by Michael Bard
The massive chamber was dark, lit only by the flickering light of the spherical Plancks Gate that dominated the centre. It's only occupants were three men and a woman. One of the men, the youngest, was seated at an NT workstation while the others were standing. All were intently watching the monitor as it showed the high-speed film one frame at a time.
"There!" the woman, Dr. Anita Lei, said. That had to be one of theirs, especially after all this time, she thought.
They all stared at the monitor. There, blurry, and partially obscured by brush, was what appeared to be a lab rat;
"That can't be it, it should have changed," the oldest man, Dr. Lewis Richardson, replied.
"Lewis, look closely - can you see the collar."
The third man standing, Dr. William Theibold, spoke next. "John, zoom in on the tag. That'll tell us."
John Styles, one of the technical assistants, selected the neck of the creature and clicked to zoom in. The picture was blurry, but John was able to clean it up somewhat.
Anita had to squint to read the number stamped into the metal. "I told you - there it is - sample 257."
"Are you sure Anita?"
"Of course, the number's perfectly clear." Finally, proof!
"Are you absolutely sure Dr. Lei?" Dr. Theibold broke in.
"But why didn't it change?"
"It's simple Dr. Theibold," Anita retorted, "there is no reason for it to change. Since there is no reason for it to change, it didn't." If only this... man really understood her new math the answer would be obvious. She had created the math that showed that a gate was possible. She had shown how it took a fraction of time from its creation to tunnel through to another universe. But all her math showed that the gate shouldn't oscillate in its focus in the first place! The gate itself had to be stable. But, still, the other end bounced through the universes in some kind of pattern...
"That was disputed by your committee my dear, my math shows..." began Dr. Richardson.
Anita spun around and glared at her former advisor. "Your math! You really have no idea, do you?"
"But shouldn't at least the lab rat itself have changed?" broke in Dr. Theibold.
Anita sighed and shook her head. If only someone else could understand! They had to be here, and they had to in charge because she was too young. Too young! "Because," she began, slowly and carefully enunciating each word as though to a child, "the change in Planck's Constant affects matter at a quantum level. Anything transported to a new reality would have its quanta," she interrupted herself to explain what that meant for their small minds, "the jumps between electron shell energy states," and then she continued, "adapted over time. Even though I first thought that this would require biological chemistry to adapt, I later showed that that it wouldn't except for extreme cases." She turned to look at Dr. Richardson. "Your math is..."
Dr Theibold broke in: "But that makes no sense! Even the smallest differences on the quantum level have to affect basic chemical and hence biological reactions."
Anita leaned on the table, cradling her forehead in her hand. She had thought that at first, but it had never felt right, and she had finally worked out the mathematical proof of the affects of the changes at the quantum level - but they just didn't understand. Working through the chemical and biological changes that would result from the change in Planck's Constant would not, by itself, necessarily force changes in form and appearance. Certainly native life would be different, from changes in evolution if nothing else, but there was no reason for creatures transferred from one reality to another to change.
Dr. Theibold turned to face Dr. Richardson, ignoring Anita. "So now we know the gate works. But what good is it? It flickers through realities so fast it's taken us weeks to get this blurry picture of a reality we sent a sample too."
Anita listened and thought to herself. And we only did that because I worked out a way to modulate the power supply to the gate in a repeating pattern to focus the gate on a sub-group of realities where the changes in the quanta would be small enough to not require significant changes in biological processes.
"So what do you suggest?"
Of course they were both ignoring her.
"We modulate the frequency of the power supply to more closely match the frequency of the realities. That should give us a longer focus period. I've worked out the frequency pattern here..."
Anita stood up and spun around, "What? How?"
But Dr. Theibold ignored her and pushed John out of the way and sat down. A few clicks and he opened a file from the server. "There."
Anita moved around to the side since she knew that neither would make room for her to see what idiocy Dr. Theibold had come up with. She saw it, and looked at it, and stared at it in shock.
It was her work! She'd worked it out, but had abandoned it because without knowing all the variations to take into account, trying to get an exact frequency match would cause an oscillating feed back...
That was the last straw. Finally they had pissed her off so much that she wouldn't remain silent anymore. She turned to face Dr. Richardson and was finally able to actually argue with her former advisor: "That's my work!"
Dr. Richardson sighed. "You shouldn't try to take credit for somebody else's work. I've been helping Dr. Theibold with this..."
What?! Were they both in on this? They were both stealing the credit from her?!
"John," Dr. Richardson stated, "would you ask Llewellyn to bind this equation into the transformer to modulate the power supply frequency?"
"You can't!" she screamed.
John stopped and turned to look at her.
Dr. Richardson didn't even bother turning to face her, "I've checked the math already - it'll work."
"It'll cause a feed back through the gate to the reactor!" She turned to John but couldn't bring herself to speak.
Dr. Richardson shook his head. "There will be no problem John, I've checked it myself. Do it."
Anita tried to speak but she was too afraid of Dr. Richardson's authority and experience. She had to speak, she had to say something before it was too late.
But then it was too late. The gate pulsed and expanded and Anita was sucked into it. For a fraction of an instant the energy release from the exploding power transformer followed her through before the gate cycled to a different reality.
Anita gasped as she fell face forward into freezing water and cold sucking muck. Flailing with her arms she was finally able to grasp something metal. With that help she was able to raise her head above the surface. She coughed and gagged out the muddy water and then almost gagged again at the sweet, rotting stench that oozed from the hot, humid air.
Eventually her lungs were clear enough that she could breathe. Now she could look around.
All she saw was swamp. In all directions, as far as she could see, was nothing but stagnant, muddy water, broken only by a few stands of trees. She stared at the trees and realized that most were dead, and those that weren't appeared to be dying - even though the brush at their bases looked fine.
What was she going to do now? What kind of world was this? It at least had some kind of civilization, the metal object in the swamp proved that. Unless...
She felt carefully around it. The top was wide and flat, but very thin. Below its centre metal bars criss-crossed down into the muck. It was familiar and with a shock she recognized it.
It was a girder, like those used in construction.
But why would a girder be lying abandoned in a swamp? And why would the trees be dying?
No. It couldn't be.
The girder could be from a ruined building. The trees could be dying from radiation.
She couldn't help but laugh.
Here she was, fresh from university with her twin doctorates in physics in physics and biology. Working to prove her thesis that could allow travel to alternate realities. Disdained by her colleagues because of her youth. And now, due to the idiocy of those who were 'in charge' of the project, she was transported to another reality, only to die in the radioactive ruins of that world's civilization.
She turned around and sat on the girder and began to sob, wondering how long it would take her to die from the radiation.
All her work, all her labour, all for nothing!
She was awakened from her sobs by a blood curdling roar from behind her.
Anita had always thought that blood couldn't curdle, that it was a simple figure of speech. Now she knew better. She spun around and looked straight into the eyes of the most monstrous alligator she had ever seen.
Or maybe it was a crocodile - she wasn't sure.
It was useless, but she couldn't help but leap up and flee. She tried to run, but the mud sucked at her legs, yanking off her shoes and causing her to fall face first into the swamp. Somehow she managed to push her head above the surface - just in time turn her head and see the creature bite down on her legs.
The pain was worse than she had imagined pain could be. She screamed and struggled. But the alligator, or whatever, kept chomping and pulling her down into its jaw. A strange lucidity swept over her. Anita Lei. Biologist. Physicist. Eaten by a mutant alligator in a radioactive swamp in another universe. She would have giggled, but she couldn't catch her breath.
She looked down, wanting to at least see her killer. Its fangs were covered in blood, mud and gore, but it didn't seem bothered. Now it was almost up to her waist.
Then, there was a ripple near its eye, like heat. And then its head exploded.
Anita lay in the muddy water, her blood pumping out and overflowing the creatures jaw. She was growing faint but she wanted to at least thank whatever had tried to save her. She was able to turn her head and look up at a huge being.
It looked like nothing so much as a giant walrus with hands and some kind of rifle. It seemed to be crawling, or slithering, towards her and looked to be the size of an elephant. She tried to keep her eyes open, tired to mumble at least some kind of thank you, but the blood loss was too much. She passed out.
Anita was surprised to wake up. She hadn't expected to wake up as she'd never believed in any kind of afterlife. There was no need for any in the universe. So maybe her rescuers, whatever they were, had saved her. She looked around.
She was in a room which was painted the usual drab gray of a hospital room. That made sense. But there were no lights, just a steady glow from the walls. There were no monitors, or tubes in her arms.
In fact she didn't seem to have arms.
She tried moving her arms, clasping her hands, but nothing happened. It didn't feel right. She thought hat she might have felt some twitching - maybe it was psychosomatic, maybe she was feeling the psychic ghosts of her limbs. She tried to feel her legs, but could only feel the same kind of faint echo she had thought she had felt with her arms.
She closed her eyes to relax and calm her breathing. But she wasn't breathing.
She had to be breathing!
But she wasn't. And she didn't even feel the lack.
She kept her eyes closed and just concentrated on adding. One plus one is two. Two plus two is four. By the time she reached 1024 she was calm.
Ok. She was on another world. She'd been in a swamp. An alligator had eaten her legs. A giant walrus had saved her. Now she was in a hospital. But she had no legs, and seemed to have no arms.
So what had happened? She needed more information.
So she opened her eyes and looked around again.
It certainly looked like a hospital room. All it needed was the beeping of monitors and the dripping of IV fluids. It even had a door, although there was no window and the door rippled like it was just a gauze covering. Still, it was sufficiently opaque that she couldn't see through it. There was nothing else at all in the room. There was no table, no chairs, and she couldn't even see the bed she was lying on.
She had no limbs so she couldn't move or turn. She tried turning her head, but nothing seemed to happen although she could feel, faintly, the twitching of muscles in her neck. The fact that she could feel that suggested she was not paralyzed. So, why couldn't she turn her head? And even worse, why couldn't she see a bed?
She tried to feel what she was sitting or laying on, but she could feel nothing. She felt comfortable, but maybe a little cool. In fact she felt the same coolness, like that of a light breeze on a hot summer day, all around her body.
All around her entire body.
She closed her eyes and forced calm again. She wished she'd taken up her one boyfriend's offer to learn meditation. She swallowed, or tried to, but even that felt wrong. She thought that maybe something was in her throat, but she felt no urge to gag. So she started adding again. This time she only reached 256 before she felt calm enough to open her eyes.
Nothing had changed.
Ok. I'm in what appears to be a hospital. I'm alive and feel fine but have no limbs, and appear to have no need to breathe. I'm suspended in midair somehow. Ok. I can deal with this.
She remained calm.
Now what? She called out, "Hello?!". She heard a voice say the word, but it wasn't her voice. It sounded much lower, and seemed to click a bit on the 'l's. She called out again, and heard the same different voice with the same oddities. It had to be her, but what had happened to her voice? It didn't even feel like she was exhaling as she spoke. She called out a third time, more to herself, and felt the sensations as she spoke. She could feel air moving, but it did not seem to be coming from her lungs. It did not seem to be exhaled. What it seemed to be was air flowing from one lung into another. She started singing to herself, feeling the odd sensation of the air going from one lung to another, and then back to the first.
She heard a deep moan and looked up. There was somebody, or something, else in the room.
All she could do was stare. It didn't look at all like the monstrous walrus that had saved her. It looked like nothing she had ever seen. Its head, or what she guessed was its head, looked like that of a toad, all green and pebbly. It even had the large yellow eyes that never blinked. Then she realized that she hadn't been blinking either. Behind its head grew a body, like a fish. She could even see gills rippling as its mouth opened and closed.
So she wasn't suspended in air, she was floating in water. And still didn't need to breath. It was too much all at once - she just added that fact to her list of questions.
Just behind the gills the creature had arms. Perfectly human arms, although they were a bit long. And they ended in three fingered hands. The arms appeared the same green-black as the body and there were lots of them - at least ten equally spaced around the body. So many that she couldn't easily count them. Behind the arms the body tapered into a fish tail that was vertical along the body. At various other places were various other fins that waved, keeping the creature in position.
Then she heard moaning and clicking. She looked and it seemed to be coming from the creature.
Wonderful, she must be far away from her universe's Planck's value since the race here didn't even speak english, or any human language she had ever heard. If she had hands, she would try math to communicate, but she had nothing.
The creature moaned some more, and then, suddenly, she was remembering practicing her Valedictorian speech from high school, the vision clear in her mind. She remembered her dreams that she would be picked - she had always been at the top of all the classes, at the top of the entire school. She had practiced and polished her speech, saying it out loud to her self. But they had picked the stupid, almost literally, captain of the football team! Then that memory vanished, but it was followed by more, all equally as vivid. And all involved long speeches by her, and by others. She remembered boring lectures from MIT in vivid detail. More detail than she really wanted to. She remembered her mother speaking at her father's funeral. And lots more.
Eventually the memories stopped and she was once more aware of the room she was floating in, and of the creature in front of her.
"Can you understand?", it asked.
She heard it speaking english, in the voice of her father. She also thought that, maybe, she could hear a pattern of moans and clicks very faintly in the background.
"How did you learn english?" She felt that curious movement of air between lungs, but although she thought english, and heard her words in english, she could almost hear a pattern of moans and clicks coming from her body.
"Not english. Our tongue. The healing cell has mapped your memories and is changing your tongue to mine."
That explained the memories, and the moaning and clicks she heard in the background. That was what they were both speaking, but her mind was hearing english, and her mind was speaking english. The body, or whatever a healing cell was, was doing the translation.
"Are you awake still? Can you understand me?"
"Yes. I was just thinking."
The creature moved two pairs of its arms in what appeared to be a shrug. Maybe it was an acknowledgment of some kind.
"Where am I?"
"You are in a healing place, in the laboratory of Washington."
She laughed to herself. It certainly wasn't Washington, that must be what the healing cell translator had picked. "Do you do research here? Is there a city?"
"We heal here, and this is a city. The translation cell life is still learning."
She would have nodded if she could. "So what happened to me?"
"You were on the surface. We detected your Plancks Gate being created and sent persons to check out."
"You got there just in time. Thank you."
The creature paused for a moment. "You must mean thank you. The translation was confused."
"They found me, and then what? What is this healing cell? Why can't I feel any limbs? Why..."
"Be patient, please. Let me explain. When the team reached you, you were almost deceased. One tucked you into an emergency healing pouch in his body and they returned here. By then your conversion to our quantum state was complete. The emergency pouch stopped the bleeding, and we were able to save some of your legs. You were transferred into the healing body here to be fully repaired."
"What is this healing body, or cell, or whatever?" She was starting to give over to panic again but forced it down. She needed answers more.
"We use human made biological suits to protect our souls. Once they are merged, they become the owner's body. Some have special abilities, such as the healing suit you are currently with. They maintain your body in an environment better, and safer. They stop chemical and radiation agents from harming the true body soul."
"Stop, please. This is too much all at once. Why are there ruins on the surface, why are there chemical and radiation agents? Why are we in the water here? When can I get limbs and movement back?"
The creature waved his arms frantically, "Wait. You are not fully healed yet. You have to stay in your repair body. The reason you are awake is that we need to know when your people are coming for you."
"Others from the world you are from. When will they come looking for you. It has already been 12 days. We want to..."
"...them and return you to their care. They would be better suited when you are home. We want to meet and trade and be friends."
"What is funny in this?"
"I'm here by an accident. The Plancks Gate was opened uncontrolled. I was sucked into this universe by mistake. You're stuck with me."
"Sad is that. We must think about what you mean. Why were you with the gate?"
The military had wanted to keep it secret, but they certainly couldn't punish her here. "I was the mathematician and theorist for the project. I conceived it, and they built it from my math."
"That is good. We will talk more later. You must now rest."
She saw some kind of keyboard projected in front of the creature, upon which the creature began pressing controls. She felt herself growing faint, and then she passed out.
Eventually she woke up.
She looked around. She was still in the same room. Trying to move her limbs told her that she still had the same lack of limbs to move as before. I must still be in the healing body she thought. She could remember some odd dreams, of talking and learning in a class, of exercising and swimming, but the memories were vague.
She looked over to the door just as another form swam through it. This form was different from the last, and appeared something like a merman. He had a human head, a pair of human arms, and a fish's tail below his waist. Like a merman, his tail was horizontal, but he also had large feathery fins from his back, slowly fluttering to keep him still as he stopped. Of course he had no body hair at all, no visible genitalia, and his skin was a dark green mottled with lighter green splotches. Again, she could see him swallowing and pumping water through his gills.
He started talking, "Good, you're awake."
This time there was no background moaning and clicking. It seemed that she was able to understand the sounds directly. "What happened? How can I understand what you're speaking directly?"
"One thing at a time. First, while you were asleep, since you're now a permanent member of our race, your healing body stimulated your brain in its dreams and taught it our language. You may remember some odd dreams - that was the training."
She couldn't think of anything to say. What she really wanted to know, and was afraid to ask, was, had she been taught, or had her memories been programmed? If the later, than could she trust any of her recent memories or attitudes? From what little she knew, they could create memories, but it would be much harder for them to change memories. She would have to depend on her memories of home.
She left her musings alone and returned her attention to the man who was still speaking. Why was she so certain it was a he? More training?
"...have also given you some basic memories and knowledge for how to progress and live in our society. Most of these will not be immediately apparent, and should come on their own, but some may have to be awakened by an example."
"So, since I'm now a member of the party, what's this place like? Who are you?" Member of the party? Where had that come from? Was it the language or some other programming?
"You are now in the city of Kashalan and a member of the dominant race on this planet..."
"What do you mean a member? I'm human..."
"As are we all." He paused for a second, and then continued. "Ah, by human you mean what you were. Notice that I say were. You've been here more than long enough for your form to adapt to ours."
It shouldn't have! "But..." Could she have been wrong?
"Yes, you've changed - you will see proof shortly. For now let me introduce myself and our world. My name is Jorad and I have been assigned to orient you. Computer, display diagram please."
The glow in the room darkened and two forms were projected in front of her which then slowly rotated, one male and the other female. Both forms looked basically, human but there were some slight differences. They were both hairless, and earless although she could see small holes where the ears would be. The neck was also slightly longer. The hands and arms were quite similar, but had three fingers. There was also a fin starting at the elbow and moving to the edge of the hand - it looked like the missing two fingers made up the fin. The legs were slightly longer and had three toes on a slightly wider foot, along with a fin along the outside, made up from the two missing toes. The sexual organs of both forms were hidden away, which made sense for an aquatic creature. Definitely it was from the same hominid ancestry as humans, which explained why she had become one of these creatures.
"We originally evolved on land, but then moved to a coastal environment living along the edge of the ocean. We remained there and became more adapted to an aquatic existence, although still capable of surviving on land and breathing air."
"Sort of like our aquatic ape theory extended."
"What do you mean?"
"In my reality, there is a theory that our ancestors spent time in coastal waters, but eventually went back to the land. Your, and now my ancestors, must have stayed in the water resulting in the changes in the form."
He nodded, "We have found fossils with five toes and fingers and evidence of body hair."
For an instant she wondered what evidence of hair they'd found, but there were more immediate things she needed to know. "But you haven't explained why you live in the ocean, and why the surface was abandoned."
Why wouldn't he know that? "Before I was rescued I found an ancient metal girder. There were at least some constructs on the surface at some point in the past."
He sighed. "I see I shall have to tell you about our great shame earlier then I wanted to."
"What great shame?" How long would they have tried to keep it hidden?
"Up until about 100 years ago, we had a thriving civilization on the surface covering most of the planet. We had begun to send probes into space and our knowledge of the physical sciences was exploding. We had even begun our investigation into genetics. Then the war started." He sighed. "It started over some minor religious argument and then slowly escalated. Eventually the larger powers were brought in. Still it escalated, and eventually some nuclear weapons were used. But atomic death wasn't to be our fate. Somebody released chemical and biological agents that destroyed all of the higher life forms, leaving only plants, insects, and some lower animals alive. All the mammals and birds were destroyed. We were originally an underwater research station, and only our submerged state allowed us to survive. Then, as the plague expanded, other weapons were used. In a last spasm of destruction chemical poisons were used, along with substantial numbers of atomic weapons. As far as we know, we're all that is left."
"So that explains the surface, but why the bodies you, well we, wear?"
"Bio-genetic engineering was one of the primary purposes for this lab and research was continued after the war at a much more frantic pace. The reason for that is that the contamination has slowly been infecting the ocean. Without our bodies we couldn't survive here, and we can no longer survive for extended periods on the surface. You were almost dead from the chemical and biological agents before the creature started eating you. The bodies we now wear were originally very simple symbionts, but have since been expanded and enhanced to resist the chemical and radiation contamination, and to provide additional capabilities. Now we couldn't survive without them."
She thought about that for a minute while the male waited - his explanation did make sense. But... "If you are the few survivors, and are slowly dying, why are you putting so much effort into keeping me alive?"
"Because you seem to know much about how what you call a Plancks Gate works. When we first found you, we hoped we could make contact with your race and claim sanctuary, but, unfortunately, that can't happen. We're spending all of our resources trying to develop our own stable gate so that we can flee to another world and survive."
"Can't you go to another world in this reality, in your solar system?"
"There's nothing but garbage nearby. Mars could be made habitable, but it would take centuries. Additionally, we are only a small group. We have the records, but no longer have the resources to manage a space program. Our last hope is the gate."
She nodded, or at least tried to. "I will certainly help. After all it is the duty of all the party members to work as best they can." Where had that come from? Was it an implanted memory? "But what about my body? How healed am I?" She was afraid to think about her new memories right now - it was starting to sound like some kind of totalitarian nightmare. She would have to examine her memories and attitudes later when she was alone.
"In that regard I have good news. Not only were we able to regrow the missing parts of your legs, we were able to save your reproductive system, and even some eggs. Being able to breed is very important."
"It is every woman's duty." If she could have moved, she would have jerked backward. How could she have said that? But it sounded right. Was it something they had done? Or was it more changes from this alternate quantum state? Could there be mental changes?
He nodded, looking satisfied. "Let me take you with me and we'll get you into a real body. Then you can meet our ruling council and start on your work to stabilize the gate. But, before we go, what is your name? Nobody ever thought to ask."
"Dr. Anita Lei."
"Well Anita, welcome to Kashalan."
She watched as he swam over and grabbed hold of her body. Although she couldn't see them, she could feel his hands on her back. Then he started swimming and pushing her along. They went through the door and it felt like swimming through a fine gauze, but there was also a slight tingling as though from a static charge. Maybe it was an electrical field of some kind, or maybe it was some kind of biologic creature.
As she was pushed along, she looked around. They were going down a hallway, and it looked completely normal except that there were no lights, just a steady glow from the walls, ceiling, and even the floor. Occasionally they would pass another person. Most looked similar to Jorad, although there were facial differences, but others looked truly bizarre. Some looked like the person she had first seen in her room, with a cloud of arms around their head. Others looked liked armoured death fish with spines and plates and nasty looking rifles. These stopped and saluted as they swam by and Jorad returned the salute. She had an urge to salute, but no way to actually do it. Once they passed what looked like a large slug crawling along one wall. She tried to grimace in disgust, but didn't know if she had - she could never stand slugs or leeches. As they passed the thing she noticed that the wall behind it looked noticeable cleaner.
Finally they entered a small room through another static door. They stopped and before her was another merman, or in this case mermaid. Like the others she had seen it was hairless, and the skin was green and mottled. But, unlike the others it was motionless, and its back was opened up like some kind of huge venus flytrap.
She felt Jorad let go of her. "Here's the body we've created for you."
Anita just stared at it, starting to feel sick to her stomach as she realized that somehow she would have to climb into that thing. Her skin crawled as she imagined how it would feel. But she had little choice - her fears would have to wait as she needed the mobility. She closed her eyes and forced her thoughts behind her. "How do I get into it?"
"Its actually quite simple. Normally you just need to think about your body opening for it to do so, but for the protection of patients, a healing body has to be opened from the outside. I'll open it and then you just swim over and climb in. There are holes for your arms, and for your legs. Do you have any questions?"
"But how will I swim over? Won't I drown?"
He laughed. "You'll have lots of time. Remember, your new form is well adapted to living in the water. Right now your lungs are filled with it. You won't have to breathe, or hold your breath, or anything. Some oxygen exchange will be made through your fins which will keep you fine for about 15 minutes which should be lots of time."
"If we actually wanted to kill you, we have lots of easier ways to do it."
She forced down her fears. "Fine. Do it."
She felt a twisting on her back, and then a strong shock of cold. Something was quickly yanked up out of her throat, and more tubes were pulled out from more private parts. Then she was pushed out and began sinking to the floor.
She panicked for a second, and then realized that she did indeed have no need to breathe. She tried talking, and although she could slowly exhale water from her lungs, no sound came out. She bumped into the floor and stopped.
She tried to look around, but everything was blurry like it was underwater - which of course it was. Then she closed her eyes, or felt like she was closing her eyes, and then everything was clear. Did she have some kind of membrane over her eyes? It seemed so. She turned her head and looked at Jorad.
He looked much higher up than he should be. She looked around, and realized that the entire room looked larger than she'd thought. What was going on? But she couldn't ask now. She turned around and saw a large sphere floating just above her, one side opened like a flower. That must be the healing body. She looked around and found her new body. It was floating just above the floor and looked much bigger than she had thought it was. Now how was she going to get up to it? She looked at her arms, and they were indeed three fingered with a fin along the outside. She held the fin up to her face and could see a faint reddish tinge within it. Then she looked down and saw that her legs were back, but like her arms they were only three-toed and had their own fins. But enough of self examination - she had to get up to her new body.
She had never swam before as she had never had time for sports. But the swimming came easily, naturally. It must be one of those implanted skills that he'd mentioned. A few kicks and she was easily gliding up - she could feel the moving of water across her fins. It was an odd feeling, a feeling like a gentle wind tugging on two of her fingers. But then she reached her body and swam until she was above its back, between its petals, and let herself sink down into it.
She closed her eyes and grimaced, dreading the touch. But when it came, it wasn't cold and slimy. It was warm and smooth, inviting, like a warm blanket on a cold morning. She opened her eyes and embraced it. The slots for her arms were obvious and she pushed her arms into them. Her fins folded down neatly and flatly against her arms. Then she bent at the waist and carefully felt around with her feet until they too slid in their slots. Their fins folded down neatly and then she started to feel short of breath. No time for that. Wiggling, she pulled herself deeper down with her hands, and pushed her legs in deeper. She struggled and wiggled, and then, suddenly, the world went black. She felt things slither down her throat and through more personal openings. She felt warm and cold and all kinds of other sensations, all too rapidly to really identify.
Then she was fine. She was swallowing water and breathing fine. Slowly she opened her eyes and looked around. The room looked normal again. She could feel the water on her back fins, and on the fins on her tail. She could even feel her hands and fingers. She wiggled her fingers, relieved to feel them after so long. She could even feel her leg.
But she had legs.
She twisted around and looked at her legs and saw her tail. Faintly she could see light through the thin flesh of the tail fin. Of her tail fin.
"Just relax. It'll take a moment to get use to."
She whipped her tail around and tried to turn to face Jorad, but only started spinning around in the water. She felt his arms grab her.
"Don't move. Just relax. You'll have to take it slowly at first."
She closed her eyes and forced herself to relax. She counted, saying the numbers out loud. "1..2..4..8..." Finally she opened her eyes and slowly turned her face to look at Jorad.
"There. Now relax. You're perfectly fine. There's no danger."
"Why did everything look so large when my soul was swimming free?" Soul? Was that what they called their actual bodies?
"Because it actually is. Your body isn't a skintight suit, instead your soul is in the middle of its chest. You control and experience your body through biological linkages directly into your nervous system and senses. You can even experience sex, and you can even conceive."
He sounded quite proud. But his explanation about the size difference made a lot of sense. "So how do I swim? Any suggestions?"
"The first thing is not to try to hard. It takes a lot less effort than you might think. The basic knowledge was taught to you while you were unconscious, so it's just a question of bringing it to the surface. When you swim you have to remember that, even though your soul has no legs, your body has one. You have to think about moving your legs together, and your body will take care of the rest. I'm going to let go of you now, so try to swim around slowly."
Jorad let go and she started to sink to the bottom. Starting to gulp the water faster, she began to panic, but she forced herself to be calm. She was in no danger, she just had to start slowly. The knowledge was there due to the beneficence of the state. She shook her head at that thought. They must have put memories of those taught attitudes into her mind while she was out. She had to remember where she was from, but she had to pretend to be consumed by these attitudes. It wouldn't be easy, but certainly couldn't be any harder than when she'd faked not knowing answers to try and get some social acceptance in school. She frowned - that hadn't worked, and this would have to. But, first she had to learn to swim. She bumped into the floor.
Then she slowly tried moving her tail downwards. She tried to move it very slow; tried to concentrate on what it felt like to move it. She worked on thinking of it as both legs moving together as Jorad had suggested. Slowly her tail moved down and she could feel the pressure of the water on the blade of her tail. She felt an urge to twist the blade thusly to control the flow of water but refused. One thing at a time. Jer tail brushed into the floor. Then she tried moving it upwards. It was suddenly so easy, she could easily feel it, and she suddenly she knew how to swim. But still her tail felt odd. It felt odd because there was no knee - she could bend her tail at any point, like the body of a snake.
She stopped, forcing her thoughts to calm. This was the way it was supposed to be. This was fine. There was no rush. It was her tail. It wouldn't hurt her.
Her frantic gulping slowed down back to normal and she went back to her swimming.
Now that she had opened her implanted memories of swimming, the whole process became easy. It was sort of like learning a new skill, but after having read and mentally practiced it for years. Quickly she could swim around the room, and effortlessly manipulate her fins to curve and arc. She could even move the fins on her back independently to move slowly forwards, or slowly backwards, or to stay in place. Gradually, regretfully, she slowed down and turned and swam over to Jorad. He was smiling.
"You seem to have caught on quick. Are you ready to meet the council now?"
"Yes. I want to..." She stopped as she realized she was not talking through her mouth. Her mouth was still gulping water so that she could breath. Like before, she realized that she was talking by passing the same air back and forth between two lungs. Well, it was certainly convenient.
"Is there a problem?"
"No. I just realized how I was talking. But let's go and see the council. I want to thank them for all they've done for me."
"No, they'll probably want to thank you for the hope you've given our entire race about solving the problem with the Plancks Gate."
A thrill went through her. The council wanting to thank her. No! It was more implanted memories. Or was it? She wanted to be respected, to be in charge. Was that all this was, or was it something more? She had to be cautious until she knew what was herself, and what was added by the state. Shaking her head she noticed Jorad swimming away. She would not let this state win. She would stay in control. Jorad swam out into the hallway and she swam behind him, easily controlling her movements and keeping up with him.
She remained silent as they passed down the hallway. However, this time they took a different turn and left the building and went out into the open ocean.
Anita just stopped, unable to go on while she looked around. She was motionless except for her back fins which she automatically used to hold herself in position.
As far as she could see, the sea floor was covered by great towers. Each was attached to the bottom by a tube so small, it was almost invisible at this distance. At irregular places along the towers were multi-coloured blobs - some large, some small - in all the colours of the rainbow. Some were round; others were square; some were smooth; some had a surface that looked like the rumbling surface of a boiling pot of water locked in place in a single instant. Throughout the city swam all kinds of creatures. Most were like her, but some looked like the walrus that had rescued her, others like the person she had first met, and others completely different. Some were like snakes, others were like multi-tailed eels, and others crawled along the bottom like huge armadillos. Small fish swam throughout the city like birds, and she watched a group of children, all wearing bodies like hers but smaller, feeding them bits of something. The whole fairyland was lit by shafts of a greenish light shining from the surface far above.
"Anita? The council is waiting."
She looked down at Jorad who looked about a hundred feet away and sped after him. It was amazing how fast, and how effortlessly, she could swim. He waited for her to catch up and then led her down towards a large open forum, containing a huge sphere suspended just above the bottom. The sphere looked to be made of pearl and was covered in various writings - unfortunately she couldn't read any of them. The entrance was guarded by two figures, each looking like her but twice as large and covered in black armoured plates. All of their fins had large spines extending out. They reminded her of nothing so much as a stone fish she had seen on TV once. Hopefully these spines weren't as poisonous, but, considering their job, they probably were. They carried large rifles that were almost as big as her body was.
They stood to attention when Jorad reached the entrance and he returned the guard's salute. The salute consisted of clenching the right hand into a fist, snapping it against the centre of the chest, and then thrusting it out in front pointed towards the surface. She wanted to salute and she did. More memories or training that had been added. Jorad then swam past the two and she followed as he swam down a short hallway and then up into a vertical shaft. They passed two more points with guards, everybody saluting, until they reached the top of the shaft and entered a small round chamber.
Anita glanced around and saw that the room looked out over the city in all directions, and then watched Jorad salute the three figures seated along one wall. She did likewise. All of the figures were bodied like she was, but all looked wise, and all three were male. They had markings like her, but their heads had no patterning at all, and they were coloured a golden yellow.
The one in the centre spoke. "So this is our new citizen?"
"Yes President. Her name is Anita."
"What do you think of our city then?", the president asked.
"It's wonderful. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, Lord." Lord? It must be more conditioning.
"What skills can you offer us Anita?"
For a moment she was too afraid to speak, but then an answer forced itself out of her: "I have a strong mathematical and theoretical background on the working and theory of the Plancks Gate. I've also been told that I'm fertile and capable of bearing young, as is a woman's duty. I will serve your Lordship however you wish." My god! What other conditioning had they snuck in?
"What tasks would you prefer to perform for the state?"
"I...", she realized that she felt that bearing young was the proper thing to say, but she couldn't bring herself to say it, no matter how right it seemed. Maybe the president, her Lord - had they stuck that in too? - was testing the implanted memories.
"You sound confused."
She knew she had to answer quickly, to confirm her conditioning. But there was only so far that she would go. "I'm sorry. I was just preparing my humble words carefully Lord. I would prefer to bear young, as that is a woman's duty, but I would also like to work on the gate to help the state. I would like to do both." She refused to only wish to bear young. The president frowned - had she gone too far?
"You are dismissed from our presence. Please wait outside and Jorad will come for you presently."
"Yes Lord." Anita bowed, saluted, and swam from the room and down the shaft to the next level, ignoring the guards. They ignored her as she moved to a corner to stay out of the way to wait. Her thoughts were in turmoil and she needed to sort them out.
I'm in a new body on a new world, she thought. They know I'm trapped here. While I was being healed I had memories created to adapt me to this culture. This included useful knowledge, such as the language, but also social knowledge. Jorad said that there had been a war, and that this city contained the last survivors. If it started small, then breeding would have to be a priority. Hence the importance of child bearing in females. The ruling council was led by a president, but he was called Lord. I doubt that there are elections. However, I am trapped here. If I revolt against the culture they might destroy my mind, or perform harsher and more permanent conditioning. I have to wait and see and survive. For a moment she smiled - it was almost like struggling in the academic world. Then her thoughts continued. In the academic world I didn't have conditioning to worry about, or at least not this obvious. I have to remember that this is conditioning. I have to remember that I come from a democracy, that a president is hereditary... No! She shook her head to clear her mind. A president is elected. I have to remember, but keep it hidden...
She looked up at Jorad.
"The president has confirmed that you'll be placed on the team working on the gate. Because of the gate's importance, you won't be assigned a mate right away. Follow me and we'll make our way to the gate building."
"Yes. I need to get started on both of my duties." She saw him smile.
Jorad turned and swam down the shaft and out of the building and she followed. They stayed close to the bottom and shortly reached a large cubical building. There were two more of the guards there whom Jorad and she saluted, and then they waited while the guards saluted back. Only then did the guards open the door and she and Jorad swam in.
Inside was a single room which contained a number of vehicles. They appeared similar to the military subs she had seen on TV back on her earth, but these had no conning tower. A number had large portions glassed in - she could see various controls inside.
Jorad swam over to one of the smaller craft, talking as he went. "Our gate is constructed a good distance from the city, like, I would imagine, yours was. That way if there's a disaster, it won't harm the city."
"Ours was in a dry place with no water." Curious, her new language didn't have a single word for desert.
"Isolation. The cost of progress."
Jorad reached a small vessel that was fairly small, and looked like a flattened cylinder. Its front consisted entirely of a transparent dome facing forwards, and she could see two propellers at the rear. There were a number of fins or control vanes along the sides, much more than she remembered in the pictures of submarines that she'd seen.
"Follow me and make yourself comfortable. We have a ways to travel. Not long enough to really have fun, but still a ways."
Jorad entered the submersible and Anita followed. It was small, but comfortable, with padded bars that they could hold onto and curl their tails around to brace themselves. Jorad went to the right and started pushing buttons and switches and she watched various lights turn on and heard a thrum start up from behind her. The controls were actual buttons, and not a projection. That technology was probably too bulky for this.
"Grab something!", Jorad called out. "We're about to get started."
She grabbed one of the bars with one hand and also wrapped her tail around it. Intellectually it seemed strange not to have knees, but it felt natural. Was that the body or the new memories?
The thrum grew louder and the sub started to move forward. An iris opened in the wall and the craft accelerated out. Then its acceleration increased significantly and Anita started to lose her grip. Fortunately, shortly after, the acceleration ended.
Jorad turned around. "We're now on autopilot." He floated away from the controls and turned and swam towards her. "I'm afraid the facilities are a bit sparse, but I can offer you some food and drink."
Anita wasn't thirsty, but realized that she was hungry. "I'd like some food please."
Jorad pulled open a cupboard and pulled out some plastic-wrapped packages. "Not much I'm afraid, just some basic rations. Hopefully they're not as bad as military rations where you come from."
She couldn't help but smile, remembering the food at the military funded lab she'd built her gate in. "They couldn't be worse."
They ate together in silence. And she was right, it wasn't worse than the military rations she remembered, but it was certainly just as bad.
Jorad reached over and pulled out small sack with a purplish liquid in it. "Are you sure you don't want any wine?"
"No. I've too much to think about." One of the advantages of her new body was that she could talk and eat at the same time. She continued eating, but then thought of something she had better ask now before it got messy. "Ah...if I have to...use the washroom...how do I do it?"
"Don't worry about it - you shouldn't have to for at least a week."
Jorad frowned for a second. "Ah, I think I see why you're asking. Your soul, if it was separate from your body, would have to eliminate its wastes frequently. Certainly once a day."
"On my world it was usually more often than that."
"But on your world you weren't wearing a symbiont. Your body consumes your wastes and processes almost all of them for its own metabolism. The little that it can't it passes out when it has enough to make it worth while. That won't be more than once a week, and likely no more than once a month if you eat healthy." He looked at the little bit of ration he had left. "Of course, these make eating healthy a very tough choice."
They both laughed.
"And one other thing you should probably learn. Although you can talk and eat at the same time, it is generally considered impolite."
"I'll try and keep that in mind."
She finished her meal and then relaxed. Normally that would mean various stretches to relax her muscles, but now she just stretched out straight and let her arms hang loose. There were definite advantages to living in the ocean. She yawned.
"You can take a nap if you want. We won't be arriving for about an hour yet."
"A good idea." She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
She was awakened some time later by Jorad rubbing against her. She jerked up, awakened from her dreams both of serving the state, and of motherhood. As she opened her eyes the dream faded from her conscious mind. The sub was dark, even though it was lit dimly by an overhead strip. She could see that the controls glowing in the front and Jorad was floating below her, facing up. With a flick of his tail he sped forwards.
He reached the controls and stopped. "We should be there in a few minutes," he called back.
She swam to the side and wrapped her tail around one of the bars. Some wisps of her dream still remained in her mind. She had never dreamed of children before. She'd known about them, but more as an intellectual thought for the future. She wasn't ready! - it must be the conditioning and that really starting to worry her. She hoped that the gate installation was a looser environment like the one back in the US so that she could afford to fight the conditioning. Unfortunately for now she had to embrace it since it was almost certain that Jorad would report back to the council when he returned.
She looked up and out of the transparent dome but there was little to see. The ocean was dark - it must be night - and she couldn't see anything outside. Looking past Jorad she thought she could see some lights in front of them, but wasn't sure due to the reflections of the controls on the inside of the dome.
"Hold on, the approach will be a bit rough as we have to pass through a current."
The steady hum of the engine started to quiet down, and the sub turned and pointed slightly downwards. There was a bang, and Anita felt herself pulled upwards. And then the craft was steady again.
"We had to get through the outflow from the coolant for the fusion reactor. It'll be fine now."
A moment later the engines finally stopped. Jorad flicked some switches and the lighted strip vanished, although the glow from the controls remained.
"Follow me and I'll introduce you to the rest of the research team."
"Don't worry, I'll stay close." She was afraid that she might stay too close. She had no idea where she was, or where to go, or even how to survive if she got separated.
Swimming by her, Jorad opened the hatch and swam out. She followed and then blinked in reaction as he switched on a small light that he was carrying that shone in all directions. Then Jorad swam forward a few feet until he arrived at a transparent door. This door didn't ripple, but instead looked thick and solid. There were lights behind it, but they looked muted and dim. Anita stopped just behind him and watched him punch in a code into a panel beside the door.
"Don't worry, this isn't a prison. The code is 1-1-5-13-12."
The panel looked like it had nine buttons, so why did it have 13 numbers? But then Anita realized that there was no word in the language she had been given for six, or for seven, eight, or nine. That was enough to awaken another new memory - the number system here was base six. That explained it. She looked over and saw that the door had risen up and a strong light was streaming out - the material must have filtered it. She followed Jorad as he swam through.
The entrance consisted of a short passageway which then opened up into a larger chamber with two of the usual guards in their armoured bodies. Again they all stopped as the saluting went on - it was wonderful to know one's place in the world. No! She had always hated the military and all of the formalism. She had to remember that, but couldn't stop the results of the conditioning.
Finally they left the guards and passed through into the main complex. It was much larger, and much more of a permanent installation, then the place she had been working in the US. They passed quarters, a cafeteria, meeting rooms, recreation rooms, and finally arrived in what she guessed was a conference room. It had the requisite table in the centre which consisted of a clear, milky substance, and it was attached to the floor by fine transparent tubes. There were no chairs. Around it were gathered a number of figures.
They all looked similar, and all were male. Their bodies were larger than hers, and a darker green with larger mottlings. Each had the standard tail and two arms, but each head was larger and more frog like. The eyes were larger as was the mouth as it gulped water. There were the usual pair of fins along the back, along with fins along the tail which, for some reason, was oriented vertically rather than horizontally. The head was very irregular in shape with many bumps and extrusions scattered randomly where the neck would be.
"Anita," Jorad began, "this is the development team for our Plancks Gate." He turned to them. "You've all been informed about your newest member. She's the one you've heard of who actually came through a gate. Fortunately for us, she was the theoretical developer of the gate in her universe."
Anita smiled at that - here at least they seemed to respect her.
Jorad continued, "I, and the council, have no doubt that she will be able to help you significantly. Now why don't you introduce yourselves..."
The largest form swam over top of the table and stopped. His skin was a solid dark green, although the faint outlines of slightly darker mottles could be made out. There were so many bumps and extrusions of flesh from his neck that his head was almost buried, and his eyes looked slightly milky. "I am Dr Grifir, the current head and certified mathematical genius."
Anita heard a snicker from the group and a whispered "certifiable". Dr Grifir's frog face crinkled into a grin. "Don't mind them, they're just jealous. We do encourage a certain degree of informality here, but only to a point."
This was greeted by general laughter.
"The joker you can hear behind me," Dr Grifir continued, "is Handir Ganson, our chief technical and biological expert."
"And let me guess, you all have to be nice to him so he keeps the network running," Anita interrupted.
Handir asked, "Network? What do you mean by that?"
"The linked network of calculating machines." Anita realized that there was no word for computers. "Devices to store information and aid you in calculations."
Handir scratched his head. "I vaguely remember hearing of something similar, from before the war, but we don't have anything like that now."
"Then how do you calculate the Planck variances? You can't be doing it by hand!"
A slimmer, younger looking form, swam closer to Anita. "Of course not. We let our assistants do it. Oh, and by the way I'm Karann Croalie, the other mathematician."
"What do you mean by assistants? Other people? That's simply not possible."
Jorad broke in. "Of course not. But I think I understand where your confusion is coming from. Each of the researchers have a number of junior 'brains' as part of their bodies. These 'brains' calculate equations and store information for them. They can also link to memory organs to record and transfer information."
Anita frowned. "How can you do that? Wouldn't it be like living in a constant babble of voices."
"No, not at all," Karann replied. "You simply think a question, and are supplied the answer." He turned to Jorad, "She'll find out shortly, won't she?"
"Definitely," Jorad replied. "We're already growing her a body like yours, but we wanted to give her a chance to get use to all this before going that far."
"I'll look like them?"
Dr. Grifir responded: "You'll look like all of us. Of course, our perfect memories make jokes hard to pull twice. The other two quiet gentleman are our assistants. The one of the left is Torstig Kinrade, and the other is Addrun Gravato."
"Good to meet you Anita," Addrun responded. "I'm sure you'll help our solutions."
Dr Grifir swam a bit closer and in a fake whisper said, "He's the one to look out for. His head is so lost in math, he often doesn't know where he is."
This was greeted with laughter.
Now it was Jorad's turn to speak. "Well then, I'll let the group get you settled in and I'll see you later." Turning to swim off, he called out, "Your new body should be ready in a few weeks."
Karann swam up. "We knew you were coming and I was selected to show you around. So lets go and I'll show you what's what." He clasped her hand and whispered, "Please come, we need to talk about things."
Anita swam alongside him down the hallways. She didn't know what to say, and for now decided to just listen.
"You wouldn't believe how glad we are that you're here. You're our one hope."
"What do you mean by that?"
"We try to keep it secret, but none of us really understand the Plancks Gate or its math. It was developed before the war, but the developer was killed, or transported, early while testing it. God knows where he ended up."
"I can image how he would have felt."
Karann laughed. "No, I'm serious. Dr Grifir knows the math. He can repeat it in his sleep. He can transform it. But he doesn't understand it. We're all like that. We know the math, and can recite the theory, but we don't really know what it means."
"How can you not understand it? It's so simple and elegant and it makes all the various bits of other things work together. It forces the universe to work the way it does."
"I'll have to take your word for it. To me, and the rest of us, it's just math. Except maybe Addrun, but nobody's really sure what he thinks."
"Ok, for a minute I'll accept that you don't understand it, just know it. But if that's the case, then why are you here trying to develop it?"
"Because we're the best that's left. After the war there were only a few thousand survivors based around this lab. Forced breeding has caused our population to grow to almost two hundred thousand, but that's it. We think that because we have such a small pool to draw upon, we don't have the numbers to always have access to the genius that conceived of the gate. In fact, it's rumoured that Addrun was actually an experiment by the council to try and get that genius."
They both stopped as they reached a metal door. It was huge and massive, and reminded Anita of the main barrier to the gate back in the US. She waited while Karann entered another numeric sequence into a panel beside the door, and then watched as the door slowly began to rise.
"Follow me in, but don't go too far. We have a gate open, and have kept it open safely for close to ten years. But we haven't been able to stabilize it."
"Because of the random oscillations of the various universes so that the universe that was easiest to tunnel through to changed from instant to instant."
"Yes, and as long as that's the case, it's useless to us as an escape."
The door finished opening and Karann swam through followed by Anita. Inside the room was lit only by the flickering whirls of colour from the Plancks Gate hovering in the centre of the room. Her body seemed to vibrate to a deep, bass roar that oscillated through a narrow range of low frequencies. She frowned - the roar seemed to be coming from the gate. Anita looked up and into the flickering sphere. Somewhere through that she could get home. But then, with a shock, she realized that she didn't want to go home. She was happy here so why would she? But that couldn't be right? It was the conditioning. She had to concentrate on other things - like why was the gate making sounds? "The gate we constructed was silent, but yours seems to be generating sound. Has it always done this?"
"Always. It oscillates between 10 and 20 Cycles."
"What's a cycle?"
"It's a measurement of vibrational frequency per second."
"I figured that, but I have no frame of reference to adapt it to the scale I'm use to. However, we can get a rough frequency conversion. I need to get some standards. You know the element with atomic weight 131?" She automatically converted 55 in base 10 to 131 in base 6.
"Do you mean Cesium?"
"That's what it's called on my world. Hopefully that means that the language they taught me does include some directly translations for physical and chemical basics. Now, for the Cesium," she paused for a second to convert 133 to base 6, "341 isotope, how long does..." She paused - what was 9.2 billion in base 6? And she needed it to be reasonably precise. "I need to know how many seconds 9.2 billion cycles in base 10 would require"
"Base 10? But why that?"
She sighed. "Because in my reality we have ten fingers and hence work in base 10."
Karann shrugged, "OK." Then Anita watched as his eyes glazed for a second and then cleared as he answered, "1.23 seconds."
"Not the same as my second. My second was defined as 9.192 and change billion periods, in base 10." Anita worked out a conversion in her mind. "That converts the cycles in your time definition to between 8.1 and 16.29 oscillations, in base 10, in my world. Which would have been below my old threshold of hearing, and hence no sound."
"You calculated it that precisely with your soul's brain? You were right to the decimals you gave!"
"For you maybe. I couldn't have done it."
"But you did."
"No, I had one of my other brains which was designed to calculate do it."
"I think I understand."
"That proves that you're what we need. If you can do that with your soul's brain, and you understand the Plancks Gate, you should be able to solve all our problems when you get your next body."
"I don't know... I'll at least need an extended recording of the sounds from the gate."
"Don't worry - you'll find you already have that information. If you need more extensive records they're stored in the memory organs below the gate."
Anita looked down. In the dim flickering light she could see what looked like large pinkish boulders scattered around the floor. She pointed, "Those?"
"Yes, but you'll need your new body to use them. I've no doubt you're the one we need. Now let's go back and get you settled in."
For Anita the next two weeks passed quickly. The group here was much less formal than the council had been, and often forgot the saluting and formalities, which was fine with Anita since she didn't want the implanted memories to take over. Unfortunately, the group was also a little odd. Often she would pass them in the corridors and try to greet them, and they would completely ignore her. Other times they would greet her back and they would talk for a bit about the gate math. It would have been easy for her just to ignore them, but she finally had control and she wanted everybody to know it!
She spent most of her time viewing holos of basic physics and chemistry in a lecture room. Not because she didn't understand it, but because she needed the terminology basics to convert her knowledge to the framework used by this civilization. She also learned to read quickly - it must have been taught while she healed and just needed to be brought to the surface.
Towards the end of this time, the rest of the group started discussing the gate math with her, and kept asking her what she considered basic questions. It seemed that Karann had been right. They could do the math, and with their junior brains could do massive equations quickly and effortlessly, but they couldn't think what questions to ask. Maybe Addrun knew, but he was never around. Anita could formulate the questions, but couldn't get them across to the others to test them out. Sometimes she wasn't sure that she wanted to get the questions across - she wasn't sure whom to trust. That meant that she needed computers, but there were none.
She was in the cafeteria with Karann when Torstig swam over to them.
"You're wanted in the conference room. Jorad has returned with your new body."
"Its about time." She started swimming towards the conference room.
"Don't forget to salute," Karann called after her.
The swim didn't take long, and Jorad was indeed there. And behind him was another form. It looked like the others, but was a bit smaller, and the head was smoother - there were only three or four lumps. The face was still frog-like and she could see it gulping water as it passively waited for her. She also noticed that the mottling was much finer than that she had seen on the others.
Jorad turned and saluted her. Oh, right. She saluted back.
"I've missed you, but I'm glad to see you've settled in.", said Jorad.
"Yes." She remembered what Karann had told her. "Its amazing what you've done here. I think I'm finally up on all of the innovations you've made so that I can be of some use. I've done a lot of catching up." Then she calmly explained everything she had worked out in the past two weeks - her interactions with the others, her learning of the math, and her confusion at the sounds the gate made. Jorad never complained, but paid rapt attention. Finally she finished, "...but I'm reaching the limits of what I can do."
"Good. Your new body should solve all your problems. If you're ready, lets do the transfer."
"What about this body?"
"It'll be stored here. You can keep it for recreation and to relax. Oh, and you'll have to give it some food once a week or so."
She shook her head - sometimes it was so easy to forget that she was wearing a body, and not just being it. "I remember you said something about just thinking about leaving to leave?"
"Exactly. It's probably best to swim close to the new body before leaving your current body. There are some other things to be aware of."
"What kind of things." Why did his tone make her nervous? He sounded eager somehow.
"Right now the three junior brains are not active, so the body will be almost just like yours, although it will feel different of course. Once you're settled, then we'll activate the other brains one at a time."
"Why only three?"
"We've found that it's better to start small. We can easily grow extra ones within the body without even requiring you to take it off to increase your capabilities."
Well, at least she'd be starting small. She took a deep breath, which she had gotten into the habit of simulating by pushing most of the air from one speaking lung into the other. "I'm ready." She thought about leaving her body and felt the pulling of tentacles out from her throat and other orifices, and was suddenly shoved out into the cold world.
She felt small and alone, but at least knew somewhat what to expect. Still, it seemed worse than she remembered. Before there had been no sense of abandonment and loss. No sense of fear of being out in the open like she had now. Maybe the bodies were addictive? But she could work out the ramifications of that idea later.
She still remembered how to swim, and had no trouble going over to the back of her new body and letting herself sink into the embrace of its open petals. Even more so than she remembered, it felt warm and inviting, and overwhelmingly safe. She burrowed her hands and arms and legs in and felt the body close behind her.
Again, there was a moment of disorientation, and then a flash of memories and sensations, too fast to follow. Then all was fine. She opened her eyes.
Anita was used to having to look around a room, but now she could see all of the room at once. Everything looked smaller but she could see more of it. It all looked a bit brighter too. And somehow she felt different, she felt heavier and bulkier. She tried to swim but her leg wouldn't move right. What? She paused and closed her eyes and thought. One thing at a time. Right, this body has a vertical tail. She tried wiggling from side to side, and found that she could wiggle from her neck down, or at least that's what it felt like. She stopped and opened her eyes. The room was still there and she could still see most of it. Ok, next step. She wiggled and tried to turn her body around, but the sudden rotation of her entire visual field threw her stomach into nausea. Closing her eyes, she willed her stomach to calm as she let herself slowly sink to the floor.
"Are you all right?"
She opened her eyes and looked up at Jorad. "I think so. I was just disoriented by the vision."
"It'll take a bit of getting use to. I'll leave you alone for a few minutes then and give you a chance to acclimatize. I have to get some information from Dr Grifir while I'm here."
"Thank you. I'd salute, but I don't think I'm up to it quite yet."
"Don't worry about it. Take your time and relax, it's the best way."
She felt vibrations on her side and watched Jorad swimming off - was she feeling slight motions in the water?. What other capabilities did this new body have? But first she had to get use to moving it. She used her hands to slow herself as she bumped into the bottom. Breathing heavily, she could taste some grit from the floor with each swallow.
First thing is to get use to the vision, she thought. She tried to slightly turn her head, but nothing happened. Then she remembered the others and realized that she had never seen them turn their heads. It must be a limitation of the body. So it would have to be the hard way. She tried closing one eye, and was able to restrict her vision to one side of the room. It felt odd and kind of lopsided. Maybe this body was feeding these sensations back to her? She ignored the feelings and tried to slowly swim.
Her tail felt different. It was heavier, bulkier and much stiffer. But, even though it was now oriented vertically, she now had no problems with moving it. Was that more hidden training? She swished her tail slowly and realized that she couldn't feel the water movement across the blade of her tail anywhere near as finely as in her other body. Now she could see that body floating there, its back open like some giant flower, still gulping water on its own. But now she was moving in her new body. She tried to pretend she was in a train and that helped her relax. Then she tried to turn and was able to manage it, although she did almost hit one of the walls. This larger body would require some time to get use to. She turned sharper and started swimming around the room. Her stomach was a little unsettled, but it quickly relaxed. Now for the hard part.
Opening her other eye, she blinked in shock at the widened field of view. She'd been expecting it, but it was still a shock. Unfortunately, as she was still gliding forward, her stomach wasn't happy - but it wasn't too bad. She tried to swim slowly and forced herself to concentrate on the view directly ahead of her. That helped. She swam a bit faster and started circling the room. Then she started widening her concentration to encompass her whole field of vision. Her stomach settled, and she gradually got use to it.
It turned out that she didn't have full 360 degree vision, but only about 270 degrees. There were definite advantages. She sped up a bit and circled her old body in large, lazy arcs. She sped up more. Her new body was a bit slower than her old, but seemed to be capable of much more sustained movement. She didn't feel at all tired.
She felt someone approach her from behind and used the fins on her back to stop, while she used her tail to spin herself around. It was Jorad.
"I see you've gotten use to it."
"It's amazing. Once you get used to the wider field of vision, it's really useful. It makes it much easier to swim around."
"Are you ready for the next stage?"
"Ok then, hold still. I'm going to come over and massage your first junior brain. That will activate it. It's designed to control your body for you, so that you can swim to a destination, while working on other things."
Was that why the others sometimes ignored her? They weren't really there? "Ok. I'm ready. I think."
Jorad swam over and began massaging and stroking a lump on her body. She felt it grow warm, and then it awoke. Vaguely she could feel Jorad rubbing against her tail and bottom. Mostly she felt something like a dogs tongue, licking her face and hands, but only in her mind. She could still, at the same time, feel the water and warmth on her body and knew there was no dog there. She closed her eyes, confused.
Jorad asked from nearby, "Is it awake?"
Anita pushed aside the loving affection she was feeling flowing over her mind. "I think so. It likes me, I think."
"Good. That means it's awake and ready."
"How do I use it?"
"It depends. Each person communicates with it differently. Some give it orders vocally, others just have to ask mentally, others have it take over automatically, without having to actively think about it. You can feel it, so try to ask it."
That was a big help, but she couldn't argue. She could feel the warm tongue laugh as it kept licking her. Maybe she could try giving it commands, like a dog. Sit, she asked it. And it seemed to. The licking stopped and it radiated happiness and joy to serve. Now to try and get it to do something. She pictured a big piece of steak in her mind and moved it near a mental picture of the door of her room.
For a second there was nothing, then she was shoved out of her body and into her mind. She wasn't completely helpless, as she could still feel her limbs and tail. Trying to open her eyes, she found that she could which meant that she controlled them. But she was just a passenger as her body started swimming towards the door and stopped when her body reached it. But it wasn't her swimming. Then the dog, for lack of a better word, was sitting beside her basking in her glow - or at least it seemed to be sitting beside her.
Good boy, she thought, and it rolled on its back and twitched in joy at having served. Then she felt her body fully again. The junior brain, or dog, backed off. She knew it was there, sitting and panting and waiting, but it wasn't quite so insistent.
"Were you able to get it to swim?"
Anita turned herself around to face Jorad. How could she describe it? She pictured it as a dog, but that description didn't really describe what she felt, although it was close. "Yes. At least it seemed to be. It wasn't me swimming. He's still there waiting and eager."
"Its how, I guess, I picture it, or him. It's hard to describe."
"That's what I've been told by others. Now, are you ready for the next one?"
"Which one is that?"
"It will store and calculate information for you."
"Then let's get it up."
Jorad came back over and began massaging another bump. The rubbing against the bump and her tail felt nice, but distant. Tail? But then other feelings flooded her - they felt cold, logical, calculating. Then the brain turned on and requested input. It seemed to her as though she had her computer back. She looked at the screen and saw the same old NT interface, and the same nebula wallpaper she had had. She clicked on START and went through and saw that all of the old programs were there, and even much of the information she had stored and worked on. Reports. Calculations. Simulations. How was this possible?
"Are you all right?"
She mentally turned away and looked back out, and then just back at, Jorad. "It's like my calculating machine back where I came from. It even has all of the simulations I created for it. How's that possible?"
"I would guess that it drew them from your memory, even though you weren't conscious of having those memories. It's designed to always interface with you, and to help you organize yourself."
"Well, then it's working." If it was interfacing with her memories, maybe she could read them. Maybe she could read what memories they had added while she was healing. But that would have to wait.
"What's the final one for?"
"It serves two functions. It allows you to link and exchange information with others, it also allows you to override your vision and/or other senses to display simulations and other information."
"There is a fine tentacle along your bottom just before your tail just in front of a matching hole. The tentacle can mate with another body like yours and exchange information between the two brains. Then each of the two parties can access the information exchanged."
"Wouldn't that be telepathy?"
"Not really, as you have to specify what is exchanged."
"That's what I've been told."
She sighed. "Fine. Activate it then and let's see what it does."
Jorad started massaging a third bump, and like the second it felt cold. Anita could feel other sensations in her body, but wasn't sure. She tried to pay attention to the brain so that she could feel it as it activated. This time it didn't feel logical so much as empty. In fact it didn't feel much like anything. Then her computer, or second brain, beeped in her mind, and she saw, or imagined, a window that identified new software that had been installed. That was easy, one interface to handle two brains. She looked at the new software and determined that a modem had been installed (that made sense), along with another video control. She decided to try the latter. She opened up the hard drive and looked for *.MOV files and found thousands of them - much more than any machine she had ever had could hold. And the titles were strange. There were things such as 'Experiments - Visual record of gated subject - 6/11/01-23:52' and 'Kashalan - Introduction - 9/12/67-18:21'. There were many others. She decided to right click on the Experiments - Visual record of gated subject' file and check its properties. It was marked as a movie and allowed options to display either on screen, or on full senses. Full senses? What the heck - she chose full senses.
And she was back in the facility in the US at the instant she had identified the picture of the transformed subject that they had sent through the gate. Right before the others had ignored her and screwed up the gate sending her here. But she didn't feel angry about that, she only felt her annoyance when they didn't understand her explanation as to why the subject had changed. Then the file ended.
It was like she'd viewed a memory. She'd seen what she'd seen then, and felt what she'd felt then. Were all of these files her memories? This had possibilities. But first she had to go back to talk to Jorad. She mentally left the NT machine and went back into full control of her body. Jorad was beside her calling frantically.
"...can you hear me? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. What happened?"
"What happened? For almost five minutes you were oblivious to the world. You wouldn't answer me and even hitting you caused no reaction."
"I was checking the third brain. I'm sorry, it must have controlled my senses." If it had, then she would have to stay with the 'on screen' option.
"But it did work then?"
"Wonderfully. I can do things that I never dreamed of before."
"You're sure you're fine then?"
"Certainly. I have a lot to look into though. I've got some problems that I think I can work on now."
Jorad started to swim and then stopped. "You're sure."
"Yes," she snapped. "I was just running a simulation with 'full senses'."
"I think it means that the simulation will be played through all my senses, replacing normal input. It's why I didn't react to you. Likely if I'd put the dog in charge of my body it would have worked better."
"The brain that controls the body. The first one you activated - it's how I picture it."
He shook his head. "Well, Ok then. If you have any problems you can talk to the rest of the staff, but it seems like you have the hang of it. I've got to get going to run some other errands. Have fun then."
"Oh definitely." Definitely indeed. She had a lot to investigate. If she could access her memories directly, she could see what had happened while she was out, along with other things.
She went back into her mind and called for the dog. Instantly it came bounding up and started licking her face. Or at least it seemed to. She pushed it away until it was sitting in front of her. It isn't really just a dog, it's more like a really young puppy, she thought. Then she turned her attention to the puppy in her mind. It seems that I shall have to name you, she thought to it. She remembered her youth. How about Genie - it seems to fit you. Genie leaped up and licked her face again. You like it then? She laughed in her mind. I have a task for you. I want you to take control while I'm at work. Come and get me if anybody wants to talk. Can you do it? Genie ran around her three times and barked, and then ran off.
I guess so, she thought. Now back to my memories.
She thought her way back into her office - at least now it seemed to be her office - and went back to her workstation. First, though, she wanted to start an analysis of the sound pattern of the Plancks Gate - at least now she knew why Karann had told her she would have the information when she needed it. She searched through the files and found a file labeled 'Gate Recording'. She played it on the screen and saw that her brains had already filtered out the other information. Then she loaded it into one of the statistics programs she had and started running the sequence to analyze the frequency pattern. And then, while that was running, she started rummaging through her other memories.
It wasn't hard finding the memories she needed, as they were clearly labeled. Which seemed to make sense as she had always been fanatical about computer file names. She also realized that she was no longer using a mouse, or pretending to use a mouse. Instead she was just thinking what she wanted, and the brain brought it up. She must be getting use to the new body.
Then she started playing the memories on the screen. Most were indeed just training - they had given her memories of learning the language, of learning basic and advanced math, and of learning basic physics and biology. But there were a few oddities. There were queries and conversations about the world she had come from. She had given a great deal of information out about her world. The saluting and forms of address had been taught. And there seemed to be a lot of physical therapy, they seemed to have had to teach her to use her new body. But, if she had changed that shouldn't be needed. Maybe it was therapy to recover from the radiation damage? And there was worse - there were also subtle conditioning memories. These included loyalty to the state, and to the council. But there was also a disloyalty to her own race, and an impulse to report what she had done to Jorad whenever she saw him. She leaned back and frowned - that explained why she'd told him everything when he came with this body.
Now the question was what, to do about it?
If she was seeing her memories as files, could she move them? The file structure was set up in a root level partition called memory. So, why not? She created a new folder on her work drive and moved all of the conditioning memories there. And instantly she realized that something was missing from her mind. And that a part of her did want to go home. She dragged back the disloyalty to her own race and suddenly realized that she never wanted to go home - she had found her place.
It did work.
She dragged it back to her work drive. She would have to figure out what she really did want. It nagged her though, it couldn't be that easy. They must know about these bodies.
And she had another worry - she had to make sure that the memories would come back if Jorad came back. She would have to create some fake memories for him - could she create fake memories? She didn't think she could create the full sensory files that she were her actual memories, but could she splice a bunch together to create a fake memory. And then institute a conditional loop monitoring Jorad's presence? It could be done. Anita started splicing together memories.
Genie came bounding in and started barking around her legs. She'd thought she was sitting at her workstation, but she wasn't now. But then she never was. Anita was starting to realize that she couldn't think too much about the way her mind was picturing the abilities of her new body.
Is someone there? she asked Genie.
Genie stopped racing around and sat and wagged his tail. There must be somebody. She concentrated, and suddenly snapped back into control of her body.
"...all right? Anita? What happened to you?!"
Anita examined her view of the room and saw that it was Karann. She remembered his glazed eyes when he calculated answers. Did she look like that when she was working, or did putting Genie in control hide that? "I'm all right. I was just...thinking."
"I've been working with my new body, examining how it works." Often while struggling with member of her thesis committee, she had been able to toss out a tidbit of information and use their reaction to decide what to say next. That should work here too. She would toss out a tidbit about memories to see Karann's reaction. "I was cleaning up my memories."
Karann just starred at her. Then he slowly asked, "What do you mean by 'cleaning up' your memories?"
"I was organizing them. Bringing important ones to the front and deleting some old ones from my childhood on my old world."
In the past two weeks Anita had learned to read the expressions of her co-workers and, even though his mouth kept opening and closing as he breathed, she would have sworn that his jaw was hanging open.
"How the hell can you do that?"
"I just select the memory I want and delete it."
"But how?! All you can deal with is specific values and calculations - you can't choose an emotional event in your past. How do you know which one?!"
Anita starting scratching the base of her back fins - a habit she had started while she was thinking. Karann's answer suggested that the others couldn't access their memories the way she could. That was probably why removing her conditioning was so easy - they didn't know she could manipulate her mind the way she could. But why? It had to be the computer oriented interface her mind had created - they hadn't used computers in a hundred years, and only a few even vaguely remembered them. It was the way her mind had chosen to use her other minds that gave her the talent. But whom could she trust?
She tried to look perplexed. "No wonder I couldn't. It seemed that I could, but when I tried to delete an unpleasant childhood pain, it stayed."
Karann swam right up to her and clasped her head in his hands. "Please don't try ever again. Some people tried and went mad. We can't afford to lose you."
"For you I'll leave it alone."
Karann let go and backed a little ways away. "Did you know that you've been in here for almost ten hours? Aren't you hungry?"
That made Anita realize that she was very hungry. "I hadn't noticed. Let's go to the cafeteria and grab something then."
"And just relax." Karann said slowly. "Your new body will take time to get use to. There's no need to rush it." Then he turned and started swimming down the hallway.
Anita followed, lost in thought. She realized that she actually could remove unpleasant memories and experiences. But did she dare? She was afraid to, she was afraid of what changes removing her experiences might make in her.
Pondering that question, she didn't notice Genie taking over the swimming.
The next few days passed quickly, but soon Anita realized that she needed more information. She remembered Karann's comment that years worth of frequency recordings were stored in the memory organs. So one night, when everybody else was resting - she didn't want to risk them knowing what she was working on - she swam down to the gate chamber, entered the code, and swam in as the door opened.
The chamber was indeed empty, and lit only by the flickering silver from the gate. And down, far below it, were the memory organs. She swam down to the huge gray organs that were scattered across the floor and looked them over.
They looked almost exactly like massive clumps of brain coral scattered across the floor of the gate chamber. Unlike coral though, they were a pinkish colour, and pulsated slightly in tune with the gate. She swam down closer and saw some machines on the floor against one corner.
Flipping her tail, she swam over for a closer look. They seemed to have screens of some sort, and large panels with rows of lights, but the lights were all off. There were even keyboards - the keys were different but recognizable. She swam down and picked up one of the keyboards and it broke apart in her hands.
These must be the original computers, she thought. Before they were replaced by the organic ones. She remembered Handir saying he had heard of computers from somewhere, long ago. She let the pieces drift down to the floor and swam over to the nearest memory organ. She stopped and held her body just above one, with her chest almost touching it. It throbbed and flickered in the flickering light from the gate.
She flipped back into her workroom in her mind and woke up Genie who was asleep. Take care of things, would you please. Genie leapt up and licked her face, and then bounded out. Now to link into the memory organs. She went to her workstation and went into the link icon she remembered Jorad activating.
She found the icon and activated it. Another window opened and distantly she felt a tentacle flexing from her stomach and sinking into the memory organ. What appeared to be various server names and codes flashed across her screen, and then stopped with a good old UNIX prompt asking for input.
In her mind she shook her head - this was almost too easy, but it fit within the imaginary world her mind, or was it minds, were creating. She typed in ls and started searching through the list of files for gate recordings. They were easy to find, and there were lots of them. And she had more than enough internal storage space to download them all. The download didn't take long, but while she waited she glanced at other files that were present - and there were lots. But, unlike the recordings, they were disorganized and badly named. Still, she had what she needed.
When the download finished she terminated the link and felt the tentacle slide back into her chest
The next months passed swiftly as she went through the data she had collected and tried to figure out how to stabilize the gate. Her early tests confirmed that the sounds made by the gate were somehow related to its oscillation through quantum frequencies. It seemed to be a continuation of the light it radiated. Some tests they had done in the US before the accident also revealed other radiations which she added into the simulations.
But the equations still wouldn't work out. She knew the gate was cyclic. She knew that it cycled through dimensions in an overall pattern, but with random variance in terms of the exact order of similar states. From tests they also knew that the time it remained at one dimension varied from fractions of a second, to seconds. And that the same dimensions that returned frequently tended to stay open the longest.
But these were all clues to which there had to be an answer. There was a pattern to the gate shifts and that had to be the key. If she stuck only to those facts, she could see that she was on her way to an answer.
But that answer ignored the other known facts. Biological creatures changed - she was absolute proof of that. Did that mean that inorganic objects changed? And why did the rat they had found before the accident not change? Had it changed, but too little to notice? Every attempt to work that factor in, to figure out why, ended in complete failure. Every attempt felt wrong, like the biological changes did not occur.
But the cold facts were that they did, and that she had changed.
Anita took to spending longer and longer times in the gate room, simply listening to the sounds the gate made, and recording the light. The sound and light from the gate seemed to help her think. She worked on pattern matching and isolated resonances in the chamber and removed them. But there was still something missing. There had to be other items contributing to the oddities in the gate frequency to pull it from the equations she was working towards. But she was getting closer. She had a differential structure that was right to within 10% almost 90% of the time. If she ignored the biological change. She felt in her bones that it was the right answer - it just needed to be clarified into a thing of beauty. But it didn't explain the change so it couldn't be right!
Often she wished that she could trust someone, anyone. Karann kept popping into her mind, but she couldn't be sure of even him. All she knew was that they'd helped her, but then programmed her against her own race. If they'd done that, who knew what else they would do with the gate. She couldn't afford to trust anybody. And she kept wondering if she wanted to go home. If she could control the gate, that would not be a problem as she had memories of the proper Planck's Constant. But if she left, then they would have the gate, and she would lose her new body and all of its capabilities.
During that time Jorad had come twice - each time she had copied the conditioning memories back and activated her created memories. She had created them by taking snippets of actual events each day and combining them with old events to make an ongoing memory of frustration and inability to progress. In fact it had seemed so realistic that she had been given two more junior brains. They were just calculators and simply increased the perceived power of her imagined workstation.
And each time Jorad came, he activated another brain. And each time he rubbed it and she had vague feelings of other contacts, but was never sure. She couldn't even find the files to replay to check.
Anita had fallen asleep in the gate room when Karann came in. "Anita? Are you awake?"
Anita was too far gone in sleep, and Genie didn't see a need to wake up his mistress.
Karann stared and then swam right up to one of her ear holes. "This is it! If you keep this up you're going to kill yourself! Get out here right now. We have to talk. This has gone on too long!"
The shouting finally got through and Anita awoke back into her body. "What...?"
"When was the last time you talked to anybody other than Jorad? A month? Two?"
Anita blinked her eyes, trying to wake up. "I don't know."
"Its been two months since Jorad last tried to talk to you - he was here and even he couldn't get a reaction out of you. The way you've been treating yourself is not only dangerous, but plain stupid!"
"Jorad was here?"
"Yes. We managed to convince him that you were in deep concentration on some stuff for the gate. We gave him some garbage about the gate becoming unstable and that you were trying to figure out why."
"It can't become unstable unless it's tampered with."
"Of course not. But they don't know that for sure. Now you're coming with me." He reached out and grabbed her arm and started pulling her out of the gate room.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to get you back to sanity. We're going back to your old body, which I've been keeping alive by the way, and then we're going to take a little vacation."
"But I have work to do..."
"Not any more. We've all talked it over and decided that you have no choice. We've seen this happen before, and if it isn't stopped permanent mental damage can occur. You have to interact with people and not let your mental worlds take over. I can't afford to lose you."
"If you don't help me, this will just take longer."
She sighed air from one speaking lung to another. "Fine. If that is what it takes to get back to work..."
Karaan stopped and turned to glare at her. "No, this is what it takes to stay alive. And it is going to take as long as it takes, work be damned. I won't let you go mad, not while I can stop you." Then he turned and started pulling her again.
Sighing, she started swimming after him. She might as well get this over with. And maybe he was right - it seemed odd to swim - she had gotten so used to walking in her mind that she had almost forgotten she was now aquatic. As she swam she actually looked at him, rather than just noticing his presence.
He was different. His body was smaller, slimmer, and had none of the bumps. If anything it looked like her old body, rather than her current. She quickly checked a memory to be sure, and she was right. But why was he wearing a different body?
They entered her quarters and stopped. Anita's old body was indeed there. It looked fine, and was still breathing.
"I've also cleaned it for you. If it had only you to care for it, it would have been dead months ago."
"Why didn't you tell me."
"Because I was hoping that I wouldn't need to. But I do, so now I am. Now get over there."
"What about you?"
"I've already changed. Now you are. We're going to wait here however long it takes until you do."
She sighed. "Fine!" She prepared to ask her body to open when Genie leapt onto her. He didn't want her to go. I'm, sorry, but I have to she thought at him. He just flopped on the ground and whined. I'll be back, really. You just relax. It'll be over before you know it. He just looked up at her with his huge brown eyes...
Maybe it had been too long. She gave the mental order and felt the tentacles withdrawing, and was shoved out.
She was alone. She was so very alone. The world had abandoned her. Her mind had abandoned her. All she could do was curl up in a ball and prepare to die.
"No you don't!" Karann shouted. "I'll pick you up and shove you in if I have to."
But she had no reason to live. Nobody cared. All of her friends had abandoned her. She was so cold, and so very, very, alone.
She felt hands grasping her and lifting her up. Did somebody care? No, it had to be an illusion - the last desperate cry of her soul as it fled to death. Then she felt an embrace below her - somebody really did care! She reached out and embraced back.
There was the sense of tentacles snaking into her, but no flashes of sensation. Then she was in control again, but still so very alone. But at least she was safe. She let herself slowly sink to the floor, gulping water. She lay there for minutes before she could speak. "Karann...?"
He swam down towards her. "I'm here. You're safe now. We have to start swimming. You can relax. You can relax and rest."
She turned her head to look at him. Turned her head? She couldn't... But she had been while she worked... But...
"You're confused now, but it'll wear off. You have to recover." He reached out and clasped her hand, his hand felt large, and warm, and comforting. "We're going to swim now. Are you ready?"
She was able to whisper a response, "Yes."
Karann started swimming and she tried to follow, but her tail was wracked with cramps that even overrode the floods of sensation she felt from it as it twisted uselessly. She choked down a scream of pain. What was wrong?
Karann stopped and turned around. "Are you all right?"
"I can't swim anymore..." she whispered in a small voice.
He shook his head. "That's expected. You've let that body sit there and atrophy for eight months. You're just going to have to grit your teeth and bear it. Now swim!"
Anita tried again, and forced herself to ignore the pain. For an instant there was nothing until she remembered that her tail was now horizontal. That was the key. She was finally able to swim a few strokes, before she became completely exhausted. She sank to the floor, gulping great mouthfuls of water.
Karann shook his head. "This is going to take a while."
And it did. For the next two weeks, Anita slowly recovered and was finally able to swim again. She asked about her other body, but was told that a few weeks wouldn't hurt it. Karann told her that she needed the vacation much more than her other body needed her. Gradually, her sense of loneliness crept away.
Finally, Karann asked her, "Would you like to go on a picnic?"
"Can we go outside?"
"Certainly. We're too far away from anything else so they let us have a lot of freedom."
So they went. Karann grabbed a belt with a number of pouches and put it around his waist. Then, for the first time in over half a year, Anita swam back out through the main entrance. She barely remembered to salute the guards - that conditioning was still gone - but Karann explained it away as her exhaustion. The guards just nodded - it seemed that everybody knew what she had almost let happen to her.
She and Karann swam for a couple of hours, following a line of coral away from the gate complex. There were fish around them in schools, but they would shy and turn away as they swam nearer to them. There were fronds waving from rocks, and anemones clenching in terror as they passed overhead. Eventually they reached a small sandy cove surrounded by towering growths of coral. There Karann stopped, and slowly sank to the bottom, hand in hand with Anita.
"Its wonderful out here." Anita said. "So much life, so much abundance."
Karann just snorted.
Karann sighed. "Nothing, nothing at all. Just thinking about some old memories."
Anita started swimming around him. "About what?"
"It seemed important to you."
"I'll tell you later. Let's just relax and watch the world." His tail sank into the sand raising a puff into the water that slowly settled while Anita let herself simply float above him.
They just remained like that, and Anita watched the world. Eventually Karann reached into one of his pouches and brought out a pair of small bags and handed one up to Anita. The bags were of a translucent plastic with a nozzle on one corner and contained a dark amber liquid.
"Something to drink. Something to remember times gone by, and acquaintances long forgotten."
She just stared at it. "What do I do with it?"
He shook his head. "Just bite down on the nipple and suck. But take small sips. And don't say I didn't warn you..." He laughed.
"I've never heard you laugh before."
"There's not much to laugh at."
She peered at the bag. "Any other last words of advice?"
"There are two ways you can drink it. You can swallow it, which works slower but lasts longer, or let it flow over your gills, which works faster, but goes away sooner. I prefer to alternate between the two." He put the bag to his lips and a moment later an amber mist flowed out from his gills.
Anita shrugged, then bit the nozzle and sucked. Then she flung the bag away from her. Her lips, in fact her entire mouth, was burning. Even her gills were burning. But it didn't feel dangerous. Then it started to settle down to a warm glow that flowed through her blood and into the rest of her body. She slowly let herself sink to the sand.
Karann reached up and grabbed her bag which was sinking towards him. "Here. We don't want to waste this - it's over a century old and none have been made since then. There's not much left anymore."
Anita fumbled at the bag, but finally got a hold of it - although a little amber liquid escaped into the water. "What is it?"
"Whiskey - from the old days. They use to make it on the surface before the plague." He looked upwards. Then he smiled and raised his bag towards the surface. "To those who lived before us!" Then he took another swig.
Anita raised her bag, and took another swallow. Much smaller this time. She tried swallowing it and felt its heat burn into her chest. Conscious only of the warmth, she let herself sink into the sand, feeling it brush against her chest.
Finally Anita spoke. "I remember a friend forcing scotch into me after a week of cramming." She laughed. "Couldn't stand it. And it was feeble compared to this stuff. Must be the body..."
"Or age." He reached over and tickled her tail. She jerked it away from him.
They lay in the sand in silence as the sky began to darken. Finally she spoke, "Thanks for bringing me. You're right, I needed a break." Anita relaxed and remembered her youth. "Could we swim up and see the stars?"
Karann leapt up out of the sand and then floated in front of her just staring.
"What's wrong? I use to go and look at the stars when I was young. Can't we stay at the surface long enough?"
He just laughed, a long laugh that started quietly and then rose to a screeching crescendo and finally fell into sobs.
Anita swam over to him and grabbed his arms. "Are you all right?"
"Nobody's all right! We're all dead, we just don't know it yet!" He pushed her away and spun around with his arms outstretched. "Look around you, what do you see?"
She looked. In the fading light she could see clouds of fish here and there amongst the reef. They clicked and hummed, but the sounds were faint. Occasionally there was a dim phosphorescence, but most of the reef was dark.
"Ten years ago you couldn't see the reef for the fish, and you couldn't see the fish for the glow of the algae. Now half the reef is dead, and the fish are dying. The surface is dying, and so are we!"
Anita stared at him. "What happened?"
"This world is dying. The surface life is all screwed up, and now the wastes and ruins from there are slowly destroying the ocean's ecosystem."
"That doesn't make sense. When I arrived there were trees, plants, even huge reptiles."
"But no birds, and no mammals. There are plants and reptiles that have adapted to the radiation and chemicals, but even they are slowly dying out - they become fewer and fewer with each passing year."
"So what does that have to do with the life here?"
"All the life on the world is co-dependent- you should know that. The changes on the surface are slowly destroying the balance of the ocean. As the ocean starts to die, so do the things in it. Eventually we'll go down too. We could go and look at the stars, but then we would inhale the radiation and the chemicals, and slowly we would die."
"But I was up there. I was rescued..."
"You were up there for a short time, but you were dying. You were rescued by people in special bodies that can resist the surface for only a little while. They brought you back and our best technology barely brought you back to life. Your rescuers survived, but their bodies didn't. Invariably after an expedition to the surface the bodies have to be destroyed since they're dead already. If your form hadn't been changing, you would have died too."
Karann turned and pointed behind her into the fading blackness. "That reef behind you, it was once the wreckage of a surface ship. For years it served as an artificial reef, but now it's dead, and the poisons from its metals finally killed what life had grown upon it." Karann's voice faded into silence.
Anita swam over and held him. She couldn't think of anything to say, and didn't know what else to do. The light faded until all she could see was the dim green glow scattered in patches around them.
Karann finally spoke, "We should get going." He fumbled with his pouches and brought out a sphere that radiated a bright light. Fish started to crowd around them.
"Do you know the way?"
"I come here often to remember all that we've lost. I was conceived here when it was alive. Now it's all dead." He spun around and grabbed her arms and squeezed them painfully. "You have to get the gate stabilized. It's the only hope we have." Then he let go and swam down to pick up the light that had sunk part way into the sand.
Anita didn't know what to say and remained silent as she followed Karann back. Eventually they reached the gate complex.
And Jorad was there waiting for her.
Oh God! She and Karann stopped.
"Why Anita, I'm so glad to see you're feeling better. I take it the gate problem is fixed?"
What to do? She didn't have the memories. What first? She saluted. Jorad saluted back.
"The gate problem?", he prompted.
What gate problem? Didn't Karann say something, something about instability? She remembered. "Yes. It was a harmonic vibration in the chamber that was gradually building up and starting to affect the gate." She prayed that would fit what the others had told him.
"Glad to hear. Would you like to come with me then, I have some things to ask you. Dr. Croalie, I'll see you later - so if you would be on your way?" He motioned him away with his arms.
Anita watched Karann swim off towards the cafeteria.
Jorad turned and swam down towards her quarters where he usually interviewed her. She followed. And while she swam she frantically tried to organize her memories, to figure out what to say. A couple of times she caught herself stopping to think, but managed to continue on without Jorad knowing.
Finally they arrived and passed through the static veil. She saw her other body floating in the corner and wondered how Genie was doing.
"So, how have you been doing over the last two months?"
"I was working on the gate when I noticed the instability. That was my primary concern. For the last little bit I've been taking a vacation."
"A vacation. Even though you haven't made any progress?" He swam closer to her.
"I barely managed to fix the gate before it destroyed itself! What more do you want?" She hoped that anger would distract him from questions she couldn't easily answer.
"True. It seems odd though that the gate would start to fail so shortly after your arrival, after working so safely for years. Don't you think so?"
"I haven't had the time to check into the causes. It's possible the oscillations had been building up for years, but just weren't noticeable at first. It's also possible that wear on the gate mechanism finally reached the point where the harmonics could begin. I don't know yet."
Jorad swam closer and Anita used the fins on her back to keep her distance.
"And even with all of your brains you've still achieved nothing about stabilizing the gate?" His voice sounded kind, but she sensed a coldness hidden beneath it.
"It's not easy. You've had a century and have made no progress. I've had less than year."
"And what about the gate you came through?" Anita felt her tail bump into the corner of the room and couldn't back up anymore. Jorad was still slowly moving closer.
"Yes, we were aware of the problem there too. We were working on it but when we tried to stabilize it, it rapidly expanded and sent me here. It's why I'm here now. I don't dare try anything until I'm absolutely certain."
Jorad stopped and grabbed her arms. His hands were warm. "So you do have some ideas?"
Anita stared at him. She had let something out. "Yes. I know there is a pattern. I have to analyze that pattern and figure out why it is happening. Then I have to figure out a way to describe it. Then I can start figuring out ways to dampen the oscillation."
Jorad pulled her closer and turned his body until he was vertical. She glanced down and saw his organ coming out of its sheath. "And what about your other duties?" he asked.
Other duties? What did he mean? What was he doing? "What other duties?"
"You're a woman. It's your duty to bear young for the race. Isn't it?"
She tried to remember, but couldn't - those memories were now in her other body. She didn't dare say no. "I...I...think so..."
"Well then, lets take care of that now. Then I'll have something positive to report. It'll make the council so much happier." He pulled her against him and wrapped his tail around hers. She could feel his penis and sheath hot against her. "It'll make you happy - won't it?" he whispered.
Anita could feel her body start to respond. But how was it possible? Didn't they have to leave their bodies to mate? But then why did he have his sexual organs? "I don't know..." What should she do? Should she resist - or would that only cause more troubles...
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight against him. She could feel her breasts start to tighten. "It will only hurt a little bit - this is your first time, isn't it?"
She couldn't speak. It was but... "No...or yes...I'm not ready...I have to work on the gate..."
"The gate can wait. After all it's already waited a hundred years. A few more hours won't matter, will it?" He kissed her, and started feeling for her tongue with his. Her gills pumped faster, and kept pulling at least some water through.
No. She wouldn't let him do this. She didn't care what the cost was - some things were just wrong. "No!" She tried to push him away.
But he was stronger and he wrapped his tail around hers and held her tight as she struggled. Her tail pushed them around, but she couldn't control it as his tail tightened and squeezed her. She was finding it hard to concentrate as her body became aroused. Then she felt him enter her, and felt a little pain, and soon even that was washed away with waves and waves of pleasure.
She never knew how long she lost control of her body to the waves of pleasure. She knew it was reacting, and pulling him further in but she had no control. Eventually Jorad finished and left, and her exhausted body slowly sank to the floor. She could taste the salt of her blood occasionally as she breathed.
"...what the hell happened?!"
Anita was lying on her side. She opened her eyes and turned her head and looked up at Karann shouting down at her. The blood was gone from the water. Then she turned away. Why should she care about anything?
"What did Jorad do?"
It was a man - she had better answer: "He helped me do my duty," she whispered.
Karann swam down grabbed her and turned the rest of her body around. There was still a little blood on her private areas, and the flesh around was rubbed reddish. He looked straight into her eyes. "What did he do?!"
"He took me. He helped me to do my duty to the state." Her voice was dull and listless.
"I'll kill him. If I see him again, I'll kill him, and damn the consequences. We're going to see Dr Grifir now."
It was a man's orders, but even that wasn't enough. "I don't want to see anybody."
"We're both going to see him now and we're going to take care of this. People shouldn't be allowed to do this. And those who do should be abandoned on the surface and left to rot." He grabbed hold of her arm and pulled her along as he swam. "I seem to do this a lot."
Anita didn't hear him. She let him pull her along and just closed her eyes.
Karann had hoped for a response and just swam harder when there was none.
A few minutes later they reached Dr Grifir's quarters. He was asleep but Karann just swam through the static door pulling Anita behind him. Then he stopped near where Dr Grifir was floating and let go of Anita who slowly sank to the floor.
Karann reached over and shook Dr Grifir awake.
"I want you to contact the council and get that bastard Jorad killed."
That shocked Dr Grifir awake. He looked around and saw Anita sinking down onto the floor. "What's wrong with Dr Lei?"
"Jorad raped her and left. He just wanted her to 'perform her duty'."
"Why on earth would he do that? He knows how important she is."
"I have no idea, and I don't care. I want him dead. Period."
"Why don't you take her to the cafeteria and let her rest. I'll send a message and get a doctor out here. Then we'll see what we can do."
"As long as they kill that bastard."
"I don't know what they'll do. Let's just do one thing at a time."
Anita just let herself fall back into sleep, trying to forget.
She awoke in the cafeteria with Karann and Dr Grifir eating nearby. She turned and faced them.
"Are you felling better?" Karann asked.
"I just want to die," she whispered. Why should she bother doing anything? Wasn't she just a toy for men to use? First her advisors back home, then Jorad, and now Karann.
He let go of his sandwich and flashed over to her. Dr Grifir just lowered his head, giving them some privacy. "You won't die. I refuse to let you die!"
"Don't you know? I love you. I think I did the moment you came in, but over the last eight months I've become sure."
"Why should I believe you?"
"When we were outside with the whiskey, I could have easily did something then, but I didn't. If you want, I'll give you Jorad's head on a pole."
"Nobody who has done what he did deserves to live."
She whispered, "But it is my duty, as a woman, to the state." But she had gotten rid of the conditioning. But then she deserved what had happened - after all she was only a woman, existing only to serve the state.
Karann grabbed her and shook her. "Don't you think that. Don't you ever think that! Your duty is whatever you want it to be. The state can take its duty and die on the surface for all I care."
"What?!" Anita was shocked.
"You came to us as a blessing. For the last century women have been nothing but breeding factories. They said it was necessary, and I guess it was. But it no longer is. Now women get no education, and no training, and exist just to breed. We don't have marriages, we don't have love! Just arranged meetings and sex to perpetuate the species."
All Anita could mumble was, "...my duty..."
"All that's speaking now is the god damn programming they gave you. I wish that you hadn't known about the gate, then they would have just wiped out your mind and left you to breed. But instead this happens to you."
Would they have done that? Maybe that would have been better..
"I've been told stories by my father who had them from his father and from his father of the time before the war. I've gone through the records in the memory organs below the gate. Before the damned war there was love. Couples who respected each other. Our gate was built by a woman too, but now look at us. Look at what our own madness has reduced us too!"
Torstig's voice called into the cafeteria. "The doctor's here."
"This'll have to wait," Dr Grifir said. "Let him examine her first."
Karann started to speak, but then closed his mouth. After a moment he reconsidered and did speak. "I'll stay nearby. Nothing more will happen to you. Now, let the doctor examine you." He leaned over towards her and she flinched away. Karann stared for a second and then whispered, "I will make sure nobody does this ever again. Just remember where you were born, and fight the conditioning they gave you." Dr Grifir pulled him away.
Anita floated there, uncaring, as the doctor swam over. It would have taken too much effort to reduce her buoyancy to sink. The doctor was like the one in the hospital, a large body with lots of brains and lots of hands. He came up to her and put one hand against her head to check her temperature - she tried to pull away but another hand held her steady. Other hands felt other portions of her body, while others pulled strange looking creatures from pouches in the doctor's body and ran them over her skin. One of the creatures spread some cream around her opening dulling the pain. By that time she didn't care enough to flinch. Not even when yet another creature sent fine tentacles in through her opening. Just another one, she thought. Finally the doctor put all of the creatures away and swam over to Dr Grifir and Karann.
"She...," he started.
"Her name is Anita and this concerns her too. Tell her what happened."
The doctor shrugged a pair of his shoulders and swam back over to Anita. Karann and Dr Grifir followed. Torstig hovered near the door of the cafeteria.
"Physically you're fine. There is some bruising, but that will go down quickly. The seed is well planted and both the new fetus and a new body for it have started growing normally."
Anita turned her head away in shame.
"You will, of course, have to stay in this body until the fetus comes to term and is born." He turned back around and faced Karann and Dr Grifir. "Is there anything else?"
Karann turned red with anger so it was Dr Grifir who answered. "Not right now, thank you for coming. She's extremely important to us."
The doctor just shook his head and looked at them with pity on his expression. "Don't worry about it, the council gave this their highest priority. Though why they're so concerned about your slut..."
Anita started sobbing. She didn't know why, because that was what all women were. Still, though for some reason that word filled her with horror and sadness and the sobbing just kept bursting out.
Karann's reaction was more direct - he slugged the doctor in the head. The damage wasn't much as the force of the blow was dampened by the water, but all could see the beginning of a bruise. The doctor just snorted and turned and swam out.
"Karann, that wasn't necessary."
"Did you hear what he called her?"
Dr Grifir sighed. "Yes, I heard. And for any other woman he would be right. He's limited by his culture. We have to forgive, we all have to forgive..."
"What about Jorad?"
"He won't be coming anymore. The council will also make sure that this doesn't happen again." Dr Grifir sighed. "I know this seems horrible, but it's the way our society works - you know that..."
Karann just shouted, almost screamed, a response: "Get out. Both of you get out!"
Torstig turned and left, pity and sadness warring on his face. Dr Grifir looked towards the sobbing woman and back to Korann. Finally he closed his eyes for a moment, and then turned and also swam out.
When both had left, Korann slowly swam towards Anita. "Don't worry. They're all gone now. Just rest and let me help." When he reached her and saw that she was still sobbing. He grabbed her and hugged her to him. For a moment she struggled, and then she just gave up. Jorad stiffened for a moment, and then clasped her tighter.
They floated like that for a few moments until Korann whispered in her ear, "Let me tell you a story. Let me tell you the truth that we've all been told to keep hidden from you. That supposedly nobody but the council knows anymore."
There was no reaction from Anita, but Korann began anyway.
"Just over one hundred years ago, our civilization spanned the globe. We had started reaching into space, and had started developing the ability to modify and create our own forms of life. We even developed the math to speculate about the nature of all the universes."
Korann turned his head to look into Anita's eyes. "Was your world like that? Or have you too fallen off the path?"
Then he continued. "One woman, Dr. Ethne Czerneda, came up with the math for the Plancks Gate."
That seeped into her mind. A woman? But women... Anita thought back and remembered her first conversation with Korann. "Didn't you say that a male built the gate."
Korann frowned and his eyes glazed. "You're right, I did. I apologize - it's one of the lies we were told to tell. But, let me continue. Dr Czerneda was able to prove to others that it was possible. Only a few could comprehend the math she had created to explain it, but those who could realized what the gate could mean."
Anita whispered, "It took me years. Nobody believed me. Only when Dr. Richardson threw his support behind me did anybody even care." She had done it. She, a woman!
"Our Dr. Czerneda had the same problem. But she fought and overcame it. She came down here, with a few others, and built this complex to build a gate. There was other research going on nearby, where the city is now, mostly biological. They built the gate complex a distance away for safety."
"We did too."
"Then, over ten years, they built the gate. It took three years to first open it, and another seven to get it to stay open."
Anita smiled. "I got mine to stay open in five."
"Lucky you. But we weren't so lucky. Nor was our world."
"We blew it. Dr. Theibold tried to force a lower level of quantum variance on the gate which caused a feedback to the power generator we had. That accident brought me here."
"Our world wasn't cursed by the gate, it was cursed by a few men. Over in the city, in the biology labs, a small group plotted and made plans to take over. Who knows how they got to work here, or why they decided to try to seize power. Their plan was simple. They developed a virus that would enter mammals and then lock onto their neural systems. Their effect would be to dampen intelligence and increase suggestibility. Then they would move out and take over, with all the population just dumb animals, unable to resist. They, and their followers, would own everything. And they would have millions of slaves to obey their wishes."
"We had our own madman, but earlier. It took the combined efforts of most of our world to force him down."
"Well, we didn't force ours down. The virus was released, and it worked as specified, but it didn't stop. All the mammals, the birds, all had their minds destroyed. By the end they just sat, too dumb to eat or drink, until they died. Civilization collapsed and in its last spasms used its weapons to destroy the world. We alone survived, because the biological labs 'developed' an antidote, but only in time to save us. Our isolation had kept us disease free, they said. But it was too late for anybody else, including the other aquatic installations."
"But what about your gate?"
"Dr. Czerneda worked frantically day and night to try and stabilize it. Her hope was that the survivors trapped here could use the gate to escape to another world before it was too late. She moved into one of the first symbiont bodies, like your other one, to work on the problem. And she was solving it too."
She was solving it? How?! Anita's eyes flew wide open and she grabbed Karann. "How?"
"We don't know. We have some records, and they suggest she modified the power supply to the gate to dampen the gate's oscillations." Anita was nodding. "She got it to remain focussed for longer and longer times."
"But how? You have to modulate it in precise levels of matching, else a feedback builds up." Anita started to talk to herself, "But if you stabilize it in stages, from one plateau of stability to another, you could work gradually towards..."
"I'll have to take your word for it. But, please, keep your conclusions to yourself for now. You haven't heard the end of the tragedy. The instigators of the plague knew of the gate, and had kept abreast of its development, like the rest of us survivors. When they heard about the stabilization, they came to take over the gate, to make sure that they went to another world"
"Nobody knows. We think there was a struggle. That they offered Dr Czerneda joint rulership with them, but she refused. I think she destroyed her records before they came, and jumped through the gate, rather than letting them have control of it. Or maybe she was pushed. Only the instigators came out, and they have never said."
"How do you know all this?"
"The rest of the staff at the gate knew of the plague, and watched as the instigators came here and tried to get control of the gate. They overheard the struggle, and Dr Czerneda's accusations, and the other's acknowledgement that they had created the plague. The staff hurried into the gate chamber, but Dr. Czerneda was gone."
"So what happened to the instigators of the plague?"
"They were the directors of the biological research. They had kept both the biological labs, and our lab, from disintegrating as our world collapsed. They kept us controlled and kept all of us from dying. If we had let out their secret, then likely our entire race would die in the murder and bloodshed that would occur to kill them, and those who wished to follow them. We couldn't afford a civil war. So we made a truce."
"You agreed to keep the secret, but to keep the gate."
"Exactly. A lot more know the truth now. All of us here, our families and relations in the cities. About five thousand in total. The rest follow the council, the original directors who created the plague."
"Hold it, what to you mean the original directors?"
"They're the same people."
"How?" she whispered.
"Every twenty years or so they grow new bodies and have their brains transplanted into the new body so that they can live on." He sighed. "Like they did to you."
"When they brought you back, you were almost dead - there was nothing that could be done. They decided to grab a body and transplant your brain into it. They probably killed whoever it was they grabbed and kept the body alive. Then, after the transplant, they used a virus of some kind to help your brain adapt."
"Then I didn't change..."
"They changed you."
Anita grabbed him. "You don't understand! I been blocked because I had to figure out why creatures sometimes transformed and sometimes didn't. I've been wrestling with that for months. And now you tell me that I didn't change?!"
"Shh. It should be safe here but there is no sense in taking chances. As far as I know your body didn't change on its own - they changed you."
"I didn't change..."
"Anyway, as I was saying, after the confrontation, and the agreement, the situation remained like that, static..."
Anita shook her head clear of her thoughts and listened.
"...while we tried to duplicate Dr. Czerneda's work, and the directors watched us so that they could pounce when we had."
"And then I came," she responded.
"And then you came. It's likely that we never would have been able to duplicate Dr. Czerneda's work. But you can. We know that, and they know that. And you're here trapped in the middle."
"If I hadn't come, you all would have eventually died with your world."
Karann sighed. "Yes, but it's probably better that way. Now we risk the madness getting loose on other worlds. But we don't destroy the gate, because we hope to escape through it and destroy it afterwards."
"So I'm the only hope of both sides?"
"So why would they risk hurting me this way?"
"I don't know. I guess they didn't know that Jorad would do it. Now the balance has shifted to my side."
"Then let me get back to my other body so that I can fix the gate."
"You can't. You heard the doctor. You've conceived. You're trapped in this body until you bear your child."
"Then abort it."
Karann just stared at her. "You can't be serious! It's a life!"
"Yes I'm serious. I don't want it. It slows us down. Get rid of it and I can fix the gate and we can escape."
"I won't. Nobody will. You'll have to accept it."
"Why? Its his." She spat out the last word.
"And it's also yours. Now relax. A child is a wonderful thing. You'll love it when it is born."
"I won't. Nobody will."
"Then I will. And I won't let you hurt it. The gate has waited a hundred years, it can wait a little bit longer."
"I'll get somebody else." She felt a momentary repulsion at the thought. It must be the conditioning. But she had removed the conditioning - hadn't she?
"Nobody will do it. The only thing both sides agree on is the sacredness of young. You're going to have to learn that."
Anita closed her eyes and thought about having a child. The pain of the rape was gone. Her body had done it because they had programmed her body to do it. That's why she couldn't stop it. It hadn't been her. It wasn't her fault. It was this damn society. It was the damn council and their manipulations of everybody, and especially of herself. She could fix it. She could give people hope. And the thought of having a child did bring a small glow to her heart. It was small, but it could be nurtured. Maybe it was the conditioning. But it was all she had to hold on to.
"I'll try," she whispered.
Over the next nine months Anita recovered, mostly in Karann's arms. They became very close, and often she would cry herself to sleep in his arms, though sometimes she still thrust him away in blind terror. But he was always there, and he helped her heal. As time passed she gnawed at the problem of the gate - she cursed Jorad more and more, not for the rape, but because he kept her from finding the solution. She knew she was close - Karann's story had confirmed her theories, now all she needed was to work out the interferences in the gate to get the underlying pattern. Karann had confirmed that there were no changes, and that fact proved her feelings when she had attempted to explain them, and proved that she was on the right track. And once she had the pattern, then she would have it all. But first she had to get through the pregnancy.
First, she did it for Karann's sake. If he wanted the child, then fine, he could have it. First she rationalized that the child wasn't really hers, as her current soul was not her original soul - it was the soul of some nameless donor the council had killed. But as her body blossomed, she first became curious, and then loving. The day she felt the child's tail move, was the day she realized that she was finally thinking of it as her child. When she told this to Karann, he explained that she was actually growing two children - one in her soul's womb which had legs, and the other in her body's womb, which would be her child's body as it was born. And as her child grew, each time its tail flipped, and each time its legs kicked, she only became more and more possessive. Of her child.
But there were problems. The guards no longer let them go outside. They were told it was too dangerous, but Karann knew it was the council making sure that Anita didn't escape. There was also Jorad's replacement who came. He was much more formal when he first came, seven months into Anita's pregnancy.
Anita first heard Karann shouting at somebody. She'd been asleep in her quarters. Finally the shouting died down and a few minutes later Karann knocked.
Karann swam in. "There is somebody here to see you. The new person from the council."
Anita just sighed. "Send him in and let's get it over with."
Karann swam out and returned a few minutes later with a stranger. He was another male, of course, and was much smaller than Jorad had been, but looked much older. Karann remained with him.
"Dr. Lei?", the stranger began, "I am Grech Medsell. The council sent me to make sure you were doing all right. They also wish to apologize personally for Jorad. He has been dealt with."
"Then why don't they come here and apologize?" Karann asked.
Grech turned to face Karann who had remained. "You are here in spite of my protests, and only in respect to the unfortunate event. I'll ask you to kindly let me talk to Dr Lei."
So that was why Karann had remained, and what the shouting was about. "Karann, let it alone. I want to hear what he has to say." She swam a bit closer to him. Her body was much larger, and noticeably bulged. Anita could swim, but it was awkward to go very far.
"Thank you, Dr Lei. Unfortunately nobody knew of Jorad's inclinations, although they are, unfortunately, far from uncommon. The council has dealt with him severely and he won't both you again."
Anita was curious. "Just what did they do with him?"
"He was taken to the surface and left there."
Anita saw Karann smile, however, and even though she didn't believe a word, she had her own plans to allay the fears of the council. "But why? You said that his inclinations were not uncommon. He simply helped me perform my duty."
"Dr Lei, I'm hoping you don't really mean that. We found you and saved you. Yes, we do want to get the gate to work so that our race doesn't die, and we could certainly use your help. We've tried to give you some basic information to function in our culture."
"I do thank you for that. Without your help I'd be dead. But I haven't been able to work on the gate at all due to my condition."
"We understand. I was just sent to check on you and reassure you. How is the pregnancy progressing? The council is most interested."
"I'm told that it's progressing normally. I am a bit awkward right now though." Anita motioned towards her chest and the noticeable bulge.
"Good. I, and the council, are very glad to hear that. In a couple of months, as your time gets nearer, I'll send a doctor to help you. Until then rest and enjoy your holy condition." He turned to Karann. "Dr. Croalie, if you'll escort me to the entrance, I'll be on my way."
They both swam out and Anita waited, stroking slowly around the room, occasionally looking up at her other body and wondering about Genie, until Karann returned.
"Anita? You don't believe you were performing your duty, do you?"
She smiled. "Of course not. But if the council thinks so, they won't be as worried." She grimaced as she felt a tail kick. "Would you help me to the cafeteria, my young are getting hungry again. And we can bring a little something back for my other body."
It was about a week less than nine months after her pregnancy began when Anita felt the first twinges of what she assumed was labour. She went to see the doctor that the council had sent. Although it was difficult, she was able to squeeze her bloated body through her static door and slowly make her way down to the cafeteria - she would send somebody from there to fetch the doctor.
By the time she reached the cafeteria, she was gulping water frantically, trying to catch her breath. Korann was there talking to Torstig.
"Anita? Are you all right?" Karann asked. "You shouldn't be swimming around."
"I'm fine." She grimaced as another wave of pain rose from her chest and swept through her body. When it passed she continued, "I think the child is beginning to come."
"I'll get the doctor," said Torstig, and swam off.
Korann swam over and clasped Anita's arms. "Don't worry, it'll be over soon."
Another wave of agony pulsed over Anita and she screamed. They were coming more frequently now. Finally it passed and she gulped water to catch her breath. "For some...reason, I don't...believe you," she managed to gasp out.
"The doctor will be here shortly. You just have to hold on."
A few minutes passed, before the next wave of agony shook Anita's body. She tried to choke back the scream, but it was hard to concentrate on gulping water, and to worry about not speaking. She shuddered and gasped in relief when it passed.
"Just hang on." Korann felt helpless.
Another wave engulfed Anita and she worried about gulping water instead of pride and screamed. The doctor arrived just as the pain passed and swam up to her.
It was Dr Hanbrook, the same doctor who had treated her after Jorad. The council must have talked to him because he had treated her with at least some respect since his return. "When did the labour pains start?"
"About half an hour ago, I think." Her gulping of water slowed down back to normal.
"Good. And how frequent are they?"
"I don't...." Another spasm started at her waist and slowly worked its way along her body and to her speaking lungs. She screamed again. Finally, after an endless time, it passed. She gulped water frantically.
"..anything?" Korann was talking to the doctor.
"Everything is fine now, but its going to be a while."
"Hours, it could be days. It depends. There's not much more we can do for her now. If you'd let me take her to the city where we have the equipment, I could tell you more. Right now her soul is birthing her child's soul."
Anita finally got her breath back. "Is everything all right?"
"Its all fine," Dr. Hanbrook answered. "Everything's proceeding normally. You have to remember to concentrate on swallowing the water you need to breathe. That takes precedence above everything else. Don't worry about the screams - they're expected."
Anita glared at him. But then she realized that he was right. Still there was something else she remembered, "Is the baby coming out the right way?"
"What?" asked Dr Hanbrook.
"Where I come from, occasionally a child would come out feet first instead of head first, and it would have to be rotated in the womb."
"I checked a week ago. It was fine then."
"Well, check..." Another wave of agony started and Anita tried to control her breathing. Her agonized and ragged scream filled the cafeteria. Korann shuddered. When the wave of pain had passed, Anita tried to pay attention to the doctor.
He had gotten out a pulsing organ like device and pressed it against her crotch. Feeling the tentacles creep up and into her, she recognized the creature from earlier examinations. As she watched the skin on the creature gradually changed from red to green until she could feel the tentacles sliding out...
She screamed out loud again, as another wave of horror filled her body. This one seemed to go on for much longer, and she passed air from one speaking lung to another, and back again, screaming out her agony. When it finally passed she was gulping frantically to try and breath.
"You have to concentrate on your breathing. Nothing else matters. The child is fine and is entering your soul's birth canal, head first. You should be able to feel it moving shortly."
"I think..." The wave of agony built up again and she screamed, her voice now raw and ragged. She seemed to feel the pain a bit more locally. Finally her cries faded to a ragged sobbing as she gulped water.
"Did you feel it?"
"I think so."
"You have to concentrate on pressing down. Hold my hand and squeeze, and concentrate on making your chest squeeze."
"I'll try." She looked around and saw Karann, and the rest of the staff over by the entrance to the cafeteria watching. Then another wave of agony grabbed her. She let herself scream and concentrated on squeezing. She crushed the doctor's hand with all her force, but he said nothing.
Hours passed. At first Korann would come every so often to talk to her, but as the time passed and her screams grew more and more ragged, he eventually left. He did stay longer than everyone else, except for Addrun. He just floated at the entrance and watched, his expression as inscrutable as usual. Dr Hanbrook stayed with her the whole time, saying words of encouragement. Even when her nails dug into his palms and drew blood, he said nothing. He just gently pulled those hands away after her grip subsided and replaced them with a different set.
After almost nine hours, Anita was no longer screaming. All she could do was let out a ragged gasp as the pain took her. She'd felt the child moving and could feel it moving out. It had to be almost gone. After all this it had to be! There was another wave of pain, but it ended sharply, and a cloud of blood poured out of her into the water.
"What happened?!" she croaked.
"Its normal, perfectly normal. The soul has finally left your soul's womb. Now it's joining its body. In a few minutes, your body will start birthing."
She whimpered, "Oh god, no! Please let it end!"
For five minutes it did. Then the pains started again, but they felt different, stronger, and no where near as intense. It must be her body working now instead of her soul.
The rest of the birthing took only a few hours. Dr Hanbrook called out that he could see the tail, and then the rest. Finally, in an instant, she felt the whole child squeeze out of her. She looked down and could see it drifting in the bloody water. It was crying, but she could see that it was not breathing.
"What's wrong?" Had it been stillborn? What had gone wrong?!
"It's still attached to you. Let me just cut its cord, and then its body will start breathing. Don't worry, everything is fine."
He pulled out another instrument, this time it looked like a bloated, legless, crab. She felt a slight pain, and then could see her child start to gulp the bloody water. It twitched its tail and Dr Hanbrook grabbed it and gently placed it against her chest, and gently wrapped her arms around it. She felt its mouth feeling around her body's nipples and then start to suck.
"Congratulations. It's a girl."
Anita smiled. She just let herself relax. All that she felt was a dim echo of the pain through her muscles, and a dull soreness in her womb. She felt small, and light, as weightless as a breeze. And she felt a pulsing flow of milk into her newborn.
"Have you thought of a name?"
"I'll call her Estelle."
"A strange name."
"It's from my world. It was the name of my mother."
"Just rest and let it suckle. Addrun? Would you bring the others?"
Anita looked towards the entrance and saw that Addrun was still there. Had he stayed the entire time? He turned and swam off.
She kept suckling her child and a few minutes later she sensed motion behind her. She slowly turned around, holding Estelle loosely so her daughter could continue to suckle, and saw Karann suddenly halt in front of her.
"It's a girl," he said. He sounded disappointed.
"Well you wanted her."
Karann just looked at Estelle. He looked a little frightened.
"May I hold her?"
"Later. Right now she's feeding."
"And how about you?"
"For now I just want to rest."
"Did you name her?"
Anita sighed. "It's the name of my mother, so get use to it."
"My daughter," he whispered and watched.
Karann wanted Anita to return to her other body immediately, but she wanted to stay and nurse her child. Of course, since he had no way to force her, she won. The only reason she finally did return was when Dr Hanbrook told her he could induce her other body to be able to breast feed also. He used another one of his strange creatures and a few days later her other body was ready.
Anita decided to change back after Estelle had finished nursing and had fallen asleep. Estelle slept a lot. She asked to leave and her body expelled her. Then she just floated and looked at it. Floating there in peace, with Estelle asleep nearby. The water still felt cold, and she still felt a little alone, but the vision of Estelle filled her with warmth and love. Regretfully she finally turned away and swam up and inserted herself back into her other body.
Again she felt the tentacles sliding into her, and then she was there and home. She flashed back into her workroom, the place in her mind where she used her brains, to be bowled over by Genie. I'm sorry, she told him. It wasn't planned, it just happened. He was frantic - even though she tried to push him off, he wouldn't stop. I didn't mean to leave you. I swear it won't happen again. Finally he flopped down, exhausted, beside Anita.
She mentally pushed herself up and went back into her body. However, Genie was whining in her head and she popped back into her room. I'm not going. Really I'm not. Then she petted and cuddled him to settle him down. Finally, he fell asleep. She sighed and flipped her mind back into her body.
Like her other body, it felt sore and stiff, although no where near as much. She had been maintaining it. Her breasts felt bloated and she slowly managed to swim over to Estelle. Estelle awoke, maybe because of the movement of the water, and started crying and trying to grab Anita's old body. Anita reached her and started whispering in her ear. Finally she calmed down and started suckling at her mother's new breast. Eventually they both fell asleep.
Anita awoke while Estelle was still asleep. It was time to get back to work. She flipped herself back to her workroom and asked Genie to keep an eye on Estelle. He was eager. Then she went back to her workstation.
She'd talked to Karann, and some of the others, during her pregnancy. From Karann she knew she was on the right track. She just needed to clean up her observations and remove any interference patterns. But first she gleefully deleted all the work she had done trying to explain why her body had changed. Then she went over the equation she'd developed and removed all the bits she'd added to try and include the fact of her change, and then she added the thoughts she'd developed during her pregnancy. It was simple, and beautiful. But then she substituted in all the interference patterns she had data for. A simple grace was still there but it didn't look right. A quick simulation over time showed that the graph quickly shattered into uselessness as the pattern matching failed. Anita needed more information.
What was she still missing? She remembered the memory organs beneath the gate, but she had downloaded all the information. But Karann had told her that the gate's creator, Dr Czerneda, had also used the organs. Maybe she'd stored her observations there. Anita thanked Genie and flipped back into full control. She took a hold of Estelle lightly in one arm and slowly began to swim to the cafeteria. First she would get something to eat, then she would go to those memory organs and see what she could discover.
The cafeteria was dark and the lights were dim. Everybody else was likely asleep. However Addrun was there floating beside a table.
Why was Addrun here? She almost never saw him. The last time was while she was birthing Estelle.
"Sandwiches I made are ready. Please help your being." He pointed to a bag containing some sandwiches.
Addrun had made sandwiches? For her? She swam over and grabbed one and found that it was quite good. Her old body would have hated it, but the bread used was extremely hard, but still soggy, and they had always tasted fine to her. "Thank you," she called back to him.
"Come after you see the memories. I will answer your question."
Anita turned around and stared at him. Estelle remained asleep. How had he known where she was going? How had he even known it was going to be tonight? She looked at him, but his eyes went vacant. Fine, she would play his game and ask him when she came back. In all of the time she'd been here, she'd never really talked to him. The others did though. Karann said that they used him to bounce ideas off since he seemed to understand the gate the most.
She shrugged and swam out of the cafeteria and down to the gate chamber.
The chamber was empty and the gate was still open. Its rumblings seemed deeper and more sorrowful than she'd remembered, but that had to be her imagination. Estelle whimpered a little and wrapped her tiny arms tighter about Anita's arm and went back to sleep.
Anita swam down to the huge gray organs that were scattered across the floor and swam over to the nearest memory organ. Estelle was still asleep against her. She stopped and held her body just above one, with her chest almost touching it. The organ throbbed, and flickered in the flickering light from the gate.
She flipped back into her workroom in her mind and woke up Genie who was asleep. Take care of things, would you please. And watch Estelle. Genie leapt up and licked her face, and then bounded out. Now to link into the memory organs. She went to her workstation and went to the link icon she'd used before and activated it.
Another window opened and distantly she felt a tentacle flexing from her stomach and sinking into the memory organ. Again what appeared to be various server names and codes flashed across her screen, and then stopped with a good old UNIX prompt asking for input.
Once again she typed in ls and started searching through the list of files.
It took hours, and she had to stop for a while and nurse Estelle, but there was all kinds of junk stored away. She had already copied the recordings of thegate, but now she went deeper. She found construction records, plans of the gate, and a century of junk math that was just transformations of the basic equation that described the gate but didn't say anything different. It was frustrating. She found some information on the frequency harmonics of the fusion generator and started running it through her programs to map it out of the recorded gate frequencies to purify the observational data to confirm that her equation was right. But there was nothing else on any other kind of interference. There had to be something else. Was it the water itself?
She looked back at the various equations in case she'd missed something. She hadn't, but she noticed that each of the files had some kind of emotional/personal tag. The tag didn't seem to be planned, but seemed to be part of the file anyway. She recognized files from people she'd never heard of, and almost all of the staff that was currently here. But there was nothing from Addrun. What was really strange was that the oldest equations didn't have the tag - her best guess was that these were the records transferred from the computers a century ago.
Genie trotted up and jumped around and she realized that Estelle was awake again. Her daughter was more important. Thus she flipped back into her mind and looked at and listened to Estelle. Once, she would have thought motherhood was the last thing she would ever want. Now she wouldn't change it for anything.
Anita ignored her work for a couple of hours and sang and played with her daughter. Eventually, Estelle just suckled a little and went back to sleep. Anita sighed and went back over to the memory organs and reconnected. Her search required a different tact.
She knew that Dr. Czerneda had built the gate. So she decided to see if Dr Czerneda had left any records. Anita searched and found a directory under Dr Czerneda's name. But when she tried to move to it was told that access needed a password.
Password? Nothing else had had any kind of security. She'd just assumed that her brains had the passwords required. Why was this different.
She tried Czerneda, Gate, Plancks Gate. No luck. She tried the names of the current staff. Nothing. At least it wasn't booting her out for repeated failures. So why would all of Dr Czerneda's records be hidden away? She disconnected the link and slid back into control of her body. Estelle was still quietly asleep, breathing normally. Leaving her to rest, Anita rose up to the level of the gate and started circling it.
She had the equation, or something very close. She knew she was right. She just needed to map the interferences in the gate's natural frequency. She had long records of everything that was recorded. She knew the frequency of the power supply - Dr Theibold had tried changing the frequency of their atomic power to match the gate exactly and had caused the original accident. Anita was circling the gate at a good clip by this time. Dr Czerneda had figured it out. Her files must contain the equations describing the interference. By they were locked away.
Of course they were locked away. The way Dr Czerneda had supposedly stabilized the gate was what everybody was after. Her files had to contain an equation to focus the gate. But was that what everybody wanted? Without the equation she had, you couldn't change the focus. Her equation to focus the gate to one destination would contain all the interference information that Anita needed, and it might give an indication of how to start constructing the basic equation, but that's it. Likely some of the harmonics had changed over the last century so Dr Czerneda's information wouldn't even stabilize the gate. Any information would only be useful if you had the basic equation and could map out the interferences.
The basic equation. That was the key. She stopped. That was the key. It had to be.
She swam back down to where Estelle was asleep and gently stopped next to her so she would know when her daughter woke up. Then she flipped to her mind and gave Genie his watching instructions. Just wait and if anything changes get me. Then Anita went to her workstation. The analysis of the gate, incorporating the harmonics of the fusion reactor, was complete. She checked the results and combined all the interferences together, and then combined the sum with the basic equation she'd worked out. She looked at it. It felt right. Then she mapped it out in 3D with frequency, intensity, and dimensions and ran it at 1/100th the actual rate of time passage and projected the results. The computer, her brains, took a second and then the results appeared in the centre of her room. She swam around it and examined it.
It looked like a lopsided, twisted hourglass. But it wobbled. It started wobbling more and more, becoming deformed. Occasionally it would slow down, but then it would wobble frantically, and finally it shattered as the results lost their consistency. She stopped the projection. She was almost there. She could feel it. But there was something missing. Was it reflections of the gate frequency in the water? She started an analysis of her gate's frequencies in air and this gate's frequencies and asked for discrepancies.
However, back to the Czerneda files. She re-initalized the link and brought up the password screen. She entered the equation she had.
And it was rejected.
No! She refused to believe it. It had to be right. It had to! But, a password was generally a direct character match. She'd used the standard variables of a, b, and the conventions of her universe. Maybe the computer was looking for a different sequence... She dug into the memories that she'd been fed while she was being healed and looked for basic mathematical training. Once she'd found it, she examined the conventions used. Of course - they started at the beginning of their alphabet, and, as a convention, placed multipliers after a bracketed expression. She'd been working in the english alphabet and just translating the letters, and she'd been putting the multipliers at the beginning of each expression. So she went through and remapped the letters and symbols and multpliers. Leaving that window open, she brought the password back up and entered the modified equation.
And she got in! Yes!
She looked at the list of files and one of them contained the basic equation she'd entered. But not quite - her equation had a constant multiplier which, using to the conventions in this reality, she'd moved to the end of the equation. She'd entered it - but maybe the program only checked up to a certain length of characters and that was why she'd got in. But, back to the files. There was a large list of all kinds of interference: the gate was reacting with the water, that was part of it; the gate was reacting with harmonics in the gate structure, that was another part of it; and there were others she hadn't worked out. She cancelled the comparison of her gate's and this gate's frequencies and mapped all of the interferences onto her equation. Then she mapped the interferences onto Dr Czerneda's and compared the two equations. Hers was still slightly different - she had that constant multiplier. She'd added it as a tag to represent an adjusted value of the Planck's Constant of the universe containing the gate, but Dr Czerneda hadn't included that constant. Why would that be? Of course - she hadn't had it originally either, but she had inserted it after she had arrived in this universe to explain certain aspects of the focus shifting that was different between the two universes. Dr Czerneda would have had no way of knowing that. Anita took both equations and ran another 3d graph over time and projected them both into her workroom. Then she turned around and watched.
Both started as straight, but twisted hourglasses. Dr Czerneda's had a periodic fluctuation around its axis that was slowly increasing. Hers had the same fluctuation but much smaller. She sped up the passing of time and slowly watched both graphs destabilize and burst apart. Hers had lasted much longer. Dr Czerneda's had lasted five or six minutes before starting to wobble, hers had lasted almost half an hour. So she was closer. Anita smiled. But what was she missing?
Maybe there was something hidden under the gate's environment interference. They had both added that in but maybe there was something more so she brought back up the frequency recordings of her gate in air, and this gate in water, and started the comparison over again, making sure her program mapped out the different constants from the different universes. Maybe there was something under that. But it didn't feel right. There was one thing that both Dr Czerneda and she had missed. She went through the list of interferences that Dr Czerneda had listed. Shaking her head, she couldn't think of anything else that it could be.
Maybe the key was something else. She went to look through the other files, but there was only one. It was a large one, and was tagged in her mind as a *.MOV file. Was it a memory? Or something else? She decided to play in on screen.
A window opened and a time index started flashing. It was a picture of the gate and a voice over. The voice was female - Anita guessed that it was Dr Czerneda's. The voice went through the interferences that Dr Czerneda had mapped out, but she knew she was still missing something.
Dr Czerneda's voice went on for a bit, describing the war and what she feared had caused the plague in the first place. She'd been in university when some of the committee heads of the biological research had also been students, and she had heard whispered rumours and what they'd done to women. Since the plague had effected women faster, she thought it might have been them - it was awfully convenient that they had been the only people in the right place to survive, and had just happened to develop a cure, and it was so unfortunate that it was too late for everybody else. Then the recording shifted so that it was looking at the entrance to the gate chamber. Anita assumed it was Dr Czerneda's point of view.
She watched the door rise open and a number of figures swim in. All were male. And all but one looked like the armoured guards Anita had seen.
The unarmoured leader of the group spoke, "Dr. Czerneda. We're here to take over the gate. We know you've stabilized it."
"I won't give it to you. I know what you did."
"What do you think we did?" The figures moved closer to the active gate.
"You caused the plague."
"Of course we did. We the ones are fit to rule. It's...unfortunate things went wrong." He opened his arms and shrugged his shoulders. "But we are open in our ranks and you've proven that you're worthy. Join us."
"Join our group. We'll use our biological skills, and your genius with the Plancks Gate, to take over another universe. We'll create a planet of willing slaves for each one of us. Even you."
Dr Czerneda made no response. As she just let herself drift down below the gate towards the memory organs the Plancks Gate drifted into view - but it looked completely different! Anita paused the file and stared.
The gate shown in the file wasn't flickering at all. Instead it was like a silver bubble, and within that bubble could be seen, eerily distorted, a different ocean and a different reef. The gate was stable. And that confirmed everything else that Anita had found. She unpaused the file.
"Oh come on. Don't give us this high and noble stuff. You can have total power. You can do whatever you want."
Dr Czerneda reached the memory organs and linked.
"Stop her! Kill her before she can destroy the gate!"
The guards dashed forward and started shooting with rifles. An instant later the shining silver of the gate began to flicker and the gate went back to the way it was now. Then there was a moment of blackness, and of pain, and then the recording ended.
Anita leaned back. Dr Czerneda had stabilized the gate, at least somewhat. Then she'd been offered power and hid her work, and was killed for it. Likely they'd just tossed the corpse through the gate to end up God knows where. But that still left the one unanswered problem. How could the gate be stabilized indefinitely? With what she had it could only be used by small groups, and those groups would have to leave over a fairly short time.
She wondered if anybody else had been able to access this information. Anita checked for access tags and found two. One for herself. And one for Addrun.
So he knew this too. But how had he known this? And did he why she still couldn't get the gate completely stable?
She knew the first question, the one she needed to ask Addrun. The second question she wanted to ask was how he knew she would come to this point, but that one would have to wait until after the first. She saved all of the information that Dr Czerneda had recorded on her local machine and then deleted it from the memory organs.
She had the key and she was going to make sure that nobody else got it.
She whistled for Genie and he bounded up and she thanked him. Then she flipped her mind back into control of her body. She looked around and saw that Estelle was still asleep. Gently picking her up, Anita started swimming back to the cafeteria. While she swam her daughter's eyes flickered open and she tried to suckle a little before falling back to sleep.
It was time for the last answer.
A few minutes later Anita reached the cafeteria and Addrun was still there. She flipped into her mind and checked her workstation - it was dawn and soon the others would come for breakfast. That meant that she didn't have much time. She flipped back out and swam in front of Addrun and stopped.
"I have my question."
"Good. Link and tell me."
Link? Then she remembered that her body had a link for both directions, as did Addrun's. She swam until she was belly to belly with him, still holding Estelle. Then she flipped back into her mind and woke up Genie who was asleep and sent him back to be in charge, and to watch Estelle. Then she initialized the link with Addrun.
She waited a moment and could dimly feel her tentacle entering his body, and his tentacle entering hers. Then a chat window popped up. She smiled - that made sense.
:Addrun on line.
:Addrun: Greetings. Send your Question.
:Anita: Why can I not completely stabilize the gate? I've accounted for everything, yet it still loses focus.
:Addrun: More specification. It should be simpler.
She thought. Simpler? But how? Was she on the wrong track - maybe Addrun didn't know. But... She snapped her fingers - once the gate was open, matter would pass through from both sides. That matter could affect the gate! She knew what to ask.
:Anita: Why does the passage of things through the gate change it?
:Addrun: Because everything has a soul linked to God.
Then Addrun sent a simple equation of one constant and a product of two variables that varied with time, all multplied together. One was the Planck's constant for this universe, and one of the variables was labeled 'soul', and the one was labeled 'blind'. What did he mean by 'blind'? She worked out the results of what Addrun had given her in her mind and realized, with shock, that with a variance in time, the two variables would always yield the same value - so why were they even there?! She looked again and noticed that, below the equation, Addrun had also sent the value of 'soul' for seawater. What?! Then another message...
:Addrun has disconnected
She flipped back into full control pushing Genie out of the way. Yelping, he backed off, and Anita quickly apologized, but she wasn't really sorry - she had to have control now.
She looked and saw Addrun still waiting for her. "Why do you say that?" There was no need for the changes that he had sent her and they multiplied to a constant!
Addrun just looked at her. For a moment he looked like he was going to swim away and Anita prepared to grab him if he tried. But then he sighed and spoke. "I was cloned from Dr Czerneda's soul. I have all of her information. I have had the information for years, but have told nobody." Then he turned and swam off.
Anita just floated there. Addrun hadn't given her an answer, but just an explanation - and the explanation was more disturbing then the answer probably would have been. All this time this world had had the answer, but nobody had known. All because of the original betrayal that had destroyed this world. But then, if Addrun had had the answer, why hadn't he left himself? And his claim that there was a God! But there wasn't, there was no need for one! Why did he think that there was? She started to swim after him but Estelle came awake and started crying.
She stopped. Addrun was leaving. She needed more answers from him. And she could hear Estelle behind her - she must have let her go. Anita closed her eyes and sighed, and then turned around. Her daughter was more important. More important than anything. She swam back and gently grabbed hold of her and started whistling a wordless tune. Anita rocked Estelle gently back and forth until her daughter calmed down. Then she held her close so that she could start to nurse.
Only then did she gently turn around - but Addrun was gone.
She prepared herself to follow, until she saw someone swimming towards her in the distance. Addrun? No, it was Dr Grifir. She slowly backed away to give him room to enter.
He stopped when he saw her. "Good morning. You're up early. Is it your daughter?"
Anita looked at her child and saw that Estelle had nodded off again. She looked back at Dr Grifir. "No. Not tonight."
"If she's a bother, we can bring in a wet nurse."
"No!" Her shout woke Estelle up and Anita rocked her back to sleep.
As Anita rocked, Dr Grifir swam to what Anita thought of as 'the microwave' and began heating some meat pies for breakfast. The 'microwave' was a large reddish organ that swallowed the pies, and then brought them back up a little later. They weren't digested, or contaminated by any of the creature's fluids. They were simply heated.
Anita slowly, and gently, swam over to where Dr Grifir was. He felt her approach and turned to talk to her while he waited.
"You were quite forceful there when I made the offer. Any reason?"
"No. I just don't want to give her up. She's actually relaxing, in her own annoying way."
Dr Grifir laughed. "If its what you want, then I have no problems." He started to turn back to his breakfast.
"What do you know about Addrun?"
Dr Grifir slowly turned himself back around. Behind him the creature opened up and passed his breakfast back out into the water where it slowly started to sink. "Why do you ask?" He spoke slowly.
"I was talking to him earlier. He gave me some information."
Dr Grifir frowned. "Did you ask him for it, or did he just volunteer it?"
"Sort of both, I think. He gave suggestions to make sure that I would ask him the right question."
"What was the question?"
"I'd rather not say."
Dr Grifir did not look happy. "He was sent here by the council about fifteen years ago."
"Isn't fifteen years a little long to remain an assistant?"
"Generally yes, but in his case he showed no real aptitude for the math. He never volunteered any answers beyond the most basic."
"Occasionally he would mention the weirdest of observations about each object, each particle, affecting the quantum basis of itself. Nonsense of course."
"Did you hear any rumours about him when he came? Anything about his parents?"
"Nothing at all. Our families in the city had never heard of him. As far as we can tell he had no childhood, or at least not one that was public."
"Did he ever spend time at the gate?"
"No. Not recently, anyway. About twelve years ago, I think, he use to spend most of his time there. Then he suddenly stopped and never went there again."
Addrun had figured out the gate twelve years ago? Why hadn't he told anybody? If he was a clone of Dr Czerneda, what would his mother's, for lack of a better word, memory done to him? "Did anything else change about him then?"
Dr Grifir's eyes went blank for a moment. "Yes, there was something. Up until that time, like you, he had frequent meetings with agents from the council. Twelve years ago they suddenly stopped. I remember hearing shouting from him when the last agent came but I've never heard him shout about anything since."
She swallowed. If what Karann had said about the truce between the council and all the people here actually was the true state of things, maybe it was time to give Dr Grifir a little bit more information, not necessarily correct information, and see what happens. "This morning Addrun told me that living creatures have a link at a quantum level with God."
Dr Grifir just floated there, with no change at all in his expression. His large, frog-like eyes kept watching her.
"He gave me an equation which he claims proves it."
Dr Grifir's eyes blanked for a moment. "I remember. He showed me one about fifteen years ago. I looked at it. Absolute garbage. You just have to look at it to see that it's impossible."
Anita knew that the equation she had wasn't, at least not that obviously, impossible. It wasn't necessary, but it was internally consistent. Maybe it was the lack of its necessity that Dr Grifir was referring to? In any case, all that his answer meant was that either he had been given a different equation, he was right and Addrun was wrong - which didn't feel right to her, or he was lying. Neither of the first two seemed likely, and since Karann had told her the truth about Dr Czerneda, she could afford to go one step further. "Did Dr Czerneda leave any information recorded?" She tried to make her voice sound innocent.
Dr Grifir stopped gulping water for a second, and then relaxed. "None. And we've had lots of time to look carefully."
So it was the third. Nobody would have had trouble finding Dr Czerneda's files, just trouble accessing them. "Addrun said he had found records that..." she paused for an instant and decided to speak as though Karann hadn't told her anything about the gate's creator, "...'he' had left."
"Addrun says a lot of nonsense."
Dr Grifir must know that she knew the truth about the plague and about the fate of Dr Czerneda. He must know about the information Dr Czerneda had left. It was even possible that he could know that Addrun had gotten into Dr Czerneda's files. By why was he trying to throw her off?
"Good morning Dr Lei," another voice said.
She spun around and looked at Handir. He just waved to her and went over to the heating creature. Then she spun back around, and saw Dr Grifir swimming off. Was he trying to get away from her? She looked around and saw Estelle drifting off, still quietly asleep. Confused about what was going on, she swam over and gently picked Estelle up. Then she called back behind her, "Good night. I'm going to sleep - I had a late night."
Anita heard Handir snicker.
Slowly moving her tail, she gently swam back to her quarters. She needed privacy. She needed to examine what Addrun had given her in detail. She needed to find out the truth. Then she would be ready to confront Addrun again, and the rest of them, to find out why they were suddenly so secretive.
She made her way back to her quarters without meeting any body. Too soon she swam through the static door and let herself drift to the floor. There she let go of Estelle to let her sleep and slipped back into her mind. Genie was there, on the floor, still sullen. But when he saw her, he bounced up and started licking her face again. Keep an eye on things? He barked and vanished. Time to look at what Addrun had told her.
She went back to her workstation and brought up the equation. It was extremely simple with just the Planck's Constant of this universe, scaled to the appropriate units, two variables and time. It was also internally consistent - she wasn't able to reduce it at all. She looked at the labels that Addrun had left. One component was labeled 'soul'. The other was labeled 'blind' - whatever that meant. The two values always worked out to the same product so that the equation resulted in a constant. She brought up both her equation and Dr Czerneda's equation - Dr Czerneda was missing all that Addrun had sent her, and she was missing everything but the scaled Planck's Constant. She looked at the two components more carefully. It seemed that one was a unique tag, unique to whatever it was representing, and another was a balancing factor to hide that. What was it that hunters used to hide themselves - she frowned and then had it - a blind. So that was what that label meant.
And what all that apparently meant, was that even though an individual's quanta was identical to that of all other objects in that universe, it was actually slightly different and unique, with a unique modifier to make it equal. But why was it different? There was no need for it - it added up to the same value regardless - so why include it.
It was almost like a tag. Like a radioactive tracer added to animals to trace changes in their system. It was inert, but it could be detected.
Fine. But that implied that somebody had put it there and then tried to hide it.
But who was that somebody? Could it really be God? Still, because it always multiplied to the same value, it could safely be ignored.
Or could it?
She took the equation that Addrun had supplied and ran a 3D graph of it advancing with time. The graph appeared in front of her as an oscillating sphere, with fine indentations and bulges in its surface occurring at regular instances. The bulges were small, very small, but were present.
But why did they occur?
She cancelled the simulation again and looked at the two components that Addrun had given her. Each component was a regular system with a value that oscillated in a fixed pattern as time passed.
There was interference! Occasionally a height in their combined oscillations would not directly cancel and cause a small increase; other times a min would cause a small decrease. Hence the bumps she'd seen.
A small irregularity. But why would it affect the oscillation of a static gate? It could only affect the gate if it passed through the gate - which water did. Fine. But then wouldn't the frequency pattern not constantly change as different things passed through the gate? But her observations showed that that was not the case - the frequency pattern was regular over time. It was just that you had to bind it to the generating forces at the instant of creation or the feedback occurred.
But, there was nothing in the generating universe that was part of the gate. The gate was simply a hole between universes caused by forced tunneling to bridge the quanta in different realities. Then she remembered something. Always, there was a fraction of an instant, but a variable fraction of an instant, after power was applied, but before the gate was actually open. She'd thought that that time was required for the tunneling. But what if the actual gateway itself was oscillating at both ends. In the instant before the near opening switched to another universe, something from the generating universe had to jump over into the gate to lock that opening to the generating universe. Then the other opening, unbound, would take the combined vibration of both ends, and vibrate through thousands of other universes, linking to each other universe only for a fraction of an instant. Something had to go across for the near end to be locked to the generating universe.
But, her math showed that the gate was inherently stable - she'd never understood why it oscillated in focus in the first place. Maybe it didn't oscillate, maybe it was the source universe that oscillated. Then, when the binding occurred, the vibration of the source universe passed along the gate, and caused the other end of the gate to vibrate. If the source universe was stable, then there would be no oscillation generated - the gate would go to a weak point in an adjacent universe depending on the depth of its tunnel. There would be no reason for a requirement of a messenger to bind the gate, and there would be no reason for the gate to oscillate. But it did oscillate. And that meant that the universe itself had a tag, a soul as Addrun had put it.
Stop a moment and pause. That was all fine, but it assumed that the tag was required to bind the gate. Which made no sense, because the whole tag should not be required. The only way it could be present, in everything, was if it had been imposed...
Anita had always been taught that in the nothingness that existed before the quantum instability had exploded into the universe, there was nothing. The reason the initial explosion had happened was random chance. Over an infinite amount of no time, it had simply happened. But here was evidence of design behind it.
She shook her head. This wasn't getting her anywhere. She had to see if this fine oscillation fixed the gate stability problem she was still having. If it did, then her thoughts might mean something, if it didn't then Addrun was mad, and she was back where she started.
Anita took a deep breath. She substituted in the rest of the equation Addrun had given her, and ran the three dimensional graph.
As expected, the twisted cone appeared. But, unlike before, it was steady. Its only movement was a slow revolution. She sped up the time rate. Years passed. Centuries. But the graph stayed the same.
That was it!
She cancelled the display. She had it. She had the answers. She brought the equation up and looked at it. Everything was there. The math proved it. Everything had a tag, and every universe had a tag. There was design. God played dice with the universe for a reason.
Anita leaned back.
The solution to the gate was right there. Just plug in the interferences, run the equation, invert the value, and match it to the pattern as the gate was generated and a particle from the generating universe bound the gate. The oscillations would keep the gate size and orientation and power requirement matched to the oscillations in the generating universe. Then you would tune the gate by adding the Planck's Constant for the destination universe. The gate would tunnel to the destination, and then passengers could pass through with ease. Their 'soul' and 'blind' remained constant, and they arrived in the other universe, which was, temporarily, through the gate, linked with the origin universe. Then the gate closed, the universes separated went their separate ways, and everything was fine.
The gate was, in essence, a state shift tunnel that mapped the quanta variance between the two universes involved. She'd always known that. But now she knew how it worked the way it did. Why the oscillations occurred.
And that was the answer.
She whistled for Genie and thanked him, rubbing his belly and telling him what a good dog he'd been. Then she flipped back into her body and looked around. Estelle was still napping, and her quarters were empty, other than her other body resting in the corner.
It was time to confront Addrun. She had the answer, but now she needed to know what to do with it.
She gently picked up Estelle and tucked her under her arms and slowly started swimming. Karann had shown her where Addrun's quarters were, although she'd never been in them. A quick query of her memories showed her the way. She swam down the hallways and into another wing that was empty except for his quarters. It was strange that he'd always stayed alone. Then again, it was a little odd that she hadn't encountered anybody before reaching this wing. Oh well.
She reached his static door and knocked on the wall and waited, but there was no response. She tried again, and waited, and still there was no response.
Well, she wasn't going to call out and wake up Estelle on his account. She swam through the static door.
Addrun's chambers were empty.
OK. The only other place she'd even seen him was the cafeteria. She back to it and looked in. Empty. Nobody else was there either. Where else? In the past he'd been in the gate room. She swam to its entrance and entered the code and she slipped under as the door rose up.
The dim, steady, light in the room was provided by overhead lights. The Plancks Gate was off.
What the hell? The Plancks Gate had never been turned off. It had been religiously kept on for years. She looked around and couldn't see anybody. She swam around the room and still couldn't see anybody.
Where was Addrun? And where was everybody else?
The only places she hadn't been yet were the recreation area, the conference room, and the other quarters. Addrun certainly wouldn't be in the other quarters, but maybe he was in the conference room. She swam out of the gate chamber and closed the door behind her and made her way to the conference room, still holding Estelle. She reached the conference room and saw that the static door was on. It had never been on. And she still hadn't seen anybody. The hell with this. She swam through, and suddenly stopped herself.
All the rest, except Addrun, were there. Even Dr Hanbrook. And they hadn't noticed her. She swam a bit closer and looked - they were all linked. Wonderful. She had the answer, but apparently Addrun had had it all the time. And now everybody was suddenly working hard. Since the day she had arrived, they had done nothing but eat, sleep, and occasionally answer her questions. Now they were working?
She swam closer to Karann and stopped as his eyes flickered to life. "Join us. We need to talk." Then his mind went away again.
She sighed. This was getting ridiculous! They were either in conference because of Addrun vanishing, or because of her. Dr Grifir had reason to suspect what she knew. Time to join them and figure out what the hell was going on.
She swam up next to Karann and slipped back into her mind. Quickly she asked Genie to take over and watch Estelle. And then she then initialized the link.
:Karann on line.
:Anita joining conference.
:Dr Grifir: Greetings Dr Lei.
:Anita: What the fuck is going on!
:Handir: Watch your language my dear.
:Karann: We need to know. Can you stabilize the gate?
She didn't want to tell them yet. She still wasn't sure whom to trust.
:Anita: Where is Addrun?
:Dr Grifir: We don't know. He's not here, and he hasn't left.
:Torstig: We think he went through the gate and then set it to turn off behind him.
:Dr Grifir: Can you stabilize the gate?
Anita took a deep breath. They already suspected, so she might as well tell them and see what happened. In the worse case she could always escape through the gate like Addrun apparently had.
:Karann: Wonderful. I knew you could do it. Shall we start the plan?
:Anita: What plan?
:Torstig: But where shall we go?
:Anita: Stop! Before I tell anybody anything, would somebody kindly give me some answers?
:Dr Grifir: Everyone please wait while I explain. Then we can discuss how to implement things.
:Karann: We can find an empty world like - sorry. Go ahead.
At least some things about conference boards never change, Anita thought. New universe, same old chaos.
:Dr Grifir: Good. We have planned for this for the last century. In short, we plan to bring our families and their families here to the gate. They can go through the gate and then we'll follow them, destroying it behind us. How long can you keep the gate stable, Dr Lei?
:Anita: As stable as you want. But, how can you trust these people? How can you sneak them here?
:Dr Grifir: Good. As to trust, these are our families, and their immediate relations. Doubtless, some are in the service of the council, just as some of the ones the council trusts are in our service, like Dr Hanbrook here. However, the majority can be trusted. Secondly, this wouldn't be secret for very long in any case. As soon as they start leaving, the council will figure out that the gate is open. There won't be any sneaking, just speed and surprise.
:Anita: Can your compatriots close to the council cause some chaos to give us some extra time?
:Dr Grifir: Yes, that's part of the plan. That should give us enough time to get the five thousand or so persons to the complex. Yes, it will be crowded, and unfortunately some will be outside when the council comes, but it won't be for long. We'll hold the council off as long as we can, and then we'll seal ourselves in and use the siege to give us time to get the rest through the gate.
:Anita: How long will the entrance hold? Can they bring up weapons big enough to break through it quickly?
:Dr Grifir: Those weapons don't exist anymore, and we've made sure that no more have been built. Even if some did exist, they couldn't use them for fear of damaging the gate.
:Dr Hanbrook: I should leave now so that I can drug the rations for the guards so we can start things going.
:Dr Grifir: Good. Go now, but don't give it to them. We have to figure out where we're going to go. Dr Lei, how much control do we have? Will our bodies change?
:Anita: We won't change when we go through the gate at all.
:Dr Hanbrook has disconnected.
:Dr Grifir: Then we don't have to worry about that. The next question is: where shall we go? We have a number of choices. Do we go to a world very similar to our own, but empty? Do we go to a very different world? Do we go to an inhabited world?
:Handir: If we go to an uninhabited world, then we're starting over from scratch. We will have only what we bring with us. If we go to an inhabited world, then we can get support and equipment from the inhabitants if we can communicate with them, and if they don't just shoot us on sight.
:Anita: Any world we go to that is very close to this one's Planck's Constant, should have a similar, or identical language. Unfortunately many of them will have an identical problem, and there is no way to be sure of it until we go though.
:Anita: The gate is fixed once it links worlds. The geography will roughly correspond as will the gate location as it will exit in the closest geographic point with a sufficiently weak quantum barrier. There is no way to move the exit point once it's formed so we will have very limited information about the world we end up going to.
:Dr Grifir: That's the problem. There is a solution though. A world we know we can inhabit, a world we can communicate with, and a world we can likely find some peace on. Dr Lei's world.
:Dr Grifir: If we know how to get there. The council got the Planck's Value from you, Dr Lei, while they were indoctrinating you. Unfortunately, nobody favourable to our side has access to that information.
:Anita: Why did they want the key to my world?
:Karann: Because that was the first world they planned to invade. They have information about its populace, about its technological level, and they know how to get there.
:Handir: Based on what Dr Lei said, we likely won't be able to voluntarily choose between an inhabited and an uninhabited world since we won't be able to check them out thoroughly. Also, because of the risk of going to the same situation we are in now, we have to go to a world far removed from our own. My recommendation is to go to Anita's world, depending on the reception we can expect there, and if she will let us.
:Dr Grifir: That is my thought as well, based on what I've mentioned. Dr Lei? How would they receive us?
:Anita: I don't know. Partially, it depends on where we end up. I should be able to communicate, and the oceans are largely unused, although they are somewhat polluted. It is very unlikely we will have war declared against us, although we may have to keep our existence hidden.
Anita sighed, and took a deep breath in her mind.
:Anita: And yes, it is the best place to go. I'll provide the Planck's Value.
:Dr Grifir: Then the plan is arranged. Dr Hanbrook will take care of the guards. As soon as they are dead, Anita and Karann will prepare the gate. Handir will remain behind to assist and as a guard. The rest of us will return to Kashalan and begin the migration. We'll wait in the cafeteria until the guards are taken care of, and then get things started. Any other questions?
Anita waited and thought. She knew what to do. She had to make sure that the gate was destroyed. And she had to make sure of the plague.
:Anita: What about the plague? Will we carry it over to my world?
:Dr Grifir: No. None of us have it, and we are all immunized to make sure that we don't. We'll bring the antidote just in case. Is that acceptable?
Anita sighed. She couldn't see contamination being likely based on what Karann had told her, and she couldn't think of any world anywhere near as safe for Estelle.
:Dr Grifir: Any other questions?
Anita waited for a while, but there were none.
:Dr Grifir has disconnected.
Anita disconnected herself and returned to control over her body. She checked Estelle to make sure she was still asleep. Then she swam over to Karann and Handir. "You'll have to activate your gate, as I'm not that familiar with your procedures. I can delete the other files while you start it up."
"A good plan," said Handir. However, I think it's more important to stand watch while I'm linked just to be safe. Afterwards, we can all start cleaning out the records while we wait for the exodus. Are you going to stabilize the gate right away?"
"I don't think you should, just in case our plan fails," added Karann.
"I agree," said Anita. "I have to set it up to be stabilized, but I don't have to set the focus until I'm ready. I'll do that when we're ready to go through, and not before."
"Well then lets go and get a bite to eat while we wait for the guards to be taken care of," said Handir.
Anita gently picked up Estelle and followed Karann and Handir out of the conference room and down to the cafeteria. They arrived and the rest were already there. Torstig had made some sandwiches and was swimming around offering them to the others. Estelle came awake and Anita started her nursing. She looked around and saw Karann and Handir whispering. She slowly swam over towards them.
"Anything I should know about?" Anita asked.
Handir swallowed and turned away.
It was Karann who answered. "Somebody will have to stay behind and destroy the gate. There are safeties in place on the reactor that require that. I've volunteered."
Karann sighed. "Handir and I discussed it. We're the only two that really know how to do it. However, Handir knows much more about growing the technological seeds we'll carry than I do, so I'm the most expendable."
The thought of Karann dying horrified her. "Let Handir do it. There'll be others coming who know just as much." And then, at that instant she realized she didn't want Karann to die. She realized that she might actually love him.
Karann sighed again. "We can't be sure so I have to. I'm the most logical choice, although I would much rather stay with you." He sighed. "I have a request of you to make."
Anita didn't know what to say. His reasons made sense. But what kind of request? "What then?" she whispered.
Karann swam closer and stopped, but he didn't look at her. "I would like you to bear my seed so that some part of me will live on. We'll have to do it now."
Anita slowly backed away using only her back fins. "I don't know..." She remembered Jorad. She remembered the pain and the violation. She also remembered Karann helping her heal...
"I know it's a lot to ask. But I love you. I can only hope you will, but I won't force you. It's your choice."
Now Anita turned away. "Let me think about it. I'll try, that's all I can promise."
"That's all I can ask."
Anita slowly swam into a corner and held Estelle but she didn't really pay attention to her daughter. She remembered Jorad. She remembered the pain and the violation. She remembered her self loathing. She straightened. She would do it. If she didn't, then Jorad's violation of her would stay in control. She had to over come it. She refused to give Jorad's memory the satisfaction of beating her. Using the fins on her back to turn her body clockwise in a circle, she looked around for Karann to tell him...
"The guards are taken care of," she head Dr Hanbrook call out as he entered the cafeteria. Karann and Handir swam up to her.
"Let's go and get the gate up," said Handir. "We haven't much time."
Then he and Karann turned and swam off. Karann hadn't even looked at her. Sighing, Anita gently pulled Estelle tight against her. Estelle whimpered a little, and then settled back to sleep. At least she was still young enough to sleep most of the time. Anita wanted to have more time for her daughter, but events were running away from her. She turned and swam after Karann.
In a few minutes they all arrived at the gate chamber. Handir keyed in the code and they all swam under the door as it slowly opened. By the time Anita had made it through, Handir was already at the memory organs and plugged in. The door started closing as Karann turned to Anita.
"I'm going to plug in now and we'll start the sequence. If anybody comes, then we're reactivating the gate to test some theories you have. We don't know anything about anybody else. Maybe that will work, maybe that won't. Did you leave any component of the stabilizing information in the memory organs?"
"Good." He stopped and just looked at her.
"We have to link. You need to bind the frequency of the power supply to the gate as it is activated."
He sighed and slowly flipped around and beneath her. Then Anita felt his tentacle slip into her body and she flipped into her mind, asking Genie to watch Estelle as she passed.
Then she was there, and she activated the link icon.
:Karann on line.
:Anita joining conference.
:Karann: I'm ready.
Anita looked at her final equation, realized that it used her conventions, quickly mapped the variables and the sequence to this world's conventions, and then copied the equation, with all the interferences mapped onto it, over the link.
:Anita: Do you understand?
There was a moment before Karann responded.
:Karann: You use this to modulate the power supply?
:Anita: You use the inverse value to modulate the power supply. This end of the gate needs to be bound tightly and exactly to the generating universe to prevent feedback when we stabilize it.
She swallowed before continuing.
:Anita: One more thing.
There was a long pause this time.
:Karann: You're sure?
:Karann has disconnected.
Anita closed the link and took back her body and watched as Karann swam down to the memory organs. He seemed to be swimming slightly faster, and not quite in a boring straight line. She smiled and then backed herself into an upper corner and watched where the gate had been.
She remembered when she and Dr Richardson had activated their gate for the first time. She remembered the monitors, the rising hum, the checks called back and forth. Here there was none of that. Karann and Handir were silent, communicating through the memory organ network. She waited, and a few minutes later, a deep roar, almost below her new threshold of hearing, reverberated through the chamber. She turned away from the gate and clasped her daughter to her chest. It didn't matter to Anita how much she wanted to see the moment of generation, it was more important to protect Estelle. Behind her, Anita heard the deep roar rise in volume, but not in frequency, until her entire body shook. She felt Estelle awaken and begin to cry, but she just squeezed her tight to her chest. Then Anita heard a loud crackling sound, like an electric current arcing between two contacts, and saw a bright flash reflected off the wall. Then there was near silence, with only the deep rumbling the gate had use to make. And then there was just the reflected patterns of light from the gate.
Anita loosened her grip on her daughter and whispered soothing noises until Estelle quieted down. Then she begin to suckle again. Anita looked down and saw that neither Handir nor Karann had disconnected yet - she guessed that they were cleaning out the other files that she had ignored. So she turned and watched the entrance, and felt her daughter. After a few minutes Estelle quieted and went back to sleep and Anita turned to watch the gate.
Eventually she felt motion in the water and turned and saw Karann swimming up towards her. Handir had already stopped near the entrance. Eventually Karann reached her, stopping a few feet away.
"We should do it now. Our families will grab what transports they can, so the first groups should be arriving in the next few hours. The rest will take longer. Are you sure you want to go through with this?"
"Then lets do it now, here, while Estelle is still asleep. Handir already told me that he would keep watch and try to give us privacy."
"Let me just give Estelle to him. I don't want to worry about her accidentally going through the gate."
Anita swam down to Handir. "Would you please watch Estelle?"
"If she wakes up try rocking her or singing her a song. That should calm her."
He smiled. "I will. Go. Karann is waiting."
Anita handed her daughter over and then swam back up to where Karann was waiting. "I'm ready."
Slowly, using only his back fins, Karann drifted towards her until their chests were touching. "Are you sure? Really sure?"
"I have to do this." Then she tried kissing him.
It was hard. A lot of her didn't want to, but she forced herself to. She wouldn't let Jorad win. Then Karann kissed her back and clasped her against him. They let their lips part. Anita was shaking, and she realized the Karann was too.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I have to do this. Help me. I won't let Jorad win."
"I think I understand."
Karann wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight against him. Anita remembered Jorad and tried to wrap her tail around Karann but her tail in this body wasn't flexible enough. So Anita just returned Karann's embrace and hugged him tightly. Pulses of water from Karann's gills passed across her breasts, and they could feel the warmth of his body through the short distance separating them. Anita quivered but forced her fears aside and kissed Karann again.
Karann returned the kiss and then started moving down Anita's body, rubbing his lips against her chest as his mouth opened and closed for him to breathe. Anita's body started responding. This time she embraced the warmth and welcomed it to her. She also realized that it was not as overwhelming as it had been in her other body - she could have resisted it if she wanted. That gave her confidence, and that confidence made sure that she didn't want to resist.
Karann reached Anita's organs and she felt the shock of contact. Then she let the passion take over and returned Karann's favours.
She climaxed a final time, and then their mutual exhaustion caused them to let their contact end, and their bodies slowly drift apart. After a few moments Anita brought up the energy to move her back fins to stop the drift. She turned to face Karann.
"Thank you. It was wonderful."
"It's I who should be thanking you, but never mind. Let's get down to the entrance."
Anita turned and looked down and saw Handir spinning Estelle around. For a second she panicked and started to dash down towards her daughter, but then she realized that it was a vertical circle so that there was no danger of Estelle going into the gate. Slowing, she let herself descend to his level. He saw her and slowed the spinning until Estelle was barely moving, and then let her go so that she drifted into her mother's arms.
"Did she give you any problems?"
"None. I'm glad she was with me. Did you two...?"
"We've both helped each other," Karann responded.
Anita caught Estelle and helped Estelle to her breast to start suckling. "I..."
The entrance to the gate chamber started to open.
"Remember," Karann whispered, "we're simply running some tests for you that required the gate being deactivated and then restarted. As far as we know the others are still here."
The door rose enough so that a figure could swim under it, and one did. They all tensed until they saw it was Dr Grifir.
"Is everything ready?" Dr Grifir asked.
"Everything's ready for Anita to stabilize the gate."
"Good. Dr Lei, would you do it now? The first of our group to go through are just behind me." He turned to face Karann and Handir. "Have you decided?"
"I'll stay," responded Karann.
"Good. Dr. Lei, I want you to prepare the gate for your world. I also want you to be one of the first ones through - we need you there for your knowledge of your world. It's vital we have that. You do understand and won't try any last minute heroics?"
"Yes." Anita turned to face Karann. "Karann? Would you hold our daughter please?"
"And Handir?" she asked. "I'll need you to help me tune the gate. I'll feed you the value to use."
Handir nodded. Gently Anita passed the still sleeping Estelle over and turned and swam down to the memory organs. She felt Handir following.
Anita reached one of the organs and flipped into her mind. Genie was there and she asked him to take control for a moment. Carefully she held his head as she instructed him. This is very important. If anybody other than Handir comes near, bring me back immediately. Genie barked and then vanished. Anita initialized the link into the organs and got the ls prompt. A moment later a second window opened.
:Handir has joined.
:Anita: I'll feed you tuning value now. You need to multiply the changing frequency of the gate by that value, and that will bind the gate to our destination.
:Handir: I'm ready. I'll have to stay linked to monitor the gate until Karann can take over.
:Anita: Understood. Give me a second to get the value ready.
She opened another window and brought up the some basic information she had stored for ease of reference years ago and copied out the Planck's Constant for her universe.
:Handir: Do you really love him?
Anita didn't know what to say.
:Anita: Yes. Here is the value.
She sent it.
:Handir: I see it. I'll feed you a visual of the gate as I tune it.
Another window opened on her screen that showed the gate. She moved it so that she could see it and the link and then she watched. The colours of the gate started to swirl faster and faster, and then suddenly vanished as the gate changed into a spherical mirror reflecting the entire gate chamber. For a moment it stayed blank, and then the distorted image of a coral reef faded in.
A coral reef from home.
So why didn't it fill her with gladness?
:Handir: Gate is focussed and stable. I'll see you on the other side.
:Anita: I'll see you there.
She closed the link and flipped back into control of her body, Genie licking her as her consciousness and his passed by each other. Then she was back. She looked up into the gate and saw fish and a towering mound of coral along one side. She could see beams of sunshine shining down from her world's sky. Home.
It didn't seem to matter.
She swam up to the entrance where Dr Grifir and Karann were waiting.
"The gate is stable."
"Good," Dr Grifir responded. "Do you know where it leads?"
"No. It's the closest geographic point where there was sufficient weakness for the gate to tunnel through. But where that is I have no idea."
"We'll have to live with it."
Anita turned to talk to Karann. "Handir told me that he'll need you to link so he can hand control over the gate to you. You should go and link now."
Karann let go of Estelle and hugged Anita. "I love you. Take good care of our children." Then he released her and swam towards the bottom of the chamber.
Anita reached over and grabbed hold of Estelle before she could drift too far away.
Dr. Grifir continued: "We'll let the first few groups go through, and then you follow. You should get some distance from the gate in case of problems, and in case some of the energy when the fusion reactor goes up is passed through the gate before it closes."
Anita had already turned to watch Karann swim down. "Yes," she whispered.
"First group now!" Dr Grifir called out.
Anita saw a group of the armoured warrior bodies, all carrying the laser weapons she had seen on the guards, pass through her other side field of vision and up to the gate. She looked down at Karann and whispered, "Good-bye." Then she turned to face the first group. "Just swim through," she told them. "You shouldn't feel anything." She watched them swim into the gate, and saw the vision of her world ripple. Then they were there. And then Anita turned away.
Dr Grifir called for the second group, and then the third, and Anita watched them go through out of the corner of her eye. Most of her attention was focused on Karann down below. Even Estelle's awakening didn't distract her.
"Dr. Lei?" Dr Grifir asked.
Anita tore her eyes back to Dr Grifir.
"It's your turn."
Estelle was starting to wiggle in her grasp, so Anita gripped her tightly and swam for the gate. She swam quickly because she wanted to get it over with. Then she was at the gate, and passing through. For some reason, this time passing through the gate felt like pressing into plastic wrap, and then popping through. Was that an effect of the tight binding to the source universe? In a second she was through.
She realized that the water even tasted different.
She looked around and saw the first few parties and started to swim towards them. But then she stopped and turned herself around and took a last look at the gate. Here it also looked like a silvery, transparent bubble. She could see the distorted edges of the room and could vaguely see Karann, tiny in the distance. She saw Dr Grifir talking, but heard nothing. Apparently that sound wasn't energetic enough to pierce the potential barrier. Another group swam up and through and Anita turned away and swam towards the other groups to make room.
Anita stayed with the growing mass of refugees as group after group came through. After a large number of warriors had arrived, the transits stopped for a few minutes, but then started again as a steady stream of civilian bodies, like her other body, started passing through. She guessed her other body would stay behind. While she waited she helped Estelle to suckle, and then gently rocked her to sleep.
The transits continued for hours.
Eventually, tired of the sameness of the crowd, she turned to one of the warriors. "I'm going to swim and try and figure out where we are."
"Some of us should go with you."
"No. You'd just terrify anybody I found - I'll be bad enough. Let me take one of your rifles though, just in case."
One of the warriors passed one over. "It's very simple. You just point this end and pull this trigger. Be aware that its range is limited to about 30 feet in water. To use it just point and shoot and keep the trigger pressed until your target explodes."
"The laser beam will be halted by the opaque target and will rapidly super-heat the water at that point. The resulting expansion will cause the explosion."
Anita picked up the rifle. It was surprisingly light and also had a strap which the warrior helped her put around her head and under one arm. Then she cradled Estelle against her and gently swam towards the surface.
She had no idea where she was. She didn't really want to find out, but couldn't stand waiting and thinking of Karann's last moments. She needed something to do. So she swam to the surface and popped her head out and looked around. At first her sight was blurry, but then she remembered her soul having transparent eyelids for vision in water - maybe this body had transparent eyelids for vision in air. She closed them and her vision cleared. Then she realized that she was actually breathing air into her speaking lungs, although her gills were still trying to work, releasing little clouds of bubbles behind her head.
She looked around and saw a small boat off in the distance. Beside it she could see the deep reds of the setting sun. She sighed. It wasn't too far - she might as well get it over with now. It would help keep her mind off of Karann.
She ducked her head under and swam strongly towards the boat, holding Estelle, who awoke and giggled at the ride, tight against her chest. After five minutes or so she could see the boat clearly and slowed down to look closely at it. It was a small boat with two props, enough for a small group. Just what she wanted. Then she noticed some bubbles rising up from below. Rotating around, she looked down and spotted a pair of divers, their lights bright in the darkening water.
A good way to make contact.
She swam down until she was just above them. About to speak, she remembered that she had to try and speak english - the only language from home she knew. So she popped into her mind and brought the memories up and flipped back. "Hello" she called out.
They stopped and looked up - their eyes bulging wide as they shone their lights onto her.
"I mean no harm." She opened her arms wide. "I come in peace." Good, her english was coming back. Now, as long as they spoke it...
They turned to each other and gave various hand signals and then they started swimming to the surface. Anita used her back fins to give them room. Then she slowly rose with them, changing the amount of air in her speaking lungs to slowly rise. Estelle just relaxed and started suckling.
After a few minutes they broke the surface. The pair, a man and a woman, frantically swam for the boat and pulled themselves out of the water, dropping their weight belts to sink, and their tanks to float. It was dark now, the but the water glittered in the lights from the boat. Anita waited for them to speak.
Finally the man turned and spoke. "What are you?"
"I'm Dr Anita Lei, from the US."
"You're kidding." She recognized the accent, it was Australian.
"No. I mean from the United States of America. Founded in 1776 by breaking away from the British Empire. It is positioned in the centre of the North American continent bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I'm from there."
"It's a long story. Can you get somebody on the radio so that I can meet with someone from the US? We're in Australia I take it?"
"If you're from, how can..." He stopped and shrugged his shoulders. "We're off the Great Barrier Reef. Anne? Send out an SOS. I think we need some help here."
Anita heard the static of the radio and settled a bit lower into the water to wait.
After a while the man pointed to Estelle. "Is that part of you?"
Anita laughed. "No. It's my daughter, Estelle." She raised Estelle out of the water and turned her to face the humans. Estelle looked up and giggled. The man smiled.
"Normally I would say that she looks like you, but in this case I'm not sure."
"Don't worry. I'm still not sure of the customs either."
"Like I said, it's a long story. I'll just wait here till somebody comes."
The man just nodded.
Anita turned away and watched her sun set, barely noticing when Estelle went back to sleep.
The sun had set and the moon had rose before Anita heard the sound of engines approaching. She called out, "Who's coming?"
"I think it's an American destroyer. I tried to request it in the SOS."
"Good." She looked towards it and could make out the brightly lit US flag waving as the destroyer approached. Home. She was finally home. She sighed and then felt somebody grabbing her from below. She guessed that everybody was through and dipped her head below the surface to see who it was, although it didn't really matter to her.
It was Karann.
She just stared a moment, and then let go of Estelle and hugged him. He just smiled and hugged her back. For a moment they slowly let themselves sink, each clasping the other, but then they released their grips. Karann zipped to the left and grabbed Estelle who hadn't even woken up and this allowed Anita to speak first.
"It was Handir. At the last moment he forced me out. Then Dr Grifir and some of the warriors grabbed me and pulled me through the gate."
"But his skills..."
"I guess we can survive without them."
"Is the gate destroyed?"
"Yes. Dr Grifir and I saw the flash of the explosion before the gate collapsed. Unfortunately the heat fried some coral, but the gate is gone." He gently handed her their daughter - Estelle was awake. "I think our daughter wants some milk."
Copyright 2000 by Michael Bard. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.
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