The Guardians

by disperser

 

The Guardians

By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright August 2005, and December 2012

“Hi, I’m Greg.  You must be Susan.”

“Yes.  Pleased to meet you, Craig.”

“It’s Greg, and nice meeting you as well.”  Greg answered with a smile.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Greg . . . got it.” Damn, thought Susan, one minute into it and I already screwed up.    It was hard enough finding a date when you’re over forty without making it any more awkward.  Not that she expected much from this date.  A blind date no less.  Friends were forever trying to hook her up with likely guys.  Trouble was, most desirable guys were already taken.

At least Craig . . . damn, this is going to stick with her . . . Greg gave her a friendly smile, and did not seem bothered by it.  Susan looked at him.  Hard to tell, but Greg was probably in his late forties or early fifties.  Seemed in reasonably good shape, but difficult to tell with the loose clothing he wore. He moved easy enough, with confidence but no arrogance.  Like someone at ease with himself.

Her pondering made Susan take stock of her own appearance.  Mid-forties, but could pass for late thirties; regular exercise kept her reasonably fit, but she knew she could do better.  She was no health fanatic, but kept watch on her eating and exercise habits.  She remembered smiling more often, but that was when Steve was still alive.  Ten years had softened the memory of the loss, but had not brought back the carefree attitude and joy of life that had come so natural to her.

They had arrived at Greg’s car.  An SUV, actually; an older model, but still in excellent shape.  She noticed the clean interior as he held the door open for her.  Maybe a fastidious, anal retentive type guy; could be good, could be bad.

“So, where do you know Judy from?” asked Greg as he buckled his seat belt.

“High school, but I just recently got back in her circles.  Been away for a while.” replied Susan. “Didn’t she mention anything about me?”

Greg glanced at the mirrors, and eased out onto traffic. “Only that we should meet.  She said the joy is in the discovery without preconceptions.  Did she give you more to go on, or do you just trust her judgment?”

Susan looked at him, wondering if there was anything behind the remark.  She hesitated, and decided it was just conversation.  “All she said was that you don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs.  Said you had a good sense of humor, and had varied interests.  Also said you were easy-going, and good company.”

“Wow, I like me already!” Greg gave a short laugh and added, “I’ll try to live up to Judy’s assessment.”  He glanced at her, looked back at the road, and continued, “Anywhere special you want to eat, or should we just wing it?”

Susan had just snacked a half hour ago.  She had read somewhere that eating before a dinner date would make you concentrate less on the meal and more on the person you were with.  Actually, she had just wanted a snack.  But it did mean she was not hungry right now.  “How about we go to a park for a walk, and then maybe grab a pizza or something?”  As she said it, she realized she was out of practice. Let the guy make the call.  Traditional male-female role playing, and all that.

If it bothered Greg, he gave no indication of it.  “Excellent!  How about the trails around the reservoir?  It’s cool enough so the mosquitoes will not be a problem.” he said, already turning to head there.

Susan hesitated.  The round trip drive would make for a longer date than she had planned.  She had really wanted to get home before dark.  This was only a get-to-know-each-other date.  Oh, what the heck.  She had not been at the reservoir for years.  It may be nice.

They talked during the drive, asking and answering questions, gradually finding out stuff about each other.  Greg was a freelance software developer, and did indeed have many interests.  There seemed to be nothing she mentioned that he was not familiar with in a way that would indicate active participation.  Walking by the reservoir, she was surprised how easily she opened up to him.  On any subject, his questions easily led her to reveal more about herself than she normally would.  Greg was a good listener, but also active participant.  And he was at ease talking about himself without appearing self-absorbed.

Before either of them knew it, it was pretty late.  They headed back,  intent on finding a restaurant for a quick meal.   In the middle of a discussion about the merits of social programs balanced against the burden on the average worker, the car’s interior lights flashed twice.  All  of them.

Greg stiffened slightly, then relaxed and said, “Susan, this is going to sound strange, but I need to drop you off and run an errand.  Can I get a rain check on the dinner?”

Susan was about to reply, when a voice said, “You don’t have the time Dave.”  It came from the speakers.  Startled, Susan looked for the OnStar but saw none.  Her mind struggled to process this latest turn of events.  Was this guy’s name Greg or Dave? Who was monitoring them in a moving car?  Uneasy, she also looked at possible escape, and regretted leaving her gun at home.

Greg looked annoyed.  He sighed and said, “You enjoy doing that Al?  I could have just dropped her off somewhere.”

“Nearest public place is 5 minutes away, or were you just planning to dump her by the road?”

Susan was now alarmed.  She did not like the direction the conversation had taken, as if she were a piece of luggage.  All the while she kept an eye on Greg, or Dave, or whatever his name was.  He had busied himself with poking at a touch screen he had flipped over on the console.

“Beside,” the voice continued, “you like each other.  This will give you a chance to bond.”

Before either had a chance to respond the voice continued in a more formal tone,  “Ready for grav-orbs.  Locks engaged.  Explain things to the lady while I get us out of here.”

Susan realized they no longer were on the main road.  More startling was the round  object tracking the SUV just outside the side door.  Almost the size of a soccer ball, black, but with some hint of swirling chrome.  She looked at Greg/Dave and noticed a similar ball outside his door.

Greg/Dave had stopped fiddling with the pad. Finally he took notice of her and said, “I am sorry about this.  But don’t worry, I’ll get you home as soon as I can.”

“As soon as you can?!?  What does that mean? And who is Da . . .” She stopped, grabbed her armrests, and stared out the windshield in silence.

She was looking at the top of a cloud,  . . . and city lights below.   She guessed they were a few miles up and climbing fast . . . really fast.  She drew her breath as the sun crested over the earth’s curvature.

“Wow” is all she could say.

The windshield darkened, and went almost black in the area covering the brightest portion.  She moved her head experimentally.  The darker portion moved to remain between her eyes and the now full disk of the sun.  Something was monitoring her movements. Greg/Dave spoke a word she did not catch, and the vehicle reoriented its axis.  The sun was now shielded by the roof of the cab.  The windshield cleared a bit, and she was looking at North America receding rapidly.

Amazed, she listened as Greg/Dave resumed speaking. “Uh, this is going to sound strange.” he said with a hint of embarrassment in his voice.

“Stranger than this?” she said.

She was now looking at the full earth, still retreating fast from . . . the SUV – Space Utility Vehicle.  She cracked a smile that went unnoticed by Greg /Dave.  “Why are we traveling backward?” she asked.

Greg Dave smiled and said, “Because I like the view.  It reminds me of why I do this.”

“Just what is it you are doing?” She kept her eye on the receding earth, and did not notice his face getting serious.

“I’ll give you the short version, then you can ask me questions.  One thing; not that anyone is going to believe you, but you can’t speak of this with anyone.”

She looked at him, and locked in on his eyes.  There was something there that . . . she could not put her finger on.  There was just something there.

“We are going to intercept a trader ship that has crossed the blockade warning markers and is heading to earth.”

They looked at each other in silence while she processed the information.  Who is “we”; why was there a blockade around the earth; where was the trader ship from; is Greg /Dave with the good guys or the bad guys?

She surprised him by asking, “Is your name Greg or Dave?  And who was speaking earlier?”

He hesitated a second, unsure of the change in topic.  “My name is Greg.  Al has called me Dave ever since he found out where he got his name, you know, from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, even though  he insisted we drop the “H”.  Al is a . . . ‘computer being’ is the closest that comes to explaining it.  Members of his species live inside sophisticated electronics, sort of like operating systems, only without all the bugs.  It allows them to travel and explore the galaxy with little risk.  A small part of Al is in all the electronics of this vehicle, and in all the orbs we use.”

“Why the blockade?”  Susan asked after a brief pause.

Greg checked something on the console’s screen, and then resumed.  “Al is part of the enforcement arm of an organization made up of individuals from various space-faring civilizations.  A strict process is used to select highly stable, conscientious, and ethical beings – no elections or appointments.  These individuals give up allegiance to their own kind, and serve the mandate of a group called The Guardians.  They self-govern, have vast resources at their disposals, and are not dictated-to by anyone.  And they exist because the member species pledge to unconditionally support their existence.”  Greg checked the console again, and resumed.  “Their mandate is to protect young civilizations from contact until they are deemed ready.”

“How will they know when we are ready?  What gives them the right?”  Susan asked, almost belligerently.

Just then, Al’s voice interrupted.   “Dave, we are contact minus 2 minutes.  Perhaps you can continue this later.”

“Right”, said Greg.  He lowered his seat a few inches, and pressed a button on the steering column.  The Column receded into the dash, and a screen unfolded in its place.  An image appeared, along with a menu of options.

Susan could not quite see what they were.  No matter because the center of the image held her attention.  She had seen many space movies, and trading ships were always composed of round or rectangular pods.  Boxy, and boring, generally they looked innocuous and slow.  What she was looking at was more like a flying fortress.  She could not explain why, but the castle-like shape exuded power.  No, not just power.  It exuded danger.  Smaller ships could be seen flying around it . . . this thing must be huge.  Suddenly she felt uneasy.  They were going against this ship in an SUV.  “That takes balls!” she thought.  Then she smiled despite herself.  She had cracked a joke; they had balls.  There were two just outside the windows.

They were approaching pretty fast, and she tensed, waiting for braking of some sorts.  Instead, the SUV just stopped.  No telling how far from the ship, because she had no frame of reference, but almost in an instant, there was no relative motion that she could discern.  “Some kind of anti-gravity?  Inertial Dampers?”   Physics was not her area of expertise, but she knew enough.  It came from Steve.  He had been an engineer, but was fascinated by physics, and had been an avid reader.  Plus she had picked up a few things from the novels, movies and TV shows he liked.

As they stood motionless, she could just make out some of the small ships from around the other vessels headed their way.

“You done processing Al?” said Dave.

After a small pause, Al replied, “There is something wrong.  I can’t map them in the grav-field.  It’s like they are not there.  Perhaps we should pull back while I figure out what’s going on.”

Before Greg could answer, the vehicle shook.  Not gently, but with some intensity.  Enough to knock them about for a second or two.

“Al?  . . . Al, what was that?”  There was no answer.  Greg looked out.  “Shit!!”

Susan followed his gaze.  Those were not small ships.  They were more soccer balls.  Grav-orbs, to use Al’s terminology.

“Al is concentrating all his resources to handle them.  This is not good.  Who the hell are these guys?”

Greg’s remarks were spoken almost to himself, but they served to raise Susan’s adrenaline almost as well as if he had yelled them at her.  The SUV jerked again, then began a slow movement toward the ship.  There were about 20 grav-orbs circling all around them.

“Susan, I’m sorry.  This may not be good.  There is a chance, if we are not destroyed first, that we’re being taken prisoners.  I’m going to guess I may not fare well, but you are just a passenger.  They will know this, and they are going to be glad to see you.  Just do what they ask, and you should be OK.”

He spoke quickly, as they had almost arrived at the ship.  Some sort of a landing bay had opened ahead of them.  She could see people – beings – wearing uniforms and what looked like riot helmets, running into the bay.  Soon they were inside, and touched down.  All the while the trader’s grav-orbs continued circling the SUV.  Greg and Susan waited.  The orb dance continued for almost 2 minutes, then the two orbs flanking their vehicles just dropped to the ground.

“Al? Are you there? . . . Al?”  There was no answer.

The SUV’s doors were ripped off from the side of the vehicle.  They may as well have been made of paper.  The beings approached the vehicle, and motioned to Greg and Susan to exit the vehicle.  A person with some sort of wand came over.  He pointed it at Greg, said something, and then pointed it at Susan. 

Almost immediately after he spoke, some 12 to 15 marble-sized orbs appeared and quickly formed some sort of enclosing pattern around Greg, replacing the larger orbs that had continued surrounding them.  Susan felt something touch her sleeve, and looked back at the being with the wand.  The helmet’s shield prevented her from seeing any features,  but by the motions he made, it was clear it wanted her to follow him.  She looked back at Greg.  He stood unnaturally still.

Suddenly he shot upward with the marbles maintaining formation around him.  She moved toward the spot where he had stood, but another guard stepped in front of her and motioned toward Wand-Bearer.  She really missed her gun right now.  She wowed that if she survived this, she would never leave home without it. She turned and followed Wand-Bearer.

“Greetings” the voice said, “You are not a guardian.”

Susan looked around the room.  There was no particular originating direction for the voice she heard.  There was no one in the room.

“Please, sit.” The voice continued.

She glanced at the plain chair and table.  She did not move.

“Very well.  You may call me Al.  You are Susan.”

Then the voice changed, and sounded like Al, the only Al she knew, from the SUV.

It continued, “If it makes you feel more comfortable, I can modulate the sound to the one you are familiar with.”

“Al?” she asked, “Is that you?”

The voice paused.  “I don’t understand the question.  I am, of course me.  However, if you mean ‘am I the same Al you are familiar with?’ the answer is no.”

She composed herself, thought briefly, and asked.  “What did happen to Al?”

Again a pause, then “The entity was disabled. I retain some of the memories salvaged before that occurred.”

She did grab the chair and sat as she asked, “Does disabled mean killed?  And what happened to Greg?”

“The entity was not killed in the sense you understand. Like me, it exists in multiple forms and locations.  However, the form at this location was terminated.  It posed too much of a risk.  Greg, your companion I presume, is a guardian, and is being detained.  We are attempting to dissuade him from his task, but from past experience, it is likely he will rather be disabled than give up.”

Silence fell in the room.  Susan mulled over what she heard.  The voice to her sounded more like a military entity than a trader, or merchant.  This was likely a military ship.  Assuming what Greg had told her was true, it would seem that not all of the races supported the mandate of The Guardians.

“Who exactly are you?  Why are you here?  What is going to happen to me?” She had been looking up toward the ceiling.  No particular reason, but it seemed natural.  She leaned forward as she spoke.

She nearly fell off her chair as a figure appeared across the table from her.  The figure looked exactly like one of the cable new-anchors.

“Is this preferable?” It still spoke with Al’s voice, but the mannerism was of the anchor.  “This would explain a lotshe thought, and almost laughed.  She always though all those anchors lived in their own little world, and now it turns out they may be from another world altogether.

“I borrowed the image from one of your broadcasts.  I can change it if you prefer.”

“You have not answered my questions.” She said, ignoring his question.

The figure ‘relaxed’ and fixed his tie.  For a moment she forgot this was not a real person.

“And what do I call you?”

“Al will do,” said the fake anchor “and I will come to the point.”  This time it leaned forward and started speaking. “I would like to use you as a point of contact with your world.  I had not planned on actually being able to speak with someone like you without landing, so this opportunity is too good to waste.”

“Someone like me?” repeated Susan. “What do you mean?”

“You have not been modified; you are not a guardian.  To me, right now, you represent your race, and I would like to extend your race my help.”

Susan looked at ‘it’ and mulled over what he said.  ‘It’ wanted to establish contact with the human race. But to what end?

“Who are you, and what do you get from helping us?  As a matter of fact, why in hell would anyone even be interested in us?  Seems to me you are a lot more advanced than we are.  What could we possibly hold of interest to you?”  An edge had crept in her voice.

Maybe it was the fact that just a few hours ago she had been putting on makeup and combing her hair in her bathroom, and now she sat in front of an image of a cable hack, on a spaceship somewhere beyond the moon’s orbit, speaking about being the messenger bearing gift from the stars.  Once again, she wished she had her gun, although it would not have helped her deal with this . . . this . . . hologram.

The being relaxed in its chair.  Or at least appeared to relax.  Probably for her benefit.  She had dealt with salesmen before, and recognized some of the tactics.  Maybe selling was the same the universe over.

“Susan, as you may have surmised, I have no physical form.  My species, and many of the other powerful species, has long since ceased to inhabit shells – bodies – if you will.  The closest I can describe it in terms you would understand, is that we inhabit computers.  Multiple computers, in multiple locations.”

“Like Al” Susan interrupted.

“Exactly!” it continued, “We interact with the physical world via gravity manipulators – the orbs you have observed – and via  . . . partners.  For instance, the beings who escorted you here.”

“Are they humans?” Susan asked.

“No, they are bisymmetrical and walk upright, but their physiology is different than yours.”

Susan pondered a moment, and asked, “So what’s the deal, you want to dump them and get us to be your servants?”

The figure actually picked at its nails, and answered without looking at Susan. “They are not servants.  And humans would not be servants.  I – we – offer a partnership.  We provide knowledge, the chance to grow beyond the confines of your world, and the security of membership in the space-faring community.  In return, we expand our presence in the galaxy.  Call it a way of preserving our species.  It is a mutually beneficial relationship, based on models that have been perfected over thousands of years. Consider it a symbiotic relationship.”

Susan sat back a moment and regarded the figure.  In the short time that she had interacted with it, it had gained more human-like behavior, and the voice had lost much of the mechanical quality; the conversation may as well have been between two people at some coffee shop.  The figure just looked back at her, looking comfortable and relaxed.

“You mean something like the partnership between Greg and Al – the original Al?”

“Yes, exactly!” responded the figure, leaning a forearm on the table and using his index finger to punctuate the statement by poking the table.  Susan marveled at the illusion.  She even thought she heard the sound of the finger hitting the table. The figure continued: “I believe humans and my species would fooormm aaa . . .”

Susan looked at the anchor. It began to deform as if it was dissipating.  A portion of the wall swung inward, and Greg stepped in through the opening.

“Hi Susan, you ready to leave?” he said holding the door open and indicating the exit with the other hand. He appeared calm, and in no particular hurry.

“What happened?” Susan asked.  “How did you get free?”

“I’ll explain on the way, but we have to leave now.  I don’t know how long my virus can hold off their systems.  Al can clear us a path back to the SUV while their grav-orbs are incapacitated.  Our reinforcements are already near, but I’d rather be off this ship while we convince it to leave.”

As the made their way back to the SUV, Greg explained that Al had actually taken over a couple of the attacking orbs, and had kept itself hidden until Greg could infect the systems.

“Infect the system?” Susan asked.  “How?”

As they neared the SUV, Greg motioned for Susan to get in while he went around the other side.  No point holding the door open, as they were lying on the deck of the landing bay.  As Greg and Susan got in, two grav-orbs took their place along side, and they began to move out of the bay.  Susan was alarmed as they exited the ship . . . they had no doors! Space was just a few inches away.

Al spoke up “Susan, would it make you more comfortable if I blacked out the door openings?”

“Yes!” replied Susan.  She visibly relaxed once the illusion of an enclosure was in place.  “You were saying?” she continued.

“Here’s our reinforcements,” said Greg, changing the subject.

Two huge cylindrical objects, tapered at both ends, flanked the alien ship.  All of the ship’s orbs were frozen in space.   The three ships slowly began to move off, then picked up speed, and were gone from view in seconds.  The SUV rotated toward their direction of travel and accelerated.

“I’ll have you home in no time.”

“You were saying?” she repeated.

Greg looked at her, looked at his lap, and sighed.  “OK.  I’m home to about a billion nano-orbs.  The short version is that they are highly specialized bioelectrical entities designed to attack and isolate power systems and signal pathways.  They are keyed to my chemical make-up, so unless it can analyze me, the target can’t mount a defense. Every guardian has a unique strain.  I can control what they target, and even launch them over short distances, and because of their size and gravity masking, once they infect a system they are very hard to block.  The affected system can eventually by-pass infected areas, and eradicate the virus, but it takes time.”

“So why did we get captured?  Why did you not disable the ship right away?”  Susan turned to face him as she asked the question.

“Well,” continued Greg, “their orbs formed a pretty tight field around me before I was able to do anything.  I had to wait for Al to give me an opening.”

Susan sat in silence as they sped home.  Already she could make out their destination on the beautiful blue ball in front of them.

“You know, their offer sounded reasonable.” Said Susan. “A win-win situation.  Something that would help humanity out from much of their current misery.  Why are you fighting against it?”

Greg looked at her.  “What did they offer?  A partnership?”

“Yes.” Said Susan; “Something like between you and Al.”

“It’s not the same Susan.” Al had spoken this time.  The voice had turned serious.  “We have a long history to draw upon.  The partnership only works between two mature races.  There must be a balance in what is offered and what is given.  A partnership now would destroy your culture.  Look what happened in your own history as Western Europe colonized the world.  Whole civilizations and ways of life disappeared forever.”

“It works between you and Greg.” countered Susan.

“Greg is one individual.” Replied Al. “There are only 6 guardians.  And the screening process took years.  Direct contact may involve as many as a billion.  What about the other five or six billion humans?  How would you decide which people, or countries, partake?  How do you keep the others from being suspicious of something they are not part of?   How do you ensure the ones that benefit will share with the others?”

“Governments can cooperate.  They can ensure those issues are addressed.  You, Al, can ensure those issues are addressed.” Susan sounded almost pleading.

Greg took the lead again.  “Susan, you can’t even get governments to distribute food to their starving citizens without getting into corruption, graft, and sometimes outright killings.  Name one government you trust to have the welfare of their citizens above their desire for power.  Name one government that is not mired in politics based on racial and religious differences, and that is willing to treat all their citizen as equals.”

“And as far as me helping” added Al, “humans are generally xenophobic.  They would not take directions from me, and are not likely to trust my intentions.  Assuming they would even accept me as anything more than a computer program.  Besides, the role you describe would be that of a planetary governor.”

Susan sat quietly, looking at North America fast approaching ahead of them.  Lights were visible everywhere.  Stories of hopes, dreams, despair, and happiness represented by points of lights.  Clean and bright lights, masking the everyday struggles, both past and present, of everyday people.  She could also see part of South America.  Not as many lights.  Same hopes and dreams, perhaps more struggles.  Help was close, and yet out of reach.  She knew Al and Greg were right.  The world had to grow up first.  Humans had to find their own way to greatness.  Not technological greatness, but intellectual.  They needed to modify the notions of nationalism, race, and religion.  Perhaps even cast them aside . . . at least as far as the collective was concerned.

They might if they knew what she now knew.  Already she could not think of herself as just American, but as a human.  An Earthling.  The term may have been used in cheesy SciFi movies and stories, but that’s what she was.  She was an Earthling.  The name encompassed purpose, hope, pride, and all the things humans thrive on.   But her education to this point, though lasting only a few hours, had nonetheless been layered and gradual.  She arrived at her destination through reasoned arguments from a source she trusted.

It was unlikely six billion people would follow the same path.  And there would be resistance from all sorts of special interests.  Special interests with short-term agendas.  Small minded men and women who could not, or would not,  raise their eyes above ground level to look at the universe above.

“So Al,” said Susan, “are we going to make it?”

There was a long pause.  Greg looked away.

“The odds are not good Susan.  Thousands have failed before you.  Civilizations ebb and flow, seeking some sort of balance.  Those few who continually seek to advance knowledge have a chance. The others are swallowed up by their material needs.”

“OK, so what happens to me?” Asked Susan looking at Greg with a tilt in her head.

Greg was quiet for a moment. He broke eye contact, looking down at his lap.  “I still owe you dinner.”  He looked up again, “Maybe we could talk for a while over a hot pizza and some drinks.”

They had just touched down at the same location they had left a few hours earlier.  Susan looked up at the sky.  Judy was right.  Easy to be around, and good company.

She sighed, and then smiled.  “Let’s go; I’m starving.  And I can’t wait to see how you are going to top this on the next date.”

THE END

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