Somewhere Else Entirely - Epilogue 3

The crew of the Vasco da Gama have discovered that Anmar keeps a secret, that Vast, Multidimensional Beings colonized it long before humans on Earth even had written language - and are still doing so. It seems there is a threat to the galaxy and long-term plans have been made to defend it. Some of the audience is naturally skeptical. Then King Keren makes things worse by inviting a long-dead Queen to tell them what is really happening, and the crew learn that everything they thought they knew bears little resemblance to the truth.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

Epilogue 3 - The Great Plan

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2010-2016 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.

"Preposterous! All this is a fantasy! There are no Beings, no transferees, no visitors from other planets! You seek merely to enrich yourselves at the expense of other lands with your ridiculous tales!"

Several of the others around him stood and tried to wrestle him back into his seat but he proved difficult to handle. Eventually they managed to subdue him and he stood there panting, glaring at Keren.

"Ah, yes," the King replied. "From your accent you are obviously a Terian and one who has failed to understand the lessons of the last seventy years."

Stannard, the opposition leader, stood. "Sire, I regret this outburst. I did not realize we had one of the Terian separatists in our party. I shall have him removed if you so desire."

Keren shook his head. "No, leave him be. There comes a point when even the most stupid must accept reality for what it is and not what they would wish it to be." He addressed the rest of the room. "Unfortunately for most of you, reality is not entirely what you thought it was either. Today's presentation is designed to correct that impression. I believe it is time to introduce the main speaker to our meeting."

Keren's gaze lifted above the heads of his audience. "Ancestor, if you would join us now."

For a few seconds nothing happened, but then there was a curious kind of shimmer beside the King. The next instant a mature woman was standing beside him. Most of those in the audience jumped with surprise.

"Jesus!" Someone from the ship muttered, loudly enough for Keren to hear. "They have matter transporters!"

The woman turned to face the speaker. She was dressed in what the locals recognized as an old version of the female Palace Guard uniform.

"There is no matter transporter involved here, Nirvanan. Since my Solid form is compatible with this environment, I have merely manifested myself for you all to see. My name is Garia. I was born on Earth, in Hays, Kansas, United States of America, and I was once Queen of this land."

The Terian sneered at the two people on the podium. "More trickery! Nothing more than a hologram!"

Garia turned to face her critic. "Oh? It seems that even two hundred years later I am still encountering stupidity and obstructionism. You, Terian, come down here," she commanded, in a voice which brooked no argument. "You shall find out whether I am hologram or not."

The man looked at her, uncertain of the offer he had just been made. Shaking off the hands of those who had held him, he shouldered his way past those between himself and the aisle and began to walk down to the podium. As he did so, his confidence returned and he was feeling sure of his ground as he joined Keren and Garia in front of the audience.

However, before he had any chance to even speak, Garia slapped him hard in the face. He stumbled backwards and fell to a sitting position on the floor, one hand going to his cheek, his expression one of extreme shock.

"So, tell me, Terian, how many holograms do you know that could do that to you?"

The man looked at her in astonishment, unable to speak. Garia looked at the hand she had used and turned to the King.

"Grandson, I apologize for what I have just done. I am still learning to adjust to my new mode of existence and I could have killed this man without realizing it."

Keren grinned. "I have read the accounts of what happened when first you came to Anmar, Ancestor. I am sure that you used exactly the amount of force required."

"It has been a long time, Keren, since I last trained for physical combat. It was my hope that I would never need to do so again." She turned to the man, who was attempting to back away on his bottom. "Get up, man!" she said irritably. "The only way you will die today will be by accident. Do you now accept that I am really here, and not just an image?"

The man began to scramble to his feet. He gasped, "Who are you? What are you?"

"Did you not listen? I am Garia, who was once the consort of King Keren VI of Palarand. I was born Gary Campbell, a boy, on Earth, in Hays, Kansas in the United States of America. I lived there for nearly eighteen Earth years or sixteen Anmar years. The Beings who attend this galaxy transferred me here to provoke a war which would raise the technological level of this part of Alaesia. Unfortunately for them their machines did not function as expected and I arrived as a girl." She raised her voice so that everybody could hear. "That meant that I could marry the Keren of the time and become his Queen, but it also meant that I had a much greater impact on society than they expected."

The man's expression was resentful, as though he was being forced to accept something distasteful.

"I encountered as much obstructionism then as I see here today. When I was brought to the palace the man who investigated me could not believe I knew more than he did, and once he found out the truth he plotted to pretend all my knowledge was his own. Unfortunately he was working for Palarand's enemies and they killed him when their first abduction attempt went wrong."

"You can't prove anything," the man said now, sullen. "All what you say is in the history books. Any actor could read that out."

Garia considered. "That may be true, up to a point," she conceded and then smiled. "Perhaps I could ask Captain Suarez to take you back to Nirvana with him when he goes. You would certainly discover that interstellar space travel exists, and perhaps you might come to believe the rest of what I am about to reveal." She pointed a finger. "Go, return to your seat. You have delayed this presentation long enough and there is much more that must be shown."

The man turned and stumped off the podium, heading for the seats. He chose a different one away from the group he had arrived with. Garia turned to face the audience.

"I'm not going to go into detail today about my Emergence as a Being. Let me just say that my first attempts at contact were difficult and uncontrolled, much as a newborn baby struggles to contact its own mother. However, contact was made and during those early conversations I learned that transferees were usually chosen from people on the point of death. One of the dimensions available to us involves... memory, let us say, and it is easier to obtain the memory record of a dying person.

"I learned three other things, the first being that every Being in the galaxy, and there are billions of them, became so the same way I did. Only a tiny fraction of any species undergoes this transformation and, though they have been Emerging from various Solid species for billions of years, the process is still imperfectly understood. The second thing is that I was the first known Being to Emerge after being transferred from one world to another - and knew that I had done so. This meant that I had a unique view of the Beings' activities and purposes. The third thing I learned was that the galaxy was doomed."

That statement produced a buzz in the chamber. The Terian stood up, thought better of it and sat down again. Stannard stood, but his question was directed to Kandal.

"Is this true, Kandal? Did you know any of this?"

"Since I was one of those who swore that oath, yes I did. Most of Anmar's Prime Ministers have known, but you had better direct your question to the King."

Keren acknowledged, "It has been a closely kept secret known by no more than a dozen people at any time, Stannard. My ancestor is here to explain it all to you."

Garia resumed. "The Beings have machinery that is capable of looking into the future." Somebody at the rear of the room snorted and she frowned. "They do this by measuring the exact position, motion and energy of every particle in the galaxy and projecting its path forward in time so that they can see what happens - and they can test what happens if something is changed. This is little different in principle to the methods you use for weather forecasting, for example, but obviously the machinery used is much more complex."

Somebody else stood up from the dissenters' seats. "You can't possibly measure every particle in the galaxy! That machinery would have to include itself, wouldn't it?"

"So, you're an expert on multidimensional manifold math, are you?" she riposted. "I'm glad we have Anmar's foremost mathematician here in the chamber today. Why haven't you published your revolutionary findings yet?"

The man turned red-faced, spluttered and sat down.

"Don't ask me," Garia said to the audience with a shrug. "I don't understand how it works any more than you do. Even the Beings have experts who run that sort of machinery. To continue my story, the results can be followed through time and they are of a statistical nature. It seemed that after a certain point in time the future of this galaxy goes dark. The chances of anything surviving were below forty percent. That is why the Beings have a program of transference. They are attempting to improve the galaxy's chances of survival.

"When it was explained to me what would happen, I pointed out that Solids - that is, people like yourselves - might be able to help delay or avert the impending catastrophe. The Beings had tried to avoid exposing themselves as they thought it would set up some kind of inferiority complex, the Solids knowing that they would live brief lives and that anything more was unattainable. I argued against this, as it effectively becomes a war and advances most usually happen at a greater rate during wartime. Though the lives of Solids are short, history has shown us that during the most recent wars many advances in science, technology and medicine have been made."

"A war? Nobody said anything about a war!"

Garia grimaced. "We don't know that it will be a 'war' in the same way you understand the term. I believe that it is about now that I should describe the situation to you. I'm going to use a special projector so I'll need the light lowered, please."

The chamber dimmed and the podium became dark. From out of the darkness Garia's voice began.

"Before the Universe existed, there was only void. There was no mass, no energy, no movement. Then, in an instant which some species of Solid label the Big Bang, the Universe began. Of course, had there been any Vast, Multidimensional Beings present they would not have seen the Big Bang as we see it at all, only as a logical stage in the natural development of the Universe. The Universe grew and developed in much the way that Earth and Anmar scientists have postulated."

As Garia stood to one side, a vast holographic display acted out the development of the Universe from its earliest moments. The audience watched transfixed as gas clouds condensed into galaxies and then stars, swirling and recombining under their mutual attraction.

"Stars ignited, ran their lives and died in giant explosions, seeding the void with heavier elements. Planets were born, upon some of which life emerged. Sometimes, life even evolved where there were not worlds. Species rose, thrived and became extinct. Eventually civilizations rose, thrived and also became extinct. Some matured eventually to a level where individuals Emerged as Beings and discovered the multidimensional nature of the Universe.

"Over many billions of years the Beings matured and naturally wanted to know what would happen to the galaxy they all called home. After many fumbling starts the forecasting machines I described earlier were created. Over the ages their predictions became better and better. It eventually became possible to follow the evolution of the entire galaxy, although not in fine detail. Unfortunately, their forecasts faded away at a certain point in the future, due to outside influences they could not calculate. What clues they could obtain, however, indicated that the galaxy and all the beings in it, both Solid and Emerged, looked doomed.

"Then a Being wondered what would happen if, and things changed again. By making artificial changes to the forecasts it became possible to alter the probability of the ending of the galaxy by a small amount. Successive changes offered a slim chance that a way might be found in the future to avoid annihilation.

"The first attempts were done by direct interference with Solid civilizations and they were only partly successful. The idea of transference arose and, though expensive, it seemed to offer more hope of a successful outcome. Many blunders were made and many civilizations lost or corrupted before the appropriate methods were refined and protocols laid down. In addition, worlds were discovered which had no civilization or dominant species and a process of colonization was begun, one of those worlds being Anmar, another being... Earth.

"Yes, Earth and many others have been carefully populated with species and individuals to attempt to improve the chances that, in the future, the galaxy as a whole will survive. In the main things have worked the way that was planned but since the forecasts were only statistical, they could never guarantee the result they wanted. Individuals such as myself were chosen to trigger events that would improve the worlds they arrived on and mostly the results obtained were as expected.

"My effect on Anmar was not, and that was a direct result of the unexpected operation of the transfer machinery. My original arrival here raised the result from below fifty percent to nearly sixty percent. Such a big jump indicated that my presence had somehow made a significant difference and this should be exploited. I agreed with the Beings that Anmar should be given special help and that the presence of the Beings would be revealed to the Solid population at the point a starship from another world arrived and was shown to be on a peaceful mission. That is the nature of the oath I made with them. Because of this forced development, the odds of success are now ninety percent and rising daily."

Garia made a gesture and the lights came up. The holographic display now showed the home galaxy in all its glory behind her. Several people raised their hands.

"Captain Suarez."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, I have no idea how to address you."

Garia smiled. "That's an awkward point, Captain. I was once Queen of the Kingdom of Palarand so technically I could be called 'Your Majesty' or simply 'Ma'am'. However, I'm also legally dead as a Solid so I'm not sure how that works any more. Since the Beings have now come into the open, it is a question we will have to address in due course, I deem. I suggest that you simply use 'Ma'am' for the time being. What was your question?"

"You stated that there were other worlds which had been colonized. Can you tell us how many, and how many have humans on them?"

"The total number of worlds colonized throughout the galaxy must run into the millions, Captain, and I don't have an exact count. Of course, most of those will have sentient species on them that are non-human. Some are more advanced than Anmar, most are probably civilized to various levels but restricted to their own solar systems. Of immediate interest to those here today is the fact that there are eight systems within a thousand light years with humans on them, of which Anmar is presently the most advanced, for obvious reasons."

"You're expecting us to find these worlds, then?"

"Sort of. It was essential that you found Anmar first, so that the correct attitude to any further discoveries was established. We - the collective of the Beings - do not want to see those planets exploited by Earth in the way that some of your existing colonies have been, but more as partners in the long-term effort."

Suarez considered this, then nodded. "I see, Ma'am. What you're telling us is that Earth exploration is now coming up against an existing colonization plan and you don't want that to be disrupted."

"Yes and no, Captain. Your own presence here today is essential to our plan. Basically, Earth's colonization program will now become our colonization program. In the future, you need to know what you will find and how to avoid unfortunate interactions when you find it. We need you and the basic exploration drive of humanity and you need Anmar and our knowledge of what is to come. Together, we stand a good chance of avoiding that dark future I spoke of."

Suarez nodded and Garia turned her attention to Hammond. "Envoy Hammond, you have a question?"

"Ma'am, you keep mentioning this impending disaster. Can you tell us any more?"

"I can, Envoy Hammond. That is the next part of my presentation."

She gestured again and the lights dimmed. The image of the galaxy shrank until it occupied about a third of the available space. Beside it, another galaxy sprang into view.

"What you see here," Garia explained, "is an accurate representation of our home galaxy, to your left, as it exists today. Every star is plotted precisely in this image, Ladies and Gentlemen, and we can make all or part of that database available both to Anmar astronomers and to the Vasco da Gama's astrogation team. The galaxy to your right is known to Earth astronomers as the Andromeda galaxy, and it is destined to collide with our own beginning about a million years from now.

"The Beings' problem is that we are somehow tied to our home galaxy. We can plot with precision the exact position, motion and energy of every particle in our galaxy and use that to project into the future. What we cannot do is to use that same process to predict what will happen when the other galaxy begins to merge with ours, since we cannot measure almost any of the particles within it until they intersect with ours, and that is when the record goes dark.

"From some exploratory calculations that have been made, we can predict that inhabitants from the other galaxy will be able to enter our own within a very short period of time, perhaps as few as tens of thousands of years from now. That is because the gravitational attraction of each galaxy's mass will pull some systems across the gap forming a bridge."

The images began to move, to come together, and it could be seen that each had already begun to distort the shape of the other. The images froze again at the point at which the full merge had begun.

"That position is how the two galaxies will look a million years," she shrugged, "Earth or Anmar, it isn't that exact, from now. We know we are going to lose systems during the merging process," she added. "When masses of stars intersect like this it could be no other way. What we didn't expect was that civilizations would be snuffed out the moment that first bridge was created and we suspect that is because our galaxy will be invaded by beings from the other one, beings who do not desire a peaceful coexistence."

There was dead silence within the auditorium now. Most of them were astonished by the immense scale of the problem facing the Beings and the astronomically long time they had been considering the fate of the galaxy.

Stannard's voice was hoarse in the darkness. "That is what this has all been about? Maker! No wonder you kept this a secret."

As the lights came up Suarez asked, his tone one of wonder, "So we are all part of the Great Plan of these Beings, is that it? My God! To even think about doing something over such a great span of time and space. Astonishing."

"That was the point, of course," Keren said from the other side of the image. "The Beings projected what would eventually happen and they have had many millions of years to prepare for it. We are part of that preparation and so are you. The human species would not exist if it were not for the actions of the Beings."

Hammond stood. "Ma'am, this is all very interesting, but what is it you expect humanity to do? I include Anmar's humans in this, of course."

"You must understand that knowledge of the future can affect that future, so what you are about to hear can only be explained in general terms." Garia replied, "As I'm only a new-born so far as the Beings are concerned, I would hesitate to answer that question in any detail. I must therefore introduce my friend, companion and mentor, who is not a human. Because of this you will only see a hologram, since unlike me, he could not exist in Anmar's atmosphere, temperature or pressure. Because this meeting is a critical moment in the development of this part of the galaxy, I may introduce others at a later time. Senusret, please join us."

The images of the colliding galaxies faded and in their place a white hologram appeared, showing a rough humanoid figure, about a meter tall, with feathery feelers sprouting from the upper sides of his head and huge dragonfly-like wings standing out either side of his back. As on previous occasions he wore a simple full-length gown.

"This is a moment I have long expected," he said with a metallic voice, "though I am normally accustomed to working in secrecy. I am known here as Senusret, a name I acquired on Earth. Despite my form I am acknowledged as one of the foremost anthropologists on human societies and I have already spent some thousands of years studying civilizations on Earth. I was transferred to Anmar when Garia began to emerge as a Being. Over the last two hundred years our collaboration has been very fruitful."

"What are you?" Hammond asked, fascinated. "To me you look like a... traditional Earth fairy."

"That was exactly the impression intended, Envoy. Before I Emerged as a Being I was a member of a species which lives in the clouds of... perhaps you might describe it as a 'temperate Jupiter'. When it was necessary to expose myself to Earth humans I used the guise of a member of one of their many myths. In previous times I have used other guises as required for my work."

"Now we know you are around, would you tell us more about yourself and your people?"

"What you desire is irrelevant to the present purpose, Envoy, but there is no reason you may not learn more in future. Today we have more important matters to consider. As for what we desire of your species, it is this. The battles to be waged in the future will involve both Solids such as yourselves and Beings such as myself and Garia.

"For your part, you must explore your immediate region of the galaxy and prepare it for war. In time, we expect a unified collection of worlds, perhaps an Empire, perhaps a League, perhaps a Commonwealth or some other arrangement, which can help other collections of allied species defend against what might come across that bridge. This process would naturally happen over time but with this extra knowledge you can become more focused. As Garia has already stated, we cannot tell you the future in any detail since that will affect it. We can offer you a certain amount of assistance as time continues, but how much depends on when you develop the necessary math to understand it."

"Thank you... Senusret?"

"Senusret. The name is of Egyptian origin. I once spent almost a century as one of their gods. Many but by no means all of humanity's gods have been Beings operating in disguise. We make no apology for this behavior."

Hammond turned to Garia. "Ma'am, I can almost guarantee that none of this would be believed anywhere but on this planet." She glanced at the far side of the room. "Perhaps not even on much of Anmar, I'm guessing. There are people in this room who are having trouble believing it. How do we break this to humanity at large?"

Garia grinned. "Oh, I think you can leave that to us, Envoy. Now that we have been permitted to show ourselves, I'm sure we can arrange some very spectacular demonstrations which nobody is going to be able to deny." The grin faded. "There is another consideration and that is one of inferiority. Humans, like most dominant species on any world, have always regarded themselves as the pinnacle of development and to find out that they are basically little better than bacteria in a lab dish is going to cause a lot of problems. We have ideas but we would welcome any suggestions from such as yourselves. That fact is one reason we decided to puzzle you when you arrived here, Envoy, to give you the impression that there could already be people better than you out there somewhere."

Hammond bowed her head. "Consider that point made, Ma'am, and I'll think about what you suggested."

Garia turned to the rest of the audience. "I'm sure that the rest of you have questions." She pointed. "You, what's your name?"

* * *

The Garian Institute had a refectory which could provide meals for the hundred or so who could fit in either of the two auditoriums, so after the obvious questions had been asked and answered, everyone moved there to satisfy their hunger and thirst. It was a buffet meal and some chose to use the available chairs and tables while others gathered in small standing groups, plates and drinks in hand.

There were still many questions but most recognized that it would be some time before they could make some sense from what had been revealed. Garia and Senusret circulated the room attempting to provide reassurance and further information but both understood that most of those present still had trouble believing what they had just been told.

In one corner they found Kandal and Stannard, talking low.

"Kandal, I just don't know what to say! I think it is incredible that something like this has been kept secret for so long."

"It is worse than you think, Stannard. If it hadn't been for Garia, we would still not know what was happening."

They turned and noticed the two Beings approach.

"Ma'am." Kandal bowed. Stannard hesitated before following suit. The Prime Minister said to Garia, "I was just pointing out that, if it had not been for you, we would still not know all this."

"You're right," she said. Her American English accent sounded odd to their ears. "It was a tiny chance that led to me Emerging, so small that it is almost negligible. Of course, in galactic terms, 'negligible' meant that it was almost certain to happen somewhere, given enough time. Then the other Beings convinced themselves that this represented an opportunity they couldn't ignore."

"A chance remark," Senusret added. "It made such a difference to the probabilities that we were forced to try a risky project. Fortunately we were successful with the result you see before you."

"A project? What project?"

"Another time, Delegate. If the story is to be told, it should be published for all to know."

Garia said, slowly, "It is somewhat personal, even after all this time. Let the rest of humanity become comfortable with us and then we can tell it."

Stannard stared at Senusret. "Your pardon, but how do we address you? I can't think of any obvious way."

"You have no forms of address that are appropriate," Senusret replied. "We are a different form of life, such things must be considered in due course if we are to interact in future. Though Garia was once a Queen I can claim no such rank from my own former existence. I do not have an answer for you."

A number of Stannard's associates bore down on the foursome. Stannard grimaced since he guessed what might be about to happen.

"Stannard!" Alintis scowled. "Why are you consorting with these frauds?"

Stannard turned to face his accusers. "For someone who belongs to the Progressive Party, you seem to have some problem coming to terms with accepted facts, Alintis. Hardly progressive, are you?"

Alintis pointed a finger at Garia and Senusret. "Accepted facts? I have heard nothing from these to change my mind! This was just done by some trickery to back up the government's position. Colliding galaxies? What nonsense!" He snarled, "This one is just a hologram, it admitted as much itself and the other, she is as real as I am, though I doubt she was ever a Queen, merely some actress brought in to play a part."

Garia turned to Senusret. "With your permission?"

Senusret nodded and Garia stepped forward, grabbing Alintis with both hands at his waist.

"Hey! What are you doing? Get your hands off -"

The protests were cut off as Garia and the man shimmered and then vanished. Everybody left behind stood back, shocked. Seconds later Garia reappeared, dusting her hands.

"I dumped him on the roof," she explained. "Somebody will have to call maintenance to get him back down, I deem." She smirked. "I'd like to see how he explains that trip, especially in view of all the video monitors we have around the refectory."

The whole room became silent as this happened, everyone staring at Garia.

"What? I told you I could prove my position. The roof was the easiest place to leave him, I could just as easily have taken him to anywhere on the planet or even to Kalikan or the research station orbiting Gontar, although he would have been out of breath by the time I reached that far out. There's no air the route I travel these days."

The Terian who had made all the fuss before said, "I think I need to sit down. My... view of the world is incomplete."

"Aye," Stannard agreed. "You are not the only one who is going to have to review their position, but we need more information before we can do that."

"And you shall have it," Garia said. "As much as we can tell you, as much as we can demonstrate, we will do so. The restrictions on what humans can discover have been broadly lifted, beginning today."

Watching this from a table on the other side of the room were Campbell and DeFreitas.

DeFreitas said, "You knew about this all the time, then?"

Campbell replied, "I did, Tom, but obviously I couldn't tell that to you or to anyone else. We've kept that secret from everyone for two hundred years. Now, of course, I can tell you most things but Garia did that already. Is it what you expected?"

"Not in a million years!" He grinned at her. "I may have to rephrase that, I guess. After what I've just heard, a million years doesn't sound like such a long time. I came to Anmar expecting to find some different shaped plants and maybe a few odd animals, I didn't expect to be invited to take part in an intergalactic war!"

Campbell laughed. "You don't have to worry about that, Tom. It will be centuries, millennia, before the war begins. We get to do all the fun stuff instead, finding new worlds and life-forms, building the foundations for the great galactic civilization to come."

"Yes, that will be fun, won't it?" His grin faded. "But King Keren said that only a dozen people knew the secret. I'm thinking some of those have to be in your government, so how exactly is it you are on that list?"

"The secret is one that has been held by the royal family of Palarand, Tom. Every King and Queen is told it and certain of their closest relatives also know it. Of course, certain members of the current government also have to be let into the secret. I know because I'm a direct descendant of Queen Garia and custodian of property that was once given to her by King Robanar when she first arrived. My official title is Countess Milsy of Blackstone, the town where all this began."

DeFreitas goggled at her. "A Countess? And you're acting as a simple liaison officer?"

"Um, not exactly, Tom. I'm actually a field exobiologist and your crew is my present area of study. What did you expect?"

"Ouch! I'm an idiot. Of course you would study us as we do the same to you. A field exobiologist, you say? So what did you study before we arrived?"

She gave him a sidelong glance. "There is more than one active biosphere in this star system, Tom. I've been studying life-forms that live in the atmosphere of Gontar, our largest gas giant. I wouldn't call them civilized, not in the way we understand that word, but it is a little more than just plants and animals."

"Gontar? Oh, yes. Didn't the... other Being mention Gontar?"

Milsy shook her head. "Not compatible, unfortunately. The wrong mix of gases and a fifty-degree difference in temperature, so Senusret tells us. His world is warmer, but still much colder than Anmar."

DeFreitas wondered if his chances had just nose-dived. "So, you're what? An academic?"

"No, like I said I'm a field officer. I might have returned to the University in due course to teach, only some starship turned up and changed everything. I have five different of what I am told you would probably call Master's degrees, although on Anmar we use other qualifications."

"A polymath? And a Countess? Will you stop speaking to me now?"

She dimpled. "Don't be silly, Tom. I'd still be delighted to show you round the Old City and maybe some other places, too. I might be a Countess but I'm still human, you know."

* * *

Later that day, in his day cabin aboard the Vasco da Gama, Suarez leaned back in his chair and let out a long breath. "Alison, do you buy into everything we were shown?"

Hammond replied, "Without question, Captain. The way Queen Garia explained it all made perfect sense, given what we already know of Anmar. Okay, there's still the technology question but that's properly a problem for negotiation by Solids, if you'll excuse the phrase."

"Indeed. Speaking of which, has anyone found out anything more about their technology? I'm not talking about stealing, you understand, but confirmation of some of our guesses would be useful."

McDaid said, "Captain, I did, in fact. My guess about broadcast power was right on the money. I spoke to one of the University professors who was there today and he told me that they have access to... what he describes as a sheaf of dimensions which don't involve space. That is, they are effectively point dimensions of some kind, though he wouldn't explain any more than that. I wasn't certain that he could, from the way he was talking. Basically, their power plants pour some kind of energy into one of these dimensions and other units can draw out as much as they require, wherever they are."

"The ultimate tap-off system," Andrades said, nodding. "That technology would be very useful if we could gain access to it." He frowned. "Why do they need that many power plants, then? I would have thought one or two would have been enough."

"Redundancy, sir," McDaid replied, "and perhaps scalability. There's another factor, which is that although there's apparently no power loss over distance, it becomes more difficult to tune the particular 'channel', as the professor called it, the further away you get. That's why there are power plants on the moons and outer planets as well."

"You said a sheaf of dimensions," Suarez put in then. "How many in this sheaf?"

McDaid shrugged. "Unknown, sir. Possibly millions, possibly infinite numbers. I'm wondering if that is how their communicators work as well. They just tune into a particular channel of that sheaf and get instant communication over any distance, as well as power. If these dimensions don't involve distance, the speed of light would hardly apply, would it?"

"Wow," Hammond said. "FTL communication is another big one, Captain. Even if it didn't cover interstellar distances the gains would be immense."

Suarez nodded. "Agreed. It would change the whole way we utilize space within every star system. Anything else?"

Baranov asked, "There's the question of why they all speak English, Captain. I understand now that materials from Earth might have been in English but the whole planet? Why did they choose a language not native to any of them?"

Hammond replied, "Ivan, that is almost exactly the reason. I talked to their Prime Minister and he said that English became popular in the Great Valley immediately after Garia arrived because most of the materials she brought were in that language. Following that was a rapid exploration of the whole planet and English was chosen as a neutral trade language precisely because it wasn't anyone's natural language. It helps that it is so easy to learn, at least at a basic level. Today, everyone learns English and most also learn their local tongue."

Suarez looked round the table. "Interesting and fortuitous for us, don't you think? I was dreading having to learn a non-Earth language to make myself understood here. Anything else?"

Valborg said, "I had a word with Queen Garia about how she traveled from Earth to Anmar in the first place. It seems they can't send actual bodies but only the instructions for making bodies and even that is expensive in energy terms. A pity, when she first mentioned it I wondered if there was a planet-to-planet transfer system there we could use but it seems it doesn't work that way."

Andrades turned to the Life Sciences officer. "Expensive? How so?"

"It looks like the transfer involves copying the description of their DNA, not even the DNA itself, from one system to the other and then using that to grow a new body using some multidimensional cloning machinery. While the body is growing the machinery impresses the memories of the original onto the clone so that it wakes up thinking it is the original. It takes a few days for the memories to return fully, so I understand. For one person the whole process consumes about the total energy output of a star like that of Anmar for a whole day or so, Chief. Not something I'd want to do on a regular basis but perhaps a useful emergency method, if they agree to let us use it."

Hammond said, "I doubt that is going to happen, Anders. The way I understood Garia's explanation, the original has to die in order for that to work. That's why they chose people about to die as their colonists in the first place."

Valborg persisted. "That might be the way it works for them, Excellency, but we might be able to think of other ways it could be useful. I wouldn't write it off just like that."

Suarez raised a hand. "All right. I suspect we could sit here all day and all night and talk without making much headway. The bottom line is, we need to have what these people have and they need us as well, and to progress that we have to resume our original mission and evaluate the planet beneath us." He turned. "Alison, your recommendation?"

"We need to do some basic verification but I can't see that we have any option, Captain. They aren't going to be joining the Earth colonies, we are going to be joining them, and that's fine with me. We each have abilities and experiences which balance the other perfectly." She gave Suarez a fierce grin. "I can't wait to get this project under way."

* * *

Senusret: Welcome, hatchling!

Garia: Welcome indeed. I am pleased that you could find your way here again.

Milsy: It's difficult. I have no control over whether I come or not. Was it the same for you, Garia?

Garia: It was. As I recall, it does get easier over time but you need a lot of patience. Keep up the meditation because that definitely helps.

Milsy: I intend to. Your presentation was good. I particularly liked the way you appeared... manifested, I should say.

Garia: That was considerably more tricky than it looked, Milsy. I can manifest myself reasonably easily now, but the problem is, it is just myself. I would come out naked, which would cause more of a stir than I would wish.

Milsy: Oh! Of course. So how do you manage clothing?

Senusret: Most Beings do not customarily wear textiles or other coverings, hatchling, in their Solid forms, so the problem is a relatively minor one. In time Garia will no longer need to manifest so her difficulty becomes moot. In the meantime, those species with a similar problem have developed solutions.

Garia: That's right. I have a small suite at the palace under an assumed name where I keep some clothing for occasions like today. They think I'm a retired guardswoman. The clothing like everything else is multidimensional, of course, so there is no problem taking it with me. I simply went to my suite, manifested, dressed myself and then de-manifested until I needed to appear on stage with young Keren. Taking the clothes with me requires concentration but is manageable. More tricky was lifting that idiot onto the roof while not ending up with my clothes remaining in the refectory. In my first attempts at wearing clothes they dropped to the floor when I de-manifested.

Milsy [giggling]: Yes, that could be embarrassing!

Garia: You will still require tuition in simple tricks like that, unfortunately. For humans, nakedness is usually reserved for the beach. One day that may change but I'm not expecting miracles.

Milsy: Um, how long is it going to take me to finish this process? How long did it take you from when you first came here until you manifested?

Garia: Fifty-one years, Milsy.

Milsy: That long? But... that means you Emerged while you were still Queen! However did you manage to conceal that happening?

Garia: With great difficulty. I trust that you won't have the same problem when you eventually Emerge. It proved possible to delay the actual separation from my Solid body until Keren and I could take a nostalgic trip to Blackstone but it was a struggle... like delaying a birth, you might say.

Milsy: You were King and Queen then. How did you manage to find any privacy?

Garia: As I said, it was a nostalgic visit so Keren and I and a very select picked band of retainers, all in the know, went camping up at the Ptuvil Stones. The Solid body was secretly removed by the Beings and placed in stasis for my 'official' death. I then had to pretend to be a Solid for another eight years, which was interesting, as I hadn't mastered the art of taking clothes with me at that time.

Milsy: Oh. But if you were pretending to be a Solid then you just lived as a Solid would, didn't you?

Garia: Yes, fortunately, I could do that. Only two people realized something was strange and they were my maids at the time. They became part of the conspiracy.

Milsy: Do you miss him? Your husband, I mean.

Garia: Naturally I do! I have spent more than a hundred years here since he died, though, so my perspective on our partnership has mellowed somewhat.

Senusret: It is the same with us all, hatchling, at least for those species that have life mates. We do not forget our origins and our time as Solids, nor those left behind, but we also do not forget what we have now become and that few are chosen.

Garia: Keren knew what was going to happen long before we married, of course. He accepted it since in some respects it is little different to a normal Solid marriage. One must needs die before the other, unless both are taken in an accident or by violence. [A pause for recollection] After his State funeral, when our son Bradanar came to the throne, I stayed for a respectable interval and then the saved body was burned. I had promised Keren that I would not stay around as a Solid for very long after he died. I didn't really want to. [Fondly] He was a good man, a wonderful husband and a great King.

Milsy: He had a great Queen to rule beside him, overseeing the greatest changes that Anmar has ever seen. I am proud to be your descendant, Ancestor.

Garia: Thank you. It is possible your part may prove at least as important as mine, when the time comes.

Milsy: I'm glad we won't have to skulk about in secret any more.

Senusret: For the future we must be careful how we educate the people of each world, hatchling, including Anmar. To reveal all at one time will present dangers to all.

Garia: Aye, especially considering those Terian idiots. Still, we have finally gotten the ball rolling and life can only get more interesting from now on.

Milsy: It all seems so fantastic to me still. I can't believe we're actually going to do this.

Garia: The probability of success is presently over ninety percent and still rising. The future is beginning to look bright, Milsy. Our future.

The End of Somewhere Else Entirely

Some of the characters mentioned in this story may appear in future Tales of Anmar.

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