Apollo 23: Chapter 2
From Self Indulgence
Apollo 23: Chapter 2: Hektor
From NASA Restricted Archive:
Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas, April 4, 1966
19 new astronauts were designated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration today. John L. Swigert will continue joint operations with the B-pan Project out of Langley Research Center for development of the designated USAF mission; the Apollo 14 flight to the moon. Swigert's cover story is that he is technical liaison for development of a new radar altimeter for the LEM.
While in communication with Velse, Deltarshi was with Tulghik in her command center inside Hektor. For 26 years they had been waiting in anticipation of the day when Sakir would leave Himalia.
Commander Deltarshi was a human, albeit greatly modified from those humans who still lived on Earth. Her ancestors had been taken off of Earth over 100,000 years in the past and Deltarshi was the product of sophisticated genetic engineering that allowed her to function in symbiosis with nanoscopic artificial life forms. She thought no more about her nanote components than a primitive human thought about its intestinal microflora. Those nanotes allowed Deltarshi to take on any desired humanoid appearance, but now, while in conference with Tulghik, they both used their natural body forms.
Tulghik, as a Huaoshy, looked like a human with an abnormal skeletal structure, but Deltarshi had long ago grown comfortable with the appearance of the aliens. Tulghik was at the dark brown end of the spectrum of Huaoshy skin pigmentation. Body structure details such as coloration had long ago been selected on a whim by Tulghik. A Huaoshy body was not biological, rather it was entirely composed of nanote components. If needed, Tulghik could quickly morph into any convenient form.
Deltarshi and Tulghik had both been monitoring Velse's interactions with Sakir and they had not needed the robot's report. Deltarshi could couple her consciousness directly to the sensory systems of any robot. That ability was a major source of Overseer power and it gave Deltarshi a secret delight to think that the robots were completely unaware of the fact that they could serve as surrogate bodies for Overseers. After her brief exchange with Velse, Deltarshi spoke to Tulghik, "I half expected Sakir to guess the nature of her new mission."
Much in the way that Deltarshi could monitor the sensory systems of a robot, Tulghik could monitor the thoughts of any human that carried some of Tulghik's nanote components. Sakir had been such a carrier of nanote implants since her brain had first formed 26 years previously. Tulghik shared some of what she knew, "I sense that Sakir is thinking about the possibility of time travel, but she firmly believes that travel through time is impossible. Her best guess is that she is being transferred to another simulation of Earth's past. Of course, she cannot imagine why such a transfer would be done with any degree of mystery and secrecy."
Deltarshi nodded. She was aware that Tulghik made use of nanote implants to monitor Sakir's thoughts and she could not avoid wondering if Tulghik could also monitor her thoughts. Deltarshi forced herself to gaze into the alien's green glowing eyes and said, "Good! Contemplating the possibility of a simple transfer between simulations should keep her occupied until we speak to her. Perhaps-" Deltarshi was gently interrupted by Tulghik, much in the way a human cat owner might stop a pet from scratching its claws on a piece of furniture.
Tulghik had long ago placed some of her nanotes in Deltarshi's brain, but there was nothing to be gained by letting any human know that their thoughts were being monitored. It was particularly important that Overseers like Deltarshi believe that they were in control. Tulghik interrupted Deltarshi's thoughts and used the nanotes inside the Overseer's brain to beat down her memory of having doubts about her own mind being an open book to the Huaoshy. Deltarshi had long ago guessed that aliens controlled the Overseers and each time she remembered that idea another wave of resentment and anger started building in her mind. Tulghik had long practice in dealing with such resentments.
Tulghik patiently said, "Sakir will be fine. Over the years I've prepared her for this transition. You need only concern yourself with your task: establishing a human rapport with the girl and introducing her to Jack. I'll stay out of the way during that process since I still find it hard to deal with human behaviors that are influenced by jealousy."
Deltarshi nodded. She and her fellow Overseers believed that the Huaoshi had originated on a distant Earth-like planet, millions of years in the past. It was thought that they had engineered themselves to be a long-lived species and had purposefully eliminated sexual reproduction from their biology. After millions of years of existence as asexual beings, the Huaoshy had no intuition about human emotions like jealousy. Of course, that was all speculation since the aliens never bothered to provide other species with a coherent account of their long history. Some speculated that the Huaoshy did not know their own history, having long ago lost track of their own origins among the stars. "Leave that to me. Sakir is well aware that clones exist and you have assured me that she has no prejudice against them. She'll soon be like my long-lost daughter." And while so assuring Tulghik, Deltarshi used her nanoscopic implants to morph her appearance and adopt the form of an older version of Sakir.
Deltarshi now spoke with a voice that was similar to Sakir's , "All will be well, but I still doubt the wisdom of your direct interaction with the girl. Why add to the stress she is feeling by exposing her to your alien features?"
Tulghik produced a nearly human laugh, "I must trust you with the task of guiding her emotions and you must trust me with matters that concern time travel." It was Tulghik's long experience with time travel that had led to her taking charge of the upcoming Reality Change.
Deltarshi knew that the aliens did not trust humans to wisely use advanced technologies. Deltarshi told herself: they don't trust us with any technology. The fact that humans were completely dependent on the aliens for advanced technology was a source of uneasiness for Overseers. Deltarshi's resentment quickly spiraled towards anger and Tulghik gently adjusted her thought process away from the impending emotional meltdown.
Deltarshi shifted her thoughts to a related subject. In the Olmec Reality humanity had nearly destroyed itself by unwise development of nanotechnology. Sakir was the latest tool in the struggle to shift humanity into a new lower technology pattern of development than that which had occurred in the Olmec Reality. A stray idea escaped Tulghik's efforts to control Deltarshi's thoughts and she mused, "It seems strange that development of nanotechnology was so fast in the Olmec Reality."
Tulghik was again impressed by the persistence of that thought in Deltarshi. Tulghik had spent years editing knowledge of nanotechnology out of the few human Overseers who had been involved in termination the Olmec Reality. Tulghik once more tried to trace Deltarshi's thought processes and memories that kept leading her towards unhealthy speculations about the Olmec Reality and how Earth's humans had managed to go so far in developing nanotechnology. Tulghik knew the simple explanation for that, but it was important that Overseers not learn such secrets. "We Huaoshy have long studied the many ways that a biological species can move into the period technological adolescence. Almost always there is a technological disaster. That is why we watch over and guide primitives like you humans. I do need to shield you from some knowledge. Humans are quite adept at getting themselves into trouble with technology. It disturbs you to know that we Huaoshy restrict the course of human civilization, but you know that humanity has the power to destroy itself. What do you prefer? That we Huaoshy allow your species to destroy itself or that we intervene to slow the pace at which you develop dangerous technologies?"
Deltarshi replied, "I have no choice but to trust you, but It is hard to suppress my natural curiosity about technologies that you label as dangerous."
Tulghik nodded. "As an Overseer, you are in a difficult position. You know the truth about the Huaoshy and how we control Earth's development. But remember, I rely on you and your human intuitions. You Overseers are an indispensable part of guiding humanity into the future. I probably do not say this enough, but I thank you for your service. I could not do my job without you. The future of your species depends on you and your fellow humans like Sakir. Your civilization came to an end in 2012, in the Olmec Reality, but you were able to help resurrect it. I thank you for that." Tulghik reached out and clasped Deltarshi's hand, using that contact to facilitate some subtle neuronal surgery that again cleansed Deltarshi's thoughts of wonder about how the Olmec Reality had gone so wrong. Tulghik was again forced to reassess the likelihood that Deltarshi was past her usefulness, her biological brain having been adjusted so often and so heavily cross-circuited by nanote components that she could no longer be counted as having free will.
Deltarshi shrugged. "I've always done my best, but it must be frustrating for you to deal with human incompetence and our penchant for self-destruction."
Deltarshi chuckled in the human fashion. "Earth is viewed as a lost cause by my people. That means you are stuck with the dregs, like me, while all the sensible Huaoshy are elsewhere, engaged in more productive projects. All of us here do the best we can under difficult conditions. But remember, if we can prevent Earth's rich ecosystem from being incinerated, reduced to nanote waste slime or otherwise destroyed then we will be long remembered as great heroes who accomplished the unlikely, if not the impossible."
Deltarshi grinned at the idea of finding a way to view as heroic any aspect of humanity's bumbling entry into its age of technological civilization. Dismal thoughts about human prospects were frequently at the center of Deltarshi's consciousness. She well knew how difficult it was to keep Genesaunts, Observers and Overseers alike, working within the Sol System and engaged in the task of helping Earthlings. "And I thank you for your help. I should have retired long ago, but I want to finish out this series of Reality changes and forever erase the disgrace of the Olmec Reality from human history." Deltarshi knew that Tulghik kept many secrets and now it was her job to trick Sakir into playing the role that the aliens had planned. Deltarshi wondered if she would be able to to properly play her own role and not infect Sakir with doubts.
When the spaceship carrying Sakir arrived at Hektor, Commander Deltarshi was waiting at the docks. Deltarshi was still actively monitoring Velse's interactions with Sakir aboard the ship.
Velse had awakened Sakir while they were making their approach to Hektor. Sakir awoke and could not remember having fallen asleep, but her consciousness quickly reassembled and the surprise of her sudden departure from Himalia returned with brutal force.
Velse pointed to the projected image of the asteroid and announced, "Now arriving at Hektor." The spaceship dove into a tunnel that penetrated from the surface of the asteroid into the interior. Now at the end of the automated docking sequence, the spaceship slowed gracefully and settled into the docking clamps.
Sakir scowled at the robot and wondered if she had been drugged into unconsciousness. She asked, "How long was I asleep?"
Velse inactivated the external view and replied, "You needed some rest, be grateful that you are now fresh and ready to meet Commander Deltarshi." The robot extended a hand to Sakir and helped her rise from the flight couch. "We are now docked; come along. Let me warn you. Don't be surprised by the Commander's appearance." The robot picked up Sakir's bags and led the way into the airlock.
The outer airlock door opened and Velse nodded towards the outside of the ship, allowing Sakir to step out first.
Sakir found herself in the huge open space of the docks and she noticed that the synthetic gravity here was about half the 1 G field that she was used to. The docks were a vast expanse of gray metal and black shadows under a harsh industrial lighting. Most of the visible motion was robotic dock workers and carryalls going about their work, but Sakir also noticed someone moving towards her, a woman who somehow looked familiar. As the woman drew near Sakir could see a strong resemblance between this stranger and herself.
Commander Deltarshi wore a blue jumpsuit and soft black boots and she still retained the appearance of Jill Lyons. She at first ignored Sakir and spoke directly to Velse. "Thank you, Velse." Deltarshi took Sakir's luggage from the robot. Without a spoken word, Velse turned and went back into the spaceship.
Deltarshi now turned to Sakir, whose eyes were an inch higher due to the heals of her stylish 1960s era shoes. Deltarshi explained, "Velse will now return to Himalia and make sure that your absence from that simulation goes unnoticed. Welcome to Hektor, Sakir."
Sakir asked, "Who are you?"
"Commander Deltarshi. Of course, you are puzzled by my appearance. Come along...I will explain while we walk." The two women made there way out of the dock complex and on into the heart of the asteroid base. Sakir saw nothing that looked like Earth or the Earth simulation at Himalia. The docks and the adjoining passages were raw and utilitarian as if the base inside Hektor had been quickly constructed and no efforts ever made to pretty things up.
Deltarshi said, "I congratulate you on adjusting gracefully to this sudden disruption of your life."
Sakir felt anything but graceful. "I'm feeling very disoriented and anxious."
Deltarshi led Sakir aboard a small tram car that was little more than a metal platform with a handrail. After a moment the car accelerated and shot into a transit tunnel, riding on a magnetic field. There was no windshield and Sakir turned so that her long hair would not blow into her eyes.
Deltarshi pointed to her own face, "This is not my natural appearance. I have been playing the role of Jill Lyons. Yes, look at me closely, this is how you will look in another 20 years or so. Watch this." For a moment Deltarshi morphed her face back to its natural structure, which seemed harsh and heavy in comparison. "This is my real appearance." Just as quickly she allowed her nanote implants to shift her facial structure back to the more delicate features of Jill.
From her schooling, Sakir knew about Overseers and their ability to use nanotechnology to shape shift, but she had never before met an Overseer and actually seen someone morph their facial features. She objected, "I've seen pictures of Jill, she looked nothing like you, or me."
Deltarshi chuckled, "So you were told. Sorry about that, but you were tricked. It was important that you not discover your fate too soon....that would have been an unwanted distraction. It was important that you be fully engaged in decoding and not worrying about your future." The tram car stopped and after exiting from the transport tube, Deltarshi walked off though a dim gray corridor.
Sakir stopped walking and stood, hands on hips. She demanded, "Distraction from what? What is my fate? Why am I here?"
Deltarshi turned back towards Sakir and set down the large suitcase. She explained, "You will go to Earth. Your entire life you have been in training to go to Earth and derail the B-pan project."
Sakir knew the general history of the B-pan project and how Jill Lyons had helped the people of Earth discover the existence of aliens. Those were events of the previous century. Now, in 2053, Genesaunt culture was in retreat, pulling back away from Earth while spaceships from Earth began probing the Solar System, searching for the aliens. As a Genesaunt, Sakir had been taught that Earth's discovery of the aliens was a disaster that now interfered with efforts to protect humanity from its technological excesses.
The B-pan project was now more than half a century in Earth's past, but there were still mysteries remaining in Genesaunt understanding of how the Earthlings had obtained evidence of the existence of aliens. Sakir had spent her entire adult life in the Himalia simulation, trying to understand how Earthlings had discovered evidence of alien visitors to Earth by studying ancient artifacts found at archeological sites in Central America.
Sakir asked, "What do you mean, 'derail the B-pan project'?"
Deltarshi pointed down the corridor, "Let's get to your home where we can be more comfortable, then I'll explain." She again picked up Sakir's luggage and led the way down the dingy hallway and then out into the cavern beyond. "Hektor Base is not meant to be comfortable, but we have made special changes just for you," Deltarshi gestured into the cavern that they were entering, "This is our effort to allow you to feel like you are on Earth."
They emerged from the corridor into a much larger space, a bright cavern that reminded Sakir of the Earth simulation inside Himalia. There was a simulated Earth-like sky and an array of houses that looked like the neighborhood in Virginia where Jill Lyons had long ago lived. They walked across the grassy field that led up to the back of her house. Deltarshi opened the back door and set Sakir's bags down in the kitchen, in what looked like the house that Sakir had left behind in the Himalia simulation. Deltarshi said, "I want you to feel at home. This is a replica of the house that Jill lived in on Earth, which was, of course, the original model for the house you have been living in."
Sakir looked around and could tell that the kitchen was spotless, as if nobody had ever cooked a meal here. She asked, "This is another Earth simulation?"
Deltarshi shook her head, "No, creating simulations of Earth is not the function of this Base. We made all this just for you, to make you comfortable. You'll be here at Hektor for a few months and we don't want you to lose your familiarity with this house."
Sakir abandoned her inspection of the house and asked again, "What did you say about the B-pan project?"
Deltarshi explained, "Hektor Base hosts the main time travel portal for Earth. We're going to send you back to 1969 so that you can prevent the people of Earth from learning about the existence of aliens. Jill played a fundamental role in the success of the B-pan project. You will take Jill's place and prevent that success."
Sakir pulled out a chair and sat at the little table in the breakfast nook of the kitchen. She had been taught that time travel was a science fiction plot device, but Deltarshi had spoken with utter conviction. "You're serious. Time travel is possible?"
Deltarshi sat down and assured Sakir that it was. "It is true. The aliens have all kinds of advanced technology: spaceships, nanotech, even time travel portals. You have been trained since birth in preparation for a time travel mission back into Earth's past. You'll live here during the final phase of preparations for that mission."
The door bell rang. Deltarshi nodded towards the front door and said, "Go ahead and answer the door."
Sakir was not quite able to instantly believe in time travel. It was easier to believe that this was some kind of test, maybe an initiation for her participation in a new Earth simulation project. She walked rather numbly from the kitchen to the front of the house and opened the front door. Sakir had learned about the Huaoshy, but she had never expected to meet an alien...she'd never known anyone who had. Tulghik said, "Hello, Sakir," and stepped into the house, past Sakir, who was startled by the sudden appearance of an alien.
Deltarshi had followed Sakir to the door and she now took Sakir's arm and led her to her favorite chair. Deltarshi said to Tulghik, "I fear she's a bit overwhelmed." Deltarshi went back to the kitchen and Tulghik sat down across the room from Sakir, folding her oddly jointed legs up off the floor.
Tulghik used the nanote components inside Sakir to ease her back from a growing state of anxiety. "Sakir, just relax. We are here to help you. You know the general nature of your mission, Deltarshi has explained that to you. From here on, we will go at your pace. I hope my alien appearance does not alarm you."
Sakir studied the alien and its other-humanoid appearance. In fact, Sakir was not greatly disturbed by Tulghik's appearance. Sakir had seen images of aliens as part of her training. However, the idea that she would go to Earth, into Earth's past as a time traveler was more of a shock. Sakir had been able to doubt Deltarshi, but under the gaze of the alien it was easier to believe in the existence of time travel technology and accept that the aliens kept it a secret. Sakir started to speak and faltered, "They say-" She tried again. "I was taught that aliens only interact with Overseers."
Tulghik nodded, "Normally that is so, but you are one of the very few Observers who must cross over the line that normally separates Observers from Overseers. The upcoming time travel mission to Earth is your mission. You need to know secrets that are normally kept from Observers. You will work closely with Deltarshi and you will come to know what she knows about the B-pan Project. While you are here at Hektor you two will be a team."
Deltarshi returned from the kitchen and handed Sakir a glass of ice water. Sakir gratefully gulped some water and tried to stop her hands from shaking. She leaned back in the chair and briefly closed her eyes. Suddenly she thought of Jack Swigert, an astronaut she had briefly known through her work on the B-pan Project. They had gone on a few dates and then fallen out of contact after he joined NASA. She opened her eyes and went to the hutch in the corner of the room. She pulled open a drawer and found a photograph of Jack. It was a NASA publicity photo that he had sent her from Texas. He'd written on the back, "Come visit me in Houston sometime!". Sakir was impressed: this was a simulation, exact in details right down to her personal belongings.
Tulghik said, "Jack is one more small shock for you to adjust to. He is here at Hektor."
Sakir had grown up hearing all kinds of crazy rumors about the Huaoshy, that they had the power of telepathy. Tulghik said, "Not really telepathy: it's a technological trick. I've had nanote implants inside your brain since before you were born and I've learned to follow your thoughts."
Sakir could not keep herself from feeling violated. "You made me think of Jack."
Tulghik nodded. "Yes, I caused his memory to bubble to the surface of your mind. Jack is another time traveler. We pulled him out of Earth's past and he has been living here, helping us plan your mission."
Deltarshi explained, "That is why I have been using Jill's form. I spent years building a relationship with Jack. He thinks that I am Jill. Now it is time for you to meet him. We will tell Jack that you are my daughter."
Sakir put the photo of Jack back in the drawer and returned to her chair. She could sense that Deltarshi left part of the story untold. Sakir looked at Tulghik and wondered if the alien was forcing more ideas into her mind. She suggested: "Jack would not help you, so you had to trick him."
Deltarshi sat down on the couch with Tulghik and smiled. The alien said, "I could have ripped every memory from Jack's mind, but that would have been a destructive process; it is better to work with humans and take advantage of normal memory retrieval processes. Jack has actually been very helpful. We did trick him. It was best to let him think that he was brought here to serve as a kind of ambassador for Earth. Later we pretended to bring Jill up from Earth. Jack never knew that he was transported forward through time. All that is important is that he is comfortable and happy here and we can learn what he knows about the conditions you will encounter on Earth. You must learn all you can from Jack before I send you back to 1969."
Deltarshi nodded in agreement. "It took Jack years to get acclimated to Genesaunt culture, but he has done so successfully. We believe that we have learned from Jack how to prevent the B-pan project from proving the existence of aliens."
It sounded to Sakir like her own efforts in the Himalia simulation had been a waste of time. She had grown to be proud of her own understanding of ancient Mesoamerican writings, but what she had learned from her efforts never suggested an answer to the riddle of how Earthlings had proven the existence of aliens. Sakir asked, "If you have all the answers then why do you need me?"
Deltarshi replied, "Let me tell you the story of Jill Lyon's life. You know everything up to 1969, having lived it in simulation at Himalia. Jack joined NASA so that he could fly on the Apollo 14 mission and use alien technology to search for the hidden Observer Base under the Moon's surface. By pulling Jack out of his time and off of Earth we were able to block his participation in the discovery that aliens have long been visiting Earth. However, removing Jack from Earth was not enough. Even with Jack removed from the B-pan project, eventually Jill's translation work allowed the search for evidence of aliens to be narrowed and intensified. The abandoned Observer Base on the Moon was still found by Earthlings...that discovery just took a few years longer in the Reality where Jack travels through time."
Sakir asked, "Reality?"
Tulghik curled a lip in a nearly human smile, "That is our jargon. When we create a new course of events by using time travel we call the new timeline a 'Reality'."
"I see." Sakir was puzzled by Deltarshi's mention of Jill's work. "What did you say about Jill's translations?"
Deltarshi continued her description of history, "1969 is an important year. When you go back to 1969 you will know the location of a key artifact in Mexico and how to prevent the Earthlings from finding it. That artifact has Olmec hieroglyphs that Jill decoded, thus obtaining clues that could lead Earthlings to their discovery of the location of the abandoned Observer Base on the Moon. You will go to Earth, that hieroglyph translation work of the B-pan Project will not occur, which will prevent others from taking over Jack's role in searching the Moon for Observer Base. There are details that we will explain to you, but that is the gist of it. Your training in the simulation at Himalia has prepared you to recognize the key Olmec artifact. You share Jill Lyon's skill in translating the Olmec script."
Tulghik added, "The key technical issue, from the perspective of we time travel engineers, is that you will travel in time and replace Jill in 1969. The rest is minor details."
Suddenly everything made sense to Sakir. "I see. That must mean that I am Jill, or at least a copy of her."
Tulghik nodded. "Very good. You are a clone of Jill. At the moment when you arrive in 1969 the real Jill will be taken off Earth. A swap. The time travel process is actually a bit more complex than that, but you get the idea."
Sakir wondered aloud, "How did you obtain Jill's genetic material and create me as her clone?"
Deltarshi replied, "Jill lived here at Hektor for a few years. She was a patient here, going through complex genetic repairs to correct her genetic defects. We thus had easy access to her. The Huaoshy are experts at cloning humans."
Sakir shook her head, unable to sort through the implications of what Deltarshi had said. "You seem to be saying that I will be sent back in time to replace Jill, but also...Jill has already been taken off of Earth? How can that be?"
Tulghik produced a nearly human laugh, "A little trick in time travel, what we call a 'triple switch'. We'll give you crash course in temporal mechanics, but suffice it to say that you are part of a time loop."
Sakir asked, "Are you saying that my very existence will be...has been...made possible when I travel back in time?"
The alien shook its head, "Not quite. Right now we exist in a Reality where Jill was removed from Earth but not replaced by you. That created a Reality in which the discovery of Observer Base on the Moon by Earthlings was delayed but not prevented. We will complete the "triple switch" when we send you back in time. Your actions on Earth will prevent Earthlings form finding Observer Base until they are ready... centuries further on in the future."
Sakir rubbed her head. "You'll have to sort that out for me in detail. I still don't understand why you want me to meet Jack and pretend to be Jill's daughter."
Tulghik shrugged, "You could go back to 1969 today, but we think it will be best if you have a chance to discuss your mission with Jack. You will have to interact with Jack in 1969...the better you know him the better prepared you will be for your mission on Earth."
"You still have not explained that mission. How can I, by pretending to be Jill, disrupt the B-pan project?"
Deltarshi replied, "Right now we have the sketch of a plan for your mission. We want you to have a chance to work with Jack and it will be up to you to decide exactly what you will do on Earth. Right now, we need you to have some independence of thought rather than be swayed by our existing biases. So we propose that you start working with Jack and together we will all plan the remaining details of your mission. You need to construct your own plan, a plan that you feel comfortable with. This time travel mission is really yours...all we can do is help you the best be can to be ready for what you will do in 1969. When you are there on Earth in 1969 you will need to be flexible and make good choices as needed. Doubtless there will be surprises that we cannot anticipate."
Tulghik added, "We need you to feel that this is your mission. You have to grow into it and become comfortable with the idea of traveling back into the history of Earth to make changes to the course of events."
Deltarshi nodded, "We've thrown a lot of information at you today. Let's not try to move too quickly."
Sakir laughed nervously. "I'm not sure I really believe that time travel is possible."
Deltarshi smiled, "The existence of time travel is great secret. Very few humans know the truth. For the rest of today we can review the record of Jack's debriefing here at Hektor. That will start easing you into what we know, or at least what we think we know about how the Earthlings discovered the existence of aliens. When you are on Earth it will be up to you to be flexible...what we, here and now, think you will experience on Earth is at best a guess and approximation."
Tulghik stood up and went to the door. "I'll let you two get to work." The alien opened the door and was gone.
Sakir felt a sense of relief when the alien left the house. She muttered to Deltarshi, "So, the Huaoshy can control our thoughts."
Deltarshi felt a responsibility not to infect Sakir with doubts and suspicions. "That is a matter of debate among Overseers. I suspect that the Huaoshy normally use a kind of telepathy, a sort of mind resonance when they communicate with each other. Using human language does not seem to come naturally to Tulghik. When she is with someone like you, who is a host for Tulghik's nanote implants, she may not be able to prevent herself from letting her thoughts resonate with yours."
Sakir shook her head, "I still don't get it. They say that the Huaoshy can take on any form. Why not send a Huaoshy back to 1969? Why does Tulghik want me to go?"
Deltarshi explained, "The aliens actually have very little interest in Earth. I've heard Tulghik make the claim that it is unethical for them to visit Earth and alter Earth's history. Still, by some magic of Huaoshy logic, they do allow themselves to send a few Observers to Earth as agents of the Huaoshy. Those agents, like you, must be indistinguishable from Earthlings, genetically and otherwise."
Sakir nodded. "Yes, and as Tulghik's agent, she will control my thoughts and actions when I am on Earth."
Deltarshi considered how best to defuse Sakir's resentments. After a short silence she said, "No human can claim to know the answers to these questions about the Huaosy, but let me ask you a question. You were taught the First Rule of Observation?"
"Of course," Sakir recited, "Earthlings must never know that they are being Observed."
"Exactly. I've worked with Tulghik for a long time and I've quizzed her about these matters. The Huaoshy are always evasive...perhaps they are used to directly sharing thoughts and therefor fail to explain themselves verbally. However, it seems certain that the Huaoshy are guided by a rule that is similar to the First Rule of Observation, probably a kind of ethical guideline such as: 'Allow humans to think that they have self-determination and are not being controlled by the Huaoshy.' Of course, that only seems to apply to humans on Earth. The Huaoshy speak of we Genesaunts as being domesticated humans."
Sakir asked, "We are their pets? They feel free to do as they like with us?"
Over long decades of playing the role of Overseer, Deltarshi could comfortably think of herself as a domesticated watchdog looking over the sheep heard that was the Observer Corps. And at the top of the social hierarchy were the Huaoshy who had crafted the evolution of humans and made use of Genesaunts as their tools. "That might be a useful analogy. Imagine keeping a pet fish, one that is too dangerous to release into the wild. The Huaoshy seem to view humans as a dangerous and disruptive species that is damaging the fragile ecosystem of Earth. Still, they don't routinely step in and set things right. Tulghik only seems to act when a major disaster needs to be averted. And she always uses indirect methods to influence events on Earth...such as sending you to Earth."
"So you believe that I will be free to act as I wish? I'm not simply a puppet of the aliens? If so, how can Tulghik trust that I will do as she hopes when I am sent to Earth?"
Deltarshi chuckled. "Tulghik has monitored your thoughts every day of your life, and I have no doubt that she is monitoring our conversation right now. If Tulghik did not trust you then you never would have been brought here. You were not the only clone of Jill that was made. You are the clone that Tulghik selected as being the best prepared to go to Earth."
Sakir thought of her parents inside the Himalia simulation of Earth. "Did my parents know that I was the clone of an Earth woman and being trained for a mission to Earth?"
"No. The couple that raised you did not know. Your birth mother knew that she was not your biological parent, but she never knew about Tulghik's plans for using you as a time traveler. Your father, like most people in the Himalia simulation was a robot."
Sakir had been certain that her father was human. "What? That can't be!"
"There are very few humans in the Himalia simulation. It is difficult for us to maintain a population of Observers. Most Genesaunts want nothing to do with Earth. We created conditions that would allow you to become a dedicated Observer. You were allowed to believe that you could distinguish humans from robots, but most of your acquaintances that you thought were human were actually artificial life forms."
Sakir found herself becoming numb to the continuing string of revelations about the aspects of her life that were lies and charades. "Now you have me wondering if you are human."
Deltarshi laughed loudly, "Does it matter? What if I were a robot?"
Sakir tried to take stock of her own feeling. Much of her world view had crumbled since leaving Himalia. "I was raised as a human, believing that robots are simply conveniences. My loyalties are to my fellow humans."
Deltarshi nodded. "And Tulghik selected you to go to Earth because of your devotion to helping humans. During the past several decades, since the Earthlings discovered the abandoned Moon Base of the aliens, they have been cultivating their paranoia about aliens and spreading through the Solar System in search of the aliens. Soon they will find a Genesaunt base, maybe even this base here inside Hektor. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to Observe the Earthlings as they deploy increasingly sophisticated scanners and shields. Now they are developing nanotechnology and we could soon replicate the technological disaster that struck Earth in a previous Reality. It would be better for the Earthlings if they returned to a state of ignorance with respect to aliens."
Sakir stood up and looked out the front window. "So I was taught. But maybe that is another deception. How do I know that it is not better for the Earthlings to break free of their ignorance and throw off we Observers?"
Deltarshi replied, "I doubt if you believe that Earth is better off on its own. However, the most convincing evidence I know of is from our records of past time travel and past Realities."
Sakir was intrigued. "What records?"
Deltarshi explained, "We described to you the idea of a Reality Change. When you travel back in time and go to Earth your actions there will create a new Reality. The Huaoshy have a means to communicate information about a previous Reality into a newly created Reality. In a previous reality, human civilization on Earth was destroyed in a technological disaster. Tulghik has been using time travel to prevent that disaster and get humanity back on a stable path of technological development. I think it would be useful for you to read the report on what is called the "Olmec Reality", the reality in which humanity and all life on Earth was nearly exterminated."
Sakir asked, "How does my study of the Olmec Artifacts relate to that technological disaster?"
"In the Olmec Reality, Mesoamerica was the dominant scientific cradle of humanity and Olmec culture gave rise to a technologically advanced civilization. A time traveler had to be sent back into the past in order to derail that civilization and prevent the technological disaster. However, that time travel resulted in the Olmec Artifacts that you have studied. It will be up to you to go to Earth and prevent study of those Artifacts from revealing to Earthlings the existence of aliens."
Sakir struggled to integrate her new knowledge of the existence of time travel with her long-held beliefs about the origins of the Olmec Artifacts. She complained, "But this entire story about the "Olmec Reality" comes to us from the Huaoshy? How can we trust the Huaoshy to tell us the truth about past Realities? How can we trust them about anything?"
Deltarshi was amused to now be asked the kinds of questions that she had previously asked of Tulghik. She took a deep breath and sighed. "Well, you have to decide for yourself. One of your tasks in the remaining few months before you go to Earth is to read the report on the Olmec Reality. You are an expert on the Olmecs. I suspect that your new knowledge of the existence of time travel will allow you to gain a new understanding of the Olmec Artifacts that you have studied for the past five years. Tulghik seems certain that you will be willing to go to Earth and take action to prevent the Earthlings from discovering the existence of aliens. Of course, I suppose that if at any time you decide that you cannot complete your mission, Tulghik will notice your state of mind and replace you with one of the other clones of Jill."
"And if I am replaced, what will happen to me?"
"That would be up to you. Tulghik tried to use Jill as an agent, but Jill did not want to help the Huaoshy. As an Earthling, Jill had a fairly well developed paranoia about aliens. Jill ended up traveling out of the Solar System. You were carefully raised as an Observer with Observer loyalties."
Sakir felt a cold chill. "So Tulghik has been in my mind during my entire life, crafting me as a tool of the Huaoshy...a tool that will do her bidding."
Deltarshi nodded and added, "And I am now trying to do my part to 'craft you' and prepare you for your mission. Like Tulghik, I've studied you for decades. I'm confident that you will help us prevent the Earthlings from discovering the existence of aliens and our Genesaunt culture. You know it is best for Earth if the Earthlings remain under our Observation and guidance for a few more centuries. Earth humans are in the critical stage of technological development where most tool-using creatures destroy themselves. We humans seem to have a penchant for self-destruction. Tulghik has seen inside your mind and seems certain that you will help protect Earth."
Sakir chuckled nervously, "I'm not certain of anything."
Deltarshi stood up and moved towards the door. "I hoped to put you at ease and start you towards allowing me to start playing the role of your mother. You grew up inside an historical simulation and you are accustomed to acting out your role."
Sakir followed the Commander to the front door of the house. "I'm afraid that every time I look at you I think of growing old and my mortality. Not to mention the fact that I don't trust a single thing you say."
"Ow! That is harsh. I see that I will have to work to gain your trust. For now, it is probably best that I leave you alone and let you begin the process of adjusting to the facts of your new life. I'm sorry we had to expose you to so many shocks and surprises in such a short time." Deltarshi tossed a memory plug to Sakir. "This is your reading assignment. As soon as you have had a chance to learn about the past few Realities I'll introduce you to Jack."
Sakir examined the memory plug, which seemed similar to devices she had used in school. "How can I contact you if I have questions?"
Deltarshi smiled sheepishly, "Tulghik and I will be monitoring you every moment. If you need anything just call out." She opened the door and departed.
Sakir watched Deltarshi walk away down the sidewalk. For a moment she was tempted to explore the neighborhood. Were the nearby houses staffed by robots pretending to be the neighbors of Jill Lyons in 1969 on Earth? But she was curious about the contents of the memory plug.
Sakir closed the front door and activated the memory plug. It projected an index of topics:
Swigert Reality I
Swigert Reality II
Startled by the last entry, she selected it and settled into a chair while starting to read the report.
This story is under construction.