Infinity Afterglow / Episode 23: Atemporal Reunion

Aboard the Odela, Shol has an atemporal reunion with his mentor, Ungent Draaf.

An epic space opera by Mark laporta

Aboard the Odela, Shol has a brief, atemporal reunion with his mentor, the distinguished Ungent Draaf. Ungent urges him to accept necessary risks and press on with his efforts to help defeat the Quishiks with all speed. In this episode of Infinity Afterglow, Shol takest the next step on the path to maturity. Read Infinity Afterglow from the beginning.

Back on the Odela, as it hurdled into deep space, Shol experienced a rare moment of tranquility. Alone with the serene logic of the ship’s powerful AI and the quiet, insistent logic of Yfeftriadrur’s circuitry diagrams, his normally agitated heart settled into a meditative state. Simultaneously, the heightened consciousness he attained through the pkaholul ring, had brought his mind to its most alert possible state..

After months of nervous starts and aggravated stops, Shol was finally able to develop the Ootray warrior androids with something approaching confidence. Still, his lack of experience with projects so complex held him to a slower pace than his youthful impatience could tolerate. Unlike anything he’d attempted before, building the androids required unrelenting effort — as he struggled to balance programming constraints against the limits of circuit design and the unforgiving demands of artificial intelligence theory. 

Thankfully, Yaldrint was always on hand, with encouragement and advice about practical matters that he’d never thought of. Where, for example, would Shol’s new android army be stored until it was “go time?” To answer that question, Yaldrint, at long last, make a detailed survey of the Odela’s specs. She discovered that the ship’s largely a-dimensional interior had many more bays than even she had assumed. 

The Grashardi AI also realized it was past time to determine the size of the android force Shol needed to create. Based on information she drew from conversations with San-ju nana, Plaandrur’s ten thousand war ships were divided into a main fleet and two support fleets:

NystrurOphaanlul AansOphaanlul Zaans
5000 ships3000 ships2000 ships
Command Ship (Plaandrur)3 Commanders2 Commanders
8 CommandersOversee 625 ships each6 SubCommanders, Oversee 450 ships each4 SubCommandersOversee 450 ships each

Both the Odela’s AI and Yaldrint agreed that Shol would need a force of approximately three thousand androids. Any larger and the strain on the Commander Android’s central processors would be too great, especially considering the Quishiks’ easy control of the local timeline. As powerful as Shol’s android warriors were, they were bound by Time as surely as any crewmember of the Jericho.

A small task force of seventy-two warriors would focus on the twenty-four ships, including Plaandrur’s, with a command function. The rest would be transmatted back and forth among the remaining ships by the Kadervax, as determined by the Commander Android. Next, between his expanded consciousness and operational help from Yaldrint, Shol gradually adapted the industrial-grade replicators within the Odela’s three automated self-repair bays to produce both the androids themselves and their deadly weapons in sufficient quantity. Yet it remained to be seen whether the Odela, working full tilt, could complete the task in time.

With a precisely defined goal to work toward, Shol felt the burden of his responsibilities lighten. Despite its unfamiliarity, the daunting task before him appeared more manageable. He made steady progress toward building the crucial first prototype android that set the pattern for all the rest. But as is common enough in a universe whose very essence is randomness, Shol’s equilibrium was eventually shattered by a stray sound. As he paused to stretch his slightly greenish arms back behind him, the chair’s frame squeaked — and triggered the release of a carefully repressed memory.

For it was in this chair, a little over a year before, that the wily Eldrinaj had rather spectacularly seduced him. That her actions were motivated by equal parts lust and pragmatism was typical of her. In Shol’s terms, their high-stakes embrace had been a revelation. Not even his nearly immediate betrayal by the Olfdranyi could quite mar the impact their love-making had had on his soul.

The one consequence he did regret was losing the sucherch. The Olfdranyi had stolen it from him before the Odela’sartificial dawn the following morning, then rocketed out of the Odela’s launch bay at perilous speed. The theft was hard for Shol to accept on its own — and he was ever more conscious of what else he’d lost besides his innocent trust. The sucherch, an ancient device built in the same early era of the Ootray reign as the pkaholul ring, functioned like a small scale Probability Reader — that might have gone a long way toward predicting the Quishiks’ next move

Unbidden, the pkaholul ring’s telepathic voice piped up with a warning.

Mapping sucherch functionality onto this unit would severely impair overall performance.

Hadn’t even thought of that,” Shol muttered into his hands.

Tormented by his memory of Eldrinaj, he tossed aside his better judgement and stretched his augmented mind out into space-time to find her. Soon enough, a shadow of her mental signature crossed over the edge of his consciousness. 

By now, Shol had enough experience with the ring to conceal his presence from anyone he chose to observe. Though he was tempted to tease her consciousness with a stray memory, he knew there was far more to gain from staying hidden. As he perceived through his expanded consciousness, whatever Eldrinaj was up to, it involved an unfamiliar technology of great power. All at once, the Krezovic teenager felt the peculiar buzzing sensation that had become so familiar:

Energy signature reminiscent of past Skryntali technologies, if overlaid with circuitry of more recent design.

Shol was grateful for the ring’s intrusion. It was exactly what he needed to put the past behind him again.

“Looks like it’s powered up in a weird kinda way,” he said. 

His hours in the Odela’s robotics lab had given him a rough grounding in the basics of engineering. He’d developed an intuitive grasp of concepts he would’ve found incomprehensible the year before.

The device draws energy from several simultaneous sources, across a large span of spacetime.

Unlike any conventional power train, the Kadervax engine wasn’t connected to a single geographic location. Its energy source was atemporal, hence perpetually self-renewing. Instead of needing, in Warvhex’s words, a “spare sun,” it used spacetime itself as an immense interstellar battery.

“Hard to mess with a machine like that,” said Shol, “even for the Quishiks.” 

What, he wondered, was Eldrinaj doing with it? His curiosity unbearable, the young Krezovic expanded his consciousness a bit further and heard the Olfdranyi talking to … no, it couldn’t be.

“Really, Captain Mars,” Eldrinaj was saying, “I don’t see that you have another option — unless you’ve decided you enjoythe simple life.” 

Exhausted by the strain of maintaining such a tightly focused connection over several hundred light years, Shol “powered down” and realigned his consciousness.

“Friend Shol,” came Yaldrint’s voice over the Odela’s intercom. “Your heart rate and encephalographic readings are significantly above normal.”

“Taking a break now,” said Shol. 

“If I may,” said Yaldrint, “I recommend a hearty meal and an extended period of rest.”

Shol smiled. This, he realized, must be what was it like to have parents and a family to watch out for him. How different might his life have been, he wondered, if his only home hadn’t been the street, and his single parent a cynical crime boss? Yet on his way to the maglev lift that led to the Odela’s well-appointed mess hall, his perspective shifted.

Where would I be now? he asked himself. Probably hiding from the Quishiks on a ‘tectorate colony — or already dead.

The lift doors opened onto the ship’s immaculate galley, where food replicators far in advance of anything the humans or the Grashardi had developed stood ready to fill his yawning belly. In this respect, Yaldrint’s analysis of his condition had been incomplete. Using the pkaholul ring to spy on Eldrinaj had depleted his protein reserves at an alarming rate.

Yet ravenous as he was, his meal preparations came to an abrupt halt when he noticed an odd shimmering in the air, three meters to his left.

“Careful not to overtax yourself,” said a familiar voice.

“Har Draaf!” said Shol.

A moment later, he was looking the distinguished crustacean right in the eyestalks. 

“Sorry to startle you, friend Shol,” said Ungent. “My current state makes decorum harder to achieve.”

“So come back,” said Shol.

“Not yet,” said Ungent, “there’s still one more task on my list. Besides, you’re managing fine on your own.”

Shol rested his tired frame on the nearest galley counter.

“’Cept I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “Can’t you, like, come back sooner?”

The holographic projection of Ungent, if that’s what it was, became pixelated before settling back to normal.

“Not yet,” he said. “And you must prepare yourself for the fact that when I do, we may not have more than a brief time together.”

“You sick?” asked Shol. “Is that it? Tell me. This ring can do all kinds of quelx. I might be able to….”

“Please,” said Ungent. “You have better things to do with that device than save a worn-out idiot like me.”

“Come on, Har Draaf,” said Shol. “Everybody wants you back.” 

Ungent clapped a surprisingly solid hand on Shol’s angular shoulder.

“And they will have me,” he said, “when the time is aligned. Know that the shadow of Probability is cast, and you must focus on the here and now. Where are you heading?”

“Dunno,” said Shol. “Was thinking I’d go see Yfeftriadrur for tips about these androids I’m making.”

“Don’t bother,” said Ungent. “He can’t be moved to help you. He told us on Aytronja that he hadn’t released his own army because he feared he couldn’t control it. The truth is, he could never bring himself, even after five thousand cycles, to break the Ootray code.”

Shol banged a slick greenish fist onto the counter before him.

“Can’t figure it out!” he said. “That old Ootray would rather have a billion dead colonists than one hungry Quishik.”

“Think of Yfeftriadrur like any other natural phenomenon,” said Ungent. “Like water: It’s a waste of time to tell him he’s all wet.”

Shol’s mouth curled up into a lopsided smile.

“Yeah, guess so,” he said. “And Eldrinaj….”

“I need not caution you about her,” said Ungent. “But getting control of the Kadervax is essential to defeating the Quishiks.”

“Heard her talking to Captain Mars a minute ago,” said Shol. “Could swear he was stuck in another, like, time zone. You think he’d help?”

Ungent sighed.

“With Harlan, one never knows,” he said. “My hope is that the Quishik crisis is one thing that merges everybody’s selfish interest into a common goal.”

“Feel better if I didn’t have to count on anybody but myself,” said Shol.

“Friend Shol, listen carefully,” said Ungent. “Relying on others is the only way to save yourself and everyone you care about. I must go.”

Shol made a vain attempt to grab the distinguished crustacean’s incorporeal arm.

“Wait, Har Draaf,” he said. “Tell me when you’re coming back.”

“You’ll know through the pkaholul ring when I return,” said Ungent. “By then, you’ll also know what must be.”

Shol’s black eyes squeezed shut, as the one living being he trusted faded away like a dying campfire.

Odela,” he said, “Zyffer 3, and like, cover your tracks.”

“Friend Shol,” said Yaldrint, who stood in the galley’s entryway. “If I may, are you sure that’s advisable?”

“Har Draaf would say ‘it must be,’ ” said Shol. “Did he talk to you, too?”

“I exist to serve,” said Yaldrint. “I have no expectation that Har Draaf will do anything except what is necessary to accomplish his goal.”

“Think he owed you a visit,” said Shol.

“Time is short,” said the Grashardi AI. “Use it to recover your strength and consolidate your plans. As always, I am here to assist you.”

“But….” said Shol.

“Time is short,” said Yaldrint. 

She walked out of the mess hall and left the young Krezovic alone with his gnawing hunger. And yet, as Mlelodrur might have noticed if she were onboard, the gynoid’s gait was ever so slightly less energetic than usual.

^^^

This concludes Episode 23: Atemporal Reunion. A new episode of Infinity Afterglow appears every Saturday. Read Episode 24 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: Kalyee Srithnam

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