How does one tell time when there is no darkening and everything is the same? I awake and it’s morning. When I sleep it becomes night. How long is the day? Yesterday felt short. I was inside the Praetor for forty years. My cabin looked like it had been destroyed for longer than that. And what made the sun so angry…
Béla’s disassociated thoughts were interrupted when her father stepped into his lab. Béla asked the question she was thinking.
'Why does the sun hurt me?'
‘Are you in pain?’ her father asked, suddenly concerned.
He picked up her crystal and gazed at it as though he could see her life energy permeating it.
'No. When I went home, back to Earth, the sun hurt inside my head. And I don’t even have a head.'
She broadcast the image of her arrival at her ruined cabin.
‘The Praetor has the data and the history required for you to understand the answer to that question.’ Sibilius informed her.
‘The Praetor has been restored?’ Béla asked anxiously. ‘Is it all right? Is it angry with me?’
'The Praetor is a machine. It does not get angry,’ her father said. ‘I have not brought it in here out of respect for you. You had not inquired about the Praetor, so I assumed you were not ready to have it in your presence.
‘But, to answer your questions; yes, the Praetor is all right. There was a problem with its power supply, but that has been corrected and features have been added that will prevent that problem from recurring.’
‘Bring it in!’ Béla broadcast to him, cheerfully.
Sibilius set her back on the shelf and turned toward the door.
‘Daaaddy…’ Béla called out to him.
Sibilius turned around and looked at her crystal, confused by the mixed annoyance and humor she was broadcasting at him.
‘I’m upside down,’ she informed him, sending him an image of a smiley face.
Sibilius actually laughed, then turned her crystal over. Béla, although trapped in the crystal chamber, could have turned over by herself by simply deciding that the bottom of the crystal was now its new top, but she saw no reason why she should.
A few minutes later, she and the Praetor were mind-linked.
‘Do you have a question?’ the Praetor asked her.
‘Several,’ Béla replied. She broadcast her first question: ‘Please define your status as Praetor. Include purpose of your memory banks.’
She had noticed a vast amount of stored memory when she had been inside the Praetor’s control center. She had been fascinated by the amount of data but had been unable to access it.
The Praetor began broadcasting back to her, ‘I am law-giver, judge, teacher. I maintain order. My memory banks include the history of our race. This history is useful as references that apply to my duties as stated. You could not access my memories due to the fact that they are stored in a separate facility.’
Béla asked her next question, ‘What is happening to my brother and sisters?’
The Praetor showed her an image of them as Martian Drones performing menial duties in exchange for tutoring by the Praetor in various studies in which they wish to become more proficient.
'The Regent is initiating a project to supply his children with more suitable bodies, now that he knows that your body is nothing special. They will be patterned after your original body, so it will take much less time to create them than it took to reconstitute yours.'
‘Yeah,’ Béla said, reminded of that problem. ‘That’s another thing. Why did it take Pops so long to recreate my body? I lost forty years!’
He was searching for the secret of your sanity, reconstructing your body from your ashes, cell by cell. And according to how you keep time, you lost seventy-five years, not forty.
‘What?’ Béla exclaimed. ‘You kept me in there for seventy-five years?’
She was furious with that abominable machine. What right did it have to do that to her?
‘You had no body and nowhere else to go,’ the Praetor explained patiently.
‘I had a life!’ Béla fumed. ‘You destroyed the possibility that I could ever return to it!’
‘You lost your body and would have been absorbed into the earth-based cycle of life and death,’ the Praetor informed her. ‘That could not be permitted. Your tasks are not yet complete.’
‘My tasks?’ Béla asked, curiosity getting the better of her anger. ‘What do you mean? What am I supposed to do?’
'Live. Reproduce. Create a species that will carry the best of both species you are a part of into the future.'
‘What species am I?’ Béla asked, her anger largely forgotten.
‘Your body was a combination of the Viragos and Human species,’ the Praetor told her. ‘Your life force is Viragos in origin.’
‘I was once like my father?’ Béla asked, really intrigued, now. ‘Who was I?’
‘Who you were is not pertinent information,’ the Praetor replied, ‘and could be extremely distracting. The past is gone and cannot be recovered. NOW is what is important. You would do well to remember that!’
‘Where have I heard THAT before?’ fumed Béla. ‘So you’re not going to tell me, huh? Well, I’ll just ask father!’
‘That will do you no good, child,’ the Praetor replied, sounding rather imperious, now. ‘He does not remember you.’
‘You instructed me to erase his memory of you,’ the Praetor replied. ‘You also instructed me to erase your memory whenever you ask the question you are preparing to ask, so tread gently, child. We have had this discussion before.’
‘Oh, God!’ Béla thought, so suddenly fearful she could feel her crystal vibrating. ‘Relax! This crystal resonates to my emotions! There… That’s better…
‘Jeez! I had enough status to give orders to the Praetor – the absolute lawgiver in this society? And I gave it all away? Wow… I must’ve been nuts!’
‘Are you asking a question?’ the Praetor broadcast into her mind.
‘NO! No more questions! I don’t want you to do anything to my mind!’ Béla broadcast back to the Praetor, terrified of it, now.
‘The Regent informed me that you had a question about the sun in this system,’ the Praetor gently reminded her.
‘Oh! Yes! I remember now!’ Béla thought, radiating relief that nothing bad was going to happen. ‘I went to Earth a few… hours(?)… ago. The sun hurts me inside my head. Or, at least, where my head would be if I had one…'
‘Stars radiate energies of many different types and frequencies,’ the Praetor began, going into its instructional mode, now. ‘Around six thousand years ago, this star began radiating more radio waves than normal in certain bands. This has been increasing. This fact would not have been noteworthy, except that most telepathic species, including yours, would communicate in that same band if they could.’
The Praetor displayed a chart in Béla’s mind showing how the sun’s rays interfered with their telepathic abilities. Their communicative receptors were so sensitive, they simply couldn’t stand the sunlight.
'That was one of the reasons for creating your hybrid species. You were an experiment to determine if you could survive in Earth’s sunlight without going mad.'
‘But, if the others went mad anyway,’ Béla asked, ‘why give them bodies with the same flaw as the originals?’
The Praetor didn’t reply. Instead it sent her an image.
Béla was inside a vast chamber of sweet smelling air, her wings spread wide as she glided, carefree, across the chamber to the other side. The ground was hundreds of miles away in every direction. Diffused sunlight was coming from giant crystals at the top and bottom of the chamber, lighting thousands of square miles of farmland and forests. All around her, her sisters flew joyfully; turning summersaults and spiraling around, laughing and playing games with each other. The huge, hollow sphere protected them from the sun’s harmful emissions with its thick crust.
'Aside from the fact that none of his hybrid children will ever be exposed to Earth culture or the sun again, the regent believed you might want someone to fly with,' the Praetor replied.
Then it emitted a high frequency wave at the crystal Béla was trapped in. She went to sleep, dreaming of flying across the vast internal skies of her new home.