Four weeks after secession.

The distance, measured in millions of kilometers, grew, displayed next to the little ships on Jane’s display. Every day since her secession from Equatoria she had stared at the long distance sensor data.

In all honesty to herself she didn’t think that they would let her and the Dawn Horizon go so easily. A short fire exchange with the Explorer, but other than that, no sign of pursuit. Not even the Phoenix.

“Admiral?” A young man entered the room. “We are clear of the safe zone.” Although that information could’ve been relayed to her using the com line, her first officer had sent the lad. “Thank you, Dorian.” Fitting name for a beau like him. She got out of her seat.

Crossing the room she remembered the message from Benjamin left in the ship’s database. An hour later all security lock out codes had been changed.

What kind of trouble are you in old friend? “Engage conventional drive for ten bursts, then engage the engine.” She settled in her chair in the command centre.

From one seat to the next. Was that to be her fate for the rest of her life? As the bombs were detonated to push the Dawn to her travel speed, she asked herself why their propulsion had no better defined designation, other than ‘the engine’.

It was, by all means of the name, a warp drive. Not as good as the ones the linkers or the Harpies had, not even like the one the Phoenix utilised. They could call it their antimatter drive, but Dawn didn’t use antimatter for powering of the engine.

It was a warp drive.

And already it had proven functional. Running it on a low output yield Dawn had used it to get away fast from RV-p296 and possible pursuit by the other Orion-class ships before bringing the ship to a more acceptable velocity.

 

No doubt the long range sensors available to the colony have detected the explosions bringing Dawn to travel speed. Somehow Jane doubted that the other two ships could’ve followed them even without Dawn Horizon using the warp drive.

Thrusters had been repaired, but not toned down to accommodate for the lighter mass. They still operated at the same strength they had when there were still beta-, gamma- and subgamma rings, and the spine connecting them all.

Now there was only subalpha and alpha. And a new dish.

But Explorer would’ve remained in firing distance for much longer. Perhaps the skeletal remains of Kismet could have kept up with them.

Musing on questions of speed Jane watched her crew operate the controls, as the ship went faster than it ever had before.

I’ve always seen myself as the Admiral who brings this ship home. Now I’m the Admiral who takes it into the unknown. A sad expression on her face Jane got up. “I’ll be in the Garden, I need some exercise.”

 

Stopping by her quarters to change into her exercise outfit Jane kept pondering. Plagued by doubt, ever since they left.

There had been voices of opposition, she had sent them off to the surface on shoreleave, but they knew what was going on.

All aboard the Dawn were committed.

Through densely grown tracks of eddible food, spices and a few herbs the pathways of the garden were taking twists and turns, looping around and crisscrossing one another. In the peaceful, relatively quiet environment, Jane found solace in jogging along these tracks. Although she had told her officers indirectly not to disturb her she carried her glasses. In case something desperately needed her attention.

Which had never been the case in the last four weeks.

 

Eight months after secession.

“We have travelled further than in all my time as Admiral, prior to us departing.” She congratulated her crew, one of the messhalls had been outfitted with a small stage for such occasions. A group of musicians took the stage after her speech, as the day was sort of a festive occasion.

The doubts had gotten easier over time, yet, they were still there, nagging her every decision. Every day.

Seeing as they most likely would not return to RV-p296, for if they would, they’d not be welcomed with open arms, Jane had made the visits to the shrink mandatory for all personnel again.

“Admiral, may I have a minute?” Approaching her was a scrawny looking man in his late forties. Dark hair and skin, a few wrinkles on his face, stubbed beard.

“Sure, what can I help you with, Colonel Bauman?”

“Our destination, Ma’am.” Immediately Jane became stonefaced.

Their destination. “What about it?” Kept a secret from anyone outside of Dawn Horizon, even from most people aboard the ship.

“It’s a G-type star with large gaseous planets, but no rocky world like we’d need it to live on.” Jane knew.

Jane knew all too well. But it was suspected that the gas giants had rocky moons. One of the giants lay in the habitable zone, if it had moons large enough to retain an atmosphere, there would be an exotic eldorado waiting for them.

“Well, Ma’am,” Bauman was not sure how directly he could be with the Admiral. “Spit it out Colonel.” Slightly annoyed Jane wanted to get the hushed conversation over, before anyone could hear it, who shouldn’t. “I studied the limited data we have of the Harpy territories. Whether there is a place for us to live or not, that system is Harpy territory. If there is a habitable planet or moon, it will be already settled.”

That posed a problem. Her stony fassade began to crumble, worry began to show. “Alternatives?”

Bauman raised a tablet and nodded to the open door of the messhall. Reluctantly Jane followed his implied suggestion, hoping they wouldn’t be followed.

 

“A slight course correction. There is a red dwarf star, even closer than our current destination. Data shows it has a tidal locked, rocky world in the habitable zone. Conditions for living on it might be harsh, and the eldorado we seek is only a slim band on the day-night border, but this one is not already occupied by the Harpies.” Looking at the tablet intensely Jane pondered for a while. Perhaps that could work to their advantage. They were long out of sensor range, if Equatoria followed their trajectory, they would find the Harpy world, and ask them to investigate, or bring Dawn back. A feat certainly within the powers of the Harpies, since the linkers were able to take the Dawn to RV-p296.

If they changed course to the red star, they would throw of any pursuit or apprehensive force.

“I will take this under consideration. Thank you.” Seemingly happy Bauman retreated back to the party. Someone else in the room caught her eye.

Like a lioness on the hunt she navigated the room, all the while her attention fixed on the person. “Shouldn’t you be studying?” Jane seemingly accidentally bumped into her son.

“No. I should be here.” Looking at him pained her. Wolfgang, her beloved Wolfgang, had decided to stay on RV-p296, leaving her alone with their children, and her doubts. “Are you alright?” Remembering that he was not a youth anymore, but a young man in his early twenties she still felt baffled by his question. “I guess.” She sighed, handing him the tablet, trusting he knew not to tell anyone.

For a moment he studied the data, turned the display off again and returned the device to her. “Compelling arguments, I’d follow that line of reasoning. Let’s just hope the planet is not already occupied.”

“The Harpies have no claim there, as far as we know.” Jane retorted. “The farside of the eldorado here is a permanent icesheet, hot air from the nearside goes up, goes around the planet, and in cooling goes down again. Depositing minerals and other things in the icesheet. Other lifeforms might take an interest in that.”

Cursing Wolfgang junior’s reasoning Jane looked for the exit. The room became too full for her liking.

 

Eight months and three days after secession.

“Course corrections laid in Admiral.” Convincing her officers had been no problem. It had been suggested to wait a few days to implement the corrections, as the celebrations took a little while to wind down.

“Reading a gravity wave on approach.”

“Origin?” Jane had just been getting up, sank back into her seat. Immediately a knot formed in the pit of her stomach. “Previous heading. It is heading towards us.”

Harpies? Must be. “Evasive?”

“Impossible.”

Inevitably the allies of RV-p296 were to come to the aid of the humans. Bracing to be contacted by a harsh Harpy, Jane sat up straight in her seat.

“It’s a Harpy ship, the Varkai.” Her first officer reported.

Off their course the hHarpy ship stopped, changed direction, and matched their speed. For a few minutes the two ships idly flew side by side, then the Harpy ship broke off the matching course and resumed the original flight path.

Tension fell off Jane, relieving her of the weight she had felt all of a sudden again. “They sent us a message.” Derek Harvey relayed the message to Jane’s console.

“We had been sent to keep the Dawn from resuming course into our territory, with the only order by the matriarchy to send you off. Your people had asked for our assistance in returning you and your ship to them, which was denied, as the matriarchy does not interfere with other species’ internal affairs. Since you are already on an alternate course, our assignment has become moot. Save journey. Commander Thyrash.”

Jane’s smug smile was almost triumphant. The Harpies would not interfere with them, unless they entered their territory. Since they had Dawn Horizon’s new heading, meant that their new destination was not territory the Harpies occupied.

“I think we just passed our first test of interstellar pirateship.” Derek sighed in relief, sinking back to his seat. “First officer Harvey, we’re not pirates. We seceded. I just used the pirate analogy in my communication to Admiral Fuller to illustrate how this ship, this crew, decided unanimously to break away from the colony.” Amused, not angered, Jane sat in her seat, turned sideways to look at her first officer.

“Yes Ma’am.” He too was amused, not feeling scolded. “Then we passed our first interstellar test of secession.”

Wasn’t returning fire to Explorer our first test? “Correct. Now, continue on to our new heading.”

 

Eight months and three weeks after secession.

Clawing at her armrests Jane cursed the Harpies. They had not attempted to stop them, or turn them around. But they had conveyed their new heading to the colony. “Phoenix is gaining.” Although pointless from the start, the Phoenix had the superior engine capacity, Jane had ordered to push the limits of their engine capabilities.

“Alright, before we break her, slow Dawn down. Ready all lasers.” Digging her nails out of the armrest she clenched fists. Don’t force me to do this, who ever you are.

Reporting to her that all weapons were ready, Derek added that they also had nukes at the ready, but that it was generally recommend to drop out of warp to use them, as no one knew what exactly would happen if those were fired. “Incoming transmission from Phoenix, coming over QEN.” Communication officer Lagrand reported.

“Put them through.”

The face of a stern looking blond woman appeared on the main viewscreen. “I am General Regina Marston, commanding the Phoenix. Please stand down weapons.”

Jane glanced over to Derek. With a nod her first officer confirmed that Phoenix had not its weapon systems active. Nodding herself she gave the order to stand down theirs. “I’m Admiral Jane Mulgrew, of the Dawn Horizon. Please state your intentions.”

“Negotiations.” Regina replied, keeping her answer short.

“We’re not turning back, if those are your goals.” Keep it simple Jane, keep it plain.

“Those are our goals. In fact, colonial government asked us to retrieve you. Debate between the martian government and yours resulted in my being here now. We will not intervene, but we can try to mediate.”

Slowly the tension began to fall off of Jane. Still she had an ill feeling about the close proximity to the antimatter laden ship. Their reason for seceding was the Phoenix’s arrival, now the Phoenix followed them. “I hold no grudge against you, or your crew, or even your ship. I’m sure you are competent, your crew and ship are fine ones. We have broken away from Equatoria because all of a sudden the antimatter restrictions were to get lifted, thanks to your arrival. There are other reasons too, but this one was the tipping point. So please do not misunderstand me when I say, that you are the least qualified to mediate here.”

There was no sign of being upset in the General’s face. On the contrary, a strange notion of comradery appeared in her features. “You are a strong and capable leader, Admiral. I wish you the best of luck on your journey. If there are any aboard your ship who do wish to return, please let us know, as we will stay in proximity for another two hours. General Marston, over.”

Relieved that the presence of Phoenix was both peaceful and soon to be over, Jane sunk a bit deeper in her seat. “Spread the word, if anyone wants to go back, this is their chance. Probably the last one.” At least for a few years, until Equatoria has antimatter powered warp ships, they surely will send one after us. If they haven’t forgotten about us by then.

 

Four years, three months one week and two days after secession.

“We have a problem.” Engineering chief Tuomas Ingridason approached Jane, after he had called her to engineering. “We’re running low on hydrogen.” The two were alone in the room, it was late and most of the crew had retired to their quarters. “I’ve kept this from my crew, but they will catch on soon.”

“What do you mean exactly we’re running low on it?” Jane felt tired. Those four years have been an exhausting experience. She did not know when it had been the last time she had a proper vacation.

“Our hydrogen reserves for the fusion reactor on alpha, they are depleting. Subalpha has plenty left, but we have no system of distribution, and I would not recommend continuing this journey with only one reactor.” Slowly Jane closed her eyes, letting out a deep frustrated sigh. “Before you ask, we can’t tap into the water reserves on board, not if we want to arrive in Eldorado alive.”

“I know, and I never even thought of that.” Opening her eyes again Jane looked at the display showing the interior of the fusion reactor. A burning ball of plasma, kept in check by magnetic fields, giving off the energy they required.

They harnessed a tiny star inside that room, and now it was running out of fusionable material. “Ramjet.”

Tuomas stared back at her with a confused look on his face. “The most abundant substance in the universe, Hydrogen, is spread out even in the supposedly empty regions of interstellar space. While it may be absent from interplanetary spaces due to solar winds, those same winds push excess hydrogen into the interstellar realm.” Nodding as he could follow her arguments, Tuomas leaned against the console.

“We open the bow dish as if we wanted to fire, line the former cryogenics tube with strong magnetic fields and guide in the hydrogen from outter space through normal transportation tubes into empty storage tanks once the cryo tube is full, instead of deflecting it around us like we do now. That way we even could distribute some of the already stored hydrogen from subalpha to alpha.”

For a few minutes Tuomas stared at her, uncertain whether the Admiral had gone crazy, or was a genius.

“I could try to reconfigure the field of our engines to funnel even more into the open dish.” He finally decided that she was a genius. “But that might slow us.”

“I’d rather take longer, than not have my ship operational. Do what you can, or must.”

 

Nine years, one month and six days after secession.

“I hereby, pronounce you husband, and wife.” Jane stepped back. Was it really that long? Marrying a couple was nothing new aboard the Dawn, but this one was special. Wolfgang junior had married.

A girl named Abbigale Konrads. Now Mulgrew.

In his early thirties, Wolfgang was finally starting a family.

But what about her? She couldn’t wait to see her grandchildren. But would she ever see their destination? It began to dawn on Jane, that she would probably not. Sad on the one side, but facing the alternatives was too disturbing, so she faced that fact bravely over the other.

What kind of feeling must it have been for her great grandparents, knowing their children would never set foot on their destination. Their grandchildren had little chance to live to that day. Only their great grandchildren would definitely see it.

Jane knew that her children would see their destination. Their eldorado.

In a weird way she began to understand the reasons why the colony embraced antimatter, and antimatter powered warp drives. It enabled them to go out, return and have lost not that many years.

 

It seemed to her like only a few days ago that she was talking with her son about the change of course. Unlike the Explorer before them on RV-p296, they had no advance probes, telling them of the conditions on their target planet. No system that set up a habitat for them.

Watching Wolfgang and his bride dance in the messhall she glanced over to her daughter. She was flirting with one of her brother’s friends, eagerly awaiting their turn to dance once the bride and groom have finished.

A tap on her shoulder drew her back to the present, away from dreaming about her daughter’s potential wedding. “Derek, I thought you have tonight’s duty?” In fact, she was certain about it, she herself had drawn up the duty roster for that night.

“I do Ma’am, I’m not here for the party.” He kept his voice low, a knot of anger formed in Jane’s stomach. “On my son’s wedding, really?”

“It is something pleasant, I hope.” He handed her the command centre tablet. A worn, chipped piece of technology, that had survived all the beatings of Dawn, and still refused to break. Command centre crew had began using the tablet and saw it as a lucky charm, as the earliest use of it dated back to the beginning of Horizon’s journey, used by command centre staff since those days.

Quickly Jane scanned through the displayed report and data. “A transponder signal from our destination, directed at us, specifically?” With some disbelief she lowered the tablet. “Yes, the first data we received said ‘Kind greetings, General Marston’, it is, according to this data, a solar powered installation, designed to prepare for our arrival.”

Derek had been right. It was pleasant.

 

Twentytwo years, six months, two weeks and four days after secession.

“Turn the QEN on.” Jane sat in her bed.

Derek had succeeded her as Admiral, he had died of a heart attack two years after that. Now it was Admiral Abbigale Mulgrew, her daughter in law, who held the reins of the ship.

“We already did.” Wolfgang felt annoyed, how many times did he have to tell his mother that they had turned the quantum entanglement network on? It never was truly off, they just had blocked transmissions from Equatoria. What Jane meant was to open those channels as well. Which had happened a decade ago.

Dementia was taking its toll on the former Admiral. “Young man, watch your tone. Any interesting transmissions over the QEN?”

There were many, but did he want to burden his mother with them?

Interstellar exploration, warpdrives that dwarved their capabilities even more than the one on Phoenix, other advances in science. No burden there. These things would eventually be forgotten by Jane again, remembered in some fleeting moment of clarity.

But also the partial fall of the seed restriction, which would enrage her, news of the deaths of her old friends, which would sadden her. Again, only remembered in these fleeting moments.

“Nothing interesting, mum. Same old waste of time and electrons on our computer and communication systems.” She seemed to be happy with that.

 

After spending some time with his demented mother, Wolfgang returned to the command centre. “She’s breaking apart.” He sighed entering the room. Everyone instantly felt saddened. Jane had become more than just the former Admiral, more like the mother of the ship’s crew. Ferociously protecting them all from potentially dangerous development in the colony, like a lioness defending her cubs.

“Did you tell her?” Abbigale leaned in the Admiral’s chair. “That we’re letting an antimatter powered Harpy ship near us? No. Although I think she wouldn’t object. The Harpies have experience with the stuff, she dislikes Antimatter in human hands.”

The screen showed a Harpy ship alongside them, it had appeared there about an hour before.

“This Admiral Abbigale Mulgrew, we kindly ask to reveal your purpose alongside our vessel.” Waiting for an hour for the Harpies to make their reasons known had all but crumbled Abbigale’s patience.

“Commander Yarrak, we came to assist you.”

“Assist us? I was unaware that we were in need of assistance?”

“May we speak about these matters in private?” Abbigale looked to Wolfgang and the other officers in the command centre. “There are no secrets among this crew, we can talk.”

It appeared to upset the commander a bit, but she kept her dismay to herself. “As you are well aware, a neighboring system is settled by us. We have reason to believe that the patriarchists want to set up a base at your destination. They would not risk bringing in heavy ships, as we could detect and ambush them. A small landing group such as would be used here, would not dare to set foot on the planet if they saw it was already occupied, especially by a force allied to us.”

Pawns in an interstellar civil war. “And by advancing us there, you hope to achieve just that.”

“Yes.” At least they are honest, and did not feign some humanitarian act.

Turning back to Wolfgang, Abbigale made a gesture with her brows, to which he muted the line. “Thoughts?”

“If we decline, they either get some people from Equatoria, or worse, the patriarchists build their little base there, and we are screwed upon arrival. Don’t forget, they are hostile little buggers. If we accept, we become pawns in an interstellar chess game.”

“Do we have a choice? No.” First officer Gérard DeFunes interjected. “We have to agree. If Admiral Jane Mulgrew’s endeavours are to be fruitful, we are left with no other option.”

Wolfgang nodded in agreement. The other officers followed as well.

Upon her notice Wolfgang unmuted the line to the Harpy ship. “We agree. Kindly link with our navigator and guide us.”

Baring her teeth Yarrak smiled, a human influenced smile, revealing that she had had contact with humans before.

As the commander instructed her navigators to contact Dawn’s, she turned to the Admiral. “The matriarchy is in your debt, and yours alone. It had been proposed to ask the government of your settlement called Equatoria, but the course your ship took according to our databases, suggested that you already are heading there. Your Equatoria, knows nothing of this.”

Feeling flattered Abbigale thanked Yarrak, but asked herself why the linkers had not occupied the planet already.

 

“I know what you’re thinking.” Gérard sighed after the transmission ended. “So? What am I thinking?”

“You’re asking yourself why the linkers hadn’t settled this planet yet, and I think I can answer that.” He typed a few buttons on his console, bringing up a few blocks of data on the main viewscreen. “Testimony of the former linkers brought to Equatoria by the survivors of Dusk Horizon.” Scrolling through the blocks of text he explained what they were looking at.

“Here it is.” He highlighted a block of text. “The collective mind conceived among the stars, took root in the fertile grounds presented on Orion and Barnard colony. The hardship and plain hatred for a tidal locked planet of the minds absorbed from there had rooted deeply in the collective mind. No DEHuman base will be erected on such a planet, unless invaluable resources are to be found there. Currently the collective mind can not think of any reason, any resource that might be worth taking up that task. Although the negative experience results greatly from the inferior technology from the original settlers, the negative emotion within the collective mind, the collective subconscious, remains and prevents any such settlement. Therefore, it is our, or much more precisely, my opinion that settling on any uninhabited planet such as the one around Barnard, will be unopposed by the DEHumans.”

Abbigale stared at the screen. As did Wolfgang and other officers in the command centre. “If the linkers hate it, what are we in for?” Abbigale sighed while the navigators worked with the Harpy navigators to align the ships.

“Scorched from one side, frozen from the other. A thin habitable zone in between. Rivers that flow from glacial tongues into the sea of fire and lava, where they evaporate. Along side those rivers we can live. Farming crops, building homes, dwelling in every conceivable way.” Wolfgang did a few tricks on the domputer of his own, bringing on telemetry from the equipment deposited at their destination by Phoenix. “It won’t be a walk in the park, but we have technology and scientific understanding more advanced than what the Orion crew had. So I would not despair.”

 

Already the images from the Phoenix deposit showed solar farms cropping up on the day side, some wind turbines rotated in places where farming or housing would be difficult, all set up by the automated systems provided by the Phoenix’s crew and the automated equipment they left behind for Dawn’s arrival.

“We’re ready Ma’am.” A navigator stated, barely causing Abbigale to look away from the image on the screen. Concentrated in the narrow belt between darkness and light was a variety of plants, most red hued, to absorb the dimmer light sent out by the planet’s host star. A few mining tunnels ran underground, dug by the automated systems to mine for more minerals necessary to build more automated machinery and the docking pads for the landing pods of Dawn Horizon. “We’re going to see this for ourselves, tonight.”

Checking the time on her console she corrected herself. “Tomorrow.”

 

Twentytwo years, six months, two weeks and five days after secession.

A constant cool breeze blew from the night side. As promised the Harpies had brought the Dawn Horizon to a stable orbit, and were seeing them off, scanning for any signs of the patriarchists already in the system.

As Admiral, Abbigale had the obligation to remain on the ship until settlement was in full swing. But Wolfgang had taken to the planet, and brought his mother along. With her dementia she had no concept any longer of how much time had passed. Most likely she’d forget where she was, a few minutes in.

“It is beautiful, Mum.” Staring into the distance Wolfgang saw the edge of the scorching desert, but still could not help but appreciate the beauty of the place.

Around them were docking pads for more landing pods, some in the process of receiving allotment.

On the slope behind their posotion was a thick forest of red tree like growths. Preliminary examination of them showed them to be more like a hybrid between plant and animal, feeding off both the sunlight and the nutrients blown past them by the constant wind.

“What is this?” She pointed at the glacial stream in the distance, running off towards the desert. “A river.”

“I can see that, I mean that there at the river.”

A creature sat on the river bank, it had only basic eyesight, and lived both in the water and on the river banks, heating itself up outside the water, swimming upstream to feed and then it stranded again somewhere to warm up again. Observations showed it to exist in several streams near the landing site, suggesting them to be able to traverse the land, even if only very plump. “We dubbed it a Ghoti, you know, the old joke? If the ‘gh’ in ‘enough’ is pronounced like an ‘f’, the ‘o’ im ‘women’ like an ‘i’ and the ‘ti’ in ‘nation’ makes the ‘sh’ sound then ‘ghoti’ should be pronounced like ‘fish’.” For a second Jane’s eyes lit up as if a star had burst into life. “The Ghoti. Yes. We have arrived. Thank you my dear.” Stammering she stared at the Ghoti in the distance.

Wolfgang followed her gaze.

Life on this twilight planet would not be as hard as he had feared from linker description. On the contrary, there was much to be found here.

Life, tasks, and opportunity.