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 P.T. Barnum.
       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 nodded knowingly.

       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 'Jane D'.
       "Jane D?" she asked, innocently enough.
       "I automatically 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.
       "Certainly not. 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 own?"
       "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."
       "That's very 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 mind?"
       "I've been 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."
       "What about 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."
       "Ah, yes," 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."
       "Yeah," she 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 intended."
       "No way!" 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 suspense?"
       "Nah. But you gotta promise to keep this to yourself. OK?"
       "Doctor-patient privilege. Rest assured, my lips are sealed."
       She told him her idea. He was suitably amused.
       "You think it'll work?" she asked eagerly.
       "Admirably," he replied, chuckling tolerantly. "I would say that your choice of an alias should address all of your concerns perfectly."
       "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 else does."
       "Very well," he said, turning to his keyboard, "Susan P it is."
       Thereafter, every 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.
       "You'll find 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 interference.
       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 'Area 52'.
       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.
       Targeted scientists 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.
       Actually, one 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."
       "That's for sure," said Sara, drily.
       "And you're gonna let her just up and do that?" asked Alex.
       "It makes 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."
       "Alex," 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 you?"
       "Such as it is," he admitted. "But Sara's… I don't know — different. She's your friend. Isn't she?"
       "Sure," said 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.
       "Doesn't bother me," said Sara.
       Dinah informed him, "You may as well know that I have accepted a position as Exocybernautics' attorney."
       Alex was astonished. "You?" He started to laugh, "A corporate lawyer?" 
       "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?"
       "Vell," said Mrs. J, counting off on her stubby fingers, "There is Borodin, and Nevsky, and Popov, and Andropov, and Gudenov…"
       "You're kidding! 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' rents. Hah!"
       Dinah added, "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.
       "Whose 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."
       Dinah nodded. "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."
       "Besides," 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 and keepink Sara in line, too."
       Dinah added, "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 speak."
       "Really, 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 head.
       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 you.
       Fortunately, she 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.
       According to 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.
       Evidently, whatever 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 kreening ability.
       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 demonstration.
       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."
       "That's it exactly," said Silvers wryly. "I'll make sure you get all this stuff. Can you be ready next week?"
       "No problemo."
       Later, Alex told Sara what he had in mind.
       "Military/industrial 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."
       "So they're 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."
       "So," said 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 Fondι 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 civilization."
       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."
       "That is," 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.

Chapter Twenty-five: White Sands

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© Patrick Hill, 2000