Chapter 27:

Journey to Pluto

Red Storm Over Ganymede


**Isul**

My positronic brain was in turmoil as we boarded the Martian ship. I was reeling from the information I had learned last night at the dinner, and the consequences born from it.

Tristan had demanded proof that this so-called Bio-droid Collective was involved, and asked the First Minister if she would be willing to loan him a ship to carry us to Pluto. The Director had, of course, screamed outrage that a political prisoner would ask for a ship. Then the First Minister and Nemean had attempted to calm everyone down by saying perhaps it was a good idea to venture out and seek an audience with the Collective.

My metal heart thrilled at the idea of an entire society of Bio-droids who lived free. Knowing that out there in our own solar system lived Bio-droids who were the sole masters of their fates? It was an intoxicating idea to say the least. Though I wondered how the Bio-droids had ended up out there, so far from civilization, and why nobody had heard from them in years.

I had asked why we couldn’t see them via telescopes. A thriving society should at least have had some visible light. But Nemean said they preferred to keep to themselves, and were deeply mistrustful of outsiders. Perhaps their dwellings were subterranean, or perhaps they actually did have the fabled cloaking devices.

Tristan would not be dissuaded. I understood, to some degree, that he still did not want to lay the sole blame for Winnie’s death and his own predicament at his Grandmother’s feet. That he wanted some outside source to hold some responsibility.

I, on the other hand, wanted to see if perhaps a society of Bio-droids could fix the damage done to my memory core and wipe out the rogue program embedded there. I knew it was a statistically low probability, but sometimes the problem with being self-actualized meant that I was prone to hoping for the impossible.

So the afternoon after the dinner Tristan, myself, Nemean, the First Minister, Director Welles, and his Bio-droid Ferra all boarded the First Minister’s ship the Ares. It was a beautiful craft - smaller than the Regina One, and meant mostly for the First Minister and her entourage. Director Welles had tried convincing her we need a battleship escort, but as we were technically flying through Jovian space to get to Pluto she and Tristan both agreed that it would be interpreted as an act of war in the current political climate should Martian battleships be spotted inside the Empire’s boundaries.

Once Tristan and the other humans were settled in the cabin for the flight, the Bio-droids assumed out positions in a special chamber at the rear of the cockpit to help with calculations and technology.

Ferra looked at me with distrust as we sat down and began the process of interfacing with the Ares’ systems. “Are you sure we can trust him?” she asked Nemean.

“No, I’m not, but I’d rather have him where both of us can keep tabs on him. You do understand, don’t you Isul?” he asked.

I nodded. “Perfectly. I would do the same in your position.” I plugged into the shipboard computer, and at first recoiled from the alien script running to and fro before my eyes.

“Here, run this translation algorithm,” Nemean said as he pushed a small packet of information to me.

I did as he requested, and breathed a sigh of relief as the formerly chaotic stream of information began to reorient itself into something that - while not clean and tidy - was at least workable for me. “Thank you. It would have been a long flight indeed without that packet.”

“I’m afraid it’s out of date. I developed it to work with Jovian Bio-droids ten years ago, during the peace talks,” Nemean said.

My eyes were wide. “You were at the peace talks?” I had been there with Tristan, of course, but we were not there in any official capacity except as part of a cultural exchange program that Tristan’s mother Octavia had dreamed up. We had spent time with other young Martians and their Bio-droids, in hopes that we would come away with greater understanding.

“The First Minister was the Minister for Communication then, so it was our responsibility to make sure the lines were open, so to speak. The operating systems behind our technology are quite different, so we hoped to avoid any frustrations,” Nemean replied.

Ferra gave us both a withering look. “Well, blowing up a royal ship isn’t exactly avoiding frustration.”

“That wasn’t done by either side engaged in the peace talks,” I whispered.

“What?” Nemean asked, genuine surprise in his voice. “Then do you know who?”

I nodded. They already knew the Uranians were a bad lot, what was one more condemnation? “The Oracle of Oberon and the Empress Dowager orchestrated the bombing to end the peace talks.”

Ferra looked like she wanted to say something, but Nemean stopped her. “And that was when the original Tristan died?” He had obviously read Ferra and the Director’s report on Tristan’s genome and my own memories, and knew my Tristan was a clone.

“Yes. I didn’t know it at the time, though. I should have. I have known something was different, but I thought it was all just related to the trauma of the experience,” I rambled.

Nemean’s large paw patted my shoulder. “You took care of the charge you had, which is what any good Bio-droid is supposed to do. Isul, you should be proud of your work. You took a blank clone and turned him into a Prince. A feat I very much doubt they were able to replicate before setting up the next clone.”

Ferra nodded in agreement, though her silvery face was still stern. “Now that you are out of the Empire, you will most certainly not undergo that barbaric reclamation process. You must continue to fight whatever it is they put inside you, though, if you want to be useful to your charge.”

Even though these two were technically part of the people I had considered the enemy for years, I had always felt more free to speak with only other Bio-droids around. “It’s more than being useful…I just don’t want to hurt Tristan.”

“Because you love him,” Nemean said, his eyes warm.

I nodded, not bothering to contradict him. “How does the Republic view a relationship like that?” I asked.

“It’s not normal, per se,” Ferra said.

Nemean rolled his eyes at the other Bio-droid. “Ferra’s bluntness aside, since we stay with our charges longer, the bonds we form are more often familial in nature. But there is no judgment, if that is what you fear.”

The tightness around my heart eased a fraction. “Will the Ministers approve our request for political asylum, do you think?”

Nemean patted my hand. “Very likely. Though it will likely come with a calculated cost.”

Ferra brought up our flight plan, and we began our work to navigate the ship through the place I had once considered home.

* * *

“We’re getting strange signals from the space in front of us,” Ferra said.

I turned to Nemean, “Nature of the signals?”

“Localized particle spread. It simply looks like concentrations of background radiation if you don’t know to look for it,” Nemean replied.

Ferra cut in, “Localized particle spread, and about the size of a ship.”

“Could be our mysterious Collective,” Director Welles added.

The First Minister tapped her round cheek. “One way to find out.” She turned to the communications officer. “Send a transmission in all known languages and dialects, informing anyone within the radius of those signals that we are a friendly ship here to speak with the Collective.”

The officer did as he was instructed, and then we waited with bated breath.

I looked down at the display Ferra was working on. The particles didn’t move. Nothing changed. If that really was the Collective, they were doing a good job of ignoring us.

We waited a few more minutes, then sent resent the signal out again every fifteen minutes without getting a reply. After two hours, I was beginning to wonder if we really had identified a possible cloaked ship or simply a spatial anomaly.

“Recommend sending a beam of ionized particles into the disturbance. It could disrupt their cloak,” Director Welles suggested.

“Or cause a feedback loop that sends their ship into critical overdrive and blows it up. No, I’m not willing to start an inter-solar incident out here,” First Minister Ellem replied. “Helm, take us forward one-quarter speed. Nothing too fast, but set our course directly toward Pluto. I want to get their attention and make our intentions to speak with them clear.”

The helmsman plotted our course, and the Ares thrummed with power as we began moving again. Ferra piped up, “The particle swarm is moving, matching our heading and velocity.”

“Keep monitoring for signs of a power source,” Tristan asked. “I don’t think they can fire at us while maintaining their cloak; when they fired at Isul and I before, it dropped the cloak momentarily.”

“I want particle shields raised and kept at maximum power,” Director Welles yelled to the tactical officer.

As soon as we raised the shields, however, the particles we had been monitoring disappeared, and not one, but three ships appeared on the ship’s sensors.

They had us surrounded. The ships were long and lean, with crescent-shaped bows that I had no doubt contained enough firepower to destroy us.

“Dammit,” Welles said as the emergency klaxons began their wail. “Those particles were a diversion. We weren’t even looking in the right place!”

“Transmission from the ships, Ma’am. Audio only,” the communications officer piped up.

“Well, put it on!” the First Minister said.

The voice that came across was metallic, inhuman. “You are trespassing in space claimed by the Collective. Turn your ship around and return to your planet, or we will be forced to disable your ship and tow you out by force.”

“Not kill us, eh?” Nemean asked in a low voice.

The First Minister opened a transmission channel on the same frequency as the message and said, “This is First Minister Ellem Leonhart of the Martian Republic. I am traveling on an errand of mercy. I must speak with the leaders of the Collective. Only they are in possession of information that could prevent another hundred years of intra-solar war.”

Silence again greeted us from the three ships. Ferra shook her head, “They’re definitely still in communication with each other, First Minister. Transmissions are flying between the three ships, but everything is encrypted, far beyond my abilities to break.”

I thought that when left to our own, Bio-droids communicated in a language that did not require words. We transmitted data between each other. It was purer, less crude than the voice.

“Perhaps they will speak with us?” I voiced to the room. All eyes swiveled back to me. “Nemean, Ferra, they’re probably communicating in Dynadev.” The programming language that all Bio-droids were based off of, at least in part.

Nemean looked thoughtful. “It’s worth a try, at the very least, to let them know we’re not so alien as they might believe. Ferra, Isul, please assist me.”

The three of us went to the Bio-droid workroom and settled ourselves around the display and plugged in. “Ferra, direct the ship’s antenna to broadcast directly to each of the three ships,” Nemean instructed. As she did that, he turned to me, “Isul, I need you to interlace your signal with mine. I want them to see that this is a joint Imperial-Republic effort.”

Worried as I always was about interfacing with other Bio-droids, I still nodded. This was our one chance to figure out who had attacked us, possibly killed Tristan’s parents, and perhaps…perhaps get me fixed.

Nemean and I interlaced our datastreams, and I almost gasped at the intimacy of it. I wasn’t sure if the total sharing that required was something Tristan could ever truly understand.

With Ferra’s help, we sent our request for an audience to each of the ships simultaneously in Dynadev.

The response we received was fast, but difficult to understand. “I need translation help, Ferra,” Nemean said. Ferra joined our circle, and we began work translating the strange dialect. The basics of this language were closer to my own Jovian brand of Dynadev, so I took point in translation and decryption while Ferra and Nemean checked my work. It was difficult, as this version of Dynadev appeared full of notation scripts that could alter word meanings on the fly.

Finally, I thought I had a translation, and opened the channel to the main bridge, “We’ve received a response. The Collective says they will only allow the three of us to proceed into their territory. All organics must remain aboard the Ares.” I knew Tristan was going to hate it, and I wasn’t surprised when a loud shout of protest erupted across the comm system.

The door to the Bio-droid chamber flew open, and Tristan stood there flanked by the First Minister and Director Welles.

“You’ve verified this is the message?” the Director asked Ferra, who nodded in affirmative.

The First Minister tapped her cheek as I saw Tristan ball his fists and clench his jaw. She spoke first. “I can’t say I like it very much, sending the three of you off alone. I have full faith in your abilities, however, and we did come here on a mission of peace. I’ll allow it. Prince Tristan?”

Tristan let out a slow breath and locked eyes with me. The intensity in his blue eyes was overwhelming, but I did not blink. “Isul, I won’t tell you no, but are you sure you’re up to this?”

“We’ll be there to protect him too. Don’t forget that, Prince,” Ferra said.

Tristan shot the silver woman a dark look. “Pardon if I’m not one-hundred percent comforted by that yet.”

“We don’t have time to argue,” I said. “The Collective needs a response now. If we don’t go, we’ll lose our opportunity to find out any more information about the cloaked ship that attacked us under guise of the Republic.”

Tristan sighed and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Then our fates lie in your hands.” He added in a whisper so low only I could hear, “Just make sure you come back to me.”

I nodded, and Nemean, Ferra, and I transmitted our affirmative to the Collective. Almost immediately, the ship directly ahead launched a small outrider that docked with the Ares.

Nemean, Ferra, and I made our way down to the docking tube and when it opened, we floated into the weightless environment. The door behind us closed, and I looked over to see Tristan’s face for what I hoped was not the last time.

Steward McOy
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