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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1742905
by yacolt
Rated: E · Novella · Sci-fi · #1742905
A robot created Hannibal’s DNA. Machine” or human?
The Complete Quantum Return

(Working draft, please excuse the rough places)





         Hannibal stirred in his sleep and Vicky, his Virtual Intergraded Computer, knew he was dreaming. The endorphins from his recurring dream flowing in his blood also flowed through her and she shared his feelings making him happy. Even though her body was framed inside his bedroom walls, made of carbon wafers and glass fibers, she could feel love. She cared for him and listened to him, and she let Eden sing.

         When the melody touched the Australopith's ears he turned his head. He heard the song clearly; it was sung by Eden and came from the tall grass outside the forest's edge. The hauntingly familiar melody he’d heard before harmonizing and blending with the animals, as they voiced and sang their domain. In the forest the melody had been subtle, hardly perceptible. But here at the border, the song was enticing and it beckoned him from the grassland, where hiding predators voiced their intent not their domain. It was from the savanna that he heard the voice of Eden.

          Adventure made the ape-man happy. He plainly heard Eden’s song and he was euphoric to be on the open savanna. The dream had taken him far. Thrilled with adventure, but still he remained poised, alert and ready for action. He stood atop his toes looking for movements in the grass, looking for motion that betrays what’s underneath.

         Then he ran! He ran with the wind of his adventure evaporating the rain from his fur and clearing the mud from his feet. 


**********


         Hannibal’s stubbornness is what destroyed his dream. He made an effort to hold on to the dream but he made no effort to let his opinion go. It jarred his dreaming conscious into his waking one.

         His artificial machine-sense heard Vicky’s voice, “Come on get up! Even if you don’t like it, you don’t want to be late.” Maybe lucid dreaming, if he incorporated his computer’s metal voice into his sleep world he could still keep his dream.

          … late… look out... there’s…. Ah hell! He woke up.

         The evidence seemed plain. The accent of man wasn’t some species of Australopithecus running through savanna grass. No! It was Ramapithecus! He was positive it was a species of Ramapithecus that took the first Darwin steps in man’s accent!

         Hannibal hoped to fall back asleep, to slip back to Eden. But Vicky’s metal presence cautioned him, “Don’t fall asleep again.”

         He pleaded, “I’ll get up. … in… a moment. Please Vicky?” He rolled tight in his blankets speaking to his bedroom walls.

         “Please … let me hold to the feeling of my Eden? Vicky …?”

         She let him have some extra time for sleep and the anticipation of his dream's return. His sleep came back to him but his anticipation did not come as expected.

         A new dream came and it ignited with the fury of rocket hydrogen. Crashing hyper-sonic Mack-waves booming into the Earth’s atmosphere. Roaring thunder; that’s how the dream arrived! Intense and pungent with sharp edges, wrenched and angled. Its symbols were un-determined, and they coiled into symbolic shapes, bending into rough bristled edges. The corners were bitter and the edges had a familiar thorny taste. Hannibal knew the taste; somewhere in the wheels, somewhere in the rings. Somewhere in the concentric seasons of time.

         The first half-second of Hannibal’s dream braided. He felt the dream’s inner fissures drape, they rolled and touched when they cracked. Then! Detonation and explosion.

         Shocked from his sleep Hannibal awoke with adrenaline pouring through his blood. “My … God! Oh!”

         OK! Now he was totally awake, way more then just awake! Like lightning he hopped up from bed so fast his unexpected action startled Vicky, a rare surprise. She always fought hard to get him up when he was dreaming. But not today!

         He asked her, "How quickly do I have to hurry?"

         She assured him with her machine-sense, “You have a while, you can easily make the Lev-train, and you’ve got plenty of time to calm down. You even have a bit of a head start, jumping out of bed so fast!”

         “Usually you're late!" She teased him.

         Hannibal held his head tight in his hands his elbows stiff against his knees to steady his body; but he could not steady his stomach from Eden’s undertow. Quickly his sub-conscious rescued him and flooded his thoughts with the routines of shaving, showering, and dressing. This subdued the ripple. It surfaced only a moment when Hannibal thought he nicked himself shaving.

         “Damn blades!” he cursed. “Could this thing be dull already?” He tossed the razor with its diamond coated tungsten blades into the waste chute. The blades weren’t made to be disposable and actually never wore out, but in Hannibal’s annoyance he needlessly tossed one almost every time he shaved.

         He just didn't understand it. The scientists planned his DNA and designed it from scratch. He was the human proto-type beyond cloning and the scientists’ machines had built his helix by adding molecules to his genome each at a time. When the engineers drew the blue prints for his DNA why didn’t they just make it so he didn’t grow facial hair?

         "What’s wrong with you guys?” He growled at his absent designers as he scraped his face with the new razor.

         The world was a loose confederacy and had no real borders to invade. The frontiers of science and the conquest of knowledge became the new priority. They had named him after a conqueror, the BC Carthaginian general Hannibal.

         Sometimes he wondered if the scientists hadn't suppressed the DNA of his facial hair because they had an image of him out conquering the frontiers of science wearing a thick manly beard. He thought that image was funny.

         “Like he would ever have a beard! Never going to happen!” He laughed out loud.

         He hated all the hair on his body and he would have shaved his head and everything off, even his eyebrows, but the girls liked his hair. So he conformed to fashion, even when he didn’t want to. The dream’s ripple gone he stepped into his suit pants, put on his belt, laced up his brown shoes, and started to pick out this tie he liked.

         "You’re not going to wear me with those Brown Shoes,” the tie's sarcastic metal voice telling Hannibal, through his genetically altered-sense.

         “Damn.” Hannibal made the sound.  It was pointless to argue with the fashion-threads. He heard the story a hundred times from the girls he had gone out with.

         “The thing is, be sure to segregate the clothing according to their thread personalities.”

         They would explain, “That the items placement could be determined by who gave the item or where you bought it.”

         The next step was to, “Appoint one of the personality-threads a leader so you could deal with just that thread."

         She would shop with him and they would re-stack his cloths on the shelves along the walls of his closet. For a while things would be OK, but then time would go by, and for one reason or another, he would be dating another girl and the new girl would buy him things. The threads from the different girls never got a long and pretty soon everything was a mess. Even the thread “leader” would turn on him.

         Girls always felt they could solve his fashion-thread mess but it was always a bigger mess after they left. Next time some girl started making suggestions about his fashion-threads, he vowed he was going to get away as fast possible!

         Obediently he untied his shoelaces to change the brown shoes. It was pointless to debate the Intala-threads woven into his cloths. The threads never gave up. In the past he had ignored their fashion advice and they made up such a running commentary of snide comments, and just put it at him all-day-long. There was no alternative, simply give in and wear whatever the fashion-threads force you.

         Hannibal could see practical needs such as diagnostic or laundry information, “…but the damn fashion-threads?”

          That every inanimate object made a remark or had comments bugged Hannibal, it really ticked him off. He ate on the Lev-train because at home the toaster's conversation annoyed him. It never had any hard news or information about world events. It just trailed on with soft fluffy stories about current fashions or popular personalities like Karna Karna, a currently hot pop singer.

         Last time he put up with the toaster’s rambling-threads they were going on about the Space-Babe and her band in orbit. Babbling how her band would use their space plane, and swoop over Nebraska fields dropping Virtual Environment Generators.

         The toaster-threads droned on explaining that the “Veg’s” were self-contained audio generators with the highest quality sound, going on with mind-numbing details about the new special Concert-Vegs, that now included a visual experience. How highly they are for the C-Veg's visual experience and its rareness.

         Going on until he felt like jamming a knife right up the toaster's heating elements! He never heard any of her songs and wasn’t interested in current pop fashion. Sadly this was one of the toaster’s less tedious stories. It only got worse and more boring as the toaster-Intala-threads went to even duller topics, droning forward.

**********



         Shoving the toaster’s stories out of his mind Hannibal cut through his shop headed to the short path that wound to his Lev-stop. Taking the car on the paved road it was five kilometers, so in nice weather he walked the trail. However today the pearl red of his car caught his attention and he hesitated for half-a-second thinking about taking the car up the supersonic Pulse-line.

         But then he remembered the construction along the Lev-train's elevated Mag-rail. Besides he couldn’t take his car because he was having breakfast on the train, to avoid the toaster-threads. However he could still drive the car to the Lev-stop.

         He slipped his case and mobile VIC computer link into the car, use the engine because the centrifugal force stored in the flywheels, stabilizing the car  held more energy than the ten kilometers round trip to his stop.

         At the Lev-stop friends of two or three talked while they waited for everyone to get there, so the computer could time the Lev-car’s acceleration down the approach ramp. His friends had seen his car before, but still they stood around admiring, thinking the car was something unusual and special.

         He was telling them that he was going to, “…see how much construction was completed. Maybe he would pilot up the Plus-line if the construction ‘bots were far enough along."

         "Did anyone remember how much of the south line was finished?"

         They were still talking when their altered sixth sense notified them the last person had arrived; together they grouped and turned toward the Lev-car. Hannibal looked his eye to a section of glass on the car’s window, a scanner read his retina and he chose a program that sent his car returning home on its own.

**********



         Individual cars would attach or detach from the main trunk according to various destinations. Sometimes the train even cut in two and let cars attach in-between the main line.

         But the dining cars and other designated cars always stayed clumped along the middle of the train. Even at the speed of sound it took two hours to his job at the prestigious New York City University, where he was Head of the Anthropology Department. His friends teased him about the time he spent on the train. But what could he say? He liked the Florida weather. He liked the warm.

         He sat in the Sky Room, at the top of the dining car. Many of the android robots were the same models on all the trains, but occasionally they were unique, like the Dinning ‘bot that came to take his order. Of the unique ‘bots he liked her best. She wore a retro look and she rolled on roller skates.

         “Good morning Dr. Cole! I see you’re enjoying our beautiful day. Isn’t it wonderful? What will you have for breakfast? If you want something different, OK … but I know what you usually have.”

         Her voice was human like and she didn’t add on her metallic machine-sense. And importantly she didn’t give him grief like the fashion-threads. She was a commercial ‘bot, a public ‘bot. The fashions-thread’s personality depended on where you bought your clothes and his last wife, well still wife - he was only separated, but definitely headed for divorce, she had bought his clothes.

         Damn. His thoughts regressed; he would have to go shopping again. Why didn’t he learn? He should have never gotten married again.

         "No, I’ll have what I usually have.” He replied cheerfully, forgetting his shopping duties. 

center}**********


         After she took his order, his thoughts wandered on the produce fields and fruit orchards that lay beyond the cleared path ofthe Mag-rails. The spaced rows of orchard trees blurring bv his eye, the major dividing roads blinking by like a picket fence.

         In the distance were livestock farms, the used water pumped into triangle tanks. Colored wedges where genetically altered microbes dyed the water as they removed metal contaminate and changed organic waste into usable sugars and carbohydrates.

         Where robots raised the animals and fed the cloned livestock, before processing and bringing them to market. The buildings sat next to other buildings filled with the artificial wombs of glass that grew the embryos.

         Farther from the farm roads stood a few tall medical lab-buildings where men made artificial animal eggs and inseminated them for the farms.

         He saw few homes, and while there were large Country Clubs and parks saddling the hills, most of the landscape contained crops and robotic growing buildings. Nearly everyone lived in cities. However here and there Hannibal saw the domes of maintenance openings that covered gates that led to the underground Garden Cities.

         Communities sustained by their own fusion power; burning atoms in magnetic chambers that powered synthetic suns of carbon-arcs. That lit the underground skies above their buildings, and kept the common areas bright between their subterranean parks.

         From his altered-sense he knew his Dinning ‘bot was arriving and he turned from his idle thoughts to his tray of food. His Dinning ‘bot brought him a breakfast plate of eggs, bacon, orange juice, even fruit all supplied by the land outside his window and from the clustered farms made possible by the gene manipulation of the Double Turn Advancement Corporation. And yes he had toast without any annoying toaster-thread chatter!

**********



         The retro ‘bot that served him knew he liked his coffee after he had eaten and when she took his plate she gave him his coffee. “Great…” he sighed and leaned back full, taking a sip of his drink. He sure was glad he had eaten on the train. He could do without the toaster's smart-ass Intala-threads. Hannibal made a mental point to get new clothes, and new kitchen appliances as well!

         He usually he stayed and watched the scenery, but today he felt restless and took the escalator down the Lev-car that always seemed empty. He was unaware the car was dedicated to him. Most people took the path built around his car, but some people walked quietly through his Lev-car and smiled at him, sometimes nodding, but not overly intruding on his privacy.

         In his comfortable seat, really kind of wondering why he had come down here so soon, he took another sip of his coffee and looked at the notes on his mobile VIC. Not much to do , except to be sure to go up to the Universities computer lab. There were some discoveries the lab had made with newly uncovered math equations.

         From the corner of his eye, he saw one of Industrial Clone’s half-organic Cleaning ‘bots scurrying on its six organic covered metal legs towards its home beneath a panel under the seat. It was disposing a littered paper cup it had in its metal claw. Most of time the half-organic ‘bots stayed out of sight, using their sixth-sense stay hidden.

         But the gold atoms bound inside the nerve axioms where Hannibal’s machine-sense was wired, acted differently then the usual Mec-plant, and he noticed that the half-organic ‘bots would often linger.

**********



          When the kid of 10 or 11 walked in by himself Hannibal characterized the child by his shoes. The boy wore special, newly invented, very expensive pro-athlete shoes with pizo-magnet gel embedded in the soles. Much of the energy in each step was stored in the gel. He seemed to recall something about whether the shoes should be legal in professional sports or be banned.

         He didn’t remember the eventual ruling but he did remember something, probably from the toaster, “… it was only the recycled energy of the athlete’s previous plays stored in the gel.”

         Trying to point out the energy was from the athlete anyway. The purists argued that the game should be kept natural. Still the shoes, “…did add  spectacular sport plays,” and besides, “Before they were born Double Turn’s Advancement Corporation had modified the athlete’s genes anyway.”

         Hannibal thought it odd to see thousand dollar pro-athlete shoes on a kid this Thursday in his usual car on the Lev-train. The kid half-shuffled in and looked uncaring at the Video Terminal’s holographic image.

         The ‘T was going on, and the bored kid already ignored the broadcast twice today. It was going on about the “Pearls of our life…” explaining how some new math equitation could describe reality,

         How "…our lives strung on superstrings that make up the atoms of our world… playing the harmonies of the reality we live in… Isn’t our Modern World wonderful?” The broadcast hadn’t gained the kids attention before and it certainly didn’t catch it now. The kid turned inquisitively to Hannibal.

           “Are you a Cone?” He used an insulting term and asked a blunt question, and Hannibal could have taken offense. There was bigotry in the boy’s question with his use of the word Cone, instead of Cybur, but he seemed to use the word without any particular meaning or maliciousness.

         The kid touched his hand to his organic machine ear that his genes had programmed on his neck. The place where the gold metal housing of his machine Mec-plant transceiver was inserted into its gene modified organic hole; the spot where Hannibal’s genes had made no organic third ear and Hannibal had no metal transceiver.

         The kid remembered from his schooling that the Cybur's had no organic Mec-plant. The Cybur’s had embraced the computer and they used it, but in the end they feared the blend of machine and man. They rejected the modification of human evolution. They feared the grafting of man’s artificial DNA for the third organic ear permanently into mankind’s genome, because of their concern that it would make us less human

         There were still some Cyburs alive, and only a few years ago the kid’s use “Cone” would have angered Hannibal, but things change and now he was more surprised at the kid’s lack of recognition of who he was, even though he  recently had noticed he was being less recognized by the younger generation.

         “No… not…, well I don’t have a Mec-plant ear so I guess that is kind of like a Cybur, but… I’m not really…” Hannibal stammered his mind not moving very fast, from if he should be upset at the racist question, to making out loud speech.

         He already noticed the boys unusual genetic Mec-plant with its fancy cosmetic ridges extending down the two centimeters below his ear, the ridges nicely terminating into a variegated organic ring. A fashion statement the clone’s genes had detailed where the Mec-ear’s metal fit into its organic hole.

         Hannibal had noticed the kid’s fancy machine ear not long after saw the shoes, because the genes usually put machine-ear under your right ear if you were left handed, otherwise the Mec-ear was on the opposing side. But the kid’s genes had made both sides, a more symmetrical fashion statement. However, only below the left ear was the gold metal transceiver installed for the metallic-sense in the kid’s belly-button looking advanced ear.

         “But…,” Hannibal stammered on. “Well, I do have a field transceiver to communicate with the machines but unlike the field generators used by the Cyburs, it isn’t an external mechanical graft."

         "My metallic-sense is built totally inside of me. The field works much like anyone’s machine-sense …but it’s build around me, inside of me… more natural like…” Hannibal struggled with the explanation.

         The kid’s school told him all about the field generators that the Cones used to communicate with their computers. He knew about the bulky metal circuits and gadgets that their surgeon’s grafted on the Cone’s skulls, and how the metal wires penetrated into the underlying nerves. He had studied the way Cone’s would have a long needle inserted through their eye, to remove from their retina a color sensitive cone cell, and for some reason using these cells to clone themselves.

          His teacher had told him all that and a lot more. How they lived over a hundred years ago. How they tried to mandate their way politically and then by force. How they tried to take over the world and how the Cones mechanical devices weren’t as good as the genetic modifications of the Double Turn Advancement Corporation.

          He was told how the people came together, the naturals, the mixed children of the naturals and clones, and how everyone eventually defeated the Cones. The teacher had emphasized a lot on how much safer our world is, explaining to him how much improved today’s Modern Life is.

         The kid had turned and was directly facing him, and Hannibal saw the cloned kid didn’t have the usual clone markings on his lower neck. Hannibal knew the boy was a clone because clones just had that air about them, an aurora around them. He didn’t need an organic tattoo line denoting the clone’s generation number to know the child was a clone.

          He ask obviously, in an attempt to deflect the conversation to the kid, “But you’re a clone … right?”

         “Of course I am!” The kid answered proudly. “I’m Jake R. Uhrial. I’m the third. My parents are still in the dinning car and should be coming by soon. We’re going to Disney’s Galaxy. I’m going to ride the Space Coaster!”

         He drew hopefully high on the soles of his feet, practicing to look tall enough for the ride. “I hope I’m tall enough to go.”

          Three years ago Hannibal attended the opening of Disney’s Galaxy and he saw the Space Coaster ride. The Coaster rode on a magnetic track that shot up a spiral a kilometer tall, just shorter than the Julian Hotel, politely leaving the New York star-shaped landmark still the tallest structure in the world. Then the amusement ride left its track and rocket jets kept the upward spiral, shooting the ride until it touched the edge of space.

         Then the Space Coaster fell kilometers, spiraling down to its return track and the G-force ride back to the station. Hannibal was more then tall enough to take the ride, but the fact was he didn’t. He had ridden a rocket to his namesake satellite, the Hannibal Cole Plasma Wake, and he had been to the Moon. And … the Super, he had been strapped to the computer controls of the Super-Vector. But he hadn’t wanted to take the coaster ride!

           “Wow, to the edge of space? Totally sharp! Do you think you’ll be a Space Captain or go to Mars some day?” Hannibal fumbling and sounding like an old guy down talking to a kid.

         “Mars? Jesh,” the kid gruffed.

         When Jake had first come into this Lev-car he thought this guy looked a little lame, and that was before the lame questions. He’d been right; I guess I’ll just have to explain everything he thought.

         “It’s just… you know… just the thrill. Ride the Big Ride! Say you have done it.”

         “Come on?” Jake went on explaining, considering this guy might be to lame for him to hang around here much longer.

          “Go up to Mars? Nothing’ but dust! You have to live in a shelter buried in the dust.” The more Jake thought about it he felt this guy really was lame, maybe stupid too.

          “In space or underground Mars?” Jake continued, ignoring the fact he lived in a house under the dome of a maintenance gate, a hundred meters underground. In his father’s house near the park, where the birds flew under artificial skies. And when he walked the treed trail along the lake bank, it was under the synthetic sun of carbon-arcs. He could go to the surface, but he spent most of his time in his underground community.

          “Mars,” he repeated, “you can’t go outside.

         It was easy to see from the kid’s response that Hannibal’s comments unimpressed the clone. Then the generation difference widened even more, because Hannibal used a standard old guy’s tactic. He ask a question.

         “Well… tell me Jake what do you like?’

          “Karna Karna!” Jake was the clone of his father and his quick answer came with instant and bright confidence. “Karna Karna!” he repeated, “You know it! She’s the cat’s face. She’s got the last.”

         The phrasing was lost on Hannibal, meaningless current slang, but he had certainly heard of Karna Karna from the toaster-Intala-threads. Everything about how hot she was today. The neo-pop artist, the new fling on the music scene.

         “I know Karna Karna.” Hannibal said. “She lives in space. I don’t get it? Wouldn’t you like to go and see one of her concerts in the Space-hall, in her Space-habitat?” He thought for certain the kid would want to go and see a concert in the Space-hall where all the most poplar concerts were held. The kid wouldn’t take the Coaster to the edge of space and not desire to go to the most famous concert hall.

           He repeated, “Wouldn’t you like to go to a space concert and see her?”

         “Naw! Go there and see her? Why do that? Look I have a C-Veg!”

         Then Jake took out an egg sized and egg shaped object made of plastic and metal from his pocket and handed the object to Hannibal. Inside the C-Veg was layered a temporary fusion reaction, and molded around the fusion reaction was a layer of lasers. The fusion powered lasers could paint a radius separating an inside horizon from a outside world, transforming the inside separation into a virtual environment overlaying the real world for the three minuets of the song.

          You had a choice. You could play the Vector laser Stimulation once or you could listen to the Vector audio Stimulation repeatedly. One button slid to play the song in Vector Stimulation; and if you only used the Vector audio, there was enough power in the Veg to last a thousand years. You could have the superb quality of sound as often as you liked. But if you broke open the Vector Stimulation, you had one experience. The lasers would burst into a hologram of jet photons causing prerecorded scenes of laser programming to illustrate the air.

         So complete was the experience that the lasers programmed molecules of smell from the air’s dust. And tactual experience from tiny molecular shock waves, created by the lasers moving the air and giving the illusion of touch. You found or traded for the Veg; and the Vector audio was for free. But if you disturbed the seal and played the Vector Stimulation, someone’s credit card was charged.

         The object felt very heavy in Hannibal’s hand. He could feel more then just the weight of plastic and metal. He could clearly remember a time when even the very word “Vector” was a secret.

         Hannibal turned the capsule around in his fingers until he saw the words printed on its side lettered in the fancy script of trademarks: “From the Labs of Vector Stimulation. Karna Karna! ‘Close Orbit! Vector Stimulation’ Copyright 2324.”Time and things sure had changed, and now the secret was plainly written on a commercial product. Written on the side of a child’s toy.

         He remembered the last time he had seen the printed words ‘Vector Stimulation,’ the paper had been classified Extreme Secret. His hands felt strange holding a little piece of the Stimulation; feeling the weight of a little piece of the Super-Vector. Eighteen years ago since that ride! He could feel those years in the capsule, the weight of time, heaver then two digits of 18. He could feel more dimensions then 3 in shape of the Veg.

         Two times he had set at the controls of the Super-Vector computer. The first time he was absolutely fearless, sweeping through the superstring dimensions. His specially constructed machine-sense, divining the extra-dimensional controls of the machine.

         But the second time it wasn't the same. He knew right away something was wrong. The controls were sluggish and the extra-dimensions were few and hard to divine. Someone or something had gotten to the machine and in the end he broke the Super-V badly. Some claimed he did it on purpose, while others claimed the damage was unavoidable.

         The truth is what ever it was so disorientated and confused him, left him with no idea if the computer’s explosion was unavoidable, intentional, or accidental. And the reality is he barely escaped the danger and almost died in the resulting ball of flaming fire.  The engineers repaired the computer, but no one else that has been strapped to the gimbals has lived through the Super-Vector Stimulation. Many have died and none have come away alive.

         The once secret Stimulation, simply starring down at the printed word unsettled him! The word held a power to him and it alarmed him, even written on the side of a toy. It was because of his ride in the Super-Vector that made Hannibal hand the Veg back to the kid as fast as he did.

          Maybe the kid saw the saw the old guy’s uneasiness, handing back his toy so quickly; and he wanted to give the old guy a scare. Maybe Jake knew it was his toy, his gift given to him from his father Jake the II, to the clone of his blood. Maybe Jake knew that and wanted to give the old guy a little scare.

         Or maybe. Just maybe, it was the excitement of the vacation! Maybe it was just the stir of the moment that inspired Jake to open his prize. But whatever the reason was, Jake the III opened the second slide on the C-Veg and used his dad’s credit card.

**********



          A small exponent, a small digit power of ten, a small micro-gram of hydrogen became helium. Converted from the mass difference and directed by the mathematical formalization that Hannibal had pioneered 18 years ago, came the energy that powered the hologram’s jets. The jets first came as photon energy, later decaying into wave-particles. The reaction lasted for less then a millisecond, but it created enough energy to power the lasers that made fractal waves for the three minutes of the song.

          And for Hannibal those three minutes, it was like the Super-Vector. Like straight in the second Stimulation through the barrier and the wall. The Stimulation did come without the adrenaline of the Super-Vector. It was considerably modified, pacified, and prosaic. But Hannibal had been in the Super-V, beyond the Stimulation’s barrier, and even the prosaic version of the Stimulation unsettled the professor.

          Except for himself and the kid Hannibal’s Lev-car was empty, but if there had been anyone else in the Lev-car they would have seen the lasers paint a separation, a horizon between the inside and outside of an iridescent bubble. Inside the horizon’s separation the machine hallucination overwhelmed Hannibal and the kid. Every molecule in the air, every particle of dust surrounding them, was painted with images of Karna Karna’s space concert hall.

         Involuntary Hannibal took a couple of sharp inward breaths, first as the Vector Stimulation took him, even though sanitized, and the other quick breath one of wonder that the kid had shared his gift. It amazed Hannibal that someone who truly didn’t know who he was shared such a rare and valuable gift. The special gift that Jake’s dad had given his child, a gift that cost much more then shoes.

         Did Hannibal know hidden inside in the gift was the undertow of his morning dream? Hidden inside the kid’s toy of the Vector Stimulation and producing a ghostly shadow, leveled just his perception. But if he saw it, he not chase the perception, and if he had he could not have caught it.

         Besides Hannibal had no time for anything but to find his breath. Garish artificial lighting, the intentionally deceptive visual overlays designed to confuse ones bearings, left him completely over-dazzled and disarranged. When he had gone to concerts before he was able to find something familiar, a stage, musical instruments, things he knew. But the lasers brash lighting completely disoriented him.

         The lasers heated air in tiny pockets, creating tiny quantum shock waves, enough energy to keep the C-Veg floating in the air, and powerful enough to lift Jake and Hannibal in weightlessness.

         Hannibal had no inclination of up or down, spinning out of control he was more weightless then he ever felt on the Wake satellite. He worried about his bearings and the direction of up and down. And he was concerned about losing his breakfast.

         When he did see something that resembled a stage it was oscillating in and out so rapidly … that coupled with the sudden weightlessness …? Karna Karna’s face was omnipresence, she was all around him. Her face coming from his side vision as well as his forward sight, filling all he could see.

          Then the party started! She screamed and crooned, the rhythm bit back hard, the rhyme tightly holding the lines. The words driving the beat and pushing through her bands accompanying sounds ... and ...the amazing quality of the sounds the laser painted in the air! Hannibal could easily tell the sound was superior; it was the music itself that he found un-easing.

         The music was progressive, new and incomprehensible to him. He could hear Karna Karna’s and the accompanying voices of her back up. Human voices he could identify and that helped him focus his concentration. It was the musical instruments he found unfamiliar and he was doubtful of.

         One musician played an instrument that to Hannibal looked like something between an enlarged ancient stringed thing, maybe a huge Lute or giant Sitar; something like that crossed with a latter. The instrument was huge and the musician balanced it like a cirrus act. If it wasn’t for the lack gravity in space the man could have never physically played the sound of his music.

         When it was his turn to contribute to the song’s sound, he would literally leap into the air and push himself down the ten-meter Sitar thing. That’s when Hannibal felt it was more of a latter then a musical instrument, because the musician’s play was accompanied by such a clatter of shattering glass and crashing falling sounds.

          He hadn’t yet noticed the giant balloon drums. But when he did hear the balloons their grating rubbing sounds were more intolerable then back in school when the under-grads would screech the math whiteboard as a prank to annoy the coeds. He hadn’t seen the drums at first because he thought they were as some sort of background decoration on the stage.

         The drums were thirty meters tall and had been giving out such a low sound that he hadn’t noticed them. But now they had a higher sound and the rubbing and grating vibrating tone took on more intensity. He was glad that gravity was increasing, because at least it gave a direction he knew was upright.

         The drums grated and the Sitar-latter wailed and together with all the other accompanying musical instruments they built a wall of musical sound waves perfectly created by the Stimulation and sent directly to all their ears, both to their mechanical and natural. Hannibal didn’t at all understand about the music, and he had no idea if the music was played well or not. He thought Karna Karna was more mainstream, a modern-popular sound. He didn’t know she had a progressive band. But he knew the Stimulation and it was good to feel it again.

         Then little digital squares faded in and out of the environment created by the machine mirage and it began to fail and miss. The natural photon waves of the unoccupied Lev-car outside the horizon to come into view inside the C-Veg’s hallucination. The laser’s design accomplished, gravity grew normal in the dying of the fractal waves. The lasers faded and the iridescent horizon between the Stimulation and the real world disappeared around them.

**********



         Hannibal stood dumb, with the stupidest look he had ever worn in his whole life, starring at a kid who had a bit of smug on his face. Whether the boy’s motive was to please or scare the old guy, it looked like he had done some of both.

         “Wow, wasn’t that the bag? The sound of the balloon drums is the rag!” Jake excitably exclaimed. From his Mec-ear the boy knew that his parents were on the far side of the middle sections of the Lev-train, and were headed the other way. He’d better get caught up with them before they made it too far down the other side of the train.

          “Hey man I’ve got to go.” Jake put his hand to his Mec showing Hannibal that he had gotten an important message through his Mec and he had to go. Hannibal stood solidly stupid, and the kid made it out of the Lev-car before Hannibal could get any words out of his dumb face.


         “Good God!” His shirt exclaimed in its metallic machine-voice. “You can’t even say thanks to your friend? Ever learn to say goodbye? The kid probably thought you're totally lame.”

         “You got that!” His tie agreed, chipping in its metal voice, then saying “How could anyone be so lame? Did you know he tried to wear me with Brown Shoes! I can’t believe it …” the tie went on with the exaggerated screaming of metal laughter.

         “That can’t be!” His shoes joined in laughing, “Puddzzz. Look at him still standing dumb looking down at me?

         His shoes then shouted, “Puddzzz. What ya looking at … you just starring at the floor? What you looking at? You looking for me? ”His shoes, his shirt and tie, and all the other Intala-threads that had conscious programming roared with metal laughter.

          Hannibal was starring at the floor. But not at his shoes - he was looking at the burned remnant of the C-Veg that was lying on the floor against the wall, a relic of the Stimulation. Should he pick it up as a memento?

         The six legged Cleaning ‘bot came out of its panel home to do its job. The same half-organic ‘bot he had seen before with the littered cup in its claw. The ‘bot reached for the remnant, and then sensing Hannibal was looking at the same object, the ‘bot turned.

         But it wasn’t the ‘bots programming that made it turn to Hannibal and hesitate as to ask, “Do you want this?”

          Hannibal finally made his first movement since the kid left. He shook his head, “No.” The ‘bot scurried off with its litter.

*********


         The video terminal’s picture had widened from its previous corner of the wall and took up most of the long wall of his Lev-car. The high definition showed the crystal pinpoints of bright stars, accenting the deep darkness of space. The dramatic shot paned across the cosmos until the enormous body of the Solar Flare slid in from one edge of the picture and filled it. The many arms of the satellite’s lasers bristled like medusas’ hair.  The machine aimed its laser beams at the solar sails of interplanetary ships, the photons pushing the craft about the Solar System.

         The ‘T had something on he actually liked and his threads were totally silent. After the kid left, and his threads had gone completely over the line, he had gotten really mad. He went ballistic on the threads, yelling at them. “Shut the hell up! You’re supposed to do as I want. Find me something I like on the damn terminal and don’t even talk to each other!” Now it was peacefully silent. But he had yelled at them in the past and he knew their silence was only temporary.

         He hated to get angry at all, especially to someone, even stupid computer threads. He knew his Vic computer had independent feeling, because they had shared their feelings together. But he wasn’t sure if the threads had real feelings like Vicky, or if they were just a complex algorithm. Usually the threads didn’t intrude when he was with other people; they only gave him a bad time when he was alone. Maybe that was some of reason he didn’t like them. He wasn’t ever really alone since the threads were always there.

         He tasted his coffee, it was cold and he thought he would go up to the Dining car and get a refill. He knew his threads would be less likely to bother him up there, but right now they were silent, and he just wanted to relax back watch the ‘T a while.

         The spectacular photography continued and the narrator had an interesting voice, as he explained and described the satellites function. Then the shot panned and zoomed in to the asteroid that Von Newman robots had hollowed out years ago, in preparation for a human colony’s inner-stellar trip.

         The Von Newman robots had been designed for the stars. Near light-speed was only a far distant possibility, but a long sub-light ride would not bother robots. They could self-repair and replicate for even millions of years, as they traveled across the galaxy.

         But there had been a decline in society’s exploratory ambitions and indifference appeared for the stars. Few agued to send probes from the Solar System, and apathy had delayed man’s command for the machines to begin their extra-stellar mission. The argument had taken hold that there was a whole Solar System to explore, colonize, and worry about. The Von Newman’s could wait for man's command to the stars.

         Now the narrator explained the hollow rock was being towed to its destination, not some distant star, but our own Sun. It was already in a preliminary orbit around our star, to make it into a hotel and a community support for the Solar Flare.

         The photography faded and a panel of experts came on and to discus the film. Less interesting to Hannibal, but his stomach was still woozy from the ripple left over from the kid’s C-Veg. He didn’t feel like going back to the dinning car right now, so he watched as the lady moderator introduced the panelists.

          “Today we have Dr. Belargo who teaches the Ethics of Science at Harvard University, Jack Ramsey of the controversial syndicated program, The Conspiracy Files. He is here promoting his new book, Afraid to call it Conspiracy.”

          “We are also joined by Dr. Aymthen, also a professor at Harvard, where she teaches a Human Genetic Development course. She also sets on the board of Double Turn’s Human Advancement Project.”

          “Lastly, and certainly not least, is the widely acclaimed writer and publisher of the popular magazine Science Tomorrow, author Jonathan Givens.

          “Good afternoon gentleman and… well, lady,” She smiled, she was glad the producers had gotten at least one lady on her panel.

          “Let’s talk about the Solar Flare’s new mission that starts next month. It will turn its laser on the sun itself, attempting to start a permanent group of sun spots on the sun’s southern pole. The reason for this, I understand, is to remedy the dangerous solar outbreaks that have killed some unprotected space travelers between the planets. If the experiment works the most violent outbreaks will occur at the south pole, where the partials will be directed harmlessly out of the Solar System’s plane. 

          “Especially now that so many ships are traveling the inner system, with colonies on Mercury and the orbiting stations round Venus, not to mention the Solar Flare satellite itself, I can understand this. But is it really wise to alter the sun, we have only one, and we really need it. Also this will concentrate the particles in one direction instead of random, and act as a thruster, pushing the sun out of its natural orbit in the galactic plane.”

          “Lets start with Dr. Belargo, you teach a class on science ethics, is it ethical for scientists to experiment with the sun, since it is something all mankind lives by?”

          “And then I would like to hear from, Mr. Ramsey. You are often quoted on your position that we should be careful of doing things that might alert extraterrestrial civilizations, even though we know of none, because you feel they might not be so nice. Could you take on what the implications are, if our sun were to have an altered orbit?”

         Hannibal sat up interested. The moderator was competently right. Move the sun out of its natural orbit? That was crazy. Permanently alter the sun? Shit, what are they thinking of?

          “This is a difficult question to answer easily.” The way the moderator had asked the question, it was a yes or no answer. But how Dr. Belargo started out gave Hannibal the impression she wasn’t going to give a real answer.

          “Travel between the planets is here to stay. Mars is in the first steps of Terra-forming , it has several major underground cities and many outposts. While shielding in the interplanetary ships is an option, and it has saved many lives, it is not always an option.”

          “An example of this,” she went on, “is when man first went to the moon over 300 years ago; they weren’t killed only because of the luck of the timing. If they had been delayed a couple of weeks they would have been killed from a strong burst of radiation. Sure we have better shielding now, but people in space suits on Mercury and working in orbit are still in danger. Also since Mars doesn’t have magnetic field, strong waves of radiation will drive off the atmosphere we are trying so hard to devolve. We have to find a way to minimize the danger and this is one way to do that.” The Dr. looked at Jack Ramsey, letting him know she was done and time for him to jump in.

         Jack thought of saying, So this is a case of the many risking death for the convenience of the few. Something he would probably would have said on his own show, but he was more polite as a guest then he was as a host. He took the clue and started his part to the moderate’s question.

          “It might surprise you, but I don’t really see the sun’s orbit change as something an alien would notice at this point. If our star’s orbit was already precisely known then, yes, it would be noticed. But if they had that good of a measurement they would have noticed our laser beams, our planet’s atmosphere, and know life was here already. Any encounter with a close star, even millions of years ago would make our orbit wander. Maybe after many thousands of years the orbit might look unnatural. But that would be easy to fix by putting another group of sun spots on the sun’s north pole, to counter the drift.”

         Then he rubbed a little at the doctor, “The real question, as the moderator ask, is it really paramount to do this at this time.”

         The publisher Jonathan Givens rushed in to answerer that question. “We are a type I civilization. Should we stop now or continue on to a type II civilization? I believe there are reasons for this type of effort. We should learn to move stars. We should know how to control our whole Solar System,” he said, then hurried on.

          “You might laugh at thinking so far into the future, but the stars will fade out someday and only black holes will remain. And even they will dissipate in time. Look how much effort we go through just to stay alive the two or three hundred years we have now. Should we just give up and die?”

          “No! We must work from right now until the end of time to stay alive. The larger the black hole the longer it will last and we can stay alive from the energy of its gravity. We start learning right now how to move the stars. We take all the suns in the galaxy and put them into our center’s black hole. And when the Andromeda galaxy comes close, we bury her stars in our black hole. We reach out to the Virgo cluster and sweep in its thousands of galaxies.” Jonathan made no pause and speed on.

          “Even if we can’t get every star in the universe, we take in as many as we can and build a home to live in as long as possible. Who knows, if we do this we may even find a way to live, even after gravity is gone. Maybe we can learn to live forever.

         Hasn’t a life of forever been the dream and hope of mankind? Even from the days we first painted on cave walls?”

         The panel starred at him because of his passionate outburst about future events many trillions of years away. He saw it and lightened things up with a laugh.

          “Come on you guys, we can’t wait forever!”
 
         Hannibal could tell Jonathan was a non-engineered natural because he looked short, even setting down, and had thick dark rimmed glasses. He had the organic ridge of the third ear because that was a dominate gene and was now considered a natural part of the human genome.

         It did seem that a lot of the population was genetically altered, but the naturals were still the majority. In fact of the panelist, Dr. Aymthen was the only one that clearly had advanced genes. It wasn’t likely anyone could set on the board of Double Turn’s Human Advancement Project with out gene enhancement.

         Jack Ramsey smiled at the magazine editor and said, “You are right in what you say about mankind’s hope of a life of forever. Research into the ancient past has shown the longing not to die, and the life after death feelings, have been with man for a very long time. And maybe we should get on with engineering the universe, to make it last so we have a place to live as long as possible.”

          “But there is much more to reality then just the vastness of the universe, and classical space-time. There are many-universes in the inner space of the microscopic quantum world that influences the larger world. Just like Schrödinger’s cat, the universe does and doesn’t exist. The big dimensions of space are where we will build the black hole. In the big dimensions are where we need to live, but we can’t overlook the atomic dimensions and the inner spaces as well.”

          “We know the quantum computer uses the qubit, a two-dimensional vector space over the complex numbers. The qubit is both the state memory and the state of entanglement in a system, and showed Everett’s many-worlds theory is the correct description of the real world.”

         The conspiracy theory author paused, so if anyone disagreed, they could make that point. But everyone knew this was text book stuff and he continued.

          “A qubit is either 1 or 0 or the entanglement of the two.  A pure qubit, usually called a Vector State, is 1 or 0 or entanglement of an infinite of number states. So in the Vector States the computer’s existence is entangled across the multi-verse, across the many-worlds. Quantum computing uses the atoms, but to use the Vector State, the atoms have to be taken apart and the pieces inside used.

         “That’s why the Super-Vector sat in the Nevada desert and used a thousand mega-ton explosion, ripping the atoms apart. It may only have run for a second, but in that second it produced thousands of zettabyte’s of data.”

         Then the conspiracy theorist’s voice saddened a little. “It’s just too bad the governments and secret agencies couldn’t just let Hannibal run the machine as he had been genetically designed to do. But they had to step in and force their usage on the machine, unable to wait. In the long run I guess it was unavoidable.

         If you saw a diamond on the ground and you knew if you left it and came back tomorrow and there will be two, you might do that. But if you knew it was possible someone else could come by and pick it up, and tomorrow there will be none for you, well, obviously you take what you can get.


          “The governments were afraid they would lose power, so they took what they could get. That’s why the Vector’s metal sphere Hannibal was in automatically ejected out of the nuclear fire ball, before Hannibal had finished defining the computer’s controls. And then, after the patched it up a bit, they had the guile to send him back in to a knowingly broken machine sending him into certain death. He only lived because he was better then they thought.” Then he added.

         “It would have been murder if Hannibal was human and not a machine.”

         Hannibal had gotten a little taken away, day dreaming, but when he heard, “It would have been murder if Hannibal was human and not a machine.” He startled quickly to reality standing up and shouting at the ‘T, “What do you mean IF I was human. I'm not human?”

          “I'm human!” Hannibal shouted at the empty Lev-car. “My DNA is human!”

          “I have human feelings of love and emotion, I am not a machine!”

         It was silent; the Lev-car wasn’t big enough for even an echo.

         In shades of sadness. “Because my Farther was a gene-sequencer a robot that strung my DNA molecule - that makes me machine not human.”

          “Because my Mother’s womb was made of glass - is there is no hope-of-human?”

          In frustration he swung at his coffee cup accidentally cutting the palm of his hand. He cried at the bleeding wound. “Are not these the cells human blood?”

*******



         Hannibal collapsed in his chair dripping blood on the cushions. He took off his tie and rapped it around his hand. He had another tie at the office and blood was getting everywhere. His eyes looked at the ‘T, it was going on like it didn't affect anything, its photons traveling out into empty space.

         Is that what other people think about him? Not really human but a collection of complex algorithms, maybe nothing more then the Intala-threads? They had asked him to go back in the Super-Vector, pleading. Even then he knew two other people had already died trying to use it. He went back in knowing he was risking his life.

         And he had done it because he cared for them. But now he wondered was he only a DNA machine, his machines DNA built by another machine?

         He hadn’t paid attention to the ’T for a while and Dr. Aymthen was in the middle of explaining the aspects of Hannibal’s design when he finally looked at it again.

         He listened with a numbness as she was saying “…the Human analog program was conceived about the same time as the math equations showed it was possible to build a Vector computer. The technical aspects of the computer itself were extremely daunting and there were some people felt it should wait until a later time, perhaps when technology was farther advanced.”

         “Obviously the computer would have to be used with someone with a Mec-plant, but the nerve cells in the normal transceiver were too slow to adequately function, so Hannibal was designed with the nano-structures attached to his brain cells directly.”

         Then she added, “I wouldn’t totally agree with Mr. Ramsey that Hannibal isn’t human, but I will agree that there are parts of his brain that are machine.”

         Then she made a big joking reference back to Ramsey’s words about the cat and the universe, both being and not being, and she said, “I would more call him superposition of both human and machine.”

         Hannibal felt even more horrible after her comment, an undefined possibility of being machine and human, at the same time.  He hung his head in puzzlement, anger, and disgust. He headed up to the dinning car holding his tie around his hand and his mobile Vic in his other.

         He didn’t know if they had bandages on the train but they probably did, maybe the Dinning ‘bot would know. He took the elevator up to the Dinning car and slumped against the window, his cheek against the glass. Not thinking of anything, not paying attention to time.

         Then he heard the cheerful voice of the Dining ‘bot as she rolled up to him.

          “Here you are I wondered where you went. I usually see you stay up here a lot longer. Do you want some coffee? Then she saw his hand wrapped in his tie. “What happened, are you hurt bad? Her voice seemed to have real concern. Hannibal had never heard her except with a cheerful voice and for a second it puzzled him.

          “No I’m alright.” He looked at her carefully, thinking all these years, I’ve never really looked at you that close, you bring me my food and coffee and I just expect it.

         Her face was made of a soft material that showed real concern in its plastic, it wasn’t real skin, it wasn’t cloned or anything, but looked real. She wore this cute top with straps that come from her shoulders and went like bib overalls, making a straight line from one side of her chest to the other. She had little brass buttons that went through their button holes on her straps and held them in place. Her clothes didn’t appear to be part of her body; they looked like she put them on and wore them, like anyone would.

         She was still worried about his hand and she said, “Come on now Doctor Cole let me see how bad you’re hurt.” He unconsciously lifted up his hand and gave it to her, but his attention was watching into her human looking eyes. He could see little clear opening where the cameras in her eyes looked out at him. He could tell nothing was organic, but it all looked so real.

         Looking at his hand over she said, “Good. It doesn’t look like you will need stitches and the bleeding has pretty much stopped. We have a first aid kit at the serving station, I’m going to roll over there and get you fixed up.” She sat his hand gently down in his lap and quickly rolled over to her station and was back before he had thought about much.

         She said, “OK. This might sting a little!” as she put the antiseptic on his cut but he was watching her eyes his brain thinking a little differently now that he wasn’t sure about if he was a machine like her, or not.

         He asked her. “What do you do when you’re not on the train?”

         “What a silly question Doctor Cole! I’m always on the train.”

         I guess you would be, he thought. Then he asked, “I always see you in the day, but what do you do at night?”

         “I serve on the night shift.” She was carefully wrapping his hand with the clean bandages. She fastened the tape around the cloth and said, “Now when you get to your office you go to the school nurse station and get that looked at.”

         “I will,” he mumbled his mind still trying to get around the fact that her whole life, if life is what it could be thought of, was on the train. He saw her here nearly every day and couldn’t picture her anywhere else but the fact she didn’t go any where else was a strange thought to him.

         She touched him on his shoulder and made him look up at her and said, “Doctor Cole… that doesn’t sound very convincing. Promise me you will go the nurse’s station.”

         He looked at her and smiled “Ok, Ok I promise I will go.” Then he asked.

         “Do you ever leave the train?”

         “Well, every two days I have a two hour check up in New York and I get off the train for that and once a month I have an overnight maintenance. But other then that no, I’m on the train the rest of the time.”

         “Do you ever want to do something else? You know besides being in the Dining car serving people.” 

         “Why doctor Cole, another funny question!” She was looking into his eyes. “I love being on the train and serving people. I love watching the landscape go by. I see you enjoying it. I get to do it all the time. It makes me happy to be here.”

         “You’re always happy here on the train?”

         “Yes I’m always happy to be on the train.” she added “I’m always happy!”

         Then she rolled off, “I’m going to get you your coffee.”

         Hannibal watched her human looking body rolling to the coffee station. His questions if he was machine, or human were not answered with his conversation with the Dinning ‘bot. But if he was a machine he wasn’t her type of machine. He wasn’t happy all the time he knew that for certain.


*******



         Kevin’s surprise when the lab’s doors slid in their wall pockets and Brent walked in five days early from his vacation wasn’t Brent being here, it was he hadn’t showed up a couple of days ago. The whole lab knew Brent would come in early. 

         Kevin had made his bet in the office pool that Brent would show yesterday and everyone else had bet at least two days ago. Maybe he had won. He checked with his Mec to see if he was the closest but his Mec him told Ogden had won. Ogden had bet nine today and was about eight now.

         He questioned his Mec, he thought the pool wouldn’t let Ogden bet anymore because Ogden won so much of the time when they let him in. His Mec said since Ogden wasn’t betting in-between anyone but was betting two days later and you were the only one he could beat. Because he’s your brother and all, they let Ogden talk them into letting him bet.

         They were twins but Ogden was out first so he was the oldest and Ogden relished playing the oldest roll, always trying to get to his younger brother. Like now getting in the pool and beating him. Their parents didn’t have a lot of money and the brothers were natural and unfortunately Ogden ended up a little autistic. But Ogden had learned to adapt and he did have an amazing ability of prediction.

         Kevin greeted Brent saying, “Hey I thought you were supposed to be in here until next week.”

         “Thought I’d get in early and surprise you guys. See if you’re getting anything done around here.”

         Kevin laughed at Brent’s remark,” Come on we know you too well that coming early to is a surprise to us. Most of the guys in the pool had you coming in two days ago.”

          “So you did you win?” Brent asked a little annoyed. He knew the pool was good for moral and bet sometimes himself, but he wasn’t thrilled that they were betting on his habits.

{indent “I had you yesterday. Odeon had you coming an hour from now so he won.”

         “The pool let your clone play? I thought he was banned because of that intuition thing he has.”

         “Everyone had already picked and thought he would lose picking today so he talked his way in.” Kevin said knowing it was unavoidable. Brent and he were headed for the whole brother and clone thing again.

         Brent motioned for Kevin to follow him. Kevin walked around the electrical lab’s bench and went with Brent. The assembly rooms doors automatically slid in their pockets when they approached and they walked into the large space where the radar-sled was being assembled.

         Floor space taken from the floor above gave the assembly room’s high ceiling both floors. To their left was a bank of elevators and to the right a small office. Across the large room and against the back wall sat the remote-control room where the radar-sled in Africa could be driven.  Half-way to the far side, surrounded by rolling tables and other mobile equipment, was the new generation radar-sled. 

         Brent asked as they walked to the sled, “How does your clone know all kinds of stuff and you don’t.”

         “He’s not my clone,” answered Kevin saying what he always said, “He’s my identical twin brother.”

         “Looks like you, just like a clone. Same thing, the cell splits.”

         “The embryo split naturally when we were just a few cells.  Clones are made from adult cells.”

         “Until they made the artificial egg they split livestock embryos all the time.  They made ten or twelve at the same time, still called it cloning,” Brent said.

         He slowed down by the new radar-sled, walking around and examining the machine to see what had been done while he was away.

         “But maybe your right. Looks like the cell gave one twin all the brains.”

         “Hey don’t be like that. Just because our parents didn’t go to Double Turn and left us natural and somehow he is autistic don’t mean he’s stupid.”

         “Who beat you in the pool? Didn’t say Odeon was the dumb twin.”

         Kevin could never tell how serious Brent was or if it was just smart ass. But they always went through his brother clone thing; he could remember Brent giving him flack about it lots of times.

         Brent stopped his teasing about Kevin’s twin and said, maybe still teasing, “This place looks too clean for you guys to have gotten any work done.”

         Kevin knew Brent didn’t like a super perfect ordered shop. He liked to see some stuff, some tools or something, lying around. Not a mess but looking like something was going on.

         We didn’t clean-up for you but there’s a rumor that Hannibal is going to come done here today and you know how he is. The neater the shop the happier he is.

          “Hannibal’s not due down here for three more weeks. He never comes down unless it’s on the schedule,” Brent said. He looked at Kevin and Kevin shrugged

         “Let me guess. Ogden said Hannibal was coming.” Brent looked knowingly at Kevin.

         “What did do, make that gesture he does when he’s certain of his prediction. The one where he makes a fist and with his arm stiff strikes his fist to his heart like some sort of a Roman solder statute and says ‘Iron proof?’”

         “Yes.”

         “How often is he wrong when he does that?”

         “Never known him to be wrong if he says ‘Iron proof,’” Kevin said.

         “Ok. It’s good you guys got the place so cleaned up.”

         “But did you at least get started on the over-hall for the remote control room? University management really wants to get the glass cables from the Little Vector into the remote control gimbals. Management’s hot for that up-grade.”

         Kevin was glad that job went smooth and he could say, “You bet. Got the beta system up and running. Still got a few improvements and a couple of bugs that we have work arounds for, but it’s operational.”

         “You can test it out if you want,” he finished up.

         “I will do that,” Brent said as he started looking carefully at what had been done on the radar-sled while he was on vacation.

         The composite cowlings were off the front half of the machine and the dense stacks of iridescent nano-graphite chips could be seen glittering behind the neat bundles of glass fibers that wove over them.

         Brent ran his fingers along the conduit that the fiber optics went into when they left the connection to the graphite stacks.

         The sled was designed in two parts a bottom six wheeled bottom section with an articulated hinge so its frame could bend over large obstacles on the ground. The baron-aluminum’s upper-chassis was on a scaffold and Brent stuck his under to get a better look at the superconducting magnets.

         “Look how small the niobium-titanium blocks are. Let me take a look at the specifications for…” he stopped and held his hand up because he was getting a message from his threads on his Mec.

         Brent started to walk to the small office by the assembly room’s sliding doors to talk in privet there. He could have used his Mec and communicated quietly but he found he could think and better express himself if he talked out loud

         He did use his threads to send a message to Kevin thanks for cleaning up its Hannibal on my Mec.

         “Hey Hannibal you need something?”

         “I know your on vacation but would you mind coming in this after noon I’d like to see you need some opinion of yours. If you wouldn’t mind.”

         Hannibal was on the train with his head back leaning on the window glass again. His stomach was queasy from his anger and although the undertow was deep it reached up and had some influence on Hannibal’s unconscious mind.

         “Sure in fact I’m down in the assembly room right now. I got bored at home so I came by for a couple of hours to see what’s going on.”

         Really?” Hannibal said perking up already.

         He had known Brent since he could remember and thought of him as a good friend. Maybe talking to Brent would help him understand the conflict he had over his confusion by the conspiracy theorist’s flat-out statement he was a machine.

         “I am coming it to the university’s stop pretty quick can be there in less the half an hour,” he said as he watched the Dining ‘bot deftly skate around a scarf that someone had dropped in the middle of the path she needed to roll through.

         She set her tray on the service counter and rolled back to pick up the scarf. Hannibal could feel the centrifugal force pushing him against the seat because the train was slowing and making a turn as it came into the city. But she was on wheels and she still was able to bend down and smoothly pick up the cloth.

         How could she do that?  How could she have human like abilities but still be not human? He remembered he had promised her he would go to the nurse’s station.

         He couldn’t make it to the lab and also go to the nurse’s station in half an hour. He was sure his hand was fine and he could use the first-aid kit at the lab it he need to. She was just lifeless plastic and metal. Why should he care if he broke his promise to her?

         And yesterday he wouldn’t have cared. But today he said to Brent, “Oh wait a minute I promised someone I’d do something so lets make that an hour, ok?




Not the end yet.




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