A science fiction story told in a series of interrelated fragments.
“I think I finally have the answer.”
The only sound in the Data Center was the quiet whoosh-whoosh of the circulation fans in the wall opposite the open door. Tall magenta cylinders lined one hewn rock wall, with a bank of screens and terminals along the opposite; there was seating for twenty-four operators, but Falling-Leaf was the only one present on Shift Three at the moment. Her grey eyes widened when the realization hit her, and one hand patted her forehead instinctively in surprise. Her hair was silvery-blonde which she kept trimmed to a length of six inches…any more would interfere with helmet-wear when she did Topside inspections on the Tycho Dome. She sub-voced the Second’s name and her transceiver implant sent the signal to her mate.
“Green-Fawn, Answer Request, Level Orange-2.” That designation would tell him that the matter was important, but not an imminent threat or concern for the residents of Tycho Deep, as the subsurface warren was named. The name had come from the early deep-water ocean settlements on the continental shelves, and was adopted by the communities that lived off-planet. Space stations had proven to be unreliable and provided insufficient protection to their inhabitants for long-term living—and so been among the first fully-automated posts in the Three Worlds. She sat up straighter when the chime in her ear went off.
“Acknowledged. What is wrong, Leaf?” As always, she felt the calm assurance in his deep voice, and she smiled. Falling-Leaf set that aside and asked if he was near a vidscreen. “No, I’m in the Park catching fish. I’ll come down and be with you in ten minutes. End call.” The implants allowed verbal communication without external radio sources, but the early experiments to include visual data had failed: besides the accidents when people used it while on the move, extended use of it led to headaches, attention deficit, and damage to the optic nerves, hence the need for Green-Fawn to be near a ‘screen or to come in person to view what she had discovered. She went over the vids and records a third time as she waited for her co-mate to arrive. Incredible as it seemed, there was no mistake—Father would have to be told right away.
Thinking of Father always brought to mind her other co-mate, Two-Sapphire. She missed him, and knew that Green-Fawn did as well; theirs had been among the first registered triads, as the ‘thal mating system preferred. To succeed, a mating required three individuals, one of them a fertile female—everything else being optional; a triad could be two males and a female, or even one male and one female—if they could find a third of either gender to assist. The most stable unions were two of one gender, and one of the other. It also best satisfied the emotional and physical urges brought on by hormones. The least stable grouping had, over time, proven to be the male-female pair with an outside assistant. No one knew if this need for three mates was social engineering or genetically driven…but the basis was that ‘thal females were fertile only once a year, and had little interest in sex for the other ten months…hence the need for co-mates of the male gender, who could satisfy their urges the rest of the year with one another. Early experiments had produced offspring only with co-males and a female, while co-females and one male had only a 50% chance of reproducing. Falling-Leaf had been part of a co-female triad, but accepted the offer which Two and Fawn had presented her a century ago…it satisfied all their needs, and she had genuine affection—even love—for her two men even out of season.
“What have you found, Leaf?” The hand on her shoulder felt good and filled her with calming sensations. She explained how she had discovered this information in an inspection of Sky-Hook maintenance records and vids of the last two months, and now had not only a positive ID of the intruder in Father’s rooms, but could tell him how the robot got there. She brought up the data sheets, pointing at various points she’d highlighted, and then cued up the visuals to back them up, even managing a zoomed close-up from the living room security systems. When she had finished, he sank into the seat next to her, thoroughly shocked. His glance at her grey eyes sought, and found all the confirmation he needed, but she pointed over her shoulder at the wall of magenta cylinders that made up the city’s mainframe.
“I even ran the data through the Mage analyzer twice to make sure. The robot was a modified Jäger—a Hunter-bot—from the 23rd Century. It seems at least one escaped the Proscription after the Third World War.”
Green-Fawn scratched his left ear, his amber eyes momentarily losing focus. “How did it get up to Father’s suite atop the Tether? That’s twenty-two thousand miles, most of it cold vacuum?” She just pointed at the zoomed image of the Genetic Authority’s enforcer. He found it hard to accept, but he couldn’t deny the evidence of his own eyes.
“Call Father and Uncle Jakob, tight-beam laser only, bypassing all relay stations between us and Riverview. How long until the connection will be live?” Falling-Leaf consulted her screen, and told him about ten minutes—the two points were slightly out of synch until Tycho had a direct link. Green-Fawn considered this too important to risk using relay satellites or even the reflector relays.
“How much of a threat is this? Without the Sky-Hook running, surely they can’t get to Space?”
Falling-Leaf gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder before giving him a reply. “We thought the Hunter-bots had all been decommissioned...obviously we were wrong. If the records were deliberately forged, I can’t begin to guess what else might be waiting to be found in old warehouses. Someone might even have an old-style rocket—we’d only know if we detected it entering orbit if it was launched from a stealthed base.”
What Green-Fawn said to that made them both blush.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jakob and I were eating breakfast in our kitchen when we felt and heard the chime in our heads of an incoming message. I put down my fork and stared at my eggs wistfully before following him into his office, taking the chair that had been placed next to his as we faced the vidscreen, currently showing the image of Riverview once terra-forming was completed. Just before he pressed the button for the comm channel, we heard the announcement in our heads.
“Answer urgent, Level Orange-1, DLL from TD.” We glanced at each other and our brows shot up in almost mirror-like synchronicity. That meant this was a direct laser connection, and time was limited with the motions of planetary orbits and rotational periods. Jakob flicked the switch and the screen filled with a swirling pattern and a string of circles moved across the bottom of the screen from left to right, indicating the arrival of a data-burst, the color of the circles told us it was encrypted, and what system to use to read it. “Acknowledge receipt please,” came a female voice that sounded familiar.
“DLL received,” Jakob replied, as I started the decryption process. The vidscreen split into halves, one showing images and text, the other the face of Green-Fawn at Tycho Deep. “Father, and Uncle if you are there too…what you are seeing is verified and authentic analysis regarding events prior to your leaving. It has been thoroughly checked and is beyond question. Do not speak of it now; send T-S reply when convenient. A list of questions is attached which must be considered, and answered via T-S.”
We saw Green-Fawn glance at something off to his side, then he held a hand out to someone there at the Data Center, and we saw Falling-Leaf join him on the screen. They both gave us the dropped-jaw smile. The blonde woman dipped her head and before speaking. “Give my co-mate my love…Fawn and I miss him already and long for his return. Tell him the Triad Board has agreed to all his conditions at last.”
Green-Fawn smiled even more, and made the circular gesture of loving farewell over his heart. “Time is nearly up, Father. Kiss our mate for us, and ask him to call us when he can. End call.” The screen went blank, except for the half that contained the data stream from Tycho Deep, which expanded to fill the whole viewer. I leaned into Jakob’s side and gave him a gentle kiss. “Our boys are going to be dads! I can’t wait to tell him—I wonder what conditions he set which took so long to approve?”
I frowned when Jakob didn’t reply right away; his eyes were fixed on the screen, and his fingers selected and zoomed one of the images and accompanying text. He called up a second piece of text, and cursed under his breath. I looked at the vidscreen and it took me a few minutes to process what I was seeing, but when I did, my own curses weren’t far behind.
“What the hell—the fucking robot climbed the twenty-two thousand miles up Sky-Hook to get to me….” I couldn’t grasp that at all…no one could do that—then I remembered it was a robot—but even then, I was skeptical. I felt Jakob’s hand come around my shoulders to pull me closer to his warm embrace, and he held me for a long time as he looked at the image of the Genetic Authority’s robot invader. His breathing was a bit rapid and shallow, but I could still hear his fright-tinged whisper against my ear.
“My love, look at the image—that was no ordinary ‘bot which entered your suite…it was a Jäger—designed to hunt and kill men in the Third-World War. You were very lucky to survive meeting one; perhaps its GA coding delayed the auto-kill response long enough for your Security to intervene.”
I felt my knees tremble and my heart race before Jakob eased me back into my chair…I could feel my nanos adjusting my chemistry and endorphins to bring me back from the edge of an anxiety attack. I watched my husband examine the screen’s data as he continued to hold me and stroke my head as it leaned into his shoulder.
Lucky to survive the encounter? It was a fucking miracle….
Tales of Three Worlds will be posted every other week
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