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J I Y Ū

The Seal of Aurum


by

Kenton Forshée



The Jiyū Series

Book 1

Jiyū: Latent Portal


Book 2

Jiyū: The Seal of Aurum
















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

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 it would protect me from the school bullies who taunted me, but such a wish was merely the path of least resistance beckoning me with promises it would never fulfill. It was unsurprising it tempted me. It was a path so pervasive it permeated all of nature, including myself. So, the go-to reaction of my youth 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. In my invariable judgment, 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 as a child, 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 protect me? I would have to do it myself. Besides, I was with David, so I felt I must keep up with him. 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 above 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 striking a bargain wouldn’t end it. 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 they would never accept “no” 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 had 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 necessary promise. He wished to provide a soft landing for the good people of Earth.

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. We all believed he was dead, 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, but we donned our robes before sneaking 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. We relayed the circumstances as they were then. For the sake of expediency, I 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 called an assembly until that day. When it came to the truth on our home planet, we had neither the denials of our circumstance nor delays in the dissemination of details. They wanted to know, and they wanted to act.

I looked upon the sea of colored uniforms, sheathed swords upon their backs. I saw them as a formidable group. To me, they represented people with the ability to stand up for themselves, and I admired them. They stood in silence awaiting David’s message. 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 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 for it. 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. The Americans used him in the same manner, and they have the Foundational Enhancement also. We do not know 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 can read the ancient texts at the archive. It hints of something none of us had conceived. Another portal exists 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. Another portal exists, the exit to which resides in Japan near Mount Fuji. We must find this other portal because the Americans know its precise location.

“The drone we used to find the ring in London had flawless performance. 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. Without realizing it, our efforts led 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 if the aliens programed the portal to slip out of phase, it produces a localized field. Our portal at One City does not do that, so we can conclude the other one here doesn’t either. That would make the portal’s detection difficult, and more so if it remains buried. Aiden and Laurel, along with her team, search for a means to find it even now. No doubt, you have questions.”

The members had many questions. Iris chose them in the order in which they were asked. These were among them.

“I am North. Did you recover the ring?”

“Yes,” said David. “As far as we know, they cannot access either portal on Earth.”

“I am Dai. Can you tell us 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?”

“It lays to the east,” I said. “I do not know what area or how far.”

“I am Telek. For clarity, do we consider 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. We know we have enemies, but I cannot define them with ease. I cannot point to the Americans and say, look, there is our enemy. Individuals designate themselves our enemy when they do. The problem lies in the diversity of their origin, but their common connection rests within 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 serve as our sole enemy. So, who are they?” David paused to think. “Scientists regard a group of related species 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 takes responsibility 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 do, and upon my honor, I will make this right.”

Honor helps to hold Jiyū together, but also integrity, gratitude, and forgiveness. David declared his responsibility for the current circumstance in public. In doing so, he took on the obligation to correct it. David blamed himself more than anyone at the assembly did. In taking on the task, I knew he asked 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 the subject. Venn, our often chatty, transportation A.I. 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 seated ourselves.

“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 at the risk of bluntness. Does the Aggregate know the portal’s frequency?”

David, who sat with his arm around me, shook his head. “They do not,” he said. “Out attempt to use the drone to find the other portal, perhaps coupled with the betrayal from Pearce, allowed them the possibility of locating Iris’s signal.”

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

“Yes,” said David.

“He could have returned 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 surprised us. 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 you have enhanced memory, you should remember. You performed the medical on Pearce before he left for service, correct? Was his fertility controlled? Yes, of course. At 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. “We have 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 served as an attempt 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 of its control 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 cannot provide an enhancement that extends beyond its programming.”

“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. “I would need more information.”

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

Pearce often said he wanted to go home,” said David. “He gave us any reason to believe he didn’t refer to Jiyū. He said, 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 himself 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, how do 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 thought of him as an astute and curious child. People caught him many times playing spy, as did I.”

“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 had trouble at the time. Unaccompanied children were not allowed in the lift, but we wanted to see what happens in the temple. For us, it was a place of mystery. The lift got stuck halfway up. We sat there for ten minutes when we decided to open the floor hatch and climb down the ladder with the ridiculous idea that we could reach the ground before anyone noticed.”

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

I looked at Amaré and he had the most pleasing smile as we listened.

“I froze on the ladder 50 feet down from the lift. I couldn’t do it. It was 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.”

“He must have 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, much of it embarrassed him.

“Things seldom surprise me,” Amaré said. “I would say it gratifies me to hear it no longer remains 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, the people of Jiyū had given him a kind of reverence. 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 would not suggest the time had come for extreme measures,” I said, “but if the situation turns uncontrollable, does the possibility exist that we might destroy the portal?”

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 jears. 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 the necessary arise.” Amaré noticed David’s surprise. “We 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, does your home please you?”

“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.

“Does this have something to do with why you wouldn’t let me come to the penthouse when we arrived?” asked David. “I 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 said, continuing, “and from what he told me a man named Baden from Laren College, it was completed while on the mission.”

“Baden? Didn’t he alter 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.” The voice sounded androgynous.

“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.

“You must name me, and assign a gender for my interface to project, 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.”

The building and grounds encompassed an entire city block, so it had an impressive footprint. The design 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. The tasteful masculine space, shown 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 called jeather, and something like velvet.

After the initial shock, he feigned loving it as best he could, but he didn’t fool me. David made a deplorable liar, 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 the exception to my 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! Don’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 feel more uncomfortable unless I wore it at a Turkish bath.”

“What do you mean? It has vents.”

“Ah yes, the vents,” he said in derision, “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 I attempted to break the habit.

First came the foyer, still rounded, but more open than before.

“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 resides 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 our own witness.

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

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

“I am a synthetic, a physical entity with a holographic interface. I replace the Hestia robot that hid in the closet. It took time to perfect, but this form remains the underlying structure beneath whatever I may project to you later.”

“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 are you 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. They watched over you and your guests so both of you could have personalized assistance while in the home.

“We still use the attendants, but they utilize cloaking technology now. Would you like to see the house? May I guide you?”

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

“You should know, 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 factored into their motivation,” 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. He wanted to utilize the building 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 like Ambassador to Earth were a permanent position.”

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

David’s lips tightened, and his eyebrows drew together in vexation. “When did we began permanent conscription?”

“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 occurring 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.”

The lounge lay after the foyer, consisting of a series of comfortable sitting areas in front of a painted focal wall. Beyond that to the left and right, a connected semi-circular hallway led to several rooms. One of those served as 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 had elongated the thing into absurdity. 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. “Did Baden think of this?”

“I believe so,” it said. “I see now, Baden should have implemented these ideas with your input. I will have it replaced at once. I’ve heard it said the table is beautiful, someone else may 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 generous width, its expansive length both provided room for food and each guest ample elbow room. They must have brought it into the building through an outside wall during reconstruction. 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, a butler’s pantry lay alongside 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 looked like 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, lined with built-in bookcases, 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, in dark rich wood tones, held so many books it could act as the public library. The stairwell’s lighting provided a great deal of drama to the books and stairs. The room, despite its obvious modern undertones, 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 met 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 had personalized assistance during their stay, but quite another for a walking talking humanoid version to perform the same function with greater efficiency. In the end, they decided I should 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 for privacy concerns,” it said, “what you do and that which transpires 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 has happened before, remember? Would you feel 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, our private residence, had twin master bedrooms; the second one intended 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 made himself busy thanking me for my role in having the penthouse redesigned for him, Aiden contacted us with an invitation to come to the college dining hall to eat and talk. It came at a terribly inconvenient time, but we agreed 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. You’ll meet him soon enough.”

“Do you think Maggie and Rocke okay on their own?” David asked. “They just got here.”

“Maggie told me she and Aiden had a long discussion about it. She felt 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, held the honor of the most adorned of all the Art Nouveau buildings. The fairytale-esque doorways, columns, vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, and figural statuary, complemented the extraordinary stone floor displaying an intricate mosaic. The stone tables carved with whimsy appeared as massive mushrooms, 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, the other portal doesn’t phase out,” said Aiden. “Unlike on Earth, a satellite here can scan the whole planet in just a few hours searching for the localized field the portal produces. With Amaré’s agreement, we had one do 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, work to get the carrier up again,” said Aiden.

“Struggle, more like it,” said 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, “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. It’s a waste of resources to build things because we can.

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

“Laren College does most of our design work,” said Laurel. “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 looked 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,” said David. “You’re doing that thing you do.”

“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, cut 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. Many of them face away from the planet, and of those that do too large gaps exist.

“One thing I should mention,” she said, “you said the portal was covered in debris here, and debris covers the ground at the portal site 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 bodies still lay 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. The ancients found it on the Earth side just outside the portal’s localized field, or at least that’s what the writing at the archive we can read says. It sat in One City square for ages but the cylindrical bell replaced it when the pylon went to the museum.”

“They found it 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 will 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 grew 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 left for the temple to stay the night with Maggie and Rocke, and Laurel’s had Venn transport her home.

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, domestic matters still required our attention.

“I had the penthouse 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 your plan,” David replied.

“I have thought about the name Mason. I have always liked that name.”

“That’s an interesting-” David jerked his head toward the balcony wall. “Did you see 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, not lightning fast, but quick.”

“Well, I doubt it was a bird.”

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

I looked down over the parapet wall. “We’re 100 feet up, a child’s 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. The well-lit object flying high above the city displayed well 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 spy 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. An object flies over the city, I suspect it’s an Aggregate drone, flying 40 meters- You see it?” David nodded to me. “Good. Oh, really? They might receive a transmission from a remote somewhere. Track it to the 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.”

“What if the drones have autonomy, and if so, should we not destroy them?”

“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 lay in shadow. Technically it remained 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 already felt too tired.

Not long after the real sunset, Venn transported us to Laurel’s personal lab. I enjoyed my first time out at night, and all the bicycles in use caught my eye. Many of them created a circular blue ring of light as the wheels turned, but with quite a few, the body of the bike glowed fluorescent green.

“We have bike-hubs near the train stations,” said David. “All the green bikes serve as 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 others you see here 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 said he was 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. She had it 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 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 couldn’t show a live image over One City; it was 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. I saw no oceans, but many enormous seas larger than the Caspian Sea on Earth. Rom informed me that Jiyū consisted of 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. I noted 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?”

“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.

“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 felt 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. Against all reasonable expectations, the population declined. The one person who said nothing was Gabe. 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 hid 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 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 moved 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 we discovered them, perhaps they communicated before they began. The bigger issue is what they were doing.”

“Yes,” said Gabe, “from this display here they scanned and mapped 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 not to have left. 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. “Rom, how long were they in the air before their disappearance?”

“Two hours, twelve minutes,” he replied.

David looked at me with lowered brows 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 to call them 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 it doesn’t use 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 persisted for some time to come. It was one thing for Pearce to have done what he did in isolation of all other repercussive factors. Were that the case, we would have had no trouble forgiving him, and I believed we had. Yet, his betrayal came home to roost. We might have found it 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, didn’t just act as 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 had begun 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, they told me it was safe providing the cell’s craftsmanship was meticulous, and it remained intact. The cell configuration was important, and that they made it with quality ingredients of exacting purity. If they had, 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 understood the danger they presented. Their interiors incapable of thermonuclear explosions, the danger was closer to a dirty bomb. It could create an explosion that would throw nuclear material into the atmosphere.

“If the drones run on an isotopic knockoff,” said Laurel, “it was best we didn’t fire upon them.”

“What is a knockoff?” asked Gabe.

“A knockoff is an inferior imitation,” I said, “as opposed to an exact duplicate.”

Gabe nodded. “So, they require capture,” he said. “We can do that.”

“It would also provide us an opportunity to do a little reverse engineering of our own,” said Laurel. “Aiden will enjoy that, I bet.” She looked at me.

“I’m sure,” I said. Aiden loved technology, but he might draw the line at nuclear materials, I know I did.

After a discussion, we decided that because they were adept at evading Rom’s eye, it took too great a chance to leave the drones the opportunity to return the Aggregate. Rom monitored the city and the areas left unscanned. The instant we spotted them at daybreak, two teams wearing flight-packs were to net them, and then bring them to the industrial area away from the city.


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