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