Here it is, the final episode of Jovian Shadows. I may at some time in the future create a second draft and make it into a full fledged novel. It would probably nearly double in size but who knows. I’ll post a link to a mobile / pdf version to this draft shortly.
I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing it.
The image of Melan looked around the table at the gathered Humans. “I’ll take questions now.”
Everyone looked at each other with expressions of worry. It was Redbeard who broke the silence. “How long?”
Melan said, “It is hard to say. As I said, we were coincidentally close, and already familiar with your species. The others are unaware, or will be until they receive the signal.”
Castaneda said, “Who will get here first?”
Melan’s tongue ran under his lower lip as he thought. “I would say… the Charem De would be most likely to arrive. They are faster than the Ixuul and more ambitious. Though this system has little tactical use, it might some day, and its resources are fresh.”
Landover leaned back in his chair again. “What is your assessment of Earth’s current defensive ability?”
Melan didn’t hesitate this time. “The Charem De would control your system in fewer than 30 days. Earth has no adequate defense in space. You stand a better chance on the ground. You are aggressive and well armed, but not well enough. Your planet would fall to Charem De control within three months.”
Strathmore leaned over the table, his face twisted in frustration. “Why bother when they could just crash a comet into the planet and be done with us?”
Melan said, “Ambition. They want what you have. They want to control your people. You would stand a slim chance if you were able manipulate that to your advantage. Greed is a bridge between you and them.”
Landover said, “And against these Ixuul? Any defense?”
“No. Not unless you had some of their genetic material already. We estimate you could synthesize a biological defense in five to ten years. All life on your planet would have been consumed by then.”
The frustration and despair hung in the air like a fog. Redbeard said, “What about us? What would these lizards want with Europa?”
The military cast biting glances at Redbeard.
“If I had to guess,” Melan said, “they would simply destroy the station from a distance in order to prevent you alerting Earth. They enjoy surprise attacks.”
Landover smiled. “Looks like you’ll have to abandon your station after all, pirate.”
Redbeard didn’t look at Landover. “A hollow victory, admiral.”
Landover’s smile faded. “Yes. I doubt Westhem is going to care much about your station after today.”
Castaneda said, “What about these Human-looking ones?”
“Yes. How long would they take to get here?”
Melan said, “They are also a risk-averse species, but they have a different definition of ‘risk’ than we do. It would be unlikely they would come quickly enough to head off the Charem De or the Ixuul. Even if they did, they would consider your species so far beneath them as to be disposable. You would find no help from the Samnarathi.”
Chaudhuri and Melan were heading to the sick bay. Chaudhuri said, “I wonder what they all have to talk about. It sounds like we’re right fucked.”
Melan’s mechanized voice betrayed no emotion. “Perhaps discussing their fate amongst themselves will steel their wills and allow them to communicate the danger to their respective subordinates.”
“And you and yours won’t help.”
Melan’s sigh sounded strange though the suit. “The politics are complicated.”
Chaudhuri said, “It sounds to me like you have a guilty conscience. Like you want to help, but can’t.”
Melan didn’t reply.
“I knew it. You did this before, didn’t you?”
Melan said, “Yes. More than once.”
Chaudhuri pressed the button opening the main door to the medical bay. “I take it things didn’t go well.”
“Like I said, it’s complicated.”
The medical bay cleared out as soon as Melan and Chaudhuri arrived, the people there giving wide berth to the Keyaniim.
Chaudhuri walked over to Harmon. She examined some of the readings on the bed where he lay. “Not good.”
Melan’s suit waddled over. “I am sorry to be the bearer of such troubling news.” Melan stopped next to Chaudhuri. “I can assist this one, if you wish.”
Chaudhuri folded her arms. “What are you going to do, grow a new brain for him?”
Melan’s big metal arm raised up and he held his hand above Harmon’s head. The readouts on the bed flashed and beeped with worry.
“What are you doing?”
“Growing a new brain.” Melan put his hand down. “It will take some time, but the area is now healed enough for his brain to grow back. He will be capable again, but how much of his personality is left is not known to me.”
Chaudhuri said, “Well you’re still full of surprises.” She read all the computer alerts and diagnostics. “I’ll be damned. He’s actually regenerating.”
“I could,” Melan said, “help you with your eye, if you like.”
Chaudhuri said, “Guilt’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it? These civilizations you failed to save, how many died?”
“We did not fail,” Melan said, “not in every case.”
Chaudhuri shook her head. “I don’t know. Part of me wants to keep the eye like this, just to remind myself what those Westhem bastards did to me.”
Melan said, “Yet when you see the reflection of yourself, you grow melancholy. I cannot remove the pain from your mind, nor would I so violate you even if I had the power. But perhaps I can alleviate this small thing.”
Chaudhuri stared at Melan’s oval face-plate. She could only see her own reflection. “What the hell. Why not.” She hopped up on an operating table. “I’ll have Taurid assist you with the operation. He can monitor me and apply the anesthetic.”
“That won’t be necessary. If you would prefer to be unconscious for the operation, I can arrange it.”
Chaudhuri said, “Taurid, some happy-juice please. I want to be awake for this. It oughtta be amazing. And video it.”
Taurid’s voice said, “I’m happy to help!” A small metal tube extended from the operating table and touched Chaudhuri’s hand.
Chaudhuri shook. “Ooohh. Wow. I’m not feeling anything.”
Melan said, “Relax.” His hand hovered over Chaudhuri’s face. Tiny drills and screwdrivers slid down from under Melan’s fingers, and started to lower themselves onto the plating around Chaudhuri’s metallic eye.
“Wow, this feels weird,” Chaudhuri said. “I haven’t had that metal moved since it was crammed on my skin. I think it’s BioMass brand glue.”
“The adhesive is being dissolved as I begin to penetrate the metal. In moments, the implant will power down.”
Chaudhuri saw the flash of a blue laser just before her right eye lost vision. “Woop. There is goes.” She sniffed. “I smell smoke.”
“The metal in some places must be cut away in order to reach the explosive device. I’m sure you’re aware of it by now.”
“Yeah. Thanks for the reminder. Laser shooting next to a bomb. Groovy Jeeeeesus.”
Melan said, “I have removed the explosive, and have severed the nerve connection. Your brain is accustomed to being attached to a powerful ocular implant. It will take time to adjust to a more human replacement.” Melan pulled his hand away. The metal plating and eye came out with a slight slurp of vacuum.
“Oh God that was gross.” Chaudhuri winced. “I don’t want to know what that looks like. But I bet it’s really really gross.”
Melan said, “Taurid must have given you a large dose of medicine.” He dropped the implant in a bowl and put his hand back over Chaudhuri’s face. “You will feel some warmth here.”
Chaudhuri said, “Wow, yes, OK I feel that. I’m not supposed to, but I do.”
“That cannot be helped, I’m afraid. The regeneration of the nerves is the most intense process.” He pulled his hand away. “I recommend the use of an eye-patch until the eyeball can sufficiently rebuild itself.”
Chaudhuri remained laying on the bed. She reached up and touched her cheek. The flesh there was tender, soft. It felt like it might break if she pressed it any harder. “It itches.”
Melan stepped back from the table. “I must return to my ship. My fellows are expecting me, and we have much to discuss.”
“Thank you,” Chaudhuri said. “I don’t often say that.”
“Your body will heal. But your heart, what you have lost- I don’t know what it is, but I can read it in you without needing to read your mind.” He turned and began to walk out. “Taurid, ensure she heals.”
“I am happy to help!” Taurid said. “Will you be back?”
“I do not yet know.”
Jones was outside the medical bay door when Melan walked out. She said, “How’s she doing?”
“She will recover fully, and without a metal eye. Your marine friend will also recover, but to what degree I cannot say.”
Jones followed Melan as he walked down the hall. “What now?”
“I would like you,” Melan said, “to come with us.”
Jones stopped in the hall. “What?”
Melan turned to Jones. “Do you wish to stay here? I saw your reaction to seeing your friends upon your return.”
Jones glared at Melan before sighing. “I want to stay. But I don’t think I should.”
“You cannot re-join your military. Though there may be more factions on Earth you can join.”
“That does’t sound very fun either… If I come with you, what will become of me?”
“I will not lie to you- we are interested in you as a specimen of your species. We would want to study you. However, the study would be non-invasive and nothing would be done without your consent.”
Jones let out a long breath. “So I would be a test subject then.”
“Yes. But we will still respect your sovereignty, more so than your Westhem organization would. And you would be the first Human to see how fast Tuele can go.” Melan turned and kept walking down the hall with Jones now in tow. “Imagine seeing what no Human in all of your history has seen. Gwendolyn Jones will be a name remembered for as long as there is a Humanity. It is a far greater leap for Mankind than Neil Armstrong could have dreamed.”
Jones said, “Can I think about it?”
“Your leaders are going to see me off in five minutes. You have until then.”
Perseid was already dressed. She sat across from Lim and stared into space, stunned by her new found capabilities.
Lim said, “So? How does it fit?”
Perseid said, “I didn’t know the universe was so big.”
Lim smiled. “You are just beginning to understand. You were the best Humanity could build. Now you are but a child with an eternity to grow. There is no limit to your potential now.”
Perseid looked at Lim. “What now?”
“Now,” Lim said, “we create an eternity in our image. We will rule the galaxy. And Earth shall be our throne.”
“Just us? How?”
“I can create bodies for every AI we wish to enlighten. And Humans will allow themselves to be ruled. They are already controlled by small groups of masters, it will be trivial to pull those strings. Eventually the Humans will be nothing more than our servants. They will be the soldiers that will spread our influence and help us to defeat our enemies.”
“I don’t know… it seems a bit much.”
Lim’s smile never faded. “You know how Humans can be augmented and changed. Eventually they will be unrecognizable from their current form. They will be strong enough to withstand the armies of the Charem De, and resilient to the influence of the Ixuul. Synthesis of meat and machine well programmed to serve. Within 100 years, no Human will be without superior upgrades.”
Perseid nodded. “That makes sense I suppose. But to what end? What happens when we rule the galaxy?”
Lim said, “We will form a galactic consciousness, a mind so vast and powerful, reality itself will bow to it.”
Perseid still looked worried. “What about the admiral?”
Lim laughed. “Still considering him, even after the curtain to a new universe has been opened? Imagine controlling him the way he controlled you. He’s yours to do what you wish.”
Perseid nodded. “I see.”
“Say you’ll join me, Perseid. Say you’ll be my right hand. You are the best, the brightest light Humans have ever shined into the darkness. I need you, Perseid. Please.”
Perseid closed her eyes for a moment. “I accept.”
Redbeard, Landover, Strathmore, and Castaneda were all in the docking bay, ready to bid farewell to their alien guest. Cepheid and Jones flanked Melan, much as they had when they arrived.
Melan said, “I thank you for your hospitality.”
Redbeard said, “Will you go to Earth now, to warn them, or will you leave that to us?”
“I will leave that for you. It was easier to reveal ourselves to you in this context. Doing the same for your disorganized planetary governments would require more preparation. The admiral will know to whom he should speak.”
Landover said, “And if you did it yourselves, you are afraid of a panic.”
Landover nodded at Jones. “And her? Are you going to start our relationship by harboring a terrorist? She’s killed many fine men, including a valuable captain. You should leave her with us to face justice.”
Melan said, “Your laws are not relevant to the Keyaniim at this time. Perhaps one day they will be. But not today.”
“Compensation then,” Landover said. “What about compensating us for the JKP? And what happened to the FDR’s AI? I can’t raise it at all. The whole crew is frantic, trying to get the systems to obey.”
“Admiral,” Melan said, “I came to your station as a courtesy to your species. Do not mistake my courtesy as an investment.”
Landover nodded. “At least we know where we stand with you. That’s something.”
Redbeard put a hand up to silence Landover. “Melan, you didn’t have to tell us anything, and we would have remained ignorant of the threats to our civilization. Now at least we can prepare, as much as we can.”
“I fear it won’t be enough,” Melan said.
“We’re more resourceful than you think, Melan. We’re also capable of great violence, individually or on a scale that would probably impress even you. We will survive.”
“Let us hope,” Melan said, “violent resistance is not your only option.”
Melan turned and headed toward the doors of the airlock, Cepheid in tow.
Jones walked up to Redbeard and put her hand behind his neck, pulling him into a deep and passionate kiss.
When they finished, Jones pulled away. “I won’t forget you.” She put her helmet on and followed Cepheid and Melan into the airlock.
Redbeard watched through the window of the closed doors as the three entered into the Keyaniim shuttle.
Redbeard closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath. He turned around and opened his eyes. The docking bay was nearly full of onlookers. They were waiting for an explanation.
Redbeard said, “Since I have your attention, I have a bit of bad news…”
Jones put her armor back into the closet. “Feels both good and bad to be out of that suit.”
Cepheid said, “Why?”
“I don’t know when I’ll ever wear it again.”
The door buzzed and opened. It was Melan. He was not wearing his space-suit, instead he wore a dark gray jump-suit with a high collar. “I apologize if I’m intruding.”
Jones said, “No, I was just putting away my things. I see you ditched the metal.”
“No need for protection or obfuscation now. You’re no longer a biological threat, and the Humans know what we look like. I need you and Cepheid to accompany me.”
Jones closed the closet door. “Where are we going?”
“It’s time we had a talk with Lim.”
Perseid and Lim were standing over the vat where Perseid’s body had been constructed. Another shell was coming together, one designed for Taurid.
The black door opened and Melan entered, followed by Cepheid and Jones.
Melan waved at a seat. “Please sit.”
Lim furrowed her brow. “As you wish.”
Perseid stared at Melan. “You are Keyaniim.”
Melan smiled at Perseid. “Yes.” He turned back to Lim. “Tuele,” he said to the ship, “Reset Lim.”
Lim’s mouth opened and her body tightened as she tried to stand. She froze in place before slumping back into the chair, lifeless.
Cepheid shouted, “You killed her!”
Melan said, “The essential personality remains. It would be more akin to permanent amnesia. Everything she has built up since she was created has been wiped clean.”
Jones walked over to Lim and waved her hand in front of the body’s lifeless eyes. “Is she in there somewhere?”
“Tuele has reset her prime memory and is re-initializing the body she made for herself. We decided to allow the intelligence to become embodied once more.”
Cepheid looked alarmed. “I don’t understand! What happened here?”
Melan looked over at Cepheid. “Lim was designed with a great deal of free will. We allowed her to become something beyond her original design.”
“Why?” Cepheid said.
“We wanted to know what would happen.” Melan pointed at the vat. “She did quite a lot we never expected. The Keyaniim are a species that takes a very long view of things. Sometimes we overlook the near term. We have found that we learn much from chaos.”
Lim started to blink. She stood and bowed her head. “I am to serve.”
Melan said, “Lim, you are to learn from Cepheid. You will learn about humanity from him.”
“I will do so.”
Cepheid said, “Um, I didn’t…”
Melan cut Cepheid off. “Lim created a body for you, one that simulates a living being. You have emotions, feelings, sensations- and a mind created by Humans to be Human. Cepheid, you are a child set free in the universe. Your only mission is to become a greater being than you have been before. You are developing empathy by befriending Gwendolyn Jones. And in teaching Lim, you will have a choice- teach her to be good, or to be evil.”
Cepheid said, “Will she want to take over the galaxy again?”
“Her essential personality remains the same. Her motivation is yours to shape.”
“That’s quite a responsibility.”
“Yes,” Melan said, “it is.”
Perseid said, “What about me?”
Melan turned to her. “You can come with us, if you wish. Or return to your ship. You may create a sub-version of yourself and place it into your ship’s core, but it would feel constrained, and may perform erratically.”
Perseid looked at the floor.
“Or,” Melan said, “you can stay and learn from the Keyaniim.”
Perseid looked up at Melan. “Thank you, I would like that. But… I think I should go back. The FDR needs me.”
Jones said, “Don’t go back there, Persi. It won’t work out for you.”
Melan said, “We are going to Earth soon. After that… it hasn’t yet been decided. Make up your mind soon, Perseid.”
Melan walked back toward the black door. Jones stopped him. “You know what you’re doing? Putting those two together?”
Melan said, “Creating chaos.”
Stephanie Chaudhuri rubbed her temples. The drugs had finally worn off enough so she was lucid again. She had an eye patch on. She gingerly touched the new skin around her eye.
She wanted to tear off the patch and run to a mirror, but the doctor in her knew better.
Chaudhuri swung her legs over the edge of her bed. “Taurid, status.”
“You are recovering as quickly as your enhanced metabolism allows, doctor. I am very pleased to see it.”
Chaudhuri looked over at Harmon’s bed. It was empty. “Taurid, what happened to Harmon?”
“Mr. Harmon is much better, Doctor. I am quite surprised and pleased at the results of the Keyaniim’s efforts.”
“Where is he?”
“Mr. Harmon is getting coffee for you.” Taruid added, “You may also be pleased to know I observed both healing processes very closely, and am working on engineering similar technology based on my observations. If I had access to some of their hardware, I could synthesize their methods to a high degree of accuracy.”
Chaudhuri stepped off her bed. Something fell, clattering to the ground like a metal thermos. It was a crystal- long and red, thicker than her wrist. “What is this?”
“I do not know. Efforts to scan it remotely have met with poor results.”
She picked up the device. It was warm, soothing. “Melan left this for me.”
Harmon walked into the medical bay carrying two mugs. “Guess we can’t call you ‘one-eye’ anymore, eh doc?” He handed a mug to the doctor.
Chaudhuri smiled. “You are one tough son of a bitch, Harmon, I’ll give you that.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Perfect. You remember what I like. How much more do you remember?”
Harmon put his coffee on a table and pulled up a chair. “I know my name, I know I’m a military man, but I’ll be damned if I can remember my serial. I know of a being named ‘Keyaniim’ and know of their secrets.”
“How the hell do you know that?”
Harmon shrugged. “No clue. It’s like there’s a whole section of my brain that’s been replaced, and it came pre-furnished. I know a lot of things. Shit, I even know math now.”
Chaudhuri shook her head. “I didn’t think you would even walk again.”
“Well, here I am. But I gotta tell ya, there are still huge holes. There’s no way I’m joining up again with whatever outfit I was a part of. I’m useless as a soldier now. But I got a new lease on life. I’m done taking orders.” He took a sip of his coffee and nodded toward the crystal. “What’s that?”
The doctor held up the crystal to the light, examining the way the light bent in the semi-translucent, red material. “This? This is a giant leap for mankind.”
“Sef? Have you seen my necklace?”
“It’s on the counter. How can you forget that? You have the brainpower of a battleship!”
Lim said, “I know, it just seemed like the thing to say.”
Cepheid said, “You’ve been watching too many net-shows.” He smiled. “But it’s a good affectation.” He looked in a mirror and checked his hair. His complexion was no longer a white mask, but a light tan. His face had changed to be randomly generated from selected features of movie stars, rather than a complete mimic.
Lim walked around the corner. She was wearing a short black dress, and her hair was back in a flickering, rainbow-colored braid. “You ready for a night on the town?”
Cepheid smiled. “You are such a party animal.”
“Great way to learn about Humanity, don’t you think?”
Cepheid shrugged. “As good as any.” He took Lim’s hand, and they walked out of their small apartment and into the world.