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The Lost Jupiter (Maura's Gate 3)

Chapter 4 The Daddy

Author: FionaR Total hits: 1493 User hits: 4 Date: 03-11-2015

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The first floor of the casino was a bar, with a circular counter at the center and empty table sets along the walls. Inside the counter, a woman wearing a cream suit and a neat hair bun was filling a glass with some kind of liquor, but to Devin, she looked more like a corporate manager than a bar waitress.

“Hi, Melissa!” she glanced at the entrance and said.

“Hi, Amanda.” Melissa walked toward her. “Is Dad here?”

“He just came in, sweetheart.” Amanda set the drink on a tray and walked out from behind the counter. There was a moment when her movement stagnated and her gaze fell on Devin. Then she gave him a courtly smile before she and Melissa headed to a narrow stairway next to the restrooms.

Did she know who he was? Devin followed them downstairs to the large underground casino that must have connected several basements of adjacent buildings. The furnishing was nowhere comparable to Vegas, but everything a conventional casino should have was there. It was still early and the dealers hadn’t come to work yet. A few customers were sitting at the slot machines and enjoying themselves.

The two women led him to a glass-walled office situated in a corner. When Devin was greeted by Melissa’s father, he couldn’t believe how young the man appeared to be. He had sleek, side-parted dark hair, neck length. The aquiline nose and pale skin contributed to a rather aristocratic look. Although the maroon dress shirt fitted him well, it could have been replaced by a black robe.

“Lionel Parrish.” He introduced himself when they shook hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lee.”

Devin sat in a chair next to Lionel’s desk, on which he saw a few family photos, a stack of printed documents that were probably related to the casino’s business, and a crystal globe placed on a tiny stand.

“You were right, Dad.” Melissa winked at her father. “As always.”

“Would you like to drink something, sir?” Amanda asked before she left the room with Melissa.

“Water’s fine. Thanks.”

Devin felt dehydrated, but after he said the words, a question surfaced in his mind. Where was his body? Was it inside Epianna, or somewhere else? No matter what, he was in a simulated world. Would drinking virtual water help quench his thirst?

“I have to apologize for my daughter’s demeanor, Mr. Lee. I adopted her when she was four.”

And when you were seven? Devin thought as he surveyed Melissa’s father. He was at most a few years older than her, yet Devin had never seen a pair of eyes like his, so deep and comprehensive, with a motion one could only describe as the “swirl of time”. Yes, this young man could be a father, or a godfather, if … if not God himself.

“Where were you born, Mr. Lee? May I ask?”

“A small town in Berkshire, England.” Devin’s family moved to the United States when he was in second grade.

“Berkshire County …” Lionel squinted with a hand supporting his chin. “Hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever been there. We used to visit you often, but since your invention of cameras we no longer wanted to take the risk. Besides, we can watch your satellite TV at home.”

Devin smiled briefly and shook his head. “For centuries, people have been asking the question: Are we alone in the universe? How could we have suspected that a neighbor lived right next to us, in the last place one would look for life in this system, watching our developments and speaking our languages?”

“Believe me, we too have longed for friends, but until recently you weren’t able to understand us.”

Devin agreed. The realization of virtual reality would have been difficult to conceive before the computer era.

“But later, we became concerned about our safety. We have nothing to match your Cassiopeia.”

Devin’s face burned slightly. When Lionel and his people arrived, humans were not much smarter than monkeys, but they didn’t take advantage of their superiority. Now why should they be afraid of us?

“But you aren’t completely defenseless, right?” Devin said, referring to the tube they had seen earlier.

A broad smile emerged on Lionel’s face. “I wish I could talk to you often, Mr. Lee.”

His words made Devin think of Roland.

Then the smile slowly faded as Lionel leaned forward. “Are you aware of the catastrophe you’ll be facing in a few years?”

The catastrophe … Devin wanted to pretend he knew nothing. Since he entered this virtual world he’d been inspired by all the new information, about Jupiter, about their neighbor. Now he felt like a fugitive being cornered by cops. Although he never questioned on the credibility of Rose’s story, deep in his mind incubated the hope that the whole thing was just a miscalculation, a false alarm, or … or something that might happen in the future but not now. Whatever! The sole source of the prophecy was an Alien’s brain copy. Now Lionel’s confirmation had shattered all the possibilities.

“In eight years,” Devin said, “our solar system will go through some kind of space discontinuity. A gravitational fault caused by interactions among celestial bodies. Horrible things will happen, and Earth is no longer suitable for life even if we manage to survive the direct impact.”

“Oh!” Lionel sounded surprised. “So you did know about it! Have you come up with a solution?”

“No.” They were nowhere close to a solution. In fact, they didn’t even know where to start.

A few months after his comet trip, he got a call from Kenton when he and Tracy were visiting her parents.

“We would like to get your opinion, Devin. After all, you were on the comet and might have noticed something.”

So Devin flew back on the next day. When he entered the conference room, he saw a woman sitting at a table with Kenton. He had a faint memory of meeting her somewhere—the springy hair, the dark-blue eyes that mysteriously reminded him of the outer space. Though, at the moment, the universe was burning with fumes.

“So! Ms. Melandroinno told us she knew who had controlled the comet,” Kenton said with an I-don’t-want-to-deal-with-this kind of tone. “In short, she found a headquarters in her basement, which she later destroyed with an axe. Collateral damages included her husband who was supposed to have died several years ago, and an alien who had lived twenty-five hundred years. Did I get everything correctly, Ms. Melandroinno?”

So she was the one who had spared him from crashing onto the comet, Devin realized. “Yes, that’s right,” he said. “I heard their conversation.”

“You heard my/their conversation? How?” Rose and Kenton yelled simultaneously.

“And how much did you hear?” she added, her voice quivering.

“Why did the aliens do this?” Devin asked.

Kenton briefly described the so-called Maura’s Gate before he said to Rose, “It’s not that I don’t trust you. The experts we sent to your house indeed identified technology that’s far beyond our comprehension. And when I consulted a few relativistic astrophysicists, they said in theory similar things could happen, but so far there’s no indication that we would experience it in a foreseeable time period.”

“It’s going to happen whether you believe it or not,” Rose said aloofly.

“Things always happen regardless of our will!” Kenton was nearly bellowing. “If aliens were going to invade us, at least we could make more space warships. But what can we do to stop the solar system from going somewhere? Over the years we’ve visited dozens of territorial planets. None is suitable for humans. Shall we simply let out the big news and have everyone start counting the day?”

The three remained quiet for a long time. Leaning back in his chair, Devin wished he could wake up from the nightmare any minute now. Since he came home from that mission, he had made several attempts to come up with a reasonable explanation. Fruitless, but at least the comet was gone and the case could be “closed”. Now he realized the worst part was yet to begin.

“You know what?” he remembered Rose saying before she left. “I’m doing this merely out of a citizen’s responsibility. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter when the world ends.”

At that moment, Devin was too distressed by the bad news to take in what she said. In retrospect, however, he wondered what had made her not care.

* * *

“It was the year after Queen Evemona celebrated her eightieth birthday in the Diamond Palace …” Time spun inside Lionel’s eyes. “When one of our ships observed it at another planetary system. You could see smoke rising from the surface of a planet as it went through this invisible plane. That was when it entered with an angle. If perpendicular, the planet would experience notable vibrations. Based on model simulations, our expert predicted that similar things would happen to us in fifteen years. While they were studying the problem, we started building the Kernel inside Jupiter as a backup.”

The glass door slid open and Amanda walked in with a glass of ice water. Devin nodded at her when she left the water on the table before redirecting his attention to Lionel. Somehow, he had a feeling that the story was not a piece of acquired knowledge but personal experience.

“Despite the effort and progress, we failed to find a solution in time. We began mind-transferring our people two years prior to the day. To our surprise, the whole process finished in less than a year, since the majority would rather die in a real world than continue as a soul.”

Devin thought he could understand. If he weren’t given a tour, maybe he’d make the same decision.

“We didn’t know the impact was so intense, due to the enormous body, that Jupiter got expelled from our system. Our home planet was also blown away by the resulting space disturbance.” Lionel glanced at the outside through the glass walls. “Luckily we had rejected the initial solar-power design for the Kernel.”

“Then how are you powered?”

Lionel set his left hand on the crystal globe. In a flash, the casino outside the office was replaced with darkness. As light began glowing out from the glass walls, Devin found that the office had become a capsule attached to the exterior of the Kernel. With a twist of the globe by the young man’s hand, the capsule broke free and joined the flowing air and energy. They quickly descended until they were beneath the cloud top. Then the capsule took a horizontal motion in the direction of the Kernel. Every once in a while, they would encounter a tube that presumably connected the Kernel to the ocean.

“Most of them are used as energy sources, except the ones near the periphery.”

Devin nodded as he reached for the glass of water on the desk. “Are we …” He wasn’t sure how to ask the question. “Really here?”

Had his mind been transferred here, traveling underneath the cloud top, or was something else doing the job and simply relaying the experience to him?

Lionel didn’t answer the question. He gazed at Devin’s water and shook his head firmly. Confused, Devin set the glass back to the desk. Was there something wrong with the water? Didn’t Lionel finish his drink a while ago?

With his left hand still on the globe, Lionel lifted his right hand and took a pen from the table. He quickly wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to Devin.

We’re being watched. I suspect some of our people have been bribed by the Lorpherinese. They don’t like you.

Lorpherinese? Who were they? Why would they hate him? Devin inquired Lionel with his eyes but knew better than voicing it out.

“Your body remains in your ship, if that’s what you mean.” Lionel acted as if no digression had occurred.

“I’m talking about the mind.”

“Then I can’t answer the question. I’m not sure if we can define a location for a mind.”

“It used to be carried by my physical body. My brain.” Devin protested.

“Is it no longer now?” Lionel smiled. “You think your mind resided in your body, because you were using the body to perceive and interact with the physical world. Now you are seeing the world through equipment inside this capsule. It might even give you some storage like the memory in your brain. Does that mean your mind has to be here? What if I connect your brain to two different locations?”

Devin was speechless.

“Put it the other way, Mr. Lee. When you are exploring the world with your body, is it possible that your mind has always stayed somewhere else?”

“As long as the connection is maintained …” The logic gave Devin a headache, or a “mindache”.

“Well, I was just speculating. Believe it or not, our knowledge about the mind, or the soul, is very little.”

“You said you were able to mind-transfer your people.”

“We sorted of cheated.”

“Cheated?”

“Initially, all we could think of was making brain copies, but the original mind, or soul, however you call it, would still … die. You know what I mean?”

Devin nodded. Wasn’t that what happened to Rose’s husband?

“Then somebody came up with a great idea. Say, for some reason, you need to replace your arms and legs with artificial limbs. Then later, your heart, your tissue, and eventually, you no longer have the body you were born with. What we did was the same. First, we connect to the brain and make a copy of a tiny area. Then we inactivate the original brain region, and let the simulated area take over. The brain is still functioning as normal, and the person wouldn’t feel any difference. Now we move on to the next area. In the end, the subject will be thinking inside our simulation. But still, we can’t prove that the mind is here. All we have is his sensation, memory, and brain activity.”

“No matter what, being able to free oneself from the physical body was a great achievement.”

“The physical body …” Lionel looked into the dark distance. “I don’t know how to think of it. It provides us with certain freedom, but we also get trapped inside. When it suffers, we suffer. When it perishes, we lose all the connections to the world. Still, we love it. Some of our people would give up everything for that type of reality.”

As he said the last sentence, his gaze fell on the paper held in Devin’s hands. Though Devin still had no idea who the Lorpherinese were, he knew they must have promised the betrayers some kind of bodies.

Lionel withdrew his hand from the globe, and they were instantly back to the casino.

“Okay, where were we …” He rubbed his forehead. “Mind-transferring. Anyway, the majority died, but as always, the rich and powerful are immune to disasters. They moved to a planet called Lorpherina located in another system, carrying enough food and resources to get things started.”

So the Lorpherinese and Lionel’s people had the same ancestors, Devin reflected. What did they want from the Kernel?

“Well, we need to get going.” Lionel left his chair and gestured Devin to follow him. “I’m sure you’d like to use the restroom.”

* * *

Devin rarely visited casinos, but at the moment, he appreciated the music and clamor, the alluring smell of fortune, the chaos as dealers and customers filed in, chatting about things unrelated to the extinguishment of any species.

Once upstairs, Lionel headed to the men’s room. Devin stopped at the door and waited. He didn’t need to use the restroom. But the host seemed determined to have the guest join him.

All right! Devin thought. He might as well wash his hands. So he followed in, only to find Lionel gesturing at him inside a toilet room.

No way! Devin shook his head. He was not going to enter a toilet room with another man, physically or virtually.

“You have kids?” Lionel asked.

“Two girls.”

As Devin said the words, the images of Sarah, Mariana, and Tracy sitting at a dinner table appeared in his head. Then his colleagues, his favorite cafeteria crowded with customers, as well as the impending catastrophe that had already devoured two civilizations …

Sighing, he plunged into the toilet room and squeezed beside Lionel, who swiftly locked the door behind Devin and reached for the toilet handle. With a swooshing sound from the water, the room began moving downward.

“Does this happen to everyone who uses this toilet?” Devin mocked.

“Only those who know the spell.”

After a few minutes, the elevator slowed down and switched its motion from vertical to horizontal.

“I’m sorry. This is going to take a while.”

“Where are we going?”

“The ocean. We’ll go there through one of the tubes. An empty one, of course.”

The ocean? Great! Devin tried to distract himself from thinking about that place. “You didn’t build the world like this in the beginning, right? I mean, everything is just like Earth.”

“No. We initially made it a paradise: everyone was given perfect health, unlimited resources. There was not a single day of harsh weather. But the test run came out disastrous.” Lionel gazed at Devin. “I know how it feels when your whole race is endangered, but on the other hand, why do we ever need hope, if life always conforms to our will? Courage, patience, persistence, self-discipline … When virtues become irrelevant in a world, for what are we proud of ourselves?”

Hope … Devin looked away from Lionel. He was usually an optimistic person, but this time things were different.

“So we ended up making an identical copy of our world.”

Devin forced himself to focus on the topic. “How do you create new lives?”

“We don’t. At the end of each lifetime, one can choose whether or not to come back. Then we’ll either erase the memory, or the whole thing. ”

“You are lucky,” Devin said. Now the elevator was running downward at a fast speed. “Humans don’t get multiple chances.”

“Are you sure?” Lionel beamed at him.

Devin wasn’t. Maybe humans too lived multiple lives, but they just didn’t know it.

“I’m an exception.” Lionel’s smile waned. “We needed someone with accumulated memories, to oversee the functioning of the Kernel.”

“So, you …” Words chocked in Devin’s throat. Was he talking to a soul that had existed for twenty-two thousand years?

“You’re not jealous, right? Believe me, it’s not a desirable job.” Lionel leaned back against the wall. “For a long time, I was the one who made decisions on major issues. Then people started asking for democracy. Around 2500 BC, they formed a government.”

A government. Devin knew what must have followed. Politics, elections, bureaucracy …

“Later, they said it was time for acculturation to our neighbor next door. Life forms, culture, languages …”

“And you didn’t want to do that?” Devin was puzzled. He met Lionel only two hours ago, but he could tell this Jupiter Lord had genuine affection for humans.

“Because I was afraid of the temptation.”

“Of what?” Devin stared at the toilet water. Was this a typical astronaut’s career? When he landed a position at NASA, he thought he’d spend the rest of his life floating near a space station and fixing broken cables. Not riding in a restroom elevator with an alien who had witnessed the evolution of modern humans.

“Once they saw themselves as humans, they would covet human bodies. And there happened to be a large supply nearby, equipped with stones and arrows. Indeed, a few years after the transformation, a small group of young people, with the acquiescence of our government, I believe, took a few trips and brought back eighty-five humans. Before I found out anything, the captives’ minds got transferred here, and eight-five of my citizens left with the stolen bodies and some high-tech stuff we brought over from our home planet.”

The story reminded Devin of the image containing the pyramid. “So they landed in ancient Egypt?”

Lionel nodded. “Some years later, a couple of them couldn’t stand the guilt and came back. Anyway, it was my negligence. To prevent similar things from reoccurring, I destroyed all the mind-transferring devices we had.”

While talking to Lionel, Devin had been subconsciously dwelling on the possibility that the Jupiter people might let humans join them, in the worst case. There may not be enough time to transfer everyone, but just like what had happened in the Tau Ceti system, the majority would probably decline the opportunity anyway. For example, Devin’s parents most likely wouldn’t bother. Then there is always a large population worldwide who could not understand the concept of virtual reality, regardless of the advancement of technology. And—his heart stung with the thought—and people who don’t care when it ends.

Nevertheless, it would’ve been nice to keep that option. “Your people must have been mad at you.” Even Devin was a little.

“They still are—some of them. That’s why they are collaborating with the Lorpherinese.”

Collaborating on what? Devin wanted to ask the question, but it seemed Lionel was no longer in the mood of talking. The elevator was slowing down. What was awaiting them when the door opened? What must be stashed inside an ocean ten times hotter than Earth’s lava?

* * *

Knowing his body wasn’t here, Devin still held his breath when Lionel unlocked the door of the toilet room. They stepped into a dimly-lit hall that looked like an exhibit room in a history museum. Walking behind Lionel, Devin was dazed by the variety of collections. Who made that piece of tiger skin full of gems? In which ocean did they uncover the stone chest embedded with barnacles? And the symbol on that golden plate—didn’t people believe it represented the sunken Atlantis?

“You didn’t bring anything from your home planet?” Devin asked.

“They are up in the Kernel. Open to the public.”

They walked through the room into a hallway and eventually arrived at a hatch.

“Why do you hide the Earth stuff here?”

Lionel pressed a button next to the hatch and the heavy-metal door was lifted. “Because their values are obvious to humans. I don’t want to turn my citizens into black-market dealers.”

Spending a whole day in a history museum was one of Devin’s hobbits. As he went through the hatch, he made a mental note that he was leaving behind the most precious exhibition in his entire life.

* * *

The narrow passage outside the hatch trembled under their feet. When they hit the end, Devin saw a smaller hatch in a metal wall, which seemed detachable from the passage. Were they boarding a ship? Devin wondered upon seeing the room that reminded him of the bridge of Epianna, although this one was much taller. There were windows and electronic equipment along the circular walls. Chairs and tables with no sharp corners or edges were mounted to the floor. Rails can be found everywhere, presumably for the crew to regain balance during turbulence. At the center stood a long diamond-shaped silver object, sort of like a monument, about twenty feet high and three feet wide in the middle, rooted in a circular platform that had buttons and touch screens.

The two stopped in front of the monument. “Is this also from Earth?” Devin asked. Hearing no response, he glanced at Lionel, who was staring at the object with glittering eyes.

“When we knew it was inevitable, we began storing information inside this diamond. Our history, culture, scientific knowledge, including the mind-transferring technique, and … and how we ended.”

Hearing the description, various sounds appeared inside Devin’s head: storybooks being read in kindergartens, bus drivers greeting boarding passengers, Democrats debating Republicans … Now all the prosperity and clamor had precipitated into a crystal disc, being preserved by a deadly ocean until the end of eternity.

Then an idea occurred to him. Didn’t Lionel say they had figured out something about Maura’s Gate? If he could bring that piece of knowledge home, at least people would know where to start, although they had to decode the language first.

Lionel seemed to know what he was thinking. “The part that’s related to the disaster has been translated into English. Melissa did most of it, with the help of a few scientists.”

“Thank you and Melissa for doing this, Mr. Parrish.” Devin turned to look at Lionel. “I know how much this diamond means to you.”

“We don’t want your race to extinguish. We are probably the closest neighbors in the universe that have co-existed for such a long time. I hope your people find a solution. If not, you are welcome to join us.”

Lionel stepped forward and pushed a few buttons on the panels. “Please get seated. We are taking off soon.”

Devin sat down beside a window and peered outside. The ocean looked like a monster’s flesh, oozy and swarthy, with miniature lightning forming its capillaries. But once his eyes had adapted, he noticed a few tadpole-like things with translucent bodies and glowing heads swimming in the liquid.

“Don’t tell me there’s life here!” Devin could believe they were in a well-constructed ship, but for living beings to survive a pressure of twenty gigapascal? Impossible!

“Life’s everywhere,” Lionel said. “All over the universe, if you are willing to open your eyes.”

If this were said by another human, Devin would call it an exaggeration. But from someone who had existed for two hundred centuries inside a planet made of gas, he was not going to argue back.
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