SPACE FRIENDS INDEED: Chapter 6

As they dressed next morning, David and Kathy discussed what to do with the cube. They concluded that she should take it to the University. The institution could guard it more securely than their home, and the various departments could evaluate its contents more thoroughly than Best Friend Robots.

Kathy placed the cube in her handbag. As usual, David brought Jenny in her carrier, strapped her into the passenger seat, and leaned in for a parting kiss.

This morning Kathy was too excited to bother with the news. She brought up the cube's opening file, which she had seen briefly the night before. it showed a verdant, sunlit meadow and more of the extraterrestrials. She brought up folders of plants and animals and was immersed in studying them when Balder shouted "Danger!"

Kathy looked up and saw that a car had emerged from a side road. The driver was slumped in his seat, but he was steering towards them, although he was weaving a little. At the same moment she was thrown against her safety belt as Balder braked hard and then began to back up. He maneuvered to face the oncoming car, then turned on his headlights at full power. Blinded, the drunk swerved wildly and plunged into the ditch. His engine stalled. He collapsed. The entire incident had taken less than thirty seconds.

Balder said, "I have called the police. They should be here in a few minutes. I'll stop on the shoulder while you and the baby recover."

Jenny was crying. Kathy was shaken, but she took her child out of the baby carrier and held her until they both calmed down.

When the highway patrol arrived they hauled the now unconscious driver out of his car and summoned a tow truck. After questioning Kathy about the incident, they told her that she could stop until she recovered. A cruiser remained with her.

After about ten minutes she said "Balder, proceed," and waved goodbye to the patrolman in the cruiser.

* * *

David had brought up the news. There had been no new developments during the night, except that the planet had continued to brighten. It could now almost be seen with the naked eye. But the media had found another unusual event to keep the public attentive. In a small village in the tiny South American country of Paraguay two children had been saying that they were seeing the mother of Jesus. She had told them that messengers would be arriving with help for the human race, and that people should unite and work together. But someone whom she called the enemy of God would attempt to prevent the human race from uniting and making good use of the help that was being sent. Thousands had flocked to watch the children during the apparitions. The previous day there had been what was being claimed as a mass miracle. Hundreds of people with apparently incurable diseases had been healed in the space of a few minutes. Many Roman Catholics were hailing this as vindication of the good intentions of the beings who were sending the signals. The Vatican would say only that the matter had to be investigated.

David pondered this and the apparition which he and Kathy had witnessed the previous evening. He remembered that the extraterrestrial being had mentioned the apparition of the mother of Jesus and given them a similar warning.

His phone wang. Kathy was on the line. She described the near-accident and complimented Balder's quick action and initiative. David said that he would meet her at the university, though she said that she and the baby were fine.

David directed freyja to go to the University. during the short trip he sat deep in thought. He didn't believe that his robot brain was capable of the initiative Balder had shown. The robot car should have tried to outrun the drunk and to shake him off by darting around corners. No one on the design team had ever mentioned using headlights as a weapon. Not even thought of it, probably.

He called President Schaefer and explained the situation. He added that he had information which he did not want to discuss over the phone.

* * *

Kathy had just arrived in her office and had placed the cube on her desk and Jenny in the "baby box" when David burst in. He hugged and kissed her. From the corner of his eye he could see Jenny smiling to see him.

When they could speak David said, "Darling, are you sure you are all right?"

"Quite sure," said Kathy. "Let's put this behind us. I have to prepare for classes and get Project Midgard off the ground."

"I can't put it behind me," said David. "Balder behaved quite unexpectedly in protecting you by using his headlights. I have to find out why. If it was a bug it was a very fortunate one."

"Well, how about if you check him out while I confer with my teaching assistants and give them my lecture notes. They'll be taking over my classes. Then I'll be setting up the Project. This cube gives me more to do than anyone would have thought yesterday."

"I'll do that. President Schaefer knows I'm here. He'll be very interested in what I find out about Balder."

David went down to the parking lot. Balder recognized him and unlocked the door. David got in and said. "Balder, Supermaster commands you to suspend robot mode."

"Thumbprint please."

David pressed his thumb on the reader on the dashboard. The screen showed the usual operating system menu. He ran through the diagnostics. Everything was fine. But there were some new algorithms which weren't the result of learning by the robot itself. Could the being they had seen last night have inserted them? How? The timestamp on them was early this morning. More mystified than ever, David put Balder back in robot mode.

He scanned Balder's records of the past few hours and copied the segment showing the near-accident to his phone.

He called Kathy and said. "Balder has some new algorithms. i don't know how they got there. I want to take him to Best Friend

robots. I'll tell Freyja that you'll be using her until further notice."

"OK. i may be late for dinner. There's a lot to do here."

David called Freyja and said, "Freyja, do you recognize Master."

"yes, your voiceprint is perfect."

"I'm taking Balder to the shop. You will serve Kathy until I bring him back."

"Very well."

David hung up and said, "Balder, go to Best Friend Robots, and enter the car-service bay."

Balder acknowledged the command and set off. David could notice nothing unusual in his behavior.

At the company he copied the new algorithms to the database, then asked the mechanic to check over Balder thoroughly. When the car was on the hoist David went to see Schaefer.

As he entered the office David said< "Hi, Joe. I want to show you what I didn't want to talk about over the phone." He set his phone to show Minnie's record of the previous evening's appearance and handed it to Schaefer.

The President viewed the audiovisual display with interest. When the extraterrestrial being mentioned God he smiled. When it referred to Jesus he paused the recording. "Dave," he said, "I'm a churchgoer. This is significant."

"Yes. Perhaps you can clear it up for me. Is it connected with the news reports of a miracle attributed to the mother of Jesus?"

"It could be. Both apparitions referred to an enemy. Don't you think that Kathy might be a target, since she has been named as head of a Project dealing with that mysterious planet?"

David paled. "Maybe our visitor put those new algorithms in Balder to protect her. It must have taken some work to get through all the layers of security."

"Balder must have a record of what happened."

"He does, but he says that when he saw that drunk he just knew what to do. Give me the phone and I'll show you the scene."

The President viewed the clip and handed the phone back. "Very clever. Those new algorithms could be an asset to us."

"Yes. I copied them into our database. Let me show you the rest of what we saw last night."

Joe grinned when he saw Kathy give the alien a physical. "You've got quite a gal, Dave," he said. "What are you doing with that cube?"

"Kathy took it to the University. I copied some files onto my computer here. She will send us anything else we want."

"So she was carrying the cube this morning. Let's go look at those files and at those new algorithms. And I think you had better call Kathy and warn her."

* * *

In her office Kathy was meeting with Bertelsen, the Internet guru. He had shown her the new midgard.wisc.edu website and they were discussing what should be on it. The home page would definitely contain a picture of a Midgardian. They added other images from the cube and set the site to go live. Further refinements would have to wait until Kathy had brought the contents of the cube to the attention of the various departments of the University.

Bertelsen set up the juno@midgard.wisc.edu email address and installed an AI program that would sort incoming messages into categories based on their content. After they had discussed the messages he would place on the social media he left.

Kathy called Professor Newell, the head of the biology department, and asked him to confer with her to help get the Midgard Project organized. He agreed to come to her office when she said that she had special things to show him.

He arrived in a few minutes. He was a distinguished-looking man in his late fifties with graying hair and the beginnings of baldness.

Kathy said, "Dr. newell, I have data that was not available yesterday."

"Jim to you."

"OK. Kathy to you."

She started the recording of the previous evening's apparition playing on her phone and handed it to him.

He looked and listened attentively. When the being mentioned God, he frowned, for he was an atheist. His frown deepened when the creature referred to Jesus. Why should it be talking about something specifically Christian? When he saw Kathy give the creature a physical he looked at her in astonishment. At the conclusion of the recording he handed the phone back to her.

"Did you double-check that it wasn't wearing some kind of disguise?" he asked.

"Yes. The feathers in its crest were definitely growing out of the skin. There were no traces of anything inorganic about its face. The hands were quite normal, except that they had only three fingers. I did look inside its mouth. It was like a beak. There were no teeth. You heard it say it had a gizzard."

"How about this cube that it gave you?"

"It's on my desk. My computer is downloading files from it now."

Jim glanced at the screen. It happened to be showing a picture of a meadow with strange flowers. He picked up the cube. There seemed nothing unusual about it except for the images of the planet and its moon on each face.

Kathy's phone rang. She listened, said "Yes," and hung up.

"Jim," she said, "I didn't bother to tell you that I was almost in an accident this morning. An apparently drunk driver was trying to crash into my car. It's a robot. It maneuvered the drunk into the ditch, where his engine stalled. Dave just called and told me that the enemy our visitor mentioned might have been trying to harm me. Did you see the news about a purported miracle in Paraguay? The mother of Jesus was supposed to have been appearing. and she also warned about an enemy."

"You know I don't believe in miracles or anything supernatural. But you should be wary of attacks and harassment in any case. You're a public figure now, since you head the Midgard Project."

"I will. Let's get back to the Project. Who do you think we should ask to be on the steering committee?"

"Professor Andrews in Comparative Religion would be a good choice. I've had a lot of friendly arguments with him. Even he admits that many religious phenomena are bogus. You and I can hold up the biology end. We need people in physics and engineering. Later on we may even want someone in humanities."

"Another thing. How do we safeguard this cube. My computer has downloaded all it can hold. There are many terabytes more."

"We could put it in the biohazard lab. No thief is going to sneak in there."

Kathy laughed. "I hope you are joking."

"Yes. We need somebody in computer science also. They can put everything on the University's main computers. Those are backed up regularly. We can entrust the cube itself to campus security."

"I don't know anyone in computer science." said Kathy, "but my husband might have a good recommendation. Meanwhile, how about if we include the astrophysicist Calvert. He had some good comments at the Chancellor's meeting yesterday. Maybe he can explain how that planet is getting sunlight when it isn't near any sun."

"Very good," said Jim. "Give David a call and see what he has to say."

David recommended Professor Nancy Jeans.

Calvert agreed to be on the steering committee.

They assembled in Kathy's office and began reviewing the contents of the cube extensively. It turned out that there was a catalogue of the cube's contents. They put this in the midgard.wisc.edu website. Jeans summoned a security guard and took the cube to upload its files onto the University computers.

The others began to look at activities on the juno@midgard.wisc.edu email address and on the social media. The website had already attracted considerable attention. Speculations were rife on the social networks. The AI program for the email address had put several messages in the most interesting category. They described other appearances of Midgardians who had given cubes in various languages to several people in different parts of the world. More such messages came in as they watched.

Again Kathy's phone rang. The caller ID showed that it was the Chancellor. He said, "Dr. Larsen, please come to my office immediately."

"Is something wrong?"

"I'm planning to make an announcement. I want you to take part."

"The steering committee for the Midgard Project is with me. May I bring them also?"

"Certainly. They could be helpful too."

Chancellor Roberts ushered the group into his studio. When they were seated he said, "The President of the United states called me and told me that the Department of Defense is demanding that the University stop distributing the information on the cube and turn it over to them. I have no intention of doing any such thing. Would Dr. Larsen join me in the announcement?"

Kathy said, "The creature who appeared to me and David last night said that the information was for all of humanity. Besides, we have been getting messages about other appearances, in which other people were given similar cubes."

"One of the aliens appeared to you!?"

"Yes, I have a record of the appearance on my phone. Can I show it on your big screen?"

"Sure, let's set up the connection." Those who had not already seen the recording looked and listened raptly.

When it was over the Chancellor said, "Let's use the portion starting with the presentation of the cube as part of the announcement. That will make quite an impression."

Calvert, the astrophysicist, said, "Let's also point out that science advances fastest and best when knowledge is freely shared."

After a rehearsal the equipment was readied for the news segment.

Kathy and the Chancellor were seated side by side. He said, "Our Midgard Project has made great progress since yesterday. There is now a website and activity on the social networks. Needless to say, there is also government interest. While we will co-operate with the government of our country we cannot let it control the information which has been entrusted to us by the aliens. Dr. Larsen, who is sitting beside me, has a recording of this event. After we show it she will make additional comments."

The clip showing the presentation of the cube and ending with the disappearance of the extraterrestrial being was then shown.

Kathy said, "As you can see, we cannot in good faith keep the information on the cube secret. I might also point out that science advances best and fastest when knowledge is freely shared. Finally, we have been receiving reports of other aliens appearing to different people and presenting them with similar cubes. Secrecy is therefore not only inadvisable but impossible. they are making sure that nobody has a monopoly on their gifts."

Chancellor Roberts wound up the news segment saying, "We expect to learn much from the cube in the next few days. There will be further announcements."

Back in her office Kathy called Professor Jeans and brought her up to date. She was still monitoring the copying of the cube's data onto the University computers. Kathy set up a teleconference with her. The committee worked for several hours exploring the information on the cube. Professor Calvert found the source of the sunlight. As the Chinese had conjectured, there was a satellite orbiting much closer to the planet than the moon. It was in a polar orbit and revolved around the planet once for every eight rotations of the parent body. The energy of mater-antimatter annihilation was converted to a sunlike spectrum and focused so that it illuminated one hemisphere of the planet. How this was done and where the antimatter came from the cube did not explain, merely stating that the phenomena were on a different physical plane.

* * *

When David got home Freyja was not in her place. Entering the house, he found that Kathy had called Minnie and told her to have snacks ready for himself and the children. The robot said that Kathy should be home about two hours after the usual dinner time. Minnie put grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches on the table.

After eating, David and the children went to watch the news. Pictures of the Midgardians and scenes from the cube came first. Then the announcement by Kathy and the Chancellor was shown. When Kathy examined the alien, Anne exclaimed "Wow! Mom." Bob stared at the cube.

The news stream then featured reports from various countries that Midgardians had appeared to numerous people and given them similar cubes in different languages. Other websites had been set up and were disseminating the information. The attempts by governments to gain sole possession of it were moot.

When Kathy arrived home she saw Balder in his place and said, "Freyja, you will serve David now, as usual."

Minnie gave the family a simple dinner. The children were put to bed. Kathy used a breast pump to obtain milk for Jenny and gave the container to Minnie. The robot would care for the baby during the night. The parents were hoping for a good night's sleep after the excitement of the last two evenings.

When they finally got to bed David held Kathy especially close. After a while they made love, and then they slept.