The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Twelve

Previous Chapter

“How shines the Light of Mars, Mr. Vesper?”

Vesper snorted. “It doesn’t, Director, because you’ve turned the power to it off again. How am I to run tests on the damn thing if you switch it on and off more than the light in a refrigerator?”

The aging scientist was hunched in front of a work station cobbled together out of a dozen different parts from a dozen different consoles and desks around the power plant’s control room. He’d turned an eight foot folding conference room table into a Frankenstein amalgamation of electronics and readouts. It was impressive for just two days of work.

Brian pulled his attention away from the clutter long enough to answer the question. “You’ll have to submit power use requests to the power generation management team if you want to power up the generators, otherwise we can only authorize running the plant at full capacity during an emergency situation.”

“Mars is in orbit, Director!” Vesper pounded a fist on the table in front of him causing the other engineers and technicians in the room to shudder and shrink away. “We are living in an emergency situation.”

“That’s no reason to deviate from protocol,” Brian said with a tsk. “We are sapiens rather than martians, aren’t we?”

“We’ll be martians soon enough if we keep this up.”

For a moment Brian just watched Vesper working away at whatever it was he was trying to do. After his interview with Glenda he’d requisitioned every record relating to the Light of Mars project from the Brussels Vault, where that data had been stored. He’d gone over as much of it as he could but most of it was meaningless to him. Medical nanotech and large scale nanofields like Vesper’s team had worked with were worlds apart in terms of power demands, delicacy of work and materials involved. “If we restored power to the Light of Mars what would you do with it, Mr. Vesper?”

“For starters I’d run a full boot sequence diagnostic on the field projectors,” Vesper said, pointing towards one of his many readouts. “The process took nearly forty minutes. That’s pretty fast for when we designed it but remarkably slow when we compare it to how the martians reacted. They were able to pull clear of the field before it destroyed them.”

“An ideal outcome.”

“But not the typical martian response,” Vesper countered immediately, his answer coming so fast Brian was sure it was a line of logic he’d gone over many times. “You would expect a martian to press ever onwards, damn the cost. If they’d chose to do that during their previous landing some of their ships would have gotten through and then what? They’d be capable of anything.”

Brian frowned and pulled out his tablet, running the numbers based on previous flights they’d observed. In most cases it turned out Vesper was right. “Okay, we need to boot up the hardware faster. Anything else?”

“We should test how quickly we can reposition and redeploy the field projectors around the city,” Vesper said. “We may need to adjust coverage across the entire Los Angeles area.”

“Driving the projectors from one side of LA to the other is not going to noticeably alter their range of effect,” Brian said. “I don’t see a need to waste power on training for that. We’re working on expanding the network of projectors along the coast and inland towards select strategic locations but we’re still scrambling to acquire the necessary minerals. We haven’t had a need for new resources like this since the Environmental Restoration program got underway.”

“Yes, we’ve managed on recycling for a long time.” Vesper finally turned away from his work and eyed Brian, expression unreadable. “So. If you want to add even more projectors to the field network we’re going to have to solve the problem with synchronizing the power regulators, won’t we? When am I going to get some of my research team back?”

Brian folded his arms in front of him as he weighed his response. At first glance Vesper’s constant requests for more personnel made sense, especially since the Light of Mars had always been a group project of such a scope that no one person could reasonably keep up with all elements of it. But now that they did have a few other members of the project coherent, if not helpful, there were new issues to think about.

Like what Glenda Vesper had told him yesterday. “I’m afraid we’re still struggling to get your team into a condition where they can help you. Do you remember anything from your time in Shutdown?”

“In Shutdown?” Vesper frowned. “I’m afraid my memories from that period of time are very hazy. I know I was conscious and I remember seeing people I knew but I’m afraid I can’t tell you any details about it. Is this important? What does my time in Shutdown have to do with completing the project and keeping the martians off of Earth?”

“Directly? Nothing.” The lie was not a particularly sapiens thing to do but Brian felt it served the overall needs of the moment and events could be tailored to the lie later if necessary. “However it seems the Shutdown process has created complications we never considered. Our difficulties in reviving the other members of your team testify to that and if you had any insight into what might have occurred there it would help us resolve the issue. And it might get you that assistance you want faster.”

The scientist’s frown deepened and his eyes slid off to one side as he probed his memories. “Strange. There is a virtual world in there, as I recall…”

“Yes. We built it because we were concerned leaving people in Shutdown with nothing to engage their mind would be an unsapiens level of abuse. We even sent a few testers in to make sure it was a suitable and humane environment.” Brian spread his hands helplessly. “But we never left anyone in there for more than a few weeks. We’re concerned that the length of time in Shutdown may be a complicating factor that we did not anticipate. Any insight you could give us would be appreciated.”

“I’m not sure I should help my jailers make my prison better.” Vesper drummed his fingers on his table for a moment. “Still, given the circumstances, working out what went wrong with your project may be the fastest way for me to get help with mine, so I will tell you anything I can as it occurs to me. Unfortunately I don’t have anything for you just now.”

“Then let’s come back to that topic later.” Brian pretended to be interested in the readouts Vesper had up, a series of graphs and maps showing power routes, field overlaps and other information he only half understood. As he scanned the data he said, “Is there another approach you can take to this problem? Perhaps if we could find our own angle to tackle it would be faster to bring some of our own nanoengineers onboard the project. Have you considered a different power source for the nanofield? We’ve had some success with running nanotech on directed energy beams like low intensity lasers.”

A split second of intense interest crossed Vesper’s face but he quickly crushed it when the obvious problem with that occurred to him. “You can’t create a dome between us and the sky that way. It proves the concept but trying to find a new power source, making it practical and implementing it all while the martians are right above us does not strike me as a winning strategy.”

A jolt of adrenaline shot through Brian at Vesper’s declaration. He didn’t like thinking of their project in terms of winning and losing – that was martian think – but in this case he could understand why Vesper did so. He also hated how appealing that was to him. Better to ignore that and focus on the long, slow cultivation of the topic he really wanted to discuss. “Could we use the nanotech itself as a stabilizing force on the field? Build it out of-”

“No, no, no,” Vesper snapped, “the use of magnetic materials in nanotech outside the generator filament was proven impossible by Doctor Hugo Manning during the development of the medinano systems. I’m surprised a Director like yourself, who deals with it daily, didn’t know that.”

Brian did know that but he didn’t admit as much to Vesper. “Couldn’t we use the filament itself as a stabilizer?”

“The energy transfer involved would destroy the nanotech instantly.”

Which he’d learned after reading up on the subject following his discussion with Glenda. However these questions served to bring him around to the point he wanted to address in a way that wouldn’t arouse Vesper’s suspicions and, now that the man was starting to ignore him again and focus more on his readouts, Brian was ready to get to the main point. “What if we tweaked the frequency of the fields so they synchronized rather than trying to calibrate the power to create perfectly aligned overlaps?”

Vesper hesitated, his hands going still on their panel. It wasn’t a subject that had a lot of research put into it, as Brian had discovered when he investigated the notion, so it would force him to do a little thought on his own. Assuming it wasn’t something he already knew about. There was a possibility, however remote, that all the issues with the Light of Mars so far were a ploy by the Vespers to entrap the Directorate and pull them back into a martian way of thought. Perhaps Vesper’s focus on his project and winning against the martians, combined with a ruse of insanity from Glenda and the others, was a play for dominance. If it was, this was a chance for Vesper to tip his hand.

If he grasped onto the idea immediately Brian would suspect some kind of ploy or trap.

Instead Vesper steepled his fingers and touched them to his chin. “That’s an interesting notion, Director. It’s possible although I don’t think it would be as sturdy as independent fields. A disruption to one could potentially set up a domino effect through the entire network of fields so you’d need some kind of fail safe capable of switching off – no.” Vesper’s face went from thoughtful to rueful like a switch was thrown. “No, it won’t work Director. Not a bad solution at first blush but ultimately totally unworkable.”

Immediate, enthusiastic adoption or cautious consideration were the responses Brian had expected. Flat rejection was surprising. The unexpected nature of that response startled Brian out of his focus on Vesper’s attitude and back to the actual, technical nature of the discussion. “What’s the issue with it? We do that occasionally with other nanofactury processes.”

“Yes, but a nanotank where you assemble a computer or hovercar is a very different thing to the Light of Mars,” Vesper said, picking up a light pen and making a tiny dot on his map of the LA region showing the area affected by their mag generators. “The comparative size of the tank to the fields we’re working with is even more extreme than that between this point the area of effect.”

“So?”

“So you can synchronize small fields easily because the startup command comes from one central location and reaches the generators for all the relevant fields essentially instantaneously. However, our generators are much further apart than the micro generators in a nanotank. The command to start them will arrive at different generators at different times.” A few keystrokes displayed numbers over each field generator they had deployed. “As you can see the time lag between activation command being issued and arrival at the generators is pretty small but the oscillation rate in a magnetic field is even smaller than the differences in these values. And we just don’t have the kind of precision timing technology necessary to compensate for it. The generators will always be out of synch because of the distances involved. We could try and synchronize the fields but I don’t think it would ever work until some kind of FTL communication is perfected.”

“I see.” Brian studied the numbers for a minute, more to buy time than because he really understood them. A well reason answer and completely detached from what Glenda had told him. So what were Glenda and the other scientists she claimed she’d worked with in Shutdown actually trying to do with their simulations? It really didn’t seem like they were in collusion with Vesper. But there had to be something there to keep them all tied into mental knots even after they came out of Shutdown. On the other hand, at least it seemed like he could trust Vesper for the moment. “Well, it was just a notion. Keep doing what you can, Mr. Vesper, and I’ll be in touch. We have the first shipment of new generators due in four days so you may want to start thinking about how you’ll expand the emplacement you have designed now.”

Vesper grunted, having missed Brian’s entire train of thought. “If you say so, Director. What will you be doing in the meantime?”

“I’ll be looking into something else.” Brian left Vesper to his work and started thinking about how he could clear his own schedule of its standing obligations. Now he was even more determined to make his own foray into Shutdown and determine what had happened there. If only the martians would leave him enough time to try it.

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Eleven

Previous Chapter

“Anchors aweigh, my boys, anchors aweigh!”

“I swear,” Lang shouted down below decks, “if I hear that damn tune again I am turning this boat around and taking us back to Copernicus.”

Two new voices joined in the chorus. “Faaaaarewell to college joys, we sail at break of da-a-a-ay!”

Lang snorted and sat back down in the pilot’s chair on the yacht’s bridge. Most of the controls had been removed, leaving wires and boards and wires and capacitors and wires and semiconductors and wires all over the place. A couple of enlisted technicians were working on sorting out and replacing the relevant components under the direction of 2nd Lieutenant Fresh Face. Lang was trying to figure out the pilot’s controls with the assistance of his AI.

“You know, you’re just encouraging them,” Fresh said, looking up from his own AI display with a bemused expression.

“Yes. Sir,” he added just in time. “I’m aware of the futility of expressing annoyance.”

“Then why do it?”

“It makes me feel better. Also I’m pretty sure these Toroidal Mark 4 AIs see a performance boost when you’re annoyed. 3-4% better return on your subconscious brain cycles.” The Princess 48 yacht model they’d chosen for the expedition was either very old or a retro model because it still had actual physical controls like a sliding throttle, a steering wheel and numerous dials and switches for various functions. Stone age stuff. It was soothing to run your hands over while talking to annoying officers. “Try closing the sonar circuits again.”

“We’re still getting that error message,” Fresh said after a brief pause. “I suspect the annoyance preference has more to do with the end user’s preferences than anything in the software architecture of the AI.”

“If I prefer it, does it count as annoyance?” Lang toggled through several menus as he tried to figure out the yacht’s software. “Wait, I think I found the maintenance logs. What’s the error code?”

“76-01:20.” Fresh looked over the shoulder of his other tech. “On the starboard side. Port side is 76-01:10, so my guess is they’re on separate command circuits. And yeah, I’ve known plenty of people who enjoyed being annoyed and spent a lot of time around people that just pissed them off for the fun of being pissed at them.”

“The logs say that’s a software fault. The operating system wants to run an update to check for new drivers because it’s sixty years since the last update was run.” Lang rubbed his hands over his face then left his chin on his palms as he stared out the bridge window. “We’re gonna have to codebreak that and get past it somehow. I’ll add it to the Captain’s list of programming tasks.”

The Lieutenant leaned down to one of his techs and said, “Try the same override code that we used when the reactor wanted to update.”

A couple of seconds later Lang’s screen refreshed and the maintenance logs cleared the error codes. “Ooookay, let’s move on. The checklist says we need to do a test run on the engines. Do we have any updates on whether the screws are clear yet?”

“Harrigan, check on that, will you?” One of the techs acknowledged and clambered down the steps to the main deck. Fresh stood up and stretched, eyeing the rats nest of wires. “Do you think they wove this whole boat out of cables?”

“Too watertight for that,” Lang muttered, looking over the boat’s navigation system again.

“True.” The Lieutenant sat down in the copilot’s chair and watched Lang pick at the controls for a minute. “Have you discussed possible approaches to the power plant with the Captain yet?”

“Didn’t know she wanted to talk them over with me.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

Lang swallowed a sigh and set the yacht’s computer back to it’s idle mode before giving Fresh his full attention. “Why do you think Captain Tsukihara would want to discuss our course to the power plant with me? I’m not an expert on ground warfare, seafaring or the infantry in general.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been here before.”

“Not within five hundred kilometers of this place.”

He nodded, unphased by Lang’s dry and uninterested responses. “That’s fair. But you did capture a member of UNIGOV’s Directorate so that means you’re the only Copernican spacer to outfight an Earth commander in the war so far. Like it or not that makes you the expert on their approach to… well, everything.”

“Wait. Sir, I’m not a psychologist, I hope people are taking that into account when they come to me for my opinions on Earthlings. This isn’t something I’m uniquely qualified for.”

“I’m not sure about that, Sergeant. You beat them once on their home turf and pulled some crazy stunts out on Mars from what I’ve heard.” The Lieutenant grinned, full of naivety and excitement. “Just think what we can do now that we’ve got a full company of people on the ground now.”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “We could sink a whole boat full of people!”

“It’s okay,” Fresh said. “The Major and the Captain are both experts on historical warfare and the Major keeps a ton of texts on the subject in his AI most of the time. If UNIGOV was still fighting with the tech level we see now we’d be in trouble. But they don’t fight at all so we still have the leg up on ’em.”

“If you say so, Lieutenant.”

“I do.”

“Sir!” The second tech returned and saluted his officer. “Captain says we’re ready to reconnect the generators and the main turbine. She wants you down in the engine room, pronto.”

“On my way.” He set his readout aside and carefully got up, picking his way around the wires. “Good luck with those controls, Sergeant! We’ll be ready to take it to the Earthlings in no time.”

Lang watched him leave and blew out a breath. “Whew. Was I ever that young?”

“Certainly you were before the war, Sergeant Langley.”

He jumped a little, then rose all the way out of his chair. “Captain Tsukihara.”

“At ease, Sergeant.” The captain picked her way onto the bridge from the other side of the boat, the combined challenges of the rocking deck and rampant wires forcing her to move very deliberately. “What do you make of the good ship Armstrong, Langley?”

“Didn’t realize that was it’s name, ma’am,” he said, relaxing just a bit.

“Corporal Hu decided Tangerine Mist was a terrible name for a warship so we rechristened it in honor of your lost destroyer,” she replied, crouching down by the Lieutenant’s readout long enough to disconnect it and set it up on the control panel. Then she stood up and started carefully picking apart the nest of wires. Like Priss, Captain Yiyun Tsukihara was of Han stock and stood a little over five foot tall, with dark hair and a rounder face. Unlike Priss she was starting to go gray. Her right hand showed the warts and scars of constant use and, based on her left hand’s comparatively pristine skin, Lang guessed Yang had lost at least one limb during her career in the Spacer Corps that was later cloned back into place. “But you didn’t answer my question. What do you think of her?”

Lang shook himself and forced his mind back to the present moment. “I don’t know enough to make an educated judgement.”

“Bullshit.” She stopped what she was doing long enough to give him a disbelieving glare. “I’ve met enough flyboys to know you have an opinion on anything with joystick, all the way down to and including your own torso. I want to know if you think we’re wasting time on refurbing this boat or not.”

“It’s sturdy, it should be fast if the turbines ever run again and it’s got a sensor profile that will keep it low to the horizon,” Lang said as he sat down and worked the computer panel. “The major systems are computerized and I’m working on linking them to my AI. Just steering the thing will be pretty easy, it looks like the steering is intended to be idiot proof, but navigating is another thing entirely. It is linked into some kind of global navigation system that needs orbital satellites or a network uplink to function. So it’s useless on two fronts.”

“We can’t use it without giving ourselves away,” Tsukihara mused. “What’s the other way it’s useless?”

“Pretty sure any satellites it ran off of are gone now and I’m not in a hurry to try and tie this thing’s computer into the FleetNav. I’m 99% sure UNIGOV wouldn’t have left behind viruses or backdoors in their nav computers but I’d rather not run the risk.” He pulled up the boat’s map catalogs. “However we can just follow the coastline in this case. We just need to keep an eye out for a few landmarks and we should be able to make our landing just fine.”

“How do you feel about your team?”

“My team, ma’am?”

Tsukihara stopped sorting wires and gave him another look. Then, realizing he was serious, she set the wires aside, stepped up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “I forgot you just got your third stripe and from a field promotion at that. Sergeant, we’re going to have twenty people on this boat and I need to keep Lieutenant Bailey with me, not just to keep an eye on the engines but to help me set up and command the deck guns. That’s the entire boat out of officers, which means you’re going to have to put together the your own bridge staff to handle keeping lines of communications open and do whatever else you think needs done up here.”

“I… you want me to put together a team? Ma’am, I don’t have the best record of leading teams.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. You managed to make one out of three Spacers and two Earthlings effectively enough. Not everything worked out the way we might have preferred but…” Tsukihara summarized the team’s capture and Dex’s death with a casual shrug. “You’re still better at it than you think you are. I know you’ve never really been trained to consider command situations but we’ll see where you feel you’re at and go from there. How many people do you think you’ll need, in total?”

“To run the bridge?”

“Yes.”

“Two. Maybe three, if there’s a communications blackout and we wind up having to run messages.” Lang shrugged. “Although I don’t see much chance of that given current situations.”

“Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch.” Yang fiddled with her belt absently, her fingers counting up and down as she worked on the arcane mathematics of command. “Is three how many you expect to need in combat or just those to handle normal functions of the post?”

“More the latter,” Lang admitted. “In a full blown combat situation I’d expect to need a fourth if things go bad.”

“Did you have anyone in mind?”

“I…” Lang frantically ran through potential candidates in his mind. “I’m afraid I don’t at this moment.”

“Well, take a few hours today to work out what competencies you’d need on the bridge then interview people until you can fill those roles with three people. We’ll assign you a fourth as a runner and damage control member for combat situations.” The Captain started bundling the wires together again. “Command is mostly about assigning people you trust to handle specific tasks, Sergeant, and most NCOs get to where they are because they’re good at reading and assigning people not because they’re smart or courageous. Besides, the odds of combat on this mission are low, so don’t make a life and death decision out of this. Go with your gut. We can always shuffle assignments on further outings if it proves necessary, understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.” She finished with the string of wires she was holding and set them aside. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Sergeant Langley. Get me your personnel requests by the end of the day.”

She left him staring at the console and ignoring his AI, his brain running through the spacers on the boat and where they would best fit in its operations. That was the kind of decision making he could get behind.

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Ten

Previous Chapter

Over the last month Carrington had seen and heard more strange things than he had in his entire life up until that point. The meeting between Stephen Mond and Naomi Bertolini was the strangest yet. Wrinkles lined Mond’s face and graying hair was taking over his head; he sat uncomfortably in his wheelchair and his prosthetic arms lay awkwardly on the table in front of him. He avoided eye contact with most of the people in the room. So far the only other people he’d directly acknowledged were the guards who’d brought him in.

Naomi sat ramrod straight in her chair. Her lips were pressed together in a firm line, creating a tightness around her eyes and mouth, but otherwise her youth was evident all across her face. Yet she bore herself with more maturity. She kept her attention on Mond most of the time but she found a moment to whisper something as an aside to Teng. She was tense, he thought, but otherwise her mood was unreadable.

After a lot of bickering back and forth Carrington had decided it wasn’t fair to let too many people dogpile Mond and sent everyone but the two guards, Naomi and Teng out of the meeting room. He took a chair beside the Director, trying to put himself in the mindset of a lawyer. That got dark very quickly so he stopped and switched to trying to think of Mond as a friend, or at least someone he didn’t hate. That was a bit more achievable. “Thank you for agreeing to this meeting, Director Mond,” he began. “I’ve asked you here today at the request of one of our other guests who’s expressed an interest in meeting you. Director, this is Naomi Bertolini, the Eldest Malacandran. Mrs. Bertolini, allow me to introduce Director Steven Mond of Earth’s Unified Government.”

“Good afternoon, Director,” Naomi said, offering him her hand.

Mond hesitated for a second before accepting it, studying her face carefully as she grasped his prosthetic. “Hello, Miss Bertolini. How are you feeling today?”

“I must admit I feel a little unsettled to be speaking to you, Director Mond,” Naomi said, studying his prosthetic with a clinical eye. “Are you well? You look like you had an accident recently and a pretty nasty one at that.”

“I made the mistake of handling a dangerous piece of hardware while I was… unstable. This is the consequence of that.” He gently pulled his mechanical limb back and put both his hands in his lap, out of sight under the table.

“I hope you have a speedy recovery.”

Once again Mond looked down at the table, refusing to meet her eyes. “Thank you, Miss Bertolini. I was more fortunate than the other man involved so I consider myself lucky.”

“The oyarsa was undoubtedly-” Naomi caught herself and blushed, the first crack in her armor so far. “You have been blessed by Maleldil, the most high, no doubt.”

Mond managed a wan smile, some of his usual self-confidence managing to reassert itself. “I do doubt, actually. On Earth there are no higher rulers than the sapiens ourselves.”

Naomi nodded once. “Yes, we have heard that the oyarsa of Earth has become bent and turned its back on its people and its purpose. You have our condolences.”

“I’m not familiar with the word ‘oyarsa,’” Mond said. “Does it refer to a god of some sort? Or perhaps one of his angels, since your Maleldil is most high he would logically fill the role of diety.”

Carrington cleared his throat, causing both of them to jump. Apparently they’d gotten so fixed on each other they’d forgotten he was there, which spoke to their interest in each other or his own lack of presence, he couldn’t tell which. Once he was sure they were both paying attention to him he said, “To save some time hashing this issue out, the Malacandrans have a unique vocabulary for some common concepts from Earth history. An oyarsa is the rough equivalent of a guardian angel and they believe every planet has one. Malacandra is the name they give both Mars and its guardian, Thulcandra is their name for Earth and it’s guardian. My understanding is that Maleldil is, in fact, their name for a monotheistic god.”

Naomi nodded. “That’s a fair summary of how I would define the words, as well.”

“Thank you, Admiral,” Mond said. “And with the pleasantries out of the way, may I ask what the agenda for today is?”

“I’m afraid I’m the wrong one to ask.” Carrington gestured to Naomi and said, “We offered the Eldest an opportunity to visit the Homeworld but due to circumstances we already discussed our visit has been postponed. When she arrived this morning she asked to speak to you so here we are.”

There was a moment of strained silence as the Director and the Eldest stared each other down across the table. “May I ask you something, Miss Bertolini?”

“Of course, Director, so long as I can ask something as well.”

Carrington caught a smile tugging at the corners of Mond’s lips before he hid it again. “How did someone your age manage to become the Eldest of Mars?”

“When a Malacandran reaches seven thousand, three hundred and five days old they must pass out of the colony dome and into Silence.” Naomi recited the facts in a half chanting tone of voice. Her eyes were distant and her expression blank, like she was recalling facts she had committed to memory long ago. “Since the dome was too small to support a constantly growing population the oyarsa was given charge of the excess. We lost all our people with the knowledge to expand the colony when Thulcandra struck us centuries ago. So we had nothing else to fall back on. We could only hold fast to what little we had left, hope that seventy three cents of days would be enough to leave a legacy for the future and trust that the oyarsa would bring us through Silence into fellowship once again.”

All trace of amusement was gone from Mond’s face. “Miss Bertolini, that’s a wonderful sentiment and many have clung to it in the past. But surely you realize at this point that people don’t come back from the dead.”

“Director,” Carrington murmured. “While the word Silence can mean death in the broad sense, when the original Borealis settlers scraped together the few books and files UNIGOV left in their possession and sorted out how to go forward they gave it a double meaning. If a Malacandran lives their full seventy three cents they don’t technically leave the dome. It turns out there’s a Vault under Borealis City, too. So when people on Mars grow old enough to count as adults they go to that Vault and they’re put into Shutdown – into Silence – so they can wait until the dome is expanded enough to accommodate them.”

Naomi’s chin tilted up a few degrees in pride. “I am seventy three hundred and twenty four days old, Director Mond, and one of the first to come out of Silence and back into the fellowship of my peers.”

“I see.” Mond’s mouth was open just a sliver, his shoulders rising and falling with shallow, rapid breaths and his eyes staring wildly at nothing. “There were still people on Mars after all. When the colony was put into Shutdown the people retrieved didn’t match the official roster and we never did discover what happened to all of them. Most of you were children without medical systems, yes?”

“Yes…” Naomi leaned forward to get a better look at Mond’s face, clearly concerned. “Are you unwell, Director?”

“None of the colonists who were brought out of Shutdown would tell where the missing children were,” Mond said, ignoring her. “The missing had to be left in the dome and the colony abandoned. Even though it was inhumane – even though it was unsapiens to do such a thing we had to leave them behind. And now here you are. Every outward thought we meant to leave behind, on our doorsteps once again.”

Something profound was happening between the two planetary leaders and Carrington didn’t want to interrupt it, whatever it was. At the same time he was aware of an odd tension in the air and it put him on edge. When Naomi got up and walked around the table to Mond he almost made her go back to her seat just to be safe. But there was a pleading written on her face, a crease of her brow and a light in her eyes, that convinced him she just wanted to make her case to the other man and he decided he could let her go a little longer.

“Director Mond,” she said, cocking one hip up onto the table and reaching forward to rest a hand on his shoulder, “I’ve passed through Silence not once but twice now. First Volk and others brought me back to my family. Then they brought me here, to meet you and the Admiral, to discuss how we can break the Silence with the Triad Worlds and with Thulcandra – with Earth. Both Volk and the Admiral tell me you’ll resist changing your ways. I want to know if that’s true. Are the people of Malacandra really so abhorrent to you that you will not speak to us even now?”

“No, no, no,” Mond whispered, “I can’t. You don’t understand.”

“How can I?” For the first time Naomi’s youth slipped out of her control as her voice turned wheedling, almost whiny. “How can I understand if you won’t bother to explain?”

“We can’t go,” Mond went on, his voice rising steadily with no sign he even heard Naomi’s question. “We must stay. We cannot speak, we can only listen, we cannot assume we must always learn from what is. That is the sapiens way.”

Exasperated at hearing the same general sentiment time and again, Carrington demanded, “But what does it accomplish, Director? What can possibly be the point?”

“To know ourselves!” Mond practically exploded out of his chair, arms waving frantically. “Don’t you see? The martian way is to flail about wildly, going everywhere, taking everything and yelling all the while without a care for what they are doing or who it hurts. They know everything about the world around them but not one thing about themselves. Sapiens are driven in the opposite direction. We make the foundation of our society ourselves and without self realization nothing in sapiens society society can function!”

“Why can’t you know yourself and us as well?” Naomi asked, clearly taken aback by Mond’s sudden vehemence.

“Because you question and you analyze and you change,” Mond snapped. “How can we be ourselves if we are constantly under attack by outsiders who make demands of us, who doubt us, who require change of us? If a martian society is always on our doorstep we will be forever changing! There will be no secure foundation for sapiens.”

Carrington managed to bring his gaping mouth back under control. “Director, the Malacandrans based their society on a book intended as fiction published over four hundred years ago but they manage to get by. You base your society on a book you deliberately rewrite whenever it suits you. If you’re telling me sapiens are struggling to find a secure foundation to build on let me suggest that you start by not rewriting it whenever is convenient to you.”

With a chopping motion that nearly upended his chair Mond dismissed the admiral. “No, no, no. We rewrite Schrodinger’s book because there are constantly new martians among us, polluting our tranquility and forcing us to start the process of self-discovery anew. We just need to be left alone. If you martians would only oblige us maybe we wouldn’t have to go to such extremes but as it is we must do what we can!”

“I see.” Carrington would have expected anger or accusation from Naomi but to his surprise her voice held nothing but regret. “Mr. Mond, I don’t know much about sapiens or self realization. I do know that when your world is constantly shrinking, when being alone is the one thing you aspire to, you’ll get there eventually. I didn’t care much for my time in Silence, Director, I pray the sapiens will enjoy it more. Thank you for meeting me today.”

With that Malacandra’s Eldest waved across the table, collecting Teng, then walked out of the room, leaving Carrington and Mond with the guards. Mond stared at her as she left then shook his head. “What was that all about?”

“I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to figure it out, Director, once you’re left alone like you asked. Guards? Please take Mr. Mond back to his room.”

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Nine

Previous Chapter

Carrington didn’t get to go down himself. Not only did Ollinger file a formal objection to the Admiral’s proposed course of action – which had the intended side effect of making the idea public knowledge and spreading gossip about it all over the fleet – but it turned out that when he’d proposed it he’d forgotten that he had important diplomatic duties that needed attending to as well. The Malacandrans were visiting soon.

When the RSN Stewart had reported discovering an entire lost colony of children on Mars it caused a lot of speculation among the intellectuals of the fleet. Carrington himself had wondered what leadership in a city where no one was older than twenty looked like. For a few days the admiral had treated it as a purely hypothetical question. He’d been more focused on retrieving the lost spacers from the Armstrong than debriefing and analyzing what they’d learned on the surface. Then, quite unexpectedly, the Genies had made a bizarre discovery. Thousands upon thousands of sleeping colonists buried in tunnels beneath Borealis Colony, a refuge for countless people in Shutdown, waiting for some solution to the limited resources of the colony so they could once again live without risking the starvation of the entire settlement.

A recently promoted officer who was working with the Malacandrans had proposed stripping materials from the abandoned cities of Earth and using them to expand the Martian colony to support the existing population. After a lot of debate Carrington had given the idea the green light. Anaheim was the first place they’d chosen for the operation, as a number of analytical models suggested that it would be a good place to recover not just the raw building materials they needed but also the rarer metals and organic components necessary to expand the Borealis dome.

A week ago a Malacandran leader asked to view the city they were cannibalizing for resources. After a lot more debate Carrington had agreed. Of course, that was before the disassembler field was deplooyed and now taking dignitaries down to the Anaheim site was out of the question. They’d been advised that the schedule had changed already. However that just meant Carrington would have to spend more time with very young civilians and he wasn’t sure he was up for it. His own children were long gone and he was feeling rather rusty.

Still, when the Stewart’s transport arrived he was down in the hanger bay, waiting. Major Bennet, the ship’s Chief of Communications, had put together a full blown welcoming party complete with extraneous officers, a squad of security men, and the ship’s captain and XO all present. The major himself, Carrington noted with some amusement, was absent.

The Tranquility was fully equipped for automated landing procedures and used a series of manipulator arms to safely bring in ships through the airlock and past dozens of other spacecraft that awaited deployment. Even with the many patrols that were maintained in the space around the fleet and the handful of damaged fighters that were currently elsewhere for repairs, it wasn’t possible to see the Roddenberry ship making most of that trip from their vantage near the back of the bay. When it came into view, sliding past lines of blocky landing craft, the sleek, elegant lines so distinctive of Roddenberry’s shipbuilding sensibilities stood in stark contrast to the Copernican ships all around it.

There was a flare for the dramatic among those Genie boys that no one else in the Triad Worlds seemed to share. The oval body of the transport was carefully placed on the deck about fifteen feet away and allowed to settle on its landing gear. The reaction thrusters that extended back from the main body on gently swooping struts looked like they should unbalance the ship yet it stayed upright as solidly as if it grew out of the deck. Then the hatch opened and a disembarking ramp dropped down. Several figures were visible in silhouette at the top.

The first was the towering frame of Lieutenant Commander Volk Fyodorovich, Roddenberry’s liaison between their ships and the Malacandrans. He was tall and solidly built. The only thing bigger than his frame was his nose, which looked to be about a third of his face, an effect only made more pronounced by the small, sunken eyes that peered out over it. Fyodorovich had been a junior officer a month ago but Captain Gyle, the Stewart’s skipper, apparently had a lot of faith in his performance under pressure. So far nothing had served to disillusion anyone of that good opinion.

Behind him was the much slimmer, much shorter figure of Aubery Vance. She was barely over five feet tall, stopping just below Fyodorovich’s shoulder, but her body looked long and lissome. Aubery was a native Earthling and she’d gone to Mars at her own insistence. Based on what he’d learned during her debriefings after then-Corporal Langley brought her up from the planet she’d developed some kind of intense personal fixation on the fate of the Martians during their escape. Carrington still wasn’t sure what that fixation entailed but she’d proved helpful out there and hopefully would continue to do so here.

The other four people weren’t anyone he recognized, although he guessed one of them was Naomi Bertolini. She was apparently the oldest conscious person on Mars when they made contact with the Stewart. This was the primary qualification for leadership over there. While she’d technically gone into Shutdown for a bit Naomi was also the first person they removed from Shutdown when they figured out what was going on. The fellow who took over for her as the Eldest had agreed to step aside and let her continue to manage the situation for the time being so continuity had been maintained in that sense.

To his surprise they hadn’t brought any children with them. The Roddenberry’s reports had mentioned the Malacandrans bringing kids with them on the initial diplomatic contacts but this time around they’d left them behind. Further speculation on the Malacandran party was sidelined as Fyodorovich marched down the ramp and saluted. For all his youth and presence, the man looked a bit nervous. “Lieutenant Fyodorovich reporting, Admiral.”

“Welcome aboard, Lieutenant.” Carrington returned the salute and turned to the young woman beside him. “Welcome back, Miss Vance. How was your trip to Mars? Did you learn anything more about the questions that were bothering you?”

“Not really, Admiral Carrington.” The Earthling woman favored him with a tired smile. Although she was clearly still struggling Carrington though she looked like she was in a better place than when she left. “Still, I did meet some new friends.”

“That’s progress all on it’s own, then,” he replied with a smile. “I know it probably doesn’t feel like it but the more friends who can help with your problems the easier they get. Will you introduce me to them?”

“Of course.” Aubrey gestured to the woman just behind and to her left. “This is Naomi Bertolini, the Eldest Malacandran. Naomi, let me introduce you to Admiral Jalak Carrington.”

She was painfully young, almost a girl in his eyes, but there was a confidence and experience behind her eyes that belied the youthful lines of her face. All four of the Malacandrans shared many features including light brown skin, a nose of below average size and thick, coarse hair. Naomi offered him a firm handshake which he accepted. “A pleasure to meet you, Admiral. As it’s been explained to me, you’re the person responsible for all the spacecraft in Volk’s group?”

“That’s essentially correct,” he said. “There’s a lot of nuance to our patchwork fleet which I won’t bore you with right now but for the moment the buck stops here.”

Naomi blinked once. “Buck?”

“Sorry, it’s an idiom that means I’m ultimately accountable for the actions of the fleet.”

“I see.” She nodded once and Carrington could practically see her filing the tidbit away for future reference.

“This is Mr. Dorian Drake,” Aubrey said, indicating the tall, gangly man next to Naomi. “He’s a… petitioner?”

“Correct.” Although Drake was, by definition, younger than Naomi he actually looked several years older. His hawkish nose and thin lips made him look like he was on the cusp of middle age. His handshake was quick and perfunctory. “It’s an interesting position to fill these days, with all we’ve learned from you the last few weeks.”

“Do you work in the field of law, Mr. Drake?” Carrington asked.

“Faith, Admiral. I petition the oyarsa for his wisdom and intervention.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Or at least I did. Reading the full breadth of the Lewis account of Ransom I’ve come to suspect that may not be the correct way to approach him.”

For the first time Carrington was forced to consult his AI’s heads up display and figure out was being discussed. The computer reminded him that Malacandra was supposedly the name of a guardian angel for the planet Mars, a concept the residents of Borealis had apparently gleaned from the novel Out of the Silent Planet. No one in the fleet command structure had ever heard of that particular book, although some knew the author C.S. Lewis. It was interesting that the devoutly Christian man had inadvertently inspired a pagan religion centuries after his death but that had little bearing to the situation at hand.

“You may wish to discuss it with the ship’s chaplain,” Carrington said. “I’m afraid when it comes to theological matters he’s much better qualified to give an opinion than I am, although I sympathize with the way sudden discoveries can lead to a reevaluation of things you thought you knew.”

He turned his attention to the last two people in the group, one who looked about sixteen or seventeen, the other about two years younger. The belted tunics they wore fit them poorly and there was a wide eyed innocence to the way they looked around the hangar that screamed naivety. A glance at Aubrey prompted her. “These two are Teng Pak Won and Gemma Perez, the Chief Watcher and one of his assistants.”

“Chief watcher?” Carrington raised an eyebrow. “What do you watch?”

“Mostly the Silence,” Teng said. “What you call outer space. However on occasion there’s call for us to access the records of events maintained inside the city proper so that we can figure out what happened during an accident or even a criminal incident.”

So he was something like the head of security or perhaps a small town sheriff. Interesting that they had one and didn’t just rely on the social standing of an older individual to bully their way through criminal cases. “You’re very welcome here, Chief Won, and if you need any accommodation from our security personnel please feel free to discuss it with them. I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Thank you, Admiral,” Teng said. “And, technically, it’s Chief Teng. My family name is put first in the records and when spoken.”

“I see.” There was a bit of the old Han features in him. “Your ancestors must have come from Eastern Asia, then?”

He blushed. An actual, honest to goodness, rosy cheeked blush. “I’m afraid I don’t know, Admiral.”

Carrington felt incredibly awkward in turn. “No, I suppose you might not.” That admission hung in the air for a long moment then he clapped his hands together and rubbed them briskly. “Well, Eldest, you know we can’t take you down to Earth at the moment. We have prepared a pretty extensive tour of the ship if you’re interested in that but if there’s anything else you’d rather do then we’re very flexible on that front. Is there anything particular you’d like to discuss or see first?”

A glance passed through all four of them and Naomi drew herself up a bit straighter. “If it’s possible, Admiral, can we see Thul-” She caught herself and shook her head. “Is it possible to see Earth from here?”

Carrington smiled. “Would you like to see live video feeds from our patrols or just have a look with the Mark One Human Eyeball?”


Once again Carrington marveled at the mysterious power the Homeworld had over people who had never once set foot on it. This time, however, the people in question were Malacandrans and not Copernicans. Naomi and her companions stared out of the observation deck with the kind of rapt wonder he’d only seen once or twice, when he caught other officers staring at the planet in unguarded moments. Yet their reaction was very familiar, for he felt the same emotions stirring in him as well.

He’d ordered the Tranquility to an orbit roughly synchronous with the Moon, although a bit upwell of lunar orbit, so that the orbit ship would slowly pass by the dark side of Earth’s satellite over the course of the next eight hours or so. The two heavenly bodies framed one another in the observation window at the moment. The Earth was just starting to be eclipsed by the Moon, the contrast between the day and night portions of the planet and the creeping lunar horizon creating a breathtaking view fit to entrance even the most hardened spacer.

One of Naomi’s party took it in a much different light.

Dorian Drake’s attention was quickly drawn away from the planet and to the moon. He moved down the window until he stood on the far left side of the pane, as close to the lunar surface as it was possible to get on that deck. Staring at the dark side of it, he said, “Do you think Thulcandra will really take note of us if we pass by?”

“If he does, he doesn’t show it,” Carrington replied. “The Sea of Tranquility has been in and out of Lunar orbit a dozen times since we got here and we haven’t noticed anything.”

Drake gave him a sharp look. “You believe that Thulcandra is real, Admiral?”

Carrington shrugged. “I believe the man who wrote Out of the Silent Planet was describing the Devil, one of the forces of evil in the Christian Bible, when he used the word Thulcandra. And yes, I have plenty of reason to believe the Devil is real. But if you’re asking whether I think that the events described in the book really happened, that the Devil is named Thulcandra in an ancient and forgotton solar language or that Elwin Ransom traveled to two planets of the solar system and met their guardian angels, then no. I think C.S. Lewis was a storyteller who made up an enduring story. But he founded many elements of that story on real things, or at least things he believed were real.”

Dorian hummed in the back of his throat for a moment, a gravelly thinking noise that only served to increase the idea that he was older than his actual age. “I’m surprised, Admiral,” he finally said. “I thought you spacers were a godless lot over all. You certainly give Ransom’s Tale more credit than you friends on the ship Stewart.”

“There’s a lot of good things about the Roddenberrys, Mr. Drake,” Carrington said in amusement. “The ability to believe things outside their own experience isn’t one of them.”

“I always found Ransom’s Tale a little strange,” Naomi said. “The descriptions of his travel and what he saw on Malacandra were so different from what we knew in Borealis. Most of it didn’t add up.”

“What did?” Carrington asked.

“The Silent Planet,” she said, putting one hand to the plastic and staring at Earth, looking forlorn. “They turned their back on us for over an hundred years and gave us nothing but Silence. No matter what the world is called, that fact remains.”

“I suppose they didn’t need Thulcandra to lead them to that,” Dorian mused.

“No. Nor can we expect him to explain himself if he did,” Naomi replied, turning away from the window. “I read Perelandra. I know how an Unman behaves when you ask him a question. If we want to know the hows and why’s we’ll have to look elsewhere. I’m ready to move on, Admiral.”

There was an oddly resolute look on her face. “Is there anything else you’d like to do before we get to the tour?”

“Yes.” She nodded once for emphasis. “I want to talk to Stephen Mond.”