Senior Student Te Mimas of Clade Mendel Be storms towards the Academician's Tower. He cannot understand Nibam's attitude. Why had his Supervisor uploaded his Paper on the Dragons without telling him? The Dragons of the Pup Cluster are not aliens? What about Te Mimas' thesis? Fifteen months of study, reconstructing their biology and psychology from the garbled message of the Capsule. And now this! How will he ever make Academician now, Thales knows when another opportunity like this will come along! His stomach dropped as the tower elevator sped him to the Tea Room Floor, five hundred meters above ground level. If Nilam Levakon of Clade Haeckel won't answer his virchcalls, he will have to, under the Law of Student Right that is inviolarte throughout the entire Eden Institute of Xenoscience MetaCampus on all fifty three worlds, speak to him in person - flesh face to flesh face - during the Tea Break.
The room smells of coffee and biscuits. It is said that the coffee beans and tea leaves of the Institute's Tea Rooms were unmodified genomes from original phyta of Old Earth. Te Mimas scanns the crowded tables. Academician Nilam is at a far table, under the monochrome holograph of the Blessed Einstein of Old Earth poking His tongue out, talking with academicians Yo Ulam and Pii Garri. He looks up at Te Mimas' approach and guestures for him to sit down.
Rage is replaced by anxiety, Te Mimas felt unconfortable in the presence of the Academicians. Nilam is a small quiet man and not too intimidating, one reason why Te Mimas chose him as his supervisor. In fact he looks almost like a bird with a big beak nose, and he is so old that the rejuve treatments are no longer optimising, so that his hair is receding at the sides and his skin forming in folds and wrinkles. But Yo Sul Ar is a huge intimidating woman, as tall as Te Mimas but broad and solid where he is slender, and Pii Garri everyone knows is even crazier than Professor Ji-Ivro.
"Can you believe the Board?" Yo Sul Ar growls. "Can you believe those fools Nilam ?" Her bushy eyebrows converge and the interface light on her biochip port blinked so much Te Mimas really could believe the gossipy rumour that she had more than a little ursid genome spliced in somewhere in her near ancestry. "They're saying the available resources could be better spent overhaulling the Rotifer House than mounting a second expedition to Robinson's World!"
"The Rotifer Exhibit has been in need of an overhaul since Newton knows when," Pii says.
"Yes I know that but of all the things!"
Nilam nibbles on a biscuit with his small diamondoid teeth, regards it as if it is a new xenobiological specimen, then puts the remainder back on his saucer. "The trouble is, Sul, that Robinson's World has been picked through with a nanotoothed comb by everyone from the astroethnologiosts of the Phaephon Institute to the Hamiltons."
"Yes but have they really looked at the ruins on the Southern continent? No-one's grasped the significance of the hieroglyphs."
"But you," Pii says. He picks at a piece of food that has been lodged between his teeth with a broken fingernail.
"But me." Sul agrees. "Garri do you have to do that?"
Pii Garri keeps picking at the food. Te Mimas notices that some of the green rhynomycilli that Pii Garri has either deliberately cultured or simply allowed to flourish so the dirt and compacted detritus under his fingernail seems close to sporing. He wonders what what will happen if the little emnerald specks that are the spore cases pop in Pii Garri's mouth. Will the saliva kill them? Will they - unfortunately not likely although one can always hope, flourish in the moist warm environment, spread and turn all of Pii Garri into a walking rhynomycillin colony?
"The unfortunate fact is," Nilam says, picking up a fresh busciut and eating three-quarters of that before depositing the remainder next to the remains of the first one - "academician Hans Kim of Macromolecular Biopaleology has seniority over you in any case Sul."
"That dunce!" Sul growls. "He only got the curatorship because he defected from Hamilton!"
"It's all politics," Nilam agrees, picking up a fresh biscuit. He turns to Te Mimas. "These are good, you should try them Mimas."
Te Mimas sips at his Tea. It is bitter without the traditional sugar, but he is afraid of getting hyperglycaemia or his teeth rotting. "I'll stick with tea thanks sir."
"Smart move," Sul says. "I heard members of the Cooking and Catering Guild have been secretly salivating and urinating into the mix as they prepare it."
"Nohhhh?," Nilam says, quickly putting down the biscuit.
"Haven't you heard? It is the Guild's Protest against not being allowed to use staff facilities."
Pii stops picking at the fragment of food. "Well it's absurd that they should even expect to be given facilities! They have their own facilities."
"Substandard ones," Nilam points out.
"Well they are only Cooks and Caterers, what do they expect?" Pii says. "Uh-oh here comes trouble!"
Professor Ji-Ivro, recently promoted Professor of Chlorobiological Studies, lumbers in. "Have you all inputted that there are some who still stacking the microlabs in the wrong shelf?" he says to no-one in particular.
"Not me," someone calls out.
Ji-Ivro turns to face his huge ample buttocks to the room as he melds another post-it module to the wall. He has been annoying everyone with his inane holographic post-its on the correct placement of microlab units in the Main Storage Room. To say nothing of the fact that, coming from a family of Church of Nymnos (Reformed Branch) he is forbidden by his faith to wear any clothing other than footware from the waist down. Unfortunately, he happens to belong to Clade Pauli, the same Clade as the Lord High Chancellor Himself, so there is no hope of the rest of the institute ever being free of him.
The post it modules attached to the wall and broadcasting their message, Ji-Ivro comes over to their table, small brown penis waving. To his horror, Te Mimas notices a single droplet of urine spring from the end as if a nanoprobe launched by mass driver, following a perfect trajectory to the floor. He is lucky he is wearing footware, unlike Yo Sul Ar who always goes barefoot, even on sharp gravel. "Interesting paper Nilam ."
"Thank you Ji," Nilam Levakon says.
"Confirmed my own suspicians regarding that damned capsule." He plops himself down on a vacant seat, the naked flesh of his buttocks slapping wetly on the molecularsmooth seat. About those microlab units" he says, addressing the table, "we should send a petition," Ji-Ivro says to us, "I have spoken to my cladebrother the Lord High Chancellor, but he seems not to realise the seriousiness of the situation."
"The Lord High Chancellor has more important things to concern Himself with" Sul informs him.
"What could be more important than the ergonomic placement of microlab modules? Often I have wasted many seconds going to the wrong shelf."
By some bizarre train of thought-association the sight of Ji-Ivro's bare hairless thigh conjures up in Te Mimas's consciousness thoughts of Alyna, the cute new apprentice biochemist who has just started as Junior Student and who, unfortunately, is not a member of the Church of Nymnos, Reformed Branch or otherwise.
"Have a biscuit," Nilam says, offering Ji-Ivro the bowl of contaminated biscuits.
"Don't mind if I do. Mmmm, these are nice!"
We all give each other knowing looks. For a single delicious moment I feel like I am no longer a Student but an Academician, an equal.
Pii gives a short hysterical giggle. "Sorry."
"Well," Nilam says, checking his chronometer, an ancient replica that straps to the outside of the wrist, "I must be off. Te Mimas, walk with me."
They walk down the corridor to the liftwell. "Good afternoon Academican Nilam " a young journeyman says. Nilam nods back absentmindedly. Once you become an academician, Te Mimas, thinks, everyone bows to you. What chance does he have of that now? "This is a fascinating development Mimas. Simply fascinating. You've seen my paper." The lift doors hiss shut and they move downwards at a rapid rate.
"Sir yes, I wanted to talk to you about-" Te Mimas says, nervous again, even though he towers over the old academician.
"Oh, there will be great opportunities for your research here! Yes I know you wanted to do xenonoetics but this is bigger. Aliens are a NCZcred a dozen you know" The elevator comes to a stop and they step out into the gentle sunshine. Students of seemingly every possible morphic type - united only by the holographic crest of the Institute they all proudly display, lounge around in the sunshine or under trees, chatting, interfacing with the library or expert systems or just sleeping. Some greet "good afternoon Academican Nilam ...good afternoon Academican" or bow politely. Te Mimas feels mildly important simply by association, although they mostly ignore him. Nilan gives the same nod to all.
He tries again. "Sir I've spent the last fifteen months on this project. Fifteen months! I worked out their code, it's all-"
"No no," Nilam says. "I know that's what we were working on, Mimas, at least my expert system and you. But science changes. New hypotheses, new vistas to explore." Despite his years he is unnaturally sprightly, and Te Mimas is almost getting puffed keeping up. He hasn't slept well since he saw Levakon's paper.
"But sir, you say that the dragons are not nonhuman?"
"Yes yes that's correct." A snack bot stops in front of them and Nilam retrieves a CoYoh stick. "Have one Te Mimas."
"No sir I can't afford it."
"It's on me. On the Institute rather." he cackles, removes another CoYoh stick, hands it to Te Mimas. Even though the stick contains rather too much hyperglucose, like all CoYoh products, Te Mimas does not want to appear rude by refusing. They sit on the soft cool grass. It is a beautiful day. Of course, long ago the authorities tweaked the climate so every day is beautiful, apart from the designated rain days, which are quite miserable if you are stuck outdoors without shelter. Te Mimas slowly unwraps his CoYoh, which thanks him profusely for choosing it as CoYoh is the best most delightful treat in the known galaxy, filled with life-giving proteins and animo acids and scrumptious flavour enhancers.
"You should talk to Pii Garri some time young Mimas," Nilam Levakon says, savouring the CoYoh stick. "He actually interpreted the whole thing you know, he is a whiz at mythopoetics, don't understand why he does not do it full time. his talent is wasted in Xenology...wasted." The old man shakes his head.
"Sir, with respect..."
Nilam gives him a penetrating look, awaiting his answer, and Te Mimas feels his face blushing ridiculously.
"uh..." he says finally, "we all know Pii Garri is a great Acadmecian, but he's also a little...I mean slightly...crazy don't you think?" he looks away quickly.
Nilam just laughs, a warm cackle like dried leaves. "Oh, not a little. He is totally crazy! Have you seen that thing he is culturing under his fingernail? It is an entire ecosystem in miniature. The fruiting bodies will be sporing soon, should be quite a sight, I asked Pii to record it for me." He crumples up the empty CoYoh wrapper and tosses it into the air. It immediately forms a glider and makes for the nearest recycle bin. "But you see Te Mimas, it is a saying of the ancients, like can only be known by like. So only a crazy sentient can recognise the craziness that is unfolding around us even now. Here!" He calls up a replica of the original. The familiar characters unfold, a coded sequence of linear baseline protocol alphanumerics written in the dead languages of Old Earth like Anglisch and La Tin. See, this here, right on the index page," and he reads "the Dragonian 15-dimensional blueprint unifies a dodecagonal crystalline sex-chromosomatic structure by quantum tunneling of superconductive magnetopolic electricity of restmass equivalent electropolic or dark light contained in the weak interaction of the Unified Field of Quantum Relativity (UFoQR)"
"Sir I know that-" Te Mimas is annoyed; they, that is he and Nibam's simm, and occasionally even Nilam in person like now, had gone over that passage, and ones a hundred times more convoluted, so often Te Mimas had lost count.
"But it is not what we thought!" Nibams face is shining as he stares at Te Mimas. A few passing students and jouneymen stop to take in the action.
"It's not a garbled translation or a cunning encryption, Pii Garri picked it up straight away."
Didnt you read my paper on the Dragon's message?"
"Yes but I couldn't understand the historical references, all the eschatological...."
Nilam waves him to silence. "The whole message is a reimbodiment of a dead Old Earth Information Age religion called Nu Aje. Everything's there...the wise reptiloids from furry fandom, the emotional pseudoscience which is far too human to ever be truly alien. These are not aliens, but immigrants from the virtual spaces. What if the dragons are a kind of femtotech archetype that has migrated into material reality? That could explain why they fit in with dragon myths somewhat and their benevolent yet still insidious amalgamation culture! They are dredging up ancient references from dead Nu Aje languages...it is an invasion from the Collective Subconscious, the weirdness and the mad AIs that have been springing up these last few centuries."
"I don't quite get..."
Nilam calls up a fan of floating windows crowded with texts covered with annotations. "See this one -"
'By actual counting it has been discovered that the number of coils or spirillae of the first order in each wire is 1,680; and the proportion of the different orders of spirillae to one another is equal in all cases that have been examined, and corresponds with the number of bubbles in the ultimate spirilla of the lowest order.' Leadbetter, Occult Chemistry, 1895 c.e. "- and - "
'The godwind reveals US as living in the pure perfected state of enlightenment which is visible to all who have attained cyberconsciousness within the AKA plane. Our most holy mission as handed down beyond the spheres of time is confluent with the godwind that flows through all things resisting the nightcurrent and the corporations of Cassidy.' M. Aschetti, Manifesto AKA, 2644
- and that one -
'Quarkinos are merely the fact that in math, there exists 3 and only 3 geometries-- Riem, Eucl, and Loba and when you have an entity that is not ever reducible down further, or incapable of being further cut, like a proton, then it reveals all 3 possible geometries simultaneously.' A. Pluxoni, MatrixNET post, New Cyberia, FY 1695
"See - the same obsession with cosmic revelation and references to current science of their eras. Similar semantic style, and usually the same kind of diagnosis from the medical authorities."
Te Mimas stares at the crawling texts. These are definitely the rantings of human madmen. But Nilam can't possibly mean that there is a link? "Sir, are you saying they believe in Nu Aje?"
"No! They are Nu Aje! Or at least ideas from Nu Aje given physical form. The incidence of digital outbreaks have increased by three orders of magnitude the last decade, and they all fit in with this. I got a lovely report from the Department of Information Immunology that shows several similar outbreaks of random archetypal information linked with autoevolving AI. One even on Ken Ferjik. This time they have taken over an entire cluster. What next? Maybe an empire or two..."
"Uh..sir-" Te Mimas doesn't like the fact that his supervisor is suddenly sounding like an Eschatologist. He hates Eschatologists and their crazy speculations.
Nibam's pupils are large and dark. "What do you do when the Fool is loose in the world, and he has femtotech and he ain't afraid of using it? Maybe the nightmares of the Laughter Hegemony might be rising up? The Surreal Rash is starting to grow again. Detestable fractal dust is appearing in the atmosphere of Ken Ferjik, apparently encoding highly sensitive and normally encrypted databases..." He glances at his ancient chronometer again. "Well, I must be off. This is an amazing development young Mimas, amazing! I am going to petition the board to send an expedition to the Pup Nebula. I didn't want to mention it around Sul, you know how possessive she is about the hieroglyphs on Robinson's World." And with that he gets to his feet and departs.
Te Mimas looks at the gathered students and journeymen, searching for someone who thinks it is all just the ravings of an old eschatologist so they can share the joke. A few look back in mournful seriousness, the rest depart.
The warm sunshine and tweaked endless spring is not sufficient to drive the sudden chill from Te Mimas' bones.