During the past two days, six ships of Ketar's fleet had gradually assembled in orbit around Earth. Finally, the ship carrying Ketar's spy arrived in the Solar System. Ketar was not satisfied with the reports he had received from the spy. Ketar was now ready to take seriously the idea that the Haldus Order had a research program for developing technologies such as spaceship cloaking. What he needed now was solid information about where that research took place. He thought: well, if all elese fails, I'll squeeze Leone until he gives me access to his spaceship and the equipment Sybil installed there.
For security purposes, only a code name was used when discussing the spy via hyperspatial communications. Ketar's fleet used encoded transmissions, but there was always a risk that a code could be compromised. Ketar knew that the spy's real name was Norshe Sleght and that she had infiltrated a Haldus Order front organization on the planet Jemini. Norshe had revealed the fact that the Haldus Order could not only trace its origins back to ancient Egypt, but that it had rebuilt its Temple on Earth.
When Ketar first received a report saying that the Haldus Order had a base on Earth, he had sent one of his spaceships to investigate. Ketar had learned that Earth was not entirely abandoned to its green nanite clouds. A small base existed on the surface of Earth at the location of a magnetic mass driver that regularly launched water ice projectiles into space, destined for Mars. At that base on Earth, Ketar's team of investigators had found a small shrine dedicated to one of the goddesses that had been worshiped by Haldus Order members on Earth before it had become a green planet. However, the shrine seemed abandoned and no Haldus Order Temple was found.
Later, the hidden Haldus Order base on Flammis had been discovered by Set...and destroyed. Ketar wondered what secret Haldus Order technologies lie in the ruins on Flammis. Well, that was in the past. Now Ketar was ready to more fully investigate the possibility that there was also a hidden Haldus Order base on Earth. The question was: exactly where?
Ketar sent a communications signal to the ship of his fleet which had just entered the Solar System. Speaking to the ship's Captain, Ketar used the spy's code designation, "I need to speak to Bessel. Have her call me when you are a light minute from a hyperspatial communications antenna." Ketar ended the transmission and cursed the slowness of light and spaceships.
Leone awoke in a spaceship cabin. The door was locked and the comunit did not seem to work, but it did display the date and time. He could not remember how he got on this ship. Leone's last memory was talking to Sybil in the house they had found in orbit over Esclagon.
After a period of steady acceleration, Leone felt a series of changes in acceleration. As an experienced space traveler, Leone concluded that they had landed. Finally, the door to Leone's cabin was opened by a robot. The machine said, "Follow me."
Leone was led to the ship's common room. Leone had never met Ketar in person, but he immediately recognized him. Ketar was seated at the conference/dining table. Ketar gestured towards a chair and said, "Have a seat."
Leone sat down and the robot served him a mug of tea. Ketar sipped from his own mug and watched Leone. Leone wondered what Ketar was planning to do and why Ketar was just sitting there with a smirk on his face. Leone sipped the tea and tried to get rid of the strange chemical taste that had been in his mouth since he woke up. Finally Leone asked, "Where is Sybil?"
Ketar smiled. "I knew you would ask that. I'm sorry I had to interrupt your plans of setting up house with her, but I'm sure the people of Sakkara would agree...you have more pressing business to attend to."
Leone felt himself blush. He wondered why Ketar was trying to provoke him. Leone vowed not to say anything else. He would just listen.
Ketar activated the wall displays. The view of the world as seen by Bahney was displayed. And there, in Bahney's sight, was Sybil. She was walking around in a small room that did not look like the austere interior of a spaceship.
Ketar explained, "I sent Sybil to look at a Haldus Order shrine."
Leone asked, "Are we on Earth?"
Ketar nodded. "Of course."
Leone had to admit that he was intrigued by the idea of a Haldus Order building on Earth. Abandoning his vow of silence, he said, "I'd like to join her. I'm also interested in Earth history."
Ketar sneered, "You can do your "joining" on your own time. Let me be clear, Leone. We are here on Antiquist Party business. Set is intent on revenge against the Haldus Order. I know that your spaceship has Haldus Order technology on board and I want it. Set could arrive here at any moment and attack the Haldus Order's base. It is in the interest of the Party that we get our hands on any Haldus Order technology that is here on Earth before Set can destroy it."
Leone had wondered if the Haldus Order used Green planets to hide its bases and now Ketar was confirming that there was a base here on Earth. Leone suggested, "It might be best to send some robots to the base."
Ketar said, "Don't worry about that...Sybil will lead Bahney to the Haldus Order base. What I need you to do is provide the access key for your spaceship so that Antiquist Party members on Mars can secure the Haldus Order technology that Sybil placed onboard your ship."
Leone wondered why Ketar had not mentioned Aristark. "I'll call Aristark. He might be on his way back to Esclagon. We should tell him to come here."
Ketar shook his head, "Aristark was attacked on Mars by Kalid. Aristark might not recover...he is in hospital and he cannot speak. Just give me the access key so we can protect that equipment on your ship."
Leone wondered if Ketar was telling the truth. Why would Kalid attack Aristark? Somehow the idea entered his head that Aristark was dead. Leone said, "Well, it is my personal ship and Sybil's equipment belongs to her. If you like, take me to Mars. I'd prefer to be on my own ship. I woke up on this ship not knowing how I got here, and I've been locked in a cabin like a prisoner." Leone was still watching the video of Sybil. There was no sound, but it seemed as if she was answering questions from someone. She kept looking at the camera and shaking her head. Mostly she was examining the artwork and artifacts on the walls of the room she was in. That room somehow reminded Leone of Sybil's office back on Sakkara.
Ketar shrugged. "Bahney is clever for a robot, but limited. There is no point in allowing yourself to get upset because of her stupidity. I told her to bring you here and she did as she was told. Set is our concern. We do not have time to go to Mars...Set could launch another attack at any moment. Just give me the access code and I'll have the Party officials on Mars take your ship into their care."
On the display, it could be seen that Sybil had left the shrine. Ketar sent a signal to Bahney, "Report."
Bahney said, "Sybil claims that this shrine means little to her. She claims to know nothing about the location of the Temple."
Ketar shut down the video displays. He ordered Bahney. "Make sure that Sybil understands that Set is on his way to Earth. We are in a race against time to protect the Haldus Order Temple from Set. Bessel will arrive soon."
Bahney acknowledged, "Understood."
Ketar cut the connection to Bahney and stood up. He said to Leone, "I'm going back to my ship. I'll try to deal with Set, but I suggest you start pitching in and helping. If we can't deal with Set here, he'll be back at Sakkara's throat. For all the help you're giving me here, you'll get reciprocal help for Sakkara."
Ketar left the conference room and the robot was there, standing in the doorway. Leone wondered: am I a prisoner? Was that comment about "reciprocating" some kind of threat from Ketar?
Leone said to the robot, "Get me a connection to Sybil so I can speak with her."
The robot said, "Sorry, but Sybil cannot be reached right now. Please return to your cabin and strap in. We are returning to Orbit. It is not safe here on the surface."
The robot grabbed Leone's arm and led him back to his cabin. Leone asked, "Who is Bessel?"
The robot said nothing and closed the door to Leone's cabin. After ten minutes the spaceship returned to orbit.
Later, after the spaceship carrying Norshe had moved close to Earth, Ketar was alerted to an incoming signal. Norshe's voice came through, modulated to hide its natural qualities. She greeted Ketar, "Hello again, Governor."
Ketar was not happy with Norshe's flippant manner. She had used one of Ketar's official titles, but even the identity-masking distortion of her voice did not hide the tone of her voice which expressed contempt for either the office of the Governorship or, worse, Ketar himself. If Norshe was not irreplaceable, Ketar would have already eliminated her. As soon as Ketar found the Haldus Order base on Earth and obtained its technologies he would...well, no use getting ahead of himself...
Ketar said, "I visited the Haldus Order shrine on Earth. My techs have completed a deep scan of the surroundings. There are no hidden underground bases."
There was a two minute delay, the time required for signals to pass from Earth to the ship and back again. Norshe chuckled, "Are you sure? You told me the other day that the Haldus Order has cloaking technology. How can you trust your scans?"
Ketar replied, "We used sensitive sound wave and gravity scan techniques. If there were an underground base of significant size near that shrine I think we would have found some sign of it. Still, my techs continue to scan, in case the Haldus Order is hiding. Eventually they will have to show themselves. They cannot stay underground forever."
Norshe sounded bored, "So, why did you want me to call?"
Ketar's only answer was that he had nothing better to do. "I want to continue our conversation. You may have heard a clue that can reveal the location of the Haldus Order base. You just might not recognize that clue."
Norshe was worried that Ketar might have her mind probed in an attempt to pull out of her every morsel of information about the Haldus Order. She was also worried that she was straddling the boundary between knowing too much to be eliminated and knowing too much to be allowed to live. "I've told your agents everything."
Ketar did not believe that. "You've been inside the Order for years. I've seen all of your reports and your debriefings. There are literally years of your personal experiences that only you are aware of." Ketar waited impatiently for Norshe's next comment to arrive. Ketar said to himself: she better start cooperating!
Norshe explained, "You are talking about years inside the Lerontz Order. I learned nothing about the Haldus Order during all those years. It is only since I recently got on the Inner Council that I started to learn anything about the Haldus Order. And I have told you everything that I've learned about the Haldus Order."
Ketar was not willing to give up that easily. "The Lerontz Order evolved from the Haldus Order. Some of their customs and rites must reflect on the reality of the Haldus Order. What does the Lerontz Order teach its members about Earth?" Norshe's evasiveness was provoking fury in Ketar. Why can't she just be cooperative?
Norshe replied, "Nothing but religious nonsense. Do you want me to list the 26 goddesses and their eleven dimensions of divinity?"
Ketar suggested, "Maybe we can match up those goddesses to records from the history of Earth. My understanding is that most gods and goddesses originated as local divinities on Earth that were often associated with particular mountains and bodies of water. There must be some clue that will lead us to a location on Earth that is of special significance to the Haldus Order."
Norshe sighed. "We've been all through this. Egypt is that special place, but Egypt was obliterated by the micro black hole that struck Earth. There is nothing there now but a huge crater."
Ketar nodded. "My ships have done a sensitive radar scan of the sea bed that is the floor of that crater. We can detect nothing man-made there."
Norshe complained, "It has taken me years to start penetrating into the Haldus Order. You should let me continue my work. It might take more years to reveal what you want to know."
Ketar did not have years. Set was drawing attention to the Haldus Order and eventually Ketar would lose his window of opportunity to gain sole possession of the secrets of the Haldus Order. Already something had gone terribly wrong on Mars and Aristark was now in custody after attacking Kalid. That was the kind of publicity that Ketar did not need. Fortunately, the memory erasing chemical implanted inside Aristark's body had been released. Even if he survived, Aristark should be able to reveal nothing of importance.
Ketar was tired of trying to pull useful information from Norshe. It was time to complete this call. "I have a member of the Haldus Order here...her name is Sybil. When you arrive, I want you to pretend to be a member of the Lerontz Order."
Norshe laughed. "I am a member of the Lerontz Order."
Ketar continued. "Play that role. Pretend that I captured you, just as I have captured Sybil. Get to know Sybil. Convince her to tell me everything she knows about Earth. Remember, make Sybil believe that it is only by cooperating that we can save the Temple on Earth from being destroyed by Set, just as he destroyed the Haldus Order Temple on Flammis."
Norshe commented, "There are two possibilities. One, she is like me and knows nothing useful. Two, she knows, but she will not tell you what you want to know."
Ketar ended the call, "You have your orders." Ketar was greatly aggravated and frustrated by the conversation with Norshe. He was glad that she would soon be on Earth. Ketar vowed that he would get what he needed to know out of her...one way or another.
Set established a communications link to Ketar. "I'm almost to Earth. Where are you?"
Ketar replied, "Waiting here in orbit for you. Why did you stop at the Moon?"
Set explained, "You were correct. The Haldus Order Temple on the Moon was destroyed long ago. However, there are telepaths there. Apparently they are the survivors who escaped the attack on the Temple, but they no longer have any association with the Order."
Ketar said, "How do you know that? Given your reputation, they might have just told you that in order to protect themselves."
"Well, of course, I do not know if they told me the truth. Anyhow, sorry I made that side trip, but I am now at your disposal. Have you made any progress searching Earth for members of the Haldus Order?" Set was again straining to detect T-particles coming from Earth...there seemed to be no significant sources of telepathic thought on the entire planet.
Ketar replied, "No. Can you detect anything with your telepathic sense?"
Set was still trying to screen out from his mind the powerful T-particle signals from the Moon. His thoughts returned to the idea that a planet might produce detectable T-particles. Set thought about the nature of the steady T-particle flux from the Sun. If there were a weaker signal like that, would he notice it? Or was his mind tuned to only pay attention to T-particle signals that were modulated by human brain activity?
Ketar asked, "Are you still there, Set?"
Set realized that a significant period of time had gone by. "Yes, I'm trying to scan Earth for telepathic sources. Let me concentrate." Set tried to relax. He thought about the times he had suddenly been able to sense a type of telepathic signal for the first time. Of course, the first time was Katherine's death cry. Or was it? Had his dream of Amythest been a type of telepathic signal from the future? And there was the moment when Set had first seen the "blindingly bright" T-particle flux from the Sun. And the sudden burst of telepathic images from Amythest just before Set had left the Moon...that was another new kind of telepathic experience. Was there a state of mind that best allowed one to receive telepathic signals?
Set's spaceship now entered into orbit around Earth. The force of acceleration faded and he drifted in microgravity for a moment before the graviton generators started to compensate and build up an artificial gravity. On a hunch, Set called the pilot. "Please shut down the graviton field." After a moment, microgravity conditions returned. Set went to the observation lounge and looked out upon the sickly green face of Earth. There...what was that? Set remembered the strange colors he had started seeing at points of physical contact between people. Now there seemed to be a pink spot on Earth. He closed his eyes and the spot was still there. He continued to try to focus his attention on that odd spot and he felt certain that his telepathic sense was detecting a signal there, something different from a mind. This new signal reminded Set of the Sun, but this was not a constant steam of T-particles. It felt as if his "inner eye" was adjusting and he could now sense a regular pattern of pulsing and modulation in this new signal. Set noticed that there were two other similar spots, widely spaced on the surface of Earth. Finally Set said, "Okay, I've found three telepathic signals."
Ketar demanded, "Where are they?"
Set replied, "They are strange signals. I'm going to try to navigate to one of them..it is really the best way for me to locate a telepathic source." Set cut the comlink to Ketar and attached himself to the ship's mind/AI interface. He ordered the pilot to detached the hyperspatial field generators and put them into a parking orbit. Then Set started a descent to the surface of Earth.
Set was concentrating on the source of T-particles below. He asked the ship's AI to provide a radar image of the surface of the planet. By making use of the radar scan, Set could see that he was guiding the ship down over an ocean and there was a small continent off to the left. Ahead, the source of T-particles seemed to be from a large Island. Soon Set was taking the ship into the green nanite clouds that covered Earth. Set called Ketar again, "Are you tracking my ship? There is a source of T-particles in the mountain range on this island."
Ketar had followed Set down into the clouds and the rest of his ships were taking up position in geostationary orbit above. "I'm following you down. I have the Antiquist Party's atlas of Earth. This Island was called New Guinea. What do you mean by 'T-particles'?"
That question reminded Set about Salvaje's T-particle detector and he wondered if it might be able to detect this unusual source of T-particles. Set replied, "Think 'T' as in 'telepathy'." After five more minutes Set had circled what seemed to be the highest mountain of the island. "Okay, this mountain is the source."
Ketar said, "According to the atlas, this mountain was called Puncak Jaya." Ketar asked, "Do you think there is a Haldus Order base hidden under this mountain?"
Set replied, "No, this signal is strange. I'm just guessing, but I'd say there is some machine in there that produces an artificial telepathic signal. It is almost like a beacon of some sort."
Ketar suggested, "A decoy? Maybe the Haldus order is trying to trick us and lead us here."
Set shrugged, "Well, unless you want to start digging, I don't think there is anything else to do here."
Ketar called his survey team and ordered them to come around the planet and investigate this site. Ketar then told Set, "I'll have a team scan this region for underground chambers."
Set was now refocusing his attention on the other two T-particle sources. They seemed to be equally distant. He selected one at random and set course for it. His ship headed back up into a low orbital trajectory. "I'm moving on to the second target." Set could now tell that the patterns of modulation in each of the other two sources were unique.
Again, Ketar's ship followed. When Set slowed and started circling Ketar said, "This was the state of Arizona."
Set was not much surprised to find that this second signal was also centered on a mountain. Ketar looked up the name of the mountain. "This mountain had several names, one was Picacho. Why would someone put telepathic beacons under these particular mountains?"
Set had no answer for Ketar's question. He set course for the last beacon. The two spaceships made a suborbital hop deep into the southern hemisphere. Set homed in on a small island. Ketar said, "This island is mostly covered with ice. This was known as Coronation Island."
Set completed a circle around the Island and then drove his spaceship into the ocean, "The third beacon is here. It seems like it might actually be buried under the island, down below sea level."
Ketar said, "These three beacons are all equally spaced from each other."
Set checked the distances and confirmed that the three sites of T-particle emission were exactly spaced out to form a triangle that enclosed much of the largest ocean of Earth. Set said, "Well, this has been hard work for me. I've been using my telepathic sense in a new way. I need to eat and sleep. And think. None of this makes any sense to me, although I feel like I'm missing something obvious."
Ketar was disappointed that Set seemed to have only led them on an unproductive wild goose chase. Then Ketar had an idea. If these beacons marked the location of the Haldus Order base... Ketar said, "Okay. Take a break. I'm going to work the human intelligence angle some more." Ketar cut the connection to Set and ordered his pilot to take them to the middle of the ocean, right in the center between the positions of the three beacons. Ketar had noticed that the atlas showed some islands near that central location. Ketar spent several hours visiting the various islands that were near the central location between the three beacons. They had been called the Austral Islands. His survey team could find no underground base at the position of the first telepathic beacon and now Ketar ordered them over to these islands. However, Ketar had lost his enthusiasm for the idea that the Haldus Order base was here in the middle of the ocean, but just to be sure he ordered the survey team, "Scan these islands and the ocean floor."
Ketar now suspected that this was all a diversion...he had no more time to waste on this. The spaceship carrying Norshe was now approaching Earth. Ketar ordered his ship to return to the service station for the magnetic mass driver. Ketar was intent on squeezing Sybil until all of her secrets came dripping out, but what if she knew nothing of Earth? Ketar now regretted having ordered Kalid's death.
Set's spaceship completed a circular path all the way around the island. He now held Salvaje's T-particle detector. The results being displayed on the detector's view screen were dominated by the T-particles being produced by Set's brain, but by moving closer to the island he was able to infer that the detector was receiving the additional signal that Set sensed as originating from the island. Set called the ship's engineer. "How are you coming with that detector you pulled out of the robot?"
The engineer replied, "I attached the device from the robot to a standard holographic display projector. It seems to be working. Its output is like a child's light show."
Set went to the main engineering room. The engineer was monitoring ongoing nanobot-mediated repairs to damage that had been done to the outer skin of the ship by the green nanite clouds and submersion in sea water. Set asked, "Where is the detector?"
The engineer looked up from his work and replied, "Right there on the table. I attached it to a chain."
Set noticed what looked like a necklace on the work bench. He picked it up and examined the pendant. It was about five centimeters long and a centimeter in diameter with its surface covered in what looked like sparkling crystals. He asked, "How do I activate the display?"
The engineer came over and pointed at a joint in the middle of the device. "Its a twist switch." He twisted the two ends in opposite directions. The holographic projector activated and filled much of the room with a complex pattern of swirling light. The engineer switched it off. "I'll be damned if I know what that light show is supposed to mean, but that is the signal produced by the device I took out of the robot."
Set thanked the engineer for his work. Set took the necklace and went to the kitchen. He was very hungry so he grabbed some food packets and took them to the crew lounge. Set switched on the necklace and ordered the ship's pilot to fly the ship across the island. The ship rose up out of the ocean and arched over the island. Set could tell that his mind controlled most of the signal being detected by the device and projected in the holographic display, but it was also clear that the display was showing a signal originating from the center of the island. Well, it was clear to Set. He doubted if a casual observer of the holographic "light show" would be able to make sense of the subtle effect that was due to the telepathic beacon. It was very interesting that the T-particle detector that had been take from Sybil's robot had a capacity for localizing T-particle sources in space. As far as Set could tell, the more primitive T-particle detector from Salvaje lacked that capability.
Set noticed that with this device he could clearly see the pulses and variable intensity of the T-particle flux from the island's beacon. He started writing down the pattern of the impulses, but soon wished he had a means to automate this transcription of the pulsed signal. It seemed like a code. Set was very tired and he kept missing parts of the signal.
The pilot called, "Your guest keeps bothering me. She want's to know where we are and what is going on. She's tired of being locked in her cabin. I'm tired of listening to her complaints."
Set had forgotten about Portia. He told the pilot, "Bring her to the the lounge." Set continued trying to decipher the pattern in the T-particle signal from the beacon.
The pilot let Portia into the lounge. She immediately launched into a verbal avalanche of complaints. Set held up his hands, but finally he had to stand up and put one of his hands over her mouth. Set told Portia, "Hush!"
Set said to the pilot, "Land the ship on one of the glaciers near the middle of the island. Find a nice level area."
The pilot objected, "That might not be safe. Glaciers are not stable structures."
Set suggested, "Find the most stable spot you can and keep the graviton generators running at maximum to limit the ship's weight."
The pilot left the lounge and Set took his hand away from Portia's face. She said, "That was rude. Why do you think you can treat me like a child?"
Set wearily sat down at the table. "I'm sorry, but you do seem like a child. You are half my age and you prattle like teenager."
Portia saw the remains of Set's meal on the table and realized that she was hungry. She said, "I'm hungry."
Set pointed to the adjoining kitchen compartment and returned to the task of trying to understand the signal from the beacon. Portia returned from the kitchen with her meal and mugs of tea for both her and Set. For a while she ate and studied the holographic projection from the T-particle detector. Finally she asked, "What are you doing?"
Set looked up and licked his lips. He was thirsty and he looked at the mug of tea Portia had brought for him and wondered if it contained poison. He looked at Portia and decided that regardless of her harsh tongue, she was not a murderer. He sipped the tea then explained that the holographic image represented the flux of T-particles. It took Set ten minutes to explain to Portia what T-particles were.
It then took five more minutes of effort on her part, but finally Portia was able to notice the portion of the holographic "light show" that represented the pulsing pattern of output from the beacon. Set explained, "That signal originates from this island. There is a pattern in these pulses...I'm trying to decode it."
Portia asked, "What island? Are we really on Earth?"
Set nodded. "We have now landed on Earth." Set had long thought it would be interesting to visit Earth. Now he was finally on the home planet. "I'm going to go out on the surface...would you like to come along?"
Portia picked up the empty food packets and took them to the waste cabinet. She replied, "I'm ready for anything that keeps me out of my cabin."
Set led Portia to his cabin. She started complaining, "And don't think you can chain me up inside your cabin again."
Set laughed and entered his cabin. Portia stayed out in the hallway and peered in through the doorway. When Set had obtained this spaceship he loaded all his clothing on board, including the heavy winter items from his youth. He tossed wool pants and a sweater to Portia. "Put these on."
Portia complained, "I'm supposed to wear these? This is such a scratchy fabric! These don't fit...." Her complaints continued.
Set had pulled on ski pants and jacket. He looked at Portia who had put on the warm clothing, but she was still complaining. Set said, "You look fine." He handed her a rain suit and a ski helmet. They proceeded to the airlock. Set isolated them from the rest of the ship by closing the airlock door and then he started lowering the temperature inside the airlock to match the outside conditions. Set pulled from storage two light weight isosuits that were designed for use on worlds with toxins in the atmosphere. After significantly more complaining by Portia they were suited up and protected from the green nanite fog. Set handed her a torch and warned, "Don't go wondering off. It is dangerous out there."
Set connected his suit's radio to the ship's the intercom and said, "I'm going outside. I'll keep this AV feed open." He activated the T-particle detector that he was wearing around his neck and opened the outer airlock door.
Portia and Set stepped out onto the surface of the glacier. Set pulled two thin wires from a panel next to the airlock door. He attached the safety wires to Portia and himself. They could only see a short distance into the green nanite fog. Everything looked green and a cold wind was blowing. After a moment Set realized that they were in a green snow storm. They sank deep into the fluffy snow and had a hard time moving around. Out here in near darkness, under the thick nanite cloud layer that suffocated Earth, the pulsed signals from the nearby beacon seemed easier to see in the holographic projection. Set was worried about the danger of unseen crevices so he did not wander far from the ship, but he tried doing some triangulation on the source of the coded signal.
Portia started complaining about the cold. "I never imagined Earth as an ice cube! My feet are freezing!"
Set had moved a short distance away from Portia and switched off his torch. He noticed that he could now detect all three of the T-particle beacons in the holographic display, even though two of the sources were thousands of kilometers away. He was now anxious to return inside the ship and try to decode these three signals. "Okay, let's go back inside."
They entered into the airlock and waited through a ten minute decontamination submersion and rinse cycle to cleanse their suits of the green nanites. The decontamination fluid was warm, and by the end of the cycle they were sweating in their heavy winter clothing. Set pulled off the insulating layers of clothing on the way back to his cabin. He tossed the winter clothing on his bunk, turned off the room lights and started studying the T-particle emission patterns of the three beacons. Portia threw Set's clothing into his cabin from the hallway. She had not had a shower since being abducted by Set and now she really wanted one. She said. "You stink"
Set looked up from his decoding work. "You stink, too."
She said, "I know. Do spaceships have showers?"
Set replied, "The shower is two doors down the hallway on the left."
Portia complained, "I don't have anything clean to wear."
Set opened a drawer and pulled out a robe. "Use this. Put your clothing into the cleaner."
Set briefly watched Portia move off down the hallway. He wondered: how much trouble could she get into? He closed the door to screen out the light from the hallway and returned to his task. He thought: if only there were some way to automate this process. He activated the comunit in his cabin and spoke to the Ship's artificial intelligence. "Can you see me?"
The machine replied, "I see you, poorly. There seems to be something wrong with the lights in your cabin."
Set briefly explained to the machine what was going on. He asked, "Can you quantify the light intensity from this holographic projection?"
The machine started reading of light intensity averages for the holographic image as seen through the camera in Set's comunit. Set said, "No. No. What are those numbers, some over-all average intensity value? I need a more precise approach. There are three specific portions of the holographic projection that have regular pulses, like a code. I want you to transcribe those three signals into digital data files."
The machine said. "I think I see what you mean, but I only see two such signals." Set tried moving the holographic projector further from the camera. "Now I see all three. Yes, I can do this. The three files are forming in your personal scratchpad."
Set accessed the data files and started searching them for repetitions in the modulated patterns of T-particles. He ordered the AI to scan the files for encoded messages.
Portia returned from the shower wearing Set's robe. She opened the door to Set's cabin, letting in the light from the hallway. Set shouted, "Close the door!"
Portia came in and closed the door. Set's cabin was lit only by the holographic projector. "No! Don't block the camera. Stay out of the way."
Portia froze and then backed up against the door. "What are you doing? What camera?"
Set explained what was going on. He showed her the three data files. "Each of the three beacons has a unique signal. Look! One of them has started repeating. It seems to have a sixteen minute cycle in its signal. And there! This other one just started repeating. Twenty one minute cycle. I'm trying to decode these messages."
Portia asked, "Messages from who?"
Set shrugged, "I have no idea. My first guess is the Haldus Order."
Portia wondered, "Why would the Haldus Order send out a message from this frozen island? Is there a secret base here?"
Set remembered that Ketar was having the location of the first beacon scanned for the possible existence of a nearby hidden base. "I don't know. If there are telepaths inside a secret base near here, then I would know it." Set wondered if that were true. Could he really detect every telepath? Something was tugging at his memory. He thought about the various telepaths he had found during his search for the people who had destroyed the space elevators on Sakkara.
There had been that odd experience at Flammis. Set's ship had jumped deep into the h.1263522 star system. Set had been shocked by the high density of telepathic signals emanating from Flammis. While Set was still trying to localize and sort through all of those signals, it had seemed like a particularly strong one had winked out. And after the Haldus Order base had been destroyed by Set's antimatter bomb, Set had still sensed something remaining on Flammis, some weak telepathic impulse. Then Set remembered the strong telepathic signal he had felt in space near Sakkara. If that had been Kalid's mind then he should have been able to detect that pattern again when Kalid was on Mars. But, in fact, after Ketar had called to say that Kalid was in his spaceship and coming after Set, even though Set had scanned for an approaching telepath, he never detected one. There had been several weak telepaths on Mars, but he had detected no strong telepathic signal even when Kalid was under arrest on Mars. Well, maybe Kalid was not a powerful telepathic transmitter. Maybe, like Set, he was mostly a telepathic receiver. Set's thoughts were interrupted when the third beacon started repeating its message. Set said, "And the third beacon's signal is 23 minutes long."
Set shut off the holographic projector and turned on the cabin lights. He ordered the ship's AI to continue trying to decode the three signals, then he shut off the comlink to the AI from his cabin.
Portia looked at the display screen that Set was using to examine the three coded messages. Portia said, "I took a cryptography course in school. There are millions of strong codes.You'll never crack these codes."
Set nodded. "I suspect you are right. Still, I have nothing else to do. Except..."
Set asked the ship's AI to establish a connection to Ketar. Ketar's face appeared on the wall display. "Ah, yes, Portia. Sybil has been worried about you. Set, you should bring Portia over to the mass driver installation..." Ketar noticed that Portia was wearing a bath robe. "...that is, if you are ready to give her up." Ketar noticed that Set's hair seemed matted and disarrayed. Ketar winked at Set, "It looks like you have been finding a use for her."
Portia said, "Shut up Ketar, you have a sick mind!"
Ketar only chuckled, "Anyhow, why did you call, Set?"
Set asked, "Did you find any evidence of a hidden base under...what was it called? Pancake Jamaya?"
"Puncak Jaya. No. my survey team found nothing there. Of course, a small underground base might escape detection."
Set wondered if he should tell Ketar about the coded messages from the three beacons, but he decided not to share that information. "Okay, thanks." Set cut the connection to Ketar.
Portia asked, "Why are you working with Ketar? Really, he's probably the one responsible for the death of your girl, Katherine."
Set was not really listening to Portia. He spoke via intercom to the ship's pilot, "When we came into Earth orbit I noticed the warning beacons for the mass driver operation."
The pilot said, "Ya, apparently they send water from Earth to Mars."
"Right. Fly us over the the mass driver. I guess there is a base there for the workers. See if you can get a communications link to that base. Ask if they have Sybil there."
Portia did not want to get her hopes up but she excitedly asked, "Are you taking me to Sybil?"
Set realized that as annoying as Portia could be, he would miss her spark and vitality. "I told you that I would get you home as soon as possible. This is not home, but I thought you might want to see Sybil and let her know that you are safe."
Portia still did not understand why Set had taken her into space and she resented the way she had been treated, but she had to admit that beyond the fact of her abduction and being kept locked up on this spaceship, Set had not really mistreated her. She had feared much worse treatment. Still, she did not trust Set. Would Set try to kill Sybil? If so, Portia did not want to in any way provide Set with an excuse for visiting Sybil. Portia was exhausted and tormented by doubts. She started to cry.
Set asked, "What's wrong?"
Portia could not say anything. She just shook her head and turned away.
Set sighed. Years of living with Katherine had taught him when to stay out of a woman's business.
The ship's pilot called back, "I spoke to a clerk at what they call the Lodge...apparently the housing complex for people who work to keep the mass driver working. He said that he has never heard of Sybil, but that there is a visiting group of Antiquist Party officials in residence. Apparently he was told by the Antiquists not to ask too many questions. Communications with the Antiquists do not seem possible, but we'll be there shortly."
Set chuckled. That sounded like Ketar's heavy-handed methods at work. Set put a hand on Portia's shoulder, "Come on. Let's see if your clothing has been cleaned."
The base on Earth for the mass driver had a large dock area for spaceships. Each ship that landed had its own chamber. Upon docking, each ship was attacked by a swarm of decontaminating nanites that removed the green nanite goo that contaminated Earth's atmosphere. The spaceship occupants could then walk from their ships into the main part of the base.
Set's spaceship landed at the docks and went through the decontamination process. Set, Glen and Portia the set out on foot in search of Sybil. Set only got as far as the boundary between the docks and the rest of the base. A robot guard said to Set, "You are wanted for questioning on Mars."
Set said, "Fine, but now I'm going to help Portia find her boss. Let me through." Set could now clearly sense Sybil's weak pattern of telepathic output, not far away.
The robot clamped a strong grip on Set's arm. "Halt, Set! You have two choices. If you insist on entering the base, I'll throw you in the brig until the Martian Militia comes to pick you up. Alternatively, you can return to your spaceship."
Set told Portia, "Well, there is no arguing with this machine. You go on through. Look for Sybil in the Lodge."
Portia nodded and she and Glen went through the gate from the docks into the main base. Set watched Portia go and then he returned to his ship.
The Lodge was built on an ancient Himalayan site that before the destruction of Earth had been a lodge used by mountain climbers. Now the mass driver ran from near the Lodge up to the summit of Makalu. Portia entered the lobby of the Lodge and spoke to the attendant at the desk, "I'm looking for Sybil."
The robot said, "I'm sorry, I do not know anyone named Sybil."
Portia asked, "Can I speak to someone from the Antiquist Party?"
The robot asked, "What is your name?"
The robot activated an antique comunit on the desk. Bahney's face appeared. Portia was shocked by Bahney's green color. The desk attendant said, "There is someone here at the front desk called Portia."
Bahney asked, "So why are you bothering me about this?"
The desk attendant explained, "She is looking for someone named Sybil."
Portia could hear Sybil's voice in the back ground. Bahney said, "Send her up to my room." Bahney cut the connection.
The desk attendant said, "Bahney is one of the Antiquists. She is in room 317. You can use the elevator."
Portia half ran to the elevator then waited impatiently while Glen followed along behind. The elevator, like everything in the Lodge, seemed to be a replica based on some antique design from Earth's ancient past. When the door to room 317 opened before Portia, she was again shocked by Bahney's green skin tone which was quite a discord against the sedate stone and wood of the Lodge. Portia saw Sybil inside the room and they fell into each other's arms.
Bahney tried to dismiss Glen, but Sybil said. "Wait. That is my robot, Glen. Let him in."
Sybil held onto Portia's shoulders and looked at her in wonder. "I'd gotten word from Sakkara that you and Glen had been taken away. I'd assumed that Set was responsible."
Portia nodded, "Yes, it was Set. He is at the space dock, they would not let him come here with me."
Sybil asked, "Set is here?" Bahney had been warning Sybil that Set might arrive at any time. Sybil looked at Bahney and wondered why the robot did not seem to care about the news that Set was on Earth and nearby. She asked Portia, "Why did Set bring you here?"
Portia tried to order her thoughts. "I don't know. He told me nothing."
"Well, he said that I had helped him, but I did not understand that. I did nothing to help him."
Sybil looked at Glen. "What about you, Glen?"
The robot could not speak, but it had known Sybil for many decades and could usually communicate non-verbally with Sybil. Glen gave a brief nod to Sybil but made no other effort to communicate. Sybil turned back to Portia, "Well, you seem to have weathered your abduction well, but you look tired."
Portia nodded, "I've slept very little since leaving Sakkara."
Sybil took Portia's arm and led her to the side door, "Come on, you can sleep in my room." Sybil's room connected directly to Bahney's room through the side door. Portia talked rapidly about her time on Set's spaceship. Eventually Portia calmed down and reclined on Sybil's bed.
Bahney kept hovering around, but finally Sybil chased her off. "Really, Bahney, you make people nervous. Take your silly green face away and let the girl sleep."
Bahney left and Sybil closed the door. Sybil was sure that there were listening devices in the room, and probably hidden cameras. Sybil went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. She called to Glen, "Bring me a towel."
The Robot came with a towel and Sybil again asked him if he had anything to report. Glen pointed to his inactivation button. Sybil opened his maintenance access panel and scrolled through his activity and maintenance logs. From the logs, it was clear that he had been disassembled into his component parts. Sybil checked the inventory and found that one of Glen's components was missing. It was one of the components her father had added on to Glen. Sybil wondered: why would Set take that device?
She asked Glen, "Part of you is missing...do you know what that component did?"
Glen nodded. He gently touched his finger to Sybil's head and then touched the finger to his own head. Sybil was puzzled. Could this odd gesture really mean what it seemed to mean? Given the fact that Set was turning the galaxy upside down with his telepathic powers, his interest in Glen would likely involve telepathy. Sybil had long felt that Glen was a bit spooky. It had always seemed like he would suddenly appear when she needed him or even just when she thought about him. Was it possible that Glen had a telepathic sense? Sybil went ahead and took a shower then laid down next to the sleeping Portia. For hours she lay there, watching Glen standing in the corner of the room.