MERCY [NOVA AFTERMATH], CHAPTER 15: ARPEL

M15-0
     “We are close to Dubar Seven, Ghethe,” announced Naiollah one day, when they were having breakfast.
     “Please land at the coordinates I gave you, Naiollah,” said Ghethe.
     “Aah, we are finally here!” exclaimed Mlane happy to see little action.
     “Yes, My Dear, and this time you are going to discover a genuine treasure left to you by your Great Great Grandfather,” said Ghethe jokingly, in a voice intended to suggest mystery.
     “To me? He didn’t know me,” replied Mlane disbelievingly.
     Ghethe explained, “I am not quite certain about that, My Dear. You see, it looks to me that he knew us all very well, Mlane. I am certain that, sometime into the past, he smiled very pleased to have such a wonderful young Lady as his great great grandchild.”
     “Oh, you talk so nice of him, Ghethe! Thank you!” said Mlane feeling touched.
     He replied, “We should all thank to the Enlightened Emperor, My Dear, because he cared so much for all of us.”
     “And we should try to do the same, Ghethe, for our great great grandchildren.”
     “Yes, Mlane. All our efforts now are meant to ensure that our descendants shall live safer, and happier,” explained Ghethe.
     Ahlane added in a caring voice, “And we have to be very careful not to make mistakes, My Dear, even if it is a little difficult, sometimes.”
     “No, we shall not,” assured Mlane with some better disposition.

     Naiollah landed on a plateau flanked by tall, abrupt mountain walls. Dubar Seven was a small Planet having no atmosphere. Its surface was marked by a few mountain ranges, reminiscences of past geological activities, and by many meteorite scars.
     Ghethe explained to Mlane that the missing atmosphere was a very good thing, as it meant the ship was still in its initial condition due to the lack of oxidation. He told her that the ship had the interior compartments and all the oxygen tanks emptied of air, in order to preserve it, and they needed to remote control the ship to land on Dubar Four. The first thing to do, however, was to replace the energy batteries.
     Mlane asked politely if she may accompany him out, and Ghethe agreed, after looking at Ahlane and getting her nodded approval. They dressed in spacesuits. Ghethe took a load of energy batteries and two powerful wide-beam laser torches, then they exited the ship.
M15-1
     “Are you all right out there?” asked Ahlane while watching the recordings of the cameras embedded in their spacesuits.
     “Yes, Ahlane. It is very nice out here, and the gravity vector is a lot lower. It is a pleasure to jump . . . and to run . . . Ah, ha, ha! And there is thick dust everywhere!” answered Mlane excitedly.
     “Please, Mlane, do not run, My Dear . . . Think that you can trip and scratch your suit, Mlane . . . Ghethe, get hold of her hand!” ordered Ahlane with concern in her voice.
     “Oh, Ahlane!” protested Mlane, though she did give her gloved hand to Ghethe.
     “Ahlane is right, Mlane. When we are in strange, unknown places we have to be very careful. There could be dangerous creatures living here.”
     “Are you trying to scare me? Life cannot exist in vacuum because it is too cold . . . or too hot.”
     “Life can adjust to the most severe conditions, Mlane. It is vacuum out here, but there could be pockets of air inside the Planet, or there may be intelligent beings which do not need water and oxygen, built completely different than we are. Many suspect that life may exist based on the semiconductor chemical elements, or maybe on other chemical elements that have no correspondent in our Worlds. Even more, there could be organisms adapted to live in vacuum for limited periods of time. Think of the incredible natural armor developed by some insects, Mlane.”
     “But the insects do not think, Ghethe!” replied Mlane with aplomb.
     He explained, “The insects have a different nervous system, My Dear. Remember that some of them organize themselves into large societies. They are capable of working, and to coordinate their work activity within a strict hierarchy. In addition, they have incredible means to interact with their environment, and to communicate with each other. Those qualities are superior to almost all mammal animals.”
     “You try to scare me, but I am not afraid,” announced Mlane with detachment.
     “There; do you see that huge cavity, Mlane?” asked Ghethe.
     “Yes . . . What is in there?” asked Mlane in an unsure voice, and then she stopped walking.
     “There should be our ship, My Dear,” explained Ghethe.
     “Oh!” exclaimed Mlane, and she started walking again.
     They walked and admired the arid scenery in silence for a while, then Ghethe pointed his light inside the cavity and asked, “What do you say about this, Mlane?”
     “Oh, Ahlane, can you see this?” asked Mlane excitedly.
     “If you just stop jumping, My Dear, I shall see it even better,” assured Ahlane caustically.
     “Isn’t it wonderful? I think it is bigger than Naiollah,” replied Mlane.

     They entered the cavity and approached the ship. It was indeed bigger than Naiollah, with a white hull and a dynamic shape. The ship was positioned on an array of special supports, though low enough for Ghethe to touch the hull with his hand.
     “Now, do not get too excited, Mlane, and let Ghethe do his work. Please do not go too far away from him,” advised Ahlane.
     “Maybe I find some interesting crystals around here,” speculated Mlane caught by the exploration fever.
     “Please, Mlane, Ahlane is right: stay close to me. We shall explore this Planet some other time.”
     “But I shall never have this opportunity again, Ghethe!” protested Mlane.
He explained in a pleading voice, “I am certain you are going to see many places like this one, Mlane. Besides, there is nothing to find around here because others have visited this place before. Please be aware that a huge meteorite, or a shower of micrometeorites, could strike this Planet at any time; therefore, this place is in fact very dangerous. We came here to work, My Dear, and I need your help.”
     “What do you want me to do?”
     “Hold the lights for me, please.”
     Ghethe struggled to open an airlock which appeared to be clogged stiff, then he entered inside a small compartment and worked in there for a while. He came out with an energy battery of an old model, then he compared it carefully with the ones he had brought. He said, “We need to go back to Naiollah.”
     “Why?” asked Mlane.
     “The original energy batteries have a different type of a coupling system. Therefore, I have to build coupling adaptors for the new batteries,” explained Ghethe. He extracted three more batteries, then they started on the way back to Naiollah.
     “Can you fix that?” asked Mlane worriedly.
     “Yes, Mlane, I anticipated this problem,” replied Ghethe with relaxation.
     “Then, why didn’t you fix it in advance?” wondered Mlane.
     He explained, “First, we brought four new energy batteries. Now, we return with these four old ones. Next, I use the old batteries to build eight coupling adaptors, and then I come back with the coupling adaptors plus with four more new batteries.”
     “Oh, I see. May I come again the second time?” asked Mlane.
     “No, My Dear. The second time I shall power the ship, and I have no idea how it may react,” explained Ghethe in a caring tone of voice.
     “What do you mean by ‘react’?” asked Mlane confused.
     “That ship is supposed to have some intelligence, probably similar to Naiollah’s. However, after so much time, it is possible her program is corrupted. She could start firing at us, and that one may be heavily armed.”
     “Ooh, she is dangerous,” remarked Mlane with disappointment.
     “I do not know, My Dear, but I shall never risk your dear precious life,” replied Ghethe kindly.
     “You are so considerate towards us, Ghethe; thank you!” said Mlane in an affectionate voice.
     “I am very glad, Mlane, that someone appreciates my demeanor,” replied Ghethe a little louder, and with a distinct trace of irony.
     “I heard it, Ghethe,” announced Ahlane with a bit warning note in her voice.
     “You did, Ahlane? I thought you do not like to hear about ‘those things’,” continued Ghethe ironically.
     “Watch out, Ghethe, you might get even less,” replied Ahlane in the same vague warning tone.
     “No! I am sorry, Ahlane!” said Ghethe quickly appearing to be very scared by Ahlane’s reply.
     “What are you two talking about? What is there to get, Ahlane?” asked Mlane nervously.
     “Consideration, Mlane; only consideration,” replied Ahlane.
     “That’s right; I declare myself paid in full,” added Ghethe defensively, though he soon understood he made a big mistake.
     “Who is paying you, Ghethe?” asked Mlane perplexed.
     “Come on, Mlane, it is just a literary expression. Please don’t start again,” said Ahlane.
     “Oh, you two have a way of talking . . . I wonder how you manage to understand each other,” said Mlane with disappointment in her voice. She began suspecting there was something happening behind her back, though it was impossible to guess what.
     “We are almost home, Mlane, and I am very glad I brought you back safely,” said Ghethe.
     “Not that there was any danger,” replied Mlane caustically.
     “Ha, ha! Better not to be, My Dear,” said Ghethe caringly.
M15-2
     They entered Naiollah, then Ghethe set about working into the Laboratory. Mlane changed in her usual outfit, then she went to the Main Salon to join Ahlane.
     Later, Ghethe went out again with a new load of four energy batteries, and with the custom-built coupling adaptors. The Ladies watched and talked to him. He reached the new ship, then he entered inside to extract four more energy batteries.
     “Please watch this procedure carefully, Ladies: I connect the first energy battery,” announced Ghethe, then he performed the action. Nothing happened for a while, therefore he activated the second one. He reported, “I feel a faint vibration on the hull of the ship.”
     “Can you hear any noise?” asked Mlane.
     “No, My Dear, in vacuum there is no noise or sound—” started Ghethe.
     “Oh yes, I know,” interrupted Mlane quickly.
     When Ghethe activated the fourth battery, the compartment in which he was working became suddenly flooded by a powerful white light. Next, the projection in the Main Salon on Naiollah went all blank. Both Ladies cried with terror.
     “Ghethe, what happened?” asked Ahlane alarmed.
     The image adjusted itself to the new level of illumination.
     “Nothing, Ahlane; please remain calm, Ladies. We deal here with an artificial intelligence, therefore we need to behave relaxed and logic in any situation. I suspect the ship has discovered me; however, she knows I give her more power, therefore she will not harm me . . . for now.”
     He continued connecting all remaining batteries, then he went outside and worked on closing the airlock. When he was finished, he sensed a few vibrations on the hull, meaning, the ship had sealed that airlock with additional systems.
     He collected the old batteries, then he started on the way back to Naiollah. Next, a spot of intense white light began following him step by step.
     “Ghethe, what is that?” whispered Ahlane.
     “It is all right, Ahlane. I think the ship is curious,” replied Ghethe with relaxation.
     “Ghethe, judging by the spot of light, it looks to me that the ship is following you out,” remarked Ahlane alarmed.
     “Yes, she follows me. Do not worry, My Dear; it is in her program to look for her Master. When I am back on Naiollah, I shall command her to follow us to Dubar Four.”
     “How are you going to do that, Ghethe?” asked Mlane, and her voice also sounded very worried.
     “If you remember, Mlane, we found in the treasure a rectangular device with touch symbols and a tiny screen. That is the remote I need to control the ship.”
     “You mean, you can control all that huge ship with that small device?” wondered Mlane.
     “That is nothing extraordinary, Mlane. Remember that I control Naiollah with my thoughts.”
     “Aah . . .” said Mlane.
     “Ghethe, could you please turn and look at that ship? I would like to see it. It is really frightening to be followed by such a huge—” started Ahlane.
     He interrupted her, “I prefer not to do it, Ahlane, because I do not know how intelligent she is. For the time being, she must not see any irrelevant gestures from me.”
     “Aah . . .” said Ahlane in her turn.
     “Ghethe, there is a ship coming too close to me,” announced Naiollah.
     “I am aware of it, Naiollah. Transmit to the new ship to keep the distance from you, and that we shall send her the codes soon,” replied Ghethe.
     “Do you think the new ship will listen to Naiollah, Ghethe?” asked Mlane.
     “Ghethe, the ship is not responding. The ship is too close to me, Ghethe.”
     “Naiollah, this is all right.”
     “Ghethe, the ship is getting closer.”
     “Naiollah, this is all right. The approaching ship is intelligent, as you are.”
     “Ghethe, the ship has stopped. It has her engines running, and it is scanning me, Ghethe. The ship is too close to me, Ghethe.”
     “Naiollah, this is all right,” said Ghethe again in order to clear Naiollah’s alarm condition.
     “Oh, I feel relieved she has finally stopped,” confessed Ahlane.
     “She is just looking for her codes,” tried Ghethe to calm her.
     “Do you have them?” asked Ahlane, still frightened.
     “Of course, I do. They were on the data crystals,” assured Ghethe.
     “Then, why didn’t you take the remote control with you and give her the codes?” asked Mlane puzzled.
     He explained, “Because I have to communicate with her verbally—a crude communication, Mlane.”
     “Why so crude, Ghethe?” asked Mlane.
     “Mlane, let him do his job!” protested Ahlane nervously.
     “It is all right, Ahlane. Until the ship gets her new owners, all her functions are at a minimum, Mlane,” explained Ghethe.
     “Who are the owners . . . sorry,” slipped Mlane.
     “It is all right, My Dear, I like to talk to you. The new owners are you, and your sister,” answered Ghethe.
     “How will she know who I am?” asked Mlane confused.
     “You will have to let her read your genetic code,” replied Ghethe.
     “You mean, we have to go inside that ship ALONE, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane, again alarmed.
     “Yes, My Dear, but she will not harm you. Do not worry, because I am going to instruct you on everything you need to do.”
M15-3
     Ghethe entered Naiollah. He took his spacesuit off, then changed into casual clothing. He went to the Main Salon with the remote control in his hand. Once there, he said, “Naiollah, open an extended UDC channel to the other ship of the communications protocols commonly used two hundred i-std. years ago.”
     “Channel opened. The ship is not responding, Ghethe. The ship is too close to me, Ghethe.”
     “Naiollah, this is all right,” replied Ghethe. He entered a complex code on the remote control, and yellow numbers and letters appeared on the small metallic screen. He checked the code to make sure it is the right one, then he touched a red arrow symbol to send the data.
     Almost immediately an electronically synthesized voice answered, “Code checked valid. Waiting for instructions.” The voice was metallic, belonging to no gender in particular, and in a perfect Imperial Standard. However, that was no wonder because the language and all other Imperial Standards had been developed on Naxel, and then they were adopted by all the Worlds of the Empire about three hundred i-std. years before.
     Ghethe replied pronouncing each word distinctly, “You will follow our ship to Dubar Four, where you will land. You will fill your compartments with atmospheric oxygen, then you shall prepare to receive your Master.”
     “The Master needs to verify first,” replied the ship.
     “The Master shall verify after you land in an oxygen atmosphere,” specified Ghethe.
     “I shall comply. I shall follow,” replied the ship.
     Ghethe said, “Naiollah, take us to Dubar Four, and land in the same place we were last time.”

*

M15-4     The new ship followed them at roughly ninety i-std. steps distance, which was way too close for Naiollah’s settings. She protested so many times that Ghethe felt the need to adjust her out-space proximity limits. Although Naiollah used the fastest speed of her reversible-gravity engines to reach Dubar Four—as if she were too stressed to be in such proximity to another ship—the other one behaved as bolted at that distance to Naiollah.
     Ghethe said with doubt in his voice, “This new ship is amazing. I suspect we may discover that she is even faster than Naiollah.”
     “What do the data crystals mention about her speed?” asked Mlane.
     He replied, “Nothing. I have instructions only on how to access her. As for her specifications, or how she is inside, that is going to be a surprise.”
     Ahlane asked, “What are we going to do with two ships, Ghethe? Are we going to abandon Naiollah?”
     He explained with confidence, “Oh, no, My Dear. Naiollah is an old reliable friend. Even if she may prove to be inferior, in terms of speed, we shall remain on her because we know her better. The other ship could follow us, and it may act as an escort. My intention is to make Naiollah her Master.”
     Mlane asked, “What if the new ship is much faster than Naiollah, Ghethe? Wouldn’t it be better to have a faster one?”
     “Of course it would. If she proves faster . . . a lot faster . . . then we could move . . . However, if we do move, we need to study and learn the new ship very well,” answered Ghethe thoughtfully.
     Ahlane asked confused, “What I do not understand is, how can it be that a two hundred i-std. years old ship is faster than Naiollah?”
     “This one could be a prototype, My Dear. Once built, all data about such type of ships was destroyed. Later, other people started building fast ships again, though not as good as before.
     However, we do not know if the new ship is indeed faster than Naiollah, or if we could use it in any benefic way. We need to wait and see, Ladies.”

*

M15-5     At local noontime, Naiollah landed on Dubar Four in her previous position, and the other ship landed nearby. Ghethe instructed Ahlane about what she needs to say and do, in order to keep under control the new ship, and how to handle a few, possible, dangerous scenarios.
     Ahlane asked, “Is there going to be oxygen inside, Ghethe?”
     “Yes, My Dear, the ship knows that you need oxygen. However, to be on the safe side, I want you to dress in a spacesuit, to have maximum protection.”

     Ahlane dressed in her spacesuit, except she let her gloves off, because Ghethe told her the ship was going to perform a genetic code scan in order to identify the new owner.
     She went out to the other ship. Ghethe and Mlane also dressed in spacesuits and accompanied her out, though they stopped at a safe distance.
     “Open the gate,” said Ahlane loudly.
     “Are you the Master?” asked the ship in its metallic voice.
     “Yes,” replied Ahlane firmly.
     “You need to verify,” specified the ship.
     “Yes,” agreed Ahlane.
     An extendable ramp unfolded, and the access gate opened. Ahlane waited for a few moments to calm down her fears, then she went climbing up. She was trapped in an airlock for a brief period, while the ship performed scans for tools and destructive materials, then she was allowed inside. The ship advised her to follow a lighted path.
     Ahlane discovered that the ship was more luxurious and far more spacious than Naiollah, and it appeared to be fairly clean. Gates opened noiselessly ahead of her, and they closed behind. It was obvious she would not be allowed to go astray from the lighted path. The ship directed her to access a strange elevator, and then on another pathway. Finally, she entered a spacious compartment filled with live controls, though inadequately illuminated.
     “Press your right palm on the yellow screen,” said the ship, and Ahlane did exactly as instructed.
     Almost immediately the lights increased, additional controls came alive, and new engine hums started somewhere. The ship said, “Identity verified, Master. I am Arpel. Welcome aboard, Master.”
     Ahlane was surprised by the change in ship’s voice: it was the voice of a man—low, calm, and very pleasing. She said, “Arpel, my name is Ahlane Loh Zelhane, and you may call me Ahlane.”
     “Ownership recorded, Ahlane. Please exit, because I have to prepare social areas for habitation.”
     “I shall come back with friends, Arpel.”
     “Yes, Ahlane.”
     On the way out Ahlane contacted Ghethe and Mlane, “Everything is all right. Ship’s name is Arpel, and it has a man’s voice now.”
     “How is he; I mean, the ship, Ahlane?” asked Mlane with excitement.
     “Very luxurious, Mlane. Ghethe, Arpel asked me to exit, because he says he must perform some preparations.”
     “Do not worry, My Dear. Probably, additional programs have started their routine, such as cleaning, ventilation, and others,” assured Ghethe.
     “I am coming out,” announced Ahlane.

     Once out, Ahlane met with Ghethe and Mlane who were waiting for her close to the new ship. As soon as she finished climbing down, the ramp folded back, the access gate closed, then the ship lifted off and went high up and to one side in the sky.
     Mlane asked disappointedly while looking after the ship, “Why is she leaving, Ghethe?”
     “I suspect she is performing a cleanup routine. She will come back, do not worry, Mlane, because she has a Master now,” assured Ghethe. He told the Ladies that it was safe to take their helmets off.
     The air on Dubar Four was hot, rich in oxygen and filled with strange spicy aromas, though not unpleasant. After a while, the ship came back and landed in its previous location. When the access ramp was extended again, they went climbing up.
     “Are these people your friends, Ahlane?” asked the ship in its new voice.
     Mlane exclaimed, “Wow!”
     “Yes, Arpel, they are my best friends,” answered Ahlane.
     “One of them has a very strong mental activity, Ahlane,” warned Arpel.
     “I am aware, Arpel; this is all right,” replied Ahlane.
     The gate opened and they entered the airlock, then into the ship.
     Ghethe noticed surprised, “This is indeed luxurious!”
     The inside walls of the new ship were of reflection absorbent type, and they were colored in soft shades of dark-blue, light-gray, or white, depending on the designation of the rooms or compartments. The walls appeared to be cushioned in velvet, as a subtle invitation to be touched: they were warm and pleasing to touch. The preferred material of construction was some unknown type of ceramic having intricate metallic insertions.
     “Arpel, I do not remember the route to your controls compartment. Show it to me, please,” said Ahlane, because everything looked different due to the enhanced illumination.
     “Please follow the path of orange and blue symbols, Ahlane,” invited Arpel.
     Symbols of decorations—previously in silver and gold—started to glow in blue and bright orange on floors and on gates. They took the elevator up, then they followed the path of lighted decorations up to the controls compartment.
     “Arpel, I want to present you my friends.”
     “I am ready, Ahlane.”
     “This is my sister, Mlane Loh Zelhane. She is going to be your owner, same as I am. Say Hello, Mlane.”
     “Hello, Arpel.”
     “Hello, Mlane Loh Zelhane. Please allow me to scan your genetic code. Press your right palm on the yellow screen.”
     Mlane did as she was told, then said, “Arpel, please call me Mlane.”
     “Identity verified, Mlane. Ownership recorded, Mlane. I am Arpel. Welcome aboard, Mlane.”
     Ahlane said, “Arpel, this is my friend, Ghethe Dakka. He is going to be your owner, same as Mlane and I.”
     “Hello, Arpel. Please call me Ghethe.”
     “Hello, Ghethe. Please allow me to scan your genetic code. Press your right palm on the yellow screen . . . Identity does not verify, Ahlane and Mlane. What is Ghethe’s status related to you?”
     “Arpel, Ghethe is . . . our Master, therefore he shall be your first owner,” said Ahlane while looking at Ghethe and smiling intimately.
     “Do you confirm this, Mlane?”
     “Yes, Arpel,” said Mlane, also looking smilingly at Ghethe.
     “Ownership recorded, Ghethe. I am Arpel. Welcome aboard, Ghethe. You have a very strong mental activity, and I am capable of interfacing with it. Would you like to start mental tests, Ghethe?”
     Ghethe smiled caringly back in response to each Lady, then said, “Not now, Arpel. Please describe your interior to us. Start with right here.”
     “Yes, Ghethe. You are inside the ‘Interface Command Center’ where you can access manually the following systems: my central command modules, my memory banks, my peripheral control nodes, all internal and external sensors, the engines, the weapon systems, all communications, the scanning facilities—”
     “Arpel, use only the name of the place, plus a brief description,” recommended Ghethe.
     “Yes, Ghethe. You are inside the Interface Command Center where you have manual access to all my systems and subsystems.”
     “Perfect. Arpel, take us further,” said Ghethe.
     “Please, step outside . . . You are on the level three main corridor, and you have access to . . .”

M15-6
     It came out that Arpel was built on four levels. On level three were the command, diagnostic, and systems access controls; Social Areas were on level two; the living accommodations were on level one; and on level zero were the engines and the cargo bunkers. Due to Arpel’s shape, roughly a cut in half ovoid along the long axis, each level had a larger area starting with level three, and ending with level zero as the largest.
     All interiors were nicely decorated with the symbols of the Imperial House Zelhane lighting faintly in orange and blue, if it was dark, or shining in gold and silver when the compartment was properly lit. That brought back the long lost home feeling to both Zelhane Ladies.
     The suites were eight in number, and each had a different color of the walls. All suites were very luxurious and surprisingly well preserved. Mlane discovered—due to her endless curiosity—that Arpel contained a classical treasure. It had a safe compartment harboring a considerable quantity of astonishing, wonderfully cut and polished rare crystals; a huge pile of precious metallic bars; plus a certain amount of old, difficult to assess, imperial art objects. Ghethe estimated a quick sale value of one billion Batlan Credits, though particularly important was the universal exchange value of the stones and of the precious metals.
     From that moment on they parted. Ghethe went on studying the engines and the controls, and the Ladies set about inspecting Social Areas and the living accommodations. Again Mlane discovered that each suite could have a small terrace to the outside, after the walls of the ship folded. In addition, the outside walls of the suites could be adjusted to various degrees of one-way transparency, and most of the interior walls had controls for color and transparency customization. Ahlane concluded that Arpel was far more luxurious than a hotel, therefore they could live onboard just as well.
     Ghethe came to them highly excited and announced that Arpel was equipped with Point-to-Point Instantaneous Drive engines, which meant they could reach Giola System in less than one i-std. hour! That small delay was needed only to calculate the destination coordinates before setting the course, because the actual flight time was almost instantaneous. Later, Ghethe discovered a Resonant Frame in the cargo bay, and that made him happy like a little child. However, he kept the news secret, because his intention was to use the Resonant Frame in future confrontational events.
     Each of them started on detailed individual explorations, after deciding to meet at local dinnertime to analyze the situation.

     When they met on board Naiollah for dinner, it was obvious that Arpel was far more comfortable, therefore they would have to move. Ghethe felt somehow reluctant to abandon the security offered by Naiollah. He said, “I propose that we do not rush with our decision, Ladies. We need to explore Arpel systematically for the next two local days, in order to learn as much as we can about him.” He volunteered, “I shall take care of the engines, controls, and communications.”
     “I intend to check out the Social Areas, and the entertaining facilities,” offered Mlane.
     “And I am going to inspect the living accommodations, and the storage facilities,” concluded Ahlane.
     “What you should look for, Ladies, is malfunctions and signs of depreciation due to the long exposure to low temperature conditions,” advised Ghethe.
     Ahlane explained, “It looks to me that all materials used for cushioning and bedding are synthetic, and they appear to be as brand-new. I suspect they were specially designed to stand to the low temperatures of the open space. Of course, we shall replace a part of them with good quality, natural fibers ones later, when we find something really good.”
     “I know it is not nice to say this, but I am very glad we are rich again,” confessed Mlane timidly.
     “That little fortune is very good for our future needs, My Dear . . . Besides, operating a ship like Arpel is not cheap . . . although it requires less expensive energy batteries than Naiollah . . . and it has way more efficient power generation groups . . .” explained Ghethe thoughtfully.
     “I prefer to perform a thorough cleaning and sterilization before moving in . . . and there are eight suites . . .” said Ahlane with her mind focused on inside thoughts.
     “The question is: do we really want to move from Naiollah or not?” asked Ghethe with doubt.
     Mlane replied, “I think we have to do it, because Arpel is way more spacious and more comfortable than Naiollah. Besides, it is also a lot faster, therefore we do not have to live confined in the open space for days, restricted to a limited environment. It is more like a home.”
     “I have to clean that place and see the condition of all accommodations but, yes, Ghethe: life on Arpel promises to be much better,” agreed Ahlane.
     “All right, then. Let’s spend the next two local days with cleaning and inspections, Ladies. If everything checks in order, then we shall start moving things to Arpel.”
     Ahlane asked, “What are we going to do with Naiollah, Ghethe? She cannot accompany us because Arpel is way too fast for her.”
     He replied, “We could hide Naiollah in the same place we found Arpel, for some time, until we decide what to do with her. I have to copy some of Naiollah’s memory files, and I need to move my entire Laboratory and all auxiliary instrumentation to Arpel . . . This moving is going to take about nine local days, and each of us has plenty of work to do.”

*

M15-7     They worked really hard during the next days, only they did it with the satisfaction of moving into a new home. Naiollah’s construction was more robust than Arpel’s, though Arpel had better shielding. Ghethe realized that Arpel was not designed to wander for days in the open space, exposed to many diverse, known, unknown, and unexpected dangers. He had noticed the very first time he saw it that Arpel’s hull was made of a special ceramic, and he had no doubts that it was a lot stronger than most metallic alloys. Even more, Arpel had an impressive triple row of strange looking subatomic generators all around, lined up horizontally, needed for various types of protective shielding, and to create the required, complex, E-Fields spatial resonance.
     The new Main Salon was a lot larger area divided into a small restaurant, an intimate bar, plus a large social convention hall and a conference one as well, each equipped with unknown advanced technologies, in addition to being ravishingly luxurious. Most appealing, part of the outside hull could fold and create a large terrace into the open, same as the ones in the living quarters.
     Ghethe was relieved to discover that Arpel was able to interface with Naiollah’s technologies very fast, after deciphering the encryption algorithms of the newer hardware and software communications protocols. Unfortunately, Arpel was less intelligent than Naiollah, and it had some communications and long-range scanning limitations. On the positive side, Arpel had a more complex structure of its Intelligent Units, because some of them were specially designed to control the Point-to-Point Instantaneous Drive engines.
     Ghethe asked Arpel to perform some elaborate tests, in order to evaluate its level of intelligence, and to check if all its circuits and memory cells were still intact, following the long inactivity period plus the exposure to the cold vacuum temperature. After a full workday time, Ghethe learned everything he wanted to know about Arpel, and he ended up well satisfied with the results.
     He asked Ahlane for advice on where to install the Laboratory on Arpel, and they decided to use suite number eight. Moving the data files, most of the medical instrumentation, some of Naiollah’s auxiliary units, various tactical equipment and a part of the Laboratory, was a dealing job, with Naiollah giving permission for copying of the data or for removal of her intelligent units, and Arpel taking them into custody and interfacing with each. Naiollah cooperated rather reluctantly, as she kept insisting that many of her inventory lists and protection conditions needed to be cleared manually, before allowing for any transfer of her technologies.

*

M15-8     After sixteen local days of hard work, Arpel was thoroughly disinfected and cleaned. Almost all useful, mobile, and semi-mobile technologies had been moved from Naiollah to Arpel, reinstalled, and then checked for a proper functionality. The only things left on Naiollah were the food provisions, because her water reserves had also been transferred, partially, into Arpel’s tanks.
     Amazingly, Naiollah had a particularly restrictive program concerning her water inventory, and Ghethe lost half a local day to solve that problem. It came out the access to low level water reserves was restricted only to Naiollah, by her most basic routines. Consequently, the only way to determine her to abandon it was to initiate a long-storage condition, since Ghethe couldn’t order a refill, a disinfection sequence, or simply to discharge it.
     They had a last meal onboard Naiollah full of nostalgic memories, then they moved everything left on Arpel. Soon, both ships took off, and they traveled back to Dubar Seven. Once there, Ghethe told Naiollah to enter Arpel’s cave. He instructed her to wait for them in a long-storage condition, by keeping all her systems at the minimum energy levels. Naiollah estimated that she had about two i-std. years of energy left, and Ghethe, Ahlane, and Mlane promised to come back during that time interval to give her a second life.

     Once finished with Naiollah’s hideaway, Ghethe told Arpel to take them back to Giola System using the updated navigation charts from Naiollah’s databases. It took Arpel a little over one i-std. hour to appear close to Giola, and Ghethe was confident that all alarms on the nearby ships were ringing madly due to their materialization from nowhere. All of them were amazed and hyper-excited because Arpel brought them back to Giola that fast, and they were anticipating fantastic voyages in the future.
     Ghethe scanned carefully the surrounding space for any military ships, then he told Arpel to land in Vellen City. Arpel performed the landing operation all by itself in an impeccable manner, using Naiollah’s modified registration codes. Nobody cared that Arpel was different and bigger than in previous records, because reusing the registration codes was a common practice those days. Ghethe ordered a full new set of energy batteries, and also standard coupling adaptors to replace the ones he had improvised.
     Since they had many i-std. hours of waiting to spend, Ghethe decided to get in contact with Petha, then he invited him to join them. Meanwhile, he worked with Arpel to disinfect, flush, and to refill the water tanks, to restore all chemical bunkers and tanks, and to perform many of the necessary maintenance tasks.
     Five i-std. hours later Petha arrived with Heile, and they all started a lively chat. Ghethe asked Petha about a good place to land the ship on Thalo Three, because their intention was to live onboard Arpel. Petha promised to show a few good spots to choose from.
     Ghethe apologized for their previous unexpected departure, and he warned Petha and Heile that it could happen again. For the time being, Ghethe intended to remain on Thalo Three for the next eighteen local days, until he clarifies his future actions.

     They landed Arpel on a continent, right on the beach on a secluded peninsula, and sufficiently close to a chain of holiday resorts and rustic towns. Later that day they rented ground transport vehicles. Mlane invited Petha and Heile to live onboard Arpel for the duration of their holiday, and both of them accepted gladly.
     Ahlane decided they should keep with her previous daily schedule, with a few minor modifications. Generally, the Ladies reserved part of the morning hours for shopping, because that was, each time, an exciting experience for them. After lunch, the afternoon hours were intended for general fun and visits, and the evenings were spent again in different, good-quality restaurants.

GREEN LEAVES




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