Novel In Progress – Part 2

Chapter 15
The Deluge

Professor Chu spoke in a very soft tone of voice. Kassman slipped her hand into his as they stood in front of the video camera floating in front of them.
“I failed. I’m sorry. The results indicate only a discernible pattern for those outside of the Goodness controlled regions. And I have no way of explaining it.”
“Don’t be so swift to declare failure,” said Prof Souf. She was wearing her red robe. Chu had taken his off and donned his regular clothes in preparation for dismissal.
“Is it possible that we picked up the wrong people? Some sort of identification mistake?” questioned Kassman.
“It’s possible but not probable. We violated the medical records of the Goodness in order to identify and locate the Improbables. It would have been a colossal screwup. Or worse.” replied Souf.
“What’s or worse?” asked Kassman.
“A traitor in the Council,” replied Souf. There were a few moments of silence after her words. A traitor. Chu couldn’t understand what would make someone a traitor. But then Chu had never read a spy novel. He didn’t even know what they were. He wasn’t a fan of fiction and probably wouldn’t have even read this story, where he is a central character if he had thought it was fiction. He was much more comfortable with a history book or a textbook on advanced set theory.
“There seems little point in continuing,” said Chu.
“Professor Chu,” said Souf, in a very stern tone of voice. “You are forbidden from abandoning your work until the Council agrees with your assessment. You have insufficient results to draw a conclusion.” Then softening to a motherly tone, “Lawrence I know your history. It’s been hard for you. But continue, you must continue your work.”
Depression. Lawrence Chu was embarrassed that Souf knew that he had been treated for depression not long ago after failing to receive a promotion. Good old Kassman felt him squeeze her hand tight at the mention of it. She needed to change the topic quickly.
“Why are we only speaking to you?” Kassman asked. “Protocol?”
“No. It’s not protocol. It’s the nature of our discussion and the group dynamics of the Council. There are still those who are skeptics about your work. They went along to humor me, and in case they were wrong. And then there are the polite. The skeptics would welcome your resignation as validation of their opinion. The polite would assume that since you are close to the results, then your assessment must be given priority. Between the two groups, you would be headed back home within hours.”
“Why aren’t you wearing your robe?” Souf asked him.
“Thought you would want it back after this conversation. Don’t believe I deserve it” said Chu.
“You’re a Master Mathematician. That is a lifetime designation and not something that can be rescinded,” replied Souf. “So I’d appreciate it if you would wear the robes of your designation in the future.”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” was his sad response.
“Cheer up Chu. You’ve hit a snag in your work. Don’t self-destruct over it. Investigate. Nothing is inexplicable, only unexplained so far. Find the explanation, Chu!”
And at that moment, clues of the explanation happened. There was a loud roar, and the ship shuddered and vibrated and rocked from an explosion.
“What was that?” asked Kassman.
A moment later the battle stations alarm sounded.
“Let’s end it here,” said Souf. “Continue the work. Stay safe my friends.”

**************

Sand. It isn’t quite water yet when a spaceship is buried underground in a sandy environment it acts like water in a submarine when the hull of the vessel is torn open. Chu and Kassman ran towards the sound of the explosion. The halls were filling with people rushing in every direction. The closer they got to their destination the more they began to see the injured and in some cases the dead. A man lay against the wall of the corridor, a large piece of metal sticking from his chest. He had died with his eyes open, his face contorted by pain.
It didn’t take long before they reached the emergency closure where the doors had sealed off the damaged section of the spacecraft like it was a Leper colony and contagious.
“We need to get in there,” said Chu.
“Sorry. Not going to happen,” said a man with a scar on his neck. If there had been time and if circumstances had been less urgent they would have learned that Luman Cold was an escaped slave and the scar on his neck had happened when his slave owner had cut his throat and left him for dead after he was falsely accused of theft by another slave.
“But we’ve got people in a conference room in there. We’ve got to save them,” yelled Kassman.
“It’s too late for them,” came the bland response from Luman Cold.
“You two. I want to speak with you two,” came a loud voice behind them. They turned to find a tall, muscular woman standing behind them with her arms folded. She pointed at them.
“I’ve got a detonation in your meeting room — dead and wounded. A hole in my ship and I want to know what in the name of Hydrogen you were up to!” said the woman. Kassman looked at Chu. He was staring at a human arm not less than a body length from them lying on the floor. He was hypnotized by it.
“And you are?” asked Kassman.
“Doyle. Head of security. And you’re coming with me. Get moving!” she said. Then she put her hand on the weapon at her side as a reminder of alternatives. She pointed back behind them. Kassman reached out and grabbed Chu by his shirt sleeve and pulled him hard. The interruption was just what he needed to break him from the spell caused by the detached arm. He moved like someone startled from a dream.
“Start with what you two were doing in there?” said Doyle. Her walk was more of a stomp Kassman noticed. She also noticed the ankle weights. Microgravitationals set at 5. There were also two on her arms.
“We’re not allowed to discuss our work,” said Kassman as they walked down a corridor where desperate people were receiving the first moments of medical treatment.
“I don’t give a shit what you think the rules are, during a battle, field command overrules any damned thing you think is important. So give me the high-level, and we’ll work our way down in details.”
“We’re under threat of death if we speak about our work,” said Kassman. She looked at Chu. He nodded his agreement.
“And you’re under threat of immediate death this very fucking moment if you don’t tell me what is going on,” said Doyle and she removed her gun and pointed it at Kassman.
“Wait,” yelled Chu. “Let’s go into a room away from everyone else, and we’ll get you answers. I swear to the Periodic Table of Elements and on my mother’s online consciousness.”
“What are you two doing?” Doyle said as they continued to walk down the corridor as others rushed past them.  “Doyle got them,” one man said as he ran past. “Good on ya, Doyle,” a woman yelled as she ran past with a small piece of medical equipment under her arm. “Well done,” said a young girl as she ran past them on her way away from the blast area.
“Start or you die. Simple proposition. And it starts now,” said Doyle. “5, “4.” Then Doyle did the thing that she always did. It worked over sixty percent of the time. She bent her neck a little and trued her aim. It was a slight movement but one that was not slight in its message.
“OK, OK. I’m a Master Mathematician,” said Chu.
“A what?”
“A Master Mathematician. Listen can we please get to a quiet place to talk about this.”
“3,” Doyle replied.
“Wait. OK…OK. I made a discovery. It may be one of the most important discoveries ever,” Chu blurted out the words that he had always been very afraid of saying or even admitting to himself. “Please, can we go in that room right there. I can’t tell you this in a hallway in front of other people.”
“2.”
“Fuck,” said Kassman as she turned around and faced the weapon pointed now at her face.
“I’ve made a discovery that may win the war,” Chu blurted out. And six people now turned to look at him.
“Well, why didn’t you say so. That’s what I need to hear,” she lowered her gun. She grinned because it had worked one more time. She pointed her weapon at the room across the hallway.
It was a room devoted to thoughts and relaxation. There was very soft music. It had the sound of birds. The walls were displaying a rain forest environment. Running water could be heard ever so faintly. They were not alone. There was a woman sitting on a comfort cushion chair. They are not visible and always seem slightly startling when you first see one in use.
“Heard you caught them already,” the woman said to Doyle. “Don’t fuck with Doyle,” she said with a smile.
“Don’t fuck with Doyle,” Doyle repeated. “Listen Cualli; I need to interrogate these two real quick before time works against me. Can I have the room? You really don’t want to be in here if it gets rough.”
Cuali jumped to her feet. “Sure thing Doyle.” As she walked past Kassman she punched her in the gut. “That’s from those who can’t pay you back.” Kassman folded over like a hot pretzel and then fell to the floor. She rolled onto her side. Chu knelt down beside her.
“We’re not the ones that did this?” Chu yelled at the woman leaving the room.
“Fuck you,” she said without looking back. “Get ‘em, Doyle.”
“Got ‘em,” Doyle yelled in response as the door closed.
Kassman had never been punched before. Even as a kid she had never been in a fight. Maybe it was a good thing. Maybe it wasn’t. But she knew she didn’t like the feeling, even if she cherished the experience. She tried to sit up.
“I’ll be OK,” she said as she let her legs extend full out on the floor.
Doyle pulled out her gun again and this time pointed it at Chu.
“1,” she said in a loud voice.
“Wait, wait. OK. It’s a weapon” he yelled.
“Better,” she said and lowered her gun. “What kind of weapon. Is it an anti-matter device or a beam device? Or is it atomics?”
Chu helped Kassman get to her feet.
“No, it’s a mathematical tendency found in large numbers,” Chu said.
“What the fuck? Do you want to die? Is this how you commit suicide where you’re from?” She raised the gun again and pointed it at Kassman who was now standing beside Chu.
“It’s not mega-shit. It looks like alchemy, but it isn’t. I swear on the red robes of a Master Mathematician that I am telling the truth. Let’s get Professor Souf in the conference. She can explain it all to you. She’ll kill me if I tell you. Come on. Please, please,” Chu begged. Kassman pointed her fingers at her interface and quickly called Professor Souf.

************

An hour later they were back in Doyle’s quarters. The walls were projecting a subtle striped pattern, and the furniture had the sleek look of stacked thermal cushioning on shiny mirrored metal frames. Security got excellent quarters on Doyle’s ship.
They stood in a substantial open area, across from the long striped wall. Doyle had four interfaces up and running. In one of them was the pleasant face of Professor Souf and Professor Bhatti in their video conference.
“Can you see this?” Doyle asked. It was the video of the events in the conference room preceding the explosion.
“Yes,” replied Bhatti. “I don’t think she knows what he’s about to do.”
“I agree,” said Doyle.
“But look at all of these people, over there. They know. See, they’re trying to get out of their seats and run away. They know what he’s doing. But look at these people. They don’t have a clue. See that one? He thinks it’s all funny. No idea what’s about to happen.”
Then the video showed the explosion. There wasn’t much to see. Splatter went everywhere, and a significant amount hit the camera and blotted out about sixty percent of the lens. The sound overwhelmed the microphone and came across as white noise. A moment after the blast, a voice could be heard. It wasn’t a word. It said ‘ung’ three times before falling silent.
Doyle fingered the interface and replayed the moments before the blast.
“What are we looking for,” asked Kassman.
“Anything,” said Doyle. “Everything. Let’s start by identifying all the people in the room. Let’s start with the ones who know what is going on.”
It was a tedious process as the first obstacle was that the ship’s records of who was onboard had missing intervals. Fortunately, Kassman had a welcoming file she had created with the pic of each person in attendance. After an interface to interface, the faces were matched to those in the room. Their names floating above them in the video from the room.
“Wait a minute. They aren’t all there. There’s two of them missing” said an excited Kassman. “Look, I’ve still got McGee and the Twins unassigned in the image.”
“She has the highest central tendency,” said Souf.
Despite the explanation from Souf that Doyle didn’t understand, it finally clicked for her. “She is your weapon?”
“We hope so,” said Professor Souf. “We were hoping she would be one of many.”
“What the fuck?” said Chu. “It’s identical to our result sets. Look.” He pointed his fingers at the interface displayed in front of them. “See? Gray, Brown, Brown, Brown, Gray, Gray.” He was circling the people who were trying to run away and was calling out the color of their clothing.”
As a licensed historian, I have to mention this although I suspect you already know it. Gray, brown and black have been a central tendency for clothing in authoritarian regimes throughout history. No one can explain it, but there are countless theories and people who will tell you that they know why, especially if you pay them for the knowledge. But no one can really say why. In the case of those living under Goodness, brown was the lowest class color, next was gray, and finally black for those in charge. If you ever see an authoritarian wearing bright colors, you can be confident they are on holiday.
“They all come from areas controlled by Goodness,” said Professor Chu.
“You’re right,” said Professor Bhatti.
“What about him?” asked Doyle. He circled the image of a fleeing Professor Toure.

 

Chapter 16
Love Commanded

The door opened to Doyle’s quarters. Two armed guard shoved Elaine McGee and Nambur and Akala into the room.
“Get your murderous asses in there” said one of the guards as he pushed Elaine again. She was bleeding from a busted lip and the guards uniform was torn at the chest pocket and collar.
“Doyle’s got your ass now. You’re gonna wish you’d died in the blast” said the guard that shoved Nambur and Akala into the room.
“This is them” said the guard with a blaster pointed at McGee’s back. “They were wandering the halls trying to find a way to get to the blast site. Probably left some evidence behind. Figured you might need to Bistock them.”
Kolin Bistock was a lowly security analyst second class that had filed abuse charges against Doyle. Doyle had recently been cleared of the charges when Bistock withdrew the charges. This only after a private discussion with two of Doyle’s lieutenants who described the art of skin removal while keeping someone alive and conscious throughout the procedure.
“Thank, Coffey” said Doyle. “You can leave them with me and return to your post” said Doyle as she removed her blaster from the holster at her side.
“Watch out for this one” said the man with the torn collar, “mid-sentence.”
For those of you who are unaware of a mid-sentence its simply a battle tactics of starting the attack mid-sentence while speaking to your opponent in a comforting tone. It provides an element of surprise that will either work and you win, won’t work and get you killed, or only work for a couple of moments before your opponent recovers and knocks the snot out of you. In Elaine’s case it was the latter. She went down to a right jab that hit her squarely in the mouth.
“Appreciate the warning” said Doyle as she raised her gun and aimed it at McGee.
“Wait, wait, wait a minute. It can’t be her. She had nothing to do with it” said Chu.
“Primeshit” Doyle replied. “These two conveniently miss the boat. No I don’t play coincidence.”
“There are three of us, asshole” said Akala. “Or maybe you can’t count.”
Doyle walked over to Nambur and Akala. Then in a flash she holstered her weapon then punched them in the stomachs, the upper stomachs forcing the wind out of them and making it hard to breath. She used both of her fists. They went down to their knees. A moment later Doyle had her gun pointed at McGee’s head.
“Try it bitch. I’ll splatter you like a Tsui Tamona painting” Doyle said.
“It’s not them” said Kassman.
“You people have told me a lot of stories that don’t add up” said Doyle. “So I’m going to make it nice and easy. This bitch is going to die right now if I don’t get a confession.”
“5” said Doyle.
“4.”
The head nod and aim adjustment.
“Wait, wait…I can prove it! This is Elaine McGee. She is an Improbable. They were trying to kill all of them but they missed these two. Now if you kill them then they will have succeeded and you might as well put the gun to your head and pull the trigger because we won’t stand a chance without them.”
“Whats the proof?” asked Doyle.
“OK. Have you ever played Rock, Paper, Scissors?”
“3.”
“I’m not fucking kidding. We can prove who she is by the game.”
“2.”
Then Chu did something no one expected. He stepped in front of Elaine McGee, between her and the gun.
“Please Doyle. Try it. If I’m wrong. Then shoot me before you shoot her. But you’ve got to try it. Please, the future of everyone you know, everyone you love depends on it.”
Ten games they played. Doyle kept her gun pointed at McGee throughout. Elaine won every one of them. Doyle was not buying it so they played ten more. Same outcome.
“Maybe she’s a skillful player” said Doyle.
“Twenty games, Doyle. And if you do twenty more it will be the same” said Kassman.
“Show me” said Doyle. So they did twenty more games in rapid fashion. At the end of it, McGee had won all forty.
“You’re a fucking freak!” said Doyle after the last game. But her gun was still aimed at McGee.
“But now you know they couldn’t be involved in the explosion” said Kassman.
“No. All I know is that she is lucky” replied Doyle. Then she put her finger to her ear. “O’Farrell, get Doc Nahan. I need him to do a security scan.” On the other end of the comms O’Farrell yelled ‘yes, boss’ but no one else in the room heard it.
A few minutes later a man entered the room accompanied by two rather large muscular women with guns pointed forward.
“What the hell are you doing Doyle? I’ve got people dying out there because I’m not helping them. I’m going to file a grievance” said the little man with the black hair, olive skin and big nose.
“File your grievance. I need to make sure neither of these two are going to blow the fuck up” she replied as she still pointed her blaster at Elaine.
“Give them guns and they take command” said the diminutive doctor in a very sarcastic tone as he removed a small handheld device the size of one of your phones from his pocket. “You know there was a sub-commander dying when your thugs interrupted me.” He began to move the device up and down Nambur and Akala.
“I don’t care” replied Doyle. “Sub commanders are full of themselves.”
“You’re a sub commander” replied Nahan sarcastically.
“That’s how I know” Doyle replied in a serious tone.
“They are clean” said Nahan as he moved over to Elaine and began his scan. After a few moments, “she’s clean too” came from his mouth.
With those words Doyle stopped aiming his gun at Elaine. Instead he aimed it at Prof Kassman.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked Lawrence in an angry voice.
“Scan them both” Doyle said to the doctor. “I’m doing my job, making sure. That’s what I’m doing.”
A couple of moments later Nahan provided a “clean” diagnosis. Finally Doyle lowered her gun.
“Can I leave now?” said Nahan in an annoyed tone.
“Get the fuck out” said Doyle. “But I’ll send for you if I need you again.”
“Yeah, sure” said Nahan and he walked quickly to the door and then was gone.

It was a few minutes later. Doyle, Chu, Kassman, Elaine, and the twins were standing around a holographic replay from the cameras in the conference room right before the explosion. Connected in comms were Prof. Souf and Bhatti and they too reviewed the replay.
“So if you’re from their part of the universe you’re familiar with suicide bombers? Is that the assumption we’re supposed to make here?” Asked Prof. Chu.
“Exactly” replied Doyle. “That’s what I’m wondering about too. It’s an ancient tactic that’s fallen out of use. Yet here are genpop Goodness aware within moments, almost instantly. That doesn’t make sense. ”
“Why?” Asked Akala. Doyle didn’t even bother to answer him.
“Social isn’t she” Akala replied sarcastically.
“But there’s a wrinkle in our theory” said Doyle.
Then at the bottom of the holographic image a blue bar appeared and a picture of the person calling.
“Pause playback” said Doyle. “Accept” she said in the hologram changed into the image of the person calling, an older harsh looking man with a scar in his cheek despite medical technology that could easily eliminate it.
“Doyle”.
“Yes sir”.
“I just got a call from Gen. Leary. Yeah I’m not shitting you, that Gen. Leary. Seems you got a hell of a mess going on down there and I know you want to get to the bottom of it. But I’m changing your prime directive, Doyle. As of now, your directive is the protection of professors Chu and Kassman, Elaine McGee, and the conjoined. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir, Crystal” Doyle replied.
“However, should you come across the people responsible for this attack, you have my authorization to use level C interrogation techniques. Adjust your mission Doyle. Goodbye.” Then the image stopped and was replaced by the previous playback just prior to the explosion.
“What’s level C?” Asked Elaine.
“Torture followed by death” replied Doyle.
“Why C?” asked Professor Chu.
“A is follow the rules, no ones favorite option. B is torture them but don’t kill them” replied Doyle.
“Is that sort of thing allowed? Do we have rules that prevent us from being barbaric?” Asked Elaine. And again Doyle didn’t bother to answer the question.
“I’d like an answer” said Elaine when it became apparent Doyle wasn’t going to answer.
“My job is to keep you alive, not explain shit.”
Elaine turned to Prof. Chu and Kassman.
“Well?”
“I don’t know the rules of warfare” replied Kassman. “Neither do I” added Chu.
“We’re mathematicians, not soldiers” said Prof. Souf sitting beside Prof. Bhatti who was nodding agreement. “We’re at war against a foe that is barbaric beyond belief.”
“For example?” Asked Elaine.
“They take slaves from the planets they conquer” said Prof. Souf.
“Six generations ago, my family were slaves” replied Elaine.
“We didn’t know that. No one researched that far back in your history” replied Prof. Chu.
“It’s not open for debate” said Doyle. “Let’s get back to work. But we need to take care of a couple of things first.”
Doyle walked over to a cabinet built into the wall. He touched a spot on it with his finger, illuminated in the cabinet opened up. Inside were weapons, lots of weapons. There were also two crates made of shiny silver metal. Doyle opened one of the crates and removed blasters from it. She closed the crate. She closed the cabinet. In turn she picked up each blaster with her right hand. Then she said words like an incantation.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” Then she handed the weapon to Prof. Chu.
“I don’t want this” complained Chu.
“You have no choice.” Then she picked up the next gun.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” Then she handed the weapon to Prof. Kassman. Kassman did not complain.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” Then she handed the weapon to Elaine. McGee checked the balance, the weight, and the aiming of the weapon. Then Doyle sighed heavily.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” She handed the weapon to the twins.
“Nobody better fuck with me now” said Nambur. “Don’t be so dramatic” replied Akala. “And you will not discharge this weapon without my permission,” Akala added.
“Try not to shoot each other” said Doyle.
“Why doesn’t he like us?” Nambur asked Akala.
“I don’t know.”
Doyle stood in front of the twins with her legs wide apart and her shoulder square.
“I’ll tell you why. In a battle you will get me killed, if you don’t get yourselves killed first.”
“No we won’t” replied Akala as if his personal honor it been challenged.
“Listen I’ve seen it before. That’s why conjoins never make it in security or the military. It’s not that you’re bad people. It’s that you argue about what to do during the first minute of battle and that gets you killed and it gets other people killed. A battle is the wrong place and the wrong time for workplace democracy.”
“But he should let me make the decision” said Nambur. “I’m the one who has the stomach to do the needful. He’ll just puke or something.”
“Don’t start” replied Akala in anger. “Don’t you start this. You’ve always been violence prone. Remember the fight with Tommy? That was all you. I let you be in charge and look what happened” replied Akala.
“I was 12 years old. He tried to steal your girlfriend. He made do you cry. What was I supposed to do? I was tired of your whimpering.”
“I hate you” said Akala.
“Not nearly as much as I hate you.”
“Not nearly as much as I hate listening to the two of you” said Doyle. “Now shut up and let’s get back to work.”
“Where were we?” Asked Prof. Souf.
“Him. I want to know about him. He doesn’t fit.” Doyle was pointing at a man running away. A man wearing the red robes of a master mathematician. It was Prof. Toure.
At the bottom of the hologram a blue message with white lettering began to flash. A soft male voice came out of micro speakers in Elaine McGee’s ear canals.
“Return to your ship. Departure imminent. Return to your ship. Departure imminent.”
“We’ll have to postpone this for a while” said Doyle. “I need to get you secured on our ship.”
“You’re to come to Kath” said Professor Souf.
“Why?” asked Professor Chu.
“Propulsion. There’s been a breakthrough. Its in final testing. They will be doing a briefing this afternoon. But the word is that it will change significantly our strategy. We will be able to attack instead of run” said Professor Souf.

*****

Amelia got out of bed and put on a long white robe over her naked body.
“If you love me, you’ll do it” she said.
“I can’t. I need her father. Without him, my district becomes less secure” said Malu as he too got out of bed. He put on a pair of deep blue trousers.
“Then set me free. If you won’t take me as your wife and if you truly love me like you say you do, then set me free. It is the simple command of love that love cannot be commanded. If it is not given freely then it is not given at all.”
Malu walked up behind Amelia put his arms around her.
“Oh my precious, my heart, you are the air in my lungs. I would die for you.”
“But you don’t love me enough to do the one thing that would prove it” Amelia responded.
“We’ve been over this before” replied Malu.
“And will go over it again. And again. We’ll keep going over this until you show courage and your trust in me.”
“Perhaps you have forgotten who is the master?” He hugged her a little tighter. She responded by pushing away from him.
“It is in my final testament that you are to be freed. Other than becoming my wife, something which you cannot do, that is the only other way you can become free.”
“Kill her” said Amelia angrily.
“I can’t” he replied forcefully.
“There are poisons. Discrete poisons.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“I can give you a house full of children. Made from us, from our love.”
“No.”
She moved over to a sofa beside a table. She sat down and took a piece of fruit from the bowl. She bit into it and the juices ran down her chin.
“Then give me Delsh. Bring my brother into our house.”
“You know I can’t do that” Malu replied.
Amelia took another bite from the fruit before responding.
“For someone so powerful, you have a lot you can’t” she replied.
“I know” he said in a soft tone. “I know.”

Chapter 17
Doyle in Charge

 

Prof. Chu walked around the apartment opening doors to bedrooms.
“It was my idea” said Bueller. It’s how I keep my quarters. The walls, floor and ceiling had projections from the ships exterior cameras. This made the room look like it was floating in deep space.
“What is that smell?” asked Akala.
“Bacterium” said Bueller. “Tiny little nano-particles that eat pollution.”
“I don’t see why this is necessary. We’ve done nothing wrong. You’re supposed to protect those two” said Lawrence Chu pointing at Elaine and the conjoined twins.
“Three, asshole” replied Akala.
“Two, three it doesn’t matter” replied Chu. “Kassman and I do not deserve to be held in prisoner accommodation.” He finished looking at all the rooms, came back and stood a good safe distance in front of Doyle.
“It’s not open for discussion. Relax, get comfortable, you might be here awhile” said Doyle. She walked over to the sofa and unhooked her boots, removed them and lay down, pulling a cushion under her head. “Like this” she said with a snear.
“You have no right to hold us against our will” said Kassman.
Doyle sat up for a moment, “that’s where you’re wrong. Under hostile action the rules are different, more my kind of rules. Those two might be something special and you might be the smart motherfuckers who figured out how to find them. The way I see it, that son of a bitch Chiro would be happier with all of you dead. Under those circumstances and depending on the level of pain you are willing to endure in order to disagree with me, the matter is settled.”
“Not even close to settled” said Kassman. “I want to talk to your commanding officer.”
“Go ahead. I’ll even make it easy for you” Doyle said and got up from the sofa. She tapped on the interface in front of her and the image of the commander appeared.
“How’s it coming Doyle?” Said the image projected in front of Doyle and visible to all.
“We’ve got a lot of dead and injured commander so I won’t waste your time. I’ve got the improbables, Prof. Chu and Kassman in the prison quarters for safety. Nobody in, nobody out. And they don’t like it. What you think?” Doyle adjusted her head, like she did when she would about to execute someone, smiled and waited for the commander’s response.
“I don’t care if they don’t like it, for now it’s the way things are. You are wasting valuable time with your bellyaching. Doyle put you there and I trust her.”
The commander’s image disappeared when she reached out and disconnected the comms through her interface. Her image had been gone less than a couple of seconds before it appeared again.
“Almost forgot, improbables, there is a significant number of the patrols between us and Kath. I need your route plan to avoid them. And I need it soon. One hour.”
It was a very argumentative hour. Elaine and Nambur disagree on the path past the Colossus, the massive black hole near the center of KRS One. Nambur suggested a path that took them through the asteroid belt with fewer enemy ships. Elaine suggested an end around the other side of the Colossus, a route that would take longer. And at the end of the hour they could not report an agreed route. As you can imagine the commander’s response was loud.
“For a secret weapon, the two of you are not a very good weapon. Not very secret either.”
“Then how about we flip a coin” said Bueller.
“What the hell are you doing down there? Why aren’t you at your station?” The commander yelled.
“Because I’m needed here.”
“If there’s something going wrong I can always count on you being close by.”
“Offering ideas, commander. Offering ideas” replied Bueller with a smile.
“Offer them some ideas on how they can agree on a route. Because were coming to a halt in about 10 minutes. Now it’s time for one of your good ideas for a change.” Again the commander disconnected and her image disappeared.
“Is she always such an asshole?” Asked Prof. Kassman.
“She’s okay. She’s got a lot of responsibility” said Bueller. “I wouldn’t want the job.”
“Me either” said Akala.
“It’s just command” said Doyle. “You train for it, you practice it, you get used to it.”
“So you could be a commander and not yell, is that what you’re saying?” Asked Prof. Kassman. This caused Lawrence Chu to frown.
“That’s right, no yelling. But a few of you motherfuckers might gets slapped around every now and then.”
“Great” replied Kassman.
“Kassman” said Doyle, “give me a reason and I will hurt you, without hesitation.”
“You can’t threaten us” said Chu.
“I didn’t. I threatened her and it’s a threat I will keep. I wanted her to know that so she can respond accordingly. I don’t really see you academics doing well in combat.”
“That’s outrageous. You are a bully. That’s what you are” said Chu.
“And you are now on the list as well.”
“What list?” Asked Chu.
“The list of people whose ass I’m going to kick first chance I get.”
“You’re an idiot” said Chu.
Doyle walked over and stood in front of Chu. They were roughly the same height. Chu’s stance became unsteady as he shifted weight from one foot to another. Doyle didn’t say anything. She just stood a forearms length in front of him and smiled. Chu’s right foot started to step backwards but then he changed his mind and stood his ground. Sometimes it is the slightest motions. He didn’t remember anything after that. He didn’t remembers Doyle’s fist as it connected with the right side of his face and was immediately followed by a harder blow to the left side. He didn’t even remember his unconscious body falling to the floor. He regained consciousness a minute later laying on the sofa were Doyle and been laying previously. His head hurt that it was hard to focus.
“What if this decision isn’t part of it?” Asked Bueller.
“What do you mean?” Asked Doyle.
Bueller played with her personal interface as she spoke. “What if improbability doesn’t pertain too all choices?”
“It doesn’t work like that” said Prof. Kassman as she performed a cranial massage on Chu. “We had to work along several axis with binary opposites. We could have pursued localized choices but the calculations were exceedingly tedious and we had no guarantee that we can ever test them successfully. The alternative was to look for ALL. The improbable who crosses all areas with their choices. That is why they were only 31 of them in the universe.”
“Cool” said Bueller. “So you looked at the macro level because it was easier, correct?”
“Exactly” said Chu who was beginning to respond to the cranial massage and the pain suppressant vapor he had just inhaled. Chu looked at Doyle and made a rude gesture with his hand that fortunately was localized to his planet and meant nothing to Doyle. However Elaine noticed it and smiled. Alien middle finger.
“So they must agree” said Bueller.
“There is always the possibility that there are more than one correct answer to the problem. After all you can sum two numbers to reach ten several different ways” said Chu. “I’ll explain it to the commander.

Doyle moved her fingers in front of her and answered a comms request. She kept it private so only she could hear it.
“What have you got O’Rourke?” Doyle asked.
“Okay. The egghead Toure. There was a disturbance at the eggs home a few nights ago.”
“That’s all you got?” Asked Doyle.
“No, it gets better. The professors wife’s had to be sedated. She kept screaming about someone coming to kill them. And now her husband is dead.”
“That’s more like it.” Doyle squinted her eyes a little.
“Not done yet” said O’Rourke. “One Prof. Alastair Shad, who just happens to have been one of the persons who suggested Toure hasn’t been seen in two days.”
“Good work” Doyle said.
“Doyle, give me a moment, I’m doing the data request. Checking something you asked about. Hold on it’s coming right now. Well shit, how the fuck did you know? Every one of them. They all had their records updated recently. In fact they were all done within the same hour. How in the fuck did you know to look for that?”
“I’ve been doing this for a while. You would’ve figured it out if you had seen the recording right before the blast. Some people ran, some people had no fucking clue what was happening. You just confirmed that the ones that ran may not have been who we thought they were. So tell me, were all of their images updated too?”
“Doyle, you’re on fire. Every one of them was updated as part of the profile update.”
“Here’s what I want next, O’Rourke. I want a deep background check on central command structure, starting from the top. Keep it very quiet.”
“You smell what I’m smelling?” Asked O’Rourke.
“Yeah. Send me the profiles to read.”

Chapter 18

Simulatus?

“Stop it,” said Kassman; then she pushed away Chu. “Why do you always have to be so touchy-feely all the time?”
“Because you’re soft because you’re warm because I love you.”
“You need to respect me as a person. It’s like there’s no time you wouldn’t rather be having sex with me.”
“That’s not true,” said Chu. He walked out of a bedroom of the new faculty building.
“Tell me one time when you don’t want to – just one.”
Lawrence Chu smiled at her and replied, “Right after we’ve had sex. There, your supposition is incorrect.” Chu folded his arms over his chest. He tapped the interface in front of him and walked over to the beverage panel to retrieve a strong cup of coffee.
“Always sleep that tiny bit better on the planet. It makes no sense, but there it is, the illogical improbable.” He took a sip, nodded his head, then walked back into the bedroom. He was wearing his fluffiest red robe, the collar standing up in the back as if he has spent hours forming it and spraying it with hairspray to keep it standing.
“Did you hear about the ambush?”
“Around the Keldon blackhole?”
“Yeah,” said Kassman. Kassman wore a colorful swirling robe. In contrast to Chu’s red Imperial robe, hers presented a rather wild psychedelic flair.
“You’re really going to wear that today,” asked Chu, but it wasn’t really a question.
“Of course. Look at yourself, the red plumes of the scarlet beaker, that’s what you’re wearing.”
“So, what happened at Keldon?”
“They got a transfer fleet and the support ships,” replied Kassman.
“All of them?” Chu took a sip of his coffee.
“Yes. Got the support ships too.”
“I thought they changed their route to Oregon every time.”
“They do,” replied Kassman.
“Oh,” said Chu solemnly. It was further evidence that Doyle may be correct in her suspicion of spies.
Oregon is a planet not far from Triolo where the structures of their space fleets were assembled. Triolo is not a friendly planet. It’s mostly sand dunes and mountain ranges. There is little freshwater, so it is extracted from the atmosphere for the inhabitants. It has no naturally occurring sentient life forms, the most advanced species you would consider to be insects and reptiles. But what it does have is U37, a mineral that was sent to a foundry and brought to a hard concentrate which forms the structure of the space fleet. Think of it as an advanced, very advanced, type of steel. It takes ten units of U37 to produce one usable unit of product. Because of this, the structures were assembled on Oregon and moved many at a time, lashed together, to Triolo. There the propulsion was fitted along with the rest of the systems. Since Oregon and Triolo are nearby, transit time does not take an extended length of time. This strengthened Doyle’s proposition about spies.
“I still wish we could tell them.” Lawrence Chu frowned.
“I know,” said Kassman, “we’ve got to stand like idiots in front of the Council in order to help Doyle. I hope she’s quick.”
“I just wish she’d stop calling us eggheads,” said Chu.
“Get over it. So, what if she knocked the crap out of you. It’s what she does. She trains for it, so she’s going to be good at it. We have trained for other things, and we’re good at them.”
“When all of this is over, I’ll make sure she pays for her crime,” said Chu. He took another sip of coffee went over to a table and sat down. His fingers began to move on the interface.
“What crimes? Crimes against your dignity don’t count.” Kassman sat down at the table across from Chu. “Would you like me to keep your food at an optimal serving temperature?” asked the table to Kassman.
“No,” she replied. She had no food; obviously, the table was malfunctioning.
“She’s violent, she’s dangerous, and she’s not that smart,” said Chu.
“Yes, maybe, and I disagree. In that order.”
“You have got to be kidding me. You really think there’s a significant brain underneath her instincts? All I see is intimidate, smash, kill.”
“Yes, and she was pretty damn quick to figure out that they have spies selling us out.”
“Yes, and she is forcing me to do the most humiliating act of my professional career. We have to stand in front of the Council of Numeracy and tell them we have no idea how to explain our results when we have a pretty damn good idea what happened. I swear, if Doyle costs me this red robe, no amount of training will protect her from the beating I’ll give her.”
“You need to keep it together. It’s going to be hard, and we’re going to be humiliated. There’s no avoiding that. Accept it.” Kassman’s voice was very soft and soothing. Chu finished his cup of coffee, made a few taps on the interface, and got up to retrieve yet another cup.
“It’s about to be the worst day of my life, I’m under guard all day and all night, which makes me a prisoner, and the woman I love requested separate quarters when we arrived. So, asking me to keep it together and put on a happy face might be asking a little too much today.” Chu took the coffee and returned to the table.
“Is that what this is about?” asked Kassman. “You’re still upset because I wanted my own room?”
“A little,” replied Chu.
“Perhaps a lot,” said Kassman. “I don’t know the customs on this planet or the behavioral expectations. But I do know that the highest professional group in our field is located here, so I intend to behave with as much dignity and respect as I can. And if that means I’m not your little fuck toy for a little while, then I’m sorry I’m just trying to avoid screwing this up.”
“They don’t observe us constantly,” said Chu.
“You don’t know that, do you?”
“You’re right, I don’t.”
“Then let’s both behave as best we can for right now.”
“Okay” replied Chu with a long, forlorn sigh.
“Good. We were getting a little too much like Bueller,” said Kassman.
“What’s wrong with Bueller?”
Kassman smiled and brushed the hair from her face. “Bueller’s part of a subspecies that comes with a very high libido. They have sex with multiple partners, hundreds of them over time. But then they find the right one, don’t asked me how that works. Once that happens, they become completely monogamous. And the two lovers spend the rest of their lives fucking each other’s brains out.”
“I had no idea,” said Chu. “She looks like such a young innocent kid.”
“Well that young innocent kid is infatuated with Doyle” replied Kassman.
“You’re kidding!” said Chu with wide, gossip-filled eyes.
“No, not at all.”
“But Doyle, what a terrible choice. Surely she could do better than that.”
“I don’t know. The muscles, that tough demeanor, and look how long her nose is. I’ve got to admit Doyle is a good-looking woman. Not my type but I can understand why Bueller is attracted to her.”
Chu did not reply, except with tight lips and a slight rise in his shoulders. He tapped the interface in front of him.
“Oh great. It’s almost time. I’d better tell our prison guards,” he said sarcastically, referring to the team assigned to guard them. He went out the main door of their suite, only to return a few seconds later. “They already knew,” he said while walking back through the door.
“I think we should rerun the program,” said Kassman.
“I’ve been thinking the same thing. If we consider all possible outcomes there is the possibility there will be new Improbables.”
“Exactly!” replied Kassman. “It’s something we can offer the Council.”
“If I were them I would be interested.”
“It’s all we’ve got to offer. You got a better idea?”
“No,” said Chu as his shoulders slumped. “It’ll take time to run, so we should have the results for them tomorrow. I’ll be lucky to keep the red robe.”
“The Improbables, at what rate will they be replaced? Instantly? Will it take some time? We need to know. They could be important answers,” said Kassman.
“Don’t start with your computer simulation theories again. You have no evidence, nothing but speculation. I don’t want to hear about it until you have some evidence” said Prof. Chu.
“What if they were placed instantly? Would you say that is evidence of our existence being a computer simulation?”
“Evidence of your confirmation bias maybe,” replied Chu. He tapped at the interface in front of him. “We still have a priority one status, so I’m going to stop all other jobs in progress.”
Kassman tapped the interface in front of her. “Launching AI interface and sequencing.”
“But who says they have to be replaced at all. Maybe two Improbables is enough. It’s the minimum viable number to meet the condition of multiple Improbables. Maybe that’s all that is necessary. Maybe we’re wrong for even thinking that multiple Improbables is a condition that must exist. As far as we know only one needs to exist to meet the infinity condition. All of our work has been on central tendencies and finding circumstances of excessive regression. What you’re talking about is beyond our expertise. Actually, I can’t think of anyone who is an expert on this sort of thing.”
Kassman finished tapping the interface. “Let me know when everything is ready.”
“Initiating,” said Prof. Chu.
“And the dogs are off,” said Kassman as she theatrically tapped the interface one last time.
Kassman held her hand out for Chu’s hand. They walked towards the Council meeting hand-in-hand, like a condemned couple towards the executioner.

LZ120169 is a tiny and insignificant galaxy. It contains less than 100 stars and only 14 inhabited planets. Unknown to Kassman and Chu the moment their program began to run LZ120169 ceased to exist.

*****

Professors Chu and Kassman stood before the Council chambers next to the guards. The guards were dressed from head to toe in black uniforms. Their helmets had face shields so you could not see them. Chu thought it looked terrifying. Kassman believed it looked polished.
“Nice robe,” a female voice said from one of the helmets.
“Thank you,” said Prof. Kassman and twirled her wildly colorful robe.
“We appreciate the variety around here,” came the reply from the woman behind the visor. The door opened, and Prof. Souf came out to receive them.
“We’re so glad to see you. We were worried about you.” Then Prof. Souf did something that was very un-professorial, she hugged Prof. Chu. Then she hugged Prof. Kassman. Kassman hugged her back. Chu, however, stood there uncomfortably, arms by his side. As they entered the Council chambers, all counselors stood as a show respect. Prof. Souf led them to the Council table where they sat, one on each side of her, at the head of the table.
“The times have become dangerous,” said Prof. Souf. “Prof. Shad is still missing. All but two of the Improbables have been killed. Prof. Toure is dead. We have lost 62 hulls and 14 transport ships at Kelso. I don’t need a graph to know that our trendline is down. What we need to know is how to reverse the trend.” Prof. Souf stopped talking and looked around the table.
“If I might suggest,” began Kassman, “with 31 Improbables, we were planning to use them to assist in planning battle strategy. Now there are only two. They both show tendencies towards correct decisions. It’s less than ideal, but we proceed as planned.”
“Prof. Chu, do you concur?” asked Souf.
Chu nodded his head, “Yes, obviously, it’s an optimization strategy. Kassman and I’ve started rerunning the program. We want to see if Improbables are replaced and how soon. Is there a rate at which they are replaced? Is it predictable?”
“Excuse me,” said a very small man at the other end of the table. Prof. Chu noticed the man had an uncommonly small nose, closer to the size of Elaine McGee’s than anyone else. He raised his hand slightly before he spoke, “What are your expected results and how would you evaluate the various outcomes?” Then he smiled at Prof. Chu in a friendly manner.
Prof. Kassman spoke up quickly, “I think we should keep the operational separate from the strategic. To continue an optimization strategy, as we identify more Improbables, if there are any more, I suggest we go get them.”
“Yes, I know, I was asking the larger question,” replied the little man. “What if there are 29 new names, or 100 or none at all? Have you considered the significance of the various outcomes?”
His career on the line, his life in danger, and this was a moment in time when Prof. Lawrence Chu started laughing. Everyone else at the long table looked at him curiously.
The little man far down the table asked, “What’s so funny?”
“It’s the same argument I just had Prof. Kassman. She thinks this might all be a computer simulation. Everything, our existence, the entire thing … a computer simulation.”
“And you don’t see that is a possibility?” asked the man.
“Not only do I see it as an incredible improbability, I would consider it to be a waste of computer resources,” replied Prof. Chu.
“It does seem extravagant doesn’t it?” replied the man.
“I don’t know that I’m smart enough to know the implications of the various outcomes.” Prof. Lawrence Chu responded and then felt a great weight lift from him as he said those words. One of the more significant fears of his life, was a motivating fear, the fear that he wasn’t smart enough. His admission was met with smiles from the counselors.
“I know how you feel,” said the little man with the little nose. “None of us are always smart enough, we exceed when we can.” Prof. Chu wondered where the little man was from.

These were very learned man and women. Perhaps some of the smartest of our species. Still, the next day they were unprepared for the results set they received from the program. The list of Improbables was empty. Even Nambur and Elaine’s names were now gone.

 

Chapter 19

Advantage Chiro

Chiro stood on the observation bridge of the first minister’s star cruiser. Beside him was the high minister for defense, George Hall. Malu occupied the other side of the defense minister.
“We will be using nuclear-tipped missiles with antigravity accelerators. They are the most powerful weapons in our arsenal,” said Minister Hall.
“It’s the most powerful weapon in their arsenal that concerns me,” said Chiro blandly.
“We believe ours is as good, if not better than theirs.”
“Of course you do. Your job depends on you believing that at this moment,” replied Chiro sarcastically.
“But it’s true, First Minister,” complained Minister Hall.
“I know, I know it’s all true. Until you need more funding. Then it’s all about how far we’re falling behind and how it’s going to cost so much more to catch up, but still a lot less than if we put it off. In my years as First Minister, this part has been more predictable than any other.”
Far off in the distance, a squadron of 14 attack spacecraft approached a medium-sized defense cruiser, the kind used along the borders. Each of the 14 fired two missiles then rolled to the starboard side away from the target and accelerated.
“I’ve heard it’s quite the light show,” said Malu.
“Just wait,” said Minister Hall with a smile.

When the first missile hit, a definitive outline of a bubble could be seen around the ship. Instantly, and moving away from the ship was a wave that was going through every particle it could find. Upon finding a particle, it gave it extra energy. Particles receiving extra energy will sometimes illuminate. So, for what they thought was a safe distance, they watched as particles went from invisible to visible briefly and the wave of energy redistribution seen throughout space was beautiful. It was symmetrical in all directions. Imagine billions or even trillions of lightning strikes happening at the same time, all generated from the same point, the craggy and harsh patterns of tributaries as they move away at the speed of light. The effect of the test was as if someone had turned a light on in your entire solar system, every bit of it illuminating for a brief time and flowing outward until, like most things, it eventually ran out millions of miles later.

“Praise be the prophets, it is so beautiful. The most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen,” said Malu, with eyes wide in wonder.
“And there is no way to overcome field dispersal?” asked Chiro.
“None that we’ve found. If multiple weapons require field dispersal simultaneously, it just results in a larger dispersal area.” Minister Hall set his chin and nodded slightly.
Chiro smiled. “Malu, I need you to reward Von Klack. Send agents to go get his wife and family. Discreet extraction. And come up with a reward for everyone who has worked on field dispersal.”
“Yes, First Minister,” replied Malu. His fingers tapped quickly at the unseen interface in front of him. He set a reminder for later in the day.
“Minister Hall. You may now have the means to finally end the war. Don’t waste it.”
“I won’t,” replied Hall. “If we can call this test successful, I would like to immediately begin fitting field dispersal technology on all of our ships.”
“How long will that take?” asked Chiro.
“A hell of a lot longer than I’d hoped.”
“Why?” asked Malu.
“It’s the excited-molecule coating. We have to coat the exterior of the ships, let it cure, then install the dispersal projectors on the exterior hull. The coating takes 40 hours to cure.”
“How many can we do simultaneously?” queried Malu.
“Currently, we have the facility to outfit three ships at a time on Jarillo, and we’re starting up another line on Biljo Three. We wanted to ensure successful testing before converting more facilities. It’s the coating that’s a pain in the ass.”
“Minister Hall,” said Chiro with the bored tone of impatience, “how long will it take to upgrade the entire fleet? Don’t make me ask a third time?”
Minister Hall stepped back slightly. “3 1/2 years, Atomic Standard.”
“Thank you.”
“How long before the next ships are upgraded?” asked Malu.
“One week for the next three.”
“You’ve done well Minister Hall. Your son’s proposal for low-cost housing in the Pearson Imperial galaxy will be approved. I hope that will be to your liking,” said Chiro.
“Definitely,” said a smiling George Hall.

Ministers are prohibited from owning anything beyond clothing and other personal items. Much is made of this. Across 80% of the universe, there is a continuous campaign reminding people that their representatives adhere to a vow of poverty because serving the needs of all is their greater calling. It appears on signs at all of the public transportation centers. Every few days there was a news story showing the tireless representative going about their job bringing goodness to the broader population. Now, the more astute of you would consider this a propaganda campaign. You would be correct. While each minister maintained a net worth of zero, the accumulation of wealth across the rest of their families was considerable. The 500 ministers formed the nucleus, out from which spread the wealth to over 10,000 others.

Chiro’s wealth was spread across the 62 members of his family. Most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of his wife, a woman he visited twice every week. It was never a social visit.

Chapter 20

Eraser

“DO NOT ERASE” was handwritten on the holographic white board just inside the door to Professor Souf’s office. There was nothing else on the board. Souf’s office was tidy, excessively so. Even at her desk things were arranged in line with the edges of the glass top. The walls were lined with thousands of slabs of reader plastic, each containing a single book.
Prof. Souf sat at the table at the opposite end of the large room, away from the desk. With him were Professors Chu, Kassman, Indo, Ovuss, and Razmara. Nearby was another hologram white board containing formulas. Two of them were marked ‘DO NOT ERASE.’
“Are you sure?” asked Prof. Indo.
“Absolutely” replied Prof. Chu. Chu liked Prof. Indo as the older man made a special effort to make Lawrence and Kassman feel welcome.
“We’ve run it several more times,” said Kassman as she straightened out a wrinkle on her colorful robe. “It’s always the same. No list, then the next time there is a list.”
“That’s not all. The two Improbables we previously identified are not on the new lists. And the names change every time we run it.” Prof. Chu’s voice easily betrayed his frustration.
Prof. Razmara leaned forward over the table and spoke, “Was there a history of oscillation when you came up with the original list?”
“No.” replied Chu and Kassman in chorus. “We ran the program 37 times, and the list was stable. But since the explosion, it’s begun to oscillate, and we don’t know why,” replied Prof. Chu. He began to wonder if it was already too late. Was the war already lost? How would he and Kassman survive? Could they stay hidden on the fringes of Goodness society? He realized that he needed to talk to Kassman about a contingency plan for them to flee.
Professor Ovuss spoke up in her soft voice, “It seems possible that probabilities oscillate in and out of existence in extreme circumstances.”
“Does this have anything to do with Joru 23?” asked Professor Indo.
“I don’t know,” replied Souf.
Joru 23 was a binary star system at the center of a solar system with inhabited sentient life. Joru 23 had disappeared, plunging the inhabitants of the nearby planets into panic. A few hours later Joru 23 reappeared, but this time it was significantly brighter than before, upsetting the ecosystems of the nearby planets.
“It did happen near the times we ran our program,” said Kassman. “But that could be coincidental.”
“There was a report of a spacecraft near Joru 23 that also disappeared and reappeared at the same time,” said Razmara.
“Did the crew survive?” asked Souf.
“Depends on how you define the term. A crew survived. But it was not the same crew as was on the ship when it disappeared. They claimed to be the same but were significantly different.”
“What do you mean? That’s impossible,” said Souf.
“Tell that to the survivors.”
“Very interesting,” said Professor Ovuss. “I was reading a news report right before our meeting. Some people have begun to disappear and reappear. And they aren’t the same when they come back, and this causes their descendants to change. The effect ripples out from the person changed to their family. It’s caused upheaval in the command structure for Goodness.”
“Serves them right. I hope Chiro disappears and doesn’t come back,” said Professor Indo.

Prof. Chu sighed heavily and spoke in a barely audible voice, “I would like permission to go home and visit my family.”
Prof. Endo nodded his head and smiled at Lawrence Chu. Then Chu felt Kassman’s hand pinch him on the leg, her method of asking him, “What the hell are you doing?”
Prof. Souf stood up. She moved over and stood behind Chu. She put her hands on his shoulders and spoke in a forceful tone. “Lawrence Chu, we need you to continue. Whether you have confidence in yourself or not, you must go on. If you are correct and all is lost, then I will die with my apology to you on my lips.”
Then a strange thing happened, Indo stood up. Next was Ovuss and then Razmara. Finally, Prof. Kassman stood.
“Lawrence, much depends on you,” said Souf.
Chu sighed. He felt like he was drowning.
“When is the propulsion test?” asked Kassman.
“Later today,” said Souf.
*****

Chu and Kassman joined Elaine, Nambur, and Akala on the observation ship. Chu was surprised when the commander, Doyle and Bueller walked onto the observation deck.
“What is she doing here?” Chu asked when he saw Doyle.
“They will take command of the first FTL starship,” said their host, Eisenstadt Low, the tall man with a big nose, big green eyes, and a funny way of speaking where he always accented the first word in every sentence. Chu found it interesting, Elaine found it annoying.
“What is FTL? asked Akala. Nambur just sighed. “It means faster than light,” he replied to his brother.
“Oh.”

Elaine recognized the shape of the spaceship. It was the same design that had abducted her. Even at a distance, it appeared significant.
“So, when does the fun begin?” asked Doyle.
“Any moment now,” replied Eisenstadt. “There’s really not much to see. You’ll see.”
And Eisenstadt wasn’t wrong. One end of the ship glowed orange for a moment then the ship vanished. It didn’t speed off into the distance, not in any way that can be seen by the human eye. One moment it was there, and an instant later it was gone, like a magic trick or like faster than light travel, which will look like magic to those unfamiliar with science.
“Very anti-climactic?” asked Akala in a sarcastic tone.
“You have no idea what you’ve just seen do you?” asked Nambur.
“Something that travels so fast we can’t see it. I failed to see the significance.”
“Don’t ever call me stupid again,” said Nambur.
“So we have a ship that goes really fast, big deal.” Akala nodded his head in definitive agreement with himself.
“That ship can attack anywhere, anytime and there is nothing they can do to stop it. If we know where the Goodness leadership is located, wherever the 500 gather, we can destroy them, and they can’t stop us. This changes everything,” said Nambur.
“Is that a recommendation for action?” Kassman wanted to know.
“I don’t know, what do you think?” was Nambur’s response as he looked at Elaine.
“Destroying their leadership in a swift, decisive blow could bring an end to the war quickly. Yes, I’m in favor of this,” said Elaine. She wasn’t thinking as an Improbable, but as a good chess player. “Are we going to have a test run before we go after their leadership? It would be good to know that everything works well in battle before we go for the largest prize of all.”
“Good one McGee,” said Doyle. “Makes sense to get the kinks out first. Then let’s blow the dick off Chiro.”
“How long before we can take command of the ship?” Bueller was eager to find out. The diminutive commander standing beside her shook her head in agreement.
“The vessel is yours as of now,” said Eisenstadt. Training starts tomorrow morning on board the vessel.”

Off in the distance, the ship reappeared again. It glowed at one end for a moment. Elaine looked at it and grinned, the galactic speed limit had finally been broken.
“How do they keep from going back in time?” She asked. Eisenstadt chuckled.
“Excellent question,” he replied. “It’s not my area of expertise, but I’ll try to explain the little bit I know. The most important part is to have a single event that is a fixed point in time and always maintain the same chronological distance from it despite the spatial coordinates.”
“How is that possible?” Elaine wanted to know.
“Very carefully. We lost our first 11 vessels. We lost them to time. Fortunately, they were unmanned. It wasn’t until the 17th attempt before we were able to establish a chronological constant, after that we could man the ships.”
“Spurlock’s the woman who heads up the team. She’ll be part of our training tomorrow,” explained the commander.
“Can I …” Elaine started to say and then looked at Nambur, “Sorry, can we, attend the training tomorrow?”
“It’s your training too,” said Eisenstadt.
“Commander,” Bueller started, “will the Improbables be on board with us?”
“I haven’t received those orders yet.”
“It would be better to have one of us on board and one of us back in the command center,” said Elaine.
“Volunteer for the command center,” said Akala as he turned to face Nambur close enough to lick him. Nambur started laughing. “He’s a courageous one,” Nambur said.
“I don’t mind,” said Elaine. “We’ve all got to die somewhere.”
Doyle smiled.

Chapter Twenty One

War Crimes

It wasn’t until they were well underway at sub-light speeds that Bueller found out about the target. As a navigator, she kept track of what direction they were going, and when the commander ordered a deviating from course, Bueller asked for an explanation from the commander. The commander looked at Doyle and then Elaine.
“We’re not going to Isk,” said the commander.
“But commander, it is the approved target” replied Bueller.
“We’re going to use their spies against them,” said Doyle.
“Explain,” demanded Bueller in a blunt tone.
“They are sending thousands of ships to protect the First Minister’s home planet. We’re going to hit their fleet production facilities on Jarillo.” Doyle smiled as she spoke. “If this goes according to plan, we can stop the growth of their fleet for a long time.”
“Excellent,” Bueller replied with a smile and keen looking eyes. “That will set them back.”
“We’re counting on it,” said the commander with a rare smile.
“All right then, how many nukes are we using?” asked Bueller.
“Less than 200,” said the commander.
“Hold on, nobody mentioned nuclear weapons,” Elaine protested. She stopped slouching.
“What did you think we were going to do, throw flower petals at them?” challenged Doyle.
“No, actually I didn’t think about it until now. I never imagined you would use nuclear weapons. How many people are on Jarillo?”.
“108,542,712,” replied Doyle flatly.
“What the fuck? You’re not going to murder over 100 million people. That is not going to happen. No fucking way. Whose ass do I have to kick to stop this insanity?”
“Mine,” challenged Doyle and she stood up straight. “Are you sure you want to try this?”
“Besides you?”
“Mine,” came the reply from the commander. “But I’ve got the entire ship behind me on this,” she said nearly yelling.
“Not quite everyone,” Bueller said sheepishly at first. “Commander, what if we don’t need to kill everyone on the planet. We’re interested in destroying their production facilities, right?”
“Yes. If you can stick a pin in a map for us, we’ll blow the crap out of it,” retorted the commander. “We’ve never been able to get past their orbiting guardians (armed satellites).”
“So, I think we can search for, yep, give me a minute – here it is. OK, take a look at this.”
Bueller tapped her interface where it grew visible to all. It was a two-dimensional map of the planet below. Bueller drew a red ring around an area of the planet far outside of the largest city.
“This site experiences round-the-clock high levels of energy discharge, food consumption, and feces discharge. The comms originating from this location uses their latest encryption standards 99.2% of the time. Captain, I think that if we look at the data, we can determine the location of production facilities.”
“They are Goodness scum,” growled Doyle. “The only good one is a dead one.”
“How do you know that we’ve hit the right place, Bueller?” asked the commander.
“OK. Here’s where it gets clever,” responded Bueller with a devilish smile.
“Does it involve escape pods?” asked the commander.
“No. It’s much simpler than that. 100% survivable, guaranteed,” said Bueller.
“I don’t like it already,” said Doyle.
“If I am correct, there will be multiple nuclear drive systems being fitted. It’s simple. If I’m correct, our missiles should set off a chain reaction in the drive systems. It will be many times more powerful than our missiles. We shoot two missiles, that’s all. If we’re lucky we catch them with their pants down and those two little beauties come in low and fast,” she said and moved her arms out to her sides simulating a missile on a low final approach. “Our two small nukes set off their drive systems, and that’s what will kill them. Assuming we use T-7 (tactical level 7) or smaller.”
“Wait a damned minute!” exclaimed Doyle, “This is a one-and-done chance. If you’re wrong, we don’t get a second chance. They will put every boat into the sky that has enough power to get Pi high. If you’re wrong, we’re in deep shit. I say pop in, send them a couple of hundred love notes, then piss off fast.”
“Doyle makes sense,” stated the commander. “No debate about effectiveness.”
“It’s 100 million people. Mothers, fathers, children. You can’t just kill them,” Elaine yelled at Doyle.
“Can and will,” said Doyle.
“Whatever help you think I am providing will stop, cease, halt. Not a single word. Fuck you and your cause. You kill 100 million, don’t tell me it was necessary and don’t ever tell me you had no fucking choice. You’re just the other side of evil.”
Then Elaine did something less than optimal and with a low probability of success. She tried to grab Doyle’s blaster that was in a holster on her belt. Doyle grabbed her arm with a firm hand, twisted it behind her, then pushed her to the floor.
“What part of stupid decided that would be a good idea?” said Doyle. She pulled out her blaster and pointed it at Elaine. McGee rolled over on her side and looked up at Doyle.
“I’ve got 100 million reasons,” said Elaine.
Doyle straightened her aim at McGee, “Do you want to go +1 right now? Do you, dumbass?”
The commander walked over to Doyle, “Let’s bring it down a few levels. Doyle, I’ve got an Improbable telling me one thing. Hell, she’s willing to fight for it. If she is what they say, I’d be an idiot to ignore her. If she isn’t then let’s hope Bueller is right.”
“Commander, Doyle, I’m getting more confirmations. Freighter manifests show consignment of high-engineered alloys delivered to this location. I’m also getting a document that indicates the location of deep injection waste wells in the vicinity. I suggest both of these further indicate the location of the production facility.” Bueller explained. “And there is a high demand for Jazz. You know how engineers love Jazz, always looking for the pattern in it.”
Doyle didn’t look happy. She lowered her weapon then put it back on her belt. This time she set the holster lock with her fingerprint. Then she helped Elaine to her feet.
“No hard feelings,” Doyle said.
“How can you say that?” demanded Elaine. “You are comfortable with murdering 100 million people. I am definitely going to have hard feelings about that because you apparently have none whatsoever.”
“Pull your underwear out of your ass. You got what you want. You need to learn to win gracefully,” Doyle shot back at her.

The attack took less than ten seconds. The ship appeared at a precise location in orbit just above the horizon of the colossal production facility that spread for many kilometers. And the men in the monitoring rooms on the ground of Jarillo checked their equipment because they had just seen the impossible, a ship had appeared out of nowhere. The system check routines were launched to make sure everything was working correctly. As the routines worked at billions of calculations per second, two nuclear missiles also showed up on their scanning systems.
And that is when they began to understand that it was not a malfunction.
Down on the ground in the facility, a husband and wife were just starting their workday. He was installing a plumbing system, she was making coffee and breakfast for the scientist and engineers who would come into the canteen in the morning. As the couple began their workday, their son opened the door to the dormitory building and walked inside. He was tired from working all night, and he looked forward to his pillow.
Just after nine and one-half seconds, the ship disappeared. Five seconds later the two nuclear missiles found their target. Bueller’s estimation of catching them with ten or more nuclear drive systems was off by almost a factor of ten. There were over 100 drive units. And they were not of the type Bueller had expected. They were ODI 813s intended for the I-1 Command Center being constructed in orbit above Jarillo. They were waiting to be loaded onto the rocket sitting on the launchpad.
Because of this, the detonations were more massive than expected. The resulting cloud of radioactive dust was so enormous that it would shroud the planet within days. Those that did not die from the blasts succumbed to the effects of radiation within a few days. A few lasted several weeks, fewer still several months, and only a handful were long-term survivors. Only one of the people responsible for the attack looked at the final tally of the dead. Only Bueller knew of her failure.

Chapter Twenty Two

No Confidence

“Will the First Minister please tell us how they managed to get past all of our defenses? Rumor has it that ships were diverted to protect the First Minister’s home planet of Isk,” Huldin’s voice was strong for his age. Then several of his ministers started chanting, “Chiro has got to go,” this was the first time that any chant had called for Chiro’s removal from office. The man at the front of the chamber with the dreadful sounding cymbal let the chant continue for a while. He could read the crowd and knew that the attack at Jarillo had broken confidence in Chiro. Eventually it died down enough for Chiro to respond.
“Minister Huldin, as you are aware from the private briefing I gave you, our intelligence indicated that the target would be Isk. So we protected it. However, I will admit I failed. I failed to anticipate the spy among us, one that would tell our enemy that we knew of their plans. The failure was mine and mine alone. And for that, our production facilities were destroyed.”
“Is there no level of political theater the First Minister won’t resort in order to deflect blame for the biggest defeat in our history? Spies, traitors, we are not fools, unlike some” declared Huldin with the voice of a man confident he had the upper hand.
“Minister Huldin will know that the only people told of our defensive plans were the leaders of the factions. So, while the good minister can rant and rave all he wants about my incompetence and my failures, I already have my list of suspects. I have briefed Huldin, Omrad, Bindo, and Fa. I put each of you on notice. One of you is a traitor, and I will expose you.”
“While you are discovering non-existing traitors, perhaps you can discover the cause of the strange phenomena that causes planets, stars, and galaxies to disappear then reappear then disappear then reappear over and over again.” This time there were no chants. The chamber quieted down at the mention of the strangeness in the skies. Ministers were worried. No one wanted to turn out like Feck.
Minister Abraham Feck had parents on Delta 9 when it ceased to exist. A few minutes later Feck disappeared. When the planet reappeared, his parents were different, their personality had changed. And the result was not lost on Abraham Feck who found that he began to change. Feck, who was known for being a cruel man, became kind. No one could understand it. For this reason, Abraham Feck scared them. More than the rebels, more than the loss of the production facility. He represented the one change they could not abide, a change in who they were.
“Minister Huldin will know that our ancient books tell of this time. They tell of its coming and the battle that we must wage against the whore beast.”
“Is the First Minister saying he is the Horton written in the sacred text?” asked Huldin with a dramatic emphasis on the name Horton.
“Oh, I would not be so proud as to think that I am significant enough to be included in our holy texts. But I may be able to prepare the way for Horton, make his battle against the whore easier.”
Loki Amfor, Huldin’s second in command, stood up and spoke quietly into Huldin’s ear. Huldin spoke in a cold forceful tone, the anger seething just under the surface.
“Thanks to my good friend and Minister Amfor, I can report that the destruction of the Jarillo is complete. The only thing that survives in First Minister Chiro’s boondoggle, I-1. Our indestructible new home now orbits Jarillo waiting for completion by the dead. I have spent time in this august chamber working with and against the First Minister as needed, so I say this with all seriousness worthy of this chamber. I ask the First Minister WHEN he will decide that his stains are sufficient and resign.”
With those words, the chamber exploded in cheers, jeers, and applause. Asina was the only faction not standing and jeering and waving their fist at the man standing alone in the center of his faction. The man at the front of the chamber did not move his hand towards the cymbal. He would wait to restore order.
It was a long time before the voices died down.
Omrad, leader of Tilfo, rose to his feet. Omrad usually allowed Jules Da, his Minister of Information, to speak for him. But not today. The old man missed the old ways of fighting among the factions. He raised his hands for silence.
“Ministers, ministers. As the leader of Tilfo, I request a vote on the proposition.” He paused and waited as silence took over the room, “First Minister Chiro should face an impeachment trial.”
Again, the chamber erupted at his words. Ministers on the edge of Asina began to push the ministers from Dulium who were yelling at Chiro and shaking their fists at him. One of the Asina ministers punched a junior Dulium minister. The young minister fell onto the wooden floor. The older man stood over him and yelled at him as Dulium ministers hurried to help their fallen comrade. As the young man rose to his feet, he charged at the Asina minister.
The fight spread in the chamber, as ministers from Dulium began to fight the Asina ministers.
Fa climbed up onto his desk and looked out over the chamber in chaos. With his voice sounding loud like a horn, “I second the proposition.” Then he yelled it again, and again.
This spurred the man at the front of the chamber to start smashing the cymbal as hard as he could. Despite the horrible sound, it took an extended time before order was restored in the chamber. Eleven ministers required medical attention.
Adjournment by voice vote until the next day was agreed upon and announced by the man at the front of the chamber. The trial of Chiro would begin with the drafting of charges.

******

It took a long time before the chamber emptied. The other factions left before Asina. Finally, the ministers crowded around Chiro and left the room. In the halls just outside of the chamber, other factions had lined up along both sides of the exit. As the ministers of Asina walked past, the other ministers yelled at them.
“Chiro’s Children!” they yelled as Asina walked past. Malu looked at Chiro who was beside him. He looked worried. Malu looked into the crowd, at the back standing on the stairs to the next level was Fa. He pointed at Malu when their eyes met. And as soon as he did, Malu heard Fa’s voice coming through the translation inserts in his ear canals.
“Minister Malu, there will be no record of this conversation, your functions have been disabled for this comm.” Malu looked at Fa standing on the steps pointing at him. Fa smiled for a moment than rejoined the ‘Chiro’s Children’ chant. Meanwhile, his voice continued in Malu’s ear.
“Minister Malu, my faction and one other would like to discuss with you the formation of an alliance and a majority voting block on all propositions.”
Malu was not a stupid man, and it took him only a moment to reach the vital question, why did they contact him instead of Chiro. Because they expected Chiro to be banished, and for him to become the leader of the Asina.
“We believe that Chiro will put up a significant defense. And his use of LOT files will be significant in his strategy to survive the impeachment vote. As you are aware, we do not want information contained within those files to become public.”
Malu stopped walking. His fellow Asina passed him slowly as he stood in the crowd and looked directly at Fa.
“There will be an attempt on the life of the leadership of Asina. If you join us, it will be limited to the First Minister.”

*****

Colonel Drake Was watched as his man opened the door to the shuttle. The door seals hissed as they disconnected from the frame. The stairs automatically deployed to the deck of the starship loading dock. Outside, standing at the bottom of the stairs, was the night shift dock worker, a man whose most difficult task was to stay awake until morning. In the morning, the delivery ships would slowly back their way into the loading dock to deliver their cargo.
Drake made his way down the stairs.
“You’re him, you’re Drake Was, aren’t you?” a young man in coveralls with a pair of gloves shoved into one pocket giving it a look as if he had some otherworldly growth on his upper leg called out.
“Yes, I am, and you are?” replied Drake putting his hand to his comms and pressed the broadcast function.
“Dilbert Waft,” replied the young man. “I am so honored to meet you.” Those, it turned out to be, were his last words. Drake executed the young Waft, blasting him with a projectile weapon, his signature weapon, part of his legend.
At the battle of Eastgate, Drake Was the last man left alive for Goodness. For two days, he held off over four hundred men from his position high up on the mountain ledge, until his batteries were exhausted and he was forced to resort to an ancient projectile weapon to keep them at bay until relief arrived. 212 confirmed kills. Private Drake Was had turned an early defeat into victory. But it came at a price. He was unable to walk when they finally found him. Delirious from dehydration, he fired upon his rescue party. Now his left leg moved with electromechanical assistance.
Colonel Drake Was looked at one of the twenty soldiers that traveled with him. One man quickly grabbed Dilbert Waft’s limp body and pulled it over to the airlock next to the loading dock.
Two of the soldiers moved over to the control obelisk for the loading dock. They tapped at the interface until one of them nodded to the Colonel and said “Clear.”
Colonel Was motioned his hand forward. The twenty men divided into two groups, four and sixteen. The four would wake the commander of the vessel and bring him to the bridge. The sixteen would make their way to the bridge and the propulsion systems center.
Ten minutes later the first spacecraft fitted with Field Dispersion Technology was under the command of Colonel Drake Was.

*******

Inu met with Barlow Hu, the pilot of a dump freighter that hauled trash off the planet. Barlow would get her as far as the Insing Constellation. Then she would meet someone called Atticus. Leave a message at the Uji Bar in Melopi, on Dijhu. Come back at the same time everyday and wait one hour. If Atticus liked what he saw, he would approach her. From there it would cost 300,000 Asina Euros to run the Ice Belt to the rebel held areas. Fortunately Inu had more than 42 million Euros sitting in a bank and there were fourteen precious stones in her pocket. The money was slowly siphoned off from the accounts of Chiro’s wife, a woman who was known for extravagant spending.
“No luggage?” Barlow asked her as he looked the attractive woman up and down.
“No.”
Inu tightened her grip on the stolen blaster in the pocket of her robe.

Chapter Twenty Three

Grenwil Orbs

Elaine went by Bueller’s quarters on her way to the training. Like many science teachers, Elaine McGee was punctual. Bueller was not. But Doyle was, and as Elaine turned the corner of the corridor to Bueller’s quarters, she saw Doyle leaving and adjusting her uniform as she began to walk towards Elaine.
“Good morning,” Doyle said with a big smile.
“Apparently,” Elaine replied.
When they got to the training room, Elaine had coffee and a donut which held the distinction that it was the first one she had eaten in her entire life that had a positive nutrition score. When Bueller arrived, Elaine motioned for her to come and sit next to her.
“Someone had a good night,” Elaine said with a giggle.
“It was OK,” Bueller replied.
“OK? I saw Doyle leaving your quarters this morning. You naughty girl.”
“Oh that. Yeah well, it didn’t turn out as planned.”
“Why?”
“We did CHNO.”
“What’s that?”
“A substance that enhances sex.”
“So that’s great, right?”
“Should be. If it weren’t for the CHNO it would have been terrible.”
“Why? What was wrong?”
Bueller leaned in closely before speaking softly, “Doyle is not good at it. All hard thrusting, nothing soft or tender or delicate. Completely mechanical. And once she gets off, well then you can forget it, she’s off to sleep. Which is fine if you ask me. After lousy sex, sleep is sometimes just what I need to put it into perspective. But that’s not Doyle. She woke me up a few hours later to have a go at it again. I told her I wanted to sleep but she wouldn’t listen and kept bugging me until I agreed. And same as before, she gets off and then goes to sleep again. It was the most disappointing sex in a long time. I mean to look at her naked, all of those muscles, the smoothness of her skin, it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Looking at her I was beginning to wonder if she was the one. Wow, was I wrong.”
Physics Professors Erud Owusu and Ingrid Gasparian stood up at the end of the room.
“Good morning. If you could please be seated, we’ll begin,” said Ingrid Gasparian. And with those words Doyle came over and sat beside Bueller.
“Hey sweet cheeks, want to have a quickie at lunch?” Doyle asked her.

*****

Elaine didn’t understand the explanation of how the Thematic Chronological Constant worked. She lost her place when Gasparian told everyone that not only does light not escape a black hole but that there was one other thing that didn’t escape either – time. History is frozen inside a black hole. Elaine had to catch herself before she exclaimed, bullshit or even semi-bullshit, as what time it is in a black hole is utterly irrelevant to the rest of the universe. It could be the year 1918 or 1066 for all they knew. No one was going to enter a black hole to check the clock on the wall. Fortunately, she kept her mouth shut.
Bueller, however, did not and seemed to have roughly the same questions Elaine wanted to ask. It was a long and tedious explanation that started with the creation of the synthetic mineral, Grenwil, a substance that could exist on the event horizon indefinitely without physical deterioration. Most things begin to undergo significant change and start the process of being crushed like an empty cigarette pack

It would broadcast a signal across long distances instantly to other pieces of Grenwil that shared the same frequency, although this particular characteristic was known for a long time. A piece of Grenwil could be held back by anti-gravitational devices just beyond the event horizon. We’re talking about a fractions of a millimeter. The chronograph information sent back from multiple Grenwil orbs on the Event Horizon acted as a chronological constant. As long as the Grwenwil orb in the vessel changed frequencies with those orbs on the edge of the black hole, they would remain fixed in time. There was an atomic manipulator which kept the receiving orb in synch.
As an historical aside, it was an accident that sparked the development of Grenwil orbs as a Thematic Chronological Constant. The breakthrough occurred at lunch when Osusu overheard Professor Grenwil mention how excited his team was to study Grenwil, a new mineral he had created, despite it causing their clocks to malfunction throughout the laboratory. It made him late for lunch but perfectly on time for a cross-discipline fortuitous accident.

*****

“That’s it” said Chu. “Confidence Level is over 99%. We’re done here. I say we present these to the Council as soon as possible.
“You’re right,” replied Kassman. She leaned over and kissed Chu on the cheeks. “Well done, darling.”
Proposition: ISP (Improbable Search Program) was running during each oscillation.
Confidence Level: 99.178365% (not 100% because the first incident has multiple time records for the oscillation).

Chapter Twenty Four

RESET

Professor Geoffrey Adamani was a small man, no taller than 1.62 of your Earth Five meters (5’4” for those using English royal measurements despite a war to get rid of English royals). He was a pleasant man that smiled a lot.  He worked at the Advance Particle Research Center (APRC in Earth terms). For a man from Dankos, a small agricultural planet in the Hudson Constellation, he had come far in his lifetime. Most never left Dankos. And less than a handful of people on Dankos would understand the type of work done by the two-time numeracy silver medal winner.

Geoffrey looked at the interface. Enhanced tunneling was possible only in theory, until now. He leaned back in his chair and looked at the results of the latest test. Zero mass. The impossible had become possible. He was happy about that; his experiment was successful. Still, the often smiling man was not smiling. He looked at the picture on his virtual desktop of the interface, his sister Doonie and his parents. They were standing outside of a traveling caravan.

But Zero mass. If it weren’t for the blast shield, that constant stream of anti-matter and matter exploding and encircling the primary particles, he would have perished with his success. He would not have died in a blast or fire but rather just ceased to exist. Zero mass. He looked at the picture again and remembered when his family joined the migratory groups, pushed out of their land by the cost of everything they did not produce themselves. He had just won his second medal when they went nomad. He was with them on the road moving from place to place always looking for somewhere affordable to live and with plenty of available work. It took almost a year for the man from Kath to find him. He still remembered the clean shoes and clothes walking out into the field of beets. He was a tall man with long gray hair wearing the wrong kind of shoes in the muddy field. He reminded Geoffrey of the people in adverts, perfect in appearance. But that was a long time ago.

Professor Geoffrey Adamani had created a monster, and there are more urgent things to consider. So consider this.

Imagine a boulder tumbling down a mountainside into a valley below where it comes to rest in a stable state, a low energy state. Now let’s imagine that the valley where it comes to rest is not actually at the bottom of the mountain but is only half way to the bottom. The boulder’s true ideal state would be at the bottom of the mountain, not in the valley half way up.
Now think of this, our boulder is not a huge rock but a very small particle, one of the smallest. If it were capable of tunneling through the outer wall of the valley, our determined little particle would be able to continue down the mountain to the bottom and achieve its true ideal state. Geoffrey looked at his chrono results. What was the speed at which the transformation happened? Both instruments indicated it occurred at the maximum speed they could measure. This meant it could be happening at twice the maximum instrument speed. Or two million times the maximum instrument speed. This was troubling.

But there were worse consequences. When the particle reached the bottom of the mountain, the mountain ceased to exist as did everything else inside of the blast shield. In Earth Five terms, the determined little particle I believe is known to you as the Higgs Boson and gives mass to everything. You call it quantum tunneling when the particle moves through the valley wall to escape and complete its journey. Apologies I am not a physicist, just a historian.

So you are probably wondering why I am bothering to tell you this. While it may seem a diversion for our story, it is essential for two reasons. The blast shield didn’t just save Professor Geoffrey Adamani. Without it, when he ran his experiment, I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it, and you wouldn’t be here either. We would both be Zero Mass.
“Reset,” Geoffrey said when he finished looking at the interface. He was happy. He would report his findings the next day. He may have found a clue to the origin of the universe.

Reset was the name that stuck to the version of his device purposely built without blast shields, developed by others, those who used a different vocabulary than science. Professor Geoffrey Adamani’s strong objections were overruled.

Under the right circumstances madness prevails over sanity.

Chapter Twenty Five

Father and Daughters

Professor Indo didn’t show up for work in the morning or the day before. When Souf called him she got an ‘out of order’ message indicating that Souf’s comms equipment was malfunctioning. When she mentioned it to Chu and Kassman at breakfast, Kassman didn’t waste any time and called Doyle immediately. A few hours later Doyle’s father, Bernard, was walking in the desert near the last spot where Indo’s comms device connected. He walked slowly over the hard ground with harder rocks embedded in the surface. Floating in front of him a short distance was the image of his daughter. Bernard was one of the reasons Doyle was a top-notch investigator.

“Dad, I think she might be the one” said Doyle as she looked at the footprints sent by Bernard’s cameras. There were four distinct pairs of footprints. One of them was heavier than the rest, which would probably be Indo, given the picture Doyle had seen.
“Let me see those prints close up” Doyle said to her father. Bernard leaned down close to them.
“Goodness. I recognize that boot print anywhere. Saw them all over the place during Compo” Bernard replied. Compo was a significant defeat for the rebels. Bernard was one of only a handful of survivors that made it to the last evacuation transport. “Why do you think she is the one?”
“Because of the way she makes me feel. You know, like a soft, pretty woman.”
“Following the tracks” Bernard said. He began walking slowly. “Tell me about Indo?”
“Usual story. Top of the class. Professor of Mathematics. Nothing out of the ordinary, not until last year when he started traveling a lot. It’s like he suddenly got the urge to see the sights. Ando’s Cluster, Hord Constellation, Purlo Black Hole. Places like that. It was not long after his daughter disappeared. Presumed dead in a crash in the asteroid belt of Depos.”
“Did you notice that all three are near the border with Goodness controlled areas?”
“Yes, that had crossed my mind. But being near a border does not make someone a traitor. I checked his comms, they were silent during his trips.”
“No calls to the family?” asked Bernard.
“No, his wife was with him on the trips.”
“Do you remember the Onslo scandal?” asked Bernard.

Dickie Onslo was a procurement manager for the scientific conglomeration. He had been accepting bribes from vendors for years. 1.5% of all purchases were kicked back to Dickie Onslo in return for exclusivity. Give Dickie his 1.5% and you will be the only group allowed to supply coffee (or anything else) to the scientific conglomeration. Onslo had amassed a huge fortune waiting for him in a fringe region bank, the kind of bank where the bankers don’t ask where the money came from. More like your Grand Caymen than Switzerland. But more dangerous, like most border areas.

“Yeah, Onslo almost got away with it” replied Doyle.
“Do you remember how he communicated?”
“Yeah, untraceable protocol. He’s the reason it’s forbidden.”
“Forbidden to us. But not to Goodness. By the way, how did you meet miss wonderful?”
“She is a navigator on my ship” replied Doyle. “What are you suggesting, dad?”
“What if Indo believed his daughter was still alive? It’s not uncommon for parents to hold onto hope. And what if she wasn’t dead but kidnapped by Goodness. Imagine what that asshole Chiro could do with that.”
“A lot” Doyle replied. Bernard continued to walk following the tracks in front of him. Off in the far distance he could see a small wooden shack.
“So what are you planning with miss wonderful? When will I get grandchildren?”
Doyle laughed like a teenage girl, something she hadn’t done since she was a teenage girl, long before she chose security work and muscles. “I was thinking that I would ask her to make it official.”
“A wedding?”
“No, not THAT serious…yet. Just get her to move into my quarters on the ship. I’ve got a lot more room than her piss poor navigator quarters. Here is the dress I am thinking of getting, what do you think?” Doyle said and then the interface showed a very nice red dress, cut low in the back and made of a soft luxurious fabric not unlike satin.
“I like it. It reminds me of the dress your mother was wearing when we met.”
“It is the same dress, well the design anyway. I looked up the video from your meeting.”
“So if Indo had been turned, it makes sense that he would need to communicate with Goodness. Border areas are where information, money and technology get passed.”
Bernard continued following the tracks to the small shack. When he got close he saw the deep impressions of the landing gear of a shuttle craft near the shack. There was also two sets of burn rings from landing and departure, the departure rings showing their characteristic wider circle than the landing rings.
Bernard pulled his blaster from her belt. He pointed it straight ahead.
“Stun setting. We might want to ask a few questions.”
“Got it” replied Bernard as he turned the dial on his blaster with his thumb.
Bernard walked around the shack. No windows. Old clap boards. It was too small to be a permanent home for anyone other than ants and a wild dogs. There was no chimney. The entire shack looked like it would fall over if given a hard push.
“Careful, Dad” said Doyle. “It’s small enough, when you open the door, put three stun rounds in there before you enter. No need to stick you head in and get it blown off. Come in low too.”
“I know, Honey. This isn’t my first time.”
“I’m sorry, Dad. I just worry about you.”
“It’s OK” said Bernard as he walked up to the door. Bernard lay down on his back in front of the door and moved close then pulled his feet up to his chest. He kicked hard. The door disintegrated from the force of his kick. The vertical boards separated from the cross boards and it all fell into the shack like toys thrown by an angry child. An instant after the door was demolished, three stun rounds entered the shack, one on the left, one on the right and one in the middle.
“Nobody” Bernard said. He got to his feet.
“OK. What in the name of Hydrogen is that?” said Doyle asking about the bricks forming a circle in the middle of the room.
“It’s a well. Let me run a scan on it” Bernard replied.

At the bottom of the well were two bodies. One was Professor Indo. The other was that of his daughter, Luwan Indo.
Professor Indo was considered a leader in the field of Motivational Mathematics, the optimization of reward systems to spur superior performance. This made him much in demand by other departments, particularly the Management and Psychology departments. Regrettably three weeks earlier Professor Indo had signed a petition demanding the repeal the Moshe entrance exam for graduate studies. Professor Souf considered the repeal of the Moshe exam as an open invitation for stupid people who think they are smarter than they really are to pursue advanced degrees in mathematics. They would fail and in their failure consume vital teaching resources that were better spent on those with a higher chance of success and on publishing detailed papers in obscure journals that come complete with an abstract that can be read in the average time for defecation.
Professor Souf was so angry with Indo that she refused to talk to him. She stopped inviting him to meetings. She wouldn’t answer his comms requests. Nothing. Not until he regained the appropriate level of intellectual snobbery would she even consider bringing him back from out in the cold wasteland of having someone very important be very angry with you.
Indo never got a chance to apologize. Being excommunicated, it didn’t take long before Professor Indo ran out of information to pass back to Goodness. That’s when the man appeared at his door. He thanked Indo for his valuable contribution. Then he offered to take Indo to see his daughter and to arrange for them to leave Kath discretely for a planet just inside the ice belt. Indo was happy for the first time since they took Luwan.

“Do you have lifting equipment in your shuttle?”
“Yeah, pull rings and all” Bernard replied.
“What color should I get the dress? Do you think it looks good in black?”
“Or red” said her father.
“Just like mom?”
“Just like mom” he concurred.
Bernard walked back to the shuttle.
“Let’s go through the candidates. Starting at the top. Souf. Motive for being a traitor? Does she have one?” he asked.
“None that I can see. Family all squared and posted. Finances squared and posted. She did give Professor Bhati a large sum of money recently. But they are known to gamble together. No criminal records, well not since she was a student. Then it was just a public nuisance charge, she lit up a planet in the middle of the night when she broke into the interface controlling the solar mirrors.”
“Sunrise at 3 AM, sounds like an egghead,” replied Bernard. “How was Souf born?”
“Free range. Her grandfather escaped Goodness when he was young. He was training to be an elder.”
“A man on his way to becoming somebody decides ‘fuck it’ and runs away. Gotta be a reason for that” he said.
“There was. He took one of his father’s slaves, Souf’s grandmother. They made a run for it.”
“Love controls so much of what we do,” Bernard said with a smile.
“Tell me about it” Doyle replied. “The thing about Souf is that she sits on the leadership council. She and two other educators. The rest are military and administrators. She has the means, but not the motive.”
“Not one we’ve discovered…yet.”
“Yet” Doyle repeated.
Bernard opened the shuttle and went into the locker for tools. He pulled out three round rings that for you would have reminded you of three very small hula hoops. Each one was a gravity ring. They would be connected in series and used to pull the bodies out of the well. Bernard put them on his left arm, closed the locker, and exited the shuttle. This time he locked the door.
“Who else have you got?”
“Julius Obaso. Professor. Born in Asina territory. Twice given warnings for speaking favorably about fascism. Last time he was put on continuous review for one standard year.”
“Damn. I sure as fuck wouldn’t want to have everything I did recorded for a year. I don’t want an audience for your mom’s blowjobs.”
“Dad! That’s gross.”
“Only for you, baby” he replied. “So you have him listed as a political? How old was he when he escaped?”
“Twelve” Doyle replied.
“Shit. You know much about their childhood education programs?”
“No. Not that much” Doyle replied.
“I’ve been reading up on it. Gotta read something between blow jobs, right?”
“DAD! For fuck’s sake, STOP IT!”
“OK, princess prude, OK. Here’s what happens in La-La land. By law children are taken from their parents when they are just past infancy. Usually at three or four standard years. They call it education. It’s a little education, no doubt. But mostly its indoctrination. They are trained in groups to submit to authority and to even find a sense of belonging by becoming subordinate to a command structure. Leadership becomes subject to personality worship. The children are graded on their individual performance by their ability for rote memorization. A lot of what they memorize are lies that benefit the command structure. They teach their children that the Treaty of Liju was a victory instead of a surrender. Their biggest defeat and they lie about it.”
“OK, so they turn out little robots? Are you saying that by the time he was twelve he had already been sufficiently indoctrinated that he could become a long term sleeper agent working against us?”
“Just offering the idea that perhaps, just perhaps we shouldn’t put a zero for motive next to his name. Less than fifty, but not zero. What else do you have on him?”
“Straight block on his finances. He did have a distant relative become a minister in The 500. Minister Obaso, Fu Faction. “His comms indicate that he called Minister Obaso to congratulate him via the black web. It was his only traceable comms with Goodness territory. He has also assisted in getting two other family members out, along with one other.”
“How did he assist?”
“He paid for the smugglers and was there to meet them at the first drop spot on our side of the ice belt. He could have waited for them at home, but he didn’t.”
“Who were they?” he asked.
“A cousin and his pregnant wife. The other was a childhood friend of his, Rollie Tan.”
“Got to be one hell of a friend to pay for a smuggler.”
“He wasn’t normative like most people, he was singular in orientation, a homosexual.”
“Damn, that will get him killed on the other side of the ice. OK, Obaso is a + 1, -1. Good friend, but a fascist sympathizing piece of shit. What else do we have on him?”
“His wife left him, three months ago.”
“How are his finances?”
“Depleted. He’s not broke, but not far from it.”
Broke is not as horrible as if it happened to you on your planet. That would be catastrophic. It just means that Obaso may have to quit dining out for a few weeks. He can have his meals in the faculty dining hall. He won’t lose his home, no, that can be his until he dies. His personal shuttle will remain parked outside. His health will be taken care of. Accumulation beyond reason is considered a form of gluttony and frowned upon. It’s not illegal, but there is a significant bit of social tyranny aimed towards it. Much of it seems justified to this historian. But there are the exceptions when zealous begins to resemble stupidity. Yeah, I’m talking about the Produs case. Wait, never mind. Forget I mentioned that please. Fuck, now I’ve got to remember to erase this part. You’re not allowed to know about that.
“Nothing significant coming in?”
“Just what he earns as a professor. Oh and the comic books.”
“The what?”
“He writes a comic, Frankie Formula, about a kid who sees existence mostly as a series of formula explaining the energy of the object or the underlying mathematical logic of how it functions or its shape. I’ve looked at a couple of them. Clever stuff, a bit egghead though, but understandable. It kind of makes fun of eggheads too. Frankie is socially awkward but trying real hard. His only friend is a kid in a coma. Oh and his dog, who tells him that he is insane and should seek medical help because he is having a conversation with a dog.”
“Sounds stupid to me. Some people should stick with what they are good at” Bernard replied.
“He actually got a couple of awards for the comic. One for teaching physics.”
“I guess it’s great if you’re an egghead.”
“Yeah” replied the daughter.

Bernard got back to the well and dropped the first ring down into the darkness. He heard a thud and dropped the second ring, which did not go down all the way. Instead it stopped half way and began to glow. Bernard then put the final ring in front of him and over the hole. He pushed it away from him and then pulled it towards him over and over again and the light began to move up in the well. The two bodies down at the bottom of the well began to move upwards too. Bernard grunted then began pushing and pulling double time.

“Work it out Dad” she said smiling at her father working like he was at the gym.
A few seconds later, a leg rose from the well. Then another. Bernard pulled them out one at a time and laid them out on the ground just outside of the shack. He double blinked at them and beside her father’s image on the interface appeared the Outer Info Set on the two bodies.
“Dad, can you see that?”
“Clear as your momma bouncing up and down…”
“STOP IT!”
“Alright princess prude. What do we see? Head trauma. Toxicology looks strange. Muidar 14. Have you ever seen that before?”
“Never” replied Doyle.
“Me either. I heard about it back in toxicology class.”
“Me too.”
“It’s a cooperative” he replied. “They were interrogated before they were killed.”
“Standard practice for their military intelligence units” Doyle replied.
“But this was blunt trauma. Not how they are trained.”
“May be trying to confuse us? Or maybe it was lazy? I give someone a cooperative and I can get them to follow me anywhere, even to a little well shack in the desert. Thump, Thump, toss them down the well. No heavy bodies to lift, no fighting. Remember whoever did this might not be as physically fit as we are” Doyle said.
“How long have they been dead….let’s see. Fade out when? Here it is, two days for him, three for her. Good. Alibis for yesterday.”
“Who else do we have?”
“Professor Bhati. Awards out the ass. A founding member of the UBP.”
“No shit?”
“Not even a winker from a sphincter” Doyle replied.

UBP stands for Unbroken Promise. Yes I know it is abbreviated incorrectly but you should probably take that up with the founders. Despite the handicap of the abbreviation, it became a popular movement that represented those who believed that the system had become corrupted and lost its way. It culminated in the Opel Insurrection. During the insurrection UBP seized the leadership counsel of the rebels and held them hostage until their demands were met. They threatened them with an anti-gravity weapon that would have deleted four Earth Five city blocks. Their initial demands were quite extreme, they demanded permanent seats on the leadership council. Eventually many standard days later they settled for a series of reforms and amnesty for all of those who took part in the insurrection. Their revolution faded to the middle as a lot of them do. But the reforms were actually quite significant, but more about that some other time, in the morning when I am sober.

“So why do you include him? Goodness and UBP are enemies. They will hunt the UBP as soon as they run out of conjoins.”
“Hear me out, Dad. They both share a similarity, a tendency towards restriction of opposing views and dissent. Both groups believe there should be more rules on opinion. To think wrongly becomes a crime.”
“You are letting your hatred of their ideology cloud your opinion. What have you got for evidence?”
“I’ve got financial. He has made three substantial payments to Amir Worthy that don’t make sense. He didn’t know him until a few months ago. And Amir Worthy, he’s got his dirty little fingers in a lot of pies. Mostly smuggling, tech and people. He runs the Heidegger Hole in the Ice Belt.”
“Damn, that’s got to be a wild ride”.
“I’d never make the trip” said Doyle.
Bernard moved the dead man’s arms and legs out to the side. Then Bernard reached into his pocket. He took out a little metal ball. He tossed it into the air. It did not fall. It rose to about three meters from the ground and then a slight blue glow began as it began recording and transmitting.
“Shit” Bernard said as he quickly grabbed the camera and put it into his pocket. “Watch this” he said.
He went through the pockets of the dead man. “Chipped” he wondered.

Bernard pulled the meter out of his pocket. Matter Energy Temperature E Reader (Meter) was an exceptional piece of equipment, you would probably compare it to Swiss Army knife and while you would be correct in the idea of utility, the METER is much better. Chemical composition is done via molecular reading. Mass, density, dimensional attributes, as much as you want to know about something within your reach. Sometimes the meter will ask for contact with the target if possible. Usually it is for detailed chemical composition. Imagine this, a single strand of you from your head to the end of your toes. This strand is one molecule wide. It is analyzed, identified and the results projected onto an interface just above the small tube shaped object with two tiny needle on one end.
The rest of the Obaso’s pockets were empty. Bernard scanned the body for a chip. Nothing.

Luwan Indo did have a chip. As soon as Doyle saw her, she understood why.
“Wow, she’s a looker” said Bernard. “Despite the bruises and all, she’s something.”
“Was something” said Doyle.
“Yeah, let’s see if we can catch the killer. What a waste.”
“Ugly people are just as deserving of justice, Dad” Doyle complained.
“Wait, I didn’t ever intend to even imply that more justice should be given to someone because they are beautiful, with a nose to die for” her father said apologetically.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely” he protested, “I am not only sympathetic to the plight of the ugly, I consider myself one of their founding members.”
“Cut the crap, Dad.” Her father was considered handsome.
“OK, daughter has chip. Captured in transit and headed for the high end ‘specials’ market. Gets chipped, once they know who she is, management steps in and has a different plan”.
“Let me check her transit records…yep, there it is, long haul to Iouae. Look where it goes.” The image next to her father chanced to a route map and showed the passage.
“Right along the frontier” her father replied.

The Frontier is the area where nobody is really in control. Its not anarchy. It’s just chaotic. Dangerous too. Many of the residents of the frontier have been labeled ‘criminal’ in other galaxies although at the root of their criminality was always the same thing, poverty or privilege, too much of one or the other. Well almost all of them, except for a small minority of them, just a sliver that thought being a criminal was all great fun. I believe you elect them on your planet, then complain of a governing kleptocracy.

“That’s odd” said Doyle. She pulled a small screen into a large image.
“She got on, but never got off at the destination” said Bernard. “How many stops?”
“Two. Folus and Dewanna.”
“Shit holes” her father replied. “I’ve been to both of them.”
“You think they walked off? You sure they didn’t space it?”
“Might have” he replied,
“Space it” is when a smuggler and his cargo leave one spaceship and must survive alone floating in space until their ride comes along to rescue them. It’s only done by the best trained smuggling teams and the most desperate criminals.
“What does that buy us?” asked Bernard.
“Not much” she said as Bernard looked in the pockets of the dead woman. “Clean” he said as he checked the last pocket.
“We need a trap” said Bernard.
“Yeah, Dad. A good one.”

Chapter Twenty Six

Temporal Summit

Elaine got the invite via comms. And since Bueller was in trouble with the commander for having sex with Doyle and attempting to avoid her bellicose personality, the sometimes clever girl with the ravenous bedroom appetite came along with Elaine, Nambur, and Akala. Sex within the culture of the ship was not forbidden. In fact, it made for a more stable structure; however, Doyle was special, a hard-ass, and this morning, the commander heard her talking about buying a dress. Imagine that, Doyle in a dress. This made the commander angry. When she found out that Doyle was talking about Bueller, well, you can see that Bueller was smart to avoid the grief.
It was an auditorium with seating for 500 with a stage and podium. There were over 200 people gathered for the Temporal Summit, as it was hastily named. Nambur pointed to the signs, and they scrambled up the stairs to the empty balcony where they sat looking down on the collection of scientists, engineers, and people in military uniforms. She saw an older man in an all-black uniform and noticed that his nose was the same size as hers. Elaine hoped she would get to meet him later.
“I don’t want to be here today. I want everyone to know this. We have much to do, and this is a waste of time,” said Akala.
“No. We’re not going on a farewell tour of your guilt,” replied Nambur. “Shut up and listen, or maybe listen to a book, or watch a video. Just don’t interrupt and definitely don’t cause a scene. Alright?”
“Listen I don’t know why you are so interested. You won’t understand half of what they say anyway. I’m the smarter of the two of us and its way over my head. Unless they can explain it to small children, I don’t see you understanding any of it.”
“I’d hit you but, it would hurt,” replied Nambur.
Elaine saw Chu and Kassman walk onto the stage at the front of the hall with a line of other people she didn’t recognize. They all sat at a table facing the audience. Floating around them were small round orbs which projected their images to screens on both sides of the stage. Professor Kassman saw Elaine up in the balcony and waved to her. Elaine returned the wave.
Elaine was thinking about home and how she wanted to to go home. Next Jupiter had disappeared then reappeared, picking up four new moons in the process. She missed her dad. Before she had left Earth, she talked to her mother almost every day; her father not so much. He had his little own universe that he lived in. She was welcome to poke her head in anytime she wanted, but her father did not come out very often. She wanted to go back and tell him that she loved him, but she was not permitted to leave. Doyle had tagger her. She could go anywhere on Kath she wanted. Doyle’s protection order for them was over, but she had a problem letting go.
Yes, Elaine was homesick. She even found herself thinking of Roger and the time they drove 150 miles in an old convertible missing the top. It rained twice as they drove, so they stopped under an overpass when it started coming down hard. She considered herself a strong person, but at that moment her eyes began to tell a different story. Quickly getting up from her seat, she exited the auditorium. When she got outside, she began to sob hard with tears flowing rapidly.
It wasn’t long before the door to the balcony seating area opened and Bueller came out. Taking one look at Elaine, Bueller put her arm around her.
“What’s wrong, my friend? Tell me the problem and I will fix it faster than you can calculate the value of Pi to a million decimal places.”
Elaine looked at her and tried to smile. Bueller hugged her tighter, and for the first time in her life, Elaine felt someone’s nose on her shoulder. And sometimes it is the silliest of things that causes the mind to move on. Elaine began to laugh when she realized it.
“I miss my father,” Elaine said. “I want to see him again.”
“I know. I miss my parents sometimes. Usually around dinner, my parents are very good cooks.”
“I just want to hear his voice one last time,” Elaine said. “I didn’t tell him that I loved him very often.”
“You really think this is it? We’re all going to pop out of existence sooner than later?”
“I don’t know,” Elaine said. “But if I don’t tell him, I might never get the chance. And Doyle has me tagged. I can’t leave the planet.”
“Oh dear. Do you want me to speak to her about that?”
“Will that require you to have lousy sex again?”
“Perhaps.”
“Then no,” Elaine replied.
“Hey, it’s not that bad. Lousy sex is better than no sex, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Come to my quarters after all of this is over. I have something to show you that I think you will like very much.”
“What is it?” Elaine asked.
“It’s something you need to see. Trust me, you’re going to love it. Now let’s go back in and see if they’ve saved us all from some child playing with a light switch.”

*****

There was a lengthy discussion about whether all of reality was a computer simulation. This is a very divisive subject, and it did not take long before the debate became an argument. Then the sneering and polite insults started. From the jeering Elaine could determine that the computer simulation existence was the minority opinion.
One of the older men on stage was berating Professor Kassman for even entertaining the notion of a computer simulation.
“You are quick to embrace a new theory when we simply do not know why the oscillation is happening?” he said emphatically.
“Bullshit,” Bueller yelled from the balcony. All eyes turned. “It happens because you run the ISP.”
“Yes, we know that,” replied the man on stage.
“Then you know why it happens. Be more precise in your language. How can you solve a problem if you define it incorrectly?”
“And who are you?” asked the man on stage.
“This is my friend, Oflap Bueller,” said Professor Kassman quickly. “She is accompanying the two surviving Improbables.”
“Welcome Oflap Bueller. I am Professor Arletto Pa, most recent recipient of the MBR medal for mathematics.”
“Good to meet you, Professor Pa. Listen I’m sorry if you think I was being rude, I’m not. But one thing seems very clear to me, you need to stop running ISP immediately.” Bueller spoke confidently, just like when she was making a suggestion to her commander. “I know that correlation doesn’t mean causation. Not 100 percent of the time. But sometimes it does indicate causation. So let’s prove it if we can.”
“But they are no longer binary oscillations. If we can stop the oscillations now, planets and billions of lives will be lost,” said an older woman on the stage wearing a red robe like Chu.
“Lost is subjective and not proven. Dead is implied, but we don’t know that. And if it is unproven, then that just makes it a minimization problem, and then the answer is obvious,” Bueller said in her most convincing tone of voice.
“Yes,” said the man on stage. “But what happens if there are long term effects of having your parents or grandparents removed from existence?”
“You can’t live without ancestors. Remember, we can always rerun the program. The briefing report said that people are coming back in subsequent oscillations,” replied Bueller.
“You read the briefing report?”
“Yeah, I got bored and thought it might help me understand what is being discussed,” said Bueller.
“And what is your position, Oflap Bueller?” asked the man on the stage.
“Navigator Fourth Class, but the fourth class is just temporary. My commander is still mad at me for having sex with our security chief. She’ll get over it soon then I expect to be awarded Navigator Second Class again, maybe even back to first class. You’ll see. My commander needs me, and she’s fair. Don’t get me wrong, just a little hot tempered at times. That’s why I’m here, staying out of her hair. I’m her whipping post.”
“Whipping post?” asked the man on stage.
“It’s a Goodness joke. It’s where they tie their slaves to beat them,” replied Bueller.
“Oh. And how is this funny?”
“Well, it isn’t funny if I have to explain it. And come to think of it, it’s not really funny at all to make fun of such a horrendous act. I apologize.”
The conversation went back to a more significant discussion. After an hour or so they took a break. Everyone agreed to stop running the program.

“You know,” said Elaine as she stood between Bueller and Akala and Nambur in the line for the bathroom, sipping a citrus plus, “it reminds me of an old keyboard I used to have. The DELETE key kept malfunctioning. It would delete then restore then delete then restore over and over. But it did it really fast so that the interface just looked like a blur between what is and what isn’t. It would only resolve itself when I pressed the ENTER key.”
“Me too, I had something similar, but it was one of the latest wearable controllers. The hottest thing for gamers. For awhile I was unstoppable in all of the games, faster reflexes, better targeting, higher scores. Then it started getting stuck on the firing control. Bullets fired then not fired then fired and over and over.”
“How did you resolve it?” asked Elaine.
“I took it apart, but it was all goo technology and I didn’t want to make a big mess, so I threw it away and bought another one.” Beside them, a rather different conversation was in progress.
“All I’m saying is that if the end of everything is coming, then we shouldn’t be very discriminating in our partners between now and the end,” Nambur said to Akala who responded with raised eyebrows and wide eyes. “The reasons I never hit on singles (non-conjoined) is because you get lonely. You started crying last time, remember? I’m just saying we need to lower our standards a little.”

After the break, down on the stage, the latest OR (Oscillation Report) was being shared. The size of the last oscillation was just over three times larger than its predecessor. There was a significant concern when the cartography program showed the oscillation by deleting the affected astronomical bodies from the map.
“Shit. Mars is gone,” Elaine said looking at the map.

*******

Later in her quarters, Bueller leaned back in her chair and put her feet up. She smiled. She looked at Elaine, sitting in a chair across from her in Bueller’s quarters.
“It’s how I have fun. Since they don’t have inserts, it comes out in my native tongue. Here, say the following: End PQR 19732, but remember to say RESTORE when you want them to start working again.” Bueller had a childlike look in her eyes as she spoke.
“End PQR 19732,” said Elaine as requested.
“Digga-wah Losirun,” Bueller said, then grinned.
“RESTORE,” said Elaine. “What was that?”
“My native language. Specifically…,” said Bueller with a chuckle, “I said ‘Greetings Earthlings.” I heard it on some of your old cinema and think its funny, especially when they can’t understand me.”
“So what, you prank call Earth and speak gibberish to them?”
“No, most of the time I run the dual translation and speak to them in their native language. That really fucks with their heads. Then I say shit like, ‘take me to your leader, I come in peace, Earthling — we are your new masters; you know funny shit. Lately, I’ve been telling them that world leaders are secretly reptilian. You should hear them. And when they can’t disconnect the comm or turn off their comms, that’s when they get all freaked out and shit. It’s great. I called some of your world leaders and told them that other leaders were reptiles, I swear that was one of the funniest nights of my life.”
“And this is your idea of fun?”
“Not as much fun as riding an escape pod in an ice tunnel, but it’s good for the boring times when there is nothing going on,” replied Bueller. “Now, do you want to call your Dad or not?”

Chapter Twenty Seven

Big Nose, Little Runt

 

 

The Temporal Summit was over without agreement on anything except that they would not rerun the ISP. The few things Elaine had collected in her travels, were thrown into her backpack. She took it over to the bed, lifted the mattress and pulled out a blaster she had stolen in the aftermath of the explosion when there was chaos, smoke, and sand everywhere, and it was laying at her feet. The nearest person to the blaster was no longer in need of it. She checked to make sure that it was turned off and she slipped it into her backpack and headed for the transit bay.

Bueller was standing next to the commander on the bridge. “Commander, if you would be so kind, McGee has requested that we do a flyby of her native planet Earth. She never had the opportunity to see it from space when she first joined our cause. Jupiter was in the way. It would really mean a lot to her. I’ve calculated that it would add less than one hour to our overall journey. Thirty-seven minutes to be precise, allowing thirty minutes for observation. It would only add 4.7 billion Pi to our journey.”

“OK, Bueller. Stop selling me. I’m buying, ok? Set the course.”

“Yes, Commander,” said Bueller. She smiled and tapped the interface quickly. “Thank you, Commander.”

“I like her too,” said the Commander in a very polite tone of voice. Then the Commander looked around. Not finding McGee her tone re-escalated.

“Bueller! Damn it, go get her. For fucks sake, we’re not going there while she’s sitting on the toilet.”

“Yes, Commander,” Bueller said and quickly left the bridge. Bueller walked fast down the corridor and took the first right turn. Then she started sprinting, running past the cafeteria and the bar filled with people. She ran past McGee’s quarters without slowing down. She took two more turns before she reached the transit bay. She slapped the pressurize button which pressurized the escape pod delivery tube that propelled the pods away from the ship. She pulled up the interface and checked the pod trajectory. It looked good, the exact coordinates as McGee had given her. She ran over to the delivery tube. In the tube was a single escape pod. Through the inspection port, she could see Elaine smiling back at her.

“Ready?” Bueller asked her over comms.

“Yeah, let’s do this.”

“Remember, try not to crap your pants. Sphincter in the closed position the whole time,” said Bueller. They waited a few moments and then saw the Earth pop up in front of them like a magic trick. Not there, then there.

Bueller reached up and slapped the big green button on the control panel above her. And there was the loud sound of rushing air followed by that deep plastic tub sound and the escape pod was shot out of the tube.

“Holy shit,” exclaimed Elaine over the comms as she giggled with excitement from the ride. Her knees were bent, and her backpack was behind them.

The efficiency of an organization can often be measured by response times to incidents. In this case, it was only a few seconds before ship-wide comms exploded with a very angry commander.

“Bueller! Get your fucking ass back to the bridge right now and bring McGee with you.” She was yelling and it came over all ship systems and every one with ear inserts for at least 100,000 kilometers.

When Bueller got into the hallway the people who saw her mostly made stupid faces of sympathy. However, there were a few (about one in five) that ignored her or stared at her like she had earned the wrath she was going to experience. They were the jealous and the scared. Bueller walked slower than normal.

“I’m on my way, Commander.”

At the same time, the escape pod was glowing red as it powered through the upper atmosphere. Elaine couldn’t open her eyes wide enough for the visual splendor she was experiencing. The oceans looked so beautiful with puffs of clouds covering the blue.

Bueller entered the bridge just as Elaine entered the cloud cover over Memphis, Tennessee. It was less than a minute later when her pod landed at the open field next to her parent’s house. Her mother and father were standing under a large oak tree watching her pod descend.

“Bueller, they need to come up with a lower designation than Navigator Fourth Class.”

“I understand Commander. It was a humanitarian mission.”

 

 

“Hi, Daddy!” Elaine said as he stood over the escape pod.

“Are you OK, darlin’?” Boyd McGee asked as he looked for a handle to open the pod.

“Fine. One helluva ride!” she said. “Is mom with you?”

“Yes.” Ellen McGee replied and leaned over the window of the pod.

“How long do we have,” her mother asked as she moved in front of the escape pod?

“Just a few minutes.”

She opened the escape pod. Her father helped her get out. Then they hugged for a long time.

“I was so worried about you,” he said to her.

“I know,” Elaine replied. “I love you so much, Dad.” Then she squeezed him tighter.

“I love you too, baby.”

“Wish I could stay longer but…”

“The war,” said her father.

“Yeah.”

“Can you win?” asked her mother as she hugged her.

“Maybe. I’m not sure.”

“Then why don’t you stay home and be safe with us,”questioned her mother.

“It’s not safe here. They will hunt me. Dad, I need to give you a couple of things before they come for me.”

“Sure, OK.”

Elaine pulled her backpack out of her escape pod.

“Dad, this is a weapon. Turn it on and off here. Keep it off until you need to use it. OK? Adjust it here, everything from stun to exploding your target.”

“Do you think we will need this? Really?” asked her mother.

“I don’t know. But you’re safer with it than without it.”

“Boyd, you be careful with that damned thing,” asserted Ellen.

Elaine put her hand out. Her mother took the tiny devices.

“What are these?”

“Put them in your ears. It will translate any language.”

“Shit!” Elaine bluttered. “Put them in your ears now. Quick, please. I want you to meet my commander.”

A few seconds later, Boyd McGee laughed, “It tickles the hairs in my ears.”

Elaine pulled up her interface and set it for all to view. Then she answered the comms request.

“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing, McGee?” yelled the commander in full rant.

“Don’t yell at my daughter,” replied an angry Ellen McGee.

“You’re the mother? Then let me tell you that your daughter and one of my navigators have violated at least three command regulations. They have diverted a ship off course during a war. Just so she can visit you. Can I assume that she got her selfish fucking attitude from the two of you?”

“Damn right, she did,” replied Ellen McGee. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“She’s coming back with us” the Commander said then paused for a moment. “Are all of you on Earth so damned ugly? Where is the rest of your nose?”

“Watch who you’re calling ugly, you big nose, little runt” replied Ellen McGee.

 

 

****

Bernard looked at the kid reviewing his v-pass ID.

“Cheaper,” he said. “And I want to surprise my daughter. She’ll be coming soon. She’s mil sec, just like her old man.”

Nobody checks sailor documentation. Want to come in somewhere without a record of entry, use a freighter. Scanning yourself is voluntary. Most people do it so their health records are loaded and updated. In a medical emergency, it saves minutes and minutes save lives. Bernard skipped scanning.

The young man looked up from the v-pass at Bernard. “Mil Sec, really? Where did you serve?”

“Battle of Mindo,” he replied.

“Damn. Mindo. Welcome to Kath. Thank you, sir.” The young man smiled.

“Thanks” replied Bernard.

He was headed for the mil sec quarters. AP392 that is where he could store his gear and sleep. He had just left Kath then returned without a record of it.

 

Chapter Twenty Eight

Everything that is not recorded is forgotten

 

 

Minister Huldin rose from the center of the Dulium faction. The chamber was loud, and members were excited. Kolar Pun, the faction organizer, rose, leaned over and whispered to him, “Have you ever seen such in your life? They know he is wounded.”

“Wounded and dangerous,” replied Huldin. He motioned for Kolar to sit. Then he looked at the speaker of the chamber who hit the cymbal loud and continued to do so until the chamber fell silent.

“Minister Huldin of Dulium has speaking rights,” said the speaker, his hand on the cymbal like a threat.

“Thank you, Speaker Okoro,” replied Huldin.

“Ministers, today we embark upon the most serious matter. The role of first minister not only leads his faction but also leads the administration of our government across the stars. Millions of government officials from the cleaners of this great Hall to the most decorated of our military, report to the first minister. It is not a simple job. Without a first minister, the strategic direction of our Empire will flounder. I’ve served in this chamber for a while now. Over time, I’ve gotten to know Chiro very well. I know the hard way he treats anyone with less than him. You all remember the asteroid mining contracts in Zilog. Chiro’s faction didn’t share any of the wealth with the other factions and it was only because of a transport disaster that we found out about the rich mineral deposits. Also you will remember what Chiro wanted, don’t you? He wanted 90% for the first ten standard years, and simply because he found it first. Oh, I know there was that argument about all the ridiculously high costs of finding it in the first place. But we know the truth. And while you all know I have no love for this man, I do have respect. I respect the fact that he is dangerous. Look what happened to Jarillo if you want to know how dangerous he is. Latest reports indicate that the entire planet is uninhabitable from the attack. So I propose that the first charge laid against First Minister Chiro be one of negligence.”

The chamber erupted in cheering. Ministers at the edge of the Asina faction began shoving other ministers near them. The speaker started banging the cymbal, again and again, taking several minutes for the chamber to quiet down again. As ministers began returning to their seats the speaker stopped the horrible sound. At the end of it, only two men remained standing, Huldin and Chiro.

“I welcome the charges,” said Chiro in a loud voice. It caused cheers among the Asina. “For charges require proof.”

“Ministers,” replied Huldin in a nearby shouting, “this is why I propose that the second charge laid against the First Minister be one of incompetence.”

The chamber erupted in yelling and shoving. One of the Asina spit on a middle minister of Tilfo. The middle minister was not a man of forgiveness and his fist found the nose of the offending Asina and broke it so that it lay to one side of the man’s face as it gushed blood.

“Chiro the zero,” the chant began in in the Dulium faction and spread quickly. The pushing and shoving escalated on the edge of the Asina faction. The speaker sat in his chair above the others and watched, his hands made no motion towards the cymbal.

High in the sky above the planet, a spaceship took its final position.

Chiro looked down at Malu who gave him a worried smile. “Just watch,” he said to Malu. He stood as the ministers chanted and jeered. He closed his eyes as if he were listening to music. When the speaker noticed his reaction, he too wondered why Chiro seemed so confident. He began to smash the cymbal. It took a long time for order to come about, as time seems to do when you want something urgently. But finally, with the thirty-seventh annoying sound, the chamber came to order. Huldin looked across the chamber. Finally when everyone was seated except for Huldin and Chiro, Speaker pointed to Huldin to continue. The old man cleared his throat.

“And let me tell you what we lost. The destruction of Jarillo has set us back over one year. I pray to God that we can last a year against our enemy, an enemy with a new weapon. You’ve heard the rumors, we read the reports: it is confirmed. The rebels now have technology that permits their ships to move much faster than anything in our fleet. They can arrive, attack, and leave before we can even mount a defense. Now Chiro will tell you of the spies, the spies that told him of a search for a mathematical impossibility. They even gave it a name, Improbables. Like me, you’re beginning to see that First Minister Chiro has been played, like an instrument, he’s been strummed with false information. And, while Chiro made plans and swapped out the Improbables with his own people, our enemy was able to concentrate on the real prize, spacecraft so fast that we are now defenseless. On all of our gravestones should be written the same words, Killed by Chiro. His incompetence has handed us all a death sentence.” Huldin raised his arm and pointed his finger directly at Chiro, “We are all dead because of you.”

Standing in the center of the Asina faction, Chiro began to waive his right arm from side to side. “Oh please, get a grip on yourself old man. All is not lost. Your countless villas spread among the stars will not be taken from you. Tomorrow morning your slaves will still fix your breakfast, clean your clothes, wipe your ass, and tend to all your needs. And it will be that way for as long as I am first minister.” Chiro leaned over and whispered to Malu, “Apologies for not sharing this with you.”

“As many of you have heard, we too have breakthrough technology. Our scientists, forgive me I should correct myself, the scientist which we captured from our enemy as part of a strategy that I designed, have succeeded in the impossible. We now have a ship that cannot be destroyed.” Chiro paused for a few seconds to let the idea sink in. “It has completed testing, a test that I myself witnessed. It is glorious. It is the secret to our future success. So whether they can run faster than we can is now a moot point if they can’t hurt us. This breakthrough gives us the opportunity to finally win the war without needing more ships. We only have to install the field dispersal technology on our existing fleet and they become invincible. Think about it, nothing can harm them. So yes, let’s talk about impeachment. Let’s discuss negligence. Shout loudly about incompetence, let’s get it all out in the open and everyone can have their say. But before you do, perhaps you should ask the location of our test ship, the first of many indestructible star cruisers. And if you seek an answer to that question you’ll find that this remarkable star cruiser sits in geostationary orbit directly above us. You might actually wonder why is it there? I’d suggest that a more precise question would be where are its weapons aimed, right now, this moment, while you take this breath. But to such intelligent men the answer is obvious, the weapons are aimed at this building.” And with those words there was an instant of silence before the storm of jeering and shouting began again. This time the speaker didn’t need the symbol, Chiro merely held up his hands for silence and those with their heads under the sword quickly stopped their protests.

“So ministers, let me put your minds at ease. I do not wish you ill harm, well most of you anyway. In fact, I will give you what you want, which is to be rid of me. One year from today, one atomic standard year, let’s make that clear, one year from today I will resign my duties as first minister and resign from this chamber. During the next year, I will transition all of my responsibilities. But the primary focus of my time will be to install field dispersal technology on our entire fleet and use it to finally bring this war to an end, and one that is satisfactory to us, victory.” The chamber was quiet.

“Why didn’t you tell us about this breakthrough?” asked an angry Huldin.

“It was going to be a surprise. I hadn’t decided whether I was going to reveal it at the start of the mining concession negotiations, whether I would hold it until your birthday came around,” Chiro spoke sarcastically. “But you know now. You also know that it’s under my control and my control only. So do what you want. Continue with the impeachment of your first minister, I won’t stop you. Present the evidence, hold the trial if it’ll make you feel better. But when you’re done, before you act upon your verdict, remember my sword is sharp and is already at your neck.”

“You betrayed all of us,” said Huldin.

“Remember old man,” replied Chiro, “the only oath I take is an oath to power, an oath to maintain it until I don’t want it anymore. And in one standard year I will give it up. Accept it. Set your calendar. Plan your parties to celebrate that I will be gone. But until that day you will do nothing. You won’t even do things that might be misconstrued as doing something. Act as if your life depends on it, because it does.”

Chiro turned around and looked over Asina before turning back to the other factions.

“So how do we proceed today? I’ll tell you what I’m planning to do. I’m hungry. I’m planning on going to get something to eat. And I’m going to take the rest of the faction with me. The slaves in the cafeteria may not be expecting us, but that’ll be fine. We’ll get by. And after that, I’ll go spend the rest of the day with my wife, a woman that doesn’t see much of me due to my responsibilities. I hope she will be pleased to see me, for I’m certain she will be sore when I leave. So please continue your session, restart your discussions, form committees and subcommittees to do whatever you want. Tomorrow we will continue on as before. In fact, I suspect the mining concession negotiations will go better for you than you expect.” Chiro sat back down.

“You were magnificent,” said Malu with a smile. “They won’t dare. They cower in front of you.”

“As they will cower before you one year from now, my future first minister,” replied Chiro with a smile.

“I contacted the cafeteria and let them know that we are coming,” said Malu.

“It will be important that you pick someone that will be able to help you as much as you’ve helped me.”

“I will study it long before I decide,” replied Malu.

“Let’s go. I heard they have a new shipment of Migs in the cafeteria. Most people consider it a dinner food. But I’ve never seen the logic of that. Midmorning is as good as any time.”

Chiro stood up again. He raised his arms up coaxing the faction to rise to their feet. As soon as they did the other members rushed to form two groups on either side of the exit to the chamber. They formed two lines of swearing, jeering and insults, the human experience reduced to the viciousness of words. Many days Chiro would go to the front of the faction and lead them out of the chamber. But not today. Today he was cautious and remained in the center of the group as they slowly moved towards the two large wooden doors held open by men in crisp gray uniforms.

“They will never forget this day” said Malu.

“Everything that is not recorded is forgotten,” Chiro replied.

There was still some pushing and shoving at the edges of the faction and these movements have a way of rippling towards the center. When Malu turned his eyes towards the stairs leading to the observation area above the chamber, he could see Fa pointing at him. Then Fa raised his arm up sharply and made a fist. There was a sudden burst of pushing and shoving at the edge of the faction and several of their members fell to the floor which permitted the other ministers to push further into the faction which sent the Ripple deeper towards the center. Malu waited until the first wave had passed through the crowd. When the second wave came ministers were pressed against each other tightly. That is when he plunged the knife into Chiro’s back. He aimed it precisely, between two ribs then a hard push up to puncture the heart. He stood close to Chiro, like someone on a crowded subway.

There were no last words, no looks of horror, no sound other than the jeering and insults and a gurgling in Chiro’s throat as he tried to speak for a moment. As others regained their stability, Malu stepped back and let Chiro’s body fall to the floor. His hand and the knife were covered in blood. Several of the ministers close to them yelled in horror at the sight of their fallen leader. But right after they saw the body of Chiro, they saw the knife in Malu’s hand and the threatening way he wielded it. There was confusion in the group at first, but a man with a weapon will convince you of the new order of things.

“Help me with the body,” said a junior minister to ministers around them who responded slowly at first. “The furnaces in the basement,” said the young man. Another minister grabbed both of Chiro’s legs as he watched the pool of blood grow larger around the dead man’s chest.

Huldin prepared to meet Omrad, Bindo and Fa. It was tradition that the factional leaders deface an assassinated leader’s body before it is destroyed. Whether hitting it, stabbing it, kicking it, or more vile things, it was necessary for unity between the factions. Huldin did not have a weapon but was sure that he would find one. And he did. It entered his body attached to the hand of Loki Amfor his second-in-command. Bindo, the head of the Osso faction fell at the same time.

Succession was completed in the oldest method known.

 

Chapter Twenty Nine

New Order

Malu was seated behind the desk in his office. Administrative staff would come and move him to the first ministers palatial office later in the day.
“I don’t understand it?” Said Poe. “Me? Why me? The most loyal member of this faction. Yet there I was this morning when I arrived, scanned for weapons like a common criminal. I pose no threat and never will.”
“It was not meant to offend you personally” replied Tim Ott, the new head of the Ministry of Public Safety.
“But it does offend me personally.”
“It is meant to offend everyone just a little and to ensure that leadership feel secure in this time of transition.” Tim Ott was new to the leadership circle, the 10 men who thought they ran everything but were actually just under the command of the First Minister.
“They will be removed soon enough and all will be allowed to stab whomever they choose” Tim added sarcastically.
“And you agreed to this?” Poe said looking at Malu.
“Yes.”
“Then be prepared for the other factions to complain very loudly and for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were calls for your resignation” replied Poe,
“That won’t happen” replied Tim Ott with a smirk.
“Why not?” Was the angry question fired back at him from Poe.
Tim Ott raised his eyebrows and tilted his head forward, “because were not scanning the other factions.”
“Now I am truly offended” said Poe.
“You’ll get over it” said Tim in a bored tone.
“Ministers” said Malu, “it’s time for us to go to the chamber.”

And as they rose to leave Malu got another comms request from Amelia. It was the second one since he had left this morning. She was still asleep when he left. There had been no morning kisses, affection, or sex. She changed significantly after their argument, changed into a broken slave girl. He did not accept her comms request. She had learned about Jarillo from other slaves. When she confronted Malu he confirmed that her family was dead.

As the ministers made their way to the chamber many ministers stopped Malu to congratulate him as they walked down the marble floor of the hallway. Soon he would propose a statue be added to the hall, of Chiro. The men standing alongside the large wooden doors to the chamber came to attention when they saw him and both saluted him. He returned the salute. And when he stepped into the chamber thunderous applause began. It was the applause given a Liberator, a man who would freed them from the control of someone they despised. And not only had he freed them, he had killed the evil beast. For this every man in the chamber was standing applauding and cheering as he entered. Then it began. It started in the Dulium faction. A single voice at first, then a second, and quickly a third and that it spread fast and wild like a rumor. Malu they chanted. Malu. Malu. Malu.

He walked to the first ministers place in the middle of his faction and sat down. Still the chanting continued. He smiled and nodded and mouthed the words thank you over and over. Then he stood up, put his hands together and held them over his head as if to declare victory. Then he put his arms out and moved his hands up and down slightly asking everyone to please be seated. And for the first time in a long time it happened quickly without the racket from the cymbal to encourage compliance. As a sat they quieted down. After a few moments it became quiet.
“Ministers” said Malu in his deep baritone, “we meet in dangerous times. But also a time of great hope, where a path to peace and prosperity can easily be seen. It is my intention to help us choose that path. So I won’t grandstand with a long speech because there is much work to do.” Malu sat down. None of the other faction leaders stood up and there was no jeering or yelling. The speaker of the chamber rose to speak. “There are 37 new proposals since yesterday. Most have to do with mining and agricultural concessions and military contributions. They are being drafted into legislative forms to be presented to this chamber for deliberation.”
Malu stood up. When he did he heard his stomach rumbled again as it often did when he felt tense.
“Mr. speaker, first actions often set a tone and a direction for the administration. In light of this I would like to add one more proposal to your list. I propose that strict proportionality by representation in this body be applied to all matters of finance, without exception.”
The chamber erupted in a roar of approval from the other factions. Chiro had talked about this much in the past. But he always dangled it like a carrot in front of a horse, slightly in the future, a future that never comes. And when they were able to get him to agree to strict proportionality it always became corrupted by his exclusions and exceptions and allowances and special circumstances that always cropped up and were always in his favor. When the chamber finally quieted Malu continued.
“Chiro’s plan for single currency will be abandoned. The monopoly on currency exchanges will be ended.”

Currency doesn’t actually exist in physical form anymore. It’s all chips and electronic balances and account transfers. But it’s an important thing in the mind. It helps foster allegiance like a flag does. And each faction had its own currency with a history, with perceived value, with denominations named after their dead leaders, most of which were horrible people. When people from one part of the empire traveled to a different part as often happened, they would be required to use the currency of their destination to pay for things. And in order to get their little electronic pulses from their currency into the little electronic pulses of a new currency, they would need the services of one company, Fair Corporation. A fractious market had consolidated right after the Goodness Alliance came into being as Fair Corporation bought all of their competitors. And while the name implies one thing, the facts imply another. Fair Corporation through a simple collection of 4.179% of the proceeds of every exchange had become one of the wealthiest companies in the empire very quickly. In fact it was so wealthy that the head of the company only lasted for a very short time. After a few months the executive was fabulously wealthy and would become paranoid that someone in his inner circle would kill him in order to take the position, as had happened a few times. The breakup of Fair Corporation would be welcome by tourists and travelers across the empire.
“But those are the good things I can offer you immediately. Let’s talk about the problems shall we. Planets continue to disappear and reappear as do stars, and moons and asteroids and comets and black holes and parts of everything that exists. And it is getting worse. This morning ten ministers had to be replaced not because they were sick or dead or injured. No, they were replaced because they disappeared when their home planet ceased to exist and all of their ancestors with it.” Malu stopped for a moment listening to the murmur that rippled through the chamber. He received another comms request from Amelia that he dismissed. Fa rose to his feet.
“What about the arrests? People want to know when they will stop” Fa spoke forcefully.
“Rest easily my friends, there will be no new arrest, unless there is new criminality. These were just the remnants of the old regime.” About this Malu spoke the truth.
Tim Ott, had convinced him soon after the assassination that many of those who had lived an opulent life under the patronage of Chiro would now have cause for revenge. It wasn’t a hard argument to make as Malu had thought about it previously. What he had realized was that it would result in over 3000 people being held in custody.

In the Goodness Empire being held in custody is an unpleasant outcome. It involves being stripped of all your possessions, including your clothes. You are then forced naked into the rest of the prison population similarly dressed and they can do with you whatever they like until you are released. For those of importance and wealth judicial custody is a very unpleasant experience and often fatal. That’s why late into the night Tim Ott kept asking for permission to execute those rounded up during the transition. He even described it as an act of mercy compared to what was happening to them at the hands of the criminal population in the large communal holding cells. Malu did not gives his approval for the executions. It wasn’t that Tim’s argument was without merit. Would you rather be shot quickly or be raped for days and then have your throat slashed. No, the reason he didn’t approve was that he was unsure about wielding power. He didn’t want one of his first act to be a kill command. He had forgotten that his first act was a killing. He had hoped that his new head of the secret police would’ve shown initiative and gone ahead instead of asking permission to kill them. But then Tim Ott was also new to his role and also unsure of wielding power.

Loki Amfor rose to his feet.
“First, first minister” he said stuttering, “what about their ship? It can appear and disappear anywhere. Do they have more of them? How do we stop them?” Loki remained on his feet to hear the answer.
“Congratulations on becoming the new leader of your faction” said Malu. “Yes, now would be a good time to make sure we all are in agreement of the way forward. As you all know Jarillo was destroyed by spacecraft with new technology faster than anything we’ve ever seen. So fast we can’t see it when it travels. Our satellites show that the entire Battle of Jarillo took less than 10 seconds.” The chamber filled  with shocked murmurs.
“From appearance to departure it was the shortest battle in recorded history. Is there an adequate defense for this? I don’t think so. No planet is safe. No city, no town, no home, no brothel is safe from their ships. But there is one place we are safe. One place where they can appear, fire their weapons disappear without causing death and destruction. I’m speaking of our ship fitted with field dispersion technology. It is the one place in the universe where we cannot be hurt. And how do we take advantage of our new defensive capabilities? More importantly how do we use them to offset our opponents advantage? I suggest that the answer is not where you’re looking. Let me propose that our most valuable weapon is peace.” Loki raised his hand like a young schoolboy requesting permission to speak. It almost made Malu laugh but he suppressed the sensation at the last moment. Loki could be useful. He motioned for him to speak.
“Peace, what do you mean peace is a weapon?”
“My friend,” said Malu purposely using a term rarely used by his predecessor, “what we have is a production problem. Specifically, it will take time to deploy field dispersion technology to our fleet. During this time we will be vulnerable to attack. So the question becomes, how do we stop these attacks? Loki, dearest Loki, our opponent must be frozen for this to happen. And the best way I can think of to freeze an opponent is to invite them to peace talks.” The chamber finally erupted in jeering and yelling. Malu’s honeymoon was over.
“No way will I disgrace myself or my faction with peace talks” yelled Fa as he jumped to his feet. “We do not surrender and surrender is what comes from peace talks. It is the surrender through words of those who are too frightened for battle. It’s dishonorable and cowardly.”
“Yes, Fa” replied Malu, “I agree with you.”
“Then why in the name of God do you want peace talks?” Malu wondered sometimes just how intelligent Fa was. Some members even jeered Fa for his slowness to understand.
“Minister, I consider you my mentor. You are an honorable man, and honest man. I often wonder what you would do in the circumstances I face and intend to cross the faction boundaries often to seek your counsel. But as much as I honor you sir, I sometimes think your high sense of honor prevents you from having a devious mind. Our intention will not be to negotiate borders and methods of de-escalation. Our intention will not be to establish trading standards or exchange rates for our currencies between the empire and the rebels. No our intention will be much simpler. We intend to talk and talk. And we will set only one precondition for these talks, a cease-fire between both sides. There now you know how to freeze your opponent. And while we debate where and when and the size of the negotiating parties and the shape of the table and the maps that’ll be used, while all of this is going on we will be outfitting more of our fleet with field dispersion technology. And when we have enough ships made invincible to their weapons, then they will find that the peace talks have cost them their very chance for victory. Armed with a fleet of indestructible attack ships we will attack and be victorious.” Malu was quiet but the chamber was not and split along generational lines. Younger ministers cheered, older ministers yelled their disapproval.
Fa waved his arms furiously in the air. “But the rebels have no incentive to join peace talks now. They don’t even know about field dispersal technology.”
“So I intend to teach them” replied Malu. “We have a weapon that they cannot stop, so let’s make that known to them loud and clear.”
“And how do you intend to do that?”
“We shall use our craft to strike at the very heart of the rebellion. Most of you know that their commercial center is on Damnor. But most of their research and nearly all of their discoveries come from a small planet named Kath. If we attack Damnor they are damaged but can recover quickly. But if we attack Kath they will be crippled for a long time. With the death of each scientist and researcher in our attack their hope of victory is further from their grasp. So ministers, I put before you today the proposition that we destroy Kath.” Malu sat down quickly. Chamber filled with the voices of the ministers talking to each other about the proposition. Poe leaned over and spoke.
“First minister, you’ve done very well today. Much better than Chiro.”
“I hope so. I checked the archives for Chiro’s first day. His big accomplishment that day was to lift the ban on hunting and harvesting the conjoined.”
“Really? That’s all?” asked Poe.
“Mostly that was it.”
“Well then first minister, let me doubly congratulate you.” And though his words were slight, Malu could discern a new attitude in Poe. Previously when there was a small chance that Poe could bypass Malu in the chain of command, he showed less deference. Now it was the sound of the surrender of his ambition.

Another comms request from Amelia came through and was dismissed. This time there was a comms record available. Malu could listen to it easily as long as he wasn’t on his feet speaking. It was three words. He had received hundreds of messages from Amelia since he had owned her and they had consisted of three words, I love you. This time was different.

I’m leaving you.

 

Chapter Thirty

Oh Dear

Date: 19.39287.837 Standard Atomic

Condition: Critical

Affected Galaxies: All

Time since last oscillation: 1.78 Days Standard Atomic

Population lost to oscillation (all areas):     6.71828 % 

Prior Oscillation Population loss:    1.37841 %

Matter lost to oscillation (all areas):    11.97356%

Prior Oscillation Matter loss:        2.87168 %

Notable Losses:

– Constellation of Truse
– Ice Belt surrounding Olpus Galaxy
– Berh’s Black Hole
– Gallifradon Solar System
– Morcu Disruption Field
– Ice Planets of Elling
– The Reladon Monument
– Black Stars of Chigun
– The Rosinary Research Facility
– CPO (Central Point of Origin, Yes THE Central Point of Origin)

Date of next report:  19.39288.837 Standard Atomic


Chapter Thirty One

The Greatest of All Time
(apologies to Muhammad Ali)

Bernard Doyle was smiling when he left the apartment in Mil Sec housing. It was better than when he served. All it needed was his wife, Honey. Honey wasn’t her real name, that was Honesty. She preferred Honey, even if it was a lie. The coffee in the mess room was nice and strong. He had risen early and gone to the gymnasium to exercise. It helped at his age. A good long workout which ended with 20 laps in the large pool. The morning air was warming quickly and the night dew was not long in that form.
Walking from the building over to the shuttle area, he boarded the next shuttle. Two stops later he departed at the edge of the park and went into the Baukuni Park via the solar path. He adjusted the spring in his jogging boots to Kath gravity, giving himself an extra 5 percent needed to exercise. He was not about to go the way of his friends, retirement bellies protruding over their belt lines.
Professor Arletto Pa was the last name on his list of 23 suspects. Bernard always thought that information control was more important than it did to his peers. They were lax in security. Too many people knowing too much. Now it had reached a critical point. Reaching into his pocket, he removed the tiny insect looking device. He looked around and found some benches across from the children’s play area and quickly settled into the first empty bench. As he looked down at the mechanical insect with wings, a camera, audio recording, and transmission, he softly whispered, “Violence,” then continued to add, “injury, combat.” These were the behavioral qualifiers for notification; “argument, yelling, threat.” Let’s be frank; he couldn’t watch 23 people simultaneously, so he programmed behavior and language for key acts and words to provide instant notification. “Sex,” he added as the last key act.
On a swing sitting very still sat a young boy. He was observing Bernard setting the small devices in a row.
The keywords had been added by file import. It saved him reading in hundreds of word. He touched the tail of the first insect, and its eyes flashed red for a moment, then blue returning to their natural black. He set it down on the bench beside him. He removed the next one and continued the startup procedure. Upon finishing he had eleven of the very small devices lined up on the bench beside him.
The young boy wondered about the old man. He thought about telling his mother. But remembered what happened last time. His mother became quite cross when he told her about the two people having sex in the building across from them, their windows set to transparent for the world to see. The world, in this case, consisted of a small child named Eucli. It was only a few minutes later when a very sincere and heartfelt new apology was born in the universe and the windows forever more set to ‘out only.’
Bernard had not been in the field since retiring. The adrenaline was pumping in his veins once again. Damn, it felt good. He took up painting when he retired. Consequently, his apartment was full of landscapes, predominantly in green and yellow. He had also learned to play what you call the violin. Still, nothing had filled the void of the cold sweat from a close encounter during a surveillance operation. The rush of it all had left him empty when denied to him. Off in the distance, Professor Arletto Pa was making his way toward the campus. The morning light was bright, and it revealed a man not yet functioning at 100 percent, his disheveled clothing not quite fitting the correct points of his body. The center of his shirt was not in the center of him and around his neck he wore the MBR Medal, the highest award for mathematics.
The award was named after Moshe Bao Rofana, who as a mathematician was considered the greatest of all time. That another human of his caliber would ever occur again held very slim odds. Rofana was the product of very illegal genetic experiments that were deemed species weaponization and banned. He spent his very short life living in the same room.
He began communication one hour and forty-two minutes after birth with a request for a warmer blanket, much to the shock of everyone. By the end of the first week, he had connected himself via direct interface to knowledge banks available. At the end of week two, he had already reached the ends of knowledge in several subjects. Yes, the end of knowledge. It was this way in some areas. He found them in physics, mathematics, biology; you see the pattern, the hard sciences. Reaching the bottom of humanities is probably impossible or at least silly as there is always some fool writing another book.
After the first month of his life, Moshe Bao Rofana had to choose an area to contribute to. He chose mathematics starting with the Rind Conjecture, the most startling margin note in history. Elise Rind on the side of the page, almost three quarters through her proof of tendencies and their negative images, a study of inequalities, wrote the following note in the side of the page:
“Fuck me! This means it is predictable and it may be possible to identify them. Test at Casino tomorrow night.”
Rofana proved Elise Rind’s conjecture through variable wave imaging and other techniques. He had to invent a few new mathematical tools in order to prove his work on the conjecture. It should be noted that Elise Rind did become very wealthy starting soon after the note was scrawled in her notebook.
But the story of Moshe Bao Rofana was ultimately a tragedy. Some called it cosmic justice, but it wasn’t. It was just bad rotten luck. Six weeks after his birth, while many people and corporations fought over custody of Rofana, Moshe was discovered choking another infant in the nursery that wouldn’t stop crying. Rofana had unraveled one of his socks and was using the strands of fiber tied together and placed around the neck of a screaming baby a couple of days older than him. He had told them the second day that he needed to be taken out of the nursery. However, they wouldn’t listen to him. ‘You’re fucking idiots,’ he told the head of medical staff.
As you can imagine, being caught in an attempted homicide will cause significant problems. It’s just one of those things that are best either done perfectly, or better yet, just not done at all. The effect on poor little Moshe Bao Rofana was profound. He did indeed get away from the other babies. They left. He got the big room with high ceilings all to himself.
What had been shown in his homicidal escapade was the dramatic side effect of the genetic experimentation that had created Moshe Bao Rofana. With a mind so great as his, things came through them with a speed and force that most would not be able to fathom or process. Moreover, with the mind there is a wide range of thoughts, from the noble to the criminal. And that is where the problem was. These thoughts were amplified, far beyond normal, far beyond the place where the gauges move into the red.
Some thoughts provoke action. So when little Zere Bah began to scream that his diaper was wet, cold, and was no longer capable of warehousing the growing amount of poo, Moshe Bao Rofana was trying to think of a new proof for the existence of Prindo’s Predictive Particles, particles that will mirror probabilities for any system or set of occurrences when brought within an exact distance, roughly 1.2936 to 3.19273 Pi depending on the mass of the system or of the event. In the deranged mind of Moshe Bao Rofana, his work was much more important than the concerns of Zere Bah. And the damned crying was making it very difficult to think properly. Twice Moshe had thought of a new proof and promptly forgotten it as a particularly piercing wale came from Zere’s newly working and excellent lungs. The flaw was not in the intellect of Moshe but in the summary judgment which came from it, that murdering Zere Bah was the best way to get the little bastard to shut the fuck up.
From that moment forward he was extended hospitality not dissimilar to the New York State Psychiatric Hospital in Albany, 7th Floor, East Ward. They started by removing all of the other babies and then most of the staff. After a couple of weeks, his human interactions were reduced to exactly six people. It remained that way for the rest of his short life. They began with drugs as soon as everyone else had moved out of what Moshe referred to as ‘his crib.’
It was the drugs that killed him. Not the actual drugs, per se. It was the effect they had on him. It brought everything to its correct speed. For Moshe, this was like smothering him slowly. How long would you expect a high-performance sports car to last if you could only drive it in first gear? He pleaded with them. He argued. He threatened them. He refused. And the more he did, the more they were determined that they were right and continued to give him the drugs. His progress in mathematics slowed to a crawl. He had to get everything back to his speed. At such a slow pace he was sure that he would die.
It took acting. Really good acting. Acting and considerable restraint on his part before he had them believing that he was recovering. With a mind such as his, he had gambled that they would be stupid enough to believe that recovery could happen very quickly, almost instantly compared to the glacial pace of recovery for some. Every day he would think of new ways of showing his recovery to them. He discussed at length the loneliness he felt from not having parents. It caused him to feel isolated.
After several weeks they began to believe his ruse. They began to reduce his meds, and his mind began to speed up again. When he asked for a pet, that’s when even the skeptics became converts to his cause. So they gave him a pet, an android pet to begin with and the promise of a real kitten once his ability to care had been established. It took him only twelve minutes to learn the programing language used to control the android kitty. Forty-six minutes later he had programmed it to kill.
The next morning, Moshe Bao Rofana declared war on his captors. He killed the first medical professional that came into his room that morning, his pet’s claws removing the poor man’s face while Moshe removed his heart from his chest with the tube he made from the frame of his crib. Of the six people who made up his daily contact, he killed five of them before ten o’clock in the morning. The sixth had called in sick in order to spend the day with a husband who had just received another rejection from a popular singing contest and was in a deep depressive funk.
Moshe rode his mechanical cat down the hallway of the hospital, smashing things and screaming with glee every time someone fell to his lance, which in fact was the metal handle of a cleaning utensil not unlike a mop, the handle of which had been ground to a razor point and used to pierce the bodies of his enemies.
Things were going Moshe’s way for quite some time. He had killed thirty-four people in the hospital before the obvious flaws overcame him. His first flaw was simple mass or lack of it. It manifested itself when a man with a strange but friendly accent surprised Moshe by sidestepping his lance then doing the one thing no reasonable human would ever do: he kicked a baby in the face. Moshe not only left his position atop his mechanical pet but traveled some distance before hitting the floor then rolling for some time and finally came to rest against some dirty linen recently removed and tossed out the door into the hallway. The man with the friendly accent did not escape. Kitty got him. One slash to his throat from the right front claw and the friendly accent was gone forever.
Security forces arrived to resolve the situation. The battle ended on the roof of the building. Moshe and Kitty were trapped on a ledge by thirty-six-armed security forces, twelve medical professionals and three old ladies with candy and cat treats. It all ended via the traditional formula of Force = Mass x Velocity at a point many floors below. Splat.
This was the mind that in its final hours solved the Carson Conundrum, the Da-fong Dichotomy, and redefined Fabuelo’s Fabulous Foundation Set so that it worked a lot better.

Bernard saw the shiny medal hanging around Arletto Pa’s neck and knew nothing of its history. He was however very fascinated by the Inco Sapphire at the center of the medal. It was beautiful. He wondered if he would have the chance to steal it. He hoped so. He’d give it to his wife as a present, and she in turn would, oh never mind, you already know how Bernard prefers to be rewarded.

As Arletto walked past him, the first of the micro armada launched skyward and began their surveillance flight patterns. Eleven micro devices would follow Arletto, they would swing in and out of close quarters with their target, rotating the proximity to the target in order to remain unobserved. Early versions of these devices were acutely mechanical. This made them easier to spot. But after several significant surveillance failures, they were redesigned to present a more realistic appearance. The early design of following the subject closely was abandoned in favor of following teams and significant effort to make the devices smaller and more realistic looking. By the time Bernard used them, the makers of them had done such a fine job that someone under surveillance could easily smack one of the devices thinking it’s an insect and find they were rewarded with the expectant level of yellow insect goo on their hands. If they had bothered to taste it, they would have found that it was just a sugary gelatin of green and yellow.

Bernard launched all the devices and began to walk back toward the public square that was surrounded with restaurants and coffee shops. He was hungry. Surveillance work was always boring until it’s not, and that meant he tended to eat more than usual. He looked down at his stomach then patted it. Then he smiled because while he would soon be enjoying a nice midmorning breakfast, all over the city his army of tiny devices would be working for him. He pulled up his interface and used it to launch tags. These were near microscopic tags, smaller than a human hair that would be shot from the surveillance devices onto the skin or clothing. Their arrival would not be felt and they would stay attached to their target until released by Bernard.

A few minutes later Bernard was sitting outside a café drinking coffee and watching people walk by. He looked up into the sky and watched as a large freighter drifted down into the atmosphere far from the city. Probably another fruit and veg ship. He needed to trap a traitor quickly. A lot depended on being able to stop the flow of information to their enemy. The attack had to happen soon. They could not permit the 500 too much time to prepare. Bernard had concluded that an attack on the 500 could be sufficient to cause a level of chaos that would be devastating for Goodness.
Bernard was scared for his daughter too. He was sure that she would be on board the attack ship. Should things go wrong, should Goodness know of their attack plans, a fleet of starships would be waiting to blast them out of the sky.