Taner Edis

Part III: Easy Come, Easy Go

Responding to the gunshots, the saucer began spinning more rapidly, and started emitting pulses of green light. I stood transfixed. Through my tertiary vision, though still woefully undeveloped, I could make out a more deliberate, ghostly accompaniment to the green pulses. Undulations in the subquantum Bohm strata spread out slowly from the craft, touching earth and probing the Institute grounds.

Two more shots rang out, with more shouting and barking. Though behind the barn, the shape of what I felt certain was a farmer defending his home became clearly visible to my third eye. The subquantum waves concentrated around him, rode high, and then suddenly snapped back and retreated to the saucer. The Scout Drone took off toward the main craft with a high whistle, was let in, and then the saucer shone with bright white light again, darting off into the northwestern sky with incredible speed.

For maybe five minutes, I stood in the silent darkness. The protests of my freezing toes snapped me out of it, and I lifted Old SZ out of the snowdrift. She gave a low groan and held her head, but I also began to hear distant screaming, and breaking glass.

Some students, especially first-years, were unprepared for this kind of attack, and it had affected them badly. With a shudder, I remembered the first time my mind had touched the Interians: I had withdrawn quickly, but afterwards I still had reacted like I was having a psychotic episode. This was before I had joined the Institute, and being nothing but an undisciplined, solitary explorer, I was hit hard and had no support. I had wandered the streets for days, spouting inanities mixed with the horrible truths I had glimpsed. I had even tried to warn the blindflyers through the Internet, then so new, and was deservedly treated like a crank.

That, however, was but an echo of a contact, when I inadvertently stumbled upon the hunger from far within the hollows of the Earth. It was nothing like being probed, hunted by Them at close range, or facing one of Their dread flying machines. Even now, with many years of experience, I was shaken; I hated to imagine what it must be like for the unshielded neophyte.

It took some hours to find the affected students, subdue them, and bring them back to their dorms. I vaguely wondered why They had broken off without landing, but there was too much to do, and I finally collapsed in bed, exhausted.

Morning came far too early for my liking, and it didn’t help that I found SZ sitting at my side, taking it on herself to act as my alarm clock. “Meeting,” she said curtly, and I headed toward the shower with a stream of obscenities, vowing I would be on another continent when SZ was next due for a visit.

I walked into the conference room last, as usual, and Arbuth gave me a “you’re late” look, as usual. Everybody but the students and the junior Fellows were around, including a scowling SZ. I sat down, and Arbuth called for everyone to report what damage had ben done last night.

Surprisingly, most people reported trivial things. My attention was wandering, and once again I had to remind myself that this sort of bureaucratic nonsense was necessary in every organization. Even the Lords of Time probably had subcommittee meetings. At the end, though, Magda brought out four metal boxes, with delicate wire meshes connected to large green crystals at the heart of each. “They’re dark!” Nick burst out; Magda nodded and pointed out the crystals were all cracked. “Our Q-resonator array is damaged beyond repair, I’m afraid,” she went on, “Their subquantum probe overloaded the crystals completely.” Arbuth shot a dark look at SZ.

We moved on to some other boring stuff just because they were on the agenda, but I had to interject: “Isn’t anyone else wondering why They left without landing? What stopped Them?”

Arbuth allowed himself a thin smile. “We distracted Them,” he said. “just before the attack, I withdrew Nick’s everyday level of mind and memory, storing it with Martha, who was in Deepsleep. I then replaced it with a superficial layer of belief that he was a farmer, with nothing else on his mind than defending his home. That’s why he was out there with the dogs, shooting at the saucer with only a shotgun. The Interians saw this, and they detected an ordinary farmer with their subquantum probe. I had ordered most everyone to meditate so that the strongest emotional signal was from the frightened farmer-Nick. I admit the background noise from the geopsychic node we sit on also helped. In any case, They thought They had followed another false lead SZ had planted, and broke off to pick up the scent again. I then retrieved Nick’s mind from Martha’s safekeeping. We owe him thanks.”

Nick beamed as heads nodded toward him. But silence returned when we realized Arbuth was staring towards a stonefaced SZ.

“You should be telling us what this is all about,” he said.

“I should…” she responded softly, and then found her voice. “I should tell you what’s in that crate of mine, and how I came upon it.”

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