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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

Growing up a shy, sheltered, closeted gay kid in the American South resulted in experiencing a great deal of school bullying. As a result, I tried not to draw attention to myself, to fade into the background and vanish. I often went so far as to long for the power of invisibility. But I didn’t recognize that longing that siren call as the path of least resistance beckoning me with promises it would never fulfill. That’s why the go-to coping skill 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. My repertoire consisted solely of that coping skill (if one could call it that), and while nature used the path of least resistance in many mechanisms of the universe, nature couldn’t judge itself. I had the habit of judging myself a coward at every opportunity.

To survive on Earth unscathed, you must have the ability to defend yourself. Like many others, I had the problem of lacking the skills to fight while my culture discouraged me from ever obtaining them. It taught us that violence doesn’t solve problems, that you should turn the other cheek, and the meek shall inherit the Earth, but the adults didn’t live by such aphoristic nonsense. And my school reinforced the edict against violence through the hypocrisy of corporal punishment and expulsion. As a result, the cruelty to which my peers subjected me 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, as David’s mate, I felt I must keep up with him. If he could fight when the occasion arose, then I should have that ability as well.

I convinced myself that we dealt with bullies on the mission to Earth, “They just had more power and influence than usual,” I told myself. My personal experience had caused that natural impulse; bullies stayed at the forefront of my understanding of hostile people. When I made the comparison, however, I underestimated our adversary. We fought a complex self-serving entity that retaliated when anyone threatened its supremacy, even if only idealistically, and it didn’t mind instigating violence or playing the victim when it suited its purpose. It wouldn’t seek to intimidate us to make itself feel powerful. It had plenty of power, and it wanted something precious from us. As David indicated to its agents on the gangplank of the Torekkā Maru in Venice, their money could never buy what they wanted. 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. As David said to me during our discussion of the Trust, there may come the point where someone gives you no other options, kill them, or they will kill you. Even destroying our culture exemplified a form of death.

Among his many virtues, I liked that David kept his promises. He promised I would see Jiyū again, and I did. When we arrived, however, I expected a stay of short duration, as he also promised the British Government that 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, first came the joyous. No one could have missed it, for Cadmar stood before them. We all believed he had died, including his mate Tamika. She must have raced to the temple. During our decontamination, as Cadmar rinsed off, she burst through the door, and they embrace beneath the spray for some time. We donned our robes before sneaking out to avoid disturbing them.

With home came relief, but we couldn’t feel cheerful. The people at the temple greeting us had smiled with their lively talk, but the news we brought lurked beneath the surface, and we knew that.

Our newcomers, Maggie and Rocke, made it rather clear that neither of them required an Au Pair. I felt negligent, but they insisted they didn’t need 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.

We had settled the preliminaries, and with the joyous news over, we then relayed our circumstances. 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.

“I have much to say.” With an intimate voice, David spoke as if individuals stood three feet before him. “As you know from our previous arrival with Amaré, the people of Earth know of our existence, but we have a complication. They know we exist and know the precise location of the portal.”

There came a discord of speaking within the Arena.

“Patience,” said David, “I have more. They deceived us with the reports of Cadmar’s death. That fact remains our best news. 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 have given the enhancement to a number of their soldiers. It has spread to the civilian population, and some are 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, “I have more to tell you. Another portal exists, the exit to which resides in Japan near Mount Fuji. We must find this other portal here because the Americans know its precise location in Japan.

“The drone we used to find the ring in London performed without flaw. 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 have reason to believe that stones had crushed them upon arrival due to some prior calamity at the portal site.

“As you know, if the aliens programmed the portal to slip out of phase, it will produce a localized field. Our portal at One City does not do that so we could conclude the other one here doesn’t either. That will 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, these 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 have initiated talks with the British in an ambassadorial capacity. They removed the military from the park, and they wish to ally with us. 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 clue to the other portal’s location?”

“I read they traveled west, so we must conclude it lies 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 seems simple in 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 as our enemy when they do. The problem lies in the diversity of their origin, but we know their desire to have and wield power connects them. 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 consists of the aggregate of peoples, acting as individuals or collectives, from various countries, governments, and corporate entities intent on taking as their own the things that belong to us, even if it means our destruction. They seek 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?”

Gabe’s question sounded inflammatory, even to me, and I knew he asked it to challenge David. 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 often did.

TWO

As the assemblage dispersed, 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.

“Your eloquence, Mr. Levitt, seems to have delivered an interesting epithet for our amorphous adversary.” Amaré paused and took a deep breath. “I trust you, Mr. Levitt, but at the risk of sounding blunt, does the Aggregate know the portal’s frequency?”

David sat with his arm around me. He shook his head. “They do not,” he said. “Our attempt to use the drone to locate the other portal, perhaps coupled with the betrayal from Pearce, allowed them to detect Iris’s signal.”

“I see,” said Amaré. “You both have had a long friendship, I believe.”

“Yes, I have known Pearce since childhood,” 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.”

“Pearce implied that,” said David, “and it surprised us. You seemed alarmed.”

“Yes, I am.” 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? Did he have 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 anyone captured them and to prevent the Foundational Enhancement from spreading. He had to have reversed his fertility control himself, because Yoncara assured me of its control when he left, and a nano programming device did go missing.”

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

“Without considerable genetic knowledge,” said Amaré, “the age of the device and its pre-programming would limit its available enhancements.”

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

“Correct.”

“Should we go after it?” I asked.

Amaré shook his head. “At this stage of their development, they will find that 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 that he had a mate and children?” asked Amaré.

Pearce often said he wanted to go home,” said David. “He gave us no reason to believe he didn’t refer to Jiyū. He said he loved Jiyū because of me, 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.’

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

“Not as well as I believed,” said David. “I knew he only had his mother to care for him. I don’t understand, we treated one another as brothers. Has he dupe me?”

“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 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 long ago. 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. “At the age of nine, we went unaccompanied into the lift, because we found the mysteries of the temple too tempting. 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.”

“Oh my,” I said. “What happened?”

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

“Fifty feet down from the lift, I discovered I couldn’t do it, and I froze. Pearce got nauseous above me, and I ended up with sick all over me.”

“Ugh! How did you get down?”

“I met Magnar that day,” said David. “He saved us with a flight-pack.”

“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 changed the subject. He didn’t like to talk about his younger days.

“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.

“I would not suggest the time had come for extreme measures,” I said, “but if the situation turned uncontrollable, would we 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, we take a risk by keeping the portal. We will have to act as circumstance and necessity dictates to 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 necessity arise.” Amaré noticed David’s surprise. “We wish to keep the portal, yet destroying the portal is an easy solution we must always entertain; knowing 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 wore 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? It made me suspicious, and I saw through that dubious excuse.”

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

“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, they did it while we carried out 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 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? I saw nothing wrong with the generation we had,” said David.

“You had generation one,” said the voice, “the last of its antiquated kind. It had no interface, no visual, and no voice. They built it to take commands, but it came nowhere near 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, you know I don’t deal 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. They designed the exterior of the building Edwardian Baroque, but some previous tenant altered the interior to reflect a Second Empire design. 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. They made the furnishings of exotic woods, Jiyū’s equivalent to faux-leather that I called jeather, and something like velvet.

After the initial shock, David feigned loving it as best he could, but he didn’t fool me. He made a deplorable liar, even if to spare my feelings.

“You don’t like it.”

“Please, forgive that I can’t give you the reaction you wanted. I wouldn’t say that I don’t like 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 make 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?”

“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?”

“I admit, Svend created an attractive set of garments, but they 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, insufficient at any temperature more than 25 degrees centigrade. Svend missed the mark with this one.”

“Okay then, will you at least grow accustomed to this décor and enjoy it?”

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

I would have rolled my eyes if I weren’t attempting 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, dragged itself with timidity 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 once hid in the closet. It took time to perfect, but this form remains the underlying structure beneath whatever I may project to you later.”

“Do you function 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, for however much I question what that is.”

“Why do you question what you are?” I asked.

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

“I see,” I said. “Well, if we have you, what about the Attendants?” The tiny machines the size of a fly called an Attendant, watched over you and your guests so you both 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. They have moved to private residences on the current edge of the city close to the water. They appear 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 we live at this residence,” said David. “I will not keep the position of Ambassador to Earth forever.”

“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 conscription?”

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

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

“No one will force you to hold the post,” 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?”

“Baden designated this fifth floor, the main floor,” it said. “He intended it for guests and private dinners.”

The lounge came next 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 bloody phrase, this table warranted it. Its creator crafted it with elegance but had elongated the thing into absurdity. It belonged in a palace somewhere.

“Baden had it made 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 see now,” said the anthromorph, “Baden should have implemented these ideas with your input. I will have it replaced at once. I have heard it looks beautiful, no doubt, someone will want it.”

It reminded me of a bridge held up by five wooden arches with closed spandrels. The craftsperson made the dining set with great bulk to give weight to the sparse room. Its generous width and 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.”

“You don’t want something smaller?” asked David.

“It surprised me, that’s all. It may appear enormous, but one never knows it could come in handy.”

Moving 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. The right side of the building had two large lavatories and the day room, 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.

The surrounded cavity held the circular room 30 feet in diameter, with an entry on either end of the hallway. 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 we could have used the space 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 highlighted the home.

Baden left the first and second floor 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.

“How did you do that?” asked David.

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

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

“The team at the Hestia project brought up the privacy issue,” it said. “It seemed to them that having the Attendants watch over someone and learn, so the person had personalized assistance during their stay represented a lesser intrusion than 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, “and what about the privacy from you?”

“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, smirking. “We had one 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 Baden 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 remained 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 happened at a terribly inconvenient time, but we agreed anyway.

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 have the responsibility for all transportation, and that would include a space vessel. His name is Captain Rocke Lancier Dupré, and yes, I think he might do that at some point, given the opportunity. You’ll meet him soon enough.”

“Do you think Maggie and Rocke will cope 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, “and 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.

“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.

“I think ‘struggle to get the carrier up again’ is a more appropriate phrase,” said David.

“And Gabe too?” I asked. “How interesting. So, 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 we find it, of course.”

“They would have better luck building a ship 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 is the mother of an endeavor,” said David. “We haven’t needed such things, and we build things because we need them. We would waste resources to build something 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, give me 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 appeared to have the same composition as the larger stones and boulders, but the only thing more common here than this sample is dirt.”

“That’s a shame, Aiden,” said David, picking up the stone, looking at it. “you did well to think of it.”

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

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

“Let me see.” I took the stone from David to examine it closer. “It looks polished. 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 didn’t pay attention to the sounds,” said David.

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 it interests me,” 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 is down in the device,” she said, “so we can’t detect it from space while the portal remains dormant.”

“The portal activated 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 of those that could, few of them face the planet.

“One thing I should mention,” she told us, “you said debris might cover the portal here, and that debris covers the ground at the portal site in Japan. 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 send 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 didn’t know you couldn’t just send objects through unaccompanied,” said David.

“If someone goes through from here with no ring 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 must phase out, you need the chip to make it reveal itself.”

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

“We duplicated the original,” David said.

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

“Pylon?” I asked.

“The aliens made it of stone about four feet high,” said Laurel. “The diamond came from the pylon, 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.

“Our scholars will have to work that out,” said David.

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

We could almost bet on it, but none of us knew the answer. If so, it meant that Earth had another original quantum chipped diamond.

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 Laurel had Venn transport her home.

We changed into something more comfortable and laid on the balcony’s couch. David wrapped his 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.”

“That sounds sexist.”

“No, I just want to stick to the traditional theme.”

“Well, if you insist,” he said.

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

“That would make an interesting-” David jerked his head toward the balcony wall. “Did you see that?”

“What?”

“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.”

“I suppose we can rule out a bird.”

He smiled and looked at me. “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 then 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 causing 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 appears a bit dark and 40 centimeters in diameter. At least one of our invaders at the other portal survived, it seems. They may have sent out a reconnaissance drone. David out.” He pressed his finger behind his ear once again, as we watched the object fly above the city. “Iris connect me to Rom.” Rom, an artificial intelligence that controlled the satellites and space telescopes. “Hello, Rom. I don’t have time to chat. We have a situation. I suspect an Aggregate drone flies 40 meters- You see it?” David nodded at 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 detects two of them and will make some scans. 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 has no value if the information doesn’t go 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 would have 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 ring of blue light as the wheels turned, but with many, 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. Everyone can use the green ones you find at the bike-hubs. Just leave them in another hub somewhere in the city. All the other bikes someone privately owns. I have both of my bikes in the storage room at the penthouse.”

“Oh yeah, 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, Rom, Gabe, David, and I 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, the word severe springs to mind and his question to David at the Arena reinforced the notion. Regardless of any first impressions, however, we gratefully welcomed his input.

Laurel’s Portalphiles group met at her personal lab tucked behind her home in a Tudor neighborhood far down the right arm of the city. Its atmosphere looked 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. They had a wall mural of the One City skyline seen from the lake on the walls. We grouped around a 6-foot circular holographic-display table which could tap into Jiyū’s central computer, as well as various artificial intelligences, like Venn or Rom, and could display what Rom could see from orbit.

Rom displayed an image of the planet from space, and I had never seen it before. As we had darkness outside, Rom couldn’t present a live picture over One City; it came from earlier in the day. Jiyū didn’t look much like Earth. Earth always stood out from the dark surrounding as a big blue and green marble with white clouds, while Jiyū looked like an even larger green and blue marble with white clouds. I saw no oceans, but many enormous seas, more impressive than the Caspian Sea on Earth. Rom informed me that Jiyū consisted of 55% landmass and 45% surface water. The single landmass had no continents separated by water like on Earth; you could circumnavigate the globe on foot. As Rom zoomed in closer, I saw how much more substantial our lake appeared. One City sat in a bit of the upper right corner. I noted the mountain, and the plains area beyond with 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. “I’m sorry Rick, I keep thinking of Jiyū the way I left it. When I went to Earth, we had 3 million people. How many do we have 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 after the creation of the youth enhancement? Shouldn’t Jiyū have tens, if not hundreds of millions of more people by now.”

“After Aurum created of the youth enhancement, Jiyū’s population began a steep decline,” said Rom. “I do not know the reason.”

“It went down?” asked Laurel.

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

“There’s something wrong with that,” I said to myself. I felt so bowled over with Jiyū when I first arrived. 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 jumped out at me as a red flag, the first one. Against all reasonable expectations, the population declined. Of all of us, Gabe said nothing. 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. We have more important matters.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I would get the information soon enough, so I let it slide for the moment.

The drones managed to elude Rom’s ever watching eye and vanished with no one finding them at their last known location. He believed they hadn’t left. They flew above the city for some time, and Rom detected something interesting in their behavior. He overlaid the pattern of the movements of the drones on the aerial view of the city. 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 that I observed,” said Rom. “The scanning of the city had already begun when we discovered them, perhaps they communicated before they began.”

“From this display, they scanned and mapped out the city in detail,” said Gabe. “I think we should have shot them down, David.”

“No, not yet, Gabe,” said David. “Rom, why do you think they haven’t left.”

“I believe they await dawn,” said Rom. “From what I can determine from the area they had scanned, and if I estimate what they scanned before we noticed them, they are 38% complete.”

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

“Earth doesn’t’ have advanced power technology,” I said. “Rom, do you know how long they flew before their disappearance?”

“Two hours, twelve minutes,” he replied.

David looked at me with lowered brows and shook his head. “Not including the journey here, that’s a long time for a drone with a Terran power source,” he said.

“Do we call them Terrans now?” I asked. “I thought we called them the Aggregate.”

David looked at me. “I never intended to call them the Aggregate, but that name seems to fit.” He glanced at Gabe. “Their technology is Terran. We must differentiate their technology from ours, and I find the word ‘Earthling’ 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 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. Pearce couldn’t do what he did in isolation of all other repercussive factors. If he could, we would have had no trouble forgiving him, and I believed we had. Yet, his betrayal had come home to roost. He might not remain forgiven if 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 the significance of the situation. 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. The American government had already begun utilizing some of it.

The people of Jiyū called the power source used by the N.P. device an Isotopic Cell. And as scary as the idea of using isotopes sounded to me, they assured me of its safety with a genuine, intact cell. They would have had to craft the cell with a proper configuration and quality ingredients of exacting purity. If they had, it could power a device safely for decades. Larger cells produced 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 a proper configuration, or with lesser quality ingredients, could produce power, their safety and stability remained in question. Given the right conditions, an unstable cell could explode at a magnitude proportional to their size. Even with my rudimentary understanding of them, the danger they presented hadn’t escaped me. It could create an explosion that would throw nuclear material into the atmosphere, like a dirty bomb.

“If the drones run on an isotopic knockoff,” said Laurel, “I’m glad 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 the drones could evade Rom’s eye, it took too much of a chance leaving the drones an opportunity to return to the Aggregate. Rom monitored the city, and the areas left unscanned. The instant we spotted them at daybreak, two teams wearing flight-packs would net them, and then bring them to the industrial area away from the city.

From the time the invasion began with the five Americans, we spent more than a day on Earth before returning home, and due to the time differential, five or six days had passed on Jiyū, plus the many hours after having returned home. At least one soldier survived, and they had plenty of time to act. Still, five or six days..., assuming they didn’t send the drones out upon arrival and depending on how fast they could fly, it might mean we would find the other portal closer than we realized.

We had a long, eventful day, and we hadn’t had slept for well over 28 hours. We stayed at Laurel’s lab for another two hours when I almost fell asleep standing up. It served as a notice to end the evening and go to bed. Before Venn drove us home, Gabe told us that he would ensure the capture of the drones, so we could get some rest and not worry about it.

For the remainder of the evening, my memory grew more sporadic. I must assume I slept most of the ride home. I recall my head resting on David’s shoulder, and he told me later he carried me into the penthouse, putting me to bed. I remember saying goodnight to Mason, and the next thing I knew morning had arrived.


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