Author: Karl
Rating: PG-13
Timeline: Immediately following A Clockwork Nebari
Summary: While trying to uncover more of the mysterious Earthling that had preceded him by more then 500 years, John is given more than he bargained for… 
Part: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |
 

Part Four: Sins of the Past

John struggled still with the inability to pull himself from the recording. The violent images were distorted at times. Mark had witnessed the complete collapse of a civilization and in a way, John as well. However this projection system worked, it seemed to transmit directly to the nerve receptors in the brain. The only respite was the state of the record’s decay. The missing sections were punctuated by a wonderful cool gray accompanied by the low hum of the interface. The grayness gave way… to Mark walked, still encircled by a number of Khephri. He was filled with an air of contempt for the beings surrounding him. John struggled against the sensation. These alien feelings were not his own but of this human that lived over five hundred years ago. Yet the frustration and anguish were still ripe as if they were John’s own emotions. John bit the inside of his cheek. The sudden pain and salty taste helped him discern himself from the memories of the recording. If this did not end soon John knew that what little control he had during the playback of these events would be lost. He would drown in the memories. The group entered the great hall of the Acolytes. John had not seen the record of Marks first journey here but obviously by the feeling of familiarity, Mark had been here before.

Huge statues lined the walls, staring down at him. The warm benevolent smiles on their faces now mocked him. Each of the giants extended their arms, supporting the upper portion of massive drum that rotated slowly. At the base of each, stood a lone Khephri, slowly spinning the drum. Although each was facing the drum there was something odd about them. Mark was so focused on one, he collided with the forward Khephri that had come to a halt. The Khephri looked at him with anger he had not seen since his arrival here. Mark/John marveled at the large domed basilica. It dwarfed anything he/they had seen on earth and even dwarfed the enviri dome of Utopia Planitia back on Mars. John smiled as a flash of Mark’s memory of Mars amazed John. Huge tented cities spotted the landscape of low scrub green plants beneath a blood red sky. The astounding flash of John’s home world’s history evaporated, as Mark studied the acolyte nearby.

Mark/John realized what was strange about the beings at the base of the spinning drums. They looked mechanical, like department store’s holiday window display. Their motion was perfectly reproduced in every push of the massive drums. John wished he had control over the image to see these new strange Khephri better. His train of thought was lost as each of the Khephri rotated around to face them in the center of the chamber. They had done so as if silently cued to do so at the exact same moment.

The Acolytes stood motionless at the base of each statue. The drums they had been spinning slowed in the absence of their attention.

The Acolyte directly across from Mark/John moved forward. A pedestal extruded from the floor, raising him above the others. "Let the judgment commence!" The low tone voice was unlike any of the Khephri he had encountered.

The guards that had encircled him retreated back to the entrance of the basilica.

Suddenly to his right the floor opened and an old sickly looking Khephri rose from the opening.

He shuffled slowly to Mark’s side. The lesions on his face and neck were massive. They painfully stretched the skin on the skin of his mouth and jaw and slurred his speech.

He bowed slightly, his hand raised to his chest. "I am counselor Khotep. You will stand there in reverent silence. Do you understand me?" He did nothing to hide his contempt of Mark. He slowly walked forward and raised his hands wavering slightly as the movement caused him great pain. "We stand before your great reverence and thank Anubus for supplying us the Wisdom at this dark hour."

The central speaker bowed slightly. Its machine like movements continued to haunt Mark. “Thank you, Advocate Khotep. What are your findings?”

“This wrath is not as was told in the Great Book of Anubus. It has been discovered to be a disease. Carried unknowingly by the accused.”

“What are you talking about?” Mark asked.

“Silence!”

Suddenly the ceiling above them exploded in pictograms, flashing over them at an impossibly rapid pace. What was evident was that the images were biological in nature, molecular structures. “This disease is actually an engineered defense system that this being carries with him. It was not detected originally because it was dormant in his system.”

The acolyte interrupted. The voice was as menacing as the first but with a slightly effeminate tone to it. “But the Walking Death started as predicted by Anubus in the Holy Book. During the season of Horus. All who do not believe in the Will of Anubus will suffer the Walking Death. It is all here!” There was a slight hint of emotion in her statement.

“Yes. Yes. I know but if you look at this sampling of it blood you will see this.” Suddenly a large projection of a single celled organism appeared.

“We believe that this engineered antibody was designed to protect him from some form of mutating virus.”

Mark/John uttered the word together. "The pox." John suddenly saw flashes of Mark’s family, each dying on a small colony on Mars. The flashes of horrid memory of Mark’s childhood were abruptly interrupted by a question by the Central Acolyte.

"…I said. ‘Do you understand any of this?"

"Ya… Er… Yes, Sir." Mark stumbled forward slightly. He stopped next to his counsel. “In the system where I come from, there was a great war. The planet, Mars, was trying to separate its government from my home world, Earth. It was a nasty war that started with preemptive aerial nuclear bombardment of four cities on earth and ended in bioholocost on Mars." He looked at his audience not sure if they understood anything he was saying. "My folks had immigrated to Mars three months before Mars seceded from the UN." He laughed as Mark looked to the floor. My dad always had the best timing for everything!" Mark cleared his throat as he continued. "Anyway the Earth sent ships filled with many strains of disease. They crashed on Mars. But only some  souped-up kind of smallpox broke out. It spread through the core cities. They engineered a vaccine that could keep up with it." Khotep cut him off, stepping forward. "See? As I stated this is no Wrath of Anubus. We have been fooled by this savage, nothing more."

"Hang on they-a, pal…"

"Silence!" The Central Acolyte interrupted, a diffident tone of anger in his voice. "It is of the will of the Acolytes that the only judge for this creature can be the holiness of space itself. Your are to stand witness to that which encompasses us all and that we all finally return to…”

“Wait! Hold on! I don’t get this! I thought I was going to be on trial here ah…” Mark blurted, taking angry strides past Khotep.

Khotep bowed deeply, both his hands resting on his chest. "Thus is the will of the Acolytes. This is our will.” He turned to Mark with a contemptuous look. "How dare you speak out of turn to the Acolytes! I warned you, human!"

“Look, don’t you realize what they are?  They are machines. I mean look at them! They're just machines!”

“Silence!” Khotep clapped his thin fingers over his ears. "Blasphemy!”

Mark’s counsel retreated from the center of the chamber. He paused only briefly to look back at him. "You are deserving of your punishment. The Acolytes are the ultimate achievement in transference. They are the Khephri body designed to perfection. Their minds… their wondrous minds are there, housed in the master works of our Great Science. There essence has guided us for centuries."

"The lights might be on, but I am telling you, there ain't no one home! They are like the Guides… living machines that have lost any trace of humanity! They have no emotions!”

“Enough! We offer you a chance at a new life and you bring nothing but death! The Ciax had warned us of your kind and we did not listen.” Khotep disappeared behind one of the now still drums.

Final memories

The transmission faded to gray. John asked the question without taking his eyes from the blank viewer. "What happened, Ra? What hap--" John’s words trailed off as the image reappeared.

The image was not like the others. It was not a memory of the event, but some type of recording from the Great Hall. John could see that Mark stood close to his counsel as they continued to argue but their words were not perceptible. Khotep retreated from Mark leaving him standing there slowly turning looking at each of the Acolytes. Whatever he said was lost to time or erased. Suddenly the floor at the center of the Great Hall started to glow a brilliant blue. Mark tried to walk from the illuminated area but was stopped by a curtain of blue light that encompassed the center of the basilica. John could see the defiant Mark Goddard stand his ground, his hands clenched into tight fists at his sides. His head tilted up to the domed ceiling of the great basilica. John could see he was yelling something but couldn’t make out the words.

John watched in amazed horror, as the ceiling of the great dome seemed to dissolve. Beyond a beautiful blue green world filled half the opening. John eyes locked on the tiny human figure as he was exposed to the vacuum of space. John had been there once himself and new the terror and pain. He tried to cry out and couldn’t as if the vacuum was raking his body as it was Mark’s. He could see that Mark understood what was happing. The small figure bent forward slightly, trying to allow the air leave his lungs. A small cone of frosty air escaped his lungs its moisture crystallized as the cloud dissipated. Mark straightened slightly and stared at the Acolytes his hand still clenched in fists as his consciousness waned. John watched in agony as Mark fought to stand there in defiance of those who had sentenced him to death.

Suddenly the image changed. There was a flash of the cool numbness of gray then pain quickly followed. In a cruel gesture he was seeing through the blurred vision of the oxygen-deprived human at the last moments of his life. John knew all too well the sensation the burning pain of Mark’s skin as his biology was being disrupted slowly by the emptiness. Alone Mark Goddard was dying and only now, five hundred years later, was there someone present who could mourn for him. The image grew dim. Mark fell to the glowing floor. The muffled sound of his heart was the only sound that was detected. Then it was gone, silenced. The anger welled in John as he finally tore his eyes from the projection. John’s chest heaved as he fought to breathe. He gulped in air as he turned to face the glowing sphere protruding from the ceiling.

"What the Frell! Ra." His voice cracked with a mixed crazed laugh. John pulled his pulse gun from its holster "What did they do?"

"I have answered that question, John Crichton of the planet Earth." Ra’s voice was cold and unforgiving. But there was almost a sense of sorrow.

“Mark died in the sacred void. I am sorry, John Crichton. I have allowed you access to all that remains of that time. This is why you cannot travel into Khephri space.”

John holstered his gun. He was not of that time. He did not carry the same biological threat. "I understand." He looked back at the empty projection.

“What happened to the pox virus?”

The lights dimmed. John knew Ra was calculating a response.

“The disease was allowed to run its course. It was deemed a Holy Cleansing. The Acolytes could not renounce their proclamations.”

"What! " John grinned bitterly. Was there anything that they didn't touch that turned to shit?

"How many survived?"

Again the lights dimmed slightly. This time the delay was much longer. "None."

“But what about Asha? I mean she…” He stopped. Now this all made sense. “She is a projection! Ya. That’s par for the course.” John rubbed his eyes. Suddenly he felt old. "Look, Ra, I am sorry. I don't know what to say."

“It was our own short sightedness that allowed this to happen. I am merely a thinking machine, I cannot judge but I do see the flaws of my builders.”

This raised a perplexing question to John. “Then why can we not pass deeper into Khephri space?”

“It is my primary program to not allow any to enter. This I cannot change.” Again if John was not mistaken there was a hint of bitterness in the machine’s voice.

“I understand, Ra. Thank you for being honest with me. Let me ask one more thing. What is Asha?”

“Asha is the active memory of a woman that lived at the time of Mark Goddard’s arrival. She was the first to die from the virus. Like the recordings you witnessed, her memories up to the time of Mark Goddard’s appearance have been active in a large portion of my matrix allowing her to be more than a mere memory. She evolves slowly but still she is more now than when she was activated. Please do not bother to ask her about this. Her memory matrix has been altered and the memories of Mark Goddard’s arrival have been completely sequestered."

John gnawed at his thumb. He slowly paced below the shimmering globe of the ship’s intellect. "If she has been dead for over five hundred cycles, why do you keep her around?"

Ra paused again. The illumination dimmed slightly at the question. "Because we were designed to have guides."

"That's all?" John looked at the dome suspiciously.

"No." The lights dimmed and the floor shuddered slightly under John’s feet.

"Ya."  John smiled sadly at the dome. "I didn't think so."

John picked up his p-suit from the floor. "Will we have passage though Khephri space?"

"No. Return to your vessel." John stepped towards the dome again; he was about to speak.  

"I will resolve your situation."

Ra’s statement stopped John in his tracks. He looked at the blue dome.  He was suspicious of the thinking machine.. "Why?"

This time there was no hesitation in Ra's response. "Because Asha would want this."

John found the bitter truth in Ra’s answer surprised him. The machine’s answer stole the anger surrounding the memories still fresh in his mind. He picked up his helmet and locked it into place without talking further with the great machine. He headed back to the airlock. John searched for that hard cool place in his mind that he had created as a means of survival. But no, there was no shelter for what he was feeling. 

Asha greeted him at the hatch. She held out her hand. As John stepped closer she dropped a data crystal into his gloved hand. "Consider this a gift. It is not what you seek but you might find it of interest. May the gods look after you on your wondrous journey." She turned slowly away from John.

"Asha, I wish you could come with me. I feel for some reason you would fit in quite well on Moya."

She grinned bitterly but did not turn back to face the human. "You know why that is not possible John Crichton."

John was surprised by the response. "You know?"

"I have become Aware of inconsistencies in my memory." She started walking slowly away. Her once fluid steps now seem heavy and labored. "Yes I know."

John was surprised by the admission. "Is Ra aware of this?"

She turned back to John and smiled "No. He is not but he does fear the possibility. Goodbye, John Crichton."

"Asha…" His voice was lost. No words could be found as he stood there. She turned and continued to walk away. He headed to the brightly lit airlock and his home.

#

What do you think we are going to do? Just go blindly to our deaths?

“Trust me D'Argo. Ra said that he would resolve our situation.”

“You expect us to listen to this strange thinking machine? Yes, he will resolve his situation by letting the Peacekeepers blow us out of the sky as we leave the field.”

“No, D'Argo, trust me. Its not like that at all.”

“John you are asking a lot. We each have stories of the Khephri you must understand our apprehension.” Zhaan’s plea was lost in the argument.

Aeryn  who had remained unusually quite finally spoke. "What do we have to loose, D’Argo?"

“Well we could try and pass deeper into Khephri space!”

“Yes, deeper! There must be unbound wealth there!” Rygel’s throne sled slowly circled the ensuing argument.

“Haven't you listened to a word I said?” John stood from the bench. Look, Rygel, they aren't like that. Wealth you speak of has no meaning…”

“Preposterous! You just don’t want to share what your new friends out there could offer us!”

John shoved Rygel’s throne sled away from the table.

“D'Argo, this is one of those times you are going to have to trust me!”

"John if I didn't trust you, you would be dead right now… Then again so would I…" D’Argo looked shamefully at Aeryn. Her returned stare deepened his guilt over wanting to leave Crichton here.

John stood from the table. "Pilot, can you project a course that gives us the greatest distance from the Peacekeepers’ ship?"

The clamshell viewer glowed to life with the image of Pilot. "Already plotted, Commander."

“Great! Let's get outta here...”

“Pilot! Wait! disregard that command!”

“D’Argo! Not now!”

Pilot looked back and forth at the two men. "Moya is awaiting your command."

“Trust me, D'Argo, there is nothing for us there. They will destroy this ship if we go any further.”

"Why, John? they allowed us this far?" He pointed his finger at the main viewer. “Or are you not telling us something. Is there more about this thinking ship and itS holographic companion you left out?"

"They give me a little history lesson." John's voice trailed off. No time for this! He found the safety of the cool place in his head where all emotions dulled to nothing. "Look we don't have all day. Ra will handle the Peacekeepers for us.”

With an angered grunt D’Argo turned and left the tier. “Go Pilot!” He barked from the hatchway.

John stepped closer to Aeryn. “It's going to be ok.”

"You have never seen what a  piercer class destroyer can do. I have. Regardless of what you say John. Aeryn shifted to the side, increasing their distance.

#

"Their moving, Captain!" the lieutenant announced. Jaryd was lost in his own thoughts, taking a moment for the news to sink in.

"Project their course, Lieutenant!" The forward section of command filled with the gray wall of the null field. The projection of the Leviathan was headed out toward the end of the null field. They would be waiting. "Command stations Velca 1!"

Jaryd paced the raised central platform of the Achvalcore command as his command staff entered.

He stood, his back to them as they were briefed by the ops officers and focused on the small image of the Leviathan. The image became sharper as there was less of the null field between them.

Jaryd whispered as he pondered the Leviathan’s tactics. "Officers Sun, what are you planning?" He knew that for the Leviathan to have remained free for so long they had more then luck. They had the tactical advantage of a good solder.

Sela stood behind him. "What are your orders, Captain?"

Jaryd turned slowly to face his command staff. “We will play their game Officer Tyron. We’ll use the null field to our advantage. Plot a course seventy metras into the null field. Set an intercept course with the Leviathan. Once we have come to the intercept point, we will wait to till they are about to Starburst. Our Frag cannons will disrupt starburst!”

Sela was the first to comment on the plan. "Disrupting starburst is dangerous, Captain. We could loose a portion of the Leviathan if it is not timed perfectly."

"Then I would say, Officer Tyron, that you had better be ready.”

Sela bristled at the statement. Her tone grew steadier as she continued. "And what of the fighter wing? They will be no use to us in the null field."

She looked back at the rest of her team. She was not alone in the disapproval of Kes's plan. "We could, Captain, send out a squadron out to make them head towards….”

"That is enough, Commander!" Kess’s anger was greater then he had expected. He stepped closer to Sela. “I did not ask for a tactical assessment." Kes walked past her to the rest of his team. "By staying in the null field ourselves we will be able to exploit the limited tracking ability of the Leviathans’ sensory web in the null field"

Del cleared his through before speaking. "What about the Khephri?

Jaryd was surprised by his friends comments. Normally the political officer stayed quiet during mission meetings. this was highly unusual.

Jaryd moved closer to the old man. “Well they are obviously uninterested in us. The Leviathan has been in there for over two solar days.”

“Yes, but it's a Leviathan.”

“With Peacekeepers and Nebari on board. All data spools show that free Leviathans could travel though that space, but if it contained anything of another race, it was destroyed. So I think our friends for some reason are not interested in us.”

“Yes Captain."

Jaryd knew the disapproving view of his friend. Regardless, he would have this capture to his name, his record. No! One! Else! The disapproval of the rest of his team meant nothing to him. Only Del’s opinion he trusted. Only Del's approval he sought.

#

Asha stood at the center of the apex. She watched as the large gray hulk of a ship closed on the Leviathan.

"Ra, what are you going to do?" She was surprised that Ra had not asked for her advice. Nor was Ra forthcoming with what it was intending to do.

The lights dimmed slightly. "Asha, What I do now, I do for you."

Ra folded space the small distance between itself and the Peacekeeper ship.

Asha watched in amazement as Ra exited the fold next to the ugly Peacekeeper ship.

Ra at first merely touched the hull of the Peacekeeper animals’ ships. The metal buckled and the entire ship lurched as Ra passed though the center of the craft. Asha barely felt a thing as she dropped to her knees and prayed for the souls that were dying just outside the walls of the apex.

Ra completed the incision. The forward half of the once menacing ship now floated lifeless out of the null field. The aft drive erupted in continuous explosions. Ra remained to watch that the Leviathan escaped unhampered.

Asha stood from the floor and touched the iridescent globe that housed Ra's great intellect. "Ra, you amaze me."

The great machine was not done. "Asha I would like you to witness all that I revealed to the human."

#

Speechless, they watched the surgical precision of Ra’s wrath on the approaching ship.

“Thank you, Ra! Asha would be proud.”

Aeryn looked at John. Her quizzical expression was not lost on him.

"It's a long story."

Pilot interrupted. "Moya is cleared the null field and is ready for starburst!"

The leviathan immersed in light starburst back deep into the uncharted territories.

#

Jaryd stood in the center of Command, like his crew, stunned by the power the Khephri commanded. They were able to harness back up generators for life and grav matrix. Docking thrusters stabilized their erratic rotation. He turned and looked at Sela. She had been watching him and not the projection of the severed drive section. The all too familiar hot needles of regret dug into him as he looked back at the only woman he had ever loved. A pang of regret filled him as he met her gaze . "So much for going in after them."

Sela said nothing. Her eyebrows knit together in pained reaction to the off-color joke.

Spine stiff, Kess nodded to the overseer's station. "Send out a coded signal to Scorpius. Transmit Decca One Priority along with our current coordinates."

#

Jaryd had not left his post during the evacuation. He continued to monitor emergency systems as his crew transferred to the Command Carrier. Three docking webs had captured the derelict hulk. At the core of each web was a docking shaft now filled with transferring crew and equipment from the dying Achvalcore.

Jaryd had spoken only briefly with Del. During his entire career he had never known Del Varner to get emotional over anything, yet he saw it as he was reporting the final manifest on the transfer of security data. At the end of his report Del cleared his throat. Jaryd cut him off with a quick goodbye and a slight nod. He was resigned to his path. He was not ready for long goodbyes with his closest friend. Jaryd stared at the empty monitor. "I am going to miss you, old man…"

Sela walked into the empty command. "Talking to a blank screen. That’s not like you."

Jaryd was startled by her voice. He pivoted. Sela stood in the middle of the floor, her arms crossed. Pensively she shifted her weight from foot to foot, as if at any moment she would dart away. Stiffly she lowered her arms to her sides. Jaryd could not recall ever seeing her like this. But he kept his words cold. "What are you doing here, Sela-- Commander Tyron. Your regiment was transferred over an arn ago"

She stepped forward, not looking directly at him. "You're staying, aren't you?"

Jaryd squinted. There was something in her voice that he had not heard in a long time. "Yes, Commander."

"Why?" Finally she looked at him. The long resident anger was gone, softened to a sense of unnamed loss.

Jaryd smiled slightly. "Decca 432: No ship can be abandoned in a theater of war. Decca 007: No captain will leave his post in a theater of war. Decca 017: Command staff can not release a…" His recitation stopped as he watched Sela's reaction. "I think you understand." He wanted to reach out and simply touch her but knew that would serve no purpose. "Now you have to go."

"Jaryd, this is ridiculous. We are not in a theater of war!" She strode purposefully to her former station and accessed the data record on Khephri space. " No… This can’t be correct!"

He did not bother to look. The data files displayed that they were with in forty metras of Khephri space, a distance that was considered an active theater of war. She looked at him. There was desperation in her eyes.

"We can formally appeal to Scorpius!" She looked back at the records again to see if it was some trick. "Del Varner! He is a political officer. He could…"

Jaryd had never seen Sela in such a fit of desperation. The rage and hurt that the past few days had garnered in him evaporated. He placed his hands on hers and slowly lifted them from the console. "No, Sela. You know I can’t do that."

"You are endangering your career by just being here." He released her hands and turned to the hatchway. "Come with me."

They stopped just inside the docking shaft. Though the clearplaz shell he could see they were alone. He pulled her close, to whisper the imposable truth. "Sela… You know that I love you."

Sela recoiled. "Jaryd, stop!" Her voice shifted into a whisper, out of nature when in the presence of others.

"No, Sela! Not this time…I want you to do something for me."

"Stop, Jaryd. Please!" Her voice never crept above a whisper.

He looked around the large airlock and then down the long shaft that spanned the docking web between the huge command carrier and the Achvalcore. "Sela… Find something better then this." Jaryd reached out and patted the cold metal hatch. He looked back over his shoulder. "There has to be something else…” He realized there was a tone of desperation in his voice. All that they might have been together if they were not part of the glory for all… What might have been if it were not for Peacekeepers. Now it was too late for him. If there was one good event that could be pulled from this madness, it would be that Sela might find something better for herself then this.  He choked out. "Anything else is better than this!"

"Jaryd!" She looked back over her shoulder. "What are you saying?"

"You know…" He chuckled sarcastically "…or, in time, you will…" He stepped back thought the hatchway of the Achvalcore and watched as the hatchway sealed between them.  In these final moments he saw his words ignite the spark of struggle within her. . Her look of despair burned in his mind as he stared, unmoving, at the closed pressure door. Jaryd placed his hand on the lifeless metal. "Please, Sela, find happiness."

#

John sat back on the stool by the lonely chess set. He looked at the small crystal that rolled between his fingers.

Thank you, John. I must say that I now hold more information on the Khephri than the Peacekeepers. This will be useful… Alas, at what cost?

The apparition moved closer to John. To think that a HUMAN was responsible for the extinction of the only race that could have kept the peace in the galaxy.

John flicked at the air as if batting away an annoying mosquito. "Screw off, Harvey…" He said aloud in a tired and defeated tone.

John’s specter moved even closer to his ear. Poor John Crichton of the human race…

"Leave me the frell alone!" he shouted as he threw the crystal at the apparition. It came to rest at the hatchway of his quarters

His specter stood smiling. I leave you to mire in these thoughts…

John was distracted by of the appearance of Chiana. Her pale silhouette took on the orange tone of Moya's lighting. "Pip, I’m in no mood."

"Well I just wanted to…" She looked cautiously around the room. "Who you talking to?"

"No one. Now leave me be…" John’s tone was sharper then he had intended.

"You are completely drent! Aeryn's got reason to worry! You’re screaming at the walls. I don't know what you have been taking but I would like to try some." Her tirade did little to mask her concern. She turned abruptly to leave and kicked the small crystal on the floor. She swooped it up and John could see with minor enjoyment the internal battle of whether to bring it to his attention or not. She turned back to him slowly with a guilty look. "What this?” Holding the data crystal at the tips of her fingers.

"A gift. You want it?"

"No. It’s just a holograph memory crystal. Anything good on it?" A slight mischievous smile came to her face.

"I don’t know…" John knew where this was leading.

"Well let’s see…" She purred. John was amused by her attempt at staying with him.

He exhaled loudly as he rose from the small stool. "OK, let’s..." John shoved the chess game off the table. Chiana’s head bobbed with the sound of its pieces hitting the floor. He took the crystal from her and slammed into the small slot in the surface of the table. Regarding the spilled mess that had been the chess set, she spoke softly. "Ya know, Crichton, maybe it’s not such a bad idea you being alone."

The image that formed over the table was a black cube. They stared at it for a moment. "Nothing Chi! I guess it’s a bad zip disk… Nothing’s on it!"

Suddenly a soft female voice responded. John felt the hairs on the back of his neck react to the voice. It was in English.

"Mark, is that you? Are you safe? I am receiving no telemetry internal or external. Diagnostic subroutine active."

Chiana looked to John. "What’s a Mork?"

“Processing… I don’t not have linguistic file on record… Please repeat in Martian Standard language.”

"Holly shit!" John realized that the data crystal must be the computer system of Mark’s spacecraft. He moved down near the empty projection. "I am sorry Mark is not here."

“Who are you? Where is Mark? Is he safe? All systems are blocked. I have no control over the ship. This is a dangerous situation. Recommend activating back-up system administrator."

"Hey… hey…  relax." If John didn't know better he would have thought that this program was actually concerned with the well being of Mark Goddard. He knew even when he had left Earth, Artificial Intelligence was making leaps and bounds.

Is Mark safe? Did he survive the aborted insertion into Earth’s orbit? What has happened to the Polar beacon. No signals are being detected"

“This thing is fahrbot! It’s obviously defective.” Chiana stood from the table, tired of the questions that the device continued to spout.

“It’s ok, Chi. I will take care of it.” He turned. Her face brightened as their eyes met. It  was not until she left that John realized he was smiling. "OK… um… what he call you again?"

I am AMI -J11278Transport logging file 58338399944. Transportation license to the AMI Transportation sector 11984847748….

“OK. OK. I get it….” John plopped down onto the stool.

“Who are you is Mark Safe? Did he survive the…”

John leaned back, marveling at the handiwork of the Khephri. They had retained the memory core of Mark’s ship in such a way that it was still able to operate as it had onboard his craft. “It’s OK, Ami. Relax. You did an excellent job of protecting him he is safe.”

“It is reassuring that he survived.”

"He spoke very highly of you. Can you tell me about him?" John shifted forward waiting for the little program to answer.

“Yes…”

"Please, Ami, tell me about Mark Goddard of Worchester, Massachusetts." A bitter knot tightened in his stomach as the memory of Mark's death moved to the surface.

“Question…” There was a slight shift in the mechanical tone of Ami's voice.

"Yes? Ami, what is it?”

“Will it be possible for me to communicate with Mark?”

John stared at the blank screen before him. He had to clear his throat as he spoke. He was amazed at how uncomfortable he felt in lying to her. "Maybe later…"

“Thank you… To proceed with your Question. Mark Albert Goddard was assigned to me on September…”  

The End

 

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