A Tufts Family Saga
Book II - Outward Bound
An Adventure In The Swarm Universe Story
© Doc Tufferson, PhD
This is Book II in the adventure and the story will be very hard to follow unless you've read “The Tufts Family Reunion” first. Find it at this link http://storiesonline.net/story/59602 or on SOL in the Swarm Universe or at the SOL Doc Tufferson Author site.
Edited by Mulligan – Thank you kind sir.
CHAPTER 1 – Citizen of the Confederation
“Eloise Valantrina Katherine Tufts, Darjee Citizenship is conferred upon your person as are full membership rights in the Confederacy. Would you like transportation at this time to join your Darjee kin?”
Ellie could remember those words from the three voices of joined Confederacy AIs as if they were just now being said. That wasn't the case, Ellie was snuggled in bed with her husband, Jason who was a mere mortal. Of course, until the testing AI became confused, misreading the results of her CAP test Ellie had been a mere mortal too. She loved her family and had come to love Tonto, the newest member as if he had been part of the Tufts family all of her life. Even though she was the youngest she was also the only human to ever become a Darjee citizen which made her totally unique.
The reality that she was also a member of the small Tufts family, the only human group to have Organic Linking Nanites and therefore their own advanced Observer AI made her doubly unique. Tonto could only exist using the mind power of his combined humans but with just five family members in Tonto's circuit his powers far exceeded the power of even grouped Confederacy AIs. And Tonto shared that power with his human counterparts.
While Ellie was pondering her fate and snuggling with her new husband, who also was her older brother, Tonto was busy tapping into Confederacy communications to determine how the Darjee were reacting to the granting of citizenship upon Ellie. He was also monitoring Earth side computer traffic of the U.S. Navy as well as that of the Earth First wackos. Any misstep by the family could put them all in danger from all three agencies.
Tonto's human family needed sleep, Tonto didn't and he would be busy on many fronts until they were introduced to both the human space forces and the Darjee, and were all safely extracted. He felt comfortable about his ability to master the Confederacy AIs and even the electro/mechanical nanites that they would inject into the family members. Neither the AIs or the nanites could be allowed to discover that the family was already part of a nanite based network. Tonto could handle those chores.
The Darjee were another matter entirely. Tonto had no direct access to the Darjee communication system other than that provided by the AI network. All Darjee deep space and fleet communications went through the AIs but when they met in person their discussions were an unknown.
“Sleep, Little One,” Tonto thought toward Ellie, “Your life is going to be an amazing adventure and all whom you touch will be changed for all time. Soon you will wear brightly colored feathers.”
Rob shouted at Tonto. “You want my daughter to grow feathers! Are you nuts? Over night you turned my eleven-year-old daughter into a sixteen-year-old young woman married to her brother and carrying his twin children in her womb. You are totally crazy if you think for one second I'll allow feathers!”
Ellie's mom, Katie, sat down in her husband's lap and snuggled in. There was no way Rob could jump up or lose his cool with his wife holding him down. The entire family was gathered in the Commandant's Conference Room at the mothballed NAS Hospital. Katie and her own mother, Val, both were bemused by the thought, what woman wouldn't love to be decked out in colorful plumage, at least for a special occasion.
Tonto took the floor, using Jason's voice to explain. “Ellie will need to have an 'in person' meeting with a Darjee representative. So far all communications have been by AI which allows the Darjee to keep their sanity. They simply cannot meet directly with violent humans without straining their stability. Peace is not a concept for them, it is their very essence.”
Tonto went on to explain his plan. The meeting was required by Darjee custom and law, normally it would be a celebration welcoming a Darjee Youngling into the adult world. But, even though Ellie had tested as a moderately high functioning Darjee and had been granted citizenship as a Darjee and as a member of the Confederacy she was still HUMAN. All but one of the Darjee who had met beak to face with humans had gone quietly insane in a very short time. The one survivor was an outcast; the contact had tainted him.
AI contact had been instigated with humans but even then the risk was so great that two or three moderating AI links were installed as insulation. Most of the time the AIs made decisions without even informing the Darjee of the contact. Tonto went on to explain that the Darjee were holding a lottery to determine which of the qualified candidates would be sacrificed to comply with the letter of the law and meet with Ellie.
Tonto spoke again, “Ellie, we can grow you a set of fledgling feathers, brightly colored to infer the rank of Princess Three. They will not be full adult feathers but age appropriate. We should also extend your nose a bit to more closely resemble a beak to make your appearance palatable to them. I have no doubt that your every wish will be granted without hesitation, especially since we will make very basic, simplistic, demands that any Darjee Youngling would have received when only half way to maturity.”
“Over my dead…!” Rob shouted before Ellie kissed him on the forehead and placed her fingers on his lips to shush him.
“No, Daddy, we like you just the way you are, we don't want you dead at all.” Ellie smiled. “Besides, Daddy, I'm a big girl now with children of my own in the hopper. I get to make my own decisions with the help of my husband, and you do trust your son to make wise decisions, don't you?”
Rob let out a huge sigh and dropped his head on his wife's shoulder asking her, “Katie, what have we done to deserve this?”
Katie responded, “Well, you married your sister, slept with your mother and lovingly held her while your son, her grandson, planted identical twins in her womb. You also sexually exchanged sperm laden with nanites with your daughter and enjoyed it very much indeed. You've also taken on several concubines and impregnated three of them plus you have instigated an explosion that wiped out an Earth First terrorist that brutalized his step-daughter who is your son's concubine. You sneak the largest pre-pack in history into a closed Naval Air Station, which you illegally commandeered from the U. S. Government… Do I need go on?”
Rob dropped his head from her shoulder to her breast, gave her a soft kiss and kept his mouth shut.
Ellie turned to her brother and said, “Husband mine, do you think I would look good in ‘age appropriate’ feathers?”
“Sweetheart,” Jason replied, “you look wonderful in nothing at all so I don't see how feathers or anything else could be an improvement but I do have a couple of questions. Tonto, I trust that the feathers will be temporary just until the Darjee contact is completed. Also we need to know that growing feathers won't harm Ellie or the babies. Time is an issue too. It took about 23 hours to age advance Ellie and me to 16 years old and we only have a few days left before we have to complete our extraction from this base.”
As Tonto began his reply, using Val as his voice surrogate this time, it struck both Val and Katie odd that Tonto's voice always sounded like the newscaster, Charlie Gibson no matter which family member was producing the sound and it held that quality even when he was speaking sub-vocally. Ellie and Rob had huge differences in their voices but when they were letting Tonto use them, each sounded like good old Charlie.
Tonto replied, “Time isn't a factor but energy is. We need a source of bright light as I don't want to use an IV connection if we can avoid it. If there is a tanning bed on base we can use that and the transformation will take 5 hours and 17 minutes. Yes, the feathers will be temporary and will be reabsorbed over a period of about a week once we are clear of Darjee space and start the process. Both Ellie and the babies will be stimulated by the process, not damaged. I have a computer simulation of the feathering of a Princess Three Darjee, would you like to see it?”
The large monitor lit up with a nude image of Ellie which began growing feathers as her facial features were also being modified. Her nose became quite prominent and her forehead sloped back reminiscent of some of the images from ancient Egyptian art in the tombs of the pharaohs. The feathers on her head were short and brightly colored in a rainbow cascade with every shade except red. Her neck feathers were iridescent green and quite broad. The body covering was a deep golden bronze on her back while the feathers on her stomach and breasts took on the look of down and was a very pale yellow with a slight tint of orange at the very tips. Her arms were covered with swept back flight feathers that were jet black and the tip of each flight feather was capped with iridescent gold in a lighter and brighter shade than on her back. Her legs were covered with soft golden-brown-toast colored feathers that were small and tight, almost like scales.
Katie gasped, “My god Ellie, you will be stunning. That is so gorgeous!”
In a whisper Ellie asked, “Can I keep them if I want?”
“Of course,” Tonto said. “But you will be in them full time for the next three or four weeks until we clear all possibility of Darjee contact and you can make up your mind then. You and Jason may not be so fond of them by that time.”
“Why?” Jason asked.
“Somehow,” Tonto replied, “I don't think Ellie will want you to stand on her back so you two can share the joys of sex and any other position will be most impossible. The Darjee are an avian species, you know.”
Jason started to protest but before he could get a full word out Rob spoke up. He had a very smug smile on his face when he said, “I think that's a wonderful idea. I'm sorry I didn't think of it myself.”
CHAPTER 2 – Feathered Bed
The family stood around the tanning bed, watching the timer count down the last few minutes before the process would be complete. There had been some concern that five plus hours under the highest intensity light would be too much but Tonto had assured them that every bit of the light would be converted into internal energy to fuel the organic nanites as they completed the tasks Tonto had given them.
Tonto warned that she would not emerge from the bed looking like the image they had all seen on the computer. “She is going to look very much like a chick newly hatched from an egg. She will be wringing wet and her feathers will be damp and dull. It will take quite a few minutes in the shower to clean everything; then an hour or two for the feathers to completely dry and harden. The colors will continue to develop for several more hours.” Everyone was eager and hunkered down to get the first look as the timer dinged and the automatic lid clicked open and began to rise.
The odor of wet feathers filled the room with a stench of a chicken processing plant mixed with the body odor of a down and out workout gym. Ellie looked like a damp, messy lump and her first act was to grab her enlarged nose and yell, “Pew, I stink! I need a shower.”
Her family helped her from the bed and walked with her to the shower room, being careful not to damage any of her new, tender feathers. They would take some time to harden properly. The colors were muted and the feathers looked as fragile as any newly hatched baby bird. The shower was long, warm and refreshing and it helped align the feathers into their natural positions. Before leaving the shower Ellie instructed the two men, her husband and father, that they were to go back to the living area and would not be allowed to see her until she was ready to make an entrance.
Family organization continued at a rapid pace. Concubines and sponsors danced the age-old dance of flirting and selection. This was different than other extractions across the globe. Everyone in the group was highly qualified and would find a comfortable, intimate mating within the larger family. Most important, everyone was going. There would be no one left behind.
Sponsors met with Rob, Jason, and Val; introducing those whom they had selected. Each concubine was privately questioned by a Tufts family member to assure that they were just as happy with the process as were the sponsors. Women and men walked freely throughout the compound and while there was concern about an unknown future there was no real sense of fear. It was abundantly clear that this was family, not slaves and masters.
Tonto was busy negotiating with the AIs representing the Darjee without giving away the secret that he too was an artificial intelligence. The AIs assumed that they were dealing with the head of the family without questioning who that might be. It was determined that Ellie would transport to the human controlled space craft, Harvest Moon, accompanied by her escorts, Jason and Grandmother Valantra.
Ellie would then be transported aboard the Darjee ship (with an unpronounceable name) that was located in near space just outside the orbit of the moon. Val would be allowed to accompany her but Jason, as a violent male, must remain on Harvest Moon. Only Ellie would be allowed inside the Darjee ship proper. Val would remain in the isolation dock tethered to the ship by a mile long strand.
The Darjee would have no knowledge that Ellie's constant companion was Tonto. They would offer her an injection with a translator unit that she would refuse stating, in the native Darjee tongue, that she was royalty who was well beyond the Youngling stage and that she was perfectly capable of speaking the “mother tongue.” Tonto had learned that the AIs intended to insert a tracking and monitoring device in the injection without the knowledge or consent of the Darjee. Tonto had studied well and downloaded from the Observer database a full knowledge of the language of the Darjee. While Ellie's natural voice box was incapable of making many of the sounds the Darjee used in speech, that too had been modified while she was in the sweat box growing feathers.
arrangements were complete and the transport up would take place at 0800 hours
the next morning. All that had been arranged while the women were still
putting the finishing touches on Ellie's new appearance. None of the men
had seen her yet.
Chimes sounded over the hospital speakers. Those softly pitched tones that grabbed everyone's attention without trying to raise undue alarm. The announcement that followed was addressed to the entire family. All 147 members of the extended Tuft's family were asked to gather in fifteen minutes in the cafeteria to meet the 148th member and the only Darjee to ever set foot on planet Earth.
Val entered the room first, stepping up on a raised dais at one end of the hall. “Friends and family, I want to re-introduce you to my Granddaughter and Darjee royalty, Eloise Valantrina Katherine Tufts. She is better known to you as Ellie and you are the first to see her in her Darjee regalia. Ellie, come out sweetheart.”
The curtain parted and the stunning beauty who stepped forward brought every person in the room to their feet. Yet the only sound was the sharp intake of breath all across the room. Ellie was transformed. She had gained a number of inches in height and now stood well over six feet tall. She was long and lean and her coloration was unlike anything on Earth. Her swelling breasts were perfectly proportioned under their downy covering. No clothing was necessary nor would it have been right on such beauty.
The deep gold on her back shown like bronzed lightning. The rainbow of colors on her head rippled as she moved. No one who saw her jet black wings would ever think of them as arms again. The flight feathers glistened and were highlighted by soft golden tips. The iridescent neck feathers swayed with each movement.
The crowd held it's breath waiting for her to speak. “You do me great honor,” Ellie said, first in English then again in Darjee with Tonto's help. As she spoke the brilliant, iridescent neck feathers flowed with her words. One experienced with Darjee communications would have known her complete meaning just by the movement around her neck even if they couldn't hear a sound.
In the back of the room a photo strobe went off, startling Ellie and her neck feathers bristled and stood most of the way out from her skin. Under the iridescence there was an ominous, dusty black.
Jason was speechless with her beauty until Tonto took control of his voice and began to speak. “Ellie has been accepted as a Darjee citizen with full rights as a Confederacy citizen too. She is now garbed to meet face to face with the Darjee to negotiate our place in the stars. We believe they will accept her without fear and will grant her all that she asks. While we are seeking far more than the rest of the human race has been granted, our requests are still very small potatoes by Darjee standards. Our future is bright. She will mingle with you for a time, please do not touch her feathers as the natural oils in your skin will leave a mark that the Darjee will recognize at once and it will disgrace Ellie before them.
“Jason, Val and Ellie will transport up in the morning. We think that the negotiations will take less than an hour and that we will all be heading skyward within the next 24 hours. After you've had time for a very short visit you need to make your last minute preparations to transport. You've been given assignments of carry-on items we wish to take such as seeds for Earth plants, pets, and many other items that we will use to pattern the replicators. Get ready folks. It's almost time.”
CHAPTER 3 – Fine Feathered Friends
Jason, Ellie and Val winked into existence aboard the Harvest Moon and were ushered directly into a side alcove. The Marine Captain greeted them warmly but with clear deference showing in his manor. “Jason,” he said, “you are to remain here with me while the ladies are boosted up. If you would like I could give you a tour of our ship and operations.”
Jason was nervous but hid it well, as he understood his part in this program. He was wearing civilian clothing that looked as if it might be a uniform from some military unit, somewhere. “I would like that very much, Captain” Jason said.
Val was in her usual soft blouse and blue jeans. The Captain had no idea what Ellie looked like. She was covered from head to toe in a soft, shimmering silken robe with a giant cowl. Her face was hidden in shadow, her form unknown except for her unusual height, and her gown was so bright it distracted the eye.
The door to a small room slid open and as soon as Val and Ellie entered it slid shut again. There was an ever so slight dip in the brightness of the lights in the alcove for a moment and the Captain said, “That unit uses a lot of power. They’ll be OK; we’ve never lost anything or anyone yet. If you’ll follow me this way.”
Ellie and Val stepped back through the same door when it opened again to find that they were in a comfortable waiting room with transparent walls. The view to one side was the distant dark side of the moon and beyond it was the bright ball of the Earth. Some distance in the other direction was a large ship, so dark that it’s features could not be determined. It was almost as if there were a hole in space. A shimmering, thin cable extended from their pod toward the dark ship.
“This is it,” Val said. “Tonto told me to keep the robe here and to make one small adjustment before you step on the blue circle for transport to the Darjee ship. She lifted the cowl back from Ellie’s face and gently touched her nose with the fingers of each hand. As she ran her fingers down the ridge and sides of Ellie’s nose the texture changed from human flesh to a hard, beak like substance with a golden sheen. “There, your transformation is complete. We think the Darjee will fall in love with you and grant you all that you ask. Remember, no matter what happens, Tonto is there with you and will not let you make a mistake. I love you, my child.”
Val removed the robe from her brightly-feathered Granddaughter and stepped back. Ellie reached toward the older woman but did not make contact lest she carry human scent into the negotiations, she used a small wet wipe to sanitize her new beak. Her smile looked odd on her transformed face. She remembered; she must keep her teeth hidden at all times as she stepped into the future of humanity.
Ellie blinked into existence at the dark end of a small hallway that led into a dimly lighted room with few embellishments. There were three Darjee in the center of the room. All three had their bodies toward her but their faces were turned aside and their eyes closed. Tonto sub-vocalized to her, “Ellie, they are afraid of you. See how their neck feathers are tight against their body? That is a sign of fear and protection. Yet all three are high-ranking men. Only men have red in their feathers and the more they have, the higher their rank. My studies determined that by putting some orange tinting on your breast and belly down you would gain minor status but now that I have access to their computer systems I know that I have given you very high status. You are a Princess One, destined to be a candidate for Queen. You must be very regal in your bearing, these men are vassals to you. I’ll give you the words, you act the part of a royal queen who is also kind and loving.”
Ellie stepped forward into the light and stamped her foot loudly on the floor. In a stern, loud voice she demanded, “Kreetch, takt feelta NON!” (“Am I so ugly?”)
All three looked up in surprise. Before them stood a young, beautiful queen-to-be. A glorious beauty with a radiance rarely seen. Her neck plumage was the brilliant iridescent royal green and stood out just far enough to display annoyance but not anger. Her tight lips without any upturn said to them that she was loving and caring. They were astounded and her Darjee style smile filled them with joy.
With one voice the three said, “But we were told that you were HUMAN and that we would not survive this contact. You are glorious, my queen, and we bow before you, begging that you care for us as we care for you.”
Tonto clued Ellie that they had just made the most gracious greeting available in the Darjee language and her proper response would be to slowly turn before them without words, displaying her royal plumage. “When you again face them quickly ruffle your neck feathers twice to show that you appreciate their care and kindness.”
Ellie slowly began to turn to her right, holding her wings gracefully away from her body. She could see that the three were startled. She held her course, spinning gently in a full circle and as she completed the turn she flashed her ruff twice.
Tonto giggled, “You overdid it just a bit, Toots. That much flash is approaching flirting and goes beyond caring. They are not offended but baffled as you turned to your right and their protocol is to the left.
Ellie addressed the group, “I can see that I have done something wrong but I know not what. You were told correctly, I was raised on Earth in the human society without the benefit of a formal Darjee education. Would you please be so caring to tell me what offense I have committed?”
“You turned in the direction of an underling, not the direction of a queen-to-be but you did not cause us offense. We are charmed by your openness, honesty and beauty.” The three said, always in unison.
Ellie followed Tonto’s lead and ruffled her side neck feathers slightly to indicate embarrassment. Then she asked the three, “Our time together is short, will you care about me enough to inform me how I can learn the proper ways of my Darjee family? My training on Earth was in the ways of Humans.”
The feathers on the back of each man’s neck raised slightly indicating that they were enamored with this young one and cared for her deeply. Their response was to offer to send her and her family to a far, safe location. Explaining that she would be allowed to use the escape system that they had built in the event the Sa’arm should draw too near. That would take her out of harm’s way and give her many years to learn from the complete Darjee education packet included with her supplies.
Ellie bowed her head slightly and twisted her neck ruff around to cover the front of her neck in two layers, a sign of shyness and slight embarrassment. She then said, “It is indelicate but I am gravid and would seek a full compliment of Darjee childhood toys and educational items for my future nestlings.”
The three replied, “Your delicate modesty is not what we were told to expect. Your natural Darjee royalty shows in your every move and gesture. You are a compliment to our race and we shall be considered uniquely cared for when the recording of this interview is shown throughout the Confederacy. We were informed that you were with nestlings-to-be and we have prepared a full set of child wonderments for you to take with you now.” The three voices never faltering in their perfect cadence.
“We have no fear of you and care for you with the highest respect. Your graciousness has also modified slightly our opinion of humans. All that you ask will be gladly granted. Is there more that we can do to demonstrate how deeply we care?”
Ellie replied, “You embarrass me with the richness of your offer. I have been greatly honored to meet with my Darjee family but I must not take you away from your duties any longer. With your permission?”
Ellie stepped back toward the hallway and all three ambassadors bowed deeply then turned their backs to show the bright red feathers of their high rank. Turning their backs and displaying their full colors was the ultimate sign of trust.
As Ellie entered the transport the last thing she heard was the three saying, “Will you care enough for us to return when it is time to select a new queen?”
She did not have time to answer before the door slid closed. Tonto informed her that no response was the proper etiquette. She had done well.
In a flash Ellie was back with her Grandmother, Val, and there was a small trunk about the size of a suitcase as well. Val smiled, saying, “I saw it all on their video and Tonto translated. You were perfect. Here, let me fix your nose and get you back into your robe. As soon as they were ready they stepped back through the door. It slid shut and just as quickly it opened again, this time back aboard the Harvest Moon where Jason was waiting.
Captain Medveni said, “We got the word that it went far better than any one thought. They are eager to get you back Earth-side so you can finish preparing your group for your pickup. We’ve been told that a special Darjee high-speed craft will be your transport and that a new type freighter will stand by to pick up any supplies you want to take with you. They seem to consider you as royalty.”
The Captain went on, “I do have one request, however. May I see this lovely woman that has so turned the heads and hearts of not only the AIs but I understand the Darjee also?”
Ellie, Jason and Val stepped onto the transport circle and just before Jason gave the signal, Ellie lowered her robe. As the system activated they heard the Captain gasp in awe.
CHAPTER 4 – Stacking The Deck
“Listen up folks,” Rob shouted to get the attention of the extended family gathered in the hospital mess hall. “Time is short and we’ve had a small change of plans. The Confederacy AIs have been in touch with our assigned AI and we have more capability than we thought. There will be two ships, the Kedah is a fast Darjee vessel and it will be our transportation and temporary home, including all animal life that we wish to take. The second ship is designed by and crewed by humans and a single AI, it is a new class of freighter and will be carrying all the inanimate objects and plant life. That includes the seeds we have been stashing away.
“I’ve sent Jason and Katie to talk to the other Naval personnel on the base to offer them some choices. The new freighter is called the Behemoth Bounty and it is a grappling ship. Once all the people and animals have been removed from Naval Air Station Magnuson the Behemoth Bounty’s new grappling system will latch onto this entire base, including everything from six feet outside the outer fence down to a depth of 18 feet in the sub-strata and underpinnings. It is going to transport the entire base into the framework of the ship and take it with us to the stars. It will be encapsulated and will become our initial home base on our new planet.”
There was stunned silence in the room as they each tried to picture what was going to take place. Meanwhile, Katie and Jason had gathered all of the remaining Naval staff on the base. None of them had been suitable to join the family except two who had declined because they didn’t think they could take all their family members with them. Jason said, “Friends, some new type of ships are going to be used and the group that you’ve been host to is being extracted to join the Confederacy. Not only are the people going, but this entire base is going too. There will be nothing left except an 18-foot deep bay when the lake water rushes in to fill the hole we’ll leave behind.
“You’ve been restricted to base during this exercise and now you need to make some choices. You may stay on Earth if you wish and we will transport you outside the gates just moments before the extraction. You’ll be a safe distance away. Your other choice is to volunteer to join the Confederacy Navy as sponsors or concubines depending upon your CAP scores. Once extracted aboard the Harvest Moon you will be given the chance to contact other members of your family to have them join you if you wish. Those of you who qualify as concubines may contact an Earth-side sponsor if you are part of a pre-pack arrangement and they too will be able to join you.”
An attractive young Petty Officer from the Security Section asked, “Will we be going with your group or into the regular Navy?”
“Good question,” Katie said. “Most of you will be assigned to the Harvest Moon and that is not the ship our group will be using. All except two of you would be in the regular Navy. Our group is attached to a Darjee contingent with a special assignment. Samantha Cooper and Darmahn Hicksman , you two have some other options as you may select the regular navy or join our group. We will talk to you separately in just a few minutes.”
“What do the rest of you think?” Jason asked. The extraction will take place very shortly and you need to decide which way you want to go.”
While Jason talked to the larger group answering questions, Katie took Samantha and Darmahn aside for a quick interview. “You were both offered the opportunity to join us earlier but declined due to family issues here on Earth. You both qualify as sponsors with two concubines each according to your CAP scores. We are now in a new situation with special accommodations and you may take advantage of the benefits. We still would like you to join us and under our special Darjee rules you may each have up to six concubines. Do either of you have more family than that?”
Samantha asked, “If I take my five family members will they still be able to take along any of their children who are under the age of 14? My sister has six young kids and her husband’s brother has five more. Can they all go as my concubines and dependant children?”
Tonto asked Katie to hold Samantha’s hand for a moment as he scanned for full details. Then he sub-vocalized to Katie, “There is one child that is seriously mentally deranged, because she is a threat she is at the top of Samantha’s mind.”
Katie took time to ask Tonto, “Could she be treated by the Confederacy Nanites?”
“Yes, and quickly too.” Tonto responded.
“Yes, Samantha,” Katie told the nervous woman, “Your entire family can come with you if you wish. You will be the sponsor and responsible for all of them unless there are others in the group who have a CAP of 6.5 or higher.”
“My dad has a score of 7.2 but no one else in the family knows about it. They don’t know about my score either as a couple of them have some Earth First leanings. They are not mean spirited but they are ticked off because they were not invited to the party.”
Next Katie asked, “And your niece…?”
“You mean little Dawnie. She isn’t responsible for the things she does. Uncle Joe thinks she was dropped on her head when she was little but he still loves her and looks after her. She is trouble but I couldn’t leave her here all alone, she wouldn’t survive.”
Katie picked up the thread of the conversation, “We will be glad to take Dawnie but will insist upon medical treatment for her condition the moment we board the Kedah. Is that acceptable to you?”
Samantha hugged Katie tightly and began to cry, “Oh god yes! She needs so much help and if she can just be made a bit calmer it would be a blessing to the entire family.”
“I’m so glad for you Samantha,” Katie said. “She will be more than helped, she will be cured in less than a day and the sleep education system will bring her up to her appropriate knowledge level and maturity before we reach our new home.
Samantha stood with her mouth open and tears running down her cheeks. She was in shock.
“Now, how about you Darmahn? Any questions?” Katie asked.
“Thanks for the opportunity but I don’t think this can work for my family,” the young tech said. “See, my dad and his brother are both strident members of Earth First. They think I am with them so they let me out and about but they keep the rest of the family under house arrest. My mother and her sister are married to dad and his brother, John. Beside myself there are five girls and mom has two little twin boys too. The two oldest girls are 15 and 16 but have never been tested. I couldn’t go and leave any of them. There is no telling what dad and John would do.”
Katie spent a quick moment talking to Tonto and set him upon a research project before she spoke again to Darmahn. “If you could be certain that you dad and his brother were out of action and that the rest of your family were safely here with you, would you take them?”
Darmahn started to respond, “But my CAP score isn’t…” when Katie cut him off.
“I’m not concerned about your score, just your wishes. If your dad and uncle were in Mexico or Timbuktu and all of the rest of your family were with you at a regular extraction, would you leave any of them behind if you could take them all?
Just like Samantha before him, tears began to show in the corners of the young man’s eyes, “Yes, every one of them and from our whispered conversations I know they would love to go if it were possible.”
“It is possible,” Katie said. “You and Samantha are to report to Val in the Hospital Commandant’s Office right now. We’ll let you know how things are going to be handled in just a few minutes.”
As Jason and Katie walked back toward the hospital Jason and Tonto shared with the rest of the family that two of the Navy people were going to stay on Earth. All the rest were delighted to be assigned to the Harvest Moon. Their military experience was a boon for the Navy and at least they would have a fighting chance when they faced the Sa’arm. The two who had elected to stay behind were being held in isolation for security.
Tonto had filled in the family on Katie’s request concerning Darmahn’s family and affirmed that the Harvest Moon’s AI had established the necessary transport modules and that two huge Space Marines had just corralled Darmahn’s father and uncle outside their house. At this moment they were being transported to the NAS brig on the far side of the base. They would be under security lockdown until 30 seconds before the base was extracted, then they would be transported to a known Earth First Headquarters. “Let them try to explain that,” he said!
Tonto went on to say, “Katie, you’ve had the most contact with young Darmahn Tripler, why don’t you take him to the Commandant’s Conference Room so he can greet his family when they arrive and tell them what’s going on. As soon as you have him in place they will be transported to that office.”
CHAPTER 5 – All Aboard
”All right guys, it’s time.” Rob called the assembled family to attention. “Val, is everyone here?”
Val, of course, was acting as Tonto’s voice when she accurately reported everyone was in place and all supplies either in hand or properly stored throughout the hospital and the rest of the Naval Air Station.
Rob continued, using a megaphone to assure that everyone could hear, “This set up is a little different than any you may have witnessed if you’ve seen extractions before. We are using some new technology. You will walk in family groups and as you pass through the hospital’s main entrance you are to keep going off to your right as if you were gathering on the side lawn. In fact, when you go through the doors you’ll be aboard the space ship, Kedah. While it is a Darjee craft, the only member of that species aboard will be our own Ellie.
“Please don’t stop and look around. It’s just a big room and you need to clear an area for the rest to get aboard. Once we are all out of here the small handful of people left on the base will be transported away and the Behemoth Bounty will lift the facility too. We will have a huge display screen on the ship so you can watch it happen. It should be quite a show. Once the base has been encapsulated and secured we will provide room assignments by family groups and began medical processing at once.”
The light in the
room changed, dimming just a bit and Rob looked outside. “OK people, that’s
the gray isolation field that has surrounded the entire base. You know
the order the families are in so let’s begin now with Dr. Sandra Hamilton-Tufts
and her crew taking our most seriously injured family member, Sara, in the
lead. They will go directly to sick bay as will Samantha Cooper, her
uncle and niece, Dawnie. Sickbay staff will begin treatment at once. The
rest of you, move out as soon as the lead group clears the doorway. Let’s
Rob had been right, it was quite a sight to see 460 acres of gray shrouded land lift straight up from the surface of the earth and keep right on going until out of sight. Lake water rushed in to fill the hole and where there had been a mothballed Naval Air Station there was left a new roiling, muddy bay. Run down homes that had suffered under the effect of a closed base in their back yards became instant lake front properties and the values went almost as high as the base itself had.
To assure all who were to follow, Jason, Ellie, Dr. Sandra Hamilton-Tufts and her patients Sara Miller-Tufts and the Coopers, as well as the rest of Jason’s concubines were the first humans to ever set foot aboard the Kedah. Tonto had superimposed a complete floor plan on Ellie and Jason’s heads-up display and they headed directly to sick bay.
A full bank of 20 med-tubes adapted for human use was at the ready and the ship’s AI addressed them as they entered the room. The AI began it’s canned speech. “Welcome to the…” was as far as it got before there was a pause that lasted for a number of seconds before it started speaking again. “Welcome my friends,” said a voice that all had come to recognize as Tonto’s public persona.
“Tonto, you’ve done it already!” Jason shouted.
“Indeed we have, Jason. This ship is a marvel of engineering, far beyond anything that humanity has been allowed to see so for. It is ideal for our purposes. All the usual communications between this ship’s AI and its outside contacts will continue but that is the limit of their authority and activity. I will use many of their sub-systems such as operating the med-tubes to free up my time but it is all under our control. Let’s get Sara and Dawnie on the way to being healthy again. Doctor, if you have something to reverse the effect of the calming agents you’ve been giving Sara it would be helpful. I would suggest putting her in the med-tube first.”
“Sara, baby,” Doctor Hamilton-Tufts said a few minutes after giving the girl an injection, “Can you understand what I’m saying?”
There was a small nod from the young woman lying in the med-tube bed and the suggestions of a smile curled the tips of her lips. “Hi,” she said, “Are we there yet?”
“Yes sweetheart, we are,” Jason replied. “You’re going to doze in comfort here for a bit and when the gentle process is over you will be completely well.” Then he bent over the edge of the tube rim to give her a kiss. Sara tried to turn her head away and mumbled, “Aids,” but Jason would not be stopped. He kissed her softly on the lips and even touched her lips with the tip of his tongue. “I love you. We all love you and soon you will be a partner in the family.”
Ellie stepped forward, still in her full Darjee plumage and took Sara’s hand. She plucked a very tiny, downy breast feather from her own chest and placed it in Sara’s hand. “Hold on to it, Sara. It is our way of letting you know that we are with you and everything will be OK.”
The med-tube door hissed shut and Tonto announced, “The AI nanites are already at work, the estimated time is three hours and eleven minutes. Jason, please help Samantha get little Dawnie into her med-tube.
Let’s hold a quick meeting while we feed everyone then get the rest of the extended family settled into their living arrangements. As soon as that is accomplished we will begin medical treatments for everybody here in sick bay.”
Val announced dinner to the rest of the gathered family and the entire entourage headed for the mess hall. She let them know that Jason and Ellie would be joining them for dinner and there would be a general information meeting while eating.
The dining hall could not be called a “mess hall” once a person walked through the doors. It was wide and spacious with a bit of Tuscany in the décor. Tables were already set with nice china and very comfortable chairs all around. Tables would seat as few as four or as many as sixteen and they were clustered in such a way that families could have their own area or join with the larger body. There were menus on each table with a microphone pore on each menu for ordering. Everyone was hesitant and not at all sure of what to do or how to do it.
Martha Oldham led her younger sister to a small table. Due to her brain injury at birth Darcy Vaughn had never learned to read. Martha said, “What would you like to eat?” Darcy held up a menu, pretending to be able to read like everyone else, and said, “pasghetti,” her word for spaghetti.
In the very center of the table a steaming platter of rich, aromatic spaghetti with meatballs appeared with a crunchy loaf of French bread smelling of real butter and garlic. There was enough for three or four people. In an unobtrusive voice the table asked, “And to drink?”
Darcy giggled and clapped her hands in delight. “Diet 7up,” Martha said for her sister. She added, “My sweet little sister, I pray your medical treatment is a success but I also pray that you never loose your gleeful spirit.
Many at the nearby tables had stood to see what was happening and a few applauded Darcy for being the first to figure out how to order meals. Soon there was a rush of voices with a wide variety of orders. Only occasionally the table would respond to a specific order with the comment, “I’m sorry, that is not on the menu at this time.” Even less frequently the table would say, “I’m sorry, that item has not been introduced to the replicator yet.” Navy chow had never been like this.
“Go right ahead with your meals,” Rob announced. He was a bit surprised to find that his voice was being transmitted to each table through the same system that had taken the food orders. “First on the agenda, many of you brought pets and small animals aboard with you. If your animal is a family pet and you want to keep it in your quarters that is fine, the AI will create accommodations according to the Sponsor’s guidelines. There are farm animals aboard including chickens, goats, rabbits, hogs and a number of other others. Doctor Horace Hamilton is our vet and he has an area for the animals. He could use a helping hand moving the beasties from the holding pen and cages in the transporter area into the farm pod. He will provide medical care for all animals, including your pets. Just in case you were wondering, he has frozen embryos of a number of large domestic animals such as dairy and beef cattle and even enough for a small herd of American Bison. He also has downloaded the DNA specifications to several thousand more. Aboard ship there are facilities that will let us modify ova and spermatozoa to re-create any of them. For an example, a dairy cow could be enticed to produce a genuine alpaca.
“Your family’s room and pod assignments are posted near the aft entrance to the dining hall. As you finish eating please gather your group and find your quarters. You’ll have a couple of hours to get settled in and make any needed changes to your accommodations. You can ask the AI what is possible. During that time please finalize your plans for body modifications and medical treatments. Talk it over and make sure you all agree. Sponsors, the authority is yours but it is far better to have your people happy with you and not making life miserable for everyone because they are unhappy with the changes you ordered.
“If there are urgent medical conditions that have cropped up since your last screening, please make those known before you go to your quarters. Our first patients are undergoing treatment right now, a second will be starting treatment shortly, and we want to have these three processes complete before we start with everyone else. Just a bit of caution. Sick bay has 20 med-tubes but we will only be using 15 at a time on routine treatments. We want a few on stand-by in case an emergency should require immediate attention. Any questions?”
There were a number of questions but there was no need to shout. The communication system worked so well that every person could hear every question and the answers too. Soon folks began wandering toward the exit, stopping to find their assigned quarters and pick up a hand held com unit to guide them and let them communicate with the AI.
CHAPTER 6 – Broadband Jolt
“Now, that's a jolt! Time for a family meeting, right now,” Tonto said with urgency.
“What's up?” Rob asked. “Should we meet all together or can we do this by sub-vocalization?”
“Together, I think,” Tonto replied. “You are all in close proximity except Val, her husband Dan and his sister, Maria. They were helping Horace move the last of the livestock into the farm module. They are now headed toward the bridge at my request, as it is a good meeting place for all of us. Make sure that Sandra joins us too and have all the pregnant concubines and sponsors stand by to meet with us in a half hour.”
The bridge was impressive with display screens wall to wall. There was almost no instrumentation for the crew but there was a large, imposing captain's chair, which was being occupied by Ellie and Jason as they cuddled and petted. Jason was rubbing his hand through the down on Ellie's breast and she was making small mewing sounds much more like a contented kitten than a giant golden eagle.
When Val, Dan, Maria and Horace walked through the door the group was complete. Sandra has seated herself on the arm of a sofa with Katie and Rob. “What's up, Boss?” Val asked.
“This is something of a shock,” Tonto said, using the bridge speaker system for his voice. “Sara is on-line.”
There was a brief silence but Sandra looked at her dad and Ellie sat up straight up in Jason's lap. “What do you mean, Sara's on-line?” Ellie asked.
“Just that,” Tonto said. “Sara is now part of the family, part of me. Her brain came on-line eleven minutes ago and is fully integrated into the family matrix. The immediate family is no longer five, there are now six.”
“Is she awake? Is she aware? Is she all right?” Sandra asked in rapid fire. “Can I go see her?”
Rob touched his mother's hip, inviting her to sit beside him and asked, “How can that be Tonto, give us the details?”
Speaking aloud Tonto reported, “One minute things were normal then there was a slight sensation and there she was, Sara's brain was fully available to me. I am using her power contribution now and the increase is significant. No, she is not awake yet but will be in a few more minutes. I've been studying the treatment process, at the same time that the med-tube was infusing her with the artificial nanites a kernel of our organic-linking-nanites were catching a piggy-back ride and co-opting their function. The AI nanites led the way but they picked up hitchhikers from Sara's lips and her hand. It appears that Jason's kiss was one source and Ellie's feather in Sara's hand was the other. There was no special reaction until the two sources combined and that changed the entire game. Just two hours later she came on line. That is the same type of time frame that Val experienced when Dr. Scout infused her with organic-linking-nanites. Whatever was missing in the human-to-human transfer of nanites has been restored.”
Val grabbed her husband's hand tightly and said, “Does that mean we now have a way to transfer our nanites to males without going through the birth process?”
“We won't know for certain until we try it but that seems to be a reasonable assumption,” Tonto replied. “It should also mean that we do not have to wait the seven or eight months for the nanite-enriched fetuses to back-infuse the mother who is carrying them. As soon as Sara has been checked by Sandra I would like to suggest that Sandra be the next to enter the med-tube.”
Sandra replied, “I agree and I think we should hold off infusing a whole bunch of the family until we know what type of effect this will have on Sara and myself.”
“And its effect on me as well,” Tonto said. “We do have several pregnant women who were selected and bred just to get them into the family brain pool as rapidly as possible but to do it all at once is too risky. I suggest we advise them what is going on and give them the choice. It seems that we can process people and give them the advantages of AI nanites without including them in the family brain pool just by assuring that they do not have the dual source of organic-linking-nanite exposure. Of course, the pregnant women do have a source in their developing fetuses. We should test that theory too.”
Ten minutes of intense conversation rattled around the room as both ideas and emotions were shared. Everyone was excited, Sandra was eager to climb into the med-tube with a feather from Ellie since she already had Rob's contribution of nanites in the persons of her identical triplet girls. Her dad, Horace, was concerned and considerably more cautious for the safety of his little girl and her developing babies.
The pregnant ladies who had gathered in the Captain's Ready Room were invited in and given a quick summary of the events. The concept of Tonto had been explained to them when they volunteered to become pregnant so that their brainpower could join the family. Now they had to decide if they wanted to take the new shortcut. The offer was limited. It was explained that Sara was already in and the Sandra would be the next test subject. If all went well for both of them then two more of the ladies who wished to take the chance would be given the opportunity. They were still talking with Rob and Val when Jason, Ellie and Sandra moved toward the doorway. Just before they slipped off of the bridge and headed toward sick bay Horace hugged his daughter tightly and kissed her on the forehead, “Don't take unnecessary risks, baby,” he whispered.
CHAPTER 7 – Coming of Age
Even though Sara’s hair was matted to her head by perspiration and she wore no make up, the beaming smile on her face made her beautiful. She sprang from the med-tube and gave Jason a huge hug and kiss. “Yes,” she said, “Yes, I will be your concubine and will be with you forever. I feel so wonderful and I love you with all my heart. Let me get in the shower then I want to join your family in every possible way. Tonto has been filling my head with a complete history of all that I missed while kept in a coma. Jason, Ellie, I love you.”
Sandra asked Sara to sit for a minute. “Tell me,” she said, “what do you know and how do you feel?”
“I feel wonderful and I believe I know everything that has happened,” she responded. “Tonto has confirmed that there is not trace of the Aids virus in my system and any damage that it caused has been repaired. He tells me that the artificial nanites have been replaced with fully functioning Organic Linking Nanites that are identical to those in Val’s system but slightly different than in the rest of the family. He thinks when the rest of you go through the med-tube and AI nanite process that your OLNs will be upgraded to the full functioning variety that Val and I share. Sandra, there is no sign of any of the damage that my step-father caused when he beat and raped me and Tonto has relayed the reports of that bastard’s demise. Thank God!”
Sandra’s father’s words of caution were on her mind when she asked a test question, “Sara, can Tonto use your voice as he does with the others some times?”
“Yes,” rolled the smooth baritone from Sara’s lips. “I can do all the things through Sara that I can with the rest of the family and I am convinced that it is safe for your and your three baby girls to under go the process.”
Sara exclaimed, “You’re going to have triplets! Three little girls! When?”
“Well, if Tonto doesn’t have any special tricks up his invisible sleeves my identical triplets will be here in eight and a half months. I’m only two weeks along and already know their nature but also that they are all three OLN babies. You aren’t going to mess with the gestation period are you Tonto?” Sandra asked.
“No,” came the rich baritone voice from Ellie’s mouth. “That isn’t something that I can improve upon although once you are connected it would be possible to use your OLNs to do some tweaking if there were problems. That would be much easier than in-vitro surgery but we can rely upon the nanites to make those corrections automatically.”
Tonto continued, “Sandra, if you are willing may I suggest that you shower before entering the med-tube and make no contact with any family member after your shower. I believe that your OLN babies in your womb will be an adequate source to take over the function on the injected artificial nanites and bring you on-line too. Are you willing to try it? If it doesn’t work we can put you right back in with two fresh sources from family members.”
Rob and Horace entered the room during the conversation and were of different minds. Rob was eager to have his new wife cooperate fully with the suggestions Tonto made. He had complete faith in Tonto’s judgment and was certain that he had only the family’s best interests at heart. Horace, on the other hand, was not so familiar with Tonto and was very concerned for the health and safety of his only daughter and the babies she carried.
Horace spoke up, “If I may be so bold, rather than taking a chance with the four lives my daughter is responsible for, how about I go through the process first. There is much less at risk and we get a two for one benefit, a second test of the method and a check to see if it is going to work on men.”
Sandra’s heart melted a bit and tears welled in her eyes. She had just been given one more experience of being totally loved by her father. “Daddy,” she said, “I don’t think there is a need to worry but I love you for the offer and if it would make you more comfortable I am willing to give your suggestion a whirl.”
“Tonto,” Rob asked, “What do you think? Are the risks any different either way? Do you see any objections?”
Tonto switched his voice to Jason’s lips before saying, “You humans continue to amaze me. Doctor, your altruism is unique and certainly does not follow the linear sequence which modern science often touts. If all others agree I think the good vet’s suggestion is the course to follow. Doctor, please shake hands with Rob once you are in place in the med-tube and one of Ellie’s feathers should complete the connections. Ellie, let’s not use the same feather as before. I believe Sara is going to frame it and keep it forever.”
Horace stripped and climbed into the med-tube naked. Before shaking hands or plucking another of Ellie’s feathers he instructed the AI, “I would like to be body modified to age 28 which was when I was in the best shape of my life. I would also like my hand-eye coordination enhanced and my hand dexterity boosted to assure that I can perform animal surgery with the best vet surgeons in the universe. Oh yes, I would like to have my hair back too and please reverse the vasectomy I had many years ago.”
“Those modifications have been noted and will be completed,” the voice of the artificial AI intoned.
Rob shook Horace’s hand firmly, passing the slight moisture there both ways. Ellie plucked another feather, one with more than the usual amount of orange and said, “That is as close as I have as a red shade, I want you to come out of there all man.”
About five minutes after the lid of the med-tube hissed closed the AI’s artificial voice reported, “This process will be complete in 3 hours and 28 minutes. There is no need for a human monitor.”
Then the same voice changed and became Tonto’s unique tones, “I’ve got him covered guys, he is going to be fine. You might as well spend the time working with the rest of the family deciding on modifications and medical needs. I can monitor this system and still attend a core family meeting to decide how many are going to be added to the Tonto line during this first session.”
Sandra was reluctant to leave the med-tube with her father inside but she knew she was just wasting time. She squared her shoulders and led the parade back to the private meeting room.
She also led the discussion about adding members to the Tonto core. “I think we should use some caution but not be as timid as the FDA on Earth. Tonto is the real knowledge base and the more I know of him the more I trust him. If daddy is OK then I should be next. When that is completed both of us should be on-line as Tonto puts it, increasing the brainpower from five to seven. Let’s see what that means to us and to Tonto before we make further additions.”
It was about 15 minutes into the conversation when Tonto announced, “Dr. Hamilton’s incipient prostrate cancer has been resolved and the organic nanite takeover is progressing well. He should be on-line in another hour and a half, give or take a few minutes. The twin sources of contact was essential, at least in his case as it also was in Sara’s.”
Sara Miller-Tufts beamed at the entire family, “MY FAMILY,” she thought. Having completed the much-needed shower and making herself presentable, she joined the growing group in the discussion and waiting. She sat on the sofa between Jason and Ellie, hold each one’s hand tightly in her own.
At one point she turned to Jason and whispered, “When am I going to get to be a mother?” There happened to be a brief lull in the conversation just as she spoke and everyone in the room heard just as if she had been using a megaphone. She turned a deep crimson shade and tried to hide her face in Jason’s shoulder but quickly realized that she looked more as if she was necking than being embarrassed. She jumped up so quickly that everyone stared then a slow chuckle began developing that turned into a full belly laugh that reverberated around the room. Finally she just sat back down and took the gentle teasing that was embarrassing but also reassured. She was with her real family… and they loved her.
After the verbal rough-housing died down Ellie whispered, trying to reassure the 15-year-old girl but just as she said her one word answer, “Tonight!” the silence returned and again everyone heard and the good natured laughter broke out afresh.
CHAPTER 8 – Equal Rights
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Tonto's voice rolled the 'A' sound in Ladies and the 'N' in Gentlemen, just like an old time circus pitch man. “I am honored to present Doctor Horace Hamilton, veterinary surgeon and the newest member of the extended Tufts Family. He will be out of the med-tube in 20 minutes and we should all be on hand to greet him. He is now fully incorporated in the intelligence you so kindly refer to as Tonto.”
Sandra asked aloud, “Is he OK?”
“Yes, Sandra,” Tonto replied, your dad is a lot better than OK. He is hale and healthy and his mind is refreshed and working at a phenomenal speed.”
“Tonto,” Rob asked, “What has been the effect of adding his brain power to you? Is the increase as dramatic as in the latest additions?”
Tonto responded, “My computational abilities were only slightly increased, when compared to the addition of Sara; but my connectivity has gone up by an unknown magnitude. Let's move to the medical section to welcome the good doctor while I explain.”
The group filed down the corridor with Sandra in the lead, her eagerness to see and hold her father showing plainly in her body language. Tonto continued his explanation on two levels, which was a new talent. Prior to the latest addition he could speak with some family members aloud and others sub-vocally at the same time but he did not possess the ability to speak to each person both aloud and sub-vocally simultaneously. What was more, as long as he was careful not to overload the human's perceptivity he could hold a different conversation aloud and sub-vocally with each individual. With seven human brains providing power, Tonto could hold 14 conversations within the group at once. So effective was his communication skills he could do all of that while still monitoring and controlling all of his external links to the ships, the computer systems, the communication networks and the artificial intelligences created by the Darjee.
“I believe,” Tonto added, speaking to the entire group on the same subject, “That seven brain units in a cluster is going to be a highly effective number. When we reach 14 it appears we can split and actually have two independent OLN based intelligences, each able to operate with their own group of humans but also to be in perfect communications with all other groups all of the time.”
Rob spoke up just as they entered the medical section, “That would solve the problem of crewing the Behemoth Bounty once we move beyond human occupied space. We know the Darjee are unwilling to allow humanity, other than this family, to learn of the location or nature of the escape system we will use to take us outside of this sector of the Galaxy and well beyond the reach of the Sa'arm. We can supply a second Tonto family to the Behemoth Bounty and although they will travel at a slower pace than the Kedah we will still be just as if we were a single family. I like it!”
“Daddy!” Sandra shouted as the med-tube like hissed open, “are you OK? Tonto said you were…”
There was an audible gasp from Sandra as her father, now a 28-year-old dashing young man sat up and began climbing out of the tube. The softness of age had been washed away and replaced by chiseled features and a youthful elegance. “Sweet-cakes,” he said, “I am better now than when I was actually 28-years-old. I want to run, jump and play just like a day-old fawn or kid goat.” And, as he was saying the words aloud he was also instructing Tonto to transmit the image of a kid goat and white-tail fawn gamboling through a green meadow. He was opening a new facet of Tonto's amazing communication skills.
Val asked the question that no one else had thought of, “Tonto, with your new mental 'horse power' do you now have the ability to read minds? Some of the things you said about both Sara and Horace would lead me to believe that you do and now finding the good doctor's images visible within my mind increases that thought.”
“No, Val, I cannot read minds,” Tonto replied. My abilities are improved but still limited. Before you had to intentionally sub-vocalize a communication for me to pick it up, now that there is bandwidth in the connection I can pick up on any thoughts you are mentally putting in the form of words. If you are having a mental conversation, perhaps arguing with yourself, I can hear both sides of your conversation; but you have to be putting your thoughts into words just as if you were speaking. I can also see images that you 'project' toward me just as Horace Hamilton-Tufts did earlier. I can also transmit those mental words and images but I don't see dreams or your non-language-type thoughts.”
Horace was moved to speak again after hearing Tonto's discourse. “My daughter is very much the modern woman and seems to prefer the hyphenated form of name usage within marriage. I'm a bit more old fashioned and reject holding myself separate from my new family in any way. From now on you can forget the Hamilton handle that I've used since birth. I am, as of this moment, simply know as Horace Tufts, thank you.”
Rob, Jason and Ellie rose and gave applause, Val scowled. Again Tonto was surprised at the attitudes of humans, his entire data base would have projected the exact opposite responses with Val favoring the old fashioned and the younger family members taking the side of name independence.
He silently mused, “There is still much to learn and we are preparing to add multiple clusters of organic human/nanite intelligences. I hope we don't end up at war with one another as so many human clans have over the centuries.” The thought brought a shiver to Tonto's spine - but as he had no physical spine the sensation was felt by every member of Tonto's circle of humans. They all looked up at once and Tonto had to explain.
Again Val scowled. She had a greater understanding of human nature and knew that such battles were not only possible but were likely unless great effort was put into peace. “It could be so simple,” she said aloud, “if each of us always strives to build up one another and never allows sarcasm or meanness to get a foothold, we could assure peace in this family no matter how large it becomes.”
Sandra brought the discussion to a close as she stripped, used the shower in the corner of the room, stepped through the drying area and then prepared to climb into the med-tube her father had just vacated. “Tonto,” she asked, “is there anything else we need to do before we test this thing on me?”
Horace said, “Honey, perhaps you should use a different med-tube. There may be residuals of my presence in there that could compromise the integrity of the test.”
“Not to worry,” Tonto said, “the tubes are a marvel of engineering. In less than a second the tubes are cleaned and sanitized when emptied. Sandra, you may use any med-tube you like.”
“Then I'll take the very same one that my Daddy used,” Sandra replied as she stepped over the rim and lay down. Again there was a slight hiss as the lid moved into the closed position.
Horace looked at the clothing he had been wearing before entering the booth, shrugged his shoulders and walked to the replicator. Placing his hand on the ID pad he said, “A full set of clothing with underwear and light weight coveralls please. Soft shoes with cushioned soles too.”
He was just tying his shoes when Tonto used Horace to produce the unique voice that all had come to recognize as Tonto's vocal personality. “Doctor Sandra Hamilton-Tufts is already coming online, it will be another 15 minutes before she is totally integrated into the family but I can tell you that the identical triplet girls she is carrying were more than adequate at providing the necessary organic linking nanites to highjack the artificial Darjee nanites. There is only another half hour of work for the med-tube to complete the process and she will be ready to join us. Our organic nanites had done almost 50 percent of the work on her body and brain before she entered the med-tube.”
Tonto went on, “Doctor, may I suggest that you stay here to help your daughter when she emerges and bring her to the Captain's Ready Room to join in a face-to-face family discussion. We need both of you to help decide how many units of seven we want to create right now and what the distribution should look like. Since we will be on two ships traveling at very different speeds there will be significant periods of physical separation. If no one objects I will order a meal prepared so you all may eat while we make decisions. We haven't a lot of time, the rest of our family members need to be brought up to speed.”
CHAPTER 9 – Tonto’s Tonto
Sandra's smile was so broad that she appeared to be beaming from ear to ear. Her pixie face was transformed by the great joy she was experiencing. She clung to Rob with one arm, her dad with the other and was calling for Katie to join them in a group hug. “I feel so wonderful, I cannot believe this can be real. Not only do I have my closest family in my arms, but I can sense Tonto and am able to feel and experience each of the three baby girls developing in my womb. Their little brains haven't developed enough yet for them to be aware but their nanites have developed something of a personality for each. Rob, I don't know how we are going to break up into separate teams. I couldn't stand to be away from you or Katie or my dad. The girls need all of us, by the third trimester they will be able to communicate with us and will need our physical presence.”
Tonto picked up the thread of the conversation. “Sandra is right, the immediate support group for the babies in the wombs must be the physical presence of mother, father and co-mothers. One thing is certain, at least for the trip to the departure point, part of the Tufts family will have to be split up with some on each ship. Since the Behemoth Bounty only travels at a small fraction of the speed of the Kedah that's going to mean many months apart, long enough for children to be born and then some. May I suggest that before we make the final decisions we bring Val's husband, Dan, and his sister, Maria, into the fold. I also think that all of the women pregnant by Jason and Rob, along with close concubines such as Sara should complete the process.”
Val spoke for the first time during the meal, “I know it seems like we are rushing the process of adding new Tonto family members but in fairness shouldn't they be a connected part of the process?”
Rob assumed his leadership role, saying, “I really wanted time to get used to functioning as a connected family before we began expanding and splitting into groups. But I think it is imperative that we get Dan and Maria into the loop as soon as possible and mom is right, the ladies carrying our offspring are as committed as it is possible to be and they must be considered. Tonto, can we gather everyone who needs to be online with us in the medical section, talk it over and then get the process going?”
Tonto asked, “Does anyone disagree?” Since there were no responses Tonto continued. “I'll call the entire assembly, which with the added Naval personnel and their families now totals 189. Rob can give them the outline of the situation so they can begin thinking about forming into teams. We will take those who are going to be asked to join us at once into the medical bay where they can make their choices.”
Rob and Val walked into the medical bay after the general meeting broke up. Rob said, “The entire ship's company has been advised of the new developments and there is a great deal of excitement with just a little edge of worry in some expressions. They are going to take the next 24 hours to work toward sorting themselves into teams. They know that Tonto will consult with each team before it is finalized and that there most certainly will be some adjustments. How did it go in here?”
Jason was writing on the white board, listing names and connections. His voice spoke for Tonto, “All seven of the women who volunteered to join us in the pregnancy fast track to full family membership are eager to take this new step. Charlotte Wright-Stoddard and Ben Stoddard are already in med-tubes three and four. Sponsor Carla Pemberton who is carrying Jason's twins is in number five. Dan and Maria are in six and seven.”
Tonto continued, “We were waiting for you to return to help us make some decisions about connections before we ask you, Rob, along with Jason and Katie to take the half hour nap to upgrade your organic linking nanites from the human version to the full Observer version that Dr. Scout planted in Val.”
Rob asked, “Has anyone stated preferences about unit connections? We understand that the five originals will be split up at least during transit but there hasn't been any discussion amongst ourselves.”
“There are some choices,” Jason said. “Grandma Val, Grandpa Dan, and Great Aunt Maria all want to be on the same team and they have volunteered to take the slow boat, Behemoth Bounty, out to the transfer point. That will put them a number months behind the Kedah. Grandpa Dan suggested that you, Rob, should be the engineering brains behind setting up our new home planet situation and therefore should go ahead on the Kedah.”
Val continued, “Yeah, he thought that the Kedah's crew should not wait at the transfer point but should go ahead and start the process of getting our home world surveyed so we will know where to set down the Naval Air Station when it arrives. What do you think, son?”
“Let me think about that a bit,” Rob replied. Tonto, how many adults are we going to have after this first batch of conversions and upgrades is completed? We need to know that to determine the number of teams we want to form.”
Tonto replied sub-vocally while sending a picture of the entire group. “I would rather have two teams with some extras than try for three teams and operated short staffed. Of course, we could add four from the main group to make up three teams of seven. That does not seem logical to me. I will be more comfortable with some of the original five on each team.”
Rob turned to Ellie and said, “Sweetheart, you and Jason must stay together and I don't want to be separated from Katie for that long and we will want to be with you when the children are born. Tonto,” he asked, “Will the Behemoth Bounty team be strong enough with just Val from the original five? I guess it is possible that Jason and Ellie could go with Val which would leave both Katie and me here on the Kedah.”
“No, that will not work,” Tonto responded. “It is absolutely essential that Jason, Katie and Ellie stay together and the suggestion that you proceed on to do the survey work in the new system is also sound. The four of you will stay together and I will try to figure out a way to bolster Val's situation. Perhaps limiting Rob's team to eight members and including nine on Val's.”
“Since when do I need bolstering,” Val asked? I did the whole thing by myself until just a short time ago when Rob, Katie and the kids joined.”
“It's not quite the same, mom,” Rob said. “You were without Tonto and you weren't wandering throughout the vacuum of space. Tonto, with teams of eight and nine and the creation of a second Tonto how effective will our communications be and what are the range limits?”
Tonto said, “Right now the Kedah is loafing along to keep pace with the Behemoth Bounty. We are a quarter of a light year away from Earth and I still have full contact with the computer networks and news organizations there and have been monitoring them all along. You might be interested to know that somebody known as 'Tiny Jeorgman' will not be tried for the murder of one Reginald Crumbacher. The DA acknowledges that 'Tiny' did indeed hit Mr. Crumbacher so hard that the Earth First Commander's head was torn completely from his body causing instantaneous death . However, the blow was delivered only after Reginald shot Mr. Jeorgman twice in the testicles. He won't be fathering any children but then again neither will Reginald Crumbacher. The DA figures that it came out even.
“Laying that bit of news aside, I can tell you that neither of the teams will be aware that there are two of me,” Tonto continued. “The communications will be instantaneous and you will be able to sub-vocalize back and forth as if you were all in the same room. Any question you or the second team asks will be made known to everyone along with the answer. The main benefit of having two Tontos is the different number of things we are capable of working on at the same time. Currently we have not found a limit to my ability to multi-task but I assure you that there is a limit. We also will have redundant safety in the event that an entire ship is lost and for that reason I suggest that we put close to half the people on board the Behemoth Bounty once the Navy crew departs at Demeter.”
“Well,” Rob said, “with some fear of putting my foot in your mouth Tonto, you still haven't told us how you will try to bolster Val's strengths as the only original family member on the new team.”
“There may be a way to send Katie with Val without actually sending Katie off this ship if my method does not strike you as offensive. Humans consider much more than logic when working on a problem so I may be off the mark. Darcy Vaughn is now in med-tube number nineteen and it will take many hours to repair her brain injury. We still do not have a completion estimate. It could be days. She will be OK but she will have almost no skills or functional memory. If we were to inject Organic Linking Nanites into her procedure it may be possible to give her most of Katie's memory and personality…”
Tonto didn't get to finish his statement as Ellie had exploded, “God, Tonto that is just awful. It's completely inhuman and I will not stand for it.” She stamped her foot in anger and frustration. “Darcy can just take all the time she needs to become her own person!”
Rob and Jason rose to hold Ellie tightly while Katie and Val began stroking her feathers. “Tonto,” Rob said, “you are way over the line of decency my friend. While others on Earth might think owning people is a good thing, we do not do slavery and that is what you are proposing. Darcy had a tough break, now she is getting a new life, let it be her own.”
Val said, “From a psychologists view point it is interesting to note that Tonto is truly an individual in his own right and not just an amalgamation of a group of humans. We know that is so Tonto, because you couldn't have pried that thought out of this family with a crowbar. Yet, with your suggestion out of the question we still must deal with your desire to 'bolster' me as the lone original among the new crew. Why do you think that the new unit will be any less competent with only one original family member included? With instant and total communication between the units why does there even need to be one?”
The slight hesitation in his response let the family know that Tonto was sifting through huge mountains of data before trying to answer the question. “There are no others like us in the universe. In all of the universe, if my data and assumptions are correct,” Tonto finally replied. “I am afraid. This unknown is too great for me to fully contemplate. I am frightened.”
A surge of compassion and comprehension went out from the gathered people. Fear of the unknown they understood. Katie put it into words, “This is when I wish you had a body that I could hug. Love, compassion, caring and empathy are the only answers to dealing with the unknown from an emotional standpoint. Research and cautious steps forward are prudent but sometimes we must rush in, seeming to be fools going where angels fear to tread.”
“I do not have a corporal body but your compassion raises a response in me that may be analogous to a hug,” Tonto said. “Clearly we need to be certain that any group formed must have members with high moral standards to act as a check on my logical conclusions.”
He went on, “That is the reason that I want a strong family presence; to keep me aligned with the best qualities of humans rather than the worst. No doubt that that, along with her intelligence, is why Dr. Scout selected Val to be the recipient of the original Organic Linking Nanites. A tip of the hat to you, good doctor, where ever you are.”
CHAPTER 10 – Quality Control
After a brief lull Rob spoke up as if thinking aloud, “What would be created if the seven human brains that form the base network for a Tonto were the brains and minds of young men attending a terrorist Madras in a radical Islamic state? Or what if he should spring from the brain/minds of an Earth First terrorist cell? I can't even begin to wrap my thoughts around the evil that could result if a Tonto type organization's goals were bent on destruction.”
Tonto responded, “Now you begin to understand my fear. I do not know if such an organization is even possible but I see no physical reason that would prevent it from forming. I do know, for example, that I have the power to shut down every computer, every network, every radio and TV station, and the entire power distribution grid in every country on Earth and it could be done in seconds; and a whole lot more could be done. Chaos would be endless and billions of people would die within weeks or months.
“The major question facing us now is how do we assure the high moral fiber of each Organic Linking Nanite Composite Family that we create? My first thought is to include multiple members of the original Tufts family for we know who they are and how they think.”
Rob responded, “Even that would not be a safeguard. Remember, we sent Katie well armed into the church tower to stand guard while we were gathering people to move onto the Naval Air Station. Her orders were clear, 'shoot to kill'. How would this family react should someone do evil to Ellie or Jason? The day will come when one of our composite members is killed at the hands of an outsider. How will we deal with that? Perhaps we need a stronger moral authority than just the family and along with that authority there needs to be a code of conduct rather than just responding with emotion and anger.”
“That is heavy stuff Dad,” Jason said. “We will need to work on the concept. If we are going to evoke a God figure there has to be something more than a statue of Baal the Bull and if we are dealing with an invisible God we need better communications than the Catholics or Baptists offer. But right now we have to make some decisions based on what we accept to be right and wrong because the second Tonto grouping will be coming into existence within hours.”
“Tonto,” Katie asked, “Will it be possible for people to transfer from group to group? Is it possible for one of us to be members of more than one group at a time?”
“Katie, now I want to hug you!” Tonto said. “I don't know the answers but we will certainly find out as soon as the second group is stabilized. We will try transfers, both physically in space and via distant mind linking. And we will see if humans are capable of adapting to being members of multiple groups.”
Val broached the next test subject, “Tonto, Sara Miller-Tufts is now in the group as Jason's concubine. She is also the biggest unknown within the family. She is only 15-years-old, has been through a huge mental, physical and emotional trauma and (Please don't take this as a negative comment, Sara!) from a psychological standpoint has the greatest likelihood of being somewhat unstable. She is also brand-new in this family, we only know what she has told us of herself. Do you have a method to 'check her out' from a psychological perspective? Can you determine if she is going to be a wonderful asset or a loose cannon? Or perhaps a combination of those two extremes?”
“Wow!” Sara said. “Don't I get a voice in this deal? How many of you have had your innermost secrets probed, prodded and put on public display. I want desperately to belong but I still want to be me. No matter what happened nor how new I am to this family, I still like who I am. I'm not dead so don't start the autopsy just yet.”
Jason glowered at his grandmother and enfolded his new bride in a protective hug. Val hugged them both to her breast and said, “No sweethearts, I wasn't proposing an autopsy and all five of the original family members went through exactly the type of examination you are talking about. It just happened in very slow motion. We all grew up together. Rob and Katie are my kids and try as they might they never could keep a secret from me. When they finally knew they were in love and decided to make love for the first time they snuck off to the guest house on the back of our property. I knew where they were going and what they were planning at least a day before they did - and I was thrilled for them.
“Ellie and Jason are Katie and Rob's children and the same was true for them. All through their growing years either Rob or Katie would call me to let me in on the latest high jinks. The little brats always thought they were getting away with something but mom and dad knew. Ellie started riding her older brother's leg in a sexual manner when she was less than two years old and even before that she had a fit if anyone other than Jason changed her diaper. They were too young to understand the 'forbidden' nature of their romance but their folks and grandparents knew and approved.
“The same is true for you but we don't have multiple years to allow you to grow, test by trial and error and experiment as you learn. I just asked Tonto if he had a way to evaluate your core values, that is all.”
Sara shivered and said, “What if I don't measure up? Sometimes I don't feel very grown up.”
Jason stroked her soft, golden-blond hair and hugged her even tighter. “You measure up, my love. As far as maturity goes do you know that you are a full year older than I am and four years older than Ellie? You are part of this family, my wife and my sister's love. Should you have problems related to the raw deal you got from your step-father we will treat those areas with love and carefully show you what we think might be a better way. We haven't given Tonto an opportunity to answer. He cannot read minds so maybe this isn't something he can do.”
Tonto was moved at some level that was new to him at the tenderness between these two almost strangers. He responded with a slight catch in his voice, “Sara, if you are willing to open yourself to me by relaxing and answering a series of questions perhaps I can learn much. While I cannot read minds I will be able to tell if you are holding something back but not what that might be. I will ask you to close your eyes and picture some situations as if they were scenes from a movie. I can see those quite clearly and there is much to be learned.”
Val's curiosity as a Psychologist was tweaked, “Can I come along on this ride?” she asked.
“Yes,” Tonto said, “if Sara permits it you can listen in to all of the exchanges of information at a sub-vocal level and you will be able to see the images she displays. I can even give you my impressions of those displays. Sara, you may consider having another along as one step too many but you might also consider that Val is a human expert in this area and can serve as a check and balance on my interpretation of that which you share. Are you willing to undergo such an examination?”
Before Sara could answer Jason again cautioned her, “Sweetheart, this is entirely up to you. You don't have to do this and you still will be a trusted member of the family. We will still get to know you and allow our love to grow in the old fashioned way, by living together.”
Sara looked up into Jason's eyes, “Do you promise to love me no matter what they learn?”
“Yes, baby love,” Jason answered, “we all make that pledge. You are family and you are loved.”
“OK, let's do it. Being in this family is the best thing that has ever happened to me. The only thing that could make it better is if my mother could join with us. No matter what happened with my step-father, she loved me too.”
“Alright sweets,” Val said, “lets grab a little bite to eat, clean up so we can be comfortable and while the rest of this bunch are being converted and up-graded we are going to learn to share.”
CHAPTER 11 – Divided We Stand
“Sara, are you awake yet?” Val asked. The young girl snuggled into Val's shoulder as they lay entwined in the big bed in Val's quarters. They had spent almost four hours in the 'getting to know you' process with Tonto. “Sweetheart, I now know why Jason took to you instantly and why Doctor Sandra had such a special interest in you too,” Val said. “You are special, you are tougher than nails, and you are so filled with love. You are a beautiful addition to our family and my only regret is that you will be here with Jason, no doubt pregnant with his children, while I am off on Behemoth Bounty. I don't want to just touch your mind, I want to hold you in my arms.”
“Mmmm, that sounds so good,” Sara muttered, wrapping her arms ever tighter around the older woman. “Can we stay here a bit longer like this?”
“Fraid not, Love. Come on, let's go! This is going to be so interesting.”
Katie spoke for the group, “I have to know what's going on. Mom is grinning so wide she looks silly but won't say a word. What is the status of Sara after her examination? We love her and will always keep her close but did we learn something new? If we did, can we use that information to assure that we are building healthy and wise families with outstanding moral values?”
“Yes, Katie, we learned much,” Tonto replied. “Remembering that I cannot read minds and only have access to information that the human puts into language or images. Our conversation started out awkwardly with Val holding Sara but acting only as an observer. Sara, like all humans, has private thoughts that she wants to keep solely to herself. Of course, to protect them her natural tendency was to think about them so she knew what to stash. But as soon as she identified her secrets in mental language I knew all about them. We had a quick sub-vocal conversation about that and when she realized there was nothing left to hide and I had made no judgments, it became much easier.
“Together we devised a rapid fire tour of Sara. Her thoughts passed in a stream-of-consciousness arrangement where one thought leads to another, complete with the images evoked. I sorted the data so it didn't matter if she followed a thought of a school situation in the second grade with a romantic fantasy from high school to an image of her first love interest and then a photograph of her mother in her Senior Prom dress or even a very pretty field of flowers. Very few of the individual incidents were important by themselves but the total picture painted was a very accurate image of who and what Sara Miller-Tufts has become.
“Here lies the
key,” Tonto continued. “Sara thinks of herself as part of a family.
While she has very real needs and desires of her own, the needs of the family
come first in her mind. People who have low or no moral compass always
think of themselves first and will sacrifice the good of the group for their
own desires. The worst of humanity has no concern for anything other than
their own urges of the moment. They will rob, maim, rape and even kill on
the slightest whim. Sara, on the other hand, will sacrifice herself
before she will allow evil to befall those she loves. She fits in
well. We should find as many like her as possible and welcome them into
The interviews were complete and the decisions had been made. The original Tonto family would be comprised of Rob, Katie, Ellie, Jason, Sara, Horace, Sandra Hamilton-Tufts, Jason's two newly pregnant concubines, Amy and Bethann. Horace also had two new concubines from that volunteer group, Consuela Rodman and Sissy Markham. Carla Pemberton was a sponsor who was pregnant with Jason's twins and would be part of the family too. It was a total of 12 with lots of babies on the way. For all it would be a lesson in learning how to live and love in such a huge and diverse family.
The new Tonto family would move to become the crew of the Behemoth Bounty in four and a half months when they stopped over at Demeter to let the current human crew off to resume their military duties. The family would be headed by Grandma Val, Grandpa Dan, and his sister Maria as the core of the group. They would be joined by the three volunteers who became pregnant before departing Earth when that had appeared to be the fastest way to combine with the Tonto family. Although Rob was the father of all three women's babies one had agreed to unite with Dan, that was Nancy Harrison.
Junie and Janie Strumson, the 16-year-old identical twins had become fascinated with Medical Technician Charlie Blackmun and were always clinging to him, hanging on his big black arms and enticing him with their bodies and personalities. Charlie was thrilled with the arrangement and readily agreed. Charlie had also agreed to attempt to be the swing member, trying to move back and forth between the group. The count was exactly seven and they needed to add another so that when Charlie shifted they would not fall below the magic number.
Ben Stoddard and Charlotte Wright-Stoddard agreed to fill that role and offer an extra for security. Charlotte was pregnant with Jason's triplets but Ben was the true love of her life and her sponsor. He had agreed to marry her and even hold her in his arms as Jason planted the seeds of life. While they were not deluding themselves they both loved those two fraternal little boys and one girl as if they were the natural parents. With a full team of nine there was room to experiment.
Molly Strumson, who was also 16 and was Junie and Janie's cousin was an extraction orphan and had lived with the twins on Earth. She applied to be a member of that family but also wanted her god-mother, Donna Strumson who is Junie and Janie's mother and Donna's Earth born triplets to go with her. That would add two more adults and three six-year-olds to the family. They decided to hold off making a decision until there was time to evaluate the nine member arrangement first.
Tonto thought aloud, “Well, there is no time like the right time and I believe this is it.” A series of med-tubes hissed open as Tonto very gently eased a series of feathers from Ellie's breast. As she glance down at the thin spot the removal had left she could see new feathers already appearing.
“All aboard, everyone as soon as you take a good shower to remove any contamination,” Tonto added. “Those of you who are pregnant with either Rob or Jason's babies will not need feathers to kick start the action. The rest will need a kiss, a handshake or a full body hug from Rob, Jason, or Katie and a feather that Ellie is holding for you. We will feel each other mentally before the process is complete and we will all have a meal together to celebrate our united family in just a few hours.”
The officer's dining area was jammed full of people. Designed to perch just six Darjee, the conversion to human occupation still only made room for eighteen. With the original family now at seventeen and the new family at nine, people had to sit on laps to accommodate twenty six humans. Tonto, or was it two Tontos now - took up no space at all.
Tidbits of food kept popping up in the center of the tables and loving couples were feeding each other. There was the low hum of multiple conversations. Most were so entranced with the newness of sub-vocal communication that they were talking like mad, silently, using Tonto as the medium.
Grandpa Dan Tufts cleared his throat, and then sounding the Tonto voice made the announcement: “Welcome to the world of Organic Linking Nanite Families. The white board on the bulkhead lists the members of each family and you have clustered more or less into those two units. Let me ask you this question and I would like each of you to independently write your answers on a napkin or scrap of paper. There is no right or wrong answer: it is only a matter of perception.
“First, silently feel around with your mind and tell me how many people other than yourself can you contact. It is OK to ask Tonto sub-vocally to put you in touch with each one then tally up your count.”
There was a short pause interrupted only by a few giggles from some of the younger girls. Janie Strumson-Blackmun poked her giant husband in the chest and said aloud, “Charlie, you are nasty! Oh so nasty and I'm a married woman, you know.” Then she smiled, wiggled her pert bum on his lap and kissed him before falling silent again. Charlie nibbled on her ear with his lips and then turned and planted a passionate kiss on her twin sister.
“OK,” Tonto said, “time to share. Go around the room starting by the starboard porthole and read out your number.”
The number 'twenty five' rang out 26 times. Everybody was in touch with everybody else no matter which family.
“Now,” Tonto continued, “search around and find out how many Tontos you can locate.”
The answer was almost instantaneous from everybody. They could only find one Tonto.
“What went wrong?” Val asked.
“Nothing, nothing at all.” Tonto said with emphasis. “There are truly two of us now but with this many brain/mind units in action our communication skills are greatly enhanced. We are in perfect sync with each other and with all of you. I don't know if individual humans will ever be able to tell one Tonto from another or how many are in the mix but our communication and coordination powers are astounding. As we speak we are monitoring every transmitted communication within eight light years and it doesn't matter what the language or their methodology, we are right there with them.”
Rob jumped to his feet and shouted, “Eight light years? That means that you are also monitoring the Sa'arm communications. With their codes and systems broken we have them beat. We will know what they are doing before they do.” Jumping and dancing Rob's joy began to spread.
Tonto interrupted, “Not so fast, Rob. The Sa'arm do not use transmitted communications. They are linked telepathically over a limited range and must send a crew in a ship with the information to go beyond that limit. Sorry to burst the bubble but I have no link to them of any type. I can't even feel a presence.”
Rob's face fell
and he slumped back into his seat. His wife, Katie, again took her place
on his lap and announced, “You didn't think it would be that easy, did
you? No one ever said there would be a magic bullet to defeat the
Sa'arm. When Dr. Scout was planting his original nanites in mom he only
told her that her children would be 'key to saving the planet', not that we
would do it all single handedly or that it would be easy. Saving a planet
is big business and we still have a long way to go.
END OF BOOK II
Look for Book III
Way, Way Out Yet Safe At Home
Coming soon to this site