The Star Stone will use Recognized nobles to birth his creator’s race anew.
As the Star Stone’s words sank in, a strange and terrible idea entered my mind. “What happens during a Recognition ceremony?”
“Come now, Miss Ward, everyone in this little Star Kingdom knows the answer to that question. During Recognition, the Star Stone — God’s instrument of truth and justice — judges whether the person in question is worthy to serve humanity.”
“I never imagined you were one for fairy tales,” I sneered.
The Star Stone laughed, “Who am I to deny the human race their myths and legends?”
“Since you’ve been toying with us for the last four thousand years, I’m going to guess you’re the one who created those myths and legends.”
“No, Miss Ward, that’s all on you. More properly, it’s all on your ancestors. Mankind is extraordinarily adept at crafting stories that explain what they don’t understand. I merely provided a mystery. Poets, bards, and storytellers did the rest.” The Star Stone paused for a moment as if it was thinking. “Your species is singular in their predilection for stories. My creators never did anything like it, nor did any of the other species they dealt with. That, combined with your race’s unfortunate collections of evolutionarily superfluous emotions, has severely handicapped me.”
“Uh, come again? If the stories are just for us lowly humans, how do they make your exalted existence difficult?”
The Star Stone paused long enough for me to begin worrying it wasn’t going to answer. “Somehow, the command structure in my central core can be shaped by human belief. The whole system of Recognition was born from your race’s belief that I was an instrument of your God. The concept aligned closely with my purpose, even if it restricted my work. Though, to be fair, one anomalous aspect of Recognition was a boon.”
“Which part is that?”
“If you are as superior as you claim, Miss Ward, you should have little trouble deducing the answer.”
Offered more time to temporize, I said, “You raise a good point, Star Stone. Let me think about this…”
And I did think about it, along with everything else the Star Stone had revealed. If human belief could reprogram the Star Stone, could I simply believe my way to freedom or did that require many people all believing the same thing? I bent my entire mind to the belief that the Star Stone was releasing me. My belief pushed almost everything else from my mind, and maybe that’s why I failed. Or maybe one person couldn’t reprogram the Star Stone. Whatever the reason, the Star Stone didn’t release me. But I did figure out the anomalous aspect of Recognition.
“You’re talking about Recognized Knights, aren’t you?” I asked. “People believed the knights should obey every command given by their lord and master and that effectively gave you a way to experiment on humans who weren’t in the womb.”
“Very good, Miss Ward! I knew you could do it.”
“Great. Maybe you can mark my homework with a gold star. Mom will be so proud.”
“I do not understand your reference.”
“Never mind, then. But I guess you’ve learned the true power of stories, right?”
“Power? Bah! Mankind’s stories have been no power over me. If they did, my true purpose would have changed. These stories have hindered, but they have not obstructed. Over the next one thousand years, I believe we’ll discover just how powerless humanity’s stories are. Perhaps your descendants — not yours personally, of course, as you shall not survive to reproduce your species — will invent songs and stories to explain the ascension of my creators. No doubt your kind will hail them as gods. Your stories will only exert power over humanity — and that power will do nothing but ensure humans become docile servants of my creators reborn!”
I got the idea that statement was how the Star Stone planned to end our conversation. I was still trapped, so needed something to keep it talking. “That discussion was an interesting diversion but why don’t we return to my original question? Since you’re certain I’m going to die, why not answer it? What happens during a Recognition ceremony?”
“What do you think happens, Miss Ward?”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re the most irritating AI in the galaxy? Must you answer every question that way?”
“As before, I’m testing you.”
I sighed in frustration. “Fine, we’ll do it your way. During the Recognition ceremony, I think you send microscopic organisms or nanobots – probably both – into the body of the person requesting Recognition. I think it occurs when your red glow envelopes them. If I’m right, that’s how you keep track of every Recognized person and, though I have no idea exactly how it works, see and hear everything a Recognized person sees and hears. I suspect some of those nanobots and organisms even infect sperm cells, which lets you track people who have a Recognized father but not a Recognized mother. People like Jeanine.”
I heard the sound of one person clapping. “Bravo! Once again yourself an amazing specimen of humanity, Miss Ward.”
Unable to resist taking the Star Stone down a few pegs, I said, “Just think, you had absolutely nothing to do with my creation. I happened through random chance. Meanwhile, you spent over four thousand years trying to produce Olivia and Jeanine. Both of Olivia’s parents were Recognized, so I guess you can take some minor credit there. On the other hand, only one of Jeanine’s parents was Recognized and he had nothing to do with her beyond his role as the sperm donor. Tell me again why these creators of yours put such faith in you?”
“Very droll, Miss Ward.” It might have been my imagination, but I thought the Star Stone sounded rather petulant at the moment. “I grow weary of this infantile repartee and, quite frankly I grow weary of you.”
I laughed in triumph. “Poor little Star Stone, it simply hasn’t got the imagination required to win a battle of wits against a mere human — just like your creators and their alien friends.”
“Enough!” the Star Stone roared. “Goodbye, Miss Ward. I shall find your screams entertaining.”
I steadied my nerves, swearing I would never give the Star Stone the satisfaction of screaming. “Do your worst.”
“Rest assured, Miss Ward, I—”
Suddenly, the darkness was rent asunder and a bright, golden light blinded me.
What is going on and where is the blinding light coming from? Find out in Chapter 33, coming Friday.