Chapter 17 of Cellular Civilization.
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Petrif PilotEdit

Lanora led Charlie into a small room where a robot was brewing tea. The robot said, "Welcome aboard."

Charlie muttered, "Andy?"

Lanora shook her head and introduced the robot as Petrif. "Petrif is the same kind of robot as Andy, but an entirely different individual."

Charlie could now see that Petrif's body form and facial features were more feminine than those of Andresklo, but she still looked almost as powerful and strong as Andy.

Petrif handed a mug of tea to Lanora and spoke, using a voice that was recognizably a simulation of a woman. "Would you like tea, Charlie? Or something else to eat or drink?"

Charlie and Petrif shook hands. Lanora said, "That's one of the things that you will have to change, Charlie. The handshake is not popular within Genesaunt culture. Soon we'll have you equipped with your own nanite implants and you'll learn to send greeting by means of a kind of electronic handshake."

Charlie accepted a mug of tea, but said, "Before I drink anything, I'd like to empty my bladder."

Lanora exclaimed, "Oh! Sorry, I should have shown you those facilities first." She proceeded to do so and then they settled at a small table with Petrif to drink tea. Lanora gave the robot a brief account of how Charlie had been taken off of Earth.

From the astute questions that Petrif asked, Charlie suspected that this robot had been receiving reports from Dexamene's Interventionist cell on Earth.

Petrif shook her head in wonder and commented, "Andresklo's quick thinking saved Dexamene from disaster. Dexamene had foolishly failed to recognize the importance of that boy, Thomas."

Charlie still had a hard time making sense of Andresklo's lightening fast actions near the crash scene. "I saw him toss some packages into that flyer before the crash, then he tossed me like a rag doll." He pulled up his shirt and showed off his bruised ribs.

Petrif saw the black bruises on Charlie's side and grunted in disgust, "Yaz, I thought you were supposed to be taking care of Charlie."

Lanora reacted in horror at the sight of Charlie's bruises. "Oh, my! Charlie, you didn't tell me you were injured."

"It's nothing." Charlie asked, "Yaz?"

For a minute Lanora and Petrif discussed Charlie's bruises and administered medical nanites and an anesthetic.

Charlie asked again, "Yaz?"

Yasas now stopped using the name "Lanora". She explained, "My real name is Yasas. The 'Lanora' persona was just something that my sister invented for use on Earth. We can now bid farewell to 'Lanora'. Most people call me 'Yaz'."

"Dexamene invented a false name for you to use? I guess 'Yasas' is rather unusual. What kind of name is that?"

"It's a good Genesaunt name. Eventually you will learn to speak our language and then words like 'Yasas" won't seem as unusual anymore."

Charlie commented, "I rather enjoyed calling you 'Lani'. I'm not sure it will be easy for me to start calling you 'Yaz'...that sounds like a tobacco chewing baseball player."

Yasas laughed and said, "You are so fanciful! The name 'Yasas' happens to be one that my mother picked out and I'm sure she never gave a thought to baseball."

Petrif quickly scanned the Observer database and said, "Carl Yastrzemski played baseball for the Boston Red Sox. He was often called 'Yaz'."

Charlie suggested, "If Petrif knows Carl Yastrzemski then maybe your mother did, too. Still, it seems strange that anyone would name their daughter after a baseball player!"

Yasas took hold of Charlie's hand. "The details of my mother's life are something that will take some time for you to grow comfortable with."

"I'm sorry I keep reminding you about her."

"It is perfectly fine for you to mention my mother." Yasas explained, "She died over three thousand years ago."

Charlie wondered if the Genesaunts had some kind of technology for extreme life-extension. He asked, "You're three thousand years old?"

Yasas grinned, "I hope I don't look it. No, I'm only slightly older than you, but my mother lived thousands of years ago. Of course, she left behind her genetic pattern and it was used to create my sisters and I. Such radically time-shifted children are not very common in Genesaunt society, but occasionally our geneticists pull an old genome out of storage."

"I remember what Andresklo said... he said that he knew your mother.”

Petrif explained, "As did I. Andy and I are both that old."

Yasas nodded, "Even if a robotic body wears out after a thousand years or so, it is simple to transfer the robot's mind to a new body. Very old robots are one of the useful features of Genesaunt society."

Charlie asked, "So you never had human parents? You and your sisters were manufactured as clones and then you were raised by Andy and Petrif?"

"My sisters and I grew up as part of what you might call an extended human family. Andy, Petrif and other robots were always there as part of our family."

Petrif remarked, "It is not proper to describe robots as being human family members. We machines serve humans, we are your assistants."

Yasas shook her head, "Sorry, Petrif, but I'll always think of you as part of my family."

"I'm just a machine like Andresklo. Anyhow, you apparently never explained Andresklo's actions to Charlie."

"There is so much I have to explain to Charlie. And I was only on Earth a short time, so I don't fully understand what Dex and Andy were doing. Maybe you can explain it all to us."

"Ha! The way Dexamene charges around I doubt that even she could explain all the trouble she stirs up."

Yasas defended her sister, "I'm not ready to blame Dex. She requested permission to stop moving robots through airports."

Petrif nodded. "It was a bad situation. We only have one spaceship for use traveling to and from Earth and we don't use it any more than we have to. We can't risk that ship every time Dexamene has a whim and wants to relocate a robot. In this case, the ship was needed by another Interventionist, so Dexamene had to move Alfred from Japan to America by conventional airline travel."

Charlie asked, "How many Interventionist agents are there on Earth?"

Yasas shrugged and again Petrif was slow to reply. "That is a secret. Do you know how spy cells work? They are independent and each spy knows nothing about the identities of other spies. Anyone who goes to Earth and is at risk of being captured by Overseers cannot be told any more than they need to know for their mission."

Charlie suggested, "But you know. You just won't tell me."

Petrif explained, "I doubt if the Overseers will ever get their hands on you, but there is no need for you to know how many Interventionists work on Earth. I'll just say this: it is not many."

Yasas was clearly upset about having to sacrifice Tess to the Overseers. "It's all so unfair. It was Tess herself who reported evidence that the Observers have new nanoelectronic pattern detectors in use on Earth. Tess was ignored and she was the one sacrificed to the Overseers."

"We're examining recent data. If Tess was right about the detectors then I'll recommend that robots no longer be used on Earth."

"That would be a terrible blow to the whole Interventionist program."

Charlie was impressed by the way Petrif spoke to Yasas. The robot did not seem very much like a servant. He asked, "Exactly who runs things out here? Is this Genesaunt civilization a human operation or are robots in charge? Or aliens?"

Petrif seemed to wait for Yasas to respond to Charlie's question, after a moment Petrif spoke. Charlie suspected that Yasas and Petrif were in communication by means of their nanite implants. Petrif explained, "It is fundamental Genesaunt law that humans are in charge. We robots are assistants, but our long lives make robots a very important resource. Charlie, you saw how efficiently Andresklo responded during the emergency on Earth. At the last minute, the Overseer learned that Dexamene was not the only human working with Alfred. Andresklo quickly noticed that and responded...he prevented disaster."

Charlie asked, "Exactly who is Alfred? From what you two have said, I gather he's a robot."

Petrif nodded. "He is the robot that was sacrificed to the Observers along with Tess. It appears that the Overseers somehow detected Alfred's presence on Earth and then Alfred led them to Dexamene. It just kept getting worse. Dexamene then revealed the fact that she has an identical sister. Dexamene did not pay attention to Thomas and his raging nanite infection."

Yasas complained, "It's not fair that Dexamene's reputation has been damaged. She was doing a favor, lending her team members to another Interventionist."

Petrif said, "You don't know the whole situation. Anyhow, each agent has to be ready to help others when needed."

Yasas would not concede the point. "I know what Dex told me. And she should not be blamed when forced to do things against her judgment. And I don't see how she could be expected to have understood about Thomas-"

Petrif shrugged and interrupted Yasas, "We're boring Charlie with our bickering."

Charlie chuckled, "I'm interested in your dispute, even if I don't understand what you two are talking about. I know Thomas as a friend of Jenny. I'd heard that he has some kind of mental illness."

"That was only his Earthly diagnosis."

Charlie asked, "What do you mean by 'nanite infection'?"

Petrif again paused before responding. "Your question touches on a fundamental issue for Genesaunt civilization. Most of us suspect that, millions of years ago, aliens came to Earth, bringing advanced nanotechnology. Some speculate that the aliens had long before abandoned their biological origins and it is hypothesized that they exist as nanorobotic artificial life forms."

Charlie suggested, "Maybe they are here right now and we do not recognize the aliens."

Petrif asked Charlie, "Are you suggesting that I could be an alien?"

"Can you prove that you are not?"

"No, but I assure you that I'm not an alien."

"Maybe your robotic brain is a convenient puppet for the aliens. You might not recognize that you are a tool of the aliens."

"I could say the same of you."

Charlie laughed. "Okay, after what I've been through I'm willing to admit that I've been manipulated in a most cavalier way by Yaz and her sister. As far as I know, I am her puppet." He squeezed her hand. "She's told me that those days are behind me, that I'm now free to explore what it means to be a Genesaunt, but she might be tricking me yet again."

Yasas muttered, "I performed memetic surgery on your brain once. Once! That is behind us."

Charlie pulled her hand to his lips and gently kissed her fingers, "Relax, Yaz, I'm just teasing you. I've decided to take your advice and trust that you are helping me learn about Genesaunt culture. I still think I'd be a fool to trust everyone, particularly thousands of years old robots like Andy and Petrif who seem to know everything."

Petrif shook her head. "I don't know everything. The origins of Genesaunt culture are just as mysterious to me as to any human, but we can make educated guesses about what our origins are. Stop inventing conspiracies and let me tell you about Thomas."

"Very well, but it is fun to invent Conspiracies, particularly when nobody seems to be able to debunk them."

"It has been hypothesized that alien nanorobotic life forms came to Earth and began making genetic changes to animals. Their goal might have been to make animal brains interface more efficiently with the alien nanites. In any case, we can imagine that some animal brains began to function very efficiently in synergy with the alien nanites. Possibly the aliens could take control of those animals, to use your terminology, the aliens may have turned animals into their puppets."

"That is a rather horrifying alien invasion theory."

"Yes, it is popular in Genesaunt escapist literature. And as you suggested, it is also often imagined that the aliens continue to control Genesaunts in this way. However, we know that our brains are free of such manipulation. We would easily detect such puppeteers if they were at work. It is hypothesized that long ago the aliens used their ability to interface with the brains of Earthly animals and established a Genesaunt civilization out here in the depths of the Solar System...and beyond. Some evidence suggests that the first animals taken off of Earth were dinosaurs."

Charlie laughed, but then he saw that both Petrif and Yasas took that idea seriously. "Are you suggesting..."

"Our speculative literature includes stories about the descendants of dinosaurs living on planets of nearby stars, planets where their ancestors were taken millions of years ago."

"Of course, there is no evidence to support this wild idea."

"Not much evidence, but the Overseers provide the best example. The Overseers are Neanderthals."

Charlie exclaimed, "What?"

"They've been genetically modified and their physical appearance is now very similar to that of an anatomically modern human. By using nanite prostheses the Overseers can easily disguise their Neanderthal ancestry. The records of Observer Base clearly show that in the past there were Neanderthal Observers. When the Neanderthals became extinct on Earth, the Neanderthal descendants took over the role of Overseers. Before then, there was a different branch of the human clade in that role. And if you are willing to trust me as a source of information, I tell you that I have nanorobotic memories that go back to those times."

Charlie asked, "You served Neanderthals in the same way that you serve Yasas?"

Petrif replied, "Yes."

Charlie had become increasingly distracted by a thrumming sound that seemed to shake his bones. He asked, "What is that sound?"

Yasas explained, "We're approaching our maximum velocity. Much of the ship's power is now going to shields, protecting us from the possibility of collision damage."

Petrif added, "There is a risk from traveling as fast as we now are through a dirty region of space like the inner Solar System, but I don't like to spend too much time away from Earth."

Yasas nodded, "Not much risk, and I appreciate getting home quickly. I want to get Charlie's genes repaired."

Charlie wondered where 'home' was for Yasas. "Exactly where are we going?"

Yasas replied, "I grew up at a little settlement located inside an asteroid."

Charlie asked Petrif, "So, this is your job? Shuttling people around, going to and from Earth?"

Petrif replied, "Yes. People and robots. This has been a busy week of comings and goings." The machine turned its gaze on Yasas, "And after Charlie's genetic surgery is complete, then what?"

"I've promised to help Charlie get to know what it means to be Genesaunt."

"What about your own studies?"

"I can get back to that any time."

"I see. Dexamene indicated that you have become emotionally entangled."

Yasas wanted to know, "What exactly did she say?"

"She said I'd see for myself."

"Well, it is true. I went to Earth expecting only a short diversion from my studies. However, Dexemene seems to have had different plans for me."

Charlie and Yasas were still holding hands and sitting close together. Petrif asked Charlie, "Do you understand what Yaz did to you?"

Charlie blushed and Yasas laughed. "Charlie is rather old fashioned and you are embarrassing him."

Petrif told Charlie, "It is our law that when someone from a primitive culture, like you, Charlie, is manipulated by a more advanced culture, as Yaz has manipulated you, that you have the right to know what was done to you. And why it was done."

"Yaz is helping me understand. Of course, I don't fully understand how she altered my brain and my memories."

"You'll learn about our nanite technology, but that will not explain why Yaz turned you into her emotional puppet."

Yasas complained, "I suspect that Dex did the same thing to me."

Petrif commented, "You'll have to take that up with her the next time you are on Earth."

"That's not fair."

"You object? Does that mean you no longer want to be an Interventionist?"

"I didn't say that."

"It is your role to aid Dex in her work. If you no longer feel comfortable with that then you should make clean break from Dex."

"Now I'm starting to suspect that this goes beyond just Dexamene playing one of her games. Petrif, I order you to tell me: When you took me to Earth did you know that Dex would make sure that I fell in love with Charlie?"

"Don't be absurd. Even if Dexamene had such a plan she would not have shared it with me."

"I'm not saying that it was her plan."

"Who else would come up with such a mad scheme?"

Yasas was gazing off into the distance. She mumbled, "That is what I've started wondering." Then she brightened and put an arm around Charlie, "Anyhow, I don't care if it is madness. I'm happy to be with Charlie and it will be fun to show him around. Charlie, when you gaze upon the clouds of Jupiter...well, we really need to get you cardiovascular system repair first. Your hear will try to leap out of your chest."

Charlie placed a hand on her thigh and said, "I survived the stress test you gave me last night."

Petrif got up from the table and took away the empty tea mugs. "If you two are going to carry on like insufferable love birds, all the more reason to get you delivered and out of my hands as quickly as possible."

Yasas chuckled, "Oh, don't get sulky, Petrif. Charlie's my puppet...I'll make him behave himself."

Petrif was sarcastic, "And I suppose Charlie will restrain you."

Charlie laughed, "I see no reason to do so! Yaz made sure that I fell in love with her and now she has to live with the consequences."

Petrif said, "Humans! I'll be nursing the shield." The robot left Yasas and Charlie to themselves.

Charlie commented, "So, you were raised by Andy and Petrif. That explains a lot."

"What does it explain?"

"Well, maybe it explains how you can ignore the throbbing noise of this spaceship."

Yasas laughed and asked, "Do you find Andresklo and Petrif to be annoying? Remember, they are not human. All they have is their intellect. Human emotions are a mystery to them. You'll learn to ignore the noises of spaceships, but I could play some Genesaunt music for you." She used her nanite implants to activate the ship's sound system. The room lights dimmed and she let a view of space appear.

For a minute Charlie listened and his eyes adjusted to the star-sprinkled black of space. "This is music? It sounds like cave full of sick bears. Do I hear bagpipes?"

"Ha, ha. This music was synthesized electronically. I selected this in an attempt to cover up the sounds of the ship. Translating into English, this is called, approximately, 'Callisto Symphony'. When we get to Jupiter I'll take you down into the Callisto ocean and you'll see the inspiration for this music."

"You've spent a lot of time there?"

"Well, my studies have been at a training center in orbit around Jupiter, inside a little moon that is now known on Earth as Themisto. I visited Callisto once, briefly. It will be fun to go back there with you. There's a wonderful ski resort."

"Ski resort?"

"You'll see. I don't know how else to put it in Earthly terms."


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