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    Synopsis

    In this second book of the Host Saga, Van Childs faces a new and more difficult decision. To continue the path he reluctantly started with no turning back and the prospect of facing a lonely, immortal future. Or, opting out and allowing mankind to fend for itself. With his previous enemy defeated, it is possible he can now continue plans to prepare mankind to meet the Arkon if he chooses. New to him is the revelation by the caretaker AI that there is another base on the moon with even more technology. What Childs doesn’t consider is the possibility that individual, state and even extraterrestrial forces might act against his efforts and the interests of mankind.

    Chapter 1

    “No, I don’t want this, let me go!” Screamed Van as he was being strapped into the medical chamber. “Let me out of this thing you mechanical bastard!” he said as the clear cover of the chamber closed over him.

    “Nonsense, Commander. This is what is best for everyone. You are the only person who can do this,” he heard Harry say through the clear cover.

    “Bull shit! Let me out of here. It’s my life and I want to live it the way I want. I don’t care about you or anyone else and I don’t want to do this anymore. I have the right.”

    “No, Commander. This is what the Host wanted. This is what’s best for Earth. You must do this. You will do this,” Harry said with the typical lack of emotion he showed as an artificial intelligence.

    Van was now yelling and twisting back and forth against the restraints of the chamber when he suddenly stopped and opened his eyes. He was sweating and his heart rate was way up. But he wasn’t in the chamber. He was in his own bed in the cabin he built for himself here in the mountains of Arizona. The sun was streaming in the windows as a beautiful morning dawned.

    “What the hell?” He said out loud. Then he realized it had been a dream. And what a dream. He knew that his initial learning period was coming to an end and he would have to commit to continue the work he and Harry had started to prepare for the Arkon. Or, not.

    What was the dream telling him? That down deep he really didn’t want to move forward? Probably.Was he afraid? Maybe that too. But did it have to be done? The answer to that he also believed he knew. Yes. But he still didn’t like it. Giving up his freedom and the peace and quiet he had been planning for when he found this mountain property was still a big deal.

    “Shit,” he said and rolled out of bead and padded into the cabin’s bathroom to splash cold water on his face.

    ***

    After a shower and a brief breakfast, Van tried relaxing on the porch swing of his cabin, which was linked underground to Host Site R. He was trying to enjoy a beautiful spring day and reminding himself that, had he not discovered the Host, this would be his relaxation place away from San Diego and the world. That dream, however, was tempered by the reality of Harry, the embodied Host artificial intelligence standing next to him.

    “This is more like it, Harry,” Van said, arms behind his head as he lazily swung back and forth. “Nobody trying to shoot us or blow us up.”

    “Yes, Commander, but there is something I need to mention.”

    “What’s that?” asked Van, stopping the swing and running a hand through his slightly graying brown hair.

    “Recall, Commander, that when we started working together we had an agreement, which we would review after one year. We are actually past the one-year point, and we need to discuss your desires.”

    “I haven’t forgotten, Harry.” Said Van remembering the vivid dream just a little more than an hour ago. “I have to decide to continue or walk away with no memory of what I’ve learned.”

    “That is correct, Commander.”

    “How about the ALS cure you promised?”

    “You will get that regardless of your decision to continue.”

    “Well there’s one good thing coming from all of this. But just for clarification, if I say no, all my memories of the past year get wiped?”

    “Not exactly, Commander. You will still remember establishing Stellar and your ownership of the Rancho Bernardo property, but you will not remember any of the advanced technology. I can fill in some of the blanks so the time appears seamless.”

    “What about Dick and the Carson Group . . . and what about Barbara?”

    “Unfortunately, Mr. Carson must come in and have his communications device removed. He, too, will have some of his memory cleared. As for Ms. Fuller and the rest of the Carson Group, you will likely have little memory of them, and they of you, over the past year. The Carson Group will keep the suits and the stun weapons they already have. Likewise, the technology that has been released to the world will stay, in the hopes that Earth can advance at a greater pace before the Arkon arrive . . . or until another advanced human like yourself appears and starts the process again.”

    “Well that’s a guilt trip you’re laying out. Thanks! If I don’t continue, the remaining technology doesn’t get to be used by humanity—until or unless another person with a big head comes along. Since that’s unlikely anytime soon, humans advance at a somewhat faster pace but are still wiped out when the Arkon arrive. AND, I don’t remember being reunited with Barbara. Some really great results, Harry!”

    “Sorry, Commander, but that is the guidance I have from the Host.”

    “I know,” Van said, recalling the guidance and absentmindedly resuming his slow swinging. “I guess I knew from the start that this would happen. Is there anything else I should know?”

    “Yes, Commander, there is. As you also recall, you have had two treatments that involved the use of nanites. The third will be for the ALS cure. As I told you at the time, these nanites help you resist diseases, and you will heal faster than normal. However, these treatments are cumulative. They will likely result in your living a longer life even after your memory has been cleared and you return to your old life. Should you continue your work with the Secrets of the Host, you will receive additional treatments either as the result of injury or as part of a requirement by the Host to be treated on a regular basis.”

    “That sounds strangely like significant life extension or perhaps immortality. Am I right?”

    “Yes, Commander, you are correct.”

    Van suddenly stopped swinging and stood to face Harry. “Jesus, Harry, you’ve had me on that track for nearly a year and you didn’t tell me?” Van was realizing how much he had to learn—or how much Harry had been keeping back until now. But why?

    “I could not until now, Commander. The directions of the Host prevented it. In any event, nanite use was required for injuries you suffered and will be required for the ALS cure, as I mentioned.”

    “And the same thing for Barbara?”

    “Not at the same level for Ms. Fuller. She had only one treatment, although it was an extensive one, the equivalent of two of yours.”

    “So now the two of us can expect to live for how long?”

    “Barring severe accident and with your current treatments, Commander, you should live to be about one hundred and twenty and Ms. Fuller to one hundred. In addition, you will not appear to age at the same pace as untreated humans.”

    “Meaning we’ll look much younger than usual even at a hundred and twenty?” Van said, taking a step back, his emerald-green eyes dazed at the prospect of such a long life.

    “Yes, Commander.”

    He paused for a moment to refocus and rubbed his forehead as he tried to consider what Harry had just told him, and then asked a question. “With further regular treatments, as you suggest, how long could we expect to live and how much bodily damage could we cure on our own?”

    “Each treatment, Commander, could extend life twenty to fifty years, depending on the dosage. Body self-repair would increase to levels where even severe trauma could be repaired by the internal nanites. The total life extension potential is unknown. There have been members of the Host who lived as long as one thousand years.”

    “How did they eventually die?”

    “They elected to end the life journey, Commander, by stopping the treatments.”

    “I could stop them in the same way?”

    “Yes, Commander. However, if you decide to continue with your work here, the desire of the Host is that you continue until their guidance is no longer required for Earth. After that, it will be your choice.”

    “But this could take a very long time, correct?”

    “Yes, Commander.”

    “When will I know when the help of the Host is no longer required?”

    “I will be able to tell you when the time arrives, Commander. It may also be obvious and you will know when it is time.”

    Now, as he stared at Harry, he sat back down. It was all starting to sink in.

    “So I’ll essentially become immortal . . . reluctantly?”

    “Yes, Commander, and, in a sense, the guardian of the human race.”

    Van had to think about this some more. Never in his wildest dreams had he considered any form of immortality when he’d agreed initially to start his trial learning-and-work period with the Secrets of the Host. Who could have imagined it? He would be giving up his plans to relax and enjoy life—essentially forever. Or at least for so long into the future that it made no difference.

    If I turn this all down, however, it could eventually mean the end of human life on Earth when the Arkon show up, as Harry promises they will. That’s a huge responsibility to shrug off. And there was Barbara. If his memory was wiped, their new relationship would be gone also, and likely forever. Throughout his adult life he’d been driven by the sense of duty and honor drilled into him by his father and later by the Naval Academy. Barbara’s return was now adding to the dilemma, perhaps to the tipping point. He had no choice, either for Earth or for himself. He didn’t want to do this, but neither could he walk away.

    “Before I say yes or no, Harry, why is it that the Host with all their technology couldn’t defeat the Arkon? And what makes you think we on Earth will do any better?”

    “As I mentioned once before, Commander, the Host were defeated by superior numbers, not by technology. And we know the Host were not eliminated completely, as the survival of the depot fleet has shown. I believe the Host assumed that the men and women of Earth would at least like a ‘fighting chance,’ as you say. Finally, while we can calculate estimated probabilities of success if you like, the future is still somewhat of a mystery that we cannot completely predict. At least I cannot. Can you, Commander?”

    “No, Harry, I can’t. I haven’t even been able to predict my own life over the past year or more, much less the Earth’s. You make a good point though. So, I give. Sign me up for the next hundred years or so. I’ll probably regret it, but there seems to be no choice.”

    “Thank you, Commander. If the Host were here, I am sure they would give their thanks as well. But . . .”

    “But? I think I see something else coming. Spit it out, Harry.”

    “There is one more thing, Commander.”

    “Always is. What is it?”

    “As you recall, Commander, your access to the Secrets of the Host was triggered by your advanced neural system.”

    “My bigger brain and head, you mean?”

    “Yes, exactly, Commander. However, you have not reached your full potential. Far from it. By accepting continuation in your role, your mind will be assisted in reaching its maximum capability.”

    “And what will that be? I’ll be smarter than anyone?”

    “Perhaps, Commander. But my database suggests that intelligence is only part of what the mind is capable of. What exactly that will be depends on you and your neural composition. The learning-chair experiences in the future and, to some extent, your future nanite treatments will play a great part in helping you develop.”

    “And what will be your part in this?”

    “A caretaker and a guide, Commander. I am limited by my Host programming, but I will be there for you as you discover new capabilities.”

    “You’re making this sound scary, you know?”

    “From your perspective, I can see your point, Commander. But as many of you humans say, think of it as an adventure.”

    “This whole thing is an adventure, Harry. I guess this new twist is just part of the saga. OK, what’s next?” Van stood again to his trim and nearly six-foot height.

    “First, a treatment in the medical chamber for the ALS. Then another visit to the learning chair, Commander. As promised, you will receive all the Host knowledge and Secrets of the Host available to you here on Earth as well as your first neural stimulation.”

    “Will it hurt?” Van said, slowly walking into the cabin and the elevator leading to Site R and the medical chamber and learning chair.