“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.

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