In orbit on the far side of Mars
“Holy crap,” Rick muttered as he stared at the screen. Evan and the rest of the bridge crew were also staring, mouths open, at the scene below. “She is human, isn’t she?” he asked Evan. No one got rid of those black messes! Damn things were a scourge across the galaxy.
The younger man shrugged in confusion. “As far as I’m aware,” he said, “her DNA is as human as ours.” A thought occurred to him and he turned, taking strides on long legs to the lift. Rick followed; when Evan’s nose began twitching, interesting things happened.
They ended up in the med-bay where Evan cornered Healer Rosmund. Rosmund was a ninth gen Empire human; her family had lived on Nova for so long that intense radiation from their star had caused evolution to mutate their genes to help them survive; her skin was tinted a blackish-purple, her eyes were mustard yellow, and her hair was nearly white with a slight hint of violet. The original settlers could have died but nature chose otherwise, along with a little cheating with their genes from the Kilidar.
“Have the population samples been categorized yet?” Evan asked her.
“Mostly,” she said, wondering why the imirtu was interested. “There are quite a few laboratories that are cataloguing DNA from all over the world.” The genetic projects, based mostly in the United States, had been very helpful for her ‘inventorying’ of Earth-human genes.
“Nothing abnormal?” he asked. “Would you please compare… let’s see… specimen marked Thayer Carmichael to Ninah Adams?”
Rosmund glanced at Rick. He considered it, knowing Evan and his leaps, and gave the okay.
Millions of genetic specimens had been taken in the past couple of years since the Sentinel arrived; thanks to Earth’s current level of technology, not all the specimens needed to be taken directly from the individual. Everything was ‘on-line,’ as the people called it. Every time a blood sample was taken it ended up in a database on someone’s computer, which was connected to the World Wide Web. Since Earth practically shouted all its secrets to the galaxy, Sentinel had no problem ‘uploading’ all the information.
Hoarding such information was not something the empire commonly did with new populations, but they were a little desperate and pressed for time in discovering why the Udug were so interested in this particular little back-water planet.
“Nothing special,” Rosmund told him ten minutes later. “Same type of variations we’ve noticed in others across the Earth-human spectrum.”
Evan groaned and put a hand to his head, giving his scalp a scratch.
“Evan, what are you trying to find?” Rick asked, seeing the familiar ‘I’m thinking’ look on his face.
“I don’t know,” Evan said, shaking his head. He slowly paced as he thought out loud. “I guess I just don’t know what to ask for. There’s something, I know it’s there, and it’s bothering me. We know that humans are in an evolution leap back home; we have been for a long time. Anyone from Earth with an ounce of meta talent starts to display it within a year of being off Earth, and their children begin to exhibit signs at the beginning of puberty.
“We know that a few Earthers are meta-active, although cultures tend to suppress those natural instincts, but that doesn’t explain why that switch turns on soon after the Udug take them away from Earth. Are the Udug doing something to their victims?”
“In humans,” Rosmund said, “basic telepathy, empathy, far-sensing, are all being brought forward as the human mind begins to consciously use greater areas of the brain.”
“Could there be something about Earth’s biosphere that would cause Ninah to have access to the stronger metas?” Rick asked.
Evan shook his head. “I already talked with Xan; he said Earth isn’t much different than any other planet with sentient and sapient life. There are a few odd fluctuations that he’s still working on, but they have nothing to do with this leap process. Healer, you haven’t found anything different in Earth human DNA and Empirical human DNA? Other than general planetary differences?”
Rosmund tapped instructions into the computer and looked at the readout. “No; many Earth humans are showing the same genetic changes in their DNA as our humans. Our humans have been going through it longer, and depending on the post-Earth generation, some are already at their peak. They show a higher degree of empathy and social development, while their primitive instinct for violence has diminished, which is on target with the mental maturity aspect of this leap. My Novan human race has been steady for two generations, now.”
Evan was nodding thoughtfully. “From what I’ve gleaned in Earth’s history, past leaps mostly involved physical aspects, such as standing upright, melanin changes to deal with different radiation levels from the sun on different areas of the world, and opposable thumbs, which was among the first of the major leaps to separate them from the primates.”
“How does that explain what Ninah just did?” Rick asked. “I can see you or Shinar doing it, but…” He cut off at the quick shake of Evan’s head.
“It would never have occurred to me to do that,” Evan said. “I think I know how she did it, now, but I’d need to talk with her to check myself. I can’t speak for Shinar, and I know of no one else strong enough to have shaken that thing.
“Ninah is the strongest meta I’ve ever seen; she picked up my initial training almost before I said anything, and she began extrapolating all on her own. Irra was close behind. Since most of the Earth humans are not much beyond their primitive instincts, even outside this leap the stuff this group is doing is extraordinary.” He looked at Rick and Rosmund.
“I don’t believe that I’m talking through my tail when I say I’m one of the strongest, most experienced meta-operators in the empire; Ninah’s a beginner, and she just out-performed me.”
Once he began to comprehend the implications, Rick had to sit; what would Ninah and the others be able to do in ten years? He told Rosmund to take the clan’s DNA apart and find him something he could work with, something other than fairy dust. He told her to research the term.
Several engineers came in; one of them holding his wrist which was beginning to turn colors and swell. As techs took the injured man in hand, Rick asked what had happened: they were trying to get a stubborn cog to turn, and the wrench came down on his wrist when the cog unexpectedly let loose.
Rick and Evan got out of the way, leaving Healing to the healers. The men went to the main conference room off the side of the bridge.
“Sentinel, show map of Washington State,” Evan ordered as Rick poured drinks. The wall screen came on along with a map of Washington State. “Enhance western coast.” The map changed, bringing in the requested half of the state, mountainous with lakes and waterways, into closer focus.
Something about it was bugging him and he had yet to figure it out. The arrival of Ninah put an even larger question mark on the entire picture; she was not only stronger than the men he had been watching, but she, a stranger to all of the men, went directly to them and was assimilated into their close-knit group right away. Like long-lost family.
“Did geology come up with anything unusual for the region?” he asked Rick. The commander was contemplating the inside of his eyelids.
“Nothing,” Rick said without opening his eyes. He could hear Evan’s mind humming as he processed thoughts.
“They missed the blackness,” Evan reminded him.
“That’s a life-form, not a geological mass,” Rick told him. “It registered in the same category as mold, of which the Pacific North Wet has a lot. That crap likes wet places precisely because it does blend in.” He sat up, opening his eyes and lacing his fingers across his stomach.
What was going on with that little group? He had already done a background check on Ninah; the immediate integration of her and the men in New Babylon was a little suspicious, but nothing turned up except her unexpected inheritance a couple years earlier. A deeper dig showed that she had nothing to do with the man’s death or the inheritance.
Her history showed no unusual meta functions except the usual ‘good guesses’ that comes with your garden variety empath. The actions she took at the Williams’ home with the girl was unusual, though; Rick knew that the guys were close to imirtu-strength in their metas, but Ninah had never shown signs that kind of strength before moving into town.
“And there’s no way we can scan for others like them?” Evan asked.
“Not until we find that difference in their biological makeup. Why would they be so different?” Rick was thinking out loud to himself, so Evan went back to his map. “They aren’t alien; they all have genetic families on the planet, which are traceable. Do they have a regional background in common? Ninah is Welsh, Terry is French via Eastern Canada, Severance is pretty much a European mutt with an African ancestor six gens back, Irra is mostly Eastern European, and Shara is Native American.”
“Which means he has Eurasian ancestry,” Evan reminded him. Rick looked at him; he had forgotten that Evan spent most of the past two years studying history and cultural sciences of the planet below, soaking up information like a sponge.
The empire had a large database of Earth history, written by Earth humans who had been stranded in the empire following an Udug crash. Historical Earth subjects were not unknown, so it didn’t take Evan long to fill in missing knowledge and correct mistakes in the database.
“Anthropology,” he continued. “The debate is still on, but the going theory, of which I have to admit my preference for, is that Native Americans came to North America from the Bering Strait, which was a solid land bridge, at the time, out of Eurasia. I’m going to…”
When Evan paused, Rick watched him, seeing the little light bulb flickering over Evan’s head. “What?” he asked.
“They’re all Celtic,” Evan said. He began to rock slightly on the balls of his feet, tugging thoughtfully at his long, brown braid of hair.
“Celtic? I thought Celtic was the Irish and Scottish people?” How the hell did Evan get ‘Celtic’ out of Eurasia and Native American? Rick shook his head which sometimes hurt at trying to contemplate some of the younger man’s mental processes.
“There were quite a few proto-Celtic tribes that came up from the Indus Valley. They were nomads. They picked up bits and pieces of culture that interested them, including mythology. Since they were non-literate, they relied on oral traditions at which they excelled. They had incredible memories; probably why they have a great reputation as story-tellers.
“Since they traveled all over Europe, mingling their genetics wherever they went, pretty much everyone in Europe has some Celtic blood in them. There’s a lot of it in Eastern Europe, too, since the RheonValley was one of the places the proto-Celts settled. Our little group is mostly French, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and one Slavic. Irra’s ancestry is from Slovakia, which was settled in ancient times by Celts out of the Danube Valley, and Shara is only half Native American. He’s German on his mother’s side. Teutonic. They’re all Celts. The tribal penchant for higher meta ratings has more to do with how their ancestors trained their minds, than anything else.”
Rick slowly straightened. “We need to find more people like them; there has to be more than six out of seven billion, and we need to know if any others are from other tribes. Why do I remember something about the Romans fighting Celtic tribes?”
“Rome fought the Celts all the time,” Evan told him. “France, Germany, Briton, Ireland, all over that area of Western Europe. They almost defeated Rome in several battles, but eventually lost.”
“France? Do you think there’s a reason why the group is French-heavy?”
Evan thought for a moment, looked at the map, and shook his head. “Well, the Celts in what would become France were the Gauls, and a few smaller tribes that eventually died out. At the moment, though, I’ll say no,” he decided. “They’re only a few hours from Canada; I’m sure if we find others close to the 48th parallel, they’ll be French and British heavy, too.”
The alarm chimed. “Boss to the bridge!”
“What is it?” he said, jumping to his feet and tapping his comm as he raced down the corridor.
“Udug cruiser is being chased in by Ka’ma and Nikkar,” he was told by his second, Shasi. “They will be within the solar system in under a minute.”
“Word from Ka’ma?” Rick asked, rushing onto the bridge a moment later. Shasi was at her command pillows next to Rick’s, her furred legs folded elegantly beneath her. Only the slight flicker of the tip of her reddish-brown tail displayed her heightened sense of excitement at the coming fight.
“Standing orders, Boss,” she said. Standing orders said to protect Earth while the other ships fought it out.
The ships were on the screen; they were racing in from Pluto’s orbit, a faint glow of red illuminating their wake as they skirted light-speed. There were no fighters dancing about, yet, since the three ships were all going too fast for the small fighter ships to leave the docking bays.
“Post squads planet dark,” Rick ordered. Shasi sent the order to their fighter bay. The moment Sentinel slowed, four teams, eight fighters, scrambled and shot out of the bay. They flew up, over and around the small, blue-green planet to meet up on the dark side, opposite the Sentinel, to guard from sneak attacks.
“Planet visible,” Shasi warned.
“Can’t be helped,” Rick responded. He knew Earth had picked them up on military satellites, and so far he had refused to respond to any of the insistent demands for identification. Of course the United States was the loudest, but Thane, as Thaya’s flagship commander, would deal with the UN when it came time to discuss issues. Until then, Rick’s job was to defend Earth from space. Tracking the mysterious actions of a certain small group of people would have to wait.
When the Thayan ships arrived two years earlier, they were more than a little surprised to find Earth. Rick on the Sentinel, and Kate Lourdes on Ka’ma, both breathed sighs of relief at finding their homeworld alive and kicking.
The Sentinel began patrolling the solar system, Ka’ma studied the legal systems and cultural demands of the planet in preparation for contact, and Nikkar patrolled outer system. The Udug had stayed away giving Rick and his crew time to relax and begin their studies of the planet while setting up a base on Mars.
The group in New Babylon had come to his attention by accident: Sentinel’s computer was reviewing ancient and modern data for signs of meta talents among Earth’s population, a standard procedure which helped the commanders when deciding whether or not they were safe to be open with their own metas. The empire had a few planets where meta talents were not welcome. When noting that New Babylon was not Seattle, but a small town north of Seattle, Evan studied the small town and confirmed that his visions agreed with the new focus.
Sentinel spotted two men who seemed to be working for a covert agency; in reviewing the records of the men, not so secret since the records were on computer databases which were hooked into the internet, they were clearly using meta talents in their work of ferreting out information, spies, and other undesirables. In tracing their movements, Sentinel found that the men lived in New Babylon, Washington.
Not only were these two men exhibiting a higher than average degree of meta, so were the two men and one woman they were close to in New Babylon. One of the men, a doctor, was the half brother of the woman, and also the life partner of the fourth man. Spiraling out from the group, they had several close contacts that also worked consciously with meta talents.
All over the world, small pockets of people were beginning to actively work with meta talents. Sentinel confirmed that Earth was struggling to go through a leap process, but something other than cultural boundaries was holding back the humans.
There was only so much a person could do from space, though, so Rick talked Thane into allowing him to become the sheriff of the small town where Dr. Allen and his band of merry men, which included the two Sentinel spotted, had been working their magic. Sentinel’s crew was busy preparing to build a watch station on Mars, so Rick really didn’t have anything that couldn’t go to his second in command, Shasi, and the rest of his command crew.
Identification and a back story were created by Rick’s able team, the paperwork expertly aged, and Rick slipped into town, a widower with twin sons. The boys smiled at the town council, twinkling green eyes and dimples, and then at the residents of the small town, who proceeded to vote Rick in as their new sheriff. He made sure only the legitimate deputies made arrests and attended court hearings.
The boys were old enough, now, at almost seven Earth-years, and had been on working ships long enough to know they couldn’t talk about ships and non-humans to indigenous peoples. Rick certainly couldn’t leave them on the ship while he was living semi-planetside. The boys needed fresh air and room to run.
Others on the ships were given leave on various parts of the planet so they could get fresh air, too. Humans were able to play tourist in whatever climate that interested them, and the non-humans were sent down to play in unoccupied places around the planet.
It also helped that there were two planets nearby in the prehistoric, Pliocene stage of life, with grassy savannahs and cattle animals, and were capable of supporting the visitors without the need for breathing tanks. Thane wanted at least an outpost in the Sol system, and would keep the two other planets on stand-by in case they were needed for emergency occupation. While the two planets abounded with plenty of life forms, all life forms on the planets were non-sentient and therefore the worlds were considered acceptable for colonizing according to Thayan law.
“Incoming!” Shasi announced. “Ka’ma orders stand-by!”
Rick signaled his pilot to hold position while the Ka’ma raced around Saturn on the tail of the Udug cruiser. He could almost hear Thane snarling and snapping.
“Chief Havier, four squads out!” he ordered. The bay chief acknowledged. Moments later, eight fighter squads were in space.