|Roben Skapp - 2365 (Etruscan calendar)|
at the Paumanok Water Park
A word about R. Gohrlay... positronic robots do not have a major role to play in Trysta and Ekcolir. For an account of the origins of robots and R. Gohrlay's exploits, readers should explore book 2 of the Exode Trilogy: Foundations of Eternity.
I believe that R. Gohrlay did intentionally deceive Trysta about the end of time travel. Further, when Trysta was finally brought into contact with the positronic robots of Earth, those robots did not make an effort to warn Trysta about the importance of Gohrlay. Eventually, Gohrlay became my collaborator and an important source of information about Trysta, so I need to provide you with some background information about how and why Gohrlay was inserted into the timeline of Earth. I'll take this opportunity to provide you with your first glimpse into the Ekcolir Reality.
Planet Earth, a world we feel that we know well, but ours is a world that has gone through many alternative Realities. Roben was born on a version of Earth that was physically identical to our planet, but which had more rapidly gone through its industrial age. The year of her birth was the equivalent of 1960 in our Reality, but in Roben's version of Earth, the planet had already surpassed a population of 10 billion people and the first Moon walk had come in 1953 (Gregorian calendar). With the inevitability of passing Time, Roben was now transitioning from her childhood as a skinny and bookish girl into a "second life" as a young woman who never failed to attract the gaze of those who saw her...]
Roben finally realized that she was awake. She had a habit of imperceptibly transitioning from the dreams of REM sleep into waking consciousness.
It was summer and Roben was luxuriating in carefree days during which she could do only those things that she wanted to do. While slowly regaining full consciousness, she noticed that she was aimlessly imagining herself in another world: living out the exciting life of Cecilie, the protagonist in the novel she had fallen asleep reading.
But something had interrupted her lazy, half-dreaming fantasy...what? It was the soft buzz of the pager that her mother had given to her. She reached towards the pager, but only felt a vast expanse of silky, soft bed sheet. For a moment Roben was disoriented, then she called out: "Light."
Her voice-activated reading lamp came on. Now Roben remembered that she was on vacation and in the hotel suite that was being used by her family during their visit to Paumanok Water Park. She'd stayed up all night reading a new Vance novel.
Roben rolled over and stretched across the wide hotel bed and grabbed the pager off the night stand. Scrolling through the text message on the little L.E.D. readout of the pager she read, "AWAKE YET?" She quickly confirmed that her mother had been sending a message every half hour for the past four hours. She checked the time: 2:03 PM.
Roben realized that she was hungry. She had not eaten since dinner the day before, about 20 hours previously. Rolling back across the bed she felt a lump: it was the book she had been reading. Instantly forgetting about both food and family, she quickly found the page in Araminta Station where she had fallen asleep, only about thirty pages from the end of the story. She quickly re-read that page and smiled at the antics of the spunky Westive Tamm, the secondary character who had moved to the center of the story after the horrific death of Cecilie.
Sorely tempted to forget about her mother and just finish reading the novel, Roben gathered her will power and closed the book. She jumped off the bed and stepped into the adjoining room to empty her bladder. The first mission of her day accomplished, she returned to the bed chamber and called out: "Curtain." The blackout curtains altered their molecular orientation and began letting in some outdoor light. The room brightened and Roben could see her clothing where it lay scattered on the floor between the door and the foot of the bed. She quickly dressed for the day, putting on the same clothes she'd worn the day before.
While pulling on her shorts, Roben briefly became distracted by the annoying fact that she had to struggle to zip up her favorite denim cutoffs. Her thoughts were still off in Cecilie's world, so Roben was perfectly able to ignore the tight clasp of the shorts around her hips. She remained almost completely oblivious to the changes that were now sculpting her body into that of a woman. With the shorts successfully zipped and buttoned, Roben took one brief glance in the mirror and patted her skinny tummy as it rumbled. Imagining a reason for the tight fit of her clothes she thought: I've been eating too much during this vacation.
Roben scooped up the paperback novel off her bed, detached the little reading light from the book and manually switched it off. Anticipating another long night of reading, she plugged in the lamp so that the rechargeable battery could top off. Roben left her bedroom and looked around the main room of her family's hotel suit. The room wad immaculately clean and tidy, the only indication of occupancy was her mother's array of notebooks on the big writing desk in the corner of the room. Roben sniffed and inhaled the slightly herbal scent that lingered after the cleaning staff had been in.
Roben went to the writing desk and flipped open Mary's writing log book. She saw that her mother had written from 5:00 AM until 8:17. Roben marveled at her mother's discipline and her daily writing routine, the relentless authorial habit that had allowed Mary to write and publish 23 books during the 28 year course of raising her four daughters. Mary was unable to allow even a family vacation to take precedence over her writing obsession.
As a well-paid and fairly famous author, Mary Skapp regularly financed two long and expensive vacations for her family every year, but part of each vacation day was still devoted to her writing. An early riser, Mary could usually grab some quiet writing time before any of the rest of the family stirred in the morning. Roben touched the cover of another notebook on the table and she was tempted to read what her mother had written that morning, but she reigned in her curiosity and went out into the hallway. She took the elevator down to the lobby and walked outside.
Roben was hit by a wave of hot and humid air. Every year that passed set a new record for global temperature. Even here on the coast, at the sprawling Atlantis Water Resort, September was too hot, but mercifully cooler than the summer had been in Ithaca. With long strides, Roben quickly went down the slope from the hotel towards the water park, sparing only one brief glance at the towering water slides before opening the book and resuming her reading.
While she walked, Roben was vaguely aware of the jiggle of her small breasts and the ticklish glide of her nipples against the synthsilk fabric of her halter top, but she had not grown out of her comfortable little girl's mindset. Roben had no interest in boys, bathing suits, brassieres, birds or bees. The people she passed invariably wore swimsuits and sported stylish sun glasses. Most of the women were topless, as was typical at any vacation resort of the Ekcolir Reality. Several of the park guests who passed Roben were completely naked. The official rules for Paumanok Park stated that full nudity was restricted to designated parts of the park, but the rule was seldom enforced and few guests noticed or cared about nudity.
Ignoring her surroundings and the beads of sweat forming on her skin, Roben fixed her attention on the book's print and she soon re-immersed herself in the flow of Cecilie's world: a distant planet that had been imagined by John Vance. Cecilie's world was a wild planet with no cities, no highways and no pollution; a great fantasy world for a girl, or woman, like Roben to escape into. As the youngest of four daughters, Roben particularly enjoyed imagining herself as a member of Cecilie's small family and positioned by birth as the oldest of two daughters. In this case, two siblings who Vance depicted as getting along well and never squabbling.
Roben had for several years been a fan of the novels of Jack Vance. Araminta Station was her first journey into a John Vance novel, although she had previously read some of his short stories. Conventional wisdom held that Jack's novels were superior to John's long fiction, but John was renowned as a master of the short story.
Roben soon reached the gated entrance to the water park and kept reading while the line of waiting customers inched slowly forward towards the array of ticket booths. Finally reaching the front of the line, Roben soon discovered that she was supposed to have brought one of the guest passes down from her family's hotel suite.
The attendant, no more than five years old than Roben, had to wait about ten seconds for Roben to notice that he was waiting for her to approach the ticket booth and buy an entry pass for the park. He was surprised to see a guest who was not wearing a swimsuit and who was carrying a book. He wondered: Does this kid know where she's going? He spoke rather tersely, "Can I help you?"
"I'm trying to find my parents. They're already in the park."
He asked, "You're family is staying at the hotel?" Not waiting for her reply, he held out his microphone though the little window, extending his hand from inside his air-conditioned booth and asked, "What's your name?"
Suspecting that the voice recognition system would likely fail, she replied, "Roben Skapp. With an E and two Ps."
After a few impatient seconds of waiting, the attendant muttered, "You're not coming..." Quickly abandoning the voice recognition system, he typed her name in on a keyboard.
Roben watched the attendant as he tried to find her in the hotel's guest data base. Her eyes adjusting to the dim interior of the booth, Roben could see that his employee badge said, "Myk Yellen". Myk, his attention focused on his computer display, watched as the software system achieved a facial pattern recognition match and he finally said, "There you are. Registered guest." He waved her past, "Go on in." He pushed the over-ride button to release the turn style and watched her walk off into the park until she was lost from sight before turning his attention to the next customer waiting in line.
Upon entering the grounds of the water park, Roben turned left and entered the half of the park that was for children. She turned one glance over her shoulder and into the part of the park that was designated for full nudity then she began scanning the crowd, looking for her family.
Beside the first pool that she came to was a bar where she could eat "breakfast". She sat down on a stool with her feet in the water and ate while she finished reading the novel. Upon closing the book, she emerged from Cecilie's world and only then realized how much she had just eaten. Slightly disgusted with herself, she shrugged. She'd been incredibly hungry of late, but had not really noticed the growth spurt she was going through. For a moment she reflected on the surprise ending of the novel. Well, really, how much of a surprise could it be? It's called the Cecilie Trilogy, after all. Of course Cecilie had to have survived, somehow.
Slightly irked by the ending of the book and knowing that she would have to wait at least a year before book two in the Trilogy would be published, she watched people playing in the pool and tried to imagine how Vance might explain Cecilie's apparent return from the dead. Noticing that she had finished her book, the attendant at the bar started trying to engage Roben in conversation, but she could tell that he knew nothing about Vance in particular or science fiction in general. She excused herself and slid off the stool and climbed the short set of steps that led up and out of the pool.
Resuming the search for her family, Roben walked away from the lunch counter and pushed the paperback novel into her back pocket, but it was a very tight fit. She didn't notice that the button of her shorts had popped open and now only the zipper was precariously holding things together. When she went up a short flight of steps to the next pool area, the book popped out of her pocket and fell the the ground. She turned just as a boy picked up the book and, after briefly scanning the title, held it out to her, "You dropped your book."
She waited at the top of the step and just gazed at him. He looked like one of the water park "rats", one of the many deeply-tanned kids with sun-bleached hair that hung out all summer at the park. He was wet, either from sweat or swimming and had a scraggly growth of facial hair by which Roben estimated that he might be a few years older than she was. He came up the steps and now she could tell that he was broad and stocky, his eyes just about level with her own. Still she did not reach for the book, but said, "Thank you."
The boy was puzzled to see a girl in the park who was not wearing a swimsuit. Again he glanced at the cover of the book and said, "This isn't a safe place for a book. Everything is wet." Mischievously he shook his head as sprayed her with a few drops of water that shot off of his hair. He laughed. "There, now you're wet too." He held out the book towards Roben.
With three older sisters-worth of training behind her, Roben said, "I suspect you're an expert at getting the girls wet."
Not really understanding her joke, he immediately apologized, "Sorry I splashed you. Well, not really sorry." He smiled engagingly, showing off dazzling white teeth.
Roben started to grab her book, but her hand would not move. The boy slowly lowered his arm and her eyes drifted first towards his swim trunks then back up to his face. Suddenly she forgot about the book and a voice seemed to reverberate in her mind: He's cute. Roben absently muttered, "No need to apologize."
"Come on; I'm going back up Big Red." He gestured towards the tallest water slide.
Roben glanced dubiously towards the towering water slide. "Thank you for the invitation" She was afraid of heights, but her inner voice said, Don't be such a coward! "I'll go with you. First I want to leave the book with my mother. My name is Roben."
Roben turned and continued searching for her parents. Henry followed along, still carrying her book and catching peaks at her bottom where it almost hid from view in her skin-tight shorts. While they walked, he chatted about the features of the various water slides, stating his expert opinions on the caliber of thrills that were generated by the dips and twisting shapes of each. Finally Roben found her parents, sitting at a table under a sun shade and playing chess.
Roben's mother, Mary, saw her approaching and said, "Roben finally got up."
Roben's father looked up from the chess board and glanced at his daughter as she approached the table. He noticed instantly that she was not wearing the bra that Mary had bought for Roben and he saw that the button of her shorts was undone.
Mary spoke to her daughter, "Good afternoon." With a glance at Henry she asked, "And who is this?"
Roben explained, "Henry is going to show me the slide." She jerked her thumb in the direction of Big Red. "Will you hold on to my book?"
Henry handed over the book and casually introduced himself, "Henry Korensky. Nice to meet you."
"I'm Mary. And this is Roben's father, Brian."
Roben's father asked from across the chess board, "Korensky? Is you mother Evie Korensky?"
Henry replied, "She's my grandmother."
"Ug! I'm getting old. I worked with your grandmother back when she was in charge of heat shield development for NASA."
Mary chuckled and said, "You had better run, Henry. He'll start talking space craft and you'll never get back in the water."
Roben suggested, "Just invite Henry to have dinner with us, then dad will have a captive audience."
Henry said to Roben, "I'd love to have dinner with you."
Mary formalized the dinner invitation. "Good! We'll expect you to eat with us this evening. Now go have fun." Mary waved Henry towards the slide, but added, "Just let me have a quick word with my daughter."
Brian quickly got to his feet. He placed a hand on Henry's shoulder and slowly guided him a half dozen paces away from the table while asking casually, "Did you ever get to meet your grandmother? She died at a tragically young age..."
While Brian distracted Henry, Mary quickly extracted a safety pin from her purse and used it to secure her daughter's shorts in a fully zipped and buttoned configuration. "You really should let me buy you a swim suit. These shorts no longer fit you."
Roben, her eyes fixed on Henry, fidgeted impatiently and muttered, "I just ate too much lunch."
Mary shook her head in dismay at her daughter's lack of self-awareness and kissed Roben's forehead. "Go have fun."
Roben went to where Henry and Brian stood talking about Henry's grandmother. Brian said, "I'll tell you some old NASA war stories over dinner."
Henry took hold of Roben's hand and led the way towards Big Red. "Wow, your dad works for NASA. That's really cool."
Roben corrected him, "Used to work for NASA. Now he runs his own composites research lab at Cornell."
Roben suggested, "She should join my parents for dinner, too."
"She's at work in the city. I take the train out here just about every day. I've got a season pass."
They had reached the stairs that led up to the top of the giant water slide. Now that they were off of the shaded paths of the park and fully exposed to the hazy sunlight, Roben began to seriously sweat as they climbed.
On the platform at the top there was mercifully a slight breeze. Roben looked uneasily down the length of the slide. Henry said, "Your a virgin, eh? Never done this before."
Roben replied, "You're right. I'm more than a little nervous. You go on down. I'm going to gather my courage."
"No hurry. Just remember, it will be fun!" He turned and ignoring the attendant and the posted requirement of going down the slide feet-first: he dove head-first down the slide. Henry let out a wild scream of joy.
Roben heard a quiet voice above the murmur of the wind. "Join me over here in the shade while you prepare yourself." Roben turned and took notice of a woman who stood in a shaded alcove at the far end of the platform. She walked over allowed her eyes to adjust to the shade. The woman appeared to be about 18 years old and was dressed in a park attendant's uniform. "Hi, I'm Romie."
There was something odd about the woman, a hint of predatory attentiveness in her eyes that sent a chill up Roben's back even though she was seriously sweating under her long black hair. Slowly crossing the platform, Roben had to dance around a group of five noisy children who just then came up the stairs, ran across the platform and went down the slide after receiving a gentle reprimand from the male attendant who guarded the top of the slide: "No running!"
As the screams of the children faded away, Romie took one last look down the stairway and then pulled Roben into the shade, causing her to pass through an invisible portal and into the Hierion Domain. The Roben who arrived in the Hierion Domain was actually a copy of the biological Roben who remained with Romie in the tiny attendant's break room on top of Big Red.
The biological Roben stayed just a minute with Romie, enjoying the cool air of the tiny air-conditioned break alcove. Romie prattled ingeniously about the fact that nobody had ever died going down Big Red. Roben felt foolish for being afraid of the slide when even little kids who barely met the height requirement for the slide were obviously having great fun going down it. She took a deep breath, thanked Romie for her words of encouragement, walked across the platform and finally went down the slide.
3. In the Hierion Domain
The copy of Roben first noticed the sounds of the park fading away, then felt a dramatic cooling of the air. Returning her gaze to "Romie", suddenly the woman seemed much taller, about six feet tall. A moment before, Romie had been in a two piece swim suit, blue top and green bottom, in the colors of park, but now this woman wore a silver shimmering jumpsuit.
Roben's whole visual field shifted and the water park faded away. Now she was alone in a chamber with the woman, or, rather, a woman, but even her facial features were now shifting and morphing. Roben watched with fascination as the woman acquired long pointy ears and strangely large eyes with a metalic glint.
Gohrlay said, "Welcome to my workshop."
Roben tried to speak but she only got out a broken, "Wha-". Even as she tried to speak and make sense of what was happening, her pattern of thought shifted and she began to remember the memories of her replicoid. Now she knew that this was no woman: this was a creature known as Gohrlay, an artificial life form that could take any physical form and who could move freely between the world of humans and the Hierion Domain, an alternate universe.
Roben felt her own identity shifting as she accommodated herself to the vast memory stores of her replicoid. Recollection flooded her consciousness and she knew: I am Gohrlay. Or, more precisely, Roben was the analogue of Gohrlay in the Ekcolir Reality.
There was one thing that this newly created copy of Roben wanted to know, right away. She asked, "Is the war over?"
Gohrlay laughed, "Sorry, but not yet. However, do not fear...we are getting close to the end. Trysta and Grean are mapping out the Final Reality."
The copy of Roben quickly compared her brief life as a child in the Ekcolir Reality to her previous lives and felt a crushing disappointment. I've done nothing in this life!
Gohrlay, reading Roben's thoughts, said, "Don't fret. Things are going to get more interesting for Roben."
For a moment it was strange to hear Roben discussed as a third person, but then the copy of Roben crossed the cognitive divide and managed to think of herself as her former self: the replicoid of her analogue from the previous Reality.
Now remembering herself as a replicoid of Gohrlay from the Asimov Reality, the "copy of Roben" suddenly felt comfortable thinking of herself as "Isabel": the name she had used as an Interventionist agent on Earth in the previous Reality. I'm almost Isabel; Isabel with a layer of Roben on top.
Gohrlay also preferred to think of this new mixed Isabel/Roben construct as Isabel. She said, "Welcome back, Isabel."
Isabel turned and walked across the workshop to the Viewing Chamber. "Show me Roben's future."
Gohrlay had quietly followed along behind the replicoid and could sense that Isabel's thoughts were still being dominated and guided by the memories of Roben and it was that echo of Roben who so desperately wanted to be shown a glimpse of her future children. Gohrlay made no move towards the Viewer's controls and complained, "I'd rather not."
"How many children will Roben have in this Reality?"
Gohrlay hesitated then decided there could be no harm in answering some questions. "If you must know: three."
Gohrlay laughed rather harshly. "You're getting way ahead of yourself! Don't you even care about the identity of your husband?"
Isabel powered on the Viewer then looked carefully at Gohrlay. Struck by a disturbing thought, she asked, "Don't tell me...surely not that kid? Henry?"
Gohrlay shook her head. "No, it will be another six years before Roben meets her husband. He had to be imported from the Galactic Core."
Isabel was surprised. She asked incredulously, "He's not human?"
Gohrlay laughed, "Don't jump to conclusions. He's perfectly human, in a way."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"You'll find out, eventually. Now stop asking so many questions. I had to assemble you here today so that I can show you just one small part of Roben's future: a mistake. There's a little detail of her life that must be corrected." Gohrlay adjusted the focus of the Viewer so that it gave Isabel a view of a specific moment in Roben's future.
Isabel allowed the Viewer to take control of her visual cortex. She "saw" Roben twenty years in the future: frail, sickly, dying. Gohrlay explained, "In the current Reality, you are infected by a virus. Even worse, you pass it on to your husband and your first child before the infection is even recognized." Gohrlay snapped off the Viewer. "You must prevent that future."
Isabel wondered out loud, "Henry? It must be Henry. He's the source of the infection?"
Gohrlay nodded. "Now, we'll hook you up to Roben using the Interface. You have to prevent her from having sex with Henry."
"This virus is sexually transmitted?"
Isabel said, "I've never heard of such a thing."
Gohrlay explained, "It's a new human disease, arising in this Reality. The result of a freakish genetic mutation. That's why we did not anticipate it when we brought this Reality into existence."
Isabel nodded, "I see...a chance genetic event. There's no way to avoid them all, not in a germ factory like Earth."
"Exactly. So, now, are you ready to link back into Roben?"
Rather appalled that Roben would lose her virginity to a water park rat, Isabel asked, "When does it happen? The sex?"
"Does it matter? It's best if I not say. Just break things of with Henry as soon as possible, today."
"How should I do that?"
"Tell him you have a headache."
"Is that a joke?"
"No. By the time Roben's family assembles for dinner, she'll be sunburned. Just before the last ride down the slide, my agent, Romtha can provide her with an emetic. She already dosed her with an inhibitor of gastric emptying. Roben should tell Henry that she is not feeling well and then vomit her lunch on his feet. That should put an end to it."
"My agent is the woman working on top of the water slide. Romie."
"Oh." Isabel nodded slowly and glanced at the Viewer. She knew that Gohrlay must have a reason for not allowing her to see more deeply into the new future. Obviously, Gohrlay had carefully examined the new Reality that a vomiting Roben would cause to come into existence. The part of Isabel that was the collected memories of Roben wanted to see "her" future, but Isabel knew better than to ask Gohrlay to allow such a peak into the future.
Gohrlay asked, "Are you ready to connect?"
Isabel replied, "Yes. I'll do it in my chambers." She turned and immediately returned to the nearby rooms that were her home and office. She connected into the Bimanoid Interface and established a stable connection the the zeptite endosymbiont that resided inside Roben.
4. Courtous Interuptus
It was time for dinner, but Roben and Henry were taking one last run down Big Red. They'd raced up the stairs and Roben paused to catch her breath. He put his arms around her and said, "Let's go down together."
"Ow!" Roben pulled down a sleeve and looked at her shoulder and saw how red it had become. The thin fabric of her halter top had not protected her from sunburn. She was vaguely annoyed with herself for not having applied any sunscreen. She shook her head and said to Henry, "That's against the rules. Just go. Quick now. It's time to join my family for dinner, they'll be waiting for us at the restaurant." She pushed him towards the slide. He got a running start and once again he went down head-first.
Roben looked at the safety attendant and noticed that now it was the woman she had spoken to earlier in the afternoon who was on duty guarding the entrance to the slide. Roben asked, "Don't you enforce the rule about no head-first sliding?"
Romie shrugged, "He's here all the time. He knows what he's doing." She casually grabbed Roben's arm and guided her into sitting position in the little water-filled depression at the top of the slide.
At the bottom of the slide, Henry splashed into the pool and moved out of the landing zone. The signal light showed green and Roben pushed off and went down the slide, now carrying a special packet of nanites that had just been inserted into her body by Romie.
At the bottom of the slide, Roben plunged into the pool and then came up gasping for air. Suddenly she felt dizzy. She made her way to the edge of the pool and didn't have the strength to climb out. "Henry, I don't feel good. Help me out." He grabbed her hips and lifted her out of the water. She sat on the edge of the pool, her head spinning.
He asked, "Did you injure yourself on that last run?"
She started to reply then vomited on him. Somehow most of her lunch had remained in her stomach for hours and now it came out in a sticky acidic gush.
5. In the Grean Area
Back in the Hierion Domain, Isabel stayed connected to Roben until she had been taken back to her hotel room and put into bed by Mary. When Roben drifted into sleep, Isabel disconnected from the Interface.
Returning her attention to the Hierion Domain, Isabel discovered that she was being watched by Grean. Isabel had never entirely grown comfortable being near Grean. Under the terms of the Trysta-Grean Pact, Grean and Gohrlay were supposedly allies, but Grean was an alien, a Kac'hin. Not only a Kac'hin, but the Kac'hin who has been the main foot soldier of the Huaoshy during the Time Travel War.
Now Grean appeared in disguise before Isabel, having adopted the physical form of a human female. Isabel was not fooled by the cute and demure posturing that Grean used in an effort to put Isabel at ease. For the benefit of the Roben mind assemblage that now resided withing Isabel, Grean said, "Hello, Roben."
Having just ruthlessly intervened to interrupt the first romantic stirrings ever experienced by Roben, Isabel was in no mood to play Grean's game. She asked bluntly, "What do you want, Grean?"
"I only want to congratulate you on correcting Roben's life."
Isabel asked, "Are congratulations appropriate?" She stood up and walked away from the equipment that she used while accessing the Bimanoid Interface. "How do I know that Henry does not persist in his pursuit of Roben and still infect her with the disease virus that he carries?"
Grean explained, "No, I've seen into the new Reality that you just created. There were nanites from Romtha that migrated into Henry by way of Roben's vomit. Because of the combined effect of the vomit and the nanites, he has completely lost interest in the idea of adding Roben to his growing list of sexual conquests."
Isabel allowed a thought from the Roben memory assembly to emerge: "Might it not have been simpler to just cure the poor boy of the infection?"
Grean shrugged, "Well, we could have taken the time to prevent the entire AIDS epidemic, but doing so would not have been simple. And besides, we are quite happy with Roben's life and this entire Reality as it has developed, so I would not want to risk any unexpected alterations that might arise from hunting down the origin of the HIV virus. No, just scaring off Henry was simpler."
Isabel commented, "You know, Roben quite enjoyed Henry's attention. Now she's upset by having vomited on him and by the prospect of having scared him off."
Grean nodded, "Yes, her sexual frustration was anticipated. That's why I introduced her to the Cecilie Trilogy just before her encounter with Henry."
Isabel did not follow Grean's reasoning. "Eh? What does Roben's addiction to science fiction have to do with it?"
Grean explained, "Hm, I see that you have not had time to fully explore Roben's memory assemblage. I've been carefully fostering Roben's interest in science fiction. In the Asimov Reality, you had an awareness of science fiction as a literary genre, but for Roben, science fiction is a major part of her life. For several years she has been expressing her sexual fantasies through extrapolations of the lives of female protagonists who appear in the science fiction stories that she reads. Of course, Roben and the rest of the world is unaware that 'Jack Vance' is a pen name for Joan Vance. In fact, most of the major science fiction authors in the Ekcolir Reality are women."
Isabel complained, "It is rather sickening. At least in the Asimov Reality science fiction was technically oriented, if horribly male-dominated. Here in the Ekcolir Reality, science fiction is really a sub-genre of romance. I'd call it kiddy porn: pornography for young girls."
Grean laughed, "My, you are harsh in your judgement! What is pornographic about Araminta Station?"
Isabel replied, "Don't ask me. I have not read the book."
Grean suggested, "Allow Roben to answer my question."
Isabel could 'hear' what the Roben memory assemblage wanted to say: It is true. I've fantasized about being Cecilie and allowing a certain young police cadet to make love to me in my backyard rose garden.
Isabel tried to change the subject. "You've congratulated me. Now won't you leave?"
Grean suggested, "You really should start paying attention to Roben's fascination with science fiction. It is only through science fiction stories that you humans can be made aware of the secret history of your species."
Isabel felt justified in her decision to pay little attention to science fiction. "No, Gohrlay has shown me that part of the future...unless....." Isabel was suddenly struck by a possibility. "...did this intervention into the life of Henry Korensky somehow alter that part of the future?"
Grean replied, "No, in this Reality, science fiction remains as a fringe literary genre. Only a few cranks will ever take seriously the idea that stories written by people like Isaac Asimov and Joan Vance include facts about real alien visitors to Earth. However, we are laying the foundations for the Final Reality. That is where science fiction will have its full impact as a way to skirt the Rules of Intervention."
"So why should I care about Roben's obsession with science fiction?"
"Well, the main reason is that her husband will be one of the cranks who actually believes that science fiction stories contain information about past Realities."
Isabel was startled. "Really?"
"Of course, the problem comes in finding reliable sources who can funnel information about past Realities to Roben's husband. In this Reality, there is only Thomas who can play that role."
Isabel asked, "Thomas?"
"Trysta's son. He is a science fiction writer himself, but his true importance will only be realized in the next Reality."
Isabel moaned, "I can't believe that Gohrlay is playing along with you on this silly science fiction ploy."
Grean had been agonizing over the shape of the Final Reality. "If you can devise an alternative means of working Earthlings past the restrictions that are imposed by the Rules of Intervention then please let us know. Until then, we have to run with the idea of using science fiction as our tool."
One of the close-kept secrets of Gohrlay was the list of exactly who would be privileged to make the transition from the Ekcolir Reality to the Final Reality. Isabel knew that the short list included both Ekcolir and Trysta, but she had previously given no thought to their son. "It is my understanding that Thomas will have an analogue in the Final Reality."
Grean knew that Gohrlay instinctively kept secrets from her helpers. However, there could be no harm in sharing this particular secret with Isabel. "Of course, but the Thomas from this Reality will be brought across into the Final Reality. We'll need half a dozen channels of information that can be fed into the analogue of Roben's husband in the Final Reality. You'll be another."
Isabel shook her head. "What a sad fate! I suppose my entire life will have to be told as a science fiction story."
Grean nodded, "Yes, of course. I've viewed the Final Reality and seen that you will be right there, featured in Chapter 2 of a science fiction novel called Trysta and Ekcolir."
"Ug. Who on Earth would ever believe the weird events of my life?"
Grean giggled. "Exactly. That is why the Huaoshy will allow your story to be told: because the people of Earth will view your amazing life, or more accurately, your multiple lives, as fictional."
"Thomas, me and who else? You implied that there will be other poor souls who facilitate this farcical transmutation of fact into fiction."
"Well, we're trying to keep this all in the family. The other key sources are all descendants of Trysta. For example, Ivory Fersoni, who will be a granddaughter of the analogue of Thomas in the Final Reality."
"His granddaughter? Hm...I think you just gave me some interesting information about the timing of the end of the Time War. Are you sure that you are allowed to tell me such things?"
Grean shrugged, "Such revelations fall into a gray area, but I don't mind telling you how long you will have to wait for First Contact in the next Reality, particularly since the timing is a bit different here in this Reality. In the Final Reality, First Contact will be in the year 2012. Only then will the flood gates open for release of information about the secret history of Humanity and the role of aliens in creating the human species."
Isabel was alarmed by Grean's use of the word "flood". "Gohrlay has assured me that something will be done about global warming and catastrophic sea level rise in the Final Reality."
"Gohrlay is a mother hen. She is now overly concerned about global warming. In the Asimov Reality all she did was fret about nuclear war. There are far greater dangers facing the human species." And with that ominous proclamation, Grean winked out and disappeared from Isabel's apartment.
Trysta and Ekcolir is copyright John Schmidt, but the text of the story is licensed for sharing under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license.