ISLAND IN THE SAND ~

BOOK 2 PART X

Star stood in the cave, staring at the machined walls of metal. She knew instantly where she was, although the shock of being in a conversation back at the dwelling while looking out over the valley below, and then instantly standing inside the cave where she’d been before, was stunning. She stood teetering slightly, working to get her balance while trying to accommodate the fact that Ninety-One was wrong. The singularity had not waited until a better time to bring Star to it, unless the definition of ‘better’ was the singularity’s alone.

“I won’t speak to a voice coming from anywhere again,” Star said, “show yourself.”

“What form do you prefer I take,” the Singularity responded, in its smooth emotionless female voice.

“I lack trust,” Star replied, after half a moment of thought. “Make it some form I might trust, since you artificial intelligence, if that’s what you really are, enjoy the same freedom to lie whenever you feel like it that humans do.”

A short hushed bustling sound came from the wall to Star’s right, just back over her right shoulder. She turned her head to see an old-fashioned wooden desk with a green hooded lamp on its bare surface. Behind the desk sat an aging, slightly overweight male, sitting in a swivel chair. A tendril of smoke twirled gently upward from the bowl of a black pipe that he held, his elbow resting on the right arm of the bent back chair, which squeaked slightly as he fidgeted a bit.

“I agree,” a deep but not overly powerful male said, “sometimes appearances are meaningful.”

Star was relieved to have the voice coming from the sitting man rather from the walls around her. She walked the few steps over to stand in front of the desk, noting that the surface of the desk was clear, except for the lamp and one round coin-like disk. The small red disk sat on the desk’s leather inset surface, a few inches forward from where the man was sitting.

“Do I get a chair?” Star asked when the man didn't say anything further.

“You probably won’t be here that long,” the man said, puffing once on his pipe, and then letting the smoke blow toward Star.

“Where am I going?” Star asked, not liking where the conversation seemed to be headed.

The instant trip to the cave in the middle of trying to protect and care for her band had scared Star to the core. Nothing, not the discovery of the complex, the dwelling, her dealings with the artificial intelligences, or even the huge explosion she’d instigated out near the forest, had been as viscerally unsettling as the short move she’d just undergone in being somehow taken from the dwelling and deposited where she was without a physical feeling of having been moved at all.

“Where you might find proof of what you need to have proven,” the old man said.

“I don’t want to leave my band, my friends and my children right now,” Star blurted out, wondering if the truth was what was called for or even wise in communicating with such an entity.

“It’s your choice,” the man said, before putting the pipe back in his mouth to take in another bit of the tobacco smoke.

He blew out gently, before going on.

“It’s all your choice, really, although none of it gives much appearance of that to you in your perspective.”

“Why can’t you just say, ‘my position,’ instead of something weird like ‘my perspective?”

Star responded, beginning to overcome her fear, and wondering how long she’d be gone, if she proceeded with agreeing to go wherever the singularity wanted her to go, from whatever was happening back at the dwelling.

“I don't understand the question,” the man said, his facial expression one of vague confusion.

Star suddenly remembered where the image of the man in the chair had to be from. He was similar to the man who’d run the orphanage when she was a young child, now so long ago. The man had been wonderful to all the children, and then everything had changed. But how had the singularity come to have the man’s image?

“What are you, really?” she asked.

“I’m the avatar you requested,” the man said, knocking his pipe against the edge of the desk. “I don’t have a physical presence in what you call life, so a representation is all I can offer.”

“That’s not what I meant, but I think you know that,” Star replied, working at trying to be less frustrated when the entities, one and all, avoided certain questions or gave answers that were more seemingly gibberish than fact-based.

“The proof that you seem to think I seek probably means traveling all the way to the star, and then the planet, where the Distants resides,” Star said since the professorial avatar had nothing to offer about her previous comment. “And that’s not possible because of the speed of light.”

“The universe consists of vibrations of all kinds, suffused through with more energy than can be imagined,” the man said. “The vibrations are endlessly folded and refolded back and forth. Where two ‘surfaces’ come together on either side of a fold then a transfer can be made from one physical existence to another without time being a consideration. You were brought here to this location in that manner, but it is much easier to accurately accomplish such a transfer if the exact location of the person or thing being moved is completely known.”

The man reached forward to the top of the desk with his left hand and picked up the small red disk that was laying there.

“This instrument will allow you to be pinpointed for transfer back, as the solar system where you will find proof is quite far away in normal space and time.”

The man tossed the red chip across the table.

“I need to be with my band,” Star said, hesitating to take the chip.

She’d been transported to the cave without her permission or being informed in advance. What was to keep the Singularity from transporting her across the universe without her permission? Was the chip necessary because without it she might not be able to return? Or, had she really been instantly transported to the cave at all, or had something else more logical and conventional taken place? There was no way to know without returning to the dwelling to find out what Jameson and the others could tell her about her departure.

“Take the chip,” the man said. “You may return to the dwelling and then decide at some later date to transport to the home of the Distants, where you will have your proof.”

“Do I really need proof?” Star whispered, more to herself than to the man at the desk.

“It’s your choice,” as I indicated earlier,” the avatar said.

“You transported me here without my choice being involved,” Star said, deciding to pick up the chip and keep it for later use.

It was obvious that whatever had happened, both at the dwelling and out near the forest above the energy complex was the result of technology existent and performing well beyond her capability to understand, much less predict. Some of the things that had happened were predictable in the real world, but some like how the singularity had been able to gain the image of her old orphanage director from her memory, was more than troubling to consider.

Star placed the red chip in her right front pants pocket. She looked up into the director’s eyes and watched his expression change. His eyes lit up and a great smile came over his facial features, and then Star’s world disappeared.

There was no transition, and maybe that was the most disconcerting thing. Star just stood, exactly as she’d stood in front of her old orphanage director’s desk a second before, as she’d done so many years before. But that scene was gone, replaced by a desert landscape of surpassing beauty. Huge unmoving, but seeming to waver, hills of cream-colored sand abounded all about her. The air was cold and crisp, unlike the appearance of the sandy desert it obviously was a part of. Star breathed in and out with deliberation, trying to make any sense of what had happened, but knowing in her heart of hearts that the singularity, through her director’s avatar, had probably spoken only one phrase of truth in their short conversation. She hadn’t, in fact, needed a chair.

Another world. Star felt gravity for the first time in her life. Gravity as a force. The gravity where she stood was so great that it dragged her skin and muscles downward like she was wearing an invisible coating of plastic with great weights attached to the bottom edges. In the distance, she saw two suns, not one. Both were so dim, however, that she could look directly across the sand at them without blinking or squinting her eyes. Her gaze fell downward, and she realized she was atop some sort of raised and flat concrete or block structure.

A hill of sand swept down toward where a transport levitated, not fifty meters away. The transport looked amazingly like the one garaged in the dwelling. Her eyes were immediately drawn to a figure leaning against the front portion of the vehicle. The figure once looked upon, drew her stare to the point where she could not blink or turn away. The figure was human but not human. It was obviously male, if the indolent way it leaned against the side of the transport, and its male-styled apparel, were any indication. But its size was not human. If the transport was anything close to being the size of the one at the dwelling, then the male had to be at least seven or eight feet tall.

Star stared and waited, but nothing happened. A breeze blew gently against her tied back hair. She thought of her rifle while she stared, and wondered why she hadn’t thought to bring it with her, not that that would have been allowed, or of any use other than to make her feel less vulnerable and exposed.

Finally, she had to speak. The male’s facial features were human to the point of being attractive. He had a full head of dark luxurious hair, strong eyebrows, and a defined chin. He was also impossibly big, yet in perfect proportion.

“Where am I?” Star yelled down across the intervening distance.

The creature smiled a most pleasing smile but did not reply.

‘Proof,’ Star thought to herself. 'I sought proof, but nothing more'.

“I’m not staying, am I?” she yelled, finally, her voice dying away on the last two words, already knowing the answer.

The creature’s head shook gently from side to side, and then he was gone.

Star’s body rocked more physically this time, with the abruptness of the change that wasn’t a change. She was once again standing in the living room facing the valley as if she’d never left, except there was no one there. Her first inclination, even before worrying about where everyone in her band might be, was to take the disk from her pocket and cast it aside. She breathed in and out deeply, fighting for control. She’d moved, without moving, more distant than likely any human before her, and the effect upon her wasn’t something she wanted to deal with at all. She had to shake it off.

Star removed her hand from the pocket, leaving the disk where she’d put it. She now trusted the entities and the Distants to have made everything around her and to be somehow interested in the future and survival of human beings as a species. But she could not trust them to do what she felt they needed to do on behalf of the band or herself. Not in the least bit. But she could not oppose them directly either, or even hold them to account, at least not until she somehow gained much more power.

Only Ninety-One sat where she’d left him.

“Where is everyone?” Star asked, moving from the place where she stood, vaguely hoping against hope that she wouldn’t be transported at any second to some other place where she had no control.

“Where you ordered them to be,” the robot intoned.

“Ninety-One, I’ve had enough of that hazy robot crap,” Star hissed. “Where are they?”

“In the transport,” Ninety-One replied, its voice as contrite as any robot voice could be, “For security, and waiting with a great deal of worry about your return, or if you were ever to return.”

“I was sent to the cave of the Singularity and then to the planet of the Distants and now back here,” Star reported, tiredly. “How long have I been gone?

“Thirty-one minutes, twelve seconds, elapsed, from disappearance to reappearance.”

“Seemed like hours,” Star got out, wanting to collapse on the nearby sofa, but knowing she could not go down until she knew more about what Sly was up to, and the condition Jameson and the children were in. “Can you communicate with the transport, or is that part of you damaged too?”

“Star, you’re back,” Jameson said, his voice coming from Ninety-One’s damaged vertical stalk. “We can all hear you. Where did you go? What happened? Why did you leave?”

The questions came jumbled and fast from every member of the band assembled in the transport.

“Okay, okay, I’ll explain when we’re all together,” Star replied, trying hard not to smile at the depth of their missing her, even though she’d been gone for just over half an hour.

“Jameson, what’s the situation with Sly and his boys?” she asked.

“They’re apparently digging down toward the tunnel that connects this place to the energy complex. They also apparently have a lot of nitrates with them, whatever that means. House didn’t explain.”

Ninety-One?” Star asked of the robot.

“Nitrates would most probably indicate the transport and placement of explosives. Nitrates in certain mixtures produce a more pushing force than an abrupt severing one, as such explosives go. Such nitrates might be ideal for a sapper operation.”

“Sapper?” Jameson asked, his voice still coming through the speaker on the robot.

“It would appear that Sly is preparing to plant a large amount of conventional explosives underground and near to the passage,” Ninety-One replied. “Members of such an operation were, at one time, referred to as sappers.”

“Oh, great,” Star breathed. “Everyone come back inside,” she ordered with a muted voice. “We have to regroup, get fed and rested. Let them dig. What can the house do to defend itself against this new threat, and how long do we have before we have to fight?”

“I’m not certain,” Ninety-One replied. “It would appear that the house has stopped communicating for some unknown reason.”

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