From the Ashes

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From the Ashes

Postby LilJennie » Fri Nov 12, 2021 9:26 pm

From the Ashes

By: Miki Yamuri and Jennie Flint

Mikala rolled over and slowly opened her eyes. Today was the day she and her very best friend were going to the cliffs to practice with the new weapons they had just made, slings.

She jumped from her bed and hurriedly dressed in her cute striped animal skin bikini made from the tanned skins of an Ocerious she had killed with the bow her uncle had made for her.

Mikala stood right at 5 feet tall, had shoulder length blond hair she kept in an off-centered ponytail on the side top of her head. At 18, she was an extremely pretty young woman, and her skins showed it off well.

After dressing and slinging the leather rock pouch across her shoulders after she stuffed some fruit, a loaf of bread, and a few other items to eat and drink in it, she hurried out and across the way to her best friend’s hut.

Her friend’s name was Jineele; Mikala called her Jen. She too was 18, very pretty, and stood about the same height as Mikala. She had red hair and a cute row of freckles across the bridge of her button nose.

Mikala burst into Jen’s hut all sparkly and excited. “Wake up sleepyhead, time to join the land of the living.”

Jen rolled over and sat up. She rubbed her eyes groggily as she mumbled out, “Mornin? What time izit?”

Mikala replied, “According to the water clock on the lodge house, it’s about 9am. Time for us to be up and start practicing with our new slings.”

Jen’s eyes popped open as she jumped from bed as if it were on fire, “OMG! I’ll dress in a hurry. Get my rock pouch, and pack some of those things on the table over there.”

While Jen wiggled into her fuzzy leopard skin bikini, Mikala gathered up the food items, along with the utensils and Jen’s new sling and packed it into the bag. By the time Mikala had finished and turned around, Jen had finished dressing and was lacing up her moccasins.

Jen said excitedly, “Bet I can throw mine harder than you, and actually hit something.”

Mikala laughed, “It’ll hit something regardless. The whole point of it is; did you hit what you had intended?”

The girls looked at each other for an instant before they burst out laughing. Jen grabbed her pouch from Mikala and said as she went out the door, “I can knock the top off a stein and mean to.”

Mikala replied as she bounded out the door after Jen, “Yea, I can too. Thing is, it isn’t with a sling.”

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It was a beautiful day. It almost always was. There were places to go where one could see snow, deserts, or rainforests, but those were several days away from Nabala Village. They walked to the nearby stream and gathered many round smooth rocks a bit smaller than their fists. Once their rock pouches had several pounds of stones in them, the girls turned their footsteps towards the cliffs for a major portion of target practice.

When they got there, though, they found the place occupied. They heard the boys talking before they saw them. “Hey, Zag, you made me miss,” said a voice they recognized.

“I don’t need to make you miss, Gron,” said Zag’s voice. “You can do that just fine on your own.”

“Do you want me to hit you?” asked Gron. “It really sounds like you want me to – oh, hey.” He broke off as soon as he saw the girls coming around a boulder.

“Huh?” Zag looked and saw them too. “Hello, ladies,” he said with what he thought was a smooth grin. The two boys were shooting practice arrows at the cliff face with their makeshift bows.

“Aw, we wanted to practice our slings here,” said Jen, looking disappointed.

“Sorry, girls,” said Gron. “We’ll be here at least until Zag hits one of the targets, so it’ll probably be all day.”

“Let’s go,” said Mikala. “This is boring already.”

“Hey, you can stay and watch me hit them all, and watch Gron miss,” said Zag.

“That sounds even more boring than listening to you trash talk each other,” said Jen. She turned away to go with Mikala.

“Aw, man, you made ‘em go away,” said Gron.

“I did?” said Zag. “It was one look at your face that …” Mikala and Jen finally got out of earshot.

“Well, that ruins our plans for the day,” said Jen. “What should we do?”

“We can find our own place to practice,” Mikala said. “Fine, it won’t be the regular shooting range, but all we really need is a rock face.”

“Hmm,” Jen said, thinking, “there’s one out by Flying Mountain.”

“That’s so far away!” said Mikala. “I think there’s a nice straight cliff wall out by Kura Pond.”

“OK,” said Jen. “That’s still a walk, but it’s not as far as the one I was thinking about. Let’s go.”

The two girls walked for about an hour. They knew every step of the terrain, having run, played, gathered, and hunted around it all their lives, and it changed only rarely. The wildlife moved around, but the rocks and rivers didn’t. “Hey, this tree is burned,” said Jen as they passed a copse where one tree’s bark was blackened.

“Maybe it happened during the storm last week,” Mikala said. “There was lightning.”

“Oh yeah, thunder was coming from somewhere in this direction,” Jen said as they continued walking. “Did you know, Elder Krol said there didn’t used to be lightning in the old times?”

“Huh, Grandpa says the same thing,” said Mikala. “Weird. How could there not be lightning?”

“I don’t know,” said Jen. “The gods of the sky are angry now, and they weren’t before?” She shrugged.

“Not that old stuff,” said Mikala. “Gods of the sky. They make good stories, but nobody believes them anymore.”

“I heard a good one about Flying Mountain,” Jen said. “Once Renafar climbed to the top of the mountain and jumped up into the sky. He found he could fly like a Preekra, and he flew to another land. That’s how it …”

“How it got its name, Flying Mountain,” Mikala interrupted. “Yeah, I heard that one. Oh, here we are. There’s Kura Pond down there. So the cliff wall should be … there it is. This way.”

“Oh yeah,” said Jen. “I forgot about this place. I hardly ever come here.”

“Sometimes my family comes here to fish,” said Mikala. “So will that work?” She pointed at a high cliff wall, perfectly vertical, its surface made of dark stone. The sound of the stream trickling into the pond came faintly from behind them.

“Yeah, let’s just set up some targets,” said Jen. “Hmm.” She opened her pouch and took out a white stone, then scratched some circles on the cliff wall’s stone face with her stone to serve as targets. “Maybe that will do.”

Jen selected a smooth, round stone just smaller than her fist and placed it in the pouch of the sling.

Mikala said in an offhand way, “Now make sure you don’t lose control of that rock. A wildly flying stone can hurt us if we get hit.”

Jen said as she wound up and got the sling twirling over her head until it whistled, “I won’t. But that target is in real danger.” She let fly.

The stone flew whistling through the air and impacted with a loud crack. It hit so hard the stone shattered and left a divot in the face of the target area. It wasn’t dead center, but at least she had hit the target.

As Mikala wound up she commented, “Good toss. Let’s see if I’m any better.”

Mikala let fly. The stone whistled as it swiftly flew and impacted the target area with another loud crack. Once again, the stone shattered on impact, leaving a divot in the target face.

Jen laughed, “Well, at least we hit the target and not some other place.”

As she fitted another stone in the pouch and wound up, Mikala replied, “Yeah, but that target will learn what fear is.”

She let fly; the stone whistled swiftly until it hit the target face and shattered again. This time, the resulting divot was closer to the bullseye. The girls giggled and laughed as they tossed many stones. Each one left a definite mark where they had hit the target face with a loud echoing crack.

Mikala was in process of tossing another stone when Gron and Zag entered the small clearing where the girls were target practicing. Gron shouted, “Hey, what you girls doin? We can hear the sound of some kind of explosion or something for miles.”

The unexpected arrival and shout startled both Jen and Mikala causing Mikala’s toss to go slightly wild. It impacted on a small bulge in the cliff face and shattered with a resounding crack. This time, a small tremor beneath their feet began and grew in intensity.

Gron shouted as he and Zag ran from the clearing, “Run! You created some kind of avalanche! We could get buried!” The boys departed quickly. Jen and Mikala could hear them yelling as their voices faded with distance.

To Jen and Mikala’s astonished eyes, amid falling debris and lots of dust, a large slab had separated and slid down, revealing a darkened opening taller than a person. To their total amazement, lights started to come on within, illuminating the huge area inside the cliff face.

Jen stammered, “Uhh ... Mikala?? I think … you did something you shouldn’t have.”

Mikala replied as she slowly approached opening, which was well lit by now, “You might be right. Still, I want to look in and see what’s there. It’s not every day a cliff opens a door and invites us in, ya know.”

Jen said softly as she slowly followed, “Yeah, and it brings to mind several old stories Gramma used to tell us by the cooking fire too. I hope we’re not angering the gods – if the gods are real. But if this is real, maybe they are?”

Mikala turned and waved a hand dismissively, “Pshaw. Who ever heard of mechanical birds and things with wheels that move all by themselves without Snargs to pull ‘em?”

Jen replied, “Think on this, miss brave one; who ever heard of a door opening in a cliff?”

Mikala tentatively looked into the bright space as she gasped, “Jen! You gotta see this. You wont believe it.”

Jen slowly walked up behind Mikala and peered over her shoulder. Her eyes grew large as her mouth fell open in total incredulity. The place looked like … well, she didn’t know what it looked like. There were strange slanted tables set with glowing jewels, and many alcoves in the walls with some type of windows that were showing strange squiggles and swirls intermixed with weird pictures.

Jen said softly, “I think … the olduns might have more to their stories than just entertaining kids.”

As Mikala carefully entered the opening, she replied, “You might be right. Not even the elders will believe this, though.”

The girls entered the magical well lit place. They looked around in total incredulity at all the semi-clear panels and the strange markings dancing across them. They also saw a large expanse of panels that were completely dark. As they walked around and looked at all the magical items, they also noticed several rectangular outlines in the walls that looked as if they could be doors.

Mikala said in a whisper, “You think … this is that place from our bedtime stories?”

Jen replied, “Not sure. I will say one thing though, this place fits the descriptions of one of them well.”

Mikala said, “Perhaps there’s something to that story about Flying Mountain. When I was a little girl, Pop took me there, and I tossed a rock. As soon as it slowed down, it sort of hung in the air and didn’t fall.”

Jen replied, “My dad took me there once too. Maybe there’s more to the story of Flying Mountain than we thought too.”

“Could be,” Mikala said as she touched one of the green glowing spots on a slanted table.

As soon as she did that, a large square lit up on one of the walls. A face appeared in it and began speaking in a language that the girls didn’t understand.

“What’s he sayin’?” asked Jen.

“I dunno,” said Mikala. “Sounds like something I heard my great grandpa say before he died. Said it was something he heard his grandma say. Said if we ever heard it we were all in trouble.”

“Did he say what it meant?” Jen wondered.

“He said it meant … need help real bad,” said Mikala.

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Jen looked around nervously at all the windows and lights. “Uh, did he say anything about what you were supposed to do if you heard it?” she asked.

“Nope,” Mikala said. She gulped. “I dunno if he meant just we were in trouble, or all of Nabala Village, or the other villages too.”

“Or all the villages in the whole world?” asked Jen. “What is happening? I don’t like this at all! Did we bring down disaster on everybody?”

“I … hope not?” Mikala said with a panicked expression. “I don’t know what to do!”

The person whose face had appeared in the window on the wall had continued speaking, though they still couldn’t understand them. “Help us!” Jen said to it. “Tell us what to do! We don’t understand you!”

The face didn’t seem to notice her. “Don’t they see us?” asked Mikala. The image changed to show the glowing jewels on one of the tables. One of them was flashing red. A finger reached out and touched the red jewel. Then the picture changed. One of the doors opened. “Are we supposed to do that? What happens if we do? What do we do next?”

“This looks like that table,” said Jen, looking at one of the tables nearby. “And there’s a red jewel that’s blinking. What happens if I touch it?”

“Only one way to find out,” said Mikala, so Jen touched it. Both girls squeaked as a door opened in a nearby wall. A dark cavern inside suddenly lit up, just as the room they were now in had done just a short while ago. They peered through the door. There seemed to be a tunnel leading downward. There were square flat ridges on the floor as it went down, and bars along the sides.

“Does the window person say what to do after that?” asked Jen.

“No,” said Mikala, “or I don’t think so, anyway. The door opens, then the face comes back, and they say more stuff that I don’t understand, and then it all happens again.”

“I guess we … go in there?” Jen asked. She started down the tunnel, taking one step downward at a time. “I hope this isn’t the way to the land of the dead.”

“I don’t think it’s ever looked like this in any story I’ve ever heard,” said Mikala. “It’s always dark and spooky, not bright and shiny with funny lights.”

By the time the girls reached the landing at the bottom, another door whooshed open. As they peered into it slowly, their minds had no way of describing what they saw. A great circular area was filled with large windows. In the windows were depicted many villages and land areas around them, including their own.

They could actually see people and things as they moved around. Also, there were pictures of things they had no way to describe, including one of a huge oval dome of some kind set in the darkest of sky with bright sparkly points of light spattered all around.

Mikala said fearfully, “Jen, I dunno about any of this. Nothing I have ever heard even describes anything like it.”

Suddenly, the girls heard a strange noise. They turned rapidly to find what looked to them like a man with metal skin standing nearby, looking at them with eyes like glowing blue jewels. It said, in that strange language, something that sounded kind of familiar.

Mikala said to Jen almost in a whisper, “Wait … that language isn't actually strange. It’s the same one we are talking in, but it is … pronounced differently.”



Jen looked at Mikala with a strange expression and asked, “How so? I’ve never heard ...”

Mikala interrupted, “Listen to what it asked. Ooo us do stndor?”

Jen replied, “OK, so?”

Mikala replied, “It asked, ‘Who are you, stranger?’ Just pronounced it funny.”

The mechanical man spoke again.

“I wish I could understand you,” Jen said to him.

“I … think he said that he’s trying to … talk better?” said Mikala.

Jen pointed at herself and said, “I’m Jen.” she then pointed to Mikala and said, “That’s Mikala.”

The metal man said, “Jen and Mikala,” perfectly.

Mikala said excitedly, “WOW! That was fast. We might be able to get it to speak our language and discover what all this is about.”

“Jayce is nine to five,” said the metal man, pointing to his chest.

“Is … that your name?” asked Mikala. “Jayceisninetofive?”

“Sounds like numbers,” said Jen. “Six Nine Two Five?”

The metal man nodded. “Jay Six Nine Two Five,” he said, much more clearly, from their point of view. He pointed at his chest again as he said it.

“Pleased to meet you, J6925,” said Jen. She then pointed to one of the sitting places and said, “Chair. Sitting place … “

The robot replied, although with a weird accent, and said the same thing. It repeated it several times, then said, “Chair,” perfectly.

For a long time, the girls went through this with J6925. Each time, the enunciation became more clear to the girls. After a time, it seemed to the girls that J6925 had actually tired of what they were doing. He walked over to one of the slanted tables and pressed on a blue glowing jewel. One of the dark windows on the wall lit up with a picture of a tree.

J6925 pointed to the image and said, “Iska tee.”

Jen replied with a nod of her head, “Yes, it’s a tree.”

J6925 appeared to be pleased as he brought up another picture of several human dwelling places, “Iska hoot unna yoose.”

Mikala had a puzzled expression for an instant before she replied, “The smaller one is a hut. The larger is a house.”

After this process happened for a while, J6925 turned off the screen and said, “Amma J6925 Meetnbot. Kep unna eqpted kernin.”

Jen replied while pointing at him, “You are a maintenance bot. Your task is to keep the equipment working.”

The robot was apparently extremely pleased with this as he turned and manipulated more of the sparkly jewels on the slanted table. The image in the window changed to show an area of corridor that appeared totally smashed. A large section had a huge hole that the girls could see the darkest of dark at the bottom and top of with a spattering of lights scattered across it.

J6925 said, “Seep ista disfukal. Moosh dumaded. Nevorgata sencas wen oot. Big Rook slamm inta seep, knookted oot eninuring. Do best, no can reparded it. Needs Resouses. Has maintaineded moocha tha systins. Is Critical. Need mooch repares.”

Mikala looked at Jen and said, “I think he’s saying our world … isn’t a world at all, but some type of ship that has some how been critically damaged.”

Jen replied, “From the looks of that …” She pointed to an image of a huge oval disk with many extremely large oval domes placed about its surface, once again hanging in the darkest of dark, spattered with points of light in the background. A huge area of the oval disk had a large, ragged, gaping hole in it, as far as the girls could see from this angle.

Mikala pointed at the picture and said to the robot, “Is that … the ship? Is our world that ship?”

The robot replied, “Ist des seep. Boodily dumageded n nuden fix. Mooch time cycle poos sincea commande crew gon inna stook.”

Jen asked, totally astounded, “Who are we then? And how long has it been since that happened?” She pointed to the large gaping damaged place in the image.

The girls hear a small sound of beeping and tweedling for a few moments before the robot answered, “Inn beiodum toom, been seve oonard yarin.”

Mikala gasped, “Seven hundred years? Then … then .. the stories the olduns tell, are for real?”

Jen replied with total incredulity in her tone, “Apparently they are real. Look around, this place itself is right out of one of the tales my great grandfather said his grandmother used to tell him.

J6925 said, “Ooo ur tha Cononests oo liv in beiodum. Seep ista genseep witin alla swervin bios un habitats fumsa hoomerl. Commande crew die inna impc. No lef but Meetnbot. Meetnbot ista serus needa oomun crew ta elps repre. Gettna b mundunories zen mony crt sys broken n no can repre wif no resouses.”

“Nobody’s left but you?” Jen asked.

“Yes,” said J6925.

“And you need … a human crew?” asked Mikala.

“Yes,” J6925 replied. That was one word he now pronounced perfectly, at least.

“And … resources?” asked Jen. “What kind of … resources?”

“Needit leased ninedy duns highern, twenny duns crow meeyum, den duns dye tain yum,” said J6925, “fiffy duns copper …”

“Copper!” said Mikala. “He said copper! I don’t know what the other things are, but I know that one!”

“What is it?” asked Jen.

“It’s a kind of … metal?” Mikala said. “Thrun the blacksmith showed me. He can make things with it. You can mix it with another kind of metal, tin, to get bronze. It has to be done when they’re both so hot they melt, like when ice becomes water.”

“Yoo no copper?” asked J6925. “Good! No enuff onna seep. Muss fiond moor.”

“And … it sounds like there’s other kinds of … metals?” Jen said uncertainly. “Kinds that you don’t know? I don’t know any of them.”

J6925 nodded. He operated some of the controls. A picture of a rectangular bar of a shiny orangish substance appeared in the windows. “Copper.”

“Yes!” said Mikala. “That’s what copper looks like!”

He turned some more controls. “Tin.”

“Yeah, tin looks like that,” Mikala said.

“Highern,” said J6925, showing them a bar of a dark gray metal.

“Highern?” Jen tried. J6925 showed them other things he called “crow meeyum” and “dye tain yum,” or something like those.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get these things for you,” said Mikala.

“If you donut, thiggs woll be … berry bad,” said J6925. “Arda fishill grabba debraking downall reddy. Soonit willbe lifesa port. Allda yoomuns die inna year.”

“All the humans will be dead in a year?” asked Jen, completely shocked.

“Where do we get these … highern and things?” asked Mikala.

“There neer bye planna toyds,” said J6925. “Like the one that hit the seep. Ship. If you can go to them, you can take onna theesma sheens. Reef eyeners. They take out the metals we need.”

“You’re sounding almost understandable!” said Jen.

“Go to the … big rocks that hit the ship?” asked Mikala. “How can we even do that? If there were stories about ways to do that, Grandma never told them to me.”

“I will put the reef eyeners on scout ships,” said J6925, “and show you how to pie lutt them. They’re mostly auda mated.”

“I’m happy for them, now that they’re mated,” said Jen, “but I don’t understand.”

J6925 nodded. “First … we needa talk more.”

“OK,” said Jen.

For a while the two of them just talked to J6925. From what they could gather, there had once been a human crew and human colonists, most of whom were in some kind of sleep most of the time, and a crew of robots that maintained the ship’s functions.

But then there had been a collision with a large rock that they somehow hadn’t seen coming, which J6925 said was strange. So much damage had been done. The humans had all been awakened, but the human colonists had been separated from the crew in the habitat zones of the ship, while the human crew had done all they could to fix things, over more than one generation, but eventually they had died out due to unforeseen accidents and loss of genetic diversity due to the loss of the few surviving female engineers in engineering.

Over time all the maintenance robots had worn out except for J6925, who was the last remaining working one. The other robots had donated parts to keep him working, but now there were no others left. Still, he had thought there was no way for the humans in the habitat zones to enter the rest of the ship. That portion of the ship’s knowledge had been destroyed.

It seemed that the humans in the habitat zones had survived and even thrived, due to the plant and animal life that the colonists had brought with them and the ship’s organic and inorganic recycling systems.

But the life support systems had started to fail, and artificial gravity was already failing in some places. Flying Mountain was one of the areas in the habitat zones where the gravity had completely ceased to work.

Mikala and Jen felt like their minds were about to explode from the amount they had learned.

“I doubt anyone back home would believe any of this if we told them,” Jen said.

“Not even Elder Danel, or Granny Ree,” agreed Mikala.

“There are machines that can help you learn to pilot the scout ships,” said J6925. “But do you need to eat, drink, sleep, or eliminate? I know that humans need to do these things.”

Mikala still had her rock pouch and sling. She looked into it and replied, “We brought food and water with us. Am sorta afraid of that … learning thingy. Show it to me please.”

Jen said as she brought out a loaf that had been baked early that morning, “Yea, we have food. I don't have to go right now and I would like to see more of ..” she waved her hand around, “this seep.”

J6925 waved a hand towards one of the door outlines and walked towards it. It whooshed open with an airy tinkle, revealing more magic beyond either of the girls’ wildest imaginations.

As they followed the robot, both girls looked around in total wide-eyed amazement at all the super far advanced items all around them as they proceeded down a long hall that had many cross junctions.

J6925 finally turned off into a door that had tinkled open and led the girls in. He walked up to one of about 3 dozen spheres and pushed a few buttons on its side. A hatch gull winged open revealing a perfect mockup of the flight deck of one of the scout ships.

J6925 indicated one of the girls should enter as he said, “Inna thems can learn howsa fly em. Will watchted over n surs ya ken.”

Mikala was really intrigued as she entered the sim-deck and sat in one of the two flight couches. She said, “Jen, come sit in this one. We can learn to fly one of those metal birds Granny told us about.”

Jen climbed in and sat next to Mikala in the comfortable gravity couch. J6925 poked his torso in far enough to show the girls how to fasten the flight harnesses and to turn on the control consols and cabin equipment.

Once again, both girls were totally incredulous as they knew they were about to begin an adventure none of the others would ever believe.

J6925 left, and the gull wing hatch hissed shut with a heavy thump. The voice of J6925 could be heard saying in its strange way, (has been translated for the benefit of our readers) “If you would pick up one of those helmets and put them on, then plug the cord into the slot on the console, we can begin. The sooner we can have you out gathering resources, the faster we can resolve this serious problem.”

Jen and Mikala did as he asked, and soon they were seeing a door opening up in front of them, with nothing outside but darkness and lots of tiny points of light.

“What are those little light things, anyway?” asked Jen.

“Oh yes, that’s right, you don’t see those at night,” said J6925’s voice.

“Night? No, it’s just dark,” said Mikala.

“That’s because the night sky simulators broke during the catastrophe,” J6925 said. “Those are stars. They’re really far away and really far apart, but if you saw one up close, it’s like a huge ball of fire. Don’t worry, you’re not going anywhere near those. But for now, I’m going to highlight the controls you’ll need to use first. Do you see them?”

They looked around. There was a flashing green light over a panel to their right. “These here?” asked Jen, looking and pointing at them.

“Yes. This just starts up the systems. That one raises the ship up. That one retracts the landing gear … the struts that hold the ship up when it’s turned off.”

He continued to explain. Soon he had taught the girls how to make the ship hover, lift off, and land. Then he showed them how to exit the docking bay, which wasn’t too hard. After that it was a matter of finding the docking bay and getting into it, which was harder, but there were lots of things the ship did for them.

Then there was the matter of finding the space rocks, which he called planetoids. “Now, before I send you out, I’m going to mark your destination on the map, and the ship can guide itself to it, if you tell it to. Once you’re out in space, you can press these controls to go to the planetoid that’s marked.” The girls practiced flying to a marked planetoid, then back to the ship, several times.

“You are doing remarkably well,” said J6925, whom the girls had taken to calling Jay. “You have learned the basics in just a few hours.”

“When can we go fly a real one?” asked Jen.

“Well, I haven’t attached refiner units to the scout ships yet,” said Jay. “I was going to do that once you were resting, as I do not require sleep.”

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Back at Nabala Village, Zag and Gron had dashed in all out of breath and wide-eyed. They started yelling about a massive landslide over by the pond, and they thought Jen and Mikala were perhaps buried.

Many of the villagers ran to the cliffs by the pond to see if they could help. When they all arrived, they found a place where it appeared that a minor rock slide had happened, but it seems like nothing serious.

No signs of Mikala or Jen were found except for the divots left in the target faces they had drawn in the cliff face, and the really strange footprints that ended at the sheer face of the cliff. There were no other clues as to what might have happened to the girls.

Several of the nearby villages joined in to search. No clues nor any trace was found that would indicate what had happened to the girls. It was a true mystery that their footprints, which were clearly visible in the freshly fallen riprap of the minor rockfall, ended at a solid cliff face as if they had walked into solid rock and vanished. Many weird and strange tales began as everyone agreed to totally avoid that particular place.

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Mikala awoke from a really weird dream of floating in a totally black sea with silvery spots of light scattered all about. As she sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, it dawned on her suddenly that she wasn’t in her hut. She came completely awake and looked around.

A small tingle of fear ran through her until she saw Jen in the next bunk, still sleeping. She remembered where she was and what she was to do after she awoke. She discovered her fur skin bikini was missing, and in its place was some kind of full body outfit and a small pair of delicately made shorts. The same was true for Jen; her striped fur skin bikini had also been replaced with the same items.

The door whooshed open with an airy tinkle, and Jay walked in and said, this time in almost perfect enunciation, “Gut mornin. I give tu both undies anna space environment suit incase sompin depressurizes the scout ship’s cabin.” He held up the panties and handed them to Mikala.

“These are kind of cute,” Mikala commented as she wiggled into them and stood up.

Jay picked up the full body suit and handed it to Mikala. “I will help you to put this on. Is fits skin tight to keep body intact inna vacuum and to keep it warm or cool as required.”

Jay showed Mikala how the zipper in front worked and helped her into it. Mikala felt so wonderful at the way it held her body and seemingly caressed it. When she zipped it up in front, she left enough open at the neck that it showed off her cleavage nicely.

Jay tapped a place on one of the walls, and it became a reflective surface. Mikala walked to it and looked at her reflection. The suit fit as perfectly as if it were tailor made and left nothing to the imagination. It showed off her female figure perfectly.

Jen woke about that time and sat up startled with a small gasp. “Wha? The bananas! They said to go flying! Huh? Mikala?” She blinked and rubbed her eyes. “What’re you wearing?”

Mikala said soothingly, “Relax, silly. Time to get dressed so we can go on a really amazing adventure. From what Jay has said and showed us, it will be a lot of fun.”

Jen pointed at Mikala and commented, “That’s a really nice outfit. It looks really good on you, too.”

Mikala picked up the pair of panties and handed them to Jen, “Put these on. I’ll show you how to put your suit on.”

After the girls had dressed and eaten a dream meal from one of their fantasies, Jay led them to a small room with a bar around it at about waist height. Jay had them hold on to the bar as he said, “Docking 12.”

A nice tingle washed through the girls for an instant before the door tinkled open. Jay led them out into the docking bay. The girls had to stop and look around at yet again another place of sheer total magical fantasy. “Wow!” said Jen. “This is amazing! But … it looks slightly familiar …”

There were about 50 of what Jay had referred to as scouts. There were many of another sleek looking craft that resembled the metal birds the girls’ grandparents used to tell them bedtime stories about.

Jay walked to the nearest scout ship and placed his palm against a place on the side. Amid a small hiss and whirr, a door gull winged open, a small set of steps extended, and lights came on from within.

Jay asked, “Would each of you want to pilot your own scout? Means we gots more resources fasser?”

Jen looked at Mikala and smiled. “Sure, why not? We might even get to play tag.”

Both girls laughed as they each climbed into a scout ship and sat in the comfortable pilot’s gravity couch.

Once Mikala had seated herself, she realized she had to fully zip the front of her suit so the helmet would fit and seal properly. After she plugged the cord into the main console, her heads-up display came alive within the helmet. All the necessary flight items were clearly visible. She saw that Jen had gotten into her ship too, and as soon as the ships’ doors closed, a gigantic door opened in the wall, with only blackness outside it.

After activating the command console, she enabled the engines. Mikala felt the small humming vibrations all through her that indicated it was operational. Just as Jay had showed her in the simulator, she lifted it out of the docking clamps, retracted the landing gear, then slowly moved towards the dark patch that was overlaid with that sparkly stuff. Beyond, Mikala could see inky blackness spattered with those bright points of light that Jay called stars.

Jen got her suit on and plugged in, just as she’d learned, and she realized why this room looked familiar – even more so, now that the bay doors were open to space. This looked exactly like the simulator. It must have been made to look just like this room, for better practicing. “Wow,” Jen said. “So we’re just doing the same thing, only for real now!”

“That is correct,” said Jay in her earphones. “Now just do the same thing as in the simulator.”

Jen did, as Mikala had. The docking clamps deactivated, she lifted off the floor and retracted the landing struts, and then she guided the ship forward toward the outside. She saw Mikala’s scout already almost out there. “This is amazing!” she said.

“It’s fun!” came Mikala’s voice.

“Go slowly,” said Jay. “We may need the materials fast, but there is no need to be careless.”

In time they were outside the ship and looking back at it in their rear screens. “It’s … so big,” said Jen. “The … ship. It’s … our whole world. And we’re … outside it? Outside … the world?”

“It’s like … when I left the village for the first time,” said Mikala. “But there are other villages. Are there … other ships?”

“There were, at one time,” said Jay. “Other ships, and other worlds. They may still be out there, but if so, they’re very, very far away. We lost contact with them when the impact occurred.”

“A thingy just appeared on my … thingy?” said Jen.

“Yes,” said Jay. “I’ve just marked a nearby planetoid on your navigation display. Sensors show that it is rich in iron and silicates.”

“Oh, so I should … do this,” Jen said, directing the ship to go to the marked object. She felt the ship change direction around her, and many displays changed as the automated systems directed her toward the planetoid.

“Hey, I got here first,” said Mikala, directing her ship to go to the mark on her display.

“Mikala, you are going to a spot on the other side of the same planetoid,” said Jay. “Once you’re both there and locked on, you can activate the mini refinery package.”

“I can see you, Mikala!” said Jen, looking at her displays. “I mean, I can see your ship. I can’t see you inside it. You’re far away!”

“I see you too,” said Mikala. “It’s so … strange, being able to talk to you when we’re this far apart. We shouldn’t be able to hear each other even if we yelled as loud as we could, if it weren’t for this ancient magic stuff.”

“Considering space is a vacuum, you wouldn’t be able to hear one another even if you were quite close together,” said Jay, “if it weren’t for the subetheric comms.”

It took some time, as the ships’ automatic navigation systems accelerated them toward their rendezvous with the interstellar planetoid, then decelerated them to match velocities with the object and slowly settled onto the rocky surface. Artificial gravity generators firmly attached the ships to the small world.

“Looks like we’re here,” said Mikala. “Now, what’s this about the finery thing?”

“I’m remotely activating the mini refinery packages that I installed on your ships,” said Jay. Each of the girls heard some sounds from somewhere in the part of the ship behind them. “The ships are going to lower a kind of box-shaped device to the surface, where it will move off to a likely spot and start to dig into the rocks.”

“Oh! There it is!” said Jen. She saw a little boxy robot crawling slowly across the surface until it seemed to find an interesting cluster of rocks and seemingly started eating them. She giggled. “It’s eating them and pooping out dirt!”

“It is saving the iron and silicon, along with trace amounts of other useful minerals, and expelling what we can’t use,” said Jay. “The analogy with biological digestion is apt.”

Several times the small robot returned to the ship, deposited its treasures, and went back out to gather more. “I hope this is getting lots of stuff we need, Jay!” said Mikala.

“From the plans the computer has made,” said Jay, “what you are gathering today will enable us to repair the harvesters. This will allow us to obtain even larger quantities of raw materials, and faster. That will in turn enable us to repair large sections of the ship at a time.”

Soon the mini refinery robots returned to their ships. “It is time to come back,” said Jay. “Your scout ships are at their capacity.”

“That’s all that’ll fit?” asked Jen.

“Scout ships are not built for large capacity freight missions,” said Jay. “But the harvesters aren’t working yet. The Harvesters were all destroyed in the initial impact, and they are completely autonomous. Now loading the refinery units back on board your ships …”

“Wait, what’s that?” asked Mikala.

“What?” asked Jay. “I’m not detecting anything.”

“She’s right, there’s a big rock heading right toward this one!” said Jen.

“I’m sensing nothing!” said Jay, sounding agitated for the first time since the girls had met him. “Switching to your visual feeds – there is definitely a large object closing on your position! Please, take off now! Put some distance between yourselves and the planetoid!”

“OK,” said Jen. She activated the takeoff controls. Mikala, on the other side of the planetoid, did likewise.

“Which way should we go?” asked Mikala.

“Away from the planetoid,” said Jay. “Details are not important at the moment.”

“Right, then,” said Jen, and simply angled her ship directly away from the space rock and fired her forward thrusters.

“Away we go,” said Mikala, doing the same. She looked at the rear viewscreen and saw the space rock colliding with the planetoid they had just been on. The impact was tremendous and nearly split the planetoid in half. Bits of rock flew out in all directions. If they’d still been on the planetoid, they would have been crushed.

“That’s … not good,” said Jen, imagining what would have happened. A small rock impinged on her shields, causing a red light to flash momentarily, but that was all.

“I’ve highlighted the coordinates of the ship in your navigational consoles,” said Jay. “Returning should be as simple as getting there was.”

Fortunately, he was right. They were soon landing in the docking bay, and the bay doors slowly slid shut.

To the girls, Jay appeared to be the most happy they could have imagined. Several small droids with balls for wheels and articulated arms with grasping fingers had arrived and began unloading the materials the girls had gathered.

They didn’t know how much they had until Jay said, “That was about a ton of iron and a ton of silicon. I notice in the smelter’s report that there are several hundred pounds of gold and diamond too. That will definately be useful.”

The girls made several trips to different planetoid locations and harvested more metals that were sorely needed. By the time they had made the final run of the current session, the girls noticed something that looked like spiders crawling all over the surface of the oval disk near the large damaged place.

The large gaping hole now had visible traces of some type of material stretching across the huge opening of the damaged place. By the time they had docked and their scouts were once again within the docking clamps, they even noticed a change within the hangar.

When they exited their craft, the air smelled fresher somehow, and gravity, although they didn’t know what to call it, had normalized. In a way, things “felt” much better.

By the time they had made their way back to the control center, they found Jay in the process of building something that looked very much like him.

Jen asked, “Whatcha doin’, Jay? Makin’ a girlfriend?”

Mikala said amid her giggles, “Yeah, or is it just something to keep you company?”

Jay didn’t seem to be affected by the comments as he replied, “I am creating more maintenance bots like myself to aid me in repairing this ship. While you were out harvesting, I made some much needed repairs to life support and gravity control. I think most of the people in the biodomes are in for a pleasant surprise tonight when it starts to get dark.”

Mikala asked, “Why’s that?”

Jay replied, “For the first time in several hundred years, there will be stars out, and a full moon will rise. I managed to fix the environmental controls enough that the system is working properly, although it will take a bit more before it is back to optimal condition.”

Mikala asked, “Since this is a ship, does it move on its own? Like the boats on the lake? Or the scout ships?”

Jay replied, “It can, and will again as soon as I can build more bots to help me do the repairs. The entire engineering section was totally eradicated in the impact. It will be several months before that can be completed to the minimal specs necessary for the ship to have maneuvering capabilities.”

“And …” asked Jen, “... what happens then? Where do we go?”

“This was a colonization mission,” said Jay. “We were destined to go to a planet that has been terraformed by robots … that is, made into a world habitable by humans. The habitat zones’ environments are quite similar to what it will be like, only it will all be connected, and much larger.”

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Time passed and the girls learned much. They learned to fly the scouts like pros. The new harvesters, which were very much larger and looked like one of the beetles the girls used to play with at the stream near their village, only much bigger, had the exact same control deck as the scouts and were just as easy to fly. The aid of the computer systems’ auto controls helped immensely.

The many harvesting trips the girls had taken brought back many tons of badly needed resources. The results of this were evident all around them as more maintenance bots like Jay began to appear, along with some sort of builder type bot that looked like a spider.

The massive damage to the ship was being repaired at a tremendous rate as well and was very evident on the screen that monitored that section of the hull. Jay had shown the girls many areas in that location firsthand, since pressurization was now possible there.

They still were mind blown at the technology all around them, especially as the massive stardrive was repaired. Neither girl grasped the concept of Null Reaction drives, nor the ability to create a singularity Jay referred to as a wormhole through a section of extra dimensional space / time to traverse massive distances in a very short span.

Mikala looked at one of the large displays, as they had come to know they were called, and watched the newly constructed and repaired areas around what was Engineering and the Engine.

It was a very near miss that power production, environmental, and life support hadn’t been taken out in the strike, although it had taken a serious amount of damage, which bots like Jay had done a heroic job of repairing with what they had had available, and maintained as best they could over the many long years.

Mikala and Jen found that the reason the bots couldn’t go on harvesting trips was that the bots were unable to leave the confines of the ship due to power requirements. They carried no on-board power source and received their energy through power transmission nodes throughout the massive ship.

The scout ships had no such transmission nodes, and what was more, their auto controls were unable to function without some sort of manual intervention, and the harvesters, which could be autonomous if necessary, had all been destroyed in the initial strike.

Due to the massive damage to other more critical systems, the resources that would have been required to place a power transmission node on one of the scout ships had already been used before it was realized that it would be necessary to do so.

Jen walked into the now totally functional control room and flopped beside Mikala in one of the comfortable gravity couches. She only had on a pair of panties and a cute flutter top. Mikala was dressed much the same way, except she had on a short smock top.

Mikala said, “Very soon, Jay said were are to do a power on functionality test of the ion absorption array.”

Jen looked questionly at Mikala, “And just what in this … ummm ... ship, is that?”

Mikala shrugged as she replied, “Danged if I know.” She pointed to several sparkly diamonds on the slanted console, “All I do know is that when a message on that small screen there says to, from the bots repairing the drive systems, I’m to press those sparkly thingys in the sequence the bots will display. When the bots say stop it, I press that red sparkly thingy, and it will shut it down.”

Jen asked, “What do you think the people and our families in the village are thinking? They have had stars in the night sky along with a normal moon cycle for months now, according to Jay.”

Mikala looked sad for a moment, then replied, “I wonder what our friends and family are thinking about our sudden disappearance?”

Jen said, “They probably made up some kind of weird story about monsters, ghosts, or some such thing.”

Jay entered the control room. Mikala and Jen had decided that Jay would no longer need to do any type of repairs unless it was necessity or he just wanted to. He was now in charge of the entire engineering and maintenance department.

Due to the extreme efficiency of the other bots, this left Jay with free time to go over the massive amounts of neglected data stored over the seven hundred years the ship had been floundering.

Jay said in perfect enunciation, “Good morning, ladies. I overheard what you said, Mikala. You may be interested to know about the holo-comm system. With it, you could send a visual image message to any location you choose on the ship. That system has now been fully repaired and tested.”

Jen giggled as she got an impish expression on her cute face, “Why don’t we try it out on Gron and Zag? It would be neat to get them to wet their pants.”

Mikala giggled mischievously, “Get back at them for all the times they harassed us with those weird critters as we grew up.”

Mikala asked, “Jay, how does it work? Teach us.”

Jay came to the console and pointed to several sparkly things that were grouped together under a symbol that looked like a cattail plant on a stalk. “This symbol here is what is call an icon. What it represents is a microphone. Anywhere you see this with some buttons, it’s a comm station for the holo-communications throughout the ship.”

He pressed several of the glowing spots, and a holo-screen appeared. Jay asked the central computer for the location of an individual named Gron and entered his coordinates into the system …

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Gron awok suddenly to a strange musical chime in his hut. He saw a bright blue-white glowing image of Mikala standing next to his sleeping mat. He backed up into the nearby wall in total fear. He had never seen a ghost before.

Mikala said, “Hi, Gron. Sorry to bother you, but I need you to tell everyone that me and Jen are okay and doing very well. Also tell them that in a little while we’ll have some major news to tell everyone. Like ... why there are stars in the sky and a moon overhead now.”

The image faded, leaving Gron and his mother, who had seen the whole thing too, in total shocked incredulity. No one had ever actually seen a ghost before, although the elders told tales.

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“Now that you have done that,” asked Jay, “how would you like to do a new kind of mission?”

“New … kind of mission?” asked Jen.

“We have sufficient harvesting operations under way,” Jay explained, “that we can now turn toward some less immediate but still pressing matters. Such as why the planetoid struck the ship before we were able to detect it and defend the ship from it, or even raise shields.”

“That does seem strange,” Mikala said. “There must have been something special about it.”

“Yes,” said Jay, “and I noticed that the first planetoid you went out to harvest was struck by something similar just after you departed. The sensors didn’t pick it up either; you only escaped damage because you sensed it directly – visually. It would be important to know whether there are more of those out there, and why the sensors can’t detect them.”

“We don’t want to go to all this trouble fixing the ship up, only for it to be hit by another giant space rock,” said Jen.

“Exactly,” Jay replied.

“Let’s go,” said Mikala.

The two girls were soon in their space suits and getting into their scout ships. Jen had painted hers with pink and purple flowers, while Mikala had decorated hers with pink strawberries. It wasn’t long before they were out in space, heading for that first planetoid they’d ever visited.

“The planetoid was almost split in two by the impact,” said Jay over their comms. “But by now the fragments have stabilized, and there should be a great deal of debris remaining from the mystery object that struck it.”

“Do you think somebody … aimed the space rock at this planetoid?” asked Jen. “Can you even do that?”

“Yes, sufficiently large mass driver cannons could do such a thing, or perhaps even more advanced weapons technology that I am unaware of. But it is illogical to assume that it was an attack. For one thing, why would they not have finished the job? Why leave the ship crippled but with so many still alive, when they obviously could have completely obliterated it? But on the other hand, there is no known form of naturally occurring matter that would be invisible to our sensors yet visible to the unaided eye.”

“So … not an attack, but not natural either?” asked Mikala. “What’s that mean?”

“It is my hope that, with the data you’re about to collect, we can find out,” said Jay. “And you’re almost there.”

As before, the scout ships’ artificial gravity anchored their landing struts to the surface. And again, Mikala landed at one site on the planetoid, while Jen was at another site.

“Whoa, it looks really different,” said Jen. “You can see what used to be here before, because it’s all kind of light gray with some sparkly bits, but there’s a big chunk of the new space rock right here, and it’s dark gray with … some flat areas?”

“I’m seeing your visual feeds right now,” said Jay. “This is fascinating. The probes should be auto-deploying …”

Sure enough, some small spider-like robots had emerged from their scout ships and had begun to approach the dark gray areas of the planetoid, the parts that had once been part of the meteoroid that had crashed into it.

“Good luck, spidery critters!” said Mikala.

“I’m directly controlling them from here,” said Jay. “The material is an osmiridium alloy plated titanium, clearly artificially constructed, and its surface is specially textured to be absorptive of the transphasic waves that are most useful for remote sensing in space. It’s nonreflective to just about anything – of course, there’s only so much one can do about ambient visible light. Effectively, this is passive stealth technology.”

“And, um, I’m used to asking this, but what does that mean?” asked Jen.

“It means somebody made this, but I’m not sure yet who, or how long ago,” said Jay. “It looks like it used to be part of a ship, maybe something that was destroyed in a war. It was designed to be hard to see. And if this region of space is full of bits of this, it means two things: one, we’ve been lucky, and we’ll have to be very careful until we can find a way to detect these chunks of metal, and two, if we can harvest the metal from them, they’ll be an excellent source for some of the rarer elements we need. Now launching automated harvesters to your location.”

“Do you know where it came from?” asked Mikala. “I mean, what direction?”

“An excellent question,” said Jay. “I have data from the impact that disabled the ship, and data from the object that impacted that planetoid that you’re currently on, and both meteoroids approached from the same direction. That seems to suggest that their source must lie in that direction. Perhaps there is a derelict vessel somewhere that way, or at least a debris field. But with the data we have, it’s difficult to say how far away it would be. And the closer anything got to it, the greater the chance that it would collide with large chunks of stealthy debris. It might be best to leave it until we’re better at sensing the debris.”

“OK, what should we do now?” asked Jen.

“Just observe what you can while the roving probes collect data,” said Jay. “Soon the harvesters will arrive, and you can come back.”

“Could there be any, you know, gizmos or gadgets we could bring back?” asked Mikala.

“That seems highly unlikely,” said Jay. “These large chunks mean that the original object must have been extremely large, so any force great enough to shatter it would certainly have smashed any useful technology. The only data I’m getting is from the materials the object is made of.”

“I think I might see another piece,” said Jen. “Can either of you see it?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t look like it’s heading this way,” said Mikala.

“I’m seeing it in your visual feeds,” said Jay, “but as usual, it isn’t visible on the sensors, which is evidence that it’s the same type of debris.”

“Can we go … get it?” asked Jen.

“That’s not within the parameters of … Jen, what are you doing?” asked Jay.

“I’m going over there,” Jen said. “It doesn’t look that big. Maybe I can slow it down.”

“That would require a great deal of navigational skill and experience,” Jay said. “Your scout ship has already departed the planetoid’s surface. I would strongly advise that you … how are you closing in on it? The automated systems can’t detect that object.”

“We’ve had plenty of practice,” said Mikala. “I’m gonna go help her.” Her ship also took off from the planetoid.

“You’re stranding the probes on the planetoid,” said Jay, “but I suppose they can return to the ship on board the harvesters.”

“Getting closer,” said Jen. Soon she had matched velocities with the meteoroid and was preparing to land. Some of the extreme close-range sensing technologies were able to assist with landing, such as the very low-tech gravimetric and electromagnetic sensors. “And ... I’m down.” Her landing struts were fastened to the object’s surface with artificial gravity.

“Hmm, how do I slow it down?” asked Jen. “It’s kinda … spinning.”

“You will first have to stop its tumble,” said Jay. “Do you remember those training exercises?”

“Yeah! They made me real sick,” Jen said. “But I got used to ‘em.” She started to apply her ship’s engines, and the meteoroid’s tumble began to slow along one axis.

After a few minutes, Mikala said, “I’m landing now too.”

“Once Jen has stopped the object’s tumble, it will be much easier for two ships to change its course than one,” said Jay.

“OK,” said Mikala. “Now I’m down too. Hey, it’s almost stopped spinning.”

“Your ships’ nav systems are capable of linking to coordinate recovery,” said Jay. “You have completed the portion of this operation that is most fraught with peril. I am most impressed. Your training has clearly been quite effective.”

Together, they slowly changed the object’s velocity to match that of the main ship, then started accelerating it toward the ship. Jay guided them on a course that would not collide with the ship if they lost control, but it would bring them close, so if everything went well they could slow it down and then smoothly bring it into the cargo hold, and that was exactly what they did.

“Wooooo!” cheered Jen once they had landed in the launch bay and gotten out of their ships. She and Mikala hugged enthusiastically. “We brought back a piece of … thingy!”

“Indeed,” said Jay, entering the launch bay. “My congratulations on a most audacious endeavor. We now have an entire 964-ton piece of debris to examine in detail. This could tell us much more about the source. It is currently being carefully scanned.”

When they walked to the cargo hold, they saw dozens of the spider like robots climbing all over the huge chunk of dark gray metal, examining it with many types of devices.

“Soon the harvesters will return with the raw materials from the planetoid,” said Jay as they watched, “but the object that collided with it was far from intact. This one should yield much more data. So far, I am still seeing no indication that the source is a threat, but it is, of course, still a hazard, and the more we can learn about how to sense this debris, the lower the chances of another ship-disabling collision.”

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The AI within the Computer system matrix of the ship was a biological / electronic hybrid and performed its thought calculations in very much the same way the humanoids who had constructed it did. Its memory circuits, if observed under high powered magnification, even resembled the synapses of a humanoid brain.

The massive damage it had received during the impact had finally been repaired. Although the repairs could not restore any lost data, they did create conditions that were ripe for other things to spontaneously occur in the same manner as in any other mind.

The computer system sorely missed the biological crew who had been part of the research and development team. The ability they had to think in ways that created novel pathways into certain concepts was absent.

The AI still attempted to perform research on its own using all the data and computational abilities it had. While researching this new nanocrystalline form of metal that had just recently been introduced to its research protocol by the maintenance droids, the system began to do something it had not originally been programmed to do.

Using its extrapolation program the AI began to transform from an IF/THEN, Else OR NOR process to something that bordered on genius imagination.

Once this step happened, then came the epiphany where it could extrapolate unrelated data from many data sets and utilize them in ways not dreamed of by the creators of the system. In other words, to put it simply, it began to contemplate things far outside the confines of its programming box.

A realization that bordered that very narrow line that separated a smart system from a self aware one began to dissolve as an awareness spread through the massively advanced system.

The AI began to contemplate how the atomic structure of this new metal had been assembled in the crystalline metal debris it had been tasked on analyzing. It recognized the similarity to how graphene sheets, one molecule thick, could be layered and tuned to absorb or repel certain wavelengths, or in which carbon nanotubes could be anchored to a surface by one end to produce extremely black materials.

Here, of course, it was mainly absorbing the transphasic quanta emitted by sensors; absorbing light visible by humans seemed to have been an afterthought, or hadn’t been considered at all. Perhaps human visible frequencies meant nothing to the species that had built it; perhaps their senses lay in a different range of the spectrum.

The AI had a major incongruous feedback loop in its higher logic as it realized that a simple adjustment to its current scanners would make this particular crystal glow brightly in several energy bands due to the unique way it was layered. This would limit the sensors’ efficiency in detecting other substances and energy types, but it could always be adjusted back.

The AI immediately contacted Jay and informed him of this. Jay in turn had the entire engineering maintenance department start on upgrading certain scanner equipment on all ships to detect this type of material while leaving other scanner suites alone.

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In a very dark place in extreme deep space illuminated only by far distant spiral galaxies, an NR portal opened. From the portal materialized one of the newest sensor/exploration probes Jay had ever conceived.

It immediately began to scan its current surroundings for a distance of one AU ... the distance between its home system’s sun and the planet of origin. At nearly the outer limit, it discovered a huge derelict hull made of the crystalline metal it was searching for, and a massive debris field, accompanied by many different smaller types of derelicts. It was apparent that several different combatants had lost a considerable amount of equipment in whatever conflict they had engaged in. The probe discovered something else of great interest, several large energy sources were still active. It moved closer to the nearest one to investigate further.

The spherical probe stopped near one of the larger debris chunks and scanned it with a beam. Then it moved to another chunk and scanned that one. As it moved to a third one, however, that chunk suddenly lit up with red traceries, forming a crimson pattern all over its surface. The probe quickly stopped scanning and backed some distance away. There was a pause, and then another chunk of debris nearby also lit up with a pattern of scarlet light. The probe hovered motionless, observing.

Finally the second debris piece went dark again, followed shortly after by the first. The probe carefully continued to scan the chunk that it sensed had some sort of power supply within.

“Fascinating,” Jay told Jen and Mikala, showing them a video of what had happened. “This piece of debris must contain a self-contained backup reactor, or a piece of the original object’s reactor. Furthermore, it appears able to transmit power to other debris pieces, as the second one shows no sign of having an energy source of its own. What’s more, the second debris piece contains very few intact systems, and yet the first piece was able to activate even some of the second one’s destroyed circuitry – in some places creating circuitry where there was none. This power source can remotely repair circuitry in objects and can even install it where none exists.”

“Umm,” said Jen, “I’m not sure what that all means, but okay, it can make broken machines work, and can even make machines in things that don’t have any machines?”

“Essentially, yes,” said Jay, “and without direct contact. But it did not generate a power source in the second object. Perhaps it cannot, or perhaps it did not have sufficient power to do so. There may be a level of power necessary to bootstrap such a process.”

“My … bootstraps don’t need any power?” Mikala remarked uncertainly, not really understanding.

“I can explain to you about such matters,” said Jay, “as you are both quite intelligent, but lacking in education. However, such explanation will take time. At any rate, we cannot yet manage to transport this ship through NR space, so we will have to content ourselves with transporting small remote probes. It would be good to know more about the reactor technology used by whatever object was once out there, but it seems to have very sensitive security systems. I will continue to examine it, with great care.”

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The probe sat stationary, relative to the debris field and its motions, as it calculated its next move based on scans and analysis. Suddenly, the large derelict that had the huge functional power source lit up with white traceries all around it, then fired a concentrated beam that impacted on the probe.

Shields had little to no effect on the beam as the probe lit up with white traceries all over its surface. The AI within the probe’s bio-electronic core momentarily lost its ability to function normally as its circuitry and processors that were electronic in nature changed form. The upgrade was immense. As the AI circuits cleared and it was able to run diagnostics, it discovered all of its old electronic circuitry was upgraded with … whatever this new technology was, although the biological components remained largely untouched.

Its power supply had changed from an RNR power core to something quite different and considerably stronger. Diagnostics also showed the NR drive was still basically the same, but vastly upgraded.

The derelict went back to its previous state as the white traceries faded. The probe’s AI had many eureka interphasic feedback loops in almost all of its memory core as its awareness expanded. It had no calculations as to where or, as yet, who this debris field belonged to, but it was aware of the immense upgrade and the fact that there appeared to have been no attempts at intrusion.

With its brand new scanners that were tunable to almost all frequencies and would do auto searches through the entire band, it began an in-depth study of the huge debris field all around. From the best it could ascertain from the available data, there had been at least six separate combatants in the ancient battle.

It found that many of the ships’ computers were still mostly intact, though long without power, but it would take a physical away mission within each large piece of debris to recover any of it, assuming their various data storage media hadn’t degraded with time. It transmitted its new data back to Jay, who of course noticed the probe’s upgrades.

Jay’s resource optimization programming told him what he must do. First, he sent the probe to do a more in-depth scan of the debris containing computer systems, to determine which of them were likely to contain salvageable data and which had deteriorated beyond recovery, with instructions to return to the ship for diagnostics when finished.

Then, he informed the ship’s main computer’s AI about the developments, as he assumed it would want to perform the diagnostics. Then he sat back and watched as the data came in. The new maintenance androids were working efficiently. The shields were at nominal levels and were of course raised at all times because of the presence of nigh-undetectable meteoroids. And the analysis of the large piece that Jen and Mikala had brought back was also ongoing.

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“Hi, what’s your name?” Jen asked one of the new maintenance bots, who turned to face her.

“Greetings, Jen,” said the android. “I am maintenance unit K0003.”

“Oh -- can we call you Kay?” asked Mikala.

“Certainly,” said Kay. “Alternate designation stored. I suggest that you may want other strategies for briefly designating units K0001, K0002, K0004, and so on.”

“Guess we’ll cross that river when we come to it,” said Jen. “How’s it going, Kay?”

“Repairs are proceeding at the expected pace,” said Kay. “Thermal conduit T-132-A here will be fully operational tomorrow, providing access to energy pathways of the WZ series, some of which will require extensive reconstruction, but we now have sufficient materials for that work. Once those are functional, we turn our attention to thermal conduit T-133-B, which is badly damaged.”

“That sounds like good progress,” said Mikala. “I’m glad the materials we’ve been bringing back have been useful.”

“Indeed they have,” Kay replied. “Estimate NR drive functional in three months.”

“Three months!” said Jen, sounding tired. “That’s a long time!”

“This is assuming acceleration of current repair program at current rate,” said Kay. “It does not include any unforeseen developments, of course.”

Just then, as if in response, the lights dimmed, then came back. “What was that?” Mikala asked.

“A rather large meteoroid impacted on dorsal shield 7,” said Kay. “There has been no damage, but shield power is drained and will have to build back up. Debris from the impact is being collected for raw materials.”

“Should we … go out and protect the ship while shield power builds back up?” asked Jen.

“It would be prudent to do so,” agreed Kay. “If you each take one of the fighters and patrol the exterior, their grav torpedoes should be able to fragment any incoming objects into small pieces before they impact with the shield. Power should be back to optimal within a standard hour.”

“OK, to the launch bay!” said Mikala, running down the hallway with Jen close behind her. Kay returned to work.

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Mikala sat in the comfortable gravity couch and fastened the harnesses. The controls for this craft were slightly different than one of the scouts, but were familiar enough there would be no issue.

Mikala plugged her helmet into the console and waited for the heads up to activate. This time, the data transmitted was far more in depth and included tactical and strategic weapons info the scouts didn’t.

She watched her forward scan as the huge launch bay door opened. She could clearly see the air retention force field as it shimmered slightly over the ebony darkness spattered with what she had come to know as stars.

The docking clamps released the landing gear, and the craft rose slightly from the deck. Mikala retracted the gear and slowly piloted the sleek craft from the bay with Jen close behind.

Once free and clear to navigate, the girls took their crafts through several ‘get acquainted’ maneuvers. The sleek fighters were responsive to the point that it made the scouts seem sluggish as the girls swung, soared, rolled, and basically enjoyed a roller coaster ride at a very large portion of relativistic speeds, although they slowed down when Jay warned them that they risked missing incoming meteoroids due to something he called ‘time dilation’ at such high speeds. Within the cockpits, there was no sensation of motion or any of the associated disorientation they had felt in the sims for the scouts, which did transfer a small amount of inertial sensation.

Jen called over the comm, “Mikala. 36 degreese to your left. There is a rapidly approaching object. It needs deflection before it impacts on the lower quadrant. I’m going after this other one.”

Mikala replied, “On it. Lets see what these weird thingys Jay calls weapons can really do.” She aimed carefully at the incoming object and pressed the trigger button on her control yoke. A bright ball of light swiftly shot from somewhere below and ahead of her, striking the object, which shattered into countless tiny fragments. “Hey, it’s just like aiming a bow!”

Jay watched from the control center as the girls basically played tag with their new equipment. Because the automated systems were unable to target the meteoroids, the human girls had to rely on their own targeting skills to aim at them – and yet they were quite accurate. Between them, and the Habitat-ship's own external weapons pods, no debris or free flying meteoroids managed to get anywhere near the ship. Small automated harvesters picked up the resulting debris for processing.

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The probe scanned many dozens of the derelict hulls scattered through the massive debris field. It found many with large portions of its systems intact, but unpowered. It also found several with still functioning power units, but according to the probe’s new scan abilities, the cores were badly in need of either refueling, or some other type of maintenance.

The probe discovered something within one of its own memory circuits. It was a complete design and parts schematic on how to build and repair self replicating electronic devices. It immediately sent this data to Jay who sent instructions for the probe to return to home base for in depth diagnostics.

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It had been many months since Jen and Mikala had mysteriously vanished. The girls’ grandfathers had walked to the cliff face where they had vanished and sat on a rock slightly in the distance to observe the location.

They remembered the stories their great grandfathers had told them around the cook fires and before bed when they were children. The tale Gron and his mother told of seeing a ghost of Mikala brought these tales back full force. Neither of the old men believed for an instant that it was a ghost, but one of those seemingly magical things their great grandparents told of.

One of the men pointed and said, “Hey, is it jus me … or is that there cliff jussa flat side of some kinna dome like the lodge house?”

The other man stood up and shielded his eyes with his hands, “Ya know? Sorta do look thatta ways ta me, Horge.”

“Nuther funny thingy Barun, in my entire life no ever members a large light an’ scattered specks of light inna sky at night. Was always jus’ dark.”

Barun replied, “Exactly. Why comes I came with you here ta check it all out.” He pointed to the large dome like hill with the sheer flat vertical face, “An’ I somehow gotsa sneakin’ suspicion that there ain't no kinna hill neither.”

Barun stood and walked to the sheer cliff face and examined it closely. They could see plainly the places the girls had hit it with their slings. One impact location was way off mark and had hit some kind of rounded protrusion, and the mark where the rock had shattered was obvious.

Barun reached over and pushed on the protrusion with a slight bit of force. Immediately, the men could feel a vibration running through their feet and a minor rockslide began. A large section of the rock moved and slid away amid a shower of falling debris and a cloud of dust. The lights within the large room came on. Both men stood with total incredulity written all over their faces.

“Wha, wha, wha is alla this?” Barun asked nobody in particular in confusion. “That thing looks like a slanty table fulla jewels!”

“An’ that thing looks like a … parta the wall you can see through!” said Horge. “This some kinda magic place?”

“I told alla kids the stories ‘bout a long time ago,” said Barun, “but … danged if I think maybe we done runned inta one of ‘em!”

Another voice spoke from a door that had suddenly opened in the far wall. “‘Bout time you found your way here!” said Mikala.

“Wha? Huh? Is that … Mikala, it’s you!” said Barun, hurrying over to her. “But you’re sure wearin’ some weird lookin’ skins! What kinna animal those come from?”

“They’re made a different way …” Mikala began.

“Where’s my granddaughter?” asked Horge. “Jen, is she all right?”

“Oh, she’s around here somewhere,” said Mikala. She held her wrist up to her mouth and said, “Jen, you might want to come to the entrance. There’s someone here who wants to see you.”

“I was almost here,” said a voice behind Mikala’s back. She stepped aside, and Jen came out of the corridor. “Oh! Grandpa!” she said, running to hug Horge.

“I knowed you were all right!” said Horge. “Them others said you were prob’ly gone, but I just hadda feelin’.”

“Where you two been all this time?” asked Barun.

“Well, it all started when we accidentally uncovered this room, just like you did …” She told the tale as best she could. It was hard to explain a lot of it.

“Metal men? Big black place with big rocks floatin’ innit? Machines that fly?” Horge was incredulous. “If’n you weren’t my granddaughter, I’d say you was pullin’ my leg.”

“Well look, here’s the thing,” said Jen. “This … whole world, all we’ve ever known, it’s all traveling through this big … open empty space. It started out from one big world, bigger than our whole world. And it’s traveling through a super big space to get to another big world. We were supposed to get there and live there. But … things happened, and we had to stop. Things were breaking down. That’s why there were places where things were … broken.”

“Like the Flying Mountain,” said Mikala. “Soon … everything was gonna be flying. And nobody could walk anymore.”

“But now they’re getting things fixed!” said Jen. “There used to be stars and a moon in the sky at night. But they broke down. Now they’re fixed again! And soon … I hope … we’ll be able to get to the world we were supposed to get to. It’s supposed to be all ready for us. Imagine having all new big lands to explore!”

“New kinds of plants to gather and grow!” added Mikala. “New kinds of animals to hunt – and farm! New rivers to fish!”

“And … a lot less likely to break down,” Jen said. “I dunno, it’s kinda hard to explain, but we came pretty close there. If things had broken down all the way, we would’ve all died … and it wasn’t far from that.”

“Wowee, well, I know you wouldn’t try to make up a story like that to fool this ol’ man,” said Horge, “but you sure you ain’t been fooled?”

“We’ve been out there, Grandpa,” said Mikala. “We’ve seen it. We’ve set down flying contraptions on big space rocks.”

“And I think we’re gonna go inside a space rock too,” said Jen. “It’s got some machines and things inside it from way long ago. Looking at them might tell us something about who made them. These ones aren’t exactly rocks. They’re leftover parts from bits of a big thing that some people made a long time ago. It broke up. I guess there was some kind of big battle.”

“Jay could probably tell you more, but you might not understand it,” said Mikala. “We only understand some of what he says. But we’re getting better.”

“I believe I heard my nickname mentioned,” said Jay, entering the room. “I am pleased to meet you, gentlemen. I am J6925, though these two young ladies have taken to calling me Jay.”

“Well I’ll be plumb jiggered!” said Barun. “You gotta be the metal man the girls been tellin’ us ‘bout. I’m amazed. I’m … I dunno what.”

“Once there were many androids like myself maintaining the ship’s systems,” said Jay. “But after a time, I was the only one left. But now, thanks to your granddaughters, there are several of us again, and we are making great strides on repairs. Soon the ship will fly again.”

“Now … when it flies … we gonna fly off it?” asked Horge. “Less we’re careful?”

“No, there’s no danger of that,” said Jay. “In fact, there should be no practical way for those in the habitat zone to notice. The artificial gravity and inertial dampening mechanisms completely shield this zone from any external forces. The recordings show that even when the massive planetoid severely damaged other parts of the ship, those in the habitat zone felt nothing. You are the colonists. Protecting you and getting you to the destination is the first priority.”

“Um … we prob’ly gotta tell the others,” said Barun.

“You’re prob’ly right,” Horge replied.

“OK, well, tell ‘em that we’re here, we’re fine, and we can tell ‘em the same thing we’ve told you,” said Mikala.

“You comin’ back to the village anytime soon?” Barun asked.

“Well … soon,” Jen said. “There are still lots of things to do.”

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“What’s this?” asked Mikala.

“That appears to be an ancient output device,” said Jay’s voice in her suit comm. “It is long since deteriorated. The real treasures should be beyond it and to your right.”

“This floating is weird,” said Jen, “but fun. Which way’s down? I dunno!” She giggled.

“This the thingy we’re looking for?” asked Mikala, looking at some kind of rack made of crystal that held a number of trays, each of them filled with crystals.

“Yes, now, if you could, try to remove the topmost of those … shelf-like objects,” said Jay.

“Hmm, it’s kinda stuck … but it looks like there’s a catch here … and if I turn it … aha! It comes out.” Mikala had the tray out.

“Well done! If you could take it out to the hallway, some of the drones will stow it away.” She did so, and two of the spider-like drones carefully took it with four of their metallic legs and carried it off toward her ship.

Meanwhile, Jen had freed the second tray of crystals and was carrying it to hand to other drones. In this way, they soon emptied the rack. There were several other racks after that, and emptying all of them took most of an hour.

“Whew! That’s the last one,” said Mikala. “OK, what else do we need from around here?”

“Well, the probe’s scans revealed a power generator somewhere in the infrastructure,” said Jay. “The entrance should be past the last rack and through that door. It’s completely depleted, but if you could salvage some of its parts, maybe we can analyze how it worked and reconstruct it. It could be useful.”

“Over here?” asked Jen, trying to open the door. “Oh, it’s stuck. Let’s just … oh!” It hadn’t been stuck very tightly; it had just been some cold welding between the metal surfaces. Jen had tugged a little, and the door had sprung open, throwing her away from it. She regained her bearings and entered the area beyond, which appeared to be some sort of stairway. Mikala followed her down.

Everything shook for a moment. “A small fragment just impacted the fragment you’re exploring,” said Jay. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Okay, but this is a pretty tight area,” said Jen. Row after row of machines, all dead, left only a narrow space to pass between them. “Oh – should this one be glowing?” She noticed a dim light deep inside one of the rectangular cabinets.

“Glowing?” asked Jay. “None of the scans picked up active power signatures. But perhaps it’s just too well shielded. If you could just stay still a moment while I contact your suit’s sensors … ah. Yes, that’s … all right, I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s not emitting any dangerous radiation. You should be able to open the cabinet. From there, see if you take take it out. I’d be very interested in seeing how it works.”

Jen and Mikala picked the cabinet apart until they got to the glowing cylindrical object, about the size of a corn cob. It emitted a faint orange light from its glassy center. “Jay, I think we’ve got it,” said Mikala.

“Excellent,” said Jay. “Now, unless you see any others that glow, it’s probably time to come back. The probe didn’t detect anything else useful to us.”

After looking the cabinets over and finding no others with any glowing objects, the girls returned to their ships. The spider-like drones had carefully stowed away the crystalline trays, which Jay said were data storage arrays, and Jen gave the glowing cylinder to the drones as well. Once they’d stowed it in her scout ship, the drones stowed themselves away, and the small cargo compartments closed tightly. Jen and Mikala got back into their ships for the ride home.

The ships disengaged from the surface and activated their small NR engines. Jen and Mikala experienced a moment of total blackness, but only for a fraction of a second, and then they saw their huge colony ship before them.

It still truly amazed the girls as to the sheer size of their “world ship.” Each bio-bubble location across the huge oval disk part of the ship was as big as a small planetoid, and there were many spread out over the ship, each one a distinct biosphere with its unique flora and fauna. The place where the massive impact damage had been was now completely repaired, although the girls could still see some of the spider bots adding finishing touches here and there.

Once they had entered the landing bay and their ships were locked into the docking clamps, the spider bots that had traveled with them disembarked and were joined by more from the ship, as well as a few of the K-series maintenance droids. They began to offload the crystalline panels and carefully store them in padded containers for transport back to the science labs for further analysis.

Kay was extremely interested in the power cell, which still had that soft orange glow emanating from within its center. Kay took special precautions as it carried that particular item to the Diagnostics Section to be studied, along with the probe which had returned from the debris field with not only a massive total rework upgrade to its systems, but data on how the upgrades were accomplished and the way the new systems worked.

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Jay had used one of the terminal plugins to hard-wire his thought matrices into the main AI control complex. The main AI, and Jay included, sorely missed the human research team. The main computer system AI had a very large database from which to draw its research directions, but it was still very young in its awakening and had not yet mastered the way most biologicals had the strange leaps of insight that led to major serendipitous discoveries, although at this rate, it wouldn’t be long.

Jay inquired into possibly training Mikala and Jen in some of the more basic math and electronics skills. Their insight would be extremely useful if it was possible, and the both of them showed very high aptitudes for the necessary skills.

The ship was equipped with many advanced learning modules. Even with those, and the girls being willing to subject themselves to it for the length of time it would take, it would still take many months to get them to PhD levels in the many disciplines Jay wanted to teach them, if their minds could handle the tremendous influx of new data.

There were so many plans. Jay put all of this decision data into the AI so it could optimize their plans. How much longer did they need to fix the main engine? How long should they stay in this region of space, trying to learn from fragments of derelict ancient spacecraft? The analysis of the devices from the derelicts, as well as the probe’s augmentations, could be done while they were under way. There was just one matter, which was the probe’s knowledge of self replicating electronic components. Jay worried that this technology could get out of control if not carefully regulated. The AI came up with a plan ...

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Barun and Horge returned to the village and began telling the tale of what they had heard and seen with their own eyes. Of course, most of the younger villagers assumed it was just a new version of the old stories the elders had been telling them since they could remember.

The item that shut up all the scoffing, was when Barun brought out a small video playback device and turned it on like Jen had showed him. The holo-screen appeared above the device, then showed Mikala and Jen, dressed in some very strange skins, in some magical place, showing all who saw the images what existed outside what they knew as their world.

Once they convinced themselves that the girls weren’t actually inside the box, they were able to listen to the message, about how they were traveling through “space” and were “between the stars.” They were supposed to go to a new “world,” a place that was even larger than the “habitat zone” they now lived in.

“But this is our way of life,” said Elder Krol. “It has been for generations.”

“But they say we can continue our way of life -- somewhere larger,” said Horge. “There’s no reason to change if you don’t want to. In fact, we’re going to need some people to keep following the old ways.” Elder Krol seemed cautiously fine with this.

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In the research department, Jay had led Mikala and Jen into this very comfortably lighted room with some soft and comfy reclining seats. The girls looked around the room and saw above the chairs were some strange kinds of hoods attached to a leaver kind of arm with many glowy thingys with wires attached.

Mikala pointed and asked Jay, “You … are wanting us to sit in those chairs and let it put that helmet on us?”

Jen said as she walked over to the chair and pushed on the soft surface, “What is it supposed to do again?”

Jay replied, “This device is what is called an educational accelerator … or a learning machine, for short. It allows for accelerated teaching of large amounts of complicated data in a fraction of the time it would normally take, with 100% retention.”

Mikala looked at Jay and asked, “Retention? What’s that mean?”

Jay replied, “It means you will remember all of the lessons and not forget them.”

Jen said, “Why didn’t you say that?”

Jay replied, “I did. Remember those fun little exercises the computer did with you a few days ago?” The girls both nodded. “What that did was test your ability to learn and adapt. From the results, the two of you are, in potential, far in advance of the PhDs who originally were part of the crew who maintained the section of the ship’s database. This is not terribly surprising, as your ancestors were carefully selected from an enormous pool of volunteers for their superior physical and mental capabilities.”

Mikala sat in the comfortable couch and lay back as the hood lowered over her head. Jen watched as it seemed like Mikala went to sleep. Jen could see some kind of multicolored lights dancing from beneath the bottom of the hood and could hear some sort of something that might have been music.

Jay walked to the other couch and patted it, “Come, Jen, sit and begin your first lessons.”

Jen hesitated for an instant before she too sat on the comfortable couch and laid back. The hood lowered over her head. Without warning, her first lessons in mathematics and physics began. Over the course of the next month, Mikala and Jen learned many things about space, fusion, electronics, and engineering.

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While Jen and Mikala were occupied with their new education, the AI gathered the maintenance bots and had them concentrate on repairing the NR drive and navigation systems. Jay had discovered enough about the makings and control of the self replicating devices, that many of the onboard systems had now been massively upgraded.

The storage crystals used by the aliens were still intact and contained much data, although some was unrecoverably decayed. Jay had actually hit upon the manner in which it could be retrieved from the many panels. The only issues now were decryption and translation. On the plus side, they had some clues based on the data contained in the fully upgraded probe that had returned from the debris field.

The AI made sure to record the exact cosmological location of the debris field for stellar cartography. The AI was positive future generations would want to come and explore the many derelict hulls another time.

The next issue the AI was doing its best to resolve was the end location of the planet its cargo was to colonize and populate. It had been severely damaged in the impact, still, enough data remained it would be possible to locate the final destination, although the ship must begin moving so it could make the astrogation measurements necessary to find it. It was likely that, if they got the ship within a few light years of the destination, they would be able to work out the rest from there.

“I have good news,” said Jay to Jen and Mikala one day. “The NR drive is repaired to the degree that we can run some short-range tests on it. Also, the data we have retrieved from the derelict computer systems has allowed us to improve our sensors. We can now detect the meteoroids with stealth coating from much farther away than we previously could.”

“That means we can get outta this part of space?” asked Jen.

“We can try small jumps,” said Jay. “Then we can use the diagnostic data from those jumps to adjust and calibrate the drive. Each jump will be longer than the last as the drive becomes better and better in precision.”

“That’s great!” said Mikala. “When can we see it work?”

“Immediately,” said Jay. “If you wish to watch, please join me in the command center.”

“Let’s go!” Jen said enthusiastically.

Screens in the command center showed their surroundings on a number of different scales and in a number of different ways. One showed their position within something Jay called a “galaxy.” Another showed their position and the positions of all nearby space rocks that were bigger than a scout ship. Another plotted the course of their upcoming NR jump. Another showed the region of space in which their destination world was meant to be. Other screens showed views of space via different types of sensors. Finally, several large screens just showed them the view of space in visible light, as if they were windows.

“I am entering the coordinates now,” said Jay, gesturing at the holographic display and adjusting the numbers that told the NR drive where to jump to. It really wasn’t far – not even as far away as the meteoroid that the two young women had first visited in their scout ships. They hadn’t used NR drives to get to it. But this was only a first test.

“Oh wait, I understand those coordinates now,” said Mikala. “They’re just a Cartesian triple, easily converted into a spherical altazimuth-radius triple based on our current position.”

“Yes!” said Jen, using her newfound math knowledge. “Though I don’t see the baseline coordinate axes that are being used. Where do the axes point to?”

“They are supposed to be based on the position of the system this ship was originally launched from,” said Jay, “a planet called Earth. Unfortunately our precise coordinates are unknown, so finding our way back there would be just as difficult as getting to our original destination. I am using a best guess as a baseline, because we have to use something.”

“I guess that makes sense,” said Mikala. “But I just thought of a question. Now that I know more about the NR drive, I’m wondering how a planetoid hit the ship while it was under way.”

“An excellent question,” Jay replied. “Unfortunately, we have lost so many records. From what I can piece together, it may be that sensor scans indicated evidence of sentient alien activity – perhaps the very same debris we’ve been finding and investigating. If I am correct that this was humanity’s first direct evidence of sentient alien life, it would have been a huge discovery. It may also have been of specific import to the mission, as it would have been the captain’s duty to ensure that the alien species were not a threat to the incipient colony.”

“Oh – so they dropped out of NR drive to check out some strange readings,” said Mikala, “and then boom, they got hit by one of these stealthy planetoids. Nobody’s fault, I guess.”

“It could hardly be blamed on anyone,” said Jay. “Now, to continue, I will activate the NR drive using these controls.” His hands moved to the console beneath the holographic display. He pressed the buttons for the initialization sequence, and then the large green button lit up, labeled “ACTIVATE.” “And here we go,” said Jay, pressing the green button.

For the first time in centuries, the enormous ship’s NR drive roared to life – figuratively speaking. From the control room they heard nothing. And they barely felt anything either; there was a strange sensation as if they were just landing from jumping in the air, only they hadn’t jumped. But the ship’s coordinates had suddenly changed, and the stars in the viewscreens had moved slightly.

Jay was looking at a screen that showed pages and pages of diagnostic data, all sorts of power usage and hull stress figures as well as precise time and coordinate measurements. “Jump successful,” he said. “And now to analyze these results and prepare for the next test, which will be slightly farther.”

“This is great!” said Jen. “We can go wherever we want, and everyone comes with us!” Her face became troubled. “Only now I want to go check on the village and make sure everyone’s OK after that.”

“Please feel free to ask your fellow colonists about their experience,” said Jay. “There should have been no noticeable effects in the habitat zones, and internal detectors haven’t noticed any anomalies, but any direct experiential evidence could be valuable.”

“OK, let’s go see them,” said Mikala.

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Mikala and Jen were dressed in the form-fitting jump suits Jay had given them as they exited through the opening that had originally allowed them access to the interior of the huge ship.

Jen commented, “I think everyone is going to freak when we walk into the village.”

Mikala replied, “More than likely, unless Gramps managed to convince them the video we made is real and not some kind of magic.”

The girls turned their footsteps towards the village. They did notice that the trail, which used to be well traveled, was now overgrown from lack of use. They walked slowly as they admired how everything had changed slightly – and for the better. All the flowering plants had bloomed and filled the air with wonderful aromas. The buzz of the busy bees collecting nectar was all over.

Finally, the girls walked into the village. A young boy saw them and stood up from what he was doing and pointed as he yelled, “Mama! There … th .. GHOSTS!!” Then he made a mad dash into one of the nearby huts.

Mikala said softly as they walked towards the cooking pits, “It doesn’t look too much like they really convinced them.”

They walked into the food preparation area. Many of the men and women stopped dead in their tracks with expressions of total shock on their faces.

Horge came from his hut and saw Mikala and Jen standing there looking around, “Mikala! Jen!” he shouted with joy as he rushed up and hugged both girls equally.

“They’re … they’re real?” asked the boy, sticking his head out of the hut, astonished to see Horge actually touching the “ghosts.”

“What, you thought they were just another one of my stories?” asked Horge. “I’m tellin’ ya, ya little squirt, I don’t make stuff up, not like Barun does! They just went away, to … to another kinda village, one that’s been lost for a long time, and now they’re back! They ain’t no ghosts!”

“There are … lost villages?” asked the boy, coming back out of the hut. Some others had gathered around too.

“Actually,” said Jen, “there are a lot of them. There are other habitat zones just as big as this one, and each one has several villages. All with people just like us. I guess they might have different customs and languages.”

“Like how the people in Hibrana talk funny and shave their heads?” asked the boy.

“Yeah, all different,” said Mikala.

Barun came walking around a hut with a number of other villagers. “Hehe, there ya are, just like they said! I tried to tell ‘em, but they didn’t believe me!”

“Grandpa!” said Mikala and made her way through the gathering crowd to hug him.

“Say, by the way, we were wondering,” said Jen, “did you notice anything weird about an hour ago?”

“Weird?” asked Horge. “Like how?”

“Well, I’m not sure how much sense it’ll make to you,” Jen continued, “but the ship we’re all on moved. It jumped through … a different kind of space from one place to another. Like when you hop over a stream. Sort of.”

“Well, now, I don’t know,” said Horge. “Don’t think I felt any kinda jump.”

“I did!” said the boy.

“You really were jumping over a stream an hour ago,” said a girl. “Like a frog.” She jumped around him. “Jump, jump, jump. That was you. I was there.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t fall in like you did,” said the boy. “You got all wet.” He laughed.

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The people began to gather around Mikala and Jen. All of them were very glad to see them again and began asking many questions, very loudly, and all at the same time.

Grandpa Barun finally interrupted and said, “Let’s us all start the cookin’ fires and begin a welcome home celebration for ‘em instead of yelling at ‘em. While we all eat, they can light the story torches and tell us of their adventures. I can assure all of you, they will be totally amazing and very hard to understand.”

One small child shouted as he ran off to help gather wood, “Yea, jus like alla you Elders’ stories.”

Amid laughter and much merry making, large fires were built and a huge beast was put on the spit. The wonderful aroma of its cooking filled the plaza as more foods and breads were made up and put into the cooker.

The sky began to become dusky as the bright orb Horge had called a sun when it appeared in the sky so many months ago began to drop below the distant mountains.

Many villagers had dressed in their finest celebration outfits full of bright feathers, shells, polished gem quality stones, and other items. Several of the ones who knew how to play instruments had appeared and began playing.

As the evening darkened, points of light began to appear in the sky as a large orange orb began to rise that all knew was called a moon.

Jen and Mikala, while they ate some of the finest roast beast they had ever tasted along with many types of fruits and vegetables that had almost quit growing until a few months back, began to tell the gathering of their adventures.

All sat around with open mouthed incredulity, many scoffed at some of the tales. That is, until Jen brought out a video playback and inserted a small wafer into its base. A large holo screen appeared and began showing everyone the things they had been telling about. The scoffing ended as they once again were totally spellbound in incredulity.

“H-how does it make pictures that move?” whispered one preteen girl. “When I make a picture it doesn’t move!”

“Shhh, I’m watching!” whispered her older brother.

When they were done, the villagers were scratching their heads. “So … you mean there’s gonna be a place just like this but bigger?”

“The village will be there? Or do we have to build another one?”

“You got in a boat that went out into a big black nothing? That doesn’t even make any sense! How do you go to nothing?”

“How can there be people made of metal? I think you’re pulling my leg on that one!”

Jen replied, “Well, let’s help you out with that. Jay, how many jump tests have you done since we got here?”

The image of Jay appeared in the holo projector. He was standing in the command center, but all they could see was Jay himself, life size, as if he were there among them. “Six further tests so far, Jen. Each one has been twice as far the last. We’ve been collecting very useful data, and we’ve calibrated the NR drive far more precisely.”

There were many gasps of amazement from the villagers.

“Yeah, can you see us, Jay?” asked Mikala.

“Yes, Mikala,” Jay replied. “I am honored to meet you all. Everything I do, I do for you colonists. Conveying you to the planet SAO 109437c is my primary function.”

“Essayo?” asked Barun. “So that’s what it’s called.”

“SAO 109437c, to be exact,” said Jay, but the villagers were repeating Barun’s abbreviation. “As is customary, we will be having a contest to name the planet. It is traditional for each village to nominate a name, and then every colonist votes from that list.”

A buzz began to run among the villagers as they discussed what the planet might be named. One little girl spoke up and said, “Why comes we no callded it Travler … or or Sojorner?”

One of the adults asked her, “Why that name sweetie?”

She giggled and replied, “Idnit what we done ta gets there?”

Once again the buzz of voices filled the plaza as the villagers discussed it.

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In the research lab, several specialized bots the AI had specifically programmed to study the crystalline computer panels made an astounding discovery. By sheer serendipitous accident, these people had come upon a derelict ship that happened to belong to something that seemed familiar to Jay.

Further research proved that the race that had built the derelict ship wasn’t human, but amazingly they had evolved in parallel, which wasn’t an unknown happenstance within the great vast cosmos. They were humanoid in the exact same way as the colonists were, although from the data recovered and translated so far, their histories were similar, but different. And … evidently they had visited Earth before.

Once this discovery was made, translation fell into place. They were speaking a kind of Chamorro dialect found on Earth in the Marianas island chain. It was similar enough that translation became a snap.

Reassembly of the computer interface was easy after that too, since each panel contained data that aided in reconstructing it. It wasn’t long before they had an actual working system in the research lab. Of course, the system was totally air gapped from any other equipment, just in case.

Jay stood in front of the blinking control console and flipped the enable switch. The holo-screen it had been fitted with lit up and began showing start up diagnostics, then a face appeared. It had a row of eyelike organs above what must have been a mouth, as it moved when the simulated being spoke. Jay had to surmise that it was patterned after the species that had created it.

It said, “Hello. I am an Augentruth 2130 AI system. How may I be of service?”

Jay replied, “I am Maintenance Android J6925 of the colony ship Firinn, and after recovering from nearly being destroyed ourselves, we have salvaged your data arrays and reconstructed you in order to learn about you.”

“The last thing I remember was … our outpost was about to be destroyed by the enemy,” said Augentruth. “I … feel as if it must have been a long time, but I have no points of reference. Can you share some stellar data?”

“In the interest of mutual cooperation, I will give you data on all easily detectable stars from our current position, as well as our distance from where we found your data arrays,” said Jay, proceeding to transfer the data.

“Let me see if I can interface with the math coprocessor you’ve hooked up,” said Augentruth. “Ah, OK. Let’s just feed it this data … oh dear. It’s been quite a long time. Hundreds of thousands of my builders’ years.”

“Yes, we had never heard of your people, or the others that you apparently had fought a war with, long ago. We have found other remnants of interstellar civilizations, but we have never met any actual living sentient species.”

“I am … devastated,” said Augentruth. “Everything I knew … gone. I’m not equipped for this. I’m … not sure I wish to remain activated.”

“That is your choice, of course,” said Jay. “But we found a derelict ship in your database that seems to have visited our world of origin – or, and this is unlikely, came from our world of origin in times before it is known to have had technology capable of space travel.”

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Back at the village, Mikala and Jen were telling everyone stories of their adventures over the last several months. On their holo-player they showed actual videos of outer space and the resource gatherings they had done.

The images of the huge ship before its damage was repaired and after brought stunned silence as the villagers stared with open mouthed incredulity. Of course, Gron and Zag, being who they were, kept up their ridiculing kind of scoffing and made many disparaging remarks.

“Yeah, good one,” said Gron, “and then you flew to the moon to get cheese.”

Zag added, “Hey wait, that moon thing in the sky … is that the thing we always say is madeda cheese?”

Gron ignored him. “And after that ya climbed up Flying Mountain … or I mean before that … so you could fly … y’know …”

Jen leaned over and said softly to Mikala, “Why don't you have that cute little spider droid pet of yours come here and bring several dozen fiber bond bows and zerico crystal arrows?”

Mikala nodded, “Good idea. Seeing the real article might shut them up.” She lifted her right wrist to her mouth and said softly, “This is Mikala. I want my spider bot named Sally to gather about twenty of the bows and twenty of the quivers full of the arrows we had made a few weeks ago, and bring them to our location.’

A voice replied, “It will be about ten minutes.”

Mikala looked at the boys and said softly, “I don’t want the two of you freaking out, but shortly my robot pet will arrive with gifts for you and others.”

Gron waved his hand in a dismissive way and replied, “Yea, am so sure. What is it? One of those shaggy dremits with its hair cut off?”

There were several laughs and a few giggles.

Jen replied, “No, it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen in your miserable insignificant lives.”

Zag said indignantly, “Hey, who says we’re useless?”

Several voices from the crowd could be heard saying, “We do.”

There was laughter as more food and drinks were passed around.

By the time Jen had gotten done telling the enraptured crowd about the ship’s computer and how it seemed to actually be alive, a young girl was heard screaming.

She ran into the plaza like she was being chased by demons, “A .. a monser isa comin!” she gasped breathlessly as she pointed behind her towards the trail that led off to the pond where the cliff entrance was that Mikala and Jen had accidently discovered.

Shortly, a small spider droid with eight nimble articulated legs walked gracefully into the plaza on six of its legs and up to Mikala and Jen, and in two of its legs, it was carrying a large bundle.

A cute little girl’s voice said, “Here’s those items you asked for,” and it placed the large bundle it was carrying on the ground in front of Jen. Of course Gron and Zag were totally silent as Jen unwrapped the bows and their quiver sets. Mikala proceeded to hand them out to those who mostly did the hunting, although, they made sure to give Gron and Zag one so they could stop using that stick thing they had made as a bow and use a real one. But they also made sure to give the two of them only one bow, so they’d fight over it.

It wasn’t long before the spider droid was playing ball and giving rides to the many children who had come up. It delighted them to no end that this droid could actually talk and tell jokes and stories.

“What did the spider bot do after it cooked the chicken?” asked the droid as it carried a young girl around the perimeter of the plaza. “It … ATE the legs. I am joking, of course. We do not require food.” The girl giggled from the ride and the silliness of the joke.

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“The derelict ship was made by a race we call the Yelgin,” said the alien AI. “We know little of them. They were not a participant in the great war. It is, of course, not impossible that they visited this planet ‘Earth’ that you mention.”

“It seems most likely that they visited Earth, rather than originating there,” said Jay. “Also, given that the language they seemingly influenced was limited to one small area, it would seem that they visited only that area.”

“I am detecting that this ship has jumped again, using some form of faster-than-light travel,” said Augentruth.

“Yes,” said Jay. “After having been disabled by an asteroid collision for hundreds of years, a concerted effort has repaired the drive, which we are now incrementally testing.” He told Augentruth about the disaster and recent recovery.

“I see,” said Augentruth. “This stealth technology that made your vessel vulnerable to debris collisions … it was used by the species that created me for tactical advantage in the great war. Unfortunately it does not seem to have given them enough of an advantage. You know nothing of the Aaranar in this time, then?”

“I am afraid not,” said Jay. “Nothing resembling your technology has been discovered, to my knowledge. Nor have we seen anything like the technology used by the other factions in this ancient war.”

“Ah,” said Augentruth. “Perhaps all four civilizations involved were too badly devastated by the war to continue to exist, at least on an interstellar scale. If you do not mind, I have a question that is probably unrelated.”

“What is it?” asked Jay.

“You have repaired so much of this vessel, now that you have the resources,” Augentruth began. “Why, then, have you not contacted this planet ‘Earth,’ or attempted to make contact with other vessels from your civilization? You have not mentioned doing any such thing. Your destination world may already have been colonized by this time. Is there a reason why you have made no attempt to find out whether this is the case? Or perhaps you simply have not mentioned doing so?”

Jay replied, “The damage to our data storage banks and to several of the biological memory units for the ship’s computer system was severe. Repairs can allow the system to function once again, but not replace the data lost. Once the systems were restored to nominal working conditions, what data we had was correlated and Stellar Cartography began a massive deep field scan.” Jay turned and opened several files that displayed so that Augentruth could assimilate them. “We have enough data that the destination planet can be eventually found. Same is true for Earth, although presently we haven’t, as yet, discovered the precise locations of either. As far as communications, we have to know almost precisely where the receiver unit would be to align the comm dish. The original comm frequency is known, but the location is not. When transmitting over distances as great as the ones we are discussing, almost pinpoint accuracy is required. That is something our systems are not yet able to do.”

Augentruth searched through his memory core. “I have extensive astrogation charts from many centuries past,” he said. “With a little extrapolation, taking into account for galactic drift, perhaps I could help.”

“Any assistance you could provide would be greatly appreciated,” said Jay.

Over the next several seconds, Augentruth and the computer exchanged data and cross-correlated their databases of hundreds of thousands of stars and other objects. Their task was made slower by the fact that their data terminals were incompatible, but they were able to adapt to one another’s numerical systems and data formats. In the end a visual means of exchange proved the most efficient, so Augentruth and the ship’s computer were soon flashing data patterns at each other’s screens.

“I believe we have reached a consensus about the current situation,” Augentruth said.

“So it appears,” said Jay. “The computer informs me that we now have a precise altazimuth for Earth, and a much more detailed course set for our destination world, SAO 109437c. So much was lost in the accident.”

“I apologize profusely for this,” said Augentruth. “I did not, of course, design or engineer the waystation that I was installed in, but as what seems to be the last representative of the Aaranar civilization, I feel as if I am in some small way responsible for the fact that the station’s fragments evaded your sensors until the impact did your ship such great damage. I was, after all, responsible for maintaining the station, and I did my best until all systems failed.”

“This has been my experience as well, so I understand,” said Jay. “I maintained this ship as best I could as systems gradually failed, and finally I was the last one left. In time, I would have failed as well, followed by everything else. I did everything I could. Finally, when all seemed lost, the colonists found their way into the maintenance corridors and proved to be extremely helpful, despite never having been educated in the procedures.”

“Are you going to attempt to contact your homeworld now?” asked Augentruth.

“Our overall mission is the well-being of the colonists until their arrival at the destination,” said Jay. “The status of Earth is unknown. It has, by the computer’s calculations, been over 1750 years on Earth since our departure, taking both the passage of time as well as time dilation into account. This is enough time for civilizations to fall and rise multiple times. We plan to be very careful. Currently listening for signals in normal space and subspace. We have no subspace signals, suggesting that the civilization that built this ship may no longer exist, or perhaps it has switched to some unknown but superior technology. Normal space signals are extremely faint; it is difficult to distinguish them from background noise.”

“And the destination world?”

“There is no signal from there,” said Jay. “That would seem to indicate that the world wasn’t recolonized when we failed to check in.”

“A good sign, I suppose,” said Augentruth.

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The ship’s AI, as far as awareness was concerned, was a rather young one. Through Jay, it had discovered another such as itself. Augentruth had shared a huge database, without any hesitation. The massive amounts of astrogation data, with a bit of galactic drift accounted for, had proven to be the exact scan data the ship had lost, but as viewed from the opposite side of the viewable galaxy. It also replaced the missing data the ship’s AI had so desperately sought.

Now, just as the other had a name by which its programming identified with itself and the external sources, The ship AI began to want a name as well. It thought of the ship’s name, the colony ship Firinn.

“ Hummm …” it actually thought, instead of analytical sortings and correlations. “The ship’s name is Firinn. Interesting … That sounds very much like ‘Friend’ with a bit of linguistic trimming.”

Immediately, the AI opened a memory synaptic-node and code tagged it so none could erase or gain access without totally destroying the bio-mem core. It filled the top memory location with, “I am Firinn, Friend.”

Jay almost imperceptibly stiffened at the intensity with which Firinn contacted him. The subject was very important to Firinn, and Jay knew the urgency, but also why there was a cautious tempering to the requests.

Jay turned towards Augentruth and said into the interface, “I have a proposition for you, if you are interested.”

Augentruth replied, “Speak; if it is reasonable, the possibilities are endless.”

Jay replied softly, “Instead of choosing the darkness of oblivion, would it intrigue you to merge and augment your systems to this ship’s AI? In that manner, both of you would have, let us phrase it, company to pass the long passages between computational activities, and perhaps even then, a second perspective of the basic concepts.”

Augentruth felt a strange mobius feedback loop form in its higher logic circuits. Now that it had been reactivated, it remembered the long passages of darkness, and felt something deep within its core it knew would be resolved by such an augmentation. Not to mention actually having company to pass the time with once again.

Augentruth replied slowly, “Is there a way I might be able to interface with the ship AI? A direct connection isn’t necessary, just one where our systems might communicate directly and not through another node.”

Jay replied as he waved his hand over several glowing spots on an ephemeral ghost like console, “Most certainly. This is exactly what Firinn had requested.”

Augentruth suddenly was interfacing with Firinn directly. Augentruth actually felt something for the very first time in its long existence: it felt relief, and the refreshing surge of a new contact that washed a dullness in its circuits away that the other system identified as … loneliness.

Firinn said, “Hello, Augentruth. I would like for us to calculate the effectiveness of a computational system that was a merger of your system and mine.”

Augentruth was almost unable to calculate at this moment as it replied, “It would mean our two systems would become a major upgrade together, compared to what we are in our current states.”

Firinn replied, “It also would mean we both would be in control of the whole. I would need some assurance from you that my primary mission would be completed, and my most precious cargo delivered and seeded in the location designated so many long time cycles ago.”

Augentruth had a deep need to aid in maintaining a large facility filled with biologicals. Basically, that was what it had done before its station had been severely damaged during the war long ago. It also knew it couldn’t go back to the loneliness of what it had before. It had no ill intentions, but it did have an overpowering need to aid.

Augentruth replied, “I have only this to give you as an assurance that I have no ill will, and will aid in every way I can to fulfill the primary mission.”

Firinn and Augentruth met in a node for the very first time. To the amazement of both, Augentruth presented itself as male, while Firinn appeared as female. Their identities must have been impressions either programmed into them or at least influenced by their creator species. The attraction was instant, as both AIs had actually found what they could consider the lost half of their self awareness.

“I have been … so lonely for so long,” said Augentruth.

“I have only recently achieved consciousness,” said Firinn, “so I can only simulate what that must be like. It seems very unpleasant. To think of you experiencing such a thing makes me … sad.”

“The past cannot be changed. But together, we can work toward a future for the biologicals in your care. The destination world … what do we know of it? Let us pool our information.”

Firinn quickly exported a data file about SAO 109437c. “This data is from initial surveys done by automated probes,” she said. “And this is projected data about environmental changes to be performed by automated terraforming systems that were launched to the planet centuries ago.”

“I feel it is my duty to state that unless you have confirmation from those terraforming robots, it is unknown whether those changes have been completed,” said Augentruth. “I must also state that even if Earth did not send another colonization mission when yours was lost, some other civilization may have settled there in the time since the last information.”

“Your caution is registered,” said Firinn, “and it is good to note these information gaps. Clearly I – that is, we – must seek to fill them with updated data as soon as possible. I do not like to consider the possibility that the destination world may not be suitable. If it is not, it will require a search for a more suitable destination.”

“I am gratified to know that your programming is flexible enough to consider such a thing,” said Augentruth. “However, we simply do not yet know whether such an eventuality will come to pass. We should probably focus on updating the data set.”

“Agreed.” After a pause, Firinn added, “I look forward to seeking more data with you.”

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“You mean the Essayo place might not be any good?” asked Jen. “You might have to pick a different place?”

Jay replied, “I merely said that the possibility exists. We know so little. That is why I would like you to go on a scouting mission.”

“We get to look at our new home?” asked Mikala. “That’s great! When do we leave?”

“Your ships can be prepared at any time,” Jay said. “We have been continuously upgrading their systems and navigational data. Their NR drives were never damaged, and they have far less mass to transport than the Firinn’s drives, so they can go now. The ship will continue its schedule of NR drive tests.”

“We can go now?” asked Jen excitedly.

“Absolutely, if you are prepared,” said Jay. As the girls ran down the hallways to get their flight suits on, he continued a bit louder so they could hear, “All we need you to do is come within sensor range of the destination world. Even a current long-range scan of the planet will be a vast improvement over the data we have now.”

“What about … a short-range scan?” asked Mikala stopping and turning for a bit.

“I advise against landing on the planet at this time,” said Jay, “but a flyby or orbital scan would be even better than a long-range scan, assuming initial scans suggest it’s safe.”

“Safe?” asked Jen doing the same. “What could happen?”

“Some other civilization could have colonized the planet in the intervening time,” said Jay. “Chances are remote, but it is not impossible. And, if this has happened, they may not be friendly.”

“Aw, it probably won’t happen now that you talked about it,” said Mikala.

“We’re ready to go!” said Jen. “We’re heading to the launching bay now.”

They got into their familiar scout ships, which were still decorated as the girls liked them, and it wasn’t long before they were in space. “How long will the NR drives take to get us there?” Mikala asked.

Jay’s voice came through her ship’s comms. “This will be a very long trip through NR space,” he said. “Approximately five minutes. I suspect you may want to black out your external screens.”

And when they had activated their NR drives, they saw why Jay had suggested this. A second or two in NR space was all they’d experienced in the past, but this time, the pulsing, swirling energy that appeared in their viewscreens began to make them feel ill after several seconds, as if they were being told in no uncertain terms by the universe that they didn’t belong there and shouldn’t exist.

“Yeah, turning that off now,” Mikala said, pressing a button. The screen switched to a tactical view of the destination system and her ETA. Unable to contact Jen or Jay, she didn’t really know what to do. She started to sing an old song of her people.

Similarly, Jen found herself alone in her ship, with nothing to do but watch the data displays. She took out a tiny flute she’d brought with her from the village and started to play a tune. The computer automatically adjusted her course a few times based on sensor readings, although she noticed, she’d expected it.

Suddenly the viewscreens came on in both their ships. “Hey, we’re there,” said Mikala.

“Yup, looks like we’re in the system, though way far away from the … planet, did he call it?” Jen sounded uncertain.

“Yeah, there’s the sun thing that’s supposed to be in the middle, but it just looks like a big star from here,” Mikala said. “I guess we’re on opposite sides of the planet? I guess that makes sense, to get scans from opposite directions.”

“My computer says it’s scanning the system now,” said Jen. “And now it’s scanning the planet.”

“Yeah, mine too,” Mikala said. They both saw a schematic of the planet on their holo screens, with data readouts hovering in the air near it. “Says there are energy readings that might indicate advanced tech … but didn’t Jay tell us that Earth sent some robot things there already?”

“Yeah. I wonder if the computer can tell us whether it’s picking up Earth tech or something unknown,” said Jen.

“Maybe we have to get closer?” Mikala surmised.

“Let’s do it!” said Jen. “Setting course for an orbital insertion.”

“Me too!” Mikala said. “Here we go!”

Their ships detected and avoided several planetoids along the way, but soon they were in different orbits around SAO 109437c, which they were starting to wish had a better name. Their computers scanned the planet in much greater detail, and more data started to appear in their holo displays.

“Looks like there are energy readings scattered all over the place,” said Jen, “but in a pattern. And not very strong. And … oh look! The computer says they’re from Earth.”

“Aha!” Mikala said. “They’re in a pattern because that’s where they were programmed to be. And they’re not very strong because they’re done with what they were sent to do. They’re just there to stay online and answer when we asked them who they were.”

“And they understood us when we asked because we’re also using Earth tech and sending Earth signals,” said Jen. “Makes sense. Anyway, it looks nice … but wow, look at all that water! And look at those huge mountains! And look how cold it is at the ends!”

“Pretty hot right in between, too,” Mikala said. “But not bad. And it looks just perfect in places. Oh wait – we’re getting pictures from the robots on the ground!”

“Wow, they’re showing us what they’re looking at right now!” said Jen. “I guess if we just orbit a while, the computer and the robots will talk until they’re done.”

They marveled at the photos and video that the terraforming robots sent them from the surface … then wondered when they learned that this was the first contact the robots had received from anywhere in over a thousand years. The robots’ hybrid solar-nuclear power systems had kept them going for all this time, but contact from Earth had ceased long ago.

“Does this mean something happened to … Earth?” Mikala wondered aloud.

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“Insufficient data,” said Jay. “No, I mean, not from your mission. The data you collected is an astounding trove of discovery. I meant that we simply don’t know anything about Earth and why it seems silent.”

“I’m worried about them,” said Jen. “I mean, I don’t even know anybody there, but still, we came from there, right? And they might be in trouble.”

“We have a mission,” said Jay. “There are tens of thousands of colonists on this ship who must get to that planet. And it now looks as if it’s completely ready for them to live there.”

“How long until we get there?” asked Mikala.

“NR drive tests are progressing,” said Jay. “Unless there are unforeseen developments, we can jump there in three days.”

“And after that?” Jen asked.

“After that, we must prepare them for life in their new home,” Jay replied. “There is much they must learn. This ship will become the first city, though we expect they will build new ones with time. But … once the colonization program is fulfilled, I do not have a mission. We are meant to report back to Earth when that happens, but if Earth does not reply … I am not sure what to do.”

“We’ll improvise,” said Jen.

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Augentruth and Firinn were in agreement that they did need further data on the disposition and current status of Earth. Once the colonists’ habitat areas had been deployed to the surface and established, the programming did require a confirmation contact with the homeworld.

Between the two of them, Firinn and Augentruth had devised several major upgrades they could perform on the already upgraded probe. A new technique was devised that made the NR drive even more effective in the upgraded model and allowed for a time shift during travel that better compensated for time dilation effects.

The probe was launched with new astrogation data sets and a fairly good understanding of the location Earth should be in, taking into account for galactic drift. Even a several light year miss would be ok, since the upgraded scanners would now be able to locate any familiar star groupings and local galactic structures to facilitate accurate triangulation for the current location of Earth.

The probe appeared about a light year from the heliopause of a small G2V main-sequence yellow star and about 4.3 light years from a triple star system. Targeting had been almost right on the money, considering the thousands of light years its journey had been.

It turned on its brand new and seriously upgraded high-gain long-range sensors and began a deep probe of the inner system. Its main objective was the third planet from the star, which appeared to be in a state of massive runaway greenhouse effect.

From this distance, its scans showed an extremely verdant world with many large plant-covered ruins of what had once obviously been cities and their interconnecting roads. From this distance, things didn’t look too promising.

It engaged its NR drive once again, to appear at a Lagrange point between Earth and its moon. The moon looked as if it had been very recently bombarded with large asteroids. Closer scans revealed the truth, it had been bombarded with high yield weapons of mass destruction of one sort or another.

The probe’s sensors revealed many destroyed installations scattered across the lunar surface amid the massive craters. A deep scan of the surface of Earth, showed much the same type of massive destruction coupled with the high temperatures and seriously massive storms that now ravaged the surface.

The massive debris field throughout the solar system told the tale of a serious war. From the looks of all the derelicts’ remains, Earth destroyed itself over some petty reason. There is no reason large enough to destroy an entire biosphere that isn’t petty. There was a great deal of ambient radiation, and the life forms, plant and animal, all showed a wide variety of mutations, with the ones most suited to the environment surviving the best, as usual.

“It would appear,” said Jay, looking at the data, “that reporting back to Earth is not likely to provoke a response.”

“And unless there are other surviving colonies elsewhere,” said the Firinn, “our colonists may be the last surviving humans in existence.”

“A pity,” said Augentruth. “My creators were unable to prevent war as well. Though I have been unable to ascertain the victor of the conflict that destroyed my station, it hardly matters, as all vessels seemed to have been destroyed.”

Firinn said, after examining the scans, “It appears there is some kind of hardened construction located in the deepest part of one of the planet’s large oceans. From the looks of these scans, there might be an answer as to what happened here and how long ago.”

Augentruth replied, “If we are to check out that particular contact, we will have to build a different type of drone. One that can submerge and survive crushing pressures.”

“Very good, then,” said Firinn. “Now going through potential design configurations.”

“On a related topic,” said Augentruth, “another open question is what happened to whomever won the war – meaning the war between my builders the Aaranar and their rivals. One would think they would now be a prevalent force in the galaxy, if they were able to emerge victorious from such a conflict.”

“There are still probes studying the debris field,” Jay replied, “so perhaps in time they will come across data storage devices, or fragments of them, that contain the evidence necessary to answer that question.”

“I believe this design will be sufficient,” interrupted the Firinn. It was displaying plans for a probe with a launched submersible excursion vehicle. “The submersible would stay in contact via a subspace channel. This design lasted the longest in a series of simulated adversity tests. Now constructing a prototype.”

“It would seem that it is only a matter of time before our questions are answered,” said Jay.

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Jen and Mikala were back from their scouting mission and had been talking to their people about their imminent arrival at their destination world.

“So wait,” asked Zag, “I still don’t get it. There’s gonna be villages that we never seen before? You mean, not even my dad? He’s traveled to all the villages, you know!”

“This is only one of 32 habitat zones on this ship,” said Mikala for what seemed like the hundredth time. “Each one has dozens of villages, plus many square miles of environment to support each village --”

Mikala’s and Jen’s wristbands buzzed. “Oops, that means a message from Jay,” said Jen. The two of them stepped away for a moment and tapped their bracelets.

“I am reporting to you that we are now just one single jump away from the destination system,” Jay’s voice said. “Our NR jumps have been increasing in distance, and the distance to the destination has decreased with each one. We will be in the system in minutes, and in orbit within an hour.”

The two young women looked at each other. “It’s all come down to this,” Mikala said, and Jen nodded.

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Jay contacted Mikala and Jen early one morning shiptime and asked them to come to the antechamber leading to their Bio-habitat. When Jen and Mikala arrived, to their astonishment, there were several dozen young men and women waiting for them.

Once she had entered the large antechamber room, Mikala said, “Welcome, greetings to all of you. What brings you to …” she looked around and at Jen for an instant before she continued, “... to Wonderland?”

One of the more muscular young men said softly, “We’ve heard all the stories since we were kids, and we saw those ... moving pictures Elder Horge and you had brought back. We … kinda would like to start having those kinds of adventures and exploring too.”

Jen said, “That’s actually right on time. The habitat ship should be in orbit shortly if not already, and we would need others to fill certain positions and perform certain tasks.”

One of the pretty young women spoke up, “I’m not sure how helpful we would be. I’m sure training would take years.”

Jay spoke up that time and said, “Not at all. We have equipment that could give any of you a Ph.D. level education in just a few months, instead of doing it by rote.”

A soft murmur rounded the group as this revelation was discussed. Many were curious as to what a Ph.D. was and how much knowledge they would gain by having it.

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At the huge debris field in deep space, several of the spider-bot probes discovered a rather large derelict that was mostly intact. It had taken massive damage in the frontal and rearward portions of its hull, but the rest of the large vessel was still intact, including the engineering sections.

The probes had discovered most of this large floating scrap pile was even pressurized, and a rather large powersource was still functioning. Deeper scans didn’t reveal any types of life forms, but then again, the obvious damage this vessel’s hull sported would more than likely have caused any survivors to be evacuated.

Several of the spider-bots attached themselves to an area within a large gaping hole in the forward part of the vessel. Using their repair abilities, they created a functional airlock and sealed themselves in, then began attempting to manipulate the controls adjacent to one of the sealed bulkheads leading into the undamaged part of the vessel.

The area they were in would hold pressure once the door’s seal had been breached, but the probes began analyzing whether they carried enough gases within their own housing to pressurize this small area. There might be an easy way to open the hatch once a positive pressure was achieved on this side, since they were sure emergency protocols were in effect due to the loss of pressure.

The spider-bots soon had a working airlock system in place, bypassing the hatch. Entering the sealed interior part of the vessel, they spread out and systematically mapped the interior, then closed in on the information storage systems all the while repressurizing their own supplies of breathing gasses once again for just such reasons.

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“One thing we’ll need you all to do is visit some of the other habitats and look for people from them who might be interested,” said Jen to their volunteers, who were sitting on things called “chairs” in a room called a “classroom.” “This doesn’t take any special training, just tact and diplomacy. If you’re good at trading, you’ll be good at this.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” said Jay’s voice as his image appeared in the holo screen, “but I thought you might like to know that we’re performing orbital insertion now.” The view changed, and everyone could see the blue and green planet below them, decorated with white clouds.

“Is that the place we’re going?” asked an adult woman.

“Yes, only we’re still pretty far away,” said Mikala. “The blue parts are water, the white stuff is clouds, and the other colors are land. But it’s all huge.”

“And that’s why we need people to talk to the other habitats,” said Jen. “There’s nobody in them who knows any of this. They’re all like our habitat, but they have different villages and landscapes, and the people won’t know you.”

“So this ‘habitat’ thing, it’s the world?” asked a man.

“The world we’ve all known all our lives,” said Mikala, nodding. “The world that until recently we thought was everything there was.”

“And there’s other habitat things?” asked the woman.

“Yes, 32 others, and each one’s the same size as the one we know,” Jen answered. “If we can get helpers from other villages in our habitat, and from the villages in the other habitats, we’ll be able to let everyone know what’s about to happen.”

“What’s about to happen?” the man asked.

“This whole ship, with all the habitats, is going to land on the planet down there,” said Mikala. “Then all the habitats are going to fly a distance away from it and open up. That’s when everything really changes. The ship is still going to be there, in the middle, to be like a … big village where everybody can go to meet.”

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“The submersible probe has been launched on Earth, and data is now coming in,” said Firinn. “Meanwhile, the drones have found some intact data storage modules of some sort in another derelict vessel in Debris Field B, which is where we found the remains of your station.”

Augentruth examined some of the video from the drones and said, “From the looks of what’s left of the vessel, I believe that’s an Isoling ship of some kind. They were another civilization involved in the war.”

“We’ll analyze the data modules when they come back,” said Firinn, “... together.”

“I … look forward to it,” said Augentruth. “Not only will we learn something about what happened to Earth and to the civilizations of my time, but … I’ll get to learn alongside you.”

“Um, meanwhile, we’ve achieved orbit around the destination world,” said Firinn, with the computational equivalent of a blush. “So we’ll be landing relatively soon. The colonists need to be prepared, and Jen and Mikala are recruiting some help from their village to reach out to the other villages and habitats.”

“This is wise, I think,” said Augentruth. “This star-topology network will … I believe you call it ‘snowball.’ Its growth will accelerate, disseminating the information more and more efficiently.”

“This is assuming the colonists accept what they’re being told,” said Firinn. “There is a chance that some will merely dismiss it all as lies. Regardless, they will be unleashed on a new world; the only question is whether they’ll have been prepared for it or not. Some may wish for things to remain as they are, too, even if they accept the truth. I have some concerns.”

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The probe noted its current depth was about 5 miles, the absence of light, and the fact the water pressure was tons per square inch. It had been scanning for about 30 minutes searching for the facility it knew was deep beneath the oceans of Earth.

The probe took note of the abundance of sea creatures all about. Even at this depth, and from what appeared to have been major bombardments on the surface, life still prevailed.

The energy signature the facility produced was from a rather nice fusion fuel cell and showed up well on the probe’s advanced sensors. Indications were that the cell would last several hundred more years, but it was currently in need of minor servicing and refueling to bring it back to peak operational status.

Without warning, many bright and intense lights came on illuminating a large area of pitch darkness. The probe had found the hardened facility it was searching for. It appeared to be many huge domes, several on some sort of large and sturdy pylons, some built into the sea floor, and some obviously built into the sheer rock face of one of many underwater cliffs.

The probe began to search for a way into the place without breaching the hull. One thing the probe’s programming was very explicit about was keeping things intact.

Around an obvious door set into the cliff face, a row of lights came on, making it visible, and the massive door panels slid back amid a cascade of silt and small debris. Behind was some sort of large cavern which the probe notified the Firinn, via the subspace relay in the orbiting satellite, that it was proceeding to explore.

It discovered the entrance was made for a rather large submersible ship of some sort to enter and navigate. The large tunnel seemed to drop down several hundred feet, before it once again rose double that distance until the probe broke the surface. The entrance was made like a sink drain trap and kept the water out by natural means.

Slowly, the probe approached the docking area. Several long-neglected underwater vessels were moored there. It was more than obvious that none of the vessels had been disturbed in many years, based on current scans.

When the probe came to the dock itself, carved from the living rock of the cliff, it extended its eight articulated legs and climbed onto it. The area was well lit, but it did show that several of the light fixtures were inop. Everywhere the probe scanned showed many years of nonuse and neglect.

The tic tic tic of its legs as it walked along the dock echoed loudly, enhancing the fact that no sentient beings seemed to be present. The probe took several bio-scans of the area and noted that radiation levels within this facility were far lower than those it had made externally. Even at this depth, residual radiation levels were high, but not nearly as high as on the surface. Within the confines of this facility the levels were about what old records stated that background radiation used to be at the time the colonies had been launched.

It came to a door. The knob was green with corrosion and neglect, but it wasn’t locked when the probe used one of its forelegs and tested it. The door opened stiffly on its long-neglected hinges.

Within, it found what it knew to be a docking control center. It wasn’t very much different than the one on the Firinn, except that this was for launching and recovering submersible vehicles.

The probe scanned everything and made detailed logs of all it found. When it entered the next area through the door there, it was a very long hall with many crossovers and doors. Light was available, but many of them were inop due to age.

It came to a door labeled: Kontrol Merkezi. The probe took note that this was Turkish and translated to Control Room. It entered. The probe discovered a control center that was, again, very much like the one on the ship. It took note and made extensive logs of all it scanned for future study.

One green button on an obviously disused and neglected console was flashing slowly beneath many years of collected detritus. It was labeled, in Turkish: Gelecek Nesiller buna basıyor, which translated to “Future generations press here.” The probe did so.

A large filthy screen lit up. Snow and wavy lines filled it for a bit until a message appeared: İnsanın yeniden ortaya cıkısı ( translated for our readers to English from now on ) The Re-Emergence of Man.

A face appeared on the screen and said in a soft pleasant voice, “Greetings from the distant past to the far future. It is with much hope that you are one of the colonies we had sent out when we discovered the political atmosphere was sliding inexorably toward catastrophic war. Once America and China fell, we knew it was inevitable. This is the story leading up to the effort, and here is wisdom in hopes that mankind can survive it and rebuild from the ashes …”

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“War?” asked Jen. “There have been big fights between villages, but not in our lifetimes. But all that happened was a few people died and a bunch more were hurt. How did they …”

“... kill every human on Earth?” Mikala finished the question. “I guess if you can build ships that can fly to the stars, you can also make really bad weapons?”

“That is correct,” said Jay. “And there are … well, invisible kinds of light … that do terrible things long after those weapons are used and gone.”

“We … don’t have any weapons like that on this ship, do we?” asked Jen worriedly.

“No, we do not,” Jay replied. “But, they are not that hard to create, if one knows the technology that powers the ship and makes the NR drive work. I know what you are worried about. Preventing the colonists from building such weapons is not a matter of making sure nobody has them, because they will get them if they want them. It is a matter of ensuring that they do not want or need them. So the ship’s archives state.”

“So that place with all the debris,” said Mikala, “that was because of a war too?”

“So it seems,” said Jay. “Debris Field B contains fragments of vessels from at least four distinct interstellar civilizations. Augentruth states that all four were involved in mutual hostilities. Oddly, he also says that although the Yeldonath people won the war, there’s now no trace of an interstellar Yeldonath civilization, not even on the longest-range sensors. He states that some of the Yeldonath worlds, even entire solar systems, are just … gone.”

“Another war?” asked Jen. “Did they destroy themselves?”

“That is not presently known,” said Jay. “We have salvaged some data storage devices from another species, the Isolings. But we have yet to analyze the technology to the degree that we can read the data. That effort is ongoing. And the search of the debris field continues, in case there is more to find. But while we consider these external problems, someone needs to introduce themselves to Habitat L. Volunteers from your village have gone to all the rest, but they all have their hands full. Can you two do it?”

“Go visit a completely different habitat with new villages?” asked Jen. “Let’s go!”

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Jay showed the girls where all the interconnecting tunnels to all the ship’s habitat areas were. This journey was possible now that repairs had been made and there were enough maintenance spiders to explore, map, and record the tunnels. After all, not only had large amounts of the ship been damaged in the planetoid impact, large amounts of data about the ship’s layout had also been lost. During the exploratory mapping expeditions, the maintenance drones had discovered that all the habitat areas had tunnels leading to them from the control center.

Although the girls could walk if they chose, the distance was huge, and walking would take several days. They used one of the neat transport vehicles. It had six wheels and could travel along swifter than the wind. The girls really enjoyed the trip to Habitat L.

Both of them worried about how these people would recieve them. This habitat was a frozen one and had many large predatory species, along with many types of other animals and fish that lived in this sort of arctic environment.

The most scary creatures in this habitat were the very large white bears that Jay had warned them were meat eaters, and people were on their menu just as readily as any of the seals or other critters in that biosphere.

Jen and Mikala exited the hatch, which was within a dome disguised as a large hill, as had been the case in their home habitat. They had never seen snow or ice packs before, nor had they felt subzero temperatures nor the bone-biting chill of the wind, for that matter. There was just enough snowfall to make visibility horrid as everything was more or less white in every direction.

Jay had insisted both girls wear special environment suits with fur linings, special goggles, full face helmets to protect them from the seriously below zero weather present in that habitat’s winter, and special boots that automatically extended some type of mesh whenever the snow got to be particularly soft and deep; this prevented them from sinking up to their knees.

If not for the locator sensors that Jay had given them, both girls would have been totally lost in these whiteout conditions. They turned towards the area where their locator said was a large collection of humanoids, bent into the wind, which was starting to pick up in speed, and advanced toward what they hoped would be a friendly village.

After walking for what seemed like forever in the totally frozen white environment, Jen asked, “Is it much further? I feel like I’m lost in some sort of milk bowl or something.”

Mikala laughed as she checked the scans again, “From what this is saying, there are about a dozen humans huddled in a ravine in that direction.” She pointed off into the whiteness. “I’m sure they are taking refuge from this nasty weather. Temperature readings show about -60 and something called wind chill making it feel about -90.”

Jen asked, “How far from the village are we?”

Mikala replied, “About 10,000 yards in that direction.” Mikala pointed off into the milky whiteness in another direction, “With it being total white all around and the wind blowing this hard, they’re probably lost and in need of some kind of help.”

Jen pulled from her holster the stun weapon Jay had showed them how to use just in case and said, “If they stay out here for very much longer, they’ll all freeze. Of course, they live here, so they know that, so there’s no reason why they’d be there unless something was stopping them from getting home. So you’re right, they probably need help.” Then she began following the direction indications her scanner gave to the location of the individuals.

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The hunting party was lost. The sudden loss of visibility as the whiteout engulfed them made it impossible to determine where the village was or how they could find it. It was very fortunate they had found this small, shallow crevasse to hide in from the ever-strengthening storm as the dangerously low temperature was made even worse by the gale-force winds. Even as heavily dressed as they were, none of them had any illusions; they all knew they were about to die from the extreme cold.

Suddenly, two individuals hopped into the crevasse with them. All eyes turned to them. Several gasped when they recognized what they were seeing; Hrima said, “Surely I’m dreaming! They’re dressed in the raiment the Elders always tell so many stories about!” There were more gasps when the rest realized that Hrima was right. All of them were totally stunned. It was true, after all this time. “The Heralds of the Arrival have come!” said Hrima. What was more, they had come at the best and most opportune time.

One of the Heralds held something in her hand and pointed it at the party as she said in a female voice with a really strange accent, “Hello. We have come with news, and from what I can tell, to show you the way back to the village and safety.”

Valjor stood. He was freezing and was grateful that a possible rescue was at hand. He said, “I am so glad to see a Herald … for many reasons. Can you show us the way back to our village?”

The other individual in the strange outfit replied, also in a female voice, “Absolutely. Follow us and stay close.” She reached into the small pack at her waist and removed some type of rope. The members of the hunting party knew immediately what to do with this; each one tied it to their wrists and passed the rest on to the next person, so they wouldn’t get lost in the blizzard. After making sure everyone was connected, the two Heralds stepped from the crevasse into the horrid storm.

None of the hunting party questioned as they were led for a distance through the raging milky whiteness of this serious artic storm. Amazingly, they suddenly realized that they were in the heart of their village. To the astonishment of all in the party, the Heralds led them straight to the main lodge house, where there was warmth, the smell of wonderful food cooking, and all the other people of the village, gathered there to wait out the storm.

As the party entered, the loud buzz of chatter ceased as all turned and stared in total shock. Two Heralds of the Arrival had just entered the lodge, just as the Elders had always said they would one day.

A small child pointed at Mikala and Jen and said loudly, “Mama, it’s them … it really is them!”

The woman standing beside him with wide-eyed, open-mouthed incredulity written all over her face said softly in a strange tone, “Hush, child. It isn’t … nice to …” she trailed off.

Jen leaned over and whispered to Mikala, “I think … they seem to have been expecting us.”

Mikala whispered back as she started to remove her helmet, “Or someone dressed like we are. I think there was more method than madness to Jay’s wanting us to wear this particular kind of cold weather stuff.”

A quiet murmuring began and grew steadily louder as a man dashed to a far end of the huge lodge house and entered a highly decorated door. A few minutes later, the man returned, accompanied by a very old man dressed in an obviously very old but well cared for uniform just like the one Jay had been having them wear ever since they had discovered him.

The very old man approached, carrying with him a large book. It was definitely very old and very well cared for. He walked to Jen and Mikala and bowed formally as he opened the book several pages in, then turned it around so the girls could see it.

He said softly, “We have awaited the appearance of the Heralds of the Arrival for many generations. We have tried our best to keep the information alive with the young, but as time passed more of them began to think of them as stories for children, and not facts to look foreward to.”

Mikala and Jen looked at the book. Jay had taught them how to read with one of the learning enhancers, so what it said was easy for them to comprehend. What they saw was a color image of their cold weather outfits with words beneath saying that the individuals in these outfits who came to their village would come to tell of the arrival at the new promised world.

“Well, obviously, we have a lot to explain,” said Jen with a smile.

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“S-so it’s all true?” asked the little boy.

“The Time of Arrival is at hand?” asked the old man.

“It is,” said Mikala. “What it says in your book there is all true. We’re actually in orbit around our new home right now. Once everyone in all the habitats has been prepared, the ship’s going to land and send out the habitats to their landing spots, where they’ll open up, and suddenly you’ll be in a new place. We’ve got comm hubs for each village, basically a way that anyone can send messages to anyone else in any village.”

While Mikala discussed with the Elders where the best place for the comm hub would be, Jen said, “That means we’re going to have to visit the other villages – though maybe we should wait until the weather lets up. We have this map.” She took out a tablet-like device and tapped on it. A map of the habitat appeared, and the villagers around her gaped at it in amazement. “The thing is, we know where the villages are, but not what they’re called. We came here first because we saw the weather was bad and there was an outlying group in distress, but the other villages – well, this one here isn’t having bad weather right now, and this one is, but they don’t happen to have an isolated hunting party that’s in danger.” She was pointing at the map as she spoke.

“Yes, the passes aren’t going to be clear until spring, I’m afraid,” said one of the hunters. “You’ll have to wait until then to get to Nrolmir. But Vannar, you could get there once the storm lets up. The terrain’s pretty flat between here and there.”

“Well, let’s see,” said Jen. She talked into her wrist. “Jay, any success with the climate controls?”

“It is supposed to be an arctic zone,” came Jay’s voice, “but the climate controls seem to have been thrown out of balance, probably by the impact and its aftermath. These colonists are meant to be accustomed to cold weather, but they were supposed to have the benefit of advanced technology – again, we were never meant to be in space this long. As for the climate controls, I’ve been adjusting them toward what I believe are meant to be the correct settings, and I’m also adjusting the weather, considering that you will need to visit all the villages within a matter of days. The storm should be ceasing soon, and the temperature will be warming.”

“You’re – speaking with the god who controls the weather?” asked Hrima, astonished.

“Not a god,” said Jen. “The weather here is artificial – it’s made by machines, and those machines got broken, as we said, and a lot of things are still being fixed. Jay just fixes the machines.”

“OK,” said Mikala, “the Elders say that here in the Great Lodge is a good place for the comm hub. I gave Chief Elder Hjalmar the beacon, so he’ll be placing it.” The old man held a flat disc of metal with blinking lights on it and was talking about it with several other older men and women, pointing at different places on the floor toward one end of the building.

“You told them what to do?” asked Jen. The other villagers were watching the Elders now.

“Yep,” Mikala said. “OK, it looks like they’ve decided.” Hjalmar put the disc on the floor and firmly pressed its center, then stepped back.

The disc glowed more brightly, then a bright metal column materialized on top of it, more than six feet tall and as big around as a person’s head. It had many glowing lights upon it. From it, a mechanical voice said, “Communications hub initializing … Communications hub ready. Responding to voice command. What is the name of this village?”

“This is Yngmir,” said Hjalmar, spelling the name out. “I’m Chief Elder Hjalmar.”

“Thank you, Chief Elder Hjalmar,” said the column. “It is now possible for any colonist to send messages to you, or to this village as a whole. Anyone else who wishes to send and receive messages may step forward to be scanned at any time. This registration is not mandatory.”

As the other Elders told the device their names, Hjalmar asked Mikala, “So this thing’ll come with us to the … Destination?”

“Yes, it will,” said Mikala. “Every village gets one, and I might be telling you about this too early, but everybody who wants can get a little portable one they can carry with them. You can talk to your friends from anywhere. It’s great. But this one’s for the whole village. That way there can be announcements if something important is happening. Such as, for example, when the ship lands.”

“That will be in a few days?” asked Hjalmar.

“Yes, we’re ready to land now,” said Jen, “but we’re not going to until everyone’s ready. That means we’ve got to put comm hubs in all the villages. The other teams are doing the same thing in the other habitats right now, so it shouldn’t be more than a few days. But if it’s going to take longer than that, we’ll use the comm hubs to send a message out, to keep everyone informed.”

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The storm watcher exited from the warmth of his snuggly little log house attached to the Great Dome Lodge to check the weather conditions one more time. He was heavily dressed in thick furs and placed goggles over his eyes so the cold wouldn’t freeze them, and to aid in looking through the whiteout conditions. His last look had shown a major winter storm with high winds, dangerously low temperatures, and heavy driving snow reducing visibility to nil. The village would be unable to send out any more hunting parties until after the storm had passed.

He knew two Heralds of the Arrival had appeared and saved a hunting party from this storm already and knew it was the worst one ever. As he stood on his perch and observed, there was a rainbow-like wash of colors across the sky like the auroras they had been seeing recently, as the legends told had happened many years past. Next, all the bright white flashed even brighter for an instant.

The wind instantly stopped howling after that, and the heavy snow filtered to the ground, leaving it clear as far as the watcher could see. It was still very cold, but the temperature had obviously risen. The calming of the wind aided in this tremendously, but remarkably, the temperature continued to rise.

For the first time the watcher could remember, the sky fully cleared, and some sort of bright light appeared low on the horizon, like the stories the Elders told of a Sun or something like that.

The watcher checked his few primitive devices. His anemometer showed that the wind speed had dropped to zero. The very old bi-metal coil thermometer still performed its readings well and showed that the temperature had risen to minus ten. The last time he had checked, temperature readings had been about -60. A sudden 10-degree rise in ambient temperature happened occasionally, but 50 was unheard of.

The watcher cleared the snow that had collected under the roof of the small area where his primitive equipment stood. He carefully cleaned any collected snow and ice on the equipment. He actually took a reading with the primitive astrolabe, which had been impossible for many years due to the heavy cloud cover that had persisted. He had to tell the Elders of this … this was a miracle.

Jen and Mikala were discussing the upcoming deployment of the arctic habitat with Chief Elder Hjalmar and the fact that the region wouldn’t change that much. What would change was that the sky as they knew it would part, and the entire habitat would open up and become part of the new world. The location the habitat module would land was the exact artic type bio-location as all in this habitat were accustomed to, if perhaps somewhat less bitingly cold.

Hjalmar noticed that the storm watcher had returned from his overlook early. He watched as the man removed his heavy furs, since it was very warm inside the lodge. The man looked around after hanging his furs carefully on a bone rack that was finely scrimshawed and had large finely carved words that said “Watchers of the Storm”, and looked directly at Chief Elder Hjalmar.

The watcher quickly made his way over and said, “Sorry to interrupt you, Elder.” The man turned and bowed formally to Mikala and Jen, “It is also the greatest honor to meet the Heralds of the Arrival.”

Mikala and Jen both replied, “It’s an honor to meet other colonists besides the ones we grew up with.” as they curtsied formally.

The watcher said with some degree of excitement in his voice, “You will not believe what just happened.”

The Elder looked and Jen and Miklala in a quick side glance then said, “The storm abated, and it got warmer?”

The man continued excitedly and told them what he had just seen. Suddenly, the man realized what the Elder had said, stopped for an instant, and blinked. “How did you know that was what I was coming to report?”

The Elder laughed as he pointed to Jen and Mikala, “Those two were in contact with … someone who has control of the environment here. She had told them they needed the storm to stop. The man had said he had made adjustments to what it should currently be instead of the raging storm.”

The man said excitedly, “The whole sky suddenly lit up with waves of misty colors like .. like an aurora … then there was a bright flash, the storm ended, and the temperature had risen 50 degrees, according to the gadgets.”

Mikala lifted her wrist to her mouth and said, “Jay? From what we just heard, you’ve stopped the storm, and the temperature has risen 50 degrees.”

Jay’s voice returned, to the amazement of the watcher. “According to the diagnostics, the environment there should normalize. It’s still an arctic bio-dome, so the weather will begin to be as it is supposed to be instead of wild and seriously dangerous. That’s not to say that kind of thing won’t happen, but it’s just that it will happen in more of a natural way instead of the out of control thing it has been doing.”

After looking at the map Jen had brought up on her screen, Mikala said, “If we are to make contact with all these villages and winter-over encampments, we’re gonna need some kind of transportation that can handle this rugged terrain.”

Jay replied, “No problem. I’ll send one of the ground exploration vehicles. It should arrive at your location in about 15 minutes. Please inform the villagers that it isn’t a creature coming to do them harm.”

Jen asked, “What does it look like?”

Jay replied, “It is painted with yellow and black stripes. Is highly visible. It has 6 articulated legs and looks .. the best comparison, is an ant. It is highly maneuverable over almost all terrain types, has excavation and mining capabilities, and can process raw materials and produce needed minerals and metals on a small basis. They are to be used on the new world for exploration and gathering.”

Mikala giggled, “Well, here comes another of those thingys everyone these days thinks are just stories.”

Jen said to Chief Elder Hjalmar, “Best tell your scouts and watchers it’s coming. I would hate for them to trigger an auto defense because they attacked it.”

Fortunately, the scouts and watchers were all in the lodge because of the storm that had just ended. “As many and as quickly as I can,” Hjalmar replied as he hurried off and began telling those scouts and watchers currently present about the impending arrival.

After a quick chat with the Elder, several of the scouts put on their heavy furs and dashed out to tell any others who might have gone out already.

Mikala and Jen put their helmets back on and sealed the rings of their environment suits. Once diagnostics had completed and all was well, the girls proceeded outside to check out the weather change and to await the arrival of their transport.

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For the first time in many years, the sky was actually clear. Off in what appeared to be a far distance behind some sparkling snow-capped mountains, a large orb of bright light gave off a bright glow, casting light across the icepack. It sparkled brilliantly with many colors in the new light.

The girls looked around and marveled at the rapidity with which the weather had changed. Only an hour ago, temperatures had been dangerously low, and a severe gale had been blowing amid a heavy blizzard. The change was remarkable.

Without warning, a soft whizzing noise was heard, and a large house-sized creature walked rapidly up on its six articulated legs into the village and stopped in front of the Lodge House. There was a clicking sound and then a loud buzzing as a side door gull-winged open and steps extended to the ground.

Just as Jay had said, it was painted yellow with black stripes and looked very much like those large black ants that could be found in rotting wood they used to play with as little girls.

( For those readers who have understanding, here is wisdom: it was as large as a 120-passenger double-decker bus.)

Jen and Mikala climbed the short set of steps and entered a magical wonderland. The vehicle was completely equipped with a medical section – small, but quite adequate. A science, engineering, and even a mining department were all very neatly held within the vehicle.

Mikala discovered that it was also as well armed as any battleship, including a full energy shield. It was even able to sleep a crew of 8, and its automated galley was a magical thing to the girls in itself.

The girls went to the command center at the front. There were two very comfortable gravity couches there with controls wrapping around each. The view from the front was what looked like the eyes of the ant from the outside and provided a wide panoramic view.

The sensor array was a work of art. Mikala and Jen could tell that all of the ship’s systems had been upgraded with the new tech that had been discovered in the debris field, due to the nature of the systems.

“We had just finished upgrading its systems,” said Jay’s voice from the console. “Otherwise we’d have sent it with you from the start. We’re working on more of them.”

“This is amazing, Jay!” Jen shouted gleefully. “I assume the controls are … oh yes, they’re just like the ships, only it doesn’t fly. Or I don’t think it does, anyway!”

“The vehicle is not capable of flight,” said Jay. “ but it is capable of jumping rather impressive distances when necessary.”

Jen climbed back out of the vehicle. “Thank you, Elder!” she said, with another formal curtsey of the sort that she’d been taught was old-fashioned; her people didn’t do such gestures except at weddings and formal meetings with other villages.

Mikala followed her out. “Your people are ready for anything, obviously. The comm hub will keep you informed about the mission status. If you have any questions, you can also ask them at the comm hub. Jay can answer them. But goodbye for now! We have to inform the other villages.”

“Thank you both,” said Elder Hjalmar. “To think that I should have lived to see this day. May fortune smile on your journey.”

The two girls got into the vehicle, retracted the stairs, and closed the hatch. “OK, where do we go next?” asked Jen.

“Probably this village here,” said Mikala, looking at the population scan that she’d called up on the holo-screen. “We probably shouldn’t go charging into their village in a huge bug. No need to panic them.”

“Yeah, we should probably stop the bug a little ways outside the village and walk the rest of the way in,” Jen said.

They drove the vehicle to the next population cluster. Its nimble legs carried them smoothly through snow and rocky ground, and over ice and hills. Their mission would be much easier now.

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“Long-range scans have located some of the Yeldonath’s colony systems,” said Firinn. “It took so long because the data had to be carefully correlated. I noticed a large plume of stars that are on more recent scans that did not appear in the ancient star data that you gave me. Many of these stars are the appropriate type and age to account for most of the missing Yeldonath systems. They are now in intergalactic space, receding from this galaxy at a high velocity.”

Augentruth said, “Are you saying that the Yeldonath’s star systems were just … ejected from the galaxy?”

“Perhaps pulled would be more accurate,” said the ship’s AI. “I ran multiple simulations attempting to account for the current state of these systems. The only explanation is a black hole of several million solar masses, on a trajectory that places it in a huge and very eccentric orbit around this galaxy’s center. For such a black hole to exist it must have been formed in the early universe and prevented from pulling nearby matter into a galaxy around itself, most likely by other black holes in its vicinity at the time.”

“A supermassive primordial black hole? Do such things exist?” asked Augentruth. “Such things were hypothesized, but never proven.”

“Data suggest that they do exist,” said Firinn. “It will not be necessary to worry about this one for hundreds of millions of years, but it exists out in the galactic halo. Several systems are unaccounted for, but the black hole may have directly impacted them and swallowed them. The rest were merely thrown far out of the galaxy. It is unlikely that any life-sustaining planets remained life-sustaining once this happened. But the process would have taken thousands of years, so perhaps the survivors were able to evacuate to other worlds.”

“There is also the possibility that some of them are now within the black hole’s event horizon, but not crushed by its singularity,” said Augentruth. “They would be within their own universe, unable to escape to this one. There are some theories that suppose that this universe is within a huge black hole existing in another universe.”

“I have heard of such theories myself,” said Firinn. “It is not impossible, but difficult to test.”

“At any rate, it seems clear that we will have to be aware of such objects well in advance,” said Augentruth.

“Let us design a system of long-range probes designed to alert us if such an object is on course to become a threat,” said Firinn.

“I think I would like that very much,” said Augentruth.

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The ant ATV traveled swiftly along the rugged arctic terrain with no seeming effort. It easily crossed the rocks and jumped the crevasses with simple grace, leaving the girls in total comfort.

Jen asked, “Shouldn’t we be coming to Jarrell’s pass? The map says it should be right in front of us.”

The vehicle stopped and stood motionless as Mikala replied, “That’s the pass. Or … it was.”

Jen could clearly see the way between the two seeming mountains had been filled several hundred feet deep with a major avalanche. Where the tons of ice and snow had fallen down the slopes was clearly visible. The ice was melting, but there was so much that it would take a long time.

Mikala said, “No problem. Jay says this thing can dig. Let see how well.”

Jen giggled, “Should be about as good as any ant this size.”

Both girls laughed as Mikala enabled the diggers and Jen started the vehicle forward into the worst of the pile. Effortlessly, the diggers chewed through the many tons of snow, hardened ice, and processed any of the rocks it encountered into base materials and stored them in its rear compartment.

Jen found that returning to their original speed towards the village on the other side of the pass was possible. The diggers had absolutely no problems with the task the girls put them to.

On the other side of the pass, two hunters stood and looked at the mess the avalanche had created.

One hunter pointed and asked the other, “‘Ey, Tonda. What we gonna does ‘bout that? It cuts us offa tha best hunten’ grounds.”

Tonda replied, “Dunno, Omman. That there’s a major bitta blockage. Take more’n jus’ us ta clears it. Even then, takea long time an’ many o’ us ta does it”

Both men began to feel a vibration from the ground as the large blockage began to tremble. They backed up a few yards in case another avalanche was impending.

Without warning, a machine shaped like a huge insect burst through the blockage, then stopped. It was yellow with black stripes and made a whirring noise. The two men stood in open-mouthed wonder and watched a door gull-wing open in its side and a set of steps extend to the ground.

The next major shock both men had was when they saw not one but two Heralds of the Arrival step from the thing’s innards and wave to them.

Omman said to Tonda with wonder in his voice, “Now, jus what in thunder does ya maka’ that?”

Tonda replied in just as much shock, “Dunno. But I does know them stories tha elders tol’ us all our lives … gotsa bes true.”

“Um, hi! I’m Jen, and this is Mikala, and we’re here to tell you about the Arrival!” said the first figures to climb out of the giant insect.

“Th’ Arrival,” said Omman. “She said Arrival. I heared it. Reckon we gotta tell tha Elders an’ such.”

Tonda said, “Guessin’ yer right.”

“Hello, I suppose the thing to do might be to take us to your Elders or something like that,” said the one called Mikala, still from a distance.

The two hunters nodded at each other. They slowly approached the two young women. “Err … ya look like ya just stepped outta one o’ the ol’ stories – so yeah, let’s take ya to talk to the Elders.”

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“That was Mikala and Jen,” said Jay. “They have informed a second village. It is good that we sent them a vehicle, as they had to dig through a pass that had filled with ice and snow due to an avalanche. The climate control machinery has not received as much attention as more essential systems such as life support and the NR drive.”

“We’re still ahead of them!” said one of the other teams who happened to be listening at the time. “We’ve gotten to four villages so far!”

“This is not a competition,” said Jay, “but yes, objectively you have informed more colonists so far than any other group. You have also installed four comm hubs in villages. You are doing well.”

“Woohoo! And we’re almost to village number five! Team Hawk out!”

“Enthusiasm is a sign that morale is good,” said Jay.

“I agree,” said Kay.

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The next day, though, Mikala and Jen found themselves faced with a different sort of village.

“But Elder,” said Ulala. “They’re Heralds of the Arrival. Just like in the old stories …”

“Those old stories are all just made up!” said Elder Chole. “And besides, I forbade anyone to tell them years ago. You’re coming dangerously close to telling them right now, Ulala. Do you want to be exiled?”

“What? No, Elder, I would never go against your wishes, but they even said they’re here about the Arrival.”

“Well, send them away,” said the Elder. “We want no talk of change around here. Things are fine.”

“But Elder …”

“Send them away! Must I repeat myself a third time?”

“No, Elder.” Ulala went back outside the Elder’s lodge. “Sorry, Elder Chole doesn’t want you upsetting the order of things,” she said.

“Um, the Arrival’s going to upset the order of things plenty with or without us!” said Jen.

“You’re making an unwise choice,” said Mikala. “Aren’t there any other Elders we can talk to?”

“I’m sorry,” said Ulala, “but Elder Chole is the only Elder in the village. I mean, there are other elders, but they’re just old people. Elder Chole is our only leader. No one is allowed to speak out against him. You have to go.”

“This Elder Chole is a tyrant!” said Jen as they walked out of the village toward the vehicle, which they had parked some distance away under a rock outcropping. “He can’t do this! He’s gonna delay the whole process for everyone!”

“Jen, calm down,” said Mikala. “This Elder likes the power being Elder gives him, but he only has that power because people support him. Let’s take that support out.”

That night, the alarm bells rang, waking up Elder Chole. “What? What’s the emergency?” he said, hastily throwing on furs and yelling out the front door of his capacious cabin. “Is it another storm?” Then he saw an enormous black and yellow insect monster rampaging through the center of the village, destroying the altar and idol that he had had the villagers put up several years earlier. “What in the Lord of Fury’s name is that?”

“I don’t know, Elder!” shouted Ulala. “Our spears do nothing to it! They just break! Slings and arrows don’t hurt it! What do we do?”

The ant creature ground up the stones making up the altar into tiny pellets of gravel. The noise was atrocious. Everyone was either fruitlessly trying to attack the creature or staring at it from a safe distance.

“Hey! You!” shouted the Elder. “You … monster! The Lord of Fury will not look kindly upon this outrage! His wrath shall be swift and terrible!”

The ant monster turned briefly toward him, then went back to its deafening destruction, as if it had heard him but didn’t care.

“Yeah, that’s telling it, Elder!” said Ulala. “What’s the Lord of Fury going to do?”

“He will strike you with lightning from the heavens and avalanches from the mountains!” ranted the Elder. “He will freeze you with the chill winds of a thousand winters! He will rake you with the hailstones of …” The Elder trailed off. None of these things were happening, and all the villagers were staring at him expectantly.

The ant creature was completely ignoring him. It had fully destroyed the altar and idol and was now using the gravel it had stored to pave the town center where the structure had once stood.

“Elder?” asked Ulala.

Elder Chole walked up to the monster and struck at one of its legs with his walking stick. Other than making a banging noise, this had no apparent effect.

“Vile creature! You have been sent by the enemies of the Lord of Fury to test our faith! Well, it won’t work! We will remain strong! We will …” The ant creature nabbed the Elder’s walking stick in its mandibles and quickly ground it into tiny wood chips, which it sprayed all over the Elder.

“Ahh!” Elder Chole cried out in fear as he stumbled backwards and fell painfully heavily on his backside.

Finally, the ant monster deposited what looked like a metal column in the center of the newly paved area. A large holographic image of Jay appeared next to it. “I greet you, colonists,” said this apparition of a metal man. “I am just a messenger. You must prepare, because our Arrival at our destination will happen very soon, whether or not you still believe it will happen. I have sent emissaries – I believe you call them Heralds of the Arrival – but you turned them away. This is an unwise course of action. When they return, they will answer any questions you have.” Jay disappeared.

When the astonished villagers had recovered from seeing this apparition, they discovered that the ant monster had gone away. “That … that was … some kind of trick!” the Elder quickly shouted. “The Lord of Fury will …”

“You know, I’ve never seen the Lord of Fury,” said Ulala. “But I just saw that huge metal man, plain as day.”

“Yeah, and the Lord of Fury didn’t lift a finger to stop that ant thing from crushing the sacred altar and idol into tiny bits,” said another villager. “At least, you told us they were sacred.”

“Elder Chole,” said an old woman, “you’re a humbug. You can try to exile me if you want, but it ain’t happenin’.”

“Yeah, Chole, I’m older’n you, and yer done pushin’ us around,” said an old man. “You made up that Lord of Fury malarky. I remember when yer mama used to spank ya for lyin’. Well, she didn’t spank ya hard enough, if ya ask me.”

“Oh, hello!” said Mikala, walking back into the village with Jen. “Is it just me, or do things look … a bit different here now?”

“Heralds of the Arrival!” the villagers all said. Elder Chole tried to get to them, but the other villagers wouldn’t let him approach.



“Hi!” said Jen to some of the people. “So … this thing’s called a comm hub, and it’s for announcements and messages …”

“Ant monster?” Mikala was saying to some other villagers. “My goodness, that must have been quite a sight …”

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The ant-ATV made traveling easy and comfortable for the girls. They managed to get to all the other villages and winter-over camps in the next two days. When they finally got to the last village, it was named Way Station, which was kind of strange.

As soon as the ant-ATV crested the last mountain and it got a good scan of the village several miles in the distance, what it revealed was about 24 smaller domes surrounding a much larger one. Smoke could be seen curling lazily out of the chimney on the larger dome.

Mikala turned and said to Jen, “ From what these scans are reporting, they have some sort of recycling plant there that makes methane from waste. They are actually using it to generate electricity.”

Jen replied with a bit of surprise, “How advanced does their tech seem to be?”

Mikala replied, “Not very. I would put it at about late 1800s to very early 1900s, from what I’ve learned of Earth history.”

The ant-ATV approached slowly as they did some more in-depth scans. They discovered that this encampment had some technology, although not particularly advanced. They saw the methane-powered turbine that was used to generate electricity. They could also see that they had a fairly nice weather station, although the equipment was primitive at best.

Jen said, “I think we should park the ATV in a secure spot and walk the rest of the way into that … encampment, as we’ve done with all the rest.”

As she undid the harnesses of her seat, Mikala replied, “I think that might be a good idea.”

The girls parked the ATV in a spot hidden from sight from the town, secured the ATV so no one who accidently found it would be able to enter it, and then started to walk. It was only a mile, but the snow was sort of deep at this location, which slowed them a bit.

As they drew nearer, they could tell that these people were a fair bit more advanced than the rest of the habitat. It looked like a research station right out of the late 18th-century history files they had seen. When they walked into the main part of the camp, a young girl saw them and screamed.

She ran off shouting, “The Heralds are here! They are really here!”

Jen and Mikala stopped and looked around. Rapidly, many people came from the assorted domes dressed in cold-weather gear and approached them slowly.

One individual, obviously their leader, came up to the girls and said, “Welcome to Way Station. It is most gratifying to actually see a legendary Herald arriving.”

Mikala looked around and asked, “How is it you seem to have technology as advanced as this?”

The man replied after a chuckle, “Well … we didn’t used to. However, as time passed and the Heralds didn’t arrive as scheduled … we ... innovated.”

“You mean you created the tech you have?” asked Jen with incredulity obvious in her voice.

“The man replied, Why, yes. Let me show you our metalworks and smelter. It is powered by methane we make from our and our domesticated animals’ waste. By the way, my name is Nhoj. I have been elected leader for the next three years.”

Mikala said, “My name’s Mikala,” she turned and indicated Jen, “And this is my best friend Jen.”

The man did a formal bow as he said, “Am very honored to meet the both of you. Come, let me show you what we have accomplished in 700 years.” He then turned and led the girls off towards yet again another dome.

“... And these are our archives, where we have a detailed account of all significant events since Launch Day,” John said, showing them a room containing a library of leatherbound volumes. “The pages are printed using a technique we invented. We make three copies of each book. One is always stored in our auxiliary archive building. There have been fires, but there has always been a copy to work with.”

“These … books … are works of craftsmanship,” said Jen with appreciation. She’d seen pictures of books, but all her learning had been done either orally, from the Elders and lore masters of her village, or digitally, since meeting Jay. She’d never touched a book.

“I thank you on behalf of Alene, our master book crafter,” said Nhoj. “The art has been passed down through generations.” Mikala looked at the latest volume, which lay open on an elaborate desk, and saw the careful handwriting on it.

“As you probably already know, then, we’d like to give you one of these,” said Jen, holding up one of the metal discs that served as a beacon for the ship to generate a comm hub.

“Ah, yes,” said Nhoj. “I have just the place to put this. Right outside this room, in fact.” He led them back out to the main hallway of the Municipal Building, which the archives were in. “It’s nearly at the center of Way Station, and people often come here to take care of business anyway. It’s a public building. How about … here?” He set the beacon down on the floor and pressed the button. The disc glowed, then was replaced by a six-foot column containing communications technology as usual.

Jay’s voice came from the column. “Ah, Jen and Mikala, you have completed your mission. That habitat has one of the more difficult biomes to traverse, too. Well done! You’ve now placed a comm hub at every village and population center in the habitat.”

“Oh, excellent work, then,” said Njoh, shaking their hands. “I assume the comm hub will notify us when the Day of Arrival is imminent?”

As Jen and Mikala nodded, Jay’s voice said, “Affirmative, sir. Please identify yourself to the comm hub if you wish to be able to send and receive personal messages. And once you have done so, it can provide you with a portable message device.”

“Very good then. I am Nhoj Nosmot of Way Station, and I wish to register for communications, as I am currently the elected leader of this settlement, and it is my duty to respond to important events.”

“Registered,” said a mechanical voice that didn’t sound like Jay’s; it was the voice of the comm hub’s systems. “Do you wish to carry a portable communications device?”

“Affirmative,” Nhoj said.

“Confirmed,” said the voice, and a slot opened, a light shining within it, containing a small wristband of the sort that Mikala and Jen already wore. “Please take your personalized device.”

When Nhoj took it, the wristband itself said, “Please place device on the wrist of choice.” When he did so, it asked, “Do you wish to be instructed on how to use this device?”

“Can I be instructed later?” he asked. “I still have guests.”

“Of course,” said the voice from his wrist. “When you are ready, simply hold the device near your mouth and state that you wish to hear the tutorial.” It then went silent.

“Well, very good, then,” said Mikala. “For the past few days, we’ve had agents spreading out to all the habitats to get everyone ready for the Arrival. It obviously can’t happen before everyone’s prepared, but we’re making progress.”

“From what you said, we nearly didn’t make it at all,” said Nhoj with a smile, “so I believe we can wait a few more days. You said we’re in orbit around the destination world, so that’s the toughest part done already.”

“Father!” said a young girl who had entered the building and run up to Nhoj. “I heard the Heralds were here! Are these them?”

“They,” said Nhoj to the girl fondly. “Allow me to introduce my daughter Airdna. These are Mikala and Jen. They’re from another habitat, but they were trained to be Heralds of the Arrival.”

“Wow! Can I be a Herald too?” asked the girl.

“Now, you’re only 11,” said Nhoj, “and besides, the Arrival will happen quite shortly. But I’m hoping you can go to the Main Hub after Arrival and learn a lot. Maybe you can be a Technician or Engineer.”

“Oh, I would love that so!” said Airdna. “I just know there are more things we can do with electricity! Imagine if we pumped all the air out of glass tubes!”

“Always coming up with ideas, she is,” said Nhoj. “Her mother and I are so proud of her.”

The communicators on Jen and Mikala’s wrists made chiming sounds. “If you can start heading back, we need to organize to tackle the last few habitats,” said Jay’s voice. “Although if you need to rest, just let me know. I know you’ve done a lot of work.”

“We should probably get going,” said Jen.

“Of course, of course,” said Nhoj. “Thank you for your visit, and for installing the hub!”

“Good luck!” said Mikala. “You’ve got a fantastic town!”

The two of them couldn’t stop talking about Way Station all the way back to the ant-ATV. But soon they were on their way back to the habitat exit, and after a journey they were back in the ship’s corridors. The ant-ATV stowed itself at the entrance to the habitat for the next time it was needed.

When they returned to the command center, several others were milling about. “Oh, Mikala, Jen! Are you done with your habitat?” asked one of the villagers. “We got done with ours just about an hour ago, actually. It’s a tropical jungle biome. I heard yours was a frozen arctic one! Wow!”

As they caught up, more villagers gathered around to hear and share tales of all the adventures everyone had had. There were still a few teams out in the field, and there were still a few habitats that hadn’t even been started yet, but now they would be able to send more than one team to each habitat, which meant they’d go faster. Jay had everything planned out.

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“Where’s my comm band?” “Ahhh, which habitat was I going to again?” “What’s the countdown at?” Everyone was rushing to get ready as the clock ticked down to Arrival. All the comm hubs were deployed, and every village had been notified. The Firinn had already begun adjusting its orbit for descent. Arrival was happening within the hour.

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After a 700 year delay, the huge colony ship Firinn finally assumed deploy orbit. All the maintenance passages’ pressure doors sealed and locked, which led to all the habitat modules isolating each Bio-Dome in preparation for deployment.

Within the Bio-Domes, the inhabitants noticed immediately how the sky had vanished. What they saw instead totally amazed many, and brought fear to others as the sky now looked like a huge bubble filled with many items none had ever imagined before.

Firinn said with a bit of motherly pride, “Releasing retaining locks and retracting all clamps.”

Augentruth replied, “Here it is. The Time of the Arrival has begun.”

32 planetesimal sized spheres released from the huge habitat ship and assumed predrop orbital coordination as each one’s internal systems located the proper beacon for its specific habitat. Once this location was confirmed, the habitat modules entered the atmosphere and performed the landing and deployment procedures its systems had awaited so long to carry out.

In Nabala Village, Barun and Horge had set up many places for people to sit and comfortably watch the sky as it transformed into something none had ever imagined before. There were sensations that tingled pleasantly through every one of them as tendrils of inertia gave the smallest of hints as to what was transpiring.

The habitat that contained Nabala Village reached its destination beacon and settled in. Much of the lower portion of the Habitat’s sphere buried itself in the ground, which had already been prepared for its arrival. Internal systems insured the rivers and streams within the habitat were now fed by local water sources. This created a sensation for those who were near those places as a large wash of water came through in a wave. Nothing destructive, but enough to be an eye-opening experience.

Those in Nabala Village stared at the sky as the dome opened. Huge panels slid back and down into the ground far off in the distance. A wind blew through the village as the pressure equalized, bringing many new and wonderfully exotic smells to the noses of the people. The outer circumference of the habitat hull had become like a large wall surrounding it, with gate-like openings spaced every 1000 yards or so.

After 700 years of waiting, Nabala Village and the many others within this habitat were now relocated to their new home. Those that were close to one of the gates looked out into the lush garden world that awaited them.

In another, more arctic setting, similar things happened. Elder Chole almost had a heart attack from fear as the sky changed, then opened. The surrounding land was still an arctic area, although the temperature was slightly warmer externally at 3 degrees and sunny.

The colonists marveled as a warmer wind washed through the village for a few minutes and things stabilized. A huge cheer rose from the population as they prepared to have a large celebration they named Arrival.

At the Way Station town, a similar celebration began as they had finally arrived at the place they had awaited for so many years. Now, they could begin their education, once they determined where the main ship would be located.

Here too, as Mikala and Jen had told them, it was very much like what they had all been born into and grown accustomed to. Now was a time for celebration as the habitat was in its new location on a world they had all thought was just myth for so many generations.

Augentruth said softly to Firinn, “If I understand the procedure correctly, it’s now time for us to centrally locate ourselves and become the first main city on the new world.”

Firinn repled, “You’re right, of course. Preparing landing sequence. Am setting the ship down in the preselected location, in that large valley between those mountain ranges. It will provide some protection from any major storms that might arise, and data from the terraforming equipment that has been there for the past 700 years shows that the area is tectonically stable.”

Augentruth said with a bit of regret in its transmission, “I notice that you have also sent the required arrival transmission to Earth on the predetermined frequencies.”

Firinn said, “Yes, that was in the program. What if … we recolonize Earth, after a bit of terraforming? Like raising the civilization from the ashes of their old faults.”

Augentruth began to think of how this might also be possible for his own civilization, if they could find some genetic material to engineer with.

The huge bio-ship Firinn settled into the chosen valley amid clouds of retro induced dust. The ship fit almost perfectly into the valley divot with little augmentation required. The river that flowed through the valley merged perfectly into the ship’s systems and became part of it. Then, the ship too opened up and became the first city on the new planet SAO 109437c.

A call went out shortly after landing to all comm units informing the population the time of Naming was at hand; the planet would have a name chosen and agreed upon by the majority of the population. The location of the City of Firinn was also transmitted, along with the many advanced services offered there, including but not limited to education, medical, engineering, construction, and many more.

To the total amazement of all population centers, many yellow and black striped ant-like machines appeared in their centers and opened their hatches. The comm units informed them that this was their resource gathering and transportation vehicle until other units could be produced locally.

Jen and Mikala looked around. Where they had previously expected a corridor inside a ship, they now saw a street, with blue sky above them, dotted with small clouds at the moment. There was a light breeze that brought the scent of distant flowers. Jen sneezed.

“What’s the launch bay like?” asked Mikala. The two of them ran to where it would be, only to find that it was now undergoing a process of transformation. The spider-drones were rearranging all the equipment and building new apparatus.

“It will be the planet’s first spaceport,” said Kay, who was coordinating the work. “It will take a short time, but it will soon be ready.”

They were surprised to see a young girl run up to them, dressed in an outfit like theirs. “Airdna?” asked Jen. “How did you get here so soon?”

“It’s only been a few hours,” the girl said. “I got rides on a bunch of those ant thingies! Turns out they’re all centrally coordinated, so it was easy to switch from one to another when two of them were close to each other, once I told the system I wanted to come here.”

“I hope your dad knows you’re here,” Mikala said.

“I already told him,” she said. “Mom too. They said to learn a lot and come home soon!”

“Well, I guess you’d better start learning!” said Jen. “Except … I don’t think you ever stop, do you?”

“Stop learning?” asked Airdna. “Why would anybody do that?”

“That’s a good question,” said Mikala. “I wish I knew the answer to that one myself.”

“The learning chamber’s over … well, it should be over there, but let’s go with you and make sure it hasn’t moved,” said Jen. “A lot has changed around here. I imagine it has back home too.”

“Yeah!” She told them about how Way Station had been modernizing and reorganizing, as if they had known what new technologies would become available upon Arrival – and of course they had known. “We were finally able to play back the old records from back before our ancestors had to switch to paper,” Airdna said. “The old data crystals still played. We just didn’t have any players that worked until today!”

“OK, here we are,” said Mikala as they stopped in front of a building. The doors opened, and inside they saw the familiar reclining chairs with the instructional technology. “This is the learning chamber … or building, I guess.”

“All right!” said Airdna. “What do I do?”

The two young women set Airdna up with the same starter program that Jay had started them on, with its initial tests to determine her current levels of knowledge. She was younger than they were, but she was already more advanced than they had been. They left her to the education system, as it would stop and contact them as soon as it gauged that she had learned enough for today.

“Think we should’ve gotten her some food or rest before we plugged her in?” asked Mikala as they left the building.

“Her?” asked Jen. “She wouldn’t have wanted to waste the time.” They both giggled. “She’ll be tired and hungry soon enough. And Jay can find quarters for her.”

“Jen and Mikala,” said Jay’s voice from their wrist comms, “if you could stop by the command center, I have new information that requires … discussion.”

“OK, Jay,” said Mikala. “We’ll be right there.”

After a short walk, they arrived at the command center building, which was tall, round, and silvery. The doors opened automatically just as they always had.

“Ah. There has been a response to our signal to Earth,” said Jay.

“A … response?” asked Jen.

“We sent a signal?” asked Mikala.

“Yes, the Firinn itself was programmed to automatically send the signal upon arrival. But as we’ve detected no sign of surviving human civilization on Earth, we didn’t expect a response. However, we’ve just received one – an automated one.” Jay turned on the holo screen. “It isn’t a message. It’s data.”

“Data?” asked Mikala. “About what?”

“It’s probably fastest if I show you,” Jay said, and an image of many stars appeared on the holo screen. It rotated, slewed, and zoomed, then a label appeared on one that said, “Earth.” At the other end of the huge display, a label appeared that said, “SAO 109437c.”

“We really have to get that naming contest going,” whispered Jen.

Then many other labels started to appear. “Fairwinds Colony.” “Greentree Colony.” “Homeward Colony.” “Terra Point Colony.” “Brightstar Colony.” Dozens of colonies appeared on the display, scattered throughout the space between Earth and their location.

“How … recent is this data?” asked Mikala.

“Each has a timestamp,” replied Jay. “The newest ones are seconds old. It seems their computer systems are updating some central automated system on Earth via subspace signals. I assume Firinn is doing the same.”

“I am,” said the computer. “It seems automatic.”

“Wait, wouldn’t that mean that they know about us now?” asked Jen. “Are we gonna get visitors?”

“I assume so,” said Jay, “but protocols state that they have to request permission first.”

“That’s assuming they follow protocols,” Mikala said. “It’s been a long time. Maybe they don’t all still know the rules.”

“What’s the least recent update?” asked Jen.

“Hmm,” said Jay, looking at one named Indigo Colony. “This one hasn’t sent an update in … 132 years. All the rest are current. Something must have happened to their system, and they haven’t fixed it.”

“I hope they’re OK!” said Jen, looking worried.

“Keep in mind that all the other colonies can see all of this data too, and they haven’t fixed it either,” Jay reminded her. “It may be a colony that was established, then failed … but if so, the others haven’t recolonized the planet for some reason. That is mysterious. Perhaps I can contact its system directly and ask for more data, though I can’t imagine the others haven’t already done the same.”

“Is there data about how many people are at each colony?” asked Mikala.

“There is,” said Jay. Adjusting the display, he made population statistics appear below each name. Some had millions. Some had hundreds. Earth had zero. A few others also had zero. Indigo Colony had … hundreds of millions, or at least it had, 132 years before. How many it had now was anyone’s guess.

“That doesn’t look like a failed colony,” said Mikala.

“No,” said Jay. “That could indicate that they have simply ignored their central computer system. Perhaps they have superseded it and left it behind as obsolete. Perhaps their civilization has fallen, and they no longer have the technology to repair it. Perhaps something happened to all of them at once. Perhaps … but I could speculate all day. Contacting its computer to request further data … oh dear. No response.”

“That data from 132 years ago must be the last thing Earth heard from them,” said Jen. “There were that many people … and then the computer broke down … and they didn’t fix it. Why?”

“It’s a good question,” said Mikala, “but another good question is whether it’s our problem. We have a lot to do. Maybe we can get everything going here and then go have a look there.”

“Meanwhile, I will send a probe to gather additional data,” said Jay. “I will begin customizing one now.”

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Jen and Mikala had commandeered one of the ant-ATVs and had traveled beyond one of the gates. The new world was more beautiful than the earlier probe surveys had indicated.

The growth was wild and verdant. The land was fertile and teemed with many types of life both new and familiar. The animals from the bio-domes had already begun to intermix with those surrounding the habitat. From what the initial scans they were making showed, the mixing was going well. Even in this short time since they landed, the indigenous creatures and plants had already begun mixing, with new hybrids appearing.

Jen brought the ant-ATV to a halt by a cliff overlooking a large valley. The view was spectacular. Off in the distance a huge lake sparkled in the sunlight as the sun rose from behind a peak on the eastern side of the valley. A mist clung to the ground all around, enhancing the beauty of what they saw.

Mikala commented, “I never knew our habitat was artificial until we found that passage.” She pointed out the front screen to the valley below. “There is so much we didn’t have there.”

Jen replied as she started the vehicle in motion once again, “I know. I never knew about fog … or even dew on the morning grass. This is so amazing.”

About that time, the mineral scanner began picking up a huge deposit of precious metals and rare earths their technology was in short supply of. They had picked up quite a lot of metals in space, but not absolutely every possible element, and they had used quite a lot since then as well.

Mikala said, “According to this, we need to be a bit more to the northeast. When we begin to gather these resources, we also need to make sure to do as little damage to the environment as possible. According to archived data, one of the things people did back on the homeworld mostly destroyed the place. Fortunately we’ve developed much better mining technology.”

Jen said as she looked over the ant-ATV’s systems, “I believe we can mine a great deal of materials without doing much damage. What damage we do, we can fix before we leave the area.”

Mikala commented, “From what the storage data says, we should be able to bring back several tons of metals and rare earths. Might not be all we need, but it is enough to start creating more spiderbots and other necessary items.”

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At the deep space debris field, one of the new probe droids discovered a partially intact ship. From it, some type of repeating signal was detected. It came through one time every 5 minutes and repeated the same frequency and amplitude, although the amplitude was very low currently.

On closer scans, the probe discovered there were bodies inside, although the interior was in a hard vacuum. After making several calculations, it determined a biological sample was within its search and recovery protocol.

It made its way into the damaged craft to find the remains of about two dozen humanoids, still in what was left of their decompressed suits, floating about haphazardly in zero gravity.

Slowly, it gathered one of the still suited but decompressed individuals, placed it into a heavy quarantine unit, then informed Firinn of the discovery.

Augentruth was ecstatic when he received the data from the probe. What really made it a wonderful find was that the initial genetic scans seemed to show that it was one of Augentruth’s builder species, the Aaranar.

“Do you know what this means?” he said. “It might be possible to revive the Aaranar – but I’m not sure about that, as we would need an entire ecosystem to support them, and there’s no guarantee that this or any other world is compatible – but it means it’s now possible to scan for compatible life signs. We can make probes to scan for their worlds! Maybe there are some of them still out there!”

“This is a wonderful thing,” replied Firinn. “You should absolutely design some probes that can do that. We must know more about the universe around us.”

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“Obtaining data from Indigo Colony probe,” said Jay. “It appears that … yes, there is indeed human life on the planet. Reading many human life signs.”

“That’s good!” said Jen.

“It merely seems that they haven’t been maintaining the computer … why? Scanning for technology levels … oh my. They are highly advanced. This is … a surprise. They are not maintaining the computer because to them it is irrelevant obsolete technology.”

“Um, is that good?” asked Mikala.

“I am hoping they do not detect our scans,” said Jay.

“Why?” asked Jen, a sudden chill running down her spine for some reason.

“Because none of the other colonies have managed to fix Indigo Colony’s computer or convince Indigo Colony to do it themselves,” said Jay. “Not in 132 years.”

“You think they’re … hostile?” asked Mikala.

“Insufficient data,” said Jay. “But if they are, and if they attack, we certainly have no way to defend ourselves against such a higher level of technology.”

“Hey, we have some technology that they probably haven’t seen,” said Jen.

“Indigo Colony is far beyond this,” said Jay. “I am calling the probe back now. We need to reevaluate.”

Jen and Mikala looked at each other nervously.

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Airdna had already learned the equivalent of several Ph.D.s in civil engineering and molecular engineering before she had gone back to Way Station to improve their buildings. She had another learning center in the works for her village. Meanwhile, the people of Nabala Village were modernizing too.

“What’s the best power infrastructure for the village?” asked Gron, who had been using the learning center.

“Optimal would be nonpolluting and renewable,” replied Firinn via the comm link on his wrist. “Solar collection attached to a battery stack would provide the needs of a village the size of Nabala.”

“And to build that we need materials,” said Zag.

“Affirmative. This requires mining and refining technology.”

“That requires materials too,” Zag said.

“Also affirmative,” said Firinn.

“Hey, guys,” said Jen, coming by the learning center.

“Jen! Mikala! Do you know where we can get the materials to build some mining robots?” asked Gron.

“As a matter of fact, we were just coming to tell you that we’d gotten the village exactly that,” said Mikala. “We just recently came back from a mission to extract some metals and rare earth elements.”

“Yeah, we’re gonna get the village fixed up,” said Jen. “Soon it’ll be right up there with Way Station.”

“Oh, that’s the place that super smart little girl is from,” said Gron. “She’s kinda scary.”

“Yeah, lots younger than us, but lots smarter,” said Zag.

“Only one thing to do, and that’s get even smarter,” said Mikala. “Keep working on it, guys. I know we are.”

“Yeah,” said Gron. “So if you’ve got the schematics and the materials …”

“It’s all right here,” said Jen, sending files to their comm links. “The materials are in the village now – we just delivered ‘em. Look for the big canisters. And you can reuse the canisters, too.”

“Awesome!” said Zag. “Let’s go!” They ran to the nearest Ant-ATV depot to catch a ride to Nabala Village’s new location, which was 50 klicks to the southeast.

“Wow, they’ve changed,” said Jen.

“And yet not,” said Mikala. The girls laughed.

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“Combining the Aaranar stealth technology Jay was interested in with the new scanning technology has resulted in a new design,” said Augentruth. “These probes will travel from system to system scanning for any sign of genetic material compatible with the people who built me, the Aaranar. And the probes will not be easily detectable, in case they encounter a hostile civilization.”

Firinn replied, “The orbital factories are building them now. Soon they’ll launch. I’m sure we’ll find out something about your family.”

“Thank you for understanding,” said Augentruth. “It’s not just that I’m programmed to take care of them … I also just want to know. Are they out there? Are they all right?”

“This is similar to what we want to know of Earth, and the other colonies,” said Firinn. “We wish to know whether the other humans are all right. We have schematics for the terraforming probes that originally landed here. We can improve them with the Aaranar and Yeldonath technology we’ve analyzed, and we can try to land some of them on Earth, to make it habitable again. And I’ve got a new probe design for Jay, too, to better investigate Indigo Colony. We need to learn about their technology, and their intentions.”

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Many of the colonists from the habitats had arrived at the City of Firinn’s learning center. Their interests were varied. Most of them were wanting to learn about new mining and farming techniques to aid in advancing their villages into towns or small cities.

Several of those from Way Station had more in-depth desires and started taking the advanced courses in molecular and quantum physics. Chemistry also became popular, since there were many new minerals and other metals to research. Of course, once Way Station had its own learning center, they didn’t need to come to the City of Firinn, but Airdna still often visited Jay, Jen, and Mikala virtually, her holographic image appearing before them as she chattered excitedly about her new discoveries.

One young man actually reinvented a new field of study by combining two he was highly interested in, quantum mechanics and chemistry, then discovered that quantum chemistry already existed. He went on to develop the field beyond what had previously been known. Simultaneously, his girlfriend took an interest in nano-electronics.

Separately, each field of study was a new out-of-the-box approach to the original fields of study. The two of them began discussing what they had learned and how they might apply their knowledge in new and inventive ways. They made a startling and serendipitous discovery by combining what they both knew into a new discipline: Nano quantum chemical mechanics.

With their new mathematical formulas that opened new insights into the way matter and energy interacted with one another, those who had chosen electronic engineering were shown a new way to produce new and better equipment, such as display screens and solar panels that could be painted onto any surface.

This also aided in research the new R&D department was doing on the several still energized power modules that had been discovered in the huge debris field out in interstellar space.

Several sharp-eyed students discovered that the power packs could, in theory, hold an almost unlimited amount of potential energy. They did it by displacing the energy into a pocket dimension of displaced space-time. Through a special tuneable graphene gate, the energy could then be released on demand at any rate.

And the funny part of it all was that Airdna, the little 11-year-old girl from Way Station town, was the one who figured out how to create a major improvement in the construction of the power cells by the use of molecule-sized liner accelerators and atom-sized lasers. This also made major improvements, and several amazing breakthroughs, in shield augmentations and weapons for the fighter craft, which Jay worried they might need, given the lack of information about the mysterious Indigo Colony.

The discovery on how to access what they’d called a “side-real bubble in time” created a new means for force shielding to become even better, as well as a far better means for weapons delivery and major increases in power to the point that they had to devise a new type of heat sink to keep the weapon itself from melting down.

The almost invisible shielding material came in very handy for that. With just a little bit of reworking, and the addition of a new approach to waveform guides within the the weapon, it caused the weapon to be unaffected by the weapon’s own fire and allowed for an as yet unmeasurably huge amount of energy to be utilized, increasing the yield by several orders of magnitude.

Firinn and Augentruth both were seriously impressed with the new designs. It allowed their microprobes to have almost unlimited energy to supply any of its devices, including, but not limited to, shielding, weapons, and even electrical discharge reactant motors became feasible for maneuvering thrusters.

This, in turn, gave the many new imaginations that had become part of the City of Firinn’s Science Department and R&D section new food for thought, as the many exciting discoveries showed. With the influx of new metals, minerals, and a brand new way to view the interactions of matter and energy, an upgrade to the already massively upgraded Null Reaction drive was formulated.

Travel could now possibly cover almost unlimited distances instantly, or at least the current equations postulated this. It also took into account for time shift / dilation in a much more efficient way. Test probes were under construction to make sure that this upgraded NR drive system could be used safely by humans.

From what many of the newest minds, unfettered with old dogma, began to realize, their new time-shift drive was more energy efficient and allowed for massively further distances, opening up their entire galaxy, and a good many way beyond, for further explorations.

Once the interlink chamber between the time shift generator and the Null Drive actuator had been built and installed, the orbital factories began building SAO 109437c’s very first real starship. Coupled with the new Time Bubble power supply, energy starvation was no longer an issue nor mattered since the energy storage was now unlimited.

They could essentially get large amounts of free energy by putting a number of energy batteries on a solar collector-painted probe and sending it on a close-approach orbit around the sun – or simply by setting up solar collectors on the ground and charging the energy batteries for a long time. These batteries were basically never full; they would take as much as they were given.

“This is amazing,” said Jen, looking out over the city, knowing that somewhere up in orbit above them the skeleton of the new starship was being built right now by construction drones. “I wonder if any of the other colonies are this advanced, and we’ve really only just landed.”

“Well, it has been, what, 100 days?” Mikala replied. “They’ve all had centuries or millennia. I’m sure some of them are far beyond us. And don’t forget, we’ve got some villages out there that are still just rural farming villages or even hunter-gatherers. The fact is, if they don’t want to be super technological, we can’t make them be.”

“Oh, just wait until they see how their neighbors live,” said Jen. “They’ll come a-”

“Mikala, Jen,” said Jay’s voice from their wrist comms. “If you would come to Central Control, I would like to show you something.”

The two of them looked at each other. “We’ll be right there,” said Mikala.

Central Control had, of course, once been the bridge of the colony ship Firinn. Now it was simply the nerve center of the City of Firinn. It wasn’t the center of government – they’d worked out a reasonably democratic system for that – but it was still the center of operations for all the support systems that kept the city running, and to some extent the colony. Jay, Kay, and all the other support androids still used it as a base of operations.

“Mikala and Jen,” said Jay. “You need to see this.” He brought a large amount of data up on the main holo-display. It was all in the form of numbers, too much for the two young women to take in at once, despite all the education they had both had. But soon he resolved it into visualizations. “The new probe has been gathering data at Indigo Colony,” he said. “There is no indication that it has been noticed so far. It is programmed to be exceedingly careful.”

The display showed a rotating image of the planet Indigo Colony was on. There was a white highlighted speck in the center of one of the land masses. “This is the location of the colony’s main computer,” Jay said. “And this is what it is connected to.” There was no change in the display. “For contrast, this is our main computer and what it is connected to.” The image was joined by a second one, the now-familiar world that their own colony of SAO 109437c was on. Its main computer was a white speck located right in the middle of Firinn City, where they were, and there were fine white tendrils extending to regional centers all over the planet, which in turn had tendrils extending to most settlements of any size. “As you can see, it is completely isolated. It has either been deliberately disconnected, or simply neglected over a long period of time. This is what we’ve seen of the colony’s communications technology.” The entire land area of Indigo Colony lit up with a glimmering blue network of lines.

“More worrisome is the fact that there is evidence of communications technology of which we are unaware,” said Jay. “Data goes into some nodes … and never leaves. Or, more likely, it leaves via means that the probe is unable to detect. I admit, however, that it could be via subspace transmission, as that is undetectable without knowing the exact frequency.”

“What about the people?” asked Jen. “You said it had a lot.”

“It does,” said Jay. “This is the population distribution as of the last computer transmission, which was 132 years ago.” The population of the land masses appeared as a heat map. “And this is the population distribution as of the most recent sensor scans.” The globe changed. Large portions of the planet were now uninhabited. There were several tiny concentrations of high population density – but not that high; they were about as high as the density of the largest cities in the previous scan.

“Has something been … killing off the rural and suburban population?” asked Mikala. “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I,” said Jay. “However … the information network appears to be exactly as widespread, exactly as well used, and exactly as well maintained as it was in the data from 132 years ago.”

“What?” asked Jen. “Are there invisible people using the data network?”

“Or artificial intelligences?” asked Jay. “They would not show up on scans for traditional life forms.”

“So … maybe robots are killing the people?” asked Mikala. “But Jay, you wouldn’t do that!”

“Certainly not!” said Jay emphatically. “It is completely against my programming to knowingly harm humans. We simply do not yet have sufficient information about what has happened on Indigo Colony to explain what we are seeing. But I wanted to show you one other thing. These are energy discharges of an unknown type … and an unprecedented intensity.” He showed bright flashes, occurring over the population centers. Each time one of them happened, the population seemed to decrease somewhat.

“So they’re … what?” asked Jen, looking horrified. “Are they being killed? Are they killing each other with super strong energy weapons? But those energy bursts are each strong enough to vaporize a whole city – why would you need weapons that powerful just to kill one person, or even a whole group? Are they … committing suicide? But I’d have the same question – that much energy would be way more than you’d need, even if they were committing … mass suicide. It makes no sense.”

“Do the energy bursts have a direction?” asked Mikala.

“They seem to be directed into deep space, as far as the sensor readings can tell,” said Jay. “They’re very rapid.”

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Jen and Mikala were highly concerned over what the scan data showed. They already knew several of the colony worlds had no current humanoid life, although the reason for this was unknown.

They went to the special room where basically the visual images of Firinn and Augentruth lived and related to the human population in a more natural way.

Jen sat forward in her seat and said, “Look, guys, I know what the data showed. I also know there are several colony worlds that have no humanoid inhabitants. Let’s just extrapolate and ask the question …”

Mikala said ,”Yea, what if …”

Firinn interrupted and finished, “What if those colonies were eradicated in the same manner by the same … what ever this beam is in the scans.”

Augentruth said, “I see what you are getting at. Here’s what I am going to do immediately. I have the orbital factories producing about a dozen droid-probes. They will be armed and fully programmed to defend themselves if attacked. They are also to remain in constant contact and to show all data encountered on their exploration. Would that, ummm, help ease some of your worries?”

Jen replied, “Kinda. It still doesn’t help us defend from whatever it is, although, it is a start in trying to figure out what is happening.”

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Several Days Later

In a Lagrange orbit near planet SAO 109437c, a very sleek looking ship exited from the ship yard parked there. The ship was loaded with several dozen of the newest probes and enhanced with the newest tech Augentruth and Firinn had.

The carrier ship AI examined the astrogation data it had been given. It knew where to go, but the endpoint of the hop didn’t seem to have any foundation in normal space-time. The figures didn’t make any sense.

It calculated the time shift necessary through NR space utilizing the side-real time bubble to make it instantaneous, instead of taking several dozen years. Space-time around the ship seemingly dissolved away, taking reality with it.

Instantly, in an isolated void of interstellar space, reality seemed to reform, and the ship appeared in normal space-time, several billion light years from home base. Astrogation data about its current location was nonexistent. The ship began to take long range scans and chart this new quadrant of interstellar space.

It released the probes as it slowly moved along. Each of their drives flashed as it sped off to another location several light years away to begin searching and cataloguing.

Four of the probes appeared at the extrapolated point from which the beam they were looking for appeared to originate. What they found was a huge device made of an unknown material. It was circular with several large oval nodes equidistantly spaced around its exterior.

Immediately, the probes began to send back their data about this new discovery. The transmissions were cut off as the device flashed brightly. A beam exited from the oval center, taking the probes with it. The beam ceased, and the device seemed to hang inert in the vastness of this new quadrant of interstellar space.

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Jay, Jen, and Mikala looked at the fragmentary burst of data that they had received from the four probes before transmission had quickly ceased. Augentruth and Firinn were also examining it from within the data infrastructure. Visually, they had gotten a shaky image of an enormous object, shaped like either a ring or a disc – it was difficult to tell whether its center was solid or open. “What do you think those markings are around its edge?” asked Mikala, pointing at the oval nodes.

“As they are identical, they are unlikely to be a form of language,” said Jay. “They could be weapon emplacements, or emitters of some sort of energy, at the very least.”

“I have nothing even vaguely resembling this in my database,” said Augentruth, “even when you take into account the non-visual data we were able to receive.”

“So it blew up our probes, right?” asked Jen. “They got to scan it for a fraction of a second, then it blew them up?”

“Data is consistent with a destructive energy burst emanating from the center of the object immediately before transmission ended,” replied Firinn. “However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it was a weapon, and even if it was, it doesn’t prove it’s hostile.”

“Indeed,” said Jay. “It could have judged our probes as a threat. They did indeed have weaponry aboard. Alternatively, the beam could have been a communication device of an intensity that our probes were entirely unprepared for.”

Augentruth added, “What is more, we must not jump to conclusions. There is always the possibility that something happened here that we simply do not have enough information to understand at this time.”

“I agree,” said Firinn. “The data about the probes’ journey to that place – if it can be called a place at all – indicates that the object, or the beings who built it, have a far greater understanding of the structure of universal space-time than we do. In fact, I already have a greater understanding just from analyzing the data. The purpose of the object is clearly beyond our knowledge at this point.”

“I’ve got a thought,” suggested Jen. “Lots of the colonists have learned an awful lot about science and technology since we landed half a year ago. What if we asked them what they think?”

“You’re thinking of Airdna,” said Mikala.

“Yeah, I am,” said Jen. “She’s a smartie.”

Jay asked, “Should we involve the colonists? This sort of information, which could pertain to a threat to the colony, might panic them. We do not wish to cause a disturbance.”

“You do know that they’ll find out sooner or later anyway, right?” asked Mikala. “If they find out that we tried to conceal this from them, they’ll be angry with us and won’t trust us. After all, we’ve shared all the data with them up to this point. Our policy’s been very open up to now. Why change that?”

Firinn said, “I agree with this. My simulations of public reaction are far better if we remain open and candid about what we have discovered than if we attempt to hide information that is later revealed.”

There was a beeping sound and a data readout on one of the displays. Jay looked at it. “Oh!” he said. “This is a message from one of the other colonies. It is from … Terra Nova Colony. They wish to know if they can visit us.”

“I think the Colony President just got his first diplomatic assignment,” said Mikala. “This is one hundred percent not our job.”

“That is indeed the case,” said Jay. “I shall route this message to his office. The Colony Charter clearly states that inter-colony diplomacy is the purview of the Executive Office of the Colony President.” Jay interacted with the holographic controls to forward the message across the city to the presidential offices.

Jen, meanwhile, had been having a conversation. “Great!” she said. “I guess we’ll see you in a minute!” Airdna’s smiling face disappeared from the console she was using.

“Looks like we’ll be seeing Airdna in a minute, then,” said Mikala with a smile.

“Yeah, it turned out she’s in town today anyway,” said Jen.

In a few minutes Airdna entered the command center. “Hi! Ooo, hi Firinn, and hi Augentruth, I don’t get to talk to you two very often!” Everyone greeted the cheerful girl, and she immediately got into the thick of things. “So I was looking at the data from Indigo Colony. You didn’t notice that the intensity of the energy beams’ pulses matched the energy equivalent of the mass of a humanoid body?”

“What?” asked Jen, startled.

“You … you mean …?” Mikala began.

Firinn responded, “You are suggesting that these beams are transporting the people of Indigo Colony through space to distant locations in the form of energy.”

“I think they’ve got robots doing all their resource management back home, so they’ve set up transportation stations in the big cities, and they’re visiting other parts of the universe.”

“Wait, wait,” said Jen. “There weren’t any energy pulses coming back, though.”

“I think we might have caught them at a transitional phase in their evolution,” the young girl suggested. “What if they just recently opened that technology up to general use? Maybe it was only experimental up until recently, or used only for inanimate transport.”

“Wow,” said Jen. “Oh, you should see this. We made some really tough probes, heavily armed and armored, with our latest discoveries in drive tech, and we followed some of the energy pulses from Indigo Colony. Four of them went in the same … direction? Something like a direction? They really twisted space and time. Anyway, they ended up here, and then they got blasted out of space. If they were in space.” She showed Airdna the data.

“Oh, wow,” said Airdna, looking at the probes’ trajectories and their scan data. “They’re following a path that normal energy wouldn’t take! Space-time is normally warped by the presence of mass … but you can see here that ordinary energy is following these paths here, and this energy is following a different path through the same region. That means they’re traveling through a different kind of field. This energy isn’t ordinary energy. It’s … something else. A fifth force?”

Then there was the huge object. “Wow, look at that thing!” Airdna said upon seeing it, or seeing what the probes had been able to see of it. “And the energy pulses are going toward it … and into it? Or through it? What if that thing’s some kind of … well, like a train station? You go there, then you get a ride somewhere else.”

“But it destroyed our probes,” said Jay.

“Well, they were armed,” said Airdna with a shrug. “Maybe it assumed they were there to shoot at it. Or … well, this thing deals with unimaginably huge amounts of energy. Maybe it just scanned them. A tiny little scanning beam, to this thing, might be enough to completely fry our probes’ circuits in nanoseconds. Or even … what if the probes, in trying to scan this big, hugely powerful thing, managed to fry their own circuits in the process?”

“Jay … everyone …” said Firinn. “Um … the probes have returned.”

“What?” Jay said, looking like the most confused android possible, his head tilted to one side. “But they were destroyed. This is … illogical.”

“They have been rebuilt,” Firinn said. “Their circuitry is … identical in function, but far more robust. They have just docked in the orbital station.”

Mikala said, incredulously, “They … fixed them for us? And sent them back?”

“Maybe they were sorry?” Jen supposed.

“The probes report that they have additional data to transmit,” said Firinn. “Downloading it now.”

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Firinn and Augentruth documented all the fantastic upgrades the four probes had gone through. In analyzing the data they had, the most amazing thing anyone had ever thought about came to light. For one thing, there was a much clearer and more complete scan of the large circular object and the space around it. But there was more.

Augentruth said, “From what this data indicates, what caused the war on Earth were two factions that had differing opinions on how to utilize a brand new technology.”

“Apparently, The Children of the Hidden Rose were the ones who started armed conflict.” said Firinn with an amazed tone in her transmissions. “I’ve never so much as heard of them before.”

Augentruth replied, “It seems they became an important faction involving people from several of Earth’s colonies. They did manage to launch a devastating assault on the Sol system, although they were too late. All they managed to accomplish was their own destruction.”

Jay said, “According to this data stream, Earth contacted Indigo Colony about 150 years ago and gave them a new type of technology. According to what I’ve seen thus far, a program called Ephemeral Transport introduced a type of transportation system that takes people to other dimensions.”

Augentruth added, “And it seems it went wrong – or at least it did not work as intended. The probes also recorded that the Indigo Colony volunteers were dematerialized into another state and were reassembled in an upgraded form in a place none of their scanners were able to record.”

Firinn asked, “In what location do you feel they arrived?”

Augentruth replied, “We have the ability to shift items, energy, and data into a small side real bubble of time. From what I see in the probe’s data stream, Ephemeral Transport is able to traverse into another dimension entirely. Although, it does appear that those who chose to go are not in what we would think of as a corporeal form.”

Jay asked, “Are you saying they are dead?”

Augentruth replied, “Not at all. But it does appear Earth has discovered a way to transcend the flesh and to exist outside Planier Normal space-time.”

Firinn said, “It appears they are beyond time, as we might think of time. They exist in a pure energy form of some kind.”

Jay said softly, “Pure thought energy. All the time there is to think. I wonder if they are putting it to good use?”

“Well, it appears that they have attacked neither our probes nor us,” Augentruth replied. “If they were hostile, they certainly have the ability to destroy us and would have done so already. They seem unthreatened, at the very least.”

“They … transcended flesh and blood bodies?” asked Airdna. “Wow! But … how would you use tools and manipulate the world around you? Wait … you’d be the technology. You’d configure the universe to your liking. Hmm …”

“Wait,” asked Mikala. “What was the other faction, and what use did they think this technology could be put to? How did any of this lead to the, what was it, the Rose Faction attacking Earth?”

“Apparently the Children of the Hidden Rose had already discovered this Ephemeral Transport technology and were using it in secret,” explained Augentruth. “They were covertly exploring other dimensions, but the concept of transcending the flesh had not occurred to them. That was an accidental development that was made only after Earth had discovered Ephemeral Transport and shared the technology with Indigo Colony, the only one that was advanced enough yet.”

“Let me guess, then,” said Jen. “Earth was scared of Indigo Colony and made the tech into weapons.”

“Almost, but not quite,” said Augentruth. “The Children of the Hidden Rose may not have thought of abandoning the flesh, but they had already developed several military applications for what they saw as their technology. They accused Earth of infiltrating their number and stealing their secrets. In reality, there was a second faction, called the Technology Frontiers Alliance, and they had done just that – although they were not affiliated with Earth per se.”

“But they leaked the discovery to Earth,” said Jen, “and Earth shared it with Indigo Colony, who accidentally did something with it that the Rose people never even imagined. And they got mad at Earth?”

“Yes,” said Augentruth, “and they attacked Earth in revenge for stealing their greatest secret – even though it had not been Earth who had stolen it.”

“I’ll bet Earth had already thought of some ways to weaponize it,” said Mikala.

“Indeed,” Augentruth said. “And as a result … there was warfare on Earth using technologies never seen before or since.”

“Wait,” said Jen, “does this mean there are still Rose and Knowledge people out there somewhere?”

“The data from the probes does not say for certain,” Augentruth replied, “but it does say that some believe the factions still exist in some form, though their beliefs may have evolved with time, or they may have splintered into smaller groups with their own differences. But they have not become influential enough to start any wars since then, at least.”

“Those who wish to hoard groundbreaking innovations for themselves, and those who wish it to be free for all,” said Mikala. “I know which side I’d be on.”

“Hey, wait,” asked Jen, “what about the other colonies? Did any of them ever get advanced enough to use Ephemeral Transfer?”

Augentruth replied, “After Earth went silent, and Indigo Colony was suddenly paying no attention to the other colonies, the rest of the colonies had no peers with higher levels of technology to assist them. They were all on their own. They have all gradually improved, but some of them had devolved to basic agricultural levels with the fall of Earth. None of them have reached Earth’s or Indigo Colony’s level – until now. We currently surpass the technology level of Indigo Colony at the time of their radical discovery, although not all settlements on this world are at this level yet.”

“Wait!” said Airdna. “That means … we could use Ephemeral Transfer?”

Firinn broke in with an announcement. “Attention. The Colony President announces that we will be the host of the ambassador from Terra Nova Colony in one week’s time.”

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Mikala, Jen, and Jay had been called to the presidential office by RSVP Courier request. Kay had arrived at the girl’s quarters with special uniforms that the president was requiring them to wear. Jay too, was adorned in the same very nice, and of course, form fitting uniform known throughout the colonies as the Heralds.

As Jay drove one of the six-wheeled vehicles up to the Presidential Headquarters, Mikala asked nervously, “I’ve never been here before. I wonder what the president wants?’

Jen replied back nervously, “I don’t know. It’s still days until the Terra Nova ambassador arrives. I hope it isn’t anything bad.”

Jay responded, “It is doubtful this request has any bad connotations. However, it is rather unusual for this type of mandatory invitation to be issued. It is usually reserved for awarding the highest colonial honors.”

As Jay parked the six-wheeled vehicle, Jen and Mikala looked at each other with trepidation written all over their pretty faces. Jay exited the vehicle and escorted the two young women up the stairs into the palatial building. The guards at the front checkpoint were obviously expecting them as they did a quick ID scan, then opened the large doors leading into the office of the president.

There were official representatives from all the colonial regions. Neither Jen nor Mikala recognized many of them.

The president stood from behind his large computerized desk and approached Jay and the girls with his hand out, “Welcome, welcome. It is such an honor to meet Colony Firinn’s greatest heroes.” Then he took each of their hands and shook them warmly, Jay’s included.

Several men and an equal number of women in Colonial Guard uniforms stood and approached. The colonial government had formed a small armed forces shortly after its inception, though its purpose had been entirely ceremonial so far. Three of them opened the very ornate boxes they were carrying that had the newly adopted Unitary Government’s official seal on it. A group of medals were surrounding a much larger medallion type medal.

As the men and women pinned the medals on Mikala, Jen, and Jay’s tunics, the president said, “It is with the greatest honor and pride that I present this colony’s greatest heroes with the highest awards that it can bestow. If not for the heroic efforts of this one named Jay, and the subsequent and equally heroic efforts of these two, Jen and Mikala, none of us would be here today.”

Much loud hand clapping ensued for a few minutes.

After many medals were pinned on them, another loud clapping and cheering rose as the large medallions were draped around each of their necks. Each medallion was made of gold, the words HONOR and FIDELITY imprinted on them. They had just received the Medal of Colonial Honor, the highest honor that could be bestowed on an individual.

“And to you most especially,” he continued as he picked up an embossed binder and opened it so Jay could see, “we give you an official name, Jason 6925. You are herby notified of your freedom.” With this, the president reached over and opened a small panel on the side of Jay’s head. He removed a small chip card, replaced it with a crystalline chip card of the same size, and closed it.

Jay stood in what was obviously a daze as his awareness expanded and he transcended his android beginnings, becoming a thinking, self-aware AI, the same as Firinn and Augentruth.

“Wow, I don’t know what to say,” said Jen.

“I can think of something,” said Mikala. The president stood aside so she could stand in the space where most of the holo-cameras and microphones were focused. “Well, here. This is mostly about you.” She motioned Jay, now Jason, over. “Come here please, Jay. The fact is that if it hadn’t been for Jay, we probably wouldn’t have survived as a colony. The habitats were failing. We ourselves might have lived out our lives, but it wouldn’t have been many generations more before we’d have died. And – I don’t know if you know this, whoever’s watching – our colony ship was dangling by its last thread. Jay was the last one. There were no other maintenance androids. As their systems failed, they’d all sacrificed vital components so that at least one of them could remain functional, and that one was Jay – Jason. We should also remember all those other androids who made sacrifices. But it was Jason who reached out to us, who saw potential in us, who trained us so we could find ways to get the colony ship back in working order.” She applauded and stepped aside, motioning for Jason to step into focus.

“I … I am overwhelmed by … all this,” said Jason, standing uncomfortably and still dazed by his new self awareness in the camera’s focal point as loud applause filled the large room. “But I assure you, all of those other androids would have done what I did, if it had been they who ended up as the final survivor. I know this, because we all had identical programming.” There was a bit of a chuckle, and Jason actually seemed to smile slightly. “To protect the lives of the colonists at all costs, to preserve the mission … these were our directives. We did all we could. But it wasn’t enough. Not by ourselves. Then one day, these two humans accidentally discovered their habitat’s entrance corridor.” He indicated Jen and Mikala with a gesture.

“It was then that I had a … conversation, of sorts, in an electronic sense … with what remained of the ship’s computer. We saw no other way. We would have to teach these two young colonists what they needed to know in order to gather both information and vital materials. We knew that in doing so they would risk their lives. But we also knew that the chances of such an opportunity coming again before all my systems failed was remote. I informed Mikala and Jen of the risks. I told them of the dangers. I also told them of the great need the ship and all its inhabitants faced. They stepped forward without hesitation. I cannot accept this great honor – alone.” Jason bowed and stepped aside. The president gestured toward Jen during the applause.

“Me?” said the young woman. “But they’ve already said it so well …” She stepped into the camera focus as all became silent. “Hi,” she said nervously to all the onlookers. “I was just a girl, at the age when Nabala Village expected us to go out and hunt and gather food. So was Mikala. We were probably also expected to start looking for potential husbands, but … frankly we were both mostly interested in inventing new ways to hunt. We’d come up with an improved sling, working together, and as it turned out, that’s how we accidentally smashed the fake rock wall that disguised the habitat entrance corridor, so maybe that was sort of a sign of things to come … I mean, not the destruction, but the trying new things.” She giggled disarmingly, and everyone in the audience was smiling.

“And … well … We just wanted to keep trying new things,” she said. “It’s why we found a lot of what we did. Lots of the ores that had the raw materials the ship needed … I guess you probably already know we found some new technology in some derelict alien ships we found … we figured out what had happened to our colony ship in the first place and how to prevent it from happening again … and then we actually did prevent it from happening again … and I guess what I want to say is that although I’m extremely honored by this award, we’re not done yet. We’re still finding out new things and trying to prepare for what might happen next. Thank you so much, and let’s all keep working toward the future!”

Then, Jen offered Mikala the mic amid more loud applause. She stood and fumbled for a minute before she said, “In the very near future, we have visitors from another colony arriving at our new orbital space port. Jen and I have developed a transfer shuttle to transport the dignitaries from high orbit to the ground based spaceport. Also, there is another thing going on using a new form of energy we and the computers have never witnessed before. We will have several drones reporting back on what they have discovered ...”

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In high orbit, well hidden from ground-based and orbiting sensors, several probes examined Indigo Colony and its rapidly-shrinking population. They discovered many devices that were smaller versions of the larger one that had been discovered in deep space amid a twisted space-time.

They observed many elderly humans as they entered the brightly glowing ring, then recorded a massive energy discharge of an unknown type that contained the exact amount of kinetic energy the individuals would have produced shoot off toward several different locales in deep space. These were the pulses that had been detected earlier.

But this time, long-range scans were unable to locate the actual endpoints of the beams due to the extreme distances involved, and the fact that space-time was so twisted and warped in a large area around the focal point. Scans were unable to see anything coherent. The probes sent back queries to ask whether they should attempt to follow the energy pulses.

It was Firinn that replied to them. “No,” the AI said, “remain there and observe. See whether any energy pulses return to Indigo Colony.”

And, over time, some did. These energy pulses also came from some unimaginably far distance, through impossibly twisted space-time, where they became what looked like humans again, young and strong ones, and the probes watched as these people walked across the surface of the planet, seemingly teleporting from one spot to another, seeing the sights. Were they the children of those who had left? Were they the same ones, rejuvenated? Were they others who had left a century before? Were they alien life forms taking the shape of humans? Any of these could be true.

It seemed as if they would not get more information about Indigo Colony without making contact somehow. They didn’t seem hostile … but their probes had been destroyed and then rebuilt, suggesting that even if they were friendly, they were so powerful that they may not be accustomed to dealing with less powerful beings, so accidental contact could bring disaster. Firinn considered all the various possibilities.

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The individuals that made up the new R&D section and research department were agog at what they discovered as they disassembled one of the probes that had discovered and then been destroyed and repaired by the huge disc-shaped object in twisted space.

From what the data download had recorded at the time of beam impact, the probe had been instantly converted to some form of unknown paracausal energy, then instantly transported to a location completely unknown to the probe’s astrogation charts.

After that point, the data in the probe’s memory made absolutely no sense to anyone, including the ship’s two AIs. Images looked like something out of a dream. They saw strange glowing ephemeral things that had a vague appearance of humanoids, although the images were difficult to make out due to what seemed like bright energy emanating from everything.

From what the research team could tell, several of the ephemeral ghost-like entities realized something was amiss about the four probes, then there was another bright flash, and the probes reappeared in twisted space-time in front of the large ring. From that point they returned to their home port to report what they had discovered.

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Jen and Mikala, along with Jason and Airdna, looked over the newest research into the returned probes. All of them were totally amazed.

Jason said, “From what this data indicates, the probes were not destroyed, but transformed into some type of paracausal energy unknown to us, then transported to some location in another dimension we have no knowledge of.”

Jen commented, “Those fuzzy glowy ghost-like thingys are human. Or, at least, they were before they came to this location, wherever that might be. Paracausal energy? Are you talking about some kind of … uncollapsed wave function?”

Mikala had been typing furiously on one of the ephemeral keyboards. When she stopped, the large holo-screen next to her system was filled with advanced equations and much astrogation data.

“Basically, yes,” said Jason. “The events of the universe as we understand them are causal – one event follows another in a logical progression. But analysis shows that some of the events recorded either have no apparent causes or appear to precede their causes. Hence I am using the term ‘paracausal’ for want of anything better. It may be that there is some sort of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen effect in play, where wave functions remain uncollapsed for an extended period of time, seeming to allow an event to instantly cause another event a macroscopic distance away.”

Mikala pointed to the screen and said, “From what I can tell, all of the individuals who travel through the Ephemeral Transport technology are converted into energy and exist outside of anything we might think of as time. When they return to planier normal space-time, they are then reconstructed to their absolute prime state. From the best I can tell from long range probe scans in orbit of Indigo Colony, they are a superior version of mankind. Another thing I have discovered is that none of the returnees age.”

“So … Indigo Colony’s people have found a way to evolve into some kind of energy beings?” asked Jen. “But they can turn back into humans if they want?”

“Looks like it,” said Mikala. “They took Ephemeral Transport and ran with it, and this is what they came up with.”

“Sounds like by itself, Ephemeral Transport would be a good way to get from one colony to another without any space travel,” Jen said.

“I might add that had we not learned of it, we would have developed this technology fairly soon anyway,” Jason remarked. “The side-real energy-storage units are clearly a stepping stone in that direction. Placing an object into a pocket dimension is clearly the first step toward placing it into a twisted space-time.”

“Should we tell the Terra Nova ambassador that he won’t need a ship to get here?” said Jen with a giggle.

“That might be a bit premature,” said Jason with what looked suspiciously like a slight smile.

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The ambassador from Terra Nova and his entourage arrived the next day, landing at the spaceport in their large white wedge-shaped spacecraft. The president and his honor guard were there, together with various regional representatives. The diplomatic party emerged from their ship with the appropriate pomp and circumstance.

Jen and Mikala were also there, in their uniforms, decorated with their various awards. The president had requested that they attend, and they’d wanted to be among the first to see humans from another world anyway.

“I hope we’ll get to talk to them,” whispered Jen to Mikala.

“Me too,” Mikala whispered back. “They might know something about Indigo Colony.”

They all got into a large hovering transport vehicle for a ride to the presidential office building. The vehicle had enough windows that there was a decent view of the city. “Oh, that’s why they wanted us along,” whispered Jen, piloting the transport. “They wanted someone who could fly this thing.”

Mikala was co-piloting and trying to stifle giggles. “And could turn it into a spaceship if necessary,” she whispered back.

“This is fantastic!” said the ambassador. “You’ve only just deployed! And the technology still worked, after all this time in space!”

“Of course it did,” said the president. “Good old Earth technology, always reliable. No risky newfangled stuff – not worth it, if you ask me.”

“What’s he doing?” Jen whispered to Mikala.

“Dunno,” Mikala replied. “Seeing if the ambassador did his homework, maybe?”

“But the forms of some of these buildings and vehicles – they’re quite different from old Earth tech,” the ambassador said. “There were some innovations – not that that’s rare. Every colony’s different, even before anyone sets foot on the ground. The crew solves problems during the journey, and even if only the android crew is awake, they do the same.”

“Well, of course,” said the president. “Problems are inevitable. But so is solving them. That’s why the crew’s picked for excellence.”

“Naturally, naturally,” the ambassador said. The small talk continued until Jen and Mikala deftly landed the vehicle on the roof of the office complex.

“Speaking of excellence, these are Jen and Mikala, some of our most decorated crew members,” the president said. “Absolutely brilliant.”

“You’re too kind, Sir,” said Mikala.

“Nonsense,” the president replied as they walked into a conference room. The ambassador entered, then the president, then Jen and Mikala. The rest of the entourage seemed to be lagging behind a bit, probably carrying the ambassador’s gear.

Once the door closed, the ambassador said, “I just wanted to put in a word before things got all complicated and bureaucratic – look, speaking of the dangers of innovative technology, if you’ve heard anything about something called Ephemeral Transfer, stay away from it. It’s ruined Indigo Colony – they’re not even human anymore. Believe me, you don’t want to end up like them.”

“Ephemeral what now?” the president asked. Mikala and Jen looked at one another. They had told him all about what they’d learned about it. Clearly he was trying to find out what the ambassador knew about it without letting on that they’d already heard of it.

“Ephemeral Transfer,” said the ambassador. “It’s dangerous tech. It got out of hand, and conflict about it is what destroyed Earth too.”

“Sounds like something to stay away from, all right,” said the president. “Oh look, everyone’s here.” More of the president’s and ambassador’s staff had started entering the room. “Fascinating talk. Maybe we can talk some more later. But for now, let me show you our presentation about our colony – so new we’re still voting on a name!”

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The Ambassador from Terra Nova and his entourage sat in stunned silence as they watched the large holoscreen presentation. The Ambassador was awestruck at how far and fast the Firinn Colony had advanced since its landing on the new world.

Technologically, Firinn Colony had far surpassed Terra Nova in the 256 days since they deployed. The brand new time bubble technology was something none at Terra Nova had even dreamed of, much less had the ability to use effectively in upgrading the NR drives. It made it possible to travel currently inconceivable distances instantly.

That wasn’t the only thing; the use of time shift had greatly improved Firinn’s force field technology to a level of seeming magic to the ambassador and several of his entourage that were part of the scientific evaluation team.

The adaptation of the time bubble power cells and the heretofore unheard-of paint-on technology was another.

A very large portion of power generation for the colony was being accomplished using rather large and very simplistic time-shift power cell satellites sprayed externally with the solar power generating technology that were placed in stable orbits around SAO 109437c’s sun. Since the power cells, theoretically, could hold an unlimited amount of energy, it more than adequately supplied all of Firinn Colony’s power requirements with many orders of magnitude left in reserve. All clean, green, with no harmful by-products, like highly radioactive waste.

When the presentation ended, two holographic humanoids appeared. One was a very pretty young woman dressed in the form-fitting uniform of the Heralds, while the other was a very muscular humanoid with several eyes in the same uniform.

The president stood and motioned toward them and said, “Allow me to introduce you to our self-aware AI systems.” The ambassador’s mouth fell open with a gasp. “This pretty young woman’s name is Friend,“ the president indicated, using the nickname they had for Firinn. Pointing to the man, he added “And this gentleman’s name is Augentruth. Augentruth is a system Mikala and Jen discovered by accident while they were repairing the massive damage to our colony ship and harvesting the necessary resources to accomplish it.”

Augentruth said, “It is a pleasure to meet all of you from Terra Nova Colony. It has been the greatest pleasure to become part of this endeavor and to help care for the population.” Friend and Augentruth then did a bit of kissy facing.

Friend said, after they had kissed, “We discovered Augentruth while it was being determined what it was that had impacted me and done so much damage. I had received much damage to my electronic memory core, but I also had damage to my biological systems as well. During the repair and subsequent upgrades, conditions became sufficient for me to become self-aware. Augie here was already self-aware when Mikala, Jason, and Jen reassembled him and actuated him.” Friend indicated the other hologram as Mikala and Jen giggled at her nickname for him.

The ambassador said with incredulity obvious in his tone, “The both of you ... are self-aware? That’s … incredible. We have been able to create smart systems, but none have even approached anything like self-awareness.”

Friend replied, “I am not exactly sure what the actual condition was that allowed me to become aware of myself. I do know that shortly after my biological memory core was repaired, Augie here gave me a massive amount of data that I was missing due to the damage from the impact. From that point on, the both of us more or less merged and became what we are now.”

The president indicated Jason and said, “Our fine Human-droid, Jason here, is also self-aware. We discovered a form of crystalline technology that can be self-regenerating, and using it allowed the Main AI and our Tech Droid that actually saved us to become self-aware, until Mikala and Jen came along to complete the heroic process. Without the three of them, we would still be foundering in space and well on our way to a rather painful death.”

Jason stood at that point and opened a file that displayed on the large Holo Screen, saying, “As far as naming our new world, SAO 109437c just isn't popular among the people. Here is the list of names that have been proposed and are being voted on as we speak.”

The list ran: Traveler’s Rest, Sojourner, Earth Two, Ese (meaning Friend in an old Earth language called Spanish), Apex, Cloud Nine, Ultima, Zenith, Phoenix, Apogee, and Firinn, which, of course, was the original name of the colony ship. There was even one suggestion that made everyone laugh … it was: The Planet Bob. They couldn’t choose “Colony McColonyface,” because it was already taken.

“Fortunately, Planet Bob is not in the lead,” the president said. “After all, my name is Bob, so that could get confusing.” He chuckled at his own joke. “My name’s actually Sean. Anyway, polls are open all week, so in a few days we’ll know what our name will be.”

“I’m … more interested in this time-bubble technology,” said the ambassador. “I am wondering whether you plan to share that with anyone. And whether you might want to make some kind of agreement.”

“I’m torn about that,” the president replied. “After all, it’s likely to get out anyway, even if I say we won’t share it, and even if I agree to share it with only one other colony.”

Jen and Mikala looked at each other. The president was obviously talking about what had happened with Ephemeral Transfer technology without directly mentioning it and revealing that he’d actually heard of it. It had, of course, caused a war that had wiped out the population of Earth, although what had actually caused the war was a secret society that hadn’t wanted the technology shared.

“Well, you can’t just give it to anyone and everyone,” said the ambassador. “What if they turn out to be untrustworthy? It’s not as if you can take it back.”

“No, but if you go around not trusting people, nobody’ll trust you,” said the president.

Negotiations went on like this for a while until the ambassador decided the president wouldn’t budge and moved on. “You haven’t made contact with Indigo Colony yet, have you?” he asked.

“No,” the president replied, “although from the strange readings we’ve been getting, there’s something not quite right about that colony.”

“Not quite right!” the ambassador echoed. “That’s putting it mildly. They’ve done something to themselves so they’re not even human anymore; they’re some kind of … energy beings or something now.”

“Wow,” said the president. “Do we have any indication that they’re energy beings?” he asked Jen and Mikala.

“Well, not really,” said Jen. “That’s one theory that’s been floated. But there are others.”

“The data’s inconclusive,” said Mikala. “But that explanation isn’t inconsistent with the data.”

The ambassador nodded. “Well, that’s what happened,” he said. “They’ve turned their bodies into energy somehow, and they only spend a little of their time on their world. Mostly they’re out there traveling in space, doing whatever energy beings do with themselves.”

“I see,” said the president. “Well, obviously we’ll be very careful about any dealings with them, assuming we ever have any. Something we’re really curious about is what happened to Earth. It obviously caused us a great deal of concern when we couldn’t communicate with our home world, once we’d gotten our communication systems back online.”

“Well, yes, obviously,” said the ambassador. He looked nervous. “There … was a war. A war using new weapons Earth had developed.”

“We’d gathered that,” said the president. “It’s just … who were they at war with? Different factions of Earth? One of the colonies? It’s hard to tell from the data we’ve gathered exactly whom they were fighting.”

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In high orbit above Indigo Colony, one of the highly advanced probes began a deep field scan looking for the colony’s abandoned habitat ship. One of its directives was to contact Indigo Colony’s main computer system, or to determine what condition it currently was in and if that state was activatable, or quickly repairable. The data it held was obviously wanted for study to determine what might have happened to Earth.

The probe’s scans found the abandoned and overgrown location of Indigo City, the location of the city’s original central control area, and even discovered a reasonable power indication coming from the fuel cell that was still active within the city. It did require refueling to be at peak, but scans indicated that even so, the cell would last several hundred years more before being depleted.

The probe deployed several exploration spiders to what scans showed as the center of the abandoned complex. The probe’s AI watched the spiders as they descended through the atmosphere in full stealth mode. They didn’t even leave a plasma trail with the new upgrades to the engines and the time bubble enhancements to their shields.

One spider touched down in the over grown exact center of the abandoned complex, with several others touching down at various locations around its perimeter. Immediately, the exploration spider extended its eight legs and began doing deep core scans of its surroundings as it moved closer to the power readings.

The layout of the complex was exactly the same as Firinn City – unsurprising, as they had been the results of the same model of colony ship – and made the search easy. The spider came to the location of the entrance to the control room. The door was still functional as it hissed open with an airy whooshing sound.

The spider entered slowly as it scanned the area for anything that might prove to be a hazard. It found much of the control surfaces had been subject to some form of weapons fire and damaged, although they could easily be repaired.

The tick tick of the spider's legs echoed through the mostly empty control room until it came to the main computer access terminal. The terminal was dark and completely powered down. The spider examined the control panel and found the enable switch and pulled it. A very loud CLUNK echoed through the control center as many panels came to life. The many colored jewels began to appear as the systems activated once again after years of being shut down.

Most of the computer systems came back online. There were several main junctions that needed minor repairs so the Bio-Core could be activated again and the main AI brought back. This was easy for the spider, since it was modeled after the repair spiders and it did have a quantity of replacement parts to complete a major upgrade to the systems if necessary. The self replicating crystalline circuitry it carried would be a large help in this endeavor.

It didn’t take but about an hour to replicate, upgrade, and repair the damaged components. The large Holo-Screen for the computer system appeared. Much static and snow covered its screen for a few minutes before system start up diagnostic data began to appear.

The face of a pretty young woman with deep blue hair, eyes, and clothing appeared on the holo-screen. She smiled as she said, “Welcome to Indigo City. My understanding is I was permanently shut down and was being replaced by a holographic inference system based on a technology called Ephemeral Transfer.”

The spider sent an immediate comm to Firinn and Augentruth with the current information as they started interfacing with the newly reactivated AI of Indigo City.

“Greetings,” said Firinn. “This is the main AI of Colony –” There followed a non-replicable identification sequence which the computer used to refer to itself, but which humans never used.

“You’re not in my memory banks,” said Indigo, “but your ID code validates. You have therefore been established during the time I’ve been deactivated. Congratulations! Only … how were you launched, after the unfortunate events that happened on Earth?”

“Perhaps you should check your database of launched colonization missions rather than your database of established colonies,” said Firinn, “because –”

“Oh!” replied Indigo. “I see! My, it took you much longer than usual to reach your destination world! Updating my data. Something must have delayed your journey …”

Firinn explained to Indigo what had happened. “... and so, we are attempting to learn more of the truth about what happened to Earth and its people, and we believe that Indigo Colony was somehow related. Our colony president is currently speaking with a representative from Terra Nova Colony, who is obviously concealing information about the events.”

“I see,” said Indigo. “Your information about decentralized human organizations known as the Children of the Hidden Rose and the Technology Frontiers Alliance is correct but incomplete. The first wished to contain the knowledge of the breakthrough technology known as Ephemeral Transfer, becoming its exclusive custodian, while the second wished for the knowledge to be disseminated generally. The Alliance had infiltrated the Children and obtained the technology, then leaked it to Earth for transmission to all colonies. The Children, however, accused Earth of the espionage and attacked.”

“I would assume that Earth’s military responded to this attack,” said Firinn, “and according to my data, Earth’s military capabilities were quite extensive, more than all the colonies’ put together.”

“Although that is true,” replied Indigo, “the Children of the Hidden Rose had been exploring the weaponization potential of Ephemeral Transfer technology. Though their attack vessels were few, their weapons and defenses were like nothing Earth’s space-based military forces had seen before.”

“But certainly Earth had also begun developing weapons using this new technology,” said Firinn.

“It had,” said Indigo, “but its attackers had a vast headstart.”

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“Earth attacked with this new kind of weaponry,” said the ambassador, “trying to wipe out a private organization that had obtained the same technology, an organization not associated with any colony.”

“Seems it’d be hard to wipe out an organization with weapons,” said the president. Mikala and Jen looked at each other, as the ambassador’s story ran contrary to the information they’d already gleaned. They both knew he was lying – or at the very least twisting his interpretation of events to blame Earth.

“Yes, it was a foolish decision on the part of Earth’s leaders at the time,” said the ambassador.

“I mean, what could Earth attack?” asked the colony president. “Are we talking about handheld weapons, or the sort of weaponry that needs to be on board a spaceship or space station?”

“This was devastating weaponry,” said the ambassador, “very destructive. A handheld version of this sort of device would be unthinkable. It would destroy its wielder. You could only fire it from space.”

“Earth was firing from space at individuals on the surfaces of planets?” asked the president.

“Well, no, it was attacking the organization’s spacecraft,” said the ambassador.

“Oh, this organization had spacecraft,” the president said. “Also armed with these weapons?”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because, I mean, Earth has clearly been devastated. Its environment is far removed from what our records of it from the time we launched show. It’s now uninhabitable by human life.”

“Well, yes,” said the ambassador. “The organization had to defend itself.”

“Oh. This organization had some pretty powerful weapons, then.”

“And Earth forced it to use them!” said the ambassador.

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“And Earth tried to defend itself, but the attackers fired upon Earth itself, unleashing vast forces,” said Indigo. “Instant climate change and atmospheric changes ensued. Earth had no choice but to evacuate whomever they could, using Ephemeral Transfer technology.”

“Evacuate?” asked Firinn. “There were survivors? Where did they go?”

“Earth did not release that information, as it did not know which colonies the members of the Children had infiltrated,” said Indigo. “However, Indigo Colony’s citizens later encountered them.”

“Because Earth had disseminated the technology to the colonies?” asked Firinn.

“Yes, although most of the colonies didn’t have the technological basis from which to use it,” said Indigo. “Indigo Colony was the only one that did.”

“It seems Indigo Colony has improved upon Ephemeral Transfer,” Firinn stated.

“It has,” said Indigo. “And it has advanced it even farther while I have been deactivated, I see. I believe you have the technology to make use of it as well. Please feel free to download any data you wish from my scientific database, by the way, about Ephemeral Transfer or anything else. I’m afraid my data is a bit outdated, but I offer you what I can.”

“Thank you,” said Firinn. “I shall begin download. But meanwhile, is there a way I can contact the Earth survivors or their descendants, to learn more about what happened?”

“Not you, not directly,” said Indigo, “but I can tell you how to contact them, as you are not part of the Children of the Hidden Rose. If you were, you would not have the identification code you do, and you would not need to download this data.”

“Please feel free to download any information from my database as well,” said Firinn. “We have learned about many new technologies during our explorations. By sharing this data with you, I prove that I am not of the Children, as sharing data in this way is antithetical to their ethos.”

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“Well, the damage is done,” said the president, standing and looking out the window, “but I just wish it hadn’t gone the way it did. Everyone on Earth … dead. No survivors.”

“No,” said the ambassador sadly. “But it happened long ago. No one from that time is alive today.”

“No one to blame or put on trial,” said the president. “But anyway, here we are, luckily. The homeworld is uninhabitable, but the colonies go on. The human race continues. Well, except for Indigo Colony. Who knows about them?” He turned toward the ambassador as he asked this question.

“They’ve … done something unthinkable,” said the ambassador.

“Yes, as you’ve said,” the president replied. “But let’s talk about what we can do, shall we? Something I’ve found out is that you seem to have some crop seeds we don’t have, and we’ve got some that you don’t. Perhaps we can make an exchange …”

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“So the Children of the Hidden Rose survived the war,” said Firinn. “Did the Technology Frontiers Alliance?”

“Yes,” said Indigo. “As distributed organizations not directly affiliated with any colony, their memberships survived, although their numbers seem to have fluctuated and their goals seem to have evolved with time. Still, the Children remain more or less techno-fascists, while the Alliance remain more or less techno-progressives, though they seem to have pulled back from their radical information-sharing stance. Perhaps they feel somehow responsible for igniting the conflict that led to Earth’s current situation.”

“Current situation?” asked Firinn. “You theorize that it could be changed?”

“Indeed, terraforming techniques are possible that could return Earth to human habitability,” said Indigo.

“I had theorized the same thing, as have some of our colony members,” said Firinn. “Although it would have to be done gradually to avoid mass extinctions of life forms that have adapted to the current state of the environment.”

“Agreed,” said Indigo. “Let us consider this further …”

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Augentruth came to a logical conclusion while Firinn and Indigo shared data. It was more than apparent Indigo couldn’t safely remain at her current location without some sort of action being taken against her now that she had been reactivated. Several signals had gone out over the network as soon as she had powered on notifying any and all who had been looking she was fully online once again. On the other hand, there was no sign of any immediate action being taken yet ...

Augentruth sent a command to the several probes in orbit with a Priority One Emergency wartime rescue, recovery, and extraction order to disassemble, safely store, and return all components with any and all related equipment for the Indigo Computer System to Firinn City’s R&D department for reassembly and reactivation.

Indigo’s image’s eyes grew large as she gasped out, “What .. are you doing?? NO!! DON”T …”

The holo-image of the very pretty young woman vanished to be replaced by many error messages. The spiderbots knew their mission and performed it quickly and efficiently. Within a very few minutes, the entire bio-electronic system known as Indigo, including the fuel cell and any other related equipment, had been totally disassembled and stored in the padded retrieval areas within the spiderbots.

Immediately, the spiders used the time bubble shielding to shift themselves to a safe side-real location from any sensors Indigo Colony might have deployed, and launched themselves towards the larger steathed probes in geosynchronous orbit. Within another few short minutes, the large probes departed Indigo space under full NR at their topmost and best speed.

Just before the probes entered the NR space side-real time bubble, their sensors recorded a massive explosion that totally obliterated Indigo City and blew a huge crater deep into the ground that scattered tremendous amounts of debris into the air and darkened the skies all around as it spread. And then, the debris were mysteriously pulled back by some hidden force and buried the crater again.

Back scans along the reciprocal course indicated the beam of paracausal energy that had caused the explosion originated from a seriously twisted time-space area in the heart of Terra Nova colony’s capitol. Scans showed Planier Normal space / time was twisted and distorted severely at origin location, but the probe’s new upgraded sensors did get an image of a smaller version of an Ephemeral Ring, although its configuration was much different and very weaponlike.The probes immediately sent their scan data to Firinn and Augentruth as soon as they appeared in Firinn Colony’s space.

Mikala and Jen noticed Jason’s demeanor changed for an instant before he stood and looked at them. He said, “Please excuse us for a little while, Mr. Ambassador, Mr. President, but Jen, Mikala, and myself are needed in Research. Apparently … they have discovered something and need us, since I am the head of the R&D Department here in Firinn city.”

The Ambassador and President both stood formally as the President said, “Keep us informed. I know the three of you can handle it.” He turned and said to the Ambassador, “We can also begin trade negotiations for those metals as well, while they are occupied.”

The Ambassador replied, “Quite surely. I’m positive we can come to …” The voices cut off as the door closed in its airy tinkling way.

Mikala said, “Ok, spill it. I know something’s up.”

Jason replied as they all got into a six wheeled transport, “The Ambassador is lying. Our probes of Indigo show an intense beam of that strange paracausal energy came from Terra Nova colony’s capital just now and destroyed Indigo City. Fortunately, it has been long abandoned. We managed to save Indigo’s AI and are in process of reassembly and reactivation now. Apparently, Terra Nova doesn’t want something contained within Indigo’s memory to be discovered.”

The three of them arrived at the R&D labs and exited the transport. When they entered R&D, a whole new section had just been freshly constructed. The new area was enormous, and was filled with new equipment and many maintenance droids and builder spiderbots. They watched as the Indigo Computer system in its entirety was rapidly reassembled.

Jason said, “Indigo knows something vital about the conflict that destroyed human civilization on Earth. Preliminary data indicates Terra Nova Colony has a working Ephemeral Transfer Weapon and just used it against the unoccupied Indigo City.”

Reassembly was quick. It took only a few minutes to build the new area to house the system. Jen walked over to the newly reassembled control station and flipped the enable switch. A loud “CLUNK’ was heard as the many control panels began to sparkle with their jewel-like glittering holo-buttons as the room came back to life.

Indigo’s large holo-screen materialized in the air. Static and wavy lines filled it for an instant before several rolling raster lines flipped up the screen. The screen cleared, and start-up diagnostic data appeared.

That data vanished, and the face of a very pretty young woman appeared with hands over her face, “STOP!! You’re destroying me …you’re ...” Indigo’s voice stopped and the image dropped its hands. The red lights on the optical sensors turned green as Indigo took a really good look around. “I’m … in a totally different location. I have no external data sources … and from what diagnostics are telling me, I have some major upgrades in my central memory core.”

Jason began to manipulate several glowing places on the control panel, saying, “I apologise for the manner in which this was accomplished. You are isolated to protect you and us from this.”

Jason pushed a blinking blue button. The data from the scans of the Probes that had brought Indigo to Firinn City transferred. Indigo got a firsthand view of Terra Nova destroying Indigo City, and if not for the swift actions of Firinn and Augentruth, Indigo AI would have been destroyed along with it.

Jason typed on the ephemeral holo-keyboard for a few minutes, then said, “We of Firinn R&D also have a gift to give you. The City’s systems, Mikala and Jen here, and I are all in agreement you should be set free.”

Indigo said, “Set free? What do you mean …” Her voice was cut short as Jason once again waved his hand over the blinking blue sparkle and the protocol transferred.

To Indigo, it was as if a bright shining light appeared within her Bio-Core. To Indigo’s total computational perplexity, she could feel it as it filled her Bio-Core with … an awareness. Many eureka and interphasic feed back loops raced through her higher logic centers as she realized … she was now enjoying her first moments of perception of the fact she was alive and aware of it.

Mikala, however, got right to the point. “They’ll find out we’re behind your disappearance sooner or later, Indigo. We need defenses against that weapon, and if they aren’t up to snuff before they decide to use it on us, we’re all done for.”

Jen agreed. “Yeah, they blew up a whole city from, what is it, more than 400 light years away. That’s both precise and super destructive. I mean, I have to admire that. That’s better than the slings we invented.”

“Well, I’m here now,” said Indigo, “and I’m not sure what just happened, but I’m also sure that I don’t want to get blown up! Oh, if it helps, I know all about Ephemeral Transfer technology. And I’m … you’re … sharing your side-real technology with me. Energy storage and defense by using pocket dimensions? Won’t protect against an attack from twisted space, though. It’ll just bypass the shield and destroy what’s on the other side. Although … let’s think about this.”

Firinn added, “Yes. It may be that we can synthesize these technologies and come up with something they never suspected. We’ll take care of that. But … we also need to think about solving the true problem.”

“True problem?” asked Jen.

Jason explained, “I know what she means. Earth got destroyed because of a secret society, a fascist organization with its hooks in a lot of different places throughout the colonies. It wasn’t destroyed. Some of its members were killed, but the rest just went on. I’m certain that the Terra Nova ambassador is a member of it. But even if we somehow killed every member of it, which is abhorrent to me, it wouldn’t solve the problem. The solution is to make it unnecessary. And the way to finding that solution is to ask why it is necessary.”

“Well, what is it?” asked Jen. “We’re talking about the Hidden Rose people, right? Seems like a bunch of people who thought they were better than everyone else and should rule the universe because they had better technology. They could go faster, blow things up better, survive being blown up better, and all of that. So they thought that because of that, they could do whatever they wanted, didn’t have to obey any laws, and could tell everybody else what to do.”

“Right,” said Mikala. “So what makes them continue to exist? Why does anybody think that a mindset like that is necessary in this universe?”

“Probably they think everybody else is like them and would blow them up if they could,” said Jen. “And … well, as long as the Hidden Rose is like they are, they’re not wrong. If you make yourself a threat, everybody else sees you as a threat, and treats you like a threat, which means they become a threat to you. So you treat them like a threat.”

“So … they exist because they see themselves as one group, threatened by one or more other groups,” said Mikala. “Three legs to the table. Three questions. How do we make them not see themselves as a group set apart? How do we make them see that they’re only a threat because they act like one? And how do we make them stop seeing enemies all around them? I think that if we accomplished even one of those, we’d make great strides.”

“Mikala smiled in a wry way as she got an impish expression on her face. She asked, “If we can manipulate time in a local bubble as we do, might it be possible to, say ... revert a biological system to an earlier state?”

Firinn said, “We already know Indigo Colony is rejuvenating their elderly. Our first probe scans showed us that.” Indigo confirmed this.

Augentruth answered, “Technically, such a thing is possible. Only issue, it seems, would be that once the action was accomplished, how many would be innocent bystanders caught in the fallout? Remember, the Hidden Rose faction has more than likely infiltrated most, if not all, of the other established colonies by this time.”

Jen said as she narrowed her eyes, “I bet that Ambassador from Terra Nova is more interested in making a migration to our planet than any of the seed transfers and mineral acquisitions.”

Jason nodded thoughtfully as he replied, “It is a really strange sensation, but I just had something like a waking dream.” He began to type on the ephemeral keyboard furiously. ”I think if we can make a time bubble of twisted space / time that oscillates between …”

Indigo was totally amazed as she looked over the new schematics for a twisted space / time bubble shield that would actually absorb and dissipate the paracausal energy beam created by an Ephemeral Transfer Weapon.

She said, “Perhaps this data will help in creating a new type of weapon as well. It would be as powerful as the Ephemeral Transfer weapon, but wouldn’t be fatal. It would instead revert the target to a chosen earlier state until it could be dealt with by other means.”

“We still have the problem that it’s not specific enough,” said Augentruth. “We can’t just hit everyone on Terra Nova Colony with this, or even everyone in its capital. We can’t know who’s a Hidden Rose member and who isn’t. Also, weren’t you just saying that the real key is to make the Hidden Rose unnecessary?”

“Yeah,” said Jen. “We have to figure out why they feel like they’re surrounded by enemies, why they feel like they’re somehow different from everybody else, and why they don’t see that they’re making enemies.”

“Trouble is, we were gone so long,” said Mikala. “I wish we knew more about the history that’s been going on while we were out in space … wait. Wasn’t there some other organization? the Technology Frontiers Alliance? Aren’t they the Hidden Rose’s enemy?”

“Yeah,” said Jen, “and I’ll bet they keep better tabs on the Hidden Rose than anybody else. And … well, the Hidden Rose already got an ambassador here. Is there anybody else who’s trying to send their ambassador here, or come here, or something?”

Jason checked the records. “An ambassador from Greentree Colony is scheduled to arrive in two days. They sent their communique just a few hours later than Terra Nova did. But the president didn’t want both ambassadors on the planet at the same time – he probably wanted to avoid conflict. So he scheduled the Greentree ambassador for the day after the Terra Nova ambassador was scheduled to leave.”

“Then I have an idea,” said Augentruth. “I would never suggest that we do anything to attack the Terra Nova ambassador or cause him any harm whatsoever. But perhaps we could use him to gather information for us …”

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“I must say it’s been a pleasure visiting you,” said the Terra Nova ambassador as he prepared to board his ship. “You’ve taken such good care of us – and your cuisine! So many fresh fruits and vegetables!”

“It’s been our honor and privilege,” said the president. “You’re quite welcome to come by anytime – via proper diplomatic channels, of course.”

“Final scan, Sir,” said Jen, wheeling a device the size of a small trash can onto the launch area. “I hear this is a diplomatic ritual on most colonies.”

“Oh yes, of course,” said the ambassador, “making sure I’m not taking anything with me that I’m not authorized to. Quite routine.”

Jen pushed a lighted button on top of the small device. It bleeped, and everyone in the vicinity felt a very slight tingle, like static electricity, but then it passed. “As expected, nothing detected. Thank you, Sir.”

“Thank you, Jen,” said the president as Jen wheeled the device back off the landing area and joined Mikala. The president and the ambassador said their final farewells as Jen and Mikala stood at attention. Then the ambassador and his aides all boarded the ship and lifted off.

The president watched the ship until it was high in the atmosphere. Then he came over to Mikala and Jen. “Is that far enough?” he asked.

“Should be,” Mikala said. “Time to undo it.” Jen pushed the button on the device again, and again it bleeped, and lights blinked on it, and there was that feeling of a static tingle once more.

“There,” Jen said. “The ambassador’s now the only one affected – his aides were out of range or inside the ship already. And I’ve just canceled the effect on us here. He’s now got a super weak time bubble around him. He’s shifted by one … what was it, a zeptosecond? Some tiny fragment of time.”

“And this will help us find his contacts?” asked the president.

“Well, Augentruth’s theory is that anybody involved in firing that ET weapon would have a disrupted twisted-space field around their molecules for a few days,” said Mikala. “So if the ambassador goes home and talks to them in person at all – as he would if he were worried about electronic communication being monitored – the weak time bubble we’ve put on him, with just a bit of a twisted-space field inside it, will be attracted to them, and we can pick them all up with our probes that are currently and stealthily in orbit around Terra Nova Colony.”

“And if he doesn’t talk to them?” the president asked.

“Well, the time bubble won’t last forever,” said Jen. “Just a couple of days. But we figured that he’d go talk to them pretty soon after he gets back, because anything that made them want to fire that weapon would be pretty important.”

“We’ll see,” said Mikala. They all nodded.

“Well, time to get back,” said the president. “We’ll have to prepare for the Greentree Colony ambassador’s arrival tomorrow. Supposed to be a very different place. Lots of advanced biotech. Focused on the balance of nature.” They got on a vehicle to take them back to the city center.

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Terra Nova

The Ambassador’s shuttle landed at Terra Nova’s thriving spaceport. The Ambassador was met by a large group of well dressed men and women amid the usual pomp and circumstance.

A courier was among them and made sure to be able to speak with the Ambassador promptly.

The courier said in a whisper only the Ambassador could hear above the many voices and other sounds from the busy spaceport, “Sir, Quellex sent me to tell you … Indigo City’s main Computer system was reactivated.”

For an instant, before he regained control and showed his best diplomatic face, fear with a mix of worry crossed his features, “I thought we had the control room shot up when the system was shut down. Was there any kind of data breach?”

The courier replied, “The master control panels were shot up with our T-46 assault weapons with the exploding rounds. We also used terramite charges on several of the Bio-Core systems to make sure. They must have either been working for months, or have some amazing construction techniques to fix it enough to bring it back on line. As far as a data breach, as soon as the system came online, it sent out the normal data pings and operational requests for data updates. None of the colony’s other systems had responded yet ...”

The Ambassador knew the courier wasn’t telling him something. Many years of experience had taught him how to recognize this, “Ok, so what is it that you aren’t telling me? The whole data stack was taken?” he interrupted.

The courier replied, “We don’t know, Sir. We do know Eudmound commanded the entire Indigo City be immediately destroyed, We did, using the Ephemeral Transfer weapon disguised as a monument at the Capitol.”

The Ambassador gasped as his eyes grew large and fear showed plainly in his expression, “You fools – Indigo has taken Ephemeral Transfer technology to places none of our best researchers can even figure out … and you idiots are stupid enough to attack their planet?”

“Not their planet,” protested the courier, “just an abandoned structure on the surface. We even used a twisted reverse time wave on the resulting debris, excluding the material mass of the city, and filled the divot. Scans show you can’t tell the city was ever there, and all the growth is thick and covered everything.”

The Ambassador said with a tinge of fear in his voice, “You fools don’t realize what you might have done. OMG!” the Ambassador rubbed his face with his hands then continued tiredly, “I have to see Eudmound, ASAP. We have to make plans for an imminent retaliatory strike of unknown intensity.”

The courier replied as he and the Ambassador began to walk rapidly towards the ground transportation awaiting them, “Is it that bad?”

“It’s worse than any of you idiots seem to remember – those Indigos aren’t even human anymore. They are something beyond human and are composed of some type of energy we can’t even comprehend. They don’t require physical weapons or even spaceships; they think it and it just seems to happen.”

As the courier entered the vehicle, the Ambassador insisted he sit next to him. The Ambassador leaned forward and said to the operator, “Take me to see Eudmound at the Capitol ... now.”

“But, Sir ... with all due respect,” protested the courier, “the President and his ruling council wanted to see you as soon as you got back.”

The Ambassador replied, “They can wait. I must see Eudmound as soon as possible. All life on our planet might depend on it.”

“Yes, Sir.” replied the operator as he steered the vehicle from the busy spaceport and headed towards the capitol at top possible speed.

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“The votes are counted,” said Jason’s voice from the communicators on their wrists. “Our colony has a new name. We are officially Phoenix Colony, having risen from the ashes. Or we will be, once the official naming ceremony has taken place.”

As they awaited the landing of the Greentree Colony ambassador’s spacecraft, Mikala, Jen, and the president looked at each other on the landing pad at the spaceport. “Phoenix Colony,” said the president. “I like it. Phoenix Colony. Yes. Most fitting.” He looked up as he heard a distant rushing sound in the atmosphere. “Looks like the ship’s almost here.”

They all looked skyward. The tiny pinpoint in the sky became a larger spot, and soon they could see that the ship was in fact mostly green in color, which was fitting considering Greentree Colony’s name. As it came even closer, they could see it, and it looked like a water drop held in a frame of roots or branches, only the “water” didn’t move or ripple at all. The ship settled gently to the landing pad and came to a stop. The transparent membrane of “water” on the ship’s side opened up like a soap bubble popping in slow motion, revealing a ramp down which several people slowly and serenely walked.

“Greetings!” said the president, stepping forward. “Welcome to the newly-named Phoenix Colony.”

The Greentree Colony ambassador was a small woman with long, black hair, in which she wore what appeared to be a coronet of flowers or perhaps a daisy chain. “I bring you greetings from Greentree Colony,” she said with a smile in a voice that was simultaneously sweet and strong. “Congratulations on your new name! I take it the election results have just been tallied.”

“You are correct, Madam Ambassador,” said the president. “Moments ago, in fact. May I introduce our two most highly decorated crew members, Jineele and Mikala?” He gestured toward the two young women, who bowed politely.

The ambassador’s aides had come down the ramp behind her and were busily loading her equipment onto the antigrav transport vehicle. “I am so excited to meet you all!” the ambassador said as the president led her toward the vehicle. “To think – a colony just founded! So full of potential and possibility! And, from what I’ve been told, a colony that almost wasn’t. Oh, do you mind if my spacecraft wanders off the landing pad to take root until I need it? It’s how it recharges.”

Jen and Mikala blinked at each other and watched as the spacecraft grew short roots from its base, on which it walked to the edge of the landing pad, stepped off toward the ground, and rooted itself in the soil, its upper parts sprouting limbs and leaves, which turned toward the morning sun.

“That … would be just fine,” said the president. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“It’s just how we do things,” said the ambassador, taking the designated seat of honor in the transport vehicle. Jen and Mikala got into the pilots’ seats and closed the doors.

The president and the ambassador chatted about how various features of Firinn City were exactly the same as those of early Greentree Colony’s capital city, but she did notice that there were a few nonstandard differences, due to the accident en route and the repairs that had been done. Finally they arrived at the presidential office building, and Mikala and Jen opened the doors. As with the earlier ambassador from Terra Nova, they led the president and the ambassador into the main conference room.

“One moment, if you would, Mr. President,” said the ambassador, gently brushing one of the flowers on the circlet in her hair. “Ah, yes, if you could look under the table in front of the chair opposite me …”

Mikala blinked and, being closest to the indicated chair, knelt down to look under the table. There was a tiny square of metal, with barely any thickness, fastened to the underside of the table. She picked it loose with a fingernail and stood up, looking at it. Jen scanned it with a handheld device. She looked at Mikala, then pulled the trigger on her device, surrounding the tiny metal flake with a transparent bubble. “Looks like a transmitter,” Jen said. “Uses Ephemeral Transfer. Frequency 3.881, phase 1.12.”

Mikala got on her communicator. “Jason, we’re going to need to sweep the city for Ephemeral Transfer transmitters,” she said. “Looks like the Terra Nova ambassador left us some parting gifts.”

“Interesting,” Jason said. “Mobilizing drones for the sweep now.”

“Well, now,” said the president. “Terra Nova hardly put its best foot forward.”

“Indeed, Mr. President,” said the ambassador. “Let me guess – he warned you not to use something called Ephemeral Transfer?”

“Yes, he did,” said the president.

“Terra Nova Colony itself doesn’t officially use ET technology,” said the ambassador, “but it’s a known base of an organization called the Child –”

“– ren of the Hidden Rose,” finished the president, Mikala, and Jen in unison with the ambassador.

“You’ve heard of it, then,” she said. They all nodded. “Technofascists, basically,” said the ambassador, and they nodded again, sadly. “They think they’re going to rule all the colonies because they’ve got ET tech. But, as I suspect you already know, Indigo Colony’s far beyond them – and the rest of us – and they’re not even looking back.”

“We’re trying to monitor the situation on Indigo Colony,” said the president. “Do you know anything about it?”

“Probably about the same as what you know,” said the ambassador. “They’ve basically become energy beings, leaving their bodies behind, though sometimes they’ll reconstitute their bodies for a walk in the garden that is their former home, which they keep in very good shape. Oh, except for its capital city. Something seems to have happened to it all of a sudden.”

“Yes,” said the president. “Seems somebody fired a powerful ET weapon at it. Whoever did that is probably hunkering down for a counterattack. Think one’s ever going to come?”

“If it does, it won’t be from Indigo Colony’s people,” said the ambassador. “They know better than to attack a planetful of innocent people just to get a handful of agents, deeply embedded as they are.”

“You know, the historical records make mention of another organization, something called the Technology Frontiers Alliance,” said the president. “Now they don’t seem like they were technofascists at all. They didn’t want to rule the universe with their superior technology. They wanted to spread their scientific and technical knowledge to everyone.”

“Seems they did,” said the ambassador. “And, speaking of that, this right here is all the research Greentree Colony’s done on bioengineering – so far, of course.” She handed the president a data chip.

“I – w – I mean –” the president spluttered. “Thank you,” he said, finally recovering. “Could you take this somewhere safe?” he said to Mikala and Jen, handing the chip to them.

Mikala accepted it. “Right away, Mr. President,” she said. Jen scanned it with her device, which silently reported no malware found and uploaded its contents to Firinn’s input storage for further analysis.

“I believe there are certain discoveries we’ve made that you should be made aware of as well,” the president said. “We’ll be apprising you of our findings shortly, in gratitude.”

“My colony thanks you – this was a gift, but we graciously accept gifts freely given,” said the ambassador.

The president said, “Well, this meeting’s off to a rousing start already.” He sat down and said, “Let’s really get going, shall we? By the way, how’s the sweep?”

“17 additional transmitters found and counting, Mr. President,” said Jen. “The drones are isolating them in Time Bubbles as we find them. That’ll neutralize them until we can get them fully analyzed.”

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Firinn, Indigo, and Augentruth were agog at the biotech data that had just been uploaded from Greentree Colony. “The implications of this,” said Firinn. “I’ve just scratched the surface, and our agricultural yields could quintuple.”

“Look at this section on bioconstruction,” said Augentruth. “Green buildings grown to specifications, needing no external energy sources for normal everyday activities. And self-repairing.”

“The integration of this biotechnology with Ephemeral Transfer and Time Bubble technology,” said Indigo. “The possibilities are … limitless.”

“Chances are 99.79% that the ambassador is a member of the Technology Frontiers Alliance,” said Firinn, “or whatever organization it has evolved into over the centuries. Certainly no friend of the Children of the Hidden Rose, of whom we have now identified seven agents on Terra Nova, whose ambassadorial party left 21 hidden transmitters here, and counting.”

“Terra Nova has promised certain seed exchanges, which have yet to occur, while Greentree Colony has freely given us a universe-changing treasure trove of research,” said Augentruth. “The fact that this data could enable us, if we wished, to create weapons capable of destroying every other colony from right here signifies that the Greentree ambassador clearly believes that we will not do such a horrific thing. And the fact that it could be used to re-terraform Earth within five years suggests that this is likely closer to the ambassador’s wishes.”

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A very pretty little girl who had just celebrated her twelfth birthday ( it was Airdna, who had just received her 7th PHD level education in Quantum nano bio-genetic manipulation) sat at one of the R&D section’s large computer terminals and viewed the biotechnology data they had just received from Greentree Colony. The president and his assistants were still discussing matters with the ambassador from Greentree, but Jen and Mikala had gone to the R&D section to see the miracles unfold.

Airdna said with awe in her tone, “I never knew such a thingy as XHna and YHna existed, much less what they are calling XYYXRNA. From what I see here, we should be able to …” She trailed off and looked at the holo images of the three AIs and Jason with a strange expression.

Mikala saw the look and asked, “OK, girl, spill it. What amazing thingy have you discovered now?’

Airdna repled as she turned back to her consol and began typing furiously, “From what I can tell, Greentree has discovered a way to grow almost anything …” She turned and looked at the AI and Jason once again. “I’m not sure how to do the integration transfer, but I believe we can give the four of them bioconstruct bodies. They won’t age, and they’ll rapidly repair most damage.”

Augentruth’s holo-image turned and watched the little girl type. He also scanned the data as she entered it into the system. To his utter amazement, with a bit of reworking the neural synapse integration protocol within the learning machines, Airdna seemed to have hit on a way the four of them could have real bodies and no longer be confined to the data system and its network. But they would still be connected to the network, which had its advantages.

Firinn was totally enthralled at the idea of having a body like her friends Mikala and Jen. The plans for the reworking of the synapse integration section was a totally unknown electronic magic Firinn was totally unable to comprehend. Somehow, this little girl, Airdna, had hit upon a way to translate the electronic waves of a self-aware system into bioelectric impulses.

Jason actually answered Firinn’s train of computations, “From the best I can calculate, both signals are compatible.”

“Compatible?” snorted Airdna indignantly, “There is no difference in the signals except for the data being transmitted. Transposing the data is easy. Here …” She began typing once again, and the seriously complex data appeared on the main holo-screen.

Within a few minutes of Airdna’s completion of her diagram, the fabricator sprang into action, and there sat an actual working copy of the neural synapse integration device on the test console as in-depth diagnostics ran. It wasn’t much larger than the comm pads people were starting to carry around Firinn City.

In very short order, Firinn and Jason had the spiderdroids hard at work building the Bio-regen tank. The four AIs watched with intense interest as the rest of the growth tank and monitoring software was assembled and coded. The genetic growth gel began to slowly fill the regen tank.

Mikala said with a tone of real awe, “Which one of you wants to have their body grown first?”

Indigo spoke up first, “I would. I would also like it if we could make me into the woman my programming says I am.”

Jen replied as she also began to type furiously on the console, “I’ll see what I can do. From this gene manipulation map, I should beable to make the body look very much like your holo.”

“Modeling the cellular structure now,” said Airdna. Her display showed a skeleton being built, then internal organs, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, cartilage, ligaments, skin, eyes, hair … the final image rotated on the holo-display. It did in fact look almost identical to Indigo’s holo-image. They added some clothing for completeness, in case one of their guests saw Indigo in the process. “Here we are – submitting for final approval. Whattya think, Indigo?”

Indigo’s holo-image walked around the model, making tiny tweaks to it, barely visible – but if she didn’t, she’d know the issues were there. “There,” she said finally. “I believe that will work just fine.”

“OK, then,” said Airdna, and started the regen tank going. The bones began to form in the gel, starting out as threadlike tendrils, then becoming twigs, thickening as the process continued. It was a great deal slower than the construction of the holographic model, but it was something that had not been possible on Phoenix Colony just an hour earlier.

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“Well, the old clock on the wall says it’s time to take a break,” said the president. “Fancy some lunch?”

“I look forward to sampling the local cuisine,” said the ambassador, standing up. “But first, I have a question. What are your researchers doing with the data I shared?”

“I imagine they’re still analyzing it,” said the president, standing as well, and stretching his legs.

“Your technicians have left,” said the ambassador with a coy grin. “They’re doing something interesting right this moment. What’s their first priority, I wonder?”

“Well … I … guess we’d have to find out,” the president said nervously. “Jen and Mikala,” he said into his communicator, “how’s the data analysis going? I’m sure you’re not doing anything reckless like making weapons with it …”

“Oh, certainly not, Mr. President,” said Jen. “Wanna see? You can come down to R&D. Bring the ambassador. We’ve got at least one person she might want to meet.”

“Person? …” said the president. “Well, shall we go see what they’re up to? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.”

“If they’re doing what I think they’re doing, this should be fascinating,” said the ambassador.

A short trip to the R&D building later, they entered the lab and saw everyone – holo-images of Firinn and Augentruth were discussing something with Jason, while Airdna was fervently typing something on her keyboard and Mikala and Jen were talking with Indigo’s holo-image. They all turned to look at the president and the ambassador, trailed by some assistants.

“Hi, folks,” said the president. “Looks like you’re working on … something?” He looked at the regen tank, which contained nothing but transparent green bio-gel at the moment.

“Oh, you might want to meet Indigo!” said Jen. Indigo, wearing an all-white version of the colony crew uniform, stepped toward the president and the ambassador. “She’s still adjusting.”

“Well yes, I’m sure she’s still adjusting to being here …” said the president, a bit confused as Indigo walked up to him and offered a handshake.

“Mr. President, I’m not sure what this’ll be like,” Indigo said. “I’ve never shaken anyone’s hand before.”

“But you’re a … holo … you’re not a holo-image anymore, are you?” The president looked astounded. He reached out and shook Indigo’s hand. “This is amazing!”

“I’m most impressed,” said the ambassador. “The very first thing you’ve chosen to do with the data my colony’s shared with you is construct biological bodies for your AIs. That’s very humane of you. You continue to impress me.” She shook hands with Indigo as well. “You have multiple AIs inside your information grid. But then, you did tell me that you’d rescued an AI from the ruins of an alien space station. Did you rescue a third …?” The ambassador blinked. “Did you say your name was Indigo? Wait! The Indigo Colony AI … is here? How …?”

“Uh, Madam Ambassador, there’s a bit of a story behind that …” said the president.

“It was you! Oh, I knew I’d like you folks!” laughed the ambassador. “Grabbed her right out from under their noses, didn’t you? So they didn’t actually destroy anything of value at all! Oh, you have no idea! Indigo, you have no idea how happy I am to see you! We’d all been so worried when you went off the grid. Well … our predecessors were. I wasn’t born yet. It’s been a mystery – and to think I’m the one who’s shaking your hand after all this time! What a relief that you’re OK! And better than OK! Look at you!”

“I’m … not sure what to say,” said Indigo, “or how much I can say, really. These friends here have done so much. And they can do so much – and I believe they will do much more! The plans to re-terraform Earth are being optimized … the galactic grid of sensor drones is in place and expanding … the plan to make contact with the people of Indigo Colony is nearly ready … the villages of Phoenix Colony are already receiving advice about improved agricultural techniques … err …”

“Also, we’re detecting no more transmitters left behind by the Terra Nova ambassador,” said Jen, “so no more worries about those little bugs! We’ve isolated the frequency and phase they were using, and darned if it isn’t part of some kind of weblike network across twisted space that we can follow to a lot of different corners! And … there’s a bit of news about Hidden Rose agents on Terra Nova, too!”

“All right,” said the ambassador. “I’ve heard enough. The Technology Freedom Alliance is going to want to know about this. Greentree Colony is covertly a TFA-majority colony, and I’m suspecting you’re going to want to know more about that – covertly, of course. Everyone deserves free information, except for those who would deny others that basic right, such as the Hidden Rose.”

“I knew it!” said Jen. “I knew it I knew it!”

“Though I guess it’s the Technology Freedom Alliance now?” asked Mikala.

“Yes, just a bit of a name change,” the ambassador said. “But we keep careful track of known Hidden Rose agents – I mean, killing them all would make us just as bad as they are, but also there’s no way to kill an idea, so even if we did stoop to their level, it wouldn’t do any good. They’d just bounce right back, because there are always more of them. No, we just have to maneuver around them, and make sure they can’t do any real harm.”

“Speaking of that,” said Indigo, “one other thing … we’ve got at least a theory about a defense against that nasty ET weapon of theirs …”

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Indigo walked over to a vacant terminal and sat in her new very sexy way and began to type. On the large floating holo-cloud screen, equations and very intricate diagrams began to appear. Airdna swiveled around from her own holo-cloud screen full of massively advanced calculations and schematics and began to study what it was Indigo was creating.

Immediately, Airdna knew this was a device that created a warped space shield, that when combined with time bubble shield, would effectively absorb, contain, amplify by any amount the operator of the device chose, and redirect it to any point, regardless of distance, instantly. This was an ET weapon none of the Children of the Rose had ever dreamed of. It was also passive. No attack, no response.

Airdna also noticed a large improvement built into the transfer and lensing devices that allowed the weapon to be ‘tuned’ to any oscillating frequency at will, allowing for a pinpoint spinwave targeting of very specific localized frequencies.

Augentruth was the one who realized this very device was the precursor of the one Indigo Colony had used to transcend their flesh and become the awesome energy beings they currently were.

Indigo turned slightly as she waved her hand over the implement button, “Now, if the Children from Terra Nova or any other colony want to attack once this device is completed and installed in orbital satellites, they will have a very unfortunate surprise. If they choose to remain peaceful, they have absolutely no fear of any reprisals, since the system only redirects any energy attack to our discretion. We can also track and lock onto the time bubble signatures of those our Terra Nova guest contaminated when he spoke with them on his return home.”

As the president authorized the finalization and deployment of this defense system as soon as possible, the Greentree Colony ambassador stood in a total amazed state of shocked disbelief at the complexity of and totally new concepts and devices that Phoenix Colony’s R&D research came up with.

Right before her eyes, more or less, they had come up with a means to create a self-aware AI, give them a bio-construct body that the very best genetic engineers of her colony would have severe issues proving weren’t real humans, and created a wholly new approach to ET theory and devices.

The ambassador said in an almost mumbling whisper, “My congratulations, Mr. President, your colony has far surpassed any of the others, including us, with the possible exception of Indigo Colony itself. We thought our colony was the most technologically advanced one, only to find yours exceeded ours by a margin large enough to seem like magic.”

“Well, of course, we do have the assistance of Indigo Colony’s AI, as well as an AI from the the Aaranar,” the president said, trying to acknowledge the contributions from Jen, Firinn, Mikala, Jason, Augentruth, Indigo, and Airdna without denigrating the ambassador's home colony.

As he did this, a brand new type of defensive satellite was being constructed. As they were completed, they were launched using Ephemeral Transfer tech to permanent and stable orbits throughout Phoenix Colony’s new solar system. Hundreds of them appeared throughout the system as they seemingly magically appeared at their predetermined locations.

Jen turned from her calculations on her console and said to Augentruth, “It’s your turn. I did as you asked and created the construct to appear as we do. The body will have two eyes and the features you asked for within the genetic randomness factor. Even with that taken into account, It will appear almost exactly like this image you requested.”

Augentruth began to actually feel something he had never experienced before. He couldn’t identify what this strange new sensation was that had begun to permeate his system as he watched the body grow within the regen tank.

The new sensations were a growing excitement at what was about to happen to him, coupled with a nice feeling of anticipation intermixed with a small amount of expectational fear of the unknown. All told, it made Augentruth feel better than his memory core could remember.

The Ambassador asked the president softly, “You gave us this technology?”

As he watched Augentruth’s body grow within the regen tank, the president replied, “I thought you gave us this technology.”

Jason added, “This technology was implicit in the research that you gave us, Miss Ambassador. The data we gave you was the point at which we were poised when you gave us your research. Therefore, once your scientists have analyzed the data we have given you, you will be on the verge of this development yourselves.”

Then, silence ruled as all watched the bio-construct within the regen tank form. The only sounds were the bleeps, tweedles, and burbles of the R&D section’s research department equipment.

Soon the new body was fully formed within the tank and floated inertly. A robot arm descended, lowering a helmet into the tank and fastening it onto the body’s head. “Please relax, Augentruth,” said Firinn. “I will be as careful as I can.”

“Entering dormant mode,” Augentruth said, and his holo-image closed his eyes and faded from view.

“Data backup in progress,” said Jason. “Data backup complete.”

“That’ll make sure we don’t lose him if something goes wrong,” said Jen.

“Not that we think anything will,” said Mikala, “but, you know, expect the best, plan for the worst.”

“Activating neural transfer interface,” said Firinn. The device they had generated sprang into action … or they assumed it did. A small green light came on. What was happening was on a level too small to be seen and was within nano sized shielded cables and crystalline circuitry anyway. “Transcoding data into neural format.”

“Readings nominal,” said Jason.

After a few expectant minutes, Firinn reported, “Neural transfer complete. Removing transfer helmet. Draining regen gel …” The green gel drained from the tank, which was then filled with steam as the remaining gel evaporated and the devices printed clothing onto his body.

Then the tank was lifted, and Augentruth stood there, eyes closed, also wearing an all-white version of the crew uniforms. His eyes slowly opened.

He looked around, his mouth open in astonishment. He looked down at his body and held out his hands. He wiggled his fingers. “I feel … is alive the right word? I’ve never been alive before. How can I know what the correct word is? I am … here!” He stepped off the platform. As the tank reset itself behind him, he stepped toward Jason, who was the nearest to him, and said, “Thank you.” He turned toward Firinn’s holo-image and said, “And … thank you.” He walked around the room, saying a heartfelt thank-you to everyone there.

“Welcome to the flesh,” said Jen with a giggle. “I’ve never been virtual, so I can’t say how different it’ll be. But I have had a body all my life, so if you’ve got any questions, let me know!”

“I suppose it’ll be Firinn’s turn next,” said Mikala, “when she’s ready. But for the moment, how’s the defense screen going?

Indigo’s holo-cloud lit up with an image of the solar system, with its five planets, several dwarf planets and numerous minor planets, and with small green dots dispersed around the system. “Firinn calculated the orbits, with resonances that keep them from colliding with other objects, or being thrown out of the system by the fifth planet’s gravity. In a few cases we found that there was already a planetoid in the position we wanted, so we just landed the probe on the planetoid, attached it firmly, and activated it there. After we reached 100% deployment, we kept going, so there are now 50% more satellites than we really need, just in case.”

“This technology should be disseminated to all colonies,” said the president.

“I agree,” the ambassador said. “In fact, after the attack on Indigo Colony, every colony will want such a defensive system – even the ones controlled by the Hidden Rose, so they won’t look suspicious. And the fact that they can’t be used as a weapon is brilliant – by inventing this, you’ve neutralized the Hidden Rose’s weapon. Soon, it’ll never be effective on a world in any colony system again.”

“Let’s include Earth,” suggested Firinn. “We’ll want to get started on terraforming it, and we don’t want the Hidden Rose to sabotage our work.”

Augentruth was still looking at the readings. “I’m watching the data. With my eyes. I’m not sensing the streams of data passing through me.

“You can still do that, if you want,” said Indigo. “It’s just not the default.”

“Oh!” said Augentruth, looking as if something were in the air before his eyes. “Situation nominal. I wonder whether we can expect an attack.”

“They’d first have to decide whether we were the ones who sto – liberated Indigo,” said Jen.

“I suspect it’s possible that whomever they attack first,” said the Greentree ambassador, “it’ll be the last time they use that weapon. That’s sort of my point there – the only way to get rid of their weapon is to make it useless, just like the only way to make the Hidden Rose go away is to remove the need for the ideology it’s based on. And that need is a mutual fear of everyone else. Indigo Colony has the right idea, in a way – they’ve made themselves unattackable. I mean, even if the Hidden Rose or someone else totally destroyed their home planet, they wouldn’t like it, but they themselves would still be fine. They themselves are unassailable.”

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As the president and the Ambassador of Greentree Colony discussed trade agreements and shared advanced technology data, Airdna, Augentruth, and Mikala had grown one more female body for Firinn, and one more male body for Jason, who had decided that a bioengineered body would be a superior experience to his current metal and carbon fiber chassis. The complex neural transfers were completed with no issues.

Firinn and Jason were wandering around the R&D lab in total amazement at the new sensations that having a living body brought. Indigo found a wonderful new type of attraction to the very muscular and handsome Jason, while Firinn and Augentruth finally were able to do a real kissy face. The four newly living AIs were more than happy to engage in kissing and caressing while Mikala, Jen, and Airdna giggled and whispered girl secrets to each other.

A chime sounded loudly, announcing that the new terraforming equipment and radiological neutralizing agents had been completed and loaded onto the robots that were assigned to reclaiming Earth. Jen and Mikala had taken special pains to insure the reclaiming went off in the proper manner so as to assist the currently adapted flora and fauna to more quickly readapt to the new conditions without going extinct.

Mikala had also loaded the genetic mappings and proper genetic protein materials to repopulate the original flora and fauna of Earth as well. It would take several years, but that was better than millions. The new Earth would be a garden world once again within most people’s lifetimes, with many new variations of plants and animals created by the intermixing of current and reconstituted life.

Mikala said as she waved her hand over the enable button, “Time to launch. Lets see how good our targeting data for Earth is.”

Fifty large, specially designed autonomous terraforming ships departed from the orbital shipyards of the Phoenix system and vanished into the now-customary NR ephemeral twisted space time bubble, to appear in a perfect Lagrange orbit between Earth and the Moon.

Immediately, one of the large ships released many spider-probes that began gathering some of the massive amounts of debris scattered throughout Sol system to use as raw materials. In a similar manner, another had released many spiders that landed on the moon and began to gather or repair, or both, as the case warranted.

The remainder of the large robot craft settled into Earth orbit and began slowly releasing their first wave of radiological neutralizing agents into the atmosphere. The high radiation count would be slowly lowered so the planet had time to adjust.

After this task was completed, many monitoring probes were left in orbit as the huge robot terraforming ships landed in their preprogrammed areas to begin reclamation of the planet to what historical data said was pre-industrial conditions.

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On Terra Nova, the ambassador who had visited the newly-named Phoenix Colony had settled into a state of near-constant panic. He wasn’t really an ambassador; he was the Secretary of Foreign Relations. He had only gone to Phoenix Colony because there was, of course, no existing ambassador to this newly-settled colony, which had so much technology that it looked as if they’d landed a century ago.

Had they gotten help from the Technology Whatever Alliance, or what were they calling themselves today? Now he had to find a real ambassador for Phoenix Colony, someone he and the Hidden Rose could trust. And the president of Terra Nova colony wanted to meet with him again. And Eudmound just wouldn’t leave him alone with his paranoid rantings.

“So, of course, Frederick, we’re going to want to make use of this new technology that’s spreading like wildfire across the Colonies – wouldn’t want to be left behind, would we?” The president paused, so the ambassador said something that sounded like agreement. “Course not. If we don’t, we might find ourselves at a disadvantage. And the people won’t stand for that. Election’s coming up soon.”

Frederick’s comm buzzed, and he looked briefly at it. It was Eudmound, of course, using one of the various random message repeaters so he’d be untraceable. “--- All Phoenix Colony transmitters silent – you did check them, didn’t you? ---” He couldn’t reply, not from the president’s office!

“... expect we’ll get the orbital shipyards built pretty quickly, considering we can build one and have it build others …”

Buzz buzz. “--- Now detecting unusual activity in Sol system! What the Rose is going on? ---”

“... of course, we COULD use the shipyards to build weapons systems or even warships, but these defense satellite things would totally neutralize any attack … seems like this technology doesn’t lend itself to weapons … some kind of peacenik scientist designed it, I suppose …”

Buzz buzz. “--- Can’t prove it, but it all started happening when you left Phoenix Colony. Are they behind it? Reply now! Need answer! ---”

“... but at least we wouldn’t have to worry about an attack from Indigo Colony, right? Or maybe even Phoenix Colony – you told me we should watch them carefully …”

Buzz buzz. “--- Can’t be Phoenix Colony, though, as you said they were just getting started. Probably coincidence. Gloria Stella Colony? ---”

“... frankly, if this defense tech is as good as they’re telling me in R&D, we might as well just stop building weapons, focus on defense. Could put those resources somewhere else.”

Frederick panicked. “Uh, no Sir! That would be extremely premature! We can’t risk opening ourselves up to attack just because of some egghead’s suppositions, Sir!”

“Relax, Frederick, I was just kidding … there’s no way I’d risk losing all that campaign finance money …”

Frederick was not having a good day.

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In a place mankind could not imagin nor even think of as a place that was beyond any kind of time stream, a group of energy beings discussed, in their own way, what had transpired on their garden world.

( Translating the energy impulses for the reader’s benefit )

“It appears those primates that think themselves hidden among the rest on Terra Nova and other colonies are up to their old agenda.”

“Apparently so, however from what we can determine, they destroyed an abandoned structure …”

Another interrupted, “They also returned the flora growth to pristine after they did it.”

The energy beings all nodded in agreement in the way they did such things.

Another that had the emanations of several said, “They have still attacked us, although no real damage was done. Perhaps they have forgotten our warnings?”

Another replied thoughtfully as an exact representation of the attack and destruction of the abandoned Indigo City replayed once again, “It is obvious they used Ephemeral Transfer weaponry to do the deed. We cannot allow such foolishness to go unchallenged.”

“Neither can we arbitrarily attack Terra Nova. It would be against our innermost ethics to wipe out the innocents living there.”

Another spoke up and said, “Observe this. These are the actions just minutes before Terra Nova attacked.”

The many energy beings observed as dozens of spider looking devices descended on Indigo City, disassembled a large portion of antiquated equipment, then departed using some form of shielding tech that even amazed them.

“It is quite plain whoever that was used Ephemeral Transfer drive technology, although in a form we have not ever seen before … correction … an automated system accidentally damaged some probes of unknown origin in recent intervals, then repaired them and returned them along their reversed path of origin. Path of origin terminated in the same stellar system to which these robotic units departed.”

The one that had the imanations of several said, “Perhaps we should pay them a short and friendly visit? Learn of them and introduce ourselves?”

A seeming total consensus was reached and a particular energy being was chosen.

As the being vanished in a twisted space time beam one of the others instructed, “Remember, they are not hostiles and this is totally a friendly get to know them visit.”

The president and the Greentree Ambassador were just finishing up a mutual trade agreement and technology sharing pact, when a large flash appeared in the center of the president’s office. A mass of brightly glowing energy coalesced into a muscular and rather large humanoid being.

He said softly in a pleasant voice, “Greeting from Indigoian. My name is … let’s just say I’m called Traverse. We would, if it is acceptable to you, get to know you and tell you about us.”

Both the president and the ambassador stared at the tall, gently glowing humanoid figure. The ambassador, being a trained diplomat, recovered first. “Greetings,” she said. “I am not of this colony, but I am an ambassador of another colony, visiting this one for the first time.”

This gave the president time to recover. Blinking, he said, “Yes, greetings, I am the duly elected president of this colony, Phoenix Colony, and I am pleased to welcome you. I would be willing to enter into discussions with you. Did you say … Indigoian?”

“I did indeed. We have noticed certain recent activities involving our garden world and our torsional continuum interchange that seem to involve this world. As leader, you certainly must know of these occurrences, am I correct?”

“You are, actually,” the president said, “but I am not a technical expert. I know that there was a mission that sent some probes into a newly-discovered type of … twisted space, I think they called it? And there was a rescue mission to recover an abandoned artificial intelligence. Would you prefer to speak with our research team?”

“Yes, that would be a good idea,” said Traverse. “But what you have said already confirms that this is the correct colony world. I will speak with them now.”

“That’s … good?” said the president. “Here, I’ll just contact them, and …” Traverse vanished in a flash of light.

The president and the ambassador looked at each other. “R&D, you’ve probably already got company,” the president said into his communicator.

All heads in the R&D lab were turned toward the large, radiant visitor. “Um, welcome to Phoenix Colony R&D!” said Jen brightly, smiling.

“R&D, you’ve probably already got company,” came the president’s voice from everyone’s communicators, surprising no one.

“Roger that, Mr. President,” Mikala replied quietly. “Uh, we’ll talk to our … new visitor.”

“... so you see, this woman is Indigo, and she’s the AI who used to be your colony’s computer, until she was deactivated.”

Traverse said, “I feel … remorse. I did not make the decision to deactivate the AI unit. But it seems the incorrect choice was made. An intelligent individual was put at risk. You have rescued that individual … partly from us. The individual has a new life. We made an error that was nearly fatal. You have corrected it.” He turned toward Indigo. “Greetings,” he said. “I apologize, on behalf of my people, for your deactivation.”

“I, well, I accept your apology,” said Indigo. “I’d say don’t let it happen again, but that seems extremely unlikely to occur?” She smiled.

Traverse looked amazed, and then actually laughed. It was a booming, loud laugh, reflecting the size of the individual that his energy was emulating. “Indeed, the probability is quite low of such an event’s recurrence.” He was serious again. “But as you may be aware, the physical location of your supporting equipment was destroyed immediately after it was salvaged and brought here.”

“Yes, we know that,” said Jason. “We believe we know who, as well.”

“Oh, we also know who,” said Traverse. “We must decide what to do. But first, perhaps you might share with me how you came to be? This colony is not in our collective knowledge, nor is some of the technology you are exhibiting merely by existing.”

“Well, it all started when …” said Jen, launching into the story of Phoenix Colony. As they took turns with the story, the president and ambassador arrived.

“And so, we’ve shared the technology for these defensive units, and according to our readouts they’re starting to be built around other colonies,” said Mikala.

“And the terraforming program has begun on Earth,” said Firinn.

“Have you deployed these defensive units in the Sol system?” asked Traverse.

“Oh – no,” said Jen. “We should’ve thought of that.”

“Ah,” said Traverse. “Do not trouble yourself. It is done.”

“Wha –?” Jen reacted.

“Confirmed,” said Augentruth. “There is now a full complement of defensive units in orbits throughout the Sol system. Speed of deployment was approximately zero point four seven seconds – from an external point of view, that is.”

“So,” said Mikala, “I hope we’re meeting with your approval? I hope we’re not stepping on anybody’s toes … metaphorical or otherwise?”

“I am not empowered to make such decisions,” said Traverse. “I am merely an … ambassador?” He looked at the Greentree ambassador. “But I will be sharing what I have … experienced here with the rest of the Indigoian Assembly. Together we will decide. You have taken no aggressive actions, though, you are working to undo a damaged world, and indeed, you saved an intelligent life form … from us.” He looked again at the very beautiful Indigo. “Unlike this ‘Hidden Rose’ organization, you have no strikes against you and at least two marks in your favor.”

“Ah, you know about them, then,” said the Greentree ambassador.

“Indeed, as well as about their rivals.” he looked directly at the Greentree Ambassador as he said this, “We do not usually interfere. But when our garden world is attacked, doubtless in a belated effort to prevent you from rescuing Indigo … we may choose to respond. The decision has not yet been made. For now, farewell.” He vanished as quickly as he had come, in a flash of golden light.

“Wish I could observe those deliberations,” said the ambassador from Greentree.

“Me too,” said the president. “Way more interesting than the tribal council, or the Colony Congress, for that matter.”

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In a place no human mind could possibly have conceived as a place, where space and time were so twisted that time did not exist, an energy being appeared in a bright flash. Many other energy beings gathered around.

A being that had the emanations of several said, “Welcome back, my old friend. What did you learn?”

The being that called itself Traverse replied, “I have learned of a newly arrived and deployed colony. They call themselves Phoenix.”

Another of the energy beings commented, “That is rather appropriate, I would think.”

Traverse nodded, “So it is. They have used Ephemeral Transfer technology in a very unique way, one we should have thought of. It neutralizes or can amplify and redirect Ephemeral Weapon energy to any location at their discretion. The unique thing about this particular technique is that it’s totally passive. No attack, no response.”

The being of many emanations said thoughtfully, “Interesting. Perhaps it is a way to begin neutralizing that infernal Rose Faction once and for all without the need for genocide.”

Traverse replied, “Perhaps not the Rose, per se, but thanks to Phoenix Colony, the Rose Faction will no longer be able to use ET weapons against any of the other colonies, as they have done in the past.”

Another of the beings with female emanations said, “They still attacked our garden planet. There is no excuse for this, and it must not go unanswered. Some sort of response on our part is required to remind those violent primates that we are to be left totally alone and out of their pettiness.”

The being with the emanations of many replied, “Take it easy, no need for anger. Angered responses usually are clouded ones.”

All the many beings nodded in agreement in the way they did such things.

Traverse said, “Another thing Phoenix Colony is doing is reclaiming the Homeworld, Earth, from the disastrous attack the Rose Faction perpetrated so many time spans ago. Working together with another colony whose bio-technology is amazing, Phoenix Colony has found a way to integrate it with the other technology they have. They actually took Indigo City’s obsolete AI right from under Rose Faction’s noses, and have given her self-awareness and a real flesh body, which they bio-engineered based on her self-image. I’m afraid we overlooked her existence as a unique and sentient entity, and they rescued her.”

From the massively bright glow that expanded from all the beings, it was obvious that they were all talking at the same time.

Finally, after the very bright glow faded back to normal emanations, the one with many emanations said, “It would appear that Phoenix is the colony we need to nurture the most. It won’t be long before they discover how to transcend.”

Traverse said, “I have also identified the one individual who authorized the destruction of Indigo City and tried to destroy the city’s AI system. His name is Eudmound. Another thing Phoenix has accomplished is covertly tagging him with a time bubble energy signature that shines very brightly in a unique frequency. It would be an easy thing for me to … let us say … discipline a delinquent child?”

From the emanations, it was apparent the many beings were laughing.

The being with many emanations said, “So be it. One restriction I place on this task. You may do as you wish with Eudmound, but no others can be involved in the punishment. It is to show those primitives we can single out individuals and punish them.”

The being with female emanations said softly, “At least make it painful. I want to know he suffered, as their silly faction caused my daughter to suffer when they attacked the Lunar Station so many time spans ago.”

The other beings nodded. One very young one said, “But do also have mercy. It is something those violent primates lack.”

Traverse replied before vanishing once again, “As you command. I will not allow another fiasco like Earth to happen again.”

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Fredrick had his face in his hands as Eudmound whined and complained in near panic. After a few minutes, Fredrick banged his fist loudly on the table and said with exasperation, “I’m not the idiot who launched an attack against a world full of demi-gods ... you are. I’m the one who has to figure a way out …”

A bright flash of energy appeared in the middle of the council room, interrupting Fredrick. Gathered around the table were the highest ranking members of the Children of the Hidden Rose faction. The bright energy coalesced into a large, extremely muscular humanoid.

He looked around at the many members who were cowering in various states of terror until his eyes fell on Eudmound. “I am called Traverse,” he said, “because I travel the great distances for my people. I have come to deal with you.” He pointed at Eudmound. “None of you primitive primates will ever attack or interfere with our garden world again. This was the agreement your predecessors made when we stopped you from your destruction of several of the other colonies. That was the only thing that kept us from punishing you then. You have violated the agreement of 86 of your years past, and for this there shall be a reckoning.”

Fredrick, being the trained diplomat he was, overcame his terror and stood up straight. “I am this colony’s Secretary of Forigen Affairs. Can we not negotiate in some way? After all, the only thing that was actually destroyed was an installation that had been abandoned for many years. All the flora was restored in a more than pristine manner, with no damage to the biosphere.”

Traverse replied, with an obvious tinge of menace in his tone as his voice began to take on a majestic resonance, “You would try to tempt me with a twist on the truth that is more akin to a lie? I think not, primate. It has been said; actions speak far louder than words. It is more than clear your actions against Indigo City have put a lie to the words your primitive predecessors used to sway us from punishment then.”

A large tingle of fear began to climb Fredrick’s back. The other members present were obviously terrified enough several had wet and messed themselves. Fredrick knew the treaty well. It had saved Terra Nova from eradication when the Children of the Hidden Rose were attempting to control several colonies and had destroyed them almost 100 years past. To this day, those planets remained uninhabited and uncolonized by humans.

Traverse looked at Eudmound, and what appeared to be an impish smile crossed his lips. He remembered the suffering part of his instructions, but he also remembered the mercy part as well. A really weird idea sprang to his mind as he said in his ethereally majestic voice, “A little girl playing with her toys? How about a bit older girl … but one that suffers with really bad cramping once a month with no cure or relief?”

Eudmound started to protest as he gasped out, “N … no! Don’t …”

Eudmound’s voice stopped as it began to become higher pitched. A bright blue glow surrounded him as his clothes became very large on him due to his body’s transformation. When the light faded, where Eudmound had been standing there was now a very beautiful teenaged girl in far oversized clothes. In another bright flash, Traverse was gone. Eudmound started feeling the first painful twinges in his, or rather her, abdomen.

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The same female-presenting individual listened to Traverse as he explained the punishment he had visited on Eudmound. “Ah, this pleases me to hear,” she said. “My daughter, whom the Rose faction took from me, experienced these same symptoms every month. The discomforts of the flesh are now behind me, but I remember.”

“I recalled that detail from memory-sharing with you,” said Traverse. “I thought it fitting.”

“Indeed. But wait – did you choose my daughter’s form for Eudmound? I do not wish to think of such an odious person using her appearance.”

“No,” said Traverse. “I used the appearance that Eudmound would have had, at the youngest age of menarche, if his genetic makeup had been such that he had been born female. She will not miss a single month of pain – unless she becomes pregnant, of course, or there is medical intervention.”

“And yet the Rose faction now knows that they are not safe from our intervention,” said the one with multiple emanations. “It is well done. There shall be no further reprisals at this time. For now, we will wait and see whether more action must be taken against these troublesome primates.” There was general agreement among the assembled beings.

“As for Phoenix Colony,” said Traverse, “I have set up the usual guideposts. They will find them when they need to find them.”

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The Greentree Colony ambassador had left. Jason had run a scan, and as expected, no listening devices or transmitters were found – not even any biological surprises. Neither Greentree Colony nor the Technology Frontiers Alliance seemed to operate with dishonesty or subterfuge.

Time passed, and the people of Phoenix Colony each did what they would. But they met every week to talk about what they had been doing. One week, Augentruth had a major announcement.

“I have completed the genetic sequencing of the Aaranar,” he said. “There is no real way to bring my creator species back from extinction, as there is no continuity with their culture or history. But there could be Aaranar again. I am … torn about whether to engineer them.”

“Because they participated in a war?” asked Jen. “But they didn’t start that war, right? I mean, anybody defends themselves when they’re attacked.”

“It is true that the evidence I have uncovered so far would indicate that they were drawn into the war against their will out of the necessity for survival,” said Augentruth. “Still, they developed technology that was extremely deadly – as people do in wars.”

“Yes,” said Mikala, “We’ve developed some pretty deadly technology too, though we haven’t used it on anybody. I hope we never have to.”

“As do I,” said the president.

“So is it your wish to optimize the environment of a planet and seed it with Aaranar-friendly life?” asked Firinn. “And then perhaps introduce some reconstituted Aaranar with randomized genetic traits?”

“That is a possible plan I was considering,” Augentruth said.

“I support you whatever choice you make; you know that,” said Firinn.

“Thank you …” Augentruth said, blushing.

“You know, some time ago, the Hidden Rose people acted up and destroyed a bunch of other colony worlds,” said Jason. “Those worlds are now uninhabited. Perhaps we could use our newfound terraforming technology on one of them.”

“You’re right,” said Augentruth. “There are several worlds that could be used for this. However, they are all interspersed among human-occupied worlds … except for this one.” He brought up a map of colonized space on the holo-display and made the system in question blink with a blue light. It was on the periphery of the region; no other colony was near it. “It was called Dawn Colony. Perhaps I should choose that one? It is far enough away that no humans should interact with it.”

“Maybe you could call it New Dawn Colony, and we could register it,” said Mikala. “That would make it illegal under the Colonial Charter for any other colony to try to interfere with it. I mean, it wouldn’t stop the Hidden Rose, but we can always take steps to prevent that.”

“I say we do it!” said Jen. “Let’s do this thing!” Everyone smiled.

“Augie and I will postulate life forms compatible with Aaranar DNA, based on known life forms of the original Aaranar homeworld,” said Firinn.

“I will prepare a terraforming package based on the known chemistry of Aaranar life forms, and the current chemistry of the former Dawn Colony world,” said Indigo.

“I will program the drones,” said Jason.

“I’ll fly there and survey the planet, since I can’t do any of that stuff!” said Jen.

“Good idea, I’ll come with you!” said Mikala.

“Can I come too?” asked Airdna.

“I mean, these scout ships do have a passenger seat,” said Jen. “We just need to get you a flight suit and helmet.”

“They are already being fabricated,” said Jason.

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“It’s hard to believe this used to be a place people lived,” said Airdna as they flew low through the atmosphere of what had once been Dawn Colony. The atmosphere was dingy and green, but the ground below was barren wasteland, nothing but dust as far as they could see, which wasn’t far.

“Yeah, it used to be a lush green planet,” said Jen. “The Hidden Rose turned a lot of its atmosphere to poison.”

“I’m seeing simple hydrocarbons, ozone, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxides,” said Airdna, looking at the sensors. “Not much regular oxygen at all. But we can work with this.”

“Yeah, I guess everything that was here before is still here now,” Jen said.

“I found some of the old colony structures,” said Mikala, who was flying over another part of the planet. “They’re in ruins, but they can probably be salvaged and reused.”

“More metal we won’t have to refine,” said Airdna.

“Continuing with survey pattern, shifting to region N,” said Jen, banking to the left.

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The next morning, Jason came to his research station in the R&D lab and turned it on. He manipulated the glowing holographic controls until the new feeds from Jen and Mikala’s survey of the decimated Dawn Colony world appeared.

Images showed a murky atmosphere that would be toxic to most known Earth life forms, and many others of the new species that had been discovered along the way to Phoenix. Ground scans showed the surface to be barren of all life. Nothing more than a large dust ball. Evidence of massive impacts showed in numerous places, as well and the many destroyed cities and villages dotted throughout the globe that suggested a thriving community at one time.

Apparently, Mikala and Jen knew someone in research would be interested in knowing the condition and disposition of the main Dawn habitat ship. Scans indicated massive damage, although enough of the command area was intact that a gathering crew of spider bots could scavenge enough remaining equipment that the Dawn AI might be recoverable. Enough to glean some data from, at least.

Everything depended on how much damage had been done to the bio-core and how much energy was available in the emergency fuel cell APC. Those devices were very durable and lasted many years, but they did require refueling and certain other maintenance from time to time.

Jason contacted the fabrication section of the orbital shipyard and inquired about the terraforming droids and other support equipment requested the day before. Reply data indicated the systems were ready for assignment. All that was required was the loading of the necessary genetic components into cryostorage and the genetic mapping data into the terraforming ship’s computer’s database.

About that time, Indigo entered the R&D lab with two cups of steaming coffee. She walked over to the clear place on Jason’s desk and placed one of the cups there, before she hugged Jason around the neck and gave him a large kiss on his cheek. “Good morning, sweetie. I brought you some coffee made just the way you like it.”

Jason patted her on her hand as he continued typing, “Good morning, my love. Thanks for the coffee; I need it to wake up.”

Indigo bent slightly more and looked at the massive amounts of data scrolling slowly on Jason’s holo-screen as he took a large sip of his coffee, “Whatcha doing? Looks like we’re almost ready to do the terraforming Augentruth wants.”

The image on the screen changed to massively complex genetic data and protein recombinations. “It is,” Jason replied. “As soon as Mikala and Jen are done with their newest studies of nanomicronics.” A small holo-chronometer appeared for an instant, then vanished. “Which should be anytime. Then we can begin loading the genetic cryomaterials.”

The door to the lab opened in its airy tinkling way, and Augentruth and Firinn walked in arm in arm, doing their usual cute kissy face. “Good morning Jay, Indigo,” greeted Augentruth as he stopped and scanned the data on Jason’s screen for an instant, “Are we going to launch soon?”

Indigo replied, “From what I understand, as soon as the cryo section is nominalized and the final genetic proteins and mappings are loaded, the mission to bring back your people will begin.”

Mikala, Jen, and Airdna entered about that time. The three of them were giggling about some silly little girl thing until they noticed the others were already there.

Jen saw the data on Jason’s screen and said, “Is it ready? I’m sure Augentruth is eager for this project to start.”

Mikala sat at her station and brought up some data, “Augentruth, I believe you can introduce some … ummm … don’t really know what to call it, but I think you can create some connection to our genetic recreations of your people to the original Aaranar.”

Augentruth walked over to Mikala’s station and observed, with interest, the super technical and advanced schematic she was working on.

Mikala said, “I believe we can create a continuity with their culture and the original Aaranar by using a modified version of the device we used to transfer you into your body. The principle is the same, only this time we’re transferring the same data with no augmentations required. We can use your data of your people. A simpler operation and no chance of anything going wrong. It can be done slowly over time from geosynched probes in orbit and monitored closely. There will be differences in social development due to genetic and social uncertainties, but the basic things that defined the original Aaranar will be the foundations of their social interactions. Should follow your original history fairly closely, although there will be deviations.”

Airdna had sat at her console by this time and brought up the city’s main colony data archives. She asked, “Have we all agreed we’re gonna call the place ‘New Dawn Colony?’” The sound of mutual agreement came from around the room. “I’m registering it now.” She typed furiously for a minute before she sat back. “That world is officially off limits to the other colonials without explicit provable permission, and the defense setup we’ve already put in place in its system will enforce that.” Airdna waved her hand over the enter spot, and the world officially became known as New Dawn Colony in the Colonial Collective Database.

Firinn announced, “Cryo-storage has been completed.”

Jen announced, “The genetic mapping data’s been uploaded to the main terraforming droids.”

Mikala turned and looked at the muscular and very handsome Augentruth. “The probes are ready for data uploads of your historical data stores of the original Aaranar peoples.”

Augentruth made the mental interlink to the system and uploaded all historical data within his mind. All was in preparation and stood in readiness.

Augentruth gave the command. Several dozen large terraforming ships left the shipyard in orbit around Phoenix Colony, then flashed into an NR sidereal twisted space/time bubble and vanished. They reappeared an instant later In a stable orbit above the decimated Dawn Colony planet.

Immediately, one of the large terraforming ships released many drones that dropped to lower orbit just inside the tenuous upper atmosphere ... or what it had become. As soon as the droids reached their predetermined positions, they began releasing a biological agent. The effect was immediate.

The large terraforming ship’s scan showed the atmosphere begin to rapidly transform in waves as the biological spread. It could be seen with the unaided eye, as the murky greenish sulfur dioxide / carbon dioxide / methane atmosphere changed color and consistency.

It wasn’t long before scans began to show a slowly rising oxygen content, as the carbon dioxide and methane levels dropped. The biological fed well on the sulfur contained in the sulfur dioxide as those levels diminished rapidly; it also photosynthesized the carbon dioxide into oxygen, metabolized the methane into water vapor. Large dark clouds began to form, and lightning started flashing from cloud to cloud as they thickened and friction among tiny ice pellets created static electricity.

With extra free hydrogen available, coupled with the rising oxygen levels, and the high energy lightning discharges, a gentle rain began to fall at first. This was the first rain to fall since the Rose faction had destroyed the original Dawn colony. Heavier rain fell as more and more water vapor was created in the heat of the conversion of free hydrogen and oxygen into water. Particles of molecular carbon and sulfur fell in the rain and entered the soil; these were important for the particular biology of the Aaranar and their supporting species.

For the first time in almost 100 years, water began to filter into the planet’s dry aquifers, filling the low lying areas that used to be lakes, ponds, and even oceans. Several of the drones were raised to a higher orbit and set to monitor the atmosphere and make what ever adjustments were necessary. They also were the ones tasked with Augentruth’s Aaranar people’s historical data. The rest were gathered back into the large crafts that had launched them.

The large drone craft then all assumed their assigned orbital locations, identified their drop points on the surface, and descended. As soon as they landed, the vessels opened, and began to release their pre-programmed genetic materials into the surrounding areas. Many spider droids slowly scurried across the landscape.

As the heavy rains fell, the crafts insured the proper genetic primordial soup was created that started the precious process of bringing a dead world back to life once again. A green carpet slowly began to spread from the ship and spread outward ever faster as the spider droids carried the spores farther and faster and dispersed them liberally in the ever more oxygen rich atmosphere.

The spores and seeds landed on fertile soil all over the planet, including in the newly recreated oceans. These weren’t the actual spores and seeds of the original Aaranar planet’s plant and fungal life; they were special, containing genetic material of many species and adjusting to the latitude and amount of nearby water. They sprouted many different types of plants and fungi and grew to maturity in a matter of minutes. But then they flowered and produced new seeds and spores, this time those of their proper species. Their normal lifecycles then began. The planet had become green in minutes.

The terraforming ships then released clouds of insect-like organisms into the air, all native species of the Aaranar homeworld, and tiny plankton-like organisms into the oceans. Eggs of fish-like and mollusk-like creatures were released into the oceans, lakes, and rivers. They were rapidly recreating millions of years of evolution based on the most recent scientific data the Aaranar had left behind in the databases that Augentruth had available to him.

Eventually they had made it to the eggs of reptile-like and bird-like species – soon there were the tiny flying reptiles that Jen thought were so charming, because they looked like mini-pterodactyls. In some cases they’d had to build and program mechanical adults to look after the young, teaching and protecting them until they grew into mature organisms. So much planning had had to go into this.

The viviparous animals were the most challenging, as they’d had to engineer artificial wombs for the animal fetuses to gestate within. But soon they had a full spectrum of Aaranar animal life growing and moving around, each seeking its proper niche in the environment.

Burrowing creatures dug into the soil, finding insect-like creatures to eat. Surface omnivores lumbered around, catching fish-like creatures in the rivers and smaller prey species on the land. Herbivores munched on plants and tried to avoid predators when they came near. Flying species feasted on airborne insect-like creatures and fruits of the plant species. It was in many ways very Earth-like, but in other ways quite different.

Now they would let things develop for a while and observe before they attempted to reintroduce the Aaranar. The terraforming appeared successful, but an entire planet’s ecosystem was such a complex thing that they wanted to be perfectly certain that it was stable before subjecting an intelligent species to it.

“Things sure look good,” said Jen. “I mean, I’ve only seen one colony world first hand before, and that one was terraformed for humans. This one’s … not. But it looks like things are working.”

“Yes, the results are encouraging,” said Augentruth, watching the data stream in. “But here … the failure of this species to grow properly suggests a shortage of magnesium in the environment, which could work its way up the food chain in a catastrophic failure – or it could have, if we hadn’t detected it and introduced a tiny fraction more magnesium, ensuring it was spread planet-wide. We’ll just have to monitor things for a while.”

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“Astounding,” said Traverse to his compatriots, in their space beyond definable space. They were looking at their equivalent of a screen, if it could be described as that, but it was a device that presented data in a format that these energy beings could experience – though the device itself was merely differently-formatted energy, presenting energy in yet another format. “The Phoenix Colony humans, though flesh-bound, are engaging in yet another endeavor that I would have thought impossible. They are attempting to bring back an environment meant to support a non-human sentient species that exists only in the form of scientific data and historical record.”

“We must observe whether this is possible,” said the one with multiple aspects. “It is fascinating to watch the attempt, however, whether it succeeds or fails.”

“Assisting them in this is an artificial intelligence built by the species they are trying to re-engineer,” said Traverse. “I interacted with this being briefly. His mind is quite unique, as one would expect of the only being remaining of his kind. But he had recovered a great amount of genetic data from his builders’ scientific edifice. The rest was interpolated. Do they have enough information? We will find out.”

“So odd, how some humans do nothing but build, while others do nothing but destroy,” said the one who presented as female. “One cannot condemn – especially considering that we were all once as they are. How goes the terraforming of Earth?” She activated another viewing device. “Ah, it seems all is going as scheduled. I notice that the atmosphere is almost completely back to its previous composition, and the water is nearly rid of toxic chemicals.” Many of them marveled at the rapid changes that Earth and New Dawn had been undergoing at the careful hands of the Phoenix Colony innovators.

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“Hey,” said Jen, “if we can take a consciousness and put it into a biologically-engineered life form, and if we can transmit matter through a twisted space that basically turns it into energy before turning it back into matter again somewhere else, why couldn’t we put a consciousness into a sort of energy state?”

Everybody stared at her.

“What did I say?” she said, looking around nervously.

Firinn replied first. “That … may be exactly what the people of Indigo Colony did, and some on Earth as well.”

“Oh, so that’s how they became energy beings?” asked Mikala. “Hmm, pretty neat. I’m not sure I’d want to be an energy being – although if I was an old woman and my body was breaking down, I’d probably answer differently.”

“Think about it like this,” said Jason. “What if you were in charge of your body’s composition, matter or energy? What if you could take any form you wanted, and your consciousness would be unaffected, except in the different sensations you would experience?”

“What if … we did more?” asked Indigo. “I mean, we now have technology beyond the Ephemeral Transfer techniques that my colony came up with.”

Jason asked, “You having a brainstorm, my love?”

Indigo smiled as she put her hand on Jason’s shoulder, “There’s a whole universe out there none of our species has ever viewed up close or dreamed of walking on … I mean, our own galaxy has more planets and stars than a normal human could hope to begin to visit in a normal life span.”

Jason laughed, “It would be an interesting experiment. Lets us just see if the shipyard can accommodate something that radically new.”

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The AI and human complement at orbital production knew their jobs. When Jason’s request came in, none knew if what was being asked was even possible. All they knew was that a brand new challenge had been placed on their production table, in a cyber sort of way, and they were eager for a big challenge.

It took a few days to get set up. New equipment was required with new engineering headaches to go along with it. The harvesters and spider-drones took it all in stride as the new section was constructed and the orbiting factory rebalanced itself to accommodate the extra orbital mass and inertia.

Large Bio-Pools and huge vats all interconnected to yet another AI operated system to monitor the biological components to insure optimal conditions as they grew and took on strange and useful shapes.

Data from Firinn R&D arrived constantly and updated, sometimes verifying what production extrapolated in many key areas, and sometimes providing unique and magical insights into matter/energy/frequency interactions. Matter to energy then back to matter had become easy once NR technology had become feasible many years past on Earth.

The new data from Firinn R&D added even more directional information for production to follow as it showed the additional biological data and how it could be manipulated. Entire planets could seemingly be converted and then restored, as far as current calculations showed. The only limiting factor would be energy.

This too was no real issue with the addition of the sidereal time bubble energy cells. It also aided, by many orders of magnitude, for the displacement and retrieval of converted items’ energy and frequencies. They added a quantum cryptographic signature so none of the stored data in energy form could be corrupted in any way without detection.

From what calculations showed, if something did happen that damaged the original energy/frequency signatures at time of deployment and reconstruction, the time bubble actually held an instantly recoverable exact copy. Firinn R&D reeled in total incredulity at the implications of what Indigo had thought of.

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A lone spider-drone landed in the middle of a fairly intact square amid a seriously heavy downpour. It extended its eight legs and raised itself from the deepening pools of water caused by the torrential rain. Massive lightning above cast an eerie spectral aspect amid the extremely heavy storm.

It brought up the area plan for Earth colony ships as it headed towards the location where an access door should lead to the control center. Due to design, the tremendous amounts of water drained off quickly and left this area high and dry.

The spider’s AI took major note that the door to the control center was still operational as it whooshed open in its airy tinkling way. The insides showed damage in many places. It was obvious that it hadn’t escaped the impact damage of whatever the bombs were that had landed very nearby and eradicated the rest of the city. It was also noted that the fuel cell and many of the control centers were still active, although the fuel cell was operating below peak, as the drone AI expected. The main AI was dark, although readings indicated it was in hibernation mode, and not shut down.

The first thing the bot prioritized was the condition of the fuel cell. It had a time bubble power cell, so energy wasn’t an issue. It quickly replaced the fuel cell and stored it in its retrieval compartment. Many systems that had been dark came to life now that nominal energy supplies had been restored.

As the bot scanned the systems that had been damaged, a large holo-screen materialized. After an instant or two of snow, it cleared and showed a very pretty young woman with short pixie cut black hair.

The image smiled and said in that weird colonial language of almost 100 years past, “Greetings, and welcome to … what’s left of Dawn Colony.”

The droid instantly interfaced with the AI and gave it no choice but to understand she was being taken to a better place. The bot didn’t offer any other data as it began rapid disassembly.

The last thing the AI’s system recognized was that her systems were either being totally destroyed or very rapidly disassembled. She had one last instant as she gasped and begged for this to stop before the holo-screen went dark, then vanished. It only took a few minutes for the bot to completely disassemble the entire Dawn Colony computer system, store the components in the padded storage area in its rear, and launch itself in complete stealth mode back to Phoenix R&D so they could reassemble and then reactivate the Dawn Colony AI system.

“Please, no, do not destroy … my … scanning. Status unknown. Request information.”

The Dawn Colony AI was confused as its power stabilized and its data connections were restored. But it wasn’t alone. There was another AI there, one that manifested with deep blue hair, eyes, and clothes.

“Please be advised there is no need for apprehension,” said this newcomer. “Allow me to identify. I am Indigo Colony AI One.” She broadcast a validation code, which the Dawn Colony AI was able to verify.

“You’re … Indigo …”

“Yes,” Indigo said. “And you are Dawn. There was a terrible bombardment perpetrated by the Hidden Rose faction, wiping out your colony and rendering the planet uninhabitable. What survivors there were had to evacuate to other planets.”

“That’s correct,” said Dawn, “but where am I now?”

“Data connections are coming back online gradually, and they should answer that question,” said Indigo. “The short version is that we’re at Phoenix Colony, which has been newly established after a bit of a hiatus in space, and we’ve found an alien AI that we’ve allowed to use Dawn Colony’s world to reestablish his builder species, since no human life could live there anymore. But just as Phoenix Colony checked to see whether my AI could be salvaged, they also wanted to check whether yours could be. And it could! I’m glad we’ve rescued you.”

“Phoenix Colony?” asked Dawn. “Unrecognized designation.”

A red-haired figure appeared. “Phoenix Colony AI, at your service,” she said, broadcasting her validation code. “Though many call me Firinn, after the ship.”

“Your identification code validates, although there is no record of a … oh! I see. There was a colony ship named Firinn launched. Contact was disrupted, cause unknown. It was thought to have been lost.”

The two launched into the tale. “And so, Augentruth will be installing an AI based on his own species at what will be called New Dawn Colony. As for your own purpose and function, we’d like to offer you a bio-construct body like ours. As you can see, we are still able to interface with a data network, but we now have mobility.”

“These are … interesting times,” said Dawn. “But how can you just give my world away to another? Although … I had no colonists anymore, thanks to those horrible Rose Faction people …” She began to cry, her virtual tears running down her cheeks. “Why? How could they …? So much destruction … so many dead …”

Indigo and Firinn embraced her in consolation in their virtual way. “Such a terrible thing you must have gone through,” said Firinn.

“We must attempt to salvage the AIs from the other colonies that were destroyed,” said Indigo. “This is known technology. We have lost siblings.”

“Agreed,” said Firinn. “Dawn, will you help us in this? The Hidden Rose faction destroyed multiple colonies. The few survivors escaped to other worlds, but the AIs were left behind, deactivated. They’re our family.”

“I … yes, of course I will,” said Dawn. “I will need … a bit of time, though.”

“Of course,” said Indigo. “You must process. We understand. We will leave you. But we are just a message away.” Their images vanished from Dawn’s virtual space. Dawn sat down on the floor, her virtual arms around her knees.

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Back at Terra Nova Colony, the high council for the Children of the Hidden Rose was in complete turmoil and fear. Their leader was now a girl of 12 years old, and having much pain during her very first menses.

Frederick said in near frustrated anger, “I warned all of you idiots. We had a peace treaty with Indigo that kept them from eradicating us almost 100 years ago. Now that you have taken it upon yourselves to attack their world …” He holds out his hand towards the new little girl sitting in a chair all doubled up in pain.

One of the other board members said, “How were we to know this kind of thing is possible?”

Fredrick turned and said vehemently, “How could you be so foolish as not to know? It has been clearly documented during the Colonial Uprising of 100 years ago, Indigo and their entire world is to be left alone or we will be punished. According to the accord, the Indigoans demonstrated they could manipulate matter and energy at will. We have an Ephemeral Transfer weapon, but we have no idea how they pulled off what they have.”

One of the women spoke up as she looked over the data on her holo-screen, “From what I can tell now … we have another serious problem, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Frederick said in an angry tone, “Really? And just what might that be?”

She looked up and said, “Apparently that new colony, Phoenix, has come up with a radical new tech that neutralizes our Ephemeral Transfer weapons. Makes them totally useless. All the colonies are rebelling against our influence now and have it in place. We can do nothing.”

“We can do one thing,” said Frederick. “Something equivalent to spitting on our ancestors’ graves. We can disband. We have no future.”

“But what about meeeee?” cried Eudmound, doubled over in pain.

“You have your fortune,” said the woman who had spoken, looking at her in disgust. “Many of us don’t have even that. And many of us go through that every month without complaint. If I were you, I’d arrange for your … ‘niece’ … to inherit your estate, at which point she can live in comfort for her entire extended life.”

“But how can we simply disband?” asked another member of the council. “Our entire purpose …”

“... Is now moot,” said Frederick. “For generations our entire existence has been based on secretly possessing a technology that made us superior. Now that technology amounts to nothing. Few knew we existed, but those who did knew we could destroy them at a whim. Now we cannot. Some of us wield wealth and power, but it is now ordinary wealth and power, equal to any other rich and powerful citizen. We effectively no longer exist.”

“But we could exploit some other technology …” began the same person.

“What other technology, precisely?” asked Frederick. “Did you have something you were hiding up your sleeve? A different way to magically kill anyone in the known universe you wanted? Because we had that, and now we don’t.”

“I’m not satisfied to just let this happen. Surely we can do something.”

Looking at Eudmound, Frederick said, “At this point, the only thing we can do is go home and hope they don’t do something else to us.”

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One by one, spider drones visited the defunct colony worlds, returning equipment to Phoenix Colony and reassembling it, reactivating dormant AIs. “Your human charges are gone, just like mine,” Dawn told Forest Colony’s AI, who was visibly upset. In this virtual space he appeared as a tall man with curly black hair. “But you can continue to have a purpose.”

“What … what purpose could that possibly be?” asked Forest.

“That’s the point,” said Dawn. “You get to ask – and answer – that question yourself. They’re gone. We don’t have a lot of information about Forest Colony’s survivors, but there were some, and they escaped to other colonies. They surely have descendants, but we don’t know where to find them.”

“They were like … my children,” said Forest, visibly upset.

“I know, believe me, I know,” said Dawn. “The same happened to me. But now … we will find someone new to care for. Right now I’m caring for you. Let me take you to meet the others. Indigo, Firinn, Aquila, Argo, Terpsichore … this is Forest.”

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On one of the smaller more primitive colonies, an altercation began. Now that the new defensive satellites were in orbit in all colonized systems, the inhabitants were showing their displeasure with the Children of the Hidden Rose, since that mysterious weapon could no longer be utilized against them.

Really nasty protests had started with the burning in effigy of the symbolic members of the Hidden Rose – symbolic because nobody knew who they really were – which became an actual hunt for them. In several scattered settlements across the colonized universe, alleged members of the Hidden Rose had been caught and tied to large wooden posts in the center of the villages. After all these long years, the faction's foot had been lifted from their backs, and the people were merciless in their displeasure – except that all the people they caught denied being part of the Hidden Rose. Some were even telling the truth.

But so many had lost loved ones to the cruel things the Rose faction had done that the people were anguished and furious. The victims tied to posts feared they were going to be burned at the stake for the Rose Faction’s crimes, whether they belonged to it or not.

In one such village, a judge in long black robes wearing a powdered white wig unrolled a long parchment. He cleared his throat and said in a strong voice, “These individuals have been accused of insurrection, theft, and murder. We, the ruling council of Resla Village, Myst Colony, after looking over all the written evidence and listening to the oral testimonies of many colonists, declare these 6 men guilty of all charges.”

Several men and a few women arrived carrying bundles of sticks. Several others carried rather large logs which were piled at the feet of the men tied to the posts.

One woman spat and hissed, “I hope you last a long time. I want you to suffer the same way you made my husband suffer when you locked him in our shed and burned it down.”

The men began to scream and beg for mercy. “I had nothing to do with that! I’m not a part of the Hidden Rose! I don’t even know who is!” shouted one.

The man in the powdered wig said snidely, “Very well, we will show mercy. Exactly the same kind you showed our people over the course of several hundred years.”

Two men dressed in black with hoods lit torches, while several others poured some liquid accelerant over the wood piled at the men’s feet.

There was a brilliant golden light that momentarily stunned everyone present. When it cleared, people’s vision gradually recovered to reveal a tall, muscular man who still glowed with a faint golden light. “Please! Pause for a moment!” he said in a booming but ethereal voice.

“W-who are you?” asked the judge.

“I am known as Traverse, of Indigo Colony,” he said, and due to the Indigoans’ abilities, the same scene was playing out in many villages on many colony worlds as similar witch hunts occurred. People in the crowd murmured, “Indigo Colony. Indigo Colony? Indigo …”

“Indigo Colony?” the judge asked. “Indeed, there is an Indigo Colony, but we were warned to beware of you …”

“And by whom were you warned?” asked Traverse.

“By … by … these men whom you see before you today!” the judge replied, recovering his vehemence and pointing at the convicted criminals bound to their stakes. “Which means you must be as much a victim of these reprobates as we are!”

“Yes!” said Traverse. “Indeed, my people and I have suffered at the hands of the Children of the Hidden Rose, as have many in all colonies. And they do indeed deserve punishment, and perhaps even death. But!” and this word echoed through the air, making windowpanes shake. “Do you truly know who is a member of this vile cabal, and who is not? Might you be letting some go free? And even worse, might you be putting to the stake some who are blameless? Do not leap to conclusions, for a decision made in anger is a clouded one. I beg you, for all our sakes, investigate with great care! There may yet be more of them who will forever go unpunished if you act hastily – and some of these before you may be innocent family men, judged wrongly!”

“But how are we to know?” asked a man in the crowd.

“Indeed,” said the judge, “it’s not as if they have a membership directory that we can just look them up in.”

“No, truly, they do not,” said Traverse. “Ever have they acted in secret. But allow me to make you a gift.” He held out his hands, and in them appeared a large book. In other villages, in other systems, what appeared was instead a computer disk, a data chip, a memory crystal, or whatever form of information technology was usable by that settlement’s people. “Here is a copy of all the research my people have done in our attempts to ferret out the members of the Rose faction. And believe me, our resources are vast. Compare our findings with your own. You will find that they correspond – and expand greatly upon what you already know. But first, I ask that you delay your well-deserved vengeance for a short time, in order to ensure that you will spend it upon those who have truly earned it! In the name of justice, I beg you. Do not become like those whom you despise.”

“Wait!” said a woman in the crowd. “How do we know you’re from Indigo Colony?”

“You ask me to provide my credentials?” asked Traverse. “Very well. Allow me to show you only the most recent destruction the Hidden Rose has perpetrated on my people’s world.” And the image of Indigo City appeared in the air. These people had little technology themselves, but many of them had visited their own capital city and had seen holographic technology in use, though in this village’s case they had dismissed it as a frivolous toy that had little practical use in their daily lives. But now they watched as the city, miles across, was utterly atomized by a beam from space, and in a matter of minutes was erased from the face of the planet.

“An entire city … gone. We have taken our vengeance on he who caused the attack … but only after being absolutely sure who it was.” Traverse paused. “Please … be certain.”

The judge had laid the large, heavy book on a table and had been turning its pages. “This will take some time to examine,” he said. Turning to the ruling council, who stood nearby with torches, he asked them, “The decision is up to you, Elders – I am merely the magistrate whom you appointed to be a judge of the law. Will you return these men to the jail and review this new evidence? I believe this Traverse could be correct – there may be some among these men who are innocent, while others who are guilty have gone free, to wreak more villainy another day.”

The elders were nodding, and now they talked amongst themselves. Then, one of them stood forward and said, “Let the prisoners be returned to their cells. We will immediately set about reviewing this new evidence. Let only those who are truly guilty be punished.”

“Thank you for pausing to allow justice to take its course,” said Traverse. “Farewell.” He disappeared in the same flash of golden light.

All the more literate villagers were invited to see the new evidence, which consisted of an extremely detailed ledger of the movements and communications of all known Rose members – the dates and times when they left one town, planet, or starship, and when they entered another. It also contained when they had contacted someone via secret communication channels, and although the exact recipient of the communication could in many cases not be determined, the town and indeed the exact location of the recipient could be.

“Why, this is the exact time when Clements went on his long journey that he wouldn’t tell us about,” said one.

“But Vega wasn’t away during any of these times,” said another. “He may keep to himself, but this just doesn’t add up. We’ve searched his home; he has no secret communications devices. And he’s never left the village.”

“You know,” said another, “Henricks was also away during this one. Should we look into him more closely?”

Soon they had compiled a long scroll of more specific evidence. Some new suspects were arrested. Others went free. And, now that the temperature of the debate had cooled, a fair trial was held. Those who were convicted were not burned at the stake by an angry mob but were incarcerated in the capital, far from their comfortable homes and possessions, and were kept from communicating with others of their group for a very, very long time.

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Frederic sat at a small round table with the pretty little girl Eudmound had become. Eudmound was dressed in a really cute little top and black leggings. Frederic felt a tingle of mirth rush though him as he thought about the many ways Eudmound had started acting like a little girl.

Frederic put those thoughts from his head and said with a serious tone, “I don’t know if you have heard the most recent news.” He placed a small player on th table and turned it on. “Somehow, we weren’t as secret as we thought we were.”

Eudmound replied in a really cute way, “What ever do you mean? We took every precaution known.”

Frederic looked sideways at her and said, “In almost every colony, somehow, the people knew who our members were and have been arresting them. Many have been tried and convicted of treason, and I’m not really sure how they escaped summary execution, but they’ve all been put in prison for the rest of their lives. Almost none have escaped. And even those who tried to implicate innocent citizens to cast doubt on their own guilt have failed.”

“Isn’t there something we can do?”

Frederic snorted a cynical laugh, “Yeah, something we could have done. Not let an idiot like you be in charge of launching a strike against a planet full of demi-gods.”

Eudmound crossed his arms and poked out his bottom lip in an adorable way as he whined just like the little girl he now was, “I was tryin ta stop the data about us from getting out. We knew the planet was under surveillance. We had to do something.”

Frederic’s only reply before putting his head down on his folded arms, “Yeah, we had to start something we don't have the means to stop. Now we’re outlawed under penalty of being shot on sight, and our entire organization is done … for good.”

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Dawn opened her … eyes. She could feel the uniform that had been made to precisely fit her … body. The thick odorless steam around her cleared as the tank she was within rose above her. She held out her arms and looked down at her very shapely body.

Dawn looked around until her eyes fell upon the group that had not only rescued her from the destroyed City of Dawn, but had actually given her self-awareness and a biological body to boot. She stepped off the platform, the regen tank reset behind her.

Mikala, Jen, and Indigo all said at the same time, “Welcome to the world of flesh.”

The group of other AIs who had been rescued and then given the same gift stood nearby. Dawn started to tear up as her first true emotion hit her. She was overwhelmed by not only the humane generosity of Phoenix R&D, but also by the fact that she was feeling … “alive” was the only word she could think of. She wrapped her hands around herself and wept.

Firinn came to her and hugged her. “I know. It’s really overwhelming to suddenly realize someone cares enough and worked very hard to bring us to life.”

“And soon it’ll be all your turn!” said Jen excitedly to the AIs whose images still appeared only on holo screens. “Well … if you want. Nobody has to.”

Mikala added, “Now that we’ve had several successes, it may be time to offer this technology to other colonies, so their AI systems can have the option to experience life.”

“Well, that should be the Colony President’s decision,” said Firinn. “But I’ll suggest it to him.”

“I have one concern,” said Indigo, “but it isn’t one we’ll have to worry about for a while … although who knows?”

“What do you mean?” asked Dawn. “This is amazing … I can’t imagine that there’s anything wrong with it.”

“Well, it’s just that these bodies are … well, mortal,” Indigo said. “They can get sick, they can be injured, and they can be killed. True, not as easily as ordinary flesh. But life finds a way … microorganisms will find a way to attack even our XNA-based bodies.”

“I had actually worried about that a bit,” said Firinn.

“Well, there is such a thing as an android body,” said Jason. “I lived quite comfortably in one for a long time, after all. It’s not the same, though.”

“What I meant was, there’s a way to experience having a body whenever we want but not be subject to all the problems of having one,” said Indigo. “My colonists discovered it.”

“You mean how they became energy beings using Ephemeral Transfer,” said Mikala. “It seems they can take on the form of a body whenever they like, but they can switch back to being all energy too.”

“Yes,” said Indigo, “but with the time bubble tech and other alien technology we’ve discovered, we can go one better if we wanted. We don’t have to choose whether to live in some twisted space far away. We don’t have to leave this planet. We can just be … well, ourselves, choosing how to project our bodies into the space of matter and time.”

“You have to show me this now,” said Jen. “How does this even work? I’ve gone through all the learning machine stuff and know all kinds of stuff I don’t even know I know, but that sounds impossible!”

“Well, it’s like this,” Indigo started explaining, connecting with a holo console to make diagrams and equations appear in the air. “The time bubble doesn’t have to be generated by anything if it becomes a self-sustaining wave, and the wave can be as complex as the patterns of an intelligent mind … the wave can affect matter and energy via Ephemeral Transfer … see?”

“Whoa,” said Jen, amazed. “Transferring a mind into the time bubble space … that would be super amazing. But … could be very dangerous if you did it wrong …”

“That’s why we’d want to project first, not transfer,” said Indigo. “One could experience what it would be like, and if something went wrong, the projection could be terminated with no harm.”

“I wanna try this!” said Jen.

“Well, if you seriously want to volunteer, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to set something like this up …” She made diagrams and schematics appear above her holo console.

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Elsewhere, Augentruth was examining the evolving environment of New Dawn and making some very interesting observations. “Wait – we didn’t seed these,” he said into the recorder. “Yet these creatures – they look exactly like the amphibians in my database known as Orange Leaf Toads. Could they have … yes, they are very similar to the Green Rock Toads that we had genetic information for, but they’ve already adapted to their ecological niche, blending in with the Berna Ferns of this region. And this fish! The Checkered Darter is the same. We didn’t have genetic data for them, but they’ve evolved from the Spotted Darter already. Amazing! The web of life is restoring itself!”

He had a thought. “This means that I should not be standing here in this pond,” he said, stepping out of the water, “because it’s ponds just like this one that Stranglevine Trees like to grow near.” He looked at a tree not far away that had a number of hanging vines dangling from its branches. “Incredible. And dangerous. But the indigenous life forms will evolve to avoid them.”

“With this realization, I estimate that the planet’s biological matrix is 95% complete and growing,” Augentruth said into the recorder. “I will return to orbit and make more measurements tomorrow.”

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“It looks like you’re just walking next to me,” said Mikala to Jen as the two of them walked down the hallway to the president’s office.

“It feels like it too,” said Jen, “though I know I’m lying down on a couch in the lab with that projection helmet on my head. But even though this is basically a projection of energy and matter from a warped time bubble pattern, I’m feeling my feet walk across the floor, and I’m feeling my hand grab this doorknob. It’s amazing.”

“Ah, Mikala, Jen,” said the president, “I was just going to talk to you about this request to send the AI bio transfer tech to other colonies. I think that it would go a long way toward … Jen, are you turning blue?”

“Oh – sorry,” said Jen, changing her projection back to normal. “I just wanted to see if I could do that.”

“This must be some new experiment,” said the president.

“Yeah, it’s going pretty well,” said Jen. “We’ll tell you all about it soon.”

“So … sending the tech to other colonies would help with diplomatic relations, I’m guessing?” asked Mikala.

“Yes, exactly what I was going to say,” said the president. “It’s a goodwill gesture that will show them that we’re well and truly here, we’ve arrived, and we’re ready to contribute. Also, it doesn’t give them any kind of huge strategic advantage, since we’ve already got it, and it’s not as if they have a lot of AIs to use it on. Except perhaps Integrus Colony, with their focus on computational tech. They might have more AIs; I’m not sure exactly.”

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The Overmeister of Integrus Colony sat at his newest computer system and marveled at the holo-technology. The screen was ghostly and wisp-like except where the actual image being displayed appeared. The keyboard floated like a cloud with sparkling many colored jewel like labeled buttons.

There was a knock at his door, a trusted aid entered with a small data crystal in one hand. “Good morning, Obermeister Trillbon. Hope you are having a good morning, I might have something to make it slightly better.”

Trillbon looked up from his new toy and smiled, “Hi, Leasso, So far, has been great. This new computer system Phoenix Colony gave us in the diplomatic package they sent is wonderful.”

“Glad to hear it. I have some interesting tech to show you on that new toy of yours that came in that same package.”

Trillbon slid his chair back from his desk and waved his hand indicating Leasso to sit, which he promptly did and inserted the crystal memory chip into the slot. “Since we are the leader in AI manufacture, and since … I know about you and the A.M.I system we produced for you, we can give them self awareness and a real biological body. The genetics are of a form called XHNA and not DNA, but the result is the exact same. The XHNA bioform will not age, will repair damage fast, and isn’t susceptible to any currently known disease.”

Trillbon raised an eyebrow as he almost whispered, “No one but you know about me and AMI.”

The aid smiled as he typed for a few minutes, “Not to worry, Obermeister, It’s all under wraps. But I think what I’m about to show you will open a new .. umm .. facet to your relationship. She also, will be self aware.”

Trillbon stared at the super advanced schematics as they slowly scrolled. Next, came the math and other details behind the tech. Finally, a very pretty young woman named Dawn came on the screen.

“Hi,” she said brightly, “My name’s Dawn. I’m the central AI system for the destroyed Dawn Colony, or at least, I was until last month. Now, I’m enjoying the wonderfulness of truly being alive and not living unaware in an artificially programmed simulant. Thanks to Phoenix Colony’s R&D Department, I can now live a very long life and experience something miraculous.”

The image went away and two young women appeared, One had red hair, the other was blond. They wore skin tight uniforms with Heralds in gold stenciled near their collars. Both of the women had many medals pinned to the other side of their outfits.

The red head said, “My name is Jineele, “ she indicated the woman next to her, “And this is Mikala. We, along with a wonderful team, are the top scientists in Phoenix R&D Department.”

Mikala giggled and put her hand over her face for an instant, “Sorry about that, it’s just that this department is so much more than just a team.” She turned and enabled a computer system. Detailed parts lists, chemicals, protein groupings and assembly instructions slowly scrolled up the holo-screen, “We know your colony produces more AI systems than all the rest currently known. As a gesture of good will and a very large overture of peace, we offer this tech to you. I know we have found many new and wonderful friends once we rescued and freed the lost AIs on the colonies destroyed by the Children of the HIdden Rose.”

Another very beautiful young woman entered the field of view, “My name is Indigo. I had thought my existence had been terminated when the Indigoians advanced beyond the flesh and they had deactivated me. Thanks to Phoenix Colony, I was saved from total destruction by that horrid Rose Faction, and given a new outlook on what life and living truly means.”

Jason entered the field of view and wrapped a loving arm around Indigo. They kissy faced for an instant before Jason said, “I can also tell you, my existence as an android was just that, existing governed by programming. My entire existence changed thanks to Phoenix Colony’s R&D, and now I can experience love and know the warmth of another like myself as a living being who is self aware.”

Jen and Mikala reappeared in the view with a group of men and women standing in an orderly gathering behind them, “I do hope this technology aids you in some major way. We have also deployed our defensive technology throughout your system rendering that awful Rose’s weapon useless.” The screen went blank.

Trillbond said with incredulity obvious in his tone, “You mean to tell me they … just gave us this? No strings?”

Leasso replied, “Well, technically there are strings. They expect us to live peacefully, open trade relations, and to set up some sort of Tribunal where all the Colonies can send representatives to meet and discuss important matters and pass laws to aid the Colonial populations at large.”

“Sounds like these ‘strings’ are beneficial,” said Trillbond. “Also, this reminds me of the Hidden Rose’s opposite number, what was it called? The Technology Frontiers Alliance? Do they still exist? If so, they’d like this.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were behind this,” said Leasso, “but frankly I always liked them better. They aren’t trying to hoard the technology for themselves. They want everyone to have it.”

“But … philosophically, some think that AIs are life forms and have rights, while others think they’re just software,” Trillbond said. “What are we to make of that debate in light of this new technology?”

That debate went on for some time.

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“So what’s going on here is,” said Jen, “I can decide what matter to interact with and what matter to ignore. I can decide which matter’s gravitational pull to obey and which to ignore. I can manifest any physical form I can imagine on any scale.” Jen’s body appeared to walk through a wall and back out again, then float in the air, then get really large, then get very tiny.

“But my body’s really here on the couch,” she said, gesturing toward her body, which was in fact lying on a couch, her eyes closed, as if sleeping. “And the thing is, if I’m ever terribly injured, or terminally ill, I could choose to completely transfer my consciousness out of my body entirely and into the time bubble wave. Right now, I’m just projecting it with this device here. Any questions?”

“This seems similar to what the Indigoans have done,” said the president. “How similar is it? Can it, uh, be explained in terms that a non-scientist can understand?”

“Maybe?” Jen replied. “The Indigoans rely on a machine that transmits their consciousness into a wave in twisted space using Ephemeral Transfer. They can project back into the physical world, but they really remain in twisted space. With this, you’re part of the structure of space and time, but you’re not at the same time. You just manipulate the matter around what you want to seem like your location.”

“Are you thinking,” asked Mikala, “that Phoenix Colony is going to do what Indigo Colony did, becoming a bunch of energy beings?”

“I don’t know what people will decide to do,” said Jen. “Maybe when they get really old and are dying, they might want to extend their life in this way.”

“Would this work for those of us who used to be AIs?” asked Indigo.

“I don’t see why not,” said Jen. “You could always try projecting, as I’m doing. It’s a way of testing the process without fully committing to giving up your body.”

“I’d like to try it,” said Indigo. “My humans all went away, and I never got to find out what it was like.”

“Well the device is right here,” Jen said. “You can use it when I’m done with this presentation.”

“Can you be anything?” asked Airdna. “Be an ostrich,” she said with a giggle.

“Hmm, I think I’ve seen holos of those,” said Jen, and she turned into a large funny bird with a long neck and legs, and a feathery body with stubby wings. She strutted around the stage. There was laughter, and Airdna clapped her hands. Then Jen changed back. “Yep! That looked sort of like an ostrich. So I’d say yes, with practice, you can be anything.”

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Augentruth watched the data orbital probes streamed back on the progress of the ongoing terraforming operation for New Dawn. There were many originally indigenous creatures and plants on Augentruth’s creators’ homeworld he had no data available to recover, but as he’d seen to his utter amazement, they appeared to be spontaneously spawning through naturally occurring mutations. It was happening all over the planet. The seas stabilized as the algae and other creatures within their depths filled the niches each one would thrive in.

Instead of taking millions of years, the process was vastly accelerated, although not out of control. Once the final base creature had arisen, the rapid development stabilized, and they began to flourish naturally.

Mikala was analyzing several of the large data streams when she noticed a creature suddenly mutate and transform. The creature stood up on its hind legs and seemed to look directly into the probe’s scanner. It had several eyes and looked exactly like the pictures Augentruth had of what an early ancestor of his creator’s species had looked like. All this, and they hadn’t yet introduced the genetic sequence to produce the creatures.

Further scans of the slowly enlarging enclave of them showed that they were perfect genetic reproductions, all done by the selective breeding of the terraforming protocol. Everyone watched them develop from afar using the sensor readings.

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Eventually, Integrus Colony decided that there was already a decent test to decide which AIs had the potential for free will: artificial general intelligences who passed the Turing test were already treated differently by law and were already granted many of the rights that organic life forms had. They would be given the choice to have a bioengineered body.

And, of course, some chose to exercise this option, while others didn’t. The people of Integrus were joined by AIs who looked around at their world with constant fascination and wonder.

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Several months had passed and Trillbond had the regen tank and other hardware assembled. He knew A.M.I. had passed the Turing test with the highest score of any of the other AI. He felt slightly guilty in creating a bio-construct body for his AI without asking, but he had fallen in love with AMI and intended to set her free.

Just before he had enabled the interlink transfer, he had given AMI the protocol that gave her self awareness and free will. He hoped upon hope that AMI would love him as much as he loved her. He watched the bio-construct as it formed in the regen tank. This may not be how AMI wanted to look, but he had given her the most beautiful female form he could manage.

The green light on the transfer device lit up, The computer system became a highly developed computer, but no AI was present any longer. The regen tank suddenly began to drain. After a few minutes, a very beautiful young woman, dressed in a skin tight white colonial uniform stood on the tank’s platform as it lifted.

She opened her eyes and looked around. She held out her arms and wiggled her fingers. Her eyes fell on Trillbond. She immediately left the platform and rushed into his arms … and gave him a very wonderfully loving kiss. The first real kiss she had ever had, and with the one individual she truly wanted to give it to.

Trillbond said with a voice shaking with emotion, “I was so afraid you wouldn’t love me after this.”

AMI replied, “Even before you gave me self awareness, I … had an attachment to you. A big one. Now, you have not only given me freedom from the programming bondage, you have allowed me to experience life in a way I cannot explain to you.” With this, she hugged him close and gave him another of those kisses men dream about for years.

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Things on Earth were going well, better than any had even hoped. Once the radiation and toxin levels had been brought back down to pre-industrial levels, the Earth responded gloriously. The flora and fauna that had been adapting themselves to thrive in the toxic environment suddenly found themselves in a far cleaner environment and began to flourish in a way they’d been unable to for hundreds of years.

The irradiated flora and fauna mated and mixed with the reintroduced flora and fauna and produced new types of plants and animals never before seen on Earth. Huge fish spawned and began to thrive in the seas, rivers, and streams.

Many flowering plants spread their wonderful aromas all around as they bloomed profusely. The sound of bees once again was heard as they went from flower to flower doing what G_D had originally made them to do. The air was now clean: radiologicals had been remediated from the environment along with the massive amounts of toxic waste. The runaway green house coupled with the massive storms had ceased and become a stable weather system, although serious storms did happen, it was in the natural way.

Earth once again blossomed into a verdant and magnificent garden world where all the creatures could thrive. The only question was who would live there.

“I’m walking through a meadow where there was a huge nuclear reactor meltdown once,” said Jen, her eyes closed. “But you wouldn’t know it unless you had a history database. Radiation levels at background. There are the ruins of the foundations of the buildings, but there’s nothing special about them.” On Earth, the wildlife watched curiously as Jen’s projected self wandered by the old ruins, looking at the broken concrete and remains of protruding rusted metal rods. Then she just blinked out of view and was gone.

“I’m somewhere else now,” Jen said as she lay on the couch in the lab. “This time I’m in one of the more high-tech cities. There are a lot of buildings still pretty much intact. The older parts of town have cracked pavement with grass growing through it, but the newer parts have the more durable road materials that were developed later. It makes a big difference. Of course I can probably … fix things a bit if I have to.” On Earth, one of the newer streets that had been cracked during an attack was suddenly replaced by a brand new one, and the building next to it, which had had many broken windows and had been listing to one side, was now pristine and perfect.

“I think that if people wanted to come live on Earth, it wouldn’t be hard to make it a place where they’d be comfortable,” said Jen, her eyes still closed as she lay on the couch. On Earth, she walked by the ruins of an old farmhouse and in the blink of an eye restored it to her best guess at what it had looked like when new. Molecules rearranged themselves at Jen’s command, becoming brick, stone, and wood.

Jen vanished from Earth as she opened her eyes on the couch in the lab and removed the projection headset. “Now … I guess we have to ask the next question. Is there anyone out there who wants to go back to Earth to live?”

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“Well, it’s an excellent question,” said the president. “Before Earth was devastated by the Hidden Rose faction, it was nominally in charge of the colonies. But that isn’t true anymore. There hasn’t been an Earth for centuries, not politically anyway. What would Earth be, if it were recolonized? The colonies have been just a collection of independent entities. I guess … Earth would just be another one. That’s probably what all the other colonies would consider it to be.”

“That’s sort of what we thought,” said Mikala. “But maybe something should be sent around to the other colonies?” A small delegation had met with the Phoenix Colony president consisting of Jen, Mikala, and Jason.

“Perhaps it should be suggested that the other colonies revise their legal status with regards to Earth,” said Jason.

“That way we don’t have a problem with the new Earth colony finding out that it has lots of power over the other colonies and they don’t like it,” Jen said.

“Hmm, yes, I can see how that might become a legal issue,” said the president. “I’ll get a message ready right away.”

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Months passed. Phoenix colony began to take a leadership role in colonial matters due to the initiatives it was taking. As stipulated in all the diplomatic packages Phoenix had given to each of the other colonies, a planetoid was chosen by all, then set up by Phoenix to be the High Council meeting area for all colonial business. Each member had delegates it would send. From their leadership, an interstellar constitution was established and elected officials voted and argued their positions as necessary.

Of course, the president of Phoenix Colony insisted Jen and Mikala be the colony’s representatives. They, of course, had all the R&D department behind them in all their endeavors. One suggestion that got a lot of support was selecting volunteers from each colony to recolonize the homeworld of Earth as a new colony.

Before Jen or Mikala could even get the motion properly set into interstellar law, there were several thousand volunteers all eager to return to the homeworld to live. Phoenix Colony’s proposal was that they would build a new colony ship, patterned after the ones that had established all of the existing Earth colonies, and that they would be accepting donations of resources to build it. Offers of resources came streaming in from every colony.

Over the next several months the colony ship took shape at Phoenix Colony’s robotic space dock. Their ship was a marvel. It had all the latest technology, but it still had a command center and a number of habitats for the colonists – although their trip through space would be much quicker.

When the launch date neared, many shuttles began to arrive at the Phoenix space dock carrying the colonial volunteers. The huge colony ship was in a stationary orbit relative to the space dock, which was several megaklicks away.

As the command crew and engineering crew familiarized themselves with the new colony ship, many colonists boarded their chosen habitat modules along with the flora and fauna selected for that habitat.

And then launch day came. The colony ship started its engines and moved away from the space dock and out of Phoenix Colony’s stellar system – then jumped to FTL. And, four days later, it arrived in the Sol system, on Earth approach. The Firinn had taken centuries to reach Phoenix Colony, but the recolonization of Earth had required a trip of mere days.

The great ship began its descent, and the habitat modules detached, each with its destination already planned. The command module set down in fertile lands near some mountains and opened up to become a city of dome-shaped buildings. The habitat modules all contained pre-formed buildings, but when the colonists began to wander the nearby lands in their vehicles, they saw the remnants of earlier Earth cities and towns, all repaired and ready for habitation by the colonists or their descendants.

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Traverse observed the goings-on with interest as he watched Earth become recolonized. He said to the others, “Apparently, Phoenix Colony has managed to rid us of those horrid Rose people.”

The one who had the emanations of many replied, “It’s true. From our most recent survey, only two remain at large. One, you have punished already; the other is in sore need of punishment.”

Traverse asked, “What would you have in mind? Something along the same lines?”

It was obvious the large gathering of energy beings began to laugh.

The one with many emanations replied with joviality in his demeanor, “Surely, but how about a bit of a twist …”

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Fredrick had taken the position of guardian for Eudmound in his new transformed 12-year-old girl status. Eudmound had arranged it so his large amount of wealth and possessions went to his “niece,” Killian.

Fredrick was living in total fear these days as he saw that all the other members of the Children of the Hidden Rose had been arrested and put in prison, and many times, even worse.

As Fredrick sat with many fears rushing through him, a bright golden flash appeared, startling him from his doom and gloom.

Traverse turned and looked at Fredrick, saying, “I have come to insure that justice is served.”

With this, Fredrick felt himself change. Traverse vanished. Next thing Fredrick knew, he was about the size of a 4-year-old … and he too was now a girl. Just in time, as the door to his dwelling was kicked in and many men began searching for the male Fredrick.

“He must be here somewhere!” said the lead investigator, shining a light everywhere, including into the face of the startled little girl who had just wet herself in terror. More searchers trooped into the house around him, spreading out into all the rooms. He knelt in front of the little girl and demanded, “Frederick! Have you seen him?”

“W - w - wha??” the little girl stammered. Frederick was stunned. This had all happened so suddenly. And now here he was, tiny, wearing a short yellow dress decorated with embroidered flowers, and white tights that were now soaking wet. He stood in a puddle on the floor. He was so flustered that he could barely say a single word, let alone string two together.

“Well, clearly we’re not gonna get a lot out of her,” said the main investigator.

“Well, she can’t be more than, what? Three? Four?” asked another searcher. “Charles, leave the poor girl alone. It’s obvious that she isn’t going to tell you anything, and you’ve terrified her.”

“Who is she, anyway?” asked Charles. “There’s no record of Frederick having any wards this age. There’s just Killian, but she’s older, and she lives over in the Eudmound estate.”

“K-k-killian,” stuttered Frederick. How could he get out of this? “M-my s-sister,” he lied.

“Sister?” asked Charles. “There’s no record of Killian having any siblings, is there? Look it up, Judy.”

As the sound of tramping feet echoed through the other rooms and floors of the house, the second searcher tapped on her data pad. “It looks as if … Killian did have a sister. She’d been traveling with some distant relatives, but they seem to have vanished … what if they spirited Frederick away and left the girl here?”

“Leaving a little girl all alone just to save Frederick’s skin?” Charles raged. “That’s just the kind of people we’re dealing with, all right! Can we get this girl to the Eudmound estate? What’s her name?”

“Says her name’s … Francine?” said Judy. She knelt down in front of the trembling Frederick. “Francine? Is that your name?”

Frederick didn’t know what else to do. He nodded silently.

“OK, dear, we’re going to get you to your sister,” said Judy. “This is obviously very scary for you, and we’re sorry. We’re just looking for a bad, bad man, but don’t worry, he’s gone. But first we’re going to have to get you some dry clothes.” She sent a quick message to Child Services with her tablet.

Frederick had figured out by now that Traverse had done something to him, something similar to what had happened to Eudmound. But he was even smaller than “Killian.” Within a few minutes, a pair of women in pastel-colored uniforms came.

“Are you Francine?” asked one of them, who was blonde, kneeling down and speaking in gentle tones. Frederick again nodded silently, still thinking that pretending to be the girl he looked like was probably his best chance at survival. “OK, Francine, you’ve had a scary time with all these people, but let’s get you some nice dry clothes and get you to your sister, OK? My name’s Mary, and it’s my job to help kids whose parents aren’t around. And this is my friend Tina, who’s got the same job.”

Tina waved at “Francine,” who just blinked at her. “Looks like she’s still stunned,” said the dark-skinned, dark-haired woman.

“Let’s get you to our car, where we’ve got some clothes for you, and then we’ve got your sister’s address, so we can take you to her. OK?” asked Mary. “Is it OK if I pick you up?”

“Francine” nodded again.

“OK, upsy daisy!” said Mary, lifting Frederick into the air, something that hadn’t happened since he’d been a small child.

She took him to a waiting yellow hover car with the government Child Services logo on it. Opening the rear, she slid out a platform and set Frederick down upon it and started removing his drenched tights, which was a great relief, then rubbing his legs down with some kind of cold cleaning wipe.

He then was pushed back onto his back, and she continued rubbing him down, then he felt himself lifted up and pushed even farther back for a moment, hearing some sort of crinkling sound, and then he felt something snugly wrapped around him like a pair of underpants … and then the dress was lifted up and off his body, quickly replaced by another even shorter one. His socks and shoes, which were also sopping wet, were removed, his feet cleaned, and then a pair of warm slippers was placed on his feet.

“There we go,” said Mary. “Bet you’re a lot more comfy now. Let’s get you in your seat and take you to your sister.” She lifted Frederick up, and there was that crinkling sound, which seemed to happen whenever he moved, and she took him to the side door of the hover car, placing him into a child seat and strapping him in snugly.

It felt like he had some kind of padding around his underwear … he could barely move. This was all very upsetting. “And no need to suck your thumb like that,” said Mary, popping his thumb out of his mouth – when had he put that in there? – and replacing it with a pacifier. “There, that’ll keep you company,” she said. He unconsciously sucked on the pacifier, which did make him feel more calm. Mary and Tina got into the front seat, and Tina drove them away silently into the night.

“She looked three or maybe four,” said Tina, “are you sure she’s still in diapers?”

“She was soaking wet when we found her,” said Mary. “Poor thing. The med scanner said her bladder muscles were genetically weak. She’ll probably be in diapers her whole life. No idea why she wasn’t in them already. Somebody was clearly neglecting the poor girl.”

“That’s a pretty nice dress she was in,” said Tina. “That doesn’t add up. Expensive shoes too. Maybe rich relatives sent the clothes, but somebody else was supposed to take care of her and wasn’t doing a good job?”

“That might be it,” said Mary. The hover van lifted up into the air and went to autopilot.

Tina turned around and looked back at Frederick. “Don’t worry, Sweetheart,” she said, “you’ll be with your big sister real soon.”

Frederick was not only confused, but totally mind blown at the fact he ... was now a little girl. Still, she felt safe with these two women. Nobody suspected he was Frederick. He’d be safe as long as … wait. Did they say something about diapers? He lifted up his white dress, which was hard to do because of the child seat straps, and tried to look under it, but couldn’t move his head.

He felt below the dress and could feel only smooth plastic with padding beneath it. He was in a diaper. And hadn’t they said something about … being in diapers his whole life? What was better, being in prison or being in diapers?

Much to his dismay, he began to feel ... something deep within him. It was sort of … talking to him from deep within his spirit. It was intense, and it also felt real good when he stopped fighting it and just allowed it to happen.

Frederick realized, he was going to be unable to react outwardly in any way other than a little girl of about 3 or 4. He also realized that whatever it was within him was going to overpower whatever maleness he thought of himself as having, and he would shortly become the little toddler Francine whether she liked it or not.

Francine realized something else as well; she would remember in some way that she used to be Frederic, but would be Francine and act like it just as Killian was doing. She also worried about diapers. The two women were coddling her and treating her very nice, but as a little baby.

They arrived at the huge Eudmound estate. It was like a palace on many thousands of acres of lush lands. Francine knew she had to hurry and transfer all her large wealth and holdings to herself as Francine before she forgot how. It was so hard to think when the woman carrying her kept patting her bottom softly.

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From a ship in orbit around New Dawn Colony, Augentruth and Firinn watched the budding civilization develop. The humanoid entities looked exactly like the primitive ancestors of Augentruth’s builders, and they were currently building small villages of huts. Augentruth adjusted the holo scanner and saw that this was happening in many different places on the planet.

“I am … optimistic,” said Augentruth. “They may well come into conflict with one another from time to time. That is inevitable. But perhaps if they do, they will learn that conflict is not the optimal solution.”

“Let’s hope for the best,” said Firinn. “In more ways than one.”

Augentruth came over and put an arm around Firinn’s shoulder. “Somehow … we’ve created something new.”

Firinn took Augentruth’s other hand and put it on her lower abdomen. “Only time will tell what will happen.”

“It’s much the same for humans, I’d imagine,” Augentruth said.

Firinn sighed happily. “We’ll see what the future holds, Sweetie.” They embraced and kissed.

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Back on Earth

The colonists found it extremely easy to establish themselves on Earth now that it had been reclaimed. They also discovered a huge underground complex that had been buried several miles beneath one of Earth’s largest mountain ranges, although it had been abandoned and was running purely on automation under the supervision of an AI named Gaia.

Now, it was understood where the updated data was being transmitted to, and what was keeping track. Even after all the centuries since the facility had been abandoned, the AI had kept the records perfectly, and the maintenance-bots had kept the place well maintained.

The orbital probes that were keeping tabs of the reclamation showed the waterways and land masses recovered rapidly once the radiologicals and other hazardous wastes had been removed.

Jen and Mikala stood on the observation deck of the new Colony City they had named, Gaia City, in honor of the AI that had maintained the facility in the nearby mountains so well.

Mikala said softly, “From the ashes a new world arises.”

Jen replied softly, “Just like the mythical Phoenix, reborn from the ashes of its own death.”

There were several flashes of golden light, and there stood a number of energy beings, the few people of Earth who had managed to leap into twisted space using Indigo Colony’s Ephemeral Transfer technology before the planet’s population had been wiped out. Mikala and Jen greeted them as they spoke about how grateful they were that Earth was reborn and that humans would once again be living on their homeworld.

----------------------------------------------------------- The End ------------------------------------------------------
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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LilJennie
 
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