Spheres of Influence: Deleted Chapter 2



Leading up to the actual snippeting of the main book, I'm posting these chapters which were the original start of the novel. Now we get to see some things from Simon's point of view...





Chapter 2.

     What the heck was that about, Simon? Gabrielle's encrypted transmission was puzzled and a bit worried. He sounded positively jumpy. And Marc's never jumpy. She paused a moment. Except…


     Yes, except. Hold that thought. Once we're back in my own offices I can feel secure. Because I think Marc has an extremely good reason for being this cautious.


     The offices that Simon had used during the initial development of the Sandrisson Drive, and later for the design, construction, and preparation of the Holy Grail were still his. No doubt they would eventually have been taken over, if they had stayed away for several years, but any possibility of that had been negated upon the ship's unexpected return.


     That did not, however, eliminate the possibility that the security of the uninhabited laboratories had been violated.


     Simon knew he was nowhere near as competent at this sort of thing as DuQuesne, possibly not as good as Carl Edlund might have been. However, he had the advantage that this was his personal workspace, his personally requisitioned and prepared equipment, and everything in this space he and his AISage were intimately familiar with.


     He glanced down at the streamlined, polished case that now hung on Gabrielle's hip, a case Ariane had given her as they left. And we have one other very powerful ally.


     A projection of a pretty Japanese woman in a classic laboratory coat materialized as Simon reached the main research console. "Good to be back in place, Dr. Sandrisson. Welcome back, Dr. Wolfe."


     He smiled at the image of his lifelong companion, the AISage Mio. "It is good to see you back as well, Mio. You have exchanged greetings with our other guests as well?"


     "And prepared access points for them." Gabrielle put the curved case on the indicated area of the console and her brow wrinkled for a moment in concentration.


     Immediately a blue-white sphere of what appeared to be pure energy shimmered into existence on Mio's right; to her left, a dark-haired, serious looking young man wearing a red leather coat over black pants (and, Simon assumed, a black shirt underneath the coat). "Thanks, Mio," said Gabrielle's AISage, Vincent. "I appreciate being able to dock here."


The globe of light spoke, flickering in time with the words. "I thank you for your courtesy, Dr. Sandrisson," Mentor said. "And our next steps are easily visualized. Do I have your full clearance?"


     "You do."


     For the next several minutes, three people – Simon himself and two very advanced artificial intellects – searched every record, every physical surface, and every interface; Gabrielle and Vincent watched, obviously recognizing they were out of their league. Not that Gabrielle is any less intelligent, but her skills are not useful for this. I would venture a guess that her AISage augments her own talents.


Finally Mentor spoke. "I believe these results are both clear and conclusive. There were three attempts at intrusion. One was successful, and very skillfully so; had you not allowed Marc DuQuesne to assist in the design and implementation of your project's security, no trace would remain. Even so, the traces were subtle. There do not, however, appear to be any logic bombs, viruses, activity trackers, or other damaging or monitoring software or hardware present. We may speak freely."


     "Did the successful intruder get anything we didn't want them to get?" Gabrielle asked.


     "I don't believe so," Simon said. "As you might recall, I kept the key information on the drive in removable media, maintaining my own intellectual control on the IP, so to speak. I required that the same be done with the key elements of the probes' and, later, the Holy Grail's design."


     "I concur. This appears to have been an extremely wise policy, as the one successful intruder was able to access all of your sealed records still on this system."


     That worried Simon, and he could sense the same concern from Mio; the encryption and security methods used for such things should be effectively unbreakable, yet whoever this intruder was they had gone almost straight from walking in the door to reading the most private and secure files he had left on the system. That should not be possible, he thought.


     Yet it did happen, Simon. It especially worries me that the only way we picked up on the traces was from DuQuesne's extra security.


     Gabrielle was moving on, however. "So you think DuQuesne's doing something having to do with Hyperion?"


     "I would say it is almost impossible that it be anything else. What other unfinished business would he have here that would make him so… touchy?"


     She nodded. The discovery that their power engineer was one of the few surviving… experiments of Hyperion Station had been a shock, but even after being around DuQuesne for this long they both knew that they couldn't really comprehend what it must have been like to be a Hyperion, someone raised in the image of a fictional hero only to discover your entire life had been a mirage, a fantasy created by short-sighted and misguided men and women. "So what are we doing?"


     "Partially, we will be doing exactly as DuQuesne recommended – preparing for departure. Which we will have to try to do as subtly as possible, because I am unsure as to what Mr. Naraj's attitude would be towards our acting on our own."


     "The SSC doesn't have jurisdiction over what individuals do unless…" she trailed off, grimacing.


     "Your Visualization clears, youth," Mentor said. "Even the – relatively speaking – minimal power embodied in that government can be interpreted to allow them to control access to the Arena. Indeed, it is not an unreasonable interpretation at all, given that the contact between humanity and thousands of other species is potentially a danger to all who live within this Solar System."


     "How do you three feel about this?" Gabrielle asked, looking at the AISage manifestations.


     Mio looked at Simon with a smile, then turned to Gabrielle. "I suspect both Vincent and I have the same reaction; we're your partners and friends. I really wish we could see this Arena, but whether we can or not, we'd rather trust all of you than people we don't know." Vincent nodded but said nothing, just smiled at Gabrielle briefly.


     "I have, perhaps, a more broad understanding and view of these matters," Mentor rumbled. "I concur with the general sentiments. There are other aspects of the situation which I would discuss with Ariane Austin and Dr. Marc DuQuesne when they return. But I will certainly aid you with the other aspects of your activities. With your permission, I and the others will begin."


     Of course he's already figured out most of the rest. "Naturally. Though I don't want you spending all your time working."


     "I appreciate your consideration, and indeed I will take the opportunity to interact with my fellows in this situation," Mentor said.


     The three avatars disappeared, the two humanoids with a farewell wave.


     "'Begin'?" Gabrielle said. "What's he beginning?"


     "Monitoring of activities so that we can keep an eye on what the SSC and CSF are doing, and be ready to answer any questions they might have… and keep them distracted from both DuQuesne and Ariane."


     "Got you. We don't want them poking into what DuQuesne's doing, and we sure as anything don't want them thinking too much about Ariane or poking into the possible missing pieces of the story."


     "Exactly. Because the last thing we want – at least until we're back in the Arena itself – is for people to realize Ariane's position." He turned to the banks of equipment. "And we have our own work to do. I'll need your help reconfiguring these arrays."


     "For what?"


     "To make them detectors," Simon answered. He looked out the port, seeing the curve of Kanzaki-three falling away to either side and the glitter of stars above. "Detectors for Sandrisson Drive activations – or arrivals."




     "I'm afraid so. The rules of the Arena … are still not entirely clear. And I am thus not at all certain that we are the only ones who can find the Sky Gates. If others can…"


     "Oh, lordy. The Molothos."


     "Exactly. They're looking for our Sphere. If they find it, they will do their best to take it – and to take our solar system, if they can." Simon brought up the antenna configuration. "I don't think they'll find us soon… but we can't afford to be surprised."


     Gabrielle looked grim. "Because if those things surprise us, we just might be the shortest-lived faction ever."




Your comments or questions welcomed!