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J I Y Ū

The Seal of Aurum



by

Kenton Forshée


Jiyū: The Seal of Aurum

By Kenton Forshee

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Kenton Lee Forshee

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Contact: TheKentonForshee@gmail.com


ISBN: 978-1-64467-678-3

THANK YOU

I would like to thank my mother, Barbara, Cathy, Daniel for his emotional support and enthusiasm, and to the invaluable “Can Do” attitude exampled by my boyfriend Scott, you have all kept me going and I love you for it.


Also, a special thanks to Nate Marohn at the

Keep Calm Collection.









J I Y Ū

The Seal of Aurum




ONE

As a child in the American South, I longed for the power of invisibility. I imagined that ability would protect me from the school bullies, but such a wish was merely the path of least resistance beckoning me with promises it would never fulfill. It was unsurprising I was tempted by it. That path is so pervasive it permeates all of nature. For myself, I was filled with it in my youth. My go-to reaction in those days relied upon keeping both myself to myself and my head down.

Nevertheless, as expected, the strive for invisibility resulted in suffering with whatever life deemed fit to throw at me. It was the singular coping skill of my repertoire (if one could call it a coping skill), and while the path of least resistance is perfect for nature, nature couldn’t judge itself. My invariable judgment was that I was a coward.

Earth has never been a place where you could grow up unscathed without the ability to defend yourself. I never learned to fight, and that was the problem. It was a skill I knew I should have learned in my youth, but like many young people, I was discouraged from it. Many of us were taught that violence doesn’t solve problems, that you should turn the other cheek, and the meek shall inherit the Earth when it was clear that adults didn’t live by such aphoristic nonsense.

In my school, the edict against violence was reinforced through the hypocrisy of corporal punishment and expulsion. As a result, the cruelty I was subjected to left me with the sensation of something undone or incomplete in the back of my mind.

I knew I would have the opportunity to learn to fight on Jiyū, to complete that undone thing. I couldn’t rely upon David to always come to my rescue. What if he needed me for a change? What if he, for once, couldn’t be there to protect me? I would have to do it myself. Besides, since I was with David, I felt I must keep up with him, and if he could fight when the occasion arose, then I should have that ability as well.

On the mission to Earth, I was foolish to convince myself the people we dealt with were no different than a bully. “They just had more power and influence than usual,” I told myself. It was a natural impulse; bullies were my most obvious and direct exposure to hostile people. When I made the comparison, however, I was underestimating our adversary. What we were up against was a complex self-serving entity that retaliated when its supremacy was threatened, even if only idealistically, and it wasn’t beneath instigating violence or playing the victim when it suited its purpose. It wasn’t seeking to intimidate us to make itself feel powerful. It was powerful, and it wanted something precious from us. As David indicated to its agents on the gangplank of the Torekkā Maru in Venice, it was something money could never buy. Our unwillingness to bend our knee to the mighty dollar made us targets but had we struck a bargain it would never have been enough. Ask the Native Americans how that worked for them. Trade for land one day results in taking more from you the next. The path of least resistance meant invasion, occupation, and death. Of course, great resistance meant war since “no” was never accepted as an answer. It’s like David said to me during our discussion of the Trust, there may come the point where someone gives you no other options, it’s either kill or be killed. Even the destruction of our way of life was a form of death.

Although David has many virtues, the predominant one upon our arrival was that David kept his promises. He promised I would see Jiyū again, and I did. When we arrived, I expected a stay of short duration, because he also promised the British Government he would return to help them. I understood and accepted that promise was necessary. He was earnest to provide a soft landing for the good people of Earth, despite that I believed it was impossible.

Before commencing the delivery of the dire news, it was time for the joyous. No one could have missed it, for with us was Cadmar. It was believed he was dead by everyone, including his mate Tamika. She must have raced to the temple. During our decontamination, as Cadmar was the last to rinse off, she burst through the door, and they were locked in an embrace beneath the spray for some time. It was good to see them together, but we donned our robes and snuck out to avoid disturbing them.

The people at the temple who greeted us were all smiles and lively talk, but the news we brought with us lurked beneath the surface, and we knew that. It was difficult to be cheerful, as relieved as we were to be home.

Our newcomers, Maggie and Rocke, made it clear I was not their Au Pair. I felt negligent for not assisting them, but they were adamant they were fine without me. They could manage their own introduction into life on Jiyū with the aid of the hospitable people at the temple. They both knew we had much to accomplish when we arrived, and I knew they didn’t want to burden us.

Once the preliminaries were settled of our arrival, the joyous news was over. It was time to relay the circumstances as they were then. For the sake of expediency, I had asked Venn to retrieve David’s Trust uniform from our penthouse, and things progressed from there.

“Where to begin?” David asked himself aloud to the crowd before him.

He and I stood atop the central platform of the Arena surrounded by millions of people, every member of the Trust. No one in the Trust’s entire history had ever called an assembly until that day. When it came to the truth on our home planet, there were neither denials of circumstance nor delays in the dissemination of details. They wanted to know, and they wanted to act if action was necessary.

I looked upon the sea of colored uniforms, sheathed swords upon their backs. It was a formidable group. To me, they represented people who were able to stand up for themselves, and I admired them. They stood in silence awaiting the message David was to speak. Our communication system, helmed by an artificial intelligence known as Iris, negated the need for a public-address system.

“There is much to say.” With an intimate voice, David spoke as if the crowd were individuals standing three feet before him. “As you know from our previous arrival with Amaré, the people of Earth are aware of our existence, but it’s become more complicated. They know we exist and know the precise location of the portal.”

There came a discord of speaking within the Arena.

“Patience,” said David, “there is more. The reports of Cadmar’s death were lies, and we are grateful he is well. During our search for his ring and body, the British and American military surrounded the portal’s location preventing us from leaving.

“Also, during the search, we learned the British government had discovered the Foundational Enhancement from Cadmar in England and how to pass it to others. In the United States, Pearce broke his vow to not have a relationship without returning home. It appears they captured and coerced him to do their bidding. He was used in the same manner by the Americans, and they have the Foundational Enhancement also. We do not know the extent of what he may have told them.

“The British and the Americans gave the enhancement to a number of their soldiers. It has spread to the civilian population, and there are those seeking monetary gain from it. Before long, they will all have it.

“As you know my mate Rick is able to read the ancient texts at the archive. Within it are hints of something none of us had conceived. There is another portal on Jiyū.”

One could almost feel the collective intake of breath, and a humming murmur sounded within the Arena.

“I beg for your patience,” said David awaiting their attention, “there is more. There is another portal on Jiyū, the exit to which resides in Japan near Mount Fuji. It is imperative we find this other portal because its precise location in Japan is known to the Americans.

“The performance of the drone we used to find the ring in London was flawless. In a bid to leave Earth so we could warn you of these things, we reconfigured the drone and sought the portal’s localized field in Japan, and without realizing it, our efforts lead the Americans to the portal’s location. They captured us, and the portal revealed itself. This resulted in five Americans arriving at the unknown location of the portal here.”

An uproar echoed within the arena.

“Wait!” said David, “I understand your concern. No one uninvited has stepped foot upon Jiyū, but we believe the men were crushed by stones upon arrival due to some prior calamity.

“As you know the portal produces the localized field if it’s programmed to slip out of phase. Our portal at One City does not do that, so it’s reasonable to conclude the other one doesn’t either. That would make the portal’s detection difficult, and more so if it were buried. Aiden and Laurel, along with her team, are searching for a way to find it even now. I am certain you have questions.”

There were many, and Iris chose them in the order in which they were asked, among them were these.

“I am North. Were you able to recover the ring?”

“Yes,” said David. “They do not have a means that we know to access either portal on Earth.”

“I am Dai. What is the status of the portal in London?”

“I am at present in talks with the British in an ambassadorial capacity. They removed the military from the park, and they seek to become our allies. They need us, and in specific they need me to help them keep their world from falling into chaos from what they’ve done. I promised I would return to help them so they would keep the portal there clear.”

“I am Ruby. Of our people on Earth, do they know the situation?”

“Yes, they know everything,” David said. “We also gave them an opportunity to return home, but they chose to stay.”

“I am Ivan. I have a question for Rick. Do you have any idea of the location of this other portal?”

“I know it is east of here,” I said. “What area, or how far, is unknown.”

“I am Telek. For clarity, are the Americans our enemy?”

David paused to consider the question. “I understand the desire for a clear adversary. Life is simple when the world is black and white, but we cannot fall into the trap of such binary thinking. To be sure, we have enemies, but to define them is not easy. I cannot point to the Americans and say, Look, there is our enemy. Individuals are our enemy when they decide they are. The problem is they will be diverse in their origin, but they are related and connected, if by nothing more than the desire to have and wield power. They, their agents, and their fighting forces represent various degrees of danger. As part of the Earth’s most powerful country, elements within the American government represent the greatest danger to us, but not all of them, and they will not be our sole enemy. So, who are they?” David paused to think. “In science, a group of related species is regarded as one species for practical reasons. Therefore, after a taxonomic fashion and for reasons of practicality, I can with confidence declare our enemy is the aggregate of peoples, acting as individuals or collectives, from various countries, governments, and corporate entities intent on taking as their own what is not theirs, even if it means our destruction. Their goal is to dominate on Earth and rule here if we allow them even a toehold.”

“I am Gabe. Who is responsible for the Aggregate’s incursion of our planet?”

I saw a subtle lift of David’s eyebrows, but he raised his head and stood firm as he took responsibility. “I am, and upon my honor, I will make this right.”

Honor is part of what held Jiyū together, but along with it was integrity, gratitude, and forgiveness. David declared he was responsible for the current circumstance in public. In doing so, he took on the responsibility to correct it. David blamed himself more than anyone at the assembly did. In taking on the task, I knew he was asking too much of himself, as he was wont to do.

TWO

Once the assembly was over Amaré wished to speak with us. I expected it, and I could guess what it was about. Venn, our transportation A.I., was often chatty, but he drove us to the penthouse in silence at a near tortoise-like pace. Amaré’s oversized body filled the forward-facing seat of the transport. He wore his Trust uniform with its shoulders and sleeves adorned with the gold thread in the ivy motif. He began the instant we were seated.

“You were most eloquent Mr. Levitt, and it seems your words have delivered an appropriate epithet for our amorphous adversary.” Amaré paused and took a deep breath. “I trust you, Mr. Levitt, but to be blunt. Does the Aggregate know the portal’s frequency?”

David, who sat with his arm around me, shook his head. “They do not,” he said. “It was the attempt to use our drone to find the other portal, perhaps coupled with the betrayal from Pearce, which allowed them to search for Iris’s signal, and locate it.”

“I see,” said Amaré. “Pearce was your childhood friend.”

“Yes,” said David.

“He was due to return the same time as yourself,” said Amaré. “Why did he not bring his mate here?”

I shrugged. “Pearce may not have told his family about Jiyū.”

“Family...,” said Amaré looking at the two of us, “he had children.”

“That was our understanding,” said David, “and it was a surprise. Is something wrong?”

“Yes, something is quite wrong.” He tapped behind his ear to communicate with Iris.

He wished to speak to Yoncara in the medical clinic at the temple, and after a polite greeting, he arrived at his inquiry. “I have a question,” he said. “I know many jears have passed, but since your memory is enhanced, you should remember. I believe it was you who performed the medical on Pearce before he left for service, correct? Was his fertility controlled? Yes, so it was. About the time he left for Earth, did any of the N.P. devices go missing?” Amaré closed his eyes. “Yes, thank you, Yoncara.” He ended the communication.

“He took one, didn’t he?” I asked.

“I suspect he did.” Amaré nodded. “It’s a tradition that everyone who goes to Earth for service must meet certain criteria. Their Earth age cannot have passed thirty, they cannot yet have the youth enhancement, and their fertility must remain controlled until they return. Like all the others, Pearce vowed to return to Jiyū with his mate should he enter a relationship. As an alternative, he could let Mr. Levitt know he left his position and intended to stay, at which point we would release him from the vow with all that entails. The vow was meant to protect the individual if they were captured and to prevent the Foundational Enhancement from spreading. He had to have reversed his fertility control himself, because Yoncara assures me it was controlled when he left, and a nano programming device did go missing.”

“And now the Aggregate have it,” said David, “and they can give anyone any enhancement we can.”

“Without considerable genetic knowledge,” said Amaré, “the device is limited to the enhancements for which it was programmed.”

“It couldn’t enable the Sharing,” said David in realization.

“Correct.”

“Should we go after it?” I asked.

Amaré shook his head. “It is too late. They will find that particular bit of technology easy to reverse engineer.”

“Why would he take the device with him?” I asked David. “Had he planned to stay on Earth when he left Jiyū?”

“I don’t know,” said David. “It’s hard to say without more information.”

“Did he specify he had a mate and children?” asked Amaré.

Pearce often said he wanted to go home,” said David. “He never gave us any reason to believe he wasn’t referring to Jiyū. The last thing he said to me was that I was why he loved Jiyū, but I couldn’t outweigh the love he had from his family. He said, ‘I’m sorry Davi, please forgive me, they gave me no good options.’ That was all.”

“Curious. You knew Pearce well, did you not?” Amaré asked David.

“Not as well as I believed,” said David. “I knew he had his mother to care for him, such as she was. We grew up together. I thought we were close. I don’t understand. Was I obtuse?”

“No.” Amaré shook his head. “Sometimes it takes an objective observer to see. Dmitry had many occasions to witness the two of you together in your home. Pearce was never more himself than when he was with you. He loved you, and I think we must remember we do not know all the facts of his alleged treachery.” Amaré took a tired breath. “His mother is unwell, I suggest you speak to her. She should know what has become of him, and she should hear it from you as soon as possible.”

“I will,” said David. “Sir, why is it you know of Pearce and me? Why would Dmitry have discussed it with you?”

Amaré smiled a little. “Pearce brought himself to my attention when he was quite young. I noticed he was an astute and curious child. He was caught many times playing spy, even by me.”

“Yes, he led me into so much trouble,” said David. “I will never forget the incident on the lift to the temple. It ended my spying days for good.” David turned to me. “We were nine years old. We were unaware, but the lift was having some issues at the time, and children were not allowed in the lift alone, but we wanted to see what happens in the temple because it was a mysterious place for us. That day it got stuck halfway up. We were there for ten minutes when we decided to open the floor hatch and climb down the ladder with the ridiculous idea we could reach the ground before anyone noticed.”

“That’s pretty far,” I said. “What happened?”

“I was on the ladder 50 feet down from the lift when I froze. I couldn’t do it. It was just too high. Pearce got nauseous above me, and I ended up with sick all over me.”

“Ugh! How did you get down?”

“Magnar saved us with a flight-pack,” said David. “That’s how we met.”

“That may have ended your days as a spy,” said Amaré, “for Pearce it did not.”

“I’m sure he made himself quite the nuisance,” I said.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Amaré, “he did what children do.”

Sir, does it surprise you to hear of the other portal?” David asked to change the subject. David didn’t much like to talk of his younger days. He was embarrassed by much of it.

“I am seldom surprised,” Amaré said. “I would say gratified it is no longer hidden.”

“May I ask you something?” I asked Amaré. “I’ve asked this of David, but I would like your opinion.”

“Always, Mr. Heiden.”

David sat as he always did when Amaré and I had a discussion, listening, and marveling over how easy I found it to talk with him like a friend. Due to Amaré’s position and age, he was given a kind of reverence from the people of Jiyū. Much of that stemmed from the language barrier that kept him separate most of his life. Amaré speaking English was still new to David.

“I’m not suggesting it’s time for extreme measures,” I said, “but if the situation turns uncontrollable, is destroying the portal ever a possibility?”

Venn pulled into the lay-by at our building, but we remained in the vehicle for a moment.

Amaré smiled. “I have considered worst-case scenarios many times over the years. It is a fact of our lives, as you pointed out before, having the portal is a risk. We will have to act as circumstance and necessity dictates and see where we find ourselves. But not to worry Mr. Heiden, the people of Jiyū long ago discovered how to destroy the portal should it ever become necessary.” Amaré noticed David’s surprise. “It is our wish to keep the portal, yet destroying the portal is an easy solution we must always entertain. Recognizing when it is the only solution; that is hard.

“On another matter Mr. Levitt, are you pleased with your home?”

“Ah! Kare wa sore o miteinai. (Ah! He has not seen it),” I said in Japanese to Amaré.

“Oh! My apologies, Mr. Heiden.” He made a little bow while seated. “He was wearing his uniform so-” Amaré gestured in exasperation and shook his head. “I have said too much.”

“What’s he talking about?” asked David as I ushered him from the vehicle.

“It’s okay,” I said, “you’ll know soon enough.”

Amaré gave me a little smile, we said our goodbyes with a bow, and Venn drove him away.

“Is this something to do with why you wouldn’t let me come to the penthouse when we arrived?” asked David. “It was suspicious, and your pathetic excuse was dubious.”

“It had everything to do with it,” I said, straightening his beautiful jacket. “Now before we go up I want you to know this was my idea.”

“Ah,” he said, “now I’ll know who to blame.”

I smiled. “With the help of Magnar,” I continued, “and from what he told me a man named Baden from Laren College, it was done while we were gone.”

“Baden? Isn’t he the man who altered Magnar’s home?” he asked as we moved to the lift. “He boasted about it for a jear before I agreed to see it. What have you done?”

“Something I know you’ll love,” I said.

We entered the lift, but it didn’t move as it did before; it sat there. A sudden voice behind us startled us both.

“Hello, welcome home.” It was an androgynous sounding voice.

“Who are you?” David asked.

“I am the first in the tenth generation of the Hestia project.”

“Tenth? What was wrong with the generation we had?” David asked.

“Your previous was generation one,” said the voice. “Yours was the last home to utilize it. It had no interface, no visual, and no voice. It took commands but was not on the verge of sentience. Five generations have passed during your fifty jear absence. I am the tenth.”

“Are you Hestia?” I asked.

“My name is up to you, as well as the gender my interface projects if you so choose.”

David looked at me. “Rick, I’m not good with this sort of thing.”

I placed my hand on his back. “I’ll take care of it, David. Let us go up, please.”

We were lifted to the top where we were met with the new penthouse. The building and grounds encompassed an entire city block, so it had an impressive footprint. The outside of the building was Edwardian Baroque, but the inside was not in keeping with the exterior. Nevertheless, as planned Baden altered the home to have the feel of a traditional Edwardian English gentlemen’s club. It was a tasteful masculine space, with vibrant, deep colors, medium toned wood walls with custom moldings, and ornate white coffered ceilings. The furnishings were exotic woods, Jiyū’s equivalent to faux-leather that I began to call jeather, and something like velvet.

After the initial shock, he feigned loving it as best he could, but he didn’t fool me. He was terrible at lying, even if to spare my feelings.

“You don’t like it.”

“I’m sorry that I can’t give you the reaction you wanted. It isn’t a question of not liking it. I tend not to fall in love with things in an instant. They must grow on me, including changes to my environment.”

“You told me you fell in love with me the instant you met me,” I said.

“And you are my exception to every rule, my dear.”

“Nice save,” I said and sighed. “I shouldn’t have worried. You could get used to anything, couldn’t you?”

“Ha! I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “Take this uniform, for example. I promise you I will never get used to it.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s an attractive set of garments, that couldn’t be more uncomfortable unless I were to wear it at a Turkish bath.”

“What do you mean? It has vents.”

“Ah yes, the vents,” he said in derision. “They’re an exceptional idea, and insufficient at any temperature more than 25˚ centigrade. Svend missed the mark with this one.”

“Okay then, is this décor at least something you could grow accustomed to and enjoy?”

He took a deep breath and gazed about with a lukewarm air. “Sure.”

I wanted to roll my eyes, but it was a habit I was attempting to break.

We were met with the foyer, which was still rounded, but more open than it had been.

“What happened to the stairs?” asked David. “How do we get to the second level?”

On the far side of the room a slender, grey, featureless being with timidity, dragged itself into our view from the hallway.

“The staircase is in the circular stairwell which doubles as the library,” it said with the same voice we heard in the lift. It gestured to the rounded wall to its left which marked the center of the building.

David and I stood staring, not believing what we were seeing.

“My apologies,” said the androgynous voice. “The quicker you decide my appearance, the less disconcerting you’ll find me, I promise.”

“Not to be rude, but what are you?” asked David.

“I am a synthetic, a physical entity with a holographic interface. I am the replacement of what was once the Hestia robot that hid in the closet. It’s my understanding it took time to perfect, but whatever I may project to you later, this form will remain underlying structure.”

“Are you like Venn?” I asked.

It shook its rudimentary head sloth-like and spoke with rapidity. “Venn is a decentralized synthetic intelligence who gives the appearance of inhabiting the robots he controls. He could, without consequence to himself, disengage from a given robot like a human sloughing off skin cells and not give it a second thought. I’m just an anthromorph.” It shrugged. “I exist as who and what you see before you, however unsure I am of what that is.”

“How can you be unsure of what you are?” I asked.

The anthromorph tipped its head. “I find that difficult to explain.”

“I see,” I said. “Well, if you’re here, what about the attendants?” The attendants were tiny machines the size of a fly that watched over you and your guests so both of you would have personalized assistance while in the home.

“The attendants are still in use but use cloaking technology now. I’m sure you are curious about the house; may I guide you?”

“Yes, please,” said David, overcome from the newness of it all.

“The first thing you should know is the other tenants volunteered to vacate the building before work began,” it said.

“Why would they do that?” I asked. “Has my request made them want to abandon their home?”

“It was a motivating factor,” it said, “but do not worry, I happen to know they never enjoyed living here. The former tenants have moved to private residences on the current edge of the city close to the water. They are quite happy there. Baden felt their absence provided a unique opportunity, and thought the building was better utilized as Jiyū’s residence for its Ambassador to Earth now the people of Earth know of our existence.”

“But this is our residence,” said David. “You make it sound as if Ambassador to Earth were my permanent position.”

“Someone must do it,” it said, “and I can assure you no one else wants the job.”

David’s face held an expression of vexation. “What is this? Am I forever conscripted?”

“Think of it as winning an election,” it said.

“By default, perhaps,” he said and looked at me.

“No one can make you hold the post forever,” I said, “but you must admit, too much change is happening to dump it into the lap of someone less experienced than yourself for some time to come.”

“Very well, I accept your reasoning,” he said in resignation. “What else do we need to know?”

“We stand the fifth floor,” it said. “This is the main floor, and one intended for guests and private dinners.”

Beyond the foyer was the lounge. There were a series of comfortable sitting areas in front of a painted focal wall. Beyond that to the left and right was a connected semi-circular hallway leading to several rooms, one of which was a dining room with a mahogany colored airstrip for a table with seating for twenty-six.

“What the bloody hell is that?” asked David, pointing out the enormity.

Many of us had picked up Aiden’s tendency toward that phrase, in this case, it was warranted. The table’s creator crafted it with elegance, but it was elongated into absurdity. It looked like it belonged in a palace somewhere.

“It is for dinners with dignitaries from Earth,” it said.

“We can manage ten guests,” said David, “not twenty-four.”

“Thank you, David. I appreciate your realizing that” I said. “Was this Baden’s idea?”

“I believe so,” it said. “I see now, implementing these ideas without your input was a mistake. I will have it replaced. I’ve heard it said it’s a beautiful table, someone will want it.”

It reminded me of a bridge held up by five wooden arches with closed spandrels. The table and chairs were made with bulk to give weight to the sparse room. Its width was generous and its length expansive providing each guest elbow room. They must have brought it into the building through an outside wall during construction, and I feared the necessity of cutting it to remove it as it stood. I couldn’t have that. I shook my head. “No, don’t replace it. That would seem ungrateful, and it is beautiful. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to create it. We should keep it and use it.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with it?” asked David.

“Yes, just a bit surprised. It may appear enormous, but one never knows it could come in handy.”

Further around the circular hallway to the right was a butler’s pantry, and the kitchen, which as before, looked nothing like a kitchen I recognized. Continuing led one to the right side of the building with two large lavatories and the day room which was a bright and comfortable place to spend some time. Any further and one would re-emerge into the living area to the right of the focal wall.

Inside the surrounded cavity was the round room with an entry on either end of the hallway. The inside was a magnificent circular room 30 feet in diameter. The center contained a 15-foot diameter hole with a spacious, free-standing, spiral staircase of the same wood as the dining table. It spanned almost the entire height of the building. The walls were lined with built-in bookcases and held a rolling ladder for reaching the top shelves swiveling the circumference of the room.

Looking down into the depths from the staircase railing, one could see all the way to the first floor, and up, to the level above. The walls were in dark rich wood tones and held so many books it could have been a public library. The stairwell’s lighting provided a great deal of drama to the books and stairs. The room, despite its obvious modern undertones, was harmonized well enough to fit into the overall theme of the traditional British gentlemen’s club. David and I loved the stairwell and agreed it was a highlight of the home.

The first and second floor were left empty apart from the stairwell library. The third and fourth floors held six guest suites for visiting dignitaries or anyone else we invited to stay.

David and I thought we would leave the anthromorph on the fifth floor so we might explore the sixth in private. Yet, the instant we climbed the stairs we were met by the anthromorph once again at the top.

“That was quick,” said David.

“I can assist you on each floor,” it said.

“I see,” I said, “and should we wish for privacy?”

“That was an issue brought up by the team at the Hestia Project,” it said. “It seemed to them it was one thing for the attendants to watch over someone and learn so the person was assisted during their stay, but quite another for a walking talking humanoid version to perform the same function with greater efficiency. In the end, it was decided it was best I have someplace to go rather than standing about, and I do, but I assure you it changes nothing except your perception. The attendants are no less me than I am.”

“Very well,” said David, “what about privacy issues?”

“As far as I’m concerned,” it said, “that which is said or done by anyone beneath this roof remains private, but of course, I will do whatever you ask.”

“I don’t mind having an audience,” said David to me, “it’s not like we weren’t watched over before. Are you comfortable with this?”

“One thing at a time, David, I beg you. I’ll need time to think about it. For the moment let us explore by ourselves.”

The sixth floor was our private residence, it had twin master bedrooms; the second was for personal guests. The staircase terminated with a railing and no circular hallway. It left an open floor plan, which consisted of a sitting area and an intimate dining room for four with room for six. The grand balcony with pool was also in evidence beyond the folding glass door.

As David was busy thanking me for my role in having the penthouse redesigned for him, we were contacted by Aiden with an invitation to come to the college dining hall to eat and talk. It was inconvenient timing, but we went anyway. We were hungry.

Venn, Jiyū’s transport A.I., delivered us to Bragi College, and he had an inquiry. “I heard upon your recent return you brought someone who could rekindle Jiyū’s space program. Is it true?”

“I know why you’re asking,” I said. “You’re responsible for all transportation, and what is a space vessel but another form of transportation? His name is Captain Rocke Lancier Dupré, and yes, I think it’s possible at some point, given the opportunity. He and Maggie are still at the temple going through orientation and receiving their medicals. You’ll meet them soon enough.”

“Are you sure they’ll be okay on their own?” David asked. “They just got here.”

“Maggie told me she and Aiden had a long discussion about it. She was certain she didn’t need me. Besides, Aiden will check on them later as he’s staying with her tonight. But to give you an idea of the chutzpah Maggie has, she moved to London from the south of France without so much as a previous visit to England.”

He nodded in agreement. “That takes gumption.”

THREE

The college’s dining hall at the center of the campus was the most adorned of all the Art Nouveau buildings. The fairytale-esque doorways, columns, vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, and figural statuary were complemented by the extraordinary stone floor which held an intricate mosaic. The stone tables carved with whimsy appeared as massive mushrooms and were placed in circular formations to form concentric fairy rings. Aiden sat next to Laurel and left two cushy toadstool seats across the table for us.

Laurel spoke up, “We have disappointing news.”

“But also, some agreeable news,” said Aiden, “then some terrible news.”

“I figured you would,” said David. “What’s the disappointing news?”

“You were right about the portal not phasing out,” said Aiden. “Unlike on Earth, there is a satellite here that can scan the whole planet in just a few hours searching for the localized field the portal produces. With Amaré’s agreement, we did that, and it found nothing. Yet, we know another portal exists here.”

“What’s the agreeable news?” I asked.

“The agreeable news is that a large crew of engineers and Trust members, including Cadmar, Magnar, Tamika, and Gabe, along with a few robots, are trying to get the carrier up again,” said Aiden.

“That thing?” asked David.

“And Gabe?” I asked. “That’s interesting. What’s the carrier?”

“It’s an old hover ship we used to carry stone and other minerals from various areas,” said Laurel. “It’s the one ship we have large enough to take a couple of thewsbots to dig out the portal, get to the bodies, and carry it all back. Once the portal is found, of course.”

“I suspect it might be faster to build one from scratch,” said David.

“I haven’t seen it,” said Aiden, “but is it that bad?”

“Yes,” said David and Laurel.

“How can Jiyū not have an entire fleet of amazing craft at the ready?” I asked David.

“On Jiyū, necessity isn’t just the mother of invention,” said David, “it’s also the driving force for an endeavor. We haven’t needed such things. We build things because we need them. To build things because we can, is a waste of resources.”

“I wouldn’t consider it wasteful as much as an expression of prudent vigilance,” I said. “At this point, I think someone should consider at least a single new ship is needed, but I would recommend more. Who does that here?”

“Laren College does most of our design work,” said Laurel. “I’m positive they would jump at the opportunity.”

David took a deep breath. “Okay, we may as well get this over. What’s the terrible news?”

Aiden placed a fist-sized stone on the table from a bag he had with him. “As you know, I thought to pick up one of the stones from the portal in Japan for analysis. This one was the same composition as the larger stones and boulders covering the portal. It’s the one clue we have, and as it turns out, this sample of rock is as common here as dirt. So, we have nothing more to go on other than it’s east of here, which is where we began.”

“Such a shame, Aiden,” said David picking up the stone, looking at it. “It was good thinking on your part.”

“That’s unusual,” I said pointing to the side of the stone.

“The smooth side,” said Aiden nodding. “Yes, I thought that too. I suppose it’s what drew my eye to it when I picked it up.”

“Let me see.” I took the stone from David and examined it closer. “This side isn’t just smooth, it’s like someone polished it. It even shines in the light from the window.”

“I know that tone of voice. You’re doing that thing you do, aren’t you?” asked David.

“What thing?” asked Laurel.

David motioned for them to wait while I thought about it.

“I think I know how this stone got this way.” I pointed to David and Aiden. “Do either of you remember a high-pitched sound coming from the portal while it created the energy sphere?”

Aiden shook his head.

“I wasn’t paying attention to the sounds,” said David. “What was it?”

I held the stone up. “I think the portal on this side was cutting the stone that sat on top of it. I would bet if you scanned this stone and analyzed the curvature of the smooth side you would discover it matched the inside curvature of the portal’s sphere.” I set the stone in the middle of the table, smooth side up.

“Fascinating hypotheses,” said Aiden, “but it doesn’t help much.”

Laurel picked up the stone to study it. “Perhaps not, but I’m interested,” she said. “Thank you, Rick, I will add this information to our Portalphiles database. I will have to label it as anecdotal, of course, but I will cite you as the origin.”

“I have a question,” I said. “Why couldn’t you scan for the energy signatures given off by the portal itself? Shouldn’t the plasma inside it give off something?”

Laurel shook her head as she examined the stone. “It shields itself as long as the energy sits inside the device,” she said. “We can’t detect the energy from space while the portal remains dormant.”

“It was active a few days ago, what about then?” I asked.

“We have a limited number of satellites in orbit,” she said, “not all the satellites there can detect such things, and too many gaps exist.

“One thing I should mention,” she said, “you said the portal was covered in debris here, and there is debris covering the ground at the portal in Japan which is out of phase. It doesn’t work unless the portal on Earth can reveal itself, and it won’t do so as long as something sits in the same space.”

“What happens if the Americans uncover the location in Japan?” I asked. “Will the portal send the debris from here to Earth?”

“It wouldn’t if it were debris alone,” said Laurel. “If they uncover the location on Earth, and there are bodies still atop the portal here, along with the debris, it will send them back.”

“I was unaware you couldn’t just send objects through unaccompanied,” said David.

“If someone goes through from here and no ring is present on the other side, what happens?” asked Aiden.

“The portals on Earth must reset themselves by phasing out,” she said. “Without the quantum chip in the ring, it gives you time to step off the portal, but if you don’t, you’ll find yourself laying on the ground where the portal stood.”

“I see,” I said. “So, the Portal works without the chip, but if it’s programmed to go out of phase, you need the chip to make it reveal itself.”

“Where did the quantum chips come from?” asked Aiden.

“We duplicated the original,” David said.

“The original is in a diamond,” said Laurel. “It sits in a protected case in the museum along with the pylon.”

“Pylon?” I asked.

“It’s made of stone and about 4 feet high,” said Laurel. “It’s where the diamond came from, you would have to see it. It was supposed to have been on the Earth side just outside the portal’s localized field, or at least that’s what the ancient writing at the archive we can read says. It sat in One City square for ages. It was replaced by the cylindrical bell when the pylon went to the museum.”

“It was on the Earth side,” said Aiden, “but for which portal?”

Laurel and David looked at one another.

“The one in Japan, maybe,” said Laurel.

“That’s something our scholars are going to have to work out,” said David.

“If it’s from Japan,” I said, “does this mean one at the portal in London exists somewhere?”

It was a good bet there was, and none of us knew the answer. If so, it meant there was another original quantum chipped diamond on Earth.

After eating and some further chat, it was close to shadow-time when the sun recedes behind the mountain casting the shadow across the city. David and I returned to the penthouse to watch it, Aiden went to the temple to stay the night with Maggie and Rocke, and Laurel was left to her own devices.

We changed into something more comfortable and waited on the grand balcony. We lay on the couch, David’s arms around me, and we discussed the anthromorph situation. Even in the middle of the mess in which we found ourselves, there were domestic matters still requiring our attention.

“The penthouse is modeled after a traditional British gentleman’s club,” I said. “I think we need a male butler.”

“Isn’t that sexist?” asked David.

“No, it’s part of the traditional theme.”

“I suppose, if that’s what you want,” David replied.

“I’ve been thinking about the name Mason. I’ve always liked that name.”

“That’s an interesting-” David jerked his head toward the balcony wall. “What was that?”

“What?” I was a bit alarmed.

“I thought I saw something.” We jumped from the couch and darted to the wall. In a few minutes, the sun would pass behind the mountain ridge.

“What did it look like?”

“A dark blur sped by. It wasn’t lightning fast, but it was quick.”

“Well, it wasn’t a bird.”

He smiled and looked at me. “No, not a bird.”

I looked down over the parapet wall. “We’re 100 feet up, was it a toy, maybe?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” he said.

We stood watching the shadow pass over One City, and that’s when I saw it. I pointed it out to David. It was a well-lit object flying high above the city. It was quite noticeable against the shadowed portion behind it. It flew high enough for the sun to strike it at an angle which caused it to reveal itself.

David relayed a message via Iris to all the Trust members. “This is David. Just in case you had yet to notice, I’m witnessing an object flying 40 meters above the city somewhere around Station 8 West. It’s a bit dark, appears to be 40 centimeters in diameter. I think it’s a reconnaissance drone. It seems at least one of our invaders at the other portal survived. David out.” He pressed his finger behind his ear once again. The object continued to fly above the city. “Iris connect me to Rom.” Rom was the artificial intelligence which controls the satellites and space telescopes. “Hello, Rom. I don’t have time to chat. We have a situation. There is an object, I suspect it’s an Aggregate drone, flying 40 meters- You see it?” David nodded to me. “Good. Oh, are there? They might be receiving a transmission from a remote somewhere. Track it to its source if you can, and whatever else you do don’t take your eye off them. Follow them wherever they go,” said David ending the communication and then turned to me, “Rom says there’s two of them. He’s scanning now. If this works, we may just find the portal.”

“They could be autonomous, and if so, aren’t they better off destroyed?”

“Looking around is of no value if the information isn’t given to whoever sent them,” said David. “If we destroy them we can’t track them back from where they came.”

A few minutes passed, and One City was in shadow. It was still daytime for two more hours when the sun would set beyond the Western horizon. I suspected David and I were in for a long night, and I was already too tired.

It was not long after the real sunset that David and I were transported by Venn to Laurel’s personal lab. It was my first time out at night, and it was impossible not to notice all the bicycles in use. Many of them created a circular blue ring of light as the wheels turned, but there were quite a few that the body of the bike glowed fluorescent green.

“Bike hubs were built near the train stations,” said David. “All the green bikes are public bikes. You’re welcome to use any of the green ones you find at the bike-hubs. Just leave them in another hub somewhere in the city. If you see a green bike away from a hub, then someone is using it. The rest are personal bikes. Both of my bikes are in the storage room at the penthouse.”

“I remember you said you did a lot of mountain biking growing up,” I said. “Should I get a bike? I wouldn’t want Venn or the train to always carry us everywhere we go.”

“If you will, I’ll get my street bike out of storage.”

Laurel, our satellite A.I. named Rom, myself, and Gabe gathered at Laurel’s personal lab. Gabe didn’t impart a pleasant first impression because of his appearance. He had black hair, oppressive looking eyebrows with dark eyes, and he didn’t smile much. To describe him, one word that springs to mind is severe, and his question to David at the Arena reinforced the notion. He was also slow to trust others, but when it came to David, he seemed to have latched onto him with both hands. Regardless of any first impressions, however, we were grateful, and his input was welcome.

Laurel’s personal lab was where her Portalphiles group met. It was tucked behind her home in a Tudor neighborhood far down the right arm of the city. Its atmosphere was somewhere between a lab and a swanky hangout. Drafting tables, an electronic version of a chalkboard, and tons of books, some of which were written by members of the group themselves, surrounded a sunken lounge area containing a rounded couch. It was decorated by a wall mural of the One City skyline seen from the lake. We stood around a 6-foot circular, holographic display table which could tap into Jiyū’s central computer, as well as various artificial intelligences, like Venn and Rom, and could display what Rom could see from orbit.

Rom displayed an image of the planet from space. It was my first opportunity to see it. We were in darkness at the time, so it wasn’t a live image over One City; it was an image from earlier in the day. It was unlike Earth. Earth was a big blue and green marble with white clouds. Jiyū was an even larger green and blue marble with white clouds. There were no oceans, but many enormous seas larger than the Caspian Sea on Earth. I was informed Jiyū was about 45% surface water and 55% landmass. If the land wasn’t an island in one of the seas, it was part of the single landmass. There were no continents separated by water like on Earth. You could circumnavigate the globe on foot. As Rom zoomed in on the image of One City, I could see our lake was far more substantial than I had imagined. One City was in a bit of the upper right corner. There was the mountain, and the plains area beyond, upon which sat the Arena to the east, along with the newest portion of the city neither David nor I had seen.

“I had no idea One City had grown so much,” said David in wonder. “I’m sorry Rick, I was mistaken. I keep thinking of it the way it was. When I had left, there were 3 million of us. How many of us are there now?”

“Jiyū now has a stable population growth rate at 1.5% per jear,” said Rom. “Over the last 50 jears, the population has risen to 5.3 million.”

“People have lived on Jiyū for thousands of jears,” I said. “Why didn’t the population explode once the youth enhancement was created? There should be tens, if not hundreds of millions more people here by now.”

“After the youth enhancement was invented Jiyū’s population began a severe decline,” said Rom. “I am unsure of the reason.”

“It went down?” asked Laurel, perplexed.

“That makes no sense at all.” David glanced at me.

“Something is wrong with that,” I said to myself. I felt strange at the time. I had been so bowled over by Jiyū when I first arrived. All I saw was how much better it was. David said if you live someplace long enough like he had the hotel penthouse he referred to as a dump, then you begin to see every single flaw. This information was a red flag, the first one. It went against all reasonable expectations for the population to decline. The one person who said nothing was Gabe, and his expression had a notable change. He knew something, and rather than having said it, he kept it to himself. I looked him in the eye and decided to question him.

“Why did it go down?”

“We need to focus on the problem at hand,” said Gabe.

I could tell, he was hiding something. “You know, don’t you?” I asked.

“Rick!” He shook his head. “Not now. The drones are far more important.”

I knew he wasn’t wrong. I would get the information soon enough, so I let it slide for the moment.

The drones had managed to elude Rom’s ever watching eye and vanished, and they were not found at their last known location. Rom believed they were still in the area. They flew above the city for some time, and Rom detected something interesting in their behavior. The aerial view of the city remained on the holographic display. Rom overlaid the pattern in the movements of the drones. Each one was moving about in a different section of the city.

“They each confined themselves to a different portion,” said Rom, “and they never overlapped, even when they could have done so.”

“That connotes intelligence,” said Laurel.

“It also tells me they can communicate with one another,” I said.

“Did you detect any communication between them, Rom?” asked David.

“None I observed,” said Rom. “The scanning of the city had already begun when they were found, perhaps they communicated before they began. The bigger issue is what they were doing.”

“Yes,” said Gabe, “from what you’re displaying here they were meticulous in scanning and mapping out the city in detail. I think we should have shot them down, David.”

“No, not yet, Gabe,” said David. “Rom, you’re certain they’re still in the area.”

“They appear to be hiding in the city. I believe they await dawn,” said Rom. “From what I can determine from the area they had scanned, and if I estimate the part they scanned before we noticed them, they are 45% complete.”

“How far might they have traveled to get here?” asked David.

“Earth’s power technology isn’t that advanced,” I said, “their range would be short. Rom, how long were they in the air before their disappearance?”

“Two hours, twelve minutes,” he replied.

David looked at me perplexed and shook his head. “That’s a long time for a drone with a Terran power source,” he said.

“Terrans are what we’re calling them now? I thought it was the Aggregate.”

David looked at me. “I never intended for them to be called the Aggregate, but it’s as good a name as any.” He glanced at Gabe. “The technology is Terran. We must differentiate their technology from ours, and the word ‘Earthling’ is laughable.”

“Fair enough.” I thought about it for a moment, and something occurred to me. “Wait, what if they’re not using a Terran power source?”

David’s expression changed to one of realization. “They’ll find that particular piece of technology easy to reverse engineer.” David turned back to the display. “Oh no.”

Pearce’s betrayal continued to exhibit causational effects that were to persist for some time to come. It was one thing for Pearce to have done what he did in isolation from all other repercussive factors. Had that been the case, forgiving him would have been easy, and I believed we had. Yet, there was his betrayal coming home to roost. It would be difficult for him to remain forgiven when his actions caused us difficulties at every turn.

David told the others what had occurred and informed me of the extent of the damage. I understood how dreadful the situation was. The nano programming device Pearce took to Earth, once reverse engineered, wasn’t just a template for more N.P. devices. In the hands of someone creative, it could usher in a new era of electronics built upon its technology. It was clear the American government was already utilizing it.

The power source contained in the N.P. device was known as an Isotopic Cell, and as scary as the idea of using isotopes sounded to me, it was supposed to be safe providing the cell’s craftsmanship was meticulous, and it was intact. The cell must have the correct configuration and be made with quality ingredients of exacting purity. If it was, it could power a device safely for decades. The technology was scalable. Larger cells produce more power, and a group of cells could power a city, as it did on Jiyū with its Isotopic Array. However, while cells made without the proper configuration or with lesser quality ingredients could produce power, they were not safe or stable, and given the right conditions, they could explode at a magnitude proportional to their size. Even with my rudimentary understanding of them, I comprehended how dangerous they could be. It wasn’t that they could cause a thermonuclear explosion, their interiors weren’t capable of that, it was more like a dirty bomb. It could create an explosion that would throw nuclear material into the atmosphere.


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