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span.Heading3Char {mso-style-name:"Heading 3 Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:9; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Heading 3"; mso-ansi-font-size:13.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:13.0pt; font-family:"Cambria","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; font-weight:bold;} span.Heading4Char {mso-style-name:"Heading 4 Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:9; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Heading 4"; mso-ansi-font-size:14.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; font-weight:bold;} span.Heading5Char {mso-style-name:"Heading 5 Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:9; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Heading 5"; mso-ansi-font-size:13.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:13.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; font-weight:bold; font-style:italic;} span.Heading6Char {mso-style-name:"Heading 6 Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:9; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Heading 6"; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; font-weight:bold;} span.Heading7Char {mso-style-name:"Heading 7 Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:9; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Heading 7"; mso-ansi-font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} span.Heading8Char {mso-style-name:"Heading 8 Char"; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Heading 8"; mso-ansi-font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; font-style:italic;} span.Heading9Char {mso-style-name:"Heading 9 Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:9; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Heading 9"; font-family:"Cambria","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} span.HeaderChar {mso-style-name:"Header Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:Header; mso-ansi-font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} span.FooterChar {mso-style-name:"Footer Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:Footer; mso-ansi-font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} span.TitleChar {mso-style-name:"Title Char"; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:Title; mso-ansi-font-size:16.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:16.0pt; font-family:"Cambria","serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-font-kerning:14.0pt; font-weight:bold;} span.BodyTextChar {mso-style-name:"Body Text Char"; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-locked:yes; mso-style-link:"Body Text"; 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to the home page. <h1 style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-size:26.0pt'>Part 1: Tabit<o:p></o:p></span></h1> <h2 style='text-indent:.25in'>Chapter 1</h2> <p class=MsoNormal align=center style='text-align:center;text-indent:.25in'><b style='mso-bidi-font-weight:normal'>Year 3455 AD<o:p></o:p></b></p> <p class=MsoNormal align=center style='text-align:center;text-indent:.25in'><b style='mso-bidi-font-weight:normal'>Sixth Planet, Tabit System<o:p></o:p></b></p> <p class=MsoNormal align=center style='text-align:center;text-indent:.25in'><b style='mso-bidi-font-weight:normal'>(26 Light Years from Earth)<o:p></o:p></b></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-align:justify;text-indent:.25in'><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Ouch! </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei Bierak popped his eyes open just in time to see a needle-like object withdrawing from the back of his hand. The <span class=SpellE>cannula</span> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>He shook his head and sat up, still woozy from the effects of the sedatives given him just prior to being placed into <span class=SpellE>cryo</span>-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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Damn it, Rei said as he slumped against the door. <span class=GramE> Anybody? </span> </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> As far as I can surmise, you probably speak middle twenty-first century English. Is this correct? </span> a disembodied voice asked from the right.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Where are you? Rei asked, searching the wall.  Who are you? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> You may call me OMCOM. Such is the translation of my designation in your language, </span> replied the deep, metallic-sounding voice. <span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. </span><b style='mso-bidi-font-weight:normal'><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'><o:p></o:p></i></b></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Are you a computer? Rei asked. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> That would be an adequate description, given the limitations of your language.<span style='mso-spacerun:yes'> </span>What is your name? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I m Rei, Rei Bierak. What s with that woman? Rei asked,  And for that matter, where am I? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> I will show you. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> I will provide you with some basics, </span>said OMCOM.<span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'>  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 <span class=SpellE>Dara</span> in orbit around <span class=SpellE>Munti</span> <span class=SpellE>Skyler</span> which translates to <span class=SpellE>Skyler s</span> World. <span class=SpellE>Skyler s</span> World is a gas giant which circles a star called Tabit. In your age, the primary star was referred to as Pi-three <span class=SpellE>Orionis</span>. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Where is that exactly? I know the name. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>The center section of the <span class=SpellE>viewscreen</span> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Tabit is an F6V star, <span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>by your method of measurement. It is</span> located 26.18 light years from Earth. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> 26 light years?</span> What the hell? Rei said in amazement.  We were supposed to go to Tau Ceti. Where is Tau Ceti? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>A yellow dot to the far right of the currently flashing blip appeared.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How d we get here? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> We retrieved you from your vessel, </span><b style='mso-bidi-font-weight:normal'><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'> </i></b>answered OMCOM. <span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> It was passing through this star system in what would appear to be a rather uncontrolled fashion. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> OK, said Rei.  Let me ask it a different way. How long have I been asleep? What year is this? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> By your calendar, it would be the year 3455 AD. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> I possess insufficient data to answer that question. The <span class=GramE>star</span> you are referring to we call Deucado. However, we will use your nomenclature. Tau Ceti is approximately 21 light years from here, toward the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Galactic</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Center</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>. Your ship was on a parabolic path around Tabit. One of our space tugs found you by accident. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Wait. What? What do you mean damaged? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>The center part of the <span class=SpellE>viewscreen</span> changed from a star map to what looked like a video of an object in space. It was <span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> Ark. The point of view circled around along the side of his spaceship until it reached the front.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> These are the images of your ship as it was when we first encountered it. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Did we hit something? Was there an explosion? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Can it still fly? Rei asked.  How about landing it? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> I am virtually certain that your vessel is incapable of controlled flight in its current condition. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> But I m here. I m awake. <span class=GramE>Why me? </span> Rei asked, withdrawing his hand from the screen.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> You were selected at random. We wanted to confirm your group s identity. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> All right, Rei said.  I get it, but& </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in;tab-stops:121.5pt'><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> I understand that you have many questions, </span>OMCOM interrupted,<span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'>  and they will all be answered in due time. Please know that we are still analyzing your situation. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>The center of the video display was now pointing down the long axis of his ship. Rei stared at the image of his damaged <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">Ark</st1:State></st1:place> trying to envision the interior. At last, he said,  </span>Well, are you going to reanimate them? What s going to happen to them? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in;tab-stops:121.5pt'><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'> 543, Rei whispered quietly. He raised his voice a bit,  542 besides me. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in;tab-stops:121.5pt'><span class=GramE><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> Noted.</span></span><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What s going on? Rei called out as the tremors increased.  It feels like an earthquake. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> It is, </span> replied OMCOM. <span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> <span class=SpellE>Dara</span> is very active geologically. We get small tremors here regularly. It is nothing to be alarmed about. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei walked back to the gurney and sat down heavily, wincing at his back.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> We are attempting to prepare someone. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Why do you say attempting? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> The Vuduri do not use spoken language as their primary means of communication. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> The Vuduri?</span> Who are the Vuduri? And if they don t speak, how do they communicate? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Vuduri is the name of the people who occupy this base. The spoken language has mostly fallen out of favor. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How can that be? Rei asked, perplexed.  What do they do? Do they use sign language? Are you really saying nobody talks anymore? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Normally, they do not. You must understand that there have been many changes to the human race while you have been asleep. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> What?! </span> Rei sputtered.  What kind of changes? How could they not speak? You speak. So how do people communicate? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> They communicate directly, mind to mind, </span> replied OMCOM.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei snorted a laugh.  You mean, like telepathy? I thought that was a bunch of bunk. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> This is not telepathy. There are <span class=SpellE>organo</span>-metallic elements integrated in their neural pathways which serve as transmitters and receivers. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> In a manner of speaking, yes.</span></span><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> But you are thinking of it in provincial terms. The context is broader than that. There is the Overmind. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> The Overmind?</span> What is that? Rei asked, not really wanting to know.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> It is an intellect, a consciousness that resides in the totality, not in any one individual. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What are you talking about? Rei grimaced.  Don t tell me it s like a hive-mind? Like bees or something? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Roughly, yes, however, the Overmind has its own thought processes, its own opinions, if you will, that are separate from each of the communicants. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei closed his eyes, trying to comprehend. He took a breath.  So, if they don t speak, how do <i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>you</i> communicate with them? he asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> I am equipped with the proper interface circuitry to communicate with individuals using direct data channels. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So, are you part of this Overmind as well? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> NO! </span> OMCOM said, emphatically. <span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> No, </span> it restated in a normal volume. <span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> I am not biologically-based. I am artificial. My basic components are called <span class=SpellE>memrons</span>. While not identical, they are made up of a substance which is very similar to the <span class=SpellE>organo</span>-metallic materials that occur naturally in human beings. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Naturally?</span> What does that mean? What is natural about <span class=SpellE>organo</span>-metallic transmitter/receivers? Aren t they implants of some sort? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> No. They are integrated into each human during development the same as the lungs, heart and brain. They are born with them. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How is that even possible? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei felt nauseous. He could sense the bile beginning to bubble up in his empty stomach. He <span class=GramE>laid</span> back down on the bed, forcing his body to relax. He put his arm over his eyes and waited until the spinning stopped.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How long do I have to wait here before I can talk to somebody? Rei asked quietly, sitting up.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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,  <span class=SpellE>Halli</span>. <span class=GramE>Au <span class=SpellE>siu</span> Rome. </span> Her voice had a lilting, musical quality about it.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>OMCOM said, <span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> Hello. I am Rome. </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>The woman turned her head toward OMCOM s grille then back to Rei and said,  I am Rome. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>She took another deep breath and said,  <span class=SpellE>Ver</span>-ma-e <span class=SpellE>axema</span> <span class=SpellE>ta</span> um <span class=SpellE>shird</span> <span class=SpellE>quenti</span> <span class=SpellE>bere</span> <span class=SpellE>etquoror</span> sue longue. Her voice, especially her intonation was familiar to Rei, but he had no idea why.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>OMCOM spoke again, <span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> It will take me a short while to acquire your language. </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It <span class=SpellE>weel</span> take <span class=SpellE>eme</span> a short while du <span class=SpellE>ack</span>, Rome said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Acquire, </span> OMCOM offered.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Du <span class=GramE>acquire</span> your language, Rome repeated the phrase.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei nodded then craned his neck around her.  OMCOM, what s going on here? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Your version of English has not been spoken in hundreds of years. While <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> <span class=SpellE>Nei</span> ma <span class=SpellE>vere</span> <span class=SpellE>axema</span> <span class=SpellE>ta</span> um <span class=SpellE>dambi</span> <span class=SpellE>lingi</span>, <i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'> </i><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>OMCOM simply said,<span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'>  It will not take me a long time. </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It <span class=GramE>will</span> <span class=SpellE>nei</span>, not, take me a long <span class=SpellE>dambi</span>, time, Rome repeated. Her accent sounded vaguely Mediterranean.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei was stunned.  How can you learn my language so quickly? How are you doing this in the first place?</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> IMCOM, she said, placing two fingers on her temple.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> OMCOM? </span> Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome nodded.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> You mean OMCOM is inside your head as well? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> <span class=SpellE>Som</span>, she said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Yes, </span> OMCOM corrected her.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> The <span class=SpellE>Ifarmonte</span>, 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 <span class=SpellE>coanda</span>, eh, consciousness. Each of us contributes to it, but it is a distinct entity. You could say that it represents our collective will. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So, is it, like, in charge? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> In a manner of <span class=SpellE>espeeking</span>, Rome replied.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Speaking, </span> OMCOM offered.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How does it speak? Rei asked. <span class=GramE> Through you? </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It speaks through all of us. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> s speech was becoming more fluent already.  The Overmind imparts thoughts to me that I then relay in your language. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How are you able to do this? Rei asked.  OMCOM told me that speaking is no longer in vogue. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome nodded. She turned away from Rei and walked over to a bench near <span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Speaking words out loud, she said.  It is one of my <span class=SpellE>eskills</span>. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What do you do around here? Rei asked.  What is this place, anyway? OMCOM said something about stellar cartography. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome sighed.  Yes. <span class=GramE>But no more.</span> We have failed. We are leaving, she said. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> lowered her eyes to the floor.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I don t get it. Failed what? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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, <span class=SpellE>ipsarfa</span>&  </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Observe. </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> & observe a certain <span class=SpellE>venimani</span>& phenomenon. We have not been able to do that. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What kind of phenomenon? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Many stars have disappeared. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> replied, clipping her fingers together then opening her hand flatly as if releasing pixie dust.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What do you mean disappeared? I don t understand, Rei said for the hundredth time.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Perhaps we will explain this to you later. For now, understand that this base was built to make certain observations. Those observations did not <span class=SpellE>olumoner</span>, no, that is not the word, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> shook her head.  Did not shed <span class=SpellE>luz</span>&  </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Light, </span><b style='mso-bidi-font-weight:normal'><i> </i></b><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>OMCOM corrected.</span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> & light on how it is happening. There was one star in particular called <span class=SpellE>Winfall</span> that we expected to go away. But it is long past the time when it should have disappeared. <span class=SpellE>Winfall</span> is still visible. So we are closing down this base. We are going back to& our home very soon. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Home? </span> Rei asked.  Where is home? Where are you from, anyway? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> We are from Earth, of course. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Earth?</span> How did you get out here? <span class=GramE>In that ship out there? </span> He pointed to the spacecraft sitting beyond the window.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome turned back to look where Rei was pointing. She shook her head.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, she said.  That is just a tug. It is strictly for short, <span class=SpellE>mmm</span>, excursions. We came here in our starship, the Algol. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> eyes narrowed. <span class=GramE> Starship?</span> How did you& How long did it take you get out here? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> One hundred and thirty four days, Rome replied.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> What!? </span> Rei <span class=GramE>said,</span> his voice cracking.  That s impossible. Twenty six light years in three months? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I understand your <span class=SpellE>cinvusei</span>, your confusion. It was very slow, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> agreed.  The Algol was loaded down with much equipment. When we return, it will not take us nearly as long to get back. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, no, no, no, no, Rei interrupted.  Not too slow. <span class=GramE>It s</span> way too <i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>fast</i>. How can you do that? You people travel faster than light? Rei was just shaking his head.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> thought about it for a moment.  Yes. No. Yes. If you measure velocity as distance divided by time, then yes. <span class=GramE>Much faster. </span> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> One hundred c? </span> Rei lowered his head and put it in his hand. He took a deep breath, marshalling his thoughts. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How&  Rei stuttered,  <span class=GramE>how</span> is that possible? It violates physics. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> You are <span class=GramE>correct,</span> 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 <span class=SpellE>medamedoci</span>, eh, mathematical, result is faster than the speed of light. Our actual motion to achieve this, especially on the Algol, is fairly slow. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How do you do that? Rei said, barely above a whisper.  How do you translate space? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> We use& <span class=SpellE>pindi</span> <span class=SpellE>ponch</span> <span class=SpellE>trensodi</span>, Rome said, trying to sound out the words.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> Pinch point transit.</span></span><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> You may call it a PPT, </span> came OMCOM s voice from behind Rei.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Yes, Rome continued,  we use PPTs. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So what is that? Rei asked.  How& don t tell me you use warp drives. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> Your term for them would be wormholes although they are not instantiated in the way your predecessors envisioned. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> That would not be possible, Rome answered.  There would be no room. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Ah& Tau Ceti is Deucado, yes? <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> <span class=SpellE>Mandawhat</span>?</span> 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 <span class=SpellE>cryo</span>-hibernation. We can t... </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> <span class=SpellE>Shh</span>&  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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What work? Rei asked.  I thought you said you are shutting down the base. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> This is <span class=SpellE>fertetaori</span>, eh, true, replied Rome.  We are just now finishing retrieving the last of our& our instruments. They are being packed up onto our vessel. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Then what? </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Then, we leave. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> You leave but what about us? Are you just going to leave us here? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> As I said, we will find a solution to send you on your way. Things will work out for you. You must have <span class=SpellE>voas</span>, faith. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>She stood up and motioned for Rei to follow her. Rei tried to stand, but fell back onto the bed. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> walked over to him and extended her hand. Rei took it and felt a shock, like static electricity. He flinched but <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Rome</st1:place></st1:City> held firm, helping him up. Even after he stood, <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Rome</st1:place></st1:City> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Are you all right? she asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Yes. There s still a ton of drugs in my system. Just go slowly, he said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <span style='font-size:16.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:14.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA'><br clear=all style='page-break-before:always'> </span> <h2 style='text-indent:.25in'>Chapter 2</h2> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-align:justify;text-indent:.25in'><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei stood at the center of the Great Room, staring up at the tall peaked ceiling.<span style='mso-spacerun:yes'> </span>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> That will be your quarters, Rome said,  as soon as we remove the body of the former occupant. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Body? </span> Rei asked.  What happened? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> <span class=SpellE>Calum</span> was crushed by shelving that toppled during a recent moonquake. We had been storing the body there but it will be gone shortly. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Oh, Rei said, staring at the door.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Food dispensers?</span> OK, Rei said.  I ll give it a try. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>He spotted one of OMCOM s grilles close by.  OMCOM, he said,  How about some soup to start? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Soap, to eat? </span> <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> asked.  That is a peculiar thing. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Not soap, soup, Rei said.  You know, like broth. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Ah, Rome replied.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> I understand, </span> said OMCOM.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> withdrew the tray and set it on the narrow platform attached to the front of the cabinets. Carefully, she <span class=SpellE>slid</span> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What is this? he asked, wrinkling his nose.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> As requested, it is a protein broth, </span> answered OMCOM. <span class=GramE><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family: "Courier New"'> Soup. </span></span><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family: "Courier New"'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei set the bowl back on the tray.  Do you have a spoon? he asked <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place>.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What is a spoon? she replied, puzzled.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It s a utensil. Like a little bowl on a stick. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome gave him a funny look.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Well, if you don t use spoons, how do you eat it? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome sighed gently.  You just pick up the bowl and drink it. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>To demonstrate, she lifted the double-spouted bowl to her lips and took a small swallow.  How else would you do it? she asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei looked down at the bowl again. Now that he looked at it, it was obvious.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I guess you re right. How about if you get us something that has some substance to it? he asked her.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Two more panels opened and there were trays there with dishes and several types of food, none of which Rei recognized.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How did you do that? he asked her.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>She pointed to her temple and then to OMCOM s grille.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Oh yeah, Rei said.  I ve got to get used to that. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How do you eat these? he asked her.  Do you just pick them up with your fingers? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Your meals must have been very strange, Rome said.  You use your <span class=SpellE>biskar</span> like so&  </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I know my brain was frozen, Rei said,  but I m not an idiot. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I meant no offense, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> said, looking just the tiniest bit hurt.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I know you didn t, Rei replied, feeling a tad guilty. He picked up a <span class=SpellE>biskar</span> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei looked up and was surprised to see <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> eating with some zest. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> This is all pretty tasteless, he remarked to her.  Don t you people use spices or anything? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome stopped eating for a moment and regarded him.  It is very nutritious, she said.  Each meal is balanced in terms of protein, <span class=SpellE>cerbi</span>& carbohydrates and the sort. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> But you re allowed to have some flavor, aren t you? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, why would they? <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Uh, variety maybe?</span> <span class=GramE>Color? </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Too much color would be a distraction, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> replied.  We prefer white although black would be acceptable upon occasion. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So, I guess this means you don t have styles or fads or fashion or any of that stuff. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome looked up at him. From this angle, Rei could see her eyes were definitely glowing. It was very strange.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Patient? </span> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> shrugged.  I do not know what to tell you. We will figure out a way. OMCOM always does. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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 <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place>.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What do you do around here, anyway? he asked her.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> You mean my occupation? <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Yeah. </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I am a data archivist and computer <span class=SpellE>lutteur</span>, she replied.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I think I understand what an archivist is, Rei said.  Do you do a lot of archiving? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Yes. There is much data to be stored. Or there was. There are only two of us, myself and <span class=SpellE>Estar</span>, the woman we passed in the corridor. We were responsible for making sure that all the research performed here was captured and returned home. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> OK, I get that. But your other job, what did you call it? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> A <span class=SpellE>lutteur</span>? </span> <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> offered.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Yes. So what s a <span class=SpellE>lutteur</span>? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It is a, eh, wrangler, perhaps? <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> replied.  Yes, I am a wrangler. <span class=GramE>For OMCOM. </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What does that mean? Do you wrestle OMCOM or something? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome looked at him and pushed her lower lip out. <span class=GramE> No, nothing like that.</span> <span class=SpellE>Lutteurs</span> are in charge of enabling the <span class=SpellE>memron</span> 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 <span class=SpellE>memron</span> fabrication equipment himself. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Why is that? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Because OMCOM, Rome said, pointing her finger toward the grille mounted in the wall,  cannot be entrusted with that himself. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> How come? </span> Rei asked her, confused, again.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Whoa, whoa, whoa, Rei said.  What is a Casimir pump? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> He s a computer, Rei pointed out.  Can t you just program him that way? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It is the way it is supposed to be, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> responded.  However, if we did not monitor, how would we ever know if it stayed that way? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So you re saying that OMCOM has ulterior motives? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, but his kind, they are very literal, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> OK, I ll let it go, Rei said. <span class=GramE> So your other job?</span> <span class=GramE>Archivist? </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> That phase is over, Rome said.  As I mentioned earlier, we are shutting down this base. My work is complete in that regard. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So, basically, you have nothing to do. Are you bored? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Bored? No. I am part of the Overmind. I contribute to the Overmind. There is much activity there. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So, what do you do with all your spare time? Do you read? Watch movies? Do you even still have movies? Rei asked her.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Movies? </span> <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> repeated. She looked off into the distance then she nodded. <span class=GramE> Oh, <span class=SpellE>volma</span>.</span> No, there is no need. We do not have those here. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Why not? </span> Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> OK, what about books? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Do you mean technical manuals? <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> offered.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, I mean like novels, fiction, <span class=GramE>literature</span>. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Fiction? </span> <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> considered this. After a moment, she said,  Ah. <span class=GramE>Altered truth.</span> Why would someone want to read about an alternate reality? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Entertainment? </span> Rei offered.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> We have no such needs, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> answered back.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Do you guys do anything for fun at all? What do you do about socializing? Parties? asked Rei.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> We have no need to socialize. We all know exactly what is going on with everyone else all the time, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> answered.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei exhaled then took a deep breath.  So I ll ask you again, he said.  What do you do for fun? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> And I will answer you the same way, Rome replied.  As I understand your definition of it, we do not have fun. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Well, that s so, so boring, said Rei.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> That would be from your perspective, Rome said, ever so slightly defensively.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What about hobbies, clubs, I don t know. <span class=GramE>Something other than your job? </span> Rei asked hopefully.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, we do not have any of those either, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> replied flatly.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> How about a husband or a boyfriend?</span> Do you at least have a boyfriend? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Friends in general? </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> shook her head no.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What about family? Rei asked.  Do you still have family? <span class=GramE>A mother?</span> <span class=GramE>A father? </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> We have no need, said <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place>.  We have our work. We are all very satisfied with things exactly the way they are. Anything else would be a distraction. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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 <span class=GramE>do</span>. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> <span class=SpellE>Manda</span>-what? </span> Rei asked.  You said that before. What does that mean? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Mandasurte means mind-deaf. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Mind-deaf?</span> That s a funny way to put it. Do you mean to say that not every one of your people is connected? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, not all, Rome replied.  Some do not even have the 24<sup>th</sup> 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 <span class=SpellE>Cesdiud</span>, uh, cast out, for having wrong thoughts. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> That s seems pretty harsh, Rei mused.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. <span class=GramE>All the time. </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I don t know, Rei said,  but I don t think I would want anybody living inside my head, listening to my thoughts. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What? Rei said. <span class=GramE> How? </span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> You will see. Let us put away our trays first. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What are those? Rei asked, pointing to the boxes.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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, <span class=GramE>then</span> shuddered, shivering all the way down to her hips. After that, she seemed to relax.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So what is it? Rei asked, looking at her.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> This, she said, tapping the band,  is called a T-suppressor. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What does it do? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It creates a reverse transceiver resonance, negating it, she explained.  I am now disconnected from the Overmind. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What? Rei exclaimed, slightly horrified.  Why did you do that? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Demonstrate what? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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 <span class=SpellE>espansors</span>. They are external links. They allow the mandasurte to communicate mind to mind, like Vuduri who are not part of the same samanda. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What s a samanda? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> It is a seed, the core group forming an Overmind. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> You mean there is more than one Overmind? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Oh yes, Rome replied.  On each world where we reside, each has its own Overmind, its own samanda. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> This is too much information, Rei said in an exasperated tone. He leaned back on the sofa.  I ll never understand you. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rei took the band from her and examined it closely. The inside of the band was rough.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Where did you get these? Rei asked.  Why do you even have them? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> My mother gave them to me before I left to come here. She used to use them with my father. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What? Why? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Because my father was mandasurte, like you, Rome said, lowering her eyes.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> So why did she give them to you? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> A keepsake?</span> I thought you weren t into things like that. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I& I wanted these, Rome replied, slightly defensively.  I cannot explain it. Sometimes I just like to look at them. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> But you don t need them, Rei pointed out.  You are already connected. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> No, I do not but you do, if you are to understand. Please place it on your head. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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.<span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'> He felt tiny little pricks all the way around his head. While odd, it did not actually hurt.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> How do they work? Rei asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> 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. </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Rome leaned back and took a deep breath. Rei looked at her face and observed her for the first time <span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on"><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>Rome</span></st1:City></st1:place><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'> smiled. It was a beautiful smile, the first Rei could remember. He felt a flood of warmth. The sensation was confusing.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'> Why are you smiling? he asked.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'> </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>You think I am pleasant to look at, </i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'> she replied, but her lips did not move. </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'> It is so peculiar seeing through your eyes. Your optics <span class=GramE>are</span> so simple. <o:p></o:p></i></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'> </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>And yours&  </i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'> Rei put his hands up to his mouth.  </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>I m not speaking, not moving my lips, am I</i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>? he thought.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on"><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>Rome</span></st1:City></st1:place><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'> s smile got bigger.  </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>No</i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'> </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Wow, this is pretty sleek</i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>, he thought.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><i style='mso-bidi-font-style: normal'> I think you are  sleek too</i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> s thoughts came streaming into his head but the perspective was wrong. Rei could see that <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> was measuring his boyish good looks, his strong chin, <span class=GramE>his</span> 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 <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> s eyes. He could magnify, push away. Suddenly he realized the 24<sup>th</sup> 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 <span class=SpellE>catadioptric</span> lens. They literally had a telescope built into their eyeballs. The back of their retinas was a reflective surface, a <span class=SpellE>tapetum</span>, like that of a cat. No wonder her eyes seem to glow.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>The knowledge flowing into his head was staggering.  </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Freaky</i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>, 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. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>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 <span class=GramE>clear</span>, 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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'> </span><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on"><i style='mso-bidi-font-style: normal'>Rome</i></st1:City></st1:place><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>&  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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>He saw her growing up in a mixed household. Rome s mother, <span class=SpellE>Binoda</span> was a full-blooded Vuduri, <span class=GramE>so</span> 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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>He saw the day her mother became aware that her father s ship had disappeared. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>Rome looked on with horror as she saw <span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> 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 <span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> passion for design. She saw <span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> 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 <span class=GramE>stars,</span> Rei threw himself into the competition. What he did not have in ability, he made up for in effort. She understood <span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> 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. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'> </span><span class=SpellE><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Asborodi</i></span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'> <span class=SpellE>Cimponeti</span></i><span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>, Rome s mind whispered to Rei, the words striking in their clarity<i>.  I have been waiting for you. </i> 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. <span class=GramE>To be free.</span> <span class=GramE>To merge with one person and one person only instead of drowning in the sea of all.</span> This is where she wanted to be.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>Rei felt the line break free as well. He was <st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City> and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> was he. And never was he so happy. <span class=GramE>To merge with one person instead of drowning in the sea of loneliness.</span> This is where he wanted to be.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>There was no longer a conscious self as their souls intertwined and merged. What had been two people was now one, breathing in synchrony. <span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'>Neither Rei nor <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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, <span class=GramE>they</span> wanted the same thing. They kissed. It was dizzying and intoxicating. Sensations, </span>images, sounds, memories, all swirled around in a maelstrom of thought and feeling. Now each felt their<span style='mso-bidi-font-style:italic'> flesh on fire. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='mso-bidi-font-style: italic'>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. <span class=GramE>Forever and always.</span><o:p></o:p></span></p> <span style='font-size:16.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:14.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA;mso-bidi-font-style:italic'><br clear=all style='page-break-before:always'> </span> <h2 style='text-indent:.25in'>Chapter 3</h2> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-align:justify;text-indent:.25in'><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>A small quake knocked something off of the table in Rome s room. The noise entered <span class=SpellE>Rei s</span> <span class=SpellE>sensorium</span>, triggering the process of arousing him from a deep slumber. He awakened to find <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> 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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>She looked at him and smiled a beatific smile. Then the smile left her face.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What happened? she asked.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> You fell asleep, Rei said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> What? She reached up and felt her head.  Where are the bands? she asked, alarm in her voice.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> I took them off you, while you were asleep, Rei said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>Her expression changed to one of pure horror.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'> Oh no, was all she said. She leaped up, stark naked save a small ankle bracelet.  IMCOM, she shouted in a panic,  <span class=SpellE>Inta</span> <span class=SpellE>asde</span> <span class=SpellE>i</span> <span class=SpellE>Ifarmonte</span>? </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> <span class=SpellE>Asde</span> le.</span></span><span style='font-size:11.0pt;font-family:"Courier New"'> Au <span class=SpellE>bansi</span> qua <span class=SpellE>fica</span> a <span class=SpellE>nei</span> <span class=SpellE>meos</span> <span class=SpellE>lingi</span> <span class=SpellE>cinacdeti</span>, </span> answered the computer.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span class=GramE> Qua?</span> Ni, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Rome</st1:City></st1:place> shouted. She grabbed her head with her hands. <span class=GramE> Ni! </span> 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, <span class=SpellE>ni</span>, <span class=SpellE>ni</span>, was all she said.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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,  <span class=SpellE>Romey</span>, sweetheart&  </p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'>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.</p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.25in'><span style='font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Courier New"'> I believe Rome has been cut off from the Overmind permanently, </span> OMCOM said calmly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.5in"></br>(End of sample)</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.5in">&nbsp;</td> </td> <tr> <td width="700"> <p class="MsoNormal" align="center" style="text-align:center"><b>ROME S REVOLUTION<br> All rights reserved<br> Copyright 2011 by Michael Brachman<br> Cover art copyright 2011 by Bruce Brachman</b></p></td> </tr> </table> <br>Click <a href="http://www.romesrevolution.com/">here</a> to return to the home page. </div> <script type="text/javascript"> var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-37761340-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); $(function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 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