Archive for January, 2017

Rings of Fate S1E10 – Destiny – DEHuman pt. I

Darkness filled the loud room, occasionally intersected by a laser or a strobe of light, deep basses vibrated in the air, resonated in the body.

Richard Phlock scanned the room for his friends. At a table his gaze stopped. Not because his eyes had found who he was looking for, but because of an attractive young woman sitting there all by herself.

Hoping to score with her Richard moved through the masses of people in the club, careful not to spill anyone’s drink.

“Mind if I take a seat?” Still wearing his uniform, Richard had assumed an imposing posture across the table. “Not at all, sir.” The young woman replied, whether the shimmer in her eyes was from the light effects of the club, or an equal longing as Richard’s, was beyond the lieutenant at that time.

“Come here often, sir?” The young woman offered a drink, but Richard kindly refused. The fake drinks aboard the Destiny were disgusting him. “Not really, second or third time, I’m however glad I came here tonight.” Forgetting his friends Richard took a sip from the water he had brought with him.

“As am I.” The young woman replied, sipping on a colorful drink. “Want to go some place quieter?”

Cautious, but still wanting to get to know her better Richard nodded. “But first, what’s your name?”

“Lucille Navratil.” Winking she got up. Richard estimated that she was about 20 to 25 years old, by her demeanour a civilian. “My Friends call me Lucy.” She turned to go, Richard also got up. As he followed the younger woman through the crowd he felt a hand grabbing him by the arm. “Don’t.” Confused he stared into the eyes of a woman. “Diane?” Behind her a few other familiar faces looked at him. The friends he had wanted to meet. “She is no good, trust me.” She nodded in Lucys direction.

With a smile Richard looked after Lucy. “I’m the one who is no good, trust me.” Winking he left his friends, navigating after Lucy.

 

In a separate room Lucy awaited Richard, her shirt already taken off. “You took a long time.” She purred as the door closed behind Richard. “A lot of people.” Eyeing his would-be score of the night, Richard felt aroused.

“Indeed.” The younger woman replied, keeping her smile she proceeded to undo her pants. “Aren’t you rushing things a bit there?” Although not used to the club, Richard wanted to play things a little slower.

“We’re in the infinity of space, never to reach our destination alive, all we have is now. Why wait?”

The pants dropped, revealing Lucy to be completely naked.

“To make a more impressionable then, and enjoy more of us later?” Richard sat down on the fake leather couch. Where that had come from, and how they got it aboard was beyond him, and didn’t faze him.

The edges of Lucys lips flickered into an even more playful smirk. “Then I’ll remain like this until your then has come upon us.” She too sat down, on the table in front of Richard. “Do you want a drink now?”

“Nothing of that pseudo alcohol stuff. If I want to truly enjoy it, it ought to be truly affecting my senses.”

Rubbing  her hand between her legs, watching Richard’s bulged crotch Lucy simply replied “oh?”, sly smile on her lips she got up and walked to a cupbard behind Richard. From the corner of his eyes he saw the entire cupboard swing open, revealing shelves of bottles behind it. A moment later Lucy held a glass underneath Richard’s nose. The fumes of real alcohol, of genuine Scotch, filled his nostrils. “We have real stuff here.” She purred.

Richard felt Lucy climbing the couch, sitting next to him on the back side of it. “Don’t you want to try something new?”

Richard took an appreciating sip from the scotch. “Not really, at least if the old works.”

Next to him, Lucy slid onto the cushions. “But there is something new that would let you see the old in new ways, more ways than you’d imagine.”

She’s trying to sell me drugs of some sort. Doesn’t she see my uniform? “What would that be?” Slipping into a mood that made his arousal disappear. Let the investigation begin.

“Link.”

“Video games?” Trying to play naive Richard sipped on his scotch.

“No.” From beneath the cushioning Lucy produced a device that had a menacing look about it. “A small chip that allows you to link with me, and others. You could feel what I feel, while feeling your own impressions. Imagine, when we are in bed, you could feel all that your senses are capable of, and all of my senses too.”

Curious, but doubtful Richard stared at the device. Once he had seen something similar, if the button was pressed a small bolt was shot out of the other end of the device, knocking glass down. But that had been an emergency hammer, if you had a car accident.

“I think, you should try it.” Lucy smiled. “It would make for a remarkable then.”

With a sigh all arousal that was left in Richard vanished, he took out his ID. “Security. You are under arrest, under the charge of distributing potentially dangerous technology and body alterations. You can file official protest under the articles of this vessel’s constitution, everything you say can and will be used against you. If you do not have an attorney the government of the Destiny will provide one for you. Do you have any questions?”

“Yes. May I put on some clothes?”

 

“Nice job Phlock.” François Lapierre put the report down. “Since the unfortunate incidents surrounding the trade negotiations and my predecessor’s early death, this is our first good lead on the subject.” Uneasy shifting on his feet, Richard nodded. Never had an investigation been lead into the club on the gamma ring, although both Darius Konrads and Irina Brekic had reported that it was there they had received their implants. “What happens now sir?”

“Well, we will try to get the prisoner to talk.” François leaned back in his chair. “But since you brought her in she has turned into some vegetative state.” No doubt she linked out. “Will there be further investigations in the club?” Carefully studying his superior officer’s expressions Richard continued to shift on his feet. “A full search of the premise will be conducted once we get the jurisdictional details right.”

“Excuse me sir, but they could be hiding, or even destroying, evidence. A full security detail could plow that place over, worry about jurisdiction later. We are not in a primitive society of retards where evidence that was obtained by the wrong police force, doesn’t count.” Clearly he had struck a chord with Lapierre, the expression on the man’s face twitched. But whether that was a good, or a bad sign was beyond Richard to see.

“Alright. Gather a detail, go in and bring back results.”

Supressing a triumphant smile Richard saluted and left the office. He went to the ready room, telling his colleagues to get ready, after half an hour he had nine people among him to pay another visit to the club.

 

Still vibrant basses plowed through the air in the dark room, dimly illuminated by the light show. Both were on automatic, the floor was untidy but devoid of people, not a single guest or bartender was in sight. “Secure the logs.” A young officer by the name of Sara Disono spurted to the door, connected the tablet computer wireless with the door.

Meanwhile Richard marched onward with the rest of the armed men and women around him. With hand signals he ordered teams of two to check on the other back rooms. He remained in front of the door he had gone through with Lucy.

“Log has been wiped clean, sir.” Sara joined him. Grinding his teeth Richard nodded and opened the door to the room he had arrested Lucy in.

The cupboard stood wide open, the shelves behind it were still stocked with bottles, scotch, gin, vintage wines, vodka, tequila, even absinthe was to be found.

His eyes fell on the couch, the cushioning had been disturbed, his eyes told him that a few more of the injection devices had been hidden beneath his butt. A wall panel was removed, although normally locked for engineering purposes. A small crawl space stretched to above and below decks. “Fuck.”

Sara joined him gazing into the crawl space. “They got away.” Was her only remark.

“I’m beginning to think that they are everywhere. This panel needs an engineering or security clearing to be opened.” Richard casuallty pointed at the panel, physically it showed no signs of tampering, but a software inspection would show whether it was hacked or opened by legitimate sources, even if the ID of the legitimate source had been wiped from the system.

“I demand to speak to whoever is in charge of this operation!” A disembodied voice rang from the outside after the music had stopped playing. “Stay here and take shots of everything, especially those depressions In the cushioning.” Sara saluted, immediately taking pictures, starting with said cushioning.

“That would be me,” Richard emerged from the back room, “Lieutenant Richard Phlock, Security. You are?”

“Marie Navratil. Operator of this club.” She looked at each one of Richards colleagues, inspecting them head to toe. “By what right have you invaded this space?”

“Ship security, are you related to Lucille Navratil, otherwise known as Lucy?” Feeling uneasy Richard had an overwhelming desire to arrest Marie. “My sister.” Grudge in her voice told Richard to relax. “What did the idiot do?”

“She tried to give me a chip, a chip like the ones that had played a major role in the diplomatic disaster with the Kismet a while back.”

Sighing deeply Marie relaxed her composure, dropped her shoulders a little. “I should’ve known when she broke down when the news of earth’s destruction was broadcast. She feels dislocated, disconnected. I couldn’t console her, she must’ve turned elsewhere.” She pulled a chair from a nearby table, sat down.

“So you are unaware that she had several injection devices hidden in that backroom? That the maintenance shaft has been opened, the computerlogs of the door were wiped?” Baffled Marie stared back at Richard.

Instead of replying she got up from her seat, straightened her dress. “I know of none of these things, but I guess I’m under arrest?”

One of the officers stepped forward, producing handcuffs from her belt. “Indeed, under the charge of aiding in the spread of potentially dangerous technology, the suspicion of direct involvement, you are hereby under arrest. Everything you say can and will be used against you. Any questions?” Silently Marie shook her head.

Richard stayed with her while the others continued to search the bar, which was easier without the deafening music and in bright light.

After a few minutes she sighed again, asking for a chair. Sitting again she nervously fidgeted with her fingers.

“Why so nervous?” Richard observed both her and his colleagues.

“I have no idea of what my idiot sister did, but, well,” she became silent.

Chuckling Richard turned fully towards her. “The booze?”

“Yes.” Bowing her head she too had to smile. “I didn’t smuggle it all aboard. People brought it and left it here. To be shared with others.”

Nodding Richard turned around. “It will be confiscated, and it will be used against you.”

“I know. Still I’m nervous about it.” If this was another idiot country, evidence for the crime of distributing alcohol would be illegal if obtained in search for evidence of another crime. “Sorry for that. But we are not an idiocracy, we found the booze, you will be charged for the possession and distribution of alcohol. Unless you want to name the people who brought it to you?”

Gently the woman shook her head. “I guess I’ll just shut up now.”

 

Admiral Kanjeet silently read through the report. In front of her were the injector and other evidence from the club, as well as pictures on the display integrated in her table. Richard and François stood at ease on the other side of the table.

Raising an eyebrow she put the tablet down, folding her hands. “This ship’s military security continues to be a troublesome branch.” With a gesture of her hand she told the two to sit down. “However, this is excellent work gentlemen. Proper procedures could’ve delayed the search of the place, and the governors agree that in regard to the overall security, which this falls into, this is our jurisdiction.”

She leaned back. “Your next step must be getting information from the arrested suspects.” Formulated more a statement than a question, Richard glanced to his superior who confirmed the Admiral’s words.

“Reopen the club, install our own security equipment, I want twenty four hours of surveillance by at least two people. Computers can be manipulated, one person corrupted or tricked. But it gets more difficult with more people involved.” She turned the display in the table off, stood up. As did Richard and François.

“Gentlemen.” She greeted the two, escorting them out of the room.

 

Sent to talk to Marie, Richard waited for the tube cab. He reflected upon what had happened to Darius and Irina.

After they had been officially found fit for duty by a doctor in the infirmary, who had also postulated that the implants would sooner or later be broken down by the body, they returned to their duties. Since that they had reassigned to technical division, got married. Reportedly Irina had filed for having a child, and promptly had gotten pregnant after receiving clearance.

Hissing the doors slid open. For a moment Richard felt a shock.

Irina Konrads sat in one of the seats. With a smile she greeted him as she got up and left the cab.

Deeply immersed in thought Richard stood the entire ride, left after a few minutes, headed to the detention center.

In one cell sat Lucy. Just as he was told through his superior, she sat on her bunk, two plates of food sat untouched in front of her. “Hello Lucy.” Deciding to try the younger woman first Richard stopped under the watchful eyes of the guards. After finding out about the widespread popularity of the implants Admiral Kanjeet had posted security details everywhere. Always at least two people, in addition to the computerised surveillance, also overlooked by at least two people. “You should eat, it makes for a better now than starving yourself.” No reaction from her. Shaking her head a guard told him that they had tried reasoning the prisoner into eating. They would continue to do so, until she had to be force fed to keep her from dying.

 

“Good afternoon Marie.” Richard stood in front of the cell in which his other prisoner was held. “I am delighted to see that at least you are eating.”

“Such rare delicacies shouldn’t go to waste.” She replied with sarcasm in her voice.

“Your sister seems to think otherwise.” Pulling up a chair Richard sat down, trying to look at ease he assumed a rather relaxed pose. “She has linked out.” Marie replied, sitting down on the floor in front of the bars. “In this rather isolated environment she sought the comfort of the others. That is why she joined in the first place, you know.”

Hiding his surprise of her intricate knowledge of the link Richard raised one eyebrow, letting her do the talking. “When the news was broadcast that the planet we called home, together with billions of people, was finally destroyed, she was close to losing her mind, so she joined in search for closure.”

With a twisted smirk on her lips Marie looked in the direction of her sister’s cell. “I can feel her. Writhing in fear and despair, drawing solace from the link, from the level of companionship not possible otherwise.”

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat Richard squinted his eyes. “You not only knew, but were part of it?”

“Still am. Most of it was my doing.” Marie nodded to the surveillance cameras with the side of her head, Richard recognised the faint red dot signalling activity was missing. “Your guards are fed false feeds.” A powerful but tiny hand grabbed Richard’s shoulder. It was the security guard from before, her colleague sat at his desk, head resting on the surface.

“He’s only unconscious. But you need to hear us out.” Richard played with the thought of reaching for his sidearm, but remembered he had to surender it before being admitted to the cell block.

“You might perceive us as a threat, but we only are the next logical step in our evolution as a species. Maybe we are at a fork in the evolutionary branch, since we have no desire to kill you.” Still Richard toyed with ideas of violence against his colleague. “No, you desire to assimilate us.” Somehow he expected to be injected with a microchip at any moment.

“The thought has occured to us. But sadly it would be only a temporary solution.” With an elongated sigh Marie got up and stepped closer to the bars. “But, you see, even we don’t understand the true power of the brain. Yet. If you are unwilling to be participating in our link, your brain would reject the implant soon after it has settled in. If your mind rejects it, your brain forms neurological pathways around the implant.” For now. One day you’ll find a way around that. “So you are telling me this, why exactly?”

The smirk on Marie’s face intensified. “Drop the charges. Never has anyone been subjected to the link against his or her will,” she stopped with a musing expression, “well, one has, it is from him that we know of the brain’s power to reject the implant.”

She sat back down right where she had sat before, the guard let go of her grip on Richard’s shoulder. Returning to her post she sprayed something at the unconscious man at the desk. A moment later the light on the surveillance cameras came back on. Should I show that some glitch had occurred? “Well,” he began, but stopped mid thought. Afraid that the crew in the surveillance operating room might be part of the whole scam he got up. “If you won’t tell me where that booze came from, I’m sure your customers will, inadvertently.” By her surprised expression he gathered that the collective mind of the link had not anticipated his move either, but hoped for it.

Without further words to anyone Richard made his way out, collected his gun, inspected it for any signs of tampering, but found none.

 

Sipping on his water Richard sat under a tree. An apple tree if he wasn’t mistaken. There were no fruit yet for him to be sure. Reflecting on what he had learned from Marie he watched a Bee hover from one blossom in the field to the next.

The bees aboard the sisterships were a rare desert breed that was unaffected by the parasites that caused trouble for bee hives all over earth.

Parasites? Richard searched his memory. Other than parasitic infestations something else was attributed to colony collapses. Cellphone signals! From his pocket he quickly took his glasses. Scanning through the archives of what used to be the Internet he confirmed his memory.

He took a deep breath of the fresh air in the garden. There had been simulated rainfall the night before. The ground was still damp, and cool. Droplets of water hung on blades of grass, and other plants, glistening in the simulated daylight like little strewn out diamonds. “Access reports from Horizon, search for alien signals.” Directing his glasses he had remembered that the implants were reverse engineered from Harpy technology.

Irritated he sat up straight. “Classified? Authorisation Richard Phlock, Destiny 210882 gamma phi.” Still he saw only an “access denied” message.

“Clarification, is all material on harpy activity classified? If so, on who’s order?”

》Security chief commander François Lapierre《 was the next up message after his suspicions were confirmed that all Harpy related material was classified.

Whistling in astonishment Richard took off his glasses. That was unexpected.

Paranoia began to creep up on him. As he got up he looked around. Only a few other people were roaming the garden. Mostly couples taking a walk on the designated paths. A few gardeners. Did they expect to be working in these conditions as gardeners when they left university? Mundane thoughts calmed his spirit.

I must find the Admiral, confront her with what I found. Reluctantly Richard left the open space with the chance to see people all around him, potential surprises waiting behind a corner in form of link members.

Walking down to the tube access, he was still fascinated by the tall hallway, the green walkway with only stepping stones leading to the much more sterile parts of the ship. Although the green strips in the larger hallways were anything but sterile, compared to the lush gardens they seemed restricted and trimmed.

“Good day.” Torn from his soothing mundane thinking Richard felt his pulse increase immediately. An elderly man with a greying mustache had stepped out of the tube, greeting him. “G’day.” He replied hastily, not without noticing the name tag of the man. Doctor Jim Edwards. Now, where had I read that name before?

The doors to the cab closed, in the hallway was doctor Edwards, looking back at Richard. “Holy crap!” Richard inhaled, it was the doctor that had cleared Irina and Darius Konrads.

Immediately following his sudden realisation suspicion and paranoia crept back into his mind set.

“Are you all right, lad?” An elderly man with a full grey beard looked at him from one of the seats. “I’m hoping so, sir.” Was Richard’s reply to the man in the uniform of an engineer, of a higher rank than Richard.

“Maybe you should take a seat, you look quite distressed and pale?”

“Getting off in a moment. But thanks.” He shook his head declining the seat. Moaning out the aches his joints gave him, the man got up. “Chief engineer Bill Wallis.”

“Lieutenant Richard Phlock.” Feeling as if his paranoia was taking over Richard stared at the door before him, while the cab rushed silently through the vacuum tube. Was chief engineer Wallis part of the link? “I’m heading to see the Admiral. Took me ages to get the appointment.”

“Well,” I should perhaps postpone my plans to see the Admiral, “she has a busy schedule.”

“Sometimes she ought to free her schedule. There are some weird readings in our power grids on Gamma, parts of Alpha and our subs.”

Squinting his eyes Richard’s eyebrows pushed together. “Authorisation Richard Phlock, Destiny 210882 gamma phi, stop cab, reroute traffic.”

Still with squinted eyes he looked at the engineer. Who in turn looked at him with an inquisitive expression, he quickly looked down to Richard’s hand on the gun. “Is this were you’re going to kill me, lad? Unless you want to chip me.”

“I’m not one of those Digitally Enhanced Humans. Are you?” Richard felt a great deal safer with the gun under his palm. “No. I’m close to shitting meself.”

Richard removed his hand from the hilt of his gun. Both men began laughing in a relieved and yet nervous manner. They walked to opposite ends of the cab and sat down. “I suspect that the energy abnormalities are from the linkers. Plus I have one of these idiots in engineering, tries to recruit more people.”

Burying his face in his hands Richard had to admit to himself that he too was close soiling his pants. “And nobody took him into custody?”

Bill shook his head. “No one wanted to hear about it.”

“Fitting,” yearning for a sip of that scotch that Lucy had given him Richard took a few deep breaths, “it seems that many of my colleagues in security have given in to the link.” The two men exchanged a long intense gaze. In their expressions and loooks the two pieced together at least part of the puzzle. “Infiltrate security to have no opposition,” Bill said what Richard didn’t dare to think, “take over enginering to have full control over the ship.” Richard replied with the unthinkable for Bill.

Devastated the two kept staring at each other. “Unlock cab, Authorisation Richard Phlock, Destiny 210882 gamma phi, continue to previously set destination.” A few moments later the doors opened with a hiss and the two left the tube network.

In silence they marched to the Admiral. Outside the Admiral’s office Richard recognised that François was also going to the see her.

“Sir, what brings you here?” Richard saluted. “Attending a meeting with the chief engineer, on a possibly dangerous topic. Or so I was told, not that it is any of your business lieutenant.”

Noticing an inquiring look from Bill, Richard shrugged his shoulders. “The lad will be attending too, I request his presence.”

An expression of bewilderment appeared on François’ face, but he had to accept it. Together the three entered the room, finding the Admiral sitting behind her desk, her hair tied to a strict knot on the back of her head. “I thought we’d be less people?”

“I request his presence, Ma’am.” Bill stated dryly, from the corners of his eyes he spied to François for any reaction, but caught none.

Urging her guests to sit the Admiral herself got up. “You requested this meeting on grounds of ship wide security?” Coming right to the point she skipped pleasantries that others might have expected of her, but Richard knew she wasn’t one to beat around the bushes. “Aye, I noticed energy consumption irregularities in the power grids for rings Gamma, parts of Alpha and our subs.” The Admiral raised her eyebrow and looked to François with an odd expression on her face. “I have reported this to security, as well as a complaint about one of my people, but I neve got anything in return.”

The expression on Admiral Kanjeet’s face grew darker. “What complaint?”

“He’s a linker, or Digitally Enhanced Human.”

“We have him under surveillance.” Was the prompt reply from François. What Richard suspected was a lie.

“However,” Richard took out his tablet, “chief engineer Wallis and I need access to the files on the Harpy technology the Links were derived from.” At first the Admiral seemed confused but then looked at the tablet. “I never gave authorisation to classify this information?” She looked at François. “We decided it was necessary.”

“Who is we?” Pryia raised her voice, something Richard had never witnessed with her.

“We. You should join us.” The chief of security produced an injection device, shocked the Admiral jumped back. Calmly Richard grabbed the device. “You know that involuntary implantation is useless.” Calmly François smiled. “Of course we do. We told you. This was an offer. Naught more.” The expression of his superior officer went blank. Knwing that expression from Lucy, Richard immediately knew that he had linked out. “He is gone.”

As he spoke the Admiral had regained her composure. “Stanley? Security detail in my office, now.” She lean over the tablet punching in her own security code, while listening to Stanley Johnson, her first officer. Additional codes later, the files concerning the Harpy technology and everything related was not classified anymore, at least to anyone within the command structure.

“Gentlemen, this is serious. I want you to present me with options on how to deal with this.” With a tired expression she sat down behind her desk again. “We have to take this organisation down. They may be a technological, evolutionary step for mankind, but they have undermined our authority. If this was an obscure cult we’d be calling them terrorists. Only in this case there is no leader to pin down in order to shut down the whole thing. We need to take down all of them.” Her stern expression added non verbally that it didn’t matter in which manner that happened.

Richard and Bill exchanged a short glance, rose and saluted. Security personnel poured through the door. “Not her.” Richard grabbed one of the guards by her arm. Pryia was surprised, but not shocked.

Quickly the guard broke free of his grasp. “We can not be subdued!” A moment later she collapsed with a blank expression. In few words did Richard explain to the Admiral what had happened in the cell block.

 

Feeling  tired and weighed down Bill sat in one of the dining halls on the subgamma ring, he had studied the reports and analysis of the harpy implants. And what the crew of the Horizon had done to omit the signal.

Hissing the doors to the hallway slid open. “Good evening, chief.” Richard entered, although feeling the weight of the situation too, a certain proud glow surrounded him. Taking notice of it Bill squinted his eyes. “Good evening, lieutenant commander! Congratulations on the promotion! Chief of security now?”

“Acting chief, but yes.” He sat down next to Bill. “Any idea how to end this?”

Bill put the tablet on the desk. He disliked the glasses, like most people who had grown up without them, learned their craft without them, really only got introduced to them aboard the Destiny or her sisterships.

“A dampening signal, all over the ship. That’d be the best solution to keep it shut down. But there are difficulties to it. The currently linked could gather and hardwire themselves to find a counter technology.” Frowning he leaned back covering his face with his palms for a moment.

“What if we disrupt them in a way that would allow us to go around and pick them up, in essence shut them down, before we place each and everyone in a contained area where we can maintain the dampening signal?”

For a moment or two Bill stared at Richard. Having someone outside the field of engineering look at a problem sometimes provided fresh insight. “Actually, good idea.” Again he grabbed the tablet, worked on it while Richard wentn to get some food. As the acting chief of security sat down Bill punched a button and looked around. “Either there are no linkers here, or it doesn’t work.” He muttered. Balancig a bite of algae mush on his fork Richard smirked drily. “Come with me.”

 

“It is tested, and proved to work.” Richard presented a video clip of Marie becoming unresponsive as Bill turned on his program in the cell block. “We already tested it on the security personnel, only five more Digitally Enhanced were to be found, I’ve sent out the rest to investigate the leeches on our power grids.” Another image appeared on the viewscreen. “That’s a node.” Bill explained. We’ve reprogrammed it to emitt a shortrange signal that would put a linker into a comatose state, and on wide range the same signal as the program I created.”

The room was filled with dead silence, all three governors were present, with their vice governors, their assistants and the Admiral with the first officer Stanley Johnson. “Ain’t this a bit radical?”

“Aren’t they a bit radical? Undermining the security and safety of this ship?” Replied the Admiral without glancing over her shoulder. “Turn it on.”

A few gasps rose in the room, a moment later the governor of the gamma ring collapsed. Two more people around him, and an assistant from alpha ring’s vice governor.

“Ship wide disruption of the link has been activated, the unconscious Digitally Enhanced are being collected and will be detained until we can,” pausing Pryia rose before the gathered, turned on her heel, “unlink them. After all Digitally Enhanced have been rounded up, the nodes will be destroyed.”

 

Darius sat over his breakfast, Irina waddled in, her back hurt, after all the baby was due in only two weeks time. “Good Morning, Mister Bond.”

“Good morning, Moneypenny. The link has been severed, the nodes are a danger now.”

“Indeed, but soon, that won’t matter anymore.” She caresed her belly, kissing Darius on the cheek.

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Rings of Fate S1E09 – Destiny – Routines

Small puffs of smoke rose from the target, tiny, smoldering holes near the centers as the source. Simultaneously with a warning tone from the speakers in the room, the lights changed. All the men and women put their guns down.

“Good,” a lieutenant took note of their progress, “recruits, I hope none of you will ever need the next practice sheets.”

He pressed a button and the images at the end of the shooting range changed imto the shape of what had become known as a Harpy. “Lieutenant Shepherd?”

“Miss Kharkova?” Gant slowly strode to her. “Are we truly going to face these creatures, sir?”

“Who knows? We would like to have you prepared in case we ever do meet them.” He pressed a button on his tablet. Again a tune sounded, lights changed.

With silence as their companion the recruits started shooting the targets, after a while the targets changed again, and turned human shaped. Gant Shepherd told them again that he hoped they’d never need the practice, but that they ought to be ready.

 

“I fired guns before.” Dana sighed sitting down in the locker room with her female colleagues. “This is entirely different.”

“You don’t say?” Julia Hopes, her bunkmate sat down as well.

“Most disturbing is the lack of recoil. With a real gun you felt the destructive force you unleashed upon your target. In your fingers, palm, wrist, lower and upper arm, ellbow. There was a loud noise, letting you know that destructiveness has been unleashed. With these ray guns, nothing. No noise, no recoil, no smell.”

“No re-aiming.” Julia noted an advantage with a wink and a smile. “Besides, there is a little recoil when you fire the darts, and a hiss!”

Dismissing that notion with a hiss of her own Dana Kharkova got up, finished changing.

She stopped at the door on her way out. “Are you going to see him?”

“Nah I’m good.”

 

A plain white ceiling greeted him. Every year he was woken for a brief moment. A week, people flocked to hear his soothing words and his insight on things.

Afterwards he was returned to the cryogenic chamber for the rest of the year. “It is early this year.” He sighed before anyone could greet him.

“How did you know?” A nurse approached the table.

“I have seen that ceiling now every year since we left earth. The computer simulates seasons in the lighting. This is earlier than the last times.”

Returning his benign smile the nurse still felt uneasy. “It’s Earth.” She needed not to say any more than that for him to understand. Presumably all life on earth had already died from intense radation from the neutron star, but now it was being torn apart. If anyone or anything had survived in some bunker, now it would die for sure.

“You are the great Rhama, unifying various religions and philosophies. We need your solace ahead of time.”

He nodded, brought up a hand to his greying beard. “Just give me some time to get my bearings again. Yes?”

After discovering the neutron star and its course that would annihilate earth, various sects and cults seceded from various religions. Christianity, Moslems, Jews and Buddhists had brought in their philosophies and surprisingly it had culminated in the new religion. Although most factions held on to their original traditions, all accepted his counsel, and that of his predecessors.

Stretching he decided to proceed with the wake up protocol, put forth my medical experts and his own experience.

In the mirror he checked his face for wrinkles he was not familiar with, noticed his beard had not gotten too grey yet. He scratched the shaved head of his, hair had regrown since the last time he had shaved it two years earlier. I don’t want that back again. He remembered his thick black curls, reaching for a razor.

 

“Transport of visitors from the Kismet is due in ten minutes.” Lieutenant Shepherd called his recruits to order. “You’ll act as a representative force, I want to see your best sides.” In his voice every one heard his plea, for them to be the best class possible. He disliked the fact he had to substitute for their instructor, but the recruits thought he did an excellent job.

Since the diplomatic visit to the Destiny there had been only two transports from the Kismet, none of people flocking to see the Rhama. Only now had the Sheiks given in to the pressure of their people.

“Alright, line up!” Gant barked, with relief in his eyes did he see Kaleb Johnson. The instructor he temporarily replaced. Still somewhat pale the man reached the group standing to the sides of the entrance.

He looked the recruits over, nodded with a satisfied look, then assumed position next to Gant. “You could reasign to this job.” He mumbled.

“I’ll take my chances in security, thank you.” Hissing the doors opened and visitors poured through the opening. They were lead by a young man and his wife, both in nobler garments than the others. “That is a prince.” Kaleb whispered.

“I figured as much.” Seemingly annoyed Gant hissed back.

Prince Shamim stopped a few paces past Gant and Kaleb, with their eyes fixed at the door where the visitors had come from, neither one had taken notice of the Admiral arriving.

“Admiral.” Shamim smiled benignly. “It is a great pleasure to be back on your ship.”

“Prince Shamim,” the Admiral bowed slightly. “it is always a pleasure to have you here. I did not know you were a follower of the Rhama?”

A smile twitched in the cornersnof his mouth. “There are many things you do not know about me.” Pausing he turned to his wife. “This is my lovely wife.”

Again the Admiral indicated a bow, but soon lead the guests of honor away.

 

“Why aren’t they letting any negotiations be conducted by the Rhama?” Dana approached Gant, ringing of cutlery and dishes filled the dining hall. “Because he isn’t meant to interfere with these worldly matters.” Wishing he had taken up his friends request to join him in that club on gamma ring, rather than dining with the recruits Gant replied with a passive aggressive tone. “One thing that the founders of his religion agreed upon was that faith shouldn’t interfere with life. From the Rhama you will never hear any comment about contraception, diet or prayer times.” Or homosexuality. “When you feel uncomfortable with something, avoid it if possible. Quite a reasonable religion if you ask me.” He returned to his normal demeanour.

When was the last time he actually had gone out? He didn’t remember.

Somewhat satisfied with the reply she got Dana sat down comfortably, beginning to eat. “I was curious sir.” Annoyed over the fact that she spoke while chewing, Gant looked up from his plate. “When my training is over, could you write me a letter of recommendation so I could get into security?”

“Once you are there, let me know and we’ll talk.” He smiled. “We could talk now, sir.”

Feeling her stare on him like fire Gant put his fork down. “You can’t charm me. I’m not interested,” he paused, looking around, “in women.”

Blushing Dana too put the fork down. “Forgive me. It was inappropriate of me in any case. I can understand if you’re going to report me.”

Winking at her, Gant told her without words that he wouldn’t report her.

 

“If you give us a list of your requirements, I am certain that we can arrange something.” Smiling at the prince, Pryia began to understand that his visit to the Destiny wasn’t purely a spiritual journey. “Thank you Admiral, since our ship was originally designed to be only a short term accommodation we lack certain requirements to maintain functionality for another two generations. The fusion power is another problem, the Kismet was designed to be powered with Antimatter, with a much higher output, systems had to be redesigned, but in some cases these modifications and refits were forgotten, or not followed up thoroughly enough.” Unlike at his first visit, the prince seemed much more settled, but a man can change in a year.

Pryia stopped at the double winged door. “In a few years we won’t be able to handle as many guests from your ship, prince. Children currently living with their parents will move out and occupy these quarters. Eventually the Rhama himself will have to find other accommodations.”

As the doors slid open the prince recognised the bald, black man with the greying beard sitting in the center as the Rhama. Quickly he called for his wife, together they entered and greeted the Rhama. Hissing the doors closed behind them, leaving Pryia in the hallway.

Intent on waiting for the Prince she paced through the corridor, until her glasses in her pocket began vibrating. “Yes?” She put them on.

“The supply carriers from Ericsson will be in range within a few hours. Thought you’d welcome an update on that.”

“Thank you Stanley.” She sighed glancing to the door. “I’ll join you for reigning them in.” Determined she began to turn away, strutting she stopped after a few meters. “Tell his majesty that I had to attend important matters, but that I will join him at dinner.” One of the few attaches to the Prince nodded, but otherwise kept his stern expression.

 

In silence the cylindrical object was caught in the tethering, jerked as inertial forces tore at it, but after some moments of jerking, it was ready to be hauled aboard the Destiny. “What have the probes from Ericsson prepared for us?” Pryia reached for her tablet, as the inventory of the transport was transmitted from the carrier. “Ma’am? There must be an error in the systems, most of those materials aren’t what we had the drones mine for us. In this transport there are mostly silicates.”

Pryia raised an eyebrow over Stanley’s comment. “To make computers you need silicates, and our ordered materials will be in the next transports” her voice faded during the last word. “That is the shipping list for all the transports?”

“Told you.” Stanley smirked over his tablet. Both studied the list in detail.

“Weird, but only the numbers don’t add up. There probably had been a glitch in the software, it is sad, but we can upgrade our computers to no end.” Disappointment in her voice Pryia put the tablet down. She went over to Stanley’s desk and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Pryia!” He hissed, his tone implored her to stay. “Isn’t it also possible that there had been sabotage?” Whispering as not to unsettle their colleagues in the command centre Stanley pointed at his tablet. A note he had opened read three words: Kismet or Linkers?

Pryia pushed her eyebrows to form one dark bar above her eyes. “It is, but I’d rather hope for a glitch than a saboteur.” She whispered. “Investigate that glitch.” Louder than before.

“Aye Ma’am.”

 

For what seemed like ages the Rhama held audiences. “Welcome back,” for a moment the Rhama looked Dana in the eyes, “Dana. Right?”

She nodded. With a smile on his lips the Rhama looked her from head to to toe and back. “I can remember the last times, for me it was last week and the weeks before that. If I couldn’t remember that, I’d be worried.” He shifted on his cushions. “What brings you to me?”

“Fear.” She sat down on the cushions in front of him, they were now on eye level.

“Because Earth will perish?” His calm voice soothed her mind, even the dreadful demise of earth was not so frightening from his mouth.

“Of closure to be exact. There is this new trend,” she paused. How would she describe the brain implants to the Rhama?

“Of having a chip implanted in your brain, bringing you close to all the others who have it?” Stunned, but still soothed, Dana nodded. “As I understand it, this would bring you closer to the others, but at the risk of losing yourself. Losing yourself is never the answer, it is the problem. Don’t be afraid. If you take strength from within yourself you can withstand the temptation. You are never alone.”

A smile found its way on her lips. The Rhama also knew that she was afraid to be alone, just by looking at her. “How old are you?”

“Twenty.”

Again the Rhama looked her straight in the eyes. “Do not be afraid to be alone, or to be close to someone, you know where you come from, that is all you need to know where you are going. Just never let go of the most important person in your life, the only one responsible to make you happy, yourself!” He smiled.

“I understand, thank you, Rhama.” Dana rose from the cushions, bowed and left. “How is your mother?” Dana stopped in front of the door. “We do not speak anymore since I stopped going to church with her, or at all.”

“Why did you stop?” Slowly turning around she saw the worry in the old man’s eyes. “You could say that I have lost faith in god.” Slowly returning to the cushions she felt as if her mother was talking to her. “If god was really there, he wouldn’t fling a neutron star towards earth. It is not like he just wanted to wipe out mankind, but all of his creation. I however believe in the philosophy, the divine inside us. Hence my being here.” For a moment she looked into the dark eyes of the Rhama, she knew what her mother would say in that moment. “We are being tested, as we are allowed to move on!”

But the Rhama didn’t say any of the sorts. With a benign smile he nodded, closing his eyes. Again she thanked him and left.

“Is that answer enough for you?” The Rhama turned to a curtained off area behind him. Lucia Kharkova stepped through the curtains. “She doesn’t mean bad, she is a good child. Now, see past what disturbs you, and forgive her.”

Tears in her eyes the older woman nodded, turned back into the room behind the curtains, from where she could use another exit to leave without Dana knowing.

 

Hundreds of people roamed the hallways and corridors on the alpha ring outside the Rhama’s audience quarters. They would even camp there, while the Rhama rested for the night, Pryia knew. She glossed over the still images from the surveillance cameras released to the news station. Never had she thought that the impending destruction of earth would move her that much, she found herself longing for a few minutes in his presence. Her glasses beeped.

“Enable speaker.” She sighed turning down the volume on the news. “Ma’am, I’m sorry to disturb you after your shift ended.” Stanley’s voice sounded as sorry as his words implored. “No problem. What is it Stanley?”

“May I come in?” Suddenly finding a smile on her lips Pryia blushed and looked around. It was clean enough to let her first officer in, but was it clean enough to let Stanley enter? She decided it was. “Please do.”

Her door opened, revealing Stanley outside. He looked terribly tired, his uniform had wrinkles, the first buttons on his shirt were open. “I was going through,” he paused, surprised he looked around. “Your quarters are smaller than I anticipated.”

“They originally meant for the Admiral to have a bigger one, but since I am not married yet, I didn’t need the bigger ones, and took this one.” Besides I am afraid the other one isn’t as secure. “What brings my first officer here, or is this unofficial?”

For a moment Pryia thought to see a hint of a blush on Stanley’s cheeks. “Sadly I bring work.” He handed her his tablet computer. “It seemed as a software glitch at first, but then I noticed that the checksum of the transmission was off. So I assumed the glitch was on our end, but this ain’t no glitch.”

Reading through the lines on the display Pryia had to dig up her knowledge of these matters, as she was more tasked with politics and tactics lately. “Who did it?”

“That’s the disturbing part, there is no trace of an ID, who ever did it was an expert.” Concerned he took a seat on the couch chair, Pryia sank to her bed, lowering the tablet. “Digitally Enhanced?”

“Could be, they appear to be everywhere. I’ll task chief Lapierre with finding out more about them first thing in the morning.” He rubbed his face, realised that he had sat down without leave, got up again.

“Care to stay for dinner?” Stunned by the sudden and unexpected invitation Stanley took a breath, found no immediate reply, exhaled again.

“A simple yes or no would do.” She rose herself, handed him the tablet. “Just remember it would be polite to accept the invitation of your superior officer.” Winking she turned to the cupboard, after opening it, she produced dried food and water. “Of course I would like to,” she turned around, reaching for his face, laying her index finger on his lips. “Relax Stanley, it’s not official.”

Again there was the hint of a blush on his cheeks. “In that case, Pryia, I would very much like to dine with you.”

 

Dana stood next to the freshly opened transport from Ericsson. Her thoughts however were not with the huge rocket shaped object and its contents, although the Admiral was very much concerned for it. Extra security personnel was commanded to guard it, as the suspicion of sabotage or theft was uttered.

A mere month before her training was over she and her comrades had been sent to guard it. “Until everything is stored you will stay here and guard this thing and all that spills out of it, understood?” Lieutenant Kaleb Johnson, not related to Commander Stanley Johnson, had barked to his recruits. Despite him still looking rather sickly, he had not lost any of his intimidating skills as drill instructor.

Taking half the recruits with him, to be posted along the transport routes, Kaleb took off, Dana was among those to guard the transport.

“You’re in a seldomly good mood?” Julia noted after their superiors had all gone. “My mother contacted me, tomorrow I will have lunch with her.”

Smiles were exchanged before both again looked around with stern expressions. After all they had a job to do. “So what do you think? About the reason for us being here.”

Letting her gaze wander through the large room Dana did not reply immediately. “I think either the Kismet or an unknown faction. I’m not even ruling out Harpys.”

“Attention all decks, at 1800hours there will be a special cast on the news channel, followed by a five minute sermon from the Rhama. Counseling sessions are available outside normal ruster the next few days.” After the announcement silence filled the cargo room. Workers and security personnel stared blankly off into space, all knew what that meant.

Earth’s final destruction.

“Or the linkers.” Dana sighed, pacing around the room, slowly duty continued again.

 

“Viewer discretion is adviced. The following images are a computer simulation of the events taking place at the current time, we will be bringing images based on sensor data as soon as it is available. Do not watch unless prepared for what follows.”

Oceans of brown-blue waste, brown landmasses. Not resembling at all the planet they all had left behind, Earth began to bulge, moments later the surface began to tear open, red glowing magma poured out, caught in the gravitational pull of the approaching neutron star. Chunks of the surface, magma, vapor of the dead water waste that once had been ocean, it all began to break away from earth, as the planet was torn apart. Soon most of the chunks were indistinguishable, it all looked like rock and lava, as it floated away from where earth was into a spiraling disk around the star.

Cuddled against against Stanley, Pryia watched, tears rolled down her cheeks. They had decided to keep their relationship a secret for the time being, which didn’t keep them from spending their time off-duty together. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

“About?” From his voice she could tell had been crying too. “How were we so lucky to get away from earth in order to escape certain doom?”

“You may contribute it to luck or fate, in either case we should count our blessings and carry on. For us there is a long journey ahead, a journey our children will continue, in order for our grandchildren to arrive at the destination. A destination that is in and of itself an adventurous journey.”

Beautifully said. “Our blessings?” Pryia glanced over to his eyes, only centimetres from hers.

“We have the cultural inheritances of the entire human race, we have each other. There is music, poetry, literature, art. We have children’s laughter, joy and sadness, dispair and fulfilment, hate and most importantly, love. These blessings.”

“Commander Johnson,” she sat up, “I never knew you were a philosopher.” Leaning in for a kiss she nibbled his lower lip first.

 

Tired, but at the same time fulfilled, the Rhama sat on his bed. The bed that would then retract into his cryogenic chamber. A series of devices was attached to his skin monitoring his vital signs, as medication flowed down an IV to prepare him for the year long slumber. As the years before he sat with a tablet computer in his hands reading up on current evets he hadn’t been able to catch up on his first day. One day of thawing, one day of freezing, five days in between the two for counselling.

Classified reports on the Harpys and the weird trend of implanting with brain chips had been made available to him, the Admiral had seen to that. She wanted the Rhama to have a full insight on the state of things, after all he also sent messages to the other ships, they were generalised, but still helpful to the crews of Explorer and Horizon.

“I sure hope they get the Harpy threat under control.” By the drag of his tongue he realised how much the medications already affected him. With a nod Pryia stepped closer. “As do I, and I hope they can make it with as little bloodshed on either side as possible.”

The Rhama looked into her eyes, for a long moment he said nothing. “You are worried about what you call the linkers, or as they are referred to in the reports, Digitally Enhanced Humans?”

Again Pryia nodded. She looked at the devices hooked up to the religious leader. It seemed like an enviable alternative to fighting all that hardship, going to sleep and waking up a year later for a few days, just to go back to sleep afterwards. Detaches one somewhat from the difficulties faced by the rest. “You will manage. Those people out there, they are a fine crew, and they will manage.”

“I have every bit of confidence in this ship and its crew, I don’t doubt that we will manage the difficulties ahead of us. It’s just a particularly rough bit that will await us there and then. I fear that it might tear the crew apart.”

Again the Rhama shook his head. “Look.” He pointed at the screen in hia hands. Based on sensor telemetry the computer had rendered an actual depiction of earth’s final moments.

“That is where you come from. Were we all came from. But it isn’t over! We are here. Earth is here. There is plenty of soil, water and plants here, that originally was part of earth. Earth is here!” He pointed at his heart. “Where ever we go, we are home as long as we carry that with us what made earth our home.” He let his hand sink from his chest, it became heavier as he spoke. “And it binds us together. No matter how difficult times might become between you and the linkers, we are one people. Connected by far more than technology. Don’t let your differences tempt you to take drastic measures, they are of your kin.” His tongue had gotten quite heavy, but he smiled, slowly the weight pulled on his eyelids.

“I will take your words to heart. I shall treat them kindly when it comes down to it.” Certain that the difficulties would boil down to a conflict she did not say “if”.

Smiling the Rhama doze off.

 

“It’s an important day for me. You should come.” Dana stared at the tired eyes of her mother. “I’ll be there child.” Lucia Kharkova gave in to her daughter’s urging. “It is after all what makes you happy.”

Delighted Dana smiled, kissing her mother on the cheek for good bye. She left her parents’ quarters on the beta ring and headed to the tube.

To her surprise she found Gant inside the cab that arrived. “Sir.” She greeted him, taking a seat, since they would go through zero G segments on their return voyage to the barracks. “Tomorrow’s the big day, huh?” He finally broke the silende as the weight lifted from their bodies. “Aye sir. Finally the training is over, I already have requested for  transfer to security. They said a letter of recommendation would be helpful.”

Amused smiling, Gant weighed his weightless head. “I’ll see what I can draft up.” He winked.

Career paths after the basic training in the security forces was a fork in the road. Gant had the luck of signing on before these changes were made. Formerly a shipwide security force was split into the military police, the rings own policing forces and lastly military. The latter were added once the Harpy threat was made known from Horizon.

“But be warned, if push comes to shove, it’ll be a jurisdictional disaster.” He sighed.

Next week I’ll definitely join the folks in that club on gamma. Gravity returned to normal once the cab was caught in the right siphon.

“Are your parents going to attend?” Still a few moments away from their destination, Gant wanted to break the silence.

“My mother will, father died two months ago. Doctors said it was a sudden shock of sorts.” Nodding Gant got up from his seat once the straps were open, as did Dana. “My condolences.” He lowered his voice.

“Thank you, but he died with a smile on his lips. Almost triumphant. Perhaps because he had managed to die outside earth.”

The doors opened and released them into the hallways of the sub alpha ring. “Well, I’ll contact you as soon as I have finished that recommendation.” he broke away from her side, striding down to his quarters, and the dining room where he frequently had his food.

 

Prince Shamim remained on the Destiny with his wife and entourage while the other visitors from the Kismet returned to their ship.

Bored he strode through the central gardens on the alpha ring. Fascinated by the diverse plant life he had slowed his pace. Surrounded by advisers he hadn’t had time to do this during his last visit, but now he only had a close friend at his side, while his wife walked with a friend and some entourage a few paces back.

“Enjoying the gardens?” Pryia approached them from a different path. The fields and gardens were mostly fenced off, there was almost no lawn, but knee high plants, as lawn consumed too much water and provided little in return. “Yes, very much.” Shamim gestured around them. “It is a wonderful gift of nature you have here. We have a garden too, but it is a small, cramped place. Stuffed with fruit trees and bushes. Oxygen is produced by algae, as is almost all our food. We are forced to live a Vegan lifestyle, as we don’t have your laboratory capabilities to make meat from stem cells.” Mentally he added that they lacked bovine stem cells from which they could make meat that was allowed to consume even if Destiny was going to hand them the knowledge and technology.

“It is a wonderful garden, and a great substitute for open skies and frsh air, but only a  substitute nome the less.” She pointed at the trees. “Every few nights there is simulated rainfall, turbines produce winds, but during these events access to the gardens is restricted, safety reasons.”

“You miss wind, and rain. Understandably. But be thankful for this garden. It could be worse.” Shamim winked. He looked at the trees, the space between them. “I stayed behind for more reasons than just to admire your gardens, Admiral.”

Looking at the plants in the distance herself Pryia made an agreeing sound. “I figured as much, Prince.”

With a wave of his hand he sent his friend off. “As you might have figured as well, we don’t have a lot to offer for trade.” Noticng the others on the path behind them he picked up speed to stay out of earshot. “We need supplies from you. Materials from Ericsson, food, perhaps even fruit. But most of all, your implants. Think of it as humanitarian aid.”

Pryia felt stunned, all the other items had been on the table during the negotiations, but the implants hadn’t.

“You see, in my culture it is customary to have many children, and while we know that with our limited resources we can’t sustain an ever growing population, but how should we avoid it? Birth control and contraception need constant manufacturing, and resources. The implants however,”

Pryia raised her hand and nodded. Actually glad for the surplus of materials needed to manufacture the implants, she slowed their pace again. “I understand. I will make sure you receive them.” A smile appeared on the Prince’s lips.

I just hope that this is all the surplus materials are needed for. “But we need to keep this a secret, if the people of the Kismet found out, they might reject it.” Shamim hissed before the others from his group caught up to them.

“It will be handled discreetly.”

 

Standing guard outside the storage for the minerals brought in from Ericsson, Dana was furious, although Gant had written the recommendation, it still had to be taken under consideration. Julia stood on the other side of the door, looking rather happy wih their assignment. “It was a great ceremony, wasn’t it?” For two weeks she always brought up their ceremony at the end of their training.

“Yes. It was.” Annoyed with going over the topic once again, Dana let her words out in a deep sigh. Moments passed and Julia did not go over the festivties again. Perhaps she had finally noticed how annoying it was for Dana and the others from their class. Still Dana dared to glance over to Julia. Stunned the other young woman sat on the ground twitching silently from the charged dart in her neck.

Immediately Dana jumped to her, but halfway across the width of the door she felt the sudden sting of a dart, followed by the searing pain of the charge robbing her of her senses.

 

Agony infused darkness took control of her.

As it lifted, the door to the storage room was broken into, Julia sat next to her, both had soiled themselves. Disturbed Dana reached for her glasses. “Security breach, storage compartment 29 sub alpha was broken into.” She breathed more than she could speak. Only moments later the first guards appeared, closely followed by the Admiral and her first officer.

 

“They are up to something.” Pryia whispered to Stanley after they looked around in the storage room, noticing the stolen materials were mostly compounds used for the production of computer parts and chip implants.

Rings of Fate S1E08 – Destiny – 007

With panther like agility a man snuck through the shadows, he had a small gun in his right hand, only three darts in the clip, and just enough power for three short laser bursts. More wasn’t packed into the small device.

Darius watched with great enthusiasm. “Bond. James Bond.” The man had said some time ago, Darius didn’t know how often he had watched the short movie. It was written, made and released on Destiny.

Some sort of a fan production, but then again, very professional. After receiving all the ill news from Horizon about the Harpies, some dinosaur descendants who began attacking the ship soon after it had left the solar system, the entertainment gained from this movie was everything he needed.

Rumor had it that more movies, and even series, were in production aboard the Destiny. Darius didn’t care in the least for most of it. But the new Bond, now working for the Destiny Intelligence Division, instead of MI6, gave him the strength and reassurance he needed.

His glasses called for his attention.

 

Staring at his computer screen, Darius sat in the command centre at the communication console. Admiral Pryia Kanjeet had just talked with the commander of the Ark2, some Saudi prince, who had avoided communication for most of the last two years. The Kismet, as the Ark2 was called now, was in close proximity to the Destiny, they had torn out the antimatter engine and reactor, and replaced it with a fusion reactor, reactorand the same mode of propulsion as Destony, reducing them to a travel speed similar to the Destiny.

Their conversation had dealt with sending a delegation to the Destiny for trade talks. Unlike Destiny and her sisterships, the Saudis still held on to money, but soon had learned that the Destiny had no use for it. Or large quantities of gold.

But goods.

And all the Destiny had to offer was goods in return.

 

Due to intense radiation bursts from the approaching neutron star it hadn’t mattered if the Destiny fired it’s main propulsion or waited to leave the solar system. They took off with haste.

All the while the Kismet was by their side matching their speed, doging asteroids and other debris stirred up by the gravitational eddies from the neutron star.

With unease Darius chased away the memory of those early days. Soon after leaving earth’s orbit communication with earth broke down, even with time dilation compensation there was no further contact, except sporadic chatter on low bands.

But communication with the other ships held up, although it had been made clear not to make direct contact with Horizon, else the Harpys attention might be brought to them. Admiral Kanjeet and the governors were cautious not to get involved in that conflict unless it couldn’t be avoided any longer.

“Mr. Konrads, please inform the governors that a delegation from the Kismet will be arriving next week to start trade negotiations.”

“Aye ma’am.” Darius replied. I’ll be damned if that’s all they want. Sending out a written notice to the governors of alpha and gamma rings after being unable to call them, Darius longed to watch the short movie again.

“Thank you.” The Admiral sat down in her chair, looking over the sent messages. “Well,” she put away her tablet, “that’s that, time for the night shift to take over.” Smiling she welcomed the night shift crew, within a few minutes Darius had told his colleague what had been going on, and then left.

 

The mess hall where Darius ate was half deserted as usual, living and dining in one of the outter decks had its advantages. Some technicians sat around, joking and talking loudly. Even though the administration of Destiny sought to stay out of the Harpy conflict, they refitted the outter most deck for eventual confrontations. Reinforced hull, freely maneuverable canons, emergency separations of the pods. The crews of engineers worked around the clock.

Except when they were eating. “Konrads!” One of them yelled and waved as Darius had gathered his dinner.

“MacPhearson.” Darius returned the greeting, taking his seat at the table where the caller sat with his colleagues. “How do you think this thing is going to end?” MacPhearson displayed a broad smile. “What thing exactly?”

“The talks, I highly doubt that the dinosaurs are going to discover us.” How did they hear of the talks? Darius took a sip of water. “Well, as such things usually go, concessions to rather undesirable conditions for both sides, we give them something, and get something else in return. Or the talks fail completely.”

Laughter arose from a neighboring table, a man with dark skin, black oily hair and dark eyes turned around. “I hear they want the access codes for the relay stations on Ericsson, in return we get some of their produce.”

Putting down his fork MacPhearson stared at the other man. “Hussein, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day. None of our leaders would agree to give them the access codes!”

“Not even for antimatter technology?” Hussein Ibn Alahad replied, still displaying his smug smile. This time it was Darius’ time to chuckle. “Use of Antimatter is banned on the three sisterships, because we lack the knowledge to control it.”

Shrugging his shoulders Hussein turned back to the men at his table.

 

For hours the words of the engineering technician rung in his head. Not even the short adventure on his display could bring his mind at ease.

Darius turmed off the display and laid down.

 

“Seal off the deck.” Darius stated to a security guard. He saluted and left. In the room behind Darius the delegates had sat down for the negotiations, on the otter rim of the alpha ring, where no one lived. Work crews constantly improving the armament and armor of the ship, had been reassigned to other rings for the duration of the talks.

Feeling privileged over his acquaintances from his favorite mess hall, for being able to be present near the negotiations Darius sighed.

Some men from the Kismet also were left standing in the hallway. Some of those were security, some were not.

“Communication?” A bearded man in his thirties approached Darius. “Yes. You too?” Studying the mans white garments Darius started to wonder if he was cold aboard the Destiny, apparently the average temperature aboard the Kismet was higher.

“Affirmative. I wanted to ask,” he reached for his beard, “do you think there’s a way to increase the dataflow rate between your ship and ours?” Nervously he looked around, Darius couldn’t say if it was to ensure no other Destiny crew members were listening, or others from Kismet. “Our databanks didn’t get the full load of western movies and TV shows, yet I know a few people who would love to see them.” He spoke in a hushed voice, obviously he was hiding from the other Kismet members.

Laying his forehead in wrinkles Darius also looked around. He realised that the two of them were rather isolated. The next person stood at least five to six meters away. A Destiny security guard.

“Let me guess, this isn’t part of the negotiations?” A nod was his reply. “In that case,” Darius smirked, “we can work out something.”

 

Night had just begun as Darius wandered through the deserted hallway. In the dimmed light of simulated night the generously dimensioned hallway seemed to tighten.

There had been no breakthrough in the trade negotiations with the Kismet crew yet. After a day of long talks they had retreated to their quarters, the negotiators from Destiny had done the same. Abdul ben Mustafa, the media interested man who had approached Darius, went with his superiors, but had spent the time before that with him. From him he had learned that the series and movies he was interested in weren’t forbidden, not even undesired, but hadn’t seemed necessary at the time.

Upgrading the computer storage space aboard the Kismet was the least concern of the Emirates when they had to rebuild the ship to be used for generations, instead of Antimatter fuelled, relatively short time use.

“Good evening!” A woman greeted him. She wore the garments of someone who went to jog. Variety in clothing was limited. Her black straight hair was held together in a strict ponytail by a nearly invisible black hairband. “Good evening?”

“You almost look like the new Bond, sulking in the shadows of a nightly hallway.” She giggled, looking at him fromnhead to toe.

“Hardly,” he smiled, “I am too short, too unfit. But thank you for the compliment. Did you like the new film?”

“Yes.” A strand of hair had broken free of its restraints and fell in her face. “But I think you look like him, your movements and posture are like his.”

Darius felt sudden heat on his cheeks. “I loved it, the movie I mean. Maybe I watched it too often, started to walk like him.” Sighing he hoped he could land a date with the unknown woman with the pale skin.

“Maybe.” She again looked him up and down. “If you want to talk more about movies, contact me. My name is Irina Brekic.” Winking she stretched, obviously starting her jog. “Good night, Mr. Bond.” She jogged off.

 

Strained from a night spent sprawled in front of his screen, after falling asleep watching movies, Darius stood with heavy bones, aching joints and back, at the reception again.

But not for a festive occasion.

Negotiations were cancelled for the time being.

Instead the security teams from both Destiny and Kismet stood around, armed, and grim looking. “There had been a murder.” Admiral Kanjeet had announced to them. All personnel that had access to the diplomatic quarters had been rounded up. Kismet and Destiny personnel alike. He saw Abdul in the other row across the room. He seemed equally tired. Probably had spent his night watching the western media too.

“A murder in the diplomatic envoy! Since not that many people have access to the diplomatic quarters on the outter rim, you will all be interrogated.” Not all of the Kismet crew spoke English, so Abdul had to translate for them.

Most of the Kismet crew felt uncomfortable accepting orders from a woman, especially an infidel.

“Where were you last night, between 2200 and 0100?” Watched over by a bearded guy, who seemed to have shoulders as broad as he was tall, and a blond counterpart in Destiny’s uniform, a man with leathery skin sat opposite of Darius at a small table. “In my quarters, watching movies and sleeping. Although I only came home at about half past ten.” He fidget with his fingers, he already had excused himself for that, but he was really nervous in front of authority figures. The man pressed a few buttons on his tabket computer, nodded witha satisfied expression. “Computer log of your implant trace confirms that.”

Although he knew that he hadn’t done anything, Darius still felt relief. “Were you in contact with anyone from the Kismet?”

In a few words, all the while working hard to hide his nervousness showing in his words, he told of Abdul, and his inquiries. “Who else have you talked to yesterday?”

Exhaling audibly Darius leaned back, a sudden wave of relaxation overcame him. “My colleagues, the people in the diplomatic entourage at the reception, Abdul and a Miss Brekic.” His interrogator looked up from his tablet.

“Irina Brekic?”

Darius nodded, wanted to reply, but only then did he realise that he hadn’t been spoken to. Instead the door opened, dressed in the uniform of the Destiny armed forces security detail, Irina entered. Her hair tied to a knot.

“Sir?”

“You know this man?” The interogator pointed at Darius.

“Yes sir, although not by name, sir. We met yesterday as I went for a jog.”

Nodding the interogator looked back down at his computer, dismissed Irina with a wave of his hand.

 

Feeling drained even more of strength and will, Darius stumbled out of the interrogation room. Four hours of questioning, seemingly nonsensical questions at times, what movies Abdul was interested in for example, had left him dazed.

“You didn’t have to get interrogated to see me again, Mr. Bond.” Irina came around the corner near his cabin. “I honestly would’ve called, instead of that interrogation!”

Smiling Irina took up walking beside him. “Well, since I was hoping for us to meet this evening, I am all free tonight.”

All exhaustion fell off of Darius immediately.

 

From the last night only flashes, like vague glimpses into another realm of existence, remained in Darius’ mind. Irina had spent the night, but he could’ve pieced that together from waking up beside her. They spent most of the time talking about varius movies, mostly the spy and thriller movies, watching a few of them.

Over the course of time one thing had led to another.

 

“Kismet demands to be let in on the investigation.” He read the message he had just received. Since the murder of the diplomatic attaché, he, and the others on the diplomatic rim, had not been allowed back to their usual duties, but still he relayed communiques.

“Let them hear static, they should be talking with their team here. After all we’re including them from the go.” Admiral Kanjeet replied.

In a corner she sat on a table, feet perched up on the chair. In her hand the tablet computer with witness reports, her glasses sat beside her, still displaying something, but Darius didn’t care what exactly.

Immediately his mind wandered off again, to the security officer he had found lying beside him that morning. After breakfast they had returned to their respective duties.

“Admiral?” Darius’ interrogator entered the room, he eyed Darius carefully, then handed the Admiral a tablet computer.

“Altered computer logs?” The Admiral gazed at him. “On all the doors in the outter most rim.” He confirmed, again looking around. For Darius it felt as if he was looking for him in particular, but he scanned the room for any reactions from the present people.

Within a heartbeat the Admiral had copied the particular report to her own tablet, handing back the other one to the security officer. “Who has the knowledge to do such a thing?” She asked.

“The knowledge? Many people, the skills and security clearance to actually do it? Only a few.” Ponderous the man strode across the room. “Mr. Konrads, would you mind following me?”

Insecure Darius got up. “I was watching movies, logs confirm that.”

“Logs can be altered, and they have been. So, please, come with me.” Unwilling Darius followed the man outside.

 

“Last time I had neglected to introduce myself. My name is Nusrat Savic. I was given to understand you’re still meeting with Miss Brekic?” Again they had taken seat at the table in the small room. With one word Darius confirmed.

“Are you aware that she has both the clearance and skills necessary to alter computer logs?” Remaining silent Darius felt as if something, or someone was trying to tie a knot around his neck. “I doubt she is helping you, if you are responsible for the actions you’re here to be questioned about.” A little relief came over Darius’ mind. “However,” concerned Darius noticed that there were no guards at the door this time, “if you should be using her, or if you are just hurting her, know that blood is thicker than water, and for my niece I’ll cross boundaries.” Gulping Darius sat up straight. Although the feeling of closing knots around his neck had vanished, he still felt somewhat trapped.

“I have no intention of hurting her, sir.”

Giving him a glare that said everything that needed to be said, Nusrat returned to his computer. “Here,” he handed the tablet to Darius. “this is a system similar to the one, one would need to overcome to change computer logs. Data from your implant will reveal if you’re holding back.” Is this even legal? Or possible? Darius began typing, after a few moments an alarm rang from the small computer. “You failed.” With some degree of satisfaction Nusrat stared through the glasses at Darius. “And you honestly tried.”

Reluctantly Darius handed the device back. “Am I free to go now?”

Dismissed with a nod Darius hurried out of the room, headed back to the room in which most of his colleagues sat.

 

“Growing concerns arise in the admiralty as the case of a murder in the diplomatic entourage remains unsolved. Are the trade talks in jeopardy? Or worse? Stay with us, in our news talks at seven the whole case gets debated by our top journalists.” Darius turned around to the Admiral. Other headlines followed, including one about a new party drug like implant, before the programme returned to the daily routine of TV shows produced on the Destiny, and old ones from Earth.

“How did this get out?” Her voice close to shrieking Admiral Kanjeet had jumped off the table, marched through the room. “Unknown.” First officer commander John Lewis replied over the intercom line.

“It is out, now we need to contain it.” He resumed.

Pryia stopped dead in her tracks, shook her head and resumed pacing around the room. “Prepare a statement. We need to calm this situation.” She sighed, closing the transmission.

 

As his shift ended Darius strode down the hallway towards his quarters. “Hello friend.” From a corridor Abdul stepped into the main hallway. “Hello.”

“I haven’t quite had the time to thank you properly.” The tall man mumbled beneath his beard, he looked around nervously. “There is no need. As long as you hold up your end of the bargain. Any production from the Kismet for our stuff, your archives for ours.” mumbling too, Darius replied.

With a hastily whispered greeting, Abdul vanished into the next corridor.

Except for security personnel, the hallway was empty. Plants rose from pots on either side of the corridor, spending oxygen, and most would bear fruit sooner or later. Bioengineers had taken their cue from Explorer, and the votes of the people. Grasses grew in lanes at the sides of the hallway. No lawn though.

“Good evening.” Abruptly torn away from his thoughts of the uselessness of lawn, Darius looked at Irina leaning against the wall, her bare feet in the grass.

“The same to you. You could’ve told me that Mr. Savic was your uncle.” Glad he had not to deal with his interrogator, but the lovely niece, Darius remained calm.

“I had given it no thought, but how about we spend the evening in front of the screen?” Irina extended her hand to him. “Gladly. What are watching?”

A playfulness surrounded her smile as she replied with a quote. “Good evening, Mister Bond.”

 

Like small twigs spreading from a branch, dimly lit corridors split off of the main hallway. It was the dim corridors that the man stuck to. Outside a common room he found what he was searching for.

“Good evening friend.” The tall man outside the common room greeted another. “I believe I have gained the trust of someone here, sneaking in the Trojan over the communication line shouldn’t be a problem. The access codes for the Ericsson station should be in our hands soon, whether they trade for it, or not.”

Hidden in the shadow of a citrus tree the man smirked, the glasses he wore had done their job of automatic translation well.

“Good, but we must be cautious, they will monitor the communication line well. Besides, I’m worried that the murder of Hakeem was no coincidence.” The other person replied, nervously looking around, but glancing over the hidden man only meters from them.

Time to go.

The two men continued their conversation, but had switched to different matters. Staying with the back corridors, the man from the shadows waited in a safer distance for the two to split up.

After what seemed like ages the two finally departed, headed in different directions.

“Hello, friend.” Surprised the tall man looked into the darkness behind a small willow. It stood at the corner of a corridor leading to the main hallway. “Hello? Who are you?”

“Just a friend.” A moment later a tasing dart stuck in the tall man’s chest. “What exactly are your plans with the access codes?”

Fiddling with his gun in the shadows, resetting it to a higher dose for the tasing darts. “I don’t know what you are talking about!”

“I overheard you talking back there. There is no need denying it.” His glasses were wired into the environmental sensors of the hallway. He did not see the other man, but noticed his presence due to body heat and oxygen levels.

The tall man on the ground only saw two shadows hitting each other, heard a few curse words. His friend, whom he had talked to minutes earlier fell into view, twitching uncontrollably, emptying his bladder.

A taser dart stuck in his forehead.

“I haven’t had an answer from you yet.” The man in the shadows said, somewhat short on breath. Still feeling paralysed from his taser shot the tall man breathed heavily in his beard. “Secure fissionable compounds, we need to have all the weaponry we can get.”

“Do the sheiks know?”

“No. We’re operating covertly. The less people know, the better. If our leaders knew, they would negotiate for such compounds. But they have lost all connection to reality. And the threats your people have brought upon us.” The man in the shadows knew that his captive was talking about the Harpies. Although details had been kept secret, Horizon sent only encrypted messages, but news casts from the Destiny had not been encrypted.

In the vague light of the dim hallway the tall man on the ground only saw the gun pointing at him. “Please, I only do what is necessary!”

“So do I.” Another dart followed.

 

“Two men dead, and one vanished without a trace!” Prince Shamim yelled, spittle flew from his mouth. “And all that within four days of arriving on your vessel!”

The Admiral tried to calm him, since he already started to turn red. Helpless and tired Darius watched. He stood a few steps behind the Admiral.

“This is an outrage! Abdul ben Mustafa was part of my family’s entourage since before I was born! A dear friend of my uncle, and I demand you find out where he is, immediately!” Darius’ heart skipped a beat. His newly acquainted friend Abdul was the missing man.

“Please sir, calm down.” A personal assistant of the prince approached him. “These people are trying to get behind the mystery. If we keep them from doing so, it is our fault if they can’t find him, not theirs.” Calmed a little by the older man’s soothing words and voice the prince turned away from the Admiral.

For a brief moment Darius thought he could see the man’s distain for having to talk to a woman. It passed as quickly as it had come.

“We urge you to increase your efforts, and we would kindly request to be closer involved in the questioning of suspects.” The older man continued, addressing the Admiral. “Alright, it is the least we can do at this time.” She sighed. “Konrads, raise security chief Savic and inform him that our guests will add personnel to the investigation and questioning.”

Saluting Darius strode across the room, and called the uncle of Irina. After the call was not answered he tried again.

The third time he called security in general. “I can’t get through to Chief of security, Nusrat Savic, there is urgent information,” he stopped abruptly. Heat rose to his face, as an eerie cold grasped him tightly around the chest. “Repeat that Irina.” What felt like a breathed reply was louder than he anticipated.

“My uncle is dead.”

 

A doctor stood over the chief’s body. He had not started an autopsy. Neither had he done so with the other bodies in the make shift morgue. Originally intended as a refrigerated pantry for the adjacent kitchen and common room, it now was used as morgue. For religious reasons neither of the two murder victims from the Kismet had been touched, other than to bring them to the morgue. “There is no need to open him.” The man said in a calm voice. “According to his implant he died from somewhat natural causes.”

“Somewhat?” Pryia raised her eyebrows, wrinkling her forehead. “His heart and lungs stoped working.” pausing he glanced from his virtual viewscreen in his glasses to the Admiral and Irina who stood in front of Darius. “Because, the implant triggered a gland in his brain to spill so much of the hormone that paralyses your muscles while sleeping, that these were paralysed.” Sighing he pushed the glasses to the top of his head. “Meaning, he was murdered, but the cause can be found without opening him up.”

Clenching her fists Irina stared at her uncle. His features were peaceful, unlike the image that Darius had of him. With a nod Pryia told Darius to get Irina out of the morgue. “Thank you doctor.”

“He was the only one of my family left. He practically raised me!” Irina’s voice was clear, no trembles. But sharp pronunciations.

Tightly she clenched his hand. “I need to find my uncle’s murderer!” She hissed. Staring in his eyes.

“Calm down, please.” Pressing the words through his teeth, trying not to show how much her tight grip hurt, his words sounded like an angry hiss too.

“Help me, instead of being an ass. Take a que from the movies, and help me. Bond would.”

Something in Darius’ mind flickered. Images flashed before his eyes, sounds rang in his ears. “What did you say?” Both the unusual experience and the pain in his hand fought for supremacy.

“I said help me.” She jerked his hand, close to an angry fit of throwing them away. “Anid I said that Bond would help me! Be like Bond!”

More flickers.

“Yes, Moneypenny.” With a blank stare Irina’s grip loosened, gently Darius slipped his hand from hers. “It was you. And me. From the get go.” He opened and closed his hand, pumping blood into his fingers.

“It was, I think. How?”

More flickering memories haunted Darius as he worked his fingers. “Link?” He tapped her forehead, and then his.

“The implant? I didn’t,”

 

Darkness, sliced into pieces by lasers and other lights of the lightshow, basses trembled through the room, through the body. Darius sat at a table with Irina.

It has been mere hours since they met, both had come to the bar in search of something. Darius on his own, Irina as covert mission.

The party drug, or rather implant. Someone had taken the technological details from the Harpy implants sent by the Horizon, and had fashioned something similar. “Adjustment complete.” Both spoke as one, together with a woman who sat at the table with them. Unheared by either, but felt in their linked minds, a few dozen other people had said the same thing.

 

Sitting in the grass outside Darius’ quarters Irina rubbed her temples. He stood leaning against the wall a few steps away. “If I activated you, who activated me?”

Wishing for nothing more than a cigarette Darius fiddled with a leaf. “Who else but M?” His chuckle died in his throat. “No seriously, it was him.” He pointed in the direction they had come from. Pain striken Irina pinched her nose between her eyes. “Uncle, what have you done?”

A woman entered the section of the hallway they were in, immediately both turned silent. As Irina, she too wore the uniform of a security officer. “Good evening.” She stopped, looked around and then stepped closer. “Your implants have shut down, the strain of suppressing part of your memory and orders was too much.”

A non verbal question seemed to form on both their faces. “The new M you could say. Your uncle was murdered by agents of the Kismet.” With a slight hint of a smile she turned to Darius. “As was the first victim. He had accidentally uncovered their plans to nick the access codes and was about to inform the prince. The man you captured last night, Abdul ben Mustafa, was very talkative.”

Calming himself, mostly with the memories of his actions, Darius straightened his own uniform. “We need to inform the Admiral.”

“No need.” new M replied calmly. “Everything has been set in motion.”

 

Looking at Abdul with disdain the prince sat at the table, next to Admiral Kanjeet on one side, and his personal advisor on the other. “Your uncle gave the orders, he wanted to obtain the access codes to gain the vital materials. With this he could’ve overwhelmed your father, and succeeded him.”

Grinding his teeth in silence the prince gave a wave of his hand, immediately two guards swept towards Abdul, took him into their custody.

With the case of the murders resolved the prince took a deep breath. “Thank you, Admiral. This plot could have endangered both our ships’ security and safety.”

Determined to see someone pay for the treachery he rose. “Our negotiations will be postponed, I must return home.”

 

After having seen the diplomatic envoy off, the Admiral returned to the former diplomatic rim. In a holding cell she looked at Darius and Irina. “I expect a full debrief of your mission. I want all the names you can give me. I don’t like a secret agency aboard this ship, especially if I am unaware of it and its actions!” Leaning on the table she looked from one to the other and back. “Get writing, once you’re done report to the infirmary to have those things removed from your brains.”

 

Uncertain whether their feelings for one another are genuine or were produced by the implants to aid in their mission Irina and Darius entered the infirmary, holding hands nonetheless. “Come into my office.” Sporting strains of grey hair the woman in the doctors coat waved them towards herself.

Taking a seat at her desk the two exchanged an awkward look. “We’re here to have,”

“I know exactly why you’re here, the Admiral has informed me.” She waved to a person behind the two, immediately the door to the office shut. A woman in security guard uniform stood outside, clearly visible through the glass door.

“Well, Mister Bond, Miss Moneypenny, seems you need to remember who we are, and that you belong to us.”

Rings of Fate S1E07 – Horizon – Company

“Good Morning, Doctor.” Greeted with a russian accent, always the emphasis on his title, Johannes sat up in bed.

Oleksandra did so too, next to him. “Slept well?”

“No, not really.” He never did since the first encounter with the Harpyies, years of bad sleep had left him with deep wrinkles around the eyes. “You?”

Looking across the room to the small bed standing in the corner, a little child of three years slept in it. “Not as good as him, but well.”

Their son Alfons always slept well, at least that’s how it seemed. Careful not to wake him the two got up, got dressed and had a small breakfast, before waking him up.

Daycare was one deck below the central garden in the ring, one of the most safe places on board.

 

Before starting his day shift in the sub alpha infirmary, he went to the captured Harpy. As everyday. Check on her and her two children.

Daily routine.

Sven and his spouse Jana had set up a learning station in the cell, it was not connected to the computer network, still it was feared that she might try something funny.

“Doctor?” Just as he was leaving the room. “Yes?” Turning around to Jana he wished for coffee.

Real coffee.

Not the artificial stuff that the scientists had conjured up to satisfy the needs of overworked staff. “We have detected a low level signal emanating from them,” she pointed over her shoulder at the family of Harpies. “and were wondering if you could take a look at it.” Offering him a tablet computer Johannes’ wish for a coffee increased. “Looks like brainwaves.” He paused.

Why would brainwaves emanate from the Harpies? Puzzled he shuffled back to the cell. Immediately the mother came to the bars, over time she had developed an understanding with him. Without even attempting to bridge the language barrier he showed her the display.

His research had revealed that the Harpies would never be able to speak a human language. Their throat and tongue were simply incapable of forming the same sounds.

But sign language, that they could learn.

Touching her head she told him that there were implants in her brain, and before nesting the same implants were formed in the fetus developing in the egg. “She had deactivated hers.” Sven noted, pointing at previous readings. “They turned on yesterday.”

Turning back to the Harpy, Johannes looked her in the eyes.

Eyes that had started their evolution on earth, yet different to human eyes. They could see ultraviolet light, the lasers the guards carried, the ones mounted outside the ship to destroy hazards to the ship, were clearly visible to them, whilst remaining invisible to the naked human eye. “What is the reason?” He kneeled down to her and the two young Harpies. Sven and Jana often forgot that she understood every word they said, whilst incapable of speaking the human languages.

“Listening.”

 

On the way to the infirmary Johannes detoured to the ready room next to the command centre. Solomon spent most of his nights there, much to his wife’s disliking. Often had she inquired whether he had an affair with someone, but the only affair that Johannes could testify to was Solomon’s work.

“Thought I’d find you here.” He woke his friend, handing him a caffeine drink. “I hoped you brought coffee.”

“We’re out of coffee.” Johannes lied, he had dedicated some of his personal space to raising coffee, one day when there was enough he’d have a nice birthday gift for Solomon. “We have a problem. Sven is investigating, but I think we have a follower.”

As tired as he was, immediately Solomon was wide awake. “A what?”

Quickly he told him about the implants discovered in their guests, much like the implants they themselves used, but with certain extras.

“So they turned on because of a remotely sent wake up call?”

“I had my assistants look up the ones in storage, the ones we took from the fallen Harpies a few years back, they activated shortly at the same time, but went dead immediately. No power.”

From Solomon’s pocket a familiar vibrating noise arose. Either his wife, or Sven, Johannes figured. “Just wanted to give you a heads up.” On his way to the door he stopped. “And sleep at home, I’m growing tired of telling your wife that you have an affair,” he paused smirking malevolently, “with the bloody ship.”

With a soft thud the pillow Solomon threw at him hit the wall next to the door, both men laughing.

 

Listening to endless reports of repairs, and upgrades, Solomon kept thinking of Johannes’ words. “Give me a line to Dr. Håkland.” He interrupted the report, fidgeting with his glasses, it had been his wife calling earlier.

Just as Johannes had implied, she was worried he might have an affair. It took him an hour to convince her that he did not. His heart belonged to her.

And Horizon.

“I understand you’re looking into matters concerning a signal?” Clearly a pause of stunned silence, probably silent curses, followed as a reply. “That is correct, but the nature of it is a mystery to us. Mother Harpy managed to turn her signal off again, but her children can’t. They’re simply too young.” Puzzled looks from his officers accompanied the conversation with Sven for Solomon. “Does this mean we’re currently signalling loudly into space?”

“If you are afraid that we are like a shining beacon in the darkness of night, I can relieve you of that fear. Signal strength is too weak to travel far before being swallowed up by CBR.” Short range communication perhaps? “Keep investigating, try to dampen it.”

 

The line went dead, somewhat angry at Johannes, Sven turned back to Jana and the Harpies. Even though she had proven to be anything but a threat, there still were plenty of armed guards in the room.

The Admiral kept them on rotation, so they wouldn’t form an emotional bond with their captives. Typing on a tablet computer the Harpy mother tried to fashion a counter signal. In all those years she hadn’t given them so much as a name, Sven wondered. Again.

“She thinks a signal on the same frequency, with similar modulation should suppress the outgoing signal.” Nodding he pinched his eyes.

He wasn’t so much interested in suppressing the signal, as in finding out what turned it on. Outside interference from the other Harpies obviously, but to what end?

 

“How was your day, Doctor?” Oleksandra greeted her husband, their son Alfons was sleeping at Solomon’s place, after a little consideration they had received permit to have a second child. Aboard the Horizon that was granted easily to parents. Third and fourth children as well.

Too many lives were lost to maintain the same policies that applied to Explorer and Destiny. The later already having left earth a month early, firing away their engines at full capacity to evade any more debris from the neutron star.

“Long, and boring for the most part. How about yours Chief?” He unbuttoned his shirt to get a little more comfortable. Dimming the lights in the room to simulate candlelight Oleksandra stepped closer. “Interesting. There is an energy disturbance that has an effect on the magnetic locks of the fusion reactor, almost like a tide, as if something was orbiting it.” She moved closer for a kiss, was stopped by Johannes’ gasp. “There are implants in the harpys that have activated.”

A finger pushed gently on his lips. “Later. Maybe in the morning?” Seduced by the tone in her voice and the look in her eyes Johannes nodded.

 

Beeping.

Ever repetitive beeping. Hylia opened her eyes. Immediately she saw her children look around in confused manner.

Her eyes narrowed to mere slits.

The implant was active again. Had the mammals not turned on the dampening field? “Hush.” She tried to calm her young, concentrating.

There was a message in the beeps. Her eyes widened, quickly she rose to her feet, rushed to the bars. The mammals couldn’t understand her language, but they always gathered someone who could communicate with her if she yelled long enough.

 

“We hadn’t set up the dampening signal yet. Now she’s croaking like crazy!” Jana briefed Solomon on their way to the cell. He had messy hair, barely had been asleep for two hours. For the first time in ages he had spent his evening and night at home, much to his family’s delight. He hadn’t seen Alfons in a long time either and was surprised to see him there. “So you think she received instructions, or a message?”

“She outright told us so.” Sven confirmed as the two entered the cell room.

Cradling her two children the Harpy sat in the middle of her cell. In those eyes Solomon saw a plight he had though the harpys incapable of.

 

“Wake up!” Shaken rather violently by his wife Johannes opened his eyes. “We should have reported to Solomon.” She stated with a hint of urgency in her voice. Obviously his expression told of his confusion more than he ever could verbally.

“The magnetic tide I told you about?” Nodding he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “According to the Harpy there is a ship following us in close proximity.” Suddenly wide awake he jumped off the bed. “How do you know?” A glance at the time told him it was three in the morning.

Wordless she held up her glasses and raised her eyebrows. While gettingn dressed she told him that the hidden ship was a one-seater Harpy stealth ship. Originally for recon missions, but the Harpy in captivity feared that their engines were either faulty or manipulated so the ship functioned much like a bomb.

Johannes cursed the coffee supplement, he yearned for real coffee just as Solomon was. “So now, you think the anomaly in the magnetic field is the alien vessel?” He downed the supplement anyways.

“Yes. What else could it be?”

Hastily the two left their quarters, heading for the tube. “You’re going to engineering?” Surprised that she entered the cab with him he felt the need to ask. “No, meeting with the Admiral, he requested your presence as well.”

 

As soon as Oleksandra had started talking her technological details, Johannes felt lost. From the faces of the other men and women in the meeting he gathered that they felt likewise. With the exception of Sven.

“The tide therefore might be an indication of where the harpy ship is.” Silence followed Oleksandra’s closing statement, as the memebrs of the meeting tried to comprehend what she just had said to them.

“Dr. Håkland?” Solomon turned to Sven, past the screens with the video called elected officials. “We can’t detect a vessel. Not on infrared, visible or ultraviolet sensors, it is also not emitting any other signs of it’s presence, nor reflecting anything.”

Use a magnet then, a compass perhaps? Solomon bit his tongue. “Try to find out where it is, once we have found it, what are the options?”

“We can’t shoot it, if that is what you’re suggesting.” Sven immediately retorted. “Wether it is an engine malfunction or intent, shooting it, even if we could get a weapons lock, would destabilise it even more, possibly detonate it right away.” An eerie silence followed his words.

“Can you remove the implants?” After what seemed an eternity Solomon addressed Johannes. “Not without killing them. Their implant sits deep inside the brain, ours is subdermal. But why don’t we dampen the signal instead?”

Again Sven spoke up, the signal wasn’t the source of the problem, just a symptom, and one they shouldn’t tamper with, for it gave them advanced warning.

Nodding in agreement Solomon sighed, drawing up a representation of the Horizon. A tiny blob was circling it around subgamma. “We need to find out the following, people,” he exhaled. “What distance is the Harpy ship from us, what yield will the detonation have? I want options for disposing of it, and options to repair it and bring it in.”

“Bring it in? Are you mad?” Diane Lexington yelled from her screen, the gamma ring governor seemed quite agitated. “It has probably antimatter and other unstable substances aboard. That stuff was the undoing of the Ark1, we mustn’t lay our unexperienced and obviously incapable hands upon such technology!” Why do I get the feeling she has a bible under her pillow? Johannes mused, waiting for the reply from Solomon. “We could secure important enemy military technology, besides, with our captive Harpy eengineer we do have someone capable and experienced at our disposal.”

“Assuming she’s willing to help.” Governor Gustav Degenhauser from beta ring spoke up. “I concur with my colleague, we mustn’t let this thing nearer to us than it already is.”

The hostile atmosphere oozing from the video calls into the conference room was almost tangible, Johannes felt overwhelmed by it, wondered how Solomon felt. “My dear governors, your offices gave me, or rather my command, emergency ruling for the duration of this crisis. Therefore, any military decision, any decision concerning our safety, is not yours to make. Your objections are duly noted, and I will take them under consideration. But if it should proove feasible to bring this thing under our control, we will do it.”

Enraged Governor Lexington ended her call, greeting the round respectfully, but distantly cool, Governor Degenhauser followed her example.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, including a reassurance of full support in the matter, the last of the governors, Adrian Gilbert, who had managed to get reelected, also left the conference call.

“Joe,” sitting back down Solomon buried his face in his hands, “if that thing should blow, and the ship isn’t torn to shreds, what will the survivors face?”

Stunned Johannes looked to Sven, who slightly shook his head. “Radiation of all sorts, we haven’t got the slightest clue what kind of radiation this thing could set free. Safest place would be in the central tubes” how I hate the very idea of those, “inside the individual rings, or ring remnants.” Nodding Solomon muttered that he already thought likewise. “I’ll get crews to make a habitat there.” Oleksandra offered, the doubt in her voice clearly showing. “But the question of energy would then have to be considered. The fusion reactor would probably go, and the fission reactors would most likely not react well to that beating, and the radiation spilled on them from outside.”

Rubbing his temples by now, Solomon closed his eyes. Clearly he had hardly slept himself.

“Work on solutions, dismissed.”

Hastily all took off, leaving Johannes and Solomon alone. “Trouble sleeping?” Johannes approached his friend. “Is not sleeping trouble with sleeping?”

“I can always drug you. As the chief medical officer aboard I can temporarily relieve you of duty.” Raising his hands to fend off the threat, Solomon sighed that he’d be off to his quarters if Johannes kept his sedatives to himself.

 

Alfons was lying sprawled over half of the bed between Johannes and Oleksandra, his steady breathing had a calming effect on both of their moods, but still sleep eluded them.

“How about an EMP?” Johannes whispered, causing no reaction in the child, “To disable the Harpy ship I mean.”

“Could set off their engines.” Was the breathed reply. “Besides, I think they’re protected against that sort of interference.”

For hours they had passed ideas between them. There was an idea manifesting in Johannes’ mind that he didn’t want to even consider, let alone suggest. Yet his subconscious always returned to it. Why not implant one of the salvaged implants into one of us and direct the Harpys to abandon their plan?

“Think I’m gonna call in sick and take something to sleep.” He pinched his eyes.

 

Sleep had been catching up to Solomon, like a predator stalking its prey, it fell over him, dragging him in and not releasing him for ten hours. Sharon awaited him with the breakfast, despite the late hour. After having breakfast with her he left for work. Their son had been off to school hours earlier.

“Good day Admiral,” first officer Nikolai Assanov greeted him with a smile, “I was about to send the status report to the other ships.”

“Don’t.” Solomon sighed, “Our harpy had caught on to our language pretty quickly. Perhaps her brethren have too, work it over and delete every and any reference to our Harpy satellite.”

Saluting Nikolai went to work on the report, while Solomon began his shift by going over the status reports of the various stations.

“Wouldn’t this be news worthy for the crew on Ericsson? We’re due to pick them up soon.” Solomon let his tablet computer sink, pondering he stared at the blank view screen. “They’re incapable of handling an encrypted message right now. The Harpies might be able to understand a clear transmission. If something should happen so we can’t pick them up, they’ll wake up on their own and wait it out for Destiny to get them.” With that he returned to his reports, leaving Nikolai to his report.

 

Feeling a burning sensation in his eyes Sven watched the Harpy type on the tablet computer he had handed her. “Why didn’t you dampen the signals?” She had inquired before. It took several attempts on her part because sign language wasn’t Sven’s strong side. “We need to fool your brethren, we’re afraid they’ll detonate right away if we cut you off.” He had replied at last. Seeming to understand the Harpy had set to work.

Certain aspects of engineering never had been her strong side, but she had a basic knowledge of the physics behind the military technologies.

She turned the tablet over to Sven. “Antiphotons?” He exhailed, with his eyebrows raised and forehead in wrinkles.

Trying to recall what the humans meant by the word photon she too pondered for a moment, but finally signaled “yes.”.

Feeling overwhelmed Sven turned his eyes back to the tablet. Equations that made no sense to him seemed to lurk there, ready to take his sanity hostage.

“Can we access the ship?”

Looking at him in a fascinated fashion the Harpy blinked. “Maybe.” Glancing to her young she felt the urge to cry out and attack something. Her loyalties were now torn apart. On one hand she never wanted to betray her people, but on the other she was afraid. Not for herself. Signing up for service meant to be ready to die.

But her young never were asked to commit. “If you give me sensor access, and physical transport, I will access that ship and reign it in.”

 

Narrowed to mere slits Solomon looked at Sven as he reported to him. Johannes sat beside him. “Display security camera footage.” He turned to Jana.

On the wall behind Dr. Håkland the video was displayed. “Notice how she looks to her children,” Johannes sighed. “she is as concerned for them as any mother. Her loyalties lie with them, and their well being.” He grinned. It was a victorious grin. Even though he, or they had not won anything, for the safe keeping of her children she would betray her kin.

 

Solomon sat in the command centre, his eyes fixed on the screen, pieced together from various cameras and sensors on the whisker probes, the outside of the ship, a mosaic of the aft – section was displayed. “Applying the specified filter.” Nikolai stated. Against the black background, here and there a star, a blob appeared. It was more a smudge, like a distortion in the visual feed. But it appeared on all feeds, and it circled the ship around the subgamma ring. “It won’t clear up.” The first officer reported.

“We only need the position, prepare the capsule.” The latter part of his sentence was directed at Sven and Johannes who stood by in subgamma. “You realize that this might not work?” Sven glanced at the Harpy. A stasis chamber that had been damaged during the first encounter with the harpys had been refitted hastily to fit inside the tube that led from the fusion reactor to space.

It was one of several such tubes, designed to vent the plasma from the reactor into space in case anything critical happened. Using the magnetic locks in place to guide the plasma out, the chamber would be shot out into space, directed at the smudge on sensors. Inside the harpy would have limited time to breathe and little maneuverability.

“What do I or we, have to lose?” After gesturing the Harpy climbed inside her capsule. “Call me Hylia.” She signalled before the hatch closed. After all the years she had finally given them her name, another small victory for Johannes, at least something that felt like a victory.

 

Pressed into the hard cushioned bottom of her capsule, Hylia felt forces press her down like she never had felt before. Inertial dampening in the capsule was a luxury not included. After a second she was ejected from the tube, the mammals had a computer calculated trajectory for her to rendezvous with the other ship. Two seconds went by without anything happening.

Reigned in by the magnetic pull of the altered drive in the spy ship her capsule was drawn to the ship. All the time she had her implant active, so the vessel, or its pilot if there was any, would recognise her and let her aboard.

She hoped.

A metallic thud echoed through the narrow interior of the capsule as it hit the ship. Only a narrow part of the ship had become visible to her at that instant.

Just as she had hoped and intended the ship, or its pilot, had pulled the capsule in towards a docking port, while she tried to gain access to the ship, the hatch got opened from the other side. “Nice to see you could escape!” A matron looked at her. “Not that it would do you a lot of good.” Hylia climbed aboard the vessel, it was crammed, narrow, even for their standards. After living aboard the mammalian ship for years now she had gotten used to tall rooms, simulated daylight patterns, even the hinted seasonal changes. Worried she reflected that it seemed a lot more natural to her now than the narrow, low architecture in her kin’s own ships. “What of the other two survivors?”

Supressing a growl Hylia took a deep breath, at least the smell was nicer to her nose. Humas had a very limited sense of smell, at least compared to hers. “There are no survivors, except for me, and the life I carried in me.” With those words she rammed a blade into her fellow harpy, that she quickly had unsheathed from her belt.

As the life was draining out of her Hylia looked down at her dying brethren. “And no one dares threaten my children.”

Quickly she then rushed to the control room, well aware that she was being watched by the ship. With a curious mind and childlike intelligence it followed her every step. “I had no other choice but to kill her, she would’ve never let me stop the overload in your engines.” Hylia sat down at the controls.

After a few moments the antiphotonic cloaking shield vanished around the ship. Satisfied Hylia noticed that this also took some of the strain off the reactor. “Now, don’t work against me, I’ve taken good care of my ship once. Sadly she died. After slipping into a coma due to massive braindamage she couldn’t contain her core. I can take care of you, if you let me.” Something told her that the ship had no idea what she was talking about. “My sisters rigged your core, so that it can’t be contained anymore, but you and I can fix that.” While talking Hylia slowly began shutting the reactor down.

“There, you see?” She got up and strutted across the room, out in the hallway she went for the core room, from an engineering locker she pulled a tool belt.

Feeling strangely complete with it, she looked at the mess her brethren had made of the core. Although it was in the process of shutting down still an excess of energy had to be released. Energy that still threatened to overload the core.

 

Eyes fixed on the screen Solomon watched the small vessel circle the Horizon, twenty minutes earlier it had appeared on top of the capsule that they had shot at it.

Sven and Johannes were present in the command centre as well, the time it had taken them to reach the command centre was the time it had taken the Harpy to turn off the antiphoton shield around the ship. “Her name is Hylia.” Were the first words Johannes had uttered upon entering the room.

Another surprise was brooding in the Doctor. Although they will have picked up four people in a days time, they’d get five lives aboard. But he wanted to wait until the current situation was resolved to tell Solomon that bit of news.

“Another burst.” Nikolai stated, at that moment there was a flash of bright light shot out of the ship into the depths of space, in a right angle to the course of the Horizon. Brooding Solomon watched, was Hylia just releasing energy, or secretly sending messages to her people? “Time?” He barked, a lot more aggressive than intended.

“According to these readings,” Nikolai studied the screen for a few moments, “the eminent threat is dealt with, but she seems to stabilise the engines of the vessel.”

 

Taken by surprise Solomon watched the ship suddenly pick up speed, it moved over the individual rings like a ghost, as unimpressed by the massive structure, as a cloud passing over cities and mountain ranges.

“A canon.” Nikolais words were like a dagger thruat to Solomon’s side. “What?”

“A canon on beta ring is realigning and targeting the hHarpy ship.” Nervously his fingers rushed over the displayed buttons. “I can’t access the controls, it seems that it is controled locally.”

“Degenhauser and Lexington.” cursed Solomon. Within a heartbeat he had rushed to the canon controls. “It is locking on to the harpy vessel!” Nikolai yelled.

With a few button presses Solomon had realigned a canon on the gamma ring, pointing at the one on beta.

With the press of a button the canon in beta that had been locking on Hylia’s ship was blasted off the surface of the Horizon. “I have governor Degenhauser on the line.” A communication officer turned to Solomon. Tell him to fuck off. “Stall him, right now I’d only start a political disaster.”

While the harpy ship approached the vacant lots on the alpha ring, where the ship Hylia had come from, had crashed into the Horizon, Johannes approached his old friend. “That was a rushed decision, don’t you think?”

“We’ve got more canons in storage, soon we can build new ones by the dozens.” pressing the words through his teeth Solomon had to gather his composure. “If these bafoons try anything like that again, you’ll have to restrain me.”

Nodding with a smile Johannes backed off.

 

Though not fitting the whole space of one vacant lot on alpha, the harpy pod made a beautiful addition to the Horizon, at least in Solomon’s eyes. After docking had completed Johannes and Sven immediately rushed to the port. Hylia was examined, reunited with her children and spared an immediate debriefing. The ship she procured was immediately boarded by one of Svens robotic explorers.

In his eyes one could see his desire to crawl into the narrow hallways himself.

All this while Solomon sat a conference table, again. Present in person, the governors. “What happened here, was treason. If the perpetrators can be found, they will be put before a military court, and, if found guilty, sentenced to death.” He had security footage looping on the video wall, of the harpy vessel gliding alongside the ship, the canon aiming at it, in a small additional display the computer commands were listed. A command to shut down, denied by renewed security codes, feed information to the canon from another source aboard the Horizon to track and lock onto the Harpy vessel. Right until the canon was terminated by friendly fire. With joy he watched color fade from both Degenhauser and Lexington. “We are a democracy, and this falls into your jurisdiction Governor Degenhauser, we need an investigation. On all rings.” Both Degenhauser and Lexington regained a little of their composure. “If the civil investigation turns up empty handed in four weeks, we will conduct one with military personnel.”

“There will be no need.” Degenhauser bowed his head, color had faded from him again. “It was my initiative, I assume full responsibility.” That was a surprise for Solomon, he had figuredn that they would find a pawn and sacrifice him. “You can’t assume responsibility.” Solomon leaned on the table. “You have responsibility, if it truly was your doing.” He sacrifices himself as the pawn, possibly protecting Lexington. “My last order stands, you will conduct the investigation. Afterwards you will step down as governor, and be put under house arrest.” Nodding with a dignified expression Degenhauser felt relief.

 

Day 1825

Air! Although not exactly fresh air, it was a lot fresher than anything he had been breathing in the last five years.

Breathing as if he was drinking nectar, Wesley opened his eyes. The surroundings were somewhat familiar, and at the same time they were not.

Horizon.

“Anna?” He raised his head and upper body. “Here.” She reached over from the bed next to him. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He took her hand in his.

“It would’ve put a lot more preasure on you.” She smiled, gently touching her belly with the other hand.

“Hello there,” Johannes approached the two beds, “my name is Doctor Johannes Falkner, you and I have talked a few days back.” He addressed Anna. “Before you ask, your child is fine.” Winking he turned to Wesley. “We almost had to pass you over, but you can catch up on that on our news channel.” He pointed at the screen on the opposite wall. In brief words he told them that their faulty implants had been replaced, and that their comrades were fine, lying in another room.

For a moment it felt strange for Wesley.

The four of them had shared close quarters for five years, now they could separate on their ship, and never run into one another.

Between all the beeping noise in the rooms adjacent to theirs both he and Anna missed one beep only the two heard.

 

Hylia looked up from her playing children. Not again! But another beeping signal interrupted her thoughts. “New listeners acquired, you perormed as expected.” Then the signal was terminated before the humans could detect it. Closing her eyes Hylia clenched her jaw. She had been played.

“Curses.” She hissed opening her eyes again.

Rings of Fate S1E06 – Ericsson – Mined pt. II

Day 1.

After the dust had settled it took Wesley Smith some time to get his bearings. About one minute after igniting the engines, the entire ship was knocked around like a leaf caught in a storm.

The condensed atmosphere of Ericsson had functioned like a catalyst for the hot exhaust.

Several systems were knocked out immediately.

Crawling away from the cockpit, Wesley ignored the piercing pain in his chest. If his estimate was correct, he had a cracked rib at the very least. “Jenkins?!” A muffled moan alerted him to her position, when they crashed and landed on the side she had been thrown into the corridor he was sitting above of. Thankfully the people who had constructed the pods, had anticipated zero gravity use for them, so every hallway was outfitted with a ladder.

“Can you move Jenkins?”

“I can, you?” Came the relieving reply after what seemed an eternity.

“Cracked rib. What about Xiaofeng?” He had no hope for Amir and Giuseppe, the compartent they were located in, was the one now doubling as the pod’s base.

Anna looked around the hallway she was lying in. Dead almond eyes stared at her from underneath a wall panel. “Dead.” to her own astonishment she felt nothing at those news. Must be shock. She concluded. “Helga and André?” She yelled up, rising out of debris and dusting off. “Suspended animation, can’t reach right now.” The entrance to their chambers was across the hallway, but could’ve been lightyears from him. Slowly he rose to his feet. He fidgeted with his pocket.

What he drew from it was not encouraging. Twisted and broken his data goggles dangled on a few hair thin threads of wiring. “See whether your glasses still work, if so, wake them, if possible.”

Carefully he looked around. Air reclamation was gone for sure, they’d have to shovel the snow over a fire to get something breathable.

“Hey there.” Anna appeared at the edge of his hallway. “Glasses are broken beyond repair.” She opened the doors on the other side, coughing, but otherwise seemingly unharmed the two stumbled towards the open door. When the ship had tumbled around and landed on its side the chambers had protected them, but then opened and released them.

“Communication?” André coughed. Wordless Wesley pointed at the wrecked cockpit behind him.

Slowly they all felt the cold creep into their wrecked craft. “We need to find shelter, from both this cold and the thinning air.” Distracted from his hurting rib by the new development, Wesley looked around the hallways. The pod was rather small, but tumbled to the side he had to get his bearings a new. “Airlock is up, to the rear. The suits as well.” Clumsily he got on to the ladder, started to climb just as clumsily.

A nobler man might have sent the others to leave him, but he liked living.

Upon reaching the other level he wandered down the hallway, the others directly behind him.

Breathing heavily he crouched down next to the door below which was the room with their suits. “Okay guys,” he caught his breath. “one of you will need to get me one, I can’t get down there and then up there,” he pointed at the airlock above them, “with my cracked rib.” Worried he looked at Anna. Ever since the incident involving Marcia she had not stepped outside the pod.

Now in a situation that would’ve made Marcia panic again, she had no other choice. Washed clean of any emotion by the traumatic circumstances Anna looked back at him. “I’ll get you a suit.” She heard herself say, climbing down through the open door.

 

Panting, because the heavy suit pressed down on him, and his ribs, Wesley felt the crunch of the snow beneath his feet, in some spots it was more a squish as the snow had paetially melted. While heading to the entrance to the mines, he and the others looked back.

On the underbelly of their craft was a scorch mark spanning the entire size of the vessel. The deflection tiles had been blown off, smashed bits of it were strewn around the site. Other parts that had come undone were lying around too.

It will be hell repairing this. Wesley thought silently to himself. But at least we have plenty of time for it.

Once inside the mines he just wanted to get out of his crushingly heavy suit, the air inside the rock was stale and cold, but at least that would take his mind off his pain. “We should’ve brought a first aid kit with us for your rib.” Anna sounded calm, her accent was there, but when she spoke calm and in a low voice it was negligible.

“There should be one in the relay station.” He raised his eyebrows, wrinkling his forehead.

“Screw that shit!” André bursted out, jumping from the rock he had sat down on, nearly hitting his head on the rock above. “How are we supposed to survive this?!”

Reaching for a gun he didn’t have with him Wesley sighed. “Lindstroem. Rations?”

“Check sir.” Linda replied. “So, we have rations for a few days, we can get more from the pod. We can melt that snow out there for water and air until we die of old age. We merely have to get the algae plant from the pod so we can eat until that day.” If it hasn’t been damaged too severely. “We have five years to repair the pod, or prepare another means of escaping this rock.”

 

Day 29.

Fidgeting with the communication device of the pod, Wesley was lying on his back. Still there had been no atmosphere in the pod, but to his relief they had successfully turned it back on its belly.

As he had feared that revealed the gruesome fate of Amir Mustafa and Giuseppe D’Aggio. Squished in their seats, they had wanted to return to the stasis chambers upon leaving orbit, because they feared to die in their sleep.

Twenty nine days after the crash it seemed as if the pod would never fly again. He had been able to establish two way communication with the Explorer and the Horizon. They had to compensate for time dilation manually, as the computer was too damaged for that task. What data they could retrieve, he and Linda had transfered onto tablet computers, so they at least wouldn’t lack the information needed.

Sulking in a quiet corner of the mines, André kept working on a translation of the newspapers. “Wes?” Anna climbed over a pile of torn out electronics at the entrance to the cockpit. “Yes?”

“We have received disturbing news from Horizon.” Although he was working on the array, mostly to increase signal strength and stability, Anna and Linda were working shifts at the relay station to listen to the received calls, and compensate for time dilation.

“What news?” Awkwardly sitting up in his suit, the rib still caused pain, but by far not as much as a month ago.

“They encountered aliens. Hostile ones.”

The urge to take his helmet off and stare at her intensely was tempting. “You’re shitting me.” He laid back down to inspect the array, whether it showed some defunct that would explain this. If she wasn’t joking, surely either the array was acting up, or the crew of the Horizon was yanking their chain. “According to preliminary data they might have evolved on earth and left it some 65 million years ago.” Wesley almost cracked his helmet as he sat up suddenly.

“Dinosaurs? They must be trying to be funny.” Without saying another word Anna handed him a tablet.

“Jesus.” He gasped. If it was a joke, they must’ve employed every man and woman working in the science departments to work on it. “Scroll to the end of the report. They request some very specific things to be mined.”

Going over the list he raised his eyebrows, unseen by Anna due to the helmet, but she figured that he was doing that. “Well then,” he handed her the tablet back. “input that in the relay station.” Before laying down again he hesitated a moment. “Ring Lindstroem,  have her put it in. I want you to keep a close eye on the algae plant.”

While continuing his tweaking on the communication systems he pondered over the list. Did the Horizon want the Uranium for bombs to fire at the aliens, or to speed up the ship? Iron, and if possible refined steel in order to reinforce the structure was clear as glass to him, but he was puzzled over charcoal, sulfur and salpeter. “Boss?” Helga’s voice came through the intercom. “Yes, what’s up?”

“Are we seriously mining for gunpowder?” Ah! That’s what that was. “We’re going to bring everything with us that we can get our hands on.” He replied.

 

Tired Wesley laid down the tools he had beenn using to tweak the communication systems. With a certain pride he looked at the work he just had finished. With a small computer that had survived the crash relatively unscathed, tied into the array the time dilation compensation was no longer a manual task. “This is Wes Smith calling the Explorer or Horizon, I have installed a system that should compensate time dilation,  please verify.” He ended the transmission and turned away to look after Anna. Even though the dilatation was presumably a thing of the past, the time it took for the call to be received and replied could not be changed.

 

Haunched over the device that held multiple tanks and layers of fast growing, non toxic algae for their consumption, Anna studied the slow waves with which they waved in the flowing water of the tanks. “What’s so interesting with that stuff?” Eagerly sucking in the air of the room, the only airtight space left on the pod, Wesley stepped up to the tank too.

“The waves move so peacefully. Calms me down.” With a wicked smile she turned to him. “But other than that, that slow, pounding rythm has entranced me.”

 

Day 348.

A maniacal laugh woke Wesley, it had been almost a year since they stranded on Ericsson, sleeping in the mines with the others, without any doors for some privacy, he knew every sound the others made.

That hysterical laugh of a maniac was new however. Sleep drunk he rose from his bed, Anna next to him did too, just as Helga across the room.

“It’s André.” She concluded.

“I did it!” He burst into the dead end tunnel they used for their sleeping accommodation. Originally they wanted to bring the algae plant in there too, but the crash had obstructed the hallways, and damaged the wheels of the plant.

“Deciphering the newspaper?” Andrew grew a little more awake. “Yes! The language of this country is now an open book to me!” No wonder I hadn’t seen much of him lately. “So, what is the big secret?”

“No big secret,” he held up his tablet computer. “the article features the image, and how this thing will pass through the solar system. Apparently they had no idea how devastating the effects would turn out to be.” Relieved Wesley noticed that the french scholar had returned to his former, happy, self. “I’ve got a translation matrix ready by the morning, if you want.”

“Do you ever sleep?” Helga turned away lying down. “Most of the work here is done by drones, so this is more a five year vacation to me until we are thrown into the middle of a war. So, no. I don’t sleep. I have no time to waste, the cultures and entire history of this planet await!” You could help with the pod you nerd! “Fine, just keep healthy.” Yawning Wesley checked the time.

A few minutes after he had left again to do, what ever it was that André did, Wesley heard snores from Helga’s bed. Just one heartbeat later did he feel Anna’s hand reaching for his pants. Gently her lips pressed against his.

 

Day 548.

Distraught Anna wandered through the mine. Around the other dead ends the drones had stacked the processed ore, a steel mill was further down in the rock, only the uranium was stored outdoors.

Together with Helga, Wesley had managed to get more airtight space in the pod. She wanted to live there. But for now she had to wait.

Restlessly she paced around the relay station.

Fed up with her own anxiety she grabbed her tablet from it and pressed a few buttons. Equipped with a few sensors the tablet was able to get her the answers she desired. Altough the news wasn’t what she had hoped for.

 

“I’m certain that we can rebuild the pod to be a flyer again, tye drones can put all the goods into the delivery modules and we shoot them toward horizon.” Wesley sat triumphant over their dinner.

“That’s nice.” Hearing those news had excited even André, so much so that he was willing to participate in the refit, rather than sulk over the other languages and collected data of planet Ericsson.

“Is something wrong?” Anna seemed preoccupied.

Not replying Anna kept munching on her food. “Darling?” Putting his food back on the plate he got up and walked over to her, massaging her shoulders. “Did something happen?”

Still without saying another word she produced her tablet, handed it to him. After one and a half years she still conveyed odd or bad news to him via the tablet. At first his heart skipped a beat, he assumed the Horizon had been damaged beyond repair, or worse got destroyed. Reading the simple analysis of her scan made him gulp.

Suddenly he felt like in space again. Everything around him was twirling, his knees felt weak, and the air suddenly seemed too thick to breathe.

“The implants don’t work anymore?” Slowly he sank to the ground, leaning against the wall. “No, they don’t.” She turned around switching to another scan of herself. “At least mine isn’t.”

Relieved he regained some of his strength, sat up straight. “I’m not pregnant, but my period was late, which is why I did the scan.” Interpreting the concern in her eyes correctly he turned the device to his implant. “Mine is working,” his voice however told Anna all she needed to know. “for now. Power levels are low, says here that due to unknown reasons the recharge isn’t working.”

Exchanging a long glance they sat in their little alcove, pondering. Helga and André had taken up residence in another part of the mines.

“As long as your implant is functional we can resume like we did the last year and a half, but then we’ll need alternatives.” She reached for his hands, gently stroking his fingers with hers.

Shortly after the crash they had been soft like silk, now they were rough like his. Hard work had taken its toll on them. Still her mere touch sent shivers through his body as if she sent small arousing electrical shocks through his hands.

 

Day 792.

“This is Wesley Smith contacting the Horizon. We’re sending the first batches of deliveries up, they will be, by the time of your arrival, a bit ahead of Ericsson, but we figured that your so called Harpys might try to apprehend the cargo from reaching you. Besides, our storage space is limited. Over and acknowledge.”

Staring blankly at the dark display over the controls to the pod he envisioned the Horizon. Identical to the Explorer, save for the name, how it swooped up to the pod, hooking it up and dragging it with them. He and the others would not see any of it, since the inertia would kill them, so they’d be in the stasis chambers.

“Is your implant working?” Anna entered the cockpit. The four had taken up residence in the pod a month earlier after successfully sealing it and repressurising the craft. Looking at his right hand he extended it to her, so she could check.

Relieved she lowered the tablet. “Good.” Smiling she turned away, eager to get back to her work. Most of the work concerning the pod and the delivery systems was done either by the drones or by Helga and Wesley. Going through geological surveys she directed other drones to new mining sites.

“André calling for Wes.”

“Aye?” He replied with a bored undertone in his voice. “Do you remember the shelter we discovered two months into our stay?” Vividly Wesley recalled the shelter.

Still somewhat warm from the planets warm interior the shelter could’ve been one for eternity, but the Ericssons had lacked plantations, UV light for plantations, power generators, water refinement and so on. The pod would’ve provided all necessary technology to take up shelter there. “Yes?”

“I only had time to return to their journals now. According to those the able bodied had left about a year after their imprisonment began, located in the nation’s capital was supposed to be a shelter capable of sustaining thousands.”

Pondering how the Ericssons would react to be dug up by aliens stripping their home planet of any raw material they could find, Wesley got up. “Are you suggesting we visit them?”

“It was just a thought. At least send a drone to investigate.” The place that had given them yet another library, was already mapped out with a drone, and found out to be the capital, the recon device was still there further investigating. “See if you can find any more details for the shelter location in the capital, I will consider it.” The recon drones were already spread thin across the planet. Sending one on a potentially dangerous mission was not what Wesley wanted to do.

 

Day 794.

Awoken by the annoying beeping of the intercom Wesley rose. “Yes?” He mumbled, ignoring Anna’s attempt to pull him back into the sheets. “Got a precise location, I could navigate the probe there.”

Rubbing his temple Wesley was not thrilled. “Fine.” Giving in to his curiosity he got out of bed. “I’ll join you when the probe is there.”

 

Thick snow blanketed the square, from all the signs still visible the shelter had been built underneath an old building. “The sign there translates loosely as Subway.” André explained as the probe moved across the square.

It made sense to Wesley that the Ericssons would expand on their subway system instead of digging new tunnels and chambers. “Nothing on sensors.” Anna was in charge of taking the sensor readings on her tablet, while André drove with the visual feed on his, cross checked by Helga. Wesley watched too.

“No thermal signature, nothing in visible, EM, or electrostatic.” He confirmed.

Next to the entrance André halted the probe. A few long dead and ice mummified bodies were there. One had a sign around his neck. “It says thief,” he paused, “I think. Maybe rapist.”

“Makes sense. Why sustain undesirable members?” Helga sounded calm, but distant and unusually cold. Did they straighten up, or die out? Pondering Wesley watched the probe descend upon the door. It placed a transponder just outside so it could continue transmitting to André and the others.

“Something on Audio.” Anna pressed a displayed button and let the others hear too. “The creaking doorway.” For a moment all had had hopes of finding survivors, or at least recordings of their language. After a series of doorways and two more transponders a large tunnel opened up before them.

Platform and tracks.

Dozens of bunks on the platform, none occupied. Judging by the layers of dust on them and the ground, no one had been in the shelter for a long time.

“How far do you want to go?” getting up, Wesley stared down at André. “I’ll set it up for lone exploration and tell It to return in a few hours.”

Agreeing with him Wesley left the room, he returned to the cockpit, linking his tablet in with the other remote controlled drones and probes. Another batch of goods requested by the Horizon was due to be sent away in a week’s time. “I think you are rude.” Helga entered.

“Is that so?” Not even turning around to face her, Wesley continued his checks on the other drones and their progress. “Well, I think it is a waste of time and resources to find the tombs of the original inhabitants of Ericsson, and even if we find some living ones, what then? Offer them a ride on our space ship?” Slowly turning around with an overly exaggerated surprised expression he went on. “Oh, I forgot, it barely fits us aliens! My bad.” Shaking his head he gazed at the tablet again.

All data checked out. Was it not for Helga standing there he would’ve turned his attention to other things that didn’t require the tablet. Still the pod was not in flying condition. “So you’re telling me you disapprove of this undertaking because of our limited resources? We still have a few years to go until the Horizon is in range, why not explore a little?”

“Suppose you and your kin have lived underground in a cramped, damp shelter for two thousand years. All of a sudden an alien shows up! Whether or not it is a robot doesn’t concern you. It is from out of the world you know, yet you know that the topside world is hazardous, so it must be an alien from another world, would you want to go with it?” Helga nodded. “You would want to feel sunlight on your skin, even if we can convey to them that we can’t give them real sunshine on the Horizon, their descendants might get some, once we have arrived at our destination. And for the off chance of that ever happening, I would try to get with the aliens.”

Hoping the conversation to be over, Wesley got up from his seat, he had to do some work on the propulsion.

Before the pod had been put back on the ground as it was supposed to, a new sealed floor had been built, in the off chance of them ever departing with the pod. “I see, and if they’re all dead?”

Stopping in the door Wesley sighed. “Then they’re dead. Leave the dead alone.” Pinching his eyes he wished himself back to bed. “Look,” he breathed in stretching his back, “I went through with it. I’m disapproving, but not preventing it. Let me be a critic. Alright?” With these words he turned on his heels and went away.

 

Not exactly making progress, but listing all the materials he needed to make the engines work once more, including shielding and buffers, as he and Helga figured their best bet was to detonate small nukes behind the pod to get it to an acceptable speed for pickup by the Horizon, Wesley received Andrés call of the probe’s return to the site he last had witnessed.

“No bodies, but a few scribblings. Life underground was harsh, no doubt, the evolution of their language was touched by it. It got simpler.” They themselves have evolved too I guess. Lyching minerals from the bloody rocks now. Or they have died out. “What do these scribblings say?” Still a little curious Wesley put down his tools. “Mostly religious texts, letters to loved ones, a few bits and pieces read like excerpts of a dairy. Nothing younger than about fifteen hundred years though. They either died out then, although we miss the bones, or moved further down, following the heat of the planet’s interior.”

“Wrap it up for now,” staring at his engines he sighed, silently cursing Helga, “have it deploy another transmitter as far from the first one as possible and send it out on auto exploration.”

 

Day 1132.

Shudders went through the pod, the entire structure was shrieking, creaking and moaning. After thirty seconds the rumble subsided and it got quiet again.

Four people cried out in joy and three of them patted Wesleys shoulder. “So we have engines back!” His face displayed a smug smile, “But we have still work ahead of us, there is still the shielding, a few small scale nukes for our purposes already stand by.” He looked at his wife Anna, using their communication with Horizon they had managed to get wed, the ceremony took hours due to response times.

“We have located enough of the raw materials need for the deflector, but rerouting enough probes there takes time.” Although information in this little group was always shared immediately, they repeated this. Mostly for the camera that transmitted to Horizon. “We are confident to make the rendezvous on time.” Helga added.

“Also, I must add, that the original Ericssons, of this nation at least, have all perished. The probe exploring the vast underground network in the capital has found several burial sites, later on pathways to deeper lying locations, closer to the heat of the planets hot interior, but discovered only dead bodies there too.” André felt relieved to have unravelled the mystery of the large sheter. After a year working on it, that felt bitter sweet. At least he had some scribbled pages to work with.

“We close our report after this, the first successful engine test, this is day 1132 on Ericsson.” Wesley saluted. “Hope that time flies. Over.”

 

Day 1452.

Rumbles woke Wesley from his slumber. In the months after the first engine test there had been several more, once the pod even left the surface for a few seconds, to see if it would hold together.

But there was no test scheduled for that day, especially not while he was in bed. The shrieking, creaking and moaning walls were a lot different than in any test before. Next to him Anna also woke. “What?”

Wesley stormed out the room in his underwear, reaching the cockpit I, he found it empty, moments later his comrades appeared in the scene too. Meanwhile the shaking had subsided. “Sitrep!” He called his crew into action. Immediately Helga went to check the ship. Displays and interactive panels in the cockpit were functional again. “Structural integrity is at 100%. No damage to the ship, nor to the platform.”

“It was an earthquake, or Ericssonquake. The epicentre was close.” Anna stared at her screen, pressing a few buttons her expression changed. “I’m afraid it is our fault. The epicentre was in the mines below us, a shaft had collapsed, tore several others down too, due to the change in weight.”

Originally they all were under the impression that the probes and drones were intelligent enough to avoid such failure. “If my data is correct, it was a shaft dug by the Ericssons that had given out under the stress first.”

“Relay station is unharmed, most drones were on the upper parts of the mines anyway for the nightly recharge.” André was not a specialist, but had learned where to find productive things to do when there wasn’t exploration or translation on his to do list.

“Alright,” Wesley studied his own readings, “some of our stashes were obstructed. We need to get those free, or put a lot of work into making up for them.” He pointed at one specific portion of the map showing the damage to the mine shafts. “Aren’t those our nukes?” Immediately Helga had identified the spot.

“They are.” Sounding a lot grimmer than intended Wesley got up from his seat. “As soon as the nearest probes are done recharging, send them there. All other stashes are of lesser priority.” Anna followed him to the airlock, where he got into his suit. One of his gazes followed. Telling her why he couldn’t stay, why she wanted him to and how much, him insisting that he had to, the entire conversation was over without one word uttered.

Supressing her tears, at least until he had left the airlock, she helped him int his suit. “Bring ’em back.”

 

Rocks of all sizes had tumbled down from the ceiling and the walls, the upper shafts had been relatively debris free. Even before their arrival on Ericsson, the probes that had been advanced, had worked on enforcing the structure there. Several different shafts converged on the main entrance, even without additional digging the area was deemed unstable.

Now Wesley felt unsafe, all the time he had lived there he hadn’t, but wandering through the mine now after the quake, sent shock waves through his belly.

A tall pile of rubble was closing off access to the dead end in which the nukes were stored for use in the pod.

“How is my backup doing?”

“Still on recharge,” Andrés voice was distorted, but he could be identified, “however, I think we should build new nukes.”

Shying away from the rubble in front of him Wesley took a breath, he hoped he miss heard. “Hey boss, your wife’s readings show that the chamber is unstable, it might tumble down, taking you and and the nukes with it.”

Staring at the rubble Wesley heard only interference, his breath and hisnhi own heartbeat. “Lindstroem! Run a simulation on the situation, if that room falls down, and the nukes become unstable. What happens then?”

“We’d see a quake of proportions severe enough to get us all killed. Or at least so severe that the pod is too damaged to fly out. And I’m not even mentioning radiation here.”

Surprised, although not thoroughly pleased, Wesley turned around to Anna. It was the non verbal discussion all over again. She just couldn’t have stayed behind.

“We’ll instruct the drones to fill the levels below to support the chamber.” She finally spoke again, into the radio as well.

 

Day 1820.

Without any noise the screen went blank again, showing only the reflection of the person in front of it. Only dim lights illuminated the room, most systems were in preflight standby. In only twelve hours the pod would shake once again, immense thrust would heave the tons of metal, people, ore and research into space, where the bombs woul be detonated to push them even faster on a course and trajectory parallel to Horizon.

And Anna? Slowly she turned from the display. “There ought to be no difficulty. Just use the stasis chamber as you always would.” Horizon’s chief doctor Johannes Schaeffer had smiled into the camera of his display. Finally close enough for two way communication that didn’t take ages, she was relieved she had not to wait hours for a reply, hours that would’ve felt like days and weeks without sleep or any rest.

 

After the tremors had subsided gravity was clearly amiss, Anna felt immediately as if the inside of her stomach wanted to visit the outside world. Concentrating hard she took a few deep breaths, while floating away from her seat. “Sensors are already detecting the Horizon.” Calm as a morning breeze, Wesley’s voice had a soothing effect on her, and her upset stomach. “In case they can’t retrieve us, I have set an auto wakeup in ten days, we then can return to Ericsson, until Destiny comes by.” He too left his seat, behind him his display turned dark, the console powered down into standby. As most other systems did too. “But that won’t happen.” He smiled, hoping to sound optimistic.

 

Helga and André climbed into their respective stasis chambers, both in relative silence, just wishing good night and good luck to everyone.

“When you’re putting me in, don’t mind the readings on the panel.” She wiped away tears from her eyes. “Doc Schaeffer said it’ll be alright.” Leaving him puzzled she kissed him gently on the lips before closing the chamber door. Fading color, light and sound drove Anna’s eyes to close, but she clearly caught the surprise on Wesley’s face outside the chamber, staring at the screen. “Attention: Pregnancy detected.”

 

Rings of Fate S1E05 – Horizon – Entered

Drumming.

There was naught more but the drumming beating like a hihat. Bits and pieces of debris rained on the hull of the ring, and the drumming sound filled the command centre. Solomon hadn’t shaved in days, what had looked like a desperate attempt to look dangerous and interesting, had turned into the look of a man who began turning grey ahead of his time. “Keep firing.” He heard himself say. More mutter than speak.

Most of his nights he spent on a bunk in an adjacent room, instead of home with his wife and son.

The tired moan of the hydraulic opening of the door behind him alerted him to Johannes entering the command centre. “You called?”

Without saying a word Solomon got up and led him to the room with the bunks. On a bed he and his first officer had hoisted up a bridge officer, a gunner as they were called now. “He passed out five minutes ago.”

Johannes lept to the man, checked vital signs, and the skin. “Dehydration, and exhaustion. I need to hookhim to an IV, and he needs rest. How long has he been at it?”

Pinching his eyes and uttering a noise that was a bastard mix of a sigh and a yawn Solomon shook his head. “He was on his post when I fell asleep, and when I returmed.”

As wordless as Solomon before, Johannes approached his old friend, pinching the skin on the back of his hand. “You need to drink man.” Looking in his eyes he added, “and to sleep.” Shaking his head, Solomon yawned again.

“The Harpies are out there and didn’t figure out how to mask their heat emissions, so they show up, we blast at their weapon systems, they retreat, but they come back with another ship, while repairing the other ones.”

Heaving the unconscious crewman onto his shoulder Johannes thought that the Harpys were merely testing the Horizon. If they really wanted to destroy them, they’d disappear and come back in force. In numbers too high for the Horizon to handle.

“Still you need rest, as chief medical officer I’m relieving you of duty, you are unfit for it. The others can do that job just as well without you there.” Solomon wanted to protest, but got a commanding gaze from Johannes instead.

 

Conceding he followed his lead, supporting the unconscious crewman from the other side. Their path took them through the reinforced hallways of the subalpha ring to the local infirmary. A small hospital was now present in all of the rings, so only absolute emergencies had to be transported to the main hospital in subgamma.

After learning about the severity of the situation the elected officials of the three main rings had given him absolute command, but remained in authority for non military decisions.

The scientists had prognosed a dramatic space problem for following geneations, most quarters, already crammed small rooms, had been converted to accommodate two people at once, while the outter sections of the rings had only been reinforced to withstand the Harpies fire.

 

“I cant wait for the shipments from Ericsson.”

“We’re still years out! We’ve been doing pretty good these last three months without supplies.” Admitting only to himself that he was only a doctor and not a tactician or that he knew much of the logistics of the Horizon, Johannes was glad to have reached the infirmary.

“How’s it you always do this exhaustion thing evey week?”

“Harpies don’t stop.”

“Well they should, unless they wanna die of exhaustion too.” It was his turn to smile a playful smirk they both knew from one another since they met.

Faintly replying with his own smirk Solomon leaned against a wall sitting on one of the chairs in the hallway of the infirmary, falling asleep before he had finished his smile.

For a moment Johannes looked at his old friend. He knew exactly why Solomon didn’t sleep much. The same reason he himself had trouble sleeping.

Dreams.

It was all said in his words. “Harpies don’t stop.” They didn’t, but it wasn’t the ones that showed up outside the ship that kept Solomon from sleep.

But the ones in his dreams.

Every night after they had caught one in the crawlspace at the cryogenic chambers he dreamt of them. Surely, Johannes figured, it was worse for Solomon, who almost joined the strike team that was completely wiped out by the Harpys. The lucky ones of that team had died instantly, the unlucky ones died within a week of horrific radiation effects.

Their screams and moans followed Johannes into his nightmares.

“Nurse? Both these men need rest, and fluids.” Command centre crews had started pulling longer and longer shifts immediately after the incident. Exhaustion and dehydration were commonplace amongst them.

 

“Get off. No, stop!” As if physically attacked, Solomon sat up in a moment’s notice. “Hush dear,” putting her slim hand on his forehead Sharon, his wife, stood up from her seat. “Johannes brought you, you’ve got such a great friend in him.” Confused, but seemingly glad he wasn’t in the weightless tube with the harpys he dreamt of, Solomon let himself sink back into the pillows. “How long have I slept?”

“Sixteen or seventeen hours. In addition to fluids he also gave you a mild sedative, to give you some much needed rest.” Fool.

Some odd sound echoed through the structure of the ship. Alerted he sat back up. “What is happening?” Unhappy of having to share her husband with his obligation as Admiral Sharon sighed. Not knowing what was going on she turned on the military channel on their screen. “…repeat: Intruder alert sections six and seven alpha ring. Dispatch of additional troops immediately! I repeat: Intruder alert…” as quick as he had sat up before, he turned off the screen, got up from bed. I knew it, without me this tub falls apart, or worse into enemy hands!

Hasting from the room he took only enough time to dress. Stumbling through the hallways of the subalpha ring he raised the command centre. A disabled harpy ship had crashed into the alpha ring, releasing its crew into the Horizon. Four additional ships had been attacking with it, inflicting minor damage to the beta and gamma rings, a similar entering attempt on subgamma was averted. To Solomon’s disliking that was achieved by destroying it.

So far all encounters had ended with disabled weapons for the harpys, that had been his policy. Keep them running against a wall, but don’t give them any more reason to attack.

That was obviously over now.

“Status?” He killed the line as he entered the command centre.

“We’re halting their advance, gladly we had been able to counteract their dampening field, or what ever that was when they first showed up.”

Maybe they just had latched on to the right lines in the spine? “Good, alert Doctor Falkner that soon he’ll have patients.” Maybe even from the enemy lines.

 

Impatiently pacing around the room Solomon listened to the transmissions from the marines as they were combing through the outter sections of the alpha ring. Adjacent sections of the infiltrated ones had been shut off as soon as the ship struck. Aiding in that endeavour was the decompression protocol that automatically shut them off.

Since the last ship had been fended off, the space around the Horizon had grown silent again.

After tense two hours of relentless pacing came the message he had been waiting for: “All clear.”

“Attention,” he barked intbarke communication line, “do not enter the Alien vessel, it might be booby trapped. Make way for the specialists.” A week after the first encounter with the Harpies, enough of their language and numerals had been deciphered from the obtained devices for scientists to uncover such dangers.

Hopefully.

“Aye! I’m already there, sir.” Solomon knew the owner of that voice all too well. A scientist who had enlisted in Horizons military. Sven Håkland. Hours and hours on end he had spent in meetings with that man. Unless his presence was required on the bridge. “Good to hear Sven, be cautious.”

“Always.” Even over the radio line Solomon could hear the smile in Sven’s voice. Underneath his three day beard the thin lips inside the spacesuit must have been pursed. “My computer is negotiating access with the vessel, large portions of it are however destroyed, or severely damaged by the impact. Might take some time.” His report was accompanied by a series of swearwords in a norse language that Solomon couldn’t understand. Sven must’ve told him a dozen times where he had come from originally, but it didn’t stick with Solomon. What came over the radio was, what Solomon described in his peraonal journal as techno babble. “According to the Harpy computer there is no foreseeable danger. Probably some not tied in traps if you ask me, their computer is damaged beyond repair and would probably have set any traps to kill its own crew.”

Staring at the view screen, that displayed just a 360° view around the ship, Solomon nodded. “Any clue what those might be?”

 

“No.” Sven stepped away from the hatch, his weapon raised, the flashlight mounted on top of it was turned on, although there was plenty of light in the alien vessel. “Unbelievable that these critters have been around for more than 65 million years.” Another man stepped to his side. “Indeed.” With a sigh Sven stepped closer to the narrow opening, the Harpys were only thigh high, so naturally they didn’t build rooms or hallways much taller. “Smith, were are you?”

“Almost there sir.” Came the thin voice of a woman over the radio. Only a few moments later she appeared carrying a device in her hands. It was at best knee high, so it would fit through the hallways with ease. Together they set it into the hallway and activated it.

After a short time of booting up, the device started maneuvering away.

Sven had figured that the Harpys would have interior structures too narrow for human exploration. “Navigate it to their computer core. We need every bit of information we can get.” Turning away Sven went back to a section that still had atmosphere, from where he took the tube to the sub alpha ring, to his office. Still in space suit, sans the helmet, he activated his console, which showed a life feed of the probe in the harpy ship.

“Taking over control, Smith, fall back. Same goes for the others, we don’t know what dangers that thing might hold in store for us.”

In the line he heard a slight feedback loop. Turning his head he noticed Solomon in the door. “Welcome to my lair Mr. Bond.” Sven chuckled, the Admiral too had to smile. “Well, Doctor, this is where all threads tie together.”

Turning his attention back to his console Sven shook his head. “For now sir, only for now.” The camera feed was the main screen, but there were thermal imaging feeds, scans of the atmosphere, as far as there was any, sounds and radiation, as well as various other telemetry readings. “Can I help you out of that suit? It’s quite uncomfortable.”

“I doubt Smith would like to see you helping me out of this.” Emphasising the “you” he winked over his shoulder.

Understanding the implications Solomon just nodded and looked at the screen as well. Mostly the probe guided itself, but here and there Sven made adjustments, scanning certain parts in more detail, prying open doors to see what lay behind.

“Where are we going with this thing?”

“Engineering. If scans of their engines are to be believed they utilise forms of energy we dare not touch again after the Ark1.”

Getting nervous after these words Solomon was thinking of ways to jettison the Harpy craft from the Horizon before the antimatter in their engines became unstable. “And I suspect them to use gravitons, and antigravitons as well. In addition I hope to find access to their computercore there.”

“If we can find the way.” Jana Smith entered the room, saluting the Admiral.

Instructing the first officer of the watch to keep a close sensor lock on the Harpy ship with all available devices Solomon kept watching Sven and Jana steer their probe.

 

The transmission of the probe was distorted when the doors in front of the camera opened, electromagnetic interference, as the other telemetric readings pointed out.

Seemingly happy Sven and Jana inched closer to the screen. Keeping an eye on it as well Solomon also kept reading the data from the whiskers.

He was just glad that the Harpys didn’t attack them in the meantime.

“Is that,” Jana backed away from the screen in surprise. “it looks like something biological.” She stammered.

Carefully driving the probe in closer, Sven extended an arm on the probe to collect a sample.

“It is organic matter, that much I can tell you now.” Both Sven and Jana had a hunch what that meant. Analysis of the sample would take some time, though.

“Where is their power source?” Impatient Solomon stepped closer, but got no reply, as Sven was too fascinated by the organic matter. “Doctor Håkland! Their power source?”

Steering the probe Sven grumbled, glued to the screen he did not even look over his shoulder. “I believe we’re in the right place,” he pointed at a wall in the rear of the room. “but that there looks like a containment measure in case of a problem.” He maneuvered the probe in closer, showed the floor that lead to the wall. From it they learned that his suspicion was correct. “Retrieve the probe asap, if impossible, we have to ditch it.” Solomon opened the com line to the command centre again. “Nikolai, what options do we have to get rid of this thing?”

“Pump the section with air, pop it like the kork in a champagne bottle.” Protesting behind his data goggles Sven had gotten up. “We don’t know what kind of safety measure that is, perhaps it is just to contain atmosphere?”

Ignoring him Solomon replied that the option seemed too risky, besides he didn’t want to risk losing atmosphere. “We can always jettison the pods it crashed into.”

“Preparation time?”

Before Nikolai could reply a sound on the Harpy ship drew the attention of Solomon and Sven, Jana had not turned around as she tried to retrieve the probe.

A figure in a space suit entered the field of vision the probe had. Quickly the Harpy hurried to the exposed organic matter. From its belt the Harpy took a small device, that closely resembled the one the other Harpies had used to scan the cryogenic chambers. Unimpressed, or ignorant of the contraption sitting in the room the Harpy proceeded to scan the organic matrer. Letting the device sink it turmed to the probe. Seemingly impressed, probably frightened it inched closer.

“Analysis complete!” Jana exclaimed. “It is,” she paused, “neurological?”

“A brain.” Sven concluded. Although computers were faster in calculations, biological processing units were more adaptive. And regenerative.

The harpy with the tool scanned the probe, pushed a few buttons on the scanner. After a few moments the presumed engineer turned back to the brain matter. “What is it trying to signal?”

Solomon’s face became dark. “My guess is, that it’s sinister.”

Neither Jana, nor Sven reacted to his pessimistic estimate. They kept watching.

Suddenly the harpy took out his gun, showed it to the probe, clearly aware of it transmitting a video feed. Demonstrative it placed the gun on a console next to the brain matter. Then it hurried off in the direction of the hatch the others had borded the Horizon.  “After it!” Solomon urged the scientists. Momentarily the probe followed the harpy in the space suit. As all three had guessed, it went to the hatch.

A security detail was waiting for it, with explicit orders not to shoot as it was unarmed.

 

Johannes paced through the room. Relentlessly he had done so for an hour and a half, eventually news had reached him that a Harpy had been taken prisoner. He wanted to study their physiology in a living specimen.

But still he had not been granted access. First Doctor Håkland had been granted to try and establish some sort of communication with it.

Silently the door slid open, Sven strode out, seemingly disappointed. “Alright, we’ll try again tomorrow.” Unsure whether he was addressing him or his faithful assistant, and girlfriend, Jana Smith, Johannes said “Okay with me.” before entering the room.

In a hastily erected cell sat the feathered creature, still wearing garments, but not as protective as the space suit. Half a dozen guards stood around the room, facing the cell. Disgracing. I wouldn’t treat human serial or mass murderers that way. He thought looking at the toilet that had been installed in plain view. Behind him a device was wheeled in, a mobile version of his scanning equipment. “We need it, or her probably, in this.” He turned to Solomon, who stood in a corner, bearing a grim expression.

Not saying a word he waved one of the guards over to assist Johannes in his undertaking. The other guards raised their weapons, pointing them at the door of the cell on the opposite side of the room.

Slowly they wheeled in the scanner into the cell, the guard stayed with Johannes,  closing the door to the cell behind them.

Although it was a totally different species than man, Johannes saw the fear in the Harpys eyes. “Calm down. It is harmless.” The device was sized for a human, as it had been intended for use in the field once Horizon had arrived on RV-p296. “I’ll show you.” Quickly he climbed into it and instructed the guard how to operate the device, after a few moments the results were showing on his tablet computer. Once he had climbed out of the machine he showed the data to the Harpy.

Uttering a guttural sound the Harpy seemed to understand, willingly it climbed into the scanner, making sounds. Presumably remarks about the technological level of the humans.

After he had taken the scans, Johannes was about to leave when the Harpy made another sound, almost as if calling him back. With its long fingers, only remotely reminding of claws, it pointed at Johannes’ tablet.

With an uncertain expression he looked over to Solomon.

Still looking rather grim he nodded, meanwhile Sven had returned, standing next to him. “You want my pad?” He extended his arm, still a bit frightened by the creature. They were technologically advanced, but still had teeth that could maim him, or in the worst case even kill him before the guards had subdued or killed it. Looking over the results of its own scan the Harpy grunted a few times before handing back the tablet.

About to leave Johannes gazed down on it and found data entries that had not been there before.

Her entire body chemistry had been added in the few moments she had had the pad. “Doctor Håkland?” Strolling over to the cell door Sven said that he should call him Sven, as he didn’t pronounce the name right, as most people. “Have you tried communication using chemistry yet?” Johannes handed the pad to Sven.

Going over the additions Svens eyes got bigger. “Brilliant!”

“Her idea.” Johannes pointed at the Harpy. “She’s a clever gal.”

Quickly Sven had gotten his own tablet from his pocket and drew up a table of elements. He kneeled down in front of the Harpy while Johannes left with his scan and equipment, Solomon at his heels.

“That was risky. We need to be prepared that she is a spy, or worse, carrying secret orders to destroy us.”

“Well,” waiting for the cab in the tube to arrive Johannes leaned against the scanner, “she ain’t got a bomb inside her. And if her chemistry is to be believed, not in her body chemistry either.”

In silence the two men stood side by side in the cab. Ever since they had rode the maintenance cab from the central tube in weightlessness Johannes felt a bit uneasy in one of these. Thankfully he seldom had to leave the subalpha ring, his office and his infirmary, the cell in which they kept the Harpy, his quarters, were all on the ring. “What is to happen to her now?”

“Nothing. We feed her and try to communicate with her.” Pinching his eyes Solomon sighed, allowing himself to lean against the wall. “I didn’t want any of this, you know? None of them, none of us, should be suffering, or dying.” Met with a calming and kind smile by Johannes, Solomon knew he had the best of possible friends in Johannes. “Whenever we shoot, we shoot to disarm their ships, not to destroy them. I had hoped they never would breach our defences, or our hull, so a bloodshed like this could be avoided.” He stood up right. “So rest assured, nothing will happen to her.” Hissing the doors opened, revealing the hallway in front of the infirmary was stuffed with small crates, without explanation Johannes knew what was inside them. “They however need to be examined.”

 

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?”

 

Rings of Fate S1E04 – Horizon – Power Failure

Peaceful lightness, not a single ounce of weight pulled on Johannes Falkner. The middle aged medical doctor floated behind Admiral Solomon Grienberg. “How far do we have to go?” Slowly the Admiral turned his head to face Johannes. “Quite some distance Joe.” The smirk on his lips was making him smile too. “Jawohl mein Admiral!” Johannes saluted jokingly. Since they met twenty years earlier in preparation for the mission, the two had been friends. One of the first conversations they had was forever etched in Johannes’ mind. “How do you pronounce it again?” Former member of the israeli military Solomon, sat puzzled next to Johannes. “For fuck’s sake, just call me Joe, or if you insist Hans, but don’t try to say my idiotic name!”

Every time that Solomon called him Joe since, while smiling that smirk, Johannes was reminded of that day. “What do you suppose has caused that power out?”

Handling from ledge to ledge the two men floated through the tube inside the Horizon’s sub Alpha ring. “Wish I knew.” Was the short reply from Solomon. An hour ago a power failure had been detected a moment later only emergency lights were on in the command centre. Ordering the others to stay at their positions the two men embarked. One of the tubes in the network had been offline, and pressurized, for a routine maintenance inspection after an adjacent tube through the entirety of the Horizon had shut down for unknown reasons.

An uneasy feeling grew in Johannes. “Where are we?”

“Junction 17 subalpha, tube 4.”

“In space I mean.”

Just replying with “Oh.” Solomon had to thinkthink for a moment. “Outside the solar system, somewhere close to where the Ark1 had it’s incident.” After a pause he asked why Johannes wanted to know.

Uncertain as to why himself Johannes didn’t reply but followed the Admiral. Before them a wide siphon opened up into the faulty tube along the length axis of the ship. Normally the tube they were in would be rotating, so the spherical transport cab would be pushed down their tube, pushed out by the magnetic fields of the tubes.

“We need to go to the sub gamma section, main reator is there, perhaps they can tell us what is going on.”

Johannes knew, they had gone over that plan before leaving. A blackout of the magnitude they experienced shouldn’t occur. There were backups that should prevent such a thing from happening.

The two men stopped for a moment. Ahead of them was a vast tunnel. Two cab lengths from the alpha ring there was an airlock door. When a transit was in progress they opened to let a cab through, and closed right behind the cab, or cabs.

“Maintenance protocol, the tube is pressurized here, but should also on the other side, in case of a catastrophic pressure failure. If I’m mistaken, there is vacuum on the other side.” Solomon stopped in front of the door by grabbing a hold of a step that was hidden in the wall. They were there for maintenance crews.

“Let me guess, we have no way of going through there. If you suggest we open it by force, need I remind you what happens when you get exposed to vacuum?” Johannes looked back. “Or an atmosphere severely thinned if we open that?”

“Relax Joe,” smirking, “there was atmosphere this morning.”

Still feeling uneasy about the enterprise Johannes watched Solomon approach the manual opening mechanism. In a recess near the portal was a leaver which he pulled, he repeated the procedure two more times before the portal, looking like a camera shutter, opened silently. Relieved that there hadn’t been hissing of escaping atmosphere, Johannes followed the Admiral.

On the other side the two men closed the portal with three identical handles that had opened as the first ones had been opened. “Without the command centre in control, and capable of neutralizing any impacting bodies, we should keep these doors closed.” Solomon explained.

“Impacting bodies?!” Stopping handling forward Johannes floated on, past Solomon who had stopped at a handle to turn around to him. “You mean to tell me we could’ve been struck by an asteroid or something back there?” Cold sweat appeared on Johannes’ forehead. “We made it through, didn’t we?”

“Don’t tell me shit like that man, I’m a bloody doctor, not a space marine! I hate the idea of dying, dying in space in particular!”

Laughing Solomon kept moving on.

They passed by a rotating set of siphons, after crossing through yet another shutter like door. As the siphons rushed by they saw that they were closed a couple of cab lengths in. “At least they have gravity.” Solomon stated dryly, but in Johannes’ face was a brewing question.

“Suppose sub gamma has too, how do we enter?” The two men exchanged a long glance. “We can’t jump this!” Johannes pointed at the rotating siphons. “Even if we were to slip into a siphon, and I doubt that we could, the walls would hit us, break every single bone in our bodies.” Solomon looked at the siphons.

“I will think of something.” Again he displayed the playful smirk.

 

Before leaving the alpha ring they passed two more siphon intersections. Each time Johannes felt his guts turn with them. Behind them the gate closed as they manned the handles. “Back in the danger zone.” Giggling, near laughing Solomon pushed off from the gate.

“Would you shut up?” Closely behind Johannes floated through the long tunnel. “Bad enough that we are here, you don’t have to point it out.”

From ahead Johannes heard muffled laughter.

Grumbling he continued on.

Solomon stopped in front of a gate. He opened the first handle, but paused before continuing on. Puzzled he looked at the numbers emblazoned on the platings around. “That’s odd.” From his pocket he drew a pair of glasses. “You don’t have a connection if the power is out.” Johannes approached one of the other handles.

“Don’t open that.” Putting hia leaver back in the recess Solomon worked on his glasses. “I don’t need a connection, normally I’d be too embarrassed to admit it, but I kept getting lost on this ship in the beginning, so I downloaded the specs.” With a few gestures in empty air he opened the plans of the Horizon. “Just as I thought, this gate shouldn’t be closed, we’re not at the beta ring yet.”

Immediately Johannes pushed away from the leaver. “Is there a hull breach?” With a certain undertone of panic Johannes fidgeted in his pockets for his glasses.

“I doubt it, but we can’t know for sure.” Still studying the detailed plans he turned around a few times. “There,” pointing to the leaver that Johannes had wanted to open. “Next to that leaver should be a hatch. Open it.” Reluctantly Johannes did fumble with the opening mechanism.

A hydraulic hiss filled both men with a moment of sheer terror. “It’s a crawl space, leading along the cryogenic vault.”

“The what?” Still shaking the medical doctor turned around. “In case all rings would be destroyed, and the crew killed, some people had been put into cryogenic suspension, the ship would arrive at RV-p 296 and revive them, so not all was lost. It’s a little known fact.” He further explained that the crawl space would normally be depressurized too, but when a tube was flooded it too was as a security precaution.

After descending into the crawl space they closed the hatch. Other hatches led to other tubes, running parallel to the crawlspace and the tube they had come from, Johannes noticed. Once inside he understood why Solomon hadn’t thought about the crawl space in the first place.

It was incredibly narrow, without gravity that meant they had to be careful not to bump into anything. Next to them were circular lids, a tiny clear window allowed to look inside. People were visible. Johannes knew that they were in cryogenic suspension, but they seemed more like corpses in a morgue, their seemingly lifless features sent chills down his spine.

“Is there a way of knowing whether there was a hull breach in the section we’re circumnavigating?”

“Not for sure.” Solomon decided to go to the beta ring all the way, that way the risk was lower. “There are several tubes in the length axis, yes?”

“Jup!”

“How come the siphons were spinning around this one? Shouldn’t they be serving all tubes?”

Solomon sighed. Although he had the blueprints, he was not in the mood to explain. “Maybe it slipped your attention, but the siphon sections are a lot broader. To ensure safety during maintenance and repair they’re flooded as well, traffic is routed around them unless it’s unavoidable, halted if people are inside.” Solomon stopped, he reached to his right hip, only to reach into thin air. Close to panic he looked around.

This did not remain unnoticed by his companion. “What’s wrong?” He too wished for the sidearm, but seeing they were all alone with other humans and a bunch of cats noone saw fit to be carrying them. “There was a strange sound, not human, nor feline.” The cryogenic units had an independent power supply, but didn’t draw much of it, as they were well insulated from heat by the vacuum of the tubes and crawl spaces.

Still they didn’t tie into the main computer, other than their statuses they did not transmit any data, received none. Distraught by the noise Solomon went through the blueprints, surely the ever paranoid admiralty had insalled weapons lockers in the cryo crawl spaces. After a meter or two he had found what he was looking for. Disguised as a normal cryogenic chamber.

At first Johannes was shocked when his friend opened the chamber but welcomed the gun that floated towards him with gratitude.

“Don’t engage the laser! Just pull the trigger, the overcharged needles will do the rest.” Momentarily they continued through the narrowness.

After a few meters both held on to the rails, the other hand at the gun. Both had heard the weird noise. “Definitely not human or feline. Maybe the cryo chambers?” Johannes’ voice was begging for Solomon to say yes, but the Admiral just shook his head.

A slight draft in the direction they were heading made the two even more uneasy, suddenly a shape rushed by in the direction of a hatch, a moment later the hydraulic hiss of it closing called them to action.

Hastily the two floated to the hatch, immediately Solomon tried opening it but found it impossible. “Solomon.”

“It won’t open. ”

“Solomon!”

Still the Admiral tried to open the hatch, Johannes grabbed him by one shoulder, jerked him around. Opposite of the hatch, at the next cryogenic chamber sat a weird device that obviously wasn’t part of the ship, or the cryo equipment. An antenna of sorts extended to the small window, data in strange scribbling flashed on a small screen.

“What the hell?”

As soon as he had discovered the device Johannes had initiated a recording on his glasses. “I figure it is scanning the person inside, if we correlate it to the data readings from the cryogenic chamber we might be able to crack their language.” Grateful that the cryogenic chamber communicated wireless Johannes drew all available data from the subject inside.

Half in panic Solomon reached for the device, but stopped at the last moment, as he thought that it might be boobytrapped. “Can we seal that hatch? I’m not so eager for company right now.” Johannes kept recording the display, noticing that the symbols started to repeat themselves.

Feeling his heart beat in his throat, Solomon turned back to the hatch. It was sealed. But from the other side, meaning the creature could reopen it at any given time.

Quickly he reached for his gun. “Seal, not blast open!” Ignoring Johannes’ protest Solomon turned the UV laser on. Using it as a blow torch he welded the edges of the hatch shut. “I am sealing it.” The calmness in his voice had a soothing effect on Johannes. “Alright, I’m getting just repeats now. Let’s get outta here.” Johannes turned the recording off and began moving onward, Solomon looked again at the welded hatch. A small part of him was curious about what was on the other side, but for the most part he was just glad that a possible threat was locked away from him.

Sudden hisses drew his attention to Johannes. The oxygen propelled needles from his gun clinked against the hull of the crawl space. A hissing growl from farther ahead was the reply.

“What?” Johannes held on to the rail with his left, the gun in his right was shaking. “Another one of these things, maybe the same. While we stopped back there it could’ve double backed to the next hatch, could it?”

Solomon shook his head, ahead was no other hatch, except one leading to the Beta Ring siphon section. He too took out his gun, turning the setting from laser to needle. If in deed it was an unknown creature he didn’t want to kill it.

Unless necessary.

Something hit the wall next to the two men, leaving a scorchmark. Immediately both backed away a little, realizing that there was no cover for them, but the creature was sufficiently small enough to duck close to the cryogenic chamber lids. Another hit struck the wall above a cryo lid.

Solomon and Johannes returned fire with the needles.

With a screech the creature tried to flee but got struck. Immediately the electric discharge of the needles paralysed it.

Seizing its weapon Solomon left the creature defenseless, Johannes immediately grabbed its upper extremities, hoping that those were the the hands. “It’s small.” He noted, if it stood upright it might be as tall as his hip.

Examination would have to wait both decided non verbally as they heard ruttling noise from the sealed hatch. Quickly they pushed and pulled onwards to the hatch leading to the beta ring siphons.

 

“Now what do we do?” Floating in a siphon section Johannes still held on to the subdued creature, a few times he worried that the electric shocks from three darts he had found on it might have killed it. But then he recalled the scorchmarks, and decided that even if the creature was dead it was better it, than him and Solomon.

“We call the maintenance cab.” Solomon smirked. Pressing a button only he could see on his glasses. After a few moments they heard the unmistakable noise of a pressurising section behind one of the sealed siphons. Only a second later a spherical cab entered, opened a hatch after stopping seemingly in mid air, suspended and held by magnetic fields.

Floating in was difficult with an alien body in hand.

After Solomon had taken seat, Johannes handed him the creature, seated himself. Only once the two men were buckled up did the cab start moving again.

Relieved did they feel the force of simulated gravity upon them, after hours in zero G they had felt the effects of fluids rising to the upper body, narrow vision and confusion. A few times had both men felt slightly ill.

“What do we do with that thing?”

“Study it.” Johannes loked at the snout of the creature, it had a slight overbite, showing a row of tiny sharp teeth. On its head the alien wore down feathers. By the way the downs continued below the neckline of the garments it wore, Johannes assumed that the downs covered most, if not all of the body.

“I hope you won’t dissect it?”

“Nope.” Still staring at the face of the alien Johannes felt reminded of a childhood passion of his. “I’ll put in the tube, take a tissue sample and hope it ain’t dead.”

“You hope?”

“We zapped it with three darts, I wouldn’t recommend that many on a human, let alone a tiny creature such as this!” Solomon too started staring at the creature’s face. “I feel reminded of a dinosaur.”

“Thank you! I felt as if I was crazy.” Hissing the doors opened. A crew of engineers stood in the hallway outside, analysing tools and tablet computers in their hands. They gazed in surprise and wonder through their goggles at the Admiral and the Doctor.

 

“We lost mainpower for the subalpha ring, and also throughout the tubes.” Oleksandra Joshenkova, chief engineer, marched through the control room below the fusion reactor. “But!” She turned to face the Admiral, “It isn’t a problem from our end! Reactor is running at peak efficiency!”

“Do we have communication with the other rings?” Solomon waved his hands to calm her down. “No!” Immediately she turned to a console, pointing at a large screen above it. “Power transfer, communication and tubes are down.” With a little bit of worry in her eyes she turned around to the Admiral. Why do you ask?”

Instead of a verbal reply Johannes held up the Alien.

Oleksandra made a disgusted face. “Ugly thing, Alien?” Both men nodded. “Keep it away from my engines. And me. Why do you want communication?”

“They were between alpha and beta rings, perhaps there’s a ship parked there?” Raising her eyebrows Oleksandra turned to her consoles. While going through the logs she explained that the sensors had detected a power distribution problem with the subalpha power line in that section, before they went out, so it stood to reason that they indeed had a ship parked there. In addition she suspected that they knew where the command centre was located, so they also blocked the subalpha backup reactor fro, kickimg into action.

“They also must be jamming the whiskers, and power lines to the other sections.” Stroking his non existing beard Solomon fondled his chin. “Doctor Falkner here has a detailed scan and recording of the alien technology, maybe we can feed that into the computer, and find them, or counteract their technology?” Reluctantly Johannes handed over his glasses. “Data extraction will take only a moment, Doctor.” Oleksandra smiled benignly.

After a few moments she handed the glasses back. “If you’ll excuse me, I will look for a lab in the hospital capable of handling this.” He excused himself. On his way out he noticed that Solomon kept following him. “Shouldn’t you be in there?”

“What good am I in there? They need technicians, not the admiral.”

 

“Im worried.” Johannes stepped into the cab. Although every ring had medical doctors, and sickbays, the subgamma ring had a hospital ward, subalpha a military hospital. “This critter is getting cold.”

After a few minutes they entered an examination room with an MRT. On the way Solomon had gathered a few armed privates to meet them, just in case there might still be life in the alien.

Wireless communication in the subgamma ring was still possible. A few moments after he had turned the scanner on Johannes shook his head. “I know nothing of their physiology, but I know neurological damage when I see it. We’ve fried it.”

“Dang. Any other information you can give me?”

Shaking his head Johannes scraped a little bit of skin into a dish and handed it to an assistant for analysis. “I want genes too!” He reminded her as she hurried away from the alien, relieved to get away from it. Meanwhile Solomon strode over to the security detail. “I want twenty men, armed, extra batteries and extra clips, ready at the tube access point on deck five, asap.”

Running a second scan of the body, Johannes looked over to him. “I’m just a doctor and not a spacemarine, but isn’t it unwise to attack them? They have effectively immobilised the ship and entered it, blasting them off seems unwise to me.”

Gazing at his friend over the shoulder Solomon made an annoyed face. “I want them in full spacesuits, have one for me too.” He turned his head to the men and women before him. The five saluted and hurried off.

Before he could talk to Johannes their glasses alerted him and the doctor to an incoming call. “I’ve got it gentlemen!” Oleksandra was almost singing to them. “After taking some wiring off the main line, I contacted the whiskers from here.” Both of them were fed an image of a cigar shaped vessel attached to the hull between alpha and beta rings. “Can you align the beta ring lasers?”

Alerted Johannes looked up from his scanner. “No Admiral. They are hardwired to subalpha controls, backup lines to sub gamma control centre are unresponsive.”

“Try.” Solomon ended the conversation.

“You think that’s wise?”

“Is there another option for me to try? Subalpha is without simulated gravity, no air recycling hence soon they’ll suffocate. I’m running out of time to find alternatives.” Keeping one eye on the display, the other on his friend Johannes nodded.

“While you prepare for an attack, I can tell you from their physiology that they’re tailored for one G of gravity, we have a female here, they lay eggs and are omnivorous.”

“Whatever. These Harpies will get to know our lasers if they don’t get off of my ship.” Stunned by Solomons sudden display of hostility Johannes raised his hands.

He noticed the Admiral constantly checking the display in his glasses. The data displayed was probably the cause for the sudden rush.

“Their skin is like,” he looked at the face of the creature. The elongated snout and teeth. “not tougher than ours, but I recon they’ll have better protective suits next time we meet them. Their metabolism is similar to that of a bird,” Johannes paused, bearing an expression of utter confusion.

Sighing Solomon stepped closer. “Calm your horses Joe. The sudden and unexpected pressure got to me. Data suggests we need to act quickly.”

“I know, I won’t undermine your authority in front of the men again, but I felt it’s best to voice my concerns right away.” Desperate to see the lab assistant Johannes looked to the door she went through. “Listen,” he turned away from Solomon. “these things show strange similarities to early birds. I need to examine her more closely. You get rid of them.” He winked marching off.

 

On his way to the strike team, Solomon ordered the auxiliary control centre manned and ready, as soon as Oleksandra gave word, he wanted them to fire the laser across the alien ship’s bow. After those orders were in place he let the men help him suit up. Although Johannes was clear that the aliens breathed the same air and dwelled in the gravity as humans, they might have donned spacesuits themselves and released all the atmosphere from the tube.

“Your canons on beta are ready Admiral! Arming those on alpha could alert the aliens, they might be monitoring the datalines running through that part of the ship.”

“Tell the auxiliary control centre. I’m not in a position to do anything with the lasers.” He wondered if they could even be turned towards the ship. Designed to take out any potential space debris and asteroids, they were designed to fire in outward directions.

“Sir?” He looked through his glasses and the displayed data at a young woman, probably in her early twenties. “Yes Private?”

“Excuse my boldness, permission to speak freely?”

With a sighing nod he gave her permission. “You should remain, in case anything happens to you we’d be without an Admiral for the time being. Your place is in the command centre.” Stunned Solomon had no reply ready. “She’s right Sir.” Her immediate superior closed his helmet, thinning his voice to what was audible over the radio. “But if you insist, we’re not objecting.”

Letting his hands sink again Solomon looked at both of them fully suited. Again he felt the crushing weight of his position upon himself. “You’re right.” He admitted in a grunting voice, but he wanted to do something. “Alright, you folks continue, I will go to the command centre.” He stepped back, as he was the last to donn the helmet, the officer now in command of the strike team closed the door to the maintenance cab. “Just help me outvof this thing, please.” He turned to the two privates still in the hallway with him.

 

“Adjustment complete.” One of the laser gunmen sighed in relief just as the Admiral entered the auxiliary control centre. “Perfect!” He yelled.

“Targeting systems can’t lock on however. I’ll have to aim manually with only the whiskers video feed.”

Install cameras on top of the lasers. “Do it then. Be careful and take your time, I know we run the risk of hitting the alpha ring.”

The officer just mumbled “Aye Sir.” while adjusting the laser.

Invisible to the naked eye, but flashing brightly on the screens, the laser shot missed both the alien vessel and the alpha ring. Within seconds the cigar shaped vessel disengaged, retreated to a distance.

“Reading a power buildup.” Solomons temporary second in command, a lieutenant of the name Nikolai Assanov stated. “Engines or weapons?”

“Unknown.”

Staring at the view screen Solomon silently cursed their inability to scan, or rather interpret the scans of, the alien technology. “Targeting is back online.” The cannonier yelled with delight. “Subalpha is too. Rotation will commence within minutes.” Nikolai exclaimed.

“Lock on the Harpies, hold your fire for now, but keep ready.” Annoyed, but curious Solomon accepted the incoming call from Johannes. “The suit the harpy wears started beeping, but stopped a moment later. If you ask me, they checked her vital signs.”

“They just disengaged, and retreated from our ship. Makes sense to check their boarding party’s vital signs,” pausing he watched in terror the power buildup in the alien ship sky rocket, a shot of some sort destroyed the tube they were connected to a moment ago, but didn’t sever the ship. “Spine intact, return fire?” Nikolai asked.

“Be my guest.”

Again flashing brightly a laser beam crossed the void of space, striking the cigar where its fire had been shot from. Another bright flash filled the view screen. “Reading a power surge in the damaged section!” Nikolai yelled, everyone braced for an impact that could very well spell disaster for the Horizon.

 

Instead the weapons of the cigar they obviously had destroyed began exploding. “Piking up another power spike!” Hastily Nikolai looked at around his readings. “Not the weapons this time.” All eyes in the room turned from back to the damaged ship on the view screen.

The visual light emitted by the damage faded away and suddenly all trace of it was gone, even the infrared sensors revealed nothimg but empty space. “They’re gone sir.”

“Call up every and any scientist on this ship, we have a lot of work for them.”

 

Slowly leaving the auxiliary control centre, Solomon received a report that the strike team had returned, most of them however were dead or dying from some sort of radiation exposure.

Johannes included his suspicion that the harpys had figured that their missing crewmate was still in that section so they wanted to destroy any genetic evidence, after receiving confirmation from her suit that she was dead.

Slowly he paced through the hallways towards the hospital where the wounded were treated, where his best friend was working.

“Sir?” Oleksandra appeared seemingly out of nowhere. “When the systems came back online, we received this. It is a repeating call.” Glum in his heart he took the offered tablet computer. He listened to the message.

Stared at the tablet, turned his attention to Oleksandra, repeated the message. Explorer had informed them of Ericsson, the automated relaystation and drones. “The crew of the pod on Ericsson is still alive!” Maybe there was a little hope.

With a playful smile Oleksandra nodded. “I was thinking that they might help us. We need reinforcement on our exterior plating, our weapons need more power and I thought that perhaps they could mine some other useful stuff too.” With a touch of her finger she drew up a list of minerals and ores she thought useful for their purposes. After going through the list the two exchanged a long glance. “Do it, send a reply.”

 

Struggling with the patients of the strike team, Johannes felt great relief that Solomon had decided otherwise than to go with them. On his display he noticed the test results of the genetic material lifted from the Harpy were ready for review, but he had no time for that just now. Too many casualties that needed treatment.

 

“Attention all rings, all decks. This is Admiral Solomon Grienberg speaking. After the recent events, which you will be informed about using channel One’s news feed, inter-ring transport is suspend unless absolutely necessary. Each ring will be designed to function autonomously. Outter sections of all rings are off limits as of now, details for this measure will be explained in the news reels on chanel One. Thank you for your attention.” Not wanting to wait for a resolution from the elected officials, eh? Looking into the results of the genetic analysis Johannes sat down in the break room after most of the casualties had been treated.

For more convenience he had transferred the data to his tablet computer, the data goggles gave him a headache.

“I was looking for you.” Solomon had two cups with him, that meant he had gone to one of his secret coffee stashes. Eager for the hot brew Johannes greeted him. “I meant to look for you after finishing this!” He held up the tablet for Solomon to see, after he had sat down on the other side of the table.

In silence the two drank their coffee. Before he had come to find Johannes, Solomon had watched the helmet camera footage of the strike team.

The harpys had been lying in wait for them. Had they not found cover in the maintenance cab, the harpy strike team, in full suit and armor, they would’ve died in their weapons fire.

“I thought about growing some in my quarters. But I haven’t got a green thumb.” He desperately needed distraction from the situation.

Nodding Johannes gazed at the tablet, still displaying the results. Unwillingly he kept reading.

Suddenly his eyes widened, his jaw dropped. “Hope you like my coffee?” Trying to distract himself from the situation Solomon kept stuck to the coffee topic.

“My god, they are from earth! Descendants of dinosaurs I recon.”

“The Harpies? Are you sure?” Suddenly his interest in the current situation was reawakened. “Birds evolved from dinosaurs, these things share genes with them. I thought they looked similar concerning their physiology, light bones, ovaries but no womb and all, but the harpys are from earth, originally!”