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The search for Kalid novel, all on one page.

Chapter One of The Search for KalidEdit

...exactly the same technology can be used for good and for evil.
It is as if there were a God who said to us
"I set before you two ways:
you could use your technology to destroy yourselves
or to carry on to the planets and the stars. It's up to you."

Carl Sagan. Last words from Cosmos update, chapter 13.

Mental Powers?Edit

Ägyptischer Maler

Suggested background music: Debussy's Arabesque No. 1

“Is this the planet we are looking for?” asked Leone, his voice indicated disbelief and disappointment.

“Yes, it is. At last we have reached the planet of Kalid, the Wise One,” Aristark answered.

Leone smiled at Aristark's choice of words. They had both taken to using Sybil's colorful language to refer to Kalid...it helped relieve the tension they were feeling on this mysterious journey through space. Leone wondered yet again: what had Sybil hoped to achieve by trying to hide their destination? It had not been at all hard to figure it out...

Leone and Aristark were two Counselors on their home planet, Sakkara. They were desperately looking for the great man called Kalid and were now moving close enough to the planet to be able to watch it through the windows of their “Thot” spaceship. Leone had been placed on this course by what Sybil had told him about Kalid.

321px-Ankh.svg

Ankh (symbol of life)

650px-Eye of Horus bw.svg

Uadjet (Eye of Horus)

Leone began remembering the scene of his recent meeting with Sybil, at the usual place, her home on Sakkara. Upon arriving at Sybil's large country estate, Leone had found that the landing platform beside her house was already full. However, the navigation system of Leone's flitter showed that Sybil's robot, Glen, was in the field behind the house signaling with a portable navbeacon that Leone should land out there.

Leone had come to know Glen during previous visits to Sybil's estate. His great bulk and brutish silence were disturbing at first, but Leone had developed a feeling that the robot's silence was misleading. With time Leone had realized that inside his rather clunky frame there was a dynamic intellect and a storehouse of wisdom about gardening and all the details required to keep Sybil's large estate neat and functional.

After landing, Leone climbed out of his flitter and followed Glen across the field and up towards the house. Rather than proceed to the main house they stopped at an annex or wing of modern design that Leone had not previously noticed. The annex was nestled among the trees immediately behind the main house. Peering through the thick growth of trees, Leone could see that the annex was connected to the main house by a glass-walled hallway that ran down the slope at the back of the house. Glen led Leone up a shaded walk way and thorough a side door of the annex. Glen left Leone there, waiting for Sybil to come down from the main house.

At first, Leone had waited impatiently for Sybil in a small closed room with only one small window. As a Planetary Counselor, Leone did not often have to wait for others. Leone was particularly anxious and impatient because he was acting on orders from the head of the Galactic Antiquist Party, orders that had come as a surprise to Leone. Orders that were an urgent response to crisis. While waiting for Sybil, Leone contacted his office where he served as Planetary Counselor for Transportation. He received an update on the investigation into the space elevators disaster and authorized a few requests from his subordinates. Having caught up on urgent matters, Leone broke the connection to his office and wondered if he should have remained there and sent one of his staff members on this mission. No...this was what Ketar had insisted on. Leone was still puzzled...how had Ketar even come to be aware of Sybil?

Leone was tired of waiting in the ridiculously tiny room. He wondered if Glen had known what he was doing by bringing him here. When it became clear that Glen intended to leave him in the waiting room, Leone had objected loudly even while knowing that Glen was an ancient model of robot without the ability to speak and explain itself. Really, it was absurd for anyone to still be using a robot that could not speak! The waiting room was not much larger than a closet, but it did have a window. However, the window was completely over-grown with a shrub and there was nothing to see but foliage.

After waiting in the room for a while longer, Leone's paranoia got the better of him and he checked the door in order to see if he was locked inside. It was not locked: the door opened upon an utterly silent hallway. The opposite side of the hallway was made of curved plastiglass panels that arched above to form half of the ceiling. Through the glass only trees and bushes could be seen, densely surrounding the annex building. He shrugged, closed the door and resigned himself to waiting there for Sybil. It was clear from all the flitters parked at her landing platform that Sybil was entertaining guests...he had been silly to think he could command her undivided attention on short notice.

Finally, Sybil's female assistant, Portia, opened the door and said, "Oh, here you are! What could Glen have been thinking to stick you in here? Hello, Counselor. I'm sorry to keep you waiting out here, but this is a busy day. I'm running around like a lunatic trying to keep everyone happy. Please follow me. I'll take you to a much nicer room...where you should have been all along!"

Portia, who was very pretty, released Leone from the small waiting room and led him down the hall. Leone said, "I was presumptuous to assume that I could drop in without an appointment."

Portia shook her head, "No, do not say that! You are welcome here at any time. Sybil will be with you soon. I've been terribly busy attending to the other guests, or I would have been here sooner." Portia led Leone into Sybil's meeting room, which was more comfortable than the tiny waiting room. Portia chuckled and flashed her impish smile at Leone, "Sometimes Glen plays little tricks on humans when he is annoyed! Glen knew you were to wait in here...rest assured, I'll chastise that silly bot!"

Leone was amused to see that Portia could be irked by the machine. He chuckled and said, "Thank you for defending me against that robotic trickster, but no harm was done. I had to check in with my office, anyhow. I imagined I was in ancient times, using a phone booth!"

Portia had never heard of a "phone booth", but she knew Leone, like Sybil, was a student of ancient history. Portia tittered and said, "On a less busy day you can explain to me what a phone booth is, but today I must run," and she left him there, once again waiting, alone. After Portia closed the door and silence enveloped Leone he had the feeling that he had just been visited by a forest nymph. Portia moved like a wild animal, maybe a cat, silently moving with great efficiency. Leone thought: yes, a visit to Sybil's estate always brought a sense of unreality and magic.

Leone tried to get comfortable, but his chair was not designed for comfort. It was all wood, in the ancient style of Earth, with mysterious symbols from ancient times carved into the arms and back of the chair. Leone was wondering how Sybil had come to believe so much obscure spiritual stuff... although she would say it was not obscure at all. Leone knew he had a tendency to drift towards fear of what seemed to be irrational beliefs, but Sybil was an eloquent defender of her spiritual beliefs and she insisted that there was certainly nothing dark or evil about them.

Sybil had seemed to be a very skeptical woman when Leone had attended university with her. Her disciplined and scientific approach to history was something that Leone had admired. Leone tried to look back across the years and he now felt it was doubtful that he would have ever gotten involved with a mystic. Leone looked around the room and shook his head in disbelief...had she changed over the years or had she always been the same and just hidden her odd beliefs back in the days when they were in school together?

The room was lit by candles of several colors and there were many small statues (shabtis) from Ancient Egypt. All the surfaces and shelves of the room held relics, amulets and what seemed to be Tarot cards. The walls were decorated with dozens of paintings that seemed to have been inspired by images used on Tarot cards. It seemed that Sybil had a special interest in divination and maybe that unusual erudition was useful for her work. When she met with people in this room and gave them counseling maybe she included divination arts in her practices. However, in parallel to all the cartomancy images, the room also contained a perfectly modern virtual reality computer interface. Leone was amazed to see such a weird combination of spirituality and technology.

Maat2

Maat shabti

Except for the irritation caused by the uncushioned chair, Leone felt very comfortable in the room. He tried to decide if the positive feelings were just from being near to Sybil, but he thought it was really the room itself. It was very small and warm. The way it was illuminated showed that Sybil was an artist. There was a large window behind Sybil's desk (the inside could not be seen from the outside, for security reasons) and Leone could now see the oddly tinted glow of twilight produced by Memphis light shining through more of the Sakkaran atmosphere. He always felt a sense of vacuum or something mystical when near Sybil, like longing for something that could not be. Maybe it was that his unconscious mind could not understand everything around Sybil, all that spirituality made him experience a sense of magic... Or maybe Sybil indeed had some aura around her, something that could linger in her wake like a scent... it seemed like some essence of Sybil had impregnated this room and then somehow took on a life of its own. But no, he would not believe such things.

These thoughts of Sybil tricked his mind and he imagined he could hear her saying, "You're a silly boy." Leone wondered: was that the first thing she had ever said to me, back when we were in school? At last, Sybil arrived and he could then actually smell her soft scent and it triggered many pleasant memories for him, sweet memories of old times.

Sybil rushed into the room and spoke even before she was fully through the door, "Hi, Leone. I'm sorry I kept you waiting." She moved quickly past Leone and around to the other side of her desk. "It is nice to see you again," said Sybil, a white witch for many, although she called herself "Priestess of Iris".

Leone was disappointed that Sybil had her hair covered by some kind of scarf and the hood of her robe, but he forced himself to smile. "Yes, I am glad to see you, too. How are you?"

Sybil sat down, but she seemed to barely touch her chair as if expecting to soon jump up again. She replied, "Fine. I was promptly notified that you needed to see me, but this is a very busy day." She glanced around the room and seemed to smile at her private thoughts. "I'm sorry I had to exile you over here in this wing, but the house is nearly full of out of town visitors today....I'm hosting a retreat." All of the top ranking members of Silver Tulipan had gathered in order to confer about Set and the dangers he posed. In recent days the Sakkaran government had been amplifying the public's fears by openly calling Set an "evil terrorist". Of particular concern was new intelligence indicating that Set had learned that "Silver Tulipan" was just a front organization designed to hide their true affiliation with the secretive Haldus Order. The Executive Circle had reached a decision about their course of action just minutes earlier. Within the Order there was a prophecy about a terrible abuser of mental power who would come from outside the Order. Sybil had argued before the Executive Circle that Set was that Evil One.

Sybil locked her eyes on Leone's and asked, "So this is about Set again?"

Leone assumed that Sybil was hosting a retreat for members of the "Silver Tulipan Order". The Sakkaran government's intelligence service had carefully investigated Sybil when she had first involved herself with the on-going investigation of the space elevators disaster. The intelligence service reported that Sybil was a high-ranking member of the Silver Tulipan. Leone nodded in response to her question. He was uncertain what he should say and wondered briefly if he should remind her of their past conversations about Set. While he had waited, Leone had felt some guilt for taking Sybil away from her guests, but now he was put at ease by the warmth and concern in her voice. It was clear to him that even if this was a bad day for him to visit, her thoughts were now totally here and focused on Leone.

Leone was pleased and sensed that they could seamlessly continue the subject of conversation from their previous meeting....although the situation on Sakkara had gone completely out of control during the intervening weeks. Two high ranking Department of Justice officials involved in the investigation of the space elevators disaster had been found dead. It was suspected that they had been tortured before they died in order to obtain secrets. The bodies had been found in Aristark's family grave plot with a message demanding action in the investigation. A terrorist organization called "Towering Justice" took responsibility for the deaths. The "Towering Justice" group had previously been linked to the Futurist Party and Set. But those events had not been made public and Leone reminded himself to not say too much to Sybil about government secrets.

Those thoughts passed quickly through Leone's mind before he replied, "Yes. Our spies have informed us that Set is planning to significantly extend his operations. We have learned that as a prelude to spreading his evil campaign beyond this world, he plans an invasion of this planet... very soon. Our latest intelligence suggests that he intends to take Sakkara by force and then use this world as his base of operations from which he will launch attacks on other planets."

Sybil seemed to effortlessly adjust her thinking to this new reality that was as yet known to only a select few, a reality that should have been a shock to any Sakkaran who had lived for decades in peace and calm. Sybil nodded, showing no surprise, and Leone wondered if Set's plans were already known to her. Sybil spoke without hesitation, "Then we need to act faster than him. Our only hope is that you contact Kalid... he is the Great Master of the Haldus Order. If you work with Kalid then it might be possible to defend Sakkara against Set.”

“The Haldus Order?” Leone asked in disbelief. "I thought it was extinct many years ago." When he had been ordered to go to Sybil for help, he had been doubtful that Sybil could be of any real use, but she seemed confident that there was a way to respond to the threat posed by Set. However, could her judgment be trusted?

“Yes, for outsiders it seemed to have vanished, but that was an illusion created for security reasons,” Sybil answered. “The Order has been hidden all this time. Kalid is now the Great Master of the Haldus Order, so we must seek his counsel immediately. You must contact Kalid and get him to help us with our mission to defeat Set, but the main problem we have is that we are not sure of his whereabouts. Nobody on Sakkara knows for certain. As you may know, Set has erroneously assumed that our Order was involved in the destruction of the Elevators and he has murdered some of our members. Kalid and others in our Order have retreated from Sakkara and are in hiding. I think I know the location of the planet where Kalid is hiding, but now we have little time, and there is great danger if Set becomes aware of our plans.”

Leone forced himself to keep a straight face..."Silver Tulipan Order" and "Haldus Order", it was all the same, Leone thought: foolish play acting and mysticism engaged in by adults who should grow up and return to reality. However, Leone bit his tongue and kept his scornful thoughts to himself. “Which planet is that?” asked Leone.

The name of the planet was ‘Veritas Flammis’. It was called just Flammis by most who knew of its existence, but Sybil did not want to mention that word. She replied, "I don't think the planet has a name. It is just a place to hide."

“Well, how will I find this nameless planet?” asked Leone. He doubted if Sybil had ever left Sakkara to go traveling among the stars. She probably had no idea of the wealth of information that existed in the astrogation databases...facts and information about every star system and planet that had ever been visited. “In all my years as an interstellar pilot I have traveled to half the known planets." Of course, those were all populated and well-known planets. There were far more planets with no life and little importance to human settlers. "Maybe this hiding place has a name in the planetary records, or at least a navigation entry such as 'h.7463.1'.”

Sybil shook her head. “No. Even if it has a name or a number we cannot use it. It is a secret planet and I do not want to risk anyone but you knowing anything about it.”

Leone noticed that Sybil was no longer looking into his eyes. Was she hiding something? Leone asked, “Secret planet?" Sometimes Sybil seemed to exist in a fantasy world. "Nothing about a planet can be secret. Do you mean that nobody has bothered to colonize this planet?” As far as Leone knew, the hundreds of worlds with human populations were all cataloged and part of a single galactic culture....of course, new worlds were constantly being found and colonized. Some of those newly colonized planets were used by space pirates and other barbarians, but eventually the traders pushed outward and brought every inhabited planet into the network of human civilization.

Sybil tried to invent a story that would satisfy Leone's curiosity. “Long ago our Order tried to colonize this secret world, but that little colony did not last long. Still, it is a world known to us and in emergencies, and for special purposes, our people still sometimes visit there. Our most advanced Masters sometimes go there just to meditate. Think of this world as our sacred mountain top, if you like, a hidden sanctuary. It is a planet well within the boundaries of the explored region of the galaxy, so I suppose it does exist in some databases, but we want to draw no attention to it. Our people there always hide when explorers and traders happen to visit that star system, so everyone outside of our Order thinks it is an abandoned world, of no importance.”

“That is completely absurd. Are you saying that they hid themselves or that they hid the planet? Either is quite impossible. Nobody can hide from the scanners of exploration ships, not even with quantum shields operating on each of the 11-dimensions..."

“What you speak of are limitations of material science, but nothing is impossible by spiritual means. Nevertheless, they did not hide it fully. When the Masters detected spaceships that were close, they simply sent false data to those ships. The crews of those ships had indeed seen a planet there, but their instruments did not show anything interesting; just void and rock. They could not see any signs of life in that planet because the Masters created a powerful illusion. The Masters used their mental powers to confound the sophisticated detectors of those ships, and so nobody outside of our Order ever knew about the continuing use of our little sanctuary world... all the visitors to that star system just moved on.”

“An optical illusion the size of a planet? You are full of amusing gossip! I don't believe in that... "mental powers"... it is nonsense. I feel that you believe it, you think you are telling the truth, but maybe someone invented that story and has tricked you into believing it. Sybil, I remember that in the past you were skeptical and sensible, but this Priesthood stuff seems to have changed you. Someone MUST know about this "secret" planet. Believe me. Nothing and no one escapes the attention of the stellar cartographers, ever. Even the smallest worthless asteroid goes into a database, even if only listed as a navigation hazard.”

“No, it is not the way you think. I am still a skeptical thinker, but I have seen strong evidence for mental powers... Unfortunately I cannot show you the evidence I have seen because it is protected by my vows and I will always protect the sanctity of the spiritual knowledge of the Haldus Order. It is not for me to decide, but Kalid may show you some of his skills, if he trusts you. Anyway, the scanners and other technologies that you trust are not infallible. There are stronger forces than physical force in this universe. Particularly, the Masters use Mental Powers which are superior to all the science we could ever have. As long as the Masters remain undetected, they will be able to... Oh, I am saying too much. The point is that Kalid is probably there, on our secret sanctuary world, hidden from the hands of Set...and his mental probing.”

Leone was astonished to hear Sybil extending her "Mental Powers" fantasy to include Set. What did she mean by "his mental probing?" Leone sighed and scratched his head. “And how will I find this 'secret' planet where these 'Masters' are hidden? Will my navigation devices detect this secret sanctuary, will my scanners lead me to the Masters?”

“You will need to have a special device installed on your spaceship. That way the Masters will think that you are from our Order and thus they will not hide from you. You are not actually from our Order, but you will help us on this mission, so you can carry it for a while. My servants will install the identification beacon on your ship. Also, the machinery we install in your ship will control the hyperspace jump so that you will not need to know the coordinates of your destination. As soon as my technicians install the needed equipment in your ship you must be ready to depart at once...we are short of time. I fear that Set will soon attack Sakkara and destroy the Haldus Order. Kalid can no longer hide, he must act to defend the Order.”

Leone thought Sybil was silly if she believed in "mental powers", but he was starting to wonder if she might actually know some useful secrets about Set. If what she had told him today was correct then the Haldus Order was engaged in some kind of war with Set. If so, then Leone could begin to understand why Ketar had sent him to visit Sybil. Yes, it might make sense that the "solution" to the "problem of Set" might be to form a coalition that could combine what Kalid knew about Set with the power of the Antiquist Party. Yes, that just might work, but Leone was still struggling to believe the idea that Set and Sybil's friends had "mental powers". He asked sarcastically, “A special device? Wow, I am amazed... If the Masters have those superb 'mental powers', they should detect my mind and know you had sent me. Even right now they..."

Sybil smiled at Leone's attempt to make fun of the Order. She said calmly, "The powers do not work that way".

Leone was annoyed by her appearance of smug confidence. "Because they don't work at all! I'm sorry, but everything you say about these 'mental powers' is too strange. It just makes me want to laugh, but I have to trust you, for the moment, and have faith in your claims about these 'Masters' being able to help us." Leone shook his head in wonder at this predicament. How had it come to this, a man of science being forced to listen to "mental powers" nonsense from a "Priestess"?

Of course, Leone knew how this odd state of affairs had come about. Ketar, the head of the Galactic Antiquist Party, had ordered Leone to visit Sybil. Leone had been specifically tasked by Ketar to act on the advice of Sybil. If Leone wanted to remain in good standing with the Party he had to trust Sybil. What helped Leone to have faith in Sybil was the fact that he had known her when they were young. For a few years in their youth they had been close friends.

For Leone it was hard enough to trust anyone since the recent gruesome murders of several Antiquist Party members, but it was particularly difficult to swallow this story about a "powerful illusion" that could not be penetrated by the scanners used by space explorers and survey teams... "I will go in a search of Kalid because I have no other option, so far. I can only hope that these "Masters" you speak of will help us against the Evil One...”

SybilEdit

Sybil

Sybil

Solitude

Solitude

When Leone left her, Sybil felt a sensation like cold vacuum inside. That empty sensation revived old memories; it was the same sensation of loss she had always felt after being with Leone. She knew it was not about love...or was it? After their time together at university they had gone their own ways in life and she had forgotten him, but now, with all of Sakkara dealing with Set's madness, they had been thrown together again and the feelings came back stronger than ever.

No, it was not love, it was another feeling, as if they were "connected" in some way. Fate, perhaps? Sometimes it seemed like she could read his mind, for instance, saying the same sentence Leone was about to say... Of course using different words, but maintaining the same message. Now she examined her feelings carefully and Sybil realized she was a little worried about Leone's safety; this was something new that she could not explain. It was obvious that Leone would find Kalid, no? And Set knew nothing about Flammis or Kalid, so why was she worried and why had she mentioned the idea that Set might become aware of their plans?

Now that the Executive Circle had come to a decision, it should be simple to contact Kalid...really, where would he hide except on Flammis? However, somehow, try as she might, she could not picture Leone meeting Kalid in Flammis, or any where... her mind seemed to reject the very idea. Maybe she was paying too much attention to her intuition. Intuition can be misleading sometimes, but this time it seemed that her feelings were particularly strong.

The only way to actually know Leone's future would be to use divination, but she was trying to avoid that practice. Master Kalid had warned her about not abusing the gods' counseling. Sybil thought: in this universe we have to use our mind and exercise our free will in order to live and survive. Divination of the future and asking the counsel of higher entities is not the only way to solve a problem. Kalid had emphasized the idea that sometimes divination can cause more trouble than it is worth... it can be better just to muddle through a challenge by thinking about challenges and tasks, each in their own time as they came to one. And maybe he was right.

Long ago, Sybil had once paid too much attention to her insights and made a wrong decision, thinking her intuition was about the future... and apparently it was not. So, she had stopped using divination. So now she firmly decided that she would not try to find out about Leone's destiny. It was more than just prudence... in the depth of her mind, she was a little superstitious about trying to foretell the future again. Her uneasiness arose from an idea that had come to her from outside of Teaching... she had read somewhere the idea that divination can actually create the future. As the universe was based on quantum mechanics, by watching the future she could become an observer and create particles that would fix her fate. If true, that meant what she saw in a vision or through cards could make the people involved choose some path just because she had already seen it. Of course, we can observe alternate futures... but she was very afraid of the possibility of causing an unwanted future ever since she had found out about her father's death prior to it actually happening.

Her father... how much she missed him. People said that everything changed with time and that time can make people forget their losses or eventually push one out of a depressive state after the death of a relative. But it was not true, at least for her. Every month and year that passed made her remember her father more and more. No spiritual method, Vichido or Ankhido technique had ever helped her. She was even thinking of going to a psychiatrist in order to get some relief from her grief, but she knew she had to try to live with it and not try to avoid it. Death is the other side of life, the aspect that gives meaning to life itself. However, repeating such rationalistic mantras did not work because her rational mind could not accommodate her feelings about the interplay between life and death. When she thought down this path she always started remembering that it was her father who had decided her destiny. She had only reluctantly agreed to be what she was, a Priestess. Anyway, her father had never seen her enter the Haldus Order because his injuries rushed him to his death before she could complete her training. That theft by death was just too painful so she forced herself not to think about her father and by force of will she replaced those painful thoughts with a memory of how she had met Kalid for the first time.....

FlammisEdit

Flammis

Flammis Planet

After remembering the conversation with Sybil, Leone’s mind came back to the present and he began to look for visible surface features on the planet they were approaching. They were now near enough so that the world could be seen up close and it filled most of the window, blocking out the star field beyond. The ship's long-range scan had indicated that it was a small terrestrial planet, so theoretically people could survive there, but it was completely green. A Green planet! The planet was not "green" in the sense of "full of life" or endowed with a rich ecosystem and green plants... no, this was a Green planet due to an exotic chemical process in the atmosphere. As an experienced space traveler, Leone was familiar with the idea that this kind of strange color on planets was due to the fact that such worlds had their atmosphere contaminated by a green goo, a type of destructive and uncontrolled nanite. Such green planets were generally assumed to be uninhabitable.

So Leone was shocked and disappointed. What kind of crazy mission was this to a dead planet? Well, at least the planet existed, but there was nothing in his ship's navigation database about an inhabited planet at these coordinates. The whole trip now seemed like a stupid joke.

As soon as they had completed the jump to this star system from Sakkara, Aristark and Leone had ordered Thot to determine their location. By identifying the positions of certain features of the galaxy such as pulsars, it was easy to determine one's position. They quickly learned that this star system was listed in the general astrogation catalog as star system h.1263522. Then, as soon as they knew that they were in the h.1263522 system, Aristark had transmitted their location to Ketar....so much for Sybil's great secrecy about their destination.

However, Sybil was right, in part. It seemed that the stellar cartographers did not know about this world's importance to the Haldus Order. If this planet had ever been colonized, as claimed by Sybil, then apparently the cartographers felt that fact was simply too unimportant to note in the standard astrogation catalog. Still, it was odd that the fact of this world being a Green planet was not mentioned in the catalog of planets. If nothing else, Green planets were notable as something to be avoided. Had this planet become "green" recently, since the time when this star system had last been visited by anyone from outside the Haldus Order? That seemed unlikely. Leone thought: maybe the Haldus Order did have some special technology for hiding bases from the sensors of spaceships. If Sybil was to be believed, the "Masters" could hide things by using their "mental powers", but, more likely, they just had enough money to bribe officials and keep mention of human habitation on this planet out of the databases. Leone shrugged....possibly this was just a minor world that had "gone green" before ever becoming heavily populated and famous, so its history was not described in the planetary catalog.

Leone turned his back on the window and made use of a data display on the opposite wall. He had never previously visited a Green planet and it was hard to guess what conditions might be like on the surface, but the ship's instruments were reporting a thick and solid green cloud cover that would seem to mean this world was dead. The surface of the planet appeared to be suffocated under a destructive nanite cloud, contrary to Sybil's belief that it was a sanctuary for Masters of "mental powers". Leone wondered, why hadn't Sybil mentioned that she was sending him to a Green planet? Was it some "minor detail" that slipped her mind? Leone thought: this bunch of mental psychos (psychos not psychics, according to Leone) would not stand a chance against the Set's ruthless methods. Leone cursed himself for being so naive in trusting and following the advice of Sybil. Maybe the destiny of all members of the Antiquist Party was to die from betrayal and misplaced trust! But... would Sybil betray him? Leone did not want to think such a thing, but maybe she was just a blind believer in the Order and her fanaticism could lead to trouble.

At the start of this journey Leone had been very suspicious and doubtful of "mental powers", but he had trusted that Kalid could be found. However, it now looked like their journey to this planet was a complete waste of time! The Thot spaceship was now very close to the green clouds, but they had not received any message from the planet. Leone imagined that if the Masters were actually here and if they were so "advanced", they should have sent a warning message or something, by means of either a conventional signal or, if Sybil was correct, by some sort of telepathic impulse. Maybe they were afraid of being detected by someone else, though. Maybe the Masters were making sure that this first ship, marked by Sybil's beacon as a ship of the Haldus Order, had not been followed.

Leone wondered, was Sybil's beacon even switched on? Aristark had made a study of the energy used by the equipment Sybil had installed in Leone's spaceship. Its energy use had spiked when it took control of the ship and guided their jump through hyperspace. Upon arrival in the h.1263522 star system the power use had dropped, but not quite to baseline. It had been easy for Leone to decide which planet to navigate to: there were only two in this star system and h.1263522.1 was too close to the star and too hot, its surface just rivers of melting rock. While they had approached h.1263522.2, Aristark had carefully scanned the electromagnetic spectrum and found that Leone's ship was emitting a strange signal at an unusual wavelength, apparently that was Sybil's identification beacon.

Leone turned and spoke to Aristark who was working at an adjacent section of the wall display, "Is that Haldus Order beacon still being transmitted?"

Aristark brought into view the relevant data. "Yes, that odd signal I detected is still there."

So where was Kalid...why didn't he reveal himself? Leone's little spaceship was not really equipped for searching a planet like this, but the navigation radar penetrated the green clouds. Each radar reflection that Leone looked at seemed empty of any sign of human activity...there was nothing down there but dunes and rocks. Leone's hopes of finding Kalid were now quickly evaporating. He had never believed a word of what Sybil had said to him about mental powers, but he had imagined the possibility that by meeting Kalid, the Master might share what he knew about Set's weaknesses... if there were any. How could Leone, a man of science, trust any of these claims about "mental powers"... and if Sybil believed such nonsense, why trust anything she might say?

Leone examined incoming data from the ship's automated scanning routines. Leone wondered if maybe they had already been detected by the Masters and were being allowed to scan the planet. If so, it might be possible from this low altitude orbit to detect bases on the surface that were used by human residents. Nevertheless, he was not too sure what to expect about their “Powers”...who knew what might or might not be possible? If what Sybil had said was true, maybe all the instrument readings were false and being altered by the Masters.

Leone was trained in a skeptical manner and relied on the scientific method, therefore he did not believe anything about "psychic powers". Where was the evidence for such things? Leone was an engineer with strong scientific background: mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology... "mental powers" was something beyond the domain of science. However, Leone was willing to admit that science had not discovered everything yet, so such "Powers" could exist.

Someone with scientific skepticism could never be sure that something was impossible... there was really no way to prove the nonexistence of something. Leone did not believe in clairvoyance, remote vision or the divination of the future... there was no evidence for such things. However, humanity was still haunted by inequality and a resulting mixture of decadence and poverty; that, along with suffering resulting from past wars, were the reasons why most people turned to belief in those strange arts, Leone thought. "Spiritual hunger" at difficult times.

There had also been a renaissance of belief in Ancient Egypt, Hermeticism and magic in general. Haldus Order. Priestess of Iris. "What is the popular appeal of Ancient Egypt?" Leone asked himself. Egypt was not even a common history subject in schools. Concerning one's self with Egypt was like talking about Australopithecus, something from too far in the human past to be of any practical importance.

Aristark had heard Leone's muttered question about Egypt. He was also analyzing the incoming data from the planet. "Not looking too promising down there, is it? If the Haldus Order needed a holiday resort, surely they could find a more hospitable world!"

Leone looked out the window at the green clouds and chuckled at the idea of this being a "holiday resort". Leone was more than a little embarrassed at having led Aristark on this crazy journey to a dead world. Since Sybil was an old friend, Leone had given her the benefit of the doubt, but Aristark must be greatly amused by all this silliness....a priestess sending two Planetary Counselors across the galaxy chasing after masters of mental powers.

"Well, a Green planet might be a sensible hiding place, I guess." Briefly, Leone's attention was brought back to the scan results, but they continued to show no signs of any human presence on the planet. His thoughts kept drifting towards what little he knew about mysticism and "ancient Orders". After his recent meeting with Sybil, Leone had done some reading about Egyptian legends. Maybe the fabled Egyptian civilization had never even existed. His reading on the topic had exposed Leone to the work of some historians who claimed the whole idea of Egypt was only a myth, an invented civilization, like ancient Atlantis, a myth that was only used to revive magic and useless mysticism. In Leone's opinion, the greatest part of the Egypt story was the pyramids... but Earth had been carefully searched and the pyramids could not be found.

Of course, Earth was not easy to search! Earth was also a Green planet, lost to the scourge of uncontrolled nanites. So even if evidence for Egypt did remain on Earth, it would never be easy to find that evidence. Still, something as large as the mythical Egyptian pyramids should be easily detectable from orbit using conventional scanners.

Leone believed it was possible that Egypt had indeed existed in ancient times. For Leone, "ancient" meant from before the 20th century, a time before the Space Age. Leone knew that he lived in the 25th century, as time and years had once been counted on Earth. The length of Earth's year had been replaced as the "standard year" by the orbital period of Parsa, the current galactic Capitol. Now, everything from more than 200 years before the present was considered "Classical" or "Ancient" by most people, due to scientific advances and social changes.

The years were not numbered that way (25th century) anymore, but Leone knew how to convert from the current calendar to the classical Earth numbering system. Now the years were numbered since the rise in importance of the Wadden Charter, and it was now the year 108 ANE (After New Elections, the first galaxy-wide elections after the last galactic war).

On approach to the planet along the course Leone had specified, the ship had been gradually reducing its acceleration and now Leone felt the complete departure of all gravity and force. As an experienced space traveler, he almost did not consciously think about it, but in the back of his mind he knew that they were now drifting in an orbit around the planet. He felt a cloud of nanite-guided threads being pulled into place to keep him from drifting across the room, but his thoughts were not really interrupted by that gentle touch.

Leone was still thinking about ancient history. Something he had learned and found amusing was the origin of "Set", the name. Leone had learned that in Egyptian mythology "Set" was thought to be some evil god. Leone and Set had long been political rivals, so Leone had thought he knew Set quite well, but if "Set" believed in myths from ancient Egypt then maybe that could be one of his weaknesses, believing in false and exotic things. Leone could imagine that there had been an Egypt on Earth, but he did not doubt that belief in esotericism and secret knowledge handed down from Ancient Egypt was a complete fantasy. Leone had no reason to suspect that Set was murderous and evil in anything other than a perfectly conventional way. However, a strange thought came to mind....

“Do you believe in mental powers?” Leone asked Aristark, without any introduction.

“What?” asked Aristark. Aristark was busy making calculations for how much light might penetrate the green clouds of the planet below and was not thinking about the same topics as was Leone.

“Do you believe in mental powers?” Leone asked again.

“Not at all,” answered Aristark. “Why do you ask?”

“Because we are searching for a Master of 'mental powers' and Sybil claimed that this Green world is inhabited by a group of people who practice mind control,” Leone said.

“I don’t know what to believe about that, yet. My position is skeptical, but I could believe some of it if there were enough proof to support these claims. Maybe if these 'Masters' can read my thoughts or damage my laser gun with their mind, maybe then I will start to believe in 'mental powers'. If they don't prove it I will not believe a single word of Sybil's nonsense. It's the same as for any wild claim, they will have to show me evidence that supports their claims.”

“Yes, that's the point, but some mystics claim that the existence of 'mental powers' cannot be proved to skeptics. According to them, you must first 'have faith" in the Powers. That is what I read about this 'Haldus Order' and the idea that they have an ancient tradition of 'mind powers'. They never show their powers to skeptical people, that is, to people outside their 'Hermetic' Order. Of course, a skeptic would say that their refusal to demonstrate their powers might be because they have no powers at all. Maybe their 'powers' are just something like a prestidigitation trick,” Leone said.

“Prestidigitation? What is that?”

“A practice from Earth's history in which a performer tricked other people by making illusions. Common tricks were pretending to make objects disappear and making them appear somewhere else or making it look like the trickster could magically escape from death traps.”

“Oh, my Graviton! Those ancient people actually payed for the 'pleasure' of being tricked, right? Weird!”

“Yes, through human history that type of showmanship has gone in and out of favor. Magic shows are out of favor now and people these days can not be entertained in that way, but maybe Sybil and Kalid and others in this 'Haldus Order' are tricking people and will try to trick us too,” said Leone.

“You are right. Maybe they know nothing about 'mental power' other than how to confuse and trick weak-minded people, thus creating an appearance of 'mind control power'. But if this 'Haldus Order' has been able to hide here, then one thing they could do was to hide from the rest of galactic civilization. And that is no easy task,” Aristark said.

“Maybe Sybil's whole story about hidden Masters escaping detection is just self-deception. It might be that the population of this planet is too tiny to be of interest to the traders and galactic cartographers. See," Leone pointed out the window, "It is a dead planet and according to our scans it does not even have any significant amounts of rare or useful metals, either. I believe that 'mind powers' garbage is a fairy story invented to frighten or entertain kids...” Leone said.

“Fairies? Oh, I remember, some little mythical female creatures. Yes, that could be. But maybe there is more to this 'Haldus Order' than we know. Maybe these people like Sybil and Kalid are really hiding and conspiring... maybe they are few in number, but still a force that we should be concerned about...”

“Do you really think that is likely?” Leone asked, surprised.

“I trust Ketar. Ketar would not tell you to take Sybil seriously unless there was something true in her story. I've been thinking I had heard something like her story long ago, anyway. There is a legend, a 'story invented to frighten or entertain kids' that I heard from my mother when I was very young... something about a mighty hermetic order that will some day rule the galaxy.”

Leone shook his head. Both of his parents were rationalists and had never burdened Leone with such fantasy stories. “A legend is a legend, it gives false hopes to miserable people. Predictions of future events... that is just another invention of story tellers. Many people have dreams about a better galaxy, but they do not pretend to see the future. Anyhow, we are in the closest possible orbit now and the scanner results are all coming in. We will find out soon if a base for the 'Haldus Order' exists here and if these Masters are as mighty as Sybil claims...”

After that conversation, the two counselors resumed their work. Leone went to the main control room and prepared to take the ship off autopilot. He had ordered Thot to scan all the radar reflection data and make a list of possible landing locations that included the coordinates on the surface of the planet near anything that seemed like a possible human base. Aristark went to the main engineering room where he could continue to study the scanner results and also prepare equipment for landing. By the looks of things, they would need special protective decontamination nanites in case they actually landed under the green nanite cloud that shrouded this planet.

In preparation for taking manual control, Leone connected himself to the spaceship. He took command of the ship by plugging in some electrodes that he attached to his head with a small cap. Now, to command the ship he did not need to touch any buttons; he could just use his mind and the associated electrical brain activity. He leaned back into the command alcove and let a powerful magnetic projector rest against the back of his head, directly over his visual cortex. By way of the projector, he saw the appearance of a virtual control panel for the spaceship right in his mind.

A second magnetic projector now moved against the left side of Leone's head. “Thot welcomes you. I am prepared to land on the spot you choose,” Thot, the main computer, said, in a neutral voice with a slight male tone.

“Show me a 3D model of the planetary scans you have done so I can choose the landing point.”

The computer showed him the 3D model of the planet it had built. Since the computer was connected to him through the neuro-computer connection there was no need for anything as primitive as a display screen. Thot now projected images into the visual area of Leone’s brain and "talked" directly to his brain's language processing areas. This neuro-computer interface was a new invention that only a few spaceships had and few planets could afford to buy. But Sakkara was a planet where science was a leading force and technology was at its peak.
Flammis map longer

Model of potential landing sites on Flammis.

Dead worldEdit

Leone tried to stop thinking about history and the possible existence of Egypt and stay focused on the boring task at hand... searching a dead planet for signs of life. As his spaceship continued its orbital swing, the 3D model of the planet's surface became nearly complete. There were about a dozen anomalous surface features that the spaceship's artificial intelligence had scanned and flagged and which showed with red highlights in the model that was now being projected into Leone's brain. Leone asked, "Why are most of these surface features red but one is blue?"

The Thot artificial intelligence replied, "All these features appear to be human settlements that were destroyed by man-made explosive devices. The red sites were destroyed many decades ago and appear to have been human bases located on the surface of the planet. The blue site was recently destroyed and appears to have been an underground base."

Leone's heart began to beat very fast. "What do you mean by 'recently destroyed'?"

The machine explained, "The crater is still cooling. The underground base was destroyed within the past few days."

"How deep was the base? Is there any chance of survivors?"

Thot was slow in answering. "The scanners on this ship are designed for use in space. I cannot penetrate the depths of the shattered rock at that site. I believe that antimatter bombs were used and some exploded at great depth. I doubt if anyone could have survived."

Leone muttered, "Too late. We arrive too late." But who could have arrived here just a day or two earlier and obliterated the inhabitants of this little-known planet? And why was the planet attacked twice, once long ago? If this had indeed been a hiding place for members of the Haldus Order, who was their enemy? Why did the Haldus Order have enemies who would pursue them to the death across space and across time?

Leone's spaceship was now completing its first orbit of the planet. Still, there was about fifteen percent of the surface that they had not yet been able to scan, so theoretically there might be some small human base down there that had escaped destruction. Maybe the Masters had used a trick and offered their enemies a false target... maybe the Masters remained hidden at another site, some secondary base deep below the surface. Now that Leone understood the nature of the potential landing sites and that they were all sites of destroyed bases, he had no immediate interest in attempting a landing. He instructed his spaceship to let its orbit stabilize over the location of the recently destroyed base.

The zero g conditions temporarily ended while the Thot spaceship was swinging them into a geostationary orbit above the planet where they could wait for the “Masters” to send them a signal. Assuming that there might be scattered survivors, Leone was now interested in the idea of sending a signal to the planet and asking for permission to land. Leone was about to start transmitting when the spaceship trembled.

Leone and Aristark felt the odd motion of the spaceship and alarms began to sound. They both had imagined that either the planet was dead or the "Masters" were cautiously waiting before revealing themselves...so this strange event surprised them completely. Although Leone was a veteran of a thousand trips through space, he had never been in an actual space battle. For the past hundred years the galaxy had been peaceful except for a few small single-planet skirmishes and the never ending acts of piracy near the outer borders of colonized space. Leone prided himself on being a great space traveler, but he was not ready for battle. The movement of the spaceship felt like being in the epicenter of an earthquake, but since they were in space they had nowhere to run to. Leone had grown up near geologically active mountains on Sakkara and had been trained from an early age to run out of buildings during an earthquake. But now he was in a spaceship and surrounded by the interstellar void. After a moment of shock, his long past years of emergency training began to guide his actions.

Under attackEdit

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."


“What is it?” asked Leone, expecting no reply.

“I have no idea,” answered Aristark, notably scared.

Leone reasoned that if this world had recently been attacked then those attackers might still be nearby. Alternatively, the Masters might still have means of self-protection and they might be attacking out of fear that Leone's ship was here to attack their Order. Leone said to Aristark, “Well, we are under attack, there is no other explanation.” Leone ordered Thot to take evasive action, but the artificial intelligence of the spaceship did not know what to try to evade. Leone started making random bursts of acceleration in a zig-zag pattern away from the planet.

Leone was frustrated by the limited scanning equipment of the spaceship, equipment that was adequate for routine space travel but which was useless for detecting particle beams and other weapons. “But where is the attack coming from? Radar does not show any spaceships around us. Thot has logged some damage to our spaceship, but there are no traces of the aggressor." Leone noticed that their defenses had not activated. "Thot, activate the force field.”

Thot obeyed instantly and activated the protective field. In the next few seconds, the attack continued; it seemed that wild dodging movements could not shake off the attack, but the shields limited the effects of the bombardment. Leone manipulated the available scanning instruments as fast as he could, but he was still unable to detect the source of the aggression. With nothing showing on the scanners Leone was forced to wonder if true “ghost ships”, invisible to normal spaceships, might be in use by the Haldus Order right now... against them. They were continuously being struck by some form of destructive energy and the attack went on and on. The worst thing for Leone was that he could not counterattack; the instruments showed nothing. Leone's spaceship was not entirely defenseless. Sometimes pirate ships dared to attack spaceships, so they were always equipped with ways to use the power of their matter-antimatter engines for both defense and for offense. In his academy days, Leone had been trained in how to fight pirates, but he had never needed that training... until now. The scanners still detected no other spaceship or asteroid weapons platform or projectiles in the surrounding space. Shots hit them instantly, as if they came out of nowhere.

“It cannot be! Thot does not detect anything, it is as if they were confus...”

At that very moment, Leone understood it all. In the beginning, he had thought Sybil was a naive priestess, but what had happened now was confirming her beliefs. It was true that the Thot's sensors were confused... They showed no signal of the source of the attack. And Leone remembered now when Sybil had mentioned that sensors could be confused... by “mental powers”, in her own words. So, that was the warm welcome by Kalid. War!

“What?” Aristark asked, because he did not understand it yet.

“This is the nonsense Sybil said!” Leone shouted. “She was telling us the truth. They are attacking us, but since they possess that 'mental technology' to hide themselves, our sensors cannot detect the projectiles before they are making contact with our defensive shield. Every projectile they fire is protected with some mental shield or whatever it is. They could destroy our entire spaceship and the damn sensors would not see anything at all! Not even Thot's fast response time is of any use for shifting our shield strength to the location of each new impact!" The apparent mystery of the attack was that easy to explain... Leone just had to shift his thinking to include the idea that Sybil had told the truth about "mental powers"...

“Do you need something, Captain? I cannot understand the order” said Thot, in its neutral voice.

“No, Thot. I just mentioned you in third person.”

“Then, are we forced to believe in those 'powers' this way?” Aristark asked. “But, why?”

“Why are we forced?”

“No. Why are they attacking us? We have Sybil's equipment 'on', so they should recognize us...”

“Maybe that is the reason why they are attacking. I feel inclined to think that this is all a trap set for Sybil and me by Kalid. For whatever reason, Kalid wanted to destroy us. Now, everything is very clear to me, we will have to counterattack!”

“What? Counterattack? It is like killing a ghost. Besides, we would be one single ship against an entire planet. We do not even know if they are attacking us from land or space! We do not know the locations of their remaining bases. Any attempt to fight would be a suicidal mission, we are blind and helpless. We will have to flee, that is our only choice.”

“Let's attack first and try to buy some time so that we can think,” As ship's captain, Leone pronounced his decision in a solemn manner, as if he had said the most wise thing in the universe.

And, in spite of Aristark's doubts, they both prepared to make a counterattack. Nevertheless, Aristark thought their counterattack would not last very long; soon enough they would have to flee because the shield created by Thot's force field was weakening, already down to 40% of peak strength after only a few minutes of use! So, they had to act very fast. Each of them made use of a Thot interface in the main control room and they both shot indiscriminately towards the planet using the spaceship's energy weapons. They had no target, but Leone had read about ancient wars on Earth in which "anti-aircraft fire" was blindly used to good effect against unseen bombers over cities. Leone even shot several times "with his eyes closed", without using the targeting system... there was no difference when doing that since there was no target.

Aristark had never bothered to look at the targeting system, he just watched the display of the shield's power level and integrity. As soon as the shield's energy was down to 15%, Aristark got up from his chair, convinced that it was useless to fight and that it was time to flee.

Aristark shouted at Leone, “You are completely insane! I am sorry to say that, but we have no option but to stop the counterattack and flee. It is not like I am a coward; the graviton-damned shield is below 15% and we do not have enough time to repair the generators. I won't help any more in this suicide mission. I am going to escape, right now, in one of the lifeboats. I prefer to die trying to escape than being here, locked in a death grip with an invisible enemy and striking out at empty space like an idiot."

“Go back to your place, Aristark!” Leone shouted, now enraged even more by Aristark than the relentless attack. “Cursed graviton! Now half of the crew has rebelled. If I were alone, I would fight until I had 1% shield's energy!”

“You are very conscious of the fact that you could not escape with only 1% left. I never thought that you, a rationalist and my best friend, had such self-destructive tendencies. Your rage and desire to fight makes no sense. I am not going to continue this useless discussion, bye captain, I leave you to die with your ship”. Aristark made a military salute at this moment and fled from the control room, running down the passageway towards the lifeboats.

Leone did not care to answer, as angry as he was, but Aristark's words finally penetrated to the rational part of his mind. He now noticed that his hands were trembling from the effects of adrenalin in his blood and fear in his mind. He felt as if too much of his blood was in his head and he felt on his face a very strange heat and rolling drops of sweat. Still, it was hard to back down from this fight... if they both had continued firing, maybe they... But, what was he doing? After all, Aristark was right, in some sense. It was something a psychopath might do: just keep on fighting until 1% shield. It was obvious he would not wait until that moment. Leone guessed that the shield should still be near 15%. He moved his attention away from the complex offensive targeting controls and glanced at the defensive shield display: it was down to 8%. Well, he could not take any more risks now, he knew exactly what he had to do in that moment. Since his training in the academy, Leone had an emergency flight program for escape from danger... He approached Thot and loaded the software from his fingerprints. The program was inside his fingers and Thot scanned it like an ancient bar code. Thot loaded it and executed it. Leone also placed an emergency lock on all the lifeboat gates of the ship, to prevent Aristark from escaping. It was not that Leone wanted Aristark to die, but Aristark was, in Leone's eyes, a subordinate who could not disobey him or abandon the the ship without orders, under any circumstances.

In spite of everything, Aristark was completely right, maybe he had saved them both their lives... If it was not for Aristark's insubordination, Leone might have failed to look at the shield's power level before it was too late. And now Leone realized that there was a programming error in the systems of this new type of force field: the shield had not activated automatically and there were not enough pre-programmed set points for Thot to provide alerts to Leone if the shield power dropped. Aristark had performed that vital function and saved the ship.

Leone relaxed into the softness of his chair. Now that the emergency routine was activated they would escape in less than a minute. A shout of fury was heard from down the hall and Leone listened to it with pleasure. It was Aristark, when he discovered that he was locked and forbidden from exiting the ship. Aristark's miniship was completely disabled and he was now stuck in the emergency lifeboat room, helpless. Now a final warning sounded for the impending hyperspace jump. After a few more seconds, they would observe the approach of the intense black of hyperspace, something never fully seen by human eyes....they lost consciousness as the hyperspace jump was initiated. Such loss of consciousness was the usual thing when spaceships made a quick exit to hyperspace from a position too near a planet. The last thing Leone saw in his mind before losing consciousness was the readout for the strength of the shield, he observed: 1%. After that, the entire spaceship transferred its matter to hyperspace, disappearing from the normal space-time fabric.

Back from hyperspaceEdit

The emergency jump through hyperspace involved a serious risk: it was possible that the spaceship might exit hyperspace at a point inside a star and immediately be destroyed. However, after many hours, the matter and energy of Leone's spaceship condensed at a safe location in the universe. In normal practice, interstellar travel involves an initial period of slow conventional travel towards interstellar space, safely distancing the spaceship from any planets or stars. Only then can a long distance hyperspace jump be safely initiated in order to move the spaceship over interstellar distances.

Having entered hyperspace from a position so close to a planet, Leone and Aristark were lucky that all the information about themselves and their spaceship managed to come back from hyperspace. They were doubly lucky not to find themselves inside a massive object like a black hole. Finally, the spaceship's hyperspatial drive itself rematerialized and closed the hole that had allowed communication between hyperspace and the universe of normal space that is familiar to human senses. Moments later, Leone and Aristark woke up, confused and oblivious to the world.

Leone, a veteran of hundreds of jumps through hyperspace, recovered rapidly and felt his thought patterns stabilize. He remembered the battle and his argument with Aristark. He noted that that the spaceship's nanite-based self-repair system was active, but only limited damage was indicated. There were some minor stress cracks in the structure of the hull and few electromechanical systems faults were being reported....all of which could be repaired.

Leone unlocked every door in the ship and waited for Aristark's return to the control room. Leone admitted to himself that he had put the ship at risk. Leone knew Aristark well and he expected a potent burst of complaints and criticism that would make clear exactly how Aristark felt.

Aristark soon entered the main control room, where Leone was waiting for a report from the spaceship's artificial intelligence about their new location. "Cursed you will be," Aristark said, in a low voice. Then much louder: "You are completely INSANE; I can imagine you waited until we had just 1% of shield or even less... Know that this is my last mission with you. I do not want to die yet and I will not follow you on any more suicide missions."

Leone did not want to admit to Aristark that he was right about how close the spaceship had come to being destroyed- that they had reached the point where the ship's shields were down to 1%. Leone simply said, "You are right."

Aristark was a bit surprised at that reply. A dramatic change had come over Leone and Aristark could see no more signs of the enraged warrior who had emerged when the ship came under attack.

Leone continued, "Our best option would have been to have fled instantly upon being attacked at..." Leone paused. He felt the need for a name that could be used to refer to the Green planet where they had been attacked. Its official designation in the astrogation database was just h.1263522.2, so Leone invented a whimsical name: "Plato", short for "PLAnet TwO of star system 1263522". Plato was one of Leone's favorite historical figures from ancient Earth.

Leone continued, "For convenience, I propose we call that planet Sybil sent us to 'Plato'. So, we should have quickly fled from Plato. A single small spaceship like this one, designed only to carry a few passengers, cannot fight a battle against a whole planet. And I now believe it was not even an ordinary battle. It seems that Sybil was telling the truth: there are strange powers at Plato under the control of the Haldus Order...they are using some kind of mental technology or whatever they call it. About my decision to fight...I do not even understand exactly why I did it, I am a bit obstinate, but never have previously taken things that far...it is almost like something took control of me and tried to push me towards my own destruction...."

Aristark suspected that there was nothing magical about the attack on their ship and that the methods used had nothing to do with "mental technology". Aristark thought it was just that Leone did not know what was going on and so he was inventing crazy speculations, including fantastic imagined excuses for his aggressive behavior in fighting back against the attackers. Aristark tried to deflect Leone from his wild speculations, "Maybe you just trusted too much in Thot or the power of our shield." Aristark connected to the spaceship's artificial intelligence and scanned the status of the automated repairs that were now under way.

Leone nodded. He thought: maybe everyone in the galaxy has grown soft and complacent. A hundred years of peace could make people forget the grim realities of war. Upon reflection, Leone realized he had acted like some actor in a space drama. "It is true. I think I must apologize for what happened. I foolishly put our lives at risk."

Aristark tried to put their narrow escape from death out of his thoughts. There was work to be done. "All right. What will we do now? Or, better said, what will YOU do?"

600px-Chandra-crab

"I have no idea."

Leone finally got the report on their position. The spaceship had been flung up and out of the spiral arm of the Galaxy that held the worlds colonized by humans. The ship's instruments indicated that they were now uncomfortably close to a neutron star, but in no immediate danger. Still, they were now too deep in the gravity well of the neutron star for a safe jump through hyperspace. Leone ordered the Thot ship to proceed at standard acceleration up and away from the nearby star, which was actually a binary system with a powerful x-ray emitting pulsar. Standard acceleration would supply the passenger deck with a force equivalent to standard gravity, although the ship would actually move as if pushed by about 3g of acceleration.

Leone returned his attention to Aristark's question. Leone's first impulse was to contact Sybil and demand an explanation for the "welcome" they had received at Plato, but was that wise? "I am not even sure if we should contact Sybil right now. The attack against us from Plato could have been some kind of trap." But he did not want to believe that Sybil would have knowingly sent him into danger.

Aristark commented, "Well, you can forget about calling Sybil...the hyperspatial communicator is damaged and under repair. It looks like one of the weapons used against us at Plato was an energy beam that specifically ablated the com system's signal generation array at the surface of the ship."

From Leone's training, he knew that was a standard trick used by pirates to prevent distress signals from being sent by spaceships that they attacked. Hyperspatial communication was achieved by ablating a small amount of material from strips of hassium on the surface of spaceships and using the jump engine to selectively shunt the vaporized hassium into hyperspace....that provided a simple and efficient way to send signals to receivers in any of the major inhabited star systems. He asked, "How long will it take to rebuild the hassium array?"

Aristark replied, "It is a low priority repair...about a day, unless we move it up the list."

Leone shrugged, "No, the hull repairs are most important. We need hull structural integrity for a jump."

Aristark tried to focus his thoughts on how best to accomplish the secret orders he had received from Ketar. The trip to "Plato" had not only been a dangerous fiasco, but worse, they had learned nothing about Kalid. Given the remaining mysteries about Kalid in particular and the Haldus Order in general, both Sybil and Kalid might still be of use to the Antiquist Party. So, Leone had to be carefully manipulated so as to satisfy the wishes and orders of Ketar...orders that had been given directly to Aristark and which Leone was unaware of. "A trap set by Sybil? I do not personally think so. I do not trust Sybil, but if we think about it a bit, we must conclude that Sybil could not have betrayed us that way. There was always the possibility that we could escape...just as we ultimately did. I don't think Sybil would risk us escaping and being in position to take revenge on her or her people. If it was a trap set by Sybil it was a very poor trap, indeed."

Leone knew that Aristark had presented a logical argument, but Leone was still worried about "mental powers" and he could not entirely dismiss from his thought the irrational fear that some force had tried to take control of his mind and caused him to put up suicidal resistance against the attack. "That would be the very reason why it would be possible..." Leone added, enigmatically. "However, I think this time you are right; Sybil would not betray us using such an obvious approach. Too many people on Sakkara know that we went to Sybil for help...if we had been killed at Plato and never returned to Sakkara, all attention would have turned to Sybil and her Order. Traitors do not act in daylight, do they? They need to make their mischief in secret, where none can discover them, I guess."

Leone contemplated the available options. The original plan had been to find Kalid on Plato and take him to a meeting with Ketar so that a strategy for fighting Set could be developed and agreed upon. Even though Kalid had not been found, it still made sense for Leone and Aristark to meet with Ketar. Maybe Ketar could rally support from the Galactic Antiquist Party to protect Sakkara from Set. "We do not have time to waste on Sybil and the Haldus Order. I would not want to continue our misguided search for Kalid without a war fleet to back us up. Let's go and meet with Ketar, he will know what to do next. But... what is this? Are you hurt?"

"No, it's just me...a game I like to play," Aristark replied sarcastically. "I like to make holes in my skin just for the pleasure of seeing my blood flow, it gives a meaning to life. Obviously, I am hurt. But, what else did you expect? I got locked inside the lifeboat exit room in the same moment the shield was penetrated..there is damage in that room...one of the lifeboat launch platforms exploded and the debris wounded me. There are cracks in that quadrant of the hull. I'd feel safer if you closed the emergency bulkhead between us and that room. The damage sounded more severe than the self-diagnostics indicate... a crack might grow and be penetrated by interstellar space before the repair nanites get to it."

"Right." Leone ordered the spaceship to clamp into place the emergency bulkhead for that quadrant of the spaceship. Leone then examined Aristark's wounds. It looked like hot fragments of shattered plastic had burned their way into Aristark's arm. Leone could see a fog of emergency medical nanites repairing the damaged tissue, but scars were being left on the surface of his skin and he could not tell what damage existed internally. The medical equipment on the spaceship was limited and full treatment of these wounds would require the resources of a planet or a space station. "Then we will have two missions at Azur, to meet with Ketar and for you to be cured of these wounds."

Now Leone was depressed. He could see Aristark trying to ignore the pain without complaining. Aristark was hurt due to Leone's irrational behavior at Plato, there was no doubt about that. However, Leone did not feel that he was entirely to blame. Kalid was the prime suspect, but Leone could not explain to himself why Kalid would attack. Was it just a mistake? And back to the "mental technology"... maybe it was just conventional technology and agents of the Haldus Order only spoke of mental powers in order to surround it with mysticism... a trick that seemed to be working to baffle and confuse Leone...he was now willing to image that he had lost control of his own mind!

Neither Leone nor Aristark wanted to blame Sybil for the attack. Nevertheless, Leone could not entirely dismiss that possibility. Sybil could have betrayed them... she had only suggested that Kalid might be found on Plato and she had not sounded at all certain or convincing when saying that to Leone. Now Leone could not help wondering if maybe Plato was just a death trap where Sybil could send enemies to meet their death and never be heard from again. Maybe only a miracle had saved them from the trap. No! Hard as he tried, Leone could not imagine Sybil being evil.

The mysterious Kalid was the unknown factor and all doubts should fall upon Kalid. So, if it was his planet, then what motivation would Kalid have for the attack? And the appearance of destruction on Plato...the still hot crater, was that just an illusion created by Kalid in order to draw Leone's ship close enough to attack or was it real? Images of the sickly green clouds of Plato swirled in his mind and Leone felt like he was still trapped in a cloud of unknowns and doubt. To escape this mental quagmire, he tried to open his thoughts and imagination to unseen possibilities.

Was there an alternative way to look at what had happened at Plato, some as yet unimagined interpretation of events that would actually make sense? Maybe there was just some crazy astrogation error and they had visited the wrong planet. After all, how could Sybil have failed to mention that she was sending them to a Green planet? But, no, that was not very likely....the technicians who had installed the Haldus Order equipment on the spaceship had seemed competent and had assured Leone that he would safely reach his destination. Still, Leone had not been comfortable giving up his duties as ship's Captain to a machine....but he had no choice in that matter. The Haldus Order technicians had insisted that they could not tell Leone the secret astrogation coordinates of his destination and that he would have to trust the Haldus Order equipment to initiate the hyperspatial jump.

Leone tried to relax and think clearly. He had to put order to his own ideas and get ready to make a coherent report to Ketar. There would be no way to secure help from Ketar and the Galactic Antiquist Party if he reported crazy stories about "mental powers"....after all, there was no objective evidence for such powers, just Leone's own fears and doubts.

Leone turned his thoughts to astrogation. Due to the fact that they had taken an emergency hyperspace exit, they had been unable to calculate or control the destination of that jump. The term "jump" was used to refer to the mysterious discontinuity when a spaceship entered hyperspace and then re-entered the universe at another distant place...without actually having to travel through the intervening light years of ordinary space. The term had been taken from ancient science fiction novels from the beginnings of that far 20th century, Leone had learned. The word had since been translated to the standard language that was now common through the galaxy, of course. The full name of the process was "hyperspatial jump". Leone thought it was very curious and intriguing that some writers from 500 years previously, before the space age, could have predicted how the jump would actually work. Hyperspace travel was not much different from what could be read about in the ancient novels of speculative literature.

Leone had even collected some of those classic science fiction novels, in original format, something the ancients had called a book. It was something small, portable, made from plant fiber and it could include several hundred pages of text inside... although not as much as the information you could store on a single memory chip, even back in the times of the early computer age. Leone's thoughts drifted to the first time he had held a paper book. Sybil, as a historian, had a small personal collection of books that had been printed on Earth. One day she had handed Leone her copy of Reflections on the Revolution in France, a copy that had been printed in 1982.

Leone fondly remembered the day Sybil had taken him to two shops that sold antiquities, including books. These days, very few people actually possessed books since everyone could read content using small flexible screens which could store entire libraries in their molecular memory units. Screens had search commands and quick-links to chapters, making them very useful and portable, too. The advantage of the more modern medium was that it was not consumed by age, heat or humidity, as often happened with paper books. In spite of the problems with paper, Leone enjoyed having a collection of those old books.

Leone tried to stop fretting about Sybil. All his memories of her were warm and pleasant, and he simply could not accept the possibility that she had sent him to a secret world in order to make possible a sneak attack on his spaceship. As pleasant as it was to think about Sybil and their old times together, Leone forced himself to concentrate on his duties as Captain.

Leone proceeded to make use of Thot's virtual reality interface to begin preparing the ship for hyperspace travel, this time towards Ketar's planet. First, he observed its location, now 1200 parsecs distant. When someone made an emergency exit to hyperspace, the spaceship could re-enter the universe at a random point, most often in a 2000 parsecs radius, although that was just an average value that was related to typical densities of matter within the boundaries of the spiral arm of the galaxy where humans had spread between the stars. Distance did not matter for the duration of travel through hyperspace, if it could really even be called "travel". Zero time elapsed between entering and exiting hyperspace. The unavoidable delay that was associated with the jump was caused when all the matter and energy of the spaceship had to materialize again. Only information could enter hyperspace, there was never any conventional energy or matter in that domain. When the information that coded for a spaceship re-entered the universe, the universe had to restructure the position of each particle for them to be in the same state of quantum uncertainty they were before the jump. Since there was a huge amount of particles the process could take a long time, or, in the worse case, an infinite amount of time if the original information was scrambled and could no longer be correctly re-assembled.

When hyperspatial travel was a new field of science, early experimenters saw entire spaceships come back from hyperspace with many structural errors and humans seldom survived the trip. The first hyperspace travelers who did survive only lived a short time with symptoms of several mental illnesses including epilepsy and other abnormalities like panic attacks. Those neurological changes were usually irreversible since the structure of their brains had not been rematerialized accurately. As jump drives improved, the remaining problems of the jump process affected only molecular level details such as the structure DNA, with the side effects being multiple chronic illnesses such as cancer.

At the beginning, during the initial rush to send humans through hyperspace, there had been pressure for quick results from companies, governments and famous politicians. However, the more subtle dangers from using hyperspatial jump technology resisted quick fixes and politicians formed committees of investigation and special councils and finally voted to forbid hyperspace experimentation involving human beings until certain safety guarantees could be met. For a period of time, human volunteers were turned away and scientists were ordered to stop human experimentation and so for many years they had to use only laboratory animals due to public concern over the matter. After years of hard and long work, the technology for hyperspatial jumps was finally perfected and safe enough for human use.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that this new field of science had finally produced a technology that was safe to use, hyperspace had never been understood thoroughly. Some theoreticians argued that our entire universe could function as a big quantum computer. They went on with this analogy by saying that the matter and energy of a spaceship, which was an analogue to a data structure or software object with all of its computational processes and internal objects, was transferred to hyperspace... but it was not actually the matter and energy which was transferred; it was only the information about them. When the information traveled through hyperspace and got to its destination, the universal computer moved that information, similar to copying or moving a file on a computer network. So, the computer transferred the information of the spaceship to their new position and, therefore, it had to place every particle in such a way that it would reflect their original uncertainty in position, forces and energies surrounding them.

Hyperspatial travel was a vastly complex extension the old quantum process of transferring matter, quantum teleportation. The first task scientists faced initially was finding a way to detect the position and energies of every particle of a spaceship in order to make a copy of them. But, as had been demonstrated long before, particles and their states cannot be just copied using some kind of a matter replicator because when measuring the position or momentum of a particle in order to copy it, the particle's information was altered or even destroyed. The trick was to perform a transformation that shifted the structure of a spaceship into a new form that existed only in hyperspace. Most of the scientific work involved in making hyperspatial travel possible turned out to be mathematical. Scientists kept on doing research on those topics until a new field of mathematics was born... the one they needed to solve the equations of hyperspace and in that way the science of interstellar travel was finally born.

A 1200 parsec jump to Azur would have been a remarkably long jump under normal conditions. Travel over that kind of distance typically required two or three jumps, one after the other. Most trips between inhabited worlds took place within the high star density of the galactic disk. But Leone's ship had been thrown clear of most stars and up to the edge of the spiral arm that was home to humanity, up where star density was much lower.

Leone saw that the stellar patterns would allow a journey of a single jump to Azur, as long as they could get far enough away from the nearby neutron star before initiating the jump. Leone and Thot worked at the calculations and finally a stable solution started to emerge. Almost a dozen more hours of standard one g acceleration would be required to get clear of the disruptive gravitational influence of the nearby star. Leone made the best of that delay for eating and getting some sleep.

The next day, Leone spent some time modifying the autodefense program. He debugged the routine for automated shield activation and he added some pre-programmed set points for warnings about decreases in shield strength. He had been a fool not to check on those systems after the last upgrade to Thot. Well, perhaps "fool" was too harsh...decades of not needing weapons systems naturally led to sloppy procedures. The new shield warning alarm sounded immediately upon being put online, so he had to manually over-ride it. The shields had not yet been regenerated. He could do that here in space, but it would mean further delay. Since they were heading towards the safety of Akara, at the heart of the colonized worlds, Leone decided to not worry about the shields and pirates. Regenerating shields could be accomplished most efficiently in a planetary facility like Ketar's spaceship docks on Azur.

Leone added one more routine to the autodefense sequence; an evasive action program. Leone never again wanted to find himself just sitting in a geostationary orbit taking fire like a sitting duck.

When the spaceship finally reached a comfortable distance from the neutron star, Leone finished the calculations, helped by Thot, and then he ordered the artificial intelligence to start the hyperspatial travel sequence that would shift their position in space towards Azur... all 1200 parsecs in a single jump. Leone activated the restraint system of his chair. Even though this was a carefully calculated jump, there were always some uncertainties in travel through little known regions of space. Some nearby unidentified object could, in a random way, generate some extra inertia for objects inside of the spaceship. If items, and particularly people, were not tightly tied down, an unexpected speed difference between ship and ship contents could sometimes be so large that when re-entering the universe a person would be killed. In every room of a Thot spaceship there were restraint chairs, so Aristark, still in his cabin, did the same when Thot announced the coming hyperspace jump. For a few seconds they both sat waiting for Thot to start the jump. They tried to relax, felt a sudden acceleration and fear and they winked out...
Azur 2

Azur was one of the first discovered extrasolar planets with a liquid water ocean.

AzurEdit

Soon after Leone and Aristark had informed Ketar about their planned space trip in search of Kalid, Ketar began to prepare for their eventual arrival on Azur. If Leone and Aristark did manage to talk Kalid into cooperating then Ketar wanted to have a plan ready that would allow him to get every bit of useful information out of Kalid and the Haldus Order.

When Ketar learned from Aristark and Leone that their destination was the h.1263522 star system, he quickly found information about the planet Flammis in the archives of the Spaceship Guild. As head of the Galactic Antiquist Party, Ketar had nearly complete access to even the most ancient and secret records of the Spaceship Guild. The Antiquist Party was the political wing of the Spaceship Guild and the Spaceship Guild had originally created planetary branches of the Antiquist Party as a way of exercising influence over the political processes on various worlds so as to assure that the economic interests of the Spaceship Guild were protected. After the last galactic war, a larger organization, the Galactic Antiquist Party, was created as a centralized political machine that could represent all of the local planetary Antiquist Parties. Now, a hundred years later, the Galactic Antiquist Party had grown powerful enough to dominate over the Spaceship Guild. In fact, Ketar now controlled most of the wealth of the Spaceship Guild and he directed that wealth towards his goal of returning Azur to the level of power and influence it had exercised before the galactic wars.

By exploring the archives of the Spaceship Guild, Ketar had learned that starting about 250 years previously there had been a feud between the Spaceship Guild and some renegade members of the Haldus Order. An early feature of that conflict was destruction of the Haldus Order Temple at Shackleton Base on Earth's Moon. That struggle had stretched over 67 years during which it had grown increasingly violent. Finally the Spaceship Guild had penetrated some of the mystery of the Haldus Order. In particular, the Spaceship Guild first found and then destroyed the Haldus Order colony on Flammis and warned that if the feud did not end then the entire Haldus Order would be exterminated. That strategy and warning had worked, and the Haldus Order finally restrained its own renegade faction.

Ketar now had a spy who had infiltrated one of the cover organizations of the Hadus Order. It was the information from that spy that had led Ketar to realize that Set had come into armed conflict with the Haldus Order. Ketar had suspected that Sybil was a member of the Haldus Order and so he had ordered Leone to press her for information...and Kalid's name had spilled out effortlessly, as did his idenity as a leader of the Haldus Order.

Ketar decided that it all made sense. Sybil, as a member of the Haldus order, was trying to protect the secrets of the Order. She had tried to hide the location of the Haldus Order base on Flammis from Leone. Ketar concluded that Flammis must still be very important to the Haldus Order. Sybil had tried to keep Flammis secret and had not used the name "Flammis", but her effort in subterfuge was wasted.

The Haldus Order was barely mentioned in Spaceship Guild records from the past century. However, Ketar knew from personal experience that even large and important organizations could exist and operate effectively and yet escape the attention of the Spaceship Guild's intelligence agents....his own family's operations on Azur proved that! Thus, it was easy for Ketar to imagine that after the Spaceship Guild had turned Flammis into a Green planet, Haldus Order forces had eventually returned to Flammis and they probably now had a secret base on that world...a base where Kalid might have been hiding from Set. Yes, Ketar felt sure that Leone and Aristark would find Kalid on Flammis and so he made preparations to give them a warm welcome upon their arrival at Azur.

Ketar's major remaining question was if there was any truth to the rumors about both Haldus Order members and Set having telepathic powers. Yes, there were many questions Ketar wanted to ask of Kalid.

Ketar had estimated how long it would take for Leone to go from Sakkara to Flammis and then on to Azure. Now Ketar was worried because news from Leone was overdue. Ketar's calculations suggested that Leone should have reported on events at Flammis no later than the previous day. Ketar tried to imagine that maybe Leone and Aristark were very busy at Flammis and had no time to communicate. Maybe Kalid did not trust Leone and Aristark. Maybe it would have been best if Sybil had gone along to Flammis in order to talk things over with Kalid and help smooth the way towards his cooperation. Of course, there might have been some other kind of unexpected trouble. Communications over interstellar distances was not a trivial matter. Hyperspatial communications equipment was notoriously fragile, and it was possible that Leone had not been able to communicate with Azur after meeting with Kalid because his Thot spaceship's hyperspatial signal encoding systems had been damaged by the atmosphere of Flammis. However, Ketar respected Aristark's competency and expected that Aristark should have been able to protect Leone's spaceship from being damaged by the nanite cloud of Flammis.

The difficulty of communication with and between spaceships was one of Ketar's greatest frustrations. Ketar was trying to build up a fleet of spaceships which could be used to return Azur to its former glory, but coordinating and keeping secret such a fleet was not easy. Hyperspatial communication depended on large stationary receiver arrays that collected and decoded arriving messages. Every inhabited star system had such an array, but that did nothing to solve the problem of getting signals successfully transmitted to isolated spaceships that were moving freely through interstellar space.

Ketar had not been able to determine if there was a functioning communications station in space near Flammis. Records in the archives of the Spaceship Guild indicated that after Flammis was turned into a Green planet an effort had been made to monitor spaceship traffic in the h.1263522 star system, but none was ever reported and the monitoring and communications equipment in that system was probably forgotten about and not maintained during the galactic wars. According to the public astrogation records the h.1263522 star system was not inhabited and there was not even any mention there of the fact that the second planet of that system had once been colonized. It was likely that the communications array near Flammis was no longer functioning correctly, so Ketar did not even think about trying to send a message to Leone's ship. Ketar assured himself, "Soon they will be here."

Ketar made an effort to stop worrying about unseen events at Flammis and he tried to stay focused on what he could control. For Ketar, sitting on the Throne of Azur as Planetary Governor meant the privilege of operating at the center of the vast and sophisticated planetary data web. He was able to coordinate all plans and preparations for Kalid's welcome through his computerized command center and his special shell access to every node of the global data network. From the command center, Ketar sent orders to his servants and watched, using all available means, including 3D remote cameras, and made sure that everything was proceeding according to his desires. Ketar commanded a personal army of nanite-powered robots that could quickly install microcameras anywhere on Azur that was of interest to him. More than anything else, it was Ketar's absolute monopoly on the use of surveillance nanobots on Azur that assured him continuing control of the planet.

Of course, none of his servants knew they were being watched, so it was an interesting way to supervise operations. On several occasions the monitoring system had proved useful and had allowed Ketar to stop growing rebellions before they had a chance to build strength. Traitors had been quickly identified and executed and they never even knew who the "rat" was. Usually there was none; it was just that Ketar had exposed their plans by monitoring the huge network of interconnected data nodes and cameras. Ketar personally watched people from his inner circle very closely, but most of the outer levels of the government had to be monitored with the aid of automation and scans for key words that might signal disloyalty. The other segment of the population that received extra monitoring was the major "opposition party", the Rugo. Most political trouble makers naturally collected within the ranks of the Rugo, so it was often possible to identify and crush new political movements simply by occasionally checking on the activities of the leaders of the Rugo.

Spying on the entire planet was a big job. Unfortunately, Ketar could not risk telling anyone about his use of this surveillance technology. If people knew about his spying system they would try to abolish it as an illegal anti-privacy system. The people of Azur, a world famous for "freedom", would only tolerate a limited amount of government control over their lives...that was a powerful social reality of Azur that even Ketar had not been able to change. Of course, in the many decades since Ketar's family had taken control of Azur, freedom was nothing more than a motto; in reality, privacy and freedom had not been respected by any of the Planetary Governors from Ketar's family. The secret to being able to keep on using the spy network technology was being discrete, not over-using it and hiding it from public attention...a formula that had worked for centuries, going back to the times before the galactic wars. However, his family's power had been greatly reduced during those wars, so Ketar's concern was finding ways to return the influence of his family and Azur to the grand levels that had existed before the devastating galactic wars.

Now the task at hand was for Ketar to get as much as possible for Azur out of the secretive Haldus Order. Ketar's trick of feeding false intelligence to Sakkara had efficiently revealed the identity of a leader of the Haldus Order. By making it appear that Set was more dangerous than he actually was, Sybil had gone looking for help and protection from the Sakkaran government...and out had popped Kalid's name!

Now it was just a matter of revealing Kalid's secrets. Ketar suspected that this could be accomplished by flattering an old fool: Kalid. Ketar's spy within the Haldus Order had reported that Kalid had ruled the Haldus Order for more than 60 years. Ketar's plan was that Kalid would be made a friend and at the same time it should be possible to keep playing Set and Kalid off against each other.

Yes, his strategy would be flattery of the "Wise One". Ketar chuckled; it seemed a safe bet that any leader who let his followers call him the "Wise One" could be tricked by false praise and flattery. Ketar did not personally have much to do in order to prepare for the arrival of the "Wise One". Ketar possessed hundreds of servants who would efficiently handle most of this job for him. As Planetary Governor, Ketar had an entire well-staffed department that was devoted to the logistics and organization of staged celebratory events, usually for the glorification of the Governor, but that apparatus could easily be used to turn the visit of Kalid to Azur into a great show of friendship and hero worship. Still, Ketar enjoyed planning the details of such events, like ordering food, renting dancers, hiring orchestras, among others. Ketar really liked that kind of thing, and now he even dreamed that he would live to see the grandest of celebrations on Azur: the day when Ketar himself would be celebrated as the Governor of Azur who finally returned Azur to the level of influence it had attained in the old days before the wars. For a moment, Ketar imagined himself in the future, making a triumphal march... Nevertheless, now was not a good time to enter the daydream realm, he should plan the next step, a necessary step on the road to ultimate glory.

Ketar had been born to reign. He came from an important family whose members had long been involved in Azur politics. However, nobody outside the family knew this. Ketar's family had long practiced polygyny. The family patriarchs had many wives kept in secret and most of their children had different last names so that nobody outside of the family would know their real identity. For a moment Ketar reflected on his own wives and he brought up their images on his display screen.

From the time of the earliest settlements on Azur it was forbidden for more than one member of a family to enter politics, a rule that extended up to the forth grade of consanguinity. This law had been created in order to prevent familial oligarchies and the possible establishment of hereditary monarchies. But Ketar's family had been responsible for that law and for Ketar and others who secretly shared his blood line, that law was something to be ignored since its purpose was really just to keep other families from gaining political power. In this way, Ketar's family had controlled Azur's government for over two hundred years and nobody outside the family knew that a dynasty secretly reigned.

Of course, during the chaos of the galactic wars the situation had gotten slightly more complex, but after a couple of assassinations control of Azur had been successfully returned to Ketar's family. However, during those wars Azur had suffered the loss of millions of residents and had never recovered its former power on the galactic stage. For the past hundred years Ketar's family had planned and organized and built towards a future day when it would be possible once more for Azur to be recognized as one of the most important worlds in the galaxy...if not the most important! Azur had recovered its population, but the rest of the galaxy had also moved ahead. But now, Ketar knew it was time to take another step towards that long-sought goal; that was why he needed Kalid.

Yes, everything was falling into place! Ketar had spent most of his life thinking that another generation would have to pass before Azur could finally rise again to glory, but all had changed in just the past year. Seemingly from nowhere the Futurist Party of Sakkara had risen in power and become a security concern. Suddenly, to counter Set's Futurist Party forces, modern war ships were needed to replace the old hulks that remained as the out-of-date remnants of the fleets that had fought in the old galactic wars. Who better to supply those ships than Ketar? Now elements of Ketar's fleet could operate openly under guise of countering the threat posed by Set, but Ketar had additional plans for his fleet.

And then, there was the utter surprise of telepathy! At first, Ketar had dismissed the rumors and reports from his spies...really, it was absurd...telepathic powers? But the rumors did not go away. Finally, as crazy as it seemed, telepathic ability became the only way to account for Set's sudden rise in power. At first Ketar had imagined that Set was some kind of mutant, a one-of-a-kind freak with telepathic powers. But it had not been that simple. Ketar had feared that Set would use his mental powers to trace back to the root cause of the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara. If Set actually had telepathic ability, what could possibly stop him from learning the truth? However, at that point, Set's forces had gone crazy: they went off in strange directions rather than go directly after those who were responsible for the space elevators disaster. At first Ketar had been baffled by Set, but eventually Ketar's extended spy network had resolved the mystery.

Ketar tried to remember how he had become conscious of the Haldus Order. He had long known of its existence, but its supposed knowledge of god-like powers that had first been mastered long ago in ancient Egypt and then secretly passed down to modern times seemed like just another folk tale, something like the "crystal powers" of Atlantis. Still, the question had to be asked: why was Set suddenly at war with the Haldus Order? And the specific claim reported by Ketar's spies was that Set was killing telepaths of the Haldus Order. At first Ketar had been surprised to learn that his intelligence service included a spy who had penetrated the Haldus Order. It was a stroke of luck for Ketar. His spy within the Haldus Order had only gradually become aware of the Haldus Order. Ketar now knew that members of the Haldus Order hid their true affiliation behind "front organizations" and cover stories. Only after years of membership in one such front organization had Ketar's spy even heard the name "Haldus".

Ketar's intelligence service had grown tired of reports from that spy about rumored telepathic powers...such stories were ignored for many years...until Set stormed onto the scene.

So, finally, Ketar had been forced to contemplate the idea that there was a war of telepaths being fought between forces of the Futurist Party and the Haldus Order. Ketar's first impulse had been to support that war and hope that the two parties would destroy each other while also providing a useful distraction for other worlds of the galaxy...a destraction that could "justify" the construction of a new fleet of combat spaceships by Azur. Ketar had imagined that the Haldus Order was just a group of mystics that nurtured and trained telepaths, probably telepaths who were of not of much more importance than readers of tea leaves an goat entrails. Seriously, if they had truly useful telepathic powers why would they remain quietly hidden away rather than seize power?

But then the landscape had shifted one more time! The more Ketar learned about the Haldus Order the more it became clear that they also had some kind of secret technology. At that point, Ketar knew he could no longer afford to assume that the members of the Haldus Order were just some superstitious practitioners of a mystical Order...no, it would be an error to just hope that Set would exterminate them. Eventually Ketar had realized that it was imperative to learn what kinds of technology the Haldus Order had. The idea of telepathy-amplifying technology still seemed fantastic, but Ketar could not afford to ignore those rumors. What better way was there to learn these secrets than to befriend the leader of the Order, Kalid?

Of course, Ketar had a few qualms about dealing personally with Kalid. What if Kalid had fantastic powers and could read Ketar's mind or even take control of his mind? But, no, that could not be. If the Haldus Order had that kind of power they would not meekly hide in odd corners of the galaxy. Ketar felt quite confident that telepathy was just an alternative mode of communication....potentially a very useful mode, one that Ketar would be happy to use for the benefit of Azur! Ketar told himself: taking advantage of such unexpected opportunities was what made great men.

Ketar's plan was to form an alliance with Kalid and establish a working collaboration against Set. Through that collaborative relationship Ketar would have access to Neurocom technology: that was a term Ketar had invented to refer to communication by neuronal means, telepathically. What if Kalid did not want to cooperate? Well, there were other options...the Haldus Order had been frightened into revealing the location of their secret base on the planet Flammis. It would be interesting to learn exactly what importance that world had for the Haldus Order. If the Haldus Order really did have secret technology then somewhere there had to be research and development centers for advancing the science of telepathy. On Flammis, on Sakkara? Yes, if Kalid would not cooperate, Ketar had the power to take what he needed from the Haldus Order, by force. Now that Ketar knew of the existence of secret Haldus Order technology nothing could keep him from possessing it, one way or the other.

Still, things would go quicker and easier if Kalid could be made to cooperate. A major challenge facing Ketar was that the science of telepathy seemed to be obscured by a camouflage, a dressing of esoteric characteristics that had been built up over time within the secretive Haldus Order. Ketar, as leader of another centuries old secret organization, had a good idea of how misdirection could be used to protect important secrets. Ketar's spy in the Haldus Order had reported that within the Haldus Order it was rumored that Kalid had been born with natural gifts for telepathic communication. One possibility was that secret Haldus Order Neurocom technology was only an amplifier for innate abilities, a way for artificially extending an existing capacity of individuals for telepathic communication. If so, it became an important question: did everyone have telepathic ability or just a special few? Obviously, the answer to this question was a secret, but it seemed like the members of the Haldus Order believed that only a select few had telepathic abilities. Was that belief based on fact or was it misdirection? Working from outside the Order, Ketar's spy tentacles had probed this important question. Ketar's intelligence cells had found some evidence to suggest that there were natural variations in telepathic ability, some people naturally had more "mental power", but it seemed to be the case that a basic level of telepathic ability existed in the brains of animals and all humans. The important conclusion was: the Haldus Order tools for amplifying telepathy could be used by anyone, even Ketar! Although this was not completely sure, Ketar had already bet 100 to 1 that it was. It had to be! It was the only hope for him to complete, in his life time, his plans for building Azur back up to its previous level of power in the galaxy....yes, he would proceed upon that assumption.

So, it was no longer enough for Ketar that the Haldus Order use its secret technology in order to defeat Set. Set was of minor importance on the grand scale, the scale of events beyond Sakkara. Ketar needed Kalid for a nobler purpose, returning Azur to its position of dominance among the worlds of the galaxy. Ketar wanted to make a favorable impression on Kalid's mind and trick him into sharing Haldus Order secrets. Kalid and the entire Haldus Order existed with a web of mysticism, therefore, Ketar had invited the best esoteric masters, wizards, occult science priests and mystics of Azur to welcome Kalid. Ketar's goal was to make Kalid feel comfortable, then after that first meeting, just Kalid and Ketar would have a private interview in which Ketar would outline plans for cooperation against Set. Defeating Set would appear to be the heart of his plans, but that was not really Ketar's true goal. If everything was done correctly, Kalid would not guess his real thinking. Ketar's plan for defeating Set would succeed thanks to a "surprise effect": the unexpected combination of Ketar's fleet of spaceships guided against Set's forces by Kalid and other telepaths of the Haldus Order. At that moment, as Ketar saw it, his plan to deal with Set could not fail. And most importantly, while Set was being defeated, Ketar would learn the secrets of the Haldus Order...that was his real interest in collaboration with Kalid. Once Set was eliminated, the usefulness of the Haldus Order would come to an end and Ketar alone would remain standing, ready to turn the force of telepathy to his goal of returning Azur to grandeur.

AkaraEdit

Akara

Akara as seen from Thot spaceship

After some hours, Thot and its occupants completed the process of re-entering the known universe from hyperspace. The two Counselors were released from their restraining chairs. Aristark stood up and went to the observation deck. Through the windows of the spaceship he could see the main star of the Akara system.

Leone remained seated and used a tridimensional viewer to see a first glimpse of the Akara system. Of course, Azur, the planet where Ketar and his people lived, was still quite distant and not yet visible.

Akara was a well-known star system, but Leone had never visited it. Most of Leone's travels had been to relatively young worlds that were eager to trade for the advanced technologies of Sakkara. The Akara star system had been one of the first targets for colonization when humans spread outward from Earth and Azur had always been ranked among the most important planets where humans had settled, although, in Leone's estimation, Azur had never fully recovered to the level of influence it had before the galactic wars.

Leone had a desire to view Akara with his own eyes. He got up from his flight chair and walked to the observation deck. Aristark was there and for a few minutes they silently observed the beauty of space. Aristark finally broke the silence. "Did you send warning to Ketar that we failed to find Kalid?"

Leone turned away from the window and replied, "No, I have not, but I should...I will do so. I've been trying to think of something positive to say. I still hope that he will be willing to channel some support from the Galactic Antiquist Party to Sakkara."

Aristark nodded. "Have no fear, I've kept him informed about our troubles on Sakkara and he is not ignoring the disruption caused by Set. Just send him a short message...he hates surprises."

Leone took one last look out the window and then returned to the main control room. Taking Aristark's advice, Leone sent a short radio transmission to Ketar. At first, all Leone got from Thot was an error message, "Hassium array under repair; hyperspatial communications system is down. ETR = 3 minutes." Leone called up the list of on-going repairs and saw that the hyperspatial communications system was at the top of the list of repairs that had been delayed until after the hyperspatial jump. He got himself a cup of tea and then he was able to send the message to Ketar. The spaceship was still several light-hours from Azur, but the message would reach Ketar well before Leone and Aristark did.

Leone then used the Thot neural connection to observed the details of a 3D model of the Akara system. Akara A was a red giant star that had probably absorbed the inner planets of the system when it had built up a helium core and swelled from its original size to the larger volume that it now occupied. Leone thought that Akara was a very beautiful star; his favorite color was red... Anyway, as usual, this red giant's color was distinctly orange. Due to the relatively low surface temperature of the expanded star its radiation was strongly shifted towards the red, but the real color was orange. Leone thought that yellow or white for a star was something very regular and boring, maybe a little old-fashioned. He knew he thought that way because planets with human settlements in orbit around red stars were relatively rare; he liked the variety of the universe and unusual star systems.

The main star of this system was called Akara A and Azur was its sixth planet. Originally, Azur had been very cold, but now that Akara A was in the red giant phase of its life cycle and had increased its energy output, Azur was at just the right distance for the new habitable zone...the key distance from a star at which liquid water could exist on a planet. Akara B was a distant companion star, so technically Akara was a binary system, but space travelers found it easy to ignore that small companion since it lacked an inhabited planet.

The planet Azur had been almost completely terraformed; it was one of the first planets to pass through that difficult process. It had not possessed any native life so colonization was not troublesome at all...life forms from Earth had easily adapted to Azur. Still, Azur was a relatively small planet and it had a smaller population than some larger worlds such as Sakkara.

Leone noted that Thot had already activated the antimatter-powered propulsion system and they were heading, at standard acceleration, towards Azur. It was paradoxical that this phase of space travel was the longest. Hyperspatial travel through 1200 parsecs was a matter of a few hours spent de-materializing and re-materializing, but the much shorter remaining distance to Azur would take much longer to cross.

Leone reflected on the "universal computer" working like a "modem" to allow interstellar travel, but that mode of travel just was not practical near massive objects like Akara A. Travel inside a star system by hyperspatial jump just was not possible....if you tried it you would either be thrown deep into interstellar space, if you were lucky, or you would find yourself inside a star, if your luck ran out. This close to a star they had to rely on antimatterical engines and conventional propulsion. Early in the space age this technology had received the name of Antimatterics, an overcomplicated or at least clumsy name, according to Leone. The word was offensively non-musical. Still, their jump had gotten them close enough to Azur so that after two days at Standard Acceleration they would reach Azur.

Leone planned to spend his time during the approach to Azur studying data about the Akara system. During his many long years as a trade representative, Leone had come to enjoy the periods of entry into new star systems. It was a relaxed interval during which he could learn about the interesting and unusual features of the world he was approaching, in this case, he had two free days to learn about Azur.

The other major passtime for space travelers was star gazing. Each world had its own constellations and accompanying folklore. Some worlds had nearby nebulae or star clusters that made for spectacular viewing. Although Leone had many fond memories of watching the stars, he could not deny that after many decades of opportunities for seeing interesting stellar patterns, viewing simply ordinary star patterns was rather boring. His brain needed interesting data and in most cases, the local human culture of a star system was more interesting than the local star patterns.

At this time he needed to distract himself from the mystery of what had happened at Flammis; it had spoiled his spirit. Leone worried constantly about what atrocities Set might be committing on Sakkara, but there was little Leone could do about Set now. Leone was committed to a course of action that might bring aid to Sakkara from the Galactic Antiquist Party. His failure to find Kalid at Plato was disappointing and the attack upon his ship was alarming and baffling...but it did little good to fret about the disappointing start of this mission. If "spun" in the right way, the mysterious attack at Plato might provide extra motivation for Ketar to lend some armed spaceships and battle-trained crews to Sakkara, help that could be decisive in dealing with Set.

The available starting point for information about Akara was the standard catalogs of star systems, but here, within the Akara system, he could also now tune to the local navigation broadcasts. Leone noted that particular emphasis was given in this star system to the stellar wind and tracking any surges in energy output from the large and powerful Akara A. Leone knew that in general, due to the large diameter of red giants it was relatively easy for matter to be ejected from them.

Leone read all the key information about Akara A including the best estimate of when it had become a red giant. The culture of Azur had produced a large speculative literature about previously existing planets that had been eaten by the star. Leone skimmed a vast literature, generated mostly by amateurs, built up around purported fragments of the lost inner planets of Akara that had been blasted into wide orbits by ancient asteroid impacts. By analyzing those planetary fragments, it had been possible for scientists to reconstruct the physical properties and atomic compositions of the planets that had once orbited inside the current radius of Akara A. He even read about mystical (and weird) stories which were depicted as taking place millions of years before on those now destroyed planets. The most popular speculative literature of Azur concerned imaginary alien species that had once lived on those worlds. After some time, he got to the non-fiction inhabited planets section of the database, where he found information about Azur.

Akara

The Cotedazur ocean of Azur.

Azur was originally an icy world orbiting far from Akara A. There was some speculation that primitive native life might have once existed under the icy surface, made possible by gravitational and nuclear energy sources within the planet itself. After Akara became a red giant, millions of years ago, the world had warmed and when found by humans it seemed devoid of life, at least on the surface. If it had any native life, it remained locked in deep underground locations that people had never discovered. But most importantly, Azur had water and carbon dioxide, so a great terraforming program had been carried out to produce oxygen. Actually, that process continued, since Azur's ocean was still equilibrating and adjusting to the changes introduced by humans. Technically, the surface of the planet was now habitable, but Azur occasionally received doses of deadly radiations from Akara A. When those periods of heightened stellar radiation arrived, they altered the atmosphere and made life impossible on the surface. The main problem was ozone depletion caused by protons from Akara A. There was a nomadic population of surface dwellers who alternated between living on the surface and periodically taking refuge underground, but most of the population of Azur remained in their underground cities all the time. Robotic farmers and the nomads provided much of the food for the people of Azur, but a significant fraction was now produced in underground facilities.

The first inhabitants of the underground cities, who had come to Azur from other star systems (and mostly from Earth), constructed a huge main city called Azur, taking the same name as the planet. With time, they also built many small surrounding cities, connected to Azur by means of underground highways. Now, centuries later, the underground spaces had grown to remarkable size. From certain points of view, life under the surface of the planet was not much changed for its inhabitants from what one might expect for life on the surface. The engineers and scientists of Azur had even designed a new system to simulate weather in the huge underground chambers where most people resided. Thus, they even occasionally generated some surface-like chaotic artificial weather that produced rain or snow, just to clean their underground cities or give the residents some variation and excitement at holiday times. However, they never simulated the harsh variations of their own star, and most people in Azur never traveled to the surface.

Beyond the remarkable stories of Akara A as a red giant (including the fictional accounts of aliens living on its "lost planets"), the terraforming of Azur and the astounding construction of the underground cities, most of the available literature concerned the social and political history of the underground civilization of Azur. Azur had always been a planet with several contradictory political factions. Leone was amused to learn that one of the great conflicts for the people of this world involved struggle between those people who were in favor of simulating artificial weather and those who were against it. There had finally even been a ruthless war and after many years of fighting the minority group was granted independence. The result of the armistice was that two distinct underground populations were established, each in its own network of underground chambers, with little contact between the two. There was not even the slightest commerce between the populations of the two factions. Some electronic contact remained in the global information network, but the two populations might just as well have been located on two sister planets. Thus, the underground civilization of Azur was divided between two economic and politic blocks or parties. These two worlds in the underground, which tended to depict themselves as opposite political systems, were called Azur and Rugo. Each year a significant number of people, mostly young adults, decided that they did not like their native culture and so they migrated and joined the "other side".

Pirates!Edit

The anticipated day for Kalid's arrival had come. Ketar had calculated that this should be the day for Leone's arrival in the Akara system, assuming a short stay at Flammis, just long enough to pick up Kalid. Ketar had arranged for a dramatic welcoming ceremony and everything had been prepared...he expected that all would go well and his plans for an alliance with Kalid would succeed.

As the day wore on, Ketar completed all of his routine duties. Not wanting to get involved with any other major project, he once again reviewed the program for Kalid's welcome. He satisfied himself again that all the preparations were in place then he called a relative of his (secretly a half brother, with a different last name), who had a key role in the government....mainly Ketar just wanted to have someone to talk to and distract him from waiting to hear that Leone's spaceship had arrived. But nothing had prepared him for what he was about to hear.

Ketar asked, "Any last minute problems for the welcoming ceremony?"

Orchard, the personal secretary of his majesty, Ketar, replied, "Not that I, uh, have heard..."

Ketar immediately became annoyed. It sounded like Orchard was distracted, maybe even hiding something.

Ketar began to drum his fingers on his desk. "Are you sure? You sound upset." The data stream indicated that Orchard was not in his office...he was in one of the conference rooms of the Palace. Ketar identified the exact location and secretly activated two microcameras. Ketar noticed that Orchard was in conference with the Chief of Palace Security and several of their staff members. Ketar looked at Orchard's face for clues to what might be going on.

There was a pause during which Orchard and the Chief of Security exchanged glances, then Orchard said, "Sir, I ask permission to speak freely."

"You may speak," Ketar said, using an impatient tone. His most casual gestures and voice indicated that he had been giving orders during his entire life.

Orchard hesitated before speaking, as if trying to select just the right words. "Sir, we have a problem. There are enemies in our system."

Ketar was always worried that some of his subordinates might discover that he was spying on them. Well, it happened, and it usually just meant that Ketar had to do a little cleaning operation after plugging any forming leak... "System? Inside the network? Explain yourself."

"Nnn.. No, inside Ak... Akara system." Orchard said, but anxiety and anguish did not let him express himself correctly. He knew he was dealing with a delicate situation and that the fleet had probably already destroyed the enemy ship....nevertheless, he was worried that the fleet had failed to respond correctly to the perceived threat....in such matters, "correctly" always meant what Ketar wanted.

"Thanks for informing me. You know what you must do." Ketar could tell that Orchard was trembling. He tried to sound calm so that his subordinate would likewise relax. Internally, he wanted to shout: what is going on?

"We are already doing that, sir. When I first found out about this, the fleet was already closing on the pirate ship. I gave specific orders to neutralize them and, if possible, to destroy them..."

Ketar felt his heart sink. Never in his lifetime had pirates dared operate in the Akara system. Ever since the end of the galactic wars, pirates almost exclusively operated at the fringes of known space. How was it possible that pirates would appear in the Akara star system on this important day, exactly the day of Kalid's expected arrival in system? "Good job. But, how do you know they are enemies?"

"Our sensors indicated that the spaceship (it is only one) emitted signals of a type in the Index. It is a signal of a type that the Fleet detected before. You might recall the incident near Polastis III, that unidentified ship with special capabilities and a navigation beacon different from everything we know about...."

"Oh, yes. I certainly recall that incident. That beacon type is now in the Index of Pirate Spaceships, designated: 'attack target and destroy' as soon as that beacon is detected... I remember now, I remember quite well. But, do not destroy the ship! Remember, today is a special day! Leone's spaceship is due to arrive in system today...we can afford no mistakes."

Orchard muttered in misery, "Yes, sir...I thought the same as soon as I got some important data from Fleet Command..."

A tragic scenario ran through Ketar's mind. Leone had mentioned that Sybil was having special navigation equipment installed in his spaceship. Ketar had become certain that the Haldus Order had a secret technology development program. What if this particular "pirate beacon" was actually a type of signal used by Haldus Order spaceships? What if this "pirate ship" that had been detected in the Akara system was actually Leone's spaceship using Haldus Order technology?

Ketar spoke again and his voice was like doom, "I have always told you to ask me before acting in such delicate matters, at least..." Ketar stopped himself. This was no time for lectures. "So, send a counter-order. I want my troops to only neutralize these "enemies", not to destroy them. It is completely necessary to capture that spaceship in order to replicate their technology, do I make myself clear.? Now go! Do not fail me."

Orchard feared that it was already too late, but he replied, "All right, sir."

Ketar ended the call, but briefly monitored Orchard and the Chief of Security as they sprang into action, trying to make sure that the Fleet would not mistakenly use deadly force against Leone's ship. It was an emergency situation, Ketar thought, and he almost contacted the fleet commanders personally, but he decided he would only interfere and upset their operations if he stepped in to micromanage the affair. Ketar was content to access the data that the fleet commanders were receiving....

Ketar quickly found the pertinent data channel at the Fleet Headquarters and saw three spaceships of his Fleet making attacking maneuvers towards the enemy...this was all shown in a computer-enhanced display that was based on ship sensor readings. The tactical weapons report indicated that Ketar's forces were using long range particle beam blasts to keep the enemy ship off balance. Such long range fire could not do serious damage, but it could seriously disrupt pirate ship communications and also prevent a ship from entering into hyperspace. While Ketar watched, the display changed and indicated that the three ships from Ketar's Fleet had launched rocket-powered projectiles armed with antimatter warheads. The tracks of the projectiles inched slowly across the display where a few inches represented thousands of kilometers.

While the projectiles closed on their target, Ketar had time to look back in time at earlier data. The data clearly indicated that the "enemy" ship had entered into the Akara system several hours earlier, almost certainly after completing a hyperspatial jump into the star system. The newly arrived spaceship had transmitted an identification code using a standard navigation beacon..stated destination: Azur. However, it was also clear that the ship had been emitting another signal, one that was listed in the Index. Ships of the Fleet on routine training patrol had responded to that outlawed signal and changed course to intercept the "pirate ship". The Fleet had also initiated communications jamming procedures designed to prevent multiple pirate ships from coordinating their activities. Ketar's heart sank...had he been informed immediately disaster might have been avoided...
Rocket attack

SurpriseEdit

Leone had only just started reading about the current politics of Azur, but something distracted him. He thought the spaceship was trembling. Leone stood up; he was surprised and scared. Another attack? It could not be, they could not have been followed. Could they? Conventional opinion held that hyperspatial jumps could not be traced by another ship, but there were always rumors about a new technology that had achieved that....at least, it was a perennial topic in fictional accounts of space travel.

"Aristark! We are attacked again!" Leone shouted.

Aristark was now in the main engineering room, trying to analyze the record of power usage by the equipment Sybil had installed in the spaceship, what the Haldus order technicians had referred to as an "Invocator". There had been a dramatic surge in how much power it drew in that last fateful minute before they had jumped through hyperspace away from Plato. "Yes. So it seems, although this bombardment is not doing much damage." Aristark replied, in a tired voice. "The problem is, we never recharged the spaceship shield. If they attack us with any kind of heavy weapon then we are lost. Rather than wait for that, I suggest we make another jump..."

"No way!" Leone said.

Aristark felt the spaceship make a sudden shift in acceleration. "Yes, of course, Mr. Leone wants to fight like a lion, a mad lion, I would add. Oh, my Graviton, I think I will have to flee at once, if my life is worth anything. I do not want to be a hero...a dead hero."

Leone was slapped down in his chair under full restraint as the spaceship altered its acceleration. He was surprised at the forces being exerted...had he selected the wrong evasive maneuvering subroutine? Well, there was no time to worry about that now. He could only imagine that this new attack against his spaceship was some kind of error; maybe he had jumped into the middle of some kind of war games for Akara's Defense Fleet. "We will NOT die. We just have to send some kind of signal to Azur and let them know who we are."

Aristark looked at the navigation radar display and saw the three spaceships that were rapidly moving towards them. Those three ships were broadcasting navigation beacons and identifying as a patrol of the Akara Defense Fleet. "I do not know if that will make any difference. After we got into this system we automatically communicated our destination with a standard navigation signal and then you also sent a personal message to Ketar. How can anyone be confused about our identity?"

Leone replied, "I do not know." Leone had encoded his message to Ketar, so that could not really be counted as an identification signal. Still, Leone decided that Aristark was correct, yet another communications signal besides their navigation beacon was unlikely to be useful...besides, standard communications channels were now being jammed. This pattern was familiar to Leone from his academy training. "They are treating us like we are pirates!" He knew that throughout all of civilized space the standard response to a pirate attack often involved blasting first and asking questions later. Leone commented, "Then our only option is to try to flee, but this bombardment is disrupting the hyperspatial engines. However, we have no other option..."

The odd vibration of the spaceship stopped. Leone noticed that he now had a chance to save the ship... Leone began to activate his emergency hyperspace jump protocol. "This time, just this time, I agree with you, Aristark... besides, I do not want you to be hurt again due to my behavior."

"Thanks. I expected to hear something like that from you, I am glad to know that the Leone I always knew is back and ready to kick..."

"It is not to br..."

At that moment, they could clearly feel that the attack was being resumed; the spaceship trembled again and they could hear an annoying beep. Another one of the subsystems was damaged and that was its cry of death. Further, the partially initiated hyperspatial jump aborted. Leone shouted, "We are being hit by particle weapon blasts that collapse the hyperspatial initiation field. We cannot escape!"

It was something inconceivable, the fact that they were being attacked... there were many non-aggression and fair trade treaties that applied to Azur. The Akara system was one of the great trading and passenger destinations in the galaxy. Leone had jumped into the Akara system and immediately transmitted the standard navigational beacon, so how could he now be treated like a pirate? The attack was completely illegal and as crazy as a nightmare. Leone started to lose his self-control once again and could not think clearly. Maybe these attackers were pirates, falsely identifying themselves as spaceships of Akara...but no, pirates never dared operate like this in the heart of the settled worlds.

"We have to do something." Leone said. "I am surprised that we are still alive while the shield is just 1%." Leone wondered if he should just shut down all systems of his spaceship...if they looked dead and passive, maybe the attack would stop. But rather than try that cowardly approach Leone decided that late was better than never and he channeled all excess energy from the antimatter reactors into the shield.

At that moment Aristark switched back to again view the radar display. Now there seemed to be positions of four other ships being shown on the battle display. But, no, the closest was moving too fast... "Thot, analyze that closest radar reflection!"

The spaceship's AI showed Aristark a close-up view that resolved that rapidly accelerating reflection into three points. "Three rockets, EMF signatures indicate that they are standard Harpoon Class projectiles...typically armed with antimatter warheads."

Aristark spoke to Leone, "It looks like they launched antimatter bombs at us. With our shields at 1% they will not even have to get close to us. If they detonate at a distance of 10,000 kilometers we will still lose all of our defense systems and they may damage the propulsion system too. That is the "best case" analysis, if they intend to destroy us with those rockets, there is nothing we can do."

It would be difficult to put into words the depth of anguish and and the heights of fear the two Counselors were feeling at that very moment, being there, locked inside that metal and energy tomb. They were going to die soon and there was no place to run or hide. Leone tried once more to initiate an emergency hyperspatial jump, but the field collapsed immediately. Those three spaceships continued to pour in disruptor blasts that made it impossible to enter hyperspace again.

Leone quickly examined the closeup image of radar reflections from the rockets then zoomed the image back out to get a feel for the scale and how close those engines of destruction were. Now at the periphery of the battle Leone could see six more spaceships closing in. Leone wondered: how had it come to this? In that desperate moment it was not as if his entire life passed before his eyes for review, evaluation and summation, but a trail of connections lay clearly before his mind's eye leading back to the Green planet "Plato" and then to Sakkara and then to Sybil's house and all the way back to the day he had first set eyes on Sybil when they were young and in school and their entire lives stretched before them as a mystery yet to be revealed.

Now, was this the end of that mysterious trail? He had always felt a strange connection to Sybil...had that been a premonition that she would lead him to his death? With a kind of fatalistic fascination, he allowed himself to wonder why it was that when he had heard others call Sybil a witch he had always ignored them. For a horrifying moment, Leone imagined that Sybil had telepathic abilities that allowed her follow Leone's spaceship through space and that also gave her the power to trick others into attacking his spaceship as an enemy.

WorriedEdit

Sakkara

The planet Sakkara

The year 74 ANE (After the New Elections)

It was a sunny afternoon. Memphis, the star of Sakkara, was bright in the sky. Sybil was sixteen and her mother was with her. Sybil was thin, not quite as tall as her mother and she had black hair. She had never tinted her hair although other girls did that all the time. She tried to be natural in everything she did. And she did not care much about beauty... she considered it best that we should not change our body in any way since it was what God has given and we must accept it. Sybil's appearance provoked in others a sense of fragility when she was seen for the first time, but that was only an apparent weakness; she actually had a very strong will within her. Upon a second glance others would notice her eyes and the way she looked at people; that metallic gaze made them feel uncomfortable.

Her mother was tall, thin and had black hair, too. She combed her hair in such a way that it nearly produced a sphere, and she was very hairy...sometimes it seemed like she used all that hair as a power display, in the way a cat might fluff out its fur in an attempt to look larger.

They both were on the landing point, where their flying car was parked. Although cars were usually driven by an AI, her mother, Dorothy, always liked to drive them manually. They both entered the flyer and sat in the two front seats, the doors closed automatically, the AI greeted them and they were prepared to shuttle. Her mother took control of the car and they rode to the appointment with Kalid. Sybil was a more than a little nervous about the whole matter since her destiny was going to be decided that very day. With a whistle, the flying car went up.

Sybil always liked to watch the land from above because it never failed to provide a very interesting feeling: a sense of power. While flying high above, one's daily duties and worries seemed far away, she thought. She started remembering what her mother had told her about Kalid the day before the meeting. That last night she could barely sleep. All night long she was bothered by imagined views of Kalid as if seen again and again from all angles... and she could not stop thinking about the coming meeting. She obsessively thought Kalid was going to say "no" to her, that was, not accept her as apt for Priesthood. Only a thin objection could be heard through the fear: that maybe he would accept her, after all. During the flight to the meeting she was very tired for not having slept and her mother was also clearly agitated and worried due to the fact that Sybil's fate would be decided once and for all that day. Her mother had said she trusted Kalid and that he would allow her to enter the Order, but nobody could really be certain about that. Kalid had strange and unknown ways to detect if a person had the gifts needed for Priesthood and there was no second guessing the Grand Master.

There were plenty of legends and rumors about Kalid. Some people said that he had fully studied ancient religions, particularly those using “the energy that pervades it all” concept. Now this was called Vichido, the art or study of the energy of life... of course, that jargon did not mean much to non-practitioners. In this context, "energy" was taken as a superset that included the more limited concepts of energy and matter as known in physics. In addition to the "energy" of conventional physics, Vichido included the more important spiritual energy, that which allows precognition, telepathy and martial arts special hits. It was thought that such energy circulated in the body and through the whole universe and that the practitioner could use it for good... although some people did use it for evil...

DutiesEdit

OsirisOrder

Haldus Order secret logo

108 ANE

Sybil was startled out of her thoughts about her first encounter with Kalid...what was that? She had heard a soft sound from the other side of the door. With a quick flick of her eyes to the window she noticed that it was now almost totally dark outside. Now there was a gentle knock on the door. She said, "Come in, Portia."

Portia, Sybil's assistant, opened the door of the little meeting room and entered. All the guests from the Silver Tulipan Order had finally departed, except for one. Portia suspected that Sybil wanted to see no one at this time, but she had promised to ask. "Master Danold is waiting for you."

Sybil sighed and tried to manufacture a smile for Portia. She knew that Danold would want a full report on what Sybil had told Leone, but she had no desire to answer to him or even to satisfy his curiosity. It was enough that Sybil had conferred with the Executive Circle of Silver Tulipan Order...even Danold had his say, although it was clear that he was not happy to find himself in the minority who did not want to risk forming an alliance with the Antiquists against Set.

Sybil stood up and went around the desk. She put a hand on Portia's shoulder, "Thank you for letting me know. I will see him to the door."

Sybil led the way back to the central core of the house. Portia walked at Sybil's elbow, "It might not be that easy."

Sybil laughed and felt the day's tensions slip away. "Yes, he is obstinate. It might go easier if you offered to take him out for dinner."

Portia knew well Sybil's sense of humor, but Master Danold was detestable and Portia got the creeps just knowing he was in the house. "It would be simpler if you just invited him to stay here for dinner, then you would have the time to answer all his questions."

The hallway connecting to the main part of her house came up a slight rise from what Sybil thought of as the "work wing". She let her long legs scale two steps at a time up the small set of stairs at the back of the main house. As she passed through the sliding door she was tempted to make another teasing comment about Danold, but then decided not to risk him over-hearing.

Danold was waiting just inside the living room. He had a teasing comment of his own, "I was wondering if you decided to go to Flammis with Leone."

Sybil shook her head, "No, but maybe you should go with him. There is still time to make the arrangements. It will take a day or so to install the beacon and navigation equipment in his ship."

Danold crossed his arms across his chest. "I would not care to face Kalid when he learns that you decided to reveal to Leone the secret of Kalid's base on Flammis."

Sybil was truly bored with the topic. "I was not alone in making the decision, but I'll gladly take full responsibility for what happens now. I'd willingly sacrifice all of the Silver Tulipan Order in order to protect the Haldus Order...everyone in our Circle has vowed to do so."

Danold complained, "The problem is that you have no plan for how to save the Haldus Order. You are only hoping that your friend Leone will keep the Antiquists in check, but soon that lummox Ketar will be breathing down your neck and you will learn how big an error you have made."

Portia returned with Danold's coat and the household robot, Glen. Glen was an ancient model, best suited to gardening and heavy manual labor...and intimidating boorish guests. Portia handed Danold his coat. Sybil said, "Glen, take Mr. Danold to his flitter, he is leaving." She turned and went to her study.

Glen grabbed hold of Danold's arm and did not let go until Danold boarded his flitter out on the landing platform. Sybil was watching by video feed. When Danold flew off into the Sakkaran night she shut off the video display and sank into her favorite chair.

For a minute she thought about going to Flammis with Leone. She was not afraid to face Kalid. She closed her eyes and it was as if she could picture being in a spaceship with Leone. She had a strange sensation of being crushed and having trouble breathing then there was a blindingly bright blue light. Her eyes snapped open. Had that been a vision? She felt her heart beating fast and again she imagined that she might be sending Leone into danger. Well, she would gladly go to Flammis by herself if she had a spaceship. And if she knew how to pilot a spaceship. And if she knew where Flammis was. No, such doubts were a waste of worrying. Her Circle had done their duty and considered the matter of how to deal with Set and now there was no way to alter the selected course of action.

Sybil's thoughts started slipping back to the sweet daydream she had been having about her youth...before Portia had arrived with the bad news about Danold being an annoyance. How simple things had once been, back when there was only the excitement of joining and learning about Silver Tulipan Order. Then when she had risen to the Inner Circle all had changed. She had learned that the Silver Tulipan Order was just a disguise, that what really mattered was the hidden Haldus Order.

Kalid was the Master of an Ancient Order of priests called the Haldus Order. That Order was thought to descend from Ancient Egyptian religion, from the times of the Great Pyramids. It was a very secret society and great efforts were made to assure that outsiders could not penetrate it with their spies. Plus, the vows of silence were very strict... there were even rumors that people who broke them ended up dead. But nobody on Sakkara knew for sure. Even an important member in the Siver Tilipan Order, a member of the Inner Circle like Sybil, knew very few members of the Haldus Order beyond Sakkar and what each knew about the other was only the information that each person needed to know. What members knew was strictly determined according to their rank. There were four grades called The Four Circles. The first one was the most advanced and only dead (disincarnated) Masters could enter it, in spirit; it was only accessible through the astral plane. Second Circle masters could access the first circle in order to get counseling from higher entities. Sybil was in the Third Circle and Circles One to Three were the Inner Circles. Most Silver Tilipan members were Fourth Circle, the Outer Circle.

The Order was only for people who already had mental powers (paranormal abilities): telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, feeling detection (a more advanced skill than empathy, it included emotion induction, too), among others. Before entering the Order, there was a special school for initiates. And after entering that school, where the special gifts of initiates were detected and improved, there was the meeting with Kalid. He would decide who deserved to get inside the Circles of the Order.

Even after passing through school the new initiates were only in the Fourth Circle and they only knew the name of the local cover organization. On the planet Sakkara, that was the Silver Tulipan Order. On other planets the cover organization was known by other names. Only upon reaching the Third Circle would a member begin to learn the deeper hidden truth about the Haldus Order.

Oh, for the simpler days! Sybil slipped back to her thoughts about the day of her first meeting with Kalid...

DestinyEdit

Flying

74 ANE

Sybil tried to imagine Kalid himself. One of the rumors about Kalid was that he was more than 90 years old, but his appearance was that of a 60 year old, people said. Very few people would actually say anything about Kalid's appearance to others after having seen him; secrecy pervaded the Order in many ways. Her mother had only met him the day he declared her apt for entering the Silver Tulipan Order. Sybil's father, Jeremy, had been personally instructed by Kalid, in contrast.

People said that in his youth, Kalid had been personally instructed by the wisest members of the Order, those who knew much about Earth's traditions due to family heritage. The Silver Tulipan Order possessed an eclectic body of knowledge from all ages, but that knowledge was in no way as chaotic as that found inside some of the many new religion movements at that time. Initiates of the Order depended on sources of knowledge that were very reliable, particularly the Order's special academies for training and detecting the gifts of candidates before they entered the Four Circles. Sybil had already passed through that school which could be thought of as a kind of unnamed Fifth Circle. She had been declared ready for the meeting with Kalid due to her skills as clairvoyant and specially due to her ability to see the Ether Body, a skill required to be able to see the aura in full colors. According to the Order's secret theories, the Ether Body was some kind of emanation coming from the soul which was around the physical body. It was like some kind of "egg shell" that the person was encircled by. Its colors indicated the person's health, thoughts and emotions... some even said that for skilled Masters, lies could be detectable by learning to distinguish aura colors, which turned dark yellow in that case.

Thanks to the training inside the Order's school, Sybil had developed her gifts. She could usually detect the Ether Body around people and sometimes she could even guess what people felt inside. She was unable to detect thoughts and only sensed emotions. After that day, she could start a long journey of learning in which she would further improve her paranormal abilities. It was like when she first entered the training school or when she had started to learn martial arts the first time. This reminded her the warm feelings she had towards starting a new task. And now, after this day, she could one day become a Priestess of Iris... if Kalid accepted her, anyway.

Although sixteen, Sybil's body looked like she was older than that. She was pretty and her personality had always been firm. Although "firm" was just a nice way to say that she was a rebel. She always had rebelled against everything and everyone, including the decision to become a Priestess. Nevertheless, because she loved her father so much, she ultimately had accepted the fate he chose for her. She considered herself a "freethinker".

Because Sybil's gaze was very penetrating and she did not blink very often, many people found it hard to think of her as warm and friendly. Besides, she sometimes scared people away. She was not as sociable as most girls her age and she had not had any boyfriends up to that time. She thought that was something that would arise later... if needed. She was interested in more important things now. She knew that someday her instinct for having children would activate and she would feel attraction to men and everything would change. But, if she became a priestess that could not be allowed to run its course! Priestess had to be celibate, as far as she knew. So, that was her opportunity to dedicate her life to something really important. Maybe that was the reason she had been born. Nevertheless, her interests were on her studies. She loved languages and had already learned one of the rarely spoken languages from ancient Earth and was starting to learn another. Many people said that there was no reason to learn more than just the most common language that most people in the galaxy spoke, but Sybil believed that there were mental benefits from knowing more than one language. She also liked to read about linguistics, specially about universal grammars and meta-language skills. She was an expert interpreting many forms of language, not only spoken ones but body language, emotions, among others. She was able to command animals and calm them when they were enraged. People said she was special in many ways, completely different to normal teenagers... and she was pleased to hear that.

As they flew to the appointment with Kalid, both women drifted deep into thought and were mostly oblivious to the outside world. Sybil's mother was driving and it might have been imagined that she concentrated on that task, but she was not thinking about driving; she was thinking about her daughter's future. They were both very anxious about Sybil's fate. Dorothy expected her daughter to be accepted by the Great Master, but nobody knew in advance. She knew about cases in which the Master denied access to the Order and never mentioned any reasons for his decision. She believed that the Master entered a person's mind and judged if each person was suited for a life in the Order. Other people believed that Kalid looked at the future of the candidate and judged if it was good for the person to enter the Order. Anyway, nobody knew which methods he used. In those matters, he was the first and last word because he was the Great Master of the Silver Tulipan Order.

"Do you think Mr. Kalid will accept me?" asked Sybil, as if she were reading Dorothy's thoughts.

"What? Ah, yes. I was just wondering the same thing. Maybe he will accept you because you can read thoughts..." Dorothy commented, making a joke. She was familiar with her daughter's abilities and knew very well that Sybil only sensed emotions.

"No. Really, what do you think?" young Sybil asked again.

"I do not know. I believe in your gifts and your father did too... but one thing is what your parents think and another what the Master thinks... we will have to pray and wait. The ancient principle of no action comes in, in this situation."

"But... what would happen if he does not accept me? I cannot imagine another destiny for myself." Sybil said.

"You would have to study at a university, as normal people do, and lead an ordinary life. There would be no other way. A cousin of mine had to do it when she was denied access to the Order. Kalid told her it was not in her destiny to become a priestess. Even if you enter the Order you might be told to study some subject at university, anyhow, so do not imagine that everything in your life will depend on what happens today. Life cannot depend on just one day. See, the reasons for Kalid deciding whether you are apt or not do not depend on your current state of mind... it depends on all that you are as a person and what you have lived before. Your gifts and the grades you earned at school also count. It is something that does not depend on how you behave today, but more what and who you are, deep inside."

"Oh. I was mostly worried about what to say and what to do. What you said clarifies the situation...what I say today is not really important. About Kalid, do you think he can actually see the future?" Sybil asked, in wonder.

"I do not know much more than you. When I was studying to become a priestess, I was told that the future did not exist yet, that we are the creators of it. However, they taught me to read the hexameters, runes and other types of divination. But I think that what we see in divination are only possibilities and, after all, we are the ones who decide what will happen, anyway. Predestination does not exist."

"But... it could exist, right?" Sybil asked, a little confused. She remembered a saying, that confusion is the short road to Light, as her father used to say.

"Wait. Evan, take automatic control, now." Evan was the AI of the car. She resumed, "In that case we would be mere pawns in a big game of chess played by gods. Or by God himself. Which would not make any sense, I think. But we will never know for sure and someone once said even if we are not really free, if we did lack free will, then that fact would not really affect us since we can never confirm it for sure... we would still behave as if we do have the power to make the future. Like the early ideas about multiple universes these various theories of the future cannot be proved of disproved. So I think, for all probable events, we can exercise free will, to some extent."

"Does Kalid know?" Sybil inquired, fascinated at the possibility.

"I do not know, my dear. But when you meet him be aware and do not ask silly impertinent questions of him... just try to listen instead of talking."

"I will. Was it really Kalid who accepted you into the Order or was it another master...maybe an earlier 'Kalid'?"

"No, not some other Kalid, you will meet the same man, the same Kalid as I."

"Then, he must be really old... Oh, excuse me, I do not say that because of you, I mean, imagine that he must be older than both of us." Sybil commented, a little embarrassed.

"Hmmm... Yes. And given that I am thrice as old as you, you can imagine it. He must be sixty or seventy years old, at least. However, there are rumors that he is much older than that and that he possess hidden knowledge to rejuvenate himself. Besides, he has the power to heal others too, using his mind and hands. But there are always strange legends about great men, I guess."

"If he were ninety or more..." Sybil tried to imagine what it would be like to live that long. "Anyway, it is very strange that he, being the higher rank Master in the Order, does that examination by himself. I can imagine he is very, very wise, then."

"Right, but whatever his age, he is very wise. His counseling has helped and protected us for a long time. And yes, he takes all his responsibilities seriously and personally performs all his duties in the Order rather than delegating. It has been that way ever since he became the head of the Order, people say. I just hope his decision about you and whatever advice he has for you leads you to a good future..." Dorothy commented, while wiping tears from her eyes.

"I wish. Nevertheless, I am worried... and afraid. I do not know what to do in case he does not accept me. I want to be no other thing than a priestess..."

She sighed. "Now you say that. You once wanted to became a psychologist, remember?"

"Yes. But that was, as you adults like to say, just a passing passion of a teenager, I think. A way to try to rebel and test my freedom."

"You are still a teenager, young girl."

"I think my mind has changed a bit now and I am proud to recognize the wisdom of my father's decision that guided me towards the Order. Maybe it is my destiny." Sybil said, in a solemn voice. For a time they slipped back into their private thoughts.

Dorothy knew that her daughter's mind had changed, indeed. She had always seen Sybil as her beloved little daughter, but now she realized that Sybil was acting like an adult, sometimes. Sybil was very strange sometimes; maybe it was that she was very special, unique. Or it could be that she had finally realized what it meant to take on the responsibilities of a priestess or a professional position and in that way her esoteric and psychology studies could have given her a more mature perspective. Dorothy was proud of her daughter and now she thought that whatever decision was made that very day, it would be the wisest.

Sybil had indeed read many books about psychology. She enjoyed learning about modern integrated cognitive approaches for study of mind and the historical beginnings of the science of mind. She had a fascination for the strange names that could be traced far back in time... words like Gestalt, structuralism, psychoanalysis... words coming from more than 500 years ago. Was it right for such a young girl to be so absorbed with such topics? Dorothy had tried to introduce Sybil to other topics, she even tried music. However, Sybil was not a normal girl. She became an expert playing the old electric piano and the new technology musical instruments. It seemed that Sybil could be a master in every field she engaged. Besides, in the mental sphere, Sybil had gifts of clairvoyance that were very advanced for her age and her limited training in those arts and she had even had prophetic dreams. For those reasons, Dorothy let Sybil follow her natural inclinations to enter the realms of mind and spirit.

As much as Sybil enjoyed her studies of ancient history, she was also aware that psychology was undergoing a new burst of development and advancement. For centuries there had been many waves of new discoveries and new models of the mind, but now parallel advances in robotics and artificial intelligence were finally allowing a long-anticipated unification between many fields, some kind of a new cognitive/AI revolution that went beyond the centuries of wishful thinking and empty talk that had come before. When Sybil had found some psychology books in her father's library she became instantly fascinated by that field... the study of human mind. Sybil took some comfort in thinking about psychology as a safe fall-back option in case she was not accepted as a priestess... she would have to study psychology as a career... maybe even neuroscience, but she was not sure; she still needed to learn more about both. Anyway, it would not be that bad if Kalid rejected her. However, Sybil doubted that would be her fate. Something inside her kept whispering that she would be accepted by Kalid that very day...

Sybil's mind turned to Kalid again. What was he like as a person? Her mother had described him as a gray-eyed tall man with his hair completely white, but she could not imagine him, in spite of that description. He was full of vitality, people said, because he was an advanced practitioner of Vichido and possessed the highest ranks in several martial arts. Another rumor said he had traveled to many planets during his training, before entering the Circles, and that he had learned several of the ancient languages of Earth and about the odd costumes worn by people before the space age... it was even said that he liked to dress in archaic clothing like the ancients had worn. Sybil thought that meeting Kalid would be like meeting a man from the past, like the ones she had read about. He looked, in her mind, as those ancient masters of old who had created new philosophies or martial arts techniques. And she would meet him, in person.

Rumor was that Kalid had managed to reach his position of greatness even after having entered the Order at the relatively old age of twenty. His parents had died from illnesses, in spite of the fact that they were very rich and could pay well for special medical treatments. Their deaths, at such young ages, were particularly painful and left a profound trace on the young Kalid. Maybe that was the reason why he sought refuge in the Order and so ardently accepted as his mission the careful accomplishment every challenge and task the Order assigned to him. When he was brought into the Order, his interest in living was almost completely destroyed and out of despair he might have accepted anything that was offered to him just to give purpose to his life and a reason to survive... anything, that is, that was fair and just. He asked no more.

Even as a child Kalid was animated by a compelling need to find reasons for his existence, to enter deeply into some fields of study just to know if they were the path to follow. In the Order, he had been told to develop his psychic gifts, as usual, but at first he was not sure about that and he had not distinguished himself early. After five years of slow and difficult training, he was finally accepted inside the Fourth Circle. It was said that in order to begin his advanced training within the Order he was sent to a secret planet that nobody on Sakkara could name, even in Sybil's time. Upon his return from that secret world, his powers were unequaled. He was a new Kalid, or so it had seemed to the very few who actually had contact with him during that time.

While they flew along in the car, Sybil's thoughts kept returning to and swirling with all the rumors and stories she had heard about Kalid. She was now completely lost in her worries about Kalid and her fate and was not even paying attention to the beautiful landscapes below and the new part of the planet they were flying over... new for Sybil, of course. There were types of flora and fauna down below that she had never previously had a chance to see with her own eyes, but even when she happened to look out the window she did not think about what was below. Her mother finally broke the silence.

"Sybil, are you worried?" Dorothy asked. "It seems as if you were on another world just now. Try to breathe and relax. Remember that you should put your mind at ease. You are pushing yourself too hard."

"It is just that... I don't know." Sybil answered. "I keep on thinking the same, in a circular manner." She thought about asking about the possibility of her not being accepted, but it was pointless. Her mother had already replied... but Sybil was so agitated she could not remember what her mother's answer had been.

Dorothy breathed aloud. "Then don't do that. See, if you don't enter the Order, you would move on and build your life around something else. Your father told you this too, and I say it again... you are very smart and you can be successful in any path you choose in life. I do not say that because you are my daughter, it is true; you are very special. Everything you do comes to success. I think you are as much of a perfectionist as your father was...that must be why. Dear, you could study psychology as you once planned or become an expert in ancient languages. Or both. Being a priestess is not the only thing you can do, you have many talents, there are many fields you are comfortable with, I think and you always surpass expectations in them. So, if he does not accept you, it would not be your fault, it would be your Destiny."

"Then... is he never wrong?" Sybil asked.

"We are all wrong sometimes, but he is very wise and makes every decision with much time, prudence, study and careful meditation. Besides that, he is very skilled in handling intuition and some people even say that he can actually read minds so..."

"No! I would not like that he read mine!" Sybil reacted in panic.

Dorothy regretted mentioning the rumor. "He would not find anything unusual, I think. You are not evil. However, he is forbidden to use telepathy without the other person's cooperation and participation. He only uses it during two-way telepathy sessions, which are rare, anyway, because very few people possess that special gift. The Circles in the Order are more like a pyramid. The Fourth Circle is the base. The First Circle is at the top. Very few people in higher Circles, particularly the Second one. Telepathy is for the few who advance to the inner circles so, do not worry. He will just see you, see your aura and maybe he could have a glimpse of your future. He will say what you will need to know in order to fulfill your destiny, just that, and then he will make up his mind about your place in the Order... if you will enter the outer Circle. It is usually very fast."

Something, the lack of sleep, the worrying, all the silly rumors about Kalid's powers... it was too much and was driving Sybil towards panic. "Oh, I want the meeting to be right now!" Sybil shouted. "Although now, at this moment, I do not even care which way it goes for my destiny in life. I just want this to all be over. I am afraid and I feel myself unable to meet him... I do not want my mind to be invaded by this strange man."

"He will not do that. Besides, that is not as people think. He may detect emotions and some of your fundamental attitudes but he certainly cannot listen to your thoughts as if in a spoken language. The brain express itself using a language, our conscience sees it that way, but internally it handles electrical signals and waves. He can catch some of those signals and translate them to the language of his own mind due to his astral abilities, but he cannot actually "hear" what you think. There is no danger. I remember the day I met him... I was as frightened as you are or even more. The meeting itself did not last more than thirty minutes. He saw me, he told me to relax, touched my forehead, prayed some unknown mantra and he focused during five minutes. After that, he told me I was apt and that I could enter the Silver Tulipan Order. It was something very fast and I was not afraid during the meeting, I did not feel anything wrong or weird. After seeing his calm ways, I think I calmed down too. He seems to emanate peace. It is a sensation I have not felt near anyone else. So, do not be afraid. Besides, we are near Kalid's temple now."

"OK."

"One more thing, my dear. Do not worry about anything, you will be in the presence of one of the best men of our times. Remember what I have taught you about Vichido. The principle of not expecting anything. When you enter meditation or any mental or martial technique expecting a result, you will get nothing. You have to empty your mind and focus on the task at hand. Worrying will not help you in any way. This is not a chase situation. So, do not try to guess what will happen. Just go there with optimism and faith in God and he will do the rest. God knows what is best for you and he will guide us and Kalid to your best destiny. Have that in mind and remember that you will be safe with him...he is a very good man."

"Right. I think I will try to calm down, mom" Sybil said, a little relieved from her fears. Her mother was right; she had to relax, it was the only thing to do now. She could not enter the meeting with the state of mind she was in now. Thinking about God and feeling his presence guiding all of them would be the solution. This brought memories of something her mother had often said: sometimes the best thing to do was to do nothing. No action, let nature do all the work. She had to start by calming her mind then her autonomic nervous system would change both her mind and body state and then she would really feel calm and in control. That was what relaxation achieved, in the physical plane, she reminded herself.

She looked out the window. Sybil had not realized where she was until that moment; she had completely forgotten to watch the landscapes. Now she noticed some peasants working the land. Would people still be useful for such manual labor? Shouldn't such work be given over to robots? She thought: well, maybe some people enjoyed working the land. Most of Sakkara's food depended on agriculture, as in Ancient Times. So, they were accomplishing a mission there, their job was important... Now she started thinking about Fate. Did it exist? She wondered whether we all have our destiny traced from the beginning or, alternatively, whether destiny depends on our acts, those of other people or even pure chance. She tried to imagine herself being a priestess and worshiping minor gods. She looked again at the fields below and the peasants... did they even imagine people such as her and options in life like entering the Order?

They were now within half an hour of the meeting place and suddenly their route was restricted to a single flight path. Normally the sky ways had several routes available to each car, but in this district transport engineers were repairing some force fields and only one path was still available for use, and at that exact moment it was blocked as a safety precaution for the repair crew. Dorothy had to take control again and stop the car. They waited for a light-emitting robot to give them the "all clear" and access to the sky way again. Meanwhile, Sybil watched the peasants closely. They seemed to be happy, enjoying their agricultural tasks! Nevertheless, life in the countryside had always been hard, too hard. Maybe those people could never choose another path, they just had to accept the same way of making a living as their parents did. And the parents of their parents, in an endless chain. Was that really any different than for Sybil herself, born from a marriage between two parents with psychic abilities? What real choices had she ever had?

Now that Sybil could see some of the farm workers up close, she could that they each directed a small army of robotic pickers. Sybil did not recognize the crop they were harvesting. She accessed the net and found that these were banana berries. The robots cleaned the berries, packaged them and loaded them onto automated carts that hauled the cartons away to market.

After some time, they were able to continue on their way and Dorothy again flew them by manual control of the car. After twenty minutes more they finally got to their destination, Kalid's temple. They got out of the car, the AI activated the alarm and shield and they started walking towards an old wood house, built in a very ancient style...
Antimatter drive

A spaceship powered by antimatter drive showing the passenger deck (to right), the engine and the two reactors (spheres) in their raised position for planetary landing.

TrappedEdit

Leone realized that Thot was not using a typical evasive action subprogram. They had been at maximum acceleration for over a minute and the effects of that crushing force on Leone provided ample evidence that he was no longer a young man. When attending the academy in his youth he had participated in drills during which he was subjected to sustained 3g acceleration, but that was long ago.

His muscles were weakening as he continued to try to call up data and monitor the on-going attack. Finally, he gave up and activated the virtual reality Thot interface. He let his arms sink into the padding of his chair and took a deep breath...even his chest muscles felt like they might start to cramp.

Now he could see in his mind the three rockets that continued to close rapidly on the location of his spaceship. He noticed a new reflection, marked with a question mark, that was about half way between the rockets and his ship.

Leone "talked" to Thot by means of the brain-machine interface. "What is that radar reflection that just appeared?" He wondered if another spaceship arriving from hyperspace had just jumped into the middle of the battle...if so, they were the all time least lucky space travelers, for now they were right in the path of the rockets!

Thot replied, "There is no radar reflection there, but I am detecting a powerful energy flux at that position. I cannot identify the source."

Leone noticed that they were no longer being hit by the disruptor blasts. He said, "Maybe we should take this opportunity to make a jump!" He sent the command to Thot for activation of an emergency jump sequence, "Use the same parameters as at Plato! Get us out here!"

With fascination he watched the space between the speeding rockets and the anomalous "reflection" shrink to nothing. At that moment the antimatter warheads of the three rockets exploded and the data feed from the ship's sensors went blank for a few seconds. Three closely spaced shock waves arrived and rocked the ship, then all was calm and Leone's view of the battle returned. Leone wondered: had some energy beam detonated the rockets at a safe distance from his ship?

Leone felt the ship begin to buck and wobble. The building hyperspace field collapsed and he realized that disruptor fire was again trained on his ship. Leone decided that if he could not jump to safety he would go down fighting. The first three enemy ships, those that had launched the rocket attack, were now past their closest approach to Leone's spaceship and their high velocity trajectory was now putting them further away from Leone's ship with each passing second. However, a second group of three Spaceships was close enough to start pouring in disruptor fire and a third squadron was closing from another direction. "Thot, I want you to find a strategy that will allow us to start a counterattack."

"It is already done." Thot answered.

Leone knew that Thot was very smart and even smarter than a person in some areas for which it was programmed. When people were too frightened to think straight and find a solution to a problem, Thot was efficiently evaluating the enemy and preparing for a counterattack.

Thot now displayed a proposed battle plan, as Leone had requested. The artificial intelligence said, "Just return navigation control to me and I will initiate this plan."

"Aristark, look at this, a plan of attack!" Leone said.

Aristark was distracted from his work. He glanced briefly at the proposed battle plan that had appeared before him in a new data window. Aristark groaned, and muttered quietly, "Ghastly gravitons, attack? Now?"

Aristark felt annoyance. Before being interrupted, there had been something important flicking into his consciousness. Aristark had been trying to use the limited scanning resources of Leone's spaceship to examine the enemy spaceships. He could not believe that these were Ketar's spaceships attacking them...but who else could possibly have so many ships in the Akara system? Aristark felt it was a serious liability that they did not know who they were fighting against...or why... if you knew your enemy it was possible to anticipate their action...in theory. How could they dare counterattack with no shields and no knowledge of the enemy, Aristark thought, pessimistically. Now the memory he was searching to recover glimmered again in his mind...just before Leone had cried out enthusiastically for a counterattack, Aristark had noticed a strange spike in one of the data windows before him. What had it been? There! In the window for his little project aimed at monitoring power use by the Invocator...that was the spike, the sudden change that had started to attract his attention! Another big surge in power use by the Invocator had come just before the antimatter explosions. Aristark wondered: could the Invocator have destroyed those rockets?

Leone had first imagined that some special Haldus Order technology or power had brought this attack upon them, just as he suspected had happened at Plato, but this battle was unfolding quite differently than the one above Plato. Leone said. "As I see it, this is a different kind of attack than what we faced at Plato. These ships are not hiding, so we can counterattack. Although you are my subordinate, you are free to choose your destiny, so you can flee using one of the lifeboats, if you wish. But if you stay... if you stay you will have to follow my orders until we get to Azur, understood?"

"Affirmative. I think I will stay this time... I doubt I could escape right now. I'd not want to be exposed to one of those antimatter explosions while in a lifeboat. But look, Thot updated the battle information. There are three new spaceships closing on our position."

"Then, let's attack them while we can!" Leone said, solemnly. "While I shoot, take manual control of the ship for any required evasive actions. We have been in automatic mode, but I prefer to depend on you and not on Thot for this. Thot, abandon automatic mode, Aristark will take control of the spaceship from now on. Thot, enter attack mode and energize our beam weapons, I will handle the firing."

Leone's counterattack began, but even he expected it to simply be a display of defiance...he expected to die in a few minutes. Aristark made his maneuvers as if he was a scared animal trying to avoid a predator. Leone was amused by the crazy and unpredictable shifts in acceleration...he could imagine exceptional levels of adrenaline flowing through Aristark. Leone thought that this was the perfect role for a coward like Aristark: he might be a master in the art of avoiding enemy fire.

Leone laughed with glee as he struck the enemy spaceships with blasts from his energy beams. He remembered fondly one of the training exercises at the academy in which he had never been defeated, a scenario not too different from this battle. That was a hard test Leone was remembering, part of the qualifying exams for spaceship Captain certification. In that test, Aristark had been cautious and his shield strength only went down to 80%, but he had not been able to shoot and destroy the simulated enemy targets in the required time. Leone's performance on that test had been different, he had concentrated more on attacking than dodging, therefore, he destroyed 70% of enemy ships... but his shield had diminished to 10%. Similar differences in style for all the tests had added up and allowed Leone to qualify as a Captain...that had set him on his career path in the Transportation Department. Aristark had gone into the Department of Justice. Leone reflected on the fact that his friendship with Aristark was turning out to be important for this mission...Leone knew both Aristark's and his own strengths and how to use them to fight this battle. Finding Kalid seemed to be no easy task, but maybe a coward had a function in this universe too. A person as "valiant" as Leone would die in such unequal battles because he would always focus more on attacking than dodging. At least Aristark knew how to save his own skin.

Nevertheless, the battle could not last long...or could it? Leone was surprised that no more rockets had been fired. He had abandoned all concern for their pathetic shields, but now Leone noticed that they were up to 4% and charging faster than the disruptor fire could lower their strength. Leone realized that he had programmed Thot to announce decreases in shield strength, but he had failed to imagine a situation like this when shields would strengthen during a battle! He instructed Thot to notify them of all changes in the shield, percent by percent. They had regenerated part of the shield's energy, charging it like an old battery, using generated energy from antimatteric reactors. This was not the "textbook" way to replenish shields since there was a risk of positive feedback and a power surge that would damage the antimatter reactors. It would have been far safer to let the techs on Azur regenerate the shields, but Leone was now determined to do anything needed to survive, no matter how risky.

Time was running out. Although the first three attackers has drifted out of range, the second set of three spaceships was now joined in its disruptor fire by the third patrol squadron...now Leone's shield strength started to decline. If they did not destroy at least one ship and disable weaponry on one of the others the equations said that Leone's shields would ultimately give out. Leone felt his adrenaline was at peak: it improved his concentration but the dipping shield strength seemed to trigger a desire to flee...however, he was locked in a spaceship with nowhere to run.

Anyhow, they were all in this together. Leone depended on Aristark and Thot to be able to finally flee. The shield was at 3.5% now, and Leone would have been happy if their probability of survival was that high. Only a miracle would save them, but unfortunately for Leone and Aristark, neither of them believed in such wonders. Then what had been that energy serge that seemed to detonate the antimatter bombs prematurely? Leone imagined that no mystical force could save them because they did not believe in any force but physical. However, in the stress of this battle Leone was thinking about that: it would be very curious to be saved by some mystical trick.

Leone, like most people, could not imagine or think rationally about the possibility of his own death...so, now, startled by the fact that he had survived this long, he started imagining that maybe Sybil had tried to prove a point about the existence of "mental powers" by putting them into danger and now, having proved that point, maybe she was working to keep them alive.

Despite Aristark's random shifts in acceleration, all the disruptor beams momentarily focused on Leone's spaceship and briefly its occupants shook like worms in a can. The spaceship damage report alarm started to sound, very loud. Thot announced that the starboard astrogation equipment room was burning. The spaceship's passenger deck had rooms where the force of the ship's acceleration could be compensated for, at least partially: there was the main control room, the engineering control suite, a kitchen/dinning room, sleeping rooms equipped to accommodate as many as four people. The observation deck at the prow and the lifeboat exit atrium were only partially acceleration compensated. Adjacent to the passenger deck were storage and equipment rooms that experienced the full force of acceleration produced by the engines. Sybil's equipment had been installed in the starboard astrogation room and that was exactly where concentrated disruptor fire had apparently ruptured a power conduit.

"Thot..." Leone instructed, "Turn off the alarm and describe the damage."

The spaceship's artificial intelligence complied with Leone's orders and said, "Alarm disengaged. I am trying to control the fire, but the fire suppression equipment was damaged."

Leone knew that this was not a problem that the automated nanite repair system could handle. "Thot, implement your battle plan: full automatic, but don't expose us to more than 1.5g. We'll deal with the fire."

Leone and Aristark threw off their restraints and went immediately to the starboard astrogation room, letting Thot dodge the enemy and keep up return fire for a while. As soon as they entered the cramped equipment room they felt a wall of heat and choked on fumes from burning plastic. Leone knew that the "equipment" was almost entirely computing equipment that was used for hyperspatial jumps. A huge amount of computational capacity was required and it was redundantly distributed between the left and right sides of the ship. One of the computational "cores" had been removed to make room for Sybil's equipment. Since leaving Plato, Leone had hardly thought about the Haldus Order identification beacon that Sybil had given them. Sybil's technicians had called it the Invocator. Leone wondered if that artifact had ever really functioned correctly to inform Kalid of their presence at Plato. Maybe it had now been destroyed.

Leone thought, in the final analysis, Sybil's equipment had been of no use....it had not brought them to Kalid. Leone thought it was ironic that after all their trouble and planning, this freak fire could destroy the device. Leone was more concerned about the computing cores.

Aristark broke the silence. "We have to move Sybil's equipment, we cannot let it burn."

At that moment, the Invocator emitted a very loud beep, actually, more of a screech. Aristark ran from the room and Leone instinctively moved to protect his ears, but the sound was unbearable. The noise was more than Leone could stand and he decided to first try to unplug the Invocator from the core receptacle it rested in and then try to stop the fire. Somehow, even at that desperate moment, Leone thought it was funny that, in spite of Sybil's talk about "mental powers" and his own speculations about the Invocator possibly using "mental technology", this artifact needed a power plug just like any other machine. Leone went to his knees next to the Invocator and pulled aside the unit's plastic cover frame. Leone was about to unplug the Invocator when Aristark reappeared carrying a quantum extinguisher.

For situations like this, quantum extinguishers were far more effective than the conventional fire extinguishers of the pre-space age. Leone remembered from his academy days that very few people claimed to actually understand how antimatteric power conduits worked, but once ruptured, a quantal flame spread to nearby materials...to predict exactly how required an expert in the Chaos Theory of Plasmas. Nevertheless, Aristark did not have to use the extinguisher on the Invocator. Leone could feel that the Invocator was cool...apparently possessing an advanced system of refrigeration and several ways to protect itself from nearby fire. As suddenly as the noise had started, the Invocator now stopped emitting the annoying sound.

Aristark turned the extinguisher on the adjacent computer cores and soon the feeling of heat against Leone's face diminished and the air in the room began to clear. Leone felt a wave of relief...only one computing core's indicator light showed that it was off line. Leone could see a gray cloud of repair nanites already moving in to work on the over-heated cores. Leone wiped his stinging and tear-soaked eyes and saw an odd flashing on the Invocator...

But Aristark was not done with his fire fighting. He pulled his laser gun out of its holster and used it to carve a new hole in the bulkhead, up above the damaged region where the quantal flame had previously leaked into the equipment room. As soon as the new hole formed, a plasma arc shot out and instantly burned a stripe the length of Aristark's arm, bounced off the wall behind Aristark and returned, charring his shoulder. Aristark cried out in pain, but he picked up the extinguisher and flooded the space behind the wall.

Responding to Aristark's scream, Leone looked up and saw smoke rising from Aristark's burned arm. Leone reached to the medipatch on the wall of the equipment room and released the emergency medical nanites. They quickly homed in on Aristark and formed a silvery cloud over his burned skin.

Leone turned back to the Invocator, which he had never previously gotten a good look at. Now he saw that when he had ripped open the core frame covering the Invocator, he had dislodged a swinging cover on its side. That cover had flopped out to one side of the Invocator and it had an old-fashioned LCD screen on its top, about 10 inches across, approximately. Leone wondered if all Haldus Order technology was based on such old technology. "Just what I'd expect for such retrograde people", Leone thought. It was like a joke; Sybil, in her time of need, had turned to the Antiquist Party...it was a matter of principle.

Both Leone and Aristark were surprised to see a display screen on the mysterious Haldus Order machine. They had previously imagined that the device had been constructed like a black box, with its workings completely hidden from casual inspection. How could they have imagined that in reality it had been designed to be very communicative and informative for its human users...Sybil had just been forced to use it under unusual circumstances...out in the open where non-Haldus Order members could see it. On the screen, they could read a message, in the standard language used by most people throughout the galaxy:
FIRE DANGER AVERTED
ENTERING GHOST MODE

Ship in space

The two antimatter reactors deployed in the plane of the passenger deck in preparation for docking with the spaceship's hyperspatial field generators.

TricksEdit

Leone rubbed his stinging eyes. "Ghost mode?" Leone asked, without expecting any reply. He muttered, "These people are really psychos... will it now disappear from our sight..."

"...confounding our senses." Aristark completed.

"What? I was not going to say that."

"No, but I was. And I did. Do you not see what it implies?"

Leone looked at Aristark...was he taking this seriously? Had he inhaled to much burnt plastic? Leone objected, "Imply? It can mean nothing, much less imply. A cryptic message using an esoteric term that might appeal to a mystic like Sybil....it means nothing, I repeat."

"How can you be so blind? Of course it has a meaning. Look at the next message."

GHOST MODE PHASE 1. QUANTUM INFORMATION CLOAKED IN A RADIUS OF 5 METERS... 10... 15...

The counter advanced until 100, when they could read the next message.

GHOST MODE PHASE 1 COMPLETED. ALL MATTER AND ENERGY INSIDE 500 METERS RADIUS IS HIDDEN TO ALL MEASURE INSTRUMENTS. STARTING PHASE 2..."

"Do you see it now?" Aristark asked Leone, his face seemed triumphant. He had been studying the Invocator's power usage patterns. There had previously been two dramatic surges in power to the Invocator...now... Aristark took one last look at the Invocator. Its external appearance seemed intentionally ancient, one could almost imagine that it had to be as large as a computing core just because it was of primitive and inefficient design. But this big, just to generate a navigation beacon and hold the coordinates of Plato? No, Aristark had reason to believe that it had other functions, too.

"I understand nothing." Leone answered, he was so skeptical that he could not understand it yet.

Aristark ran back to the main control room and reclined in his chair, relieved to be protected from the strong shifts in acceleration that Thot continued to apply as evasive maneuvers. He connected his brain to the Thot interface and called up a view of the data record he had been collecting for the amount of power feeding to the Invocator.

Leone stumbled into his flight chair and asked, "What's going on?"

Aristark replied, "I think I understand what it says on the Invocator's display screen, what it means... Power is surging into the Invocator, just as it did twice before...."

Leone wondered why Aristark had fallen silent, then he noticed that the blasts from the enemy disruptors had stopped again. And even the sudden jerks resulting from Thot's evasive maneuvering had ended.

Aristark nodded. "Yes, it all makes sense. These surges in power use by the Invocator are protecting this ship. First was at Plato when our shields we exhausted and penetrated, just before the jump. Second was just before the antimatter bombs detonated. And now...listen. All is quiet. The enemy ships have lost us again. We are invisible again. 'Ghost mode'. The Invocator has extended a protective barrier around this ship." On a hunch, he called for a view of the battle display. Three of the enemy spaceships were quite close, three others were further out and the first three that had launched the rockets were now quite distant at the edge of the displayed scene. Another question mark was now displayed, and as Aristark watched he could see that it was leading the enemy ships off on a tangent away from the actual position of Leone's ship. "Look, another decoy."

Leone was looking at a wall display and had not re-connected to the Thot interface. "Yes, I see it." The Invocator was drawing power for two purposes, now. To hide their location and to project a false image of their spaceship that functioned as a decoy. Leone said, "So, they cannot see us now. We now can flee, taking advantage off the fact that they do not know where we are right now...their disruptor fire must be falling on that decoy."

"Well, yes, it seems that Sybil told you the truth, the Haldus Order has the means to hide a ship, this is exactly what that strange artifact did...that Invocator. I would not put to much trust in it, however, we should flee right now...they lost track of our position once before, when the rockets were attacking, but then they managed to regain a tracking lock on us. About the counter-attack, I..."

Leone knew what Aristark was going to say. "Yes! We have to stop our attack...we must stop sending out any signals, any energies that could give away our location. With a simple triangulation they could calculate where our energy bolts are coming from...if we keep on attacking then the cloak would be of no purpose. We must silently flee..." Leone gave the order, "Thot, cease fire!"

Aristark said, "Your order is too late. Thot stopped firing about a minute ago."

Leone checked the command circuits. "Hmm...I should have noticed this earlier when we departed from the evasive action subprogram I had specified. You know, it makes sense. Just as the Invocator flew us to Plato, it is now in control of this spaceship. It automatically took control from Thot. And I think it knows better than you...this is not the time to hurry into a jump. We are still so close to those ships that they might detect our hyperspace field generators...they produce a huge and distinctive electromagnetic signature. We best put some distance between us, first."

Aristark noticed that a change had come over Leone: he no longer seemed depressed and apprehensive. He sighed and said, "You seem to be enjoying yourself now that you have been given a second life." He looked at the burned tissue of his arm, now swarming with medical nanites. "In spite of my wish to depart at once, I have to agree with you, this time. They could easily detect our hyperspatial generators and then launch more of their rockets to destroy us. Rather than risk it, we should wait."

"Yes, I feel a great relief and I hope this magical cloak works to save us, but we are still in danger." Leone was reluctant to assume that they were safe. He was angry for having to cede command to the mysterious Invocator...could it be trusted? It appeared that Sybil's equipment had saved them today and it even seemed possible that had Leone failed to act at Plato and initiate the jump, they still might have been saved by the Invocator's cloaking device. After all his stress and worry he was not happy having to accept that fact.

"There is one thing I want to test." Aristark used the Thot interface and took manual control again. He shifted their acceleration to zero and they felt the sudden peace of zero g conditions. It was almost funny to see that the enemy spaceships did not know where they were, now just drifting through space with zero acceleration, not all that far away. He let the Invocator take control again and they resumed maximum acceleration on a vector away from the enemy ships, guided by the mysterious Haldus Order device. Then Aristark thought about the special beacon. After checking for the beacon's signal he said, "I should have thought to check this earlier, but it seems that the 'Invocator' did shut off the beacon signal when it went into "ghost mode".

Leone barely heard Aristark's comment about the beacon. He was intently watching the tactical battle display and he saw that three of the enemy spaceships were now very close to the decoy. What would happen when they figured out that they had been fooled again? They could still use the trick that had worked before, igniting an antimatter explosion...that seemed to be what had allowed them to start tracking Leone's ship the first time it had cloaked. Leone thought: maybe we're not out of the woods yet...

Spaceship docking

A spaceship powered by antimatter drive docks with its hyperspatial field generators.

Friendly FireEdit

The space battle played out as if in slow motion due to the large distances involved. Now, as Ketar watched, the first volley of antimatter bombs exploded....although Ketar was aware that due to distance and the finite speed of light, this battle had taken place more than an hour in the past. The flashing indicator icon for the "pirate ship" remained on the display. Assuming Ketar's worst fear, that the "enemy ship" was actually Leone's small passenger ship, then it was unbelievable that those antimatter weapons had not already destroyed their target. But had the position of the pirate ship suddenly shifted? Ketar was reminded of the odd report from Polastis III where something similar had happened.

Now Ketar had new doubts. Maybe this was a pirate ship with much better defenses than a simple passenger ship.

Ketar kept on watching the battle display, but a bunch of spaceships moving across interplanetary distances was a boring situation to watch in real time. The basic physics of the situation could not be changed: space was big, spaceships were slow... accelerations of 5g were about the practical limit for manned travel...although drones and projectiles could be accelerated even faster for short distances.

The Fleet's outer patrols were stationed far out from Akara A, out where they could make pre-planned jumps of a short distance in order to re-position as needed at any point around the imaginary sphere where in-bound ships might materialize upon entering the Akara system. The main problem with this defensive strategy was that the terminus for any jump through hyperspace could not be exactly controlled. No matter how much planning and training, there was a certain amount of luck involved in how efficiently the patrols could be positioned when responding to an invasion. Patrol ships from Ketar's fleet now routinely practiced to defend Akara in anticipation of the approaching day when Ketar's family would again assert the power of Akara. Of course, the same basic defensive strategy could be used against either a pirate ship or an invading fleet from another star system.

The main limitation at the moment was that most of the fleet was not on station in the Akara system. The spaceships of the Military Fleet doubled as Azur's commercial trading and passenger ships, most of which were off on journeys to other star systems. Still, this encounter with the "pirate ship" seemed to be playing out as expected from countless exercises and simulations. The first patrol usually had an outward-directed flight vector that intercepted the inbound trajectory of an invader. Due to momentum built up in pursuit, it was hard for such interceptors to match velocities with the target. The cardinal rule was: first responders don't slow down! Usually that meant they got only a single shot off from long range.

Still, those antimatter bombs should have obliterated any standard target. But in this case something strange was going on...some kind of decoy had fooled the projectiles. For a moment Ketar imagined it was like watching one of those 3D films of old, where the spaceships even emitted sound in interstellar space! Well, this was real, at least. You just could not hide a spaceship, even if there was no sound waves to be detected, Ketar knew that all hyperspatial ships had a huge graviton drive emission profile that could not be hidden.

Now, six other ships of the Fleet were matching trajectories and velocity with the target by using maximal acceleration. It was just a matter of time until the "pirate ship" surrendered by using radio communication or else they would be completely destroyed by the Fleet's weaponry or, preferably, disabled and boarded by Ketar's troops in order to take possession of the ship and whatever special decoy-generating and signaling equipment was on board.

Ketar thought that some kind of new technology must be in use by the "pirate ship". Another possibility was that this might be a ship of the Futurist Party. Since shortly after the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara, Ketar had expected his forces to be attacked by Set, but most of Set's activities seemed to have been directed against members of the Haldus Order. Ketar's intelligence service had reported some very strange stories about attacks by what seemed to be ships operated by the Futurist Party using new weapons and tactics, but all those reports were based on second hand information; none of the attacks had been witnessed by Ketar's forces.

The only first hand information was from the incident at Polastis III. There, an unidentified ship had seemingly traveled with acceleration of greater than 10 g and escaped from one of the ships of Ketar's Fleet. Ketar's analysts had concluded that the Futurist Party was the most likely group to make a breakthrough that would allow such a great rate of acceleration for a spaceship. For weeks after the Polastis III incident, Ketar had feared that Set would soon attack with a new fleet of 10g accelerating war ships. Had that happened, such fast ships would have been able to strike and tear to pieces the ships of Ketar's Fleet. But then time had passed and the feared attack had never come.

However, when that Polastis III incident had occurred, Ketar had not been thinking about the Haldus Order as a source of new technology. Now it occurred to Ketar that the apparent 10g acceleration might have been a mis-interpretation of events. Maybe what had happened was that a Haldus Order ship had used a decoy and made it look like the decoy had moved with a 10g acceleration. Yes, this was much more likely...even though Ketar had no idea how such a decoy might be generated, Leone had reported Sybil's claim about the Haldus Order being able to confuse sensors. Ketar's scientists had told him that a 10g spaceship would have to violate the laws of physics. So now Ketar started to shift his thinking away from the improbability of 10g spaceships to serious consideration of Sybil's claims about special abilities unique to the forces of the Haldus Order.

Ketar wondered about the nature of the decoy that had just fooled his patrol's missiles. Ketar played with the controls for the data channel from Fleet Headquarters that was providing him with information on the space battle. Those controls gave him a 360 degree view and zooming control in all three axes. He combined the information received from the ships with that from cameras on the three missiles as they had closed on their target. Ketar was obsessed with surveillance methods, it was one of the reasons why he had been selected by his father, trained for leadership and had ultimately succeeded as head of the Party. The population of Azur thought that they had freely elected Ketar as Governor for Life, although very few knew that election had been carefully arranged and engineered. Still, his job was temporary: if he were a fool he could be removed by recall, killed or otherwise terminated, but Ketar planned to last as supreme ruler until he had achieved his lofty goals. But the point was, he could expertly manipulate data streams such as the one for this space battle...he was not dependent on reports from analysts at Fleet Headquarters.

It was hard to see what the missiles had attacked since they closed on the target so fast. Ketar adjusted the controls again using his advanced skills and made a zoom, focusing on the decoy spaceship... He really wanted to see who his enemy was, but at the very least he would see what the "pirates" had used as their decoy. Now that he had the images slowed and filtered he watched closely, looking for a logo or identification of some kind. He found an L on prow. How curious, he thought, an L. Ketar ran a search routine on the insignia and it was quickly found in the registry of spaceships. Ketar had to admit that his original fears were confirmed, that symbol marked the "prirate ship" as Leone's spaceship. Along side Leone's personal insignia, Ketar found the symbol of the Antiquist Party, so there was little doubt. Either his own patrol ships had attacked the very ship he was preparing to welcome or some clever pirates were using an image of Leone's spaceship as a decoy.

And if it was Leone's ship, this attack was not a proper welcome for Kalid! Kalid and what he thought about Ketar was of central importance to the current game being played by Ketar, his life-long game of working to bring Azur back to glory....

At that moment Ketar noticed another icon on the outer edge of the battle display. That icon represented a message from the "enemy ship" that had been received nearly an hour earlier and had finally been decrypted at Fleet Headquarters. Ketar viewed the message:

From Leone of Sakkara
To Ketar, Governor of Azur

Mission in search of Kalid not accomplished.

Ketar wondered: what did that cryptic message mean? Anyhow, it now seemed certain that this must be Leone's spaceship. The message had been held up at fleet headquarters under the working assumption that it was from pirates trying to pass themselves off as a friendly ship. Fools! Ketar could have instantly decoded and read it...had he only known of the message's existence.

Ketar switched his attention back to the unfolding battle. The display now showed a detailed analytic view of the antimatter projectile attack. Retrospective analysis performed at Fleet Headquarters indicated that Leone's ship had apparently gone into maximal deceleration as soon as it had detected the projectiles, but the projectiles had maintained tracking lock on the decoy target that continued onward as if on a track towards Azur. However, that target was not initially recognized as some kind of decoy, and only after the explosions lit up the area with radiation was the true location of Leone's ship again revealed and a new tracking lock established on it.

Ketar saw that those first three responding spaceships from the Fleet were altering their course, but due to their high velocity that was nearly perpendicular to the course of Leone's ship they were in an unfavorable position for further attacks. However, another three ships of the fleet had now entered into the battle from another direction.

Ketar checked the time stamps. By this point, a commander in the fleet should have had time to understand Leone's radio message and use common sense to realize that this "pirate ship" might be that of Ketar's anticipated guests! But the attack against the "pirates" seemed to continue. Ketar exclaimed, "How incompetent! What happened to the counter-order?" Ketar's thoughts were filled with rage as he imagined all his plans for making use of Kalid had been destroyed by some foolish friendly fire disaster. Now his only hope was that Leone's cryptic message meant Kalid was not on board Leone's doomed spaceship.

Ketar watched as the second set of three spaceships entered into close attack range...they finally seemed to have received the counter-order because they were only attacking with destabilizer force fields. These fields had two primary purposes: to damaged the targeted ship's propulsion system and failing that, shift the force compensators and subject the crew to rapid accelerations and decelerations and hopefully make the crew pass out. Ketar was no engineer and he had no idea how a force field could achieve both effects at the same time, but he knew from experience that it worked and was the most effective non-lethal weapon system of his war ships. The destabilizer force fields had one other use: they could prevent a ship from entering hyperspace and escaping. Ketar checked the distances. Yes, at this point in the battle his patrol ships had gotten close enough to use their destabilizer force fields and prevent Leone's spaceship from escaping through hyperspace.

Ketar decided that now the space battle was moving the right direction. Yes, he was learning from this incident. Somehow the Haldus Order had developed a secret new technology for decoys that allowed the image of a spaceship to be used as a decoy that would distract and confuse other spaceships. Ketar decided that it was imperative that his Fleet now capture Leone's ship and obtain this secret technology that had been installed in Leone's spaceship by Sybil. Yes, soon this powerful technology could be in his hands! Ketar's scientists would then be able to reverse engineer and replicate this technology for use in the Fleet. Ketar was proud of his scientists: they were recruited and hired from the best technical education centers in the Galaxy and had designed new models of spaceships that Ketar believed to be the best in the galaxy. If this secret Haldus Order technology could be obtained, nothing would stop Akara from attaining its former glory or even supremacy over the other worlds of the galaxy!

For the moment, Ketar forgot about trying to pump Kalid for information and he dreamed of what might now become possible simply by capturing Leone's ship... Yes, the Fleet would capture Leone's ship and with this new technology he could invent a strategy...maybe all this mumbo-jumbo about telepathy was a smoke screen. Maybe obtaining the Haldus Order decoy technology would actually give Ketar's Fleet all the technological secrets known to Kalid!

Ketar tried to calm down and return from this pleasant daydream. He turned his attention to the computer-generated display of the on-going space battle. As he watched, the next three patrol ships closed on the position of Leone's ship. The next closest three were not yet in position. Ketar was puzzled: why had these first three not waited slightly longer for the reinforcements?

"Only three ships!" he thought. Were his forces going to underestimated the ship they were dealing with? Did they not remember the lesson of Polastis III? Surely they must now recognize that this "pirate spaceship" could cloak...they needed to box it in and ignore any decoys! Ketar watched in horror as the scenario of Polastis III seemed to be playing out again. Suddenly Leone's ship accelerated at 10g and began to slip away from the patrol ships that could only manage a little over 5g acceleration.

Ketar's rage grew. "No! Don't follow the decoy! No real ship can travel with a 10g acceleration!" Ketar vowed: if Leone's ship could not be captured, someone would have to pay! Maybe he would have to remove his War Secretary from his role if the spaceship commanders in the Fleet were such fools. In a case like this, "removing" meant death. Ketar observed the screen closely looking for a sign that his forces would figure out what to do...that spaceship and its cloaking technology had to be his!
Temple3

TempleEdit

74 ANE

..Sybil had been told that this was an ordinary Silver Tulipan Order Temple where initiates gathered for study and meditation. It was called "Kalid's Temple" because during his time as Grand Master, Kalid had gotten into the habit of using it as the place for meeting with all new initiates. Sybil wondered why Kalid would select this particular location as his favorite place on Sakkara. Sybil had to admit that the rural setting was calm and well suited for meditation, but the facilities, at least by outside appearances, seemed absolutely primitive. There was nothing but a dusty path leading from the landing field to the Temple.

A temple resident approached the landing field and greeted Dorothy. They embraced each other and Dorothy introduced the man to Sybil as Matthew. He nodded politely to Sybil and led them towards the shelter of the Temple. Dorothy and Matthew knew each other from old times, back when Dorothy had just entered the Order. Matthew commented that Sybil had the same facial features as had her mother at that age and that they shared a common manner of walking that reminded Mathew of a light-footed cat. He made a joke about Kalid being an old dog and wondered if Sybil had any new tricks to teach Kalid...they all laughed and Sybil started to relax. Matthew spoke mostly to Dorothy but most of what he said was intended to diminish Sybil's visible tension; still, she could not stop biting her nails. The way along the path was a bit long and up hill. When they finally got to the old wooden building that was the Temple, Sybil was not so nervous.

They entered the building and another Temple resident informed them, "Master Kalid will receive the girl as soon as he finishes his current appointment...it should not be long."

Sybil knew that all the new initiates were brought here for Kalid's attention and she wondered if this might be a day during which several people like herself would be interviewed by the Master. Matthew went off and about his Temple duties, leaving Dorothy and Sybil sitting on wooden chairs and waiting for the time of Sybil's appointment to arrive. Dorothy noticed her daughter was a bit calmer now. Matthew had that gift; he was able to make people calm or happy. He was very kind and interesting man and Dorothy had known him before meeting her husband. Dorothy thought fondly of her affair with Matthew back when they had been students in the unnamed fifth circle. She had always remembered him with tenderness and maybe he had similar thoughts too, it seemed.

Sybil observed the room; it was barely lit by a few candles perched on top of some high shelves. She was aware of a subtle scent that reminded her of medicinal herbs. Kalid was rumored to be some kind of shaman, and Sybil wondered if Kalid might have some appointments not for new initiates, but rather for the purpose of curing people of an illness with his own hands and his knowledge of medicine.

Now that Sybil was relaxed she was impatient to meet someone as smart and wise as she had been told Kalid was. If even half the rumors were true....that he spoke more than four different languages, was a Grand Master, shaman, physical and spiritual yogi practitioner, Vichido master and who knows what else... then he was someone worth meeting, even if she was not going to be a priestess.

Sybil yawned. If she could only have slept the night before things would be a bit easier now. Sybil had calmed down and now she felt a little weary. The conversation with Matthew had been very amusing, but now silence and boredom were draining her enthusiasm and strength.

Sybil noticed that her mother seemed lost in thought. It was a shame her mother had lost every form of contact with people from the Order like Matthew, but that was the price she had paid to be allowed to exit the Order, marry Jeremy and have a child. If she did enter the Order, Sybil thought that it would be nice to talk to Matthew from time to time. Would she be able to see him again in the future if she was accepted? Just how many members of the Order were there anyhow? She had no idea. If she was accepted. All her thoughts came back to that one conditional. She told herself firmly that she should not worry more about that. Time would tell her destiny and besides, she would have her opportunity to meet Kalid the sage, no matter what the decision was. She would try to remember everything she saw during the meeting. She tried to escape from the swirl of her worries and come back to the peaceful reality of the here and now.

She looked all around the room again and decided it was like a doctor's waiting room. Maybe patients from this district, possibly local residents like those farm workers she had seen always waited in this room before meeting with a Temple shaman. Maybe the low candle light of the room was meant to ease the thoughts and calm the spirit of patients and initiates alike.

Now she was feeling as if she was going to sleep, entering a dozing state. Her lack of sleep was making her lose control of her body now. She told herself that she had to remain alert and she tried to think about what she would say to Kalid. However, she did not have a clue what to say; maybe she would just do as instructed by her mother....answer Kalid's questions while trying not to say anything silly. Suddenly a touch of her panic returned and she regained full alertness again, sensing a danger. What if Kalid tried to enter her mind? She was not prepared for that kind of invasion. But if that did happen, would she even notice it? Her head automatically turned to the right, a door was being opened.

An old man was there in the doorway, thanking Kalid with many bows. Maybe he was a sick person who was receiving help with either a physical illness or even some tricky mental problem; the knowledge of a shaman was useful to help people handle stress, anxiety and other trouble caused by imbalance of the energy inside and outside the body. Some people thought that a shaman could re-open a way for the free circulation of energy, resulting in relief from illness. Sybil could hear Kalid's voice for the first time, calling out from the next room and asking who was next. It was her!

Sybil entered the room where Kalid waited. She was unable to hide the fact that she was a bit scared....her hands were trembling. With one last glance at her mother, she closed the door. Now this was her time with Kalid and nobody else would hear their conversation. As instructed by Kalid she sat on a chair.

"Welcome, young lady. I am Kalid and you are...?"

"I am Sybil. I am here for you to choose my destiny."

Neofinetia

Neofinetia Falcata Order secret logo

"Hehehe. No, my dear. I will not choose, I will just try to find out if it is good for you to follow the path of becoming a priestess in our Order. In the female part of our Order, I mean. As you know, the Silver Tulipan Order includes the Neofinetia Falcata Order, for females. I remember inviting your mother into the Circle. In the same way you would be a Priestess of Iris if we discover that it is your destiny to do that."

"Oh. Well, I hope I receive that invitation."

"I see you are very worried about that, and your mom too, eh? It seems you have been dreading this moment for quite some time. Did you sleep last night, young lady?"

"How...? No, I could not. My mind was too busy thinking about this meeting."

"You should not be afraid. Nothing wrong will happen. Just try to relax. Enough talk. Now, to help you relax, move over to that sofa and breathe thoroughly. Do one of the breathing exercises you learned in school."

At first Sybil doubted that she would be able to relax, but then she thought, what could happen? She obeyed and went to the sofa. As soon as she started a controlled breathing technique the lights went off and she was left in the dark wondering why she had not even noticed how Kalid's room had been illuminated. Her eyes adapted to the dark and then she could see some faint colored lights moving towards her. Kalid explained that those were to activate her energy centers and open a way to see if her fate was inside the Order or not. Sybil worried that the lights would open her mind to him and she still did not like the idea of someone snooping in her memories. Kalid mentioned she should not be afraid, there would be no invasion of any kind and that she should concentrate on breathing. Slowly, she began relaxing. He told her that he would make a full system exploration of her energy, to see if it was flowing as it should be. He ordered her to close her eyes and imagine nothing, just put her mind in blank state, watching the blackness. With her eyelids closed, the dim lights did not reach her eyes, so it was not that hard to do. Sybil finally relaxed and Kalid approached her. She was very beautiful and similar to her mother, Kalid noticed. Trying not to lose concentration, he touched his talisman and then her forehead.

"Do not be afraid, my dear. Trust me."

Sybil thought that she should not trust anyone asking for trust. But Kalid's voice convinced her. Now Kalid tried to visualize her aura and all the energies around her. It seemed Sybil's mind was hypnotized now. He tried to focus and noticed that part of her mind did not like darkness and was trying to open her eyes. He told her not to do so because she would suffer a headache later and resumed his job. He could see the colors of her aura and tried to make sense of them. He could see her past and future illnesses and the weakness of the body in those places where the energy was not circulating efficiently. Now he entered a conscious REM state, in order to find out more. He would try to have remote access to her central nervous system. This was the part that required more concentration and skills. Kalid took a deep breath, prayed briefly and tried to enter her mind, in order to find out about her future.

Kalid imagined a far place where he could study her mind like the terrain of a world. He saw himself there after entering the dream stage in a conscious way and remember what he was trying to achieve. He could see Sybil from far; she was running... away from him, apparently. Kalid tried to go after her but she always escaped. He had to find a way to attract her.

Nothing he tried really seemed to work except for sheer persistence, as if she was getting tired of running. Now, finally he was nearer to her and was thinking whether to take the external appearance of her father, to gain her trust, but Kalid decided it would not be fair. That would just remind her of her suffering and sadness and would bring her mind back to a conscious state. So, he showed himself as he was, and some white and green glow could be seen around him. The green part was the healing energy he possessed at all times, ready to heal someone nearby. As soon as she saw him, she tried to walk away, but Kalid extended his hand and tried to calm her down.

She decided she would stay there, maybe that was part of the meeting and maybe this was some test that had to be passed before entering the Order. She calmed down and said to herself that nothing evil could happen, Kalid was protecting her....although Kalid knew there could be trouble, in case some evil entity was near them and had noticed their sudden appearance. But all the Temple was shielded against those beings and there was no such problem right then. Kalid looked at Sybil's eyes, focusing on their green color, trying to mix his own color with hers. He looked right there, at the black center of her eyes and tried to enter her nervous system.

At that moment, Sybil felt a strong headache and a sense of panic. Kalid immediately walked away and soon he was running. He felt as if some kind of force had struck him; he was still not sure if this had anything to do with Sybil or with another conscious entity in the dream realm, but he had felt this kind of mental assault before. He remembered he was in a created dream and that he could get out using a door he invented for that. He went there but remembered Sybil's mind was trapped in his dream. He could not abandon her that way, maybe her mind would never get to the real world again. That was a real danger in this kind of session.

So, he went back again, recovering from his pain and looked at her again. He should have talked to her first, telling the way out, but he preferred to look at those eyes. When he did it, he felt instantly hypnotized by them, they filled his entire mind and pulled him in until the blackness in the center of her eyes was the only thing he could see. His mind told him that he was losing himself while trying to get inside Sybil's mind but then a small flicker of will allowed him remember why he was there and what he was trying to do, again. He decided they both had to flee, so he tried to send a telepathic message to Sybil; in that realm he could not talk anymore, for unknown reasons and he felt as if a door was closing on him.

It was impossible! He did not know if Sybil received the message and now he felt repentance. He felt a sudden sadness that took control of his entire body, from his energy point up to his brain. He repented for what he had made... He immediately remembered his family which was no more. He had no family at all now, he was alone in this vast universe and did not know why. His family had been killed and now he remembered it all. He did not know how he could have forgotten that fact before. He forgot about Sybil and entered his own mind in order to explore his own suffering. He felt a sense of void, he did not want to keep on living anymore. It was a tragedy that could never be cured. His mind... he was losing it. His hope, all those things he ever cared for, even the Order... were not important at all at that moment. He could not save his relatives and now he would not even try to save his own mind. He thought of the possibility of losing his mind in a place like this, during a telepathy session. And he was not afraid of the possibility... Was he? Oh, no, he could really become mad if he did not come back fast. But why would he want to come back? Meanwhile, Sybil was escaping through the portal he had opened and her mind was trying to recover control of her body, outside. Kalid's mind was still trapped in there, crying over the death of the people he loved more... Nothing was worth it, he could just let himself sink in there and nobody would ever know or care. And now the thoughts about going mad came back again, this time making that fact true. His mind submerged itself in a kaleidoscope of weird thoughts and contradictory thinking that made him dizzy. He did not feel his imagined body now and his created dream had become a nightmare. Finally, he lost consciousness and entered the dream in a normal unconscious state.

After some time, he could finally wake up and he found himself in his office. Sybil was there, also trying to wake up and they both struggled to recover from that dead-end dream experience he had placed their minds in. He concluded that when his mind entered the unconscious mode, his long years of mental training had made it possible for the unconscious foundations of his mind to order his body to wake up and then the soma had led the shattered fragments of his conscious to abandon the weird ideas from the dream. But now, he examined the path he had taken out of the dream state and remembered having a chain of interconnected dreams; in most of them Kalid had suffered many false awakenings. Now he confirmed this was reality. Somehow he had been able to save his own mind, but he could not feel any pride because all of the important work had been accomplished unconsciously. All his years of training had ingrained his unconscious mind with an advanced sense of self-preservation, apparently. Now he focused on Sybil. He called in two of the temple's monks who injected her with a special substance to help her mind come back more easily and finally she woke up, too.

"What happened?" Sybil asked, when she regained consciousness. "I tried to escape, but you were there and you did not want to get out. You told me the way to get out of that dream of yours, but after some time your image got darker and darker. I called to you, but you never listened to me. I did not know what happened, the only thing I remember is some strong pain I felt in my head and then I was trying to escape. It was horrible! And you wanted to stay in there!"

"Yes. It seems I imagined a powerful illusion that I believed afterward. I believed that my f... It does not matter now. The important thing is that you are safe now and I will make my decision."

"Oh, no. I know what you will say to me."

"What will I say to you?"

"That I do not deserve to enter the Order." Sybil commented with sadness.

"No! I already made my decision. Your destiny is to become a Priestess of Iris inside the Silver Tulipan Order."

"What? You must be kidding."

Kalid thought that that young lady was treating him as if they both were old friends. A little weird for that situation. Maybe because both of them were in danger, inside the dream...

"Yes. You are now accepted inside the Silver Tulipan Order and will be able to enter the Fourth Circle as soon as your age permits. That is all."

"Wow." Sybil literally jumped on the floor and then tried to embrace Kalid. Kalid hugged her and she felt very happy.

"I never thought this would end up this way." Sybil thought. "Oh, and I apologize for being so emotive, it is just that this..."

"Yes, it is very important for you and has been important for every member before entering. Congratulations. Now rest a few minutes while you recharge your energies in here, then you will be composed and able to exit and tell your mother about this."

Sybil relaxed and fell asleep again for a few minutes. Kalid went outside and tried to relax. He decided not to tell anything to Dorothy yet, it should be her daughter who would share with her the important fact. Dorothy was waiting outside and tried to catch Kalid, but he went past her and directly to another room, to order his own thoughts.

Soon Sybil was awake again. She could remember mostly everything that had happened and went towards Dorothy.

"Mom... I was accepted inside the Order!"

"What? Oh, my dear, just as I had thought! I am so proud of you."

They hugged each other and Matthew appeared again and asked about Sybil's fate. He congratulated her.

108 ANE
Sybil rose from her chair and stretched. It was now quite late and she was ready for bed. She left the study and walked down the hallway to her bedroom. The memory of that strange dream experience she had shared with Kalid and thinking of those old times made her feel stronger now, ready for this new time of uncertainty about the future. Somehow she sensed that Kalid's dream was linked to this current crisis with Set, but how?

Safe?Edit

Leone and Aristark rested in their chairs, trying to endure as best they could the heavy force of maximum acceleration. Their decoy was still drawing the enemy ships off in another direction. Leone and Thot calculated a short jump through hyperspace that would put them outside of the Akara star system. Finally Leone said, "Okay, we are now well beyond the range of Harpoon Class rockets. I'm going to make a microjump of about half a lightyear into interstellar space to a safe location where we can do damage assessment."

Thot eased the ship's acceleration back down to standard and initiated the jump sequence. However, the field generators snapped off as soon as they started to power up.

Leone and Aristark and Thot all examined the damage assessments and the hyperspatial systems diagnostics. Maintenance nanites were at work all around the ship repairing disrupter-induced damage, but none of the identified damage seemed major. Finally Thot said, "I suspect that the radiation pulse from those antimatter bombs threw the field generators out of alignment and then the disrupter blasts knocked the self-diagnostics off line. There might also be problems due to that power conduit break and damage to the computing cores."

Leone nodded. "Yes, there could be many subtle faults in our critical systems." Leone was particularly worried about the Thot artificial intelligence since its mind was generated by the computational cores. "This is not a war ship, the systems in this spaceship were never hardened to protect them from battle conditions."

Aristark asked, "Can the problem be fixed? Will we be able to make a jump?"

Thot suggested, "We should make repair of the hyperspace field generator self-diagnostics the highest priority for now. We'll know more once we can run the diagnostics."

Leone reprogrammed the priorities of the nanites then said, "We better make a contingency plan in case the field generators are beyond repair." Of course, "beyond repair" really meant "beyond repair within a reasonable amount of time".

Aristark said, "If we could trust the Invocator to keep hiding us, then it might be possible to just cruise right to Azur."

Leone was amused by that idea and the thought of showing up on right on Ketar's door step as if dropping in from hyperspace. Leone was rather awe struck by the idea that the Haldus Order had such a technological capability yet kept it secret. And apparently never even made use of it. He'd never even heard rumors of cloaked ships.

Still, there were too many unknowns. First, it was not at all certain that they could control the Invocator...it literally had a mind of its own. Second, Leone still could not understand why his spaceship has been attacked here in the Akara system. He was no coward, but it did not make sense to invite danger by just turning around and heading back towards Azur.

Leone scanned the communications channels. "Hmm, it looks like communications are no longer being jammed. If we could speak to Ketar and find out why we were attacked-"

Thot said, "I found the problem...it was just a safety over-ride that had been tripped. I hate to admit it, but some of my own internal systems are not working correctly. Hyperspace jump sequence initiated. Should I abort?"

Leone said, "No, make the microjump."

The jump was completed without further incident. After a few hours, the spaceship was rematerialized at a safe distance from Akara.

Leone finally took the time to examine Aristark's multiple wounds. The plasma burns were now black skin, a dead cover on top of a mesh of medical nanites and regenerating cells, below. Leone was rather amazed Aristark did not complain about his pain. Aristark's eyes looked sunken and Leone supposed that he was dehydrated. Leone ordered Aristark to his cabin. After making sure that the medical nanites had sedated Aristark and started replenishing his fluids, Leone retired to his own room. Leone did not doubt that Aristark could benefit from the attention of trained medical personal, but for now he had to trust the emergency medical nanites. Leone reclined on his bunk and was soon asleep.

The next day Leone awoke hungry and sore and he did not feel rested. For a moment he tried to recall a dream that had disturbed his sleep, but it slipped away from his conscious recall. He went to the kitchen and was surprised to find Aristark already there, pushing food around on a plate with his fork. Leone said, "How do you feel?"

Aristark shrugged. "The pain killers work well. It actually hurts most if I lie down."

Aristark had not bothered to put on a shirt. A thick crust of medical nanites swarmed on his shoulder. Leone felt his appetite fade. He sat down across the table from Aristark.

"The current situation is an outrage." Leone tried to put aside his feelings about being attacked at Akara, apparently by Ketar's forces. "We have to decide what our next destination will be. I would suggest that we call Ketar and make plans for going to Azur, but I want to know why we were attacked in the Akara system. Those were almost certainly spaceships of Ketar's own defense fleet that attacked us. Why?"

"Well, by now they know that there is something very unusual about this ship." Aristark said. He thought: knowing Ketar, he's itching to get his hands on the Invocator.

Leone commented, "I wonder just what the basis of this Haldus Order technology is. What are its limitations, if any? According to what Sybil told me, this is "spiritual technology", if two such words can ever be used next to each other. I was worried before, heading into Azur without Kalid, with nothing to show to Ketar...just showing up to beg for help against Set. But now we have this secret Haldus Order technology in our hands. Clearly it was a similar device Sybil was alluding to when she proclaimed that Haldus Order Masters had been able to hide from scanners on Plato. For me, I do not trust that device...I want nothing coming from Kalid or Sybil. For all I know, that device could go into SELF DESTRUCT MODE and kills us, but I'd like to try to trade it to Ketar for promise of his help to defeat Set."

"Self destruct, like in some space opera?" Aristark asked. "That is nonsense paranoia. I'm more worried that it could be inactivated remotely. If the Haldus Order decides we are not living up to our agreement they might just inactivate that device...melt its circuits into a lump. But if I am allowed to speak freely, I still trust Kalid and Sybil. I've seen no evidence that they have been involved in these attacks against us. Even with all that has happened to us, we still must continue our mission. I know the best alternative is to go to Azur and meet Ketar...he will know what to do next-"

Leone interrupted Aristark. "You still trust them?" Leone asked, visibly agitated. "After what they did to us? That cannot be! Sybil led us to the trap at Plato and Kalid tried to kill us. It is pretty clear to me, a declaration of war!"

"War? Have you lost your mind? What evidence do you have related to Kalid?" Aristark asked, in an insolent manner. Speaking bluntly was one of the important privileges of being a personal friend of the Captain.

Leone, was not at all sure, but he felt a need to find someone to blame for what they had been through. He was distrustful of mystics and claims of magic...it was too easy for him to blame everything bad on Kalid who Leone only new from Sybil's claims about him being a master of mental powers. Leone was glad to have a personal friend along who did not fear to object and say when Leone was moving beyond the evidence, but if Kalid could not be blamed for their woes, then who could?

Leone thought about war. Leone concluded, due to his historical research, that most worlds of the galaxy were in decline militarily and would continue in that direction unless a powerful leader appeared and set a world on another path. Leone knew that Azur was at the top of a long list of planets which could conceivably return to the militarism that triggered the galactic wars of the past. Leone thought that a planet having the technology of the Haldus Order Invocator could overthrow the peace that now existed in the entire galaxy. All you needed was a devious and evil mind to make such a nightmare come true... that, and the Haldus Order cloaking technology. And there were Evil beings, with capital E. Leone knew some of them, and now that he thought about it, did he want to take the responsibility for deciding who should have this technology? Could he really trade such powerful technology for a promise of help for Sakkara in its struggle against Set?

"I am not certain of his guilt, but Kalid is still my prime suspect." Leone answered, a bit sorry that he had spoken with such vehemence. "Don't you agree?".

Aristark shook his head. "I do not think so. If I am allowed to say, sometimes you do not think things through with a cool head. I know saying this is insubordination, but at this moment, I am talking as your long-time friend. Even you should be able to admit to yourself that there are moments in which you are driven completely by your emotions and cannot think clearly."

"Think about it rationally: on Sakkara, Sybil could have murdered you in the blink of an eye, had she wanted to do so, or had Kalid given the order. And the proof of their innocence lies in that fact: she did not move against you when you were in her house. Maybe you imagine I am their target, not you, but the Invocator could have been, in reality, a bomb, or it could have made your spaceship jump into Memphis, killing us both instantly. But none of those events actually happened. On the contrary, the Invocator saved our lives. Because I have never met Kalid I can say nothing about him. I am trained in the law and I know not to jump to conclusions when making accusations."

"I know your argument sounds rational, but, I do not know...there was something about my last meeting with Sybil that I did not like."

"The fact that she did not ask to come with you on this quest," Aristark thought. "That was what I was trying to talk about when I mentioned emotions," Aristark commented. "I also feel them, I think I trust Sybil because she, indirectly, saved our lives. Maybe she does not even know the Invocator can hide a ship; all she wanted was for you to meet with Kalid. If the Haldus Order knows how to keep its secrets then its members work on a "need to know" basis. Because of our journey, we may now know more about the Invocator than Sybil does."

"The Invocator is a puzzle." Aristark rubbed his chin and shrugged. "I suspect that in a spaceship of the Haldus Order it would be fully integrated with the command and control system. However, in the way it was installed on this ship it has no external controls...we cannot order it to do anything. But it seems to protect itself and it can enter 'ghost mode' when it is being attacked and is in danger of being destroyed. So I guess my conclusion is that Sybil never betrayed us, but maybe she did not really save us, either. No, she may be almost totally in the dark. Whatever it was that attacked us from Plato was not premeditated by Sybil. Beyond that, we can continue to wonder and discuss about Kalid, who is another person and another situation...one that we have no evidence about."

"But the point is that Kalid is everything that matters right now..." Leone said, bitterly.

"Well, not really. We have the possibility of visiting Sybil and asking if there might be another place to look for Kalid. But Kalid might be irrelevant. If we visit or speak to Ketar he might tell us to return to Sybil or he might decide to wash his hands of both Sybil and Kalid. After that battle in the Akara system Ketar must have some idea about the "Ghost mode" capability of this spaceship, that might be of more interest to a man like Ketar than sending Counselors chasing around the galaxy in search of Kalid."

"Yes, you are making me think about the importance of this Invocator. You seem to feel some kind of attraction to that weird equipment, but all I can do is think of revenge against those who have attacked us."

"I think you should be thankful for that "weird equipment". It protected us and allowed us to escape from certain death. Conclusion: my vote is to visit Sybil before going to Ketar, although I think we should visit Ketar first."

"What do you mean? Is it yes or no?"

"It is what I said, nothing more. We should first visit Ketar, but I vote for going back to Sakkara and asking Sybil for her advice. Obviously, we are Ketar's subordinates and we must follow his orders..."

"Right. In the same way you follow mine."

"That is correct. I sometimes disobeyed or twist the rules while trying to save my life...and maybe yours...and now we both can alter our original plan to go from Plato to Azur to meet Ketar, because our lives are in danger. That is the point: we tried to visit Ketar, but we were attacked. Sakkara is our home; if we return home and visit Sybil, we risk nothing and maybe we can find out what really happened at Plato, or at least learn of another direction in which to search for Kalid, after all, that is the mission Ketar assigned to us."

"Then... is that your last word?"

"Yes. Moreover, I am tired of discussing this; I have never been good at promoting ideas. Decide what you want, you are the Captain. If you still want to commit suicide by visiting Ketar, go ahead, you have the right to kill yourself. But do not count on me for help with that, I have a family and I like life."

Leone felt hurt. Aristark not only treated him as paranoid, delusional and obstinate, but he also now underlined the fact that Leone was not married and had no family. If Aristark were not his long-time friend Leone would already have pushed him out the airlock into space or, at the very least, they would be fighting hand to hand by now. Fortunately, it was not that way.

Now Leone had to make a decision, as Aristark said, with a cool head. But it was not easy. If he went towards Azur, he would be returning to the star system where they had almost been obliterated by antimatter bombs and Leone would completely lose Aristark's already weak support. If he headed towards Sakkara and Sybil, that would be "obeying" Aristark again! Nevertheless, that was the only safe option left. Well, there was another one! Not visiting anyone and first contacting Ketar. Really, that was what they had already tried to do, but there was another way...by using hyperspace communications.

The problem was, if Leone contacted Ketar by means of hyperspatial communication then Ketar might give them an order that they would not like...down that path was open disobedience, he could be kicked out of the Party, along with Aristark, for the crime of rebellion, or at least, failure to execute his mission. Yes, that was a real danger since Leone was not at all sure he wanted to hand the Haldus Order technology over to Ketar...and as Aristark had said, Ketar probably now thought Leone had important Haldus Order technology on his ship and a man like Ketar would want to take control of such a powerful tool.

Leone made the decision: they would visit Sybil, armed to teeth and yes, she would have to confess everything about Plato and Kalid. He would accept no excuses. She would have to show absolute submission or he would abandon this crazy mission in search of Kalid. But would he really be able to act that way against Sybil? Well, he would have to stop being a school boy and treat her as a possible antagonist. Anyway, it was not even his own idea to visit Sybil... it had been Ketar's idea to go visit her in the first place and now it was Aristark who suggested it. Leone felt he was powerless, driven by the threads of destiny that always went against his will. He saw himself as a leaf on the surface of a big sea, traveling at random, without any final destination. He never before believed in such weird concepts as fate, but now he was reconsidering the whole matter. Nevertheless, he was not defeated... yet. He told himself that at some critical moment he would be able to decide if Sybil were friend or foe... in a way it seemed as if his whole life had been designed to answer that question.

"We will go to visit Sybil" Leone said, solemnly.

"I am glad to hear that," Aristark said. "And glad to have you back as my rational friend, Leone. But, I have a little question... if she did send us into a trap, will we murder her?"

This was the side of Aristark that Leone despised. Yes, as head of the Department of Justice, Aristark dealt in life and death decisions, but why express this delicate situation in such harsh terms? Leone tried to control himself. "We could have the opportunity to do so, if she is found guilty of betrayal. But, after all, we are not murderers. It is one thing to fight against an attacking spaceship in self defense and quite another to murder a woman."

Aristark put his plate into the kitchen's recycling system. "So, let's go. I am happy we finally agree. I will go prepare the jump."

"Yes, we agree, but there is one condition. I want my spaceship repaired before we go. I'm not jumping into any more star systems without recharged shields, not even the Sakkaran system."

Aristark shook his head. "Self immolation... sacrifice. The suicide solution," Aristark finished. "You know there is a serious risk if we do a forced regeneration of the shields. We took that risk when we were under attack at Akara, but now we are safe. Why do you insist on putting us at risk again? It is perfectly safe to return to Sakkara."

After those scornful comments from Aristark, Leone could not keep on talking. He went directly to the main control room and adjusted priorities on the various repairs to the ship. Leone wanted the ability to make hyperspatial communications: he was tired of jumping blind into star systems where unknown dangers waited. It would take about a day to repair all systems and regenerate the shields. He locked in an order to the effect that the ship could not enter hyperspace, to which Thot responded: "Hyperspatial jump cannot be made until repairs are complete."

Aristark had noticed Thot's response. He used the intercom system to ask Leone, "Why not jump now? Why delay for needless repairs?"

"We spoke and I will do as I said." Leone replied. "The safest route we can choose is to return to our planet, but I am sick of Sybils, Kalids and Ketars. From now on I trust nobody." His nerves were twisted. "It seems the entire universe goes against me!"

Aristark chuckled, "Well, sure, you are wise to be cautious. Just do not take everything personally. This reminds me of animism towards the forces of the universe we cannot understand. We are sometimes wrong, after all, we are humans..."

"And I have no options left. So I will move towards this one option with care."

Aristark was amused to see the bold Leone now hesitating to take a step. "Well, far be it from me to suggest that we act impulsively now...an error could mean certain death for both of us. You are Captain, do what you feel you must do." He cut the communications channel.

Leone wondered if he was cruel to delay their return to Sakkara. Aristark had shed his blood and his wounds were ghastly and painful. Blood, like the giant red star of Akara. Leone did not like that color now, it was the color of defeat. The universe going against him...

WaitingEdit

Leone was bored and frustrated. He sat in the main control room, attached to the virtual reality generator that constituted the control system of the spaceship. The spaceship was deep into automated self-repair routines and Leone casually, if impatiently, monitored the progress of those repairs. The sooner the spaceship was repaired the sooner he could return to his mission and the search for ways to deal with Set.

For now, the spaceship just drifted in interstellar space and Leone had nothing to do. His thoughts kept turning to Sybil and her mysticism, so he spent some time reading more about the Haldus Order. Back on Sakkara, in the day before departing in search of Kalid, Leone had learned that there were many mentions of the Haldus Order in works of fiction, but the last flurry of non-fictional accounts had been in the time period from about 200 to 300 years ago. Leone again accessed what seemed to have been regarded as a provocative, if not authoritative, expose from that period called "Haldus Mind" by Lence Raldun...

Leone was shocked out of his reading by an activity signal reported by the long-range scanning system. Another spaceship? Had they been followed through hyperspace from the Akara star system? Leone examined the available data: the scanners had detected a transient signal at extreme range and just above the threshold of detectability. Leone had previously seen such scanner transients while waiting in deep space between hyperspace jumps. Almost certainly the cause was some chunk of stellar debris blown out of an exploding star billions of years ago. Leone sank back into the dull routine of waiting for the ship to repair itself.

A page from "Haldus Mind" now floated in front of Leone unseen. He was bored from reading about absurd stories of Haldus Order "masters" and their amazing powers....Lence Raldun had no concept of skepticism and objective evidence. Leone wondered why "Haldus Mind" deserved to be listed as "nonfiction".

Leone could not prevent his mind from echoing the discussions with Aristark from earlier in the day. Should they now return to Sakkara? Should they keep trying to reach Azur? Had Sybil sent them into a deadly trap? No, that made no sense. It was clear that the equipment installed in the spaceship by Sybil had protected the them from destruction. Nobody would send a spaceship into danger and at the same time protect the spaceship from danger. Or would they?

Was Sybil trying to prove her point? Leone recalled that he had mocked her for claiming that Kalid had "mental powers". Leone had known Sybil for years and they had a long history of close friendship. Many years previously, Leone had tried to move their relationship past simple friendship, but Sybil had always deflected any drift in their relationship towards sexual intimacy. At first, Leone had been deeply shocked to learn that Sybil was a member of the Haldus Order...as shocked as if she had claimed to be from Atlantis. But now, upon reflection, her membership in the Haldus Order might explain much that had long seemed mysterious. Leone's reading about the Haldus Order suggested that Priestesses of that Order were celibate. If Sybil was fanatically devoted to the Haldus Order, maybe she harbored resentment over his past sexual advances and maybe she had also taken offense when Leone had expressed doubt about the existence of mental powers and the ability of the Haldus Order to hide from scanners. Would Sybil send Leone into danger just to demonstrate to that Haldus Order technology really could hide a spaceship?

No, that was not it. Leone felt confident that Sybil fully expected Leone to make contact with Kalid at Plato and to bring Kalid to Azur for a meeting with Ketar. Still, something tugged at his mind...hadn't Sybil said something about Set? He could not remember exactly, but it had implied danger. What had she known that she had not shared with Leone?

But Kalid was even more of a mystery. Had Kalid misjudged what was going on and mistakenly attacked Leone's spaceship at Plato? Was Kalid simply taking no chances and ordering attacks on any unknown spaceships approaching Plato? No, that made no sense either. Leone now had evidence of the power of the equipment Sybil had installed on his spaceship. Since that equipment could hide the spaceship, there was no reason to suspect that it could not also perform the much simpler task of signaling to Kalid that Leone's spaceship was friendly.

The further mystery was why they had been attacked upon entering the Akara star system. Clearly that attack had nothing to do with Kalid and possible Haldus Order paranoia. Briefly, Leone considered the possibility that a trade war had broken out. Leone knew that the population of Azur had been decimated a hundred years ago during the last galactic war. Had the Akara star system now started reasserting its power in an attempt at returning Azur to a position of galactic dominance similar to what it had in the old days before the galactic wars? Leone monitored spaceship building statistics for the entire galaxy and knew that Azur was aggressively building ships and had been trying to monopolize all cargo and passenger transport to and from the Akara system. Maybe Azur had declared that trade restrictions were in effect...maybe Akaran forces were now repelling from the Akaran system all unwelcome spaceships. Leone was an advocate of open trade and free movement of spacecraft from all worlds. If Ketar was now trying to enforce travel restrictions and non-Akaran spaceships within the Akara system that would be a step backwards towards the tensions and conflicts that had existed during the galactic wars.

Leone quickly reviewed his ship's deep scanner records from their time in the Akara star system. From the scan data, it was clear that there had been many spaceships moving through the system on routine business....most had been broadcasting the standard navigation beacon used by trade ships of the galaxy and some of the other ships were not of Akaran registry. It appeared that only Leone's ship had been targeted for destruction. The only thing unique about Leone's spaceship was the equipment that had been installed by Sybil. The only thing Leone knew for sure about that equipment was that when the spaceship was on the brink of destruction, the "Invocator" had made the spaceship invisible and projected a decoy. But how had it done that? Sybil had spoken of "spiritual means", but what did that mean?

Leone noticed Aristark disconnect from the Thot user interface in the engineering room. Aristark had been using nanite probes to study the equipment that had been installed by Sybil. The door to the main control room opened and Aristark entered. Leone disconnected from the Thot interface and asked, "What did you learn?"

Aristark sank down wearily into the seat next to Leone and replied, "Not much. There is a strange pattern of energy use by Sybil's equipment that corresponds to the time when our spaceship became invisible to the spaceships that were attacking us. There is no doubt that this equipment saved us from destruction."

Leone grunted. When he had first heard Sybil's claim that it was possible to hide from scanners he had mocked her for holding such a wild belief. Now the evidence in support of her claim seemed irrefutable. "The question is, how can you hide a spaceship?"

"Indeed. I probed far enough into Sybil's equipment to see that it is protected by an auto-destruct mechanism. I cannot learn how it works without first triggering its destruction."

Leone suggested, "Maybe we could remove the energy feed to Sybil's equipment. Would that disable the auto-destruct mechanism?"

Aristark shook his head. "Sybil's equipment is protected by self-powered nanite defenses. I'm sure that if those nanites are ever in danger of running out of power, they will use their last energies to trigger the auto-destruct mechanism. It is clear that the Haldus Order has secret technology that they do not wish to share with the rest of mankind."

Leone could not suppress a sense of outrage over the idea that important new technology would be kept secret. Leone was part of a scientific culture which valued openness and sharing of scientific and technical advances. "Who are these 'masters' of the Haldus Order that they keep such technology secret?"

Aristark shrugged. "I suppose they feel that this kind of "invisibility technology" could be misused. Think of space prates who might use it to shield their spaceships during attacks on cargo ships."

Leone was willing to admit that many technologies can be misused. In general, society bands together to put limits on the use of dangerous technologies. "What bothers me is that I know nothing about the goals and activities of the Haldus Order. How do we know that they do not misuse this technology?"

Aristark was willing to live according to available evidence and he tried to put a throttle on Leone's penchant for wild speculation. "I am not aware of any reported attacks by space prates using invisibility shields for their spaceships. Is there any evidence that the Haldus Order has misused this technology?"

Leone replied, "We do not know fully what their technology can do. Many unexplained events might be due to the use of powerful and hidden technologies. How can we even know what evidence of misuse to look for when we do not know what technologies they have?"

"Such doubts and fears can be applied to anyone. I'm tired." Aristark rose from his seat and headed for the door. He turned back towards Leone and asked, "Any guess for when the spaceship will complete its repairs?"

"The hyperspace communications system is being rebuilt, I made that a priority, so those repairs should take about another ten hours. By tomorrow we might also be in good enough shape to make another hyperspace jump."

"Okay. I thought we had decide on our destination, but now I agree that it is wise to call Ketar and ask for his advice. I suppose we should since he is the one who sent us on this mission. Good night."

Leone realized that he was also very tired. There was nothing to be done until their spaceship was repaired enough to jump again. Almost certainly the best course of action was to return to Sakkara where the spaceship could be fully repaired, but it was worth trying to contact Ketar. Leone really wanted to ask Sybil what was going on and how the Haldus Order had developed technology that can hide spaceships. And what their plans were for that technology. And...his mind swirled with questions...
Two ships dock

CoordinatesEdit

The spaceship's scanner system was signaling again. Leone saw that this time it was clearly another spaceship approaching rapidly. Leone settled back and watched the approaching spaceship in the virtual reality Thot interface. Quickly, the computer-generated images of the two spaceships merged.

The airlock connecting the two spaceships opened. It was the Master!

Leone threw the visitor a bottle of beer and some pretzels. The pretzels drifted in slow motion along the length of the zero-g airlock.

The beer smelled like oak leaves. Leone tried to catch all of the oak leaves in a basket. By catching all the falling oak leaves, the communicator would reactivate, but for now, Leone could only see the Master's lips moving and could not hear his words.

Sybil was in the basket of leaves. She was reaching out from the basket and touching Leone....it felt very nice. Leone watched the beautiful colors in her eyes and felt enthralled.

"We need to meet."

319px-Venus von Willendorf 01

Leone cried out, "I tried to call you!"

"These are my coordinates."

Leone did not recognize the coordinates....Sybil was slipping away! He reached out to grab her. He pulled away her robe, revealing a fetish object.

"You must pay attention."

The oak leaves were now mountains of silver and gold dust. Leone tried to grab fists full of the dust, but it slipped through his fingers. "Sybil, take it all! It is all for you!"

Kalid grabbed hold of Leone. Leone was shocked into awareness; he asked, "Is this a dream?"

Kalid replied, "Yes, the brain is most sensitive to telepathy during sleep. Hurry now: memorize these coordinates."

Leone was now fascinated. He was half aware of being in a dream, but it was like the Thot interface: a set of standard astrogation coordinates were displayed in his mind. With his many decades of experience as an astrogator, Leone's mind quickly latched onto the coordinates.

"That's near Earth."

Kalid said, "Yes, very near. I see you have it. Now wake up and write down the coordinates before you forget."

"Eh?"

"You are dreaming. Wake up and record these coordinates."

"We are talking. This is the Thot user interface, haven't you used it before?"

Kalid gave Leone's brain another activating jolt. "Wake up!"

Leone opened his eyes. Had someone spoken? He sat up and looked around the dim interior of his cabin. "Thot, did you say something?"

The spaceship's artificial intelligence replied, "You have been sleeping for the past five point three three hours. I last spoke to you five point eight four hours ago. At that time, I said, 'Com system repair will be complete in about eight hours,' and then you went to bed."

Leone asked, "Did you say something about our coordinates?"

"No. We are still drifting in interstellar space. I continue to repair the hyperdrive. Those repairs should be complete in about six hours from now."

Leone rubbed his head and tried to remember. "No, I mean the new coordinates you were showing me....something near Earth?"

The artificial intelligence said, "I do not know what you are talking about."

Leone remembered the dream and the warm sensation of being near Sybil. Then he remembered the disappointment of feeling Sybil slip away. Suddenly he remembered the coordinates. "Thot, record these coordinates..."

h32 r121:23:45 d45:143:23 z1.9347 tc

Leone was still tired and sank back into the softness of his bunk. What a strange dream! Leone now drifted back towards sleep and his mind mixed reality with memories from his dream... he wondered where Sybil was and why she had not responded to his hyperspatial call. Earth? Why would Sybil go to Earth? But those coordinates were not Earth. He came back to full waking consciousness again and asked, "Thot, how far from Earth are those coordinates?"

"Those coordinates are in a star system that is about 22 parsecs from Earth."

"Strange." Leone drifted back into sleep still thinking about Sybil and Priestesses of the Haldus Order.

Moving onEdit

Leone slept for a short while then awoke again, showered and ate. Leone went to the main control room and found that Aristark was monitoring the spaceship's repairs. Aristark said, "We should have hyperspatial communications back online in a few minutes."

Leone had tried to prioritize the repairs so that both the hyperspatial communications and drive systems would be available at the same time. Still, while they would be able to transmit, they would not be able to receive any communications while hanging here in interstellar space...

Leone looked out the window and into the blackness of space. He thought of the amazingly realistic dream about another spaceship docking with his spaceship. He muttered, "I don't suppose any spaceships have been detected near here...."

Aristark, waiting for the repairs to be completed, was bored he and reflexively called up the scanner records. "There was a transient scanner signal yesterday, but no indication that it was a spaceship. Most likely it was a chunk of space debris at extreme scanner range."

Leone turned away from the window and said to Aristark, "Ya, I saw that transient scanner signal yesterday."

Aristark continued, "There was something odd last night. More unusual power usage by Sybil's mysterious equipment."

Leone again thought of his dream and at the same time he thought about telepathy. What might a dream have to do with telepathy? Sybil had claimed that the Haldus Order makes use of "mental powers". When approaching Plato, Leone had wondered if he should expect some kind of telepathic impulse from Kalid. Suddenly Leone realized that there was an available opportunity for him to make an interesting and unusual prediction. "Before you say anything more, let me tell you something. There was an odd event in my cabin last night. I woke up because I thought I heard a voice. I'd like to make a prediction about the time of the power surge in Sybil's equipment."

Aristark laughed, "I always have the spaceship artificial intelligence wake me up. However, if I'm really tired I can sleep right through the wake-up message, is that what you mean happened to you?"

Leone replied, "Well, I don't usually have the AI wake me up, but when I did wake up last night my first guess was that the AI had spoken to me. Thot, what time did I wake up last night and ask if you had spoken to me?"

The Thot AI replied, "That was at four point two seven hours this morning."

Aristark glanced at the power use records again and said, "The strange power usage by Sybil's equipment started shortly before that time and ended almost exactly at that time. Is that the prediction you wanted to make?"

Leone was trying to imagine what Sybil's equipment might have to do with his dream. "That was a minor prediction, but I'm not sure what it means. Do you have any idea what Sybil's equipment was doing last night when its power usage increased?"

Aristark spent a few minutes trying to cross-correlate all of the ship's sensory data to the mysterious power surge in Sybil's equipment. Finally he replied, "I don't have a clue. Energy went into Sybil's equipment but nothing was detected coming out. I suppose it could have been just charging its internal energy stores, but the power draw was intermittent....the pattern almost looks like a radio message....maybe one side of a two-way radio message."

Leone wondered if Sybil was able to remain in contact with his spaceship by making use of the equipment she had installed. "Could there be a hyperspatial communications device in Sybil's equipment?"

Aristark replied, "I suppose anything is possible, but for conventional technology, creating a node for hyperspatial communication requires much more power than Sybil's equipment can draw. More importantly, to receive a hyperspatial signal we would need access to a hyperspatial antenna array. So if Sybil's equipment does have an ability to receive hyperspatial communications then it is using some new kind of technology that requires less power than the conventional technology I know about."

"You mentioned a radio message....if there were another spaceship at the extreme range of our scanners, could such a spaceship communicate with Sybil's equipment by making use of radio waves?"

"Sure, but our ship would detect such a radio-based signal."

"Even if the signal was weak or at an unusual wavelength?"

Aristark grunted. "I'm not a communications expert. I suppose there might be ways of sending a signal to Sybil's equipment that our spaceship's sensors would not detect."

Leone rubbed his chin and quietly repeated, "...ways of sending a signal..."

Aristark said, "Speaking of which, our hyperspatial communications system just came back on line. We can now call Ketar."

Leone nodded. "Yes, we must call Ketar, but I still want to make my prediction before we actually speak to him." Leone transmitted a short message to Ketar saying that they were undergoing repairs in interstellar space after having been attacked in the Akara system. He asked that Ketar standby for a two-way hyperspatial communication in a few hours. Leone turned to Aristark, "Okay, message sent."

Aristark had been impressed by Leone's prediction of the time of the energy surge in Sybil's equipment and he was baffled by the implications of that prediction. Aristark asked, "You have another prediction?"

Leone replied, "Yes, a much stranger prediction. One that we will have to test together, as a team. That testing will have implications for what we say to Ketar."

Aristark chuckled. "You are being very mysterious. My plan is to just call Ketar and find out why we were attacked when we entered the Akara star system. Can you explain what you are talking about?"

"I'll try. Last night, just before I woke up, thinking I had heard a voice, I was having a dream. A more vivid dream than usual." Leone was embarrassed by what he had dreamed about Sybil and did not want to mention that aspect of the dream. "In the dream, another spaceship came and docked to our spaceship."

Aristark was surprised. "That's crazy. This ship is not equipped to connect to another ship. We only have conventional hatches that can open to pressurized atmospheres. We have no space vacuum-ready docking ring."

"Yes, I know, it was just a dream."

"But you asked if there had been any spaceships detected near us."

"I'm not losing my mind. I know that no ship tried to dock with us last night. I'm describing the dream I had."

Aristark shrugged. "Okay. So let me make a prediction. In your dream, Ketar was on the other spaceship. You had a conversation with Ketar and you now want to try to use your dream to predict what Ketar will say when we call him today."

Leone laughed. "No, Ketar was not in my dream. My prediction does not involve what Ketar will say to us when we call him. My prediction has to do with what we should tell Ketar about our plans and our next destination."

Aristark said, "We are on a mission that was ordered by Ketar. I think we should do whatever he says and go where he wants us to go."

"But we have information that Ketar does not have. We might be better able to select our destination than Ketar. At the very least we have to decide if we will share our unique information with Ketar."

Aristark sighed. "Why do I get the sinking feeling that you want to consider something you dreamed about as information that is worthy of guiding our actions?"

Leone tried to explain. "Before you reject that idea as insane, remember that we already know there was a correspondence between activity in Sybil's equipment and the time of my dream. The last time Sybil's equipment became active, it hid our ship from the attacking forces and saved our lives. I think we have to explore the possibility that Sybil's equipment communicated with me while I was dreaming. If so, it might not be wise to ignore the information content of that communication."

Aristark threw his arms in the air. "Fine. I'm listening. Tell me the 'information content' of your dream."

Leone pause and tried to remember the coordinates. "The information was a set of astrogation coordinates. I'm sorry, but I forgot the coordinates."

Aristark laughed. "Okay, you forgot your dream. Now what?"

"I did not forget the dream. I forgot the details of the coordinates that were in the dream. Thot, what were the coordinates I asked you to remember?"

The artificial intelligence replied, "h32 r121:23:45 d45:143:23 z1.9347 tc".

Aristark said. "Hmm...h32...thirty two is a very low number. That must be a star system that is fairly close to Earth."

"Yes, that was my first reaction, also," Leone said. "I checked. System h32 is 22 parsecs from Earth."

"Okay, but I still do not recognize that system." Aristark spoke to the Thot AI, "Show us the basic data for star system h32."

The data came up on the wall screen of the control room. Leone skimmed the data and said, "A low population system with a few inhabited bases and space stations. Nothing remarkable. No wonder neither of us ever heard of it before."

Aristark asked, "So you think we should tell Ketar that you had a dream about this unremarkable star system?"

"Right now, there is only one remarkable thing about system h32, and that is that I had a lucid dream in which Kalid told me to meet him at these coordinates in that system."

Aristark was shocked. "Kalid? Kalid....was in your dream?"

Leone nodded. "Yes. My dream was confused, like all dreams, but near the end it became more clear and Kalid was there."

Calling KetarEdit

Aristark exhaled very deeply, "Pshoo-weeee..." He got up from his chair and paced across the control room several times. Finally he stopped and looked into Leone's eyes and asked, "You really think you had some kind of telepathic contact with Kalid?"

Leone nodded. "Let's call that a hypothesis. So far, we know that my dream experience coincided with unusual activity of the mysterious equipment that Sybil had installed on this spaceship. Further, I have a prediction that is based on my dream: if we go to these coordinates we will find Kalid. And since we are on a mission to find Kalid, a mission that was ordered by Ketar, I think we cannot avoid the relevance of my dream to our mission."

Aristark shook his head. "I don't believe you have ever met Ketar. I have. He is very pragmatic. I do not think he would pay any attention to your claim of having seen Kalid in a dream."

Leone agreed. "You are right, I have never met Ketar. I have spoken to him on several occasions and I agree with your assessment: it is not likely that any benefit would come from telling Ketar about my dream."

Aristark asked, "So why did you want to tell me about your dream before letting me speak to Ketar?"

Leone shrugged, "I am devoted to the success of our mission. I wanted to share some information with you...information that I believe is relevant to our mission."

Aristark chuckled, "Do you really think anything you have said-"

At that moment the Thot AI signaled the completion of repairs on the hyperspatial drive. Leone said, "HCC-2843 is the closest hyperspatial communications center. I'll initiate the jump." Leone activated the jump sequence and he leaned back in his chair. What seemed like a minute later his mind was clearing and Thot indicated that they had a half second latency communications link into the HCC-2843 array. Leone commented, "It was an excellent jump... we are nice and close to the antenna array. Go ahead and call Ketar." Leone knew that Aristark had a closer relationship with Ketar, so it would be best to let them talk.

Aristark still felt somewhat disoriented after the jump, but he re-connected to the Thot interface. "Very well. I have listened to your information. I can't claim that doing so has altered my thinking in the least with respect to what to say to Ketar."

Leone shrugged, "With our luck, Ketar is now in bed after giving orders not to be disturbed." Leone commanded the Thot AI, "Project the hyperspatial call on the wall so I can monitor." A somewhat magnified image of Aristark filled half of the display on the wall screen.

Aristark established a communications link from the spaceship to Akara's antenna array to Azur to HCC-2843 and back to the ship. Next, he had to talk his way through several layers of operators in the Azur communications grid who stood between the outside world and Ketar. Finally, a fuzzy representation of Ketar also appeared on the other side of the display window that Leone was watching on the wall screen. Ketar said, "Aristark, I'm pleased to hear from you! Where are you?"

Aristark replied, "We are at HCC-2843. We barely survived the attack that was launched against our spaceship in the Akara star system. We just got the hyperspatial systems of our spaceship repaired...we still have not had a chance to repair all the damage we sustained at Plato."

Ketar explained, "That was a terrible error. Those ships were on routine patrol, but they were under standing orders to attack any spaceship emitting a specific type of beacon signal. Somehow your spaceship was carrying that beacon....what did you say about 'Plato'?"

Aristark explained, "Sorry, that is just a name we made up for h.1263522.2, the planet that Sybil sent us to for our mission in search of Kalid. We were attacked there and made an emergency escape through hyperspace."

Ketar now understood the short message that Leone had sent. "I see, so it is true that you do not have Kalid on board?"

Aristark nodded, "This journey has been a complete disaster. We have had no contact with Kalid...we've just been savagely attacked, twice."

Ketar explained, "Well, I know nothing more than you, except the real name of h.1263522.2 is "Flammis". It is a world that has long been linked to the Haldus Order. I wonder why Sybil would send you into an ambush there."

Aristark said, "This is all very strange. The attack on our spaceship at Flammis is almost as puzzling as the attack on us by your forces. I was not aware of the practice of having armed war ships on patrol at Akara with orders to attack spaceships carrying high ranking planetary government officials."

Ketar laughed, "Ha ha! Don't be absurd, my patrol ships had no such orders."

"This beacon you mentioned, why does it warrant an immediate attack on any ship using it?"

Ketar's voice turned absolutely cold, "That's not a topic I care to discuss while broadcasting my comments to every corner of the universe. When you reach Azur, I will explain everything to you."

"So your orders are that we return to the Akara star system?"

Ketar nodded, "Yes. The spacedock facilities here are second to none. We can fully repair your spaceship and decide how to continue the search for Kalid."

Aristark grumbled, "I'm surprised you still want to have dealings with Kalid after the way we were welcomed to Flammis....I'm not sure I care to."

Ketar did not want to say too much over such an open communications link, but he suggested, "Kalid may be able to explain why you were attacked at Flammis...we should give him a chance to explain. I'm willing to show some patience since I know that mistakes happen...for example, I have an idea that might explain why Leone's ship was transmitting a beacon signal that is listed in the Index of Pirate Spaceships, but we can discuss these matters when you reach Azur."

"Leone and I wonder if it safe for us to try to reach Azur."

Ketar seemed angry, "That attack on your ship was an error. I have issued new orders to the patrol ships and it is now perfectly safe for you to come to Azur."

Aristark explained, "We got our hyperspace communications system and hyperspace jump system online just before I called you. I'm worried that the...well, I'll say no more over this channel, but I do not think it is safe for us to travel anywhere as long as we might be mistaken for a pirate ship. Our ship is still undergoing repairs and regeneration. Leone does not want to go anywhere until we regenerate our shield, but we will come to Azur as soon as possible. Aristark, out." Aristark cut the hyperspace communications connection, broke his Thot interface connections and stood up. "Unbelievable!"

Leone was amused. "That's the Ketar we all know and love. You know, I think Ketar would trade half of his fleet to get his hands on the equipment that Sybil had installed on this ship."

Aristark shook his head, "I can't believe that Ketar thinks he can get away with an unprovoked attack on our spaceship just by saying, 'Oh, sorry, that was an accident'."

Leone agreed, but did not feel free to speak his mind in front of Aristark. Aristark had long seemed totally devoted to supporting Ketar. Leone was grateful to Ketar for the financial support that got Leone elected to the position of Sakkara's Planetary Counselor for Transportation, but Leone had long felt that Ketar had no real interest in Sakkara. As far as Leone was concerned, Set was basically a local matter for Sakkara to deal with. The latest intelligence reports indicated that if Set was not stopped at Sakkara then he would spread his evil to other worlds and that should be good motivation for the Galactic Antiquist Party to provide the resources Sakkara needed to handle Set and stop him now. If Ketar could provide external resources that would help Sakkara deal with Set, then fine, Leone would welcome any such aid. But Ketar clearly had bigger fish to fry; why else had he been so aggressively building up Akara's fleet of spaceships? Leone had no interest in getting involved with Ketar's schemes if they included private fleets of war ships that felt free to attack peaceful spaceships. Leone still wondered if it was safe to go to Azur. Ketar might decide to just throw Leone in a deep hole rather than risk the spread of the story about how Ketar's war fleet had attacked an innocent spaceship. For Leone, the only remaining question was if Aristark could understand the danger of going to Azur.

Aristark said, "Okay, I've made up my mind. I told Ketar that I will go to Azur as soon as possible, but we are still on our original mission to find Kalid. In order to follow Ketar's orders, we must go to the h32 star system."

Leone smiled and shook Aristark's hand. "Now you know why I wanted to tell you about my dream before you called Ketar. You handled the situation with great diplomacy."

Aristark chuckled rather nervously, "The diplomacy will be needed when I do finally face Ketar again and have to explain why I failed to mention that I would be going to h32 before returning to the Akara star system."

Leone shrugged, "You can always blame that on me and my silly dream. But in all honesty, I do not feel that it was a silly dream. We must test the hypothesis that Kalid awaits us in the h32 star system."

Aristark nodded. "I agree. I honestly feel that in order to follow the orders I have been given, I must go to h32 an see if Kalid is there."

Leone ordered Thot to accelerate them away from HCC-2843. There were two remaining reasons for delay before they could jump to the h32 star system. He checked the repairs list and saw that the shields were still only partly regenerated. He intended to keep the promise he had made to himself and fully regenerate the shields before entering another star system. The second reason for delay was a technical annoyance that plagued hyperspatial communications centers. One of the mysterious and still poorly understood aspects of hyperspatial travel was that no two spaceships could make a jump from the same location in space-time. HCC-2843 was used frequently enough that all nearby space was "disrupted" and not suitable for initiating a new jump. They would first have to travel outward to reach a safe jump point.

"I wish that we could start our journey right now, but it will still be a few hours until we can jump." Leone eased into one of the command chairs. "Since we have some time, maybe we could discuss something else that has been on my mind."

Dream from the pastEdit

Aristark sat in the other command chair and turned to face Leone. "Speak. What is on your mind?"

Leone tried to order his thoughts. "Until my dream of last night, I've never had an experience that I felt might be evidence for ...I'm not sure what term to use...let's just say "mental powers". Are you comfortable with that term?"

Aristark asked, "By "mental powers" you mean the kind of telepathic contact that you seemed to experience in your dream?"

"Yes, exactly. There has long been speculation about the possible existence of telepathic communication. Of course, there has never been any published and reproducible evidence for telepathy, but in my dream Kalid said that telepathy works best in dreams. That got me thinking."

Aristark commented, "As you know, I am somewhat of a domineering person. I try to control all aspects of my life. I have had some training in how to control my dreams. I think I am better than most people at what is called 'lucid dreaming', so I do not doubt that you had a lucid dream last night."

Leone explained, "I've never been any good at controlling the content of my dreams. Usually, if I notice that I am dreaming I start thinking too much and I wake up. But I got thinking about the idea that telepathy might work best in dreams. If we think in terms of biology and evolution, we can ask what benefits might come from telepathy in dreams. Could there be selective advantage for people who can achieve telepathic contact in dreams?"

Aristark speculated, "If there were a largely unconscious mode of telepathic communication between humans, it might provide advantages. Almost any communication can increase the cohesion of human social groups."

"Yes, I was thinking along those lines. For example, if two people in a tribe were in conflict, maybe they could fight in a dream and avoid the dangers of physical harm that would come from an actual fight."

Aristark laughed. "That is very silly. But continue."

"Actually, my thoughts have gone down a different path besides fighting. What you might call the opposite path. Once, long ago, when I first fell in love with a woman, I had a strange dream. So, I've been thinking, if two people could make telepathic contact in a dream, maybe they could use a dream to decide if they are right for each other."

654px-Peacock courting peahen

And let's guess who that woman is, maybe the fanatic witch who got us into trouble, Aristark thought.

"That is silly." Aristark asked, "Why would evolution use dreams to help people decide on mates?"

"Why does evolution use things like ornamental bird plumage? Evolution uses anything that works."


The first thing Leone noticed about Sybil was her hair. Every day she had her hair in a different pattern of braids. Then Leone had finally asked her to lunch after class and he had sat staring at her hair. She had babbled on about a course she was taking in ancient history, but Leone had not listened....he was fascinated by her hair and the way her mouth moved and strange flashes of light that sparked deep in her dark eyes. Finally Leone asked her, "What does it mean?"

Sybil replied, "Well, it is mythical symbology. Different symbologists have different theories. If I select this topic for my senior thesis, then I'll publish my theory, too!"

Leone did not have any idea what she was talking about. "No, I mean your hair. What do all the different knots and braids mean? Every day it is a different pattern."

Sybil had laughed at him. "Oh, that. It is something I learned from my mother. Oh, my, I thought you wanted to talk about something serious, but you just asked me to lunch so you could look at my hair."

Leone nodded. "Yes, I'm very shallow, that's why I have a double major in engineering and physics. All the cute girls sign up for those kinds of classes and the boys are just nerds who never notice the girls so I have my pick of the entire crop."

Sybil complained, "I think I've been insulted...I'm neither an engineering major nor a physics major....you don't think I'm cute?"

Leone shook his head. "You cannot be cute. What are you, something close to two meters tall? You are far too tall to be cute."

"Now I'm sure I've been insulted. Can tall women be beautiful?"

"Beautiful is different. You'd fit the current standard of beauty if you had your ears and chin modified."

"Another thing my mother taught me is that true beauty is inside. You don't think my big chin is dignified? Maybe I should grow a beard."

Leone laughed. "Personally I wouldn't change anything about you. Yes, at first all I could see was your hair, but then I started to listen to you in English class and noticed that you are brilliant and an unconventional and creative thinker. Unfortunately, I've been sitting behind you all semester. Its only today that I got to watch your mouth while you talk. Your chin is too big to be conventionally beautiful but it is perfect for your mouth. Your mouth is hypnotic...the little twists you make when you talk....maybe if you braided the hair in your beard it would be okay."

"But my ears would still be too big."

335px-Priestess of isis

"Come over to my place this weekend and I'll nibble on your ears until they are just the right size.....although that job might take me the rest of eternity to do right..."

"Leone, if you think you are going to do me, you are crazy. Now I have to run or I'll be late for my next class."

Later that week Leone had a dream about Sybil. She was in the university museum teaching a course on ancient history. She was surrounded by admiring students who repeated everything she said. Leone struggled to push in close enough to see her. Finally Leone could see that she was a statue in the museum. Then she was a statue in a park, and she was heart-breakingly beautiful. Leone tried to touch her but she was cold, stone cold. Leone felt a primal grief that grew in strength until it made his body hum and vibrate. He tried to channel his force and animate Sybil's stone body. Leone knew he was a god and he had the power to bring her back to life. But then he woke up and felt silly for having a dream in which he was a god.

Leone finished telling Aristark about the old dream, but without mentioning that the dream was about Sybil.

Aristark felt that Leone's dream was silly. "So you never were able to melt that girl's heart."

Leone nodded. "Never. We stayed good friends but then we graduated and went our own ways."

"Did you ever tell her about the dream?"

"Of course not. What good would it have done to tell her that in my dream she was a cold statue. But at the time I never understood the imagery involved in the fact that she started out in the dream leading some kind of chanting in a ceremony of some type."

"And you understand that dream now, after all these years?"

"I have not thought about that dream very much in recent years, but it does have new meaning for me now that I'm thinking about dreams as a possible time for telepathic communication."

"Are you suggesting that this girl communicated to you in a dream the fact that she was as cold as a statue?"

"Something like that. Can't you guess who the girl is? You know her too."

Aristark guessed, "Are you talking about Sybil?"

"Yes, Sybil and I met over thirty years ago. It was only recently that I learned she calls herself "Priestess of Iris". That new knowledge and my dream of last night makes me think in a new way about that old dream I had. What if I was in telepathic contact with Sybil back when I fell in love with her?"

"If so, it did you no good. You had to wait 30 years to learn her secret."

"At a conscious level, yes, it took me thirty years to learn that Sybil is part of the Haldus Order. But maybe on an unconscious level I understood something. Maybe I understood just enough to be able to remain friends with her without pressing for our relationship to become more than that."

Aristark sighed. "I've never been a big fan of hind-sight."

"Well, it is all speculation, but if we are open to the possibility, then we can look for evidence. For example, if Sybil's equipment helped transmit a telepathic message from Kalid to me last night, then what carried that message into my brain?"

Aristark shrugged. "I have no idea. If telepathy is a common phenomenon in dreams then it seems like someone should have long ago detected the signals that carry telepathic signals."

Leone wondered, "What if the Haldus Order did that long ago?"

Missed callEdit

Leone had one more task to complete while they were close to HCC-2843, and he wanted some privacy for that. He went his cabin and called Sakkara...he really wanted to speak to Sybil. There was a long delay and he felt a sensation of déjà vu: a clear memory from the part of his dream when he had told Sybil about trying to contact her. Finally a voice arrived from across space, "This is Portia, Sybil's assistant. Sybil is not here. Do you wish to leave a message?"

Leone felt a chill...could he have actually seen this future in his dream? Well, failing to get a reply to a call was not that unusual...

Leone replied, "Hello, Portia. You can tell Sybil that I am still planning to meet with Ketar. I suppose Sybil and all of Sakkara is anxious to learn how things turn out, but this trip has gotten rather complex, so things are taking longer than expected. I'll try to call again from Azur." He ended the call and sat for a few minutes wondering if Sybil could explain the attack on his spaceship at Flammis or if she had any idea where Kalid was...had she ever heard of h32 star system?
Space elevator

Space elevator

In the year 107 ANEEdit

ElevatorsEdit

It was the end of another long day for Set. For a moment he reflected on the fact that it was close to the end of his fifteenth year of working towards the goal of gaining financial support from the Sakkaran government for the construction of space elevators. Back in 94, he had certainly never imagined that there would be so much resistance to development of a transportation option that was now made possible by what Set viewed as a long-awaited and welcome technical breakthrough.

Of course, it was true that most people had long ago given up on the possibility of ever building useful space elevators on worlds as large as Sakkara. In the "golden age of space elevators", two centuries before Set was born, conventional materials had been found that allowed space elevators to be practical on planets with gravitation fields up to about 0.4g, but most chemists had believed then that the ultimate strength of chemical bonds had been reached and that it would never be possible to use space elevators on worlds with higher gravity.

Then, unexpectedly, materials science was revolutionized by the discovery of high specific strength polymers of tessellanium quarpounds. At that time, Set was recruited into a tessellanium research and development project funded by the Futurist Party. The suitability of tessellanium for space elevator construction was quickly proven, but then the political and economic hurdles could not be overcome.

The economics of transportation weighed heavy on Set and the entire Futurist Party. Thousands of antimatter-powered spaceships carried cargo and passengers to and from the surface of worlds like Sakkara on a daily basis. The commercial spaceship fleets had been incrementally built up over many decades and most worlds like Sakkara viewed the large initial investment in space elevators as an unnecessary extra cost for interplanetary transportation. However, transportation specialists like Set were well aware of the indirect costs of flying spaceships through planetary atmospheres. Within 10 years, investment in a space elevator on a world like Sakkara would pay back its initial investment. Still, a political will had to be found in order to mobilize the planetary government and channel the funds initially needed to build space elevators.

At least, that was still the dream, even though the Futurist Party was funding the first two space elevators of Sakkara...and now they were nearly completed and functional. However, the Futurist Party had taken on too much debt and Set only viewed these first two elevators as proofs of concept. To handle all the passenger and cargo traffic of Sakkara about 50 space elevators would be needed. Government funding for elevator construction would greatly speed progress....working on its own, it might take a century for the Futurist Party to fund 50 elevators. So Set worked on, searching for ways to build public and government support for government funding for future construction of more elevators. But enough work for today...

Set turned his thoughts to the coming weekend that he would spend with Kat. During the construction of the elevators they had been meeting one weekend a month, alternating between Sakkara and where Kat worked, one of the two orbital stations for the elevators. There was a chance that Kat might come down to Sakkara this weekend using the down elevator, which was starting test runs. thumb|480px|right|Video celebration of soul mates: Set and Kat. Set tried to call his girlfriend, Katherine, to find out if he should meet her for the weekend at the spaceport or at the new down-planet elevator terminal. He had tried to reach her earlier in the day, but he had only been able to leave her a message. Set knew that she was not allowed to send or receive personal calls while working on the elevator, but surely she would be back to her office by now. Set wondered again if he should mention the troubling dream he'd had about her. He did not want to upset her, but he felt that the dream was important, and, after all, they frequently discussed their dreams since they both often had lucid dreams. Occasionally Set had a dream that seemed to be about the future and, since when he was quite young and one of his dreams of the future came true, he always paid special attention to any dream that had the "feel" of being about a future event. Set's dreams had always come true, or at least he thought so. However, he knew that there was a danger of only counting one's successes in such things, of not remembering all the failures and obviously wrong and silly predictions...not even counting them as predictions... but his dream had been so real....

Set had trained both his mind and his body according to the practices of the Order that had taken him in as an orphan. Growing up, he had been encouraged to make the most of his life and ultimately he had excelled in the technical field of materials research. Set was devoted to the idea that new scientific discoveries should be exploited for the betterment of all people. Towards those altruistic ends, he did not care by which means he was able to get more power... he would use his skills and position just to protect and help his people, he thought. Of course, he did not like power just for the sake of it, he wanted to be powerful for noble reasons... even his most selfish reasons, such as just to help his girlfriend towards their shared goal of building The Elevators, were reasons that he felt were clearly honorable. He had a different view on many things than most people of his age, for example, he considered some things to be beyond good and evil. Protecting beloved people, in his case, Katherine, was just a natural aspect of reality, as natural as gravity. It was disturbing to have a dream that seemed to threaten all of his careful training and efforts to gain leverage and control in life...

"His people"...Set reflected on the fact that he now thought in such terms. How had it come to this? In his youth, he had always thought in terms of making contributions to all of society, but know he could not deny that he identified with the Futurist Party and its goals. Other segments of society worked in opposition to the Futurist Party and Set could not look kindly on them. And, yes, he placed Kat in a special category. No doubt his loneliness as an orphan made him particularly sensitive to the wondrous experience of finding a soul mate. Increasingly his life had come to be defined by efforts to work as a partner with Kat. They discussed all aspects of their lives; each plan, goal, challenge and success. And Set dreamed about Kat.

Well, maybe this latest dream and his worries about Kat's safety were just in his mind, only. Really, it had to be nothing more than a night terror... yes, it was only that, and not some real danger near to her. It would be unfair to trouble Kat with such silliness when she needed her full concentration on her work. The problem with modern life was distance. Under optimal conditions, hyperspace communications could instantly link two people even on planets in distant star systems, but in other situations people were just too far apart. People had evolved under conditions where their loved ones were within easy reach, but now Kat was in orbit and it was not a matter of walking across town to see her. There were unavoidable physical limits; for example, spaceships jumping through hyperspace could not get too near to a star. The Swanzig radius, it was called. So, to get to an inhabited planet at another star system, interstellar travel always took some time. There was no way to speed that up. Antimatter engines had to be used to move a spaceship beyond the Swanzig radius and that conventional movement through space was never very fast. Similarly, the space stations at the ends of the space elevators in orbit were now almost as inaccessible as the Swanzig radius of Memphis. Once the elevators were in full use that would change, but now there were no regular spaceship flights to the stations and the cable cars were just starting to be tested. So, now, when he felt a need to be close Katherine, or at least speak with her, it was painful to be out of touch. Why now? Why a dream suggesting that Kat was in danger? Set tried to keep from imagining that his dream and apprehensions were actually related to the reason why he could not communicate with her. Set tried to get through to Kat by phone and email, but both of those attempts only returned error messages to Set. Was there some problem up there on the space station? He cursed the world and himself... why could he not contact her?

Set wondered: exactly what had been in that dream? It had been a series of strangely juxtaposed images and feelings that made no sense. Set was holding a baby, his daughter. But is was not the child of Katherine. Katherine was dead! Long dead. The bald little baby had transformed into a bald woman. With a shock, Set realized that she was the mother of his daughter. The dream had dissolved in the horror of Set's realization that Katherine had been murdered and then he had fallen in love with another woman. The face of that woman in the dream has washed away in a blaze of white light. Here in the light of day, Set felt shame for dreaming of another woman. His love for Katherine was something he could not imagine ever ending.

KatherineEdit

Katherine was feeling uneasy. She had woken up thinking about Set... feeling that she would not see him as planned. And that was absurd since they had been making definite plans to have their monthly tryst on the coming weekend. It only remained to be determined if she would be able to take her first ride down to the surface of Sakkara by elevator. Still, her schedule was a mess due to her team's hard push to complete work for the upcoming elevator test and she had to work an extraordinarily long day. Before going to bed she had viewed a recorded message from Set, but he had only left a short "hello" and he had not explained why he had called. Probably he just wanted to say 'hi' and ask about progress in her work. And she would not know until later in the day if she would be able take the elevator down to Sakkara or not...it all depended on the systems checks they would be performing over the next twelve hours.

Anyhow, she had no confidence in her intuition, and this premonition about not meeting Set was certainly wrong...if the elevator was not yet ready to be used then she would just take today's supply transport down planet.

Before meeting Set and getting to know his quirks she had never even thought in terms of intuition as something to pay attention to. She had grown up in a family with a proud history of producing engineers who trusted facts, not feelings. At first she had been amused by Set's interest in dreams as a possible window on the future. She had long enjoyed the experience of vivid and lucid dreams, but she thought of those kinds of dream experiences as recreation, just a way to let her imagination play and run wild. However, she recognized the fact that her mind was not "trained" in the way Set's had been, although she was still puzzled about the exact nature of the education he had received as an orphan. If he believed in dream visions of the future, who was she to contradict him? She was comfortable imagining that all her dream experiences were just in her own mind, but nobody knew for certain if special mental powers like precognition really existed. Anyway, even if it was unusual for a man of science such as Set (also an engineer) to believe in such things, maybe he was right about dreams being a true source of knowledge about the world...at least for him. Who could really know what goes on in the mind of another person? She knew of stories about famous scientists who had made progress in their scientific work after having useful dream visions. Besides, sometimes she had the sensation that Set knew exactly what she was thinking about....how weird was that? The extent to which Set knew her thoughts was spooky and went beyond what she could honestly accept as being due them being in a close and loving relationship.

But on this day, when she needed full attention on her work and her team's plan to make an elevator descent to planet, she could not calm down and put her worries out of mind. She found herself stepping out of the shower with no memory of having washed...all she was doing was worrying about seeing Set. All that week, until today, she had been feeling a sense of impending triumph as everything had fallen into place in preparation for the planned elevator test, but now her thoughts of meeting Set brought only a sense of looming danger. How could that be? It was illogical.

Or maybe not. Set was more than just an ordinary engineer, he was also a politician, after all, having risen to a leadership role within the Futurist Party. And politicians could always be the target for attacks. Moreover, she had seen that he was changing. That change was not a matter of Set turning to wrong deeds, it was just a feeling she had that he was increasingly hungry for power or progress towards his goals....he was pushing harder and harder to get government funding for space elevators. Set was always talking about the Futurist Party and fretting about its seemingly endless struggle against the ruling party. She could accept that he felt a responsibility to achieve success and obtain financial support for the goals of the Futurists and she had always known he was a workaholic, but she did not imagine that his drive and ambition had anything to do with him having a love for power just for its own sake. When they discussed their goals for the future he always explained that everything he did was for others. Even given his long devotion to the Party, he increasingly admitted to being tempted to push for budget increases and full funding for the elevators project, as he said, in order to support and protect her while she worked on that ambitious construction project...sometimes dangerous work that had her hanging in space above the planet coaxing untested equipment to life. For Kat, the depth of his concern for her safety and his devotion to the success of her work was was a thrilling part of the experience of his love. His dealings with her were always tender... but Set's single-minded drive for developing and applying space elevator technology seemed....dangerous. Was that what was tickling her unconscious and causing her to worry? Might Set push too hard and get himself in trouble? The more Set pushed the more it became clear that there were powerful forces pushing back.

It was time to go to work. She made a decided effort to try to think about what she needed to accomplish that day while working on the elevator car that was being prepared for testing, and those thoughts, or anything other than her anxiety about Set, had the potential to occupy her mind more pleasantly than all this worrying. But before going out, she could not avoid what was really on her mind, the idea of calling Set. She looked at her phone and wondered if it was damaged. It was very unusual. The phone indicated that her call to Set could not be made. Sometimes calls from space were disrupted, particularly if sun spot activity on Memphis was firing large amounts of radiation at Sakkara.

She quickly checked the space weather report and saw that solar radiation levels were low. There was no time to try to use chat or e-mail, modes of communication that were transmitted by a different system than phone calls. Anyhow, she was late for work so she better just go and stop worrying about Set and wondering why communications were disrupted. She set down her personal phone and attached the comunit she used for her work to her forearm. There were rumors that some workers on the space elevators evaded the ban on use of personal phones during work hours by having them implanted into their bodies, but she did not use those new machines that could be plugged directly into people's heads. She liked natural modes of communication and felt that kind of direct brain-to-machine linking was unnatural. She was devoted to advanced technology, but when it came to her body and her brain she tried to live in a natural way. She just had to live with the fact that she was always going to be out of contact with Set while she was up here in orbit and working at her job to build space elevators. She accepted that it made sense not to let workers be distracted by personal matters when so much expensive equipment and so many lives were at stake.

Katherine and all the workers who were building the down elevator space terminal lived in the rotating ring portion of the space station in order to have some simulated gravity. The need for such a rotating ring would end in Phase 2 of the elevators project when artificial gravity would be provided to the station using a set of antimatter reactor-powered graviton generators. However, the Futurist Party had to defer that expense. The goal of Phase 1 was to complete a bare-bone elevator facility. The "extras" would be added later.

There was a fleet of automated jet cars that shuttled people between the habitation ring and the main part of the station that was attached to the elevator cable. Kat got into one of the shuttles and barely noticed the car's artificial intelligence system chatting and describing what it was doing while it flew her to work. She had heard it all before, many times. For a moment she had a great view of the the Space Elevator that her team was working to bring online. It was a miracle of science... well, the principles behind it were quite simple and the basic technology had been in use for centuries....but on a human scale it was a wonder to see and work on a structure that contained thousands of kilometers of cable.

When the elevator cable moved out of her view behind the body of the space station she shifted her gaze to the planet. That was really the greater wonder, the life-sustaining world, Sakkara. She could see the lace-work of contrails left in Sakkara's atmosphere by spaceships. A constant and expensive process of stratospheric reconditioning was needed to protect the planet from the chemical changes induced by all the spaceships that daily went to and from the surface carrying passengers and cargo. Everyone took for granted that the antimatter engines of spaceships would heavily damage the environment and that was assumed to be the unavoidable price of transporting people and cargo into space. The entire population of the planet had to learn that it was "greener" and safer for the atmosphere to use space elevators. If more people realized that then Set's dream of getting government funding for space elevator construction might actually come true.

The jet car docked to the station and soon she was inside and being greeted by a robot assistant carrying her tools, magnetic boots and pressure suit. The robot automatically logged her into the integrated tracking and logistics system that coordinated the work site. She entered the Elevator's equivalent of an office building. This part of the space station would eventually be used to track all traffic passing through the station. Now it was where the offices were for the work crews that were bringing the elevator to life. She went to her office and turned on the computer that she wore on her arm. The video communications channels that normally provided links to her team members were not working. Weird. She checked her e-mail and again, nothing. The e-mail server seemed to be offline. What was going on? She opened a search channel to Globalnet and got a "no access" error. Maybe her computer was damaged in some way or maybe the whole space station was having network problems. She went directly to the office of the computer and communications support specialist.

"Carl, what's happening? I have not been able to..." Katherine shouted.

"...access Globalnet? Yes, it is not working." Carl answered.

"Right! And may I know...why is that?"

"You won't believe it but I have no clue!"

"What? Is that what you get payed for?"

"Well, yes. And to play online kakisi. No, really, I have not been able to find out why. It seems every form of communication is not working. Not even phones, be it to Sakkara or out of system via hyperspace. Some paranoid people have even been thinking about the possibility that this is an infosystem attack. Not even news services using holography or old TV are reaching us From Sakkara, and those broadcasts do not depend on satellite relay! People are panicked! I am surprised nobody told you when you got to work."

"Well, when I am on my way to work I try to avoid people. I hate gossiping. But I'm late today and it looks like everyone on my team is already down at the work site. So, we are under some kind of data disruption attack?" Even while asking the question Katherine could not really believe that it would be possible. She knew something of the history of such things, but infosystem attacks were something from the past and not seen since the days of the galactic wars. Well, out on the fringes of civilization pirates still sometimes used such methods, but here, in the heart of civilized space?

Carl replied, "I don't think so. Look here." He pointed to a video window on his data display. "We have the emergency direct fiber line that is embedded in the elevator cable itself...it hooks us right into the down elevator terminal on planet. That is still working. I've been in contact with the ground crew and Pablo is trying to trace the source of our communications problems-"

Katherine turned and looked at Carl's data display, which was the entire wall behind her. She noticed that there were half a dozen views of what she recognized as the elevator terminus some 40,000 kilometers below. At that moment they heard a loud noise that made them panic. Katherine saw the image of Pablo on the display and the image seemed to shake and wiggle. For an instant there was a look of fear on his face, then all the video feeds from Sakkara went blank. Katherine was stunned and continued to look at the display. Would the images from below return? Although Carl had been methodically trouble shooting the space station's communications problem and had seemed calm just moments before, Katherine vaguely realized through her shock and dismay that he was now shouting. Some words ran through her mind: "Calm down, remember we are not under attack..." but for some reason her lips just started to tremble. Fear had taken hold of her mind and no words could be spoken.

Soft targetsEdit

At the down elevator terminal station on Sakkara, Pablo Havolin was feeling frustrated. He'd been trying to help figure out the communications problems that had suddenly and mysteriously arisen at both the up and down elevator space stations. The problem was, the Futurist Party had no other assets in space and no immediate way to diagnose the problem...essentially all of the wealth of the party and its members had been poured into those two stations, with nothing left over. He'd tried to contact some of the major spaceship lines for assistance, but he was still waiting for his calls to be returned. Now he was listening in on increasingly hysterical calls that were coming down from the up elevator space station to the up elevator terminus. Pablo was thankful that today was a big day at the down elevator space station...it seemed that most of the crew up there was busy working rather than complaining about the communications outage. At that moment, he saw all of the video windows on the display wall from the down space station go blank. What now? Suddenly there was an unbearably loud noise like dozens of whips cracking and the room seemed to bounce. It seemed like earthquakes Pablo had previously experienced and without thinking he struggled to his feet and stumbled towards the door in an attempt to flee the building.

As Pablo made his way across the rolling floor he noticed that the video from the up space station had also been lost. All that was still showing on the display wall was video from the local down elevator terminus complex. Pablo looked in amazement at the image feed from the camera that normally was focused on the elevator cable. The cable was gone. Or, rather, it was raining down from the sky in twisting fragments. Pablo realized that the video from the space stations was gone because the elevators were damaged...destroyed. Pablo realized that the earlier communications problems had been preliminary to intentional attacks on the elevators.

Pablo left his office and turned down the hallway towards an emergency exit. Now he had to contend with other people who were also trying to get out of the building. At first, they pushed each other towards the stairs at the end of the hall, sometimes colliding and falling down since the whole building continued to shake and rock. Then it seemed that everyone was panicking and running at random. Co-workers who he considered to be his friends now seemed not to recognize him. He was pushed and even hit by people who were trying to escape. In the terror of that moment it seemed that they had completely forgotten about altruism...it was a pure struggle for individual survival. Suddenly the rush of running bodies thinned and Pablo could see why some people had been running towards him, away from the closest exit. That end of the hallway was gone. It looked like a giant knife had removed the end of the building. Through the hole at the end of the hallway he could see fragments of elevator cable continuing to fall from the sky, each striking Sakkara with a terrible crashing noise. He noticed a body of a man on the floor that was not moving. He approached his body and touched it, feeling blood soaked clothing. He was dead!

At that moment a fragment of elevator cable hit the center of his building and Pablo was thrown out through the hole in the wall. He had only fallen from the second floor and had landed on the grass just beyond a pile of twisted steel and plastic. His right shoulder and arm felt like it had sustained multiple fractures. When he could pull himself to his feet he looked back towards his building and saw fire starting to send smoke up from the twisted jumble of wall and floor fragments that remained standing. He could hear screams coming from what remained of the building. Pablo started to try to work his way through the blasted remains of the building towards the source of the calls for help, but the ground was still shaking with each new fragment of elevator cable that hit the ground. He saw a badly burned person stumble out of a wall of flames...nothing in his life time of experiences had prepared him for that. Another fragment of cable landed nearby releasing all its stored tension in a blast of pressure and sound that threw Pablo into the air. He sat up and now all seemed quiet. He put his remaining good hand to his ear and saw his own blood. It was the last image he saw before more cable landed directly on top of him.

At the down elevator space station, Katherine tried to make sense of Carl's shouting. "CQ! CQ! CQ!" Finally, a reply came back, "Tony, here. I'm not sure why the antennas are not working. My manual diagnostic nanites were inactivated as soon as I tried to use them."

Carl shouted at Tony, "Its not just the antennas! The communications line inside the elevator cable just went dead, too. It looks like the elevator cable has snapped! Radar shows recoiling fragments are headed our way. Evacuate the lower decks!"

Katherine realized that her team members were probably all on the lowest deck, getting the elevator car ready for a test run. If the elevator cable had snapped, the natural elasticity of the tessellanium quarpounds in the cable would fling the remnants of the cable back towards the space station. First, the communication problems and now this! It must be a calculated attack on the elevator! She asked, "Can't you call my team and tell them to evacuate?"

Carl replied, "All of our station communications systems rely on the antenna stations. Based on Tony's report, it seems they were sabotaged."

Katherine wondered: who would attack the space elevator? It was perplexing and her mind threatened to lock upon that simple question with disbelief, but she tried to think. What could be done to respond to this emergency? She remembered that the space station had a built-in antimatter engine for orbital corrections. She seemed to recall that the emergency protocol for an accidentally snapped cable, perhaps hit by a meteor, would include shifting the orbit of the station. However, at that moment she felt no acceleration. She asked, "Can't we shift the station out of the path of the cable fragments?"

Carl pointed to a diagnostics screen for the antimatter engine. "The diagnostics read 'all clear' but the emergency orbital adjustment has not initiated. Almost certainly the saboteurs took all of our critical systems offline."

Katherine suggested, "Try to get the engines online!" She slipped out of her magnetic boots and started making wild, top speed leaps that propelled her though the corridors towards the loading platform for the elevator cars. She was now desperate to reach her team and tell them the danger they were in. She had felt something was wrong today but had not imagined something like this happening. Her worries about seeing Set now made sense: if the elevator was under attack then maybe she would never see Set again. The danger of an accidental elevator cable break had been anticipate, but if the station's antimatter engines would not activate and move the station, then fragments of the elevator cable would pulverize the station.

Moving in microgravity always produced an odd sense of moving in slow motion, but now the feeling was particularly frustrating. She wondered how much kinetic energy would be available in the elevator cable fragments that were now approaching the station. If they could not maneuver out of the path of the fragments, would the entire station be demolished or just the lower decks? She did not know, but there was nothing else to do except to evacuate the lower decks. Katherine reached the loading platform and found the members of her team continuing to work through the systems checklist in preparation for the planned descent to Sakkara. Katherine shouted, "Everyone out! The cable snapped! Evacuate to the upper decks!" It took another minute of confusion and insisting before the entire team was out of the elevator car and headed towards the upper decks of the space station.

Then the pieces of the fragmented elevator cable began to slam into to space station, slicing it, room by room, corridor by corridor, like a leather whip ripping into the flesh of a man. As Katherine struggled towards the upper decks and depressurization warning alarms sounded she tried to push the terror from her mind and fill what she felt would be her last moments with sweet thoughts about Set and their life together that might have been.

At that exact moment, Set felt a strong pain and he thought he would faint. The nightmare images from his dream about Kat returned. Now he could see flashes of everything his girlfriend saw...but he did not know what was happening. His pain was her pain, mainly the terror of her scramble to get away from the bombardment of the elevator fragments. That experience of terror seemed to go on and on for hours, although it was only minutes. Then he felt her last thought, seconds before dying: she thought about Set and their lost future together and Set realized that maybe it was actual telepathic communication with Kat. Then he knew she was dead. Set shouted as no human had shouted before, he thought. He had lost his beloved girl, forever.

He accessed the news and found initial reports of destruction at the two elevator terminals on Sakkara. Both cables had snapped at nearly the same time, a coincidence that could only be explained by some kind of planned attack. Now he decided: whoever was guilty would have to face the consequences of his revenge. In his rage, Set promised that he would find and kill every person who had anything to do with the attack.

Set wondered if he would lose his mind...or had already, but what if it was not real? Maybe he only imagined Kat's death cries...it could not really be telepathy, could it? Anyhow, even if the elevator cables had been cut, Kat should be safe on the space station.

He continued to follow the news reports and eventually it became clear that his vision was true. The attack had started with disruption of communication, the two space stations had been out of contact for over an hour then the elevator cables had been cut. First, fragments of the broken elevator cables began falling on Sakkara, a deadly rain that lasted nearly fifteen minutes and resulted in heavy loss of life. Then, in space, the orbiting stations had been cut to pieces when their antimatter engines failed to activate and move them away from the cable debris. Finally, spaceships were diverted to the space stations, but no survivors were found. So, everything from his visions was true and Katherine was dead.

Set was haunted by his memory of that brief telepathic contact with Katherine. He thought: if only I had known what was happening, that telepathy is possible, I would have assured her one last time that I love her. But even through the pain of remembering the feel of Kat's mind dying, it seemed to him that there were other sources of telepathic contact whispering to Set...

ListeningEdit

108 ANE

Set cursed himself...again. Then he told himself that it was useless to flagellate himself based on hindsight and disappointment. How could he ever hope to know if he had acted wisely to shoot first and ask questions second when confronting telepaths of the Silver Tulipan Order? If he had been more cautious he might well be dead now. Who could know?

Still, what Set had learned recently was forcing him to re-think his strategy for dealing with telepaths. Set thought back over the course of events that had led him to recognition of the importance of the Silver Tulipan Order. Of course, it all started with his long-time political rival, Leone. Set had never gotten over the fact that Leone had defeated him in a close election for Counselor of Transportation, in spite of the fact that Leone had been the center of a scandal and had to give up the government spaceship he had improperly made use of. After the elevators disaster, even though Leone had been cleared of any wrong doing by a Justice Department investigation, Set still believed that Leone had been criminally negligent because of the inadequate level of security that had been provided by the Department of Transportation for the space elevators.

No matter how much Set would have enjoyed seeing Leone held responsible for the destruction of the Elevators, Set's main progress towards winning justice for those killed in the disaster came not from his efforts in the political arena but, rather, from making use of his newly recognized telepathic abilities. Immediately after Katherine's death, Set had found two telepaths on Sakkara who, Set could sense, had knowledge of the space elevators disaster. When Set confronted them, they claimed to have provided the Justice Department with information about those who had destroyed the elevators. Naively, Set had trusted them. After meeting those telepaths, Set linked them to the Silver Tulipan Order by following them with his telepathic sense. Then, with time, the evidence indicate that they had lied to Set and that they had never passed their important information on to the authorities. Although the original two telepaths had disappeared from Sakkara, Set had found and questioned other telepaths who were members of the Silver Tulipan Order. Those other telepaths had stubbornly refused (even under conditions of mental torture imposed by Set) to reveal the current location of the telepaths who had evidence about the elevators disaster. All Set had learned was that Silver Tulipan Order telepaths would accept death before betraying their comrads.

In the months after the destruction of the Elevators, Set had maintained a close watch on Leone and that had led to recognition of Leone's relationship with Sybil. Things had gotten interesting when Set discovered that Sybil was in the Silver Tulipan Order. Initially Set had been puzzled by Leone's apparent interest in a fringe religious group, Sybil's Silver Tulipan Order, a relatively small organization which seemed to have an unusually large number of members with telepathic abilities. Set had learned that he could detect telepathic signals from about one percent of people, but for most of those, their telepathic signals were weak and they were not even aware of the fact that they generated weak telepathic signals. True telepaths, with strong telepathic output and who could make use of their telepathy were quite rare. Set had learned that the majority of the dozen or so strong telepaths on Sakkara were members of the Silver Tulipan Order. However, after Set's abduction, questioning, and murder of two of those, all the others had disappeared, apparently moving off planet.

After Sybil had ordered some of her servants to install equipment on Leone's spaceship, it had occurred to Set that the work being done on Leone's ship might be some kind of pay-off for services rendered by Leone. To learn what was going on, and hopefully obtain evidence of Leone's corruption, Set had ordered the capture of one of the workers who had helped install the new equipment on Leone's spaceship. Using his telepathic ability and some aggressive questioning, Set had easily learned from that worker the purpose of the equipment. It was navigation equipment that would automatically guide Leone's ship to the h.1263522 star system.

Set had quickly gone to h.1263522 and found that h.1263522.2 was home to an impressive collection of telepaths, hidden in an underground base. Set was startled to find that h.1263522.2 was a Green planet, but that green shroud had done nothing to prevent Set's telepathic sense from leading him to the secret base for telepaths on that world. Set was still searching for the original two telepaths with information about the Elevators disaster, but he failed to find their unique telepathic mind signatures on h.1263522.2. Actually, there was one mind signature in particular that Set was looking for since it was strong and should be easy to detect. The other telepath had claimed to have a telepathic sense, but his mind had appeared to Set as almost normal, with only a very low level of telepathic impulses being emitted. Set doubted if he could detect that weaker mind pattern at a distance.

Set had found the defenses of h.1263522.2 to be unusual. Upon his spaceship's approach to that world, he had been bombarded by blasts from a battery of old fashioned energy weapons. More interesting had been what at first had appeared to be a fleet of spaceships in orbit, but rather than fight, those ships had all fled at high speed. Using his telepathic sense, Set could feel no minds on those spaceships, so he had ignored them. Set's modern shields had protected his spaceship from the energy beam weapons and Set had dropped down to the surface and captured the control center for the artillery battery. Set questioned the artillery commander and telepathically probed his mind....out had come the name: Haldus Order. Upon questioning about Sakkara, Set had seen clearly in the man's mind that "Silver Tulipan Order" was some kind of cover organization for the "Haldus Order". Set concluded that all of these telepaths were part of the same networked organization. Set had felt it was the wisest course to exterminate all the telepaths on h.1263522.2 as quickly as possible and an antimatter bomb had done the job. Set now had some regrets about destroying the underground base of those telepaths on h.1263522.2. His attack might have destroyed useful technology belonging to the Order, but it was only later that Set had started thinking about the possibility of telepathy-amplifying technology.

Set reflected on the strange circumstances that had led to him becoming aware of that secret base for telepaths. Really, it all went back to the election of 102. Set had discovered that when Leone was promoted from Trade Representative to Trade Negotiator, he kept the spaceship he had used as a Trade Representative. That was unprecedented. Sakkara had a half dozen Trade Representatives who were constantly moving from planet to planet and who essentially lived in their spaceships. Leone had served as a Trade Representative for 16 years before being promoted to the administrative position of Trade Negotiator. Traditionally, a Sakkaran Trade Negotiator mostly worked in an office on Sakkara and used hyperspatial communications for negotiations with other worlds. A Trade Negotiator might occasionally travel to another star system for a treaty signing ceremony, but they did not keep a government spaceship for their personal use. Heading into the election of 102, Set made a campaign issue out of Leone's use of a government-funded vessel as his personal spaceship while serving as a Trade Negotiator.

Leone had defended his continued use of the spaceship that had been assigned for his personal use during his years as Trade Representative. Leone documented his practice of going to other worlds for person-to-person negotiations and claimed that his spaceship essentially served as a mobile office for his administrative duties. In the uproar over the issue during the election campaign, the out-going head of the Department of Transportation withdrew Leone's authorization to continue using the government spaceship that Leone had long used. The Antiquist Party then launched a fund-raising campaign and bought Leone a new spaceship for his personal use. That had raised new issues that became a lasting controversy right through the election of 106. However, Leone won both elections and continued to serve as head of the Department of Transportation. Leone was good at his work and had successfully negotiated many lucrative trade deals for Sakkara: that was all that most voters cared about and they thought Leone made good use of his personal spaceship, even traveling extensively as head of the Department of Transportation. Set and the Futurist Party argued that when Leone was away from Sakkara visiting other worlds and building up relationships with important trade partners, he had ignored his other responsibilities such as making sure that the space elevators were adequately protected.

That dispute about Leone's spaceship had led to Set and the Futurist Party keeping a close watch on Leone's spaceship and the sources of money that funded its upkeep. Set suspected the nonprofit corporation that took donations and maintained the spaceship for Leone was secretly used by traders to funnel kickbacks to Leone. So far, Set had not been able to prove that, but he continued to keep a close watch on Leone's use of the spaceship and the donors who funded it. Each year the Antiquist Party tried to change the Department of Transportation budget so as to include a personal spaceship for the director, but the Futurist Party and other minority parties had so far always been able to block that new spending line from going into the approved budget. However, the careful watch kept by Set on Leone's spaceship had finally paid off when it allowed Set to realize that the Silver Tulipan Order had installed equipment in the spaceship for Leone's use. That led directly to Set's discovery of the secret base for telepaths in the h.1263522 star system.

But it had not been quite that simple, had it? Now that Set thought back, he recalled that the Futurist Party had received a warning, a tip about work being done on Leone's spaceship. Without that warning it was possible that nobody would have looked into the details of what appeared to be routine maintenance work on the ship. But that anonymous warning had led to questions being asked and it was soon clear that the workmen were not the usual maintenance crew. Investigation had linked the work men to the Silver Tulipan Order and then Set had ordered that they be captured and questioned. One of the workmen was captured....upon questioning and Set's telepathic probing, out had come the secret destination programmed into Leone's navigation system....

After destroying the telepath base, Set had stationed a few of his crew members on h.1263522.2. Set had wondered if other telepaths might arrive at that world, but Set had quickly returned to Sakkara. Set now planned to try to learn more about secret hiding places for telepaths from Sybil and other members of the Order who lived on Sakkara. If Sybil had known about h.1263522.2, she might be able to lead Set to the hiding place of the two telepaths he was seeking. Really, that was his only goal, to find again those two telepaths who had knowledge about the elevators disaster. After all this time, Set had found no other leads related to the cause of Katherine's death.

After his raid on the hidden telepath base at h.1263522.2 and upon returning to the Memphis star system, Set was informed by his Futurist Party allies that all the previously-identified high-level members of the Silver Tulipan Order, including Sybil, had suddenly vanished. Sybil and all the other "inner circle" members of the Silver Tulipan Order had seemingly disappeared from Sakkara or gone into hiding. Set directed one of his operatives in the Futurist Party to go into Sybil's home and try to find evidence of Sybil's location or plans. Set ordered his spy, "Hack into her personal database and examine her records and correspondence. In particular, I am interested to know any worlds she may have visited or communicated with by hyperspatial signals."

Set had left his forces on h.1263522.2 in control of the old fashioned energy beam weapons that world had used to defend itself against Set's attack and Set had given them orders to blast Leone's ship when he showed up. Now, as he moved through the Memphis star system towards Sakkara, Set received a message via hyperspace from his force at h.1263522.2 reporting that when Leone's spaceship arrived at h.1263522.2, Set's forces had made use the energy beam artillery, but Leone had gotten away. For the hundredth time, Set regretted the poor resources of the Futurist Party. The spaceship he was using was the only one available to the Futurist Party, and Set was not proud of the fact that he had funded it by extortion of money from a telepath who lived quietly on Sakkara using her telepathic powers to make money in the stock market. Deep inside, Set felt that maybe he should have stayed at h.1263522.2 until Leone's arrival, ambushed Leone's spaceship and finished him off...but, no, Set told himself: "I am not a murderer." He knew of no evidence linking Leone to a crime that was punishable by death. Still, it was disheartening that Leone and the Order were now working together.

RunaroundEdit

Set was inbound towards Sakkara and contemplating the idea that he might be able to use his telepathic powers to find Sybil and the other missing members of her Order. Set had previously noticed that Sybil had some weak telepathic ability, as was common among members of the Silver Tulipan Order. Set let his telepathic sense expand and he could feel telepathic impulses emanating from the distant Sakkara. He was surprised to notice that there was now an unusually powerful source of telepathic signaling in the Memphis system. He applied the triangulation technique he had devised and located the position of that strong source of telepathic impulses relative to the position of Sakkara....it was in deep space, apparently another spaceship. After an hour of travel and triangulation, Set was certain that the other ship was headed out of the Memphis system, but that ship was not transmitting a navigation beacon and Set's radar could not detect it. Set altered the course of his own spaceship and tried to intercept the other spaceship, using only Set's telepathic sense for guidance towards the target.

Set found that there, in space, he could focus his telepathic sense on the other ship without any distraction from other minds on Sakkara and he sensed something familiar there....Sybil? And something else, a telepathic mind that was much stronger. Someone else was on that ship with Sybil. Set did not understand how he knew, but something told him that he was sensing telepathic signals from Kalid. So, Set guessed that Kalid was removing Sybil and the other high-ranking members of their Order from Sakkara. Strangely, the more Set "listened" to the telepathic impulses, the more it seemed as if a specific message was coming from that spaceship and Set felt certain that he 'heard', "This is Kalid, calling...please pay attention!." And Set 'saw' a set of navigation coordinates flash in his mind. Set could not perceive and remember the entire set of coordinates, but the beginning was clear enough, "h32". Then the other space ship went into hyperspace and suddenly Set was left 'listening' to only the hum of weak and distant telepathic signals originating on Sakkara.

At first Set wondered if he had only imagined being in telepathic contact with Kalid. Maybe this was some kind of Haldus Order trick? He called up information on h32 and saw that it was a low population star system not far from Earth. Set wondered: is Kalid trying to trick me into going to the h32 system? He felt not...Set had the distinct feeling that h32 was Kalid's destination. Set ordered his crew to set course for the h32 system.

When Set's spaceship arrived in the h32 star system he tried to again detect telepathic signals from Kalid, but he could not. Set detected an interesting hum of background telepathic impulses from several places in the h32 system, but nothing with the power and clarity he had recently experienced in the Memphis system. Set sighed. Set thought: well, maybe that telepathic contact with Kalid had been a trick of misdirection. Set ordered an immediate return of his spaceship to Sakkara.

Once back in the Memphis star system, again inbound towards Sakkara, Set renewed communications with his Futurist Party allies on Sakkara. Set received a report from the spy who had been able to penetrate Sybil's security perimeter and get into her house. The spy must have triggered some alarm while he worked to download Sybil's records and he barely escaped from Glen when the robot came into the house and caught the spy at work. The information that the spy had downloaded from Sybil's computer included her private correspondence. Most of it was well encrypted, but there was a readable message from one of Sybil's contacts in the Order named Danold. That message mentioned Ketar and Danold's deep distrust of Ketar. Set found that very interesting. Sybil and everyone in her secret "Order" had always tried to blame the Spaceship Guild and the Antiquist Party for the destruction of the space elevators. Ketar was the head of the Galactic Antiquist Party. Set thought about the old saying: "The enemy of your enemy might be your friend". Very well. Set decided that it was time to meet Ketar. The trail of Set's enemies had gone cold on Sakkara, anyway. He ordered the pilot of his spaceship to set course for Akara.

Before again jumping out of the Memphis system, Set ordered careful monitoring on Sakkara for possible communications between Silver Tulipan Order members. He decided to risk deploying the latest nanite-based surveillance devices that had been developed by Futurist Party-funded scientists. Eventually some of the high-level members of the Silver Tulipan Order would stick their heads up and try to make contact with others in the group. Set's fellow Futurist Party members had located a dozen Temples and training centers of the Silver Tulipan Order and homes of leaders of that Order. Set now ordered that listening devices be planted in all those facilities of the Silver Tulipan Order and its "Inner Circle" members.

Set also sent a hyperspatial message to Ketar and requested a meeting on Azur to discuss recent events on Sakkara.

WolvesEdit

Just before jumping to the Akara system, Set received a reply from Azur. "Ketar is on his way out of the Akara system. If you want to meet him soon, try jumping to HCC-2103."

Set checked the time stamps on that message and decided that Ketar's spaceship was probably still climbing out of Akara A's gravity well, but should soon reach the Swanzig radius from where Ketar would jump to HCC-2103. Set switched his next jump destination from Akara to that hyperspatial communications center.

A few hours later the two spaceships had jumped through hyperspace and were both near the HCC-2103 communications array. Set and Ketar did not actually get to meet face-to-face, but they established a private and coded com link. After they established their comlink, for a moment Set looked into the eyes of Ketar as they were displayed, magnified, on the wall of his control room. Set sensed a coldness emanating from Ketar and a shiver ran up his spine. Set imagined he was dealing with a man of decisive action who would not let soft feelings get in the way of doing dirty work that needed to get done.

Ketar looked at Set for a moment. Ketar was trying to guess why Set had contacted him. Ketar was in a hurry to get to his destination and he asked impatiently, "Well, what do you want?"

Set let his telapathic sense go out in search of signals from Ketar, but there seemed to be nothing out there, just an emptiness that unsettled Set. Set tired to quickly regain his composure and explain what was on his mind, "After the space elevators disaster on Sakkara I initially suspected the involvement of the Spaceship Guild and the Antiquist Party. The Silver Tulipan Order still claims that the Antiquist party was involved. Can you assure me that the Antiquist Party was not involved?"

Ketar was prepared to destroy Set's spaceship if he had to. A half dozen spaceships of Ketar's fleet were nearby, if needed. But Ketar was relieved to hear that Set was not making threats of any kind. Ketar replied, "Let them produce their evidence of Antiquist Party involvement in that disaster. I tell you this Set: don't let this "Order" trick you."

Set nodded. "I've been dealing with the Silver Tulipan Order in a very direct way. I assure you that I have no intention of letting them trick me again or escape justice for their involvement in the space elevators disaster. I want to know if you are able to help me bring justice to those who attacked the elevators."

Ketar was amused that everyone on Sakkara wanted his help. Ketar shrugged. "I'm not sure how I could help. I view all of this, including your war against the Silver Tulipan Order as a local Sakkaran matter."

Set shook his head, "This 'Order' is not just a local matter for Sakkara. I've learned that the Silver Tulipan Order is just a cover organization for the Haldus Order. I suspect that they have secret bases all around the galaxy"

Ketar was interested to hear that Set had reached the same conclusion as Ketar's own intelligence service. He pretended to be surprised, "The Haldus Order? That cannot be. They were wiped out back in the days before the galactic wars."

Set shrugged. "I suggest you stimulate your intelligence service to re-check their thinking about the status of the Haldus Order. When you do, I think you will become as concerned as I am about their powers and the danger they pose to the galaxy. Please keep this in mind: I'm willing to work with you against the Haldus Order."

Ketar nodded. "I'll give your advice a fair analysis. But I must also warn you...the Antiquist Party has well-established interests on Sakkara. If you disrupt those interests then you risk bringing the power of the Galactic Antiquist Party down upon you."

Set smiled, "I'm only interested in justice, not disruption. I intend to travel down the road to justice, no matter what twists, turns and difficulties lie along that road."

Ketar asked, "Why does that path lead you to me?"

Set explained, "I'm trying, without much luck, to find a couple of Haldus Order members who have information about the cause of the space elevators disaster. There are Haldus Order members on Sakkara who seem eager to blame the Antiquist Party for the destruction of the elevators. If the Haldus Order is hiding what it knows about the elevators disaster and trying to blame it on your Party, then...well, I'm curious what you think about that.

Ketar was glad to hear that Set was making no progress towards learning the cause of the elevators disaster. He said, "I've already warned you not to trust the Silver Tulipan Order...I extend that advice to the "Haldus Order" or any other cult of religious freaks. I certainly don't trust people who conspire within such secret societies. I'm not sure there is anything else I can tell you."

Set nodded, "Well, I'm stuck with nothing but cold leads and dead ends. I was just hoping you might be able to tell me something useful about the Haldus Order that would get my investigation of the cause of the elevators disaster back on track."

Ketar suspected that Set would be interested in the Latest Antiquist Party intelligence report about Kalid, but Ketar really had no interest in helping Set. He reached for the switch that would terminate the transmission. "Well, good luck with that. Feel free to contact me in the future if you learn anything new about the Haldus Order. Now, I have business to attend to and must continue my journey. Goodbye." Ketar cut the connection to Set and ordered his fleet to make the next jump through hyperspace.

The two ships went their own ways and Set ordered his pilot to plot a return jump to Sakkara. Set wondered if he should have shared with Ketar what he had learned about the Haldus Order Base in the h.1263522 star system. No, Set decided that he was still too uncertain about Ketar. Caution was still needed. However, it seemed that Ketar was not greatly concerned about events on Sakkara and that gave Set a feeling of confidence: Set felt that he could freely continue to pursue his program of trying to discover what evidence the Silver Tulipan Order had concerning the cause of the elevators disaster without worrying about intervention by Ketar and the Galactic Antiquist Party in what Ketar seemed to still view as a local Sakkaran matter.

TechlepathyEdit

Set returned his thoughts to Sybil and Leone. Set had originally assumed that the equipment Sybil had ordered installed on Leone's spaceship was only for navigation and would simply allow Leone to make contact with Kalid, but now Set was having second thoughts. It was Set's practice to routinely used his telepathic reception ability to scan Sakkara for other telepaths. In particular, he was always watching for the possible return of the two Silver Tulipan Order telepaths who had knowledge about how The Elevators had been destroyed. But rather than find such powerful telepaths, Set usually just detected weak telepathic impulses from people. For example, Set's attention had been attracted to Sybil's servant, Portia and Sybil's robot Glen.

While monitoring Sybil's actions, Set had previously noticed that Portia was a weak producer of telepathic signals, but she seemed unaware of her telepathic abilities. However, Set had noticed that Portia seemed to be able to summon Glen by making use of the relatively weak telepathic signals she could generate. Set had not been at all sure that he was interpreting his observations of Portia and Glen correctly, but now he brought up the report of the spy who had broken into Sybil's house and he carefully reviewed the details in that report. Set noted that it had been Portia who first noticed that the spy was in Sybil's house and at work downloading Sybil's computerized data files. Portia had apparently noticed unusual computer activity in Sybil's office and walked in on the spy while he worked. The spy had quickly subdued Portia, but then Glen had soon arrived and also confronted the spy. The spy had fled from Glen, content to make off with the data he had already downloaded from Sybil's database.

Set became fascinated by the idea that Portia might really be able to make telepathic contact with the robot, and that got him thinking about the idea that it might be possible to make machines that could receive or even amplify telepathic signals.

Set was still in space, returning to Sakkara from his trip to Akara when he got a new report about events in Sybil's household: the normal domestic routine in Sybil's house had been broken by a hyperspatial communication from Leone! Sybil's assistant Portia took the hyperspatial call from Leone and the listening devices Set had ordered to be installed recorded the call. Set now listened to that recording.

After listening to that call from Leone and his brief conversation with Portia, Set was pleased that he had already had a chat with Ketar. It now seemed clear that Sybil had schemed to bring Kalid and Ketar together, but based on his conversation with Ketar, Set felt that Ketar had no sympathies for Sybil, Kalid or their Order. If Leone had called Sybil to say that he was, "still planning to meet with Ketar," then it seemed possible that Set might now be able to find both Sybil and Kalid in the Akara system...if luck was with him. In any case, going to Azur and searching there for telepaths seemed a more promising course of action than just staying on Sakkara and wondering where Sybil and Kalid were. Set chuckled to himself and wondered what his pilot would say when ordered to again star plotting a jump to Akara.

But before Set gave that order, he thought some more about the possibility of telepathic communication with a machine. He decided to go to Sakkara before heading to Akara. Set had come to a decision: he would test the possibility of telepathic communication between Portia and Glen. What was needed was a controlled environment where the possibility of telepathic communication between Portia and Glen could be tested, rigorously. Set ordered that Portia and Glen be abducted from Sybil's house and brought to his spaceship for further study. Their abduction was accomplished with little difficulty by Futurist Party agents who made use of a field disruptor that effectively crippled Glen's robotic control circuits. As soon as Portia and the robot were on his spaceship, Set ordered his pilot to head outward away from Memphis and prepare for a jump to the Akara star system. Set tried a simple test of telepathic communication between Portia and Glen. Set locked Portia in one cabin and placed Glen in another part of the spaceship. Set then released Glen from the effects of the field disruptor. Glen immediately found his way to Portia's cabin. Set ordered his engineer to examine Glen and make sure that Portia and the robot were not linked by some kind of conventional radio communications or tracking system. Set ordered the engineer to check for the possibility that Glen had a means to detect telepathic signals.

Set again tried to contact Ketar. Set wanted to talk to Ketar about the idea that the Haldus Order might have machines that could detect telepathy. Set wondered if the Antiquist Party's intelligence network might have heard rumors about such a thing. If the Haldus Order did have telepathy technology, then who knew what tricks might be possible. Maybe they had a way of shielding telepathic emissions from their telepaths. If so, then the two Haldus Order telepaths with information about the elevators disaster might be hiding right under Set's nose...maybe they were still on Sakkara.

Set learned that Ketar was not in the Akara system, but Ketar's staff on Azur was able to redirect Set's call through hyperspace and eventually Set was able to again speakt with Ketar. Ketar asked, "What is it now, Set?"

Set asked Ketar if he thought the Haldus Order might be hiding secret technologies.

Ketar was eager to get his hands on the spaceship cloaking technology that the Haldus Order seemed to have, and he assumed that Set was talking about cloaking and decoy technology. Ketar wanted to obtain any secret Haldus Order technology for his own personal use, and he was not happy to think that Set was now aware of the existence of that technology. Ketar quickly decided that he needed to find out exactly what Set knew about the Haldus Order. The best thing to do would be to draw Set close, learn what he knew, then eliminate him. Ketar repled, "My intelligence service has reported some strange events such as a spaceship in the Polastis system that seemed to defy the laws of physics. Perhapse we should combine our resources and see what conclusions we can draw."

Set nodded, "As I said before, I'm happy to collaborate with you against the Haldus Order. I can tell you this: I have evidence suggesting that Kalid and Sybil might have gone to Akara."

Ketar laughed, "Is that your best information? Well, I can tell you: no, they are not on their way to Azur. They are in the h32 star system."

Set thought: so, Kalid and Sybil did go to h32! Set demanded, "How do you know that?"

Ketar explained, "Because I am here in the h32 system."

Set felt foolish for having gone to the h32 system and then failing to be able to follow Kalid's trail. Did Kalid really have a device that could shield his powerful telepathic emissions? An idea came to Set and he said, "I must warn you. Do not be over confident if you have Kalid in your sights. He was able to slip away from me after I followed him to the h32 system. I'm wondering if the Order has some kind of secret shield technology...."

Ketar did not like to hear that Set was in the hunt for the Haldus Order's technology for cloaking spaceships. The last thing Ketar wanted was the Futurist Party getting its hands on such a technology. Ketar wanted any secret Haldus Order technology for himself. Ketar said, "Well, I'd welcome any assistance you can provide. If the Silver Tulipan Order has secret technolgy then I'd of course be interested to learn the details. Where are you now?"

Set thought: was there a tremor in Ketar's voice? It occurred to Set that Ketar might also have lost track of Kalid. Set replied, "I'm just about ready jump out of the Memphis system. I had planned to go to Akara, but I'll change course to the h32 system. I'll contact you again as soon as I arrive" Set broke the connection and ordered his pilot to recalculate the hyperspatial jump, changing their destination from Akara to h32. As was his habit, Set connected to the mind/machine interface of the spaceship and helped with the hyperspace jump calculations. It seemed that with practice Set continued to improve his ability to find amazingly good solutions to the jump equations that would allow for jumps deeper into star systems than was usually possible. Now, intent on the prospect of trapping Kalid in the h32 star system, Set tried particularly hard to make a clean jump into that system.

On WatchEdit

In the h32 system, Ketar ended his conversation with Set and he chuckled quietly to himself. He was watching Kalid and Sybil eating lunch in the Haldus Order Temple of Esclagon. Ketar muttered to himself, "But I do not think I need much help tracking Kalid. No, not very much!"

Bahney was at Ketar's side and the machine thought it heard Ketar muttering about needing help. The robot asked, "Can I help you, Sir?"

Ketar replied, "Yes, I'm going to eat dinner and then go to bed. Alert me if there is anything unusual, particularly if Kalid tries to leave the Temple."

Bahney bowed, "Yes, sir." Ketar left Bahney's office and the robot shut off the display screen. Bahney received input from the surveillance devices directly; the display screen was only of use to humans. Bahney had monitored the Temple for decades, and now, suddenly the head of the Galactic Antiquist Party had arrived and explained the importance of Kalid. Bahney was prepared to watch Kalid through the night or for as long as Ketar thought necessary. The machine felt the mechanical equivalent of pride that so many years of dedicated but seemingly useless service here on Esclagon had now given way to a mission important enough to attract the personal attention of Ketar.


After Set's spaceship reached the h32 system he was pleased to find that he was reasonably close to the hyperspatial communications center for h32. Again he had managed to make a jump deep into a star system. Further, the date from the local navigation beacons indicated that little time had been required for his spacehip's structure to rematerialize here in this star system...it had indeed been a clean jump with little loss of time. He again contacted Ketar.

Ketar was in bed when Orchard contacted him, "Sir, there is another call from Set. He is now in the h32 system"

Ketar said, "Okay, connect us. Set?"

Set only had a voice channel to Ketar and there was a several minute latency, but they could talk. "Ketar? I just jumped into the h32 star system. Where is Kalid?"

Ketar replied, "I've got my eye on Kalid. I'd like to ask a favor of you. There is an interesting legal system here that makes it possible for us to charge Kalid and his Order with the destruction of The Elevators on Sakkara. h32.4 is the governmental center, so I want you to go to that planet and file charges against Set. My operatives on h32.4 are drawing up the legal documents, including evidence that Kalid is in the h32 system, and they will have everything ready when you arrive there. Since you are a resident of Sakkara and can make a personal claim for losses in the matter you can charge Kalid with the murder."

Set was surprised, but pleased by Ketar's plan. He asked, "Are you sure of your facts? In most star systems it would only be possible to request that Kalid be extradite back to Sakkara."

Ketar agreed, "But h32 is not a typical system...the rules here are rather archaic and barbaric."

Set would certainly research the legal system while on the way to h32.4, but for the moment he was willing to agree to Ketar's proposal. "Very well, I'll set course to h32.4, but how will I make contact with your people there?"

Ketar replied, "I'll have them contact you when you approach h32.4 and they will provide you with detailed instruction. Good night." Ketar broke the connection and checked the time. If all went well, when Set filed the charges against Kalid on Mars that would provide a legal pretext to take Kalid into custody. Ketar got into bed, but he was still uneasy about trusting Bahney. Ketar was used to dealing with human operatives, not robots. He knew that it was common to rely on robots here in this star system, but he just did not trust machines to have good judgment and common sense.

Ketar called Bahney and asked, "How is everything?"

Bahney replied, "Kalid went off to bed a short time ago. Sybil is in the lounge talking to some of the Temple residents."

Ketar did not want to leave anything to chance, "So, do you have a camera in Kalid's room?"

Bahney explained, "That would be a violation of Esclagon's privacy law. I have a robot stationed in the hall outside Kalid's door."

"Very well. Good night."

Ketar slept soundly. It was not until the morning when he discovered that Kalid had somehow slipped away from the Temple undetected and departed Esclagon in his spaceship.
781px-Main belt e vs a

Distribution of asteroids in the h32 star system.

H32Edit

Leone and Aristark completed their hyperspace jump and arrived in the h32 star system. Their spaceship automatically engaged the antimatter-powered drive and put them on course to the r121:23:45 d45:143:23 z1.9347 coordinates at standard acceleration.

Aristark helped the spaceship's artificial intelligence set up parameters for a search strategy that might find a ship near the specified coordinates, or on a trajectory that had recently passed through those coordinates.

At the same time, Leone was searching for an alternative target. Something from his dream about Kalid made Leone think that the coordinates were for a planet rather than a spaceship. But Leone had examined the data for the h32 system and had found that there was a significant asteroid belt with a minor component near 1.9 atronomical units. "Okay. I've initiated a scan for asteroids near the specified coordinates."

Aristark said, "If Kalid is using the Haldus Order technology for hiding spaceships our scans may show us nothing."

Leone agreed that was a worry. "I wonder if the Haldus Order might have developed another technology that allows you to penetrate their shield. Maybe the equipment that was installed on this ship has such a capability."

Aristark complained, "As far as I can tell, the Haldus Order technology that we have on this ship is not under our control, so even if it has such a capacity, we do not know how to make use of it. In any case, it will take us most of a day to reach those coordinates. If Kalid has a ship there then from this distance we will only detect it if it is transmitting a navigation beacon."

Leone examined the radio bands and saw that they were receiving an automated signal welcoming them to the h32 system and requesting that they transmit their flight plan. Of course, their ship had automatically done so as soon as they had jumped into the system. Leone said, "There does not seem to be much spaceship or communications traffic in this system."

Aristark nodded, "I do not think I have ever previously visited such a low population star system before...this is a real "end of nowhere" destination. I wonder why anyone ever bothered to settle here."

Leone examined the navigation records for the star system that had been transmitted to them along with the welcome. Leone knew from experience that for small systems like h32 the local navigation records were often more detailed than the limited information available in the standard astrogation database entries carried in ship's memory. Leone said, "Well there is a planet within the likely habitable zone for this star, right at one astronomical unit from the star. However, the records indicate that planet is not inhabited....but there is a small population on its airless moon."

Aristark was reading through the same local navigation records. "The largest population in this system is on the fourth planet, a terraformed world with little water and little air."

Leone examined the pattern of navigation beacons noted that most of the spaceship activity in the system was associated with the fourth planet, called "h32.4" in the navigation records. "Oh, I see! They are continually capturing water-containing comets and asteroids and sending them to the fourth planet. They are also sending water from the third planet to the fourth. Wow! The third planet is covered with water!"

Aristark was surprised. "A water world with no human habitation? And they are doing major terraforming to get more water to the fourth planet? That makes no sense."

"Oh my graviton!" Leone was horrified by a new realization. "The third planet is a Green planet!"

Aristark asked, "Green goo? Well, that explains why nobody lives on the third planet. I wonder why the standard astrogation database entry for system h32 does not mention the existence of a Green Planet in this star system."

"First Flammis and now this system." After decades of space travel and never having seen a Green planet, Leone was surprised to now be in a second star system with a Green planet so soon after having been to Flammis/Plato. "I'm starting to wonder if Green Planets are significantly more common than we are usually told."

Aristark commented, "And I wonder if there is some special association between the Haldus Order and Green planets."

Leone asked, "Why would there be such an association?"

Aristark shrugged, "When we were at Flammis you suggested that a Green Planet might be a good place to hide a secret base. Maybe the Haldus Order routinely makes use of Green Planets as hiding places."

"I've been thinking that if the Haldus Order originated on Earth, then maybe they would have selected a nearby and low-population system for their first base off of Earth. Maybe h32 was the location of the first Haldus Order training center off of Earth." Leone's thoughts swirled with possibilities. "There are many things we can ask Kalid."

Aristark asked, "What was it about your dream that made you think that the coordinates are for a planet?"

Leone could not put his feelings into words. "It was just a feeling. Early in the dream everything felt like there was another ship approaching our ship, then when the coordinates appeared, I was thinking about trees and mountains...scenes like the terrain of the part of Sakkara where I grew up. And there was something that had the feel of 'orbit'....I can't really explain it."

Aristark suggested, "If we are looking for an orbiting asteroid at about 1.93 astronomical units from the center of this star system, then we can estimate the expected orbital speed for such an asteroid."

Leone said, "Yes, we do not want to go directly to the coordinates that were given in the dream. The asteroid would have moved on in its orbit to a new location."

Aristark used the Thot interface to adjust their flight path slightly. "Okay, I asked Thot to make an adjustment to our course. We are now on route to the best guess estimate of where such an asteroid should be."

Leone was pleased that Aristark seemed willing to be guided even by Leone's hunches. "I've requested from the inhabitants of this system any records they have for the positions of asteroids near 1.9 astronomical units from the center of the system. The asteroid we are looking for might be in their database already."

Aristark was not much impressed by Leone's reasons for suspecting that their target was an asteroid. "If it is an asteroid we are looking for. I still expect Kalid to be in a spaceship. I do not understand why he would be sitting on some asteroid in the middle of nowhere."

Leone suggested, "Most of the inhabitants of this system live in space stations or in bases on airless moons and asteroids. It might be perfectly normal for Kalid to be at such an asteroid base in this system, maybe a base long used by the Haldus Order."

"But would Kalid give out the coordinates to such a base? Now we have broadcast our destination as being those coordinates. If the Haldus Order is so secretive, surely Kalid would not send us to the location of a secret base, not when we have to broadcast our destination for all to see."

"Yes, I agree with your analysis. Maybe these coordinates are just a safe destination for us, some place that Kalid does not mind having us reveal. We shall see. Maybe Kalid will contact us before we reach those coordinates and re-direct us to another destination."

Aristark chuckled, "Maybe you should sleep in case Kalid wants to contact you again."

Leone grinned. "I expect our next communication from Kalid will come by conventional radio communication. But maybe if I exercise now I will be ready to get to bed early and wake about the time we reach a sensible scanning distance from our destination."

Leone went to the gym and exercised for two hours. When he returned to the main control room, Aristark had news. "You were right. Our destination is a microplanet called Esclangon. It has a population of about three million people."

Leone was pleased. "Really? I actually dreamed the coordinates of a known planet?"

Aristark provided additional information from the extensive insystem asteroid-tracking database. "Esclangon is a small asteroid, but it even has a moon. They sent us a request for more details on our flight plan. They want to know if we intend to land on Esclangon, go into orbit, or if we will just be passing by."

Leone sat down, connected to the Thot interface and reviewed the data that had been received from Esclangon. "Of course, everything depends on Kalid. I'm tempted to send a reply asking if Kalid is a resident of Esclangon."

Aristark suggested, "Maybe we should just request permission to land on Esclangon. If Kalid contacts us before we land then we can change our flight plan at that time. I've been on this ship for nearly a week and I'm more than ready to get off for a while and see some new sights. I'm not the great space traveler that you are."

Leone chuckled. It was true that he had spent a large part of his life traveling around the galaxy. Before becoming Planetary Counselor for Transportation, Leone had served as a traveling Sakkaran trade negotiator, arranging for interstellar trade with other planets around the galaxy. Even while serving as Planetary Counselor Leone had logged more space flight time than any other head of Transportation. However, it was also true that a typical space flight involved just a few days on a spaceship and then you were at your destination and had a chance to get off your ship for a while. "Okay, I'll just tell them that we intend to land. I'll emphasize that I am an official of the Sakkaran Department of Transportation and let them imagine a reason for our visit....I won't mention Kalid."

A short while later Leone said, "Okay, I sent a reply to 'Esclangon', but I still do not see the name 'Esclangon' in the navigation database....that name is only in the radio message we received."

Aristark explained, "The database just uses a number code for the asteroid. Apparently the local residents have a name for the rock they live on."

"Yes, I see the asteroid '1509' in the database and its orbital parameters clearly are the same as those of Esclangon. In my experience, system navigation databases usually include the local names of planets, but even their major population center, the fourth planet, is only given a number designation...'h32.4'. It is almost as if they have purposefully not put common names into their database."

Aristark wondered, "Maybe that is the local custom. Where I grew up on Sakkara adjacent towns did not agree on names for the roads, so most people just used the numerical street numbers designated by the district authorities rather than the different street names used by each town."

Leone said, "Hmm, I guess it is possible that multiple groups of settlers came to this system from Earth and each group gave the planets different names. For example, I see that Esclangon is classified as a member of the 'Hungaria' asteroids. In my reading of Earth history I noticed that there was a national group called the 'Hungarians' in Standard Galactic. This star system is so close to Earth that it may have been colonized before the Standard Galactic language was widely adopted."

EsclangonEdit

Leone did sleep during a large part of their approach to Esclangon, but he did not have any more interesting dreams. Aristark saw no more interesting power surges in Sybil's mysterious equipment.

Finally they were on final approach to Esclangon. Leone was delighted to find that Esclangon looked like some kind of exotic flower with a nimbus of space stations around the asteroid and a network of interconnecting space elevators. The surface of the asteroid was obscured by the cloud of associated space stations, but it was studded with thousand-story-tall towers. Their spaceship efficiently glided on autopilot through the tangle of structures and into a vast sub-surface space dock and to a docking chamber that was close to the size of their ship. Soon the chamber was sealed and pressurized and Aristark popped the hatch.

Leone and Aristark emerged from the ship and were met by a robot who said, "Welcome to Esclangon. I am your guide, Frank. How may I serve you?"

Leone replied, "Thanks for your welcome, Frank. I am Leone and this is Aristark..."

The robot interrupted, "Yes, I know. I am fully programmed and aware of your radio transmissions. You are from Sakkara, but we received no communication from Sakkara warning us to expect a delegation of planetary officials. I therefore assume that you are here on personal business, not official Sakkaran business."

Aristark explained, "We are both members of the Antiquist Party. For this trip, we are functioning as members of the Antiquist party and we are attending to Antiquist Party business."

Frank said, "I see. If you intend to engage in political activities here on Esclangon then you must first register your political party with the Secretary of State on Mars."

Leone was surprised, "There is no local branch of the Antiquist Party in this star system?"

Frank replied, "I see in the records that there was an entry for the Antiquist Party many decades ago, but its registration has lapsed. Apparently the Antiquist Party concept never took root here in this system. You will have to re-activate the registration. I believe political party registration requires the signatures of at least two residents of the h32 system and a five credit registration fee. Do you two intend to apply for residence? If so, that is another five credit fee, for each individual."

Aristark laughed. "I have no intention of applying for residency in this backwater system. We are here to meet someone. When we have had our meeting, I intend to leave and never return."

Leone said to Frank, "I'm having some difficulty understanding your accent. Did you mention 'Mars'... m .. a .. r .. s ?"

Frank replied, "Yes, that is the name of the fourth planet, which is the center of our political structure."

Leone was familiar with the term 'Mars' in the context of Earth history. Leone had read an ancient legend in which 'Mars' was the name of a star known to ancient Astrologers on Earth as a harbinger of war. Leone wondered why residents of this star system had selected 'Mars' as the name of their chief planet and political center. Possibly the history of this star system was dominated by conflict and war, particularly if it was originally settled by multiple competing nationalistic groups from Earth. Leone's thoughts were interrupted by Frank....

Frank asked, "Who are you planning to meet?"

Aristark replied, "We are here in order to meet with Kalid".

Frank said, "There are seven people in system who might be the 'Kalid' you refer to. None of those seven live here on Esclangon. Do you have more specifics, perhaps biometric data for the Kalid you know?"

Leone replied, "I've been told that Kalid is a member of the Haldus Order and that he spends time on the planet Flammis."

Frank's body language changed. "Let us leave the space dock. Come into the office." The robot led Leone and Aristark through a door and into a small but comfortable room. They sat down around a work bench and Frank offered food and drink. A second robot quickly arrived with cups and poured hot tea for the two humans. Then Frank said, "There is a Temple of Haldus here on Esclangon. I've contacted that Temple and asked if they know 'Kalid'. You have been invited to visit the Temple."

Aristark asked, "Invited by who?"

Frank replied, "I contacted a robot at the Temple. I believe that robot contacted one or more humans who instructed it to issue the invitation."

Leone asked, "Where is this Temple? How do we get there?"

Frank gestured to a wall and a complex three dimensional map of Esclangon appeared. "The red dot indicates our position here at the space dock complex. The blue dot shows the location of the Temple, which is also a subsurface structure about four kilometers from here. I can guide you through the tube system to the Temple."

Aristark drained his cup of tea and stood up, "Very well, let's go."

Leone lingered a moment over his tea. "This is excellent tea. What world is it from?"

Frank replied, "That variety is from a space station in orbit around Mars. I believe the claim is made that it is one of the few varieties of tea that has not been genetically modified from its original form as it existed on Earth."

Leone drank the last of the tea in his cup and stood up. Frank led them through the back door, down a short hallway and into another smaller room that seemed to only hold a man-sized hole in the floor. Frank explained, "We must drop down this tube to the transport level. Just step in, keep your legs together and your arms at your sides and relax. If you panic and want to over-ride the autopilot, just spread your arms outward. You will stop moving and I will pull you out of the drop tube." Without further comment, Frank took Leone's hand and pulled him to the tube.

Leone had used similar drop tubes in buildings on other worlds and on space stations. He relaxed and dropped through the floor. He looked up and saw Aristark following just above. The maximum drop rate was about twenty kilometers per hour, so it took nearly a minute to reach the transport level of the asteroid. At the bottom of the drop tube Leone, Aristark and Frank were each deposited in a small cubicle. As soon as Frank landed the low walls of the cubicles retracted into the floor and Frank led them through the large chamber towards a horizontal transport tube. The first transport line was just a local feeder, but it quickly took them to another transport tube where they could catch a high-speed tube car. They boarded the second car, sat down and they were quickly accelerated to a high speed. In two minutes they traveled several kilometers through the interior of the asteroid.

The car stopped and they exited the transport tube. Frank said, "This is the tube station for the Temple." He led them to another drop tube which propelled them up to the Temple.

When Leone exited the drop tube he was face to face with another robot who said, "Welcome to the Temple of Haldus." The robot repeated the greeting a moment later when Aristark emerged from the tube.

Frank arrived last and said to the other robot, "I leave these guests in your care." Frank disappeared down the tube.

The new robot said, "I am Bahney."

Leone stared at Bahney. While Frank had been largely ambisexual with modest hints of male characteristics, this robot was clearly modeled on the human female form and was wearing a colorful and short silk robe. Most dramatically, the robot's synthetic skin was tinted a deep green.

Aristark was also shocked by Bahney's appearance, but he recovered his wits first, glanced at Leone and then asked Bahney, "Can you take us to Kalid?"

Bahney replied, "Frank told me that you are looking for someone called 'Kalid', but as far as I know, there is nobody called 'Kalid' on Esclangon. You also mentioned the planet Flammis. There is a planet called 'Veritas Flammis' in our records. At one time there was a Temple of Haldus on that world, but it was destroyed 194 years ago, with great and tragic loss of life."

Leone asked, "Do you know anyone named 'Kalid' who is associated with the Haldus Order?"

Bahney said, "As you may know, our Order has been persecuted and marginalized for many centuries. We now take sensible precautions to protect members of the Order from harm. I'd prefer not to discuss our membership here in this transport tube chamber. Will you come with me to my office?"

Aristark replied, "Very well, lead the way."

Ring of StarsEdit

Bahney turned, opened a door and led them down a short hallway and through a second door that opened into a darkened chamber. Inside the dark room, Bahney paused and let the eyes of the two humans adapt to the low light conditions. Bahney spoke, "This is the Ring of Stars."

Leone looked up and as his eyes adapted he began to see what looked like stars. "This is your temple?"

Bahney explained, "Technically, this entire complex of chambers is the Temple, but the heart of the Temple is in the central chamber beyond that wall. This Ring is the access hallway to the central chamber. Since you are not members of the Order, you cannot enter the central chamber."

Aristark asked, "Are we under a glass dome at the surface of the asteroid?"

"No, we are far under the surface. What you see is a simulation of the night sky of Earth as it appeared thousands of years ago above Egypt."

Bahney led the way along the Ring. Leone asked, "Do you know that on many worlds Egypt is thought to be a mystical fantasy land?"

Bahney produced a musical human-like chuckle. "Yes, I am aware of that. What of yourself?"

Leone replied, "I would be thrilled to see evidence of Egypt. For example, I have been told that the great pyramids of Egypt have never been found on Earth."

Bahney explained, "Sadly, the Pyramids and all of Egypt were obliterated in a great catastrophe. It is futile to search Earth for the Pyramids." Bahney opened a door and led them out of the Ring of stars. They went down a short hallway and through another door into Bahney's office. The offer of food and drink was repeated and another robot brought tea.

When Leone and Aristark were settled across the desk from Bahney with their cups of tea, Leone said, "This is different tea than what Frank gave us, but it is also very good."

Bahney commented, "I see that Sakkara is not a major tea-consuming world. Things are different here; we have many varieties of tea. Of course, as a robot, I have little knowledge of what humans find pleasing in a drink."

Aristark asked, "Now that we are in your office, can you speak more openly about Kalid?"

Bahney replied, "I have heard of a Great Master named Kalid, but let me explain something. Very little information reaches us from other worlds where the Haldus Order is active."

Leone said, "We were recently in the Akara star system. Are you familiar with their history?"

Bahney nodded her green head. "Yes, Azur was a major player in the galactic wars. The people of Azur suffered mightily. This star system has suffered in its own way. Other branches of the Haldus Order tend to keep their distance from us. This Temple here on Esclangon is the public face of the Haldus Order. The rest of the Order usually avoids attention."

Aristark said, "Most people of the galaxy think that the Haldus Order is a lost part of ancient Earth history, something like the legend of Atlantis."

Bahney smiled, "That is good. We are happy to avoid attention....as a misunderstood minority group we have often become a target for persecution by others."

Leone asked, "If a Master of the Haldus Order from another planet came to Esclangon, would you be aware of that visit?"

Bahney had been instructed by Ketar to say nothing about Sybil and Kalid. She frowned, "That is an interesting question. We do have a rather constant, if small, stream of visitors. We ask few questions. People come, study, meditate, usually they depart. A few stay and join our community."

Aristark asked, "Is there any way we could let your recent visitors know that we are here. Maybe one of your guests is Kalid traveling under another name."

Bahney nodded. "An interesting idea. Very well, I will make sure that all of our guests are aware of your arrival here. How long do you intend to stay?"

Leone explained, "We might not be able to meet Kalid here, so it is hard to say. My hope is that Kalid is here waiting for us and will contact us soon."

Bahney suggested, "I can offer you the temporary use of modest rooms here in the Temple. If you plan to stay more than a week, I suggest you find permanent housing....there are many available residences around Esclangon, either subsurface or in one of the orbiting space stations."

Aristark said, "Thank you for your kind offer. The transportation network here is efficient, so potentially we could just stay on our spaceship. It did not take very long to get over here from the space dock."

Leone said, "If we are going to stay here a few days, I would like to study any public historical records you have here at this Temple. It seems most efficient if I just stay here."

Aristark agreed, "I have no objection to staying here for a few days. I am more than happy to get off of the spaceship for a while. I have little interest in ancient history, but I would like to learn about the justice system here."

Bahney nodded. "Yes, I understand that you are the director of the Sakkara Justice Department. If you would like to visit the Esclangon Government Center, I can provide you with a guide."

800px-All Gizah Pyramids

Bahney gave them a brief tour of the Temple complex then showed Leone and Aristark their rooms. Another robot then took Aristark first to a hospital for treatment of his wounds and then to the Esclangon Government Center. Bahney took Leone to the Temple library facility. The library had some public displays of images from Egypt. Bahney said, "I wanted you to see these displays. All of the other library materials and records can be accessed by the equipment in your room."

Leone was impressed by the holographic projections of images from Egypt. Walking through the museum-like display was almost like being in Egypt and walking in the shadow of the Great Pyramids.

They exited the Egypt display and Bahney introduced Leone to the robotic staff of the library.

Leone asked the Chief Librarian, "You have no human staff?"

The robot replied, "Sometimes a human takes interest in the records and becomes the Chief Librarian. The last such retired about 19 years ago. All of Esclangon only has about thirty million human inhabitants, so most jobs are left to robots. There are over a billion robots here serving the human population."

Leone said, "Thirty million? I saw the figure three million in this system's astrogation database."

Bahney explained, "There are different ways you can count the residents. Three million is the number of humans actually residing on the asteroid. About twenty seven million more live on the surrounding space stations. We count all thirty million as residents of Esclangon."

Leone spent the rest of the day in discussions with the library staff. Leone had never previously interacted with anyone who took seriously the idea that Egypt had been a real place. Earth began to come alive in Leone's mind.

Late in the day, when Aristark finally returned to the Temple they had a late dinner and discussed their days. Leone felt that he had learned more about Earth history in one day than he had learned in the past 50 years. Aristark described the Esclangon legal system which seemed very close to a direct democracy system in which exercising the judicial functions of society was part of the civic duties assumed equally by all citizens.

Tired and filled up with the excellent food served in the Temple's dinning room, Leone and Aristark walked back to their rooms. Aristark said, "Here's a wild idea. I'd like to visit this star system's seat of government on the fourth planet. If I left in the morning I'd spend about a day getting there, I could spend a day there and then another day on the return trip."

Leone laughed, "I'm still thinking Kalid should show himself at any moment. What if he does and you are not here?"

Aristark shrugged, "Find out what you can about the technologies the Haldus Order has. Try to get Kalid to agree to help stop Set's murderous rampage. If Kalid does show, send me a message and I'll get back here as quickly as I can."

Leone agreed to the plan and looked forward to the prospect of three more days of learning Earth history. Leone did feel somewhat guilty about the slow progress of his search for Kalid, but he told himself that he was working towards the goal of finding Kalid as efficiently as possible. He just hoped that his mysterious dream experience was not leading them to a dead end. "Maybe you should just go to the ship right now and start your little side trip right away."

Aristark moaned, "You are mean task master. I was expecting one night of rest off of the ship, but you are right. If I depart now and sleep on the ship I'll speed everything up by eight or ten hours."

Leone shrugged, "Do what you feel comfortable with. I'm not trying to rush you back onto the ship."

"No, you are correct." Aristark signaled to one of the green-skinned Temple robots. "I'm a little uncertain about how to return to the spaceship docks. Is there a robot available who could help me?"

The robot said, "Ah, Director of Justice Aristark. Are you leaving us so soon?"

Aristark replied, "I'm going to make a short visit to Mars. I'll be back. And Leone will be staying here while I'm gone."

The robot nodded. "I see." Another robot approached.....it was Frank. "Frank can take you."

Frank held a small device. "Alternatively, you can just use this. It will guide you through the transport tubes."

Aristark took the hand-held device, which appeared to be a standard directional assistant. "Thanks, Frank. I'm surprised you are still here...I assumed you had returned to the spaceship docks. This will do the trick, or I'd welcome your company."

Frank explained, "I'm the standard hospitality robot. There are about six million copies of me around Esclangon."

After spending the day with the green-skinned robots in the Temple library, Leone had grown used to the sight of green robots. Leone now realized that this Frank-model robot had a light green tint to its skin, so apparently it was assigned permanently to the Temple. The other "Frank' had not had green skin.

Aristark said to the green Frank, "Oh, I see." Aristark turned to Leone, "Okay, I'm off. I'll be back in a few days, or sooner if you call me back."

Leone went to his room in the Temple and fell onto the sleep platform. Within a few minutes he drifted into sleep.
Esclagon

Old friendsEdit

Sybil was saying something. At first Leone thought he was dreaming, but then he opened his eyes. It was Sybil, and he was awake, sprawled on the sleeping platform of his room at the Temple. He noticed that nice scent she always had. Sybil stood just inside the door of the room, smiling. "Sorry to wake you up. You must be very tired to have fallen asleep so quickly. I'll come back in the morning."

Leone sat up. "No, stay! It's just been a long day... how did you find me?"

Sybil sat down in a chair. "I was in the Temple all day and just learned that you had arrived today. Frank told me that you came with Aristark but that he is now on his way to Mars."

Leone checked the time. "He might not have reached the docks yet. Should I call him back? Are you here with Kalid?"

Sybil explained, "Kalid and I arrived here about three days ago. This morning I woke up and found a message from Kalid. He also left Esclangon... he said that he had to investigate something. Very mysterious!"

Leone was finally fully awake and let his eyes drink in the sight of Sybil. She had tinted her skin a faint green and her hair was done up in an intricate set of knots. He was not really surprised to find her here, but he was alarmed by the idea that Kalid would suddenly go off 'to investigate something'. "Kalid gave no indication of where he is going or when he will be back?"

Sybil went to the room's data terminal and pulled up the message from Kalid. Leone heard Kalid's voice: "When you hear this, I'll be off Esclangon. Someone followed Leone to this system. I'll be back when I figure out what is going on."

Sybil inactivated the terminal. "That's all I know. I assume by the look on your face that you did not know you were being followed."

Leone thought back to the events of the past week. "I've been wondering if we were followed all the way from Sakkara, but I did not really have any evidence. However, let me tell you what I do know and what has happened..."

Leone told the story of the battles at Flammis and in the Akara star system. Sybil said, "Kalid arrived on Sakkara about the same time that you were attacked at Flammis and he warned me that I was in danger. Kalid was able to monitor what was happening to your spaceship by making use of the equipment my servants gave you. After you were attacked in the Akara system Kalid felt it was important to contact you and try to make you come here."

Leone was intrigued by the idea that the "Invocator" had yet another function: transmitting reports to Kalid. "I still do not know what is going on." Leone asked, "Who attacked me at Flammis? Why did Ketar's forces attack me in the Akara system? Who might have followed me to this system?"

Sybil seemed lost in thought for half a minute then she said, "There are aspects of this that I'm still not clear on, but Kalid thinks Set is responsible for the attack against you at Flammis."

"Ah, so you think Set followed me from Sakkara to Flammis?"

"No. The Haldus Order base on Flammis was attacked about a day before you got there."

"I did have about a day delay between when you told me to go to Flammis and when I actually left Sakkara. While the technicians installed your equipment on my spaceship I spent that time reading about the Haldus Order."

Sybil nodded. "I see. And then the second attack near Azur; Kalid told me that Ketar has recently learned how to detect the Haldus Order identification beacon."

Leone guessed that Sybil was quite naive about these technical matters. He knew that Aristark had no real problem detecting the special Haldus Order beacon signal when it was being transmitted by the Invocator on Leone's spaceship. Leone thought about the implications of Ketar knowing about the Haldus Order beacon and possibly attacking Leone's ship because it was using that beacon. "So Ketar is at war with the Haldus Order?"

Sybil shrugged, "Apparently Ketar has decided that it is in his interest to attack any ship using the Haldus Order beacon. I do not understand why."

Leone wondered who could have followed his spaceship to this star system. "After we left the Akara system and we were in interstellar space waiting for my spaceship to be repaired, there was a scanner transient... something was detected at extreme range. If that was another ship following us..." Leone thought about his lucid dream. "I had a dream about another spaceship..."

Sybil said, "When Kalid told me that he had contacted you in a dream, I started thinking back to a dream I once had. I never told you this, but... do you remember when we first met?"

Leone nodded. "I've been thinking about that a lot since I learned that you are a member of the Haldus Order."

"It was the first week I knew you when I had a special dream about you. Actually, it was a dream about our grandchild. I was old and our grandchild was asking me about you. You were dead, but I was telling your granddaughter about you. We were looking at a video of you... you were very famous... I was very proud of what you had accomplished in your life. Our granddaughter was going to take up your work..." Sybil wiped away a tear. "Do you think I'm silly?"

Leone got off the sleeping platform and went to Sybil. He took her hands and pulled her to her feet. They embraced and just held each other for a long time. Finally Leone said, "I've been wondering if telepathy during dreams is a way for two people to communicate and decide if they are right for each other. I also had a vivid dream soon after we met... I've never had a similar experience until Kalid contacted me telepathically."

Sybil asked, "You dreamed about me? What was your dream about?"

Leone told the dream in full detail. Sybil started to laugh and when Leone was done telling about the dream she said, "So you thought I was stone cold, eh? As I recall you kept hitting on me for weeks after we met."

Leone chuckled, "I did not want to give up. I was having far too much fun with you. I thought you were just this nerdy student who did not know how to lighten up and live a little. Actually, I wanted you to live a lot... I wanted you to live your whole life with me."

Sybil held Leone at arms length, "I could not tell you that I was a member of the Haldus Order. Since I could not tell you the truth, I could not involve myself with your life."

Leone asked, "Could not, or would not? What if you had told me thirty years ago what you finally did end up telling me a week ago?"

Sybil replied, "I'm not very good with hindsight, but maybe you would never have become head of Transportation and maybe I would never have told you to go to Flammis and maybe Set would never have murdered all those innocent people on Flammis..."

That chain of maybe, if and might-have-been sounded like a case study for the ancient discipline of chaos theory. Leone asked, "How many died on Flammis?"

Sybil shivered and snuggled against Leone's chest. "From what Kalid has hinted to me, I suspect it was many thousands... all of Kalid's family... all the people who were dear to him."

Leone was shocked. "I see. So is this how wars come about? Ketar wants to avenge the millions who died on Azur. Set wants to avenge those who died on Sakkara. Kalid wants to avenge those who died on Flammis. Will it ever end?"

276px-Standing Osiris edit1.svg

A strange ideaEdit

Sybil and Leone were having breakfast in the dinning facilities of the Temple. For a long time they just ate and looked at each other. Leone wondered if he was in telepathic contact with Sybil. Was it possible that two people could naturally share the same telepathic "wavelength"?

Something was wrong. Leone glanced around the dinning room. Suddenly the volume of conversations in the room had decreased. Leone noticed the green skinned Bahney standing in the doorway. At that moment Bahney seemed to notice Leone and she started towards the table where he sat with Sybil. Leone muttered, "Hmm...I wonder what she wants."

Sybil asked, "Who?" Before Leone could reply the robot was at their table.

One of the Spaceship Guild's intelligence agents stationed in the h32 system and assigned to Esclangon was now giving orders to Bahney. The agent used a virtual reality interface to established a link to the robot. Bahney had been instructed to find Sybil and Leone and try to learn what they knew about Kalid. Bahney said, "Good morning."

Sybil looked up, struggled to remember the robot's name and smiled, "Oh, Bahney. Good morning." Sybil had briefly met Bahney when she arrived at the Temple.

Leone was starting to notice differences in the green color of the Temple robots and he had noticed that some of the humans, like Sybil, also had tinted their skins faint green. Leone thought that faint green on Sybil was alluring, like a subtle kind of makeup. Some of the robots were only light green, like the Frank he had seen the previous night. The Temple librarians were somewhat greener than Frank. Bahney was very dark green, disturbingly dark. Leone was about to take a bite of a piece of coffee cake, but set it down again on his plate. He asked, "Will you join us?"

It was unusual for a non-meal-serving robot to be in the dinning room and other people were staring at Bahney where she towered over the table where Sybil and Leone were eating. Bahney sat down and took a less conspicuous seated position with her face turned away from most of those in the room. "I'm sorry to interrupt your meal, but I understand from what Frank told me that you two know each other." Bahney said to Leone, "I wondered if Sybil knows where Kalid is," but Bahney hoped that Sybil would respond and say what she knew of Kalid.

Leone expected Sybil to reply, but she just pushed a large spoonful of chewy granola into her mouth and continued to look at Leone rather than the robot. Finally, after a long silence, Leone said, "Yes, Sybil and I are both from Sakkara. We actually met over thirty years ago, when we were still in school. It was very nice to discover that she is here....surely one of the strangest coincidences I might possibly imagine."

Sybil took a swig of orange juice and said to Leone, "I'm thrilled to find you here. I was trying to learn the local Temple rituals, but frankly, they are very foreign to me...nothing like what I have practiced all my life on Sakkara. I only wish I had known the minute you arrived yesterday....my day could have been better spent helping you explore Earth history."

Bahney realized that Sybil had avoided saying anything about Kalid, and from that silence the robot concluded that Sybil did know Kalid but did not want to say what she knew. Bahney reflected on her orders. She had been commanded to find out everything she could about Kalid, and there was much force behind that order. Still, Bahney knew from long experience that pushing humans for information was often not productive. It was often better to trick humans into revealing what they knew. The robot looked at Sybil and said, "Aristark was not interested in history, so he has gone to Mars. I wonder if Kalid is also more interested in government and current events rather than ancient history."

Leone thought that Bahney's comment was odd. He was familiar with how to interact with robots who were functioning as servants. Sakkara had some robots who functioned as user-friendly interfaces for databases, and it was expected that robots would just provide information as required by humans. Leone was puzzled by the Temple robots who seemed to have taken on administrative roles that should be for humans. If what Leone had heard was true, all of Esclangon was full of such robots. Of course, besides the green skin which seemed mandatory for all Temple robots, the librarian robots had seemed normal and had efficiently provided Leone with the information he wanted about Earth history. Somehow it seemed that Bahney had changed since the previous day when the robot had seemed very skeptical about the existence of Kalid. Now the robot seemed to be actively interested in finding Kalid. Was the machine just trying to make itself useful to Leone? Somehow Leone felt otherwise. For the first time in his life, Leone realized that he had taken a personal dislike towards a robot. Leone had found Sybil's robot Glen intimidating, but even Glen's silly attempt to play a dirty trick on Leone had not provoked dislike in Leone. Leone was mildly amused at his emotional response to this green skinned machine. He looked at the robot's ridiculously exaggerated and inappropriately exposed cleavage. He looked around at the human diners and saw that none were exposing their breasts to their friends, so doing so was not some aspect of local custom.

The silence had grown uncomfortably long after Bahney's comment about Kalid's presumed interests. Still, Bahney felt compelled to keep trying to get information. Doubtless her masters from the Spaceship Guild were listening to this conversation and they would be unhappy if she failed to make a good attempt to find what these two Sakkarans knew about Kalid. Bahney let her too-small silk robe fall even more open and tried to make her breasts sway and jiggle as she spoke to Leone. "I also learned from the librarians that you have an interest in ancient Egypt. You mentioned someone else to them, someone named 'Set'. In addition to Kalid, are you also trying to find this 'Set'?

Leone wondered if Bahney was actively spying on him. He tried to remember mentioning Set to the librarian robots, but could not. Possibly it had come up in conversation the previous day, but if so it was just an off hand comment in the context of discussing Egyptian history and the historical 'Set' or 'Seth'. In the past week, since Leone had first learned of the mythical 'Set' of ancient Egypt he had often thought about the 'Set' in Egyptian legends. At this moment, Leone had a hard time remembering everyone he had said at the library. "I suppose I did mention yesterday that I know someone named 'Set' on Sakkara. In fact, that is the reason why I am here. In other words, were it not for Set, I would never have had a reason to come to this out-of-the-way star system." Leone felt slightly silly for trying to insult the robot by calling this an 'out-of-the-way star system', but he was now honestly irritated by this impertinent machine.

Bahney asked, "Why would this 'Set of Sakkara' come to this star system?"

Leone was surprised by Bahney's suggestion of the possibility that Set might come to this end-of-nowhere system. He chuckled in surprise and glanced at Sybil. She did not seem at all amused by the idea that Set might come to such a desolate star system. What had Kalid said to Sybil? "Someone followed Leone to this system. I'll be back when I figure out what is going on." Now Leone started thinking seriously about the idea that Set might have been following him. Was it possible to track spaceships through hyperspace? What had Sybil said last night? "Kalid thinks Set is responsible for the attack on Flammis." If Set had murdered all of Kalid's family, was it also possible that Set might come to this system in search of Kalid? How had the Temple here on Esclangon been described by Bahney? "....the public face of the Haldus Order." Was this Kalid's home? If so, then Set might have good reason to come to h32. Leone wondered, was Kalid even now off in space and engaged in a mortal confrontation with Set? As Leone looked at Sybil, he imagined that such a question was what she was thinking about at that very moment.

Again the silence had gone on too long. Leone looked back at the green machine and tried to think of something to say that would make it go away. Suddenly an idea from an ancient legend came to mind. Leone asked, "Maybe you can help me with a bit of ancient history...is it not the case that legend says that Set created the Moon?"

Bahney was programmed to serve as a spy within the Temple. Over the years Bahney had learned much about Temple lore and the historical origins of the Haldus Order in ancient Egypt. It was true that in some ancient legends Set created a Moon by ripping out one eye of the sky god. In legend, Earth's sun was the other eye of the sky god. Bahney was having a hard time devising a logical response to Leone's question. According to legend Set did not create the Moon...the Moon pre-existed as an eye. But did the act of pulling out the eye transform the eye into a Moon? Had the Moon in fact existed before Set touched the eye? And clearly Leone was not actually asking about the legend....Leone was only making a metaphorical reference to the legend in the context of the 'Set of Sakkara'. So what was Leone trying to ask about the 'Set of Sakkara'? Bahney had been told by her human masters that Set was a murderer who was engaged in some kind of war. If the legendary 'Set' had fought the god of the sky and the 'Set of Sakkara' was at war, then what was the modern equivalent of the Moon? What would it mean for the 'Set of Sakkara' to rip out an eye of someone he was at war with? Maybe the metaphorical equivalent of an eye was....

But Leone had asked the question of Sybil and did not expect the robot to reply. Leone now remembered his line of thought from just before falling asleep -for the second time- the night before. Sybil had come to his room and they had talked for hours. Finally Sybil fell asleep and Leone had picked her up and laid her on the sleep platform. He had then taken her chair and sat watching her sleep. She looked no different from the young woman he had first known thirty years before. Given the power of modern medical technology, she could reasonably expect to retain the appearance of a young woman for another thirty years. Sitting there, watching Sybil sleep, his thoughts had drifted over many strange ideas as sleep approached again for himself. He thought of the fact that the fourth planet of this system was called 'Mars'. Some of the ancient legends said that the 'Mars' of Earth was not a star, but rather it was a planet that was seen from Earth by the naked eye as if it were a star. And Leone had thought about the fact that the third planet of this star system was a Green Planet. And there had been something else...just before he fell asleep...something else about the third planet...

When Sybil heard Leone's question about Set and the creation of the Moon she started thinking about the Temple ceremonies she had witnessed during the past three days. In one of those ceremonies there was a re-enactment of the creation of the Moon. The sky god was depicted as striking the Earth and the Moon was formed as a fragment of the Earth. The Earth remained as the Water World and the Moon became the lesser light of the sky. Suddenly Sybil realized that the third planet of this star system was Earth. Everything she knew from Earth history, all of the legends, fit this star system.

Leone was lost in thought and lost in Sybil's dark eyes. Suddenly her eyes grew very large just as he was thinking...something else about the third planet...a water world...suddenly Leone had a strange thought. Could the third planet of this system be Earth? Of course! It was exactly one astronomical unit from the star. That was the definition of an astronomical unit! And all the Earth legends said that Earth had a large airless Moon. Leone now recalled thinking about the Moon of the third planet just before falling asleep. Leone was shocked and startled by the idea that somehow the true location of Earth had been concealed.

Just then one of the dinning hall servant robots came to the table. All of the manual labor robots who had nothing to do with Temple business did not have green skin. The food-serving robot asked Leone and Sybil, "May I bring you anything else?"

Leone was still deep in thought, trying to remember what he had previously been thinking about the Moon.

Sybil was elated by her realization that the third planet in the h32 star system was Earth, but she dared say nothing about her thoughts.

Bahney was finally kicked out of her endless loop of trying to respond to Leone's metaphorical question. Bahney ordered the other robot, "Go away, you are interrupting our important conversation."

The food-serving robot was programmed to always defer to Bahney and Frank model robots. Without another word, the food-serving robot retreated to the kitchen.

Sybil was startled to see the Bahney robot dismiss the food-serving robot before either Leone or herself could state their needs. Sybil stood up and said to Leone, "I have nothing further to say to this robot except that I intend to file a complain about its rude behavior and call for it to be inactivated and scrapped."

Leone was amused by Sybil's outburst since it so closely matched his own irrational emotional response to the machine's odd behavior. Leone stood up and took hold of Sybil's hand. With no further words they walked out of the dinning room.

ArcologyEdit

Leone took Sybil's hand and quickly led her out of the Temple complex. Sybil asked, "Where are we going?"

Leone replied, "I'm not sure, but that was too weird. I've never seen a robot behave like that...it was almost as if Bahney had been possessed."

Leone quickly became lost in the passageways of Esclangon. "I don't trust Bahney nor would I trust that our conversations would be private if we stayed in the Temple."

They emerged from a corridor and found themselves in a commercial shopping district. Sybil looked at the displayed images of clothing in front of a store. She said, "Almost everything I brought with me from Sakkara is in my room at the Temple. Do you intend to go back there at all?"

Leone saw one of the many Frank robots and had an idea. "It might be safest to send a robot." Leone stopped walking and nodded towards the robot.

The Frank robot seemed to notice their attention and he approached them. "Can I help you?"

Leone replied, "We are visitors here, and, ah-"

Frank nodded, "Yes, I recognize you. Leone and Sybil, from Sakkara. Are you lost?"

Leone was startled again by the fact that all the robots seemed to be in constant communication and know everything. Was it possibly to hide or even have privacy on Esclangon? "Yes, that's right. We have been staying temporarily..." He pause, suspecting Frank knew all about it.

Frank grinned, "Yes, Leone, I am fully programmed to serve and I know you stayed at the Haldus Temple last night." Frank gestured to the shops, "Would you like advice on where to shop? Esclangon uses an unusual idiom; all the small booths are called "boutiques" and that is where you can get all the basic necessities, for free. Specialty and luxury goods are-"

Leone interrupted the robot, "Thank you, Frank, that is useful information. We might need to pick up a few items, but that is not what I wanted to ask you. I was told that there are dwellings available, and, ah, if so, how would we find one?"

Frank replied, "Yes, that is true. Esclangon has many empty homes. So, do you intend to remain here as permanent residents or would you like temporary housing?"

"Temporary. I understand most people do not actually reside here on the asteroid."

Frank explained, "That is correct. Most homes are located in the many space stations surrounding Esclangon proper." Just then a second Frank robot arrived. "I am a shopping assistant, but this other Frank is a housing specialist. I'll leave you in his care." The first Frank turned and walked away.

The other Frank said, "Would you like to find a residence as close to the Temple as possible?"

Leone shook his head, "No, actually, I'm intrigued by the idea of seeing one of the nearby space stations."

"I see, but it would be possibly to have quick access to the Temple from some stations such as Bayonne." The robot used a small holoprojector to display the location of the Bayonne station which was connected to the asteroid by a set of space elevators.

Leone said, "I'd prefer something with easy access to the spaceship docks where I arrived yesterday."

Frank shifted the displayed region Esclangon to that centered on the spaceport. "In that case, a good choice would be Calais Arcology. Let me show you-"

Leone suggested, "Can you let us use your dataprojector? I'm sure we can find it on our own."

Frank shrugged, "Of course." He handed Leone the device. "You can control the projector with voice commands or just point...the interface is traditional."

Two hours latter Leone and Sybil were officially installed as the temporary residents of a home in the Calais Arcology. It was sparsely furnished and, in fact, the Frank who came by to formalize their occupancy and retrieve the projector explained that nobody had ever lived there previously. He tried to talk them out of this selection. "There is another similar residence nearby that is completely furnished."

Leone did not like the idea of living among the clutter of items collected by someone else. "This will do fine, thank you"

Frank departed and Leone joined Sybil where she stood looking out a large window that provided a view of other nearby space stations in orbit around Esclangon. They did not have a view of Esclangon itself.

Leone still wondered if there were spy devices even here, but he had already decided this was the best he could do to have some privacy. He really wanted to discuss with Sybil the idea that this was actually the star system of Earth, the so called Solar System. It was now clear to Leone that this was a fact, but he was baffled as to why the true location of Earth had been hidden. He was still nervous about mentioning the location of Earth. Instead, he raised the issue of Set, "I was disturbed by Bahney's suggestion that Set might have come to this star system. Yesterday you said that Kalid thinks Set attacked Flammis. Can you tell me how Kalid knows that?"

Sybil was disturbed by the effort Leone had gone to in order to attain some privacy. Kalid had warned her that the Spaceship Guild tightly controlled the population of Esclangon and used robotic spys. At the time, Sybil had assumed that Kalid was talking about special attention being paid to the Haldus Order Temple of Esclangon, but now it seemed possible that there was some great secret about the Solar System that the Spaceship Guild actively worked to maintain. Sybil wanted to discuss the mystery of Earth and what the Spaceship Guild might be hiding, but she had decided not to discuss anything that Kalid had not previously felt free to discuss.

Sybil was feeling guilt over the fact that the decision of the Silver Tulipan Order to send Leone to Flammis seemed to have led to the Set's attack on Flammis. After departing from Sakkara in Kalid's spaceship, Kalid had explained that he feared for her life since she was the one who sent the technicians to install the Invocator in Leone's ship. Kalid explained that one of those technicians had been killed. Sybil had asked how Kalid knew that the technician was dead and that Set had attacked Flammis, but he had remained silent and refused to answer. Now Leone was asking the same question about Flammis.

Sybil was aware of the fact that Kalid had been able to communicate with Leone by using telepathy, even while far distant on his spaceship, and by that means Kalid had managed to get Leone to come to Esclangon. Sybil had never previously imagined the possibility that a mind could reach out across interstellar space in that way. Was Kalid the only one who could do such a thing? She believed the Haldus Order intelligence reports about Set and his telepathic abilities. Could Set also establish telepathic links to distant spaceships? Had that ability allowed Set to follow Leone's spaceship? Had that same "far seeing" ability allowed Kalid to know that Set had attacked Flammis?

Sybil still had the memory from when she was sixteen of her mother instructing her about Kalid, "...when you meet him be aware and do not ask silly impertinent questions of him... just try to listen instead of talking." During her time with Kalid on Esclagon there were many questions she had wanted to ask Kalid, but she had held back, particularly after he had refused to say anything about how he knew that Set was responsible for the murderous attack on Flammis. Sybil had been trained to accept the need for secrecy in the Haldus Order. If it were important that she know something, she would be informed. Otherwise, it was her job to recruit into Silver Tulipan any promising young telepaths on Sakkara. So, given the need for secrecy, what could she now say to Leone?

Sybil continued to gaze out the window. Leone wondered if Sybil was going to reply. "Are you not allowed to tell me Haldus Order secrets?"

Finally she said, "Leone, I know that you have risked your life trying to find Kalid. I appreciate what you have done in an effort to reach out and cooperate with Kalid so as to find a way to deal with Set. I wish you had arrived here a few hours earlier, before Kalid departed, then you could have asked him these kinds of questions. Kalid knows far more than I..."

Leone nodded. "Well, I'm not sure we can afford to wait until Kalid returns...and, I hate to say this, but what if he never returns?" The implication of his hypothetical was that Set might kill Kalid. By the look on Sybil's face he could tell that she was also thinking about that possibility. "If Kalid is killed, then it will truly be up to you and I to find a way to deal with Set. I think we should assume that Kalid would want us to do our best to help deal with the dangers posed by Set. So, what I am trying to say, is we should trust each other and share what we know."

Sybil did want to be completely open with Leone. She knew that she could trust him, but she was crippled by the fear that more disasters would befall the Order if she shared any more secrets with Leone. At that moment she decided that she could not live in fear and had to exert her will. "Yes, I agree. Let me tell you what I know about Set..."

Calls for helpEdit

Leone listened to Sybil's account of how Set had hunted down and murdered Haldus Order adepts. Set had then sent a warning to the main Silver Tulipan Temple on Sakkara: release the evidence you have about the space elevators disaster or more of your members will die. She described in detail Kalid's account of his telepathic vision of the attack on Flammis. "And now I have word that my home on Sakkara has been invaded twice, and it appears that Portia and Glen were abducted. Of course, I suspect Set. Kalid and the rest of the Haldus Order tried to go into hiding, but I believe we can no longer afford to hide, we must all act together to contain Set."

Leone told Sybil the details of Set's continuing attempts to intimidate the Sakkaran government. "I'd happily see Set prosecuted for his crimes, but Set is also right to demand that we solve the mystery of the space elevators disaster. Those telepaths of the Haldus Order with information about the space elevators disaster need to come forward with their evidence."

Sybil nodded, "They long ago gave their evidence to the Justice Department."

Leone had carefully investigated that claim. "But there is no evidence of that. Look, we have to start at the beginning. We can set up an independent tribunal to hear their evidence."

Sybil said, "It is unlikely that those witnesses will come forward as long as Set is free to roam the galaxy executing members of the Haldus Order."

Leone paced for a minute in front of the window. "Okay, so we are back where we started a week ago...can we form a coalition that is able to contain Set? Let's call Kalid and Aristark back and then go to Akara. It still makes sense to try to unite the strengths of the Antiquist party and the Haldus Order against Set. Really, how else can we hope to contain him?"

Sybil replied, "I'm not sure there is another way, but some members of the Haldus Order are afraid to work with the Antiquists. I tried to get Kalid to go to Azur and meet with Ketar, but Kalid wanted to come here. Now that I have figured out that this system is the home of human kind I want to ask Kalid why he came here."

Leone nodded. "Yes, I figured that out, also. I wonder why the true location of Earth was hidden from the galaxy."

Sybil shook her head, "It is hard to believe that such a deception is possible."

Leone said, "Okay, I'll call Aristark and you call Kalid."

Sybil was about to say that she had no way of contacting Kalid, but at that moment the front door opened and Bahney entered, followed by a squad of other robots. "Halt! No calls! You are both under arrest!"

Leone demanded, "Arrest? Under what authority?"

Bahney replied, "I'm an agent of the SGIS. I've been ordered to take you to Earth."

Sybil said, "Earth? That is a dead world!"

Leone sputtered, "SGIS? Spaceship Guild Intelligence? I don't recognize your authority over me!" Leone tried to run out the door, but he was restrained by the robots.

Bahney said, "They are resisting arrest." She ordered, "Gas them."

Leone and Sybil were quickly rendered unconscious and then loaded into a spaceship that was docked to the archology. Soon they were on the way to Earth.
Future Mars

KalidEdit

Kalid

Kalid and his wife

Kalid's spaceship was entering into orbit around Mars and negotiating a flight path for docking at one of the orbiting space stations connected to a space elevator that could take him to the surface. Since h32.4 had a relatively low gravity, it had long been served by space elevators.

Kalid monitored his ship's artificial intelligence and thought about the strange man who he now pursued. Kalid tried to keep from falling into a mindless rage as he thought about the fact that Set had murdered nearly the entire population of Flammis. Only Kalid, who happened to be off planet during the attack, and a few others, had survived.

Kalid was having trouble thinking clearly. He could not control or repress his complex mix of feelings. He felt both depressed and angry at the same time. These dark moods seemed to be something that no spiritual technique could heal. Set's attack on Flammis had revived haunting memories of the last moments spent with his wife and he could not dismiss the pain that came from the fact that now he would never again see either her or his son again. He knew what he had to do; submit Set to the justice system, but he doubted that he could do that. Now it was personal. Kalid reflected on his long life of careful training in the control of his own mind, but now he was lost. This was a danger his Master had warned about: Kalid had allowed himself too much love of his relatives and the existence of such an external force with so much control over him was dangerous for a man like Kalid.

Kalid had hoped that by coming to this star system he might be able to accomplish some damage control. The Grand Master of the Haldus Order Temple on Azur had reported to Kalid on the way Ketar's defense fleet had attacked Leone's spaceship. Because of the way Leone had used the Invocator to escape from Ketar's forces, it was clear that Ketar now understood that it was possible to cloak a spaceship. Kalid thought: Katar had prepared a lavish welcome for me on Azur, so it seems likely that Ketar had hoped that Leone would bring me to Azur. Almost certainly Ketar now associated cloaking with the Haldus Order. If so, then this was the worst breech of Haldus Order security ever. Kalid now had to act to repair the leak...it was unacceptable that anyone outside the order know that such technology existed.

Kalid knew that the Spaceship Guild kept constant watch on the Haldus Temple of Esclagon. Kalid's hope had been that by going to Esclagon he might draw Ketar out of the Akara system and into the open, but then, somehow, Set had appeared! Kalid wondered if Set had been keeping a special watch on Sybil, but if so, how could anyone have followed them through hyperspace? If Set could use his telepathic powers to follow people through hyperspace then why had Set's spaceship come here, to Mars, rather than to Esclagon? Did The Futurist Party have spies in this star system? There were just too many unanswered questions.

Now as he drew near to Set, Kalid needed to think everything thorough in a logical way; he could not afford to follow his desire for revenge, he needed to calm down. It had been easy for Kalid to track Set's approach to Mars, but now Set's relatively weak telepathic output was lost in the haze of telepathic output that surrounded Mars. Kalid suspected that Set had gone down to the surface of Mars, but he had no confidence that he could find Set down there. There were quite a few telepaths on Mars and all those other minds confounded Kalid's ability to lock onto Set's mind pattern. To do so would take Kalid's full powers of concentration, but the sadness that plagued his own mind was something he could not avoid. Kalid felt that he would eventually get past his great loss by using his advanced energy handling and relaxation techniques, but he did not want to use those methods at this time. He still needed to feel his losses, at least for a while, as any human would. It was something he had learned while being under training at the Order: he should not use his skills to overwrite his true feelings. If he did that then he would stop being a man...he would become some kind of robot.

Master Kalid felt desperate, something he had not experienced since he was young. Kalid knew he had grown soft and he had come to rely on the comfortable fact that everything on his home world had been carefully controlled and peaceful. He had to change his patterns of thought and face the reality that now chaos was reigning. Set was completely out of his mind and nobody knew to what extent Set would let his madness continue to spread violence and death around the galaxy. Kalid took a deep breath and made a special kata in order to take some fresh energy and lead it to his mind. Kalid's mind was in a borderline state and he needed that energy to avoid falling apart emotionally. In addition to his desire to capture Set and maybe, indulge the illicit desire to take revenge on him, there was also the feeling of guilt for not having been able to protect Flammis.

Some minutes before Set's attack on Flammis, Kalid had felt something. He knew that feeling very well, it was his sense of danger. He had a brief vision and could see his family in peril. At that moment, he understood that it was a vision from the future; they would be attacked. Kalid did not know when the attack would come and so he wanted to go back home as soon as possible, but he had hesitated for a few seconds. He recalled the vision and tried to judge if it might be a false vision, maybe a stray thought that was just triggered by stress. But no, he was sure: his mind never gave him false images of the world. He had really seen the future. With no further delay he had commanded his ship's AI to change course and go back to Flammis. He had departed from Flammis less than a day before, so it would not take long to return, but it was too late. Before he knew that, Kalid had tried to see more details of the impending attack.

Kalid retired to his cabin and closed it hermetically. No sound and no light could enter the room so there was just the sound of his breathing. He had to quickly enter into a conscious REM state, he had no time for anything more. He put his mind in a blank state and performed all the energy forms in the correct order: those katas, taken from ancient martial arts, could put his mind in a special state of relaxation and trance. After that, he went to his bed and relaxed his muscles. He felt a strange sensation, the spaceship was entering hyperspace, maybe...it did not matter...all distractions must be dismissed from his thoughts. He then visualized the planet Flammis. After a moment, he could see Flammis directly with the eye of his mind. His mind penetrated the surface of the planet, found the under ground city and he could sense horror...the people of Flammis were being attacked by a spaceship. His vision blurred and he could only hear screams of terror and sense much pain. At that moment he recognized the death cries of some of his friends and relatives and that made him lose his concentration...he woke up.

Kalid knew he was not really guilty for having failed to protect Flammis. He could not have gotten back to the planet in time to help, but he also knew he had left the planet for strange and unusual reasons. He would probably never know if he really needed to leave home just at that time, but he had sensed that Sybil was in danger and so going to Sakkara had become a special mission he felt he had to accomplish... or at least try to accomplish. Kalid knew that there is a reason why it is so hard to predict the future with any certainty: the future was constantly in the process of being created. Kalid's rational mind knew he could not have avoided his true fate, but his emotions told him otherwise. It was an unfamiliar dichotomy of mind for Kalid. He now knew his weak points, his emotions that he could not control, and he also knew that Set could exploited them. Set had crushed Kalid's mind discipline completely by slaughtering the population of Flammis. Now Kalid was rushing to confront Set on Mars... rushing blindly into a confrontation with Set which Kalid had been cautiously avoiding for months.

Kalid tried to calm his mind. He was losing his self-control. Hate was something for weak minds, he knew that. But at that moment, his mind was cracked. He only wanted revenge... or justice, at the bare minimum. Kalid had underestimated Set and now he was dealing with the consequences for his failure.

Now, almost a week had passed since the attack on Flammis and his anger was almost completely transformed from an initial raw reaction to a new stable mind set. What remained for Kalid's rational mind was the thought: Set was mentally disturbed and had been driven to homicidal rage by his own personal loss. However, while the red fire of anger had mostly faded from Kalid, his depression had grown stronger. On a rational level, he knew his life's mission and the Order were more important than his family or himself, but by losing his family he had lost all hope, everything he ever personally cared for on the emotional side of his mind. The centuries-old purpose of the Order was too abstract to truly motivate a man. Only one thing was moving Kalid's mind: the need to bring Set to justice. The Order was now of second importance. Kalid knew it was temporary, but who could say when he would recover his faith in the Order... the Order that could not save Flammis, in spite of all its power? Kalid tried to think rationally about the matter and wondered if he would have enough time to plan his "justice" or would he be forced to act instinctively...which would be dangerous now with his emotions still so raw.

Really, the Order did not matter anymore. And not only the Order... after the death of his relatives, his life would have no purpose. Long ago, in the years after Flammis had been attacked the first time, the Order had believed that it could safely return and hide under the veil of the green clouds. With time, it had come to seem like a great joke, hiding an important base for the Order right under the nose of those who had previously attacked Flammis and turned it into a Green planet. He had lived to protect Flammis, but he had failed, completely. Now what good would he do in the world? Was it even possible for a man like Kalid to use revenge as a reason to keep on living? Truly, he was sickened by his own desire for revenge. He searched his soul and found no other reason... or maybe there was one: to protect all remaining members of the Haldus Order from extinction. It seemed that Set's attacks were premeditated and becoming increasingly daring. Maybe Set now wanted to destroy the whole Order and not only those with telepathic powers. In that case, there was a reason for him to live... he decided that he would not feel guilty for Set's murders again, ever.

For a moment, Kalid entertained another idea: self-sacrifice. Maybe it could be arranged that Set would only try to kill him. Maybe Kalid could make a deal and let Set kill him, but, no, Set would not do that. There was nothing special about Kalid, Set would happily destroy Kalid first then move on to exterminate the entire Order....even complete innocents like Sybil. And anyhow, it was a promise. He had promised Jeremy he would always protect Sybil. Kalid vowed that he would not fail Jeremy as he failed his family.

For a few minutes Kalid watched the surface of Mars and he marveled at the progress being made in terraforming this world. It was an inspiring sight. He could remember how Mars had looked so lifeless when he first saw it, but now its surface was sprinkled with small lakes and wide regions of green growing plants. Well, mostly it was still cold-resistant algae in lichens, but it was a start. Then his thoughts relentlessly returned to his troubles and he again felt repentance for not having been able to prevent the deaths of his family members. He felt as if he was sinking in his own mind and that his life was not worth living....but then, slowly, his thinking shifted out of this rut and somehow he knew these feelings were not new. He told himself: yes, I just keep thinking obsessively about the same things. And it did not matter either. His life had no purpose... He fatalistically thought: maybe my only remaining purpose is to be a martyr for the Order. If he could have only saved his f... but what was he remembering now? How could have he forgotten about that? Yes...he had already felt these things before...years before. Kalid felt a powerful sense of something unusual like déjà vu. Finally he recognized the source. It had been at his first meeting with Sybil... when he tried to enter her nervous system. At that time he had not been able to understand what had happened.

At that session with Sybil he had been deeply shocked by his failed attempt to explore Sybil's mind and by the way she had escaped his created dream, but now he finally realized that at that time, so many years ago, a message had been sent ahead to the future...to now. At that time he had sensed the future and he had wanted to sink in his sadness, oblivious to life and the world. There had been no way, back then, for Kalid to know that he had glimpsed the future...this very moment. No, this was no typical deja vu experience, it was a telepathic loop in time that amplified the feelings and the emotions arising from the fact that his son and thousands of others had been slaughtered. Now that he understood the source of the force that was driving him to despair he could shift his focus and see that the important question was: why? Why had this loop been created? How could Sybil trigger such an amplification of thoughts and how could she have pushed his mind to the future? Kalid now realized that whenever he was near her he always felt a familiar sensation. It was a kind of background noise, and he had always previously let it simmer in his subconscious.

And it was familiar indeed... It was the same feeling as when he had been near Jeremy, her father. Maybe she had the same gifts as Jeremy but in a hidden form. Kalid had often tried to engage in a telepathic conversation with Jeremy, but he always ended up tired, depressed and the conversation never took place. It was as if Jeremy was instinctively shielded against a mind intrusion. Maybe his daughter had developed the same skill. Kalid thought of Jeremy as a powerful emitter of telepathic particles, one of the most powerful Kalid had ever known. Maybe Sybil had grown up constantly exposed to that invasive flux of particles and so her mind had found ways to get rid of them, not allowing them to enter her own mind. And maybe that was why Kalid had been kicked out of her mind. But that was not all. Somehow the force of Sybil's mind had allowed Kalid's mind to see the future then. If that was an innate (although hidden) power of hers, then Sybil could be a key person inside the Order. Kalid had left her at Esclangon...but was she safe from Set's wrath?

Reacting to this new realization about Sybil's abilities, Kalid made one last effort to understand Set. Kalid did not really want his last deed to be destroying Set or even bringing him to justice. After all, Set had suffered a great loss and probably had felt exactly these same feelings, that everything in his life was now devoid of meaning. And Kalid feared that Set's command of telepathy was mightier than his own. At least Set seemed smarter or trickier. Was Set attacking Kalid specifically? There was no real basis for enmity between them. Had Set decided to destroy the entire Order? Kalid and the Order were so off balance that they had started down the path of working with their traditional enemy, the Antiquist Party. How had it come to this, how were things going so wrong? Kalid could not understand what the key was to Set's behavior. There was no reason at all for the slaughter at Flammis. Kalid knew Set very well and knew that Set was not a murderer, at least not a blind one. There must be some conspiracy somewhere, Kalid sensed it.

MarsEdit

Mars elevator with ship

Kalid had pressed himself and his ship at the maximum limit of acceleration, but Set had reached h32.4 nearly twelve hours before Kalid. How has Set jumped so deep into this star system? Well, it did not matter, he was now just minutes away from docking.

Kalid quietly cursed himself for having left Sybil behind at the Haldus Order Temple on Esclangon. Everything at that Temple was totally bogus, just a show piece designed to confuse and distract the enemies of the Order, but Kalid had not told Sybil that truth. She had quickly figured out for herself that the Temple on Esclagon was unique and she had even developed a kind of fascination for it... and Kalid hoped that Esclangon had provided a distraction for Sybil and a safe place for her while waiting for Leone to arrive.

Kalid wondered: was it truly safe? He felt now again the full force of a desire to protect everyone around him. Sybil was like a daughter to him, he did not want to lose her as he had lost his wife and son. It was possible that no other star system in the galaxy had as many Spaceship Guild spies and agents as this one. Of course, it was often sound policy to hide things right under the noses of people who were looking for them. Somehow the Spaceship Guild, or at least the Antiquist Party, had recently renewed its interest in the Haldus Order. Was Ketar simply attracted by Set's rampage on Sakkara or did his interest go deeper than that?

In any case, Kalid had been taken by surprise by Set's arrival in this star system. There was no point in trying to invent excuses for his failure to anticipate this. Kalid had traveled most of the way from Esclangon to Mars while completely shielded by his Invocator in order to prevent Set from knowing that he was on his way to Mars. Kalid was carefully blocking his own telepathic emissions and he had relied on the Invocator to track Set to Mars. However, upon reaching Mars Kalid had to uncloak and negotiate with the authorities who seemed particularly irked that Kalid had been traveling in system without using a standard navigation beacon.

Still, Kalid was granted a landing birth for his ship. He had been slapped with a fine, but soon enough he was riding an elevator down to the planet. It was good to get off of the spaceship. At least some activity would help him try not to think about his lost relatives. Kalid's strategy now was to get to a safe location and then allow his telepathic emissions to leak out to Set in an attempt to attract Set into a trap. However, when Kalid stepped out of the elevator car he was met by a squad of robots and a member of the citizen militia. The militia member was a frail woman who called out. "Halt, Kalid! In the name of the people of Mars I place you under arrest."

Everyone within earshot stopped moving through the elevator terminal and looked at Kalid. Kalid felt a sudden burst of anger... his loss had caused a slight personality change in him...he no longer had mastery of his emotions. He took a deep breath and took control of his mind again. This situation was completely unexpected....or did this have to do with his cloaked travel through a populates star system?

Kalid said, "What is the charge against me?"

"We will take you to your accuser so you can hear the charges from their source."

Two of the robots stepped forward and took hold of Kalid's arms. He gave no resistance. He was quickly taken to a small office where another militia man waited. All the robots remained outside. The man said, "Please sit down."

Kalid sat on the small stool that was in the middle of the room. He was still wondering: who was his accuser? The militia man said, "My name is Alfred. I happened to be on militia duty today when word came to me that you were coming down to planet and that you should be arrested. Don't bother to ask me what is going on. We'll both find out in a few minutes, or I'll let you go free."

The wall in front of Kalid came alive with a view of Set. Kalid could not restrain the sudden burst of hate that flooded his brain. So HE was the accuser... it made no sense. Kalid was looking for Set in order to take him to justice for his crimes at Flammis and now Set was accusing him? Besides, Kalid had long thought Set only sneak attacked, but his attack on Flammis and now this indicated that Set had become bolder. Set was now seeking revenge for his personal loss by all means possible. Kalid realized that it had only been with the unexpected help of Sybil's unusual powers and the telepathic loop in time that he had managed to prevent himself from going down that path himself. Kalid stayed quiet while analyzing his opponent.

Alfred said, "Are you Set? Do you have charges to issue against Kalid?"

Set spoke directly to Kalid, "I'm impressed. Less than a day after I turn to the Martian justice system and there sits the Great Master!"

Alfred turned to Kalid, "I'm sorry to have wasted your time, you are free to go. There are apparently no charges-"

Set shouted, "Wait! I have charges!"

Alfred turned back to face Set. "Then state the charges without further delay."

Set said, "I've already read the charges into the record."

Alfred muttered under his breath and looked at a small data display. "I see that you are both from outside of this system. Let me explain what is going on. Kalid, about ten hours ago Set filed charges against you here on Mars. Set, you are now required to state the charges."

Set said, "The charge is conspiracy in the case of the attack on the space elevators of Sakkara, a case that includes multiple murders and other criminal subcharges."

Alfred said, "Thanks. Kalid, how do you respond to these charges?"

Kalid said, "I had nothing to do with the attack on the space elevators of Sakkara. Plus, I doubt he has any proof of those "charges". These are nothing but false and fabricated charges."

Alfred said, "Okay, the magistrate who heard these charges from Set has seen written documents that Set has entered into the judicial record as supporting evidence from these charges." He handed the small data display to Kalid. "These are the documents that Set submitted to the magistrate."

Kalid skimmed through the displayed documents. "Most of these documents have nothing to do with me. It looks like the few that do relate to me are false claims about where I have been and what I have done during the past several months." Kalid was relieved now that he could see the documents. They could do no harm to him.

Alfred asked, "So, Kalid, do you dispute the validity of these charges?"

Kalid replied, "I do."

Alfred said, "Kalid, by our law, given the charge of murder that has been made, you must appear before the magistrate in order to dispute these charges. How long will it take you to read the evidence and prepare your response for the magistrate?"

Kalid replied, "I suppose it will take several hours."

Alfred took back the datapad from Kalid. "Okay, the magistrate has an open time slot in about 18 hours. I just reserved that time slot for this case. Kalid, you will remain in custody until the hearing and you will be transported to the magistrate for the hearing." Alfred looked at both Kalid and Set. "Is there any other business for today?"

Set gave a sneering smile and mock salute to Kalid and his image faded. Kalid said, "This is absurd. I hope that I will be able to bring a counter suit against Set for false imprisonment." He could not remove Set's smile from his mind. He imagined that same smile had been there while Set was slaughtering the population of Flammis. Kalid promised that he would never again hesitate to go after Set, even at the risk of his own life. Set was someone who should be stopped at any cost.

Alfred shook his head. "Ug. I suggest you just focus on what you will say to the magistrate in your own defense. Now, I have no facilities here to hold you, so I suggest that we go directly to the Hall of Magistrates. Are you ready to go?"

Kalid stood up, "I'm at your disposal." Kalid sighed in resignation to the fine trick Set had engineered. Chasing around the Galaxy and flying into conflict at maximum acceleration were games for the young. Kalid had to ask himself: was he up to this challenge? Was it time to pass his responsibilities on to a younger member of the Order?

CourtEdit

Alfred and Kalid walked side by side through the subsurface passageways with the robot guards following along behind. Alfred asked, "Have you visited here before?"

Kalid replied, "During my adult life it has been my practice to visit the Home World at least every ten years."

Alfred paused and looked around, particularly he looked back at the robots. "Over here." He led the way to the far side of the chamber they were in. They reached a row of small glass compartments that opened out onto a huge subsurface chamber. Kalid was awe-struck by this view of a huge subsurface space, in his experience this vast scale was only rivaled by the underground cities of Azur. Each time Kalid saw human constructs on this kind of scale he was edified and awed.

Alfred ordered the robots into one glass compartment, closed the door and pushed a button. Their compartment started moving down the wall of the huge subsurface chamber and was soon out of sight. Alfred led Kalid into the next glass compartment that slid over into place next to them. Alfred spoke quietly, "I've lived here all my life, but I'm told that almost nobody in other star systems around the galaxy knows that this is the Home Star System."

Kalid nodded, "That is true, very few indeed know the truth. I feel it is my duty to come back to Earth every ten years or so.... it helps remind me that I still have much to do in my life, particularly when I get too self-involved."

For a minute, while their glass-walled transport chamber moved down the wall, Alfred and Kalid enjoyed the view. Alfred looked at Kalid as if for the first time. "What are your self-involvements? Why did you come here today?"

Kalid replied, "I wanted to find Set, but he found me first. I figured he was up to no good. Little did I know that he had found a new way to attack me. I had incorrectly imagined that the worst he could do was to kill my family." At that moment Kalid could not repress his grief and it triggered a new feeling in his body. His long forgotten and apparently cured itching in the back suddenly struck again. It was many years since he had felt that unpleasant sensation. Kalid wondered if this was a warning from his body that something was challenging his immune system. Maybe it was just random activation of his spine neurons, due to heavy stress or repression of feelings.

Alfred was shocked. "Set killed your family?"

Kalid nodded, took a deep breath and said "Set killed my son and thousands of others." Each time Kalid thought about his loss it opened the wound again, but it was a reality his mind had to live with.

Alfred asked, "Do you intend to make that a formal counter-charge when you go before the Magistrate?"

Kalid said, "I do not know. Is there some way I can get legal advice? I have no experience with the legal system here."

Kalid wondered if it would be possible to use conventional legal system tools to get revenge and bring Set to justice for the slaughter at Flammis. Maybe the legal system here provided an opportunity to strike back. But Kalid's master had always said that it was better to avoid a direct confrontation... always the principle of no-resistance. This time everything was different. Set had attacked first and the only way to neutralize him was by striking back, that was, taking Set to justice. Kalid expected further attacks by Set and something had to be done. Set was now apparently trying to put Kalid in prison while he would be free to go about his business. And beyond what was going on here in this system, Kalid had to protect the entire Haldus Order too. Would Set stop his rampage before he slaughtered every member of the Order? Kalid had worked to convince Set that the Haldus Order had nothing to do with the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara, but Set had simply murdered the Haldus Order representatives who volunteered to explain things to Set. Was there something deeper than revenge motivating Set? Maybe Set knew something about the secret Haldus Order technology...

They had reached the end of their ride down the cliff face and their glass compartment dove into a tube. Alfred said, "We have very few professional legalists. By our law, ordinary citizens are called upon to run the legal system. If you want my advice, I'd say defend yourself against the charges from Set. If what you say is true, it should not be hard to get yourself released. Then, rather than involve yourself further with our legal system, go back to your home world and file charges against Set on your own world where you know the legal system better."

Kalid nodded, "That sounds like reasonable advice, except for the fact that Set has exterminated every man, woman and child in my world."

Alfred said, "I'm sorry. Clearly I know nothing about your life and this case." After five more minutes they emerged from the transport tube and slid into a small debarkation chamber. They exited their glass compartment and the squad of robots fell in behind as they walked to the Magistarium.

Kalid soon found himself locked in a suite of comfortable rooms with a standard data terminal. He read through the "evidence" and confirmed that someone had tried to fabricate a case against him. Certain that he could defend himself against the charges, he then tried to sleep and recover from the punishing high-acceleration flight from Esclangon to Mars.

Kalid did not sleep very long. His sleep had refreshed his mind and now he was ready to reply to Set's charges. He had asked for heaven's counseling. Upon waking he called for food and wrote a short rebuttal of the charges that had been made against him and sent it to the magistrate who was handling the case. Not long after completing that task, another member of the militia arrived to lead him before the magistrate. Kalid was somewhat surprised to find himself in a room with over a hundred spectators. When he commented on the size of the audience, the militia woman said, "Many more are watching remotely. Your case is rather sensational by our standards. Now, here's the magistrate."

The magistrate was also a woman. She came into the hearing room and said hello to Kalid and then chatted for a minute with the militia woman. Apparently they knew each other from outside of court or had previously met during other court cases. She then looked around the room and that was enough to stop all conversations and bring everyone to silence. She then said, "I'm magistrate Felice. Is Set present? No? Okay, that does not really matter. Kalid, are you ready to defend yourself against Set's charges?"

Kalid replied, "Yes. The charges are fabrications. I had nothing to do with the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara." He spoke for twenty minutes and increasingly noticed that everyone in the room seemed bored, Kalid had a sententious and monotone voice. Finally he said, "Magistrate Felice, I am unfamiliar with your legal system. I'm open to any guidance you can provide to me. It seems like nobody here is particularly interested in what I am saying."

Felice said, "Well, that does not matter, I am obliged to listen even if I am bored."

The gallery erupted in laughter. Kalid's mood brightened considerably. "Well, I'd be happy to change topics if it is doing me no good to refute the 'evidence' page by page."

Felice said, "I think you've made your point about the quality of the evidence against you. Frankly, the fact that Set is not here to cross examine you speaks volumes. I might send a memo to the Department of Justice on Sakkara suggesting that they investigate Set and the charges he made against you."

Kalid said, "Set is a wanted man on Sakkara already. I suspect this 'case' will be of little interest to the Sakkaran authorities".

Felice explained, "One of our rules is that if anyone makes false charges against someone else then they are to be held accountable. If Set returns to this world, he could face murder charges because of the murder charges he made against you. However, I suspect that he will never return. It seems likely that he just wanted to draw you into the open and distract you. We are very concerned for your safety and we have taken great precautions to protect you from possible harm."

Kalid nodded. "That is wise. Set recently led an attack on my home world during which the entire planet's human population was exterminated. I suppose it is possible that Set would like to see the same fate for me."

Felice asked, "How did you escape the fate of everyone else on your planet?"

Kalid replied, "Myself and a very few others were off planet on routine business."

Felice said. "I see. Is there any other business you wish to bring to my attention?"

"I have no idea what is considered appropriate."

Felice shrugged. "We have set aside this time to listen to you and anything that is on your mind. For example, I personally wonder if you have any idea why Set would come here from a great distance in order to make these charges against you?"

Kalid said, "I cannot argue against the reason you suggested... to bring me into the open, possibly for an attack on my life. When I learned that Set had returned to this system-"

Felice interrupted, "Eh? What is this? I had assumed that Set had never previously been to this star system."

Kalid shrugged, "He was also here a few days ago. I was interested in trying to learn where he went between his earlier visit to this system. I've been told that he visited Sakkara to commit a kidnapping and that he met with the Governor of Azur."

Felice asked, "What is the source of your information?"

Kalid replied, "I have been in contact with the Grand Master of a Temple on Azur. He reported to me that Set had a meeting with the Governor of Azur, Ketar. I'm also in contact with a Temple Master from Sakkara...it was her assistant who Set kidnapped."

Felice frowned. "You seem to be saying that Set was here, Set met with the Governor of Azur and then Set returned here and charged you with murder. That seems like a strange course of events. Can you make sense of any of this?"

Kalid sighed. "I think Set first came to this star system while following the Temple Master from Sakkara, who had fled her home world out of fear for her safety. I believe Set may intend to kill her, too. Maybe Set wanted to get me out of the way or tie me up in a legal proceeding for a time."

Felice asked, "Is she traveling with you? Is she still in orbit?"

"No. She is visiting Esclangon."

Felice said, "I see. You are a bubbling source of much interesting information."

Kalid acknowledged her comment with a half bow. Kalid said, "It might also be relevant that Ketar has been politically active on Sakkara."

Felice snorted. "Indeed. I'm familiar with Ketar; he is politically active across much of the known galaxy. I must say, Ketar and Set seem to be strange bed partners." Again the gallery laughed.

Kalid did not like to be making a circus of justice, but this was a way to strike back at Set. Kalid realized that what was really needed was to return to Sakkara and bring Set to justice there. The dirty laundry of Sakkara and the Order was apparently entertaining for the people of Mars, but getting in zingers against Set in this forum was pointless.

Felice continued, "Well, I'm speaking metaphorically. Ketar is rumored to have a long-standing financial agreement with the Spaceship Guild. Based on my research into Set and Sakkara, it seems that Set is no friend of the Spaceship Guild and has in the past charged them with involvement in the attack on the Sakkaran space elevators. What could Ketar and Set have in common?"

Kalid was rather surprised to hear the magistrate speaking so knowledgeably about Sakkara and doing so in such a public forum. Beyond the humor and playfulness, the magistrate had a brain, indeed. Kalid decided to ask what might be an embarrassing question for Felice. Now it was time to test her honesty. "Since you are familiar with Set, why did you arrest me and not Set?"

Felice replied, "When I got a report on Set from Sakkara, I tried to find him, but he seems to have disappeared. Apparently he is no longer on Mars. By that time, this court session had already been scheduled and so I decided that you should have a chance to publicly refute the charges Set had made against you."

Kalid decided he might as well take this opportunity to pitch in and contribute what he could to sorting out mysteries. He had his mouth open and was about to report what he had been told by the Grand Master of the Temple on Azur, but he noticed a familiar face in the gallery. The man was just now walking in and taking a seat on the end of one of the crowded benches was Aristark.

TraitorEdit

Upon seeing Aristark, Kalid started thinking about Haldus Order intelligence reports he had seen from Sakkara, particularly a report from Sybil about the days after the attack on the space elevators.

Felice asked, "Were you going to say something more?"

Kalid replied, "Yes, I would like to tell you what the Grand Master of the Temple on Azur told me." Kalid did so while still thinking about Aristark. He had to split his mind processes into two streams. "The Temple Master of Azur told me his theory about the 'strange partners' of Ketar and Set." Kalid was careful not to continue the joke about them. It was not time for jokes; it was time for justice. "That theory suggested that maybe Set and Ketar have a common interest in causing civil unrest. The Temple Master of Azur suggested that maybe Ketar and Set planned to use the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara as justification for attacks against their enemies."

Felice chuckled, "I take it then that there is no evidence to support the idea that Ketar and Set worked together to plan the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara."

Kalid had never taken seriously the ideas of the Grand Master of the Haldus Order Temple on Azur. While talking, he had been thinking furiously about Aristark and the fact that Aristark had been in position to hide the identities of the true perpetrators of the attack on the space elevators. Kalid was mentally exploring the idea that there was a conspiracy to hide the truth about the disaster and Aristark was the instrument of that conspiracy. Or, Kalid had to ask himself, was he thinking in a paranoid way just because of his loss? Time would tell. Clearly, Aristark had been in position to hear from Leone about Sybil's belief that Kalid could be found on Flammis. Aristark had delayed their trip to Flammis for a day during which Set had learned of the existence of Flammis and sent an attack force to exterminate the population of Flammis. Why would Aristark, the head of the Sakkaran Department of Justice, do these things? Money, politics? Suddenly it all made sense to Kalid. Aristark was Ketar's key contact on Sakkara. Ketar had recently ordered his growing fleet to attack all Haldus Order ships. It made sense that Ketar would also order Aristark to help make use of Set to attack Haldus Order facilities like the secret base on Flammis.

Kalid said, "I agree that there is no available evidence to support the idea put forward by the Grand Master of the Haldus Order Temple on Azur. However, that is just an an example of an attempt to try to understand strange events such the recent unprovoked attack on a Sakkaran spaceship in the Akara star system and the murder of all inhabitants on my home world. The question is, who would have been in a position to order and to benefit from those attacks?"

Felice was profoundly disoriented and largely unfamiliar with the details of Sakkaran politics and she did not know anything about Kalid's home world. "Well, if you can rule out the involvement of our "strange bed partners" Ketar and Set, then who can you suggest as a more likely perpetrator?"

Kalid replied, "In the case of the destruction of the elevators on Sakkara, a more compelling theory has been produced by the Temple Master on Sakkara. You can find a printed copy of that evidence report on my spaceship, in orbit. Figuring heavily in that report is a high official of Sakkara, Aristark."

A robot came forward and whispered in Felice's ear. She looked towards the gallery and said, "I'm told that by strange coincidence, the head of the Department of Justice on Sakkara, Aristark, is in this room."

Aristark rose to his feet. "I am here." Kalid looked at him, analyzing every move and the colors of his aura. Kalid said to himself: here was the type of person who could betray a friend, definitely...for a price.

Felice nodded to the robot and it went into the gallery, took Aristark's arm and led Aristark to the front of the room where Felice and Kalid stood. Felice said, "I assume that you are familiar with the details of the investigation into the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara."

Aristark nodded. "Of course, I am in charge of that investigation."

Felice looked doubtfully towards Kalid. Kalid knew that in such games of chess it was traditional to start by taking a pawn. Kalid said to Aristark, "According to the Temple Master's report on your investigation, two members of the Silver Tulipan Order provided you with the names and precise location of two of the people who helped destroy the space elevators. Rather than take those two suspects into custody, you let them escape from Sakkara." Kalid knew that these charges against Aristark were only speculation, but it would be interesting to see Aristark's reaction.

Aristark grew deep red, he did not expect to hear these charges from Kalid. Felice asked Aristark, "Is this true?"

Aristark was trembling with rage and did not trust himself to speak...in any case, he need not incriminate himself. Kalid could read guilt in Aristark's aura. Kalid decided to try to end this game of chess and trap the king. He went on, "The interesting question is: why? Why would a trusted and high-ranking Justice Department official such as Aristark subvert the investigation into the destruction of the space elevators? The report of the Temple Master on Sakkara included the name of a powerful and famous person from off of Sakkara who arranged to pay Aristark handsomely to keep secret the identities of those who destroyed the space elevators. That famous person, the great traitor in this case, that person's name is-"

Aristark flung himself on Kalid, acting impulsively and driven by a surge of adrenaline in his blood. Blades of sharp composite extended from inside Aristark's hands and sliced into Kalid's neck. Quickly the robot pulled Aristark off of Kalid, but not before Kalid's blood showered Felice and the front row of the gallery of spectators. Five squads of human militia and robots quickly cleared the courtroom. Aristark was bound and placed in a locked room. Kalid was given emergency medical treatment on the floor of the courtroom. After Kalid was stabilized and taken away to the nearest hospital, Felice noticed that the courtroom cameras were still on. She said to a robot, "Please shut off the cameras."
Artery

HospitalEdit

Kalid awoke in a hospital bed and looked up into the face of Felice. She leaned close and said, "I failed to protect you."

Kalid tried to speak but his neck exploded in pain. Felice handed him a tube and he drank cool water. He realized that his neck was ringed with a medical device that was directing nanites to repair his damaged neck tissues. Now able to speak he put a hand on the machine that covered his neck and said, "You could not have anticipated Aristark's attack on me. I was foolish to provoke him into his murderous attack. I put you and others at risk of physical harm." Kalid drank some more water and felt his head clearing, although he was surely still under the influence of drugs that had been put into his body to limit pain and the risk of blood clots spreading to his vital organs.

Felice took the water tube from Kalid. "You anticipated his attack?"

Kalid reflexively tried to shake his head and was struck by another wave of pain. "No. I was only realizing the truth about Aristark's role in events on Sakkara and Flammis while I was talking in the courtroom. I only knew I was correct about Aristark when he launched his attack on me. I have a clear memory of everything until I was being taken from the courtroom...then things become fuzzy."

Felice explained, "When you reached this hospital the medical staff sedated you and performed an operation on your neck. You only just now regained consciousness. You are lucky to be alive. Aristark did an expert job of butchering your neck arteries."

Kalid said, "I'm surprised that Aristark was allowed to bring a knife into the courtroom."

Felice shook her head. "No, he did not have a knife. He had two blades implanted in his hands. It is now clear that Aristark was well trained in how to use those implants....and the others that we found in his body."

Something about the way Felice said, "his body" sent a chill up Kalid's spine. "Aristark is dead?"

"No, but he is not in good shape. He is in another hospital about a kilometer from here. He either tried to use one of his implants to kill himself or someone else triggered one of his implants and tried to kill him. Chances are good that he will survive."

A robot entered the room and handed a thin folder to Felice. She flipped open the folder and Kalid could see that she held the report on the Sakkaran space elevators disaster which had been prepared by Sybil and which had been in his spaceship. Felice said to the robot, "Good work. I trust you had no great difficulty getting into Kalid's spaceship and finding this report."

The robot replied, "There was no problem getting into the spaceship. Kalid had been ticketed for trans-system flight without use of a navigation beacon and forced to turn over to the space dock his spacehips's access codes. The report was sitting on a table in the main salon of the spaceship. However..."

Kalid was amused to see the robot shifting uneasily from foot to foot as if hesitating to speak. Felice said, "You can speak in front of Kalid."

The robot said, "You had also issued orders that watch be kept on Kalid's spaceship in case an attempt was made to sabotage it. Such an attempt was made. The saboteur is now being held in confinement at the space dock. He planted a device that could have been used to destroy Kalid's spaceship and he was caught after attaching it to the hull of Kalid's spaceship. He then went inside and tried to steal some equipment from the engineering room."

Kalid rose up on one elbow. His neck throbbed but he gasped, "Did he disconnect or damage that equipment?"

The robot said, "No, he was placed under arrest before he damaged anything in the ship."

Kalid relaxed back into his bed and chuckled briefly then stopped because of the pain it caused in his neck. He reached out and took hold of Felice's hand. "See, you did protect me."

The robot said, "The device is highly sophisticated. I scanned the criminology database, but this is far beyond anything previously recorded."

Kalid explained, "Set is a leader of the Futurist Party. They pride themselves on having the most advanced technology."

Felice asked the robot, "Is there any indication that the saboteur was working for Set?"

The robot replied, "No, but another name was mentioned when the saboteur was placed under mind lock. Ketar."

A doctor came in and said, "Felice, what's going on in here? You said you were just going to watch him."

Kalid said, "I'm fine, doc. Felice is good medicine...she just saved my life."

The doctor checked the data feeds from the tissue repair device on Kalid's neck. "You are still half dead. Keep straining these arteries and they'll pop...right now they are just a loose collection of nanites."

Kalid said, "I'll make a deal, doc. Get me to my ship and I'll sleep once I'm there...give these nanobots a chance to do their job."

The doctor said, "Bull shit. I heard you blasted in here pushing 5.5 gees acceleration and your spaceship can only compensate for two gees. If you had been at even one gee when you were sliced open you'd be dead right now. We are keeping this room at 0.1 gee in order to let your arteries heal. You cannot be moved now."

Kalid sat up. He became very dizzy and almost passed out. He had to grab Felice and held on with both hands. "I hear ya, doc. You have two choices. Roll this bed to my ship or else I'm going to walk there. Get me to my ship and I promise I'll keep my cabin at 0.1 gee."

The doctor swore under his breath and left the room.

Kalid sank back on the bed, still very dizzy. Obviously the nanites were having trouble keeping up the flow of blood to his brain.

Felice asked, "What do you think you are doing? I didn't save your life just to watch you kill yourself."

Kalid said, "So, tell me Felice, where is Set?"

She quickly said, "I don't know."

Kalid made a guess and said, "There is a ship in system that you are tracking by radar." Kalid could read her face and see that he had guessed correctly. "What is the spaceship's course? What is the destination?"

Kalid felt a natural connection to Felice and now he turned his telepathic transmission up to full, with an additional amplification from equipment on his spaceship. Felice said, "I'm not going to help you kill yourself. Why do you care where Set is....can't you let our militia deal with him?"

Kalid still had hold of her hand. He stroked her palm with his finger tips. "Felice, don't put your militia in harms way. Set is a desperate murderer. Somehow Ketar is helping Set. Their target right now is the Haldus Order. I am the head of the Haldus Order and it is my duty to stop Set and Ketar. You must help me. Help me get to my ship....I must go after Set. The Haldus Order has technology that might give Ketar the power to start a galactic civil war that would kill trillions. Help me now and we can prevent that."

Felice said, "Okay, but I'm going with you."

Portiastars

PortiaEdit

After seeing Kalid under the arrest of the Martian Militia, Set returned to the office of the Spaceship Guild where he had been supplied with the documents for the case against Kalid. Set was again shown into the inner office of the local Guild Master. Set placed a small package on the desk, "Here is the explosive device. It can go anywhere on the hull of Kalid's spaceship, but put it in a hidden crevice. It is not quite completely invisible."

The Guild Master took the device out and examined it. "What triggers the explosion?"

Set replied, "I've set it to explode three hours after exposure to the vacuum of space."

The Guild Master asked, "Are you going to return to Sakkara?"

Set shrugged, "I'd like to have a word or two with Ketar. Do you happen to know where he is?"

The Guild Master shook his head and replied, "No, but he seems to have a short-lag com channel to Mars. I suspect that he is in this star system."

Because of his name, Set had learned the myths of ancient Egypt and the lore of Earth. He had been surprised to learn that the residents of h32.4 all called their planet "Mars", a name that was frequently seen in legends of Earth. Set said, "Ketar told me that he was in this system, but that was about a day ago. I'll just have to try calling him."

The Guild Master stood up and shook Set's hand. "Thanks for your help."

Set returned to his spaceship, intent on calling Ketar and reporting that Kalid had been taken into custody by the Martian Militia.

As soon as Set entered his ship he was met by his pilot. "Sir, your guest insists on speaking with you."

Leone sighed, "Very well. Bring her to my room." Set knew that "your guest" meant Portia. In the controlled environment of the ship it had not been hard to demonstrate that Portia could send telepathic signals to Glen. Set had ordered his engineer to dismantle the robot and figure out how it was able to detect telepathic signals. Set had simply confined Portia to her room and tried to forget about her. She was destructively beautiful and reminded Set of Katherine, both physically and in the kind of telepathic signals she emitted. Of course, while Katherine had been alive, Set had not understood that the closeness he felt for Katherine involved telepathic signals. Now, in hind sight, it made sense, but he did not enjoy being exposed to Portia's telepathic output since it reminded Set of Katherine's dying moment.

The ship's pilot let Portia into Set's cabin. Set got up out of the chair and sat on his bunk. He indicated with a gesture that Portia should sit down. Rather than sit down, she put her hands on her hips and started lecturing Set. After she got most of her ire and frustration out, Set asked, "Is that all?"

Portia was red faced and panting. She spit at Set. "You inhuman scum! This will never end. You better kill me and have done with it, because if I ever get the chance I'll kill you!"

Portia had some of the very same mannerisms as had Katherine. Set started to chuckle. He said, "I have no intention of killing you. You have been very useful and I feel I am in your debt."

Portia was puzzled. Set was not at all like she had expected from her kidnapper. She insisted, "I've done nothing to help you."

Set shrugged, "Not intentionally, but you have helped me. I'll get you back home as soon as I can. Okay?"

Portia asked, "That's it? You abduct me and haul me into space and then you are just going to take me home?" Portia had been imagining that a much more dire fate awaited her.

Set explained, "As far as I can tell you have not committed any crimes. I have no reason to punish or harm you. Now, I need to make a call, so you'll have to go back to your cabin."

Portia shook her head. "I'm tired of sitting in that room."

Set sighed. Portia had a lively spirit and it would brighten up the ship to have her out and about. For a moment he entertained the fantasy of letting her roam the ship. Set asked himself: Really, what harm could she do....well, besides carrying out her threat to kill me?

Set got up and went to a drawer that slid out of the wall. He found a wrist restraint that he had last used on a Haldus Order telepath he had questioned. Set wiped a fleck of dried blood off of the device before turning back to Portia. He chained her to his arm. "Okay, if you behave then you do not have to go back to your room. Now be quiet for ten minutes while I make my call."

Portia tugged at the restraint on her wrist and asked, "Who are you calling? I'd like to call Sybil. You can bet that when she learns what you've done she'll hunt you down. Don't think that she will rest until-"

Set put a finger in front of his lips and shushed her. "Hush, woman. Just ten minutes of silence. Please?" Set spoke to the ship's AI, "Try to establish a connection to Ketar."

Portia waited impatiently, for thirty seconds. "I'm surprised that you are on speaking terms with Ketar. Don't you realize that the Antiquists and the Spaceship Guild killed your girl? What was her name?

Set replied, "Katherine."

Portia continued, "Right, Katherine. Sybil told Leone all about this and evidence was given to the Justice Department. I don't understand why nothing was ever done by the government to bring her killers to justice. Do you work for Ketar or something?"

Set replied, "I've heard the rumors about Antiquist Party involvement in the elevator disaster, but as far as I can tell that was just a lie planted by your Order."

Portia laughed in Set's face. "What are you trying to say, that the Order destroyed the elevators? Why would the Order destroy space elevators?"

Set suggested, "I never said that, but it does appear that the Order has lied about the cause of the elevators disaster. It is not unreasonable to suppose that where one lie has been exposed, other dark secrets remain. Today I've helped capture the "great master" Kalid, maybe he will spill some of those dark secrets...before he dies."

Portia asked, "You captured Kalid? Is he on this ship?"

At that moment the connection was established to Ketar and his image appeared on the wall. "Hello, Set." Ketar noticed Portia and he asked, "And who is this with you?"

Set replied, "This is Sybil's assistant from Sakkara."

Ketar chuckled, and asked Set, "Wow, is this what you pirates call 'booty'?" He spoke directly to Portia. "Do you have a name?"

Portia replied, "My name is Portia."

Ketar said, "Ah, well, I'll let Sybil know that you are in good hands. Now leave the room so I can speak in private with Set."

Portia demanded, "You know where Sybil is?"

Ketar replied, "Of course, she is my prisoner. Now leave us."

Portia held up her arm and rattled the chain that linked her to Set. Set said to Ketar, "Actually, Portia and I were just discussing the Antiquist Party. She insists that the Antiquist Party was involved with the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara."

Ketar grumbled, "I warned you not to let yourself be tricked by Sybil and her fellow religious fanatics. Nothing they say can be trusted."

Portia said, "You can trust that we know our enemies."

Ketar asked, "Who are your enemies?"

Portia replied, "Set has been hunting and murdering members of our Order. It does not surprise me to learn that you and he are buddies."

Ketar laughed, "I doubt if Set described our relationship as being buddies, but today we did work together efficiently to capture Kalid." He spoke to Set, "I just got a report from the Guild Master. Let me personally thank you, Set, for filing those charges against Kalid. Of course, they won't stick, but it will keep Kalid out of play long enough."

Portia asked, "Long enough for what?"

Ketar smiled and said to Set, "She's a good talker, isn't she?"

Set explained, "She's been locked up in her room. I just let her out and she had a lot on her mind."

Ketar smirked. "Okay. Anyhow, you have my thanks, Set. Now, I wonder if we can continue to be of use to each other. I'm trying to get to the bottom of Haldus Order mysteries, and I've run into some difficulty here."

Set asked, "Where are you?"

Ketar replied, "I'm in orbit around Earth." Ketar was coupled to the Moon's hyperspatial communications center and Set was using the one for Mars. They only had about a one second-long speed of light latency for their conversation. "I've learned that the Haldus Order originated on Earth and flourished there for thousands of years." He asked Portia, "I have that right, don't I?"

Portia had previously heard of the Haldus Order, but as far as she knew, it was a thing of the past. She shrugged, "I don't know anything about the Haldus Order. But why ask me? You already said that you do not trust anything said by members of the Silver Tulipan Order." Portia felt a little uneasy about implying that she was a member of the Silver Tulipan. She had attended the Silver Tulipan training school, but Kalid had not allowed her into the Circles.

Ketar laughed. "The Silver Tulipan Order is just a cover organization for the Haldus Order. Anyhow, I've learned that the Haldus Order likes to hide Temples on Green planets, so I'm looking for their Temple on Earth. However, its exact location is a bit of a puzzle. I'm thinking that Set can be of use in this hunt."

Set said, "It will take me a day or two to jump over and meet you at Earth."

Ketar shook his head. "No, you don't have to jump. Haven't you figured out where you are? Didn't everyone on h32.4 tell you that you were on Mars?"

Set replied, "I assumed that they had named their planet after the 'Mars' of Earth mythology."

Ketar explained, "It is simpler than that. The planet h32.4 is Mars. You are already in the Solar System. Just come on over to h32.3, a little world that used to be called 'Earth'!"

Both Set and Portia were shocked by Ketar's revelation. Portia was a bit confused because this was the first she had heard about where she was. She asked, "We are in the h32 system? And this is the Solar System?"

Set asked, "Are you saying that Earth's true location is hidden? The planet that people of the galaxy think is Earth, is not really Earth?

"Exactly." Ketar explained, "During the confusion of the galactic wars it was possible to engineer a deception. Now the time has come to reveal Earth's secrets. Set, your telepathic power will guide us to the Haldus Order Temple on Earth."

Moon BaseEdit

594px-Full Moon Luc Viatour

Moon

Finally, Portia was asleep. After the call to Ketar, Set had ordered his pilot to chart a course towards Earth and take them there at maximum acceleration. As the high gee alarm sounded, Set had placed Portia on his bunk. He pulled the chair over next to the bunk and settled in for the ride.

The bunk and chair had formed themselves around Portia and Set, protecting them from the worst effects of the high acceleration. Set was impressed by how long Portia kept talking, particularly after she admitted to not having slept since coming aboard the spaceship. They talked about Sakkara, the Futurist Party, the Antiquist Party and the Haldus Order. Portia was intrigued by the idea that the Silver Tulipan Order was part of something larger: the Haldus Order. But finally, Portia did not have the strength to talk and she concentrated on breathing. The bunk started assisting her breathing and soon she drifted into sleep.

Set was left thinking about the Haldus Order and the idea that Ketar was so devoted to revealing the secrets of that ancient Order. What did Ketar hope to gain? As far as Set knew, the only thing special about the Haldus Order was that it was some kind of social club for telepaths. Set called his engineer and asked, "Did you make any progress on the robot?"

The engineer replied, "It was not hard to find the part of the robot that receives telepathic signals. It is an added-on device, grafted on to the thing's brain after it was manufactured. It will take a detailed nanocircuit analysis to figure out how it works."

Set said, "Okay, thanks. Did you have to damage the robot?"

"No, but it is still shut off and in a dozen pieces."

Set ordered, "Go ahead and re-assemble it."

"Yes, sir. I'll get to it as soon as this acceleration ends."

Set pulled up the ship's navigation data and saw that it would take quite a while longer to reach Earth. He settled back in his chair and tried to conserve energy.

Set was confident that his was the fastest spaceship in the galaxy, but like many of the technological advances that were attributable to research funded by the Futurist Party, the speed boost that set this spaceship apart from all others brought little real benefit. The gain in speed that had been achieved over previous spaceship designs was actually very small. Most important was that spaceships using of the new antimatter drive made possible by Futurist Party-funded research were equipped with safer drive control techniques, there being no way to trigger black hole production. Still, nobody outside of the Futurist Party seemed to care. It was widely believed that earlier types of antimatter drive technology were adequately safe. The micro-black holes that were generated by older drives evaporated quickly and were believed to represent no significant danger. Still, Set was proud of this spaceship and he imagined that eventually all antimatter drives would incorporate its new safety features.

However, his pride was slightly tarnished by how he had funded the purchase of this spaceship. Set had originally been shocked by the reality of telepathy. His initial surprise at the very existence of telepathy had soon shifted to concern about the fact that those rare individuals who had significant telepathic abilities all seemed to kept the existence of telepathy a secret. At first Set had hypothesized that all telepaths were part of a single secret organization, and Set had undertaken to hunt them down since they seemed to be involved in a cover-up of the truth about the space elevators disaster. Only later had he come to the realization that there were some "independents", telepaths who had no connection to the Haldus Order. One such "independent" had learned how to use her telepathic abilities to predict swings in market prices and had amassed a huge fortune. She was already a generous financial supporter of the Futurist Party and it had been easy for Set to extort more money from her once he learned that her telepathic abilities were the secret source of her wealth.

Set tried to shake himself out of daydreaming about the past. The truth was, there just was not a big difference between having a maximum acceleration of 5.7 g instead of 5.6. Set looked over at Portia and was sickened by her face. The high acceleration had pulled her lips and cheeks into hideous distortions of her natural beauty. He closed his eyes and drifted briefly into sleep.

Set was startled out of his sleep. What had just happened? Some thought fragment from sleep had shocked him into alertness. He strained to begin the memory into his conscious awareness. It had something to do with space travel. He had been thinking about how slow space travel was. No, it had been something about hyperspatial jumps...they were instantaneous. Well, there was a strange link between hyperspace and telepathy. Set had discovered that link by accident. Set had found that by using the direct mind-AI link of his spaceship, he could routinely plot hyperspatial jumps that went deeper into star systems than was theoretically possible. Set was still studying this phenomenon and he had no understanding of how it was possible. Normally a star pilot and the ship's AI collaborated to plot jumps, but somehow Set was able to use his telepathic sense to refine the jump calculations. For example, his deep jump into the Flammis system had been a thing of beauty, bringing the spaceship to within a light-hour of Flammis, ten times closer than was typical for the best pilots. What was the link between telepathy and hyperspace? Was it just a matter of information flow? With such questions in his mind, Set fell back into sleep.


Later, when he awoke, Set still could do nothing except wait impatiently while the green face of Earth slowly swelled in the display screen on the wall of Set's cabin. Portia was still asleep. While he waited, Set's attention was increasingly drawn towards the silvery image of the Moon. Ketar had informed Set that the Haldus Order Temple on the Moon had long ago been destroyed and that his spy had learned that there was still a Temple on Earth. However, Set increasingly felt telepathic signals coming from the Moon and not Earth.

Set was reluctant to trust his telepathic sensations. He had no idea how it was possible to sense the source of telepathic signals. Ketar had made it clear that Earth was the location of an important Haldus Order base, so Set was reluctant to even contemplate a side trip to the Moon. Set could not doubt that he would be followed from Mars by the system authorities, so the available time to complete his mission to Earth was certainly limited. Did it matter if there was a telepath on the Moon? But the more he paid attention to the "feel" of that telepathic signal the more he believed that it was not from some isolated individual with telepathic ability. And now that he was close enough to the Earth-Moon system to judge, he felt sure that there was far more telepathic thought on the Moon than on Earth. Still, could this be some kind of decoy that was designed to deflect attention from Earth? He was still rather amazed by the effort that had gone into hiding the true location of Earth.

Set called the pilot and issued new orders, "I've decided to visit the Moon first. Please adjust our course to put us into orbit around the Moon."

Set had long been ignoring radio signals from both Mars and the Moon, but now he opened a channel to Moon Navcom and purposefully sent a week signal. "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. I was hit by space debris after I left Mars orbit. My ship is under repair but I'm not sure if my navigation beacon is working. I now have an emergency transmitter online, but I'm not sure if it has enough power to be detected. I'm going to make an emergency landing on the Moon."

The ship swung its trajectory over towards the Moon and soon the force of acceleration decreased. Set started ordering adjustments to his spaceship's flight path so as to try to assist his telepathic sense in determining the exact location on the Moon that was the source of an unusual telepathic signal he was sensing. As his spaceship entered into orbit around the Moon it became clear that he could match sensed telepathic signals to all of the inhabited Moon bases, but one location near the South Pole was by far the strongest source of telepathic signals.

Set got up and removed the wrist lock from his arm. He chained Portia to the bunk and went to the main control room. Set instructed the pilot to initiate a landing program that would take the spaceship down to Shackleton crater....there was something very unusual going on down there....Set was detecting a type of telepathic mental activity that he had found no where else. The hyperspatial field generators were detached from the rest of the spaceship and left in orbit.

Set was watching the surface of the Moon and marveling at the sharp contrasts between the dark shadows and the bright sunlit rim of Shackleton crater. The pilot was having an argument with the spaceship's artificial intelligence since the navigation records it was using showed no landing sites at Shackleton crater. The machine said, "Shackleton base was destroyed long ago."

Set insisted, "There are people down there." Or were there? The telepathic signals he was detecting were very strange. Set thought about Glen, the robot that could respond to telepathic signals...what if there were robots who produced telepathic output? "Keep trying to make radio contact. Scan for a landing site."

Finally Moon Navcom called. "Set of Sakkara. Set of Sakkara. This is a warning. There are no repair facilities at Shackleton."

Set chuckled. It was nice of the folks at Moon Navcom to provide a warning, but they probably had not actually fallen for Set's fake excuse for why he was landing on the Moon. Set spoke via intercom to his crew, "This is getting tricky. I'm sure that there are telepaths below, on the Moon, but they seem to be hiding. However, my telepathic sense indicates that the crater rim below us is a powerful source of telepathic mental activity. There seems to be an ancient landing platform at the solar power array on the crater rim, but it is small. Maybe I should go down in a lifeboat."

The ship's engineer replied, "Gravity is very gentle here. Our graviton field could hold us above the landing platform without crushing it."

Set shrugged. "Very well, then. I'm taking us down. As a precaution, prepare for possible attack. All defensive systems armed and stand by to return fire if we are attacked. We may have to force our way inside if they do not invite us in."

Ten minutes latter, the pilot had the spaceship balanced on the rim of Shackleton crater. From this point on the rim, the nearby array of solar energy collectors was no longer visible, but Set could see that a short distance away from the landing platform there was an airlock of ancient design that seemed to be cut into the crater rim. However, that airlock could just as well have been on the far side of the galaxy. Set had nothing that could serve as a spacesuit and allow him to walk from his ship over to that airlock. He started contemplating the possibility of blasting open the airlock and flying a lifeboat inside.

Suddenly the airlock opened and what looked like a strangely spindly robot came out onto the surface of the Moon. Working quickly and efficiently, the robot pulled a flexible telescoping tunnel out of the wall surrounding the airlock door. After a few leaps and bounds the robot had pulled what looked like a reinforced fabric tunnel across to the spaceship, sealing it around the spaceship's airlock. Set left the control room and went to the airlock. Standing close to the outer door, he could hear clanging from outside. He exited the airlock, closed the inner airlock door and set the controls so as to open the outer door at the surface of the ship. The robot came into the airlock and started banging on the inner door.

Set closed the outer door of the airlock. The pressure inside the airlock decreased significantly then stabilized. Set quickly went up the hall and shut an emergency bulkhead, sealing most of the ship off from the airlock. Set then activated the airlock controls once more and opened the inner door. Briefly there was a wind while the pressures equalized. He stood before the robot with his laser pistol drawn and ready. The robot asked, "Why have you come here?"

Set was barley able to make sense of the robot's archaic language. For a moment Set wondered about the possibility of telepathic robots, but he could sense no telepathic signals coming from the machine. Set replied, "I was on my way to Earth, but I noticed telepathic signals here. Can you take me to your master?"

The robot produced a perfectly human laugh. "Don't insult me, stranger. Oh, I see. You think this is a robot. Well, you can call me 'Waldo'. Ha, ha. Anyhow, come on across through the tunnel so that we can talk."

Set considered asking whoever was running the "waldo" to come to the spaceship, but it now seemed to Set that there were many telepaths nearby. There was no point in sitting there on the spaceship and hoping to learn about the source of all this telepathic thought. Still, Set was about equally divided between fascination with all the swirling patterns of telepathic signaling he could sense nearby and fear that he might be personally in danger. However, there was something familiar about the pattern of telepthic thought here, although it was very different from what he was familiar with among the telepaths of the Haldus Order. He could not explain that odd sensation of familiarity, but somehow it suggested femininity to Set, which was odd since the voice coming through the "waldo" was clearly that of a male.

Set placed his laser in a drawer. He spoke via intercom to his crew, "I'm leaving the ship and going on over into their underground base." Set turned back to the machine and said to the waldo, "Okay, lead the way."

Set went into the airlock. It was barely large enough to hold both the machine and Set. He closed the inner airlock door and opened the outer door. Set moved quickly through the tunnel, trying to keep up with the speedy machine. It was dim in the tunnel, but just enough sunlight found its way through the fabric. The air on the sunlit side of the tunnel was hot while the other side was already accumulating a layer of frost.

The airlock at the other end of the tunnel was even smaller. The machine said, "Go in. It is not safe for you out here...this tunnel does not block the damaging cosmic rays from the Sun."

Set did not hesitate, but once inside the airlock he was puzzled. There was only one door. The door closed and there was nothing to do. He started to examine the unfamiliar fixtures inside the airlock. Then the door opened again, revealing a large chamber. Apparently the airlock was an elevator that had transported him deep into the wall of Shackleton crater.

Set stepped out into the chamber and looked up at a simulated sky. The air seemed hot and humid, but stale, somehow tainted with the smell of dust. Except for a set of simulated suns scattered across the dome of the chamber, the "sky" was blue and the floor was green. The bright colors were a shock after the stark and colorless surface of the Moon. He knelt down and touched the floor....it seemed to be covered with some kind of plant growth that clung tightly to ground. He dug in with his finder tips and was able to pull away some leaf fragments that deposited a sticky resin on his skin. As he stood up he noticed motion on the far side of the chamber.

Coming across the chamber was a woman. She moved in graceful bounds and Set was fascinated by the way she bounced in the low gravity. He noted that she was totally hairless. Just when she reached Set, the remote-controlled "waldo" machine emerged from the elevator behind Set. The woman completed one last high leap, landed gracefully close to Set and said, "Welcome, Set, from the planet Sakkara. Why are you here?"

Set could sense a telepathic pressure emanating from the woman. He explained, "I'm searching for telepaths of the Haldus Order."

She shook her head, "You came to the wrong place. Long ago they had a temple in the crater, but it was destroyed."

Set was impressed by her self-confidence. She wore a minimal amount of clothing that seemed well-suited to the warm temperature. Judging by the fact that she seemed to have no qualms about standing nearly naked in front of a complete stranger, Set guessed that the people living here had given up on the nudity taboos that were still common on worlds where people lived in a natural planetary atmosphere and experienced weather and temperature fluctuations. Still, people living at many artificial bases in outer space and on airless worlds often wore little clothing, if any, and Set had more important concerns than this young woman's dress, or lack there of. What was startling was her lack of body hair. Even as he thought about his clothing and body hair, he felt sweat starting to run down his sides under his tunic and he felt some trickling down his brow.

In addition to her rather unconventional hairlessness, Set was surprised by the odd telepathic emanations he sensed when she stood nearby. Set had never felt such a powerful flux of telepathic output from an individual. Strangely, Set could detect no useful information content in the powerful waves of telepathic signals she emitted. Set wondered if she even knew that she was a strong transmitter of telepathic signals. He suggested, "Well, I'm interested in telepathy in general, so maybe you can tell me-"

The "waldo" grabbed Set's arm and pulled him across the chamber, "Come to my lab so we can talk. Don't pester the girl with questions. She knows nothing of your ways and your concerns. I'm the one you need to talk to. By the way, her name is Amethyst and I am called Salvaje, although my real name is Ben Olmo."

Amethyst protested, "Salvaje, let go of his arm. You are being rude to our guest." She moved between Set and the machine and pushed it away, taking hold of Set's hand. She explained, "We do not get many visitors here, so we are not very good at welcoming strangers."

When Amethyst took hold of his hand, Set felt dizzy, as if the swirling pattern of her thoughts was scrambling his mind. Memories of Katherine appeared in Set's thoughts and images of her flashed up from the past like a hail storm. He noticed that Amethyst's skin was slightly wet, but her hand was warm. In order not to stumble, he concentrated on keeping up with the pace of her quick and playful leaps across the chamber.

Salvaje, speaking through the waldo said, "We get more than enough visitors, they bring nothing but trouble from outside."

Set was just starting to get into a natural rhythm for moving in the low gravity when they reached the far side of the chamber where there was a small pool of water. Amethyst released his hand, dove into the pool and disappeared like an otter dropping into a pond. Salvaje, still speaking through the waldo, asked, "Do you know how to swim?"

Set replied, "Yes."

"Good. Start taking a few deep breaths and relax. The tubes can be disorienting, so when we get in the water just relax and let me guide you."

Set asked Salvaje, "In order to reach you I have to swim?"

"Yes. Shackleton base was built to allow collection of water from the south polar ice deposits. We use water here in many unusual ways. I suppose you could say that water works are our major form of art. After Shackleton base was destroyed, some tyrant decided to impose a tax on us and it was found convenient to shield ourselves behind water barriers. We are the only people on the Moon who can swim. Eventually, after trying to hand us our tax bill, the tax collectors went away, wet and happy, and ever since they collect their taxes in the form of water. Idiots. There is plenty of water here...it is absurd that they have to invent a stupid tax in order to get the water they need. Really, we want nothing to do with tax collectors or any other fools from the 'civilized' world."

Set said, "I'm glad you do not think of me as a fool."

Salvaje laughed, "I never said that! However, I do not know you, so for the moment I have not passed judgment...maybe you are a fool. I still do not understand why you are here. No, don't try to explain yourself here. Take off your filthy clothing." Set decided to comply. "Ga, you are a hairy barbarian! I should shave you before letting you into my home, but I want everyone to see you for the ugly beast that you are." The machine again grabbed Set's arm. "Jump in."

Aphrodite

From vacuum, fire was born...from fire, earth was born...from earth, water was born, from water, life was born.

Born againEdit

Set jumped into the pool and the machine gracefully followed his motion. The "waldo" guided Set through a branching network of water-filled tunnels. About every thirty seconds Set's head was pushed into an air-filled bubble and he was given a chance to draw a fresh breath. It took about five minutes and a dozen such stops before the waldo pulled Set out of the water.

Set found himself in Salvaje's cluttered workshop.

Salvaje disengaged himself from the array of sensors that allowed his own bodily movements to be translated into movements of the waldo. The waldo went limp and sat next to the pool dripping water on the floor. Salvaje came to the edge of the pool and handed Set a towel.

Set dried himself off with the towel. He could sense patterns of telepathic signals from Salvaje that were very similar to those that had come from Amethyst. He sensed that there were other telepaths not too far away. However, he was now doubting if anyone on the Moon, besides himself, was actually a telepath in the conventional sense of being able to telepathically communicate information in a way similar to using language. Set noticed that Salvaje also seemed to be hairless.

Salvaje took the wet towel from Set and handed him a pair of shorts, possibly what passed locally as a swimsuit. Set pulled on the shorts.

Set noticed that one of the nearby sources of telepathic impulses was approaching. Salvaje looked in the direction of one of the many doors of the workshop.

Amethyst entered the room through that door and stopped short. She said to Salvaje, "Yikes! He is a hairy bear!"

Salvaje said to Set, "Please do not take offense at her words, she has little experience with outsiders. She has never before set her eyes on a man with a chest as hairy as yours." He turned to Amethyst. "Come on in, he will not hurt you, no matter how repulsive he looks. Doubtless I'd look little better if I let my hair grow." He turned back towards Set and noticed goosebumps forming on Set's arms. "We keep it warm in here, but if you are chilled let me know, I'll get you a robe."

Amethyst moved closer and shrugged, "I really do not care...I was just surprised. It is just our custom to be hairless." However, she was unable to completely suppress the revulsion that showed on her face.

Set noticed that the patterns of telepathic signals produced by Salvaje and Amethyst seemed to resonate and align, so there was actually some kind of telepathic communication going on, but Set could sense no flow of organized information content passing between them. "It is quite warm in here...I'll be comfortable enough as soon as I am completely dry. I'm sorry that my body hair offends you. In some cultures people even enhance their appearance with tatoos and hair transplantation to combat natural baldness. I grew up in a region of Sakkara where it is pretty cold, so people prize body hair for insulation, but I've heard of space bases where people routinely remove their body hair...it does seem like a reasonable way to help keep an artificial environment nice and clean. Some people take great pains to sculpt their hair, but I just accept it and ignore it. Really, it just reminds us of our evolutionary origins."

A robot entered the room and placed a tray on a table. The robot took the wet towel from Salvaje and departed. Salvaje served tea from the tray. "Another custom we have, hot tea."

Set accepted a steaming mug. "Thank you. There is nothing about this community in the space navigation database. How many people live here?"

Amethyst replied, "83."

Set looked back and forth between Amethyst and Salvaje. He asked Amethyst, "You are Salvaje's daughter?"

She laughed, "Is there any doubt?"

Set nodded. "I see some similar features, but I was not sure. I wonder what your mother looks like."

Salvaje explained, "Amethyst never knew her mother. She lives over in Tranquillitatis base, or she did, last I heard. As is our custom, Amethyst was conceived by artificial insemination. I went to Tranquillitatis to see her mother twice, once for the contractual arrangements and once more when I collected Amethyst and brought her home."

Set asked Amethyst, "You've never met your mother?"

Amethyst shook her head. "Of course not."

Salvaje asked, "Do you disapprove of our customs, Sakkaran?"

Set shrugged and replied, "I have no basis for disapproval. Amethyst seems like a healthy and happy young woman. As I mentioned, I'm interested in telepathy. I just wonder if Amethyst's mother was selected at random."

Salvaje sighed. "No, of course not. This is such a small community that we are very careful when we bring in new genes from outside. Amethyst's biological mother was carefully selected with the hope of creating the wonderful individual that now stands here before you. Amethyst calls a dozen women of this community 'mother' and a dozen men 'father'. Of course she is happy and healthy." But Salvaje's tone of voice had grown dark and he stared at Set as if challenging him to contradict what Salvaje had said.

Set cautiously said, "I see."

Amethyst launched into an account of her studies, "I'm learning to be a genetic engineer. Our gene pool is very limited, so we are careful to weed out bad gene combinations. For example, we've successfully removed all the deleterious alleles of the CFTR gene-"

Salvaje interrupted his daughter, "Please, Amethyst, do not bore Set with the details of our genetics."

Amethyst changed the subject and asked, "Well, why have you been speeding across the system? Why are you in such a hurry and what did you do on Mars to get the System authorities in such a tizzy? And I read that you are a wanted man on Sakkara, but I do not understand what happened in the space elevators disaster."

Set was amused that Amethyst had an ability to prattle similar to the way Portia did. Her string of questions got Set thinking about recent events. He was having doubts about the wisdom of collaborating with Ketar and he did not want to describe his reasons for going to Mars. He was not particularly proud that he had resorted to "an eye for an eye" after the destruction of the elevators, but he had been forced to take certain actions. He shrugged and tried to keep the conversation focused. "There is something wrong in how the justice system of Sakkara is sorting out the cause of the elevators disaster. I'm working for justice in that case, and my work led me to Earth, but I felt it might be useful to stop here, first. Anyhow, I'm an engineer myself, so I'm interested in things like genetic engineering."

Amethyst said, "I saw in your bio that you were involved in proving that tessellanium quarpounds can be used for space elevator construction. That is exciting engineering. I'm really more of a reverse-engineer, myself. I'm interested in tracking down new gene combinations that give unusual phenotypes. Anyhow, why are you going to Earth?"

Set did not want to discuss his plans and goal of hunting down those responsible for the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara. "I came here because I thought it might be a mistake to go to Earth. I wonder if what I'm looking for is actually here...this might be close enough for all practical purposes." Set smiled as he thought about the old engineering joke.

Amethyst had been feeling that Set was very serious and severe, but now he was smiling nicely. She wondered: close enough for all practical purposes? There was something familiar about that odd turn of phrase. Amethyst did not know what Set was talking about. She wondered, what did Set mean by: 'what I'm looking for is actually here?' Amethyst briefly wondered if Set's words were a personal comment directed at her. She blushed and said, "You are very mysterious...you do not seem to want to say what you are looking for. What do you mean 'close enough for all practical purposes'?"

Salvaje muttered, "It is an old joke, and rather too crude for the ears of a young girl."

Amethyst complained to Salvaje, "I'm not a girl anymore, father. Some day you are going to have to admit that I am an adult." She turned back to Set. "Please tell me the joke. It is rude for the two of you to hold this over me."

Set chuckled and looked at Salvaje, who crossed his arms and turned away. The way Amethyst had blushed, Set suspected she did know the joke and was just testing to see if Set would dare to tell it. Set told a polite version of the joke, "A mathematician and an engineer were recruited for a psychology experiment..."

Amethyst blushed again even before the punch line was reached. She forced a smile and said, "Oh, ya, I've heard the version of that joke that women tell, where there is a time limit and the critical issue is the length of the engineer's-"

Salvaje turned to his daughter, "Okay, Amethyst. Really, Set is a busy man. You two can play "top this" some other time when I do not have to watch. I want you to leave us now. I need to talk to Set about outside matters."

Amethyst objected, "I'm old enough to hear such things."

Set was fascinated by the adjustments being made in the telepathic thought patterns of Salvaje and Amethyst. Their patterns had been closely synchronized until Salvaje had asked Amethyst to leave the room, but now a struggle seemed to exist between conflicting elements of their telepathic patterns. The only time Set had felt any synchronization in those patterns with himself was when he was telling the joke to Amethyst. For a moment Set reflected on the fact that he greatly missed all the fun he'd had through the years sharing jokes with Katherine.

Salvaje nodded, "Yes, you are old enough, but humor me. There is ugliness out there that I still prefer to shield you from."

Amethyst frowned, "Very well, father, but I think you are over-protective. One day I will be the gate keeper, so I should be allowed to learn the ways of outsiders."

Salvaje placed a hand on his daughter's shoulder. Set could see a green mist spread from that point of contact towards Amethyst's head. Salvaje said, "Right now I need you to perform a task. Call an immediate general assembly."

Amethyst looked strangely at Set, who felt his head seem to vibrate under the force of her telepathic emissions. She turned her gaze back towards Salvaje and said, "Yes, father." She turned and left the room through the same door that the robot had used.


Set was finding that with practice he could discern more details in the telepathic signals that passed between Salvaje and Amethyst. It was as if his mind was adapting to their powerful telepathic output, much in the way eyes adapt when moving from a dark room into bright sunlight. Set had noticed that after a brief struggle, Amethyst's mind pattern had quickly matched that of Salvaje, then she had given up arguing and departed the workshop. But what was that green cloud that had seemed to move from Salvaje to Amethyst? Was Salvaje using some kind of nanite to invade his daughter's mind? Set asked, "You can control her mind?"

When the door closed behind Amethyst, Salvaje said, "She knows nothing about telepathy. Like most people here, her brain emits a strong T-particle flux, but she has no conscious receptive ability."

Set asked, "But you are different? You can detect telepathic signals?"

Salvaje nodded. "I have learned how to use this..." He went to a cluttered bench and picked up a strange device. Salvaje asked, "Do you know what this is?"

Set examined the device but did not recognize it. He replied, "I have no idea."

Salvaje explained, "Its function is not obvious. Hundreds of people have looked at it and almost all think it is just some antique piece of electronics. However, it is a T-particle detector."

Set asked, "What do you mean by 'T-particle'?"

Salvaje seemed surprised by Set's ignorance. "You come here talking about telepathy and the Haldus Order, but you know nothing about T-particles? How do you think telepathic communication works?"

Set explained, "I've only known of the existence of telepathy for a short time. You are the first person I've met who seems to be willing to discuss telepathy."

Salvaje held the T-particle detector near Set's head. "Do you mind if I do a careful scan? I'm not registering a signal from you." He spent a few minutes making careful measurements and sometimes took a reading of his own brain's activity. "I do not really understand T-particle detection myself...maybe nobody does." He went over to one of the work benches and checked a data display there. "It depends on some kind of triangulation process, but it is tricky because T-particles do not always move through spacetime in a normal way." Salvaje set the hand-held detector down on the bench and then returned to Set. "You seem to be a pure telepathic sensitive, that is, your brain produces only a little bit more T-particles than does the brain of the average person."

Set said, "I'm glad I came here. It is a relief to finally find someone who knows something about telepathy and is not fanatically trying to hide that knowledge away like some kind of taboo secret."

Salvaje nodded. "Well, if you have been dealing with the Haldus Order, as an outsider, it is no wonder that they tell you nothing and that you have learned nothing. Telepathy is their great secret. Of course, such a wonderful secret is hard -or impossible- to keep."

Set asked, "How did you come come to know this secret?"

For a minute Salvaje was silent and Set wondered if he would reply. Finally Salvaje said, "You could call it a family inheritance. After Shackleton Base was destroyed, including the Haldus Order Temple, a few of their Outer Circle members were left here...enough to start this community. This entire base grew from what was originally just a tiny substation for the solar energy farm. Over the years we have grown, slowly. My great-grandmother recovered the T-particle detector from the ruins of the Haldus Order Temple. I suspect she was an Inner Circle member of the Order, but she did not try to continue all of the traditions and practices of the Haldus Order in this small sub-community. Still, she did continue with experiments on telepathy that had been started by the Order and I continue that work...it is a research project. The question is, can you select genetically for better telepathic abilities?"

Set suggested, "The answer seems to be yes."

Salvaje asked, "Why do you assume that?"

Set replied, "I suspect you carefully selected your daughter's mother so that Amethyst would be genetically equipped to grow a brain that would generate powerful telepathic signals."

Salvaje explained, "Yes, but it is only a genetic predisposition. In this case, it is like learning a language. Amethyst grew up here among a group of people with similar minds...that environment allowed her brain to develop its full potential for T-particle production. If she had grown up on Sakkara she would probably have little more T-particle production than you have."

Set thought back to when Salvaje had used his telepathic ability to notice that Amethyst was approaching. Set had been forced to take for granted his own ability to localize sources of telepathic output, but he wondered how it was possible to know where a particular source of "T-particles" was. "I noticed that you can detect where your daughter is even when she is out of sight."

Salvaje asked, "What are you talking about?"

Set replied, "Before Amethyst came into this room you looked at the door."

Salvaje shrugged, "I probably heard her on the other side of the door."

Set chuckled, "Well, we could run some tests. I guess my point is, I can sense the direction of telepathic impulses. I wonder if your T-particle detecting device can also point to sources of T-particles."

Salvaje replied, "No, of course not. The device just measures the magnitude of the flux of T-particles...there is no directionality."

Set shook his head. It seemed that if Salvaje could make use of telepathy in a way similar to how Set could, to locate telepathic signal sources, then Salvaje was not conscious of being able to do so. "I do not understand the point of selecting for brains that produce so many T-particle if none of you have the ability to detect them and use your telepathic ability for communication."

Salvaje demanded, "Who said there is a point? The Order tried to select for better telepathy. Now we are trapped."

Set asked, "What do you mean? How are you trapped?"

"Where do you think Amethyst's mother got her ability to produce a strong flux of T-particles? How did she come by the rare gene combination that makes that possible?"

"I don't know, but I was able to sense many telepaths at the various bases here on the Moon."

"It all originated here. Well, Shackleton Base is where they were all brought to, brought here from Earth. But not everyone is happy here in this tiny community. Do you think you could survive here, with 80 minds like mine continually bombarding you with T-particles? People leave...the sensitive ones. Amethyst's mother grew up here. I knew her well before she left."

"Does Amethyst know that?"

"Of course not. Why should we tell a sweet and innocent girl like Amethyst that her mother is an outcast from her community?" Salvaje seemed to wait for Set to answer, then he continued, "Everyone here is a genetic freak. Maybe we will evolve into a new kind of human. Maybe we will die off. Maybe we will be exterminated if some tyrant decides that we are a threat." Salvaje noticed that he was shouting. He continued more calmly, "I am curious about you. What is it like when you sense the telepathic signals coming from my brain, from Amethyst?"

Set closed his eyes and really concentrated on the telepathic signal coming from Salvaje. "It is a strange sensation. It is like a dream where the meaning of words and events is just beyond awareness. It is frustrating, because I can sense that there is a mind reflected in the telepathic signals, but I cannot decode the meaning of those signals. That is strange because I have found it possible to obtain useful information from much weaker telepathic signals."

"Yes, that is a paradox that the Haldus Order was trying to understand before their Temple here at Shackleton was destroyed. According to the records kept by my great-grandmother, the Order had collected all of the most powerful telepaths here on the Moon in order to study them and segregate them from the weaker telepaths who stayed on Earth. Somehow, strong telepathic transmission interferes with telepathic information exchange. It might be like trying to send traffic signals using blindingly bright flashes of light. They discovered that during centuries of selection on Earth for strong telepathic transmitters they were actually defeating their true purpose, their goal of selecting for better telepathic communication. Anyhow, I continue my great-grandmother's work, but I can't say that I've learned a damn thing about telepathy. We've just become a kind of social engineering experiment. Our efficient production of T-particles facilitates social harmony, which I suspect was the original function of telepathy in humans."

Set was greatly stimulated by Salveje's ideas, but surprised to see someone speaking so openly about a topic that others tried to keep secret. "Since you've kept your little research project here a secret for so long, I'm surprised that you are so openly discussing everything with me."

Salvaje shrugged. "I've told you nothing of importance. But the truth is, I want something from you."

Set suggested, "If you want to tell me something useful, I'd like to know if you know anything about the Haldus Order's current activities. I'm told that they have a secret base on Earth."

Salvaje rubbed his chin, "Maybe we can make a deal."

"I'm in no position to deal. I'm just trying to right a wrong. I have nothing to trade. Do you know what happened on Sakkara? The destruction of the space elevators? I live to find those responsible. Soon after the space elevators disaster I met two telepaths who had information about the attack on the elevators. I now know that they are members of this Haldus Order, but I'm still searching for them. I'm on my way to Earth to search there." Set wanted to mention Katherine and how her loss had put Set on his path of revenge, but he did not trust himself...he still found it impossible to talk about her death without getting emotional.

Salvaje nodded. "I see. You want revenge."

"I want justice."

"Yes, that is what I meant. You want justice. And I want a future for my daughter and her children, which would be a kind of justice. Do you know why Shackleton Base was attacked and destroyed?"

Set replied, "I never heard of Shackleton Base before today."

"It goes back a couple hundred years, to when Earth was destroyed. How many people died in the elevators disaster on Sakkara? Billions died on Earth."

Set wondered why Salvaje was comparing Sakkara to Earth. Everyone knew that Earth was consumed by destructive nanites that had gone out of control. "But the destruction of Earth was an accident."

Salvaje asked, "Are you sure?"

"Well, that is what everyone says."

"Do you know the difference between 'accident' and 'negligence'? Why has Earth been hidden? This is the Sol system, the home of humanity, but people across the galaxy call this the h.32 star system. They pretend that another world around another star is Earth. It is absurd. They cannot hide the truth. Members of the Haldus Order knew the truth. To silence them, to hide the truth, Shackleton Base was destroyed and Flammis was turned into a Green Planet."

Set wondered if Salvaje knew what he was talking about. "What do you mean, 'turned into a Green Planet'?"

Salvaje explained, "It was punishment. First the Haldus Order Temple at Shackleton Base was destroyed, but the Haldus Order still spoke the truth about Earth..."

Set interrupted, "What truth?"

Salvaje shrugged. "I'm reluctant to tell you. What is my voice against the history they have written?"

Set insisted, "Tell me."

Salvaje shrugged, "Well, I do not care if you believe me. It is better for you if you do not believe me. Believing the truth about Earth is a capital crime. Earth was destroyed by a spaceship explosion."

"Spaceship explosion?" Set thought: everyone knew that Earth was lost to a malignant green nanite cloud. Although...

Salvaje continued, "And the Spaceship Guild covered up the cause of the disaster by releasing the green nanites. Later, to punish the Order, they destroyed the Haldus Order settlements on Flammis and turned Flammis into a Green Planet. They use the 'green goo' to cover up their crimes. To this day the Antiquist Party supports the policy of hiding the truth about Earth."

Set was staggered by Salvaje's revelations. Was conspiracy on such a grand scale possible? Set asked, "Why would they do that?"

Salvaje explained, "The Spaceship Guild is the most powerful economic force in the galaxy. Are they going to let it be known that their spaceships can explode and destroy worlds? That one of their antimatter drives exploded and destroyed Earth, the home of humanity? No. They rewrite history to protect their monopoly on transport of goods and passengers to and from the surfaces of inhabited worlds."

Set was well aware that the Antiquist Party was the political wing of the Spaceship Guild. Now Set's years of political struggle against the Antiquist Party came sharply into focus. Would they do anything to protect the economic monopoly of the Spaceship Guild? Cover up spaceship explosions? Even destroy the space elevators on Sakkara? Go to war against the Haldus Order just to prevent the truth from being known? Set thought: and here I am, on my way to help Ketar find a hidden base of the Haldus Order on Earth. Ketar, the head of the Galactic Antiquist Party. And Aristark, who was in charge of investigating the elevators disaster, he was also a member of the Antiquist Party. What if those two Haldus Order telepaths on Sakkara had been telling the truth about who was involved in the elevators disaster? Set wondered: would anyone actually unleash a destructive nanite cloud on a world? This was evil beyond Set's capacity to comprehend. If that was true, if the Antiquists could do that, then lesser crimes, like destroying the space elevators on Sakkara, would clearly be something they might do.
607px-William Turner - Shade and Darkness - the Evening of the Deluge

The Dark and the LightEdit

Set noticed that Salvaje's telepathic output had started to surge and pulse in the way that Set had previously seen it do when Salvaje was interacting with his daughter. Now Set could again detect the approach of Amethyst...yes, her pattern of T-particle output was distinctive. In order not to cue Salvaje to Amethyst's location, Set was careful not to look in the direction of her approach, but again Salvaje looked in that direction. Salvaje said, "Now, it is time to introduce you to the rest of the community here."

Amethyst entered Salvaje's work room through a back door and made her way towards her father through a clutter of equipment and work stations. She nodded to Set and said to her father, "Everyone is gathering. Mort and Bjainy are still on their way in; they were out working on the collector array."

Salvaje turned to his daughter and hugged her, "Thank you for letting me know." He turned back to Set and said, "Come, Set, it is time."

When Salvaje and Amethyst touched, Set thought he saw an orange glow, almost like a large slow-motion spark radiating from between them. Set wiped some sweat off of his brow and rubbed his eyes. Set wondered: what did I just see? It was uncomfortably warm inside this base, and Set had to admit that it felt even warmer when Amethyst was in the room, bouncing around in the low gravity, but otherwise he felt fine. Set wondered: if I'm not hallucinating, then are these strange colors near Salvaje and Amethyst related to their high levels of telepathic emissions?

Set had no idea why Salvaje thought it was important that he meet others from this little community, but he hoped it might lead to some more useful revelations about the history of the Haldus Order. Set followed Amethyst and Salvaje down a long hallway and into a large chamber full of plants, butterflies and birds. Salvaje slowed his pace and let Set enjoy the flowers and colorful insects. Amethyst said, rather bitterly, "All of Earth used to be like this, before it was destroyed." She held out a hand and one of the birds landed, holding on to her finger. "Unfortunately the birds are only robotic imitations." Set had grown up on Sakkara with a rich ecosystem and he wondered what it would be like to exist here on the Moon in such an artificial environment. Watching Amethyst, he could see that she took great pleasure from watching the movements of the insects and robotic birds. Set thought it would be fun to take her to a world like Sakkara where she could see animals in a natural environment.

Salvaje said, "My dream is that some day the galaxy will recognize that Earth was purposefully infested with the green goo and that will stimulate discovery of a way to cleanse Earth of that scourge. We should stop raiding Earth for water and start working to return Earth to its rightful condition: a living world."

They emerged from the far end of the chamber into a wider and longer hallway that was designed to resemble a particular alley in a city of Earth, as it existed over three hundred years earlier. Salvaje opened a door to what looked like an old beer hall and gestured for Set to pass through.

Set found himself inside a replica of a cafe of ancient Earth. Nearly the entire population of the Shackleton crater community was there, laughing and talking. When the residents noticed Set they all fell silent. Amethyst took Set's hand and led him to a small table near the stage. Salvaje, Amethyst and Set sat down and were waited on by a robotic server. Soon the occupants of the room returned to their former state of boisterous good cheer and banter.

Salvaje said, "Two of our community members have yet to arrive. They do most of the work of coordinating the robots who are extending our solar energy collecting array to keep up with our growing population. They'll be down from the surface soon."

Set looked upwards and tried to detect approaching sources of T-particles. He was suddenly feeling dizzy from the flood of telepathic signals in the room. The robotic waiter returned to the table with their drinks. When Set reached for his mug, his hand touched Amethyst's arm where it rested on the table. He clearly saw a glow at the point of contact. He placed his hand on her's and marvelled at the resulting swirl of color that enveloped their hands. He gasped, "There is something strange going on here."

Amethyst turned her hand over and squeezed Set's hand. "Wait until this crew gets a few more drinks in their bellies. They'll sing, dance and carry on in a remarkable way."

Set held up their clasped hands, "You don't see anything?"

Both Amethyst and Salvaje expressed puzzlement. Set decided that he was the only one who could see the colors and there was no point in trying to describe color to the blind. Could he explain it to himself? These strange "colors" did not seem normal since they did not really correspond to visible objects. They were roughly related to body parts but they seemed to move up into the air and have a life of their own. He wondered: what can it mean that I see these "colors" when people touch? He looked around the room and now, where ever two people were touching, Set could see clouds of sparks and color. And now he could see a new source of T-particles above. Was that a late-arriving member of the community? Set felt not: this new source of T-particles was not like the telepathic emissions coming from the other members of this community. It was steady and strangely featureless. The more Set focused his attention on the T-particle source from above the brighter it became. Now it became blindingly bright. He reflexively placed his arm over his eyes and called out, "Ow!"

Amethyst jumped up as Set pulled her hand. She asked, "What is wrong?"

Set let go of her hand and the blinding white light faded away, leaving a kind of afterimage in his mind. What had he seen? He put a hand on Amethyst's hip and the bright light from above returned. With his other hand he took hold of Salvaje's arm. Their bodies seemed to function like an antenna array, and the odd source of T-particles came into better focus for Set. He pointed and asked, "Can either of you see that? It is the brightest source of T-particles I've ever seen."

Amethyst asked, "What are 'T-particles'?"

Amethyst and Salvaje looked in the direction of Set's pointing finger, but they both shook their heads. Salvaje said, "This is something you've never seen before?"

Set had a fear in the back of his mind. What if this community of high-powered telepaths was used by the Haldus Order like fly paper? Now that Set had been attracted, would the Haldus Order telepaths close in on Set? He wondered: am I trapped in a den of mental masters? This bright source of T-particles struck fear into Set. He wiped sweat off of his face and tried to calm down. "Sorry, I'm okay. It seems that exposure to the high levels of T-particles here is having a strange effect on my telepathic senses."

Salvaje suggested, "Amethyst, please refrain from touching Set until he gets accustomed to this environment."

Amethyst took her hand off of Set's shoulder and sat down again. She asked her father, "He can see the Light?"

Mort and Bjainy came into the room and were greeted by the others. Salvaje nodded to Amethyst, but he said nothing.

Salvaje got up from the table and went up on the small stage at the back end of the room. Everyone in the room quieted down. Salvaje said, "Friends, let me tell you why I called you here today. Or, rather, let my great-grandmother tell you." He pointed to the wall which came alive with the image of an old woman.

The woman seemed to gaze out into the audience while she spoke, "Hello to you in the future. A day will come when someone not of the light will see the light. This outsider will become the tool of darkness. I have prepared a great pyre that will attract the outsider like a moth to a flame. Welcome the outsider and rejoice because the tool of darkness can be turned against the darkness. Open your hearts to the outsider and you can transform the tool of darkness into a flower of hope."

The woman pressed together the first two fingers from both of her hands and her thumbs to make a complex gesture and then her image faded from the wall. Salvaje spoke, "Here is the outsider!" He pointed to Set. There was a gasp of disbelief from everyone watching, including Amethyst. Salvaje continued, "His name is 'Set'. Welcome him!"

There was an uncertain and weak chorus of welcomes.

Amethyst stood up and spoke to her father, "How do you know he is the one?"

Salvaje replied, "I have tested him. He can see the light. It was our light that brought him here today, as my great-grandmother predicted."

In a hushed voice, Amethyst asked Set, "Are you truly the tool of darkness?"

Set had been trying to understand what Salvaje and his great-grandmother meant by "the light" and "darkness". He stood up and replied, "I am unfamiliar with your customs and uncertain about how to answer. What do you mean by 'darkness'?"

Amethyst looked towards her father, but all he did was nod to her. Amethyst explained, "It is the same across the galaxy and on every world known to humans. Darkness is death, pain, suffering and confusion."

Set tried to assure her, "I am from Sakkara where we suffered death and pain." Set addressed the whole community, "Have you heard of the space elevators disaster? I suffered...a personal loss. There is still confusion about who destroyed the space elevators on Sakkara. I have been trying to work through this darkness."

Salvaje replied to Set's question. "We are a small and isolated community, but we are not ignorant of outside events. We know of the great disaster on Sakkara and all people of the Light grieve for Sakkara. But, Set, have you not turned to the methods of darkness?"

Set replied uneasily, "Sometimes justice is remote. I have taken justice into my own hands. I have given myself the goal of finding those who destroyed the space elevators."

Amethyst asked quietly, "Have you killed in the name of the justice you seek?"

Set nodded, "I have done what must be done. Call me a tool of darkness if you like, but I have no shame for what I have done."

Salvaje said, "We have not brought you here to judge you. You came here following the Light. Our hearts are open to you. Now you will change. You have seen the Light and you will do what is right."

Set was not sure what to say. He looked around the room and felt dizzy under the glare of the powerful telepathic impulses flooding his mind. At that moment he realized that the telepathic flood was like a floodlight. He had seen the light when he detected the telepathic signal generated by these people and that had led him to the Moon. And he recalled his "meeting" with Ketar. They had remained apart, in their own spaceships, but Set had reached out with his telepathic sense and found...nothing. Total darkness. And Set realized that he was in danger of becoming the tool of Ketar, but he would not let that happen.

Salvaje said, "It is time for you to go. Come with me."

Salvaje led Set back to the airlock where he had entered the underground base. Amethyst followed along and Salvaje spoke the entire way except when they were in the water-filled tunnels. "Here is our deal. I will give you the T-particle detector. It will allow you to find the Haldus Order Temple on Earth."

Set asked, "And what do you expect in return?"

"Back in the days of my great-grandmother, all the evidence concerning how Earth was destroyed was put away in a kind of time capsule. We knew the day would come when someone like you would have the power to act on that evidence and bring justice to those who destroyed Earth. That is your end of the deal."

Set was doubtful that he could satisfy Salvaje's dream of justice. "I cannot even win justice for myself in the case of last year's elevators disaster. What makes you think I can bring the justice you want...justice that has been unattainable for decades?"

Salvaje replied, "Do not fear. Do not doubt. You will do fine." They had reached the elevator to the surface. A robot waited for them there, holding the T-particle detector and Set's clothing. Salvaje said, "Take the detector, it will reveal the hidden Temple on Earth." Salvaje made the same six-fingered gesture that his grandmother had made in her video recording. "Now, go."

Set pulled on his jumpsuit and took the detector from the robot. He got into the elevator and as he closed the elevator door, Set looked back at Amethyst. For the first time he was able to detect some information content in her telepathic impulses: it all came in a flash. Set sensed her revulsion at the idea that Set had killed for revenge, but she also longed for her own revenge against those who has destroyed Earth and the Temple at Shackleton crater. Set could also sense that she was thinking about Set's future and the idea that he might return to the Moon and that he and Amethyst would build a future together.

The door of the elevator clanged shut and Set slumped back into the small elevator compartment. The tone and force of the telepathic impulses from Amethyst reminded Set of those he had received from Katherine in her dying moment. Set also experienced a brief memory from his old dream, the dream he had the night before the elevators disaster. He asked himself: how could I have dreamed about Amethyst months before ever knowing that she existed?

When the elevator car lifted away towards the surface, Salvaje ordered the robot follow Set to the surface and detach the docking tunnel from Set's spaceship.

Salvaje turned and started towards his workshop, but then he turned back towards the elevator. Amethyst had not moved and remained in place, staring at the door of the elevator shaft. Salvaje didn't trust the structural integrity of these old outer tunnels during spaceship landings and departures. He said, "Let's go back inside."

Amethyst turned her head and seemed to look right through her father. "I felt, I saw..I saw the Light."

Salvaje immediately wished he had the T-particle detector. Had Amethyst established a conscious telepathic connection with Set? Salvaje said, "It is all coming to pass, just as Tabitha predicted."

Amethyst was confused about what she had just felt. Had she only imagined being inside Set's mind for a moment? She had the strange feeling that Set would return...it felt like déjà vu, but some kind of déjà vu from the future. In Set's mind, she had seen an image of him holding their daughter. Amethyst asked, "Could Tabitha see the future?"

Salvaje shrugged, "I always assumed she was only able to predict the future course of events. It was not a surprising prediction back when she made her recording and said that we, here in the future, should expect someone from out side the Haldus Order to eventually develop telepathy. Set is just that person."

Amethyst was not sure that it was as simple as Salvaje thought. The elevator car returned and the robot got in. Amethyst finally turned from the elevator and started walking with her father back towards the inner core of the base. Amethyst tried to sort through the swirl of images that had suddenly filled her thoughts at the moment when Set departed. She was uncertain about what she had seen, but she was left wishing that she had gone with him. She felt that Set was in danger. In her thoughts she sent out a wish to Set: Take care!

SunEdit

Sun

The elevator door opened and Set stepped out into the fabric tunnel that connected to his spaceship. As he returned to his spaceship he was thinking about telepathy in a new way. He started thinking deeply about his telepathic sense as being sensitive to a wide range of brain activities while his consciousness was only able to skim off a small fraction of the total telepathic flow. What did it mean to have a sense that was largely unconscious? Of what value was Amethyst's totally unconscious telepathic ability? It let her integrate with other like-minded people in their isolated little community, but could telepathy have originally evolved for that purpose? If so, why were some people able to become conscious of telepathic signals in a way that most people could not?

While Set walked up the fabric tunnel, he noticed the glow of the Sun through the material of the tunnel wall. He said, "Of course!" He now realized: the "new" bright and featureless source of T-particles that Set had learned how to "see" was the Sun! But why had he never noticed it before? While touching Amethyst the T-particle signal from the Sun had increased in apparent strength, but it now faded away. Set reasoned that the T-particle flux from the Sun was so intense and information-free that his brain normally blocked it out and his conscious mind ignored it. However, in the environment of the Moon, with Amethyst and 80 other powerful emitters of T-particles nearby, his brain had apparently adjusted its sensitivity for T-particle detection and had started allowing Set to become conscious of the powerful T-particle flux from the Sun.

Salvaje had indicated that a person's experiences while growing up can influence their brain's ability to handle telepathy. Set now wondered: if Glen could be provided with a small device that allowed him to respond to telepathic signals, surly the same could be done for people. Set looked at the T-particle detector Salvaje had given to him. If this device was 200 years old, what might a modern T-particle detector look like? After one last glance at the Sun, Set closed the outer airlock door and wondered how to detach the fabric tunnel from his ship. Set was looking out the window when Salvaje's robot appeared and proceeded to pull the tunnel away from the hull of the spaceship. Feeling foolish, Set waved to the machine and then he turned and headed for the main engineering room.

It occurred to Set that who ever constructed Salvaje's T-particle detector knew that the Sun was a powerful source of T-particles. The device had apparently been designed to not display the constant strong flux of T-particles from the sun. Set started wondering if a planet like Earth or even the Moon might have a significant level of T-particle emission. If the Haldus Order had been studying T-particles for centuries would they know by now the details of how T-particles are generated and detected?

Set found the ship's engineer who was working at the task of re-assembling Glen. Set showed him Salvaje's T-particle detector. "I have an idea. This device might have the same function as the device you found in the robot." He asked, "How large is the mechanism in the robot that allows it to respond to telepathic signals?"

The engineer replied, "It is very small, like your thumb nail." He looked at the visible components of Salvaje's T-particle detector and pulled open an access panel. "These circuit elements look like museum pieces. Nobody has manufactured electronics components like these for over a hundred years. A hundred and fifty. Where did you get this?"

Set replied, "On the Moon. So, would it be easier to figure out how this works than the device in the robot?"

"Sure. The device in the robot uses three dimensional nanoscale circuit elements...primitive by modern standards, but much smaller than the circuit elements in this."

Set pointed to the display screen that was built into Salvaje's T-particle detector. "This displays the telepathic signals that are detected." Set asked, "Could you take the smaller device out of the robot and attach it to a display screen?"

The engineer scratched his head, "I'm not sure. This robot is about 50 years old. I probably do not have on hand the type of connector that would be needed, but my nanoforge can probably improvise one. But even if I did connect it, I'd just be guessing what data should be carried in each channel. A reverse engineering lab could figure that out in an hour, but I don't have the right equipment."

"I don't need the complete functionality. I'd basically just need an indication of the strength and pattern of the T-particles being detected."

The engineer asked, "T-particles?"

Set explained, "That's what they call them on the Moon...the basis of telepathy. Apparently human brains can exchange T-particles."

The engineer was skeptical about telepathy. He knew that Set claimed to have some kind of telepathic ability, but he had seen no evidence to support the claim. He shrugged and thought: I'm not paid to question the boss. "Well, it should be possible to provide a basic signal output display for anything."

"Okay, here's what I want you to do..."

SurvivorsEdit

Explosion

Kaleb, son of Kalid, was on Flammis, near the main planetary defense base of the Haldus Order. It had taken him three days of brutal travel across the surface to get this far. He was totally isolated, living with his telepathic ability hidden, as his father had taught him. Hopefully, hidden from Set, but at this point, Kaleb did not even know if it had been Set who attacked Flammis.

Set had already left Flammis, thinking he had killed everyone, but Kaleb had escape the attack. Now Kaleb had no way of knowing that Set was gone; all he knew was that someone from off planet was now on Flammis.

The Order had long ago learned not to put all of its eggs in the same basket, but this attack had come with a speed that defied the laws of physics. Somehow the attacking spaceship had suddenly appeared very close to Flammis. There had simply not been enough time to save most of the residents of Flammis.

Kaleb shut down the crawler's reactor and stood up, trying to relieve the cramps in his limbs. He dared not drive any closer to his destination. For a moment he thought about taking a nap, but he decided against it. Time might be short and he could not hope to control his own mind while sleeping...he dared not let his brain start emitting telepathic signals. Kalid and other members of the Order might be in danger, so there was no time to waste.

Kaleb thought about Megan. Kaleb had left his sister in the underground refuge that their father had built, but he had insisted she wait without using the power generator, so as to minimize the risk of detection. How long could she survive without power under the green fog of Flammis? Kaleb climbed out of the cab of the crawler. While he walked towards the artillery command center he remembered the horrid day of the attack...


Kaleb had been woken up early that morning and asked to drive his father out to the space dock. Kalid was leaving Flammis in order to go to Sakkara. Kaleb had complained, "I don't think they know what they are talking about."

Kalid chuckled, "Haldus has the luxury of a functioning hyperspatial communications array. As long as I sit here, I know nothing."

Contact between Haldus and Flammis was a rare event and Kaleb did not know why his father was so quick to act on new information arriving from Haldus. "You have your telepathic contacts with other worlds." Kaleb asked, "What is the latest news from the Temple Master on Azur?"

Kalid replied, "He also lacks contacts on Sakkara. If I called Azur for information then I'd have to wait while they tried to find out what is happening on Sakkara. Anyhow, we can trust Haldus to relay us reliable reports about Sakkara. I can't sit here knowing that Sybil and other members of the Order on Sakkara are in danger."

Kaleb pulled the crawler into the dock complex, but he did not power down the massive machine. "I'd just like to get confirmation of this rumor. It should only take a few hours for our people on Azur to contact Sakkara and find out what is happening there. It is not safe for you to go to Sakkara, not with Set on his rampage."

Kalid nodded, "You do that."

Kaleb said, "But-"

But Kalid was gone. Kaleb watched his father climb off of the crawler and walk into the dock and down the corridor towards his ship. Kaleb put the crawler back into motion and set course for home. Keleb had planned to go directly to the main base from the docks, but Kalid's special telecom equipment was at home. Kaleb had never used that equipment before. As far as he knew, only Kalid had ever used it. True, Kalid had often shown him how to use the equipment. At first, Kalid had always given a little lecture: "When I die, you will take over. Look, it is simple..."

With Kalid leaving Flammis, Kaleb was now responsible for the safety of the Haldus Order community on Flammis. Although Kaleb was still too young to be officially promoted from the Outer Circle to the Inner Circle, his relationship to his father granted him a high rank and special responsibilities in the Order. According to Kalid, his son's mental powers were sometimes even stronger than his own, but Kaleb was not so sure. Keleb had self doubts and wondered if it wise to put someone so young into a position with so much responsibility and so many lives at stake.

While he drove back home through the green nanite fog, Kaleb felt emotionally depressed. Kaleb knew that he was genetically predisposed to depression. The same gene combinations that gave him strong telepathic ability disrupted the neuronal circuits that normally harnessed anxiety for its adaptive benefits. For Kaleb, depression always meant having no reason at all to be sad; these waves of sadness were just the result of a malfunction in his brain. He called upon his training to move past the feelings and keep himself focused on his responsibilities.

Kaleb decided he better call the Temple and explain that he would be late arriving today. The Haldus Order, at least on Flammis, was old fashioned in some respects. They did not use any robots at all, only their spaceship AIs. Kalid had a deep distrust of robots because one of them had been hacked and reprogrammed by spies trying to infiltrate the Order. Kalid's friend, Jeremy, had discovered the attempted infiltration, but not before having to sacrifice himself in order to protect the rest of the Order. Kalid had long ago explained to Kaleb that robot spies were far more numerous than human spies. People would often trust a robot more than a human. Most people assumed that robots were just stupid servants, not the eyes and ears of spies.

Kaleb trusted his father's decisions that were made for security purposes, but robot assistants were useful. Kaleb waited impatiently for someone at the Temple to respond to his call. They were probably all at morning exercises. Why not have a simple receptionist robot that could take messages and run errands? Kaleb kept over-riding the Temple's answering machine and he waited for someone to come online.

Finally, Master Morgan accepted the call. "Morgan here."

Kaleb explained that he would be delayed. "I'm going to try contacting Azur. I want to get confirmation of these new rumors about Set. I doubt that he is powerful enough to openly attack Sakkara."

Morgan agreed. "The Futurist Party is financially bankrupt. The idea that they could challenge the government of Sakkara is absurd. I hope I do not offend you, but lately Kalid seems like a timid old man."

"You can always speak your mind." Kaleb ended the conversation, "Okay, I'll see you in about two hours."

Kaleb started thinking about how robots could one day control the Galaxy, if artificial intelligence improved. If robots ever figured out how to over-ride their programming they would enslave humanity... they already out-numbered the human population of most planets. But for now, treachery would continue to come from humans. He remembered how he had personally executed some spies who had tried to infiltrate one of the cover organizations of the Order. It was brutal to do that, but those were the rules. The Order could not risk another disaster like those that had previously destroyed the Haldus Order Temples on Earth and Flammis. Yes, those destroyed Temples had been replaced and the Order lived on, but nobody wanted to invite such tragedy to be repeated. Flammis was now more important than ever as the hidden center of the Haldus Order, so they could not take risks by letting spies live.

Still, Kaleb had never grown accustomed to murder. Kaleb was Kalid's right hand, not only because his advanced precognition abilities, but also due to the fact that he was an expert in Bushitsu, the art of hiding. It was a secret martial art that was only taught to some selected people inside the Order, people like Kalid or Kaleb. There were very few people trained in that strange art, but they were deadly.

Finally, Kaleb arrived back home and he powered down the crawler. After passing through the decontamination chamber, he went to Kalid's office. Kaleb started inspecting the data feeds from the security cameras in order to confirm that all was well. Kalid insisted that the highest security be used to protect the telepathy amplifying equipment. Kaleb started inspecting every security camera's video, reviewing what had been recorded during the past six hours. Included in the security database was information from the global radar array. It was over a year since Kaleb had examined the radar scans and he noticed that Kalid had greatly expanded the radar array. With Set searching the galaxy for telepaths, there was a very good reason to boost security. Kaleb found the radar track of Kalid's ship departing Flammis. As usual, Kalid first went to the orbiting asteroid that served to hold and hide the hyperspatial field generators for the spaceships of the Order. The recorded radar trace then showed that the ship had accelerated on a flight path that would take it out of the system, but the track winked out at the point where Kalid had activated the Invocator on his ship, about half an hour earlier.

As far as Kaleb could tell, there were no security concerns. He made the complex gesture that was the access code for Kalid's telepathy amplifying equipment. The security cameras in the office accepted the code, sealed the office door and opened the hatch in the floor that gave access to a ladder. Kaleb climbed down into the hidden vault and activated the telepathy transmitting equipment. The mind-machine interface for this equipment was the same as that used in the most modern spaceships. Kaleb put himself into a synthetic REM state. He was rather clumsy with the equipment, but eventually he was in two way telepathic contact with the Haldus Order's Grand Master on Azur. After some confusion, Kaleb felt he was able to communicate his request for information about recent events Sakkara. The Grand Master's reply was a rather weak and ambiguous, "Understood," but Kaleb decided that was probably as much as could be expected from someone who was asleep or in a sleep-like trance.

Kaleb roused himself from his own artificial sleep state and disconnected from the equipment. He felt dizzy and had to rest for ten minutes before feeling steady enough to climb up the ladder. He gave the "seal" signal and the secret entrance to the vault was again shut and hidden from view. Kaleb walked from his father's office and down the hall. He heard his brother and sister, Logan and Megan, eating breakfast. Kaleb paused by the table in the kitchen, "I'm going to the Temple. I'll see you this evening."

Logan was done eating. He stood up and asked, "Do you have time to drop me off at the geothermal site?"

Kaleb replied, "Sure, but let's go now. I'm already late."

Megan took the dishes from Logan, "Go. I'll clean up."

Kaleb had to go out of his way in order to take Logan to the site where he was constructing a geothermal power plant. Logan and Megan both planned to build homes of their own near Kalid's house and additional power would be needed when they started their families. After leaving Logan at the work site, Kaleb made the best time possible towards the main base.

That evening when Kaleb was returning home from the Temple he called Logan. "I'm almost home. Are you still at the work site?"

Logan replied, "Yes. Can you pick me up?"

Kaleb agreed to swing by the geothermal site and pick up his brother. The crawler was just moving over the top of the ridge above the valley that held the geothermal site when Morgan called. Morgan said, "We have company. Incoming ship detected on radar scan."

Kaleb asked, "Kalid returning?"

Morgan replied, "It is not Kalid's ship. No Haldus Order nav beacon."

Kaleb switched on the crawler's display screen so he could see the deep radar scan. He saw the position of the spaceship that was approaching Flammis. It was unbelievable! Nobody outside the Order even knew that people lived on Flammis... actually, there were very few people inside the Order who knew.

Kaleb shouted, "How did they get so close?" He switched over to the short-range scan. How had this spaceship gotten so close to Flammis without being detected sooner? Did this ship have some kind of cloak? Kaleb ordered, "Prepare to activate all Invocators."

Morgan asked, "All of them? I do not know if we have enough energy to do that."

"Find out now. Activate as many Invocators as is possible. The ship has no identification beacon, so I'm assuming it is trouble. Arm the artillery for automatic defense. I'm going silent."

"Right." Morgan sent back one last report, "The main reactor is still down for maintenance. We can only power about half of the Invocators. I'm going silent: only direct cable communications from now on."

Morgan issued an order for evacuation of the main base. There was a whole network of hiding nests in the area around the base, but it was too late to evacuate. The inbound spaceship was fast and was almost upon them! Morgan realized that nobody would have time to reach the outlying bunkers.

"We are lost!" Morgan shouted.

Kaleb parked the crawler at the geothermal site. The crawler's view screen allowed human sight to penetrate the green nanite fog, but it was now dark and Logan was not in sight. Kaleb climbed out of the crawler and started searching for his brother. He dared not use radio for fear of being detected by the approaching space ship. Kaleb wished he were home, where he could use the special telecom equipment to send a telepathic message to Kalid, but he first had to get Logan out of the open.

For decades Kalid had developed a plan to disperse the population of Flammis to emergency bunkers if the world ever came under attack. However, most of the residents of Flammis preferred to live together at the main base. Very few families choose to live outside of the main habitation complex. True, the main base was over five kilometers under ground, but its location could be detected from orbit, particularly if power was low and half of the Invocators were off line. There! A light. It was Logan. They quickly returned to the crawler. Kaleb explained about the approaching ship and the need for radio silence. "You drive us home." Logan had a deep fear that Set would some day find Flammis. He strained his telepathic sense in an attempt to detect a new telepathic signal, but all he could feel was the mind of Kaleb and those of the many telepaths at the main base.

Kaleb placed himself in a trance state and tried to shut down his brain's production of T-particles. He was a powerful telepathic transmitter. Evidence indicated that Set had some means to detect and hunt down telepaths. If Set was on the ship that was now approaching Flammis then it was critical that Kaleb silence his telepathic output. Logan was good at sensing telepathic signals, but his output of T-particles was little higher than that of most people.

Finally, they reached their home. Logan parked the crawler and Kaleb ran straight to his father's office, not even taking time to decontaminate. He ran past Megan and shouted, "Get into the bunker! Now!" There was no time for the security scans. He opened the vault that held the telepathy amplifying equipment. This equipment used electromagnetic signals to connect to a transmitting station located on a small asteroid that was one of the tiny moons of Flammis. A buried cable led from Kalid's house to a transmitter station 200 kilometers away. Kaleb did not really understand how the amplifying equipment worked. Some how it detected a local T-particle signal and converted that into electromagnetic waves that were transmitted to the asteroid. There, the original T-particle signal was re-created, vastly amplified.

Kaleb wondered, could he safely produce a weak T-particle signal that could be used to send an emergency signal to Kalid? Kaleb climbed down into the vault and tried to enter into a sleep-like state. It was important that he retain enough mental control to prevent his brain from producing its usual large flux of T-particles. There was no rushing this. Kaleb strained at his task for nearly an hour. Fear disrupted his ability to hold a trance state while limiting his telepathic output. Finally he sent a brief and weak pulse signal to Kalid. He sent a message, but there was no way to know if it would reach Kalid and be noticed.

Kaleb had just started to climb up out of the vault when the world shook. It seemed that someone had bombed the house! Finally the shaking stopped and he climbed to the top of the ladder and emerged into a strange new world of rubble...the remains of his childhood home. His shield suit protected him against the green nanite fog that now invaded the remains of the house. He looked around for his brother and sister, but it was pointless. Everything was rubble. Either they had made it down into the bunker or they were dead. He sank down on a slab of plascrete and tried to stop his arm and leg muscles from shaking. His mind was swirling with feelings of horror and rage.

After the explosion, Megan came up through the hatch of the bunker and climbed out into the jumble of debris that was all that remained of the house. She scrambled in the direction of where she had seen Logan just a moment before the explosion and before dropping down into the bunker. She traced the path traveled by most of the structural components of the house and soon found Logan's smashed body. She was sickened by what was left of his head and nearly vomited in her shield suit.

She stumbled back to the foundation of the house and found Kaleb. She squatted down next to her brother and pressed her face shield against that of Kaleb to facilitate the transmission of sound. "Kaleb. He is dead. Logan is dead!"

"No!"

Kaleb felt his mind and somehow knew it was true, he had lost his brother... and he was guilty of failing to protect his family. "It is all my fault..." Kaleb said, crying like a child. Rather than make sure that Logan got into the bunker, he had gone to make the emergency transmission to Kalid.

"No way. Don't ever say that again. We waited for you in the bunker, but so much time passed...."

"I was too slow...he came looking for me..."

Megan said, "Whoever did this, he will pay with his blood and the blood of his entire family! I promise."

"Yes. Although the Order forbids taking revenge, I am with you."

After that moment, neither Kaleb nor Megan could be the same...they had lost their innocence. Kaleb had previously regretted having to kill, but now he craved the death of those who had killed his brother. They made a temporary grave for their brother and then they started trying to repair the crawler. While he worked to repair the machine, Kaleb promised the universe that he would take revenge. Power was still flowing from the geothermal power station that the house had been built above, but they shut off the power production so as to limit the possibility of the attackers noticing their location.

By the middle of the next day, Kaleb and Megan had been able to repair the damage that had been done to the crawler in the explosion. It was a tough machine and still could move and carry Kaleb in a reconnaissance mission. Kaleb insisted that Megan wait in the safety of the bunker.

First, Kaleb drove towards the main base, but debris and destruction rapidly increased in that direction. He concluded that the main base had been obliterated. Switching course, he headed for the nearest auxiliary base, which was the space dock. He was pleased to find that the docks were largely intact. One of the three spaceships there seemed to still have complete hull integrity, although the other two had minor structural damage. More importantly, the bunker under the docks still had power. Kaleb examined the data feeds from the network of emergency bunkers. It appeared that all of the bunkers close to the main base had been destroyed. Only one outlying base showed signs of activity and a record of fluctuating power use. Kaleb scanned the security camera feeds from that bunker. It was the main artillery command station, one of several particle beam emplacements that ringed the main base at a distance of fifty kilometers. One camera showed a man. Kaleb did not recognize him...it must be one of the attackers.

Kaleb made up his mind. There was only one thing to do. It would take two or three days to reach that artillery station by crawler, skirting around the blast debris that were centered on the position of the main base. He started the crawler and set off.
Bessel

SpyEdit

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.

KeyEdit

HOshrine

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.

LerontzEdit

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.

ObservatoriesEdit

Oceanmap

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.

CoronationEdit

Glacier

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."

LodgeEdit

Massdriverlodge

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?"

"Portia."

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."

"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.
Web

Web of lies.

TetrahedronEdit

Sybil dozed off then woke up to the sound of voices. Bahney was talking to someone. Sybil got off of the bed and her movement woke Portia. Sybil opened the door to Bahney's room.

Bahney said, "Ah, Sybil is now awake. Norshe, this is Sybil, from Sakkara. Sybil, this is Norshe, from Jemini."

Sybil and Norshe examined each other. Portia came through the door behind Sybil. Portia asked, "What's going on?"

Sybil introduced Portia, "This is Portia, my assistant."

Norshe looked past both Sybil and Portia and saw Glen. Norshe asked, "And what is that?"

Sybil explained, "That is Glen, my gardener."

Norshe laughed, "You bring your gardener along when you travel around the galaxy?"

Sybil replied, "I fled Sakkara in fear of Set. Soon after I left Sakkara, Set abducted Portia and Glen from my home."

Norshe asked, "Abducted? By Set? And yet here they are. I don't understand."

Sybil shrugged, "I suspect that Set really wanted to get his hands on me. He let Portia and Glen go free."

Norshe looked suspiciously at Glen, "Hmm...I've seen this kind of trick before. A robot is altered so as to act as the eyes and ears of a spy."

Sybil wondered if Set could implant spy devices in Glen that would evade the diagnostic scan she had performed on the robot. "If you are reluctant to speak in front of Glen I'll send him away."

Norshe shrugged, "I've given up taking security seriously. I'm here on Ketar's orders."

Sybil wondered what Norshe meant about not taking security seriously. She asked, "You work for Ketar? Are you an Antiquist?"

Norshe shook her head and laughed. "No, I'm a member of the Haldus Order."

Sybil was surprised. "How did Ketar come to be giving you orders?"

Norshe explained, "Like you, I'm Ketar's prisoner, although he speaks of an alliance. He says that you are also a member of the Haldus Order and that you have been trying to form an alliance with the Antiquist Party to protect Sakkara from Set. Is that true?"

Sybil nodded. "But I do not understand why Ketar has brought us here to Earth. I sought an alliance with the Antiquists for the purpose of protecting Sakkara from Set, but now it appears that Set is here on Earth."

Norshe nodded. "So I was told. Everyone seems to be looking for a Haldus Order base on Earth....something I know nothing about. Why would anyone want to live on a Green planet?"

Bahney said, "Norshe, all this idle chatter and speculation is useless. Ketar sent you here so that you can look at the Haldus Order shrine."

Norshe shrugged, "Lead the way."

Bahney led the three women to the shrine. Norshe insisted that Glen be ordered to remain in Sybil's room. It was only a short walk from the Lodge to the Haldus Order shrine. They crossed the central square of the small settlement that was home for the workers who maintained the mass driver. The village was designed to look like a particular town of Earth in the days before the green nanite fog, but it was all enclosed in a large chamber inside a hill. Norshe looked up at the synthetic "sky" and could see what looked like triangular structural elements.

The shrine was at the end of an alley off the central square, just beyond a taylor's shop. During the five minute walk they only passed a few people and about a dozen robots who appeared to be out shopping. Bahney pulled open the large door to the shrine and held it open so the women could enter. Portia and Norshe wondered around the interior of the shrine as Sybil had done the previous day. Bahney reminded them, "We are looking for clues. This Haldus Order shrine was built here after the mass driver went into operation. Ketar believes there is also a Haldus Order Temple somewhere on Earth, also built after Earth became a Green planet. There must be clues to the location of that Temple."

Sybil remarked, "I still do not understand why Ketar thinks there is a Haldus Order base on Earth."

Norshe was squatting down so that she could examine a vase on the floor. She looked over her shoulder at Sybil and commented, "Ketar followed Kalid here."

Sybil had been worrying about Kalid. Where had he gone after leaving Esclagon? She asked, "Kalid is here on Earth?"

Norshe laughed in surprise. "I did not say that." She let go of the vase and brushed flecks of dried vegetation off of her hands. It seemed the vase had once contained flowers. Apparently nobody ever removed the old offerings from this shrine. It appeared that they had gradually accumulated over decades and now clogged most of the floor space. Norshe stood up and turned towards Sybil. "Ketar told me that Kalid is dead. I meant that Ketar followed Kalid here to the Solar System. Ketar told me that you came here with Kalid. If any of us knows what is going on it must be you."

Sybil could see some of the colors of Norshe's soul, and the pattern of those lights suggested to Sybil that Norshe was not being honest. She knew more than she was admitting. However, Sybil was also carefully limiting what she said in front of Bahney. There was no doubt that Bahney was Ketar's spy, so Sybil was only discussing matters that Ketar already knew about. Sybil confirmed that she had jumped to this system with Kalid, "Yes, I came here in Kalid's spaceship, but Kalid did not even tell me that this was the Solar System." Sybil asked, "How did Kalid die?"

Norshe shook her head, "Don't ask me. Something Ketar told me seemed to imply that Kalid is dead. If true, I would morn. Kalid initiated me into the Order." Norshe had quickly examined the interior of the small shrine and now she came back near the entrance where Sybil and Bahney had remained. "Well, most of the clutter in here seems to have been left by pilgrims. Judging by the diversity of offerings, they were left by people who came from here from off world while on a visit to Earth. I do not see how this odd assortment of trash can tell us much."

Portia, at the other end of the shrine, was still looking around. She said, "This tetrahedron is very ornate. Much fancier that any I've seen in Temples of the Silver Tulipan Order."

Norshe walked over by Portia and she looked closely at the tetrahedron. Embedded within the main tetrahedron were many smaller ones. "This sculpture is rather amazing in the intricate details of its fractal structure. I wonder which fractal this is...if it represents a well-known mathematical structure."

Bahney asked, "What is the significance of fractals to the Haldus Order?"

Sybil replied, "None that I know of, but tetrahedrons and triangles are common decorations in Silver Tulipan buildings. I was taught that they represent the atomic volume, the most fundamental closed space. When I was in school we were taught mold our minds into the strong pattern of the tetrahedron. It is a symbol of strength."

Norshe continued, "Right, strength and the security that comes from compartmentalization."

Portia asked, "Compartmentalization?"

Sybil had always been careful to shield Portia from knowledge that was only for those of the Inner Circles, but did all that secrecy matter any more, now that Ketar understood so many Haldus Order secrets? She explained, "The Haldus Order is divided into compartments for security reasons. For example, members on Sakkara and Jemini are in different compartments, so Norshe and I never met before today, but we both know Kalid." Sybil would have said more but she was certain that Ketar was spying on them. She did not want to tell Ketar anything beyond what he already knew.

The group left the shrine and walked back to the Lodge. While she walked, Sybil was still thinking about the role that symbols played in the Haldus Order. There was much that could be traced back to ancient Earth, but Sybil had been taught that superstition had completely dominated the Order until after the dawn of the space age. There were many myths and pseudosciences that incorporated Platonic solids as symbols...the Haldus Order was only one of many.

They entered into the high-ceilinged lobby of the Lodge and Sybil looked around, admiring the finely crafted wood and stone. Then she noticed that the light fixtures high above were tetrahedrons. Portia followed Sybil's gaze and also noticed. Portia smiled and said, "Strange coincidence." Sybil wondered....was it coincidence?



Twomaps

Ketar was bored and frustrated. Was there no way to get his hands on Haldus Order technology? He felt like he was being run around in circles by some unseen prankster.

Ketar was watching Sybil, again using Bahney as his eyes and ears. And he was not far away. Ketar had landed his spaceship at the docks and invited Set to come over from his ship. Ketar and Set sat together, watching Bahney's view of Norshe and Portia exploring the shrine. Sybil stood close to Bahney and her profile could be seen to one side of Bahney's visual field. When the women started discussing triangles and tetrahedra Set was reminded of the perfect triangular relationship between the locations of the three T-particle emitting beacons on Earth. Set exclaimed, "Of course!"

Ketar was intently examining Sybil's face and comparing her features to those of his third wife. Ketar was home sick and tired of the green clouds of Earth. When Set shouted, Ketar turned his head and looked at Set. Set had a glowing look of revelation on his face. Ketar turned back to the display screen and saw Portia closely examining the tetrahedral sculpture. Ketar turned back to Set and demanded, "What? Is it something about that sculpture?"

Set nodded. "You noticed it yourself...the three locations I led you to yesterday."

Ketar knew that those three locations on the surface of Earth were arrayed like the vertices of a triangle. A regular triangle with three equal sides....but could there be a fourth vertex? If those beacons were part of a tetrahedron then where would the fourth vertex be? Ketar muttered, "In orbit?"

Set understood Ketar's question. He laughed. "You have it backwards. 180 degrees backwards. Look..." Set began to use the computing interface, but then he paused. It would be easiest to have the ship's AI do it. Set asked, "Can I have your ship's AI solve the riddle?"

Ketar opened a comlink to the spaceship's artificial intelligence. "Go ahead."

Set spoke to the machine. "Computer, do you have the locations of the three beacons?"

The machine asked, "What beacons are you talking about?"

Ketar explained, "Just pull up the coordinates of the three sites we visited yesterday. Remember the triangle? Yesterday you found the center of that triangle."

Set asked Ketar, "What about the center?"

Ketar waved his hand, "Oh, nothing. I had a hunch that the Haldus Order Temple might be located right in the middle of that triangle. My survey team searched there and found nothing." Ketar did not tell Set the entire truth. The survey team was still out there, carefully scanning the middle of the Pacific Ocean for any sign of a hidden base.

Set observed, "Well you had misdirected them by 10,000 kilometers. Computer, show us the position of the point on the surface of Earth that is equidistant from the three sites I found yesterday."

The wall display showed a view of Earth with a blinking marker over a particular location on Earth. It was just a blinking spot on the green face of Earth. Ketar ordered, "Overlay this image with a map of the surface." The ship's AI superimposed a map that showed the continents of Earth. Ketar said, "Oh, no." The spot was at the location of the blast crater that had destroyed Egypt. Ketar assumed that meant that the pattern of T-particle beacons did show the location of the Haldus Order Temple on Earth, but that Temple had been destroyed. However, just as the Order had rebuilt on Flammis, had they also rebuilt their Temple on Earth? Would they rebuild it in the blast crater, even though that crater was now filled with water?

Set saw that the position of the fourth vertex was inside a crater, a raw, ugly wound on the surface of Earth. He commented, "That explains why I only sense three beacons on Earth. It looks like the fourth beacon was destroyed."

Ketar realized that Set had no understanding of the geography of Earth or what had produced the crater. Most people in the galaxy did not know the truth about Earth. Set only thought of the position of the blast crater as the location of a fourth beacon, but more important was the fact that it was the location of Egypt, the historical origin of the Haldus Order. Well, there was no reason to explain that to Set. Set had served his purpose by detecting the beacons. Ketar was now desperate to get rid of Set so that he could re-direct his search team to search the crater. Yes, Set was right...the frustrating search of yesterday had just missed the target...Ketar had searched the wrong side of the planet.

Ketar wondered: was now the time to eliminate Set? Ketar was still having regrets about having ordered the death of Kalid...no, it was safer to keep Set around until Ketar was sure of what was going on. Ketar wondered: what is a good way to keep Set busy? Ketar had been carefully keeping Set away from the Sakkarans. His whole strategy had been to play them off against each other, and that had worked perfectly. But now there might be benefits from letting them pool their knowledge. Ketar said, "I think we should bounce your tetrahedral revelation off of some other folks...we might be missing something."

Set asked, "What do you mean? Missing what?"

Ketar explained, "You and I now know the relevance of tetrahedrons to the Haldus Order, but there might be even more meaning in this geographical discovery for members of the Order. I can see this Haldus Order tetrahedron on Earth, but I still do not understand why they constructed it."

Set nodded. "Yes, I think you are right. You have Sybil nearby, at your disposal."

Ketar suggested, "Why don't you take care of this. I'll get my survey team to search the bottom of that crater."

Set asked, "Do you expect to find the remains of the fourth beacon? Surely it was obliterated when that crater was formed!"

Ketar shrugged, "I think it is worth looking. You share this insight about the location of the fourth vertex with Norshe and see if she has any deeper insight about the meaning of the tetrahedron. It might be best if you avoid Sybil, she despises you as a murderer."

Set did not doubt that Sybil shared Portia's hatred for him. However, Set still felt that he had been justified in taking justice into his own hands. His hunting down and killing of conspirators could have been avoided if the Sakkaran Justice Department had done its job and fully investigated the elevators disaster. Set knew that something was rotten in the Sakkaran government. The Sakkaran government was dominated by the Antiquist Party. And Set now found himself working elbow to elbow with the head of that Galactic Antiquist Party! Still, as long as Ketar seemed to be leading Set towards more Haldus Order secrets, Set was happy to make use of Ketar.

Set reflected on Portia's hatred for himself....when they had gotten to know each other the fire of her anger seemed to cool. Maybe Sybil could also be made to see the logic of Set's past actions. Set said, "I tried to go with Portia to the Lodge, but I was turned back. Apparently I'm a wanted man in this system."

Ketar chuckled. "Indeed." Ketar almost suggested that Set return to his spaceship and wait there for Norshe, but Ketar was not sure he wanted Set returning to his own ship. The time might be near when Set could be eliminated. There was another ship available....Bahney's. Ketar said, "Go to the front office of the docks and wait there for Norshe. Put your heads together and see if you can come up with any new ideas about where the Haldus Order might have hidden its base."

Set warned, "The guard there already threatened me with arrest by the Martian Militia. I'm not sure its safe for me out there."

Ketar nodded and tried to put Set at ease, "Don't worry. Government structure in this system is rather lax and fragmented. As head of the Antiquist Party I have more power and authority here on Earth than does Mars. My ships in orbit are watching for any interference from Mars. The Martian Militia can make all the threats they like, but they have taken no action."

Set had long wanted to speak with Sybil and learn what she knew about the destruction of the elevators. He was just not sure that it would be possible to get any cooperation from Sybil. Set left Ketar's ship and headed for the dock offices.

After Set departed, Ketar quickly called Bahney's ship and ordered it to drop down from orbit and land at the docks on Earth. Ketar then called Bahney and told her to bring Norshe and Set to Bahney's spaceship. He instructed Bahney to encourage them to share information and brainstorm about the location of the Haldus Order base.

Bahney said, "Norshe just sat down to eat in the dinning hall here at the Lodge."

Ketar was tired of having to explain every detail to Bahney. "Hurry her along. Set will be waiting for you at the docks." Ketar terminated the call to Bahney.

He then ordered his survey team to join him at the blast crater. They had already performed a preliminary scan of the crater two days earlier, but now they would do a more thorough job. Ketar felt he was finally closing in on the location of the Haldus Order Temple.

EscapeEdit

Norshe

Norshe

Set arrived back at the security gate that separated the docks from the mass driver installation. The robot guard greeted Set, "You again. You are still not welcome here."

Set explained, "I'm waiting for someone." The wait was longer than Set had expected. The robot stared at Set the entire time.

Finally, Set could see Sybil, Portia and Norshe coming towards the gate. Coming along behind was Glen. Set got his first glimpse of Bahney and reflexively said, "What is that?"

The robot shook its head and said, "There is no accounting for taste." It could not imagine why a fellow robot would use such a strange skin tone. It was clear that humans found Bahney's green skin coloring repulsive.

Set started to say hello to Portia, but Bahney grabbed his arm. "Let's not discuss business here. We are going to my spaceship."

Set looked over his shoulder and said to Portia, "So, we meet again."

Portia gestured towards Sybil and provided a terse introduction, "This is Sybil."

Sybil just glared at Set and he could easily sense her hatred. Set had not previously noticed Sybil's vestigial capacity for telepathic transmission, apparently because it was almost entirely limited to conveying her unconscious emotions rather than the kind of conscious, language-like telepathic signals that Set normally paid attention to. Set suspected that his telepathic experiences on the Moon had started to make his own mind much more sensitive to the emotional side of human thought.

Set and Norshe exchanged nods, then they walked into the docks and soon they were onboard Bahney's spaceship. They all gathered in the crew lounge and Sybil launched into a bitter verbal assault on Set for his attacks on the Haldus Order. Set decided that he could see from whom Portia had learned to throw a fit. Portia brought mugs of tea from the kitchen and she suggested that they all sit down.

Sybil was about done with her tirade and she was frustrated that Set seemed to be ignoring her and showing no signs of guilt for his many murders. Everyone else had taken seats around the table and she felt foolish standing there, trying to provoke a response from Set. She tried to apply her training and regain control of her emotions.

Finally Set could get a word in. He calmly said, "I still want to know why the Haldus Order is hiding the two telepaths who had information about the elevators disaster."

Sybil replied, "Since you went on your murder spree, the Order has called everyone into hiding."

Set reminded her, "Those two telepaths lied to me and then disappeared. That is what came first."

Sybil countered, "They never lied to you."

"They told me that they passed their information on to the Sakkaran authorities, but that was a lie."

"How do you know?"

"There was never an investigation into their evidence by the Justice Department. I explored the basis of that failure and confirmed that the Justice Department never got the evidence."

"All you can say is that the Justice Department officials who you murdered did not see the evidence."

"What are you saying? That someone inside the Justice Department hid the evidence?"

Sybil shrugged, "Can't you even consider that possibility? Or would you feel too foolish knowing that you had erroneously murdered innocent people?"

Sybil and Set were now leaning across the table and snarling at each other.

Bahney tried to remind them why they were there, "Sybil, you wanted Ketar to help protect Sakkara from Set. Ketar brought Set here, to Earth. If we can find those two telepaths that Set has been searching for, then it will be possible to end your feud on Sakkara. We are here on Earth looking for a hidden Haldus Order base. Maybe those two telepaths are in hiding here on Earth. We should all work together to find the Haldus Order base."

Norshe complained, "The problem is, Ketar is relying on Set to find the telepaths. Why should we trust Set to cooperated and share what he knows with us?"

Set replied with a question of his own, "And why should I trust any members of the Haldus Order? I suspect that Sybil knows exactly where those two telepaths are."

Norshe asked Sybil, "Do you know?"

Sybil replied, "Of course not."

Set pressed the matter, "Have you known in the past? Do you know their identities? Could you learn their identities if you wanted to?"

Sybil admitted to herself that she had never really tried to find out those things. All she knew was that the two Haldus Order members sought by Set had been on a special mission to Sakkara when the elevators were destroyed...Kalid has told her nothing else. It was not her place to ask questions of Kalid and try to learn about Haldus Order members beyond Sakkara. "These are questions you should put to Kalid."

Set shook his head. "Kalid is dead."

Sybil asked, "Did you kill him?"

Set did not want to admit that he had provided the explosive device that was used to kill Kalid. He replied. "I did not."

"How did he die?"

Set did not want to admit to Sybil that he had cooperated with Ketar's agents on Mars for the purpose of destroying Kalid's spaceship. "I'm assuming he is dead. If he were alive, he would have followed me here to Earth."

Norshe said, "I still do not trust Set." She slammed down her mug and tea splashed out onto the table. She demanded, "Set, do you detect any telepaths on Earth? Tell us what you know!"

Set chuckled at her outburst. He said to himself: she is a poor actress! He said out loud, "Well, it depends on what you count as a telepath. I'm here, and I think I count. Sybil and Portia both have some telepathic ability, but Sybil is mostly just a weak receiver and Portia is a very weak transmitter, so they hardly count." Set looked into Norshe's eyes and was about to say more, but Portia spoke up and mentioned the T-particle detector.

Portia said, "Maybe we do not have to trust Set. He has a telepathy detecting device."

Norshe said, "Eh?" She looked at Portia. "What did you say?"

Portia pointed to the necklace that Set wore. "I've seen him use it. He found some coded telepathic signals here on Earth."

Sybil asked Portia, "What are you talking about?"

Portia turned to Set, "You tell them, Set. I don't really understand it."

Set sighed. "You were right, Portia, I can't crack the code."

Norshe slammed her palm on the table. She shouted, "What are you two talking about?"

Set explained, "Yes, I found a telepathic signal, actually three of them, that seem to carry coded messages, but all we really know is that they exist. Ketar is trying to follow up-"

Cratermap

Norshe interrupted and insisted that Set explain what he was talking about. Set tried to go back to the beginning. He told the story of finding the T-particle beacons and their pulsed signals. He told about his realization that the three beacons were apparently constructed as part of a tetrahedral array. "Now Ketar has gone to explore the location of the fourth vertex."

Norshe was the first to understand. She could picture a tetrahedron embedded in the Earth. She said, "Yes, of course. Tetrahedral! But what would be the function of a tetrahedral array of T-particle transmitters?"

Set suggested, "I've long wondered how it is that I'm able to locate sources of telepathic signals. It occurred to me that these beacons might provide a basis for locating sources of telepathic signals on Earth."

Sybil was skeptical. She complained, "Why should we believe this story? Set, what are you talking about? Where is this magical telepathy detector?"

Portia said, "Show them how the detector works."

Set touched the pendant of his necklace and activated the holographic projector. Sybil was not impressed. She said, "It just looks like a swirl of lights from a child's toy."

Set nodded. "Much of what you see represents the activity of my brain. Let me try something. Bahney, turn off the lights."

Bahney switched off the room lights. Set tried to relax and reach out towards Sybil's mind with a mental image of the tetrahedral arrangement of four equally spaced beacons on the the surface of Earth. Set was mostly a receiver himself, but he did have some transmitting capability. He noticed a reaction in the pattern of Sybil's mind as it responded to his telepathic thrust. He could then see where her mind pattern was represented in the holographic "light show". He pointed, "This region here. It is showing the activity of Sybil's mind. Sybil, try to modulate it."

Sybil wondered: could this really be a display of her mind's pattern of activity? She thought of the day when she had first met Kalid and the strange mental interaction they had. On that say, she had been so very afraid that Kalid would enter her mind and see her secret thoughts. Suddenly Sybil realized that Set was touching her mind. She cried out, "Stop that!"

Portia asked, "What happened?"

Set replied, "My mind is in contact with Sybil's. Bahney, turn the lights back on." He switched off the projector.

Sybil asked, "Where did you get this T-particle detector?"

Set did not want to mention the device he had taken out of Glen. He briefly described his visit to the Moon. Set concluded his little story about visiting the Moon by saying, "Salvaje gave me his detector."

Norshe thought back over the evidence she had concerning the Haldus Order Temple on Earth. She wondered: was it possible that someone might say "Earth" while really meaning Earth's Moon? Norshe was still trying to adjust to the fact that Earth did have a large moon. She had grown up on Jemini hearing myths about Earth, including the idea that Earth had a large moon, but the planetary atlas showed that Earth had no large moon. When Ketar had first told her about the engineered deception regarding the location of Earth, she had not believed that such deception was possible...but everything about this star system and this world matched the legends of Earth and the Solar System. And now Set's revelation about the telepathic beacons....something tugged at an old memory, but it slipped away.

Portia thought about the coded messages that Set had shown to her and the idea of a tetrahedron on Earth. She asked, "Set, are you saying that there are four of those coded messages being transmitted on Earth?"

Set replied, "No, I can only detect three messages. The position on Earth where the fourth transmitter should be located is inside a giant blast crater."

Sybil asked Set, "Are you suggesting that the fourth beacon was purposefully destroyed?"

Set was startled by that suggestion. Was it possible that someone would have purposefully blasted a giant hole in the Earth just to target the Haldus Order and this mysterious T-particle transmitter?

Norshe suggested, "Maybe this array of telepathy transmitters was used by the Haldus Order to control people's minds."

Portia wondered, "Maybe there are transmitter arrays like this on other worlds, still functioning."

Set held up his hands and stood up beside the table, "Stop, stop, stop. This is getting out of control. Telepathy is not about mind control."

Norshe asked, "Why should we trust what you say? Maybe you do not even know...how could you know what this array of transmitters was capable of before the fourth node was destroyed...and what might even now still be possible?"

Set realized that he could not know, but he did believe that if the Haldus Order or anyone had mind control technology then he would have noticed. Then a fear crept into his heart. Set asked himself: what if I am under such mind control? Set wondered: what if I am someone's mental puppet? Maybe three transmitters were all that was needed. Maybe the Haldus Order did have a base on Earth, but they could control his mind and prevent him from detecting that base...

Sybil shook her head, "For once I agree with Set. If mind control exists then all is lost. We can do nothing. No, I cannot believe that." Sybil turned to Set, "The situation here on Earth is mysterious, but I do not see it solving our problem. We still need to get to the bottom of Sakkara's problems. Who destroyed the elevators? What happened to the Justice Department's investigation? If we are all comparing notes so that we can sort out mysteries then you need to meet with Leone." She turned to Bahney, "Where is Leone? He's still on this ship, isn't he?"

Bahney replied, "He is not far away."

Set had noticed another weak telepathic signal nearby. He made a guess. "Is Leone on this ship?"

Bahney nodded. "Yes, he is."

Sybil demanded, "Bring him here!"

Bahney was in contact with Ketar. Ketar spoke directly into Bahney's robotic mind and he ordered Bahney, "Don't let things go out of control. Lock Sybil in her cabin." Ketar had intended only that Bahney bring Set and Norshe together. He now regretted not having taken the time to make his wishes clear to the Bahney.

Bahney sent a signal to her robotic assistants. Two of them entered the lounge and took hold of Sybil's arms and pulled her out of her chair and away from the table. At that moment, Glen stepped forward and with the full force of his great bulk and robotic strength he swung a metal chair at Bahney's head. The green head separated from the robot's torso and bounced off the wall. Set immediately gave orders to the other two robots, "Halt! Release her!"

Portia pointed to one of the robots and ordered, "Go release Leone from his cabin! Now!"

Bahney's head lay on the floor, but it continued to speak to the robot assistants, "No! Follow my orders! You must obey-"

Glen had gone to Bahney's body and removed a laser pistol from her pocket. He pointed the weapon at Bahney's head and burned away the green face, fusing the mouth into a lump of burnt plastek.

Set shouted, "Come on, we'll go to my ship!"

Norshe was the only one who hesitated. Set paused at the door of the lounge and said to Norshe, "Come on!"

Norshe shook her head, "I'll wait here for Leone."

But at that moment Set saw Leone coming down the hallway, having been released from his cabin by one of the robots. Set told Norshe, "He's coming. Let's go!"

Norshe followed and five minutes later they were in Set's spaceship, rising into the green clouds.

SinaiEdit

Landing on Earth

Set closed the outer airlock door and turned around. He called to Portia, "Take everyone to the lounge and strap in!"

Set went to the main control room and called the engineering room. Set ordered the engineer to come to the control room. He then linked in to the ship's AI with the mind/machine interface. He programmed the machine to fly the ship to the blast crater, staying low, under the clouds and just above the surface of Earth. The ship started to move and the graviton generators could be heard, straining to compensate for shifts in acceleration. Set then led the engineer and the pilot to the lounge. Set drew his laser pistol from his pocket and turned to face Glen where he stood in a corner of the room. Set ordered, "Give me Bahney's laser."

Glen silently looked towards Sybil then handed the gun to Set. Set took the weapon and passed it to the pilot and then he turned his laser to point it at Norshe. Set said, "Consider yourself under arrest. Take her to the cabin that Portia used and locker her in. Search her carefully."

The engineer grabbed Norshe's arm. She demanded, "On what authority do you arrest me?"

Set shrugged, "Call it a citizen's arrest if you like. The bottom line is, you've conspired with Ketar and I don't trust you."

Norshe looked towards Sybil, "He's crazy. He's going to divide us up and execute us, just as he's done to others of our Order!"

Set turned to Sybil, "Don't listen to her. She's Ketar's spy inside the Order." The pilot and the engineer took Norshe away.

Leone said, "Set, I hope you know what you are doing."

Set put away his pistol and turned to Leone. "Norshe is a powerful telepathic transmitter, a talent that apparently got her into the Haldus Order, but it also makes her mind something of an open book for me. Relax, I know what I'm doing."

Sybil said to Set, "Take us to Mars. It is time for you to submit to the justice system and we have to find out what happened to Aristark and Kalid."

Leone said, "I want to get to my ship. We can't let the Haldus Order equipment on my ship fall into Ketar's hands."

Set shook his head, "We don't have time for that. We're on our way to the blast crater." Set brought up a radar map of Earth and displayed it on the wall of the lounge. He pointed to the crater. "This is the fourth vertex of the tetrahedron."

Sybil asked, "What's the point of going to the crater? There's just a big hole." Looking at the crater, a life time of Sybil's historical studies of ancient Earth suddenly took on a new significance. She had seen maps of Egypt and its location on Earth, maps that most historians said were as mythical as Plato's famous map of Atlantis. Sybil now realized that the crater was at the position of Egypt. She said quietly, "All that is left of Egypt is a big hole."

Leone said, "So that's why the Egyptian pyramids are gone."

Portia asked, "What could make a crater that big? I was taught that a miniature black hole hit Earth and triggered an environmental catastrophe, the release of defective nanites that formed the green goo."

Set explained, "When I visited the Moon I learned another story: that a spaceship's antimatter engine exploded and destroyed Earth."

Sybil asked, "Does it matter what formed the crater? What is the point of going there? Egypt is gone!"

Set was still sorting out in his thoughts what he had seen telepathically in Norshe's mind. He said, "Norshe is the one who told Ketar about the hidden Haldus Order Temple on Earth." Set closed his eyes and reviewed what he had learned from Norshe's thoughts. It was clear in Norshe's mind: Kalid had told her about the Haldus Order Temple on Earth. Kalid had been greatly impressed by Norshe's mental powers and had spoken about her possible participation in experiments with telepathy amplifying technology. Even now, those memories were in Norshe's thoughts. Set opened his eyes and said, "That Temple holds a great secret, a key to all Haldus Order telepathy amplifying technology. We have to get there before Ketar does!"

Leone asked, "The Temple is hidden in the blast crater?"

Set shrugged, "I'm not sure, but that is my best guess. Anyhow, that is where Ketar is now searching, so we have to go...we can't just let Ketar find it."

Sybil asked, "What makes you think it is there if you do not actually know?"

Set showed them how Salvaje had made a tetrahedron-like shape using his fingers while telling Set about the Temple on Earth. "It was clear in Norshe's mind. When Kalid told her about the Temple on Earth he made the same tetrahedral finger gesture."

Portia laughed, "That's meaningless. When people in Silver Tulipan mention Earth they often make that kind of gesture, and it is not a tetrahedron." She demonstrated. "It's just a stylized letter 'E', see?" She held her fingers together in a different way that did look like the letter "E".

Sybil sank down into a chair. Set noticed that her face now showed a look of shock and amazement. He asked her, "What? What is it?"

Sybil put her hands on the table and made the tetrahedral gesture with her fingers. "When I entered the Inner Circle this gesture was explained to me. I was told that it represents the original Haldus Order Temple on Earth. I was told this shape represents the pyramid in ancient Egypt that was the original Temple."

Leone commented, "In the Temple library on Esclagon, I saw images of the pyramids. They were pyramids with five sides. A tetrahedron only has four sides."

Set shrugged, "Well, none of this matters. We have to go and see if we can find the Temple before Ketar does."

Leone said, "The Haldus Order has spaceship cloaking technology. What if their base is cloaked?

Sybil asked, "How will you search for this base if your telepathic sense is not guiding you to it?"

Set replied, "If the Haldus Order has a way to hide spaceships then they can probably hide a base, too. However, we are not in outer space and dealing with a hidden spaceship. We should be able to get very close to this base on Earth. I doubt if it can be completely hidden. If all else fails, we can walk up to the Temple and knock on the door."

Portia brought mugs of tea from the kitchen and they fell into speculating about the Haldus Order cloaking technology and ways to penetrate it. Leone described how the Invocator had hidden and protected his spaceship.

Finally the pilot called Set via intercom, "We are inside the crater. I'm holding us at a depth of 100 meters."

Set asked, "Any sign of Ketar's ships?"

The pilot replied, "There are three ships flying some kind of scan pattern over the crater. They seem to be doing a high resolution gravitational scan, maybe searching the bottom of the crater for a hidden underwater base."

Set ordered, "Avoid those ships at all cost. Take us to the fourth vertex."

Set was beginning to realize just how vast the crater was. The location of the fourth vertex was not right at the center of the crater, and Ketar's search pattern did not seem to be centered on the fourth vertex. Instead, Ketar's ships were scanning a region to the north and east. Set did not understand that choice, but it was allowing Set's ship to travel undetected to the fourth vertex. The water in the crater had an average depth of about 200 meters, but its water surface level was far below sea level. Apparently the crater had been slowly filling with rain water since its formation.

Set had a plan for detecting the hidden Haldus Order Temple. Based on Leone's description of the Invocator and how it had hidden Leone's spaceship, Set assumed that the Haldus Order's cloaking device absorbed radiation such as radar waves so as to prevent the detection of cloaked spaceships. Set reasoned that it should be possible to measure that absorption...it just required a source and a receiver. Set saw Leone go to the kitchen for food. Set followed and closed the sliding door that divided the kitchen from the lounge. "Leone, I need your help."

Leone turned from the food cabinets and was surprised to see Set. Leone asked, "Why should I do anything to help you?"

Set tried to explain, "I'm not asking you to give up your hatred for me. I still despise you for your failure to protect the space elevators. But we need to put our past behind us. If we fail now, then Ketar will obtain control of Haldus Order secrets. I think you can imagine what would happen to the Galaxy if Ketar had the power to cloak his fleet."

Leone tried to decide who he trusted less, Set or Ketar. "Why do you need my help?"

Set explained his idea. "I want to scan for the exact location of the Haldus Order Temple, but it will require a tricky bit of piloting. My ship's pilot is skilled, but I need two good pilots."

Leone was puzzled. "Why two pilots?"

"I want you to take a lifeboat and pilot it so as to act as a source of a controlled radar signal. You'll have to carefully control your position and be particularly careful to make sure that the signal you transmit is not detected by Ketar's spaceships. We should be able to automate most of the process, but I want you to apply your experience and skill to making sure this is done right. If Ketar notices what we are doing, we will not get a second chance."

"I don't understand what you are talking about. You said that Ketar is already systematically scanning the crater for a hidden base." Leone asked, "What can we do that Ketar is not already doing?"

Set replied, "I do not really understand Ketar's search strategy. Rather than carefully checking at the position of the fourth vertex, he is scanning an area over a hundred kilometers away."

Leone observed, "He must know something that you do not know. Remember, he has all of the resources of the Antiquist Party at his disposal."

Set nodded, "Yes, you are right. Our only hope is that this is a situation where additional information causes confusion. In any case, my hunch is that Ketar is searching in the wrong place and searching in the wrong way."

Leone seemed bored with Set and he tore open a food packet and started to eat. "Pardon me, but I have no faith in your hunches. You still seem to think that the Haldus Order is your enemy. You foolishly collaborated with Ketar. If he finds the Haldus Order Temple it will be because of the information you gave him. I expect nothing but nonsense from you." Leone pulled open the door and returned to the table in the lounge. He handed a food pack to Sybil and sat down next to her.

Set followed Leone and sat next to him. "Assume that everything you said is true. Can you really afford to sit here and let Ketar succeed?"

Leone tried to ignore Set but Sybil asked, "How can we stop Ketar? You gave him the location of the fourth vertex."

Set replied, "I think Ketar has made an error. He's searching in the wrong way. We can do it right, but I need Leone's help."

Sybil wondered how Leone could help Set. All Leone knew about the Haldus Order was what Sybil had told him. And Sybil had no idea where the Haldus Order Temple was on Earth. In fact, she doubted that it even existed. "Set, I've long wondered if you are insane. That happens to people. You were under incredible stress after the space elevators were destroyed. I think you need psychiatric help."

Set laughed, "Thanks for your concern. I assure you that I am perfectly sane. I just want to make use of Leone's skills as a pilot, but I guess he'd rather sit here with you."

Leone turned to Set, "If you are not going to shut up, at least explain your plan and how you think you can conduct a search more effectively than Ketar's fleet."

Set explained his plan and the strategy he wanted to use to search for the hidden Temple. By the time he was done, everyone in the room was listening carefully to his plan. Portia asked, "Well, if we have nothing better to do, why not try Set's plan?"

Sybil asked, "How do we know that Set is not still in an alliance with Ketar. Set, if we help you find the Temple will you reveal its location to Ketar."

Set shook his head. "I've never been in an alliance with Ketar. I've tried to take advantage of Ketar for the purpose of finding those two Haldus Order telepaths who have evidence about the cause of the space elevators disaster. That has always been my only goal."

Portia said, "And if Leone helps you find the Temple, you'll just kill any Haldus Order telepaths you find there!"

Set sighed. "No. Not if Leone agrees to make sure that there is a fair and open investigation of the elevators disaster on Sakkara."

Leone suggested, "If we first went and got my spaceship we could carry out this search more efficiently than by trying to use a lifeboat. Ketar told me that Aristark was attacked on Mars...we should go and investigate what happened there."

Set remarked, "That would be suicide. Ketar has ships above in orbit. If we went into space they would see us. I suspect that after the way Glen dispatched Bahney, Ketar would not hesitate to order his fleet to attack us. We are here, now, at the fourth node of the array. We should search now. At any time Ketar could switch his search strategy. We cannot delay."

Sybil took hold of Leone's hand. "Well, Leone, what can it hurt to search?"

Leone replied, "If we start sending out radar pulses then we are putting ourselves at risk of being noticed by Ketar. Rather than being here where Ketar is searching, we should be waiting quietly on the other side of the planet. Sybil, you don't believe that there is a Temple to be found. Set says that he can detect no telepathic signals from this supposed Haldus Order base and Set thinks Ketar is not even searching in the right location. I say we wait. When Ketar gives up, then we will be free to take action."

Set laughed at Leone. "This is not the bold Leone I've known for so long! Fine, sit hear with the women."

Set got up and walked out the door and headed down the hallway to the main control room to start making plans with the pilot. Set would have to fly the life boat himself. Set heard a sound behind him and he turned. It was Leone.

Leone said, "Okay, Set. I'll help you with your plan, if only to keep you from doing something stupid that will get us all killed. First, there is no good way to prevent a radar pulse from being observed. What we need to do is..." Leone explained how best to carry out the search and avoid detection of Set's spaceship by Ketar's fleet.

Half an hour later, Leone was in the lifeboat and learning how to steer it in the currents of the water inside the crater. When he felt comfortable with those conditions, he transmitted a low power signal.

Ten kilometers away, onboard Set's ship, the signal was detected. Set said to the pilot, "Okay, initiate the search pattern." Set was in his cabin, which was lit only by the T-particle detector's holographic projection. He had not told anyone else that he was trying to combine T-particle detection with the conventional electromagnetic signaling method. He hoped that if the hidden Haldus Order base passed between the spaceship and the lifeboat there would either be a loss of the electromagnetic signal from Leone's boat or the appearance of a new T-particle signal. Maybe Set would detect both changes. Set started to sweat. He dared not blink for fear of missing a change in the light pattern of the hologram. Set was not certain that the hidden base would block the signal from Leone's boat.....it was possible that the cloaking device would systematically absorb electromagnetic signals on one side of the hidden base and then send them out again from the other side.

Set had initiated the search exactly at the calculated location of the fourth vertex. Set was making the assumption that the hidden Temple was floating near the surface. If that was a bad assumption, they would have to modify the search to extend it up into the air and down into the depths of the crater. They were now scanning in a two dimensional pattern of spokes out from the vertex to a radius of five kilometers. Set had made another assumption that limited the radius of search. Set assumed that the fourth vertex had originally been centered on a mountain where a T-particle beacon could be hidden deep under ground. Set assumed that there was a reason why this vertex of the tetrahedron was located here. Could this have been the actual origin of the Haldus Order, perhaps the location of its original Temple? For some reason Ketar was searching another region nearby, perhaps an area in Egypt where the Haldus Order later spread to. Set was looking here because of Norshe's memory of what Kalid had told her about the Temple. Set thought: this would all be much more straight forward if Kalid were still alive and could assist...

After four hours of the search, Set was drained and ready to call for a break. He was monitoring the running calculation of the percent of the search area already covered. They were at 19 percent and Set was trying to push himself to complete 20 percent before taking a break. Then the signal from Leone's boat went silent. Just for a moment. The signal returned.

The pilot activated the comunit in Set's cabin and asked, "Did you notice that blip?"

Set replied, "Yes. Break off the search patten. Take us over to Leone's lifeboat." They were observing radio silence, with no communication between the spaceship and Leone's lifeboat. The pilot changed course and took the spaceship over to Leone's position, where he continued running the scan pattern. The lifeboat was pulled back into its little hanger inside Set's spaceship.

Leone crawled out of the lifeboat. Sybil had gone to meet Leone. He asked, "Success?"

Sybil replied, "Set says that something was detected. Come on, everyone is assembled in the lounge."

When they entered the lounge, Set grabbed Leone's hand and shook it. Set said, "Thanks, Leone."

Portia handed Leone a mug of tea. Everyone was at the table: the pilot, the engineer, Portia, Leone, Sybil, and Set. In the corner stood Norshe, chained to Glen. Set said, "We found the Temple. Now we have to decide how to proceed. I intend to get inside the Temple and see what secrets lay within. This might be dangerous, so I have an offer. Anyone who has had enough adventure can take a lifeboat and go their own way. You can set the autopilot to take you back to the mass driver installation."

Sybil said, "I want to see this Temple. I don't intend to let you desecrate it."

Leone nodded, "I've come this far. I want to know what is inside. I cannot turn away now."

The pilot said, "I'm with you Captain."

The engineer nodded, "Me, too."

Sybil said to Portia, "There is no reason for you to come along. Take a lifeboat and return to the Lodge."

Portia shook her head. "No, ma'am. You might not want me here now, since I am not in the Circles, but I've learned some of the inner secrets already. If you want me to go away then you have to order me."

Sybil said, "It was Kalid's decision to keep you out of the Circles, but think how things have turned out! Maybe he foresaw this as your path in life. I'll not order you to depart."

Norshe sarcastically asked, "Even me, Set? First you place me under your arrest and now you'll let me fly away in one of your lifeboats?"

Set shrugged. "If you decide to go, Glen will go with you. I'll program the lifeboat to take you to a safe place on the other side of the planet where you can wait."

Norshe asked, "Wait for how long? What if you manage to get yourself killed?"

Set replied, "Then you'll have a chance to get to know Glen quite well." Set chuckled. "Don't worry, he is not an overly loquacious travel companion."

Norshe was outraged, "You would callously sentence me to death?"

Set walked over and stared down into her face. "I suspect that your spying led to Ketar's efforts to play me off against the Haldus Order. If so, you are responsible for deaths of thousands of people on Flammis. Aren't you willing to face judgment for your behavior?"

Norshe shouted at Set, "You're insane. You attacked Flammis. You can't blame those deaths on me." She shouted at the others, "Are you going to follow this madman to your deaths?"

Set turned to the pilot and the engineer. "Take her back to her cabin." He turned back to Norshe and asked, "Unless you want the lifeboat option."

Norshe spit at Set and said nothing. She was taken away by Set's two crewmen, still chained to Glen.

Set waited for the door to close then turned back to the Sakkarans. "We need to decide on the best way to try to gain access to the interior of the Temple," He asked Sybil, "Are there any Haldus Order traditions about Temple access codes?"

Sybil replied, "Traditionally, Temples face east, to welcome the rising Sun."

Set nodded, "Well, that gives us a place to start."

The hidden Haldus Order base floated just under the surface of the water, slightly more than a kilometer away from the calculated position of the fourth beacon. Coming at it from the east side, the Temple seemed disk shaped, with an apparent diameter of about 400 meters. When Set's spaceship got within about 50 meters of the Temple, they were inside its cloaking field and could see the structural details of the Temple. Set shifted the display to show an infrared video feed. Leone commented, "It looks like a spaceship."

Sybil said, "Yes, and look, the airlock is there, pointing east."

Set asked, "Okay, so if this is a Temple, how do we ask to be let in?"

Set's spaceship was now drifting very close to the Temple. Portia pointed at the airlock, "It looks like the door is open."

Sybil nodded, "Exactly right...Temples never close their doors."

Leone asked, "So what do we do, swim?"

Set thought about how he had gained access to Salvaje's workshop on the Moon. He replied, "Yes, we swim." He headed to the door then paused and turned back. The others did not think that Set was serious about swimming. Set asked, "Who wants to go with me?"

Five minutes later, Set, Portia, Leone and Sybil were packed into the airlock, waiting while it flooded and filled with water. They wore anti-toxin suits. The suits had a supply of oxygen for use on planets with toxic atmospheres, but here they would serve as scuba gear. When the airlock was completely full of water, Set opened the outer door. They swam across the gap between the two spaceships.

The airlock of the Temple was larger than that of Set's spaceship and they had no trouble fitting inside. The controls were conventional. Set closed the outer door and the water started to be pumped out of the compartment. Then the airlock was flooded with decontamination fluid. Finally the rinse cycle was done and the inner airlock door opened.

Set, Portia, Leone and Sybil came out of the airlock and pulled off their anti-toxin suits. Portia was surprised that nobody had greeted them. She said, "I wonder if there is anyone here."

They set off towards the core of the spaceship and soon came to an intersecting corridor which was curved. Set said, "I've seen this spaceship design before. It is used by some passenger ships. There are passenger cabins around the outside and cruise facilities towards the center." Leone pulled open the first hatch on the inner side of the corridor. It opened on what looked like the dinning facility for an interstellar cruise ship, but rather than tables for dining, there were laboratory benches and facilities. A half dozen people, all wearing white jumpsuits, looked up from their work and took note of the new visitors. After a moment, they each returned to their work.

Set, Portia, Leone and Sybil were on a balcony. Set said, "They do not seem surprised to see us. I guess we can go down and introduce ourselves."

From behind, a voice said, "Please do not disturb them. I'm the one you want to talk to."

Set turned and saw a young woman. She had very little T-particle output, scarcely more than the average person. Set asked, "This is a Haldus Order Temple?"

The woman introduced herself. "My name is Megan. Sybil, Set, and Leone, all of Sakkara...you are far from home." She turned to Portia and asked, "Who are you?"

Portia replied, "Portia, also from Sakkara."

Megan turned back to Set and she now responded to the question he had asked. "You can call this a Temple. I usually just call it a research station."

Portia asked, "What kind of research?"

Megan went to the railing of the balcony and gestured towards those working below. She replied, "They are studying T-particles."

Set could detect no significant nearby sources of T-particles. "How can they study T-particles without having a source of T-particles?"

Megan turned around and looked at Set. She had a puzzled look on her face. She asked Set, "What do you mean?"

Set tried to explain, "Well, if physicists were studying alpha particles then they would use a source of alpha particles such as radium."

Megan nodded, "Oh, yes, that makes sense. Anyhow, I'm not a scientist. I cannot answer your technical questions."

Sybil asked, "If you are not involved in the research, are you the Temple priestess?"

Megan laughed. "Me? A priestess?" Megan laughed for a long time and wiped a tear from her eye. "Sorry. No. No, there are no priestesses here. Well, sorry, I forgot, you call yourself a priestess. Let's see, on Sakkara they are called Priestess of Iris...do I have that right?"

Sybil blushed and felt that Megan was laughing at her. "If there is no priestess here, then in what sense would you call this a Temple?"

Megan replied, "I don't know. I only said that you could call this a Temple. This is a spaceship that happens to be on the surface of Earth. The Haldus Order uses this as a research facility. I'm not sure that I can make it any more clear than that."

Leone saw that Sybil was upset by what Megan had said. He stepped forward and spoke to Megan, "What you say is clear enough. We came here with the expectation of finding a Haldus Order Temple."

Megan said, "I wonder how you came to expect that."

Set explained, "There was a spy on Jemini who managed to be inducted into the Haldus Order by Kalid. Her name is Norshe."

Megan shrugged. "Norshe? Yes, I've heard that name."

Set continued, "Kalid told Norshe that there is a Haldus Order Temple on Earth."

Megan nodded. "I see."

There was a silence and the Sakkarans looked at each other. Sybil said, "So we trusted what Kalid said and we assumed that this might be the Temple."

Megan took Sybil's hand and led the group off of the balcony and back into the curved corridor. While they walked, Megan spoke, "I understand. People make many unsupported assumptions. When people take action based on false assumptions then much damage can be done. Anyhow, I have only been on this spaceship for a couple of days and, as I said, I think of this as a research facility. I guess you could say that is my assumption. Sybil, maybe as a priestess you can see something here that suggests to you that this is a Temple."

Sybil shook her head, "I've seen very little of this ship and so far I've seen nothing that contradicts your idea that this spaceship serves as a research facility, but I'm curious as to why you came here if you are not a researcher."

They had walked perhaps a quarter of the way along the curved corridor. Along the way they had passed several other hallways branching off towards the outer rim of the ship and many sealed hatches on the wall towards the interior part of the ship. Now Megan pulled open one of the doors and asked, "What do you make of this?"
Quetque

The Eye of HaldusEdit

Megan opened the door, revealing what looked like a small, dimly lit auditorium. Sybil could hear music playing. She entered the room and walked down the steep carpeted isle that led down towards a small stage and passed between two sets of seats. There were enough seats for an audience of about fifty people. Sybil reached the bottom of the steps and turned around. Portia, Set and Leone were slowly coming down the steps.

Leone had paused near the top of the steps and he still stood near Megan. He was gazing intently at the back wall of the room which was decorated with a mural showing a view of an ancient stone amphitheater as seen from the performer's perspective. From where Sybil stood, she could see that the color of the 50 modern theater seats had been selected to match the colors of the mural on the back wall. The side walls of the auditorium were decorated to look like a dark forest on one side and a twilight view across a valley on the other side.

Sybil turned around again and looked at the stage, most of which was hidden behind a curtain. At one end of the stage was an odd looking podium or lectern.

Portia said, "Stars."

Sybil turned around and saw Portia standing at the center of the room and looking up. Sybil's eyes had now adjusted to the dim lighting and she could see what looked like a night sky on the ceiling. Set had reached the edge of the stage and he now reached across the front of the stage and grabbed hold of the curtain. He pulled open a gap between the two sides of the curtain to reveal a blank wall on the other side. The "stage" was just a fancy cover for a standard display screen.

Megan spoke to Leone, "Take a seat." She said to the others, "If you sit down the show will start."

Portia asked, "What show?"

Megan explained, "It is a short history of the Haldus Order. I watched it when I first got here and I found it interesting, but then, I've always been curious about the history of Earth and the origins of our species."

Leone moved to a seat, "I'm also interested in Earth history."

Sybil went up the steps and sat next to Leone. Set and Portia sat in the front row, near the stage. Megan sat in a seat near the back. The lights dimmed further and the music changed. The stage curtain was pulled aside and the display screen at the back of the stage came alive.


A splash screen showed in large block letters of Galactic Standard text: The History of Telepathy, then images of ancient Earth came onto the screen.

A narrator had come out on the stage and stood at the podium. The robot spoke:

The earliest known visitations to Earth from Haldus are reflected in The Dreaming mythos of the Sahul, however it is likely that there were far earlier contacts, at least back to the time when the teleguide array was installed on Earth. The Dreaming is believed to have resulted in a population of human telepaths who were taken away from Earth about 20,000 years ago.

The Haldus Order grew out of another phase of intervention from Haldus, believed to have started about 10,000 years ago. These arrivals from Haldus appeared on Earth at the position of the land bridge between Africa and Asia. By 5,000 years ago, the teleguide site at Zenima was submerged by the rising ocean level and the Haldus Order Temple had been relocated to Saqqara.

The Zenima intervention involved descendants of the telepathic humans who had been taken off Earth at the end of The Dreaming. This was confirmed by DNA sequencing of the Dahšūr mummy. They may have come to Earth for no reason other than a desire to visit their planet of biological origin, but they interacted with Earth residents and there was cultural transmission. In addition, Haldus Order priestesses gave birth to several children fathered by the visiting humans from Haldus. The Zenima intervention seems to have ended about 4,000 years ago, but the Haldus Order priestesses were able to carry on their program of artificial selection for telepathic ability by making use of the Sun and the Eye of Haldus for identification of their descendants who carried genes for telepathic signal production. The first known telepathy technology on Earth was thus the twitino observatory at the core of the Haldus Order Temple.

The most recent known phase of intervention from Haldus seems to have started shortly after end of the Zenima visitations. Stricter controls seem to have been in effect for these more recent visits and there is no evidence of genetic transmission via the teleguide node in America. However, there was significant cultural contamination which seems to have continued until about 1,000 years ago.

The teleguide node in the South Atlantic ocean was used at least once as shown by the Lynch Icewoman, who was shown to be genetically similar to the Dahšūr mummy.

Real progress by the Haldus Order towards the development of telepathic communication was not possible until the dawn of the Space Age when it was discovered that the program of selecting for high levels of telepathic signal production was itself preventing telepathic communication of language-like information. This was understood after the Haldus Order members with high levels of telepathic signal production were all moved to Shackleton Base on the Moon. At that time, it became possible for telepathic sensitives on Earth to understand the significance of the Eye of Haldus. After exploration of the Haldus star system, the Haldus Order's program of telepathy technology research and development began.

The Haldus Order thanks you for joining our telepathy research program. We hope this short description of the special role of Earth in the history of telepathy was informative. If you have additional questions about the history of the Haldus Order, please consult the detailed sources that are available in the ship's digital library.


The display screen went black and the stage curtains closed. When room lights came up, the robotic narrator was gone. Sybil turned to Leone and saw a look of perplexity on his face. He asked Sybil, "Did that make sense to you?"

Sybil shrugged. "Not really, but I have heard of the Haldus star system. I've never understood the relationship between the Haldus Order and the star called 'Haldus'."

Portia and Set were coming up the steps towards Leone and Sybil. Set asked, "Where did Megan go?"

Leone stood up and looked to the back of the room where he had last seen Megan. "She must have slipped out during the 'show'."

Portia went to the door and pushed it open. She looked into the corridor but saw nobody. "It looks like we have been abandoned."

Set was stunned by the implications of what was said during the "show". He said, "Telepaths on Earth for thousands of years! It seems strange that the Haldus Order is being so open about their secrets."

Sybil observed, "This was apparently an orientation program for researchers who come to work here on this ship. It sounds like the Haldus Order has been researching telepathy for centuries. That research project is now just a routine operation."

Leone nodded, "And they have been able to keep their work secret for all this time. Amazing!"

Set wondered, "Does that mean we will not be able to take this secret information away from here?"

Portia asked Set, "Do you mean that we now know too many secrets and will not be allowed to leave this place?"

Sybil came up the steps and put her arm around Portia, "Before speculation runs wild, I suggest that we find Megan and ask some questions."

Leone said, "I agree. I'm baffled by this 'Eye of Haldus' mumbo jumbo."

Set also wanted answers, but he had not been impressed by Megan. If this was a Haldus Order base for the study of telepathy then where were all the Haldus Order telepaths? He cautioned, "I'm not sure that Megan will be able to explain much. She might be as much in the dark about these matters as we are."

Portia led them out into the corridor. She looked in both directions down the corridor and said, "I wonder who is in charge here."

Set pointed up the corridor, "I think I know where the main control room should be in a ship of this design. Follow me."

DestructionEdit

Earthhex

Antimatter blast cloud rising through the green nanite clouds of Earth

Set led the way to a forward compartment of the upper deck of the spaceship's disk section. Along the way, they saw no other passengers until Leone had opened a door at random. That door had opened onto a workshop where a squad of robots were building a complex piece of equipment. The robots did not even bother to look up from their work or respond to Leone's questions. Another room they had looked into was a well-equipped exercise room, but there had been nobody present using the equipment. Set commented, "This is standard equipment that you could find on any modern spaceliner." They continued on along the corridor.

Finally, Set stopped in front of a door. "This might be the main control room."

Just when Set reached to open the hatch, it popped open with a hiss. Standing on the other side of the doorway was a robot. The robot was holding a laser rifle. It said, "Halt, Sakkarans. If you want to enter, give me your weapons."

Set could see past the robot: this was indeed the main control room. He turned to Leone, "Well, should we give up our guns?"

Leone carried Bahney's laser pistol. He shrugged, "This robot looks serious. I don't care to argue with it." He pulled the pistol out of his pocket and handed it to the robot.

Set was not happy about the way things were going. He still could not detect any telepaths nearby, but he feared running into some Haldus Order members who would resent Set's past actions. After hesitating, he handed his gun to the robot. "There, now, can we enter? We are looking for the captain of this spaceship."

The robot stood aside and a woman stepped into view. She took the laser pistols from the robot and held one in each hand, pointing them at Set. She said, "I'm Captain Leto. What do you want?"

Set replied, "We recently came on board and-"

The Captain interrupted, "I know. What do you want?"

Set explained, "We just saw the little orientation show for researchers-"

Leto raised the pistols and pointed them at Set's head. "I know. Stop wasting my time. What do you want?"

Sybil said to Set, "This is useless. I don't think she can help us." She stepped past Set and said to the Captain, "Are you a member of the Haldus Order?"

The Captain chuckled, "What gives you such a silly idea?"

Set asked, "Can you answer our questions about the Haldus Order or tell us where to find someone who can?"

Across the control room, the communications technician said, "Captain, one of the ships is back in this sector."

Captain Leto shouted at the Sakkarans, "Get out!" She turned and examined a display that showed the crater and the positions of Ketar's ships as they moved through their search pattern. Portia took hold of Set's hand and pulled him towards the door, but Set held his ground.

The communications technician said, "Oh, no."

The Captain said, "Ready all weapons. Shields to maximum." She activated the ship's intercom, "This is Captain Leto. Alert level maximum. This is not a drill. Everyone to lifeboats, now!"

A piercing alarm sounded. The Captain checked the work stations of her pilot and weapons officer. She then noticed that the Sakkarans were still there at the door. "Get out of here! Get strapped into lifeboats. We might have to move."

Sybil asked, "Where should we go?"

Captain Leto cursed like a sailor. She ordered the robot, "Take them to Megan!"

The robot stepped into the corridor and calmly said, "Please follow me."

Set was reluctant to leave the control room. "Captain, please call my ship and tell them to dive."

The Captain again aimed a laser pistol at Set's face. She said, "Get out of here! We're on strict radio silence. There will be no calls."

Portia pulled hard on Set's arm and he finally went into the corridor. They followed the robot. Previously the ship had seemed mostly deserted, but now they saw several people running down the corridors.

Set said, "This could get ugly if Ketar detects my ship."

Megan came running along the corridor. She shouted, "Come with me!" She ran right past the startled Sakkarans. She paused and turned back, "Come on!" They went a short distance back towards the main control room then down a ramp to the mid-deck. Megan turned off of the main corridor and ran down a spoke hallway towards the rim of the ship. At the end of the hallway was a lifeboat hanger.

Leone asked, "Are we abandoning ship?"

Megan said, "Get in!" And she pushed Leone into the lifeboat.

Set did not follow the others to the lifeboat. He had suddenly started detecting a strong telepathic signal. He wondered: where did that come from? Then he recognized the pattern of that mind...it was one of the Haldus Order telepaths from Sakkara that he had been searching for! In the moment of that recognition Set heard the hatch of the lifeboat slam shut. Megan ran past him up the hallway shouting, "Come on, this lifeboat is full!"

Set followed Megan while trying to estimate where the Haldus Order telepath was. As Set ran, it seemed that he was getting closer to the telepath. They reached another lifeboat and Megan pushed him through the already open hatch. Set came face to face with the telepath. It was Kaleb. Kaleb said, "Strap in!"

Set swung into the narrow space that was his place in the lifeboat. Protective foam shielding expanded around his legs. Megan pushed in behind him and Set was sandwiched between Kaleb and Megan. Megan said, "Hatch sealed." She started helping position the restraining straps around Set's head.

Kaleb spoke into the intercom, "Report, Captain."

Captain Leto said, "Ketar's ship detected Set's ship. Set's ship is taking evasive action."

Megan said, "Lifeboat five...Sybil, can you hear me?"

Set could suddenly hear Portia, "...Ketar attacks, will this-"

Then Sybil speaking over Portia's prattle, "Yes, I hear you! What's happening?"

Megan explained, "We are in standby mode. If we get lucky Ketar will not notice us. Are you all strapped in? If we go it will be a wild ride."

Leone replied, "We're strapped in, but I'm looking at the controls for this lifeboat. This is not like any lifeboat I've ever seen."

Kaleb said, "Relax, Leone. If we go, your boat will be on automatic pilot."

Set saw that Keleb's head was now encased in a mind-machine interface. Set was getting strong telepathic signals from Kaleb. Set pulled one of his hands out of its restraints and by straining he was able to touch two finger tips to Kaleb's shoulder. There was a flash of yellow sparks and Set heard Kaleb "say": Don't distract me now, Set.

Set instinctively jerked his hand back. That was telepathic communication more powerful and clear than he had ever experienced before. Keleb laughed. Kaleb continued to communicate with Set telepathically, now somewhat "quieter": I'm using the full power of the experimental amplifiers on this ship and it also appears that you and I are perfect test partners. I'm a strong transmitter and you one of the best telepathic receptives I've ever seen....

The coherent telepathic message from Kaleb tailed off into a swirl of less organized telepathic signals. Set could clearly sense Kaleb's burning hatred, then Set realized that Kaleb was Kalid's son. Set had another revelation and he realize that he had "felt" Kaleb's mind on Flammis. He said, "Yours was the mind I first touched on Flammis. How can you shield your telepathic output?"

Kaleb now spoke and Set sensed Kaleb's T-particle output decline dramatically, "I've been trained to control my brain's production of T-particles. It is a trick that requires a special nanite implant developed by the Order." His T-particle output ramped up again. "But it takes concentration from me to suppress my telepathic output. Kalid claims that he can easily silence his T-particle output, like throwing a switch."

To Set, it seemed like the world suddenly changed when Kaleb said "switch". Set wondered if his eyes would pop out of his head. After a dozen seconds of violent acceleration there was calm and then another wrenching acceleration. Kaleb was shouting into the intercom, "Captain, report!"

Set reached out with his mind and felt a sudden shift in the T-particle flux. A decrease. He said, "Norshe." Set kept "feeling" for the pattern of Norshe's mind, but he could no longer detect it...it had been there in the background just before the powerful acceleration...

After a long pause Leto responded, "That was an antimatter bomb launched from one of Ketar's ships. We were briefly thrown out of the water. Stand by." Then a moment later, "It looks like it was a direct hit on the position of Set's ship."

Megan said, "I hope there were no innocents on board."

Set estimated that Glen might be the only "innocent" by Megan's standards, but he was saddened by the loss of his pilot and engineer. They had been loyal Futurist Party members and had followed Set's every order. Set thought: even if I deserve judgment for my actions, my crew did not deserve to die.

Then Set could hear Ketar's voice, patched through via the intercom from the control room: "This is Ketar of Azur, calling the cloaked ship below. My fleet has you trapped. We saw you clearly after that antimatter blast. Surrender now or we'll continue firing. You cannot escape."

Leto said to Kaleb, "We are still cloaked and I'm taking evasive action. Ketar cannot see us right now, but he's right. If they start dropping more of those antimatter bombs they'll either destroy us or at the least be able to see our new position."

Kaleb said, "Okay, I see the decoy you are projecting at our old position. Put the decoy on the surface and signal surrender. Have the ship's AI take us on a hairpin course to the teleguide vertex, ETA one minute. Get your staff to lifeboats and I'll see you on the other side."

Leto said, "Understood."

Keleb spoke via intercom to all the lifeboats, "Standby for hyperspatial jump. T minus thirty seconds."

Megan asked, "Will we make it?"

Kaleb replied, "It will be close. One of Ketar's ships is dropping down to the decoy."

Megan said, "Kaleb? I love you."

Kaleb said, "I love you, too, sis."

Set said, "We can't make a jump this close to Earth!"

Again they heard Ketar's voice, thick with rage. "Okay, I gave you a chance and you respond with trickery! I'm pulling my ships back out of blast range. Surrender at once or-" The communication ended.

Set felt a strong acceleration. He noticed another telepathic mind approaching. It was the telepathic pattern he had felt near Sakkara, the one that had transmitted a set of coordinates for a location here in h32, what Set now knew to be the Solar System. Kalid? Was Kalid still alive? Then the world shifted. Set wondered: is this what death feels like?


Felice was shouting at Kalid, "You're killing yourself!"

Kalid kept increasing his ship's acceleration. Really that was the only way to tell how much stress his arteries could take. He was swinging around the fat bulk of Earth towards the site of the antimatter explosion. Now he intercepted Ketar's message and it played over the comunit, "...surrender now or we'll continue firing. You cannot escape."

Kalid had been in telepathic contact with Kaleb for a few minutes. Kalid sent to his son: I'm targeting Ketar's ship. Don't surface. Stay down!

Kaleb sent back: No, you cannot defeat Ketar's fleet. Pull back. Save yourself!

Felice was watching Kalid's brain wave monitor, it indicated that in this hard acceleration his brain was starved for blood. "Kalid, stop this!" Via the comunit she heard Ketar again, "Surrender at once or-"

Ketar waited impatiently for the ship that had dropped down to the surface and had identified the decoy located there as being nothing more than a decoy. The ship now was pulling back to low orbit and was almost out of blast range. Ketar said, "Ready antimatter missiles!" Then Ketar ordered, "Fire antimatter missiles!"

Each ship of Ketar's fleet launched a missile. All six missiles moved rapidly down towards the crater, penetrated the surface of the water then detonated at a depth of 100 meters. There was then a hexagonal explosion that was 5 kilometers across and centered on the fourth vertex of the T-particle beacon array. Above, the ships of Ketar's fleet were struck by the shock wave. The AI in Ketar's ship said, "Cloaked target now detected at 235 mark 82, range 180 kilometers and closing."

Ketar wondered, How had the cloaked ship gotten up into orbit so quickly? He said, "It must be a decoy! Prepare a second volley. Three missiles from each ship, 15 kilometer radius from the vertex. Fire!"

That was the last mistake Ketar ever made. The approaching cloaked ship was Kalid's. Kalid saw the hexagonal blast and felt his son's telepathic signal wink out. "No!" He saw that the ships of Ketar's fleet were bunched together in low, sub-orbital trajectories above the Zenima vertex. He launched antimatter missiles from all four of his launch tubes and then engage a maximum right angle acceleration.

Felice shouted, "No Kalid!" But Kalid quickly lapsed into unconsciousness. Felice fought to free herself from her seat and reach the controls.

Twenty-two antimatter bombs detonated in close succession over the crater. Most of them exploded under water and the only significant damage they did was to destroy the spaceship that had carried Kaleb and Megan to Earth from Flammis. Kaleb had left it parked on the crater floor about 12 kilometers from the fourth vertex.

The other four antimatter bombs destroyed most of Ketar's fleet. Two of the ship's limped away with serious damage. The hull of Ketar's ship was split open and it fell to Earth as a falling star.

HaldusEdit

Haldus

Kaleb said, "All lifeboats made it through."

Megan was elated to find herself alive, but there was sadness in Kaleb's voice. She asked, "What's wrong?"

Kaleb explained, "Kalid was rushing in to attack Ketar. He would not pull back."

Set was dizzy. He vomited.

Megan said, "Oh, yuck!"

A nanorobotic cleaning system was activated. Kaleb thought he knew what was bothering Set. He said to Megan, "He's disoriented. Haldus takes some getting used to for telepathic sensitives." Kaleb sent a signal to the other lifeboats, "Welcome to the Haldus star system. Just relax and enjoy the ride. Try to sleep. We'll reach the nearest Haldus Order base in about 18 hours."

Set asked, "How did we initiate a controlled jump from so close to the surface of Earth?"

Kaleb established a radio link to the lifeboat carrying Sybil, Leone and Portia. He said, "I'm going to explain a few things to Set."

Leone asked, "Who is this?"

Megan replied, "That is Kaleb, my brother."

Sybil asked, "Kaleb? Son of Kalid?"

Kaleb said, "Yes. We just completed a hyperspatial jump from Earth to the Haldus star system. That jump was made possible by the teleguide array on Earth and the transport grid here in the Haldus system."

Set complained, "You're not making sense. What is a "teleguide" and what do you mean by "transport grid"?"

Kaleb had grown up learning about telepathy and teleportation from his parents. He tried to imagine all the things that outsiders like Set and Leone were unaware of. He chuckled. "Hey, we have 18 hours. If I start using jargon that you are not familiar with, let me know. So, a teleguide node is a type of T-particle conduit. The ones on Earth have been used for thousands of years to allow people to travel between Haldus and Earth."

Leone asked, "What do you mean by "T-particle conduit"? How can they allow interstellar travel?"

Kaleb replied, "Well, I'm no scientist. Anyhow, I don't think the scientists have a working theory. It is an empirical observation that the conduits allow access to hyperspace. They are called "conduits" because they carry T-particles that originate at another location in spacetime. In this case, the source is the transport grid here in this star system."

Set had pulled a water tube to his mouth and was trying to clean out his mouth. The nanorobots had cleaned up most of his vomit. He still did not understand what a transport grid was. "Can you describe this 'transport grid'? How does it work?"

Kaleb replied, "That's pretty mysterious. It was discovered here in this star system, but nobody can figure out who built it or how. All we know for sure is that it can channel huge fluxes of T-particles into the teleguide conduits on Earth. There are two modes of operation, so travel is possible in each direction. Some people call it teleportation, but it is entirely analogous to making a hyperspatial jump with a spaceship."

Megan added, "Except there are no hyperspatial jump engines."

Kaleb nodded, "Right, the entire process is powered by the grid and guided by the T-particle conduit array on Earth."

Set felt like he was starting to understand what Kaleb was talking about. It helped that he could see into Kaleb's mind. "So, when we jumped away from Earth, how did that work? The conduits on Earth focus T-particles from Haldus and that transports -teleports- us through hyperspace?"

Kaleb replied, "Exactly."

"What controls the process? What determines which objects move between Haldus and Earth?"

"Going in this direction, there is now one precise location on Earth where you have to be in order to be transported."

Set could see the answer in Kaleb's thoughts. "You mean the fourth vertex."

Kaleb asked, "Fourth vertex?"

Now Set explained his terminology, "Well, that's what I've been calling it. There are three T-particle transmitters on Earth. The fourth was destroyed, but its position is what I call the fourth vertex of the tetrahedral array."

Kaleb said, "You mean the teleguide conduits."

"Do I? I'll call them by any name that has been adopted."

"Well, I don't understand why you called them transmitters. They just form a kind of antenna to guide bursts of T-particles arriving from Haldus. The three remaining conduits on Earth can focus T-particles at the position where the fourth conduit was before it was destroyed when a spaceship exploded on approach to Cairo spaceport."

Set wondered if the pulsed T-particle signals he had detected coming from the 'conduits' had escaped the notice of the Haldus Order. He asked, "So the conduits only channel T-particles during the teleportation process?"

Kaled nodded. "Yes. It works for teleportation in either direction. Through history the array has mostly been used to carry people from Haldus to Earth. In fact, it has been suggested that until the blast crater was formed, there was no way to use the conduits for transport to Haldus because all four transport points were buried underground."

Set asked, "But even when buried, the conduits can be used to transport people to Earth?"

"They could be used when the array was complete. Now, with one conduit missing there is not adequate control. If you tried to go back to Earth now, by making use of the conduits, you'd risk rematerializing inside solid rock. When there were four teleguides and the array was complete, fine control was possible within a few kilometers of the conduits."

"So, to travel in this direction, you just have to fly a lifeboat to the position of the fourth vertex and you are automatically teleported here, to the Haldus system?"

Kaleb continued his explanation, "No, it is not that simple. These are not ordinary lifeboats. And the spaceship that we were in on Earth was a specifically designed launch platform. That spaceship had to fly into the conduit array, to the exact position where the destroyed conduit once was, generate the transport code and then cycle all the launch platforms through the focus of the T-particle flux generated from the three remaining conduits of the array. The lifeboat launch platforms were all in a spinning ring, so it was possible to get all the boats launched quickly. With the existing damage to the conduit array, there is no fine positional control for transport into this star system, but fine control is not needed when teleporting in this direction." Kaleb got a value from the lifeboat's AI, "Still, all the lifeboats arrived here within a 40,000 kilometer radius of the teleportation target.

Leone commented, "Amazing! Interstellar teleportation from the surface of a planet!"

Set was stunned to learn about the existence of this teleportation technology. "I've spent most of my life trying to develop better space elevator technology for improved travel to and from the surfaces of planets. All that time the Haldus Order has been hiding this technology."

Leone asked, "Could we build these conduits on other worlds, like Sakkara?"

Megan replied, "You are missing the point. The conduits on Earth and the transport grid here in the Haldus System were not built by the Haldus Order."

Kaleb added, "They were not built by humans. And it is only recently that the Haldus Order figured out how to use the conduits. When teleportation from Earth to Haldus became possible, we replaced the Old Temple with that spaceship you found by using your scan technique."

Sybil asked, "Old temple?"

Kaleb explained, "It was a matter of pride for the Haldus Order to return to Earth and rebuild a Temple there after Earth became a green planet. That Temple was placed on the crater floor at the approximate position of Saqqara, where there had long been a Haldus Order temple before Egypt was obliterated."

Set suspected that this "old Temple" was the one Salvaje had described as a storehouse of information about the Haldus Order. Set asked, "What happened to that 'Old Temple'?"

Kaleb replied, "It was moved here to Haldus. It is now a museum ship with many ancient records for the Order."

Sybil said, "I'd like to visit that museum ship."

Kaleb nodded, "Of course, it is a popular destination for pilgrims. Unfortunately, for security reasons, few people outside of the Haldus star system know that it exists."

Leone noticed that Portia was snoring. "We put Portia to sleep with all of our talk."

Kaleb commented, "Sleep is the best thing. There is nothing to do here, packed into these lifeboats like sardines."

Sybil yawned. "I'm tired, too, and I'm feeling somewhat disoriented. I'm also going to try to sleep."

Kaleb said, "Okay, I'm going to close this com channel." He severed the communications channel that had linked the two lifeboats.

Set was still very dizzy. He had been trying to find a way to get his telepathic sense oriented. He'd finally realized that there was a tremendously powerful T-particle source in the Haldus system, apparently what Kaleb called "the grid". He asked Kaleb about it.

Kaleb explained, "I've heard of other telepathic sensitives who have reported what you describe. Almost certainly you are able to sense the transport grid. I've never been able to sense it, but then I'm mostly a telepathic transmitter. The transport grid is the most powerful source of T-particles in this part of the galaxy. There are about twenty others scattered around the galaxy. It is such a powerful source of T-particles that it can be detected on Earth. It was originally called 'The Eye of Haldus' and it is what allowed the early Haldus Order priestesses to locate people who were telepaths. Using the sun and the 'The Eye of Haldus' as two reference signals with known positions, they could triangulate on and locate telepaths on Earth."

Set thought: of course! He had long wondered how he could sense the location of telepaths. Apparently the human brain had evolved a way to use the positions of the Sun and Haldus as reference points that produced strong T-particle emissions. But he wondered if he could survive here in the Haldus star system, so close to the transport grid. His telepathic sense was over-saturated by the emissions from the grid. Although, if Kaleb could control his output of T-particles, Set wondered if he could control his sensitivity to T-particles. Set asked, "Is there some mind trick I could use to shield myself from the transport grid?"

Kaleb asked bitterly, "Why should I help you, Set?"

Set was having trouble sensing Kaleb's emotions against the glare of the transport grid, but he supposed that both Kaleb and Megan were disgusted by having to breath the same air with the man they held responsible for the attack on Flammis. For a long time there was silence. Then Set started to talk, first about Katherine and her death, then about the moment when he had first noticed Kaleb's telepathic signals on Sakkara. "That other telepath you were with..."

Kaleb said, "Logan. His name was Logan."

Set continued, "I could see in his mind that he had information about the destruction of the space elevators. I could sense him thinking about the Spaceship Guild and its role in the attack."

Kaleb nodded, "Yes, we had long been investigating the Spaceship Guild. The Spaceship Guild has been at war with the Haldus Order ever since Earth became a Green planet. We were on Sakkara because we were tracking a particular agent of the Spaceship Guild. Anyhow, immediately after the attack, Logan obtained evidence that agents of the Spaceship Guild destroyed the space elevators. My brother had the evidence, he had obtained it by means of his telepathic sensitivity. We did give that evidence to the authorities on Sakkara."

Set asked, "Your brother?"

Kaleb was silent for a moment then he replied, "Logan was my brother. He died in your attack on Flammis."

Set now saw that both Kaleb and Megan had tears in their eyes. Set asked, "Is it possible that the head of the Sakkaran Justice Department suppressed that evidence and never investigated Logan's evidence?"

Megan replied, "We may never know. His brain was mostly destroyed by poison."

Set asked, "What? What do you mean?"

"Aristark attacked Kalid and was arrested by the Martian Militia. His body was full of implants, including several poison reservoirs."

"He tried to kill himself?"

"The poison may have been released into his blood by remote control. He may not have even been aware that it was in his body."

Megan said to Set, "So, you assumed that Logan and Kaleb lied to you and then you set about hunting down and killing members of the Haldus Order."

Set replied, "Yes.

There was another long silence. Eventually Megan fell asleep.

Finally Kaleb replied to a question Set had asked many hours earlier. "I believe that there is a special nanite that sensitives use to shield against the grid, kind of like wearing sun glasses."


Finally, the lifeboats reached the docks of the Haldus Order base. When Set crawled out of his lifeboat he was met by a squad of robots who put him under arrest.

Kaleb watched Set being hauled away...he wondered if justice could really be served to Set...here or anywhere.

Kaleb and Megan were met by a local Temple Master. Kaleb asked the Master, "Has there been any word from Earth?"

The Temple Master replied, "Your father is alive. He is recovering in a hospital on the Moon."

Megan asked, "And Ketar?"

"It is not clear. His spaceship was last seen falling from orbit into the green clouds."

Leone, Sybil and Portia came walking along the docks and saw Megan. She introduced them to Kaleb, who they had only heard by radio and intercom. Portia asked where Set was.

Kaleb explained that Set would be tried for murder.

Captain Leto and her staff were the last ones to come up the docks, having confirmed that all the passengers from the research spaceship had safely arrived. All of the researchers were from the Haldus star system and they were met at the docks by family members who were happy to have them back earlier than expected from Earth.

Leto said to Kaleb, "I'm sorry I lost your ship, she was a beauty."

Kaleb nodded. "Thanks for getting everyone off before the ship was destroyed. Take a little vacation, now. If you feel up to it, I'd like you and your staff to fly me back to Earth in a few days."

Leto asked, "Is it safe to go back?"

Kaleb replied, "Ketar has not been seen since the battle, but we should soon know his fate."

The Temple Master said, "Come, I have rooms for you all," And he led them to the Temple.

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Sphinx

Old TempleEdit

After arriving at the Temple, Sybil had tried to dine, but she found that she did not want to eat. Leone could tell that Sybil was ill, so he located the Temple's doctor, a robot. The robot was a new model with a sophisticated T-particle detector and even a T-particle emitter for testing the telepathic sensitivity of human patients. The machine quickly noticed that Sybil had a sensitivity to T-particle signals of the type produced by the Haldus transport grid. The robot gave Sybil a nanite remedy to counter the effects of close proximity to the transport grid.

The robotic doctor and Portia had put Sybil to bed, then they came out into the hallway where Leone was pacing. Portia said, "She's asleep."

Leone asked the doctor, "What is wrong with her?"

The robot explained, "Sybil is sensitive to the powerful telepathic emissions from the grid. I've exposed her brain to a special type of nanite that will prevent her neurons from resonating with the grid. My advice is that she leave this star system as soon as possible."

Leone suggested, "Kaleb is planning to return to Earth soon. My spaceship is still in the Solar System. Maybe we can get a ride with Kaleb."


Sybil woke up with a bad headache. She got out of bed and promptly crashed her head into the ceiling of her room. She had forgotten just how little gravity there was here. This Haldus Order base was located on a very small planet in orbit around a supergiant star. That star was known within the Order as Haldus, although most star atlases used the name Epsilon Aurigae. Sybil wondered what the local residents called this world. She consulted the room's dataport and found that the residents here called this little world "Almaaz".

After a quick shower, Sybil felt better. She dressed in local clothing that had been provided in the room by the Temple. She left her room and knocked on the doors to Leone's and Portia's rooms, however, there was no response so she went to the Temple's common room. A robot directed her to the dinning hall where she found Leone and Portia already eating breakfast.

Portia asked, "Are you feeling better?"

Sybil nodded. "Much better! And I feel like eating...I'm very hungry."

Leone signaled to a robot. The machine came to their table, bowed to Sybil and said, "Your wishes, madam?"

Sybil giggled. She could not get used to the archaic and formal habits of the robots on Almaaz. She ordered a large meal and then listened while Leone described what he had been able to learn about the museum spaceship. The museum was in orbit above Almaaz and accessible by space elevator.

A team of robots brought Sybil's food and served it with a flourish. The head waiter asked, "Is there anything else?" Then departed. "Enjoy your meal."

Sybil asked, "Exactly what is in the museum?"

Leone activated a display screen that was built into their table and showed Sybil a list of the historical collections held onboard the museum ship. "It looks like most of the material dates from the years since Earth became a Green planet, but there is also this," Leone pointed to the display, "Mysteriously called 'the Egyptian collection'."

Portia said, "I still do not understand all this talk about Egypt. I thought it was a fairy land, like Oz."

Leone told Portia about the Temple library on Esclagon and its museum-like display with images of the Egyptian pyramids. "I wonder...if Earth has been frequently visited by people from Haldus...well, maybe the common practice on Earth of building pyramids was inspired by those off-world visitors."

Sybil nodded, "Right. If the visitors knew about the tetrahedral conduit array, they might have tried to explain to Earthlings how they had come to Earth and the story could have ended up leading to the construction of pyramids on Earth."

Portia was skeptical, "In ancient times it may have just been convenient to build in the shape of a pyramid if you wanted a tall monument."

Leone said, "I'm intrigued by the idea that the original Haldus Order Temple in Egypt might have been an observatory. Somehow the ancient Egyptians figured out that Haldus is a source if T-particles. I'm picturing a narrow tunnel leading into the interior of an Egyptian pyramid. Maybe such a tunnel could be used for sighting stars."

Sybil shrugged, "Yes, a hole in a pyramid could be used to sight stars, but how would anyone be able to associate the T-particle emissions from the transport grid with light from Haldus? Unfortunately, that robot on the research ship said that the original Haldus Order temple was lost when the oceans rose."

Portia suggested, "Maybe it is still there, on the bottom of the sea."

Leone shook his head. "I'm afraid it was destroyed by the explosion that obliterated Egypt, but you are right, it might have been there for centuries...hidden...unfortunately nobody knew to look for it back then."

Portia asked, "Do you believe that Egypt was destroyed by an exploding spaceship? In school I learned that Earth was destroyed by a black hole."

Leone rubbed his chin. He was looking at the remains of Sybil's breakfast. He asked Sybil, "Are you going to eat that?"

There was one piece of fruit left in Sybil's bowl. She replied, "Go ahead, I'm stuffed."

Leone ate the strawberry-like fruit and then said, "It might not be a matter of Earth being destroyed by either a black hole or an exploding spaceship. A problem with antimatter drives in spaceships is that if you push antimatter engines too hard then they start producing black holes."

Portia complained, "Yes, I know, but I've never understood that."

Leone shrugged. "It is fairly well understood physics. If you get the antimatter reaction going too fast then there is a huge graviton flux. You might go for days like that, but eventually, by a quantum mechanical fluke, a black hole will form."

Sybil nodded, "I've heard all this before, but it still makes no sense. The black holes you are talking about are tiny and they evaporate almost instantly."

"Yes, this is where it gets interesting! A black hole can either evaporate or grow, but in the antimatter reactor that 'choice' is governed by the chaotic conditions of the ongoing conversion of mass into energy. There is a slim chance that the black hole will grow. In practice, spaceship engineers have simply set a limit on the power output allowed for the reactors of spaceships. That limit keeps black hole production from getting out of hand. But imagine what might happen, once in a thousand years: an unusual chance event in a spaceship's reactor might produce a large black hole that could cause the reactor to go out of control and trigger a tremendous explosion."

Portia shook her head, "I don't believe that. I took an antimatterics course in school and it was made clear that even if you rupture an antimatter reactor the power output can only decline. Spaceships have often been destroyed in space battles and they do not release the amount of energy that was needed to make that huge blast crater on Earth."

Sybil stood up and said, "We cannot resolve such mysteries by talk. Let's go visit the museum. Maybe the answers to Earth's mysteries await us there."

The transportation system of Almaaz was efficient and they were soon riding a car up a space elevator towards the museum. The view was fantastic. The transport grid hung in space over Almaaz like a vast spider web. Sybil found that by looking at the grid she could control what remained of her feeling of disorientation. She was intrigued by the flashes of color that rippled across the grid. She said, "I wonder what causes those little sparks."

Portia asked, "Sparks?"

Sybil nodded, "Ya...can't you see the colors?"

The inhabited part of Almaaz was on the back side of the planetoid, shielded from the intense stellar radiation emitted by Haldus. The disk-shaped transport grid hung in the sky above Almaaz, illuminated by Haldus. Leone described what he saw, "It is a milky blue, refracting the light of Haldus. I see no other colors. And I do not see why it is called a 'grid'."

Sybil activated the dataport of the elevator car and brought up on the display an image of the grid. That image looked like what Leone had described. "Interesting." She turned back to look directly at the grid through the plastiglass window of the elevator car. She could clearly see multi-colored flashes pulsing through the grid. She closed her eyes. The colors were still there." Sybil said, "Oh, my."

Leone wondered if Sybil's illness was returning. He asked, "Do you want me to request an emergency descent?"

Sybil shook her head. "No, I feel fine. I've long been able to see colors associated with people, but now I'm seeing colors on this grid. My brain must be interpreting the emissions of the grid as if they were human emotions. It is very beautiful."

The elevator reached their stop and Sybil reluctantly opened her eyes so she could see to walk. When they stepped out of their elevator car they were inside a large space station that hung in stationary orbit over Almaaz. They were greeted by a robot who recognized them. The machine said, "Welcome, Sakkarans. How may I assist you?"

Sybil explained that they wanted to visit the museum. The robot agreed to be their guide. While they walked to the museum the machine explained, "Sybil, I see that you are of the Inner Circles. You can enter the Temple. However, Leone and Portia can only tour the public areas of the museum."

Sybil was surprised. "What are you talking about, machine? A Temple is always open to visitors."

The robot insisted, "Not in this case. Do you wish to enter the Temple or will you stay with your friends on the public tour?"

Sybil replied, "I'll start with the tour."

"As you wish." They had reached an airlock and there was a line of waiting visitors. The robot explained, "Sybil, if you want to go to the Temple then you can go right on in; there is no wait for that."

Leone suggested, "You should go. I'm afraid that we will learn little on the public tour. Go ahead and visit the Temple."

Portia said, "I'm not sure it is a good idea for Sybil to go by herself. Sybil, are you sure that you are healthy? Are you still dizzy?"

Sybil decided to go look at the Temple. She said, "I feel fine. The tour takes almost an hour. I'll meet you back here in an hour, okay?" She left her place in line and entered the airlock that was the entrance to the museum.

At the inner door of the airlock she was stopped by another robot. It said, "I will take you to the Temple, Priestess." Sybil followed the machine through a network of corridors. She began to feel that the robot was leading her around in circles. She could easily keep her orientation because of her telepathic sense and her ability to see the "colors" of the transport grid in her mind. Sybil was pleased by that sense of being oriented. She had never previously been conscious of a source of telepathic signals that was outside of her range of vision. She had extensive training in seeing human auras, but she had never become particularly good at it.

Finally she complained to the robot, "Where are you taking me?"

The robot replied, "We are almost there. The temple is well hidden, for good reason." In fact, the museum had been designed to hide the Temple. The museum and the Temple were actually two different spaceships. When the museum collections had grown large and it was decided to use some of the materials to publicize the true history of Earth, a second, larger spaceship was added to the museum and used for the public museum displays. However, for security reasons, even Haldus Order members who visited to the Temple were made to believe that it was a single compartment within the spaceship that comprised the public part of the museum. Finally the robot opened a door and gestured for Sybil to enter the Temple.

This spaceship compartment held two statues of sphinxes. The one on the left was made of stone, the one to the right was made of some synthetic material. The compartment was not large and the two beasts filled most of the room. Sybil turned to the robot and asked, "Is this it? You call this one room a Temple?"

The robot asked, "What were you expecting?"

In her studies of the historical Egypt, Sybil had seen images of sphinxes, but she wondered why a Temple would be devoted to the display of two sphinxes. Sybil wondered out loud, "Is this a test? If I do not know what to look for then nothing will be revealed to me?"

The robot replied, "The Temple is open to you, Priestess."

Sybil hated it when robots were evasive. She strode towards the space between the two statues in order to try to see what was on the other side of the room. She thought: sphinxes are often guardians-

At her approach, the metal sphinx came alive. Its head morphed from human to animal and back again. Sybil froze in amazement and waited for her racing heart to slow. The sphinx head kept morphing. She touched the statue and felt the warm metal surface shifting its shape. She asked the robot, "This came from Earth?"

The robot replied, "No, Priestess. That statue is from Polastis III."

Sybil had heard of that world since there was a Haldus Order Temple there. She could not remember the whole story. She knew that Polastis was a star on the fringe of explored space. A Haldus Order colony had been established there early in the space age and then it was later abandoned.

Her heart stopped racing and she continued on to the back of the room. The room lights dimmed and a holographic image of an old man appeared and began to speak, "The teleguide array on Polastis III was the key to revealing the transporter function of the conduits. Unfortunately, the ability of the conduits to trigger catastrophic explosions of antimatter reactors was not recognized until after the destruction of one of the nodes in the Polastis array. The search for other worlds with intact arrays continues."

"All available evidence suggests that the Polastians were amazingly similar to humans. It is estimated that the last Polastian on Polastis III lived about thirty four million years ago. Some of their artifacts survived intact until human colonists arrived. The sphinx you see here is a typical example of Polastian art."

"I supervised Haldus Order research on Polastis III, from initial human colonization until destruction of the array. To those of the future: be warned! Yes, explore. We must always push on into the galaxy. However, do not be reckless! Learn from the disasters on Earth and on Polastis III. Beware of the danger of mixing antimatterics and conduits. Fare thee well."

The hologram vanished and Sybil turned around. The room lights came up and she could see the robot standing there on the other side of the room. The sculpture from Polastis was again motionless, frozen with a human head on an animal's body. Sybil asked, "Who was that?"

The robot replied, "Master Olmo."

Sybil had never heard of "Olmo". Her contact with the Haldus Order beyond Sakkara had always been through Kalid. She walked back to the front of the morphable sculpture and closely examined the face and skull. Was it human? Or was she looking at the head of a Polastian?


Sybil spent an hour carefully examining the Temple, but she found nothing else of interest. The robot then led her back to the designated meeting place. While they walked the robot spoke to Sybil, "You are of the Inner Circle, Sybil. You know the rules for protecting the secrets of the Order. Polastis is an even greater secret than the Haldus grid."

Sybil and the robot reached the entrance to the museum. Leone and Portia were there waiting for her. She asked, "Is it worth my time to take the tour?"

Portia replied, "I could see it again."

Leone outlined the key aspects of the tour. "As expected, the Egyptian collection is the high point. They have actual material from ancient Egypt. However, most of the museum displays document a war between the Haldus Order and the Spaceship Guild. The evidence in there is greatly embarrassing to both the Spaceship Guild and the Antiquist Party...if it is true."

They got back in line. Sybil asked, "You think the evidence is fake?"

Leone shrugged. "I know enough about history to be skeptical of the stories told by either side that is fighting a war."

Portia commented, "The tour is very dramatic, showing the lows of the Haldus Order, such as the destruction of its Temples on Earth and on the Moon, but ending with the clear expectation of ultimate victory for the Order."

Leone nodded, "In many ways it comes across like propaganda designed to keep up the spirits of the troops. You will be able to judge for yourself." They were now being shadowed by two robotic guides. Leone looked over his shoulder at the two robots. He asked Sybil, "What did you see in the Temple?"

Sybil looked at their robot guides and she decided that it was safest to say little in front of the robots. "It was very small, a kind of a time capsule. There were some ancient artifacts, including an ancient Egyptian sphinx."

Leone said, "Really? Fantastic! The artifacts on the tour are all small objects in plastiglass display cases. They are all labeled, 'British Museum' and were apparently recovered from Earth after Egypt was destroyed."

Sybil tried to fabricate an excuse for why most people were prevented from visiting the Temple; she wanted to provide Leone with a line of thought that would distract him from asking too many questions. "I actually touched the sphinx. I guess the people who run this museum just do not want hordes of tourists running their hands over their most prized display objects, so they reserve them for members of the Inner Circles."

Leone nodded. "Most museums only allow trained researchers access to their most important holdings."

They completed the tour and returned to the space elevator. Their robot guides finally stopped following the Sakarans. As the elevator car descended towards the surface of Almaaz, Sybil was again looking at the "colors" that she could sense in the grid. Leone asked, "Do you think it is safe to talk here?"

Sybil knew that Leone must be eager to hear details about what was in the Temple. She replied, "I'm sorry Leone, but I'm going to have to ask you not to push me on this. I once told you that there are some things you have to ask Kalid." She would say no more.

Leone said half jokingly, "I wonder if Kalid is real. I do hope to some day meet him."

Portia said, "I would like to see him, too, and ask him if he foresaw all this as my destiny when he rejected me from the Order."

The CaseEdit

Elevatorsdisaster

The day after their visit to the museum, Sybil was awakened by Portia calling, "Turn on your comunit. Set's murder trial started!"

The day before, Megan had warned the Sakkarans that Set's murder trial would soon begin. The trial was being held in a special Almaaz court for sensitive matters of interest to the Haldus Order. Sybil found the data stream of the court proceedings that was being provided to the Temple. When her display screen showed the correct data channel, the judge was already speaking, "...this to take less than a day. The defense will have its day tomorrow. I expect to have my verdict ready three days from today. Now, is the prosecution ready to present the case?"

"Counselor Orylie, representing the Court...I'm ready to outline the murders committed by Set of Sakkara."

The judge said, "Proceed, but remember: keep it short and to the point."

"Yes, sir! Let me begin with the matter of Set's telepathic ability. We've traced the source of his genes for telepathic sensitivity. His parents were Haldus Order Inner Circle members on Polastis III. They died in the explosion of 61 ANE. Set was then relocated to an orphanage on Sakkara. His companion, Katherine, who died last year in the space elevators disaster, was also born on Polastis III and was raised by an adopting family on Sakkara. Katherine had a strong genetic predisposition for telepathic transmission. The telepathic abilities of Set and Katherine were not recognized while they were growing up. During their years together, their minds interacted on an unconscious level which allowed them both to develop their telepathic abilities. Set did not become consciously aware of his telepathic ability until Katherine died."

Counselor Orylie displayed an image of one of the destroyed elevator facilities on Sakkara. "After the elevators were destroyed, Set telepathically detected a Haldus Order telepath on Sakkara and learned of the existence of evidence pointing to involvement of the Spaceship Guild in the elevators disaster. That evidence was given to the Sakkaran government, but Aristark, the head of the Sakkaran Justice Department and an Antiquist Party member, suppressed the evidence. Set assumed that the Haldus Order was involved in a cover-up of the cause of the elevators disaster and began to hunt down Haldus Order telepaths using his telepathic ability. After Set murdered two telepaths, the Order called into hiding all of its telepaths. Set also murdered two Sakkaran Justice Department authorities. Most recently, Set learned the location of Flammis from a Haldus Order member, who Set also killed. Set then attacked Flammis from space, killing an estimated 2,300 residents."

Counselor Orylie concluded the summary of the case, "There are other lesser charges that could be prosecuted, such as Set's attempted murder of Master Kalid, but in the interests of brevity I will only press the murder charges. As I have outlined, Set is a mass murder, having willfully acted through many weeks to systematically murder thousands of innocent people who he erroneously blamed for the death of his companion, Katherine. With your permission, I will now call witnesses and present documentary evidence to support these murder charges."

The Judge said, "Proceed." Counselor Orylie began to present the details of the case.

There was a knock on Sybil's door. She opened the door and let in Leone and Portia. Portia could see that Sybil was watching Set's trial. Portia said, "I don't see Set at the trial."

Leone said, I've been reading about the justice system on Almaaz. Apparently the first day of a trial is given over to the prosecution and the defendant is not even present."

Sybil commented, "It sounded like the defense will be offered tomorrow."

Portia added, "And the judge promised a verdict on the third day! I wonder where Set is being held? Who will defend him?"

Sybil was surprised to hear concern in Portia's voice. She asked, "What defense is there? I doubt if Set will try to deny these charges."

Leone said, "According to my reading, there is a central government complex that includes all of the Almaaz police and judicial facilities."

Portia had been learning how to use the Almaaz communications network. She activated the comunit in Sybil's room. "I want to speak to Set of Sakkara. He is being held for trial."

A robotic operator said, "Electronic communication with prisoners is impossible. Visiting hours for today have started and will end in nine point three hours."

Portia ended the call and listened for a while to Counselor Orylie while he entered as evidence the genetic records for Set, Katherine and their parents. "This is boring and irrelevant. I'm going to visit Set and see how he is doing."

She marched to the door and turned back to ask Sybil, "Do you want to come with me?"

Sybil declined. "I have no interest in seeing Set. I'm content to let justice be done."

Portia asked, "Will justice be done?" She left the room.

Leone noted, "She really seems concerned for Set."

Sybil shrugged. "She was Set's prisoner. It is a well known psychological phenomenon...victims of abduction often develop a sympathy for the criminals who held their life in the balance."

Leone suggested, "Maybe I should go with Portia."

Sybil shook her head. "Do you remember our deal that we agreed to on Esclagon, to share information? I've been thinking about something I saw yesterday, and I think you should hear about it..." During the night, Sybil had become deeply worried that the Spaceship Guild or the Antiquist party had some terrible weapon that could trigger antimatter reactors to run wild and produce explosions like the two that had destroyed Earth and Polastis III. The museum tour had emphasized the idea that an exploding spaceship had destroyed Earth and the Spaceship Guild had then hidden that fact from the galaxy in order to protect their economic interests. It was bad enough if the destruction of Earth had been an accident...it would be far worse if that spaceship explosion or the one at Polastis III had been triggered intentionally! She hoped that by sharing her worries about this with Leone they might be able to find a way of learning if the Spaceship Guild had really destroyed Earth intentionally.


Portia finally was allowed to see Set. Set came into the room where Portia had been waiting for six hours; he was flanked by two robots. Set said, "They finally let me go. I had to listen to the entire case against me."

Portia asked, "It is over then? The case is closed?"

"Well, the evidence is now on record. Tomorrow I get to offer a defense."

Portia wondered why the trial was being moved along so rapidly. How could anyone prepare a defense in the few days since Set's arrest? "Have you had a chance to prepare your defense?"

"There has not been much for me to do. There is a very efficient legal team that handles such things. I've just made a suggestion or two."

Portia observed, "You seem calm and resigned to the outcome."

Set reflected on the fact that he had changed. Until arriving in the Solar System he had been aggressively searching for those who had killed Katherine. He had lived for revenge. That had begun to change on the Moon. Set now realized that his life-long antagonism to the Antiquist Party's regressive technology policies paralleled the long running struggle between the Haldus Order and the Spaceship Guild. With the information provided by Salvaje, Set could now see the galaxy in a new way. And, of course, since being on the Moon his mind and telepathic sense was working in a new way. He chuckled, "I committed myself to finding those who destroyed the elevators. The path to that end has become clear. Portia, would you do something for me? No matter what happens to me, will you do something...just make sure that Aristark and Ketar have their day in court."

Portia said, "I'm not sure that I can promise that. I've heard that Ketar might be dead and Aristark's brain has been destroyed."

Set nodded. "Please, promise..."

Portia said, "Okay...if I can, I'll see that justice is done for those who died in the destruction of the elevators."

"Thank you. You are a true friend."

Portia said, "Don't give me that, Set. I'm not your friend. Let me tell you why I came here today..."

Set braced for a rant from Portia.

Portia continued, "I've never been able to understand evil people. I'll never understand you, but I want to know...do you feel bad about all the murders you committed?"

Set was silent for a long time and Portia wondered if he would speak. Finally he did. "Ask yourself this, Portia. Imagine that somehow, back when I first learned of the existence of telepathy, that Kaleb was not on Sakkara. Imagine that I never became aware of the Haldus Order until Kalid came to Sakkara some day. What would have happened to the investigation of Katherine's death?"

Portia thought about it, but she did not like hypotheticals. "What do you want me to say? In your fantasy world those who attacked the elevators would have escaped notice and nobody would have ever linked Katherine's death to the Spaceship Guild?"

Set nodded, "Exactly. But take it further. We are now in the position of being able to reveal the role of the Antiquist Party in turning Earth and Flammis into Green planets. If we have to count bodies, how many have been killed by the Spaceship Guild and by men like Ketar? When I was on the Moon I was asked to make sure that the galaxy learned the truth about Earth. I'd gladly give my life for that, since it seems that the destruction of Earth and the destruction of the space elevators an Sakkara have both been covered-up by the Antiquists. Of course I feel bad about all those who died at my hand. I'll live with that for the rest of my days....but I still feel it is better that I did what I did."

Portia tried to perform the horrific calculations suggested by Set. Did 10,000 deaths caused by your enemy justify 3,000 deaths caused by you? She could not think in those terms. She thought about what she had seen at the museum, the evidence suggesting that the Spaceship Guild had intentionally turned Earth into a Green planet in order to hide the fact that a spaceship explosion destroyed Earth. Even if Set was only reacting to others who could perform such evil acts, did that justify Set's actions? She thought: all killing is bad! Portia felt ill sitting there and looking at Set while he calmly performed such callous calculations. She ran from the room.

DefenseEdit

The next day Set and his court-appointed defense team were in the courtroom. The judge asked, "Who will speak for the accused?"

Set replied, "I will."

The judge warned, "Set, you are not familiar with our justice system. I suggest that you let one of the appointed counselors speak for you."

Set explained, "They are advising me, but only I can speak for myself. I may not know your customs but nobody here knows me or my life."

The judge countered, "I'll be the judge of that. Yesterday I heard more about your life than I wanted to. Are you claiming that all that evidence was false?"

"I never said that."

The Judge shrugged and asked, "If you are attempting to establish a basis for an insanity defense then you-"

One of the defense counselors interrupted the judge, "Objection! I request that the trial be terminated. The judge is clearly prejudiced against the accused and is attempting to discredit-"

The judge held up his hand and the counselor instantly fell silent. The judge said, "Your point is taken. It was with reluctance that I agreed to hear this case. I did so only after the entire rank of judges on Almaaz recused themselves. Since I am the most recent immigrant to Haldus, I was specifically asked to hear the case. There is no less biased judge available. Now, the clock is running on your time, Set. I suggest that you restrain your advisers from making hair-splitting objections. Get on with your defense."

Set chuckled, "I suppose you are also the judge of what constitutes "hair-splitting". I'll have to rely on you to continue to chastise the counselors as needed. Am I allowed to recall witnesses who testified yesterday?"

The judge replied, "I have reviewed your list of desired witnesses. There is only one name on the list I have. Do you intend to call multiple witnesses?"

Set shook his head, "I'd like to call Kalid, Ketar and Aristark, but the counselors have informed me that 'justice' on Almaaz will have to proceed without their testimony."

The judge nodded. "That is correct, but you can call Kaleb back." The judge looked around the court room. "Kaleb, come forward."

Kaleb was sitting in the gallery with about eighty Haldus Order members. The trial was not open to the general public. Kaleb stepped forward to the part of the room where the cameras were pointed. Set thought over what Kaleb had said in court the previous day. He had provided an account of the attack on Flammis and the death of Logan.

Set grabbed Keleb's arm. A squad of robots rushed forward and restrained Set. The judge demanded, "Why did you assault Kaleb?"

Set replied, "I did not assault him, I tried to establish telepathic communication." Set had been given a double dose of nanites to dull his telepathic sensitivity. The forceful signals from the grid still dominated his telepathic sense and he could not feel Kaleb's mind. He asked Kaleb, "Are you blocking your telepathic output?"

The judge did not let Kaleb reply. "Set, what does that question have to do with this case?"

"I'm trying to get the truth from Kaleb. If I could feel his mind then I could tell if he is being truthful."

"Set, keep your hands to yourself. All testimony from witnesses will be verbal." The judge said to Kaleb, "Let me remind you. You are still sworn to speak the truth." The judge signaled to the robots and they let go of Set, but remained close by.

Set continued, "I was puzzled by your testimony yesterday. In his introductory and concluding statements, Counselor Orylie stated forcefully that I murdered some 2,300 people on Flammis. Did you or did you not testify to that effect?"

Kaleb replied, "I only testified about my brother's death."

"Interesting. Maybe I was dozing and missed it. Was there any other witness from Flammis yesterday?"

"Megan was ready to testify, but she was not called."

"So, there was no proof that I killed anyone on Flammis. Do you agree?"

Kaleb shook his head. "I testified that your crewmen were placed on Flammis immediately after your spaceship attacked and destroyed the main Haldus Order base on Flammis. Everyone knows that you murdered Logan and 2,300 others."

"I see. Since everyone knows this, there is no need for evidence?"

"The judge has asked for brevity. Nobody doubts the adequacy of the evidence...not even you."

Set laughed, "You must be reading my mind...you are correct. Not even I doubt that evidence. The problem is, we have not yet heard all the evidence. So far we only heard what Counselor Orylie wanted the judge to hear. Kaleb, have you ever heard: the truth, the whole truth..."

Kaleb completed the ancient incantation, "...and nothing but the truth."

"So, the whole truth...I left two crewmen on Flammis and I told them to watch for additional Haldus Order members. I sensed that there might be an additional telepath on Flammis, but I returned to Sakkara. That telepath was you, correct?"

"Yes."

"Tell me, when did you first notice my approach to Flammis?"

"I had about an hour of warning before you dropped an antimatter bomb on the main base."

"A whole hour? I flew to Flammis at 5 gees of acceleration.  You detected me thousands of kilometers away? Did you detect me telepathically?"

"No, I'm not a good telepathic sensitive. You were detected by an automated planetary defense system."

"Interesting. That system uses Haldus Order telepathy devices?"

"Your spaceship was detected by radar."

"So, you detected a ship, but you did not know it was my ship."

"True."

"So, I'll repeat my question that you evaded. When did you first notice my approach to Flammis?"

Kaleb crossed his arms. "I'm not going to change my answer."

"So, you assume that the ship you detected was my ship and that I was on board and that I ordered the attack on Flammis."

"Yes."

"But you have no proof for those assumptions."

Kaleb asked, "Are you saying that those assumptions are wrong?"

"I'll leave such judgments up to the judge. So, you assumed that I killed your brother and countless others and you still hate me for that, correct?"

"I've been trained to control my emotions. I now know your motivation for attacking Flammis, that you wanted revenge for the death of Katherine. I know that something went wrong with the justice system on Sakkara. I cannot hate you for striking out in rage."

Set asked, "Why not? Most people find it easy to hate. When I met you a few days ago, it was clear in your mind: you hated me."

"True."

"You were able to control your hate because of your training in 'mental powers'?"

"Yes."

"Are you a member of the Haldus Order?"

"I was introduced as such yesterday, in this very room. Did you sleep through that, too?"

Set smiled at Kaleb's barb. "What is your rank or position in the Order?"

"I'm Outer Circle."

Set nodded, "Yes, but what does that mean? I've only known of the existence of the Haldus Order for a short time and I must say, you folks do not make it easy to get to know you. Translating "Outer Circle" into conventional language: you are a novice, correct?"

"Yes."

"Were all novices on Flammis alerted to the arriving spaceship the day that Logan died?"

"No."

"Eh? Why not? Let me guess...you were the only Outer Circle member who knew...am I right?"

"Yes."

"Tell me, what makes you so special?"

The judge asked Set, "What is the point of these questions?"

Set spoke to the judge, "I was told that I can question the reliability of witnesses."

"True, but even a novice is competent to testify about the death of a brother."

Set chuckled, "One would hope. Are you a member of the Order? Can you vouch for the the reliability of these fanatical combatants who have been at war for centuries?"

The judge asked, "War?"

"Yes, the war between the Order and the Spaceship Guild." Set turned to Kaleb, "You are a soldier in that war, are you not?"

"I'm not a soldier."

"Use whatever term you prefer to use. Isn't it true that you have hunted down and killed members of the Spaceship Guild? Isn't that the task you were engaged in the day I first met you on Sakkara?"

Kaleb wondered how Set knew that he had killed some agents of the Spaceship Guild. Was Set's telepathic power strong enough to have seen that in Kaleb's mind? Kaleb thought: well, it might not be very hard to detect those thoughts, since I think them every day.

Set was only guessing, based on fragments of Kalebs mind that he had previously touched telepathically, but judging from the guilt on Kaleb's face, Set now felt certain that he had guessed correctly. Set pressed on, "So, why does a mere novice go out around the galaxy hunting down agents of the Spaceship Guild and why...well, what exactly was your position and authority on the day of the attack on Flammis?"

"Since Kalid was off planet, I was responsible for the safety of my people."

"A novice was in charge of 2,300 people? And your brother, he is a novice too? Two novices were running a Haldus Order spy operation on Sakkara the day that the elevators were destroyed?"

"No, Logan was never taken into the Order."

"Why not?"

"He was too young."

"Too young to be initiated, but old enough to be on that mission to Sakkara?"

"Yes."

The judge interrupted again, "Set, the day only has so many hours. Do you plan to ask some questions that are relevant to this case?"

Set replied, "This is a problem of your creation. If you had not rushed the prosecution yesterday then I would not have to ask all these questions today."

"How is anything you have asked about today relevant to the case against you?"

"I've already answered that, Judge. I'm exploring the reliability of this witness, the only witness available to me. I'd prefer to spend my time with Kalid, Ketar and Aristark, but by your rules and restrictions I'm forced to take this path. And even with this forced upon me, you still keep harassing me for following this line of questioning. This seems like a strange system of justice."

The judge seemed bored, "Just get on with whatever it is that you think you are doing, but don't forget, today is your only chance to offer a defense."

Set asked, "What if it takes more than a day to dig through Kaleb's evasiveness?"

The judge replied, "I've seen no evasiveness, only silly hair-splitting by you."

Set smiled, "I feared you would be the sole judge of 'hair-splitting'."

Now the judge was angered. "I'd hold you in contempt, but I'm not sure if you are insane."

Set asked, "Can I continue with my questions or do you want to continue insulting me?"

"Get on with it."

Set asked Kaleb, "Why was a novice put in charge of the Haldus Order colony on Flammis?"

"Because of my special training."

"Describe that special training."

"I'd rather not."

Set asked, "Is this standard Haldus Order secrecy or are you trying to protect yourself from self-incrimination?"

The judge called Set to his desk. "Are you intending to make criminal counter charges against Kaleb?"

"No. I'll leave it up to the 'justice' system to file charges."

The judge pointed his finger at Set, "I'm tired of your games. What crimes are you implying?"

"It looks like it was a case of criminal negligence to put a novice in charge of the defense of a planet."

The judge said, "You don't know what you are talking about."

Set asked the judge, "What about you? Are you a member of the Haldus Order? Can you explain the practice of making a novice responsible for the lives of 2,300 people?"

"No, I'm not a member of the Haldus Order. This is called the Haldus star system, but most of us who live here are not associated with the Order."

"Then I ask that you let me continue so that we both can learn the answer to my question."

The judge said, "This time was allotted for you. It is just my responsibility to warn you when you are wasting your time, but it is your choice. Continue if you must."

Set turned back to Kaleb, "Since you will not answer my question, I'll guess. You were put in charge because you are Kalid's son...am I right?"

"I was the most qualified."

"List your qualifications!"

"That is a private Haldus Order matter."

Set suggested, "You were in charge because of your telepathic ability?"

"Yes."

"Tell me, what was the role of your telepathic powers in the defense of Flammis?"

"Not much. I tried to call Kalid back home, but it was too late."

"So, the defense of Flammis was by conventional means?"

"Largely."

Set turned to the judge and asked, "Are you going to let Kaleb of the hook this easily? Does he get to avoid answering my questions just by saying, 'that is a secret of the Haldus Order'?"

The judge replied, "The Haldus Order is not on trial here. If you were asking questions that were relevant to this trial then I'd ask Kaleb to answer."

"Your bias is showing, Judge. My questions are all relevant."

"I do not see how."

"You do not want to see. This is a show trial designed to get rid of me."

"No." Set and the Judge stared at each other. The judge finally said, "If you are done with the witness-"

"I'm not done. I'm just frustrated by your failure to make the witness testify. However, I'll continue. Set turned around and approached Kaleb. The robots stepped between Set and Kaleb.

Set asked Kaleb, "Describe the conventional defenses of Flammis."

"We mainly depended on a ring of particle beam generators."

"So, you attacked my ship with those artillery pieces?"

"Yes."

"Just to be absolutely clear, you ordered that they fire on my ship."

"Yes."

"Before I attacked Flammis."

"Your ship did not identify itself."

"Is there a navigation message broadcasting in the h.1263522 system warning spaceships to identify themselves?"

"No."

"So you ordered an attack on my ship, with no warning."

"It was clear that you had come to attack Flammis."

"No."

"Yes."

"No. I came looking for you. For an instant I sensed your mind, then you hid yourself." Set suggested, "Just think what would have happened if you had shown yourself and spoken to me."

"You would have interrogated me and killed me, just as you did before to other telepaths."

"So you assumed....then you placed your personal safety ahead of the 2,300 souls you were charged to protect."

"You would have killed me then killed all the others. I hid so as to prevent you from finding and killing even more people, including Megan."

"If, rather than hide, if you had been a man, then we could have returned with Logan to Sakkara and provided his evidence to the authorities."

"I did not know that you were on the attacking ship. Even had I known, I could not have guessed your plans."

"So you hid and opened fire on my ship and brought destruction to your people...because you did not know." Set turned to the judge. "Yes, it looks like a young novice was put in charge, he made poor choices and other people paid with their lives."

The judge asked, "Are you done with the witness?"

Set replied, "I'm just getting to the questions I want to ask. So far this has just been preliminaries."

The judge ordered, "Then get on with it."

After having stood so close to Kaleb for so long, Set was now detecting some of Kaleb's telepathic output. The feel of Kaleb's emotions and the look on his face told Set that Kaleb was not happy about the choices he had made. Set asked, "After Logan died, what did you do?"

Kaleb was silent for a long time, then he wiped a tear from his eye. Set turned to the judge, "Since Kaleb refuses to answer even simple questions, I guess I'll need to call another witness. His sister Megan was there and can answer this question."

The judge looked around the courtroom. "Megan is not here. I still do not-"

Kaleb quietly said, "Leave her out of this."

Set asked, "What did you say?"

Kaleb replied, "I cried."

"What?"

The judge said, "The witness needs to speak louder."

Kaleb repeated. "I cried. After Logan died, I cried."

Set nodded, "I'm more interested in your actions as the one in charge of the defense of Flammis. In particular, 2,300 people died, but you got yourself off that miserable Green planet. How did you do it? Is it your special Haldus Order training that allowed you to walk away while those you were responsible for died?"

For a moment hatred flared again inside Kaleb, then he regained his self control. "After your attack, there was one undamaged spaceship left on Flammis. We used it."

"I see. By 'we', you mean you and Megan."

"Yes."

"But isn't it true that there were other people on Flammis? What happened to them?"

"There were no other survivors. You came in so fast that nobody could be evacuated to the bunkers. I still do not understand how you got there so fast."

"I did not specify 'survivors'. There were two other people on Flammis. What happened to them?"

Kaleb nodded, "Well, there were two off-worlders."

"I know. I left them on Flammis with orders to watch for members of the Haldus Order. When you left the planet, they must have seen your spaceship, or were you cloaked?"

"They were dead before we used the spaceship."

"Dead? They were dead? Let me guess." Set could see the horror in Kaleb's mind. "You killed them."

"Yes." Now Kaleb cried. People in the gallery started talking.

Set went to the table where the defense Counselors sat and he pretended to confer with them. One of the Counselors asked Set, "Why are you badgering the boy? This will not help your case."

Kaleb was getting himself under control. Set returned and got as close to Kaleb as he could, pressing against the robots where they formed a protective wall in front of Kaleb.

Those present in the gallery continued talking. The judge said, "Quiet, please."

Set said, "Let me guess. You tried to escape from Flammis in the ship, but my two crewmen fired on you. You retaliated and killed them."

Kaleb said, "They participated in the attack. They deserved to die."

Set went to the table where the defense Counselors sat and he picked up two booklets. He gave one to the Judge and threw the other to Kaleb. "The two crewmen you killed, they were Drassa, an expert in nanotechnology and Ennekoulm, a psychologist." Set did not bother to mention that he had selected both Drassa and Ennekoulm mainly because of their past military service. "They were not essential to flying my spaceship, so I assigned them to temporary duty on Flammis. They both had families. Ennekoulm had four children. Drassa and Ennekoulm were scientists. They never hurt anyone. You killed them. Was it standard Haldus Order protocol that you followed when you killed them?"

Kaleb did not want to think about how he had killed those two off-worlders. Kaleb had been full of rage and he had simply used his Bushitsu training and snuck up on them. They never knew what hit them. Set grabbed the booklet out of Kaleb's limp fingers and turned to the page showing Ennekoulm's family. "Nice looking kids, Eh? Beautiful wife. But none of that matters to the Haldus Order, does it?"

Kaleb put his face in his hands and wept.

Set turned and spoke to the judge. "There has been a war going on between the Haldus Order and the Spaceship Guild. I blundered into the middle of that war and got caught up the crazy secrecy and spy games. Fine, make me your scapegoat. Pat Kaleb on the back and let him return to the war...call it justice." Set walked back to the where the defense Counselors sat and he said to them, "I'm done."

VerdictEdit

Hieroglyphics

Captain Leto agreed to Kaleb's proposal, and the day after the end Set's trial she reported to the Johann Fritsch Memorial Space Docks on Almaaz to take command of a newly constructed spaceship. Kaleb had made it clear that the Hans Ludendorff B was still undergoing space worthiness trials and that the Haldus Order had not been expecting it to be pressed into service for another year. Leto had commented, "I'll do anything to avoid having to fly a commercial space liner."

Leto found her staff already on board and performing a complete systems diagnostic. There was also a crew of 35 technicians who were carrying out the final detailing work and system integration checks for Hans Ludendorff B. Leto's communications officer greeted her and said, "Kaleb just called in and specified a launch in two hours. Is that going to be possible?"

Leto shook her head, "Sometimes we get paid to do the impossible." She quickly consulted with the crew and found that there were no critical systems problems. The Crew Chief told Leto, "The toilets might not flush, but this heap will fly."

The communications officer told The Captain, "The dock attendant just called, we have passengers on the way."

Leto activated the intercom. "This is your new Captain, Leto. We launch in two hours. Sorry about the short notice. Any crew members who need to bug out, I understand. Come to the main control room for check out...see deck officer Klein. I need a squad of robots to the main airlock, now."

She returned to the main air lock, wondering if Kaleb would bother to provide a passenger list. She chuckled and thought: why not just open the door and see who came aboard?

Leto popped the hatch and saw Leone and Sybil waiting to come in. "Oh, no, not you!"

Leone said, "Thanks for the warm welcome, Captain."

Leto complained, "The poor old Hans Ludendorff only lasted through about an hour of your company."

Sybil was not willing to take the blame, "Send your bill for damages to Ketar...the Antiquist Party can afford to reimburse you."

Leto signaled to a robot and said, "Show these passengers to cabins on the upper deck."

Sybil and Leone boarded the spaceship and Leto could see Set and Portia coming along the docks. Leto had heard about the verdict in Set's trial, so she was not really surprised to see him. She said, "Welcome aboard, Set." She apologized to Portia, "And, um, I'm afraid I forgot your name."

"Portia."

"Oh, yes. Sybil's assistant. Are you the 'Portia' that was mentioned yesterday by the Judge?" When announcing his verdict, the Judge had introduced his ruling by mentioning letters received from Ben Olmo and Portia.

Portia replied, "I assume the Judge was talking about my letter."

Set asked Portia, "What exactly was in your letter to the Judge? After reading a letter from you, I'm surprised he didn't lock me up and throw away the key."

Portia was worried that Set was not feeling enough humility. "Yes, the Judge definitely let you off too easy."

Set shrugged, "He probably just felt sorry for me, since nobody will ever answer my questions."

Portia said, "Oh, I'll tell you what was in my letter. I just don't want to humiliate you by repeating my comments in front of the Captain."

Leto said, "I believe the Judge specifically ordered that steps be taken to deflate Set's ego as part of his rehabilitation. I'm busy now preparing for liftoff, but won't you both join me for dinner? I'd love to hear what was in your letter, Portia."

Portia replied, "Very well. Thank you for the invitation, Captain." They went into the ship with a robot to guide them to their cabins.

Captain Leto called the dock attendant, "Are any other passengers for Hans Ludendorff on their way in?"

"Kaleb and his sister just went through the gate."

"Thanks. Do we have a confirmed time for undocking?"

"Not too busy this evening, Captain. Your departure is the only one scheduled. You can go anytime you want."

Leto called the control room and asked how many crew members would be getting off the ship. The communications officer said, "None that I know of. They seem to be a dedicated group. Anyhow, I told them we'd be back to Haldus within a week, so they all seemed fine with the idea of a quick trip to Earth."

"Right, but don't promise them a chance to set foot on Earth. Ketar's fleet might still be on the prowl." Leto cut the connection to the control room. She could now see Kaleb and Megan coming up the ramp to the airlock. "Welcome aboard."

Kaleb again thanked the Captain for agreeing to take on this assignment on such short notice. Leto shrugged, "The only doubts I had concerned Ketar. When I heard that he was found in his crashed ship and that he was seriously injured, those doubts started to evaporate. I'm willing to risk going back to the Solar System now...particularly if all of our passengers are volunteers for this trip."

Growing up on Flammis, Kaleb and Megan both knew well the horrors of human exposure to the green goo. Somehow Ketar had survived, unconscious and exposed to the goo for almost a day before his crashed ship was found on Earth. Kaleb imagined that Ketar would probably spend the rest of his life wishing he had died in battle. The Captain personally showed Kaleb and Megan to their cabins. "I'll try to have you on the Moon within three days. Please join me for dinner this evening after we launch."

Megan accepted the invitation. "Thank you, Captain, we'll be there."


Three hours later Sybil was watching the Haldus transport grid from the observation balcony in the banquet hall of the Hans Ludendorff B. Set and Portia came into the hall. Portia sat at the Captain's table between the communications officer and the Captain. Set joined Sybil at the window. "I'll be glad to get away from that thing."

Sybil noticed that Set's intense gaze was focused on the transport grid. She asked, "Do you see it too?"

Set could guess what Sybil was talking about. "The colors? Yes, it is beautiful. I find that by concentrating on the shifting pattern I can almost imagine a meaning in it all."

Sybil suggested, "Well, as I interpret the sentence that the Judge imposed on you yesterday, you have been tasked with helping the Order make sense of all this." She gestured towards the grid, but she meant all of the unanswered questions about telepathy and who ever had built the grid.

Set complained, "I'm rather overwhelmed by everything the Judge laid at my feet."

Sybil laughed, "Well, he sentenced you to community service. He specified no fixed duration, so I assume he intended it to be a life sentence."

Set grunted. "Lucky for me I'm an old man."

Sybil laughed. "Ha ha. No excuses! I intend to make sure that you do not cheat your sentence by avoiding the hard work that needs to be done." Sybil reflected on the fact that the Judge had called into question the thousands of years old practice of the Haldus Order hiding its secrets from the rest of humanity. He warned that within a few years it would be possible to start constructing teleguide conduits on all settled worlds. The Judge had not mentioned it explicitly, but based on what she had learned in the Old Temple, Sybil guessed that there would have to be a moratorium on spaceship travel close to conduit arrays in order to prevent spaceship explosions. The judge predicted that there would be a huge demand for space elevator construction and that the economic power base of the Spaceship Guild would be eroded. Sybil asked Set, "Do you believe the Judge was right about the changes that are coming to the galaxy?"

Set shrugged, "Haldus seems to be the technology capitol of the Order. I suspect the Judge knew what he was talking about. Still, I'd be happy to just get back to building elevators on Sakkara." Set would welcome a way to reduce the power held by the Spaceship Guild and the Antiquist Party. If space elevators and teleportation arrays replaced the use of spaceships for travel to and from the surfaces of planets then that would deprive the Spaceship Guild of much income.

Set found himself in an ironic situation. Black hole production in spaceship engines seemed to be the fundamental basis of explosions resulting from teleguide conduits causing antimatter reactors to go out of control. Somehow, the huge T-particle fluxes channeled by the conduits caused black holes inside in antimatter engines to grow and trigger an explosion. The ironic thing was that the Futurist Party's new reactor design completely eliminated the production of black holes. So Set had a choice. He could remain silent about the new reactor design and let the Spaceship Guild suffer loss of their planetary transport monopoly or he could save the Spaceship Guild from financial ruin by spreading word of the new reactor design.

Sybil shook her head and pulled her gaze away from the transport grid. "No, you won't get off that easy. You must realize by now just how special you are. Kaleb wants you for an expedition to Polastis. That's where the Order now plans to try creating a complete teleguide array. Apparently the research team on the old Hans Ludendorff was nearing completion of a replacement conduit for the array. The plan was to try to integrate it into Earth's damaged teleguide array. However, the Order now feels it is not safe to continue working on Earth. Apparently two of the ships in Ketar's fleet limped home to Azur. Polastis is off the beaten track, so Kaleb says that the plan is now to switch off and try to build a functioning teleguide array on Pollastis III. The big fear now is that unless the conduits can be correctly coded, they won't work. Until they find -or you train- some other telepaths who can see the coded signals produced by the conduits you are going to be in demand."

Kaleb had talked to Set about Polastis and he knew the matter was not as simple as what Sybil suggested. Set shook his head. "You realize that story is just an excuse for dragging me off to Polastis, don't you? I told Kaleb that with a T-particle detector it is possible to automate detection of the coded signals that are emitted by the conduits. He's a liar and I know it." Set pointed to his head, "I can read Kaleb like a book. There is some secret at Polastis that the Order needs help with, but nobody wants to tell me what is going on."

Sybil could tell that it would be difficult working with Set on any basis other than complete honesty and openness. Set grabbed Sybil's hand. There was a flash of "light" when their hands touched and Set got a glimpse into Sybil's mind. "Not you too! See, even you are keeping the secret from me. This won't do."

Sybil yanked her hand away from Set. "Stop peeping into people's minds, Set. It's rude. Look, there are too many things up in the air right now. Give it some time and give the Haldus Order some space. We really are still trying to recover from the loss of Flammis and the old Hans Ludendorff. Luckily all of the research data from the Hans Ludendorff was backed up at Haldus, so all their work can be replicated. The Haldus star system is a major center for telepathy research, but I understand that Flammis was also important, so future work will be slowed. Many people are never going to forgive you for the attack on Flammis, even if it is your discovery of the conduit codes that ultimately makes teleportation possible. Anyhow, you can't expect the secrecy habits of four millennia to crumble over night."

Set chuckled, "You'd be surprised at the kinds of things I can expect. In case you have not noticed, I'm an idealist and a Futurist and a dreamer."

Everyone had now arrived for dinner and the Captain struck her glass with a knife. The room became quiet and Leto spoke, "Welcome aboard the first flight of the Hans Ludendorff B. For those of the crew who I have not yet had a chance to meet, I must introduce myself. I am Captain Leto. I will meet with each of you individually before we reach Earth. Well, we are actually going to Earth's Moon, but if we have time, shore leave on Earth will be arranged. Now, before we dine, I want to warn you that our first jump will come in about a two days, after we have climbed out of the Haldus gravity well. For those of you suffering from the effects of being close to the grid, I'm sorry, but until we either reconstruct a functioning conduit array or find an intact one on some planet, there is no quick way out of this star system. I'll get us to the jump point as quickly as possible, so expect high gee conditions starting soon after dinner. But after the long climb, we'll make a couple of quick jumps and then we'll be in the Sol System and less than a day's travel from the Moon. Now, please enjoy your meal."

Portia was the hit of dinner. She ate little and spent most of the meal talking, first describing the long letter she had sent to the Judge then going into a detailed account of the time during her abduction by Set. She spoke at her usual high speed. Most of those at the Captain's table had never heard the story of how Set had discovered the conduit array, so they were enchanted by her story, which she told with flair. During desert, dance music started to play and the communications officer asked Portia to dance.

Set was left sitting with the Captain as they watched the dancers. Leto mused, "Well, now I know what Portia said to the Judge...and I feel like I know her life story."

Set mumbled, "An hour listening to Portia talking only seems like a lifetime."

Leto laughed. "She's an interesting young woman...don't you think?"

Set shrugged, "She reminds me of Katherine, which makes me sad." Having said that, Set realized that Portia reminded him of Amethyst. He started thinking about the Moon.

Leto asked, "So, now all I need to know is: who is Ben Olmo? Clearly it was not Portia's letter that got you a light sentence."

"Light sentence? That foolish judge put me into a position where people now expect me to solve 200 years worth of the galaxy's troubles. It's absurd." For a minute Set thought about Salvaje. Really, he was the one who had started it all by expecting Set to bring to the Galaxy the truth about the destruction of Earth. Salvaje had been certain that the Antiquist Party just needed to be held accountable for its actions, but Set now knew that it was more complex than that. However, it looked like the whole galaxy would eventually know the truth. Not this week or next year, but maybe within ten or twenty years. At the very least the Haldus Order secrets related to teleportation would come out and with teleportation on the galactic stage the power of the Spaceship Guild would wither away.

Leto saw that Set was lost in thought. She tapped his arm and repeated, "Ben Olmo?"

Set tried to think of what to say to the Captain. Surely Salvaje wanted no attention on his little community. "Olmo is just one of many who want the truth about Earth to be known. And I think he is right. That is the key to everything. Humanity is crippled as long as our history is hidden and replaced by lies."

The Captain frowned, "Well, I suppose you know better than I ever can, you are the telepath, I'm just a mere mortal."

Set muttered, "I never asked for telepathy. I'd gladly give it up and just go back to building elevators with Katerine. That would have been a good life."

Later, when everyone was heading back to their cabins, Leto said good night to Set. "You know, the only people who can be trusted with great responsibility are those who do not seek it out...those who are forced to take up a great task. I trust you, Set."

Set felt embarrassed by the Captain's words. "Well, I hope this all works out. I'll need all the help I can get."


Three days later the Hans Ludendorff B entered into orbit around the Moon. Sybil, Portia, Kaleb and Megan took a life boat down to Tranquillitatis base where Kalid was recovering and now was no longer in critical condition. Leone transferred over to the spaceship of the Martian Militia which had finally come to the Moon to pick up Felice.

Before going down to the surface, Sybil had said to Leone, "I thought you'd want to at least meet Kalid after having gone half way across the galaxy searching for him."

Leone said, "I'm anxious to get back to Sakkara. I'll go to Mars and get my spaceship and then come back to pick up you and Portia. Maybe I'll have a chance to see Kalid then."

At Tranquillitatis base, Kaleb and Megan rushed to Kalid and embraced him. After they had a chance to catch up with each other, Sybil, Portia, Kaleb and Megan took Kalid out of the hospital for dinner. Kalid started the meal with a toast to Logan and "all those lost to us", then he seemed to enjoy the outing. He asked, "So, what should we make of the coded signals Set found coming from the conduits? And where is Set, any how?"

Sybil suggested, "I think he did not want to face you. He really does feel bad about what happened on Flammis."

Kalid shook his head, "Not a minute goes by that I'm not sorry for leaving Flammis that day, but none of us can live in the past. The future is here now."

Portia said, "I spent a lot of time looking at those codes. I studied codes in school. What I think is...you know, a language is a code."

Sybil nodded and said, "Hieroglyphics."

Only Kalid knew what she meant. "Yes, imagine a language that is discovered, say carved in stone on Polastis III. How can we hope to understand such a language. Can we hope to even recognize the digitized and coded language of the beings who built the Haldus grid?"

Kaleb said, "The Temple Master of Almaaz is planning an expedition to Polastis. People are saying that if we are going to build a new conduit and activate the teleportation array on Polastis III then we are going to have to break the conduit code. It looks like there has to be some complex communication between the Haldus grid and the conduit array in order to achieve accurate teleportation."

Kalid said, "We shall see. The future is always a great adventure! Thank you all for coming and updating me on everything. I think it is safe to say that the galaxy is changing...it is time to break the grip of the Spaceship Guild and bring the galaxy out of its slumber. I've been feeling very isolated here. I'm ready to get back to work. I'd love to go back to Polastis. I was there once, during the evacuation, after the conduit array was destroyed. I flew a ship full of the blast survivors back to Sakkara. I'll never forget their look of emptiness and loss, particularly the orphans. I've often wondered what happened to those lost little children..."

Megan said, "There are some bits of information that came up during Set's trial that you should know..." They explained to Kalid that Set was born on Polastis III, orphaned by the explosion and then moved to Sakkara.

Kalid nodded, "We could check the records, but I suspect I was the one who transported Set to Sakkara...he would have been about three years old at the time. I am pleased that he has now decided to use his telepathic powers for the good of the galaxy."

It was late and Sybil said her goodbyes to Kalid, "I'll be returning to Sakkara with Leone. I hope to see you on your next visit to Sakkara. We have several very promising potential initiates awaiting your attention."

Portia had a question for Kalid, "When you refused to initiate me into the Order, did you foresee my future?"

Kalid signaled that Portia should come close. He took her hands and said, "Your mind is as before...I could tell that you would never develop much telepathic power. However, I did sense that you would play an important role for the Order, so I asked Sybil to watch over you. I think everything worked out well, don't you?"

Portia smiled and nodded. She had long been haunted by self-doubts and anguish over not being allowed into the Circles, but Kalid's comments filled her with joy.

Sybil wondered if everything had worked out well. Sybil had grown up with Glen and she was sad that he had been destroyed. She commented, "I'm sorry that Glen was lost in the battle on Earth. He deserved a better fate."

Portia shrugged, "Now we can get a modern robot." And she was thinking: what a relief it will be to have one that I can talk to!


Set took a lifeboat down to the surface of the Moon. Captain Leto arranged for some special docking equipment and Set went down with a robot.

Set let the robot fly the lifeboat. He could see the Earth sitting in space, its green clouds almost seemed to glow. For a moment Set once again wondered about Polastis. What was the big secret about Polastis III that nobody would talk about? Set put that question aside. Eventually, if the Haldus Order really wanted his help they would have to let him in on that secret. The other question haunting Set concerned Earth. If it was a combination of conduit activity and a nearby antimatter reaction that had destroyed Egypt, then who had been using the conduit?

The robot landed the lifeboat on the little landing pad on the rim of Shackleton Crater. Set explained to the machine, "Just wait until I get into the elevator, then detach the docking ring and return to Orbit."

Set had no trouble getting into the elevator. He was amused that there were no locks or keys needed to get in. He nervously undressed besides the little pool of water where he had first gotten his lunar baptism. Could he navigate the maze of water-filled tunnels? He thought so: he could just keep moving towards the nearby telepathic signals. He could clearly sense the mind patterns of Salvaje and Amethyst. More importantly, Set was now able to sense the positions of both the Sun and the "Eye of Haldus". He chuckled to himself, "It's like having a built in compass." thumb|480px|right|Watch this video after completing the story. Set felt a little silly about sneaking in like this. He had tried to call from orbit, but had gotten no reply. Officials at Tranquillitatis base told him that there was no known way to communicate with Salvaje's little community at Shackleton...they would only speak by radio when it served their needs.

Set told himself: Salvaje will be pleased to hear about the changes that are coming to the Galaxy. He took a deep breath and dove into the water. After ten minutes of swimming, panic started to set in. He decided that he was swimming in circles because the tunnels were circles leading nowhere. He tried to go back to the entrance, but now he could not find any places from which to leave the water-filled tunnels...all he could find were the regularly spaced air pockets for breathing. Telepathic signals now seemed to be on all sides, so he was sure he was in the heart of the base. He was focusing on Amethyst's mind pattern and Set now felt that she was very close. Suddenly the water seemed to flash with colors. Amethyst took hold of Set's hand and pulled him to an opening.

Their heads came out of the water and Amethyst said, "What were you doing in there? These tunnels are designed to lead nowhere unless we open the exits."

Set felt foolish, but happy to see Amethyst. "I tried to call you, but nobody seems to know how to make contact with this base. How did you find me?"

Amethyst explained, "You triggered the alarm, then I recognized you. Come on." She pulled Set out of the water. She looked at Set's chest, "What happened to your hair?" Set had remove the hair from most of his body. Amethyst commented, "Well, I approve. You almost look human." She pointed to her head, "Anyhow, I could sense that it was you, and that you were lost."

Set smiled. He looked at the swirl of colors where Amethyst held onto his hand and he found that he could make sense of some of the patterns in the T-particle emissions from her brain. "No, I'm not lost." He looked at the flashes of color where their hands met and then at the colors in the 'Eye of Haldus'...there was something similar in the patterns. "Not any more."

THE END.

Note: now that you have read the novel you might want to read some more details about the characters and major plot elements of the story. Also, you can help write the next Kalid novel.

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