Challenges Of The Deeps – Chapter 12

Chapter 12.

“As always, a fine celebration,” Orphan said, observing Wu Kung trying to imitate a whirling dance by three of the Genasi, while a laughing crowd of a dozen species watched the performance. “Afterward, however, would I be correct to hope that you and Captain Austin will be free?”

“You mean, to go on your little jaunt into the back end of nowhere? That’s the plan,” DuQuesne answered. He had noticed the tall alien had a particularly cheerful demeanor — even more, in his estimation, than the simple fact of the victory would have been expected to cause. He’s definitely got another secret that’s amusing the hell out of him. “Barring someone else throwing an emergency curveball at us. Which I hope won’t happen for a few days, so that we’ll be well gone and leave the others to deal with it.”

“So you have already made most of the necessary arrangements? Excellent. Might I ask who will be serving as Faction Leader in Ariane’s absence?”

DuQuesne thought a moment, but didn’t see any harm in telling him; it wasn’t as though the information wouldn’t be general knowledge soon enough. “Carl Edlund and Laila Canning,” he said, reaching out and grabbing a mini-sandwich from a nearby platter. “Simon’s going to advise them, too, but he’s got other work to do that we don’t want interrupted.”

“Research in the Analytic Archives being a large part of it, I would presume,” Orphan said with a handtap, and helped himself to a crustacean of some sort.

DuQuesne ignored the faint but audible crunch as whatever piercing mechanism Orphan hid inside his mouth-proboscis penetrated the shell, and looked narrowly at the green and black alien. “Just how did you know about that?”

“Oh, I was able to deduce it from conversations with both Researcher Relgof and Simon himself. An extremely interesting situation, if I guess aright. How long does he have access?”

“Sorry, that’s need-to-know, and you don’t need to know,” DuQuesne said with a grin.

“Of course. No harm in asking, however.”

“None at all, as long as you drop it like that whenever we say it’s off limits — and to your credit, you always have, so far.”

Orphan laughed and gestured vaguely around him. “But of course, Doctor DuQuesne; as I told you when first we met, the Arena is built on secrets; asking about them, and knowing when to stop asking, is the true lifeblood of Arena interactions.” His wide black eyes studied Wu Kung. “For instance, I would dearly like to know what was discussed in that interim when the five of you vanished, when old Selpa first objected, and then withdrew his objection. But I know for certainty that that secret must be one of considerable value, and if you ever wish to convey it to me, you will decide it on your own.”

Yeah. More value than you know. “Just like I’d be real interested to know what’s got you looking like a cat that just busted into the cream warehouse, but I figure you’re telling no one until you’re ready.”

“Doctor DuQuesne, you have some most refreshing turns of phrase, though I have a great suspicion that what I heard there bears relatively little relation to what you actually said. And yes, I am not yet ready to discuss that issue with you. But soon, I promise. Very soon indeed, with luck.”

A movement caught his eye and he turned to see the rhino-like Byto coming to a stop nearby. “Byto? I’m a little surprised to see you here.”

The shift of the head and body was somehow equivalent to a nod. “I had not originally expected to come… but I wished to speak with you for at least a moment.”

Orphan maintained his position, and while Byto glanced at the Leader of the Liberated, he made no indication that Orphan should leave. “Well,” said DuQuesne, “I’ve got no objections to that. What about?”

“I wished to say that you played an extremely good game — with, as far as I could tell, absolutely terrible alignment of chance against you.”

DuQuesne grinned. “And you played a hell of a game yourself, with the devil’s own luck.”

The massive form relaxed fractionally, and a snort was translated as a laugh. “DuQuesne, I have never had such a run of fortune in all my years. I was certain we would win… and at the same time, I felt it was almost unfair. If you have the opportunity… I would very much like to play you again, hopefully when the random factors are more equally distributed…” another snort, “… and you have no impossibilities waiting to save you at the end.”

“I’d like that, Byto. Tell you what, I’m going to be busy for a while, but as soon as I get a chance we’ll set up a game and choose some matched racers, and maybe do some less-apocalyptic-sized betting on the outcome.”

“So let it happen!” Byto bobbed his huge head in what seemed the rough parallel of a bow, and moved off.

“That was auspicious,” Orphan observed. “Byto is one of the best players of most games of skill and chance combined in the Arena. Having him on friendly terms with you cannot help but be a good thing.”

“That’s my take on it. He’s still wound up over exactly what happened there, but I guess the game’s more important to him. Selpa didn’t come, and I’m not sure we’ll see him for a while.”

“Someday,” Orphan said with that tilt that indicated a wry smile, “I would very much like to know what the objection was (though I could guess that much), and how, precisely, you managed to counter it.”

Given that it’s one of our biggest secrets? Not likely. “Don’t hold your breath, Orphan. That’s a secret worth more than you’re likely to offer.”

“Unsurprising,” he said with equanimity. “The objection being what I suspect, anything that could counter it would be… extraordinary.”

Across the room, DuQuesne saw Ariane finally disengage from what had been a long conversation with Nyanthus and Mandallon and start making her way towards DuQuesne.

“Orphan,” she said with a cheerful nod. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Greatly, yes,” Orphan replied. “But I noticed your most direct approach to our location, and suspect you wish to speak to Doctor DuQuesne rather than myself.”

Good eyes as usual; that’s what I figured.

Ariane gave a half-smile. “As usual, you’re right. But you don’t have to move. Come on, Marc, I want to talk with you somewhere quieter.”

DuQuesne nodded and followed her out of the Embassy ballroom and down a hall that led to one of the smaller conference rooms. “What’s up, Captain?” he asked, as the door slid shut.

“Hold on.” She went around the room with a device in her hand, scanning carefully. DuQuesne, recognizing what she was doing, stayed quiet.

Finally, she straightened, then gave instructions to the Embassy directly that included both electronic and sound insulation, as well as physical security (i.e., locking the door against intrusion).

“That secure, huh?”

“Did I do the job right?”

“You mean checking? Yeah, looks like you should have covered pretty much everything. You’re a quick learner. So, what’s the deal?”

She sat down, gesturing him to join her. “Marc, this is one of the few times I’m separated from Wu without having to order him away, so I wanted to get a few answers from you now.”

Right. I kinda expected this. “Go ahead, Captain.”

“I think I’ve finally put two and two together. What happened today — what Wu had the Arena show us — and the discussion afterwards, plus a couple other things, tells me what that secret is you were telling Oasis — “K” — in private.”

“And that is…?”

“Well… we heard what Byto and Selpa said, and it echoed in more detail something we heard from Orphan way back when — that there’s a limit to how much individuals could enhance themselves. And we even have some more direct evidence for it — a couple of the top commando soldiers we brought in found that their enhanced capabilities were way below spec here in the Arena, and nothing they could do would bring those capabilities back. But when they went back home, everything worked fine.”

Startled, DuQuesne gave a nod and a grin. “You know, I didn’t pick up on that little test at all. You managed that right under our noses and no one caught on?”

“I did. Well, with Saul and the CSF helping set it up on the quiet. They wanted to verify that guess. They weren’t happy about the results, either.”

“I can imagine. Go on.”

“Well, back when the Blessed had kidnapped me and you guys rode to the rescue, we thought we’d lost Wu — and then he showed up at the head of a living armada and kicked the crap out of practically a whole crew of Blessed. And that made me think about Wu Kung really hard, and even more so after this race. Did you know he could actually communicate with Arena animals? I wondered if that was just something anyone could do — I mean, the Arena does all that other translating for free — but I couldn’t get any other creatures to react when I tried it out on our Upper Sphere.”

“Yeah, I knew. He showed it the first time we visited the Sphere together, and I had a gut feeling it meant something important.”

“Something like an extension of what Byto described, right? About Hyperion being the world for your people.”

“You’ve got it,” DuQuesne said. I think she really does. “And yes, I think it does mean what you think it does, for Wu, maybe for Ki… Oasis, and probably for me, too. I’m not going any farther than that, even here. If we’re right, it’s the biggest ace in the hole humanity has.”

“And you don’t trust Wu to keep the secret?”

“It’s not a matter of trusting Wu,” DuQuesne said. “It’s knowing what Wu’s like. He can keep a secret like, oh, a surprise birthday party, or a prank he’s going to pull, for a few days, but a secret this big, and one that affects him, for what might be months or years — since ideally we don’t want to let that set of felines out of their containment units until we absolutely have to? No, he’d never manage that. He’d get put in some situation where he got really mad over someone being mistreated and let it all out. We saw that within the first few weeks we were here. Sure, that worked out fine in the end with Tunuvun, but…”

She nodded. “I understand. And I understand why you didn’t even want to drop it on me. You couldn’t be sure, and even if you were, we don’t know the nature and extent of … this issue.”


Ariane nodded again and stared abstractedly into the empty air of the conference room. “Can I ask you something, Marc?”

“You can always ask. And I’ll try to answer.”

“When you… in your original life, I mean…” She rolled her eyes, a flash of blue below the sky-blue hair. “Argh. When you were in Hyperion, you and Richard Seaton were best friends, right?”

“Pretty much from the time we met, yeah. We were a lot alike, but just enough different that the other guy sort of filled in gaps the first one didn’t know he had, if that makes any sense.”

“It does. So… I read the original Skylark books, of course. He must have married Dorothy Vaneman, if they kept anything about him the same.”

“Sure did. I was best man, of course.”

“So you…” She actually blushed slightly. “Did you meet anyone? If you were replacing Crane, then you would have –”

He looked down. “No, never did, quite. There were… well, could have been, maybe, a couple women, but the chance never quite came. See, I wasn’t quite the original DuQuesne, so Stephanie De Marigny wasn’t really the match for me, I wasn’t Crane, so they didn’t put Margaret Spencer in, and I wasn’t exactly Kimball Kinnison either, though our adventures were in a universe that combined the two series, so I never had a Clarissa equivalent.” He felt his smile touched with sadness. “The old bastard admitted that he and his friend never could quite figure out the right person to match me with, and said he wasn’t sure if he should be sad or grateful, since it would’ve meant I lost even more when…”

“I know,” she said quickly. “There was nothing left of your … world, then?”

“No,” he said heavily. “The five of us were the main targets of the counteraction at first, and the AIs driving the countermeasure figured — probably rightly — that depriving us of our whole basis, our world, was the best chance of breaking us.”

“So… who was ‘the old bastard’ you mentioned?”

“My personal Frankenstein, Doctor Timothy J. Bryson (though he didn’t actually rate the title of ‘Doctor’). The guy in charge of making the Doc Smith Hyperion — and honestly pretty much the only one so interested in Smith’s old work that he pushed through my creation.”

“Are you saying he’s still alive?”

“Yeah. Not many of them left, after Maria-Susanna got through with them, but… well, after I got over being furious at the whole mess of them, I decided I at least owed him my existence so I helped him disappear — with a little assist from Saul. Gave him another warning before we left about our new problem — the renegade AI. Maybe it’s not going to give a damn about the so-called experimenters, but I didn’t want to take chances.”

The look she gave DuQuesne warmed him through. “Marc, that was… noble of you.”

“What? No, I… look, okay, it was more than some of the others would’ve done for their creators, yeah. But mad as I was about what he’d done, he was one of the ones who decided that the whole thing had gone too far. I never found out for sure… but I think he — and Nat, his AISage and fellow researcher — might’ve tweaked the security feeds enough to give us the slack we needed. I do know he was one of the ones that tried to help both groups get out of there when it came apart. And the two of them had created me. I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t have any memories real or false, if he hadn’t reached back three centuries and tried to breathe life into some old author’s pulp fiction.”

“So you helped this Bryson and his AISage escape?”

“Just Bryson.” He shook his head. “Nat… Nat got wiped out making sure Bryson and a couple others got clear. Don’t know who got him, but it was one of the villain AIs, I’m pretty sure. Maybe even the one we’re dealing with now.” He looked up, although he wasn’t seeing the far side of the room now; just the old man’s face, and the shadow of Hyperion. “Anyway, why’d you ask?”

“Well…” She blushed. “Never mind. We had better get back to the celebration, and tomorrow we’ll have a lot to get ready for.”

“As you say, Captain.” He could not keep a broad smile from his face as he rose and gestured the door open. “After you!”