Nariminia had made a full report to the Captain who was interested in their discoveries. Finding a server-ship was quite exciting, especially from the archeological point of view. So many Terrans, especially the ones in the farther-flung settlements didn’t even know their own history anymore, other than vague stories. A trove of data like this was like finding a horse at the end of a rainbow. He’d also mentioned the other object they’d found, and the Captain had sat up, taking more interest.
“Ice? Frozen?”, the Captain said, curious now. This certainly wasn’t the behavior that they’d come to expect from Terrans. “Any conjecture why?”
Nariminia and Lerupta looked at each other. Finally Lerupta spoke. “Captain…I..well, if this chunk of ice was that important that it’s on a server ship, then perhaps it was someone who was important to the company for some reason?” Xe shrugged. “We’d need some more data to know why.”
The captain had nodded, stroking the purring floret on their lap. The floret arched their back in delight as a single finger traced a line from hip to toe and back while thinking. “Hmmm…yes. You say that you got an archaeologist on the case?”
“Yes. A Doctor Gloriananatha Drinadlu, Eighth Bloom. The artifact is secured in her lab, and she’s beginning to do some investigating,”, Nariminia said, and the Captain nodded.
“Well, then there you go. You…oh, who’s a good girl?”, The Captain purred, running fingers down the floret’s sides who flopped back, panting, looking up with glazed eyes.
“Me!! I’m…mmmm…I’m your good girl, Lulu!!”, the floret whispered, looking up at them with a glaze to their eyes.
“Sorry. You know how it is, she’s just so adorable,”, The Captain said, not sounding sorry in the slightest. Both of the other Affini nodded along, because what Affini DIDN’T stop everything short of combat to adore a floret. The captain smiled at their floret and resumed gently stroking, the class-A’s ensuring that their floret enjoyed the bliss that their touch brought. “Very well. Keep me posted, and stay in touch with the Doctor.”
Once the two Affini had said their goodbyes and left, Nariminia whispering “Lulu” with a grin, the Captain turned back to their floret and smiled. “Now my darling, you know what we’ve said about calling me that in front of my crew,”, as a vine tipped with a needle-bearing flower rose up, swaying sinuously side to side. “Where were we?”
Back in the lab, Natha sat there and cried. She cried for this Terran who lay behind her. She cried for the pain that was endured, and what could come to pass. What might come to pass. There were stories amongst the Terrans from long ago of seers. Of fortune tellers, sophonts who could predict the future. The Affini had looked into it, of course. They’d never found any evidence that Terrans possessed any sort of precognitive ability. But that didn’t stop Natha from wishing that they did. She sorely wished that someone would step in and tell her what was going to happen. But none stepped forward, and instead, she sat there and re-read the reports that she’d sadly committed to memory and had discussed with Athirari possible plans. Then she set to work determining the feasibility, what she’d need, and creating instrumentation to actually DO what she needed them to do.
The knock on the door to the lab was expected, and she got up, wiping her eyes on a hand towel before answering. Smiling at Nariminia, she waved him and Lerupta in, closing the door after them. “How are you both doing?”, she asked.
“Oh, I can’t complain. Got some sleep, something to eat, and I feel good as new,”, Lerupta said, xers vines quivering with excitement. Xe wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but xe had the idea that it was going to be exciting.
“Spent some time with my floret,”, he said, and then proceeded to tell them all about his floret. “He’s only the most adorable Terran ever in the history of adorable Terrans!!!”, he gushed, and then pulled out his tablet to show them pictures, videos, and even his floret singing. He knew that Natha was stalling for time, and he didn't know why, but that was ok. This chunk of ice had been floating in space for over two hundred years, another ten minutes wouldn’t make a difference while he showed off his Phillip.
They all cooed and made the appropriate sounds while Nariminia showed off his floret. Natha had to admit that the Terran WAS adorable, and Leptra sighed dreamily. “He’s so cute!!”, xe said, and Nariminia smiled and told him to come over to his hab anytime he wanted. “I’m sure Phillip will love to meet you.” Lerupta agreed, and then Nariminia looked at the doctor, who started to fidget. “Doctor? Are you well?”
She sighed. Natha knew there was no way around this. “I…I know who this is”, she said, indicating the ice. “Pull up a chair, or make yourself comfortable. This is going to be upsetting.” Calling up the view from her tablet onto the wall, she took a deep breath. The first thing she pulled up was a picture of a Terran male. He stared out at them with pure rage on his face, a still life view of hatred on his florid face. “This is Jeff Rinelina”, she said, waving a hand. “He was fairly prolific back in the day in his home city of San Diego, which was in California, back in the Old United States. A prolific murderer, from twenty oh-five to about twenty twenty five. His career began when he was merely a teenager, and only got worse once he reached adulthood and met some of his slightly more-savory but still criminal associates.” She took a breath. “He was a career criminal in addition to being a serial killer who turned his grisly need into a business. At first he was a contract killer, taking lives for money, then he took over an organized crime family. And things got worse.”
She turned to the other two Affini who were looking at her with horror. And she continued speaking in a numb voice. “There were very few areas of crime that his organization didn’t expand into. And when they met opposition, they….they slaughtered them. Root and stem, wiping out whole families of his opposition, criminal or otherwise. Using fear tactics to cow anyone who may have taken a stand against him. It was an open secret who he was and what he was doing, but nobody was ever able to connect him to his crimes. Legally,”, she said, stressing the words. “Witnesses disappeared, or their families were threatened and harmed. Be glad that you…I may never sleep again without medication. And then….”, and she turned away for a second. While she had spoken, a long list of crimes had scrolled down the wall. Names that had been forgotten by anyone, lost to history. But not her. She stood as witness to them. The only one who knew they had once existed. Their stories cut short by a sophont who spread nothing but pain and misery everywhere he went..
Wiping her eyes for the ninth time today, she waved a vine and a new picture sprang up on the wall. “Meet Kristin Drigorani,”, she said, waving a hand. A smiling Terran female looked out at them, holding up a camera with a long lens, beaming. “She was what they called an investigative photojournalist. She took pictures with her camera, telling a story. She was also an investigative journalist, which meant that she did research into her stories, writing for local newspapers. Trying to tell the truth, ostensibly. She somehow managed to get a hold of photo evidence of Rinelina’s activities, and then began to dig into his organization, putting together evidence of his crimes. I would gather that she tried to be as circumspect as possible.” She sighed.
“She took her evidence, which was fairly substantial and complete, to the authorities. They arrested Jeff Rinelina, charged him with a multitude of crimes, each of which would have landed him in prison for years. But all of them? He was looking at multiple lifetimes behind prison. The authorities tried to hide Kristin, to keep her from harm while the trial, called ‘“The Trial of the Century”,’ approached. The lawyers were having a field day, motions and countermotions flying back and forth, the defense team trying to postpone the trial indefinitely, bury it in what they called red tape. The prosecution, those trying to see justice done obviously opposed them and were the louder voice. And all this while, this sophont sat in a cell, having regular contact with his lawyers, who also spoke with his associates through some fairly complicated codes to avoid the authorities. Kristin had no idea that the authorities had been compromised, that all of the guards protecting her had either been paid off, or had their families threatened in such a manner that they were too scared to oppose Rinelinas men. Two of her guards disappeared at the same time as Kristin, their bodies found the next day. Kristin…”, and she began sniffling again.
Both of the other Affini moved over to comfort her, vines entwining with hers. Giving her strength and fortitude, just by their very presence. After another few minutes, she was able to continue. “Nobody knew where Kristin, the star witness of the trial, was. And the thought was that without her, there would be a mistrial and Rinelina would go free. But the same night that she disappeared, a building fire caught the eyes of some locals passing by, and they ran in, dragging a badly beaten and burnt but still alive body from the wreckage. At great risk to themselves, I might add. Terrans. Such capacity for goodness and bravery…and for cruelty. A strange dichotomy, wouldn’t you say? But I digress. DNA records were needed to identify the still living sophont, since they’d rendered her….her injuries were that severe. It was Kristin, but her injuries were not survivable. And without her…The prosecutor, a sophont named Blake, was running out of time. Even on life support, with round the clock cutting edge care, there was nothing they could do. And then a doctor named Aurrus-Na’tezia stepped forward. He claimed that he could cryogenically freeze Kristin, keeping her indefinitely alive until the trial. Then he could just ‘thaw her out,’, revive her, and have her identify Rinelina in court.” And she snorted. “Fucking dramatic”, as the other Affini merely raised eyebrows. “They were going to have her basically point to her killer in court, and then dramatically die of her injuries. Heartless and dramatic. But Blake had no choice, he had nothing else, no other options. So he agreed.”
“And so Aurrus-Na’tezia took Kristins body to the lab. He submerged it in Pykrete after injecting the Pykrete and Kristin with a cryonic additive, a hydrochemical gluconamide, that he never shared. But I have his notes, so I know what he used. Then he covered it in liquid helium, cooling everything so fast that in essence Kristin was flashfrozen. But because of the Pykrete, there were no air bubbles, no ice crystals to expand and destroy her body. And because liquid helium is a superfluid, they set it spinning, and it continued spinning, staying in its freezer. And the war of the red tape continued.”
Natha grinned savagely. “But Rinelina got his comeuppance. He was allowed to leave the prison, under heavy guard, to attend the funeral of a parent. The event was strictly kept secret, but the corrections officers ALL testified that they gave the information to a specific sophont. And while he was there, this sophont, the mother of one of the murdered guards, appeared at the gravesite and killed him in cold blood. Oddly enough, none of the guards stood in her way when she fired her weapon. She got twenty five years in prison that was reduced to two years, and Terran society breathed a sigh of relief.” A vine waved, and the pictures of Kristin smiling at them suddenly was covered with pictures of newspapers. Headlines showing the demise of ‘Reaper Rinelina,’, ‘The Demon of Diego’ all scrolled by. A Terran newscaster began to discuss the legal ramifications of the case.
“But now they had a problem. Kristin was still there, and according to the doctor, she could be brought back. But her injuries were catastrophic, and she’d never survive. The legal battle now began again, but this time with Kristin at the center.” The three Affini turned their heads, twelve sets of eyes looking at the circular block of ice that was being kept frozen by Affini tech. “Sophonts argued the legality of reviving her just to die. Other sophonts argued the legality of removing her from the freezer where she was located. And then it got into the ethics. At this point, it had already been forty years since she had been put into what was called ‘carbonite,’, the ‘Modern Day Han Solo.’. She…”, and Natha trailed off, seeing the blank stares.
“It’s from some Terran media that made a HUGE impact on Terran society in the 1980’s through 2050, spawned almost eleven sequels. Including a holiday special we won't discuss. Some sci-fi space western named Star Wars. One of the main characters is frozen in a substance called carbonite, and then sold to a gangster. Anyways, that’s what the media began calling Kristin. And the arguments began to rage again. At this point, she was very much Schroeders Horse. And the medical technology to fix her injuries still didn’t exist. And so they kept her facility active, because to shut it off would be tantamount to murder, they said.”
She stopped as Lerupta raised xers vine. “Schroeders Horse? I’m not familiar with that analogy.”
“Ahhh. Well, there was a sophont named Schroeder and he put a horse in a box. Put a device into the box, then sealed it airtight so nobody could see inside. The device may or may not have had a lethal poison in it. According to the theory, the horse is both alive and dead at the same time. It was used in their early understanding of quantum physics, when the little cuties were just starting out.” She took a deep breath. “The ethical committees argued and discussed it. Philosophy professors wrote books regarding the ethics of keeping her in the ice versus thawing her and letting nature take its course. And that was even IF they could successfully revive her, which was always the question as well. She was like the horse. Both alive and dead at the same time, and only attempting to remove her from the ice would determine which. Fundamentally shifting reality, on a quantum level. But they’d get only one chance. And THAT was the other problem. Even if they could successfully revive her they didn’t have the technology to fix the damage. Even after all that time.”
“Anyways, fast forward a few years and the Amazon Corporation bought the facility that Kristin was being stored in. Using it as a ‘“humanitarian project’” so they could avoid paying taxes, they kept it operant. And then they merged with Netflix some years later, and it was easier to keep her on a ship that was exposed to the vacuum of space. A free way to keep her in what amounted to stasis, while still pointing to her and showing that they ‘truly cared,’ “, she said sarcastically, pulling up news articles and sound bites.
“They didn’t care. They just used her to justify saving money and not paying their fair share. Capitalism,”, she spat, face twisting with revulsion. “And then the ship went into orbit around a rogue planet that was between four separate systems that paid for access to the servers that the Netlfix and Chill Bill had created. The ship was serviced every twenty five years or so, the ship needing minimal power due to the fairly robust power plant, minimal course corrections needed, and the fact that the moon the planet was orbiting wasn’t near enough of a star to heat it up. They didn’t need to run refrigeration units or anything else, since the vacuum would do it with no energy needed. And since they were servicing the servers, updating it with new media, they could renew the fuel cells as well, and perform needed maintenance to keep the ship operant. There were even plans to harness the power of a local star and retrofit the ship to accept solar energy sent vial ltight-focus laser.”
Natha looked at the block of solid ice, and the mass inside it. “They froze her, and then kept her in the dark”, she said, starting to sniffle again. “I can’t detect any electrical activity inside the ice, but that’s not the point. Even if she’s…she was in the DARK. Alone and forgotten.” She swallowed hard. “So…now we know who she is. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”