Cooperative: The Destination
James meets Steven
“I think I tracked down the integration issue,” James said as he typed furiously on the keyboard. He desperately hoped that Ashley was computer-ignorant enough to not comprehend what he was typing.
“Those are our records on Steven.” Ashley leaned over James’ shoulder.
“Do you mind?” James looked back at him, masking his fear with irritation.
Ashley shrugged and stood up.
“There’s corruption in the data files on that cluster. I’m working to verify the backup and restore the records,” James said, trying not to look Ashley in the eye.
“You should have RAID redundancy. Should be trivial to recreate the lost records.”
James looked around, startled. An Elf had walked in and stood looking at the screen critically.
“Um… is he allowed to…”
“That doesn’t look like you’re running a checksum on the data. What algorithm are you using to parse the…”
“Are you authorized to see this?” James interrupted, defensive. The Elf looked at him, amused. He glanced at Ashley then returned his attention to James.
“Your trojan was pathetic. I mean really? Built in backups? You don’t trust the systems’ own redundancy?”
“A hacker with ethics.” The Elf looked at Ashley. “Who’d a thunk it?”
“He doesn’t have clearance to see this,” James stammered, looking at Ashley.
“Perhaps. I’ll wager we’ll be re-examining your clearance too.”
“You called me. Remember?” James stood up. Ashley looked at him sternly and James sank back down into the chair.
“You arranged for us to call you. Steven here noticed something odd and suggested we play it through.” Ashley winked at the Elf.
“Ste… you? You’re Steven Crow?” James half stood up. “But… you’re an… you’re one of them.”
“One of…” Steven looked around dramatically then leaned forward. “One of… who?” he whispered conspiratorially.
“This is all wrong. You’re supposed to be human. Your pictures.” James sank back down in the chair, dejected.
Steven sat on the desk and regarded James curiously. He blinked then closed his eyes as he looked at James. He glanced at Ashley then returned his attention to James. “How long have you known?”
James looked up, clearly dismayed. “What?”
“You couldn’t have gated on Terra. The Sadari have had it locked down for nearly twenty years. You can’t be more than, what… forty-five?”
“Gate?” James fidgeted.
“Yeah. You might call it teleport.” Steven crossed his arms.
James stood up quickly, making Steven hop off the desk. “You know? How do you know?”
“You glow. When I close my eyes,” Steven said. “All Gatekeepers glow.”
James looked at his hands. “Gatekeeper. That’s really what you call it?”
“Well, it’s the simplest translation of Mar’e Or’helling ha Astrelin. I think…” Steven looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “Opener and Traveler of the Fracture” is a bit of a mouthful.” He looked at Ashley. “You know… it’s the same name in Common and Elvish. And Craolin even. I wonder what the root of that name is.”
“You’re asking me?” Ashley said, laughing. He shook his head, clearly amused.
“Of course not. Just musing.” Steven grinned. He looked at James. “You’re Terran. I can smell it. But you survived the Awakening with just Terran genetics?”
“Awakening?” James looked at Steven, shaking his head.
“Gatekeepers need to be Awakened by another. I… I was Awakened by my nature. But you’d need another Gatekeeper…”
“Aris said I was the only one that wasn’t Awakened,” James said quickly. “She said that I was the first.” He got a distant look. “But… I… I was there and then I’m here. I mean, not here on Endard. On Earth.” James looked around then at Steven. “I need to go back. But I don’t know how.”
“You’ve never gated before?”
“I went there and she helped me come back,” James said quietly, looking down, as he remembered. “I saw… I fell. I was falling.” James looked up sharply. “That’s what that was?”
Steven looked at him blankly.
“I tripped. I was falling. I knew I was going to die. But I saw it. A stone chamber. The floor, I felt it… I opened my eyes and was there.” He sank back down into the chair.
Ashley looked at a couple of security officers who were hovering around the door and shook his head. They nodded and departed. Steven leaned against the desk and looked at James. “You still don’t know what you are?”
“I’m a systems analyst,” James mumbled. “I was just trying to find something nice to put on my apartment wall. My old roommate moved out and my new roommate didn’t have anything…” James stopped and sighed. “You’re supposed to be human. That’s what I saw. What she showed me.”
Steven smiled. “Part human. This fur is actually new.” He looked at his arm and played with the fur. “And it’s really weird.”
“You’re not one of them?”
“‘One of them’ would be Elf. It’s okay to say it,” Steven said, annoyed.
“Sorry… I just keep… Elf sounds corny to say,” James stammered again.
Steven regarded him for a moment. Another Elf walked in and Steven glanced back and said something to him in a beautiful flowing language. It sounded just like how Aris sounded, but different.
James squinted. “You want my blood?”
“You understood that? Have you been tended by a Teacher?” Steven looked at him, startled.
James shook his head. “I just knew it when she was talking to me. Like I had learned it.” James said, scratching his head as he warily watched the other Elf grab his arm and place a small brass patch on it. He glanced at Steven. “I need to go back. I don’t know how.”
“Just remember it… see it… and go,” Steven said simply, trying to find a way to explain it in easy terms. “Kinda like a remembered taste.”
“I tried,” James said.
“If you were on Terra, you’d have failed,” Steven said. “Unless you’re… special. Like me.”
The other Elf shook his head and said something. James looked at him then at Steven. “I guess that means I’m normal?”
Steven made a face and sat on the desk. He said something to the Elf and James interrupted. “Listen, I know what you are saying but not all of it. At least have the courtesy to speak in English, or slower.”
“I was asking how you would have survived the Awakening. Terran genetics are not robust enough.” Steven said, perplexed.
“Well…I wasn’t Awakened. I just touched a painting.” James said defensively.
“Oh. Well… that explains everything.” Steven said sarcastically.
James scowled and crossed his arms. “I’ve been seeing her. But she can’t see me.” James said hesitantly. “And the other… the Younger…”
“You’ve met the Younger?” Steven stood up abruptly, interrupting James.
“Well… yeah. She is the one who helped me get back.”
“She would have been able to break through the Sadari blockade,” Steven said to the other Elf.
“Enos’rel, for a time I thought I was a Terran,” Steven said.
“Terran…” James said then stopped, implying a question.
“Human…but not human. Humans are different. You’re Terran.” Steven said as he considered the ramifications of what he had heard. “I need to see it.”
“Sorry. I didn’t have time to take a video,” James said sourly.
“No. I mean, see it.” Steven reached out and grabbed James’ arm and James yelped, startled, closing his eyes while his consciousness was flooded with memories of his encounter. Steven focused and looked at Enos’rel. “It’s her. The Younger. But Aris… I’ve never seen an Elf carry a sword.”
“A sword?” Enos’rel asked, perplexed.
Steven nodded. “There’s a castle. Here.” Steven put his hand on Enos’rel’s cheek as James scooted away from him in the rolling chair, rubbing his arm.
“Steven… that castle has been gone for many thousands of years. Our archaeologists are still examining the remnants and matching it to our lore.” Enos’rel looked at James. “But…it appeared to be new.”
Enos’rel shook his head. “There are stories of wars in the early Cooperative days. There was some resistance to unifying.” He stumbled back and sat down in a chair. Steven looked at him, concerned. Elves were not usually clumsy.
“Yeah…okay. What does that mean? How can I go back?” James asked impatiently. “Where is this place?”
Steven looked at James, bewildered. “James…where is not the issue. We can go there now if you want. But…when.”
“When what?” James asked, irritated by the ambiguity of what he was hearing.
“The Cooperative is over a hundred thousand years old, master James,” Enos’rel said. “Even our Archives don’t go back that far. Our oldest citizen is only fifteen thousand years old.”
“Except the Faeries,” Steven interjected.
Enos’rel looked down. “Maybe. No one knows how old their elders are. But…” He looked at Steven. “Is this him?”
“Who?” James asked, looking from Enos’rel to Steven.
“He knows more than I do. I just helped Asherah with her homework,” Steven said quietly.
Enos’rel nodded. “The Younger is supposed to be the mother of the Cooperative.” He looked at James. “You could very well be the father.”