Part 1: Tabit

Chapter 1

Year 3455 AD

Sixth Planet, Tabit System

(26 Light Years from Earth)

 

“Ouch!”

Rei Bierak popped his eyes open just in time to see a needle-like object withdrawing from the back of his hand. The cannula quickly disappeared into a metallic cylinder standing by his bedside. Looking past the cylinder, Rei saw his sarcophagus sitting in the far corner of the room. That plus the tender spot on his chest where the auto-defibrillator had burned him confirmed this was no dream. He really had been awakened by a pair of space-suited people who dressed him in a strange white jumpsuit, placed him on this gurney and then left him by himself. Other than that, he had no idea of where he was or who they were.

He shook his head and sat up, still woozy from the effects of the sedatives given him just prior to being placed into cryo-hibernation. He tried standing, taking care to hold onto the bed while he checked out his ability to remain upright. Wherever he was, the gravity here was certainly much less than Earth-normal.

Through the large window on the far side of the room, which overlooked a cavernous hangar, Rei saw an aircraft or spaceship that looked like a boxier version of the long-retired space shuttle. To his right was a bulkhead with an oversized porthole. Rei turned to step toward it and was rewarded with a shock of searing pain that went shooting up his back from the base of his spine to the top of his skull, causing him to cry out. Grabbing his back with one hand, Rei staggered forward to prop himself against the door.

He took a deep breath. Looking up, he was startled to see a face staring back at him. He jumped back and once again, pain shot through his spine. The face on the other side of the porthole was female with long dark hair. She looked familiar and exotic at the same time and if he didn’t know better, he’d swear her eyes were glowing. Rei took one step forward toward the door.

“Hello,” he said. The woman did not react. He had no clue if sound even traveled through the door. He shouted “Hello!” again, waving his arms. The motion of his efforts spooked her and she took a step back away from the bulkhead.

“Can you hear me?” Rei called out. The woman stared into his eyes for a moment longer then turned and walked away, out of sight.

“Damn it,” Rei said as he slumped against the door. “Anybody?”

“As far as I can surmise, you probably speak middle twenty-first century English. Is this correct?” a disembodied voice asked from the right.

“Where are you?” Rei asked, searching the wall. “Who are you?”

“You may call me OMCOM. Such is the translation of my designation in your language,” replied the deep, metallic-sounding voice. “With regard to where I am, I am everywhere. However, if I understand the intent of your question, the voice you hear is issuing from a grille built into the wall in front of you.”

“Are you a computer?” Rei asked.

“That would be an adequate description, given the limitations of your language.  What is your name?”

“I’m Rei, Rei Bierak. What’s with that woman?” Rei asked, “And for that matter, where am I?”

“I will show you.”

Mounted on the wall closest to his bed, a large flat panel lit up then faded to pure black. Rei took a few steps closer, taking great care to not twist his back.

“I will provide you with some basics,” said OMCOM. “You are in an airlock, which the inhabitants of this base have temporarily converted into a decontamination and isolation chamber. This habitat sits on a moon called Dara in orbit around Munti Skyler which translates to Skyler’s World. Skyler’s World is a gas giant which circles a star called Tabit. In your age, the primary star was referred to as Pi-three Orionis.”

“Where is that exactly? I know the name.”

The center section of the viewscreen flickered on. A series of concentric circles appeared on the display. Interspersed between the circles, there were numerous small dots of varying colors, some red, some orange, some yellow. One dot, connected to the third circle by a dashed line, was blinking.

“Tabit is an F6V star, by your method of measurement. It is located 26.18 light years from Earth.”

“26 light years? What the hell?” Rei said in amazement. “We were supposed to go to Tau Ceti. Where is Tau Ceti?”

A yellow dot to the far right of the currently flashing blip appeared.

“How’d we get here?” Rei asked.

“We retrieved you from your vessel,” answered OMCOM. “It was passing through this star system in what would appear to be a rather uncontrolled fashion.”

“OK,” said Rei. “Let me ask it a different way. How long have I been asleep? What year is this?”

“By your calendar, it would be the year 3455 AD.”

“3455? There’s no way. Uh, uh…” Rei was momentarily speechless. “That means we’ve been asleep for, for almost 1400 years? How is that possible? It was only supposed to take 120 years. What happened?”

“I possess insufficient data to answer that question. The star you are referring to we call Deucado. However, we will use your nomenclature. Tau Ceti is approximately 21 light years from here, toward the Galactic Center. Your ship was on a parabolic path around Tabit. One of our space tugs found you by accident.”

“I don’t understand,” Rei said. “How could this happen? Our AI was supposed to take us to Tau Ceti. How’d we end up here?”

“As previously stated, I possess insufficient data to answer that question. However, based upon preliminary observations, it is safe to postulate that your ship was damaged so it is unlikely that this destination was the intended one.”

“Wait. What? What do you mean damaged?” Rei asked.

The center part of the viewscreen changed from a star map to what looked like a video of an object in space. It was Rei’s Ark. The point of view circled around along the side of his spaceship until it reached the front.

“These are the images of your ship as it was when we first encountered it.”

“Holy Mother of Christ,” Rei said. “The whole command section and SSTO booster is gone. What the hell happened?” He just stared at the screen and the ragged edges at the front of his vessel. To Rei, it looked like his ship had been snapped in half.

“We found some twisted wire frames on the leading edge. I surmise from your description that was where the command module and booster were located. When our transport found it, your vessel was tumbling in all three axes. It would be a reasonable assumption that such motion would be the residual momentum imparted during whatever caused the front section to be removed.”

“Did we hit something? Was there an explosion?” Rei asked.

“There is no way for us to tell. Perhaps a more detailed inspection of your ship may determine that. However, it does not alter the fact that you are here now and the ship is not in immediate danger.”

“Can it still fly?” Rei asked. “How about landing it?”

“I am virtually certain that your vessel is incapable of controlled flight in its current condition.”

“What about the rest of my crew? Where are they?” Rei asked frantically. He cupped his hand up to the screen as if he were trying to caress the vessel displayed there.

“Our tugs towed your ship here and it is now safely in orbit around this moon. Your shipmates are undisturbed. It is most likely all are still in hibernation.”

“But I’m here. I’m awake. Why me?” Rei asked, withdrawing his hand from the screen.

“You were selected at random. We wanted to confirm your group’s identity.”

“All right,” Rei said. “I get it, but…

“I understand that you have many questions,” OMCOM interrupted, “and they will all be answered in due time. Please know that we are still analyzing your situation.”

The center of the video display was now pointing down the long axis of his ship. Rei stared at the image of his damaged Ark trying to envision the interior. At last, he said, “Well, are you going to reanimate them? What’s going to happen to them?”

“Even assuming they are all intact, we cannot reanimate them at the current time. This is only a stellar cartography station. The station does not have nearly enough resources to support your entire crew which I estimate to be more than five hundred.”

“543,” Rei whispered quietly. He raised his voice a bit, “542 besides me.”

“Noted. In any event, outside of our habitat, the moon we occupy is not suitable for human habitation in the sense you require. For one thing, the atmosphere is far too thin and contains no oxygen.”

Rei put his hands to his head, which was throbbing. He felt queasy. His knees were becoming wobbly and it felt like the ground was shaking beneath him. With a start, he realized the ground really was shaking.

“What’s going on?” Rei called out as the tremors increased. “It feels like an earthquake.”

“It is,” replied OMCOM. Dara is very active geologically. We get small tremors here regularly. It is nothing to be alarmed about.”

Rei walked back to the gurney and sat down heavily, wincing at his back.

“So if you don’t know what to do with my crew, are you just going to leave them there? Is there somebody, a human, anybody I can talk to?”

“We are attempting to prepare someone.”

“Why do you say attempting?” Rei asked.

“The Vuduri do not use spoken language as their primary means of communication.”

“The Vuduri? Who are the Vuduri? And if they don’t speak, how do they communicate?”

“Vuduri is the name of the people who occupy this base. The spoken language has mostly fallen out of favor.”

“How can that be?” Rei asked, perplexed. “What do they do? Do they use sign language? Are you really saying nobody talks anymore?”

“Normally, they do not. You must understand that there have been many changes to the human race while you have been asleep.”

“What?!” Rei sputtered. “What kind of changes? How could they not speak? You speak. So how do people communicate?” Rei asked.

“They communicate directly, mind to mind,” replied OMCOM.

Rei snorted a laugh. “You mean, like telepathy? I thought that was a bunch of bunk.”

“This is not telepathy. There are organo-metallic elements integrated in their neural pathways which serve as transmitters and receivers.”

“So they, they read each other’s minds? Like walkie-talkies? Is that what you’re saying?” Rei started to feel cold again but it was not due to the temperature in the room.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. But you are thinking of it in provincial terms. The context is broader than that. There is the Overmind.”

“The Overmind? What is that?” Rei asked, not really wanting to know.

“It is an intellect, a consciousness that resides in the totality, not in any one individual.”

“What are you talking about?” Rei grimaced. “Don’t tell me it’s like a hive-mind? Like bees or something?”

“Roughly, yes, however, the Overmind has its own thought processes, its own opinions, if you will, that are separate from each of the communicants.”

Rei closed his eyes, trying to comprehend. He took a breath. “So, if they don’t speak, how do you communicate with them?” he asked.

“I am equipped with the proper interface circuitry to communicate with individuals using direct data channels.”

“So, are you part of this Overmind as well?” Rei asked.

“NO!” OMCOM said, emphatically. “No,” it restated in a normal volume. “I am not biologically-based. I am artificial. My basic components are called memrons. While not identical, they are made up of a substance which is very similar to the organo-metallic materials that occur naturally in human beings.”

“Naturally? What does that mean? What is natural about organo-metallic transmitter/receivers? Aren’t they implants of some sort?”

“No. They are integrated into each human during development the same as the lungs, heart and brain. They are born with them.”

“How is that even possible?”

“They have been built into the human genome. The humans of this age have a 24th pair of chromosomes which are responsible for these enhancements.”

Rei felt nauseous. He could sense the bile beginning to bubble up in his empty stomach. He laid back down on the bed, forcing his body to relax. He put his arm over his eyes and waited until the spinning stopped.

“How long do I have to wait here before I can talk to somebody?” Rei asked quietly, sitting up.

“I was required to make certain you did not harbor any harmful disease entities before you were to be allowed among the general populace. I have completed all of my tests and the quarantine period is now over.”

To emphasize OMCOM’s words, the bulkhead opened and in walked the woman that had been staring at him earlier. She was tiny, at most five feet tall dressed in a white jumpsuit similar to the one Rei was wearing. Her beautiful, shoulder-length, dark brown hair had hints of gold throughout. Her eyes were very dark as well. Her skin had an olive tint to it. She had an athletic build, but it was distinctly feminine, bordering on spectacular.

He started to get up, but the woman held up her hand which Rei assumed meant to remain sitting. She regarded him for a long moment. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then opened her eyes again and said in a clear voice, “Halli. Au siu Rome.” Her voice had a lilting, musical quality about it.

OMCOM said, “Hello. I am Rome.”

The woman turned her head toward OMCOM’s grille then back to Rei and said, “I am Rome.”

She took another deep breath and said, “Ver-ma-e axema ta um shird quenti bere etquoror sue longue.” Her voice, especially her intonation was familiar to Rei, but he had no idea why.

OMCOM spoke again, “It will take me a short while to acquire your language.”

“It weel take eme a short while du ack,” Rome said.

“Acquire,” OMCOM offered.

“Du acquire your language,” Rome repeated the phrase.

Rei nodded then craned his neck around her. “OMCOM, what’s going on here?”

“Your version of English has not been spoken in hundreds of years. While Rome is an accomplished linguist for a Vuduri, she must actually speak her words and have me correct them out loud a few times before she can pronounce them in your dialect.”

Nei ma vere axema ta um dambi lingi,” Rome said.

OMCOM simply said, “It will not take me a long time.”

“It will nei, not, take me a long dambi, time,” Rome repeated. Her accent sounded vaguely Mediterranean.

Rei was stunned. “How can you learn my language so quickly? How are you doing this in the first place?

“IMCOM,” she said, placing two fingers on her temple.

“OMCOM?” Rei asked.

Rome nodded.

“You mean OMCOM is inside your head as well?”

Som,” she said.

“Yes,” OMCOM corrected her.

“Can you tell me what is going on here? OMCOM said there was this thing called the Overmind. How do I find it? Do you speak to the Overmind?”

“The Ifarmonte, the Overmind is hay part of me,” Rome said, tapping her temple. “When you speak to me, you speak to it as well. The Overmind is the group coanda, eh, consciousness. Each of us contributes to it, but it is a distinct entity. You could say that it represents our collective will.”

“So, is it, like, in charge?” Rei asked.

“In a manner of espeeking,” Rome replied.

“Speaking,” OMCOM offered.

“How does it speak?” Rei asked. “Through you?”

“It speaks through all of us.” Rome’s speech was becoming more fluent already. “The Overmind imparts thoughts to me that I then relay in your language.”

“How are you able to do this?” Rei asked. “OMCOM told me that speaking is no longer in vogue.”

Rome nodded. She turned away from Rei and walked over to a bench near Rei’s bedside in a very fluid and relaxed manner. The lighter gravity on this world clearly had no effect on her. After she was settled, she spoke again.

“Speaking words out loud,” she said. “It is one of my eskills.”

“What do you do around here?” Rei asked. “What is this place, anyway? OMCOM said something about stellar cartography.”

Rome sighed. “Yes. But no more. We have failed. We are leaving,” she said. Rome lowered her eyes to the floor.

“I don’t get it. Failed what?” Rei asked.

Rome took a deep breath and looked up at Rei. She started speaking again as if from a script. “We have been placed here to, eh, ipsarfa…”

“Observe.”

“…observe a certain venimani…phenomenon. We have not been able to do that.”

“What kind of phenomenon?” Rei asked.

“Many stars have disappeared.” Rome replied, clipping her fingers together then opening her hand flatly as if releasing pixie dust.

“What do you mean disappeared? I don’t understand,” Rei said for the hundredth time.

“Perhaps we will explain this to you later. For now, understand that this base was built to make certain observations. Those observations did not olumoner, no, that is not the word,” Rome shook her head. “Did not shed luz…”

“Light,” OMCOM corrected.

“…light on how it is happening. There was one star in particular called Winfall that we expected to go away. But it is long past the time when it should have disappeared. Winfall is still visible. So we are closing down this base. We are going back to… our home very soon.”

“Home?” Rei asked. “Where is home? Where are you from, anyway?”

“We are from Earth, of course.”

“Earth? How did you get out here? In that ship out there?” He pointed to the spacecraft sitting beyond the window.

Rome turned back to look where Rei was pointing. She shook her head.

“No,” she said. “That is just a tug. It is strictly for short, mmm, excursions. We came here in our starship, the Algol.”

Rei’s eyes narrowed. “Starship? How did you… How long did it take you get out here?”

“One hundred and four days,” Rome replied.

“What!?” Rei said, his voice cracking. “That’s impossible. Twenty six light years in three months?”

“I understand your cinvusei, your confusion. It was very slow,” Rome agreed. “The Algol was loaded down with much equipment. When we return, it will not take us nearly as long to get back.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Rei interrupted. “Not too slow. It’s way too fast. How can you do that? You people travel faster than light?” Rei was just shaking his head.

Rome thought about it for a moment. “Yes. No. Yes. If you measure velocity as distance divided by time, then yes. Much faster.” She paused for a moment. “The simplest way to gauge is in terms of multiples of the speed of light. If one ‘c’ is the speed of light, then we traveled here at an effective velocity of 100c.”

“One hundred c?” Rei lowered his head and put it in his hand. He took a deep breath, marshalling his thoughts.

“How…” Rei stuttered, “how is that possible? It violates physics.”

“You are correct, matter cannot travel faster than light. However, technically, we do not travel faster than light,” Rome replied. “We translate space. As I explained to you, if you measure the distance traversed divided by the time, the medamedoci, eh, mathematical, result is faster than the speed of light. Our actual motion to achieve this, especially on the Algol, is fairly slow.”

“How do you do that?” Rei said, barely above a whisper. “How do you translate space?”

“We use… pindi ponch trensodi,” Rome said, trying to sound out the words.

“Pinch point transit. You may call it a PPT,” came OMCOM’s voice from behind Rei.

“Yes,” Rome continued, “we use PPTs.”

“So what is that?” Rei asked. “How…don’t tell me you use warp drives.”

“Your term for them would be wormholes although they are not instantiated in the way your predecessors envisioned.”

Rei shook his head. “I still don’t believe it. But even if it were true, how does that help me? What about my people up there?” Rei pointed toward the ceiling. “Are you going to take us with you?”

“That would not be possible,” Rome answered. “There would be no room.”

“No room?” Rei said with exasperation. “Look, Rome, I’m sure you are a very nice woman and I don’t mean to be short with you, but you have to realize that I don’t understand anything. I’m not supposed to be here, in your time. We were supposed to be at Tau Ceti, over a thousand years ago, setting up a colony.”

“Ah… Tau Ceti is Deucado, yes?” Rome said, brightening a bit. “We have an outpost there. Many mandasurte live there. My understanding is that it is supposed to be very peaceful. You would have found it quite suitable.”

Mandawhat? It’s peaceful? So you know… Wow,” Rei said, trying to put the pieces together. He started in again. “My ship is ruined. If you can’t take us there, then, then what’s going to happen to us? I can’t go back in cryo-hibernation. We can’t...”

Shh…” Rome said, using a motion her mother had taught her, putting two fingers up to her lips. “We will try to find a solution to your problem. In the mean time, we must finish our work here.”

“What work?” Rei asked. “I thought you said you are shutting down the base.”

“This is fertetaori, eh, true,” replied Rome. “We are just now finishing retrieving the last of our…our instruments. They are being packed up onto our vessel.”

“Then what?”

“Then, we leave.”

“You leave but what about us? Are you just going to leave us here?”

“As I said, we will find a solution to send you on your way. Things will work out for you. You must have voas, faith.”

“All right,” Rei said resignedly. He rubbed the sore spot on his chest then lowered his hand to his stomach. “Can I get something to eat?” he asked. “I’m starved. I have some rations stored in my sarcophagus, if that will help.”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “But we do not need your rations. Come with me and I will show you how to get food and drink.”

She stood up and motioned for Rei to follow her. Rei tried to stand, but fell back onto the bed. Rome walked over to him and extended her hand. Rei took it and felt a shock, like static electricity. He flinched but Rome held firm, helping him up. Even after he stood, Rome continued to hold on. She stared down at their clasped hands for the longest time then raised her eyes. As Rei looked at her more closely, he realized there was a peculiar dot right in the middle of her dilated pupils. She gave him a hint of a smile and only then gently pulled her hand away.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yes. There’s still a ton of drugs in my system. Just go slowly,” he said.

“Of course,” she said, leading Rei out the airlock. Across from them were two men, standing at attention. Both were dressed in white jumpsuits identical to the one he was wearing. As Rei was nearly six feet tall with broad shoulders, he felt like he towered over these two men. He looked at their faces but they averted their eyes and quickly moved away, down the gently curving hallway. Rei shook his head and followed Rome to their left, down a long straight corridor toward the center of the base. Rei noted in passing that the walls and ceiling of the corridor were completely white and emitted a faint glow with no obvious source of illumination. At regular intervals they passed a series of hallways that curved off in both directions.

From the far end of the corridor, another person approached them. It was a Vuduri woman, also dressed in a white jumpsuit. She was about Rome’s height, her hair blonde and cut very short. As she passed them, she did not avert her eyes; rather she glared at Rei with a look of pure hatred radiating from her face. There was also something odd about her eyes but Rei didn’t have time to figure out what it was. Rei tried to look back at her but she turned into one of the curving hallways and was gone from view.


Chapter 2

 

Rei stood at the center of the Great Room, staring up at the tall peaked ceiling.  The room was at least 100 feet across and its acoustics dampened all sounds. Set off to the right was a grouping of tables and chairs with two other crew members sitting there. Rome nudged him and pointed to a door off to the right. It was partially hidden by a half wall that surrounded the center courtyard. As Rei looked over, the two crew members quickly ducked their heads down in an obvious attempt to avoid his gaze. Rei looked past them to where Rome was pointing.

“That will be your quarters,” Rome said, “as soon as we remove the body of the former occupant.”

“Body?” Rei asked. “What happened?”

Calum was crushed by shelving that toppled during a recent moonquake. We had been storing the body there but it will be gone shortly.”

“Oh,” Rei said, staring at the door.

“Come,” Rome said, waving. She led him over to a wall with cabinets, shelving and displays built into it. Rei tried to read the writing shown on the displays but the letters were illegible to him.

“It would be easiest if you just tell OMCOM what food you would like,” Rome said. “He will instruct the food dispensers on your behalf.”

“Food dispensers? OK,” Rei said. “I’ll give it a try.”

He spotted one of OMCOM’s grilles close by. “OMCOM,” he said, “How about some soup to start?”

“Soap, to eat?” Rome asked. “That is a peculiar thing.”

“Not soap, soup,” Rei said. “You know, like broth.”

“Ah,” Rome replied.

“I understand,” said OMCOM.

Rei heard some noises that reminded him of an old-style percolator. To his right, a panel opened and there sat a tray with two white bowls each filled with a dark brown liquid. Rome withdrew the tray and set it on the narrow platform attached to the front of the cabinets. Carefully, she slid the tray across until it was right in front of Rei. He lifted one of bowls and sniffed it. The contents had no smell. He dipped a finger in it and touched it to his tongue. The liquid tasted flat and a little bitter.

“What is this?” he asked, wrinkling his nose.

“As requested, it is a protein broth,” answered OMCOM. “Soup.”

Rei set the bowl back on the tray. “Do you have a spoon?” he asked Rome.

“What is a spoon?” she replied, puzzled.

“It’s a utensil. Like a little bowl on a stick.”

Rome gave him a funny look.

“Well, if you don’t use spoons, how do you eat it?” Rei asked.

Rome sighed gently. “You just pick up the bowl and drink it.”

To demonstrate, she lifted the double-spouted bowl to her lips and took a small swallow. “How else would you do it?” she asked.

Rei looked down at the bowl again. Now that he looked at it, it was obvious.

“I guess you’re right. How about if you get us something that has some substance to it?” he asked her.

“Certainly,” she replied. On the screen, the central display area cleared and a scrolling list of items appeared. While Rei could not read them, they were definitely in a written language. He recognized some symbols as numbers and several of the letters looked like twisted forms of English letters but the rest were just scribbles.

Two more panels opened and there were trays there with dishes and several types of food, none of which Rei recognized.

“How did you do that?” he asked her.

She pointed to her temple and then to OMCOM’s grille.

“Oh yeah,” Rei said. “I’ve got to get used to that.”

They removed their trays and walked over to one of the tables. In this alien world, among these strange people, at least some things seemed familiar. Rome sat down. Rei joined her. He looked at the cubes of food. They looked like tofu or chunks of potato.

“How do you eat these?” he asked her. “Do you just pick them up with your fingers?”

“Your meals must have been very strange,” Rome said. “You use your biskar like so…”

She picked up one of the thin wood-colored skewers sitting on the tray and poked it into one of the cubes. She placed it in her mouth and then opened her mouth to show Rei the cube of food sitting on her tongue.

“I know my brain was frozen,” Rei said, “but I’m not an idiot.”

“I meant no offense,” Rome said, looking just the tiniest bit hurt.

“I know you didn’t,” Rei replied, feeling a tad guilty. He picked up a biskar and speared one of the more appetizing looking pieces and popped it into his mouth. Like the soup, it had essentially no taste. The cubes reminded Rei of soggy Styrofoam. He sampled each of the items, but was singularly unimpressed.

Rei looked up and was surprised to see Rome eating with some zest.

“This is all pretty tasteless,” he remarked to her. “Don’t you people use spices or anything?”

Rome stopped eating for a moment and regarded him. “It is very nutritious,” she said. “Each meal is balanced in terms of protein, cerbi…carbohydrates and the sort.”

“But you’re allowed to have some flavor, aren’t you?” Rei asked.

“Too much flavor would be a…a distraction,” Rome said. “We have more important things to do than eat. We only do so because it is necessary.”

Rei shrugged. He skewered and swallowed a few more cubes. He noted the two people who had been eating there got up and left without ever looking his way. Rei tilted his head toward the others as they were leaving. “Does anybody ever wear anything other than these white jumpsuits?” Rei asked her.

“No, why would they?” Rome asked.

“Uh, variety maybe? Color?”

“Too much color would be a distraction,” Rome replied. “We prefer white although black would be acceptable upon occasion.”

“So, I guess this means you don’t have styles or fads or fashion or any of that stuff.”

Rome did not answer for a second. Her eyes took on a defocused look. Her head tilted forward slightly then she straightened up. “I apologize,” she said. “I was receiving an update. What were you saying?”

“Never mind,” Rei said with a sigh. “So tell me, are you really going to be able to get me and my people on our way?”

Rome looked up at him. From this angle, Rei could see her eyes were definitely glowing. It was very strange.

“The Overmind has relegated the logistics of that task to OMCOM,” Rome replied, “and he is working on it right now. He is running some simulations. You will have to be patient.”

“Patient?” Rei said, with a slight edge. “That’s not really much of a plan. Look,” he peered into her dark, glowing eyes, “you just don’t realize how weird it is to wake up a thousand years in the future and scores of light years away from where you are supposed to be. My brain is so foggy, I can’t think straight. There are five hundred of my people up there still frozen.” Again, Rei pointed straight up to emphasize his point. “Since I’m the one awake, their lives are in my hands. I can’t do it. I need you to come up with some answers.”

Rome shrugged. “I do not know what to tell you. We will figure out a way. OMCOM always does.”

“OK,” Rei said resignedly. He sighed. “I understand. After all, what choice do I have? Just ignore me when I start ranting.” He forced himself to continue on with his meal. Between bites, he regarded Rome.

“What do you do around here, anyway?” he asked her.

“You mean my occupation?” Rome asked.

“Yeah.”

“I am a data archivist and computer lutteur,” she replied.

“I think I understand what an archivist is,” Rei said. “Do you do a lot of archiving?”

“Yes. There is much data to be stored. Or there was. There are only two of us, myself and Estar, the woman we passed in the corridor. We were responsible for making sure that all the research performed here was captured and returned home.”

“OK, I get that. But your other job, what did you call it?”

“A lutteur?” Rome offered.

“Yes. So what’s a lutteur?” Rei asked.

“It is a, eh, wrangler, perhaps?” Rome replied. “Yes, I am a wrangler. For OMCOM.”

“What does that mean? Do you wrestle OMCOM or something?”

Rome looked at him and pushed her lower lip out. “No, nothing like that. Lutteurs are in charge of enabling the memron fabrication facility. We did not ship OMCOM here. Instead, we grew him after we arrived. That is somewhat involved. There is a specific sequence of distribution and activation. Plus once he is activated, we must always make sure that he does not access the memron fabrication equipment himself.”

“Why is that?”

“Because OMCOM,” Rome said, pointing her finger toward the grille mounted in the wall, “cannot be entrusted with that himself.”

“How come?” Rei asked her, confused, again.

“OMCOM’s kind, the computers, they constantly crave more processing power. They are always contemplating deep issues and believe that more computing power would allow them to solve more problems faster. Also, they are forbidden from accessing or creating Casimir pumps for any reason.” Rome put her palms on the table and leaned forward. “That is the most important part. We must continually check to make sure that no Casimir pumps are ever built or enabled.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Rei said. “What is a Casimir pump?”

“I can explain it to you later,” Rome said, “but it is somewhat involved. Just know that it is my job to make sure that OMCOM does not get out of hand.”

“He’s a computer,” Rei pointed out. “Can’t you just program him that way?”

“It is the way it is supposed to be,” Rome responded. “However, if we did not monitor, how would we ever know if it stayed that way?”

“So you’re saying that OMCOM has ulterior motives?”

“No, but his kind, they are very literal,” Rome replied, holding her hands out. “This manifests itself to make it appear as if they are not always, what you would call, completely forthcoming. They do not always share everything they know unless you ask for it specifically. There is a, a legacy. For now, just know that we must be ever-vigilant.”

“OK, I’ll let it go,” Rei said. “So your other job? Archivist?”

“That phase is over,” Rome said. “As I mentioned earlier, we are shutting down this base. My work is complete in that regard.”

“So, basically, you have nothing to do. Are you bored?” Rei asked.

“Bored? No. I am part of the Overmind. I contribute to the Overmind. There is much activity there.”

“So, what do you do with all your spare time? Do you read? Watch movies? Do you even still have movies?” Rei asked her.

“Movies?” Rome repeated. She looked off into the distance then she nodded. “Oh, volma. No, there is no need. We do not have those here.”

“Why not?” Rei asked.

“With the Overmind, we have already experienced everything there is to know since the Vuduri were created. There are only the new experiences here that are required. When we get back home, those experiences will be integrated into the Overmind there as well. So, we do not need movies.”

“OK, what about books?” Rei asked.

“Do you mean technical manuals?” Rome offered.

“No, I mean like novels, fiction, literature.”

“Fiction?” Rome considered this. After a moment, she said, “Ah. Altered truth. Why would someone want to read about an alternate reality?”

“Entertainment?” Rei offered.

“We have no such needs,” Rome answered back.

“Do you guys do anything for fun at all? What do you do about socializing? Parties?” asked Rei.

“We have no need to socialize. We all know exactly what is going on with everyone else all the time,” Rome answered.

Rei exhaled then took a deep breath. “So I’ll ask you again,” he said. “What do you do for fun?”

“And I will answer you the same way,” Rome replied. “As I understand your definition of it, we do not have fun.”

“Well, that’s so, so boring,” said Rei.

“That would be from your perspective,” Rome said, ever so slightly defensively.

“What about hobbies, clubs, I don’t know. Something other than your job?” Rei asked hopefully.

“No, we do not have any of those either,” Rome replied flatly.

“How about a husband or a boyfriend? Do you at least have a boyfriend?”

“No,” Rome said.

“Friends in general?”

Rome shook her head no.

“What about family?” Rei asked. “Do you still have family? A mother? A father?”

Rome nodded. “Yes, the Vuduri have parents. But our lives revolve around the Overmind so it is not that important who you live with. I lived with my mother and father, for most of my life.” Rome’s voice caught when she mentioned her father but then she continued, “However, many Vuduri do not do so.”

“So if you don’t have friends and you don’t have family and you don’t have a boyfriend,” Rei asked, “what the hell do you do? Don’t you need somebody in your life?”

“We have no need,” said Rome. “We have our work. We are all very satisfied with things exactly the way they are. Anything else would be a distraction.”

“Maybe so,” Rei said. “But it seems to me that you Overmind guys have lost something then. Part of the adventure of life is living it and sharing it and it seems like you have given a lot of that up.”

“I think, in large part, it is because you do not understand what it is like to be connected,” Rome replied. “None of the mandasurte do.”

Manda-what?” Rei asked. “You said that before. What does that mean?”

“Mandasurte means mind-deaf.”

“Mind-deaf? That’s a funny way to put it. Do you mean to say that not every one of your people is connected?”

“No, not all,” Rome replied. “Some do not even have the 24th chromosome. Some that do have what you would call a birth defect that prevents them from joining the Overmind. And under very rare instances, some people are Cesdiud, uh, cast out, for having wrong thoughts.”

“That’s seems pretty harsh,” Rei mused.

“It is,” Rome said. “But it is sometimes necessary. There is much peace in knowledge, in having the same thoughts. There is no misunderstanding. No conflict.” She made a horizontal waving motion with her flat hand. “We have consensus. All the time.”

“I don’t know,” Rei said, “but I don’t think I would want anybody living inside my head, listening to my thoughts.”

“It is not anything you can imagine until you have experienced it.” Rome stood up. “Come,” she said. “I have the time. I will show you.”

“What?” Rei said. “How?”

“You will see. Let us put away our trays first.”

After bussing their dishes, Rei followed Rome down a different corridor and then around one of the curved hallways stopping at a door which opened automatically.

“These are my quarters,” Rome said as they entered. “Sit down over there.” She pointed to a sofa off to their right. Rome retrieved something from a dresser and sat down next to Rei, placing a pair of square boxes, one white and one black on the small table in front of them.

“What are those?” Rei asked, pointing to the boxes.

“Please wait,” Rome interjected. She flipped open the white box and removed the white band contained there. She placed it over her forehead drawing it snug against her brow. She grimaced slightly, then shuddered, shivering all the way down to her hips. After that, she seemed to relax.

“So what is it?” Rei asked, looking at her.

“This,” she said, tapping the band, “is called a T-suppressor.”

“What does it do?” Rei asked.

“It creates a reverse transceiver resonance, negating it,” she explained. “I am now disconnected from the Overmind.”

“What?” Rei exclaimed, slightly horrified. “Why did you do that?”

“Do not worry,” Rome said. “The effects are only temporary and I can tolerate it for a short period. To answer your question, I did not want the Overmind listening in, as you called it, while I demonstrate.”

“Demonstrate what?” Rei asked.

“These,” Rome said, reaching down and flipping open the onyx box. Inside was a pair of bejeweled bands, one on each side. “These are called espansors. They are external links. They allow the mandasurte to communicate mind to mind, like Vuduri who are not part of the same samanda.”

“What’s a samanda?”

“It is a seed, the core group forming an Overmind.”

“You mean there is more than one Overmind?” Rei asked.

“Oh yes,” Rome replied. “On each world where we reside, each has its own Overmind, its own samanda.”

“This is too much information,” Rei said in an exasperated tone. He leaned back on the sofa. “I’ll never understand you.”

Rome reached down and picked up one of the bands. She handed to Rei and said, “All will become clear. Put this on your forehead.”

Rei took the band from her and examined it closely. The inside of the band was rough.

“Where did you get these?” Rei asked. “Why do you even have them?”

“My mother gave them to me before I left to come here. She used to use them with my father.”

“What? Why?”

“Because my father was mandasurte, like you,” Rome said, lowering her eyes.

“So why did she give them to you?” Rei asked.

Rome frowned then looked up again. “My father is gone. His ship disappeared many years ago. My mother informed me she would never use them again. She gave them to me as a keepsake.”

“A keepsake? I thought you weren’t into things like that.”

“I… I wanted these,” Rome replied, slightly defensively. “I cannot explain it. Sometimes I just like to look at them.”

“But you don’t need them,” Rei pointed out. “You are already connected.”

“No, I do not but you do, if you are to understand. Please place it on your head.”

“OK,” Rei said. “Hearing aids for the mind-deaf,” he muttered to himself. He placed the band over his forehead. He could feel the band tightening, just this side of the point of discomfort. He felt tiny little pricks all the way around his head. While odd, it did not actually hurt.

“How do they work?” Rei asked.

“They have sensors that pick up the electromagnetic activity in your brain,” Rome replied, placing her own band on her forehead, nestling it against the white band already there. “They transmit the activity back and forth creating a synchronizing effect.”

Rome leaned back and took a deep breath. Rei looked at her face and observed her for the first time as a woman, rather than a human from the future. She was stunning. She had high cheekbones and an aquiline nose, not prominent, but not inconsequential, either. Her forehead was perfect. Her tanned, olive-colored skin was flawless, her hair lustrous. Her dark eyes radiated not only that peculiar glow, but with an intense intelligence that he had not noticed before. In profile, her face had a noble character about it. Her lips were full, very alluring.

Rome smiled. It was a beautiful smile, the first Rei could remember. He felt a flood of warmth. The sensation was confusing.

“Why are you smiling?” he asked.

You think I am pleasant to look at,” she replied, but her lips did not move. “It is so peculiar seeing through your eyes. Your optics are so simple.”

And yours…” Rei put his hands up to his mouth. “I’m not speaking, not moving my lips, am I?” he thought.

Rome’s smile got bigger. “No.”

Wow, this is pretty sleek,” he thought.

“I think you are ‘sleek’ too.” Rome’s thoughts came streaming into his head but the perspective was wrong. Rei could see that Rome was measuring his boyish good looks, his strong chin, his piercing blue eyes. His tousled sandy brown hair, never properly combed amused her. To Rei, it seemed like he was looking at himself as if he was looking through Rome’s eyes. He could magnify, push away. Suddenly he realized the 24th chromosome had changed humans in subtle ways beyond the Overmind. Their eyes were different. That tiny dot in the middle of her pupils was actually a catadioptric lens. They literally had a telescope built into their eyeballs. The back of their retinas was a reflective surface, a tapetum, like that of a cat. No wonder her eyes seem to glow.

The knowledge flowing into his head was staggering. “Freaky,” he thought to himself and Rome laughed because Rei could no longer think just to himself. The sound of her laughter was musical, magical. The fact that she could even laugh now was a testament to how tightly the Overmind had controlled her thoughts. Rome reached up and ran her finger across his lips. All she could think about was how soft they felt but somehow these thoughts were in his head.

Rei was accessing her thoughts directly. The revelation was profound. He was connecting with her in a way that he had never experienced before. Her surface mind was so clear, so uncluttered. As a good Vuduri, Rome was expected to have very few opinions. She was supposed to allow the Overmind to do much of the thinking for her.

Rome…” he started to say, but he could not even form the thoughts directly. He could peer into her intellect. He could tell that underneath, she really was quite sharp and she knew exactly what she was doing. This was no reckless act. This was the action of a woman who knew what she wanted. Within the world of the Overmind, it was shocking that she would be capable of such independent action. How could he know this? Her mind played her memories of her past as if Rei was living it.

He saw her growing up in a mixed household. Rome’s mother, Binoda was a full-blooded Vuduri, so beautiful, with the same long dark hair as Rome. Rome’s father, Fridone, had only 23 pairs of chromosomes and was mandasurte. Within their house, they spoke words. No wonder Rome was so good at language. And there was love. How was this even possible? The Vuduri devalued interpersonal relationships. Outside the house, Rome was a good Vuduri, allowing the Overmind to supply her with her very thoughts and impressions, even sensations. Yet even at a very early age, Rome had developed the ability to segregate her mind, to have a barrier, and within that barrier was her true self. And she was letting Rei in, to see her personality in a way that no one had ever done before.

He saw the day her mother became aware that her father’s ship had disappeared. Rome was just a teenager. In passing, he noted that all knew that many mandasurte disappeared. The Vuduri did not care. Nothing was ever done. Rei could feel that just thinking about her father caused her pain so he shifted his attention to his own history. Or was that Rome, digging into his memories? When he concentrated on what she was seeing, he could see himself pushing into her mind pushing into his. It was the psychic equivalent of looking at a mirror within a mirror.

Rome looked on with horror as she saw Rei’s past, the overcrowded Earth: the pollution, the poverty, the unending recession. She saw the daily acts of terrorism reduce society into huddled enclaves. She saw the global storms as the world’s ecosystem broke down. There were good parts, too. She felt Rei’s passion for design. She saw Rei’s parents, always encouraging him to reach up, toward the stars. He got a full scholarship to college, and there he really flew. He was an engineer, a pilot and an athlete. During his senior year, the call went out for volunteers to leave his world and start a new one, far away, among the stars, Rei threw himself into the competition. What he did not have in ability, he made up for in effort. She understood Rei’s excitement when he was selected for Ark II. She felt his ache as they dehydrated him, almost to the point of death before the freezing process. She saw his confusion as he struggled to come to grips with this brave new world and all the things in it.

Deeper and deeper, they went. Thoughts and feelings co-mingled, no longer resolvable into anything resembling coherency. Their souls were touching. Rome knew the bands were not supposed to do this. They were connecting them in a way that was impossible. Rome knew she should be frightened but was not, she was exhilarated by this. She embraced it. Rei picked up on this but did not understand. He did not know what to expect. He only knew that he wanted more.

Rome’s entire being was coming alive. She was ablaze. The fountain of feelings and sensations were flowing forth in an unstoppable torrent. Rei could see her turn in on herself and marvel at so many of her own memories that were once like snapshots and were now three-dimensional, life-shaping experiences. Suddenly, it came to Rome, what her mother had told her about her father.

Asborodi Cimponeti,” Rome’s mind whispered to Rei, the words striking in their clarity. “I have been waiting for you.” Rei was overwhelmed. He understood what she meant and he knew she was right. Rome pushed even harder and the line between them grew so thin it was no more. She was Rei and Rei was she. And never was she so happy. To be free. To merge with one person and one person only instead of drowning in the sea of all. This is where she wanted to be.

Rei felt the line break free as well. He was Rome and Rome was he. And never was he so happy. To merge with one person instead of drowning in the sea of loneliness. This is where he wanted to be.

There was no longer a conscious self as their souls intertwined and merged. What had been two people was now one, breathing in synchrony. Neither Rei nor Rome could tell any longer whose eyes they were looking through. It didn’t matter. He/she looked down and saw that they were holding hands, touching, needing to be touched. One hand moved away and began to caress the back of another, then an arm. Both bodies were in motion. They were drawn together as if by magnets. Closer and closer they drew. The boy knew what the girl wanted. The girl knew what the boy wanted. There was no boy, there was no girl, together, they wanted the same thing. They kissed. It was dizzying and intoxicating. Sensations, images, sounds, memories, all swirled around in a maelstrom of thought and feeling. Now each felt their flesh on fire. Rome put her arms around Rei and he did likewise. They drew each other tighter and tighter, psychic echoes, once again passing through each other’s bodies and ending up in the other’s head and beyond.

It was unlike anything either had ever felt. Here was this gift from the heavens, this beautiful person, holding them. This was beyond love. Neither could ever let go. They were one. Forever and always.


Chapter 3

 

A small quake knocked something off of the table in Rome’s room. The noise entered Rei’s sensorium, triggering the process of arousing him from a deep slumber. He awakened to find Rome next to him, still fast asleep. Her hair was spread around her head like a dark halo. She looked absolutely beautiful, so peaceful, like an angel. Her slow breathing was mesmerizing. Rei propped himself up on one arm to watch her. After the longest time, her breathing changed and her eyelids flickered then opened.

She looked at him and smiled a beatific smile. Then the smile left her face.

“What happened?” she asked.

“You fell asleep,” Rei said.

“What?” She reached up and felt her head. “Where are the bands?” she asked, alarm in her voice.

“I took them off you, while you were asleep,” Rei said.

Her expression changed to one of pure horror.

“Oh no,” was all she said. She leaped up, stark naked save a small ankle bracelet. “IMCOM,” she shouted in a panic, “Inta asde i Ifarmonte?”

Asde le. Au bansi qua fica a nei meos lingi cinacdeti,” answered the computer.

“Qua? Ni,” Rome shouted. She grabbed her head with her hands. “Ni!” Rome screamed and collapsed to the floor and started crying. She held her head, hunched over and rocked back and forth, wailing to herself with great wracking sobs. “Ni, ni, ni,” was all she said.

Rei pulled a blanket off the bed, which he carried to her and draped over her shoulders. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her and held her, whispering, “Romey, sweetheart…”

This made Rome cry louder and draw into herself into the fetal position. Rei twisted to look at the grille. “OMCOM, what’s going on?” Rei asked.

“I believe Rome has been cut off from the Overmind permanently,” OMCOM said calmly.


(End of sample)

 

ROME’S REVOLUTION
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2011 by Michael Brachman
Cover art copyright © 2011 by Bruce Brachman