This chapter was originally in Book 1 (Angel of Mailànkh), just after the point at which Karéin expresses an interest in helping Earth’s nuclear missile-barrage, to destroy the “Lucifer” comet.
Angel of Mailànkh – What Mr. Boyd Saw
A few minutes after the meeting in the mess-hall, Tanaka took Boyd aside, as he was heading towards the Infinity’s central core.
The alien-girl was nowhere in sight.
“Brent,” requested the scientist, “You got a minute or two? There’s something I’d like to ask you.”
“Sure,” Boyd replied, “I’m off to see if I can get a good fix on the comet from Eagle‘s high-res cameras… Sergei’s planning to record the ‘Big Bang’, as the Captain calls it, from Infinity, but I’m going to set up a backup recording from the other ship, just in case. What’s up?”
“First of all, I’d like this to be off the record, if you don’t mind,” Tanaka said. “It’s about Karéin.”
“Okay… I guess,” Boyd answered. “Something worrying you about her?”
“No,” Tanaka responded, “The reason that I’m asking you to keep this confidential is, well, because it relates to things that only you and she would know, things that the two of you have shared, uniquely.”
“Ah,” Boyd said, knowingly, “You mean, that time when we were kind of… joined, mentally. When she learned to speak English.”
“Yes,” confirmed the scientist. “I don’t believe that I’d appreciate someone else revealing my thoughts to a third party, which is why I’d like to keep this just between the two of us.”
“Go ahead,” Boyd answered. “I didn’t promise her that I would never do that, but all the same, I’ll have to exercise some discretion here, I guess.”
“Alright,” said Tanaka. “What I’d like to know, Brent, is… you know when she said she wanted to go after ‘Lucifer’, along with the Earth missile-barrage? That kind of got me to thinking, especially after her little side-trip outside the ship, a few days ago; the point is, except for – possibly – yourself, none of us really have any idea of what she can, and cannot, do, how strong she is, how strong she might become. We have all seen how she uses this Amaiish-stuff…”
Tanaka’s voice trailed off momentarily, as she thought, And I know of that, better than any of you, but quickly, she continued, “…On a small scale, but when she makes a proposal like she just did, we don’t have any objective way to tell if she’s serious, or if she’s bluffing for some reason that we can’t fathom. It puts Sam in a very difficult position, because I know he’d like to let her help us – how’s he to know whether a plan like the one she just came up with, is possible for her? But you – you looked into her mind, you experienced her memories… right? If anyone knows her, it’d have to be you. Anything you can say, about this?”
Boyd glanced down at his feet, then shot a quick glance at Tanaka, before looking away. Then he offered, “Whew – that’s a hard one, Professor. Not only because I’m not sure what, exactly, you’re asking me to report about, but because… well, it’s kind of hard to explain, I guess the way that I’d describe it, to the extent that anyone could, is that I did see some of her memories, yes, that’s true… but – and I don’t really know how I know this – there was a lot more that she was holding back from me, deliberately, I think. So I only got a partial picture, basically.”
He thought a bit more, then remarked, “And it was very confusing, Professor, in a way which I can’t adequately explain… here’s my best try, though. Think of your own memories, something that happened when you were a little girl. Try to remember exactly how it felt, how strong you were, how fast you could run at the track and field meet, or whatever. If you even can think back that far, that is.”
“Now try to imagine a memory that might have been from thousands of years ago, when Karéin was – in all likelihood – a physically, mentally and emotionally different being from what she is today, on a different planet, with different powers, probably with a different psyche compared to what we have on the ship now,” he elaborated. “I just experienced a jumble of images, sounds, feelings, like this… I couldn’t tell what order they were in, either – like, we’re assuming that just as a human grows from weaker as a child to stronger as an adult, Karéin has progressed in the same way, but I’m not sure that’s a completely safe assumption. Maybe she doesn’t always get stronger; maybe she sometimes just stays relatively weak. Some of her memories were full of fear, of inadequacy, or, at least, that’s how I interpreted them. None of this is for sure. As the saying goes, ‘maybe it was only a dream’”.
“Yeah, I suppose you have a point there,” Tanaka acknowledged. “But let’s take one memory, as a concrete example, because it’s relevant to what we were discussing a few minutes ago. Am I correct in assuming that you experienced one of her memories, one in which she somehow survived a nuclear explosion? Can you tell me anything about that?”
“There’s not much to tell,” Boyd replied. “As I saw it – through her eyes, or, at least, the eyes of the being that she was, at the time – she was wandering through the outskirts of some city; it wasn’t on Earth, that’s for sure, the buildings were weird-looking, no sharp edges to them at all, and the colors of the vegetation were all wrong – a lot of yellows and reds – not a lot of green. All of a sudden, there was this fantastically bright light, high in the sky ahead of her, and she fell to the ground, flat on her face. Of course, that’s the sensible thing to do, here, too, if somebody sets off a bomb anywhere near you. But now, here’s the weird part… it’s very hard to describe, because I was experiencing, remembering, something that people like us could never do, and live to tell about it… think of how she uses her words for ultraviolet and infrared, ‘color to a blind man’ that kind of thing, that’s the idea.”
“Go on,” Tanaka asked. “If nothing else, you’ve sure got me interested.”
Boyd chuckled a bit, then continued, “Like I said, it’s something that English doesn’t have words for, but, basically, for a split second, she hurt, ‘agony’ wouldn’t be too strong a word for it – man, I tell you, I felt that, myself… not something that I like remembering, believe me. But then the same heat that was burning her alive, not a second before, started to feel good, the nearest I could come to describing it is like how you feel warming yourself in front of a nice fireplace in the winter, or maybe how it feels after you have a good-sized shot of brandy or cognac, minus the hangover, of course. What’s totally strange, is that even though this felt great, I – she – was still very definitely aware of how much energy was coming at her, how hot it was… like holding on to a red-hot poker and feeling the warmth from it, but not the pain. Or maybe, grounding yourself to house-current and just getting a pleasant buzz, while the light bulb in your hand glows brightly. I won’t pretend to be able to describe it, to someone who hasn’t felt it. But that’s her, that’s what she’s all about, Professor.”
“Fascinating,” agreed Tanaka. “But all it really proves, is that she has – at least once, however far in the past – endured what we’d have to assume, is a single nuclear explosion, at some distance. How she gets from that, to proposing flying right into the middle of hundreds of such bombs, I don’t understand. This was what I was getting at, when first I asked you to speak with me, Brent. Did she have any other memories that might help us gage, even roughly, the true, eventual extent of her powers? Anything at all?”
Before Boyd could reply, Tanaka hastily added, “I don’t suppose it needs to be said, because I consider Karéin my friend and I don’t like talking behind her back – but I wouldn’t be pressing you like this, except that the fate of all of Earth might rest on knowing what she can, and can’t, accomplish.”
Boyd now answered, “I hate to disappoint you, Professor, but the short answer is, ‘no’, unfortunately. I recall a couple of images of battles that she participated in – I don’t know how I know this, but I think they refer to really ancient times, far before now – where she acted like a superhero, you know, stuff like laser-beams fired from her eyes, force-fields… the usual. There were also a few of these memories that were so… ‘dark’, that’s the only way I can describe it, that either her mind, or mine, or both of them, just shut them down, I couldn’t feel anything except this unbelievable pall of fear, like the worst nightmare you’ve ever had, only worse… the upshot of all of it is, I doubt that any of the things she was able to do there, would influence events on a planetary scale. Which is not to say that she can’t – just to say, if she can, I can’t swear to it. Sorry, but that’s about it… after all, we were only ‘together’ for a very short time. It was a lot to learn and retain, in a little while.”
“I see,” offered Tanaka. “Disappointing… wouldn’t you say?”
“I don’t know how to take that, Cherie,” Boyd responded, evenly. “She is what she is, no more, no less. Just like us.”
No, not like us, Tanaka thought.
We can be more. Like I am, now.
If we get through this, I’ll show you.
But the Storied Watcher’s admonitions of modesty suddenly came back to the Professor, so she said, “Yeah – you’re probably right, Brent. Thanks for the information. That’s all I needed to know. But if anything comes back to you, can I ask for you to tell me? I promise I won’t inform anyone else… especially, her.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Boyd said. “But now that we’re here, Professor – mind if I ask you something? Also off the record.”
He suspects, worried the scientist.
But she said, “Sure, Brent. No secrets here.”
Tanaka hoped he wasn’t good at detecting lies.
“Well,” he mentioned, “I was thinking about something Symington said, in his last little speech. About her not being able to help us, that is. It might just be the stupidity of the brass – I don’t think I have to elaborate on that – but struck me as odd, that he’d write her contributions off, in the way he did. That is, if he knew what she was really capable of.”
“I don’t follow you,” answered the scientist. “The General said that they’re completely tied up with the grubby business of trying to save the human race, that they don’t have a lot of time to chat with an alien about life, the universe and everything. I might or might not agree with them… but I can certainly understand why they’re doing things that way.”
“The bottom line, Cherie,” countered Boyd, “Is, just how completely have you and the Captain informed Houston of her characteristics and abilities? Like, the laser-beam eyes, the flying in outer space stuff, that kind of thing. I mean – just to take the Arks project as one example – even if she couldn’t stop the comet, from my point of view, it seems well within the realm of possibility that she might be able to save some of the less capable Earth ships, just by pulling them away from Earth when ‘Lucifer’ gets near. I find it hard to believe that they’d have told her ‘just change ships when we tell you and have a nice day’, if they were fully aware of the real extent of her powers. Tell me, Professor… does that sound plausible to you?”
Avoiding his stare, Tanaka said, “I can only speak for myself, Brent, but… well, I’ll be honest with you, as long as we both understand that this really is off the record.”
“Understood,” the astronaut replied.
“The truth is, while I have told Houston all I know about her background, her history, et cetera – after all, it would be a crime against science not to do that, in case something happens to us or to her – I have been… how would I say this… conservative in giving them these other details,” said the scientist. “Yes – I’ll admit to not telling the full story. I think that’s true of Sam, too, but I’m not completely sure. You’d have to ask him yourself.”
Smiling knowingly, Boyd commented, “We both know I’m not going to do that, Professor – none of my business. But mind if I ask… why?”
“You mean why I’ve held back telling them about her powers?” she asked, disingenuously.
“Yeah,” he pressed.
“It’s like this, Brent,” Tanaka explained. “It’s not one reason, it’s a lot of them. First, you and I both know that her powers have been evolving in ways that we can’t comprehend; we have no yardstick with which to measure them, but, if we even hinted to Houston at what she may be able to do, I’m terribly afraid that they’d basically order her to take a run at the comet, whether or not there was any real chance of her succeeding, or surviving. She’s our friend, Brent; I can’t justify ordering a friend to commit suicide over a lost cause, and neither can Sam, you just heard that for yourself.”
“Even if the fate of our entire planet might turn on whether she can, or she can’t?” Boyd retorted. “I’m closer to her than anyone here, at least that’s how I see it, and I know exactly how you feel about not wanting to see her hurt, but are you willing to see everyone on Earth die, because we don’t want her to take a chance? And about her abilities, well, a few days ago she was claiming to have flown across interstellar space. I’m less of a physicist that you are, Professor, but from what I remember of Einstein’s theories, doing that in less than thousands of years implies a big power source. Big enough, surely, to pop a comet or two.”
Tanaka looked at him accusingly and said, “Originally, I too thought she would be more than able to stop the comet – because she said so, after all – I would have gone along with the idea, but then, later, she backtracked, or that’s how it sounded to me. She says she’s very weak now… maybe that explains why she could do things in the past that she can’t do now. I have no idea what motivates her to say and do the things she says and does – she’s an alien, hundreds of thousands of years old, for God’s sake, how are any of us supposed to really understand her – but based on the available evidence, which is all I have to go on, I don’t think she’s capable of doing anything about ‘Lucifer’, except maybe killing herself by attacking it. Maybe that’s what she wants, to atone for this other civilization she keeps talking about, you know, the one she feels guilty about not saving. If that story, or any of her stories, is even true.”
She continued, “One way or another, right now, I fully agree with Sam – it would be a senseless waste to order her, or to allow her, to attack the comet. And Brent, I don’t suppose you’ve considered the other way in which she might help us?”
“By teaching us about alternate worlds that we’ll never reach, about wizards and warlocks, while we slowly run out of oxygen trapped in some sinking ship of a spacecraft, looking down on a dead Earth, Professor?” he shot back. “Was that what you had in mind?”
“Sort of,” Tanaka replied, trying not to take the bait. “What if she can’t save Earth, but can help us recover from the disaster, help us rebuild? What if that’s the role she’s meant to play? If we let her kill herself in some suicidal mission against the comet – or if we reveal enough about her to Houston, to give them the idea of doing that – we’ll be throwing away the irreplaceable future assistance that she might be able to give us, when we most need it. As well as sacrificing a friend. One that all of us have come to be very attached to.”
“Bully for us,” Boyd said, looking at his feet.
“Brent,” Tanaka asked, worriedly, “You aren’t thinking of informing Houston yourself… are you? We had agreed that this conversation was going to be confidential.”
“I have to be honest, Professor,” he admitted, “Yes – I was very much considering doing that. A higher duty to our planet, our whole species, as it were. But I won’t… at least for now. I’ve never been crazy about the chain of command, personally; but at the end of the day, it’s up to the Captain – not me, Sergei or Devon – to decide what does, and doesn’t, get disclosed to the powers that be down there. I have to assume that he has made his decisions, in that regard, as best he can. That’ll have to be good enough for me.”
“Thanks,” Tanaka said, relieved. “I knew I could count on you, Brent.”
“Don’t,” Boyd replied, as he turned from her. “Right now, there’s still room in the lifeboat. But who knows what we’ll all do, when the water gets above our ankles.”
He headed off to the other ship.