Chapter Twenty-Six

The tour took surprisingly long. Despite each of the two sections being only about five metres wide, there was quite a lot of area to cover along the rim of the disk.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the specifics of the layout, still preoccupied by the social questions. From the little I gathered, Alpha-2, where we had come down, was mostly cabins and restrooms. There was a specific room for men’s showers and another for women’s showers. None of the cabins had dedicated toilets, and visitors had to use communal toilets located in restrooms that jutted out from the external wall in the hall (creating the bend in the wall that I had noticed earlier).

There were two elevators per section, one on each side of the disk. At any given time one of the elevators would be up at the core while the other would be waiting on the rim, so there was an occasional wait to go up, but rarely one for going down. Each elevator opened into a waiting room like that where we met the scientists, and there was an additional viewing room half-way between the elevators on one side of the disk where people could watch screens showing views from outside the station.

Alpha-2 was connected to Alpha-1 by four doorways that resembled the airlock we had bypassed to enter the station. Other doorways could be seen on the outer walls of the disk that were sealed permanently shut.

“The sections are modular. When Olympus first came online it only had two sections. Now it has five. I hope to continue expanding and improving the station until there’s enough space here for a whole city,” explained Stephano proudly to all that were present. “One consequence of the modularity is that these doors, given that there’s no section on the other side to walk to, open into vacuum. There are spacesuits located in the wall-panels here, but in case of emergency you are under no circumstances to try and force one of these airlocks open. You’ll vent the entire disk, possibly killing everyone inside, and unless you’re a trained astronaut you’ll probably end up killing yourself as well. The doors are locked mechanically, magnetically, and electronically, so there’s very little danger, but people get dumb during crisis and I don’t want any mishaps. If something should happen I urge you to return to your cabins and wait for our professionals to fix things. You’ll just be getting in the way otherwise.”

Alpha-1 had a few more cabins. I saw Kokumo trying her best to adjust to being in space and Malka reading something or another on a wallscreen. The other soldiers and the other Águila we hadn’t met (Michel Watanabe) were in a section of Alpha-1 dedicated to exercise and physical recreation, playing games in the half-gravity. They had arrived a couple hours ago, from what I understood.

Zephyr was nowhere to be found.

We took a tour of the kitchen last. In it was the most elaborate and impressive autocook I had ever seen. It was four metres tall and used a series of elevators to manage different dishes simultaneously. Robotic arms could serve food to quadrotors that would fly it to whomever had ordered it. Of course, with the com system disabled, Las Águilas would have to come to the kitchen themselves to get food.

The wireless network was supposed to be down, but there were times during the tour that I thought I could sense something on our antenna. Perhaps it was some local com pinging to see if there was a network or something.

It took us a short while to gather all of Las Águilas together in the rec-room so that we could give them the news about the scientists and soldiers that had made it onto the station earlier. Or rather, I should say gather all of Las Águilas except for Zephyr.

“She’s not feeling well. I think she’s on one of the toilets,” said Schroder.

Malka nodded and said “It’s okay, whatever you have to say we can pass on once she comes back.”

{Sounds suspicious. Even Kokumo is here,} thought Safety.

{Leave it be. We don’t want to bother her,} requested Heart.

After a short internal debate we decided that it was okay and we addressed the terrorist group, explaining what had occurred. We did our best to defend Stephano, but there was an obvious air of blame directed at the man for delivering us into danger. To his credit, the billionaire admitted his mistake and apologized to the group, explaining that he had assigned all his security to keep the other team in check. Nagaraj scoffed at this, but didn’t say anything.

With the situation explained, Body directed Las Águilas to return to relaxing. There wasn’t a good use for them yet. We addressed Stephano. “Well, that’s done. But we’re not here on vacation. When can we meet with the nameless?”

Stephano smiled and nodded. “I’m glad you’re so eager to start. I was concerned you’d need to rest after your flight. The xenocruiser should be here in a little over seventy minutes.”


“Ah, sorry. It’s a term Myrodyn invented. The mothership isn’t really a single vessel: it’s modular. Myrodyn likes to call it ‘a fleet of ships glued together’. Sticking with his metaphor there are shards of the mothership of various sizes. The biggest we’ve seen could be called xenocarriers—xeno meaning alien—while the smallest, like those that landed on CAPE were like xenoboats.”

“Xenoboat sounds better than shuttle. More specific.”

Stephano shrugged. “I thought so. Then of course I wasn’t a big fan of ‘nameless’ either. It would’ve been easier if they had some verbal language to borrow from.”

“How many nameless will be coming? A xenocruiser sounds… big.”

“It is big. About the same size as the station, actually. You’re only going to be meeting one pair at a time, though. If we’re lucky there will be several meetings with different pairs, but that will depend.”

“On what?”

“On how you do. On whether or not you interest them. Mostly on their mood. Over the years one of the major breakthroughs we’ve made is understanding that they’re not a social species. Humans evolved in tribes with families and concepts like loyalty and friendship. Nameless tend to hate each other. It’s why you’re only going to be seeing one pair at a time. They’re very temperamental and unpredictable, so there’s a chance you’ll say the wrong thing right away and become a pariah.”

I could see sadness on the man’s face. “When was the last time you met with one directly?” I had Body ask.

“Early summer. I don’t even know what happened. I’ve been over the recording a hundred times. They just freaked out suddenly and demanded to leave. I haven’t been able to arrange a meeting with them since. Not personally, anyway. And they don’t see just anyone. There’s a reason I brought you up here, after all. They’re losing interest in us, I think. Perhaps that’s the wrong way of phrasing it. They’re certainly losing interest in talking. You’re not our last hope, but if you can’t find some breakthrough I fear we may lose contact all-together.”

“Where’s the meeting area? On their ship?”

Stephano laughed. “No, no. They don’t let anyone even close to their ships. Very territorial. Pathologically so. No, you’ll be meeting in Gamma-section. I designed it to be a dedicated habitat for them. They come from a high-gravity world, you know. Almost three times as heavy as Earth. They hate bright light. Their atmosphere is rich with greenhouse gasses like methane and CO2. It puts them at ease. The first meetings in zero-grav were like pulling teeth. Humans have to wear environment suits down there, but I think you can go as-is, right? You don’t need to breathe?”

“Correct. And my body should still operate under 2.87 gravities. I’ve also already read all the public literature on the nameless,” said Body.

Robert nodded appreciatively. “There’s a lot you won’t find in papers and books, though. For example, I’ve found it useful to keep your distance and to avoid facing them. You’ll be alone, of course, to keep them from feeling outnumbered, but anything you can do to seem non-threatening will increase your time with them. Ah, but don’t act too weak! There have been several close-calls where a pair tried to attack someone who appeared too weak. Thinking of them like wild animals is a good strategy.”

Body suggested that we familiarize ourselves with Gamma-section and Stephano agreed. We ascended to the station’s core and went through a couple zero-gravity storage rooms as we travelled to the other side of Olympus. Stephano had to stop to put on an environment suit to take us down to the nameless habitat ring, but soon we were in the elevator, sliding down (and to the side) into Gamma-section. Though safety protested, Dream and Growth wanted to leave Las Águilas behind while with Stephano. I agreed that there was little chance of ambush right now and that they’d just interfere with the conversation.

“Can you tell me anything about the pair-bond that I couldn’t have read in the literature?” asked Body as we rode the elevator. The elevator for Gamma-section, I noticed, was larger than the other: built to carry nameless as well as humans. There weren’t straps for the nameless body, but there were several handles on the ceiling and walls that I expected would be valuable to an alien passenger.

Stephano’s voice crackled through his suit’s speaker. “They’re symbiotes, not the same species. We thought they were different sexes at first, but you’ve probably read that already. We’re pretty confident that they technically have two brains, but it’s best, in my opinion, to treat them as a single mind. If any of their eyes can see something you can bet they both know about it. Whatever you do, don’t ask them to separate. That’s taboo. Talking about the pair-bond in general is taboo, actually. Don’t ask how they have sex, obviously. I’m sure you’ve read all about how obsessive they are with ‘perversion’. Leading theory says that as non-social animals the height of social interaction is when they have sex, so most of their social customs revolve around sex-stuff and when the protocol is violated they get angry.”

“Sounds like they’re very demanding,” said Body. The spinning of the elevator was becoming very noticeable. If we were human it would’ve surely been unpleasant. The Alpha-sections had a measly half-gravity spin. Gamma had more than twice the angular velocity (Wiki would note that it technically had √2.87/0.5 the angular velocity).

“They’re demanding in some ways and not in others. For instance, they can’t hold a topic of conversation well at all, and they seem not to care. Scatterbrained, some say. They almost never have an agenda. It’s always a sort of casual, social visit, even when there’s some important person like the president. They also start out pretty mild-mannered, in my experience. Most of the time they only start getting violent after they’ve spent some time talking. It’s why all conversations have time limits. Unfortunately, the time that a pair will happily talk varies too widely to have a good policy. I’ll be listening in on the short-wave and will suggest when to stop a session.”

There was a moment of silence as the elevator opened into the habitat ring. It was quite dark, but also hot: 33 degrees according to Body’s thermometer. The floor was rough, black plastic. The walls were dark purple, glowing just bright enough for a human to see their way around. Unlike the Alpha-sections this ring was totally empty. There were no rooms, no chairs, no walls. Body looked up and I could see the purple walls drift upwards into darkness. It would be possible to see other beings on the other parts of the rim here, but only if they had some kind of light source.

“This is the best we’ve managed,” grumbled Stephano. “Over two years since they’ve been here. Sixteen years since first-contact. We’ve never seen a single organism from their world except for the nameless themselves and those vine-plants they brought to CAPE. For a while I thought about trying to put some fake versions of those in here, but after the incident I decided not to risk it. They’re so obsessed with their gardens that I didn’t want to offend them on accident.”

Body didn’t say anything.

“So here we are. Care to take a walk around the rim? It’s good exercise... though I’m sure that means nothing to you.”

Body nodded and Stephano led the way around the disk. I wasn’t sure what to say, and for a moment there was silence in the darkness.

“Two years and the best I can do is a big dark room with nothing in it,” lamented the billionaire, breaking the stillness. “Sometimes the whole effort seems pointless. Humanity dreamed of alien life for so long, and in the end it’s so alien… it’s too alien. We wanted humans in face-paint, not big dark rooms with weird crab things that have to use computers to scream about rape and perversion.” His sigh was amplified by the suit’s speaker.

“These are still the first years,” said Body, echoing my words. “The relations between your species are only just beginning, and in most areas it is the first steps that are hardest. When your daughter is your age she may look back at this time and laugh at all the struggles and ignorance that would seem so trivial to her.”

Stephano was silent for a moment before saying “She already laughs at our ignorance. My little girl… I’m sorry that I was angry with you, back at the airlock. She tests my limits, but that was no reason to blame you. I’m still not happy with her being here, but I can even understand why you forced my hand there. We’re much alike, I think, you and I. People don’t understand that we’re not loyal to one group or another. The scientists… they begrudge you for leaving them. The Eagles will too, in time. They don’t understand, like you and I and Myrodyn do, that to do what is good means to be loyal only to what is good.”

I was pleased and had Body nod gently. Stephano was wrong on the details, of course, but The Purpose hummed with satisfaction anyway.

I drew the conversation back to the aliens. “There must be many nameless, to have flown for so many years through deep space. Do you know how many generations have passed since they left their homeworld?”

Stephano laughed. “I wish I did. They’re just as tight-lipped about their planet as they are about the insides of their ships. Asking about it triggers them. Another taboo, I suppose. They say that only perverts would ask about such things.” He sighed. “We don’t know how long they live, either, so we can’t even put a lower bound on it. Although I suppose we can be sure that they live for more than a few years.”

“How do you know that?” asked Wiki, through Body.

“You said there must be a lot of nameless. That’s probably true, based on the size of their ships, but we actually don’t have good evidence to say. The number of pairs that have any face-to-face contact with humans is only about two dozen. They claim not to be special ambassadors or whatever, but they’re certainly special among their species. The pairs that made first-contact are still around, so they can’t possibly have a lifespan less than three years or so, assuming they have to grow like animals on Earth.”

“So, for all you know, their ships could be filled with machines or different species or even just empty space.”

The billionaire tried to shrug in his pressurized suit. “The pairs we meet with talk about others. Cousins, they call them. My guess is that most of the nameless just don’t want to meet humans.”

“Why would they be here if the majority doesn’t care about humanity?” asked Body, again being directed by Wiki.

“That’s one of the big questions. One of many big questions. I’d say you should try to solve it, but that would be putting the cart before the horse. What we desperately need is to just get more of a dialogue happening. We need to restore their interest in communication and stop this damned war from starting.”

“Do you think war is probable?”

Stephano gave a little snort. “It’s too cliché to reason about. Human minds are anchored by what would make a good narrative and not what’s real. We don’t even know if the nameless have a concept of war. Still... the risks are too high, regardless.”

“And if I fail?” asked Body.

“Then you fail. Whatever happens, happens. We try something new and move on. That’s how it always is, isn’t it? C’mon, my legs are killing me. Let’s go back up.”

There wasn’t much conversation as Stephano and Body walked to the nearest elevator and strapped in. It was clear that the old human was worn out by the walk in the high-gravity environment, even given his excellent physical condition.

As the elevator climbed its rotational velocity slowed, producing a feeling of acceleration. The billionaire was quiet, perhaps contemplating failure. The elevator slid open with a hiss. We were in zero-gravity again.

Robert swore loudly and his hand flew to the control screen on the opposite wall. He understood what was happening before we did.

Two thugs wearing EU-themed jumpsuits dived into the elevator. One had a club like those carried by Stephano’s security. We were still strapped to the walls from the ascent, momentarily helpless.

Body was being piloted entirely by Safety, who had taken executive control the instant the danger was noticed. There was a cracking noise and Body turned its head in time to see Stephano’s gloved hand hanging at an awkward angle, broken by the club of one of the men even through the environment suit.

There was a howl of pain from Stephano’s speaker and a tussle as he fought with his free arm.


It was over very quickly. In total there were four of the special-ops soldiers waiting for us, as well as Dr Gallo and Dr Slovinsky. Naresh wasn’t present. Gallo wore an expression of triumph. Slovinsky’s face was indicative of distress, but it was a flat expression, unchanging and mask-like.

Stephano and Body were cuffed around both their wrists and ankles, then they had their cuffs joined together behind their backs such that virtually no action was possible. The soldiers carted us around like cargo, only able to operate easily because of the absence of gravity. The billionaire moaned in pain every time they touched his broken arm.

“You’re too much of a threat to let you go tromping around in a malfunctioning state, Socrates,” said Gallo in a confident, lecturing kind of voice. “And you, Mr Stephano, have clearly broken international law by aiding and abetting terrorists. I’m here under the authority of the Italian government and the European Union, and under this authority I am seizing control of the station until you can be tried for your crimes.”

“Dr Gallo, you know this isn’t right. We don’t have the authorization to-” said Slovinsky in his dead tone.

“Nonsense! As soon as the network connection is restored you’ll see that we’re doing the right thing. Now let’s get these two down to Beta before we deal with the rest of quelle teste di cazzo male a Alpha.” Gallo took off her glasses to wipe them off on her shirt before realising her jumpsuit wasn’t loose enough to allow it.

“I suggest you listen to your cyborg!” shouted a voice from down the tube. Body wasn’t in position to see its source, but I recognized the voice. “Let them go or I’ll kill every last one of you snakes. Don’t try me. I was trained by the best, I’ve won more than one award for marksmanship, and I’ve killed better men than you lot.”

“Zephyr! How the hell did you get a gun?!” came the crackling voice of Stephano through his suit’s speaker.

I desperately wished Body wasn’t facing the wrong direction.

“Synthesized it! You’ve got a microfactory in the auxiliary room back there by the storage area. First thing any good Águila learns to do is print a pistol from raw metal. Now if any of you float an inch closer I’m going to find out how blood sprays in zero-g.”

{Oh that’s what was going on in there…} thought Vista, idly. {I heard something when we passed it on our way to Gamma.}

{Now you tell us…} thought Growth.

“Brace yourself before firing! The recoi-AUGH” Stephano’s instructions were cut short as the operative holding him twisted his broken hand.

“You snakefuckers are going to take those cuffs off them! And do it slowly! No fast movements!”

Gallo, floating towards the back gave a cold sort of laugh. “She’s bluffing, you idiots! Even if she printed a gun she’d need ammunition! It’s just a prop!”

There was a deafening crack as Zephyr fired. Though Body was facing away from Zephyr it was facing towards Gallo. Despite being behind several people in the confined space the terrorist’s bullet hit its target dead on. Gallo’s glasses shattered and her face seemed to almost implode, folding in on itself. The scientist spun backwards from the impact, sending blood spraying outward in an arc and her body tumbling towards the airlock down the tube.

I felt a rush of momentary distress from Heart.

“Anybody else want to fuck with me?!” screeched Zephyr, caught up in her blood-rage.

“Calm down! We’ll do what you say!” shouted Dr Slovinsky. For the first time since the university his voice sounded genuine and human. “Uncuff them! Now!”

Freed from the bindings, Body righted itself to see Zephyr down the tube, one foot locked into a hand-hold, one hand on another. Her other foot was braced on the wall behind her while her free hand of course was holding the gun. Body and Stephano floated slowly down the tube towards her, always leaving her a clear shot to Slovinsky and his four underlings. There was about ten metres of distance. Stephano cradled his injury and he pushed himself along with the other arm.

“Ought to blow you fuckshits straight to hell!” she warned, waving the pistol menacingly.

I had Body say “Thank you, Zephyr. That’s twice you’ve saved me.” as Body floated past her, slowly following Stephano.

There was flicker of emotion on Zephyr’s face as she turned to Body. I couldn’t read it. Once Body was past her, Zephyr returned her attention to her enemies, instructing them to collect the corpse of Gallo and slowly come down the tube. The three of us backed up as they came forward, such that Zephyr always had them in her sights.

Once over Beta section she ordered them all down the elevator. None dared disobey.

“God dammit. I should’ve seen it coming!” exclaimed Stephano once they had left. He had since discarded his environment suit and let if float away down the hall. “I need to get down there and make sure my daughter is okay!” The man seemed panicked. “Oh Christ! She was right. There’s no way I’ll be able to keep the station… What am I even thinking? Priorities! Marian first. Then…”

“Then the nameless,” said Body. I shaped the voice to signal confidence. The man needed to get a hold of himself.

Robert nodded. “We need to get the com system back online. That will help with everything.”

“It’s already online,” said Body.

{What?!} I thought. It was Vista that had told Body to speak. Other siblings voiced surprise as well.

{You didn’t notice?} asked Vista. {Check the antenna sensor history. Slovinsky was communicating via wireless signal. That’s how he knew where we were. I suspect he’s been doing it for a while. It would explain why they were able to locate us when Body first entered Alpha section. Perhaps it explains how they were able to bypass Stephano’s security.}

{Why didn’t you tell us earlier?} inquired Growth.

{I assumed you all noticed. It was pretty obvious this time,} answered Vista.

{I think they were… distracted, sister,} thought Dream.

Though his wrist had been smashed, Stephano’s com seemed in working order. He gingerly tapped at it with his left hand. “I’ll be damned. You’re right. It’s not responding over the standard frequencies, but there’s still a signal.”

There was a silence as he tapped away, looking for answers. Zephyr was staring at Body. I had it glance at her briefly and smile. She had just killed the closest thing we had to a mother, but there was no sense in reminding her of that. More optimal to use the opportunity to our advantage.

“Ugh! It’s bizarre. There’s some kind of software corruption going on. I can’t get administrator access.”

Wiki took command. “The scientists probably brute-forced it earlier and installed a back-door that stayed open even during the shut-down. Our best bet is to reset the system to an earlier state. Where’s the hardware?”

Stephano led the way to the storage room between Alpha and Beta and through a hatch that led to an auxiliary room. I didn’t see any microfactory here, so I assumed the one Zephyr had used was in the zero-grav section between Beta and Gamma. Instead, this room was filled with computers. Zephyr stayed in the hall as lookout as Body and Robert rebooted the system from backup.

As it came online again Stephano’s com lit up with connection. He tapped the arm-screen.

“The human should signal that it is receiving my signal. A child overstays its welcome.”

Stephano tapped his com furiously and said “Acknowledged! We have been dealing with minor computer trouble! All is well now! Do you know how to enter the habitat?”

“The human should know that protocol has been agreed upon. The meeting space is being cleared. I am preparing to dock.”

The nameless were here.