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Lunghezza:
905 pagine
11 ore
Pubblicato:
Feb 19, 2020
ISBN:
9781948046800
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

This singular story describes the unfolding phylogenesis of Philip Carr, a strikingly gifted young lawyer in midtown Manhattan—which took him from New York, to Oneiro, a hitherto nameless island in the Aegean Seas, to the icy, lightless deeps of Earth’s oceans, to the most remote regions of deepest space.
The first stop on his cosmic odyssey: Kosmas. The planetary home to the finest minds in the galaxy, acting as the institution of the most advanced learning in the cosmos for literally millions of years.
As was slowly, methodically and meticulously revealed to Phil, he had a destiny of immense cosmic importance: Verteror. A creature unique in all the universe. Gifted with the amazing ability to directly communicate with and command ultra-sub-atomic particulates known as SNA (Sub-Atomic Nucleic Apperception).
SNA, as must, are immortal, near omniscient, and capable of assembling and reassembling matter and energy into every conceivable form, at the most profoundly particulate level. Perhaps they are the consciousness of the universe? They are an ancient, seminal and fundamental element of the cosmos; and the key to Phil’s ascension to Verteror, and the Verteror’s approaching imperium of the universe.
But first, he must learn and master his calling. The Kosmin were quite pleased to provide Phil mentors, advisors and spacecraft to assist in pursuing this goal. With excellent result. But not without intermediate disasters. One of the great risks of Verteration was the inadvertent, near instantaneous propagation of a fundamental force know as Resumptive Reticulation. Reticulation defies the most powerful forces in the universe in terms of destruction and reach, and during his inculcation, millions of beings were destroyed along with hundreds of celestial bodies.
Complicating and compounding the severity of Phil’s labors is the raging onslaught of two living nebulae. One, “harvests” planet-by-planet, sentients who have achieved sufficient intellectual maturity. The other obliterates all remaining life on such planets, leaving them a totally sterile stage upon which to restart life. Phil’s challenges are therefore threefold and deadly.
Adding to Phil’s burdens, much of the populace of Kosmas begin to regard him as a deity, along with his own crew; and Phil’s burgeoning skills do little to dispel their idolatry. Soon his worshipers grow into the millions.
These many forces finally vortex into a colossal crisis and Phil remains largely alone in his universe, forcing him into a draconian solution with consequences for the universe itself. It also forces Phil into a climactic reckoning with who and what he really has become and what his ultimate roll in the cosmos might be.

Pubblicato:
Feb 19, 2020
ISBN:
9781948046800
Formato:
Libro

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Anteprima del libro

Oneiro IV - John Stuart Goldenberg

Peregrinations

Chapter One

Band of Brothers

We few, we happy few,

We band of brothers;

For he today that sheds this Earth [sic] with me …

Shall be my brother.

William Shakespeare

Henry the Fifth

St. Crispin’s Day Speech

(Plaque on Gauntlet’s main Entry Portal)

Captain Philip Carr restlessly drummed his fingers on the command console. He knew he would soon be called upon to suffer a formal welcome and an introduction to the Kosmas Council, and he must be in absolute control over his fury with QASI. The Ambassador would most certainly be in attendance. He decided to go down to the sea for a time in seek of equanimity.

Submersion in the crystal waters greatly helped. It always did. He was absolutely tranquil and in total control two hours prior to ETA Kosmas.

‘HERB?’

‘Yes Captain?’

‘I assume you are in contact with Kosmas Central?’

‘Yessir, I am.’

‘Good. I calculate we are roughly two hours out.’

‘That is quite correct. sir.’

‘We have docking instructions?’

‘Kosmas Central has assumed the helm. They have provided us Positioning Coordinates, Pylon ID, Mooring Slot, and precise AT. Although we have little use for such’

They are going to bring this big beastie in?’

‘We have been under their control for three hours, sir.’

A bemused eyebrow cocked.

Don’t you think the Captain should be consulted, or at least advised of such matters?’

‘You were otherwise occupied and unavailable, sir. I believe you were in the sea; and with respect sir, this ship is now under Kosmas command as long as we remain in Kosmin space. You retain Captaincy, of course, over ship and crew in every respect except navigation of the sphere itself. You also enjoy the status of Ambassador and hopefully soon that of Verteror, perhaps even Quaestor one day.’

‘I see. Care to explain further?’

‘Well Captain, you will be fully engaged in completing your Verteror training and Gauntlet will assume the status of a recognized Kosmin habitation, fully sanctioned, under the protection of and enjoying all privileges of Kosmins. This is normal procedure with landings of authorized TGV Star Spheres.’

Phil reacted sharply. ‘Does that statement imply in any way we will not be departing on our return voyage to Earth?’

‘I have no information in that respect. Perhaps you should take this up with Ambassador QASI, after landfall.’

‘I have no intention of taking anything up with Ambassador QASI. Perhaps you should take this up with the Ambassador. You work for the son-of-a-bitch after all.’

‘Sir, I respectfully submit you might await a full revelation of the facts and then formalize your position regarding the Ambassador.’

‘Perhaps. I’ll consider it. Dismissed.’

***

Despite Kosmin control over his vessel, Phil assumed his position on the Command Bridge, with his entire bridge crew and senior officers. All in Class A’s.

‘XO, order 60% reduced ambient lighting and direct all infrarouge periscopic viewers towards Kosmas.’

‘Aye sir.’

From this distance Kosmas was spectacular.

‘How far out are we XO?’

‘Exactly … forty-seven minutes.’

‘What do you read from here?’

‘We’ve had it under extreme magnification to no avail sir. Essentially all we can make out are thousands of spheres, as will soon be Gauntlet, docked to colossal mooring masts, hundreds of kilometers in length. But no details that reveal anything more. Ambient light is less than 12.33 on the Tonganese Gradient.’

‘HERB.’

‘Sir?’

‘That colossal thing, or array, or planet, or whatever, appears to exist in near total darkness and a total vacuum.’

‘As you well know, sir, a true vacuum exists nowhere within the universe, only in the infinite void beyond, into which we expand, or out of which we contract. However, you are essentially correct.’

‘What protects them from asteroids, meteors and meteorites, and cosmic rays and such?’

‘Kosmas is a thoroughly dead, rogue planet, now under control of the Kosmins. Speed and azimuth. Lacking hot, magnetic outer and inner cores, Kosmins generate an exceptionally powerful magnetosphere, such as no cored planet is naturally capable. This artificial field is rapidly adjustable to accommodate any incoming regardless of mass and it deflects particulates with great ease.’

‘How strong is it?’

‘Well, the Earth’s magnetic field ranges between 25 and 65 microtesla. Kosmas can generate a field of up to nearly 112 times its strength, which they briefly suspend for trafficking ingress and egress after first having scanned for any incoming.’

‘Good grief! Doesn’t that purturbate the spheres at mooring?’

‘All spheres are equipped to absorb DMV’s, maintaining absolute stability.’

‘DMV’s?’

‘Sorry, sir. Destructive Magnetic Variances.’

‘That applies to Gauntlet as well, I hope.’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Interesting. Thank you, HERB. Comms, put me through to Kosmas Central.’

After a brief pause …

‘This is Quaestor KAHNrb⁷. First Amongst Quaestors. Greetings to Earth. Greetings to Gauntlet, her crew and compliment. Greetings, Captain Carr. This is Kosmas Central and you are most welcome. We look forward to your arrival with great anticipation.’

‘This is Captain Carr. Thank you, First Quaestor. As do we. May I inquire if there is a specific agenda we should prepare for? Shall I dispatch liaison officers?’

‘No, Captain, there is not. We normally reserve many days for the orientation and acclimation of new arrivals.’

‘I see. A thoughtful accommodation. We thank you.’

‘There can be a profound vicissitude associated, when encountering an overwhelming array of alien species. Even amongst the most sophisticated voyagers, such an experience can be very disorienting and even quite dangerous. Psychic damage may be permanently inflicted, sometimes unto death in certain species. We have determined the experience of encountering another sapien life form, whom in all important respects is virtually brethren, and yet is sufficiently alien, so as to invoke nausea, fear and worse, has a most dangerous effect on the mind. We therefore conduct a carefully graduated introduction to the immense diversity of life inhabiting our Foundation.’

‘I thank you for your concern, First Quaestor, and gratefully accept your indulgence on behalf of my crew and complement. I am quite sure they will benefit from your familiarization and orientation. I however, require no such latitude and I am prepared to commence our venture immediately.’

The surprise in the Quaestor’s voice came through quite clearly.

‘You are quite certain, Captain Carr? We have no intention of endangering you mentally, or physically. In fact your welfare is of highest concern.’

‘I am quite certain, First Quaestor. And I appreciate your concern.’

‘Very well, Captain. As you wish. We will receive you at your Main Docking Bay, two Earth hours after your docking.’

‘That would be fine Quaestor. I look forward to meeting you, sir.’

‘As do I, Captain. As do I …’

Phil mimed a low, off-camera throat-cut, signaling the Comms Officer to terminate transmission.

‘XO, I will be in my quarters until docking. I am well aware we are under control of Kosmas, but I want you to assure all systems are manned, on hot standby. Ensure I am alerted as we dock, well before you un-dog the access portal. I will be the only crew going ashore for now.’

‘You’re going ashore alone, sir?’

‘I will clarify later, XO. You have the con.’

‘Aye sir.’

***

‘Sir, we are confirmed docked and prepared to undog the access hatch. All secure.’

‘Atmosphere and biohazards?’

‘The Earth-ambient GC-MS [Gas Chromatography—Mass Spectrometry] indicates: nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), argon (1%), and trace amounts of carbon dioxide, neon, helium, methane, krypton, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, xenon, ozone, iodine, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. Not bad. Not bad at all. Precisely Earth and Gauntlet normal. Not bad. These guys know their business.

‘We have no effective method to exhaustively test for any sort of biohazard in so short a time. We did subject it to the BDS [Biohazard Detection System] and that was negative, as far as it goes; and the Kosmins assure us no harmful contaminants reside the atmosphere outside Gauntlet. Nor will they allow any such exposure during your liaison.’

‘Good enough. I’ll be right there.’

Exactly two hours, or rather two hours after coupling, the enormous hatch swiveled smoothly aside in elegant silence, revealing an equally lustrous docking port. A pleasant surprise. After so many years in space, Phil had needlessly worried that the hatch might not open at all.

I should have known … Damned QAVL.

The large boarding ante-tube stood totally empty, gleaming and immaculate, ending in a hatch exactly as that on Gauntlet. Phil strode to the threshold of his own hatch, posturing expectantly.

I shall soon be the first human in all history to meet an alien face-to-face that I can actually see, actually touch. Hmm. I hope there is no touching! I wonder which of the bizarre creatures I observed on my little recon mission is First Among Quaestors.

Moments later he had his answer, as the opposite hatch swung slowly, silently open.

Despite all his training, all the trials he had overcome and the resilience of his innate strength, Phil felt his heart pounding. This wasn’t simple, uncomplicated fear. This was something much more profound. Something worthy of trepidation. This was the sensation of standing on the brink of a profound chasm, embarking into a strange and totally unknown land. The coppery taste foretelling of impending horrors, unimaginable power, limitless possibilities, and extraordinary consequence. Ab initio usque ad infinitum. [From the start to its limitless ending.]

Phil noted a large metallic plaque at his end of the opaque port. It was deeply engraved with a series of cryptographic codifications. The lettering was Kosmin, but Phil could make no sense of the codes.

A set of eight long, rigid, stem-like limbs, disturbingly insectoid, roughly 1.5 meters to the patella (knee, mid-leg), tipped by razor sharp points. KAHNrb⁷ abraded into the boarding port, with the scratching screeching, as would long nails harshly scrabble a metal plate. The legs were surmounted by a large fleshy sphere and two more equal limbs, as well as two lateral arms matching the spidery legs. All were the deepest matt black, studded with coarse hairs reminiscent of a very large cactus. The black sphere was featureless save two long slits running parallel down its center. No sign of mouth, eyes, nose ears or any other type of extrusion. Clearly this decapod harbored an utterly alien array of sensory apparatus.

Well, so much for my first face-to-face The damned thing’s got no face. And I never saw this fellow on my recon pass.

This afforded some minor mitigation of the all too human acrophobic response to necrotic arthropod eyes, proboscis, and vicious chelicera (pincer-like mouth-claws). Although the body and legs were certainly the hardest to get past. He was particularly fascinated by the murderous sharp points (tarsal claws) tipping the Quaestor’s legs.

The designers of this planet must’ve been truly incredible. Imagine the thousands of types of creatures they have to protect, support and withstand. Acidic, abrasive, slippery, incendiary, gelid, toxic, contagious, massive. The list has to be endless. Ambience and environment must be customized, integrated and coordinated—sometimes at a moment’s notice—but the physical super-structure itself cannot be dynamically adapted. It must be universalized to an incredible degree.

Then he dryly mused.

I hope this one’s not a carnivore.

Phil walked to the midpoint of the berthing port, meeting the Quaestor. As though on cue both, stopped at the same mark at the same time, exactly amid-point.

‘Welcome Ambassador Carr. I am Quaestor, KAHNrb⁷. Be of Eudaemon.’

The voice was crystal clear and resonant, without accent. Although its source was unknown. Oddly enough there are accented Kosmas speakers, emanating from physical, or cultural variations. This, despite its status as the one and only universal language. Clearly, Quaestor KAHNrb⁷ was quite articulate.

I wonder who defines the proper, non-accentual, non-dialectic, universal Kosmas.

‘Thank you, First Quaestor. I am honored to be here.’

‘We are honored to greet you, Captain.’

‘And how shall I address you, sir?’

‘Simply KAHN if you like. And you, Captain?’

‘I prefer Phil, or Philip.’

‘Excellent. A fine beginning.’

‘Sir, when you greeted me you said "Be of a Euda-something?"’

‘Eudaemon.’

‘Yes. Eudaemon. The expression is unfamiliar to me.’

‘I see. Be of Eudaemon is a traditional greeting on Kosmas. Its origins date back untold millennia to the first founding of this academy. The name Eudaemon has Kosma-Greco etymological roots.

‘Incidentally, you will find Greco allusions, and to some degree Latin, throughout the Kosmin culture, as with Earth, as with all advancing societies throughout the galaxy. We attribute this incredible coincidence to a race we surmise travelled the cosmos at the very dawn of the universe—earlier than any known life form. All of this is pure speculation, mind you.’

‘Perhaps this race were these Greco?’

‘Such has been the source of much discussion.’

‘And Eudaemon was of this race?’

‘We believe so. As I said, the name has Kosma-Greco origins, and we applied it to a wonderful creature who assisted in the establishment of Kosmas and subsequently vanished—unheard from in countless millennia.

‘You on Earth have a wonderful terran myth: Pooka or Púca. Of Gaelic origin I’m told. I understand it describes a mystic creature of good spirit, mischievous nature and wisdom, motivated to accompany humans in their pursuit of life and happiness. Although purported as an occasional bringer of ill luck as well.’

‘I believe that’s correct.’

Eudaemon is very much the same. A liaising spirit twixt gods and mortals, as it were. A guardian. A counselor. A trickster, secretly imparting sage advice. Always happy and of good cheer. You can see why our greeting is such, and why it conveys best wishes.’

‘Interesting. Well then … Be of Eudaemon, KAHNrb⁷.’

‘Thank you, Philip.’

‘You certainly appear to be well versed in human lore.’

‘Our friends the QAVL generate most informative reports.’

‘I’m sure they do.’

‘Would you care to join me for a welcoming refreshment?’

‘Certainly. Thank you. Very kind.’

‘If it is agreeable to you, we will be joined by several Senior Quaestors.’

‘Seems a real VIP reception. Do you greet all new Ambassadors in like manner?’

‘Would that we could, Captain. Were we to engage in such activity though, we would engage in little else. We do have quite an extensive cadre specialized in greeting and acclimating new arrivals into a surpassingly alien environment. You however Captain, are a rather special matriculant.’

‘I am honored.’

‘So, Captain, if you would, please accompany …’

Phil ambled with the huge quasi-arachnid, as it gracefully scratched and shuffled alongside Phil. They were chatting leisurely, while slowly moving towards the heart of the fabulous complex: Kosmas Central & Quaestorhold.

Theirs was to be but a short promenade however, as they were soon lifted centimeters above the horizontal and whisked down an enormous, seemingly endless tube at blinding speed.

Phil was immediately stunned by a phenomenal work of art, magically lit from within. Surfacing every square-centimeter of the vast tubular corridor. He found it somewhat reminiscent of Oneiro’s artworks, though considerably more refined.

To think I was so sure our artworks on Onerio could never be surpassed …

The passage quite literally enthralled him with its extraordinary adornment. Indescribable in fact. The corridor was effectively a 360° continuous, fresco-type painting of gargantuan scope. As a consequence of floating mid-tube, such decoration was feasible, effective and hugely compelling. Mesmerizing in fact. Phil was aware it was all remarkably beautiful, yet he couldn’t quite make it out in its entirety. Somehow he sensed there were missing elements. He strongly suspected his appreciation would exponentialize were the totality of the work visible to him. He also suspected it was partly comprised of colors of a spectrum beyond his acuity. He further speculated there may be forms and shapes and dimensions he could not comprehend, or even discern. Can objects be so alien to the mind the observer somehow blocks it, rendering the object unseeable? Might they exist in dimensions invisible to man?

These decorations are indeed vaguely similar to our transport tubes back on Oneiro. If I didn’t speak Kosmin, the damned thing would probably drive me nuts.

‘Are you enjoying our artwork, Philip?’

‘Yes I am. A great deal, in fact. But much of it seems to evade me.’

‘Understandable. These works predate the Kosmin art you knew on your home world by roughly fifteen-hundred generations. Polemically, they represent a much advanced form, as they had centuries to evolve, whereas you had but few decades. After a time you may acclimate and hopefully they will blossom even more richly for you. Their full glory is a wonder of the cosmos.’

‘How do you define a generation?’

‘Anywhere from one to six thousands of your years, depending on specie.’

‘You must use some very durable paint.’

Phil heard a deafening high-pitched sort of a clacking squeak emanate from KAHN. Flinching, startled and suddenly half-deaf, Phil croaked, ‘KAHN?’

‘Oh, please. Excuse me, Philip. I was … what you would call … laughing. Your observation was quite amusing.’

‘So your race appreciates humor.’

‘Greatly. Therein lies sanity. Despite often-incomprehensible physical differences, beings at a certain evolutionary level have far more in common, than not, at least in terms of esprit. Commonalities most certainly include a sense of humor. There is indeed such a thing as universal sentience. The primary differentiating denominators are perspective, mental acuity, sensory acuity and intellectual capacity. Once achieved, nearly anything can be mutually learned, appreciated, shared, deduced, or adduced.’

After decades of dealing with incorporeals beings whom he could neither see, nor communicate without mechanical mediation, Phil realized how refreshing and even normal it was to simply talk to KAHNrb⁷—notwithstanding he was a giant arachnid-like monster right out of man’s most horrific nightmares. In other words, he already liked KAHN, and he found a certain comfort that, enormous physical disparities notwithstanding, he could work with these creatures and maintain his ration—at least thus far. Certainly the deciding factor was the common language of the cosmos: Kosmin

Phil was realizing that this one issue alone presented profound philosophical and metaphysical issues.

***

They sped to the brink of what appeared to be an enormous room: Quaestorhold.

Their exceptional speed notwithstanding, they came to an instant full stop at the threshold, without the slightest kinetic perturbation

‘Are we travelling at the maximum speed capable within this transport field?’

‘Most certainly not. In fact these transporters can move at more than 1,500 meters per second, as you measure spatiotemporal tempuspatium. There is an enormous cluster of clusters on Kosmas, and we cannot squander precious time in transit. In fact we can move much faster. However we devote a great deal of time and our finest minds in mooring assignments, so as to minimize transit time whenever possible. Essentially, we base this on Life-Sphere proximity, cultural & avocational affinity, and taxonomic classification. There are other considerations of course, some quite complex and arcane. We reorganize constantly, adapting as membership and conditions, populations, or even projects and work efforts evolve.’

‘Now that must hugely confuse operations.’

‘Not as much as you might think. As you know, all Kosmins enjoy the same diurnal periodicity. It is the same time everywhere. This greatly facilitates reorganizations. We simply specify a time of generally inactivity to effect these shifts`. We then block the relevant access hatches and make the moves in very little time. Subsequent to that, it is a simple matter of adjusting all automated mapping, navigation and routing directories.’

‘I would assume that could provoke a good deal of resentment.’

‘Not at all. As I said, we are extremely careful in planning these repositionings. After all, such would be tantamount to moving countries around on your Earth, but on a lesser scale. Except, Kosmin countries have no ego, no ranking, no jealousies, no dreams of domination. All in all though, it remains a spectacularly difficult conundrum. All the same, at top speed, the interior tubular artwork takes on an amazing aspect. I hope you will experience this quite soon. We are moving quite slowly now, as we haven’t far to travel. Hopefully this will assist in your acclimation. Gauntlet’s central placement demonstrates the import we place upon your presence. It necessitated the re-arrangement of several Life-Spheres.

‘I am humbled KAHN. I hope we can justify your kindness.’

‘In some ways, you already have, Philip.’

They were gently lowered to the floor and proceeded into a large crystal sphere. Perfectly transparent. 360o, lateral and horizontal. Immediately the sphere dropped at an extraordinary speed and Phil realized they had actually entered some sort of lift, with no visible controls of any kind. Phil watched the remarkable vasiform walls swirling by, rapt in the exquisite cacophony of color and movement; and the profound fusion of form, substance and seductive consistence.

Thinking he could never tire of such compelling beauty, he thought back to the lavish offices of Manhattan. Regardless of the splendid and conspicuously expensive art. The magnificent views. The elegant furnishings. After a very short time, it all blurred into little else than a nondescript background of pointless pretention.

Here they streaked by in a true blur of form and color and movement, yet Phil was certain he would never regard such kaleidoscopic splendor as mere trappings—never as executory ostentation, soon ignored and virtually unseen no matter how many mega-kilometers he would travel through this enormous and intricate network.

He noticed many more of the intriguing plaques at the various levels as they raced past.’

‘I have a question.’

‘Yes, Phil?’

‘At points throughout these clusters I’ve seen dozens of brass-looking metallic plaques with various codes engraved on them. What’s their purpose?’

‘Oh, that one is easy.’

I don’t know whether KAHN is patronizing me—pretending to talk Earth-style for my benefit—or if this is his normal manner. I suspect the former.

‘Each plaque is cautionary, describing atmospheric components within the hatch or sphere. Noise level, odor pollution, temperature, gravitational pressure, atmospheric pressure, acidity and basicity, radiation, biohazard rating, drtin conductivity, 23wsc density, magnetic-gaseous-loquacious effusion, photonic intensity, and so on.’

‘Of course. I should have figured that out for myself. But uh, drtin conductivity, 23wsc density and so on?

‘Sorry, Philip. Don’t even ask. It would make no sense to you and bear no relevance. Your acuity is most impressive. You have done exceedingly well, Ambassador. We know this is all quite alien to you, yet you seem unaffected and quite well balanced for some reason. We have never witnessed a superior, nor more immediate acclimation.

‘Incidentally, as you now know, those plaques represent ambience alerts. One of the primary elements in the orientation process is interpreting ambience codes, and there are thousands of combinations. This is why we codify the plaques, so they can be easily read at a glance for those utilizing visual acuity. However the plaques are fully capable of communicating these codes to specie with dozens of other non-visual senses, including carrier waves. As this is a life and death matter for many of our inhabitants, you being one, we stress their import. As you know, such learning is a simple matter. All one need do is imbibe a biocompatible consumable. There are other means of course, accommodating delegates who do not consume matter. Soon you and your crew will be optionally equipped with transceivers to receive and interrogate these discs with navigational, cultural and ambience information as well as a physiologically congruous comestibles.’

They fell for many kilometers, finally coming to a stop with equal the ease and tranquilly they’d experienced upon entering the sphere.

‘I take it we can move laterally as fast as we move forward?’

KAHN clacked, in what Phil would soon learn to be a smile. ‘On Kosmas we regard all movement as forward movement. But yes, in your terms, forwards, backwards, up, down, horizontally, vertically and all diagonal degrees of the sphere, at any speed. We adopt such attributes as are germane to our planet.’

‘How do you navigate these gadgets?’

‘The system and even these vehicles know us. Our needs, our plans, agenda, our interactions, our history and our occupations. Rarely need we convey our destinations. Should the need arise, we do so. Else, the vehicle acts unilaterally or interrogates.’

‘At these speeds, how do you avoid sonic booms?’

Again Phil heard the small squeak he now knew to be a chuckle.

‘We are actually moving in a vacuum.’

‘I see.’ though KAHN’s statement raised a dozen questions in his mind.

‘How ‘bout traffic jams, congestion, that sort of thing?’

‘We have developed exceptionally sophisticated algorithms preventing that altogether. On very rare occasions it resorts to re-routings.’

‘Are there ever accidents, collisions, disruptions?’

KAHN only clacked in response.

‘This is a very nifty system. Might my engineers have a look at it?’

‘Most certainly. With pleasure. Gauntlet may be just a bit small for such a system and you already have your frictionless tubes. And yet, it could add some convenience and enjoyment to internal commuting. Not to mention your crew can use it for goods and cargo, as well. A distinct advantage over the frictionless. We will make arrangements as soon as they complete their orientation if you like; and I would venture that your own Oneiron artists would enjoy having a go at the decoration.’

Phil smiled, ‘I certainly know of one who would.’

‘I believe you refer to your Professor of Fine Arts, Dr. Anne Jones.’

‘You are well versed on Oneirons, Quaestor.’ ‘I fear you will find us extremely well versed on anything having to do with you, Philip.’

Time Flies

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.

Tolstoy

Upon exiting, they were again elevated, rocketing down a vast tubiform transit. Phil noticed the decorations were slightly more austere and subdued than those previous. Phil rather preferred these. He could distinguish form and color with much greater acuity. Gesturing at the art rushing past, he turned to KAHN.

‘This work is from an earlier period, is it not?’

‘Why yes. Very perceptive, Ambassador. These be the work of the same master, from an earlier epoch. We hadn’t achieved our current level of advancement in isomer-hued dynamic pigmentations at that time, thus they appear somewhat naïf by contrast. In fact, we will be inaugurating a new trans-tube adorned by the same master, next bloc. Would you and Dr. Jones care to attend?’

‘Next bloc?’

‘Oh, yes. That would translate to a next week. Next week. Apologies, Philip. I neglected to consider your terran naming conventions.’

What the hell? I damned near died in Kosmas learning this language, and now I find my knowledge is incomplete?

‘Kosmas Kosmin contains unique designators for units of time? Apart from the terms my people and I and use? How is that? I speak Kosmin, and yet our language differs in this one respect?’

‘Hardly just the one, Philip. As you remain with us, you will encounter many words and expressions which will be totally alien to you, despite your command of Kosmin. In particular, those relating to the basics of existence itself. Sensory perceptions, specie-centric organs and extremities, time, energy, velocity, duration, diseases, medicines, science and so on. A megacosm of senses and abilities with which all of us lack familiarity in various respects. We have found time units to be an exceptional example of such linguistic holdover.

‘For reasons we have yet to ascertain, a surprising percentage of sapients retain their own idioticon when they graduate to the Kosmin language. This quite often relates to units of time.

‘We indeed all speak the same cosmic language, yet we doggedly retain those certain elements that are so basic to our psyche, we are unable to forego them, or even successfully learn the new words, without conscious effort and awareness. sapients will employ non-Kosmin terminology with ease and alacrity, never realizing they are not speaking Kosmin.’

‘Is that so bad?’

‘In some respects, not at all. Such has limitless capacity to broaden the diversity and cultural richness of Kosmin. And yet, and this be a critical point, consider this: Kosmin is a natural product of the cosmos themselves. We suspect it may be rooted in the Nascency, nearly fourteen billion years past—that which you call the Big Bang. This implies there be an infinite number of sapient Kosmin speakers. No language, regardless of robustness, can withstand unlimited dilution. In time this would literally destroy the Kosmin language. Kosmin would spin out of control and accrete into an amalgamation of sub-languages throughout the universe. What a tragedy that would be.’

‘I see your point, KAHN. But we are dealing with the natural lingua universali [universal language], fashioned of the essence of existence. Such stuff should be able to withstand anything—including infinite expansion.’

‘Nicely argued, Phil. Suppose we take a different tack on this. We, the Questors of Kosmas, cannot cope with infinite expansion. Among other serious consequences, dilution would make obsolete and squander priceless and irreplaceable works of inestimable genius in art and science and philosophy and eii-lkj. And with astounding speed. Tell me this: On old-Earth, What percent of humans could easily understand your William Shakespeare, or the Code of Hammurabi, or Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or Beowulf, or Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, and on and on? And these works be but mere centuries old. Your Tower of Babel allegory was indeed prescient.’

‘Excellent point. So, why is the Kosmin language, incipient seminal and natural, and therefore perfect, subject to such attenuation?’

‘By what standard, perfection?’

‘Something that springs forth fully formed, as it did on Oneiro. A product of extant and natural physical law, without precedent, is perfect by definition. This you allege to be the genesis of Kosmin. When there is no comparative metric from which to distinguish variance, imperfection becomes impossible’

‘Interesting logic. Not sure I agree. Nonetheless, we have no precise idea what provokes this sort of regression. You are no doubt familiar with entropy. Perhaps this represents a lexical iteration of entropy. Remember, subject species are totally unaware of their linguistic anachronisms, at least initially. We have interest in this phenomenon, but have yet to devote sufficient resource. A universal anomaly. Yet so many sources. So many psyche. So many nomenclature. One day, I am sure we will finalize the answer.

‘Humans are a fine example of Limited Subjective Vocabulary Regression (LSVR is the acronym.). You should be proud. This indicates a fair degree of advancement potential. Perhaps LSVR has to do with the extreme primacy of time to all living things. There seems to be an inborn essence about it which cannot be disentwined from the fabric of life. Therefore, part of our matriculation process includes an introduction of many such words.

‘Mind you, this is far and away from simple vocabulary and translation training. Acquiring senses one does not possess, physical attributes one has never seen or used, concepts so alien as to summon madness. These are not simply, or quickly accomplished. Many may never be acquired; and of course, language is subject to natural selection, as well. Can you imagine seeing sounds, or hearing colors, or subkeiiving quarks? And many dozens more. Hence, the task is twofold:

1) Discarding old words and learning their successors.

2) Learning new, totally alien concepts.

‘The latter is clearly more difficult.

‘As you well know, life will develop on any and every object in our universe, including the stars themselves …’

Oh yeah? I do? I well know nothing of the sort. I’m a sonofabitch if I knew that! And I’m not at all sure I believe it.

‘… and the only life-evolution-event determinant is time. Sooner or later, inanimate mass will catalyze into motile life. It will self-animate when and as determined by the nature and position of the planet relative to its energy source. All the classical ingredients, time, energy source, a solvent and so forth are indeed helpful in speeding the process, but far from mandatory. As life generates much faster within the inner zone of its parent star system, (Life blossomed on Earth in just such a zone.) it follows that an equivalent of your terran temporal-acuity roughly conforms to the cosmic norm—the cosmic mean average [x̄] as it were.’

‘I uh, see. Do corollaries exist?’

‘Oh yes. You refer to terran words and concepts non-existent in Kosmin. In fact, all sapients do. Hence the highly controlled richness of Kosmin over the eons.’

‘Highly controlled richness? How do you control such a thing as language? Language is controlled by its users, the participants who speak it. The language evolves as they evolve.’

‘To a certain extent, you are correct, Philip. And we indeed do not control evolution. Evolution is a maturation, growth, mutating and developmental process. It is desirable and healthy, and we would never attempt to control such, or tamper in any way. Consider though, with new worlds joining our foundation almost constantly, we are confronted with an additive process—potentially top-loading tens of thousands of new words every year.

‘Therefore, we maintain a vital Quaestor-level official. One of the very few in all of Kosmas that carries the weight of Intellectual Law. The title is Biblio-Lexicon-Dominu [Library-Language-Master]. As the title implies there are two primary tasks assigned to the Dominu:

1) Classify, confirm, correlate, disseminate, archive, minimize redundancy and manage and maintain the infinitely expanding knowledge secured, discovered and developed by Kosmas. Certainly the most comprehensive library in the galaxy. This be the primary and most important task of the Dominu. In its absence, we estimate 72% of our labors would be overlooked and 43% would ultimately be lost. This be the limbic system of the universe. The hippocampus, the amygdala, the cingulate gyrus, the thalamus, the hypothalamus, and all the other limbic functions, in human terms.

2) Carefully edit and screen incoming vocabulary, allowing only new and non-redundant words of proven worthiness. Our Guardian at the Gate of Kosmin. We all report to and look to the Dominu to ensure our intelligence and communications progress effectively and efficiently. I consider it probably the most important role on the planet.’

As examined between Captain Philip Carr and Senior Quaestor KAHNrb

The Kosmin Peregrinations

Gobbledygook

When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

On hearing this, Alice was too much puzzled to say anything

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

KAHN broke off for a short time.

He was growing weary of this topic. He was struggling to impart its desperate importance; and was dismayed that humans had treated something as wondrous and irreplaceable as their own language so blithely. He was also slightly annoyed that he was called upon to elucidate this process to an intellect as active as that of Captain Carr.

Nonetheless, he slogged on.

‘As with few civilizations, there are many terran expressions which we simply cannot directly translate, or express in Kosmin.’

‘What sort?’

‘Many. But I would say the most conspicuous examples are your use of colloquialisms and idioms, as well as words and expressions deemed in your vernacular as casually expletive. Words representing something perceived as vile, or unworthy, or as you laughably term dirty words. An abundantly ridiculous notion, though often effective, and even satisfying when denigrating others, or concepts, or existence itself. It also appears to be quite effective when attempting to elicit anger and provoke rash behavior in adversaries. One of the finest examples of such vulgarity emanates from one of the favorite activities of humans. An act which conveys, procreation, love and pleasure …’

‘You allude to the word "fuck." No?’

‘Correct. All the same, words be but symbols. Titulars for actions, objects, or concepts. They cannot be intrinsically malevolent. Only within the intent of the speaker is found malevolence. And were this frivolous whimsy not sufficient, humans chose to top-load themselves with dogma, bigotry and political correctness, stupidly compounded by calling it cursing. As though they had some mystical power to effectuate another’s fate. The result is a near total inability to think straight, or even adequately describe reality. And you blame us for your downfall?’

‘Now wait a damned minute, swear words exist on Kosmas. I’ve used them quite liberally, myself—for years.’

‘True, although I am unaware to whom you are swearing fealty. However, you will not hear them in use here on Kosmas.’

‘You’re kidding. Are you saying they were set aside specifically for humans?’

‘I am saying exactly that. QASI did so itself when you set about to speak Kosmin. If you think back, have you ever heard any of your crew and company swear, any others than non-native-born Oneirons?’

‘Well, that’s understandable. After all, speaking with their Captain, they will naturally exercise some restraint …’

‘… Quite to the contrary, Philip. Humans are uniquely the only specie to actually modify their vocabulary, based on the entity to which they are speaking. This is something we would normally deem an incredible and complex misapplication of language itself. But were this not the case, over a period of twenty-seven years?’

‘You’ve a good point there …’

‘Indeed, Philip. A human from whom Kosmin naturally emerges is quite different versus a human who acquires Kosmin. Further to this, think back. Do you recall ever hearing expletive from your native Oneirons?’

‘Possibly another good point.’

I think he’s trying to pique me a little. Get a rise outa me. I like that. I think I like this fellow. But I can play too. This could be fun.

Phil thought back over the years. Long and hard. How could he have overlooked such a glaring variant in other’s verbiage?

‘To be honest, KAHN, I don’t know. I simply can’t remember. Yet, I suspect your point is valid. This discussion extends far beyond simple time units. It questions the existence and use of an entire class of words and expression and thought.’

‘Also true. Insofar as expletives, we view their use as nothing more than a quick, easy—lazy if you will—method to express emphasis and elaboration without resorting to thoughtfully constructed narrative.’

‘Point well taken. Although such expressions do allow a certain ventilation of anger and frustration. I would contend it is somewhat akin to thundering out a sentence with a bludgeon. With each concussive blow of the mighty cursory mallot, the sentence grows straighter, gaining clarity and strength—purging the speaker of exasperation and outrage. Cussing, simply put, just makes the cursor feel better. It externalizes internal tensions.’

‘My you do wax eloquent! You inspire me to blaspheme right now, on the spot.’

‘And you people are what, offended and somehow traumatized by their use?

‘Do not be ridiculous, Philip. We find such words gratuitous, but never, never traumatic.’

‘Then why do you so primly set aside an entire subclass of communication?’

‘First. Cursing hardly constitutes a subclass. A motley collection of poorly conceived and applied words, at best.

‘Second. There be nothing prim in my stance. I simply lack the motivation to employ words which are purposely unrelated to, and non-descriptive of the subject at hand.

‘Example: This fucking hammer does not work worth a damn.

‘Most rational sapients could glean little cognitive meaning from that sentence.’

‘Hmm. Well put, KAHN. Especially for a sapient who does not engage in such activity. At the same time, I wonder if you actually understand these expressions. LSVR and all that.’

‘Suppose we put it to the test? You explete, and I will translate.’

Rallying to the challenge, Phil merrily responded.

‘Okay. Let’s see …

"You dirty-rotten, lard-ass, sons-a-bitches. Goddamn you! Go fuck yourselves."

How’s that?’

‘Excellent.’ KAHN issued his clacking pseudo-laugh. ‘Rather amusing actually …’

‘Amusing? How so?’

‘Philip, it is blatantly evident you actually enjoy such discourse; and it is not my intent to diminish your pleasure in any way.’

Phil chuckled amiably.

‘Nice try, but let’s hear your translation. No dodging this test.’

‘Fair enough, Philip. As you wish. Translation as follows:

"You be the unclean, overripe, overweight and decomposing offspring of a

Distaff Canis. GENETOR anathematizes you. Engage in endogenous-copulation."

‘How is that?’

Their combined laughter and clacking echoed gaily down the enormous trans-tube as they sped away.

As examined between Captain Philip Carr & Senior Quaestor KAHNrb⁷

The Kosmin Peregrinations

Quaestorhold

The pious pretense that evil does not exist

only makes it vague, enormous and menacing.

Aleister Crowley

Soon they arrived another access hatch, swerving into an access port. Phil spotted a now familiar brass plaque which revealed—surprisingly—no codification whatsoever, opening into a dizzyingly enormous sphere.

Colossal.

Moon-size.

Quaestorhold.

Phil stood at the threshold. The access hatch.

Agape. Transfixed. Unmoving. Taking in its wonder.

It was gargantuan. Its span far exceeded TPV Gauntlet, or any construct Phil could imagine. Exponentially larger. And empty. Not a living thing in sight. Only countless, circular, rows-upon-hundreds-of-thousands-of-rows of spacious suites. Hugely variable in size, shape, design, purpose and color. A surprising number of pools and aquariums. Various, multihued liquids and oils; and incredible, fuming and bubbling magma-type crucibles. Even a few open-air basins filled with gases. And were those plasma canisters he saw? Spectral habitats, as well? Some entirely open. Many hermetically sealed. Others clear, opaque, or solid, with every sort of window, vent, balcony, periscope, terrace, viewer, and on and on. The moteliest collection of architecture Phil had ever seen.

In many ways it appeared as though looking out over a vast city from a considerable height. Which was an apt description. Phil observed entrances at many levels entering aft-suite, clearly indicating rear or sub access to the suites, much as theater boxes back on old-Earth. He had no idea how tens of thousands of delegates gained access to this cavernous sphere itself, certainly not through this single port.

The vast differences between suites was attributable to the exceptional size of the bank and the incredible shifting metallic beauty of the suites and inhabitants themselves. Phil suspected the metallic constructs were far more than simply decorative. It seemed the metal itself could be adjusted from perfectly clear, to impenetrable, and every color, texture and gradient between. Evidently the panels did far more than ensure privacy and comfort, they provided a dynamic, living ambience as well. This explained the lack of codification on the brass enviro-plaques. There was no native, default environment within this giant sphere.

‘Our colleagues will arrive momentarily. Most require their native environment, as do you and I. Hence there is no default codification plaque, as you see. We have taken the trouble of generating electrostatic enviro-shells for any Quaestors wishing to wander freely within. Unfortunately, this precludes a common forum, which would place us in much too close proximity in any event.

‘As we cannot place ourselves within a common remit, we have wrestled with a design conundrum unimaginable at times. The essential problem being that Kosmins have always insisted on physical, on-site gatherings. Almost without exception, they unequivocally assert virtual meetings be superficial, cumbersome, taxing for many, and simply do not otherwise convey certain essential information. This is quite true for many of our inhabitants and particularly true in an academic context. There be the occasional creature unable to tolerate the proximity of others. These rarities do participate remotely. Those notwithstanding, this applies in varying degree to all sapients. Therefore, you and I will be seated center-amphitheater and the rest will locate themselves in their respective suites.’

‘That would be fine.’

At that moment the suites began to wake up. He noted, as each suite became occupied, a tiny blue indicator suddenly lit. Phil saw shadowy silhouette-like figures moving, crawling, flying, swimming, lurching, jumping, flitting, hanging, floating and slithering about in their protected enclosures, or simply situated rocklike, stoic and unmoving. Many suites appeared empty despite their glowing blue lights.

I could devote a lifetime simply studying this titanic orb.

He was amazed that the ambient environment in this huge Sphere was earth normal. Temperature, gravity, atmosphere, olfaction, somatosensory. Surely they hadn’t adapted the complete biometrics simply to accommodate him? Of course not, knowing something of their abilities, perhaps they could change this at will. Far more likely though, they enclosed him in some sort of pliable ambience spheroid hovering about him, consistent with his biotic and size, moving as he moves, dynamically adapting to spatial constraints and external ambience.

The myriad suites accommodated reptilians, insectoids, mammalians, amphibians, and aquatics. Creatures that appeared as though they had once been dinosaurian, invertebrates, bizarre plants, cephalopods, monopods, bipods, tripods, quadrupeds, multi-pods, no-pods and many unclassifiable forms, beyond description. Gas breathers, liquid breathers, non-breathers, even plasma breathers—living in blinding light, total darkness and shadowy twilight. Planetary gravities, lunar gravities, liquid buoyancies, and the weightlessness of the void. Some didn’t look at all life-like. Some were minuscule, others were gargantuan along with every intervening gradient.

They appeared to be conversing amongst themselves in whatever fashion, awaiting the commencement of the ceremony. The entire spectacle was so fantastic as to approach humorous, were it not for the eerie aspects of the unearthly array. Nonetheless, Phil was confident he would grow accustomed to such overwhelming strangeness, with time. He couldn’t imagine a more monstrous collection of arms, tentacles, legs, claws, thorns, eyes, beaks, ganglia, unidentifiable appendages and blurry things he couldn’t really associate with a life-form. He didn’t know what the hell they were. Creatures bizarre, terrifying and hideous. Occasionally one of haunting beauty and sublime grace. Too grotesque to endure, or too exquisite?

Unbidden, Robert Burns drifted through his mind.

"O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

to see oursels as ithers …!"

***

Suddenly Phil felt both sluggish and shaky. Cold and hot and feverish. Trembling. An unlikely combination. His eyes swiveled awkwardly in their sockets—somehow cockeyed in his head. His vision was blurred and it was difficult to focus. He had a touch of vertigo, as nausea brought on its sour effluvium. His head didn’t turn quite in concert with his neck; neither did it seem to fit his shoulders. He lost control over his arms. His boots had grown huge, ill fitting and clumsy. He feared he would lurch and fall. His knees were wobbled. His mouth was paste. His throat was dust. His breathing, reedy and labored. His fabled self-assurance was slipping badly; and normally flawless coordination … gone.

Even his hands shook ever so slightly. He felt like a gawky pre-pubescent boy, standing all alone, painfully conspicuous at his first dance. Trousers and sleeves too short, shoes far too big and cumbersome. Sweating, prickly and wet. Perspiration beading his forehead and upper lip, trickling down his spine and darkening his armpits. And yet, he was distinctly chilled and shivery.

Such were the debilitating effects and alien nature of this boundless chamber. Nonetheless, with focused effort, Phil struggled to disguise his distress. Luckily it soon dawned on him that not one of the Quaestors peering at him throughout this titanic globe had even the remotest idea what human discomfort looked like. Nor could they be aware of his discombobulation. He then forced himself to relax. He took a deep breath and drew tightly on his innate strength. After some moments, Phil was eventually restored to some semblance of his former self.

I wonder why my Fear Training didn’t kick in.

Or no … wait … I think I understand …

I wasn’t experiencing fear. I was suffering the abrupt disordination brought on by the proximity of these incredibly surreal life-forms. I’m not as invulnerable as I thought.

Clearly my little micro-particulate insurgency didn’t immunize me completely. I guess my little secret-sneak-peek just wasn’t enough. Seeing is not being. A sneak-peek is not an acclimation. It’s certainly not the same as actually being here. This could be dangerous.

KAHN gracefully swished one of his upper-right rear legs. Strangely, all Quaestors and Phil, somehow innately understand. KAHN had signaled that all expected delegates had arrived. It was time for quiet. Time to begin.

Perhaps Phil’s most disturbing realization was that this group, more than five thousand, occupied but the tiniest fraction of the thousands upon thousands of suites lining this enormous globe. Moreover, only a miniscule percentage of Kosmins have gained appointment to the Order of Quaestor. Phil was beginning to appreciate the unthinkable scope of this planetary foundation. Kosmas. The ultimate cosmic Diaspora.

Tea Time

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands,

But seeing with new eyes.

Marcel Proust

KAHN leaned into Phil and quietly briefed him on the impending occasion.

‘This ceremony will be mercifully short, Philip. We are not overly preoccupied with such whimsy on Kosmas. If you will indulge however, this is a concrete expression of regard. It also represents what we hope to become the historical launch of the most important project in the eonian history of this Foundation. Perhaps this galaxy.

‘I will begin with a minimal opening, introducing you and our hopes for this initiative. Next, you may wish to make some comments. By then, drinks and germaine ‘‘\canapes, or their equivalents will have been served and I will make a toast, traditional on these occasions.’

‘That will be fine, KAHN. My comments will be very brief, as well.’

I’m damned uneasy about this. I perhaps can stand looking at these outlandish creatures. But watching them eat and drink, God knows what, God knows how …

‘Please take your seat, Philip. We are ready to start.’

The planet-sized chamber was suddenly hushed.

‘Acknowledgement Senior Quaestors, for joining reception of Ambassador Carr of Earth, star system Sol, K-ref 09709909, coordinates A12-S120004-P3. This joining be mono-prospected.

‘Welcome inter-stellar sphere TPV Gauntlet. Welcome humans aboard her. Welcome Ambassador-Captain Philip Carr.

‘Ambassador Carr be pivotal to our founded Deterministic Mission. Ambassador also be pivotal to our common question of Kpzmik-Dast. Two highest primes. In accord, Ambassador be of great import. Ambassador be work with Ambassador QASI and surrogate HERB, locus off Kosmas. Other humans be oriented and trained, when we determine their areas of interest. Locus Kosmas.

‘Again. Welcome Ambassador Carr.’

Phil noticed all the blue lights flickering rapidly. He supposed this was their rendering of applause, or possibly, agreement.

I wonder if those little sparkles communicate more than just twinkly blue light.

At the same time he thought wryly: That SOB KAHN, he was indeed patronizing me … or nooo … perhaps he’s simply skilled in couching Kosmin in terms suited to his audience. He may even do so unconsciously.

‘Ambassador Carr.’

Phil stood, now under full control.

‘Thank you, First Quaestor KAHNrb7, for your warm reception. To be here, in this wondrous setting, now, with you, in this quest, is quite the finest moment of my life; and for humanity, my lost tribe … as well.

‘And yet, I hope for even better. For all. A vision, not simply my own. I have always believed the universe is directed. Directed to the good. To a divine progression. To a destiny beyond imagination. I hope so; and will so work toward, unto my final moments.

‘I am aware of the two great tasks you have set before me. Both are most worthy. Both are of the greatest moment. I will dedicate my all to realize them. I will attain your noble cause, or quite literally die in the trying.

‘I also hope to learn of your work in this extraordinary Foundation, and acquaint as many of you as possible. I would learn your ways and beliefs. I cannot imagine the potential of an entire planet populated by the greatest minds in the galaxy, unhampered either sociologically or logistically by any restraint—its only object to learn and advance. My personal ambition is to matriculate as much of your knowledge and wisdom as I am capable.

‘I will do everything in my power to justify your gracious welcome.’

The little blue lights twinkled again, as Phil noticed food and drink, or in some cases only drink, or only food, or something unclassifiable being served from the rear of each suite. KAHN was served only a bowl of a blue liquid. Phil was served a large glass of Scotch and a small plate of the most intricately beautiful hors d’oeuvres he’d ever seen.

KAHN then offered the traditional toast, spoken for eons at such gatherings:

Truth be the manner of enlightenment.

The fusion of manifold sentience be the fundament of truth.

The splendor of our panoply alight as lycaenidae amongst glorious florets.

The joy and beauty of our fusing be eonian.

After time transcendent.

Our truths be eternal.

The blue lights twinkled yet again.

As he observed the eating and drinking commence, Phil literally broke out in a cold sweat.

Good grief! I had braced myself to see something like this, but this is nauseating! Indescribable! I hope to God I can control myself. This is a nightmare.

Phil gulped his Scotch. KAHN held the bowl of bluish fluid below his thorax (if it was indeed his thorax). Others poured, sucked, licked, osmosed and absorbed, while still others imbibed their meals in ways Phil couldn’t begin to understand. Some appeared to take in energy directly, while others were altogether fathomless.

As the eating wore on, Phil found himself discretely diverting his eyes until he decided to simply look away—so he concentrated attention on his own food, which was delicious—whatever it was—and in making light conversation with KAHN.

‘I listened to your toast with great interest, KAHN.’

‘Yes?’

‘Yours was a brief statement. But somehow it conveyed the impression of the most profound application of the Scientific Method.’

‘You are truly insightful, Philip. You cannot imagine the travail we invest in proving or disproving untried hypotheses, axioms, assumptions, kabality, and theorems …’

Kabality? I can’t be interrupting all the time for definitions, so I’ll store away this word and research it later. And I must start using my SNA far more actively.

‘… Anything that cannot be proven as exacting scientific fact, by strict exigent definition and the most rigid scientific method, is dismissed, and the process begins anew. We have found the most unassailable disproof free us, and spur us on to alternate approaches. This may seem somewhat hidebound to you. Yet we have found over the millennia, the slightest erratum may lead to catastrophic, cascading inaccuracies when exposed to the crucible of time. The time imposed by the delay of exhaustive acceptance, frustrating though it may be at times, can sometimes spare thousands of years in fruitless endeavor. Moreover, we literally never forego, or simply suspend research in the purview of a pending, or perceived impasse.’

‘By that, you imply that only scientific proofs are acceptable, as opposed to deductive?’

‘Yes. Absolutely. When a race, or any amalgam of such, acquires a certain critical mass of information and method, rigorous discipline is not unduly burdensome. We are well aware many planets employ analytical logic deduced from allegedly unprovable assumptions, deemed axiomatic. We appreciate the perceived need to progress, despite such blockages, to continue moving along, as it were. Kosmas will simply not do so. However, we do make an accommodation for iterations we term as Metapothesis. We will apply no unproven assumption upon which to build ensuing work.’

‘But surely there must be areas where assumption or belief is mandatory in order to proceed.’

‘Please clarify, Philip.’

‘Okay. On Earth our mathematicians recognized a set of theorem we named Gödel’s incompleteness theorems …’

Again a small squeak from KAHN.

‘We are aware of human theorems, Philip. Your ancient Greeks believed our galaxy was formed by the spewing of milk from the breast of the goddess Hera—queen of their gods—Mount Olympus and so on. Hence the etymology of your term: The Milky Way. And from this, the elegant concept of the Cosmos emerged. In that way, they freed themselves to proceed onto other speculations on the nature of existence. Our regard for your ancient Greeks notwithstanding, it is impossible for us to proceed in any remotely similar manner. Irrational numbers be a similar myth. Although the proofs may have lain well into your remote, poly-dimensional future.’

‘But surely there must be steps in the unfolding perception of reality. This can be proven by …’

‘Alas, Philip, we must adjourn now.’

To Phil’s grateful relief, the reception had ended.

Flexing gracefully at the knees, KAHN raised himself slightly.

‘Thankfulness

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