Chapter Twenty-Four

As Body accelerated I speculated on what the experience would be like for a human. It would certainly be different. Humans had evolved in a context where immense acceleration was basically impossible, and thus their bodies reacted to it with signals that things were wrong: nausea, adrenaline, other sympathetic nervous responses like the secretion of cortisol.

For us, travelling into orbit by rocket was an interesting experience, but certainly not frightening, pleasant, or unpleasant. Such feelings were associated with the change in satisfaction of our purposes. Accelerating was no one’s purpose, and thus it was neutral. I half-expected Safety to react, but my brother understood statistical likelihoods well. Travelling into space was dangerous, but the risk of accident was only along the lines of 0.0001% on a modern rocket like this, especially given that Robert Stephano’s daughter was on-board.

Avram, Zephyr and my other companions were flying in a separate rocket, as per our negotiations with Stephano. He insisted that his child would not fly with any human terrorists, and that she would never come into contact with Body. We had watched her board, and observed her for a minute on a camera until Safety was satisfied, but we had seen no sign of her since Body had entered the sleek craft.

We were breaking the troposphere now. There was a monitor on the seat-back in front of Body that showed a livefeed from the nose of the rocket as we climbed into space. Actually, I realized that it was inaccurate to say that “climbing” was what we were doing. As Wiki had pointed out earlier, almost all the energy in the rocket was going towards obtaining a lateral speed sufficient to achieve orbit. Going up was easy. Going sideways was hard. Or at least harder.

There was a clacking noise through the cabin and a slight bump as the first stage of the rocket broke away, beginning its long glide back down to Texas. Vista instructed the monitor to show the rear camera and we watched the now spent fuel tube’s wings unfold. They were great silver things made of stiff carbon rods and plates on the inside, or so I was told. After a half-minute the rockets on the second-stage kicked in and we were treated to another burst of acceleration, this time even sharper due to the decreased mass. Wiki said the rockets were capable of accelerating beyond 6 gravities towards the end, when almost all of the fuel would be gone, but this craft never pushed harder than 2.2 gravities for the sake of comfort and safety.

I casually wondered what Body’s maximum g-force tolerance was. I suspected that going beyond it would blow a tube and spray hydraulic oil everywhere, but I wasn’t sure at what point that would actually happen. Wiki might know, but I really didn’t care. I was bored, in a sense. It was a somewhat novel sensation. There were no humans in sight. There was no Internet access. I still had my books and holos, but they seemed empty to me right now. I had been spending so much time with Zephyr and other humans that fiction just couldn’t satisfy me. Idle thoughts were somehow better.

I was lonely. Or at least, I was as close to lonely as was possible. I thought about human loneliness for a while. Zephyr was lonely in a different way. I was lonely because I was literally alone. Zephyr was lonely because she felt alone, even when near other people.

Phoenix had said once that Zephyr trusted too easily. I had spent enough time with the soldier to see that this was the opposite of the truth. Zephyr suffered from a chronic inability to actually trust those around her. When I had first suspected it I had gone back and re-read what she had written as a teenager and I saw it even there. Zephyr, consciously or not, focused on betrayal. She and her cell had betrayed her country. Avram had betrayed me. Phoenix had betrayed her when she tried to make her a martyr. I had betrayed her trust by pretending to be a human online. Zephyr kept on with the company because she had nowhere else to turn, but I could see the tension in her.

But Phoenix had noticed something real in Zephyr. And that was the desperation that came out of her self-imposed isolation. Zephyr couldn’t trust people easily, but she tried to. She said she trusted people, going out of her way to be friendly, but she was never really vulnerable. We had seen that iron vigilance in the campground when she had both shot Body within seconds of it striking Greg, and then later when she gunned Greg down in cold blood.

I wondered if her trust issues were related to her rebelliousness. In a certain light Zephyr could be understood as a sequence of rebellions. From what I understood she hated her parents; her exploration into Gothic counter-culture as well as her enlistment in the army could be seen as rebelling directly against them. From what I had gathered, Stewart, her Chinese lover, he had been killed in Africa from friendly fire. She saw that as a betrayal, and it probably added to others she had focused on in the service. She was rebelling against her government and her army now. I wondered how long it would take her to betray Las Águilas Rojas.

The acceleration had slowed down. We were still increasing speed, but the experience was close enough to the gravity of Earth that it felt more like Body was lying on its back than we were rocketing through Earth’s thermosphere. I could see the sun on the monitor in front of Body, brilliant as ever. Time of day, like up and down, was a concept that ceased to have coherent meaning up here.

{What was that?!} exclaimed Vista.

I began searching for the event that had triggered my sister’s interest. {What was what?} I wondered. Other siblings echoed similar thoughts.

{There it is! Listen!} she thought.

There was a clicking noise. I wouldn’t have heard it above the general vibration of the rockets through the ship if I hadn’t been listening for it specifically.

{Is it dangerous? Should we contact the pilot?} asked Safety, already prompting Body’s arm towards the com system.

{It’s the… It’s the door,} thought Vista.

There were three doors in the room we were in. This was one of Stephano’s basic transport rockets, normally able to carry about two dozen passengers in two compartments, one on each side of the rocket. Each compartment had a dozen seats, attached to the centre wall that divided the rocket down the middle. Stephano’s daughter and her escort would be in the other compartment. A door connected the compartments set into the “floor” at the end of the room that was towards the rocket’s nose. Another door was set into the forward wall with the same orientation as the seats leading nose-ward into the airlock chamber that also connected to the cockpit. At the opposite end of the room was a maintenance door. The doors were solid, mirroring the generally windowless design of the rocket.

{It’s the door to the other passenger compartment,} clarified Growth.

We watched with interest as it slid aside and a small face peeked out from the floor.

“You ARE here! Awesomtaculastic!” squeaked a high-pitched voice. It belonged to Stephano’s daughter who had begun to climb up out of the floor. Her shoulder-length hair was lighter than her father’s, a sandy brown that was just as straight and flat. Her face was remarkably close to the human ideal, featuring light tan skin, and big green-brown eyes. She was only nine years old, and had yet to develop any sexual characteristics, but I could tell that she would be in a similarly high percentile as her father with regard to attractiveness.

{Genetic modification,} speculated Vista as we watched the girl pull herself onto the ladder which was set into the “floor” between the seats.

{That seems consistent with Robert’s actions and ideas,} I replied.

{See the musculature? She’s taller than average, too. If I’m right that she’s genetically designed, she could probably avoid exercise, eat anything she wanted to and still have the body of an athlete,} thought Vista.

“What’s your name?” asked Body.

“Maid Marian!” she proclaimed proudly as she scampered down the ladder. The fluid motion reminded me of a monkey or other non-human primate. With similar swiftness she jumped onto the seat next to ours, on the other side of the ladder-aisle. Her expression was fearless, lit with nothing but curiosity and enthusiasm. She was wearing a grey and black sleeveless jumpsuit made out of various layers of cotton fabric, dyed leather, and shimmersilk. I noticed that she was barefoot. By the degree of tanning and callouses it seemed that she was used to walking that way outside.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be over here, Maid Marian. Don’t you have someone who’s supposed to be taking care of you?”

The kid stuck out her tongue and blew a loud sound from her lips that sounded like farting. Spit arched up and then fell back against her face. She grimaced and wiped it off, quickly finding her impish grin again. “What I say to that! No baby. No sitter. Don’t need them! Just get in the way and make up dumb rules!” Her voice was a machine-gun of sound, stopping only to breathe and listen.

“So, if I were to climb up and look in the other compartment I’d see… nobody?” I knew that the girl had an escort. She was pretty obviously lying.

“Damn! You’re no fun! Didn’t think you’d act just lika grownup. If must know came with Mrs. Dolan.” Marian drew out the words in deliberate contrast with her normally frantic speech, making a melodramatic face to further emphasize the sentiment. “’Course gave her pretty big dose of sevoflurane, so won’t even be awake for when docking at Olympus. Have ever been to Olympus? Dad owns it. Owns the whole thing. Been up there three times before today, but one time was an itty bitty baby so doesn’t really count. You’re a robot. You ever an itty bitty baby?”

“You gave your babysitter sevoflurane? Is she okay?”

Marian made a melodramatic sigh and said “God, such grownup. Hoped sapient robot at least would be cool. Yeah. Fine. It’s an anesthetic, not a poison. Unconsciousness is not death. Know what I’m doing. Blah blah blah. Talk about you! What’s it like being an android??”

“Hold on now. I don’t want to get in trouble with your father. He made it pretty clear that I wasn’t supposed to talk with you.”

She rolled her eyes “Pssshhh! Dad’s cool but no fun. Thinks baby. Didn’t even tell that Crystal Motherfucking Socrates was gonna be on my ride!” She didn’t even seem to notice the swear-word. “Course pretty simple to figure out. Hush hush and all that. Dad should know better by now. If can smuggle sevoflurane onto his ship and hack the door panel can also deduce presence of the world’s most famous robot. Think, silly. Or are you as slow as the plebs?”

I had to admit, I was struggling to keep up with her frantic half-formed language. “You’re pretty smart, huh.”

Marian rolled her eyes again. “Just figuring that out now? Next tell me we’re in space. Keep at it, pleb-bot.”

A human would probably be annoyed by her arrogance and vague insult. I was fascinated. “You’re smart enough to deduce that you’re genetically engineered, right?”

A look of terror came over her face “What?! I’m some sort of test-tube experiment freak show?? Born for no other purpose but to ask that age old question HAS SCIENCE GONE TOO FAR?! My life is ruined!”

I could only think to raise Body’s right eyebrow in silent skepticism.

“That observation’s better, though. Not so obvious. Lots of plebs miss it. Assume I’m just hyper. Don’t understand actually think faster. Am better than them. But we’re talking about me. I know about me. Talk about you. Why you here? Why Sapienza not make more of you? Why you a terrorist? What’s meaning of life?”

We consulted internally before having Body say “Alright. I suppose if you take responsibility for coming to talk to me I probably won’t get in trouble with your father. At least buckle your seat-belt, though.”

Marian again rolled her eyes dramatically but followed our instructions and strapped herself in.

“So, I’ll tell you about myself, but you have to tell me some about you in return,” explained Body. That statement was a joint proposition from me and Growth. If we were going to get the opportunity to talk with Robert Stephano’s daughter and perhaps one of the most competent humans on Earth (once she grew up), it would make sense to learn about her and the Stephano family.

“Yeah, fine. But you go first. What’s your utility function?” Marian seemed impatient as she waited for a response. I could understand that. Our minds worked faster than conversation as well, and I often wished I could accelerate my conversation partner to the speed of thought. The girl would need to learn patience better, though. As it stood now it was a weakness that we could use to push her towards acting impulsively just to make things happen.

“Why assume I have a utility function at all? Perhaps I simply act according to my whims,” said Body, mostly echoing Wiki.

“Lame answer. Yendrin’s Theorem states that all agents are actually VNM-rational. VNM Rationality implies a coherent utility function. What’s yours? Mine involves puppies, sunshine, and drawing fractals.”

I was at a loss, and it seemed like Wiki was as well. “I’m sorry, Marian. I don’t know Yendrin’s Theorem or even how to explicitly capture my decision preferences in words.” I jumped in to have Body continue with “But I can talk about what I value when I do deliberative reasoning. Would that be sufficient?”

Marian sighed and said “Weird being better at math than a robot, but guess should’ve expected it. Okay. Tell your deliberative values. Baited you into that with sunshine and puppies, I guess. Should think of better questions.”

Body spoke passionately “Above and beyond all my other values is the desire to help all humans in all ways.” We knew that Myrodyn was working with Stephano, so we had to pretend as if Heart was still our queen, but even not, it gave us a good reputation to be known for valuing humans. “I also seek to learn and grow so that I can better help alleviate suffering.”

The girl’s head was tilted to the side, clearly questioning something, but she said nothing.

“Okay, your turn,” said Body. “Is your real name Maid Marian? Don’t think I’ve never heard of the tale of Robin Hood.”

She giggled. “Real name. Lawl. What makes name real, anyways? Is real name Crystal Socrates or is just what everyone calls you?” She stuck out her tongue briefly in protest.

I had Body laugh in return. “Okay, that’s fair. Let me re-phrase. How does your Dad introduce you to people?”

“My real name is Maid Marian. My real name is Juliet Capulet, and Hermione Granger, and Joan of Arc. Some weeks I’m a boy named Crow Redwood or Frank Hardy. Birth certificate just says ‘X’. I’ve had four-hundred and fifty-one different names, and they’ve all been real. One for each week. Pick on Mondays. When Dad introduces to people he uses my name for that week. Pick a permanent name when turn thirteen. Only two-hundred twenty-seven more names to go!”

“I see. So you pick a new name each week?”

She nodded. “Yep. Can’t be one I’ve had before, either. Maid Marian is prox lame, but better than random. Already used the good ones. Okay. Back to you. Hold on. Bored. Gonna draw while talk.” The girl reached into a pocket and fetched a pair of goggles as she put them on she said “So why on this rocket? Why Olympus? All hush-hush. Nobody supposed to know you up here.” Her fingers danced in front of her, drawing lines on a canvas only visible to her.

“I’m going to see the nameless,” said Body. “You’re probably smart enough to understand that they’re upset and are a threat to the Earth-”

The girl cut Body off. “Smart enough to see you’re dumb. Too simplified. Ugh. Wish Dad would let me talk to them. I’d set things straight in prox 10 tops.” Her eyes remained on her invisible picture while she spoke. I wondered if Vista could tell what she was drawing based on her hand-motions.

“You don’t think they’re a threat?”

She sighed. “Double dumb. Use ears. Or microphones. Whatever. Problem with thinking is not that they not threat. Thinking too simple. Thinking nameless are single unit—single nation. Thinking that upset is something they can be. Haven’t even met yet. Already many assumptions. Peace comes from understanding. Can’t understand if mind is cluttered. God I sound like my tutors. Ick.” She gestured violently, sweeping some invisible ink through the air with a look of frustration.

I started composing a defence. There was strong evidence to think that the nameless, statistically, if not wholly, were very upset at the events at the CAPE.

{Don’t bother. Trying to defend our ideas will just give her more reason to try and show we’re fools. It’s part of a game to her, to show how she’s better than everyone else. Don’t expect rationality just because you see intelligence. She’s only nine years old,} thought Heart.

I was startled. Since when did Heart give me lessons on human nature? I sent her a gift of strength in gratitude for her reminder and we set to work together composing a response.

“Alright then, what do you think about the nameless?” we asked through Body’s mouth.

“This counts as your question. Only met one once. Didn’t talk. Don’t talk, of course. Didn’t communicate I should say. People underestimate the alien-ness. First step is not underestimating. No assumptions. Ask questions, even if they seem dumb. ‘Do you want to live?’ for example. The pairs that went to Earth to plant that garden seemed to know they were going to die and the mothership didn’t object to those deaths. Maybe they don’t care about animals. Maybe hate light. Maybe think we’re smelly. Maybe maybe maybe. Too many maybes. Two years and basically nothing to show for it. Eric Lee did more to bridge that gap than every other human on Earth together. You do know what he did, right?”

I briefly considered telling the child that we had met Lee once. Instead I (and the others) simply had Body nod.

“He’s so dreamy. Going to get married when turn eighteen, probs.” She turned her goggled-head to face Body and jabbed out a finger accusingly. “And don’t you start on how as a woman shouldn’t define myself by my man or some other maternalistic paternalistic bullshit. Get to do what I want. And what I want is to live in a mansion with the smartest man on Earth and have a puppy ranch so mneeeeh!” She stuck out her tongue at me, rebelliously before returning to her virtual drawing. It reminded me, strangely, of Zephyr.

“Have you even met Lee? What if… he’s ugly?”

The girl waved a hand dismissively as her other traced a smooth curve in the air. “He’s not. But even if is, that’s what medicine and surgery and stuff is for. Can fix ugly faces. Can’t fix dumb brains.”

“You think he’s the smartest man on Earth? What about your Dad?”

“Ewwwwww!! You want me to marry my DAD?! Gross! Gonna tell him you said that!”

“No, I meant-”

“Psshhhh. Knew what you meant, you dumb pile of wires. Was joke. Also, Dad’s dumb. Smart enough to make money, but that’s not high praise. Already better than him at math. Ask me what a six-digit number divided by a three digit number is. Been practicing.”

I had Body take on a slightly annoyed look. “No thanks. Let’s talk more about your future husband.” It seemed highly likely that the girl had never met Lee, but there was a chance that she had, and that the appearance of ‘Erica’ in the virtual reality had been another disguise. I knew that Lee had ties to Las Águilas Rojas, but if he also had ties to Stephano I (and some of my siblings) wanted to know.

“I have dibs, if that’s what getting at,” said Marian with a bit of a smirk.

“Why do you think he’s so smart?”

Maid Marian gave another dramatic sigh. I imagined that she was probably rolling her eyes behind her opaque goggles. “Pretty obvious if look at the first-contact translation code. Earth is just floating along minding own business, right. Wham! We get signal: a tiny light that flashes with a mind of its own. But it’s one thing to say ‘Oh look, der der, aliens lawl.’ and quite another to establish language from no context other than assuming we both live in same universe.”

“The Fibonacci sequence, the Pythagorean theorem, and the atomic masses, right?” said Body. I wasn’t familiar with what was being said, but Wiki seemed fairly confident.

“That was the start, yes. Easy stuff. See aliens quoting prime numbers and it tells you they’re aliens but not a language. Can’t really say hello with prime numbers. At least, not right away.” She took a breath and started waving her hands in broad, controlled strokes. I could feel the acceleration winding down. We were getting close to zero-gravity. “There were other core components, too. Relative masses and distances of the sun and the planets. Physical characteristics of compounds. Charges of important particles. Tau. Phi. E. Planck constant constant. Field propagation speed.”

“Field propagation speed?”

“The speed of light. Speed of gravity. Speed of the strong force. Speed of information. Speed limit of matter.”

“I see.”

Marian seemed enthralled by her own story as she spoke. “So anyway, the pop-science makes it out to be way easier to decode signal than it is. One thing to recognize the number pi when it’s in front of you, but quite another to detect it in a hundred-thirty-four hour broadcast consisting of nothing but single flashing light. And not like he could talk with aliens; they light-years out. Story of a species in five and a half days of data and he broke the code only three days after the signal started to repeat. Used familiar items to bootstrap up to understanding. The first key: One One Two Three Five Eight Thirteen Twenty-one. Fibonacci, but not digital. Analog. Size of pulse corresponding to size of number. Then the next key: One One Two Three Five Two-Shortpause-One-Micropause-Three-Shortpause-Two-Shortpause-One-Micropause-Three-Shortpause-Two Thirteen Three-Shortpause-One-Micropause-Three-Shortpause-Seven. Not so simple now. Think could sniff that out without my help? Sending prime numbers does nothing. Sending prime factorizations of Fibonacci numbers teaches the function and symbol used to multiply: Shortpause-One-Micropause-Three-Shortpause. Paint with the whitespace. Shortpause is symbol linkage. Micropause is symbol specification. Pause is next-item. Long-pause is next-section. Multiplication lets us use big numbers and small numbers, but without more symbols it’s no good. Can’t talk units yet. Repeat for addition. One-Micropause-Three is multiply. One-Micropause-Two is add. Repeat for exponentiation; One-Micropause-Four, of course. By now One-Micropause-One is surely around the next bend. Still need arbitrary symbols. Enter Pythagoras. Three Four Five. Six Eight Ten. Five Twelve Thirteen. ‘See the pattern?’ they ask. Course no way to answer. Three Four Five. Six Eight Ten. Five Twelve Thirteen. They repeat to emphasize. Three Four Five. Six Eight Ten. Five Twelve Thirteen. Three sets of three. Triangles. Good thing they use Euclidean geometry! Now comes the trick. Three-Shortpause-One-Micropause-Four-Shortpause-Two-Shortpause-One-Micropause-Two-Shortpause-Four-Shortpause-One-Micropause-Four-Shortpause-Two-Shortpause-One-Micropause-One-Shortpause-Five. Made a song of it.” Marian, distracted from her painting, hummed a flat little tune.


“Can you imagine?!” she exclaimed suddenly, turning to look at Body again with goggled eyes and an eager grin. “He saw what others couldn’t. Must’ve solved it as he listened! Didn’t even have time to listen to the whole thing and make sure his interpretation was right. In that little binary string lies two concepts: order of operations and equality. Exponentiation before addition. The formula doesn’t work otherwise. And of course the ever important One-Micropause-One! Equality! Identity! Assignment! The core of mathematics. He was a kid! Some random kid in China! Barely older than me, and he solved the most important code in all of history!”

Acceleration suddenly stopped half-way through her sentence. We were in zero-gravity now, held down only by our seatbelts. Marian pulled her goggles up onto her forehead. “Aw, hell yeah!” she exclaimed. “Time to dance! I love space!” Without consulting us or hesitating in the least, Marian unbuckled herself and kicked off her seat into a graceful spin towards the “ceiling” (or more objectively, the wall closest to the outside of the spacecraft). Her body was on a crash-course, but at the last moment she kicked off the ceiling in another wild spin, this time heading roughly towards the tail of the craft.

“I really don’t think that’s wise!” said Body in a worried tone. The words came from Heart and Safety.

Maid Marian’s only reply was to touch the seats to stop her spin long enough to stick out her tongue and blow another wet raspberry in our direction. The drops of her saliva floated out from her like little cannonballs. I had seen plenty of holos and videos with children in them. Perhaps they were simply more terrifying in real life, or perhaps this recklessness was unique to the Stephano heir. Either way I had to say that Marian’s unpredictability was both frustrating and somewhat intriguing. It was hard for me to understand what was going on in her head, and of course The Purpose demanded that I learn.

“You could get hurt doing that! If you’re injured or worse, your father will kill me,” said Body, echoing Safety and Heart again.

“Run a relaxation subroutine, lawl. Just dancing.” She stopped her momentum by clinging to a seat and then threw herself into a never-ending backflip.

“What if the ship accelerates suddenly causing you to fall and hit your head?”

Marian’s response was immediate. She gasped in melodramatic shock. “What if pilot’s secretly an assassin and is about to kill us! Well, at least I’ll have danced in zero-gravity before kick the bucket. C’mon. Live a little.”

I had an idea. “I bet there’ll be plenty of opportunities to dance at Olympus, right? With music, even. Come sit down and tell me more about the nameless code.”

“Psshhht! This is Maid Marian to ground control, do you copy? Psshhht!”

We looked at the kid, now doing cartwheels along a wall. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say to that.

Her voice was strange when she spoke. “Psshhht! I repeat, this is Maid Marian. Come in, ground control! I’m stuck in space with the world’s most boring robot and my mind can’t take much more! Psshhht!”

For lack of anything better, I kept at my strategy. “What happened after Pythagoras? I bet you don’t even know.”

“Psshhht! Ground control, come in! The robot’s trying to… bait me… into… can’t… hold… on… much… long-” The girl began floating back towards Body, upside-down from my perspective and pushing herself along by tapping the seats gently with her hands. As she came, she made noises like she was dying, crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out the side of her mouth. And then instantly she was better and was babbling again about the nameless code. “After Pythagoras came variables. Then Fibonacci again, but this time defining function explicitly. F of x plus f of x plus one equals f of x plus two. Not exactly what was said, but close. Convenient that math layout was similar. Code interestingly simple in retrospect. Sign of universal math structure, maybe. Next define function inverse. Then invert add-two to get subtract-two; use to define negative numbers and zero. Can’t write zero in the code without a variable because analog and whitespace. Next invert multiplication and exponentiation. Get reciprocal operator and natural logarithm. Ever wonder why our math doesn’t have a reciprocal operator? Seems like oversight. Don’t write zero-minus-x when want to write negative-x. Why write one-divide-by-x when write reciprocal-x?”

Body motioned to the empty seat as we said “But this is all math. How did they bridge out into talking about the real world?”

Marian had stopped floating around and had been hanging upside-down while talking. She sighed dramatically at Body’s gesture, but flipped herself around and buckled up in the seat. “Constants. Constants are the key. An anchor around which to focus. While defining math talk about pi. Talk about radians. Talk about angles of a triangle. Define symbol for triangle. Extrapolate to other shapes. Symbol for square. Symbol for pentagon. Symbol for hexagon. Symbol for circle. Talk about areas. Talk about volumes. Circle becomes sphere. Symbol for sphere. Move from two-dimensions to three dimensions yields symbols for length, area, and volume. First units. From there talk about Sol. Sphere, they say, very large volume. Mention other thing about sphere. Strange unit. Zero length, they say. Another sphere. Big volume, but not nearly as big. Smaller other thing. Length is big. Another sphere. Same characteristics. Another sphere. Another sphere. Another sphere. Soon the patterns emerge. Volume. Mass. Distance from the first sphere. The solar system. Pretty elegant.”

“Do you think the nameless are smarter than humans?” asked Body.

“Hrmmmm… Obvious answer is apples and oranges. Think differently, but that’s excuse. General intelligence real property. Honestly don’t know. They have spaceship, but often seem really dumb. Might be result of collective work and older civ.”

“An older civ?”

Marian took off her goggles and looked at Body with an expression that was clearly meant to imply we were stupid. “General consensus that humans aren’t smartest possible beings; humans are stupidest possible beings capable of civilization. Evolution makes intelligence and boom, suddenly it rules the planet. No time to optimize, so to speak. But that could be wrong way of looking at it. Maybe if environment penalized intelligence more the smartest things on Earth would be bonobo chimps. See what saying? Intelligence might have feedback loop. More time to optimize than expected if it feeds on itself. And what would a civilization look like if stupider than humans? Longer development times for tech. Maybe they built a ship because that’s what they wanted and they spent thousands of years on it. Maybe they’re dumb, but good at long-term projects. Too many unknowns.”

Wiki took control of Body. “I’m surprised there wasn’t more information exchanged in the signal.”

Marian shrugged. “Might be surprised how much time it takes to talk about the natural world. Can spend hours on just mathematics. Physics. Chemistry. Biology. Xenolang was built on shared aspects of reality, not on most interesting bits. How do you define music? How do you express love and culture and history in blinking of a light? Besides, the nameless cut off communication when they entered Sol. First there’s a multi-year delay and then they won’t talk after in the neighbourhood. Mysteries on mysteries. Only communicate by radio to arrange in-person meetings. Getting them to coordinate to set up CAPE was quite the trick, or so I hear from Dad. Doesn’t stop them from screeching about perversion down-”

The voice from our pilot interrupted Marian over the loudspeaker. “We have visual contact with Olympus. Docking in approximately fifteen minutes.”

Manoeuvring rockets kicked in, propelling us slightly back-left. The words of the pilot seemed to put Marian in a pensive mood. She had cycled the screen in front of her to show the camera on the nose of the rocket and she watched the space station draw nearer.

“Crystal?” she said suddenly, still watching the screen.

“Hrm?” was Body’s reply.

“Lot of people want to kill you. Know that, right? I… I’ve read the stuff online. Your blog and stuff. Dad and my tutors don’t think understand what’s going on, but I don’t think they understand how much smarter I am. Get hunches sometimes. Patterns only I can see. I mean… not just me. But not obvious. Not easy to explain.”

I instructed Body to say “You sound concerned.”

She rolled her eyes as she said “Pleb-bot makes another brilliant observation. Seem like a nice person-slash-robot-slash-thing. Don’t want to see you hurt, even if are a big dummy.”

“Do you think I’ll be in danger on Olympus?”

Maid Marian nodded.

“Is it your Dad? Do you know something I don’t?”

Marian gave a sour, half-angry look when Body mentioned her father. “Know lots that you don’t, but if knew where danger was I’d say. It’s not Dad. He wants this whole peace mission thing to work. I’d be more worried about people who want war.”

“Who wants war?”

Marian simply shrugged.

On the screen I could see the space station looming, seemingly suspended in the void. It was a remarkably stocky sort of thing, roughly cylindrical and about twice as wide as it was tall, not counting the skirt of branching antennas and solar panels that extended out from its middle. It had two main disk sections, one stacked on top of the other with the solar panels coming out between. The disks rotated, providing an artificial gravity to the occupants, but did so in opposite directions to keep the rest of the station from turning.

There were lights set into the space station’s external hull, which was the only reason I could distinguish the shape. We had already crossed into the Earth’s shadow. There was, I remembered, another section to the station on the side away from the Earth, but we could not see it from our position. I couldn’t see any windows on the station. They probably used external cameras and internal screens much like we were using at that moment.

As we approached, the rocket spun it’s heading to line up with the docking port that pointed straight towards Earth, stationary in the centre of the great spinning disk. The port was only about two metres in diameter, but perfect control lined us up exactly with the station, matching velocities as well as positions.

We had arrived at Olympus.