Dangerous Experiments (Archeons, book 2)
Book two of the Archeon series: Deka and Kylac have learned what destroyed their homeworld, and now they are chasing it, trying to stop it before it destroys another.
Available at B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dangerous-experiments-james-l-steele/1130322838
Amazon version: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N1S93XH/
Even more info: Dangerous Experiments
From KTM Publishing.
Editing by Renee Carter Hall
Cover art by TomTC & Klongi
The raptor’s voice in Stephen’s right ear: “For a normal, mature society to form, at least two intelligent species must coexist on the same world. The two races must be different from one another, and they must not be able to escape one another. This forces them to live together and try to understand each other.”
The fox’s voice in his left: “This perspective allows for both species to perceive themselves for what they really are, which is only possible by comparing yourself to someone else.”
Deka resumed. “Without this, a species will fight amongst itself until it destroys its own kind. They perceive the differences between individuals in exaggerated ways.”
Kylac again: “Without a companion species, humans have grown up with the idea that everything that is like you is good, and everything that deviates from that is bad.”
“We noticed this pattern in your entertainment. Movies reinforce the impulse constantly, that whatever is not human is evil. Thinking that way helped you survive predators when your species was young.”
“But this is not how most species develop. Species with a companion race grow up together. Sometimes they are predator and prey, sometimes they are both predators, and sometimes they are both prey. Regardless, once they realize there is another intelligent species on their planet, they want to learn as much as possible about this other creature.”
“Those without a companion race learn that differences must be snuffed out. Anything that does not resemble themselves must be destroyed because that is how they learned to survive. This is why your world is the way it is, Stephen. You are not mentally prepared to meet an alien race. No matter what happens, you will think of them as monsters, and will always regard them with suspicion and dread. It would take a few hundred generations to work this response out of your kind. It is why we generally avoid contact with lone species.”
“It’s because you are alone, Stephen. Earth has only one sentient species, and this is not normal. Fix that, and everything will eventually correct itself.”
Stephen had long ago lost track of who was speaking. Deka and Kylac often finished each other’s sentences, one picking up where the other paused to breathe. They were like a married couple to the nth degree.
He was sitting on the couch. Kylac sat on his left, and Deka lay on the floor just off to his right. After the first minute he had stopped looking at who was speaking and just let his ears do all the work.
“Is that it?” Stephen said.
“That is it,” Kylac said.
“That’s why there are wars? That’s why there’s racism? That’s everything?”
The theropod lying on the floor craned his neck a little closer. In the dim light cast by the one lamp, his dark blue scales blended in with the carpet so well Stephen could barely see him. “If you had to deal with another sentient species on this planet, none of that would have happened.”
“Are you sure? We probably would’ve had to defend ourselves from them. We would still look at them with suspicion.”
“You’re thinking about it from your current perspective, Stephen,” the raptor replied. “What if, thousands of years ago, you knew you weren’t alone? Your kind seems inquisitive enough. You would have done everything to learn more about this other species.”
Stephen held a hand up. “That’s giving us way too much credit. I think we would’ve destroyed it. We’ve done it before.”
“Believe it or not,” Kylac said, “that never happens. As soon as one race learns of another form of intelligence on their planet, everything stops, and they devote their energy to learning more about it.”
“It is how a normal planet develops. When a species is alone, it tends to turn in on itself. It never learns how to embrace anything different. It never learns how to experience the world from someone else’s point of view. It never discovers portal physics.”
The raptor continued. “Only species that learn how to perceive things from the point of view of another can achieve the state of mind required for portal mathematics.”
“The key to interstellar travel is having a companion race. This is what has been missing from humanity from the very beginning. This is the hole in your collective minds you have been trying to fill with religion, with quests for wealth and power, with sexual gratification. Without another creature equal to you to share your world, you have turned inward on yourselves, and you are unprepared for the realities of contact with other life.”
“You know about religion?” Stephen said.
“Not directly, but your kind would have developed it. You are the correct type.”
“What do you mean?”
“One thing at a time, Stephen. Do you understand what is wrong with your planet?”
Stephen shook his head. “No...” He shook it again. “No, if we had another intelligent race on this planet, wouldn’t we spend all our time fighting it? Wouldn’t we have to fight for resources or something?”
“At first, maybe,” Deka said, “but there always comes a point when both sides realize the other is intelligent. They then devote their time to understanding this life.”
“They learn how to perceive the world from their perspective,” Kylac resumed. “Then they want to help this other species learn how to understand themselves. That is when they mature. Two species, one race. Every species in the contacted universe has been through this. It leads to transcending the limits of their own senses and learning how to perceive the patterns that make up the universe. This allows some of them to open portals through spacetime and travel to other planets. They inevitably travel to an inhabited world and join the contacted universe.”
“All of this can take centuries or millennia,” Deka resumed. “In that time, each has learned from the other. The search for knowledge and understanding becomes central to their lives because it brought both of them higher. That is normal. But when a species is alone, it will continue to wallow in its animal ways. The people will fight amongst themselves for survival because that is all they know.”
Kylac picked up the thought exactly where Deka left off. “It worked for their kind’s survival for millions of years, so they keep doing it because they have no one else to push them in another direction. Deka and I watched a lot of TV while we waited for you. It’s painful, but we wanted to learn as much as we could about you. We have seen much evidence for this.”
“The stories you tell consist of lies meant to reinforce false assumptions,” said Deka. “The current events on this planet are full of violence but presented for its entertainment value. Sex is censored and yet glorified. You cling to old superstition, and your way of life—no matter how sophisticated it may seem—is still survival of the fittest.”
Stephen shook his head. “That’s it? We are alone? That’s it?”
Deka rubbed the claws on his hands together. “Every problem is simple when you step far enough away.”
“But... There’s gotta be more to it than that.”
“What else do you want?”
“All right, that’s the problem. What’s the solution?”
“The solution would require time travel.” Deka now clicked his claws. He had told Stephen how he laughed so the human would not be disturbed by it anymore.
“Going to the past,” Kylac resumed, “and inserting a companion species for humanity to interact with. Think of how many problems you would prevent. Instead of a society of conquest, bloodshed, and bickering, you would devote that energy to learning about the aliens living on your own world. You would learn how they view the world, and they would learn how you perceive it. Your lives would become about the pursuit of knowledge and understanding instead of mere survival and competing for resources.”
“A mature civilization develops away from all of that,” Deka continued. “Your kind has about fifty thousand years of loneliness imprinted in its psyche. It would take about that much time to undo it now. So... time travel would be the answer, if it existed.”
“We’re doomed? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
“Yes,” Kylac said.
“That’s it? There’s no way out?”
“This isn’t a movie, Stephen,” said Deka. “There is no convenient device written into the story that allows humanity to win despite the odds.”
“That’s right,” Kylac resumed. “Your kind will never make contact with another sentient species, especially trying to sail between the stars as you envision it.”
“Eventually, infighting will destroy your kind from within,” Deka said, “because nobody is here to show you a different way to live.”
The three sat in silence for a while. Stephen was lost in thought. No more questions. It was finally sinking in. The answer. The solution. The root cause of all of Earth’s problems. So simple it required enormous brainpower to accept.
“Uh, excuse me,” Stephen said, standing up. “I need to take a shower. Maybe lay down.”
Stephen walked into the bathroom and closed the door. The sound of running water drifted through the house.
“I hope he’s taking it well,” Deka said, in Relian.
“I think he’ll be fine. He just needs time.”
The human had listened with his mouth open, barely breathing, the whole time Deka and Kylac told him they had discovered what destroyed their homeworld. The disaster sent shockwaves across the entire contacted universe, killing many Archeons and incapacitating many more. These were the people who held open the portals between worlds, and without them, civilization itself was on the verge of collapsing. As the only two Archeons who could make offworld spheres, Deka and Kylac had spent over a year traveling to other planets, helping those worlds recover, saving countless lives. Then at last they found Rel’s two other Archeons, Rive and Friend. Rive’s fox had been experimenting with opening portals outside the universe, into the medium on which the universe itself theoretically existed and moved. Time travel, in effect. Friend apparently could not control the portals he opened into this place, and these antispheres grew out of control, destroying entire solar systems. Rel had merely been the first casualty. Stephen barely seemed to grasp the scope of what had happened. Deka and Kylac still did not fully understand it.
The shower lasted less than five minutes. When Stephen came out, he was dressed only in boxers. He walked into the living room, carrying his other clothes. According to the VCR, it was past three in the morning. Stephen had been home since ten at night.
“Listen guys... It’s very late, I just did a seven-hour drive, and my nephew kept me up all week. I’m goin’ to bed. Maybe I’ll be coherent in the morning. You’re not leaving, are you?”
“Not yet,” Deka said.
“Good. Please don’t go anywhere. I have a lot to ask. I just... I can’t think right now. G’night.” He walked to his bedroom but did not close the door.
Kylac sighed. “I wonder what that will do to him.”
“Hopefully it answers his questions and helps him explain a few things.”
“Well, I’m going to hop in bed with him. Maybe he’ll be in a good mood in the morning.”
“I think you should give him some space tonight.”
“I’ll let him decide.” Kylac stood up, tail lashing. He walked around the corner, down the short hall, and into the bedroom.
Deka raised his muzzle and faced down the hall. He wondered.
Stephen felt like a little kid again, sleeping with a stuffed animal. He clutched it, clung to it, squeezed it. It growled, but not in a threatening way, like a dog while happy, but much, much deeper.
Stephen began to wake up. He realized the stuffed animal was warm. With a heartbeat. Stephen opened his eyes and sat up partway. Kylac lay on the other side of the bed, staring at him. Stephen rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling. He noticed he was on top of the covers, and his boxers were missing.
He remembered last night.
“How did you do it again?”
“I didn’t do anything.” He heard Kylac’s tail thumping the mattress. He had told Stephen how he laughed, too, so now the human recognized it. “You grabbed my sheath this time.”
Stephen held his forehead. “This is too much. I meet aliens, they tell me we’re all doomed, and I start it this time.” Stephen took multiple deep breaths. He couldn’t seem to get enough air. He turned and looked at Kyalc. “Holy shit, what’s happening to me?”
He noticed Deka’s head resting on other side of the mattress. The raptor was lying on the floor, staring at him.
“I need to stay away from you, Kylac. I sin against God every time I get near you.”
Kylac scooted over to Stephen and lay next to him, one arm across his chest, one leg over Stephen’s. “You’re anxious again. Remember last time I forbade you from feeling guilty about it.”
Stephen remained a surfboard for a moment, and then he breathed again and lowered his arm around Kylac’s back.
“You guys were gone for a month. I, uh, I had a bit of a nervous fit.”
“What do you mean?”
“I couldn’t stop shaking. Running to the bathroom six, eight times a day. Asshole felt so tight it felt like it was trying to hide in my stomach. Ended up going to a doctor. He gave me some anxiety meds. They helped, but...”
Kylac held him tighter, nuzzled his neck with his snout.
“They took care of the physical stuff, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that night. I didn’t want to face it. That was the best sex I’ve ever had, and I wanted to do it again. For weeks at a time, I looked in the mirror, and I didn’t know who was staring at me.”
“Oh, Stephen. You’ve been forced to ignore this part of yourself your whole life. Now you’re facing it.”
“At work I caught myself looking at both men and women. Wondering... What’s he packing? Looking at asses. Men, women. Both made me hard... Never would have thought it before. This isn’t me. This isn’t who I am. Now...”
“This is you. It will take some time to accept it.”
“I don’t know if I want to. I mean, holy shit, last night was great, but... What the hell is happening to me?”
“You have a lot of preconceptions to forget.”
Stephen turned to Deka, who lay with his head perched on the edge of the mattress. “You look content.”
Deka rubbed his claws together out of Stephen’s view.
“What are you doing in here? Thought you were the cold and distant one.”
“The carpet in here is slightly less irritating on my scales.”
“You just like to watch?” Stephen asked. “You didn’t get involved.”
“I have a mate.”
“And you were in control of Kylac all night.”
“Kylac was just going along with whatever you wanted to do. He needed that after what we just witnessed. And so did you.”
The human sighed. “Yeah. I needed that. I wanted it more than anything.”
He slid out from under Kylac and off the bed. He stretched, walked to the dresser, and threw on a shirt and boxers. He walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. The answering machine was flashing. Three messages. They would all be from work. The clock face showed the time at just past noon, so he was five hours late. He did not care—foolish him for not taking an extra day off to recover from the trip.
Stephen poured himself a bowl of cereal, walked to the couch, and sat in front of a blank television.
Deka and Kylac sat on either side of him, Kylac on the couch, Deka on the carpet. They both scented the bowl from a distance.
“Whose breast milk is that?” Deka asked.
“You drink another animal’s milk?”
Deka did not say another word.
Stephen finished his cereal, then stood up and walked to the kitchen. From the living room, Deka and Kylac heard a garbled, machine-generated voice.
“Mr. Penarrow, good morning, it’s eight-thirty in the morning. October seventeen. You’re supposed to be back to work today. If you could give me a call that would be great. Bye.”
“Stephen, it’s nine o’clock. Just wondering where you are. Please call me back as soon as you get this. Bye.”
“Stephen, ten o’clock now. Please get back to us. It’s been difficult here without you. The other guys have to make up for you. Not a big deal, but I’d like to know what’s going on.”
Stephen turned the corner and leaned on the wall. “That was work. I didn’t show up or call off. They want to know where I am.”
“What is work?” Kylac said.
“It’s where I have to go to make money or I lose my house.”
“Ah, monetary social system,” Deka said. “We figured that’s how this place functioned.”
“At least in America.” Stephen sighed. “I’m supposed to be at work. I need to go. I don’t wanna leave you two here.”
“It will be at least a day until we can calculate a way offworld,” Deka said. “If you need to do something, do it.”
Stephen sighed. “There’s so much I want to ask you. So much I want to do. Ugh, but I gotta go. Even if it’s just half a day.”
He went to the door and slipped on his coat and hat. “I’m really sorry about this, guys, but I can’t afford to lose too much money. Not with winter here. I’ll be back in a few hours. I promise.”
He walked out the door and slammed it shut behind him. Moments later Deka and Kylac heard the car starting, the garage door opening, closing, and then Stephen was gone.
“His reaction is what I expected,” Deka said. “We gave him the answer, and nothing changed.”
“I think we’ll have to push him a little.”
“Try sitting closer to him. He has even less self control than you.”
“Did you smell the shock when he realized you were in the bedroom, too?” Kylac waved his tail.
Deka rubbed his claws. “He blamed you for starting it!”
At six o’clock that night, the doorknob turned, and Stephen finally walked inside. His glasses fogged up, and snow blew in behind him. He was holding bags made of plastic in his gloves. He removed his artificial coat and hat.
“Hey, guys! I brought dinner.”
“Where did you go?” Deka said from in front of the couch.
“Did a half shift at work. They wrote me up, but I told them there was a power failure and my alarm clock wasn’t working. Didn’t think to check because I went to bed as soon as I got back from Philly.”
He removed his shoes and placed them by the door. Then he carried the bags to the kitchen. Deka and Kylac followed him and stood where the carpet met the plastic floor. Stephen began emptying the bags. He seemed preoccupied. Several minutes later, Stephen finally spoke.
“They want me to do a double tomorrow to make up for today. I told them yes, I’d do it. Then on the drive home I asked myself... Why? Why did I just agree to that? I got you two here, and you just told me what’s wrong with the world. Think you guys can stick around until the weekend? I’ll have two days off. I can ask you stuff then...”
“We can’t stay forever, Stephen,” Deka said.
“I know—I know, I just... If I lose my job, I lose the house. Ain’t many jobs around here. Winter’s here, and I need to prepare for the heating bill.”
“Stephen,” Kylac said. “What are you thinking? Whatever you need to say, ask it now. We can’t wait for you, and this time we won’t be coming back.”
Stephen nodded. “Right. All right. Um... On the drive home I was thinking. Thought quite a bit. You’re right. We’re alone. It’s so simple. It’s everything that’s wrong with the world. But it can’t just mean we’re doomed. Cold War’s over. Nobody’s gonna nuke each other anymore. Where are you guys going next?”
“We’re not sure,” Deka said. “The Archeons are awake. Everyone who can recover from the disasters would have by now. We don’t know where Rive and Friend are.”
“We’d planned to visit more worlds in case anyone else needs help,” continued the fox.
“Please let me come with you.”
Deka and Kylac exchanged glances.
“Deka, Kylac, I have no idea what I’m asking, but I won’t forgive myself if I don’t. I want to see what you’re talking about. I want to know what real aliens are. I want to know what we’re doing wrong.”
Kylac scented him. “You’re scared to ask?”
“Yes! I already used up my vacation time, so if I do this I’m gonna lose my job, lose the house—everything! Shit... But what the hell does it matter? You two come here and show me there’s a whole universe out there, and what am I doing here? Stuck in a damn factory doing the same shit over and over. Hell with the house and my job. There’s a universe out there, and I want to see it! Will you let me come with you?”
Kylac and Deka looked at each other. They knew what they were thinking. Kylac turned back to Stephen and spoke first.
“It’s still not safe.”
“You two can go anywhere you want. You can make a difference on any world you go to. I can’t do any of those things!”
“Coming with us won’t change that,” said the fox.
“I don’t care! You don’t know what it’s like. I’m in this damn factory and this lonely house. I’m on track to do this until I die, and I can’t get out. Nobody can—we all work to survive and then we die. What kind of way is that to spend your life? There’s got to be more than this. Please let me see it.”
Deka and Kylac did not check with one another. Kylac’s ears bloomed.
Deka raised his hand and scraped Stephen lightly down the arm, leaving three tears down his sleeve and raised lines on his skin. Stephen held his arm and laughed nervously.
“What the hell,” Kylac said, touching Stephen’s cheek.
Deka brought his claws together. “We’ll take you on a car ride.”
Stephen stood in the living room with the Relians, facing the wall. He wore shorts and a t-shirt, definitely out of season here, but Deka and Kylac had told him to dress for a warm climate. He also wore a backpack filled mostly with clothes: long underwear, jacket, jeans, plus a pair of binoculars.
Around his waist he wore a belt. Attached to the belt was a multi-tool—combination knife, scissors, flashlight, screwdrivers, can opener, ruler, chisel, and pliers. He had bought it with the groceries on his way home from work two days ago on a whim, just in case they said yes. It seemed like a good idea to bring it, since he had no claws. He doubted he’d need the screwdrivers or can opener, but the knives, flashlight, and pliers might come in handy.
They had spent the last two days telling Stephen stories of their own. Stories about other planets, how they developed as a society, how portals changed their societies. So many planets, so much history. The phone kept ringing, and it was always work. Stephen almost picked up and told them he was quitting.
Ten minutes ago, he called his sister. He hadn’t said much to Melissa, only that he would disappear for a while, he didn’t know when he would be back, but not to worry because he was with good people. Melissa had been, of course, exceptionally worried, so Stephen did something he did not expect. He told the truth.
He told her about Deka and Kylac. He told her everything they had told him, as best as he could summarize it. He told her what was wrong with humanity, and that he was going with them to see it firsthand. She had not been convinced. Stephen had said goodbye one last time, and hung up.
The phone was ringing now. It had been ringing nonstop since he hung up. Pretty soon the tape would be full, and Stephen didn’t know what the answering machine would do.
“Remember, Stephen,” Kylac said, “you are the first of your kind any of these people have meet. They will be curious about you. Be a good ambassador for your species.”
“I can’t believe you just said that. And meant it.”
“This is serious,” Deka said. “We’re taking you to people who will take your body apart, tell us how it works, and put you back together better than before.”
“Oh, yes. You are a brand new species. They will want to know everything about you, and they will preserve your anatomical records as long as they’re alive. Just let them do what they need to do, and you will be fine.”
“Okay.” Stephen’s heart was racing. “I have no idea what I’m getting into, but I trust you. I’m ready.”
Deka allowed the equations to return their results and lock in place, and his mind reached into reality and connected two distant points in spacetime. A sphere opened. An alien landscape became visible through it. Saber-toothed felines walked about on a grassland. Some saw the portal open, and they approached it. They appeared to be staring at Stephen. A crowd of four-legged cats with long teeth formed, smaller doglike creatures among them.
Kylac nudged the human. “Look familiar?”
“You weren’t kidding. They look just like saber-toothed tigers. And those things are like wolves. They’re intelligent?”
Deka backed up and stood beside the human, leaning his snout next to Stephen’s ear. “It’s custom for the one who opened the portal to go first, but this time I want you to take the first step.”
Stephen faced Deka, then turned back to the portal. He squared his shoulders, took a step, and walked straight through the sphere. The Archeons followed, and the way closed behind them.
The heat in the house was set to fifty degrees to keep the pipes from freezing. The lights were off. The tapes were stacked on the floor. The phone was still ringing.
Available at B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dangerous-experiments-james-l-steele/1130322838
Amazon version: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N1S93XH/
Even more info: Dangerous Experiments