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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reluctantly, but relieved he pressed the button.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

A text message was on display.

From Jane.

 

Ben, I wished we had parted on better terms.

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

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

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

And that is a bleak one.

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

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

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

Love, Jane.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Tomorrow.” Ben nodded, turning back around.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A moment of silence passed between the two.

 

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

Ben did not know.

A decision like that was not in his power anymore.

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

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

 

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

And the computer.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Phoenix on Mars? Secret.

MISR? Secret.

Horizon’s new engine? Secret.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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