The Nidi Years
Echo-1: Part 30
I walked over to my Robo-a-gogo, got in, and caught up with the Save the Whales gang fast enough. I followed behind them driving at a casual pace. I wanted to be there when they put the new white whale in the water.
Dixon contacted me as we were driving and asked me to meet her in the observation lounge under the launch dock. I split off from following the whale transport, headed down ten levels and parked outside the entrance next to Dixon’s car. I walked up to the door carrying the golden Varan gauntlets under my arm. I heard Nidi before the door open and when it did she came charging at me jumping up and wagging her tail. Dixon was standing in the center of the room, smiling.
The observation lounge was very large and not unlike the communication ports. It was a huge opened space, at least seven decks high, one glass wall with the sea behind it. A wash of blue refracted light surrounded us. There were several large couches set in various places for conversations or just relaxing. I hadn’t really seen a recreational area on the ship yet. I supposed this was the living room.
I couldn’t help looking past Dixon. Behind her were more whales than I had ever seen. Both the pods had come to meet the new arrival. There were twenty plus sperm whales moving around in the blue beyond the glass. It was an amazing sight. My eyes panned down and locked with Dixon’s.
“Pretty impressive aren’t they?” She asked.
I looked back at whales. “Yes, they are.”
Females with their young in various groupings were moving about, rolling, playing with each other, cuddling. Vronsky was there too. Slightly further out and dwarfing the rest in size. With his mechanical attachments, he seemed to be standing guard over the pods. I didn’t see Jonas anywhere. This must have been happening on Earth for millions of years and no one ever even knew. I was witness to clear family connections and social interactions between these intelligent mammals who had their own elaborate and complicated language and culture. They taught their young. I had always liked animals but never thought of them as being so sophisticated. In so many ways equal to humans. Technology brought us all together.
More and more I began to realize that I wasn’t human. I identified greatly with my Echo-1 life and I felt a deep connection to these animals. In my heart, I once shared a planet with them. I still wanted to be from Earth.
I felt a soft fuzzy hand reach up and take mine. It startled me, being both calloused and soft at the same time. It was very warm. To my right, Nidi was standing on her hind legs, looking up at me. The tips of her ears at about a meter’s height. Her hand gave mine a little squeeze.
“Oh, Nidi, look at you.”
She looked at me and gave me an expression of kindness and love. She was no monster, no animal, she was a little girl, a little wolf girl.
I smiled at Dixon. “I see you’ve made acquaintance with our newest crew member.”
Nidi and I walked over to Dixon, who put her arms around my shoulders and nuzzled under my chin, purring. Nidi let go of my hand and ran around on all fours.
“I’m glad you are back safe.” Dixon looked into my eyes for a long minute. She knew how to share a moment of silence.
I broke it. “These are for you.”
I pulled the gauntlets out and opened one of them. Dixon paused looking at me for a moment then pushed up her sleeve and allowed me to close the golden bracers over her forearms. She twisted and moved her arms about.
“They’re more comfortable than they look.”
I explained to her about the shield function and the computer and communication features.
“They’re what all the Varan’s are wearing these days. I thought they would be useful when you get to the new planet.”
She stepped back from me a few paces and opened the shield. It had a soft ruby colored glow. She smiled at me from behind it, then powered it off again.
“Thank you for thinking of me. I’m sure these will save my life one day.”
We walked over to a couch to watch the show. Nidi jumped over the entire couch in a single bound. Then she climbed up on the couch on the other side of me. Dixon was snuggled in on one side and Nidi was on the other. I noticed that Nidi was considerably warmer. It hadn’t dawned on me that we had a lower operating temperature. I supposed we were more efficient that way.
“We have a low body temperature don’t we?”
Dixon smiled at me. “You don’t really notice it until you come into contact with a mammal. We aren’t humans anymore. We are something else.” Dixon reached past me and ran her fingers through Nidi’s thick grey hair. “She’s so soft.”
Nidi curled in a ball and grrr-ed a soft-grrr.
“She’s smart too.”
Then Dixon changed the subject.
“You know I always believed in an afterlife. My mother always told me I would go to heaven. When she died I believed that she went to heaven. It somehow seemed comforting to know that one day I’d see her again.”
She looked longingly toward little Nidi.
“This world is more amazing than anything I could have ever even dreamed of. I still miss my mom though.”
Dixon had a point. There was a certain sadness in thinking back to our time in the simulation. She had lived out her entire life and died. She left behind children and a large extended family. To her, this was the afterlife.
I suppose I had died too, but somehow I didn’t feel that way. Life on the Banga seemed to be a continuation of existence for me. Maybe it helped that I was such a loner before. I had no family to speak of and at the time I left the simulation I had already sunk into a world of dreams and self-centered personal quests. I felt more connected than ever before in this new life. I connected with everyone. Maybe it was heaven after all, but I don’t think Dixon saw it that way.
“Look at them.” I pointed forward.
From our seat on the couch, the three of us were in for a good show. The Whales moved about gracefully as if floating in mid-air. The two pods began grouping together. Vronsky moved closer to the window and looked in at us.
I heard his voice in my head. “I’m assigning two attendants to our new crew member. I’ll dispatch them to your present position. You did a great job from what I’ve heard so far. Welcome back.”
I couldn’t help but have a feeling of accomplishment. Vronsky didn’t hand out praise. He swam upward and surfaced above. His gigantic tail moving past the window as he ascended. His fluke alone was like the wing of an airplane.
Dixon and I could watch whales swim all day, we definitely had that in common.
Vronsky stayed at the surface for some time, then sank back down and moved off a short distance. The two pods followed his lead and moved out of the way. The back of the transport pierced the water surface above. Sunshine dove into the water, her fluorescent bikini making her easy to spot. It’s decorative and functional she liked to say. The back of the glass tank opened and Veronica’s huge gray mass sank into the water causing a flurry of bubbles that temporarily filled our entire view. As the fuzziness cleared we could see Henry. He was swimming next to Veronica, bright and white and cautious in his new environment. As he passed Sunshine she reached out a hand and slide along his stark white side.
Dixon was very taken by him. “He’s as white as a beluga, but twice their size already. He’s going to be the real Moby Dick when he grows up.” She squeezed my side, giddy, just thinking about this idea.
“X called calls him John Henry Bonham, Moby Dick.”
Dixon thought it was an excellent name, but she definitely missed the rock-n-roll drummer reference. I was probably the only person other than X in the entire galaxy that would get that reference. Well maybe Dr. Death, he was probably a classic rock dude, certainly heavy metal.
Henry swam over to some of the other juvenile whales. They were his size. They swam in circles together. He went around to all the different calves and mothers and even rubbed up against Vronsky. It blew me away that sperm whales could be so affectionate.
I saw a huge shadow appearing in the distance. Jonas filled the scene with his arrival. He really was a huge whale. Slightly larger than Vronsky and with his scars and red tail fin, he really stood out.
The pods gathered together around him in a large circle. Vronsky faded out of our view. I assumed to take control of the ship, temporarily. Veronica was the first to approach Jonas. The little white whale hid with the other children of the pod.
Above the transport vehicle was pulled out of the water. Werner and Forklift splashed in with a swarm of tiny bubbles. Even Tom dove into the water wearing a bright red speedo. They were all swimming near Jonas. I was starting to feel I was on the wrong side of the glass. Jonas rubbed up against the side of Veronica, his forehead alone was almost as big as her. The two moved toward the first pod and they mingled together for some time. Then they moved toward the second pod and the baby white whale came forward near Veronica at first, but then to Jonas as well.
From our side of the glass, all this was happening in silence, but Sunshine later told us it was a sea of clicking in the water. That all the whales were communicating the entire time. That they were all talking at once. It was like a symphony of whale chatter. It was rare that all the whales on board got together like this. Dixon, Nidi, and I watched it all like a full-color silent movie through the giant glass window.
Nid jumped up and ran to the door which momentarily opened and closed. Then she came running back to us. Charlie was riding on her back. She jumped up on the couch and curled up again. Charlie scratched Nidi with his little boot and leaned back into her fur. The scale of the beings aboard the Banga did keep one on their toes. He looked up at me.
“Welcome back Hands, I see the rust equipment worked out for you. I’m sorry about the three deaths, well, two and a half anyway. So that is the white whale.”
The baby white whale was swimming along with Jonas and Veronica now.
“A marvel of nature he is.”
Jonas made a close pass near the window and I swear he winked at me, though, Dixon insisted it was directed to her.
“You did a really good job, Hands. We won’t forget it.”
Jonas, Veronica, and Henry swam off into the distance together. Then the two pods followed them. The water was suddenly so empty. Just the four Save the Whales gang remained bobbing near the surface. Then they were gone too.
I looked down to Charlie. “Well, what’s next?”
The following three years aboard the Banga were prolific in their productivity. I spent a huge amount of time with Charlie. He retrofitted a storage unit off the port hangar to work on the diamond Robo-combat suit for Dr. Death. He set up a team of specially reprogrammed robots who just carved diamond for a year making all the parts. I myself became a master diamond cutter. I figured it was always good to learn a new trade.
Charlie taught me the building secrets of the Ursa Minor Gnomes. I became skilled in the construction of and design principles for exoskeleton vehicles. Charlie taught me everything he knew. I was a sponge.
We spent our free time talking about dreams. The Ursa Minor Gnomes always started their day by talking about the dreams of the night before. Supposedly some of the best inventions of their society were dreamt up during sleep. I didn’t sleep much in my new body, maybe about once every five to ten days. But I always made sure to tell Charlie about my dreams and my experiments with lucid dreaming. It became something that I had put aside since my new life. I had a new outlook. I just let dreams happen, no more control.
One night I met Charlie’s wife, Charisma. She apparently spent all her time in the Ursa Gnome village that was behind the bulkhead in the main computer room. I was helping out with the rust metal armament project. We had assembled a kind of rust metal plated panic room that housed the main computer and the Ursa Minor Gnome village in its entirety. A kind of a last-ditch effort to maintain control of the ship in the event of an attack. Charisma was standing in a corner one night and she beamed a little smile up at me that was so sweet, it endeared me to her instantly.
“You’re the one Charlie has been spending so much time with. You know he even dreams of you. We’ve heard a great deal about you and I wanted to come and say hello.”
I sat down on the floor as was my custom when talking with Charlie. It was considered a real honor among their people to meet someone’s wife.
“It’s wonderful to meet you,” I said.
She smiled some more. The women of Ursa Minor were known for flirting, extreme intelligence, and inventiveness. It was well known that many of their best designs were done by women. She asked if she could see the knife the Inuit gave me. I pulled it out of my boot and set it on the floor in front of her. She asked to borrow it and my right arm Varan gauntlet. Which I also removed and placed on the floor. Four more Ursa Minor Gnomes appeared as if out of nowhere and picked up my belongings and carried them off.
“I promise to return them in good order.” She smiled again, kissed Charlie on the cheek and then walked off.
Nidi had taken to spending time with me and Charlie as we worked in the shop on the diamond Robo-com suit. The Ursa Minor people, like the Varan, had a real way with animals. Charisma began tutoring Nidi in her language and in the use of technologies. It had been a year and the tips of Nidi’s ears reached nearly my height and she took more and more to walking upright on her hind legs. She was developing a lovely white patch of fur on her chest and she was turning into a delightful child. Her language skill was remarkable. She spoke English, Varan, and Ursa Minor. Veronica had tagged her ear with a small communication device so we could find her if we needed to.
She still had a habit of excreting waste in various corners of the ship. The attendant droids had figured out her patterns and continually cleaned up after her. She was a very instinct driven creature. She also developed a real taste for Varan lobster, rainbow squid, and blue penguins. She was eating everything on the ship.
After eating a half dozen Lutung monkeys, Mox declared the Brick off limits to her.
Zandar Vandar Blunt took it upon himself to bread four new troops of Lutungs which he released in the forward top level rainforest. By the end of the first year, they were breeding out of control and Blunt declared open season on Lutung hunting for Nidi. She indulged in hunting in a preternatural way. The little girl had a wolf side and we all knew it. She was a child but also a predator.
Dr. Death was even bitten by the Nidi bug. He would go out with her at night and hunt in the jungle. The rainforests had artificial light sources and moved through a cycle of day and night. It promoted better plant growth. Most of the more biological sections of the ship had night/day functions. I think Death idolized Nidi’s natural abilities. In a way, I think he fell in love with her harder than he had ever fallen for the Vedma sisters. The two of them spent hours alone in the jungles. Death was smart enough to teach her not to tell Mox or Blunt that she also ate the small lizards that thrived in the jungles.
If it was alive on the Banga, Nidi ate it.
At the end of Nidi’s first year aboard we finished the diamond Robo-combat suit. It differed from the standard model in that it had an ion thruster unit built in, which allowed for greater movement in open space. That and the fact that it was basically indestructible with a double reinforced hydraulic system inside.
We met Dr. Death in the hangar and I think he was overcome by art when he saw it. It was the holy grail of weaponry to him. It sparkled with beauty and power. It was a thing to marvel at. Death climbed inside and diamond encased his hulking camouflaged mass. The Diamond Death as it came to be known walked over to a parked transport ship and picked it up.
“This thing is amazing. I’m going to take it into space.”
Death spent hours rocketing around the outside the ship. While he was gone Charisma, Charlie, and Nidi brought me a surprise. Charisma had fashioned a diamond twin of my bone knife. It was rather thin, incredibly strong and fit inside my wristband. It also had an electromagnetic core.
“Try throwing it,” she suggested.
I threw it as far as I could. It rocketed off like a missile, in a nearly perfect straight line and slammed into the wall on the other side of the hangar. Nidi ran chasing after it. Charlie laughed.
“No reach out your hand and call it back.”
I did. When I reached forward and thought about the knife coming back to me, it ripped out of the wall and flew back into my hand. Nidi went sliding across the deck trying to change direction mid-run. Charisma had also bored out the handle of the bone knife and gave it a similar core.
“Don’t try throwing that one into the wall or the bone will shatter. But this way you’ll never lose it.” She smiled her little smile at me.
I thanked her and Charlie endlessly.
During that year I tricked out my Robo-a-gogo with Charlie’s help. I reshaped it into a more stretched out version, a bit like a flattened triangle. I painted the whole thing mat black. Which ended up getting me lots of street credit from X and Death.
I also constructed a sidecar unit. The sidecar could be attached to any Robo-a-gogo and it was specially made for Nidi to ride in. I assumed she would get a lot bigger in time, so I planned for plenty of room. It was basically a small flatbed with an angled front and a bar for her to hold onto. She was already an incredibly strong creature. She loved it and so did X. She begged Charlie and me to make a diamond version for the Diamond-a-gogo out of the leftover material from Death’s new suit. We had just enough to diamond left to retrofit a sidecar. Nidi liked it so much she took to sleeping in it. At first, she rode with me, but more and more she rode with X, so Wingus and Dingus road in my sidecar when Nidi wasn’t around. They liked it fine, or at least they utilized it.
Jonas called for me and I met him with a spare neural unit at the lagoon beach. When I got there I realized it wasn’t for him. It was for Henry. Veronica and Jonas both were with the white whale, who had grown considerably in size as well over the last year. He was back in perfect health and all his wounds from the Vedma devices had healed completely. He had taken to life on board the Banga and was fully adopted as a member of Veronica’s pod.
I swam out to them in the water. Henry let me go right up to him. I held onto his side and attached the neural transmitter unit. I had to fine tune it a bit.
“Testing, testing, Henry, can you hear me?” I tweaked it some more. “Testing, test, test, Henry, can you hear me?”
He moved away from me in the water then his eye looked right at me. “Yes, I can hear you. Henry? Is that what my name is in your language. I understand. I like the sound of it. It’s been a year since I was connected to a ship’s computer. Thank you!”
It turned out Henry was as much a natural with technology as Jonas was. He spent that next year learning the ship’s systems inside and out. He even joined Jonas in his interest in virtual environments. He spent time traveling in the virtual Earth with Jonas. He broke his transmitter twice in a short time and when I was fixing it the second time he asked me.
“Do you ever go back inside the virtual Earth simulation?”
I told I didn’t, but that I was interested in going to the real Earth. He pulled up the file.
“I think the simulation is set in a more interesting time on the planet than it’s current state. Apparently, the waters are no longer habitable. It’s too bad that the human species destroyed it.”
Now technically I had never even been there and this was a simulation he was running. I tried to suggest that it might not have actually been that way. I also suggested that I was a different species than a human. To which Henry asked me if I was truly alive. I said, I thought so, or at least it seemed that way to me.
That brief chat left me thinking. Was I even really alive? What was this being alive thing? Was I any different than a being that was naturally procreated? And was there really a difference between self-aware artificially created intelligence and regular intelligence in animals?
I thought about Nidi. Her species was artificially evolutionarily advanced by hundreds of thousands of years with the Vedma’s technology. She was somewhere between me and a naturally occurring animal. I was certainly something much more alive than the robots on board. Even ones with advanced artificial intelligence and personalities.
Or was I the same thing?
Since we are all part of nature itself, weren’t we all naturally occurring?
My view points kept getting bigger and bigger and encompassing everything. It seemed to be the only logical way to look at the world. And by the world, I mean the Universe.
My dear reader, I’m sure you are pondering these same questions about yourself. It’s probably good you think about them now before you take any steps in my direction.