We last left our protagonist alone, apparently transported by some weird AI religious ritual. But maybe the secrets of the Builders will be uncovered, finally.
The wafer that the Coordinator had given me turned out to be a data object which auto-downloaded into the cyberdeck when I cut power. But I had a fundamental problem. The Coordinator had told me I would need one biomass to revive a Builder. I had no idea why, and I couldn’t think of…
Then it hit me.
I emptied out my supply cache, folded up the net and strapped it around my waist. I grabbed the reactionpak and jetted back through my original route. Gravity still felt pretty low, since it the ship seemed to be taking roughly forever to spin up along its axis. I was using maximum accel and decel, which played hell with the reaction mass supply, but I didn’t have time to waste. While I was flitting along in the real world, a battle which was raging for eons was taking place in an invisible, electronic world.
Soon I was back where Jenner’s body now rested on the floor. It took me a few minutes to pull his body out of the EVA suit. I wrapped the net around his body, and towed him along behind me. I projected the data as a graphical map on the HUD in my EVA suit. It took no little time to get to the location on the map, and I thought I’d run out of reaction mass before we got there, but we made it.
I floated a circular room, maybe ten meters in diameter. In the center of the room sat a pure white circular dais. Odd-looking machinery was mounted above the dais in the ceiling. I reviewed the downloaded instructions.. Then I gingerly placed Jenner’s body in the dais. I turned to what looked like a control panel built into the side of the platform. I followed the instructions to the letter, punching in codes on the panel. I had no idea what I was really doing, praying feverishly that it would work.
Then a panel lit up with a pair of icons. One looked like a miniature dragon, the other like, well it could have been a bear; or a bipedal cat; or a monkey. Nothing else was happening, and it was a moment before I realized that I had to make a choice. I couldn’t decide, so I closed my eyes and blindly punched the panel.
When I punched the last key, there was a flash of light and a burst of energy that bowled me over. I shook my head, stood up, and watched. A beam of light, shifting colors occasionally, shone from the machinery in the ceiling, bathing Jenner’s body. I watched openmouthed as Jenner’s body slowly dissolved into a mound of pulsating… what? Biomass, I guessed. Pure organic material.
Then a cylinder of transparent material rose up around the lump that had been Jenner, the top of which nested neatly into grooves in the ceiling machinery. Then the light turned into a coruscating beam of energy so bright, I had to turn away to protect my eyes. This lasted maybe thirty seconds. Then it all shut down, and the cylinder descended into the floor.
Standing in front of me was the first representative of an alien species. He (it?) looked humanoid, and actually wore some kind of jumpsuit. The creature stood maybe thirty centimeters taller, a bit skinnier than the average human, had longer arms and legs, and a barrel chest. There was a mane of hair, or fur, that surrounded the head, chin and neck, but the face was bare. The eyes looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and caution. Then he spoke.
Of course, I couldn’t understand anything he said. The voice seemed pleasant enough, reminiscent of the Envoy’s voice), but the words – if they were words – were complete gibberish.
We tried the usual things that two people do when separated by different languages. We first tried speaking louder, both ludicrous and unhelpful. We tried hand signs and pantomiming. We probably would have tried drawing pictures, but neither of us had anything to write with.
Then I had an idea. I unbuttoned a pocket on the EVA suit and pulled out a neurolink helmet. I then plugged it into the second link port on the cyberdeck and waved the newly-reconstructed alien over. The alien approached cautiously, and when I tried to put the helmet on the alien’s head, the humanoid recoiled and put arms up in a defensive gesture. I paused, then carefully put on my helmet, moving slowly, so the alien could see what I did. I then pointed at my head, at the second neurolink, then held it out.
The alien took it from me gingely, put in on carefully – it was a tight fit – then pointed at the cyberdeck.
The cybershell that the Envoy and the engineering AI had designed was still in place. Rather than actually enter the limited cyberspace in the deck, we chose to remain “corporeal”, but the conversation took place through the deck, neither of us actually speaking. We could finally understand each other. I managed to convey to him or her – gender seemed a little vague, who wanted to be called Azed – the story the Envoy had relayed to me. Azed’s brow darkened at that, but when I told the story of our journey to rescue the friendly Coordinators, Azed became angry. I wanted to know more about Azed and Azed’s race, but we had an emergency to deal with. If the AIs who had taken over the ship had their way, they could vent the atmosphere, cut us off from power and we’d both be dead in a hurry.
Azed stabbed a finger at the cyberdeck, then at the console on the wall. I nodded, and we walked over together, neither of us removing our helmets. I plugged the deck into a socket in the wall console that matched the link on the special cable the engineering AI had made. The next thing I knew, I was in the EWO’s seat on an F505 Super Spitfire class aerospace fighter. Only, this one didn’t have rockets, but apparently included a weird inertialess drive.