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"I want you to take a rather important trip for me, Jacob," Professor Philo said. It was somewhat out of the ordinary for Professor Philo to seek Jacob out in his laboratory.
"Oh?" Jacob asked, toying with a handheld spectrometer.
"We've received some rather odd telemetry from our time with the Argus array. We want you to investigate what we think to be a possible xenosophont civilization. Our telemetry shows a region of space we think to be filled with a motley assortment of Dysons. I want you to be the one to investigate this."
"Really?" Jacob asked.
"You were expecting me to choose someone else?" Professor Philo asked.
"No, not really," Jacob replied. "It's just that our relationship hasn't been... cordial... so far," He stumbled for the right words.
"I know what you think of me, but please understand this: I am asking you to take this assignment for the simple reason that I trust you not to bungle it. Ryis isn't as trustworthy as you are."
"Thank you, Professor. That does mean a lot to me," Jacob said. Part of him still mistrusted Philo's motives, but Jacob made that part sit quietly in the corner of his mind as he listened.
"And besides, if you go, I also get Krissa's invaluable help on this mission," Professor Philo added.
"True," Jacob smiled. He thought for a moment and then asked, "So, what exactly is this information you gathered from your time on the Argus array?"
Professor Philo smiled; at that point they both knew Jacob was hooked. He would do whatever it took to investigate the possibility of a xenosophont culture.
"Seven hundred and fifty years?" Krissa asked.
"I know it's quite a lot," Jacob explained, "but it's exactly what we talked about. We might actually be on a First Contact team!"
"One way? Seven hundred and fifty years one way?" Krissa asked again.
"I know, dear. It's likely that we'll not be able to go home before... things change irrevocably," Jacob couldn't bring himself to say 'everyone we know is dead'. His momentary cowardice hurt him.
"How good is this data Philo gave you?" Krissa asked. Before Jacob could answer, she continued, "And if we do go, we'll have to record backups before we leave."
"You run, that's what you do. You run and you hope they let you get away," Father explained.
Jacob and Johnathan Montgomery stood beside Jacob's vessel in the side yard of the Montgomery house as it prepared for launch. The next morning, the vessel would rocket out of Sufficiency's skies and into the blackness of space.
"That's it? There's no way to fight back?" Jacob asked after a long pause.
"Not against one of them, there isn't." Father said. "Look, it's doubtful you'll ever run afoul of a transapient. They usually keep to themselves. Every now and then, one of them goes bad - but if that happens, usually it's too late."
"You mean to tell me that there's absolutely nothing I can do to thwart a transapient's will?" Jacob asked.
"Not on your own, there isn't. Look son, it's not like they are gods or anything. They are physical beings just like you and I. However, they are a lot smarter than you and I are. Anything we can think of to beat them, they've already thought of - and they've covered it," Father said. "So, if you ever find yourself pitted against one, just run. By the fastest means possible, try to escape. It's the only way to possibly live through the encounter."
"That's not very reassuring."
"It's not supposed to be. It's a warning. I've taught you everything I know about fighting any sort of normal person - whether they be a tweak, a vec, a neb, a provolve or a rianth. But against a transapient, nothing I could teach you would help. Promise me that you'll run," Father demanded.
"This Professor Philo at this Eden institute you've spoken with seems to be a decent one. Stick with him. He'll help protect you," Father explained.
"Why not?" Krissa asked.
"I'd never really thought about it, is all."
"Well, think about it. I want a son," Krissa said.
"Well, it's not a bad idea," Jacob admitted.
"It's a good idea and you know it!" Krissa said.
Jacob smiled, looking at his beautiful wife. "Do you want to engineer our child, or do you want to let nature run it's course?" Jacob asked.
"I'd rather we just try and see what happens," Krissa replied. "But let's think about that after we get back from this expedition."
Everything was on schedule. He and Krissa had locked their bodies away in the nanostasis pod, and the nanotech was currently locking them in a carbon-lattice to protect them from the G forces they would have to endure. The fusion reactors were in standby mode and the chemical rocket was ready for ignition. From inside the control computers in the cabin atop the rocket, Jacob's mind made the last few adjustments to compensate for atmospheric adjustments. The huge tanks of liquid oxygen and hydrogen were filled to capacity, and the igniters were primed. Jacob activated the radio link and sent a quick message to the receiver around which all his friends and family was gathered.
"Don't worry," he explained, "We'll be fine."
The fuel pumps swirled into action, dumping thousands of gallons of fuel and oxidizer onto the igniters, and suddenly the rocket began slowly moving upwards and tipping into the direction of orbit. Mere minutes later, the primary broke away, falling into one of Sufficiency's seas. The secondary fired, pushing the capsule out into orbit around the planet. All the sensors were showing nominal readings, so Jacob began a parabolic orbit around Sufficiency that would send them out on their way.
He oriented the transmitter towards the satellite his mother had placed in orbit and sent another message, "All systems go. Wish us luck."
Johnathan sent back a response, "Be careful, son. Come back if you can."
There was time for more conversation, and Krissa took control to speak to her father. Jacob wished Schwee and his family well, and asked Neah to look after his favorite puppy.
The second stage rocket exhausted its fuel supply and then disengaged, leaving Jacob and Krissa in a tiny vessel, floating beyond Sufficiency's gravity well. He switched on the dubious reactor, trying to keep words like "sabotage" and "explosion" out of his mind. The reactor worked flawlessly, and the mag-sail came up to full power.
Months later, they would be far enough away from the sun to have to start the conversion rocket and with it the active shielding system. A century and more later, they would arrive at a system in the Pleiades Volume that contained a wormhole gate. From there, another month would have them at the Eden Institute.
"Should I start the virtual environment?" Krissa asked. He couldn't exactly think of it as her 'saying' the words, he was just suddenly aware of her question.
"If you like," Jacob replied. Suddenly he found himself standing in a small grassy meadow, with his wife standing before him. If he concentrated, he was still aware of all the vessel's sensors and systems, but the virtual environment was nearly perfect.
"I hope you and your mother made this program realistic," Krissa said with a smile, running her hands over her breasts and stomach.
"It's supposed to be," he said with a smile. "Of course, I never did get to fully test it."
"If it doesn't live up to expectations, can we fix it from the inside?"
"I think so," Jacob took a step towards her and brought his hands up to meet hers.
Several small modifications were needed before the environment behaved perfectly, but Jacob and Krissa managed.
There were hundreds of them. Literally hundreds of titanic Dysons. All of them basically had the same design, but from his telescopic survey of the others, only this one had the huge spire sticking out of its surface - that is, unless the others had them, and they were hidden on their far sides.
"They're huge!" Krissa said, looking back to her readout.
"But they're all dark. There's no radio traffic, no signs of life at all," Jacob said.
"Well," Krissa furrowed her brow, considering their options, "what do we do?"
"We check out that spire. It's huge. It's got to have a purpose."
"What if it's a weapon?" Krissa asked.
"Well, it might be," Jacob admitted. "But...What are we going to do? Go home?"
Krissa simply smirked and thumbed the control that started the engines and drove them towards the tip of the tower. "If you don't mind, I'm not going to get directly in line with the end - in case it's a huge mass-driver or some such."
"If they can build a hundred Dysons, they can aim a gun," Jacob said with a smile. "But - there's no reason not to be cautious, I guess."
The small craft made for the end of the spire, and Jacob watched the sensor readouts carefully.
The picnic broke up and father and mother invited Mr. Koulis, Schwee and Clea back to the house for a drink, leaving Jacob, Krissa and Neah to swim in the deep part of the stream.
Jacob quickly stripped off the shirt he was wearing and jumped into the cold, clear water. He had been swimming at this part of the stream for the last fifteen years and was an excellent swimmer.
Krissa took off the robe she had been wearing, and underneath she wore a very revealing bathing suit. Jacob had to look away to keep from staring.
Neah stood on the rocky shore eyeing the water warily. Jacob knew she didn't like the water. Her fur got heavy when it was wet and she didn't float very well. She liked wading in the rapids, but disliked water higher than her rather low knees. "If you guys don't mind, I think I'll skip the swimming and head back to the house. I want to go over the telescope design with Mrs. Montgomery again, if she's willing."
"Sure, fuzzy. We'll be there soon enough," Jacob said. Climbing through caves was more Neah's style. He made a mental note to plan a trip to the caves sometime in the near future so Neah wouldn't feel so left out.
Krissa dove in off the high bank and Jacob couldn't help but stare. She was no longer the crying little girl he had met in the street six years ago. She had turned into a beautiful young woman and Jacob hadn't even noticed. She swam underwater towards him, and surfaced directly in front of him, smiling widely. "I thought they'd never leave," She said.
"Huh?" Jacob asked, completely misunderstanding what she was saying.
Krissa smiled. "Jacob, you've got a mostly naked and - modesty aside - very pretty girl wanting to be alone with you. What do you think I mean?"
Jacob was more confused than anything. Up until just a few minutes before, he had never thought of Krissa in that way. But now, she was pressing her body against his and kissing him. Just when he was getting accustomed to the idea of kissing her, he felt her hand at the waistband of his bathing suit. If he let her continue he was going to have to completely re-evaluate her as a person and reconsider their relationship.
Thinking didn't take him very long. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him.
"Xenoarcheology?" Mother asked him, reading the spine of the book on his kitchen table.
"New hobby," Jacob said, transferring the dinner he had made to a small tray and carrying it to the table.
"Well, I like this better than your last hobby," Mother said, thumbing through the book, looking at records of the missions that had discovered remnants of various alien civilizations. "There are less guns involved with Xenoarcheology."
"But more dead people," Jacob joked, but he instantly knew the joke was in bad taste. "Look, I know you didn't approve of me hunting down all those..."
"It's not that I disapprove of what you did. Those cretins deserve what you did. I just worried about you," Mother said.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence, and Jacob fought to find something to say to fill it, but the words wouldn't come.
Finally, he asked, "So, do you know anything about xenoarcheology?"
"No, not really. By the time we came here, there were only rumors of xenoarcheology finds, and none of them particularly credible," Mother said. "It wasn't an accepted field of study where I came from."
"Well, according to this data I got from Mr. Koulis, dozens of extinct alien civilizations have been found all over the place."
"I get the impression that you don't like me, Jacob," Professor Philo asked.
"It's not that I don't like you, Professor Philo. It's just..." Jacob couldn't continue. He had no idea what to say.
"You don't trust me?" The holographic image of a small, bald old man asked. "Or - something else? You fear me?"
Jacob looked up from the table at Philo's image. He had, two hours earlier, been revived from nanostasis, and still wasn't thinking clearly. He felt like he had swallowed a liter of pure ethanol and was living a nightmare hangover. "No, it's not fear. I don't know, maybe it is."
"You have no reason to fear me," Professor Philo said patiently. "I promise no harm will come to you while you are here."
"See, the problem comes in with the definition of the word 'harm'. We could disagree with how that word is defined," Jacob said.
"True. I could leave your body intact but rewrite the software of your mind, without you ever being the wiser," Professor Philo said, smiling. "But, of course, I don't need your body. I can make better. What I want from you is your mind."
"What could you possibly want from my mind?"
"Let me ask you a question: What qualities go into making a superb, highly trainable dog?" Philo asked.
Jacob rubbed his temple, missing the implication due to severe pain, "A good dog is independent, yet loyal. Fierce yet loving. Always willing to do what its trainer requires, not out of fear of punishment or hope of reward - but simply because the dog enjoys what it is being asked to do."
"That's why I chose you. I want a man that enjoys being a xenoarcheologist and is good at it. I can tell you'll be good at it," Philo said.
"I won't be your pet," Jacob replied.
"Would you describe any of your past dogs as pets? Or were they your friends?"
The dogs began barking. Jacob looked up from his computer terminal, leaning to see out the window, when suddenly the dogs went silent. With that, he jumped up and ran for the door, grabbing a static pistol off the wall as he ran past the gun rack. His dogs wouldn't bark at a friend, and they wouldn't stop barking at a stranger until he made them quit.
Jacob opened the door and looked down his front walkway. To the left, his interstellar vessel's still incomplete frame sat on its stand. To the right, all eight of his dogs were sitting at ease, looking at a small old man that seemed to be studying his vessel.
"Excuse me!" Jacob shouted. "Who are you, and what are you doing there?"
"Oh, hello, Jacob. It's nice to finally meet you," The old man said, not looking up from the fusion reactor housing.
"Well, nice to meet you, too. Now who are you?" Jacob asked, not quite pointing the pistol at him.
"Why, I made this place," The old man waved his hand around behind his back, indicating everything.
"You realize, this design will give you insufficient thrust to make it to your target in anything less than a millennium, don't you?" The old man said.
"What are you...?" Jacob was cut off.
"Antimatter catalyzed fusion will never get you above one-third the speed of light. You'll need to go much faster to make the trip. The nearest wormhole is just over 100 light years away." The old man finally looked up from the drive module. His eyes were a pale blue, and his hair was thin and white. Jacob had never seen a human in such an aged state. "When I selected this planet, I picked it for its remote location. Couldn't have the others constantly going in and out of here if I wanted to accomplish anything."
"Who are you?" Jacob asked again, slowly lowering the pistol.
"Hmmm. I'm best known as Ciraxxis," The old man said.
"Right. The transapient mind that terraformed Sufficiency and gave it to the people?" Jacob asked.
The old man nodded, "Yes. Well, I'm not the entirety of Ciraxxis. Consider me a piece of Ciraxxis that speaks for the whole."
"And I'm just supposed to believe you?"
"Well, perhaps a miracle or two would help my case?" The old man said with a smile. He held out his left hand, it was empty - at least Jacob thought so at first. Then he could see a tiny glowing mote of light that seemed to hover just above the palm. Without a sound, with no pop, no deafening bang, no noise at all, the mote of light grew at an astounding rate. As it grew, it darkened and took form. Suddenly, it stopped expanding, and what was left was a large, black device the size of father's truck. The old man held it up in his outstretched hand as if it were nothing.
"A monopole-catalyzed total conversion reactor," The old man said, and dropped the device. When it hit, Jacob could feel the ground shake and see the divot it dug in the turf beside the walkway. "And here," The old man continued, "are the monopoles to make the device work." He rummaged in his pants pocket and pulled out a small, silver, cylindrical device. This, he matched to a hole in the large machine and slid it inside.
"So, you're a high-level transapient, and you've decided to simply give me this, no strings attached?" Jacob asked, not raising the pistol, but tightening his grip on it.
"No, nothing like that. There are strings attached, boy. There are always strings." He leaned over the device and touched what appeared to be a control mechanism. A panel came to life, displaying information about the device. "But it's okay. These strings are harmless.
"I want you to leave this place," Ciraxxis continued. "At least for a while. You are dangerously close to something here, something I tried to engineer out of this place."
"Close to what?" Jacob asked.
"A cult of personality, my boy. Who has the biggest name on this planet? You do. That's such an interesting way to express an economy, I think. An economy of popularity. And you, you seem to have broken this system. Fifty-seven years you spent chasing miscreants, wrongdoers and violent criminals, and you've made such an impact on the entire population of this world. They'd give you anything! They did! They gave you your stockpile of antimatter. That stuff isn't easy to come by for them," The old man explained.
"So, you want me gone because...because too many people like me?" Jacob asked.
The old man looked at Jacob from under his bushy white eyebrows - a gaze that chilled Jacob's blood. "Something like that," He said with a sly smile.
"Did you know that in a typical day, your name is said aloud over four hundred times by the citizens of this world? And that's not even counting your family and close friends. On average, eight thousand people write your name in their public logs and message boards on the planetary network each day. Every citizen of this world knows who you are."
"Well, that's nice for me, I guess."
"It's disrupting! But you want to go. I want to make it easy for you to go. Eventually, you will come back, and that's perfectly acceptable. But for now, its time you were on your way," Ciraxxis said.
"How can I trust this stuff you've given me?" Jacob pointed with his pistol at the reactor.
"How can you not?" The old man asked as he turned to walk away.
The device sat for several weeks exactly where the old man dropped it. Eventually Jacob carefully inspected the device, with the help of mother, father, Schwee and several of father's friends. They could find nothing troubling about the device. It appeared to be exactly what the old man said it was.
Jacob powered the ship up to full throttle as he exited the wormhole at the edge of the Fons Luminous system. All the sensors, passive and active, screamed at him. He had been detected, and vessels were closing in on him.
"I didn't truly expect to survive this - or even succeed," Jacob thought to himself.
The ships moving to intercept Jacob were known throughout the Terragen Sphere as 'Black Angels', spheres of godlike destructive power. Jacob had seen hundreds of them in the spaceport of the Black Box on Isotope, and though his own vessel had similar capabilities, he really didn't understand what he was up against.
Each of the spheres had a swarm of halo particles, just like Jacob's vessel. Each of those halo particles was capable of distorting spacetime in its vicinity for various effects - everything from crushing tidal effects to propulsive effects. Each halo particle was a tightly compacted region of spacetime, controlled by powerful machinery inside the warp. That machinery was in turn controlled by its master sphere through a quantum-encrypted communication channel, and that wouldn't be "crackable" without having physical access to the communication hardware inside the warp of each particle.
Jacob's halo expanded, like a martial artist taking a ready stance. His halo was larger, consisting of more particles than any one of the dozens of attackers. Lord Bigendian had added hundreds of thousands of particles to Jacob's halo. But he was still outnumbered.
Several times during the battle, Jacob's point of view on the chaos seemed to jump by hundreds of thousands of kilometers - as if his ship had simply teleported to the new location. He felt completely out of control, lost in the chaos as his vessel fought on against the Lord of Rays' defenses.
He turned his attention to the capitol planet, Raphael, and wondered where were the rest of the defenses for this capitol world - probably the best-defended world in all of Terragen space. Jacob knew he was outmatched here, but he had no idea how badly outmatched he was. It was in that momentary lull that he sent a single halo particle blazing through the black, heading at mind boggling acceleration towards Re, the largest of the five stars in the system.
Moments later, he became aware of a radio transmission directed towards his craft. He tuned his receivers to intercept it and heard a human-sounding voice, far from what he expected, say, "Hello Jacob. I am Daniel Borde. There is no need to continue hostilities. Innocent people could be hurt. Please join me in the temple on Raphael."
His instrumentation told him that the halo particle he had sent towards Re had already arrived and was situated deep under the surface of the star - hopefully beyond Daniel Borde's reach.
Jacob activated his transmitter and broadcast his reply, "Clear a path. I want to talk to you."
His halo flung him towards Raphael at incredible speed, and just as quickly brought him to a stop just above the atmosphere directly over the temple.
The ship sank into the atmosphere slowly, point down. At ground level he pushed the thick angelnet away, clearing a space around the temple. Slowly, the pointed nose of his vessel pierced the pavement of the plaza in front of the temple, driving the ship into the ground up to the door on the side of the second bubble. Jacob felt himself being disconnected from the chair console and slowly climbed out of the tiny compartment, into the bright light of the five suns of Fons Luminous.
The city was beautiful he had to admit. It was a monument to the colossal ego of Borde. It both intrigued and disgusted Jacob. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair, Jacob thought. It was strange that such words might still be applicable after so long a time.
The streets appeared deserted, and Jacob saw nothing moving anywhere. Likely, Borde had cleared the surroundings of the locals - a move that Jacob respected.
Jacob walked up the grand stairs that led to the temple. The doors were massive affairs that stretched up well above Jacob's head. Jacob didn't feel what the building was engineered to make him feel. The building was built to make the people feel awe and feel insignificant. Jacob simply felt that the whole situation was a farce and showed Borde to be nothing more than colossal narcissist.
He pushed the doors, and they swung open easily. Inside the brightly lit room were benches and statues. And standing up at the focus of attention in the room was the glowing form of a man. The light in the room came from his golden, glowing flesh.
The golden man spoke in a loud, booming voice, "Come Jacob Montgomery. We have much to discuss."
Jacob walked up the central aisle, between the statues and the benches, never taking his eyes off Daniel Borde. His left hand was jammed in his pocket, and his thumb rested lightly on the blue button that would end this world. At a guess, he figured he had about three hours from the time he pushed the button until the planet was baked. Mother could have calculated the time much more accurately, but stellar mechanics wasn't his specialty, and mother was long dead.
"You've done stupendously, Jacob. Better than we had hoped for," Borde said.
"Be silent, murderer," Jacob said.
"Now I'm a murderer, am I?" Borde asked, and smiled. "Well, maybe so. Maybe I have killed a few here and there."
"Over two million dead. Those two million are what we are going to talk about," Jacob said as he drew near Borde.
"I should have known you'd want to single out Sufficiency. It would be important to you," Borde said, still smiling.
Jacob's thumb twitched on the button, but he didn't press it yet.
"Yes, they died. They died for a purpose, though. They died so that you and I would be here, at this time, having this conversation. They died in order to create you as you are now," Borde said.
Another half-Newton of force and the device would be activated, and a star and everything around it would die.
"The Descendants of Earth need you. They need a being with your attributes, with your mind. And so, we created you," Borde said, still smiling. He withdrew his left hand from under his silvery cloak. In the hand was a glowing crystal orb roughly the size of a human head. "But I am not a monster. The people, the environment of Sufficiency was destroyed but can be remade. Here, take this and rebuild your world. Remake it exactly as it was the moment before it burned. Every person, every building, every single bacteria...all of it. Preserved perfectly and ready to be re-embodied. All of the data is there. You have the means to remake your world." Borde held the orb out to Jacob.
Jacob took the orb and stared at it. A carbon based storage module. It was heavy, but Jacob could easily hold it in his right hand. An entire world, in his right hand.
"What makes me so special that you would do this to so many people? Why am I so important?" Jacob asked.
"Not you Jacob Montgomery, you silly little monkey. I wasn't talking about you."
Jacob's left hand went limp, the box with the glowing blue button dropped into the bottom of his pocket. He didn't understand. He couldn't understand. Daniel Borde wasn't talking to Jacob Montgomery, he was talking to me.
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