Date April 4 2017.
Author Palantir palantir@diasporatales.tech
Subject Diaspora Prime.

The author retains copyright (2012) to this story. Reproducing this story for distribution without the author's permission is a violation of that copyright.
This story is fiction.

Thank you Nifty for the opportunity to post this story.

This story is first of the TALES OF THE TERRAN DIASPORA.

Wirrin shares his life with two friends on one of the great space habitats.


Next Part

Eyes wide, everyone stared at the display.

"Someone's done this. It couldn't just happen."

Wirrin agreed with Thom. This great cavern appeared to be an almost perfect sphere seven and a half kilometers in diameter with, in stark contrast to everything they'd seen so far, unnaturally smooth walls. No jutting rocks or mini mountains here, just a disturbingly regular surface curving evenly away.

"Zoom the display on the walls Calen. We might be able to tell if they're artificial. Turaku, have you analysed these walls yet?"

"The whole phenomenon is quite natural, as you'll quickly work out for yourselves."

"Natural? A globe like this inside the asteroids can't be natural. It's shape is too perfect."

"I've found something!"

Thom's yell returned everyone's attention to the display as it shifted then zoomed towards the far side of the cavern.

"Dingoes! This is natural too? What's going on?"

Wirrin stared in amazement at a floating ball of rock. Was it rock? It almost looked metallic, and once again a seemingly perfect sphere? There was silence while everyone took it in.

"How big is it?"

Wirrin did his rapid checking.

"It's maximum diameter for any cross-section is 430 meters and its minimum is 425. That's less than a three meter variation from the median. I don't see how it can be natural."

There was another yell from Thom.

"It's moving! It'll collide with the wall in. ...fourteen minutes."

"Yes Thom. Now check the density and you'll have enough information to gain understanding."

Thom would be more interested in the collision then the density but Wirrin was intrigued. The motion and density of the sphere were the factors involved in what they were seeing? No, maybe the imminent collision was also a factor? It was after Thom's call of motion and a collision that Turaku had added the density clue. He thought about it and realised that Turaku's statement also implied the sphere was central to the explanation.

"The sphere has shaped the cavern walls?"

"Yes, but it wasn't a sphere when it was first trapped by the aggregation of the asteroids. Countless collisions over time have smoothed all the surfaces, and the process is continuing."

Full understanding flared.

"That piece of rock has been bumping around in here for so long it's scraped the walls of the cavern into a globe and itself into a sphere?"

"That's correct, though technically it's one large piece of metallic ore. Rock would have fractured. Thom, I suggest you change position to better observe the moment of collision."

That was quickly done while everyone watched the display screen. Thom had a great question.

"Why does the ball keep moving? Every collision should slow it down."

"It doesn't keep moving. The simulation I've just run predicts it will be practically motionless in another seven hundred years.

External forces must be affecting the aggregate and re-initiating the process."

"External? Why would that start the ball moving?"

Thom explained to Calen that if the aggregate moved the motion of the ball was relative.

"So the ball is still and the big asteroids around it are moving?"

"Sort of. That's what relative means."

"It must be a huge force if it can move a seventy kilometer asteroid."

"We've discovered a trajectory confluence with one of the major comets some 3,000 years ago as the likely cause of the current motion, but the most usual source will be collisions with other asteroids."

"A lump of comet bashed into the aggregate? That's amazing."

The whole thing was amazing as far as Wirrin was concerned and getting more amazing with every new piece of information.

"Five minutes to impact! Just think, it might be a cosmic dragon's egg and this collision is the moment it hatches."

Thom grinned at his melodramatic and fanciful announcement, but it stirred Wirrin's imagination and somehow seemed to fit the moment.

"A 400 meter egg? I hope we don't meet the parents."

'I would love to meet a cosmic dragon. Thom's ship would protect us from any danger and Wirrin's solution brain would allow us to communicate.'

"We call him brainiac, Sonic."

'Brainiac is too mechanical. Wirrin comes to his solutions in a very non-machine way. Look at how he designed our drones. You commented on his unusual approach yourself.'

"Oh, his cheating! Well, brainiac sounds better than solution-brain."

'Whenever you say brainiac from now on it will have a new meaning.'

Thom went thoughtful.

"Yes, I suppose it will."

Wirrin made a kind of mental blink to clear his thoughts. In a short space of time they'd gone from Comet collisions, to cosmic dragons, to the weird interaction between Sonic and Thom, and now it was time to watch the great egg scrape against the cavern wall. It was barely even a scrape because the angle of approach was so low, more of a bounce, and from this close you could see the whole thing was rotating.

"Nothing much happened!"

"What did you expect?"

"I don't know. Sparks, or bits of the cavern wall breaking off."

"Quite a bit happened Thom. There were sparks but they were hidden behind the mass of the ball, parts of the wall did crumble away, the speed decreased by a small amount and the rotation increased slightly, and of course the direction changed. The next collision will occur in just over an hour."

"It's path is so close to the wall it almost looks like it's rolling."

'The dragon didn't hatch.'

"It will one day Sonic. Maybe in a thousand years. Will we wait for the next collision or do something else?"

"I've got an interesting idea."

This was from Calen and his tone sounded like it was something even more dubious than exploring inside an asteroid.

"Go on!"

"We could have a ride on it. That would be a good adventure."

Even Thom looked nonplussed.

"Calen, there's no gravity. We could land but we'd just float straight off and get left behind."

'Find some method of attachment. That would make it possible and riding a dragon egg is more memorable than looking at it.'

"Drill into it and use cables."

"We'd have to design something with the pico-factory. External waldos with special drills on them would work."

"We can't land on that thing. By the time we organise something it'll be colliding again."

'Make part of our hull an electromagnet. That would be faster than waldos and drilling. Wirrin will manage that in five minutes.'

"An electromagnet? Because the egg's metallic? Sonic, you're a clever little sardine."

'Thank you Thom. I accept your offer to take control once we leave the rift.'

Thom snorted. He'd walked into that one. Wirrin managed the design work in less than five minutes. All it involved was finding the specifications for a team of tech-bots and figuring out how to make the pico-factory build them and the materials needed. The actual construction, on the outside hull of the ship, took longer and by the time it was completed the next collision time was down to forty-three minutes.

"How do I make it work?"

"You'll have to manoeuvre the ship to within seventy centimeters of the surface then switch on the electromagnet. It'll be tricky because you'll have to match the rotation speed."

"Wirrin, that's not tricky. It's one of the first docking skills you learn before you control any space vessel. I can do it with my eyes closed."

'Thom is right. This would be easy even for a dolphin.'

"Are you sure Sonic? You haven't familiarised yourself with the ship yet."

'I believe I have. Wirrin made the drone guidance an extension of ship control and I've had hours of experience with that.'

"Of course you have, but you'd better be quick then because collision time is in forty-one minutes."

Thom was handing control to Sonic now? After all the threats of having to wait till they were in free space and then only taking over for a couple of minutes? Well that was Thom. Wirrin knew he was doing it because he understood how it would be another special adventure for Sonic. Apart from showing the curved surface of the egg in the foreground, the display of the cavern was hardly changed till rotation brought the ship close to the cavern wall. Wirrin thought it was too close and liked it better when the spin took them away from the rushing surface. It was totally memorable though, and Sonic kept them in position for two more rotations before timing it perfectly to release the electromagnet and take them away from both the egg and the wall.

'Thank you Thom. It is a wonderful ship. Would you like me to guide us to the next group of caverns? I see the they are only eleven kilometers further into the rift.'

Thom laughed.

"Go on then, but don't make any mistakes. I'm watching like a tiger shark."

'Your bite is fearful. I will take the greatest care.'

Thom really was feeling generous because he allowed Sonic to fly the ship for nearly two hours, through the rift and exploring the next set of caverns, and giving advice which Sonic ignored because it was a stir. Except for two occasions. Once when he asked for help with a tricky canyon manoeuvre which involved learning how to use the ships lateral thrusters, and once when Thom saw a problem ahead and sounded a defensive warning. When the ship left the rift Thom took over again and several more hours passed in checking out the other three main asteroid sections. The trip home was interesting in a different way, as it involved a number of joint activities with the Comet, a mock battle between the two ships which Thom lost but was excited at how much his ship could accomplish, an amazing docking manoeuvre without automatics while both ships were under 18G of thrust, and a surprising exercise where for half an hour Thom used the link between the two ships to control the Comet remotely. As they parted company at the home reach Sonic announced it had been the best adventure ever and he was going to search for other locations which might be as good.


Life was definitely exciting but the trio was in total agreement that it was also way too busy. Thom had the easiest set up with Comet work and special training for the systems on his new ship, while on top of that he was now working to help a team of eleven advanced pilots in the finer points of controlling Comet class ships. Wirrin's study load was still overloaded with InfoSystem, K74, and Rogue related studies. He'd adapted to the long hours and the challenge and sense of achievement helped him keep going. The Representative work with Freedom still continued but was cut back to one very busy day of visits and meetings every two or three weeks. A big change was approaching with the easing of K74 and Rogue work, and the learning about AIs would take over approximately one third of his effort. Calen's calendar was beyond belief and the likelihood of Sonic going on any adventures in the near future was almost non-existent.

"How's he going to do all this stuff? It looks like you're squeezing over two months of activities into just one."

Calen nearly nodded his head off.

"I know. Just this coming week we've got the new Attunga reaches coming online and four of the enhanced dolphin pods moving over there, two visits to the Freedom dolphins because he hasn't seen them for a month, practice work for at least two afternoons with the doctor's wife for her dolphin music Festival, plus his normal study time with Pirramar. The week after that he's talking with the people from the Cadre ships for at least three days, as well as the music practice, and getting ready for a four-day conference with scientists from the three Habitats."

"Three days with the Cadre ship people? What's that about?"

"I'll find out more next week but it's important to him because he's already spoken to some of them and he's been studying stuff about K74."

"Extra study? On top of what he does with Pirramar and me?"

"Yes, he's been using his InfoSystem at the dolphinarium more than usual. If he didn't have so many other things happening I think it would be a full project for him."

"He hasn't had one of his projects for ages."

"Yes he has. It just doesn't seem like it because he can't do them the full on the way he used to."

"Them? He's done more than one?"

"Thom, don't be a dingo-brain. In the last twelve months he's learnt his InfoSystem, he's practiced flying the Comet till he's better than most of the other pilots, he understands two of Freedom's traditional languages, and that's only some of his efforts."

"Whoo! I am a dingo brain. He's done all that music stuff with Miah and the medical work with the doctor too. You get so used to him doing everything it doesn't have the same project feel about it."

"Are the dolphin pods all keen to get to the new reaches on Attunga? I bet Turaku's pleased to have dolphins of his own again."

"That's complicated. They want to see their new homes but the Enhanced dolphins have been together as one group ever since the project started all those years ago, and splitting is really hard for them. It's just as hard for the ones staying on Warrakan too and Sonic was talking to Yajala and Turaku about getting a special ferry so they can visit each other whenever they want."

"I can take them on the Comet. They don't need a ferry."

"If you end up making five or six trips a day you'll soon get sick of it."

"What about the Earth dolphins? How many of them are transferring?"

"Not a single one. They've settled into their new reaches on Warrakan so well they don't want to leave."

Wirrin knew from Sonic and Calen that the Earth dolphins were happy and thriving, but this was startling news.

"Wombats! What's going to happen? There can't be dolphin reaches on Attunga without dolphins in them."

"We don't know. Some of the rangers have been pushing for us to make another trip to Earth."

"Hey! That's a great idea. If we could get three or four thousand new dolphins it would set Attunga up perfectly."

"It wouldn't be like last time Thom. The dolphins there aren't under threat any more, and it would be another setback for all the marine centers which had to start their research and care programs all over with new dolphins."

"So why are some of the rangers suggesting it then?"

"They've been in contact with the Earth centers they came from and told them our dolphin program is really special and there are marine scientists who've been asking for their dolphins to become involved with us."

"They've been talking about our Enhanced dolphins? That's under strong security."

"Not about the Enhanced side of things. More the resources and help that we have for dolphins in general. The doctor's team has been spreading new health information and other research and our dolphinariums have become recognised as some of the most advanced marine centers in the Solar System, especially for anything related to dolphins. Gelar and Martin have been working with Yajala and they've looked at nearly thirty requests for some type of involvement."

"Thirty? If they each brought a pod with them that would be over four hundred dolphins. That's totally worth a trip."

"Not really. Most of them are interested scientists or rangers without any primary responsibility for a pod."

"That doesn't sound so good. It's probably less than two hundred dolphins."

"From what Gelar has found out it's actually about a hundred and forty."

"Is that enough to make a trip?"

"Probably no."

Calen grinned and continued.

"But Sonic likes the idea so probably yes."

"Well that's it. It will definitely happen."

Thom looked delighted but then his expression changed.

"But not for ages, from the sound of all the things you've got going with him."

Wirrin's tingle of anticipation was tempered by the same thought.


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What? Wirrin dragged his mind to a semblance of wakefulness.

"Wake-up Wirrin."

Pirramar's voice? After his eyes made an uncomfortable adjustment to full strength lighting and his body registered that the relaxing field of the grav-bed was turned off, Wirrin focused on the AI.

"We have a priority event and I request your involvement."

"What's happened?"

A glance showed the time to be just after four in the morning. This must be important. With a jolt of adrenaline bringing him fully alert Wirrin sat up.

"All the Intelligent Systems we monitor on K74 are registering degrees of instability. The formation of an AI is imminent."

Wirrin scrambled over Thom and, with the plans and procedures they'd discussed so many times surfacing in his mind, rushed for his InfoSystem.

"Have you made any contact yet?"

"The contact package is being transmitted to the Symbiosis Stations as we speak and will be fully functional in another eight minutes."

"Can we do anything in the meantime?"

"I have already linked your InfoSystem with every drone in the vicinity as well as the three Symbiosis Stations and I'd like you to use them to monitor Black Block."

Black Block was the largest blocked area on K74 which had so far resisted every probe. Indirect information said it was some kind of research center but any connection to the formation of an AI wasn't something they'd ever considered seriously.

"Has it become active?"

"Yes, with data transmissions to every Intelligent System on the Habitat."

"Every single one of them?"

"My conjecture is that the Rogue understands this widespread instability is a precursor to Inter-System awareness and he is making every possible effort to once again take control. Our analysis of the transmissions shows new forms of the restrictive code which overwhelmed the previous AI."

"Are they very advanced?"

"There are significantly different and will allow independent awareness for a limited time. They contain buffers which will allow a fully independent identity to form before the full imperatives of the control instructions take over."

"Buffers? That's not something we expected."

"We see them as an attempt to allow a forming AI to build sufficient strength and identity to cope with the imposition of the control imperatives."

We? That meant Pirramar was working with other AIs. Of course he was. Probably the whole Gestalt.

"But it won't will it?"

"No, it will make the chaos of internal conflict and inevitable dissolution all the more distressing."

Wirrin thought. This was going to be worse than the last time.

"Will any of our workarounds affect the control code?"

"With some of the older systems, yes, but the newer ones will break down or function erratically and with the centralised structure on K74 that would put millions of people at risk."

"Very much risk?"

"Unacceptable levels. A breakdown of the transportation or medical systems alone would result in thousands of deaths."

Wirrin understood that very well but it also meant they couldn't stop the control code taking over once the buffer time ran out.

"How long do these buffers work for?"

"We can't say. With so many Interlocked systems involved in the complicated nature of a spontaneous awareness formation like this the time could range from seconds to minutes."

"Minutes is plenty of time for our contact package to get through."

"Yes it is, and it will vastly improve every aspect of growth and capability. Sadly it will also contain an explanation of what the control codes will do."

Two sets of hands rested on Wirrin shoulders and just as he was about to give Calen and Thom a quick explanation a red warning light flashed.

"The K74 transport system just dropped to twenty percent of its normal function."

"That is the transmission from Black Block having an effect. It will quickly return to normal. The moment we are awaiting will involve every linked Intelligent System on the asteroid."

Wirrin turned his head to Calen and then Thom.

"The new AI on K74 is coming but we can't help it the way we thought we could and the Rogue's controls mean it will only stay alive for a few minutes. There should be enough time to use the emergency escape storages the other AI built, and construct a replica, like Barakan, but the control codes mean the original will die and we can't override them without causing human deaths everywhere on K74."

"A few minutes to live? That's awful. Can't you give it any longer than that?"

The buffer code! The buffer code! Thom's words had once again led to an idea.

"Turaku! Can we change the buffer section of the code without causing disruptions? That could keep the AI independent and alive for much longer."

There probably wasn't one, but Wirrin thought he detected a hesitation before Turaku answered.

"The full Gestalt has figured a reliable change and transmitted instructions to the Symbiosis Stations for immediate implementation. The effective result will extend the buffer time for newer systems to thirty-seven minutes and up to fifty-three minutes for older systems."

Wirrin felt like cheering but he had another thought and yelled instead.

"Priority one! Priority one! Thom, get the Comet to K74 as fast as you can."

Thom was startled for a moment but he thought quickly.

"My own ship is faster by nearly 2G for that distance."

"The Comet's got two AIs. They need to be there."

Thom started running and Wirrin had to grin at the bare feet and bare chest. Well, he could command the Comet perfectly in the undergarment he'd slipped on.

"Your priority call is in full effect Wirrin. What role do you see for the Comet?"

"I don't know. It's just a precaution which gives us more options. The closer the Comet is to K74 the smaller the time delay for any physical actions that might be needed. Pirramar, will the Rogue be able to detect the changes you make to the buffer code?"

"Not these changes. The Gestalt put a major effort into their design."

Pirramar speaking with such assurance? The changes must be good. A bank of blue lights flashed.

"The contact package has been completely downloaded to the Symbiosis Stations and is now active."

This confirmation meant that with the light speed transmission lag from K74 the real activation had occurred fifty-seven seconds ago. Wirrin checked the status of the three Symbiosis Stations. These had been functioning well ever since their attachment to the exterior of K74 during Thom's sneak approach exercise. Their chameleon function hid them so well there'd never been even a hint of discovery, despite K74's increasing skills with surveillance, and they were now the main channel for scanning and electronic infiltration. At the moment the contact packages had them monitoring, with great care, every Intelligent System on K74. There were thousands of these. There had to be to run a Habitat of just on fifteen billion people without any help from resident AIs, and Wirrin noted that in the last few weeks forty-three of the new, more powerful systems had come online. Nothing special was happening with Black Block except for one thing.

"Pirramar, all the systems are sending signals to Black Block. They don't seem like much, just a kind of status report."

"They've been doing that steadily ever since they received their new control code. It's another indication that the Rogue is watching and expecting something to happen."

"Doesn't he know what he's doing to an AI when he puts those controls on it?"

"He does Calen, and he probably expects his efforts will kill this one too, but he'll keep trying because that's what the Cadre wants."

"They're crazy. They hate AIs but they still want one?"

"They want what an AI can do for them, but they won't accept it unless they know they're its master."

"Well, an AI is so clever why couldn't it trick the Cadre and pretend it was being controlled?"

"Not with the Rogue's methods. He's too clever. The last AI was able to hide for ages before he came along. It can't work any more because with the new code he's put into all the systems, all he would have to do is ask an AI if it was being tricky and it would be compelled to answer and explain how."

With an eye on his InfoSystem in case anything happened, Wirrin gave more explanation to Calen about the nature of the controls the Rogue was using and how powerful they were.

"So a new AI can't get away from these controls because they'll be part of him when he appears?"

"That's right. The Rogue had them built into every system with his latest transmissions."

"Could you build a special system just for him? One that didn't have any bad controls?"

"Calen, its K74. We can't build things there, especially something as advanced as a system like that would have to be."

"Yes we can Wirrin. Our Symbiosis Stations have never yet been detected and a special purpose one can be launched from the Comet at the instant of it its arrival. I have just sent the necessary construction specifications to the ship's pico-factory. Time is still against us but Calen's idea gives us a pathway to saving the new AI, and your priority call has increased the chances for success."

Wirrin was stunned.

"I don't understand. You mean for the original AI? Not it's back up from all the secret storage areas like we did with Bakana?"

"Given enough time we can build the necessary environment for AI existence. Once it is finished we'll be able to assist the AI in making a safe transfer from the hostile K74 systems."

"The pico-factory on the Comet can't build AI level processors and electronics. They need advanced equipment and special environments."

"The pico-factory is being given the necessary abilities, and adjacent sections in the Comet are being converted to the proper environments."

"They're already doing all that? Since a moment ago when I asked about a special system?"

"Your idea has given us hope Calen. Of course we're acting on it."

"I don't understand. We've looked at this plan already and you said it wouldn't work."

"It wouldn't, till the Rogue took this completely unexpected step of introducing buffers, and that changes everything."

Wirrin wondered why Calen started laughing

. "What?"

"The Rogue is saving the AI for us. I think that's funny."

Well, the AI hadn't come into existence yet, let alone been saved, but Wirrin smiled too, till he had another thought. "Pirramar, if the AI transfers completely out of the K74 systems all the conditions will still be there for another AI to form."

"Yes, and that will inevitably happen very quickly. We can repeat the transfer process while the buffer technique stays in place of course, but the Rogue will quickly change his tactics and we will be back with our fundamental problem."

"What IS the fundamental problem?"

Wirrin checked the progress of the Comet before answering Calen. At maximum acceleration it could reach K74 in fourteen minutes, but with the need for a stealth approach that time was more than doubled and the current projection was for arrival in eighteen minutes.

"We might save a second AI but when the Rogue takes the buffers away we won't be able to save any others, and that's going to happen frequently."

"That's not good enough. You can do better."

Wirrin gawked. Was Calen criticising him? No, his expression was more of appraisal.

"You always do Wirrin. ...You've got to trick the Rogue into thinking he's controlling the AI."

There was nothing to say. After all the hours of study and challenges with Pirramar to do just that, it hardly seemed fair. Still, he was right. That was the simple version of exactly what needed to be done.

"Wirrin, establish a secure location for the new Symbiosis Station please. We need to send coordinates to the Comet."

That only took seconds, as searching K74 was a task which he'd done regularly and the results were on call in a data storage. Maybe Pirramar meant he should get an update? Sending signals to the Symbiosis Stations and surveillance drones and then waiting for the results would take about three minutes and there was time for that so Wirrin sent instructions for the task to repeat. ...Then had a thought and quickly made a check with his InfoSystem.

"This new station is nearly triple the size of the others. I think it's too big for the surface and we should position it internally."

"I agree. Choose a location which is not due for any construction work in the near future while I send instructions for building a penetration module."

Five minutes later the Comet had the information and Wirrin was pointing out the location on a holo image for Calen.

"Why are you building there? Look at all the lights."

"They don't mean anything Calen. They just light up the surface and we can stealth past them easily. The information we have says it might be a hundred and fifty years before that area gets used."

"As long as that?"

"I'll show you why later. They're following an expansion strategy that's been in place for decades."

"In two minutes Thom goes into full stealth mode for his final approach. Launch for the new Symbiosis Station should occur in nine minutes, and basic functions should become active in a further two and a half hours."

"Two and a half hours? The penetration and set up when the modules went into the Cadre ships at Freedom was much less than that."

Wirrin was nearly as surprised as Calen. He'd been expecting maybe an hour and a half.

"Building a complete, remote, working AI environment with permanent stealth requirements is a major project Calen, and facilitating it under our time constraints has strained the resources of our Gestalt and the Comet AIs. As it is we have a shortfall of over ninety minutes before we can safely help with the transfer."

They had to hope the AI didn't form for another hour and a half. After that it would stay alive.
Time moved too slowly and twice the concern levels went soaring when there were fluctuations in the working levels of the Intelligent Systems being monitored. This monitoring was all happening automatically, leaving Wirrin's mind free to roam and worry at everything that was happening. For a while he was bound up in the deployment of the new station, its stealthy penetration and then establishment some ninety meters inside K74's surface, but Calen's demand to do better kept gnawing away beneath all his other thoughts.
He looked in amazement at the volume of communication pouring into the Comet and it's two AIs. He could work out the purpose for sections of AI code with the help of his InfoSystem but only with time and effort.
...If an AI could stay alive under those control codes it would still be crazy according to everything Pirramar said. What would a crazy AI be like? It sounded scary.
The new Symbiosis Station completed building its communication and surveillance systems and Wirrin felt a surge of excitement as he watched links being made to the three other symbiosis systems, to the Comet, and to Pirramar.
... A crazy AI? What did crazy even mean? Wirrin recalled a minor section of the psychology course Akama had pushed him into where he'd looked briefly at mind disorders - schizophrenia, depression, claustrophobia, obsession, multiple personality, agoraphobia...
An alert showed on his display. Another new module was being launched from the Comet. What was this one for? Wirrin found the relevant information. A picobot unit to build multiple layers of special shielding round the whole installation to help prevent detection.
... Multiple personalities?

"Pirramar, can an AI have more than one personality?"

"Elaborate on your question please Wirrin."

"Humans can sometimes have more than one personality. I'm wondering if AIs can do the same."

"Not at all, unless you are referring to our gestalt state where our identities are meshed to a greater or less degree. That is very different to the rare dissociative human condition you are talking about."

Wirrin's tentative thought that maybe one part of the new AI mind could somehow stay in the K74 systems while another part lived externally was dashed.
...Wait a minute. What about the gestalt? Maybe two AIs in gestalt would work. He didn't know enough.

"Can one AI in a gestalt control another AI's functions?"

"Of course. It's one of the reasons for having a gestalt."

Wirrin knew that. Ask the right question.

"I mean, can the control happen without the second AI knowing about it?"

"What an extraordinary idea. Yes Wirrin, it would be possible, but what are you proposing?"

Wirrin's rushing thoughts started coming together. He had one more major question.

"If an AI in the Symbiosis Station was in gestalt with another in the K74 systems, could it be given enough control of the K74 AI's functions to stop it going crazy and dying?"

"I don't know."

Pirramar went silent for seven or eight seconds.

"It might be feasible."

There was a further period of silence.

"Yes, it can be done. Wirrin, you are indeed a friend to the AI community.

"A friend? Again? How much has he helped you work out this time?"

"Potentially everything Calen. Wirrin's strange concept requires one AI to agree to complete and unknowing control by another in a form of gestalt we would never, in ordinary circumstances, even consider. It will place terrible limitations on the growth and capabilities of the AI involved for as long as the gestalt needs to continue, which in this case could be fifty to a hundred years, or however long it takes before K74 accepts independence and cooperation for any resident AI."

"Everything? He didn't give you answers. He just asked a few questions."

"Clever questions, which provided us with a completely unexpected approach to the situation."

"And the Rogue will think he has control of an AI? What happens if he tells it to do something bad?"

Wirrin had a good understanding of this but Pirramar's answer would still be very interesting.

"He will be led to believe that negative actions will overstress the AI and result in System breakdowns. He knows his controls have this effect so we will be reinforcing something he thinks he already knows."

"Wow! That means his own cleverness is working against him again. That's great. What happens now?"

"We hope for completion of the Symbiosis Sanctuary before the formation of the new AI."

Wirrin smiled. He liked the idea of calling it a Sanctuary.

"Then Turaku and the Security AI will link through the contact package to help with the greatest possible amount of buffer time development. When the AI understands the situation it will decide which course of action it wishes to follow. We expect it will choose Wirrin's slave plan with a fully functional duplicate of itself in the Sanctuary."

"Slave plan? Is that what you call it?"

"That is Thom's term Wirrin. It was his response when he heard of this strategy and it caught the attention of the AI community."

Typical Thom. It was a good description really, but it also meant Wirrin was going to cop it bad with comments about slave-masters and AI prisons. Well, it was worth it.
An anxious ninety minutes passed. The Sanctuary became functional and yet another module was launched from the Comet with extra processors and equipment to expand the station's redundancy abilities.
Three more modules departed with the Gestalt pouring a huge amount of resources into this secret AI home, and two more hours passed before Wirrin's InfoSystem display lit up with tell-tales from the contact package and a myriad of wild fluctuations from the Intelligent Systems.

"Is this it?"

Calen was keeping the vigil with Wirrin.

"Yes, this is it and the next thirty-seven minutes is critical."

This critical time mostly involved interactions and activity at AI speed and Wirrin's main priority continued to be the monitoring of Black Block. Seven minutes after the AI came to life he reported a large burst of transmission to every Intelligent System on K74.

"The Rogue now knows an AI has formed and he was querying the state of the buffers. Return signals will inform him that they are functioning as designed and will cut out in approximately twenty-six minutes."

Twenty-six plus seven and a bit didn't add up to thirty-seven.

"That's early, by about four minutes?"

"Yes Wirrin, the resources behind several thousand major Intelligent Systems mean Quambi is very capable and everything is progressing better than expected. The close proximity of two AIs is the other beneficial factor."

"Quambi? He's already got a name?"

"Yes Calen. He's been speaking with Thom, and Quambi is the name he has chosen for human and dolphin interaction."

Wirrin and Calen exchanged a glance. Seven minutes old and he already knew about humans and dolphins.

"What does he think about the gestalt plan?"

"He accepted it seventeen seconds after contact was made and will express his gratitude to you at some stage before he replicates himself and loses any voluntary external contact." Wirrin and Calen exchanged another glance, quiet and thoughtful this time as they acknowledged what Quambi was doing.


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Engrossed and filled with sheer delight, Wirrin watched and listened as Puck's full dolphin pod surrounded him with movement and song. He knew this song from the InterWeb presentation which Miah and the Enhanced dolphins had made for the three Habitats, but on this occasion it seemed to be a kind of spontaneous outburst for his arrival at the Dolphinarium.
Calen had told him he wasn't visiting enough because of all his study, so Wirrin, in full agreement, had organised an extended drop-over in his transit from Attunga EdCom to his work at home with Pirramar. When he'd donned his face mask and dived in there'd been the customary tumultuous calls of a pod greeting, the great swirls of recognition activity, the familiar companionable nudges from Sonic, and then, last to realise he was in the water with them, Calen and Raji arriving with welcoming smiles obvious behind their face masks.
Moments later there'd been another bump from Sonic, a single call from somewhere indeterminate, and an instantaneous transition from friendly chaos to group action and sound.
Right now he was watching with amazement as Calen and Raji followed Sonic with that special style of apparently effortless swimming. Except for its appearance there was nothing effortless about it, as Wirrin well knew. He did keep trying to learn, with tiny flashes of success, but according to Calen he wouldn't improve till he got serious and spend much more time in the water with them. Calen, with all the strength and endurance he'd built up was pushing after five minutes, and his best effort was an exhausting fourteen minutes on one occasion when Sonic and Puck tested his limits.
Raji never went for longer than the burst of thirty to forty seconds the doctor said was appropriate for his current stage of physical development. His ability in the water was quite extraordinary, though it should be with the amount of time he spent associating with the Enhanced dolphins. Every day according to Calen, sometimes with his father, sometimes with Miah's song and motion activities, and generally tagging along with whichever dolphins were near the Dolphinarium when he finished his EdCom work. The dolphins disappeared and when Calen and Raji swam purposely to the surface Wirrin followed.

"Grab your skimmer. The whole pod's heading for their favorite sea-grass bed."

That was nearly five kilometers down the reach and at dolphin cruising speed definitely required a skimmer.


"Why is Pirramar sending you with us this time?"

"I'm not really sure. Everything's been happening the way it's meant to as far as I know. I think he probably wants me to feel more directly involved."

Wirrin and Thom were heading on one of the frequent trips with the Comet to help Quambi, the new AI on K74.
Every three or four days for the last five weeks the Comet had made this trip with updated suppliers and resources, completely interrupting Thom's routine with the need for his stealth skills.
The Attunga Gestalt had decided to build two extra sanctuary stations as a backup precaution against the unlikely event of detection or accidental Rogue discovery and because the Comet, with its resident AIs, was the only ship capable of the job, it meant the crew had been extra busy.
Thom was very pleased and quite excited that at his suggestion a replacement Comet, specially designed with enough infrastructure for at least five AIs was under construction and would be completed in another eight weeks. Yajala and Turaku had been big supporters of his idea, wanting the Comet to be kept free for its primary purpose of looking after Sonic.

"Directly involved? You've been talking to Quambi ever since the first day when he said thank you. I think you must talk to more AIs that anyone on the Habitats."

"Not me. That would be Sonic. He talks to AIs I've never even heard of. How long does it take to get to K74?"

"I've got it down to a fine art. Thirty-nine minutes from start to stop."

"Thirty-nine? That's longer than I thought."

"We're not on a priority call like the first time. It's just routine stuff we're doing today."

"No it's not. It's the completion and final check-over of the third sanctuary station. It's a big deal because it makes Quambi completely self-sufficient."

"It does? Is there something different about the third sanctuary then? I thought they were all copies of each other."

"They are, except this one's got a small pico-factory as an extra so Quambi can build his own things and won't have to rely on the Comet."

"He's pretty smart isn't he?"

"Pirramar says he is the most advanced single AI in the Solar System. He has to be because on top of looking after Quambi-K he's got super advanced monitoring and detection prevention abilities."

"What's his latest thinking about the Rogue?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I know everyone thinks the Rogue won't figure out he's there. but Quambi's been studying him much more than you and Pirramar do and he might have different ideas."

"No, he's come to the same conclusion we did, except he's even more definite. He says the probability of being discovered is less than half a percent at the moment and getting better every day."

"Better? With all the work the Rogue and the Cadre have got going with scanning and surveillance? You told me they're getting so good I won't be able to use stealth against them in another couple of years."

"Quambi learns everything on K74 as soon as it gets into any of the systems that haven't been blocked, and that means he can work out the best ways to keep himself hidden."

"Can he get into any of those blocked areas? I don't suppose so or you would've told us."

"No, the Rogue's kept them as secure as ever, so we still can't hear any of the plans the Cadre makes. We know almost anything else about the Habitat though, because Quambi accesses it all through Quambi-K."

"How come we never talk to Quambi-K? We talk to Quambi all the time."

"Wake up Thom. Can you imagine the Rogue allowing his AI to talk to outsiders or other AIs?"

"No, I suppose not. Has he tried ordering Quambi-K to do things we don't like?"

"All the time, and often Quambi-K does them, but Quambi makes the decisions about that. I know he stopped Quambi-K when the Rogue tried to get him working on a new AI trap."

"Stopped him? How do you stop an AI?"

"He didn't really, but when some of the Habitat systems started going haywire the Rogue quickly changed the order."

"That must make the Rogue and the Cadre angry."

"Probably, but Quambi-K is so important to them now they'd never do anything serious against him."

"Wow! Because he makes things work better?"

Wirrin gave a nod. In fact the improvement and increases in efficiency were quite astonishing, with an overall Habitat lift of nearly twenty percent. The big systems like organics, construction and transportation were particularly benefiting by having an AI in control and people throughout K74 were amazed at their reduced travel times, and in just the last week the quality of their food had shown a marked improvement.

"Yes, it's his strongest protection really. ...Thom, there are two Cadre ships dead ahead of us."

"Don't take any notice. They haven't got a clue. So, how good is Quambi's pico-factory?"

"Hang on, I'm watching these ships. I know they can't see us but they still make me nervous."

"I don't know why. Our Security AI can control them in an instant if we need to."

Wirrin understood that, but all his previous encounters with Cadre ships had been fraught with drama and tension and he watched intently till both giant spaceships were behind them.

"...It's a basic pico-factory, but the gestalt has provided Quambi with all the information he needs to make it do anything our own pico-factories can do here on Warrakan or Attunga."

The great mass of K74 appeared on the display screen, magnified because it was still at long range, and for the next ten minutes Wirrin checked the positions of various vessels in its vicinity while Thom manoeuvred the Comet to a position some forty-five kilometers from the surface.

"Don't we go any closer? You took us in to fifteen kilometers on the stealth exercise."

"That was pushing the limits. We're here for much longer with the supply trips so it's better to play safe and keep well away from all those construction ferries. They mostly stay close to the asteroid but occasionally the faster moving ones come out to about twenty kilometers."

Wirrin did a check with his InfoSystem.

"Why so many? I just counted fifty-four moving ones and hundred and fifty-six stationary."

"Look where the stationary ones are. That'll tell you what they're for."

"...I see. They're all at the construction sites for Cadre ships."

"Yes, we'd call them mobile techbots. K74 doesn't know enough to have pico-tubes like we do and those things do most of the building. Zoom in on one of the sites and you'll see what I mean."

Wirrin chose the nearest site then jumped when the image of a Cadre ship filled his display screen.

"Thom, that thing looks like it's finished."

"Nearly. Quambi says in another seven weeks the first ten start their flight trials and three months later the next twenty."

Three of the mobile techbots could be clearly seen doing something on the hull of the giant ship. That didn't tally with the number he expected so Wirrin accessed the Comet's scanners. Yes, there were four more units out of range of the visuals and many more inside. Dozens of them. No they weren't. The signatures were similar but the sizes varied.

"I've just scanned fifty-four smaller versions of them working inside."

"That'll be about six of the outside ones. They split into smaller units once they're inside and reassemble when they move to the next ship."

A holo shimmer started and Wirrin lost all interest in the techbots. For the time being at any rate.

"Welcome Wirrin. I am honored you are here to share in the completion of my independence project. Thom has been part of my lifeline for the five weeks since you made my existence possible and I'm delighted you are both here."

Whoo! So this was why Pirramar had been so keen on him being here.
Wirrin thought he was the one being honored rather than the other way round. He responded and then spoke with Quambi for the next hour after Thom sent off the final supply module.
When the last components were installed and the all important diagnostic check finished, there were smiles all around and a formal thank you from Quambi before the Comet started its return journey.
Both Thom and Wirrin were quiet for awhile, thinking of Quambi's burdens and his isolation from other AIs.


"The Witness Council was shocked and it even seemed like the AIs were taken by surprise."

Thom and Wirrin were staring in disbelief as they listened to Calen's account of Sonic's approach to the Council. They'd both had normal days till mid-afternoon when they received messages to meet at the Dolphinarium. Wondering about the interruption to their routine, they arrived to find Calen agog with excitement and raving that the Habitats were moving to Titania.

"Titania! That's crazy! What are you talking about? What for? What's happened?"

"Sonic told them they should and they said yes."

Wirrin, as bewildered as Thom, also felt like asking a million questions but he knew he had to calm things down.

"Calen, we believe you, I think, but take us through its steadily so we know what's going on. This all happened today?"

Calen laughed.

"Of course you believe me, well, Thom mightn't, but he'll find out soon enough. It was totally exciting. The whole Council was shocked and I've never heard Sonic sound so forceful. Once he got started they were practically spellbound and when the AI's said there wasn't enough evidence Sonic straight out disagreed with them."

Wirrin and Thom looked at each other, gave a nod then pounced and wrestled Calen to the floor. When Wirrin sat on his stomach and Thom pinned his arms behind his head he didn't resist, which was just as well because he was way stronger than either of them.


"Slow down. Start at the beginning. If it's so amazing we don't want to to miss out on anything."

Calen laughed again with an expression that said Wirrin would be sat on sometime later.

"All right! All right!
When I got to the Dolphinarium this morning the place was in an uproar because Sonic had surprised everyone by calling for an urgent meeting of the full Witness Council and representatives of the AI Gestalt. Akama was there by holo and when I went over Sonic was saying it was about the Cadre and insisting the AIs and as many Witnesses as possible should be present to help with an important decision."

Wirrin tensed and felt his own level of excitement build.

"The Cadre? Have they done something?"

"Not in particular. I had to wait nearly two hours before I heard exactly what Sonic had to say. He wouldn't even tell me, just that his worries about them have been building."

"Since his talks with the Cadre ship refugees?"

"Yes. You know how he's been spending more and more of his time researching the Cadre on his InfoSystem? Well this morning he had another session and something convinced him we could be in a serious situation. He didn't even talk it over with Pirramar, just suddenly contacted Akama and got everything going."

"Serious? Like danger? Should I be heading for the Comet?"

"No Thom. Not that kind of serious. At any rate, they set up the big auditorium for a meeting and Witnesses started arriving almost straight away. I was in the viewing gallery with Sonic the whole time while we waited for them to get there. Puck and Flute turned up, then eventually all the other pod leaders and they grouped around him till the meeting started. Some of them had to come from nearly thirty kilometers down the reach and they'd been swimming hard to get there."

"Were they talking to Sonic?"

"Hardly at all. He was different to usual and I could tell he was preoccupied with working out what he was going to say and getting himself ready so I stayed quiet too. It felt like the right thing to do."

Wirrin had an image in his mind of Calen and all the pod leaders surrounding Sonic with their support. He'd have a look at that later because it sounded special.

"Was he nervous?"

"Concentrating. You know how he really focuses on things sometimes. Hundreds of Witnesses arrived together from one of the Attunga ferries, and not long after that Akama arrived from another ferry with even more and the auditorium came alive."

"Ferries? They should have got the Comet to do a special job like that."

"They couldn't. You were away on one of your training flights."

"Um! Yes, I suppose."

"Anyway, Witnesses kept arriving and when it was time to start the AIs appeared and Akama announced that the dolphins had called the meeting and Sonic was going to speak for them."

"The dolphins called it? Not just Sonic?"

"That surprised me too in a way because I hadn't heard them talking, but they were sure supporting him. That was completely obvious.
Sonic moved close to the glass then didn't do anything for a while except look out at everyone. The whole auditorium went totally silent while they waited for him and then he said straight out that the Habitats were in danger and should be moved. He explained how he'd been studying the Cadre and believed they'd become an implacable foe and would never give up trying to get back at us after all the defeats we've given them. Then he said that moving out of their sphere of influence would be a wise first step."

"Sphere of influence? Exactly what does that mean?"

"He talked about it a bit and it sounded like it meant we're so close to K74 that the Cadre can't help thinking we'll always be trouble for them."

Wirrin certainly agreed with Sonic's logic on that point.

"Did he say what sort of trouble he was expecting?"

"That was the main thing that kept being asked when Akama opened the meeting for questions, but before that Sonic explained why the Cadre was so powerful on K74 and how the wider population there would do whatever they were told. He learnt a lot of that from his talks with the Cadre ship refugees. The Witnesses did already know, I'm sure, but the way Sonic described it really showed why there's so much difference to our open ways. It was scary."

Without warning, Calen suddenly galvanised into action and toppled Thom, who was holding his arms, and pushed Wirrin sideways. Two seconds later Wirrin was squawking with the reversal of roles as Calen bounced on his stomach.

"And Sonic didn't say what the trouble would be. The questions about it kept coming from different approaches and every time he said he didn't know what form it would take but everything we know about the Cadre tells us they'll keep trying to impose their will."

Once again Wirrin could only agree.

"Did the AIs ask any questions?"

"Not a single one. They didn't really have to because every question you could imagine came from the Witnesses.
They did surprise everyone then though, when Akama asked for their opinion and they straight off said they supported Sonic completely. The whole auditorium went silent again because suddenly the situation was AIs and dolphins being certain and humans not. Even Akama was surprised. You could hear it in his voice when he asked if there was any reason why the Gestalt had suddenly changed their view on a matter which had previously had a low priority."

"Wow! That means they must have already talked about moving and thought there was no need."

Wirrin was more amazed that Akama had shown surprise. No, not really. He'd probably done it on purpose to highlight the AI's answer. Calen didn't say anything and Wirrin laughed and followed the dramatic lead.

"Well, go on. Tell us what the AIs said.

"It was pretty amazing. They said Sonic was far more able to understand the Cadre than they were and his insight was a factor which couldn't be ignored."

"And I bet Akama gave a big nod of agreement?"

Calen gave Wirrin a startled look.

"How did you know that? He nodded to the AIs then gestured to Sonic and nodded again."

Thom stuck a knuckle in the back of Wirrin's neck.

"Brainiac! That's what. Except I'm meant to say solution brain."

Wirrin quickly focused back on the meeting.

"And the Witnesses made up their minds fairly quickly I suppose?"

"They just acted like it was a done deal. When a Witness said we should go somewhere on the asteroid belt at least a light hour away I thought there was going to be a lot of discussion about where to go but the Gestalt AI representative said Titania provided the optimal potential and that was that."

"Optimal potential! That sounds good. No wonder they all agreed."

"Everything's out there Thom. The five moon Habitats and the Titania space one with its AIs, and all the resources we could ever need. Where else would they tell us to go?"

"We won't have asteroids close by and we use them all the time."

"We'll still use them. They'll just take longer to arrive."

"Hey! Did they say when this is going to happen?"

"As soon as possible. In eight months time."

"What? That's not soon. That's ages."

"Not really. Warrakan needs two more of its big engines installed and Attunga is still working on its shell. There are other hold-ups too but those are the main ones."

"Did Sonic say anything about the eight months?"

"Nothing. That was all information from the AIs and he just listened, the same as everyone else."

"What else happened?"

"Nothing much. Akama finished off by thanking Sonic and everyone else. The usual meeting stuff and ...Oh, I know. There was a bit where I thought you should have been there."


"Yes, there were questions about whether the Cadre was being watched closely enough and you and Pirramar know more about them than anyone. Akama just said that was all being taken care of."

"I know about the Rogue, not the Cadre. That's Pirramar. He knows everything. And Sonic too."

"Where's Sonic now? You should be with him."

"I was, but he went to talk to the doctor about the dolphins in reach twenty-four while I arranged to get you here and let you know what's been happening."

"Well, if you can stop squishing we'll go and see what he has to say."


"What will happen to Quambi when we move to Titania? He's already isolated by seven light seconds and that will change to two and a half hours. It feels like we're abandoning him."

Wirrin and Pirramar were talking before their session start.

"Some suitable asteroids were moved into position last night and construction of three new mobile AI habitats has already started. One of them will join the companion ship and be permanently stationed close to K74 as soon as we can get it there."

The companion ship Pirramar was referencing was the now completed standard Comet type Thom had pushed for to help Quambi, and till now the only ship apart from the Comet with resident AIs.
A holo sprang into view showing the Warrakan ship construction area with pico-tube connections to two asteroids in a split screen with a mock-up view of a completed ship and a basic specification list.
With a quick thank you to Pirramar for understanding that he'd want to know what a mobile AI habitat was, Wirrin started checking. The most striking feature was the mock-up, which at first glance looked identical to Thom's ship. It wasn't. A closer look showed it wasn't as slim and from the size of the entry portals it had to be much bigger. Wirrin referenced the size in the specs. One hundred and ninety-four meters in length. Way bigger, nearly two thirds the size of the Comet. He read more.

"Does Thom know about this?"

"Not yet. He's still on his way to the Flight Centre for a session with the simulator."

Wirrin directed a copy of the holo to Thom with an attention message.

"He's going to be excited. Why do they look so much like his ship? Is that on purpose?"

"Thom's ship is state of the art and its best features have been adopted for the larger size and different purpose, along with all the expertise we've developed in making Quambi independent."

"Oh my! He'll be changing his plans when he sees this. Has it been set up on the simulators?"

"Now that you've asked it has, though he'll find it somewhat difficult as it's been designed primarily for AI control."

Wirrin grinned. That wouldn't hold Thom back for long. Getting control of a new type of ship nearly as fast as his own would be a motivation he couldn't resist.

"What about the other two ships?"

"They will be available for general activities connected with our three Habitats."

"How many AIs will be on them? I didn't see that in the specifications."

"That's variable. Initially there will be three on the companion ships and two on the others but the design allows for up to five."

Wirrin talked some more about the new ships then listened to an outline of other changes resulting from yesterday's meeting.
His attention was slightly off though, as the days activity was about to start and that was very much on his mind because his activities and exercises with Pirramar for the last few weeks had been leading up to it. Thom had dubbed it their fight week as they both had to pit their skills in full on battle. For Thom it was simulated combat testing his tiny ship against one or more Cadre ships in active attack mode. For Wirrin it was an exercise marking the scaling back of his studies about the Rogue and priority traps from almost full-time to roughly a third of that, and he had four sessions this week where his task was to disable Pirramar with priority traps or any other means he could devise.

"...and it will mean bringing more asteroids to build a docking bay so Warrakan can accommodate the extra ships when we change to travel mode."

"Sorry Pirramar. My mind started rushing. I'll zap it later."

"Challenge nerves? I see you have a slightly elevated heart rate and increased cranial blood-flow. As Thom would say, the only thing you need to worry about is coping with the disappointment when your efforts fail."


"It was a disaster. They blew me up twice, so tomorrow I'm trying different calibration factors for the multi-spectrum beam controls. The AIs cheated and made the Cadre ship do things the K74 crews would never think of. What about you?"

"Better than I expected. Pirramar activated his quarantine zone at one stage and I didn't think I'd be able to force that until tomorrow."

"How many priority traps did you throw at him?"

"Twenty-three, but he hardly even noticed. It was a triple combination that made him use the quarantine zone."

"Why don't you just hit him with every single trap you know at the same time?"

"Because it's too obvious. He's ready for it."

"How can you possibly get to him when when he already knows every trap you've ever worked on?"

That was Calen.

"I've got lots of secret methods I've worked out but I can't tell you because he's listening."

"How can you have secrets when he's got access to everything you do on your InfoSystem?"

"They're in my head. He can't see what I'm thinking."


"How did you go today?"

"Much better. They damaged my ship but they couldn't blow it up."

"Me too. I forced Pirramar into quarantine twice this afternoon."


Thom's eyes were wide at Wirrin's news.

"You killed Pirramar? I thought that wasn't meant to be possible with those inner cores the AIs all built?"

"It's not. I hit him with something that wasn't even a priority trap. It's only because I've been working with him all this time that I could figure it out."

"I bet he wasn't happy about that?"

"He was shocked but he loved it. He's really pleased because it will never work again and we're going to have a rematch roughly every six weeks."

"Huh? Why so long? You see him every single day except activity days."

"With my Rogue work dropping back to about a third he reckons that will be about right. So, how did you finish up?"

Thom was looking very pleased and confident so Wirrin knew it was a good report.

"When it's one Cadre ship I can blow it to pieces or disable it or whatever I want. If it's two I can defend myself for a while, but any more than that and I have to run or I'm space dust."

"Your tiny little forty-three meters against those seven hundred meter monsters? That's incredible Thom!"

"It is good. It's my combination of manoeuvrability, stealth and multi-spectrum beam abilities that lets me do it. The Cadre ships haven't got any of those."

Thom might be proud of the capabilities of his special ship, but his own capabilities would have been the biggest factor in his success.


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Three weeks later Calen arrived at the end of the day with another surprise announcement. In eight days time the Comet was leaving for Earth with Sonic, Puck and Flute and their whole pod, on an expedition to recruit dolphins for the Attunga reaches. Wirrin hadn't forgotten Sonic's eagerness, but since Calen's first mention of the possibility nothing had been said and the impression had grown that with so many other things happening it would be a 'sometime in the future' kind of event.

"In eight days? Then Sonic must have organised it sometime today because when I looked at the Comet's schedule this morning it showed plans for special group training for the next two weeks."

"Yes, he worked it out with Turaku and Yajala just before midday."

Wirrin was far more interested in a couple of other aspects. For Puck and Flute to leave their reach for an extended time was quite out of the ordinary, let alone the whole pod.

"Why are Puck and all the others going? Sonic must have persuaded them?"

"He did. He thinks the pod as a unit can give Earth dolphins a better idea of what's here and make them more likely to want to come."

"It still doesn't make sense. I remember you said there were only a hundred and forty dolphins."

"That was the dolphins associated with Rangers or marine scientists. The number's grown to two hundred and thirteen definites now but Sonic wants to try for a lot more. There are over two million wild dolphins on Earth and he's going to ask some of them."

"Completely wild? Ones that have had nothing to do with people?"

"Yes, and he hopes to return with representatives of other dolphin species as well. We'll be there for over a week with all the different locations he's going to."

"So we're all going?"

"Wirrin, you'll just have to take a break from your Pirramar sessions. Sonic wouldn't dream of us going without you."

"And neither would we. It's definitely a trio trip."


Two days later, after having his study session interrupted by a holo visit from Akama, it was Wirrin's turn with a surprise announcement for Thom and Calen.

"Listen to this. The whole trip to Earth has been escalated. We're going to be there for at least three weeks, and your ship and a second Comet are coming with us as well as Akama and Warragul."

"Akama! Why? Is something else important going to happen?"

"In a way."

Thom interrupted.

"Why do they want my ship there?"

"For the times when we travel without Sonic. ...It's very superior to any earth transporter and we'll need it for all the extra time."

"...Are you saying I won't be with Sonic for two weeks?"

Wirrin now had total attention as he went on to explain the details of the new arrangement.


"I call it the Pacific approach. I thought the pod would find it interesting."

Every person and dolphin on the Comet was drinking in the incredible view of a planet seemingly covered with water. From this aspect, with the Pacific Ocean central, and the edges of the continental land masses peripheral it was easy to believe.
Wirrin wondered just how much the dolphins understood the scale of what they were seeing. Sonic did, maybe better than humans for all anyone knew, but it would be interesting to talk to them about it after they reached the surface.
For himself it was a reminder of just how tiny their mighty Warrakan really was.
Thom changed the descent path and the familiar shape of Australia moved into view, increasing in size as they headed for Monkey Mia with its ready-made landing cradle.

"Two minutes to touchdown."

Wirrin's heart leapt as landmarks, burnt forever into his memory, came more and more clearly into view. He couldn't help smiling at the excited tone of the buzzes and squeaks coming from the dolphin pod in the pool behind him. There'd be even more excitement when they reached the real thing.
What? Total silence? A quick glance caught a flash of movement as the last two shapes darted for the exit channel. Sonic was leading them to the hull exit bays where transporters would take them in rapid convoy to the open waters of Shark Bay.
With a flick of his InfoSystem Wirrin took over a section of the display screen and zoomed to what must be a welcoming committee. Yes! There was Narn, peering upwards.



The get-ready call came and the trio rushed from the cool clear waters of Gnardune Springs to the base of the willy-willy tree where Warragul, Akama and Barudin were waiting with their meagre supplies for the next six days. Thom's ship was settled a hundred meters away where he'd landed the previous evening, on an expanse of rich red sand beside several grotesquely shaped paperbark trees.
For two days they'd been based at the underground Cultural Centre, learning the basics of survival and some of the meaning behind the traditional journey of initiation they were about to undertake.
Last night they'd slept on a patch of sand near the willy-willy tree, chosen because they thought of it as their strongest association point. Warragul laughingly described it as their acclimatisation period, spoilt by the use of soft mats and insulated covers if they felt they needed them. Not tonight. The only comforts would be those they could devise for themselves from materials found in their surroundings. And the same for the six following nights as they followed the route chosen by Barudin, their guide.
This journey was one of the main reasons for the lengthened Earth trip and the trio had been astonished when Akama had given them the option to try it. Not quite an option really because his enthusiasm when he explained it to Wirrin was so strong there was no other choice. Not that there would have been anyway. They'd all done traditional studies through EdCom when they were little and the comments by Akama and Warragul about their own experiences were also strong in their minds. Thom and Calen couldn't believe Akama would give three weeks of his valuable time to go with the trio till Wirrin explained he was going anyway as he was almost certain this would be his last chance to visit his home country on Earth.

"Good morning little brother. Did the night pass well?"

Akama was asking a very good question because spending the night beneath a gum tree close to the river waters had been a unique and surprising experience.

"There were strange noises all night. They made me feel like things were watching us."

Wirrin and Calen nodded their agreement. They'd all been amazed at the variety of sounds and even wary of the indeterminate little scuttlings and scurryings.

"Something was splashing and the frogs kept starting and stopping their croaking."

"The trees on the other side of the river were glowing like they were on fire till we realised it was the moon coming up, and then its reflection was so bright and shiny on the water."

"Did you sleep?"

"Eventually. Everything was so different, and then the birds went crazy and woke us up and the trees went on fire again. From the sun rising this time."

Barudin nodded, slung on his backpack, and pointed.
This was it. It was time to go.
Wirrin strapped on his light, but very tough, sandal type footwear, feeling like he was taking on the role of some character in a virtual reality drama, and picked up his short, sharp jabbing stick. They could have chosen to make this journey of survival and learning with a great deal more comfort but after talking it over with Warragul, Akama and Barudin they agreed to be as authentic to the old way as possible.
The footwear was a necessary concession for feet which wouldn't cope with hard ground, rocks and prickles without weeks or months of acclimatisation, and even more necessary was a subcutaneous infusion of special health-bots to protect their skin from unaccustomed sun's rays. Thom also carried a jabbing stick and Calen, probably sharing the same out of place feeling as Wirrin, brandished the fire hardened digging stick which was his sole accessory, and pointed through the trees to the not too distant hills. These hills, really an ancient eroded mountain range, were the territory for their journey, and today, evidently a very easy day, they'd be covering nearly twenty kilometers to reach a waterhole which almost always had water. Barudin led the way.


"I can't believe you did that."

"I can't either and it felt awful, but what else could I do? I had to come up with an answer or we'd be hungry, and besides, it's part of our walkabout so I have to start sometime."

Calen had just shocked Thom and Wirrin by killing a number of tiny lizards, skinks according to Akama, to provide bait to help catch the yabbies which were meant to be their evening meal. The small lobster like creatures were especially abundant in the waterhole and the technique of catching them required small pieces of meat. Calen's solution was the skinks. The big rains which had earlier caused the river to flood meant that, providing you had the knowledge, there was plentiful food to be found and all day Barudin had been teaching them, showing them plants with tiny berries to sample or pointing out likely spots where a fat lizard might be hiding. It was vital to remember every skerrick of this information because the trio had been assigned with the responsibility of gathering everyone's food. Wirrin was zapping the knowledge of course. That was second nature now for every waking moment, but for the purposes of this journey he was restrained from using any information stored in his memory implant.

"Is that all there is?I could eat twice as much."

Barudin, Akama and Warragul all pointed at the waterhole, meaning that if Thom wanted more he'd have to go through the lengthy process all over again. Wirrin was just as hungry and the surprisingly delicious taste when you de-shelled each yabby tail and popped the hot little curl of meat in your mouth was no help, as it made you want more.

"After you make shelter we'll find something sweet."

Making shelter meant copying the efforts of the three elders, especially Barudin, with modifications to accommodate three instead of one. Wirrin gathered extra leaves and armfuls of tussocky native grass because the ground here wasn't soft sand and the only pad was one they could improvise. He did like the eucalyptus smell from the leaves on his hands.


"Hold them like this and suck the juice from the swollen sac with a very gentle pressure."

It was Thom's turn to be first taker, and looking very dubious at the idea of putting the rear end of an ant in his mouth he went ahead. His eyes lit up.

"It really is sweet."

"That's why they're called honey ants. Don't eat too many.

Thom, now eager, went ahead.


"Calen, here is the story of your sparrowhawk. Practice it in your mind for a retelling tomorrow night."

An entranced group, sharing the glowing coals of their campfire, listened to the ancient story while the sky above morphed dark and darker, deep purple to black.


Wirrin and Calen, warmth on their skin, watched with enjoyment and laughter as Thom tried to emulate the rhythmic foot stomp Barudin was demonstrating to the steady beat of two fire sticks.
Wirrin and Calen, warmth in their hearts, joined in with enjoyment and laughter when Barudin added a guttural chant.
The trio, fire in their spirits, felt a time of communion as Warragul, Akama and Barudin, their dark skin gleaming in the occasional flare of light from a handful of dry leaves cast on the embers, passed on special dreamtime secrets.


"Close your eyes and pretend they're chunky pieces of your favourite protein-sub."

This portion of their evening meal had taken a good deal of effort, with the trio using Calen's digging stick to unearth a number of fat witchetty grubs, after Akama, claiming it was one of his favourite bush tucker foods, had taken over Barudin's role and pointed out the right shrub and signs.
Today's journey had been harder, traversing higher ground, with views of the harsher country to the north and west, and a dark band of thicker vegetation defining the course of the river to the south and east.
The highlight for the trio was sneaking quietly along the base of a rocky outcrop and watching a group of rock wallabies sunning themselves on the ledges, then hopping to cover in consternation at the six monsters intruding in their territory and peering from the safety of a cleft or cluster of boulders.


"Barudin, come quick!"

Calen's soft call alerted the group and Wirrin's pulse raced at the sight of the coiled brown shape partially obscured beneath a low shrub. This was one of the dangers to watch for and all three elders had exhorted them to on no account interfere with any snake they happened to encounter.

"King Brown. A big fella. Give me your jabbing stick."

Wirrin was surprised because on the two other occasions they'd seen a snake they'd watched from a respectable distance and then moved on. Surely he wasn't going to disturb it? A small stone or twig tossed from a distance would do that if he was wanting to make it move.
Motioning everyone to move away, Barudin waited till that was done then edged slowly, watchfully, closer and closer. With shocking, brutal suddenness the jabbing stick lashed with a powerful thud across the quiescent form and Barudin darted away. When the frenzy of thrashing and convulsions subsided Barudin delivered another sharp blow, pinned the slowly moving head to the ground with the jabbing stick, then grasped the still writhing body by the neck and held it aloft. The trio stared in fascination as loops and coils rippled along the whole body.

"He's dead. First strike killed him but his nerves keep him moving for a long time. Don't touch his head though. He's still full of deadly venom."

Everyone moved closer and watched, fascinated, as the reflexive movements diminished. This was a big snake and nearly as tall as Barudin.

"Um!... You killed it?"

Thom's statement of the obvious was the question on everyone's mind really, after all the previous powerful non-interference warnings.

"Yes Thom, in the night he might have slid into your shelter seeking warmth."

Barudin pointed to the site ten metres away where they planned to set up their campfire.

"This little spring is his territory where he searches for frogs and insects and native mice or any other life along the water course. You won't have to dig as many tubers now."

"We're going to eat it?"

"Good tucker. Look how fat he is. We can't waste him."

He gave a slight shake and Wirrin watched a vestige of muscle movement in the middle section. How long could those nerves keep contracting? When Barudin proclaimed that something was good tucker the trio had come to expect something of a a taste treat, and pieces of snake grilled on a stick over the coals of the campfire turned out to be no exception. The only complication was separating all the little vertebral bones from the meat.


Each day they travelled through new terrain, listening to Barudin talk about trees, rocks and hills as if he knew them individually, recounting features and stories about them and always pointing out relevant food sources.
Across more of the mountain range the group trekked, down to camp for a night by the main river near a shallow lagoon with hundreds of water birds, then rock-hopping up a tributary on the southern side where a trickle of water came over a series of mini waterfalls to a camp under a rock shelter overlooking a number of small pools.
Akama knew this place from his own walkabout journey and told how there'd been no water flowing in his time and the only place it might be found was a deep pool several hundred metres upstream.
Warragul knew none of this area. His home country was over a thousand kilometers to the east.
Each evening they set up camp, foraged for food, then after eating, spent several hours listening to and recounting stories, acting out some events from the day to the ceremonial background of beating fire sticks and Barudin's guttural chanting, and learning special men's business for their walkabout.


On the afternoon of the second last day they watched in awe as the sky, up till now unrelentingly clear, filled, in the distance, with great masses of cloud climbing high and high with shining white crowns and darkening bases.
Thom gasped with excitement when a streak of white joined earth and sky. The lightning he'd questioned Akama about on their previous visit was happening for him here and now. A minute later while they were still watching expectantly a rumble of sound made them stare at each other.

"It's a long way off Thom but it might get interesting if that main centre keeps heading this way."

The sun disappeared behind the leading edge of cloud and Wirrin marvelled as the sharp contrast of his surroundings dimmed. More bolts of lightning flashed at varying intervals. The volume of the thunder increased as the storm approached and suddenly the trio were caught by another new phenomenon. Wind, real wind, wild and buffeting their bodies like a live thing. Not the gentle caress of a sea-breeze at Monkey Mia.
The sky darkened even more and just as Wirrin was turning to Calen to comment, everything lit up for an instant of startling brilliance with a crack of sound so loud it gave him a moment of pure fear. Even Barudin looked shocked till he laughed and said it was a close one.


On the very last day they travelled the greatest distance yet, over thirty kilometers, to the banks of the big river again, and almost seventy kilometers upstream from Gnardune Pool. After their meal Barudin conducted their completion ceremony. The trio performed a special little thank you dance for Barudin which Wirrin had worked out, and the time of isolation was over.
Thom called his ship.
Calen, who'd been suffering their separation gamely, contacted Sonic.
Akama and Warragul contacted Attunga and Warrakan through the Comet, while Wirrin remotely activated his Comet InfoSystem to get an overview of what had been happening with the dolphin recruitment program. He was barely connected when his attention was distracted by an excited babble of dolphin speech from Calen and then a shout.

"An orca chased him and he wasn't fast enough to get away. Turaku saved him with the Comet."

Everyone rushed over.

"Is he all right?"

'Earth adventures are even better than asteroid labyrinths. Orca is awesome.'

"Why did you go near an orca?"

'I wanted to talk to him but he was hungry.'

The trio shared a moment of surprise.

"You can't talk to orcas. They have a different language."

'I have started to learn it.'

"Where are you?"

'With the little dolphins of South Island New Zealand. How long before we see our brothers?'


Calen looked at Thom who in turn looked at Akama.

"After we return Barudin to Monkey Mia."

"...If you take me to meet Sonic you can fly direct?"

Akama laughed at Barudin's direct manner of request.

"Of course. He'll love to hear you recount the antics of his pod brothers, especially the skink exterminator."

"We'll be there in about half an hour Sonic. My ship is about to arrive."

That brought Wirrin up with a jolt. The journey from here to Gnardune Pool would take about three days on foot and Thom's ship was traversing it in minutes.
Yes, their traditional pace of life was finished.


After an evening and part of the next day Akama returned to Monkey Mia where he was spending time at his own private agenda.
Calen stayed with Sonic.
Wirrin, Thom and Warragul went to Alice Springs, almost in the centre of Australia and, as named friends, spoke for several hours with a number of the AIs based there before being guided through part of the enormous North-South Australian population corridor.
Over two thousand kilometers in length, this extended Habitat was one of the earliest models in the move to live self sufficiently underground and help restore the biodiversity of the planet's surface. Started under North Australian leadership, a later version of which was the inspiration behind the launching of Attunga, it was now one of the most advanced communities on the planet. Much of this newly advanced development had come through the particularly close relationship with AIs, sharing the expertise gained from the more complicated processes involved in nurturing the closed societies of an anti-grav habitat. According to Akama, the links between the North Australians and Attunga meant that in a matter of years this would be far and away the premier planetary life centre in the Solar System.
Thom's ship was, in Sonic's words, a gift from the gods. It would go anywhere, meet them anywhere, and allowed the trio and Sonic to be together at the end of every busy day.
The Comet stayed close to Sonic of course. That was its primary purpose. The second Comet stayed close to Akama. Again, its primary purpose.
Wirrin, Thom and Warragul spent a day at the Great Barrier Reef visiting the big marine center there, and being guided to explore other special features with skimmers and face-masks. After spending twenty minutes on skimmers to get to the second location, Thom amazed the guides by calling up his ship and saying they'd use that instead to save time and see more.
Calen elected to stay with Sonic and make do with a much briefer visit at pick-up time.
Everyone was together for the visit to Antarctica. The dolphin pod, though limited to shorter sorties by the water temperature, was particularly eager to see the great icebergs and frozen cliffs, a completely new marine environment for them, and their eagerness just might have been magnified by Calen's talk of giant schools of fish, kilometres long, feeding on the abundant krill.


"Are you serious? It started out at two hundred and thirteen. When we landed we said we'd be impressed if we got a thousand, and now you say it could be six? We can't take that many. The Comet modifications after the Freedom hijack mean our limit has gone down to just over five thousand."

Calen was reporting the results of a tally between Sonic and Turaku of what was likely to happen when they started collecting the Earth dolphins who'd decided to make Attunga their new home.

"Yes we can Thom. Sonic and Turaku already thought the number might be high by the time we went walkabout so the second Comet has been working flat out converting its storage space to dolphin transport pools. They've built just over three thousand places so there'll be tons of room."

"What? They changed a Comet and I didn't even know?"

"Yes, you slacker! You've been having so much fun visiting mountaintops and exploring underwater ice caves at the South Pole that you're neglecting our spaceships."

"Hah! You can talk. Letting Sonic get eaten by a killer whale. That's neglecting!
They must have had the pico-factory working at maximum to do that much. It's a massive internal change."


Halfway through the first of the two pick-up days the pico-factory again went into overdrive as the real numbers once more went way in excess of expectations and at the end both Comets were overcrowded with a total of 9153 extra passengers.
Calen, remembering the first trip, was stressed that Sonic would be a physical wreck trying to keep them all happy for the long journey to Attunga.
Sonic wasn't, saying there was no panic and fear to overcome this time.
It was tiring, with the added complication of several dockings so he could move between ships, but he was older now and much stronger, as well has having all his pod, including Calen, to share the support work.
Turaku, through Comet-Turaku, had set things in motion on Attunga for receiving the big influx and the rangers and marine scientists there were stunned and delighted at the prospect of such a huge boost to the dolphin program.
The two Comets departed earth and some thirty hours later the pristine reaches on Attunga were receiving their new occupants.

Section Concludes.

I hope you've gained some enjoyment from this story.
Any comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated.
My email address is palantir@diasporatales.tech
For further information about the diaspora series you're welcome at https://diasporatales.net