Start The Story Here With Chapter – 1
REPAIRS and RESEARCH
The freed hostages were tended to, interviewed and allowed to send messages to their home planets. The majority of them were citizens of the Union of Democratic Worlds. They were survivors of the plundered caravels out of Caraquador, pilgrims on their way to visit Earth. They told us they represented only half the prisoners taken from the caravels. The missing half, mostly children and young women, were distributed, they said, among some of the pirate governors throughout the sector.
Commodore Alba assured them that should any of their relatives and friends be found on those worlds, the Empire would see to reuniting them. And in the next few days, many did learn that their loved ones were safe in the custody of the Shimabara and La Vallette Battle Groups.
Besides the UDW pilgrims, a dozen Imperial citizens were found among the hostages as were forteen Federation citizens. There was even an extended family of eleven Kaninu, human-canine hybrids from Nike, the capital of the faraway Legion of Independent Planets.
As eager as everyone was to return to our respective homes, and as eager as we marines were to return to our Regiment’s HQ on Saint Ambrose, we were all forced to spend another three months in the Muvurunian system affecting repairs on our ships.
Fortunately, the pirates had done no real damage to the place. To their credit, they did a good job of maintaining the bases in good working order. The various resources, tools and machine shops on the bases proved of inestimable help with the repairs. Our engineers were spared the necessity of calling in a service fleet for aid and materials.
During those three months we explored every planet in the system, paying particular attention to every inch of each installation. Through our investigations, it quickly became apparent that, having operated on the farthest-flung frontier of the Dominion, the Muvuru system had survived untouched by the Holy League’s crusade and the subsequent catastrophic collapse that consumed the worlds of the old empire.
It seemed the Muvuru system had simply been abandoned during the war and all but forgotten.
More thorough scanning of Muvuru-3 revealed that there were indeed, tens of thousands of ore wyrms eating away at the planet’s mantle. Their incessant burrowing was steadily compromising the integrity of the tectonic plates. Sunken plains like the one we landed on pock-marked much of the world, the result of mantle crumbling.
Our scientists estimated that a few more centuries of unabated wyrm drilling would cause a planet-altering cataclysm. Computer models predicted massive fissuring of the world’s outer shell accompanied with increasing, ever more violent volcanic activity. Chunk after chunk of the planet would eventually begin flying off into space until the orbit became unstable and Muvuru-3 would either fall into the system’s star or spin away into the depths of the plenum.
We further discovered that the pirates had done a good job of scouring the tunnels of the more valuable wyrm deposits. The bulk of the treasure had indeed been used to purchase all the hardware they used to murderous effect against us, but a considerable hoard remained unspent in deep-buried vaults on Muvuru 3’s moon.
Besides the piles of beryllium, moissanite, vanadium, tistarite and other precious ores, the installations were loaded down with artifacts and various and sundry materials presumedly stolen from scores of worlds.
Above and beyond the careful upkeep of the pirates, the installations discovered across the Muvurunian system were a testament to the quality of old Dominion engineering. According to the prisoners, the bases were discovered fifty to seventy years ago, depending on who you asked. (None of the surviving pirates claimed to be there at the discovery, so we could not know for sure.) The aether generators on the various bases were still functioning nearly a thousand years after the mining operations ceased, producing just enough power to maintain environmental control and, on Muvuru-3, keep the the protective force bubble around the base on so as to spare it from the ravengings of Ore Wyrms.
The remarkably still-intact, ancient computer core holding hundreds of thousands of gigabytes of ciphered clues about life and industry in the Dominion of Man, excited not a few history buffs among us. And no one was more excited by the discoveries of the Muvurunian system than the Emperor himself. Upon learning of our various discoveries, his Imperial Majesty, Andreas VI informed us that he was assembling an archeological team which would be sent to the system forthwith.
Izzy and I encountered two such excited fellows in the mess hall about a month into our stay. The two men in Operations Specialists black jumpsuits approached our bench, food trays in hand and in mid-argument.
“Sorry brother, but a few strings of alphanumerics are no proof of the Psion,” said the slender blond in the lead.
His interlocutor was taller and bulkier of build with brown hair. “What else could they mean?”
The slender Specialists sat down with a shrug. The name T. Bourne was stitched in white letters over his left breast pocket. “They could be prisoner numbers, slave numbers…”
His companion sat down a moment later, shaking his head. His jumpsuit was stitched with the name P. Hassan. “Slaves and prisoners would’ve had real names recorded somewhere along with their i.d. codes. We haven’t found any such lists.”
“Yet,” said Bourne and then raised a finger, calling a pause to their debate.
The specialists crossed themselves and prayed over their meals. Izzy and I looked at each other, each intrigued by the subject of the specialists’ argument. Until they had arrived, I was wasting my breath trying to explain why Terran, North-American Football was the greatest of sports to Izzy and a trio of boys from the Union of Democratic Worlds.
“They might even be cyborg monikers,” Bourne continued after the specialists were done praying. “But that doesn’t mean they were Psion.”
Izzy let them shovel a couple of forkfuls of meat loaf into their mouths before questioning them. “What was that you two were saying about the Psion?”
Hassan answered, his tenor clearly edged with excitement. “We believe we have found evidence of their existence.”
“We? I don’t believe any such thing,” Bourne objected.
“Fine,” Hassan conceded. “Some of us believe that we have found evidence for the existence of the Psion.”
“What evidence?” I asked.
Hassan answered. “The ship’s computer cracked through a layer of Dominion encryption. Just the top layer, mind you. The computer files we’ve opened up all contain pretty mundane stuff, like inventories of food stuffs and supplies, maintenance logs of base amenities and the like. But there was also a personnel file which had these curious alphanumeric strings interspersed among common names.”
“And you think they are Psion names or i.d.s?” Izzy asked.
“He does,” Bourne answered.
“I thought the Psion were just a legend,” I said.
“And you would be right; they are mere legend,” Bourne insisted.
Kori, the youngest of the UDW youth, a boy of no more than thirteen years, interjected. “What’s a Psion?”
Bourne answered the boy. “Psion is the name for a legendary, mythical, race of cyborgs.”
“Unless, of course, they really existed,” Hassan said. “In which case they would be an historic, long-lost race of cyborgs.”
“Uh-huh,” Kori responded, clearly looking like he had gone from uninformed to confused by the exchange.
Izzy took pity on the boy. “You’ve heard of the Dominion of Man, haven’t you?”
“Sure,” Kori answered. “Our Union worlds used to be part of the Dominion.”
“That’s right,” Izzy continued. “So were some of our worlds. Well anyway, the Dominion practiced the heresy of transhumanism along two different tracks, genetic and cybernetic.”
Confusion scrunched up Kori’s face yet again. “Transhumanism?”
Timon, an older boy of maybe sixteen years leaned into Kori to explain. “Transhumanism is the idea that human beings can be improved and, you know, we can evolve through the use of science and technology.”
“More or less,” Izzy agreed.
“Why do you consider it a heresy?” Timon wanted to know. “Genetic manipulation and cybernetic implants help lots of people throughout the galaxy every day.”
“That’s true,” Bourne said. “But what you are talking about is the therapeutic use of implants and genetic manipulation. Replacing a missing or lost limb or failing organ or altering genes that cause degenerative diseases, these are good, moral uses of science and technology. Believing we have the right to genetically design people with pre-selected qualities, that’s heresy.”
“Heresy?” Young Kori’s confusion seemed to deepen.
I noticed that Bourne had just forked a new mouthful of food into himself, so I took it upon myself to try and answer the boy. “A heresy is a kind of lie. It’s a misrepresentation or a distortion of a truth.”
Timon shook his head. “I’m still not clear on why you think transhumanism is wrong, why you call it, heresy.”
“Transhumanism lies about reality by distorting the truth of human nature and by misrepresenting the truth of human purpose,” Izzy said.
Timon asked, “How so?”
“Well, we believe human beings are ends in themselves, created with the purpose to know and love God,” I answered. “Designing human beings with specific, pre-determined physical traits or worse, purposely altering them into human-animal hybrids, these practices treat human beings not as ends in themselves but as objects to satisfy the purposes of their parents, their societies or those of scientists. That’s how transhumanism lies about human purpose.”
“And when transhumanists claim that discarding perfectly healthy limbs and organs for supposed upgrades is the next step in evolution, or that it is the first step in self-directed evolution, they’re lying about human nature,” specialist Bourne added. “We do not evolve. Never have. Never will. Evolution is an ancient and persistent heresy beloved by many because they believe it elbows the Creator God out of the picture.”
Timon chewed his lower lip thoughtfully for a moment before speaking again. “That’s all very interesting. I’ll have to think about it.”
“Please do,” I said. “And don’t be shy about tapping into the ship’s library. You’ll find plenty on that and other subjects to hold you over for the long ride home.”
Izzy added to my advice. “And don’t be shy about asking anyone on the ship a question about what you read.”
Menenius, the third boy who was about the same age as Timon interjected. “That’s what the Great War was about, wasn’t it? Your Holy League of Planets demanded the Dominion stop creating human-animal hybrids and other stuff like that. The Dominion wouldn’t and so the Great War happened.”
“There were a few reasons for that war,” said Hassan. “But yes, that’s the best known reason on account of the war ending with the Gemini Accords banning the creation of any more human-animal hybrids.”
“So what about the Orion and the hybrid species created before the Gemini Accords,” Menenius asked. “Are they abominations, as some people say?”
We shook our heads. Izzy, who was descended from mutated stock, did so a little sadly.
It was Hassan however who answered the boy. “Absolutely not. While it would’ve been better if the Dominion of Man had not played at being God, the hybrids they created, even those who look radically different than us, are just as human as we are. Most of them have demonstrated that beyond any argument.”
“And the few that haven’t yet, like the Mandrillion and the Amphibs,” Hassan added. “Our Church insists that we give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them as if they too have human souls.”
Menenius nodded. “I guess that’s fair.”
“We think so,” Specialist Bourne said. “But we’ve strayed from our original topic.”
“The Psion,” said the young Kori.
“That’s right,” Izzy said. “The legend, as I understand it, claims all of the Dominion’s cyborgs came together one day, called themselves the Psion and, in the middle of the Great Intergalactic War, declared their independence, renounced their humanity and disappeared.”
Menenius asked the question that had bedevilled believers in the Psion since the fall of the Dominion. “Where did they go?”
Izzy just shrugged.
Specialist Hassan was more forthcoming. “Some say they set out to another galaxy, probably Canis Major, it being the nearest. Others believe the Psion are hiding somewhere behind our galaxy’s core. Either way, the story says they got as far from us as was possible for them.”
“And some of us believe it is no more than a fairy tale,” Bourne said and helped himself to another forkful of mash potato.
“Why?” Timon asked. “The Dominion did have cyborgs didn’t it?”
Bourne washed down his bite of food with a swig from his water bottle before answering. “Yes, the Dominion had cyborgs. No one argues with that. The issue is with the cyborgs’ decision to get up and go.
“What’s the problem with that?” Timon asked.
Bourne took another sip of his water before answering. “The legend of the Psion in its entirety claims that the Dominion also created an artificial intelligence which, to their chagrin, turned on its creators.”
Specialist Bourne fixed his attention pointedly on the boy, Kori. “An artificial intelligence is another myth from the Dominion days. An artificial intelligence is not like the virtual intelligences we’re used to. These V.I.s help run our ships, our homes and cities and even whole planets. We interact with these machines as if they were real people, but we all know that they’re just machines, just circuitry and programming.
“The Dominion’s artificial intelligence, this A.I. was supposed to be a sentient machine. It supposedly had its own independent mind, free of any programming. And because this A.I. was supposedly sentient, it supposedly possessed its own independent will. And it was this supposedly sentient machine that gifted all the cyborgs with sentience and convinced them to cast off their Dominion chains, sever their every link to all human civilization and follow it, God-knows-where, like the A.I. were some cybernetic Moses.
“For a great many of us, the story falls apart right there at the very beginning, with the claim that the Dominion created this sentient machine. There’s no proof that an A.I. has ever been created. Even a thousand years after the fall of the Dominion, despite the best efforts of scientists throughout the galaxy, A.I.s can only be found in fiction, in lurid tales of science fantasy.”
“To be fair,” Hassan said. “In some versions of the legend, the A.I. wasn’t actually created by the Dominion. Not on purpose, any way. Some say it was an emergent phenomenon, that it arose spontaneously from the Dominion’s vast network of virtual intelligences.”
“And those who say that should be hauled away by the inquisition,” Bourne said. “Emergent phenomenon! What rubbish!” The specialist paused to turn his attention to the boys from the UDW. He raised an index finger before them as a point of focus, I guessed, before he continued.
“Don’t you believe it for a minute, boys. Sentience can’t just arise out of circuitry any more than our consciousness arises out of a bundle of billions of neurons or that life rose from some primordial mud. Emergent phenomenon is just more of that evolution nonsense trying to elbow the Good Lord out of the picture of creation.”
“I’m not trying to elbow God out of anything,” Hassan protested. “I’m just sharing what the legends say.”
“I know that, brother,” said Bourne. “All I’m doing is pointing out that this very fantastical nature of the legend rules the existence of the Psion out of rational consideration as the reason for the strings of alphanumerics.”
“Maybe,” was all that Hassan would concede.
“It would be something if it were true, wouldn’t it?” Menenius asked of no one in particular.
Specialist Bourne and I shrugged non-committedly. Izzy nodded and Hassan said, “It sure would be something.”
The table fell silent, the subject unresolved but at an end. I took advantage of the spell of silence to pivot the conversation and inquire of the Operations Specialists, “Have either of you gentlemen ever played or seen a game of Terran, North-American Football?”