When their little spaceship cleared Earth's atmosphere Lanora set course for the Lagrangian point where a larger spaceship was waiting. Turning away from the ship's controls, she noticed that Charlie was watching her. She asked, "Are you back?"
Charlie tried to clear his throat and replied, "I still feel like I might be dreaming."
Charlie was recovering from the effects of nanites that Andresklo had used to immobilize him. As yet, Charlie had no idea that his brain and behavior had been under the control of the Interventionists for most of the past week. While not being able to control his own movement, he had been concerned that he might have suffered a stroke, but now he felt more like he was emerging from the effects of a drug.
Lanora moved away from the command console, sat down next to Charlie and took one of his hands in hers. "It is no dream. Look out the window. We are in space, above Earth."
Charlie was not sure he liked the black of space. He tried to keep his gaze focused on Lanora....she seemed real enough. He asked, "Who are you?"
Lanora had contemplated the possible benefits that might come from telling Charlie her real name, but now that seemed the wrong thing to do. Why burden him with any more details than necessary? He had always known her as 'Lanora' and it would not help his fragile state of mind to have some other name suddenly forced upon him. She replied, "There is a whole civilization out here Charlie. We call ourselves Genesaunts. Mostly we leave Earth alone, but once in a while we take someone like you off of Earth. You have to get comfortable with the idea...you are now Genesaunt." For a few moments she wondered if Charlie might close of his mind to what was happening and withdrawal from reality, but then he seemed to stabilize here and now and he held tightly to her hands.
Charlie had imagined that there was probably some illegal motive for Lanora's interest in him, but he had not imagined that she had singled him out for something as crazy as this. He asked, "Why me?"
Lanora chuckled and tenderly put a hand to the side of his head. "Silly boy, because you are special. You should feel honored. The few Earthlings who have found their way into space are a small and select group."
Charlie briefly glanced out the window. "Somehow I'm getting the feeling that I'm traveling on a one way ticket."
Lanora nodded. "Yes, it is very unlikely that you will ever have a chance to go back home. There is really very little travel -in either direction- between Earth and the Genesaunt society that exists out here in space. But do not worry, your parents will be taken care of."
Charlie asked, "Will they know what happened to me?"
Lanora wondered just how much of their hectic departure from Earth Charlie had been able to see, process and comprehend. Lanora had been prepared for what happened, but with Andresklo setting a super-human pace it had all happened exceptionally fast. She asked, "Do you remember the explosion? It was made to look like you and I died in an accident. Your parents will be told that you are dead."
Charlie was also concerned about Stefi and feeling considerable resentment about how Lanora had felt free to explode the structure of his life. He demanded of Lanora, "And Stefi? I suppose you knew all along how your plan would unfold. This whole week you were planning this. Does Stefi think I'm dead? Or....you told her, didn't you?"
Lanora was impressed that Charlie was shaking off the effect of Andresklo's nanites and so quickly regaining his wits. She knew that Charlie was a natural scientist and creative; he really knew how to think and the quality of his cognitive processes at that moment was probably better than what was possible for most people under idea conditions. Lanora was well aware of the fact that Charlie had spent the past year studying Stefi so it was to be expected that he could intuitively anticipate her thoughts and actions. But now he seemed to also be effortlessly reading the truth from Lanora's eyes and body language. "That's very clever thinking, Charlie. Yes, Stefi is the one person on Earth who could be told some details about your fate. In fact, it was very important for her to know that you will be taken care of. She was... well, she still is very attached to you. Anyhow, the important thing for you to know is that she agreed: it is best for both of you that you leave Earth."
Charlie was listening carefully, but he had no reason to believe that Lanora could be right about such grandiose statements. It seemed more likely that she was just saying anything that would make Charlie feel better and accept his fate. Charlie was feeling very manipulated. He asked, "But why does she stay and why do I leave? You have not explained anything."
Lanora put a hand on Charlie's chest, over his heart. She tried to gently break the news about his precarious health, "You are not well, Charlie. You inherited a bad set of genes. Had you stayed on Earth you would have died young. Out here we can easily repair your defects and you can lead a long life. Stefi knew this and was happy to let you be taken away and be given a new life out here."
Charlie felt this claim by Lanora about his genes was something that he would have to verify, but for now he had to trust her word, no matter how unexpected her claims were. But millions of people struggled with their genetic imperfections and most were not taken off into outer space for "repairs". Charlie wanted to know what made him special and he asked, "I still don't understand who you are. Is that your...job...to come to Earth so that you can repair my defects?"
Lanora replied, "We have nanorobotic devices that will easily repair your body. I'm most concerned about your brain and your mental health. I want to make sure that you adjust to your new way of life out here. I'm going to help ease you into your new life as a Genesaunt."
Charlie let go of her hand. He stated his unhappy conclusion, "So it is just a job for you."
Lanora took hold of his hands again. She gave him an order, "No Charlie, don't say that."
"Why not, it is true. What possible interest could I be to you, personally? You manipulated my emotions and made me play into your scheme. From when you first started playing your games with me I knew you had some hidden motive. When you are done with me and collect your bonus pay for a job well done, you'll be off on your next assignment. But tell me, who decides when someone like me will be taken off of Earth? What-"
Lanora touched a finger to his lips to silence him. She warned him to calm down and listen. "You are jumping to conclusions, Charlie. Listen to what I have to say before you let your emotions erupt in a storm. Nobody knew that you would be taken into space until just a few days ago." She was tempted to explain the fact that she had only known Charlie for two days and that the 'Lanora' persona had been created and played by Dexamene at first. But no, there was no point in confusing him with such details. She continued, "The truth is, you were in the way as long as you were on Earth. It was best for everyone to bring you out here."
Charlie asked sarcastically, "Best for my parents?"
Lanora shook her head and tried to explain, "They will not suffer much because of your departure. Their natural pain at your loss will be artificially lessened by our nanite probes. Their emotions and memories will be altered. They will be cared for. This is far better than your natural fate, which was to die young, as your genes would dictate."
Charlie still wanted to know if their sweet closeness of the past day was a sham, just part of her act and strategy to manipulate him. "So, you used these 'probes" to alter my emotions and memories...even take away my ability to control of my movement. Thanks for getting around to telling me this, but you've avoided my question about your role. What about you, personally? Was I just your mission? Pluck poor Charlie off of Earth...like picking a flea off a dog?"
Lanora found that the answer she had prepared herself to give to this question was no longer what she really wanted to say. She had been warned about the dangers of becoming emotionally attached to anyone that she would have power over as a memetic surgeon, but now, as she examined her own feelings, she realized that she had completely surrendered to the attraction she felt towards Charlie, she had done exactly what her training had strongly warned her against. There was a well-known allure and romanticism associated with Earthlings; a Genesaunt mythology had grown up about the supposed strength of raw emotions felt by native humans on Earth...a presumed depth of feeling that many believed had been genetically engineered out of Genesaunts. Lanora was horrified to hear Charlie accusing her of having no more concern for him than one might have for a flea. She tried to pull him out of his negativity and deflect him away from his doubts, "I've only known you a short time, Charlie, but I do care about you. Maybe it is mostly my own guilt about taking you away from your family and friends and the life you were making for yourself, but I do care that you make this transition successfully. It is exciting for me to imagine what it must be like for you go through this...Charlie, just think of all the wonders you will see! Scientific and technical advances that you have only dreamed of are a reality out here. I'll show you all of these wonders...and share them and your discovery of them with you...if you will let me."
He muttered bitterly, "As if I have a choice in anything."
She pointed out a fundamental fact, "Well, you had no choice in your genes and I suppose there has never been a more star-crossed pair of lovers than you and Stefi..."
Charlie interjected, "We were never lovers."
"Well, I'm sorry about that, Charlie. I suppose you might have stayed together and further developed your relationship had you stayed on Earth...but then again, maybe not. Even without our interference, Stefi's priority was her career."
Charlie still did not understand why these 'Genesaunts' had focused their attention on Stefi. He asked, "So, what is your interest in Stefi?"
Lanora explained, "That is the heart of the matter. She is a child of the internet....the net is her native environment. She will join a cadre of similar visionaries who will push networking technology to its logical social limits. The people of Earth are making an important technological transition into the information era. Our interest in Stefi is that she be allowed to participate in speeding that transition. Had you remained in her life, your health problems could have become a serious distraction."
Charlie did not enjoy hearing the sum total of his life reduced to 'distraction'. He wondered how there could be a place for him out here in Lanora's culture. He tried to get Lanora to explain that, "So, on Earth, I'm a distraction and an early funeral. Now you are taking me into your technologically advanced society...so I can lead a long life as...what? The primitive Earthman? Will you put me in a zoo, your museum of primitive cultures?"
Lanora wondered if Charlie would continue to only focus on the negatives or if he could bring himself to open up to new opportunities. She placed a hand gently on the side of his face, "Look at me, Charlie, I'm just like you, we're both humans...I'm not some alien creature."
Charlie did not trust himself to look at her. Charlie could not dismiss from his thoughts what she had said when they first met, that she was perfect -all the way through. "I do not want to look at you. You have too much power over me." But he could not help himself. He looked at her with a burning intensity, like he might suddenly go blind. "Lani, when I look at you I'm sure I've never seen anything so wonderful and yet, at the same time, I've never seen anything so baffling and intimidating."
Lanora tried to relax his grip where his fingers threatened to crush her hand. She smiled and shrugged, trying to diffuse his anxiety. "Those of us who live out here, off of Earth, in the Solar System, are not very much advanced beyond Earth humans. You can learn about our technologies, it will not be hard for you to catch up with what I know and what is as yet unknown on Earth. Charlie, someone like you should have no problem adapting to Genesaunt society...as long as you keep your spirit of...adventure. Don't you think it will be fun exploring this new existence with me?"
Charlie relaxed his grip on her hand and noticed the marks his fingers left behind on her perfect skin. He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed her. He looked into her eyes and said, "I still do not understand why you should care. Why do you bother with me...you personally or any of you...Genesaunts?"
Lanora imagined that with time he would learn to understand Genesaunt culture and Genesaunt ways, but for now he was lost in the surprise of it all. She tried to provide him with some useful sense of perspective, "Why? Maybe just because we can. I don't really know, myself. I suppose I was selected for this task -being the one to take you away from your life on Earth- in the hope that you would be comfortable with me, that you might even be able to fall in love with me. You see, we often make use of -manipulate- emotions, when it is convenient to do do. Our nanotechnology gives us the power to modulate emotions. Maybe an error was made when I was selected. We get to decide about that now, we do get to make choices now, both you and I. We have been caught up in something that is bigger than just you and I, but from this point on, we are in control and I like you and I think you like me. Isn't that enough for now? Let's get your body repaired and I'd like to show you my favorite places out here. Let's just see how things go." She resisted using her nanites to push artificially at Charlie's emotions. She settled for just resting her head on his shoulder.
Charlie complained, "It isn't that easy for me. I feel like I'm finally waking up and realizing that I've been treated like a puppet."
Lanora felt a tear from her eye burn hot into the fabric of Charlie's shirt. "I can appreciate your confusion, but please, give yourself time to learn all the truth of what has happened to you. I understand that you can't fully trust me right now. If you can't get past your resentment then at least remember that we did have one perfect day together, a day when we were both caught up in the fantasy that my sister created for us. I'm just starting to realize exactly what Dexamene did to us. I don't resent it because I understand her motivations. I think that when you learn the reasons for what was done to you then you will be able to forgive me."
After a minute Charlie sighed and relaxed. He put an arm around Lanora and said, "Okay, I'm trusting you to explain everything to my satisfaction. You won this battle, the battle of my emotions, several days ago. But I'm still wondering just what it is that...let me put it this way...Why do you sit out here with the technology needed to cure genetic defects and spaceships that let you fly between the planets...and who knows what other amazing technologies? How did you get out here in the first place?"
Lanora snuggled against Charlie and put her arms around him. "Well, do not get your hopes up. These are all good questions, but you cannot expect me to answer all your questions. We Genesaunts are not very well informed about our origins and some of our early history. Our mythology says that long ago there were visitors who came here from other star systems. Interstellar space travelers originating in a distant star system who came here and started taking Earthly life forms out here...to space bases and to other worlds."
Charlie asked, "Long ago? Just how long are you talking?"
"Well, our own history, human history, goes back a quarter million years. And there is reason to believe that other Genesaunt cultures proceeded ours by millions of years. Some say that there have been a series of Genesaunt cultures out here going right back to the Jurassic. But if so, they each moved on, probably to other star systems."
Charlie could not understand how so much time could pass with humans living out in space yet it seemed they had not really changed and advanced very much. He asked, "In a quarter million years, this human civilization out here in space has not managed to travel to other stars?"
Lanora tried to explain, "Look at it this way, Charlie. Travel is almost completely one way: from Earth to space. You can leave Earth and join the human Genesaunt culture out here, we are mostly settled among the outer planets and the outer fringe of the Solar System. However, nobody can go back the other way. In the same way, it is possible to leave the Solar System and travel to other stars, but nobody comes back. It is all one way. There are reasons for keeping a reasonably narrow technological gulf between what exists on Earth and the Observers out here who watch Earth."
Charlie gave a deep sigh. "But why? Why just observe Earth? Why leave humans trapped on Earth with primitive technology? Why are you satisfied to live without interstellar travel when you know that others can and do travel beyond and move between the stars?"
Lanora explained, "The short answer is that it is against Genesaunt law to do things any other way. For example, the Overseers enforce the rule that prevents people like me from going down and living on Earth where we would be tempted to share all Genesaunt technology with Earthlings."
Charlie asked, "Overseers?"
"There are many flavors of Genesaunt, Charlie. Overseers are a kind of police force that prevents outside interference in the course of development of life on Earth. You will see that we live according to rules out here. And it is in some ways harder for us than it had been for you on Earth."
"What is harder?"
"Well, the Earthlings are subjected to rules, but they know nothing about those rules. In a way that makes it easy for them. We Genesaunts know how Earthlings are kept ignorant of outside forces like the Overseers. We also know that we are ignorant, that we are not allowed to know who is responsible for establishing our culture. But it is our choice. If we decide to, we can push to travel to other stars. We can leave this primitive star system behind, if we want to. Some of us do take that step. But most of us are happy to stay here in the home system of humanity. Those like me, who are concerned for Earthlings and their fate, would never travel away into the depths of space, no matter what wonders await us out there."
Charlie was struggling to piece all of these new revelations together with what he had experienced during the past week. "Normally I have a good memory, but everything since I first met you is a dream-like tangle in my mind. Andy, Ferace and Dexamene...they were all working with you? Like you, they are not from Earth?"
"That's true, like me, they are Genesaunt."
"I have gaps in my mind. It feels like someone tried to rip my love of Stefi out of my heart, but each time I turn a corner in my thoughts I again find memories of Stefi and what she...it is like opening a wound. It pains me to know she is now all alone, subject to the manipulations and whims of you Genesaunts."
Lanora knew that Charlie's memory circuits were continuing to be altered by nanites she had placed in his brain. Each time he discovered another memory of Stefi, those nanites in his brain moved to obliterate the synaptic connections that still bound Stefi to Charlie's emotional command centers. "Well, this is why it is illegal for we Interventionists to go to Earth. No matter how good our intentions we always cause some trouble."
"Dexamene and Andresklo are Interventionists. They spend their entire lives working to help Earthlings improve their technology. Eventually the Earthlings will be able to merge into Genesaunt culture. We work towards that goal."
"So you are an Interventionist and the Overseers try to catch you on Earth playing your games?" Lanora nodded. Charlie continued, "What will happen if the Overseers catch you?"
Lanora tried to explain some of the truth that Charlie was skirting around. "That is exactly what happened and why we were rushing to get you off of Earth. Normally we would have given you more time to end your relationship with Stefi. I've seen inside your mind, Charlie, so I know know that she has been a large part of your life, a part of your life that you had dreamed of nurturing and growing, always having to experience and luxuriate in. But an Overseer noticed that Dexamene was on Earth and we had to rush you away from Stefi."
With indignation again rising in his voice, Charlie said, "So, you knew how important Stefi is to me and yet you still went right ahead and brutally ripped me away from Stefi?"
Lanora spoke quietly. "That's right, and it was not easy for me to involve myself in such a nasty alteration to your life. Nor was it easy to take you away from your parents. Or your dream of being a doctor. If you like, you can condemn me as a fanatic, willing to disrupt the lives of other people in the hope that good will ultimately come of our interventions. I won't blame you for hating me for what I have done."
"I don't hate you. First of all, I don't believe that you planned to take me away from Stefi."
"Well, that is true, but it could easily have been me. Me, or my sister, or my mother...what difference does it make? I willingly played my role in what was done to you and I would have done even worse had I been called upon to do so."
Charlie could not imagine that Lanora would willingly do evil. "So I need to understand you, why you have done what you did. I need to know how you did it. I can feel the holes in my mind. It is like a bomb crater between my former life and what has happened since you came into my life. As long as I don't understand what you did to me I...I fear that you will simply continue to manipulate me. Treat me like some kind of puppet, a hapless Earthling that you can bend to your will."
Lanora, unaware that she herself had been made into Dexamene's puppet was amazed by the strength of her own growing feelings for Charlie. "I don't want you to have any doubts in your mind about me and my motivations. When we were on Earth there were many secrets that had to be kept from you. From now on, the reasons for that secrecy are gone. You are now Genesaunt. Now I'll teach you what it means to be Genesaunt. And I'm trying to be honest about what happened. You are right: at first I did feel like it was all a game. I was having fun tricking you into wanting to be with me, into forgetting about Stefi. But that changed. I changed."
Charlie demanded, "Start with the gaps in my memories. I can feel places in my mind where alterations have been made. Tell me how that was done and how I can make myself whole."
"What you ask is not easy. Think of a tree. It is easy to break a branch off of a tree, but hard to re-attach a broken branch."
Charlie suggested, "Use the 'nanites' that you mentioned."
"Nanite technology is fundamentally important to Genesaunt culture, but it is not magic. Yes, Charlie, I admit that I used nanites to rip apart your memories of Stefi, however, as easy as it is for me to use nanites to trim your existing synapses I don't have the power to reverse that damage."
"And you still hold this power over me. When you are done with me you will simply rip my memories of you out of my brain and-"
"No!" Lanora shouted and looked at Charlie with horror. "What I did to you on Earth I had to do. That is behind us. I only had the power to do that because I was working with my sister. We don't do things like that out here. We can't."
"So you reserve your brain surgery for the poor primitive Earthlings and the bumbling Overseers can't stop you from playing those games?"
"It's not like that."
"But out here, within the civilized Genesaunt culture, those atrocities are not allowed."
"Look Charlie, I can understand your bitterness and your distrust, but I hope you will listen to my advice. Learn what it means to be Genesaunt before you judge me too harshly." Lanora wiped tears off of her cheeks and came close to telling Charlie everything, including how the "Lanora" persona he knew had first been Dexamene and only in the last two days, her, Yasas. But she knew that was a truth that would do nothing to soothe his resentments. She wanted to be honest, but there was such a thing as too much honesty.
Charlie tried to control his sense of outrage at what had been to him. "Then at least tell me what you did to me, what memories you took from me. I keep thinking back to that night...was it only two nights ago? I could not believe the way that Stefi reacted to you. Seeing her bizarre behavior made me start to become conscious of how strangely I was acting."
"You mean the Chocolate Caramel Tarts."
"Right, when you treated Stefi and I to desert."
"That wasn't Stefi."
"Ya, Thursday night."
"No. Listen to me Charlie, that was not Stefi who joined us for desert."
Charlie started to object, but then he looked carefully into Lanora's eyes and somehow he believed what she was saying. At the time he had been floating on a cloud, enjoying himself immensely in the company of both Lanora and Stefiz. But he had been mystified by the way Stefi responded to Lanora. He had accepted her odd behavior with relief, but now, in hindsight, he could see that it had been behavior that was not possible for Stefi. "But...how...?"
Lanora explained, "I need to show you something Charlie." Lanora pictured Stefi and used her facial nanities to shift the shape of her face as close as possible to the appearance of Stefi. "I can't do this right because I don't have nanites that are programmed to match the face of Stefi. I'm just doing this by memory."
Charlie saw her face transform into a good imitation of Stefi's. He reached out and stroked Lanora's face, verifying that what he saw was real. She continued, "We Genesaunt are symbiotic. We carry around implanted nanites that constantly repair our bodies and even give us some power to alter our appearance." She let her face morph back to take on the appearance of Lanora. "That night we used an impostor who pretended to be Stefi. It was Ferace pretending to be Stefi. We knew that Stefi was not ready to let another woman take you away from her, but we were in a hurry to get you off of Earth. We were willing to do whatever it took to make you to let go of Stefi."
Charlie laughed. He felt foolish now, looking back at how easily he had been fooled. "And Stefi never knew?"
"Look, understand this; Dexamene wants to have a long and constructive relationship with Stefi. It would not help matters if Stefi knew all the dirty tricks I used to take you away from her."
"And similarly you feel that it would not help me to know such things?"
"I'm willing to be honest with you about my dirty tricks, but, yes, I want you to like me. I think it would be easier for you to like me if you did not know all the nasty things I've done to you."
Charlie chuckled and shook his head. "I've never understood why you like me."
Lanora shyly took hold of Charlie's hand that still rested against her face. "I've been thinking about that myself." She was still puzzled, but she had a theory.
Charlie prompted, "And?"
"I think my Dexamene played a trick on both of us."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that when Dexamene asked me to take you off of Earth she made it clear that we would use all of our most devious tricks to make you fall in love with me. I was so busy manipulating you that left myself wide open for the same treatment."
Charlie smiled and felt a kind of relief. "That makes more sense than the fantasies I've been imagining."
Lanora asked, "Fantasies?"
Charlie explained, "The physics department has a big well-funded project to develop a particle detector. Some of the techniques being used in that project are similar to how NMR is done. Anyhow, a couple of months ago I applied for a summer internship position with that project. I've been imagining that you were part of some foreign government or company's attempt to infiltrate the particle detector project and make off with technological secrets. Absurd, but it was the best reason I could think of for why you were interested in me."
"I'm not sure I like the idea that you were willing to love me while thinking that I was using you in that way."
"And I'm not proud of myself for dumping Stefi and falling for you under such strange circumstances. You know, somehow I feel like I should blame Andresklo."
"Why Andresklo? I can tell you this, my sister was the one in charge of everything."
"I've assumed that Dexamene is you sister, even though you denied it."
"I never denied it, I just distracted you from the truth. You were so funny, not daring to even look at our bodies that night when we were all in the hot tub. But you are right. Dexamene is my sister. In fact, she is my exact genetic duplicate. We are clones."
"Clones? I suppose I should not be surprised. By the way, I might not have stared, but I did look at your body that night."
"Yes, clones. It is a trick used by Interventionists. Why make a huge investment in training an interventionist agent for duty on Earth unless you have spare parts?"
"What do you mean, 'spare parts'?"
"I'm not really sure how to explain this to you. Dexamene was sent to Earth on a mission to help Earthlings develop new technologies. Somehow the Overseers noticed Dexamene. Rather than allow the Overseers to capture Dexamene, it was easy to substitute a clone, one of Dexamne's sisters, and fool the Overseers into thinking that they had captured an Interventionist. So, Dexamene continues her mission Earth while the Overseers are confident that they captured her."
"So you were sacrificed in place of your sister?"
"No, as you know, I was used for another purpose...to escort you off of Earth. I have another sister, Tess, who was sacrificed to the Overseers."
"Just how many sisters do you have?"
"If you must know, I'm one of eight clones."
"Amazing. And Dexamene can call on you to do her dirty work, even take a fall for her. What will happen to Tess?"
"She'll probably live out her life on the Moon. There is a hidden underground lunar city that is the center of operations for the Overseers. They'll keep watch over Tess and feel satisfied that they put a dirty Interventionist out of business."
"Tess will be their prisoner?"
"In a sense, but she's an artist and will be part of the Moon Base culture. Tess will be free to live out her life on the Moon as an artist among other people with similar interests. Anyhow, you are right. My group of clones was produced and trained to function as Interventionists. We all want to help speed technological development on Earth and bring closer the day when Earthlings can all merge into Genesaunt culture."
"Amazing. Why do the Overseers try to prevent Genesaunts from helping Earth? Why are Earthlings kept ignorant of Genesaunts?"
"I can tell you the details of how Genesaunt culture works, but the fundamental questions you ask are mysteries to us all. Most of us suspect that aliens from some distant star are responsible, but that is just speculation."
"Why would aliens establish such a crazy system?"
"I suspect the answer has to do with Observers."
Charlie asked, "Observers?"
Lanora nodded, "Observers are the only Genesaunts allowed on Earth. They collect data about the development of human culture on Earth. It is widely suspected that aliens came to Earth an established a system for monitoring the progress of life on Earth."
"I see. What do these alien observers look like?"
"Observers are as human as you and I. Nobody has ever seen an alien. We are forced to assume that the aliens make use of humans as a convenient means to perform observations of Earth. Actually, most of the observations are performed by automated nanite probes. There are only a few human Observers on Earth at any time."
"I can't believe that it is possible to keep all the coming and going secret. Observers, Overseers, Interventionists...yet nobody on Earth ever notices."
"Oh, once in a while Earthlings notice, but it is not hard to make them forget what they have seen. That's my department."
"What do you mean?"
"I've had special training in how to remove memories from people. That's why Dexamene asked me to alter your memories."
"So how did you do it?"
"Do you remember waking up Friday?"
"Of course, that was the day when I decided I was in love with you."
"First thing that morning, while you slept, I used nanite probes in your brain to break the strong emotional ties that bound your memories of Stefiz."
Charlie suspected that Lanora was not telling the whole story. "And you switched those emotional ties to yourself."
"Actually, Dexamene had a few days earlier planted the seeds of your emotional response to me. She used every trick in the bag, including exposing you to potent pheromones that have the power to...well, you experienced the whole thing."
"I'm not sure I'm done experiencing it. Every time I look at you I feel giddy."
Lanora pulled his fingers to her lips and kissed them. "You're very sweet."
Charlie asked, "Can you really think I am 'sweet' when you know that I've been controlled and forced to fall in love with you?" Charlie shook his head in wonder. "I try to get mad at you for what you've done, but it simply doesn't work. I suppose I'm still a puppet."
"I'm very pleased to hear that you are not mad at me. My manipulation of your brain was my first field experience. I was a bit afraid that I'd make a mistake. I don't take lightly the responsibility involved in altering someone's brain circuits."
"Well, I still feel pain at the loss of Stefi."
"Ug, I'd prefer not to hear that. It would be flattering for me to learn that I had swept all thoughts of Stefi out of your mind and that you were completely infatuated with me."
"I'm almost completely infatuated with you, but I still do not trust my luck. It seems magical that you seem to like me. I can't escape the fear that it is all some trick played on us by your sister and that it will end as quickly as it flamed up back that day in the library." Charlie was thinking about the first day when Dexamene created the "Lanora" persona.
Lanora was thinking about Friday, when she had waited in the Library for Charlie, with growing anticipation. "I remember how you swept me off my feet."
"Yesterday? Yes...I'd been thinking about you all afternoon while sitting in class. I'd realized that I was in love with you. Then I found you in the library and...well, I knew that you were in love with me, too. Up until that point I suspected that you were just playing me for a chump."
Lanora did not want to tell Charlie that she had not even been on Earth the day that Dexamene had invented the Lanora persona in order to "subtract" him from Stefi's life. In a very real sense Dexamene had treated Charlie like a chump and a puppet. "Dexamene did treat you callously, but You don't have to worry about her any more. She'll remain on Earth until she gets caught by the Overseers then she'll spend the rest of her days on the Moon. You'll never see her again."
Charlie looked at a display screen and noticed that they seemed to be getting close to the Moon. He asked, "So, where are we going?"
"We'll transfer over to a faster ship then head for the outer reaches of the Solar System where most Genesaunts live. I want to show you some of my favorite places. Of course, our first priority will be to correct your genetic defects and ensure that you will live a long life."
"I'm afraid to ask, but I must know. When you've completed these tasks will you abandon me and go back to your work with Dexamene?"
"It is true that she could call at any time and request my help again on Earth. It is even possible that the next time she gets in trouble with the Overseers she will decide to sacrifice me. And I would allow myself to be sacrificed. But for now I'm in love with you. I suspect that Dexamene subjected me to the same emotion-twisting treatment that you got."
"So we are victims of an engineered romance, with no free will, not even the power to resist the scheming of your sister."
"She's not evil. She probably thinks she gave us a great gift."
"I'm a reductionist, but even I don't like to believe that love is nothing more than pheromones and a few sparking synapses. Charlie smiled and shrugged. "Yet, I can't find room in my heart for regret...I'm pleased that Dex pushed you into love’s most gentle stream...and that I was there waiting for you in this dream."
Lanora giggled, "Oh, my! I hope you are not quoting some famous Earthly poet. I only know the poetry of my native language."
"I'll call it fractured Keats. Sitting here under this bright lunar glare I can't help thinking about Endymion, another poor lad who was victimized by some crazed wielder of aphrodisiacs." Charlie suggested, "Let's make a date to someday read our favorite poems to each other."
"Deal!" Lanora clapped her hands together. "Now we will have plenty of time to get to know each other. We might discover that Dexamene made a big mistake by bringing us together. If so, we'll go our separate ways, but for now I'm happy the way things turned out."
"I still expect to wake up and learn that this is all a strange dream, but I, too, am happy. I'd be happier if I could get in touch with Stefi and my parents and let them know that I am alive."
"Stefi knows that you were taken off of Earth and your parents are in good hands. You really do not have to worry about them. Dexamene will take care of them."
Charlie was not certain that Dexamene could be trusted. "What if Dexamene is captured by the Overseers? How will she then care for my parents?"
Lanora also had doubts about Dexamene. It could not be taken as a good sign that Dexamene had so quickly run afoul of the Overseers after going to Earth and starting her career as an Interventionist. "Even though Interventionism is treated like a crime by the Overseers, some of us believe that the aliens do want us to help Earth. Interventionists have been at work on Earth for the entire history of our species and I don't expect that to change. Individual agents like Dexamene often end their careers when the Overseers catch them on Earth, but the Interventionist program continues. Even is Dexamene is taken from Earth, other Interventionists will make sure that your parents are cared for. Call it our code of honor."
Lanora drew Charlie's attention to the large front display screen which simulated a window. "Watch this Charlie."
Charlie saw the huge, bright face of the Moon. He asked, "Are we going to the Moon?"
Lanora replied, "There is a hidden city under the surface of the Moon, but its purpose is observation of Earth. That hidden city is also the headquarters for the Overseers, and since we just tricked the Overseers, we would not be wise to go there."
Charlie was confused, because it looked like they were making a rapid approach to the surface of the Moon.
Lanora explained, "Sometimes Interventionists need to turn an Earthling over to the Overseers, so this shuttle craft is equipped with an simulated landing routine that allows me to make it look like this is an approach to the Moon. Watch carefully, Charlie!"
Charlie did watch, even when it looked like they would crash into the surface of the Moon. But Lanora was perfectly calm, so he did not panic. At the last moment, access to a tunnel appeared and their ship plunged into the darkness of that tunnel. To Charlie, it looked like they had flown through the rim of a crater and entered a hidden cavern below the surface of the Moon. Lanora said, "Pretty convincing, eh? Let me shut off the special effects."
Suddenly the display screen changed views and Charlie could see that they were still in deep space, now slowly approaching another spaceship. Lanora pointed to the ship they were about ready to dock with. "We're actually at the L4 position of the Earth-Moon system." For a moment Lanora paid close attention to the docking protocol then she declared, "Perfect!"
"Come on. We're transferring over to a bigger, more comfortable ship with faster propulsion." They were now inside the shuttle bay of the larger spaceship. Lanora opened the hatch of the small shuttle craft that had carried them off Earth and led Charlie by the hand.
Charlie commented, "I feel gravity."
Lanora explained, "It is simulated gravity, produced by the spaceship's engines."
Charlie paused in the bay and turned back to look at their little shuttle. Charlie saw that it had morphed from the shape of a Hummer and taken on a more graceful form. He noticed that a man was getting into the shuttle by way of the access hatch on the other side of the bay. Charlie asked, "Who is that man?"
Lanora waved to the man who waved back and then closed all the hatches of the shuttle. "That's a bioelectronic robot, like Andresklo. He'll fly the shuttle back to Earth. Come on." She led Charlie out of the shuttle bay and then gave him a quick tour of the engine room of the larger spaceship. From inside, the ship resembled a very comfortable home and the engine room reminded Charlie of a high tech physics research lab. Lanora then let Charlie look at a diagram of the ship's engine. "This ship can accelerate much faster than the shuttle and we'll soon be traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light."
"That night when you took me out to dinner...I thought you were some kind of genius...inventing spaceship propulsion systems, but you were simply telling me about technology that already exists."
"I've never studied spaceship propulsion. I couldn't really explain how this engine works. I was just making things up when I was talking to you on Earth, trying to seduce you with my geekiness. We interventionists are not allowed to share the secrets of actual Genesaunt technology with Earthlings. All we do is help people like Stefi speed the natural pace of technological advance on Earth."
"So, you're not really a physics nerd."
"Oh, I'll be able to introduce you to much of the Genesaunt physics that is unknown on Earth, but I have no advanced training in physics. After Dexamene was selected to be the on-Earth agent, my sisters and I selected other specialties. I've studied the human brain and how it can interface with nanites. You could call me a biology nerd."
Charlie estimated that it had taken them about half an hour to go 400,000 kilometers in the shuttle. "I have not felt any acceleration. How is that possible?"
Lanora pointed to part of the diagram, "An integral part of all Genesaunt spaceship engines is a gravity field compensator. Some drive efficiency is sacrificed to produce a constant simulated gravity for passengers."
Charlie asked, "How is it possible for your spaceships and your bases like the one on the Moon to go undetected?"
Lanora shrugged, "Well, we do not make it easy for Earthlings to notice us, but soon enough it will happen...Earth humans will eventually become aware of the Genesaunt civilization. That is our goal, to speed technological development on Earth towards the day when Earthlings can't fail to notice us. For now we can still easily avoid detection by Earthly radar and other Earth technologies."
"But why continue to play all these games? Why don't you Interventionists just expose the whole charade?"
"Well, there is still too large a technological gulf. Even we Interventionists know that it is not wise to move too quickly when pushing advances in Earth's technology."
Continue to Chapter 17 - Petrif the robotic pilot