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Ancient Arrow Project
If the entity is fragmented into its component parts, its comprehension of free will was limited to that which was circumscribed by the Hierarchy. If the entity is a conscious collective, realizing its sovereign wholeness, the principle of free will was a form of structure that was unnecessary like scaffolding on a finished building. When entities are unknowing of their wholeness, structure will occur as a form of self-imposed security. Through this ongoing development of a structured and ordered universe, entities defined their borders -- their limits -- through the expression of their insecurity. They gradually became pieces of their wholeness, and like shards of glass from a beautiful vase they bear little resemblance to their aggregate beauty.
An Excerpt from The Shifting Models of Existence, Chamber Two
Fifteen shifted in his chair a bit uncomfortably. His assembled directors did the same, but without a grimace. "Jamisson, that was one of the best reports I've seen in years."
"I agree," Branson nodded.
Neruda smiled back appreciatively and remained silent. His presentation had gone exceptionally well. The directors were attentive and completely reasonable in their line of questions. Neruda was careful not to induce or sway, but to simply report the team's findings. He was well aware that the directors were unforgiving when they smelled persuasive tactics.
"So what're our next steps?" Ortmann asked.
"We need to do a complete restoration and excavation of the site, which'll probably take about seven to ten days," Neruda answered. "So we'll need to set up a perimeter security system and an excavation campsite."
"And what's the status of McGavin's shadow agent?" Ortmann asked, turning to Evans.
Fifteen stirred to action at the sound of McGavin's name. "His name is Donavin McAlester," he interjected. "He'll be joining us Monday. Interestingly, McGavin suggested that he report to Evans, but I thought to comply with any suggestion made by McGavin would be foolhardy. So I'd like him to report to Li-Ching since McGavin complains about our communication."
"Who's heading the Ancient Arrow project then?" Ortmann asked.
"I'm sorry," Fifteen said apologetically, "I thought I had made that clear. Jamisson will lead the project. Given his fine work to date, I thought it was only fitting that he be permitted to lead the project to its conclusion." He paused for a moment and looked around the table. "Is everyone okay with that?"
Heads nodded silently in affirmation of Fifteen's rhetorical question. Neruda kept his head still, but his dark eyes darted furtively to read the response from the directors. It was unanimous.
"Back to McAlester," Fifteen continued, "I'd like all of us to treat him with utmost care. There's no doubt as to his agenda, which is to find out why we secured this artifact without alerting the SPL. In other words, what are we trying to hide."
"How long will he be here?" Evans asked.
"That depends," Fifteen replied. He looked up briefly and rubbed the back of his neck. "If we can convince him that the information we leak to him is legitimate, he'll be gone within a month. If not, probably two, maybe three, months."
"Let's make it one," Evans remarked to a roomful of nods.
"Agreed," Fifteen said. "Are there any other questions before we break?"
Neruda's heart began to pound, and he could feel his mouth turn cotton dry in a matter of seconds. He caught Fifteen's eye.
"Did you have something else, Jamisson?" Fifteen asked politely.
"I guess... I think it would be a good idea..." Neruda paused and gathered himself as best he could. "Samantha has some interesting observations that I think the Labyrinth Group should at least be aware of. I'm not saying these are factual observations -- clearly they're not. But they're interesting -- "
"Just tell us," Fifteen interrupted, "and stop worrying about how any of us may react. We'll assume whatever you tell us is speculation and we'll leave it at that. So, what is it?"
"Samantha had several encounters with the homing device," he began. "In one of these, she had a vision of the planet covered in gridlines and there were at least three, maybe four additional areas that were possible ETC sites."
"You're saying that Samantha saw an image of multiple sites?" Fifteen asked. "And that these images were transmitted to her from the artifact?"
Neruda thought Fifteen's eyes brightened and looked more intense. "That's what she's told me."
"But the homing device is destroyed," Whitman remarked. "How would we get verification of multiple sites?"
Fifteen went to his desk and paged his assistant.
"Yes, sir," came the smooth, pleasant voice.
"Please find Samantha Folten and have her come to my office at her earliest possible convenience."
Neruda's stomach struggled to remain calm.
"Well, let's see what we can learn from Samantha," Fifteen said as he shuffled back to his chair. "No disrespect to you, Jamisson, but the vision is Samantha's and we should talk with her directly. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Of course," Neruda said hesitantly. "It's just that I haven't requested her permission to speak about these matters -- "
"I'm sure Samantha will understand," Fifteen replied casually. He turned his head to Branson. "She's SL-Five, correct?"
"Poor girl," Fifteen said smiling, his head downcast to his empty cup of tea. "Let's be on our best behavior and make her feel completely comfortable."
"Are we leaving her on this project?" Evans asked.
"What would you recommend?" Fifteen replied.
"Her contributions were significant. I'd leave her on the project. She's got something I haven't seen before in our other RVs."
"And what's that?" Ortmann asked.
"I'm not sure I can put it into words," Evans said thinking hard. "She just seems to surrender to the situation and somehow wrests more information from it than anyone else."
"I'd agree," Neruda said. "Her ability to develop a psychic rapport with the homing device may allow her to more easily communicate with the other technology artifacts found at the site."
Fifteen leaned back in his chair. His eyes were closed for a few moments while silence overtook the room. "It looks like this meeting will go another twenty minutes or so, if anyone needs a break, this would be a good time to take it." No one made a move to leave.
After a timid knock on the door, Samantha poked her head in hesitantly. "You asked for me, sir?"
"Yes," said Fifteen, getting awkwardly to his feet. "Please come in and join us." He motioned to an empty chair next to Neruda.
"Jamisson was just providing us with an excellent overview of your recent trip to the Ancient Arrow site..." He paused, deep in thought. "Do you want anything to drink before we get started? Some tea perhaps?"
Samantha looked quickly at the table and nodded.
Fifteen poured the teapot and handed an intricate, ivory-colored china cup to Samantha, steam billowing from its surface.
"Thank you," she said, the tremble in her hand betraying her nervousness at being in the same room with the directors.
"A remarkable trip, Samantha. The entire team deserves our highest recognition for its ingenuity and resourcefulness." The directors all nodded in agreement.
"Thank you, sir."
"Jamisson was kind enough to comment on some of the experiences you had with the artifact. He felt we should know about them because of his respect for your insights and abilities. Anyway, I was hoping you'd do us the honor of explaining, in whatever way you're most comfortable, what you saw and what you think it means. We'd be very grateful to you if you wouldn't mind."
Fifteen paused, looking around the table signifying that he spoke for everyone in the room. Then he returned his gaze to Samantha. "Okay?"
Samantha stole a quick glance at Neruda, who smiled in support. "I'm not sure what you already know, and I don't want to be redundant and waste your time -- "
"Jamisson mentioned that you'd seen an image of earth encircled with gridlines that seemed to indicate that there may be multiple ETC sites. Why don't you start there," Fifteen suggested.
Samantha closed her eyes and took a breath. "I can see it clearly," she said, her eyes opening in slow motion. "I'd been getting RePlay ready... everyone had left to look for Neruda, and I was trying to communicate with the artifact. RePlay was cycling through to Alpha... and the next thing I remember was... was seeing three geometric shapes like doors floating in space. Moments later the middle shape displayed an image of earth, which was surrounded in gridlines like filaments of light, and at the intersection of these lines -- in certain areas -- there were glowing dots."
She paused, closing her eyes again. "I sensed three of these glowing dots... they were like markers. Somehow I just knew they signified areas where there were additional time capsules or artifacts. I remember only seeing one clearly... the one in New Mexico. The others weren't distinct, but I'd say there were three, perhaps four in total."
"Can you specify the general location of the other sites?" Branson asked.
"I think South America, Africa, maybe Eastern Europe," Samantha said slowly. "I'm not sure. For some reason, my focus was on New Mexico."
"Did you see the entire globe, Samantha?" Fifteen asked.
"No, I don't think so," she replied. "It seemed that only four continents were visible... North and South America, Africa, and Europe," she closed her eyes again.
"Did you get a sense that each of the markings on the grid signified another time capsule?" Fifteen asked.
"That was my sense."
"And did you get a feeling that there were more on the other side of the globe?"
"Perhaps... but I don't remember thinking anything about it," she said softly, almost in a whisper.
"Was RePlay on during this session?" Ortmann asked.
"Yes, but it didn't capture anything," Samantha replied. "I had forgotten to adjust the capture sensitivity because I had an image almost instantly and assumed that RePlay was adjusted properly."
"So nothing was recorded?" Fifteen asked.
"Why don't you tell us about some of the other images you saw?" Fifteen suggested.
Samantha cleared her throat and took another sip of tea. "During this same episode, I saw an image of what looked like a tall, bearded, human-like man. His eyes were certainly unique, but in all other respects, he could have passed on the street as human."
"What was so strange about his eyes?" Fifteen asked.
"They were a mixture of strange colors, and they were very large. Very piercing."
"Did you communicate with this being?"
"Tell us about it," Fifteen said.
"This being told me that they were the geneticists who developed our DNA. They were trying to trigger something within our DNA that would enable us to withstand a shift of some kind -- a genetic shift. And that this was all necessary because we needed to defend our planet -- "
"From what?" Fifteen almost shouted, sitting up in his chair.
Samantha became tentative. "From an alien race."
The room became chillingly quiet. Samantha wanted to take a sip of tea, but was afraid she might spill it if she did. Her hands were visibly shaking.
"You might want to mention why you think the discovery of the time capsule was an orchestrated event," Neruda ventured, hoping to steer her comments to a new subject.
Samantha turned to Neruda, aware that he was under some pressure to justify her presence in the meeting. "As you've probably already considered," she began, "the artifact was very selective. It probed both of us," she turned to Neruda again, "down to our molecular structure... or at least it felt like it.
"It was like this artifact had been programmed to assess our motives and establish our suitability for the discovery. Fortunately, it decided in our favor... though I'm not sure why." She flashed a quick smile that betrayed her nervousness.
"I kept feeling, and still do, even now, that this time capsule isn't exactly the right description of what we've discovered. It's much larger than that, and its creators have encoded its true purpose behind the glyphs, the art, the artifacts... behind everything. These are gestures, not the real substance of what they're trying to communicate."
"Gestures?" Fifteen repeated.
"I mean they're like facades," Samantha quickly returned, realizing the cryptic nature of her statement. "I don't think we'll be successful in decoding anything here, I think they have a whole different meaning."
"And what do you feel that is?" Fifteen asked.
"My sense is that the artifacts, including the optical disc -- if that's what it is -- will prove impossible to probe, just like the first artifact. The paintings won't reveal anything significant. And the glyphs will be impossible to decode."
"And the reason you think they did this is?" Fifteen asked.
"Because there's something in the process of trying to understand these artifacts that's more important than what they are or what they do. That's the only thing that makes sense to me."
"Well, you're right about one thing," Fifteen said, "they've chosen to be cryptic for reasons that aren't obvious." He stood to his feet and poured more tea for Samantha before she could refuse.
"Samantha, you've been very helpful, and we appreciate your candor. Is there any reason why you believe the artifact chose you in the way that it did?"
"How do you mean, sir?"
"It seems to me that you were its primary contact. And yet there're no RePlay tapes or seeming effort on your part to make contact with it. In other words, it seems to have selected you. Why do you think?"
"I assume because of my psychic abilities -- "
"That's all?" he asked in a friendly tone.
"I think so."
"But how do you feel?"
Samantha paused, editing her words before they were spoken. Her eyes searched the ceiling as if she were looking for help. "I never had a chance to really use RePlay. It contacted me before I had an opportunity... it... maybe it didn't want anyone else to see these images."
"What do you feel is the purpose of the ETC?" Fifteen asked, watching her intensely as if he were reading her body and mind simultaneously.
"It's something to do with genetics," Samantha said with sudden conviction. "It's something important and it's something that impacts a large number of people."
"Why a large number of people?" Branson asked.
Samantha looked directly at her supervisor, her green eyes intense and alive. "Why else would they be so careful about who they selected to discover the site?"
Silence filled the room. No one said anything for several seconds, as if reviewing his or her thoughts in light of what Samantha had just said.
Fifteen stared at Samantha. "Is there anything else that you can think of that might be valuable for us to know?"
Samantha shook her head. "No, I don't think so."
Neruda cleared his throat. "Their name?"
"Oh, yes," Samantha said, "They referred to themselves as the WingMakers."
Again, silence filled the room.
Fifteen tapped his fingers on the table. "The WingMakers..." He let the words dangle in the air, and then looked at Samantha. "What do you think it means?"
"I don't know, sir," Samantha replied, looking a bit surprised that he'd ask her opinion.
"It actually sounds familiar to me, but I don't know why."
"Have we done a search?" Fifteen asked.
Neruda shook his head slowly and looked down at his hands. "My thoughts have been on the optical disc and excavation team. Sorry."
Fifteen pulled out his console from underneath the table and hit a few keys. He typed in the word WINGMAKERS with blazing speed and clicked search. Moments later he shook his head and pushed the console back to its position beneath the table. "Nothing in our database or the net."
Fifteen resumed his tapping on the table. "Jamisson, you have a memory as perfect as anyone I know, how could you have a familiarity with this name and not be able to place it?"
"Maybe it was stored in his subconscious by the artifact," Samantha said, answering on his behalf.
"Hmmm" Fifteen said, nodding slowly. "Nothing else?"
Samantha looked to Neruda quickly and then shook her head. "No, sir."
"Well, we're very appreciative for your time and information, Samantha. You may return to your work. Thank you."
Fifteen motioned to the door as he finished his sentence and watched as she left the room hurriedly.
Fifteen stood and removed his cardigan sweater and carefully secured it to the back of his chair, and then sat down with cautious grace.
"Do you believe her?" Li-Ching asked.
"I believe she's being honest," Fifteen replied, dodging the question slightly. "We're talking about an encounter with what could possibly be an authentic representative of the Central Race."
"You mean because of the reference that they're allegedly the creators of our DNA that they're from the Central Race?" Whitman asked.
"That and the fact that they've deposited a structure within our planet that looks more sophisticated than anything we've ever seen before -- by a considerable margin I might add.
"I'd like to have our Corteum counterparts made aware of this discovery," Fifteen said, turning to Whitman.
"Yes, they're more knowledgeable about the mythology of the Central Race than we are, maybe they can detect something in all of this that corroborates or debunks what we've heard and seen here today."
Fifteen turned to Branson. "I'd like her to have a promotion. Okay?"
"SL-Seven," Fifteen said. "We need her loyalty strengthened. She's very good. I like her... but she has a weakness in her loyalties. She's loyal to her heart, more than to our ideals and mission. What I find interesting is that she's also afraid of her potential disloyalty, and this'll make her more prone to compensate in unsavory ways. Make it retroactive to the first of the month."
"Now," Fifteen said, turning to the full group with his teacup in hand, "I'd like to hear your thoughts, theories, and opinions."
The sound of shifting bodies in leather chairs filled the room.
Neruda spoke first. "Whoever they are, they seem to know about the 2011 prophecy. That alone gives some credibility to Samantha's story."
"If Samantha's facts are straight, saying that we need to defend earth from aliens doesn't necessarily mean they're talking about the 2011 invasion prophecy," Ortmann said.
Li-Ching stirred in her chair. "Perhaps an RV session would be in order."
"On the WingMakers?" Evans asked.
"Why not?" she replied.
"I'll leave it to Neruda to decide RV protocols for the project," Fifteen announced. "But let's not jump to any conclusions about the identity of the WingMakers, and let's be certain to keep all RV sessions at levels one or two. I don't want any more contact with this race than is absolutely necessary. Agreed?"
Heads nodded obediently to his question.
"What else?" Fifteen queried.
"If she's right about the wide-ranging importance of this discovery," Li-Ching offered, "then we'll have internal pressure to release this finding to the outside. The implication is that security will need to be tightened and personnel more carefully screened. I'd suggest we limit access to the Ancient Arrow file to LG members."
"Done. Except I want Samantha to continue on this project," Fifteen said. "She'll be allowed into the surrogate file, but not the LG version."
Fifteen took a long sip of tea and swallowed with exuberance. "Whitman, I know you'd like this project under your supervision, but we just don't have a dynamic understanding of this species and its intentions right now to justify TTP leadership. However, I'd like you to supervise all surrogate database management and file creation, including all LAN/WAN knowledge links. Okay?"
"Yes, I understand completely," Whitman replied with no surprise in his voice.
"What else?" Fifteen summoned. "You must have more to offer than security issues."
Ortmann cleared his throat. "Now that we're in a mode to recover an additional twenty-two artifacts of unknown origin, value, and function, wouldn't it make sense to re-evaluate our security measures with Professor Stevens and the students?"
"What are you suggesting?" Evans asked.
"The value of this project, at least in my mind, has gone up by a factor of ten with the discovery of this ETC site. For all we know, this is the technological equivalent of BST... hell, it could be BST. Who knows? All I'm saying is that we should ensure its secrecy, and we have three loose ends in New Mexico that could create problems for us."
"What are you suggesting?" Evans asked again, hoping to force Ortmann to be specific.
"I know we've placed our best security fence around these people, but there're variables that even our best technologies can't control."
"So what do you want us to do?" Evans asked, his frustration starting to show.
"I think an accident cover should be executed for each of the three -- I'd leave the specifics to you."
Fifteen had been listening intently. "Leonard, it sounds like you want to be rid of these risks, but by doing away with them wouldn't we also create more risks? Remember McGavin's recent allegations?"
"If I may add," Evans said, "I think the students represent more risk than Stevens. In the case of Stevens, the worst that he can do is already done, and we'll manage the fallout. I'm not worried. The students are another issue altogether."
"How so?" Fifteen asked.
"So far they've cooperated," Evans answered. "But only because of Stevens' influence. And that seems to be increasingly shaky because of his recent interaction with McGavin's goons. I'd say they could blow if they get any reinforcement from Stevens."
"So why not take the students out?" asked Li-Ching. "I can handle all of the communication issues with a two-day window."
"The advantage of an accident cover with the students," Evans continued, "is that it would send a good message to Stevens. It also provides us with leverage downstream if we plant subtle evidence of his involvement in their deaths."
Fifteen set his teacup down and closed his eyes; bored or tired, no one could tell. "Can you two have some specific recommendations on my desk by eighteen hundred hours?" he paused only for a quick breath, emphasizing the rhetorical nature of his question. "I'd like a minimum of three scenarios, priority ordered, and I'd like the most probable implications defined. Oh, one more thing. We're not in the business of killing people just for the sake of security -- for this project or any other. Am I clear?"
Li-Ching and Evans confirmed their understanding with a silent nod. Everyone else just stared.
"I'll authorize exceptions only as a last resort, and only if it clearly compromises our broader agenda. I'm quite certain of one thing; security on this project won't be our problem. Our problem will be loyalty."
He turned to Neruda as he finished his words. "Please have the excavation team list assembled tomorrow by twelve hundred hours in my office. And I'd like Evans included. Work with Whitaker and Ortmann to choose the rest. Okay?"
"Yes, that'd be fine, sir."
"Very well," Fifteen said standing up. "I assume there're no other questions or comments for now. Thanks once again to Jamisson for a brilliant report, and pass our comments on to the team. They all deserve our praise for an outstanding job."
Neruda fumbled with his presentation materials while everyone filed out of Fifteen's office, including Li-Ching. The sound of the door closing startled Neruda as he snapped the buckles on his briefcase. "I talked with Jeremy this morning," Fifteen said, walking to his desk with an occasional grimace. "He was pleasantly surprised to hear about your discoveries in New Mexico. I told him I wanted you to lead this project to conclusion. I also told him I wanted you to be promoted to SL-Thirteen."
He paused with a warm smile. "If that's okay with you, of course?"
Neruda could only manage to nod, flustered by the sudden honor.
"We'll wait for the official status change until Jeremy returns from holiday, but I'll inform the other directors this afternoon of your acceptance. Evans will have a new password to you later this morning. Okay?"
"Yes... whatever you think is best," Neruda managed to blurt out.
"One last thing, Jamisson. What I said earlier about loyalty... I'd like you to keep Samantha involved with this project, but watch her carefully. We have too much at stake with this project to let her, or anyone else, lose sight of our mission objectives."
"I agree, and I will, sir," Neruda said. "I mean I'll keep an eye on her."
"Good. I know you'll do your best," Fifteen said.
"If you don't mind my asking," Neruda said, "what did Jeremy say?"
"About your promotion?"
"Something about you being too young to be an SL-Thirteen. I think he said something about him being fifty-two when he attained that lofty height," Fifteen said with a wink. "But he was all too happy to agree with my suggestion, and you know Jeremy, if he hadn't, he would've said so."
Neruda smiled and nodded in agreement. His supervisor was definitely as independent as he was brilliant. He was the one director that could and would stand up to Fifteen if he genuinely disagreed with him.
"Thank you for your confidence in me," Neruda said as he started for the door. "I truly appreciate it."
"You're very welcome."
Neruda left Fifteen's office with a strange sense that the warning about Samantha had also been meant for him. But despite that intuitive sense, he was buoyant about his promotion. He only wished he had someone other than his staff whom he could tell.
* * * *
The ACIO laboratory was washed in halogen light from an array of floodlights that hung from the ceiling. Inside each fixture was a miniature, closed circuit video camera. The lights were strategically positioned so that every square centimeter of the laboratory was observable, a reality that always irked Neruda.
Pattern Grid Detection Systems were established in each camera's electronic eye, that were able to distinguish an anomalous activity and alert security. It was why Neruda had to contact Security to enter the lab after 8pm.
The lab was sequestered under the tightest security fence that the ACIO had. Under the best of circumstances it took too long to get in, but tonight, Neruda was losing his patience because Security wasn't answering its phone.
After the third try, he decided to give up. He took the laboratory elevator, which was the only way to enter the lab. The security fence could detect Body Prints and determine the associated security clearance. There were no retina scans or security cards.
As the doors of the elevator opened onto the sixteenth floor, which housed the mammoth lab, Neruda was beginning to question whether he should try to make one more phone call. He decided against it. He was SL-13. Screw it, he concluded.
The outer perimeter door opened without hesitation so he walked through with similar confidence. Fifteen was a patron of the arts, and had virtually demanded that paintings and sculpture grace every wall and unused nook of the lab. It was a stimulating contrast to see originals by Gauguin, Kandinsky, and Miro as companions to the world's most advanced technologies.
At eleven at night the hallways on the periphery of the lab were quiet. Neruda walked to the main door and it opened with the hushed sound of air-compressed hydraulics. The door itself was fireproof, bulletproof, bombproof, and impervious to lock-picking of even the most sophisticated kind.
Neruda walked briskly through a brightly lit anteroom. He was restless to talk with Andrews and see the results from the initial probes of the artifact found in the 23rd chamber. Another door awaited him down a short hallway that held the bathrooms and access to the lunchroom.
"Dr. Neruda," a voice sounded in the hallway directly overhead via the PA system, "we have no record of a permission request to visit the lab after hours. Please verify."
Neruda stopped in frustration and gestured impolitely to the speaker in the ceiling. "I tried calling you guys three times only fifteen minutes ago. No one answered the phone. Is there a problem?"
"No problem, sir," the voice replied. "Just verifying entries for the record. Have a good night, sir."
"You, too," Neruda said with a sigh of frustration. He hated the meddlesome nature of security.
Again Neruda was greeted by the sound of an automatic door opening at his approach. A camera scanned the entrance to the lab, but wasn't visible. Neruda couldn't tell where it was hidden, but he knew he was on tape, though he suspected no one was watching.
He entered the Computer Analysis Laboratory (CAL), which was the largest of the rooms off the main lab. CAL was known as home to the ACIO's most powerful computer system ZEMI, which had been developed collaboratively between the ACIO scientific core and the Corteum, an extraterrestrial race that had a secretive technology transfer program with the ACIO for the past 27 years.
The ZEMI processors were approximately 400 times more powerful than the best supercomputers on earth. Its operating system was custom-fitted to four individuals, each with security clearances of ten or more. These four operators were the exclusive users of ZEMI, and even Fifteen had to rely upon one of these individuals to interface with ZEMI if he chose to use it.
"Hey," Andrews said.
"Could be better," Andrews replied, fumbling with some papers. "I could be sitting at home watching Golden Eyes, drowning in margaritas, and eating some exotic pizza with red peppers flown in from Chile."
"Sounds boring in comparison," Neruda commented.
"Shit, I can't get anything from this report," Andrews complained. He turned to a monitor panel in front of him. On the screen was the image of a man in his late fifties sitting in a high-back leather chair. The monitor was the only means of communicating with the ZEMI operators, who were isolated in special control rooms that shielded them from electromagnetic frequencies and psychic disruptions.
"David, could you try something a little unconventional?"
"What do you have in mind?" the face on the monitor asked.
"Try varying the angle of the read laser in a random sequence and simultaneously varying the spin rates."
"What're you looking for?"
"A fucking access point! We need to find the angle and speed correlation. It's out of our standard range. So we need to expand our range. Can you do it?"
"Just give me the parameters," the face said.
"Every conceivable angle and spin rate outside of our standard range," Andrews said. "Is that specific enough?"
"Can you calculate the parameters then?"
"How long will it take?"
"They're on the monitor now," the face said glibly.
"I mean how long will it take for the random tests?"
"Do you want angle and spin rate correlations to be exhaustively or randomly tested?"
"Exhaustively. Is there any other way?"
"Test cycle requirements?"
"This first round, let's try two seconds."
"It'll take at least two hours," the face said.
"Okay, let's get going," Andrews commanded. "I'm tired."
The man on the monitor panel closed his eyes. Seven, thin, glass filaments ran to a black colored headband that went from the back, center part of his neck, to the center of his forehead just above the bridge of his nose. He was completely bald, one of the sacrifices the operators of ZEMI had to make. The headband was called a Neural Bolometer, and it translated the radiant energy of the operator's brain activity to the command structure of ZEMI's operating system -- effectively hard-wiring him to ZEMI's computing power through thought and visualization.
"So nothing to report?" Neruda asked, hoping to stir something out of Andrews.
"I like the approach you're taking," Neruda said. "It's completely logical, oddly enough." He stopped and smiled. "I'm sure something will turn up in the test data."
"I'm not," Andrews shrugged.
"Why the doom and gloom?"
"If it's an optical disc, and they wanted us to read it, you'd think they'd have made it more similar to our standards."
"Remember this thing was left behind a thousand years ago, a bit before -- "
"Shit, I know that," Andrews whined. "But I'm tired of these damn artifacts being so impregnable to our probes. I can't help but think they're wasting our time simply because they can."
"We've only had one day in the lab with this thing. Remember it took you three days to make the breakthrough on the homing device. Give yourself another day or two. It'll sing. You'll see."
Andrews hit the com button again. "David, can you do me a favor?"
"When you get the results on round one, if they turn up negative, try cycle times of ten seconds. When that's completed, let's add a third variable, laser diameter. Vary it at the smallest possible increments and the widest possible range. Okay?"
Andrews switched the button to its off position, and turned to face Neruda. "I'm going home. Sorry I'm in such a foul mood, boss. I'm just frustrated that this thing is so fucking closemouthed."
"Go home and relax," Neruda encouraged. "It'll open its mouth soon enough, and when it does, you'll be among the first to hear it sing."
"I hope you're right, but I have this nagging feeling that this fucker isn't gonna sing anytime soon."
"We'll see," Neruda said. "I'll walk out with you."
Additional materials can be found at the WingMakers' website that may enhance your immersion into the culture of the Central Race and the enigma of the ACIO. You can find them at www.wingmakers.com
Among the other resources you will discover are:
The Neruda Interviews (post-defection from ACIO)
Chamber Philosophy Papers & Glossary
Complete gallery of Chamber Paintings
Information about the anonymous source of these materials
Chamber Music decoded from the Ancient Arrow site
Links to related websites
New content from First Source
A product store for purchasing WingMakers CDs, CD-ROM, and reproduction art
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