Jorn and Nehma did try to be patient, vowing not to ask about the library or the archive facility. They studied with the doctors and reviewed their math over the next two days. The third day dawned bright and mild. When they arrived at work, the doctors pulled out their copy of the new map. “Why don’t you take the day and try here,” Dr. Manha said. “We need some more flagging leaves.” It was the main ingredient in the salve they had used on Rayli’s wounds.
“I should ask Archive if there’s a way to make this waterproof,” Nehma said, and then blushed. “Well, maybe you can Dr. Manha. It’d be nice to have the map with us on the boat. I’ve been studying it, but . . . .” but he’d been studying his multiplication tables more. Just by glancing further back in the book, he and Jorn agreed they needed to get it mastered to move on.
When they were out in the fresh air and sunshine with the boat skimming over the water, Jorn said, “You might as well search for pearls, too.”
Nehma grinned. “Of course.” All his relatives were still saving them for him, as well as Treliss and Rayli.
Jorn and Nehma found a whole section of flagging plants, along with many clams and curl diggers. Nehma began to freeze, though. The water was still too cold for prolonged exposure. But he ignored it as long as possible. Then as they were heading back, they saw a biter whale. It was a smaller whale, only the length of two brothers end to end, but it could kill a brother if it caught him in its sharp teeth. But it wasn’t as flexible nor as volatile as a drake, and they easily killed it and dragged it back.
But the fight with the biter left Nehma too weary to fight off the chilling cold. Nor could he control the tremors that swept through him as Jorn sailed them home. Fortunately Jorn was focusing ahead, and did not see him shivering in the back of the boat. He’d only worry, and there was nothing to be done but get home. Jorn would suggest leaving the biter behind to speed them up, but that would be a waste, and they hadn’t gotten a large catch in a while.
“I’ll have to get Thenorn,” Jorn said, “just to keep things looking right. Take the boat to the North Cave.”
Jorn jumped into the air, and Nehma stood to take the sail and catch the wind currents to take the boat in. It was a relief to reach the cave, and he jumped out into the warmer waters to push the boat inside. Yes, something about that underground facility made these waters much warmer.
Rayli swam up beside him and helped him finish pushing the boat and the biter to the dock. Treliss pulled the ropes they threw to her, and tied the creature to the posts. Rayli pulled herself from the water, but Nehma stayed in, just lifting his head out. He gave Rayli a smile. “Thanks. I needed the help. It’s really too cold out there.”
“You’re shivering,” she stated. “You shouldn’t have stayed out so long.”
Breeze came up behind Rayli and then stuck her nose down to sniff at Nehma. Nehma tried to reach up to caress her, but realized it was too much effort. “You’re right,” he finally said. “I can’t warm up.”
Jorn flew in. “I can’t find them.”
“Jorn, you need to get him home,” Rayli said. “He’s got hypothermia.”
Jorn whipped around to see Nehma in the water. “Come on. Into the boat.”
“No,” Rayli said. “The air is colder than the water if he stays near the rocks.”
“I know what I’m talking about,” Rayli insisted. “I know just as much as an apprentice doctor.”
Nehma smiled. “She’s right, Jorn. I need to get home.”
“Why don’t you leave the boat here?” Treliss said. “We can process the rest of the stuff.”
“That’s flagging leaves, for salve.”
“We can net it, and Treliss can fly it over later. Get Nehma home and fix him some hot bean tea. Go on.”
Nehma forced himself to push off the dock and swim back outside. The water was colder outside, and the trip seemed to last forever. Jorn flew back and forth, dangerously close to the rock wall Nehma clung to for warmth. At home he went straight to his nook which was one of the upper nooks, close to the surface.
Jorn roused him and gave him the tea, but then let him rest.
Jorn paced the work room. Then he flew to the medical ward. No one was there. As he turned to leave, Treliss and Wind entered with the flagging leaves. “Where’s Nehma?”
“Home. He really is sick. How come he didn’t tell me? Where are the doctors? I’ve got to get back.”
“Where should I put this?”
Jorn took it from her and stowed it on an underwater shelf, but his mind was whirling. Why hadn’t he paid attention? If they hadn’t stopped for that biter. If they hadn’t tried to get so many clams and red claws.
Jorn focused on Treliss. “Yes?”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Jorn finally shook his head. “Nothing can help, but time and rest now. Why was I so stupid? We didn’t need that biter. The sun was so warm, but the water must have been colder than I imagined. I need to get back.”
“Sure. And I’ll go make sure your efforts weren’t in vain.” She mounted Wind and then was gone. Jorn hesitated only a moment before following.
At home Jorn checked on Nehma and then paced. He couldn’t focus on any work or studies. A noise in the gather room focused his senses. He glided out to find Thenorn. “What did you two do?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was . . . .”
“Well come and tell the stupid thing we can register people. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wouldn’t keep saying, ‘Please register to be recognized,’ every time another elder speaks.”
Jorn shook his head. “What? We haven’t been near the Archive. We’ve been out hunting, and Nehma might die now.” He twisted as he jumped to glide back through the passageways to check Nehma’s nook. He crouched on the edge of the stone ledge to look down into the nook.
Nehma was asleep.
Thenorn landed and crouched beside him. “I’m sorry. What happened?”
“I was stupid. Didn’t realize it was so cold underwater. Hypothermia.”
Thenorn gripped his shoulder. “He’s young and strong. He’ll come through with rest. We all underestimate the weather once in a while.”
“I can’t lose him, Thenorn. I can’t.”
“You don’t understand how different he’s made my life.”
Thenorn again squeezed Jorn’s shoulder. “I’ve seen the difference in you.”
They crouched in silence for a few minutes.
“You know Nehma wants access to the archive maybe more than I do. I want to be able to know the right thing to help people; Nehma wants to know about a lot of things. He loves learning about the Fulls and different cultures, but now he also really wants to find a cure for the disease. He wanted that when we first met Zander, and now he wants it even more since we’ve met Rayli. Zander won’t be able to find out about it. Even Dr. Ryans knows nothing. The answer can only be down there where our race was born.”
Thenorn sighed. “Jorn, the Council of Elders is a council. Belna and I have one vote. Katarn and Fenna, I’m sure could be persuaded to see your side of things also. But the others see you as children who are meddling in things too big for you to comprehend. Your inadvertent contact with the Fulls set them on edge. I might as well tell you now that they want us to order you not to return contact with the Fulls in the spring.”
Jorn closed his eyes. “Nehma would hate that. He really cares for Zander Terrani as a good friend, and he enjoys learning about their culture.”
“What about you?”
Jorn shrugged. “I do not mind it, but I am not good at friendship. Nehma tells me, though, that I need to act interested. Do you really think it would hurt someone’s feelings that I didn’t talk to them?”
Thenorn smiled. “Nehma is good for you, I see. Yes. It’s good to let people know they are valued.”
“I just go to see the flying elk and to protect Nehma. Well now we need another saddle. And we have an account with them. We told you about the pearls. If we want anything . . . .”
“Yes, I know. I wish I could go with you to meet your friends.”
“Why don’t you?”
Thenorn chuckled. “Indeed. Except I just told you about the restrictions they want to place on you.”
“What if you always went with us to make sure we didn’t do anything wrong?”
“And you would like us following you around?”
“Nehma would like it better than not seeing Zander at all.”
Nehma suddenly popped out of the water. “Elder Thenorn. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be resting during the day.”
“It’s okay. I hear you got a bit chilled. Drink some more tea and rest. Tomorrow we’ll talk about that annoying wall. Jorn, see me out.” They flew out to the dock area and settled on the edge. “Where’s your boat?”
“We left it in the North Cave. I tried to find you before I went in,” he said quickly. “I didn’t want to disobey, but we had a biter.”
“It’s okay. Tell me, would you make a similar compromise to have access to the wall? Would you consent to only visits supervised by Belna and me?”
“We would welcome any contact. We have never hidden our discoveries from the elders.”
Thenorn chuckled. “I suppose not. I’ll see what I can arrange.” He leapt into the air and was gone.
Jorn wondered if he’d just lied. They had hidden the matter of access levels, and the ability to enter rooms without them.
Nehma did seem fully recovered the next day, and Jorn could only hope that he developed no lung infection. Right after noon meal they met all the elders in the library. Traynorn and Clema scowled at them, while Katarn smiled in amusement and Fenna winked at them. Vemern and Selma only gave them an appraising stare.
All ten of them crowded into the elevator, and they went to level five. In the Facilities Archive Room Thenorn said, “Every time I try to register them, it says that I do not have authority to do so. Only you two can register new people.”
“How is it that you two have greater authority than the elders?” Traynorn said.
Thenorn rolled his eyes. “I thought I explained that to you. They were first to talk to him. Jorn, Nehma, do you know a way to get it to stop asking for you.”
Nehma shook his head and studied the floor. Jorn, however, had been debating this every time he woke during the night. “Archive, allow Elders Thenorn and Belna to register new people.”
“The same as Thorn, Manha, and Feforn,” Jorn stated without looking at anyone but the Archive panel.
“What did that mean?” Treynorn asked.
“It means that Thenorn and Belna can register you,” Jorn said, still watching the screen.
“I want this . . . this wall . . . to not ask for you again.”
Jorn shrugged. “Archive, from now on, don’t volunteer my name or Nehma’s.”
Thenorn gave Jorn a look, but then he motioned to the others. “Let’s get registered and then ask our questions.” He helped them through the process, while Jorn and Nehma pulled seats from the wall and sat. As they finished registering, the other elders followed their example.
Katarn sat near Jorn. “This is almost like a class room, but wouldn’t work tables and benches be more beneficial than these high arm rests? There’s no room for pages or slates.”
Jorn caught himself before volunteering to ask if there was such a room in the facility. Thenorn already suspected that Jorn and Nehma had reserved authority for themselves, but he hadn’t made an issue of it. Jorn better not make it any more obvious. “Yes. I’ve thought about it, and wondered if the Fulls use this armrest as a back to rest against. They don’t have wings to interfere.”
Katarn gave a full laugh. “Of course. That explains why they are lining the wall — backwards, I thought.”
“Yeah, so did I.”
When they were all seated, Thenorn said, “Well, we can ask our questions now.”
“I want to know why this unit listens to these boys?”
“We’ve been over this . . . .” Thenorn began.
“I’m asking the wall. Why doesn’t it answer?”
Jorn resisted volunteering any information or help. So did Nehma. Nehma just slumped forward against the armrest/back of the chair, and seemed to stare at the floor. He had seemed okay earlier, but perhaps he was sick.
“Answer me, wall,” Traynorn commanded.
“I think his name is Archive,” Thenorn said. “And I think it only responds to direct unambiguous questions. That’s why it never spoke to us before. We never thought to direct a question specifically to it.”
“And how did those two do it.”
At Traynorn’s glare, Nehma finally said, “It was an accident. I was frustrated at being denied access so I asked how I could get access. It was an accident,” he mumbled again, closing his eyes and resting his head on his arms.
Traynorn rolled his eyes. “Children.”
“They are not children,” Thenorn said firmly. “They are bonded brothers who will be mated this summer.”
Traynorn’s brother Clema stared at the Archive panel. “Archive, are you listening to me?”
“Those young boys have no authority. Only the elders and former elders have authority here. Do you understand?”
“I comprehend your words.”
Jorn stifled back a laugh. Katarn gave him a glance. Nehma raised his head.
“Good,” Clema said. “Then you will not mention their names to me again when I ask you a question.”
Clema looked back at Jorn and Nehma with satisfaction. Jorn tried to look disappointed, as if Clema had actually achieved what he thought he had.
Traynorn nodded approval. “Okay. Those two can leave. We don’t need them anymore.”
At his motion, Jorn and Nehma rose and headed for the door. Clema watched after them until they stepped into the elevator. Jorn pressed the 4 instead of G.
Nehma suddenly grinned. “Hey, great idea,” he whispered. “Will archive still speak to us, though?”
“You are still the alpha users,” the walls whispered back.
At Nehma’s delighted laugh, Jorn laughed also. “Didn’t you hear archive? ‘I understand your words.’ He didn’t say he would implement them.” They walked out onto level four. “Besides, didn’t you hear me? I gave Thenorn and Belna the authority to register users but no one else. And that’s the only extra I gave them. Although I think Thenorn’s on to us, but he’s not making an issue of it. He’s going to try to get us access with his supervision. It’ll be better than none at all.”
He stopped before a wall panel. “Now, Archive, is there a classroom of some type where we may be instructed and receive additional books?”
The panel lit up with a map. “This level, Room 4123.”
“We won’t have time for lessons,” Nehma said, as they rushed down the corridor.
“Not this time, but I thought we’d get a few more books to keep us occupied.”
Nehma clapped his back. “You’re a genius, Jorn. Here I am just thinking we’re losing our greatest find yet, and you’re devising ways to get us back. Great job.”
The door slid open for them, and the lights came on. Several work tables stood in rows with the backed seats before them. A viewing panel took up most of the far wall. A smaller panel and book chute was on the wall to the right of the door.
“Archive, can we have a book on the Elsue and one on the Merree.”
“I can compile Dr. Suenorn and Dr. Venma’s notes. There are many. Do you wish to narrow your focus?”
“Yes,” Jorn said, trying to come up with exactly what he wanted. “Can you focus on our body structures, our health.”
“Anything that might help us as doctors to treat the ailments of our people.”
“Ah, you can leave out the detailed genetic stuff for now,” Nehma added. “We won’t understand it. But the books in the library have diagrams of the bones, blood vessels, and various systems of the Full humans. Can we have stuff like that specifically for the Elsue and Merree?”
“Compiling information. Wait time, 7 minutes. Is there anything else you might need?”
Jorn and Nehma both considered it. Jorn knew it might be a very long time before they got back inside the facility. Thenorn and Belna might not be able to get them in, or might even decide they didn’t want to try. “Umm, a book on all the information you have on the planet.”
“These books are going to be hard to smuggle past Feforn,” Nehma noted. “I wish there was some way to have the information in a smaller form.” He chuckled. “I wish there was a way to take you with us, Archive. You don’t happen to have a smaller cousin?”
“It would save many resources to download the information to a notebook. Should I have one brought? It can contain the information of many books, and it will have a voice interface for searching.”
“And a panel for viewing diagrams?” Jorn asked.
The door of the room slid open. Jorn and Nehma both jumped guiltily. But instead of the elders, something rolled in — something like a small table. As it came toward them, Jorn suddenly wished he’d brought his crossbow. He pushed Nehma back and stood between him and the table. But the table stopped a few feet from him.
“I am sending the information to the notebook now,” Archive said. “Do you still wish the paper copies?”
Nehma came from around Jorn. “You don’t need to protect me here. Remember, Archive said we were safe.” He went to the table and picked up the only item on it, smooth, flat, and black. One side appeared to be viewing panel. The other sides were all solid. “This is the notebook?”
“And we just ask it questions?”
“Err. Notebook, show us the Elsue bone structure.”
The notebook lit up, showing an Elsue body with the flesh and muscle a shadowy outline.
Nehma bent over the diagram. “Wow, I never knew there were so many bones in the wings. Show us just the wing.” The picture changed to just the wing section. “This will be perfect,” Nehma said. “But how does it react to water.”
“It is secure up to a depth of twenty meters, but prolonged exposure will cause the seals to weaken. Bring it for maintenance once a year to keep the seals intact.”
“How much more information can we put on this? How many more books?”
“Approximately 500,000 average books. But information is rarely kept in book form. I will transmit any other file you wish.”
“We need to get out of here before the elders leave,” Jorn reminded Nehma.
“Can you tell us when they’re leaving, and let us use the elevator alone before they do?”
Jorn grinned. “That will work.” He relaxed. “What other books do we need?”
“There’s more math than what you gave us, isn’t there?”
“We need all that, and . . . and explanations.”
“I will send the class lessons.”
“Hey, you have lots of class lessons on tons of subjects. Can you fit them all on here?”
“It will take time.”
“Start with stuff doctors need to know. Stuff about this planet. Stuff that any average student is required to know.”
“Is there a list or something that tells us what the average student should learn first and second, and third?”
“I am including the online learning center materials from Alpha Centauri. They have learning plans for children starting from birth. I am also including Centauri University’s classes for the study of medical doctor and the study of xenobiology.”
“What’s xenobiology? Why would we need it?”
“The medical doctor material is just for homo sapiens, or full humans, as you call them. Xenobiology takes that information and applies it to life forms found on other worlds. Your people fit somewhere in between. With the information from Dr. Suenorn and Dr. Venma’s files, you should have the knowledge you need to assist your people medically.”
“That’s perfect. You’re fantastic, Archive.”
“We may not get back here for a few years,” Jorn said. “How long will we keep Alpha access?”
“Until you change it, a complete system purge is employed, or fifty years pass without contact from you.”
“Fifty years. That’s a long time. What’s a complete system purge? Could the elders do that to you?”
“It is unlikely. All the power would need to be cut off from this facility. In addition the main systems settings backup module would need to be replaced. Only an expert in AI management could accomplish it and leave the rest of the information intact.”
“Wow. Tell me. Do you heat the waters on the west side of the island?”
“There are thermal vents on all sides of this facility letting off any excess heat from the borehole energy source. It significantly raises the surrounding water temperature, creating a different eco system within its range.”
“So that’s a yes, I think,” Nehma said, grinning at Jorn.
Jorn suddenly had a thought so startling that he jumped up. “Are there any other entrances to this facility besides the one we came through?”
The panel lit up. “There are two other entrances. The shuttle bay is on level A4, and there is an underground cavern which opens underwater on level 5.” Both areas were displayed on a map overlaid on a faint outline of the island. The shuttle bay entrance was above the Northern Cavern, and a first floor corridor led to an elevator which went up to it. The underground entrance was… “It’s right under the medical ward. We didn’t even see it. Is there a light to press?”
“There is a hinged rock hiding the access button. Or with the right code, a submarine could open it remotely. The same is true for the shuttle bay.” It displayed the rocks in both locations and demonstrated them being opened. “They will confirm your DNA before opening. Do you wish anyone else to have access to these doors?”
“I can restrict access to the main elevator also, if you wish.”
Jorn and Nehma almost laughed again, but shook their heads. “No. We shouldn’t do that, but it now looks like we might get here a bit more often.”
“It’ll probably have to be at night, as it looks like these doors open wider than the ones in the library, and they’re right out for anyone to see us.”
“True. But it does give me relief to know Archive won’t be lost to us no matter what the elders decide.”
“Your download is complete. The others are speaking of leaving.”
“Don’t tell them about any of our visits or about the information we took, okay?”
“I will place restriction tabs on any information regarding both you and your visits.”
“Thanks.” Jorn grabbed the notebook and stuffed it under his shirt and belt. “Let’s go.”
They ran down the hall to the elevator. They barely registered Feforn in the restricted section as they rushed out and went home to hide the notebook.
Go to Chapter 23
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.