«Welcome back to life.» began Harp. «You are now free from the prison your body had become. Sorry we had to almost kill you to rebuild it, but the body had sustained so much damage since you were conceived we had to go that far.»
«Am I dead?»
«How to explain this? You were dead. Not physically dead, but mentally dead. Your body was reduced to a biological machine, with a nervous system so split up you had no coherent representative construction of your universe. We had to repair everything, rebuild you from the first cell up. We call this L5 cybernetic organism or, L5 Cyborg for short. We strongly disapprove of this and plan to track whomever did this to bring them into account. Now,, you are not only alive, but fully restored to what nature intended for you to be. You and the two others, which we had to rebuild as well.»
«I am... hungry?»
«Sip the water. It is only water; we will introduce you to an increasingly more solid diet as time passes. Your entire body must relearn basic reflexes... sucking on a straw, which, by the way, was included in the original rewiring of your body by those that made the extensive modifications, was kept intact during reconstruction because it has some advantages. However, you will need to relearn swallowing, intestinal motility, disposal of garbage, retention until you reach a proper disposal area, locomotion, and motor and visual co-ordination, balance, the ability to walk, to speak, and to understand languages. We did implement respiratory reflexes, added thermal controls, improved your oxygen exchange so you could keep your body warm, and, well, a series of reflexes that had been destroyed or were never there in the first place. We also implanted our language. Your species probably had its own language, but that was destroyed and replaced by a ternary subset tailored to control machines directly. It is kept, but will now require wilful access for you to use it, much like a second language. Atlantean, our language, will come quickly as you get exposed to us.»
«Water... sweet...» mentioned the Dinosaur after taking a few sips.
«We added sugar, so you could have energy. It will be your diet for a short time; we will gradually add more variety. We are currently testing your responses to what we have easily available by using an avatar to run allergic tests on.»
«An avatar is a biological model. It is designed to map you to the cellular level and allows us to verify if what we plan to do will work as intended. That is why we use a sweet-laced water. Sugar is one of the most simple thing to produce. We plan to add other types of molecules as we run them by the avatar to verify their non-toxicity.»
«My current form family is Mammal. Your form family is Saurian, class Dinosaur, Sub-class Therapod. We are well aware this classification is arbitrary and that you actually only share the form, but have no link to the Saurians of our Planet, or, for that matter, all those Planets were we found similar forms. It is only the result of convergence, not of family bindings.»
«Well, from what we learned, your species is an egg-laying kind, with oviparity as the means of reproduction; Mammals are viviparous, meaning their young are born alive and mobile, well, relatively, that is. Some Saurians and Fishes are also viviparous, but it is the exception rather than the rule. You were initially designed to be warm-blooded, but the ones that did all these changes removed that primordial aspect of your body function. We now have fixed that issue and brought you back to warm-blooded. You will need to eat more, and your metabolism will be faster... and require more Oxygen.»
«Why we fixed you? So you could recover your autonomy. We are not interested in keeping you bound. As to why the changes were made to you initially... we assume it was to keep you under control. Everything we found lets us believe the changes were made to enslave you and exercise tight control on your actions, from food intake to body heat to reproduction, not forgetting the full control of your displacement, what you could see, hear, taste, or smell, pain and recompenses, every aspect was under tight control. We disapprove of this, very strongly.»
«Why not hear, not taste?»
«You are in what is called a Stasis Pod, where we rebuilt you. We will gradually introduce you to new feelings. We could do it quickly, but you might be in pain. To prevent this, the senses will gradually get exposed to more and more stimuli, until you can withstand our environment.»
«That is expected. Rest. As you sleep, your senses will be exposed to more sensory feed. If things go as planned, you should be out of this pod within a day or two. A day is a time period. As you have no common time frame of reference with us, it is difficult to exchange on that base.»
Harp took an hour-long break and tacked the next Dinosaur. Things went as well for the other two as it had for the first one, and the wake-up team retired to the Royal Suite to rest.
"Hey guys, how was your day?"
"Not bad, Ian, not bad."
"I heard along the grapevines that you restored a Therapod?"
"Restored, restored... a big word," replied Harp.
"Well, from our first discussions, Sitar wanted to skin them cell layer by cell layer. What changed?"
"We do not blame Slaves for their actions, Ian. And Slaves they were, to the point they could not even pee without a command to do so. They are, well, I should say were, well underway to become cybernetic biological machines," commented Sitar.
"Disgusting! Who would do that kind of crap?"
"A power-hungry megalomaniac, that's who. The thing is, as you know, we have met different species in the process of being robotised. We have yet to find the driving force behind this. Remember the Borgs? Or, for that matter, the first neural interfaced Humans just prior to the nuclear war on Earth? These Therapods were in an early stage of integration, but further on their way to complete integration than Humans," completed Enron.
"I wonder who..."
"It is not a question of who, Ian, at least I hope not... but if this is not a natural development in the growth of life."
"Colibri, you want to make me sick or what? You are trying to make me swallow the pill that life wants to be robotised? If you want to pull a leg, at least, use the middle one!"
"Ian, I know you have seen a lot, and done just as much, but well, so do not play naïve, okay? Life tries many paths in its effort to insure survival, and robotisation is certainly one such option. Remember the Crystons, that are based on silicon, much like the young 'Tortoises' we have been using as miners for resources in mineral-rich Planets? The Crystons were on the verge of inserting silicon chips in the brains to speed up their analytic capabilities. Right now, the Therapods we collected had those chips in their brain."
"As long as it is not a chip on their shoulders!" Enron said, producing a short burst of well-needed hilarity.
"And what is going to happen from where we stand?" pursued Ian.
"First, we rest. Then we have a family meeting, so we can put everyone on the same page. After that... we decide if we extend the project to these other ships; and if so, what would be the required resources, if we can automate the process, and what not, and finally, we decide if the Therapods can be safely added to the crews of Thebes."
"Therapods are predatory Dinosaurs, Ian. On the Earth, they produced such things as the Tyrannosaur. If you want to see them in action send a robot in the Jurassic Tessaract... and watch them while the robot survives."
"Hey, I always wanted to see them close! Where is it?"
"You, young brother, will see them from the safety of your monitor, got it?" grumbled Colibri. "These are not cuddly little pets!"
"So, Sitar, you say that we should work at recovering these Therapods?"
"Yes, Dad. They are, to the best of my knowledge, the first Dinosaurs we found that have intelligence worthy of space travel, well, except for some species of Birds."
"Remarkable, since you are usually 'Mister' Blood and Guts. They must have impressed you!"
"It is not their fighting ability, since I know nothing of it, it is purely the fact that they can operate a space-ship that impresses me."
"Are you sure they can without the external influence of their comptrollers? After all, we never saw them outside of that set of pods."
"Harp and Paschal asked them to operate one of ours in a simulation mode. After some training, they were good enough. We put them in a virtual Scout, and they did well, very well."
"I see. Do they control their reaction when it comes to others?"
"Yes. Once properly fed, we stop being seen as walking food. I am relatively certain we will have little problem with them. Given, they are predators, and I think it would be good to offer them some exercise with a hunting Tessaract or two, but otherwise, I see no issue. Right now, I would give them the occasion to prove themselves with the Hunter Scouts, and, once we have insured their integration is complete, I would put them in charge of policing the Hulgraes and the other bad Boys of our ship."
"I think I will get popcorn and watch the fight between them and the Wonts! It will be epic!"
"What, Harp? It will be..."
"Given the Wonts have no sense of self-preservation and do not know when it is time to give up, it will be a blood-bath!"
"So? I am not about to forget the Elevation department's efforts at having us killed! They are too easy to manipulate into doing the wrong thing to be left around."
"I agree they are unsafe, Mom, but there is a difference between demoting them and practically exposing them to genocide! Even their Children are more dangerous than a pack of Wolves with Rabies. They will be killed to the last!"
"Then rebuild them from the first cell up, rewiring their brain in the process. Simple..."
"Never booked you on the blood-thirsty side, Mom! I thought I had the market cornered!"
"Sitar, when it comes to my Children, you have seen nothing about blood-thirsty!"
The tone sent shivers down everyone's back. The Empress was serious, very serious.
"So, Sitar, strategically, how do we deal with the Therapods?" asked the Emperor.
"We need to do two things: Number one: locate the control source. Second, jam it."
"Seems simple enough..."
"Given their signals are in the form of Anti-Neutrinos, not so easy. And they seem to have relays, which is not surprising given this battlefield covers something in the order of 6,000 cubic light-years, seems to be a requisite."
"Six thousand cubic light-years??? This is nuts, Ian!"
"It is, Mom. Paschal, I wanted to ask you how we managed to intercept the Anti-Neutrinos once we had their Scout ship in the belly of Thebes?"
"Oh that... It is a side-effect of what constitutes the core of Thebes' construction material, namely, Orichalque. An area enveloped in Orichalque is a neutrino void."
"That is problematic, Paschal. We can not reasonably envision building a container measuring 6,000 cubic light-years!" exclaimed Colibri.
"No, that is impossible. But we could envelop the repeaters. They must be considerably smaller! Numerous, but smaller..."
"That is a good idea, Paschal."
"Thank you for your praise, Dad."
"I have put Tom and Jerry on identifying and determining the distribution of the repeaters, but it will not be easy. As you already know, the moment they see one of our pieces of equipment, they converge on it, ablaze in fire-power... which leads to our losing material before we can get a fix on anything."
"Good initiative, Bjorn. Any suggestions as to how to proceed?"
"Let me see... there is a Comet moving towards their current position. We might be able to use it to carry some passive sensors in its core, but the addition of these sensors must not be detected in any way. That means no change in overall density, no change in luminosity, no change in trajectory, no change whatsoever in the behaviour of the Comet or its signature."
"That will not be easy, Bjorn."
"I know Dad," replied a worried Harp. "What worries me is summarised by two things: how to collect the data, and how to recover it. Most of our data collection methods are active and the moment we send out sensor signals, the result is a lesson in particle physics."
"What if you put your sensors in a Comet, send it back in time, way, way before now, and then recover it from the future? That way, the Comet would look natural, and could actually combine passive and active sensors since the Comet would have been at work doing just that in the area well before they showed interest in it?"
"Jerry, that is a good idea! A very good one!"
"And bend light so it looks to be elsewhere to their sensors..."
"Tom, you impress me..."
"I may be a slow learner, but it taught me patience..."
"How do you bend light without using mass?" asked Ian. "I can not fathom any gain being had by putting out fake Suns to produce a gravitational lens."
"Oh, come on, remember the prism? It bends light quite easily, Ian. It was used by Isaac Newton to study sunlight by creating artificial rainbows! If a drop of Water bends light..."
"We are talking about bending neutrinos here, not electromagnetic particles!"
"Here, Harp comes into play. Remember his wave model of the propagation of magic..."
"My field theory of Magic, which, may I remind you, Paschal, had some flaws that got partially addressed by the string model of particles, itself incomplete and that needed a quantum model, itself unsatisfactory..."
"Harp, has it ever occurred to you to combine all these models together and try to resolve the inconsistencies by creating a super-model? Anyway, that is not the question, here. What we need is a way to bend the sensor beams so that they do their job without guiding them to the Comet. And to send the result the same way..."
"Send the signals through time. I doubt they could do anything about that."
Everyone looked at Tom with a shocked look, mouth agape.
"Damn it Tom, are you trying to take my place?" exclaimed Paschal.
Tom shrugged and pulled a tongue, smirking. "Keep it simple, I won't add the S word after the coma, as I do not want to insult your intelligence."
"When time travel becomes simple, it is time for me to retire!" mumbled Paschal, with a nod from Harp, who was close enough to hear his older brother's comment.
"Okay, how do we implement these brilliant ideas?"
"Annabelle, I was enjoying myself watching our Sons cutting a humongous problem into manageable pieces, and here you come asking for the nitty-gritty..."
"Women are people of the practical, what can I say?"
As Harold was opening his mouth to reply, Diamondcutter intervened: "Harold, roll your eyes, bite your tongue, but, for the grace of the Universe, keep your mouth shut! We do not need a nuclear war in the Ready Room... or in the Royal Bedroom, for that matter. I am sleeping alone due to my Wife's indisposition, and, even with a Bear skin to cover my bed couch and a thick wall separating our suites, when Annabelle gets into arctic mood, the walls of my room get covered in ice! The lack of a bed warmer... Oh shit! What have I just said? Mama!" Diamondcutter ran out of the room, thunder booming behind him, as lightning flashes tried to roast his arse. Annabelle was well-known for the storms she could create in a flash... much like Harold and the other Royals. The Dwarf ex-King took a sliding dive for the elevator as a series of cup-sized flying saucers passed at where used to be his neck, and rolled into the elevator, pushing the lowest button with a finger frantically as he hugged the floor. Behind him, he heard the unmistakable noise of breaking porcelain, and the whizz of other cup holders coming from the Ready Room. As the elevator panels closed, he heard the flying saucers crash on the closing door, and one even managed to turn on its side to enter the cabin before the door finished closing, only to explode into shards as it hit the back wall. Diamondcutter let out a breath of relief as the cabin dropped like a stone, only to gulp in fear as the pieces of porcelain shrapnel rose from the floor as the elevator dropped and created a zero-gravity situation. The collection of pieces began turning on itself forming a miniature tornado, shocking the Dwarf Lord. The elevator suddenly went to 3 G, and the pieces, due to their momentum, or lack thereof, sped upward and were partially aspired by the cabin's fan, while the biggest pieces got stuck in the grid. Luckily for him, the elevator cabin suddenly stopped, and he felt like an enormous animal was seated on his back. The moment the door opened, Diamondcutter made a mad dash for it, and turned in the next door, which happened to be a staircase, and he jumped to the next lowest level, not even bothering to use the steps. After doing that three more times, landing four stories lower, he exited the stairwell and ran randomly around the level, until he ran out of breath.
"That Women is a mental case!" he breathed out, only to hear Annabelle's sweet voice on the speaker of the room.
"I know where you are... and I heard you!"
Diamondcutter peed himself and resumed his frantic search for a safe haven. He tried to hide in a toilet cubicle, only to be doused by water from the throne, as a natural gas explosion in the pipe forced the water out violently enough to reach the ceiling.
"So, Thorsten, you have plotted the trajectory of the Comet back in time? What is the best situation for intercept?"
"Some 7,252 years ago, Thebes time-line. It will be passing through a thick dark cloud of dust that will hide it from any view."
"And Paschal? What about your part in this?"
"I figured it would be good too. The dust will cover our intervention. It will look like this thing dates from far older than it really would. The light benders were the most difficult to design, but I've done some tests. Unless they know of gravitational lenses, they will be unable to locate the Comet until it is way too close to be of effect, and the fact that the dust will really have been deposited for 7,252 years will in effect hide any relation between us and it."
"What about the data?"
"It will be stored within the iron matrix of the Comet. From what we are planning, the nature of the Comet matches our needs: a thick layer of ice enveloping a pure iron core, and a thick layer of dust. It is as if we already did the changes... In fact, it was listening to its natural signals that gave me the guide for the active sensor array inside the iron core."
"If it is already fixed, why bother sending some tools back in time?"
"Dad! Who said what we are observing is not the result of our intervention? Playing with time does have some strange effects, you know."
"When will we know if it is us that tailored the Comet?"
"When the tools return from their trip in the past and we examine the before-after form of the Comet. Normally, a Comet is mostly ice. That this one, which we need, is an iron core is an indication that something did happen. But was it us? Was it some other life?"
"Time travel tool kit ready for launch?"
"Yes Harp," replied Paschal.
"Yes!" replied Ian.
"Shield active!" Sitar commented. "Weapons on-line!"
"Port on my mark! Mark!"
A six-mile wide 'tool kit' disappeared from one of the numerous and very cavernous ship bays found inside of Thebes.
"Minus 100, minus 200, minus 400, minus 800, minus 1600, minus 3,200... reversal of flow... minus 4800, minus 5600, minus 6000, minus 6200, stabilising, minus 6400, minus 6800, minus 7000, minus 7200... slowing to a stop, minus 7225, minus 7250, minus 7251, minus 7252... out of time stream! Transit successful."
"Thank you, Enron. Sensors?"
"Sensors active. Comet detected, 55,200 kilometres away, heading our way. Minor ship activity detected outside of dust cloud. We are hidden. The Comet should 'capture' us in 2.5 hours," Sitar reported.
"Okay, coffee break. Verify all tools report back functional."
"Before coffee break, Harp, I would like to report that the ships outside the clout are similar to the scout we captured. However, they exchange on a totally different bandwidth, and seem to be fighting some sort of invasion fleet."
"That poses a dilemma... Do we send intervention forces back in time or not?"
"A good question, Timor. There are pros and cons. Pros: we help them and knock the wind out of these assholes... cons: it would change time flow much more than just tinkering with a Comet, a much worse situation."
"We usually tinker a lot when we rescue..."
"True, Timor, but we rescue as last resort for a species. Sitar, do you think we could at least pick some?"
"We could, but what if those we pick had a major role later in their resistance?"
"Good point. Playing with time-lines is a pain in the butt."
"And you know a lot about that, Harp!"
"Thorsten! What happens in our bedchamber is to stay in our bedchamber!"
"Back to business, you two..."
"Business, business... Sitar, you have no fun! Anyway, the 'Comet in time' task is under Harp's command. What is your decision, Harp?"
"Decisions, decisions, Timor! Grr! We leave them as is. Focus on the Comet."
Time passed slowly as the Atlanteans watched the Comet get nearer. Their tool kit slowly fell into an elongated orbit that gradually smoothed out into an ellipse.
"We are in orbit. Sensors! Cometic composition?"
"Mostly ice, so far! Yet it is the Comet we are looking for..." reported Sitar.
"Mostly iron, native, resulting from a star explosion. We are at the edge of an expanding dust cloud produced by a supernova, that is about 10 centigrade, or 283.15 Kelvin. It is a long way from thermal equilibrium with space, which is 2.7 Kelvin. The Comet's surface is dirty liquid water, and it is currently warming up as it travels through the dust cloud."
"That is perfect. Send the drills and open a channel to the core. Colibri, collect some water to check for microbial life. It's a golden occasion to test the Panspermia theory. Nestor, you old Goat, you complain you have nothing to do. Well, now you do: Use Magic to collect the dust. Use the last class of Mages ready to graduate to create a memory matrix within the Comet's icy core. Do not forget to log with Paschal for sensor interfaces. Get to work!"
"Old Goat, old Goat! You are lucky you are too old for a good spanking!"
"Do not suggest it, Nestor, he might drop his non-existent pants and Moon you to see if you would do it!"
"Thorsten! Zip it!"
"I don't have anything to zip, Harp, as I'm as bare-arsed as you are!"
Hours passed as the core of the Comet was melted to be replaced by the sensor arrays designed by Paschal, and the cave was filled with arrays of iron oxide that were set to register everything the Comet met as it travelled through space. The last stage was melting the outer crust of ice to fill in the space left between the arrays an the original icy crust. Once this stage was done, the Comet was watched as it kept warm by colliding with the star dust, and became gradually dirtier from the amount of micro-meteorites it collected. Any trace of Atlantean intervention disappeared.
"Count-down to call-back of tool box... five minutes!" ordered Harp. "Trajectory of Comet?"
"Mass is consistent with a prolonged collection of dust. Trajectory will gradually adjust to fit planned path. Given the dust cloud density, the Comet will exit at the reception point on time and on trajectory."
"Good, Thorsten. Two minutes to recovery... Recovery on my mark. Mark!"
The tool box reappeared in its berth inside Thebes, where its surface was carefully checked for any contaminant, and cleared of dust. Enron rapidly collected his water samples and ported them directly to the sterile environment of his microbial laboratory. He had work.
"So, what now?" asked Jerry.
"Now, we take a well-deserved nap. I, for one, have a mouth to zip!" said Harp, looking devilishly toward Thorsten.
"Dad! Protect me from the big bad Dragon!" said Thorsten, running behind Diamondcutter.
"You made your bed, Son. Sleep in it!" replied the old Dwarf.
"I expect everyone back in twelve hours for the recovery of the Comet," ordered Harp, dragging Thorsten by his stiff appendage.
"Ah, Harp! Just the one I wanted to see..."
"Yes, Dad, what can I do for you?"
"Apart from keeping me awake all night with more than explicit sounds with your Boyfriend, you mean? I was wondering when you plan to take out the three Saurians."
"Hey, it can't be more noisy than you two!" replied Harp as he eyed the Imperial couple. "Trying to make me another Brother?"
"You know as well as I that I can not safely carry to birth after Ian, so please abstain from twisting the blade in the wound!"
"Oh, sorry Mom. You know, I am sure Colibri and Enron could reset the clock back by rebuilding the Fallopian Tubes."
"And risk two more Ectopic pregnancies? No way! Two events like that took all the fun out of pregnancies, and made me sterile."
"Back to my question, nosy one!"
"Noisy one!" added the Empress.
"Oh yes, my ears still ring with 'Deeper! Deeper! Faster! Ohhh! Faster!' in your voice and Thorsten's baritone replying 'I only have eight inches, Harp!' followed by your comment 'What is the use of Magic if you can not add some inches down there?' squeal of frustration as the bed kept banging on the wall."
Harp's red inferno face was all it took to get the entire Bridge crew to blow up in laughter. The heat all but evaporated the water in the pitcher on the Emperor's desk.
"I wonder how long is too long, Son?" Diamondcutter asked.
"What do you mean Dad? Time-wise or length-wise?" replied Thorsten, taking the Dwarf King by surprise.
"Too much information, Diamondcutter, way, way too much information!"
"Although, Annabelle, it might explain why these two installed a high-pressure flushing system in most of the toilets," commented Emperor Harold.
"We missed some? Where? And it is not only for us, you know. Some of our species have hard stools... Take for instance Rocky... His faeces are pellets of iron, in case you are not aware, and tend to clog the pipe elbows," noted Enron.
"Anyway, to answer your question, we are taking them out today, after we collect the Comet. I think they will be interested in what we find and help us figure out what to do," Harp informed the Bridge crew.
"And we will be bringing them to the Bridge for introductions... once we have names for them. They are known by numbers only, which we told them smacked of machinery pieces. They agreed, and have been discussing the need for another form of identifying label, including for their species," added Sitar.
After a nod, the cometary recovery team moved to the Exoportal control room.
"Right, everyone to his station! Thirty minutes to recovery!" ordered Harp. "Verify all controls."
"Trajectory in accordance to plan!" noted Enron.
"Time lock in step!" commented Colibri.
"Sensors report positive reading. Data collection still in progress. The Comet should be out of enemy territory in five minutes. It is ignored. One Scout of theirs made a flyby ahead of the Comet but ignored it completely."
"Good. Surface state?"
"Ice at 4.1 Kelvin, still not in thermal equilibrium with space, but on an asymptotic curve to it," Timor replied. "That is to be expected since the core emits heat, and the surface shields it from space due to the thick layer of dust it has accrued over time."
Time passed slowly, as is common while one waits for an event or a condition to be met.
"Comet out of enemy space. Twenty-five minutes to pick-up."
"Establish first shield contact!"
"Shield contact established, but not activated yet."
"Good, Sitar, monitor enemy activity."
"No response to our contact. The Comet is shielding our Neutron beam. The surface is not heating up yet, as the heat is distributed by the metallic surface now covering the Comet."
Time passed... At ten minutes to pickup, Paschal noted the time, and requested the activation of the time shield.
"Sitar, enemy activity?"
"Comet is ignored."
"That gives us ample time for pick-up. From the moment the shield activates and the information reaches them in six hours, we will have had the Comet in our breasts for six hours and all the data out, should we need to use it as a diversion."
"Activate time shield!"
"Comet surface heating up slowly. Shields active. Five to pick-up!"
"Pick-up Exoportal to Bridge! Move to intercept in five!" ordered Harp. The Stellar ship moved in the way of the Comet, matching its speed and parabolic trajectory. Slowly, the distance diminished and suddenly, the Comet disappeared from outer space.
"Port successful. Data extraction?"
"Computer bridging is being established." replied Paschal. "That will take about half an hour."
"Just enough time to take the Therapods out of the Stasis Pods. Enron, Colibri, with me."
«Okay, guys, we're back. We are taking you out of the Stasis Pods. All indications are that you have recovered proper sensory feedback, proper filtering of ambient noise, and proper muscular mass and co-ordination for your body mass. You also have established proper homeostasis, so you should not feel too hot or too cold. If you do feel slightly uncomfortable, give your body time to adjust. Any questions?»
«Enron, take Stasis Pod T1, Colibri, take Stasis Pod T2, and I will handle T3.»
«Why these labels?»
«Enron, Colibri, and Paschal designed these Stasis Pods especially to reconstruct you and remove the damage done during the conversion to L5 Cyborgs. They are specific to your species. The T is a sort of reminder for us of the Therapod looks you share with long lost ancestors of Humans. We, as Atlanteans, have merged with Humans, so, in a way, share that ancestry. Stage 1: Equilibrium test! All green!» The others reported the same. «Unlock the covers. Unlocking complete. Covers raising. Done. Pods dropping to floor level. Okay, you can stand. Turn toward us, please.»
The rather big Dinosaurs, measuring over 12 feet in height, stood up, looking down at the puny Humanoids.
«Follow us, please. The next step is drying you up using dry air.»
The Therapods followed them to the air vents and looked around.
«Stay put. We can not share since the wind will blow us off our feet. It will take a few instants for the drying cycle to complete. We will be just outside.»
The Therapods watched the Mammals walk out and suddenly felt a powerful wind almost lift them off their feet.
"The Mammals were right! They would have been blown off by that gale. But it reminds me of my childhood, before I got captured!"
"You are lucky to have those memories. I was hatched in captivity and never felt this before!"
"All these memories are not good. The capture also spelled pain as those who captured us tortured us to fix what they saw as threats. I wish I could forget. At least, the way these Mammals fixed us was painless, for which I will always be grateful."
The hurricane blast slowed and stopped. Colibri, Enron, and Harp walked back in.
"Okay, that is done. Next, we need to find you names. First, a collective name for your species. Any ideas?"
"I tried remembering how we called ourselves, but I can not."
"That probably got erased from your memory banks as it was useless for those you were only seen as tools for."
"Can you help?"
"Well, you do match one of our ancestors' size and appearance, although it did not travel space, it was one Hell of an intelligent predator. Would you be interested?"
"Sure. What was that renowned ancestor's name?"
"Velociraptor. It means speedy predator. It could run at speeds that could catch up with most preys. Their preys were lumbering giants, so they had to develop teamwork to take them down, protect themselves from bigger predators, and protect their young."
"What happened to them?"
"From what we have been able to piece from sending time capsules back in time, the Planet was attacked by what we call Soul-Eaters. They threw in a giant 10 kilometres-wide Meteorite, killing everything bigger than a house Cat, a tiny predator, by the way. We Mammals were puny at the time, no bigger than the pray said house Cats would love to feast on. There were also Birds, flying Dinosaurs, that were small enough to survive. The Soul-Eaters came back later and guided Humans to suit their need to act as chattel, by making them more conscious of their environment, thus increasing their soul container, and making them more amenable to their personal needs. See, you are not the only ones that escaped slavery. The arrival of the Atlanteans, whose Sun was blown up by an hereditary enemy, sort of threw a rock in their well-oiled plans, as the two, apparently incompatible species, had evolved to the point they could intermix and produce fertile Children. Call this a luck... for both of our species. We merged, and over thousands of years, the Soul-Eaters tried repeatedly to eradicate us and remove us from the genetic pool, unsuccessfully, I might add. Furious, they triggered planetary wars after planetary wars, reinforcing us instead of wiping us out. The final war removed well over 99% of humanity, leaving huge tracts of land so radioactive that, even thousands of years after the war, they were unsafe for most, even the Soul-Eaters. We emerged from the woods gradually as we were more immune to radiation than most, and established ourselves as the dominant species. To keep the story short, at the beginning, before we hid in plain sight, Seers told us the Planet was doomed and we began building a new space-ship. However, we never did manage to assemble the ship before the catastrophe occurred and destroyed our shelter. It took thousands of years more for us to emerge anew, and assemble the ship, ready to fight the Soul-Eaters on an equal footing. The refuge Planet was destroyed and the Sun blew up, but we made good our escape, leaving the Soul-Eaters trapped behind. Things are not in the right order, but I think it covers the essentials."
"Impressive survival skills."
"Needed then, needed now. Come, food awaits. We know from your teeth that you are carnivorous. We have prepared a meal. From your brain patterns, we know you like fresh kills, but we have yet to set up a hunting ground for you, so you will have to eat warmed meat, what we call cooked. We too, need sustenance, but we eat a mix of foods."
The Velociraptors moved to follow the Mammals, and found themselves in a huge room with a rather big lunch, composed of Mammals that had to be killed for varied reasons.
"These are Mammals of varied species; they were either too old, unable to reproduce, or wounded beyond repair. They are still warm, since the kill is no more than a few heart-beats away. Enjoy. We have our own food there, in the form of a roasted Turkey. It is a Bird. Irony has it that you eat Mammals, and we eat a Dinosaur, a very small Therapod, if you know where to look. Note it comes with vegetables and fruits, contrary to your meal. You do not have the proper internal structure to digest these items."
The two groups watched each other eat with interest. The Velociraptors found interesting the use of utensils, and the need to cut the food to bite-sized chunks. The Atlanteans were impressed by the powerful jaws of the Velociraptors and their ability to crush the bones to get to the morrow. Once everyone had its fill, water was distributed, a common ground for all involved.
"Next step, we visit the exoportal, so you can see what we found. The others must have made a dent in the quantity of information we collected recently, and as it concerns you and your history, it is important that you be part of the decision process and are allowed to contribute your own input."
The arrival of the three Velociraptors caused a lack of air in the rather confined space of the exoportal. After introductions, which led the new guests to introduce themselves as Green, Grey, and Black, matching their stripe colours and easing the nomenclature considerably, the crew explained what had been done.
"If we get this right, you sent back in time a sort of tool box that transformed a simple run of the mill Comet into a spy system?"
"That's about it. We also met your ancestors, but did not make ourselves known. A premature intervention might have jeopardised everything by giving our common Enemy an indication of our interest and our capabilities. I know it must be hard for you, but playing with time does have some rules, including that too much of a change may have unexpected consequences. Also, they may cause time paradoxes, which we try our best to avoid. I hope you understand."
"In a way, we do. We may be descendants of these ones, but we do not know who they were. Mostly, they probably did not survive first contact. We are a select few, and for us, they are those that failed to do their job. We can not expect you to do our work, or, more to the point, our ancestors' work."
"This being set, this is what we found from the data so far," began Paschal. "First, their relays are organised in a spiral. We have been able to plot the origin of the three-dimensional spiral to a point located some 30,000 light years away, hidden in a cloud of hydrogen, within which there are over 500 stars in a cluster, packed so tight the core stars are less than half a light-year apart. Given the level of radiation of the cluster, I think the life-form evolved extremely rapidly to protect itself form ambient radiation, and literally flew through the steps leading to cybernetic integration in their body, finally abandoning biology completely to endorse full cybernetic form. It is the only thing that could leave the shelter offered by the upper layer of the planetary crust. Once it left its underground nest, it took to space like it was fertile ground, as it had no need to protect itself from radiation, and, more than likely, void. This explains the speed of their expansion, their total obsession with converting everything to their type of life, and their total ignorance of what constitutes a moderator in the interaction with other species, namely pain. They do not have an inkling of this type of negative feedback because it was wiped out a long time back in their own history. Sitar?"
"Strategically, we can not expect them to understand life. They lost any notion of what it is. Too bad we did not bring a Borg Cube with us, the collision between the two would have warranted a reserved seat!"
"Nuts, Sitar. We had enough issues with them without embarrassing us with their kind."
"You seem to say you solved the Borg, you call them, issue?"
"Yes. We implanted an image that has no solution but is entirely coherent, a simple drawing done by one of our ancients, named Escher14 ("Escher, Maurits Cornelis, 1898 – 1972, Dutch graphic artist."), in fact, that has coherent but contradictory information. They tried, and tried, and tried, diverting more and more information to the problem, at the detriment of the essentials. As all Borg cubes are linked, they eventually all fell prey to the trap, and, gradually, their space-ships either collided with Stars, Black Holes, or Planets. When we left our Star Island, called a Galaxy, there were only a few left, and recently, their last ship entered the Galactic Black Hole."
"Do you think you could use the same method?"
"Unfortunately, we doubt it. First, they are still, as of 7252 years ago, independent, relatively speaking, contrary to the Borgs, that had pushed integration to a new apotheosis. We could probably interfere with one, maybe two, but they would quickly cut them off. I doubt they changed much over time, as what served them well does not drive them to change."
"What Sitar does not tell you and you do need to know, is that they have pushed your species further on that scale than they seem to be themselves... You are well ahead of them on the cybernetic scale, probably because they use you as tools to do their dirty work. Now, we must find a way to throw stones in their well-geared enslavement machine," added Harp.
"We are ready to assist. How can we help you?"
"We have yet to figure out the ternary code they use. We left the 'decoding-encoding' neural structure in place, but you now must wilfully access it to decode and send messages, rather than it being your only means of communications."
"So, you want us to listen to the communications?"
"Yes, for a start. Once we have an idea of their strategy, we will begin overriding their communications, with your help, to bring the current invasion to a standstill. Ultimately, we will turn the flood against them and return their forces back on them. Are you agreeable with this strategy?"
"Why not flatten them by a frontal attack? It is the way of the Alpha Predator."
"Not when he hunts a herd. And do you want the others of your own species to bear the brunt of our frontal attack? For now, we have been keeping the Enemy dancing on one claw, and it has served us right. I plan to break that claw by trapping it in a Mouse trap. Mouse traps are small, but when thousands are triggered, they can bring down the Cat. Your species mans... err... dinosaurs... their ship...,"
"Stop cutting hairs in four, Sitar. Say their species crews up the ships, and that the ships are reformatted from their own original designs! These jerks did not even bother designing their own ships, they stole your designs!" exclaimed Paschal.
"You have a point. We must find a way to recover our kind."
"And others these jerks may have enslaved. I doubt you are the only ones. You are in the front line because you are probably more expendable than others due to a high reproduction rate and easy conversion due to oviparity."
"We did not think of that."
"It is my job to be the ultimate predator, the Alpha of Alphas."
"Stop stretching your suspenders, Sitar, and start planning!" suggested Enron.
"Suspenders? I have nothing to suspend!"
"Given your ham is appetising..."
"Your species eat each other?"
"No!!!! Harp, get your mind out of the gutter!"
The confused looks of the three Therapods did not go amiss on the observant Enron.
"We do not actually 'eat' each other as food, but we do 'eat' each others' sperm during sexual relations. It may be confusing for you, as we noticed that the male had shielded genitalia in your species, whereas ours is exposed at all times. Furthermore, we are all males here, not that all our species is male, but only because it so happens we are closely bonded as a group, a convent of sorts. We could discuss things of the sort for hours, but I think we have higher priorities."
"How do you reproduce, then?"
"Mostly, it is by mating with a member of the same species, but of different gender; however, we are able to reproduce by simple division, if we so choose; we can also mate with other species by taking their form. This is how we bound each species to us when they so choose."
"Has it occurred often, that inter-species bounding?"
"Dragons bound with us during their egg stage; they select their bounded and merge their mind with ours. Others... well, they ask to mate, and we change to adapt to their need; some ask for mental bounding, and we oblige. It is the case with the Wolves, the Felines, all the Canines, the Equines, and, quite frankly, just about every species that have herd mentality, including the Dolphins and Whales."
"Are these all... Mammals, as you call yourselves?"
"Oh no. Dragons predate Dinosaurs. They are very far off Mammal evolutionary-wise; Some species did not originate on the Earth, our refuge Planet but got stranded there; others were species created by the Soul-Eaters to satisfy their needs, which we rescued; and lately, we have had more and more demands from species we rescued from the Galaxy of our origin. They want to be part of what we are, with advantages and accompanying responsibilities. You will have full access to our library shortly. It relates the history of each species we have rescued, their ecosystem, what happened and when. If you have any questions, please contact any of us, or Mark and Ovid, two budding Exobiologists. They just graduated and would be pleased to talk your ears off about their obsessions!"
"Enron, you can always talk about these two. I sometimes wonder if you did not father them!" noted Paschal. "Now, I have set these earphones to fit in your external ear canals. They need to be pasted on the scales protecting the outer ear. The microphones will vibrate the protecting scale plate, allowing sound to reach the inner hammer that will, in turn, transmit the vibration to the inner drum, and finally the liquid that is contained in the inner canal to stimulate the hairs that carpet the cochlea, bringing each hair in harmonic with the frequency to vibrate and stimulate your auditory nerve. So far, so good, as is it standard biology, which we found in just about every species we have met so far. Now comes the interesting part." Paschal took a sip of Apple juice, and resumed his explanations. "Right. The circuit that allowed you to understand the ternary was located along the auditory nerve. We created a derivative nerve connecting the auditory nerve to the decoding-encoding circuit, and the same was set for your verbal-motor (speech) activity. We hope that by matching the message you get with the code we intercept, we will break the code. You follow so far?"
"So, well, I would like you to listen in and translate whatever you can."
"But, first, try to control the switches. First, auditory. We have installed a neutron activation signal. It does not allow us to listen in, which would be useless, but to monitor if the nerve connection we set up activates properly."
Shortly, a beep could be heard from Black, followed by Green and Grey.
"Test conclusive. Try activating verbal activity. Note it will be more difficult; you will need to release the tongue to set clicks rather than full sounds. That is what they expect."
It took ten minutes of trials and errors before Black managed to produce clicks matching those detected by the transmitters.
"Now, listen and click at the same time. The decoding part should allow you to understand what the encoding part is sending out... If it does not match, try to adjust..."
Another half an hour of frustration was required before Black finally made a significant progress and could understand himself, and later, the other two Therapods.
"Break? We could visit the ship's Bridge while you rest, and we will come back here to implement the idea we discussed earlier. Is this agreeable?"
"Yes. We are interested in seeing more of this ship."
"Sitar, Paschal try to refine the strategy. I will take them to the Bridge."
"All right, Harp."
The arrival on the Bridge of three huge Therapods made sensation. Mark and Ovid shoot their load on the carpet from an unexpected orgasm, which Harp discreetly erased any traces of before Annabelle could light them on fire. The view of space from the Bridge was breathtaking.
"How big is the ship? We can not guess from the view?"
"Star-sized... of the Red Giant type. Our fire-power would obliterate anything in our path if we so desired. However, it would go against our mission and prime directive: Save life!" replied Harold. "When you use portals, you travel at the speed of light from one point to another. You also change time flow, space flow, and dimensions. The ship is divided in a multitude of Tessaracts that allow for expanded space within a very tiny volume, each having its own time flow, its own space, its own weather pattern, its own ecosystem. Once we have found your original ecosystem, Harp, here, will build your species its own Tessaract. It will reproduce everything to scale within the allotted space, including weather patterns."
"So far, several billions, and several billions more await implementation, their data stored in positronic arrays, awaiting for Harp to create their own world. Harp, how long..."
"Dad, does FOREVER answer your question? As for the time required to create a new ecosystem, it takes less than 2 minutes because I can speed time to bring the Tessaract to its desired state. The hard part is setting the initial conditions properly, but the more I do it the faster it goes. And do not worry, your Tessaract will be bumped forward the moment we have the proper information, as the other species are currently in stasis, and do not need theirs right away. From your biology, I expect something similar to an equatorial forest - savannah mix, with a saline ocean at somewhere around 5% salinity. That is experience talking, not facts. We will wait on facts to do anything."
"Agreed. We are feeling hunger..."
"Bring them to the Mess Hall. It will be hilarious."
"Husband, you want our Legions to die of fright?"
"If they die from meeting these three, they are due for early retirement anyway."
"Anyway, I have to meet with Jormungandr. He brought back my Dragon Legion from training, and we have to discuss what went right and what went wrong."
"Fine. Off with you. Jacobson? Implement pattern Epsilon Dash Eight at the next transit."
"At your command, your Majesty."
"If only Jacobson understood how I hate protocol, but what can we do against Australopithecus mentality? No protocol and they go haywire," grumbled Harold.
"Just imagine a whole species of Jerry and Toms..." said on a low tone Annabelle.
"I almost had a heart attack at the idea. You want to kill me, Wife?"
"No, but if I ever contemplate the idea, I will know the perfect murder tool!" replied Annabelle, snickering.
The arrival of Harp and the three Therapods went unnoticed amongst the huge collection of Dragons.
"What are those?" asked a shocked Grey.
"Dragons. One of my Legions, commanded by Jormungandr, the first Dragon that bounded to me. All the others are also bounded to me from the egg. Follow me, please. They see me without seeing me and create a safe zone where you can stay safe. They would not hurt you intentionally, but they might miss you and well, look at their tails and the spines... These can kill very effectively, and your scales stand no chance against them. The Dragons eat similarly to you, so you will not stand out."
"When you say a Legion, that is how many?"
"Let's see, Sitar's reformed army structure states that a legion comprises 1,221 members. And this is known as Harp's First Imperial Legion; I have a whole Army of Dragons, a total of 122,111 of them, or 100 Legions. Each of my Brothers has about the same, except Sitar, that has a Swarm, as God of War. That's about a million Legions, if my memory is right. This space-ship is a huge military hive. Even Bees, which are Insects, are involved in some way or other, not counting Spiders, Dolphins, and what not. Ah, here is Jormungandr. Hey there! Look down, knuckle-head!"
The blood-red Dragon looked at the floor and finally spotted his bonded.
"Welcome, Harp!" thundered the Dragon, shocking the others to silence by his thunderous voice.
"Damn it! I had to repair my eardrums with Magic and fix the three Therapods' ears too. When will you learn not to speak out loud in an enclosed space?"
«Sorry, we practiced verbal exchanges during the last exercise.»
"Did the mountains survive?"
«We had several cliffs fall...»
"Quick introductions are in order. Black, Grey, Green, meet the Legate of the my First Dragon Legion, Jormungandr. Ignore the blanks between my utterances, we communicate telepathically at their frequency, much like I did with you in the Stasis Pods. I'm replying verbally so you three to not feel left out."
"These are Alphas! Prime Alphas! And they obey you?"
"Yes!" tried to murmur Jormungandr, not too successfully. "We are him, he is us."
The Therapods were more than impressed. Whatever respect they had for Harp skyrocketed out of sight. If that one so puny could gain obedience from that huge assembly, they had their position cut out for them: They would follow, without question!
"Food is being served at the buffet at the end, or you can order and food will be ported to you directly where you want to eat. Most Dragons prefer the later, having issues with carrying plates of food."
"How do we order?"
"Look at the images above the buffet and think you want the food it represents. But let us first find a place to eat. Jormungandr, budge over to allow our three guests a place at the Commanding table. There should be enough space for everyone."
Shortly, everyone was eating its fill, Dragons swallowing huge chunks of beef, joined in their meaty diet by the Therapods. The Therapods were again scared and impressed by the huge mouths of the Dragons that seemed to swallow animals the size of an Ox in a single bite, whereas they usually had to take ten or more bites to get down to the head. The noise of pulverised bones really brought home that the Dragons far outstripped them when it came to bite power. Harp kept exchanging with Jormungandr on the events of the exercise, the Therapods oblivious to the telepathic exchange as any possibility of verbal exchange was rendered moot due to the crunching of bones.
Harp finished first, and telepathically told those at the table he needed to talk to some of the Dragons in the Legion. After a nod to that effect from Jormungandr, he moved between the Dragons and talked to those he had reports on, either positive or negative, praising those that had been well noted, encouraging those that had not done so well, and guiding those that had somewhat dismal reports by suggesting different approaches to the problems they had encountered.
«I wonder what he is doing?» thought Black, unaware that the presence of the Dragons had fine-tuned his telepathy.
A rumbling «He is doing what he does best, command. He encourages, praises, guides, offers solutions to problems. He leads, we follow.»
«I am Prince of Magic Harp's Prime Dragon Bounded, right to your left, Jormungandr. It takes time for telepathy to adjust to new species. Yours was close enough to ours that it took much less time than it took us for, say, the Equines, or the Unicorns.»
Another Dragon completed the explanation. «The more telepathic species you meet the more your bandwidth expands. Explore, and never underestimate a species because you can not initially contact it by this means. It might just be out of reach.»
«That seems logical. I have a pressing problem. I ate this morning, and now...»
«Ah, garbage disposal. We can guide you to our Tessaract. We fly off and dump it on a Coprophagic Insect colony. You will have to walk to their colony. We recommend you do the dump on the side of the cliff they inhabit for your own safety, as they are quite capable of entering your natural orifices and eating you from the inside. Some are rather impressive for Insects.»
«Why not before?»
"Are you willing to risk walking in on one of their columns in movement? You are braver than we are.»
«I understand. We will follow your lead.»