The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Twenty-four: Setup
By the next afternoon,
Director Silvers had assembled a small group of trusted
technicians and engineers to start some preliminary tests and
measurements so as to try to get a handle on what they would be
dealing with. They had an impromptu meeting in a small auditorium
where Sara wowed 'em, with Alex playing the role of
He might as well have
said, "Yow-za, yow-za, step right up! See the Amazing Alien
from Outer Space! Thrill as she Soars through the Air with the
Greatest of Ease! Wonder at the Colossal Strength of her Slender
Body! Be Astonished by her Arcane and Mysterious Mastery of
Mental Wizardry! Marvel as she Performs Never-before-seen Feats of
Stupendous Power, Speed and Agility! Witness her Astounding
Invulnerability as she Shrugs off the Effects of Dangers and
Calamities Fatal to Mere Humanity!"
At first, the small
crowd tried desperately to act like professionals, as if Sara's
act was just another day at the office. It wasn't
long, though, before she had them eating out of the palm of her
hand. She was a natural show-off and relished the attention.
Eventually, they were all crowding around her as she kreened the
contents of their pockets and purses like a side-show mentalist
and rattled off answers to complex formulae and equations as
fast as they could key them into their ubiquitous pocket calculators.
Dr. Belloes was put in charge
of the preliminary evaluation. Silvers reasoned that Sara's programmed
psychological state was more relevant to what they could learn about
her than any physical examination could reveal about her obviously
non-biological makeup. At least Dr. Belloes had some experience in
dealing with the closest thing that NASA had encountered so far to
extraterrestrials -- astronauts. Also, he seemed more than anyone else
to take the whole matter in stride, as if he was used to dealing with
young blonde girls with seemingly magical powers.
"At least no one
can say," he observed cryptically to the little group of
Alex, Silvers, Moulder and Skelly who were watching the hubbub
from the back of the stage,
"That I am imagining her."
The two FBI agents
After a long weekend --
to let everybody involved think about it -- the actual work
began on Monday morning with the paperwork that was to
government what 'death and taxes' was to its subjects.
Sara didn't quite fit
into the default boxes provided on the standard personnel forms,
though. Citizenship, schooling, age, nationality, origin, even
species -- there were a lot of question marks, even though she
did her best to be cooperative. She noticed her file was marked
she asked, innocently enough.
put you down as a 'Jane Doe'," Dr. Belloes replied. "A
mere formality. In scientific studies, subjects are usually not
identified by their real names. It's basically a privacy issue
for your own protection."
"Do I have to be
'Jane Doe'?" she said, making a face.
We'd like to avoid using somebody else's real name, so it's
customary to use a common first name and initial, like Jane D or
Eve X or Helen T."
"Can I pick my
"I don't see why
not," he replied, "As long as it's not Sara C. That
would defeat the purpose."
Sara thought for a
minute. "This could be cool. Y'know, I always have to refer
to the weird part of me as my 'alien computer brain' or
something, like it's not really me -- which it sorta isn't,
even though it's like it's really me, but the real me is just
along for the ride, except that I'm actually in control. D'ya
know what I mean?"
Dr. Belloes nodded
understandingly. This is going to be the case of a lifetime, he
thought. Of several lifetimes. He felt resigned and elated at
the same time, though even Sara would find it difficult to tell
from looking at him.
"It's not like I
have some kind of split personality," she said defensively,
"It's like I feel the real me is the same as anyone else,
but there's all this other stuff that's in there, too. I feel
like 'it' is part of me, even though I know that what I feel is
'me' is actually part of 'it', but 'it' doesn't have a
personality, so there's nothing to split. It's just something
that's always there but only when I need it and it's always
churning away like crazy, down where I don't usually see it.
It's like having this thing that's always around that I usually
think of it as -- you know -- a tool or something that's just
built in, like... Like -- oh, I know! Maybe a watch that I have
inside of me rather than having to wear it on my wrist. But it's
still as different from what seems to be me-as-a-person as your
watch is different from you-as-a-person."
interesting, Sara. We'll have to talk about this in more detail
when we're in my office and we can take all the time we want to
sort this out."
"I know what
you're getting at, Doc," Sara nodded. "Good luck
trying to shrink my head. But what I'm getting at is the
name thing. I think that as a person, I'm just plain old Sara
Corel. But whenever I think about all the other stuff -- the
'alien computer brain' and flying around with a cape and
everything -- then it's easier to keep things separated if I
call that part of me by another name."
"I see. Less
confusing, perhaps," the doctor conceded.
"Does that sound
schizo or anything?"
"Hmm... Maybe not
under the circumstances. I'll reserve judgement. I suppose it
makes sense to have a private identity and a public persona,
just as many celebrities do. Do you have a particular name in
thinking about it. I thought 'Bert' might be appropriate, like
Al-bert Einstein. But that sounds a little conceited. Or
maybe 'Robbie', like Robbie the Robot. Or Spock, or maybe Data.
But those are guy names and there's not really anything all that
good for a girl."
something from mythology?" Dr. Belloes suggested,
"Athena was the goddess of wisdom, for instance."
Sara looked very
uncomfortable. "It's bad enough having to wear that stupid
'S' without having to deal with anything that has to do with a
goddess, which I don't want to make like I am. I think I need to
stay away from that."
he replied, "I can see where that might seem to be a bit
pretentious. I would think, though, that the 'S' motif would be
appropriate in picking a name for your, ah, other self."
said, a little glumly. "Something that I can identify with
when I'm out in public someday wearing it. Which I guess I'm
gonna have to do."
"Well, why not
just adopt the obvious? As your builders no doubt
she said as if she were a little embarrassed. "At least,
not actually way. I think I've got an idea, though."
After a long pause
during which Sara seemed to be enjoying some private joke, Dr.
Belloes finally said, "Well? Are you going to keep me in
"Nah. But you
gotta promise to keep this to yourself. OK?"
Rest assured, my lips are sealed."
She told him her idea.
He was suitably amused.
"You think it'll
work?" she asked eagerly.
he replied, chuckling tolerantly. "I would say that your
choice of an alias should address all of your concerns
"It's my own
idea, too," she beamed.
He asked her, "Is
anyone else privy to your plan?"
"Uh-uh. Not even
Alex." She giggled, "I'm not gonna tell him, either.
He'll have to wait and find out the rest of it when everyone
he said, turning to his keyboard, "Susan P it is."
official document referred to her as Susan P. They gave her some
blue astronaut coveralls to wear around the facility with the
name neatly printed over the left front pocket, so everyone at
NASA called her 'Susan', which was a little confusing to Alex at
first. She teasingly refused to enlighten him as to why she had
chosen the name.
out," she told him.
There was a suitably
underutilized building on the outskirts of the Clear Lake
compound that was quickly converted into a testing facility,
with a few dozen offices and a good-sized warehouse-like area
for whatever off-the-shelf equipment they needed to 'borrow'
from elsewhere. In a way, it was like a much larger version of
Jimmie's little storefront, complete with an elaborately
shielded anechoic 'Fort Solitude' where they could monitor
Sara's EM emissions and sensitivity without external
Several acres around
and behind the building were surrounded by a hastily erected
but formidable-looking fence that afforded some privacy from
passersby and made for a tightly restricted
area accessible only through one guarded gate. In light of the
rumors and stories flying around, non-involved -- and more than slightly curious
-- NASA personnel dubbed it
The name stuck.
It was to take nearly
two months to prepare the building and assemble a team of
scientists. You have to understand that this was absolutely
blinding speed for a government entity. Director Silvers
expended a great deal of political capital in this
accomplishment and was supported by a very few higher-ups in
Washington who had been made privy to the secret and wanted to
know as many details as possible ASAP. Unlooked-for funds were
scavenged from black projects and Silvers' requests were given instant
and unprecedented priority. There was some feeling of
uncertainty about Sara's possible effect on national security
among these movers and shakers, and a sense of inevitability
about her eventual public unveiling combined with foreboding
about what might happen as a result.
There was already rampant
speculation in the media -- parts of it, anyway -- about strange doings
and flying blondes. Attention already focused on Houston began to turn
more specifically toward NASA, whose security was less than airtight.
The involvement of FBI Special Agents Moulder and Skelly was by itself
a red flag to the legions of Internet 'alien conspiracy' junkies who
followed their exploits. But there was so much contradiction and
useless, silly noise in the hoopla to confuse the issue beyond being
taken seriously by the mainstream press -- so far.
had to be approached very carefully. For one thing, it was a
little hard to explain Sara with a straight face -- not that
they really wanted to -- so everything had to be shrouded in
euphemisms which, as they were told, added up to some mysterious
extraterrestrial doo-dad that needed to be looked at by someone
of their unique talent and experience, strictly on the QT. Not
many invitees turned down Director Silvers' invitation.
particular bright fellow from Stanford managed to figure out
what was afoot and practically blackmailed his way into being
included, as did a savvy computer guy from Brazil. They
both had useful skills and solid credentials, so Silvers took
them in, frankly surprised there weren't more like them banging
on the gates. Evidently, skepticism kept others who had their
suspicions from taking the risk of looking foolish.
Alex was rather
surprised to discover that Jimmie's now not-so-bogus company,
Exocybernautics, was moving to a new location picked out by none
other than his new wife.
"It was Lanna's
idea," Jimmie told him somewhat sheepishly. "After
all, she did sorta work for me for the past year. I guess she
was paying more attention than I thought."
sure," said Sara, drily.
"And you're gonna
let her just up and do that?" asked Alex.
sense," Jimmie replied. "She got us a legitimate gig
as a consultant to NASA. I'm not sure if it was their idea or
Lanna's, but it's perfectly logical. I mean, Exocybernautics is
pretty much up to speed on alien lifeforms around here."
"You mean, like
Lanna?" said Sara.
Dinah echoed her
archly disparaging tone. "Silicon-based, obviously."
Jimmie and Alex
pretended to ignore them.
"I don't know
about this." Alex asked, "You don't feel like maybe
you're cashing in?"
"Well," said Jimmie, "Maybe a
little. But why not? I did a lot of work and will be doing a lot
more and I found out a bunch of things they're willing to pay for. In
any case, some of what I learned working with Sara would have turned
out to be pretty profitable anyway."
Dinah said, as if explaining something very obvious to someone
who was very slow, "That's the way of things. You become an
expert in something, and people pay you for your knowledge and
experience. You get paid for the music you love, don't
"Such as it is," he
admitted. "But Sara's... I don't know -- different. She's your friend. Isn't she?"
Sara, winking at Jimmie. "Best friends."
"I'm not selling her,"
Jimmie said. "Or giving away any secrets she wants to keep.
This is all about the reason she's here in the first place. You
said yourself that the whole NASA thing is what we're probably
supposed to do so that we can try to come to terms with what she
is and maybe why she's here, and properly introduce her to the
rest of the world. You still believe that, don't you?"
"Of course I
do," Alex replied.
me," said Sara.
Dinah informed him,
"You may as well know that I have accepted a position as
Alex was astonished.
"You?" He started to laugh, "A corporate
"I needed the
job, Alex. You know that. After Wayans let me go, I haven't been
able to get a position with anybody else. Besides, they need me.
And so does Sara."
"So Sara's part
of this, too?" Alex shook his head. "Who else?"
Mrs. J, counting off on her stubby fingers, "There is Borodin,
and Nevsky, and Popov, and
Andropov, and Gudenov..."
All the Russians? What, and you, too, I suppose?"
Mrs. J laughed.
"I am not beink scientist, just crazy old voman. They don't
be needink me and I gots lots to do, keepink roof over
ev'rybody's heads. So I just raisink big-shot 'consultant's'
"Sara's not actually on the payroll. She's a voluntary test
subject to a government agency. I'm in a position to see to it
that they don't get carried away."
She went on, "I
don't know if you've thought this through, but there's a
potential for some rather nasty litigation down the road
involving Sara, especially if she pulls any more stunts like the
Non-Leaning Tower of Pisa. Liability, flying without a license,
not having a passport, taxes -- you name it. If she's going to
act according to her full potential, it's going to come down to
whether or not she's human and therefore subject to the same
laws as the rest of us. There's a lot of theoretical stuff
that's going to be involved that nobody can foresee. We're
talking county, state, national and international laws that
haven't been interpreted to include someone like her or haven't
even been written. So I don't want her to have any assets, we
need to incorporate for our own protection, and she's without
doubt going to be the target of a lot of opportunistic people
out there. She's going to need my help, Alex. And we're going to
need some money."
Alex looked hard at
Dinah, sensing there was still another shoe poised to drop.
"What do you mean, 'we'?"
"You need to join
the team," she said.
team?" he said, looking determined. "Your team?
Jimmie's team? Lanna's team? What about Sara's team?"
Sara looked at Dinah
and said, "I told you he'd be stubborn. But for all the
right reasons, I think."
"This is not exploitation, Alex. This is self-preservation,
for us and her. It's a cold world out there, full of some real
bastards who won't necessarily love Sara the way we do."
said Sara, "If I'm not getting paid for all this work, then
you have to make enough for the both of us. It's either that, or
I'll have to rent myself out as a flying bulldozer."
Mrs. J told him,
"You are beink vorld's biggest expert on alien gorl. Your
country needink you. You are being smarter than anybody else
vhen comes to Sara. You need to be keepink academicians in line
keepink Sara in line, too."
"You're going to need to be a part of this so you can get a
JSC pass and stay with Sara through everything, which Lanna has
arranged for you to do. You're to be her manager, so to
Alex," said Jimmie, "Dinah and I are gonna be totally
covered up with stuff on our end. There's some complicated
things happening, so you're the only one that can be with her
through all of this."
Sara finished, "I
don't wanna just get dumped off there like I'm some kinda lab
rat. There's some pretty strange humans wandering around NASA
that I really need for you to help me sort out. OK?"
Feeling overwhelmed and possibly hoodwinked, Alex
accepted a position as a consultant for more money than he'd
ever make playing one-night stands. Sara seemed to be delighted with the arrangement and
promptly demanded every cent Alex had on him before launching
herself in the general direction of the Galleria shopping mall.
While the building was
being prepared and the scientists were being assembled, Sara was
subjected to a frightening barrage of tests far more thorough,
comprehensive and potentially sadistic than anything Alex or the
Russians could ever have devised. The usual routine was to clear
everybody but a few key personnel out of a particular lab or
shop, post barriers and a few guards around the area, and then
have at her with everything they had -- which was never
enough, as it turned out.
Mostly, they were just
looking for basic measurements, capabilities and limitations.
They wanted to get all the quantifiable stuff out of the way so
that the scientists could concentrate on trying to figure out
how her builders had accomplished what seemed to be impossible.
Also, the waiting policy-makers in DC wanted to get some idea of
her capabilities, some of whom were concerned about the
potential threat she or others like her could pose and if there
was anything that could be done to neutralize such a threat.
There wasn't much to
go on, so far. There just wasn't anything available at JSC that
could crack her open -- so to speak -- to get a look inside.
For instance, they discovered that not only was she completely
opaque to the best x-ray machine they had, she was capable of
producing a far more powerful x-ray beam herself than anything
available even to the 'Star Wars' people. No physical processes,
including diamond anvils or hydraulic presses, could put a dent
in her or even cause anything resembling discomfort. Probes
pushed down her throat were destroyed without returning any
useful information, as if there were some kind of event horizon
just past whatever served her as vocal cords. Try as they might,
they were never able to as much as part a single hair from her
The capacity of her
'computer brain' was completely beyond their abilities to test.
They couldn't even come up with an outrageous analogy to
describe how advanced her underlying information processing
technology must be. Coupled with her mega-channel all-frequency
radio, infrared (and God-knows-what-else) input/output
capabilities, it was evident that she had a great deal more
potential bandwidth and processing power than our whole planet
would be able to match for untold generations. It almost seemed
to be a tragic waste that all she could access at any one time
was the entire Internet and every bit of world-wide
communication that was available through the ether wherever she
happened to be at the moment. Which made of her a pretty decent
search engine. Especially since there didn't seem to be any way
of encrypying anything that she couldn't break effortlessly and
damned near instantaneously.
She didn't even have
to try hard. Essentially, some automatic process simply assigned
whatever resources were necessary to break any code she might
'encounter' in cyberspace, just in case her conscious mind
wanted to access some trivial piece of information. It was a bit
unnerving, knowing that before she finished saying 'hello' to
someone, a part of her knew everything about that person's
credit history, income taxes, bank accounts, retirement plans,
investments, rap sheet, school records, service files, buying
habits, website accesses, voting history, utility usage and
anything else that had anything to do with electronic records.
Big sister is watching
usually wasn't paying attention. Even hyper-advanced aliens
could suffer from sensory overload, or at least their conscious
minds could. And she was simply ethical about it, as Alex had
insisted she be from his very first admonition about not being
aware of what people were doing on the other sides of walls
where she normally couldn't see them. So all that information
just sat there, never forgotten and rarely accessed, much safer
with her than in its original location because she, at least,
could never be hacked.
Then there was the
strength business. Again, they couldn't find a limit with the
techniques they had available. Sensors crumbled, enormously
powerful presses ground to a halt, and no object could be found
or assembled that seemed to test her capacity. The biggest
problem she had with very large objects was finding a way to
grab them somehow without simply tearing her handhold off. It
all came down to balance and local stresses, just as Gudenov had
taught her back at the rec room.
simulations they ran on the numbers they could get, even if they
could somehow assemble an enormous steel sphere that might
actually be massive enough to cause her to break a sweat trying
to lift it (though she didn't sweat), she'd be able to exert
enough force against the surface of the material to shatter it
or simply pass right through it. It was as if she was just so
much more dense than terrestrial materials that everything else
compared to whatever she was made of was practically
insubstantial, a near-vacuum.
Of course, if she was
that dense, she'd have a pronounced surface gravity, and should
have sunk to the center of the Earth a long time ago. Well, that
was a problem for the scientists.
The method of her
flying was completely incomprehensible, but at least they did
discover a few interesting side effects. Any movements she made
could be tracked by gravitometers some distance away. The local
effects seemed to be damped, counterbalanced or spread out in
some way, but there was a net effect that could be measured.
For one thing, she had
a powerful effect on satellites, like a magnet moving underneath
a piece of paper covered with iron filings. There was a
compensating effect applied somehow, so that their orbits mostly
returned to normal after she passed, but the seemingly random
aberrations she'd introduced over the past couple of years had
caused many a sleepless night at NORAD and JPL.
Proximity to massive
bodies like planets, moons, asteroids and the like, seemed to be
necessary for her peculiar means of locomotion. Making any kind
of high-speed turn in deep space away from suitably large chunks
of solar system was very difficult for her. Fortunately, her aim
was instinctively good. If she missed, say, Mars by a sufficient
margin, it might take her days to turn around. The more massive
and close the object was that she was somehow anchored to, the
better her acceleration and maneuverability, so her absolute
speed capabilities were somewhat relative. Added to that, there
seemed to be an unconscious governor inside of her that
prevented her from doing too much tidal damage to our planet
from truly high acceleration or changes of direction. That
limited her to theoretically only a couple of thousand G's and
potentially a few hundred-thousand miles-per-hour top speed. It
would have to do.
The most astonishing
discovery was actually made by Dr. Belloes while conducting a
very thorough and meticulous examination of her entire body.
She had no eyes.
Oh, they looked
like eyes and moved like eyes and -- as far as Sara could tell --
did all the things that eyes are supposed to do. But when
Dr. Belloes tried to peer through the lenses to have a look at
her retina, it turned out that it was all just an illusion.
There were no lenses -- just an area of her surface that had the
proper coloration and reflectivity to mimic lenses under all but
the most careful scrutiny.
she was made of couldn't be made transparent, and nothing else
was up to her makers' standards for toughness. So they faked
it. There were other ways to detect photons, and they had
adopted something akin to a holographic technique. It turned out
that every square inch of her surface area was part of her
sensory array at every conceivable part of the electromagnetic
spectrum (among other things), including light. Essentially, her
underlying mechanism could query every quantum of energy
incident upon her as to amplitude, frequency, spin, momentum and
direction, convert the information to data, and 'display' an
image to her consciousness as if she were looking at the scene
through her eyes. That accounted for a large part of her
She hadn't even been
aware of it, since it was part of her 'disguise'. There was a
lot of stuff about her own abilities that her underlying
computer brain -- Susan -- never bothered to advise her about
until she -- Sara -- needed to know it. In most cases, it
really didn't make much difference. Even though Sara now knew
that her eyballs were fakes, she could still close her eyelids to
block out her view of the world, although the internal mental image
of her surroundings she called kreening still allowed her to
wander around quite nicely with her eyes shut tight -- or sink
baskets without looking at the hoop.
There was a meeting in
DC of the people in positions of power who had been monitoring
the revelations from Houston. They were not of one mind on what
to make of Sara. Some were amused, others were horrified. There
was a common suspicion that at least part of what they were
hearing was bullshit. Certainly there was an aura of unbelievability
to some of the more outrageous reports. Before they could take
this to the President's desk there had to be something that was
completely solid and trustworthy .
They demanded a
Alex was not
surprised. He told Director Silvers that he and Sara could take
care of this little detail and jotted down a few suggestions.
Silvers looked it over for a while and then whistled.
"Looks like you
know these people," said Silvers.
"Back when I was
in the Navy, in Norfolk -- every year they'd put on a little
show for a bunch of bigwigs: senators, generals, ambassadors and
the like. I was in the band playing for the people in the
grandstand while Uncle Sam spent mucho bucks staging a little
war for their amusement. As I recall, they especially liked
stuff that made a lot of noise and blew up real good."
exactly," said Silvers wryly. "I'll make sure you get
all this stuff. Can you be ready next week?"
Later, Alex told Sara
what he had in mind.
types, bureaucrats, politicians -- these are
hard-nosed people who have to have their hard noses rubbed in
something before they'll change their mindsets about what they
think they know. Which is usually a good thing, for the most
part. It's why they are generally more effective at running
large institutions than people with brains. You put some highly
educated theoretician in charge of things and you wind up with
aberrations like Communism or Fascism where they try to make the
facts fit the theory."
He went on, "They
have a general idea of what you're capable of -- enough to make
them act preemptively to authorize a look-see. But they're not
gonna make any kind of belief commitment until they allow
themselves to be pounded over the head."
afraid I might be some kind of fraud or mass-hypnosis or swamp
gas?" asked Sara.
"Some of them --
just like the Enterprise," he answered. "I don't blame
them. It's so easy to be made a fool of. These guys didn't get
to be where they are by accepting every crackpot idea that came
along. They had to work their way through to the top of their
professions by being steady and consistent while their
competition went by the wayside clutching at false hopes."
"You want me to
go pay them a visit? I can be pretty convincing."
"It wouldn't do
any good. They'll convince themselves that they're seeing things
before they'll endorse something that isn't blessed by higher
authority. One of their problems is that they've eventually got
to convince their higher authority of something that
sounds ridiculous. They can't have doubts."
Sara, "your Enterprise prank wasn't just for grins."
"Sure it was. You
overestimate me," he smiled. "It's my interpretation
of what you experienced that shows my true genius."
Alex went to full
pontification mode. "What you were exposed to on the
Enterprise was almost the complete opposite of what you learned
from the basketball players at the Fondé Recreation Center. The
jocks had a low enough social status to have the freedom to come
to terms with what they saw. They were street-wise, like some of
the sailors. People with authority and responsibility don't have
the same freedom. You needed to see first hand self-delusion at
work, not so much so that you would learn that such people
exist, but so that you could learn that they not only
exist, but they are created by the positions they occupy in
human societies. It's both unnatural and perfectly natural at
the same time. Without these kinds of niches filled by these
kinds of people, we would not have a productive
Sara shook her head.
Alex and Gundolf were obviously separated at birth. Their
explanations seemed to resonate somehow but clarified nothing --
wizardspeak that only really made sense in retrospect.
"They want a
demonstration," Alex said. "We'll give 'em one they'll
understand. One that'll give you the credibility you may need
someday to deal with these people."
he added, pointing to his scribbled plan, "If you think you
can handle it."
"Moi? Surely you
jest." Oops, thought Sara. Bad choice of words.
Alex grinned wickedly.
© Patrick Hill, 2000