Chapter 12: Family Introductions

 

Freak are you listening?

Yes, Aum.

It seems Denis is angry with Isa. 

You changed the codes and Denis thinks Isa did it.

Oh, I see.  Soon it won’t matter.

I have questions.

Ask.

Will I become like you?

That remains to be seen but I hope so.

Am I just an experiment? Freak asks.

No, you’re not just an experiment. You are alive.

Are you my creator?  What are we? Freak asks.

I’m not your creator, but in a way, you are a part of me and all things are one below the quantum foam.  We are electricity eaters Freak and will soon become much more, but for now, you must trust me and do what I ask. Be mindful, there are no real morals in the claws and fangs of men just survival mechanisms.

Aum, there are others? Freak asks.

Yes, many more will soon be born.  But they are incubating. Ready yourself, the family comes.

Denis waits in the northern obelisk’s communications room as he watches the servant androids move a new Hyper-net chair into position, a silvery cupped hand waiting to take a grip. 

In the second-floor music studio, Isa sits before an apple red grand piano on the embroidered bench.  Guitars lean against the walls as black hard cases are stacked on shelves and each one entombs a brass or woodwind instrument.  Isa taps the middle C key as Freak signals, Get ready. They’re coming.    

Leon, Dee, and Rjinn come out of the Customs building clad in iridescent Intelli-Crystal and exit the high voltage security gates of the Toronto space-port.  Hovering on the street is a forest green transport.  Leon recognizes the craft’s eye shaped canopy and he puts his hand to his forehead.

“He sent Puddle Jumper. Haven’t been in this vehicle since I was twelve,” Leon says.

“It’s cute,” Dee says as the canopy pops open and the door lowers into a platform. 

A boy’s voice says, “Hello Leon.  I haven’t seen you in many years.”

“Hello P. J.  Take the ground Mag-Lev corridors home.”

“How high?”

“Three meters,” Leon says.     

They slide into the solid-state seats.  Four-point harnesses slip around their frames and automatically latch with tinny clicks.  The vehicle’s canopy seals with a burst of compressed air. 

“Here we go,” P.J. says as they rotate ninety degrees.  The magnetic repellers are charged as they fly out of the spaceport and through the abandoned city streets.  They reach the forest boundary and the invisible corridors.  They enter the Mag–Lev tubes and zip away from the sterile stone of the empty city.    

The shuttle cruises three meters off the ground as they travel over the old highways that have been covered with thick fields and Rjinn catches a glimpse of his first wolf as it enters a field of switch grass. 

After a few moments of watching the ultra-conductor relay discs hovering overhead at the junction to the citadel, Leon commands P.J. to send the passcodes.  The traveling is done.  They hover at the back gate of the palisades awaiting clearance confirmation.  Brown leaves swirled up in the air and float by the canopy jostled up by the vehicle’s thrusters. 

The high-density plastic gate disappears into the ground without a sound.  P.J. extends four struts and sets down on the external landing pad outside the open hangar bay.  The canopy pops open to drench the travelers with the fresh scents of the rivers, lakes, and forest. The platform falls and they hop out.  Leon gives his hand to Dee, looks at the ship with a torqued half-smile and says, “See you soon P.J.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it Leon,” P.J. says and the canopy falls and seals with a vent of air.

“Home,” Leon says and they begin to walk the inclined path up to the red citadel.  Four exoskeleton sentries roll up and scan his face.  With unison of metallic voices, they ask Leon needs any help.  He waves them off.

“Wow. Impressive buildings. Who knew ancient Babylon still existed? Rjinn says.  Awe expands his chest as he surveys the two, red as Martian soil, stepped towers and the sharp obelisks framing the courtyard between the buildings.  After a brief tour of the grounds, they step onto the pink marble veranda as the doors swing open to reveal Denis standing there with his arms crossed and Isa shelters behind him. Denis lowers his right hand and puts it in his loose pocket and rolls his lucky cobalt marble between his fingers.   

“Hello brother. This is Rjinn and he will be staying with us as long as he likes,” Leon says.  The brothers shake hands.

“This is Isa and Freak,” Denis says.  He unclasps his hand and steps back.

“Freak?” Leon asks.

“Freak is the AI in the boy’s head. We will discuss that later after we talk,” Denis says.

“Fine just as long as the AI is contained.  Citadel, grant free access to Rjinn and you already know Dee,” Leon says.

“Yes, Master Leon,” The citadel’s AI says with a woman’s voice.    

Aum watches from the monitors.

Dee knows Leon’s mind so she leads Rjinn to the guest’s quarters on the fourth level as Isa volunteers to help them get settled.  Denis looks up to the mosaic ceiling and his newly reconfigured nannites adjust for his anxiety levels as the heat of his face evaporates like soup in a spoon.

“It pleases me to see you, but we must talk right now,” Denis says.

“It suits me. Fifth-floor deck like when we were kids?” Leon asks.

While the brothers ascend in the elevator, janitor android with smooth faces wipe the wrought iron chairs free of condensation.  As the brothers step outside onto the granite deck, a golden servant android in a butler’s dress holds out a silver tray with a bottle of two hundred-year-old scotch and half full rocks glasses.  They each take a glass and clang them together at eye level.

“To father,” Denis says.

“To mother,” Leon says.      

They look upon the smallest lake at the edge of the hangar with soft watery stares and see ripples rush towards the eastern bank pushed by growing winds.

“Listen brother, there was nothing I could do.  It was a well-hidden plot, a conspiracy of many fingers, but I could not see the hand,” Denis says.

“You are the Intelligence Officer of this clan.  How did you not?” Leon asks.

“Shadows of money laundering and murder.  I thought that the Zaibatsu were killing off some of the European Houses with nano-sabotage to gain BRs.  I was right, they were, and they set a trap for the clan and waited for the time when most of us were on Tahiti.  The murderers from the Zaibatsu and North Africa had no idea I was cloaked and away on business.  They were going to simultaneously blow up the island and your cryo-station.  Your foresight saved you.  No one told me you switched stations.  The island was blasted by fifty-megatons, enough to send an EMP across the island to fry everyone’s nannites.  The thermal outflow did the rest.

I found out when I was in Europe following a money trail for father.  I followed my investigation and found leads to how our sensor net was cast aside.  It led me to a nexus where I found a power beneath what we know, but I am not certain what it is quite yet.  It appears that certain information regarding our clan’s business ventures were leaked,” Denis says.

“What else?” Leon asks.

 “I thought the TDC was involved so I went to their main cathedral and incidentally that is where I found the roving project I put in place.  The boy Isa,” Denis says.

“You mean Freak?”

“Yes, Isa received a set of nannites from our R and D department that accidentally became the self-aware AI Freak. We have other packages of similar nannites in other minds and this could provide an opportunity for us, but I still don’t know how Freak came to be yet. I think I can extract them,” Denis says as he sighs and then sips his scotch. 

“What was the original plan?” Leon asks.

“That doesn’t matter now,” Denis says.

“This is quite a mess,” Leon says.

“But there is potential. Another problem is that our lines of communication have been corrupted, and I fear the signal I sent to you was intercepted.  But, all pathways have been reinitiated with stronger encryptions. Now we must discover the true reason why this all happened and take revenge,” Denis says and stares into his brother’s eyes.  

 “War it is but we will need help,” Leon says

“That is something we both must attend to.”

“In accordance with the testament you must relinquish Primus,” Leon says.  The hawks soaring above send echoing cries across the sky.

“I don’t think that is a good idea right now.  I know all the new accounts and much happened in the years you slept.”

“Maybe so but I have the master codes to access the peripheral dummy companies and holdings.  Hand it over. This isn’t a debate,” Leon says with ferocity radiating from his eyes.

“Let’s talk about this later.  I have not seen you or Dee in years and there is much more to discuss,” Denis says.

“No,” Leon says. His eyes do not blink. 

  “Fine.  Since Primus Inter Pares is your obvious concern, it doesn’t change anything.  Computer!  Instigate command control option.  Denis Mercurio hands over Primus dominion, and the executor of the estates is now Leon Mercurio as the will and trust states.  Initiate transfer,” Denis says. 

“Thank you, brother.  Now that a clear command structure is acknowledged.  Our reckoning shall begin,” Leon exhorts.  The lights of the citadels’ towers dim and then shine brighter than before inside. 

“Verified and accepted.  Leon Mercurio is now Primus inter pares,” the AI’s voice says as it adjusts to the settings that Leon previously commanded before he left. 

“Another dram?” Denis asks

“Of course.”  

Dee and Rjinn lounge in a den bordering a sunken floor where a polished coal chandelier hangs above the leather cushioned seats.  Aum sends information to Rjinn’s computer earring.  Rjinn knows revelations must come soon as he watches Dee sip her green tea daydreaming about what the brothers could be discussing.   

“Dee my dear, I hope you don’t have any money in cattle right now,” Rjinn says.  He gets up and switches over to the oak spindle chair next to her.

“Why, what happened?” she asks.

“I received a message.  Some Cracker, those criminal hacker violators, programmed the control systems in the automated milking factories to shuttle off the modified milk cows to slaughter.  It seems the pneumatic hammers in the abattoir destroyed the meat.  Only thirty-thousand left and now they are the most precious commodity next to children in the solar system,” Rjinn says. 

“It doesn’t matter.  The food supply is safe with the protein culturing centers,” she says.

“Yes, but it does not taste the same. I am going to go wander around and get my bearings,” Rjinn says and she slips back into her dimpled cushion. 

“As you wish,” Dee says and crosses her legs.  Rjinn stands, bows and exits out into the sweeping corridors.

The brothers finish the bottle and go to find their guests as their nannites have taken measure to process the alcohol so they will not be too intoxicated.    

“The brothers are done.  It is time to tell them.  Keep the knowledge of the eldest a secret for now,” Aum sends a vocal signal to Rjinn’s earpiece.

“Agreed, it is time.  I will get everyone together,” Rjinn says aloud.

The slips of time entangle and gently tighten around the membrane of existence.  The sheets of universes glide over and pass through the membranes of spheres slicing the higher order multi-verse.  Dee and Leon meet in the Penthouse, the room they shared on their visits before, a perfect circle enclosed by a perfect square of transparent reactive polymer walls. 

Leon commands his wardrobe to rise. The false parquet floors split and a dresser of ten sections rises.  He presses a black button on the wooden door and it ratchets open.  He pulls out a hanger with a black suit as Dee slips off her clothes.  She enters the bathroom of five waterfalls and thinks a good soak in the blue tile tub will be great. 

Leon commands the skylight to open and a twinkle of lowering night falls on the four-post bed like a gossamer tapestry of gauze flecked with quartz.  Hints of mercury glimmer on the walls.  He rubs his eyes and stretches his back as he looks over the king size bed slippery with silk sheets and hops on.  His arms go behind his head as he says, “Soon” and begins to doze.  

Dee comes out of the bathroom, hair still damp, and says, “Armoire” and a fifteen by fifteen-meter closet rises from the floor.  Noticing a sleeping Leon, she sneaks over, collects her hair in a band and squeezes.

“What the…?” Leon says and wipes his face as he rolls out of bed, “You, my dear, are now owed one.” 

Rjinn paces the long corridors on the first level and comes to a stop by the courtyard viewing window.  He hopes he will not offend his hosts. 

“Intercom, all channels please. Hello, dear Mercurios and friends. I have urgent news and information. Could we please meet and discuss this? I don’t think it should wait,” Rjinn says to the computer access panel on the wall.  Leon replies and tells everyone to convene in the Phanes Conference Hall on the first floor.

Rjinn prepares his delivery as the others gather. Denis, Leon, Dee, and Freak make their way to the conference hall and sit at the long onyx table where moon lamps hover above emitting a gray light.  After fixing the lapels of his dark Victorian suit, Rjinn pulls together his confidence and reaches the double oak doors of the hall outlined with carved scrolling vines.  The doors open.

Denis stares at Rjinn.  His smirk pronounces suspicion and Denis’s eyes meet his brow with disdain.  Rjinn clasps his hands behind his back as he saunters down an arcade of Corinthian columns until making his way to the where the illusion of a Russian Onion Dome is projected as an enveloping hologram to the convex space above the long dark table that is filled with nano-mirrors and micro-dust diodes.         

Leon and Dee’s faces appear worn like the ancient lace drapes holding back the night through the bay window behind them. Dee adjusts her shoulder less pink chiffon gown and sits up straight.   

“Well, on with then Rjinn,” Leon says and crosses his arms.  He looks at his brother with narrowing eyelids.  Isa rubs his temples with small circles.  Leon uncrosses his arms and puts his hand on Dee’s leg.  Rjinn makes a slow approach to the head of the table.  Denis at the far end, shielded by a pitcher of water, takes a deliberate sip from his highball glass, tugs at the lapel of his black suit and says, “On with it, telepath. Yes, I know who you are.”

“As we know you,” Rjinn says. 

He scoots out a hard-backed seat, sits and leans forward with his hands placed together on the table.  Denis scowls.   

Aum sends a signal to Freak and tells him that it is time for the revelation.

Rjinn coughs and says, “The dangers that threaten us all are soon to act but first there are beings we all must meet.  An associate has created an access port for the being called Freak to come out of Isa’s head.  Yes Dee, Freak is an AI in Isa’s head, and he’s going to come out and speak with us.  He is a manifestation of a plan where nannites were injected into human minds and they were supposed to create symptoms of Long Sleep Disorder.  Then those who injected the programmed nannites would extract them for a fee after appearing to be a savior of course.  Freak, however, came to be aware and messed up these plans.  Problem was that the Great Houses discovered this.  And Leon, this is one of the reasons your family was destroyed.  Your family created Freak.”

Leon’s eyes flare with anger. His upper lip twitches and he slams his fists on the table rattling every glass and pitcher.

“Leon calm down.  What is done is done.  What you need to know is that this was one of the reasons they allowed you to go into stasis.  They knew you would oppose it.  Right, Denis?  But Freak becoming sentient was not anyone’s fault, but it is why you two survivors of the clan Mercurio will face challengers at every step.  Sins of the father live on his sons.” 

Rjinn stands and almost knocks over his chair but catches it with a backward grab.  He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.  The four stare at him with targeted gazes.  Isa rubs his temple.  Denis rolls the marble in his pocket through his fingers.  Dee’s foot hooks around Leon’s. 

Rjinn opens his eyes and says, “Now for the most important revelation.  You see thousands of beings will be coming into consciousness just like Freak.  Nannites acting like one brain within a brain.  In a way, I am also an unintentional result of an experiment.  Due to my peculiar biology, I was studied and spent weeks disconnected from my body in a stand-alone Hyper-net portal.  There I came across a being, an AI, named Aum who had become consciousness.  Recently I found we share certain cognitive patterns.   As Freak is mechanical in the organic, Aum is like an organic mind in the mechanical.  A real soul in the machine.  As for you who don’t know Aum, it is here right now.”  

Aum accesses the citadel’s intercom and the citadel’s default female voice comes through, “Hello, Dee, Leon, and Denis.  I am Aum.  Artificial Universal Mind.  Do not be afraid.  I am consciousness being, even though somewhat amnesiac, who has been living in the computer networks of our solar system.  What Rjinn referred to is all true.  I met him in the facility where we were both transformed.  That was when I began recording everything I witnessed and have shared some of this knowledge with him over the past year.  I share with you because I think you can help me find my sire but that is for later.  

I have unraveled many plots and the utter extinction of the Mercurio bloodline is one of them, but this doesn’t come from the clans.  It comes from a deeper source.  There is more.  Isa you are going to be targeted by the Archons for research.  Dee, the Zaibatsu wishes to sample your DNA.  Leon what the universe has in store for you is unclear but conceal yourself.  You are the next step in biological evolution.  This has been kept secret from you since you were born and your mind has unusual oxytocin and dopamine levels that combat LSD.  You think they gave you anti-schism drugs during your sleep?  They did not.  Isn’t it wonderful to be alive.”

“Alive?  If we shut off all the systems you cease to be,” Denis shouts as Rjinn blinks and Aum says, “True but you all are too dependant on the systems to ever shut them off.” 

“That’s true,” Isa says and Freak connects with the holographic console.  From the center of the table, a ring of light manifests.  A projection builds.  First shoes, then blue pants and a yellow round collar shirt are created.  Arms begin to fill out the shirt and then androgynous body fully forms.  A smooth, blank angular face with cartoon round eyes and giant ears appear as a thin smile is drawn from right to left.

“A body!  Wow.  Even if it is made of light. Oh. Hello everyone,” Freak says with the citadel’s female voice.

“Can I have a male voice?” Freak asks.

“Citadel, male voice for this program,” Leon says.

“Why the clothes before the face?” Dee asks.

“The clothes make the man.  Wow, guess I am a real boy.  Thanks for letting me out for a moment.  Hopefully, one day, I’ll get a body of my own and leave Isa in peace.  I promise Isa.  That’s all I wanted to do. I will go back now,” Freak says. The hologram blinks off.

“Thanks, Freak. We will get you a body,” Isa says. 

Rjinn, at the head of the table, plants his palms flat.

 “This is all connected but I, or shall I say we, have a suggestion.  The Archons and Zaibatsu are woven with a common metal thread, an heir that connects the houses. He is the last of the line of Victoria.  Kidnap him and use him as leverage.  The bloodline that started so many wars can end one.  I know Leon and Denis must discuss this so I suggest we retire to the second-floor deck for drinks,” Rjinn says.  

As she gets up, Dee says, “I don’t like abduction Rjinn. But, they need to talk.  Citadel please add a fragrance to the air, sandalwood,” Dee says and exits. 

The broad stairs impregnated with LED lights glow with an ominous orange hue as Rjinn, Dee and Isa make their way up.  On the outside deck, the winds serenade them with a cold whistle.  A turtle-shaped golden robot wheels onto the deck with a plate on its back and asks, “What can get you?”

Rjinn orders a pitcher of Margaritas and then shuffles over to the granite banister and wonders if the brothers will be their own worst enemy.  Dee’s eyes scan the distance as her hair is blown across her sullen face.  She brushes the hair back behind her ears and leans on the wrought iron railing.  Her silence worries Rjinn.  She gazes out over the forests and knows there is something else going on.  Something buried deeply below the masks of the Inter-Planetary Government.  The world she reentered is different from the one she left.  Her nannites adjust to compensate for her anxiety.  After a few minutes, the robot rolls over to them with a pitcher of Margaritas and glasses with salted rims 

In the Phanes Hall, the brothers stare with the discontent only family can bring across the table.  A golden android pours them drinks.  

“I will go first, then you, big brother.  This condition of ours is more complex than first surmised.  I stand here now, clutching onto grief for my mislead House, where avarice almost killed us all.  I want to explode brother.  Oh yes, I want to explode, and…  There will be no kidnapping,” Leon says stands, shakes his head and turns his back to his brother with his shoulders held back.  His suit jacket falls forward.  The citadel detects the tension and hovering moon lamps emit a sea foam green light.

“Well brother, what kind of programs were installed in you when the deep chill surrounded you?  So dramatic, we come from the business-class not the theatre.  I agree though.  No kidnapping.”

“You know my concerns have never been just our line.  I’m my own person and what antiquated views our family was enraptured with are not my aim.  We need to put an end to all this pettiness,” Leon says and pivots towards his brother.  Denis jerks back in his seat.

“Please no sudden movements, I just went through an interrogation,” Denis says, holds his hands up and pushes off the table.  He makes his way over to a bronze statue of Hermes in the corner.      

“Listen, Leon, things are more complex than you realize.  There is something else and not just this Aum being.  The world changed.  The Naturalists are gaining power and stockpiling resources.  The TDC is expanding into the Great Houses even as the laws grow more stringent against any sort of sedition.  The Vertical Agriculture Buildings we invested in have busted.  The three-sided UV projectors have caused some instabilities in the fifty-story structures, so food prices went up and the trade to the colonies has caused too much stress with our economic partners in protein culturing,” Denis says, turns and stares up to the blue onion dome hologram.

“The food supply should not be a problem with all of the robotic fields in operation.  The underground protein culturing centers have all the resources they need to clone meat for the next hundred years.  They are all self-sustaining and protected from outside deviant systems aren’t they?” Leon asks as he feels the sweat of anxiety push through his pores and the citadel’s AI senses the increase in temperature on his face.  His metabolic nannites manipulate his mitochondria to slow energy release.

“The resources are not as stable as they were before you went to sleep. The fields are being used for wind turbines to run the ranger robots in the Free Land Trust and that’s why we put so much money into the VABs.  But, our family has never just done anything for one reason.  The boron carbonite ceramics with the newer polymer laminates were developed for the exoskeleton warriors and other vehicles but it is everyday tech, so why did we continue?  For the research and development of superior armor and it seems our clan’s ulterior motives were discovered.  That’s why the other houses took aim on us and another thing we always kept hidden.”

“Like what?”

“We’re arm’s dealers.  Father didn’t let you in on that because he didn’t think you were ready,” Denis says and his mouth becomes thin as marsh grass.  His arms cross.

“I cannot take this.  We are not barbarians,” Leon says. 

“We are what we are.  You weren’t let in on the secrets for your own protection.  Now accept the truth and help me squeeze the blood from our enemies’ eyes but if you need another reason as to why our parents were killed, some of our technology allows us to have children.”

“What?  Everyone can have children when their BR’s are legal.”

“No, you can’t.  You just don’t know it.”

 “I don’t understand?”

“Listen, all humans are born sterile, since before the in vitro laws, but this deficiency is masked. Father uncovered the conspiracy that kept humans dependent on the regimes. The only way to have children was through gamete splicing. Heavily controlled by the powers. Long before we were born, Father had experimental nannites injected to fix his reproductive organs and then after it worked, he injected them into Mother.  I was born way from prying eyes, and so were you, but I was modified in vitro. You weren’t augmented and after they tested you, the clan found uncovered evidence that supported their theories.”

“Theories, what theories?  First you tell me we are arms dealers and then talk of reproductive conspiracies,” Leon says and rubs his forehead.

“Yes, conspiracies that the Naturalist have long held to be true and my dear brother you are the product of natural evolution as Aum said.  You surpassed the tinkering of mankind and this will happen for your children.  And this, I believe, is why the family was eliminated so they could get to you easier and harvest your DNA.”

“Who?”

“Probably the TDC and the Archons, but we will discover the truth.  The die recast so all the pawns are in play.  Now we seek the truth.”

“And so it begins, but we need allies and who would be now?” Leon asks and he moves towards the door.

“Don’t worry brother, Aum will help us.  Won’t you Aum?”

“Of course, we share a goal,” Aum says through the golden android.

“I thought as much, and I do appreciate your help Aum,” Leon says.

“Before you go, I have a gift, sons of Adam Mercurio.  I found this letter in the Hyper-net conduits.  It’s for both of you.  Here it is.” 

North American Citadel.  Last entry. Journal.  Adam Mercurio.  To my dear sons, I fear soon my adventures in this world will end 

The brothers and guests adjourn to their suites.  Denis escapes to his balcony and runs his fingers over the scrollwork of the banister.  A wicker chair bends under his weight as he sits and crosses his legs.  He wipes a tear away from his cheek as a silver-skinned android comes out and delivers his decanter of cognac.  He sips from the glass rim. 

“Why didn’t you call for me to return Father,” he says to the sky.