Posts tagged ‘DEHumans’

Rings of Fate S4xE10 – Dawn – Journey

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.

Rings of Fate S4xE9 – Phoenix – Time

Doubting their eyes, and the visual sensors, the bridge crew of Phoenix kept staring at the image on the main viewscreen of the bridge.

“This must be a glitch, calling up some obscure data from the databanks.” Kurt finally tore away from the sight. Agreeing, but still intrigued Regina sat down on the ground. The aftereffects of her abortion that morning still taking their toll on her.

“Zhu, there is a viewport in the storage compartment on deck two, please go there for visual confirmation.” Saluting the young woman jumped from her seat at the communication terminal, hurried off.

Although earth had been annihilated by the neutron star that ejected Mars out into the interstellar realm, and wreaked havoc on the sun, every child still learned how earth once looked like. “Suppose it is not a glitch. How do we get back home?”

Trying to boot up more systems after the violent encounter with the strange star and it’s effects on the systems of Phoenix, Kurt only shortly looked up and over to Regina. “If this thing there is not a glitch, then we are in deep trouble. Not being able to restore systems, instruments and sensors is then, the least of our problems. There are only two, maybe three possible explanations for this. One more unlikely than the next.”

Not satisfied with his reply Regina massaged her temples. “Give me those possible explanations.”

Busy in trying to restore some of the ship’s systems to functionality Kurt grunted. “One, a one hundred percent lookalike. Theoretically possible, but so unlikely that you’d need a universe several times larger than the one we inhabit to make it happen. Two,” he paused trying to decipher an error message, for a moment he mumbled something to himself, typed a command, gleefully he saw the result. “we broke out from our universe and landed in another one. Again, very unlikely, although the multiverse theory probably is a given. Three, we have gone,” this is ridiculous, “back in time.”

Nodding at each possibility Regona kept massaging her temples, behind her the doors opened. Babbling out an excuse for her delay, Cassandra entered, seeing Regina sit on the floor. “Didn’t I send you to your quarters?”

“Can’t keep a General from her ship!” Mumbling in between reading errors and trying to fix them with the help of a codebook that was stored on every terminal’s hard drive, Kurt did not look up.

“Is that?” The two male nurses and Cassandra stopped next to Rich Bauman, the first officer, who had suffered a head injury. “Probably not.” Regina replied, since the incident her head was pounding, although she had only fallen out of bed, not hitting her head.

Again the doors opened, Zhu returned, panting heavily. “It’s real. I saw it!”

Stopping his actions Kurt had to sit down.

 

On the console screen before his eyes error messages popped up, as well as return codes for successfully booted up systems. A few insturments came back online.

Devastated Kurt stared at the console.

Inside his mind everything was flying around.

The planet on the screen was truly out there, it had been visually confirmed. Although it looked like earth, it could not be!

Determined to get to the bottom of this Kurt sprung to action. “Putting in a computer query to make a comparison of thes star constellations with those visible from earth.” Behind the planet a moon became visible.

It looked like the moon that once orbited earth. Before both got destroyed by a neutron star. “Draw up images of earth and the moon while you’re at it.” Regina suggested, while the nurses put Rich on the med bed to wheel him out.

“Zhu, please get on the radio and listen for any transmissions.”

“As far as sensors can be trusted, there is no technology present capable of sending transmissions to or from that planet.”

Heaving herself into the chair Regina gave her boyfriend a scolding look. “What do we have at our disposal to make such determinations?”

“Energy detectors, metallurgical scanners and visual.” Still fighting with the loads of errors from other systems Kurt began to loose hope for these systems. “How about lifeforms?”

Slowly raising his glance from the console to the General, Kurt had to fight his inner demons. Everything he knew, everything he ever learned dismissed the notion of time travel, especially time travel into the past. It was almost a violent impulse that brooded from his subconscious.

“No. Too many errors, I’m afraid that stuff is broken beyond repair. Why do you want those anyway? Look at it, green forests, blue seas, an atmosphere. If we get back the chemical analysis sensors, we can determine if it is suitable for us, but I’d say there’s life there.” Please don’t say it. Please don’t say you want to see if there are humans.

“Too see if there humans.”

Immediately clenching his fists and his jaw Kurt closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Even though this planet and it’s moon look like that which once was home to our ancestors, it is not earth. It can’t be. There might be intelligent life, but I highly doubt that. In all likelihood, this place is looking almost like earth, whichnis highly unlikely, but it cannot be earth. Neither in the past, nor in some alternate universe!” Towards the end he couldn’t hold back his aggravated mood any longer.

Until a beeping from the console drew his attention he stared at Regina with a look that spelled bloody murder.

 

Growing pale Kurt sank into the forgiving cushioning of his seat. “I give up.” Absently his gaze wandered back to Regina. “According to the patterns of stars, this is earth, roughly at the end of the last ice age.”

“Why so glum about it Doctor?” Zhou turned around with her seat, an earpiece in her left ear.

“This is a scientific nightmare! Nothing, absolutely nothing that I know of permits travel through time into the past.”

In the eyes of the communication officer and in Regina’s, he could see what both of them thought. Apparently a strange star can. Returning his attention to the failed and failing systems, something else struck Kurt’s mind.

“Oh damn.” Not waiting for Regina’s reaction he quickly explained that apparently the antimatter containment chambers, and their ability to make new antimatter were damaged. Only one of the fusion reactors was functional, and that at fifty percent.

“We have to shut down all non essential systems! Repeat, on the order of General Marston, all non essential systems have to be shutndown!” Zhou gave her best version of a confident voice, but at least to those knowing her, or being in the same room as her, her desperation showed.

“Deploying solar collectors.” Never thought I’m gonna say that, Kurt mused. From the massive sails that began unfolding in between the rings and between the spearhead and the alpha ring, only one error message came back to Kurt’s console. “Maneuvering Phoenix into optimal angle.” Navigator Kohaku Toryama stated, his speech sounded a little sluggish, Regina sent a request for medical attention upon noticing.

Half the lights went out after a minute, the remaining ones dimmed. “Cosy.” Remarking on the drastic lengths of the energy conserving measures, Regina felt suddenly overcome with exhaustion.

“We need a new shift. Fast. Right now we all had an adrenaline rush, it’s fading. Could you see to that?” Kurt also felt overcome with exhaustion. “Sure thing.”

 

Five hours, twenty three minutes. Kurt stretched.

He thanked his body for requiring that little amount of sleep, as he swung his legs outn of bed. From his son’s room came loud snoring.

He had only a minor injury, a twisted ankle, but knowing Leopold, he knew the youth would sleep off his pain. Next to him was Regina. After the events of the previous day she had not wanted to sleep alone, in order to keep an eye on Leopold for a little while she had come to Kurt’s quarters for the night.

After few moments it all came back to him. Confused he cursed the entire incident, he was, for the first time in his life, without a clue.

“Harpies!” Regina shot upwards next to him.

“What?”

“That’s the answer, we contact the Harpies of this time period. They do have the technology to come here. Or at least receive our call, record it, store it in their databases, and figure out a way to get us away from here.” Rubbing the sleep from her eyes Regina too got out of bed.

Perhaps that’s not a bad idea. Musing on Regina’s epiphany Kurt rubbed his stubbed chin. “That might alter the time line. It would endanger first contact with them, perhaps even cause the destruction of mankind, if the patriarchists get wind of it.”

Yawning he longed for nothing more than a coffee, the chemical product of years of loving addiction of humans yearning to have a cup after the exodus to Mars, and RV-p296. That issue, of whether or or not to contact the Harpies, could wait until he and the ship were more operational.

 

“Repairs on the lander fusion reactor are coming along well, efficiency of rear fusion reactor has increased to seventy five per cent.” Night shift commander, Major James Adamovic reported to the General.

Reluctantly he went to leave the bridge. “Gather a team, captain.”

“What for, if may ask, General?”

“An away mission.” Regina beamed. “We’re going to pick a suitable location, where you can’t interfere with the local population.”

Equally reluctant Kurt had manned the post of the first officer. After most systems had shut down, the console had become his office. Rich also was not fit for duty yet.

Only after Adamovic had left did he speak up.

“Do you think that wise? We don’t know a thing about the implications this might have. A single picked berry might alter the timeline!” Keeping his voice low Kurt was reduced to a hiss as he pretended to show Regina something on a tablet.

“We need boots on the ground, in our present condition we are not able to go anywhere, but this location! If everything checks out we could extract,”

“A feat we can achieve on asteroids, other moons, planetoids in the outer reaches of the solar system. Places where we are not in danger of altering human history.”

Regina’s eyes narrowed, her lips formed a thin line.

“Going there requires resources we don’t have, time we can’t afford to waste. Besides, we could try to alter history to a beneficial outcome. Imagine if mankind skips the dark ages where four to nine hundred years of scientific progress is suspended. Imagine mankind going to the stars as fast as possible. Before that darn neutron star reaches the solar system!”

Appalled, growing pale in shock, Kurt felt all air flee his lungs. Now Regina had delusions of grandeur! “We can’t. We all, every man woman and child in existence would seize to be! None of us would ever be born! Altering time on that scale would spell the end of mankind as we know it.”

“We could save billions of lives!”

“By taking countless billions! This is not the billions that died when earth got destroyed, but the billions that came before them, and those that will live then. They are not the ones that will be alive if you go through with this! Our history, our culture, everything will be destroyed!”

Feeling scolded like a schoolgirl Regina bit her lip. She had hated these moments in her youth, and she sure hated that feeling now.

“Mankind has survived. And we need to ensure that it stays that way. We can not alter history.”

“That depends, Doctor Braun.” Maryjane Hutzinger entered the bridge. As the only addition to the crew from Equatoria she enjoyed the energy conserving measures, as she experienced the martian low gravity for the first time. “What if our interference with history has happened already in our distant past? Which then lead to the commissioning of Orion?” Smug faced she strode over to his workstation, although receiving a gaze of disbelief from her fellow scientist, and from the General.

“All right.” Regina shook her head. “For now we will do nothing that might interfere with history, but the team will go down, for a series of flybys. I want more information on what is going on down there. Perhaps the sensors of the pods are functional?”

A notion that had escaped Kurt, the limited range of those sensors however made them useless from Orbit. Gladly they had been designed with atmospheric flight in mind. “Not too low, we can’t risk being spotted, and immortalised in drawing. Or upsetting aherd of animals that trample our forefathers, annihilating us in the process.”

“Would we be aware of such annihilation?” Zhu seemed genuinely worried, still listening to a whole lot of nothing.

“Suppose my stoneage grandmother gets killed, I would vanish. No one would know me, no one would have ever heard of me. You’d all have no idea I ever existed.” Perhaps antimatter drive would still be hinging on Fineman. Removing Phoenix out of the equation, we never upset these animals, my stoneage grandmother lives and we start over. Caught infinitely in a time loop. At least in one theory.

Calmed a little by the paradoxon’s promise of eternal life, Kurt strode to his console.

“So even if we alter history, we would not travel back in time in order to do that, in which case history would not be altered, resulting in us ending up here, altering history?” Zhu rubbed her head, she began having a headache.

“Who knows? We might be here for the second, three billionth, or just the first time.” Trying to sound uplifting Maryjane leaned against the wall behind the console.

Rewarded with shocked stares from the bridge staff, she blushed. “Is there a special reason for your presence here, Doctor Hutzinger?” Incapable of hiding her annoyance with her Regina leaned deeper into her seat.

 

“Alright, you win. That little discussion with Hutzinger convinced me. No alterations of the timeline!” After Doctor Hutzinger had left, mood on the bridge was at its lowest.

Regina leaned half over the console that Kurt was working on. “The flyby is still taking place, after that contact with earth is off limits.”

“The pod is ready, Ma’am.” Zhu was glad to hear something on the ether. On a normal day there were dozens of queries for the bridge, one to three messages over the quantum entanglement network. With the energy conserving measures in place only one or two queries that could not have been relayed otherwise, and absolute silence over the QEN.

“Good, tell them to maintain a high enough altitude so they’ll be out of sight, but low enough to run all their sensors.”

 

Major Adamovic was relaxed during the descent through the upper atmosphere. Turbulence was as normal as turbulence got, not any worse than what they had experienced on Equatoria. After a few minutes the rattling died down, leaving behind the sensation of just having been shook. “Joe, maintain the altitude we have to maintain, and give me sensors.”

“Aye.” Joanne Carlin replied with a gleeful tone to her voice. For his mission the Major had chosen the best pilot he knew, there was an anthropologist with them. Kaleb Manheimer. Glued to the screen, having the feedback of the sensors at his disposal, telling him of all the creatures the sensors got a hold of.

“That’s earth alright. Not quite the place we’ve heard and read about, but earth.” With only a little curiosity showing, his voice had a neutral tone. “That’s what our people would call home, aren’t you at least a little bit excited?” James studied the same results on his screen.

Other members of his team stood behind him, and behind Manheimer. Originally he had thought they were going to land, so he had brought a geologist, some of his friends who he knew were capable of handling unexpected situations, and who would follow his orders. “No. We can’t land, we can’t call this home. There is no telling what effect our landing might have on the timeline, besides, everyone, everything down there will die. From our perspective it all has already died. Aeons ago. Even if there was some freak of nature capable of surviving the many millenia to our time, it will still die when the planet gets destroyed by the neutron star. Although Mars, or RV-p296, will one day presumably meet an end, we do not know when. It might be tomorrow, from our time, or in a billion years. Here I can tell you when. I wouldn’t want to get too attached to a place of which I know exactly when it will be destroyed.”

Scientists, always a source for mood dampening lines. “Joe, can we get any lower?”

“Negative, this is the optimal altitude.”

As James was about to say he wanted to get a closer look, a violent shaking stopped him. Friends and colleagues around him dropped to their knees, or landed on the floor of the ship. “Turbulence?”

“Stabiliser is unresponsive. Thruster fuel is leaking. Trying to climb!”

 

Finally at peace with the thought of not going to land Regina sipped on her coffee, chatting with Zhu who was monitoring the transmissions from the pod.

Suddenly the asian woman’s face grew dark. “They’re having trouble.”

As the systems still were in need of repair, especially their capacities of making and storying antimatter, Kurt had left the bridge to tend to those systems, Regina rushed to the console herself. “They’re losing altitude.” She cursed herself for giving the mission a green light.

On the main viewscreen the image changed, zoomed in on the pod, they saw that it drew a longntail of fumes and smoke behind it. “I’m losing them on the sensors, only visual still holding on.” Commenting on her own works as if she reported to the commander of the ship herself Regina had given up on the sensors. Walking around the console to her own seat she kept her eyes transfixed on the descending ship.

 

Across a forest on the northern hemisphere, what once would be called Asia, the lander headed out to the pacific. “I hadn’t noticed before, but the Bering passage is dry and ice free. We could be witnessing the settlement of north America by the natives.” Somehow Maryjane Hutzinger had sneaked back onto the bridge, commenting on what she was witnessing.

Not regarding the scientist with a single moment of attention Regina grabbed her own console tightly, feeling for the men and women she had sent to Earth, as they were descending possibly to their doom.

“They’re out of sight.” Toryama had a gentle tremor in his voice, almost as if his voice was breaking. Regina had heard that Adamovic had tried to get the Phoenix Navigator on board his team, but failed as Regina would not permit her best navigator to leave the bridge in the middle of a crisis.

“No energy spikes on the sensors.” Meanwhile Maryjane had taken up position behind the console with the sensor data. “Of course this,” interrupted by the harsh glares she received from the others on the bridge Maryjane did not complete her statement that perhaps an eventual explosion had just occured outside sensor range.

“General Marston to all hands, volunteers for a rescue mission of the crew just sent down to the planet, report to the hangar bays.” To Toryama she gave a nod giving him permission to fly the rescue.

“But check your craft thoroughly before you leave Phoenix. I suspect that our temporal incident had damaged the other one.”

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we had to take a short detour, we hope you will continue to fly with us after this minor glitch.” Joanne Carlin spoke softly, the crew behind her however, was mostly not in the mood for jests.

“Good one, do you write your own material?” James peeled out of his straps that had held him in his seat. “We are afloat, I have limited capabilities of maneuvering this tub, so we could land on that shore there.” Joanne glanced over her shoulder, ditching the jesting attitude.

“Yes Pilot, please bring us to that terminal. Perhaps the local snackbar can make up for the terrible in flight menue.” Smug smiling at her James went through the rows to see if the others were injured.

“Well, Doc. You might get to see terran soil after all.” Cameron Dixon sat up slowly. Her long dark fingers slowly wandered across her face, looking for any injury. “Glad to hear that, I just had hoped it would be a little less,” musing, she waved her hand, “sudden.”

“Y’all need to stop watching those old time movies.” Dennis Filiposchenko rubbed his shoulder. He had bumped it when the stabiliser went out.

“Oh boy.” Joanne’s sudden words of dismay alarmed James, he couldn’t exactly say why, but he felt the sudden urge to run to the front of the ship.

“What? Are we sinking? Leaking? Is there a fire?”

“No. None of that.” Giving him a benign smile one could only give someone who one had seen naked, Joanne turned her head back in the direction the pod was swimming now. “We have company, Jim.”

 

A group of fur donning men and women stood at the shore of the sea. Beneath their feet were stones and fist sized rocks, washed round by sea and wind. With open mouths, yet anticipation, they watched the unusual bird that had fallen from the skies, and was now swimming to the shore.

Spears were readied, knives drawn.

 

“Can you hold a position, just far enough away from them so they couldn’t hurt us, or damage the ship?” Thanking Joe for her immediate affirmation of his request, James turned round. “I need a com line. To Phoenix, another lander, for all I care a 20th century cab stand. Any com line. Get to it.” He instructed his friends whom he knew were savy with the radio.

“Take readings, people, take all the readings you can get. We have a unique opportunity to investigate our past. So take as many readings as you can!”

A warning beep alerted him that his way of conduct may not be possible.

 

“Lander two to Phoenix, we have them on sensors, the lander is intact, and I have their transponder signals, they’re alive.” A wave of relief washed over Regina, she had not sent anyone to their deaths. “However,” Toryama paused on the other end of the transmission, “they had landed on the beach, their craft is surrounded by natives.”

Moaning Regina let her head sink to the console.

“That is exactly what I was warning you about.” Unnoticed by her, Kurt had come to the bridge, originally to report on the progress of the repairs. “It’s too late for scolding lessons on the implications on our history, of our being here. The situation is that we are where we are, and that has happened what has happened. We should see to get out of this mess.”

“I know that it is too late, but how come that the Equatorians have settled for years on RV-p296, yet never ran into one of the natives, we’re here, what, two days? And promptly we run into an entire group of them?” Kurt strode over to the console of the first officer, checked a few readings relayed to them by the other landers. “Land them within sight, but far enough to make the natives run to the other craft, if they are hostile, stun them.” He looked at Regina. “But only stun them. If the lander, or several of them, lost any parts, like Hull plating, chips, anything, it needs to be either retrieved, or destroyed.” Nodding with his words Regina wished for the entire incident to end.

 

As soon as another of the strange birds had come into sight, this time gracefully,  without flapping of wings, but thunderous screams, the group of curious, yet cautious people had left the beach, just far enough to see the tall figures emerge from the strange birds.

 

“I had just ordered Joe to stay out at sea, when a warning system alerted us that we were taking on water.” Linus Tuovinen looked up from the error report sheets generated by the landers computer systems. “Taking on water? Hearing your report and reading this data, both suggest that the landing itself was not harsh enough to crack the hull of the lander.”

With the same curious uneasiness as Linus did Kurt look at the Major. Only Regina did not seem to be upset by those events.

“No sir, I believe the crack would’ve been torn into the hull as we experienced the turbulence still over Asia.”

Both Kurt and Linus stared at the man with an empty expression. “Is there a problem with that?” Regina turned her seat around to the two scientists and engineer.

Before the debriefing of James and his comrades the damaged lander had been towed back to Phoenix, brought in and a detailed examination had begun. Any and all pieces that the lander had lost were added. By far the entire process was not finished yet.

“Send lander two down, and have them scan for the metal aloy of the hull, any computer parts that might have been blown out.” Kurt rose, talking to Linus, whom Regina had given full authority in the crash investigation. Followed by the eyes of James and Regina, as well as other officers present for the debriefing, Kurt and Linus left.

Cursing himself for not reading the oldest entries, at the bottom of the sheet, first, but working, so to say, backwards through the errors, Linus headed directly to the hangar bay where the crashed lander was investigated.

 

Inside the small confines of his quarter the air was growing stale, but Kurt did not notice, as he kept to himself, and had not left those walls since the debriefing.

Indeed hull plating had been found, and a few pieces of computer systems.

Was there more that had been lost over the waves of the pacific? Kurt did not know, he did not exactly want to know. The entire time travelling experience made his head ache beyond his abilities to tolerate it.

Over the course of a day and two nights, operating on only two hours of sleep in that time, he had succeeded in bringing the antimatter production back online, and storage as well.

Sleep for four hours had relaxed his body, but not helped him find any answers on how to get back to the future.

“Dad?”

Maybe his error was in thinking like he could solve this riddle? Perhaps someone else could solve it. In their database they surely had a record on how much the lunar colony over RV-p296 had excavated. Hiding a message there, so they’d find it days or weeks after the Phoenix got lost, would provide information on the where and when Phoenix could be found, so any potential future time travel savy humans could come and put them back.

“Pa!?”

Leopold’s voice finally woke Kurt from his train of thought. “Yes?!”

“It stinks in here! Can you turn on the AC for a minute?” Finally seeimg the chaos he had left in his room, clothes strewn around, dishes that he had used but not returned to the messhall. “Sure. Why not.”

“What are you working on this time?” Often Leopold had asked, often did Kurt give short answers, answers so vague no one could help if they posed a problem Kurt was working on. This time Kurt could only be vague. Sensors had been shot by the incident, no one had recorded, or witnessed exactly what happened. “Well, the entire incident with the strange star, that got us here, I want to make it happen again, only in the other way.”

Leopold came to his father’s desk, stared at the missing logs of sensory data. “Try pulling data from the sensors in the fusion chamber that did not give up, then there’s the science pod on beta ring, it has a special set of sensors, running on batteries in case of catastrophic power loss, and its own data storage. It was designed to function as an interstellar weather station in case we discover a planet but couldn’t settle it for some reason or another.”

The science pod was Kurt’s first and only idea for alternative data, but the sensors on it had also been shot, and still were offline as they were not important enough to be restored. On the contrary, parts from them were cannibalised for sensors that were in need of repairs. Making new parts was a luxury they couldn’t afford, the energy requirements were too large.

“I will check the fusion reactor, thank you.” Kurt was astonished that he hadn’t thought of the reactor.

 

Gleeful Kurt entered the bridge, just as usual he found Regina at her post, Rich was back into action as the first officer, Kohaku Toryama at the helm and Zhu at the communication terminal. Perhaps everything was going to return to normal.

Only the presence of Linus and his expression of desperation, anger and fear was abnormal, even off setting.

“Dire news, Kurt, a few parts from a computer Platine are missing.” The engineer called for Kurt as he saw him enter the bridge. Regina turned to him, wearing an expression of desire, to see him after missing him for almost a week and a half. Recoiling from what she saw her expression froze immediately.

His hair was rough and stood in all directions, he wore a beard he normally hadn’t, his clothes were wrinkled, dirty and he wore a smell of not showering in a few days. Now Regina fully understood why he so often was referred to as a borderline mad scientist.

“Widened search pattern?” Kurt rose his eyebrows.

“Nothing.”

“Slower, lower flybys?”

“Nothing. I’m afraid it fell into the ocean. And our dear General here is not letting me continue the search under water!”

Not asking verbally Kurt just turned his eyes on Regina.

“We have caused enough potential damage to the timeline! We can not risk doing even more! Besides, I believe that the active volcanism in that area, and the ending iceage, will destroy what is left of the parts.”

A momemt of silence passed, Kurt felt anger rise in his stomach, he wanted to spew lava out of his mouth, scream and yell, and tear the bridge apart with his bare hands. “I think I found a way back. If not we’ll have to try again some fourty thousand years ago.” He threw the tablet in Regina’s direction, turned on his heel and went to the tube network.

He wanted to go home.

Finally he felt the beard itch, and he wanted to get rid of the fur as he called it.

“Kurt! Wait up, pal.” Linus caught him as he entered the cab, slipped in with him. “You gave her a way back without doing a proper cleanup job?”

“Either we arrive in our time and nothing has changed as either every change we made has already been made, or we can only return to our time line present. Or we arrive in an alternate version of the present in which case we can go back and fix what ever we have done, so we can go back. If the changes made would have caused us to vanish, we would’ve done so already.” His reply was without any emotion, one continuous tone, almost as if he had rehearsed it, either to calm himself, or someone else.

 

About four months went by after Kurt had given his nickname full honor, by appearing like a deranged, mad genius on the bridge. “Approaching the designated coordinates.” Toryama was glad to utter those words. As glad as the rest of the crew was to hear them.

“Begin the procedures.” Rich Baumann looked up from his console for a moment. Sunken in thought Regina had sulked the last months in her chair. She kept her daily routines, but other than that, she rarely spoke a word. Today she was not there.

The cold, harsh General he had gotten to know on Mars was shining through again. Had the relationship to Doctor Braun suffered under the incident? They were hardly seen together, but on the other hand it could be a ruse to throw off the rumors aboard.

“We are good to go.”

“Beginn.”

 

Fresh air was circulating through the dimly lit quarters of Doctor Kurt Braun, he leaned in his bed, staring at the sleeping General next to him. They hardly spoke, hardly discussed what had happened at earth, what had happened between them during that time. But when they met, they met like wild teenagers.

“Attention, all personnel. We are attempting to return to our own time. Please assume safe positions.” Regina woke from the announcement. Panicked at the time she looked at Kurt, opened her mouth, but said nothing.

Kurt nodded, both jumped out of bed, got dressed and hurried to the bridge in awkward silence.

A moment after they had sat down in the chairs of the cab, a flash blinded Kurt.

When he came to, he sat in the cab, Regina came to her senses next to him, they had fastened their belts, otherwise they might have been thrown around again.

Still not talking the two hurried to the bridge, noticing that the lights had gone out, and only reserve batteries kicked in.

Almost having a routine in it by now, Kurt opened the console to boot up the system, but suddenly the lights sprang back into action. “Fusion reactor operating within normal parameters.” Rich stood up upon seeing Regina, the back ups that had been designed for the blackout following the jump, had kicked in. “Backup sensor array coming online.” Toryama stated, having immediately a sense of where they were. “QEN coming online,” Zhu said, but something in her voice sounded like an abrupt stop.

Flickering the main viewscreen came to life, showing the strange star as it was supposed to be. “There is a lot of chatter out there.”

“We were gone some time,” Regina tried to justify the traffic in the quantum entanglement network, but both Kurt and Zhu shook their heads. “Barely a day.”

“They are not speaking english. Switching to auto translate.”

Kurt felt a sigh forming in his lungs, an elongated sigh, slowly rising to the top. “It’s Japanese.” Zhu looked to Kohaku, who shook his head. His grandmother had still spoken some Japanese, he was raised with only one language.

First officer Rich Bauman had moved to his console. “There is a vessel relatively close by, called the Sakura. Attempting to access their databases without being noticed.”

All eyes were lying on Rich as he accessed the foreign system. After a few moments he had gained access and began downloading their entire database. “Oh my,” he gasped, reviewing a certain part of the history, “they saved earth. They have developed technologies far beyond our stage of development.” Rich grew pale. He began trembling and sat down on his chair.

“They friggin’ saved earth!”

Rings of Fate S4xE8 – Phoenix – Strange

On Phoenix’s viewscreen was a world torn between perpetual day and perpetual night. One day it would become home to thousands of people, people who were stubborn in their ways. With some sadness Regina looked on to the slim grounds between a scorching day and a freezing night. “I think we looked at it long enough.” She shook her head, negotiations with Dawn Horizon had failed, and for more than negotiations she was neither willing, nor authorised. Much to the disliking of Equatorian officials.

“Lay in a course for our next POI.” Feeling weird she left the bridge.

“I hear we are leaving the tidal locked planet?” As usual when she left the bridge Kurt somehow managed to know and apprehend, or find her. “We are. How do you always find me when I leave the bridge?”

Smiling he nestled with her collar. “I have planted a tracking device on you, how else?” She knew he was joking, and she even thought his remark was funny. But she felt not like laughing. “I need a break.” She sighed, gesturing him to leave her alone.

Sometimes, although not often she just needed a break from everything.

Including him.

Now was such a time.

 

Disappointed that he could not spend more time with the woman he loved Kurt returned to the control centre. For a few months Phoenix had been lying idle in orbit over RV-p296. For one to teach the Equatorians how to build an antimatter reactor and the propulsion systems of Phoenix in a safe way. The designs present in their databases was the faulty unstable one from the original Ark-class ships. For the other reason to tweak their own propulsion system.

Fineman and Kurt had refined the designs and made it faster, now that they had the chance to redesign their engines and go to a lush sunny planet, Regina wanted to do this.

The trip back to Mars would take months, not years.

With the new design they were still a far way from the efficiency of the linker engines, but also had come a far way from what they had started with.

“We’re ready to engage, when you are.” Linus reported to the bridge next door, just as Kurt entered.

Moments later the antimatter drive engaged.

“Are you going to miss the sun?” Estranged by the unusual question, Kurt was a little baffled. In addition Linus’ expression was suggestive.

By now his relationship with the General was an open secret. “I think I will miss it a little, but we have an adequate substitute on board.” He winked.

“The gardens or the beds?” Smirking at the suggestive question Kurt reminisced for a moment about the sandy beaches of Equatoria. Which were not as far spread as he had envisioned. Most of Equatoria was swampy, with wide fields of local crops, and the colony siting in the delta of a river.

But there were beaches, and the crew of Phoenix flocked to them like migrating birds.

Shore leave. For the first time in their lives at an actual shore.

From Benjamin Fuller, Kurt had gotten the tip of a secretive small beach in a cove where a smaller arm of the river opens to the sea.

Kurt and Regina had gone there, supposedly unseen.

“Both really. I can not recommend sleeping on Equatoria, the beds are too short for martian people.” A fact that might change if they introduce artificial gravity to Martian territory. There certainly is enough power from Mars’ interior.

“Oh.” Nodding in over acted understanding Linus turned towards his console. “Well, everything here checks out.”

Kurt looked at his, couldn’t agree more. “How about lunch?” He turned to Linus, whose turn itwas now to be baffled at an unusual question.

Sure the two men had formed a friendship, had taken lunches together. But only sporadically. When Kurt declined an invitation to lunch in order to eat alone, he ate with the General. “Sure thing, is there bad weather?”

“The weather on this twilight rock is always the same. Wind from the night side!” Overly dramatic gesturing with his hands Kurt looked towards the door.

“Alright, we should go then, unless we only want the leftovers in the cantina.” Internally Kurt cringed. The lunch dates with Regina had another benefit.

No cantina, no food from the cantina.

In secret Kurt suspected the cook to have a grudge over his or her assignment, thus delivering bad food. Or it was just as it has always been in most of human history since cantinas were introduced to society. Cantinas serve bad food.

Nutritional, maybe.

Good, no.

 

“Well I can tell you Regina, your healthy as a horse.” Doctor Cassandra Smith sat down at the table in the small room. “Why do I feel like vomiting then?” Buttoning up her uniform, Regina gave the black woman with the long braids a demanding glare.

Forming a broad smile Cassandra looked deep in Regina’s eyes. “Reg, do I really need to tell you?”

Sighing Regina sat back down, the exam bed made an elongated hissing noise as she did. “Yes Cassy, you need to. Because if you don’t, I’m going to make wild assumptions. And if my assumption is correct the physician who last maintained my implant on Mars, will receive a one way trip to Ericsson.”

“If your assumption is pregnancy, you better prepare that one seater to Ericsson.”

In silence Regina stared at Cassandra. “How far am I?”

Within a second Cassandra’s smile waned. “Not far. Why?” The stoney expresion Regina was almost famous for, returned to the General’s face, got mirrored by the doctor in front of her. “Not a single doctor in martian society would do that.”

“If I order you to?” Even her nasal tone had made a return. In the eyes of the general was the cold ambitious glow of a career oriented predator, sending a cold shiver down Cassandra’s spine. “I’d have to disobey. You know the laws as well as I do.”

Grinding her teeth Regina continued to stare at her friend and physician. Feeling uncomfortable with that glare on her Cassandra got up, only to realise that the General was not staring at her, but an undefined point in front of Regina.

“Look. With the new found technologies to take the martian populous to RV-p296, where the reproductive restrictions are slowly fazed out, it might come to pass that you can have an abortion. But as the law lies right now, I can only do that if the child is severely handicapped, the result of rape or incest, or the very real possibility of death for either the unborn or the mother is imminent.”

With the introduction of the implants, which also functioned as a contraceptive, laws for abortions had been made very restrictive. Mostly so that couples who applied for having the contraceptive turned off, would not then change their minds. Reflecting on those past developments Regina clenched her jaw. “Listen. I want you to look something up for me. Has Kurt Brown his implant’s function turned off?”

Displaying a benign smile again Cassandra sat down once again, the cold and hard expression in Regina’s face had been replaced by an expression of fear. “I already took the liberty of doing so, and yes. It had been turned off, he and his former wife had applied to when their son was three, apparently they never had any luck in conceiving again, and simply forgot the implants function for contraception was off.” Still stonefaced out of fear for her career Regina nodded.

“Listen, I know you’re afraid. I would probably be too. But try to see it from that perspective. We have assignments. There will be no one to replace you permanently available for at least a year, or much more. You can have the child, continue your position, and other than having a child on board, nothing will change.”

It was that “having a child on board” part that scared Regina. Cassandra was right, her position as General was secure. She just had never seen herself as a mother.

Kurt had a son, who was all grown up, so she was not entirely certain how he would react to the news.

 

Submerged deeply in thought Regina left the infirmary, headed to the garden on the spearhead. Certain that Kurt was not there, nor anyone else who would bother her, she sought out the bench she favored.

Having a kid was absolutely not in her interest. It troubled her that there was no way to have an abortion. Reproductive rights were already infringed by the implants and the two child policy, as it had been the case with the Orion-class ships crews. That was a matter of survival. Too many children would mean too many mouths to feed, with limited resources such as on the ships and on Mars that infringement on reproductive rights was necessary for the survival of the entire community.

Restrictions on abortion however, were not. They were a hassle, implemented to keep people from making dumb and rushed decisions. It was already hard to get permission if not married, so there was not exactly a spreading rash of potential abortions.

Determined to have another talk with Cassandra, Regina got up. Maybe she could have the whole ordeal done off the record?

No questions asked, no red tape, no one needed to know a thing.

Including and especially Kurt.

 

“I am bound by an oath to preserve life, not destroy it.”

“What life? What can I give this child? The feeling of being unwanted. I am dead certain that I could not warm up to it, let alone love it. I am a General, commanding a starship. We go out into deep space, we explore. Sooner or later we will encounter dangers unforseen, perhaps get annihilated one fine day. If the kid survives, or I dump it on Mars, or Equatoria, what great life will it have? Dead mother, one that had not been there in the first place.” Regina paced up and down the small examination room. “And I guarantee you, that I would not relinquish my command to raise it.”

Sitting down on the bed she stared at Cassandra. “Cassy, right now, all I feel for it is a form of disgust. Like I’d feel for a leech, or a tick, or any parasite.”

Letting her shoulders hang Cassandra turned to the screen. “Look.” She touched a few displayed buttons. “I will show you how an abortion works, what I would do to you. Then, tell me again whether you really would want this or not.”

 

Days on Phoenix went by, one like the other. Especially when the ship was travelling. All that was left to do for Kurt was take readings, compare them to other readings.

Maintain a steady flow of antimatter into the reactor, keep the production of antimatter running at nominal levels, and generally things that did not challenge him. Linus did the same tasks, and they often changed their routines in order not to get bored.

Theoretical work, like he did in his laboratory on Mars did come a bit short, but he continued working on these things as well.

Instantaneous quantum entanglement communication enabled him to exchange his findings with other scientists, and get reviews, and news of other discoveries and research.

That was how he and Fineman had refined the designs for the engines.

Still, he missed the relative freedom he had in his lab. If he returned to Mars he would still not regain that freedom, but be tucked away in the new laboratory at the Harpy ship, and do some stuff the government told him to.

Compared to that, he preferred the ship. At least he was at the frontier of human exploration.

A notification began beeping in his pocket. Reluctantly he pulled out the glasses. After a few years he still did not warm up to it, would prefer messages and calls over the tablet.

“Meet me in five, my place.” Regina’s voice was hard, she allowed for no reply, as she ended the call right after telling him. A nervous expression began forming on Kurt’s face. Noticing that, Linus bowed over. “Has the weather changed?”

“I think there’s a storm brewing on the horizon.” Kurt replied. Neither had ever discussed the relationship between Kurt and the General, except for those metaphors that Linus used. Still it was a little relief for Kurt to say that.

“I’ll take over, tie everything down before the storm hits.” Linus winked with a supportive smile.

 

Shaky handed Kurt rang the door bell to Regina’s quarters. Why was he feeling so nervous? Her voice. Demanding, hard and distant.

Was this a professional call? Did the icy General want to speak to mad scientist Braun? Or was it something he had forgotten about their relationship?

Someone other than Linus must’ve seen them on the beach, he figured. Now rumors went around, and he was to get the full force of her rage over this.

“Alright, listen I’m sorr… umph.” He received a hard slap to the face. As soon as the doors behind him closed.

Immediately after, he felt Regina’s hand gently reaching for his chin, pulling his face over to hers so she could kiss him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you.”

“Yet you did.” He rubbed his cheek. “Why?” Looking at her he realised she was not entirely sure either. “Because you knocked me up, that’s why!” Raising her voice she marched a few paces away from him, stopped and turned back around, seeing utter confusion in his expression.

“You and Maya had applied for a second child, never had it though, apparently everyone had forgotten about this. And mine malfunctioned!” Close to tears she sat down.

Pale and suddenly short on breath Kurt also wandered to the chairs, sat down himself. “Alright? Now what?”

“I don’t know!” Like her voice Regina shot up, the tears were replaced by anger again. “I wanted an abortion because I don’t want a child, after seeing how that is carried out, I don’t think I want that either. I don’t know what to do at this point!”

I’ve heard of mood swings, and witnessed them with Maya, but she is on a roller coaster. “Calm down, would you? There is still time for an abortion should you change your mind.” Not certain if he wanted another child. After all, wasn’t he a bit too old for yet another child? By the time the kid turned eighteen he would be in his early sixties.

“What do you want?” She sat back down. Facing him, she gave him a look as if she was interrogating him.

“I,” he paused, otherwise he’d break I to stammering. “I don’t know. But I think we should remain calm and think these things through. That’s at least how I am used to deal with life.”

He began scratchimg his head, right where he was balding.

“I’m not used to that, I make quick decisions. Those hours since I learned for sure that I am pregnant, have been torture for me.”

Reclining in his seat, Kurt closed his eyes, his hands still on his head. Suddenly he felt Regina’s hand searching for his.

Slowly he opened his eyes, found her looking at him. “I want to remain General, I want to keep my post on this ship, I want you close to me. I don’t want to be reassigned, or reassign myself, if the child means that, that would be my destiny, the child would suffer under my general unhappiness. If having this child would mean you would go back to Mars, or some other place, I would not be happy, the child would miss its mother, and probably would be a very unhappy one.”

If we both stay and something happens to either or both of us, the same thing would be happening. Chasing off that thought Kurt found himself staring into Regina’s blue eyes.

“Right now, I’m as torn on the subject as you are.” Raspy voiced he gently kissed her.

 

For hours Kurt and Regina had sat together, discussing, they had gone through various scenarios. Phoenix had no daycare. No schools for young children, the youngest person on board was a teen of 14 years.

“Our next POI is a dangerous one.” Regina rolled off of Kurt. Somewhen in their discussion the two had both become aroused, thinking of their time on the beach. “What was it again?” Kurt sighed in satisfaction.

“A neutron star, one that has not become a galaxy traversing planet devourer.”

Somewhat concerned Kurt leaned towards his girlfriend. “Can Phoenix withstand that kind of stress?”

“We park at a safe distance, launch only unmanned probes into the vicinity of the thing.” She seemed at peace with the upcoming mission and the dangers such a star harboured. “However, I gave orders in advance to stop at an even greater distance and take readings of the area ahead.”

For several minutes Kurt amd Regina were lying side by side, looking at each other. The topic of their discussion had gone off tracks.

“I will talk with Cassandra again tomorrow. She’ll do it off the record.”

An indefinable melancholy crept into Kurt’s mood. “Tell me when, I’ll be there for you.” Despite the dampening mood he still conjured up a supportive smile.

It was the best solution for their situation. No one could take care of the child, but either him, a man often called ‘borderline mad scientist’, and her, a career oriented general.

Neither was suited to care for an infant.

In addition the situations the Phoenix would end up in, were anything but suitable for a child.

 

“Hutzinger, Maryjane. Astrophysicist. Reporting as ordered.” Brown, curly hair, framing a freckled face with green eyes, the woman in her late fourties stood before Regina.

She was the only addition to the crew that had come from Equatoria.

After learning where the ship went next she volunteered, out of curiosity, and the fact that Phoenix had no astrophysicist. “Great, doctor, I presume.”

“Yes.” Beaming in pride to be on the ship Maryjane could hardly content herself.

“Please report to the control centre next door, we have all stations manned and sadly need them, safety issues, I’m sure you need no lecture about the dangers we might encounter.” Regina sat slightly bowed in her seat.

Why hadn’t she told Kurt? Why not take a few days off?

“No, you needn’t tell me.” Maryjane smiled, turning to the door.

 

Taking a seat near the leaders of the scientists and engineers working in the control centre, Maryjane was a bit nervous.

Other than what had been gleaned from the instruments on Mars, which were more focused on keeping its population alive, there was little close hand data available for a neutron star.

A soft bump went through Phoenix.

Startled Maryjane rose from her seat, saw that no one else had done so, so she sat back down. “Just a gravitational ripple. Calm down.” The chief engineer poked his head out of the cubicle he shared with Doctor Braun.

Still a little jittery she nodded turning her attention to the screen. A gravitational ripple. “A wave?” She looked over to Linus Tuovinen.

Comfirming he nodded, disappeared back inside his shared cubicle.

“Hutzinger to the bridge, please stay at momentary position.” Maryjane tried to make heads and tails of the data in her screen.

“We’re holding position, preparing to fall back.” It was the first officer speaking, someone in the background barked into another com line for a doctor to aid the General.

At a moment’s notice Kurt rushed by Maryjane, despite Linus shouting after him to stop.

 

Outside the control centre Kurt bumped into Cassandra, who was followed by two nurses wheeling a sickbed. Already Regina was lying on it.

“You let her work?” She hissed at Kurt, who was at a loss for words. Seeing this she just motioned him to follow them.

“The general has a,” glancing towards the two nurses Cassandra had to think of different words other than complication after her procedure. “n infection. I thought you were aware. Forgive my harsh tone.”

Momentarily Kurt was at a loss, but caught on after a moment. “No I was unaware. I didn’t even know she had an appointment with you.” Immediately toning it down, as to not rouse more suspicion concerning his relationship with the General, he still followed the two men and the doctor. “I wanted a word with the Admiral, concerning the development of the mission in light of these events, please notify me as soon as she has come around.”

At the door to the infirmary he stopped, looking like a dog, beaten and abandoned in the wilderness. “Will do.” Cassandra nodded over her shoulder, hurrying on.

 

“I told you, to go to your quarters and lie down. To tell your mad scientist, who I believe is mostly mad in love with you, so he could keep an eye on you.” Regina did not immediately know where she was, but she knew who was speaking.

“We’re alone, in case you wondered.” Slowly Cassandra checked the reflexes of her friend and patient.

“I’m,”

“A tough girl. I know, but these things are not to be taken lightly, I told you.” Scolding her was growing boring, besides it seemed to be fruitless. “You’ve had some minor complications, otherwise you’re fine. I took the liberty of writing you off from work for the next two days.” Her expression told Regina that it was with a fake reason, so no one would ever know what had happened.

Feeling bad for her actions on top of feeling bad from her condition Regina sank back into the sheets. “How’s Kurt?”

“Took it bravely, he is pacing around the hallways, a tablet in hand. I hear he tripled our antimatter supply, but I’m sure that’s just exaggeration.” Knowing her boyfriend, Regina guessed it was more the opposite of exaggerated. She had wanted to tell him, but felt that she was going to manage without him knowing.

“In case I ever change my mind, which probably won’t happen, but in case if?”

“In that case, my dear Reggie, listen to your doctor. But yes, that way is still open to you.” Somewhat satisfied and relieved Regina closed her eyes.

Why were they burning? Why was she close to tears?

“Kurt?” Sighing Cassandra rolled her eyes. With her left she typed a few words into her tablet, sending Kurt a message, asking him to come to the General, for the update on the mission, just in case anyone monitored his messages.

 

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing here!” In a whispery tone Maryjane leaned back from her console, Linus sat at her side. “Neither can I. Is that?”

“Yes.” Breathing more than speaking she touched the screen to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. “A strange star. We only theorised about this type of star. But here it is! And I’m the first to see it!” From the scientific community. She added in her head.

“Please fill us in, what is a strange star?” A man behind her asked, without her noticing, a bunch of people had gathered behind her, starig at the display.

“Normal matter is made up of an atom, which consists of electrons, neutrons and protons. The the latter are themselves composed of quarks. These quarks come in different colors. Up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom. Normally a proton is composed of quarks of a certain color. Here another color has replaced the normal composition, strange. Hence the name, strange star.” As if lecturing students Maryjane explained in the most basic terms she could think of.

Hoping no one would ask why the weird terms like ‘strange’ were called colors, and who had come up with that brilliantly confusing term, she turned her attention back to the screen. “It has been theorised that normal matter, the stuff we consist of, or the planets and stars we know, is just an unstabler version of strange matter. We are looking at a star made up of the most stable matter in the universe. Theoretically.”

 

“I hear you tripled our supplies?” Attempting a smile Regina greeted Kurt.

“The reports of my deeds are greatly exaggerated.” He smiled, glad to see her well. His eyes however spoke the question he dared not to ask. Why she hadn’t told him.

“I thought I could manage. Alone. Like I always have.” Ashamed that he saw her vulnerable she shied away from his gaze.

Feeling his hand reach for hers she turned her eyes back to him. “You’re not alone. Not anymore.”

Something began beeping in his trousers. “I think your other girl, this Phoenix, wants your attention.”

“I only have one other girl, that’s science. Phoenix is just a means to get that.” Smirking he reached for his tablet, at the same time another bump went through the ship.

After a second or two alarms began ringing, both on his tablet and in the hallways. “We’re orbiting a strange star!” He exhaled noisily. Smacking her a kiss on the forehead he turned to leave. “Your other love, Phoenix, might be in trouble.” He explained his departure.

 

Needing a larger screen than his own, Kurt headed to the bridge. The first officer sat in Regina’s chair, seemed to be at a loss. A wave of relief washed visibly over him as he saw Kurt, in the vain hopes that the General would follow close behind.

“We’re caught in some sheer.” A navigator belched out information so vague that none could make heads or tails of it.

“Prepare thrusters.”

“Don’t!” Kurt did not look up from his tablet. “You’ll gut the ship if you do!” He reached over to the controls on the General’s seat, displaying the data on the screen. Cursing himself after a moment. “We need to vent the antimatter.” He rushed over to the console normally manned by the first officer. Rich Bauman jumped from his seat. “All of it?”

“Affirmative, it seems that the magnetic turbulence from this star has far reaching implications. Right now it is interfering with our containment chambers, if we keep the antimatter, we’re going to rip apart, if we are lucky.”

Afraid to ask what would happen if they were unlucky Rich just gave Kurt permission to vent the antimatter.

 

Knocked off his feet Kurt stared at the ceiling, not certain what had happened after he pressed the button to vent the antimatter storage compartments.

An intricate web of antimatter surrounding Phoenix was etched into his mind, followed by a violent shaking of the ship.

Gradually he became aware of howling alarms around him. A periodically flickering light told him that the situation seemed to be dire, if even the visual alarms had gone off.

Weak in the knees he got to his feet. Most of the bridge crew were strewn around their seats, Rich had banged his head on the console before him, a trickle of blood ran across the casing and dripped on the floor. “Bridge to any medical personnel, Doctor Braun speaking, we have severely injured people here.”

After a disturbingly long moment of no reply finally an answer came through. “Cassandra Smith speaking, it’s the same picture all over Phoenix. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

Kurt shook off a little dizziness, tried to focus on his screen, which was blank. Realising he must’ve suffered some sort of concussion, as he had trouble focusing his sight, Kurt tried glancing at the main viewscreen.

Also blank. The few lines of data that were present were only displaying the malfunction codes of their systems.

“Wha,” Rich tried to speak, quickly Kurt rushed to his side, calming the man. “Stay still, you have been injured, medics are on their way.”

Again Rich tried to speak, but seemed to be under too much pain to form a coherent sentence. “I don’t know what happened. Instruments and sensors are offline. I’m afraid some are damaged beyond repair.”

The door behind the two men opened.

“What the fuck did you do to my ship?” The short moment of hope that medical help had arrived was destroyed by Regina’s enraged voice.

“We saved it.” Still feeling dizzy Kurt replied stumbling back to his previous console. “The magnetic fields of the strange star were reacting with the containment of the antimatter, we would’ve been torn apart, so we vented it.”

Yanking at the touch display of the console, Kurt pried it open, revealing a keyboard underneath. With a flick of a switch he severed the station from the network, rebooted it.

After a few minutes it was back up, so he reconnected the network.

With a few commands, he looked up from a table next to the keyboard, he rebooted other systems. Sensors and other instruments.

Many did not react to his commands.

“We have visual sensors back!” The navigator stated looking at the screen. Out of the corner of his eye Kurt saw that Regina stood in awe of what she saw on the viewscreen. Still busy trying to get the other systems to follow the line of reboots Kurt also cast a glance at the viewscreen. Saw the planet, blue oceans, green forests and other areas, the broad polar icecaps, reaching far towards the equator. Obviously a planet at the beginning or end of an ice age.

Kurt turned back to the console, but stopped abruptly.

The shapes of the landmasses! Whirling his entire body around to take a look, he stared at what seemed to be lost, but yet sat there, according to the viewscreen at least.

 

Earth.

Rings of Fate S4xE7 – Equatoria – Phoenix

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.

Rings of Fate S4xE6 – Phoenix – Ericsson

Peaceful silence filled the clean, dimly lit hallways of Phoenix. Well past midnight, Kurt took a late night stroll. Sleep had become a thing he needed less and less. Not that it had become elusive, but apparently he needed less hours of sleep.

Once his shift in the control centre was over, he had time for himself. Spending the rest of the day with Leopold was something he hadn’t done in some time, as the lad was spending his spare time with Tracy.

Young love.

Musing on the blessings and curses of youth, Kurt found himself entering the garden on the deck beneath the bridge.

In stark contrast to the ring sections, the hallways, rooms and gardens on the spearhead of Phoenix were more accomodating to martian humans, as they were taller than their terran ancestors. Rings and engineering had been built fully automated, following blueprints used for all of the Ark-class ships. No one bumped his head, or had to bow his head all the while, but the ceiling was hanging uncomfortably low.

Except in the new segment.

Weather in the garden simulated a lush summer night, Kurt marched a few paces, found a bench and sat down.

When he first noticed it, he began to worry, but asking a physician cleared it up. He gained muscle mass. Gravity on the Phoenix was dialed up, gently and barely noticeable, but it was dialed up to match that of Earth eventually.

Almost the same amount of gravity as on RV-p296, or their current destination, Ericsson.

 

A stop along the way to the colony, Ericsson had played a small role in the exodus of the Orion-class ships, for stocking up their supplies in minerals. Phoenix had no need for the goods that could be mined on Ericsson. Instead their mission was one of exploration.

“Can’t sleep?” Regina sat down next to him. “I seem to need less sleep than I used to.” Delighted to see her, he calmly turned to her with a mild smile on his lips. “What drives you here?”

“I can’t sleep.” She returned the smile.

“Good, er, I mean, that’s bad. We have a big day ahead of us.” Phoenix had entered orbit around Ericsson, stationary above the landing site of Explorer’s ill fated ground mission. A concentrated beam of energy was shot down to power up the equipment left behind.

The drones and probes needed to clear a landing site for the spearhead. This was as good a first landing site as any, if problems arose they just needed to turn the ship around and head back to Mars. With their engine capacity it was only a two month journey.

“You’re just happy to see me.” Regina laughed. “You’re right, I am.” He leaned his head on his hand, resting against the back of the bench.

After his wife Maya had left with the DEHumans, he was heartbroken, but as she was not going to come back, he had filed for divorce, and gotten the approval of senate and president. Something about the General had reignited a fire in his heart.

“We should get to bed.” Blushing Regina cleared her throat. “I mean, we need to rest, we should go to our separate beds.”

Reaching for her hand Kurt calmed her down. “I know exactly what you meant, General.” Winking he got up, pulling her with him. “Since I do not have the luxury of having a quarter on the spearhead, would you perhaps be interested in walking to the tube with me?” Although very well knowing that her quarters were near the closest tube access, he still felt the queasy sensation of butterflies in his stomach.

“Kindly, Doctor.”

 

Again feeling queasy Kurt clenched the armrests of his chair. This time however it was not the joyful queasiness of romance that made him jittery, but nervousness over the separation.

“Separation will commence in five,” Corporal Maria Jose Fernández announced from the bridge, her soothing voice not calming Kurt down in the least.

Perhaps it was a mistake to join the landing party? “Four.” What if there was an accident? Leopold would become an orphan! “Three.”

What if there was a problem with Phoenix’s antimatter reactor? “Two.” It was too late to say he didn’t want to, was it? “One.” It turned silent in the control centre, everyone held their breath.

“Separation!” Most likely there was a sound in the rear parts of the detaching spearhead, but in the control centre silence prevailed.

“Phoenix lander has successfully detached from mother ship! Landing sequence commencing.” A short moment of relief washed over Kurt, apparently over the others as well, as they released a joyous sigh, some even a shout of success.

But the moment lasted only shortly.

Landing procedures followed. After having let go of his armrests, Kurt again grabbed for them. The part of the journey he feared the most. It’ll get easier with the second landing. He promised himself.

Looking at a picture on his screen. Leopold. Driving force behind his scientific endeavours, his son.

The betterment of mankind, so that there would be much more opportunity for him, an easier and worthier life.

A soft thud woke Kurt from his thoughts, with a hint of terror he looked around. Was that turbulence? “Phoenix has successfully landed on Ericsson!”

Shouts of joy and loud applause arose around Kurt, he too began to clap. Phoenix’s first successful landing.

“As soon as all system have checked out, let’s turn off the artificial gravity.” Kurt then turned to Linus.

 

Regina got up from out of her chair. The descend had been a gentle breeze. But when Phoenix pointed towards the surface of Ericsson she, as well as everyone else, felt heavily reminded of their home, Mars. Seemingly featureless, black, icy planet. Only as they neared the surface did the guiding lights of the landing site come to life.

Riding in on beams of light the Phoenix gently sat down on the ground. To avoid any reactions between the condensed, and therefore concentrated, atmosphere and their engines during take off or landing the crew had instructed the revived drones on the planet to clear the landing site of any snow.

What would mankind’s fate look like if this had happened to earth, not Mars? Rolling that question around her mind Regina had watched the landing, more like a movie than real life. She was not in control, at all. It was the navigators who steered the ship.

The Orion-class ships would have left the blue planet, many more people than had evacuated to Mars, would’ve survived beneath the earth’s surface. Perhaps a whole fleet of Phoenix-class ships would now be on their way to greener pastures. Looking at the viewscreen displaying the barren blackness behind the artificial lights of the guiding systems, Regina shook her head. In another reality perhaps. But we’re here. “Status?”

“All systems in the green, we could lift off right now if we wanted to.” Navigator, Kohaku Toryama smiled. “All stations report good to go, only one injury, a panic attack on deck three. Nothing serious.” Maria too was smiling.

Everyone had that victorious, smug grin on their lips.

“Good, now get to work.” Regina resisted the urge to follow them with the smiling. When exactly had she begun to smile?

She always had been smiling, with her few friends and family. But not subordinates. Ascending through the ranks in Mars’ security force, she had not jested or laughed with colleagues or subordinates.

Once she had become involved with the Phoenix project, she had become even less of a soft person. Driven to get the ship airborne, preferably under her command, she took no risks, no detours.

Only once it neared readiness did she tone down her hard image. Only once it had entered orbit, had she allowed herself to be seen as a fellow human being, not the general. Or was it earlier?

Ever since she had become involved with Kurt she had begun to soften. Something about the man branded as a borderline mad scientist, touched something deep inside her.

“You made me soft.” Not sure what was going on, Kurt stopped in the middle of the hallway. “Hello to you too, general. Congratulations on Phoenix’s first successful landing!” Again a smile.

Sighing and shaking her head Regina let her shoulders sink. “Hello. Thanks, you too.” Allowing herself to finally smile as well, was not as hard as she thought. “It’s complicated.” She pinched her nose at the base upon his inquiring look.

Stammering around she explained what had been going through her mind, causing his smile to broaden with every moment.

“It’s alright to be a human being, even and especially to your subordinates. True, they need a leader in times of crisis that seems unfazed by tragedy, so they can look up to said leader, but we are not in times of crisis. Be yourself, General, and allow your humanity to show.” He leaned close, kissed her on the cheek.

“I’ll be expecting a dinner date, Regina Marston. How about tonight?” Involuntarily blushing she nodded, bit her lower lip. “I’ll be picking you up at 1800, if that is alright with your schedule?” Again she just nodded, afraid to be stammering again if she spoke.

Another of her perks she had to overcome, showing again now.

 

After all systems checks had been completed Regina returned to the bridge. She could’ve waited for it to be complete on the bridge, but the short walk and talk with Kurt had eased her mind. “Alright, inform Doctor Yates, his team has a go, and assemble a team to enter the mines.” Stopping in front of Corporal Fernández Regina paused. “Corporal, how would you feel about going with Doctor Yates?”

“To the city? It,” the woman paused, nervously she fidgeted with her uniform, “would be an honor.” Squinting at her, Regina sensed hesitation.

“You don’t need to go, it’s a volunteer mission.”

Again nervous fidgeting. “It would look great on my record, wouldn’t it?”

A knowing smile appeared on Regina’s lips. “It would look marvellous on your record, but if you have objections, it won’t be noted on your record.”

The young woman was battling her inner demons as it seemed, she stood up with a sigh. “I’ll go, General.” Ordering her to report to flyer bay one Regina was satisfied. That young woman had the same struggles she once had, and perhaps would one day end up like herself. On top of the food chain, with similar doubts.

 

Phoenix’s spearhead lander was equipped with two smaller crafts that would detach from its topside, two additional crafts were located on the underside, at the time unusable, since the ground was in the way of them taking off.

Ignoring her nervousness, taking solace in the fact that they could not be bothered by turbulence, Maria reported to the flyer bay, was rushed inside, as the Doctor and his team were already aboard.

Quickly she sat down in the assigned seat and buckled up, as the engines already started, sending soft vibrations through the flyer.

After a mere half an hour of flight, they touched down on a large square, outside of what the Explorer crew had identified as a subway entrance.

Following the example set by the rest of the team, Maria got into a space suit, and then waited at the airlock.

Leaders of the expedition were Doctor Yates and Colonel Henderson. The latter carried a relay device and ordered Maria to take the batterypack for the already present one with her. It had been designed to fit the relay already in place, left by the probe the temporarily stranded Explorer crew had sent in.

In case they couldn’t power it up Henderson had his replacement. Yates carried a suitcase with some tools he had tested and innovated at the Harpy ship excavation on Mars. He was the closest thing to an archaeologist they had.

Other team members carried some equipment, like the signal enhancers for the relay stations, since the old ones had run out of power, recharging them over the air would take longer than they intended to stay.

Next to the entrance to the subway system were a few age old carcasses, no one stopped to examine them.

Somehow Maria had the urge to, but lacked any know how to actually determine cause of death, or anything other than that they were indeed aliens. “Attempting connection to power supply.” Maria opened the briefcase and took out the car battery sized power supply for the transmitter. There were wires leading to a connector, although she was not the most agile with the thick and heavy gloves on her hands, the relay was easy to open.

Like specifications had told, there was an inlet for the plug.

A few dim LEDs came to life, for a fraction of a momemt there was a weird sound on the Radio, but then it returned to normal.

“It’s on. Negotiating connection with the flyer.” A small screen in the suitcase was connected wirelessly with the transmitter. “We’re in. Good thing these things came with no security what so ever.”

“Who should hack into them? The natives with no notion what a computer is, let alone one from another world?” From his voice Maria deduced that Henderson was not all too happy to be here either.

“Alright, in we go.” Yates sounded exited, way more exited than Maria could even feign. Following the Colonel, who went in second, she hoped for nothing gruesome to be found.

 

As the video and picture evidence from several generations ago already depicted, the hallways and platforms were littered with garbage. Some of which probably was excrement. Since the probe had went through the tunnels, nothing had changed, suggesting that there was either no indigenous Ericsson alive in these tunnels, or none had bothered to go to the higher lying levels.

“There are the scribblings.” After an hour they had reached the point where the stranded had turned the drone around and aborted further exploration of the shelters. “Translation of these texts is available, if you’re curious.” Enthusiastic as from the beginning, Yates shone his light on the scribblings on the walls. They stretched for some extent.

He fidgeted with his equipment, took out a tablet, bigger than the usual ones, perfect for handling in clunky gloves. With it he scanned the text, waited a few seconds, and read the translation. “What’s it say?” Henderson seemed impatient.

His mission directive was not find alien writing, but to evaluate any potential threat. Find out if they still lived, and if so, whether they posed any danger to them and the equipment.

“I think it is a religious text. The voices have spoken, the end is upon us. Listen to hear our plea.” Yates turned to the Colonel.

“Well, I don’t hear a thing, and my outside mic is functioning perfectly normal.” Turning to head on further in he took one step.

“What if it isn’t religious, but literal?” Maria’s words stopped him. “Not like they are still talking or anything, but what if there is a recording of some sorts hidden here?”

Disgruntled Henderson let out a sigh. Of course, they couldn’t just say ‘Audio recording here.’

“How do you intend to find it, Corporal? If your theory is sound.” Henderson paused, snickering. “No pun intended.”

Maria set down her suitcase, stepped closer to the wall. Clumsily she unhooked the microphone from her suit, glad it was not built in, but on a cord. With one hand she held it against the wall, began knocking on it.

Below the writing she heard a hollow ring to her knocks. Triumphantly smiling she turned around, of course, no one saw that smug smile of hers. “It’s hollow, right here.”

Her light passed through the helmet of Doctor Yates as he came close himself, she saw his excitement for a brief moment.

He followed her example, and confirmed her find. From his toolkit he now produced a small hammer. Although not an expert in archeology, he came prepared.

Carefully he began hammering at the wall, chipping a hole in it.

 

Gradually the lights in the hallways dimmed, evening approached. Kurt’s attention was only for the tablet in his hands. Deep scans of the planet showed that it still had a hot interior, thanks to its size, it was even hotter than Mars, perfect for their plans.

A glance at the time index on his tablet made Kurt hurry. After stopoing shortly in his quarters to freshen up he went to Regina’s quarters.

Anxiously, nervous like a teenager picking up his date, he rang the door, quickly checking his looks in the reflective surface of his tablet.

Why did he bring this along? To amuse his date?

Grumbling he put it in his pocket again, only to realise that no one had answered the door.

Confused he checked the door sign, he was at the right place.

Again he rang the door.

Waiting for a date to come to the door was an agonising task, he found. The uncertainty, the eagerness, the nervousness. It all made the span of a minute seem more like an hour. After what felt like five hours he checked the time.

Ten minutes had already passed since his arrival. Alright, let’s give her a third ring.

Another five minutes passed with no answer.

Somewhat disappointed he slowly took out his tablet. “Locate General Marston.”

The display showed Regina to be on the bridge. Intrigued he raised an eyebrow, went on his way to the bridge.

 

“, do you have any idea what that thing is?” Regina spoke into the room, obviously talking over the radio.

“It seems to be an audio recording. Crude, but effective and durable, General. The cylinder has grooves on it, and engraved soundwaves. Like an old, if not ancient, recording method in our own history.” Slowly Kurt walked into the room, Regina did not notice him as he entered from behind her. The voice on the other end of the communication line belonged to Doctor Yates, Kurt recognised him from the Harpy excavation.

“Did you have any luck in playing it?”

“Negative, the device for playback is there, but with the thin atmosphere in the tunnel we had no success in hearing a god damn thing. We’re carefully moving both the cylinder and the playback device to the flyer. Doctor Yates, over.”

“Understood. General Marston, over.” A broad smiling expression on her face she turned to her first officer. “Rich, what time is it?”

“Twenty past.” Kurt finally made his presence known. Startled Regina turned with her seat around. Her expression was a mix of shock and pleasant surprise. “Oh gosh, I’m sorry.” Jumping from her seat she apologised. “I didn’t mean to,” she sought the right word, obviously still having a problem in showing her humanity.

“miss our appointment? Well, gladly I have a flexible schedule.” Finally glad to have his tablet with him he pulled it out. “We can go over the scans here and now if you wish?”

“No!” Quickly Regina rushed to the door. “Your report about the, uhm, scans, in the briefing room.” She stuttered, leaving the bridge. “In five minutes!” She yelled, hurrying away.

Kurt worked hard not to laugh. As did the officers on the bridge.

Everyone instantly knew that the report thing was just a front for their date. Only after the door closed behind Regina did Kurt hear a few snickers and giggles, himself also smiling amused. “Have nice evening, Doctor.” Rich Baumann winked, as Kurt also walked to the door. Thanking him with a short nod Kurt walked through the door.

 

Dinner with the General was dominated by her news about the cylinder, and the playback device found. Somehow Kurt was a little disappointed. Conversing about work at the dinner table was not his idea of a date. But it was fitting of Regina.

“Sounds like a simple cylinder phonograph, once inside an atmosphere capable of transporting soundwaves we’ll be able to hear what they recorded.” He agreed with the assessment of Doctor Yates.

“How was your day?” Stunned by surprise Kurt paused at the question. “It was a fine day, but made better by you.” He displayed an infectious, warm smile. “Yours?”

Blushing, Regina bowed her head, causing a loose strain of her hair to fall in her face. “Likewise a fine day, met with the perfect finale. So far.”

They sat in the briefing room, just as she had announced on the bridge, in case anyone sought them, they’d find them there, not in her or his quarters. “I didn’t meant to be late for our date, nor did I mean for it to take place here.” She apologised again.

“You are the general of this ship, I know that your work will interfere with your private life. No need to apologise. About the location, we can change that.” Taking out his tablet he winked.

The screens on the walls flickered to life, displayed a dense forest, a few crickets chirped from the speakers. “There, we are in a nice forest, out on a romantic evening walk.”

“Doctor Braun, if I wouldn’t know any better, I’d say you’re trying to seduce me.”

“Perhaps I am trying to, perhaps I just want to be romantic.”

Snickering Regina picked up a piece of food on her fork. “With the stone cold General? Romantic? You surprise me Doctor Braun.”

Also snickering Kurt looked into Regina’s blue eyes. “Here you sit, dining with the borderline mad scientist. Better believe it, general.”

A moment of silence passed, without a word Regina got up, leaned over the table and kissed Kurt. “You do me good. Keep doing me good.”

“If you keep me from derailing, which you do.” A feat only one other woman had ever achieved. Normally his work kept him from going mad. But there was not much of work for his mind to be occupied with on the Phoenix. “We could hack into the computer and feign our presence in here.” Regina suggested, climbing over the table.

“I don’t think the General would like that.”

“I have it on good authority that she’ll make an exception.”

 

“Drills are in place.” Linus stated dryly. “Begin.” Kurt did not check. Tuovinen was a good man, a brilliant scientist and engineer. He knew what he was doing.

On the display before him the scanners showed the drills beginning to descend through the rock below the mine. They would continue to descend until they had reached a depth hot enough to extraxt the heat for their purposes.

Energy requirements for the fully automated Ericsson quantum entanglement communication relay center were not that much. At the same time the base on Ericsson should be expanded, mining operations should be conducted in other parts of the planet, an observatory was to be constructed.

All fully automatic.

Those tasks required more energy, and the geothermal heat was the best way to keep that requirement sated.

 

Not explicitly tired, his requirements for sleep had reduced, but a little fatigued, Kurt forced himself to observe the progress on the screen.

However, his mind always seemed to drift off. To Regina Marston, General of the Phoenix. And apparently his girlfriend.

 

“How was your, report, doing yesterday?” Sharp as ever to notice what was going on Leopold asked the poignant question during their daily video conversation. “It went well. Very well. Did you hear that a Phonograph had been found?” The crew from the Flyer had been back, but the machine supposed to play the cylinder was broken, and scanning the cylinder was still underway.

“Yes, tell me more about the report.” Grumbling Kurt inched around in his seat. “There is not much to tell.” To you, young man. “We are currently drilling, for the geothermal reserves.”

Most of all Kurt did not want to talk about the previous evening, as he took the call at his desk, where half the people in the control centre could hear him. Finally giving in to his father’s insistence not to talk about the previous evening, Leopold nodded, asking about the estimated time left for the drilling operations.

“All the equipment is already installed, all that is left is the heat, I’d say in twelve hours.” That was of course only once they reached the depths required to utilise the geothermal heat of Ericsson, not the time when the reactor was operational. But once the required depths had been reached automated systems were activated and the rest of the construction was completed while Phoenix was on her way. “Great. So tomorrow you’ll be back?”

“Yes.” Annoyed by his son’s tone of voice, implying that there would be questions about Kurt and the General, Kurt confirmed, right before ending the call.

 

Attentively listening Regina had sat down in the conference room, her first officer, and a few scientists attended, as well as the team that had discovered the phonograph, while the digital scan of the recording was played.

The sounds reminded her more of shrieks, but she heard the structure in them. After a while there was a melody to the shrieks.

“Some tune, huh?” Yates jested, over the sounds, was rewarded with a few snickers from around the room.

After fifteen minutes the show was over.

“Any thoughts?” Regina felt a little relieved. After five minutes the sounds had begun to strain her ears.

“I wouldn’t want to listen to a long speech by them, General.” Yates again tried to be funny, was silenced by Regina’s stern gaze. “We have their written language decoded, but no idea what sounds the words make, it might take a while.”

Turning her attention to Corporal Fernández, Regina hoped to hear better news from her. “Any ideas, Corporal?”

Raising her eyebrows Maria touched the controls to the recording again. She played back the first few shrieks. “I think the first few seconds relate to the message on the wall. They have the same rhythm to them as these words. ‘The voices have spoken, the end is upon us. Listen to hear our plea.'” For a moment the entirety of the room looked at Maria.

“Work with that assumption, and see if you can decode any of it.” Regina sat up straight before anyone else could interject, there was already a ridiculing expression on Doctor Yates’ face, which now changed into an offended one, but he kept quiet. After all it was an order from the General.

Regina felt a slight vibration in her pocket, took out the glasses. Unlike martian colonists, the Phoenix crew had caught up to the Orion-class ships in convenience levels.

 

“Drilling is complete. We are good to go.” With a smile on his face Kurt reported to an empty screen, fully aware that Regina could see him.

Anxiety filled his thoughts. Finally they would get off the surface of Ericsson, back to space and on their journey to RV-p296.

Over the course of the upcoming years he would need to refine work on the engines. There was still a lot of potential. Within a few days the linkers had visited Mars, they would lumber on for four years to cover the same distance.

At least it wouldn’t take them three generations to reach their destination.

 

Breaking away from the surface was easier than Kurt had feared. But the landing unit had significantly less mass to haul than the entire Phoenix, even though Ericsson’s gravity was higher than Mars’.

After a short while the landing unit began the maneuvers to dock with the Phoenix, completing those without any incident.

For a moment Kurt felt that there ought to be a problem, everything was going too smoothly. He chased that thought away, as he did not want to think what the consequences might be if they had locked the docking clamps wrong, or not at all. The kind of acceleration, and the nature of their propulsion, could vaporise the lander, damage the rear to a point of spelling doom for it too.

 

An hour and fourty two minutes after they left the surface Kurt stepped into his quarters on the alpha ring. “Home, sweet home.” He mumbled looking around the chaos his son had created in the few days of his absence. Somehow he longed for the small, but tidy, quarters with the bunkbed on the spearhead.

“Prepare for drive engagement in fifteen minutes.” Linus announced over the shipe wide intercom. Deciding his place was in the control centre, Kurt left the chaos that was his quarters. Perhaps it was time he and Regona talked about a small room for the lad. It would make dating the General easier too, if they could decide on a whim where to go.

 

“Attention, all personnel, this is General Marston speaking. Prepare for full engagement of the drive. These past few days have marked another human milestone, set by the remarkable crew of the Phoenix. Not only has this ship brought humankind into the antimatter age, but now It also laid the foundation for the QEC, or Quantum Entanglement Communication, array, and the Ericsson RnD laboratories. Over the course of the next months and years the facilities will be built by fully automated drones. Mars has great plans for Ericsson, and we enabled them. Congratulations to all of you. Now we will set course for RV-p296, I’m confident that we will not need to stop along the way. Marston out.”

Rings of Fate S4xE5 – Mars – From Ashes

Air inside the new laboratory was cold, but fresh, Kurt immediately noticed upon entering. Someone was kind enough to set down a few plants in the corners, hooked to an automated irrigation syatem.

Any plants that he had in the past were tended to by Maya, his wife, who now had left with the DEHumans over six months ago.

His green thumb was nonexistent, so he was glad that the government had provided him with that. Working on the ancient Harpy ship had concluded that it was brought there to study earth, and to function as a gateway.

Still other scientists were crawling all over it. Or rather through it, using the remote controlled robots on lease from the policeforce.

His attention was soon redirected to antimatter research by President Kinsey and the senate. Two way communication with RV-p296 was reestablished shortly after the linkers had left, and continued on. To his disappointment an ambassador, and office of communication, had been appointed, he was no longer directly involved in the MISR.

 

Although only working on antimatter research, his new office was in the formerly abandoned Valles Marineries settlement, his old lab remained without an atmosphere to ensure no, or at least less, tampering with the quantum entanglement device.

“Thank you,” Kurt turned to the lovely young woman in uniform that had showed him to his new office. “this place is great.”

Saluting with a smile she turned on her heel and marched out, another uniformed woman entered. “Doctor Braun?”

Whom else was she expecting? “None other.” He smiled, looking around the room to find a place where he and his guest could sit.

“Good, we need to speak.” She pointed at a group of chairs around a table. Obviously she knew more about his new place than he did.

“I am General Regina Marston.” She introduced herself as they sat down. “Since when do we have Generals?” He jokingly asked adjusting the chair.

“We are new.” A feigned smile was flashed.

“Well then,” he returned the smile, equally artificial as hers, “what can I do to please you General?” Did I really say that?

Amused she raised an eyebrow. “Antimatter is what you can do for me. And are supposed to.” She gestured around, implying that the two of them worked for the martian government with the same agenda. “It is,” she interrupted his speech about the ban on antimatter by raising a hand.

“It is no longer, first. Secondly, we need another entanglement device.” Baffled he stared across the table. The room was completely silent, except the AC.

“May I ask what for?” A genuine smirk appeared on the General’s face. “The president said you’d want to know. Against my recommendation, he ordered me to give you full disclosure.” The relatively short woman stood up, her blond hair was tied strickt in a ponytail. “There is more at stake here than just power for Mars. Estimates say that the colony can be powered with the the geothermal reserves for quite some time.” He had worked briefly on those estimates, he knew all too well that the geothermal reserves lasted for generations to come.

“If I had to guess, General, I’d wager you want antimatter for either weaponry or, and that’s my peraonal favorite, a ship.”

An honest smile appeared on her lips as she stopped her pacing around the table. “The question now is not if you can, or if you will provide it, but how soon.”

Reclining in his seat Kurt looked Regina Marston up and down. “No, the question is rather, what quantities are we talking about here?” He too got up now. “Another question for the feasibility of your ship is one of storage against creation. Do you want to traverse the universe with large quantities of a highly volatile substance, suspended in a magnetic field, at danger of annihilating your vessel if power levels drop, or do you want to carry the technology and resources for making more of said substance?”

Intrigued Regina nodded with raised eyebrows.

Now she understood why the President had insisted on giving him full disclosure. “Phoenix. Are you familiar with it?”

All color seemed to fade from Kurt as she mentioned the name Phoenix. “A black project from the early days of Martian history. Based on the Ark1 designs. Abandoned when first the resources to build it where not available, and later shelved when the number of people on Mars exceeded the number of people that could be put inside it.” Recounting the facts he knew about Phoenix, Kurt sat down again, as did Regina.

“Please tell me you’re not building it.”

With her eyes half closed she gently shook her head giving Kurt reason to hope.

“We’re finalising it.” She threw a tablet on the table. A sturdy old model of a tablet, with dents and scratches, but otherwise durable.

With shaking hands from a sudden rush of adrenaline he picked it up and looked at the open page.

Ark3, codename Phoenix, construction start 32 after settlement. “Robot mining and construction are a tricky thing. Even when it was discontinued, the robots used were not deactivated, although half of them were diverted to other use, the people in charge decided against it. They closed the door, turned off life support and access tunnels, after they left, and no one ever was the wiser.” She gleamed with a victorious smile.

Kurt was left astonished. He returned his attention to the tablet in his hands. The Ark3 had the capacity to carry but a fraction of the martian population, but with its capabilities of fast travel they could ferry them all to RV-p296.

“RV-p296, they frown upon antimatter use. As far as I know, the MISR had to fall back on solar power and surrender it’s antimatter storage and engine to destruction.”

Again the General flashed her fake smile. “That is of no concern for you at the moment. First we need the ship operational.”

Again glancing at the tablet Kurt scratched his head. It made sense now that both the president and senator Adele Farrington, wanted him to make more antimatter. Off the records though.

He took a glance at some of the dimensions the Ark3 had. It stil seemed wiser to take only a little bit of Antimatter with them, and create more as they traveled.

In his mind the scientist already did the first calculations, estimates for the required quantities, until his conscious mind took over and commanded him to halt and inquire.

“The Ark3 will lift off from the surface?” He had not noticed that several minutes had passed, and the general had sat there, quietly observing him.

“Yes. Martian gravity is lower, which allows for the ship to be built on and launched from surface.”

“Gravity lower or not, there’s still a lot of thrust required, the storage tanks are not designed to take that sort of beating. The way you want it, can’t be done.” He looked at her, only now noticing she had looked at him in an interested way.

“In addition, I’d need to know what kind of distance you want to cross. Are you going to use the antimatter generator for normal power requirements as well? There should be other systems in place in case of catastrophic loss of containment, and I’m not talking batteries here. I strongly recommend a remodeling of the Ark3 to make use of at least one fusion reactor, a thorium fission reactor, and the capabilities of creating more antimatter on the journey.” He put down the tablet, pushed it back to her.

Begrudgingly Regina looked at the tablet.

Slowly she understood.

Doctor Kurt Braun was not going to merely comply, give them antimatter in a container, and semd them off, potentially to blow up in a horrific antimatter annihilation explosion.

Good.

“The plan is to travel to RV-p296, as well as other destinations of interest. It is not a ferry meant to take the martian population someplace else than where they are now.”

I knew it. Raising his eyebrows Kurt leaned back, eagerly staring at her. “You need an accelerator, containment, reaction chambers need to be redesigned, as those designs are from the ship of doom. I could provide you with my own designs, but I’m sure you already got them.” He smirked, more to annoy than out of a real reason to smile.

Swallowing Regina nodded, taking the tablet into her hands, pressing a few buttons. Entering a security code.

Handing the tablet back. “Your revisions had been anticipated. When you launched the MISR first revisions of the reaction chambers had been made.” Revealing that the ship had already begun to be redesigned, she now returned the fake smile.

Sighing in frustration Kurt did not even bother to look at the tablet. “Alright, cut the crap.” Crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Why do you dance around the bush here? Let’s cut to the chase. What exactly do you want me to do here?” Finally his suspicions about the project had been confirmed. His involvement was not to be restricted to just providing antimatter and a quantum entangled device for instant communication.

The hardened contours of Regina’s face became softer. “Do you want to see the Phoenix?”

Intrigued he raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps, as soon as you told me what my involvement here is.” He would’ve liked nothing more than to see the Phoenix.

Again Regina took the tablet, again she punched in a security code, returned the device. Spontaneous laughter erupted from Kurt after reading the first few lines. “Out of the question.” He giggled. “This scientist stays on Mars, borderline mad as I may be, I’m not going to board that ship.”

Bewildered Regina stood up. Without a word or greeting she left, followed by Kurt’s continued laughter, concluding he truly was a mad scientist.

The president would need to find another genius to help them in perfecting the Phoenix.

 

Although tasked with the ominous antimatter research, Kurt enjoyed relative freedom in his daily routine.

Leopold often stayed with Tracy, so even in his off hours he had time to waste. Most of which he used to dig through databases concerning the Phoenix, and the era in which construction of it began.

“Pa?” Startled he let out a shriek, as he had to do a few illegal tricks to obtain the data, he was a little on edge. “Yes?” He tried calming himself.

“Tracy dumped me.” He sat down, putting his feet on the table.

Putting his hand on his son’s shoulder Kurt leaned back in his chair, also putting his feet on the table. “That sucks. Why?”

“I don’t know.” Leopold nestled with his hands. Trying to distract himself from his loss the young lad pointed at the tablet Kurt had been handking a moment before. “What are you doing?”

“Classified.” His father smirked in a way that told Leopold everything. Immediately he knew that not even his father was supposed to know. “Can I have a look?”

“No.” Kurt also looked at the table. “But you know my security as well as I do.” He winked.

A knowing smile on his lips Leopold jumped to his feet and came back a moment later with his own tablet, it took only a few minutes for the lad to access his father’s network and data. “Is this for real?” He looked up a moment later.

Glancing at the youth over the edge of his tablet, Kurt sighed. “I don’t know what you are talking about. The reality of some things is not to be negated.” Again a wink, which his son answered with a broad grin.

 

Both sat for hours lurking over datasheets, specs for the Phoenix, revisions of the plans and martian history. “Nice myth, Pa.” Leopold stood up at about two in the morning, followed by a heartily yawn. “But with the latest containment chamber, it is just that. A myth.”

Walking off to his bedroom Leopold yawned again, leaving Kurt baffled. At fourteen his son thought he knew something about containment chambers? Was this a joke?

Intrigued he drew up the latest revisions and took a look.

 

“Your help will not be required.” Regina was stonefaced again, the dim lighting of her office did only highlight her hard features. “I know, I haven’t exactly been forthcoming three weeks ago.”

“Six.” Regina corrected him. Six? Was it truly that long? “What ever. The containment chamber is not going to hold.”

“Our scientific head of construction says otherwise.”

Kurt formed a fist, why would she not listen? “Who is your genius?”

“Doctor Fineman.”

“Fineman is an idiot. The magnetic field density is all wrong, with this setup the Phoenix would not even make it to orbit.”

Regina let out a sigh of annoyance. “I’m not going to ask how you obtained the latest data on the project, I will forget this ever happened. And I suggest you do the same.” The general moved her hand to end the conversation.

“At least take a look at the sepcs, you can always say that you were not sure and contacted me about it. I was after all cleared to receive the initial information.”

Telling him that she’d take his words under consideration Regina ended the conversation, leaving Kurt alone in front of his screen.

A lot of thoughts wandered around Kurt’s mind in the semi dark confines of his office.

The new place had a few advantages over his old place. It was cleaner.

Not because he was a hopeless case in terms of cleanliness, which he was, but the nature of the rock surrounding him.

Not the volcanic rock, that dumped tons of dust into the rooms. It was, when the lights were turned up, brighter.

Still, it had the touch of underground bunker.

Everything on Mars had that.

Everything on Mars was just that. No matter where he went, it all was a bunker, it all had the touch and feel of dust. Kurt never knew anything else but that.

Until he saw footage from the ships.

The three Orion type ships, with their five rings, the Ark type ships with the two rings. Their interior was neat, tidy and clean. Entirely different from Mars.

Footage from RV-p296 was as unbelievable to him as videos and pictures from Earth, but the atmosphere, the touch and feel of the ships was close.

Within his reach almost.

Why did he decline the offer to work on the project? Why deny himself the opportunity to flee from the bunkersystem that was Martian life?

He glanced to the door that led to his quarters, where Leopold had gone to his room and slept. His son, yes. Could he take him on the Phoenix? If so, would there be people in Leopold’s age range?

 

Morning light shone in the garden. It was a new creation, as the former cult settlers of Valles Marineries had not built for one originally.

Still it already had grown in, the trees and shrubs brought in from the main settlement, had thrived and rooted well.

It was nice for Kurt to be surrounded by the plants, with no walls visible. Unlike many of the gardens in Olympus mons, that were just that. Gardens in a room.

“How do you like the artificial sky built here?” A familiar voice disturbed Kurt from his morning pondering. “Very nice, General. Let’s one forget that we’re deep under ground.” He nodded to the vacant spot to his side on the bench. “But I suspect you had not come here to chat about artifical skies.”

“No.” Regina sat down, imitated his behaviour when she found him, in leaning back, squinting at the sky and enjoying the illusion of sunlight on her skin.

“You were right.” She half mumbled, half sighed. “About the containment chamber. You should really get aboard the project.”

Kurt turned towards her, leaned his face on his left hand. “I think so too. But there are ties keeping me on Mars.”

Regina also turned, leaning on her right. “Your son, Leopold? It is possible for him to come on the journey as well. We conscripted a few people with families, they are all coming. I know for a fact that there will be youths in his age.”

There was a warm smile on her lips and honesty in her voice that convinced Kurt she was being truthful. “Alright, I will join in finalising the project, and perhaps joining in on the flight of the Phoenix. But, I always have to think of Leopold first.”

Agreeing on his responsibilities as a father first, and a scientist second, Regina nodded. Again she turned to the simulated sunlight. “Do you hear that?” A noise echoed through the garden. “A bird.” Kurt replied dryly.

“A cuckoo.” There was something playful in her voice that Kurt had never thought possible in her. “We dug through archives and archives, until we found a suitable sample.” With the same playfulness in her eyes and smile she turned back to the scientist next to her. “This garden, is sort of a test run for the Phoenix gardens. If you thought the gardens aboard the Orion ships and the Kismet were great, wait until those of the Phoenix are operational.”

Kurt could not help but gift her with a faint smile. The Phoenix was a long way from going operational. She sat on the ground.

Most of its interior was slanted, or upside down. Only a minor fraction was upright. The gardens, would take a while until becoming usable.

 

Turbulent shaking kept Kurt’s mind busy. Keep your eyes shut. Keep your eyes shut. Against his own mental mantra he opened his eyes. In the chair next to him was Leopold. He had a breathing mask strapped over his nose and mouth, like him.

In other chairs were other people. All with face masks, most clenching tightly the armrests of their chairs.

Rattling grew less intense.

A short fleeting feeling, as if a wall of fire passed through him, washed over him. They had taken off. The shaking was mostly from Phoenix overcoming its own inertia, amassing enough force with the engines to push off of the martian soil.

Pressed into the back of the seat Kurt felt the acceleration weigh him down, exert more force on him. Again he closed his eyes and thought back on when he first saw the Phoenix standing upright in the old magma chamber of a smaller volcano.

 

After Regina had cleared him and Leopold for the mission, once the lad had agreed on the lunatic idea his father proposed, he was taken aboard a cab.

From the Valles Marineries settlement, the ride went back to the old settlement in Olympus Mons, ending at a dead end tunnel.

After a minute or so, a gate behind the cab closed, atmosphere was drained from the tube, and the rock wall ahead of them slid to the side, revealing a hidden passage. Much faster than he was used to, the cab then proceeded onwards.

At the end of the ride a group of armed men and women awaited them. No one without a security clearance could go further. Computers could be hacked, terminals tricked. A group of imposing armed guards, could not be fooled so easily.

From the platform there was a short walk through a series of airlocks, until he stood in the magma chamber. Gazing up the impressive ship that stood there.

To that moment he had assumed the Phoenix was sitting on its belly, now he saw that it was standing upright.

“All systems have checked out so far.” Doctor Fineman reported when he saw Regina and Kurt. There was disdain for Kurt in his gaze, but he kept it to himself.

Disapproval in her eyes Regina took the tablet he was holding towards her, gave it to Kurt without even looking at it. “Thanks Dr. Fineman.”

Kurt glanced over the tablet and the displayed data. It seemed to check out.

But he also was too distracted by the shiny ship that stood before them. During the last days he had been inaugurated on the history of the project, that had been kept offline for obvious reasons.

Production of the first parts had begun soon after it had been conceived. Construction site and transport there had been erected using as little manpower as possible.

All the walls he had seen so far were crudely cut from the rock. Nothing had been smoothed to please the eye. Little to no decoration.

The facility had a large air refinement plant. CO2 scrubbers, plants, mostly algae, running on geothermal energy.

“What do you think of her?” Regina leaned into his view.

“She’s a beauty. I can’t wait to see how she ticks.” He expressed his eager curiosity.

“General?” A man with grimy clothes approached her. He had dirty hands, not grease, but soil. “All plants have been prepared, and are currently in storage.” He smiled, mimicked a salute and marched on.

“That was Doctor Washington.” Nodding, but still too fascinated by the ship before him to truly listen, Kurt stepped closer to the Phoenix, his head bowed back to look up. “She looks different than the other ships of the Ark type.” He noted recalling images of the Ark1 and Kismet. There were still the iconic rings of the terrestrial ship design, but also a bullet shaped spear head at the top, not another ring.

“Yes.” Regina stopped next to him glancing at the top too with squinted eyes. “It’s an experiment, and a risk. As well as part of Phoenix’s mission.” Her attention turned back to his asking expression. “Come on.” A genuine smile on her lips she stepped on a conveyor belt leading to the Phoenix.

 

The weight pushing Kurt deep into his chair lifted. A small gravitational force was still noticeable, but it grew less and less with each passing moment.

Sitting in the common room of the alpha ring Kurt looked to his son, noticing the relief in the youth’s expression.

After a few minutes an announcement from the General told them to remain seated as the rings were engaged.

Kurt felt a slight tuck to the left as the ring began motioning. The sensation soon faded, replaced by the centrifugal push outwards, simulating gravity.

After a while the force reached martian levels, where it remained.

Over time the force would be gradually increased to reach the same force as earth’s gravity.

A delicate process, as the Martian humans were not used to handle that sort of gravity, both mentally, and physically. Not long after, the all clear was given for them to leave their seats.

Impressed with the clear and easy lift off Kurt gladly stretched his legs. As did Leopold.

“Welcome to Orbit.” Regina approached the two. “We will be leaving Orbit in two hours, start the journey to pop by the RV-p296 system.”

Confused Leopold had thought that they were to remain in Orbit for weeks until the ship and it’s interior had settled in. “I’ll explain later.” Kurt winked, following the general. They had poured over the plans of the ships for weeks, so Leopold knew the way to their quarters.

 

An animated video was displayed on the screen in the office where Regina had sat down with Kurt. It showed the head of the Phoenix detaching from the main ship, descending into the atmosphere of an alien world. “…fully equipped with deflective tiles to withstand the heat of atmospheric entry the Phoenix’s head is a landing craft designed for entry and take off from alien worlds.” A voice over explained.

“It houses the bridge of the ship, once detached, controls are handed over to the auxiliary bridge in the alpha ring. The main body of the Phoenix functions as a station in space during the time of a landing mission. In case of loss of the spearhead, the Phoenix still is a fully operational ship.”

Kurt raised an eyebrow. He made a note in his mind. There were questions he had about the functionality of the head. Not so much regarding its function as a landing craft, but as a lived and worked in part of Phoenix while in space. “Based on the exceptional advances in the field by Doctor Braun, the spearhead uses artificial gravity, rather than the rotation of it.” Scratch that note.

More animation showed the spearhead dock again. According to the simulation both parts of Phoenix could function independently from one another, as ships. The spearhead was limited in range, or speed at least, however, since the antimatter engine had been installed in Phoenix’s rear. Containment chambers could be detached as well and jettisoned in case a failure of containment was imminent.

A safety feature that eased Kurt’s mind and concerns. Special valves had been installed as well so the antimatter in the chambers could be vented at high pressure, away from the ship, without losing the chambers.

Automatically the lights in the room turned brighter again as the presentation came to a close. They sat in a small room, in a small building next to Phoenix.

“Based on my work? What work would that be?” Immediately he turned to the General next to him. “You drove the MISR to its target using what, besides antimatter fuelled warping?”

“Gravi” he stopped his brows moved close to one another. “Did you perfect it? For use as artificial gravity?”

“Fineman did it. All plants for use aboard the Phoenix are already in storage in the spearhead. Mars’ own gravity is, of course, cancelled out.”

Giving Fineman credit for doing something right was not hard for Kurt, the man was after all not stupid.

But he began to question himself what they needed him for now. Except his mistake with the containment chamber configurations, Fineman seemed to be more than capable of handling the Phoenix.

“We want Fineman to stay on Mars.” Regina stood up. “He already agreed on the details of his new assignment.”

Slowly it dawned on Kurt. “He is to build more ships. Antimatter powered, with artificial gravity under their decks.” Neither uttering a confirmation nor a dementy, Regina just smiled and walked out.

 

Fascinated by the clean walls and floors, no rock in sight anywhere, Kurt strode to the control centre, right by the bridge, where Regina had went. After it had been revealed to him how the gravity was created in the foremost part of Phoenix, he acquainted himself with the facility. The artifical gravity was powered by the fusion reactor in the spearhead, to keep it running once separated from the rear.

In addition to it not having power prior to activating the antimatter generator.

Although the technology to cleanse the air was the same as on the ground, Kurt noticed it smelling differently. A hint of a smell he related to new technology was lying in the air, but he also noticed the lack of a dusty scent. The smell of rocks. Although a certain earthy flavor was hanging in the hallways and corridors, as the gardens were finally set up proper, the air lacked that distinct odour of rock he never truly had been able to place, but that always had been there.

The control centre was a well lit room, following the arch of the ship’s nose, at which’s center sat the bridge, a few people sat there and monitored their stations.

“Doctor.” Someone greeted him, he had not found the time to learn their names yet. “Hi, just checking on the gravity field.” He smiled enthusiastically.

“Everything about that is in the green.” A dark blond man shouted from his station. Oddly enough, Kurt remembered him. Linus Tuovinen, head of the engineering department.

As far as he understood it, Phoenix was his baby.

Linus knew every part and system of the ship, which would ensure frequent encounters with the man. “Great!” Kurt beamed. A little uncertain he glanced around the room.

There was a workstation for him, he just did not know where. “This way sir.” Linus got up and approached with a kind smile. Seldom had Kurt seen a man with a full beard, somehow it seemed to be frowned upon in martian society.

“Thank you.” Little more than a cubicle awaited him. No one had a better workspace in the room. Most did not even have the cubicle. In three rows the desks with monitors were lined up, facing all in the same direction.

“We’re ready to initiate the matter-antimatter reaction on your command.” Linus sat down at the adjacent desk. “General Marston gives the commands, I’m just keeping an eye on the engine.”

An amused smirk appeared on Linus’ face. “Aren’t we all?”

 

As tasked by the general and the president, Kurt had made the antimatter required to get them going, but it was released into the containment chambers only a week before the launch. The entire complex had been evacuated during the fueling process, and an engine test right after it had been completed, to see whether the calculations regarding the vibrations during liftoff held, or not. “Switching on the the accelerator.” Kurt pressed a button on the shiny touch panel that was his desk. At the moment the chambers contained barely enough antimatter to make it to RV-p296. They would need to make more to journey back. Or else where.

“Reaching operating levels in fifteen minutes.” Linus read from his display. An initial run was scheduled before they took off, in case it did not function properly, they would not be far from home.

On Kurt’s screen a message appeared. It was a multimedia message from Leopold. “Sometimes everything happens for a reason, thanks for convincing me to take the journey!” Attached was a picture of him and Tracy standing in a hallway on Phoenix. A knowing smile on his lips Kurt turned his attention back to the work. He had seen Tracy and her family on the passenger manifest of Phoenix a while ago, had hoped that the two would meet on the ship sometime, not before take off and get to talking.

“We’re good to initiate the first run.” Linus woke him from his daydreaming train of thoughts. “Good. Initiating.”

It took a few minutes, after which the detectors showed antimatter being created, and siphoned off to containment. With a broad, almost victorious smile, Linus asked whether he could have the honor to tell the General.

 

“Attention all hands, this is General Marston. We received the go from President Kinsey. I must say that I am proud to be here with all of you. On this day we all set new limits for all of human kind.” Well phrased, thought Kurt. It acknowledged the fact that the DEHumans already had set such limits, but those did not see themselves as part of the same species any longer.

A glance at the timer on his screen told Kurt that the two hours were almost up. Only a few seconds left to go.

“An exciting time lies before us, we will further not only the limits and boundaries of our species, but also our knowledge. Mankind now truly enters the interstellar age. God speed, everyone.”

Rings of Fate S4xE4 – Mars – Resolve

Motes of dust danced calmly in the beams of light. Undisturbed for ages, except for the actions of the cultists some decades ago, the alien ship just sat there like a sleeping dragon.

Nothing had eroded it, no flows of water, no winds. When it had been set down, there must’ve been a cave to the outside, long since closed off. Perhaps it had been buried. Either deliberately or accidentally.

If Kurt had to guess, he’d wager that it had been left behind either as broken, or as a stash for late survivors. It was his impression that the ship was of Harpy origin, therefore it stood to reason that they might have left it for others. Even if he could talk to a living Harpy, he doubted they’d have any answers for him. Information has the habit of being forgotten over the ages, especially if the ages were millions of years.

Even digitally recorded information would be lost after such a timespan.

On his tablet he was listening to some music from the transmission receiced through the MISR, a metal band called Icy Void Of Fire, that had formed on the ship Destiny.

He liked their style, their lament for the lost home they never knew and the challenges of deep space. The melancholic, yet occasionally brutal sounds in their songs spoke to his mood.

The martians sure could use some brutality in the coming days and weeks. After all, the linkers were on their way to Mars to pick up their brethren, his wife Maya among them.

The only positive thing he could see in that, was the fact that she would no longer suffer from the disconnection brought on to the linkers by the suppression program.

 

A pause between two songs reconnected him with his tasks at hand.

The ship.

On all fours he crawled into the opening, which once had been a hatch on the outside of the ship. “This is Doctor Kurt Braun, recording the first proceedings of the alien ship discovered in the abandoned settlement of Valles Marineries. I must note again, that I strongly recommend a public investigation into the fate of the settlement. The official declaration is not making sense, any longer.” He crawled on until he came to a turn. There were letters smeared on the walls, shaky writing, by someone who just had learned to write. Children.

The cult had used children to investigate the ship.

Valles Marineries had been a settlement, officially it failed due to a famine, but the algae plants were still running when he entered the settlement a week ago.

It was run by a cult, and it stood to reason that they neglected food production, or consumption, or it was supposed to work on a reward basis. But the details of the settlement’s demise were sketchy.

“Section A” he read aloud, noting his findings about the child like writing only in his mind. “Moving on to the aft section.” His curiosity for the engineering of the vessel drove him onward. What was the original power supply, how did it move? Was there a computer core still salvageable? If so, could it be hooked up to one of their computers or not?

If it could, the cultists surely would have tried. He crawled on, hoping they had not damaged it.

Passing by Section B at an intersection, and continuing straight onward to the back of the ship, he noticed that the layer of dust became thicker at a certain point. In the cone of light from his head lamp the cloud of dust he unwillingly and unavoidably stirred up grew more intense.

Hope began to swell up in his mind that the cultists never went back there. “Section G”, or at least did not frequent the back as much.

If they didn’t, it also stood to reason there was nothing back there. Resting for a moment he glanced over his shoulder. The hallway, if one was Harpy sized, lay in darkness. Only lit up by his headlamp.

“This place is sort of creepy.” He mumbled, squinting his eyes he tried to remember to delete that statement from the log. Supressing coughing and a sneeze he moved on in the direction of the back. He began noticing that there were doors to the sides of the hallway.

A few had been forced open partially so one could peek inside.

Living quarters.

Forming a series of cuss words in his mind, he crawled on, hoping to find an intersection, so he could turn around.

After a few minutes he found what he had been looking for. Crawling partially into the crossing hallway he intended to crawl back and then follow his path back to the front. Enough of the dusty interior for one day, he decided. The itch in his nose was enough to convince him that the threat of death from Linkers without uncovering the secrets of the Harpy ship first, was not so bad.

He was about to turn back when his nose told him of something else than dust.

Horrible stench reached his nose.

If someone died in here back in the day, they must have decomposed decades ago, the dry dust of decades turning them into a semi mumified state. What is this stench? Intrigued, although disgusted, he continued on. Intensifying with every meter the stench soon told him that it was not decomposition he was smelling.

It was feces!

“Hello?” He shouted. No reply.

“I’m noting a stench of feces in this ship, fresh feces. Perhaps the cultists have left a child in here that was able to survive on its own? Moving in and out of the ship, to get food and then return to a narrow shelter where it felt safe. The child could still be alive today, being an old man or woman.” He paused his movement to send his recordings so far to his computer.

Leopold would find it of something should happen to him.

Fighting the urge to sneeze and cough Kurt continued his way, the ground remained covered in a thick layer of dust, but the smell also lingered there. Modern Harpy ships are alive, what if this one is too, and I’m smelling it’s feces?

Dismissing the idea right away, since any life in the ship would have died millions of years ago due to the lack of nutrition, he moved forward, his heart pounding to his throat.

 

Letting out a scream of shock, Kurt bumped his head on the ceiling of the hallway. Somethimg had shrieked at him from the side. Between a cryogenically hidden Harpy agent, an old person, a linker or a midget, he would’ve never guessed that he smelled the feces of rats. Overcoming the heart attack moment he crawled on, ignoring the rat that had shrieked at him. “Rats. There are rats aboard this ship. Inadvertently the cultists must’ve let the rats into this ship. This of course poses a hole new series of problems. Cables, any potential biomatter left by the Harpies, chewed on in the better version of the worst case, completely eaten or eroded by feces and urin in the least favorable. Continuing on. Section H3.” He read the smeared words on the wall.

After a while he reached a room large enough for him to stand upright. “Engin” read a graffiti on the wall. From another opening on the farside of the room a series of cables and hoses led into the room. Most were lying around without being attached to anything, but a few were. “I have reached the engine room. The cultists sure were here.” He stretched, enjoying the size of the room. Parts were missing, he noticed.

Clean work, not something anyone did in a hungry haste. The original owners of the vessel had dismantled parts of it, the cultists tried plugging their cables into the open sockets. In most cases without luck.

 

“We were told it was a ship of the gods.” Erika Olafdottir raised her eyebrows. An old woman had come to the station, wanted to speak with someone who had seen the Valles Marineries settlement.

“A ship of the gods?” Either the old lady was insane, or genuinely one of the last survivors of the settlement. “Our parents worked day and night, we did too. It was said that the gods had come to us, and that their technology was embedded in our genes, which is why our technology must be compatible with theirs.” In her eyes Erika could see that she was resentful of those days. “Clearly, it was not. Food was withheld, as we didn’t make any progress. It even went so far that the plants were shut down, or barricaded. Until some of the adults revolted, but that was too late. Many were starving, too weak to work.” Her gaze clarified. “I’m having a difficult time speaking about it, but I heard that the settlement was reopened, so I hope that you are investigating the ship.”

“We are Mrs. Klopek.” No one had let the word out that an alien ship had been discovered in the abandoned settlement. So at least that part of her story made sense.

“Good. And I hope you’re blowing it up.” Shaking her head with a maniacal snicker, she added “But you won’t. It is too intriguing, too valuable. I understand.”

Straightening her expression again she looked Erika straight in the eyes. “It won’t fly. Ever. The gods, or what ever built this ship, made sure of that. Vital parts are missing, and our technology is far from compatible, or sophisticated enough.”

Nodding and typing Erika agreed with her. “Can you tell me more about the cult? Official reports to this day claim a food shortage responsible for the downfall of the settlement.”

“We were told the same thing. That the plants had either malfunctioned or were reserved for his holiness. That our hazy memories of the ship were just a product of the indoctrination and the food shortage. But I knew it was real. I spent enough time in it to know.”

 

Dusting himself off Kurt enjoyed the relatively fresh air outside the ship. After getting used to the constant stench from the rats, and their droppings, he had spent two hours in the engine room.

“I have news for you.” Erika’s voice startled him. There were other scientists working in the facility, but he didn’t expect Erika to show up.

“Oh yeah? I was in the alien ship, it should be me who has news.” He hadn’t seen her since joining the team that had went to the settlement in search for the linkers, embraced her briefly.

“An old woman showed up in the office. News had revealed that we had tracked a number of linkers here. She is the last survivor of this settlement.”

Wide eyed Kurt listened to her words, and what she had learned from Mrs. Klopek.

“I concur on her testimony about it never flying again. But I believe we can power parts of it.” He showed the officer a few of the images he had taken of the engine room. “Computer and database might be salvageable. They have removed weaponsystems and propulsion, but with what I know of their technology, I can say it is not as old as we thought, but still ancient.” Explaining that, as far as he knew, the harpies did not have artificial gravity when they left earth, but had to use contraptions like the ships used to travel to RV-p296, he could surmise that the ship they dealt with was from after that era.

“Did they leave any of that technology in the ship?”

“I don’t know yet. We would need to dismantle it, but since they took weapons, propulsion and all, I doubt it.” Although far from being an expert on the subject, it was his firm conviction that the technology for artificial gravity inside the ship, could be used to build gravity engines for a ship.

 

“Crossing the vast distances in space is a time and energy consuming endeavour. With a gravity drive it is less of an effort, but still time consuming. Add to that a warping technology, and it eases on that front as well.” Spending the lunch together with Doctor Braun, Erika felt as if she had taken a university course on astrophysics and engineering in that hour. “You still need to invest a lot of energy into creating both the warping effect and the gravity field, but with the proper energy sources, that is not a big issue.”

A week earlier the messhall they sat in had been the stage for an incredible ruse. Meanwhile some people had cleaned it up, put tables and chairs upright and lunch was served to the scientists working on the ship. “Antimatter technology is frowned upon by our society, and until we fully understand what we are doing with this stuff and how to handle it, I completely understand and support the ban on it. But it is in essence the technology that was used for the MISR.”

He is married, I shouldn’t sit here listening to him prattle along, just to be in his presence. “So if we already have the technology, we are not really depending on finding it in the alien ship, are we?” Did I really just?

“Well, I was hoping to find it, because it might be better, further developed, but in essence, you’re right.”

Smiling Erika ate the last bite of her lunch. The local algae plants had been tested for their nutritional value and found perfectly fit for sustaining a human. Some of the plants had been compromised by rats and mice, but the others that were running, were fine.

“So, do you think Mrs. Klopek is genuine?” Erika opened her tablet in replying that she had a background check running. “She checks out. The children rescued back then had been reintegrated under new names, but what I can follow up makes sense. About six months after the settlement was abandoned, she shows up, age six, adoptive daughter to the Johnsons, later married to Hans Klopek, two children, Peter and Fiona.” She turned the tablet around for Kurt to glance over the details.

Again turning it back to herself she was saddened that the fates of the rescued remained a secret. Their true identities were not revealed, even in light of the new developments, that information had not been declassified. “Perhaps I can speak to Kinsey. He green lit the MISR program, he might declassify this too, at least to the police for background checks.”

Looking at the time he turned around to the large hole in the wall.

The controls for the accelerator had been covered, not to protect them, but to ensure no one turned them on by accident. “I must continue working on this ship.” Although eager to uncover the mysteries of the ship, Erika clearly heard the tone in his voice that told her of his unwillingness to return to a dusty crammed environment, with hundreds or thousands of rats. Their feces, their fleas could infect him with deseases, paired with the dry dust, it could also cause respiratory problems. Plus, it was damn uncomfortable.

“Use a drone.” A mix of question and confusion in his expression he turned his head back to her. “A remote controlled drone, driving around on a few wheels, extendable arm? We have a few for bomb defusal.” Seeing that he hadn’t access to one she said that she’ll see to it that he be lended one before returning back to her assignment.

 

Returning to a deskjob after the excitement of the linker incident was a relief at first, but then faded into utter boredom.

Erika was not enjoying that aspect of her job anymore. But it had to be done. People who came in these days were asking about relatives who were linkers now. Either they had fallen, or they were in custody for a crime committed, or in detention where they huddled together in groups.

Also inquiries about the upcoming visitation by the linkers, the plans and whether they needed more people willing and capable of fighting came in hourly.

She didn’t like where the public opinion went concerning this, it pointed towards war. They could neither fight, let alone win, a full on confrontation with the linkers. President Kinsey had mobilised all forces and put them on high alert, but he knew as well as everyone else, who thought about their situation rationally, that their position was hopeless.

The linkers could arrive with one ship, or a hundred.

With one ship, they stood a chance of defeating them, marginal but it was there. More than one ship, they were toast.

“Thanks for the drone. It comes in handy, I think I’ve got dust lungs. Doctor said I should stay out of the ship for at least a week.” The short message brought a fond smile to Erika’s lips, again she had to remind herself that Doctor Braun was married. To a linker, but still. His wife was going to stay with them for a while, after her departure he would grief for her.

Still he’d be married.

 

The screen that came with the drone was relatively small, but it had a feature to link it with a pair of digital glasses. Which Kurt Kurt didn’t have. Aboard the ships and on the Equatoria colony everybody had glasses.

On Mars they were a rarity.

Still he made progress the second day of using the drone. It dragged a cable behind it, in addition to its own cable for power supply, he had outfitted it with a connector moddeled to fit into one of the sockets. Having to work with other scientists and engineers was a relief.

He had no idea how the connector was built, someone else had designed it after his images and measurements. First he feared working together with others. People who were brilliant minds were not always team players, but he found them to be a perfect team, and himself fitting in nicely with them.

“Is it in yet?” A man sat down next to him. “Not yet. You built it?”

“Yes. Can’t wait.” Excitement rang in his voice. Suddenly the man jerked around to Kurt. “Dean Michaels.” He introduced himself. “It’s an honor to meet you, and work with you.”

“The honor is all mine.” Kurt smiled, wondering why the man was so honored. The Braun’s were known for being borderline mad scientists, not someone who one is honored to work with.

“I gathered as much knowledge about the MISR as I could after it was revealed, and I am very interested in how you did this.”

Turned away from Dean, Kurt rolled his eyes. “I just built on preexisting twchnology. The Ark1 used the same science, I just improved on it.” A luxury they didn’t have with the Kismet, but I had time enough.

On the monitor they watched the extendable arm reach out, with the cable in the claw. It plugged in, and retracted the arm. Momemts later over the mono speaker they heard a low humming noise spread through the engine room. Baffled, and with a lot of joy building up inside the two slowly faced towards one another.

“We did it!” Dean exclaimed, suddenly displaying a broad joyous smile. “You did it. I just plugged it in.”

The cable they had just connected to the ship functioned as a power cable only, to find out what they just had turned on, further investigations were necessary.

 

Wearing an uncomfortable mask over mouth and nose Kurt found himself back in the ship a mere two hours after the ship had been supplied with power. They could’ve used the drone again, but navigating it was slow, and every cable had to be dragged in separately, he pulled three behind him. And a series of connectors, if needed he could hook up his tablet to the ship. A task the drone could not perform.

A few meters behind him was Dean, also wearing a mask. In Kurt’s case it was to prevent further damage, for Dean it was precaution.

The tracks in the dust led directly to the engine room, they followed them, and soon could stand up straight again. “I’ll go to the bridge, you’re welcome to join.” Kurt announced after they laid out their cables neatly on the ground. “Think I’ll try my luck down here.” Dean smiled underneath his mask.

Both were glad to have the masks, as they had kicked up quite a lot of dust in the corridors.

Winking at Dean with a knowing smile Kurt left through another exit to the engine room. He hadn’t found the bridge yet, but Mrs. Klopek had given a vague description of the layout, so he should be there in no time.

As with all else on the Harpy ship, the controls on the bridge were covered in dust, but by comparison, far less than anything else that Kurt had seen so far. Only decades worth of dust, instead of millions of years.

A few cables from outside had been leading here, but some wise guy had pulled them out when they started investigating the ship, the tracks in the dust however should’ve been a good way to find it sooner. But his arrogant mind had thought of the engine room as a better place to start.

Idiot.

Underneath the, relatively, thin layer of dust he saw so, e activity. Lights were on, and touchpads were active.

Although a Harpy flyer once had been captured, he hadn’t had the time to study those reports in detail, so it was very fascinating for Kurt to study this technology first hand.

Blowing away the dust revealed the alien nature of the technology before him, although technically the Harpies were as terran as the humans.

A holographic projection extended fro, the now dust free console, displaying a language he couldn’t read. “Dean? We have some activity here. I believe the computer is back online.”

The holographic display showed the same writingnas before, didn’t change. Intrigued Kurt looked at it. There were letters, or symbols, floating in front others in the back.

Mesmerised Kurt took a picture of the scene. “Great news, Kurt.” After celebrating their success in turning on something on the ship Kurt and Dean had decided to call each other by their first names. “Shall I come up there?”

“If you want, but be warned, it’s crammed in here, sending you a picture.” After the picture had been sent, Kurt opened the translation program that had been in the transmission from RV-p296. “Computer, identify vessel.”

The tablet worked for a moment, then made some guttural sounds. For a moment Kurt wondered whether his tablet, or the translation program, were broken. But then the ship reacted, guttural sounds stemmed from the console he had blown the dust off.

“Gahani, exploration vessel.” The symbols in the hologram changed, another snapshot followed.

A wide grin formed on Kurt’s lips. “Dean, this will be the second most informative day in martian history.”

 

Knowing that the mission of the Gahani was to evaluate earth’s capability of supporting Harpy life, but obviously had returned in an ice age, Kurt crawled through the narrow corridors back to the engine room.

Gahani had been damaged by an asteroid shower, and was landed on Mars. According to a few hints hidden in the ship’s database, the crew would have preferred earth, but were closer to Mars at the time. To his disappointment there had been no logs left, other than the facts why it was left on Mars.

Upon arrival of a rescue party, the ship was stripped of power source, propulsion, weapons and medical facilities. Another note in the database that had not been wiped, that was done so that any potential enemies of the matriarchy could not gain access to technology that could be used to destroy them. Patriarchists? Other factions? Aliens the human race knew nothing about? Kurt pondered while approaching the engine room.

A light shone in there too now, that was not part of the lighting that had come alive as they entered the ship again.

Finding Dean staring at a holographic display much like the one on the bridge, Kurt swung into the engine room, eager to stretch. “What did you find?”

The other scientist did not react. “Dean!” Startled the called jerked around.

“They’re here.”

“The Harpies?” Kurt thought that Dean must’ve studied the history of Gahani too, got lost in it. Shakimng his head Dean pressed a button on the tablet in his lap, he replayed the last translation he had done. “Unidentified vessel detected.” After a moment of thinking about it Kurt hoped that the ship was picking up his antimatter stash in geostationary orbit above Olympus Mons. “Display position of vessel, relative to planet.” Kurt flipped open his tablet’s cover.

The holographic display changed, showing a curved horizon, there was a dot above a bulge. Olympus Mons and his satellite. Another dot appeared further out, much bigger than the satellite. “Linkers.” Dean closed his eyes.

“Computer, are communication systems active?” Kurt squinted, asking that question. “Affirmative.”

Grinning fiendishly Kurt pressed a few buttons on his tablet, a plan began to form in his head.

 

Silently the ship entered orbit above the pitch black planet. Only a few lights illuminated the ground, too tiny to be picked up from orbit with out technological aid.

Suddenly a large dish lit up in the crater of Olympus Mons, as well as a few airlocks at the base of the humongous mountain.

A series of small ships detached from the saucer shaped vessel, with the four compass like arrows. But they stayed close to the mother ship.

 

“They’re calling for you.” Somewhat relieved to not have to deal with the linkers, President Kinsey looked at Kurt. The days in whichvhe would’ve perceived this as an insult to him being president were gone. Burned out by the entire linker business.

Reluctantly Kurt stepped in front of the video screen. He was still covered in dust, dirty and grimy.

“Welcome to Mars.” He stared at the young woman on the screen. It was a new face, but the lifeless expression was the same. “We hope your journey was a pleasant one, the local time is 1632, please register all and every technology or bio matter that you have brought with you at customs.”

The woman with the brown curls did not even flinch.

“So, you have activated the suppression signal and retained your humor.” Emotionless she spoke very pronounced.

“We have. Attempts to shut down the signal will be fruitless. You can instruct your people to land and pick up your kin, or you can withdraw. Either way, we make the policy.”

“We could easily annihilate your civilisation.”

Kurt nodded. “And lose our genes, or do you plan on digging up our remains to retrieve what is left of the genetic material?”

A forced smile appeared on her face. “You drive a hard bargain, as our ancestors phrased it.” Smile vanishing she seemed to ponder for a second. “Agreed. Have our people standing by the airlocks at the base of the volcano.”

The transmission cut off. Kurt looked to Kinsey. “I have a bad feeling Doctor.” Shrugging Kurt turned away, heading to the cellblock where Maya had been incarcerated.

Before she left, he had to see her. Obviously Leopold had the same idea. Too many people were involved and afflicted by the entire linker ordeal than it remaining a secret.

Dozens of people gathered, including Leopold’s girlfriend, Tracy, who had to see off her parents. They had been with the other linkers in general detention, on the other side of the detention complex.

Together with his son, Kurt approached the cell in which Maya was held. For a short moment the lights flickered, but everything returned to normal the next moment.

In the eyes of the detainees Kurt saw relief.

They were reconnected to the collective mind. “Alright. Time for plan B.” He knew that this would come to pass. In their signal the linkers had sent another virus with the express command to wipe out the suppression program, into the martian network. He sent a short message to Dean.

“Maya, Honey?”

“Doctor Braun, so good to see you. Undoubtedly you know that we,” she stopped talking, began sobbing the next moment, demanding in a crying voice to be returned to the collective mind. Later he would reveal to Leopold that through the alien ship they had reestablished the signal, while blocking incoming transmissions to the ship.

That way, neither the linkers themselves nor their virus, could shut it off. Power failures in the colony would not affect the settlement’s power supply which functioned autonomously. “Mum? Have a safe trip. Maybe you could contact us from time to time?” Leopold tried to maintain his cool fassad, but inadvertently began to cry. “I love you Ma. Don’t go.”

Kurt squeezed his son’s shoulder. “I wish you would stay with us, as an individual. But if yo really must leave, do so, knowing that we love you, with all our hearts.”

Maya stopped her frantic sobbing, stard at her family intensely. For a fleeting second Kurt thought he saw his wife’s true nature shine through. “Get. Me. Back. To my people!” Leopold turned away, hugging his father. Not able to stand the hissing of his mother the young teen left.

“Be careful up there.” He warned. Turning away too.

 

Just as planned, the linker ships landed, docked with the airlocks on the surface of Olympus Mons. Groups of armed officers oversaw the departure of the men and women who were joining the other linkers.

Only as the doors to the crafts opened did Kurt understand why the martians were of such high value to the genepool of the linkers. A few generations of living on a planet with lower gravity had changed them already. They had grown larger than the people from terran gravity. Normal growth rates in lesser gravity produced taller beings.

Perhaps it had already affected their DNA on a level that was only obvious to the linkers. Watching them depart from a monitor in the comfort of his quarters, with Leopold having himself locked up in his room, Kurt felt sad, but also relieved. Normally a murderer would receive the death penalty. If it was a premeditated or intentional murder.

Maya and the others were allowed to live.

Not wanting to dwell on her fate further Kurt shut off the channel, turned to the feed from the MISR. It had arrived at RV-p296, broadcasting the friendly signal of being sent by Doctor Kurt Braun.

“Your use of antimatter technology is a violation of Equatorian and Martian laws.” An Admiral appeared on the screen. If his memory served him right it was Admiral Benjamin Fuller.

Should he reply, or leave the Admiral believing that he sent a message to be received later? “You are correct Admiral. I violated laws, but I had authorisation. Please be patient with our replies in the near future. We just had to deal with some not so distant relatives of our people, the DEHumans.” Having decided against letting the colonists believe their message would take time to be received was a decision that brightened his day a little. Benjamin Fuller’s face was priceless. “You’ll receive a report on the outcome as soon as they have successfully left Mars and are at a safe distance. In the already sent data your scientists should be able to find research on quantum entanglement. If they already looked at it, you might have heard that this is ready to implemented, and as you can see, it is. Originally we planned on requesting permission to send the relay to your colony, but after retaking it from linker influence, we wanted to ensure it was safe. Please understand that measure.”

Baffled Fuller stared at the screen. “This is live?”

“Instant interstellar transmission. Yes.” Kurt smiled only now remembering the dirt on his clothes, he’d tell the Equatorians all about the latest developments the following days and weeks.

Now all he desired was to be able to sleep. Which would be the moment the linkers were far away.

A glance at his tablet told him that the president and the senate wanted something from him. In light of the almost invasion by linkers he had a hunch: weapons! Perhaps even antimatter weapons. “Well, I hope you and your people will overcome this crisis. Until then, we remain with the best of wishes. Admiral Fuller, out.”

I will need those wishes, Admiral. I will desperately need them. “Doctor Braun, out.” The transmission returned to a live video feedfrom the MISR, viewing RV-p296 from orbit. How he wished he’d be able to go there as quickly as he could flick the channels.

Beeping from his tablet told him of news. The linker landing crafts had left the ground, according to the sensors in his antimatter stash satellite, the main vessel did power its engines. Readying them for departure.

Finally, he smiled, sleep.