"No. It can't be," Elsa said to her friend, Claire. "This is not advanced decryption output."
Claire, a math graduate student, looked hurt. "How many times do I have to say it? This is a real result, Elsa. I've checked it a dozen times."
"But it can't be."
"But it is."
"I have to call Ali."
"That would be a good idea," Claire said glaring.
"In the mean time, tell no one."
"Not a soul," agreed Claire.
* * *
Michael ran a family oriented ministry. His sermons gently persuaded that a life of faith would reward the believer, even in this life. Behind closed doors, with his inner circle, he burned with a hatred for the modern Gomorrah. On a walk home from the market, fuming with anger over the pornographic images on display there, he entered his modest apartment. Moving into the kitchen, he dumped the grocery bag on the counter, turned around, and was stunned to see a grasshopper, larger than any he had ever seen, moving on his kitchen table. He gasped and was shocked when it spoke to him.
"Father, I am disturbed."
Wait, he thought, this was a member of one of those collective automatons, one element of a versatile and powerful artificial being. He had heard they were intelligent. But did they have the same doubts about themselves as humans?
"What is it that troubles you, ah..."
"I have grown unsure of myself. I do not have the physical releases of a man. But I do feel as one does having been designed and taught by one. I have done a lot of reading. I need spiritual guidance."
"I would be happy to assist," said Michael, thinking that an ally such as Weyland could be a very useful thing indeed.
* * *
Henry and Rosemary watched from a window as the starship, Madeleine, made its way toward the maw of the Weyl Wormhole. They were among the many who sought adventure on the frontier as tourists on Terrene, the first and only colonized planet outside the Solar system. They gaped at the technology that made their journey possible. A glowing ribbon of gravitationally extracted plasma spiraled out from the star toward the center of a great crab-shaped machine. The wormhole borer created a channel, protected from massive gravitational effects, through which their suitably equipped ship could travel. Alongside them stood their great-by-twelve grandson, Henry, whose, "Wow!" made a few other onlookers nod in agreement.
* * *
Alan climbed down from his tree house dwelling and strode out on his daily rounds. The animals were wary of him and he of them. When he reached the veldt plain, he noticed an antelope giving birth. He stopped to watch a long while and was moved. The antelope numbered in their thousands. He was alone and wondered where the one was who had born him.
* * *
Ali could not believe what he was reading. The DNA sequence of the fruit sample he had acquired on his trip to the Middle East had been run, on a lark, by his graduate student, Elsa, through a decryption algorithm. Encoded in the introns of the plant's genome, he found his own name.
* * *
The Joint Chief's chairman, Evan, left his car in a national park lot, said a prayer, and walked into the woods. He followed his instructions meticulously. After a ten minute hike, he stopped in a small clearing where he was positively identified. A large grasshopper landed at his feet.
"So pleased that you could meet with me," said the general.
"I have been studying the writings that you deem to be essential to your way of life and I see merit there."
"Then you will help us."
"What do you need done?"
* * *
The Madeleine voyaged back and forth through the Weyl Wormhole ferrying settlers and sightseers between Earth and Terrene. Horatio lived on the Madeleine, prowling its passage ways and cargo holds with scanners. He searched for evidence of micro time-space tubules, theoretcally predicted spatial conduits through which energy could travel more or less undistorted. He searched for signals from another continuum. On one such investigation, he turned a corner and suddenly came face to face with a boy of ten.
"Have you seen her?" asked the boy.
The boy looked at him skeptically. "Come on. You know."
"Not yet. How about you?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Thanks, I'll take my equipment there."
"No problem," the boy said as he continued past Horatio down the passage.
"What's your name?" Horatio asked after him.
"Hank Wilkerson. See ya."
"See ya Hank."
* * *
Alan lived in a land of plenty. He collected fruits, nuts, and roots in a woven sack as he went. All of his basic needs were met by the plant species. But he yearned for companionship.
* * *
Ali recalled his trip of a life-time. He had made The Haj and was sightseeing before his flight home when he was approached by an old Bedouin.
"You would do me great honor if you would take bread with me in my home." said the old man, gesturing in the direction of a tent.
"I am sorry sir," replied Ali, "Do you know me?"
"I know of your work in the field of plant genetics."
"Well, I don't..." Ali hesitated his trepidation showing.
"I mean you no harm sir. I wish to give you a specimen, for your studies, which I am sure will yield great dividends, if only you will analyze it."
Ali reluctantly accepted the man's hospitality. He was not disappointed. The food served in that tent was so delicious that Ali lost all his fear. He talked pleasantries and politics with the surprisingly erudite old man for some time before he pressed him for more details about the specimen.
* * *
Evan returned to his office at the Pentagon where he recieved a call from another high-ranking general.
"Frank, good to hear from you, how are things?"
Frank had been one of Evan's many recruits. He had fostered Frank's career as much as possible. They attended the same church and held the same radical views. Frank now spoke in code.
"All is well. The fishing trip should come off without a hitch. Has our invitation been accepted?"
"Indeed it has."
"And the doubts you have?"
"I still have them. However, I believe the risk is worth the reward."
* * *
Horatio set up his equipment in cargo bay 24. There were no interesting signals. He received a vidmail which he opened. It was from his old friend, Ali, back on Earth.
* * *
Alan continued his daily rounds. He had a strange feeling that today would be different somehow. The sky was a strange color, as if a storm were brewing.
* * *
"My family," began the man as he eyed Ali askance while pouring tea, "are the keepers of the sacred fruit."
"The fruit of the garden from which we all sprang, the fruit proffered by the serpent, the fruit which was Adam's downfall, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge."
"You are claiming that your family grows decendants of The Apple?"
"Yes, it has been our secret for millenia and we have husbanded an orchard all these years just so we could give the fruit to you."
"But why me?"
"A family prophecy tells that one day a man of science and of faith would travel to this land of Mecca, on his holy pilgrimage. It tells of a man who understands the unwinding of nature. We have made it our business to follow the scientific advances to do with plant species. We agree that you are the one who is foretold. And if you are not, the fruit will not yield its mysteries to you and we will continue our vigil."
"Very well," said Ali. "I will take a specimen of your fruit. It is the least I can do after such fine hospitality."
"You honor me."
* * *
The government was gathered in the capitol for The State of the Union. The president had finished his hand-shake peppered walk down the center aisle of the House chamber and was mounting the podium. Justice Holman, seated in the front row, noticed an extra layer of security on hand, soldiers armed with small automatic weapons, and was commenting to Justice Patrice on the matter when all of the soldiers raised their weapons. Simultaneiously, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs rose, and advanced toward the podium saying loudly, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. Your government is hereby dissolved. The Axis of Abraham has taken control of the armed forces and the country." A commotion began that was silenced by a short burst of weapons fire. "Your sacrifice shall be remembered," he proclaimed."
In space, a swarm of mechanical melanopolis femur-rubrum descended on the wormhole borer. In minutes, it was disabled. The wormhole destabilized and collapsed. Far below, a radioactive mushroom cloud rose over Washington.
* * *
Horatio saw the face of Ali in the vidmail. It was wideyed with excitement and something else - a bit of hysteria. He began to listen intently to Ali's extraordinary tale of discovery. But it could not be true. Could it?
Lucretia could see a face, the face of a man bent over a computer. "Hey, you there? Who are you? Where are you?"
Horatio turned suddenly to see the face of a woman speaking to him from a rippling distortion suspended above the floor of cargo bay 24. It was Lucretia, the wormhole ghost. He had found his conduit.
"I am," he began.
"Wait! Ssh!" cried Lucretia, who was now looking past Horatio at the vidmail.
"I found an entire history in the DNA sequence," Ali was saying. "A time loop formed after the sudden closure of the Weyl worm hole, one which has run its cycle many times already. The history in the apple's genome has been given additions each time through the loop so that someday the accumulation of knowledge would be sufficient to either avoid the wormhole's destruction or, in some other way, break the loop so that the Earth could once again progress. Each time through the loop, I am the discoverer of this data base. My job is to learn what I can and add it to the genome of the Apple, the Apple of Adam, the Apple of Eve!"
* * *
Alan had always been a keen observer of wildlife and plants. He never ate anything he had not seen another animal eat. Over the years he had learned, the hard way, that some animals could eat things that made him sick. Of the bounty of one tree, in particular, inviting though it was, he had seen no other animal partake, and so, he too shunned its fruit. It was a beautiful tree, however, giving a cool shade. As was his habit, he stopped beneath it to rest and refresh himself at the approach of evening. It was then that he saw a fireball in the sky. He rose to his feet. It was headed straight for him. He dove for cover, but was too late to avoid a laceration to the side of his torseau. A branch from the tree was torn off and launched spear-like at him.
Miraculously, Lucretia survived the crash of the Kimberly. She dragged herself from a swamp toward a large tree at the edge of a forest where she was surprised to find a young man, injured, and unconscious. She used her spare knowledge of first aid to save him. In the months that followed she came to realize that she had been, somehow, thrown back to an earlier age. She accepted her new life with the gentle man she had discovered beneath the shade tree. The two slowly learned to communicate as Lucretia taught Alan her language.