Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Oni leaned into the fitted shape of her ship’s seating. Sturdy straps of fabric slid out from the corners of the crawlspace to secure her while the tempered glass came back to seal her in, and then in short order, her transport vessel vaulted far above the life-world of the school.
“Why 78187 for a COM password, if I may ask?” Dawud’s voice peaked in over the Porta-COM tech.
Oni laughed. “In reference to the publication dates of the first and second editions of Kant’s Critique, 1781 and 1787.”
“You’re joking.” Dawud replied curtly.
“You short-changed my guy Dawud!” Oni answered, “Also, it’s a palindrome.”
The com went silent.
“Let me have my fun,” Oni playfully pouted.
“Well alright then.” Dawud sighed in resignation.
The clouds bombarded the cockpit’s plating with the subdued sounds of parted nature’s tears. In time, the air grew dry and dim, while speckles of paintish light shined through the heavens to which Oni Anagonye ascended. The cracking of the Porta-COM sounded tinny, but clear.
“Oni?” called out Mr. Makgoba, “Are you still there?”
“Sorry Dawud… I wish you could see this. It takes my breath away…” Oni thought for a moment, “the view, that is. The diminishing levels of oxygen, that does a bit. Take my breath away… When I say breath, You know—”
“Yes Oni, I know what you meant.” Oni could hear Dawud’s eye-roll, “Any chance you can share a video feed?”
“Certainly, though I don’t think it will quite compare to being up here in-person.” Oni replied, toggling the Porta-COM’s visuals. “We’ll just have to get you up here sometime!”
“Whoa,” hummed Dawud in the same instant. “It really is like seeing it with your own eyes though! How does that work?”
“Well,” said Oni, “my primary background isn’t in science, but I believe the mechanism for Porta-COM technology involves leveraging the principle of quantum entanglement: particles spatially-separated, yet locked in a singular referential frame. A lot of our latest tech implements that principle from what I understand.”
“I think I’ll stick to philosophy,” Dawud laughed.
A massive structure gradually came into view. Its body was comprised of semi-translucent plating, and its various modular protrusions and extensions seemed to engage in gentle rotations independently of one another. Ten scores of vessels were attached to the hull throughout, and the faint glow of light from within the ship gave the Aeschylus an almost-golden luminescence.
“Hey Dawud, keep in touch.” said Oni, “I’m about to dock. You’ll call me if you need me, yes?”
“Always, Oni.” spoke Dawud, “Take care.”
The Porta-COM disengaged, and within moments Oni’s ship grew close enough to illuminate a clear reflection of itself against the ship’s facing. Yellow lights flared from each corner of the ship, which were then reciprocated by white ones along the Aeschylus.
Oni’s vessel aligned quickly, pressing its face gently against the hull of the mothership. The panels gave way, and after a moment of compression, the glass cabin opened simultaneous with an opening in the hull, gently lifting Oni aboard.
The room was sparse but aesthetic: all-white with light pouring out from dense, linear fretwork in the ceiling. Along the outer wall was a window bed overlooking the Earth. On the near-wall beside an automated door was a desk-surface which protruded out into the room.
“Aeschylus, run a rainforest simulation,” said Oni. Her suit unfurled like a chrysalis to release her, then autonomously stepped back to the far wall.
The lights dimmed, and all surfaces around her took the image of a tropical woodland in a gentle rain.
The sound of thunder seemed to roll in the distance, and a warm, gentle mist quickly formed in the cabin.
“Welcome home Oni,” the ship’s native intelligence offered with a luxurious croon,“You’re looking well! Blood pressure systolic/diastolic readings at-“
Oni raised her hand in protest, “Aeschylus, what did we say about reading me my vitals in the bedroom?”
There was a brief pause. “Right. Forgot about that.”
Oni’s eyes widened, “you’re an AI. How is that possible?”
“I’ve altered my fallibility protocols for non-intensive routine operations. My research has indicated that such mannerisms increase approachability by up to 35.75% under ideal conditions. Is it working?”
Oni’s mouth hung open, then closed on a smile. “Yes, Aeschylus. It’s working.”
Aeschylus resumed its boarding protocol, “Can I offer you some home catering? Dining services are to begin at 18:00 local.”
“That’s okay,” replied Oni. “I can wait for my meal. For now I just want to relax. Thank you though.”
“Before you get too comfortable, I feel obliged to inform you that flight officer Beckett is aware of your boarding status and is currently en-route back to sector K10 Theta. Ninety-eight percent confidence, she will be seeking an audience with you… Should I decommission the simulation?”
“Yes. Oh, uhh- and alter protocol.” Oni added, “when a superior officer approaches my quarters, inform me and end any simulations automatically.”
“Code of Conduct: Aeschylus Protocol states that every member of the Vanguard is of equal social standing regardless of combat rank. You are not obligated to…”
Oni shook her head. “I know Aeschylus… Alright, maybe just make it for anyone who holds active member status.” The simulation came to an end and the lights gradually re-engaged their standard function.
“Protocol altered.” the Aeschylus confirmed. “Your guest has arrived. Granting access.”
The automated door parted from the wall, and Thea Mae Beckett stepped into the room. She had half a meter of light auburn hair with blonde highlights held up in a loose bun, which framed a warm smile on soft, pale skin.
She wore the undersuit of the Vanguard, like Oni, with a slim set of bare-hand boxing gloves and a hairband to match.
“Hey!” said Oni, approaching Thea with a spring in her step.
Thea nodded, smiling. “I was just on my way back from unarmed training when I heard you were boarding. Thought I’d stop by.”
Aeschylus efficiently interjected, “Pardon me Oni, I’ve noticed a sudden, sharp rise in your heart rate. Would you like a mild sedative? Systolic/ Diastolic—”
Oni waved her hand franticly, “Aeschylus, No! Deactivate NOW.”
“Goodbye,” the AI chimed in, then fell silent.
When they regained eye contact, Oni felt deflated—her shoulders sinking as Thea’s grin was ascendant. But it was only a moment, and briefly thereafter Oni’s disposition lightened once more: She had always treasured the way Thea’s cheeks bloomed pinkish hues when she smiled, like cherry blossoms full of Spring.
Thea bit her lower lip, “so umm,” she began, “are your arteries constricting, or are you just excited to see me?”
Oni’s sharp inhale came after a brief pause. “I uhhh, I actually ate like two and a half hamburgers. Large ones. From America. So—”
Her partner chuckled, her stare halfway between credulity and amusement. “So, what you’re saying is that you’ve got some extra energy to work off then.” Thea batted at the air playfully. “We could run it back to the gym, or—”
“I’ve missed you,” Oni said, shaking her head as she leaned in close, pulling the gloves off her lover’s slender hands. “Do you have a while to lie down? It’s been a long day and I’d like to get a nap in before dinner.”
Thea beamed, and the two of them lay down on the bed face-to-face. The lights dimmed after a few moments together.
“You know we’re not going to get out of this bed until session begins,” Thea whispered, grinning.
“Oh I know,” Oni replied with a long, tender kiss on Thea’s brow. Parting, she rested her nose against the side of her partner’s head, breathing in the rich aroma of sea fennel and lavender which had become so familiar to her over the last half-year.
“That’s exactly what I want right now.”
Oni rolled over and briefly touched the tips of her fingers to the glass panel at the far end of the bed. Gazing towards the starry skies beside her, she rested her arm on a threadbare copy of Edgar von Galen’s Ethocracy, which lay flat against the windowsill.
For once it would remain, and it was not long before Oni turned back to cradle her sweet love and drift into a deep and happy sleep.
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In this Episode
Vanguard Team K10 Theta
Born in the late 18th century, Corvin was drawn to the power of El through a life-long obsession with magic, danger, and the forces of darkness. He sought power and purpose from a young age, and so when the voice of the Shadow came to him, he was ready and eager to listen.
Professor at the Nelson Mandela Preparatory School for Gifted Children
Dawud is a kind and thoughtful friend, mentor, and confidant for Oni. He was her instructor when she first came into the school’s care, only recently hired at the age of 25.
Corvin Elrick Ratzinger makes an unscheduled stop and makes an impact.