The Search for Kalid novel in one page
If you want to read the spanish version, go here
“Is this the planet we are looking for?” asked Leone, his voice indicated disbelief and disappointment.
“Yes, it is. At last we have reached the planet of Kalid, the Wise One,” answered Aristark.
Leone and Aristark were two Counselors on their home planet, Sakkara. They were desperately looking for the great man called Kalid and were now moving close enough to the planet to be able to watch it through the windows of their “Thot” spaceship. Leone had been placed on this course by what Sybil had told him about Kalid.
“Kalid was my master,” said Sybil, a white witch for many, although she called herself "Priestess of Isis". “He taught me everything I know. He is the Great Master of the Osiris Order.”
“The Osiris Order?” Leone asked. "I thought it was extinct many years ago."
“Yes, for outsiders it seemed to have vanished, but that was an illusion created for security reasons,” Sybil answered. “The Order has been hidden all this time. Kalid is now the Great Master of the Osiris Order, so we must seek his counsel immediately. You must contact Kalid and get him to help us with our mission to defeat Set, but the main problem we have is that we are not sure of his whereabouts. I think he has gone back to his home planet.”
“Which planet is that?” asked Leone.
“The name of the planet is ‘Veritas Flammis’. It is called just Flammis by most of us."
“Flammis?” asked Leone. “I have never heard that name in all my years as an interstellar pilot, and I have traveled to half the planets in the Empire. Maybe it has another name in the planetary records.”
“No. That is its only name. It is a secret planet.”
“Secret? Nothing is secret from the Empire. Do you mean that the Empire did not conquer it?” The Empire was now more than a century past its beginnings. As far as Leone knew, the Empire had decades previously taken control of the last of the hundreds of worlds with human populations.
“Yes. The inhabitants of Flammis hid when the Empire forces were there.”
“That is completely absurd. Are you saying that they hid themselves or that they hid the planet? Either is quite impossible. Nobody can hide from Empire scanners, not even with quantum shields operating on each of the 11-dimensions.”
“What you speak of are limitations of material science, but nothing is impossible by spiritual means. Nevertheless, they did not hide it fully. When the Masters of Flammis detected that Empire spaceships were close, they simply sent false data to those ships. The Empire forces had indeed seen a planet there, but their instruments did not show anything interesting; just void and rock. They could not see any signs of life in Flammis because the Masters created a powerful illusion. The Masters used their mental powers to confound the sophisticated detectors of the Empire ships, and so the Empire never knew about the importance of Flammis...they just moved on.”
“An optical illusion the size of a planet? You are full of amusing gossip! I don’t believe in that...mental powers... it is nonsense. I can sense that you believe it, you think you are telling the truth, but maybe someone invented that story and has tricked you into believing it. The Empire MUST know about them. Nothing and no one escapes the Empire, ever.”
“No, it is not the way you think. The Empire is not infallible. There are stronger forces than physical force in this universe. Particularly, the Masters use Mental Powers which are superior to all the science the Empire could ever have. As long as the Masters remain undetected, they will be able to con... Oh, I am saying too much. The point is that Kalid is there, on Flammis, hidden from the hands of Set.”
“And how will I find this 'secret' planet where these 'Masters' are hidden? Will my navigation devices detect Flammis, will my scanners lead me to the Masters?”
“You will need a special device installed on your spaceship. That way the Masters will think that you are from our Order and thus they will not hide from you. You are not actually from our Order, but you will help us on this mission, so you can carry it for a while. My servants will install the identification beacon on your ship when you are ready to leave for Flammis.”
“A special device? Wow, I am amazed... If the Masters have those superb 'mental powers', they should detect my mind and know you had sent me."
"The powers do not work that way".
"Because they don't work at all! I'm sorry, but everything you say about these mental powers is too strange. It just makes me want to laugh, but I have to trust you, for the moment, and have faith in your claims about the Masters being able to help us." Leone shook his head in wonder at this predicament. How had it come to this, a man of science being forced to listen to "mental powers" nonsense from a "Priestess"?
Of course, Leone knew how this odd state of affairs had come about. Ketar, the head of the Antiquist party, had sent Leone to visit Sybil. Leone had been ordered by Ketar to act on the advice of Sybil. If Leone wanted to remain in good standing with the Party he had to trust Sybil.
For Leone it was hard enough to trust anyone since the recent deaths of so many Antiquist Party members, but it was particularly difficult to swallow this story about a "powerful illusion" that could not be penetrated by the Empire's scanners... "I will go to Flammis because I have no other option, so far. I can only hope that the Masters will help us against the Evil One...”
Approach to FlammisEditar
After remembering the conversation with Sybil, Leone’s mind came back to the present and he began to watch the planet called Flammis through the window. The ship's long-range scan indicated that it was a small terrestrial planet, so theoretically people could survive there, but it was completely green. A green planet! Flammis was not "green" in the sense of "full of life" or endowed with a rich ecosystem and green plants....no, this was a green planet due to an exotic chemical process in the atmosphere. Leone had heard that the reason for this kind of strange color on planets like Flammis was that such worlds had their atmosphere consumed by a green goo, a type of destructive and uncontrolled nanite. Such green planets were generally assumed to be uninhabitable.
So Leone was shocked and disappointed. What kind of crazy mission was this to a dead planet? He was now more surprised than before that he had never heard of Flammis. Apparently this was a world that had "gone green" before ever becoming heavily populated and famous. Still, it was odd that Flammis was not listed in the standard Empire catalog of planets. If nothing else, green planets were notable as something to be avoided.
Leone had never previously visited a green planet and it was hard to guess what conditions might be like on the surface of Flammis, but the ship's instruments were reporting a thick and solid green cloud cover that would seem to mean this world was dead. Flammis appeared to be suffocated under a destructive nanite cloud, contrary to Sybil's belief that it was a great center of learning for students of mental powers. Leone wondered, why hadn't Sybil mentioned that Flammis is a green planet? Was it some "minor detail" that slipped her mind? Leone thought: this bunch of mental psychos (psychos not psychics, according to Leone) would not stand a chance against the mighty Set. Leone cursed himself for being so naive in trusting and following the advice of Sybil. Maybe the destiny of all members of his Antiquist Party was to die from betrayal and misplaced trust.
At the start of this journey Leone had been very suspicious and doubtful of "mental powers", but he had trusted that Kalid could be found. However, it now looked like this visit to Flammis was a complete waste of time! The Thot spaceship was now very close to the green clouds, but had not received any message from the planet. Leone imagined that if the Masters were actually on Flammis and if they were so "advanced", they should have sent a warning message or something, by means of either a conventional signal or, if Sybil was correct, by some sort of telepathic impulse. Maybe they were afraid of being detected by someone else, though. Maybe the Masters were making sure that this first ship, marked as a ship of the Osiris Order, had not been followed.
Leone's hopes of finding Kalid were now quickly evaporating. He had never believe a word of what Sybil had said to him about mental powers, but he had hoped that by meeting Kalid the Master might share what he knew about Set's weaknesses...if there were any. How could Leone, a man of science, trust any of these claims about "mental powers", and if Sybil believed such nonsense, why trust anything she might say?
Leone watched Flammis closely and examined incoming results from the ship's automated scanning routines. Leone wondered if maybe they had already been detected by the Masters and were being allowed to scan the planet. If so, it should be possible to detect human residents on Flammis from this altitude. Nevertheless, he was not too sure what to expect about their “Powers”...who knew what might or might not be possible? If what Sybil had said was true, maybe all the instrument readings were false and being altered by the Masters on Flammis.
Leone was trained in a skeptical manner and relied on the scientific method, therefore he did not believe anything about "psychic powers". Where was the evidence for such things? Leone was an engineer with strong scientific background: mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology..."mental powers" was something beyond the domain of science. However, Leone was willing to admit that science had not discovered everything yet, so such "Powers" could exist.
Someone with scientific skepticism could never be sure that something was impossible...there was really no way to prove the nonexistence of something. Leone did not believe in clairvoyance, remote vision or the divination of the future...there was no evidence for such things. However, the Empire was in a time of decadence, and maybe the poverty, suffering and past wars were the reason why most people turned to belief in those strange arts, Leone thought.
There had also been a renaissance of belief in Ancient Egypt, Hermetics and magic in general. Osiris Order. Priestess of Isis. "What is the popular appeal of Ancient Egypt?" Leone asked himself. Egypt was not even a common history subject in schools. Concerning one's self with Egypt was like talking about Australopithecus, too far in the human past to be of any practical importance.
Aristark had heard Leone's muttered question about Egypt. He was also analyzing the incoming data from Flammis. "Not looking too promising down there, is it? If the Osiris Order does exist, surely they could find a more hospitable world!"
"Well, a green planet might be a sensible hiding place, I guess." Briefly, Leone's attention was brought back to the scan results, but they continued to show no signs of any human presence on the planet. His thoughts kept drifting towards what little he knew about mysticism and "ancient Orders". After meeting Sybil, Leone had done some reading about Egypt legends. Maybe the fabled Egyptian civilization had never even existed. Leone was no historian, but his reading on the topic had exposed Leone to the work of some historians who claimed the whole idea of Egypt was only a myth, an invented civilization, like Atlantis, a myth that was only used to revive magic and useless mysticism. In Leone's opinion, the greatest part of the Egypt story was the pyramids... but Earth had been carefully searched and the pyramids could not be found.
Of course, Earth was not easy to search! Like Flammis, Earth was now a green planet, lost to the scourge of uncontrolled nanites. So even if evidence for Egypt did remain on Earth, it would never be easy to find that evidence. Still, something as large as the mythical Egyptian pyramids should be easily detectable from orbit using conventional scanners.
Leone believed it was possible that Egypt had indeed existed in ancient times. For Leone, "ancient" meant from before the 20th century, a time before the Space Age. Leone knew that he lived in the 25th century, as time and years had once been counted on Earth. Earth's year was still the "standard year" of the Empire. Within the Empire, everything from more than 200 years before the present was considered classical or Ancient by most people, due to the rapidly increasing rate of scientific advance and social changes.
Now, within the Empire, the years were not numbered that way (25th century) anymore, but Leone knew how to convert from the Empire calendar to the classical Earth numbering system. In the Empire's nomenclature of times, years were numbered since the founding of the Empire's capital, and they were in year 108 ANE (After the New Empire). Leone thought it was silly that the Empire called itself the "New Empire". He did not know of any past Space Age Empire, but his limited knowledge of Earth history did include some ancient examples such as the Roman Empire. Maybe the founders of the current Empire had wanted to trace their origins to Ancient Times, to make the Empire seem like Destiny for humanity.
Something that Leone found funny and amusing was "Set", the name. Leone had learned that in Egyptian mythology "Set" was thought to be some evil god. If the person Set believed in such crap maybe that could be one of his weaknesses, believing in false and exotic things. Leone could imagine that there had been an Egypt on Earth, but he did not doubt that belief in esotericism and secret knowledge handed down from Ancient Egypt was a complete fantasy. Leone had no reason to suspect that Set was murderous and evil in anything other than a perfectly conventional way. However, a strange thought came to mind....
“Do you believe in mental powers?” Leone asked Aristark, without any introduction.
“What?” said Aristark. Aristark was busy making calculations for how much light might penetrate the green cloud of Flammis and was not thinking along the same topics as was Leone.
“Do you believe in mental powers?” Leone asked again.
“Not at all,” answered Aristark. “Why do you ask?”
“Because we are searching for a Master of 'mental powers' and Sybil claimed that this green world is inhabited by a group of people who practice mind control,” Leone said.
“I don’t know what to believe about that, yet. My position is skeptical, but I could believe some of it if there were enough proof to support these claims. Maybe if these 'Masters' can read my thoughts or damage my laser gun with their mind, maybe then I will start to believe in 'mental powers'. If they don't prove it I will not believe a single word of Sybil's nonsense. Its the same as for any wild claim, they will have to show me evidence that supports their claims.”
“Yes, that's the point, but some mystics claim the existence of 'mental powers' cannot be proved to skeptics. According to them, you must first 'have faith" in the Powers. That is what I read about this 'Osiris Order' and the idea that they have an ancient tradition of 'mind powers'. They never show their powers to skeptical people, that is, to people outside their 'Hermetic' Order. Of course, a skeptic would say that their refusal to demonstrate their powers might be because they have no powers at all. Maybe their 'powers' are just something like a prestidigitation trick,” Leone said.
“Prestidigitation? What is that?”
“A practice from Earth's history in which a performer tricked other people by making illusions. Common tricks were pretending to make objects disappear and making them appear somewhere else or making it look like the trickster could magically escape from death traps.”
“Oh, my Graviton! Those ancient people actually payed for the 'pleasure' of being tricked, right? Weird!”
“Yes, through human history that type of showmanship has gone in and out of favor. Times are too dismal now for people to be entertained in that way. But maybe Sybil and Kalid and others in this 'Osiris Order' are tricking people and will try to trick us too,” said Leone.
“You are right. Maybe they know nothing about 'mental power' other than how to confuse and trick weak-minded people. But if this 'Osiris Order' has been able to hide here, then one thing they could do was to hide from the Empire. And that is no easy task,” Aristark said.
“Maybe Sybil's whole story about Flammis and the Masters escaping detection by the Empire is just self-deception. Maybe the Empire has laid a trap for the 'Osiris Order' and is just waiting to conquer them...and any allies who come to visit Flammis. Alternatively, it might be that the population on Flammis is too tiny to be of interest to the Empire. See," Leone pointed out the window, "It is a dead planet and according to our scans it does not even have any significant amounts of minerals either. I believe that 'mind powers' garbage is a fairy story invented to frighten or entertain kids...” Leone said.
“Fairies? Oh, I remember, some little mythical female creatures. Yes, that could be. But maybe there is more to this 'Osiris Order' than we know. Maybe these people like Sybil and Kalid are really hiding and conspiring....maybe they are few in number but still a force the Empire would be concerned about...”
“Do you really think that is likely?” Leone asked, surprised.
“I trust Ketar. Ketar would not tell you to take Sybil seriously unless there was something true in her story. I've been thinking I had heard something like her story long ago, anyway. There is a legend, a 'story invented to frighten or entertain kids' that I heard from my mother when I was very young....something about a mighty hermetic order that will overthrow the Empire and will rule instead of it.”
Leone shook his head. Both of his parents were rationalists and had never burdened Leone with such fantasy stories. “A legend is a legend, it gives false hopes to miserable people. Predictions of future events...that is just another invention of story tellers. Many people have dreams about a better galaxy, but they do not pretend to see the future. Anyhow, we are in the closest possible orbit now and the scanner results are all coming in. We will find out soon if this 'Osiris Order' exists and if these Masters are as mighty as Sybil claims...”
After that conversation, the two counselors resumed their work. Leone went to the main control room and prepared to take the ship off autopilot. He had already started making a list of possible landing locations, coordinates on the surface of Flammis near anything on the surface that seemed like a possible human base. Aristark went to the main engineering room where he could continue the study the scanner results and also prepare equipment for landing. By the looks of things, they would need special protective equipment in case they actually landed under the green nanite cloud that shrouded the planet.
In preparation for taking manual control, Leone connected himself to the spaceship. He took commanded of the ship by plugging in some electrodes that he attached to his head with a small cap. Now, to command the ship he did not need to touch any buttons; he could just use his mind and the associated electrical brain activity. He leaned back into the command alcove and let a powerful magnetic projector rest against the back of his head, directly over his visual cortex. By way of the projector, he saw the appearance of a virtual control panel for the spaceship right in his mind.
A second magnetic projector now moved against the left side of Leone's head. “Thot welcomes you. I am prepared to land on the spot you choose,” Thot, the main computer, said, with a neutral voice, neither male nor female.
“Show me a 3D model of the planetary scans you have done so I can choose the landing point.”
The computer showed him the 3D model it had built. Since the computer was connected to him through the neuro-computer connection there was no need for anything as primitive as a display screen. Thot now projected images on Leone’s visual area and "talked" directly to his language processing area in the brain. This neuro-computer interface was a new invention that only a few spaceships had and few planets could afford to buy. But Sakkara was a planet where science was a leading force and technology was at its peak. Sakkara was part of the “Associated Planets”, that is, the planets who did not pay direct tribute to the Empire. These planets lent services to the Empire and they were a little more independent than other planets. But this independence was only relative. Some on Sakkara complained that 'Associated Planet' was just a 'feel good' title because their government and economy were fully controlled by the Empire, just like the “Tribute” planets.
To be continued
Leone tried to stop thinking about "Associated Planets" and “Tribute planets" and focus on the boring task at hand...searching a dead planet for signs of life. As they continued their orbital swing around Flammis, their 3D model of the planet's surface became nearly complete. There were nearly a dozen anomalous surface features that the spaceship's artificial intelligence had scanned and flagged and which showed with flashing red highlights in the model that was now being projected into Leone's brain. Leone asked, "Why are most of these surface features dark red but one is bright red?"
The Thot artificial intelligence replied, "All the red features appear to be human settlements that were destroyed by man-made explosive devices. The dark red sites were destroyed many decades ago and appear to have been human bases located on the surface of the planet. The bright red site was recently destroyed and appears to have been an underground base."
Leone's heart began to beat very fast. "What do you mean by 'recently destroyed'?"
The machine explained, "The craters are still cooling. They must have been made within the past few days."
"How deep was the base? Is there any chance of survivors?"
Thot was slow in answering. "The scanners on this ship are designed for use in space. I cannot penetrate the depths of the shattered rock at that site. I believe that antimatter bombs were used and some exploded at depths of more than ten kilometers. I doubt if anyone could have survived."
Leone muttered, "Too late. We arrive too late." But who could have arrived here just a day or two earlier and obliterated the inhabitants of this little-known planet? And why was the planet attacked twice, once long ago? If this had indeed been a hiding place for members of the Osiris Order, who was their enemy? Why did the Osiris Order have enemies who would pursue them to the death across space and across time?
Leone's spaceship was now completing its first orbit of Flammis. Still, there was about fifteen percent of the surface that they had not yet been able to scan, so theoretically there might be some small human base down there that had escaped destruction. Maybe the Masters had used a trick and offered their enemies a false target...maybe the Masters remained hidden at another site on Flammis...or deep below the surface of Flammis. Now that Leone understood the nature of the potential landing sites and that they were all sites of destroyed bases, he had no immediate interest in attempting a landing. He instructed the ship to let its orbit stabilize over the location of the recently destroyed base.
Assuming that there might be scattered survivors, Leone was now prepared to send a signal to the planet to ask for permission to land. The Thot spaceship was trying to swing into a geostationary orbit around the planet where it could wait for the “Masters” to send them a signal. Leone was about to start transmitting when the spaceship trembled. Both Leone and Aristark felt the odd motion of the spaceship and alarms began to sound. They both had imagined that the planet was dead, so this strange event surprised them completely. Although Leone was a veteran of a thousand trips through space, he had never been in a battle. The hundred year long history of the Empire was one of peace. The movement of the spaceship felt like being in the epicenter of an earthquake, but being in space they had nowhere to run. Leone had grown up near geologically active mountains on Sakkara and had been trained from an early age to run out of buildings during an earthquake. But now he was in a spaceship and surrounded by the interstellar void.
The battle of FlammisEditar
“What is it?” asked Leone, expecting no reply.
“I have no idea,” answered Aristark, notably scared.
Leone reasoned that if Flammis had recently been attacked then those attackers might still be nearby. Alternatively, the Masters of Flammis might still have means of self-protection and they might be attacking out of fear that Leone's ship was here to attack Flammis. Leone said to Aristark, “Well, we are under attack, there is no other explanation.” Leone was frustrated by the limited scanning equipment of the spaceship, equipment that was adequate for routine space travel but which was useless for detecting particle beams and other weapons. “But, from where? Radar does not show any spaceships around us. Thot has only logged some damage to our spaceship but there are no traces of the aggressor. Thot, activate the force field.”
Thot obeyed instantly and activated the protective field. In the next few seconds, the attack continued, but the shields limited the effects of the attack. Leone manipulated the available scanning instruments as fast as he could, but still could not detect the source of the aggression. With nothing showing on the scanners Leone was forced to think whether true “ghost ships”, invisible to normal spaceships, might be in use by the Osiris Order right now... against them. They were continuously being struck by some form of destructive energy and the attack went on and on. The worst thing for Leone was that he could not counterattack; the instruments showed nothing. Leone's spaceship was not entirely defenseless. Sometimes pirate ships dared to attack spaceships, so they were always equipped with ways to use the power of their matter-antimatter engines for both defense and for offense. In his academy days, Leone had been trained in how to fight pirates, but he had never needed that training...until now. The scanners still detected no other spaceship or asteroid weapons platform or projectile in the surroundings. Shots hit them instantly, as if they came out of nowhere.
“It cannot be. Thot does not detect anything, it is as if they were confus...”
At that very moment, Leone understood it all. In the beginning, he had thought Sybil was a naïve priestess, but what had happened now was confirming her beliefs. It was true that the Thot's sensors were confused... They showed no signal of the source of the attack. And Leone remembered now when Sybil had mentioned that sensors could be confused... by “mental powers”, in her own words. So, that was the warm welcome by Kalid, from Flammis. War!
“What?” Aristark asked, because he did not understand it yet.
“This is the nonsense Sybil said!” Leone shouted. “She was telling us the truth. They are attacking us from Flammis, but since they possess that 'mental technology' to hide themselves, our sensors cannot detect the projectiles before they are making contact with our defensive shield. Every projectile they fire is protected with some mental shield or whatever it is. They could destroy our entire spaceship and the damn sensors would not see anything at all! Not even Thot's fast response time is of any use for shifting our shield strength to the location of each new impact!" The apparent mystery of the attack was that easy to explain...Leone just had to shift his thinking to include the idea that Sybil had told the truth about "mental powers"...
“Do you need something, Captain? I cannot understand the order” said Thot, in its neutral voice.
“No, Thot. I just mentioned you in third person.”
“Then, are we forced to believe in those 'powers' this way?” Aristark asked. “But, why?”
“Why are we forced?”
“No. Why are they attacking us? We have Sybil's equipment 'on', so they should recognize us...”
“Maybe that is the reason why they are attacking. I feel inclined to think that this is all a trap set for Sybil and me by Kalid. For whatever reason, Kalid wanted to destroy us. Now, everything is very clear to me, we will have to counterattack!”
“What? Counterattack? It is like killing a ghost. Besides, we would be one single ship against an entire planet. We do not even know if they are attacking us from land or space! We do not know the locations of their remaining bases. Any attempt to fight would be a suicidal mission, we are blind and helpless. We will have to flee, that is our only choice.”
“Let's attack first and try to buy some time so that we can think,” As ship's captain, Leone pronounced his decision in a solemn manner, as if he had said the most wise thing in the universe.
And, in spite of Aristark's doubts, they both prepared to make a counterattack. Nevertheless, Aristark thought their counterattack would not last very long; soon enough they would have to flee because the shield created by Thot's force field was weakening, already down to 40% of peak strength after only 5 minutes of use! So, they had to act very fast. Each of them made use of a Thot interface in the main control room and they both shot indiscriminately towards the planet. They had no target, but Leone had read about ancient wars on Earth in which "anti-aircraft fire" was blindly used to good effect against unseen bombers over cities. Aristark even shot several times "with his eyes closed", without using the targeting system... there was no difference when doing that since there was no target.
Aristark had never bothered to use the targeting system, he just watched the display of the shield's power level and integrity. As soon as the shield's energy was down to 15%, Aristark got up from his chair, convinced that it was useless to fight and that it was time to flee.
Aristark shouted at Leone, “You are completely insane! I am sorry to say that, but we have no option but to stop the counterattack and flee. It is not like I am a coward; the graviton-damned shield is below 15% and we do not have enough time to repair the generators. I won't help any more in this suicide mission. I am going to escape, right now, in one of the lifeboats. I prefer to die trying to escape than being here, locked in a death grip with an invisible enemy and striking out at empty space like an idiot."
“Go back to your place, Aristark!” Leone shouted, now enraged even more by Aristark than the relentless attack. “Cursed graviton! Now half of the crew has rebelled. If I were alone, I would fight until I had 1% shield's energy!”
“You are very conscious of the fact that you could not escape with only 1% left. I never thought that you, a rationalist and my best friend, had such self-destructive tendencies. Your rage and desire to fight makes no sense. I am not going to continue this useless discussion, bye captain, I leave you to die with your ship”. Aristark made a military salute at this moment and fled from the control room, running down the passageway towards the lifeboats.
Leone did not care to answer, as angry as he was, but Aristark's words finally penetrated to the rational part of his mind. He now noticed that his hands were trembling from the effects of adrenalin in his blood and fear in his mind. He felt as if too much of his blood was in his head and he felt on his face a very strange heat and rolling drops of sweat. Still, it was hard to back down from this fight...if they both had continued firing, maybe they... But, what was he doing? After all, Aristark was right, in some sense. It was something for a psychopath to just keep on fighting until 1% shield. It was obvious he would not wait until that moment. Leone guessed that the shield should still be near 15%. He moved his attention away from the complex offensive targeting controls and glanced at the defensive shield display: it was down to 8%. Well, he could not take any more risks now, he knew exactly what he had to do in that moment. He always had a flight program for those cases... He approached Thot and loaded the program from his fingerprints. The program was inside his fingers and Thot scanned it like an ancient bar code. Thot loaded it and executed it. Leone also closed placed an emergency lock on all the lifeboat gates of the ship, to prevent Aristark from escaping. It was not that Leone wanted Aristark to die, but Aristark was, in Leone's eyes, a subordinate and could not disobey him or abandon the the ship without orders, no matter what. Besides, in spite of everything, Aristark was completely right, maybe he had saved them both their lives... If it was not for Aristark's insubordination, Leone might have failed to look at the shield's power level before it was too late. And now Leone realized that there was a programming error in the systems of this new type of force field: the shield had not activated automatically and there were not enough pre-programmed set points for Thot to provide alerts to Leone if the shield power dropped. Aristark had performed that vital function and saved the ship.
Leone relaxed into the softness of his chair. Now that the emergency routine was activated they would escape in less than a minute. A shout of fury was heard from down the hall and Leone listened to it with pleasure. It was Aristark, when he discovered that he was locked and forbidden from exiting the ship. Aristark's miniship was completely disabled and he was now stuck in the emergency lifeboat room, helpless. After a few more seconds, they could observe the approach of the intense black of hyperspace, something never fully seen by human eyes....they lost consciousness as the hyperspace jump was initiated. Such loss of consciousness was the usual thing when spaceships made a quick exit to hyperspace from a position too near a planet. The last thing Leone saw in his mind before losing consciousness was the last percentage of the shield, he observed: 1%. After that, the entire spaceship transferred his matter to hyperspace, disappearing from the normal space-time fabric.
This chapter will describe Leone's battles at Flammis and in the Akara star system, as they are heading to Azur, Ketar's home planet.
After the battle near Flammis, Leone calls Sakkara and tries to talk to Sybil, but Sybil is not available. We learn later that Sybil has been attacked by Set and has had to escape from Sakkara. Leone calls Ketar and reports the battle at Flammis, Ketar says, "So, you did not find Kalid? Come to Azur, we will make new plans".
When Leone's ship arrives at the Akara system they are attacked again. When the shield of Leone's ship dip below 1% energy reserves, the special equipment that was installed by Sybil activates and hides the ship. This second battle shows that Kalid (and the Osiris Order) owns a technology to hide spaceships. This chapter could include a flashback that describes the attack on the Space Elevators of Sakkara and Set's reaction to that attack....basically, the flashback in this chapter provides an account of why Set is in conflict with the Antiquist Party and the Spaceship Guild. Azur
The focus of this chapter is Ketar and his activities, his plans to liberate Azur from the Empire. This chapter could include a flashback that describes Ketar's involvement in the attack on the Elevators as part of his efforts to extract money from Spaceship Guild operations and use that money to fight against the Empire.
It should also be explained how Ketar learns about Kalid and why Ketar tells Aristark and Leone to find Kalid. Also, how does Ketar know Sybil and why does Ketar tell Leone to go to Sybil for advice on how to find Kalid?
Set, making use of his telepathic powers, detects members of the Osiris Order on Sakkara. In particular, Set learns that Kalid and Sybil are members of the Osiris Order. Set learns that Kalid is on Flammis and sends forces to take Flammis and capture Kalid (but Kalid escapes and goes to Earth). Ketar is spying on the Futurist Party and so Ketar's spys learn about Kalid, Sybil and the idea that the Osiris Order has hidden technologies, possibly something such as a technology related to telepathy.
Leone was bored and frustrated. He sat in the main control room, attached to the virtual reality generator that constituted the control system of the spaceship. The spaceship was deep into automated self-repair routines and Leone casually, if impatiently, monitored the progress of those repairs. The sooner the spaceship was repaired the sooner he could return to his mission and the search for ways to deal with Set. For now, the spaceship just drifted in interstellar space and Leone had nothing to do.
Leone was shocked out of his boredom by an activity signal reported by the long-range scanning system. Another spaceship? Had they been followed through hyperspace from the Akara star system? Leone examined the available data: the scanners had detected a transient signal at extreme range and just above the threshold of detectability. Leone had previously seen such scanner transients while waiting in deep space between hyperspace jumps. Almost certainly the cause was some chunk of stellar debris blown out of an exploding star billions of years ago. Leone sank back into the dull routine of waiting for the ship to repair itself.
Leone could not prevent his mind from echoing the day's discussions with Aristark. Should they now return to Sakkara? Should they keep trying to reach Azur? Had Sybil sent them into a deadly trap? No, that made no sense. It was clear that the equipment installed in the spaceship by Sybil had protected the spaceship from destruction. Nobody would send a spaceship into danger and at the same time protect the spaceship from danger. Or would they?
Was Sybil trying to prove her point? Leone recalled that he had mocked her for her clams about "mental powers". Leone had known Sybil for years and they had a long history of close friendship. Many years previously, Leone had tried to move their relationship past simple friendship, but Sybil had always deflected any drift in their relationship towards sexual intimacy. Not long ago, Leone had been deeply shocked to learn that Sybil was a member of the Osiris Order. But now, upon reflection, her membership in the Osiris Order might explain much that had long seemed mysterious. Leone had gone on to read about the Osiris Order and had learned that Priestesses of that Order were celibate. If Sybil was fanatically devoted to the Osiris Order, maybe she had taken offense when Leone had expressed doubt about the existence of mental powers and the ability of the Osiris Order to hide from scanners. Would Sybil send Leone into danger just to demonstrate to that Osiris Order technology really could hide a spaceship?
No, that was not it. Leone felt confident that Sybil fully expected Leone to make contact with Kalid at Flammis and to bring Kalid to Azur for a meeting with Ketar.
So, had Kalid misjudged what was going on and mistakenly attacked the spaceship at Flammis? Was Kalid simply taking no chances and ordering attacks on any unknown ships approaching Flammis? No, that made no sense either. Leone now had evidence of the power of the equipment Sybil had installed on the spaceship. Since that equipment could hide the spaceship, there was no reason to suspect that it could not also perform the much simpler task of signaling to Kalid that the spaceship was friendly.
The further mystery was why they had been attacked upon entering the Akara star system. Clearly that attack had nothing to do with Kalid and his possible paranoia. Briefly Leone considered the possibility that civil war had broken out. Leone knew that the population of Azur had been decimated when the Empire crushed the last pockets of resistance on that world. Had residents of the Akara star system started a revolt against the Empire? Leone's ship was property of the government of Sakkara, a member planet of the Empire...maybe rebel forces in the Akara star system were now attacking all Empire spaceships on sight. There were many worlds in the Empire that still resented their domination by the Empire.
Leone quickly reviewed the deep scanner records from the time in the Akara star system. From the scan data, it was clear that there had been many spaceships moving through the system on routine business....some broadcasting the standard navigation beacon used by Empire spaceships. But only Leone's ship had been targeted for destruction. The only thing unique about Leone's spaceship was the equipment that had been installed by Sybil. The only thing Leone knew for sure about that equipment was that when the spaceship was on the brink of destruction, that equipment had made the spaceship invisible. But how had it done that? Sybil had spoken of "spiritual means", but what did that mean?
Leone noticed Aristark disconnect from the Thot user interface in the engineering room. Aristark had been using nanite probes to study the equipment that had been installed by Sybil. The door to the main control room opened and Aristark entered. Leone disconnected from the Thot interface and asked, "What did you learn?"
Aristark sank down wearily into the seat next to Leone and replied, "Not much. There is a strange pattern of energy use by Sybil's equipment that corresponds to the time when our spaceship became invisible to the spaceships that were attacking us. There is no doubt that this equipment saved us from destruction."
Leone grunted. "The question is, how can you hide a spaceship?"
"Indeed. I probed far enough into Sybil's equipment to see that it is protected by an auto-destruct mechanism. I cannot learn how it works without first triggering its destruction."
Leone suggested, "Maybe we could remove the energy feed to Sybil's equipment. Would that disable the auto-destruct mechanism?"
Aristark shook his head. "Sybil's equipment is protected by self-powered nanite defenses. I'm sure that if those nanites are ever in danger of running out of power, they will use their last energies to trigger the auto-destruct mechanism. It is clear that the Osiris Order has secret technology that they do not wish to share with the rest of mankind."
Leone could not suppress a sense of outrage over the idea that important new technology would be kept secret. Leone was part of a scientific culture which valued openness and sharing of scientific and technical advances. "Who are these 'masters' of the Osiris Order that they keep such technology secret?"
Aristark shrugged. "I suppose they feel that this kind of "invisibility technology" could be misused. Think of space prates who might use it to shield their spaceships during attacks on cargo ships."
Leone was willing to admit that many technologies can be misused. In general, society bands together to put limits on the use of dangerous technologies. "What bothers me is that I know nothing about the goals and activities of the Osiris Order. How do we know that they do not misuse this technology?"
Aristark was willing to live according to available evidence. "I am not aware of any attacks by space prates using invisibility shields for their spaceships. Is there any evidence that the Osiris Order has misused this technology?"
Leone replied, "We do not know what their technology can do. Many unexplained events might be due to the use of powerful and hidden technologies. How can we even know what evidence of misuse to look for when we do not know what technologies they have?"
"Such doubts and fears can be applied to anyone. I'm tired." Aristark rose from his seat and headed for the door. "Any guess for when the spaceship will complete its repairs?"
"The hyperspace communications system is being rebuilt, those repairs alone should take about another ten hours. By tomorrow we might also be in good enough shape to make another hyperspace jump."
"Okay. We still must decide on our destination. Let's call Ketar tomorrow and ask for his advice. Good night."
Leone realized that he was also very tired. There was nothing to be done until their spaceship was repaired enough to jump again. Almost certainly the best course of action was to return to Sakkara where the spaceship could be fully repaired, but it was worth trying to contact Ketar again. Leone really wanted to ask Sybil what was going on and how the Osiris Order had developed technology that can hide spaceships. And what their plans were for that technology.
The spaceship's scanner system was signaling again. Leone saw that this time it was clearly another spaceship approaching rapidly. Leone settled back and watched the approaching spaceship in the virtual reality Thot interface. Quickly, the computer-generated images of the two spaceships merged.
The airlock connecting the two spaceships opened. It was the Master!
Leone threw the visitor a bottle of beer and some pretzels. The pretzels drifted in slow motion along the length of the zero-g airlock.
The beer smelled like oak leaves. Leone tried to catch all of the oak leaves in a basket. By catching all the falling oak leaves, the communicator would reactivate, but for now, Leone could only see the Master's lips moving and could not hear his words.
Sybil was in the basket of leaves. She was reaching out from the basket and touching Leone....it felt very nice. Leone watched the beautiful colors in her eyes and felt enthralled.
"We need to meet."
Leone cried out, "I tried to call you!"
"These are my coordinates."
Leone did not recognize the coordinates....Sybil was slipping away! He reached out to grab her. He pulled away her robe, revealing a fetish object.
"You must pay attention."
The oak leaves were now mountains of silver and gold dust. Leone tried to grab fists full of the dust, but it slipped through his fingers. "Sybil, take it all! It is all for you!"
Kalid grabbed hold of Leone. Leone was shocked into awareness; he asked, "Is this a dream?"
Kalid replied, "Yes, the brain is most sensitive to telepathy during sleep. Hurry now: memorize these coordinates."
Leone was now fascinated. He was half aware of being in a dream, but it was like the Thot interface: a set of standard astrogation coordinates were displayed in his mind. With his many decades of experience as an astrogator, Leone's mind quickly latched onto the coordinates.
"That's near Earth."
Kalid said, "Yes, very near. I see you have it. Now wake up and write down the coordinates before you forget."
"You are dreaming. Wake up and record these coordinates."
"We are talking. This is the Thot user interface, haven't you used it before?"
Kalid gave Leone's brain another activating jolt. "Wake up!"
Leone opened his eyes. Had someone spoken? He sat up and looked around the dim interior of his cabin. "Thot, did you say something?"
The spaceship's artificial intelligence replied, "You have been sleeping for the past five point three three hours. I last spoke to you five point eight four hours ago. At that time, I said, 'Com system repair will be complete in about eight hours,' and then you went to bed."
Leone asked, "Did you say something about our coordinates?"
"No. We are still drifting in interstellar space. I continue to repair the hyperdrive. Those repairs should be complete in about six hours from now."
Leone rubbed his head and tried to remember. "No, I mean the new coordinates you were showing me....something near Earth?"
The artificial intelligence said, "I do not know what you are talking about."
Leone remembered the dream and the warm sensation of being near Sybil. Then he remembered the disappointment of feeling Sybil slip away. Suddenly he remembered the coordinates. "Thot, record these coordinates..."
h32 r121:23:45 d45:143:23 z1.9347 tc
Leone was still tired and sank back into the softness of his bunk. What a strange dream! Leone had wondered where Sybil was and why she had not responded to his hyperspatial call. Earth? Why would Sybil go to Earth? But those coordinates were not Earth. "Thot, how far from Earth are those coordinates?"
"Those coordinates are in a star system that is about 22 parsecs from Earth."
"Strange." Leone drifted back into sleep still thinking about Sybil and Priestesses of the Osiris Order.
Leone slept for a short while then awoke again, showered and ate. Leone went to the main control room and found that Aristark was monitoring the spaceship's repairs. Aristark said, "We should have hyperspatial communications back online in a few minutes."
Leone looked out the window and into the blackness of interstellar space. He thought of the amazingly realistic dream about another spaceship docking with this spaceship. He muttered, "I don't suppose any spaceships have been detected near here...."
Aristark was bored and reflexively called up the scanner records. "There was a transient scanner signal yesterday, but no indication that it was a spaceship. Most likely it was a chunk of space debris at extreme scanner range."
Leone turned away from the window and said to Aristark, "Ya, I saw that transient scanner signal yesterday."
Aristark continued, "There was something odd last night. More unusual power usage by Sybil's mysterious equipment."
Leone again thought of his dream and at the same time he thought about telepathy. What might a dream have to do with telepathy? Sybil had claimed that the Osiris Order makes use of "mental powers". When approaching Flammis, Leone had wondered if he should expect some kind of telepathic impulse from Kalid. Suddenly Leone realized that there was an available opportunity for him to make an interesting and unusual prediction. "Before you say anything more, let me tell you something. There was an odd event in my cabin last night. I woke up because I thought I heard a voice. I'd like to make a prediction about the time of the power surge in Sybil's equipment."
Aristark laughed, "I always have the spaceship artificial intelligence wake me up. However, if I'm really tired I can sleep right through the wake-up message, is that what you mean happened to you?"
Leone replied, "Well, I don't usually have the AI wake me up, but when I did wake up last night my first guess was that the AI had spoken to me. Thot, what time did I wake up last night and ask if you had spoken to me?"
The Thot AI replied, "That was at four point two seven hours this morning."
Aristark said, "The strange power usage by Sybil's equipment started shortly before that time and ended almost exactly at that time. Is that prediction you wanted to make?"
Leone was trying to imagine what Sybil's equipment could have to do with his dream. "That was a minor prediction, but I'm not sure what it means. Do you have any idea what Sybil's equipment was doing last night when its power usage increased?"
Aristark tried to cross-correlate all of the ship's sensory data to the mysterious power surge in Sybil's equipment. "I don't have a clue. Energy went into Sybil's equipment but nothing was detected coming out. I suppose it could have been just charging its internal energy stores, but the power draw was intermittent....the pattern almost looks like a radio message....maybe one side of a two-way radio message."
Leone wondered if Sybil was able to remain in contact with the spaceship by making use of the equipment she had installed. "Could there be a hyperspatial communications device in Sybil's equipment."
Aristark replied, "I suppose anything is possible, but for conventional technology, creating a node for hyperspatial communication requires much more power than Sybil's equipment can draw. So if it does have an ability to receive hyperspatial communications then it is using some new kind of technology that requires less power than the conventional technology I know about."
"You mentioned a radio message....if there were another spaceship at the extreme range of our scanners, could such a spaceship communicate with Sybil's equipment by making use of radio waves?"
"Sure, but our ship would detect such a radio-based signal."
"Even if the signal was weak or at an unusual wavelength?"
Aristark grunted. "I'm not a communications expert. I suppose there might be ways of sending a signal to Sybil's equipment that our spaceship's sensors would not detect."
Leone rubbed his chin and quietly repeated, "...ways of sending a signal..."
Aristark said, "Speaking of which, our hyperspatial communications system just came back on line. I want to call Ketar."
Leone nodded. "Yes, we must call Ketar, but I still want to make my prediction first."
Aristark had been impressed by Leone's prediction of the time of the energy surge in Sybil's equipment and he was baffled by the implications of that prediction. Aristark asked, "You have another prediction?"
Leone replied, "Yes, a much stranger prediction. One that we will have to test together, as a team. That testing will have implications for what we say to Ketar."
Aristark chuckled. "You are being very mysterious. My plan is to just call Ketar and find out why were attacked when we entered the Akara star system. Can you explain what you are talking about?"
"I'll try. Last night, just before I woke up, thinking I had heard a voice, I was having a dream. A more vivid dream than usual." Leone was embarrassed by what he had dreamed about Sybil and did not want to mention that aspect of the dream. "In the dream, another spaceship came and docked to our spaceship."
Aristark was surprised. "That's crazy. This ship is not equipped to connect to another ship. We only have conventional hatches that can open to pressurized atmospheres. We have no space vacuum-ready docking ring."
"Yes, I know, it was just a dream."
"But you asked if there had been any spaceships detected near us."
"I'm not loosing my mind. I know that no ship tried to dock with us last night. I'm describing the dream I had."
Aristark shrugged. "Okay. So let me make a prediction. In your dream, Ketar was on the other spaceship. You had a conversation with Ketar and you now want to try to use your dream to predict what Ketar will say when we call him today."
Leone laughed. "No, Ketar was not in my dream. My prediction does not involve what Ketar will say to us when we call him. My prediction has to do with what we should tell Ketar about our plans and our next destination."
Aristark said, "We are on a mission that was ordered by Ketar. I think we should do whatever he says and go where he wants us to go."
"But we have information that Ketar does not have. We might be better able to select our destination than Ketar. At the very least we have to decide if we will share our unique information with Ketar."
Aristark sighed. "Why do I get the sinking feeling that you want to consider something you dreamed about as information that is worthy of guiding our actions?"
Leone tried to explain. "Before you reject that idea as insane, remember that we already know there was a correspondence between activity in Sybil's equipment and the time of my dream. The last time Sybil's equipment became active, it hid our ship from the attacking forces and saved our lives. I think we have to explore the possibility that Sybil's equipment communicated with me while I was dreaming. If so, it might not be wise to ignore the information content of that communication."
Aristark had been ready to use the Thot interface to make the call to Ketar, but now he detached himself from the interface and threw his arms in the air. "Fine. I'm listening. Tell me the 'information content' of your dream."
Leone pause and tried to remember the coordinates. "The information was a set of astrogation coordinates. I'm sorry but I forgot the coordinates."
Aristark laughed. "Okay, you forgot your dream. Now can I call Ketar?"
"I did not forget the dream. I forgot the details of the coordinates that were in the dream. Thot, what were the coordinates I asked you to remember?"
The artificial intelligence replied, "h32 r121:23:45 d45:143:23 z1.9347 tc".
Aristark said. "Hmm...h32...thirty two is a very low number. That must be a star system that is fairly close to Earth."
"Yes, that was my first reaction, also," Leone said. "System h32 is 22 parsecs from Earth."
"Okay, but I still do not recognize that system." Aristark spoke to the Thot AI, "Show us the basic data for star system h32."
The data came up on the wall screen of the control room. Leone skimmed the data and said, "A low population system with a few inhabited bases and space stations. Nothing remarkable. No wonder neither of us ever heard of it before."
Aristark asked, "So you think we should tell Ketar that you had a dream about this unremarkable star system?"
"Right now, there is only one remarkable thing about system h32, and that is that I had a lucid dream in which Kalid told me to meet him at these coordinates in that system."
Aristark was shocked. "Kalid? Kalid....was in your dream?"
Leone nodded. "Yes. My dream was confused, like all dreams, but near the end it became more clear and Kalid was there."
Aristark exhaled very deeply, "Pshoo-weeee..." He got up from his chair and paced across the control room several times. Finally he stopped and looked into Leone's eyes and asked, "You really think you had some kind of telepathic contact with Kalid?"
Leone nodded. "Let's call that a hypothesis. So far, we know that my dream experience coincided with unusual activity of the mysterious equipment that Sybil had installed on this spaceship. Further, I have a prediction that is based on my dream: if we go to these coordinates we will find Kalid. And since we are on a mission to find Kalid, a mission that was ordered by Ketar, I think we cannot avoid the relevance of my dream to our mission."
Aristark shook his head. "I don't believe you have ever met Ketar. I have. He is very pragmatic. I do not think he would pay any attention to your claim of having seen Kalid in a dream."
Leone agreed. "I have never met Ketar. I have spoken to him on several occasions and I agree with your assessment: it is not likely that any benefit would come from telling Ketar about my dream."
Aristark asked, "So why did you want to tell me about your dream before letting me call Ketar?"
Leone shrugged, "I am devoted to the success of our mission. I wanted to share some information with you...information that I believe is relevant to our mission."
Aristark sat back down and started to re-connect to the Thot interface. "Very well. I have listened to your information. I can't claim that doing so has altered my thinking in the least. I'm going to call Ketar."
Leone commanded the Thot AI, "Project the hyperspatial call on the wall so I can monitor." A somewhat fuzzy image of Aristark filled half of the wall screen.
Aristark had to talk his way through several layers of operators in the Azur communications grid who stood between the outside world and Ketar. Finally, a fuzzy representation of Ketar also appeared on the other side of the wall screen. Ketar said, "Aristark, I'm pleased to hear from you! Where are you?"
Aristark replied, "We are drifting in interstellar space, waiting for our spaceship to be repaired. We barely survived the attack that was launched against our spaceship in the Akara star system."
Ketar explained, "That was a terrible error. Those ships were on routine patrol, but they were under standing orders to attack any spaceship emitting a specific type of beacon signal. Somehow your spaceship was carrying that beacon."
Aristark said, "This is all very strange. I was not aware of the practice of having armed war ships on patrol with orders to attack Empire spaceships carrying high ranking planetary government officials."
Ketar laughed, "Ha ha! Don't be absurd, the ships had no such orders."
"This beacon you mentioned, what warrants an immediate attack on any ship using that beacon?"
Ketar's voice turned absolutely cold, "That's not a topic I care to discuss while broadcasting my comments to every corner of the universe. When you reach Azur, I will explain everything to you."
"So your orders are that we return to the Akara star system as soon as we can make a hyperspatial jump?"
Ketar nodded, "Yes. The spacedock facilities here are second to none. We can fully repair your spaceship and decide how to continue the search for Kalid."
"Leone and I wonder if it safe for us to try to reach Azur."
Ketar seemed angry, "That attack on your ship was an error. I have issued new orders to the patrol ships and it is now perfectly safe for you to come to Azur."
Aristark explained, "We got our hyperspace communications system online just before I called you. Our hyperspace jump system is still undergoing repairs. We will come to Azur as soon as possible. Aristark, out." Aristark cut the hyperspace communications connection, broke his Thot interface connections and stood up. "Unbelievable!"
Leone was amused. "That's the Ketar we all know and love. You know, I think Ketar would trade half of his unauthorized war fleet to get his hands on the equipment that Sybil had installed on this ship."
Aristark shook his head, "I can't believe that Ketar thinks he can get away with an unprovoked attack on an Empire spaceship."
Leone agreed, but did not feel free to speak his mind in front of Aristark. Aristark had long seemed totally devoted to supporting Ketar. Leone was grateful to Ketar for the financial support that got Leone elected, but Leone had long felt that Ketar had no real interest in Sakkara. As far as Leone was concerned, Set was basically a local matter for Sakkara to deal with. If Ketar could provide external resources that would help deal with Set, then fine, Leone would welcome any such aid. But Ketar clearly had bigger fish to fry, the Empire itself, and Leone had no interest in getting involved with Ketar's schemes if they included private fleets of war ships that felt free to attack Empire spaceships. Leone still wondered if it was safe to go to Azur. Ketar might decide to just throw Leone in a deep hole rather than risk the spread of the story about how Ketar's war fleet had attacked an Empire spaceship. For Leone, the only remaining question was if Aristark could understand the danger of going to Azur.
Aristark said, "Okay, I've made up my mind. I told Ketar that I will go to Azur as soon as possible, but we are still on our original mission to find Kalid. In order to follow Ketar's orders, we must go to the h32 star system."
Leone smiled and shook Aristark's hand. "Now you know why I wanted to tell you about my dream before you called Ketar. You handled the situation with great diplomacy."
Aristark chuckled rather nervously, "The diplomacy will be needed when I do finally face Ketar again and have to explain why I failed to mention that I would be going to h32 before returning to the Akara star system."
Leone shrugged, "You can always blame that on me and my silly dream. But in all honesty, I do not feel that it was a silly dream. We must test the hypothesis that Kalid awaits us in the h32 star system."
Aristark nodded. "I agree. I honestly feel that in order to follow the orders I have been given, I must go to h32 an see if Kalid is there. I only wish that we could start our journey right now, but it will still be a few hours until we can jump."
Leone eased into one of the command chairs. "Since we have some time, maybe we could discuss something else that has been on my mind."
Aristark sat in the other command chair and turned to face Leone. "Speak. What is on your mind?"
Leone tried to order his thoughts. "Until my dream of last night, I've never had an experience that I felt might be evidence for ...I'm not sure what term to use...let's just say "mental powers". Are you comfortable with that term?"
Aristark asked, "By "mental powers" you mean the kind of telepathic contact that you seemed to experience in your dream?"
"Yes, exactly. There has long been speculation about the possible existence of telepathic communication. Of course, there has never been any published and reproducible evidence for telepathy, but in my dream Kalid said that telepathy works best in dreams. That got me thinking."
Aristark commented, "As you know, I am somewhat of a domineering person. I try to control all aspects of my life. I have had some training in how to control my dreams. I think I am better than most people at what is called 'lucid dreaming', so I do not doubt that you had a lucid dream last night."
Leone explained, "I've never been any good at controlling the content of my dreams. Usually, if I notice that I am dreaming I start thinking too much and I wake up. But I got thinking about the idea that telepathy might work best in dreams. If we think in terms of biology and evolution, we can ask what benefits might come from telepathy in dreams. Could there be selective advantage for people who can achieve telepathic contact in dreams?"
Aristark speculated, "If there were a largely unconscious mode of telepathic communication between humans, it might provide advantages. Almost any communication can increase the cohesion of human social groups."
"Yes, I was thinking along those lines. For example, if two people in a tribe were in conflict, maybe they could fight in a dream and avoid the dangers of physical harm that would come from an actual fight."
Aristark laughed. "That is very silly. But continue."
"Actually, my thoughts have gone down a different path besides fighting. What you might call the opposite path. Once, long ago, when I first fell in love with a woman, I had a strange dream. So, I've been thinking, if two people could make telepathic contact in a dream, maybe they could use a dream to decide if they are right for each other."
"That is silly. Why would evolution use dreams to help people decide on mates?"
"Why does evolution use things like ornamental bird plumage? Evolution uses anything that works."
The first thing Leone noticed about Sybil was her hair. Everyday she had her hair in a different pattern of braids. Then Leone had finally asked her to lunch after class and he had sat staring at her hair. She had babbled on about a course she was taking in ancient history, but Leone had not listened....he was fascinated by her hair and the way her mouth moved and strange flashed of light that sparked deep in her dark eyes. Finally Leone asked her, "What does it mean?"
Sybil replied, "Well, it is mythical symbology. Different symbologists have different theories. If I select this topic for my senior thesis, then I'll publish my theory, too!"
Leone did not have any idea what she was talking about. "No, I mean your hair. What do all the different knots and braids mean? Every day it is a different pattern."
Sybil had laughed at him. "Oh, that. It is something I learned from my mother. Oh, my, I thought you wanted to talk about something serious, but you just asked me to lunch so you could look at my hair."
Leone nodded. "Yes, I'm very shallow, that's why I have a double major in engineering and physics. All the cute girls sign up for those kinds of classes and the boys are just nerds who never notice the girls so I have my pick of the entire crop."
Sybil complained, "I think I've been insulted...I'm neither an engineering major nor a physics major....you don't think I'm cute?"
Leone shook his head. "You cannot be cute. What are you, something close to two meters tall? You are far too tall to be cute."
"Now I'm sure I've been insulted. Can tall women be beautiful?"
"Beautiful is different. You'd fit the current standard of beauty if you had your ears and chin modified."
"Another thing my mother taught me is that true beauty is inside. You don't think my big chin is dignified? Maybe I should grow a beard."
Leone laughed. "Personally I wouldn't change anything about you. Yes, at first all I could see was your hair, but then I started to listen to you in English class and noticed that you are brilliant and an unconventional and creative thinker. Unfortunately, I've been sitting behind you all semester. Its only today that I got to watch your mouth while you talk. Your chin is too big to be conventionally beautiful but it is perfect for your mouth. Your mouth is hypnotic...the little twists you make when you talk....maybe if you braided the hair in your beard it would be okay."
"But my ears would still be too big."
"Come over to my place this weekend and I'll nibble on your ears until they are just the right size.....although that job might take me the rest of eternity to do right..."
"Leone, if you think you are going to do me, you are crazy. Now I have to run or I'll be late for my next class."
Later that week Leone had a dream about Sybil. She was in the university museum teaching a course on ancient history. She was surrounded by admiring students who repeated everything she said. Leone struggled to push in close enough to see her. Finally Leone could see that she was a statue in the museum. Then she was a statue in a park, and she was heart-breakingly beautiful. Leone tried to touch her but she was cold, stone cold. Leone felt a primal grief that grew in strength until it made his body hum and vibrate. He tried to channel his force and animate Sybil's stone body. Leone knew he was a god and he had the power to bring her back to life. But then he woke up and felt silly for having a dream in which he was a god.
Leone finished telling Aristark about the old dream, but without mentioning that the dream was about Sybil.
Aristark felt that Leone's dream was silly. "So you never were able to melt that girl's heart."
Leone nodded. "Never. We stayed good friends but then we graduated and went our own ways."
"Did you ever tell her about the dream?"
"Of course not. What good would it have done to tell her that in my dream she was a cold statue. But at the time I never understood the imagery, that she started out in the dream leading some kind of chanting in a ceremony of some type."
"And you understand that dream now, after all these years?"
"I have not thought about that dream very much in recent years, but it does have new meaning for me now that I'm thinking about dreams as a possible time for telepathic communication."
"Are you suggesting that this girl communicated to you in a dream the fact that she was as cold as a statue?"
"Something like that. Can't you guess who the girl is? You know her too."
Suddenly a strange thought occurred to Aristark. "Are you talking abut Sybil?"
"Yes, Sybil and I met over thirty years ago. It was only recently that I learned she calls herself "Priestess of Isis". That new knowledge and my dream of last night makes me think about the old dream I had in a new way. What if I was in telepathic contact with Sybil back when I fell in love with her?"
"If so, it did you no good. You had to wait 30 years to learn her secret."
"At a conscious level, yes, it took me thirty years to learn that Sybil is part of the Osiris Order. But maybe on an unconscious level I understood something. Maybe I understood just enough to be able to remain friends with her without pressing for our relationship to become more than that."
Aristark sighed. "I've never been a big fan of hind-sight."
"Well, it is all speculation, but if we are open to the possibility, then we can look for evidence. For example, if Sybil's equipment helped transmit a telepathic message from Kalid to me last night, then what carried that message into my brain?"
Aristark shrugged. "I have no idea. If telepathy is a common phenomenon in dreams then it seems like someone should have long ago detected the signals that carry telepathic signals."Leone wondered, "What if the Osiris Order did that long ago?"
Leone and Aristark completed their hyperspace jump and arrived in the h32 star system. Their spaceship automatically engaged the sublight drive and put them on course to the r121:23:45 d45:143:23 z1.9347 coordinates. Aristark helped guide the spaceship's artificial intelligence in a search for a ship near the specified coordinates.
At the same time, Leone was searching for an alternative target. Something from his dream about Kalid made Leone think that the coordinates were for a planet rather than a spaceship. But Leone had examined the data for the h32 system and had found that there was a significant asteroid belt with a minor component near 1.9 atronomical units. "Okay. I've initiated a scan for asteroids near the specified coordinates."
Aristark said, "If Kalid is using the Osiris Order technology for hiding spaceships our scans may show us nothing."
Leone agreed that was a worry. "I wonder if the Osiris Order might have developed another technology that allows you to penetrate their shield. Maybe the equipment that was installed on this ship has such a capability."
Aristark complained, "As far as I can tell, the Osiris Order technology that we have on this ship is not under our control, so even if it has such a capacity, we do not know how to make use of it. In any case, it will take us most of a day to reach those coordinates. If Kalid has a ship there then from this distance we will only detect it if it is transmitting a navigation beacon."
Just then they received an automated signal welcoming them to the h32 system and requesting that they transmit their flight plan. Of course, their ship had automatically done so as soon as they had jumped into the system. Leone said, "There does not seem to be much spacehip or communications traffic in this system."
Aristark nodded, "I do not think I have ever previously visited such a low population star system before...this is a real "end of nowhere" star system. I wonder why anyone ever bothered to settle here."
Leone examined the navigation records for the star system that had been transmitted to them along with the welcome. These local navigation records were more detailed than the limited information available in the standard Empire astrogation database entry for system h32. Leone said, "Well there is a planet within the likely habitable zone for this star, right at one astronomical unit from the star. However, the records indicate that planet is not inhabited....but there is a small base on its airless moon."
Aristark was reading through the same local navigation records. "The largest population in this system is on the fourth planet, a terraformed world with little water and little air."
Leone realized that most of the spaceship activity in the system was associated with the fourth planet, called "h32.4" in the navigation records. "Oh, I see! They are continually capturing water-containing comets and asteroids and sending them to the fourth planet. They are also sending water from the third planet to the fourth. Wow! The third planet is covered with water!"
Aristark was surprised. "A water world with no human habitation? And they are doing major terraforming to get more water to the fourth planet? That makes no sense."
"Oh my graviton!" Leone was horrified by a new realization. "The third planet is a Green Planet!"
Aristark asked, "Green goo? Well, that explains why nobody lives on the third planet. I wonder why the standard Empire astrogation database entry for system h32 does not mention the existence of a Green Planet in this star system."
"First Flammis and now this system. I'm starting to wonder if Green Planets are significantly more common than we are usually told."
"And I wonder if there is some special association between the Osiris Order and Green Planets."
Leone asked, "Why would there be such an association?"
Aristark shrugged, "When we were at Flammis you suggested that a Green Planet might be a good place to hide a secret base. Maybe the Osiris Order routinely makes use of Green Planets as hiding places."
"I've been thinking that if the Osiris Order originated on Earth, maybe they would have selected a nearby and low-population system for their first base off of Earth. Maybe h32 was the location of the first Osiris Order training center off of Earth." Leone's thoughts swirled with possibilities. "There are many things we can ask Kalid."
Aristark asked, "What was it about your dream that made you think that the coordinates are for a planet?"
Leone could not put his feelings into words. "It was just a feeling. Early in the dream everything felt like there was another ship approaching our ship, then when the coordinates appeared, I was thinking about trees and mountains...scenes like the terrain of the part of Sakkara where I grew up. And there was something that had the feel of 'orbit'....I can't really explain it."
Aristark suggested, "If we are looking for an orbiting asteroid at about 1.93 astronomical units from the center of this star system, then we can estimate the expected orbital speed for such an asteroid."
Leone said, "Yes, we do not want to go directly to the coordinates that were given in the dream. The asteroid would have moved on in its orbit to a new location."
Aristark used the Thot interface to adjust their flight path slightly. "Okay, I asked Thot to make an adjustment to our course. We are now on route to the best guess estimate of where such an asteroid should be."
Leone was pleased that Aristark seemed willing to be guided even by Leone's hunches. "I've requested from the inhabitants of this system any records they have for the positions of asteroids near 1.9 astronomical units from the center of the system. The asteroid we are looking for might be in their database already."
"If it is an asteroid we are looking for. I still expect Kalid to be in a spaceship. I do not understand why he would be sitting on some asteroid in the middle of nowhere."
Leone suggested, "Most of the inhabitants of this system live in space stations or in bases on airless moons and asteroids. It might be perfectly normal for Kalid to be at such an asteroid base in this system, maybe a base long used by the Osiris Order."
"But would Kalid give out the coordinates to such a base? Now we have broadcast our destination as being those coordinates. If the Osiris Order is so secretive, surely Kalid would not send us to the location of a secret base, not when we have to broadcast our destination for all to see."
"Yes, I agree with your analysis. Maybe these coordinates are just a safe destination for us that Kalid does not mind having us reveal. We shall see. Maybe Kalid will contact us before we reach those coordinates and re-direct us to another destination."
Aristark chuckled, "Maybe you should sleep in case Kalid wants to contact you again."
Leone grinned. "I expect our next communication from Kalid will come by conventional radio communication. But maybe if I exercise now I will be ready to get to bed early and wake about the time we reach a sensible scanning distance from our destination."
Leone went to the gym and exercised for two hours. When he returned to the main control room, Aristark had news. "You were right. Our destination is a microplanet called Esclangon. It has a population of about three million people."
Leone was pleased. "Really? I actually dreamed the coordinates of a known planet?"
Aristark provided additional information from the extensive insystem asteroid-tracking database. "Esclangon is a small asteroid, but it even has a moon. They sent us a request for more details on our flight plan. They want to know if we intend to land on Esclangon, go into orbit, or if we will just be passing by."
Leone sat down, connected to the Thot interface and reviewed the data that had been received from Esclangon. "Of course, everything depends on Kalid. I'm tempted to send a reply asking if Kalid is a resident of Esclangon."
Aristark suggested, "Maybe we should just request permission to land on Esclangon. If Kalid contacts us before we land then we can change our flight plan at that time. I've been on this ship for nearly a week and I'm more than ready to get off for a while and see some new sights. I'm not the great space traveler that you are."
Leone chuckled. It was true that he had spent a large part of his life traveling around the galaxy. Before becoming Planetary Counselor for Transportation, Leone had served as a traveling Sakkaran trade negotiator, arranging for interstellar trade with other planets around the Empire. But it was true that a typical space flight involved just a few days on a spaceship and then you were at your destination and had a chance to get off your ship for a while. "Okay, I'll just say that we intend to land. I'll emphasize that I am an official of the Sakkaran Department of Transportation and let them imagine a reason for our visit....I won't mention Kalid."
A short while later Leone said, "Okay, I sent a reply to 'Esclangon', but I still do not see the name 'Esclangon' in the navigation database....that name is only in the radio message we received from Esclangon."
Aristark explained, "The database just uses a number code for the asteroid. Apparently the local residents have a name for the rock they live on."
"Yes, I see the asteroid '1509' in the database and its orbital parameters clearly are the same as those of Esclangon. In my experience, system navigation databases usually include the local names of planets, but even their major population center, the fourth planet, is only given a number designation...'h32.4'. It is almost as if they have purposefully not put common names into their database."
Aristark wondered, "Maybe that is the local custom. Where I grew up on Sakkara adjacent towns did not agree on names for the roads, so most people just used the numerical street numbers designated by the district authorities rather than the different street names used by each town."
Leone said, "Hmm, I guess it is possible that multiple groups of settlers came to this system from Earth and each group gave the planets different names. For example, I see that Esclangon is classified as a member of the 'Hungaria' asteroids. In my reading of Earth history I noticed that there was a national group called the 'Hungarians' in Standard Galactic. This star system is so close to Earth that it may have been colonized before the Standard Galactic language was widely adopted."
Leone did sleep during a large part of their approach to Esclangon, but he had no more interesting dreams. Aristark saw no more interesting power surges in Sybil's mysterious equipment.
Finally they were on final approach to Esclangon. Leone was delighted to find that Esclangon looked like some kind of exotic flower with a nimbus of space stations around the asteroid and a network of interconnecting space elevators. The surface of the asteroid was obscured by the cloud of associated space stations, but it was studded with thousand-story-tall towers. Their spaceship efficiently glided on autopilot through the tangle of structures and into a vast sub-surface space dock and to a waiting chamber that was close to the size of their ship. Soon the chamber was sealed and pressurized and Aristark popped the hatch.
Leone and Aristark emerged from the ship and were met by a robot who said, "Welcome to Esclangon. I am your guide, Frank. How may I serve you?"
Leone replied, "Thanks for your welcome, Frank. I am Leone and this is Aristark..."
The robot interrupted, "Yes, I know. I am fully programmed and aware of your radio transmissions. You are from Sakkara, but we received no communication from Sakkara warning us to expect a delegation of planetary officials. I therefore assume that you are here on personal business, not official Sakkaran business."
Aristark explained, "We are both members of the Antiquist Party. For this trip, we are functioning as members of the Antiquist party and we are attending to Antiquist Party business."
Frank said, "I see. If you intend to engage in political activities here on Esclangon then you must first register your political party with the Secretary of Sate on Mars."
Leone was surprised, "There is no local branch of the Antiquist Party in this star system?"
Frank replied, "I see in the records that there was an entry for the Antiquist Party many decades ago, but its registration has lapsed. Apparently the Antiquist Party concept never took root here in this system. You will have to re-activate the registration. I believe political party registration requires the signatures of of at least two residents of the h32 system and a five credit registration fee. Do you two intend to apply for residence? If so, that is another five credit fee, for each individual."
Aristark laughed. "I have no intention of applying for residency in this backwater system. We are here to meet someone. When we have had our meeting, I intend to leave and never return."
Leone asked, "I'm having some difficulty understanding your accent. Did you mention 'Mars'... m .. a .. r .. s ?"
Frank replied, "Yes, that is the name of the fourth planet, which is the center of our political structure."
Leone was familiar with the term 'Mars' in the context of Earth history. Leone had read an ancient legend in which 'Mars' was the name of a star known to ancient Astrologers on Earth as a harbinger of war. Leone wondered why this system had selected 'Mars' as the name of their chief planet and political center. Possibly the history of this star system was dominated by conflict and war, particularly if it was originally settled by multiple competing nationalistic groups from Earth. Leone's thoughts were inerrupted by Frank....
Frank asked, "Who are you planning to meet?"
Aristark replied, "We are here in order to meet with Kalid".
Frank said, "There are seven people in system who might be the 'Kalid' you refer to. None of those seven live here on Esclangon. Do you have more specifics, perhaps biometric data for the Kalid you know?"
Leone replied, "I've been told that Kalid was born on the world Flammis. Also, I've been told that Kalid is a member of the Osiris Order."
Frank's body language changed. "Let us leave the space dock. Come into the office." The robot led Leone and Aristark through a door and into a small but comfortable room. They sat down around a work bench and Frank offered food and drink. A second robot quickly arrived with cups and poured hot tea for the two humans. Then Frank said, "I've never heard of 'Flammis'. However, there is a Temple of Osiris here on Esclangon. I've contacted that Temple and asked if they know 'Kalid'. You have been invited to visit the Temple."
Aristark asked, "Invited by who?"
Frank replied, "I contacted a robot at the Temple. I believe that robot contacted one or more humans who instructed it to issue the invitation."
Leone asked, "Where is this Temple? How to we get there?"
Frank gestured to a wall and a complex three dimensional map of Esclangon appeared. "The red dot indicates our position here at the space dock complex. The blue dot shows the location of the Temple, which is also a subsurface structure about four kilometers from here. I can guide you through the tube system to the Temple."
Aristark drained his cup of tea and stood up, "Very well, let's go."
Leone lingered a moment over his tea. "This is excellent tea. What world is it from?"
Frank replied, "That variety is from a space station in orbit around Mars. I believe the claim is made that it is one of the few varieties of tea that has not been genetically modified from its original form as it existed on Earth."
Leone drank the last of the tea in his cup and stood up. Frank led them through the back door, down a short hallway and into another smaller room that seemed to only hold a man-sized hole in the floor. Frank explained, "We must drop down this tube to the transport level. Just step in, keep your legs together and your arms at your sides and relax. If you panic and want to over-ride the autopilot, just spread your arms outward. You will stop moving and I will pull you out of the drop tube." Without further comment, Frank took Leone's hand and pulled him to the tube.
Leone had used similar drop tubes in buildings on other worlds and on space stations. He relaxed and dropped through the floor. He looked up and saw Aristark following just above. The maximum drop rate was about twenty kilometers per hour, so it took nearly a minute to reach the transport level of the asteroid. At the bottom of the drop tube Leone, Aristark and Frank were each deposited in a small cubicle. As soon as Frank landed the low walls of the cubicles retracted into the floor and Frank led them through the large chamber towards a horizontal transport tube. The first transport was just a local feeder but it quickly took them to a high-speed tube car. They sat down and the car quickly accelerated to a high speed. In two minutes they traveled several kilometers through the interior of the asteroid.
The car stopped and they exited the car. Frank said, "This is the tube station for the Temple." He led them to another drop tube which propelled them up to the Temple.
When Leone exited the drop tube he was face to face with another robot who said, "Welcome to the Temple of Osiris." The robot repeated the greeting a moment later when Aristark emerged from the tube.
Frank emerged last and said to the other robot, "I leave these guests in your care." Frank disappeared down the tube.
The new robot said, "I am Bahney."
Leone stared at Bahney. While Frank had been largely ambisexual with modest hints of male characteristics, this robot was clearly modeled on the human female form and was wearing a colorful and short silk robe. Most dramatically, the robot's synthetic skin was tinted a deep green.
Aristark was also shocked by Bahney's appearance, but he recovered his wits first, glanced at Leone and then asked Bahney, "Can you take us to Kalid?"
Bahney replied, "Frank told me that you are looking for someone called called 'Kalid', but as far as I know, there is nobody called 'Kalid' on Esclangon. You also mentioned the planet Flammis. There is a planet called 'Veritas Flammis' in our records. At one time there was a Temple of Osiris on that world, but it was destroyed 194 years ago, with great and tragic loss of life."
Leone asked, "Do you know anyone named 'Kalid' who is associated with the Osiris Order?"
Bahney said, "As you may know, our Order has been persecuted and marginalized for many centuries. We now take sensible precautions to protect members of the Order from harm. I'd prefer not to discuss our membership here in this transport tube chamber. Will you come with me to my office?"
Aristark replied, "Very well, lead the way."
Bahney turned, opened a door and led them down a short hallway, through a second door that opened into a darkened chamber. Inside the dark room, Bahney paused and let the eyes of the two humans adapt to the low light conditions. Bahney spoke, "This is the Ring of Stars."
Leone looked up and as his eyes adapted he began to see what looked like stars. "This is your temple?"
Bahney explained, "Technically, this entire complex of chambers is the Temple, but the heart of the Temple is in the central chamber beyond that wall. This Ring is the access hallway to the central chamber. Since you are not members of the Order, you cannot enter the central chamber."
Aristark asked, "Are we under a glass dome at the surface of the asteroid?"
"No, we are far under the surface. What you see is a simulation of the night sky of Earth as it appeared thousands of years ago above Egypt."
Bahney led the way along the Ring. Leone asked, "Do you know that on may worlds Egypt is thought to be a mystical fantasy land?"
Bahney produced a musical human-like chuckle. "Yes, I am aware of that. What of yourself?"
Leone replied, "I would be thrilled to see evidence of Egypt. For example, I have been told that the great pyramids of Egypt have never been found on Earth."
Bahney explained, "Sadly, the Pyramids and all of Egypt were obliterated in a great catastrophe. It is futile to search Earth for the Pyramids." Bahney opened a door and led them out of the Ring of stars. They went down a short hallway and through another door into Bahney's office. The offer of food and drink was repeated and another robot brought tea.
When Leone and Aristark were settled across the desk from Bahney with their cups of tea, Leone said, "This is different tea than what Frank gave us, but it is also very good."
Bahney commented, "I see that Sakkara is not a major tea-consuming world. Things are different here; we have many varieties of tea. Of course, as a robot, I have little knowledge of what humans find pleasing in a drink."
Aristark asked, "Now that we are in your office, can you speak more openly about Kalid?"
Bahney replied, "I have heard of a Great Master named Kalid, but let me explain something. The Empire has long imposed severe restrictions on the inhabitants of this system. We are under constant watch, so very little information reaches us from other worlds where the Osiris Order is active."
Leone said, "We were recently in the Akara star system. Are you familiar with their history?"
Bahney nodded her green head. "Yes, Azur was the last major site of significant resistance against the Empire. The people of Azur suffered mightily at the hands of the Emperor. This star system has suffered in its own way. Under the Emperor nobody is free, but here we are under particularly strict imperial restrictions. Other branches of the Osiris Order wisely keep their distance from us. In fact, this Temple here on Esclangon is the public face of the Osiris Order. We are the designated target for all persecution against the Order. It is hoped that we can draw the ire of the Emperor and thus save the rest of the Order from similar attention."
Aristark said, "Most people of the galaxy think that the Oiris Order is a lost part of ancient Earth history, something like the legend of Atlantis."
Bahney smiled, "That is good. We are happy to avoid attention....as a misunderstood minority group we have often become a target for persecution by others."
Leone asked, "If a Master of the Osiris Order from another planet came to Esclangon, would you be aware of that visit?"
Bahney frowned, "That is an interesting question. We do have a rather constant, if small, stream of visitors. We ask few questions. People come, study, meditate, usually they depart. A few stay and join our community."
Aristark asked, "Is there any way we could let your recent visitors know that we are here. Maybe one of your guests is Kalid traveling under another name."
Bahney nodded. "An interesting idea. Very well, I will make sure that all of out guests are aware of your arrival here. How long do you intend to stay?"
Leone explained, "We might not be able to meet Kalid here, so it is hard to say. My hope is that Kalid is here waiting for us and will contact us soon."
Bahney suggested, "I can offer you the temporary use of modest rooms here in the Temple. If you plan to stay more than a week, I suggest you find permanent housing....there are many available residences around Esclangon, either subsurface or in one of the orbiting stations."
Aristark said, "Thank you for your kind offer. The transportation network here is efficient, so potentially we could just stay on our ship. It did not take very long to get over here from the space dock."
Leone said, "If we are going to stay here a few days, I would like to study any public historical records you have here at this Temple. It seems most efficient if I just stay here."
Aristark agreed, "I have no objection to staying here for a few days. I am more than happy to get off of the spaceship for a while. I have little interest in history, but I would like to learn about the justice system here."
Bahney nodded. "Yes, I understand that you are the director of the Sakkara Justice Department. If you would like to visit the Esclangon Government Center, I can provide you with a guide."
Bahney provided a brief tour of the Temple complex then showed Leone and Aristark to their rooms. Another robot then took Aristark to the Government Center and Bahney took Leone to the Temple library facility. The library had some public displays of images from Egypt. Bahney said, "I wanted you to see these displays. All of the library records can be accessed by the equipment in your room."
Leone was impressed by the holographic projections of images from Egypt. Walking through the museum-like display was almost like being in Egypt and walking in the shadow of the Great Pyramids.
They exited the Egypt display and Bahney introduced Leone to the robotic staff of the library.
Leone asked the Chief Librarian, "You have no human staff?"
The robot replied, "Sometimes a human takes interest in the records and becomes the Chief Librarian. The last such retired about 19 years ago. All of Esclangon only has about thirty million human inhabitants, so most jobs are left to robots. There are over a billion robots here serving the human population."
Leone spent the rest of the day in discussions with the library staff. Leone had never previously interacted with anyone who took seriously the idea that Egypt had been a real place. Earth began to come alive in Leone's mind.
Late in the day, when Aristark finally returned to the Temple they had a late dinner and discussed their days. Leone felt that he had learned more about Earth history in one day than he had learned in the past 50 years. Aristark described the Esclangon legal system which seemed very close to a direct democracy system in which exercising the judicial functions of society was part of the civic duties assumed equally by all citizens.
Tired and filled up with the excellent food served in the Temple's dinning room, Leone and Aristark walked back to their rooms. Aristark said, "Here's a wild idea. I'd like to visit this star system's seat of government on the fourth planet. If I left in the morning I'd spend about a day getting there, I could spend a day there and then another day on the return trip."
Leone laughed, "I'm still thinking Kalid should show himself at any moment. What if he does and you are not here?"
Aristark shrugged, "Find out what you can about the technologies the Osiris Order has. Try to get Kalid to agree to help stop Set's murderous rampage. If Kalid does show, send me a message and I'll get back here as quickly as I can."
Leone agreed to the plan and looked forward to three more days of learning Earth history. "Maybe you should just go to the ship right now and start your little side trip right away."
Aristark moaned, "You are mean task master. I was expecting one night of rest off of the ship, but you are right. If I depart now and sleep on the ship I'll speed everything up by eight or ten hours."
Leone shrugged, "Do what you feel comfortable with. I'm not trying to rush you back onto the ship."
"No, you are correct." Aristark stopped one of the green-skinned Temple robots. "I'm a little uncertain about how to return to the spaceship docks. Is there a robot available who could help me?"
The robot said, "Ah, Director of Justice Aristark. Are you leaving us so soon?"
Aristark replied, "I'm going to make a short visit to Mars. I'll be back. And Leone will be staying here while I'm gone."
The robot nodded. "I see." Another robot approached.....it was Frank. "Frank can take you."
Frank held a small device. "Alternatively, you can just use this. It will guide you through the transport tubes."
Aristark took the hand-held device, which appeared to be a standard directional assistant. "Thanks, Frank. I'm surprised you are still here...I assumed you had returned to the spaceship docks. This will do the trick, or I'd welcome your company."
Frank explained, "I'm the standard hospitality robot. There are about six million copies of me around Esclangon."
Leone now realized that this Frank-model robot had green skin, so apparently it was assigned permanently to the Temple. The other "Frank' had not had green skin.
Aristark said to the green Frank, "Oh, I see." Aristark turned to Leone, "Okay, I'm off. I'll be back in a few days, or sooner if you call me back."
Leone opened the door to his room and fell onto the sleep platform. Within a few minutes he drifted into sleep.
Sybil was saying something. At first Leone thought he was dreaming, but then he opened his eyes. It was Sybil, and he was awake, sprawled on the sleeping platform of his room at the Temple. Sybil stood just inside the door of the room, smiling. "Sorry to wake you up. You must be very tired to have fallen asleep so quickly. I'll come back in the morning."
Leone sat up. "No, stay! Its just been a long day...I'm trying to synchronize to local time."
Sybil sat down in a chair. "I was in the Temple all day and just learned that you had arrived today. Frank told me that you came with Aristark but that he is now on his way to Mars."
Leone checked the time. "He might not have reached the docks yet. Should I call him back? Are you here with Kalid?"
Sybil explained, "Kalid and I arrived here about three days ago. Kalid left me a message. He also left Esclangon....he said that he had to investigate something. Very mysterious!"
Leone was finally fully awake and let his eyes drink in the sight of Sybil. She had tinted her skin a faint green and her hair was done up in an intricate set of knots. He was not really surprised to find her here, but he was alarmed by the idea that Kalid would suddenly go off 'to investigate something'. "Kalid gave no indication of where he is going or when he will be back?"
Sybil went to the room's data terminal and pulled up the message from Kalid. "When you hear this, I'll be off Esclangon. Someone followed Leone to this system. I'll be back when I figure out what is going on."
Sybil inactivated the terminal. "That's all I know. I assume by the look on your face that you did not know you were being followed."
Leone thought back to the events of the past week. "I've been wondering if we were followed all the way from Sakkara, but I did not really have any evidence. But let me tell you what I do know and what has happened..."
Leone told the story of the battles at Flammis and in the Akara star system. Sybil said, "When you tried to contact me after you were attacked at Flammis, I was already on my way here with Kalid. Kalid arrived on Sakkara about the same time that you were attacked and he warned me that I was in danger, too. Kalid was able to monitor what was happening to your spaceship by making use of the equipment I had installed. After you were attacked in the Akara system Kalid felt it was important to contact you and try to make you come here."
"I still do not know what is going on." Leone asked, "Who attacked me at Flammis? Why did Ketar's forces attack me in the Akara system? Who might have followed me to this system?"
Sybil seemed lost in thought for half a minute then she said, "There are aspects of this that I'm still not clear on, but Kalid thinks Set is responsible for the attack on Flammis."
"Ah, so you think Set followed me from Sakkara to Flammis?"
"No. The Osiris Order base on Flammis was attacked about a day before you got there."
"I did have about a day delay between when you told me to go to Flammis and when I actually left Sakkara. I spent that time reading about the Osiris Order."
Sybil asked, "Why did you delay?"
Leone replied, "Ketar wanted Aristark and I to find Kalid. Aristark was very busy and needed a day to get things under control at the Justice Department."
Sybil nodded. "I see. And then the second attack near Azur, Kalid thinks that Ketar has recently learned how to detect the Osiris Order identification beacon."
Leone did not know what the implications were of that. "So Ketar is at war with the Osiris Order?"
Sybil shrugged, "Somehow Ketar has decided that it is in his interest to attack any ship with the Osiris Order beacon. I do not understand why."
Leone wondered who could have followed his spaceship to this star system. "After we left the Akara system and we were in interstellar space waiting for the ship to be repaired, there was a scanner transient...something was detected at extreme range. If that was another ship following us..." Leone thought about his lucid dream. "I had a dream about another ship..."
Sybil said, "When Kalid told me that he had contacted you in a dream, I started thinking back to a dream I once had. I never told you this, but...do you remember when we first met?"
Leone nodded. "I've been thinking about that a lot since I learned that you are a member of the Osiris Order."
"It was the first week I knew you, I had a dream about you. Actually, it was a dream about our grandchild. I was old and our grandchild was asking me about you. You were dead, but I was telling your granddaughter about you. We were looking at a video of you...you were very famous...I was very proud of what you had accomplished in your life. Our granddaughter was going to take up your work..." Sybil wiped away a tear. "Do you think I'm silly?"
Leone got off the sleeping platform and went to Sybil. He took her hands and pulled her to her feet. They embraced and just held each other for a long time. Finally Leone said, "I've been wondering if telepathy during dreams is a way for two people to communicate and decide if they are right for each other. I also had a vivid dream soon after we met....I've never had a similar experience until Kalid contacted me telepathically."
Sybil asked, "You dreamed about me? What was your dream about?"
Leone told the dream in full detail. Sybil started to laugh and when Leone was done telling about the dream she said, "So you thought I was stone cold, eh? As I recall you kept hitting on me for weeks after we met."
Leone chuckled, "I did not want to give up. I was having far too much fun with you. I thought you were just this nerdy student who did not know how to lighten up and live a little. Actually, I wanted you to live a lot...I wanted you to live your whole life with me."
Sybil held Leone at arms length, "I could not tell you that I was a member of the Osiris Order. Since I could not tell you the truth, I could not involve myself with your life."
Leone asked, "Could not, or would not? What if you had told me thirty years ago what you finally did end up telling me a week ago?"
Sybil replied, "I'm not very good with hindsight, but maybe you would never have become head of Transportation and maybe I would never have told you to go to Flammis and maybe Set would never have murdered all those innocent people on Flammis...."
Leone asked, "How many died there?"
Sybil shivered and snuggled against Leone's chest. "From what Kalid has hinted to me, I suspect it was many thousands...all of Kalid's family....all the people who were dear to him."Leone was shocked. "I see. So is this how wars come about? Ketar wants to avenge the millions who died on Azur. Set wants to avenge those who died on Sakkara. Kalid wants to avenge those who died on Flammis. Will it ever end?"
A strange ideaEditar
Sybil and Leone were having breakfast in the dinning facilities of the Temple. For a long time they just ate and looked at each other. Leone wondered if he was in telepathic contact with Sybil. Was it possible that two people could naturally share the same telepathic "wavelength"?
Bahney had learned form Frank that Sybil and Leone knew each other. Bahney entered the dinning room where Leone and Sybil were being served and watched them for a while. Since they seemed very quiet, Bahney felt free to stop by their table and said, "Good morning."
Sybil looked up, struggled to remember the robot's name and smiled, "Oh, Bahney. Good morning." Sybil had briefly met Bahney when she arrived at the Temple.
Leone still was not used to the color of the Temple robots. He was about to take a bite of a piece of coffee cake, but set it down again on his plate. He asked, "Will you join us?"
It was unusual for a non-meal-serving robot to be in the dinning room and other people were staring at Bahney where she towered over the table of Sybil and Leone. Bahney sat down and took a less conspicuous seated position with her face turned away from most of those in the room. "I'm sorry to interrupt your meal, but I understand from what Frank told me that you two know each other." Bahney said to Leone, "I wondered if Sybil knows where Kalid is," but Bahney hoped that Sybil would respond and say what she knew of Kalid.
Leone expected Sybil to reply, but she just pushed a large spoonful of chewy granola into her mouth and continued to look at Leone rather than the robot. Finally, after a long silence, Leone said, "Yes, Sybil and I are both from Sakkara. We actually met over thirty years ago, when we were still in school. It was very nice to discover that she is here....surely one of the strangest coincidences I might possibly imagine."
Sybil took a swig of orange juice and said to Leone, "I'm thrilled to find you here. I was trying to learn the local Temple rituals, but frankly, they are very foreign to me...nothing like what I have practiced all my life on Sakkara. I only wish I had known the minute you arrived yesterday....my day could have been better spent helping you explore Earth history."
Bahney realized that Sybil had avoided saying anything about Kalid, and from that silence the robot concluded that Sybil did know Kalid but did not want to say what she knew. Bahney reflected on her orders. She had been commanded to find out everything she could about Kalid, and there was much force behind that order. Still, Bahney knew from long experience that pushing humans for information was often not productive. It was often better to trick humans into revealing what they knew. The robot looked at Sybil and said, "Aristark was not interested in history, so he has gone to Mars. I wonder is Kalid is also more interested in government and current events rather than ancient history."
Leone thought that Bahney's comment was odd. He was familiar how to interact with robots who were functioning as servants. Sakkara had some robots who functioned as user-friendly interfaces for databases, and it was expected that robots would just provide information as required by humans. Leone was puzzled by the Temple robots who seemed to have taken on administrative roles that should be for humans. If what Leone had heard was true, all of Esclangon was full of such robots. Of course, besides the green skin which seemed mandatory for all Temple robots, the librarian robots had seemed normal and had efficiently provided Leone with the information he wanted about Earth history. Somehow it seemed that Bahney had changed since the previous day when the robot had seemed very skeptical about the existence of Kalid. Now the robot seemed to be actively interested in finding Kalid. Was the machine just trying to make itself useful to Leone? Somehow Leone felt otherwise. For the first time in his life, Leone realized that he had taken a personal dislike towards a robot. Leone was mildly amused at his emotional response to this green skinned machine. He looked at the robot's ridiculously exaggerated and inappropriately exposed cleavage. He looked around at the human diners and saw that none were exposing their breasts to their friends, so doing so was not some aspect of local custom.
The silence had grown uncomfortably long after Bahney's comment about Kalid's presumed interests. Still, Bahney felt compelled to keep trying to get information. Doubtless her masters from the Empire were listening to this conversation and they would be unhappy if she failed to make a good attempt to find what these two Sakkarans knew about Kalid. Bahney let her too-small silk robe fall even more open and tried to make her breasts sway and jiggle as she spoke to Leone. "I also learned from the librarians that you have an interest in ancient Egypt. You mentioned someone else to them, someone named 'Set'. In addition to Kalid, are you also trying to find this 'Set'?
Leone wondered if Bahney was actively spying on him. He tried to remember mentioning Set to the librarian robots, but could not. Possibly it had come up in conversation the previous day, but if so it was just an off hand comment in the context of discussing Egyptian history and the historical 'Set' or 'Seth'. In the past week, since Leone had first learned of the mythical 'Set' of ancient Egypt he had mentioned to many people who knew the modern 'Set' of Sakkara that there was a 'Set' in Egyptian legends. Leone had a hard time remembering who all he had told that to. "I suppose I did mention yesterday that I know someone named 'Set' on Sakkara. In fact, that is the reason why I am here. In other words, were it not for Set, I would never have had a reason to come to this out-of-the-way star system." Leone felt slightly silly for trying to insult the robot by calling this an 'out-of-the-way star system', but he was now honestly irritated by this impertinent machine.
Bahney asked, "Why would this 'Set of Sakkara' come to this star system?"
Leone was surprised by that question and had not previously thought about the possibility that Set might come to this end-of-nowhere system. He chuckled in surprise and glanced at Sybil. She did not seem amused by the idea that Set might come to such a desolate star system. What had Kalid said to Sybil? "Someone followed Leone to this system. I'll be back when I figure out what is going on." Now Leone wondered if Set might have been following him. What had Sybil said last night? "Kalid thinks Set is responsible for the attack on Flammis." If Set had murdered all of Kalid's family, was it also possible that Set might come to this system? How had the Temple here on Esclangon been described? "....the public face of the Osiris Order. We are the designated target for all persecution against the Order." Leone wondered, was Kalid even now off in space and engaged in a mortal confrontation with Set? As Leone looked at Sybil, he imagined that such a question was what she was thinking about at that very moment.
Again the silence had gone on too long. Leone looked back at the green machine and tried to think of something to say that would make it go away. Suddenly an idea from an ancient legend came to mind. Leone asked, "Maybe you can help me with a bit of ancient history...is it not the case that legend says that Set created the Moon?"
Bahney was programmed to serve as an Empire spy within the Temple. Over the years Bahney had learned much about Temple lore. It was true that in some ancient legends Set created a moon by ripping out one eye of the sky god. In legend, Earth's sun was the other eye of the sky god. Bahney was having a hard time devising a logical response to Leone's question. According to legend Set did not create the moon...the moon pre-existed as an eye. But did the act of pulling out the eye transform the eye into a moon? Had a moon in fact existed before Set touched the eye? And clearly Leone was not actually asking about the legend....Leone was only making a metaphorical reference to the legend in the context of the 'Set of Sakkara'. So what was Leone trying to ask about the 'Set of Sakkara'? Bahney had been told by her human masters that Set was engaged in some kind of war against an important ally of the Empire, the Spaceship Guild. If the legendary 'Set' had fought the god of the sky and the 'Set of Sakkara' was at war with the Empire, then what was the modern equivalent of the moon? What would it mean for the 'Set of Sakkara' to rip out an eye of the Empire? Was the Spaceship Guild an eye of the Empire? Maybe the metaphorical equivalent of an eye was....
But Leone had asked the question of Sybil and did not expect the robot to reply. Leone now remembered his line of thought from just before falling asleep -for the second time- the night before. Sybil had come to his room and they had talked for hours. Finally Sybil fell asleep and Leone had picked her up and laid her on the sleep platform. He had then taken her chair and sat watching her sleep. She looked no different from the young woman he had first known thirty years before. Given medical technology, she could reasonably expect to retain the appearance of a young woman for another thirty years. Sitting there, watching Sybil sleep, his thoughts had drifted over many strange ideas as sleep approached again for himself. He thought of the fact that the fourth planet of this system was called 'Mars'. Some of the ancient legends said that the 'Mars' of Earth was not a star, but rather it was a planet that was seen from Earth by the naked eye as if it were a star. And Leone had thought about the fact that the third planet of this star system was a Green Planet. And there had been something else...just before he fell asleep...something else about the third planet...
When Sybil heard Leone's question about Set and the creation of the Moon she started thinking about the Temple ceremonies she had witnessed during the past three days. In one of those ceremonies there was a re-enactment of the creation of the Moon. The sky god was depicted as striking the Earth and the Moon was formed as a fragment of the Earth. The Earth remained as the Water World and the Moon became the lesser light of the sky. Suddenly Sybil realized that the third planet of this star system was Earth. Everything she knew from Earth history, all of the legends, fit this star system.
Leone was lost in thought and lost in Sybil's dark eyes. Suddenly her eyes grew very large just as he was thinking...something else about the third planet...a water world...suddenly Leone had a strange thought. Could the third planet of this system be Earth? Of course! It was exactly one astronomical unit from the star. That was the definition of an astronomical unit! And all the Earth legends said that Earth had a large airless Moon. Leone now recalled thinking about the moon of the third planet just before falling asleep.
Just then one of the dinning hall servant robots came to the table. All of the manual labor robots who had nothing to do with Temple business did not have green skin. The food-serving robot asked Leone and Sybil, "May I bring you anything else?"
Leone was still deep in thought, trying to remember what he had previously been thinking abut the Moon.
Sybil was elated by her realization that the third planet was Earth, but she dared say nothing about her thoughts.
Bahney was finally kicked out of her endless loop of trying to respond to Leone's metaphorical question. Bahney ordered the other robot, "Go away, you are interrupting our important conversation."
The food-serving robot was programmed to always defer to Bahney and Frank model robots. Without another word, the food-serving robot retreated to the kitchen.
Sybil was startled to see the Bahney robot dismiss the food-serving robot before either Leone or herself could state their needs. Sybil stood up and said to Leone, "I have nothing further to say to this robot except that I intend to file a complain about its rude behavior and call for it to be inactivated and scrapped."
Leone was amused by Sybil's outburst since it so closely matched his own irrational emotional response to the machine's odd behavior. Leone stood up and took hold of Sybil's hand. With no further words they walked out of the dinning room.
Kalid's spaceship was entering into orbit around Mars and negotiating a flight path for docking at one of the orbiting space stations connected to a space elevator that could take him to the surface. Since h32.4 had a relatively low gravity, it had long been served by space elevators.
Kalid monitored his ship's artificial intelligence and thought about the strange man who he now pursued. Kalid was certain that Set had murdered his family and nearly the entire population of Flammis. Only Kalid and a few others who happened to be off planet during the attack had survived. Now, Set had returned for a second time to this star system. Kalid had known what Set was doing when Set had followed Sybil from Sakkara to this star system three days previously. Kalid had made himself invisible. Set had come, followed Sybil to Esclangon, and then departed after Leone was attacked in the Akara system. At that time, Set had guessed that Kalid was with Leone and so Set had gone and confirmed that Kalid was not with Leone. Now Set was back and Kalid had tracked Set's spaceship to Mars.
Kalid had pressed himself and his ship to the tolerable limits of acceleration, but Set had reached h32.4 nearly twelve hours before Kalid. Kalid quietly cursed himself for having humored Sybil and for having taken her to the Osiris Order Temple on Esclangon. Everything at that Temple was totally bogus, just a show piece designed to confuse and distract the Emperor, but Kalid had not been able to tell Sybil that truth. Anyhow, she had quickly figured it out for herself and had even developed a kind of fascination for it....at the very least Esclangon provided a safe place to leave Sybil while waiting for Leone to arrive.
Kalid wondered: was it truly safe? Besides the Imperial Capitol itself, no other star system in the galaxy had as many Empire spies and agents as this one. Of course, it was often sound policy to hide things right under the noses of people.
In any case, Kalid had been taken by surprise when Set returned. There was no point in trying to invent excuses for his failure to anticipate this. Kalid still half expected Sybil to call, but maybe she was trying not to draw attention to him...which was not entirely unreasonable. Kalid had traveled most of the way from Esclangon to Mars while completely shielded in order to prevent Set from knowing that he was on his way to Mars. But now he had to uncloak and negotiate with the authorities who seemed particularly irked that Kalid had been traveling in system without using a standard navigation beacon.
Still, Kalid was granted a landing birth for his ship and soon enough he was riding an elevator down to the planet. When Kalid stepped out of the elevator car he was met by a squad of robots and a member of the citizen militia. The militia member was a frail woman who called out. "Halt, Kalid. In the name of the people of Mars I place you under arrest."
Everyone within earshot stopped moving through the elevator terminal and looked at Kalid.
Kalid said, "What is the charge against me?"
"We will take you to your accuser so you can hear the charges from their source."
Two of the robots stepped forward and took hold of Kalid's arms. Kalid was quickly taken to a small office. All the robots remained outside. The human said, "Please sit down."
Kalid sat on the small stool that was in the middle of the room. "My name is Alfred. I happened to be on militia duty today when word came to me that you were coming down to planet and that you should be arrested. Don't bother to ask me what is going on. We'll both find out in a few minutes, or I'll let you go free."
The wall in front of Kalid came alive with a view of Set. Alfred said, "Are you Set? Do you have charges to issue against Kalid?"
Set replied, "I'm impressed. Less than a day after I turn to the Martian justice system and there sits the Great Master!"
Alfred turned to Kalid, I'm sorry to have wasted your time, you are free to go. There are apparently no charges-"
Set shouted, "Wait! I have charges!"
Alfred turned back to face Set. "Then state the charges without further delay."
Set said, "I've already read the charges into the record."
Alfred muttered under his breath and looked at a small data display. "I see that you are both from outside of this system. Let me explain what is going on. Kalid, about ten hours ago Set filed charges against you here on Mars. Set, you are now required to state the charges."
Set said, "The charge is conspiracy in the case of the attack on the space elevators of Sakkara, a case that includes multiple murders and other criminal subcharges."
Alfred said, "Thanks. Kalid, how do you respond to these charges?"
Kalid said, "I had nothing to do with the attack on the space elevators of Sakkara."
Alfred said, "Okay, the magistrate who heard these charges from Set entered into the record that he has seen written documents that set has entered into the judicial record as supporting evidence from these charges." He handed the small data display to Kalid. "These are the documents that Set submitted to the magistrate."
Kalid skimmed through the displayed documents. "Most of these documents have nothing to do with me. It looks like the few that do relate to me are false claims about where I have been and what I have done during the past several months."
Alfred asked, "So, Kalid, you dispute the validity of these charges?"
Kalid replied, "I do."
Alfred said, "Kalid, by our law, given the charge of murder that has been made, you must appear before the magistrate in order to dispute these charges. How long will it take you to read the evidence and prepare your response for the magistrate?"
Kalid replied, "I suppose it will take several hours."
Alfred took back the datapad from Kalid. "Okay, the magistrate has an open time slot in about 18 hours. I just reserved that time slot for this case. Kalid, you will remain in custody until the hearing and you will be transported to the magistrate for the hearing." Alfred looked at both Leone and Set. "Is there any other business for today?"
Set gave a snearing smile and mock salute to Kalid and his image faded. Kalid said, "This is absurd. I hope that I will be able to bring a counter suit against Set for false imprisonment."
Alfred shook his head. "Ug. I suggest you just focus on what you will say to the magistrate in your own defense. Now, I have no facilities here to hold you, so I suggest that we go directly to the Hall of Magistrates. Are you ready to go?"
Kalid stood up, "I'm at your disposal."
Alfred and Kalid walked side by side through the subsurface passageways with the robot guards following along behind. Alfred asked, "Have you visited here before?"
Kalid replied, "During my adult life it has been my practice to visit the Home World at least every ten years."
Alfred paused and looked around, particularly he looked back at the robots. "Over here." He led the way to the far side of the chamber they were in. They reached a row of small glass compartments that opened out onto a huge subsurface chamber. Leone was awe-struck by the view of such a huge subsurface space. Alfred ordered the robots into one glass compartment, closed the door and pushed a button. Their compartment started moving down the wall of the huge subsurface chamber and was soon out of sight. Alfred led Kalid into the next glass compartment that slid over into place next to them. "I've lived here all my life, but I'm told that almost nobody in other star systems around the galaxy knows that this is the Home Star System."
Kalid nodded, "That is true, very few indeed know the truth. I feel it is my duty to come back to Earth every ten years or so....it helps remind me that I still have much to do in my life, particularly when I get too self-involved."
For a minute Alfred and Kalid enjoyed the view. Alfred looked at Kalid as if for the first time. "What are your self-involvements? Why did you come here today?"
Kalid replied, "I wanted to find Set. I figured he was up to no good. Little did I know that he had found a new way to attack me. I had incorrectly imagined that the worst he could do was to kill my family."
Alfred was shocked. "Set killed your family?"
Kalid nodded, "Set killed everyone on my world, Flammis."
Alfred asked, "Do you intend to make that a formal counter-charge when you go before the Magistrate?"
Kalid said, "I do not know. Is there some way I can get legal advice? I have no experience with the legal system here."
They had reached the end of their ride down the cliff face and their glass compartment dove into a tube. Alfred said, "We have very few professional legalists. By our law, ordinary citizens are called upon to run the legal system. If you want my advice, I'd say defend yourself against the charges from Set. If what you say is true, it should not be hard to get yourself released. Then, rather than involve yourself further with our legal system, go back to your home world and file charges against Set on your own world where you know the legal system better."
Kalid nodded, "That sounds like reasonable advice, except for the fact that Set has exterminated every last man, woman and child in my world."
Alfred said, "I'm sorry. Clearly I know nothing about your life and this case." After five more minutes they emerged from the transport tube and slid into a small debarkation chamber. They exited their glass compartment and the squad of robots fell in behind as they waked to the Magistarium.
Kalid soon found himself locked in a suite of comfortable rooms with a standard data terminal. He read through the "evidence" and confirmed that someone had tried to fabricate a case against him. He then tried to sleep.
Kalid did not sleep very long. Upon waking he called for food and wrote a short rebuttal of the charges that had been made against him. Another member of the militia arrived to lead him before the magistrate. Kalid was somewhat surprised to find himself in a room with over a hundred spectators. When he commented on the size of the audience, the militia woman said, "Many more are watching remotely. You case is rather sensational by our standards. Now, here's the magistrate."
The magistrate was also a woman. She came in and said hello to Kalid and then chatted for a minute with the militia woman. Apparently they knew each other from outside of court or had previously met during other court cases. She then looked around and then said, "I'm magistrate Felice. Is Set present? No? Okay, that does not really matter. Kalid, are you ready to defend yourself against Set's charges?"
Leone replied, "Yes. The charges are fabrications. I had nothing to do with the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara." He spoke for twenty minutes and increasingly noticed that everyone in the room seemed bored. Finally he said, "Magistrate Felice, I am unfamiliar with your legal system. I'm open to any guidance you can provide to me. It seems like nobody here is particularly interested in what I am saying."
Felice said, "Well, that does not matter, I am obliged to listen even if I am bored."
The gallery erupted in laughter. Kalid's mood brightened considerably. "Well, I'd be happy to change topics if it is doing me no good to refute the 'evidence' page by page."
Felice said, "I think you've made your point about the quality of the evidence against you. Frankly, the fact that Set is not here to cross examine you speaks volumes. I might send a memo to the Department of Justice on Sakkara suggesting that they investigate Set and the charges he made against you."
Kalid said, "Set is a wanted man on Sakkara already. I suspect this 'case' will be of little interest to the Sakkaran authorities".
Felice explained, "One of our rules is that if anyone makes false charges against someone else then they are to be held accountable. If Set returns to this world, he could face murder charges because of the murder charges he made against you. However, I suspect that he will never return. It seems likely that he just wanted to draw you into the open. We are very concerned for your safety and we have taken great precautions to protect you from possible harm."
Kalid nodded. "That is wise. Set recently led an attack on my home world during which the entire planet's human population was exterminated. I suppose it is possible that Set would like to see the same fate for me."
Felice asked, "How did you escape the fate of everyone else on your planet?"
Kalid replied, "Myself and a very few others were off planet on routine business."
Felice said. "I see. Is there any other business you wish to bring to my attention?"
"I have no idea what is considered appropriate."
Felice shrugged. "We have set aside this time to listen to you and anything that is on your mind. For example, I personally wonder if you have any idea why Set would come here from a great distance in order to make these charges against you?"
Kalid said, "I cannot argue against the reason you suggested...to bring me into the open, possibly for an attack on my life. When I learned that Set had returned to this system-"
Felice interrupted, "Eh? What is this? I had assumed that Set had never previously been to this star system."
Kalid shrugged, "He was also here a few days ago. I was interested to try to learn where he went between his earlier visit and his return to make charges against me. I've been told that he only visited the Akara star system during that time."
Felice asked, "What is the source of your information?"
Kalid replied, "I have been in contact with the Osiris Order's Temple on Azur. They reported to me that Set had a meeting with the President of Azur, Ketar."
Felice frowned. "You seem to be saying that Set was here, Set went to Azur and met with the President of Azur and then Set returned here and charged you with murder. That seems like a strange course of events. Can you make sense of any of this?"
Kalid shrugged. "Set first came to this star system while following a member of the Osiris Order who was fleeing from her home on Sakkara. I believe Set may intend to kill her, too."
Felice asked, "Is she traveling with you? Is she still in orbit?"
"No. She is visiting Esclangon."
Felice said, "I see. You are a bubbling source of much interesting information."
Kalid acknowledged her comment with a half bow. Kalid said, "It might also be relevant that Ketar has been politically active on Sakkara."
Felice snorted. "Indeed. I'm familiar with Ketar; he is politically active across much of the known galaxy. I must say, Ketar and Set seem to be strange bed partners." Again the gallery laughed. "Well, I'm speaking metaphorically. Ketar is rumored to have a long-standing financial agreement with the Spaceship Guild. Based on my research into Set and Sakkara, it seems well documented that Set is at war with the Spaceship Guild and holds them responsible for the attack on the Sakkaran space elevators. What could Ketar and Set have in common?"
Kalid was rather surprised to hear the magistrate speaking so honestly in such a public forum. Kalid decided to ask what might be an embarrassing question for Felice. "Since you know that Set is 'at war' with others on Sakkara, why did you arrest me and not Set?"
Felice replied, "When I got my information from Sakkara, I tried to find Set, but he seems to have disappeared. By that time, this court session had already been scheduled and so I decided that you should have a chance to publicly refute the charges Set had made against you."
Kalid decided he might as well take this opportunity to pitch in and contribute what he could to sorting out mysteries. He had his mouth open and was about to report what he had been told by the Grand Master of the Osiris Order Temple on Azur, but he noticed a familiar face in the gallery. A man was just now walking in and taking a seat on the end of one of the crowded benches. It was Aristark.
Upon seeing Aristark, Kalid started thinking about Osiris Order intelligence reports he had seen from Sakkara, particularly a report from Sybil about the days after the attack on the space elevators.
Felice asked, "Were you going to say something more?"
Kalid replied, "Yes, I would like to tell you what the Grand Master of the Osiris Order Temple on Azur told me." Kalid did so while still thinking about Aristark. "The Temple Master of Azur told me his theory about the 'strange bed partners' of Ketar and Set. That theory suggested that maybe Set and Ketar have a common interest in causing civil unrest and in trying to initiate a civil war that might lead to the destruction of the Empire. The Temple Master of Azur suggested that maybe Ketar and Set planned to use the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara as justification for attacks against Empire officials and anyone else they could falsely implicate in the attack on the elevators, such as members of the Osiris Order."
Felice chuckled, "I take it there is no evidence to support the idea that Ketar and Set worked together to plan the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara."
Kalid had never taken seriously the ideas of the Grand Master of the Osiris Order Temple on Azur. While talking, he had been thinking furiously about Aristark and the fact that Aristark had been in position to hide the identities of the true perpetrators of the attack on the space elevators. Further, Aristark had been in position to hear from Leone that Sybil had told Leone her belief that Kalid could be found on Flammis. Aristark had delayed their trip to Flammis for a day during which Set had learned of the existence of Flammis and sent an attack force to exterminate the population of Flammis. Why would Aristark, the head of the Sakkaran Department of Justice, do these things? Suddenly it all made sense to Kalid. Aristark was Ketar's key contact on Sakkara. It was true that the Osiris Order often acted to support the Empire in order to prevent war and destruction on a galactic scale. Ketar had recently learned of this and had ordered his secret war fleets to attack all Osiris Order ships. It made sense that Ketar would also order Aristark to help make use of Set to attack Osiris Order facilities like the secret base on Flammis.
Kalid said, "I agree that there is no available evidence to support the idea put forward by the Grand Master of the Osiris Order Temple on Azur. However, that is just an an example of an attempt to try to understand strange events such the recent attack on an Empire spaceship in the Akara star system and the murder of all inhabitants on the planet Flammis. The question is, who would have been in a position to order and to benefit from those attacks?"
Felice was profoundly disoriented and largely unfamiliar with the details of Sakkaran politics and the Osiris Order. "Well, if you can rule out the involvement of our "strange bed partners" Ketar and Set, then who can you suggest as a more likely perpetrator?"
Kalid replied, "A more compelling theory has been produced by the Master of the Osiris Order Temple on Sakkara. You can find a printed copy of that evidence report on my spaceship, in orbit. Figuring heavily in that report is a high official of Sakkara, Aristark."
A robot came forward and whispered in Felice's ear. She looked towards the gallery and said, "I'm told that by strange coincidence, the head of the Department of Justice on Sakkara, Aristark, is in this room."
Aristark rose to his feet. "I am here."
Felice nodded to the robot and it went into the gallery, took Aristark's arm and led Aristark to the front of the room where Felice and Kalid Stood. Felice said, "I assume that you are familiar with the details of the investigation into the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara."
Aristark nodded. "Of course, I am in charge of that investigation."
Felice looked doubtfully towards Kalid. Kalid asked Aristark, "According to the Grand Master's report on your investigation, the Osiris Order provided you with the names and precise location of two of the people who destroyed the space elevators. Rather than take them into custody, you let them escape from Sakkara."
Aristark grew deep red. Felice asked Aristark, "Is this true?"
Aristark was trembling with rage and did not trust himself to speak. Kalid said, "The interesting question is why. Why would a trusted and high-ranking justice department official such as Aristark subvert the investigation into the destruction of the space elevators? The report of Master of the Osiris Order Temple on Sakkara includes the name of a powerful and famous person from off of Sakkara who arranged to pay Aristark handsomely to keep secret the identities of those who destroyed the space elevators. That famous person, the great traitor in this case, that person's name is-"Aristark flung himself on Kalid. Blades of sharp composite extended from inside Aristark's hands and sliced into Kalid's neck. Quickly the robot pulled Aristark off of Kalid, but not before Kalid's blood showered Felice and the front row of the gallery of spectators. Five squads of human militia and robots quickly cleared the courtroom. Aristark was bound and placed in a locked room. Kalid was given emergency medical treatment on the floor of the courtroom. After Kalid was stabilized and taken away to the nearest hospital, Felice noticed that the courtroom cameras were still on. She said to a robot, "Please shut off the cameras."
Kalid awoke in a hospital bed and looked up into the face of Felice. She leaned close and said, "I failed to protect you."
Kalid tried to speak but his neck exploded in pain. Felice handed him a tube and he drank cool water. He realized that his neck was ringed with a medical device that was directing nanites to repair his damaged neck tissues. Now able to speak he put a hand on the machine that covered his neck and said, "You could not have anticipated Aristark's attack on me. I was foolish to provoke him into his murderous attack. I put you and others at risk of physical harm." Kalid drank some more water and felt his head clearing, although he was surely still under the influence of drugs that had been put into his body to limit pain and the risk of blood clots spreading to his vital organs.
Felice took the water tube from Kalid. "You anticipated his attack?"
Kalid reflexively tried to shake his head and was struck by another wave of pain. "No. I was only realizing the truth about Aristark's role in events on Sakkara and Flammis while I was talking in the courtroom. I only knew I was correct about Aristark when he launched his attack on me. I have a clear memory of everything until I was being taken from the courtroom...then things become fuzzy."
Felice explained, "When you reached this hospital the medical staff sedated you and performed an operation on your neck. You only just now regained consciousness. You are lucky to be alive. Aristark did an expert job of butchering your neck arteries."
Kalid said, "I'm surprised that Aristark was allowed to bring a knife into the courtroom."
Felice shook her head. "No, he did not have a knife. He had two blades implanted in his hands. It is now clear that Aristark was well trained in how to use those implants....and the others that we found in his body."
Something about the way Felice said, "his body" sent a chill up Kalid's spine. "Aristark is dead?"
"No, but he is not in good shape. He is in another hospital about a kilometer from here. He either tried to use one of his implants to kill himself or someone else triggered one of his implants and tried to kill him. Chances are good that he will survive."
A robot entered the room and handed a thin folder to Felice. She flipped open the folder and Kalid could see that she held the report on the Sakkaran space elevators disaster which had been prepared by Sybil and which had been in his spaceship. Felice said to the robot, "Good work. I trust you had no great difficulty getting into Kalid's spaceship and finding this report."
The robot replied, "There was no problem getting into the spaceship. Kalid had been ticketed for trans-system flight without use of a navigation beacon and forced to turn over to the space dock his spacehips's access codes. The report was sitting on a table in the main salon of the spaceship. However..."
Kalid was amused to see the robot shifting uneasily from foot to foot as if hesitating to speak. Felice said, "You can speak in front of Kalid."
The robot said, "You had also issued orders that watch be kept on Kalid's spaceship in case an attempt was made to sabotage it. Such an attempt was made. The saboteur is now being held in confinement at the space dock. He planted a device that could have been used to destroy Kalid's spaceship and he was caught after attaching it to the hull of Kalid's spaceship. He then went inside and tried to steal some equipment from the engineering room."
Kalid rose up on one elbow. His neck throbbed but he gasped, "Did he disconnect or damage that equipment?"
The robot said, "No, he was placed under arrest before he damaged anything in the ship."
Kalid relaxed back into his bed and chuckled briefly then stopped because of the pain it caused in his neck. He reached out and took hold of Felice's hand. "See, you did protect me."
The robot said, "The device is highly sophisticated. I scanned the criminology database, but this is far beyond anything previously recorded."
Kalid explained, "Set is a leader of the Futurist Party. They pride themselves on having the most advanced technology."
Felice asked the robot, "Is there any indication that the saboteur was working for Set?"
The robot replied, "No, but another name was mentioned when the saboteur was placed under mind lock. Ketar."
A doctor came in and said, "Felice, what's going on in here? You said you were just going to watch him."
Kalid said, "I'm fine, doc. Felice is good medicine...she just saved my life."
The doctor checked the data feeds from the tissue repair device on Kalid's neck. "You are still half dead. Keep straining these arteries and they'll pop...right now they are just a loose collection of nanites."
Kalid said, "I'll make a deal, doc. Get me to my ship and I'll sleep once I'm there...give these nanobots a chance to do their job."
The doctor said, "Bull shit. I heard you blasted in here pushing fifty gees acceleration and your spaceship can only compensate for forty gees. If you had been at even one gee when you were sliced open you'd be dead right now. We are keeping this room at 0.1 gee in order to let your arteries heal. You cannot be moved now."
Kalid sat up. He became very dizzy and almost passed out. He had to grab Felice and hold on with both hands. "I hear ya, doc. You have two choices. Roll this bed to my ship or else I'm going to walk there. Get me to my ship and I promise I'll keep my cabin at 0.1 gee."
The doctor swore under his breath and left the room.
Kalid sank back on the bed, still very dizzy. Obviously the nanites were having trouble keeping up the flow of blood to his brain.
Felice asked, "What do you think you are doing? I didn't save your life just to watch you kill yourself."
Kalid said, "So, tell me Felice, where is Set?"
She quickly said, "I don't know."
Kalid made a guess and said, "There is a ship in system that you are tracking by radar." Kalid could read her face and see that he had guessed correctly. "What is the spaceship's course? What is the destination?"
Kalid felt a natural connection to Felice and now he turned his telepathic transmission up to full, with an additional amplification from equipment on his spaceship. Felice said, "I'm not going to help you kill yourself. Why do you care where Set is....can't you let our militia deal with him?"
Kalid still had hold of her hand. He stroked her palm with his finger tips. "Felice, don't put your militia in harms way. Set is a desperate murderer. Somehow Ketar is helping Set. Their target right now is the Osiris Order. I am the head of the Osiris Order and it is my duty to stop Set and Ketar. You must help me. Help me get to my ship....I must go after Set. The Osirus Order has technology that might give Ketar or Set the power to start a galactic civil war that would kill trillions. Help me now and we can prevent that."
Felice said, "Okay, but I'm going with you."
Set was confident that his was one of the fastest spaceships in the galaxy, but he waited impatiently while the green face of Earth slowly swelled ahead. His attention was increasingly drawn towards the silvery image of the Moon. Ketar had assured him that the Osiris Order Temple on the Moon had long ago been destroyed, but Set increasingly felt telepathic signals coming from the Moon and not Earth.
Set had long been ignoring radio signals from both Mars and the Moon, but now he opened a channel to Moon Navcom and purposefully sent a week signal. "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. I was hit by space debris after I left Mars orbit. My ship is under repair but I will not be able to initiate normal landing procedures for my destination, Earth. I'm not sure if my navigation beacon is working. I now have an emergency transmitter online, but I'm not sure if it has enough power to be detected. I'm going to make an emergency landing on Earth's moon. My autopliot has a landing path selected that might put me down near Shackleton crater."
Set visits the base on Earth's Moon and learns from the local residents that Earth was destroyed by a spaceship explosion and that the Spaceship Guild covers up such disasters by releasing the "green nanite goo". This chapter could include a flashback that describes how the green goo was first used.
Kalid, Leone, Set and Ketar all meet at the Osiris Order Temple on Earth. Kalid realizes that Ketar has corrupted part of the Osiris Order in an attempt to liberate Azur from the Empire. This chapter could include a flashback that describes how the Osiris Order was first formed and its goal of preventing the mis-use of telepathy. Ketar kills Kalid and tries to take complete control of the Osiris Order.