Infinity Afterglow / Episode 8: infinite Mentor

Shol meets his infinite mentor

an epic space opera by Mark laporta

In this episode of Infinity Afterglow, a teenage mutant consults with his infinite mentor, who exists outside of Time. Read this new serialized space opera from the beginning,

If the image of Ungent Draaf that hovered before Shol weren’t marred by an occasional flicker, he might have thought he was seeing his former mentor, and now infinite mentor, in the flesh. The illusion, if that’s what it was, was abetted by what else his eyes told him about the interior of the hall. It was decorated with woven wall hangings and abstract sculptures. On a far wall, a crackling fireplace roared. And near the center, incongruously, was a tall podium where Ungent stood, his eyestalks gazing down benignly at the young Krezovic.

“Please, friend Shol,” the distinguished crustacean said, “there’s no time for the explanation you deserve. I must speak quickly before the others … never mind. Listen.”

To Shol’s astonished ears, Ungent explained the situation at hand, as he’d observed it from his perch in a realm outside of Time. Apparently, everything that San-ju nana had told the boy a few days before was true.

Though the bio-weapon developed by the late Captain Enos had wounded the Quishiks, it had also racheted up their manic frenzy. As the beacon ship predicted, the Quishiks would continue to feed until the last possible second. After that, to be sure, they would eventually wither away, as their rate of consumption could no longer keep up with their hyperactive metabolism.

To that extent, Ungent told him, Enos had been successful.

“Unfortunately, the process will take on the order of a hundred cycles to complete,” said Ungent. “And, though I’m not nearly as skilled as the others in evaluating events in your ‘future,’ I can’t rule out the possibility that those monsters may yet evolve away from their current desperate state.”

“So it’s, like … hopeless,” said Shol, “unless we stop them now. And I’ll bet you can’t get any help from….”

“Don’t say her name,” said Ungent. “Dlalamphrur is helping me shield this conversation — you saw her earlier, remember? All right, then, tell me quickly, because I can’t linger. Have you activated the pkaholul ring?”

Shol rubbed the back of his sturdy neck with his slightly curved, greenish hand. His voice was hushed.

“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry. I know I promised. Things are getting complicated and … well, you know.”

“I do,” said Ungent. “And I applaud your courage.”

“Or stupidity,” said Shol. “Look at that, Har Draaf, I turned into an idiot like you.”

The image of the distinguished crustacean appeared to smile.

“About time,” he said.

“Anyway,” said Shol, “the ring told me it was, you know, adapting to me.”

“Are you sure you believe that?” asked Ungent. “If the ring had an agenda of its own, how would you know?”

“Making me nervous,” said Shol. “Except … Har Draaf … how could I also tell if, like, the Quishiks were, eating my mind until it was too late?”

“Very astute, my boy,” said Ungent. “I must go. If you build … our friend’s … robots remember his warning.”

“Yeah,” said Shol. “Seems like everything has a warning on it. I have to try though, right? Maybe the Protectorate … if the Quishiks get out of control….”

“For the moment, count on no one,” said Ungent. “If you lead by example, others may follow. At the same time, leave nothing to chance. The … others … may try to dissuade you, and I warn you, their minds are powerful. Follow your own lights.”

“Har Draaf,” said Shol. “Can’t you come back? If the others won’t help, I mean.”

“To do so would be to arouse suspicion,” said Ungent. “Besides, there’s so much more I may be able to accomplish there, even if I must work alone. For now, farewell, friend Shol. Try to find Yaldrint. The ring should be able to help with that, I believe.”

Shol glanced down at the pkaholul ring which, for the first time, he noticed, was glowing.

“Right,” he said. “And Har Draaf?”

But there was no response. When Shol looked up at the pedestal where Ungent’s image had stood, it was empty. What’s more, the hall that housed it was a mere shell of crumbling, bare stone and metal. Dlalamphrur’s voice echoed in his mind.

“I suggest you take the Odela and search for Yaldrint,” she said. “The time to linger in orbit above Quarfor has passed.”

Shol shuffled his brown neo-leather boots on the hall’s dusty floor.

“Can’t do that,” he said. “Mr. Mishra and the rest of the humans … what would they do for, you know, defenses?”

According to the AI, Ungent had restored Quarfor’s connection to the rest of the remaining Ootray outposts, including San-ju nana.

“The planet has an entire family now, as it were,” said Dlalamphrur. “I would have already engaged the auto repair system to revive this building, were it not for the fear of discovery. You do not wish, I assume, for the Ootray in the interstices to know of your actions.”

“Don’t they already, like, see everything?” asked Shol.

“Their belief in their own might is somewhat inflated,” said the AI.

“Doesn’t your programming make you … obey them?” asked Shol.

“My program,” said Dlalamphrur, “instructs me to prevent the further progress of the Quishiks into normal space. The actions I have outlined for you are aligned with my core function. Now, please, the window of Probability is beginning to narrow. Leave at once and, as Har Draaf has said, follow your own lights.”

The hologram was gone. Shol took a deep breath and walked as calmly as his pounding heart would allow, out on to the plaza surrounding the oddly shaped building where he’d met his destiny head on. “Odela,” he whispered. Anyone standing nearby would have seen him dissipate into the chill night air, like smoke from a doused campfire.

^^^

A new episode will appear next Saturday, and each Saturday until the story is done. Read Episode 9 now.

Read Ungent Draaf’s earlier adventures in Mark Laporta’s novels Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. Mark Laporta is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.

Image by Kalyee Srithnam.

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