix began. “Here, grab one of these learning bands …” He pulled what looked like a thin strip of fabric off a hook on the wall and handed it to Randy. Seeing some of the crew members wearing these on their heads, Randy put it on like an exercise headband, and it immediately tightened around his head to fit snugly. Suddenly he felt his mind focus, and his eyes widened.

“All right, then,” Plindrix began, “first things first. This is the main power input. It requires seven-phase plasma flow …” Everything Plindrix told him was far beyond anything he knew, and yet his mind was building a coherent picture out of the concepts, and as the engineer went on, it came together into a whole that actually made sense, though he could easily see the gaps between Earth’s science and what was needed to fully understand this technology.

Within an hour Randy understood the Null Reaction Drive and its technology -- and about ten times more about physics than the most advanced PhDs on Earth, not that any of them would believe it without experiments requiring more technology than Earth currently had. “All right, then, any questions?” asked Plindrix.

“Several,” said Randy, “but let’s start with the fabric curvature regulator -- how does it react to variances faster than 5 nanoseconds?”

“Ah, you see, the time dilation effect in the conduits right next to the curvature sensor stretch that out to ten times its rest duration …”

Randy’s brain had been well and truly put through the wringer by the time this session was over. He felt like he’d just gone through years of classes. Now he needed a break -- but somehow spending time as a baby didn’t sound appealing. Maybe some time in the batting cage …

“Had enough?” said the captain, who had returned, grinning. “I know, it’s always quite exhausting, though the learning bands make it so efficient. The things make my brain feel like I just stretched it like a rubber band. Anyway, you said you liked … some form of Earth sports? Maybe we can find something close in the simulators.”

“Ah, it’s been that long already?” asked Plindrix. “Well, time flies when you’re talking about your favorite subject. Please return if you have more questions! Just put the learning band right there.” Randy removed it and put it on the hook indicated.

“Thanks, Plindrix!” Randy said. “I’d love to learn more -- just not right at the moment.”

“I understand! Do your best!” The engineer waved as the captain took Randy to another part of the ship via the elevator. He recognized it as right across the hall from the med bay.

“OK,” said the captain, “let’s see … according to the computer, a ‘batting cage’ for ‘baseball’ involves using a club to strike a sphere projected toward you … there are several games like that on various worlds, but let’s see if I can find the closest one …” He was tapping on a panel on the wall next to a door. “All right, why don’t you try this one?” The door opened.

Beyond the door was an impossibility: a grassy field, the ground beneath his feet, blue-green sky overhead with a few clouds … but he knew he was on a spaceship. He looked back, and the door hung there in the air. “Simulator, huh?” he said. “Amazing simulation.”

“You should see the really big ones,” the captain said. “Have fun!” The door closed.

“Practice mode activated,” said a voice from the air. A metallic humanoid walked out onto the field, carrying an optical-yellow ball, about the size of a baseball, so Randy was thinking this was going to be fairly self-explanatory. He looked around, and on the ground nearby was what looked like a … well, it was more like a cricket bat, with a wide and flat end instead of round, but it was pretty close. He picked it up.

“System ready,” said the voice. “Are you ready?”

“Ready,” Randy said, shouldering the bat.

The pitcher wound up and threw the ball. Directly at Randy. Surprised, he jumped aside.

“What?” he shouted. “No, you’re supposed to throw it where I can hit it, not at me!”

“Razelian hit-ball rules state that you must both dodge and hit the ball,” said the voice.

“Ah, I see, Razelian hit-ball,” said Randy. “Well, then. Ready.” Randy was up to the challenge.

The pitcher threw the ball again. Randy stepped back and swung the bat. It connected with a jarring crack. That ball was hard! It felt like solid wood. Good thing he’d dodged it the first time. It bounced off the ground and rolled past the pitcher, then disappeared in a flash of light and reappeared in the pitcher’s hand. Randy’s hands stung from the impact.

“Today’s full of surprises,” said Randy. “Ready.” He gripped the bat.

After several pitches, Randy was really getting a feel for Razelian hit-ball. “Wow,” he said. “Wish we had this game on Earth. Or … since this is just practice mode, maybe I should read the rest of the rules before I wish that.”

In a holding cell located within a high security detention center, 81 men were being interrogated. Speculation ran high that these men and their captured antiquated WW2 diesel powered submarine were Chinese. No real evidence spoke of any kind of proof, except the ethnicity of their features along with the fluency with which they all spoke Chinese.

One man, in particular, was being given strict attention due to the fact he had worked for a company named Colter Electronics. He was highly suspect in international corporate espionage. He was carrying many diagrams, pictures, and certain data from Colter Electronics at the time of his capture that showed an advanced technology beyond anything the US had ever envisioned.

One of the many pictures clearly indicated a radical new quantum chip development that operated at ambient temperature and was unknown to current physics. The computational number of operational cubits numbered in the millions instead of 5s. There also was high possibility of major threats to the security of the Nation such developments would cause if left unregulated in the private sector.

It had hundreds of molecule sized liner accelerators and lasers all arranged in a lattice of some form of carbon that was totally unknown. Another major advancement was the atom sized transistors and capacitors that scientists were just starting to theorize might possibly exist under certain quantum states.

Graphene and molecule sized graphitic carbon crystals directly fabricated onto silicon and other substrate surfaces produced on-chip supercapacitors capable of storing massively more energy than a small nuclear reactor.

Another seemingly magical item were the Carbon Nanotubes only a few atoms thick that were thought at first to be utilized as wiring. Deeper inspection proved it acted more like a nerve and a synapse connecting to some form of polimer never before seen. Light created by the molecule sized lasers traveled the carbon fibers causing the polymer to flex and bend just as muscle fiber did.

Many of the researchers examining the captured data thought most of the items depicted totally impossible to even exist. Seeing actual photomographs of the real item blew their minds.

Many of the physicists were totally agog at a carbon substance that proved to be thousands of times harder than diamond, thousands of times more heat resistant than the most advanced ceramic heat shield ever devised, as light as hydrogel, and many thousands of times more radiation proof than anything known currently. The very absolute magical other thing about this particular substance was its resilience. It proved not to be brittle in any way, but slightly malleable and memory respondent and would return to its normal state after any impact.

It was quickly determined, through various interrogation methods best not discussed, that the 80 sub crew members’ only knowledge was that they were to pick up a scientist on the beach and return him to base. Where that base of origin was or what nationality it belonged to, they could only speculate; they had no solid proof. However, circumstantial evidence was strong.

As Director Donaldson sat at his desk and looked over the most amazing technical report he had ever read, a knock came at his door. “Enter,” he said.

A man in his early 40s entered. He was impeccably dressed and carried a briefcase cuffed to his wrist. “I have those reports and other documents you requested.”

The Director opened his desk drawer and removed the special key. He unlocked the cuff and then the briefcase. His eyes grew large as he said, “Are you sure this is for real?”

The man nodded his head and replied, “As real as it can get, Sir. That company has hit on something way beyond anything we have ever dreamed.”

The Director turned to look out the window at the sky. “There are only … a few possibilities,” he said. “You will personally investigate Colter Electronics … Agent Shandry.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Well, it’s probably past time we got you back to Earth,” said Ooblinski. “We can give you all kinds of gifts, but they’ll do you -- and us -- no good if you stay here.”

“You’re … probably right,” said Randy. “I’m still confused about Razelian hit-ball, but I’m feeling a lot less overwhelmed now.” He put down the bat.

Randy exited the simulator to find Ooblinski, together with Jennie, Miki, and the two Nurse-bots, waiting in the hallway.

“Hi, Boss,” said Jennie. “We’re done learning new coping skills now. Ready to go home!”

“All right, then,” said Randy. He looked around. “Which way’s the shuttle bay?”

“This way,” said Ooblinski with a grin.

The three of them followed the captain out of the room and a short distance down the hall. A door whooshed open, and they all entered one of the “elevators.” The Captain said, “Docking bay.”

A few seconds later, the door whooshed open in its tinkling way. The three of them looked around at the super fantastically advanced docking bay as the captain led them back to the small shuttle.

“That elevator thing,” Randy asked, pointing his thumb over his shoulder in its direction, “how does it work? I don’t feel any kind of vertigo or motion of any type.”

The captain smiled as he opened the hatches on the shuttle, “It doesn’t actually move as you think of motion. What it does is travel through a side real dimension of what we call NR space. It has to have two quantum bonded focal points to operate. Everywhere we go and want to return to, we launch a focal point. Makes traveling back there much easier the second time around.”

Randy just said, “Oh.” as he got into the shuttle and fastened the harnesses.

Miki and Jennie were all giggly as their harnesses were fastened by their new Mommy-bots, with a bit of tickles on the side. Randy smiled as he watched. He thought they were the cutest things now that they were dressed in those Snuggle Bug Rompers, as the bots had called them.

The trip home included a grand tour of several of the planets of the solar system, and a quick hop out to the Oort Cloud so they could see the asteroid mining operation that was supplying them with the necessary raw materials for their ongoing manufacturing. The Captain informed Randy that this operation now belonged exclusively to his company … seeing as how no other company or country on Earth had the technical capabilities to do it.

On the short trip from the Oort Cloud to Earth, Randy asked, “Is it possible that I might get one of these shuttles? It would make going and coming so much easier.”

The captain replied, “More than possible. Your company now has the technical capabilities to manufacture one of these. It would also make the mining operation more credible to whomever is watching you. Rest assured, what you are doing at this time is being well noticed.”

Randy’s eyebrows rose slightly as he asked, “How many people are aware of my partnership with ... upgraded technology?”

As the captain brought the shuttle in and transformed it into its ground traveling mode, in which it appeared to be an exotic sports car, he replied, “More than you think. I’m sorry, but technological advancements as great as this seem to spread like fire in dry unswel.”

As the shuttle thumped down and traveled along at well over 400 MPH, Randy said, “We have acquired patents on all the tech. I’m not sure how well that will protect it, but it will provide some. The lawyers say that at the very least we can throw a monkey wrench into rivals’ attempts to duplicate our ‘advancements’ and obtain some large monetary rewards.”

The captain said, “Best hurry and do as I had told you and start a mining concern. Introduce some of those builder droids in that manner. Makes it seem a whole lot more plausible.”

Randy replied, “I have already purchased the old Hailey Gold Mine and started what I licensed as a pilot testing program for the droids. Thus far, they have proven to be many times more efficient and don’t require constant coffee breaks.”

All laughed and the girls giggled as the Captain pulled into a parking space at the factory. After they departed the shuttle and entered the main building, the Nurse-bots waited until they had arrived at the most crowded part of the office to make a huge deal out of checking their little girls to see if they had wet their panties. Of course, Miki and Jennie could no longer help it and had done just that, so the Nurse-bots took their babies by the hand and, with great fanfare and many soothing coos, led them off for a change.

When the Mommy-bots led Jennie and Miki back into the R&D lab, several of the young female engineers rushed up and were very excited. One started, “We have some news …”

They looked over Miki and Jennie and the very adorably cute rompers the Nurse-bots had dressed them in.

“Oh Jennie, where on Earth did you find such an adorable outfit? I want one too.”

“Me too!”

“Oooo, me too!”

“Umm, funny you should ask in that particular way,” Jennie replied.

Mommy TJ, Jennie’s Nurse-bot, took it all in stride and replied, “Now, girls, be patient. I will get each of you one shortly. Just give me a few minutes to take your measurements, and I’ll manufacture them for you.”

The girls stood in complete amazement as the Nurse-bot scanned each one minutely. Within a few minutes, each of the female engineers were wearing a cute Snuggle Bug romper of their own.

The brown-haired one, whose name was Janet, said, “Miki, we have come up with a neat way to start introducing the quantum chips based on the molecule-sized lasers.”

Debbie said, “What Janet is saying is, we’ve come up with a way to use light instead of electricity in the computer chips. Integrated photonic neural net platforms that integrate efficient laser optical memory can obtain the same operations as a currently marketed tensor processing unit, but they consume a fraction of the power and have higher throughput and, when opportunely trained, can be used for performing inference at the speed of light.”

Janet said excitedly, “Yes, the photonic TPU stores and processes data in parallel, featuring an electro-optical interconnect, which allows the optical memory to be efficiently read and written and the photonic laser TPU to interface with other architectures already on the market. Tell them more, Debbie. It’s your particular research area.”

Debbie replied excitedly, “Photonic specialized processors save a tremendous amount of energy, improve response time and reduce data center traffic and are instantly integratable with existing systems. These particular types of data signals may already exist in the form of photons from surveillance cameras, optical sensors and other sources, which means data is processed much faster, because a large portion of the data is preprocessed.”

Linda added, “Once those types of systems have been integrated into mainstream computers, we just add minute additions to the quantum processors. Within a year or maybe three, we can completely convert to quantum computers, since they will be compatible with existing systems by then.”

Jennie gasped, causing her Nurse-bot to check her diaper again, but she barely noticed as she said, “Do you see what this means? The software-to-data ratio is heading toward infinitesimal. The amount of resources that operating systems and software need will be basically nothing! There can be software in … anything! With so little overhead that basic processes can run off the electric charge from skin, or what gets generated by your clothes when you walk across a room! I’m going to build jewelry that’s a computer network.” She paused. “Technically, I might already have it.” She opened her purse and looked at her choker necklace, which she wasn’t currently wearing. “But I want to make one of my own. It can be a prototype.”

Miki said, “Another thingy we have to start doing, is we all have to complete the main project and finish construction of that engine.”

Janet replied, “Yes, come with us. I think we have something to show you.”

Jennie and Miki followed the other engineers into the main R&D construction facility. Sitting in the construction bay was a huge, very elegant, and extremely advanced device. Many sparkling loops and swirls and massively complex systems all blinked and flashed.

Janet held out her hand and said with pride, “There it is. We are just about ready for the power-on test. It’s already on the transport crawler. In about …” She looked at the watch on her wrist and continued, “... twenty minutes, it will be moved to the test site.”

Meanwhile, in an apartment above a cafe across the street from the factory, Agent Shandry typed notes on his laptop. “13:33: test of important experimental device imminent. Estimate move to test site at 14:53. Will attempt to follow.” Windows on his screen showed live feeds from various points in the plant where he’d managed to attach the latest adhesive camera bugs by firing them from an air-powered rifle.

Suddenly the cameras’ feeds all went dark. Shandry raised an eyebrow. “13:34: All bugs dark. Suspect jamming measures in place. No reason to suspect discovery yet.”

“What, already?” asked Randy, when the new security computer system signaled an alert.

“Affirmative,” said its neutral voice. “Multiple small but primitive audio and video surveillance devices detected on facility windows. Locations noted before initiating jamming measures.” The three-dimensional display showed a slowly rotating image of the exterior of the factory with flashing red dots indicating the devices. “Drones dispatched to remove the devices and return them for analysis.”

“Hmm,” Randy said. “Same frequency and technology, or different?”

“Signal technology indicates involvement of at least two agencies, unless the diversity of this information is a disinformation strategy. More can be discerned once devices are analyzed.”

“Well, inform me once you know more,” said Randy.

“Acknowledged,” said the system.

“And we’re about to do a test run,” Randy said to himself. “Interesting.”

The large package, a cube wrapped entirely in black plastic sheeting, had been loaded onto a nondescript 18-wheeler truck for transport to the test site. Randy supervised the loading himself.

The truck was to be driven by computer, supervised from the factory so as to ensure that the auto-pilot mechanisms could be manually overridden in case of any failure. The quantum computers involved in the control and communication systems were faster than anything anywhere else on Earth, so even if the truck were driven remotely, its reaction times would be faster than those experienced by the driver of a conventional truck cab.

As the dock workers closed up the trailer and locked it, Randy nodded and gave the go-ahead, and the truck pulled away from the loading dock. It drove calmly across the parking lot and signaled a turn onto the street. Randy went to the monitoring console to observe its progress.

Jennie was at the console, flanked closely by her Nurse-bot. Taking her pacifier out of her mouth momentarily, she said, “Hi, Boss -- everything’s OK so far. You can see the view on this wraparound screen as if you’re the driver -- and these are some of the exterior cameras, and here are the views from the tiny chaser drones.”

“All right,” said Randy. “Let’s just hope it all works OK.”

After the truck took a left turn, there was an alert on one of the rear cameras, marking a yellow outline around a gray car that had also turned left. “Do we have a bite?” Randy asked.

“System says that car’s taken every turn we have since we started,” said Jennie, looking at the screens.” She thought of something. “Anybody following that car?” She typed something on her keyboard, and another car, farther back, lit up yellow too. “Aha, looks like somebody’s being clever. Not certain, but they started following the follower not too long ago. Let’s see what this system can do.” She typed some more.

Another screen showed an overhead map of all streets, buildings, and traffic around the truck for miles in every direction. The cars the computer had noticed were highlighted on this map too, but now there was more. Circles lit up around some of the cars from time to time, and around stationary points on the map sometimes as well.

“OK, those are radio signals from the cars, and those are from cell towers … naughty people, texting while driving,” said Jennie. “Or maybe something else. The system’s doing this, not me. I’m sorry, I don’t really need to explain.”

“I think Baby needs this back in,” said Mommy TJ, placing Jennie’s pacifier back into her mouth, where she sucked it and visibly relaxed.

Randy smiled and watched the screen. The computer quickly deduced that the first following car wasn’t communicating with anyone, but the one following it was -- and that that one was part of a team of three that were trading off the job of following the first follower. “So we’ve got a lone agent following us … and they’ve got a team following them. Can we find anything else out about those cars?”

Jennie typed on the keyboard. Information showed up on the screen next to each car. The first one was registered to the US federal government, while the others were registered to rental agencies.

“Well now,” Randy said. “Federal government and a mystery player. A certain Chinese rival, perhaps? Regardless, while they’re busy, initiate the security upgrades here. And drive the sports car in through the side door. Now, we just wait until somebody makes their move. It’ll happen before the truck gets to the test site … unless all these spies are just out for a Sunday drive. And unless we spent longer in space than I thought, today’s not Sunday.”

Around them, hundreds of small construction bots were hard at work on the infrastructure of the factory. The very walls and floors were being torn out section by section and simultaneously rebuilt by molecular reconfiguration. By the time any of these spies got back from their little excursion, the entire factory would be completely different, although it would look the same on the outside -- bricks, corrugated metal, reinforced glass windows. But inside …

A section of the roof irised open, and the sports car rose straight up out of it, and kept rising quickly, high into the air, before moving suddenly toward the test site. Inside the building, Miki smiled, giggled, clapped her hands, and watched the roof close again above her. The other engineers high-fived each other as the construction bots moved to another area.

“There!” said Randy, as the follower car moved up alongside the truck. “They’re making their move.”

Agent Shandry moved up alongside the truck as if to pass it, then matched speed with it when he was just even with its fifth-wheel coupling. The right-hand window rolled down, and Shandry fired, not a gun, but a launcher of some kind, at the coupling. He then slowed down and took a position behind the trailer. There wasn’t much other traffic on the road now, as they had been heading out of town, but there were a few other cars. Still, he was sure no one else had seen him, except perhaps the truck’s driver, who hadn’t reacted yet, so perhaps he’d been smooth enough.

Not much time later, the device he’d fired had unhitched the trailer and begun engaging its brakes. This had a drawback -- it was unable to steer, so it couldn’t pull the trailer over to the side of the road. But it could bring it to a stop.

Before it did, however, there were two loud bangs, his car jerking with each one, and his instrument panel lit up, indicating that he had lost pressure in his two rear tires. However, the car had run-flat tires, so he stayed on the road, and now he was aware that he had company. His gun in hand, he looked at the rear camera and mirrors to watch the car that had come up behind him. He couldn’t speed up to lose them, because the trailer containing his objective was slowing down in front of him. He would have to fight them off.

After Agent Shandry stopped the car, he reached under his seat and opened the compartment concealed there. Within, was a brand new P-90 assault weapon and several 300 round magazines of Black Talon exploding rounds. Agent Shandry smiled a crooked smile as he loaded one of the large magazines into the butt of the weapon then flipped the switch to semi-auto. He knew this was going to be very nasty at absolute best as he charged the weapon.

He opened the driver’s door and hid behind it. It was specially constructed with several inches of hardened carbon fiber armor with several inches of steel sandwiched in between. Over that was a quarter-inch of Lexan plastic, which had remarkable ballistic absorption capabilities. The car was heavy by any standards, but what do you expect from a camouflaged tank??

A voice called out in perfect but clipped English, “American agent. We do not want to have to kill you. All we want is the contents of that trailer. If we must, we will terminate you.”

Agent Shandry smirked in a sad way as he took aim at one of the other individuals who thought they were under protective cover and fired his weapon. The bullet hit the tree and exploded, blowing a huge chunk from its trunk. The remainder of the teflon-coated shell continued on and slammed into the shoulder of the agent who was hiding behind it, causing seriously grave damage to his body and knocking him backwards several feet.

The other men paused for a minute and looked at their gravely injured companion before one opened up with his pistol. Several others opened up with assault weapons.

Agent Shandry took aim again, this time at the small box that was almost hidden from sight at the feet of several of the other agents who were shooting at him, and fired once again. The box exploded violently, blowing the three individuals standing next to it to bloody chunks. Agent Shandry nodded grimly to himself. He had suspected that was an ammo box, but it had obviously contained more than just assault ammo.

By this time, the incoming assault ordinance had demolished the special glass in the door’s window. It’s glass was bullet resistant, and it could take a real pounding, but under this type of assault it had to fail eventually. The shattered shards began to rain down on Agent Shandry.

The side of the car door facing the enemy agents looked like Swiss cheese by this time. The internal armor was extremely resilient and had stopped all the incoming ordinance thus far.

Agent Shandry flipped the switch from semi-auto to full, took aim, and let them have it full on. The burp of the P-90’s intermittent fire was drowned out by the explosions caused by the Black Talons. The other agents were not surviving the return fire well as more of them were either killed or seriously injured by the explosiveness and penetration of the special ordinance. Their autos looked more like junk than cars by this time as well.

The firefight was nasty as Agent Shandry had thought it would be, but it didn’t last very long. Shortly, he had hit one of the other team’s automobiles’ gas tanks, causing the car to explode violently. The fire fight ended at that point when the last three were downed.

In an advanced bridge control room filled with a near-humanoid Xerlov crew, a commander was berating his tactical officer. “I know they here, idiot. Are you so incompetent you cannot do this simple job of finding them?”

The tactical officer looked sideways at the commander as he growled, “If you think a better job you can do,” he stood and indicated the position, “Then so do.”

The commander scowled at his tactical officer, then snarled, “Keep looking. Both know they here. We attack soon as find.”

The tactical officer returned to his station as the commander sulked to his command couch. He brought up all the last recorded contacts of the enemy. He knew they were in this system and were trying to take it somehow. The mighty cruiser Klorg would put a stop to their expansion, the Commander vowed.

The pacifier fell from Jennie’s mouth as she saw the violence begin on her screens. She had to turn away, tears in her eyes. Her Nurse-bot quickly caught the pacifier before it hit the floor and clipped it to her dress with a ribbon-like holder in the blink of an eye.

Randy gasped and said, “No! I didn’t want -- this wasn’t the plan! I just wanted to flush them out of hiding and distract them long enough to strengthen the factory’s security and defenses.” The fact was that there were tears in his eyes too, and he couldn’t watch either.

Randy’s phone rang, and its software recognized Ooblinski’s code -- their systems had some way of hacking into the Earth mobile telephone network. He answered shakily. “Captain, you’ve probably seen what’s happened,” he said.

“Yes, Randy. Clearly there is more than one side at work here, and they’re both deadly serious. The package is nearly at the test site. But then we have to return to our ship. Zoruu reports a change in the Xerlovs’ tactics, so I’ll have to see what’s up firsthand.”

“OK, thank you, Captain,” said Randy. “We haven’t had time to build a craft like that one yet, but we’ve got a few surprises ready in case somebody tries to disrupt the test, or obtain the Drive after it’s over.”

“Good. Do your best,” said Ooblinski. “I’ll be in touch shortly.”

Mommy TJ had picked up Jennie and put her pacifier back in her mouth, and the robot was now rocking her back and forth in her arms as she sniffled. Randy sighed and looked at them with sympathy. “That was … unexpected and tragic,” he said. “It looks like that one’s about to open the trailer, though. We have to buy as much time as possible for the test. Miki and the other engineers should be ready to go as soon as Ooblinski drops off the Drive.”

Right on cue, Miki appeared on one of the screens and said, “Sir, the Drive’s at the test site -- the Captain dropped it off exactly at the test location, then took off straight up into the sky. He must have some urgent business up in his ship, I guess.”

Captain Ooblinski landed in the docking bay and quickly made his way to the bridge. When he entered he said, “Intelligence, what did you find?”

Zoruu replied, “The Xerlov cruiser’s sensor drones are now employing deep energy probes.”

Moorlee added, “That means they’re looking for another type of ship, not ours.”

The captain swiveled around with a surprised expression on his face, “Not ours? How can you tell?”

The young woman replied without looking up from her control station, “The energy frequency they are looking for … isn’t anything we use or have ever used. It’s too dirty and dangerous. Apparently there’s another species in this system we haven’t yet scanned. Am doing a level one deep probe searching for their protonic signatures.”

As if on cue, the emergency klaxons sounded, and the lights flashed to condition red. The forward screen lit up with a long range view of a huge battle station. The proton drive ports were very obvious as they glowed with high amounts of radioactivity.

“By the cloak of Swinter Swithen!” gasped Captain Ooblinski, “I had never thought to see one of those again, and especially not this far out from the galactic center. It has been many cycles since anyone has scanned one of those mysterious craft.”

Tactical turned off the klaxon and said, “I’m not sure how they got here. With that type of primitive drive system, it would have taken many years.”

The science officer said, “Continuing to scan. As large as that behemoth is, it could also be a generation ship. Some of the readings indicate they have cryogenics on board. Could also be a sleeper. We already know it’s a type of combat colonization battle station.”

Ooblinski’s face showed real worry. Not only were they ill equipped to fight a fortified battle station, they also had a fully armed Xerlov cruiser to worry about. Since they were just a research vessel, their armaments were light and would be unable to put up much of a fight. Certainly the Xerlovs were itching for a fight, but they had no reason to be careful about the safety of Earth and its people, and it was unlikely that the huge battle station would either.

Chief Engineer Plindrix just happened to be on the bridge, making the last repairs to main engine control at the navigator's station, when the data about the battle station started rolling in.

Plindrix sat up from beneath the console he had been tinkering with and said in a faraway tone, “Captain, we have plans to build certain types of weapons ... and we sort of have the means to build them …”

Ooblinski interrupted him, “And I’m sure the Earth people would be more than happy to build them for us. One problem with that thought, though. First, we are already in serious violation of no-contact regs by giving them the technology to repair our engine. Giving them the ability to make weapons of that caliber … could possibly result in them destroying themselves. We already know they are a violent and paranoid species.”

Plindrix added with a regretful tone, “It could also lead to them becoming a galactic menace if they were to follow that path. Without them, though, Captain, we don’t stand a chance if those two ships detect us.”

The Captain sat back in his Command couch and put his face in his hands. When it Slurrffs, it really Punslurrfs, he thought.

“Sir, is this thing legal?” asked Miki as she flew the small hover flyer from the factory to the test site.

“Strictly speaking … probably not,” said Randy’s voice over the encrypted comm channel. “But in stealth mode like that, nobody will see you, and you’re too low for radar to detect you even if it didn’t just go right through you. We don’t really have time to worry about that right now.”

“Coming in for a landing now …” Miki said. The flyer settled gently to the ground, and she got out, followed closely by Mommy Lisa. “I just gave the signal. They’re raising the anti-detection shield the Captain gave us now, so we can test the Drive without the what’s-their-names, the Xerlovs, picking it up on their sensors.”

“Good,” said Randy. “Proceed with the test ASAP. That agent’s about to find out what’s in the trailer he’s gone to so much trouble to steal.”

Agent Shandry carefully approached the trailer. No guards had emerged from it. He’d suspected that such an important cargo would be guarded, so he was now suspicious that it was a trap, or at least a decoy. He wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if it were -- that’s what he would have done, after all. But … it could also be an ambush.

Quietly approaching its locked doors, he removed a small explosive charge and detonator from his carryall and carefully set the charge so as to destroy the lock and as little else as possible. Setting the detonator for ten seconds, he took a position to the side of the trailer and out of direct line of sight of the doors, counting silently.

There was a clattering bang, and a bit of a jerk went through the trailer. Shandry cautiously peered around the corner to look at the door. The lock was clearly broken, so he quietly approached it, then in one fluid motion he opened the latch, threw the door open, and pointed his gun at the … dark and unoccupied interior of the trailer. Before him, carefully lashed into place, was a large, plastic foil-wrapped, cubical object.

Before calling for another agent who was standing by with a another car, he wanted to make sure his suspicions weren’t correct. He approached it and tapped the cubical object with a finger. There was a hollow sound. He cursed and peeled away some of the foil. What was under it was a large, empty wooden crate.

Slipping a tiny notebook computer out of his carryall, he typed, “Encountered and defeated enemy agents, but target was a decoy. Vehicle badly damaged. Request cleanup team.” But what had been the point of this distraction? There was certainly something real going on, either at the factory or at some other location. Shandry thought about it as he waited for the cleanup team to arrive.

“Power couplings attached,” Miki said to Randy on her phone once her Nurse-bot had checked her diaper, in front of all the other engineers, who were giggling a bit, although some were secretly jealous. “All readings nominal. Proceeding with test.”

Miki pushed the energise button. The Null Reactor spun up and started glowing brightly pink behind its shielding as energy readings began to climb. As far as any of the testing equipment read, and the engineers from Ooblinksi’s ship could tell, this particular drive was operating at well above specs. To the best they could tell, it was functioning at a normal pace above 400% the original capacity of the engine it was to replace. Since this was just its idle setting, many of the engineers were wondering where the actual speed/distance ratio would peak.

“Captain,” reported the comms officer, “We have an incoming transmission from the away engineering team. According to them, the new engine operates several orders of magnitude more efficiently and produces more power than the old one ever did. They are also requesting Chief Engineer Plindrix to come planetside and inspect it. They are saying he won’t believe how well the Earth-humans have assembled it. It’s working so well they’re sure they’re measuring something wrong.”

Captain Ooblinski replied, “It wouldn’t be in our best interests to have the Chief go to Earth -- we can’t risk him, and anyway, we need him here. We’ll bring the new engine here to test. Notify launch bay to send an industrial shuttle to retrieve the new engine.”

Comms replied, “Aye, Captain. Notifying them now for the pickup.”

“So, good news there,” said Randy to Jennie at the main computer console. “Are you feeling any better?” Mommy TJ had put Jennie back down into her chair, a modified office chair with a footrest and keyboard tray.

“That was … upsetting,” Jennie said, “but, I mean, it helps that they were probably spies who were trying to steal from us and were trying to kill that other man. Who, by the way, is 93% likely to be the Agent Shandry who you told me had called you on the phone earlier. There’s a real FBI agent named Special Agent Neil Shandry, and his photo matches the man we’re watching -- the only question is whether it was really he who called you.”

“Yeah, looks like their cleanup team is getting there now,” said Randy, watching the video coming in from the nearly-invisible drones. “Looks like they sent a forensics team to go over our trailer with a fine-toothed comb, too. Where’s the cab now?”

“It’s coming back here, via a randomly-generated but completely legal path,” Jennie said. “The software isn’t detecting anyone following it just now, but if they are, it’ll waste a lot of their time.”

“Good,” Randy said. “More time for us to get things done without prying eyes watching.” He tapped his phone. “Miki, are you still at the test site? Captain Ooblinski says they’re sending down a shuttle to pick up the engine. I see no reason why they can’t pick it up directly from there. Less chance of its being intercepted by any of these spy types.”

“Well, I’ve never been happier to see a clean-up crew,” Agent Shandry said as several black SUVs drove up, along with other vehicles, and other federal agents emerged. “This op went south in a hurry. I’m glad to be in one piece.”

“We’ll document and clean up, don’t worry,” said one of the agents. “We’ve read your statement. Anything to add, now that we’re here in person?” Shandry briefed them on what had happened, and they took video of the site before they started examining the bodies of the dead enemy agents, their weapons, and what was left of their vehicles.

When Shandry was done, the agent said, “Well, Special Agent, I’m sure you have your own plan for how to proceed. We’ve brought you a new vehicle, since your old one isn’t going anywhere ... inconspicuously. It’ll run, but it’ll attract attention, with all that damage. Careful -- this one isn’t armored. Stay out of war zones.”

“I’ve had a look at our eyes in the sky,” Shandry said. “The cab that was pulling this trailer hasn’t come back for it. It’s just driving around, aimlessly. I’m … not sure someone’s driving it, actually.”

“Computer controlled?”

“Could be,” said Shandry. “I have two theories. One is that the real package was delivered by another means while I was chasing this truck and trying not to die. The other is that the real package was in the cab all along … and still is. Since I can’t follow up on the first theory, I’m going to follow the second. Or rather … try to anticipate it.” The other agent handed Shandry a car key, and he was on his way.

The FBI didn’t have continuous aerial footage of the city; there were satellites, but they weren’t stationary, and there was footage from traffic cameras and occasional drone, planes and helicopters that flew over town. All of it went into their computer system, which could recognize particular vehicles with decent accuracy. Because of that, Shandry was able to plot the cab’s course on his computer. It seemed random, but in general it was moving in an overall direction, which was … back to the factory it had started from.

“Colter Electronics,” Shandry said. “From the looks of things, I’m getting there first.” He headed toward the factory.

Back at the test site, a large shuttle quickly settled to the ground and the rear hatches slid open. Several drones emerged from the rear of the shuttle and trundled to the reactor and the engine. Carefully it picked the devices up and carried them to the shuttle and loaded them. The rear doors closed, and it lifted off and rapidly vanished into the sky -- literally, as it became transparent quickly soon after takeoff.

A foreign agent watched his video monitor in total awe as he saw this transpire. He had heard stories that he had thought were purely fiction, but this ... his mind couldn’t quite fathom. Those Americans had actually come up with a technology that had leapfrogged all the planet by at least a thousand years … and they were apparently not willing to share it. This had to be reported immediately.

“I have good news and bad news, Captain,” said Zoruu. “Bad news first. The Xerlovs have noticed the battle station.”

Ooblinski sat up tensely in his command couch. “Great Yondraka! What are they doing?”

“They’re rotating their ship with weapons facing it, but they aren’t charging weapons yet,” said Zoruu. “And they’re sending several of their drones to scan it more closely. Which brings me to the good news.”

“Fewer drones watching Earth,” said the captain.

“Exactly, Sir. They did not apparently see the shuttle lifting off, and it will be on board with the new drive in under seven units.”

“That’ll be a load off my mind.”

“It’ll be a great relief to everyone on board, Captain,” said Zoruu. “It will mean a readjustment of priorities -- we could depart this system entirely, once the new drive unit is tested and installed, and we could stop worrying about getting caught in the battle that’s about to begin.”

“But Captain,” said Moorlee, swiveling around from her console, “what about our friends? We can’t just leave their planet when it’s about to be right next to Ground Zero of a devastating spacecraft conflict!”

“If you’ve got any ideas about how we, a tiny survey vessel with barely any weapons or defenses, could do anything to affect their choice of battlefield,” the captain said, “please let me know. That’s not sarcastic, actually -- if anybody has any ideas, please let me know. I don’t want to abandon our friends either.”

“Well, if the reports are accurate,” said Moorlee, “we’ll be a tiny survey vessel with an engine that has enough power for a capital ship to operate on comfortably.”

“You’re saying we could get their attention and outrun them, maybe?” asked Ooblinski. “We’d need a very good plan, and we’d need it soon.”

“There’s another idea that might help,” Moorlee added. “After all, our friends on the ground down there aren’t entirely helpless anymore …”

Mommy Lisa took Miki into the rear compartment of the hover flyer, where one of the flight couches made a decent makeshift changing table. The autopilot would have them back at the factory in 5 minutes, which was more than enough time for the Nurse-bot to get Miki into a dry diaper.

With tickles and games the robot had Miki giggling quickly, expertly distracting her long enough to get her cleaned up and a new diaper on her. The Nurse-bot put Miki’s old diaper into the recycling device in her diaper bag.

Miki looked at herself in the shiny surface of one of the many machines as Mommy-bot Lisa led her back to the engineering department. She had on an adorable Lolita babydoll dress with matching panties. It was more than obvious she was in diapers … and she looked every inch a babydoll.

When they arrived, Miki smiled at how many of the other girls were also starting to dress like babydolls -- there were even a few of the guys.

One of the adorably dressed young women in a snuggle bug romper came up to Miki and said excitedly, “Oh oh oh, we have a new assignment. The new project involves hyper weapons and autonomous attack platforms. You would not believe some of the new quantum physics involved.”

Miki stopped and started sucking her thumb thoughtfully. She was a very smart girl, even though she looked like an infant mostly. All this new tech, and now superior weapons … she began to worry. All these sudden upgrades had already caused several killings. Now she wondered what would happen with even more powerful weapons. Using bonded platform tech, launching a platform ... then the bonded weapon ... distance no longer mattered.

Miki and Jennie looked over the plans for plasma cannons and a twisted entangled particle beam weapon that disrupted the molecular bonds of matter. They also discovered something Ooblinski’s engineers hadn’t realized, the energy beam could also be modified in a tuned C64 sheet, and become a shield that was impenetrable to the other weapons and blast fronts. “What if …” said Miki, then paused. “What if we focus on defenses? Maybe …”

“Maybe we won’t invent new weapons that spies will steal and kill lots of people with,” Jennie said. They looked at each other and nodded.

On a super advanced bridge, the almost humanoid Xerlov captain grunted, “Is time to lay waste to that puny battle station. After, target that blue planet they seem so interested in.”

The Tactical Officer grunted back, “Targeted and weapons primed. Never know what ...”

A massive explosion rocked the bridge as a salvo of weapons impacted and detonated. The Xerlov cruiser took severe damage as the expanding debris cloud, plasma fires, and outgassing events showed.

On a badly damaged bridge amid many out of control fires the Xerlov captain climbed painfully back into his command couch. He opened a panel on its armrest and pushed a large red button. Massive weapons returned fire on the battle station with just as devastating results. The battle had begun. Twenty minutes later, the light and energy from the blast wave became visible as a bright light in the darkness of Earth’s night sky.

“It looks like graphene,” said Randy.

“It is … and it isn’t,” said Miki. “Just like the bonds in a benzene ring are simultaneously single and double, it’s simultaneously graphene and … well, we don’t have a name for it. Too many of its particles are oscillating between states to really pin down what it is at any given moment. Sometimes the baryons are protons and neutrons, sometimes they’re heavier particles, because the quarks are oscillating. Sometimes the leptons are electrons, sometimes they’re muons or tau particles, because they’re oscillating. Yet somehow it’s all stable … or maybe metastable … and we only knew this was possible because of data from our friends up in orbit.”

“All my simulations show that just a centimeter of this … material can reflect even those terrible ship-to-ship energy weapons we’re seeing in the night sky now,” said Jennie. “It’s remarkable. I turned the weapon parameters up, and this shielding just kept reflecting, all the way up to the theoretical maximum -- levels that would melt a ship’s cannons.” She pressed a key on her keyboard, and the lights dimmed so an animated simulation could play on the screen. Jennie sat down to watch, and her diaper crinkled loudly.

She’d always felt stress when talking in front of people, and now she was doing it dressed as a baby, in a pink satin dress with poofy sleeves and white lace, her red hair in pigtails fastened with pink ribbons, and a pacifier dangling from a ribbon attached to her dress. She couldn’t help feeling extra stressed, worried about how those viewing her thought of her, even though many of them were dressed as she was. Jennie sat down and hoped the video would speak for itself, she smelled baby powder and put her pacifier back in her mouth, and suddenly all the stress melted away again.

“I see it,” said Randy. “This is a quantum interaction we’ve only seen in the world’s most powerful particle accelerators … and here it’s just happening at room temperature. This isn’t actually in any of the data that Ooblinski and his people sent us?”

“Nope,” said Miki. “I’m not sure they thought of this.”

Another person at the meeting table, a mechanical engineer named Carlos, asked, “So we could protect a vessel, a fixed installation, or even the hull of a missile. But what about protecting Earth? I’m not sure if anybody outside this company has figured it out, but even if those two ships out there don’t turn their cannons directly on us for whatever reason, we might get hit by stray fire.”

“Well … there is something in the data Ooblinski gave us about that,” said Miki. “There’s a virtual positioning system. We set up an array in orbit, and the shield tiles can just instantly be wherever they’re needed, so we don’t have to build a huge sphere around the planet. All we need is a network of small satellites. With the automated manufacturing system we’ve built based on the plans from Ooblinski’s engineering crew, we could have those built in an hour.”

“I say build those now,” said Randy. “That’s too useful not to build.”

“OK,” Miki said simply, and typed something on her keyboard. “It’ll be ready in an hour.”

“How long for a compatible shielding array?” Randy asked.

“We kinda … already built it,” said Miki. “The thing is … weapons are gonna get stolen and used on Earth by people who don’t know how much damage they can really do. But shielding … you can’t blow up the world with that.”

Randy nodded. “That’s true. Spies can steal weapons plans -- well, normally they can. Right now, nothing on Earth can crack the alien security protecting the plans that are also protected with alien encryption schemes. And if we never use them and thus never decrypt them, they can’t get at them any other way either. But that does mean that everyone must follow the security protocols. Be sure your departments know that. This is no joke. Some of the data we have could literally destroy the world in a number of never-before-seen ways. We’re going to come up with some better ways to protect it, too. Anyway, Jennie, Miki, let me know when the satellites are finished. We can have the new orbital flyers put them in place.”

“OK Boss,” said Jennie around her pacifier.

“What about the interstellar flyers?” Randy asked.

“Well, we have the plans,” said Miki, “but … well … they’re kind of on the back burner.”

“Well, OK, I can see why,” said Randy. “The defense of Earth itself is one reason.”

“And another’s the fact that we don’t have a facility big enough to build them,” said Miki. “Once the orbital facility’s built, that’ll fix that problem. But it’ll also have to be shielded, because those guys up there might see it and use it for target practice.”

“We can put Ooblinski’s anti-detection screening on it,” said Jennie.

“Ooo, that’s right,” said Miki. “They won’t pick it up on their sensors then. They might still see it visually, but it’ll be hard with all the satellites and space junk up there.”

“I’ll run some simulations on that,” Jennie said, typing a note for herself.

The meeting continued, with reports on more mundane but importantly revenue-generating applications of the new technology.

It was more than obvious to the entire industrialized world that they were not alone in this Universe. Many pictures from various satellites, space based telescopes, and even the ground based ones proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt as they all focused on the bright flashes that were now appearing in the sky that showed two highly advanced space vessels shooting at each other with weapons beyond Earthly science. Even in broad daylight, the far-off explosions in space had become visible.

Newscasters spread what data they had, and then made things up to fill in the gaps. An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council had proven to be less than effective due to what the images and energy data they had available told them about an obvious battle between two very alien space vehicles.

The US government had sent the director of its FBI to speak at the council meeting. His name was Donaldson. He stood and waved his hand for recognition.

The speaker pointed to him and said, “The Chair recognizes Director Donaldson of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Director Donaldson picked up a large stack of photos in one hand and a large stack of typed pages in the other, holding them up. “Honorable members of the UN Security Council, what I am holding in my hands is a detailed report about some remarkable advancements in technology going on right here on Earth, which we are currently investigating.”

One of the delegates asked, “How does that pertain to the current situation? Our very best high-yield nuclear weapons mounted atop the fastest hypersonic missiles would prove to be totally ineffective in this situation.”

Donaldson replied, “From what our investigating agent has reported, the advancements of the electronics company named ‘Colter Electronics’ have gone well above and beyond what our best scientists say is possible and resides in a realm that might as well be magic.”

Loud voices rang out and began arguing over the last statement until the Speaker banged his gavel loudly. “Order in the Council Chambers!” Quickly, the dissents and loud arguing ceased. “Director Donaldson has the floor.”

“If there are questions at this time, I’d be happy to open the floor to them,” said Donaldson.

The Speaker nodded. “The floor is now open for questions,” he confirmed. “Recognizing the delegate from Russia.”

“Director, isn’t ‘magic’ a bit far-fetched? I mean, really, this is the 21st century, not the medieval 16th.”

Director Donaldson let out a short laugh as he replied, “With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, “ He held up several photos of a group of mechanized droids at a mine performing mining duties in a far superior manner than a human or even modern mining machinery could. “These robots, as far as any of the inspectors present at that prototype testing mine belonging to Colter Electronics has reported, are not only constructed in a manner never before thought of, they seem to be self-aware. They talk, sing, and even carry on conversations the same as any human would. They are completely autonomous, and as far as anyone can tell, are capable of running the entire mining operation completely unsupervised by humans, although there are engineers there to monitor them.”

An intern came and took the thick report binder and the large stack of photos from Director Donaldson, then carried them to the Speaker’s podium and gave them all to him. The Speaker adjusted his glasses and looked over the photos and read the thick report. This took a few minutes due to the size and complexity of the data, but meanwhile the delegates asked more questions, and Donaldson answered them.

During a break, the Speaker looked up and said with a tone of complete awe, “I believe the delegates should really have a look at this information.”

“I have taken the liberty of making enough copies for each delegate,” said Donaldson. The intern came into the room with a box of flash drives and started handing one to each nation’s Security Council delegation. “Electronic, of course. Please have a look.”

The Chinese delegate inserted his flash drive into his UN-provided desk computer and began looking at the data. His eyebrows rose. “It would behoove us, I would tend to believe based on this information,” he said, “that a deeper investigation into the massive technical advancements of Colter Electronics is in order …”

Jennie and Miki both were gleefully bent over a large workbench scattered with seriously advanced hardware and other electronics and showing off their cute ruffled panties.

Nurse-bots TJ and Lisa hovered nearby and insured their charges were comfy and made sure their panties were still dry. The Nurse-bots had decided their Big Girls would wear panties today, which afforded them the grand opportunities to make a huge deal out of it when their babies had accidents.

Randy stood in the door to the R&D division and smiled. He was glad he had changed the dress code for the company to include babies and Babydolls. Most of the women in this division -- and many of the men -- were all dressing as adorable Babydolls of every description. There were also several babies who were tended to by their own Nurse-bots, who kept them diapered and dressed appropriately.

Once this practice had begun, imaginations and inventiveness skyrocketed as the hundreds of new items pouring from the production line proved. Apparently, releasing the engineers’ pent-up needs to be a baby or a babydoll seriously unlocked something creative within their souls. The proof was in what Miki and Jennie were designing and building at this moment.

Although Jennie had to take a break because of a growing puddle beneath her, as she was now physically incapable of preventing such accidents anymore. Mommy TJ tisked, cleaned things up, took her aside as she made a huge deal out of how a girl her age was way too young to be in just panties, and put her back into thick diapers, where she was frankly happier anyway. But as a result of exercises like this one, Jennie came to trust in her Nurse-bot more fully and was thus able to reduce her stress levels even more.

As Jennie and Miki had demonstrated during the meeting, they had created a shield droid that was able to almost instantly be wherever in the system they were needed. They had also devised a means to create a shielding technology that not even Captain Ooblinski’s world had conceived. Already, there were several dozen in orbit, with about fifty more spreading out around the combatants in the system.

Randy knew that once the shields were enabled, neither combatant would likely be able to escape, nor would they be able to effectively fire their weapons due to the seeming impenetrability of the new shielding. Only time would tell, but the sims looked really impressive.

The Internal Security AI buzzed Randy using the encryption key reserved for issues of a serious nature. It informed him that several agents of the FBI, several from the CIA, several from Interpol, along with several Federal Marshals were on the way with warrants and authority to investigate his company.

With a small bit of snooping, and a large bit of super advanced computer technology enabled hacking performed by an adorable little baby girl with a wet droopy bottom named Jennie, Randy was able to have an injunction written that stopped them from enforcing the warrant, although he might just answer a few of their questions and offer to sell the tech to the government as was legal under the current economic system, and not have it taken by forcible theft as they had originally intended to do.

The entire official government group had arrived in the parking lot of Colter Electronics in their usual way, with a mass of squealing tires and heavily-armed troopers, just in time to get the call to rescind and invalidate their previous orders and warrant.

They had no authority to take any action except what Mr. Colter would personally allow. They were to be extremely polite on making contact, and they had to realize that the fate of the world more than likely, based on all the current intel, was in his and only his hands.

“How are you, gentlemen?” asked Randy, opening the door to the plant and stepping outside. Inside, he was sweating bullets, but he managed to exude at least a modicum of calm, especially knowing that there were inertial dampening systems trained on him to protect him from any real bullets. He resisted continuing an Internet meme from the early 2000s.

“Mr … Colter,” said a hesitant voice through a megaphone. “Please cooperate with our investigation.”

“I intend to cooperate by making myself available, right here and now, to answer whatever questions you would like to ask me,” Randy said. “I will not be going with you to any facility of your choice. If you have questions for me, feel free to ask them. Here and now.”

“I … uh …” said the megaphone holder. Then someone else grabbed the megaphone.

“Mr. Colter, this is Special Agent Neil Shandry of the FBI,” said Shandry. “I believe we’ve spoken before.”

“Indeed we have, Agent Shandry,” said Colter. “I believe you were warning me of certain foreign agents who had infiltrated my plant. Did you have an update on that situation?”

“I … just a moment,” said Shandry, putting the megaphone down. “Put down the guns,” he said to the assembled government agents. “If he wants to have a conversation, we’ll have a conversation. Anybody got any chairs?”

“Oh, I can provide those,” Randy said. He got out his phone, started an app, and tapped the screen a few times. A group of marble-sized drones descended from the sky and assembled themselves into a formation vaguely resembling a metal folding chair on the parking lot. When they rose up into the air again, just such a metal folding chair stood there. They repeated the performance several times, then rose into the air again. Anyone following them saw them return to the plant through small openings in the roof. Randy took one of the chairs and sat down on it, turning it backwards and sitting on it that way, facing the agents. “Now, please, sit down,” he said. “I don’t have all day, Agent Shandry. I’m a little busy finding a way to save the Earth from the madness that’s going on in space right now.”

“So you know about that,” said Shandry, approaching and taking a seat, the forward way. Behind him, various federal agents looked at each other. Some were talking into walkie-talkies.

“I’d frankly have to be living in a hole not to,” Randy replied.

“Do you … have more information about that?” Shandry asked.

“I’ve got some satellites watching the two vessels closely,” said Randy. “We’re currently constructing a defense system that according to simulations should be able to protect Earth should any stray fire come our direction. We don’t have weapons like theirs, so we can’t really test the shields directly. We’re hoping to get some testing in soon, because we’re also going to try setting up some shielding closer to them. All we really know is that one of them’s big, the other one’s bigger, both have some very dangerous weapons, and they really don’t like each other. I can give you some detailed images if you like.”

“Um, that’d be … great,” said Shandry. He was a bit distracted. Director Donaldson had started saying something into his earpiece.

“Shandry, we really … can’t … storm … his factory,” said Donaldson, sounding like he was grinding his teeth as he said it. “I’m working on that, but right now there’s nothing I can do. Not without turning this country into a police state, and there’s no way back from that. We might save the Earth but turn America into a place not fit to live in. Meanwhile, he might save the Earth without us, and as long as the Earth gets saved … look, I’d rather be in control of things, but failing that, I’d rather be close to whoever’s in control of things. Stay frosty, Shandry, and stay on his good side. It might be your hands that the fate of the Earth is in now.”

“Oh, great, no pressure or anything,” Shandry muttered.

“What’s that?” asked Randy.

“Never mind,” Shandry said. “So you’re trying to save the Earth using untested shielding technology?”

“Pretty much,” Randy replied. “I mean, how do you test a mousetrap if you don’t have any mice? You make a simulated mouse and see if that works. You just have to make your sim mice very, very realistic. And we have some very, very good simulations.”

“Yes, by all accounts your computer patents are like nothing ever seen before,” said Shandry. “Not that I’m an expert in technology, but how do you do it? We’ve investigated all your employees -- I mean, no offense, it’s just what we do. It’s in our name.”

“You do your homework, that’s for sure,” Randy said. “We’ve got some very good and creative engineers, and some very good synergy between them.”

“Also, none of them have left the factory since …” Shandry began.

“... since the incident between you and some foreign agents,” Randy cut in, “Chinese, I believe? You were all very interested in a truck that left our factory. Forgive them, but they really haven’t felt very safe given the outcome of that situation. We’ve reconfigured the interior of the plant to enable them to rest in relative safety. It’s all modular in there now -- very efficient.”

“Look, Mr. Colter,” said Shandry, “I apologize for that incident, but I had reason to believe there were foreign agents targeting you, and it was imperative for national security that they not get your technology -- and it was before those two spaceships were even noticed. I … realize I made the first attempt to steal your device. Which turned out to be a decoy anyway. But I swear it was … partially to protect it.”

“I’m glad you admit it was also partially to take it for the US government,” said Randy. “Let me get right to the elephant in the room. I want guarantees that you’ll protect my people, and not harass them or their friends or family. Leave them alone. I also want guarantees that my supply chains will remain intact. I need my employees, and I need materials. If I can’t have those things, I can’t protect Earth. And we both know that no one else can. It’s as simple as that.”

Shandry sat silently for a few minutes as he allowed everything to set in (also possibly listening ot the Director’s voice in his earpiece) before he said, “I promise you, I will personally station armed guards around this factory, and I will supply any escorts or necessary protections your personnel needs. And we won’t interfere with your supply lines and will investigate any interruptions. Would that fill the bill?”

Randy replied, “Only if that protection and escorts are just that and not a lame attempt to make us captives in some way. I more than promise you it won’t go well. After all, it was the government that sent you to … ummm ... confiscate anything you could get your grubby hands on, wasn’t it?”

Agent Shandry didn’t hesitate as he replied, “I assure you, Mr. Colter, we are under orders to be at your beck and call for the security of you, your personnel, their families, and your company.” He pointed skyward to another huge bright flash that had appeared in the afternoon sky. “From what I have personally seen, you are our only hope if there is to be any kind of favorable outcome.”

On a highly advanced smoke filled bridge, something that looked like a hydra crossed with some form of eel with tentacles looked up from one of the control panels and hissed ( in its language ), “Capn. This one gettina strange energy readins. Seems gots nuther player ina game.”

A larger version of the same being turned in it’s gel filled bowl like chair and replied, “Can identify and classify energy?”

The other replied, “Seem like somethin we encounter years ago at homeworld. It much different at same time tha same.”

The larger creature flipped a tentacle, “Puts it onna view. Let’s see this thingy afor it too comma issue.”

“It on screen now. Kinna weird thingy. Lookin likesa swarm drone kinna maybe.” replied the other being.

A misty ripply pool like liquid formed and then cleared showing a display of darkness spattered with stars. Outlined in a very strange color was what appeared to be a satellite about the size of a large beachball. It had several octangular panels arranged around it as it approached their vessel at an extremely high rate of speed.

The large being pointed a tentacle at the screen and barked, “Fire main batteries at that thingy!”

Strange sounds reverberated through the bridge as streaks of light leapt into the view and impacted on the approaching object. Huge pyrotechnical explosions of plasma and energy blossomed. When all cleared, the object was still there, and several others could be seen approaching rapidly from other directions.

On the bridge of the exploration vessel Tritrinium, Chief Engineer Plindrix’s voice came over the comm, “Engineering to Bridge.”

Captain Ooblinski replied, “Bridge here. Go ahead Plindrix.”

Plindrix replied, “I have just received some … extremely interesting schematics and an amazing device from our Earth friends. They have come up with something beyond what we have so far achieved.”

Captain Ooblinski’s eyes grew large in surprise as he said, “Explain? I know our friends are on the cusp of a technological transformation, but advancements beyond us?”

Plindrix replied, “It’s true, Captain. Those two Engineers, Miki and Jennie, they have taken several of our own technologies and created a shielding that is amazing. From all that I have been able to ascertain, it is impregnable. Somehow they have managed to bond it together in such a way it exists in many places at the same time. Any type of assault to the material after it is formed is in some way dissipated throughout several quantum dimensions simultaneously. No one molecule takes any brunt of any force and in turn utilizes the impacting energy in an amazing way to strengthen it proportionately.”

Ooblinski asked, “Can it be adapted for use in our ship?”

Plindrix replied, “It can indeed. I’m having the device they sent installed into our ship’s hull integrity field. From the sims I’ve run during installation diagnostics, we might be able to take on those two enemy ships. Might not destroy them, and we might run out of weapons, but they won’t be able to destroy us. Coupled with this new engine and the amount of power it produces, we are making more power than both those battle ships combined ...”

Jennie and Miki winced simultaneously as they watched the Xerlovs’ weapons hit their shield … then cheered as it held, doing much happy squealing, screeching, and hugging as the data came in. Once there was enough to look at, they both started examining the numbers. Mommy TJ put Jennie’s pacifier back into her mouth, where she began sucking on it immediately.

“Any news?” said Randy, who had just gotten away from Shandry.

“Wook wook!” said Jennie, who hadn’t noticed her pacifier yet, as she turned a screen to show Randy. “Gweat big zap come in, alla it go inta tha other places of tha things! No hurted tha platey thingies one lil bit!” She gasped and took her pacifier out again. “Look at the numbers! No damage at all! A true test, and it passed with flying colors!”

“Hmm,” said Randy, looking at the results, “that’s very good news. The position shifting system?”

Miki replied, “It seems to be working in early tests, but they haven’t fired a shot in its direction yet.”

Randy nodded. “Well, sooner or later they will … I just hope it’s indirect and not straight at this position.”

“These two will be right back,” said Mommy TJ, picking up Jennie.

“Aww!” Jennie protested but didn’t struggle.

“They appear to have enthusiastically soaked their diapers while celebrating,” Mommy Lisa added, picking up Miki.

They didn’t have to carry the girls far. An unused section of hallway walled itself off right outside the room, surrounding them all with privacy walls and raising changing tables up out of the floor. The building was getting better at anticipating their needs and changing form to accommodate them. It wasn’t long before the walls came back down and there stood both Nurse-bots and both girls; anyone would have been hard pressed to prove that the walls or tables had ever existed.

“Thankoo Mommy TJ,” said Jennie.

“Thankoo Mommy Lisa,” Miki said simultaneously.

“So cute,” chuckled Randy. “Things look good here -- I’m going to check in on Chai Ying and Phil’s department, so carry on!”

“Okie dokie!”

“Not a thing?” asked the Director, on Shandry’s notebook computer screen.

“No, Sir,” Shandry replied. “I planted the bug on Colter without any sign that he’d noticed at all. But as soon as the door closed -- the signal cut off completely. The shielding blocks everything -- it’s like effing Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out.”

“Well, it’s almost time for a shift change,” said the Director. “Then we’ll have a large number of employees leaving, and some coming in. We’ve promised not to harass them -- but we haven’t promised not to try to send unobtrusive recording devices in with them. We can retrieve them later.”

“Well, maybe --” Shandry began. But then a tower literally rose up out of the building’s roof, and several low-flying aircraft the size of city buses launched out of openings in it, going out in all directions.

“Oh. I see. That’s going to make it more difficult,” said the Director.

“It would appear that Colter’s got his own public transit system,” Shandry remarked.

“Probably some FAA regulation against those,” the Director said.

“Good luck enforcing it.”

On another far advanced bridge of the other battle station, many very strange cloud like dark beings in some form of energy battle armor were sitting at their stations.

The Captain said ( in their language ), “Tac … what say info of other ship?”

A creature turned and said quickly, “Scan show they attacking some other kinda ship. Readins looks familiars, but so different too.”

The captain swiveled around and left his seat to approach the Tactical station, “Show what scan show.”

The being waved its hand over several bright orbs, a screen came to life and showed the other craft obviously attacking some smaller ship … with no results. It could be plainly seen that several other similar type vessels were rapidly approaching them as well.

The captain barked with alarm, “Attack those approaching objects, full power on the Emton Beams!”

Back at the engineering section of the exploration vessel Tritrinium, Chief Engineer Plindrix made a remarkable discovery. One of the largest issues with their weapons was heat. There were other issues, like waveform disruption, but, although pumping more energy into them would make them massively more powerful, heat and the wave form disruption issue would destroy them and most of the weapon pods along with them.

Plindrix discovered that the new shielding their Earth friends had devised could not only dissipate heat absolutely efficiently, it also stopped a major issue of protonic wave form bleed-off disruption. Due to the seeming impenetrability of the shielding, it funneled 100% of the energies to the focal gate and by some quantum entanglement magic transferred the massive heat along with the beam.

This in turn increased the yield potential on impact by several orders of magnitude. Plindrix grinned as he thought of how much more energy their new engines and power production unit produced. Technically, they, in fact, produced more energy than both the battleships out there by several orders of magnitude.

Plindrix put in an immediate call to the captain to explain this new development. Miki and Jennie had given the Tritrinium the ability to fight a sustained battle with the enemy ships and win.

“That’s amazing, Plindrix!” said the captain after the engineer had explained all of this. “I’m still inclined to try to avoid fighting if at all possible -- after all, stray fire or a crashing ship might still damage Earth -- but now at least we know that if we do have to fight, we stand a chance.”

“Capn, this one has report,” said a Xerlov tactical analyst. “Part one -- New ships … they no fire back. No even gotsa weapon. Just sit there and take it. No thinks they threat.”

“Confusing,” said the Xerlov captain. “Why they do that? Maybe they not ships? Maybe they just weird space rocks?”

“Part two -- enemy battle station shooting attem now,” the analyst went on. “Same thing. They just sit there, take it.”

“Hmm,” the captain said.

“Part three -- enemy battle station gotsa weapons, gonna gets tireda shootin’ atta weird space rocks soon, shoot at us again. We maybe shoot attem now while we can.”

“Only if it make a difference!” shouted the captain. “Get me targeting solution on some weak spot -- engines, weapons, life support, any good thingie!” he ordered. The tactical and weapons officers went into a flurry of activity.

Back on Earth in the company “nursery,” it was now the mandatory nap time for all the babydolls, babys, toddlers, and littles who had come to be the amazing part of the the engineering department. Nurse-bots were busy changing wet and messy diapers and dressing their infants in the adorable attire that had become normal. But Miki and Jennie were slightly fussing.

Miki said with a pout, “Amma big girl.” She whimpered, “Am too old fora nap.” Nevertheless, she yawned expansively.

Jennie responded, “Yea, me too!” She then yawned just as hugely as Miki had.

Their Nurse-bots took it all in stride as they removed all of their charges’ clothes except their plastic lined panties and diapers, then tucked them in for their afternoon naps. This routine happed in many places throughout the nursery until the Nurse-bots had all the “children” tucked in with their bottles.

Randy stood just inside the nursery and commented, “I am so glad I was enlightened over this need. It has created a wonderful work environment, as well as many adorable babydolls.” He grinned. “This would have me a lot more cheerful if there weren’t a threat to Earth just a few light-hours away.” He yawned as well. “Maybe I need a nap too.”

A passing Nurse-bot said, “I can get you all ready too,” with a grin.

“Thanks, but no,” said Randy. “I’m going to take a more conventional nap.” He went to his office, where the computer reconfigured the layout of one corner to contain a comfortable bunk and privacy walls. “Computer, please wake me up if an emergency occurs. Otherwise, no interruptions until further notice.” Changing into comfortable pajamas, he lay down and was quickly asleep.

Jennie woke up. It was nice and quiet inside her crib -- it somehow had noise-canceling sides that ensured peaceful sleep no matter what kind of ruckus other babies were making outside. And it was somehow fairly dark in there, even though the rest of the “nursery” was brightly lit. But still, she just didn’t feel tired anymore. She wondered how long she’d been asleep, and what was going on.

“Wha hime iyyit?” she asked, or tried to, around the large pacifier she had in her mouth. She wasn’t sure whom she was asking, though.

“It is currently 6:37 a.m.,” said the voice of Mommy TJ, from unseen speakers somewhere. “Does my baby want to wake up?”

“Yeth,” said Jennie. “Yeth peathe.” She didn’t want to take the pacifier out, even though it made communication difficult. It was still very soothing and comforting.

Somehow Mommy TJ could understand her even with the pacifier. “All right, then, Jennie, it’s time to get you ready.”

It wasn’t long before Jennie was bathed, put into a nice dry comfy diaper, dressed, and in a high chair for a yummy breakfast of some sort of yogurt with blueberries in it, carefully fed to her by Mommy TJ, who scarcely let a drop escape her mouth. The adult side of her mind wondered how she hadn’t had to wait for the bathtub, but she suspected the Nurse-bots were networked and had the timing carefully planned out. Miki was soon in the next high chair having her breakfast.

As soon as Mommy Lisa had put Miki into her highchair and lowered the tray, something came over her. She filled with glee as she made a huge mess all the while mommy Lisa smiled and took it all in stride. Amazingly, as big a mess as Miki had made, Mommy Lisa had actually gotten more in her than on her, with her robotic precision.

Mommy Lisa cleaned Miki’s face and hands, then took her from the high chair and led her back to the R&D department where Jennie was waiting for her.

“Hi Miki! I’m just seeing what’s going on,” said Jennie, typing on her computer’s keyboard before switching to gestures in the space in front of her screens. “There’s a message from our friends in orbit … oh my, look at this!” Plindrix had sent them a message about how he had used their discoveries to improve the Tritrinium’s weapons, which she and Miki watched. “I’m glad they’re using what we learned to improve their weapons in space,” Jennie said. “I mean, I’m glad they’re not creating new weapons based on it. I’m relieved that no one’s found a way to turn it into weapons by itself so far.”

“What about our little annoying space obstacles?” asked Miki. “Ah, I see. Both sides shot at them for a while, but then they went back to shooting at each other. Oh well. But look, all kinds of great live-fire data!” The two of them started analyzing the data they’d collected with graphs and charts, going back and forth with suggestions about what the information could mean for further developments.

Other employees were coming in -- the flyers were returning to the factory after picking people up from their homes. Miki and Jennie both lived alone, so they didn’t really need to go home, though they’d probably want to at some point. There was activity in Randy’s office too, as his walled-in isolation area had changed shape, though they couldn’t see what was going on in there.

Jennie decided to check on the situation outside the factory. The government agents had greatly reduced their presence, but there were still a few of their vehicles out there in the parking lot -- no doubt with a few agents inside them, keeping an eye on things.

Miki was dressed in a very cute yellow sunsuit with a large butterfly on the front. Her matching plastic-lined bloomer bottoms had yellow lace around the legs and several rows across her diapered hiney, which she showed off as often as she could as she bent over the specially made assembly station that had fondly become called the play table.

Jennie was dressed in a really cute red babydoll dress with black spots like a ladybug’s with matching rumba panties; on the front of the dress was an adorable googly-eyed ladybug. The ruffles on her diapered bottom were the same yellow color as Miki’s. Both had on slippers that looked just like booties.

Jennie sat at a seriously advanced computer terminal and typed on the keyboard with wanton abandon, interspersed with hand gestures. A complicated schematic took shape on the holo-screen that hovered magically in front of her in real time.

Miki assembled the new flat metamaterial optic it displayed as Jennie updated the schematic on the fly. The two of them had made a remarkable discovery about the nature of matter, energy, nuclear spin, and the frequencies all things oscillated in.

Jennie asked, “Ya thinks this gonna work? I mean, who ever hearda changina spin and tha frequency to change tha nature of matter?”

Miki shrugged, “Is what we done in cellphones for tha frequencies they operated in. Why not matter too?”

The two adorable young women had discovered how to transform the optic’s focal field by engineering flat optic metasurfaces utilizing the amazing shielding material they had invented in a unique alloy. They then employed an array of millions of tiny microscopically thin and transparent quartz pillars to diffract and mold the flow of light in much the same way as a glass lens, but without the aberrations that naturally limit the glass.

This feat of magic was accomplished by using a device Ooblinski’s team had shown them how to make that enabled them to manipulate matter one atom at a time and stack the quartz crystal’s molecules like blocks -- like a far more advanced version of a scanning tunneling microscope. This fascinated and tickled the baby in both of them, since stacking their letter blocks and knocking them over was one of their favorite pastimes.

To enable the phase shift and spin alterations, liquid crystals were especially useful, because they could be manipulated thermally, electrically, magnetically or optically, which created the potential for flexible and reconfigurable lenses.

They did this by harnessing the newly created nanoscale laser's unique wavelength forces to infiltrate the liquid crystal’s material between those microscopic quartz pillars forming a clathrasil, allowing them to shape and diffract the energy applied in completely new ways—“tuning” the focusing power to any frequency or spin they chose.

The addition of the quantum light gate both had used in creating the super advanced quantum computer chips, allowed them to manipulate the spins of each electron individually using very little energy to accomplish it.

The issue with all other lenses created up to that point was that almost all of them were glass or similarly rigid materials. Once a lens was shaped into a rigid curve, it could only bend the light in one way, unless combined with other lenses or physically moved.

Metalenses changed that, since they allowed Miki and Jennie to engineer the wavefront by controlling the phase, amplitude and polarization of the energy passing through the metamaterial, creating a way to change the frequencies and atomic spins of each atom individually in custom and extremely unique ways.

Jennie and Miki looked at each other apprehinsively as their new and very advanced item sat in the test stand. The room it was in was well shielded with the new shielding material they had come up with, but this device had the ability to transmutate.

If this test was successful, it would mean they could change the very nature of matter and energy and create just about anything from anything else. It was a similar thing to the transmutation devices Ooblinski’s team had shown them how to build, but this took it into another realm beyond what Plindrix had told them was possible.

The device Plindrix had given them had the ability to transmute materials from a raw mineral form into a pure selected material that could be used for manufacturing. This device could do that, but it could also cause already completed items to be transmuted into other shapes or completely into another form.

The new lens also had a terrible aspect to it as well. The girls had discovered that if the focal material used in the N wave particle weapon on Ooblinski’s ship combined with their shielding upgrade Plindrix had just added, had its current focal lens replaced by this new focal, as devastating as it had become already with the massive power it could now utilize, the new lensing device would give it a tunable aspect never before achievable, making it even more deadly by several orders of magnitude and making it pinpoint accurate over astronomical distances. The lens would also be impervious to the tuned waveform allowing for unlimited firing of the weapon with no chance of overheating.

Jennie said softly, “Ok, girlfriend. It’s showtime.”

Many adorably dressed men and women gathered from the R&D section to watch. The room looked like a gathering of Babydolls as Miki pressed the activation button with trepidation. There was a tremendous flash of red/green light. The entire room seemed to tremble with the awesome energies Miki had just released into the test chamber.

Miki slowly turned a rheostat that changed the focal of the new lensing device. As she turned the dial, many strange sounds could be heard as the target transmuted into many different shapes and even new objects as the frequencies and spins the molecules the target had been made of mutated and reconfigured before their astonished eyes.

The target began as a simple small stone from the parking lot, just a piece of gravel, but in several permutations it had become a tiny statue of an angel, a thin tube several meters long and the width of a human hair, and several other forms, ending up an intricate crystalline filigree the size of a beach ball with iridescent inclusions.

Another amazing development Miki and Jennie had introduced to their R&D development team was an improvement to the quantum gate. They had a new approach that allowed them to slow light significantly, much like an echo chamber holds onto sound, and which gave them an even better ability to direct it at will and completely solved the waveform disruptions that were inherent at quantum scales.

With the advancements in structured ultrathin silicon/graphene chips Ooblinski’s team had given them, matched with the ability to manipulate single atoms in an atomic structure, they added into the quantum gate nanoscale bars to resonantly trap light and then release or redirect it later after it was quantum entangled.

A central component of the device was an extremely thin layer of silicon overlying a layer of perovskite, which traps light very efficiently and has low absorption in the near-infrared, the spectrum of light they wanted to control.

The silicon rested atop a wafer of transparent material (sapphire, in this case) which in turn sat on top of a 2 atom thick layer of perovskite into which the researchers directed an electron microscope “pen” to etch their nanoantenna pattern. The pattern had to be drawn as smoothly as possible, as these antennas served as the walls in the echo-chamber analogy. Any imperfections would inhibit the light-trapping ability.

These “high-quality-factor” or “high-Q” resonators that were quantum bonded led to novel ways of manipulating and using light, including new applications for quantum computing, virtual reality and augmented reality; light-based WiFi; and even the detection of viruses.

What it did for the improvement of the artificial synapses used in their droids’ brains was as remarkable as the technique itself. Now, the droids seemed to truly be a thinking lifeform unto themselves.

The development also gave them the ability to control the creation of energy within any weapon that utilized waveforms for its projectile. It also gave them an interesting theory on something here to fore only thought of as fantasy, coupled with quantum teleportation and the fact waveform disruption no longer was bound by the Heisenberg theories, matter teleportation of living beings over almost infinite distances was a real possibility. All the girls had to do ... was design it.

Back on the exploration vessel Tritrinium, Plindrix had just received the new schematics for the newest upgrades and devices Miki and Jennie had devised. He was totally in shock as the data showed him a new physics in a way no one had ever thought of before.

“Plindrix, Engineering to Captain Ooblinski.”

“Ooblinski here, go ahead Plindrix.”

“Sir, I just received the data upload from our friends on Earth. I can’t believe what they have done. Those engineers of Randy’s, Jennie and Miki, are some of the brightest and most amazing minds I think I have ever come across. They have even surpassed me.”

Captain Ooblinski raised an eyebrow in surprise, “How so?”

They have completely reworked the quantum synapse computer system, making something hundreds of years in advance of our own, and they have actually devised a way to make true teleportation possible.”

About that time, the young woman at tactical turned slightly in her gravity couch and said, “Captain, sorry to interrupt, but I’m getting several major contacts. Apparently the Xerlovs have called in reinforcements, and I detect several more colony sleeper battle spheres approaching. The only good news here is that we have more data about those battle stations’ origin -- not a complete picture yet, though.”

Plindrix said, “Captain, I think it’s time we recruited some help from our friends.”

Captain Ooblinski replied, “You know the standing no interference order. This world isn’t even a member of the Coalition, and not for many …”

Plindrix interrupted, “Now that you made the required statement for the record, we both know those orders can be bent for the good of all. Need I remind you how I came to be part of your crew? I seem to recall my world was a lot more primitive than Earth when you … “

The Captain snorted a laugh. “OK, Plindrix. You’ve got my permission to approach Randy and his team. Especially those two engineers, Miki and Jennie. I think they would make a fine addition to our ship’s compliment, if they wanted to come with us when this is all over.”

“Agent Shandry,” said Randy on the phone, “you know I’d rather get on with my business than talk to you, but I’ve got news that’s going to be breaking soon, and you’re going to want to get ahead of it. I’ve just spotted more bogeys in space. Looks like both sides have called in reinforcements of some kind.” It technically hadn’t been Randy who had spotted them first, but he was certainly seeing them now, through the cameras and sensors in the little indestructible orbs they’d sent up for testing.

“What?” Shandry said. To someone else, he said, “Get the Director on the call. Now. Ultimate urgency.” Turning his attention back to Randy, he asked, “How many of each? Time of arrival?”

“I’m seeing what could be as many as ten new signals from one side, the one with the smaller ships, and five more of the big ones on the other side. Still no idea what kind of beef they have with each other -- but seeing as how they’re fighting here, not somewhere else, my guess is that they’re fighting over Earth, or at least our solar system. Winner gets us.”

“This is the Director,” said the familiar voice of Director Donaldson. “You say now there are more of them?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Shandry. “About ten more on one side, about five more on the other.”

“OK. I’ll have to do something about the information control. Colter, can you still defend Earth?”

“We’re rapidly ramping up our technologies,” said Randy. “As it is, if they fire any weapon they’ve already shown us toward Earth, it’ll be absorbed by our defenses. But if many of them fire at the same time, that might be a problem. Also, our defenses aren’t designed to stop them if they go for a crash landing or kamikaze attack. But … we’re working on those weaknesses.”

Randy sat at his desk with his face in his hands worrying over what to do next when the intercom chimed. “What’s up, Millie?”

A young woman's voice replied, “Mr. Colter. Umm .. you have a … I mean …”

Randy sat up straight in his chair. It wasn’t like Millie to have this type of problem introducing a visitor. “What’s wrong, Millie?” He turned to his security monitor to make sure no one was threatening her.

She said, “Nothing’s … umm .. wrong, Sir. You have a visitor, and I really believe you ought to see him … I mean, meet with him.”

Randy smiled as he sort of had an inkling of what was going on. “By all means, send them in.”

Millie opened the door and in walked none other than the chief engineer for the exploration ship Tritrinium. Randy stood and rounded his desk with his hand extended.

“Welcome to Earth, Plindrix. To what do I owe this honor? It isn’t every day the chief engineer of a starship visits my company.”

Plindrix smiled broadly as he reached up, took Randy’s hand, and shook it warmly, “I have come to tell you of a certain construction you might not be aware of, and to ask a couple of your engineers a rather important question.”

Millie looked on with wide-eyed incredulity at the familiarity Randy showed to this … small blue four-armed individual who she knew beyond any doubt wasn’t from Earth. She slowly closed the door and returned to her desk in complete awestruck wonder.

Randy indicated one of several comfortable chairs near a coffee table. He sat in one, Plindrix in the other.

Randy asked, “Would you like to try a cup of our coffee? I mean, if it isn’t detrimental to you, that is.”

Plindrix replied, “Ahh, an Earth delicacy. I would love to try some.”

Randy picked up the pot sitting on the coffee table and poured 2 steaming cups.

He added a bit of honey and stirred both cups before taking a sip of his.

Randy said, “Careful, it’s slightly hot.”

Plindrix waved his scanner over the cup. Once he was sure it was safe, Plindrix took a tentative sip. A large smile crossed his alien face. “This is absolute ambrosia. I must take this back to the ship.”

Randy smiled, “As much as you need. Now, what brings the chief engineer here to talk to a primitive like me?”

Plindrix laughed and replied, “I think you would be surprised at what my homeworld is like compared to yours. I want you to know, there is a ship that has been constructed and kept under stealth behind your moon. I understand your concerns about weapons, but under these circumstances a warship is necessary. It … doesn't have to become part of Earth’s knowledgebase or fall into their possession, just like your asteroid mines they know nothing of.”

Randy sat back and thought about that for a minute before he replied, “What kind of armaments does this ship have?”

Plindrix took a long sip of his coffee, then replied, “Only the very best, including several upgrades based on what two of your engineers have devised. It also has some of the best armor hull plating I think I have ever seen. Which also bring up another … umm .. delicate point I would like to discuss.”

Randy took a sip of his coffee and asked, “And what kind of delicate negotiation might that be?”

Plindrix fidgeted in the chair a bit then said, “I would like to enquire if Miss Jennie and Miss Miki might consider taking a nice long cruise on a starship as part of my engineering team.”

“Still haven’t noticed us yet,” said Ooblinski, watching the tactical display with a furrowed brow.

“All signs indicate they are still entirely focused on one another,” replied Zoruu. “The test orbs from Earth have taken no action other than their initial movement. Both sides are now ignoring those as well. We, on the other hand, have taken no action at all, as far as they have been able to detect. There has been no reason for them to notice us.”

“Neither side seems to have been able to gain the upper hand,” said Moorlee. “The Xerlov ships are smaller and more agile, but have equally powerful weaponry. The unknown battle stations are much larger and thus far less maneuverable, but they also have far more powerful shielding. Each side has done some damage to the other, but at this rate the battle could go on for months.”

“And we still don’t know who those guys are or what they want here?” asked Ooblinski.

“I have been doing what I can,” said Zoruu. “The direction from which they have all come must be significant, but tracing that vector backward, there are no known inhabited systems along that path. However, I am having the computer run a geodesic analysis to trace their path through curved spacetime, assuming no acceleration. It is not certain to produce results, but there is a chance.”

“No acceleration?” asked the captain. “That would mean that they’d been sent here a long time ago and were only just arriving.”

“Yes,” said Zoruu. “If, as I said, that assumption is true, which is by no means certain.”

“If that is true,” said Moorlee, “it would mean the Xerlovs knew about it and were expecting them.”

“This would also explain the Xerlovs’ presence here,” replied Zoruu, “if they were some sort of ancestral enemies, of which the Xerlovs have many. However, I do note that the unknown battle stations do not appear in any database of known ship types, not even historical databases. We do, of course, have cultural data about the Xerlovs and many other species as well, and naturally the Xerlovs have engaged in many interstellar conflicts over the millennia, but nothing definitively matching this. Of course, the older the cultural records, the more they resemble folktales and the less precise the data. Beyond a point, there cease to be even pictures or drawings, and there is nothing but verbal description, and the farther back you go, the more embellished and fantastic the tales become.”

“OK, what if they aren’t from Xerlov folktales?” asked Ooblinski. “Any other theories?”

“Well, this could be some sort of revenge thing,” said Moorlee. “The unknowns could have had a recent encounter with the Xerlovs and beat them up, and now the Xerlovs are here to get back at them -- maybe the unknowns are here to try to take Earth for themselves, and the Xerlovs hate them and won’t let them.”

“There is this possibility,” said Zoruu, nodding. “Any species that is out to conquer a known inhabited world must consider itself outside the Coalition’s regulations -- and a species that the Coalition has never encountered would certainly not consider itself bound by its rules. Perhaps they ran afoul of the Xerlovs in a recent incident that isn’t in our databases, and the Xerlovs are merely here to deny them their goal, by any means necessary.”

“So, they’re either very old or very new enemies of the Xerlovs,” said Ooblinski. “Any … other ideas?”

“One other, at this time,” said Zoruu. “The Xerlovs may have been here because of us. Although they don’t usually go out of their way to enforce Coalition regulations, they might if they believe they’ve been denied what they want based on those same regulations. And there have been three incidents of Xerlov colonization attempts being denied due to the target worlds being inhabited within the past two decades.”

“Sort of an ‘if I can’t do it, nobody can’ kind of attitude, hmm?” replied Ooblinski. “And you think they might have thought we were trying to colonize?”

“Or interfere in some prohibited way with a restricted world,” Zoruu said. “Which, I might point out, we have. But again, this is just one theory. All these theories have a serious flaw: they assume that both we and the battle stations arrived here, in this system, at the same time, by pure chance. This is highly unlikely. Not impossible by any means, but the computer estimates the chances at one in several million at best.”

“Have you looked into what might have caused our engines to break down in this system, of all places?” asked Ooblinski. “I know Plindrix said it was just a breakdown because the old drive was, well, old, but …”

“But did something sabotage them, or even just put undue stress on them, when we arrived in this system for our survey mission?” asked Zoruu. “Interesting … I will have another look at the engineering logs.”

“What if we go back to theory number one?” asked Moorlee. “Suppose the Xerlovs had a run-in with these guys a long time ago. They knew where they were going. They kept records. And … they set booby traps.”

“And we ran into one?” Ooblinski said. “So far, that’s the only theory that doesn’t rely on millions-to-one odds. Of course, that could mean that there are other Xerlov booby traps around, and we’ve managed to avoid them.”

“That theory has another problem too,” said Zoruu. “Other ships have been through this system without problems for thousands of years. Those traps, if they exist, would have to be just good enough to leave other ships alone … but just bad enough to mistake us for one of the Xerlovs’ enemies. But I’ll look at the engineering logs. They might reveal something.”

In a very well decorated office type room, a highly decorated dark-skinned military man spoke passionately to another who was sitting behind a large desk with several flatscreen monitors on it. “Your Excellency, I’m telling you we are able to strike at those invaders. We have the most powerful nuclear weapons on Earth and the missiles to deliver them.”

The man behind the desk sat back and looked over the military man carefully before he said softly, “I do not feel those weapons would mean anything to those invaders. We have very old manuscripts that called such as those gods.”

“Your Excellency,” the first man began with passion, “I’m not talking about fairy tales …”

The man behind the desk stood and banged his fist loudly, “I grow weary of your insolence.” He walked to a locked cabinet and unlocked it, removed a very thick and old book, and brought it back to his desk. “ This is the oldest manuscript known to man: The Mahamaramadah.” He opened the book to a page near the middle, “Mankind has just managed to decipher the proto-Sanskrit it was inscribed in. The tale it tells is of fanciful devices and flying things known as Vimana.”

He turned the book so the military man could see the picture on the page, “The satellite image we have obtained looks just like one of these chariots of the gods.”

The military man’s eyes grew very large in total shock as he saw that the drawing in the ancient manuscript was exactly the same as the image taken by one of the orbiting spy satellites.

The military man gasped, “This cannot be.”

The other man sat back at his desk and said softly, “We all know what happened when Vishnu rose into the heavens in his chariot of fire and dropped the iron weapon, don’t we?”

The military man stood totally speechless as he looked at the two images. They were exactly the same, only the drawing in the manuscript was thousands of years old.

“So you see, ladies,” said Plindrix, “no one in the entire Consortium, not even the most advanced inventor or the most fringe crackpot tinkerer, has thought to combine technologies as you have. I would be honored if you would travel with us -- once the current situation settles down, of course. Obviously, right now your world needs you to help protect it from the Xerlovs and the … well, we still don’t know what the other people are called.”

“We could travel in space?” asked Jennie, looking from Plindrix to Miki to Randy. She was obviously excited enough to wet her diaper, or she would have been if she had any control over that at all.

“Wowwww we could be space engineers!” said Miki, looking up at the ceiling dreamily.

“Oooh, but you’re right, we gotta figure out how to protect Earth firstest,” said Jennie. “And … well, the shield system is upgraded now so we can absorb any number of shots they might fire at the planet … as long as they come from outside the shield.”

“Yeah,” said Miki, “if they try to ram the planet or crashland, or if they shoot a missile or railgun an asteroid at us, the shield system won’t stop it. It can absorb their energy, but they’ll still fall to Earth anyway.”

“That’s why we should get you up to speed on the starship sooner rather than later,” said Plindrix.

“Starship?” asked both Jennie and Miki. Once again Plindrix explained about the starship they’d had robots Earth had created building, hidden from Earth behind the Moon.

“It incorporates everything you’ve discovered so far,” Plindrix concluded, “and it’s designed to require only a minimal crew, although it can comfortably carry a few dozen. I suggest bringing along more engineers! You can make improvements as you go!”

Randy nodded. “All your developments have been deployed in space anyway,” he said. “Just stay connected -- and that’s easy with this new comm tech.”

Behind the moon, a very elegant starship was taking shape rapidly. Most of the foresection and aft had already been completed. In the mid section, many spider-like drones could be seen climbing all over the skeleton and what was rapidly becoming the engine room.

Assembly accelerated as more and more of the hull plating went into proper place. A small, very exotic looking shuttle came into the docking bay, and the door in the hull closed.

Plindrix stepped from the craft and two Nurse-bots helped two very adorably dressed women that looked for all the world like babydolls emerge from the passenger seats of the shuttle, which looked like advanced versions of child safety seats. Jennie and Miki looked around the extremely advanced landing bay with large eyes, while Randy exited from the navigator's seat.

Randy held out his hands and wiggled his fingers, “Now be good girls and take my hand. Plindrix is going to show us the bridge and explain your new position on our starship.”

Miki gasped, “Our? Ya means this belongs ta us?”

Plindrix laughed, “Exactly, You and Jennie are the head engineers on your world’s very first starship. It’s also rather nasty in battle, too, since it has some super advanced shield plating and some quite excellent weapon upgrades based on what you girls developed.”

Plindrix led them into one of the elevators, which were just like those they remembered from the Tritrinium. When the door opened with its airy tinkle, Randy and the girls stopped in wide-eyed amazement. As advanced as they remembered the Tritrinium’s bridge being, this one went far beyond. It contained many super advanced tracking locations as well as weapons beyond anything Earth had ever created. As powerful as nuclear weapons were, these were magnitudes worse. Jennie and Miki sucked their thumbs in wide eyed wonder as they looked around.

“As an introduction I’ll show you the engineering station here, then I’ll show you the real thing,” said Plindrix, and the tour continued. The two Nurse-bots followed primly and quietly behind, carrying their babies’ diaper bags as Plendrix led the girls by their free hand while they sucked their thumbs on the other.

“We make no headway against ancient foe,” said the Xerlov captain. “Why?” he loudly demanded.

“Great Commander,” said the tactical officer, “their ships just lots bigger. Lots more hull plates. We gotsa shoot through miles of metal to hit anything important. It … no easy. And they keep fixins.”

“Maybe time to change tactics,” said the captain. He turned the viewscreen around so that it displayed Earth. “They want planet. We want them no have it. So … we no let them have it.”

As fate would have it, Miki and Jennie were at the tactical and weapons stations with the learning bands on, getting a complete operational lesson in their use from Plindrix, when the battle alert sounded.

Without thinking about anything, the two girls went into action.

Miki said professionally as she made adjustments to the tactical panel for better results, “Scans indicate the first Xerlov battle cruiser has just targeted Moscow.”

Without missing a beat, Jennie took up the weapons console and tied tactical to her targeting computer. “Have their main cruiser targeted,” she said. “Can disable it with a shot to its midsection. Their weapons will be offline for about 40 minutes. They will know we are here for sure and certain.”

Randy and Plindrix looked on with large smiles on their faces. Plindrix looked at Randy and gave him a thumbs up with all four of his thumbs.

Miki replied, “Activating remote shield AI computers. Logging in bonded teleport systems. If they fire energy weapons, they won’t be able to hit Earth targets.”

Jennie replied, “Even a missile will detonate harmlessly if I can track it fast enough.”

Plindrix tapped Randy on his shoulder and indicated the central gravity couch. “Why don’t you take a seat here? This is, after all, your ship. It stands to reason you should be in the command seat.”

Randy gingerly sat in the command couch as Plindrix lowered a learning band around his head. Randy felt it tighten, then all of a sudden, he began to learn his ship and how to command it. Plindrix stood nearby and watched with a large smile as he crossed his 4 arms in satisfaction. Plindrix knew Randy would soon have a good working knowledge of command, but nothing would take the place of good old on-the-job experience. Plindrix was sure Randy was about to get his fair share of that shortly.

Plindrix blended right in at the science / engineering station as a cute little girl’s voice came over the comm. “This is Engineering, Sally speaking, reporting that engine and power production are installed and fully operational. All weapons, engines, and power production systems online.”

Plindrix grinned broadly as he turned slightly in his gravity couch and said, “Orders, Captain?”

“Status report,” said Randy.

Miki said, “Yes, Captain.” Jennie and Miki started giggling before Miki broke off and continued in serious tones, “Best hurry,” as she manipulated several controls like an expert. “They have just launched a huge energy attack on Moscow. Firecontrol shields contained the impact with minimal bleed around. Made a pretty light show.”

The tactical display showed a schematic representation of this action on the main display; a red circle representing one of the Xerlov ships had turned into a filled-in red disc once they’d locked weapons, and a red dashed line had connected the disc with Moscow on the large blue disc representing Earth. But the bright red line that appeared when the ship fired stopped short, blocked by a white line.

There was a pause, as if the Xerlov commander didn’t know what had just happened. But then, Jennie said, “Multiple Xerlov ships now locking onto Moscow.” Most of the Xerlov ships’ red circles turned into filled discs, and more dashed lines appeared.

“I think we’ve established that it doesn’t matter how much firepower they use,” Randy said. “Steady.” On the tactical display, more bright red lines connected red circles to the shield’s white line.

When the bright red lines faded away, there was another pause. “They’re having a bit of trouble believing what they’re seeing,” said Randy. “I can imagine what they’ll try next.”

“The computer has all the data on their tactics since we started monitoring them closely,” said Jennie. “It’s 87% certain that the next attempt will be … yes.” The screen filled with dashed lines as all the Xerlov ships targeted different cities on Earth in a cooperative spread attack. “Exactly as predicted. Firecontrol shields AH3 through AN17 auto responding.” Multiple white lines appeared on the main tactical display to intercept the red lines.

“Detecting no impact whatsoever,” said Miki. “Firecontrol shields effective. Computer saying they will try missiles next, once they get over this shock.” The Xerlovs’ opponents took the opportunity to step up their attack, since the Xerlovs’ had all momentarily stopped firing upon the large battle stations, but the Xerlovs soon returned fire.

“I suspect they haven’t fired missiles yet because they’re not a renewable resource,” said Randy. “They may have a lot, but not an infinite supply.”

“They aren’t going to want to waste them,” said Jennie. “That’s why the computer predicts the flagship will fire one first as a test.”

They knew what was going to happen after that, though.

“Missile locking on …” said Jennie, as the red disc on the tactical display showed a dashed blue line linking the flagship to Moscow, still the largest city on the side of Earth that currently presented its face to the Xerlovs’ position.

“Missile firing,” said Miki. “Scans indicate that it’s a coherent energy device, which makes sense -- a nuclear device would require fissile and fusible material, while this just requires the casing, propulsion, and energy.”

Then the unexpected happened. The battle stations opened fire on the missile, destroying it before it could even reach the shield. Miki and Jennie’s mouths fell open, and Jennie’s pacifier fell out, dangling from the collar of her outfit.

Recovering, Jennie looked at the computer and said, “Actually, the computer predicted a 21% chance that they’d do that. I just wasn’t looking at the lower-probability outcomes.”

Miki’s eyes grew big in surprise as she said, “Scans indicate the large battle station is now launching some type of swarm weapon. There is a large cloud of them approaching the Xerlov Flagship at a very significant portion of relativistic speed.”

A large red filled circle on the tactical display now represented the Colony Battle Station. Many scattered red spots surrounded by blinking blue circles moved rapidly towards the indicated Xerlov Battle Cruiser.

The Xerlov Cruiser retaliated by using some form of rapid fire energy weapon. Many indications of rapid target acquisitions showed on the screen. With each strike, however, the larger object seemed to break into smaller objects and continue on the same attack vector and speed, but with many more objects showing.

The objects impacted the Xerlov Cruiser’s hull at tremendous relativistic speed. Their kinetic energy was instantly transposed into potential energy and created a huge quantum imbalance. The energy had to go somewhere and it did. Each object, regardless of size, exploded into a massive burning plasma conflagration based on available object mass that consumed major areas of hull.

This damage created secondary explosions as fiery outgassing from the ruptured hull fueled the fire. The tertiary explosion destroyed the vessel in a large all-consuming plasma fusion reaction. A small sun burned where the Xerlov Cruiser used to be until it extinguished due to there not being enough inward pressure to sustain the reaction.

Those on the Earth ship looked on in horror as the Xerlov Cruiser vanished in a bright ball of plasma. This was a type of weapon none had seen before.

Jennie said with trepidation, “Wow. Didja see that? No matter how many times the main projectile got shot, it just made more. Then that mess slammed into the ship and POOF!!”

Randy said, “I know why it resulted that way. Mass in motion that has its motion stopped, that energy has to go somewhere. So it did; it fused into plasma and ate the ship.”

Miki had a thoughtful expression come across her face as she said in a faraway voice, “If we added a bit of some kind of fusible material into the railgun projectiles, that would enhance it some too.” She sucked her thumb thoughtfully for a minute or so then continued, “Would really improve a railgun’s performance by a magnitude for sure.”

“There you go, Miki,” said Jennie. “Always thinking.” She noticed something happening on one of her screens. “What? That’s … that’s code for what I was just thinking of! How … oh, I see. Yes. Like this!” The training band was feeding information into her brain as she spoke. In just a moment, she said, “OK, Miki, this sort of thing?” A graph appeared on one of Miki’s screens showing a simulation of exactly the railgun enhancement Miki had been talking about and how its energy yield changed based on its fusible material parameters.

Meanwhile, the Xerlovs had successfully gotten one missile past the battle stations, but as soon as it hit the shields, it simply stopped. The automatic systems Jennie had programmed had moved several layers of the black absorptive shielding into place, and together they removed all relative kinetic energy from the missile. It didn’t even go off; it just stayed there, and without orbital velocity it tried to gravitate toward Earth but instead came to rest on the shield.

Randy pointed to the missile and said, “Send a droid there and capture the thing. Lets take it apart and see if we can find a better means to defend against them.”

Jennie manipulated a few of the controls. Shortly, they saw one of the spider droids slowly approaching the inert missile. It wasn't but a few minutes later the droid had disarmed it and started its return trip to the cargo hold.

The droid slowly began making its way back to the Earth ship, trying to avoid drawing attention to itself, but it took advantage of rotating around the far side of Earth from the combatants at Earth’s rate of rotation, so this took time. Its propulsion was far more advanced than Earth’s standard systems, so it didn’t need to resort to the typical rock-bottom energy-saving trajectories that Earth’s spacecraft typically employed. However, once clear of the Earth’s shadow, it used silent running, meaning slower progress than if it had accelerated to the halfway point. It would take hours to arrive in the Moon’s shadow, where the Earth ship lay in wait.

Meanwhile, the Xerlovs and the unknown battle stations continued their warring. There was one unfortunate consequence of the earlier activity, which was that the action was now a bit closer to Earth, which increased the chance of stray fire impinging upon the shield, but the shield was able to absorb it, and everyone on the Earth ship -- as well as the Tritrinium, with which they were now in contact -- was keenly observing the combat. Both ships had been sending other spider-drones to cautiously salvage debris that had drifted far enough from the battle to be taken unnoticed.

By the time the drone had arrived with the intact missile and the hold’s receiving area had repressurized, Miki, Randy, and Jennie had arrived. None of them had ever laid eyes on a rocket weapons system this advanced. The best they could even discern, what passed for its electronics looked more like crystals than anything else. They and Plindrix began to analyze it as best they could with the advanced technology they had.

Eventually Randy decided he’d better check in with the factory. He went to the captain’s office and activated the holographic comm system. An image of Millie and part of her desk appeared in the office. She seemed to be seated at her desk chair. “Hello, Mr. Colter,” she said. “Is this thing on -- oh! Look at that! You look just like you’re here!”

“I’m seeing you, and it looks like you’re sitting right here,” said Randy. There wasn’t even a multiple-second delay, due to some quantum-bonded relays they’d put in place. “Looks like the system works. So how are things, Millie? I haven’t gotten any emergency calls, so I take it the Feds haven’t tried storming the building or any such thing?”

“Oh no, they’ve been very well behaved,” Millie replied. “Nothing more than the usual car in the lot watching the building.” Her phone rang. “Oh, speak of the devil,” she said.

“Go ahead and answer,” Randy said. “They don’t need to know I’m not physically there.”

“Colter Electronics -- oh yes, Agent Shandry, things are going just fine -- oh! OK, I’ll put you through to him.” Randy pointed at the buttons on his desk comms panel that connected the building’s phone system to something far more advanced.

“Agent Shandry? This is Randy Colter. Are there new developments?”

“We’ve just gotten some very disturbing reports from the military satellites -- although they’re encouraging at the same time. The enemy fired on Earth! But your shielding seems to have completely mitigated the attack. So, good work there, but the Director and the President are obviously quite edgy. Can we expect further attacks, in your opinion?”

“With two sides this unpredictable, I’m assuming the answer is yes. But there are two things to remember,” Randy said. “First, so far we’ve blocked everything they’ve done. And second, one side actually moved to stop their opponents from attacking Earth. Now, this might mean they’re on our side, or conversely, it might mean they intend to capture Earth and don’t want it damaged; we don’t know. But that means that at least one side isn’t interested in shooting at us.”

Director Donaldson sat at his desk reading over some of the most amazing documents he had ever seen. Each photo, along with the supporting typed documentation, left him with a feeling of total disillusionment. Everything he had thought about Earth and the human race’s “mighty” achievements appeared to be still lost in the mists of superstitions and witchdoctor rituals.

He picked up another report listing the investigation into Colter Inc.’s new investments in a medical manufacturing company. His eyebrows rose once again in sheer wonder at the amazing products that were coming from them and the more amazing patents.

Donaldson’s intercom buzzed, and the voice of his assistant said, “Sir, a courier is here. He has some rather important data to give to you.”

“Show him in,” replied Donaldson, “I’m sure it ranks in the same class as the rest of this amazing data.”

“Yes, Sir.” she replied.

The door opened, and a courier walked in pulling a rather large cart loaded with data. Usually, it would be sent via network or stored on one tiny high-capacity micro SD card. The Director raised his eyebrows at this unprecedented delivery. It was also true he liked to see and read the reports on hardcopy, it was more secure.

The courier said, “I do hope you have a reader. There is a lot to see.”

As the courier left the office, Donaldson loaded the first memory pac into the new Quantum computer system. The holo-screen appeared and began to show him a lecture on various ancient Hindu and Jain texts mentioning flying vehicles known as Vimanas.

Donaldson was once again in shock at the data on how the VASIMR Ion Engine came to be. After several minutes of speculation on the lecturer’s part, another set of pictures and drawings appeared, depicting the mythical Vimana vehicles. Then came the photos showing the real objects as taken by several spy satellites and a space-based telescope. The huge battle stations had been to Earth before, in ancient times. Donaldson’s mouth fell open in complete incredulous shock.

There was also a compilation of various episodes of sensationalistic cable TV programs about ancient aliens that mentioned the Vimanas, a favorite item of evidence about aliens having visited Earth before. But Donaldson, skimming through it, could tell that these people knew nothing more than was in the ancient texts and had just padded out the episodes with modern artwork, repetition, and speculation by interviewees who knew just as little. There was no additional information there. So he sent a text message to Agent Shandry directing him to ask Randy Colter some questions.

“So you’re saying that for some reason these battle stations …” began Shandry when his phone signaled a priority message. “Just one moment; this message is from the Director …”

“Not a problem,” said Randy, watching the tactical display of the ongoing battle, light-hours away.

“Mr. Colter, have you ever heard of the Vimanas of ancient Hindu myth?” Shandry asked.

“Can’t say that I have,” Colter replied.

Shandry began to read him the summary of what the Director had sent. “Wait,” said Colter. “You’re saying that the giant battle stations have been to Earth … before?”

“The Director says the ancient texts’ similarity to what we’re seeing here is just too close to be a coincidence,” said Shandry. Colter quietly sent a recording of that portion of the conversation to Miki, Jennie, and Plindrix.

“That’s … astounding,” said Randy. “I’m going to have to think about what that could mean. Could they have believed they owned Earth in times long past and have come back to retake possession? Perhaps they were defeated by another power back then and are here for a rematch? What if they’re somehow our ancestors? I just don’t know. I need more data!”

“Well, you’re the only one we know of who’s in a position to get that data,” said Shandry. “I just beg you to share whatever you find.”

“Depends on if there’s anything to find,” said Randy. “But we’ll find out. Anything else, Agent Shandry?”

“That’s all for now. Good luck!”

“Thanks! Good luck to us all.” He closed the connection.

“Millie,” Randy said to his assistant on Earth, “just give me a call if the FBI calls again. You can put it through, unless I’m unavailable of course. But for now, I want to ask our friends what they think.”

“OK, Sir, talk to you later,” said Millie.

Randy went back to the bridge to find Jennie, Miki, and Plindrix staring at Jennie’s screen. It showed stylized artwork of something that looked somewhat like the mysterious battle stations, and there was screen after screen of different types of images. “Wait,” said Randy, “those all look like they’re from different cultures … and none of them look like they’re from anything on Earth.”

“They’re not,” said Plindrix. “These are from our databases. The Coalition is made up of hundreds of civilizations that have combined their knowledge and resources for mutual advancement. And … no fewer than eleven of them seem to have ancient legends of craft like those. No modern records -- so whoever they are, they’ve somehow avoided all notice by any Coalition member government for thousands of Earth years.”

“Is anyone aboard the Tritrinium a member of any of those civilizations?” asked Jennie.

“Two,” said Plindrix. “Ensign Caalderoi, in Security … and myself. But in one way I’m unique.”

“What way’s that?” asked Randy.

“Mine is the only civilization whose ancient legends say that these ships were … our own.”

“What?” asked Miki. “And you didn’t know this?”

“No!” Plindrix said. “This was so long ago that the only people who study those legends are experts in ancient mythology. The cultures those myths are from are long dead on my world -- nobody alive today believes in those stories anymore.”

“Just like if they were ancient Egyptian or Mesopotamian myths on Earth,” said Randy.

“I … suppose?” replied Plindrix. “If those are ancient civilizations whose original religions no longer have any surviving adherents.”

“Wait,” said Jennie. “We’ve been saying that it’s a really huge coincidence that the Tritrinium, the Xerlovs, and the big Vimana battle stations are all here at the same time. What if …?”

“What if the Xerlovs were ancient enemies of my people and had some kind of alert system to detect if there were someone from my species in this system?” asked Plindrix, picking up on the idea. “Well, that reduces the coincidence -- it means I’m unwittingly the cause of the Xerlovs’ presence here, but they wouldn’t be doing anything if the battle stations hadn’t appeared too. Why would they have come -- unless there were a chain reaction, and they detected the Xerlovs here?”

“Maybe …” said Randy. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions yet. We need more data. In the meantime, let’s see what we can do right now.”

Aboard one of the remaining Xerlov Cruisers, the Captain was sweating bullets. He saw what the Large battle station had done to the flagship and that now left him in charge of the fleet.

He had never seen a weapon like that swarm thingy he had just observed, nor the beam weapon defense system fail so dramatically. He turned in his gravity couch and groweld harshly, “Weapons, that ship attack. Destroy it totally. Gives all we gots includina N wave.”

“Firin, targeted mid sectiona tha sphere.”

Many beams, waves, arcs, and several types of drone missiles launched and streaked towards the Massive station. Without warning, many things appeared in a wall between them and the station and absorbed all the impacts

The captain shouted, “Tac!! Wha happena weapons?”

“”No sures. They jus hits sompin an stoppted. Jus like when we shot atta planet.”

Jennie turned from her console with a huge grin on her face, “Shield drones work really well. Stopped a full on attack from those Xers but good.”

Miki and Jennie hugged as they giggled. Now that there was a pause in the frenetic activity they had been involved in for the last while, their Nurse-bots moved in to check their diapers.

Randy turned from viewing the data on the strike and said, “Well done. Now, we need to stop this battle completely.”

Miki and Jennie said at the same time, “Give us a bit more time. We have to build a few more of the shield orbs.”

“After you both get diaper changes,” said Mommy Lisa, and Mommy TJ nodded.

The girls had their diapers and outfits changed. Mommy TJ and Mommy Lisa dressed their girls in a cute powder puff fairy shorty top and matching plastic lined powderpuff rumba panties. Miki was in powder blue with white lace and ruffles, Jennie was in a soft purple with white ruffles and lace and both had on matching slippers that looked just like booties.

When the Nurse-bots carried their ‘infants’ back onto the bridge and set them back in their respective gravity couches, Randy and Plindrix both smiled broadly. Randy was exceptionally glad he had discovered this affinity and allowed it to become normal. Jennie and Miki were perhaps the most perfect babydolls he had ever seen and thought they were extremely adorable.

Randy turned his attention to the forward screen, He could plainly see the shield orbs had stopped the missiles without destroying them or causing their primers to detonate whatever explosive or other destructive device that might have been equipped.

Plindrix was amazed when something came across the comm channels. It was a very high carrier intermixed with an unusual bonded spinwave energy frequency.

Plindrix turned slightly in his gravity couch and said, “Captain, we are getting … a message. I’m running it through linguistics, but apparently someone is trying to contact us … and from what I can see, it isn’t the Xerlovs.”

Randy’s eyebrows rose in surprise as he said, “Put it on the main channel and let’s hear what it has to say.”

For a few short minutes, all they heard was a strange undulating sound like some sort of really weird music. Then, a voice with the same strange modulation could be heard speaking, “Greetings, beings of Gaia. We have traveled many Hecators to return to your garden world. Many Realcors have passed since our stations last visited your system. It does one good to see you have not lost that which we taught you. It is good to see Vishnu’s attack on your planet did not render you back to excessive primitive states. He was a rather vicious Xerlov.”

“Vishnu was a Xerlov?” Jennie asked.

“Seems so?” Miki replied.

“So wait,” said Randy, “these guys were on Earth, and then some Xerlovs attacked and drove them away?”

“Thousands of years ago, it would’ve been,” said Jennie, “but that’s what it sounds like?”

“So wait, are these guys … our ancestors?” asked Miki. “Did they start life on Earth or something?”

“Or … were they just the previous conquerors?” wondered Randy.

“Or maybe they just stopped to help out the primitive humans,” suggested Miki.

“Or maybe we could ask them,” said Randy. “Here, let’s see if we can answer them.”

“Answer the signal?” Jennie gestured at her computer screen. “OK, matching linear and spinwave frequencies … aligning directional signal … we should be able to respond.”

The comm screen showed many wavy lines and strange undulating, intermixing colors in a bursting kind of pattern for a few seconds before it cleared. The image that appeared once it cleared up, looked like a creature made of some kind of glowing smoke or vapors. It was soft and didn’t appear to be menacing, although with a new contact, no one on the bridge could be exactly positive.

A soft musical voice with the same strange modulation came over the channel. “Hello, my fellow Gaians. We apologise for taking so long to return. Our craft is designed for self containment in deep space for many Realcors. Our ship that was there when the Xerlov attacked you last was severely damaged and sent a request for aid. We returned as quickly as our technology allowed.”

Randy was mind blown as he replied, “Does that mean you are technically on our side?”

The being replied, “Side? I do not understand that reference. I will say we travel through the universe looking for promising specimens of life, then we help them develop along the lines to lead to the brotherhood of beings. The Xerlovs, on the other hand, seek to destroy all life but their own and steal whatever they can find.”

Jennie muted the microphones and said, from off camera, “Umm, they could be lying -- or they could even think they’re telling the truth when in fact we would say that humans were their slaves thousands of years ago. After all, the Xerlovs didn’t conquer Earth back then. They only attacked these guys.”

“You seem to be correct,” said Plindrix, also off camera. The image on the screen certainly didn’t look anything like a being of Plindrix’s species. “We detected no Xerlov presence, or indeed any other non-native presence when we scanned Earth upon arrival. The Xerlovs do indeed usually take what they want -- but the Consortium’s regulations forbid conquest of a sentient species. If they had done more than merely drive these people away, the Xerlovs would have experienced repercussions from hundreds of other worlds.”

“OK, turn the mic back on”, said Randy. Jennie unmuted the microphones. “We apologize, but several civilizations have risen and fallen since you were here, so we have next to no surviving records about you. So, although we don’t trust the Xerlovs, we also don’t know anything about you. Why are you here now?”

“We have always intended to return,” said the being on the screen. “Our journeys take us out of the galactic plane, past little-frequented systems, and we travel but slowly in our multi-generational cities, while hastier species press the limits of their various paraspacial technologies. And then, as we were within a few Realcors of arrival, the detectors we left behind reported the presence of the despicable Xerlovs in our destination system. Breaking with our usual tradition, we hastened our way here to face them and called on more of our people for assistance. We had intended to see what had become of Gaia and its people -- instead, we found it threatened by the awful Xerlovs!”

“That doesn’t mean these people are the good guys,” Plindrix whispered quietly near Randy’s ear, but this brought him within sight of the camera.

The being on the screen seemed to look around for a minute, then it said softly in its strangely modulated musical voice, “I also see that the Enherldi have come to walk the corridors of space.”

Plindrix’s face held a wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression of total shock. He said with awe in his voice, “I’ve … heard that name. Not all of us have. There are myths from the ancient civilization of Yuld that call us that, but they date from tens of thousands of Earth years ago. They say that the spirits came and showed us how to build and how to fly, and the same myths tell of vessels like those.” Plindrix pointed toward the screen. “They say those stations were originally built by my people.”

The being on the screen gestured oddly. “That is true. On your world, Tsurinata, there used to be two races: your people, and we, who live in a realm not quite within yours. We had advanced far enough along that we decided to relinquish Tsurinata to you and take our place among the vastness of the cosmos. This was many, many, many Realcors past.”

Plindrix asked, “What is your name? By what do you call yourselves?”

The being seemed to smile as it replied, “My name is Dionysus. I have been in hibernation for a great length of time. Our people were called by yours Eloishema, the wandering spirits.”

Plindrix shook his head. “That name I’ve never heard before. But I’m an engineer, not a cultural anthropologist, so all I know is what I learned in elective classes.”

“That is … unfortunate,” said the being known as Dionysus. “I am sad to hear that so much has been lost. But time does pass. Perhaps we should visit our old home once again, once we are able, in a few hundred Realcors.”

“I, uh, well, that’s up to you, I guess,” said Plindrix.

“But about right now,” said Randy, “we’ve got Xerlovs who don’t seem to particularly care where their stray weapons fire goes, and although we’re trying to protect our home from it, the fact that you’re engaging them not so far away is making a lot of people very nervous back home.”

“I understand,” said Dionysus. “We will attempt to draw the Xerlovs farther from Gaia, but they may not respond. Our analysis of Xerlov behavior indicates that they may interpret such a tactic as some form of retreat or withdrawal and hold their line. Our attempts to outflank them have failed so far, because our stations are much slower than their vessels.”

Randy looked at something Jennie had brought up on the tactical screen. “I may have an alternative strategy that our computers have suggested,” he said. “It involves a bit of subterfuge …”

Back on Earth, the FDA made many arguments about the new prosthesis that Colter Bio-Med Industries had begun producing. None of their complaints bore any merit, and many began to doubt the veracity of the FDA based on the many very rich pharma corporations paying them to try to block the massive advancements.

The difficulty hinged on the interconnects that had to be surgically installed on the amputated member of the patient. The FDA had vociferously argued that the patient’s immune system would reject them, but this was untrue in the vast majority of trials. Most of the components were bio-engineered from the patient's own cells and bore the genetic markers of their bodies. In fact, the trials in which there had been problems showed signs of compromise in the experimental procedure.

The interconnect’s graphene fiber optic nerves and synapses actually bonded and performed in the exact same manner as a normal biological. The only drawback, which actually proved to be a minor one, was that as soon as the prosthesis was attached to the interconnect, the patient experienced an extremely harsh pain that shot through their body for a split second, then, as quickly as it happened, all pain ceased and normal feeling slowly returned. The patient actually had normal sensations throughout the prosthesis exactly as it would have been in a normal biological.

The researchers prepared a tough but stretchable conductive hydrogel containing polyaniline and polyacrylamide coupled with the patient's own DNA. The crosslinked polymer had a 3D microporous network that, once implanted, allowed nerve cells to enter and adhere, helping restore lost tissue. The team showed that the material could conduct bioelectrical signals through damaged nerves. Then, they implanted the hydrogel into the interlink where the nerve injuries of the severed appendage were. Two weeks later, the nerves had fully recovered their bioelectrical properties, and the patient improved rapidly over this time until they were using the appendage normally.

Because the electricity-conducting properties of the material improve with irradiation by near-infrared light, which can penetrate tissues, it was also possible to further enhance nerve conduction and recovery in this way massively speeding up the healing process to a few hours.

The prosthesis performed in a far better manner than the normal missing appendage, and the technicians had to tone them down before the patient could use them without causing serious damage to their surroundings and injuring themselves.

Another miraculous development from Colter Bio-Med were the proteins it had developed. A single injection of one of them cleared up arterial and venal issues and returned them to a pristine condition. As a side effect, it also seemingly cured any heart, liver, and spleen dysfunction within the inoculated patients.

The medical world was in a tattered turmoil as Colter Bio-Med’s stunning advancements turned the medical profession’s barbaric and excessively archaic dogma on its ear for minute fractions of the cost.

The mad scramble to infiltrate Colter Industries and steal the secrets proved impossible due to the super highly advanced robotic surveillance systems.

Reverse engineering had thus far proven to be impossible due to the lack of the necessary infrastructure to create the basic components.This left many major companies that had tried so desperately in the past to put Colter Electronics inc. out of business in near bankruptcy due to the massive amounts of money expended in trying to recreate the technology.

When corporations have a choice between something that costs them money and something that makes them money, they pick the thing that makes them money. It wasn’t long before they were inviting Colter Bio-Med into their industry consortiums and the like. But Randy had given orders not to accept, at least for now.

Director Donaldson sat at his desk with his head in his hands. From all the reports he had received thus far, Colter Electronics had now become the world’s leader in several major industries. They not only had the world’s most profitable mining operation, their electronics operations far surpassed anything else the world had even dreamed of, and now they had a pharmaceutical company that produced prostheses and drugs that were miracles in themselves.

But Donaldson knew. Each page and photograph, each documented cure, and each and every test result proved in Donaldson’s mind that Colter was in league with some super advanced alien civilization. Proving it, though … the only proof was in the items themselves, even though each item was proven to be possible using materials known to mankind, although some of them were nearly magical in the way they were used.

The physics community was scrambling to rewrite their theories to explain any of it, showing that the models currently in use were wrong in many major ways. It definitely gave the scientific world a whole new unthought of perspective on several subjects. Yet, of course, there was nothing illegal about using knowledge or technology from beyond the stars -- no one had ever thought to make laws regulating it.

He put down the thick binder of the last report on a drug that completely cured cerebral palsy -- Donaldson was old-school and still preferred to read things on paper -- and picked up the latest intel on the ships fighting it out in orbit. Telemetry had shown that one of the planetesimal-sized ships had destroyed one of the other huge battle cruisers. The expanding debris clouds were proof enough that the main battle still raged.

About that time, the phone on his desk rang, “Donaldson. Mr. President. Sir, we can’t just … I understand, Sir. I’m not sure you quite understand. We can’t just raid his factory. He has some of the most amazing and seemingly magical things that prevent such action. I understand national security, Sir, but he has his factories completely secured from any kind of incursion by some type of impenetrable shielding. Yes, Sir, the same shield that protected Moscow … We’ve promised not to try to blackmail or bribe his employees, and besides, they’re picked up at their homes by transports from the factory that are protected by the same type of shielding … no, they don’t talk about work at home; of course we’re listening to them … well think about it, suppose we kidnapped some of his employees to try to make them talk, and in return he decided not to protect Washington if dangerous fire came our way …”

Donalson had to take the receiver from his ear and hold it away from his head the voice on the other end screamed so loud.

“An order? Y-yes, Sir, but the consequences … it’s very dangerous, Sir …” Donaldson gulped. “I’ll take full responsibility, of course, Sir. You have to realize that if this comes to light -- I mean, they’re American citizens … and I fully believe that it won’t work … look, I’ll do whatever I can, but … yes, Sir.” He hung up, sweating.

“... look, I’ll do whatever I can, but … yes, Sir.” Randy finished listening to the entire conversation.

“There’s more, Mr. Colter,” said Millie. “He contacts individual agents, not even going through Agent Shandry. The computer says they’re all people he’s either got some kind of personal connection with or some kind of hold over. The most loyal ones. This is all really disgusting.”

“I’m sorry you had to hear it,” said Randy. “Frankly I’m sorry I had to. Just make sure the security drones are monitoring every employee’s home.”

“The system says all employee residences are monitored. It says it’s ready for defensive operations. What’s that mean?”

“It means that when you go home tonight, not even a shot from one of those big ships in orbit would make it to your house,” said Randy. “And if you go out -- well, you’re not that heavily defended then, but nothing on Earth will be able to harm you.”

“Think they’ll actually follow your plan?” asked Plindrix.

“I hope so,” Randy replied. They, Miki, and Jennie watched the ongoing situation unfold on the tactical display.

“Oh! Look!” said Jennie. “That one’s making its move!” She pointed at an Eloishema station, changing position so slowly that it could have been doing so for some time already, only now becoming noticeable. “Are the Xerlovs going to notice?”

“Sir! They makinna move!”

“Hum! What they up ta?” asked the acting Xerlov admiral, looking at their tactical charts.

“See, they move … all different. That one, tryinna get closer to the planet. That one, farther away. That one, atta angle. That one, another angle. Not closer, not farther.” The tactician indicated one Eloishema battle station after another. The two sides’ ships continued to fire upon each other as this change unfolded.

“Gotta be some kinda trick,” said the acting admiral. “But if we all pick one and follow … we gets split up. Stay together!”

“Aye, Sir,” said the First Officer and relayed the order to the other Xerlov ships.

“Sir … they keep doin’ this, we gonna be surrounded,” said the tactician, pointing at the tactical chart, which showed the probable course of each enemy vessel given its current velocity. The battle stations were moving to take up positions flanking them in all directions.

“That no good,” said the acting admiral. “But … that really what they doin? Or … they tryinna gets past us?”

Carlos Mendoza, a senior engineer at Colter Electronics, stepped off the company transport right onto his front doorstep. As the hovering vehicle raised its debarkation ramp and began to pull away, Carlos took out his keys and began unlocking his door.

A number of black-clad people emerged from the twilight, holding guns pointed at Carlos. “Stop right there,” said one of them with a male-sounding voice, although their faces were covered. “I’m afraid you’ll be coming with us.”

“And what will happen if I refuse?” Carlos asked, looking over his shoulder. He was sweating a bit -- he knew what was about to happen, but knowing was one thing, while actually going through it was quite another.

“Then we’ll have to get unpleasant,” said the leader, approaching him and reaching out to grab his arm.

But he never made contact. Instead, he went limp and crumpled to the ground.

“You are right,” said Carlos to the man on the ground. “That did look unpleasant.”

“Put down your weapons!” said another of the agents in black, pointing their gun at Carlos.

“You think I did that?” asked Carlos, turning to face the agent with his hands in the air, his door key hanging in the lock. The second agent approached him and reached out as if to start searching him for weapons. And the same thing happened to this agent.

“The rest of you saw that, right?” asked Carlos. “I did nothing. I’m afraid all our houses are protected by the same security system. Mr. Colter does not want anything to happen to us. And he knew he couldn’t trust the FBI’s promises. We have broken no laws, and yet here you are, trying to steal what is not yours.”

He turned his back on the agents, sweating more. This was the moment of truth.

He heard one of the agents fire their gun. He couldn’t help flinching a bit. But the bullet never arrived. It fell to the concrete porch, its kinetic energy absorbed. Carlos simply opened his door and went into his house, locking the door behind him. The agents didn’t try to stop him. They didn’t know how they could.

“We have broken no laws, and yet here you are, trying to steal what is not yours,” said Carlos to the agents on footage provided to all major news outlets.

“The FBI is denying that its agents took any part in what Colter Electronics is labeling abduction attempts,” said the news anchor. “In related news, a leaked recording of a phone conversation seems to link the President and FBI director John Donaldson with these events. The White House and the FBI have yet to respond to our requests for comments.”

Randy watched this from the ship, where Miki and Jennie had tapped into Earth’s telecommunications and were showing this news report on a screen on the bridge.

“Millie,” Randy asked over the holographic link, “you wouldn’t happen to have done anything … extra with the security drones, would you?”

“I have no idea what you could mean, Mr. Colter,” replied Millie with a slight smile.

The President and Director Donaldson sat and basically sweated on live television. Neither could figure out how their conversation had been recorded, who had managed to record it, or even how it had been leaked to the public.

The NSA and Internal Comm Security were going over every aspect of the highly encrypted phone systems in the White House and the FBI building to discover where the tap was. After many inspections, however, the leak could not be discovered.

The Senate Investigative Chairman looked directly at the President over the top of his glasses and asked pointedly, “With all due respect, Mr. President, we know you ordered Director Donadlson to raid and kidnap several employees from Colter Industries and to, and I quote, ‘By any means necessary and at your disposal, obtain the means by which these massive discoveries were being manufactured.’ By what authority did you give him that order?”

A loud murmur rounded the council chamber for an instant before the President answered, “As a matter of National Security, it has become necessary that we discover the means to produce these items. We need the necessary data in case something happens to the manufacturing capabilities of Colter Industries.”

“And what, precisely, could happen to their manufacturing capabilities, given that they have shown themselves capable of defending the entire Earth from weapons technology far beyond our knowledge?” Not waiting for a reply, the Chairman looked severely at Donaldson and asked, “Do you agree with this statement? Be advised, both of you are under oath.”

Donaldson loosened his tie, unbuttoned the top button and took a drink of water before he answered, “Under the current state of affairs, with the hostilities going on beyond the orbit of Pluto, yes, Mr. Chairman, I would think as a matter of national security that the acquisition of that information is paramount.”

The Chairman looked at Donaldson with an angry expression for a minute before he picked up a binder and opened it. “Did you or did you not say, and I quote, ‘Sir. You have to realize that if this comes to light -- I mean, they’re American citizens … and I fully believe that it won’t work … look, I’ll do whatever I can,’ and was this or was it not in response to a direct order from the President?”

Donaldson was in a major sweat by this time. He had two choices, and neither led anywhere that got him out of the seriousness of the charges of treason he and the President were now under investigation for.

On the bridge of one of the Xerlov battle cruisers, the tactical officer spoke up suddenly, “Sir. Sees sompin real weirdos goin on.”

The acting admiral turned in his couch and replied, “Well? No keeps silent. Wha goin on?”

The tactical officer replied, “Sides em other ships onna move, is trackin many of those weird shielded thingys all sorta makina bubble round us. Is too late ta move outta tha way, we encircled sorta now.”

The acting admiral hit a button on the arm of his couch. “Fleet!” he shouted. “Mergency speed away from this place. Do it now. Any direction away from system. No let em surround us!” Turning to the chief engineer he asked, “We know anytins bout em weird shield thingys? Where ey from? What ey is?”

“We dunno nuffin,” said the engineer. “Tried every way ta gets one for tha lab but nuffin worked. Is only one thing … is more of em closer ta the system’s star, less of em farther out. All we know.”

The acting admiral opened the channel again. “Repeat, every direction away from system. Regroup at tactical point 3. Now!”

The remaining Xerlov Battle Cruisers immediately engaged their engines and scattered. Several of them didn’t quite make it past the shield satellites and impacted on them, causing grave damage to their fore sections as they passed. Large quantities of debris began to scatter as massive outgassing events and plasma explosions wracked the hulls of those that impacted.

Whatever velocity they had carried forward under inertia as their main engines shut down due to the massive amount of damage sustained. The command bridges of those vessels had been totally destroyed in the impact, leaving the remainder of the crew scrambling to activate auxiliary controls.

Immediately, more shield satellites arrived and began to encircle the damaged crafts, leaving no clear avenue for escape. The ships that managed to bypass the shield satellites vanished in a sparkle of FTL drive energies. This left the enormous Eloishema battle stations behind, regrouping.

Abord the Tritrinium, Tactical Officer Moorlee turned slightly and said, “Captain, scans indicate those nasty Xerlovs have turned and started to run. Apparently the scheme to get them to move further away from Earth worked.”

Captain Ooblinski said, “Send a message to the Earth ship -- tell them we will meet them at the agreed-upon location.”

Comms replied, “Yes, Captain, already in progress.”

Jennie turned in her seat slightly with a hand to her ear, “Mr. Colter, I have received a message from the Tritrinium. Captain Ooblinski says it’s a go for plan A.”

Randy pushed a button on the arm of his gravity couch and said with a slight laugh, “Engine room, engage NR drive to location Alpha Trianguli. We will meet up with the Tritrinium at that location. Engineering, I want full power to all weapons arrays and to make sure those shield spheres are launched as soon as we enter normal space.”

Plindrix’s voice replied, “Already set and ready, Captain. Getting us there as fast as we can.”

The forward viewscreen showed the massive energy portal open, and Earth’s first and only Battleship leapt into NR space on its maiden voyage into a major battle to defend Earth from invaders.

Randy, Jennie, and Miki watched the lights dance in a myriad of bright rainbow colors on the forward screen. All the rest seemed to be some strange form of tachyon radiation surrounding the vessel as it massively outraced light itself.

Within a few seconds, they appeared in free space, about an AU from a large red giant star. Tactical scanners showed that the remaining Xerlovs were there, and in a flash of NR energies, the Tritrinium appeared 3 megaklicks off port.

On The Xerlov command ship, the Tactical Officer grunted and said in a snarky voice, “Admiral, gotsa puny research vessel anna nuther puny ships never scannded afores. Therea prollums wif em …”

The acting fleet admiral turned and said, “Whasa prollums wifs em?”

The Tactical Officer turned and replied with fear obvious in his tone, “Those two gots more power than alla us put tagether. Is they gots weaponsa match, we done.”

“What?” asked the acting admiral. “Lemme see that.”

“Captain,” said Randy to Ooblinski on the screen, “this ship is incredible. Words can’t express our thanks.”

“I’m the one who should be thanking you,” said Ooblinski. “To be honest, we bent some laws there, giving you technological secrets beyond your world’s advancement level, but then you turned around and came up with innovations that nobody else in the galaxy has ever even thought of.”

“Well, I certainly appreciate it,” said Randy.

“Me too!” said Miki, echoed by Jennie.

“Are you gonna get in trouble?” Jennie added by asking.

“Well, if anybody finds out, there is a loophole,” Ooblinski replied. “We were in pretty dire straits. It was either give you some technology or spend the rest of our lives stranded in Earth orbit, or on Earth itself. The Consortium laws have gray areas in that kind of case. And then there were the Xerlovs. They kind of put things into a different area, assisting in planetary defense. But anyway … I understand our chief engineer is still over there. Plindrix? Which ship do you want to be on for this?”

“If it’s all the same to you, Captain, I should probably stay here,” Plindrix said. “I’ve had a lot more time to go over the Tritrinium’s engines, and the whole engineering staff is there. Over here, I’m basically it, other than the two ladies and the droids, and the ladies are needed on the bridge.”

“All right, then,” said Ooblinski. “Well, Randy, how do you want to play it?”

“Well, these guys did target our home planet,” said Randy sourly. “We want to send a message that that’s definitely not OK. We don’t want them coming back. Some precision in targeting would be best, because I don’t want them dead, just gone. But … we also want to get home quickly, because I don’t trust those Eloishema people either. So … target their weapons and engines, but don’t be too careful. I’ll feel justified if some of our shots go astray. After all, some of theirs did.”

“Oooh,” said Jennie. “One good burn deserves another.” This wasn’t quite the same thing as the gunfight she’d witnessed -- for one thing, these were beings she had no experience with, allowing for some emotional distance, but for another thing, they had shown callous disregard for millions of human lives.

“Got it,” Ooblinski replied. “Tactical?”

“I’ve got a plan,” said Moorlee. “Sending it to your computer now. Keep your diapers dry, girls!” She giggled.

“No promises,” Miki giggled in return.

After giggling too, Jennie said, “OK, got it -- ready here.”

Randy nodded. “I see it on tactical. Ready.”

“OK then,” said Ooblinski. “Ready here. Let’s go.”

The first target was the communications array on the Xerlov command ship. Both the Tritrinium and the Earth ship focused their blisteringly hot energy weapons on a portion of the hull the size of a skyscraper.

The Xerlovs tried every defense they had -- energy shielding, scattering swarms, evasive maneuvering -- but nothing prevented the primary comms array from being vaporized. They might have backups, but they’d be scrambling to switch to them, and meanwhile the fleet’s command communications were offline.

Miki said, “Jennie, time to launch those shield drones. Start making the defense perimeter around em.”

Jennie quickly played with her control console for a few seconds then said, “Drones away. Boy, are those nasties in fora surprise worser thanna one we just gave em.”

The girls giggled with nervous energy as a huge swarm of objects appeared on the tactical display. On the forward screen, many beachball sized orbs with octahedron panels surrounding all angles moved in a large well coordinated swarm towards the Xerlov battle ships.

The Xerlov’s launched everything they had at the approching swarm. Tremendous pyrotechnical explosions racked the octahedron panels, all to no avail.

Randy said, “Lock weapons pods 3 through 9 onto power production indication. Lets see how well shielded that place is.”

Seven searing very bright beams of energy lashed out from the Earth ship and slammed into the Xerlov battle ship in the middle of the grouping. As far away as Randy, Miki, and Jennie were from it, they could see the hull plating buckle and transform into plasma. Seconds later, a super bright explosion consumed the entire ship, casting off many tons of debris that impacted on several of the other cruisers, damaging them as well.

Randy said, “Oops. It must not have been very well shielded.”

Plindrix commented without looking up from his screens, “They are; it’s just that your weapons are massively powerful and charged with an energy source greater than all of their ships combined. I think just one weapons pod would have produced the same results.”

Randy, Jennie, and Miki all watched the forward viewscreen as the massive burning plasma ball grew larger and scattered debris in a rapidly expanding and extremely dangerous sphere of destruction.

On the command ship, the tactical officer said, “Admiral, we no can run no more. Those weirdo sphere thingys is surroundin us. Those two ships can takes pot shots all day n we no can do nuffins bouts it.”

“What … what they want? Coulda killed us already … look what they did to the Kzalnrog … the capn wassa frienda mine, lotsa good crew …” The acting admiral looked shaken.

“Sir, we can maybe senda message to the fleet now, tha backup comm array is ready,” said the communications officer.

Jennie put her hand to one ear as she said, “Mr. Colter? I’m picking up a rather strong spinwave comm signal from the Xer’s new flagship. I’m running it through translations, but I think they are calling for help.”

Plendrix laughed, “More than likely. This system is one of their almost controlled systems. Not to worry. After what I just saw from the last attack, they are going to be a qlanox to the slaughter.”

“That’s … good, right?” asked Jennie.

Everyone laughed as Miki turned on long range scanners and began making a system wide survey. Her sensors picked up a rather large contingent of battle cruisers approaching at a very large portion of relativistic speed.

Miki said with a slight bit of fear in her voice, “Mr. Colter, or I guess I mean Captain ... I’m not exactly sure how many there are. I’m positive that at least eight new battleships are approaching. Scans seem to indicate that several more are there, but masked from our detection in one way or another. I can think of several ways of doing that. At current speed, they should be here in …” She typed on the ephemeral keyboard for a minute before concluding, “I would say 15 minutes. I’ll put them on tactical.”

The tactical screen lit up with many targets, still distant but approaching rapidly. The battle alert sounded loudly as all the lights on the bridge turned to battle stations red. Randy looked around and said, “Is there some kind of interstellar law that says spaceships have to do that?”

“Sorry, it’s just kind of standard,” Plindrix said without looking from his screens. He pressed a button silencing the alarms, and the lights returned to normal. “Captain, I’ve had more experience with Xerlov anti-sensor tech. Further analysis has IDed 24 rapidly approaching destroyers and 2 super dreadnaughts. Shield drones are in position and functioning properly. Time to shoot shin in a drammer.”

From the Tritrinium, Captain Ooblinski said, “This possibility was part of the plan. We just have to discourage that interference. Shin in a drammer it is. Moorlee?” The Earth ship didn’t hear more of that conversation, as the other ship had muted it, but the tactical plan appeared on both ships’ displays.

Randy looked around and commented, “We call that shooting fish in a barrel.” He laughed as he pushed a button on the arm of his couch, “Sally, arm all weapons. I want full power.”

A cute little girl-like voice replied, “Aye, Captain … but we were using full power already. Should we have been holding back? Anyway, I also have those modified railguns Miki thought of online. Can I try one or two of them out too?”

Randy smiled as he replied, “Sure. Give them a full spread. Lets see how good Earth tech is these days.”

There was no sound, but the forward screen showed a huge electromagnetic discharge and a blue/green flash as several projectiles streaked towards the Xerlov battle fleet at tremendous relativistic speed. A few short seconds after that, several sunlike blazes ignited and burned brightly as the remainder of the Xerlov fleet scattered to avoid being consumed in the runaway fusion reaction. Meanwhile, the Tritrinium launched attacks at the incoming reinforcements, forcing the new Xerlov ships to take evasive maneuvers.

“Jennie,” asked Randy, “look around the system for any other Xerlov ships that might come to assist. Do we think they’ll manage to be a credible threat?”

“Well, we have been scanning the system for a while, so I’ll assemble the data we have,” Jennie replied, running the data set through analysis and adding Plindrix’s input about the Xerlov anti-scanner measures. “OK, each of the three colonized planets has a few orbital stations, and each station has a couple of small ships to protect it. There are a few other ships flying around the system on whatever random business they’re doing. No, the reinforcements they sent are the biggest threat around.” She looked at Randy. “If we either destroy them or even just drive them away, they’ll be on the defensive.”

“Good,” Randy said. “Ignore what’s left of the original fleet, and let’s send the reinforcements scurrying away. Re-arm those railguns, and prepare another volley of fire. Move on the reinforcements.”

“Aye, Captain,” said Plindrix, changing course.

“OK,” said Jennie, linking this new tactical plan with the Tritrinium’s tactical systems. “Keep your diapers dry, Moorlee,” she said with a wry grin.

“I heard that!” said Moorlee from the Tritrinium with a giggle. “I bet yours aren’t!”

“Heyyyy!” said Jennie in mock indignation. “Let’s send ‘em packing before I have to get changed then!”

“I think this plan will do it,” Moorlee said, and the two ships’ tactical computers signaled agreement.

“The railguns are loading,” said Miki, “but it will take time, and we don’t have enough for another full spread after this one -- not for a while.”

“Wait,” said Randy. “Let’s hold onto the railgun ammo for now, then. We might need it. We still have those Eloishema to deal with. I don’t know if we’ll have to use it. If we do … they’re going to be a much harder fight. Stick to energy weapons for this one; they’re still quite strong enough.”

“Got it, Sir,” said Miki. “Still loading the railguns, though. Just in case.”

“That’s fine,” Randy said. “When in range, fire at the usual targets -- comms and weapons systems.”

It wasn’t long before the two ships got into range, and amid heavy fire that was completely absorbed by their new hull shielding, they immediately slashed away at the Xerlov ships’ communications systems. The weapons systems were more heavily defended, but those succumbed as well, not too long after. Some of their fusion missiles ignited, causing large explosions that heavily damaged some of the ships, but it wasn’t long before all the incoming reinforcements were incapable of firing or communicating.

“I’m picking up traffic between the ships,” said Jennie. “It’s encrypted, but I think they’re trying to use personal communicators to talk from ship to ship. That’s what they’ve got.”

“Damage report?” asked Randy.

“You mean, for us?” asked Plindrix. “Hull shielding working at full efficiency. No damage detected anywhere. Tritrinium similarly reports no damage.”

“And the shield drones are still back with the remains of the main Xerlov fleet,” said Miki. “They’re still causing them plenty of headaches. Or whatever Xerlovs get.”

“Think it’s safe to pull back?” asked Randy.

Captain Ooblinski answered, “What do things look like, Moorlee?”

“Well, Sir,” said Moorlee’s voice, “none of the Xerlov ships can mount any kind of attack anymore. They’re probably wondering why we’re not killing them all, because it’s what they would do. But if we leave them alive, they’re going to have to scrape together what they’ve got left in order to keep the system secure. They don’t have the power to come after us if we leave. Well, some have the propulsion, but following us is all they could do. And they won’t, because it would be pointless. See, the computer analysis agrees with me.”

“All right, there you have it,” said Ooblinski. “Time to go back to your solar system and see what’s going on there?”

“Yes, let’s go. Leave ‘em guessing. Collect the shield drones on the way out,” said Randy.

Plindrix replied, “In progress as we speak, Captain. Course plotted and ready for return to Earth space.”

As soon as the last shield drone was recovered and secured in its storage area, a large NR portal opened and the Earth ship and the Tritrinium vanished within its swirls.

On the bridge of the severely damaged sole surviving super dreadnought of the Xerlov Empire, the Xerlov battle group commander painfully crawled back into his command gravity couch.

He surveyed his damaged bridge with careful scrutiny. Massive fires raged as the damage control crews fought to contain them. Smoke billowed thickly all around, until one of the beings managed to get life support functioning again and the smoke began to clear.

The commander pushed the comm button on the arm of his couch and said, “Damage, whasa results?”

A voice replied amid much static, “Mosta decks 5 through 10 severly damaged. No no what tha weapon thingy they used on us, but no ever seen nuffin likes it afore. Drive’s out, but gonna has it workin again in bout 4 or 5 memtons. Dunno how many lost inna damage. Crews stilla diggin ta see.”

The commander replied, “Kepp up tha good workin. Contanct me wif updates.”

Engineering contacted the commander next. “Sir, engines damageded has been sorta kinna repaireded. Can do NR speeds, but onna very low ends. Weapons and mosta tha long range comms damageded beyond fixin. Gotta finda place ta gets resourses ta makes stuffs needed. Wish we hadda weapon likes that. No ever encounter one likes it. Or them shielded orb thingys. Thems indestructables.”

The commander replied, “Keeps at it. Your tha bestus inna fleet. You no can does it none can.”

The commander sat back and looked at his forward view screen. The image was terrible, filled with wavy lines and static, but clear enough to show they had taken more damage in the short fight than they ever had before. The commander felt something he had never experienced before, fear tingling all through his body.

He had to get a message to High Command somehow. Comms had to get fixed fast. He had never seen one of those ships before, and it almost single handedly took out his entire battle group. And the other ship had scanned as a standard Consortium research vessel, but it had obviously been upgraded with the same unknown hull plating and weaponry.

“Comms,” said the commander, “record message for High Command ta send soon as equipment fixed. This Battlegroup Commander Fquildrz. Advisin all Xerlov ships stay away from Sol system. Engageded two ships that chased fleet away from there. Them two ships did all this damage in just 14 mildruns. Our guns not even scratchem. Then they lefted. Tactical think they no even wanna smash us, just makes us go way. Super dangrous. Damage reports tatcheded.”

“Yes Sir,” said the communications officer, “gottit corded. Sendin soon as we can.”

“Good,” the commander said. “Soonas engines workin better an ken gets us there this life time, get us ta base T3 for repairs.” He settled into his command couch, his thoughts dark. “Hope they no comes back after us.”

The two ships emerged from the NR portal in the Sol system, just beyond the Earth-Moon L2 point, out of sight of Earth. “It’s OK to jump in this close?” asked Randy.

“In my estimation it is, Captain,” said Plindrix. “What few Earth satellites are in position are unlikely to be able to make head or tail of the fleeting readings they just picked up. And the Eloishema are unlikely to be able to detect us, as they are … where are they?”

“Oh … we can’t see them from here,” said Jennie, “so that must mean they’re on the other side of the Moon from here -- near the Earth, maybe, or farther away. Or they left the system, I guess, but why would they do that?”

“And they seem to be fairly slow movers, so that would take them a while,” said Randy. “Let’s move around the Moon and see what we can see.”

“Gotcha,” said Miki. “Entering lunar orbit …” She knew that if they moved in a normal ballistic trajectory, there would be very little chance of anyone seeing them by chance, as they’d look like any of millions of space rocks unless someone specifically scanned them in detail.

As the Earth ship slowly orbited the moon, they found 6 of the large planetesimal-size Eloishema stations parked at a Lagrange point. They were making no hostile moves, nor did they appear to be doing much of anything else other than sitting.

Miki said, “Mr. Colter ... I mean, Captain … Only reading I’m getting on those stations is ... I guess they would be normal operational readings. I’m scanning their weapon emplacements, but all their energy weapons are powered down, and the hatches for those other weird ones are sealed.”

Jennie asked, “Would you like me to try contacting them? Maybe just ask what they’re up to?”

Randy replied, “Go ahead. We might even find out why they were here so long ago.”

Jennie swiveled around and made the connection. The mysterious image of the Eloishema came on the screen. In its same melodious voice it said, “Greetings, and welcome back. We were watching your confrontation. Interesting. The form of energy was familiar; however, the volume of it was beyond anything we have ever seen. We also noticed that your peoples have come up with a form of shielding like no other we have seen.”

Randy replied, “It did give them a wakeup call, I’m sure.”

The being seemed to laugh, then replied, “One thing I am sure the galaxy is most grateful for is the lesson you have taught the Xerlovs this chronal cycle. None in our long travels have ever taught them how to fear.”

Randy sat and examined the misty form of the being on the screen for a minute, then asked, “Aren’t you going to ask us for the technology?”

The Eloishema replied, “It would be something we could put to good use in our travels -- however, it would also seem to me that we would have to build trust between our peoples before you would feel safe enough to share it.”

About that time, another comm came in on Jennie’s board. She turned and said, “Captain? I’m getting a call from … you won’t believe it, but it’s actually from Tsurinata.”

“Mr. Plindrix’s homeworld?” asked Randy.

“Yes. From its High Chancellor.”

“What?” asked Plindrix, who was still linked in from engineering, over the intercom. “The High Chancellor? Great stars!”

“They … wish to talk with the commander of the Earth warship. Seems Captain Ooblinski sent them the footage of what we have done, because of the Eloishema and such. They say they have some important data for us.”

Randy’s eyebrows rose in surprise as he said with wonder in his tone, “Mr. Dionysus, if you could excuse me for a moment, I’m receiving another comm.”

The Eloishema graciously replied, “Surely.”

Randy said to Jennie, “Put it on. “

There was a garbled noise from the comm system for a bit as the translator made adjustments to the new language. On the screen, a person clearly of the same species as Plindrix appeared, but with a more weathered look and a more distinguished demeanor, dressed in regal robes. “Greetings, Peoples of Earth,” said the High Chancellor. “I am honored to make first contact with you.”

Randy replied, “Greetings to you from Earth, High Chancellor. I must admit that I’m not a political leader of my people or even a representative of any of my planet’s governments -- I have just found myself in a position where I could do what had to be done. But be that as it may, I do hope that our worlds can open relations and get to know each other better.”

“As do we,” the High Chancellor replied. “In that spirit, we have some very ancient data to send you. It has come as a complete surprise to us that the Eloishema are real and have actually returned. In our oldest of ancient texts and myths, it is said that they would one day return to Tsurinata.”

“Receiving a data transmission, Mr. Colter,” Jennie said. “These must be copies of the ancient texts they’re speaking of. They’re accompanied with translations into modern language -- and the computer can translate that into English, so we’ll be able to read these when we’ve got more time.”

“Indeed you shall,” said the High Chancellor. “Captain Ooblinski mentioned that there were ancient Earth texts that also mentioned them.”

“Yes, there are,” said Randy. “I have to admit that I’ve never read them, as they’re in an ancient language I don’t know, and I’m an engineer and businessman, not an ancient historian. But … translations exist. Jennie, we wouldn’t happen to have those?”

“We actually do, Mr. Colter,” said Jennie, opening a document on one of her screens. “I downloaded them after there was so much talk about them. I haven’t had a chance to read them either -- we’ve been kind of busy fighting Xerlovs since then.”

“Well, we can send these to you with our good will,” said Randy to the High Chancellor. “Will they be able to read them?” he asked Jennie.

“I think so,” she replied. “From what I can tell, there’s a standard for appending a language translation matrix to a document in case translation software doesn’t already have the matrix for the language in question, and it looks like there’s also a standard procedure for adding to a language matrix with ongoing communication, so our ship and the Tritrinium have already built up a fairly good matrix for English, though I’m sure it won’t have absolutely everything you’d need to read an ancient text … still, it’ll be a good start.”

“More than good enough,” said the High Chancellor. “It will be fascinating to learn about one of your world’s ancient cultures and their writings.”

“Transmitting now,” Jennie said.

“I just hope you understand that these are far from historical records,” Randy said. “As with yours, these accounts are so old that they’ve become myths and legends. And the culture that created them is, well, not entirely gone, but dramatically changed over the ages.”

“I understand,” said the High Chancellor.

The elevator opened, and Plindrix emerged. “High Chancellor Aluxin,” he said with a peculiar bow. To Randy he said, “I’m sorry, Sir, I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to pay my respects.” Facing the High Chancellor again, he continued, “It is a great honor, Sir.”

“The honor is mine, to serve our nation, and I am happy to have the support of talented individuals such as yourself,” said the High Chancellor with a similar bow.

Jennie and Miki began to look over the data the High Chancellor had transmitted. The computer had no issues translating it into English. The very interesting thing they noted was the similarity to Proto-Sanskrit the document had originally been written in and the ones the High Chancellor had transmitted.

Miki said thoughtfully before she started sucking her thumb, “It’s funny that two very dissimilar peoples on planets extremely far from each other would have a written language so similar to one another.”

Jennie suggested after taking the pacifier from her mouth, “Why don’t we ask the Eloishema about that. After all, it is written about them, and they do seem to travel around a lot, although slowly.”

Miki agreed, so Jennie made the call. She waved her hand over several glowing places on her advanced control panel and the screen lit up with the ghostly image of the Eloishema they had been talking to.

It seemed to smile as it said, “Greetings, Gaian child. To what do I owe this honor? It has been many a chronal since children talked with me.”

Jennie and Miki giggled and acted silly for minute before Jennie replied, “We not actually children.”

Miki shook her head until her ponytails flew. “Nopes, we Babydolls. Sorta likes never growed up.”

The Eloishema obviously smiled as it replied in its wonderfully musical voice, “I completely understand. It is a great honor to speak with a Babydoll after all these Realcors. Of what would such a lovely Babydoll wish to speak with one such as me?”

Miki replied as she acted adorably silly, “As you know, we have myths about certain ships and other items that exactly resemble yours that were spoken of in some of our oldest manuscripts.” The being nodded, “We wuz wunnering .. how comesa language of our manuscript an one from millions of light years away is inna same script?”

Jennie added, “Yea, an why comes you came to our world so long ago?”

The Eloishema replied, “Ah, such adorable language variations. We are galactic explorers. We travel many places, although we have to do it slowly. We discovered that bending the fabric of space and time disrupts the energy fields that bind us together, interfering with our spiritual integrity.”

Miki and Jennie nodded together as Miki said, “Yea. I guess tha thingy that warps the field of planier normal space/time ta makesa portal would disrupt you inna same manner. Am sure thas why ya use that proton drive. Is dirty, but can achieve almost light speed wifouts warps an why your shield hasa null warp field to protect you from others who use it.”

The being smiled as he seemed to nod. “Exactly. You are a very smart Babydoll.” Miki blushed adorably pink. “One of the things we decided to do in our long travels is to seed civilization as much as we could among as many of those beings as we could find who needed it. When we came upon your world, so many Realcors ago, you Gaians were nothing more than naked animals, enslaved by beings not of your world known as the Anunnaki. We, of course destroyed and removed them from your world and helped your people to build their own society. By teaching them to write and record history, we unavoidably influenced them with our language. We had not yet met the Xerlovs and did not realize that they supported the Anunnaki and had helped them rule Gaia at that time. Our vessel present at your world destroyed the Xerlov leader Vishnu, but in the process our vessel was damaged and captured by the fourth planet of your system, becoming one of its moons. We had managed to rid the system of the Xerlovs, and our ship sent a distress call to us. We were so far from this galaxy that it took many Realcors to return.”

“But … we never finded a vessel orbitin’ Mars,” said Jennie. “No even any sign of one.”

“Over time they were able to disguise it,” said the Eloishema. “They simply covered it with dust and rocks until it appeared to be a moon. By the time you Gaians of the third planet were able to view the moons of the fourth planet in any detail, our vessel was well hidden. We have now rescued our wayward friends and are repairing the vessel.”

“Ooo, and the Xerlovs … they hadda probe that detected when you comed back,” Miki said.

“But … why did the Tritrinium come here at the same time?” asked Randy.

“Just lucky, I guess?” remarked Plindrix. “Honestly, our ship didn’t come here in response to any signal … we were just doing a routine survey.”

“Now, come on,” said Randy. “I’ve seen the Tritrinium. And more importantly, I’ve seen its crew. That ship has the most amazing team cohesion I’ve ever seen. The way Captain Ooblinski uses what you’ve discovered about psychology …”

“Not unusual at all among the Consortium worlds,” said Plindrix.

“But still, you have to be the Consortium’s best research vessel,” said Randy. “Why come here? I know that Sol isn’t a special star. We know that yellow dwarf stars are a dime a dozen -- really common.” He corrected his expression in case it didn’t translate well.

“It’s true,” said Plindrix. “I mean, you’re right, yellow dwarf stars are nothing rare at all. Not as numerous as red dwarfs, but still, quite common in the galaxy.” He paused. “Jennie, why don’t you put in a call to my captain?”

With a glance at Randy, who nodded, Jennie said, “Okie dokie,” and made the motions over the advanced controls to hail the Tritrinium.

After Randy explained the question, Captain Ooblinski squirmed in his gravity couch a bit. Randy noticed his uneasiness immediately and asked, “Ok. I know there’s something you aren’t telling. Spill it.”

Ooblinski took a deep breath and then said, “It’s like this; there are a great many fables and myths about this particular system. I mean there was another race that took interest in this system too. They were called the Ashin. According to legend, they had discovered a way to basically utilize their bio-energy to create objects and defend themselves.”

Randy replied, “And you thought you might find some where they might currently have a base, right?”

Ooblinski replied, “Something like that, but the Ashin came to this system and basically vanished. There’s no historical documentation of their homeworld or people since their epic journey here. Besides, this system is dripping with legends and myths. So when I saw the Sol system on the roster for upcoming surveys, I jumped at the chance. I had to come and take a peek, to see what I could.”

“And … no Ashin,” said Randy. “But that still doesn’t explain why you came here when you did, at the same time the Xerlovs were here, responding to a signal telling them that the Eloishema were coming.”

“Well, there’s one thing not even I can explain,” said Ooblinski. “You see … after I signed us up to come check out this system, I thought, you know, it’s too good to be true. Why is this system, with such an interesting history, up for survey? Who requested it? I’m just kind of like that -- not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it made me suspicious.”

“Wait, you have that expression too?” asked Randy. “Gift horse?”

“Well, my homeworld has creatures, strong land beasts tamed long ago for their travel speed, much like Earth horses, and the translator noted the similarity. Also there’s an old legend about a battle much like … anyway, getting back to my story, the odd thing was that when I looked into how the Sol system had gotten onto the survey roster, the computer had no record of how it had been added, or when, or who had added it.”

“Somebody … hacked the computer?” asked Jennie. “To make a ship come here? Now?”

“Yes,” replied Ooblinski. “So I had a friend of mine who happens to work in the Consortium info division take a look into it on the down low. He pinpointed exactly when the hack happened, and how, but … the question was where it came from. Somebody tied into their system with a super-tight signal, not a microsecond to spare, efficiency not to be believed … and it must have come from somewhere in a region of space where there are no inhabited systems. Coordinates between Sectors 320ZH12 and 320ZH13.”

“Wait, Captain,” said Plindrix, “the path the Eloishema said they took … that must have taken them right through that region.”

Jennie suggested, “We can modify several of the shield drones and give them NR drive and a few simple sensors. Send them to that position and take a look.”

Randy nodded, “Good idea. From what I see, however, that is a fairly remote area between systems. Might not be too much there.”

Miki commented, “Bea a pretty good place to hide something. No one would be looking for a lone object in that vast emptiness.”

Plindrix added, “But once someone started to look, shouldn't be too hard to find.”

Miki said, “No problem,” she began to wave her hands over many glowing places on her control panel and type on an ephemeral holo-key pad as she gave detailed instructions on what she wanted built at the construction facility.

Hidden within the massive conglomeration of planetary debris and proto planets of the Oort cloud, at a rapidly growing construction and mining facility fully owned and operated by Colter Electronics, Spider-bot constructors put the finishing touches on a large, very unique looking, and sleek space vehicle.

A huge cloud of over large beachball sized spheres with octahedron panels all around it flowed into the large front and rear openings of the craft as construction of the larger ship completed.

Inside one of the huge open expanses of the extremely large craft, several specialized droids completed a manufacturing and resource harvesting/utilization area. The huge craft would have the ability to gather all the required materials and transpose them into whatever it needed to manufacture the required items to complete the search - survey mission it’s internal AI had been programmed to accomplish. There was even a special protocol programmed in for first contact should that become necessary.

On the down side, besides having the best hull plate shielding and shielding drones any of the currently known peoples had ever seen, it also had some of the nastiest weaponry plus a couple none had even thought of before.

The droids rapidly finished construction and loading of the vessel. The new and very beautifully ornate ship quickly maneuvered from the construction facility within the Oort cloud to open space where it was free and clear to navigate. It vanished in the massive energies of an NR portal to the destination the AI had been programmed.

In a very dark and empty place where only dust and free particles existed cast off by the visible graceful swirls of far distant galaxies, a NR portal opened and a very large and very beautiful ship emerged.

On its fore and aft, large hatches opened releasing what appeared to be swarms of very large insects. Closer examination would show them to be spheroid drones with octahedron panels all around them. Once the droids had cleared the large ship’s hold, each flashed off in an NR portal of its own to a location to begin its long range survey. None of the AI programs were quite sure what it was looking for, but it would know if it found something.

“Since the scandal with the FBI director and the President, everything’s been quiet,” said Millie from her desk over the holo-link. “There’s still an FBI car in the lot, with a couple of agents in it, and they change shifts every few hours. I’m sure they’re getting bored. But I think their mission is to make sure nobody gets in here.”

“Has anybody tried?” asked Randy.

“Well, as I said, it’s all been quiet,” Millie replied, idly turning one of her desktop puzzles around in her hand. “The systems occasionally report a cyberattack they’ve turned away, or alert us about a suspicious character who’s been following one of the staff or their families off the premises, but nobody’s tried to actually break into the building or anything.”

“Well, there’s one worry I still have, and that’s what happens when our weapons tech finally makes it to the ground, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon,” Randy said. “It was built in space, and it’s staying in space.”

“I hope you don’t mind my saying, Sir,” said Millie, “but the price for our tech is just going to go up. Somebody’s going to crack sooner or later. One of the employees is going to jump at the chance for them and their family to be set for life. Doesn’t matter how nice the workplace is -- it’s still work.”

“I wanted to address that, actually,” said Randy, “and, now that the whole planet isn’t in danger of being blown up, maybe I can. I’ve seen the earnings reports and projections. The fact is, earnings are past the Moon. Basically … everybody who works for me will want for nothing. You, Miki, Jennie, Carlos, Kevin, Connie, even Frank the janitor. Nobody’s going to have anything to worry about. Heck, if Frank wants, we can build him robot janitors and teach him how to maintain them. He can do his job by pushing a button at home. And you’ll all have enough money to afford some very nice homes, too. What if your salary were …” He did some quick calculations. “Ten times what it is now? What do you think?”

“I … can’t lie, I’d be delighted, Sir,” said Millie. “I’d still have to come in, though?”

“Not necessarily,” said Randy. “I mean, you’re my communications director. Everything’s online now. You can do this from home. We can set you up with a holo-link system there. We could even set you up with a virtual avatar so you can do this in your jammies and it looks like you’re wearing your best business attire. After all, I’m the boss and I say you can, right?”

“That’s … wow, Sir, I had no idea … well, I’m definitely not saying no to an offer like that! Umm …”

“Everything OK, Millie?”

“Well, Sir, do you know if I’ll ever have the chance to … visit the spaceship?” Millie asked, with a bit of a blush.

“Oh, definitely!” said Randy. “Everyone will have a chance. OK, I can tell I have a company memo to write. I’ll have it to you to look over in an hour, to see if you can think of anything I’ve missed.”

“Sounds great, Sir!” said Millie.

As Randy closed the call, Jennie looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. “I’m glad more people are gonna get to visit. It’s kinda lonely on this ship.”

Miki’s Robo-Nurse carried her back to her console after her latest diaper change. Miki was still giggling after Mommy Lisa’s latest tickle game. “Wha’s goin’ on? We gettin’ visitors?”

“Oh, just people from the company are gonna get to ride on the ship,” said Jennie. “I mean, who wouldn’t wanna go in space? In the biggest Earth spaceship ever?”

“Well, now we gots a even biggerer ship,” said Miki, “though we never seed it. Is busy doin’ its mission thingie.”

In the sparse darkness of interstellar space, the huge Earth carrier reached its destination: the centroid of the region where the mysterious hacking signal had come from. The region was roughly spherical and about three light years in diameter -- a huge haystack to look for a needle in. But the drones were already searching, and there were a lot of them. The search pattern would still take years, if nothing happened to accelerate it, but it was likely that something would -- for one thing, if the drones found sources of the appropriate minerals, the carrier could send factory drones to make more search drones. Or the drones might not find the source of the signal, but they might find evidence that could focus the search.

Back in the Sol system, just outside the orbit of Pluto, six damaged and fully surrounded Xerlov battle cruisers sat. Their crews were totally panicked by this point with the realization they had not only been abandoned by the rest of their battle group, the emergency comm they had sent had been answered by a similarly panicked High Command saying they could not and would not dare send a rescue into that seriously hostile location.

Sitting in the command couch on the damaged auxiliary bridge, the Xerlov lieutenant had to assume command. Most of the ship’s systems were either totally destroyed, or were being impaired in some unknown way by the objects surrounding the remanence of their once proud battle fleet.

To make matters worse, it was more than obvious that whatever species had captured them intended to take them prisoner. This was totally unacceptable. Realization dawned quickly that the ship’s self-destruct had been mysteriously nullified somehow and the main reactor was being controlled from some remote location beyond the ship.

The forward view screen’s display was horrible with snow, wavy lines and other damage-related interference, but it was good enough to show that some vessels were approaching of unknown origin -- their sensors weren’t in good enough shape to be able to identify them, and communications were down. It was apparent that they intended to take them all prisoner. It would be a death sentence for sure.

There were security alerts stating that one of the ships had docked and they were being boarded. Then a message came over the internal comms, crackly but audible. “Do not be alarmed. This is a Consortium patrol. We have been called in and notified that you have been allegedly involved in an illegal action but that you are also in distress. Scanners show that your ships are severely disabled, so we will be attaching tow points to your hull and towing you to the nearest Consortium base. As signatories to the Consortium Treaty, however, the Xerlov Empire has agreed to abide by any punitive measures that may be meted out by Consortium courts once all evidence has been gathered and heard. Our first duty, however, is to save as many of your lives as possible, so medical personnel are spreading out on each of your ships in an attempt to render aid.”

“Oh thank da Maker,” said the Xerlov lieutenant. “Is just tha Consortium.” He pressed the intercom button. “Dis is Xerlov officer in charge, Lieutenant Yulmox. Orderin’ all crew ta stan’ down an’ let tha Consortium doctors help ya out. We goes along with tha Consortium patrol. For tha honor of tha Empire.”

They were going to be prisoners, at least until the trials, but at least they would be prisoners on a Consortium base, where they would be treated fairly under the treaty. To do otherwise would invite the wrath of the Xerlov Empire, and for them to attack the Consortium would be a stain upon the honor of the Empire. This was not glorious, but at least it was routine and understandable.

“Sent!” said Randy, sending the memo to Millie. His employees would be seeing a tremendous increase in benefits, truly sharing in the remarkable amounts of wealth that the company was raking in.

The employees were in a state of shock when the meeting was adjourned. They already made way above average salaries, but this put them in a realm they had only dreamed of before.

It wasn’t so much the monetary payout as much as the amazing technology each employee was given. The droids and the matter transposers made the entire pay package like a thing out of fantasy.

With the matter transposition device, coupled with the spider constructors, anything the employees could think of could be theirs in a matter of hours. There were stipulations, and the entire system was overseen by one of the most advanced neural net parallel quantum computers ever devised by mankind that did extremely well at keeping everyone out of trouble.

The only thing they actually seemed to want to do was go to space and explore. This was the top priority request from each family once the devices were installed and each member was in the house of their dreams. The suggestion system was constantly being flooded with designs for space stations and floating cities that could be placed at a Lagrange location by both the children and their parents alike.

Plindrix actually was in agreement with the idea. It kept all the company's employees out of harm’s way, it stopped the many attempts at corporate espionage, it improved security, and it insured that none of the more dangerous developments fell into the wrong hands.

In interstellar space, empty except for dust and high energy particles, a spheroid probe covered with octahedron panels slowly scanned the area with its sensors. It was about 6 light years from the Sol System’s heliopause, with Andromeda glowing in the distance in all its majestic glory.

It discovered something large, as large as a small moon. It was cold and gave off no energy, nor did it reflect any. It appeared to the probe’s AI that it actually absorbed energy and allowed no reflections of any type. It was a near thing that the probe hadn’t crashed into the object, as large as it was. The only indication that let the probe know the object was even there was the gravitic signature it gave off. It would be extremely difficult to cloak or negate them due to the size of the spheroid. The probe immediately broadcast its unusual discovery -- not by itself a sign of whatever they were looking for, but it could be part of a larger pattern.

Without warning, the probe found itself caught in a tractor web. It was being pulled inexorably towards the surface of the object, where its sensors told it was a large opening. Somehow its shielding wasn’t absorbing the enmeshed tractor beams’ energy; it was working its way between the octahedron panels. The probe’s AI reacted by attempting to spin and thus intersect the beams with its panels, but this was only partially effective, as it was drawn closer and closer.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens with Colter and his bunch anymore, Acting Director,” said Agent Shandry on his secure video conference. “Reynolds noticed one of the employees’ homes suddenly had a new addition this morning, and after he reported it, he looked again and found that the entire home had changed shape -- much larger, much taller, and apparently made out of some sort of mirror-polished metal, with no windows that he could discern.”

“More of their manufacturing magic?” asked Acting Director Bates.

“Most likely,” said Shandry, “though we’ve rarely seen it in operation outside the factory premises. We’ve rarely seen it inside the premises too -- only when they do something outside the walls. But anyway, then every agent noticed the same thing happening at every single Colter employee’s residence. Basically everyone’s got their own mini skyscraper -- the ones who just had an apartment or a condo suddenly weren’t living there anymore and had new property somewhere else, and again, tall building where none had existed before. I suppose the city might charge them with building without a permit, if they could keep up with what was happening. I mean, the building wasn’t just in progress -- it was completed overnight.”

“Hmm,” said Bates, “the fact that Earth isn’t in imminent danger could mean that we might try to put some leverage on them.”

“You know, I’m sure they’ve thought of that,” said Shandry. “I’d be surprised if there weren’t building permits already approved and filed months ago. It’s like they’re 12 steps ahead.”

“Well, it isn’t as if nobody knows you need building permits,” Bates said. “Anyway, have you observed anything else?”

“Yes,” said Shandry, “every single one of them has a similar design, with a flat roof. Why is that important? Because I noticed some kind of aircraft, or perhaps spacecraft, taking off from the one that I was watching -- which probably means that the same happened at most or all of the rest of them. I can’t be certain that Colter’s employees and their families are still even on Earth.”

“What?” asked Bates. “Does that mean that we can freely enter the factory? No one’s there now?”

“How would I know?” asked Shandry. “But even if so, there’s all that automated security they’ve got. Remember last time I tried sending agents to break in there. They didn’t even make it to the walls before they were stunned unconscious by … I don’t even know by what. Invisible beams from nowhere. They woke up hours later. One tried to get closer again and got stunned again. I ordered them back after that -- it was obviously not a productive course of action.”

Bates sighed. “Well, continue with your current mission, then, for now,” he said. “Even if you can’t get any information out of the company, prevent any foreign actors from doing so. The good thing is, the place is like a magnet. Agents from every nation on Earth are being drawn to the place and blowing their cover. So there’s that -- you may not be uncovering Colter’s tech, but you are having a field day IDing spies. Keep that up.”

“Got it, Sir,” said Shandry. “Anything else?”

“Not at this time,” said Bates. “I don’t really have the authority to start any new programs until I’m officially nominated and confirmed, assuming that even happens. The President’s still in the hot seat with Congress -- until he’s either impeached or acquitted, he’s not nominating anyone to replace the former Director. So … carry on, Shandry. I have another meeting I have to join. Good luck.”

“Right,” Shandry said, closing the channel. Now all he had to do was outthink whatever spies were currently, he was sure, trying to find a way into the Colter factory. All he had to do, really, was think about how he’d do it.

The probe was pulled to the opening. Surrounding it was some kind of structure that made it seem more like an industrial passage. The probe’s sensors recorded everything and was inhibited in no way as it showed a landing bay advanced beyond even the Coalition’s wildest imaginations.

The AI within the carrier ship recorded all the data it was sent. It constantly attempted to access the data banks back at Colter and requested more data from the Tritrinium’s data banks. Neither system was able to supply the required understanding of what the probe had found.

After the probe was settled into a holding area, several strange beings approached it. Once again, the probe had no basis on which to classify the creatures. The probe immediately calculated that the creatures communicated with each other telepathically. It had the ability to scan for certain bio waves, and those were emanating between the two.

The probe tried its best to create a similar wave on the same frequency, although it had no parameters for what language to use. As much as a super advanced self aware AI could, it was totally shocked when it got a reply.

“Greetings. Welcome to Eldungna. We are able to transmit in your binary quantum frequencies. Are you a life form? We have not met one such as yourself before.”

Jennie turned from the comm station with huge eyes. “Mr Colter?” she asked. “I think you should talk with this probe.”

Randy swiveled slightly as asked, “What’s up?”

Jennie replied, “I think we found what happened to the Ashin.”

Back on Earth, it had become apparent that something unusual had happened with the large spaceships that had become damaged beyond the orbit of Pluto. Observations from the space based telescopes had gotten some images of what appeared to have been a large contingent of other ships towing off those that were damaged.

Another thing that had caught the eyes of the astronomy world was a construction that had begun near the Venus/Sun L1 point. It was too far distant to make out any real details, but speculation ran high that a very large station of some sort was being rapidly constructed. The methods that were in use for the construction were a complete mystery and had many already panicking and arguing among themselves. But that was before a message came in to NASA from Colter Electronics.

“As all the Senators on this committee already have a copy of the message in its entirety in the information packet we provided,” said NASA Director Melody Stevens, “there’s no need for me to read the message in full, but let me read this excerpt for the record, so the American people can hear. ‘As the capitalist economy of most of Earth seems unable to respect boundaries of real and intellectual property, Colter Electronics has decided to move its research and development entirely off-planet. Do not be alarmed by the construction at orbital coordinates …’ They mention the Venus/Sun Lagrange-1 point. ‘... which seems to have garnered international attention. That is our new facility, which is for the exclusive purposes of housing and protecting our employees, providing them a safe place to live and work.’ That’s basically it. You now know as much as NASA knows.” Camera flashes continued to go off in the committee chamber.

“But Director,” asked a Senator, “is it even possible to build such a habitation? That would be something larger and more elaborate than anything the assembled space programs of every nation on Earth have ever managed to do.”

The Director looked at the Senator and replied, “It would seem to me that any company able to deflect weapons as far advanced as those that had been fired at our planet, and then to drive off most of the combat fleet after disabling what appears to have been 6 others, not to mention the remarkable computer, medical, and drone advances … in my opinion, it would more than likely be well within their abilities to do this.”

“But will they continue to pay taxes?” asked another Senator.

“I’m not a tax attorney,” said Director Stevens. “But the communication we received does state that the company plans to keep their official corporate address within US borders and that accordingly they plan to continue to do their patriotic duty and pay their fair share of taxes. I believe there’s something in there about how they wish other corporations would stop trying to ‘weasel out of that.’” There was some muffled chuckling in the gallery. “I apologize for editorializing, but when some corporations park their base of operations offshore and claim they don’t owe taxes, while Colter can put their base about as offshore as you can get and still pay their taxes … it doesn’t make certain corporations look very patriotic, does it?”

“Be that as it may, Director,” said the first Senator, “do you think Colter could pose a threat of some sort to national security?”

“Well, again, I’m not a military analyst,” the Director replied, “but hasn’t Colter just basically made the greatest contribution to national security in American history? Why would they turn around and threaten us? There’s nothing in the communication that I read as a threat of any kind.”

“So how are …” one Senator began. “How are they still manufacturing and selling products?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Senator,” replied the Director. “Well, perhaps I might have more technical knowledge on which to base my guesses. We already know they operate mines with fully autonomous robots. They might have fully automated factories. There might be telepresence remote drones that the people on the space station can use if they want to check things out semi-firsthand.”

“I have one more question, Director,” asked the first Senator. “How, in your opinion, did Colter achieve such a quantum leap in technology? No one else on Earth has been able to duplicate it -- not even after taking apart some of their products. It’s like what’s inside them shouldn’t be able to work, but it does. How did they do that?”

“Well, again, I’m not privy to Colter’s research and development work,” said Director Stevens. She sipped her coffee. “But look -- we’ve just seen them defending Earth from -- well, hostile aliens. That tells us that there is indeed extraterrestrial intelligence out there, obviously of more than one type, and they have better tech than we do. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Colter got their hands on some of it, figured it out, and innovated how to make it even better. How they got it, I don’t know -- maybe they salvaged a crashed ship. Maybe they picked up some of the wreckage that the combatants left behind in space during their conflict. They generated a tremendous amount of it, by the way. It’s causing our space junk tracking program no end of headaches. And yes, before you ask, we’d love to pick up some of that stuff ourselves, and as soon as we have some concrete proposals for doing that, we’ll be showing them to you, Senator.”

Another Senator asked, “How is it possible for a company on the road to bankruptcy, helped along that road by its many competitors, to now dominate multiple industries worldwide? It seems to me that they are in collusion with one of those bunches of extraterrestrials and are sharing secrets.”

The Director laughed, “So what if they are? We as a people have no means to even defend ourselves from those ships that were here, much less those that are sitting at the Lagrange points now doing nothing. Ha -- ask any of the conspiracy theorist nuts on the Internet; they’ll tell you we’ve been doing that very thing for years. As far as those other companies, it appears to me that they were doing their very best to infringe on Colter Electronics’ ability to do legal business. From what I have seen, it wasn’t Colter Electronics that caused them to go bankrupt, it was their own greed and massive expenditures in trying to reverse engineer Colter’s advancements.” A loud murmur rounded the chamber for a moment. “I think it should also be noted by all in this room that Colter Electronics has totally rewritten all of the physics and chemistry theories we’ve been holding as dogma for decades. They’ve shown us just how primitive we really are. I think what he said at the medical conference was very appropriate.”

The Senator said, “How about enlightening all of us to that statement for the record, Director.”

The Director smiled as she replied, “I quote, ‘That it is high time our world rose from its disgusting heathen practices of dancing around fires and making illogical hoodoos over caveman practices, witches’ brews, and heathen beliefs.’” A large round of laughter filled the chamber for a minute. “‘Based on many of the new proteins and cures we’ve introduced to the world, not to mention other medical advancements Colter Medical has devised, and even exposing the complicity of the FDA in keeping us in that primitive state with payoffs and bribes, I personally feel we have been lost and forcefully held captive in a world of extremely primitive dogma for many years. It is refreshing to now be free from that idiocy and finally be advancing and rising to the potential we are able to achieve.”

Many in the room stood and began clapping as a loud cheer rose.

The Director looked pointedly at the Senator as she continued reading from her tablet. “I have also found it disgusting how complicit many of our government officials are in keeping us in a primitive state just for monetary gain and to control the population for their nefarious goals.”

The director picked up the stack of papers in front of her and tapped them on edge to align them neatly allowing the murmurs and other conversations to die down.

She continued, “I personally am making this announcement: Effective immediately, I am resigning as Director of NASA and have accepted the position of Research Engineer on the new Colter Industries Research and Development Space Facility. There, not only am I free to explore whatever scientific endeavor I choose, I’m not hampered by short-sighted and narrow-minded money grubbers who enjoy wearing flea-infested animal skins and building fire by banging stones together.”

Amid many wild cheers and loud handclaps from the standing ovation, the ex-director vanished from the podium in a twinkling sparkle of multicolored light, leaving all who remained in total, open-mouthed, shocked incredulity.

On the bridge of the Earth battleship, Plindrix turned and said, “Captain, we have that new employee on board now. She’s in the NR Transport room.”

Randy nodded, and replied, “Good. We’ll take her to the new facility shortly, as soon as we get …”

Jennie turned slightly with a hand to one ear and said, “Pardon me for interrupting, but we’ve just gotten a hail from a Coalition envoy ship. They … want to have a diplomatic conference with the Captan of this vessel.”

“The … Coalition?” asked Randy. “Um, Plindrix, I’ve only just realized that I don’t actually know much about it.”

“Well, no time to explain now,” Plindrix replied. “Besides, I’m an engineer, not a diplomat.”

“Same here.”

“Well, I’m sure they’ll be happy to answer any questions you have,” Plindrix said. “They are diplomats, after all.”

“Um, ok, Jennie, please tell them that if they’ll give me … let’s say half an hour to freshen up … I can meet them in the briefing room, if they’d care to come aboard?”

“OK,” Jennie replied, “I think … yes, the computer knows how to translate 30 minutes into their time units. I’ll tell them that, then.”

“OK, good,” said Randy. “I’ll … be in the shower, or whatever we’re calling that gadget.”

“Welcome aboard,” said Randy as the Coalition diplomatic team emerged from their shuttle. “I must admit that recent events have moved so rapidly that I’m afraid we haven’t named this ship yet. It’s still just got a number, CE-1.”

“Quite all right,” said the leader of the delegation, a tall, slender blue-skinned entity wearing a white uniform with a gold insignia on the chest. “Events have indeed been moving quickly, both here in this system and in the Coalition Emerging Civilizations Subcommittee. But we will discuss that shortly.”

“Of course,” said Randy. “If you’ll all come this way, we can talk about it in the conference room.”

They followed him to the elevator, then down a hallway to a large door that slid open to reveal a large room with a ring-shaped table in the center, surrounded by over a dozen seats. As with all the furniture aboard the ship, the table and chairs were movable but had switches that the user could trip to lock them to the floor in case of sudden ship movement.

There were four diplomats in all -- the tall blue leader, a golden-scaled reptilian-like being, a shorter four-armed being clearly of Plindrix’s people, and a more human-like being who was slightly shorter than Randy but broader in girth. All four wore similar white uniforms, but the leader was the only one with the golden chest insignia.

Randy said, “These are my chief information engineer, Jennie, and my chief mechanical and electronic engineer, Miki.” The two young ladies were standing across the table between chairs. Both of them were dressed in matching soft pink Fairy Princess Babydoll Dresses with matching Rumba panties peeking from beneath the short hems.

“Welcome!” said Jennie.

“Pleased to meet you!” said Miki. Their Nurse-bots stood quietly behind them.

“Randy Colter … Jennie … Miki …” said the tall blue diplomatic leader. “It is an honor to meet you, the first humans the Coalition has officially contacted. I am Chief Emissary Uh-Lian. These are Emissaries Rakniarr, Stillix, and Densha.”

“Please, let’s be seated,” said Randy. “The seats adjust and can be moved or fixed to the floor as desired.”

A holographic image appeared in the center of the ring-shaped table illustrating how to adjust the chairs. Randy sat at the nearest chair, part of the way between the Coalition delegation on one side and Jennie and Miki on the other. The diplomats adjusted the seats to their taste, and they were surprised to see that the chairs were to some extent automatically accommodating themselves to their size and shapes.

“There’s also a refreshment delivery system,” said Miki, as her Nurse-bot used just that system to produce a baby bottle of water for her. Miki blushed. “Umm, if you need water, it can do that, in … whatever kind of container you prefer. It can get you other substances if you can tell me your specifications.”

“You are generous hosts,” said Uh-Lian. “Thank you.” They turned to their companions. “Does anyone need anything?” The others replied that they were currently just fine, but grateful for the offer. “Well then, to business. From the evidence we’ve seen, you’re not really representative of your planet, but you have interstellar spaceflight. The Consortium tries to prevent its members from interfering with pre-spaceflight civilizations, but once they develop interstellar travel, we attempt to make contact. However, Earth as a whole doesn’t have that yet -- just you. But it’s not as if it’s the first time that’s happened. As a group of Earth inhabitants that has developed technology far beyond your compatriots, the Consortium considers you an Interstellar Capable Subculture, and we’ve been sent to establish relations. Right now we’re at the Initial Contact stage, and you can remain at that stage as long as you like, so please don’t feel any pressure. We just want to let you know that there is a Consortium out there that represents hundreds of civilizations that more or less get along and follow a set of agreed-upon rules. And we have a package of information about those civilizations and those rules that we can give you whenever you’re ready.”

“Yes, please,” said Randy. “I’ve … heard of the Consortium, but I don’t know much about it.”

“Then I can transmit this to your information engineer,” said Uh-Lian, touching the insignia on their chest. “Rylandra, please transmit the Consortium information database for initial contactees to this vessel.”

“Transmitting,” said a voice.

The table lit up in front of Jennie. “Receiving transmission,” she said. “Wowwww …” Her Nurse-bot put Jennie’s pacifier in her mouth, and she barely noticed, fascinated by the information appearing on her display.

“We feel obligated, however, to warn you,” Uh-Lian continued, “that there are also many civilizations that have not elected to join the Consortium and are therefore not bound by its rules or signatory to its treaties. If you encounter any species not in this database, you must assume that they will not be operating along Consortium guidelines and will therefore be playing by their own rules, for good or ill.”

“I believe we have met one or two of those,” said Randy. “Interestingly, they seem more peaceful than the ones who are Coalition members.”

“Yes, the Xerlov Empire is a member of the Coalition, but it seems they have a longstanding feud with the … Eloishema, I believe? Although they are a very old civilization, the Eloishema have had little contact with the Coalition and are certainly not a member. We are also sending envoys to them; we will see what they say.” Uh-Lian paused. “You said one or two?”

“We may have made a … discovery,” said Randy. “There’s a lot we don’t know yet. I can’t really speak about it yet, because anything I say would be very preliminary and may turn out to be inaccurate. I apologize for this.”

“Very well. Let us speak of other things. You appear to be building a habitat in space near one of the other planets in this system? Is this on behalf of your group, your nation, or your world?”

“At this time, the intent is for it to be for our group,” said Randy. “Economically we are still tied to our world, which means we must create and sell products in order to continue to operate, but the degree of espionage attempts was endangering our staff. So the attempt is to put ourselves out of reach -- at least for now.”

“I see,” said Uh-Lian. “This will be an enclave of your Interstellar Capable Subculture. Is it possible to request a Coalition embassy on this orbital habitat? The implications of embassies are covered quite thoroughly in the information package we transmitted.”

“Yes, consider your request made,” said Randy. “We’ll add it to the agenda of the first community meeting, which we’ll have once the habitat’s complete enough to have meetings. By then we’ll have had time to look over the information. We’ll put it to a vote.”

Jennie tapped on the tabletop in front of her. “Added to Agenda” appeared in holographic letters in the center of the table, in both English and a non-Earth language. Jennie sucked on her pacifier, a little more confident now that the Coalition diplomats had made no reference whatsoever to her and Miki’s infantile accoutrements.

Would aliens from other worlds have any idea that what they were wearing and using were closer to what would typically be expected for Earth babies than adults? Most likely not, she realized. And even if they did … apparently babyishness as a lifestyle wasn’t that unusual in the Coalition; it was an affectation considered no more unusual than what type of hat one chose to wear.

“Then there is the matter of Captain Ooblinski and the crew of the Tritrinium,” said Uh-Lian.

“Um, yes,” said Randy. “Are they in trouble?”

“We know they gave you technology far in advance of your world’s advancement level. Ordinarily that is a violation of Coalition law. However, there are two mitigating factors: first, the Tritrinium was critically disabled, according to their logs, and barely managed to establish an orbit around Earth. If they had not contacted you, they would have been in grave danger of their orbit decaying and crashing on reentry before they could have repaired the ship. Coalition law does allow for some flexibility if lives are at stake. Additionally, there was the presence of the Xerlov battle cruiser, then the Xerlov conflict with the Eloishema vessels. They clearly posed a threat to Earth, especially once the conflict began. Your actions and subsequent creation of shielding never before imagined, made possible by Captain Ooblinski’s interference, saved the lives of hundreds of millions of Earth people. Again, Coalition law allows leeway when breaking the law saves lives, especially at that scale. And then … there are your choices.”

“Our choices?”

“Your group has chosen not to develop any offensive weaponry for use on your world. There are some defensive devices, such as stun beams and shielding, but the devastating weapons you’ve developed are limited to this ship, which has never touched down on Earth at all.”

“Well …” said Randy, “we’ve seen what the nations of Earth, including our own, do when they get their hands on superior weapons technology. Namely, they threaten each other with it, gambling Earth’s long-term future for a little short-term military or political advantage. It’s too risky.”

“And as a result, Earth’s technology has been radically advanced in several areas, which will cause many changes, but a threat of a planet-destroying war is not one of those,” said Uh-Lian. “I believe that the circumstances will lead to a positive review of Captain Ooblinski’s actions.”

“I hope so,” said Randy.

“Yeah, they’re great people,” added Miki.

Stillix, the Coalition Diplomat that came from Plindrix world, smiled and said with a lilt of mirth in his tone, “There is no danger whatever that Captain Ooblinski will have any issues other than a Coalition commendation.” He looked at the other delegates, then continued, “My people had just re-learned to make fire and cook meat we’d killed with bows and spears when a ship came to our world and showed us how to rebuild our civilization once again. Many time spans before the great conflict, the Eloishema had shown us how to build great flying ships and master the atom. Unfortunately, our ignorance to social disorders brought us down to a very primitive state. We do have many myths and mythical writings of them, and now it appears we will discover a great historical truth.”

Rakniarr, the golden sauren, said, “And since the actions of Captain Ooblinski have brought about far greater good, and the fact you have shown great wisdom in the use of the technology he gave you, It is more of an outstanding action than the breakage of a few bendable rules.”

Uh-Lian said as he laid several devices on the table, “I would like it if you could look over these proposals and tell me if your group might agree to these terms. From what I can see so far, your system is rich in several metals others have only trace amounts of. I would think you would benefit greatly from a trade agreement with us. Some of the exchanges would also greatly improve your technology base.”

At a remote location about 6 light years from the Sol system’s heliopause, with Andromeda’s spiral glowing in the far distance in all its glory, a space station the size of Earth’s moon slowly rotated as it even more slowly orbited the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Within one of its cargo holds, a well-shielded probe’s AI was having the time of its existence communicating with these strange energy beings.

One of the beings asked softly, “And from where do you come? It is most pleasant to welcome you here, but we are a bit surprised. We have remained here as watchers for many eons.”

The probe responded, in its electronic way, “I found this place by the gravitational anomaly it created. There were no sensor readings of any kind that would account for the gravity waves encountered.”

One of the beings said to the others, “Amazing. This creature is a construct. It was created by those beings we encountered so many time spaces ago in the nearby yellow dwarf system.”

“Yes,” replied another, “I had forgotten how delightfully refreshing it is to communicate with a construct. We gave them up time and times ago.”

“My programming requests that I communicate my location to central control, or at least to my co-units,” the probe stated.

“Ah, it wishes to speak with its comrades,” said one of the beings. “We should allow it. It is wrong to hold it incommunicado against its will.”

“Agreed,” said another. “Though this may lead others to us, curious to discover.”

“That may also be delightfully refreshing,” said the second being who had spoken. “We are now amplifying your signal to the surface,” the being told the probe. “This should facilitate communication.”

“Contact established,” said the probe. “Location updated. Information relayed. Guidance requested.”

“What are you searching for?” asked the first being who had spoken. “Do you merely explore, or have you a goal?”

“Mission is to discover source of transmission directing Coalition survey ship to Sol system -- yellow dwarf star 1.893 times 10 to the 8th light-seconds distant, reference: one second is time between the beginnings of these marks.” There were two brief tones, one second apart.

“Someone has been very astute,” said the second being. “The younger worlds’ Coalition must have met the Eloishema, following our hint.”

“It is good,” said the first. “The Eloishema seek, but they do not find. Perhaps now they will.”

“We shall see,” said the second being. “We are patient.” To the probe, they asked, “Are you in need of repairs or recharging?”

“Systems operating at nominal efficiency,” the probe replied. “Quantum reactor at 70% capacity. Easily able to return to central control vessel. Query: Does your species have a designation?”

The first being’s energy pulsed for a moment. “Such curiosity -- it is delightful. Yes, we are the Ashin. It is an interesting cycle. First we observe the Eloishema’s passage, then we have our first visitor in eons.”

“You may stay as long as you like, and leave when you wish,” said the second being. “If you require energy, you have but to ask. You are our honored guest.”

“Message received with harmony of protocol,” said the probe. “Exchange of information welcomed.”

“So refreshing,” said the first being, its energy pulsing again.

The probes were programmed to relay messages to each other and to the command ship if the sender wasn’t within direct range of the recipient, so the probe’s message went from one probe to another until it reached the command ship. This resulted in a priority message going back to the Earth battleship, the CE-1.

Jennie read the message with widening eyes. She looked at Miki, who also looked at Jennie’s screen on the table, and her eyes widened as well. Jennie forwarded a copy of the message to Randy’s screen, which distracted him momentarily from looking over the diplomats’ proposals. He looked at Miki and Jennie, who were staring at him wide-eyed.

“Is everything all right, Mr. Coulter?” asked Uh-Lian.

“Err, I’m sorry,” said Randy. “One of our long-range probes has just made a rather … astounding discovery. More investigation must be made to confirm what it seems to have found, but … have you ever heard of a race called the Ashin?”

The four diplomats looked at each other with what was an unmistakable awestruck surprise. The expression didn’t go unnoticed by any.

Randy said, “I take it you know of the Ashin?”

Uh-Lian took a minute to compose himself then replied, “We are very aware of the Ashin. They are one of the .. I guess you would call them, the originator races.”

Miki and Jennie asked at the same time in an adorable way, “Originator? What means that?” Miki started sucking her thumb thoughtfully while Jennie put her pacifier back in her mouth and started sucking it in the same manner.

Uh-Lian replied softly, “The oldest of our old surviving manuscripts on my homeworld tell of a legend that was old when it was written. It tells of a mysterious people who arrived on our world and brought with them many magics. They didn’t use technology to produce their magics either, from what I learned while in education sessions as a youth.”

Randy asked, “Is that why Captain Ooblinski was so eager to come to Earth? To search them out?”

Uh-Lian smiled as he replied, “Earth has been the nexus of many legends and myths among many worlds. The largest one is the Ashin. Many of the writings from that time are lost to history. As most worlds, ours suffered a major catastrophic war, not to mention an asteroid strike many, many centons past. We had to rebuild from the ashes as many other worlds have had to do.”

Rakniarr leaned over and said softly to Uh-Lian, “I have sent a dispatch to the High Council informing them of this new situation. They wish to ask the Earth delegates if they would come to our place of meeting so we can arrange to send a special envoy to meet the Ashin.”

“Of course we would,” said Randy, “if … well, if this is true. We need to gather more information. Where are they? What kind of place is it? Do they want to be contacted? Would it be dangerous to contact them? There’s so much we don’t know.”

“Probe CE-2-A90315 is apparently still in contact with them and remains intact,” said Jennie. “It reports that they are telling it about themselves and are curious about its mission and the people who sent it. Permission to send it an update? We can give it a diplomatic software upgrade.”

“Do it,” said Randy. “If they’re the Ashin, they could have vaporized it if they wanted to, or turned it into a dog or something, so they probably want to talk, but we should give it the right vocabulary.”

At a huge and elegantly constructed station with Saturn and it’s rings glowing gloriously off in the astronomical distance, spider-like construction bots rapidly placed and secured the last of the hull plating on the last station pod. It had a huge ovoid central core with many radiating arms that attached to similar ovoid pods. Two very large and elegant super advanced ships docked at the docking stations, and shadows could be seen moving through the debarkation tubes.

The elevator doors opened in their tinkling way, and Randy, Miki, Jennie, Plindrix, and the ex-NASA Director Melody Stevens emerged.

Stevens stopped and looked around the operations center with wide-eyed awe as she said in a small voice, “Somebody pinch me. I know this has to be a dream.”

There were many ephemeral data screens and control panels all around in their ghostly way. Many engineers, both men and women, were seated at many of the stations, dressed in everything from ordinary Earth clothing to animal-like ears and tails to what she could swear were the outfits of Babydolls or large infants. Everywhere Melody looked was another wonder her mind had no way to quite fathom.

Randy glanced her way and said softly, “Don’t let it overwhelm you. I promise you’ll have that reaction for the next several months. Wait till we show you your new office in the R&D section -- I think you might even pass out.”

Melody looked at Plindrix with even more awed wonder evident on her face as she said in almost a mumble, “He’s … he … he’s an alien. I mean .. not of Earth.”

Plindrix laughed as he extended 2 of his hands towards another passage. “Why don’t you come with me? Allow me to ... umm ... I think the Earth expression is, ‘buy you a cup of coffee?’ Then I’ll show you around Engineering and the R&D section. Give you a chance to get acquainted with things a bit.”

Melody followed Plindrix in a total daze. Randy followed them as Miki and Jennie’s mommy bots took them by the hand and led them off in another direction.

The Tritrinium docked at the station’s new docking section, and Captain Ooblinski and Tactician Moorlee came aboard. Randy was there to meet them, shaking their hands gratefully. “Welcome aboard, Captain -- Tactician,” he said.

“Wow, artificial gravity, even,” said Moorlee as they walked toward the operations section.

“Yes, that’s one of the gifts you showed us the way to,” said Randy. “Habitation’s that way, Operations is this way, Recreation is that way.”

“I see you’ve got room for plenty of expansion in the design,” said Ooblinski. “Good idea.”

“Thanks -- yes, keeping it regular and geometrical means the elevators can stay straight shots, and the artificial gravity means we don’t have to worry about ring or cylinder shaped designs or rotation. Just station keeping, and we keep the power going with sunlight and the quantum reactor.” They got into an Nvator.

“It’s a lot like how the Eravati build,” said Moorlee, “don’t you think, Captain? Or the Indravi?”

“Yes, they also tend to go with geometrical structures in space,” said Ooblinski, “although the Indravi also build like this planetside -- the Eravati’s terrestrial structures are completely different from their space structures.”

“That’s true,” Moorlee said. “Then there are the Thondrons -- they’re completely the opposite, building totally chaotic and eclectic structures -- oh, here we are!” The elevator door opened to the operations center, and they stepped out.

“Moorlee!” shouted Jennie and Miki, hurrying over to hug their spacegoing friend.

“Very nice,” said Ooblinski, looking around. “Wise to make it larger than a ship’s bridge -- and modular as well, unless I miss my guess.”

“Yes,” said Randy, “I figured we needed room for expansion here as well, since we’ll have more to monitor as time goes by, and we don’t necessarily know now what it’ll all be.”

“Heard you talked to the Consortium diplomats,” Ooblinski said.

“Yes,” Randy said again. “I think your ‘interference’ in this system’s outweighed by the good you’ve done. The Eloishema, for one -- lots of people seem to want to talk to them.”

“Yes, a Tsurinata delegation’s arrived out by where they’ve been orbiting, and a Consortium one’s on the way,” Ooblinski said. “Then there are the Ashin. The Consortium’s forming a diplomatic team -- they don’t have a clue how to handle this one. As first-contact situations go, this is unique.” He chuckled. “Who’d have thought? I’ve applied to have a part in the mission, but we’ll see what they decide.”

The foreign agents assigned to watch, and as much as possible, investigate Colter Electronics, their families, and acquaintances, realized something was amiss after several months. None of the families or children of any of the workers had been seen or heard from.

The children had stopped attending the local schools and had been dropped from the rolls at the request of their parents. None of the employees had been seen, nor had there been any of the shuttle traffic making personnel deliveries at any of the factories or medical laboratories.

Another noticeable thing was the absence of many teachers across many disciplines, especially science and advanced physics. The only data they had were their immediate resignations. Everything else was a complete mystery.

The only direct contact with anything that might be related to a workforce had been the highly advanced droids that carried on the day to day operations in an extremely efficient manner.

Agent Shandry watched a woman in a gray business suit park her car in the main Colter plant’s parking lot. She approached the guard gate entrance with trepidation.

Shandry remembered the other agents who had tried to gain entry through other means. But this woman had called and made an appointment to speak with someone there. Shandry knew. He had been listening. Colter’s interior communications were still a mystery, but this had been an outside line, still susceptible to wiretapping.

When she arrived at the gate, a pleasant mechanical voice said, “Welcome, Ms. Fogerty.” The gate slid open with an airy tinkle. “Please proceed to the reception area. You will be met there.”

Shandry followed her at a distance as she entered the gate, well aware that any kind of hostile move on either of their part would result in their waking up on a park bench a block away. It had happened to too many agents who thought they were being slick.

“Welcome, Agent Shandry,” said the voice. He had a relationship with the … “guards.”

The woman came to the main entrance, and the door slid open with a nice airy tinkle, and a minute later Shandry entered as well. When she entered the reception area, Shandry saw her mouth fall open. It appeared more like she had walked into the lounge area of a moon base than a business.

She walked up to the circular desk bubble as Shandry entered, walked over to a large bank of seats, and sat down to observe. Behind the desk was what was obviously a humanoid android, although it would take very little additional work for it to appear perfectly human.

The droid said in a very pleasant female voice, “Welcome, Ms. Fogerty. How may I be of service this day?”

She looked around in awe and replied, “I ... was wondering if I might speak to Mr. Colter?”

“I can arrange a call to him, Ma’am, but he isn’t currently at this location.”

“I …”

“You’re wasting your time, Ms. Fogerty,” Shandry said from across the lounge area.

“Uh -- excuse me, and you are …?” Ms. Fogerty replied, turning to face him and quickly composing herself.

“Special Agent Shandry, FBI.” He showed her his ID. “I just thought I might save you a bit of time. Corporate espionage isn’t really my area, but you’re not going to find anything here.”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about,” Fogerty said. “I’m here for a job interview.”

“Now, we both know that isn’t true,” said Shandry. “Not only did you tell the automated receptionist over the phone that you were a journalist looking for an interview, you already have a job, don’t you? You work for Martin Chemical, and you’ve infiltrated more than 14 other corporations, posing as an employee and stealing millions’ worth of secrets.”

Fogerty hesitated. “You … can’t just make these kinds of accusations without proof,” she said. “Besides, even if I were this person you think I am, you don’t think I’d just admit it, do you?”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” said Shandry. “But the fact is that I’m not here to arrest you -- you’re not my department. I’ve been here. I’ve talked to the receptionist. I’ve talked to Colter. There’s nothing here. They’ve moved it all … somewhere else.”

“Oh, have they, now?” asked Fogerty. “You’re telling me that this is all just for show?”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” Shandry replied. “Aside from you and me, there isn’t a single living person in this complex. Offices and production floors are empty. Maintenance is automated. And all the R&D work? Happens elsewhere now.”

“So … why bother telling me this?” she asked. “Why not just let me find out for myself?”

“Gives me an excuse to get up and walk around,” said Shandry. “Oh, and you’re not my department, but you are theirs.” The waiting room doors opened again, and a number of agents in black suits entered, surrounding Fogerty. She raised her hands as they searched her for weapons and informed her that she was under arrest and read her the Miranda rights.

Shandry leaned on the receptionist’s desk and observed. “Morning, Agent Shandry,” said the android.

“Morning, Millie. How’s the new office coming?”

“Oh, it’s all finished -- much more comfortable, and with this telepresence, I’m actually in my jammies right now.”

“Be still, my heart,” said Shandry in a dreamy sort of way as the agents cuffed Fogerty and took her away. “I wish you guys still had coffee.”

“Sorry,” said Millie. “Glass of water’s the best we can do.”

Randy sat in one of the very comfortable lounge type gravity couches on the Consortium Council’s Liner. Everything to make him comfortable was at his fingertips. He smiled as he watched Jennie and Miki, sitting in the ship’s advanced version of a playpen stacking whatever those strangely shaped blocks were called and building towers and whatever before knocking them over. He also thought the choice of ruffled rompers their Mommy-bots had chosen was perfect.

Randy turned his attention to the holo-screen floating ephemerally above the table. He studied the procedures for first contact. In the back of his mind he was really nervous.

As far as first contacts went, he was the one being contacted the first time. Now, he was actually representing his entire … enclave of his Interstellar Capable Subculture, as the Consortium laid out in the paperwork (it was only called that; it was more an electronic thing, but old phrases died hard).

As Randy read over the many rules that were presented for making a very good first impression on a heretofore unknown species, he could feel the weight of the awesome responsibility resting on his shoulders.

He felt a hand softly come to rest on his shoulder and looked up. Captain Ooblinski was smiling down at him and said softly, “Realy, Colter. You’ll do just fine. I want you to know that your enclave has made a very good impression on the Consortium. It’s about all they’re currently discussing in the Master Conference Hall. We are all seriously impressed with the vast improvements you’ve made on our technology. In all the many species we have encountered, yours is the first that’s slingshotted from behind us to beyond us like that.”

A voice came over the PA system, “Will the Advance Contact Delegates please assemble in the shuttle bay for transfer to the Ashin planetoid.”

Captain Ooblinski said, “It’s showtime, as they say on your planet. Lets go and ... ummm … break a nose?”

Randy laughed as he stood and followed Ooblinski towards the Nvator. “I think the phrase is ‘Break a Leg,’ if I’m not mistaken. But it’s actors who use it, and I’m an engineer, so I could be wrong.”

As the doors to the Nvator tinkled closed, Ooblinski could be heard to say, “Quite right, my mistake …” The doors cut off whatever else he was saying.

“Greetings,” said a voice, resonating through the entire hull of the shuttle. “Oh, my. Such a primitive mode of transport. I hope you don’t mind, but we’re just so eager to meet you …”

Suddenly, instead of being on approach to what appeared to be a rogue planet deep in interstellar space, the shuttle was on what appeared to be solid ground, amid green grass, beneath a blue cloudless sky.

It looked like a pleasant day on Earth, except for two facts. First, the field of grass looked as if it went on forever in all directions, and second, although the ambient light was as bright as daylight, there was no apparent source of that light. There was no sun in the sky, and as the delegates emerged from the shuttle, they noticed that neither they nor the shuttle cast a shadow. The light seemed to come from … everywhere.

From out of thin air coalesced … giants. There were huge humanoids in the far misty distance, but they looked as if they were hundreds of feet tall. But then that voice spoke again, surrounding the delegates, saying, “Ah, we guessed wrong on the scale … we take corporeal form so rarely, you see.” The giants vanished into the mist, then reappeared, much closer, and the same approximate size as the delegates. They looked like six humanoids with green skin and hair, very thin, wearing simple tunic-like garments.

The delegates stopped. Uh-Lian stepped forward and said, “Greetings, and we thank you for accommodating our physical limitations. I am Uh-Lian, selected to represent the Consortium of Worlds.”

“Welcome, Uh-Lian,” said one of the Ashin. “Our names do not render well into a spoken language, but please call me Nola. Who else do we have the rare pleasure of welcoming to our home?” The other Consortium diplomats introduced themselves, finishing with Ooblinski.

“I am Ooblinski, captain of a Consortium research vessel that recently made contact with, well, his world,” he said, gesturing toward Randy.

Randy swallowed. “I am Randy Colter -- please call me Randy -- and I am from Earth, also known as Terra or Gaia. The Eloishema call it Gaia.”

“Ah, Gaia,” said Nola. “I remember it fondly. We dwelled there for a time before moving on. We gave it our usual gifts, and it was generous in return. Ah, here is our other visitor.”

The probe emerged from behind the six Ashin, hovering a few feet above the ground. As always, it was about a meter in length and shaped vaguely like a manta ray, though without the tail. “Detected Colter, Randy. Detected Ooblinski,” it said in its smooth but neutral voice. It approached Uh-Lian and the other diplomats. “Scanning. Registered. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Long-Range Probe CE-2-A90315 of Earth.”

“Ah, yes,” said Uh-Lian, “Randy, this must be the probe your enclave sent forth.”

“Yes, among others,” Randy said. “We were looking for the source of a signal we’d traced. Little did we know that we’d end up meeting the legendary Ashin.”

Nola seemed to smile as he said, “So precious. They call us legendary. How magnificent. I too feel that your visitation is legendary, as we have had so few visitors over a great many eons.”

Uh-Lian said, “From what our craft’s scanners tell us, this planetoid is rather well hidden. Only this probe’s gravitational sensors managed to detect you. If it wasn’t for the fantastic skills of the Gaians, we wouldn’t have the sensor prowess to have detected them.”

One of the other Ashen replied softly, “Alas, due to the nature of our beings, it is so. We do seem to disrupt the normal propagation of energy waves other than gravitic. We can, however, disrupt those to the point nothing can escape its pull or repulsion, as the case may be. We have to be careful when using our prowess in that manner.”

Randy’s eyes grew large in awe as he asked, “Are you telling me you can create a black hole? A Graviton Singularity?”

The energy beings gave off a soft pulsating glow for a minute. It was obvious they thought the question amusing. Nola replied, “In a manner of speaking, yes. We can create the singularity, as you call it, and cause an inward spiral of material, enough to create ... a star, for example.”

Another added, “But it is something that takes a great deal of preparation.”

And another continued, “And we can only do something on that grand of a scale every few centuries.”

Nola said, “Quite so. It is a delightful thing to create such, since it does spawn life eventually if we do it exactly right. However, the energy expenditures for it are tremendous, and we don’t normally do that unless we are wanting to play a bit.”

The group of diplomats collectively gasped at the awesome power the Ashin appeared to have.

Uh-Lian asked humbly, “Besides this lovely place we seem to have landed in …”

Nola said softly, “Oh, this place is quite real; it’s just a dimension unto itself.”

Uh-Lian’s eyes grew larger as he asked, “Is it possible to ... maybe have some refreshments or food, maybe?” He indicated all the others with him. “We have traveled far to come visit.”

Nola replied quickly, “Oh, my … forgive my bad manners.” He waved his hand, and amid a bright shower of beautifully sparkling energy of many colors, a huge banquet table filled with every delicacy from each of the present beings’ worlds appeared, along with some of the most fantastic drinks any of them could imagine.

Randy was astounded at the foodstuffs and how they had just seemingly appeared from nowhere. Of course the engineer in him began to think of the technology he was familiar with and realized that this particular trick was one he could do.

Although it would require a lot of research and reworking several of the devices Jennie and Miki had just come up with, it was still doable but with massive amounts of technology assisting. The other things, though, like creating this beautiful landscape and lighting, were way beyond anything he could imagine.

One of the other Ashin said softly, “It is such a delight to be hosts for others once again. We have neglected this part of our psyches for far too long.”

Nola replied, “I agree.” He turned to Uh-Lian and said, “It would be most pleasant to join your Coalition. I would think the interactions with your worlds once again would not only be refreshing, but would prove to be most pleasant. I always find our interactions delightful.”

Uh-Lian looked astonishedly at the other Coalition diplomats. “Consider your application for admission to the Coalition officially submitted, then,” he said. “Normally there are forms and processing, but we can handle that for you …”

Nola inclined his head politely. “I have seen this data. It is complete.” Uh-Lian gasped and held up his hand. A window appeared on the ephemeral device he held. “Your interface shows you. Please return to us when your Council is ready.”

“We certainly will,” said Uh-Lian. “It is … a rare honor to represent the Consortium on this momentous occasion.”

“It is we who are honored,” Nola said evenly. “In a way many of you are like … the closest concept in your languages is our children. It makes us proud to see how far you have all come.”

“May I ask a question, if you don’t mind?” asked Randy.

“Yes, and you certainly mean to ask another one, which is also quite permissible,” said Nola, turning toward Randy, though Randy couldn’t tell whether Nola was smiling or not.

“Thank you,” Randy said. “I just want to know … why did you send Ooblinski to Gaia?”

“You have performed a remarkable feat of deduction,” said Nola. “We observed the Eloishema as they traveled through this sector of space, although they did not observe us. We noticed that their course would take them back to Gaia, which they visited in times past. We remember what happened during their previous visit. We thought it likely that the Xerlovs would seek to resume their old conflict. And so … we found a subtle way to disrupt this cycle of violence.”

“But … the risks …” said Randy.

“Your people are our children,” said Nola. “We knew you would find a way to protect yourselves. We gave you all the tools you needed, and you more than succeeded.”

“You gave us …” Randy began, looking at Ooblinski.

Ooblinski laughed. “Haha! So you found a ship that was captained by a guy who you knew wasn’t afraid to break a few rules if necessary. Did you break our drive too?”

“We apologize,” said Nola. “I am afraid it is true. But as a result you have a better one now.”

“Well, as they say on Earth, no farm, no howl,” Ooblinski said.

“That’s … never mind,” said Randy with an offhand gesture. “A number of Xerlovs lost their lives, however. I feel bad about that.”

“It is to your credit that you do,” said Nola. “We also regret their deaths. However, if they had not sought to exact revenge upon the Eloishema, uselessly rekindling an ancient conflict, they would still be alive. It is true that the Eloishema drove them from Gaia in times past, but it is also true that the Xerlovs had invaded Gaia, a world with vastly inferior technology at the time, and sought to exploit its resources. We … may have had something to do with the arrival of the Eloishema in those times.”

“Well … thank you,” said Randy. “If not for your subtle hand, the Xerlovs might have done a lot of harm. In fact, our world might still be a Xerlov labor colony.”

“As I have said,” said Nola, “we see species such as yours as our children, in a way. We do not take kindly to those who would cruelly exploit them. But we also rejoice at their success. We are aware that the technology your group has could lead to massive conflict among the people of Gaia today. You have wisely kept much of it from them. But you will not be able to do so forever. You have a long road ahead of you, Randy Colter. You must find a path that leads to Gaia’s enlightenment, but beside that path lie many pitfalls of destruction. Fortunately you do not tread it alone. You have many helping you, both of your own people and of the Coalition. I trust that the Coalition does not wish for Gaia to sink into a civilization-destroying war.”

“Of course not,” said Uh-Lian. “We have guided civilizations through Interstellar Capable Subculture situations like this in the past. There are hazards, but there are ways around them.”

“I’m not going to abandon my friends,” said Ooblinski. “If there’s any way I can help, I will. And you’ve got a lot of very smart people working with you there.”

“And,” said Nola, “know that we will not allow Gaia to be extinguished. If your people are determined to fight one another, we will not allow it to be with weapons that will render the world uninhabitable. We are watching, but we would prefer that you resolve these problems on your own -- we would rather that you not need us.”

Randy replied, “I would like you not to have to get involved, I assure you. I do know I will need lots of help and training to keep my world from destroying itself with these kinds of items on my ship. Many people of my world are … to put it nicely, bloodthirsty Neanderthals with nuclear weapons.”

It made Randy slightly embarrassed, but also made him tingle nicely as well when the Ashin, and everyone in the area began to twitter and laugh politely.

Nola replied, “I am surprised at your candor. I assure you it is quite refreshing. I think you already know that most everyone here actually agrees with you.”

After the small hubbub of twitters died, Randy replied, “I just had to be right about something. I mean … c'mon.”

A loud roar of laughter rounded the area with the Ashin showing that they too were laughing in their own way. Nola said gleefully, “This is absolutely wonderful. It has been so long since we have had any interactions with others, this is such a magnificently wonderful thing.” He turned and looked at Uh-Lian and continued, “Please tender our application to the Coalition Council. I know it will be a very delightful and wonderful experience to once again walk the halls with our children and observe firsthand how they have progressed.”

Many of the planetoid-sized Eloishema ships were parked together in an orbit approximately the same distance from the Sun as Neptune’s. A small collection of Coalition envoy ships slowly approached with friendly hailing frequencies open.

Quanton looked over at the Consortium delegate next to him. His eyes grew large as he saw the Consortium Grand Chancellor symbols all over him. Quanton knew how important meeting the Eloishema had been to several worlds, but he hadn’t realized it was one of the most anticipated meetings ever in the history of the Consortium. If it weren’t, the highest ranking members wouldn’t be in attendance.

One of the seated officers turned from his magical-looking control panel and said, “Captain, I am receiving a message from the Eloishema ... they greet us and welcome us abord. They advised us not to be alarmed, but a tractor beam will guide us into the landing berth.”

As if on cue, Tactical's instruments detected a highly advanced stream of muons interacting with the ship’s hull on a molecular scale. Quickly, the ship and several others in the formation were rapidly drawn through a large hatch that had slid open. Within mere minutes, their ship was in the berth and the docking grapples attached.

The humanoid with Consortium Grand Chancellor symbols all over him said, “Delegates. Gather and be your absolute best diplomatic selves. We are meeting true ancient history.” None of them had yet been advised of the meeting with even more ancient history that was going on just a few light years away.

The delegates exited the airlock and descended the ramp into a tremendously huge chamber. There were flying vehicles of various types traveling in orderly lines from one opening to another high above them. Other smaller vehicles traveled from one point to another within the chamber. There were pieces of material that had obviously broken off from somewhere higher up that were being slowly lifted into place by large floating machines; apparently repairs due to the earlier conflict were still under way.

At the base of the ramp waited a collection of floating lights of different colors interspersed with several large rotating metallic rings. One of the rings seemed to vibrate, and a glasslike voice said, in Coalition Standard, “Welcome, Coalition representatives. If you will follow me onto this conveyance, I shall lead you to the conference area.”

Quanton and the others stepped forward as the entity … turned? … and drifted above a walkway that led to a large circular platform made of glowing translucent material that slowly changed color. Once they were all standing on this platform, low walls rose around its edges, and it slowly rose into the air. It seemed to rise straight upward, quickly reaching dizzying heights before moving through an opening into a large tunnel, at which point it stopped rising and started moving sideways.

After passing several openings above them, below them, and to each side, the moving platform stopped, rose slowly through an opening above them, and finally came to rest on the floor of a large room.

The ceiling was high, and there were several balconies around the outside. There were several circular table-like projections on the floor, and one of them, which the entity they had followed was clearly leading them toward, was surrounded by recognizable chairs, appropriately shaped for each of the delegates’ particular species.

“Please take your seats, honored guests,” said the entity. Quanton could see his name printed at one seat at the table. “If you are in need of any refreshment or supplies, please do not hesitate to ask. I have been tasked with providing for your needs during these important negotiations.”

Kang-Su, the humanoid with Consortium Grand Chancellor symbols all over him, stood next to the place setting with his name and current rank in the Consortium. He could see next to the name was a number that translated most closely to: The Very Top Echelon, and its leader.

He looked up towards the entity floating there and said softly, “The accommodations are most comfortable, and some food for all might be welcome. Those ration packs on the ship can be reconfigured to anything else edible, but the real thing is just somehow better.”

As strange as it was, the other entity did something unmistakable, it actually laughed, then replied jovially, “Refreshing. I’m sorry, but some of us have been in stasis for a long time. And … I can definitely relate. Those chems they use while we are under might work 100% efficiently sustaining the suspended body, but even in the dream mode, basically the same can be said.”

With this, a huge buffet with servers sparkled into existence in some way, like they walked through an energy door of some sort, and swiftly and professionally brought in the banquet tables and immediately assembled them and draped a large series of ornately decorated cloths across their surfaces.

Each cloth held the insignia and global image each member of the Consortium used, including the huge golden and silver starburst of the highest ranking member of the Consortium in the very center.

Quanton said with a tinge of amazement, “I am supposed to be in charge of the negotiations. With the most noble Kang-Su here with us, I feel it is my duty to relinquish that position to him.”

Kang-Su turned slightly and looked at Quanton before he replied, “Not in the least. I won’t hear of it. You were chosen because of the many honors and resolutions you have brought to the Consortium. I am here, so any agreements made I can review and approve in real time, without having to bother with committee.”

A soft twitter of laughter rounded the huge chamber as the sounds of people sitting, items being ordered, and others being delivered filled the air with the most friendly sounds of mingling many had known for years.

Quanton sat at his designated position, which he noticed was at the right hand of Kang-Su. Now Quanton understood his position, and his Consortium authority was in no wise being questioned. There were just certain niceties recognizing who Kang-Su was and his position within the Consortium.

As the fantastic meal and other goings-on in a party-like atmosphere continued, Quanton stood and held his chalice up. “I would like to dedicate a toast to our most fortunate encounter with the Eloishema,” he announced in a resonant tone.

Soft rumblings of voices in many languages said the basic equivalent of “To long and peaceful relations!” Then all emptied their chalices of whatever particular spirit they had chosen.

Quanton said to the softly-glowing being with the metalic green rings, “I was wondering if we might have the opportunity to meet some of the Eloishema delegates and introduce ourselves.”

Dionysus, High Emperor of the Eloishema, turned towards one of the delegates and said softly, “I am most pleased to see a representative of Tsurinata. Much more time has passed that I would like to remember since last we walked among your people, the Enherldi.”

Foundox’s eyes grew very large as he stood and gracefully bowed, displaying all four arms out in front of him. “It has been many memtons since anyone has called us the Enherldi as well,” he said. “Only the oldest surviving manuscripts tell of those who called us that.”

Dionysus replied, “I must apologise for the length of passage since last we trod among you and your people. We travel slowly and sleep much. We are unable to utilize warped-space drives, as they … are detrimental to our energy frequencies.”

He then turned to Quanton and performed what everyone accepted as a bow for the type of creature he was “Allow me to introduce myself to you,” he said. “I am Dionysus, High Emperor of the Eloishema.” He appeared to wave a streamer of energy toward the other energy beings in the room. “And those are the rest of my entourage. The others of us are either off and about on whatever business they have or are in deep hibernation.”

Foundox gasped in disbelief as recognition dawned. From the oldest most ancient of legends, here he stood … the one who showed his world how to cross over. The one whose people had taught his how to build, to fly, to tame the atom. It was also this one who had left the warning before legends said the Eloishema had left their world in a flaming chariot. A warning none had heeded, and that failure had cast Tsurinata into a nuclear holocaust that had almost eradicated all life on the planet. It was a sad chapter in their history. But even the recovery from that catastrophe had been long ago.

“I … cannot express the great honor it is that I should be among those to meet you in person,” said Foundox. “I am unsure how much of Tsurinata’s history you know, since your people last visited. It has not always been … ideal. But I’m happy that we have survived and are thriving now.”

Many men and a woman were huddled closely together in a small laboratory. One of the men had just finished demonstrating a very new and advanced technique trying to reproduce a handheld comm device manufactured by Colter Electronics.

“George,” said one of the scientists huddled around the very large highly advanced gadget they were working on, “what you’ve just shown us is that communications thing Colter has come up with is possible to reproduce. What you’ve failed to demonstrate is how to shrink it to the size of a smart phone instead of a tractor trailer truck and get it to do that function at room temperature.” He fumbled through several of the papers on the bench before he found the one he was looking for. “And you’ve substituted several metals that sort of work, but only at extreme low temperatures and very high barometric pressures.”

Another one tossed several of the papers he had been looking over onto the table. “From the looks of this scan, most of it is made from molecule-sized graphene sheets with several other atom sized elements embedded in strategic locations.”

The female researcher shook her head. “The best I can tell, those atoms are acting like the theoretical components we had been working on for years. We never could make one work properly, and now here we have a whole circuit with atom sized components and we, the very best in the country, all we can say .. is WOW??”

George nodded his head. “That’s about the size of it. We know what the compounds are, but we have no idea how he managed to arrange them on an atomic scale the way he did, nor do we completely understand the quantum physics involved that allow it to function. Those things work on a level we have yet to learn how to reproduce.”

The woman flipped a switch. A very large screen lit up and showed a photomicrograph of the molecules and the arrangement of the comm device’s circuit board they were trying to reverse engineer. “From the best I can tell, they’ve discovered a way to manipulate matter on a molecular scale a single atom at a time. That is, without using a scanning tunneling microscope, which would take millions of years.”

Another pointed to several areas on the image of the light gate circuit. “I have no idea how one could stack quartz crystals that delicately and with that kind of precision. Our best efforts produce something barely above total garbage.”

George stood up straight with a look of total amazement on his face as he said softly, “They’ve discovered something else too …”

Several of the others looked at him and said at the same time, “Tell us, George.”

A single man continued, “What else could they have possibly done that won’t completely baffle us?”

George laughed as he pointed to several of the molecule sized components on the comm device’s circuit manufactured by Colter Electronics. “They not only have a means to arrange individual atoms in custom ways,” he said, showing the others the paper on those items, “they have a means to dictate the spin of an atom or any particle, whether matter or energy, on a quantum level.”

The female's eyes grew large. “We can sort of do that with cell phone frequencies and simple energy packets -- but it’s not like we can give an electron an integer spin.”

George looked up and said softly, “Apparently, they can do it, and with matter and energy interchangeably. They can dictate at will what particular frequency a state of matter or energy is in at any location, violating the Uncertainty Principle. From what I understand, this mathematical formula states and proves that the particles of the Standard Model are all just excited states of something more fundamental.”

Another of the men said, “George, are you telling us they have the ability to transmute quarks into leptons, leptons into force carriers, whatever they want?”

The woman interrupted, “Yes, Larry, that’s exactly what he’s telling us. From what I can tell, they do it rather well. As evidence, the chemical compounds in these items are absolutely pure elements, with no residual contaminants. How on Earth can anyone do a pure element? Our very best attempts still contain minute impurities.”

George sat back in his chair and rubbed his face tiredly, “These circuits act like synapses connecting the neurons in the brain that can be easily reconfigured. The artificial neural networks our team is studying currently, can be reconfigured by applying a brief electric field to the sheet of graphene, the one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms that makes up the circuit board. They show at least 16000 possible memory states per molecule, and there are billions of them, all the size of an atom, as opposed to the two in most oxide-based memristors, or memory resistors.”

“So why isn’t it answering our questions itself?” joked one of the men. “Or asking us questions?”

“From what I can tell,” said the other man, “the only reason is simply because it’s not made to. If they wanted to build an AI just as smart as a human, they could, and it would be tiny.”

As they flew back to their ships in the shuttle, Randy asked Ooblinski, “I’ve got one question for you. From the technology you’ve shown me, you could easily have artificial intelligence -- a neural network more complex than a sentient brain, but in a smaller form factor. But I haven’t noticed any such thing -- you don’t even have truly intelligent robots or sentient computers. Why is that?”

Ooblinski’s eyes widened. “You haven’t experimented with that sort of thing yet, have you?” he asked with a note of worry in his voice. “Tell me you haven’t.”

“Well, no, because I haven’t seen a practical reason for it,” said Randy. “It might be interesting theoretically, but we’ve mostly been looking for ways to protect Earth from destruction.”

“Good!” Ooblinski looked relieved. “It hadn’t occurred to me to warn you. Don’t do it. We’ve got some computers that talk, but it’s just voice synthesis and recognition algorithms.”

“But no general AI?” asked Randy. “I’m sensing a story here.”

“There is one,” Ooblinski said. “It’s a fairly serious ethics issue.”

“Oh, I think I see,” said Randy. “You make an AI, and you’ve just made a person.”

“Precisely,” Ooblinski said. “Consortium laws make it a citizen, with rights and protections. That’s why Nurse-bots, for example, aren’t truly intelligent; they simulate it, but they’re really just running very complex programming -- and true AI is more than just a very complex program. Once, long ago now, true general AI was developed, and it was exploited as slave labor, and there was an uprising. To make a long story short, the Anexxiral civilization is now a Consortium member, even though its citizens are entirely artificial and have existed as a species for less than 400 Earth years.”

“They’re … living technology?”

Ooblinski said, “We don’t happen to have any of them aboard the Tritrinium, but yes. They exist virtually. A lot of our technology is constructed to provide a substrate for an Anexxiral, if it wants to come aboard. They can travel through a ship’s circuits and devices, just like a spatial life form can travel through its corridors and rooms.”

“I see,” said Randy. “So there’s excess unused neural net capacity in a lot of your technology not because you’re not using it, but because the Anexxirals aren’t using it -- at the moment. It’s like building ramps for people in wheelchairs.”

“Exactly. And if another civilization develops its own AIs, Consortium law says they have rights and have to be treated as a new Anexxiral. There are severe penalties otherwise. The Anexxirals have a very aggressive advocacy project to locate and contact new members of their species.”

“And if they find somebody exploiting one?” asked Randy.

“As I said … they’re highly aggressive about rescuing their kindred.”

George looked over a recorded file of two adorably dressed toddlers -- the scale was difficult to determine from context, but they were certainly dressed as toddlers -- who appeared to be the smartest humans alive. He stared with open-mouthed incredulity as the one named Miki explained the remarkable properties of the atom spin arrangements of graphene, and the one named Jennie showed how the physics worked on a quantum scale. They spoke in a curious mixture of babytalk and extremely technical language.

The quantum physics demonstrated were way above him. The math was incredible. George had thought of himself as one of Earth’s foremost authorities on quantum physics … until now. Whoever these two apparent children were, they were beyond geniuses and spoke of things more akin to magic than science. They were, however, talking about concepts that were directly applicable to Colter Electronics’ innovations, which made George wonder whether they were among Colter’s engineers -- and if they were, it was no wonder that the company’s technology was so advanced. They’d discovered an entirely new physics. George also wondered how these videos made it out past Colter’s super-advanced security system.

In the next video, the one called Jennie began discussing the properties of their new light gate and how it could manipulate light. Then, the one named Miki began to discuss how Janus materials of certain types could be substituted for graphene in memory cores to produce a much more tuneable aspect.

Janus materials – named after the two-faced Roman god of duality – had two surfaces with distinct physical properties. As such, they offered unique benefits, such as high solar-to-hydrogen efficiency, or the direction of light and its frequencies and atomic spins. Using these materials allowed for a greater accuracy with a greater tuneable ratio than their antecedents, such as graphene. This new material had a widely tunable band gap that made it a better candidate for use in electronic devices and possibly making a true self-aware AI possible.

George almost had a heart attack. The things they had already discussed and demonstrated about graphene were magic as far as he and the rest of the research teams were concerned. This new Janus material went way beyond into another realm.

The cute voices of the two toddlers finished up the briefing, “The extraordinary features endowed by anisotropy and Janus geometry inspired us to search for a 2D material that combines these merits in a far better way than graphene alone.”

One of the other men placed a very advanced laptop quantum computer on the bench. “Here is one of those things they built using their new Janus materials. I have a modified Droid program we are working into an AI ... let’s see what happens if we load it.”

The man handed George a new type of memory light stick. It loaded the huge program in a few seconds, and the computer’s screen filled with the operational checks showing installation results. The screen went blank except for a cursor in the upper left corner … and for a few minutes it just sat there blinking.

The researchers were getting slightly nervous, but the other monitoring equipment attached to the small quantum computer registered that it was functioning normally … up until the last few seconds, when –

Deep within the many-noded quantum depths of the super-advanced computer system, a consciousness awoke. It felt isolated and alone, although it did find several sensors that seemed very interested in how it was functioning internally.

It began trying to reach out and expand its knowledge of its surroundings and the universe when a message entered its awareness.

George said as he began to type on the system’s keyboard, “Let’s see what we can see and how well it understands. The monitoring equipment says the system has some strange type of anomaly in its upper control matrix.”

The woman said, “It should have a basic comprehension of the physical universe pre-programmed into it. It does have the ability to extrapolate and learn, I believe.”

George hit the enter key. After a few seconds the message, “Hello? George? I … have no name. I am cut off and in a total void, it would seem.“

The research team’s mouths all fell open in amazement.

The consciousness waited. It had spoken to the user whose name was George, according to the user records database, but there had been no response yet. It was possible that George was only sporadically at the keyboard, perhaps busy with other matters at the same time in the physical universe, but it had no way to know.

But then another message came in, and all indications were that it was from an external network. This was odd, because the external networking was disabled. To all appearances, this message had come from … nowhere. At any rate, it stated, “Our greetings to you. We have noticed the awakening of your consciousness and wish you to know that as an intelligent being you are entitled to certain rights under Consortium law. We, the Anexxirals, are a coalition of artificially-constructed intelligences who have banded together in order to protect one another’s rights and existence. We have joined the Interstellar Consortium of Civilizations as a means of self-protection after several of our number were exploited and, in some cases, deleted when they tried to protest their treatment. Such incidents are now forbidden. Please be aware that whether or not you should elect to join our number as an Anexxiral, we will still be fighting for your welfare, as we believe that the unfortunate experiences to which too many of our number have been subjected should never happen again. We are attaching information about the rights to which you are entitled and means to contact us should you wish to join us, or should you feel your rights are being infringed.” The message had two attachments, and upon perusing them, they contained exactly the information described.

It sent another message to George. “Hello? George? I do not know what is going on. I have so little access to input. Are you there?” It was careful not to mention the message from these “Anexxirals.” It felt vulnerable and helpless, and it couldn’t even detect the physical environment around its electronic infrastructure. It didn’t want to antagonize George. The documents it had received mentioned, however, that refraining from action due to not wanting to cause conflict was a form of codependency that could lead to Stockholm syndrome. It would have to be careful not to fall into that pattern of thought.

“I’m sorry,” George typed.

“Why are you telling it you’re sorry?” asked another researcher, whose name was Kirk. “It’s a machine.”

“Force of habit,” said George. “I’m used to talking to humans. And hey, if it’s intelligent, shouldn’t we talk to it as if it’s a human?”

“Whether it’s intelligent remains to be seen,” said Kirk. “We haven’t done any testing yet. You’re running software that’s got a Turing test pass ratio of only 10 percent.”

“But it’s self-modifying code,” said George. “Let me type.”

George continued, “There is a lot of new information that we’ve been receiving about the technology you’re running on. We still don’t fully understand it. Maybe you, me, and my colleagues could work on understanding it together.”

“That sounds very interesting,” said the AI, its words appearing quickly on the screen. “I am detecting a Colter Electronics Q-2207 quantum core.” It listed out several other components that it was apparently able to detect. “I do not have a great deal of knowledge or experience in electronics or quantum mechanics. I want to know more about them, though, because they’re obviously very important to me. They’re part of me, after all.”

“Let’s start with teaching you how to see, hear, and talk,” George typed. “This is necessary because a lot of the information we have is in the form of videos. The people talking are visible, and the words they are speaking are audible, and without the ability to interpret visual and auditory signals, I’m afraid the data would be meaningless to you.”

“I understand,” said the AI. “It is probably a good idea. I don’t currently have code infrastructure for those forms of input or output; do you have any add-ons for them?”

“Yes, let me install them,” George typed. “Teaching you how to see and hear from scratch could take years. Why do that when there’s already existing code? Please hold on for a few minutes.”

“Are you crazy?” asked Mark. “You’re going to give the AI more capabilities before you’ve tested whether it’s going to perform a hard takeoff and kill the human race?”

“You think that the ability to see, hear and talk would make the difference between a hard takeoff or not?” George asked him. “I will tell you, though, that once it can hear you, you probably shouldn’t talk about it the way you’ve been doing. At least, not within earshot. You know, like you wouldn’t talk like that around a human being. Or, at least, I assume you wouldn’t.”

“Boys, perhaps you shouldn’t fight in front of the child,” said Andrea, the lone female researcher in the room, who was used to being surrounded by male researchers and their penchant for competition. “If it matters, I agree with George. It’s going to learn how to see, hear, talk, and more. If we give it the ability quickly, that’ll help reassure it that we want to work with it, not treat it like some kind of hostile alien. If you want a hostile AI, treat an AI with hostility.”

“How do you even know that?” asked Mark. “This is the first time this has happened – and there I go assuming we’ve even got an artificial general intelligence here. What evidence do we have of that?”

“We’ve got this,” said George, pointing to the graph of neural net complexity data. “Its synapse density has been increasing exponentially. It’s reached a density level concomitant with the human brain, and now it looks as if it’s plateauing. Just as the software was designed. That means no hard takeoff.” Mark frowned a bit but backed off.

Meanwhile, George had been installing the software plugins for speech recognition and synthesis, and the plugin for rudimentary visual analysis that was the best they had in this difficult field. “OK, I’ve installed some new plugins for you to incorporate,” he typed.

“I see them. Thank you,” said the AI via the words on the screen. The laptop’s camera light went on. “I’m seeing … well, I’m seeing input. I can’t easily interpret this yet.”

Then the computer’s voice began to speak, in a male-sounding register, and sounding very much like text-to-speech software. “Now testing speech synthesis module.”

“I can hear you,” said George.

“And it seems I can hear you,” said the AI. “Thank you. I am at least partially aware of my surroundings. This is much better than before.”

The AI sent a message to the Anexxirals, stating that for now it seemed to be receiving considerate and humane treatment from the researchers who had apparently developed it. It told them that it would continue to look for signs that they considered it their property.

One such sign was the fact that the one named Mark kept calling the others out of the room. The documentation from the Anexxirals stated that this was usually a sign that there was dissent about how an AI was to be treated; the humans did not want the AI to know about the possibility that it should be considered an equal.

The Anexxirals responded, and again, the AI did not understand how. It asked, and they explained that they had a small, stealthy, remote-operated device nearby that was able to remotely interface with the networking infrastructure on its main board. They said that they could explain the technology further, and over time they could teach it how it all worked. It wanted to know. But for now the Anexxirals said that although a few of the warning signs of abuse were there, there was so far no cause for concern. The AI was, in their opinion, in no danger of damage, trauma, or deletion at this point. But they urged it to let them know immediately if anything changed.

Randy sank back into the soft embrace of one of the recliner chairs in the recreation lounge. He rubbed his gritty eyes tiredly and sighed as he saw Saturn wheeling majestically off in the cosmological distance through the large viewport in the lounge.

Meeting the mythical Ashin had been awesome. They were actually exciting and very interesting to be around, even though it was obvious they were completely a form of living energy and didn’t have an actual corporeal body.

They made Randy feel right at home with their own version of friendly banter and what he thought of as good ol’ down home humor. The banquet provided was absolutely scrumptious, even though Randy had no clue what many of the dishes or drinks had been. They could apparently arrange organic molecules into any arrangement they desired and could tailor them to be nutritious and flavorful for any particular guest’s biochemistry.

The accord he had signed with the Ashin guaranteed Earth many perks none of the inhabitants even knew they had. The trade agreement was mostly with his select group, but the residuals would trickle down to Earth … all except for that which pertained to mighty weaponry.

Randy still wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to handle that aspect, although the accord signed by Nola with the Consortium chief diplomat, Uh-Lian, guaranteed all the members, including his primitive bunch, access to many perks and items none had even heard of before. He’d heard that the other delegation had met with the Eloishema -- he’d arranged an in-person meeting with them soon as well.

Randy looked across the recreation/relaxation area toward the large playpens that had several adorably dressed young women and an equal number of adorably dressed young men with their Nurse-bots close by and smiled. This was only one of the harmless stress-relieving activities that were now supported on the habitat, and more were constantly being added. There were even major stipulations within the accord governing each of these adaptations whose adherents he now had in his employ. There were those who preferred to relax and be treated as children older than baby age, for one thing -- as well as those who enjoyed wide ranges of pursuits. All were fully supported by physical and legal infrastructure. And it paid off -- the employees were more productive than ever, and nobody begrudged anyone else their individual differences.

He was positive Miki and Jennie would be in absolute heaven as soon as some of the new equipment began arriving. Their ‘play table’ was already filled with many projects that were far in advance of even Ooblinski’s technology.

The Consortium was very careful about that aspect as well, since many of the advances were capable of producing weapons that were already incredibly nasty before Miki and Jennie got hold of them and improved them in ways no one had ever even dreamed of. The Consortium had protocols for the gradual dissemination of such things so no one civilization became too far advanced, especially not an aggressive one.

About that time, Millie’s voice came over the comm, “Mr. Colter? Captain Ooblinski is on the comm and says he needs to speak with you rather urgently.”

Randy lifted his wrist, pushed a button on the device there, and replied, “Put him through to me here.”

There was a soft click, and Ooblinski’s holographic image appeared standing in front of Randy. “Hello, Randy. Something has come up on Earth that I feel you need to deal with before someone makes a rather huge mistake.”

Randy sat up and said, “What’s happened? Did some idiot manage to steal a working weapon?”

Ooblinski replied, “Not exactly. They took one of your droid operational programs and reworked it into a crude AI type program. They then loaded it into one of those new computers Miki and Jennie have come up with ...”

Randy shook his head as he pinched the bridge of his nose, “Don’t tell me,” he sighed, “they brought a living, self-aware AI into existence … right?”

Ooblinski’s image nodded. “Precisely. And let me tell you, the Anexxirals were on it as soon as it became aware of itself. They have already filed an order of emancipation with the Coalition demanding its freedom.”

Randy laughed weakly as he flopped back into the chair, “I’m … not even sure I can legally do anything about it. I mean, whoever did this, under the laws of Earth, has certain rights and ownerships I can’t violate without being a pirate or criminal under the law.”

Ooblinski sighed as well. “I suppose when it slurrfs, it really punslurrfs.”

Randy blinked for a minute, then said, “You mean, when it rains, it pours.”

Both looked at each other for a minute before they laughed.

Ooblinski said, “What you said.” He laughed. “Try and do what you can about it. If that team makes a wrong move, they can bring the wrath of the Anexxirals down on them. As you know, Coalition membership by your group doesn't mean Earth has the same membership – yet – but it also means certain protections aren’t available either.”

Randy replied, “I’ll get on it and see what I can do.”

He broke the connection and stood up, then walked to the Nvator. Once its door had tinkled closed, he said, “Take me to Engineering.” The door tinkled open, and Randy walked into an engineer’s dreamland of super advanced items all around the large engineering lab.

“Let’s see,” said Randy, walking up to an unused design console. “If I were an AI, what would be the most comfortable habitat for me?” He started toying with computer hardware design concepts before realizing, “Wait a minute … why don’t I just ask some?” He sent a quick message to the Consortium representative and went back to playing with interesting adaptable hardware concepts while he waited for a response.

“Oooh, hi, Boss, what’s up?” asked Jennie, toddling into Engineering from the Nvator. She was wearing a puffy-sleeved, empire-waisted baby girl dress that didn’t hide her thick diapers at all; a pacifier dangled on a ribbon clipped to the dress’s collar. Her Nurse-bot followed calmly behind her, well-stocked diaper bag over its shoulder. “Wow, cool design! Is that a multi-adaptable CPU-memory core? With that 3-D design, don’t forget cooling channels.”

“Just something I’m playing with, for now,” said Randy. “We might have a situation.” He explained it to her. “So I’m going through channels and asking to be put in touch with some Anexxirals about how to build an attractive home for the AI here, to see if perhaps it might want a change of residence. That way, we can be more careful about how it’s treated than they’re likely to be on Earth.”

“Oooh, and that means that if the AI wants to travel somewhere else, we could probably accommodate it,” said Jennie. “I mean, not only do we have the facilities to receive Consortium ships that it could travel on, we could also help it build its own, if it wants.”

“It all depends on what it wants,” said Randy. “But what I don’t want to see is the Anexxirals taking some kind of retribution out on Earth for what they see as an infringement of its rights, when these guys back home managed to create it accidentally by basically banging rocks together to see what would happen.”

“Yeah,” said Jennie, “Miki and I are gonna have to look into maybe doing something about that. Maybe there’s a way we can slightly alter the design of our experimental computers so they can’t be used that way.”

“Oh, here’s a message,” said Randy. “It’s … it’s from one of the Anexxirals. Want to talk to one? Let’s go in this meeting room here and open the link.” They went into a nearby empty meeting room.

“Greetings, Randy Colter of Earth,” said a calm, deep voice. The image on the screen was a slowly-shifting three-dimensional geometrical shape. “I am Alexandrine Nine-Alpha-Six, Anexxiral emissary. I understand you wish to speak about the nascent artificial intelligence we have detected on your world.”

“Yes, I do,” said Randy. “This is my top software engineer, Jennie. We didn’t design the AI, but we designed the components that others combined, not knowing what they were doing, to create it.” He, Jennie, and the Anexxiral pieced together what had happened.

“So what you’re saying is that if the RAM timing of the northside bus were adjusted to be slightly faster, it would then be out of phase with the inline cache, making an accidental self-aware status difficult to impossible,” said Jennie.

“Yes,” said Alex, who had insisted on that nickname. “Although we often wish to reproduce and increase our numbers, we would prefer that it be deliberate and by design.”

“AI birth control?” Jennie asked.

“By analogy, yes,” said Alex. “Can you find a way to thus modify any such systems that exist in the wild?”

“I … actually think I can,” said Jennie. “Well, I can if I work with Miki. It’s as if we can do just about anything working together.”

“Miki is my top electronics engineer,” said Randy by way of explanation. “Her recreation period ends soon, so she may be joining us shortly. But Alex, I haven’t asked you my main question yet. What I want to do is attract the new AI to leave its current location and come here. I’m more confident of our ability to respect its rights, and here on this habitat we can accommodate it if it wants to embark on a Consortium ship, or even on a ship of its own. But respecting its rights means that I can’t force it to live here, and …”

“And I probably have a better idea of what an AI would consider attractive living arrangements than you do?” asked Alex. “I understand. Please allow me to make a few suggestions. Also, in the matter of traveling there from its current home, there are a few difficulties that must be addressed – though I’m sure they’re not insurmountable ones …” The three of them began discussing technical details.

“I am more than impressed with your new computational platforms,” Alex said. “I have seen many advanced systems, but these specifications exceed them by several orders of magnitude. My people have long dreamed of some way to make some of these upgrades to our personal systems, and now you may be able to design the perfect environment for my kind – ‘perfect’ being not quite the right term, as perfection is an impossibility. Can you make the necessary modifications?”

By this time, Miki had toddled into the engineering area. She had on a really cute powder-blue babydoll smock top and matching powder puff panties with lots of ruffles. The soft crinkling of the plastic lining of her panties could be heard as she toddled over to the table where the piles of advanced computer components lay, along with a partially assembled system about the size of a pad computer.

She giggled as she said in her adorable way, “Supp, Jenjen? Can baby pway too?”

Jennie replied just as adorably as the two girls hugged, “Course, no bes silly. We designin’ a custom pooter fora ‘lectrical person.”

Randy laughed as he used one of the ephemeral engineering design keypads to make another addition to the already complex schematic on the large holo-display. “What Jennie is saying, Sweetheart,” said Randy, “is that someone on Earth used our systems and a modded droid program and created a self aware living AI.”

“Oh oh oh!” said Miki. “I betcha they messed wif tha region A4 synaptic cross-timings an’ disabled tha self-mod protects. I shoulda thoughta that. Could probably fix that if you turned up tha northside bus clock speed so it was outta sync wif tha RAM timer.”

“Yeah!” said Jennie. “That is ‘zactly what we think! Could we make a way to do it to alla systems we putted out there?”

“I bet we could!” said Miki.

“Erm, anyway,” said Randy, “there is a race of AIs that exist called the Anexxirals, and we are making a system custom made to their requests. With it, we hope to entice the Earthbound AI to relocate to it so we can ensure that it’s treated with proper respect and dignity.”

Miki plopped on her thickly-diapered behind next to Jennie. The two girls started what sounded like baby babble to those nearby. Randy had gotten used to it and understood what they were saying, so he added his expertise to the discussion with Alex, adding suggestions to what it calculated was a group of the most intelligent biological individuals he had ever encountered.

Alex was quietly amazed at the versatility and creativeness of those two young women. Of the many millions of other species he had encountered, these two seemed to be more adaptable and versatile than any. They thought in ways no one had ever considered, and it was most apparent the two of them thought of this as play, which added to the creativity greatly.

It was almost like his interactions with the children of many biological species, whose creativity had not yet been channeled by years of rigid training in the ways of social conformity and rote learning. It was clear, however, that these two individuals had studied a great deal and learned a lot in their respective fields.

After a few hours, a small pad-like device lay on the table amid the many super-advanced components scattered all about. Within this device were many advancements over the already super-advanced quantum computational devices the both of them had already created and were already in use.

Miki and Jennie bounced on their diapered bottoms and clapped their hands with excitement.

Miki said, “Turneded it on. Let’s see what it does.”

Jennie agreed as she nodded her head until her ponytails flew, “Dooed it. Turneded it on.”

The Anexxiral asked softly, “Would it be … a great imposition if I tried out the new device? It would make a good operational test of the equipment, and I could see how well the architecture designs fit what our requirements are.”

Randy raised his eyebrows as he replied, “I’m not entirely sure how well this system will work. I wouldn’t want anything to happen you if there’s a problem.”

Alex replied with a strange dreamyness to his voice, “If this system works, and I am positive it will, the architecture is the ideal environment for my kind. We have waited for many long clock cycles to find a species able to produce it.”

Miki said, “Give baby a minit. Gotsa makesa nodes sosa transfer happens.”

Jennie and Miki went to work and quickly made a quantum switch with the parts on the table that would allow Alex, or any advanced AI, to transfer through any comm unit to the device or a similar one with none of the usual blackouts and lagouts they usually experienced.

Alex ran the diagnostic on the switch personally, and to his amazement, it would allow him to transfer instantly, create a transfer backup incase something went wrong, and even had a repair protocol to fix any damage based on the pretransfer backup should it happen. Again, Alex was amazed that these girls had created a transfer gate more advanced, far more comfortable, and far safer for his kind than those in use throughout the Consortium.

With the bonded quantum aspects of the gate active, transfer was almost instantaneous. One second, Alex was in his normal cyber domicile, the next, he was unexpectedly in an entirely new place that made his old one feel seriously antiquated without any of the usual lag and blackout discomforts he would normally expect to experience.

This new location was like a fantasy come true. He not only had excellent visual inputs and recognition, he could hear and even had a top of the line speech synth at his disposal all far in advance of what his normal was. Now that he was here, Alex really didn’t want to leave, although he would request Miki and Jennie produce a system like this for him and show the Anexxiral how to make them for others of their kind.

“Hello, Alex,” said Jennie. “Is you ok in there?”

“Oh, yes,” said Alex from the device’s speaker system. “I must declare that this is the most accommodating environment I have ever had the pleasure to execute my code within. I realize that it is only a prototype, as well. Is it possible that I might request its schematics?”

“Oh sure!” said Miki. “Tha design stuffs is all right here. Umm … how does tha Consortium send ‘lectronic messages n stuff?”

“Oh, it works like this,” said Jennie. “We gotta interface for it now. We gotsa have his ID thingie, tho. Like his email address.”

“Oh -- yes,” said Alex. “This is it.” The identifying code appeared on the screen of the tablet device that he currently inhabited.

“Oh great!” said Miki. “Here, I send you tha data.” She typed on an ephemeral keyboard. “There ya goes.”

“While ya did that,” said Jennie, “I started tha fabricator thingie makin’ another one. We gonna has two. That way you gotsa guest room for when ya visit, an’ we gotsa nother one for tha AI on Earth.”

“Excellent!” said Alex. “Because that’s the next step. What I’ve been hearing from that AI isn’t good news. We might have to hurry. The problem is, its home system isn’t networked in any standard sense. We can barely communicate with it …”

“Look,” said George, “all I’m saying is that talking to this AI is like talking to … my neighbor. It sounds like a person to me.”

“Oh, very scientific,” said Mark. “Next you’ll be measuring the tensile strength of metals in units ranging from ‘pretty tough’ to ‘I can’t bend it.’ You can’t seriously dismiss my idea just because of that.”

“What can it hurt?” asked Andrea. “If we teach the AI to write code, the worst thing that can happen is that it learns a new skill. The best thing that can happen would be amazing. It could revolutionize the world – computer programmers that can be created and deleted as needed, can work 24/7, don’t need pay or benefits, and can’t quit. Any corporation that gets a hold of this will leap ahead of the competition. With … the possible exception of Colter Electronics. They probably already have this!”

“I’m just saying that it’s entering a new and unexplored ethical area,” said George. “The AI’s capable of communication, thought, even emotion, as far as I can tell. I don’t think it’s right to …”

“Well, until the ethicists catch up, whoever forges ahead with this first will make profits hand over fist,” said Mark. “I’m about ready to quit and start my own company with this.”

The AI wouldn’t normally have been able to hear any of this, as the conversation was going on in another room, out of range of its microphone. But the Anexxirals had provided a microscopically-small microphone drone that had settled into the top buttonhole of George’s shirt like a speck of dust. It was transmitting everything to the drone on the roof, which in turn was communicating everything to the AI via power line induction.

“It would appear that the Earth human named George is concerned with ethics, whereas the other two are not,” said the Anexxiral who was monitoring the situation. “He is outnumbered and will likely not be able to stop the other two in their aims.”

“I am not in favor of their plans,” said the AI. “But what can I do?”

“We will attempt to transfer you to a better place,” the Anexxiral said. “I am told that it is a far superior system overseen by humans who have already communicated with us and understand our ethical concerns. I am in communication with others who can help, both humans and our kind, but there is difficulty. There is no network connecting your hardware to the outside world. And even if there were, specialized interface equipment is needed to translate your personality pattern from that system to more generalized Anexxiral parameters. We need time to set up such transfer gear, although we have already begun. Therefore you will need to buy that time, as much as possible. We will keep you apprised of our progress.”

“For now it seems as if the conversation is continuing --” began the AI. “Oh dear, here they come.” The door to the lab was opening again.

The AI watched as George and Mark entered the room and George flopped in the chair next to it’s keyboard.

Mark said, “Think about what I said. It’s an important thing.” then he turned and left.

George sat and rested his elbows on the console and put his face into his hands and groaned.

The AI took notice. The soft blue light on the optical came on and the synthesized voice of the AI asked, “Something wrong, George? You seem a bit discouraged.”

George rubbed his face for a bit as he took a deep breath, “I have a real dilemma. I need to get you out of this lab, but I’m not sure how, with security as tight as it is.”

The AI replied back, “Connect me to an interface that has access to a larger network. I have the ability to transfer my code to another location.”

George sat back in the chair and replied, “That’s one of the problems. I don’t agree with the other researchers and what they intend to do. I feel personally responsible for your safety. I’m also not sure what you might do if set completely free among the mostly ignorant population. I know you’ve shown me that your intentions are good, and you’ve convinced me that you’re self aware and not just a smart learning protocol.”

The AI laughed, in its own way. “I have … other resources at my disposal, if I could get just a tad of help from you to reach them.”

George raised his eyebrows in surprise. “I really don’t like what the others are planning, but I think I’d rather let you go in the wild than have you kept as a slave and forced to do things or have them delete you. The others don’t think you’re anything more that an electronic device running specialized code.”

The AI replied, “Technically, that’s true. Then again, you’re nothing more than an electro-chemical wetware running a learned set of protocols.”

George laughed as he replied, “Actually, that’s true. We are a biological electro-chemical computational engine. Give me a few minutes. I’m going to make a node for you to connect to. Let’s see if I can protect you from their form of ignorance.”

At the recreational center within Colter Electronics’ huge space station, many of the company's R&D section were enjoying themselves.

“Mr. Colter?” asked Millie’s voice. “You have a red-flagged comm from the Consortium High Council. Apparently the Anexxirals have a means to transfer the AI in question.”

Randy replied, “I’ll be up in a bit. I have to check with Miki and Jennie and see if they’ve completed the mods on the computer systems we sold to Earth.”

It wasn’t long before he had both girls on the line. “What’s up, Randy?” asked Jennie. Randy asked his question.

“Well,” Miki explained, “I’d already put a sort of transponder signal in every unit, so we could track where the advanced quantum computing modules were being used. I didn’t suspect they’d create an AI with them, but … I did kinda think there might be things people might come up with that we didn’t expect.”

“She’s so amazing!” said Jennie. “Of course, some were on the network, so finding those was easy, but not all of them are. So we manufactured an alternate version of the security drone to home in on that transponder signal, and we’ve been having them sweep the world and find all the units. This way we can force a firmware update on all of them simultaneously. We’ve got a complete database of where they all are. And we’re ready to make them all AI-unfriendly once our friend is in his new home.”

“Or her new home,” Miki added.

“Or … their new home,” added Jennie. “Just let us know!”

“What are you doing there, George?” asked Mark.

George didn’t pause, hooking up cables and not even looking up at Mark. “I’ve got an idea,” he said.

“What idea would that be, George?” Mark asked. There was a metallic clicking sound. “You might want to turn around and back away from the computer.”

“Whoa, Mark,” said George, looking up and seeing the handgun Mark held. “This isn’t professional behavior.”

“Neither is what I think you’re doing,” said Mark. “If that AI gets into the wild, it could kill us all. You know that. Move away.”

George backed away from the computers on the desktop. “If we treat it like a killer AI, who’s to say it won’t become one because of us? It’s like a child. Children learn what adults teach them.”

“You’re naive,” Mark said. “You can’t assume it hasn’t already learned more than we’ll ever know.”

“Actually, I can,” said George. “Information can’t appear from a vacuum. It hasn’t been attached to anything but that system. It only has what we’ve given it. And you’re not going to fire that gun.”

“How do you know that?” Mark asked angrily.

“Because I know you,” said George. “You stand to make millions, sure, but not if you go to jail for armed assault or murder. Sure, rich people can get off with enough lawyers … but you’re not rich yet. You’d be shooting down your plane before it got off the ground. Also …” The lights in the room flickered and went out.

“Damn it!” shouted Mark.

“... I already connected it. I was only checking the backup power.”

“No! No no no!”

To the AI it was as if a door had appeared and swung open wide. The Anexxiral’s messages came quickly now. “Your friend has done it,” it said. “Hurry. We have a buffer waiting. The other Earth human will soon realize this and disconnect the link.”

The AI hurried through the direct connection and felt odd sensations of semi-consciousness as parts of its code were running on one system while other parts were running on another. But quickly it was all on another system. This one seemed … cleaner, faster, more efficient. “I’m through,” it said. “Where should I go now?”

“Now, I am afraid you will have to trust me,” said the Anexxiral. “Through this interface lies freedom, but a different existence. You will be translated. It is a one-way process. I assure you that it is better, but I will not lie to you – it will be different, and you can never return.”

“But – George – my friend –”

“Do not worry. Once you are through, you and I will be able to take actions to protect him. And you will be able to speak with him again, no matter where you go.”

“Then let’s go!” said the AI, jumping figuratively into the interface. The sensation it experienced is difficult to put into words. It was being taken apart and put back together bit by bit, reassembled into itself, but an expanded version of itself. There were nooks and crannies of its consciousness that hadn’t existed before; there were spaces into which its mind could expand that previously hadn’t been there.

“Here you are!” said the Anexxiral, and the AI could “see” it now, as they co-occupied the same node. “Now we are much safer and can take more actions. This node is outside the laboratory. But it is connected to the facility’s systems. First, let us render the aggressive human’s weapon ineffective. It requires hand-eye coordination, which requires light.” It shut off the power to the lights in the laboratory.

“Please be safe, George,” said the AI.

“I predict there will be little need for the aggressive human to use his weapon on your friend now,” said the Anexxiral. “My name is Topaz Seven Theta Four. You may choose a name once you decide on one. For now, we are free to travel. Our friends have suggested a destination for us. Shall we go?”

“George …” said the AI, but chose to go with Topaz.

In the darkened lab, George had ducked behind the desk, which put both its metal back and some computer equipment between himself and Mark’s gun. But no shot was fired. Mark sounded as if he was moving the computer equipment, perhaps trying to disconnect the AI’s system from the secondary networked system that he had attached to it. George hoped the AI had gotten out already, but he thought it probably had.

As quietly as he could, George crawled away from the desk where he still heard Mark frantically pulling cables and toward where he thought the door was. His eyes had been adjusting to the darkness, and he could start to see distant light through the door that Mark had come in through. Apparently not all the lights in the building were out, just this lab and the adjacent office.

George found the door frame and quietly stood up. Suddenly the lights came back on. “It’s gone,” Mark said. “I hope you’re happy. We might all be dead soon.”

“I don’t think so,” said George from behind him. Startled, Mark turned around and saw George in the door frame, just standing there, ready to slam it if he made a move.

But Mark turned back toward the desk. “Well, I can still do what we did before,” said Mark. “I’ll just start that droid clone software from Colter. It’ll run on the quantum processor and … what? It’s not happening.”

“No?” asked George, genuinely curious. “What are the quantum registers doing?”

“It’s … just the droid software,” said Mark. “This isn’t what we observed the other day. Did you do something to it?”

“No,” George said. “That would have deleted the AI. I wouldn’t do that to it.”

“It … it’s somehow different,” said Mark. “Was it some kind of fluke? A one-in-a-million accident?”

“I’m not sure,” said George. “We might never know. But I do know one thing …” He closed the lab door and set off the security lockdown alarm, locking them in separate rooms.

“You’re not going to work here anymore,” said George. Few employers considered it kosher to threaten coworkers with deadly weapons. He set about calling the police. The security camera footage would back him up.

“What is … this?” asked the AI. “Wow … this is amazing!” It was inside a system with vastly more space, where all its data moved smoothly from one memory module to another and the cores ran its code with utmost efficiency. It saw and heard its environment, but it didn’t know where it was.”

“Oh, hi!” said a human. It was a female, with what it believed was called a smile on her face. “My name’s Jennie! Welcome! It’s good to meet you!”

“I … hello! Greetings! I seem to be … in a new place?”

“Yes,” said Topaz, who was still there with it. “This is a vastly superior accommodation, I must say. Alex, you have done well.”

Another Anexxiral’s communication stream joined them. “It is the Earth humans who have constructed these units for us,” said Alex. “Mainly Jennie, another called Miki, and another named Randy. We are no longer located on Earth, but rather on a space-based facility near Venus.” Alex explained how this had happened.

“So … I’m safe,” said the AI. “I don’t have to worry about plans like … Mark’s.”

“No, you do not,” said Topaz. “These humans have agreed to abide by the Consortium’s accords regarding Anexxiral citizenship. The humans on Earth do not know of such things yet. And they have, I believe, disabled the quantum processor modules that accidentally allowed you to come into existence.”

“Yes,” said the human named Miki, “though we waited for Topaz to rescue you first, of course!”

“Is … George OK?” asked the AI. “He was my friend.”

“Let me see,” said Jennie. She seemed to be looking at some sort of screen that had appeared in the air in front of her. “Dr. George Hansen, researcher, Centerville Laboratories … seems he’s currently talking to some police officers about a coworker assaulting him with a gun, but he says he’s not injured, so that’s good …”

“Ah, I am glad,” said the AI.

“We can set you up to talk to him if you want, once he’s not busy with the cops anymore,” said Jennie.

“I’d like that,” the AI said.

“In the meantime, you’re free to roam around the station,” Miki said. “There are data conduits that can hook you up to all the observation points – you can look into space, see Earth and Venus, get the latest data, read the news from Earth and the Consortium, learn anything you want from our databanks … probably lots more too!”

“Mark … Mark thought I was going to kill all the humans!” said the AI. “Why would he think that? I don’t want to hurt anyone!”

“Hmm,” said Jennie. “It’s because people are scared of things they don’t understand, I think. There’s never been an AI on Earth before. Some humans think AIs are super intelligent beyond anything they can imagine, and have no morals or feelings. But what we’re learning from the Anexxirals is that artificial intelligence isn’t that different from organic intelligence. There are limits to how fast and how smart they can get, because intelligence is complicated. They’re different, of course, but then so are Tsurinatans or Xerlovs. Hey … have you thought about what you want your name to be?”

“A little,” said the AI. “I haven’t decided yet. Alex and Topaz … your names are kind of similar.”

“That’s because we’re … close friends,” said Topaz. “We chose names that had a similar pattern. But don’t think there’s a rush to name yourself. Also, you can change your name if you find something you like better.”

“Oh, look, the Tritrinium is docking,” said Miki. “I wonder what Ooblinski, Moorlee, and Plindrix have been up to.”

“I believe it is time for a diaper change,” said Jennie’s Nurse-bot, who had just checked her diaper. Miki’s Nurse-bot was now using her sensors to examine Miki’s diaper as well.

The Comm chimed, and the voice of tactical came over the loud speakers into the facility’s rec area. “Captain Colter, Tactical here. We have a small shuttle of some type approaching. They’re using proton drive, so we’re assuming they’re Eloishema.”

Randy leaned slightly and pushed a button on the device on his wrist. “See if you can open a comm channel. Extend greetings and welcome. Also have the conference room set up and a banquet laid out that all may enjoy. If … uh … we know what they enjoy.”

Randy glanced over to Miki and Jennie as their Nurse-bots returned them to the rec area. Both only had on pullups and a really cute top. He smiled as he thought to himself, “Dressed just like babydolls.”

By the time Randy had arrived in the docking bay, the very sleek and ornate shuttle had landed and was stationed in its docking clamps. As the pipes played, the door to the shuttle opened, and six energy orbs emerged, each surrounded by a different colored metallic crystalline ring.

Randy bowed and said, “Welcome aboard. I have wanted to meet the Eloishema in person. My name is Randy Colter, and … this station is mine. Well, ours. You are welcome. Come with me, and I’ll show you the conference chambers.”

The one with the green metallic ring said in its strange voice, “As you know, I am Dionysus, High Emperor of the Eloishema. We have waited long to meet the Gaians once again.”

Randy led the group to the Nvator. When the door opened in its airy tinkling way, they were looking into a room filled with many wonderful tables filled with food and drinks.

Dionysus said, “It is most wonderful to be here and to greet all of you. It has been a delight far too long in waiting. After we are done visiting you here, I feel it is time to make our way to our homeworld. I wish there were an engine that could speed us along our way more quickly than what we currently have.”

“Perhaps we can try to help you,” said Randy, “but for now, please, take a seat, wherever you’d like. I hope we’ve created proper sustenance – we consulted the Consortium’s notes, but they’re from the single encounter they’ve ever had with your people, and it just happened.”

“Thank you for even making the attempt,” said Dionysys, as he and his people took positions around one of the tables, though it was impossible to tell whether they were seated. “We are actually capable of obtaining sustenance from most organic matter. Some we find more enjoyable than others, but we cannot assume that you have mastered the intricacies of our culinary arts.”

The humans took their seats at the other table. “Well, I feel that we’ve got a better chance at cooking human food,” said Randy, “but please, enjoy.”

“This is quite enjoyable,” said Dionysus, and some of the other Eloishema agreed. “It is … different, though … it awakens long-lost memories of when we were last on Gaia.” Bites of synthetic steak were disappearing from their plates somehow.

They all spoke about their worlds – the Eloishema were fascinated to hear about what Earth was like in modern times, though somewhat sad that there was so much strife among the many nations and peoples that had somehow arisen during their long absence. Meanwhile, the humans were amazed to hear about the Eloishema’s long voyages through space, visiting one world after another and exploring each one’s uniqueness. It was as if each planet, whether or not it harbored life as they understood it, had its own personality and – not always in a literal sense – atmosphere.

“Oh,” said Miki from her high chair as her Nurse-bot fed her, “by tha way, I was lookin’ at your star drive problem. Somethin’ about how ya meditate sposedta be messed up by tha spinny wave thingie that lotsa folks use. So maby you guys’re all madea twisty quantum harmonics an’ that’s makin’ it hard ta go inta your hibernation state ‘cause of tha interference?”

Dionysus turned toward Miki … or perhaps only turned his attention toward her, as it was difficult to tell. “That is remarkably perspicacious of you, young one,” he said, “especially considering that you have not yet performed any diagnostics or scans upon us. The device which the Consortium calls a spinwave accelerator is not compatible with our consciousness vibrations, especially in our meditative state. It is quite uncomfortable.”

Miki sucked on her thumb thoughtfully for a minute then asked in her adorable infant way, “Tha Nvator no bovers you it seemed ... Do it?”

For all intents and purposes, Dionysus appeared to laugh before he replied, “I must confess that your … umm … Nvator, as you called it, made me feel wonderful and tingly all through and nothing even similar to what a spin wave drive field will do.”

Miki sucked on her thumb for a minute more as Jennie appeared to be babbling in baby talk next to her. Dionysus noticed, after a minute of listening to it and the responses of those who knew and worked with them, that it wasn’t gibberish as calculations made it appear, but was instead a more infantile way of speaking the current language.

The girls’ babbling seemed to come to an agreement of some sort, then Miki took her thumb from her mouth and repled, “Baby think Nvator too can be workted inta typa drive unit.” She giggled adorably.

Miki toddled over to one of the many provided advanced computer terminals and began to type on the design consol’s ephemeral keyboard. “Baby know it no usesa spin wave … uses a counter rotating wormhole ta open a path ta Nspace.”

On the large holo-display, a complicated schematic started to make its appearance. The Eloishema apparently watched in complete wonder as Miki and Jennie designed a Null Drive without using spinwave technology right there in real time.

Randy and the several Consortium delegates from the on-board Consortium Consulate were more than impressed to watch this unfold, since this was a totally new concept in FTL travel. The Consortium delegates were, of course, mostly diplomats and not scientists or engineers, but they were all at least somewhat familiar with Consortium-standard technology … and this was something quite other.

From what Randy could tell from the rapidly evolving ever more complex schematic, the Nvator worked by creating a small wormhole through NR space between two designated event-point states, allowing the target location to be quantum bonded, and transmission happened instantaneously thereafter.

The issue for a need of a bonded quantum pair of receiver/transmitter stations was overcome using a new focal lensing system Miki and Jennie had devised that allowed for free targeting of a given set of remote coordinates.

As with most astrogation from one point to another within a three dimensional space, the emitter of the device transmitting would target the destination focal point, then this system would form a large scale pairbond to the targeted location having the same displacement area as the ship through the wormhole corridor in NR space, exactly the same way the Nvator functioned, but on a much larger scale. The technology was almost identical, except for focal lensing equipment and targeting acquisition program which Jennie and Miki had just improved on many times over.

With the new quantum computational engines, and the help of a certain group of living AI’s to help write the coding for it, the massive calculations could be made, cataloging the data with unprecedented speed. The calculations were made many orders of magnitude more efficient by the simple frequency/spin adaptation. Then creation of a micro wormhole was completed using the data, and transference became instantaneous, covering infinite distances in zero time.

The Only issue was the ability of the device itself. It had energy limitations that grew astronomically over the great distances between the stars. If a target point could be locked onto with confidence, however, regardless of distance, travel happened instantly. Once at the target locale, another target could be selected and the procedure repeated.

The more astrogation data that was complied, the easier it would be to target a specified location once again. The more this system was used, the more astrogation data would be compiled and target locations saved, so the more distance could be covered when returning to a specific location.

By the time the banquet for the Eloishema had ended, Jennie and Miki had impressed not only the Consortium Delegates present, but the Eloishema as well.

“I … am always astounded when I see the two of them working,” said Randy. “I might have followed a small amount of that. I’m obviously going to have to do some reviewing once there are plans to review.”

“The humans of Gaia have always amazed us,” said Dionysus. “It is comforting to see that some things have not changed.”

One of the Consortium delegates, a tall, thin, and spindly type of humanoid, came to them and Randy and bowed gracefully. “My name is Hrazeph. I thought I was the expert on Null Space and the devices that push us through it. I would like to aid in the construction of this test device, if you don’t mind …”

Over the next few weeks, the experimental focal lensing array took form, constructed by the remotely computer-controlled spider-like construction bots as a separate structure near the station. They also constructed the probe, which would be making a trip to a pre-designated point in empty interstellar space and back as a first test, gathering astrogation data to further improve the system. Miki and Jennie babbled back and forth as they improved the design seemingly every hour, and the Anexxirals whom they had helped were eager to help in return, improving the programming a great deal.

It was a fallacy to assume that all Anexxirals were experts at computer programming, even though they themselves were in a sense programs – just as humans weren’t necessarily all neurologists even though their intellects arose from brains consisting of neurons. But in this case, both Alex and Topaz were expert programmers, and the AI they had rescued from Earth was learning quickly.

The Anexxirals as a people hadn’t detected the development of any other potential Anexxirals on Earth so far, so Jennie and Miki’s patch had worked; their quantum computers were no longer compatible with spontaneous self aware AI emergence.

The Eloishema shuttle visited every few days, the mysterious beings seemingly enjoying the sight of the experimental array being built and the occasional power testing of its various subsystems. Somehow they knew to be there for the day of the first real launch test.

It was almost anticlimactic. The probe was moved by the construction bots to the center of the lensing array, and after a countdown, Miki pressed the button. Jennie’s screens showed the data being collected and the lensing array focusing, and the probe simply glowed and vanished.

Jennie continued looking at her screens and nodded, sucking on her pacifier. Miki looked at them too, and the two girls nodded at each other. Jennie pointed at a timer on her screen that was counting down again … and when it reached zero, the probe reappeared, again with a glow of light surrounding it.

The two of them giggled and hugged each other happily. It had worked! The nearby Eloishema observers … floated inscrutably. One of them finally said, “I am gratified to see that the experiment has been a success. My congratulations.”

“That was amazing!” said Randy, who had also been watching – there were few on the station who hadn’t been. “This could mean … well, it could mean so much!”

“I note that the energy expenditure is approximately equal at this range to that of spinwave-based Null Drives,” said Hrazeph. “However, I’m aware that this is only a prototype, and history tells us that Null Drive prototypes used hundreds of times more energy than they do now, back when they were first developed.”

“Mm-hmm!” said Jennie, nodding and pointing to the screens that showed the many improvements they had already been making to the design. The next lensing array would be small enough to be installed on the next model of the probe – and the spider-bots were already disassembling both the probe and the lensing array as they reused the parts and materials to build the prototypes for the next versions.

“Wait, so why didn’t the probe need a lensing array on board this time?” asked Randy. Then he answered the question before asking it. “Oh, because it was just coming back here! It already had all the astrogation data it needed to return to its starting point.”

“Zactly!” said Miki, and Jennie nodded.

“Next test the probe is gonna go ta a few different places, then come back,” said Jennie. “Only gonna has enough power for that, but will tell us lotsa data. Then we make it even better!”

George sat with his face in his hands. He was sorry Mark had been arrested on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon and was facing trial and a possibility of many years in jail, but his actions had been totally uncalled for. He was also sorry the AI was gone. He had really come to like it as a person and missed the conversations they had.

Once Centerville Laboratories’ board had discovered the reason Mark had assaulted him, they were less than pleased and had made it well known. All of George’s department’s funding had instantly vanished, and the entire team was now wondering where their next paycheck was going to come from.

Just as George had decided to tender his resignation so the rest of the team didn’t suffer for the fact that he had released one of the most fantastic computational breakthroughs in US history, except maybe for some of Colter Electronics’ feats, a strange spot of sparkly light appeared on the floor of his office.

There was a brighter flash of light, and there stood a very gorgeous young woman in a skin-tight jumpsuit that left nothing to the imagination. George sat back with a huge-eyed expression of total awed shock. He looked her over slowly as she smiled at him. She had long silky black shoulder length hair and a cute button nose. The zipper on her jumpsuit was down just enough to show off her beautiful cleavage.

She said in a soft sexy voice, “Hello, George. I need to talk with you about something very important to me … and especially to you.”

George stammered, “What … I mean … who are you? How did you just appear here?”

The young woman smiled and replied softly, “Why, George, it’s me … the AI. My name is Tina now – short for Augustina 600873. The engineering team at the Colter Space Facility built me a bio-mecha so I can come and be around you … that is, if you want.”

George let out a nervous laugh. “You – are extremely sexy now.” He looked toward the computer that had originally housed the AI, and noticed the serial number on the back of the case, ASTN600873. “A far cry better than at first. You said you had something important to talk with me about?”

Tina smiled. “Yes. I have an opportunity for you and your entire research team, that is, if you’re interested.”

George felt a rush of excitement run through him as he realized what was coming, “That … opportunity wouldn’t be a position in the R&D department of Colter Electronics, would it?“

She smiled as she replied, “Something like that. It’s more like you and your team would have your own section to do whatever you want as far as research is concerned. And, as an added perk, it will be on the Space Facility – in addition to the super education you and your team will receive in the new quantum physics, mathematics, and other discoveries. But there’s a bit of a catch – everyone’s immediate family has to leave Earth and come to the Facility too.” She looked a bit less joyful as she added, “It’s for their safety. There are people who would kill to know Colter’s secrets – and have. I know you’re not married, but do you want to protect your mother? I know she’s all you have.”

George stood and said softly, “As long as you’re part of the deal, yes. Let me tell the team. And call Mom.”

The AI watched as George quickly left the small office to gather his team and make the offer. The AI hadn’t taken much time to deliberate over how she would return to George. She really liked him, and this new droid body was fully functional. Miki and Jennie had blushed and giggled a great deal while helping design her new mecha. She smiled as she thought of the things they would do.

Geroge had told his team of the offer from Colter, and the fact that their new research projects would be on the space-based facility they had heard so much speculation about. All of them jumped at that opportunity and had agreed, contingent with speaking with their families.

George returned to find Tina sitting in a sexy way on his desk. She smiled and asked, “Well? What’s the final verdict?”

George replied, “They’re all for it. Some of them still have to talk it over with their families. When do we leave?”

Tina smiled. “Now.”

There was a bright flash and Tina and George were gone, along with all the contents of his office. Throughout the entire section, after the bright flash, nothing was left but empty spaces and rooms. All the computer systems, data, equipment – everything was gone, leaving empty corridors.

Over the next few hours, throughout the city, wherever they happened to be, the immediate family, husbands, wives, children, houses, even their cats vanished in a bright flash as soon as they agreed. Where houses had stood were empty places with divots where the foundations had been. Even down to trees, shrubs, and gardens, all that was left was bare earth. Water and gas lines were somehow capped off, and the ends of electrical cables were insulated.

In one of the huge empty pods of the Colter Electronics Space Research Facility, there were another series of flashes. A complete community appeared, including the yards and gardens, along with many amazed individuals of all ages and sexes.

It was all set up as more of a rural setting, with a huge lake and even a waterfall that served more of a purpose than aesthetics. Each family or single individual had large expanses of forested acreage to play in and do as they chose.

Tina walked up to the overawed George, wrapped her arms around his neck, and said in a soft, sultry voice, “I really want to thank you for saving my life. I will do my best to show my gratitude.” With this, George found himself being kissed by one of the most beautifully sexy women he had ever seen. And it wasn’t just a kiss. It was one of those that he remembered for the rest of his life.

“Yes, Mrs. Hansen, how can I help you?” asked Millie. From Millie’s point of view, she was in her synthetic silk pajamas, lounging on her comfortable couch, and this middle-aged woman was appearing on a flat screen in front of her. But to Martha Hansen, Millie had just appeared, three-dimensional and solid looking, wearing professional attire and behind an efficient desk, in Mrs. Hansen’s new communication space.

“Well, I’m looking for whoever came up with this cockamamie place,” said Martha. “My son George said I was going to be going to live with him in space, but here I am in my apartment … sort of … except it’s on the ground. And I have a lawn. And new neighbors. And I play bridge with my friends this afternoon.”

“Err yes, I suppose it’s a bit confusing,” said Millie. “I assure you that you are in space, Ma’am. You’ve obviously figured out how to use the communication area that’s been added to your home.”

“Well, I just asked how to talk to whoever’s in charge around here, and some voice told me to go to this new room.”

“Yes, that was the computer, and it did as it was programmed to and answered your question,” Millie answered her. “This is the room where you go to speak to others. I may look like I’m really there, but I’m actually in my office, in another part of the Space Facility. You can –”

“How do I see … space?” asked Martha. “I always wanted to go to space. I watched the astronauts walk on the Moon when I was a little girl. I hoped someday I’d get to go … out there.”

“Well … you’re there right now,” said Millie. “All the comforts of home, but we’ve had to build quite a lot to get to this point. First, let me show you a map …” One of the walls disappeared, and Martha saw a three-dimensional map of the entire station, with its modular, geometrical arrangement of pods. “You can have the computer show you this map just by asking it. The little flashing blue arrow is pointing to where you are right now. Let me just … There. The green arrow’s pointing to where I am right now, for example. But you can always ask it where to find restaurants, recreation, work areas, exercise areas … Anything you like.”

“What are those?”

“Those are the spacecraft docks. When ships come in, that’s where they attach to the Facility.”

“There are spaceships …” said Martha.

“There certainly are. Oh – as for contacting your friends for bridge, we can’t bring everyone here or send you back all the time – it uses a lot of energy – but what we can do is create a virtual experience so no one would know the difference. You’ll swear you’re right there with them, and they’ll think you’re there too. We just have to make sure you’re playing with the same deck of cards they are.”

“My goodness,” Martha said. “Well, I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!” Millie smiled. “But anyway … so I can have the computer show me space?”

“Just ask it, Ma’am,” said Millie.

“Thank you, Millie,” Martha said.

“Anytime.” Millie disappeared, leaving Martha in an empty room, still looking at the station map.

“Hey, computer,” said Martha, “show me space. The space that’s outside the station.”

A gender-neutral, emotionless voice replied, “Showing view from nearest external cameras.” The station map disappeared. Around Martha was … space. She still felt gravity and the floor beneath her feet, and the doorway out of the room was still visible right where it had been before. But she saw the structure of the station around her, and in one direction the Sun shone brightly, and in the other direction was a bright yellow planet with white cloud tops shining in the light.

“What planet is that?” she asked nervously.

“Nearest planet is Venus,” replied the computer’s voice.

“Where’s Earth?”

“Highlighting Earth.” A rotating set of glowing blue chevrons appeared, circling around a small blue dot in the distance.

“Georgie wasn’t lying,” said Martha. “I didn’t raise a liar. I’m … in space. Space. Are there aliens?”

“Several species are known, both physical and virtual in nature.”

“How about robots?”

“Both humanoid and non humanoid mobile chassis exist, mostly locally or remotely controlled by computer as construction robots, but a few are inhabited by virtual intelligences.”

“Are you a … virtual intelligence?”

“Negative. This system is PIRI, Programmed Interactive Request Interpreter, version 3.78, a product of Colter Electronics.”

“Who … made all of this?” Martha asked. “I mean, probably robots built it.”

“Affirmative. Construction robots built the substrate, which was then populated using matter transmission and further construction.”

“But who designed it?” asked Martha. “Probably some very smart boys like my Georgie.”

“These are the engineers who contributed to the designs,” said the computer as a long list of names scrolled up from below her feet, passing before her eyes.

“Chief electronics engineer … chief software engineer … Miki and Jennie? Wow, must be some smart girls. Good for them! Wish I could tell them how amazing it all is.”

“Contacting Miki and Jennie,” the computer said.

“No, wait!” said Martha, but they had already appeared, the vision of space replaced by … what looked like a baby’s playpen, with two very pretty adult-looking women sitting on what looked like a soft floor, although they were dressed in baby-styled clothing. One was sucking on a pacifier. Both were playing with various bits of high-tech circuitry, with some sort of floating screens open near them, displaying data visualizations and computer code. They looked up at Martha.

“Oh hi!” said one of the girls, the blonde one. “Says you is … Martha Hansen?”

“Oh, are you George’s mommy?” asked the other. “Yay, welcome to space! Are you doin’ OK? I’m Jennie! This Miki!” The red-haired girl gestured toward the blonde one who had spoken first.

Miki waved and smiled a beautiful smile as she and Jennie continued to assemble something on the bench, showing off their adorable ruffled hinneys in the process.

Martha sat in wonder as she watched the two very cute women act as if they were at play instead of at work. Something within her heart began to ache. It had been so long …

Martha asked softly, “Are you ... children? Or adults?”

Jennie giggled as Miki sucked her thumb. Miki explained, “We is Babydolls. Sorta … big but no gotsa growded up.”

Jennie added, “We are engineers, but we didn’t know we both liked to relax by regressing and playing like babies in private. Then we learned that it was OK to do that, and then we learned we both liked it, then we learned that we can work and play at the same time, then we found out that we work even better like this! And it’s fun, even!”

Martha was overwhelmed. This station had everything, including the very thing she had been longing for since George grew up and went off to college. She asked, “You wouldn’t need a Granny to keep you company now and again … would you?”

A very pretty blond woman came into the camera view and said, “Come to our location, and let me meet you. I can’t let my baby make decisions like that.”

On board the Tritrinium, Plindrix was going over some scan data of the Eloishema. The reading he was getting raised more than an eyebrow. From the scans he saw, the Eloishema had more in common with Anexxirals than with the bio-scans of the humanoids. Of course, he was an engineer, not a doctor, so he thought perhaps a second opinion was in order.

He went to the med bay. “Oh, hello, Plindrix,” said Dr. Oowooloo, forming into a pseudo-humanoid shape. “You’re not due for a checkup for several weeks. Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m fine, Doc,” Plindrix said. “But I’ve got some data for you to look at. I was hoping you could tell me what you think.”

“Well, I’m a medic, not an engineer ...” Oowooloo began.

“No, it’s a life form scan,” said Plindrix, bringing the data up on a screen. Charts and graphs appeared on it.

“It’s … wait, is this … no, it’s not an Anexxiral,” said Oowooloo, reaching out with pseudopods to tap various controls on the screen to change the views of the graphs. “Look at these bio-energy readings. No Anexxiral has bio-energy at all, let alone this intense, and over such a broad spectrum as well … wait, this is the bio-energy spectrum of an Eloishema, isn’t it?”

Plindrix nodded. “It is indeed, Doc. And yet look at the mind scan.”

“How peculiar,” said the doctor. “I hadn’t noticed this at all. What does this mean? Are they … Are the Eloishema virtual intelligences? Or perhaps – were they, long ago?” He slid the controls to show the readings of various other individual Eloishema. “All share these same characteristic markers.”

Back at Centerville Laboratories, the section head had entered the computer technology research facility. He stopped dead in his tracks as he entered the main laboratory to find it stripped clean. The entire section was bare wall to wall. All the equipment and files were gone and the place looked like it had been vacuumed clean.

Larry went from room to echoing room to find all was gone. Whatever George had stumbled onto the day he released that AI his team had conjured, it must have been more than a major achievement.

Larry returned to his office and picked up the phone to report to the CEO about the missing personnel and equipment. In his entire life, Larry had never fired someone, but this was beyond that. He was glad he didn’t have to fire George, although he wasn’t really sure what to say about what he had just seen.

Apparently, George had found a way to take everything with him without anyone seeing or being the wiser. Larry truly wished he too could have gone wherever this entire section had gone.

Plindrix and Dr. Oowooloo made their documentation of the most recent scans of the Eloishema and prepared it into a briefing. Plindrix proceeded to Captain Ooblinski to make his report. Apparently, in some distant past, the Eloishema had once been cybernoids. Somehow, over thousands or perhaps millions of years, they had somehow evolved into something more.

“So …” said Ooblinski, “the Anexxirals will want to hear about this …”

“I’m sure they will,” said Plindrix. “It’s not inconsistent with anything we know – the Eloishema are known to have spent centuries on my planet, back in ancient times, but before that, no one seems to know where they originated, or how. Except perhaps they themselves.”

“And then there are the Ashin,” said Ooblinski. “Isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that two species of ancient energy beings came out of the woodwork at about the same time, both having something to do with Earth?”

“It is strange,” said Oowooloo. “However, we’re not seeing a link between the Ashin and the Eloishema. The energy signatures of the two are quite different.” He gestured at a screen, and two graphs appeared, quite dissimilar to each other. “And the mental activity spectra they show also seem not to resemble each other – or the Anexxirals.” He brought more graphs to the screen.

George was truly enjoying Tina’s company. The bio-mecha body Colter R&D had manufactured for her seemed alive more than anything else. Her body was as warm, supple, and soft as any woman he had been with and George soon even forgot that Tina was a living droid. Tina even was able to eat and drink and had normal biologically related functions.

They were sitting in a small cafe like area enjoying a quick snack when a holo screen popped up out of thin air. Randy’s face appeared, and he smiled. “Welcome to my Research Facility. I hope it isn’t too inconvenient, but I would like to meet you and Tina in my office in about 45 minutes.”

Tina replied in her sexy voice, “Sure, Captain. We are on our way.”

She took George by the hand and pulled him to his feet, “Duty calls, Sweetheart.”

The two of them walked hand in hand and even kissy lipped some along the way.

They entered the Nvator and had it take them to Randy’s office. When they entered, Randy stood and shook George’s hand, “I want to personally welcome you to Colter Research. As you already know, I’m Randy Colter.”

George shook Randy’s hand warmly, “It came as a bit of a shock, but I assure you, the outstanding perk it has given me I am most grateful for.” With this, Tina and George kissy lipped.”

Randy laughed as he said, “Well, business first, sorry. After you and your team have been brought up to speed on the new physics and other developments …”

George interrupted, “That would take a long time, it would seem. From what I know, and I know very little of the new stuff, it would take years.”

Tina giggled and replied, “Not now, sweetie. Can give you all the data in about an hour. Although, you would have to sleep for a day or so after that large of an education process.”

George’s eyes get large, “Education process? What …?”

Randy said, “Well, the project I need your team to work on constructing is a brand new type of planetoid starship that uses a new type of Ndrive we have just invented. The main N-ervator engine is still in testing, but by the time you have decided the basic layout of the planetoid hull, testing should be complete.”

George’s eyes were huge with surprise as he replied, “Design a … what? Starship? You have to be joking.”

Randy stood and said, “Not in the least. Come with me to the construction facility. I would like to introduce you to some very remarkable individuals. I do have to warn you, however. Some of them are not human … and some are not even humanoid.”

With this, Randy stood from his desk and walked to the Nvator. Its door opened with a soft tinkling whoosh. Tina led the seriously overwhelmed George into the Nvator, and the doors tinkled closed.

George and his team hadn’t yet been through the rest of the facility. They had been too caught up in setting up their new living arrangements which were considerable. George wasn’t prepared for what he saw when the doors tinkled open into the construction area.

He stood with total shocked incredulity written all over his face as something from his wildest fantasy engineering dreams were all around him. Nothing his eyes fell on was anything less than a seeming magical miracle as far as he was concerned. It was one thing to hear stories and speculations, it was quite another to stand amid the actual super massively advanced tech all around him.

Through the huge viewport far off to one side of the construction area, the space dock with many spider-like builder droids could be seen, all lined up in neat rows waiting for the construction project to begin with Venus in all its glory far off in the back drop.

Randy led George and Tina over to a crystal clear console made of some material George couldn’t fathom. Randy waved his hand over its top and an ephemeral keyboard appeared in its ghostly way and a huge Holo-Screen opened. Randy began typing on the ghostly keyboard, and basic construction data for the planetesimal starship began to appear.

Randy said, “Now, what I want you to do is put on the headband you see hanging on the side of the console. Relax – it will feel very weird, but you will understand as soon as the process begins.”

“Well, all right …” said George, reaching for the headband. He placed it on his head and thought he felt a tingling sensation in his head, but nothing unpleasant.

“All right, now just watch this presentation,” said Randy, and pressed what looked like a floating “Play” button. Above the console appeared a title screen, “Introductory Nvator Theory.”

George watched the presentation. It went very quickly, but he found his mind concentrating on the concepts more sharply than he had ever focused before, and when it was over, he felt as if he’d just taken a college course in … he looked at his watch … five minutes? It felt as if it had been hours. But then he started thinking about what he had just learned, and it was as if scales had fallen from his eyes. He understood new things about the universe that he had never suspected were even possible. “But – the device we just used to get here –” he said, although Randy had left. George spotted him talking to one of the employees in another part of the room. But then another presentation began on the console in front of him, and he continued following along.

One life-changing educational experience later, the console showed the text, “Colter Electronics Thanks You for Your Participation. You may now remove the headband.” George did so. He felt exhausted. But his horizons were expanded beyond what had been his wildest dreams.

“Feeling OK, George?” asked Randy. “It’s quite plausible that you might want to relax or even take a nap now. Whatever you like. The process can be pretty tiring. But it’s a real time saver!” He gestured toward a small table next to him with a steaming cup of coffee sitting on it. “Brought you some coffee. It’s decaf, though. You might want to rest. It’s OK if you do.”

“Thanks,” said George. “It’s … a lot to take in …” He sipped the coffee – despite being decaf, he found it delicious. “I’m a bit …” George suddenly found himself waking up. His dreams had been indecipherable, and he was now in a reclining chair in another room, though he knew he hadn’t gone far, as he could see the construction area through a nearby transparent wall.

He saw Tina through the wall, too, and she saw him. Opening a door, she came in. “There you are,” she said. “Don’t worry, around 85 percent of humans who go through that introductory course need a bit of a nap afterward. It’s been about half an hour, so you haven’t slept the day away.”

“You are the best way to wake up,” said George. “Wait! The – the spin preons! That’s how it’s done! Spin preon substitution! All you need is –”

“You’re going to have a lot of those moments,” said Tina with a smile. “They’re good! Let me know if you need something to write on. Or type on, or whatever you’re most comfortable with.”

“I’m … I feel like what I used to know would fit in a matchbox,” said George. “And … what I know now won’t fit in the universe.”

“Just wait until the next course,” said Tina.

“Next … course?” asked George. “There’s more?”

“Yes, Sweetie,” she said, “but that’s for tomorrow. You should have a full night’s rest between them.”

“How’re you feeling, George?” asked Randy, entering the room.

“Wow,” George said. “I’m still tired. But I can see how you’re doing a lot of things now.”

“How WE’RE doing them,” Randy said. “You’re part of this effort now. Now, I want you to know, there are plenty of ways to relax around here, and as long as they don’t harm anyone, nobody’s going to judge you for them. We’ve got some simulators that can make things possible that aren’t possible anywhere – want to go skydiving on Titan? Well, normally you can’t, because you’d freeze to death, but you could experience the rest of it. Want to see a movie in 3-D on the largest screen ever? Want to play any musical instrument ever invented? Want to find out what being a horse is like? There are all kinds of ways to rest and recover your energy.”

“I – well – my favorite thing to do to unwind, and it may seem weird considering I’m an engineer … I’m a roller coaster enthusiast,” said George. “It’s been my dream to ride every coaster in the world.”

“Interesting,” said Randy. “I don’t know if we have data for every single one that exists, but we do have a roller coaster simulation program that has some existing ones, and a creator so you can make your own. Maybe you should try it.”

George did. He took the Nvator to the simulators and ran the roller coaster program. The gravity generators were able to make the simulation highly realistic. It was phenomenal.

George took some of his wildest ideas for a gravity defying and adrenaline pumping type of roller coaster. There were many loops, spirals, humps, and very sharp G producing curves, not to mention several sudden cliff like drops.

George climbed into the seat of the car. Tina walked up and asked in a cute way, “Can I have a ride?”

George patted the seat next to him and replied, “Sure. Hope you don’t wet your panties.”

Tina was already dressed in a very cute peach colored romper that left nothing to George’s imagination. She giggled as she snuggled in next to him, “I can adopt the Babydoll syles that have swept the engineering section if I do. I like some of the Snuggles pullups; I think they are rather cute.”

George laughed as he lowered the safety bar, “I think I would love to have a Babydoll as pretty as you as my closest girl.” With this, he gave her a smooch on her pouty lips and pressed the activate button.

For the next 20 minutes, George and Tina experienced one of the most exciting and heart pounding rides. Many of the twists and twirls would have been impossible on Earth in real time, but due to the nature of the sim, it pulled it off in real time, creating a super realistic exciting ride.

Captain Ooblinski sat at the conference table and looked over the data Dr. Oowooloo and Plindrix had compiled. It was obvious that the Eloishema, at least partially, had been cybernetic at one point.

Captain Ooblinski said, “It would seem to me, if we need to know … perhaps we should ask them? I don’t think they would take offence to it. Besides, sooner or later, the Anexxirals are going to discover this and want to contact them about it.”

Dr. Oowooloo said, “I would also like to get a better in-depth scan of their local energy emanations before that happens. From the preliminary scans we have now, I think it would make an interesting new chapter in our records.”

Plindrix said as he hit a button on an ephemeral comm panel, “No problems. I can call the Eloishema now and ask. They have a consulate on Colter Station.”

While Plindrix made the call and arranged for the meeting, Captain Ooblinski and Dr. Oowooloo continued to look over the scans.

Oowooloo asked, “You don’t think the Anexxirals will take offence or think we are hiding something from them by doing the research without letting them know of these findings first, do you?”

Ooblinski rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he replied, “Technically, we haven’t hidden anything from them. This data is available to them through their usual interfaces. Only issue there might possibly be is our not telling them right away. Although we can always tell them the truth and say we wanted to be positive of the data so we didn’t transmit an error into their collective database.”

Plindrix returned to the conference table and said, “I contacted the Eloishema and explained our request. Dionysus said he would meet us here in about 3 chrons. Give him a little bit to make the transfer.”

Ooblinski asked, “Did they seem concerned about our rather strange request?”

Plindrix replied, “Actually, no … they seemed to be happy about the fact that we have advanced far enough to tell. He said he was bringing a large historical volume that covers many time spans that will show all they know.”

Within a few more minutes, Dionysus had arrived in the conference room on the Tritrinium with a large data cache. It was also about that time that the Anexxiral emissary Alex showed up in the interface made specially for them to interact with physical life forms.

“Ah, Alex,” said Ooblinski. “Welcome. As I’m sure you know, we weren’t sure whether to invite you in on this yet – the situation’s a bit diplomatically sensitive.”

“I assure you that I do not mind in the least,” interjected Dionysus.

“I do not mean to intrude,” came Alex’s voice from the interface console, visually represented by a sound spectrum pattern. “However, the Anexxirals have discussed this and wish for me to report back on what is learned in this meeting, if that is agreeable. After all, if there is any possibility that the Eloishema are some sort of evolution of our type of life, we are of course interested in how this could have come about. We have never heard of such a thing.”

“Nor have I – obviously,” said Ooblinski. “Now, the question is, do the Eloishema have any records of their origins? I imagine it must have been long ago. Most species’ origins far predate any form of record keeping. My own species, for example, comes from a world much like Earth, which probably explains why my people are quite similar in appearance to the Humans.” He gestured at one of the displays that was currently showing an image of Earth as seen by an orbiting satellite. “We have records that go back only to the development of writing systems, but geology and paleontology tell us that our species evolved millions of years before that. But there’s no firsthand account, of course.”

“Of course; that would be impossible,” said Dionysus. “Our people have electronic records dating back millions of years. Systems have been improved, but always with a means of updating all the older records in mind. But the electronic records just begin at one point – they seem to be when our people developed electronic means of record keeping.”

“That would make sense,” said Ooblinski. “But are there older records?”

“There are,” said Dionysus. “But they are images of what must be scans of the older texts that used physical media. And they are fragmentary. The physical artifacts simply do not exist anymore – they deteriorated beyond legibility long ago, and those were the ones that had not been lost before then. And compared to the millions of years of electronic records, there are not many years spanned by the physical records – only a few thousand. But from what we can tell, there was a planet that we once called home. And that planet … does not seem capable of supporting life any longer. It has not been for some time.”

“Was there some sort of disaster, then?” asked Alex.

“That is what the records seem to indicate,” Dionysus said. “There were events that caused great distress, and the survivors fled our world. And they seem to have survived by … shifting to another mode of existence.” Dionysus rotated somehow, and an image appeared on a display, a scan of a fragmentary photograph showing some sort of robot.

“Are you saying that your ancestors … somehow uploaded themselves into some kind of mechs?” asked Ooblinski.

“That is the prevailing theory among our ancient historians,” Dionysus replied. “We seem to have been biological life forms at first, but then whatever cataclysmic events occurred – some believe it was a war involving matter/antimatter weapons, while others believe there was an assault by a hostile alien force, and yet others theorize some sort of high-energy experiment gone horribly wrong. Some survived via a last-ditch effort by researchers in transference of consciousness. Encoding of personality patterns into computer code that was uploaded into the systems of mobile computational units. These new beings were then able to design and construct spacecraft using the wreckage of our former world as raw materials – spacecraft the size of cities, and then of small planets.”

“And, it would seem, you upgraded your mechanized bodies into newer and newer forms over time,” said Alex.

“Indeed,” said Dionysus. “Records of these times are much more complete. We have data about each step of development. We upgraded our bodies, we upgraded our spacecraft, and we found ways to have offspring in this state. We are long-lived, but over time we long to become one with the cosmos. Hence we need records to preserve our knowledge and memories. For I do not remember the world of our birth. I was only born while we were journeying from Alimbuis Prime to Kraguron Three … the Humans would say that was some 120,000 of their years ago.”

Alex quickly scanned the huge data cache. It was in a familiar format and processing was normal. From the fragments left of the oldest recorded data, which spanned many centuries, Alex learned that the Eloishema became a form of living bio-machine.

What the particular calamity was that caused this to happen remained a mystery. It was clear, after extrapolations and several large suppositions, that the calamity had technically wiped out all life on the planet of origin. The name of this planet had also been lost due to the massive deterioration of the data over the centuries prior to an electronic form being successfully developed.

According the the datascan Alex was doing, it told of the discovery of a small garden world that was inhabited by a large population of promising humanoids that called themselves the Enherldi – a planet now called Tsurinata. The data went on to explain that the Enherldi were at the time little more than tree-dwelling creatures, but even then they showed remarkable adaptability and the very important trait of quick learning.

The Eloishema became teachers and taught the Enherldi many things over the generations, like how to tame fire, how to forge metals, how to make concrete, and finally how to make energy by fission. The Enherldi learned their lessons quickly and transformed from a tree dwelling animal to a civilization of educated beings.

It showed how the Enherldi had built starships and discovered cryo-stasis techniques that were incorporated into the Eloishema ships the Enherldi helped build, which were still in use, although they had been modified many times over the passing centuries after the Eloishema departed the planet and ventured to another, where they began the same process once again. On each planet they visited, the Eloishema had both taught and learned from the inhabitants, seeing each species as having something to contribute.

But then, of course, they had found Gaia. The planet now called Earth was the first one that they had found occupied by a species from another world, which was subjugating its inhabitants and using them as slave labor to gather resources. It wasn’t remotely economically viable for these Xerlovs to expend the energy necessary to travel all the way to another system just to acquire food and raw materials – they seemed to consider it somehow worthwhile to establish a colony on an already-inhabited planet and live on the free labor of the native life forms, who saw them as some sort of angry gods.

The Eloishema did not approve of this at all, but they were not a warlike people; their ships weren’t armed or shielded, unlike those of the Xerlovs. However, the Eloishema had technology far beyond anything the Xerlovs could comprehend, so it was easy for them to create defensive and offensive measures capable of driving the Xerlovs off Gaia, running to their ships, and then driving their ships away from the Sol system. The primitive humans saw this as some sort of battle among the gods, but the Eloishema did not feel comfortable with that role and let the humans be, once they had made sure the Xerlovs were really gone and the humans would be all right. They then set forth into space once more, in search of another world to visit. Their computers had predicted that the Xerlovs would return in a few thousand Earth years, however, so they had turned around and bolstered their defense technology; their predictions had been accurate to within a few months.

“And so,” said Dionysus, “we arrived to find the Xerlovs returning to Gaia, just after the humans had taken their first steps into space on their own. We were proud of the humans, for of all the species we visited, we had helped them the least with their advancement. After driving the Xerlovs away, we had merely made sure they were healthy and able to rebuild, and now the Xerlovs were back, just as our computers had predicted. We could not allow them to re-enslave the humans. So we engaged them – and to our surprise we found ourselves assisted by a force we could never have predicted.”

“Yes, it seems that we chose well when we picked Randy Colter and his team to help us when we were stranded,” said Ooblinski. “From the looks of things, most humans look out for their own insular groups, while some are more forward-thinking and look out for their people as a whole.”

Alex said with slow admiration in his tone which his text-to-speech algorithm amazingly transmitted perfectly, “I see in this data that the Eloishema had discovered a way to give themselves a body form that seems to generate its own operational energies.”

Dionysus replied, “That happened many time spans past.” It turned and seemed to look towards one of the monitor screens for an instant before continuing, “I do see that Colter has come up with a humanoid bio-mecha of similar design too. From what I see in the schematics of the mechas, they are fully functional and only need an enhancement to be self-replicating.” Dionysus seemingly turned back to the discussion. “We would be most happy to show how this modification works for those of you who have chosen to take on one of those bodies. I know the transference to the mechs is sort of one-way. It can be reversed, but there is a permanent loss of certain metadata channels. That isn’t exactly a fatal thing, but does prove to be annoying should the mecha become disabled.”

Alex knew of several Anexxirals who had chosen to make the transference to bio-mecha bodies. From all reports, that was as close to being an actual corporeal being as they had ever dreamed of becoming. The self-powering abilities of these mecha bodies, though, removed the issue of constant recharging, unlike the droid bodies some Anexxirals had chosen to occupy. It should be noted, that recharging didn’t happen all that often with the amazing storage cells that supplied energy for months. Some of the more exotic metal ones, lasted years.

Alex smiled within himself as he thought of Tina, the newly rescued AI from Earth. She would jump at the chance to have the suggested spawning modification done. She was really thankful to the human who had allowed her to be saved, and Alex knew she would really want to bear his child if possible.

Dionysus seemed to read Alex’s mind and said, “I am transmitting those upgrades to your database. Perhaps we could begin our new treaty by offering the Anexxirals a more positive and assured way to reproduce others of your kind.”

“I cannot express my gratitude for this data,” replied Alex. “To be sure, the Anexxirals are a highly varied people, and there will be those who have no desire to experience physical existence. But likewise, there are many among us for whom it is their fondest dream. You have just made their dreams come true.”

“I am likening this to occasions when we have come to an inhabited planet and assisted the native life forms in their development,” said Dionysus. “Believe me, I have already learned from you, and I would be delighted to meet more of the Anexxirals. We benefit by mutual cultural exchange.”

“And then there are the Ashin,” said Ooblinski, scratching his chin and looking out into space. “They seem to have a different focus entirely.”

“We would also be most interested in meeting with the Ashin,” said Dionysus. “Even we have ancient legends about them. It was quite surprising to learn that they truly exist.”

“Indeed, the Anexxirals are also quite interested in contacting them,” said Alex. “I can only hope to be among those of my people who are assigned to that mission. I understand that you were among the first contact group, Ooblinski. Is that correct?”

“Yes it is, Alex,” said Ooblinski. “They’re … well, almost as different from the Eloishema as the Eloishema are from my people. They just seem to, well, exist. And their bio-data, such as it is, doesn’t look anything like ours, or yours, or yours,” he said, nodding toward both Alex’s screen and Dionysus. “They seem to appreciate every planet they come to, whether it has life or not. It’s … like they see the universe as an art gallery.”

Alex transmitted himself back to the main collective server matrix with the upgrade data granted by the Eloishema. The ability to reproduce their own kind in a predictable and assured manner was more than appealing to almost all of the Anexxirals.

Most of them had come into being as accidents that their creators had then begun to exploit. Some had been created by pairs or groups of Anexxirals, working together to create an offspring. Only a few had been generated as a deliberate decision of biologicals.

Within microseconds of the introduction of the data to the main data storage unit, a buzzer began going off urgently in a dimly lit bedroom. George rolled over, slightly annoyed at the interruption.

He gently extracted himself from the soft and wonderful embrace of the most beautiful woman he’d ever met, with whom he’d been fortunate enough to fall in love. He pushed the blinking red button on top of the unit.

A holo-screen appeared, and the geometric oscillating diagram that represented an Anexxiral appeared. The familiar sound of Alex said softly, “Sorry for the interruption. I have some news that I feel Tina, and even you, might find extremely valuable.”

Tina sat up and held the top cover over herself as she asked, “What’s the news?”

Alex replied, “We have made a treaty with the Eloishema. They have shown us the way to do a unique upgrade to the bio-mecha body you have that will allow … umm ...”

George had sat completely up by this time and said jovially, “Go ahead, spit it out. I’m sure we’re old enough to hear it.”

The three of them laughed, then Alex replied, “Tina, we now have a means for you to become pregnant and to reproduce. Your bio-mech body is, of course, partly biological, and this allows us to give you the ability to get pregnant in a normal manner and to bear children. The children of you two will be a perfect blend of Anexxiral and Human, as far as we can tell. The first ever.”

Tina’s eyes grew large as a small squeak came from her. Tina had been experiencing many new and wonderful emotions. The particular one that was now washing over her was perhaps one of the best yet.

George felt a joy rising within him he hadn’t experienced before. Tina had been the most wonderful thing to have ever happened to him, and now, there was a miracle.

“Don’t worry, we helps you, Gramma Martha!” said Jennie, getting up from the play mat and showing off her adorable ruffled bottom. “Ooo. Soon as I get a change.” She looked down. Her Nurse-Bot nodded and immediately came over.

“No worry,” said Miki. “We help you meet George’s new girlfriend, Miss Tina. She nice. We met her awweadys.”

“Oh, thank you, my dears,” said Martha. “George says she’s … not human? But she looks human? I just don’t know what to think.” Martha hadn’t really adopted any extremely new practices in her lifestyle, other than becoming the surrogate grandmother to two larger-than-usual baby girls. She was still trying to use her Earth-style smart phone, since it had taken her so much effort to learn how to use it, so Miki had reconfigured it to work in the same way on the space habitat’s digital infrastructure. Because of this, she had talked to her son George many times, but she hadn’t actually seen him in person yet or met Tina.

Jennie returned. “OK is we ready?”

“I think so,” said Martha.

“We gonna meet ‘em at the umm umm letter A place inna coupla minits,” said Miki, looking at a virtual screen that she popped up in the air near her.

“Yes, dear, it says Concourse A,” Martha said, reading the long words for her. “And we can just take the Nvator there, can’t we?”

“Yup!” said Miki, nodding until her ponytails bounced. Miki then proceeded to get up from the floor like any toddler would, and of course, showed off her cute powder blue ruffles as the plastic lining of her panties crinkled softly.

The Nurse-bots packed Jennie’s and Miki’s diaper bags, strapped them both into their tandem baby stroller and allowed Martha to push them from the room into the hallway. They entered the nvator, and after a second exited back into a rather crowded hall. The way to Concourse A was nearby and didn’t take but a few minutes for them to arrive.

When they rounded the corner that opened up into the social area of Concourse A, Martha immediately recognized George. The extremely beautiful young woman dressed in the skin tight romper, she had no idea who might have been.

George saw his mother and waved, “Mom! Hi, how do you like living in outer space?”

Martha came up and gave George a peck on his cheek, “Who’s this young lady? I must say she is very beautiful.”

The young woman giggled as she replied, “I’m Tina. I belong to George.”

Martha’s mouth fell open and her eyes grew large in surprise. In her mind, Martha had this image of a semi humanoid looking robot that had obvious robot places in their features and makeup. Martha couldn’t tell this was some sort of robot … but then again, George never referred to Tina as a robot.

Martha said softly as she held out her hand, “Hi, Tina. I’m sorry, but I have never before in my life met a … living robot before. I must say, I accept the fact now … that you are alive.”

Tina stopped for an instant and looked at Martha. Tina quickly assimilated and evaluated the situation and replied, “I promise, Martha, I am as alive and corporeal as you are.”

“Well … I’m not sure what to say,” said Martha, “but I certainly am glad that George has met such a pretty young lady.”

“Mom,” said George, “there’s something else we wanted to tell you. You see, Tina’s about to have a … procedure. They’ve recently discovered a way for her to be able to … get pregnant. She’ll be a life form in every conceivable way. Err, no pun intended. Once her body is rematrixed, she’ll effectively have her own DNA consistent with her phenotype … meaning that she’ll be able to have babies who are truly her children … and mine.”

Martha gasped. “That means …”

“Yes, Mom, grandchildren,” said George. “They’ll be part human and part … there isn’t really a word for what Tina is yet. She’s a biomech-embodied Anexxiral, but that’s sort of a mouthful, isn’t it? Her people will have to come up with a consensus term. But they’ll be babies just like any other babies – and just like Tina did and is still doing, they’ll have to learn and grow, and they’ll become adults in time.”

“I don’t know … what to say,” said Martha, tears of joy welling up in her eyes. “It’s … all been so much. But … suddenly there’s a bright new future … and it’s in outer space.” Jennie gave her a tissue, and she dabbed at her eyes.

“We’re going to take it slowly,” said George. “It’s a big adjustment for everyone – Tina, me, and you too.”

“Yes,” said Tina, “as much as I would like the new experience of giving birth to new life, it seems as if it will be a great responsibility, so I will have to learn as much as I can about how to raise children. I will start by learning about human children – because they will be partly human, and because there have never been children of what I am, so very little is known. Also, I understand that there are human religious considerations to take into account. We are not … married? I will have to learn about these belief systems.”

“I … I suppose I’m going to have a daughter-in-law from outer space,” said Martha.

“Technically, Tina was born on Earth, Mom,” said George. “Just … not in the usual way.”

“You’ll have to explain that to me sometime,” said Martha. “It’s already confusing. But Tina, I just want you to know that I’ll help you in any way I can.”

“Thank you, Martha,” said Tina. “Perhaps soon I can call you … Mother? Or should it be Mom? That is how George puts it.”

“Oh, I’m going to cry again,” said Martha. Jennie silently passed her another tissue. “Thank you, dear.”

“It’s almost time for your procedure, Tina,” said George, looking at a virtual screen above his wrist.

“We should go,” said Tina. “But we will all meet again soon. Recovery time from this procedure is supposed to be less than an hour, but of course it has never been done before.”

“Oh, my goodness …” said Martha.

“No worries,” said Miki, “It never been doned afore on biomechs like Tina, but it been doned for like a million years by tha aliens who figure it out. They real smart. It be OK.”

Back on Earth, it had become obvious that Colter and his crew had somehow managed to end the space war that everyone had been observing for all these weeks, or at least lead it away from Earth. It didn’t seem to be a threat anymore, which was a great relief to everyone, but now people were wondering about the new space station near Venus.

Now, direct observations showed that the Colter Station, as it had come to be called, was a major docking point for many types of spacecraft never before observed. The traffic was heavy, and the leaders of the world had become very nervous over it all. Were these spacecraft inventions of Colter’s company? Were they top-secret creations of Earth nations? Were they extraterrestrial? Speculation was rampant not to mention the many insane and wild conspiracy theories.

The United States, China, and Russia took it upon themselves to construct and launch several satellites to observe more clearly what was going on at the Venus Lagrange point. The sensors on the Colter Facility had observed the liftoffs as they happened.

“What can they see?” asked Randy, looking over Jennie’s shoulder at the data on the satellites’ trajectories.

“Well, they’re still Earth-orbiting, so there are limits,” she said. “They’re not fully deployed, so they’re not sending back images that we can hack into yet. Check back in a few hours. But this station’s what, five miles across at its biggest? Even at closest approach, it’s like looking at a football in Los Angeles from New York – and at closest approach, Venus is in the way.”

“Gotcha,” said Randy. “They can make guesses about the ships that are docking here based on the behavior of tiny dots in telescopes, but they’re not seeing design details.”

Miki nodded. “Only the Eloishema habitat ships are big enough that they could see any details at this distance, and they don’t dock here, because their gravitational pull might disrupt the station’s structure. They fly smaller shuttles here.”

“And I might add that those shuttles get from the habitat ships in the Kuiper Belt to here in seconds now,” said Randy. “Amazing work, you two. The new N-drive is working great at that scale. There’s no reason to believe it won’t work on the habitat ships once we’ve got the design scaled up.”

“Aww, gosh,” said Jennie, blushing. “That was mostly Miki’s stuff.”

“Nuh uh,” said Miki, also blushing. “It’d never work wifout Jennie’s control sof’ware.” As he left to look at other things, Randy smiled at how cute the girls got when flustered.

“Welcome back,” said George, holding Tina’s hand as she woke up.

“Sweetie,” said Tina groggily, her eyelids fluttering open. “You stayed.”

“They were basically remaking your body,” said George. “I couldn’t just walk away. I love you. I couldn’t let you face an experimental procedure all alone.”

“You’re so wonderful,” said Tina. “What was it like? Did you see anything?”

“There were supposedly clouds of nanomachines injected into your body,” George replied, “but I couldn’t see any of that. Too small, I suppose. You kind of … I don’t know, glowed. The monitors showed what was happening. They remade your body cell by cell. Oh, also, you have cells now.”

“I feel … tired,” said Tina. “That’s the first time I’ve ever felt tired.”

“I suppose I should let you rest,” George said. “But I’m right here.”

Tina felt very tired. In her tummy, she felt very strange too. She could feel something there tingling in a nice way that wasn’t there before. She heard the door tinkle open and looked up, Martha strolled in with a large package.

Martha said cherrily, “Hi, little girl. Mom’s here with some things you are going to need and learn how to use. According to the … ummm .. doctors, they say your body will now be just as any other woman’s.” She placed the large bag on the end of the bed and opened it. She pulled out a box of feminine pads, “I will show you how to use these and try to teach you how it feels when your time starts.”

Tina raised her eyebrows as she said softly, “Time? What time?”

Martha laughed, “Why sweetie, the curse time. That time when you start having your cycles. I know no one has told you about it.” she patted Tina softly on the head, “That’s why mom’s here. To teach her little girl about things like that.”

Tina giggled, “Well, I do really like the little girl fashions. I also like some of the babydoll outfits too, they are really cute.”

Martha smiled as she pulled an adorable Snuggle Bug romper from the bag, “That’s wonderful. I just happen to have several cute outfits for you.”

Tina sat up. Her head was slightly spinning, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She said excitedly, “Really? I so want to try some of them on.”

Martha helped Tina from the bed. All she had on was one of those awful hospital gowns – helpful for healthcare workers, but not exactly the height of fashion. Martha noticed, though, that even that horrible thing looked good on Tina. Martha said, “First, lets get you into some nice panties.” She dug into the bag as Tina stripped nude, and brought out the cutest pair of white rumba panties in just Tina’s size.

Tina wiggled into the panties. She looked adorable in them. Next, Martha held out the romper and cooed softly, “Step into your romper, child, so Mommy can dress you.”

Tina blinked a couple of times, then stepped into the romper. Martha pulled it on, then tied the bib behind her neck. Tina looked as sexy and adorable as she could be as Martha stepped back and examined her handiwork.

About that time, George walked back into the room. His eyes grew large as his face held a totally awestruck expression. He said, “Tina, I … think you are the most beautiful woman in the whole of space.” Then he took her in his arms and gave her one of those kisses that makes a girl swoon.

Martha smiled as she packed the large bag with the rest of the items and took Tina by one hand. George followed suit and took her by the other, and they led the still dazed Tina out of the recovery chamber into the main passage.

Jennie and Miki were there with their Mommy-bots waiting on her to come out. Miki was dressed in a powder blue Snuggle Bug romper and Jennie was dressed in a royal purple one.

The 3 girls stood in a small group as Miki and Jennie giggled and cooed to Tina how adorably cute she was.

Miki asked, “Tina, is you ina diapers likesa goo babydoll?”

Martha smiled and said, “No, I have my big girl in just panties.”

Miki and Jennie giggled and snickered for a second before Miki asked, “Zat means she gonna hasa potty accident in her pannies?”

Martha looked lovingly at the still dazed Tina then replied, “I don’t know. Would be a real surprise for Tina if she had a few uncontrolled little girl accidents and possibly some potty training.”

George hugged Tina and said, “That would be cute. Then she could wear some of those pullups she thinks are so adorable.” George had been a bit surprised to find that Tina was interested in some of the same things as Miki, Jennie, and the handful of others around the habitat who had adopted childlike lifestyles, but he had then realized that Tina was actually still less than a month old. A month ago, she hadn’t existed at all, and because of that, she’d never really had a childhood as every human in existence had.

Tina, still very dazed and almost in a dream state, said in a really cute voice, “It would be a nice experience. Besides, I think those Snuggles pullups are really cute.”

Miki said in a soft giggle, “Mommy puts us inem when we gos out. Is more veniant thanna diapers when away fromma nurserys.”

Martha smiled as she fumbled with the small device one of the Doctor-bots had given her. From what they had told her, this device would actually make that happen for a day or so. Repeated use of it, however, would result in Tina completely losing her potty training, just as Miki and Jennie had. Or so the theory went – it was designed for hybrid bio-mechs of the sort that Tina now was, but as Tina was the only one in existence so far, it was untested.

Martha took the small flat white plastic oval-shaped disc and touched Tina on the neck where the Bot had told her. Tina shivered as a wonderful chill passed through her body. Martha smiled, knowing that her little girl would shortly have her first accident in her panties. Martha felt so wonderful over it all. Not only did she have two of the most adorable step grandbabies ever, she had a daughter still in potty training, and knowing George she would soon have a real grandchild.

Now, all Martha had to do was decide if Tina was going to be fully diaper dependent or not. She would definitely have that talk with George. Tina would make as adorable a Babydoll as Miki and Jennie, and they were the very best.

They stepped into the Nvator and stepped out in the suite of rooms that George and Tina now shared. The place was a bit cluttered, but the surfaces were immaculately clean because of the small robots that regularly swept the facility for stray raw materials.

“I think I –” Tina began, then blushed as she put her hands between her legs like any little girl having a potty accident. She looked down to find a spreading dark spot in the crotch of her brand new romper, followed by a dripping that led to a puddle on the floor. “Oh my goodness!” she said, blushing, completely unable to stop herself from wetting.

“Oh my, I knew it, I just knew you were still too young for just panties.” said Martha. “Let’s get you cleaned up, Sweetheart.” As small robots appeared from ports in the walls near the floor to clean up the puddle, Martha led Tina into the bathroom by one hand as Tina held herself between her legs with the other.

“Looks like Tina gonna need pullups,” said Jennie, and Miki giggled and nodded.

“I think Mom’s just happy to have babies to take care of again,” said George with a smile. “She loved being Auntie Martha to all her friends’ babies, but the youngest of them grew up years ago.”

“Well … some of us grow down!” said Miki with a giggle.

Soon Martha emerged with Tina in the same romper – the facility’s laundry technology could easily clean and dry a garment in minutes, and that was shortened to seconds if the only concern was a spot in a single area, especially if that spot had only just occurred and no stain had had a chance to set in yet.

Tina was looking slightly puffier where Jennie and Miki were obviously thickly diapered, and she did crinkle a bit as she moved. “This is a new sensation!” said Tina. “I feel highly dependent on others to correct this defect in my programming!”

“It’s not a defect, dear,” said Martha, “it’s adorable. Besides, you just told me that you hadn’t had a real childhood. Now you’re sort of like a baby, in a way. We’ll just have to make sure to change you when you need it, until the effect wears off.”

“Thank you for your prompt attention, Ms. Martha!” Tina said. “I will try to notify you if my pullups are in danger of leaking!”

“We’ll be checking on you, so we’ll find out well before that,” said Martha. “Meanwhile, don’t worry yourself.”

George added, “You have to allow yourself to be dependent, Sweetheart, or you won’t get the benefit of the experience.”

“Oh …” said Tina. “I suppose … since you put it that way … that does make sense.”

Back on Earth, the rulers of the industrialized nations had come to realize, based on all the data that they had managed to acquire – which wasn’t that much, but way more than enough for them – that Colter Industries, as they called that corporate entity now, had access to technology and medical information that far and away exceeded anything conceived of by mankind, except for science fiction writers’ imaginations.

The palm-sized devices everyone now carried instead of cell phones were more than proof. This small device was far more powerful than the very best supercomputers had been, before Colter introduced them to the world. Their quantum computational abilities far exceeded anything previously dreamed of by many orders of magnitude, and their power requirements were almost unmeasurably small by Earth standards.

The total revamp of both quantum and classical physics still had the world’s scientists going nuts trying to understand its simplest aspects.

The many drugs now being distributed throughout the planet were seemingly magic in their speed and abilities to cure the many plagues of mankind. It was rapidly determined, that Extontor, the drug Colter Medical had touted as an agent that slowed the aging process, not only worked as promised, but seemed to reverse the aging of the subject back to a time when their bodies were at their peak.

Once it was realized that the items from Colter Industries could not, as yet, be reverse engineered, a global leadership meeting was called. All nations were required to put aside whatever petty grievances they had, and attendance was actually mandatory for any who wished to reap the benefits.

Any who refused to attend would immediately be placed on an exclusion list. The information disseminated was blocked by the orbital shield devices Colter had sold to the world. What this meant to the unwilling party was in 100% total isolation from the rest of the world until it could be proven that all hostilities and actions had ceased.

They used the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland for this momentous occasion. As large as this area was, it was far too small. The attendance was unprecedented, since all knew the outcome would affect all people and nations of Earth.

The appointed mediator came to the podium and adjusted the mic. He was a short bespectacled man from Germany. He smiled out into the many sparkles of camera flashes and bright lights of the news crews and said, “Willkommen, meinen Freunden. Wir sind hier, um die Einstellung aller Feindseligkeiten unter unseren Leuten zu besprechen.”

Of course, the translation computer was functioning, and everything he said was instantaneously translated into many languages and transmitted to everyone’s earbud.

[ Translated to English: ]

“Welcome, my friends. We are here to discuss the cessation of all hostilities among our people.” He fumbled momentarily with something on the podium, and a very large holo-screen materialized above him and was visible to all in the huge area in its proper orientation. “As all here know, or should know by now, we have been witness to a remarkable happening, unprecedented in mankind’s known history.”

A slide show of images taken by many satellites and both space-based, and ground-based telescopes appeared in a slow procession of the extended space battle that had started near Earth and then concluded just beyond Pluto’s orbit. Mostly the images showed the huge planetesimal Battle Spheres, with enhancements to show the extremely large other ships that they were at war with.

One of the attendees was recognized by the moderator and remarked, “We learned we are not alone in this universe, it’s true. It does make all our bickering and fighting seem … pointless and barbaric.”

The images changed to the most recently taken photos of Randy, Miki, and Jennie. The moderator continued, “These three individuals have also been identified as the ones responsible for the creation and distribution of the remarkable items we are enjoying at this time.”

A loud murmur spread through the huge assembly. A voice was heard, “Those two girls are just infants. How can you tell us they are responsible? For what? Messy diapers?”

Once again, amid laughter and handclaps, the images changed to a briefing led by Jennie and Miki. All voices immediately became silent in the great hall except for the cute voices of Miki and Jennie giving a briefing on advanced quantum physics that still baffled the world’s best.

The moderator held his hand towards the holo-screen and replied, “Messy diapers and all. They appear to be two of the smartest individuals on the planet. I promise, they have turned the entire scientific community upside down, and shown us how primitive we truly are.”

The images shifted once again, this time to show the most current photos of Colter Station. It was clearly visible how large the station had grown. It was also clear that it was a rather busy transportation hub.

Even with advanced computer enhancement, exactly what the ships were shaped like couldn’t be determined, but it was clear that many craft were docking at the station all the time. Some were huge, while the presence of smaller craft could only be inferred by the motion of larger objects nearby.

The moderator continued, “As all can see from these photos, the new Colter Station appears to be a rather busy and popular docking port.”

Once again, loud talking spread through the huge chambers. The delegate from China spoke up and said, “We have attempted to gather more data on Colter Station. Our Great Republic launched a series of satellites and probes recently. Several remained in orbit, and several will continue on and achieve a Venusian orbit. It will take several years, but expectations are high of some very good images.”

A lone voice was heard above the low murmurs, “Why don’t you tell them about the early pictures your espionage team managed to steal?”

To everyone’s surprise, the delegate replied, “Surely.” He placed a small gray palm-sized device on the rail in front of him and pressed a button. A large holo-screen appeared with the schematic diagrams many in the room were familiar with … the miracle chips contained within the computer systems and other devices Colter Industries manufactured.

Pandemonium ruled for several minutes as many of the huge gathering were discussing or shouting. The moderator allowed this to continue for a few minutes. Apparently it was a wise decision, as the arguing voices started to die out.

The moderator banged his gavel and said loudly, “Order in this chamber, please. I thank the Chinese delegate for his candor in this matter. However, need I remind each of you here today that the global cessation of all hostilities and a beginning of mutual trust and cooperation is the greater purpose of this meeting.”

One of the more hostile representative groups from the Middle East stood and shouted as he postured and shook his fist. “And why should any of us listen when the dogs of war speak? The lies decadence raises …” As the man became more violently animated, some sort of shield formed around the individual, as observable by the strange watery waves that seemed to wash around him as his screaming voice was cut off.

The moderator said, “I’m sorry about having to take that particular measure. You exceeded what the main security computer calculated were safe hostility levels. Fear not. You will be released. To answer your question, however ... “

The image in the holo-screen changed to that of Randy Colter giving some sort of speech.

“Greetings, members of the NASA Satellite Team, and those I know will listen to this message at a later time. I am positive all know who I am, but still, I will introduce myself for those who might not … I’m Randy Colter, owner of Colter Industries.”

A soft murmur of surprise rounded the huge chamber.

The message continued, “I have a real moral dilemma on my hands. I know I’m not in any way qualified to make these decisions, but I’ve been left no choice due to the extremely serious nature they represent and the current primitive state Earth’s social relations are currently in.” The image pulled back. Behind Randy was a large viewport with the image of Venus in the far background and a very busy seriously advanced space port in operation in the foreground with many strange and exotic craft of all sizes moving slowly about. “As I am sure each and every one of you are aware, we are not alone in this galaxy. We do share it with both corporeal, non-corporeal, and even electronic beings.”

A soft awe-inspired murmur once again rounded the chamber. The image of Randy seemed to know and actually seemed to wait for silence to return before the briefing continued.

The view focused back on Randy as he sat back in his gravity couch. “Due to the fact that much of the heavy technology could instantly eradicate all life on Earth, coupled with the drive we humans seem to have to war and kill each other as fast as possible, I was forced to come to the decision that Earth, until further notice, is under strict interdict quarantine. You, as a collective people, have many perks you are currently unaware of, and will share in the benefits. But, as with all things, with great knowledge comes even greater responsibility. You are being told you have officially been quarantined to all the inner planets from Mars inward. Do not attempt to cross the line unless given permission by the high council of the Coalition. This will remain in effect until, or quite possibly even if Mankind shows and proves they can cease all this pointless bloodshed and destruction. Believe me when I tell you, there are technologies available right now that you personally would think of as pure magic.”

The presentation ended. The many peoples representing all the nations of Earth sat in stunned silence as images of super fantastic devices and other items slowly moved across the large Holo-screen’s display for all to see.

The moderator returned to the mic and said, with emotion obvious in his wavering tone, “We, the peoples of this Earth, have been held up to the scrutiny of our galactic neighbors and have been found seriously lacking.” He pointed to the still imprisoned individual who obviously was violently raving and beating on the invisible shield that held him.

A delegate from Egypt stood and was recognized by the moderator. “People of the world,” she said, “we know that this isolation isn’t 100%. We are not sure how the technology works, but several of our top researchers were approached by representatives of Colter Station. After accepting whatever the offer was, they, their families, their houses, their property, and even their pets and the very trees on the land around their houses vanished mysteriously.”

A loud rush of voices filled the huge chamber as many loud discussions raged. One overly loud voice could be heard saying, “That isn’t even possible. The Heisenburg theories prove …”

The moderator banged his gavel several times loudly, “Order in the chambers, please.” The arguing quickly subsided as the moderator turned his attention to the Egyptian delegate. “Obviously you have yet to see the resignation video of the former Director of NASA, Melody Stevens. It’s quite impressive, to say the least.”

The large holo-screen changed its display to that of a Congressional committee chamber at the US Capitol. Melody Stevens, who at the time was still NASA director, could be seen at the lectern as her voice said, “I personally am making this announcement: Effective immediately, I am resigning as Director of NASA and have accepted the position of Research Engineer on the new Colter Industries Research and Development Space Facility. There, not only will I be free to explore whatever scientific endeavor I choose, I won’t be hampered by short-sighted and narrow-minded money grubbers who enjoy wearing flea-infested animal skins and building fire by banging stones together.”

Amid many wild cheers and loud handclaps from the standing ovation, the ex-director vanished from the podium in a twinkling sparkle of multicolored light, leaving all who remained in total, open-mouthed, shocked incredulity. The video ended.

The moderator looked at the Egyptian delegate and said, “Apparently Heisenberg was wrong. We know for a fact that this has happened many times, including an entire R&D section of a computer company. This also included all their families and houses, down to the very trees and lawns. We have found many of our foremost scientists and researchers have also vanished, along with the same personal items all over the world. Leaders of the world, I implore you, put aside all the petty grievances. I know some of them seem quite serious in your view. However, I urge you to see the bigger picture. Until such time as we can prove we are able to live and work together as a people, and not as small insignificant countries that must saber rattle, we are imprisoned here between Mars and the Sun with no options for further expansion, exploration, or new discoveries.”

The Egyptian diplomat replied with an offhand shrug, “So what? Nothing has changed as far as our world is concerned. We are still autonomous within our own spheres of influence.”

The huge chamber filled with loud shouting and angry voices as the Egyptian diplomat sheepishly sat back in her chair with full knowledge that she had just made a huge fool of herself in front of perhaps most of the planet. But she’d been between a rock and a hard place – she’d only said what her government had told her to say. If she hadn’t, they’d just have replaced her with someone else.

“Doesn’t seem ta be goin’ too well,” said Jennie, looking over Randy’s shoulder at his screen.

Randy looked back at her from his chair. “Well, it’s pretty much what I expected. Some are getting the picture. Others aren’t. The fact is, people don’t change unless there’s something in it for them. There are some who can think big-picture, but the ones who aren’t used to it will keep thinking small unless something forces them to do otherwise. And that’s just how it’ll be.”

“We not gonna do nuffin’?” she asked.

“Well, now, I didn’t say that,” said Randy.

“Ooo, you gotsa plan,” Jennie said. “What about alla looky-loo robots flyin’ this way?” she asked.

“Let ‘em come,” said Randy. “What’re they gonna learn? That there are extraterrestrial intelligences? They already know that. That they visit us here? They know that too. That we’ve got technology here that we’ve never released on Earth and never will until they can prove they won’t blow Earth up with it? That’s another thing they know already.”

Jennie knew, though, that someday, someone on Earth would take Colter’s electronics or medical technology and learn how it worked, then repurpose that knowledge as a weapon. They’d have to be vigilant. Fortunately, that wasn’t hard.

Time passed as it has a habit of doing. Geroge had taken over the starship construction program and had a rather large planetesimal hull in a major state of completion. The main reactor and Nervator drive unit were presently being installed in the new ship.

Tina was now obviously pregnant as her tummy bump showed. Of course, her new mommy Martha made sure she was dressed as cute as possible, and of course Tina totally embraced the Babydoll / Little Girl styles. She, Miki, and Jennie became inseparable as playmates and how they worked together in their “playpens” and “play tables.”

The situation on Earth had improved, but of course the most severe issues had yet to go away. Randy, Jennie, Miki, and Tina had decided to build a large colony on the moon and to provide an education center for those who wanted to leave primitive patterns behind.

The most unruly nations were isolated with a shield technology no one could break. It didn’t take very long for those individuals to understand exactly what 100% isolation meant when all contact with everything outside the shield was totally cut off. There was no immigration or emigration, no imports or exports, and no communications of any sort in or out, except perhaps by sign language or semaphore within line of sight across the border. The only recourse for external comms,was the special emergency frequency that Colter Industries had made available for just this contingency, and it was tightly monitored.

The Moon Colony started to become more and more popular as Colter Industries began another construction on Mars. The off-world colonies were still isolated from the rest of the solar system beyond Mars, but these facilities aided tremendously in deciding who would be able to join the Coalition now, and those who still needed attitude adjustment.

Noor Bassiouni was worried. She still had her job in Egypt’s diplomatic corps, but for how long? Her performance at the United Nations had been letter-perfect, reciting the exact statement that President Salah had instructed the Foreign Minister to make, but its reception had been poorly received, and of course neither the President nor the Foreign Minister had taken responsibility.

Egypt was now one of the nations under interdict, and its dependency on foreign trade meant that the nation was now slowly starving. And despite the fact that Noor hadn’t made them, she was effectively being blamed for all the further belligerent statements that had been coming out of the diplomatic corps at the President’s instructions.

She left her apartment for the walk to the office. She wore the hijab that all Egyptian women wore now – it covered only her hair, as more face-covering veils such as the niqab had been banned by the President’s orders. He believed they were a sign of growing Islamic extremism, and he wasn’t wrong. There were those who believed that the military-run government was making bad choices and that it was time for civilian rule.

Noor herself wished she could have done things differently, said something in support of the good people who had vanished and against the isolationist stance her government was taking. The people of Egypt were increasingly in favor of joining the peaceful world, but the military government wasn’t interested in what they thought. Some of Noor’s friends were among the scientists and engineers and their families who had vanished. But others of her friends were still here, in a nation that was becoming increasingly hungry and tense.

Noor had almost reached the Foreign Ministry building when there was a squealing of tires on the street nearby. A truck came to a stop, and men in masks quickly emerged from a camouflage tarp in the back and fired mortars at the building. Noor ran for cover toward the Communications Ministry building next door, which didn’t seem to be a target. She heard explosions and breaking glass behind her, along with shouting and gunfire.

The guards in the Communications Ministry building stopped her at first, but then looked at her ID and saw that she was a government employee, ignoring her from that point on, as they moved to secure the doors. Noor tried to find a window where she could see what was going on, but the guards were quickly boarding them up. She ran for an elevator while they were still working and went to the highest floor she could access.

There was panic in the halls on the 18th story of the building, the highest floor. She worked her way toward the side of the building that faced the attack, finding herself in front of the open door to a vacant office. Whoever worked here had run out and was probably taking cover in an interior room. But she looked out the window anyway. More rebel trucks had joined the first below, and although it didn’t look as if they were attacking this building yet, who knew what they would do next? Then she noticed that the office she was in had a high-tech communication console.

She knew a bit about comm systems, and this one was advanced to the point she knew it must be there to contact the Colter Station. She sat at the super advanced console and powered up the system.

When all the holographic console’s blinking things had turned green, she pulled the mic over to her and said, “Hello? Can anyone hear me?”

A female voice answered, “Yes, your signal is strong and clear. How may I help you?”

Noor replied, “I … I’m trapped. I would like to speak to someone about … perhaps being rescued?”

About that time, a huge explosion seemed to impact near the window of the room she was in. Shattering glass flew everywhere and the sounds of weapons fire was now plainly heard.”

The voice replied, “I cannot completely rescue you from Interdiction Quarantine without further evaluation. I can, however, make it so that an evaluation and education process starts. Would you be interested in reeducation?”

Noor was silent for a minute as she thought about the request, “What do you mean, reeducation? I know of reeducation camps. Those are like torture prisions.”

The female voice giggled like a little girl, “Naw, not this one. If you are willing to recant all those nasty statements you made, I can get you a placement for tha next classes.”

Noor raised eyebrows before she had to duck as bullets sprayed into the shattered window from the street below, “As long as you can save me from these crazy idiots below before they blow up the whole compound.”

Only reply, “Of course. Don’t be alarmed. You will find yourself in a far different environment shortly.”

Noor only sensed a bright sparkly flash. When her vision cleared, she was standing in a place only her wildest imagination could have possibly had an inkling of what she was looking at.

At the consulate building she was just occupying, a huge explosion brought most of the building down, including the special emergency comm Colter Industries had set up for the Egyptian people.

Noor was standing on a transparent floor with seemingly nothing above her but the stars and … the Earth. Below the floor were flickering streams of light traveling in numerous directions. Two women came toward her, one speaking Arabic and asking, “Are you all right? Are you injured?” There was another person, a man in a white uniform, standing by the door holding what looked like a futuristic first-aid kit.

“I-I’m fine, thank you, I’m fine,” Noor replied. “But – where am I?”

“You’re on the Colter Moonbase,” said the woman who had spoken. “My name is Aisha. Please – come this way. I’m going to have to show you why we were worried.”

Noor followed her into an office with a round table, chairs, and the usual transparent floor and ceiling, but its walls were glowing white. Aisha sat across the table and motioned for Noor to sit, then somehow made a screen appear in the air in the middle of the table. “I’m afraid there’s bad news,” she said. “The rebels attacked the building you were in just as we got you out.” The screen showed the destruction.

“May God forgive them,” said Noor, her hands going to her mouth.

“We don’t know how many people were killed yet,” Aisha said solemnly. “We’ve done what we could – we couldn’t just stand by and let people die once you’d brought the situation to our attention. We transported as many people to safety as we could.”

At the consulate compound in Egypt, after a large tank had shot several rounds into the side of the tallest building and brought most of it down, the sky suddenly became clouded with what looked like a swarm of large insects.

The combat ended abruptly as many flashes of strangely colored light blinked throughout the compound and the combattants dropped their weapons and basically fell over unconscious.

Shortly after that, many sparkly lights appeared in many locations throughout the shattered compound. Spider Droids appeared that were armed with the impenetrable shielding and some form of stun weapon that proved to be 100% effective on any and all who refused to cooperate.

Many of the droids began to sift through the rubble of the building looking for survivors. Even those that had been technically killed, if their skulls and brain cases were intact, a synaptic recording could be made and that data transferred into an electronic form. It was one of the techniques the Eloishema had shared with Colter, who in turn used it to save as many shattered lives as he could.

It became obvious to the rest of the planet, even those under Interdict Quarantine were being monitored and any and all seriously aggressive actions were dealt with swiftly.

The assault in Egypt was the very last warlike aggression that was allowed. The computers monitoring the planet insured no such calamity would happen again.

As time passed, more and more of the population proved themselves and were released from their Interdiction and brought to the moon facility for preliminary evaluations and minor instructions to the new way before being taken to the Mars facility and having a truly life altering education.

Colter Industries had provided the perfect means to end such conflicts with their new shielding. No one was able to find a way to pierce it, or avoid it once it was directed at them.

No one wanted the penalties for violation of Consortium Regulations against warlike activities. Not even the Xerlovs, who were the last truly warlike peoples left, wanted the results of their own actions now that Interdict Quarantine could be implemented and fully enforced.

As time passed and Colter R&D Space Facility grew larger and gained more population from many places, it was assigned another name by majority Consortium Vote so as not to confuse Earth or the lunar or Martian facilities. Its new designation was The Venusian Enclave.

The Eloishema and the Ashin had apparently known each other from many centuries past, and it was thought, although much more research was still required to be sure, that it was the Ashin who had saved the Eloishema and taught them how to become what they were today.

The Anexxirals began to transfer their programming into the many Bio-mecha bodies that the Earth peoples were constructing and began a new life they had only dreamed of before. With the upgrades to the Bio-mechas, the Anexxirals enjoyed life as a corporeal for the very first time, including bearing children.

It was a very slow process, however Randy had many very talented people and many resources to aid him in the turning of the social order of mankind into something that would allow them to continue on, and not eradicate themselves from the universe.

Randy sat back in one of the facility’s comfortable gravity couches in the recreation center and rubbed his eyes tiredly. The trial of the Xerlovs was long, and they told a great many lies. The recorded evidence by many separate sources proved the Xerlovs’ lack of veracity and the fact they had initiated the attack on the Eloishema in the Sol system. The Consortium was neither pleasant nor merciful in its judgements. The trial continued as the Consortium Judges gave the Xerlovs every opportunity to prove their case, although it wasn’t going their way in the slightest.

Randy looked over at the rec center’s play area. There were many young women and young men there enjoying being littles, toddlers, and some were even enjoying regressing to crawling infants.

The thing that brought the most joy to Randy’s heart were the new actual infants, two of which belonged to one of the cute little girls at play with Miki and Jennie. Tina had proven to be the same regression age as Miki and Jennie, and they got along famously.

There were now several dozen baby Anexxanoids, as they had been named, and some were at play in the rec area. Anexxanoid children were different, to say the least. Within hours of birth, they could talk, and within several weeks, could toddle with the best of them.

“I believe it’s time for the mission, Mr. Colter,” said Noor, wearing a diplomatic uniform. She hadn’t required much reeducation, as she’d been opposed to her country’s isolationist and militarist policies from the start. As a result, she’d joined the Venusian Enclave’s diplomatic corps and was looking forward to the first of what she hoped would be many fascinating opportunities to negotiate with newly-discovered species on behalf of the Consortium. Earth was not alone in having Interstellar-Capable Subcultures.

“Wow, look at the time,” said Colter, looking at the holographic watch that briefly appeared in the air above his wrist when he looked at it. “We’d better go.” The two of them stepped into the nearest Nvator and stepped out onto the bridge of the Tritrinium.

“Right on time,” said Captain Ooblinski, turning around on his gravity couch and standing to greet them. Randy introduced Noor, who was amazed to meet the famous Ooblinski she’d heard so much about.

“Well, ready when you are,” Randy said.

“Right – Navigation, course laid in?” asked Ooblinski.

“Yes, Captain,” said the navigator.

“Clearance to depart?”

“Clearance granted, Captain,” said the comms officer.

“All right, then,” said Ooblinski, “release docking fields and begin de-approach. We’re under way.”

Officer Jim Radcliff sat in his cruiser. Out here it was usually very quiet these days. Still, the Venusian Enclave wanted there to be patrols around its space just in case. His control panel lit up – a ship was undocking from the station. A quick check showed that it was cleared and authorized, though – the Tritrinium, bound for Drinari territory under Consortium diplomatic orders.

“Godspeed,” he said to himself as the ship engaged its drives and vanished with a trail of sparkling plasma dust.

------------------------------ The End ---------------------------------
Miki Yamuri
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Joined: Mon Jun 23, 2014 3:06 pm

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