Dr. Kierz knew the news wasn't going to keep forever, and it was probably better that it didn't. Still, the reaction of frightened, uncomprehending people was something preferably avoided.
The discovery of a new lifeform...well, that's infrequent, but that's science. A lifeform from another world? Not exactly incomprehensible. We travel to other planets, why shouldn't there be others doing the same thing? But a lifeform this...unexpected. That's another matter entirely. Too many presumptions about mechanics and organics just got disproven. Too many assumptions, philosophies, and world-views are about to be blown apart, and people rarely react favorably to that.
The staff could be trusted. Necessity required that they be trusted. They were intelligent, trained, and honest. As long as they kept their nightmarish fantasies in check, they would have the scientific discovery of a lifetime dropped right into their appendages, almost literally. Though they might wish they had been under the spacecraft when things get tough enough.
The ship felt much more familiar than its unfortunate occupant. It was made of much more comprehensible material, and aside from its obviously alien design, it would have fit in with Dr. Kierz's own technology. A bit more advanced perhaps, in its ability to cross greater amounts of interstellar space, but apparently not capable of thinking for itself. This led to one terrible conclusion: the organic occupant must have been in control. That means the organic occupant must be intelligent.
Organic lifeforms were hardly unknown. Indeed, they were found on Kierz's world and had been discovered on other planets with no mechanical lifeforms. They were puny things, eking out an existence in the cracks and crevices of the machines. Their study had never been a particularly glamorous area of science, and it seemed the sum total of knowledge of their workings took little space. Now all that knowledge would be needed-- and rewritten.
The organic appeared to be damaged by the crash, but the mere fact of its functioning at all was remarkable. Kierz knew it still functioned because it breathed, an activity common to the mobile organics, while the rooted organics displayed little motion at all. The organic's brain must still be functioning, but only minimally. He couldn't tell if the organic's motor controls were functional or if the higher thinking abilities were intact. He lacked the ability to repair any damage, but he also knew from the little he’d read on the subject that organics had a self-repair capability. Was it even possible to kill this thing?
As for actual intelligence, there had been no sign of it from the organic's behavior, of which there was none so far. Intelligence had to be discerned from the size of the brain, which Kierz knew was a mobile organic's control center, and the fact the ship was built to accommodate its passenger and appeared to rely on it for decision making.
The organic’s skin was what he had expected in that it was a dull color as was the fibrous substance extruding from it. He hadn’t expected the colorful cloth covering, which was similar to shades of his own body. What was particularly unexpected, even frightening, was that the organic had a shape similar to his own: a head placed above the torso, binocular vision, though with eyes unlike anything he’d ever seen, a pair of legs under the torso and two more limbs attached at the sides. Could it be pure coincidence?
"Dr. Kierz..." said Lurag, speaking over his personal radio from the other side of the lab. Lurag's wheels squeaked as he turned inplace. He was looking out the window, and needed to say nothing else. Lurag had his eyes at full extension as he strained to see the entire scene below. Kierz could well guess what he was looking at. Reporters, curiosity seekers, cultists, and who knows who else would be bound to show up as rumors spread that a spacecraft was found with an alien occupant. Very alien. Kierz pulled himself away from where his organic lay on the table, hopefully in the self-repair mode more familiar organics had, and looked outside. Members of what could not quite be described as a crowd were peppering the guards with questions. Nothing to worry about yet.
"They're just asking questions, that's all. And the guards don't know anything anyway." said Kierz. "That's not the only worry," replied Lurag. "Shouldn't we keep a restraint on that thing?" he asked, looking at the prone organic. "It's immobile", Kierz tried to reassure him. He turned and walked back over to the subject of his study.
Lurag turned quickly and followed him. "For how long? What if it suddenly reactivates and tears pieces off us? You have no idea what it can do." "It's intelligent," Kierz insisted. "Great," Lurag replied, "So it can choose the most logical way to tear us to pieces. It's just common sense to take some precautions." Lurag had wheels instead of legs, which was fast in the open, but in a room full of furniture and equipment it might be more useful to have the legs to hop over and under things. Good thing Lurag was in a field that was all lab and brain work. Lurag now had difficulty making his way around the clutter and had to push things aside to move to the table. The small lab had been unused for years, and was filled with equipment that didn't belong anywhere else. Kierz's bipedal form allowed him to just turn sideways or step over things. He considered it from Lurag's point of view. "All right," Kierz conceded, "Restrain it."
Kierz thought a moment and decided to assist Lurag in the task, more to keep on eye on Lurag than to be helpful. No point in damaging the organic more. The organic probably wasn't the super-creature Lurag feared. What was more troubling was that if a scientist like Lurag could be so irrational, how hard would it be to convince the general population there was nothing to fear?
They improvised a means of binding the organic's limbs to the table, enough to convince Lurag it wouldn't jump up and bite him. "I'm due to report to the Director," said Kierz, referring to the director of the space agency. He wasn't actually due for a while yet, but it was better to be early, plus it was a convenient excuse to let Lurag calm down.
Kierz went to his office and shut the door, which squealed a protest as it moved from its normal open position. Kierz opened a secure channel to the Director as the Director had insisted upon since the spacecraft was first found. Director Plaz-zet answered. "Hello Kierz.," he said, and before the greeting could be returned, "What have you found so far?" Plaz-zet was experiencing the conflict of a gregarious person in a hurry.
"I think it's still in self-repair mode...," Kierz began. "Don't use your personal radio!" the Director interrupted, "You don't know who's listening. Use the microphone and speak. And be careful how loud you are."
Kierz did as instructed and picked up the microphone. "There's really nothing to report. It breathes. It lies there. I have no way of knowing when or if it might reactivate."
"Isn't there any way of reactivating it? Surely it's not just a mass of tissue?"
"I don't know enough about organics. No one here does. That's why it's vital we get what information is available, and quickly. Have you heard anything back from the Organics Institute?"
"Rather a grandiose title for a place with three researchers and a cleaning machine. But no, they still haven't agreed to let us have access to their databases."
"Don't they understand...", Kierz started to broadcast in his frustration before catching himself. "Don't they understand what we've got here?"
"No, and it's best we not tell them. Besides the possible leak, they would want to take over the project. Dr. Yegurtz is rather protective of his scientific niche."
"Why should he be so reluctant to share what he knows, even if he doesn't know why? He should be pleased someone finally cares about his research."
"Dr. Yegurtz is one of those people who takes a great satisfaction in knowing what other people don't. He won't tell anyone anything they don't absolutely have to know, no matter how trivial. I swear I've never told him anything without him either claiming he already knew or dismissing it as irrelevant. I suppose when you're an organicist you take what pleasures you can."
"I must have that information Director, even if I have to download it."
Kierz hated downloading information. He much preferred to read a properly organized report, or even raw data, when he could take it in at leisure and organize it in his own mind. It was possible then to tell what needed to be held in immediate memory and what would just fill up storage space. Downloading, by contrast, was much faster and placed all the information in mind, but it was unsorted. You knew a lot in a short time, but you didn't know what it was you knew or could use, and all connection to the outside world was severed during the process. The outside world could blow up and you wouldn't know it until the last thing you didn't care about was ingested and you were completely reactivated.
"I'll do what it takes," the Director assured him, "even if I have to let him in on what we've got. At least I'll get to see him genuinely surprised for a moment."
It was a disturbing thought to Dr. Kierz that not only might a complete stranger be brought in on the project, and not only might he want to take over, but given his specialty he might be able to. Meanwhile, it seemed pointless to keep studying the organic without having what little data was available on such lifeforms. He could check again to see how the translation of the organic's language was going based on pieces of writing and recordings found in the wreckage, but he would just hear the same refrain of "the computers are working on it." He could check up on the team working on the organic's spacecraft. There appeared to be things to learn about its propulsion, some plastics technology, and more that was far less interesting than the occupant. Good grief, who would have thought something like this could be discovered, and there would be nothing to do?
Kierz moved away from his communications panel and started for the door, only to find that his energy reserves would be strained just to get back to the lab. There was no question he had been overworking lately. He plugged himself into the outlet in the wall. One of the perks of his position was his own private outlet. It was fortuitous he needed to reenergize. He needed time to think in private anyway.
"Dr. Kierz, wake up! Dr. Kierz!" Lurag was banging at the door and shouting. Kierz didn't feel quite ready to be reactivated yet. He had allowed his mind to wander off on some peaceful idylls while he slowly reenergized. Still, hadn't he been complaining there was nothing to do? Sounds like that situation had changed.
"Dr. Kierz, it's reactivated!"
Definitely the situation had changed.
Kierz unplugged himself from the wall and manually pushed the door when it wouldn't open fast enough. He saw Lurag standing there in a panic, and he heard the organic scream from the lab. Kierz dashed down the hall, Lurag following but preferring not to overtake. He ran through the door which Lurag had neglected to seal and saw the organic thrashing on the table, apparently trying to free itself from the restraints. One had broken, another had cut into the right leg. The organic looked at Kierz and let out another scream. Was it a scream of terror? Or was it trying to inflict terror? In that it had succeeded as Lurag cowered by the door. Kierz had to resist the temptation to run. He reminded himself that the restraints were still holding, and he broadcast a signal to both Lurag and the organic to calm down. Lurag did his best, but the organic didn't respond at all. Kierz spoke to it in hopes it could hear, and used as soothing a voice as he could manage, though who knew what that would sound like to so alien a creature. "Calm down," he pleaded, "I'm not going to hurt you." Rather than calming down, it used its free arm to grab anything in reach and throw it at the frightened mechanicals. After exhausting itself with awkward throws, the organic deactivated.
"It seems to have shut itself down," ventured Dr. Kierz. The mechanicals stood still nonetheless, uncertain it wouldn't start up again. Lurag cautiously came forward. "I was right to restrain it. I told you that thing was dangerous. Even in a weakened condition it broke a restraint." They looked at each other, wondering who would get close enough to fix the broken restraint. They also needed to stop the fluid leak where the restraint had cut the leg.
Quietly, as if too much noise might reactivate it, they approached the table and replaced the restraint. When this was done they cleaned the fluid leak, but it had stopped without their intervention. They had guessed the organic had self-repair mechanisms, but here was definitive proof. It was also about the first hard data they had about anything regarding their discovery.
Kierz turned to Lurag. "Mind telling me just what happened here?"
"I thought that thing was going to kill me!"
"But what happened?"
"Well, I was watching the crowd outside the window..."
"Hardly a crowd."
"You haven't looked outside in a while."
"I heard it emit some sounds. I turned and it was starting to move. It emitted a significantly louder sound. Then there was movement on its face. I went closer to look at it when it started pulling on the restraints. Then it uncovered its eyes and looked at the restraints, and then at me, and it started screaming, at least I think the sounds it made were screams. It broke the restraint, and that's when I went to get you."
Kierz thought a moment. "It might have been frightened. We might be as strange to it as it is to us."
"Do you think it even feels fear?"
"There's no way to tell right now. But if it has intelligence, why not emotion? From its point of view, it reactivated in a strange place with strange creatures, it's damaged, and it's restrained. We might react the same way."
Kierz and Lurag received a broadcast from the personal radio of one of the translators indicating that they had made breakthroughs in deciphering the organic's language. Just in time, thought Kierz. The thing might not deactivate next time, and communicating with it might be the only alternative to causing additional damage. Kierz replied that he'd be right there, and reminded the translator to be more discrete with the use of the personal radio.
Kierz stood nervously watching the translator being set up in the lab. If the organic panicked at seeing two mechanics, how would it react to several? It was vital the translation be available the moment the organic reactivated. Upon completion, with the organic still not reactivated, he ordered everyone to leave the room. Some of the translation specialists were quite disappointed, wanting to find out how well they'd done, besides curiosity over their discovery. Kierz, however, decided he wanted to reduce as far as possible the chance of alarming the organic. He had already seen what it could do, even when weak. He also was going to keep himself as close to the door as possible, and he would call out over the radio and with as loud a voice as he could manage if he got in trouble, secrecy be damned. With the lab empty of all except himself, he waited. It could be a long vigil.
It would have been simpler if he could have communicated with the translator through radio, and let it communicate with the organic through sound, but security was still tight. He would just have to wait through the translation. Maybe when time allowed he could download into himself the organic's language. Maybe the organic could learn his; after all, who could guess what the creature's processing abilities were?
Such questions might be answered by just dissecting the thing, and that had been one proposal when it was first found. It was tempting to go for the immediate answers. However, he felt all such questions would be answered in time if the organic was..."alive"? Is that a fitting word? "Functioning" anyway, and who knows how much might be learned in the process. That was even before they had dared to think it might be not just alive, but intelligent.
Had the organic just moved? Or was it a trick of the light, or his own imagination, like every other time since this vigil started? He looked again. This time the movement was accompanied by a sound, perhaps the same one Lurag had heard the first time. It was definitely reactivating.
Kierz prepared to speak, but he wasn't sure when it would be aware enough to hear him. Well, he had to try sometime. What should he say first? A friendly greeting? Somehow out of place speaking to someone held fast to a table. If he was right that the creature had panicked before, then some reassurance might be best.
"We mean you no harm. You're in no danger. Do you understand?"
There was no answer but the same sound. Since the computer didn't translate it, it must not have understood, or it might not have been language or, worst of all, the translation wasn't working.
He had been told to speak each syllable carefully to make the translation easier. He tried again. "We mean you no harm. You are in no danger. Do you understand me?"
There was another sound, but this time it was translated. "Water". At least the translator seemed to be working. He had a service robot bring some water. So far this made sense...he had heard organics were water based.
The water was brought, but there was another dilemma. How was the creature to ingest it? It tried to reach for the container but couldn't move its arms. Kierz knew if he was to communicate with it, he would have to trust it sometime.
"I will remove the restraint on one arm so you may ingest the water. Please do not do anything else. Do you understand me?"
The organic nodded its head. Was this some sort of communication? First things first. He gingerly removed the restraint on one arm. The organic used the free arm to grasp the container and poured the water into its mouth. It stopped pouring, laid its head back on the table, and said "Thank you." Kierz felt certain now the translator was working. He also put to rest any lingering doubts the creature was intelligent.
Was it well enough to communicate? Only one way to find out. "Do you have a name?" It didn't answer immediately. "Where am I?" it asked, seemingly ignoring the question.
"You are in a laboratory in the Space Travel Research Center. We refer to it as the Space Center. You crashed near here." The organic seemed to be pausing to process the information.
"I'm not back on the ship?" it asked. "No, your ship crashed." Kierz replied.
"No, I didn't mean my scout craft." The organic started remembering the crash and started grasping his situation. "What planet am I on?"
"We call it Solner. We call ourselves Solnerians. We live on this and three other worlds, and we've explored the nearby solar systems."
The organic looked around the room. As it examined its surroundings, it saw Dr. Kierz, the translation system, the service robot, and the lab equipment that was now piled to allow room to move, and asked what seemed a reasonable question. "Who am I speaking to?"
"My name is Dr. Kierz."
"But where are you?"
"Right here. I am the only person in the room with you."
"But I don't see anybody, just your equipment."
Kierz then realized that this new-lifeform phenomenon went both ways. The organic really had no idea what he was talking to. "I am a machine. All Solnerians are."
"What sort of doctor are you?" the organic asked the translation computer.
Dr. Kierz walked toward the organic. "That is the translation computer. The machine that brought you water is a service robot. Neither is intelligent. I am Dr. Kierz. I am speaking my own language, and you are hearing me through the translation computer."
"You're a robot!"
"No, I am...well, I am a Solnerian, and a scientist, and a doctor of space science. I wish I knew enough about you organics to make a comparison."
Kierz had this sudden sense of having given away too much. Maybe he shared the other Solnerians' paranoia more than he realized. The organic now knew his species was unknown on this world, and maybe giving away that knowledge was a lost advantage. He consciously reminded himself that this organic was one of a kind here---hardly a threat. Besides, he was speaking the truth, which was the best strategy to win the organic's trust.
"What do you mean by 'organic'?"
"Lifeforms like yourself. Carbon and water based. Developing without mechanical intervention. I am really not sure how to explain it."
"And you are..mechanical?"
"Yes. All the lifeforms I know of are mechanical. Knew of. Whether you are actually alive is going to be the subject of much debate."
Kierz didn't realize it, but he had just found a commonality with organics...they too could feel paranoia. "I see," was all the reply the organic made.
"May I ask you a question?" Kierz asked.
"What is your name?"
"It's a start." Kierz thought to himself.
"Now a question for you," said Darien. "How about letting me out of these restraints?"
Kierz could just imagine the response of the others to letting the organic run loose. He had seen Lurag in a panic once already. That was enough. "I do not think I can do that yet."
"I'm not going to hurt you."
"I believe you, but the others are not ready for that yet."
"I'm the one who's strapped down. What do they have to be ready for?"
"We need to know more about you first."
"You're not in charge here?"
"I am in charge here."
"Then give the order. They'll obey you, won't they?"
"That is not the issue."
"What do they, do you, think I'm going to do? I've been unconscious I don't know how long after being injured. I might have trouble standing up on my own, let alone causing any problems."
"We do not understand your self-repair mechanisms well enough yet to judge your condition."
"Then judge this: I have to be able to move in order to...ingest the organic matter I use for an energy supply, and to remove waste material. The waste material will be removed whether I'm strapped to this table or not, it's just a matter of where the waste goes and whether there's a mess to clean up. There might be a functional waste disposal unit in the wreckage of my...", he chose the next word carefully, "ship, and there are probably emergency food supplies. They were designed to survive a crash."
Kierz didn't comprehend everything Darien said, but he also knew the removal of the restraints was inevitable if these two lifeforms were ever to trust each other and really communicate. He thought of calling for help, then decided just to struggle with the restraints himself. When they were removed, Darien got himself up from the table and onto his feet. He could support himself if he held onto to something. Kierz felt a great step forward had been taken. Darien felt only that he had solved the most immediate problem.
Lurag chose that moment to arrive in the doorway. He stared in stunned silence at the now-mobile organic. Kierz asked him what he wanted. Unwilling to speak in front of the organic, Lurag used his radio to inform Kierz that he was wanted by Director Plaz-zet. Kierz replied that he would be there as soon as possible. The Director was a pleasant individual, but not renowned for patience, and he would be a vital ally in the coming days. He told Lurag he would be coming along shortly, and to have a couple of the engineers studying the wreckage lead Darien there to find what he needed. Lurag turned and left.
"I have to speak with the Space Agency director. A couple of my subordinates will help you to the lab where the wreckage is gathered and you can search for these things you need."
"Did you just communicate with that other...scientist?" Darien asked.
"We used our personal radios. Do you not have something like that?"
Kierz went to communicate with the director while the engineers came for Darien- -with a couple guards.
Kierz remembered to use the microphone this time, despite disliking the distraction. He would have had to admit he wasn't sure what to say next to his subject, though the amount to be discussed seemed potentially endless. An odd situation in which to work out an agenda.
"Any news?" asked the Director.
"It's reactivated. I was just establishing communication with it when I was told you wanted to talk to me."
"I'm sorry to have interrupted you, but this is the news you've been waiting for. You have access to the archives of the Organics Institute."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Kierz.
"With a catch." replied Plaz-zet. "Dr. Yegurtz wants in on the project."
"Without knowing what it's about?"
"Without knowing the entirety. I had to tell him most of it."
"He knows we have an alien organic that arrived in an unknown spacecraft. He doesn't know it's intelligent. If he doesn't find out, he may lose interest."
"And if I can download the archives before he gets here, I won't need him."
"Their archives are a little more extensive than just 'Organics exist'. You'll have to pick and choose. Don't worry Kierz, you'll probably find a use for him."
"I already have a cleaning robot," Kierz wanted to reply, but instead he said, "I'll do my best. If you'll excuse me, I want to start downloading immediately."
Kierz logged into the archives and looked for data on the type of organic Ran Darien seemed to be. He then started downloading what he could on mammals, though the match seemed remote. There was nothing about organic intelligence. Kierz took satisfaction in the thought he had revolutionized the whole science in a single day, and his first day no less. He hoped he would have adequate processing time before Dr. Yegurtz arrived.
While Kierz was downloading, Darien was scrounging through the remains of the scout ship that had been brought to the space center. It was almost all there, even if scattered all over a huge laboratory and collected in piles of mistaken attempts to organize it. He had to admit their science was thorough, even if the engineers looked more like the tools. He found the emergency food supplies, a waste disposal unit, and some other odds and ends which he assured the engineers were of similar necessity for unexplainable organic needs. Some of the engineers were in awe at such an odd creature. The rest were entirely unsure of the protocol for communicating with it. The organic felt awe wasn't something it could afford right now.
Lurag had accompanied Darien, ostensibly as some sort of escort, though he had nothing to do while his laboratory was bereft of its subject. He also realized even his minimal exposure to the organic had made him a relative expert. Now seemed as good a time as any to make something of it.
"Perhaps, Ran Darien, you could enlighten us about some of the...", he had to think if this next word applied, "artifacts recovered from the wreckage."
"What do you want to know?"
Lurag randomly picked the nearest artifact, a handle with a piece of a drawer still attached to it. It was a concept Darien's mechanical hosts could understand, and it got the braver among them asking their own questions. Eventually Darien had to request to go back to the first lab to get out of answering any more. Funny how that first lab had already become his "home" area.
Lurag helped escort Darien back to Kierz's lab. When they were back, Darien said to Lurag, "Your engineers are certainly a curious bunch". Lurag was taken aback to realize he was being addressed directly. He could manage only a "Yes" in reply. Darien added, "They had made quite a few correct guesses." Lurag replied, "Yes, they're quite clever. Dr. Kierz will be here shortly." Darien made some movements with his facial muscles which Lurag didn't understand, and went inside. Lurag shut the door.
When he was on his way to Kierz's office, Lurag realized what had just happened. For a brief moment, Lurag had just had a casual conversation with an organic.
While Kierz was assimilating the data from the Organics Institute, Darien had taken to turning the laboratory into someplace livable, at least as far as possible when anyone else can enter anytime they see fit. He felt he needed a bit of "creature comforts" before he turned his attention to finding a food supply after the scoutcraft rations were gone. Lurag had enough curiosity to enter more often than his duties strictly required, and even ask an occasional question. He noticed how Darien's face and hands moved when he spoke, even though everything seemed to be in his voice, or else there would be gaps in the translation.
"Just gestures and facial expressions. A sort of non-verbal communication. Don't you have anything like that?"
"No. How much of your message do you convey that way?
"Well, I suppose it's nothing of substance. I suppose it's like controlling the tone of your voice. A way of reinforcing what you're saying. Sometimes we even communicate with no words at all." He thought of a simple demonstration. "I know. Look at that."
Darien pointed at a food package next to him. Lurag had no idea what the outstretched arm meant. It was a revelation when he discovered that by following Darien's arm he could discover what "that" was.
"I get it now," Lurag said. "Saying the same thing two ways."
"Don't you ever do that?"
"It wouldn't be practical. We have many different limbs depending on our work, and same for the sensory components. There is no common physical language. Actually, we do something similar. We sometimes speak with our voices and our personal radios simultaneously. Someone hearing one part wouldn't understand it, like seeing your gestures without hearing the words. I wonder how much I've misunderstood already."
"One thing I hope you can make Dr. Kierz understand: I have only a short time with these emergency rations. I need another food source."
"I'm afraid I don't know of any."
"There has to be some. You have organic lifeforms here."
"But they're not like you."
"They're like me in that they have to have food. What do they eat?"
"I have no idea."
"What about the people who built you? What did they eat?"
"I don't understand you."
"Somebody built you. What did they eat?"
"I was built by other machines."
"But some organics built the machines in the first place."
The implications of this simple statement dawned on Lurag. All he could answer was that he would mention it to Dr. Kierz. When he left he felt stunned. He didn't know where the first machines came from. No one had ever found any record, and it was assumed the first machines were too simple to keep records. But they had also never conceived of an intelligent organic. He forced himself to stop thinking and get on with the immediate task of finding Dr. Kierz.
Kierz wasn't surprised by the distress Lurag experienced. This was one of the disturbing questions which he expected to arise from the discovery of organic intelligence. He wondered how many would arise that he hadn't anticipated, and how he would comprehend them himself beyond proper scientific fact collecting. There was much he wanted to ask Darien, but he also thought Darien might speak more freely if he had no idea how profoundly his simple answers would affect a whole civilization. Kierz had no objection to Lurag's prescience. In fact, he thought it commendable Lurag was letting his curiosity override his fear. For himself, he thought it best to concentrate on one small step at a time, and seek answers that would make sense of the data he downloaded from the Organics Institute database. He still had little idea what was relevant.
"How many Ran Dariens are there?", Kierz asked.
"What do you mean?", asked Darien. "Are you asking how many children I have?"
"Offspring. Or are you asking how many organics there are? We have different names."
"I do not think that is what I am asking, though I admit I am not sure. How many other organics are called 'Ran Darien'?"
"I don't know. I met one other with my name once, though we weren't related."
"In any way at all, though maybe if we researched it we would be tenth cousins are something."
"I must be precise in my language, because I do not understand your responses at all. Even though one Solnerian is not part of the same series as another with the same name, we use the same names over and over again, like Lurag is Lurag 2,789, meaning he is the 2,789th Solnerian named Lurag."
Darien turned his attention to Lurag. "Do all you Lurags live together, look alike and all that?"
Lurag wasn't expecting to be a participant, and it took a moment before he realized he was being spoken to. "No, in fact I've met only a couple. It's not a common name anymore."
Darien turned his attention back to Kierz. "And Kierzs?"
"I am Kierz 1."
"You were a whole new model?"
"We are not mass produced, so I'm not any sort of model. But if I understand your question, there was nothing experimental about me. I even had a common name. I just did not want to be the 5,000th this or 10,000th that. I wanted my own name. I put some sounds together, made sure there was no one of that name, and changed my name to 'Kierz'."
"I imagine that when Solner finds out about me, there will be a bunch of Kierzs." said Darien. Kierz realized that Darien did indeed have an inkling of his importance, if not the full implications. "That is possible," was all Kierz would concede. "So, what I may be asking is, how do you get the name 'Ran Darien'? Are all Ran Dariens produced by the same production facility?"
"'Ran' is my name. 'Darien' is like your number. Instead of a number, each member of my family shares the name 'Darien', and then each has a different first name, though those names are not necessarily unique."
"Generally a unit that shares a genetic code."
"Like a programming code?"
"Partly. I really don't know how to explain it."
Kierz was still grasping to put this in mechanical terms. Darien had a decided advantage by already comprehending machines. "So you do come from the same production facility."
"You could say that. Depends on how you define 'production facility'. Darien chuckled at his own joke, but even without body language, he could tell none of the potential meanings registered with the mechanicals. "We do not have production facilities to make ourselves. We have natural reproduction."
"What does that mean?" asked Kierz. Darien was explaining the birds and bees to people who had seen only widgets and gadgets.
"We have two genders, each of which has part of the...ability to produce new organics. They have to combine their efforts."
Lurag asked, "What exactly is a gender, and does that mean just two of you make all the other organics?"
Kierz thought he knew the answer this time. He had searched through the data he downloaded and found references to genders, enough to explain the concept. "Imagine each organic is a production facility with only half the required machinery. There are only two sets of machinery. Each must combine with a facility which has the other half." He turned back to Darien. "But Ran Darien, our records find many organics have no genders, but one individual can produce new organics."
"Many simple lifeforms reproduce that way, but not the more complex ones, and I seem to recall that I'm the most complex organic you've ever met."
Lurag said, "Then all that is necessary is two organics of the correct genders, and you can produce any number of new organics."
Darien replied, "In theory, depending on the time involved, yes."
Kierz had a vision of many Dariens appearing and filling up space, spilling out of the building and filling the streets below. Most Solnerians would surely describe his vision as a nightmare. Here was item one of implications he hadn't expected.
Lurag remained behind in the lab, and watched mesmerized as an organic constructed a mechanical device which it placed in its ear to "improve my hearing, which appears to have been damaged in the crash." Meanwhile, Kierz regretted his habit of leaving the door open when he returned to his office and found it already contained an occupant who was helping himself to computer access--Dr. Yegurtz.
"Why didn't you contact me immediately when you found this thing?" was Yegurtz's greeting. Kierz had already had a bad impression of the organicist from a prior meeting, besides what Plaz-zet had said. His first reaction was he wanted to tell Yegurtz to get lost since this was his project. He knew there were reasons to try to be courteous, though he didn't care to list them right then.
"We didn't know what we had."
"You knew right away you had an organic. Who's project did you think it would become?"
"It is an alien organic. That seems to me to have more to do with our researches."
"It should have been brought to the Organics Institute immediately."
"It was damaged. There was no point in risking a move."
"Is it still so damaged?"
"No. It's been repairing itself."
"Then put it in a sample jar and I'll take it off your hands. You're welcome to play with the ship you found all day."
That statement made it apparent that Plaz-zet hadn't told him everything. Unfortunately, Kierz couldn't immediately see a way around telling him everything eventually since Yegurtz had been allowed in on the project. But Kierz intended to remain in control. "I will give you access to all the data we've collected so far." Kierz reassured him.
"Since you're so far out of your field, you can't know what to look for. I prefer to start from scratch. Nothing personal."
The odd thing was Yegurtz probably meant that. He took the same tone around everybody. Probably had something to do with organics being such an ignored field. On the other hand, Kierz felt his scientific credibility had just been challenged.
"There is no point in starting over, particularly since the condition of the subject has changed considerably since it arrived here."
"Plaz-zet didn't brief you?"
"Of course he did. Your subject had just reactivated when I last spoke to him. There have been developments since?"
"Yes. It's more active now."
"I wish to see it immediately."
Yegurtz moved away from Kierz's desk. His limbs, four for walking and two for grasping, were long and spindly, which often proved useful moving over uneven surfaces in his searches for specimens. He would have been useful in retrieving pieces of Darien's ship from the crash site. His torso seemed disproportionately large, but that was due to the chambers he had for containing specimens. He certainly would stand out among all those wheeled space engineers.
Kierz's mind spun as he desperately sought a way to keep Yegurtz out of the lab. Perhaps he could find a way to keep control of the project before Yegurtz discovered everything. "A lot of our research is sensitive, especially with an alien organic being found. I'm sure you understand I can't simply let you wander around the Space Center at will," he feebly offered.
Yegurtz sensed a delay, and a way around it. "Of course not Doctor, and I don't know my way around anyway. Please show me the way."
Kierz wished he had another organic to show him, or the chance to ask Darien to play dumb. "Let me just go tell my assistant you're coming."
"He'll figure that out when I arrive. I don't understand this delay," he said, and it was true, though he wanted it known he saw through Kierz's tactic. Kierz saw the hopelessness of his position. He would just have to figure out how to keep Yegurtz subordinate once he knew everything.
When Yegurtz first stepped through the door of the laboratory, it took him a moment to comprehend what he was seeing. He expected an organic in a specimen jar. Instead he saw an organic several times the size of anything he had seen before. It was completely free to move, and it was busily manipulating some artifacts with Kierz's assistant watching it. The organic was covered with cloth, which was unlikely to have simply grown on it.
Lurag noticed Yegurtz' entrance and would have betrayed some shock were he capable of showing it like an organic. Darien seemed to think nothing of one more mechanical and went right on working.
"I think," said Yegurtz, "I would have found some interesting things had I had the chance to go through your data."
"You have no idea." suggested Kierz.
"I think I do." replied Yegurtz. " I think I'm making the guesses you made when you first saw it. Just how big is its brain in proportion to the rest of it?"
"About 1.5% of mass."
"You probably don't realize how unusually large that is. I can tell you that I've seen brains only in the higher order organics, and they were only a fraction as large. Why didn't you tell me it's intelligent?"
"I didn't think you'd believe it."
"On the contrary, I have wondered what limits prevented their brains from developing enough to become intelligent. Apparently the answer is nothing. From its use of artifacts, I'm guessing that it controlled the ship it came in and it must have a language. Have you made any efforts to decipher it?"
"As a matter of fact, we've succeeded. You can speak with it if you wish," Kierz offered, less as a courtesy than as a last hope of seeing Yegurtz surprised by something.
Yegurtz went closer to Darien. "I am Dr. Yegurtz, Director of the Organics Institute."
"I am Ran Darien, momentary specimen."
"Which planet are you from?"
"I have not heard of it."
"Nor had we heard of Solner. This is our first contact with intelligent mechanicals," replied Darien, deciding to give this spider-looking scientist a reverse perspective.
"How many of you are there?"
"I don't know exactly. Billions."
"Billions?" asked Yegurtz, taken aback a bit. He was still under the assumption this species was an odd occurrence.
"Enough to fill up Earth and a bunch of colonies. Unless you were asking how many intelligent organics there are, in which case there are a whole lot of worlds. I was speaking only of my species."
"I see," was all Yegurtz could manage as he turned back to Kierz. He and Kierz used their personal radios to prevent the translator relaying everything to Darien.
"It must be brought to the Organics Institute at once," Yegurtz insisted.
"Why?" asked Kierz, though he knew that statement would be coming once Yegurtz learned everything. It was inevitable he would want to not join, but take over the project. The organicist wasn't going to leave the biggest discovery in organics in the care of someone from an unrelated field. Kierz had been trying to figure out how to respond to that request when it came. "It may be organic, but being alien, this is just as good a place for it to be studied."
"Are you set up to tend an organic Dr. Kierz? How will you feed it, or tend it if it becomes ill or injured? Do you even understand what I'm talking about?"
"Yes Doctor, I have had a quick education in organics, and I know that this specimen is so unusual that you're no better able to tend it than I am."
"Security will be better at the Organics Institute. It's more out of the way. We have no crowds gathering outside our doors."
"So what if the crowds gather? They can't do any harm."
"On the contrary, how do you think they'll react when the news gets out about what came crashing down from the skies. If you knew nothing about organics, how about the laymen? They know very little and a lot of that is wrong. Think about how they'll see it...an alien organic, as smart as they are, bigger than many of them, with who knows what sort of strength, able to produce more of its kind, able to heal its own injuries... "
"You're building it up into some indestructible monster."
"No, they'll build it up into some indestructible monster. They'll demand that thing is destroyed before it's too late."
"We'll just have to keep things quiet."
"Somebody's bound to let some news slip out eventually. In fact, I guarantee that could happen."
Kierz had by now been long enough at this secrecy stuff to understand Yegurtz's meaning. "Would you really go that far?"
"Suppose organics was a popular science and no one cared about space flight, until suddenly I find an intact spaceship. Would you really let me fly it, or would you take over the project yourself?"
"I wouldn't threaten to destroy the spaceship."
"Are you so sure? Wouldn't you want to steal it, or block me from testing it on the grounds that you are far better qualified?"
"But that isn't the situation. And this is an intelligent being, not a ship."
"Its intelligence is something to be studied. The question of whether it's really alive is a fascinating scientific and philosophical puzzle. All that can be done when it's transferred to the Organics Institute. Otherwise word is going to leak out."
Kierz decided arguing was beside the point, and a tactical retreat was best. This was force against force, not a debate. "We'll see what Plaz-zet has to say about this." Yegurtz decided to press the advantage and insisted on calling him immediately. The two of them returned to Kierz's office in both audio and radio silence.
Lurag expected Darien would ask what the disputing mechanicals were talking about. Even if Darien didn't ask, Lurag felt like he should say something, though there didn't seem anything he or Darien could do about it. Maybe it was best to leave well enough alone. He certainly didn't expect Darien's next statement.
"Interesting conversation, wasn't it?"
Lurag couldn't fathom what Darien was referring to. "Which conversation?"
"Those two just now. You must have heard."
"Dr. Kierz was just filling him in on his research so far."
"Is that so?" asked Darien. He took his hearing device from his ear and placed it to Lurag's ear----after asking which part was the ear. Lurag could hear bits of radio signals. He realized Darien had built his own receiver and had heard everything.
"How could you understand our language already?" asked a surprised Lurag. Maybe the imagined super-alien wasn't so far-fetched after all.
"I just adjusted the translator to pick up radio signals. I thought it might come in handy. So what happens at the Organics Institute? Do I just sit in a specimen jar until I'm dissected? Do I stay alive long enough to gain Yegurtz some prize?"
"I doubt Kierz and Plaz-zet will let him take you."
"Then I sit here until some frightened mob comes for me. In the best case scenario, I sit here in peace until I run out of food and starve to death. None of these look very good."
"Yegurtz said nothing about dissecting you. He would no doubt realize as quickly as we did that you're much more valuable functioning."
"Alive, Lurag, not 'functioning'. I'm alive!" Darien had unconsciously moved toward Lurag, and Lurag just as instinctively moved back. It finally dawned on Darien just how frightening he was to these creatures. He hadn't really believed these mechanicals could form an irrational mob. Now he believed it.
Lurag cut through his own fear enough to realize Darien felt something similar. Darien expressed a range of emotions which made Lurag ask himself if he really thought Darien was alive, or still just thought of it as a curiosity. Lurag observed the sudden physical movement, Darien's voice rise in pitch and volume, the facial movements, and though he couldn't tell what any of them meant, he knew they all said something. It was the complexity only a living creature could have.
"I'm sorry," said Darien, "I didn't mean to frighten you. I need your help."
"What do you need?"
"I need to leave Solner and get back to my ship."
"But your ship was destroyed in the crash."
"I'm telling you this in confidence. Your people are frightened enough without this getting out. My ship wasn't a ship--it was a scoutcraft. I set off from a ship near your solar system."
"Are there more organics like you on your ships?"
"Hundreds. If I can just get outside your solar system, I can probably signal one to pick me up."
"Why haven't we seen your ships before?"
"We only just started exploring this area. We detected signals that indicated intelligence--that's what drew me here. I was starting to survey the planet when I crashed. What happens when your people find this out if they can be so frightened by one of us? Especially what happens to me if I'm still stuck here?"
"We're a civilized people Darien..."
"Call me Ran." The significance went past Lurag.
"Ran. And we've met aliens before."
"But they were mechanical like yourselves. And I'm guessing they weren't technologically ahead of you. They may have been strange, but I doubt they were perceived as a threat. Meanwhile, every world I've heard of found the first contact with aliens traumatic, at least to some portion of the population. And something else: I didn't crash by accident. Something hit me. Someone felt threatened enough to shoot me down. Frankly, I'd rather be safely on my ship communicating from a distance when your people learn about me. But I need you to get me there."
"What can I do?"
"Steal me one of your ships."
"They're not just available for anyone's use! Why can't you just signal one of your ship's from here?"
"Do you really want one coming here? Is Solner ready for that? Are you ready for that?"
Lurag had no immediate answer. He would have done something simple, but he was not one to take an avoidable risk. He fully believed the secret to happiness was to never stir things up. Did Ran have any idea of the magnitude of what he was asking? Yet given Ran's position, it was a reasonable request, and Lurag was loathe to say no. All he could manage was a feeble "I'll think about it". Then he rolled out the door. He didn't know where to.
Lurag rolled through the hallways and only narrowly avoided collisions with service robots and other staff. He rolled to Kierz's office, not deliberately but perhaps not accidentally either. He nearly smashed into Dr. Kierz who was in the same flustered condition.
"Plaz-zet gave in!", said Kierz, and Lurag thought for a moment he heard the same expression in his voice as he had just heard from Ran. Without waiting for Lurag to reply, Kierz continued. "The Director told Yegurtz just what he thought of him, but he gave in anyway. If Yegurtz is willing to take the risk with his career when his behavior is known, then he can have Darien. He intends to come back for him tomorrow."
Lurag noticed not just the increased immediacy of the problem, but Kierz referred to Ran as "him" instead of "it". "It's too bad we can't send him back to his own people," said Lurag in hopes Kierz would have some idea of how that might be accomplished. "We don't even know where they are," was Kierz's reply. Lurag had no such excuse, only the fear of what might happen if he helped Ran to escape. This was more than he had bargained for that day in the lab where the scout ship was being studied, when he decided to speak up for about the only time in his life. He should have kept quiet, since then he would probably have no idea anything was happening. So now what?
Darien realized the only reason the translator needed to be so large was the size of the speakers. Smaller speakers made it small enough to be easily carried, sort of a bulky communications unit. Having it on him might come in handy should he still be there when the organicists come for him. He made sure his rations and other emergency supplies were ready to go, whether it was off to a ship or to another lab. There was no knowing for sure what he would need, but there wasn't a lot available. He was tired, having slept like a man with no expectation of privacy. The Solnerians would probably have learned to respect that in time, once they accepted him as intelligent. Certainly he could never look the same way again at a human computer using artificial intelligence.
He heard unfamiliar footsteps coming down the hall. He was used to the sounds of Kierz and Lurag, and he thought he could distinguish service robots and other engineers. This sound, being unfamiliar, told him it was time to leave for the Organics Institute. Maybe they would prove as open-minded as the scientists at the Space Center.
His apprehension quickly turned to surprise when the footsteps belonged to Lurag. He had had his wheels replaced with legs during the night, and though he seemed a little awkward, he was managing to walk.
Lurag didn't wait for Darien to speak. "I've lost a considerable amount of speed, but I thought these would be better for moving around the cockpit of a spaceship."
"The one you asked me to steal. I've arranged to take one for a bit of field research. No one will know it's unapproved until we're gone. It's a small science vessel, but it will get us to the edge of the solar system where you can try to contact one of your ships."
"I appreciate this Lurag, like you'll never know. How far away is the ship?"
"Close. It's about ten minutes away, though I can't estimate precisely since I normally just roll myself instead of taking a ground car."
"How do I avoid being seen for ten minutes? Surely I'll be noticed."
"Not if we can disguise you as a piece of equipment. We need something hollow to transport you in."
"Like a pressure suit."
"What's a pressure suit?"
"Sort of like my clothing, except it protects me in an airless environment. There's one functional one among the wreckage. I'll need it anyway I expect, since you probably don't have air in your ships. I'll put it on, and you pretend you're just moving some piece of equipment."
"All right, I can get you into the lab. If anyone's there I'll say I'm having you demonstrate it for me. When we're ready to leave the building, I'll have some robots carry you and some other equipment out to the ship. In fact, if they carry oxygen canisters that might solve two problems at once."
"Two birds with one stone."
"What's a bird?"
"I'll tell you on the way. One small detail---I thought you said you had never been in space---do you know how to pilot one of these things?"
"I downloaded the information while I was having the legs put on. I'll have to sort through it a bit, but we should be all right."
With something less than the greatest of confidence, they set off to get Darien's pressure suit.
They had some luck in that the lab was empty and Darien was able to get into the useable pressure suit unseen. There was no difficulty getting a couple service robots to carry Darien, some oxygen canisters, and some other pieces of equipment to perfect the illusion. The guard at the exit towards the space port noticed Lurag had changed his limbs and conversationally asked him why he did that and what all the equipment was for. Lurag said he was taking his first trip into space and the equipment was for various experiments. The guard mentioned that he had sometimes thought about replacing his own wheels with legs, but the routine was broken so rarely he had never gotten to it. Roll here, check that, roll there, check the next thing. Lurag being unresponsive, the guard gave up the idea of chatting and opened the door.
Lurag had the robots load a ground car, placed himself inside and left for the launch pad where the science vessel awaited them. He reached back into the cargo and tapped on Darien's helmet to let him know they were momentarily safe. They wouldn't be seen until they left the car.
"Are guards always that chatty?", asked Darien.
"No, that one is just particularly friendly."
"Why do you have guards instead of just a computer controlled security system?"
"We have those, but guards can act without programming."
"Must be a boring job."
"Guards are built with a large capacity for boredom. It's how they stay alert. Of course, it means they are horrible if they try to change to creative work. They don't get bored enough to experiment." They were silent a moment. Then Lurag decided it was now or never. "There's something I want to ask you. I may not get another chance if we get stopped before we can take off. You asked about the organics that first built us. I never thought about it, but I've begun looking into it during some idle moments. Do you really think we could have been built by organics?"
"How else did you get built? Nature doesn't make plastic and microprocessors."
"We've never even considered the possibility. We've never seen an organic bigger than your hand."
"So where do you think you come from?"
"Most assume the first machines were too unsophisticated to keep records, so we'll never know. But that begs the question of where the first machines came from. There's the alien origin theory, which says we were built by aliens or our ancestors were aliens and we forgot we weren't native. It made sense since all the aliens we've met have been mechanical like ourselves. But who built them? The wildest theory, "guess" really, since even the possibility of time travel is just speculation, is that Solnerians from the future traveled into the past and founded the civilization that built them. It's a paradox, but we know so little about time mechanics that we can't dismiss it."
"Yes, it does. But they all do. Still, here we are." Lurag thought another moment. "Why haven't we found traces of our organic builders? They would have been an advanced civilization. How could they completely vanish?"
"I don't know. How far back does your history go?"
"About a thousand years."
"My race's recorded history goes back about six thousand, and the oldest traces of us go back 100,000 years. Considering how many other organic races there are, a thousand years isn't so long. Maybe you didn't know what traces to look for."
"We didn't even know to look for them at all."
At this time, the car reached the launch pad. Lurag had expected some workers to be in the vicinity, but the place looked deserted. It might be good fortune as easily as a bad sign.
Some service robots took the equipment, including Darien in his inanimate pretense, and carried it inside. Lurag thought it safest to get everything loaded in the ship and take off before having Darien move again. The building was equipped with its own control center and maintenance rooms, which they moved past toward the ship itself. Lurag finally let himself think they had made it when he heard a voice behind him.
"Lurag, stop!" It was Dr. Kierz, who had just arrived and came charging after him.
"Dr. Kierz, I..." Lurag stammered. He didn't want to tell the truth, but he was unpracticed enough at deception he couldn't remember his cover story. Kierz didn't give him much time. "You're trying to sneak Ran Darien off Solner, aren't you?" When Lurag had no immediate answer, Kierz continued, "It wasn't hard to figure out. He was gone when I checked on him. I immediately asked the guards if they had seen anything unusual. I couldn't tell them what exactly, but one mentioned your new legs, and that he couldn't guess what you were doing with all the equipment you had with you. I checked and saw you had assigned yourself a ship. It wasn't exactly tough to figure out. I revoked your authorization. You wouldn't have gotten away, even if I hadn't gotten here as soon as I did."
"Did you dismiss all the pad workers?" Lurag asked.
"Yes. I wanted to be the first to find you. I don't think you would have had much chance of succeeding anyway. You probably would have merely killed our one organic." "Won't you have some awkward explaining to do, with not reporting me and making sure this place was deserted?", replied Lurag. "That will be the least of my explaining." Kierz responded. Kierz then called to Darien. He had to admit he was well camouflaged since he wasn't sure which object was him. Darien knocked over some oxygen canisters as he crawled out of the pile, removed his helmet and stretched some cramped muscles.
"What now, Dr. Kierz?" he asked, thinking a trip to the Organics Institute was pretty inevitable. He didn't expect the response he got.
"We have a powerful hyperspace transmitter here we use to contact our interstellar ships. We can probably contact one of your ships and have them come for you."
Lurag spoke up, "We discussed that option Dr. Kierz. We agreed that the sudden appearance of a shipfull of advanced organics would probably have awful consequences."
"Unpredictable consequences, but not necessarily all bad. Besides, when will the consequences be all good? While I once agreed with you, I've had to admit that such an event was inevitable once Ran Darien arrived here. Let's get it over with."
He led Darien to the control center and over to the hyperspace transmitter. The versatility of the organic's shape was shown when he was able to manipulate controls made for a very differently shaped operator. The translator stumbled through first attempts at the technical jargon of two different languages, but Kierz and Darien were able to set a frequency that Darien's ship, or at least another Earth ship, would be likely to pick up. Darien then began the search for his ship, which he hoped hadn't given up on him yet.
Kierz stepped out to Lurag, who had waited in the doorway to the control center. Kierz saw Lurag looking at him and guessed at his question. "I know what I risked," began Kierz, "but how long can we go on hiding things because the public isn't ready to accept it? They'll have to get ready. I'm tired of doing science according to the wishes of the least rational people. Let them destroy the Space Center if they want. When they see that nothing changed, then they'll change. History doesn't turn back."
They heard footsteps at the entrance and saw Plaz-zet zipping toward them on his wheels, while Yegurtz followed behind as fast as his specialized legs would allow. Both were enraged. Kierz closed the control center door.
"Kierz," Plaz-zet bellowed, "what do you think you're doing with the specimen!?"
"I think I'm helping him to get back to his own ship."
"We agreed to turn him over to Dr. Yegurtz."
"You yourself called it blackmail."
Yegurtz had heard that remark and retorted, "The scientific community will back me Kierz. I merely asserted the right to pursue my field of research."
"More importantly," added Plaz-zet, "I'd made an agreement which you broke."
"I suspect we're about to have far more important matters to consider." answered Kierz.
"I warned you what would happen if you didn't turn the specimen over to me." growled Yegurtz.
"And you better make good on that threat, because if you don't do it I will."
"Stop what you're doing Kierz. Immediately!" demanded Plaz-zet.
Kierz heard a sound from behind the door. "It's been done," he said. He opened the door, and they heard a voice come over the hyperspace transmitter. "We have a fix on your position Darien. We're on our way. Tell the robots to wave hello when we arrive." The gist was clear enough to the mechanicals.
Plaz-zet then said to Kierz, "Do you entirely realize what you've done?"
"No. But I think that's good in a way, don't you?"