Episode 210: The Stone Speaks
by Mr. Hook
Will she live? asked Major Rico
Oh yeah, said Doc, Just some borderline malnutrition, heat exhaustion and possibly mental trauma. Nothin a good shower, some bed rest and a bowl of chicken soup couldnt fix.
Rico and Doc carefully scrutinized the frail form of Haley Roman through the polarized window in the assessment room adjacent to the Thomas Davis medical bay. She looked much younger than her 28 years of age. Her dusty blond hair framed an attractive, somewhat freckled face. It looked like she had tried cutting her hair without the aid of a mirror in order to fit her head comfortably into the helmet of the antiquated Power Suit armor in which she had been rescued. Otherwise she almost looked like a beautiful young sorority girl who was doing her best to cover up the fact that she was a little hung over.
How long has she been awake? asked Rico.
About two hours now, I notified you as soon as I could, said Doc.
Fine. Any news on what caused her comatose condition?
Hard tellin, Doc replied, Could be just sheer exhaustion, could be some telepathic trauma thing that doesnt show up well on the med scans.
Were you able to lift her medical records?
Only the standard stuff with all the Intel sensitive material blanked out. Med-form says shes registered as a Level-6R telepath, whatever that means.
Did you ask her?
Yeah, she said she was a Reader or a rock-talker.
Yeah. Here, take a look at this. I downloaded this propaganda piece from an Intel recruitment site, says a Reader is someone who can...leme see...'demonstrates a tested ability to detect the psychic residue surrounding inanimate objects.'
Whatever that means, Rico rolled his eyes.
Yeah, according to the recruitment ads, Level 6Rs are usually assigned to scout ships and research vessels. Most of em get degrees in anthropology, archaeology, cryptology and the like. Kinda like Hound units that focus on dead stuff instead of living beings, Doc informed.
What level are Hound units listed as? asked Rico, his curiosity aroused.
Do the levels have anything to do with rank?
Dunno. All Intel personnel in the PsiOps units are listed as Officers, doesnt really mention ranks here...
Do we know for sure how many levels there are?
Well, the list here goes up to Level 10TK which stands for telekentics. When I asked Haley about it, she said Intel doesnt bother keeping track of the levels after that.
So what does that make Carl? A Level 20BA for bad ass you dont want to mess with?
Somethin like that. Im sure Haley knows more about it than shes allowed to say.
Well, were way beyond interstellar security concerns here. I say Intel can try and prosecute us after we save their butts.
I heard that.
Do you think shes up to answering a few questions?
Give her a couple more hours to clean herself up and get some food in her stomach. Ill bring her up to the captains briefing room at 1100, said Doc.
As long as she has a good story to tell, Ill be all ears, said Rico as he turned to leave. Oh yeah, I almost forgot...
Uhh...give her a haircut or something.
Yeah, I hear short hair is fashionable with Power Suit armor this time of year, Doc muttered once Rico was out of earshot.
Maintaining a transparent block was much more difficult than Haley Roman had anticipated. There were weak blocks and strong blocks, but most psychic blocks were still pretty obvious. Either you had a wall built up around your psyche, or you didnt. It was very difficult for telepaths to keep secrets from one another. However, through meditative techniques, one could slowly build up transparent layers of a solid block. It was hard to maintain that level of concentration, and you had to let others probe you freely in order to figure out if the block was really hidden or not.
She wondered how her instructors at the Academy managed it without turning themselves into schizophrenics. Maybe they didnt, maybe they drove themselves insane. Freeman had obviously mastered the transparent block technique, how else could he have hidden his personal agenda from so many students and colleagues over the years? Freeman was also the paragon of insanity. But that was what the Real Haley believed. The Nice Haley was completely passive and cooperative and seemed to believe everything Freeman told her.
Real-Haley was beginning to worry about Nice-Haley. Nice-Haley seemed to be having so much...fun. The past few months had been the biggest adventure of her secluded life. No more Intel instructors and their little mind games. No more non-telepaths trying to tell her how to think or feel, no more of the endless suspicious glances, no more thinly-veiled hostility from the Civilians crowding the cities. For the first time in her life, Nice-Haley felt truly free. She reveled in the warmth of the communal telepathic bonds of Freemans hive. It was so much more efficient and safe than living in the real world of normals where words could hurt or confuse because they didnt always have shared meanings. In Freemans hive there was never any confusion or doubt or anxiety.
But there were still certain things that kept waving red flags at Real-Haleys subconscious. Like the underlying hostility and disdain that Freeman clearly felt toward non-telepaths. The constant reiteration of how stupid and easily fooled the mundanes were. And the most frightening thing of all was that there were parts of Real-Haley that sometimes agreed with those sentiments. But Real-Haley had to part company with Freemans mindset when he ranted about how the mundanes were dead ends on the evolutionary ladder, that they had lost their purpose in the universe and that they somehow deserved to die.
The Real-Haley knew that despite their limitations, non-telepaths were responsible for the bodies of art and literature upon which telepaths had built the foundation for sharing mental paradigms and intermingling their wildly divergent mindscapes. Without the written word or literacy, all of the symbol sharing and paradigm mingling that telepaths took for granted would not have been possible. And would a race of telepaths ever have developed the written word on their own? Real-Haley didnt think so. But Nice-Haley always got her way. Oh, but Freemans ideas were always so reasonable, how could one possibly disagree?
Then something finally happened to rock the foundation Nice-Haleys fuzzy wuzzy little world. She discovered the sad fate of Todd Wilks. Todd Wilks was a Level Three Hunter class telepath who had been Freemans first human abductee on Erebus. Nice-Haley had helped lay the trap for Wilks capture herself. Once Freeman had explained to Todd that he could help him expand his remote sensing abilities beyond his wildest dreams, Todd actually seemed to be an eager (though somewhat complacent) supplicant after that.
And then he disappeared. Without a trace.
No one knew where he was or what had happened to him, but more disturbingly, no one even seemed interested. Freeman had everyone working hard and fast to set up their new base on Erebus. Suddenly no one had time to worry about Todd Wilks or his possible whereabouts. Even Nice-Haley was having a hard time rationalizing his disappearance. So she worked up her nerve to broach the subject with Freeman himself.
Freeman gave her a wink and nod before she even had a chance to ask her questions. He simply gestured for her to take his hand as he led her through the freshly burrowed maze of tunnels branching away from the main compound. By the time Haley was thoroughly lost and disoriented, Freeman stopped outside a door embedded in the hardened sandstone of Erebus. He invited Haley to peek through the small slit of the plate-glass widow in the door. Once Haleys eyes adjusted to the white-blue glow emanating from the room inside, she couldnt help but gasp. Suspended in a cryo-stasis chamber that must have encompassed the entire room was a hideous mutated creature which was all that remained of Todd Wilks. Part Brain Bug, part Imposter Bug, part Todd Wilks, distended human limbs invariably supported and dangled from the hulking mass of a Brain Bugs torso. The poor creature was malformed and mutated beyond all capacity to live. It didnt even have an even number of limbs.
The Arachnids were able to manipulate their own genetic code on a molecular level, Freeman marveled, think of the teleketic precision it must have taken to mold the original Bugs themselves. To be able to manipulate DNA strands on a microscopic level through the power of thought alone. Someday this power will be ours, Haley. We will possess the power of creation itself. We will be able to revert Todd Wilks back to his normal self, or complete his transformation into something new, something glorious - if he so chooses. Todd volunteered, Haley. He knew the risks. There is still much for us to learn and we are slowly but surely running out of time to rehabilitate volunteers like Todd. In the meantime, in order for evolution to progress, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Do you understand?
Haley was doing her best not to vomit a the sight of such a hideous creature, but realized that Freeman was waiting for a response.
I understand, Nice-Haley replied, Sacrifices have to be made.
Later, Real-Haley came to the realization that she may have blown Nice-Haleys cover in that one instant of horror and disgust. It had been a test. Maybe even a test to see if she was maintaining a transparent block.
But now Nice-Haley knew, and there was no way to un-know it. She understood now that Freeman was no different than Hitler or Stalin or Feinstein. Like so many other despots before him, Freeman had adopted yet another variant of outmoded eugenics theory. Not only was he planning to root out whatever he deemed to be undesirable genetic traits, he was planning to deliberately insert new ones to create his own ubermench. Or was that uber-arachnid? Or both? Arachnida Sapiens? Either way, he was clearly planning to scrap the original DNA template for Homo Sapiens and start all over. And if the human race became extinct in the process, so be it.
Nice-Haley knew too much for her own good. And now it was probably only a matter of time before both Haleys would share the same fate as Todd Wilks.
I think thats the day I started planning my escape, said Haley.
And how did you do that, exactly? Rico prompted.
Well, once I pilfered the security codes to the Power Suit storage locker and the shuttles navi-computers, I just had to wait for the right opportunity. One day there was a partial collapse in of one of the newly excavated tunnels. I managed to slip away during the confusion.
OK... said Rico, consulting the notes hed been scribbling down as Haley recounted her story, And youre sure Freemans main objective was to find this other Bug homeworld?
Thats what he told us, Haley explained, He always said that the headquarters on Erebus was merely temporary until the Bugs true homeworld could be found. But now that I look back on it, Im not sure that wasnt just an excuse for Freeman to cover up what he was doing to those poor TPhetti.
Right...well, well cover the specifics of Freemans compound at a later time. Anyway, I dont see us attempting another assault on Freemans camp without Carls help. In fact, without Carl it would probably be downright suicidal. So...wed like to try using your special abilities to figure out where Carl might be. We want you to take a look at an artifact that Carl left behind for us.
Rico nodded to Doc who took the artifact out of its satchel and placed it on the briefing room table.
Wow! Where did you find that? asked Haley.
Carl left it with a good friend of ours for safe keeping, said Rico, not wanting rehash TPhais involvement at this particular moment, Do you recognize it?
Of course, thats Freemans pet rock. Thats the artifact I found in my apartment just before I blacked out. When I came to I was in Freemans compound on Erebus. Youve been handling it all this time and nothing happened?
Actually, Carl placed some sort of telepathic message on it which was triggered when our friend touched it, said Doc, Thats when we first learned about your abduction and the kidnapping of the TPhetti psychics.
You mean like a dead drop? Haley sounded impressed, Well, if Carl has handled it, then I guess it should be safe.
Carl may have left this behind as a clue to where he was headed, said Rico, Do you think you can tell us about where this artifact is from, specifically which planet?
I could certainly try, Haley enthused, It sort of depends on the significance of the object.
Significance? Doc inquired.
Yeah, if the object I was trying to scan was say, a soda-can, if the original owner of the can touched it only briefly and then threw the can away, I might not be able to pick up much psychic residue from the object. If, on the other hand, soda-cans were imbued with religious significance in your culture, or you used the can as a communal centerpiece or personal ornamentation, the artifact might be a much easier read.
OK, just tell us whatever you can, said Rico.
Haley calmly took the faceted diamond-like orb in her hands and closed her eyes in concentration.
Alright, said Haley, her eyes still closed, Im going to do a standard rock-talk by the numbers. You might want to record what Im about to say for future reference.
Already being done, said Rico.
Oh. Well, OK, here goes...Im going to try accessing my five senses to see if I can establish a sense of place...if I isolate each sensation properly Ill be able to go through one at a time...and Ill try to convey what Im feeling.....
Haleys face suddenly scrunched up in disgust. Oh my God, what is that SMELL!?
Rico and Doc exchanged quizzical looks. Haley still had her eyes closed.
Sorry, guys, Im trying to filter out the smell a little...smells like Bugs...actually, it smells like the entire Bug Hive just crawled into a corner and died...yeah, Bugs have been dead a long time here...theres some other smell underneath this...its...its kinda...shrimpy?...seaweed?...some kind of marine creature...musty...old...very old...older than the Bugs, at least...
OK, now Im going to try some taste testing.....mmmm...salty, Haley licked her lips, Sea water?...fishy...muddy...blech...alright, thats enough of that...now Ill try some listening exercises...sounds like.....holding your ear up to a seashell?...dont know...everything sounds muted...probably underwater...hang on...
Haley moved her head from side to side, then swished her right hand through the air very slowly, as if in slow motion.
Difficult to move around here...high atmospheric pressure or something...feels underwater to me...probably felt perfectly normal to whoever made the artifact...OK, now Im going to try opening my eyes...this is where things usually start to get a little freaky...
Doc had his own opinions about which parts of this whole procedure were a little freaky, but wisely kept his own council.
Haley opened her eyes cautiously. Wow. Definitely underwater, Haley turned her eyes skywards, Whoah! I think Im looking at an upside down storm...this must be what waves look like from underneath....its huge, covers the whole sky, as far as the eye can see...cant really see much else...not much light down here...
Haley looked down at the artifact she held in her hands. It was unnerving to see her eyes darting about, seeing a world that existed only in her head while Doc and Rico could only see a young woman who looked like she was totally spazzing out.
Whoah! Haley repeated, her head jerked upward, I just placed the artifact in some kind of cannon thingy and it shot up into the sky and disappeared...I feel so...empty...sad...I miss it...the crystal I mean...I have such hopes for it and yet....sad somehow...OK, now Im placing it in the cannon again...wha?!
Haleys eyes glazed over for a split second until she was looking directly at Rico and blinked. She shook her head as if to clear it. Agh! Lost contact. Sorry guys...thats it...I think that last little replay was the owner of the artifact planning to launch the object into space. Then the owner actually placed the artifact into a launching mechanism of some kind and that was the last time the owner ever touched it. Lost contact. All I can tell you is that the owner was on a water planet, and I mean water, water everywhere. And as for the artifact, all I wanted to do was get rid of it. Wanted to give it away, hoped somebody else would find it maybe? Like an SOS, or a time capsule? Sorry. I know that isnt much to go on.
Dont worry, said Rico, I know somebody whos good at solving problems without much to go on.
Jeff Gossard sat at the conference table and fiddled with the holo-projector to highlight different sets of stars in the projected starfield. He was playing around with the color coding schemes when Rico and Doc joined him in the conference room which was adjacent to the bridge.
Whatchya got for me Goss? asked Rico.
My guild sources pulled through for a change, Gossard replied, I think Ive managed to isolate a reasonable search area.
Smugglers guild contacts? Rico chided, Leme guess, someone hacked into a SICON database looking for archeological artifacts worth stealing and came up with a bunch of diamond-like objects that defied classification.
Hey, what ever happened to; dont ask - dont tell? Gossard protested, Anyway, artifacts similar to ours have been found in the outer rim territories. Mostly by free-merchants and ore-prospectors who were forced to hand their finds over to SICON Intel when their free-lance archaeologists were unable to determine a specific date of origin for the artifacts - probably how Freeman got his hands on his.
Heres a sampler of the star systems the artifacts were found in, Gossard pointed to the pinpricks of light on the holo-map, theres no discernable pattern that I can see, only that most of the systems are deep in former Bug territory.
OK, within that search area, how many systems have waterworlds? asked Rico.
Waterworlds? Leme check, Gossard sat down at the computer terminal embedded in the desk, typed in the search parameters and called up a listing. Ive got 27 Hydora class planets listed here, said Gossard.
27! You gotta be kidding, Doc accused.
Hey, Transport Bugs consume huge amounts of water. Waterworlds were popular hangouts in Bug country, Gossard replied.
How many of those planets are completely devoid of land surfaces? Rico pressed on.
Completely? Uhh...looks like that narrows it down to three.
That sounds more like it, Rico said.
OK, let me try doing a cross-referencing program...Here you go, how about Charybis?
Yeah, when I cross referenced the word ruins, Charybis hit all the red flags. Totally submersed surface area, preliminary surveys reported underwater ruins, but...lets see...nobody ever followed up on it because it turned out the ruins were too deep to explore or something. Says something here about unfavorable weather conditions too.
That fits Haleys description to a tee, said Doc.
Yeah, but Carmens going to want more than a hunch and a hallucination to go on before shes willing to actually set a course, said Rico.
I think I might be able to help you with that... Doc hinted.
Im all ears, said Admiral Carmen Ibanez as she settled down into a cushy conference room chair.
The waterworld scenario fits for numerous reasons, said Doc, First and foremost, Freeman would have agreed.
Oh really? Carmen sounded skeptical.
Yeah, Ive been looking through some of Freemans academic work. He was the first Intel officer to publish the hypothesis that Klendathu wasnt really the Arachnids homeworld. He acknowledged that the Queens hive was definitely located on Big K, but argued that there simply wasnt enough surface water for the Hive to have evolved independently there. Furthermore, he was convinced that the Arachnids must have evolved on a water-bound world.
And what evidence did he use to back up that assertion with? Carmen insisted.
The crux of his thesis was that Bugs were originally water breathers. All Bugs do have an internalized lung capacity. In fact, its one of the few physical characteristics thats common to all Arachnids. Its how Warriors are able to operate in a vacuum, and underwater, and breath an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere when it suits them. Freemans case was based mostly around the Transport Bugs though. He reasoned that the Queen Bug must have engineered the Transport Bugs first since escaping the confines of her homeworld would have been the first order of business in the Hive hierarchy.
And Transport Bugs are essentially water breathers? Carmen elaborated.
Yeah, Transport Bugs use their lungs to break down the water they consume into separate elements of hydrogen and oxygen, for propulsion and internal atmosphere pressure, respectively. A Transport Bug is essentially a self contained eco-sphere which recycles water through condensation and dispersal until the nutrients are eventually absorbed into the Bugs blood stream. So then it has to stock up on water again.
So between trips, when its traveling through outer space, a Transport Bug is basically holding its breath until it exhales all the excess hydrogen as fuel exhaust and has to inhale water again? Carmen attempted to clarify.
Bingo, said Rico, All Arachnids can do it. Its practically what makes a Bug a Bug, when you stop to think about it. So the idea that the Bugs evolved on a Hydora class planet like Charybis isnt all that farfetched.
I see, said Carmen, who did.
Very well. Helm, this is Admiral Ibanez speaking, said Carmen as she pressed down the button which activated the appropriate comm channel, Set a course for the Charybis system.
Aye, sir, was the reply Rico had been waiting to hear. He had either just committed the entire ship to a wild goose chase or he was leading everyone precisely where Carl had intended them to follow. Only time would tell. It always did.
Next Episode: 211: Last Chance Saloon