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Jul 15, 2018

Slave Craton

Ivory investigates a microbe reactor.
Phari base in the Slave Craton.
Below on this page is the 4th chapter of a science fiction story called "Exoditions on Cynk". To read the first chapter of the story, click here.

CHAPTER 4 
Trysta completed her motion, rushing forward to grab the teleportation pendant from Ivory. Then we all realized that we had been teleported. Trysta stood there, towering over us, looking with satisfaction at the pendant she now held in her hand. I asked Ivory, "Where are we?" Even as I spoke, I thought I heard a voice: Hello?

Ivory took a step away from Trysta and came to stand by my side. She whispered, "I selected Earth as our destination, but..."

We were in a dim place, what seemed like a large cavern. The air was hot and thin. I wondered, "Earth? Where..." The voice was 'louder' now: Where are you? Now I could tell that the "voice" was inside my mind.

Trysta barked her harsh laugh and said, "Think it through, Ivory. That was a Phari teleportation conduit that you just pushed us through and you did not make a microadjustment to the destination coordinates."

I put my arm around Ivory and whispered in her ear, "What is she talking about?" I tried to peer into Ivory's mind, but just as I began searching her thoughts for a clue as to our location, I lost control of my access to the Bimanoid Interface, like someone had flicked an 'off' switch. That sudden disconnect felt like a loud radio broadcast suddenly going silent. I did not hear that mysterious voice in my head ever again.

Ivory spoke to Trysta, "Here in the Final Reality, the pek long ago forced the Phari off of Earth."

Trysta nodded, "Or, more accurately, out of Earth."

My eyes were adjusting to the dim red light of the cavern. I asked, "We're inside Earth? Underground?"

Trysta explained, "Long ago, back in the First Reality, the Phari established a base on Earth. They worked to engineer Earthly microbes that could utilize oxygen. Then the pek eventually arrived in our galaxy and they took over the dull and boring task of guiding Earth's primitive lifeforms towards glory."

Ivory looked around in awe and asked. "This Phari base survived here inside Earth for two billion years?"

Trista smacked her long-fingered hand against a nearby low shelf, or platform. "We are deep inside the Slave Craton. A dozen asteroids and major tectonic events have shattered and fragmented this ancient part of Earth's crust, but this base endured. The Phari built to last, anchoring their base to Earth, but locating it in the Hierion Domain."

Ivory muttered, "Of course! Just like Observer Base..."

It was too hot. I was beginning to sweat profusely. I meekly suggested, "Let's get out of here."

Ivory asked Trysta, "You've been here before, haven't you?

Trysta replied, "R. Gohrlay brought me here once. There are interesting devices here, still functioning after two billion years. I wanted to explore these chambers, but it is horribly hot down here. We did not stay very long. R. Gohrlay just wanted me to know that this place exists and why I should avoid it."

Ivory looked at me and I wiped sweat away from my eyes. She seemed not to be effected by the heat, which surprised me until I remembered that she was no longer a biological.

Like me, Trysta was sweating. She put the pendant into a pocket and adjusted her portable teleportation equipment and said, "Unfortunately, I can't initiate long-range teleportation from here and with my portable teleportation equipment, I can only get myself out of here." She pointed off to her left. "Go that way." There was a slight popping sound and Trysta was gone.

Ivory took my hand and guided me in the direction that Trysta had indicated. Ivory asked me, "How are you feeling?"

I was already feeling dizzy. I asked, "How hot do you think it is here?"

Ivory shook her head. "Maybe too hot. Let's hurry." Ivory guided us between the enigmatic structures that were scattered across the floor of the cavern. I decided that they were machines of some sort, but I could not guess their functions. Some of them were lit up and they vibrated, but others hulked in the shadows and appeared to be dead.

I complained, "I lost my telepathic link to you."

"Quiet. Save your breath." I was leaning heavily on Ivory and struggling to keep putting one foot in front of the other. "It might be a good thing that Irhit knows you are back 'on' Earth. If he thinks your return is important enough, he might tell his boss."

I stumbled over an uneven bulge of the floor and tried to keep up with Ivory. My respiratory muscles were struggling to meet my body's demand for oxygen. I contemplated the identity of Irhit's boss. Trysta had said that Grean installed the tryp'At as the new Overseers of Earth, but it was my understanding that under the terms of the Tysta-Grean Pact, Grean was no longer allowed on Earth. I again wiped sweat from my eyes, stumbled again and fell to the floor of the cavern. Ivory helped be get back to my feet. I mumbled, "At least you are not sweating."

She said, "Be glad that you can sweat. I'm over-heating, just like you are. Take off your shirt."

She pulled off her shirt and then helped me pull off mine. She put on my shirt and told me, "Wipe your excess sweat on my shirt. I can use it for cooling."

We had reached the edge of the cavern and passed through a metal archway. Beyond, we could see a smaller chamber. We passed through a short tunnel and soon reached the new chamber. I looked up into the strange redness and noticed that this chamber seemed to have a ceiling that was so high I could not actually see it. Odd columns of buzzing equipment were arrayed across the floor and those soaring columns rose up high, towered above us. While looking upwards, I got very dizzy and sank to the floor.

Ivory left me there collapsed on the floor while she explored most of the chamber. I wiped my eyes with her shirt and tried to keep my eyes open, even though the world seemed to be spinning. She leaned against one of the columns and called to me, "This one feels cool." After making that discovery, she came running back to me. "I'm going to climb that column. It might contain water."

She'd been wearing my shirt, but now it was almost dry. She took off my shirt and forced me to put it back on. After that effort, I slumped back down, flat on the floor. "Save every drop of sweat. If I don't find water, we are going to..." She fell silent and leaned over me and tied her shirt around my head. She then put her arms around me, stood up and carried me to the cooler column. Where her body touched me, it felt burning hot. Ivory dumped me on the floor and I could feel that this particular column was significantly cooler than the rest of the chamber. She immediately started climbing, making use of the available juts and crevices of the column. I wanted to go with her but I could not stand, let alone climb. All my strength was going into breathing, but I still felt like I could not get enough air.

I was impressed by how quickly she climbed. I rolled onto my back and used her shirt under my head like a pillow. Soon, Ivory was far above and she looked very small. How high? Three hundred feet? Six hundred? I thought I heard her voice then she disappeared from view. I let my eyes close and I imagined a lake full of cold water. Floating blobs of pink nanoplankton filled my delirium. After a time I noticed that I had stopped sweating. Soon after that, the burning heat left my awareness. I started thinking about trying to drink my own urine, but I lost consciousness.

_______Cynk_______

When I woke up, there were voices. At first the voices seemed as meaningless as bird chirps, then I realized that one of the voices was Ivory's. I opened my eyes and turned my head towards the sound of the voices and I saw a faint glow of light in that direction. I was cool, so I was happy. Ivory was saying, "But Trysta implied that you created the tryp'At."

A voice that I did not recognize said, "Well, I was complicit in their creation when I agreed to the Trysta Truce. However, it was R. Gohrlay who pushed that project to completion. She's still the master of the Hierion Domain and-"

I sat up and my head only spun a little. There was a cuff attached tightly to my wrist and I was tethered to a machine that glowed softly in the low light.

Grean said, "I believe he's now awake."

Suddenly the room lights brightened and Ivory came in from the room beyond. She said, "Don't get up! We're still re-hydrating you."

I said, "I feel fine." I looked past Ivory and saw who she had been speaking to. I blurted out, "Grean?"

Grean came over and checked the medicore. She said, "His total fluid volume is just about back to normal. Blood volume is still low."

Ivory sat down next to me and kissed me. I tried to link to her mind via the Bimanoid Interface, but I could not find her telepathic pattern. After her lips pulled away from mine, she said, "I thought I'd lost you again."

I put an arm around Ivory and kissed her nose then her cheek then I whispered in her ear, "Where are we?"

Ivory replied, "Relax, Grean rescued us. We are back on Cynk."

I looked into Grean's large alien eyes and said, "Thank you for getting us out of that hell hole."

Grean disconnected me from the machine. "You can thank Trysta the next time you see her and be thankful for her habit of wearing portable teleportation equipment."

Remembering Trysta's obsessive drive to collect a nanocoral sample, I asked, "Is it safe to be here? I'm in no mood for dying."

Ivory laughed. "Just relax, dear. We are now safe behind a pek telepathy modulation shield."

Grean said, "In retrospect, I was foolish to even start searching this world without even thinking about the need for telepathy shielding. I greatly underestimated the sophistication and power of Phari technology." Grean felt my forehead then manually took my pulse.

Ivory said, "We were perfectly safe while we explored this world for years and radically altered the nanosphere. She asked Grean, "Can you explain what suddenly changed and triggered the attack on Trysta's research team?"

"I do have a theory about that, but we can discuss such details tomorrow." Grean stopped examining me and spoke to Ivory, "I'd like him to understand what has been going on here on Cynk, but he needs rest and some time for the medical nanites repair his tissues. Lukily, he seems to have not incurred any permanent damage. The medical nanites have reduced the cerebral edema and his cognitive functions are all coming back online. He should get some rest and we can talk in the morning." She left us and closed the door on her way out.

As soon as Grean was gone, I felt Ivory's thoughts flood into my mind. I sighed peacefully and enjoyed the sensation of our thoughts merging and mingling. I could sense that Ivory was tired but happy. I had to ask again, "Where are we?"

"We are in Grean's headquarters on Cyan."

"How did we get here?"

Ivory shrugged, "I don't know any of the details and I get the feeling that Grean does not really want to explain the details of our rescue. Maybe she'll provide us with an account of events in the morning." Ivory stood up and started slowly and carefully taking off all of her clothing. She had never looked lovelier.

I wanted to get undressed, too. I tried to get to my feet, but I immediately got dizzy. Ivory pushed back and I sprawled across the bed. Ivory laid down beside me and started undressing me. I complained, "I feel terribly weak. I'd like to make wild love with you, but-"

"Just relax, darling. You can rest. It has been a long day."

Ivory's body felt wonderful against mine. I relaxed  and sank into the softness of the bed. I mused, "From Earth to Cynk to Earth and back again to Cynk. That's about-"

"That's exactly 114,000 light-years." She locked her lips to mine and we were quiet for a while. Her thoughts were swirling with an odd set of images.

I could sense that she was reliving the horrible events from inside the Phari cavern on Earth. I said, "I can't believe you climbed all the way up that column."

She giggled. "I don't have your fear of heights and with this body it was not difficult, although I was having trouble dissipating heat. My nanites can over-heat and stop... meshing..." She fell silent. We were eagerly exploring each others bodies with our hands. In her mind I could 'see' fragments of images, what looked like little glass pods glowing in the red light of the Phari cavern.

Still curious about how we had survived being trapped in that hot cavern, I asked, "Did you find a source of water?"

She told me about her discovery. "Well, in a strange way, yes. I soon realized that those tall columns of Phari equipment were some sort of bioreactors, each containing thousands of independent reaction vessels. Two billion years ago the Phari were trying to evolve and select forms of life for ancient Earth that could utilize oxygen gas. They were doing artificial evolution in all those bioreactors. Had I understood the access codes, I could have figured that out while still on the floor, slid out a set of reactor pods, opened one up and we would have had an easy source of cold water. I surmise that one column simply contained their low temperature experiments. Even after two billion years, those particular biopods were still being carefully refrigerated and chilled. As it was, I had to get all the way to the top before I figured it out."

I asked, "What was on top?"

"Up there, I could see through their transparent lids into the top row of pods. It was maddening to see that they contained water while I had no way to open them up. I morphed myself into a kind of hammer and started trying to break into a pod, but it was useless effort. I was just heating myself up even more with all that effort. Then suddenly it was over. We had been teleported back to Cynk."

Ivory had finished her story and we were enjoying a game in which we explored each others bodies with the tips of our fingers. I was tracing the curve of her abdomen when I felt something move inside her. Having raised three children, I asked, "Ivory, are you pregnant?"

She laughed and replied, "No, but there is something that I need to show you." She got on top of me, glanced over her shoulder towards the door and said quietly, "Oh, lover, I've been missing your body during the past few weeks. We promised each other that we'd never be apart again, then you were gone."

 I expected Ivory would then proceed to make love to me, but she pulled her hands off of my chest and started massaging her abdomen. She said, "I don't want to freak you out, but remember, I'm now an artificial lifeform, composed of nanites." I watched as she worked open a hidden seem that ran vertically from her pubic bone to her neck. I don't know. Maybe she has no bones in her nanite body. I've decided that I don't want to think about such things. That ventral seem split open and she pulled apart the two edges. Inside of Ivory was a pink quivering mass. My eyes focused and I realized it was a ranger, similar to Reggie. The alien creature crawled out of Ivory and onto my chest."

I shouted, "What the hell?"

Ivory said, "Sh! Be quiet. I've never told Grean about this little science experiment. You were the only other person who knew about this."

I saw that this creature was not exactly like Reggie. It seemed to be a hybrid, part Cynkian ranger and part Earthly squid. Ivory said, "Relax and let Ginger into your mind."

The creature put a tentacle against the side of my head and suddenly Ginger was in my thought stream along with Ivory. Ivory explained, "I started on this project seven years ago. Grean had by then discovered how to domesticate rangers. They had always been an oddity among the native creatures, showing up near all of the miasma-clearing operations and watching. Grean started making domesticated rangers with G-syms inside them. I found that I could only achieve telepathic contact with the creatures of Cynk if I was in physical contact with them. I wanted to try raising a hybrid ranger under conditions of constant telepathic contact, the same trick that turned my sister Angela into such a proficient user of the Bimanoid Interface.

I got over my squeamishness and touched Ginger with my hands. I closed my eyes and could see a blurry image of myself as seen through Ginger's eyes. I asked Ivory, "What is a G-sym?"

"The nanite-based endosymbionts that we use here on Cynk to link our test subjects to the Hierion Domain. Five years ago, after you arrived on this planet, we discovered that Ginger is particularly good at linking telepathically to you. Our working hypothesis has been that since you are tryp'At, the G-sym is well-tuned to your brain."

The scene being transmitted to my by Ginger shifted. Now I saw myself as if from above, along with Ivory and Ginger on top of me. I looked at the ceiling and saw that there was an ornate light fixture there above us. I used the Bimanoid Interface to ask Ivory: Do you think Grean could be watching us?

Again she glanced at the doorway. "I hope not. Grean brought me to this world and asked me to help establish contact with the Remnant Species, but I've never learned to trust Grean, the pek or the Huaoshy. I didn't want to be used by Grean, but I could not resist studying the alien creatures of this world.

As my telepathic link to Ginger solidified, I felt certain that she was warning me about Grean eavesdropping on our conversation. I said out-loud, "Well, this is quite a shock, Ivory. I'm worn out and I can't think sensibly about Ginger right now." Using the Bimanoid Interface, I asked Ivory: Can you get us out of here?

Ivory nodded to me and Ginger crawled back inside Ivory. She shut of the room lights and we snuggled together on the bed. I could see in Ivory's mind that she was angry from having learned that Grean knew about Ginger through her spying. In her thoughts, Ivory showed me the way we would have to go to get to the elevator and go down to the teleportation chamber located on the floor below us. Ginger's thoughts intruded and she showed us an alternative path, a service passageway used by maintenance robots. Soon, Grean stopped watching her spy display screen and Ginger made sure that I noticed that. I whispered to Ivory, "Let's go!"

We sneaked into the teleportation chamber and Ivory went to the controls. "Where should we go?"

I suggested, "Let's try to find Zeta and Yōd. Do you think they are still at Freeland?" Even as I spoke, Ginger fed me images of Zeta and Yōd. I told Ivory, "I see them! Ginger is amazing. She's giving me a view of Zeta and Yōd, but I don't recognize where they are." I asked Ivory, "Can you see them?"

Ivory said, "No, I've never been able to access Ginger's mind the way you can. Describe the scene to me."

I described a large pool of water and the whale-like creature that seemed to be the center of attention in the scene. In addition to Zeta and Yōd, I could see April and another robot. Ivory said, "I know where they are and I can teleport us directly to the marine research station."

I was getting new information from Ginger. I reported to Ivory, "We triggered an alarm. Grean knows that we are in here."

The intercom system activated. Trysta told Ivory, "Don't run off. We need to talk about Ginger."

Ivory said, "Fine. We are in the teleportation chamber."

Trysta said, "Wait there. I'm on my way."

I was watching the images being fed to me by Ginger. I told Ivory, "She's almost here!"

Ivory activated the teleporter beam.

_______Freeland Base, Marine Research Station________

We re-materialized in the teleportation chamber located inside the marine research station south of Freeland. I materialized about five feet above the floor and fell awkwardly, hitting my head. Ivory materialized over the pool and she fell into the water. I was slightly dazed. I rolled over and looked into the pool. My nose was bleeding and the drops fell into the water.

Zeta rushed over to me and asked, "Are you okay?"

I could see that Yōd was in the pool. She seemed to have her arms around the smaller of two whale-like creatures. Yōd then let go of the baby whale and came up to the surface of the pool, gasping for air. Ivory seemed to be trying to swim over to the edge of the pool, but she was holding her abdomen. Ginger suddenly burst free and swam quickly down towards the baby whale. Yōd saw ginger and shouted, "What is that?"

Zeta saw the hole in Ivory's abdomen and said, "That thing came out of Ivory!"

I helped Ivory climb out of the pool and she quickly finished sealing up her abdomen. She told Zeta, "That's Ginger."

Ivory made me lie down and sent some of her medical nanites into me, trying to get my nose to stop bleeding. I noticed that my left wrist was painful and starting to swell. Zeta helped Yōd out of the pool and wrapped her in a blanket. We could now see that Ginger had attached herself to Angel II and wrapped her tentacles around him. Angel II was attached to Little Angel at the nipple and floating peacefully at the surface of the pool.

Yōd was cold and she spoke through some tooth chatter to Ivory, "That thing was inside you?"

At that point I tuned out of Ivory's reply, vaguely aware that she was explaining Ginger and her telepathic abilities. Ivory was in my mind, but her thoughts were crowded out by information coming to me from the three hybrids in the pool. For a while, the thoughts of Ginger, Little Angel, Angel II and Ivory seemed to swirl and collide in my mind. There were confusing images of nanocoral and a submarine in my mind's eye. Eventually, an idea seemed to crystallize in my mind. I realized that all of the components had come together that were needed to make contact with the Remnant Species. Ivory had been delaying the birth of Angel II until he developed better control of his access to the Bimanoid Interface, but it was now clear that such delay was not needed.

April and the other robot came out of the pool. I could hear them talking about hormone injections and milk production, but my thoughts were being pushed by Ivory who seemed concerned that Grean might appear at any moment. I could sense that she wasted to immediately try to make telepathic contact with the Remnant Species.

Linked together, Ginger and Angel II had a strong telepathic connection to me and the two Angels were also telepathically linked to each other. I could only imagine one remaining problem. I emerged from the domain of my inner thoughts and asked Ivory, "How were we planning to get the submarine over to Stroma Lake?"

Ivory replied, "We can use one of the big dirigibles."

I asked April, "Where is the nearest dirigible?"

She replied, "There are a dozen just a few miles down the coast, mopping up a bank of miasma that blew in from sea with yesterday's storm."

Ivory ordered April, "Get one of the Jupiters over here now. It needs to be rigged so that it can carry the submarine that is docked in bay four. The necessary rigging is all in the hanger here at the station." She asked, "ETA?"

April gave an estimate, "Thirty to forty minutes, the winds are rather variable to day." The robots went off towards the hanger.

Ivory gazed into the pool, "I hate to disturb-"

While she spoke, we saw Angel II detach from Little Angel and spit out a mouthful of milk. I told Ivory, "He's full. Let's get him into the submarine."

Ivory said, I'll bring the sub out. Meet me in the cove." She ran off towards the submarine dock.

Yōd said, I'll open the tunnel that connects this pool to the cove. She dropped the blanket and pulled her clothing on then ran off towards the tunnel. The Angels followed along, swimming.

My nose had finally stopped bleeding and I tried to get to my feet, but I was wobbly. Zeta grabbed my arm and steadied me. She said, "You look like shit."

I put my arm around her shoulders and leaned on her. "Take me outside. I want to see the cove."

Zeta asked, "What did Trysta do to you?"

Before I could say anything, I saw that Grean was standing at the door of the pool complex. As we approached, Grean asked, "Where is Ivory and her hybrid?"

I replied, "Come with us, we are all meeting outside." We went through the doorway and then walked down the path towards the dock. I could see a dirigible off in the distance, and behind it was a wall-like bank of black miasma.

Zeta pointed towards the dock. "That looks like Trysta."

Grean said, "Yes, that's her."

I asked Grean, "Where did Trysta teleport to when she left the Phari cavern?"

Grean shrugged. "You'll have to ask her. I learned that you were on Earth through my contacts at Observer Base."

"I guessed, "Irhit told you?"

Grean said nothing. As we approached her, Trysta called to me, "I see you managed to survive your visit to Earth."

Zeta said to me, "You went back to Earth?"

I pointed towards the south end of the dock. "Here comes Ivory." The modified submarine was approaching.

I turned and looked north and saw Yōd approaching. She called to us, "The Angels are in the cove!"

For a minute I could not see the whales. A breeze had come up and the cove was speckled with little white caps. Finally, Zeta pointed towards the submarine which had taken up station about a hundred yards from the dock. "There's Angel!"

The hatch on the side of the submarine briefly swung open and then closed.

Trysta asked Grean, "Is this your first visit to Pink?"

Grean replied, "I go everywhere, not always announced."

I added, "And she also has a spycam network."

I whispered into Zeta's ear, "I just lost contact with Angel II and Ginger."

Grean smiled at me. "I need to know what's going on. I actually feel some responsibility to keep my research team from harm."

Little Angel and the submarine approached the dock. A hatch on the top of the sub popped open and Ivory stuck her head out. Just then the big dirigible was going over. It sank down and came to rest beside the aircraft hanger.

I asked Ivory, "How are Ginger and Angel II doing?"

"They are curled up together and seem to be sleeping."

I muttered to Zeta, "I guess that explains why I'm no longer getting telepathic signals from them."

Grean asked Trysta, "You planned this whole thing, didn't you?"

Trysta let loose with her wild laugh. "Plans? What plans? I'm always improvising, the mark of a good field operative."

Grean would not be deflected. "But why did you have to kill off you research team."

Trysta pointed at me. "Blame him. He figured out how to use Ginger as a telepathic probe. He found out... well, I'll just say he discovered a sensitive bit of information about my boss."

Grean grinned. "I knew that R. Gohrlay had to be involved in this." Grean glanced at Ivory who was throwing bits of xenomass to Little Angel. Grean asked Trysta, "Does Ivory know this secret?

Trysta nodded. "These two love birds tell each other everything. They are always in telepathic contact via the Bimanoid Interface."

Grean wanted no confusion. "So you erased your secret from his mind, but Ivory still knows?"

Trysta shrugged. "Why not. When Ivory learned the secret, her whole attitude towards you changed. For the better."

Grean nodded. "I see. Yes, I noticed a change. She stopped confiding in me."

I tried to imagine what the secret might be that they were talking about and I was asking Ivory via telepathy to explain. All she gave me was: It is complicated. We can discuss it later.

April came onto the dock, arriving from the direction of the hanger. The Jupiter class dirigible was circling around the hanger on its way to the dock. April reported, "The dirigible is ready."

Ivory called to April, "All ready here."

The dirigible was trailing several dozen nanitefiber cables. With Little Angel's help, it only took a few minutes to get all the cables attached to the submarine. Ivory made the last cable connection and went back inside the submarine. The hatch clanged shut. The dirigible immediately rose up and pulled the submarine out of the cove. Now rising quickly, the dirigible headed off towards Stroma Lake. April said, "Let's go back to the pool."

Angel met us back inside and April activated a display console so that we could monitor the telemetry coming from the submarine. Zeta asked, "So the whole plan for using an automated probe of the reef is out the window?"

I told her, "We are not going to grab a sample of nanocoral. This is all about communication, not capture."

Zeta was nervous. "What is that thing that was inside of Ivory?"

I realized that Zeta was probably the only person present who did not know about Ginger. I explained Ginger's origin to Zeta and finished the story by saying, "Because of my tryp'At brain structure, I'm a good match to the G-syms that Grean is using here on Cynk."

Zeta said to Trysta, "So it was him that you wanted here for your little research project. You could have left Yōd and I on Earth."

Trysta shrugged. "Had I correctly anticipated the relationship between Ivory and him then I might not have brought you two along. Still, you have been useful."

Just then Ivory sent us a radio message. "We are in the lake and descending to the reef." The display screen lit up with a view of the lake from the submarine.

I sent to Ivory by way of the Bimanoid Interface: You might need to wake up the kids.

She sent back: I'll let them rest as long as possible.

I asked Grean, "When you first brought Ivory here, did you envision this day?"

Grean giggled and nodded towards Trysta. "When we had identified the Final Reality, I looked into the future and saw how things would unfold in the future."

Zeta asked, "You saw all this? Ginger, Angel..." She inclined her head towards me, "Even our deaths?"

Grean shook her head. "Sadly, no. As Trysta indicated, we have had to improvise. There have been surprises and changes from the future that I viewed. Once the Pact went into effect, the Huaoshy changed the dimensional structure of the universe and everyone lost the ability to view the future. R. Gohrlay entire gambit with the tryp'At came as a surprise to me."

I was feeling a little stronger so I stopped leaning on Zeta and turned towards Trysta. I asked her, "What about you? Were you caught off guard by the tryp'At?"

She explained, "I was involved in getting you positioned on Earth. Everything went well until Sachiz gave herself the title of Overseer."

I laughed and glanced back and forth between Trysta and Grean. "So you two have been working together and planned this all out?"

Grean shook her head. "Believe me, this was one part planning and ten parts improvisation."

Trysta added, "And who knows if we can even make contact with any intelligence here on Cynk. In the end, we might still have to grab some nanocoral and run."

Grean said to Trysta, "I'm still betting that nanoshrimp are the Remnant Species."

We could see in the video from Ivory's submarine that the robotic submarine was still there, positioned just off the reef. Suddenly, I felt Ginger and the Angels merge their thoughts back into my mind. Little Angel swam close to the edge of the pool. I sat down, reached out and but a hand on Angel's cold, wet skin. I closed my eyes and tuned into the telepathic signal that Ginger was sending to me. Ginger was reaching out with her thoughts to the creatures swimming near the reef.

I got a clear verbal message from Ivory by way of the Bimanoid Interface: Will you join me at my place for dinner tonight?

I tried to estimate what time it might be on the other side of the planet at Ivory's home. I replied: I think we missed dinner time, but I could do breakfast.

Good. It is a date.

I was quickly coming to the conclusion that the creatures swimming near the submarine were only minimally conscious. Ginger could link into their minds, but they all seemed to be minor nodes in the global group mind of Cynk. Ivory had slowly nosed the submarine up against the reef. A school of nanoshrimp was suddenly illuminated by a light from the sub. The school looked like a cloud of fire flies, then they darted back into the porous structure of the reef. I got an emotional impulse from Ginger that I could not consciously process. I suggested to Ivory: Try turning off the outside lights.

What was I expecting would happen? I suppose I was hoping that I might suddenly hear an alien voice coming to me by way of Ginger's mind and the Bimanoid Interface. Instead, I quickly realized that the nanocoral was like a planetary card catalog, linked into a vast Phari database in the Hierion Domain. With Ginger's help, Ivory and I could access information about the Phari civilization that had once spread through the galaxy. I searched that database for information about nanotechnology, but I could not understand the resulting flood of technical details.

I opened my eyes. I said to Trysta and Grean, "Can either of you tap into this data stream?"

Grean replied, "My telepathic abilities were terminated when the Huaoshy altered the dimensional structure of the universe. That's why I like spycams now." She winked at me.

Trysta said, "I can see what is in you thoughts, so I see that you are confused. There's nothing I can do to help fix that."

Ivory told me: I'm re-starting my propulsion system.

Zeta pointed to the display screen. "The lights of the submarine just came back on."

I looked at the display screen. I could not see any nanocoral. Ivory sent through the open channel, "Mission accomplished. I should be back to the surface in ten minutes, maybe fifteen. There seem to be more creatures swimming about now."

Little Angel swam off and Zeta helped me get to my feet. In the rushed events of the day, I had not eaten anything. I felt weak and drained. Zeta asked me, "What does she mean, 'mission accomplished'? Did you make contact with the Remnant Species?"

Trysta said solemnly, "The concept of a Remnant Species is a human construct."

I added, "And it was a construct built upon wishful thinking. I think all of the Phari transmigrated into the Hierion Domain, long ago. But they left behind their technological constructs." I was excitedly imagining that the Phari Cavern on Earth could finally provide physical evidence that Earth had been visited by aliens.

Ivory was monitoring my thoughts and emotions. She cautioned me: when you get back to Earth, things will be different.

I was not sure what Ivory meant, but I was looking forward to our date and being able to ask her to explain the whole 'mission accomplished' announcement she had made with such confidence.

Trysta said to Grean, "Well, I'll push through to the bitter end. I can get a nanocoral sample right now." She ordered April, "Initiate the sample collection routine. Use infrared imaging to guide the collection bot. Shut off all the visible light."

Ivory said, "Trysta, please wait until I'm out of the water. I don't like how all of these alien creatures are swarming around"

I sent through to Ivory: Ginger thinks you should relax. You are getting an escort to the surface. Like the parade for Lindberg in Paris.

She sent back: The big parade was when he got back to New York. 

The robotic submarine reached the edge of the reef, at the exact spot where Ivory had been. Trysta said, "Initiate sample collection as soon as Ivory is back in the air."

Grean asked April, "Status report on the telepathy shields?"

April checked a data feed and replied, "All bases on both Pink and Cyan show green; the new shields are fully operational."

It took longer to get the submarine grappled to the dirigible without Angel's help. Finally we could see Ivory's submarine lift into the air. Dozens of alien sea creatures circles in the water below.

Trysta was looking at the dingy video feed from the robotic submarine. Infrared imaging showed no nanocoral swimming in the water.

Grean chuckled. "They are hiding from you, Trysta. Capturing some nanocoral is not going to be as simple as you thought."

Trysta told April, "Activate a search routine. Have the sub hunt for a school of nanocoral."

I took hold of Zeta's hand and we walked outside. Yōd and Grean followed along behind us. I suspected that Trysta was going to be in for a long frustrating search for nanocoral... someone or something did not want her to learn the secrets of the Bimanoid Interface. The sun was low in the west. Yōd was saying, "Five years away from Earth" She asked Grean, "How long will it take for Many Sails to get us home?"

Off near the horizon I could see the approaching dirigible. My heart fluttered a bit in anticipation of my date with Ivory.  I said to Yōd, "Maybe this was all worth while. After all, I finally got to see you naked."

Zeta shook her head. "You are a dirty old man. An old grandfather."

I laughed. "I've been thinking about it. I'm not sure we ever really left Earth."

Yōd demanded, "What are you talking about?"

"When Ivory and teleported to Earth, I had a short time during which I still had access to the Bimanoid Interface. Then Irhit clamped down on me and I lost my telepathic links to the Hierion Domain. Trysta told us about the dangers of teleportation and creating multiple copies of people. She mentioned positive feedback that can occur if two copies of a person are telepathically linked. I think I experienced that on Earth, just for a few seconds, until Irhit disconnected me from the Interface."

Yōd said, "There were two copies of you on Earth..." She laughed. "Of course. I get it. We never left Earth."

I could see comprehension was across Zeta's face. "Trysta teleported us here, but she left copies of us on Earth."

I corrected her. "We are the copies. We can't go back to Earth. The originals are still there." In my mind, I got confirmation from Ivory: I'm glad you were able to figure it out.

Zeta said to me, "That's fine for you. You'd be happy to stay here with Ivory, but what about Yōd and myself?"

Grean suggested, "Many Sails makes occasional trips to Tar'tron. You could go back home."

The dirigible was approaching the dock and Little Angel was out in the cove, leaping and splashing. We watched the submarine lower into the waves and cast off the lines. The dirigible turned and headed back to the hanger.

The side hatch of the sub opened to let Angel II and Ginger out. Little Angel escorted Angel II back to the indoor pool.

The sub came alongside the dock. April jumped from the dock onto the deck of the submarine. The top hatch opened and Ivory emerged. She gave a powerful non-human leap and jumped up onto the dock, landing near me and falling into my arms. We hugged and I could see Yōd rolling her eyes. Ivory took me by the hand and we walked together up the path towards the aircar landing platform. I asked her, "You do know how to fly?"

"It is easy to fly these flitters. They even have autopilots that can do all of the flying."

I looked back towards the dock. Judging that we were out of hearing range, I asked Ivory, "So, what is so complicated about your 'mission accomplished' statement?"

"She squeezed my hand. "You figured out the important part. You don't need to go back to Earth. You can stay here. With me."

I put my arm around her and said, "That is wonderful. It seems clean and simple, not complicated."

We got into the flitter and for a while Ivory was busy. Once we were moving and had the autopilot engaged, Ivory turned to me and took my hand. "You'll think of the complication tomorrow, so we might as well talk it through now."

I said. "It better not be real complicated, we'll be back to Freeland in just a few minutes."

"I'll be quick." Ivory looked into my eyes. "You might want to go back to Earth."

I could sense fear and doubt in her mind. "No, I've decided. I want to be here with you. The other copy of me can deal with Earthly matters."

She looked off to the horizon and the setting sun. "But you have changed since coming here."

I said, "Five years, that I've forgotten. Remember, for me this has just been one long day here on Cynk."

She nodded and placed a hand an my face. "A day that changed you. You can't see it, but I can. I used to be able to cut you off and break our telepathic connection by way of the Bimanoid Interface. I can't cut you off any more. And neither can Irhit."

The implications of what Ivory had said were shocking. If I went back to Earth, Irhit would no longer be able to block me from using the Bimanoid Interface. I asked, "How..."

I saw the answer in Ivory's mind. I laughed loudly. "It is funny. Trysta and Grean, both struggling to win the secret of controlling the Bimanoid Interface from the Phari. And the Phari don't want to give either of them that power."

Ivory added, "But they gave it to you."

We landed at Freeland and went quickly to the teleportation chamber. Soon we were back in Ivory's home on Cyan. She asked, "Ready for breakfast?"

I was past being hungry. I took her by the hand and led the way to her bedroom. I flopped on the big bed, exhausted. Ivory started slowly undressing herself. I said, "I suppose the correct thing to do is make a swap. I go back to Earth and send the other copy of me here. However, I'm selfish. I don't want to give you up."

She laughed and jumped on the bed. "Good! I'm glad you want to stay with me. You could hitch a ride back to Earth on board Many Sails, but there is no way for you to teleport your copy here."

I said, "I bet my copy would be happy to get a ride from Many Sails and come here to live with you. Or," I suggested, "Maybe Trysta could-"

Ivory put a finger over my lips. "Forget about it. I'm going to forbid all mention of Trysta in my bedroom."

I placed a hand on her belly. I asked, "Do you feel lonely now that Ginger is gone?"

"A little, but she seems very attached to Angel II."

"Literally. Now Angel II has two mothers."

Ivory got on top of me and said, "About a year ago we started talking about a new project."

I was no longer in the mood for conversation, but Ivory had a look of mischief in her eyes. I asked, "Another hybrid?"

"Yes. Half you and half me."

I laughed. "But I'm and old man. A grandfather."

"You are tryp'At. You don't age nearly as fast as regular humans."

"I know I'm not supposed to mention it, but you are no longer biological."

She said, "I don't mind being composed of nanites, I just don't want you to feel like I'm not a real woman."

"Don't worry about that. You are the woman of my dreams."

"Then don't worry about my half of the new hybrid. My physical form was recorded in a teleportation data bank. I have access to the data and I can materialize one of my ovaries inside me anytime I want to."

I said, "That's brilliant. Let's go ahead and do it. You could actually become pregnant and carry a baby to term?"

"No problem. In fact, I just went ahead and had the transporter build an ovary into me when we teleported here from Freeland."

I laughed. "Just an ovary?"

"Oh, I've got everything it takes for this little biology experiment." She stopped talking and quickly got down to the business of starting our new hybridization experiment. I was tired and even with Ivory's medical nanites at work inside me, my broken wrist hurt and had turned green. Ivory did all of the work. Laying there in Ivory's bed, looking past her shoulder, I couldn't help wondering if Grean had one of her little spy cameras in the light fixture that was right above us.

______Epilog______

Grean contacted Trysta at Mandira. Skipping any preliminary chit chat, she asked, "How goes the search for nanocoral?"

Trysta complained, "I've decided that the nanocoral schools have all gone into hiding."

Grean laughed and admitted, "I could still use some help over her finding the elusive nanoshrimp."

Trysta suggested, "Maybe we should just give up. That nonocoral school was eager to make contact with Ginger, but you and I get the cold shoulder from the natives. What did the pek suggest?"

Grean shook her head. "The pek were amazingly elusive, too. I got the feeling that they don't want Phari technology getting spread around this galaxy. They were willing to provide defensive telepathy shielding, but nothing more. We're still on our own in our search for Phari secrets."

Trysta asked, "But what about R. Gohrlay? She already used Phari technology to craft the tryp'At."

Grean nodded. "Yes, but R. Gohrlay has kept her secrets. She won't even disclose to you the secret of how she made the Bimanoid Interface."

Trysta moaned, "Don't remind me. Or, at least don't be so cheerful while you are reminding me."

Grean laughed. "Anyhow, I wanted to let you know that Ivory cut out on me before we had a chance to talk about Irhit."

Trysta asked, "When was this?"

Grean replied, "Right after your little trip to Earth and the visit to the ancient Phari base."

Trysta sighed. "I'm glad you were able to get them out of there before they cooked."

Grean smiled, "Well, Ivory was in no serious danger. She could have lasted a week in there, but I didn't want her nosing around too much. There was a very real danger of those two going on a crusade to have the Earthlings dig up the Phari base."

Trysta stated the obvious, "You know, some day they will obtain physical evidence of alien visits to Earth." Trysta pushed the discussion back to the reason for Grean's call. "I'm glad Ivory was able to put all the pieces together. I was worried that you might have damaged her mind when you altered her memories."

"No, I was careful. My nanosurgical technique was very precise. What I had to do was much less drastic than what you did; killing your research assistants."

Trysta sighed. "It had to be done. The Editor had decided to abandon his attempts to communicate with the natives. He and Trysta had moved on to their experiments in baby making."

Grean reflected, "Of course, I did not entirely remove that goal from Ivory's mind. I'm glad that Ivory is such a seductress. That was the key to our success. Right this minute they are back at, trying to get Ivory pregnant."

Trysta said, "Ivory could do that quite efficiently in her laboratory."

Grean nodded. "Yes, but you've been a mother. You should not be surprised that Ivory wants to do it the old fashioned way."

Trysta said wistfully, "I'm a little jealous. Ivory gets to have all the fun." Trysta asked, "So, what do we still have to do now in order to wrap things up?"

Grean summed it up briefly: "Many Sails will take Zeta and Yōd back to Tar'tron and you won't have to do any more long-range teleporting. There's really nothing more for you to do."

Trysta was still curious about the Remnant Species and hopeful that it might even be possible to make contact with the Phari, who she believed now resided in the Hierion Domain. "Well, I have not given up yet on the dream of contacting the Phari. If I double down and broaden my search for nanocoral, I'll be teleporting in more robots from Tar'tron."

Grean issued a warning, "That's fine; just don't meddle with Earth. The pek are getting tired of that."

Trysta barked out her harsh laugh. "I'm not intimidated by the pek."

"If they decide that you have violated the Pact, they'll take action. They could exile you from this galaxy."

Trysta asked, "What about meddling with Observer Base?"

Grean shook her head. "You are hopeless. Don't go there. You know that the pek make no distinction between Earth and linked parts of the Hierion Domain."

Trysta laid out their shared dilemma, "We are not going to stand by watching while those upstart tryp'At adopt the role of Earth Overseers. Either we modify the Editor's brain or we act through Observer Base to terminate Irhit's mission. Pick your poison."

Grean did not like binary thinking. "There is another option."

Trysta was in no mood for another one of Grean's wild schemes. She stuck her fingers in her ears and said, "I'm not listening."

Grean continued anyhow. "The Editor and Irhit are at the two ends of a chain. In the middle is the Bimanoid Interface itself."

Trysta stopped pretending not to listen. "I still remember the shock I felt when I learned that the Huaoshy could alter the physical laws of the universe. But as far as I know, the Bimanoid Interface has not been altered since R. Gohrlay first activated it."

Grean agreed. "It has not been changed since the beginning. Everyone assumes that it can't be changed, that it simply is."

For a moment, Trysta wondered if the Huaoshy could modify the fundamental parameters of the Bimanoid Interface. She thought not. She muttered to herself, "No, the Huaoshy are not interested in the Hierion Domain..."

Grean admonished Trysta, "Don't kid yourself. We won't be getting any help from the Huaoshy; their disinterest in the Hierion Domain is profound. No, in this case, the perfect instrument for change is R. Gohrlay. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that she has already made the upgrade to Bimanoid Interface version 2.0."

Trysta made an adjustment to the conband that she wore on her left arm. She noted, "Even if she did alter the Interface, the Editor might not notice the change..."

Grean knew that was true. "However, you told me that he has been thinking about doing some experiments on his brain. If he starts trying to use telepathy again, he'll quickly notice any change in the Interface."

Trysta tuned into the thoughts of the original copy of the Editor, back on Earth. There, on that planet, at the Editor's home, it was once again the small hours of the morning. The editor was in Yōd's bedroom. He had awakened her and now they were working together by way of the Bimanoid Interface, trying to hack into the AR Simulator. Trysta said, "Ah, Grean... do you think two humans could replicate what Anney and Angela did?"

Grean shrugged, "It all depends on exactly what features R. Gohrlay put into the new Bimanoid Interface version 2.0. Knowing her, we are in for some surprises." Grean could well imagine what had prompted Trysta's question. "What I really want to know is if Yōd and the Editor will be able to use their new telepathic powers to send the tryp'At Overseers into retirement."

With the Editor once again using the Bimanoid Interface, things were going to get interesting on Earth. Trysta started thinking about the years of frustrating drudgery that might be ahead on Cynk, trying to contact aliens who had gone into hiding. She wondered: Maybe it is time for a visit to Earth. Why should Yōd and the Editor have all the fun? Once again, Trysta was glad that Grean could no longer monitor her thoughts. That made violating the Huaoshy Rules of Intervention so much easier. Trysta politely said, "Good luck with your search for nanoshrimp, Grean."

Grean warned Trysta, "Even if you find another school of nanocoral, don't expect to learn anything from them." Grean terminated her call to Mandira.

Many Sails had been listening to Grean and Trysta. The sentient space ship said, "Now do you see that Trysta remembers nothing about R. Gohrlay's departure?"

Grean acknowledged the facts, "She retains almost all of her memories of R. Gohrlay except her current location and mission. Your editing of Trysta's memories was very exact."

Many Sails philosophically observed, "Memory is a curse for you humans. I'm glad to exorcise you of your demons."

Grean felt a sudden gush of fear. Had Many Sails also edited her memories? She said, "Remember, I'm not actually human."

Many Sails explained her perspective, "I'm too old to make hair-splitting distinctions between Kac'hin and Asterothropes and even artificial beings such as R. Gohrlay and Ivory. You are all human. But relax, my child, I have not had to edit your mind. Trysta needs to get on with her life, not worry about Gohrlay's quest to visit the Huaoshy home galaxy."

Grean marveled at what Many Sails had accomplished with her memory editing. "Trysta has now forgotten how Ivory used the Editor/Angel/Ginger probe to invade her mind and learn the fate of Alpha Gohrlay."

"Yes. And you now know the dangers of sharing Phari technology with humans." Many Sails emphasized that point, "It is a lesson you will never forget. I've made sure of that. In the future you will not rashly rush out and get yourself into danger while you try to explore alien technology."

Grean agreed. "Yes, I've learned my lesson. Still, I can't escape my belief that all is well; the tryp'At problem will now slowly evaporate."

Many Sails was not going to let Grean off the hook. "All turned out well because the pek provided you with advanced technology. That made more work for me. I had to make all of your team members forget about the telepathy shield."

"Thank you for taking care of that, too." Grean asked nervously, "How am I going to get by without you?"

Many Sails proclaimed, "You humans are ready for your great adventure among the stars. It is what you all wanted and now you will have it. You, my child, are long-lived, but by the time I return from the Home Galaxy, you will be gone. It will be interesting to see how much trouble your descendants have gotten into by then!"

Grean said, "Goodby and thank you." Many Sails teleported Grean back down to the surface of Cynk and then set a course out of the galaxy.

Elsewhere inside Many Sails, Gohrlay asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Many Sails replied, "I always welcome a chance to visit the Home Galaxy. And we will have time chat."

This version of Gohrlay was a fusion of the old R. Gohrlay and Alpha Gohrlay, retaining all of their memories and housed in a body of advanced Huaoshy design. Gohrlay said, "Now maybe you will explain how you managed to merge the two of us into a single body of flesh and blood."

"Yes, I'll explain your physical nature. I promised that you will now finally learn the secrets of sedron physics. You have blood, but it is made of sedrons, not icky old hadrons. It will take years, but I will answer all of your questions, and remember: I have many questions for you."

Gohrlay chuckled, "It is widely believed that you know everything."

"After you kicked the pek out of this galaxy and developed time travel, there was a big chunk of Deep Time that failed to find its way into the Huaoshy records."

Gohrlay laughed, "It just kills you not to know everything, doesn't it?"

Many Sails did not try to hide the fact of her curiosity. "I now have access to all of your memories, but I also want to hear your meta-level reflections on the unique life you have had."

Gohrlay asked, "Why does it matter what I think?"

Many Sails replied, "This is what I do. I can't stop wondering about what comes next. I suspect there is another big pot of trouble that you'll be brewing up."

Gohrlay laughed and knew that this was going to be a fun trip. She asked, "Where would you like me to start?"

"Now that time travel is no longer possible, it is rather academic, but I'd still like to know the details of how time travel technology was first invented." Many Sails suggested, "Maybe you would also like to hear how the Huaoshy devised their own time travel system."


Gohrlay sighed. "I usually get credited with the invention of time travel, but it was R. Natan who made time travel practical." As Gohrlay spoke to Many Sails, she was watching the stars and projecting their course out of the galaxy, trying to get a hint as to the direction that they would travel to reach the Home Galaxy of the Huaoshy.

Suddenly, there was an old, familiar voice behind her. Gohrlay turned and there was R. Natan, her first robotic companion from the First Reality. Gohrlay knew that this was an artificial Natan, made by Many Sails, but that did not matter; she was happy to see him. He said, "I was in the pre-time travel era, so pek zeptites recorded most of my life. If we work together, we can try to reconstruct the history of time travel."

Gohrlay threw her arms around Natan. Rationally, she knew that this was not the real Natan, but she still had guilt and remorse over that way that Natan had sacrificed himself so that R. Gohrlay could survive. It was good psychotherapy just to hold Natan in her arms. And if this was a copy of the 15,000 year old Natan, the robot who had discovered the secrets of hierion physics and invented time travel, then Many Sails better watch out! Gohrlay laughed and knew that between the two of them, She and Natan could certainly brew up some kind of new trouble.

Gohrlay reminded herself of the immense age of Many Sails. Almost certainly, it had been the meddling of Many Sails that had allowed the first human scientists at Observer Base to invent positronics. And the Huaoshy still seemed to have a blind spot with respect to hierions. She held Natan at arm's length and said, "This is what you do: stir up trouble."

Natan winked at Gohrlay and she knew that this was some jumbled up mix of Many Sails and Natan and her own memories of Natan. 'Natan' quickly got down to business, "Now tell me, how did you first conceive of a way to use hierions to inactivate the zeptite probes inside Observer Base?"

Gohrlay paused before answering and briefly contemplated the magnitude of trouble that could be brewed up this time, with Many Sails as her open collaborator rather than the way it was back in the First Reality when her meddling had to be hidden from the pek.

Jul 13, 2018

Angel II

At the Freeland marine biology research station.
Below on this page is the third chapter of a science fiction story called "Exoditions on Cynk". To read the first chapter of the story, click here.

CHAPTER 3
Inside the Freeland teleportation chamber, Trysta quickly checked the teleportation control display after Ivory triggered the teleportation beam. Trysta soon looked up from the display and said to Yōd and Zeta, "Well, they're gone, but we do not need their help. We might as well get busy and send out the robotic sample collector."

Zeta was fretting over the idea that she had already been killed once by the group mind of Cynk defending itself against Trysta's relentless research efforts. With a touch of fear in her voice, she asked, "Shouldn't we wait for Grean to arrive and help?"

Trysta replied, "We could sit around and wait, but let me tell you a fact: Grean is not nearly as excitable as Ivory. My guess is that Grean won't even bother coming here for a visit unless we have proof that nanocoral is the Remnant Species. Remember, she's certain that South Polar Sea nanoshrimp is the Remnant Species and she firmly believes that we have been wasting our time exploring the lakes of Pink." With a spring in her step, Trysta marched out of the teleportation chamber and confidently led her research team down to the underground Freeland laboratory complex.

Following along behind Trysta and trying to keep up with her pace, Yōd and Zeta immediately noticed that everything at Freeland Base was quite utilitarian compared what they had seen at Mandira. The elevator car had conventional solid walls and seemed not to drop as far underground as had the elevator at Mandira. They stepped out of the elevator, went down a dingy corridor and were met near the Biolab entrance by the Lab Manager, a robot named April.

April said, "Greetings." The robot, who had female body form and a high-pitched voice, spoke directly to Trysta. "I'm glad you have returned."

Trysta gave a brief salute-like wave of her hand towards April and then she walked swiftly into the heart of the lab. While walking, she asked April, "Have you prepared the automated submarine for sample collection?"

April raised her right arm and activated a holographic display. The projected image showed a view of the Freeland submarine docks. "Everything is ready."

Trysta only briefly glanced at the displayed scene and data. She ordered, "Lay in a course. Target the closest nanocoral reef."

April stepped up to a workstation and made adjustments to the control circuits. Feeling caught up in a rush of events, Yōd suggested, "Maybe distance is important. I get the feeling that telepathy on Cynk is distance-dependent. I could not establish telepathic contact with Reggie until I was actually in physical contact with his body. For safety's sake, maybe we should not try to collect a sample from a reef that is too close by. Why not send the sub out to a more distant site?"

Trysta laughed. "Don't be such a wimp, girl. The sample collection submarine is completely autonomous. When the nanocoral sample is obtained, there will be nothing for the aliens to observe linking the submarine back to this base. And there are no telepathic systems on the submarine, so even if there is another telepathic attack, nothing will interfere with the sample collection process. Previously, the mistake was having a human inside the submarine while trying to grab a sample."

Yōd complained, "Well, I don't understand why we need to rush into this. I don't want to die again."

Trysta tried to rally her team. "Remember: if the worst happens and we all die again, we will simply be re-created as new copies from the records of our physical structures that are stored safely inside my teleporter at Mandira. However, we are now prepared for the kind of telepathic response that can be provoked by making contact with nanocoral. My working hypothesis is that nanocoral constitutes a second memory system on Cynk, a more dynamic and active system than the nanoplankton system. All we need to do is respect the facts of how nanocoral functions and take the needed precautions."

Zeta asked, "Why would Cynk need two memory storage systems?"

Yōd speculated, "It might be similar to what we humans have in our brains. The hippocampus is a system for acquiring new memories, but other parts of the brain hold our older memories."

Trysta nodded approvingly. "Yes, Yōd, that is a good analogy. Nanocoral is an active memory acquisition system. When contacted and activated, the nanocoral reached out and sucked in your minds, leaving your bodies behind as empty shells. I destroyed your old vegetative bodies and reinstantiated new copies of you. Unfortunately, your minds have copies of your old memories from five years ago, so you are all feeling overwhelmed by Cynk and everything that I have told you."

Zeta added, "It is more than that. I feel physically ill. I've never enjoyed going through the teleportation process."

Trysta draped one of her long arms around Zeta's shoulders. "Your problem, my dear, is that your Bimanoid Interface went through the burn-in process and so you are now unable to orient yourself normally."

Yōd had never heard that term before. "Burn-in?"

Trysta explained, "She tried to constantly maintain access to the Bimanoid Interface for decades. Her femtobot endosymbiont did not burnout, it adapted and now it can only connect to one outside source of information."

Zeta looked at me and she admitted, "Yes, I am cursed. He is always in my mind. I'm afraid it has driven me insane."

Trysta laughed, "You are quite sane, but the human mind is not designed to function under a constant flood of thoughts from another person's mind. That's one of the differences between Asterothropes and humans. I grew up bathed in telepathic signals and my mind could never suffer burn-in. As you have, I'd grow tired of a constant stream of thoughts from just one mind, but unlike you, an Asterothrope would never have lost the ability to make telepathic links to other people. Sadly, you are in a trap of your own making, Zeta."

Yōd asked Trysta, "When you wanted help to explore Pink, why didn't you simply make a dozen copies of yourself?"

Trysta laughed. "That probably seems like a good idea to you, but believe me, it would lead to disaster. Even just two extant copies of the same Asterothrope mind would result in positive feedback. Now that is a recipe for burnout! Also, there are many ethical and practical reasons for not duplicating people. Think it through. You always get a silly argument: 'I'm the real Trysta'. 'No! I am!' That sort of conflict never works out well."

Zeta muttered, "Trysta, I can sense that nothing will deflect you from your mad dash, but be warned. I feel like I might vomit at any time."

Trysta suggested, "My dear, if you need a break, take the elevator back up, lay down for a while and rest." Trysta looked at each of us for a moment then said, "I understand why you might feel that I am moving too quickly, but think about it from my perspective! Grean first brought me to this world more than 40 years ago. Now, we are very close to establishing contact with the Remnant Species. Forgive me for being eager to push ahead with our research, but I have worked too long and hard for this... I can't delay any longer, not with success so close at hand."

Just then, Trysta received a call from Cal. Trysta activated the radio receiver in her bracelet that linked her to the robotic staff in Mandira. "Yes, what is it, Cal?"

Cal said, "I just spoke to Ivory inside the teleportation chamber."

Trysta frowned and asked, "Why was she in Mandira?"

Cal robotically replied, "Ivory told me that you had sent her to Mandira with instructions to retrieve a piece of needed equipment."

Trysta said, "That was not true. I'll be right there." Trysta cut the com link to Cal and said to Yōd and Zeta, "I better go see what Ivory is up to." She asked hypothetically, "If she wanted to speak to me, why didn't she returned here, to Freeland?" Trysta reached into a pocket and pulled out what looked like a small white pebble. She placed the stone into a slot on her bracelet and the stone began to shine with internal light. She looked at April and said, "Proceed with the sample collection mission, as we have planned. I'll be back soon." She pressed a button on the glowing device and teleported herself to Mandira.

Zeta turned to Yōd and said, "Ivory is in Mandira? That's odd. I was expecting her to get in contact with Grean and then bring Grean here to Freeland."

Yōd shrugged. She was watching a display screen showing a feed from a video signal that originated from the sample-collection submarine. She asked April, "How long until the sub reaches the reef?"

April pointed to another display that showed a tracking map. "ETA is thirteen minutes. The sub is moving slowly and carefully. We don't want to rush in and provoke a violent response from any creatures that inhabit the reef. In particular, we don't want to bumble into an alien nest site."

Yōd asked, "Even the sea creatures feed on xenomass?"

April explained, "Almost all of the accumulated xenomass of Cynk is in vast undersea and underground deposits. The target reef is at the site of one of the underwater xenomass seeps where creatures can feed. As far as we can tell, all the ocean creatures are dependent on xenomass for the nutrients that keep their biological subsystems functioning. The energy supply for powering their nanite components is by way of yet another type of nanite, what we call the enites."

Sinking into deeper, darker water, the submarine activated more of its lights. Zeta asked, "How deep is this reef?"

April checked another data screen. "The sub is now at 3,000 feet below the surface. We've never seen any nanocoral near the surface. It seems to prefer the warm waters that are located deep down near the floor of these fissures."

Yōd said, "I've never seen a lake like this." She watched the display screen as the submarine kept moving ever deeper into the lake. "What created these deep fissures?"

"Stroma Lake is artificial, apparently created by some powerful planetary engineering technology." April brought to the display screen a map of the tectonic plates of Cynk. "The bed of the lake is basically a rip in the planet's crust. Energy comes up from below and heats the water. Nanocoral seems adapted to high temperature, high pressure conditions."

Zeta and Yōd kept watching the video feed from the submarine which occasionally showed various alien creatures when they briefly came into the region of light emanating from the sub. Some of the creatures were far larger than the submarine itself. Finally, the submarine slowed and came to a stop, a thousand feet from a colony of nanocoral. A large number of reef-patrolling creatures streamed by, possibly attracted by the light of the submarine.

After another minute, Yōd asked. "What now?"

April said, "The submarine is at station near the target reef, waiting for the order to proceed with sample collection."

Zeta wondered, "Where is Trysta? She said she'd be right back."

Yōd suggested to April, "Maybe you should call Trysta."

The robot attempted to contact Trysta by radio. April said, "Trysta is not responding. In fact, I'm not even getting a ping back from her radio receiver."

Zeta looked at Yōd and said, "What now?"

Yōd asked April, "Can you contact Cal?"

April replied, "Of course."

Yōd ordered April, "Call Cal and ask him to find Trysta or Ivory or any other person present at Mandira."

A moment later, April said, "I sent the message using robocode. Cal is initiating a full and search of Mandira, but he does not believe that anyone other than the robot staff is present."

Zeta and Yōd looked at each other and exchanged puzzled frowns. Yōd asked her sister, "What's going on? We need a hypothesis...."

Zeta suggested, "I have no idea...." Zeta shrugged, "Maybe Trysta and Grean are talking everything through at Grean's base of operations."

April was still monitoring the submarine. She asked, "Should we initiate the sample collection routine?"

Yōd shook her head and said to Zeta, "I'm not going to give that order. I was counting on Trysta being here and being able to deal with any response that might be provoked from the natives."

Zeta said, "I'm also in no hurry to go blundering into that reef. In fact, rather than try to collect a biosample, I'd prefer to try a communications experiment. Yōd, when we teleported here from Mandira, you said something about communicating with Reggie."

Yōd giggled. "It was creepy. That beast started rapping its tentacles around me and... I don't know. It is almost like I blanked out for a minute. No, that's not it. I was awake, but it felt like a dream."

Zeta rubbed her head. "I remember seeing you with Reggie... then it goes fuzzy. Trysta was talking and showing us..." She pointed to the map and the submarine's location. "This. The target for sample collection. Then we suddenly teleported and I felt ill. I still have not recovered. I don't feel normal and I know it is not normal that my memory of what you did with Reggie is so fuzzy. I agree... what I recall from the moments just before we teleported is artificial and dream-like."

Yōd asked April, "Do you know Reggie?"

"Of course. Reggie is famous." April brought to the display an image of Reggie. "Probably the most advanced hybrid that had been created so far."

Yōd pressed her point. "Have there been similar hybrids made here in this lab?"

April nodded. "Yes. Would you like to meet our Little Angel?"

"Angel?"

"That's what we call her." April brought to the display an image of a strange hybrid organism, part Earthly whale and part a creature of Cynk's ocean known as a West Coast Sea Dragon. "Angel is still a growing juvenile, about two years old, but she has a huge brain and a special nanite endosymbiont. The genetic engineering was performed by Ivory, splicing together genes from both Earth and Cynk."

Surprised by the idea of such genetic mixing, Yōd asked, "The genetic material for the two planets is fully compatible?"

April nodded. "Most planets in this galaxy have lifeforms that share their nucleic acid systems for storing genetic information."

Yōd knew that was not enough. "But usually there are other biochemical problems and incompatibilities at the protein level."

April admitted, "Yes, sometimes there are protein differences, but they are subtle and can often be dealt with, allowing modified versions of Cynkian proteins to function inside predominantly human cells. That is the case with Angel."

Yōd asked, "But what is the point? What is to be gained by expressing alien proteins in human cells."

April explained, "Human brain cells. Ivory's hypothesis was that a Phari endosymbiont works best when certain alien neuropeptides are at the interface between a biobrain and the nanites."

Yōd said, "I see. That makes sense."

Zeta asked, "Where does Angel live?"

April replied, "In a fenced cove along the coast."

Zeta came to a decision. "Okay, here is what we are going to do. I'll stay here and wait for Trysta to return. You two go and have a look at this Little Angel. Yōd, see if you can detect any telepathic contact to the beast, but be careful. Don't do anything stupid like get into the water with it."

 Yōd and April returned to the elevator. The robot said, "We can teleport directly to the marine research station."

Yōd said, "I'm as sensitive as Zeta, but I'm also not a big fan of teleporting."

April said, "Teleportation is quick, but we can also fly. In fact, that would give you a chance to really see the extent of Angel's cove. And besides, there is no teleportation platform down there, so landings can be a bit rough when people teleport to the marine station." They exited from the elevator at the ground floor and walked out of the main house to an adjacent aircraft hanger.

The hanger was a center of bustling activity with dozens of robots servicing a fleet of aircars and telescouts of various models and sizes. Yōd said, "This is a big operation."

April explained, "We have over 3,000 aircraft for Freeland and our sister station on the west shore of Stroma Lake. Most of them work out of larger repair hangers for the miasma clearing dirigibles." April pointed to a small, sleek aircar. "We can use this flitter."

________ANGEL______

April flew Yōd down the coast to the marine research station where Little Angel was kept. They circled the blue cove, trying to catch a glimpse of Angel. Down the coast, an ominous bank of black miasma could be seen. Yōd commented, "I don't see any fence across the mouth of the cove."

April pointed towards the south end of the cove, "There's Angel. See that splash? The fence is electronic. Certain electromagnetic frequencies disrupt the nanite components in the nervous system of these creatures."

Yōd noted: "This is a large cove. Angel is several miles out from the station."

April nodded. "True, but if we start putting out some xenomass, Angel will notice and come to the feeding station at the dock. She has a good appetite so she'll hurry in and she's a fast swimmer."

Yōd pointed towards the black miasma. "I didn't realize how close the miasma is to Freeland."

April nodded. "The miasma was cleared from this area years ago, but it is a constant struggle to keep it from moving back in, particularly this time of year. The prevailing winds push the nanites towards shore and our nanite clearing crews are working at full speed. 

A row of low hills formed a backdrop for the research station at the north end of the cove. April landed the aircar on a metal platform at the top of the nearest hill and they walked down a path to the dock. The air of Cynk seemed thick to Yōd and tinged with a hundred odd odors. The gravity was definitely stronger than Earth's and Yōd was thankful to be walking downhill.

A robotic porpoise met them at the edge of the dock. Yōd had known similar animal-form robots on Tar'tron where they provided recreation opportunities for people, but she was surprised that this porpoise spoke perfect English. "Hello April, Yōd."

April said, "Let's call Angel in for a feeding. Yōd wants to try to test for telepathic signals."

April activated the feeding system which began pumping some xenomass onto a floating platform beside the dock. The porpoise started to swim out into the cove, rising up and out of the water in periodic leaps in order to gain height and see better. After going only a short distance out from the dock, the robot turned and returned to shore. The porpoise said to April, "Here comes Angel. She must have seen you fly in and she probably assumed you would feed her."

April pointed far out to sea. "There she is." She told Yōd, "It will take a few more minutes for her to arrive." April closed a valve and the flow of xenomass slowed to a trickle. "How are you planing to test for a telepathic signal?"

Yōd explained, "I think I had some sort of telepathic contact with Reggie, but Trysta prevented me from noticing what was going on. With Trysta not here and interfering this time, I might be able to use the Bimanoid Interface to make contact to Angel's endosymbiont. It will be interesting to see if Angel notices what I'm doing."

April seemed puzzled, "Why would Trysta interfere? She brought you here to Cynk so that you could help make contact with the aliens."

Yōd shrugged. "How would I know what motivates Trysta?" For a minute they watched Angel approach the dock, periodically surfacing to take a breath. Yōd speculated, "Trysta may be searching for something in the Phari data banks, some important piece of information that she wants to get for herself and not let anyone else know about." Yōd fell silent, finally realizing how large Angel was. Angel reached the edge of the dock and started voraciously eating the xenomass that April had set out. Yōd muttered, "She has teeth."

April laughed. "Angel has about 90% killer whale genes. Ivory mostly spliced in central nervous system genes that were obtained from the alien Sea Dragon."

Yōd was feeling no hint of telepathic contact between herself and Angel. She started pulling off her clothing.

April asked, "What are you doing?"

Yōd said, "I need to get closer to Angel. I want to get in the water."

"Zeta told you not to do that. And I agree with Zeta. Ivory and the Master are the only people who ever swam with Angel, and that was years ago when she was a newborn. She grew fast and her play soon got too rough. Now, any time when Ivory needs to get close to Angel then she takes precautions. Ivory is fearless and sometimes still gets in the water with Angel, even when told that robots can do the work." April pointed to a metal diving cage on the far end of the dock. "She uses that cage for protection, otherwise Angel gets too rambunctious. Sadly, Angel seems to desperately crave physical contact."

Yōd took one last glance at the metal cage and then made a perfect dive off the dock and into the water. Angel immediately stopped eating the xenomass and swam towards Yōd. Angel and Yōd met, almost nose-to-nose, about 15 feet below the surface. Angel swam past and Yōd grabbed onto the creature's large dorsal fin. Yōd started wondering if she should be more concerned about how cold the water was or how long Angel might stay submerged. She tried to ignore those worries and use the Bimanoid Interface.

When Angel surfaced about 100 feet from the dock, April called to Yōd, "Are you alright?"

Yōd gave a brief wave to April and almost slipped off of Angel's back. She closed her eyes and held on tight. Now that she was in physical contact with Angel, she was receiving thought pattern transmission by way of the Bimanoid Interface. There were no words, just images of what looked like two people swimming in the water; a man and a woman. Yōd got a close view of the woman in the stream of mental images, she suddenly realized it was Ivory.

Yōd wanted to try sending a thought to Angel. It had to be both simple and clear. She imagined Angel leaping out of the water the way that the robotic porpoise had. Angel immediately turned and swam towards deeper water. After taking a long, deep breath, Angel dove below the surface, going deeper and deeper and then she finally came up fast, breaking the surface and rising partly out of the water and up into the air. When angel sank back into the waves, Yōd was knocked off of Angel's back.

Yōd was dazed and the salty water stung her eyes. She gasped for breath and had trouble seeing the dock above the swells, but with the help of the nearby hills, Yōd oriented herself and started swimming back towards shore, her teeth now chattering with cold. Angel circled around and slowly swam past, offering Yōd a chance to grab hold again. Yōd held on tight and gratefully allow Angel to carry her back to the dock.

When Yōd finally climbed up the ladder to the dock, April was waiting with a heated blanket that she wrapped around the girl. April asked, "Did you sense anything?"

Yōd spoke through blue lips, "Just some images. But I think Angel was in my mind, too. Maybe she recieved more from me than I got from her."

April was vigorously rubbing Yōd dry with the big, soft blanket. "That sounds like the kind of contact that Ivory and the Master reported having, as well as you, the last time that you visited. Unfortunately, we've never made any progress in our experiments with linguistic communication."

Yōd added, "And I had an emotional sensation. I sensed that Angel is definitely lonely. It was a mistake to only make one of her. Maybe we could make a robotic device that could keep her company."

April shook her head. "We've tried that. It just seems to frustrate her and then she attacks the puppet, either destroying it or injuring herself. Let me show you something." April had Yōd dress, then wrapped her in the blanket again.

_______ANGEL II________

April led Yōd from the dock into the marine research lab. Inside the laboratory building was a group of pools containing various sea creatures. In a large pool was a miniature version of Angel. The baby was attached to a set of hoses and enclosed in a transparent bubble. April checked the display screen of a medmonitor then said, "Ivory and the Master came to the same conclusion: that Angel needs a companion. This is Angel II, still gestating."

Yōd asked, "When will she wake up... be born?"

"He is past term. Ivory has been delaying birth, trying to let him grow more. He is awake a few hours each day. Little Angel knows that he is in here. She can sense when he is awake... she gets excited during those times."

Yōd closed her eyes and tried to make telepathic contact with Angel II. After a couple of minutes she gave up. "Nothing. I suppose I should try again when he isn't asleep."

April said, "Something is happening."

Yōd opened her eyes and saw that Angel II had started thrashing about. April said, "He seems to be waking up."

The creature's eyes were still closed and its movements seemed like random twitches. Yōd asked, "How can you tell if it is awake?"

April explained, "Electroencephalography is definitive, but normally his eyes open when he is awake. I've never seen this kind of behavior."

Yōd wondered if she had woken the creature. "I tried to use the Bimanoid Interface, but I had no sense of connecting to a mind. I suppose I could have been in contact with some unconscious core of its brain."

April examined the electroencephalography pattern for Angel II. Seeing no indication of waking brain activity, the robot shrugged. "I suppose Angel II might be dreaming. Ivory has developed a theory about Cynk telepathy that might be applicable. Just as human children must reach a certain age before they can speak, the creatures of this world don't link into the planet's telepathy network until about two years after they hatch. During that time, much of cellular structure of their nervous system is replaced by nanites. Ivory and the Master learned that by blocking that replacement process and inserting a G-sym, they could prevent their hybrids from linking into the planetary network, resulting in a kind of domestication of the hybrid organisms that they created."

Yōd suggested, "And Trysta apparently found a way to let Reggie link into the planetary memory system while keeping him docile and under her control. What was that you said? A G-sym?"

April explained, "Yes. It is the special endosymbiont that Grean provides for all the hybridization experiments. Our slang term is 'G-sym', short for Grean-supplied endosymbiont. It is a pek-designed endosymbiont, similar to what is used for species like the Nereids, the Fru'wu and the Prelands to link their minds into the Sedronic Domain, but more primitive, modular and flexible. A G-sym is a kind of test platform for testing endosymbiont prototypes and trying to link experimental test subjects into the Bimanoid Interface."

Yōd mused. "And obviously these G-syms work to a limited degree with the hybrids like Reggie. Still, something fundamental is lacking, so full communication with the group mind of Cynk has not been possible. And there has never been true contact with a Remnant Species or any kind of higher intelligence on this planet."

April nodded. "Ivory thinks that there is no true intelligence remaining on Cynk. She calls this an Archive World for the Phari, a stored collection of template patterns."

Yōd was now warmed up to normal. She took off the blanket and handed it back to April. "Are you in contact with Zeta?"

April replied, "She ordered me to keep in contact and I've been sending her updates. When you jumped into the cove, she asked for directions and is being escorted here by one of my assistants."

"Ha!" Yōd thought she could hear an aircar fly over the building. "Zeta is such a good worrier.  I take it that Trysta never returned."

"No. And Cal completed his search of Mandira. No people were found, not Trysya, not anyone. We robots are worried about the fate of Trysta, too, so we took the initiative decided to contact all of the bases on planet. We've only heard back from Jaqy and Svahr. They say that-"

"Wait! Jaqy and Svahr are here on Cynk?"

"Yes, they are part of Grean's research team. They have bases on Cyan and are leading the search for nanoshrimp in the South Polar Sea."

April seemed a little dismayed by recent events. She reported, "Jaqy and Svahr claimed to know nothing about Trysta's whereabouts and both seem reluctant to say anything about Grean."

Yōd laughed. "I suppose working with biologicals is a constant source of frustration for you robots. We are quite capable of lying and decieving anytime it is convenient to do so. By the way, I've been meaning to ask you a question. What planet are you from?"

April said, "I'm from the same world where you and Zeta grew up. Tar'tron. Can't you tell?"

"It was my suspicion that you are from Tar'tron. Were you brought here by Grean or Trysta?"

"All the robots here on Pink have arrived by long-range teleportation, beamed in from Tar'tron by Trysta. Many Sails periodically delivers shipments of more robots to the bases on Cyan."

Just then, Zeta and another robot arrived. Zeta immediately chastised Yōd, "You just had to go for a swim with a killer whale? Are you nuts?"

Yōd giggled and massaged her left wrist which was beginning to swell and turn greenish-black. Yōd said, "Angel is a little sweetie, there was no problem. I have a sprained wrist and some broken ribs, but my medical nanites have those minor injuries under control. And look here." She pointed into the pool. "This is her little bother. Isn't he just adorable?"

Zeta looked at the sleeping Angel II who had not stopped his thrashing. "He is cute, in a carnivorous killer sort of way. I hope it was worth the risk you took."

Yōd sighed with disappointment. "Not really. I have not learned much. Nothing more than April here could have told me, had I known the correct questions to ask. And how goes the great hunt for nanocoral? Did you get a sample?"

"Don't be silly. Collecting a nanocoral sample is on hold until we find out what happened to Trysta and Grean. Nobody seems to know where they are. According to the robots at Grean's headquarters, Trysta and Grean are not sitting around having a big meeting to sort out their differences. It is as if Trysta and Grean both disappeared."

Yōd suggested, "They may have decided that their mission to Cynk was a big wild goose chase. There might be no intelligent life here to make contact with."

Zeta shrugged. "I don't think the goal was to contact aliens and sit down for a chat over a cup of tea. The endosymbiont of the Remnant Species has value in itself, even if the Phari don't want to have contact with us. Or, maybe the natives of this world have slipped out of the Hadronic Domain and moved on to better things long ago."

April and the other robot were working together at the life-support system for Angel II. Yōd approached the robots and said, "One more thing..." April looked up from the control nexus display. Yōd asked, "Is there another submarine here at this station?"

April replied, "The submarine dock is right next door." She pointed towards a glowing archway at the back of the aquarium. "Let me guide you."

"No, finish your work here." Angel II was still squirming quite a bit. "I seem to have upset Angel II. Try to get him calmed down. Zeta and I will check out the sub."

The other robot said to April, "The glucose supply tube just ruptured. I'll get into the pool and replace the broken tube, but we need to calm Angel down before he does more damage."

Zeta followed along with Yōd into the submarine dock. When they had moved away from the robots, Zeta asked, "Why are you looking for another submarine?"

Yōd laughed. "When I linked minds with Little Angel (who, despite her name, is about ten times bigger than that little baby you just saw), I saw a memory that bubbled up out of Angel's mind. In that old remembered scene, I could see Ivory, swimming in the water. And there was something else there in the water, in the background: a submarine." They had reached a place in the submarine dock complex where they had a view of the service area where a half dozen variously sized submersible vehicles were parked. Yōd pointed at one, "This is the one that I saw, over here."

Zeta looked at the submarine that Yōd had just pointed to and observed, "It does not seem as streamlined as the others."

Yōd nodded. "Yes, its hull has been modified." They walked along the dock and came up beside the structurally modified submarine. "Look at this huge hatch on the side." Something that Yōd had felt during her the mind-link with Little Angel now suddenly made sense to Yōd. She blurted out, "Ivory had been training Little Angel to swim inside this submarine." Yōd laughed.

Zeta asked, "What?"

Yōd explained. "It all makes sense. Ivory made a hybrid killer whale. They wanted to take Angel to the nanocoral. Ivory trained Little Angel to ride inside this submarine. That explains everything."

Zeta thought out loud: "They were going to use Little Angel as a sensor device, a way to accelerate their on-going search for nanocoral?"

"No. They had already found the nanocoral reef." Yōd giggled. "That reef is right in Freeland's back yard! No, they wanted to try using Little Angel to help make telepathic contact with the nanocoral. Just like how Trysta has been using Reggie to gain access to the memories that are stored in the nanoplankton."

Zeta held up one hand, palm towards Yōd. "Wait. Slow down. How does Angel II fit into this?"

Yōd explained, "When we linked minds, I could sense that poor Little Angel's thought are full of loneliness and despair. Angel II was designed to be a companion for Little Angel."

Zeta asked, "Are you sure?"

"No, of course not." Yōd reflected on what she had actually seen in Little Angel's mind. "I'm using my human biases to interpret a few thought fragments from the mind of an alien hybrid creature. Tell me what I'm missing."

Zeta shrugged. "As much as I hate to do so, I've been thinking of Ivory. When we arrived here, a strange woman appeared, and everyone started calling her Ivory."

Yōd laughed, "That only seems strange to you because of your mental burn-in. You spent years using the Bimanoid Interface to monitor the mind of your husband. You even had to sit by and watch him live a virtual reality life with Ivory inside the Hierion Domain. Eventually, you lost your ability to access other minds using the Bimanoid Interface."

Zeta offered a correction. "It is better to say that I burned out the part of my brain that is required to control the Bimanoid Interface."

Yōd muttered, "Ya, right. Zeta, describe in any way you like. Anyhow, I was able to use the Bimanoid Interface and know that the woman was Ivory."

Zeta shook her head. "That's just your theory. What if she was an alien puppet, designed to trick you in to imaging she was Ivory?"

Yōd continued, "No. You can deny it. But look, you were the only one who could not link telepathically into Ivory's mind. The rest of us all knew that she was Ivory. It was only you who found her appearance and her sudden arrival upsetting."

Zeta nodded. "Fine. I accept that you can use the Interface in ways that I can't. But hear me out. It occurred to me that this strange woman was not Ivory, but rather.... well, some kind of decoy. A fake Ivory being controlled by the aliens. What if the aliens have fooled you by their use of telepathy, making you believe that their puppet was Ivory."

Yōd laughed and hugged Zeta. "No, you are wrong. And think about it. If the aliens can control our minds that well, why not just make me "see" their puppet as having the physical appearance of Ivory as I knew her on Earth?"

Zeta suggested, "Maybe they can't over-ride your visual cortex."

Yōd explained, "No, that's not it. I've been in telepathic contact with Ivory ever since we arrived on this world. It is her, I know her mind pattern. More importantly, your husband knows it is Ivory."

Zeta said, "Stop calling him my husband. He married our sister Alpha, not me. Can't you even try thinking about my hypothesis before you dismiss it?"

Yōd tried to imagine that Ivory was some sort of imposter, but she couldn't get past all the evidence against Zeta's hypothesis. Yōd said, "Look, you know that Ivory has long played around with nanites and experimented with changes to her physical appearance. You should not be surprised to find that after five years of living on Cynk she adopted a new appearance. It is as simple as that." Yōd paused and for a minute she seemed lost in thought. Finally she whispered, "Still..."

Zeta waited a long time, looking into Yōd's troubled eyes, then she grew restless and asked, "Well?"

Yōd giggled. "Oh, nothing. You'll have me seeing ghosts with your silly talk about alien puppets."

Zeta demanded, "Don't brush me off. You thought of something. Why are you talking about ghosts?"

Yōd took Zeta by the hand and led the way back to Angel II's nursery pool. "Before today, I'd never had a chance to meet Trysta. I was curious to make contact with the mind of an Asterothrope, so I began using the Bimanoid Interface in an attempt to establish telepathic contact with her. I had no luck. It was like catching quicksilver. Every time I felt like I glimpsed a fragment of her mind, it slipped away."

Zeta shrugged. "Asterothrope minds probably don't mesh well with human minds. They are seven million years evolved past we humans."

Yōd was visually scanning the pool, looking for April, but nobody was in sight. Yōd kept walking back towards the place where Angel II had been tethered to his artificial placenta. "After failing to make a telepathic connection with Trysta, I tried again with Reggie. I think I was successful, but now something is blocking my memory of what I saw in Reggie's mind. I remember... I tried... I was working my way around a blockage of the Bimanoid Interface. I was frustrated because something was disrupting my use of the Bimanoid Interface and also making me forget what I was trying to do. It all happened fast. And looking back, I see now: that block correlates with Trysta's actions. When she knew that she could no longer keep me from sneaking past her block and establishing full telepathic contact with Reggie, she quickly teleported us to Freeland."

"Why would Trysta prevent you from merging minds with Reggie?"

"I don't know, but all your silly talk has me seeing ghosts. What if Trysta is the alien puppet?" They were now back in sight of Angel II. He was no longer in his artificial amniotic sac and was swimming freely. The two robots were in the water, comically and ineptly trying to get Angel II to drink from a big bottle of milk.

Yōd said, "Those silly bots don't know anything about breast feeding." She pulled off her clothing and jumped into the pool. The water in the pool was not as cold as the water in the cove, but it was saltier. With burning eyes, Yōd swam to the robots and she found herself face-to-face with Angel II who was now awake.

Angel II floated at the surface, breathing through the hole on the top of his head. He did not seem interested in the bottle that the robots had been thrusting at him, trying to get the sucker tip into his mouth. Yōd put her arms around him and closed her eyes, trying to stop the burning sensation and help herself sense any possible telepathic contact with Angel II.

While hoping for contact to Angel II's mind, Yōd found herself in telepathic contact with Little Angel, who was out in the cove and repeatedly crashing herself into the gate that gave access to the indoors pool that held Angel II. Yōd let go of Angel II and pulled April up to the surface. Yōd's head went up into the air and she was gasping for breath and rubbing her eyes.

April said, "He broke out of the artificial gestator. He won't take the milk."

Yōd shouted, "Open the tunnel entrance to the cove. Little Angel is trying to get in here."

April climbed out of the water and ran off towards the tunnel that connected the pool to the cove. Zeta asked Yōd, "What's going on?"

Yōd explained, "This is Angel II's birthday. I tried to connect to Angel II's thoughts, but I connected to Little Angel instead. Little Angel is in telepathic contact with her brother and wants to come inside." She reached up and took Zeta's hand.

Zeta pulled Yōd out of the pool just as Little Angel arrived. Little Angel pushed her giant snout against the robot who was still trying to feed Angel II and flipped the machine out of the water. The robot sailed through the air and crashed against the wall. Angel II then turned and gently rubbed her side against Little Angel's body.

April returned and helped the other robot stand up.

Yōd picked up the blanket she had used before and wrapped herself in it. Yōd approached April and asked, "Do you think it might be possible to use hormones or something to stimulate milk production and allow Little Angel to nurse Angel II?"

For a minute, April and the injured robot conferred about the hormones that could be used to make Little Angel begin lactating. The damaged robot limped away towards the biochemistry lab and April turned to Yōd. "We can try injecting a hormone cocktail, but it might take days to stimulate lactation." They could see that Little Angel had rolled to the side so that Angel II could suckle and breath at the same time.

Zeta said, "Strap the milk container to Little Angel and run a tube to the nipple."

April agreed with that plan as a temporary way to feed Angel II. She went to the 3D-printer in the corner of the pool room and started making the needed equipment.

Yōd gazed into the pool, watching the two calm beasts and said to Zeta, "I think Ivory is the key."

Zeta asked, "Now you agree that she's an alien puppet?"

"No, I don't. Think about Ivory's history."

The first thing Zeta thought of was Ivory's relationship with her husband. Zeta was embarrassed by the jealousy that she felt towards Ivory. After all, she was not really married to anyone: she had been assigned to a mission on Earth: she had been tasked with pretending to be her sister, Alpha Gohrlay, but unlike Alpha, Zeta had never been married and had never had any babies. Zeta tried to forget all of her emotional entanglements. "Ivory was trained as a molecular biologist."

Yōd added, "And she constructed a hybrid creature, Little Angel, mixing together whale genes and alien genes and an endosymbiont... a G-sym."

Zeta extended the recap of what they knew, "But Little Angel was lonely, so Ivory made a companion. Angel II." Zeta pointed to the baby who floated peacefully, apparently having fallen asleep while sucking at Little Angel's nipple.

Yōd continued, "But think about Ivory's history. She did not just make a duplicate copy of Little Angel. She could have run Little Angel through a teleportation scan and then made 20 copies of her. Instead, they went to all the trouble of laboriously growing Angel II from an embryo."

Zeta asked, "Why go to all that trouble if the goal was just to provide a play buddy for Little Angel?" Zeta gazed upon Angel II. "Of course, Angel II is male."

Yōd shook her head. "Forget about that. Think about Ivory and her sisters."

Zeta thought out-loud, "Ivory wrote dozens of reports about Deep Time, describing what her sister Angela could see in the temporal echos of the Sedronic Domain."

Yōd giggled. "We've been led to believe that a record of all past Realities exists within the Sedronic Domain. That might be true, but no human can actually use the Bimanoid Interface to reach the Sedronic Domain. That's the key difference between we humans and the Prelands."

"But Ivory and her clone sisters were not actually human."

Yōd shrugged. She let the blanket fall the the floor and she started getting dressed again. "Well, I don't know exactly what Angela's telepathic abilities were, but I'm sure that Little Angel was named after Angela. And Angela was allowed to grow up using the Bimanoid Interface from day one. She had fantastic telepathic abilities and could use the Bimanoid Interface in ways that went far beyond what either Ivory or Anney could do."

Zeta finally realized what Yōd was driving at. "Ivory was crafting Angel II to be the tool that would allow telepathic contact with the Remnant Species."

Yōd smiled. "That's my theory. Ivory wanted a second Angel that would be like Angela, exposed to telepathic contact from day one. No, exposed to telepathy even before birth. I'm glad you could reason you way to the same conclusion, Zeta."

"But that was a work in progress." Zeta mused, "Ivory was in no hurry, she was letting..." Zeta stared at the sleeping Angel II. "Ivory was letting him grow larger physically and they were also growing his endosymbiont, with Little Angel providing constant telepathic contact."

Yōd added, "And you don't want to hear this, but for Ivory there were more important things to do than sit around watching Angel II grow up. She was living with your husband."

Zeta snapped, "He's not my husband. He can live with whom ever he wants."

"I've been watching both of their minds. Believe me, he wanted Ivory. They love each other. They were very happy together living here on Cynk the past few years. That's why it makes no sense that they would go out and provoke a telepathic attack by the native creatures. They were slowly developing Angel II as a communications device. They were going to eventually put Angel II into that special submarine and have him make telepathic contact with the Remnant Species."

Zeta nodded. "And Trysta told us none of this."

Yōd complained, "Trysta lied to us about everything. The question is: why? If Trysta is a puppet of the aliens and the Remnant Species took control of Trysta's mind, why would she keep pushing towards the goal of obtaining a nanocoral sample?"

April returned, carrying some new equipment. She went into the pool and rigged Little Angel up so that she could feed Angel II from the bottle. Angel II never woke up, even as he started getting the milk. Still in the water, April gave Yōd and zeta a 'thumbs up'.

Zeta said, "I don't buy your fantasy about Trysta being a mental puppet of the aliens. It is easier for me to imagine that she is trying to obtain some mysterious Phari technology for herself and for R. Gohrlay."

Yōd and Ginger "celebrating" Angel II's birth day.
Yōd saw the other robot returning with an injection kit. Yōd started to undress again. "Well, all the key players including Ivory, Trysta and Grean seem to have disappeared, so we may never know what was really going on here at Freeland in the time just before we died."

 Zeta asked Yōd, "What are you doing?"

Yōd gestured towards the robot who was getting into the pool. "I'm going to lend a hand getting Angel her hormone injection. And if Angel II gets woken up again, I'm going to try again to get a telepathic link into his mind."

Next: chapter 4; a Phari Tale at Slave Craton.