Najé told Raika that cabin number two had been prepared for her, then he showed her where to lock her clothes. He presented Raika a silver spacesuit having many accessories and designed specifically for Ladies, then he instructed her how to use cabin’s facilities and where to look for the things she needed. Najé left her, and went to his cabin to also dress in his spacesuit.

     Raika came out about half equ. hour later appearing to be nervous, and having very red cheeks. She said, “I hope, Najé, I put everything in the right place on my body.”
     He replied, “Come here. Let me check your settings.”
     Raika had a superb body and the spacesuit revealed it perfectly well. Najé felt a strong desire to hold her gently in his arms, but he was well aware she would not allow it. He sighed and restrained all rebellious feelings, then he went on checking attentively various instrumentation and sensors positioned all over her body.
     “Hey, hey, HEY!” cried Raika while departing two steps and watching angrily at him.
     “What?” manage Najé scared and confused altogether.
     “NO TOUCHES PLEASE!” protested Raika furiously.
     He motivated with little energy, “I was checking your shield generators, Raika.”
     She continued watching him suspiciously for a few moments, then said, “Oh! I’m sorry. Do we have to sleep in these things?”
     Najé replied amused, “Ha, ha! Oh no, My Dear. The rule is, when we wake up, we dress in spacesuits. I will show you later where the helmet is, and how to attach it. This is only a precautious measure, because we are in space and in a War condition. When you sleep, your cabin is completely sealed, and you can live inside even if the ship is destroyed, for a couple of months, until the rescue comes.”
     “By the way; who is driving this ship, Najé? Shouldn’t you be up there?” asked Raika still in a suspicious mood.
     He explained, “The ship is driving itself, My Dear, and it does that way better than in manual mode. Our ship’s response time to various conditions is million times faster than my reflexes. I only tell it were to go, and how. Actually, this is a good moment to present Aton to you.”
     “Who is Aton?” asked Raika confused.
     “Aton is our ship, My Dear. Please be careful how you talk to him, because he is very intelligent.”
     “Can it hear us now?”
     “Yes, Raika. Aton can hear and see us permanently. When you initiate a dialog with him, start with the word ‘Aton’, like this: Aton, say hello to Raika.”
     “Hello, Raika. You are so beautiful today.”
     Raika felt surprised and disconcerted: it seemed as if someone was spying on her, because the voice came from everywhere around her. The voice had a high metallic timbre, more like a funny toy, but it was not unpleasant. She said, “Hello, Aton. Who told you to tell me that I am beautiful?”
     “Aha!” said Raika, then she looked angrily at Najé.
     He motivated defensively, “I am teaching him manners—”
     She interrupted him nervously, “Look here, Najé Xallas: I am your partner in a dangerous mission, and I do not want to hear any compliments. Do you understand this?”
     He assured her timidly, “Perfectly, My Dear,” then he continued instructing her, “If you need help with anything, ask Aton. He can read a book for you, and he can do almost anything you want. He watches you permanently but, believe me, he is very discreet. You can tell him not to look at you, when you want, but remember to address him again, in order to restart him monitoring you.
     The spacesuit you are wearing is in a permanent connection to ship’s circuits. Later, I shall explain how you can interface to Aton using your thoughts.”
     “Oh, My! He can read my thoughts?” asked Raika again alarmed.
     Najé tried to calm her, “No, Raika, Aton is just a machine. He interfaces with us listening for commands, only. He doesn’t care of what we do or say. You should watch carefully how I work with Aton, in order to do the same. Aton, where are we?”
     “We are in open space at—” started Aton.
     Najé interrupted him, “Aton, can you still see Planet Cotta?”
     “Yes, Najé, I am able to see Planet Cotta.”
     “Aton, show us Cotta.”
     An entire sector on the circular metallic wall surrounding them began displaying Planet Cotta—it was just a small, bright, blue-white-green ball lost amidst the great open space.
     She exclaimed with admiration, “Oh, it is so beautiful!”
     “Remember, Raika, you can totally control the ship. You just tell Aton where you want to go, and how fast, and he will do it for you.”
     “How fast can it travel?” inquired Raika.
     “Faster than you can imagine. Now, Aton is in Infra-Space Drive mode, but he can also use the Trans-States Drive and Gradient Drive modes.”
     “Tell me something about Gradient Drive mode,” said Raika.
     She appeared to be almost relaxed. Najé smiled gently at her, then started, “Gradient Drive mode is a Trans-States Drive mode with a single point. If you remember, in Trans-States Drive mode we need two points: the departure and the destination point. In Gradient Drive mode we have only the departure point, which extends like a bubble up to the destination point, on a specific Primary Energy layer.
     In Gradient Drive mode, Aton needs to calculate the destination point relative to a very complex system of coordinates. The maximum we could travel using Gradient Drive is about one million five hundred thousand equ. light-years away from our Norghe System, but we didn’t test the maximum limit possible too much.”
     She said, “I see . . . So, speed makes no sense in Trans-States Drive or in Gradient Drive modes.”
     He explained, “In these two modes space disappears, therefore speed makes no sense. We could go in an instant to Gorkun City, if our people open the destination point there. Watch this Raika: Aton, connect me to Gebd.”
     After a short delay, Gebd’s trunk and face appeared on a second sector of the surrounding circular wall. He smiled at them, then asked, “How is everything going, Najé?”
     Najé replied, “We are fine, Gebd. I am showing Raika how things work around here.”
     “Hello, Raika. How do you feel in space?” asked Gebd smilingly.
     She replied, “Hello, Gebd. I do not feel I am in space. I am just fine.”
     “Ask Najé to show you how to float without artificial gravitation—”
     Najé interrupted him angrily, “Gebd, that was meant to be a surprise! Aton, close the connection!”
     Raika reproached him, “Do you have to be that rude, Najé Xallas?”
     He watched her troubled for a few moments, then he motivated in a bothered attitude, “I lost my surprise for you.”
     She smiled ironically, then said, “Oh, come on, Najé, I am certain you have a large bag full of surprises for me.”
     He replied hesitantly, “Well . . . in space we use food rations. Are you hungry?”
     “Not now, thank you; maybe later,” answered Raika.
     “Aton knows when you are hungry, and he will tell you—”
     She interrupted him, “How is it to float without artificial gravitation, Najé?”
     “Ah, there is no more fun to it now,” replied Najé bothered.
     She said, “Of course it is. Let’s do it.”
     “Aton, decrease gravitational vector to zero slowly,” said Najé.
     Raika was waiting patiently in her seat—which was extremely comfortable and it had excellent supports for arms.
He advised her, “Now, be very careful, Raika, and remember that you must not make brusque, or sudden moves—”
She interrupted him, “I know, Najé. I have been instructed before except . . . I never traveled in space without artificial gravity.” Soon, she started feeling she was losing her bodyweight, therefore she gripped firmly on the arm supports.
     “Do not be crisp, Raika,” advised Najé calmly.
     She replied amused, “Ha, ha! It is so funny!”
     “Gravitational vector is zero,” announced Aton.
     Najé said, “Now, let go of your grip, and push very gently. Stretch your arms up to protect your head.”
     Raika did as instructed, and she started floating towards the ceiling.
     “Ah, it is so funny . . .” managed Raika, although she started feeling strange.
     “Remember: only gentle pushes,” advised Najé again.
     Raika was near the ceiling and she got hold of a rail. She noticed there were holding rails all over the place. She was feeling dizzy because her blood circulation had been changed too rapidly. She said, “I think I have had enough of it, Najé.”
     “Aton, reverse the last command slowly. Let go of the rail, Raika, and you will fall down gently.”
     Raika let go of the rail, and she started to float down, back to her seat. She managed to be seated properly, and soon her weight returned to normal. She confessed, “I do not like it too much.”
     He agreed, “Yeah, it is just a little bit of fun at first, but it is not pleasing. We are not physiologically built for that; it is more trouble than fun.”
     Her dizziness sensation was almost gone. She said with a deep sigh of satisfaction, “Aah, yes! There is nothing like feeling your good bodyweight back to normal. Oh, I remember I wanted to ask you about something . . .”
     “Please do, My Dear,” invited Najé.
     “There is a command center at the superior level—why do you need it? I think you could do anything you want from right here, in these seats.”
     He agreed, “You are right, Raika. I can control the ship, and I have access to all its systems from any place. The design of the Navigation Control has . . . other grounds; it is intended for manual flight but, to be honest, I used it only when we tested manual systems. I never used it in actual flight.”
     “You sound rather inexperienced, Najé,” remarked Raika perplexed, and a little alarmed.
     “I am certain I can manage it. Besides, I have to use manual controls only when we meet with the Hurrans.”
     “Why?” asked Raika.
     “I do not want them to notice from the very beginning Aton’s qualities,” explained Najé.
     He said, “Well, I guess it is time to eat something, and then you should get some rest. There is no need to exhaust your energy when we are in space. In fact, we should relax as much as we can.”
     Najé went to a place on a wall, then he came back with two small packages, each of them half the size of Raika’s palm, and with two small, rectangular blue containers filled with water. He explained, “We do not have fine dishes or drinks. In fact, this mission, Raika, is the longest ever with this ship. Normally it takes maximum one equ. hour or two to go anywhere, or we make a few tests for one equ. day—”
     “Najé Xallas! Are you telling me NOW that this ship has never been tested for long voyages?” asked Raika annoyed and alarmed.
     He replied defensively, “We never had the opportunity to test it for so long, My Dear. We are traveling now with the average speed of an interstellar Infra-Space Drive Router only to deceive the Hurrans who are probably monitoring the space. Aton is even programmed to make a couple of pointless course changes, in order to suggest that we are not very good at mastering the ship—again as a deceiving strategy. However, we could reach our destination in a few equ. seconds, if we want to.”
     “Do you think Aton will last all this trip?” asked Raika with concern.
     He replied amused, “Ha, ha! Do not be afraid, Raika! In our entire local cluster of Stars, there is nothing more powerful than our little ship. Aton, what is the status of your systems?”
     “All have checked valid, Najé.”
     “Aton, for how long can you last in open space without refueling?”
     “In Gradient Drive mode, I have sufficient energy for two hundred fourteen equ. days; eight equ. hours; thirty-five—”
     “Thank you, Aton. Function mode Gradient Drive consumes about a hundred times more energy than Infra-Space Drive.”
     “Najé, these rations are delicious!” remarked Raika nicely surprised.
     “I am very glad you like them. The good part is, you eat them only once per day, and they are completely assimilated by your organism. I addition, they will enhance all your physiological functions for a perfect balance, optimum energy, and peak mental performance.”
     “Are these made with Genspice?” inquired Raika suspiciously.
     He replied, “By all means! All our food contains Genspice, because it is a fantastic tonic for both our anatomy and physiology.”
     “Why haven’t you told me about Genspice before, Najé?” asked Raika using an accusing tone.
     He motivated, “We never discussed about food, Raika. I never thought it could be important to you.”
     She replied, “This one IS very important to me!”
     “Well then, we have many spices—”
     “Aah, not now, Najé. I think I shall lie down for a while.”
     “You can do it here, Raika. Watch this,” said Najé. He touched a spot on the left arm support, then his seat extended into a comfortable bed.
     “I see we can do everything we want right here, in these seats, but I prefer little privacy,” said Raika.
     “As you wish, My Dear. I am here, if you need me.”
     Life on Aton was not very easy due to space restrictions. The only place with a little more room was the central area bearing the suggestive name of “Central Command”. Since Aton was a round ship, same was Central Command. Surrounding it was a circular passageway limited on one side by the walls of the cabins, and on the other side by strong metal handrails interrupted in four places to allow the access to the four seats inside. Each seat was positioned to face the metallic wall of one cabin, which could be replaced by a tridimensional image. In addition, each seat had complex controls embedded into the arm supports.
     Four elevators were adding to the symmetry of the little round compartment: they were leading either up to the Navigation Control, or down to the Engines Room. The elevators were marked by circular white and gray colored areas on the floor, and each had a side railing on the wall. They were made for one person which was supposed to step inside the circle and hold on the rail: after two equ. seconds, the person was either in the upper or the lower level.
     Everything had been carefully designed to use at maximum the existing space, therefore the circular passageway could be used for long walks or specific gymnastics. Even the seats could be used for various training exercises, for sleeping or to watch the 3D images, and they could be turned to one side or another in order to create more intimacy between occupants. The surrounding 3D images on the cabin walls formed a complete circle, with the viewers in the center, or they could be resized and repositioned to any view-angle desired.
     Each of the four cabins was almost identical, except cabins two and four were intended to be used by Ladies, and one and three were designed for Gentlemen. The cabins had each the shape of one quarter of a circular ring, and each had one bed—which could be made single or double—a nice seat and a small desk, and a tiny toilet enclosure at one end. In addition, there were lots of advanced technologies for almost everything. The general interior design was in shades of polished silver, gray, and black metals, intended to suggest feelings of spotlessly clean, security, and comfort.
     Raika asked Aton to show where the clothes used for sleeping were, and Aton responded by lighting a small orange ring on one wall drawer. She had to ask for instructions on how to open that drawer, then she looked inside and saw white, soft clothes. She didn’t change; she lay on the bed for a quick nap thinking she liked little Aton very much.

     Raika woke up frightened, and she needed a few moments to realize where she was. She walked to the access gate, then into the Central Command. There, she discovered Najé walking around on the circular passageway and talking to a man who was also circling around on the wall projections, in diagonal to Najé’s position.
     “Raika, please meet Agval Fedjez,” said Najé
     “Hello Raika,” said Agval from the wall projection.
     “Hello Agval. How is the weather in Gorkun City?” asked Raika jokingly.
     “I am sorry, Raika, I have no idea. I am on an asteroid, pretty far away from Gorkun City,” replied Agval smiling amused.
     “Oh, I didn’t know; I am sorry,” said Raika, then she smiled nicely back at him.
     “Ah, don’t worry,” assured Agval.
     Najé explained, “Raika, Agval is going to train you in using the individual shield and the mental interface to Aton.”
     “What is that ‘individual shield’?” asked Raika intrigued.
     “You see, Raika,” said Agval, “the spacesuit you are wearing contains a few arrays of small generators, of various types, which are needed to build your individual shield. This technology has multiple functions: it can isolate you within a bubble of air if you accidentally trip into the open space; it can protect you against plasma and laser fire; and it can make you invisible. In addition, your spacesuit is in a permanent connection to Aton, therefore it can transport you from one place to another. It also records images, it monitors all your vital functions, it will self-adjust to the gravitational pull—”
     “Oh, My! That is really extraordinary, Agval,” interrupted Raika amazed.
     Agval agreed, “Yes, it is, Raika. Now, your spacesuit comes with a helmet, and you should have it somewhere . . .”
     She said, “It is in my cabin. Do I have to wear it permanently?”
     Agval replied, “No, Raika. I only intend to train you on how to use it, though it may be a very good idea to keep the helmet within your sight all the time. The helmet is the most important part of your spacesuit, since it gives you the possibility to control Aton using the mental interface—”
     Raika interrupted him, “Please, excuse me for one moment, Agval. Najé, what are you doing?”
     He explained, “I am exercising my legs, because on this little ship the only thing to do is to move from a seat to a bed.”
     “That is an excellent idea. Agval, do you mind if I walk around same as Najé does?” asked Raika.
     “No, no, go ahead, Raika. I understand your restrictions but, please, bring your helmet first.”
     “Oh, yes,” said Raika. She went to her cabin, and soon she came back with the helmet.
     Agval said, “Now, Raika, try fixing the helmet over your head . . . Arrange your hair inside the spacesuit . . . Good. Now, tell Aton to dim the lights, Raika. You have to do it many times, slowly, until he understands you. Say it in your mind: ‘Aton–dim–the–lights’, then wait a little, and repeat.”

     Raika started pronouncing the words in her mind. After the sixth time she noticed the lights dimmed a little bit; in the same time she heard a short, high frequency sound.
     Agval explained, “For the time being, Aton cannot answer with words in your mind, Raika, but he will simulate a signal, a high-pitched sound for one equ. second. Did you hear it?”
     “Yes, Agval, I heard it perfectly clear! Ha, ha!” replied Raika. She was both enthusiastic and amazed by that fantastic technology.
     Agval said, “The high-pitched signal is what Aton means by confirmation, or “yes” logic. For “no”, he will use a lot lower tone . . .”
     The training continued for fifty more equ. minutes, then Agval thanked Raika and told her it was sufficient for that day. He added, “The good part, Najé, is that Raika is fully compatible with the mental interface, and Aton understands her fairly well. After I analyze the data collected, I shall adjust Aton’s modules to respond faster to her commands.”
     Najé replied, “Thank you, Agval. Aton, close the connection. How do you feel, Raika? Are you tired?”
     She replied, “No, I am not tired. Why is Agval doing this training, and not you?”
     Najé smiled, then explained, “Agval is our specialist in mental interface, My Dear. He is going to analyze mathematically your neural response, then he will fine-tune Aton’s interface modules accordingly. Following, your induced neural thoughts are going to be perfectly clear to Aton, and to other intelligent modules.”
     “He mentioned that the individual-shield can make me invisible; how is that possible, Najé?” asked Raika puzzled. She stopped walking, then she took a seat; Najé did the same.
     He replied hesitantly, appearing to be troubled by her question, “Aah, My Dear . . . this is one of our latest applications . . . It deals with a small time gradient of about half equ. second . . . How it works? Well, you are pushed a little into the future, Raika.”
     “You mean, time travel?” asked Raika amazed.
     “No, no, not exactly. You are only pushed ahead of the present time with half equ. second. Therefore, you are not here now, but you will be half equ. second later—”
     She interrupted him, “That sounds extremely complex.”
     He agreed, “Actually, you are quite right, My Dear. Not only it is very complex, but it is also . . . rather dangerous . . . for the environment . . .”
     “What do you mean, ‘dangerous’?” asked Raika concerned.
     He explained, “Only a few things are more dangerous than time travel for the structure of our Universe—”
     She interrupted him alarmed, “Were you referring to the Universe when you said ‘environment’?”
Najé admitted, “Yes. When we say ‘environment’, we refer to the structure of our Atomic Universe with its basic coordinates: space, matter, and time—”
     “And time travel is dangerous for THAT environment?” inquired Raika suspiciously.
     “Very dangerous, Raika. Time travel could destroy the entire Universe. In order to understand this, try to imagine that time travel is the pollution of the Universe. At first it is local, then it may extend up to a point where it can break natural regeneration balance, and then everything could disappear instantly.”
     Raika watched him in a shocked attitude for a few moments, then said, “Then, why do you use it, Najé? That is at least unethical, if not insane.”
     He replied defensively, “I know, My Dear, and I am not very proud of it . . . none of us are . . . The truth is, we have abandoned all temporal experiments when we realized the consequences, but . . . this Hurran problem came so unexpectedly, and we needed something to fight with—”
     She declared in a firm voice, “I am not going to pollute the Universe environment knowingly, Najé!”
     He rushed to explain, “Oh, no, Raika! Your little push of half equ. second into the future is nothing, especially in the open space. The real problems come if you travel into the past, make some changes there, and the Universe is forced to regenerate itself. Each regeneration is going to do things a little defectively . . . until the balance should break down . . . eventually.”
     She asked suspiciously, “If half equ. second push into the future is nothing, then why do you say it is dangerous?”
     He explained troubled, “Your half equ. second push into the future comes with a relative travel back into the past, also of half equ. second, in order to reintegrate yourself back into the present time.”
     “Aha! So I do travel back into the past,” remarked Raika angrily.
     Najé detailed his explanations, “No, not exactly, My Dear. In your case, you travel back into a relative past, because you come from future to present. That past it is not real past, meaning, for the environment it didn’t happen yet: it is still future. The time gradient is very small, in your particular case, and then you are in the open space which is a rare density environment: an isolated one. Even onboard a spaceship you cannot induce fundamental changes—”
     She interrupted him nervously, “You shouldn’t do that, Najé! Think of what you feel if some scientists, somewhere, would destroy the entire Universe for all of us.”
     He admitted, “You are right, My Dear, and my hope is we shall not use it . . . much. Besides, believe me: when I say that half equ. second push into the future, in open space, is totally harmless—”
     “But you still have doubts, Najé,” investigated Raika.
     He replied, “No, it is not a matter of doubts, Raika . . . It is just . . . as you said, unethical.”
     “Najé Xallas, I start believing that you, the scientists, behave like naughty children; therefore, somebody has to supervise you closely. I shall take care of it after we finish with this Hurran story,” promised Raika nervously.
     He agreed, “Sure Raika. We do not like it at all—none of us does. Besides, you will not use it much; maybe I will, a little, for demonstration purposes . . . But you still have to train with it, My Dear.”
     “Aah, you are doing a lot of dirty things in your laboratories, Najé, and I can hardly wait to see what other miseries you are cooking in there,” said Raika with irritation, while watching him with much suspicion.
     “No, Raika, this is the only one, and it is a very, very small thing. Honestly!”
     “I shall take care of it,” promised Raika again, still in a suspicious mood.



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