“It’s the Ronin seven, they replicated the procedure.” Kurt was greeted to the Bridge with a statement of the situation. A look at the viewscreen confirmed the presence of the sturdy ship, but also that the Alarm was unjustified.

After getting hit by the magnetically charged acid that burned through their hull the Ronin seven dragged on and followed Phoenix by imitating their behavior and settings from the database procured through the QEN.

But that time jump had wreaked final havoc on the proud and majestic warrior. “We ought to do something. If we don’t, they will crash down to earth.” Maryjane had beaten Kurt to the bridge, she stood next to Rich, a tablet in her hand. “By my estimates they would all die, but their ship would survive reentry. In large enough pieces to cause further alterations on the time line.”

Figures. Also walking over to Rich Bauman, Kurt glanced on the console. “We could pull them out.”

“With what? They’re too fast and too close to earth to try and use Phoenix’s mass to pull them away, and I doubt we’re going to ram them out of the way.” Maryjane fiercely pushed her chin forward, as to defy him and his idea.

“Grappling.” Regina interjected, hearing her words Rich drew up schematics of the spearhead section of Phoenix. There was the capability of shooting grappling tethers onto other ships or bodies in space. As Phoenix was designed as a frontier ship, also capable of setting up mining operations, it was designed to haul in asteroids in case they should be mined.

“They will not like that, what if they become operational again?” Doctor Hutzinger’s voice was sharp, showing a fatal flaw in the plan.

“If they do, they might be grateful enough not to murder us all. We are not like them. We won’t let them plunge down to earth, to burn up in the atmosphere, so we can pick up the debris later!” Rejecting any delay of the plan Regina turned away from the trio. Besides, I don’t want to spend another week, or weeks, or months picking up debris that might change the future, again.

 

Beads of sweat stood on Toryama’s forehead as he carefully navigated the Phoenix’s spear head into position to begin the rescue operation. There were no hails of any sorts from the Ronin seven. “Launching grappling tethers.” Zhu had the difficult responsibility to grapple on to the other ship, as her normal duties as communication officer were not needed at the present time.

“Three down, one missfired, one did not connect. Rewinding and retrying.”

The rewinding process took a felt eternity, nervously the bridge crew stared at the screen. If the Ronin seven was to start an offensive against their rescuers, it’d be at that moment when the tethers were all connected.

Again the two fired, hit the targeted area and yanked into a tight position. “Alright, bring us up.” Reclining in her seat Zhu was glad the difficult part for her was over, now the burden was lying on Toryama again.

Slowly the two ships gained altitude, while the Ronin seven still showed no signs of activity.

“Prepare an assault charge, we need to take control of that ship once it is operational again.” Regina turned to Rich who saluted, left his post to gather a team.

To ensure that the Ronin would not assume an attack position all of a sudden the tethers were to remain connected, as they could be disengaged at any time, but that way Phoenix would have an advanced warning.

 

“Alright Joe, we have located the thing. Now what?” Major Adamovic stared at the display. “Can we go down there?”

“We sure can, but will it do any good?” Again Joanne Carlin was his pilot of choice, other than those two they only had one other man aboard. Linus Tuovinen, who was the chief engineer, and knew exactly what to look for. “Aye, it was never tested, but theoretically the pods can dive.” He leaned forward in his seat, a strange calm confidence in his voice gave James and Joanne the same confidence in the vessel’s ability to dive. Metallurgical scanners had detected the pieces they had lost, on the ocean floor, now it was time to do something about that.

Carefully Joanne pointed the nose of their pod at the water and began descending. Previous experience had shown that the pods floated, to remain under water was therfore requiring effort on part of the pilot, just as keeping it aloft in the air was. “Once we reached it, what will do then?”

At a loss James turned to Linus. “Landing gear? Trapping it there should be no problem, the area is not connected to the cabin, and we have no reentry planned.” Still calm Linus seemed to have planned out the details of the operation.

“Wonder what is happening up there with that Ronin ship.” James leaned back after seeing their descend was going to take a while. The outside of the ship was moaning a little under the immense pressure that was exerted on it, making him feel uncomfortable.

 

“Check your sensors Phoenix.” Rich stood in the hallway of the Ronin that was behind the airlock hatch their pod had latched on to. A dozen marines accompanied him, weapons ready to shoot at everyone who seemed threatening.

“We can’t tell you anyanything we haven’t told you before.” Scans of the Ronin had concluded the crew ought to be alive, as lifesigns were detected. Still Rich stared into ghostly emptiness.

Illuminated only by the helmet mounted flashlights of their spacesuits, Rich could see. The team had no idea how well the airlock systems on the Ronin worked after the acid attack, followed by the damage brought on by the time jump.

“I’m reading an atmosphere. Breathable.”

“Don’t take off your helmet. They are not afraid of utilising pathogens, some our implants might be powerless against!” Rich recognised Kurt’s voice on the radio, waved his men to swarm out and check the adjacent rooms.

“Locked.” Was the response he got from his men, for the three doors visible. Hoping that, that was a good sign, not a trap waiting to be sprung, he gave the order to move on. “We do have a map of this place, right?” A guy, the second in command of the mission, Hendricksen, asked with a nagging undertone to his voice.

“Yes.” Replying with an annoyed tone Rich was looking at their position on the inside of his helmet. “We need to take a right in ten meters, go up a level and then we’re at the bridge, below that lies the engine room, so we’ll have to split up.”

Giving Hendricksen the command of the second group was standard procedure, but Rich had doubts. He seemed too trigger happy the way he handled the gun. “Freisinger, what’s on sensors?” A man with a small device mounted on his forearm got slower, glancing down on the display. “Bridge and engine room filled with people, otherwise we’re clear.”

Did Phoenix read this too? Or was the ship shielded in a way that allowed for their sensors to only locate the general presence of lifeforms, but not their precise locations?

Small tremors reverberated through the ship, moaning and screeching on the structure.

Feeling as if they should get out of there and leave Ronin seven and her crew to their fate, it was hard for the team to go on. Especially in the semi darkness of the corridors.

“We have a problem, sir.” It was Freisinger, stopping at a corner. “I’m reading a power source in the center of the hallway, but the tube, or whatever they call it, is dead.”

Looking around, there was nothing that Rich could use to either throw or hold out into the hallway. “I’ll check it out, sir.”

“No, it’s too dangerous, Hendricksen.” Rich pondered on a way to get to the bottom of the mysterious energy source in the hallway without endangering anybody. At his side Hendricksen dismounted the camera from the suit, held it out in the thick gloved hands, between index finger and thumb. “All that could happen is, I lose the cam and two fingers.”

“And containment.” Finding no alternative to the plan proposed by the marine Rich then nodded. “Alright, but be careful.”

Programmed to transmit it’s image to all the men in the group Hendricksen inched to the corner. Slowly extended his hand, the camera facing in the hallway they were about to enter.

Almost immediately a series of discharges hit the wall and corner, Hendricksen withdrew his hand faster than anyone had thought possible. “A turret.”

 

A few minutes passed in which Hendricksen calmed down and the others had to gather their courage as well. “Now what?” The still shacken Marine asked, the terror in his face obscured by forgiving darkness.

“Freisinger, can you hack it?” Not wasting any more time Rich got up, turning the volume from the exterior Microphone up, to listen if there was any movement of the Ronin crew.

Surely they had to have been alarmed by the sudden gun fire. “Detecting no frequencies. It must be autautomated.” And battery operated. Thinking to himself Rich kicked the floor, a mechanical sound from the turret replied to his stomp like sound. So it also listens. “Alright, ready your guns. We’re trying something.” Hoping that it also had heat detection, and priorized hot signatures, Rich raised his gun while going to the other side of the corridor, still hidden from view. He targeted the opposite corner, while the marines readied themselves at the corner where he just had stood.

The laser from his gun hit the wall, creating a hot spot, immediately the turret opened fire at that point, to which one of the guys jumped the corner and fired at the turret, receiving a salve of shots himself.

“Fuck! Leroy!” Hendricksen pulled his dead friend back around the corner, a few shots from the turret followed him.

Opening the helmet of Leroy Hendricksen realised that all hope for him was gone. The eyes looked up at him in a fixed stare of death, a trickle of blood ran from his chest up the neck of Leroy. “We’ve known each other since kindergarten. He was my best friend.” Hendricksen cried, tears went down his cheeks, unseen by his comrades. “Don’t worry mate. You have not died in vain.”

Rich was about to say something, but in that moment Hendricksen yanked off the helmet of his dead buddy, and threw it across the hallway, gunshots from the turret followed it, Hendricksen threw himself around the corner, firing relentlessly at the turret.

Shocked and surprised Rich and the others watched, but were astonished at the accuracy of Hendricksen’s shooting, as the turret did not open fire at him, but remained silent.

“It is toast sir.” In his voice Rich heard that he was crying. Not the proud mentality he came to expect from Hendricksen, but a whimper of a man who had just avenged his best friend’s death.

“Bring Leroy back to the pod, secure the position there. Got it Hendricksen?” Rich too came around the corner, the cylindrical turret had a gaping hole in its center. Still it was powered, but obviously Hendricksen had taken out the vital part that controlled it.

 

Slowly Freisinger approached the turret, while Hendricksen dragged Leroy back to their ship. “Weapon systems are still on, but it lost its sensors and control unit.” He deduced, reaching in he pulled a few connectors out. “Now it is completely dead.”

Splitting up the group up was easy, while Hank Black took half of the group to engineering, Rich and Freisinger opened the hatch to a ladder system, connecting the individual decks. It was listed in the blueprints they had procured from the database, but at first glance Rich had not paid them attention.

Outside the ladder on the deck of the bridge the small scanner on Freisinger’s hand registered two people.

Guessing that they too must’ve been upset by the firing turret below, Rich wanted to stay calm, despite the fact he felt his pulse in his throat.

He and another man squatted down to the sides of the closed hatch. Freisinger, only his helmet showed in the ladder opening, gestured that they were moving down the hall.

As elegantly as possible in the clunky space suits, Rich and the other guy opened the hatch and spung outside, the two crewmen they had surprised dropped the heavy turret they were carrying. Other than the defensive automated wapon, they seemed unarmed. Immediately they barked something in Japanese.

I hadn’t thought of turning on a translator. “Raise your hands!” Obviously the two did not understand him either, his external speaker was on however, he had made sure of that.

For a moment the two crewmen exchanged a glance. One raising a hand to touch a wrist mounted device of his own, the two leaned to the sides, ready to jump out of the hallway. Rich shot at the man, removing the device from his wrist, along with the rest of the hand, his comrade stunned the other guy, who was now lying on the floor, twitching.

Quickly the two hurried to the wounded man, kicked the damaged device away, as it could be either a weapon or a control device for the turret.

He was shouting in pain. “He’s warning the bridge crew of our presence!” Freisinger followed up to them, along with the other two guys in his team.

One of the two shot the inactive turret, before it might get activated by someone else.

Passed out from the pain, the guy with the control device was dragged around a corner. Meanwhile Rich walked over to the stunned other one. Only in the bright light of his lamp did he realise that it was a woman.

“Wake up.” He barked, automatically translated by the computer in his suit. Gently he patted her cheeks. For a moment he pondered whether he’d be as nice to a man. “Wake up!” Reluctantly her eyes fluttered open.

“Tell your captain to surrender!” A defiant smile on her lips the woman spit at Rich, jerked her jaw around and bit on something. “Fuck! This is,” he couldn’t finish his sentence as her body slumped back to the floor.

Suicide pills. Probably hidden in a fake tooth. “Suicide is more honorable than capture.” He heard the monotone voice of the translator speak to him.

A man in plain clothing stood in the hallway. Only his colar was richly decorated. “You have saved this ship from burning up in the atmosphere, that’s when we decided to hand out the pills, so we can’t be taken prisoners.”

Behind his helmet Rich made a frown. “We’re not here to take prisoners. But we also cannot let you stay here, or hinder us from achieving our goal.”

“We’re at an impasse it would seem, because we cannot let you achieve your goal.” Only you are in no position to stop us. For a moment Rich wondered why no other ships from the Armada have showed up. Figuring that due to the presence of the ships in Earth’s past the future has already been changed, no matter what the outcome would be, the timeline they had left no longer connected with the past they existed in at that moment. “I have given orders to destroy this ship, my crew will gladly die for our cause.”

It was a sentence drenched in pride. Although the translator did not transport the emotion of the Captain, or what ever his rank was, his posture told Rich everything he needed to know. “Engineering is welded shut, your people can not enter it, unless they cut through the reinforced doors. Our core is being rigged to detonate this ship as we speak.”

Heat rushed to Rich’s head, he felt his cheeks burn, cold sweat gathered on his forehead. “Attention, Hank, fall back to the turret. Now!”

Rich got to his feet. “It does not have to end this way. You could come to our time line with us.”

A calm smile appeared on the Captain’s lips. “To be the outcast aliens you were in ours? I do not think so.” That sentence told Rich that he and his team were not going to be hindered from leaving the Ronin seven. A weird sense of understanding formed in both of the men.

Would Rich decide any differently if he had no chance of correcting the time line in any way possible? He figured not. “You will die with honor, sir.” Rich indicated a bow.

“Good luck in returning home.” The captain did the same.

 

Upon receiving the updates from Rich Bauman, Regina was not pleased, but she too understood the decision the Captain of the Ronin seven, and his crew, had made. Disgruntled she turned to Kurt who was looking equally displeased.

“We need to tow the Ronin seven out.” He lowered head and gaze to the console. “If they blow up and their tech survives even in the least, it could mean we are not returning home, and quite frankly, neither my nerves, nor the ship, could take another journey through time after we return to our time.”

Sketching a picture of either the Soviet union or the cold war era US finding technology from the Ronin seven in space at the beginning of the space age, altering the history of mankind again, perhaps even more so than what their own alterations had changed, he plotted a course for the wreckage and ensuing debris. “Or if it enters the atmosphere,  survives reentry, and is found. I get the picture.”

Ignoring the annoyance in Regina’s voice, Kurt kept typing frantically on the console. “The sun.” Zhu suggested, pointing at the star setting behind earth’s horizon. “They have no power, what if we drag them towards the sun?”

Shrugging his shoulders Kurt explored that possibility. “The antimatter in their engines might upset the delicate balance of the sun.” A horrible scenario of solar storms upsetting life on earth, spelling an end for mankind, or yet another altered human timeline, began to unfold in his mind.

“We have to bring it out of here. Before they blow up. An explosion in interstellar space should be relatively harmless.” Kurt theorised, an alarm on the console disturbed his research.

Proximity alert.

 

Scrambling to his station Rich was glad to be out of the spacesuit again, a feeling Kurt knew all too well he recalled as he surrendered the station to the first officer of Phoenix. “It’s a Harpy ship.” Kurt heard as he left for his own workplace in the adjacent control centre.

“Hail them.” Curious as to what would happen now, Regina turned to the viewscreen. A skeptical looking Harpy appeared on the screen. “Please do not be alarmed.” Regina began, hearing the translation the Harpy’s expression changed to pure astonishment. “How can you communicate with us? We have never encountered your species, you are technologically not advanced enough to have covertly listened to our communication!”

Beginning to grasp what Kurt felt since they first traveled through time, the utter insanity of saying they have traveled through time. “We thought it impossible, but we have actually traveled back in time, and you discovering us, poses a new problem.” Another realisation hit Regina.

Another communication line was activated, from Kurt’s office. “We can offer you data we have gathered. Scans of the planet below will reveal the presence of our species, but no capability of building vessels like ours.”

Confusion replaced the other expression on the face of the Harpy. Too much information, especially the bits about timetravel, had been showered on her.

“Reading an energy buildup in Ronin seven.” The same reading was shouted to the commander of the Harpy ship. “Do you need assistance?”

“Well, the crew of the ship we have in tow decided to destroy both their ship and themselves along with it. We must protect the timeline, and need ways to ensure that no harm comes to the life on the planet, or that their technology is preserved in any way.”

Almost as if she wanted to bite someone the Harpy’s head snapped to the side, she gave a command to take the Ronin seven into tow.

Yanked from the tether cables the Harpy ship pulled the Ronin seven with an energy beam.

“We have theories about tractor beams. But seeing it happen is something else.” Kurt’s voice came mumbling from the intercom.

Apparently he had accessed the sensors. Not waiting around for more explanations the Harpy ship engaged their engines. Using the presumably brief moment until the Harpies should make their return, Regina requested an update from the ground, or rather underwater, crew. “Out of communication, the water is disrupting the signal.”

We should outfit the pods with QEN devices. “They’re coming back.” Rich watched his console attentively.

“Good. We need to iron things out.” Behind Regona the door opened, it had felt awkward for Kurt to continue from his desk, his presence on the bridge was required simply due to respect.

“I have prepared a data package for them. It leaves out events that need to play out unhindered in their civilisation too.” He handed his tablet to Regina so she could approve of it.

 

“Got it!” Sighing in relief Joanne Carlin fell back in her seat, eight times they had tried to scoop up the debris with the landing gear, seven times she had failed. All the while the hull was moaning under the immense pressure of the ocean above and around. But now the part was trapped in the landing gear compartment. “Super! Let’s get out of here.” In annoyance James too reclined in his seat.

“Steadily, just be sure there are no adverse effects on the hull.” Linus winked from his seat.

Joanne pressed a button while giving the two men a death stare, turning off the engines that kept the craft actively from floating to the surface.

During the mission she had begun to question James’ presence. She and Linus would’ve been enough. A pilot and someone to fix the craft if any malfunctions should pop up.

“Wonder what we’ll find up there. Perhaps they should fit these pods with quantum communication.” Looking at the engineer, James secretly asked himself the same question that Joanne had herself.

“More scoop up jobs, as the Ronin crashed into earth.” Grumbling Joanne slowed their ascend, expecting to be stuck in the cockpit of a pod for a long time.

“What if Ronin seven recovered, destoryed Phoenix and we can be expected to be shot down too? Or if both ships got destroyed?”

James’s scenario frightened Joanne a bit, but she maintained their slowed ascend, still the hull moaned and creaked, but due to being exposed to less stress than before.

 

“We must code our data from this encounter with a timestamp, prohibiting access before you leave for the past.” The commander of the Harpy ship, Cryva, walked next to Regina. Curious about the strange ship from the future she had decided to pay the humans a visit. The data that Kurt had prepared for them was convincing, intricate knowledge of the Harpy society, their struggles with the patriarchists, their history. Even the vessel hidden in martian soil. Regina was giving her an extended tour, explaining the recent jump technology from the ringbased simulation of gravity to the gravity generated on the Phoenix’s spear head section.

“We would be very much in your debt.” Admitting this was hard for Regina, she hated depending on the Harpies, or anyone other than herself. “In case we fail in our enterprise, we have prepared something else.” Reluctantly Regina gave the Harpy a tablet, configured to be handled by the Harpies. “Our alterations on the timeline have caused our kind to develop into a ruthless conqueror, and although you are further developed, they have sought and found a way to cause great damage to your people. Herein contained is the cure for the sickness they used. If we fail, you can still save your people.” There was an ill feeling in Regina’s stomach as she revealed that information, but also a sense of making right a wrong not yet committed.

 

As she examined the tablet Cryva’s eyes widened and then narrowed. Biological warfare was a concept the Harpies had abandoned long ago. Seeing the potential threat from the virus she was appaled. “Thank you, for trusting us to not take steps of our own to prevent the threat to our society your species poses.”

Voicing the doubts Regina had about the entire reveal of information, Cryva held the tablet close to herself. “We must. Our ship can’t withstand another time jump I am told, so if we fail, at least your people will come out of this relatively unscathed.”

Regina’s glasses rung, informing her of the return of the pod to the surface of the ocean. She exchanged a few words with James, reassuring him that they were still alive and in one piece.

Another tidbit of information flashed up on her glasses. Sensors had detected the explosion of Ronin seven, according to the Harpies that had happened, but due to the distance it only now showed up on the sensors.

 

Water poured out of the small opening in the landing gear compartment, the pod hovered above the waves, a relatively calm day had the waves not reach the ship. After most of it had drained, Joanne put the autopilot in charge of returning the pod to Phoenix. Exhausted she was glad to finally let go of the controls.

A second pilot. They should’ve brought a second pilot instead of James and his constant babbling.

Silently the ship darted upwards, cutting through the air and clouds. External view revealed a brilliantly beautiful view of the sun rising above the ocean. As they climbed the light grew brighter, soon the sun lit the north American continent.

“There’s Phoenix. Majestic as always.” Linus leaned forward, pointing at the screen. Sunlight reflected off the hull, giving the illusion that the ship itself was a shining beacon in the darkness of space.

Next to it was the beak shaped, impressive vessel the Harpies had arrived in.

Guided in by the autopilot, soon taken over by guidance from Phoenix, the pod navigated to Phoenix, swung into position, and slowly descended into the landing bay.

The landing gear was opened before the ship could dock, a remote operated drone retrieved the part from the landing bay.

Docking clamps engaged, outside the airlock door, pressure returned to normal, freeing the three people inside the craft from the confines of the pod.

“Hey, you want to hang out tonight?” It was not unusual for James to make a pass at Joanne. They had a history.

“Don’t take it personally, but I want to be alone, and as far as possible from either of you guys.” Winking with a smile, Joanne got out, stumbling into a group of their comrades and friends welcoming them back.

 

Examination of the recovered debris revealed that it was the item that had caused the change in the time line, not some rogue additional piece. The tedious journey back to the strange star was refreshingly uneventful. Kurt truly enjoyed the dull routine of getting up, doing just routine work and checks on the systems, and calling it a day afterwards.

As much as he had fond it taxing in the beginning of his time on Phoenix, he now enjoyed it. Things with Regina were slowly picking up again, as she had been shown the error of her ways with the altered time line.

A break in the routine was coming in the form of the strange star. For the first time in what felt like ages Kurt entered the bridge.

“All systems are prepared and ready. We can go back home.” He reported gleefully, taking up position at Rich’s station, who had surrendered it gladly for the delicate procedure.

“Perfect. Take us home, Doctor Braun.” A small, almost unnoticeable wink in her eye told him that she kept up the professional attitude for show.

 

As in previous encounters with the strange star, the ship rocked, knocking things over. But not again any people, as everyone was prepared for it.

A menacing moan and creak reverberated throughout the ship, sparks flew from an unprotected system, for a few moments the light went out. When they returned, Kurt looked at the console.

Surge protection had protected the systems from any severe damage, so the data was soon coming in again.

“As Linus and I feared, the spearhead section is now permanently fused with the rear.” He gave a synopsis. For once the amount of damage was irrelevant. “We should be,” Kurt picked up on the data coming in and out the QEN. “We are in our time, and time line.” Designations like RV-p296, Equatoria, PK-p222, were swirling around the network.

That was their home.

“Reading a ship. Harpy destroyer.” Kurt felt an adrenaline rush, for a moment he feared an attack, the patriarchists could’ve gotten wind of their time travels and decide to pry information about it from the vulnerable ship. “They’re hailing.” Zhu tweeted in an overly cheerful manner.

“Put them on.” Regina replied, equally cheerful.

“General Marston, I am commander Gavarth, and it is my honor to extend the congratulations of the matriarchy on being the first known time travellers.” She read off a screen. She put down the device she was reading off of. “We thank you for the trust put into us, and our ancestors. Although some might question why you haven’t warned us about tragedies in our culture, or between our people, others understand. Digitalys had to happen, it was bound to happen, if not on that particular colony, then another. The initial misunderstanding between our species, had to happen so a mutual relationship could evolve.” Gavarth paused in her speech. “I can not say I would’ve acted the same way in your situation, I would’ve tried changing history to a beneficial outcome.”

“Trust me, the temptation was there commander, but seeing the implications of one accidental alteration this temptation withered away.” Not having expected a welcoming comittee, Regina was thrown off guard by the presence of the Harpies.

With a bening glance in her eyes the Harpy commander looked at Regina. “Forgive us for this unexpected hold up. It was inconsiderate.”

“It is not inconsiderate, I just had not expected anyone awaiting our return. Perhaps once we have overcome all the ill effects of the latest jump we can continue this conversation?”

Still displaying her benign glance Gavarth nodded. “Perhaps.”