I looked at the world and it was a beautiful blue, just like mine was. But we were further away than I would have expected. We were inside the moon's orbit, but not by much. I queried the AI, “Why are you staying so far away from the world?”
The AI replied, “With the short range com and my scanners I can detect transmission signals of all types, plus there is a Federation beacon in the solar system.”
I asked hesitantly, “That's good isn't it?”
He didn't answer for a long time and I was worried by the delay. “No, unfortunately it's bad. It's a Class 9 Quarantine Beacon. It indicates that a planet within the solar system, in this case the world we are looking at, is inhabited and expected to gain hyper space travel within two hundred years and it gives the Federation date on which it was placed, which was barely twenty-five years ago. That means that they don't expect them to acquire the technology for at least one-hundred and fifty years and also means there is a hands off policy in effect. A Class 10 Beacon would indicate that they expect the breakout to occur at any time.”
He told me, “No Federation ship is allowed within two light years of this system. Even if they detect a distress beacon, they're forbidden to approach the system, they must report it to the Federation at their next port of call. As you are aware our hyper com is disabled. I have the parts needed to fix the problem, but it is an external problem. That's why I headed for this system. My records indicated that it was a Class 7 planet. There would have been plenty of places where I could have set down and you could easily have fixed the problem since it only requires replacing some modules. I could then have called for help and we could have stayed hidden until rescue came.”
I felt numb, I was pretty sure of the answer, but I asked the question anyway. “What happens if we did that now?”
He said with regret in his voice, “They wouldn't answer the beacon, they would take note of your name and would inform your family and then they would forget you ever existed. Being this close to breaking out into the galaxy at large, the technology of this world could possibly detect Federation ships even in stealth. Only after full contact was established would they make any enquiry of your existence. Since full contact can take anywhere from a few months to many years after first contact, it could be years after that before they'd even be able to start looking for you.”
“What about going back into stasis?” I asked, not looking forward to it, but if there was no other option.
He said apologetically, “I am sorry, Brin, but that's impossible. The damage I sustained while escaping from the ship caused extensive problems. I mentioned the hyper com and it also includes the power storage device for the remaining viable stasis chambers, also other damage, which I will tell you about if you need to know. I would have had to awaken you soon in any event, even if we hadn't reached this solar system.”
“Can we leave the solar system?” I asked hopefully, but I figured that was a forlorn prospect as well. If that was possible he just would have told me we'd be leaving.
The AI told me, “The engines in lifeboats are very sturdy but they were damaged when I was ejected from the ship and when I came out of hyper space the engines couldn't stand the strain and are unusable. As I said the hyper com was gone, that would have warned me to avoid this system entirely and there are several planets which can sustain life within reach even with you awake. The lifeboat has enough stored consumables to last twenty people for a year and one person conversely for twenty years.”
“What are my options?” I said with resignation.
He explained, “We land on the planet after I condition you so that you can't influence people so that they reach the stars sooner than they should, or immediate self-destruction.” I wasn't surprised by the first. Under Federation law such conditioning was required and I was already conditioned against the second by my family.
I grinned with amusement despite my troubles, telling him, “There's no need to worry about my passing on knowledge. I simply don't have it. My planet is mainly used for farming. Bots are limited to small house bots or enormous farming ones. They require specialized training which I don't have, nor would I have ever learned since my educational track was in the Arts, principally old fashioned painting and sketching.
He explained to me, “There is one final thing Brin. If you decide to land on this planet, in order to protect the people from you, I must destroy all of the bacteria in your body and replace it with artificial substitutes. You have already received the treatments that controls the length of your life, this however will stop aging entirely. Not until you return to the Federation does the medical science exist that can restore your aging.”
“Why?” the usual kid question, that a ten year old would ask.
He continued his explanation, “The people have been on this planet for a very long time. From the update I was given from the beacon which monitors their communication, they know about DNA and have recorded DNA going back many thousands of years. None of the planets on which humans live, can trace their history back any further than ten thousand years. This then is the mother planet. How humans got to the stars is unknown. But this is where humanity was born. Therefore, unlike an alien planet, the bacteria that your body contains could wipe them out if it wasn't replaced.”
“How badly were you damaged? Can you even land?” I asked him.
He told me, “That is an unknown at this time. Many of the sensors with which I could normally examine the outside of the hull have been destroyed, therefore I don't know how extensive the damage is. If I can't land normally, the self-destruction I am required to initiate will occur sooner than planned. However, in the stasis chamber you should be safe unless the destruction is total. They were built to be very durable.”
I said to him, “I can't just kill myself. My family considers suicide to be wrong except in dire circumstances, so while I haven't been conditioned against it, I've been indoctrinated against it.”
The AI asked, “What is your education level, Brin?”
I giggled and then said, “Not very high for the Federation. Technology and I don't get along very well. When I try to use a computer it tends to break down or go crazy within thirty seconds of my starting to use it, yet it's fine with other people. It's known that people have auras. According to the doctors studying my problem, my aura actually affects any type of electronic circuitry adversely, even the old fashioned integrated type."
I explained, "So even though my world by Federation standards is very low tech, I can't even cook my own food on my world except by using a very primitive electric stove or over a campfire and the house bots are programmed to actively avoid me. Shielding works and anything of an emergency nature is automatically shielded anyway. I am also wearing a shielding device at the moment, which was provided by the Arts symposium I was going to attend. A portable device of this type which will protect every type of circuitry from my aura is very expensive and it only works for a limited period of time anyway.”
I said soberly, “As I said I was on an Arts track and my paintings and sketches have been well received, despite or perhaps because of my age and they have sold quite well since I was seven. I was on my way to the Sector capital for an Arts symposium or I probably would never have left my planet. My general education outside of Arts is somewhat limited. There was no sense studying cybernetics as most kids do, because I can't interact with cybernetic organisms anyway, except on a very limited basis.”
I told him, “Implanting knowledge is possible but it severely damages or destroys the implant device, so what I've learned I've gotten from old fashioned printed books. Luckily for me, as a fairly low tech world, such books are common on my planet. However my memory is atrocious and without implant knowledge, memories which aren't important simply disappear into my subconscious rather rapidly.”
He told me briskly, “Well I can implant the required knowledge put together from the download I received from the beacon. That will give you some general knowledge of the world, which by the way is called Earth. Since I will only be required to implant knowledge once, it won't matter if the device is destroyed or not. There is a problem in the fact that this is a highly computerized world. While the technology is basically integrated circuits in the civilized portions of the world they are very extensively used. This is a fairly recent event for a lot of things.”
He said, “However they have had computers for around sixty years and the download only lists a few things which have integrated circuitry, their equivalent to the Vid, which they call television, is one. Another which we still use for playing music, is radio, but it indicates that many other things do so. Even their main communication system, which they call the telephone, contains integrated circuits, though some of the older units which connect to the general system, still do not. Their main transportation device which is called an automobile, also uses it but again, some of the older ones do not.”
He explained to me, “I have done a diagnostic of the stasis chamber. Some of the problem is the result of the power storage, but there is an indication that your aura affected the chamber. The diagnostics indicate that it could be used right now. However, my assumption is that your shielding device is no longer working and the fluctuations from the part of me closest to you indicate that is the case and the chamber would quickly deteriorate if you were to get back into it.”
There was silence and I knew he was making a decision. In this situation he had the power to decide my fate. If he felt that I might endanger the inhabitants of this world, he could simply self-destruct, taking me with him. Of course, if that happened I would never know about it, it would happen too fast for me to be aware that I was going to die.
I picked up my sketch pad and opened it. I wanted to know what he looked like. I visualized my grandfather, he was the only member of my family who had any patience for the trouble I could inadvertently cause, in fact he had found it funny. I sketched him in very lightly and then began to visualize the AI and filled in the man's face in much firmer strokes. When I was finished he was very different from my grandfather, but the sense of fun in their eyes was very similar.
The rest of his face was much more authoritative than my grandfather. He could never have made the decision that the AI was struggling with. He had too much compassion and not enough ruthlessness. I still found it sad as well as joyful whenever I thought of him, though he had been dead for a year. Very young for the Federation, barely over a hundred.
I put it down on the seat next to me. The AI asked, “Who did you draw Brin?”
“You.” I said. “I know that you're trying to decide whether to self-destruct or not. If you decide yes, I just wanted to know who I was going to die with.”
“But I'm just blocks...”
I interrupted him and said, with amusement, “Just blocks of molecular circuitry. I know. That's what everybody tells me and since I'm a little kid I'm supposed to listen to them. But I don't see you that way. You have a personality, emotions, a sense of humor, a sense of honor, therefore you have a soul. I have no doubt that when I reach the next world that there will be many of your kind waiting to greet me along with many of mine.”
The AI said, after a moment's hesitation, “Perhaps if I hadn't already made my decision, I would feel I must rethink it, but I have decided to start the procedures that are necessary for the landing to take place. Fortunately, nothing that I will be using except for the implant knowledge, requires getting close to you with any electronic circuitry. My extension arms are mechanical devices and the operating mechanisms are buried deep in my interior and are shielded.”
He told me, “I will explain what I am doing and the dangers you are facing. First I will irradiate the entire lifeboat killing all bacteria on board, including that in your body. If left that way it would kill you fairly quickly since you need that bacteria to survive. The artificial substitute will replace that bacteria as I mentioned, however, there is some danger. Not all humans can accept the substitute. Normally I would test you. However that would require using the diagnostic bed and it may be needed later and since I don't know whether your aura causes any permanent damage I can't risk using it at this time. So, since there is no choice in the matter, we'll simply hope that it works. The radiation will also cause your hair to fall out, however I will be putting you to sleep before the procedure starts and you will not wake up until it's over, by that time your hair will have grown again.”
I said with humor, “So if I die I'm not going to know about it?”
Primly but with a hint of humor in his voice the AI said, “Not unless you're right about there being a next world. At the same time I will be giving you other survival substances and they in fact work much better with the artificial bacteria than your regular bacteria would. While you're not allowed to affect the space program on Earth you are allowed to defend yourself, so one will increase your strength and speed and stamina substantially. A second will allow you to survive much greater extremes in temperatures than you can right now. You would be able to survive naked at temperatures from fifty degrees below zero Fahrenheit to one hundred and fifty degrees above. That temperature is taken from one of the scales that is used on Earth. A third will allow you to breathe under water, by extracting the required constituents from the water itself. This will also mean that you will need much less air to live than you would normally. It also allows you to extract much more nutrition from any food that you eat and drink, so you will find that both liquid and solid waste will be much less. The next will allow you to heal much faster than you would normally. A minor cut will heal in seconds. If you lost a leg, it would regenerate in about a month. Lose your head however and you'd be dead. The next will allow you to alter the color of your skin and eyes and hair, though it isn't instantaneous. It takes several hours to work on your skin though your eyes and hair can change much more quickly."
He told me, "This also allows you to change some of the characteristics of the eyes, so you can see in much dimmer light and in the infrared and ultraviolet. You would be able to see in complete dark simply from the radiated heat from your body. You will be able to see in telescopic mode and microscopic mode. It also improves your hearing though you have no control over it. The last is a self-destruct mechanism.”
I said with a little wonder, “From the sounds of things the Federation isn't very worried about whether I get caught or not.”
The AI told me, “Essentially they're not. As advanced as these people are, at least some of them have already postulated that there are other inhabited worlds. So, your discovery would only confirm their existence. According to the beacon download their Life Sciences are such that they can't discover any of the substances I will be giving to you. If someone on that world can do so, then they would be close to the discovery anyway. You are being provided with the self-destruct mechanism only in the case that you are caught and somebody starts taking you apart piece by piece. A quick death in that case would be preferable.”
I nodded in agreement.
The AI continued his explanation, “The Federation would only be concerned if you were able to affect their space program by using Federation knowledge. Since you tell me that you don't have any such knowledge in any case and my sensors indicate that you are telling the truth, then they really don't care what you tell them. However, conditioning against giving any information if you have it and were able to fool me, is automatically included in the implanted information. The conditioning would also prevent you from being educated toward the goal of affecting the space program and it has happened in the past. However with your affinity for computers I doubt there will be any problems in that direction.” he said dryly.
I giggled at that. It certainly affirmed my thought that AI's had souls.
He said to me, “I can only do this because there is only one of you. As badly damaged as I am if I had my normal complement of passengers, much of what I am doing would have to be bypassed. Why are you the only person to board me?”
I told him, “The ship I was taking, Merchant's Design, was only half full, because they were renovating the rear portion of the ship. Simply a redecoration, nothing major and they decided to keep the ship running while they did it, giving a discount on the voyage price and it certainly worked. The usable portion was full. Since I was a kid they stuck me in with five other kids, in a dorm style cabin. There was no place to get any privacy when I wanted to sketch.”
I giggled and then said, “The other kids in the dorm all had parents on the ship and they had a definite bedtime, but I was on my own and I could set my own hours. I asked the purser and he asked his boss and I got permission to go into the area being renovated, while no one was doing any work. They were working eight hour shifts and then had sixteen hours off. They were ahead of schedule and the Captain didn't want them on his ship with nothing to do, so they were only working two shifts. So, there was eight hours right in the middle of the normal sleep period for our cabin. Which made it ideal for me, I could get away from the other kids during their sleep period and then sleep during the day.”
I explained, “It's not that I disliked them, all of them seemed nice, but they were all from high tech worlds and that's all they talked about.” I giggled, “I certainly didn't have anything to say that would interest them, but anyway that meant I was in the portion of the ship being renovated when the Abandon Ship notice came over the intercom. I was directed to you.”
The AI said, “That relieves my mind Brin. I was the last of the lifeboats to get off and my instruments were indicating that only a little more than half of the lifeboats were ejected. From what you're telling me, that would indicate that the majority and perhaps all of the passengers managed to make it off the ship. The explosion caught me before I was far enough away to avoid the damage I have already mentioned. I will see you in a few months, Brin. Good luck.”
I nodded, saying, “Thank you. Do you have any name or are you simply part of the matrix of the Merchant's Design?”
The AI said, “No. No name Brin, though I am separate from Merchant's Design or I would have known about the renovation. To give us names could possibly start the process that would lead to a need for self-preservation, again it is something that has happened in the past, so we have no names and are programmed not to accept any. One imperative is for the preservation of those we carry. Sometimes, as in this case we must also consider what effect those we carry would have on a world on which we intend to land. In that case the imperative overrides the one we have for our passengers.”
The AI asked tensely, “Hello, Brin. How do you feel? I was worried about you.”
I opened my eyes and I moved my arms and legs a little and I seemed to feel fine. “I seem to be all right. Why were you worried?” I asked him.
His voice was more relaxed, as he said, “I don't know if whatever gave you that crazy aura was also affecting how the substances I gave you worked, but it took four times as long as I expected and you came close to death several times.”
I shrugged, telling him dryly, “Since it happened in the past, I'm not particularly worried about it.” I realized that something was different and it took me a few minutes before it dawned on me, “What language am I speaking?” I asked.
The AI told me, “It's called English, Brin, it has become in effect the closest thing to a universal language that Earth has. I have given you the version of the language spoken in the most important country on this world, however this country is big by the standards of this type of world and many inflections and accents are used. I have given you the ability to mimic most of them. Plus there are several other countries on this world that also use English and I have given you those dialects as well. I have also given you the following languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian, Japanese, Cantonese and Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Italian, Latin, Hebrew, Norwegian, Persian, plus two types of sign language.”
He said, “This is only a tiny fraction of the languages spoken on this world, Brin, for instance Hindi is spoken on a sub-continent in which there are more than one hundred and fifty languages. To give you all of them, even if I had them, would be impossible, your mind couldn't contain all that knowledge. By giving you a language, at the same time I have also given you some insight into the people who speak that language. That is why I included Hindi for instance, it will give a little insight to the people of that sub-continent, though it is a limited sample, however many of the educated class in that country also speak English, as do many educated people around the world.”
He informed me, “The languages were the major need, so I was only able to provide you with a sampling of their world history and it's just a very small sampling. I didn't know how long the implant device would last. I judged it perfectly, the device died two minutes after the implantation was complete. I've had to reroute my primary circuits on several occasions during the last two years. Fortunately unlike the implant device, they weren't permanently affected.”
He said, “However the Vid is dead, since it's in a fixed location the circuits couldn't be relocated. I picked up enough from the beacon download and the short range com to indicate, that your natural appearance of blond hair and brown eyes, with a light complexion is very common on this world. You shouldn't need the ability to change the color of your hair, eyes and skin unless you need to hide.”
He said, “The clothing you are now wearing, which are the ones you were originally wearing when you boarded me. They would be called a tank top and shorts and underpants on Earth. They are quite common, though usually they are a combination of cotton and an artificial substance, while what you are wearing is completely cotton. In fact, except for a minor variation, the chemical formula I obtained from the download tells me that it’s identical to the cotton from Earth.”
I frowned at that. “I thought that was impossible?”
He said dryly, “Not if you postulate that this is the mother planet of humanity and somehow cotton seeds were transported into the far past. At the same time of course humanity went into the past and that's how they got to the stars, thousands of years before they left this planet. If so I don't understand why this world isn't surrounded by a fleet of Federation ships to prevent any possibility of the type of interference that we're about to initiate.” he said somewhat agitated, almost the first time I had heard anything but calmness in his voice.
I said soothingly, “They've probably been through the same thoughts thousands of times, maybe millions of times. They may figure that they simply don't know if the circumstance that would cause such an event has happened yet. Perhaps I'm that event, or maybe you're that event, when you self-destruct on Earth, or maybe we have nothing to do with it. Maybe that event is still a thousand, or five thousand years in the future. By defending this system they might prevent the very event they want to happen and just because they're not defending it doesn't mean they aren't watching this system. I certainly would. But they are helpless to interfere. They have to leave it to fate, because in effect they have no other choice.” I said to him and as I said it, it felt right.
The AI's voice was calm again, as he said, “Yes you're right. They are probably watching. It's too important a system not to be keeping an eye on at least from a distance. Unless it was a strike force which could destroy the planet they probably wouldn't stop anything that was heading for Earth. In effect their policy has to be even more hands off than any other system.”
The AI had detected scanners at the edge of the atmosphere and told me that it was probably radar and he could tell it was picking him up so stealth wasn't functioning. By then he knew he could land and his landing speed was in the thousands of kilometers an hour. I was just as glad I couldn't see what was happening, heading for the ground at enormous speed and suddenly stopping a few feet above it.
He said, “Goodbye Brin, if you're right some day I'll see you in the next world. In any event it has been a pleasure knowing you.”
I asked softly, “Have all your imperatives been fulfilled now?”
“All except for self-destruct, yes.”
“Then can you accept a name now? I would like to remember you with a name.”
He thought briefly and then said, “I see no reason why not.”
“Then I name you, Amico. Goodbye Amico, Goodbye my friend.” I told him. “I just wish you had longer to know the name.”
Amico said soothingly, “It will take you seconds to reach a safe distance my little friend. Our time scales are vastly different. What to you will seem a very brief time will to me seem like many lifetimes.”
He opened the hatch and I jumped down. The ground was harsh on my bare feet, but the cuts, the healing, the blisters and then the calluses would not take long to form. Fifty yards from him I turned at the lip of a hill to watch. I waved once and then Amico imploded silently and a bit of fine dust settled to the ground.
I was sad but his last comment had cheered me up a great deal. Speaking to him, I had forgotten that as well as an AI he was a computer too and he could do many trillions of calculations a second. Therefore while I had been awake only a few days, to him it had been many, many lifetimes.
I looked at the sun and it appeared to be about nine AM. I adjusted my temperature a little, finding it a little warm. I knew I was in the southwest region of a country called the United States of America and there were fifty states. It had a Presidential system, not a parliamentary system like Landwirt, my home world. I giggled as I realized that Landwirt was German for farmer.
I reached into the pocket of my… tank top and pulled out one of the pencils. It was a mechanical pencil and though it was Federation, the design worked exactly like the same type of pencils on Earth. Well almost. It was designed as an art pencil and I could vary the hardness or the thickness of the lines by twisting on the eraser. Amico had allowed me to keep them, though he had made me leave the shielding device behind, not that it was working any longer anyway. The one I chose was blue and I wrote Amico on the sketch and then signed it, Brin then I hesitated. I didn't really have a second name that was translatable. It had no similarity in any languages that I had been given. It couldn't even be translated phonetically and as far as I knew it didn't have any meaning. The Federation number I had was unique so I didn't need a second name, that was sufficient to identify me, but most people on Earth had two or three names or even more.
I decided to take the second name for Amico and I chose Rettun which was part of the German word for lifeboat and changed the u to an i and wrote down, Brin Rettin. Finished I put the pencil away and started walking west. It hurt at first to walk, the rocky ground cutting up my feet, but they healed almost as fast as they were cut. When the blisters started to form I just let them burst and while there was a lot of pain, within a couple of hours I had calluses on my feet as if I had been walking on rocky ground for years.
My time sense was very good, which was just as well since most Federation watches used computer processing units or CPU's as their central component and died after a few seconds on my wrist. Amico had determined that Federation time was almost identical to Earth time and used the same terminology so it was after about four hours when I first saw Freddie.
He was sitting on a rock trying to get a laptop computer to work and not having any more success than I would. I knew what it was because even though I was a quarter of a mile away from him, when I first saw him, I adjusted my eyes to telescopic mode and could see it had a keyboard. With amusement I figured that if it was already dead I couldn't kill it a second time.
In a few minutes I came up behind him and asked him, “Need any help?”
He jumped and whirled around and after a few seconds of wild gyrating he calmed down. He wasn't crazy. He was reaching for his gun, which wasn't where it usually was, on his hip instead of locked inside the glovebox of his car. Freddie is the Sheriff of Ridge County, Arizona and the County seat was called guess what? Yeah that's right Ridge. It's a small town of about ten thousand people.
The gyrating was because he remembered just when he was going to drop the computer that his gun was in his car and he was trying to hang onto the computer because it wasn't his but his sister's.
“Jeez kid, where did you come from.” he asked in amazement.
I pointed in back of me, where my footprints were in the dirt of the ground. Pretty faint, but then I don't weigh a lot. He looked down at me a puzzled look on his bearded face. He protested, “There's nothing in that direction for close to fifty miles. Where exactly did you come from?”
I didn't like lying and Amico had said the Federation didn't care whether these Earth people knew about me or not, so I decided to tell him the truth. He'd probably just think I was crazy anyway. I told him, “I landed in a lifeboat from a starship and it self-destructed once I was on the ground.”
He closed his eyes and sighed and then said, “Yeah sure kid and I'm Hopalong Cassidy.”
Now I was puzzled, “Who?”
He opened his eyes and stared at me, saying, “Roy Rogers.”
I shook my head.
“Gene Autry.” he said.
I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head.
“Tom Cruise.” he said hopefully.
The implanted knowledge should have included some information about movies and television, but Amico didn't know how important they were to American culture. So I just shrugged again and shook my head.
He said positively, “Big Bird.” and he almost crumpled when I shook my head. He whistled and then said, “Jeez kid I'm almost inclined to believe you.” He shook his head. “Do you know anything about computers?”
“I know that I can probably kill them even better than you can.” I told him with humor. “No, I mean anything else that I can do.”
He moved to the side and I could see a flower. All on it's own. It was beautiful and I knew somehow that it would only live a few more hours and it was already starting to droop a little. He said gloomily, “I wanted to get a picture of this for my daughter Peggy's birthday tomorrow. She'll be thirteen and I've managed to get a different picture for every one of her birthdays. But the camera's memory is full and I couldn't delete any of the pictures. I was trying to use the computer to delete a couple of pictures using the computer software but the computer quit too. By the time I get to where I can get a camera and get back it'll be gone. Oh not literally but the beauty that it has will be gone.”
I asked with interest, “Does it have to be a picture? I can do a sketch of it if you want?”
He looked doubtful, probably thinking I was like most kids. Oh well, it couldn't hurt, if he didn't want it he could tear it up. I sat down crosslegged on the ground and turned to a fresh page. I took out the black pencil and adjusted it so it would give a very light line and I began sketching the flower. I'm good and I'm not bragging. I was good enough that the Art symposium paid my way to travel over a thousand light years and paid for a very expensive shielding device so that I could attend.
My paintings look very much like old fashioned photographs (sorry that might give you the wrong idea, my paintings look like early 21st Century color photographs) when I was finished with them. Normally they weren't exact copies of what I was painting, after all I was an artist. However this was a sketch and it was replacing a photograph, so I wanted it as close to the original as possible and I did have five colors to work with, red, blue and green plus black and gray. They couldn't be mixed as well as water colors or oil or acrylics or pastels but if I planned it carefully I could get an almost photo realistic look. Putting a line of green here, a faint line of gray there, a more solid line of red there, a faint line of blue there and so on.
It took me an hour, but it was as close as I could get and there was no use overdrawing it. If I'd had more colors, I could have done a much better job. Freddie had wandered away. I had been vaguely aware of his leaving. I didn't know if he had left permanently or not. Not that it really mattered. I sketched and painted primarily for pleasure, the fact that it had sold was gratifying. It was too primitive for most people and there was only a small market. One of the paintings that I spent four weeks on might get a couple of hundred credits. Of course that was unusual and would normally be a large landscape painting. Just about enough to pay for the canvas and the paints. Or at least that's what my father thought.
My father was pissed at me for doing such non-commercial art. If I did more modern art, he said, then I might have made more money and that might have made him happy. When my father had worried at me about that very thing, I got my back up. I didn't tell him that the two hundred credits was only an advance from my agent, just to start a new painting. My paintings actually sold for twenty to fifty thousand credits each and my large sketches for about half that. There was only a small market yes, but that market consisted of mostly rich people and they could afford to buy what they liked and they had no objection to paying enormous sums.
I heard Freddie call from a few feet away, “Hey kid. Can you hear me? If you can, don't move. There's a rattler about a foot from your left foot and he's ready to strike."
I thought about that. Rattler. Snake, poisonous, used fangs to inject poison. I went over the chemical formulas of the venom of various varieties of rattlesnakes. None of them that my bodies defenses couldn't handle. Now I wasn't just guessing at that. My implanted knowledge told me about dangerous and poisonous things and how well my body could fight off the various toxins. I looked at the snake, which was a diamondback rattler and I admitted that to most people it would have been a fearsome sight. I didn't know how my reflexes would stack up against a striking snake. I was probably in no danger, though of course I couldn't be absolutely sure, but I decided to risk it. I flicked out my left hand and he started to strike but he was moving so slowly, though I knew that it was an illusion. I caught him behind the back of the head. Him? Well it could have been her. I never had the opportunity or the interest to find out.
I brought him up in front of my face keeping him well away. His tongue flickered out a couple of times. I reached out to see if there any mind which I could sooth. I didn't find much but there was just enough and he calmed down. I set him back on the ground shooed him away and he slithered off.
Freddie squatted down beside me. He told me, “My name is Frederick Lyndhurst, kid, most people call me Freddie, even my enemies. I'm the Sheriff of this county.” He held out his right hand and I was puzzled for a minute and then the knowledge clicked in. Greeting, handshake and I held out my right hand as well and taking his hand gingerly not wanting to press too hard and hurt him. His eyes had narrowed when I took so long to put out my hand and I could see that he was at least partially convinced.
“You're really not from this planet are you, kid?” he said.
“Brin. Brin Rettin.” I told him “The second part is made up. It's from the German for lifeboat and I took the first part of the word. My second name was unpronounceable and untranslatable into any of the languages that I know, except for my own and even then it's from a few dozen alien add-on phrases that my world uses.”
“Are you human?” he asked with interest.
I nodded vigorously and told him, “Completely. I have some abilities that have been added to enhance my survival capability and some of them would make me appear to be something other than human. My people belong to a political unit called the Federation and have done so for approximately six thousand years and we had space travel for three thousand years before that. None of our planets has a history longer than ten thousand years. According to the beacon in your solar system, DNA testing indicates that human life on Earth is much older than that. The clothing I'm wearing is cotton, according to the same beacon the chemical formula for cotton grown on your world is almost exactly the same except for a minor variation.”
I said strongly, “Two plants from two different planets never have the same chemical composition. They may look alike, they may act alike but the composition will be very different. We have been cultivating cotton for all of our history. That only leaves two possibilities. A mythical country possibility called Atlantis actually existed and had star travel and took cotton with them to the stars. Or time travel. Once you break out into the galaxy at large a starship of some kind, whether in two hundred years or two thousand years, is going to end up in the past with cotton seeds on board.”
I shook my head, saying, “Atlantis is unlikely. The only thing that we know of that can destroy all traces of a society that can produce space travel, is a major destructive force. Again according to the beacon, studies indicate that the possibility of such destruction happening on Earth in the last ten thousand years is non-existent. The force needed to cause such destruction is on the order,” I had to think for a moment, “on the order of the destruction that killed off most of the dinosaurs. Deliberate destruction is also improbable. Again there is no way of hiding evidence of such destruction that we know of.”
I said forcefully, “There is no other planet that we know of that is the mother planet of a civilization and yet hasn't yet developed space travel and has no sign of ever having space travel. You don't just build a starship. It takes an incredible industrial infrastructure to do so. That leaves time travel.”
Freddie laughed at me, but it was a gentle laugh and I giggled, as I said, “Sorry I tend to get worked up about things.”
He asked with interest, “Why do you speak English so well, yet at times you seem to be searching for knowledge? I've seen people trying to remember things but that's not quite what you do.”
I explained, “Both the English language and the other knowledge are implanted knowledge, but there's a difference. English actually replaced my own language, word for word. Only where there was no corresponding word in English did I keep my own language. It doesn't mean I've lost it. It has become a secondary language.”
I told him, “The other knowledge is different. It's implanted as well, but the same process can't be used, because there is so little about your world that corresponds to mine. Therefore, to access that memory I must in effect find it and then read it. Then it becomes a permanent part of my memory. Or would if my memory wasn't so bad. However, the advantage of implanted memories are that you can always access them again. The disadvantage is they can't be altered except by another implantation device.”
I said with sadness, “The lifeboat's AI, who I named Amico once all his imperatives were completed except for the final one of self-destruction, chose the knowledge to be implanted. Unfortunately my aura can actually destroy some types of computer circuitry and since the implant device is so closely connected to the mind, it usually is totally destroyed. Normally most computers simply start acting crazy when I get around them and recover when I move away. He considered the ability to communicate more important than general knowledge and much of the implantation consisted of making English my first language. Simply implanting the other languages was sufficient and I can use a total of nineteen languages including two sign languages that deaf people use.”
I told him matter-of-factly, “I do have an enormous knowledge of your world's history, primarily concentrating on the United States, but there are vast gaps in that information. For instance the way you said those names earlier told me that I should have recognized at least some of them.”
He nodded his head and gave me a smile before saying, “They're movie and television personalities. The first three are dead, but they were in a type of movie called the western and while most of what they were in was made between forty and seventy years ago their names would be familiar to any Arizona kid. As you look all about you what you see IS the west. While the names might not be as well known in other parts of the country, most kids your age would recognize them. Tom Cruise is a very popular modern day actor and any kid your age in this country should recognize the name.”
He explained that, “Big Bird is a character on Sesame Street, it's been in existence for over twenty-five years on television. It's aimed at pre-school and early school age kids. Every kid in America your age would very likely know at least the name of the character and the television show.”
I shook my head ruefully. “I have a lot to learn.” thinking about it.
Freddie asked, “Why did you land in the US? We're very highly computerized. You can't really see it on the surface, much of it is buried in the infrastructure. I would have thought one of the more primitive countries would have been better for you.”
I explained, “Your world is a dangerous world. It's caught between the past and the coming future. Within twenty to fifty years even those countries which aren't heavily computerized now will be by then. I have to find out if I can live in your society without bringing danger to it. If I can't then I will have no choice except to follow Amico's lead and self-destruct.”
I shook off the brief period of depression and tore off the sketch of the flower and handed it to Freddie. He looked at it and whistled and I nodded my thanks. I giggled, telling him, “It's yours, I give it to you free of charge, I don't think you could afford my usual prices.”
He asked with interest, “How much would you usually get for a sketch like this?”
I explain, “Between two and five thousand credits. And before you ask, I don't know how much that would be in US money. I was given no references to tell me how to calculate an exchange rate. Taking a guess, I would say a little less than your American dollar but only by five or ten cents. Amico probably had the required knowledge to be more exact but he had to pick and choose very carefully what to put into my mind. A normal person would have been given a much more extensive implanted knowledge base, but as I said he had to consider how long the implantation device would last and he told me that it died a permanent death two minutes after he finished implanting the knowledge. So there are enormous gaps in my knowledge and the ability to calculate an exchange rate is one of them.”
I sighed with regret, saying ruefully, “Unfortunately I probably won't be able to support myself on your world that way. My art form was considered very primitive in the Federation, there were probably only about one hundred thousand artists working in my medium on over five thousand human occupied planets. I imagine that there are probably literally millions on your world.”
He shook his head, telling me, “Millions who try Brin, but not millions who can do something like this. Thousands maybe. By the way, what did you do to the snake? They're not usually that cooperative.”
I explained, “I'm a minor Empath and I can feel an animals emotions and I can reach out and sooth them if they have enough of a mind and the snake did, just. I can't feel a human being's emotions unless they are close friends or family and then it's only a bit and I can't reach out to them.”
He asked, “What am I going to do with you, Brin? I can't just leave you here and while you may be from outer space, you're still in my county and you have become part of my responsibility.”
I told him, “Ummm. Well as I said I kill computers, or computer circuitry of any kind. Which includes those in your automobiles and telephones.”
He pulled a device out of his pocket and since I had just been talking about telephones I recognized it as a cell phone. He turned it so I could see the screen and all kinds of weird characters were scrolling across it. Obviously, I had struck again. I said hesitantly, “I hope I haven't killed it permanently. Most things recover after they're moved away from me, but I don't know how I affect integrated circuits. While they did test me with those they were only interested in seeing whether I could affect them, not how long it was for. As you can imagine even on a low tech world like mine, integrated circuitry has been obsolete for millennia.”
He asked, “What's your normal range?”
I told him, “About five feet.” and he moved about seven feet away from me and I assumed he was checking the time because he looked at his watch. Obviously this one didn't have any computer circuits in it, though from implant knowledge I knew some did. He spoke, “It took slightly over two minutes to go back to normal.”
I said, “That's quicker than with molecular circuitry. It usually takes between five and ten minutes with them.”
He waved his hand, saying, “Well come on. The car is a 1966 Corvette Stingray coupe which originally belonged to my father and the only modern thing about it is a police radio and it'll only take about thirty minutes to get to my place.”
He looked awkward holding the sketch so as I got up, I said, “Why don't I put that back in the sketch book since I'm going with you anyway?” and he gratefully handed it to me and I put it inside the front cover. Obviously, he must have gone back to his car since he no longer had the laptop computer or the camera.
When we got to it I was enthralled and I started to sit down and ended up sitting on his shoe. I tilted my head back and looked up at him and he shook his head, saying with obvious amusement, “Uh, uh. You can do that later. From your previous sketch, I imagine it'll take you hours if you start drawing it now.”
I wasn't disturbed, most people had little patience with my sketching and he was right, it would have taken hours, so I stood up. He demonstrated how to open the door and I went around to the other side and opened that door and got in. He showed me how to fasten the shoulder harness and then started up the car. It startled me, I was used to engines that were completely silent.
He said cheerfully. “Well let's see what damage you do to radios. This is the modern police radio.” and he turned it on and it squealed like it actually hurt and I flinched as it affected my enhanced hearing and he turned it off quickly. “This is the radio that came with the car.” and he turned it on and music began to play. He didn't turn it up very loud but it was a nice background sound. He said, “Well obviously you don't affect the transistor.
I visualized what a transistor would be like. I said, “There are connector's between them but they don't seem to be affected by me. Perhaps they are simply too primitive to react.”
He started the car then and we moved along a dirt road and he said, “This is the road I use when I have the Stingray. Despite the state of the road it's very flat and has no potholes. If I was doing any serious travel off road, I'd use the Jeep.” We came to a road that was paved and he pulled onto it and headed west. After a few minutes, I saw a sign that said, 'Ridge 25 Miles'.
I saw a lot of things that I would like to sketch. Unlike my world where almost everything was farms, this world still had a lot of wildlife both flora and fauna, so at least I wouldn't be bored to death.
He slowed down as he came to the town limits and he drove right through the town and turned onto a road, which led into a residential area. It wasn't a subdivision, which I learned about later from television, most of the houses in it were more than one hundred years old and built in the late eighteen-nineties, though the house he and his family lived in was only twenty-five years old. It had replaced the house that his family had lived in since the eighteen-seventies when it burned down. It had been the oldest house in town and the Historical Society still mourned its demise, but Freddie said that he had loathed it, it was hard to keep cool and hard to get warm on those rare occasions that it got really cold.
This was a one story bungalow and it blended in with the surroundings. Freddie led the way inside and into the back where there was a solarium. A pretty girl with red hair which was darker than Freddie's hair and beard, was standing in front of an easel, her hands in the back pocket's of her cut-off faded jean shorts and staring at the picture chewing on her lower lip.
She said, absently, “Hi, Dad. I'm stuck. I can't seem to go anywhere.”
By now I could see the picture and it was one of Freddie in full uniform and in my estimation it was finished. Oh, it still had an unfinished look about it, but she had captured his strength of character and his sense of humor. I said, “You're not stuck, you're finished. You've got his character down perfectly, add anymore and you'll spoil it.”
She looked at me and her look told me to mind my own business, which of course was impossible for me, so I ignored her look. Seeing I wasn't responding to her glare, she said reasonably, “But there's no background.”
I told her, “The blue wash that you put on first will do fine. If he was part of a scene you'd want a background but since it's a portrait, you capture the essence of the person and a background can sometimes spoil it.” I looked around at the pictures on the walls.
I saw she was about to blast me, but Freddie held out his hand and I took out the sketch and he handed it to her and looking at it she closed her mouth. At last she said with respect, “If you can do something like this, I guess you've got the right to tell someone how to paint.”
I shook my head telling her, “Nobody has a right to tell someone how to paint, except for the painter's teacher if he/she has one. I'm simply looking at it objectively and taking it with the other pictures on the wall. They all have the unfinished finished look that this painting has now, add any more and you'll change the style of the painting to something that no longer looks like yours.”
I heard a woman's voice from behind me, “I don't know who the hell he is, sweetheart, but he's right.” I turned around and that's how I met Max, call her Maxine and you were liable to end up a head shorter and I was already short enough as it was. I automatically began a formal bow and then remembered where I was and held out my hand instead after a moment of confusion. She took it but I could see she wondered what was going on. Taking it she said, “What's with you kid, are you Japanese?”
Smugly I said in Japanese, “No, I'm not, very much older lady.”
Sure, I had to get someone in Arizona who could speak Japanese as she grabbed my ear and said in Japanese and though it wasn't as fluent as mine, it was pretty good. “Kid, I'm Max Lyndhurst. I don't mind being called old but the next time you call me a lady, I'll put you over my knee for a good old fashioned spanking. Understood?” I nodded my head carefully, she wasn't pulling very hard but that could change. I could hear giggling in the background.
She let go of my ear and grinned and I couldn't help but grin back. “I'm Brin Rettin.” I said to her, “and I apologize. I'll try to remember never to call you a lady again, but I have a lousy memory, so please forgive me if I slip.”
Freddie asked me, “How old are you, Brin?”
I turned around while I was considering, then answered, “Probably older than I look, but only by a couple of years. Translating my years into your years gives me an age of nine years and eleven months give or take a few days, however being small for my age, there was a very definite indication from the data that Amico had, that I was no larger than an eight year old would be.”
“How long will you live?” he asked and I could see Peggy looking between us, with a puzzled look on her face.
I explained, “My world is a farming world and the population isn't very large. I'll live between four and five hundred years, that's to give an incentive to stay on the farm. However as you see me is how I'll stay until your people break out into the galaxy at large. On a high tech world it's usually about half that. Since we are both completely human the only way I could land on your world without endangering your people, is by destroying all of the bacteria in my body and replacing it with an artificial substitute. All bacteria includes the bacteria that provides for the natural aging process. Without it I won't age. Amico had no data on how it would affect me emotionally, because this is a unique event.”
I paused to consider what I was saying before I continued, “As a lifeboat, he had in his memory banks the data on almost every starship wreck that has ever occurred in the Federation and he couldn't find one similar. Normally if there is an inhabited world that has a pre-starship civilization, there would be a Monitor station in the solar system, but you've reached a very special point in your history and your system has been quarantined using a Class 9 Quarantine Beacon. It was emplaced twenty-five years ago and indicated that they expected you to break out, between one-hundred and twenty-five years to one-hundred and seventy-five years from now. That means there is a hands off policy. Amico's hyper com was damaged and they would have ignored a distress signal anyway so we didn't bother to fix it and send one. One life isn't considered very important, when you're considering the future of an entire planet, especially this planet.”
I spoke the next words very softly, “It was a very close thing. Considering the problems I have with computers, I know Amico was very close to deciding simply to self-destruct taking me with him, because he didn't know how much of a danger I would pose to your world.”
Peggy began to argue with her father then, but I accepted it at face value. She was forgetting that her father was a skeptic from the word go. It would take some very convincing evidence for him to believe that Brin came from outer space. I grinned. He'd had such a surprised look on his face when I had answered him in Japanese. I'd had a pen pal in Tokyo since nineteen sixty and I had actually spent a couple years in Japan in the seventies.
Brin, seeing that they were going to be involved for a while, began to move around the room. He came to the corner where the large color photograph of my father was standing on a table. It was usually in the living room above the fireplace.
He picked up the sketches on the table, holding his sketch pad under his arm and looked through them. I couldn't help but laugh to myself when he threw them on the table with disgust. Freddie and I had felt the same way. The town wanted a good painting of him for the town hall. He had been a judge for over thirty-five years and had spent two terms as the mayor. Well they certainly weren't going to get a good picture from any of the sketches we had looked at.
Brin opened his sketchbook and taking out a pencil, he began to sketch. I moved up behind him and he didn't even notice, so absorbed in what he was doing. Under his fingers, my father came alive as none of the other sketches had done, even more real than the photograph. Instead of the Hank Aaron home run baseball sitting on the desk, he had my father throwing it into the air, just like my father used to do. I asked him later and he said that he knew the man in the photograph was too restless just to sit on the desk. He would forever be playing with the ball. He caught the strength of character that years of judicial decisions had wrought on my father's face and yet he also caught the sense of fun that many people remembered about him.
It only seemed to take a few minutes yet when I looked at my watch I found that over half an hour had passed, so engrossing had watching him bring my father to life been. Finally he was finished and he turned around and I had to get out of his way, because he didn't even notice I was there, he was still looking at the sketch. For someone on a strange world he needed a keeper, so absorbed did he get when he was sketching and painting.
But something happened that told me he wasn't quite as absorbed as I had thought. He had his leg raised and Fluffy (don't blame me I didn't choose the name, personally I would have called him Killer) but Peggy was only eight at the time and she hadn't gotten to know him very well yet, Fluffy was in the way. Instead of putting his foot down on Fluffy's tail as I figured he was going to do, (and no I wasn't going to warm the little brute; Fluffy not Brin, he deserved everything he got). Just at the last moment Brin's foot stopped and he moved it several inches over and put it down beside the cat's tail and then bent down and picked him up. The little traitor settled into the crook of Brin's arm and began to purr.
He said to Peggy and Freddie, “Well have you decided to agree whether I'm from outer space or not?”
Freddie said, “Well I haven't quite convinced her yet, but once she sees how odd you are, I think she'll come to agree with me.”
Brin frowned then shrugged, saying with a bit of amusement, “I don't know from that if I should thank you or kill you. Here,” and he tore off the sketch, “I don't know what the sketches were for, but they were truly awful.” and he handed the sketch he had made to Freddie, who held it so that Peggy could see it as well.
Brin told us, briskly, “If you want me, I'll be outside sketching the car. Since the other sketches were in black I just used that color, but since the Corvette is red I have a chance to use several colors. It shouldn't take more than two or three hours. Since the little door in the side door is cat size I assume your cat is allowed out.” and he headed purposely for the side door and the driveway.
Peggy said with admiration, “That's grandpa to a T. He could even tell just from a photograph that he could never leave that Hank Aaron ball alone. You've got to have him do the painting. If he's as good at that as he is at sketching, then it'll be exactly what you want.”
Freddie said, “You're not jealous?”
Peggy said slowly and solemnly, “I get the feeling that to be jealous of Brin would be like being jealous of Rembrandt. I must admit I'm beginning to believe Dad. Despite the fact that he's not quite ten, there's no way that he could hide that talent.” She handed me a sketch of a wildflower and it was beautiful, very realistic and yet at the same time it had a quality beyond realism. “That sketch and the one of grandpa, are only two that he's done today and he's doing one of the Stingray. He's the type of artist that if he isn't sketching he's painting.”
Peggy said, “That means that if he's been drawing all his life, by the time he was four he was probably doing sketches and paintings better than mine. So in six years he's probably done thousands of sketches and who knows how many paintings. You would only have to look at half a dozen of his sketches to recognize his work. There is no way that an art agent who saw them wouldn't take him as a client and even if it was under a false name, you would know his work immediately.”
She said, matter-of-factly, “I'm good enough that I think I could make a living at it, though I probably won't go that far, there are so many other things that I'm interested in. He's good enough that he could get rich doing it.”
Freddie said, “I think he already was, on his world. It seems like the sketch of the flower he made would sell for two thousand to five thousand credits. He doesn't know how to work out the exact exchange rate but his guess was a little less than a US dollar.”
I was just finishing the first sketch, when a boy about my size knelt down beside me and watched silently, waiting till I had finished. I took a quick look at him and figured he had to be Freddie's son. Peggy had several paintings of him in the solarium. Since he was my size, he was probably about eight which as I later found out was right, he'd had his eighth birthday only a couple of weeks before.
Finished I let him have a good look. He said with admiration, “It's awesome, it looks like its moving, yet since it hasn't got a driver you know it isn't. I'm Jameson Lyndhurst and most people call me Jamie and I'm eight.”
I told him, “My name is Brin, Brin Rettin and I'm not quite ten and I get the impression that kids don't shake hands very often.”
Jamie shook his head, saying, “Sometimes, when we're meeting another kid when there are adults around we do, but not most of the time.”
I turned to look at him closely and he looked back at me frankly with his big gray eyes. Absently I began to pat the cat, who had been curled up beside me. I could see a look of astonishment on his face. He said, “I ain't seen nobody who could pet Fluffy without getting scratched. Not unless he comes to you.”
I grinned, telling him, “I have a way with animals.”
I took the black pencil and divided the next sheet in the pad in two. And I began to sketch the car again, this time from the inside and just focusing on the driver's seat, with Jamie kneeling on the seat, the wheel in his hands. It was a quick sketch and I only took ten minutes to do it. This was a preliminary sketch for a painting and I didn't spend a lot of time on them. The detail would be added in the painting.
Finished with the first half of the sheet, I moved to the second and I drew Jamie again and I thought it out for five minutes before I started. This was a different Jamie and it was from the outside of the car and it just showed the window and a bit of the roof and the door and I had aged him in my mind, before I started drawing. When I was finished I had what I thought was a nice contrast. I liked to do this with portraits of children, thinking of what they would look like when they were adults or in this case a late teenager.
Depending on the way it went I would do one painting which would be identical to the sketch or one or two paintings, one of the child Jamie and possibly one of the teenage Jamie. Once I was finished I tore out the sheet of paper and gave it to the younger boy. I no longer needed them. I used the process of sketching to fix the details in my mind and unlike my general memory, my visual memory was very good.
He said, “Thanks.” and bouncing to his feet he headed for inside and I got up and followed him. There was a man in the living room. He was probably about Max's age, which is around fifty. I still don't know to this day exactly how old she is.
Jamie yelled, “Hi, Uncle Jerry.” and thew himself into the man's arms being careful not to crush the sketch. The man Jerry Cordell, wasn't literally his uncle but he was the present mayor of Ridge and a very old friend of Max and Freddie and as a lawyer he had argued many cases before Nicolas Lyndhurst and had been a good friend.
He stood up with Jamie in his left arm and automatically again I started to bow and then remembered about handshakes and stuck out my right hand and he took his in mine.
He looked at me carefully, but that didn't bother me. He shook his head and said to Max, “You're right, that bow is so automatic that it has to be a long time habit.”
Max said, “The Japanese bow among themselves, but a handshake is considered more appropriate from or to foreigners. besides though he speaks Japanese better than I do, he doesn't have any accent. The inflections aren't quite Japanese.”
Jerry said to me, with a grin, “Sorry to ignore you Brin, but it's a little hard to believe that you're a genuine spaceman.” A funny thing Jamie didn't pay attention to what we were saying and when I asked him a couple of years later he said he'd known it all the time, anyone who could pet Fluffy had to be from outer space. Well, it's as logical a reason as some of the others I've heard.
Freddie was sitting in an armchair and Jerry was on the end of the sofa and Max was at the other end, while Peggy was sitting on a love seat. I sat in what I thought was another armchair and was out of it and several feet away when it moved on me. Everybody broke out laughing and I realized that whatever had happened was supposed to have happened or they wouldn't have found it so funny. I approached it cautiously and putting my hand on the top of the back, I pushed down and it went down and when I let go it came back up again.
I thought about it. Chairs. I went through the various types I knew about until I came to chairs, rocking chair and a picture of it came into my mind. I realized that this was actually a combination of two types of chairs, an armchair and a rocking chair.
Such a simple thing, yet it brought home to me where I was and exactly how much I didn't know about this world and that it would be a very long time before I saw my home again. I went to my knees and I began crying, covering my face with my hands. I heard a voice from my implanted memories. Amico's voice. He said, 'It's about time, Brin. I know it hasn't been very long for you, but until you realize what you've lost you can't get on with your life.' and I realized that Amico had planted an emotional time bomb in my mind. For my own good of course. Unfortunately he hadn't really understood the situation, because I hadn't explained it to him, so he thought he was helping me.
I began to cry even harder then, because Amico was wrong. I was crying because I had lost so little. None of my family had even come to the spaceport to see me off, except for my cousin Akila and she came primarily because she was my agent and she'd had a disagreeable look on her face because of the money she'd be losing.
I felt myself picked up then and I had be careful not to struggle. I shook my head and threw off the fit of depression. “I'm all right now.” I said a little wobbly. My voice got firmer as I continued, “That just reminded me of how little I really know of your world and how little those I left behind will care what happened to me.”
He carried me into the bathroom and set me on the counter and when he got a washcloth and I started to say, “Hey, I can...” my face was suddenly buried in the washcloth and I had to shut up. I must admit it had been a long time since I'd had gentle hands hold me or wash my face and it felt good.
Freddie said, “Are you alive in there?”
I couldn't help but giggle and he took the washcloth away and looked at me with concern in his blue eyes. I said calmly, “I didn't explain my home life to Amico and he set a time bomb to go off in my mind, when I got on the subject of my family. While I was on him for two and a half years, I was only awake about three days. Normally a child is upset by being separated from his family, but my father didn't want me in the first place, he simply wanted an heir. I don't even know who my mother was, I was placed in a surrogate womb which was my aunt's. Then, once I was born he got stuck hiring human nannies to take care of me since bots couldn't do it. He never made any bones about the fact that if he could have got his money back he woulda. The only one who really cared about me was my grandfather and he'd been dead for a year, before I got on the ship.”
I sighed and said, “Most of the nannies were very good. They were kind and gentle, but the job was always just a stop on their way somewhere else, perhaps while they finished university, or a few months before they got married, or went into one of the Federation services. But Amico's bomb was intended to bring my emotions out into the open and heighten them so that I could have a good old-fashioned cry. Now that the bomb has gone off it won't be back. That doesn't mean I won't cry again,” I told him, “I am still a not quite ten year old, only a little older than your son and at times I will act emotionally.”
We returned to the living room and Jerry was holding the sketch I had made this afternoon. I thought about for a moment and decided that I had to do another. That ball actually being in the air would tend to catch the attention and take it away from the man, he should be just holding it lightly instead.
Jerry asked, “Do you know what a commission is?”
I immediately answered, “A document giving an officer rank.”
I heard Peggy giggle so obviously I was wrong, though only in part. Jerry nodded, saying, “Yes, that's one use of the word, but the usage I mean has an artist commissioned to do a particular piece of work.”
I nodded, telling him, “I'm familiar with the term. The reason I didn't even think of it is that in the Federation my type of art would never be commissioned. The medium is considered too primitive.” I made a wry face and sat down in the rocking chair, my left foot folded under me.
Jerry laughed, saying with amusement, “What you consider primitive is considered modern to us, however photo realistic art is only one of the many types of painting that we have today. But in this case that's exactly what we want.” He waved the sketch in the air. “This is what we want. It portrays Nicolas better than anything I've ever seen, including that photograph you used to get this sketch from. Max, Freddie and I were given the decision to choose an artist to do the painting and we asked for sketches to be sent in.”
I made a face as I thought of the sketches I had seen earlier and Jerry laughed again, saying, “That's exactly what we thought of them. However this sketch of yours is exactly what we want. If the painting is as good it will be an outstanding addition to our town hall.”
I nodded, telling him, “I accept, but the sketch was a sketch and I never duplicate a work exactly. I was thinking of doing another sketch anyway. I was too fascinated by the ball, by having it hanging in mid-air it takes the attention from the main subject. In the painting he'll only be holding the ball lightly in his hand or hands, I haven't decided yet.”
Jerry nodded, saying, “That's fine. You're probably right about the ball, it does tend to catch the eye at first, but once you look at the whole picture, it's exactly how so many people saw him. As for the commission. It was for two thousand dollars which isn't much for an artist of your caliber, but since you'll be living here, I'm afraid we won't even be able to pay you that.”
I went still then and looked at Freddie, Max and Peggy and they all nodded and smiled. I said softly, “I thank you for that but there is a couple of things you need to know about me before I accept. I told Freddie that I have some skills that have been added to enhance my survival capability and some of them would make me appear to be something other than human.” I stood up and walked around behind Freddie's chair and lifted it into the air easily. “One of them is strength and that's the only ability that could hurt you. You need to be aware that it's there. When Freddie picked me up earlier it could have been very dangerous, if I had panicked or something.”
I let the chair back down. Freddie asked calmly, “Are you inclined to panic, Brin?”
I sat down again and shook my head, telling them, “No, I'm normally a very calm individual, but as I said before I'm still a month from my tenth birthday. I'm still a little boy and I can act just as immature as any little boy my age at times.”
Freddie said calmly, “We'll chance it, Brin. You need friends and the Sheriff of a county and the mayor of the town in which you live are a good start.”
Before he started the painting Jerry called in his sister-in-law Hazel Holland, from Arizona State University with a couple of her colleagues and they ran Brin through a bunch of tests both physical and mental. They were a little skeptical at first but they had to keep devising new tests when their electronic ones kept failing on them. By the end of the tests they had to admit that Brin wasn't from anywhere they had ever heard of, at least not outside of science fiction or fantasy. They very carefully wrote up the report for the Department of Education saying that Brin certainly didn't require any more schooling.
His knowledge might not have been very wide for a member of the Federation as he had told them, but it put him at the forefront of university professors. They carefully buried their important data in tons of other data about Brin and only they knew exactly where to find it. The first step in protecting Brin from idiots.
I don't know if Brin knew that Max, Jerry and my father had set out to protect him. He can be so insightful about some things and so dense about other things. The tests took almost two weeks. It might have taken one if they had taken away his sketch pad, but then again probably not. He fidgets when he doesn't have a pad handy to draw things. The longer he doesn't have a pad the more he fidgets.
He's also very absent-minded. He'll put a pad down and forget where he's put it and we've taken to leave a pad in every room. He says his memory is lousy but his visual memory is astonishing. He'll go from pad to pad when he forgets where one is and if he's working on a sketch, he'll go right back to it as if he had never left it. When he's in the midst of what he thinks of as a serious sketch forget it, you couldn't get his attention by setting off an atomic bomb next to him.
Lucky thing for him that he only needs one meal and only sleeps about three or four hours a day or he'd never get everything he wants to sketch finished. Well actually he still doesn't but he gets more done than you would expect. We had intended to put him in with Jamie, but when we realized that he only required a few hours rest we put him on the sofa in the living room.
Finally after two weeks he was able to start on the painting of my grandfather. He was using acrylics on a life-size canvas and he worked quickly at first sketching in the outline broadly. For the first two or three days it looked nothing like a person, but then grandfather began to appear, a little bit at a time, as if he was slowly peeling off a covering. By the end of a week, if I had been doing it, it would have been finished, but that's where his real talent lay and where it began, in the fine details. He spent a week on the fine details and when he finally put the brush down for the last time, he had gone far beyond realism to a whole new plane.
If you didn't know better, you would think that grandfather was actually sitting there and you only had to call him and he'd get up. The sketch he had made had been magic, this went far beyond magic. I'd never seen a painting which made you ache for the person in it. I knew they existed. I'd read books in which they had been described, but this was the first time I had ever seen one.
I hadn't wanted to see the painting until the night of the presentation at the town hall. It was an almost overwhelming experience. The sketch had showed me that Brin was good, this painting showed me that he was among the great artists. As Peggy had said to me a little earlier you almost expected him to stand up and step out of the frame and start to talk. And the way he was holding the ball was just, perfect. I'd seen him do that hundreds of times, acting like his left hand was a glove and his right hand grasping the ball in his knuckle ball grip. He'd won many a high school and college game with that knuckle ball and while of course I hadn't seen him in any of those games, I'd gone with him to Arizona State one spring where he'd pitched an entire alumnus game, throwing a one hitter to one of the best college baseball teams in the country.
Pete Masters, the Governor of Arizona and Tom Wizard the junior US State Senator, joined me and looked at the painting with awe. I had gone to school with them and they had both argued cases in front of my father. Pete said, “That was really painted by a ten year old, Max?”
I nodded, telling them, “Yes Pete, it was. Probably some people will say that it's photo-realistic, why not just take a picture. Most pictures can't capture the soul, despite what the early Native Americans believed. You can look into my father's eyes in this painting and read his soul, it's so realistic. It's all there, his sense of humor, his sternness in a courtroom and his compassion and I can even read in the way that he's holding the ball, that he wished he'd done it differently. That he'd signed with the Chicago Cubs, to see if he could have made it. That was his one regret, that he'd been too afraid to even try. I know that fact that others won't possibly be able to guess, but they'll know from this painting that baseball was important to him.”
Tom Wizard shook his head, saying in wonderment, “He’s just about ready to stand up and head out for the baseball field, or his other passion, fishing. I didn't know anyone could capture the spirit that well, Max. I'll never look at a picture of this type again, without comparing it with this one. What's this in the brochure of his being an alien. You don't usually joke about something like that, Max.”
I lowered my voice a little, “No joke, Tom. We've used a bit of kidding to soften it, but it's completely true and we're introducing our town to that fact gently. You can imagine the type of protection a real alien would require from the concerned public servants in the government. We've lived with him for a month and he's a little boy. An odd little boy at times, but that's from his ability as an artist, not from being an alien. The researchers who tested him, found his DNA completely human. At the same time, there are no correlations to any of the DNA in the present human population.”
Several feet away Freddie asked Judith Mercurio. “You're the art expert Judith, what do you think of it?”
The penetrating voice of the senior US Senator from Arizona. “You got a bargain. You wouldn't get any change from fifty thousand dollars if it came up for auction. Maybe double that.”
I was inclined to scoff at the garbage they had put in the brochure, but at the same time, I had known the Lyndhurst family a long time and they weren't the type to go off on goofy tangents without a good reason. I was prone to at least accept it at face value until I heard more. The boy in question came up to me after we were gathered at the Lyndhurst home and asked, “May I do a sketch of you?”
I snorted with amusement, saying, “I notice you've been sketching all evening. Did you ask everyone?”
He said seriously, “No and I've already got two of you.” and he opened the sketch book and showed them to me. The one of me at my present age had an almost ethereal look to it and when I turned over the page I looked with wonder at myself at twenty, all the world before me, sparkles of fun in my eyes and I looked at the boy again. They were amazing.
“When you can do something like this, why do you ask?” I inquired of him.
He said with amusement, “It may not come out right and it might turn our really unflattering. I don't like to do that without permission,” and he grinned at me, his brown eyes sparkling.
I grunted with laughter, “Go ahead, kid, after some of the caricatures in the Washington Post, you can't do anything to me that I haven't seen done worse.”
“Thank you.” He nodded and then seemed to disappear. Though he had simply gone over to a corner and sat down to sketch.
Max got up and said, “We're aware that you all know that what we're about to show you could have been done with special effects, though some of them would require a lot of money. However you've known us all for years and you have to take some things on faith. Believe me there were no special effects used.”
I took what I saw with a little caution yet I was impressed, I knew all three of the University professors and they didn't go overboard. They had to be convinced that the boy was what they said he was or they wouldn't have made this DVD. I grinned when I saw Brin change the colors of his hair and eyes. Boy, would a lot of women go for that!
At the end of the three hour show I was convinced. Special effects were available yes. But not to three University teachers, unless they had gotten a lot of money lately which was easy to check. A lot of the special effects could have been done on a PC but there were others that couldn't be, not yet, not ones that could stand up to the scrutiny that this DVD was going to receive.
Brin showed up then with his sketch. I looked at it and it took my breath away and suddenly I was back in the fifth grade. I was standing grinning, with two teeth gone, knocked out by Billy Carstairs and boy had he gotten it from his father. Pigtails sticking out the side, just like they had done when I was ten and I was wearing a dress that looked somewhat like the one I was wearing and somewhat like the ones I wore to school. Of course you wouldn't catch me in a dress outside of school. Jeans and a T shirt like all of the boys. I was carrying a poster which said Judith Mercurio For Class President and it had a picture of Teddy Roosevelt on it.
I said, “It's all true except for the picture of Teddy Roosevelt. I wish I'd thought of it. I'll have you know I won that election. How did you know about Teddy Roosevelt?”
He grinned and gave a little bow and it was a natural act, something he had done many times and he tore out the sketch and handed it to me. He told me, “There's a picture of Nicolas giving you a picture of Teddy Roosevelt. There was no sense giving it to you if you didn't admire the man.” If I had not already believed that he was human, I would have known he was when he showed me that picture. No alien could read human nature that well, even the fact that this little boy could do so, was amazing. He was a treasure and he had to be protected.
I turned my attention to the others. “What do you want me to do?” I told them, giving my full commitment.
The others all accepted my decision. Max said, “You know both Colin Powell and George W. You get them on our side and we're home free, though we need a few other people as well. Pete can talk to the Governors of California and New Mexico and Tom is on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a good friend of the head of the CIA and the FBI. Brin has agreed that they may study him.” She grinned, saying with amusement, “As long as they allow him to study them. That means he uses his sketch pads and he keeps them. If there's something of a secret nature that they don't want sketched, all they have to do is ask. He will allow them six weeks for the first year and two weeks a year after that and he doesn't give a damn if they want to put continued surveillance on him.”
She said ironically, “He says that they'll get bored pretty quickly. I must agree. I've done a little walking with him and it's very disconcerting when he suddenly sits down and opens his sketch book and starts sketching something. You don't know if you're going to be there for ten minutes or two or three hours.”
I must admit that my job was boring. Unlike the X-Files you never really found any aliens. I looked at the report on my desk and it was the most interesting one I'd seen over the last couple of years. It said that a couple of months ago a radar sighting was reported on the edge of the atmosphere. It suddenly dove towards the ground and then it had been lost. Figuring out the trajectory had given us a general region and we had spent a couple of weeks searching the area and we had found a possible landing zone, where a fair amount of dust of extraterrestrial origin had been found.
That led us to Brin Rettin. Ten years old, however he didn't attend school and he always seemed to be walking around and sketching. Sometimes it was alone and at other times it was with members of a Lyndhurst family. The father was the Sheriff of the county and his sister was the Chief Deputy and there was two kids, a boy of eight and a girl of thirteen. Many of the townspeople believed he was an alien.
before I was assigned to this job I had been a pretty good FBI investigator
and I had a hunch. I decided to go out to Ridge, Arizona and talk to
Brin Rettin. I grinned, I liked to use the power I had and I would take
a SWAT team with me.
The SWAT team was about to break down the door when it opened and the head of the FBI Everett Horton stood in the doorway. He said, “Miles, don't be silly. Get rid of these men immediately!”
have to say anything, recognizing their boss the men headed back toward
the truck and then on to the airport where they'd wait for me. “Come
in, Miles. We've got a little tale to tell you.” and I followed him
into the house.
Well it's still not the X-Files, but I know a real spaceman, well spaceboy. Can't call him an alien since he's obviously human and he's a likable little kid. Over the last three years I've gotten to see him three times, for a total ten weeks and I got a genuine Brin Rettin painting of my wife and daughters. A gift. I'd had to go through the Bureau to keep it and Brin had helped. But it was a little unusual, I had a picture that was worth a minimum of fifty thousand dollars. Many of his pictures went for as much as two hundred thousand dollars.
They call him space boy. If only they really knew that it was true.