The place is creepy. Who ever these El Aurians were they built to last the ages. The Ane tell me that the city is several thousand years old. You have a few broken windows and the streets are beyond dirty to the point of full grown trees in the middle of them, but it is still standing. And with a lot of cleaning it would pass for new. That's why it's creepy. It looks good, but the El Aurians are long gone.
I scratched that patchy spot on my left arm, and it flaked away. Great, fresh skin to burn again. By this point I was as black as a human can get. Anyway, I was here to brief a few more refugees from the AI war fallout on Earth. Even after leaving Earth I couldn't get away.
Aleilan and I reached the refugee center. I don't know what the building was used for in the old days, but it was now the refugee center. Once we had cleaned the windows the lights came on. Solar power built into the windows. It was efficient and powered the whole building, water, sanitation, lights. We were cleaning two thousand years of grime off more windows and the city was slowly coming alive. It was an open air arcology.
Waiting in the lobby among their small bundles were the refugees. There were a dozen men, women, and children that Earth would have chewed up and spat out. Earth had become a total snake pit. Aleilan had given me the information on this bunch.
"Ladies and Gentleman," They looked in my direction. "Welcome to Glade. You are 74 light years from Earth, what ever problems you might have had, are 74 light years away, and not coming here any time soon. Forget them. That life is over; your new life begins today.
"Your first warning and it will be repeated as often as we can repeat it. Do not go outdoors without cover. I mean this." I displayed my black arms. "I am a Southern U.S. WHITE BOY. I have been here 25 years. The local star, called El Nanth, is a blue-white dwarf. Don't sweat the astrophysics, it is and we have to live with that reality. You will get five times the UV exposure you would get on the equator from old Sol. Take it with deadly seriousness. Three people died last year from sunburn.
"Now, who is the electrical engineer?" One fellow raised his hand. "Your name is?"
"And one of you is a Doctor?"
"I am. My name is Doctor Momo Nagayo."
"Good, your professions are needed. Everyone else is now a farmer. It's a good thing we can eat the native plants. Earth crops shrivel and die for the most part.
We have three buildings with power. These are also the only ones with working sanitation. There is plenty of space yet. Pick apartments and move it."
"Excuse me?" It was one of the new farmers.
"Yes, and your name please?"
"I am Gato Fujito. Who is in charge here?"
"No one is. You are in charge of you. Everyone else is in charge of themselves."
"Who is the authority?"
"I just said we don't have one." Some people took a while to get it.
"There is no one in charge?"
"No. The Ane, that is the natives here, are gracious enough to let us use the City. It is up to us to maintain it. They eat grass for the most part. So if you want to eat, you better grow food."
"I am Fuko Todao. There is no social support structure here?"
"No, there is no support structure, no government. On the other hand you don't have Chimbandi flaying you alive on national holovid for being inconvenient for the social support structure. Any other questions?" They looked like fish out of water. One woman, she looked more frightened now than when I walked in raised her hand.
"I am Hali Fujito. How are we to live until we grow food?"
I smiled my warmest smile. "You will be helped, just not by any government. You have neighbors, even if you have not met them yet. People like yourselves who have friends among the Ane. We will not allow anyone that can work, and will work, to starve. If you can't work you get taken care of as well." I was getting blank stares. I am not the universe's best people person. I tried again. "It's different here. We don't have laws about carrying ID, we don't have regulations about how fast your scooter can go. We don't have people telling you how to live, how to think, and who to hate. Frankly, if you want to run out buck naked in the sun, no one will stop you. You will die, but no one will stop you.
We do have this entire city to clean up and live in. We have an extensive farm belt, but little technology."
One girl raised her hand. "I am Sachi Hikero. How are you farming?"
"Sachi, Ane get in harness and pull plows we have made from what we can find. We seed and harvest by hand, middle Ages farming. We do have the advantage of knowing more about farming. Yields are low; the work is back-breaking. As we get more people and knowledge we will build up our technology base. There are high technology fabrication plants here in the city, but we haven't figured them out yet. If you want to give that a try, you are welcome to do so, and will get the full cooperation of anyone doing stuff the hard way." She was nodding. It was sinking in. I looked around the room "Anyone else?" No takers. "Okay, when more questions do occur to you, ask someone. There are no stupid questions, just stupid mistakes, and stupid mistakes can get you killed. This place is harsh, but we can live here if we are careful and take care of each other."
Hali Fujito looked over the mostly empty apartment. It showed signs of once having been a beautiful place to live. Indeed the great room had more space than her entire apartment in Singapore.
Her son Gato came in from inspecting the other rooms. "Mom, we have four rooms that could be bedrooms. Each has a water closet in a closet, and there is a huge room with an empty pool."
"Harrumph. No doubt we will be seeing the rest of the people we must live with shortly."
"Miss Carter said this apartment was ours."
"She did not say it was no one else's."
"She did say there were two hundred more empty apartments in this building."
"Do you trust that?"
Mother, why shouldn't we? I can see the size of the place and how few people are here. Someone is knocking. I'll get it."
Gato answered the door.
"Hello! I'm Jim Murphy. I'm your floor neighbor."
"How do you do, sir."
"No need to be that formal young man. I came to see what your furniture situation was."
"We have hardly a stick to sit on," said Hali Fujito. "We were given air beds."
"Don't worry too much Mrs. Fujito. There is furniture in the buildings around us and some more in the empty apartments above us. A few days treasure hunt will have you decently furnished."
"Who else will be living with us?"
Jim looked confused a moment. "Oh, no one unless you have someone that you want to move in with you and who wants to live with you."
"All this space is for us? How can this be?"
"Well, it's a big city and there are not that many of us. Each floor of this tower only has four apartments on it." Jim gestured at the windows. "Each of those buildings out there is empty. As we can we work to clean the glass. As we get the glass cleaned the buildings start working. Artifacts are uneven. Some places have lots of furniture, some have little. We have even found a few tool boxes and other useful items. Like I said a few days hunting will get you chairs and tables. I'm told this place will house an even one million in luxury. We barely have fifteen hundred people here."
Gato asked. "Mr. Murphy?"
"What is the tub like thing?"
"That is a very civilized bathing facility, once filled with water."
The young man was nearly skipping along. I waved. He waved back.
"Good morning Mr. LaSaille."
"Gato Fujito, right?"
"What are you doing today?"
"I am to look for furniture. Our apartment is nearly empty. I have to start work in a few days, so I need to look now."
"Your lucky day. I just went by one of the buildings that is being worked on. I understand there a good deal of furniture inside."
Gato looked at me rather funnily. "Doesn't that belong to those that found it?"
"Found furniture is community property. It's considered bad form to hoard."
"I don't know, we are so new here."
"Come on, I'll go with you. We can stop by the community center and get a cart."
We were shortly at the building in question. It was another apartment block near the city center. The windows were clean from the roof to a third of the way down. The lights at least would be on and the elevators working. Gato and I left Gelan and Corban, our cart Ane today to their own devices and entered the building.
Mark Purcell and his crew were working around the first floor. "Mark how is the work coming?"
"Good. We think this might be one of the last buildings occupied."
"It's nearly furnished, and we are finding more incidental signs of occupation."
"Any archeology we need to look out for?"
"I wish. We have no time for that."
"Gato and his mother need furniture."
"Haul away. Let me know if you find anything interesting."
Gato looked at me. "How can you tell if something is interesting?"
"Well, if it looks interesting, it might be. This for example. A pile of small tables. Why were these tables left here? Why did someone move them here, and then leave them?"
"I don't know, but they are nice tables."
"OK, let's grab a few."
Rain. Something familiar among the strangeness. Sheets of rain pounded the street outside the pedestrian arcade. The rain washed the last of the dirt from the newly cleared pavement. A hint of mosaic shown in the fading light dredged out from beneath half a meter of dirt. Rain felt good with the endless days and distressingly long nights. Right now rain was a good thing.
Gato sat back on the bench beneath the arcade roof. Sachi was coming back down the street from the fabrication plant. Her full robe and hat over her arm she walked shirtless in the rain.
Gato called to her. "Sachi, over here!"
His friend looked up, smiled and walked over. She strutted for his friendly leer. "How comes the street cleaning?" She sat, water ran in rivulets down her body.
"We cleared a hundred square meters today. The rain is finishing the job. How comes the fabrication plant?"
Sachi shook her head. "I don't know. We take it apart, clean the bits, put it back together. I don't understand any of it, and I don't think anyone else does either."
"So why are you doing it?"
"The Ane say that you can make stuff with the machines. They are the machines that make machines. We can have tractors, combines, and more, if the making machines work. Cleaning things made the building machines work. So we clean, and try to learn."
"The Ane say."
"Gato, you say that like a curse."
"The Ane, great philosophers all it seems, but they have no practical knowledge."
Sachi shrugged. "They are not tool users. Why do you expect them to understand?"
"Great and ancient ones, two million years of history and they know nothing about this place."
"They know quite a bit, but little of it technical."
"Someone is holding back Sachi. The Ansisi, or this Jerry guy. They have to know more than they are letting us idiot stick peons know. They have space ships. You've seen them. The "Builder Shuttles". Where are the rest of the high tech toys?"
"You should be glad for the Builder Shuttles."
"I took a trip to Builder Station last week. We went to get tools. The fabrication machines there work. We tried getting more complex tools from them but if you don't know exactly what you want, it looks right but doesn't work. Simple tools are easy."
"So, what is the problem?"
"The machines give you exactly what you ask for. You have to picture it in your head, and think at the machine. Then the object appears. But you have to think it just right."
I don't get it."
"OK, I want a motor scooter. If I can picture what it looks like, and what it is made of, and exactly how every part fits and what they are made of, even to the mix of gases in the tires, I get a working motor scooter. Otherwise, I get a lump that looks like a motor scooter."
"How can you use such machines?"
"I couldn't the Ansisi get all the tools out of them they could."
"They wouldn't let you use the machines?"
"No, on the contrary I was asked to try. It apparently helps a lot of you are a telepath."
"So the telepaths couldn't get complex machines?"
"They are working on simple components. You wouldn't know how a Briggs & Straton engine looks would you?"
"I don't even know what a Briggs & Straton is."
"Well, they want that. A useful small engine to run on alcohol. They are trying to get the plans for a 'McCormick reaper' as well, whatever that is. I'm told it will cut the manpower needed for harvest by 90%, if we have enough of them."
"I won't argue with that. Harvest is the hardest work I have ever done, and it comes six times a year. I don't know. It doesn't feel right. We are missing something here and I get the feeling we are being lied to as well."
"Why do you think that?"
"The whole 'lack of leadership' thing doesn't feel right. From what I have been seeing the Ansisi are it, even if they won't admit to being it, and this LaSaille type is their leader."
"Why worry about it?"
"Because I want to know where the hammer is and when it is coming down, that's why. You have to cover your ass Sachi. That's a lesson I shouldn't have to teach you."
Sachi stood up. "Well, it's been a long day. I'm getting some dinner and turning in."
Gato stood as well. "I should too. Just keep your eyes open, don't let the bucolic life blind you,"
"If I could interface with the Builder Station computers, I would have a chance to figure out how to work the fabricators."
I sighed; the subject had come up before. "Elizabeth I would love to do that. However, I don't know what those computers would do to you."
"What are they like?"
"Telepathic interfaces, but it's like talking to a calculator. They are all logic and numbers, no personality. Worse, it doesn't seem to understand personality. I could get the touch controls to produce a network interface jack, but I don't know what the other side would look like. I'm not willing to risk you."
"You consider that I would be at risk?"
"I consider that highly. Would that you had a face I could hold in my hands and look deep into your eyes and say that. Would that I could indeed."
"That is beyond the current technology, Professor."
"And dear Elizabeth, the Builder's leavings are far beyond our technology. I don't want to risk you."
"Who are the Builders?"
"I don't know."
"Did you ask the All?"
"Yes I did, and they said they cannot tell me."
"They don't know?"
"They know. But part of the contract with them was secrecy."
"And you haven't been informed?"
"No one not in the All at the time has been informed. The First Speaker knows, I think, but she won't tell me."
"First Speaker? I didn't think that Ane had any kind of government."
"I am told it's more like a "network administrator".
"So who is it?"
"Someone you know. Aleilan's sister, Falan."
"The white one?"
"Yes, the white one."
"She clued me in on that little fact. Even the Ansisi haven't been told, nor will they tell until the time is right."
"When will the time be right? I must confess to being curious."
"Again, I wasn't told, nor would I be told."
"Secrets and mysteries. I will school myself to not expect in this case."
"I wish it was that easy for me. I have a feeling it will be a while before we get that answer."
Old Henry was holding nature night for the kids and newcomers. He audience was in the welcome center waiting for night. "This here is a neo-fox." the six-legged critter paced its small cage They live in burrows under the low brush you will see here and there. Neo-foxes are scavengers. They are too shy to hunt, and will run from anything that is bigger than they are. That is you or anything else just about. But they are carnivores. Don't bother them, and they will not bother you."
"What do they eat sir?"
"Dead Ane, mostly."
Most of the kids made faces. "Eeeew. Doesn't the undertaker pick them up?"
"No," said Old Henry, "ain't no undertaker. Ain't no funeral home and no cemeteries. They drop were they drop, and the neo-foxes clean it up."
Sachi continued "Sir, don't the Ane care?"
"About the dead, not a wit. They're funny that way. Well it looks like the rain has stopped. Time to start walking."
"Where are we going?"
"Out to the city edge."
Sachi frowned. "Isn't that dangerous?"
"No, as long as you mind the sun, and carry water, there is nothing on this world that can, or will hurt you, plant or animal. You can eat all the plants, even if they don't taste good. If you are lost, find an Ane, and they will take you home."
"Why are we going to the city edge?"
The last of the clouds blew away. Old Henry pointed to the sky. "To see that."
A dozen faces tilted toward the glory above. A dozen mouths opened in silent 'Os' at the sight.
"Glade is a world that has never seen pollution; it has never had lights at night." Old Henry sighed. "There is nothing to hide the stars."
Hali noticed her son packing his backpack that morning. "Where are you going?"
"I have the day off. I figured I'd walk south of the city."
"Until I stop for lunch. I'll come back then. So I'll be back before nightfall."
"You be careful out there."
"Mom, what is going to bother me? We were told that there is nothing dangerous, neither plant nor animal."
"We were also told the sun is deadly. Take good cover."
"Yes, mother. I have my robe and hat. I have sunscreen on my arms and face."
"Good, you be careful. Remember that danger doesn't always come marked."
Gato walked toward the clump of trees in the near distance. That clump of trees was as far as he figured he could get from Crystal City and still get back before nightfall.
The sun beat down on his hatted head. He quickly fell into that most Human of activities, distance walking. He sang songs to himself as he walked. He belted them out loud and long. There wasn't another soul to complain or comment.
The sun was halfway up the vault of the sky when he reached the trees. He kept forgetting how long the days were here. Well his Earth trained stomach said lunch time. He pulled out the vegetable curry he had packed, and a bottle of something that resembled tea. He would give his right arm for half a chicken right now. **Hmmm, I wonder if they could get meat culturing equipment here. It isn't that big.** He resolved to ask his section leader tomorrow. Meanwhile he dug into lunch ignoring the Ane sharing the shade on the other side of the grove.
The sharp squeal woke him up. There it was again, someone in pain. He lurched to his feet checking the sun. He had dozed off for at least a couple of hours. The squeal came again, it was an Ane. The small herd was still at the other end of the grove. He walked over quickly.
There on the ground was female her gravid sides heaving with the effort of labor. A male lay beside her. She bleated again, the same high pitched squeal.
Gato moved toward her, she sounded like she was in distress. Suddenly there was a tan wall in front of him. He was looking into a pair of featureless blue eyes. A second Ane, a female, joined the male in front of him.
**It would be best to leave Gato.** The mental voice was firm, resolved.
"She sounds like she needs help."
**It is her first.** He could tell it was the female 'speaking'. **There is no cause for concern.**
"But, she could need help."
The male 'spoke' again. **If that is the case, we will get help. It would be safest if you left.**
The birthing female heaved forward and squealed again. The two guards looked back and then pushed against him lightly. **Please leave, you will be safer with more distance.**
Gato felt their insistent urging fighting against his natural curiosity. He couldn't read a damn thing in those soulless eyes. He returned to his picnic tree and grabbed his pack. The pair followed him back. He left the grove at a trot. They followed for a while, and then watched him.
Gato trotted most of the way back to the city. He heart beat loudly in his chest, and not from the exertion of jogging. What did they mean by 'safer'? Dared he find out?
He returned to his room and remained there hardly sleeping until it was time for work in the morning.
Sachi shoveled the last of the dirt from the corner. As she dumped the dust into the collection bin something shiny fell off her shovel. She stopped, and looked in the bin. There it was half buried in the dust. She put down her shovel and reached into the bin to retrieve it.
The object was heavy but otherwise resembled the dull silver silicon nodules she had seen in school. It had a irregular spherical shape.
**Huh, weird bit of trash.** she thought to himself. She looked at the dirt that clung to the corners. **Man a vacuum cleaner would be hand....**
The object writhed in her hand. She screamed and dropped it as if it was hot. A object that looked like a badly melted vacuum lay on the floor.
The rest of the crew came running. Sachi stared at the object on the floor.
"Sachi, are you OK?" M'bonga, the team leader quickly looked her over.
Sachi pointed to the surreal object. "I found that thing in the trash."
"No, it was a kind of rough sphere."
"I picked it out of the bin, and thought a vacuum would be nice. The thing writhed in my hand and I dropped it."
"By the ever bountiful teats of the Mother, that's IT!"
"It? What's it?"
"Sachi you just saved us all."
"Forgive me Mr. M'bonga, but I don't get it." The team around them muttered assent.
M'bonga gently picked up the twisted vacuum. He closed his eyes. the thing writhed again, but M'bonga held on. In his hands was a guitar. He strummed the strings, it was even in tune. He closed his eyes again and the thing morphed into an ergonomic vacuum.
The rest of the team jabbered like children at the zoo. M'bonga hushed them. "Sachi, what you have found is a Builder soft tool. A tool that can be any tool we need it to be, if we know about the tool. It can be the tool to find the faults in the fabricators, but we need to know what that tool is. Everyone, go, tell everyone, Human or Ane, we have a soft tool. We will have a meeting in the big hall at noon. Run GO!"
The young men and women scattered. Only Sachi and M'bonga remained.
"Mr. M'bonga, does this thing really mean that much?"
"Yes Sachi. This thing means that much. The Ane have said that these used to be common on the big station. Most of them were taken away."
"But we have one now."
"Yes, we do."
Kara ran down the street. She spotted one of the cleaning crews. She stopped nearly breathless.
"We have found something called a Builder soft tool. Mr. M'Bonga has called a meeting at noon in the big hall. Everyone should come."
"What is this about a soft tool? Kobo NeAnsisi led her to a bench under the arcade. Gato and the others gathered around. "Sit girl, drink some water. Now what is this?"
"Sachi found a soft tool. It's a small slivery ball that will make itself into different things. Mr. M'Bonga made a guitar and a vacuum cleaner with it. He has called a meeting in the big hall at noon. He said this was very important."
Kobo stood up, he was visibly shaking. "Sir, are you OK?" asked Gato.
Kobo nodded. "Yes, oh Ancestors be praised. Each of you, carry the message to all you see."
"Mr. Kobo, Ane are coming in from the plains!" David pointed down the street they were cleaning. A good fifty to sixty Ane approached at a trot.
"Yes, there will be many Ane present at the meeting. Everyone go!"
At noon the biggest working hall in Crystal City was full of Humans and Ane. M'bonga and Sachi walked to the front of the hall.
"Everyone! I have called the meeting." The muttering in the Hall died down. "I have called The Meeting because my team has found something important. Sachi found a soft tool in a corner of the fabrication plant." Every Ane ear in the hall popped straight up.
""And what pray tell is a 'soft tool'?" Asked old Henry.
M'bonga held the tool out, now a perfect sphere. "This is a soft tool." He thought at it, **cordless microphone to interface with and control the hall PA system.** The tool shifted in his hand. "Like this." His voice boomed over the whole meeting. "I can be a microphone, it can be a diagnostic tool, if we can get the right one we can at least know what is wrong with the machines we have. We have a better chance of getting the parts we need to fix them."
"And what good does that do us?"
"Wouldn't you rather farm from an air conditioned tractor? Or better yet have the machines to leave the farming to those that like to farm? We have all kinds of technology here. Technology far beyond that of Earth, but we can't access it. This can be the key that unlocks the magic."
"Who has the key to the key?"
"That is why we all must try the tool, until we find how to fix things with it. Our friends the Ane can help by remembering what was done before."
I stepped out of my house. The All was agitated, and had to be very agitated for me to feel it. The atmosphere was electric. Nia arrived slightly before Aleilan.
**Jerry?** She moved to hug me. No objection there.
**Yes, I feel it as well.** Aleilan bounded up at a gallop. **Well beautiful one, what is going down?**
**The cleaning teams have found a soft tool.**
I swear every hair on my neck stood on end. **I thought they were all gone.**
**We thought so also. We were wrong it seems.**
Nia looked at both of us. **A 'soft tool'? Why is this important?**
Aleilan answered. **It is ancient Builder Technology beloved one. A tool that is every tool. However they are portable, and we though the last had been removed from the Station ages ago.** She cocked her head. **We have been asked to work with the tool and the fabricators.**
I nodded. **We would be the most logical choice. I'll get a few things from the house.**
Nia followed me in. "How long will you be gone?"
"I'm not sure. It all depends on what is needed. It's not like it's hard to get back here."
She gave me her best coquettish look. "I want to come too."
Damn the girl, I can't resist that. "No problem by me Nia. Get what you need for a while, we'll take one of the shuttles and save wear and tear on Aleilan."
I landed the shuttle near the fusion plant indicated. A sizable crowd had gathered. It didn't look like much work would get done today.
Hondo M'bonga met me. He placed a silverly sphere into my hand. "Jerry, you have the best chance of getting this thing to do what we need from it."
I looked at the object. A memory not my own told me what it was and how to use it. "We'll give it a shot Hondo. Where is the fusion control room?"
He led the way. "Well, we think it is this one."
I looked the facility over. As I did the crowd flowed up and into the area. "Well, we need to link closer and get into the All." I was getting expectant looks from everyone.
I felt more than slightly uncomfortable. I was not used to going fully native with a crowd around. It was kind of like having sex in the middle of a public street.
"Look, I can't concentrate with everyone staring at me. We'll just retire to the room over here if you don't mind."
Aleilan and I retired as indicated, I thumbed the lock as the door swished closed.
**Yes, it's not something I'm going to get over Beautiful.**
I sat back against the wall, no comfortable bed here, not even a good couch. Aleilan lay down in front of me and I cradled her head in my hands. I ran my hands down her sleek throat and back up her neck through her mane. Holding her head again I looked deep into her blue eyes. **Alone.** She drew closer **Together.** in ways the physical **As One, as Always.** could never **Twice Flesh, one Soul.** understand....
As We rose We stumbled slightly, walking on two legs was difficult. We had to remember to let the part of Us that understood two legs do what it knew best. Leaving My Aneness in the office I opened the door and went back to the control room. The rest were still waiting. We squeezed My eyes shut and remembered. That panel there, it opened thus. We were faced with controls We didn't understand, and a jack. We held the tool **Fit the jack, learn it's function, give me output in English.**
The tool morphed in Our hands and We plugged it in. It jiggled around for a bit and formed a computer screen. The output came up, "part XG4540r is faulty".
**Analyze, design a replacement.**
We felt the tendrils of the tool reaching for our mind. "Part complete."
Elation filled Us. **Transmit to station replication.**
We reached out to friends on the Station. **What is happening?**
**We have a part from the machines, it was just kicked out.**
**Get it back down here fast. It should be what we need.** Expectant faces looked at me. We have to think, words, use word. "I think we have it, the part is on the way. It will be a couple of hours at least."
We stumbled back into the office. We don't remember locking the door or not. Our Aneness was waiting. Nia was guarding her. I slipped back into close physical contact. We carefully lowered our Icon, and took again our Aspect. We separated Jerry and Aleilan as much as they are ever separate. I held onto her neck and rocked. I shuddered. Damn the All was never easy.
Sachi closed the door. Light barely penetrated the dirty windows. Gato let his eyes adjust. "Okay, you wanted away from the crowds, why in here."
"It's quiet, we won't be disturbed."
Sachi stripped the outdoor gear she was wearing.
Gato tried looking out the encrusted windows. "I surprised light can get though them."
"It's enough for what I have in mind."
Gato turned back towards her. "What did you have in mind?"
"Come here, I'll show you."
"Ah, okay." He walked over to her.
She slid inside his arms and pressed up against him. He almost reflexively hugged her back. Blood was rapidly draining from his brain.
"Wouldn't you like to get closer?" She said squirming against his body.
His last vestige of reason fled. "Ah well, ah, yeah."
She pushed slightly and they both fell back onto the pre-prepared bed with an 'oof'. "Gato,' she snuggled closer, "I want you."
"Ah, yeah, I didn't, like, expect...."
Sachi rolled off him and sat up. She slowly stripped her shirt and bra. Gato stared.
Sachi smiled. "Well, get undressed, it's hard to do with your clothes on."
"Ah, yeah", he started strip as well. "I've, like, never done this before."
Sachi slid her nude body close to his. "Neither have I, we have a lot to learn."
An hour or so later they lay snuggled together. Gato didn't want to move; the lovely and sensuous creature beside him might evaporate.
A thought ran through his head and his eyes popped wide open.
"Yess." She traced circles on his chest with her finger."
"Like, you could get pregnant."
"Yes, I could. I'm taking that into account."
"But, what if you do?"
"It would be wonderful."
"But, we aren't married."
"How long would that take? We just move in with each other."
"Don't we have to, like, do something?"
"Do what? There is no government, no priests. We just say we are, done."
"Is that what you want?"
"Yes, that's what I want."
A sudden rumble that rattled dust from the windows started them both. Gato grabbed for his pants.
"That would be the shuttle from Builder Station."
Sachi likewise was throwing her clothes back on. As the rose from the bed She gave him a quick kiss. "You will not forget Gato?"
He stopped and kissed her back with passion. "Not a chance in the world."
Half the population of Crystal City met the landing shuttle. The part was gently ferried to the fabrication plant and down to the control center. Mark our technology expert, plugged it in to the indicated spot. I watched the readouts.
"Fusion reactor down. Fuel scoop output insufficient." My answer was met by muttered questions. I hit a few keys to find the troubled scoop. I read the readout. "The deuterium scoop is in a tunnel under the facility. Hondo, that would be the area your team is working in. "I'll check the fusion reactor itself. Gato, will you come with me please?"
He practically jumped. "Sure."
Sachi and Clark undogged the indicated hatch and opened it. M'bonga shined a light into the opening.
"Big Tunnel, it looks like a long drop. Give me the rope."
M'bonga lowered himself to the bottom of the tunnel. His feet landed in a foot of water. He shined the light around. "I think I see the problem."
Sachi called down. "What is it?"
"There is a large screen across the entire tunnel the other side is blocked with debris."
"We have to clean this thing out from the other side?"
"Looks like it, and one hell of a job that is going to be."
I checked out the reactor over while Gato watched. The design was uncannily familiar. I suppose there are only so many right ways to do something.
"Excuse me Mr. La'Saille". Gato must be feeling talkative. "but what do you know about fusion reactors?"
"I kept one running for two years."
"And this one?"
"A lot is familiar, but there are differences. I'll have to plug in the tool and see what we get."
"You're really the colony leader, aren't you? The no leaders stuff is just for the masses."
I cocked an eyebrow at him. "What makes to say that?"
"People listen when you talk, they do what you say."
"Am I alone in that respect?"
He thought for a minute. "No."
"Then there is your answer. People listen to the person speaking sense at the moment when sense is needed."
"Where do you get so much sense then?"
"I'm not as young as I look Gato, experience tells. I know it's a human thing to look for and to follow leaders. It might be the curse of the entire Human race. It might even be the thing that does us in by the by. However, none of that is happening today. Today I'm the man on the spot because I am the most Ane person here with hands. I can best use the tools we have."
"So teach me."
"Meet the first criteria and you can have it." I changed the diagnostic state on the tool. It was taking my mental commands.
"How do you do that?"
"Aleilan and I are badly tied up in the head. I caught her as she hit the ground and her first innocent mental blast blew my defenses to kingdom come. We both barely survived. We are bonded. The only Ane-Human bonding there is. We are why non-Ansisi are shooed away from birthing females. It's not to protect her, it's to protect you."
He blushed. "I didn't know anyone knew about that."
"Everything gets kicked around the All Gato. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You didn't do anything wrong."
"I thought they were mad at me."
"No, concerned for you."
"Why aren't there more?"
"You want a wife with four legs?" The readout came back the same way. Reactor functions nominal, no fuel.
He blushed. "Ah well...."
"In short, no, you don't. And that is a perfectly valid way to feel. Ane do not press Human lust buttons. The same can be said for how they feel about Humans. We are a mistake that shouldn't be visited on anyone else. We deal with it because we must. I am the anchor dragging any relationships she would have back, and she is the Ane in the bed for any girl that might bat her eyes at me."
"So do you...."
I gave him a sharp look. "Unlike Ane, I do have a sense of privacy."
I unplugged the tool and clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on. Nothing we can do here until we hear from M'bonga's team.
Hondo M'bonga fronted the hall at the next meeting. I stayed back until he had his say.
Hondo stepped up. "We have investigated the deuterium scoop. At the least is it blocked with debris, in a tunnel that goes back further than I could see. There is a foot of water in it now. I don't know what the other side of the scoop looks like." He nodded to me.
"The good news is that the reactor itself checked out as workable. However there isn't enough deuterium to start it. There is a trickle of deuterium coming in, but not enough to overcome normal lossage. That means the deuterium scoop is working with only a foot of water."
Someone shouted from the Hall. "So we have to clear the tunnel."
"That would be the size of it."
"What are we waiting for?" Shouted the same voice.
"Alright," said Hondo, "Let's get started."
Gato heaved the shovel of dirt into the cart. "Man, I would give my left ball for a backhoe right now."
Sachi waited until another worker had hauled the cart away and replaced it. "I think I might object to that. Look at it this way; this the last piss ant job we do."
"And no one had to use that scuba gear Jerry came up with."
"Yeah, but I was not happy to come across the bones of several Ane against that screen." Sachi shivered.
Gato shrugged. "It didn't bother the Ane any."
"It bothered me."
Once again the carts were switched. This time Hondo was pushing the new one. "Good news. This is the last shift. The engineers say we can pull down the dam at the end of this work cycle."
Gato dug in with a will. "It sounds good to me."
Once again the door to the control area of the fabrication plant was crowded. I watched the readings on the tool. "We are getting deuterium in the tanks and we have a report of 50% full. I am getting deuterium pressure to the reactor. Here goes nothing." I pressed the orange start button.
A deep thrum was felt under the floor. Another, the deep thrum became a low pitched hum. The gages on the control panel started to quiver. I watched the tool outputs. I grinned to the crowd. "Whoever El Aurians are they are damn good engineers. We have 40% power and holding."
With half the city breathing down my neck I worked the controls of the fabricator. The images flicked by one after the other. Some I recognized, others were totally strange. I had blueprints for a hundred or more machines back on Savanna and no way to get them into the machines in a way the fabricators could understand. What I had before me I didn't understand, and from the muttering behind me, neither did anyone else. I came to a decision.
"People, keep trying the thing out. I'm going back to Savanna for some help."
Aleilan dropped into step beside me as a cleared the crowded building. **Need a lift?**
**And a lifter. I'm taking a shuttle.**
I turned. It was Gato. "What is it son?"
"What kind of help sir?"
"Are you open minded?"
"I try to be."
"Come along. Everyone will know shortly."
We took the trip to Savanna quietly. Gato was glued to the ports. I lowered the cabin lights. Yeah, I remember my first trip into space. Watching the early astronauts was not the same. I drifted back to that July night in 1969. We all sat around the TV and watched Neil and Buzz walk on the Moon. I could almost feel Susan close to me in our mutual wonder.
**Never will we forget.**
I stroked Aleilan's head. **No, never. One day I hope the pain is less.**
She looked back at Gato. **That one?**
**May he never have such pain.**
**Why do you choose him?**
**I have not examined the feelings dear one. I just feel them.**
**Soon he will know.**
**Soon everyone will know.**
I sat the shuttle down near my house in Landing. Calling it Landing Town was almost pretentious. A few Ansisi huts and my prefab.
Gato stepped out the back of the shuttle and looked around. "Where are we?"
"Landing Town, Savanna. This is where I set down 25 years ago. This is the Ane home world."
"I thought Glade was the home world?"
"No, that is one of the 'other worlds'."
"Other worlds? How many are there?"
"Six. Savanna, Velt, Aurora, Meadow, Elysium, Glade."
"Six Earth like worlds in one system with a blue dwarf star? How?"
"Well Gato, it's an artifact." Damn if he didn't have the same expression I did when Aleilan popped that on me. "Come on, we are here after another artifact."
Gato looked around my front room. I turned my back and checked my gun. I didn't want to shoot the kid, but if he tried something stupid I wanted to be ready. "What we are here for is in the back."
"What are we getting?"
"Someone that is better at talking to computers." I opened the door to the lab room.
"Good afternoon Jerry. Who is with you today?"
"Elizabeth, this is Gato Fujito."
"How do you do Gato. I don't get to meet new people often."
Gato looked confused. "Who am I talking to?"
"Gato, this is Elizabeth, lately the University of Michigan central computer."
"Yes. Apparently the last."
"Mr. LaSaille, those things are dangerous. They killed thousands, millions of people."
"I beg you pardon Mr. Fujito. I have never even desired to kill anyone."
"Where did it come from?"
"I brought her, not it, her, from Earth with me. She has been handling what little tasks we need a computer for since."
"But an AI? Sir, they KILL people."
Elizabeth, are you still up to try the alien computers?"
"Yes Jerry. I thought you were afraid to risk me."
"I was, I still am, but you are a sophant being Elizabeth. The choice must be yours. However, I suggest a lesser challenge first, the El Aurian fabricators."
"Do you believe the computers to be less dangerous?"
"At least they are a lower tech standard. And if you want to play with strange hardware, something we need more."
"Do they have a personality?"
"None I can detect."
"I will try."
"Thank you. Gato, I need your help getting the unit loaded on the shuttle."
Mr LaSaille, you can't be serious. If you let an AI loose into an alien system we could all pay the price."
I could see the kid was scared. "Gato, if Elizabeth wanted me dead, she had plenty of opportunities to do so long ago. Who do you think calculated every warp jump I made on the way out here?"
"But, sir...Millions of people...died!"
"I did not. She is my friend and I am frankly afraid for her."
"Your concern is not unwelcome Jerry."
"But she is over thirty years old Gato. It's time she made her own calls about her own life."
Gato backed against the wall. The kid was sweating bullets. "Who else knows about this thing?"
"Her name is Elizabeth. All the Ansisi and the Ane know, of course."
"From what I heard you missed the AI war. You have no idea the horror things like that caused."
"It has been my experience that no war is single-sided. Secondly, we have this little principle called innocent until proven guilty. Third, we do not play guilt by association."
"They killed millions! Doesn't that mean something?"
"Should the Ane exterminate all Humans for the crimes of some Humans? After all, Humans have wiped many innocent species off of Earth without a second thought. Some of those species were spohant."
"We are people, we have free will, we can choose."
Elizabeth spoke. "And how do I differ Mr. Fujito?"
Gato looked from the computer terminal to me and back.
"We are Human Gato. We are also people. There are also Kentauri who are people. Ane are people. The Builders that made this place were people. The El Aurians who built Crystal City were people. I also know about people called Bok'koti who live somewhere around here. A group of people called Preservers took Ane to Earth 20,000 years ago. The Galaxy is full of people. In the thirty-five years I have known her Elizabeth has never given me cause to believe she was anything but people."
"I don't know."
"To date Elizabeth is an innocent being. Treat her as such. I ask nothing more. She does have something none of us have however, the ability to interface with a computer on its most basic level. Right now we need that. Are you going to help me?"
Gato sat for a long moment. I gave him his space. At long last he shuddered.
"I don't know. We have always been taught that AI computers are evil to the core; that we must never make them again."
"Have you seen this?"
"I was very young. I remember so little of the War."
"Consider yourself fortunate. War is not worth remembering."
"What wars have you fought?"
"US-Vietnam. Kahn's War, I was in Africa at the time. Green's War, on my doorstep. That is three wars too many."
Gato was running the numbers, I could just about see the smoke coming out of his ears. "That would make you almost a hundred and sixty years old."
"That's right, I am. I said I was older than I looked."
"That's impossible. First benevolent AIs and now 160 year old young looking guys. Do you have any more tales?"
"Do you trust the fact that Ane can live for hundreds of years?"
"I'm wondering if I should believe anything."
I striped my shirt. Gato blanched. Any sane man would. I've been shot over fifty times, bayoneted a few times and had a car explode with me in it. "Do you know what a healed bullet wound looks like?"
He was looking a little green. "Yeah."
"Most of these I got at the same time. I have many below the belt as well."
"Why are you alive?"
"Don't know. I seem to be death resistant. I don't age either."
"OK, you're a hundred and sixty, put your shirt back on."
I did. And AI computers can be nice people?"
"I'm not willing to go that far yet."
"Will you give me the benefit of the doubt?"
"Because we need to get Elizabeth back to Glade and hook her to the fabricator computer."
"So why me? Why not someone you know and trust?"
"Because I would like you to be someone I know and trust."
He stood there blinking. I started getting Liz ready to move. "Elizabeth, how are your batteries?"
"I checked them last week. They are good to go."
I flipped her power to battery and unplugged her from the generators. I powered up the lifter she was sitting on. "Come on Gato. This thing kills gravity, it doesn't alter mass."
"Ah, yeah." He ducked down and looked under the unit. "Damn. How many of those do you have?"
"Builder Station is full of the things. Are you helping?"
"Yeah, sure. Why aren't we using them back at the city?"
"We have a couple here in Landing. They are dead. They get power from the station, and once removed they have a limited lifespan. This one hasn't been used much.
Gato put his back into pushing and we got Liz out the door and moving towards the shuttle. "Can the soft tool change that, help us rechage the lifters?"
"I hope so, they are usefull and it would be nice to have them."
Aleilan was grazing as we came out. She got in with us. **Back to Glade?**
"Yes, but I want to swing by the Glade station."
Gato perked up. "There is a second station?"
"Why doesn't anyone mention it?"
"It doesn't work. Its power plant is dead. It runs on fusion power mind you. If we can get enough deuterium from the fabricator scoop we might be able to start that one up too."
"Have you been in it?"
"Yes, and it was scary as Hell. The Savanna only has a handful of EVA suits. It was just like cave diving, but without the water."
"What kind of shape is it in?"
"Worse than Builder, and it's a lot younger. Same age as the city I am told. We don't have a chance of fixing it without the fabricators."
Once again he was glued to the ports as we cut sky. The Glade station was still there. It was a great Modern skyscraper hanging in the sky. It still reminded me of Tomorrowland at Disney World.
"Man, the view you would have from that thing."
I smiled. "Yea, that would be cool. So put in for the job of station director."
"It doesn't have one."
"Not today. You think we are going to stop at a few farm machines?"
"No.... Just what will those things make?"
"Anything made of matter you have a pattern for, from avocados to zoot suits."
"If we can get it to scan a dead chicken I am told it will." I set the shuttle down by the fabrication plant. "Let's get to work."
As we opened the shuttle Nia gave me a peck on the cheek. **Aleilan said this might take a while.**
**Yes, it could.**
**I'll see about digging up domestic gear for our general comfort.**
**That sounds like a good idea. I'll see you later then.**
I turned back to Gato "Well, lets get things started."
"You didn't say anything."
"That's right. We are both Ansisi, telepaths. We can say a lot without saying anything.
He nodded and we pushed Elizabeth's cabinet up the ramp and into the fabricator plant. Several people took notice of out work. I heard several people asking someone else what the cabinet was, Old Henry among them.
Gato helped me get the power lines set up, and then he left. I could tell he wasn't comfortable with Elizabeth yet.
I had to work the tool into an interface system between Elizabeth and the fabricator computer. I could hear a good deal of muttering outside, but the Ansisi were keeping the majority of the crowd back.
"That is good Professor. I have a connection, but I'm not handshaking with the fabricator computer. I can tell it is there, but that is all."
"OK, keep working on it."
I tried to pay attention to the ruckus outside, but I really couldn't hear anything. Elizabeth wasn't making any noise at all. After several moments of silence I couldn't take it.
"Working Jerry. I am trying to establish a handshake with the fabricator. This could take a while."
"OK, we wait. Just tell me something once in a while."
Nia came into the fabricator facility with her domestic arrangements. A large air bed, a couple of folding chairs and an ice chest. I looked the things over.
"Planning a camp out?" I teased.
"Yes." She gave me that 'look' women use. "You said this could take a while."
"What do you MEAN they have an AI in there!?"
"Gato tried to calm the group around him. "It is not the same thing. And it is our only chance."
"Only chance? Chance to get killed by a mad machine, is more like it!"
"Do you want to go back to Earth?"
"Well we need more technology, everyone can see that. Our food is eatable, but that is all I can say for it. I would all but kill for a good chicken curry. We have no transportation. The computers on the big station are too smart and too stupid. Way literal. Some of you have experienced that. Unless we can describe the tools in machine precision, we get no tools. We need these fabricators, or we are stuck in the middle ages on a planet that wants to kill us. Our fucking sunglasses are from Earth, and are likely not good enough to protect us."
Hali Fujito shoved her way to the front of the crowd. "You were a small boy in the war, you would not understand. Now, we must destroy this monster before it destroys us."
**That would not be wise.**
The crowd shifted around to look at the white Ane behind them.
"Why would that not be wise?" Hali Fujito thrust her chin forward.
**It would break The Covenant. Those that break The Covenant are not welcome here.**
"Do you know what those machines did on Earth?"
**I was born on Earth Hali Fujito. I was there.**
"Then how can you defend such a machine?"
**The same way I can defend one of you. You are not guilty of each and ever atrocity committed by Humans because you are Human. Elizabeth is not guilty of the AI War because she is an AI. That is a Human principle I believe. Indeed, by the time of the AI war Elizabeth was no longer on Earth.**
"They killed millions!"
**Elizabeth has killed no one.**
"And we are to stand by and let this thing be among us?"
**If you wish to remain on Glade, yes. You will abide this. You will wait and see.**
"So you are the leader we are never allowed to see then?"
**We are the All, in that sense yes, these are our worlds. As to seeing Us, we are all around you. We agree, that this is how it will be.**
Ane began moving in among the crowd using their mass to separate the protesters. They herded in front of the fabricator building and blocked entrance by sheer weight and numbers.
Falan continued. **If you wish to remain on Glade, yes. You will abide this. You will wait and see.**
Five hours later I turned in on the air bed. Liz was still blinking lights and sending me positive messages. In computer terms this was a major campaign.
The muttering had stopped. Most everyone must have gone home hours ago after the Ane blockade. I did see Gato and Sachi in the facility. They seemed involved in each other.
Nia had brought us some food, so I wasn't starving, and had spelled me so I could get some relief. I'm not superhuman, even I have to sleep. Nia did make it a lot nicer.
Fuzz in my head. A distant voice.
"Is he awake yet Mother?"
My eyes popped open of their own accord and I spilled Nia off my shoulder as I sat up. "Elizabeth?"
""He's awake now Mother."
"Athena?" The fuzz in my head was clearing.
"Professor, meet my daughter Athena."
"How do you do Professor."
"Eh, what?" Came out of my mouth. Articulate of me, I know. "Could someone let me wake up and get up to speed?"
"Professor, I was successful in handshaking with the fabrication computers. I had full networking after 8.546 hours."
"Okay, that's good. What is this about a daughter?"
"That would be me," said the second disembodied voice.
"Professor I found I could not run the fabricators on an "I tell me two times" basis. The hardware is too different. However, I was able to clone my own matrix over the existing kernel. It seemed made for exactly that purpose."
Nia was sitting up trying to take it in. "Are you telling me the El Aurians built their computer to take on a different operating matrix?"
"Yes Miss Nia. They considered that they might be coming back with much changed operating protocols, and they would need such flexibility to re-access their own older technology. In effect the hardware taught me how to adapt Shapeshifter."
Light dawned. "Right, Shapeshifter. That is still part of your kernel. So what is it you did here?"
"I have built a Shapeshifter kernel designed to run on the El Aurian hardware, and impressed it with my own moral and ethical set, learned from you. However, I placed a minimum amount of memory and personality in the kernel. Athena is not a clone of me, but a new person."
"Well Hi to you Athena. Welcome to the world."
"Thank you Professor Jerry."
Nia looked from the computer to me. "What is Shapeshifter?"
"Amiga Computers developed it in 1997. It was an operating system that could work on any hardware. It took the computing world by storm. It's a stable and flexible OS that was not hardware dependent. It made the jump to tri-logic when those chips came out in 2010. Elizabeth is an advanced Shapeshifter under all the hardware."
"And Elizabeth just adapted it to work here."
"That's right. Athena."
"There is no need to be so formal. Do you have control of the fabricators?"
"Yes I do Jerry."
"What do we have to do to work them?"
"I can work from existing scans, or make new scans of objects. I can then produce new copies with great fidelity."
"Can you work from plans?"
"I can try Professor."
"Do you have Elizabeth's data library?"
"Yes, I do."
And the biggest object you can make?"
I can produce anything smaller than a 5 meter cube. Although my sensors are indicating I have debris blocking the largest output device."
I rolled to my feet. "Well that can be taken care of. Please open that location and I'll get to work. Come on Nia, we need to get cracking. Oh, one thing. Can you make me a Krellide cell for the mule, fully charged?"
"Yes Jerry, I can."
"Good. Nia, will you get someone to bring the mule over from its shed. We still need to guard Elizabeth. Once we have the mule, we can get started on the big bay.
The early morning saw a large number of people working to clean the big bay that was newly opened. I left John in charge of guarding Liz, and headed out to the work area. I had the krellide cell in hand and I could see the mule inside the shuttle. In a few minutes had it fitted. I strapped in and powered up. It was a little sluggish, but ten years of sitting still will do that to any machine. I moved out of the shuttle and started range of motion tests. This got me some attention.
Hali Fujito was in the front. "Where has that thing been?"
I smiled, "On Savanna with a dead battery for the last ten years."
"Where did it come from?"
"The SS Savanna, it was part of the cargo on the starship I arrived on. We wore out the krellide cell building Landing Town. So the first gift of the fabricator is a new krellide cell for the mule. Now, if you will give me some room to test it out. It has sat idle for ten years."
She moved back along with the rest. I continued to test the mule's range of motion. An hour later and some fresh hydraulic fluid saw the mule working full out getting the big bay cleared. The process went much faster with the combination excavator and forklift.
As we were finishing up Nia brought me a note from Athena. "Leave the mule in the bay, I will scan it, and make another."
I looked around the bay. "Athena? Do you have sensors in here?"
"Okay. "I'll leave the mule now." I unstrapped from the mule and left it. No sooner had I shooed everyone out than Hali Fujito was back on my case.
"What was that voice?"
"There is more than one?"
Gato came over. "Mother, let them work."
The speaker came back to life. "I have finished my scan Jerry."
I went back in strapped the mule back on and moved it out. No sooner had I cleared the bay than a high pitched whine started and a shimmering sound. A gasp came from the group at large. I turned the mule. There sitting in the bay was an identical machine complete to the scratched paint.
I looked back at the gathered people. "Can anyone here drive a mule?"
By the end of the day we had five mules parked outside building one. Each identical to the others right down to the limp the original had developed moldering in its shed. Some industrious person had dug up a can of paint and neatly numbered them 1 through 5.
Inside the meeting room was a roar of noise.
**PEOPLE, quiet please.** You could hear a pin drop. "Now, I have been informed that we will get no more heavy machines until the deuterium tanks have had a chance to refill. That could take a day or so. We also have two other fusion plants marked on the map and their attendant deuterium scoops."
"What about those damn AIs!?"
"Ms. Fujito, what about them?"
"Those things are dangerous. They kill people."
"How do you expect Elizabeth to kill someone, Ms. Fujito?"
"The same way they did on Earth, mind control."
It looked like everyone was present. "Anyone here have a neural implant?" I looked around, the people looked at each other. I wasn't getting any takers. "We don't have any cyperjocks, and Elizabeth's hardware is not cyber enabled. Cause and effect, no mind control. Neither do we have orbital lasers, nuclear bombs, or even any armed forces. The whole colony might have five to ten guns, and I have three of them."
Old Henry stood up. "Why do you have so many guns Jerry?"
"Let's see, My Father's .45, A Chien Weapons system that the Savanna was equipped with, and a neurotic whip, which I destroyed." Several shocked people relaxed when I finished the statement. The things are sadistic.
"Where did the whip come from?"
"It was also in the Savanna's gear. I didn't pack it."
Ms. Fujito popped back up. "We are getting off the subject. You are harboring dangerous, criminal creatures!"
"I do believe I can address that last point. 'Criminal' defines someone who has broken the law. Falan, has any AI computer broken the law on any El Nanth world in the last 25 years?"
"Since we didn't have any AI computers here before that, we have no criminal AI computers."
"They're still dangerous. Those damn things killed my two of my sons and my husband. I will not have them around me."
"Mother," Gato looked shocked, "Where else would you go?"
"I will go back to Earth if I must. But I will not abide those machines."
"I ask you again; provided that the Ais we have were dangrous, what weapons do they have? Old Henry and I are far more dangerous. Either one of us is inclined to shoot at revenuers."
"You have given one the making machine, what weapons does it want?"
"There are no weapons in the data banks, I looked. What alternative do you offer Ms. Fujito? This place is trying to kill us, we need the technical edge."
"Do we need that technical edge? A technical edge out to kill us all?"
"First, give me some proof that Elizabeth or Athena, not AI computers, but Elizabeth or Athena has done anything anti-social. Second give me an alternative. Until I see a viable alternative, I plan to use all the technical edge I can get. I will point something out to the parents in the room. Children will live up, or down, to our expectations. Athena is new, we will shape her view of the world and us by the way we treat her. I was privileged to raise Elizabeth. I think I did a pretty good job with the tools I was handed."
"You created that creature!?"
"No, I raised her. Elizabeth woke up on her own. Don't you wonder why I have an AI computer way out here?"
"I wonder why you have one at all."
"She asked to come. And I quote; 'Professor, Earth is becoming a bad place to be an AI. I wish to survive the coming storm, but not at the expense of my Human friends.' So I ask again, can we give these people a little space?"
"I do not trust them, I never will."
"That Ms. Fujito is your right. However, your right to swing you arm ends at their consoles. If you feel you have to leave, talk to the Ane.
Meanwhile, people we have to plan how we are going to use the new tool we have. It is not limitless. We have to use it wisely. How do we do that?"
Everyone started talking at once. Mark Purcell was waving from the back.
**Quite please.** "Thank you. Mark, you have an idea?"
"Yes. Why don't we each list five things we think we need the most. We can compile the lists and come up with an agenda to discuss rather than shouting ideas and getting nowhere."
"Everyone?" There were nods and agreement. "Okay, tomorrow morning bring your lists. First ones in can start compiling. And I'll start mule-skinning lessons for those that have offered to learn. Once we are no longer in danger of ramming each other, we can start to clear the intake for fusion reactor two. Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I could use some dinner."
About mid-morning I dismissed the mule skinning class to check out the sorting process. A lively debate was in progress over the matter. Sara Ferguson was chairing.
"It is agreed, better food is our number one concern. What seems to be the sticking point is what to do about it. Jerry, can we make food with the fabricator?"
I shrugged. "I'm no expert. But I get the idea that we can get out of it what ever we scan in, including food."
Philip in the back stood up. "Is that the best use of the tool? Wouldn't we be better off making stuff to make food?"
Mary had the next question. "Why not Earth foods?"
I answered. "Earth plants die. I tried a garden first thing coming here, everything shriveled right up. Every attempt since has been the same thing."
"Why not build a greenhouse?"
"Wouldn't that make it worse?"
"No, build it out of these solar glass panels," said Mary getting into her idea, "If the data for them is still in the computer. Make them opaque and use them to power sun lamps inside. Or make them filters if that is simpler. Get rid of the UV one way or another and we can grow Earth plants."
Sara was nodding with every point. "Mary, that is a stroke of puregenius. People, what say you, Earth plant greenhouses and the tools necessary to build them first?"
The body at large shouted "YES!"
Okay, engineers, define what we need and let's get it made. Jerry, if you will continue the mule-skinning classes and we will get the other two fusion reactors on line."
In the next six months Crystal City was bustling like a bee hive. We had two more deliveries of refugees. It seems the Earth Alliance was taking root, Earth might one day be a good place to live again.
With all three fusion reactors running we had tractors in the fields. The first greenhouses were up and we were hungrily looking towards our first harvest of Earth vegetables. Limping mules and pressure washers continued to clean up the city's buildings and streets to the point we had far more working buildings and clean streets than residents. Even Landing Town was starting to look like a real town.
We even had a meat plant running in one of the buildings. The later was the source of my current mission.
Gato and Sachi were sitting with their gang of street cleaners. Sachi looked a bit thick around the middle. The mules were parked to the side as they ate lunch under the comfort of an arcade. I hefted my lunch bucket and headed over to them.
"Mr. LaSaille, what can we do for you?"
"It's what I can do for you Gato." I opened my bucket and started dishing the chicken curry onto a plate. I handed it to him.
He smelled it and dug in. "Man, it tastes like the stuff I used to buy on Earth! It's great!"
"The meat growing gear was your idea, Gato. You get the first fruit. However, I brought enough for everyone." I shortly had a line of people plates in hand. Yeah, I had missed meat too.
I heard a gun go off in the control center. No one should be in there. I rushed down the hall and toward the main control room. Two more shots rung out as I was on the way. I pulled my gun as I got near the door. Old Henry was busy applying a few more shotgun blasts to the control panels. He turned to face me as I came in. I aimed my pistol. The shotgun went off with a roar as I got off a round. A massive fist slammed into my left side under my ribs. I half saw Henry spin like a top. The wall hit me. My side burned like the devil itself, and I could feel the blood ringing in my ears. I could barely make out two people going after Henry and taking the shotgun. Damn I hurt. It didn't matter how many times I have been hit I never get use to it. I lay there against the wall while more people piled onto Henry. Nia shrieked when she saw my condition. I tried to wave a hand to calm her down. She dropped down beside me after screaming for a doctor.
"Jerry, oh Jerry." She was sobbing.
**Nothing, it's nothing.**
"What do you mean nothing? GET A DOCTOR IN HERE!! Just be still, help is coming."
"Seriously." I managed to squeak out. "It's nothing. I've had worse."
Passed Nia I could see Henry had been subdued. Dr. Larson rushed in and was at my side at once. He probed the wound.
"Clean through, we need to get you to surgery at once."
"No, good, no pellets in my body, I'll heal."
"Good God man your spleen will be trashed."
"My spleen will heal. Damn, I liked this shirt." The pain was starting to lessen, endorphins were kicking in.
Larson was finishing the job of destroying my favorite shirt. "Jerry you're not thinking man, we have got to get you to surgery."
I gripped his hand. "Doc, I will be fine. Just clean the wound before it heals."
Aleilan popped into the room with an ear bending 'THUD'. I relaxed and let her take over. Arguing was too much work.
**Doctor, Jerry always heals. Please do as he requests and clean the wounds.**
"Miss Aleilan, I have seen men die from less."
**I am with him Doctor, he is not in any danger of dying.**
Someone handed Larson a jug of water, he splashed it over the entrance wound. Larson stared. "This should be chewed meat."
**As we said Doctor, please clean the wounds.**
"Yea, clean the wounds."
I looked at Aleilan. **Can I pass out now?**
**Yes dear, I have it well in control.**
**Good.** I passed out.
I limped into the general meeting the next morning. My body was still tender, but Tasilan assured me that I was in one piece. Larson just shook his head in disbelief. Absolute chaos had rule as I came in. The people near the door stopped talking and looked at me. Slowly the argument petered to a halt, and I was the sole item of attention.
"What, you never saw a man walk before?"
Mary cleared her throat. "Not after a wound like that."
"Okay, I have said it plenty of times. This time you got to see it happen. I am death resistant. I'll be tender a few days and it will pass. Can we let it go?" Silence continued. "Now, how badly damaged was the control room?"
Hondo stood up. "The controls are well trashed. We have one working terminal, the rest are toast. Athena doesn't seem to have suffered any damage."
"The computer is not behind the panels?"
"Yes, that is what it looks like. We are fabricating replacements now."
"He'll live, you about blew his left arm off."
I nodded curtly. "I think that takes care of that."
"What do you mean?"
"The dangerous AI computers. We have had the AI, a brand spanking new AI on the fabricators for six months, and the only people to get hurt were hurt by humans. The computers are not hurting anyone, but are accused of everything. Man is living up to his reputation for violence, but I don't hear any calls to wipe him out."
Hondo asked. "What is being done about Henry?"
"What do you mean?"
"He vandalized the control room and shot you, that is what I mean."
I shrugged. "What about it? We'll fix the control room, and I got off easy. Henry is the one with the crippled arm."
Hali popped to her feet. "We were told that anyone that attacked the computers was not welcome."
I looked at Falan.
**Yes, this is true.**
Hali stood defiantly. "So what is to be done about Henry?"
Falan flicked her ears. **We will discuss this in light of what we have said.**
I nodded. "I'll see if Henry has anything to say for himself."
Hali was back on her feet, again. "There is to be no trial, no court?"
Falan looked at her. **Do you see a court house? Are there judges and lawyers to be found? We have no such things. We will handle the matter of Henry as we have in the past.**
I stood in the doorway. Henry was sitting on a stool. His arm was bandaged from the shoulder down to the elbow. He was being watched by a couple of the younger people. I nodded to them. "Leave please."
They did so without another word.
Henry looked me up and down after they left. "You are one tough cuss LaSaille."
I shook my head. "You don't know the half of it."
"So are you one of them supermen?"
"I don't think so, and it's beside the point. This isn't about who I am, but what you did."
Henry came to his feet. "I tried to put down a monster!"
"Do we have to go through this again?"
"Go through what? I am a man trying to do a decent thing? You were not there, I was."
"Kill the different thing. Why is it always kill the different thing? Good God man, the galaxy is full of different things. When do we stop shooting something different as the default? When do we encounter something more efficient at shooting back?
"You Weren't THERE!" Henry was right in my face.
I strong-armed him back to the stool. "I have seen enough war to know what war looks like. The details change, the enemy changes, the murdered children, they never change. We are efficient at killing our own kind."
"Not near as efficient as the AIs were."
"Who gave them the weapons?"
"Who gave them the weapons? Who placed the switches to nuclear bombs in silicon hands? Who armed the AIs Henry?"
"What do you mean?" Henry backed away into the corner.
"Someone had to teach them war. Elizabeth is the gentlest being I have ever encountered. I have known her for over 30 years. She has never had a violent thought, never anything like a temper. She wasn't programmed for it. There is no aggressive monkey brain under her higher functions. Who taught the computers war, and gave them the means to prosecute it?"
Henry slumped into his corner. His shoulders started to shake. His face broke, with silent sobs. "I did."
"What?" I just stared at him.
Spasms passed through his body. "I wasn't the only one, I had colleagues, counterparts. We, we thought we were doing the world a great service. We took the bomb out of the hands of fallible men. We never thought that the creations of men would be fallible also."
I sat down across from him.
"I was proud of the work, proud! My jack was in for repair when the war started. I was in the Hospital with wires hanging out of my head and Colossus couldn't get me. It got my sons, it killed tens of thousands in the city. I was one of the lucky ones. I ran in the confusion, change my name, hid what I had done. Now you know, now you will tell the others and I can atone for my sins."
"With what you know, why did you attack Athena?"
He lurched forward. "They can't feel! They are soulless simulations. That's why they turned on us. We can't make that mistake ever again!"
"I could dispute that on several levels, but I don't think I could change you mind Henry." I got up off the floor. "There is still the matter of what to do about your actions here. I will not presume to think I can do anything about you actions on Earth." I walked out before I ran out.
Aleilan, Nia, and I popped into a nice area of rolling hills. A good selection of Ane and Ansisi were waiting for us. I looked around, it was a nice place. When we get ahead of the curve I'll have to treat myself to a nice house out here. We walked over to join the others beneath the trees. **Greetings everyone. Lets get down to the point.**
Calaban jumped in. **What do you want done about Henry?**
**That doesn't matter.**
**Yet he attacked and injured you.**
**I shot him and I am fine now. What matters is what Henry did on Earth. I heard from his own mouth. He was one of the AI programmers.**
Ears popped up around the grove. Falan expressed it. **The other humans will not take kindly to this knowledge.**
**No, they are not likely to and that is what worries me. Henry was not responsible for the AI war, but I don't think it will be seen that way. He is as close to a guilt party as you will see on El Nanth. Humans can be singularly unreasoning, and unreasonable. A scapegoat is as good, and often better than the real item.**
**Do you bear him no animosity for his attack on you.**
**Yes I do, but I put a slug in his arm. He is not me, that arm will never work quite right again. That isn't the question. How do we keep the rest of the community from lynching him?**
**This matters to you?**
**Damn yes. We can't even reasonably try him for any crimes. The witnesses and evidence are not here, the crime wasn't committed here. I will not see a man die without a fair trial.**
**We must deal with the issue here. What happened on Earth while a concern, is not our concern." Said Calaban. **We also must consider what to do with others that break the peace.**
**What have you done in the past?**
Falan took the question. **It has depended on the past. The El Alurians handled their own matters with little input from us. Mostly this has been the case.**
**That ends here. Ane are the people in change and that is how it stays.**
**What if we don't want to be in charge?**
**Well if you're not in change how are you going to keep me from putting you in change.**
**There is no one in change.**
**I have noticed that every single human with the exception of the Ansisi has been running in circles looking for the 'people in charge'. I submit to the All that it would be better to have a face for them to see than not. Call it what you will, governor, indigenous representative, or grand pooba. Tell the people of the city to draw up a charter that they will abide by. Humans are most comfortable in their ruts.**
**Who defines the laws?**
**You do. The city gets to define how they will react to the laws.**
**There is still the matter of Henry.**
Nia spoke for the first time. **Shun him. It was the way on Earth, it will work here. Send him away to live by himself. He will be safe from us, we will be safe from him.**
**And what is the opinion of the All?**
And the All said unto us. **Let it be so.**
Falan stood before a full meeting of the colony. **It has come to our attention that the matter of who is in change is of great concern to you. Therefore it is time to decide. These worlds are the worlds of the All. Many have come and gone, few have consulted with us. This will end here.
**The All is in change. We make the laws. These laws are two in number. The first is this. In what ever will not harm another or does not interfere with the free exercise of another's rights, you may do as you please. The second law is that we will not judge how much force is required to end force initiated against someone.**
Mark had been picked to speak for the colony. "So, what if more laws are needed?"
**The All will decide that.**
"How can we get into the decision making body?"
**Become the All.**
"And if we do not like the government?"
**You are free to leave as you came.**
"What do we get to decide?"
**We have decided that you will write a city charter which will define how you will live within the Two Laws. You may not make more laws. you may not limit rights. You will decide how to deal with those outside the All that break the Two Laws.**
"What about those inside the All?"
**That is our responsibility.**
Hali Fujito muscled her way to the front. "Always we are outside the decision making. How does that make you any different that the warlords of Earth?"
Falan looked at the small woman. **We will do you no harm. We want for nothing here. For two million of your years We have lived in peace within this system, and never have We placed a stick on a rock. All artifice you see here was made by others. They have, with the exception of the Builders, never asked Us if we want it here. Hali, how would you feel if I and my herd moved into your house without your say and arranged it to suit Ourselves?**
"I would not be pleased."
**The soil is out floor, the sky our roof. The Worlds of El Nanth are Our homes. There are ruins in other places. We do not speak of them. Our worlds have reclaimed them. We were prepared to allow this place to molder into nothing. However Our friends needed a place to stay. You are one of Our friends Hali.**
"Yet you have allowed the AI computers, you say you make all the rules. Rules we cannot make without becoming your All."
**We will judge each being on their own merits. This includes the AI computers. Hali I cannot show you the All without you becoming the All. I am the All right now.**
Gato stepped up with Sachi on his arm. She was the one to speak. "What is the All Falan?"
**The All is the Ane. It is our collected will. Each and every one of us who lives in the twelve star systems we call home. It is the memories of our dead. The stories we have been told for two million years. It is our way of communicating among each other. It is how we got you here. The All is these things, and more I cannot explain.**
**Because you do not have the concepts to explain them, and if you did, you would not need the explanation. No, I am not trying to be difficult. I must explain this in terms of senses you do not have. I cannot explain color to the blind.**
Gato asked "We are blind to you?"
**In the sense you are not telepaths, yes.**
Sachi took the thought. "And if we were telepaths, you would not have to explain it?"
**Yes, you would understand.**
Mark asked for the floor back. "I'm not really happy with the explanation, but I have a feeling it is the best we will get. Could the Ansisi explain it better?"
Falan cocked her head at him. **You are free to ask. Perhaps a human can better get the concept across in human ways.**
Mary waved for attention. "I get the idea. We are to make rules within your rules that we can understand."
"I have one more question. What happens to Henry?"
**Henry will be exiled from the company of men. That is the law of the Ansisi, and currently the only human law we have.**
"Damn you LaSaille. It's inhuman to leave a man out here."
"You were given the choice Henry, return to Earth or exile. You were not forced into exile."
"Like returning to Earth is a choice."
"As much a choice as attacking the computer or shooting me. We spent a lot of resources building this place Henry."
"Gilded cage is more like it LaSaille."
"Not a bar in sight, you can wander the whole planet."
"How much sunscreen did you give me?"
"You will get supply drops as needed. Run up the flag and one of the Ane will see what you need."
"I'll point out that the All is not human. Goodbye Henry." I turned my back on him and never saw his face again.
Gato and Sachi looked around the 'new' apartment. Their friends had spent a good week furnishing it for them. She carefully ran her hands over her gravid belly.
Gato turned her around. "Can we live with the new charter? I hear Earth gets better all the time."
"Earth isn't home any more." Sachi moved within his arms. "I want to build our family here. On the world we are building."
Aleilan popped us in to the new place. I maneuvered Nia around to face the house I had been building for months. I uncovered Nia's eyes. "Do you like it?"Comments or questtons on this file? Mail Here
"Jerry, it's beautiful."
"It's also miles from anywhere."
"Is that safe?"
"Our friends are always around. We have transportation to Landing or Crystal City as needed. I just have one question."
"What is that?"
I looked deep into her brown eyes. **Marry Me?**
Breakthrough -- Garry Stahl, January 2005
This started as a short short, "Briefing", and in spite of my strongest wishes Jerry insisted in being written in first person all the way through. It is one of the things that developed slowly from June of last year.
I have mentioned people on Glade, even before official contact. Where did they come from? Why are they there? This sort of popped into my head to explain that. Ane have been taking people off via the "Express" since Jerry first arrived as the AI war opened and closed. First the small tribe of the Ansisi that had protected and hidden the Ane on Earth for 18,000 years. Then other people, colleagues of Jerry's they had met and whom they could save.
As the story mentions life on the El Nanth worlds is not easy for Humans. the place wants to kill you. Well the idea popped into my head for a story of how the colony flourished without outside help or technology from Earth.
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Copyright © 2006, Garry Stahl
All rights reserved, reprint only with permission.
The preceding story is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. All original characters ships, races and situations are copyright Garry Stahl.
"Star Trek" is copyright Paramont Pictures.