Friday, April 16, 2010

Prologue - Strange Visitors (Part Two)

The red sun, now setting low in the evening sky, showered the buildings and landscape with a dull purple glow. A vaguely helicopter-like flying vehicle landed on a pad, clearly constructed for such a purpose, in the middle of a wide spread of land ringed by a long circular building. A second pad, closer to the ring-structure, already held a similar vehicle.

The pilot stayed in the vehicle, while a single passenger stepped out onto the pad. He removed a small device from his pocket and a large box, slightly more than a meter long, floated out of the vehicle behind him. The lone gentleman was not tall, in fact he was a definite notch shorter than average. His clothing were clearly a uniform, with epaulettes of rank on the shoulders and a row of service medallions across his right breast. His uniform was red, the epaulettes and medallions were carved from some kind of blue gemstone.

As he walked toward a door, facing in from the ring-structure, he was greeted halfway by a robot moving on a tripod-assembly culminating in three tracked ‘feet.’ On the top of the robot was a tray, with a bottle of something golden-yellow in color and an empty glass.

Jor-El’s voice spoke from the robot, the mechanized quality of the speaker and the computer-like qualities of his own voice making it appear that the robot itself was the speaker.

“Zod, welcome. I’m in the Extotechnology Lab in section 2 sector 3, the servitor will lead you to the correct door. There is a small refreshment room outside the lab, we’ll have drinks and dinner and discuss your concerns. I want to apologize for my brusqueness when you called.”

Zod did not reply to the message delivered by the robot, it was not the done thing. Instead he followed the robot’s lead even as the floating box followed his own. When the robot reached the laboratory door, the door opened and Zod stepped through it.

“Hello, my friend.” Jor-El’s words of greeting were accompanied by a rather forced smile. It did not look right on his face, but Zod appreciated the effort.

“It’s good to see you,” Zod said with a far less awkward smile of his own, “but I understand your desire not to waste necessary time. So I won’t waste anymore time of things you might consider trivial.” He gestured toward an empty examination table and the box positioned itself atop the table and then opened.

Jor-El did not reply to Zod’s words. Instead he moved directly to the open box and commenced to visually examine the object inside. It was a cylinder of bright metal not quite as long as the table. The metal was smooth, with no obvious openings or seams. “It is not very large.”

“No,” Zod agreed, “the field team thought it might be a drone with minimal navigational and some kind of recording capability.”

“They are probably right, but I would rather be certain. Is it safe to handle?”

“The field team put it into the transit box by hand. They wore the usual protective gear. Scans have shown no biological contaminants.”

Jor-El nodded just once. “Help me then, please.”

Zod nodded and the two men each took one end of the probe and transferred it from the box to another examination table.

“Brainiac,” Jor-El said.

“Yes Father?”

“I will want a level one electronic scan with full security protocols.”

“Yes Father.”

Twin silicon-rubber-and-steel appendages extended from the table and began to slowly caress the surface of the cylinder. A low electronic hum could be heard. Without warning, an access port slid open amidst seamless metal.

“It appears, Father, to be a rather advanced techno-pseudo-organic construct.”


“Yes Father. It is entirely manufactured, but it has been deliberately and very skillfully designed to function as if it were an organism. It absorbs ambient radiation to ‘eat’ and emits low-level static electricity to ‘excrete’ the wastage… and it appears that wastage is very minimal. It is likely not a drone. Its reactions to my scan indicate some degree of high-functioning computer intelligence. I believe it is inviting interface, possibly an exchange of information and possibly a trap.”

“Do you hypothesize it to be compatible with your own artificial brain?”

“I do Father, though I must note that testing that hypothesis could be very dangerous. It would be safer to wait and run more electronic scans at higher levels to determine the degree of risk.”

Jor-El’s eyes narrowed. He looked at Zod. “Do we have a time limit?”

“No,” Zod replied.

“Would immediate results help you to improve your own position? Do you believe the science council would commend you or reward you if you produced more quickly than they expect?”

Zod’s expression was unsure. “It would,” he said very cautiously, before adding, “Jor-El, I don’t like the idea of taking unnecessary risks in order to ‘apologize.’ I am not so sensitive as you think. I merely show my feelings more easily than those who have taken the Degrees.”

“Of course,” Jor-El agreed with an attempt at a sly smile. “However, I am thinking rationally as well. I can rely on you for official support and you can rely on me for counsel and scientific expertise. It would therefore benefit both of us if your career were to benefit.”

So that is how it began. With one easy rationalization of a desire to prove that he did indeed value Zod’s friendship, Jor-El of Krypton destroyed his home world.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Prologue - Strange Visitors (Part One)

This is the first entry in this blog and the beginning of the story. Notes on this entry are posted here.

The probe was not large. Not longer than a meter, the hard and unfiltered light of the red sun lent it an eerie shimmer as it approached the atmosphere. Its skin was unmarked; no sigils, runes, or lettering explained the lonesome traveler’s purpose. The gravity of the world below seized it, pulling it smoothly into orbit, and it flowed along with the stream of nature. No thrusters fired, no electromagnets released their charge, not a thing interfered with the natural process of orbit, orbital decay, and reentry.

As the probe hit the atmosphere, however, some unseen force took action. Pre-programmed sensors, undetectable to outside observation, sent electronic signals to a control system long dormant. The metallic cylinder began to pace its descent, heat shields automatically deployed and shifted against the stress of reentry while some counter-gravitational force made certain that the object’s course was smooth and steady. It wound down toward the waiting world below, through the many layers of the atmosphere, its trail lengthening as it approached its landing.


The room’s design was simple and practical. Walls and ceiling formed a half cylinder from the single entrance to a well kept workstation. The walls were a shade of neutral gray, just dark enough to disguise the strain and stain of everyday life beneath a clean and sterile appearance and just dull enough to prevent glare from distracting the occupant.

For the room was occupied, a lone figure seated at the workstation and busily tapping a way at a hand-held control unit while studying the screen before him. Images alternated on the screen like a slideshow, the man (for it was a man; dark of hair, blue of eye, face scruffy with grizzled stubble grown during the ascetic working regimen) studying each with rapt interest before entering his observations into the control unit and pressing a button to shift to the next object of study. He worked with neither frown nor smile, though a look of intent fascination would occasionally waft across his eyes. Every now and then he reached up to scratch at his face, the stubble distracting him, but very rarely and never for very long.

It was after one such interval that a red light flashed on the desktop, and a voice spoke. The voice was both neutral and neuter, simply a low-key mechanized series of words without any inflection whatsoever.

“The central government is calling, Father, office of the planetary security branch of the space agency. General Zod is calling, not his aide.”

“Thank you Brainiac,” the man said. His voice was very nearly as neutral as that of the computer, though clearly masculine and with the faintest hint of what might have been affection buried in its tone. “Please, put the general through.”

“Hello my friend,” a new voice said through the desk’s speaker system. It was strong, deep, and rich with vitality and passion. There was no commonality of any kind between this voice and that of the computer, and little between it and the voice of the room’s lone occupant for that matter.

“Zod, my friend, it’s good to hear from you. If this is a courtesy call, I’m afraid I’m rather busy at the moment. The Old Temple of Rao in Kandor is fascinating. I don’t understand why the Department of Archaeology never performed a digital mapping of this scale before.”

“I believe, my friend, that they were more occupied with the study of the Old World and the old colonies of the Inner Circle. They are more curious about where we came from than what we’ve done since coming to Krypton. If you ask me, they should be preparing…”

The man at the workstation cut the disembodied voice off, not curtly but in the same neutral tone as before. “It isn’t that I don’t agree with you, you know that Zod. I simply don’t have the time to discuss anything but official business.”

“I’m sorry my friend. I enjoy useless talk too much, as you know, and it distracts me. I simply do not have the proper frame of mind for the Degrees, I am not a scholar or a scientist.”

“Once again you are wandering from your subject.”

“I must apologize again. It’s just that sometimes I think that the Degrees should have been used much more sparingly…”

“Zod,” the man said more firmly, a firmness born of scholarly professionalism rather than anger or irritation, “this conversation will interfere with my work and yours. What is bothering you?”

A laugh echoed through the transmitter, rueful and joyful at once. “Of course, Jor-El, you are right. I must apologize again. An alien space probe landed on the central plain of the Northwestern Continent three hours ago. A couple found it at the edge of their farm. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. No markings, no visible propulsion system, there’s nothing to tell us anything about it from sight. It scans negative for life signs, not even micro-organisms. The technology is too advanced for our scanners to make much sense of it, and there’s no way we can find to open it without damaging it. I’ve communicated with the Council and they declared it a level two priority and that I should use my judgment in choosing an analyst.”

The man frowned this time, clearly not enjoying a distraction from his chosen project. “I am honored that you consider my abilities so great, my friend, but I’ve not found much satisfaction in working for the Council of Science for some time. I will do this for you, if you report to the Council and not me.”

“Of course Jor-El, thank you. I will bring it over myself, immediately. Zod out.”

The man, Jor-El, tapped the control unit in his hand and the screen went blank. He turned to look quietly at the blank screen for a moment. Then he spoke, clear but quiet. “Brainiac.”

“Yes, Father?”

“General Zod will be bringing a new project to the homestead within the next one or two time-cycles. See that he is greeted by a servitor droid and conducted to the Exotechnology Laboratory. I am going to take the waters in my conservatory, see that a lab smock is laid out when I am done and that dinner and drinks are ready when the general and I are done with business. I may have hurt his feelings.”

“Yes Father.”