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Tired, although he had slept a few hours, Johannes sat at the table in the briefing room. Sven and Solomon were present, as well as the elected leaders of the alpha, beta and gamma rings via video call. “They are, as we knew before, descendants of dinosaurs.” Supressing the urge to yawn Johannes loaded a depiction of their DNA on to the screen, and to the feeds going to the elected officials. “As you can see they share some DNA with terrestial birds we have on file.” More depictions of DNA. “They are omnivorous, but surely came from a carnivorous ancestor, as their teeth suggest, those need longer to change in the evolutionary process than other body parts.” And they surely kept a diet that suited them and their tastebuds. He showed the others close ups of the Harpy teeth.

His part of the briefing was followed by Sven telling them of his efforts to communicate with the Harpy, and how far their technology was ahead of their own. “We suspect that they had been searching for a suitable home for a lot longer, thus their technological development was stalled for countless generations. But now,” he wrinkled his forehead, “if we are lucky and make quantum leaps in our development, we might be able to catch up to their current stage of development in a few thousand years, but by my estimate, make that rather much more.”

The three men in the room, and the three men on the screen sat in silence after those words.

“Anyhow,” standing up from his seat Solomon displayed concern, the big screen then showed why. “The clamps holding the pods that the harpy ship had impacted into, are bent, buckled, in one case, due to frictional heat even welded. We can’t release them, to rid ourselves from their unstable ship.”

“What?” Alpha ring’s governor, Adrian Gilbert almost sprang from his seat at the camera. “How long does the alpha ring have to live with this thing tucked into our territory?” Jurisdictional pissing contest, round one, curious Johannes looked at Solomon.

“As long as it takes us to figure out a solution to it. Besides, as long as the crisis is current, remember, it is my jurisdiction. Not yours.” He ended the meeting with a push of a button.

Thrown back to silence the three men sat and stood in the room. “You know what I miss recently on this tub?” Johannes got up staring at the large screen, still displaying the twisted clamps. “Alcohol. I have the goddamn urge to get myself piss drunk.”

A short chuckle came from Sven. “Give me permission, and two weeks and I’ll make you the best moonshine you can get your hands on, not like the paint thinner they make in subgamma.” Surprised Solomon turned around. He had suspected that the people made their own alcohol, but confirmation was still shocking to him.

Amused Johannes turned to Solomon. “I think we should call these hot air balloons back to the meeting, they need to legislate a new law. Alcohol is back on the menu.”

“Are you mad? I can’t prohibit it, but won’t allow it either. Men and women armed with guns that can cut through steel like a hot knife through butter, and you want them to drink?”

Lowering his head while turning back to Sven, Johannes sighed. “It’d be a moral boost. Or at the very least a support pillar for crew moral. We are in a situation that gives us barely a moment to catch our breath, and don’t forget that people had been drinking since we started to settle down. A sober army is a fragile one.”

Dismissing Johannes’ speech as nonsense with a wave of his hand Solomon turned back to the screen. “Sven, what to do with the clamps?”

“Honestly? Blow them up with cutting charges, vibration should be minimal enough to not shake up the harpy ship to a point of destabilising their engines.”

Nodding in silence Solomon kept staring at the screen.

 

A mild tremor went through the entire alpha ring. Men and women immediately assumed it was nothing good.

Ever since the Harpys had crashed into the ring, large portions of the civilian population had been relocated to beta and gamma rings. Especially families with children.

Startled governor Gilbert rushed from his quarters.

Glad that his wife and daughters were as far from harm as possible he ran through the hallways. Calls rang for his attention, but he ignored them all, desperately trying to raise the Admiral.

“First officer Nikolai Assanov, how can I help you governor?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in auxiliary?” Heading to the offices of the ring government the governor was struck with confusion. “Promotion after first officer Connor was found unfit for duty.” Assanov quickly explained.

Somewhere in the back of his mind Adrian recalled reading about that. The first officer had tried to commit suicide. Although his life could be saved, he was found unfit for duty, and discharged. “Something rocked the entire ring, are you already trying to cut lose the clamps?”

A moment of silence filled the ether.

“Negative, please hold the line, the Admiral will talk to you asap.”

Staying on the line Adrian entered the offices. “No news sir.” His secretary immediately informed him. Contrary to him, she was a bit calmer about the situation. Clearly seeing his confusion she explained that coming from Japan she was used to quakes. “Yeah,” he noted, “but although the aftermath of an earthquake can be devastating, the reason for this one might be even more devastating.”

Still his call to the Admiral was unanswered, while the number of missed and waiting calls to him was rising.

 

“Your ship trembled!” Sven cried out in front of the Harpy. Not understanding a single thing he said, the Harpy laid its head to the side looking him up and down. She clearly picked up his sweat.

 

Fear!

All the people in the room reeked of it.

That meant nothing good.

Her eyes fell upon the tablet on his side. Slowly, not to cause the mammals any cause for alarm she extended her arm and pounted at it. Seeming to understand her, Sven reached for it and drew up the sensor data they had gathered during the tremor.

Hastily she looked over the displayed data. Most of it made no sense to her, the mammalian writing and language was too alien to her.

For now at least.

But what she understood concerned her, she pointed at the tablet while handing it back to Sven.

He seemed confused. Rolling her eyes she pointed at it, and waved the other hand in front of her eyes. “Jana!” A moment later the female mammal came running with her equipment. She handed the portable computer originally taken from the Harpy to Sven who then gave it to the Harpy.

Indeed the readings were bad news, now she understood why they all stank of fear. From the computer in her hand she also gathered that they simply lacked the ability to contain the engine problem, or safely dispose of the ship on their own.

A few touches with her fingers and she returned the device to Sven.

Meanwhile a new tremor shook the alpha ring.

But the cause for it was a good one. Maneuvering thrusters on the Harpy ship fired, pushing it away from the Horizon.

Metal screamed against metal as bent and mangled hulls scratched against one another. Not heard in the airless void of hard vacuum, but the vibrations carried on through the hulls of the ships.

As the damaged and unstable ship pushed off, the Harpy was glad she had returned the device to Sven. No doubt the almost comatose intelligence asked why it was abandoned. As he handed the computer back to Jana, she saw signs flash on the right hand side of the screen, presumably asking why.

For years and years she had spent time with the ship and its mind. Every bulkhead, nut and bolt. Every mood and thought.

Forever etched into her mind.

In her training she had been warned not to get too attached to the ships intelligence,  for it was just a ship, and parting from it, one way or another, would be too hard.

 

“She saved us.” The screen in the conference room showed the harpy ship moving off from the Horizon, and immediately slowing out of range. Moments later an explosion lit up a large portion of the starry sky.

“She saved herself.” Grunting Governor Gilbert turned his face away from the video conference. “Where were you?” He addressed Solomon. “Not that it is any of your business, but I was busy.”

“She saved more than just herself.” Johannes interrupted before the conversation derailed completely. On the screen the images of her scan appeared. “Are those?” Immediately Sven had recognised the displayed image from within the harpy in the cell. “Eggs, yes. I can’t say whether they’re fertilised or not, I don’t know enough of their physiology yet.”

Stunned by the revelation the room, and the conference calls, grew silent.

“So,” Sven looked around. “do we build her a nest?”

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