It took almost an hour, but the emotions swirling around Crawford’s unexpected return to the bridge of the Sky Rock finally settled down. The socially awkward geologist hated nothing more than being the center of attention. As he glanced from Arielle’s stern frown to the troubled expressions of Elton, Saffron, Dulcey and Gwendolyn he could feel the sweat beading up on the back of his neck, in spite of his sophisticated encounter suit. Their combined criticism was so intolerable, he had to admit he was actually grateful that 6N7 had been on the scene with him.
“The kreljebtra has evidently dislocated the normal flow of Time on the asteroid,” it said. “It may be an after-effect of its interactions with several different parallel universes.”
“We’ll have to let that stand as an explanation, for now,” said Saffron Davies. “As fascinating as it would be in ordinary times, we have bigger quarks to crack.”
Crawford cringed at the summary video Saffron sent from her tablet to a nearby view screen in the Sky Rock command center. It was a succession of increasingly violent eruptions of fragmentary matter into local space time.
“We haven’t yet determined,” said Saffron, “how many of these rock formations might be part of former moons or … I shudder to think … inhabited planets. And we’d be foolish to think this is a one-way process.”
The implications were clear. It was only a matter of time before a colony world in Crawford’s universe “went walkabout” in a parallel universe and was utterly destroyed. At his urging, 6N7 recounted the message they’d received from the being who was either the Djaleerin he’d known or an alternative version of her.
“Reason with it?” asked Elton Cameron. “What the gyrating pulsar is that supposed to mean? We don’t know a thing about the kreljebtra’s level of consciousness.”
Gwendolyn Tanby shook her head.
“We do know something about that,” she said. “I’ve been monitoring the data feed pouring out of that thing with Dulcey’s help and already a few patterns are emerging. Assuming the kreljebtra is sentient, it’s communicating — with itself or its variants — in a language based on complex sequential number series.”
“Kind of like the patterns my simulations revealed earlier,” said Dulcey. “Only those reflected fluctuations in space fold field deflections.”
“Fascinating, I’m sure,” said Arielle. “But can we please focus on data that might help us knock that thing out?”
Crawford was again relieved to hear 6N7, and not him, remind Arielle of Djaleerin’s warning not to destroy the kreljebtrabut merely shut It off. The tricky part, of course, was deciding what “merely” meant. Meanwhile Gwendolyn would not be put off.
“What I’m seeing is more than ‘fascinating,’ Agent Chaplin.” she said. “A mind that produces sentient brainwave patterns might be disrupted by other sentient brainwave patterns.”
“Like an argument?” asked Elton.
Gwendolyn closed her eyes tight.
“I was thinking of a subtler kind of influence,” she said. “That’s why I asked for a physiobot to be sent up from Sick Bay. Meet TD2.”
A snowy white android rolled over to her from a narrow wall niche on the right of the command center’s main console. From its roughly conical torso extended two highly articulated, silvery arms, which ended in four-fingered hands of uncommon dexterity. Unknown to the rest of the crew, a second pair of arms was tucked neatly behind access panels further down the torso, which could spring to life as needed.
In its present form, the physiobot was the latest phase of the gradual cultural realization that medicine had advanced too far for any human mind to encompass. Instead of practicing medicine, humans were exclusively involved in medical research, the result of which were fed into a centralized database that the physiobots drew on in real time. Crawford’s eyebrows shot up at the sound of its mellow, female voice.
“Ms. Tanby has asked me to give you a brief demonstration,” said the gynoid, “in comparative encephalography. Please observe.”
The image that Saffron had projected on the command center screen was replaced by a pair of graphic readouts, stacked one on top of the other. For the moment, the bottom one was dormant, but the top one showed fluctuating lines, as if on a classic encephalogram, except animated to reflect real time activity. For their part, Dulcey and Saffron were deeply distracted by readings coming in on the Sky Rock’s main sensor console and paid no attention.
“This,” said TD2, “is an animated display of Gwendolyn’s current brainwave patterns.”
“Hold your applause,” said Gwendolyn. “Now watch this.”
She nodded at the gynoid, and the bottom readout lit up. While the basic pattern was the same it was distorted at various points.
“That is Gwendolyn’s brainwave pattern during a migraine,” said TD2. “I have encountered it many times, unfortunately. Notice the slow wave shifts, here, here and here.”
Segments of the second graphic were highlighted in red at the gynoid’s words.
“Again, fascinating, I guess,” said Arielle. “But we do rather have a crisis….”
“Hold on a sec,” said Crawford. “I think I know what’s coming. You’re going to show us an image of the brainwave pattern emitted by the kreljebtra aren’t you?”
“Correct,” said TD2.
Onscreen, the graphic representing Gwendolyn’s normal brainwave patterns were replaced by the brainwave patterns that Sky Rock’s sensors had picked up from the interior of Crawford’s asteroid.
“I did a rough extrapolation from my migraine data and mapped it onto the pattern created by the kreljebtra,” said Gwendolyn. “TD2 helped me refine it, allowing for the machine’s alien origins.”
The assembled department heads gasped as the brainwave pattern from the kreljebtra appeared subtly distorted.
“You want to give the kreljebtra a migraine?” asked Elton. “A little far-fetched. I doubt it has pain receptors.”
But as Gwendolyn explained, the idea was to transmit the wave form on the screen to the asteroid and hope it created an interference pattern powerful enough to disrupt the kreljebtra’s functions and let Crawford get close enough to shut it down. Provided, of course, they could even identify its “off switch.”
“Risky,” said Arielle. “An untested weapon on an unknown device. What do you think, 6N7?”
“While we have been contemplating this attack plan,” said 6N7, “the Sky Rock’s long-range sensors have picked up five new spatiotemporal rifts within the Skelana system. We appear to have a narrow window for action — if we are indeed to take any.”
Saffron looked up from a simulation that Dulcey had been running this whole time on her tablet, that attempted to summarize the data 6N7 had just cited.
“He’s right,” said Saffron, “the rate of rift creation is increasing too fast for my comfort. What else did you say you saw, Dulcey?”
“It kind of looks as if a massive surge in protons from a number of different universes are converging on the asteroid” said Dulcey. “Like it’s gearing up for a Big Bang of its very own.”
“That’s it,” said Arielle. “I don’t care how crazy it sounds. We’re giving that alien device a migraine.”
It took the rest of the day and deep into the Sky Rock’s artificial night before Elton, Dulcey and the engineering team could rig up a transmitter. It had to powerful enough to penetrate the electromagnetic field surrounding the kreljebtra, yet sensitive enough to carry the detailed nuances of the interference pattern designed by TD2. Fortunately, the Sky Rock’sstate-of-the-art AI was on hand to crunch every number and crank out the solutions they needed.
All that time, Crawford lay curled up in his quarters, overwhelmed by a feeling of impotence. What, after all, could he do to help besides stay out of the way? His mind drafted repeatedly to the quiet, secure home that Arielle had yanked him from, which he realized he might never see again. Absent mindedly, he consulted the comlink he’d neglected to answer and found a voice mail from the Martian linguist he’d consulted days before. Though Crawford was unnerved by the slurring, dialect drawl of the young man’s speech, he welcomed the distraction from his self-pity
“Took for-ever, thank you very much, Misser. Cal-dera,” he said. “But I did trace kreljebtra back to an Old Skelanese word, meanin’ ‘window shade,’ if you ken believe that. Doubt it’s gonna help you much, but thar it is.”
Finally, at what would have counted for “2:00 am” on ancient Earth, the Engineering team announced it was ready to transmit its complex signal through the Sky Rock’s deep space comsystem, which they’d modified for this purpose.
“I hope you know,” said Elton, “that we have no way to call home if we get attacked by that thing. The temporal distortions it’s outputting make it impossible to send signals through a spacefold envelope with any accuracy.”
Yet Elton’s grim assessment changed nothing. They took their shot in the dark anyway. Minutes past with no response. Nerves frayed. Angry accusations hit the Sky Rock’s recycled air — until out of the blue, a pained, hollow machine voice rumbled out of the ship-wide com system.
STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP.
The pathetic sound continued unabated. Crawford, still in his encounter suit, gambled that its own external comsystem would be powerful enough to reach the asteroid — and won.
“Not until you agree to lower your shields,” he said. “We need to talk.”
STOP FIRST. STOP FIRST.
“Djaleerin didn’t build you to suffer like this,” said Crawford. “Do we have a deal?”
DJALEERIN BAD MAKE HOLE IN COSMOS MUST FIX.
STOP. STOP. STOP.
“You’re out of luck pal,” said Crawford. “I can’t help you unless you help me.”
TURN OFF. OFF. STOP. STOP. COME TALK. DJALEERIN BAD.
Crawford turned to Elton.
“Cut the signal, I’m going down there,” he said and jogged out of the command center to a chorus of objections he knew he must ignore — even though its lead singer was his own mind.
To be continued … Read Episode 7 Here
A new Episode of A Slight Miscalculation will appear every other Monday. See all episodes here.
Mark Laporta is the author of Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, the first two novels in the science fiction series, Against the Glare of Darkness, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. He is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.
Image by Steven S. Drachman