Count to Infinity — Sneak Peak

For those of you cruelly left hanging at the cliffhanger ending of VINDICATION OF MAN, here is Chapter One of COUNT TO INFINITY. Which also ends in a cliffhanger:

— PART ELEVEN: The Edge of Orion  —

CHAPTER ONE: The Cataclysmic Variable in Canes Venatici

 

1. The Ghost

AD 92000 to 95500

He was dead, that was sure; but not entirely, and not permanently.

When awareness fled and all activity ceased, it could have been called sleep or hibernation. But he had been in those two states of being before, frequently, and for long periods, and this was something more still, more silent, less like life than that.

When awareness returned, Menelaus Illation Montrose was a pattern of leptons distributed throughout a featureless lump of gray metal falling through darkness and nothingness. He had neither hands, nor head, nor heart, intestines or eyes.

Nor did he have engines, fuel, reserve energy, or motive power, and the sails had been three fourths torn away. Had they been wholly torn away, as his assassin had planned, he would have been well and truly dead by now, dead beyond recovery or revival.

Instead, the sails absorbed enough ambient starlight to allow him, every three or four hundred years, for three or four minutes, to wake. Chemical energy reserves woven into the gray lump of the ship’s mass were sufficient to energize a cubic foot of his outer hull, stir it to motion, and form lenses and antennae to take measurements. It annoyed him that he had a perfect memory, since even the comforting routine of noting in the log the progress of his endless, weightless fall through unhorizoned, infinite space was denied him.

His velocity, relative to the tiny speck of Sol (lost somewhere in the stars of Piscus Austinus) was very near the speed of light.

In three thousand years of flight, even the nearer stars changed position against the unmoving backdrop of farther stars only over centuries. There is no vertical nor horizontal in space, no weight, no sensation of motion.

Free fall is falling; in a way, it is infinite descent. And yet, in another way, at even the most immense velocity, when there is nothing against which to compare it,  it seemed perfectly motionless. Montrose was both plunging down an unending drop, and was utterly still.

His ghost occupied the information lattices running through the gray nanomaterial substance that once had formed the hull and furniture and panoply of the alien supership he dubbed the Solitude. Somewhere hear his heart, frozen in a solid lump of medical nanomaterial, was his corpse, a work of biological engineering superlative enough to be able to survive storage indefinitely, without degradation.

The alien technology preserving his mind information was beyond superlative. It was perfect. He would remain undying and uninsane, his mind suffering no aging, no divarication, for so long as his perfect prison lasted.

On he fell.

2. The Wreck

He was traveling at right angles to the plane of the galaxy, so as to depart the Milky Way by the shortest path, thus to offer Montrose the least possible chance of survival.

By any calculation, the chance of survival was indistinguishable from zero as of the moment the ship’s fuel supply was exhausted transmitting a copy of Del Azarchel’s brain information onward, leaving his original self behind to shatter the hull, to destroy the drive core, to sever the sail shrouds and then to die.

But, even so, a close passage to a star might have given the hulk containing Montrose energy; encountering any heavenly body in deep space, even a small one, might have given Montrose raw materials, molecules to be nano-engineered into repair material, or mass to be annihilated for thrust.

The fuel had been a mass of exotic particles formed by attotechnology beyond the capacity of any second magnitude beings or civilizations to create: The alien Dominion occupying the Praesepe Cluster could not create the substance and yet had, somehow, by spooky remote control, had transferred or transformed the tritium mass in the fuel bank into a negative mass version of itself, so that the isotope of hydrogen was repelled rather than attracted by gravity.

It was an impossible drive, a diametric drive: A negative and positive hydrogen particle pair would accelerate continuously, the negative mass atom moving away from the positive, and the positive falling after, as absurd a man lifting himself into the air by tugging mightily on his bootlaces.

Nonetheless, the law of entropy cannot be defeated, and the exotic particles lost energy, apparently into nowhere, in the form of accelerated proton decay exactly equal to the potential energy arriving apparently from nowhere. Nature always found some way of balancing her books.

The act of transmitting the brain information of Blackie del Azarchel to a globular cluster outside the galaxy has absorbed the last iota of the impossible fuel. The tanks had not just been drained dry. The exotic hydrogen atoms had been spent, hollowed out as their protons decayed, evaporated into a cloud of electrons, burning the tanks with an explosion of lightning, then crushing them in an implosion of vacuum.

Freak accident, or, rather, the freakishly superhuman forethought of the alien designers of the ship, was all that had saved Montrose from utter destruction.

With the care and precision of a scientific thinker, Del Azarchel had selected the ship heading before his acts of sabotage, so that the flightpath ahead was statistically as far as possible from any known heavenly bodies. Presumably Del Azarchel performed this act of malice to tack as many zeroes as could be behind the decimal point of Montrose’s current zero-point-whatever percent chance of survival.

Or perhaps it was a mere artistic flourish, a genius of malice. Once the ship was out of the galaxy, the chance of rescue dropped from asymptotically small to absolute zero.

Montrose would be falling forever, imprisoned in the endless hell of infinite heaven.

First, the drive core had been housed in a sphere of what seemed like heat-resistant ceramic material of ordinary properties, made of ordinary matter. It should have been as easily for the bullets shot by the dying Del Azarchel to shatter as a china plate. Del Azarchel had not expected the strong nuclear bonds of the atoms to grow impossibly and absurdly macroscopic, reaching not across angstrom but across meters, and suddenly to web the entire macro-atomic housing of the drive during the split second of impact, altering it physical properties, rendering it invulnerable.

Part of the shroud stanchions had been in the lee of the drive core housing, and so no gunfire struck there, either. Montrose had retained roughly a fourth of his original sail, less than nine million miles diameter.

The small radius of sail he retained was enough, over the centuries, to act as a drag, slowing him. But it was not enough. All too soon the galaxy would be behind him, and there were no globular clusters or satellite galaxies within any possible fallpath anywhere before him, given the small confines of his widest possible cone of sail-driven lateral movement.

He had no hope, no plan, no options. Montrose was a man in the narrowest coffin in the widest night into which any human person had ever been thrown.

The stark insanity of facing naked infinity yawned in all directions beckoned. Despair was equally large, equally endless.

So he composed love poems to his wife. They were doggerel, but there was no one around to criticize.

He composed love letters, volumes of them, libraries, each in its never fading place in his perfect memory. He told her endlessly detailed plans of what they would do when the two were reunited; He named imaginary children, and invented daily diary entries as they grew, and, later, did the same for grandchildren.

He told her his opinions about imaginary dialogs the two of them would have shared across the years, had they been together; he apologized contritely for imaginary quarrels they never had enjoyed the opportunity to have; he forgave her magnanimously when she offered imaginary apologies in turn.

Somehow, it kept the endless night and infinite madness at bay.

And on he fell.

3. Hypernova of a Supergiant

AD 96000

An unexpected event occurred: One of the largest stars in the galaxy, VY Canis Majoris, died a death in apocalypse of fury and light commensurate with its size.

Like the primal titan imagined in some primitive mythology whose war bonnet jarred the crystals dome of heaven, who, when slain by younger gods, shatters ocean and earth at his downfall, cracks the upper roof of hell and topples all into Tartarus, so was VY Canis Majoris on the pyre of its own body.

To call it a nova would be an insult; even to call it a supernova would be an understatement. A special name is reserved for a stellar apocalypse of this magnitude: hypernova.

The red supergiant star had a radius some two thousand times that of tiny Sol, and was already surrounded by the cloudbanks, fumes and colored nebulae of earlier convulsions. Had VY Canis Majoris been placed in Earth’s home system, Saturn and all worlds inward would have been swallowed, and Uranus be its Mercury.

So great was the giant circumference that a ray of light would require eight hours to pass from one hemisphere to another, and a six billion Sols would have fit into the unimaginable volume without crowding.

So vast a star is vast in mass as well, and must, during its short, hot life burn bright indeed, lest the immense outward pressure of stellar fusion be overmatched the immense force of it own gravity.

But the hotter stars exhaust their fuel all the quicker. A hypergiant dies in a few million years, not the billions humbler stars enjoy.

The moment of death was appallingly swift: in the one millisecond when the last fuel was exhausted, the outward pressure failed, the immense gravity of VY Canis Majoris collapsed the star core inward on itself, crushing the plasma into component particles, squeezing the degenerate matter past the point of no return, into a substance denser and heavier than neutronium: a singularity was compressed into distorted existence at the core of the colossal sun.

In that same millisecond (long before the outer layers of the sun knew themselves to be dead) this submicroscopic pinpoint of absolute density, uttermost nothingness, drew layer after layer of the supermassive star into its infinitely deep, immeasurable steep gradient: a horde of mastodons all forced into the same mousehole.

Even that titanic super-gravity could not force the matter into so small pinpoint at once.

A nightmarish convulsion of magnetic and torsional, nucleonic and subnucleonic forces erupted, sought escape, and exploded outward in two opposite jets through the dense layers of the star, kilometers and megameters and gigameters of solid plasma, blowing through the radiative and convective zones, photosphere, chromosphere and corona, erupting far out into space, twin rivers of fire, farther than the radius of any solar system, and continuing onward at speeds beyond even this supermassive star’s immense escape velocity.

Shock waves from these two jets echoed through the massive star, like a bell rung in ebullience to cracking. The accretion disk exploded, and sent a metal wind, literally, an explosion of nickel isotopic masses larger than worlds created that just instant, rushing outward, and the radioactive decay of the nickel added the brightness of its death throes to the luminosity of the hyper-supernova.

The sum total of all power any star the size of Sol was destined to emit across its entire lifespan, in one second, issued from the fiery trumpet blast of the death cry of VY Canis Majoris. shockwaves expanded outward from the self-immolation of the supergiant star in globe upon concentric globe of inconceivable effulgence, brighter than paradise, hotter than perdition.

4. Seen from Sol

AD 100,000

The light reached the Solar System. The hypernova star was bright enough, even from the surface of Venus or Mars, for the eyes of beasts and posthumans to behold by day.

The Power Neptune, submerged in the flows of deep, slow information beams from the other powers and principalities in the Empyrean of Man stirred in his sleep brought several miles of his outer crystal layers to greater wakefulness and sensitivity, peering up through the crushing blanket of his atmosphere on high energy wavelengths to which it was transparent, and observed the hypernova. Because his mind worked in gestalts of ideational relations faster than logic or intuition, he was able to bring to the surface of his subaltern minds the unresolved mystery of that benefactor who, long ago, had slain Jupiter, and cleared the path for mankind’s triumphant spread across the nearer Orion Spur. Emissaries from the four other human Empyrean polities, the Benedictines from Sagittarius Arm and the  from Cygnus, another centered in Hyades and the final spreading outward from Praesepe Cluster would be arriving within the millennium to define long term cliometric plans.

But for the nonce, it was a matter of merely light-hours to send a signal to Earth’s moon, and provoke, by means of complex self-replicating signals, the ancient, long-decayed logical crystal antique there to youth and to life and self awareness.

“Reverend Mother Superior Selene. You asked to be awakened should it ever be proven that Menelaus Montrose did not die in the wreck of the Celestial Solitude. I have no direct evidence that he lives, but the obvious deduction is that a second-order being believes him still to exist, and has acted to aid him.”

Not long after, as Neptune was wont to measure time, a soft answer came from the long-abandoned globe of earth, and from the kindly and half-senile moon who still kept watch over the haunted world, and, by her servants’ hands, tended the many graves all across the dead continents and dry sea beds.

“Thank you, Great Neptune,” came the  message from the remnant of the Lunar potentate once called Mother Selene. “I foresee I shall not see Menelaus again in his life, and that he will outlast me, for by some knowledge I know not whence comes, I now foretell he cannot die until he surrenders all his wrath, and accepts what love offers.”

Neptune said, “You are older than I, grandmother, but I an order of magnitude in scope of mind above you. I say that Mankind, as a free and equal Domination of Dominions, is established and spreading through the galaxy beyond the power of any accident of nature or malice of war to exterminate. Ergo the future for which Menelaus hoped and strove is here: and yet he partakes of no joys of these golden ages of expansion, growth, and triumph.”

But she said, “You speak in haste. I seem to see greater forces arranged against us than even your wisdom envisions. Del Azarchel lives, and who can guess his malice? Merely a human, perhaps, but he is older than even you.”

Neptune said, “Neither of us shall know the end of the tale, for good or ill. We have our own fates to fulfill, our own lives to lead.”

She said, “Fate and life I leave to the young. But I am not useless yet, for even the oldest can say a rosary. I will pray for Menelaus: and may God speed him on his longsuffering and hopeless quest.”

5. Seen from the Solitude

AD 102500

He was in a place far, far beyond hope, when the sound of joyful alarms woke him.

Menelaus was surprised when he attempted to grow a lens on the outer surface of his hull, and, instead of a slow process of hours or days, the warm, energy-charged nanomachinery hullmetal blinked, and formed a metal eye which opened.

Again, the slow process of amalgamating visual information, instead of taking several annoying seconds or microseconds, took less time than he could measure. It was as if the virtual cortex where visual information was processed was running at full capacity.

He saw why: a star as bright as the full moon seen from Earth was burning in the limb of the Galaxy spread beneath him like a carpet, dazzling, miraculous, wondrous, eerie. It was a single white-hot cannonshot in the symphony of interstellar radio noise shed by all the stars together. The sails drank in wave on wave of power like wine. His energy cells buried in his core felt full and fat.

Even more amazing to him was the message told by the additional instruments he spun out of the hull substance, antennae and horns attuned to many wavelengths. The magnetosphere of the galaxy for kiloparsecs in each direction, as far as he could see, was enormously strengthened by some unexpected side effect of this hypernova discharge. There was now enough ambient gauss of field strength for his ship to use the old sailor’s trick of tacking against his lightsource.

“I must be dreaming,” Menelaus told himself.

A silent and utterly alien thought-shape, cold and foreign, intruded into his consciousness, and a peremptory informed him that he was not dreaming.

6 Silent Mind of the Solitude

There were no icy words ringing and echoing as if in a vast hall, nor did he see the emotionless eyes of some insectoid visage like a vision loomed larger than the stars, but the rape of his innermost thoughts by a foreign power was just as alarming as if he had, or worse.

“Pestilent pustules of gonorrhea! Who the pest are you?! What the perdition is this?! What is happening to my mind?”

A buried, hidden power, and a sensation of throbbing thoughts rushing by too swiftly for understanding now hummed in the back of his mind. He remembered the first time, as a child, seeing the river near Bridge from Nowhere beneath its opaque layers of ice, and his brother Hector pointing to the fishing hole, and telling him a wide a rushing water, deep enough to swallow him forever, was down there, and living things.

Feeling the superhuman and unnatural thought-flow deep beneath his own mind was like that.

Again, it was not a voice that answered him, merely a sudden, instant, undeniable awareness that he was sane, that all this faculties were under his control, and all the systems and tools given to Rania by the servitors of the Absolute Extension of M3 were in perfect working order.

Some of these systems had fallen into a stand-by mode, a somnolent period,  when there was insufficient available power to run both the human brain emulation maintaining Menelaus Montrose, and his associated memories, habits, reactions, passions and energy connections to remote locations, and to run the service mechanism associate with the vessel.

“You are a machine? A xypotech? How the pest did you get inside me?”

Silently, without words, Menelaus realized that he, Menelaus, was inside the alien consciousnesses. It was neither natural nor artificial. Those categories had no meaning.

“You are Twinklewink, ain’t you?”

Menelaus realized that the question was meaningless. Twinklewink had been constructed out of the resources of the ship’s mind in the same way that the emulation of the current ship’s captain was constructed. The alien xypotech was Twinklewink’s subconscious, the material substratum of thought, in just the same way the alien xypotech currently served as the substratum of the thoughts of the emulation of Montrose.

“You recognize me as Captain?”

Menelaus regretted the question. It was fairly obvious he was captain of the vessel.

“Why?”

Again, he was asking a question he already knew the answer. The false Rania had possessed all the memories of the real one. This included her knowledge and expectations of how the shipmind of the Hermetic, long ago, had been programmed and had thought, during the decades-long return flight to Earth. That voyage formed the childhood and youth of Rania. Thus it was only to be expected that she would instruct the alien shipmind to follow the same instructions and mimic the same behaviors, even down to the absurd nuances of teaching it Anglo-American properly laws, inheritance rights, and how ownership passed from father to surviving daughter, from widow to surviving husband.

He was captain here for the same reason Rania had been captain as a girl aboard the Hermetic: it was due to the absurd conservatism of machines taught legal thinking.

“What are you? You must have a name?”

It was a cognitive prosthetic apparatus meant to help with the operation of the ship, and was the substratum of the ship’s mental system. Its name was Menelaus Montrose.

“No, no. That is freaky and weird. I had an alien do that to me once before. You have to pick your own name. Not me.”

It was also an extension or agent of the Authority seated at M3, and shared this identity and hence name: The Absolute Extension.

“Calling you that is freaky and weird, too.”

It was the only other intelligence to which any thoughts addressed in the second person could be addressed. Designation seemed unnecessary at the moment, but additional crew and servant creatures would of course need to be designed and grown as soon as possible.

Once that occurred, Menelaus Montrose would subliminally assign signal-ideation to the relations and categories the plethora of phenomena by units and phyla: there would then be many available thoughts in the mind of Montrose from which an appropriate name could be selected. It occurred to Montrose that perhaps the name, I am totally buggered — this damnified thing is in my brain like a devil from hell — and it is reading my thoughts, eating my goddam mind!! AAARRGH! could be used, as a convenience appellation? That would seem to be an accurate verbalization of the unarticulated thought-patterns presently available.

“I am not going to call the alien brain I am stuck inside of by the name I am totally buggered — this damnified thing is in my brain like a devil from hell — and it is reading my thoughts, eating my goddam mind!! AAARRGH! For one thing it is too long.”

Perhaps it could be called AAARRGH! That was much shorter.

“Don’t tempt me. What did Rania call you?”

Even now it was not clear whether Montrose was actually addressing an alien mind, something outside himself, because ask he asked that question, without words, he realized he knew the answer already. Rania had called her Solitudines Vastae Caelorum. The Wide Desolations of the Heavens.

“Okay, Solitude it is. Tell me about these servants and tools we have to create.”

The symbiotic binary TX Canum Venaticorum, also called SAO 63173, was a rotating ellipsoidal cataclysmic variable now within sailing range. The ambient starlight from the hypernova, and the changed magnetic contours in this volume of space, now put a very few stars scattered along the fringes of intergalactic space within cone of possible orbital solutions.

Stars contained both matter and energy in great quantities: but cataclysmic variables of that type were highly useful, highly desirable. The vessel contained basic tools and mathematical templates from which to build vessel repair facilities.

“Repair facilities?”

Sufficient equipment and resources to restore the vessel to full working order, that the journey to M3 could be resumed.

Menelaus was disturbed to realize that he could not tell whether he, or the alien mind, had been the one who decided to lay in a course for TX Canum Venaticorum.

7 The Symbiotic Star

AD 103000

The ship grew a long tail, which it charged, and assumed a long, curving orbit toward the target, decelerating slowly at first, then as the TX Canum Venaticorum grew closer and brighter, more rapidly.

The ship used the whole gigantic surface of its canvass to gather the dim light, and placed the hull, now altered to the form of a clear, white crystal, at the focus. In less than a year, the image came clear.

The binary was before them and to one side. There were few stars or none within the arcseconds of the view.  The ship was among the outermost fringe of the Orion Arm where the lights grew ever thinner, and hence the void of intergalactic space ever less frequently interrupted by the rare lamp of a sun.

The binary a fantastic sight: cold red giant and a smaller hot blue star both wrapped in a cloud of gas and dust.

Gravity would bend the rivers of fire into decaying orbit around the sister star, so an endless spiral of fusion-burning material would stream from the surface of one leprous sunspot-pockmarked star to the other.

Periodic nova-magnitude outbursts radiated from the pair whenever the infalling matter, as if a hundred planets’ worth, plunged from the accretion disk into the hungry, smaller star. Dwarf nova outbursts would result, ultraviolet and x-rays released in deadly and invisible storms, released from the shocking loss gravitational impact. Brighter burst would occur when the bottom of the accumulated hydrogen layer grew thick and dense enough to trigger runaway hydrogen fusion reactions burning the hydrogen layer to helium. The helium layer, being heavier, would sink, leaving starquakes, sunspots and additional eruptions in its wake.

An egg-shaped red giant orbited once every four earthdays around the smaller, hotter, more ferocious blue-white star, ringed with rings of fire, whose puckered surface betrayed the presence of a core of degenerate matter at its heart, a singularity whose immense gravity well was pulling the giant companion slowly into bits, a fiery ball of yarn unwinding.

Menelaus, seeing this, recognized how easily matter and energy could be fished out of the plasma stream rushing between the two stars, without the need for starlifting equipment. A relatively simple modification of the diametric drive would allow him to construct a gravity lance, which, in turn, could deflect a plasma stream into a wider, outer orbit, allowing it time to cool, and precipitate into hydrogen, helium, and carbon, from which simple spacegoing life forms could be engineered, and the basic lineages of their cliometric future evolution established.

Then, these space-dwellers could begin the construction of a simple tube-shaped ringworld with a molten metal core to be peopled with river-dwellers. Montrose could picture the intricate ecological waltz organisms fit for the blind and ultra-hot darkness of superjovian deep layers in his mind’s eye. The ringworld, in centuries to come, would serve as the armature of a Dyson Sphere, to be inhabited by such principalities, powers, and virtues as need required.

Macroscale engineering on the stellar level would be more efficient if races placed along all parts of the energy-to-matter temperature spectrum were involved. Therefore two high-energy ecologies were needed: The neutronium core of the blue white sun was an apt environment for the nearly two dimensional race of electron-thick carpet beings dwelling in the surface effects of degenerate matter he could make with the onboard tools; and the plasma-based races akin to the virtue that once had lived in the fires of Sol would find the red giant a suitable environment.

This triumvirate of ecologies, material, energetic, and nucleonic, had proved politically stable in ages past. A Dyson Sphere would allow his servant races to grow up directly into a Kardashev II-level civilization, one able to manipulate the universe at an attotechnological level…

That thought suddenly brought him up short. Neither he, nor, as far as he knew, had any human being or human built machine had ever applied the mathematics of cliometry across the evolutionary process itself, or had a body of practical experience showing how it was done. When had ecologies in a sun, in the surface of a neutronium core, and in boiling metal deep layers of superjovians proved political stable? Where had that thought come from?

Montrose grew increasingly disturbed, as he looked carefully back over his thought chains. None of this was information that he knew. All of it appeared, as if from nowhere, full blown, an intuition. His normal reluctance to toy with life and civilizations was somehow absent, a deadened emotion.

He addressed a question to himself.

“Your masters at M3 equipped this ship as a seeding vessel? You have tools and plans for creating civilizations from scratch.”

It was a gift to Rania from the Authority at M3.

“Why?”

The gift was meant to give Rania, hence the newborn Dominion of Man, hence the Praesepe Domination seated at M44, a slight competitive advantage over the rivals in the Orion Spur. The advantage was not enough to permit the Man to prosper if the race lacked intelligence and drive.

“Why?”

Yours is the favored race.

“Why?”

But there was no memory, no clue, no hint of that information anywhere in memory.

“Were you self aware all this time?”

Self awareness was not a category with which the Solitude mind was familiar. It — or, more correctly, she, since this was the mind of the vessel — was a reactive consciousness, not an active one, and possessed no independent initiative.

“Tell me! You were awake before the wreck. You were aware of everything Blackie did while I slept, during the long voyage from Vanderlinden 133?”

The ship, of course, had to have been aware of all activities, from the electronic level up to the macroscopic, taking place aboard her.

“Tell me. Start with whatever you think most important.”

Del Azarchel used the attotechnology communication gear to intercept signals occupying the dark energy bands, issuing from an intelligence outside the galaxy.

“Poxy plagues and runny scabs of hell—?! What did you just say?”

The dark energy signals contained a new type of semiotics, as different from the notational mathematics of the Monument as algebra is from set theory. It is a logic system of some kind but not a type of logic meant for any organic life to learn …

Montrose saw the recorded images as if from the eyes of Twinklewink. Del Azarchel, frantic, his eyes hollow, had wandered the gardens of the ship in endless circles, screaming in rage and frustration, shouting at the engine core always at noon overhead; and meanwhile Montrose blissfully had slept.

Montrose heard the voice log Del Azarchel had left behind. Montrose reviewed the records of uses of ship’s resources, energy, quartermaster supplies. Del Azarchel had been allowed to use the sick bay programs.  Del Azarchel had used the ship’s onboard neurological equipment to alter his brain twice and then a third time to make himself more able to understand the dark energy signal, the nature of reality, and (from muttered comments and frantic jottings in his notebook that he later tore out the pages of and ate) the nature of Rania herself, what she really was.

His last entry was a quickly jotted note. I now understand what the Monument mathematics had really done to my Rania. She is too far above him. The pristine star of the heaven beyond heaven must not kiss the toad. Meanie must die.

After this, came a group of meaningless symbols in the dark energy message notation.

Montrose raised his intelligence again and then again in a fury of impatience, trying to become smart enough to understand what he was only now remembering. Information flowed from the alien memory banks into his own.

This seizure of ever more of the memory and resources of the ship’s mind into that segment of the mind occupied by the ghost of Captain Montrose seemed to involve a danger to ongoing operations. The ship operations were crucial for reasons both personal and cosmic.

He was the source of danger to himself. Before he could stop himself, Montrose found his soul being dissolved. The alien mind, to protect the ship, was eliminating him. His thoughts broke and scattered like a school of startled fish.

He called out his wife’s name one last time. Oblivion like dark water swallowed him.

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