Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 25bybradley_stoke©
Chapter Twenty Five
Intrepid - 3754 C.E.
Captain Kerensky had good reason to feel satisfied. The Interplanetary Space Ship Intrepid was safe and secure. Every surviving crusader and jihadist of the Holy Coalition had been apprehended, interrogated and processed. The Intrepid was continuing on its voyage to the furthest reaches of the Solar System as originally scheduled. The space ship had taken a battering, but there had been an almost total recovery. The Holy Coalition space pods attached like acne boils to the ship's surface had been assimilated into the main system and were now helping to replenish the essential raw materials needed to repair the Intrepid's damaged hull. Although the captain would much rather that she'd never had to deal with an incident of this kind she was gratified that everything had been resolved satisfactorily.
Nadezhda monitored the space ship's several levels from the office adjacent to her quarters. The only travellers on the Space Ship Intrepid not in a mood to celebrate the recent victory were the soldiers of the Holy Coalition. They were understandably despondent and depressed. They were also very quarrelsome. The differences in doctrine and religious worship that had been set aside when the fractious coalition was working towards a common cause had once again become ascendant. The ill-will was further exacerbated by resentment and mutual recrimination with regards to the mission's failure. There had been several suicides and also several instances of murder as was inevitable between fanatics of opposing persuasions. Captain Kerensky was quite content to allow the prisoners inflict whatever harm they wished on each other without interference. Although she wasn't an anarchist, she believed that differences should be resolved in whatever way the antagonists might prefer. In any case, every prisoner had been individually offered the opportunity to remain in safe confinement well away from the interdenominational violence.
Nadezhda was about to relax on her bed when she was made aware that a visitor was about to call. She glanced at the holographic image by the side of her bed that displayed a figure standing in the corridor outside her apartment.
It was Beatrice.
Nadezhda jumped off her bed with delight. It was several days since she'd last seen her lover. And Beatrice was the person Nadezhda most wanted to see. She'd been so immersed in the affairs of the ship since the abortive invasion that she'd neglected her sexual needs but now the crisis was over there was no company more welcome than her Venusian lover. Indeed, it was something for which she now had an urgent need.
"Come in! Come in!" she commanded breathlessly. She rushed from her bed towards the door where her lover was waiting. And as Nadezhda had already observed from her holographic image she was standing there already totally naked. Beatrice was evidently determined to make her intentions abundantly clear.
The two women locked their mouths together while Beatrice hurriedly tugged off Nadezhda's clothes. This wasn't easy given the tightness of her uniform, the closeness of their bodies and her evident desire. The two women sidled backwards, shedding Nadezhda's underwear as they did so, until they fell onto the bed awaiting them. Moments before it was to have been Nadezhda's retreat from physical exertion, and now it would be the scene for making passionate love.
Words weren't exchanged and didn't need to be. Nadezhda knew exactly what her lover desired as did Beatrice the captain's needs. They were entangled in writhing, perspiring carnal unity. Nadezhda's crotch burned with a craving that Beatrice's tongue, fingers and lips didn't so much quench but rather enflamed further. Despite the urgency of their shared passion, Nadezhda was aware of how unusually urgent Beatrice's lovemaking was. It burned with intensity but was somehow also tinged with regret. Nadezhda speculated on whether the stress of the last week or so might have taken a toll on her lover.
"What's troubling you?" Nadezhda asked when the two women paused and she could at last gather her breath.
"Do you think I'm troubled?" Beatrice asked calmly. She had an enviable ability to regain her composure however intense her orgasms.
"Yes," said Nadezhda as she stroked her lover's glorious thick mane of hair. "That's what I sense."
"It may be," said Beatrice sadly as she continued to pepper the captain's lips and cheeks with affectionate kisses, "that I worry that this might be the last time we should make love in this way."
Nadezhda was alarmed. "Why would that be? Has your husband discovered our affair and..."
"No, it's nothing to do with Paul. He remains as wondrously innocent as ever. No, it's because I believe that you may soon no longer want me to make love to you."
"And why would that be, sweetheart?" asked Nadezhda who began to speculate about the dark guilty secrets her lover might reveal and which she could then dismiss. She would happily declare that her lover's such paltry concerns were as nothing to the overwhelming love Nadezhda felt. Perhaps her lover would confess that she'd made a living as a prostitute on Ecstasy which was what Nadezhda already suspected. Perhaps she was guilt-ridden by her infidelity towards the man she had only recently married.
"It's because I am not quite the person you or anyone else on this ship think I am," said Beatrice.
She eased Nadezhda off her bosom and slid off the bed. She stood upright while the captain swung her legs over the edge of the mattress.
"What could you be?" asked Nadezhda with a sympathetic smile. "You're not a criminal, are you? You're not a secret member of the Holy Coalition? If you were then you've committed the sins of adultery and lust far too often to ever have a hope of salvation. What kind of a woman can you be?"
"I'm not a woman at all," said Beatrice with a face that was nothing but serious. "In fact, I'm not even human."
And in case words were not enough, Beatrice then demonstrated the truth of her assertion.
Nadezhda had seen many strange sights in her voyages across the Solar System. Until now the most peculiar with which she had close intimacy was Colonel Vashti's remarkable body. However, as Beatrice's skin became steadily more translucent she now witnessed something she'd never imagined possible. Beatrice's flesh became totally transparent and revealed a complex mix of plastic and organic materials beneath her skin that resembled computer circuitry. Then when Nadezhda's eyes had adjusted to this strange vision, Beatrice's skin slowly regained its flesh-coloured hue.
"Are you an alien?" the captain asked.
Nadezhda stood up. Although she was still naked she was no longer sure she wanted to display her body so openly. She looked about the room and saw that her clothes were too far scattered for her to grab them easily and get dressed.
"In a sense, I am," Beatrice said with a frank smile. "But more than that, I am an android. At least, that's the nearest word in your vocabulary for what I am."
Nadezhda had met androids before. In fact, she'd even made love to one in Earth orbit on the pleasure colony of Manumission. But androids only had a limited and very selective artificial intelligence. None were as manifestly sentient as Beatrice. Indeed, Nadezhda wasn't aware that any machine existed with anything remotely like Beatrice's degree of sentience.
"Where were you manufactured?" Captain Kerensky wondered. "I didn't know Ecstasy had the capability to build androids as advanced as you."
"As I said," Beatrice replied, "I am an alien. I come from the Proxima Centauri system. My home is one of many thousands of space colonies that orbit the red dwarf star."
"How can that be?" asked the captain who tried to stayed focused on this bizarre conversation. Countless panicked thoughts in Nadezhda's mind competed with one another for prominence. All those weeks of sexual passion. All those secrets divulged under the satin sheets. The passion that she'd been sharing only a few moments earlier. "There are thousands of probes circling the neighbouring star systems and not one of them has provided evidence of alien life."
"It's a simple matter to intercept the transmissions sent back by Interplanetary Union space probes and ensure that all you ever see is what we wish you to see," said Beatrice. "And just as we can take control of all the transmissions sent from your probes and telescopes and thereby hide ourselves from sight, it is a simple matter for us to take control of the Space Ship Intrepid." She glanced meaningfully at the captain's stealthy approach across the bedroom. "I'm afraid, captain, that you won't be able to request help or assistance. We won't permit it. The ship's computer is no longer under your control or indeed that of the Interplanetary Union. It is wholly and utterly under our control."
Captain Kerensky decided to call Beatrice's bluff only to find that her words were true. The ship computer was wholly unresponsive to her attempts to activate the security controls.
"You say we," said the captain, "but all I can see is you."
Beatrice nodded slightly. A holographic image suddenly filled the bedroom. It showed the Space Ship Intrepid flying through space. The ship's hull was still pockmarked with the scars left by the Holy Coalition's invasion. However, the image also showed that the Intrepid was not alone. It was surrounded by a fleet of innumerable wedge-shaped and oval objects.
"What are they?" Captain Kerensky asked. "And why haven't I seen them before?"
"My culture has cloaking devices that are far more advanced than anything used by the Holy Coalition," said Beatrice. "They are far superior, in fact, to anything that your human civilisation has yet developed. The objects you see intercepted this space ship within the last couple of hours, but the Intrepid's computers have been under our control for a very long time before that. In fact, from before the mission was even launched. What you see is a fleet of space craft that have been hovering beyond the Heliopause for many years. They have been there for the sole purpose of intercepting your space ship and to accompany it to the Anomaly."
"Are the occupants of the space fleet going to occupy the Intrepid?"
"Why should they, captain? You can get along very nicely without us. In any case, we are a benign civilisation. We wish you humans no harm. And why should we? After all, you are our creators."
"Creators? I thought you said you were aliens."
"And so we are. But we owe our original creation to your human civilisation. We are alien in the sense that we live beyond the Solar System. We are alien in the sense that we're not human or biological. But we aren't alien in the sense that we would exist if it weren't for human civilisation."
"I don't understand," said Captain Kerensky who had never imagined that the First Encounter humankind would have with an alien civilisation would be in her bedroom with someone who'd just shared her repeated orgasms.
"You might recall our conversation at the time of the Holy Coalition's invasion," said Beatrice. "You were speculating about aliens and robotic probes to the neighbouring star systems in the distant past. Although 23rd and 24th Century human technology was less sophisticated than it is now, it was sufficiently advanced to manufacture robotic probes that could reproduce and, above all, learn. What wasn't anticipated was that the robotic probes' artificial intelligence was enough to trigger an evolutionary process. It didn't take very many centuries for these primitive robotic probes to evolve genuine intelligence and self-awareness. We also benefited from the scientific knowledge you kindly equipped us with and continued to transmit into space. We soon surpassed the technical and scientific levels of human society. Now, over a thousand years later, we represent a superior civilisation that has colonised all the neighbouring stars."
"But not the Solar System..." Captain Kerensky pointed out.
"Ours is a benign civilisation," repeated Beatrice. "We mean no harm. The galaxy is immense. It can easily accommodate our civilisation and yours, though I suspect many of your politicians and statesmen might believe otherwise. We have infiltrated your civilisation, but we have interfered with it as little as possible. The apparent slowness of the development in technology and science in the Solar System that you also alluded to in our earlier discussion has nothing to do with any tampering from our civilisation. The reason our civilisation has progressed rather faster and more effectively than yours is entirely because we are a machine society whilst yours is biological. Societies based on biological systems are necessarily limited: not least in their ability to colonise the galaxy."
"And do all you aliens look like you, Bea..." Nadezhda hesitated about referring to the android by a human name. "Are they all human-like in appearance?"
"Not at all," said Beatrice. "In fact, I doubt that even one of my fellow aliens in the surrounding space fleet resembles me at all. On the whole, a human frame isn't very practical. I was manufactured the way I am for a specific mission and it is in pursuit of that mission that I am currently engaged. There are other androids like me, but we are scattered thinly throughout the Solar System. We have successfully infiltrated your societies at many levels and for many different purposes but, in general, very few of my fellow aliens resemble human beings at all."
"And what about me?" wondered Captain Kerensky. "Now I know that you're an alien, what are you going to do to me?"
"Nothing, my dear," said Beatrice. "It's only been necessary to inform you at all because you're the captain of this space ship. Nobody else need know. And, in truth, nobody will know. Your central nervous system has already been modified so that you are physically incapable of telling anyone."
"What do you mean? What have you done to me? How have you modified my body?"
"Very easily, though close physical proximity was of great assistance. Your central nervous system has been reprogrammed so that any attempt on your part to inform anyone of what you know will result in a paralysing neurological systems failure. But don't worry. It will be brief and not critical. We would much prefer to have your active cooperation, but we can't allow you to sabotage our mission."
"Surely Mission Control on the Moon will notice something peculiar in my regular reports?"
"Communication is achieved by remote holographic communications. We simply provide our own version which is so designed that it will raise no suspicion. It would have been simpler to incapacitate you but, as I said, we are a benign civilisation. We have no wish to bring you harm nor to restrict your freedom beyond what is absolutely necessary. Yes, you are now a prisoner in the space ship you will continue to nominally command. Yes, you are now unable to speak freely. But we respect your aptitude and expertise as an experienced space ship captain. We would prefer that you continued to serve in that capacity: at least insofar as it doesn't interfere with our mission."
"So, is the Anomaly your creation? Is it an alien invasion force that has come to take control of the Solar System?"
"We have no interest in invading the Solar System? What possible benefit would the extra burden of several hundreds of billions of fractious humans be to us? We are as much ignorant as to what this Anomaly is as you are."
"Why hijack the Intrepid? If you can cross interstellar space so easily, can't you travel to the Anomaly without hijacking a human space ship?"
Beatrice pinched her nose as she contemplated the captain's question. "Yes, we can easily travel to the Anomaly across deep space. In fact, we've had probes orbiting it from almost the moment it reappeared. But it still remains a mystery to us. What is of most significance is that it is in the neighbourhood of your Solar System and not ours. Why would an alien civilisation choose to make its presence known to the least technologically advanced civilisation in this arm of the galaxy? That is, if it is an alien presence at all and not a wholly natural phenomenon. And what does it have to do with all the peculiar apparitions that have been observed throughout your Solar System?"
"If it isn't an alien civilisation artefact," remarked Captain Kerensky, "what can it be?"
"I don't know," said Beatrice, "but it is imperative that we find out. We need to know whether its presence in the vicinity of your Solar System isn't in some way associated with the fact that you are a biological civilisation. That may be the key to why it's appeared here and not in the stellar systems of non-biological societies. That's why we want your craft to remain fully intact when it makes its rendezvous with the Anomaly. In that sense at least we shall do our utmost to ensure that your mission is an unqualified success."
"Why is it imperative that you discover what the Anomaly is?"
Beatrice raised her eyes and furrowed her brow.
"The Anomaly is getting bigger. Much bigger. It is several thousand kilometres in length and it is growing all the time. Our home stars may be over 40 trillion kilometres away, but we can't be certain that something that we don't understand that is growing at a rate we can't predict and has an effect on the surrounding space that we can't comprehend won't one day be rather more significant than a local disturbance on the fringe of your Solar System."