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Archie Phoenix

"Good Times on Aether"

Quintessa Mayhew glanced at the sphere of numbers that was light-projected above her desk. They displayed the current date and time on Aether, the result of a complex formula which allowed for a uniform planetary time while also displaying a less-emphasized regional measure of the position of the suns. There were no ‘time zones’ on Aether -- everyone’s days operated on the same basic schedule planetwide -- but the positions of the suns were important to maintaining the schedule of solar particle collection, the most important schedule in Aetherian society. In an Aetherian year, there were roughly 427 Earth days, in a day roughly 48 ½ Earth hours, and in an hour the solar harvesting of four separate collection arrays yielded 217 Enzens of energy, further broken down into a segment of time called a Dijit, equivalent to .74 Earth seconds. All of these measures were reflected in the Aetherian clock, and it would take hours for a Human mathematician studying the Aetherian time cycle to even begin to grasp the meaning of the ball of numbers. It took Quintessa and her glance just short of two Dijits to fully register the time and to realize the one concept that anyone on any time cycle could comprehend:




More than forty Enzens late, in fact, was Quintessa’s next client. Her next appointment was in another fifty Enzens, and if this one was any slower in arriving, she would have no choice but to push him to the back of her daily schedule. She was very strict with her scheduling and was not about to make any of her clients wait on account of another’s tardiness.


In fact, Quintessa was right on the verge of thought-projecting her day planner when the tardy client finally arrived outside the facility’s entrance aboard a neural-tram. Quintessa gave the shabby-appearing Aetherian man a stern look as he stepped through the parting force-doors.


“Terribly sorry, Madam Mayhew!” The client huffed in Aetherian versions of those words as he leaped off the ceiling and realigned himself relative to Quintessa. “The life of a professor is demanding and has the most annoying habit of monopolizing one’s time.”


“I was about to move on to my next appointment when you arrived, Professor Morley,” Quintessa admitted truthfully. “But we still have time. Please, have a seat, and tell me of your desire.”


“Ah, you’re much too kind to an old scholastic. Thank you.” A chair materialized out of the floor right where Morley was standing in front of the desk, and he allowed himself to recline on it. “I must confess that my ’desire’ is … not something you are used to, I am sure.”


“As your request for an appointment implied,” Quintessa smiled. “But I assure you that I have gotten used to unusual requests. There is little that has been brought to this desk that has surprised me.” Indeed, the Professor’s unkempt appearance was not at all unusual for her clientele. His hair was sticking on end in various different directions, and it appeared as if he’d put on the same outfit three days in a row.


Morley glanced around the lobby and gave Quintessa a wry grin. “I … know what you must be thinking, Madam Mayhew. But, really, my request is not at all of your garden variety. Ah … -do- we have time? I do not want to keep your other appointments waiting.”


“I have several assistants who may take on another appointment if need be. Please go on,” Quintessa said, not at all convinced that the Professor’s request would be any less ordinary than the others, but professional enough to humor him. The thought of any of her assistants handling a client was alarming enough, however, that she would attempt to rush him to the point.


“Ah, good.” Morley folded his hands on his lap and sighed. “It is like this, Madam Mayhew. Just this past year, a colleague of mine at the University, but more significantly a very dear friend, passed away.”


“I am sorry to hear of that,” Quintessa replied with a sympathetic frown.


“Ah, thank you, thank you. I do miss Professor Mikelz terribly. The warmest times of our friendship were the … debates that we would have. Great scholastic discussions, often quite heated, but never with any hard feelings -- our friendship was too strong, you see. Mostly we would debate within the privacy of our offices, but at times we would find ourselves almost accidentally embroiled in a heated discussion within the assembly hall, to a delighted and growing audience of students between classes. Quantum physics, solar engineering, even history and philosophy … oh, but we would go at it sometimes! And always in nothing but the best spirit of scholastic progress.”


Quintessa tilted her head at the Professor. “She does sound as if she was very special to you.”


“’He’ was special actually,” Morley corrected her. “I am telling you, this is not what you think, my dear. You see … Professor Mikelz left me many of his notes and journals, records of the great maelstrom of cogitation, supposition and, sometimes, lunacy swirling around inside that oversized head of his. Delightful reads, all of it … but it just isn’t the same, you know? Having him seated right there in front of me, trying to expound his warped position, responding futilely to my counterpoints, his arms flailing around excitedly as if he’s actually experienced some kind of breakthrough, the giant fool.” Morley laughed.


Quintessa’s brow furrowed. This -was- one of her more unusual requests, though not unprecedented. “Ah, I begin to see now, Professor. You wish to debate with Professor Mikelz once again?”


“You’ve got it exactly, my dear!” Morley smiled. “I have heard that your facility has the means to accommodate my request. That you can create a virtual representation of Professor Mikelz based on my memories of him, as lifelike as if he were actually here?”


“That is correct,” Quintessa nodded. “We use the basic neural interface to pinpoint and extract every one of a client’s thoughts and memories of an intended subject, then piece those fragments together into an exact a replica of the subject as we can manage. Allow me to show you our basic demonstration.”


Quintessa stood and circled around the side of the desk, and Professor Morley followed with great interest. With a thought, Quintessa instructed the lobby projectors to summon one of the samples. In an instant, an Aetherian form appeared out of the thin air in front of Quintessa and Professor Morley. It was a young, tall, handsome Aetherian man with the well-defined muscles of his upper body exposed.


“Oh dear,” Professor Morley remarked. “This fellow seems to have lost his shirt.”


Quintessa couldn’t help but smirk. “This is Sten, one of our samples for prospective clients. He is just a basic construction, not molded after any specific individual, but … idealized for our customary purposes.”


“Ah … yes, it seems so.” Professor Morley said with amusement, looking Sten over. The sample’s head was turned to face him, but he was otherwise expressionless and rigid -- a mere drone. “And this is constructed of light, or is this actual flesh?”


“Something roughly in between,” Quintessa replied. “Give him a touch and see. He is composed of various forms of solar energy. A carefully shaped core of light energy allows you to see Sten as you do. That is wrapped in a membrane of ‘intelligent’ force energy which simulates the texture of skin and yields to the touch as would a soft surface. There is also a minute amount of heat energy generated by the field. You see how the ‘skin’ feels warm to the touch, perfectly lifelike? We even convert small amounts of energy into surface moisture.”


“My word! I can see why this place is so popular!” Professor Morley exclaimed. “Especially with the students.”


Quintessa smiled, finding the Professor’s sense of humor about the whole thing refreshing. Most of her clients were quiet and reserved, seemingly embarrassed about even being here. “-You- will be most interested in this, though. Sten, say hello to Professor Morley.”


“Hello, Professor Morley,” the statue-like sample said in a deep voice.


“Well, hello, old chap! I would hope that being locked up in this place’s database hasn‘t done too much to tarnish your good manners.”


“Not at all,” Sten replied. “I am most pleased to serve.”


“Basic utilization of sonic energy, patterned after the voice recalled by the client,” Quintessa pointed out. “Our computers would contain your representation of Professor Mikelz. They would be the brain of your friend, and the visual projection would be the voice. Understand, Professor, that it would not be an exact copy of Professor Mikelz that we would be creating. We would merely be creating -your- unique perspective of Professor Mikelz, the way that you viewed him then and remember him now.”


“Lovely,” Morley said. “He would be as much of a raving idiot as I recall.”


“There would likely be no glaring differences, especially since you knew him so well and for so long -- your mental image of him is as accurate as it could be. But if, for instance, he were keeping any secrets from you, our representation of him would not possess those secrets.”


“Well, it is all quite impressive,” Morley nodded. “I am certainly interested in proceeding further. As I noted in my request, I have quite a deal of clout at the University, so I can allocate whatever resources you will use and then some.”


“You may work out the payment with Belasia. I will notify her to receive you in the back room.” Quintessa motioned to a force door in the back wall of the lobby, the only wall which wasn’t transparent, for understandable reasons. “She will also take care of the neural scan and show you the finished product.”


“Mm, if only Professor Mikelz could hear himself described that way. He‘s already got the ‘finished‘ part covered, of course,” Morley laughed. He nodded to Quintessa before stepping toward the back room door. “Thank you for making the time for me, Madam Mayhew.”


Just as Quintessa returned to her seat behind her desk, another tram pulled in front of the entrance. Her next appointment, right on time! In fact, according to her glance at the clock, this one was a few Enzens early.


But when Quintessa took a better look at the tram’s occupants, she knew something was amiss. There were three people on this tram, not just one, and they were all dressed in the same strange jumpsuit, one with a different color at the shoulders. She’d seen something on the news projection that morning about Federation naval officers visiting Aether. Some kind of scientific exchange, if she’d recalled correctly. Those suits looked just like the ones she’d seen in the projection.


How odd. If these three were part of that envoy, here on a scientific mission, whatever were they doing at the Aether’s Caress Pleasure Center?

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