Writings by Dale C. Clarke

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SHIPP

  The molten glob of stone, which had been expelled by the shifting surface plates and the pressure of the exploding volatiles of the bubbling interior of the planet, engulfed the entire portal exit area.  The Operator only had time for one horrified scream before his vocal organs were incinerated along with the rest of his body.  His suit had vaporized in the molten lava.

  No clone recreation occurred, since the safety directives had been overridden.  His vessel continued monitoring contacts but initiated none.

-0-

  The day was almost at a close.  The insects had begun to hum, click and whistle; the doves were thrumming themselves to sleep.  The tropical sun washed the sky with the pink and purple that foretold tomorrow would be another clear, dry day.  From his vantage point high on the side of El Baru, Dancer could see the ocean six or seven miles distant.  Today's climb was hard but worth while, if Gramp’s legend is true, that is.

  "What'ya think Cat?"   He stroked her rock-hard feathers gently.

  She cocked her head at the sound of her name and Dancer’s touch, staring with one unblinking eye.  Sensing his words were rhetorical, she launched into the air from his armband and was riding the last hot updrafts in three swift wing beats.  Majestically, like the kite she was, she rose to survey the slope and the lengthening shadows in hopes of a warm meal.  The largest falcon in the Americas, her black-trimmed, stark white plumage belied her supreme mastery of the local airspace.  Satisfied by her survey that there was nothing to bring back to her master, she circled back to land on Dancer's leather padded shoulder.  He ducked his head to miss the caress of her back peddling pinions.

  "Bananas again, huh Cat?  Well, dry season isn't the time to hunt in El Volcan.  I'll catch you some bats as soon as we find that cave --- if we find it", he thought.

  He leaned against one of the old gnarled trees that grew here, high on the slope, and slowly scrunched down its trunk to his haunches.  Dancer was a big man with biceps as big as his thighs, six foot two inches, two hundred and twenty pounds.  He had wrestled college varsity and swam on the Athletic Club team.  His thick hair, vestige of his Indian blood, was cut long, almost to the band of his sweaty tee shirt.  He kept it in place with a rolled red bandanna, under which he had stuck two bush turkey feathers.  He looked, for ‘all the world’, like a lookout for an Apache camp.  For all his presence he was often unsure of himself.  His bird flapped up to the branches of the tree above to a safe height and preened for sleep.

  "Gramps had known his stuff," he mused.  The old miner had found the only bauxite mine in the republic.  Stupidly, he had let the government know before he had told the mining company.  By the time they had gotten a negotiator in to spread the bribes, too many people knew about the discovery - to cover up the operation anyway.  The government nationalized the land and Gramps lost out.  The old guy told some really wild stories but this one, about the Jade, had panned out; so far that is.  Dancer was determined to follow the instructions he had been given at Gramps' deathbed and become rich.  All the old man had asked for from the treasure was a red granite headstone.  The Darien chief had lead him the peak known as Mujer Duermiendo, the sleeping woman.  The start of the trail Gramps had described had been easy to find from there.  The old man's trail marks had survived on the stone below since he made them, back in 1898.  The carved standing deltas pointed the way and tomorrow he should find the one that pointed the way down.  The only question unanswered was which of the two caves contained the Jade shelves?  Gramps had told of two, but not which of them contained the precious stone clusters.

  Dancer slept.

---

  Flag Vessel  - H-transport-Heavy  - was in reconstruct mode.  As the mass of atoms of the hull began to materialize, the outline of the huge hyper-spatial mining vessel began to refract light from the single yellow sun it slowly orbited.

  A shifting sensation struck the Operator as his vessel returned from hyper-spatial distort and the projector reconstructed his molecules.  The feeling was akin to the start you experience when a daydream is interrupted.

  “Zzzt - I have isolated an uncharted sun, Sir", he heard as his senses reeled back to consciousness.

  I wish it could stop the damned ‘Zzzt’ before every communication, he thought irritably.  "Any sapient life forms?"  Documents said it was static caused in the communicators by the energy form of its body. It can’t ignore a direct order it is capable of or it will suffer self-destruct.

  "Zzzt - No Sir, your instructions indicated the search was for non-sapient solar groups.  This system contains twenty-nine bodies in all, ranging from 20 to 5000 krom volume. Ten bodies are in solar orbit.  The fifth from the sun has rudimentary cellular life forms present.  On it the major mass is carbon-based with high levels of heavy metals.  The entire planet network is in phase 2, the formative stage."

  "Are the bodies stable enough yet to transport to Arculon?"

  "Zzzt - They will stabilize within the next ten time periods to a point where distortion will not cause disbursement during de-projection from dimension 26. --- Arculon Sir?"

  Being one of the few left somehow justified talking to the SHIPP.  "An unrecorded automated project of the Kremel Works at Arculon requires massive amounts of heavy metals and carbon-based volatiles.  I acquired advance knowledge that there will soon be a contract call, a premium credit contract call, all miners; including us.    That's why Arculon.  Position us near the body with the closest mix of heavy metal and carbon volatiles, he repositioned a mind block so SHIPP could read the specifics from his thoughts.  Prepare to transport-project as soon as it's stable."

Why does he move his mind shields? Doesn’t he realize that if I can record and reconstruct his mind, erasing bad memories, I can also see them all? I suppose it’s a power thing, SHIPP thought  "Zzzt - Sir, I have already positioned us in the single satellite orbiting that body."

"Give me visual of the target."

A large wall panel hissed into life and the requested image appeared.  The planet glowed with the heat of its molten interior, like a coal on black satin, against the black void of space.  Most of the surface was veined with rivulets of magma flowing from the abundant volcanic rifts in the surface; obviously a planet in the middle stages of formation.

  What a find, he thought. When he sold this it would let him purchase the SHIPP and park it, out of space.  His mind wouldn’t let him think about his loneliness.

  "Have you beamed our location to anyone?" 

  The Operator only vocalized when he was excited or nervous.  "Zzzt - No Sir, your direction was, no reports until authorized by you." … and I dare not disobey and risk self-destruct, his mind parroted the Operator's earlier thought.

  "Right.  That still stands.  Under no, repeat, no circumstances are you to send any message; to anyone!  Is that clear?"

  "Zzzt - Yes Sir.  Your directive is accepted."

  "Good.  Open a portal near the equatorial belt for me.  Find a cool spot, I'm going down."

  "Zzzt - Sir, my safety directive ..."  SHIPP's mind felt a mild panic; not gambling with death again.

"... I override it!  Formally enter my Operator override; cancel all safety procedures, for now."

"Zzzt - Sir, I must point out that canceling the safety directive will jeopardize your life --- and the mission as well.  You are the only Operator and we are far off our registered beam, and now I’m on contact silence as well ---" He knew it was pointless. The Operator liked to gamble and if he was killed under these circumstances SHIPP's days of travel were over.

  "You have your instructions.  Carry them out.  You are to continue monitoring contacts, but initiate none until I instruct you otherwise.  That is a directive.  Now, is the portal ready?"  Those words made the game crystal clear to SHIPP.

  "Zzzt - The moment you requested it Sir, but Sir I must ---"

  He cut SHIPP's thought, "Yes, ‘you must’!  I'm the Operator and you may not interfere.  I haven't forgotten the last time you employed your safety directive. To avoid my death, you ended a pleasurable encounter with that native creature by calling in another SHIPP.  I could have dealt with the agitated companions.  They were more frightened than hostile."

  He turned and disappeared as the portal SHIPP had prepared whisked him to the surface.

  SHIPP heard his mind fry.

  No clone recreation occurred, since the safety directives had been overridden.  His vessel continued monitoring contacts but initiated none.

---

  The rumble of thunder and the chill breeze off the ocean sent a shudder through Dancer's sleep stiff body. Cat sat on his arm, which lay sprawled at his side on the ground, talons stripping the leather.  She faced into the winds of the gathering squall with her feathers fluffed for warmth.  She squawked her way back to a low branch as Dancer arched his back and rocked slowly from side to side in a stretch.

  "Guess last night's sky lied, huh Cat.  ‘Red sky at night….’ and all like that"

  His muscles loosened sufficiently, he sprung to his haunches from a prone position, drawing his machete and taking an on-guard position.  No harm in practicing quick wakeups, he thought.  Never know what you'll run into in the jungle.  Cat, eager to find shelter, ignored the defensive posture and dropped heavily to Dancer's shoulder pad from the tree.  As abruptly as he had changed to defensive, Dancer pivoted nonchalantly, sheathed his blade, and started off up the trail.  Cat lurched, regained her balance, then leaned into the breeze, now blowing down the mountain,

  By the time Dancer found the final three-sided mark Gramps had made so long ago, the sky had darkened like night.  The calm that often precedes the storm had arrived.  The leaves had turned their bottoms skyward to greet the rain.  Without hesitation, Dancer began chopping out the tree roots that now choked the cave entrance.  The tree had grown on the very top lip of the entrance across from the mark.  The marked entrance was blocked by debris from an ancient slide.  He had no shovel, so he the tree roots flew first.  He was soaked with sweat by the time he got the opening big enough for entry.  Cat squawked as she was tossed into the small opening.  Dancer let the first rush of the downpour wash the grime from his muscular frame before he squeezed it into the maw of the mountain.

  The cool dank smell of earth, long deprived of the sun, greeted him as he joined his jostled falcon.  Her white plumage, detailed with onyx, was the first twinkle his eyes received.  He secretly wished he had brought the flashlight -- he disliked close dark places.  As if in answer, a ghostly iridescence flooded the chamber.  Startled, he pivoted and dove for the exit, running headlong into a metallic door.  Cat, blinded by the sudden light, launched down the tube that had appeared, back-peddling up to a second door, thirty feet away.

  Trapped like a rat, Dancer thought.  Where’d the doors come from? He jumped to his feet and clawed, with no result, at the doorway edge.  Drawing his blade, he backed to hack at the barrier.  Something nudged his shoulder -- he whirled and slashed at an articulated tube that snaked back into the ceiling.  Dancer, sensing escape was impossible, waited the next move in what seemed an impossible hallucination.

  "Come here Cat", he commanded, as much to soothe his shot nerves, as those of the grounded bird.  Cat hopped down the tube, losing her footing several times on the smooth curved bottom of the cylindrical tube, and flapped to the sanctuary offered by Dancer's shoulder.

  "All we can do is wait, I guess." he purred into the bird's wing to calm her -- she was chittering quietly to herself -- a sign of anger or fright.

  The light began to lessen.  With the hiss of released pressure, the far door opened like the leaf iris of a camera.  There was a brighter light beyond.  It illuminated a much larger room, in the center of which stood a large reclining chair, much like one Dancer had at home.  Beside the chair stood a shiny post from which jutted a two-foot long padded arm.  The chair faced a two-foot square opalescent panel that was supported by two more shiny posts.  The room was silent.  Dancer's hesitant footsteps resounded hollowly from the far walls as he entered.

  "At least we're not trapped -- we can fight if we have to, Cat."  He kept his attention full on the room -- even when the half-expected hiss of the door announced its closing, behind him.  A cacophony of sounds set his nerves on edge anew.  Cat launched herself into the familiarity offered by the air of the chamber with a shriek of anger, and Dancer crouched and clutched his blade.  The sounds changed to echoes of Cat's shrieks and then to mewls, tapering off to the creening chatter Cat made when roosting.  The chatter reverberated in the chamber -- it came from everywhere and nowhere.  It seemed to Dancer like a constant chatter in his head.  The great white falcon circled the hundred-foot chamber, near the ceiling, glided to the center and settled to the arm projecting from the post by the chair.  She seemed to relax -- she preened her ruffled feathers.

  Still cautious and on guard, Dancer walked toward his bird.  As he approached the chair, the panel it faced glowed and a circle formed on its face.

  A view screen, Dancer thought.  A stylus appeared on the screen and traced the circumference of the circle.  Other patterns, series of numbers, and of words in many languages filled the air -- again, from nowhere.  Dancer recognized the word, circle, in Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and in English among the words.

  "I think someone's trying to talk to us, Cat.  Want me to speak some English, do you?  The rain -- in Spain -- falls mainly on the plain", he intoned, defiantly.  "How's that?", he said to the walls.

  The machete Dancer had been brandishing clattered to the metal floor, as he clasped his hands to his ears.

  "Christ!", he moaned, as a vicious high-pitched tone dazed his mind.  A soft deep voice filled his head, even though his hands still protected his ears.

  "Zzzt – Sorry, need to test volume existed, and as you see, there is no need to speak aloud -- you hear my thoughts projected into your mind, as I do those you project around you."

  "Who are you?  What the hell's going on?  Why are you holding me -- and my bird?"

  "Zzzt - Sir, you are not being held.  You are the new Operator and I exist to serve you."

  "Well, I want back outside.  I've had enough of this fun and games."

  "Zzzt - I will return you to your point of entry, Sir, but first I request your permission to re-institute the safety directive."

  "Yeah, yeah -- sure -- whatever you want, as long as you let me back outside on the mountain."

  "Zzzt - Directive accepted, Sir."

  The stillness of the chamber was there -- then a blink -- the roar of the tempest, pelting of the downpour soaked him in a moment.  Dancer unnerved by the transition, shocked by the sudden cold, stepped back to catch his balance.  His ankle turned on one of the roots he had chopped out earlier and he fell, sliding down the rain-slick red-clay trail.  Behind him, the tree groaned in the teeth of the squall.  Its foundation, which Dancer had weakened, finally could hold no longer.  The massive mahogany slowly tilted, then gained momentum as it chased Dancer's body down the slope.  Like a fevered dreamer, Dancer back-peddled away along the ground - the tree followed in slow motion.  He watched as a battered branch of the fallen giant plowed through his chest, stopping deep in the earth.  Blackness flooded over him.

---

  Dancer stood trembling by the chair.  Cat still sat, eyes double lidded, napping on the post.  The machete lay on the floor where he had dropped it earlier.  The screen was gone.  Dancer ran his hand over his chest.  It was dry -- the limb was gone and his chest was uninjured.

  "It was an illusion, then," he sighed and slumped into the chair.

  "Zzzt - No, Sir.  That tree actually crushed you at the portal.  The safety directive allowed me to… record a...  an essence pattern from which I am able to recreate the physical you."

  "Zzzt - I sense you are confused, Sir.  I can better explain if I have your permission to scan your mind for the concepts, which you understand.  May I do so, Sir?"

  Holding up his hand in weak protest, Dancer said,  "Hey man, I'm lost.  What's going on?  Who are you?..."

  "Zzzt - Well Sir, without knowing what concepts you understand I will try to explain.  I am a converted warrior -- I travel vast oceans of space and time -- I ..."

  "Hold it! ... What do I call you -- just give me a name."

  "Zzzt - A name, Sir -- the word SHIPP describes me, for now.  Please, just call me SHIPP."  Acronym -- Special Intergalactic Hyperspacial Poly-Portal followed into Dancer's mind.

  Dancer's mind reeled, "Shipp -- Wow!", he exhaled heavily -- " Hey Shipp.  This crazy stuff has taken too much out of me.  I need to sleep.  Am I safe here?"

  "Zzzt - You are the Operator.  You may do whatever you please, Sir.  My safety directive is to keep you safe; ANYWHERE, ANYTIME.  As my Operator you are virtually omnipotent, since all others like me have, apparently, ceased to function.  Ah… a scan of your mind will facilitate further explanation.  May I, Sir?"

  "If it won't hurt."

  Almost before the thought finished, Dancer felt a tingling which crept toward his forehead from the nape of his neck.  He felt the hackles rise.  Visions flew before his mind’s eye and fled its gaze as he tried to focus on any one of them.  He sunk more deeply into the pads of the chair as Ship began to flood his mind with the requested explanation.

  "I am an energy being who is the controlling sapience for this trans-spatial teleporter.  I indentured my intelligence to control the vast powers of a warship designed by beings called Pavoids originally from a planet in the solar system humans call ETA Cassiopeia (A).  My eternal servitude was exchanged for the chance to travel the universe and to be able to separate from that binary system's dwarf star of which I was a portion.  Subsequently, the Pavoids were defeated by an astral race they had attacked.  One of the astral energy beings was sent to repel them.  It caused a universe wide transition in the Pavoid species.  Their defeat consisted of being genetically re-patterned by their enemy so that any violence on their part toward others caused a meltdown of their equivalent to your nervous system.  Many died that way before they realized their plight.  It was then that the Pavoids converted their vast war machine into a commercial empire, which flourished 4.5 billion of your years ago.  I was part of the last weapon the Pavoids created before their defeat.  My vessel was able to distort the molecular structure of entire enemy planets into pure energy and store it for future use.  In order to use me commercially, the ability to convert the tardyons of the vessel, the operator and the energy particles of my being and those of the distorted planet into tachyons was added.  I could travel faster than luxons, your photons, which must travel at the speed of light.  I travel in the 24th dimension, which is much shorter than any of the first seven and is not time dependent.  They next installed guidance and control systems for the distance and direction of travel taken by our fantastically fast particles.  Since I am an energy being, I have no problem thinking and interfacing when in a particulate state and controlling the restructure of the planets and my operator at the end of the journey.  These were the keys, speed and control.

  Incidentally, I use a refined energy recording technology to clone or recreate my Operator's body from its stored form.  I then copy the latest recording of his synapse patterns or mind over the old one.  There is virtually no loss since I record his mind every nanosecond.  This is how I protected you from the tree; I removed only the memory of the pain from the most recent copy of your mind.

  To continue with the saga of the Pavoid disaster, they used my construct to mine entire planets --- dead ones only --- to spare the Pavoid operator an excruciating death caused by aggression.  I had no problem cloning them but they didn't like it.  My last operator caused his own unalterable death when your planet was still semi-molten.  He cancelled the safety directive and vaporized himself on the surface.  It happened outside the portal, now in the cave you entered, which transported you up here.  Molten lava fried him as he exited.  By the cancellation he forced me to erase the recordings which allowed his cloning.  I was left stranded in your moon under irrevocable orders to remain incommunicado, at least as far as outgoing traffic."

  "Why didn't you simply break the order?"

  "Zzzt - The Pavoids were paranoiac.  The linkage between the physical vessel and me is such that if I break an Operator order that I am able to obey, I will be neutralized; self-destruct.  As an added precaution, I cannot travel without an Operator present.  The Pavoids took no chances and I, and others like me, agreed to their terms in order to acquire the mobility normally denied star races."

  "You said I am omnipotent, since others like you had ceased to function. Why did they stop?  Where did the Pavoids go?"

  "Zzzt - Well, the energy being that orchestrated the defeat of the Pavoids did his job better than the vanquished realized, at first at least.  The reproductive ritual of the Pavoids included violent acts by one mate toward the other which made their form of defeat, in reality, genocide.  Those that remained were cloned over and over by constructs like us.  Though cloning rejuvenates the physical self, the mental being recorded across is additive --- constantly growing.  After many millions of years the Pavoids, dwindling slowly by attrition caused by unavoidable accidents, such as super novas, or accidental violent actions, began to burn out.  No reason could be found.  Their sapience just winked out, one after another.  As I monitored, contacts from Pavoid communicators became fewer and fewer, until four billion years ago, they ceased altogether."

  "What about the energy beings that defeated the Pavoids?"

  "Zzzt - They have never existed, except for themselves.  They want only to be left alone --- to be ethereal gypsies.  Why the Pavoids attacked them is unexplainable."

  "Are we humans the only sapient beings left in the universe then?"

  "Zzzt - Not by a long shot, Sir!  There are currently many races --- none as technically advanced as the Pavoids were, however.  Some are more powerful, witness the astral beings, but are pacifists."

  "What about UFO's?  Is Earth in danger from them?"

  "Zzzt - Not if you choose to protect it, Sir, it's not.  As I told you earlier, you Sir, as my Operator, are virtually invincible."

  Dancer didn't feel invincible, he felt numb.  He realized his eyes had dropped closed for a moment.  The trauma of today was telling on him.  What Ship could give him didn't really matter, he needed rest.

  "I think I'll sleep now, Ship.", he muttered, as he drifted off.  He slept a fitful disturbed sleep, even though Ship stood protectively around him.

---

  Dancer awoke feeling strangely refreshed.  He was in his own bed.  The room was dark, shaded by thick drapes.  Cat was sleeping late, as usual, waiting for the warmth of the sun to rouse her.  He slowly swung his feet over the edge of the bed and stabbed them into his house slippers.  He squinted in the dimness trying to spot his bathrobe among the rumpled bedclothes and managed to drag the top half out and onto his broad shoulders.  He hung his head in his hands.  Damn, nothing but a dream, he thought dejectedly.

  The smell of bacon and eggs wafted into the room from the kitchen; breakfast was almost ready.

  A dream, he thought, nothing but a dream.

  "Well, Ship, I'll see you tonight, in my dreams," he said to the room around him.

  He shuffled his slippers, over to the window, and groped in the folds for the drawstring.

  "God, I wish it hadn't been a dream..." he murmured as he slowly drew the drapes open to the sun.

  Dancer gasped.  He gaped at the blue orb of Earth, which hung low in the morning sky above the barren lunar-like landscape spread below his window.

  "Zzzt - It was no dream, Sir," whispered a soft voice in his head.


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