Albert sat cross-legged on the floor, still dressed in his favorite dinosaur pajamas. He smiled, reflecting on the latest mischief he’d caused as he watched the armed guards rummaging through his things.
TAU-001 inched toward Albert, but she backed off as soon as the soldiers took note of her. The robot fidgeted with her hands. Her pincer-like fingers trembled, and the ticks and clicks of her internal hardware seemed to accelerate. Her tiny scanner eyes focused on Albert, the boy she was programmed to raise and educate; then she turned her gaze to the soldiers once again.
“Don’t worry, TAU,” Albert said. “Father’s invested way too much money in me to risk harming me now.”
“Affirmative, Master Albert,” TAU said, a hint of uncertainty in her synthesized voice. If Albert hadn’t known better, he might have thought the robot was nervous.
One of the soldiers dumped Albert’s toys on the floor and began sorting through action figures and miniature spaceships. Another ransacked Albert’s bed, tossing aside sheets and pillows and slicing open the mattress with a combat knife. Other soldiers checked the bathroom, searched the closet, and tried to make sense of the clutter on Albert’s desk.
“Well?” the guard corporal said.
One of his men glanced up and shook his head no.
“Okay, kid,” the corporal said, pulling a blaster pistol and aiming it between Albert’s eyes. “I’m done fooling around. Where’s your math homework?”
“What math homework?” Albert asked.
“Robot!” the corporal snapped. “Did you deliver a datapad to this room last night? A datapad with a series of chronometric equations?”
“Affirmative,” TAU answered, her voice positively panicked.
Albert blinked innocently. “I guess I lost it.”
The guard corporal gritted his teeth, his finger hovering over the trigger, but—as Albert already knew—the man was bluffing. He lowered his weapon and put it away.
Two soldiers grabbed Albert, hauling him to his feet. Albert smirked as they dragged him into the hallway. He hadn’t expected Father’s guards to have such a violent reaction to a missing homework assignment, but human behavior depended upon so many hidden variables. Still, everything the soldiers said and did helped confirm Albert’s latest theory: his math homework was not math homework at all.
Albert winked at TAU before the door slid shut.
* * *
Father insisted that Albert should call this space station “home,” but the word seemed inappropriate. The glossy, black floors felt too cold. The walls were too straight, too perfect. No home should look so well polished or feel so sterile and impersonal. And there were far too many soldiers marching through the corridors, their routines fixed like clockwork. The steady, thumping rhythm of their boots gave Albert nightmares that he was being trampled underfoot.
Four soldiers now escorted Albert to his father’s office. Their rifles, slung over their shoulders, clacked against their body armor as they walked.
Father sat behind his desk, his face illuminated by holographic display screens. A fiery nebula burned outside, its light casting the room in shades of pink and red through the panoramic window. Albert noticed a strange woman in a Space Force uniform. She stood by the window, viewing the nebula with apathetic interest.
As soon as Albert entered, the holographic displays cut to static. Father frowned then looked up at his son.
“Albert,” Father said, “please explain why you refuse to do your homework.”
“Because I figured out your game,” Albert said.
Father’s neutral expression remained perfectly neutral. He reached for the control panel on his desk and tapped one of the keys. A series of chronometric equations appeared before Albert, glowing in holographic pastels.
“Albert,” Father said, “these equations are important for your education.”
“No,” Albert said. “When you taught me the laws of physics, that was education. When you taught me about relative frames of reference, that was education. When you taught me the basics of chronotheory and the chronomagnetic field, that was education. But you stopped teaching me a long time ago. Now you’re asking me to solve problems you don’t know how to solve. Problems no one has solved before.”
Albert took a step forward. “When I do the equations TAU brings me each day, you aren’t teaching me. I’m teaching you.”
Father leaned back in his chair, steepling his hands in front of his face. He regarded his son with a new intensity, a new curiosity. It was more attention than Albert usually received from the old man.
“What did you do with last night’s datapad?” Father asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Albert said. “I studied the equations and reached an immediate conclusion.”
“You solved the problem?”
“No. I reached a conclusion. You lied to me. Those equations aren’t homework. They represent the motion of a spaceship navigating in four dimensions. The beta factors represent the mass of enemy vessels with beta prime as enemy weapons fire. Those equations are part of a battle plan. You’re using my homework to develop combat strategies in a war.”
The Space Force officer whirled about. “You deduced all that from the equations we sent you?” she snapped.
Father smiled. “I told you, Admiral Pravic: my boy’s a genius.”
Pravic glared at Father.
“Albert,” Father said, “you are correct.”
“No!” Pravic shouted.
“Admiral, I think it’s time we told Albert the truth.”
“He’s only eleven years old,” Pravic replied.
“Yes,” Father said, “but thanks to the eugenic treatments we’ve given him, his brain has reached full maturity. He’s already exceeded all our expectations. I’m sure you agree.”
Pravic crossed her arms over her chest. “Space Force Command won’t approve.”
Father spared the admiral a sympathetic glance. “I don’t answer to Space Force Command,” he said.
* * *
Father took Albert to the communications room. It looked no different than any other room on the space station: all glass and steel and glowing, holographic screens. Several technicians and maintenance robots busied themselves among the computers. Father ordered them all to leave. He kicked one maintenance-bot that failed to respond immediately to his command.
Dr. Charles Iago Sero: that was Father’s name. It said so on the display screen where Father told Albert to sit. Albert continued to read about how Dr. Sero owned the largest scientific research corporation in the Earth Empire, about how his company had designed the Behemoth-class warships the Imperial Space Force now depended upon, and about how he’d discovered, through his own work, a method to weaponize dark energy. He’d personally financed a counter offensive against the Swarm in the Terminus Sector. He’d also donated billions of credits to colonies affected by the Border Wars and established refugee camps for survivors of the Arcadian Massacre. Though he occasionally ran afoul of traditional imperial policies such as the prohibitions against religion and non-patriotic art, most of Earth’s political elite expected Dr. Sero would be selected as the next emperor.
Near the end of Father’s biographical file, Albert finally found his own name. “In an effort to develop a new theoretical foundation for future military technology,” the file read, “the Sero Corporation began a series of cloning experiments using the DNA of the greatest theoretical physicist in human history: Albert Einstein.” Albert scrolled to the next page, but the results of the experiments, like the details of most of Father’s career, were redacted for security reasons.
“The original Einstein died over 3,000 years ago,” Father said. “When that happened, his doctors removed his brain, hoping to study it and determine what made the man such a genius. Historians disagree about whether the doctors obtained Einstein’s permission to do this, but that’s irrelevant. What matters is that the preserved brain tissue contained enough genetic material to allow us to create you.”
Albert fixed his gaze on the bottom of the screen, even though there was nothing further to read. Albert felt awfully small sitting in the big chair at the communications console, his feet barely touching the floor.
“So I’m not really your son?” Albert asked.
“You and I lack any biological relationship whatsoever,” Father said after the briefest of pauses.
Father stood with his back turned to Albert. He was watching the news. He was always watching the news, especially whenever a certain reporter was on, a reporter with blonde hair and a perky, upturned nose.
In some distant corner of the galaxy, a squadron of Space Force warships was flying into battle, their hulls glistening in the starlight. Albert recognized a Behemoth-class ship in the lead, the other vessels forming a V-shaped wedge behind it. They crested the limb of a blue-green planetoid and opened fire, missiles and lasers flashing in the darkness of space, but none of them seemed to hit their targets. In fact, Albert couldn’t see any targets at all. He thought they must be performing a training exercise until, one by one, the warships exploded, ripped apart by some unseen force.
Albert squinted, just barely able to see a shapeless mass moving through space. The camera cut to a closer view as a menacing shadow fell over the now defenseless planetoid.