Chapter no 15

Children of Time

Holsten and Lain had been left to their own limited devices for some time, constantly overseen by one or other of Scoles’s people. Holsten had been hoping to have more words with Nessel, on the basis that he might just be able to trade enough on his doctorate to gain some sort of cooperation from her, but she had been redeployed by her leader, perhaps for that exact reason. Instead there had been a succession of taciturn men and women with guns, one of whom had bloodied Holsten’s lip just for opening his mouth.

They had heard distant shots on occasion, but the anticipated crescendo never seemed to arrive, nor did the fighting recede entirely out of earshot. It seemed that neither Scoles nor Karst was willing to force the matter to any sort of conclusion.

“It’s times like these …” Holsten started, speaking softly for Lain’s benefit only.

She raised an eyebrow. “Times like what, Mason? Being held hostage by lunatic mutineers who might kill us at any second? How many times like those have you had, exactly? Or is the world of academia more interesting than I thought?”

He shrugged. “Well, on the basis that we were all under a death sentence on Earth, and then, the last time we were working together, a mad computer-person hybrid thing wanted to kill us for disturbing its monkeys, I think it’s been times like these all the way, to be honest.”

Her smile was faint, but it was there. “I’m sorry I got you into this.”

“Not half as sorry as I am.”

At that point Scoles burst in with a half-dozen followers crowding the hatch behind him. He shoved something into the hands of the guard that the man quickly donned.

A mask: they were all putting on oxygen masks.

“Oh, fuck,” Lain spat. “Karst’s got control of the air vents.” From her tone it was something that she had been anticipating for some time.

“Cut him loose.” From behind the mask, Scoles’s voice emerged with the tinny precision of his radio transmitter. Immediately someone was bending over Holsten, severing his restraints, hauling him to his feet.

“He’s coming with us,” Scoles snapped, and now Holsten could hear gunfire again, and more of it than before.

“What about her?” A nod towards Lain. “Shoot the bitch.”

“Wait! Hold on!” Holsten got out, flinching as the gun swung back towards him. “You need me? Then you need her. She’s the chief engineer, for life’s sake! If you’re going anywhere on a shuttle … If you’re serious about going up against Kern—against that killer satellite—then you need her. Come on, she’s Key Crew. That means she’s the best engineer on this ship.” And, despite his words, when the gun swung back towards Lain: “No, seriously, wait. I … I know you can force me to do whatever you want, but if you kill her, I’ll fucking fight you to my last breath. I’ll sabotage the shuttle. I’ll … I don’t know what I’ll do but I’ll find something. Keep her alive and I’ll do everything you need, and everything I can think of, to keep you alive. To keep us all alive. Come on, it makes sense. Surely you can see it makes sense!”

He could not see Scoles’s expression, and for a moment the chief mutineer just stood there, statue-still, but then he nodded once, and exceedingly grudgingly. “Get them both masks,” he snapped. “Get them up. Re-secure their arms and bring them along. We’re getting off this ship right now.”

Outside in the corridor waited a dozen or so of Scoles’s

people, most of them also wearing masks. Holsten looked from one set of visor-framed eyes to the next until he picked out Nessel—not quite a familiar face but better than nothing at all. The rest of them, men and women both, were strangers.

“Shuttle bay, now,” was Scoles’s order, and then they set off, shoving Lain and Holsten ahead of them.

Holsten had no idea about much of the Gilgamesh’s layout, but Scoles and his party seemed to be taking a decidedly circuitous route to wherever they were going. The chief mutineer was constantly muttering, obviously in radio contact with his subordinates. Presumably there was some serious offensive by Security going on, and certainly the pace quickened, and quickened again—First to the shuttle bay wins?

Then one of the mutineers stumbled and fell, leaving Holsten wondering if he’d missed the sound of a shot. Nessel dropped to one knee beside him and began fiddling with his mask, and a moment later the man was stirring drunkenly, staggering to his feet with Scoles roundly cursing him.

“Since when did we have poison gas on the ship?” the classicist demanded wildly. Again, the whole episode was assuming a dreamlike quality.

Lain’s voice sounded right in his ear. “Idiot, just fucking with the air mix would do it. I’d guess these monkeys have been fighting for control of the air-conditioning since they made their stupid stand, and now they’ve lost. This is a spaceship, remember. The atmosphere is whatever the machines say it should be.”

“All right, all right,” Holsten managed to reply, as someone shoved him hard in the back to get him to pick up speed.

“What?” the man beside him demanded, shooting him a suspicious look. Holsten realized that Lain’s voice had not broadcast to the rest of them, only to him.

“I despair of you, old man,” came her murmur. “These masks do have tongue controls, you realize? Of course you

don’t, and neither do these clowns. You have four tabs by your tongue. Second one selects comms menu. Then third for private channel. Select 9. It’ll show in your display.”

It took him the best part of ten minutes to get through that, slobbering over the controls and terrified that one false drool would turn his air supply off. In the end it was only when their escorts halted abruptly for a furious discussion that he was able to work it out.

“How’s this?”

“Clear enough,” came Lain’s dry response. “So how fucked are we, eh?”

“Was that seriously what you wanted to say?”

“Look, Mason, they hate my guts. What I really want to say is that you should talk them into letting you go. Tell them you’re a crap hostage, or that they don’t need you, or something.”

He blinked, seeking out her eyes but finding only the lamps reflecting in the plastic of her visor. “And you?”

“I am more fucked than you by an entire order of magnitude, old man.”

“They are all f … they’re all in big trouble,” he came back. “Nobody’s getting on to that planet.”

“Who knows? I wasn’t exactly planning anything like this, but I have been thinking around the problem.”

“Get moving!” Scoles suddenly snapped, then people were shooting at them from ahead.

Holsten had a glimpse of a pair of figures in some sort of armoured suit, dark plastic plates over shiny grey fabric, presumably the full security-detail uniform. They were lumbering forwards, holding rifles awkwardly, and Scoles hauled Lain in front of him.

“Back, or she goes first!” he yelled.

“This is your one and only chance to give yourselves up!”

came what might have been Karst’s voice, from one of the suits. “Guns down, you turds!”

One of the mutineers shot at him, and then they were all at it. Holsten saw both figures stagger; one was knocked flat over on to its back. It was only the frustrated momentum of the bullets, though. There was no sign of penetration, and the fallen security man was already sitting up again, levelling his gun.

“Faceplates! Aim for the face!” Scoles shouted.

“Still bulletproof, you moron,” Lain’s taut voice in Holsten’s ear.

“Wait!” the classicist yelled. “Hold it, hold it!” and Lain convulsed in Scoles’s grip with a howl that was abominably loud in Holsten’s ear.

“You twat! I’m half-deaf!” she snapped. The man next to Holsten grabbed at his arm to try and rope him in as a second human shield and the classicist pulled away instinctively. A moment later the mutineer was on the ground, three dark patches spread across his shipsuit. It was too quick for Holsten to feel any reaction.

Another mutineer, a woman, had managed to close with Security, and Holsten saw a knife flash out. He was in the middle of thinking what a feeble threat that must be when she got the blade into one of them, and ripped a gash down the man’s arm, the grey material parting stubbornly, armour plate peeling back. The injured security man flailed, and his companion—Karst?—turned and shot at her, bullets scattering and ricocheting from his companion’s armour.

“Go!” Scoles was already moving on, hauling Lain behind him. “Get a door closed between us and them. Get us time. Have that shuttle warmed up and ready!” The last words presumably directed to some other follower already sitting in the bay.

Shots followed them, and at least one other mutineer simply dropped, sprawling, as they fled. But then Nessel had a

heavy door sliding down behind them, hunching over the controls presumably to try and jam them in some jury-rigged way to delay Security that little bit more. Scoles left her to it, but she caught up with the main pack soon after, showing a surprising turn of speed.

No waiting for stragglers once we’re at the shuttle, then. Holsten was seeing his opportunity to make a stand diminishing. He lunged at the mask tongue controls until he was on general broadcast again.

“Listen to me Scoles, all of you,” he started. One of the mutineers cuffed him across the head but he bore it. “I know you think there’s some chance if you can get off the ship and head for the terraform project. Probably you’ve seen the pictures of that spider thing that lives there, and yes, you’ve got guns. You’ll have all the tech from the shuttle. Spiders no problem, sure. Seriously, though, that satellite will not listen to anything we’ve got to say. You think we’d be anywhere but that damn planet otherwise? It was within a hair of carving up the whole Gilgamesh, and it blew up a whole load of spy-drones that tried to get near. Now, your shuttle’s way smaller than the Gil, and it’s way clumsier than drones. And, I swear, I do not have anything I can say that will work on the insane whatever that’s in that satellite.”

“Then think of something,” was Scoles’s cold response.

“I am telling you—” Holsten began, and then they spilled out into the shuttle bay. It was smaller than he had thought, just a single craft there, and he realized he knew nothing about this side of the ship’s operations. Was this some special yacht for the commander to gad about in, or were all the shuttles in their own separate bays, or what? It was an utter blank to him

—not his area, nothing he had needed to know. “Please listen,” he tried.

“They made the mistake of showing us what our new home was going to be like,” came Nessel’s voice. “I swear the commander never imagined that anyone might defy his almighty wisdom. You can say what you like, Doctor Mason,

but you didn’t see it. You didn’t see what it was like.”

“We’ll take our chances with the spiders and the AI,” Scoles agreed.

“It’s not an AI …” But he was already being bundled into the shuttle, with Lain right alongside him. He could hear more shooting, but certainly not close enough to change things now.

“Get the bay doors open. Override the safeties,” Scoles ordered. “If they’re after us, let’s see if those suits of theirs can handle vacuum,” and, even as Lain was muttering, “They can” for Holsten’s ears only, he felt the shuttle’s reactor begin to shift them forwards. He was about to leave the Gilgamesh for the first time in two thousand years.

The shuttle cabin was cramped. Half the mutineers had decamped to the hold, where Holsten hoped there were belts and straps to secure them. Acceleration was currently telling every loose object—or person—that down was the rear of the ship, and when they reached whatever speed fuel economy dictated was their safe maximum, there would be no effective “down” at all.

Holsten and Lain occupied the rearmost two seats of the cabin, where people could keep an eye on them. Scoles himself had the seat next to the pilot, with Nessel and two others sitting behind him at the consoles.

Holsten’s gut lurched under the pressure of the acceleration, as they made their getaway. For a moment he thought he was about to lose his stomach contents through the hatch into the hold behind him, but the feeling passed. His bloodstream was still swimming with suspension-chamber drugs that fought hard to stabilize his sudden feelings of instability.

The first thing Lain said to him once the shuttle got clear was, “Keep the mask. We need a secure channel.” Her tightly controlled tones came through the receiver beside Holsten’s ear. Sure enough, the mutineers were removing their breathing masks now they were in an environment they had full control

of. One of them reached back for Lain’s, and she bucked her head upwards sharply as he grabbed it, so that she ended up wearing the thing as a sort of high-tech bandanna covering her mouth. Holsten tried the same trick but just ended up in an awkward pulling match with the man, without achieving anything.

“Sod you, then,” he was told. “Suffocate if you like.” Then the mutineer turned away. Lain leant over quickly, teeth digging into the rubber seal so she could yank his mask down like hers. For a moment she was cheek to cheek with him, eye to eye, and he had a weird feeling of horribly inappropriate intimacy, as though she might kiss him.

Then she regained her balance, and the two of them sat there with masks in identical, awkward positions, Holsten thinking, How much more like conspirators could we look?

The mutineers had other priorities, though. One of the men sat at a console apparently fighting the Gilgamesh’s attempts to override control of the shuttle, whilst Nessel and another woman were giving reports on the systems powering up. After listening awhile, Holsten realized that they were waiting to see if the ark ship had any weapons it could bring to bear. They don’t even know.

Are they wondering if Lain and I will save them by being here? Because, if so, they weren’t listening to Guyen closely enough before.

At last, Lain piped up for all to hear, although her voice echoed hollowly over Holsten’s mask speaker as well: “The Gilgamesh only has its anti-asteroid array, and that’s forwards-facing. Unless you decide to moon the front cameras there’s nothing able to come your way.”

They regarded her distrustfully, but Nessel’s reports seemed to confirm the same.

“What would happen if an asteroid was going to hit us in the side?” Holsten asked.

Lain gave him a look that said eloquently, And that’s what’s

important right now? “The odds are vanishingly unlikely. It wasn’t resource-effective.”

“To protect the entire human race?” Nessel demanded, more as a jab at Lain than anything else.

“The Gil was designed by engineers, not philosophers.” Isa Lain shrugged—or as much as she could with her hands still secured. “Let me free. I need to work.”

“You stay right there,” Scoles told her. “We’re clear now. It’s not like they can just turn the Gil around and come after us. We’d be halfway across the system before they could build up any speed.”

“And how far is this tin box going to get you exactly?” Lain challenged him. “What supplies do you have? How much fuel?”

“Enough. And we always knew this was a one-way trip,” the chief mutineer said grimly.

“You won’t even get one way,” Lain told him. Immediately Scoles had his seat belt undone and fell the short distance towards them, gripping hand over hand along the seat backs. The movement was fish-like, effortless enough that the man had plainly put in some training time back home.

“If the Gil isn’t shooting, I’m feeling less and less certain why we need you,” he remarked.

“Because it’s not the ship you need to worry about. That satellite out there is a killer. It’s got a defence laser that will just carve this boat into tiny pieces. The Gilgamesh’s array is nothing to that.”

“That’s why we have the esteemed Doctor Mason,” Scoles told her, hovering over her like a cloud.

“You need to let me loose on your systems. You need to give me full access and let me rip the fuck out of your comms panel.” Lain smiled brightly. “Or we’re all dead, anyway, even if it doesn’t shoot. Mason, you tell them. Tell them about how Doctor Avrana Kern said hello.”

Their acceleration was levelling out, weightlessness replacing the heavy hand that had been pressing Holsten back into his seat. After a blank moment, then catching Lain’s eye, the classicist nodded animatedly. “It took over our systems completely. We had absolutely no control. It went through the Gilgamesh’s computers in seconds, locked us out. It could have opened all the airlocks, poisoned the air, purged all the suspension chambers …” His voice trailed off. At the time he had not quite appreciated just what might have happened.

“Who is ‘Doctor Avrana Kern’?” one of the mutineers asked.

Holsten exchanged looks with Lain. “It … she is what’s in the satellite. She’s one of the things in the satellite, rather. There are the basic computers, and then there’s something called Eliza which I … maybe it’s an AI, a proper AI, or maybe it’s just a very well-made computer. And then there’s Doctor Avrana Kern, who might also be an AI.”

“Or might be what?” Nessel prompted him.

“Or might just be a stark raving mad psychotic human being left over from the Old Empire, who’s taken it into her head that keeping us off the planet is the single most important objective in the universe,” he managed, looking from face to face.

“Fuck,” said someone, almost reverently. Evidently something in Holsten’s testimony had sounded convincing.

“Or maybe she’ll be having a good day and she’ll just take over the shuttle’s systems and fly you back to the Gilgamesh,” Lain suggested sweetly.

“Ah, on that subject,” the pilot broke in, “it looks like our damage to the drone bays has paid off. There’s no sign of a remote launch, but … wait, Gil is launching a shuttle after us.”

Scoles spun himself around, and coasted over to see for himself.

“Guyen is really pissed,” came Lain’s voice sotto voce in Holsten’s ear.

“He’s crazy,” the classicist replied.

She regarded him impassively, and for a moment he thought she was going to defend the man, but then: “Yeah … no, he’s crazy all right. Perhaps it’s the sort of crazy you need to have got us all the way out here, but it’s starting to go off the bad end of the scale.”

“They’re telling us to cut engines, surrender our weapons and give up the prisoners,” the pilot relayed.

“What makes them think we’d do that, now that we’re winning?” Scoles stated.

The look that passed between Lain and Holsten was in complete accord that here, in spirit, was Vrie Guyen’s very double.

Then Scoles was hovering above them again, staring down. “You know that we’ll kill you if you try anything?” he told Lain.

“I’m trying to keep track of all the ways this venture is likely to kill me but, yes, that’s one of them.” She looked up at him without flinching. “Seriously, I am more concerned about that satellite. You need to cut us free right now. You need me isolating the ship’s systems so that thing can’t just walk in and take over.”

“Why not just cut the comms altogether?” one of the mutineers asked.

“Good luck on getting Mason to sweet-talk the satellite if we can’t transmit and receive,” she pointed out acidly. “Feel free to have someone looking over my shoulder at all times. I’ll even talk them through what I’m doing.”

“If we lose power or control for one moment, if I think you’re trying to slow us so the other shuttle can catch up with us …” Scoles started.

“I know, I know.”

With a scowl, the chief mutineer produced a knife and severed Lain’s bonds—and Holsten’s too, as an afterthought.

“You sit there,” he told the classicist. “Nothing for you to do yet. Once she’s done her work, you’ll get your chance with the satellite.” Apparently he didn’t feel that making overt death threats was necessary to keep Holsten in line.

Lain—clumsy in the lack of gravity—flailed over to the comms console and belted herself down in the seat next to Nessel. “Right, what we’re after here …” she started, and then the language between them got sufficiently technical that Holsten failed to follow. It was obvious that the work would take some time, though, both reprogramming and physically cutting connections between comms and the rest of the shuttle’s systems.

Holsten gradually fell asleep. Even as he was dropping off, he felt this was a ridiculous thing to do, considering the constant threat to life and limb, combined with the fact that he had been out of the world for a century or so not so long ago. Suspension and sleep were not quite the same, however, and as the adrenaline now ebbed from his system, it left him feeling hollowed out and bone-weary.

A hand on his shoulder woke him up. For a moment, stirred from dreams he could barely recall, he spoke a name from the old world, one a decade dead even before he embarked on the Gilgamesh, millennia dead now.

Then: “Lain?” because he heard a woman’s voice, but instead it was Nessel the mutineer.

“Doctor Mason,” she said, with that curious respect she seemed to hold for him, “they’re ready for you.”

He undid his seatbelt, and allowed them to pass him unceremoniously hand over hand across the ceiling, until Lain could reach out and snag him, and drag him into the comms chair.

“How far out are we?” he asked her.

“It’s taken me longer than I’d thought to make sure I cut every single connection to comms. And because our friends here don’t trust me, and kept getting me to stop in case I was

doing something nefarious. We’ve shielded all the shuttle’s systems from any outside transmission, though. Nothing is accepting any connection that isn’t hardwired into the ship itself, except the comms—and the comms don’t interact with the rest of what we’ve got in here. The most Doctor Avrana Kern can manage now is to take over the comms panel and shout at us.”

“And destroy us with her lasers,” Holsten pointed out.

“Yeah, well, and that. But you better get on with telling her not to, right now, because the sat’s started signalling.”

Holsten felt a shudder go through him. “Show me.”

It was a familiar message, identifying the satellite as the Second Brin Sentry Habitat and instructing them to avoid the planet—just what they’d got when they interrupted the distress beacon the first time. But that time we’d signalled it, and it hadn’t noticed us inbound. This time we’re in a much smaller ship and it’s taking the initiative. Something’s still awake over there.

He remembered the electronic spectre of Avrana Kern appearing on the screens of the Gilgamesh comms room, her voice translated into their native tongue—a facility with language that neither he nor Lain had felt the need to comment on to the mutineers. Instead, though, he decided to keep matters formal just for now. He readied a message, May I speak to Eliza?, translated it into Imperial C and sent it, counting the shortening minutes until a response could be expected.

“Let’s see who’s home,” Lain murmured in his ear, peering over his shoulder.

The response came back to him, and it was disturbing and reassuring in equal measures—the latter because at least the situation on the satellite was as he remembered.

You are currently on a heading that will bring you to a quarantine planet

Monkeys the monkeys are back they want to take away my world is only for

and no interference with this planet will be countenanced. Any interference with Kern’s World will be met with immediate retaliation. You are not to make contact with this planet in any way.

me and my monkeys are not as they say as they seem as much as they claim to be from Earth I know better vermin they are vermin leaving the sinking ship of Earth has sunk and no word no word none

The translation came easily. Nessel, poised at his other shoulder, made a baffled noise.

Eliza, we will not interfere with Kern’s World. We are a scientific mission come to observe the progress of your experiment. Please confirm permission to land. Holsten thought it was worth a try.

Waiting for the reply was just as wearing on the nerves as he remembered. “Any idea when we’ll be in range of its lasers?” he asked Lain.

“Based on Karst’s drones, I think we have four hours nineteen minutes. Make them count.”

Permission to approach the planet is denied. Any attempt to do so will be met with lethal force as per scientific devolved powers. Isolation of experimental habitat is paramount. You are respectfully requested to alter your course effective immediately.

Filthy crawling vermin coming to infect my monkeys will not talk to me it has been so long so long Eliza why will they not speak why will they not call to me my monkeys are silent so silent and all I have to talk to is you and all you are is my broken reflection

Eliza, I would like to speak to your sister Avrana, Holsten sent immediately, aware of time falling away, their limited stock of seconds dropping through the glass.

“Brace yourselves,” Lain warned. “If we didn’t get this right, we might be about to lose everything, possibly including life-support.”

The voice that spoke through the comms panel—without anyone giving it permission—was sticking to Imperial C at that moment, though to Holsten its haughty tones were

unmistakable. The content was little more than a more aggressive demand that they alter their course.

Doctor Kern, Holsten sent, we are here to observe your great experiment. We will not alter anything on the planet, but surely some manner of observation is permitted. Your experiment has been running for a very long period of time. Surely it should have come to fruition by now? Can we assist you? Perhaps if we gather data you may be able to put it to use? In truth he had no certain idea what Kern’s experiment was—though by now he had formed some theories—and he was simply bouncing off what he had gleaned from Kern’s own stream-of-consciousness thoughts, transmitted along with Eliza’s sober words.

You lie, came the reply, and his heart sank. Do you think I cannot hear the traffic in this system? You are fugitives, criminals, vermin amongst vermin. Already the vessel pursuing you has asked me to disable your craft so that they may bring you to justice.

Holsten stared at the words, his mind working furiously. For a moment there he had been negotiating with Kern in good faith as though he was actually a mutineer himself. He had almost forgotten his status as hostage.

His hands hovered, ready to send the next signal, Why don’t you do just that …?

Something cold pressed into his ear. His eyes flicked sideways to catch Nessel’s hard expression.

“Don’t even think it,” she told him. “Because if this ship gets stopped, you and the engineer won’t live to get rescued.”

“Shoot a gun in here and you’re likely to punch a hole straight through the hull,” Lain said tightly.

“Then don’t give us an excuse.” Nessel nodded at the console. “You might be the expert, Doctor Mason, but don’t think I’m not catching most of this.”

Typical that now I find an able student, Holsten thought despairingly. “So what do you want me to say?” he demanded.

“You heard what I heard, then—that she knows what we are. She’s receiving all the transmissions from the Gilgamesh and the other shuttle.”

“Tell her about the moon colony,” Scoles snapped. “Tell her what they wanted us to do!”

“Whatever we’re talking to now has been in a satellite smaller than this shuttle since the end of the Old Empire. You’re looking for sympathy?” Lain demanded.

Doctor Kern, we are human beings, like you, Holsten sent, wondering how true that latter part could possibly be. You could have destroyed the Gilgamesh and you did not. I understand how important your experiment is to you—another lie—but, please, we are human beings. I am a hostage on this vessel. I am a scholar like you. If you do as you say, they will kill me. The words passed into cold, dead Imperial C like a treatise, as though Holsten Mason was already a figure long consigned to history, to be debated over by academics of a latter age.

The gaps between message and response were ever shorter as they closed with the planet.

You are currently on a heading that will bring you to a quarantine planet and no interference with this planet will be countenanced. Any interference with Kern’s World will be met with immediate retaliation. You are not to make contact with this planet in any way.

They are not my responsibility so heavy a whole planet is mine they must not interfere with the experiment must proceed or what was it all for nothing if the monkeys do not speak to me and my monkeys are all that’s left of the human now these vermin come these vermin

“No,” Holsten shouted, “not back to Eliza!” startling the mutineers.

“What’s going on?” Scoles demanded. “Nessel—?” “We’ve … dropped back a step or something?”

Holsten sat back numbly, his mind quite blank.

Suddenly Scoles was speaking in his ear. “Is that it, then? You’re out of ideas?” in tones crammed with dangerous subtext.

“Wait!” Holsten said, but for a perilous moment his mind remained completely empty. He had nothing.

Then he had something. “Lain, do we have the drone footage?”

“Ah …” Lain scrabbled and clawed her way over to another console, fighting for space with the mutineer already seated there. “Karst’s recording? I … Yes, I have it.”

“Get it onto the comms panel.” “Are you sure? Only …”

“Please, Lain.”

Circumventing the comms isolation without opening the ship up to contamination was a surprisingly complex process, but Lain and one of the mutineers set up a second isolated dropbox with the data, and then patched it into the comms system. Holsten imagined the invisible influence of Doctor Kern flooding down the new connection only to find just another dead end.

Doctor Avrana Kern, he readied his next message. I think you should reconsider the need of your experimental world for an observer. When our ship passed your world last, a remote camera captured some images from down there. I think you need to see this.

It was a gamble, a terrible game to play with whatever deranged fragments of Kern still inhabited the satellite, but there was a gun to his head. And besides, he could not deny a certain measure of academic curiosity. How will you react?

He sent the message and the file, guessing that Kern’s recent exposure to the Gilgamesh’s systems would allow her to decode the data.

Bare minutes later there was an incomprehensible transmission from the satellite, very little more than white

noise, and then:

Please hold for further instructions. Please hold for further instructions.

What have you done with my monkeys? What have you done with my monkeys?

And then nothing, a complete cessation of transmission from the satellite, leaving those in the shuttle to fiercely debate what Holsten had done, and what he might have achieved.

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