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Miscellaneous Childrenstories Whose World Rings of Fate Life ain’t that hard

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An open letter

An open letter to the wasp that was just buzzing around my laundry rack, ready to fuck shit up.

Rings of Fate S4xE7 – Equatoria – Phoenix

Insect like creatures chirped in the night, seemingly paying homage to the shining moon above, as the heat of the humid summer day slowly lifted from Equatoria.

Admiral Benjamin Fuller wiped the sweat from his brow. Shore leave was all fine and dandy, but did it have to be in the summer? Most of the time it was summer in Equatoria, unless the Monsoon rains came.

The only noticeable change in seasons on Equatoria, as it was lying almost directly on the equator of RV-p296.

He did not know whether it always felt like this on the colony, but it seemed, whenever he, his husband and their children came, it was hot, humid and not a breeze lifted the heavy air.

Although enjoying the time away from the duties of an Admiral, outside the rather sterile, although lived in, environment of the Destiny, he was glad that a Sergeant had appeared at the door of their home on Equatoria in the middle of the night.

“There is a development, sir.” He saluted after the door had closed behind Benjamin. “All command crews have been alerted, shoreleaves have been annulled.” Sergeant Kušenkovic handed him a tablet with a message on display, it was locked with a security clearance only highest ranking personnel and officials held.

Dismissing the sergeant Ben opened the message after he was alone again.

 

“I am General Regina Marston, aboard the Phoenix. This message is rerouted through the martian quantum entanglement communication network. I call upon the colony of Equatoria. Four years ago the government of Mars has lifted the ban on antimatter technology, enabling the completion of the once secret Phoenix project. Our vessel has been en route towards the Equatoria for the better part of the last four years, and we hope that we are greeted as the long lost brothers and sisters that we are.”

George will be furious, Benjamin glanced over his shoulder at the door. Amidst the humid and still very warm atmosphere, he felt a chill and went back inside. After General Marston’s greeting, was the written summoning to an emergency conference with the senators and presidents.

Equatoria had elected to have three presidents running the colony, so that these three could always oversee one another. There would be less abuse of political opportunity and power. In addition it was in honor of the three ships that mankind had arrived in. Kismet had still the heirs to the titles of emirates it had come from, their portion of the colony was governed by said heirs.

Of course, they would be included in the meeting as well, Ben assumed.

 

“Can we permit a vessel, built by humans, with the same technological level as us, using antimatter in our vicinity?” President Julia Mgabe, flanked by her fellow presidents,  stood at the conference table. “That’s what this boils down to. Nothing else.”

“We can’t really prohibt them from coming here, can we?” Admiral Mulgrew did not bother to stand up.

Her history, and that of her ship, gave her enough authority to not having to stand up in front of the presidents. “We could at least tell them that their antimatter storage compartments have to be emptied before entering orbit.” Newly appointed Admiral Gabe May from the Explorer interjected.

Passively following the conversation Ben rolled his eyes. This discussion was fruitless in his eyes, as they were underpowered. They could threaten with military action, subsequently blowing the Phoenix up, ending countless lives, perhaps threaten their own safety in doing so.

It showed in the eyes of the presidents, and Gabe. They were secretly eager to see the Phoenix. To see it could be done, that the technology was within reach. They wanted antimatter technology too.

The opportunity to equip a ship and head out into the universe, traversing from one star system to the next within a few years, instead of decades, or generations, was too alluring for them. He himself could not deny the fact that this was tempting.

“They did show their capabilities with Antimatter when the MISR appeared on our doorstep. They also demonstrate it is safe for use by comming here. Isn’t it conceivable that they can handle it? That our ban on antimatter research and technology is one born out of fear? While true, if handled wrong, it can be a destructive element, they used it right, handle it right.” Benjamin slowly rose to his feet. “I can see your hidden desires Presidents, it is the gateway to the future. We here have a simple life, our desire to create new technologies so we can leave is low, as our situation is a lush one. Theirs is a desire born out of necessity. Imagine their situation. Holed up in underground bunkers, grossly limited freedom of movement. While similar to the hardships we were born into, our confinement had an end, theirs did not. Unless they invented new technologies, or reinvent them. And they succeeded! It is my opinion that we not only lack the capabilities to prohibit them from reaching Equatoria with all their achievements in hand, but also that we lack the grounds for it. We allow the Harpies to come here, who also use the same technology, far more advanced, I admit, but basically the same. We couldn’t keep linkers from comming here, and they possess the same technology. So why would we ban our martian brothers and sisters from entering our domain, when we allow others?” The air conditioning in the conference room worked effortlessly, combating the humid heat from outside, much to Benjamin’s relief.

“In short, what I am saying is, we can’t forbid them entering Orbit with their antimatter. We can ban it on the surface, but that is it.” Seing a hint of delight in his words in the eyes of the presidents gave Benjamin a chill. Had he said and done the wrong thing?

A quick glance to Jane Mulhre told him that she seemed to think so. Her ship had met a terrible fate, without antimatter involved. The volatile nature of it would increase the deadly yield of similar accidents by an unimaginable amount.

“Who seconds the motion to allow the Phoenix entering Orbit?” President Mgabe raised her hand. Followed by the other two Presidents, the ambassador from the former Kismet crew and Gabe. “I will not vote.” Ben said. “Seeing as I am torn on the subject, I could not cast a vote for or against with a clean conscience.”

Sceptical glances came from Mgabe and Gabe. Jane still looked at him with an angry expression. “Gentlemen, Ma’am,” Jane got up, began walking to the exit. “it is decided then. We will allow the Phoenix to come here. With me the only in opposition to the idea, it is settled.” Without further greeting she left.

A stale feeling of regret and guilt hung over Benjamin’s mood like an ominous thunderstorm of antimatter.

 

Communication with the once battered Horizon resumed normally, but Jane remained out of reach, once Benjamin was back on Destiny.

Most of the crews on Destiny and Explorer had been under heavy rotation since they reached RV-p296, but the Horizon crew pretty much stayed the same. There was a special bond, tieing them together. Unlike the other crews they were a family that had survived the worst. No planetary eden, or promise of such, could tear them apart.

After arriving, they disbanded for a short time. Jane had filed an investigation into her own actions, wanting to atone for her choices.

Ultimately she was found not guilty, and reinstated as Admiral of the Dawn Horizon.

Over the course of the years a new dish was installed in the rear of the ship, landing pods returned from the surface, as most of the former Horizon crew longed for Jane’s rule. Within two years the Horizon crew was more or less back together.

A development Ben found a little odd at the time, now he felt it was concerning. If Jane was planning something sinister for the Phoenix, her crew would join in, as they were loyal beyond doubt to her.

“Picking up a signature.” These words called Benjamin back to reality.

With a nod he gave the command that it should be put on the screen. A ship, smaller than his own, appeared. Two rings, and a shovel head.

They were travelling at speeds the Destiny could match. “They’re within hailing range.”

Benjamin again nodded. This time not giving a command, but acknowledging the fact he was informed of. After Admiral Mulgrew had left, it was decided that Gabe May would be the one talking to them first. “Keep an eye on the Horizon.” He mumbled. Eyeing the ship on his display carefully.

Unlike the other two ships, the Horizon was fully equipped. She had all her pods, not the skeletal empty hallways leading to nowhere, like his ship did in the alpha through gamma rings. Of course, Horizon only consisted of alpha and sub alpha rings. New pods were constructed, but far from reaching numbers that would complete the Explorer and the Horizon.

“She’s breaking orbit!” Phillip Jenkins, his navigation officer yelled. “Crap!” He quickly punched the console. “Jane! What are you doing?”

Jane Mulgrew’s face appeared on the tiny screen. “Do you want to hear an odd bit about true democracy? The first places where everybody who would have to bear the consequences of a decision, was empowered to vote on said decision, were pirate ships. In true pirate fashion, I let my crew vote. Just like me, they are against the idea of antimatter in the hands of humans. I agree that destroying the Phoenix is not an option. I do not want to end any lives, or risk contamination of our new found home with weird radiation, or blobs of antimatter. So we decided to leave.” Not giving him the chance to argue with her, Jane cut the line again.

Slamming his fist against the panel Benjamin looked back up at the main view screen. Accelerating the short ship moved further away. “Explorer is arming lasers, they’re targeting the Horizon.” Seymour DiAmano, his first officer, stated. “Horizon is also arming her lasers, targeting the Explorer.

This isn’t happening. This is just a nightmare. “Target Explorer canons, fire at will.” Benjamin heard himself say. The next seconds went by as if time had slowed down.

Explorer opened fire at the thrusters on Horizon, to which they returned fire at the canons on Explorer, taking out a few of them.

The Destiny’s own canons opened fire on the canons on Explorer, creating more damage in their weaponsystems. “We’re being called by Admiral May.”

“Let him hear static. If anyone asks we had computer glitch acting up.” A knowing smirk on his lips Seymour nodded, while the Horizon moved further away, without being fired upon any longer. Instead Explorer turned towards Destiny, the remaining lasers reaiming at Ben’s ship.

“Stand down all canons.” Ben sank in his chair. This would be the end of his career, he knew.

“Dawn Horizon is out of weapons range. Explorer advancing, still hailing.” Intensely staring at Benjamin, Seymour held his finder poised over the button to reply to the hails. “Answer them. Get a security detail up here. You need to make an arrest.”

Reluctantly, but relieved he pressed the button.

A moment later the weaponsystems of Explorer shut down. Surely they were scanning for Horizon too, finding it had gone too far out be pursued.

 

The presidents had convened again. Phoenix was stil a day out, so Benjamin had the undisturbed attention of them and Gabe.

“Admiral Benjamin Fuller. You are being accused of mutiny, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty.” What else could I say? “Seeing as there were no orders from my superiors regarding Horizon, I am innocent of insubordination, and mutiny as well, as Admiral Gabe May is not my superior officer.” The ambassador from the Kismet crew was present, Seymour sat in the witness stand.

A few senators and the press were present at the trial, that had been called in quite a rush. “Regardless, you ordered to open fire on the Explorer, is that correct?” Mgabe raised another question. “I ordered a lock on the Explorer canons, with the addition to fire at will.” They made it easy for him to avoid federal charges. The hearing was live streamed into the network to a broader audience. To convict him based on what they asked and what he replied would be harder with each passing moment.

President Mgabe knew as well. Did he see intent in her expression? She did not want to convict him of these crimes!

Merely wanted him out of the office of Admiral. “Why did you give that specific order?” She looked down to her computer display for a moment, then back up at him.

“Prior to Horizon’s defection I contacted Admiral Jane Mulgrew. She informed me that she had asked her entire crew to vote on whether or not to leave. They elected to do just that. When Explorer aimed their guns at the Horizon, I gave that order. So they would not destroy, damage or hurt the Horizon and her crew.” He paused looking at Gabe for a moment, who was staring at him with an intense glare. “We are not a totalitarian regime that keeps a group of its citizens, or denizens, from leaving, by shooting at them. We are not a union that needs to be held together by whatever force necessary. Horizon did not so much defect, than secede. We were all born and raised on these ships. You can’t help but agree that they are much more than just mere means of transportation or orbital weapon platforms. They were homes, and still are. Hence, this is not a defection, but a secession, an act that can’t be seen as something we must prevent by force, but one that should give us pause, and reflect upon what had led us there.” Benjamin slowly looked around the court room. Some of the people present nodded in agreement with him. “My order to fire at the weapons of Explorer was an act of peace. To prevent unnecessary hostility between ourselves. Really we should investigate why an Order had been given to fire upon a peacefully leaving vessel.”

Folding his hands behind his back Benjamin straightened, making himself appear taller.

“However, I accept full responsibility for the actions taken, and will take my leave. A dishonourable discharge from the service, and a permanent ban from boarding any terran or equatorian vessels.” Again some of the people nodded, a few seemed shocked and outraged that he proposed such a thing.

Julia Mgabe looked to her fellow presidents, who nodded in agreement. “It is settled then.” The three presidents rose.

“Admiral Benjamin Fuller, this court is accepting the fact that you acted out of loyalty to the human race and the democracy we are trying to uphold. Still, your actions were not suitable for an officer of the fleet. Therefore you are discharged without honor, a permanent ban on boarding any and all space faring vessels that belong to our domain. Dismissed!”

Retirement. Finally. George will be so happy to hear that. The kids will be even more thrilled. Benjamin had to concentrate not to smile.

“What?” Gabe May jumped to his feet. “What about him enabling the theft of valuable property of the colony?”

Julia turned her glance towards him. “Admiral May, the court is going to recess, after which your acts of unrest will be subject to a court hearing. As former Admiral Fuller had stated, Horizon is not property, but a territory that had seceded. Their pods were the ones they had arrived in. Horizon’s people are not being abducted, although we will try to communicate with them im order to verify that. Your actions endangered lives. Former Admiral Fuller’s actions were unacceptable, but simply a reaction to your unacceptable actions.” All color faded from Admiral May’s face.

With quite some satisfaction Benjamin realised that Gabe had ended his career as much as he had ended his. “Everything I did was for the well being of the colony! That cannot be a crime!”

“Admiral May. You are hereby under arrest. Your intentions are not being questioned, but your actions, how you intended to put your intentions to work.”

Still fighting the urge to smile Benjamin could not help but think of an old saying. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

 

After the session had been adjourned for recess, Ben was free to go, as his testimony was on record.

He returned to the former pod where he and his family lived when on Equatoria.

“Admiral?” A woman approached him from a side alley, she held a tablet in her hands, but wore clothes that looked like she worked with plants. “Not any more, how may I help you?” A kind smile appeared on her lips. Without further words she handed him the tablet. It was an old model, and had seen better days.

A text message was on display.

From Jane.

 

Ben, I wished we had parted on better terms.

Claudia will bring you this message, she is one of the few Horizon citizens who elected to stay on RV-p296, but otherwise she is loyal to me.

Call me paranoid, but it had always been my suspicion that things with our government are awry. Even if it is just their eagerness to get their hands on technology we are not yet ready to handle. Antimatter is too dangerous for us to handle.

We may have evolved past the limited horizons that we had when we set out from earth, but we are not yet capable of seeing past our own desires and convenience. The seeder movement constantly fighting to get terran crops on RV-p296’s soil is a prime example, it could and would spell desaster for the native species of RV-p296, yet they persist, and gain momentum. Sooner or later the rules and regulations will fall, and they will have their way. What that will mean for our new found home, is beyond even my imagination.

And that is a bleak one.

Despite all this, I had never tuly intended to secede, up until now. You may be right about the Phoenix, but still. Are we ready for antimatter? I think not.

Our leaders are just as blindly grabbing what ever new technologies come their way as corporations were in our history: barely understood, underdeveloped technology is taken and used without ever even considering what the consequences are, or might be. Investiagtions in existing technologies with a lot of potential are discontinued, because they seem outdated.

Dawn Horizon has two state of the art fusion reactors, and I am confident they can get us far, we have fully equipped gardens and facilities. Do not worry about us. Worry for yourself.

Love, Jane.

 

Reflecting the kind smile Ben handed the tablet back. “Thank you.” Claudia nodded and turned to leave. “Where is she going?”

“I do not know.” Benjamin could see in her eyes that she was lying. She knew, but she would not tell.

Probably for the better, if the subject ever came up in an investigation, he would not have to either lie, or tell on his friend.

 

Again the insects chirped, they began when the sun was setting, and continued on well into the night. Benjamin had seen plenty of old movies to know that such behaviour was also common place on earth.

George was, just as he had predicted, relieved over his loss of employment. No more would he have to share his beloved husband with Destiny. Since they already had been on a long shore leave on Equatoria, most of their personal belongings were already down on the planet, George would gather the rest in the upcoming days.

A disturbing feeling of dejavu overcame Benjamin when he again met with a man in uniform who appeared at his doorstep.

“What is it now? I’m not an Admiral any longer.”

“The Phoenix has entered orbit, a certain Doctor Kurt Braun expressed his eager wish to meet with you.” Sergeant Killroy saluted, immediately assumed a less official posture when he remembered that Benjamin was no longer a superior officer.

“Tomorrow.” Ben nodded, turning back around.

Finding it odd that Doctor Braun wanted to meet him of all people, Benjamin sat down in the living room. Questions of quarantine began bubbling up in his mind. The original crews arriving at RV-p296 were pretty irresponsible themselves. Although the implants sheltered them from most pathogens, they still could’ve brought some diseases with them. Common cold could travel with local wildlife, migrating animals to the native intelligent species and wipe them out.

Since the populations of the three ships were isolated from one another for generations, Horizon could’ve brought a batch of viruses with them the Explorer crew could not handle.

He found it remarkable that none of these things happened. Was Phoenix and its crew also clean enough? After all, they were separated from them too. What if they brought something?

Then again, shouldn’t the crew of Orion either have fallen victim to new illnesses, or passed some along to the crew of Explorer?

 

Some time during the morning Benjamin was awoken by George. Apparently he had fallen asleep pondering about viruses, pathogens, so called super bugs, and quarantine procedures. “Good morning sunshine, late night pondering gone on into the early hours?”

Enjoying the tender embrace of his husband Benjamin leaned back, for a kiss.

“Just thoughts not leaving my head, I even dreamt of viruses and sickness.” Making a face filled with questions best left unanswered George stood up. “I’ll get our stuff in the afternoon, after lecture. The kids will spend the day at school, so you can kick back and relax.” Vacation over already? “Then I will just enjoy the humid heat, right after I’ve met with Doctor Braun.” He almost had forgotten the scientist from Mars, explained it to George in quick words.

 

“As long as you’re not joining him on the Phoenix, have fun.” George grabbed his tablet and left after breakfast.

“I won’t honey, definitely.” At least I would not do it without you and our children. Quickly he cleaned up kitchen and living room, took a shower and left to meet Doctor Braun.

 

Meeting the scientist in a public cafeteria had been the Doctors idea. Since he had no knowledge of the layout of Equatoria, other than simple maps, he did not know much about anything in the colony.

Benjamin was astonished at the height of the man. He himself was not a short fellow, but this man towered over him. “Human growth had evolved for gravity of earth. RV-p296’s gravity is almost the same. But Mars is significantly less. At least from growth rate perspectives.” He pointed at a few other people significantly taller than the people of Equatoria, clearly having noticed Benjamin’s wonder.

“I see.” Ben smiled, pointing at a table. “Shall we take a seat?”

After sitting down Ben could not help but ask why Kurt wanted to see him.

“Curiosity, mostly. Yours was the first non martian face I have ever seen. Other than what we had on record I mean.” Flashing the man a friendly, and somewhat flattered, smile Benjamin took a sip of his tea. “And I was given to understand that our arrival had caused some turmoil? You lost your position?”

They were quickly inaugurated on what happened. Their sensors probably told them most of what had been going on, just needed to fill in a few gaps. “Yes, Admiral Jane Mulgrew adamantly protested letting the Phoenix come here. Nothing personal, mind you, just she doesn’t trust antimatter.”

“After what had happened to her ship with the, let us say, conventional technology, that does not surprise me.” Kurt had, had access to the reports sent to Mars via the MISR, so he knew all about the Horizon and her fate. “Since her protests in the senate fell on deaf ears, partly due to me, she decided to leave.”

It would take a while to tell him all of Jane’s reasons, could he trust the visitor? “But truth be told, antimatter technology was just the tip of the iceberg that made her form that decision.” Since Kurt already knew about the colony’s predicament with the local plant life producing no lysine, and the policy for non indigenous crops, Benjamin just had to explain what the seeder movement was. A brilliant scientist like Kurt undoubtedly connected the dots.

“Are the gardens in the Orion class ships your only source for lysine? Because then I could understand why Horizon was fired upon.”

“No, they’re not. They were for the first two years, after that most of our lysine crops were farmed on the moon base, and much of it comes from laboratories.”

 

A moment of silence passed between the two.

 

“Shall we catch up to Horizon? She is travelling slow enough for us to do that.” Kurt stirred his cup of tea. Herbal tea, made from plants found on RV-p296.

Ben did not know.

A decision like that was not in his power anymore.

“Take that question to the presidents, if it was up to me, I’d say let her go. Jane is an intelligent woman. She and her crew know what they are doing.” A sudden itching feeling of doubt, and curiosity overcame Benjamin.

A small spark of hope that his security clearance had not been deleted yet made him yearn for a terminal. “We should turn to lighter subjects.” Another broad smile from Benjamin. “How is life on Mars. Reading about it, or hearing in audio logs, is one thing. First hand stories, another.”

 

After several hours of chatting with Kurt, Ben returned home. He had gotten a message from his husband that he was now going to Destiny gathering their stuff, and that Benjamin should not wait with dinner. Their children were still at school, so Ben had the entire afternoon for himself.

And the computer.

Much to his satisfaction in most systems the security clearance had not been deleted yet, so accessing data was not a hassle.

Something that Kurt had said bothered him. Horizon was slow enough for them to catch her.

Although she had been patched together again, Horizon was sort of a broken ship. Stable enough for slow travel, but she would never again reach her top speeds. Reaching another solar system, even the closest one, was not a question of three generations, but of at least twice that number. So where was Jane taking her?

All ships had been outfitted with quantum entanglement communication devices, after Kurt had revealed their functionality to the colony. Accessing Horizon’s database was therefore not that difficult.

When he read through the maintenance logs he stopped in awe.

 

Due to her lower mass and size, Horizon had been equipped with a new prototype engine. It functioned similarly to the drive on the Ark-class ships, or the MISR, but without antimatter to fuel the energy requirements, the efficiency was greatly reduced.

A line from her letter on Claudias tablet came to his mind “Dawn Horizon has two state of the art fusion reactors, and I am confident they can get us far“.

Although the spine of Horizon could no longer bear the shocks of the explosions pushing the ship forward, Horizon was faster than anything else Equatoria had to offer.

He leaned forward again, depositing a short message to Jane in the Horizon database, advising her to change security codes, unless she wanted to get hacked and stranded in space.

Now he knew why Gabe wanted to stop Horizon. He probably had hoped to gain command over the sturdy little ship himself.

Reflecting on the facts he just had uncovered Benjamin leaned back again. Surely there were plans to install similar engines in the other Orion-class ships. But Horizon’s extensive damage and the work required to restore her to a functional state were the perfect opportunity for installing it covertly.

 

Carefully redacting his traces in the system before logging out of the networks, Benjamin spent the rest of the afternoon haunched over the computer. Constantly asking himself why so many things in their supposed utopian society were covert operations.

Phoenix on Mars? Secret.

MISR? Secret.

Horizon’s new engine? Secret.

What else was being kept under covers? His trust in humanity began to wane. Jane, the one person he would’ve thought not to be involved in black ops, was aboard a ship with a secret engine. It also showcased why she so vehemently opposed antimatter. They had other, less dangerous, technology. It was experimental, but in time it could surpass its limitations. “You hypocrite.” He snared at the blank screen. Had she herself not written that underdeveloped, untested technology was rolled out?

Now she rolled on such underdeveloped and untested technology through the universe, with Horizon’s destination still unknown to him.

 

The door opened, half startled that it might be a security detail taking him in for questioning because they did notice his activities, Ben jumped from his seat. “Hi dad!”

“Are you early, or did I forget time?” A wave of hot and humid air rolled past the children, waltzing over him, seemingly washing away all the sinister, secretive things that lay brooding in the dark of political hickhack. “You forgot.” Charlie grinned, standing in the door, an invite to play with them on his face.

Time to enjoy life. Benjamin walked towards the open door. Time to enjoy life indeed.

Vacation Pics

Plitvica Lakes Nationalpark

Plitvica Lakes Nationalpark

Plitvica Lakes Nationalpark

Plitvica Lakes Nationalpark

Plitvica Lakes Nationalpark

Plitvica Lakes Nationalpark

The trip to the park took 4 hours. Back, another 4 hrs. Plus more than 3 hours hiking.

I had managed to snap a few pictures without people in them. Trust me. That’s an accomplishment.

(If you have questions, I’m open to answering them. Try my mastodon: @augur@metalhead.club)

The sea. The beautiful sea.

The (tiny) Dragon of Rovinj. ^^

If any of you ever make it to Croatia, to Istria in particular, try this beer. It’s a bit costly (thanks honey! <3), but worth every Kuna and Lipa.

Never, ever have I tasted a better beer. Every taste, every note and smell that’s supposed to be in it, IS in it: A note of coffe, with a creamy smoothness of cocoa, a hint of lemon. On top of the goodness of a really good dark beer.

Usually when something is supposed to taste like something, I don’t get that taste.

No. I’m not paid for this. An insignificant schmuck like me doesn’t get promotion deals. (Dear Bujska Pivovara, brewers, IF you read this, and want to thank me for this endorsement – I wouldn’t say no a bottle San Servolo tamno or two…)

In case you want to learn more about this beer…

Rovinj in the distance.

The beautiful and lush hotel grounds of Hotel Amarin

Take care, and may you have a vacation as beautiful as ours.

A.

The Digitally Dilapidated

During our stay in a four star hotel at the beautiful istrian beach, with warm, clear waters and a great view on Rovinj, I noticed something.
Parents, kids of all ages, entire families, couples, all just watching/reading shit of their phones, tablets, and in one case, a laptop even.

At breakfast, lunch, dinner, beach, pool, wherever.
“What did you see during your vacation in Coratia?”
“YouTube, Facebook and Instagram”
Fuck you.

Here, my conviction, that smartphones aren’t made for us, got it’s final veneer. Perhaps some future generation that is truly capable of multitasking might take advantage of this stuff, but it is not for us.

Instead of spending time with their families, their spouses, their parents, their siblings, their children, or just plain taking in the vistas, nature, clean air and relative silence, people are staring at their phones! Instead of getting away from the shit that they are confronted with daily at home, they take it with them EVERYWHERE, and then wonder, why they do not feel relaxed.
I had people at the hike through the Plitvica Lakes Nationalpark, looking at their phones, occasionally looking up, going “wow” snapping a crappy cellphone picture and then continue typing/reading shit.

For Fucks Sake! LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD! Not the virtual world. Converse with one another, and get more substance out of fewer connections, instead of more connections with less substance.
Moronic cancers of human (de)evolution.
Take care, and put away those fucking devices, make a scheduled “social media (half)hour” once a day, and other than that, no social media, no texts/messages. Same with news. Just calls.
A.

Vacation things

Grab a bunch of people from a variety of 4 star resorts at 0730 on a day long hiking (!) excursion to a bunch of lakes and
.a) half of them will not be dressed for the occasion: Flipflops and hiking don’t go together.
.b) half of them will have munched through their lunch packages by 0830.
.c) some will have NO or INSUFFICIENT hydration rations with them. There was this one hipster dude with a .33 liter drinking bag for himself and his girlfriend. The faucets in the park were ALL marked as “Water not drinkable”. I carried 1.5 liters for myself alone and still had to buy additional stuff.

To quote Scar from the Lion King: I’m surrounded by idiots…

A.

Rings of Fate S4xE6 – Phoenix – Ericsson

Peaceful silence filled the clean, dimly lit hallways of Phoenix. Well past midnight, Kurt took a late night stroll. Sleep had become a thing he needed less and less. Not that it had become elusive, but apparently he needed less hours of sleep.

Once his shift in the control centre was over, he had time for himself. Spending the rest of the day with Leopold was something he hadn’t done in some time, as the lad was spending his spare time with Tracy.

Young love.

Musing on the blessings and curses of youth, Kurt found himself entering the garden on the deck beneath the bridge.

In stark contrast to the ring sections, the hallways, rooms and gardens on the spearhead of Phoenix were more accomodating to martian humans, as they were taller than their terran ancestors. Rings and engineering had been built fully automated, following blueprints used for all of the Ark-class ships. No one bumped his head, or had to bow his head all the while, but the ceiling was hanging uncomfortably low.

Except in the new segment.

Weather in the garden simulated a lush summer night, Kurt marched a few paces, found a bench and sat down.

When he first noticed it, he began to worry, but asking a physician cleared it up. He gained muscle mass. Gravity on the Phoenix was dialed up, gently and barely noticeable, but it was dialed up to match that of Earth eventually.

Almost the same amount of gravity as on RV-p296, or their current destination, Ericsson.

 

A stop along the way to the colony, Ericsson had played a small role in the exodus of the Orion-class ships, for stocking up their supplies in minerals. Phoenix had no need for the goods that could be mined on Ericsson. Instead their mission was one of exploration.

“Can’t sleep?” Regina sat down next to him. “I seem to need less sleep than I used to.” Delighted to see her, he calmly turned to her with a mild smile on his lips. “What drives you here?”

“I can’t sleep.” She returned the smile.

“Good, er, I mean, that’s bad. We have a big day ahead of us.” Phoenix had entered orbit around Ericsson, stationary above the landing site of Explorer’s ill fated ground mission. A concentrated beam of energy was shot down to power up the equipment left behind.

The drones and probes needed to clear a landing site for the spearhead. This was as good a first landing site as any, if problems arose they just needed to turn the ship around and head back to Mars. With their engine capacity it was only a two month journey.

“You’re just happy to see me.” Regina laughed. “You’re right, I am.” He leaned his head on his hand, resting against the back of the bench.

After his wife Maya had left with the DEHumans, he was heartbroken, but as she was not going to come back, he had filed for divorce, and gotten the approval of senate and president. Something about the General had reignited a fire in his heart.

“We should get to bed.” Blushing Regina cleared her throat. “I mean, we need to rest, we should go to our separate beds.”

Reaching for her hand Kurt calmed her down. “I know exactly what you meant, General.” Winking he got up, pulling her with him. “Since I do not have the luxury of having a quarter on the spearhead, would you perhaps be interested in walking to the tube with me?” Although very well knowing that her quarters were near the closest tube access, he still felt the queasy sensation of butterflies in his stomach.

“Kindly, Doctor.”

 

Again feeling queasy Kurt clenched the armrests of his chair. This time however it was not the joyful queasiness of romance that made him jittery, but nervousness over the separation.

“Separation will commence in five,” Corporal Maria Jose Fernández announced from the bridge, her soothing voice not calming Kurt down in the least.

Perhaps it was a mistake to join the landing party? “Four.” What if there was an accident? Leopold would become an orphan! “Three.”

What if there was a problem with Phoenix’s antimatter reactor? “Two.” It was too late to say he didn’t want to, was it? “One.” It turned silent in the control centre, everyone held their breath.

“Separation!” Most likely there was a sound in the rear parts of the detaching spearhead, but in the control centre silence prevailed.

“Phoenix lander has successfully detached from mother ship! Landing sequence commencing.” A short moment of relief washed over Kurt, apparently over the others as well, as they released a joyous sigh, some even a shout of success.

But the moment lasted only shortly.

Landing procedures followed. After having let go of his armrests, Kurt again grabbed for them. The part of the journey he feared the most. It’ll get easier with the second landing. He promised himself.

Looking at a picture on his screen. Leopold. Driving force behind his scientific endeavours, his son.

The betterment of mankind, so that there would be much more opportunity for him, an easier and worthier life.

A soft thud woke Kurt from his thoughts, with a hint of terror he looked around. Was that turbulence? “Phoenix has successfully landed on Ericsson!”

Shouts of joy and loud applause arose around Kurt, he too began to clap. Phoenix’s first successful landing.

“As soon as all system have checked out, let’s turn off the artificial gravity.” Kurt then turned to Linus.

 

Regina got up from out of her chair. The descend had been a gentle breeze. But when Phoenix pointed towards the surface of Ericsson she, as well as everyone else, felt heavily reminded of their home, Mars. Seemingly featureless, black, icy planet. Only as they neared the surface did the guiding lights of the landing site come to life.

Riding in on beams of light the Phoenix gently sat down on the ground. To avoid any reactions between the condensed, and therefore concentrated, atmosphere and their engines during take off or landing the crew had instructed the revived drones on the planet to clear the landing site of any snow.

What would mankind’s fate look like if this had happened to earth, not Mars? Rolling that question around her mind Regina had watched the landing, more like a movie than real life. She was not in control, at all. It was the navigators who steered the ship.

The Orion-class ships would have left the blue planet, many more people than had evacuated to Mars, would’ve survived beneath the earth’s surface. Perhaps a whole fleet of Phoenix-class ships would now be on their way to greener pastures. Looking at the viewscreen displaying the barren blackness behind the artificial lights of the guiding systems, Regina shook her head. In another reality perhaps. But we’re here. “Status?”

“All systems in the green, we could lift off right now if we wanted to.” Navigator, Kohaku Toryama smiled. “All stations report good to go, only one injury, a panic attack on deck three. Nothing serious.” Maria too was smiling.

Everyone had that victorious, smug grin on their lips.

“Good, now get to work.” Regina resisted the urge to follow them with the smiling. When exactly had she begun to smile?

She always had been smiling, with her few friends and family. But not subordinates. Ascending through the ranks in Mars’ security force, she had not jested or laughed with colleagues or subordinates.

Once she had become involved with the Phoenix project, she had become even less of a soft person. Driven to get the ship airborne, preferably under her command, she took no risks, no detours.

Only once it neared readiness did she tone down her hard image. Only once it had entered orbit, had she allowed herself to be seen as a fellow human being, not the general. Or was it earlier?

Ever since she had become involved with Kurt she had begun to soften. Something about the man branded as a borderline mad scientist, touched something deep inside her.

“You made me soft.” Not sure what was going on, Kurt stopped in the middle of the hallway. “Hello to you too, general. Congratulations on Phoenix’s first successful landing!” Again a smile.

Sighing and shaking her head Regina let her shoulders sink. “Hello. Thanks, you too.” Allowing herself to finally smile as well, was not as hard as she thought. “It’s complicated.” She pinched her nose at the base upon his inquiring look.

Stammering around she explained what had been going through her mind, causing his smile to broaden with every moment.

“It’s alright to be a human being, even and especially to your subordinates. True, they need a leader in times of crisis that seems unfazed by tragedy, so they can look up to said leader, but we are not in times of crisis. Be yourself, General, and allow your humanity to show.” He leaned close, kissed her on the cheek.

“I’ll be expecting a dinner date, Regina Marston. How about tonight?” Involuntarily blushing she nodded, bit her lower lip. “I’ll be picking you up at 1800, if that is alright with your schedule?” Again she just nodded, afraid to be stammering again if she spoke.

Another of her perks she had to overcome, showing again now.

 

After all systems checks had been completed Regina returned to the bridge. She could’ve waited for it to be complete on the bridge, but the short walk and talk with Kurt had eased her mind. “Alright, inform Doctor Yates, his team has a go, and assemble a team to enter the mines.” Stopping in front of Corporal Fernández Regina paused. “Corporal, how would you feel about going with Doctor Yates?”

“To the city? It,” the woman paused, nervously she fidgeted with her uniform, “would be an honor.” Squinting at her, Regina sensed hesitation.

“You don’t need to go, it’s a volunteer mission.”

Again nervous fidgeting. “It would look great on my record, wouldn’t it?”

A knowing smile appeared on Regina’s lips. “It would look marvellous on your record, but if you have objections, it won’t be noted on your record.”

The young woman was battling her inner demons as it seemed, she stood up with a sigh. “I’ll go, General.” Ordering her to report to flyer bay one Regina was satisfied. That young woman had the same struggles she once had, and perhaps would one day end up like herself. On top of the food chain, with similar doubts.

 

Phoenix’s spearhead lander was equipped with two smaller crafts that would detach from its topside, two additional crafts were located on the underside, at the time unusable, since the ground was in the way of them taking off.

Ignoring her nervousness, taking solace in the fact that they could not be bothered by turbulence, Maria reported to the flyer bay, was rushed inside, as the Doctor and his team were already aboard.

Quickly she sat down in the assigned seat and buckled up, as the engines already started, sending soft vibrations through the flyer.

After a mere half an hour of flight, they touched down on a large square, outside of what the Explorer crew had identified as a subway entrance.

Following the example set by the rest of the team, Maria got into a space suit, and then waited at the airlock.

Leaders of the expedition were Doctor Yates and Colonel Henderson. The latter carried a relay device and ordered Maria to take the batterypack for the already present one with her. It had been designed to fit the relay already in place, left by the probe the temporarily stranded Explorer crew had sent in.

In case they couldn’t power it up Henderson had his replacement. Yates carried a suitcase with some tools he had tested and innovated at the Harpy ship excavation on Mars. He was the closest thing to an archaeologist they had.

Other team members carried some equipment, like the signal enhancers for the relay stations, since the old ones had run out of power, recharging them over the air would take longer than they intended to stay.

Next to the entrance to the subway system were a few age old carcasses, no one stopped to examine them.

Somehow Maria had the urge to, but lacked any know how to actually determine cause of death, or anything other than that they were indeed aliens. “Attempting connection to power supply.” Maria opened the briefcase and took out the car battery sized power supply for the transmitter. There were wires leading to a connector, although she was not the most agile with the thick and heavy gloves on her hands, the relay was easy to open.

Like specifications had told, there was an inlet for the plug.

A few dim LEDs came to life, for a fraction of a momemt there was a weird sound on the Radio, but then it returned to normal.

“It’s on. Negotiating connection with the flyer.” A small screen in the suitcase was connected wirelessly with the transmitter. “We’re in. Good thing these things came with no security what so ever.”

“Who should hack into them? The natives with no notion what a computer is, let alone one from another world?” From his voice Maria deduced that Henderson was not all too happy to be here either.

“Alright, in we go.” Yates sounded exited, way more exited than Maria could even feign. Following the Colonel, who went in second, she hoped for nothing gruesome to be found.

 

As the video and picture evidence from several generations ago already depicted, the hallways and platforms were littered with garbage. Some of which probably was excrement. Since the probe had went through the tunnels, nothing had changed, suggesting that there was either no indigenous Ericsson alive in these tunnels, or none had bothered to go to the higher lying levels.

“There are the scribblings.” After an hour they had reached the point where the stranded had turned the drone around and aborted further exploration of the shelters. “Translation of these texts is available, if you’re curious.” Enthusiastic as from the beginning, Yates shone his light on the scribblings on the walls. They stretched for some extent.

He fidgeted with his equipment, took out a tablet, bigger than the usual ones, perfect for handling in clunky gloves. With it he scanned the text, waited a few seconds, and read the translation. “What’s it say?” Henderson seemed impatient.

His mission directive was not find alien writing, but to evaluate any potential threat. Find out if they still lived, and if so, whether they posed any danger to them and the equipment.

“I think it is a religious text. The voices have spoken, the end is upon us. Listen to hear our plea.” Yates turned to the Colonel.

“Well, I don’t hear a thing, and my outside mic is functioning perfectly normal.” Turning to head on further in he took one step.

“What if it isn’t religious, but literal?” Maria’s words stopped him. “Not like they are still talking or anything, but what if there is a recording of some sorts hidden here?”

Disgruntled Henderson let out a sigh. Of course, they couldn’t just say ‘Audio recording here.’

“How do you intend to find it, Corporal? If your theory is sound.” Henderson paused, snickering. “No pun intended.”

Maria set down her suitcase, stepped closer to the wall. Clumsily she unhooked the microphone from her suit, glad it was not built in, but on a cord. With one hand she held it against the wall, began knocking on it.

Below the writing she heard a hollow ring to her knocks. Triumphantly smiling she turned around, of course, no one saw that smug smile of hers. “It’s hollow, right here.”

Her light passed through the helmet of Doctor Yates as he came close himself, she saw his excitement for a brief moment.

He followed her example, and confirmed her find. From his toolkit he now produced a small hammer. Although not an expert in archeology, he came prepared.

Carefully he began hammering at the wall, chipping a hole in it.

 

Gradually the lights in the hallways dimmed, evening approached. Kurt’s attention was only for the tablet in his hands. Deep scans of the planet showed that it still had a hot interior, thanks to its size, it was even hotter than Mars, perfect for their plans.

A glance at the time index on his tablet made Kurt hurry. After stopoing shortly in his quarters to freshen up he went to Regina’s quarters.

Anxiously, nervous like a teenager picking up his date, he rang the door, quickly checking his looks in the reflective surface of his tablet.

Why did he bring this along? To amuse his date?

Grumbling he put it in his pocket again, only to realise that no one had answered the door.

Confused he checked the door sign, he was at the right place.

Again he rang the door.

Waiting for a date to come to the door was an agonising task, he found. The uncertainty, the eagerness, the nervousness. It all made the span of a minute seem more like an hour. After what felt like five hours he checked the time.

Ten minutes had already passed since his arrival. Alright, let’s give her a third ring.

Another five minutes passed with no answer.

Somewhat disappointed he slowly took out his tablet. “Locate General Marston.”

The display showed Regina to be on the bridge. Intrigued he raised an eyebrow, went on his way to the bridge.

 

“, do you have any idea what that thing is?” Regina spoke into the room, obviously talking over the radio.

“It seems to be an audio recording. Crude, but effective and durable, General. The cylinder has grooves on it, and engraved soundwaves. Like an old, if not ancient, recording method in our own history.” Slowly Kurt walked into the room, Regina did not notice him as he entered from behind her. The voice on the other end of the communication line belonged to Doctor Yates, Kurt recognised him from the Harpy excavation.

“Did you have any luck in playing it?”

“Negative, the device for playback is there, but with the thin atmosphere in the tunnel we had no success in hearing a god damn thing. We’re carefully moving both the cylinder and the playback device to the flyer. Doctor Yates, over.”

“Understood. General Marston, over.” A broad smiling expression on her face she turned to her first officer. “Rich, what time is it?”

“Twenty past.” Kurt finally made his presence known. Startled Regina turned with her seat around. Her expression was a mix of shock and pleasant surprise. “Oh gosh, I’m sorry.” Jumping from her seat she apologised. “I didn’t mean to,” she sought the right word, obviously still having a problem in showing her humanity.

“miss our appointment? Well, gladly I have a flexible schedule.” Finally glad to have his tablet with him he pulled it out. “We can go over the scans here and now if you wish?”

“No!” Quickly Regina rushed to the door. “Your report about the, uhm, scans, in the briefing room.” She stuttered, leaving the bridge. “In five minutes!” She yelled, hurrying away.

Kurt worked hard not to laugh. As did the officers on the bridge.

Everyone instantly knew that the report thing was just a front for their date. Only after the door closed behind Regina did Kurt hear a few snickers and giggles, himself also smiling amused. “Have nice evening, Doctor.” Rich Baumann winked, as Kurt also walked to the door. Thanking him with a short nod Kurt walked through the door.

 

Dinner with the General was dominated by her news about the cylinder, and the playback device found. Somehow Kurt was a little disappointed. Conversing about work at the dinner table was not his idea of a date. But it was fitting of Regina.

“Sounds like a simple cylinder phonograph, once inside an atmosphere capable of transporting soundwaves we’ll be able to hear what they recorded.” He agreed with the assessment of Doctor Yates.

“How was your day?” Stunned by surprise Kurt paused at the question. “It was a fine day, but made better by you.” He displayed an infectious, warm smile. “Yours?”

Blushing, Regina bowed her head, causing a loose strain of her hair to fall in her face. “Likewise a fine day, met with the perfect finale. So far.”

They sat in the briefing room, just as she had announced on the bridge, in case anyone sought them, they’d find them there, not in her or his quarters. “I didn’t meant to be late for our date, nor did I mean for it to take place here.” She apologised again.

“You are the general of this ship, I know that your work will interfere with your private life. No need to apologise. About the location, we can change that.” Taking out his tablet he winked.

The screens on the walls flickered to life, displayed a dense forest, a few crickets chirped from the speakers. “There, we are in a nice forest, out on a romantic evening walk.”

“Doctor Braun, if I wouldn’t know any better, I’d say you’re trying to seduce me.”

“Perhaps I am trying to, perhaps I just want to be romantic.”

Snickering Regina picked up a piece of food on her fork. “With the stone cold General? Romantic? You surprise me Doctor Braun.”

Also snickering Kurt looked into Regina’s blue eyes. “Here you sit, dining with the borderline mad scientist. Better believe it, general.”

A moment of silence passed, without a word Regina got up, leaned over the table and kissed Kurt. “You do me good. Keep doing me good.”

“If you keep me from derailing, which you do.” A feat only one other woman had ever achieved. Normally his work kept him from going mad. But there was not much of work for his mind to be occupied with on the Phoenix. “We could hack into the computer and feign our presence in here.” Regina suggested, climbing over the table.

“I don’t think the General would like that.”

“I have it on good authority that she’ll make an exception.”

 

“Drills are in place.” Linus stated dryly. “Begin.” Kurt did not check. Tuovinen was a good man, a brilliant scientist and engineer. He knew what he was doing.

On the display before him the scanners showed the drills beginning to descend through the rock below the mine. They would continue to descend until they had reached a depth hot enough to extraxt the heat for their purposes.

Energy requirements for the fully automated Ericsson quantum entanglement communication relay center were not that much. At the same time the base on Ericsson should be expanded, mining operations should be conducted in other parts of the planet, an observatory was to be constructed.

All fully automatic.

Those tasks required more energy, and the geothermal heat was the best way to keep that requirement sated.

 

Not explicitly tired, his requirements for sleep had reduced, but a little fatigued, Kurt forced himself to observe the progress on the screen.

However, his mind always seemed to drift off. To Regina Marston, General of the Phoenix. And apparently his girlfriend.

 

“How was your, report, doing yesterday?” Sharp as ever to notice what was going on Leopold asked the poignant question during their daily video conversation. “It went well. Very well. Did you hear that a Phonograph had been found?” The crew from the Flyer had been back, but the machine supposed to play the cylinder was broken, and scanning the cylinder was still underway.

“Yes, tell me more about the report.” Grumbling Kurt inched around in his seat. “There is not much to tell.” To you, young man. “We are currently drilling, for the geothermal reserves.”

Most of all Kurt did not want to talk about the previous evening, as he took the call at his desk, where half the people in the control centre could hear him. Finally giving in to his father’s insistence not to talk about the previous evening, Leopold nodded, asking about the estimated time left for the drilling operations.

“All the equipment is already installed, all that is left is the heat, I’d say in twelve hours.” That was of course only once they reached the depths required to utilise the geothermal heat of Ericsson, not the time when the reactor was operational. But once the required depths had been reached automated systems were activated and the rest of the construction was completed while Phoenix was on her way. “Great. So tomorrow you’ll be back?”

“Yes.” Annoyed by his son’s tone of voice, implying that there would be questions about Kurt and the General, Kurt confirmed, right before ending the call.

 

Attentively listening Regina had sat down in the conference room, her first officer, and a few scientists attended, as well as the team that had discovered the phonograph, while the digital scan of the recording was played.

The sounds reminded her more of shrieks, but she heard the structure in them. After a while there was a melody to the shrieks.

“Some tune, huh?” Yates jested, over the sounds, was rewarded with a few snickers from around the room.

After fifteen minutes the show was over.

“Any thoughts?” Regina felt a little relieved. After five minutes the sounds had begun to strain her ears.

“I wouldn’t want to listen to a long speech by them, General.” Yates again tried to be funny, was silenced by Regina’s stern gaze. “We have their written language decoded, but no idea what sounds the words make, it might take a while.”

Turning her attention to Corporal Fernández, Regina hoped to hear better news from her. “Any ideas, Corporal?”

Raising her eyebrows Maria touched the controls to the recording again. She played back the first few shrieks. “I think the first few seconds relate to the message on the wall. They have the same rhythm to them as these words. ‘The voices have spoken, the end is upon us. Listen to hear our plea.'” For a moment the entirety of the room looked at Maria.

“Work with that assumption, and see if you can decode any of it.” Regina sat up straight before anyone else could interject, there was already a ridiculing expression on Doctor Yates’ face, which now changed into an offended one, but he kept quiet. After all it was an order from the General.

Regina felt a slight vibration in her pocket, took out the glasses. Unlike martian colonists, the Phoenix crew had caught up to the Orion-class ships in convenience levels.

 

“Drilling is complete. We are good to go.” With a smile on his face Kurt reported to an empty screen, fully aware that Regina could see him.

Anxiety filled his thoughts. Finally they would get off the surface of Ericsson, back to space and on their journey to RV-p296.

Over the course of the upcoming years he would need to refine work on the engines. There was still a lot of potential. Within a few days the linkers had visited Mars, they would lumber on for four years to cover the same distance.

At least it wouldn’t take them three generations to reach their destination.

 

Breaking away from the surface was easier than Kurt had feared. But the landing unit had significantly less mass to haul than the entire Phoenix, even though Ericsson’s gravity was higher than Mars’.

After a short while the landing unit began the maneuvers to dock with the Phoenix, completing those without any incident.

For a moment Kurt felt that there ought to be a problem, everything was going too smoothly. He chased that thought away, as he did not want to think what the consequences might be if they had locked the docking clamps wrong, or not at all. The kind of acceleration, and the nature of their propulsion, could vaporise the lander, damage the rear to a point of spelling doom for it too.

 

An hour and fourty two minutes after they left the surface Kurt stepped into his quarters on the alpha ring. “Home, sweet home.” He mumbled looking around the chaos his son had created in the few days of his absence. Somehow he longed for the small, but tidy, quarters with the bunkbed on the spearhead.

“Prepare for drive engagement in fifteen minutes.” Linus announced over the shipe wide intercom. Deciding his place was in the control centre, Kurt left the chaos that was his quarters. Perhaps it was time he and Regona talked about a small room for the lad. It would make dating the General easier too, if they could decide on a whim where to go.

 

“Attention, all personnel, this is General Marston speaking. Prepare for full engagement of the drive. These past few days have marked another human milestone, set by the remarkable crew of the Phoenix. Not only has this ship brought humankind into the antimatter age, but now It also laid the foundation for the QEC, or Quantum Entanglement Communication, array, and the Ericsson RnD laboratories. Over the course of the next months and years the facilities will be built by fully automated drones. Mars has great plans for Ericsson, and we enabled them. Congratulations to all of you. Now we will set course for RV-p296, I’m confident that we will not need to stop along the way. Marston out.”

Rings of Fate S4xE5 – Mars – From Ashes

Air inside the new laboratory was cold, but fresh, Kurt immediately noticed upon entering. Someone was kind enough to set down a few plants in the corners, hooked to an automated irrigation syatem.

Any plants that he had in the past were tended to by Maya, his wife, who now had left with the DEHumans over six months ago.

His green thumb was nonexistent, so he was glad that the government had provided him with that. Working on the ancient Harpy ship had concluded that it was brought there to study earth, and to function as a gateway.

Still other scientists were crawling all over it. Or rather through it, using the remote controlled robots on lease from the policeforce.

His attention was soon redirected to antimatter research by President Kinsey and the senate. Two way communication with RV-p296 was reestablished shortly after the linkers had left, and continued on. To his disappointment an ambassador, and office of communication, had been appointed, he was no longer directly involved in the MISR.

 

Although only working on antimatter research, his new office was in the formerly abandoned Valles Marineries settlement, his old lab remained without an atmosphere to ensure no, or at least less, tampering with the quantum entanglement device.

“Thank you,” Kurt turned to the lovely young woman in uniform that had showed him to his new office. “this place is great.”

Saluting with a smile she turned on her heel and marched out, another uniformed woman entered. “Doctor Braun?”

Whom else was she expecting? “None other.” He smiled, looking around the room to find a place where he and his guest could sit.

“Good, we need to speak.” She pointed at a group of chairs around a table. Obviously she knew more about his new place than he did.

“I am General Regina Marston.” She introduced herself as they sat down. “Since when do we have Generals?” He jokingly asked adjusting the chair.

“We are new.” A feigned smile was flashed.

“Well then,” he returned the smile, equally artificial as hers, “what can I do to please you General?” Did I really say that?

Amused she raised an eyebrow. “Antimatter is what you can do for me. And are supposed to.” She gestured around, implying that the two of them worked for the martian government with the same agenda. “It is,” she interrupted his speech about the ban on antimatter by raising a hand.

“It is no longer, first. Secondly, we need another entanglement device.” Baffled he stared across the table. The room was completely silent, except the AC.

“May I ask what for?” A genuine smirk appeared on the General’s face. “The president said you’d want to know. Against my recommendation, he ordered me to give you full disclosure.” The relatively short woman stood up, her blond hair was tied strickt in a ponytail. “There is more at stake here than just power for Mars. Estimates say that the colony can be powered with the the geothermal reserves for quite some time.” He had worked briefly on those estimates, he knew all too well that the geothermal reserves lasted for generations to come.

“If I had to guess, General, I’d wager you want antimatter for either weaponry or, and that’s my peraonal favorite, a ship.”

An honest smile appeared on her lips as she stopped her pacing around the table. “The question now is not if you can, or if you will provide it, but how soon.”

Reclining in his seat Kurt looked Regina Marston up and down. “No, the question is rather, what quantities are we talking about here?” He too got up now. “Another question for the feasibility of your ship is one of storage against creation. Do you want to traverse the universe with large quantities of a highly volatile substance, suspended in a magnetic field, at danger of annihilating your vessel if power levels drop, or do you want to carry the technology and resources for making more of said substance?”

Intrigued Regina nodded with raised eyebrows.

Now she understood why the President had insisted on giving him full disclosure. “Phoenix. Are you familiar with it?”

All color seemed to fade from Kurt as she mentioned the name Phoenix. “A black project from the early days of Martian history. Based on the Ark1 designs. Abandoned when first the resources to build it where not available, and later shelved when the number of people on Mars exceeded the number of people that could be put inside it.” Recounting the facts he knew about Phoenix, Kurt sat down again, as did Regina.

“Please tell me you’re not building it.”

With her eyes half closed she gently shook her head giving Kurt reason to hope.

“We’re finalising it.” She threw a tablet on the table. A sturdy old model of a tablet, with dents and scratches, but otherwise durable.

With shaking hands from a sudden rush of adrenaline he picked it up and looked at the open page.

Ark3, codename Phoenix, construction start 32 after settlement. “Robot mining and construction are a tricky thing. Even when it was discontinued, the robots used were not deactivated, although half of them were diverted to other use, the people in charge decided against it. They closed the door, turned off life support and access tunnels, after they left, and no one ever was the wiser.” She gleamed with a victorious smile.

Kurt was left astonished. He returned his attention to the tablet in his hands. The Ark3 had the capacity to carry but a fraction of the martian population, but with its capabilities of fast travel they could ferry them all to RV-p296.

“RV-p296, they frown upon antimatter use. As far as I know, the MISR had to fall back on solar power and surrender it’s antimatter storage and engine to destruction.”

Again the General flashed her fake smile. “That is of no concern for you at the moment. First we need the ship operational.”

Again glancing at the tablet Kurt scratched his head. It made sense now that both the president and senator Adele Farrington, wanted him to make more antimatter. Off the records though.

He took a glance at some of the dimensions the Ark3 had. It stil seemed wiser to take only a little bit of Antimatter with them, and create more as they traveled.

In his mind the scientist already did the first calculations, estimates for the required quantities, until his conscious mind took over and commanded him to halt and inquire.

“The Ark3 will lift off from the surface?” He had not noticed that several minutes had passed, and the general had sat there, quietly observing him.

“Yes. Martian gravity is lower, which allows for the ship to be built on and launched from surface.”

“Gravity lower or not, there’s still a lot of thrust required, the storage tanks are not designed to take that sort of beating. The way you want it, can’t be done.” He looked at her, only now noticing she had looked at him in an interested way.

“In addition, I’d need to know what kind of distance you want to cross. Are you going to use the antimatter generator for normal power requirements as well? There should be other systems in place in case of catastrophic loss of containment, and I’m not talking batteries here. I strongly recommend a remodeling of the Ark3 to make use of at least one fusion reactor, a thorium fission reactor, and the capabilities of creating more antimatter on the journey.” He put down the tablet, pushed it back to her.

Begrudgingly Regina looked at the tablet.

Slowly she understood.

Doctor Kurt Braun was not going to merely comply, give them antimatter in a container, and semd them off, potentially to blow up in a horrific antimatter annihilation explosion.

Good.

“The plan is to travel to RV-p296, as well as other destinations of interest. It is not a ferry meant to take the martian population someplace else than where they are now.”

I knew it. Raising his eyebrows Kurt leaned back, eagerly staring at her. “You need an accelerator, containment, reaction chambers need to be redesigned, as those designs are from the ship of doom. I could provide you with my own designs, but I’m sure you already got them.” He smirked, more to annoy than out of a real reason to smile.

Swallowing Regina nodded, taking the tablet into her hands, pressing a few buttons. Entering a security code.

Handing the tablet back. “Your revisions had been anticipated. When you launched the MISR first revisions of the reaction chambers had been made.” Revealing that the ship had already begun to be redesigned, she now returned the fake smile.

Sighing in frustration Kurt did not even bother to look at the tablet. “Alright, cut the crap.” Crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Why do you dance around the bush here? Let’s cut to the chase. What exactly do you want me to do here?” Finally his suspicions about the project had been confirmed. His involvement was not to be restricted to just providing antimatter and a quantum entangled device for instant communication.

The hardened contours of Regina’s face became softer. “Do you want to see the Phoenix?”

Intrigued he raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps, as soon as you told me what my involvement here is.” He would’ve liked nothing more than to see the Phoenix.

Again Regina took the tablet, again she punched in a security code, returned the device. Spontaneous laughter erupted from Kurt after reading the first few lines. “Out of the question.” He giggled. “This scientist stays on Mars, borderline mad as I may be, I’m not going to board that ship.”

Bewildered Regina stood up. Without a word or greeting she left, followed by Kurt’s continued laughter, concluding he truly was a mad scientist.

The president would need to find another genius to help them in perfecting the Phoenix.

 

Although tasked with the ominous antimatter research, Kurt enjoyed relative freedom in his daily routine.

Leopold often stayed with Tracy, so even in his off hours he had time to waste. Most of which he used to dig through databases concerning the Phoenix, and the era in which construction of it began.

“Pa?” Startled he let out a shriek, as he had to do a few illegal tricks to obtain the data, he was a little on edge. “Yes?” He tried calming himself.

“Tracy dumped me.” He sat down, putting his feet on the table.

Putting his hand on his son’s shoulder Kurt leaned back in his chair, also putting his feet on the table. “That sucks. Why?”

“I don’t know.” Leopold nestled with his hands. Trying to distract himself from his loss the young lad pointed at the tablet Kurt had been handking a moment before. “What are you doing?”

“Classified.” His father smirked in a way that told Leopold everything. Immediately he knew that not even his father was supposed to know. “Can I have a look?”

“No.” Kurt also looked at the table. “But you know my security as well as I do.” He winked.

A knowing smile on his lips Leopold jumped to his feet and came back a moment later with his own tablet, it took only a few minutes for the lad to access his father’s network and data. “Is this for real?” He looked up a moment later.

Glancing at the youth over the edge of his tablet, Kurt sighed. “I don’t know what you are talking about. The reality of some things is not to be negated.” Again a wink, which his son answered with a broad grin.

 

Both sat for hours lurking over datasheets, specs for the Phoenix, revisions of the plans and martian history. “Nice myth, Pa.” Leopold stood up at about two in the morning, followed by a heartily yawn. “But with the latest containment chamber, it is just that. A myth.”

Walking off to his bedroom Leopold yawned again, leaving Kurt baffled. At fourteen his son thought he knew something about containment chambers? Was this a joke?

Intrigued he drew up the latest revisions and took a look.

 

“Your help will not be required.” Regina was stonefaced again, the dim lighting of her office did only highlight her hard features. “I know, I haven’t exactly been forthcoming three weeks ago.”

“Six.” Regina corrected him. Six? Was it truly that long? “What ever. The containment chamber is not going to hold.”

“Our scientific head of construction says otherwise.”

Kurt formed a fist, why would she not listen? “Who is your genius?”

“Doctor Fineman.”

“Fineman is an idiot. The magnetic field density is all wrong, with this setup the Phoenix would not even make it to orbit.”

Regina let out a sigh of annoyance. “I’m not going to ask how you obtained the latest data on the project, I will forget this ever happened. And I suggest you do the same.” The general moved her hand to end the conversation.

“At least take a look at the sepcs, you can always say that you were not sure and contacted me about it. I was after all cleared to receive the initial information.”

Telling him that she’d take his words under consideration Regina ended the conversation, leaving Kurt alone in front of his screen.

A lot of thoughts wandered around Kurt’s mind in the semi dark confines of his office.

The new place had a few advantages over his old place. It was cleaner.

Not because he was a hopeless case in terms of cleanliness, which he was, but the nature of the rock surrounding him.

Not the volcanic rock, that dumped tons of dust into the rooms. It was, when the lights were turned up, brighter.

Still, it had the touch of underground bunker.

Everything on Mars had that.

Everything on Mars was just that. No matter where he went, it all was a bunker, it all had the touch and feel of dust. Kurt never knew anything else but that.

Until he saw footage from the ships.

The three Orion type ships, with their five rings, the Ark type ships with the two rings. Their interior was neat, tidy and clean. Entirely different from Mars.

Footage from RV-p296 was as unbelievable to him as videos and pictures from Earth, but the atmosphere, the touch and feel of the ships was close.

Within his reach almost.

Why did he decline the offer to work on the project? Why deny himself the opportunity to flee from the bunkersystem that was Martian life?

He glanced to the door that led to his quarters, where Leopold had gone to his room and slept. His son, yes. Could he take him on the Phoenix? If so, would there be people in Leopold’s age range?

 

Morning light shone in the garden. It was a new creation, as the former cult settlers of Valles Marineries had not built for one originally.

Still it already had grown in, the trees and shrubs brought in from the main settlement, had thrived and rooted well.

It was nice for Kurt to be surrounded by the plants, with no walls visible. Unlike many of the gardens in Olympus mons, that were just that. Gardens in a room.

“How do you like the artificial sky built here?” A familiar voice disturbed Kurt from his morning pondering. “Very nice, General. Let’s one forget that we’re deep under ground.” He nodded to the vacant spot to his side on the bench. “But I suspect you had not come here to chat about artifical skies.”

“No.” Regina sat down, imitated his behaviour when she found him, in leaning back, squinting at the sky and enjoying the illusion of sunlight on her skin.

“You were right.” She half mumbled, half sighed. “About the containment chamber. You should really get aboard the project.”

Kurt turned towards her, leaned his face on his left hand. “I think so too. But there are ties keeping me on Mars.”

Regina also turned, leaning on her right. “Your son, Leopold? It is possible for him to come on the journey as well. We conscripted a few people with families, they are all coming. I know for a fact that there will be youths in his age.”

There was a warm smile on her lips and honesty in her voice that convinced Kurt she was being truthful. “Alright, I will join in finalising the project, and perhaps joining in on the flight of the Phoenix. But, I always have to think of Leopold first.”

Agreeing on his responsibilities as a father first, and a scientist second, Regina nodded. Again she turned to the simulated sunlight. “Do you hear that?” A noise echoed through the garden. “A bird.” Kurt replied dryly.

“A cuckoo.” There was something playful in her voice that Kurt had never thought possible in her. “We dug through archives and archives, until we found a suitable sample.” With the same playfulness in her eyes and smile she turned back to the scientist next to her. “This garden, is sort of a test run for the Phoenix gardens. If you thought the gardens aboard the Orion ships and the Kismet were great, wait until those of the Phoenix are operational.”

Kurt could not help but gift her with a faint smile. The Phoenix was a long way from going operational. She sat on the ground.

Most of its interior was slanted, or upside down. Only a minor fraction was upright. The gardens, would take a while until becoming usable.

 

Turbulent shaking kept Kurt’s mind busy. Keep your eyes shut. Keep your eyes shut. Against his own mental mantra he opened his eyes. In the chair next to him was Leopold. He had a breathing mask strapped over his nose and mouth, like him.

In other chairs were other people. All with face masks, most clenching tightly the armrests of their chairs.

Rattling grew less intense.

A short fleeting feeling, as if a wall of fire passed through him, washed over him. They had taken off. The shaking was mostly from Phoenix overcoming its own inertia, amassing enough force with the engines to push off of the martian soil.

Pressed into the back of the seat Kurt felt the acceleration weigh him down, exert more force on him. Again he closed his eyes and thought back on when he first saw the Phoenix standing upright in the old magma chamber of a smaller volcano.

 

After Regina had cleared him and Leopold for the mission, once the lad had agreed on the lunatic idea his father proposed, he was taken aboard a cab.

From the Valles Marineries settlement, the ride went back to the old settlement in Olympus Mons, ending at a dead end tunnel.

After a minute or so, a gate behind the cab closed, atmosphere was drained from the tube, and the rock wall ahead of them slid to the side, revealing a hidden passage. Much faster than he was used to, the cab then proceeded onwards.

At the end of the ride a group of armed men and women awaited them. No one without a security clearance could go further. Computers could be hacked, terminals tricked. A group of imposing armed guards, could not be fooled so easily.

From the platform there was a short walk through a series of airlocks, until he stood in the magma chamber. Gazing up the impressive ship that stood there.

To that moment he had assumed the Phoenix was sitting on its belly, now he saw that it was standing upright.

“All systems have checked out so far.” Doctor Fineman reported when he saw Regina and Kurt. There was disdain for Kurt in his gaze, but he kept it to himself.

Disapproval in her eyes Regina took the tablet he was holding towards her, gave it to Kurt without even looking at it. “Thanks Dr. Fineman.”

Kurt glanced over the tablet and the displayed data. It seemed to check out.

But he also was too distracted by the shiny ship that stood before them. During the last days he had been inaugurated on the history of the project, that had been kept offline for obvious reasons.

Production of the first parts had begun soon after it had been conceived. Construction site and transport there had been erected using as little manpower as possible.

All the walls he had seen so far were crudely cut from the rock. Nothing had been smoothed to please the eye. Little to no decoration.

The facility had a large air refinement plant. CO2 scrubbers, plants, mostly algae, running on geothermal energy.

“What do you think of her?” Regina leaned into his view.

“She’s a beauty. I can’t wait to see how she ticks.” He expressed his eager curiosity.

“General?” A man with grimy clothes approached her. He had dirty hands, not grease, but soil. “All plants have been prepared, and are currently in storage.” He smiled, mimicked a salute and marched on.

“That was Doctor Washington.” Nodding, but still too fascinated by the ship before him to truly listen, Kurt stepped closer to the Phoenix, his head bowed back to look up. “She looks different than the other ships of the Ark type.” He noted recalling images of the Ark1 and Kismet. There were still the iconic rings of the terrestrial ship design, but also a bullet shaped spear head at the top, not another ring.

“Yes.” Regina stopped next to him glancing at the top too with squinted eyes. “It’s an experiment, and a risk. As well as part of Phoenix’s mission.” Her attention turned back to his asking expression. “Come on.” A genuine smile on her lips she stepped on a conveyor belt leading to the Phoenix.

 

The weight pushing Kurt deep into his chair lifted. A small gravitational force was still noticeable, but it grew less and less with each passing moment.

Sitting in the common room of the alpha ring Kurt looked to his son, noticing the relief in the youth’s expression.

After a few minutes an announcement from the General told them to remain seated as the rings were engaged.

Kurt felt a slight tuck to the left as the ring began motioning. The sensation soon faded, replaced by the centrifugal push outwards, simulating gravity.

After a while the force reached martian levels, where it remained.

Over time the force would be gradually increased to reach the same force as earth’s gravity.

A delicate process, as the Martian humans were not used to handle that sort of gravity, both mentally, and physically. Not long after, the all clear was given for them to leave their seats.

Impressed with the clear and easy lift off Kurt gladly stretched his legs. As did Leopold.

“Welcome to Orbit.” Regina approached the two. “We will be leaving Orbit in two hours, start the journey to pop by the RV-p296 system.”

Confused Leopold had thought that they were to remain in Orbit for weeks until the ship and it’s interior had settled in. “I’ll explain later.” Kurt winked, following the general. They had poured over the plans of the ships for weeks, so Leopold knew the way to their quarters.

 

An animated video was displayed on the screen in the office where Regina had sat down with Kurt. It showed the head of the Phoenix detaching from the main ship, descending into the atmosphere of an alien world. “…fully equipped with deflective tiles to withstand the heat of atmospheric entry the Phoenix’s head is a landing craft designed for entry and take off from alien worlds.” A voice over explained.

“It houses the bridge of the ship, once detached, controls are handed over to the auxiliary bridge in the alpha ring. The main body of the Phoenix functions as a station in space during the time of a landing mission. In case of loss of the spearhead, the Phoenix still is a fully operational ship.”

Kurt raised an eyebrow. He made a note in his mind. There were questions he had about the functionality of the head. Not so much regarding its function as a landing craft, but as a lived and worked in part of Phoenix while in space. “Based on the exceptional advances in the field by Doctor Braun, the spearhead uses artificial gravity, rather than the rotation of it.” Scratch that note.

More animation showed the spearhead dock again. According to the simulation both parts of Phoenix could function independently from one another, as ships. The spearhead was limited in range, or speed at least, however, since the antimatter engine had been installed in Phoenix’s rear. Containment chambers could be detached as well and jettisoned in case a failure of containment was imminent.

A safety feature that eased Kurt’s mind and concerns. Special valves had been installed as well so the antimatter in the chambers could be vented at high pressure, away from the ship, without losing the chambers.

Automatically the lights in the room turned brighter again as the presentation came to a close. They sat in a small room, in a small building next to Phoenix.

“Based on my work? What work would that be?” Immediately he turned to the General next to him. “You drove the MISR to its target using what, besides antimatter fuelled warping?”

“Gravi” he stopped his brows moved close to one another. “Did you perfect it? For use as artificial gravity?”

“Fineman did it. All plants for use aboard the Phoenix are already in storage in the spearhead. Mars’ own gravity is, of course, cancelled out.”

Giving Fineman credit for doing something right was not hard for Kurt, the man was after all not stupid.

But he began to question himself what they needed him for now. Except his mistake with the containment chamber configurations, Fineman seemed to be more than capable of handling the Phoenix.

“We want Fineman to stay on Mars.” Regina stood up. “He already agreed on the details of his new assignment.”

Slowly it dawned on Kurt. “He is to build more ships. Antimatter powered, with artificial gravity under their decks.” Neither uttering a confirmation nor a dementy, Regina just smiled and walked out.

 

Fascinated by the clean walls and floors, no rock in sight anywhere, Kurt strode to the control centre, right by the bridge, where Regina had went. After it had been revealed to him how the gravity was created in the foremost part of Phoenix, he acquainted himself with the facility. The artifical gravity was powered by the fusion reactor in the spearhead, to keep it running once separated from the rear.

In addition to it not having power prior to activating the antimatter generator.

Although the technology to cleanse the air was the same as on the ground, Kurt noticed it smelling differently. A hint of a smell he related to new technology was lying in the air, but he also noticed the lack of a dusty scent. The smell of rocks. Although a certain earthy flavor was hanging in the hallways and corridors, as the gardens were finally set up proper, the air lacked that distinct odour of rock he never truly had been able to place, but that always had been there.

The control centre was a well lit room, following the arch of the ship’s nose, at which’s center sat the bridge, a few people sat there and monitored their stations.

“Doctor.” Someone greeted him, he had not found the time to learn their names yet. “Hi, just checking on the gravity field.” He smiled enthusiastically.

“Everything about that is in the green.” A dark blond man shouted from his station. Oddly enough, Kurt remembered him. Linus Tuovinen, head of the engineering department.

As far as he understood it, Phoenix was his baby.

Linus knew every part and system of the ship, which would ensure frequent encounters with the man. “Great!” Kurt beamed. A little uncertain he glanced around the room.

There was a workstation for him, he just did not know where. “This way sir.” Linus got up and approached with a kind smile. Seldom had Kurt seen a man with a full beard, somehow it seemed to be frowned upon in martian society.

“Thank you.” Little more than a cubicle awaited him. No one had a better workspace in the room. Most did not even have the cubicle. In three rows the desks with monitors were lined up, facing all in the same direction.

“We’re ready to initiate the matter-antimatter reaction on your command.” Linus sat down at the adjacent desk. “General Marston gives the commands, I’m just keeping an eye on the engine.”

An amused smirk appeared on Linus’ face. “Aren’t we all?”

 

As tasked by the general and the president, Kurt had made the antimatter required to get them going, but it was released into the containment chambers only a week before the launch. The entire complex had been evacuated during the fueling process, and an engine test right after it had been completed, to see whether the calculations regarding the vibrations during liftoff held, or not. “Switching on the the accelerator.” Kurt pressed a button on the shiny touch panel that was his desk. At the moment the chambers contained barely enough antimatter to make it to RV-p296. They would need to make more to journey back. Or else where.

“Reaching operating levels in fifteen minutes.” Linus read from his display. An initial run was scheduled before they took off, in case it did not function properly, they would not be far from home.

On Kurt’s screen a message appeared. It was a multimedia message from Leopold. “Sometimes everything happens for a reason, thanks for convincing me to take the journey!” Attached was a picture of him and Tracy standing in a hallway on Phoenix. A knowing smile on his lips Kurt turned his attention back to the work. He had seen Tracy and her family on the passenger manifest of Phoenix a while ago, had hoped that the two would meet on the ship sometime, not before take off and get to talking.

“We’re good to initiate the first run.” Linus woke him from his daydreaming train of thoughts. “Good. Initiating.”

It took a few minutes, after which the detectors showed antimatter being created, and siphoned off to containment. With a broad, almost victorious smile, Linus asked whether he could have the honor to tell the General.

 

“Attention all hands, this is General Marston. We received the go from President Kinsey. I must say that I am proud to be here with all of you. On this day we all set new limits for all of human kind.” Well phrased, thought Kurt. It acknowledged the fact that the DEHumans already had set such limits, but those did not see themselves as part of the same species any longer.

A glance at the timer on his screen told Kurt that the two hours were almost up. Only a few seconds left to go.

“An exciting time lies before us, we will further not only the limits and boundaries of our species, but also our knowledge. Mankind now truly enters the interstellar age. God speed, everyone.”