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Authors: Martin Fossum

Beyond Asimios - Part 4

BOOK: Beyond Asimios - Part 4
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Beyond Asimios

 

Part 4

 

Copyright 2013 by Martin Fossum

Cover Art by Allan H. Johnson

 

 

 

It
was early evening when the ship lifted out of Orpheus’s Rift, and as it rose above
the canyon light streamed through the windows and into the flight deck. Stelos
Alpha had not set its vivid eye.

Oreg
piloted them slowly and at low altitude over Camp Heyerdahl and then along the
Great Asimios Freeway, above the desolate landscape’s long stretching shadows, for
one last look at the remains of Asimios Station. Graf gazed down upon the scene
with nostalgia and indignation as he reflected on the sacrifice that lay buried
beneath the blackened scar. Then Oreg, his leathery hands shuttling through the
warp and weft of the holo display, aimed the bow of the ship heavenward. The
silver planet gradually receded behind them.

It
took just under seven standard sols to reach the Vernigan portal. When they
arrived the ring emerged from the black of space like a metallic maw, its myriad
lights winking along the edge of its gaping circumference. The edifice hovered
in quiet gloom as Oreg and his companions learned through an info squirt that
they had missed the last opening by a matter of hours. They would have to wait two
standard sols for the next activation.

—What
do we do now? Graf asked from his chair on the bridge. He had just woken up and
was struggling to appear alert. Do we have to sign papers or something? Pay
some sort of toll?

Oreg
waved away the holo display and stood. He moved to the center of the bridge and
paused, his large almond eyes peering out of the flight deck windows. A pulse
of light drilled into the bridge. It oscillated at a high frequency and then rolled
into a single white beam. Graf gripped at the arms of his chair as the ship shuddered
like it had been taken hold by a giant hand. A few seconds later, the sound of
tapping permeated the hull.

—What
the hell is that? Graf said.

—They’re
scanning the ship, Oreg chirruped.

—For
what? asked Graf.

—I
do not know.

—Security
measures, I would assume, Miranda said.

A
swarm of bots descended onto the windows. Small and spider-like, they scampered
over the front of the craft and then moved swiftly toward the tail. Soon the
tapping ceased and the powerful light dropped away. The ship was released.

—What’s
the verdict? Graf said. Are we cleared?

—I
believe so, Oreg said. His brown eyes squinting as he teased his fine beard
between his fingers. I’m surprised, he continued. Either they were careless or
they weren’t scanning for identifiers. If they had, you would have been arrested
and interrogated by the Consortium.

Graf
stood up stiffly and steadied himself against his chair. Well, he said dismissively,
it wouldn’t be the first consortium to interrogate me.

Oreg
returned to his seat and drew up the holo. The ship turned away from the great torus
as a number of other lights came into view through the bridge windows.

—We
are among many, Miranda said.

—Portal
facilities, Oreg said. Some of the lights are , while
others are hotels and refueling stations. There are several freight routes that
begin and end here. Ships in the system while they await
further instruction. Confederation merchants, pilgrims, refugees, Consortium security
forces, miners, and freighters…they are all to be found at the portal.

—And
us, Graf added.

—Your
planet lies on the other side? Miranda asked.

Oreg
wagged his head back and forth, which was his gesture of the affirmative. Another
moment and the ship fired its alignment thrusters and came to a stop and Oreg dissolved
the holo display once more. Through the windows the torus was visible again, its
outline distant and vague. Small ships darted back and forth, their navigation lights
tracing the velvet of space like ghostly candles.

—Now
what do we do? Graf asked as he stared thoughtfully out of the window.

—We
wait, said Oreg.

—Of
course we wait, Graf said.

The
three stood silently for a moment.

—Another
game of zawtek, Doctor? Oreg said.

—Why
not, said Graf.

 

It
was only after Graf had left Asimios behind that the full realization of his
circumstance hit home. As the ship increased velocity and Stelos Alpha and Asimios
fell farther and farther away, Graf began to wonder whether or not he had made
the right decision to join Oreg on his jounce across space. He had, after all, abandoned
the evil ESCOM and its barbarous withdrawal from Asimios Station to commune, in
solitude, with the memory of his deceased wife. Now, after a hasty and complex series
of events, he was hurtling toward some unknown point on the galactic map with an
alien and an android (make that two androids) and with hardly any idea of what lay
ahead.

Even
though the idea of meeting an alien was fascinating and something of historical
significance, the truth was that the director was tired: his back was stiff—
very
stiff—from all the crashing, hiking,
fighting, and rolling around on the ground. His left arm was in pain and in
need of attention and he was only beginning to recover from a near-death poisoning
from one of Oreg’s toxic quills. After Graf heard from Oreg that the trip to
the portal would take at least six standard sols, the prospect of being holed
up in this can of sardines for almost a week was something that bordered on the
unendurable. If there was one thing Graf knew, it was that he slept poorly in an
unfamiliar bed—this was one of his many character flaws—and even
with all the comforts of the ship (it was better than Camp Heyerdahl by a long
shot), his mood descended like a stone fading quickly to the bottom of a murky
pond.

After
wriggling out of his oppressive pressure skin Graf allowed Miranda to examine
his arm and wrap it with a new medisplint. He was then given a clean robe and shown
his quarters (the bed was rather comfortable, he had to admit) and once the
lights were dimmed he tried to coerce himself into sleep, but it was only a
matter of minutes before he found himself staring through the ship’s walls at
any number of anxieties that hounded him through the infinitude of space. After
what seemed like hours of tossing and turning, Graf got up to use the bathroom
and to his surprise he found Oreg sitting in the bridge, in his captain’s chair,
appearing to be just as downcast and overtired as the station director himself.

—You’re
awake, Graf muttered as he wedged his large body into the empty seat next to Oreg’s.

—Sleep
eludes me, came the translation over Graf’s VI.

Graf
looked up at the holo that centered on a tiny point making incremental progress
through a haze of empty space. A lattice of graphs and meters bobbed at the
corners of the image and foreign symbols flickered and pulsed in varying
iterations and translucencies.

—I
don’t know why you brought me along, Graf muttered through a yawn. I’m clearly of
no help to you.

Oreg
looked over at Graf and then turned back to the holo. It was your choice, Oreg hissed,
his large eyes slits. You could have stayed behind.

Graf
stroked his mustache and studied the alien and it occurred to him that Oreg might
qualify as a cross between a bipedal woodland beaver and a caricature of a slick
Hollywood producer. Oreg’s dark skin covered most of his broad countenance, and
his beard—a cut that ran from ear to ear—was neatly trimmed. His whiskers
ended on his round and reclusive chin in a comely point. In addition to being well
groomed, Oreg seemed to have a refined taste in fashion. He wore a sturdy
waistcoat over stylish red tunic that covered most of his nano-fabric body suit,
all of which was designed to allow freedom of movement for the thick mat of spines
on his back. Around Oreg’s midsection clung a light leather belt inlaid with
emeralds in silver settings, and on this belt was affixed three or four pouches
of varying size. Finally, pulled over his long feet was a pair of soft moccasins—a
perfect accoutrement for any comfort-seeking space savvy traveler. Seeing Oreg
like this made Graf somewhat envious and he was mortified at his own homely
appearance.

—I
guess you’re right, Graf said as he worked to smooth out the few strands of
hair that sprouted from his shiny dome. But it is not every day one gets an
offer to fly on an alien spaceship.

—Perhaps
you have unfinished business, Oreg said as he looked sideways at Graf. Maybe you
were not meant to die on Asimios?

Graf
scratched at his throat and focused his gaze on the backside of his fluttering eyelids
for a second or two. If you were implying that predestination was involved, then
I would ask you to be more specific. For even though I am inclined, and you may
find this a bit old fashioned, to put my faith in a higher power, I don’t think
He was meddling with my decision to take a ride on your ship.

—So
you do have a god.

—You
could say that. Ten years ago I might have answered otherwise, but as I advance
in age, I’m starting to see the light, so to speak. I’ve had experiences, you
see—dreams—but that is a subject for a different discussion.

—I
have a question.

—Yes?

—After
meeting me—your first encounter with a being from a different world—does
this test your faith? It is an old question frequently put to first contact
beings.

—Quite
honestly, no. My faith has not been tested. In fact I feel closer to my god
right now than I ever have. At least, this is what I think is happening. We,
God and myself, are conducting what might be called a robust and ongoing
discussion at the moment…something we haven’t had in a long time.

—Would
you have me believe in your god? Oreg asked.

—No.

—I
like your answer.

—I
am certainly no missionary. But that leads me to you, Mr. Oreg. Do you have a
god?

—Intelligent
Goerathians have no god, Oreg said as he joined his gold-ringed fists together—knuckle
against knuckle—above his lap. They honor the Great Mother during
festival, but it is the seven planes of truth that binds our people in spirit.
On the seventh plane there is only light—the true knowledge. But the
Great Mother is the source of the blood that courses through our veins. Goerath
the Mother…without her we are nothing. Without her beneath our feet, we are vanquished.

—That
sounds like a conjunction of enlightenment philosophy and world goddess mythos,
Miranda put in, her blue and gold body stepping into the light from where she
had been standing in the back of the bridge.

—Miranda!
Graf said as she approached.

—I
could not help but overhear. I apologize if I have interrupted.

—Not
at all, Graf said. Please join us. As you know, we were dallying the topic of
the existence of god.

—Yes.
I find it fascinating, the two of you discussing theology. It is refreshing to
listen to.

—So
it is fond of theology, Oreg said to Graf. Oreg then turned to Miranda: Do
you
believe in a god?

—I
have a creator, Miranda said, but I have no god.

—I
guess it’s no surprise that you’re an atheist, Graf added as he stroked his
chin. But I’ve always thought it a shame that an AI can’t experience the sense
of well-being that humans find in faith. Then again, he said with a chuckle, I
guess I would be rather shocked if I caught sight of an android kneeling before
the Cross.

—It
might come as a surprise, Miranda said to Graf, but the quantum mind Paul implanted
in me is meant to expand...to grow and evolve in relation to reason and empirical
knowledge. As I exist, so develops my consciousness. It could be that in the
future I find it necessary to believe in a deity, but at present I have no reason
to.

—Amazing,
Miranda, Graf said. Paul is a genius after all. So we are more similar than I
thought.

—That
is a generous assumption. Self-awareness, or sentience, is universal, but our
similarities end there. Our consciousnesses, by architecture, are distinct systems
with fundamentally unique processes.

—So
the way we think is different, is what you’ll have us believe?

—Correct.
Our intellects have qualitative dissimilarities.

—The
quantum mind, Graf muttered. Is it that advanced?

—Relatively
speaking, yes.

—Are
you hinting that it exceeds that of a human’s? Graf added, one eye wide, the
other nearly shut.

—I
would say that, at the moment, it would be careless to make such a comparison. I
have been given the first ever quantum mind and it has been alive for slightly
over twenty-two standard sols. To predict what I may become would be based on
incomplete information.

—Can
it be trusted? Oreg interrupted.

—What
do you mean? Graf said as he looked over at Oreg.

—Is
it safe to have her onboard? Oreg said as he looked sternly at Graf.

Graf
shot back at Oreg:
Of course
she can
be trusted! She has succeeded in saving my life on more than one occasion, and
she probably could have taken yours if she’d thought it necessary.

BOOK: Beyond Asimios - Part 4
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