Posts tagged ‘harpy’

Rings of Fate S4xE1 – Mars – Contact

Impatiently pacing up and down his office on the grated floor of his laboratory, Kurt found it hard to imagine that his message had been received.

An hour ago he was woken by an alarm, telling him that a return message was being received. After a short, text only message, which told him that his message had been received, another message was following suit.

It was a massive data transfer.

 

Had the sun not been gobbled up by the neutron star, it’d be the first interstellar transmission in human history.

After earth had been annihilated due to close proximity to the neutron star, the latter moved on, wreaking havoc on the sun.

Suddenly missing the center of gravity, Mars was shot out the solar system, luckily it had been in the ideal position to not being caught by the neutron star’s gravity.

 

Musing on Martian history Kurt found himself staring out the small port hole window in the lab. It looked out over the main crater of Olympus Mons.

Darkness below, except for a few guiding lights along the rails of the sweeper carts, and a starry sky above. Nothing to see of the red deserts from, meanwhile ancient, video and photo documents. All had been swallowed up by darkness.

Reminiscing about the Martian history he thought about his great grandfather. Widely known as the Professor, he was the, borderline mad, scientist, who had led the colony in its infancy.

Under his supervision the lava tunnels of Olympus Mons were utilised as first living accommodations. Following his lead the first geothermal reactors were constructed, to satisfy the colony’s fast growing needs for energy.

Although the red planet had been too cold to sustain a magnetosphere even when the sun was still around, it was still hot enough in its interior to fuel geothermal reactors.

 

Droves upon droves of cryogenic chambers were coming in, future colonists, who either couldn’t contribute to the colony right away, or just couldn’t be sustained in any other fashion.

First the lava tunnels were developed, then the central shaft of the enormous volcano, in his grandfather’s generation. Then his father’s generation had developed the crater, smoothed it out and began laying down the sides of it, so it became a super sized dish.

He had finalised that work, and sent out messages to the ships that had left for RV-p296.

 

Now he was receiving his reply.

Anxiously he turned to the monitor behind him.

Still not finished.

 

Slowly but steadily life in the colony below awoke to a new morning. Lights in the hallways, offices, messhalls and gardens were turned up, people left for work, or took breakfast. Except him.

After a mere four hours of sleep he had skipped breakfast due to the alarm, and went to the lab.

Ever since he had started sending the message, a repeating message out to mankind’s other new home in the galaxy, he had not slept much more than five or six hours a night. Even though he knew that it would take a long time to be received, let alone answered, he was too anxious about the whole deal.

“Almost one and a half years, and you still get up early and check for results?” Maya entered the lab. She wore her usual attire, with the revealing neckline. “Didn’t you hear the alarm?” He turned to his wife.

“No.” She sat down at the workstation he had been droning over for the last hour.

Or was it hours? He had lost track of time. “Leopold had kept me up, as usual.” Their son. As usual. “Trouble sleeping again?”

“Trouble with girls.”

Carefully eyeing her, he glanced over to the monitor. Still not finished, but almost. “Girls? When I was his age,”

“You were not only active, but hyperactive with girls!” She raised a warning index finger. She too now turned her attention to the monitor. “I hope this isn’t a porn download.” Jesting she took a read of the text message that had been sent in advance of the massive bulk currently downloading. Suddenly her expression got more serious.

“They replied?” Disbelief in her voice over the obviously stated before her eyes, she read the message again. “Doctor Braun, on behalf of the people of Equatoria, Destiny and Kismet, as well as the other ships and the lunar colony, it is my honor to reply to your message. We will examine the database of martian history you have sent us in great detail, and we return the favor by transmitting to you everything that our exodus society has produced and discovered over the years. Kind regards, Admiral Benjamin Fuller.”

 

While his lab assistants, Quirin and Alexandra arrived and began with the dish cleaning operations, Kurt and Maya sat over the monitor, keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the download.

“Good day Doctor Braun.” The face of a bald black man appeared on the monitor greeting Kurt and his wife. Intrigued the two assistants also gathered around. “As written in the text message ahead of this database, it is my honor to reply to your message. In these files you will find our history, detailed information about the species we have encountered, our latest scientific data and of course everything about the colony we have dubbed Equatoria, due to its geographical location on RV-p296. Of course, we are interested in learning how you were able to relay your message so quickly to us, not even our most sophisticated form of communication could reach Mars in anytime sooner than eIght years from now. In the hopes that you are still alive upon receipt of this message, I remain with kind regards, Admiral Benjamin Fuller, out.” The message ended.

Maya patted his back. “See that? They made it. I can’t believe it. We are not alone.” Maya kept on talking, while Kurt felt a heavy burden fall off his chest.

It had lifted for the most part as he read the text message, but even more so now. They beamed back the reply in the direction from where they had received it, without detecting his means of communication.

 

Light dimmed as evening broke, Kurt stood in a small compartment of his lab, obscured from view by the grated floor above.

An elderly woman stood next to him, she was stern and stoic.

His mother always had been like that as far as Kurt could remember. Wearing her black dress she had worn ever since his father had passed away, she went over the data on the monitor with him, her greying hair tied to a tight knot.

“Are you sure your want to do this?” She turned to him with all of her torso, instead of turning her head.

“The dish, the Braun family heritage, is a pretty useless device, mother.” He sighed. “Eight years of communication, in one direction, renders it obsolete! If we can get the direction right that is. The quantum entanglement device is my answer to that problem.”

Stoic as ever she raised her right eyebrow. “I did not refer to the device, but your way of delivering it to the presumed colony. An antimatter powered probe might prove disastrous.”

Staring at her he raised his eyebrow now. “To the device, but not to people. I programmed it to park outside the solar system, so any problems that might occur, will occur in open space, this position still leaves a few months for communication, but it is better than to send something, and then wait sixteen years for a reply. If we can get the direction right, if the planet is facing the right patch of space at the time of the reply, and so on.”

Stoic Charlotte Braun turned back to the monitor. “Still it’ll take four years to reach its destination.”

Squinting his eyes, Karl looked angrily at his mother. “Half the time a transmission would need.” He pressed a button, a countdown appeared on the screen, both Karl and his mother climbed up the ladder to the normal level of the lab.

They turned to one of the small port holes.

Below it was the crater in all its darkness, suddenly a series of lights went on, illuminating the crater, and the dome in its center.

The latter opened like a lotus, communication devices were pulled and pushed out of the way, obscured by shielding.

Shaped like a traditional rocket the transporter for the probe came into view. It would bring the probe to a safe distance to Mars before the main propulsion would come online. “No one noticed you taking away all that fuel?”

“Nope. Besides, I couldn’t have done this without knowledge of the council. This lab may be our family heritage, but creating the amounts of antimatter needed for the trip, all the raw materials needed for the device, the casing, the rocket, the modifications to the dome, I’d need to work 24/7, and still wouldn’t be finished.” Looking at her with a slightly triumphant look Kurt sighed. “You could hold a vivid and passionate discussion with the colonists on RV-p296 about everything via the dish, and I still wouldn’t be finished.”

Still, for several reasons, no one in the hierarchy of the Martian colony would want to see the launch, or be conected with the project in any way.

He had been granted the resources, but not the attention. In a way, Kurt was fine with that. Perhaps he too was, like some insisted about his great grandfather, a borderline mad scientist.

Beneath them the ground began to shake, the crater was illuminated even more. With much greater ease than on earth, the rocket lifted off from the martian surface and plowed into the darkness of space.

 

Eased in every way Kurt looked over to a small framed picture in a corner, right next to a picture of his father. I told you it’ll work mother. “We need to inform the senate, the president, the scientific committee.” Maya was as joyous and anxious as a little girl.

“First,” Kurt looked at the people in his lab, “we need to celebrate. A new milestone has been reached. Interstellar communication, communication via a quantum entangled device. New grounds broke.”

Maya was the first to start applauding, Kurt’s assistants followed suit.

After they had all calmed down he began giving out assignments. Maya would begin with the flora and fauna of the new world, Quirin and Alexandra were to review the logs, all of which were not classified as personal logs, thus open for viewing, while he was to review the reports that had been labled as containing sensitive information.

 

Being in the position of running an officially undocumented project he was not hard pressed to report to anyone.

When he had something to report other than just that they did receive a communique from RV-p296, he would contact the senate, and the president, as well as the media.

Although surely more than enough people would want to talk to him, or their distant relatives in the far distance, he hated the secrecy. Especially now that there were no hazardous materials involved any longer, no antimatter, no danger. Through the quantum entanglement, their signal couldn’t even be traced back.

 

A circumstance he discovered was very good to have. “I assume that the information in this segment is only reviewed by people who have the utmost security levels.” A woman in an Admiral’s uniform like Benjamin Fuller, spoke with a smoky voice. “My name is Jane Mulgrew, Admiral of the Destiny. In these files you will be familiarised with the alien species we have encountered. This includes the Harpies, the natives of RV-p296, the silicates and the DEHumans, the latter being a spawn of mankind.” Kurt had headphones on, still he reassuringly looked if any of the others were looking.

No one was. “Although none of the aforementioned species means harm to mankind, except maybe a faction in the Harpies, called the patriarchists, revealing this kind of information to the public might provoke unrest.” Mulgrew’s introduction ended with her releasing Kurt to explore the reports on the alien species.

 

Black volcanic rock whizzed by the porthole of the cab, here and there illuminated by a lamp, but mostly it was black and and featureless as the martian surface if no light was shone on it.

Having taken their que from the three ships engineers and colonists had built the tubes to replace the long hallways, staircases and ramps of the original colony.

But unlinke the tubes on the ships, those on Mars were pressurised. There should be no catastrophic decompression in case of any forseen geologic incidents and instabilities.

Barely noticing the change of color in the rocks from volcanic black to granite grey, Kurt stared out the porthole. Why the senate had relocated to a structure outside Olympus Mons was beyond him.

But he admitted that he was a little biased towards the volcano. After all, the dish was not the only family heritage.

But he knew he preferred black rock over grey rock.

Maya preferred the gardens, or the crater when fully lit.

Although what little atmosphere Mars had, had fallen to the ground after Mars was jettisoned from the solar system, there still was dirt from space in need of being swiped from the dish. Vacuum cleaners wouldn’t work without any form of atmosphere left, so swipers were used. Maya liked remotely driving them in the well lit crater.

 

After a while he noticed another change in the view of the cab. The grey rock was suddenly giving way to show another tube. It had a grated floor and doors on the far side, leading to offices, laboratories, living accommodations, what not.

After a short while the cab began slowing down.

In a large cavern, the view breathtakingly vast for a subterranean civilisation, the cab spew him out on a platform near a small artificial lake.

The water of that lake was native to Mars, he knew. Pure water, no life what so ever had ever dwelled in it. Until mankind came of course.

For a moment he rested his eyes on the lake, and the tiny island in its center. Miniature replicas of landmarks of earth had been placed on the shores of the island.

From his vantage point at the tube exit he could see a small Tajmahal, a small Eiffeltower, and behind a bush he saw the torch of a statue of liberty.

Memory lake. Some people dubbed it.

At least he could take solace in the fact that they weren’t burying their dead like in the old days. They had taken the same drastic measures the population of the ships had to take. Dead people were incinerated, returned to the soil they had taken their nutrients from.

 

Inside a large room, along the tracks of the tube he had taken earlier, the senate met. Why they had to have a senate consisting of fifteen people was beyond Kurt’s understanding, but he was not a politically involved member of the colony.

From his early childhood on his parents and grandfather molded him to be a scientist. Whether he could be anything else than that, he didn’t know. Sometimes he mused about it, but found no answer.

The sixteenth member of the politicians sitting in front of Kurt was the president.

An elderly man, if Kurt wasn’t mistaken he was the senator who had green lighted his plans for the probe.

“Mister President, members of the senate. As some of you may or may not know, several years ago an undercover project was green lighted by this very senate. The very specifications of the technology involved in the MISR, or Martian Interstellar Relay, made such secrecy necessary. Details containing this are in the files on your tablets. I am now comming forward to the senate again, with a successful report.” He knew the senators had already gone through the detailed information about the antimatter powered probe. In the eyes of those previously oblivious to the existence of the MISR he could see the outrage. “We have made contact with the colony on RV-p296, twelve months ago the MISR probe successfully completed its voyage and I sent a message to them, containing our history and a short greeting. We have a reply, gladly they sent their reply in the direction of the relay.” On his own tablet he tapped a few buttons, information was loaded onto the tablets of the senators. “At the time of the message they had no knowledge of the MISR, they sent us all of their history, discoveries and what entertainment they have produced.” At this moment the download onto the tablets finished, opening the senators, the worlds of knowledge he and Maya had been able to explore for a few days with his assistants.

He let the condescend summaries he and Maya had produced sink in with the senators before he opened his mouth again. “As you can see, there is a lot we can learn.”

“Aliens?” President John Kinsey looked up from his device. An older model Kurt noticed, with the limited resources on the planet new versions were given to those who needed them, old devices were repaired, not replaced.

“Yes, sir. Harpies, who originated on earth, a silicone based life form, the natives of RV-p296, and a splinter group of humanity. They have changed themselves with alien technology, and declared that they no longer are part of unaltered mankind.”

Disbelief shone from the eyes of the president and the senators. “This reads like science fiction.”

“With all due respect Mr. President, martian history reads like science fiction too. A group of struggling survivors, builds their home under the martian surface as the planet hurls out of what is left of the solar system.” In a mocking trailer voice Kurt felt the tension he had felt over meeting the senate fall off. “Do you still have technology with which you could create antimatter? Because, despite the breakthrough, this is a real concern!” A senator stood up. She reminded him a lot of his mother. “Antimatter technology was banned after the Ark1 disaster, for good reasons. You creating antimatter and a device that utilised it, on martian soil, violates rules and regulations. Laws, if you will.”

A bit of the tension rose again. “My work was in accordance with the senate. It was approved, and green lighted. Although a black project, it still was authorised. I currently have no means of producing antimatter, but with the technology available to us we can replicate the process.” He neglected to reveal he had some antimatter left in a geostationary stash above Olympus Mons. “As you can take from the files sent to us, Harpies and DEHumans, probably the silicates as well, do all use antimatter. Hence, one day, we will have to learn to use it.”

Carefully eyeing senator Adele Farrington he hoped the subject would shift back to the received database. “So you are saying that,”

“I gave him the go.” Kinsey interrupted the senator. “There will be no further investigation into the project’s past. Doctor Braun has set up the communication with the colony, and we can now reconnect with them. Please, enlighten those who are not familiar with your work how this is achieved.”

With a sigh Kurt shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Explaining the details about quantum entanglement to a bunch of laymen wasn’t his idea of how his time should be spent, he came to report about the database, the implications, whether the probe should be moved in closer to the colony, allowing for shorter spans of communication, what their reply should be.

 

“How was it?” Maya awaited him, sitting on the bench near memory lake, next to the tube sation. Someone had etched a graffiti into it. Seen by many as vandalism, he actually didn’t mind to know that a young couple had been there. Probably sharing their first kiss on that very bench.

“I had to explain in detail how the communication is being done, the computing behind it, the math, the quantum entanglement. We spent almost no time talking about what we have actually received.” Still he managed to smile. “However, the president gave me free hand to communicate with them, tell them about the device, and ask them whether the MISR should be moved closer to their home world.”

Maya also smiled, she was glad to hear those news. For a fleeting moment it seemed perfect, but she saw the stern looking woman approach behind Kurt. “I believe a dark shadow is rolling in.” Also reminded of her late mother in law, Maya nodded in the direction of senator Adele Farrington.

“Is there anything I can help you with, senator?” Kurt turned, he needed not to turn and recognise her, nor did he need any hints from his wife. His instincts alone were enough.

“Maybe. It is about the antimatter.” Replying with a sigh of frustration Kurt was about to explain that he couldn’t make some at the time, he had dismantled the devices needed to create it, after the probe had left, and his stash was parked above the lab. “I need you present me with detailed plans on how to make some, as well as a timetable to do it.”

Confusion must’ve been showing on his face as the senator pointed to the cab station and began walking.

“A little black project me and the president have in mind. In front of the other senators I of course had to maintain an opposing stance.” She entered the cab after Maya and Kurt had boarded. The door closed and the vehicle moved off in the direction of Olympus Mons.

“Seeing that your communication device is working, we have planned to create a series of probes to scout for new worlds, through your quantum entanglement technology these probes can rely information in real time to us, we can gain insights on the universe beyond our wildest imagination, and perhaps find a way to a brighter future.”

Kurt and Maya didn’t need it spelled out any more detailed. She wanted ships in the far future, or even more insanely ambitious, turn the planet into one.

 

At the base of the volcano, at the old colony, Adele got off the cab, leaving Kurt and Maya alone to ride to their home further up, just a few hundred meters below the crater. The lab was the highest point, along with three other observatories, three labs on the top of Olympus Mons, all to gether they were part of only a handful of structures on the surface. The lack of a magnetosphere, or an atmosphere made surface structures dangerous places, as asteroid impacts of all sizes could harm the exterior of the structures and vent atmosphere. anRadiation of all sorts could penetrate the relatively weak shielded walls and kill those inside.

Relieved to see his assistants work on the database in the subterranean portion of the lab, Kurt went to the garden with Maya.

They needed time to think, Maya was and always has been, a vital part of his life, and work. While constructing the machines needed to create the antimatter for the probe, she also had been his partner in crime.

“Eat something.” She pointed at a bush of raspberries, already enjoying some of the deliciously sweet fruits.

Not feeling like eating anything he just shook his head. “Can you believe this?” After reassuringly looking around the small garden he finalky spoke.

Except the large city cavern they just had left, none of the gardens on Mars were big. But the one near the top of Olympus Mons, was probably the smallest. Only a dozen families lived up there. Scientists and their families, mostly, also a few of the assistants.

“She wants more antimatter created.” Munching on a handful of berries, Maya replied. Kurt just nodded. He was nervous.

A thought formed in his mind, bringing him back to caution. Senator Farrington might be laying out a trap. Detailed plans for antimatter creation with his signature on them might be a way for her to prosecute him.

Still, he was going to make those plans. Without any traceable link back to him. Everything involved with the MISR wasn’t linked to him, just as black projects are.

 

Again Kurt was woken by an alarm, driven to his lab by curiosity. Another transmission from the MISR. Just as the last time, Maya slept through the noise, so he was alone in the lab. How long has he slept? Pondering as he stared at the monitor he anticipated another month old message.

The monitor instead displayed footage from the on board surveillance. A ship was approaching the relay. By the way it looked he deduced it was not from the colonists. Quickly going through what he had learned of the other space ferrying races in his head, he surmised it must’ve been the DEHumans.

As they approached the image began to flicker, data transmissions of all sorts reached his end of the communication line. Suddenly the face of a young blonde appeared, with a noticeable red light the camera above his screen told him, he was also seen. “Greetings. I am Doctor Braun.” He stammered, half asleep and surprised.

Apparently the young woman was studying him. “We are the DEHumans. Our sensors have detected this communication device. To our knowledge the humans do not possess the technology for quantum entanglement communication, or safe antimatter conduct.”

“The humans you stem from, yes. We had time to sit down and develop this technology. There were no threats from aliens, or digital enhancements.”

Semingly intrigued the woman squinted her eyes. Kurt assumed that the collective mind behind her was estimating how well Kurt would add to their collective mind.

“All this, and you sent just a communication device?” Smirking sheepishly Kurt studied her face as she spoke. “You might not judge the value of one’s life as an individual does, your thoughts and memories are shared and distributed, death has little meaning to you. But as we are slowly beginning to understand antimatter we tread with caution.”

“The value of one biological entity is highly valued among us, the genetic diversity of the DEHuman race depends on each entities survival.” She raised eyebrows, but in a manner that told Kurt that she was not used to do so.

“How noble.” He cleared his throat. “Did you contact me to exchange cultural views, or is there any purpose to this call?”

Again there seemed to be a momentary pause, her expression seemingly froze. “Where is Mars?”

Aha. So that’s the secret. “I do not know its present location, or the precise direction. The orbital speed should be on record.” They must’ve intercepted the original transmission. Probably the reply from RV-p296 as well. “Why do you ask?”

“Curiosity. We might be able to offer you a way out of the underground dwellings. A transport to Equatoria, or you and your people could join us.” Assimilation. “What do you want in return?”

An awkward pause ensued his question, the collective mind was searching for a way to reply. “Why assume our offer has a prize?” Something he had read in a report popped into mind. They had told Admiral Mulgrew that the debts to humanity had been paid when they delivered them to the colony. “Because we are separate species, and you have no reason to interfere with a primitve species like ours, unless you saw a gain for your people. So what’s the prize?”

“Genes.” She displayed a playful smile, also obviously something recalled from the collective memory. “Not to clone you.” She added with her smile vanishing. Our genes, I believe they want our sperm and ovarian cells. “I will relay you most unusual proposition to our government. But I must tell you that I doubt there is going to be an agreement.” In fact I will speak against it, if I am foolish enough to even forward this.

“Please see that you do.” The nameless woman said monotonous. The transmission ended, again the image of the DEHuman ship hovering motionless near the relay returned.

Leaning back in his chair Kurt pondered his options.

Forgetting this ever happened was surely an option. Somehow he doubted that it was a wise option. The relay was defenseless, they could blow it out of the sky, and it would take some time to replace it.

Senate and president needed to be informed. To what end however? He leaned back forward to monitor, mouse and keyboard.

A nagging thought surfaced as he touched them. “What if?” He whispered, opening a transfer protocol.

Massive amounts of data had been loaded while he and the woman were talking. He went through the code for a moment, but couldn’t understand it.

Heat rose to his face as he came to the realisation that the DEHumans had loaded something, that was probably already spreading out into the network.

Devastated he looked up and out to the porthole window, lights began to flicker in the crater.

Somehow he knew that this was just the beginning.

 

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Rings of Fate S3xE10 – Destiny – Revelations

Gently the enormous body of the gas giant inched its way into view on the screen on the command centre on Destiny. The linker moon was clearly visible at this point, a red marble against the multicolored body of its parent planet.

A cinstant stream of gasses led to it from the planet below, directly on the other side, around the other end of the space elevator, the shipyard had grown like a giant tree it shaded a quarter of the surface below. Not far from that structure a lonely lonely escape pod orbited, emitting an automated emergency signal ever once in a while.

It was from the surviving crew members of Dusk Horizon, the name hastily given to the rear half of Horizon, after it broke apart.

“Contact the linkers please.” Admiral Benjamin Fuller had his eyes fixed on the structure. What are you planning with all this?

“They are already calling, sir.” With a fascinated gaze in his eyes Benjamin ordered Lieutenant Trebuchet to put the call through.

“Your survivors have been informed of their imminent departure, and are ready to go with you.” A young woman, not the one reported as the linkers spokesperson, had appeared on the screen. She was pale, had green eyes and blond hair. “We must also inform you that they will be taking on additional cargo.”

Concerned Benjamin squinted at the view screen. “What kind of cargo?”

“Several containers of hydrogen, our scans have detected your fission reactors missing, this will be aiding efforts to rebuild a second fusion reactor, as well as several people.”

Doubting he heard right about the second part of that sentence Benjamin shook his head in disbelief. “Several people? Do you mean your people?”

“Please inquire about this with your crew members as they arrive.” The line closed. Instead the normal view was returned, showing a ship disengaging from the complex.

“Sound the alarm, bring me every available person qualified to handle a gun to that docking port.”

Quickly he turned on his heel entering the ready room, he came back a moment later handing each of the officers a gun. “Keep a close eye on us, if anything suspicious happens, do not open that door, even if I am outside it. Understood?”

Leaving Lieutenant Lie Fah in charge from he left together with Csilla to head to the docking port assigned to the ship to dock with.

Although the harpies had been generous enough to leave the hman ships with a program that crawled through communication networks, disabling the DEHumans link, Benjamin was cautious. They could adapt to the program. Analyse it and return to their brethren to work on adapting to it.

Or they could choose to quietly infiltrate everyone’s brains with a chip, and then disable the program.

Throughout his career he never had to draw the gun, except on the firing range. He opposed violence, although it sometimes seemed like a quick and easy way out of things.

But if that would’ve been his way, he would’ve beaten governor Egger on at least two occasions.

Still, he felt good surrounded by men and women holding guns pointed at the airlock behind which the linker ship was docking.

Humking mechanically the door opened, revealing a small group of humans. They were clearly shocked to find the hallway outside the airlocked stuffed with armed security personnel. “That’s not the homecoming I had hoped for.” A woman with asian ancestry stepped forward with a disturbed expression.

“Please, do not be alarmed. But we have to make sure that you are in fact not linkers.” A little saddened Kanitha nodded, stepped out of the airlock. Following her were Jackson Sutherland, April Wallner, Nepumo Ricosta, Francine Harris, Maria Trinidad, and a woman Ben did not recognise from the crew files, but instead from video logs of the usual spokesperson for the DEHumans.

Immediately he and the others around him tensed up, weapons were pointed at her. “Doctor Charles I presume?”

Wearing a blank expression she stared at him with an empty gaze, almost frightened. “We are, disconnected. Where are the other parts? It’s so quiet.” Stammering she looked around in confusion. After a moment she caught herself, looked at Benjamin. “We do not have a doctoral degree, but the Charles’ were in our ancestry.”

Kanitha stepped up to Benjamin. “She has no concept of a singular person yet.” They both looked at her, Kanitha with a friendly compassionate look in her eyes, while Benjamin seemed more scientifically interested.

“We may, inadvertently, have had a negative impact on a few of the DEHumans. A seed of disengagement if you will.” Jackson Sutherland stepped also forward, however minutely, as he did not want to seem threatening.

“So, they want to leave the linker collective?”

“They were already placed in a sub collective, as our influence over them was discovered, those who had been affected were severed from the others, and sent with us.”

Still not sound on the idea of having linkers aboard his ship Benjamin rubbed his chin. “They need to be placed under surveillance, restricted in access, and the implant in their brains need deactivating. Better yet removal.”

Kanitha looked to the Charles descendant. “Admiral, they are all second or third generation. They have no names, no identities. Even worse, they were born with the implant. It is tied into their brains as if it were natural. Their implants can’t be removed.”

Still rubbing his chin Benjamin looked to Csilla for help. “So, you’re saying, they also need supervision? Find their way in life as an individual?”

Jackson nodded. He knew where this was leading without knowing any of these people around him.

They would be made responsible for the linkers.

Sitting on a comfortable cushioned seat in the ready room Benjamin yearned for the days in the recent past when this room was his office. But that would not happen again. Maybe in the last months leading up to the arrival at RV-p296.

If they would let them land.

Once word was out that they had taken linkers on bord, the entire colony might be preparing to deny them landing.

And he couldn’t blame them.

This is a feast for Egger. I can see him barging through that door already, yelling. His head dark red, the veins on his neck standing out.

With a sigh Benjamin closed his eyes, but still got up.

“Csilla?” He entered the command centre. His first officer approached him. “Sir.”

“I want you to keep communication lines to RV-p296 closed for the time being.” With a displeased expression she looked to the communication officer’s station. “It’s too late sir.”

Cussing Benjamin lowered his head. “We need a plan, sir.”

He knew that. Slowly he dragged hia feet to the door. “Get me an appointment with the governors. Face to face, no video conferences. Be there as well.”

Before he realised it, Benjamin’s pace brought him to the detention center, to the isolated cells with the twenty something linkers that had been brought aboard.

Out of instinct he sought out thenfirst linker he ever met, the Charles woman. “Greetings again, Admiral.”

He returned the greeting, looking her in the eyes. “What does it feel like, what you are feeling? Why have thenothers of your kind isolated you and sent you to us?”

Genuinely thinking for a moment she blinked a few times. “A longing for solitude. A curiosity how individualism feels like. The collective mind feared that this curiosity might disintegrate it, thus it severed all ties to affected minds. A few of us were isolated, the experience was mostly horrifying, the collective mind drew strength from that, but there was a nagging doubt. We’re it.” She feigned a smile, but Ben cpuld see that she was terrified.

“How does the experience feel now? The program coursing through the networks of this ship is disrupting you ability to link with the others.” He nodded in the direction of the other cells. Some of the inhabitants were sitting in a fetal position in a corner, next to them, in the next over cell another, in the same position. Almost as kf they could link, but Benjamin saw them holding hands, trying to feel that they aren’t alone.

“We are,” she paused, her eyelids fluttered. “I…I am, alone. Terrified. There is only one source of thought, mine own.” She took a few deep breaths. “Imagine, being surrounded by friends and family, all your life, feeling all the love and kindness that brings with it, and suddenly youre marooned. No friends, no family. Only strangers who never felt that level of intimacy, and can not provide you with a worthy substitute.”

“In essence, you’re addicted, as well as you are discomforted.”

“Yes and no.” She inched closer to the bars separating her from the Admiral. “We feel incomplete. Phantom limb like. All our lives we have been part of the collective mind. Now we are not.”

Nodding Ben began to understand. “For some plants it is possible to cut off a branch and make it develop roots on its own, although they’re not part of the tree anymore. I hope the same can be said about you.”

“Our…my thoughts exactly. Our…my father, brought knowledge of that into the collective mind from his father’s experiences, as well as genuine biology experts.” Her feigned smile shrank with eachtime she had to correct herself. “Just understand that intefrating you into our society will not be easy. For any of us. There is a lot of mistrust and surely hostility against you.” The fact that ypur implants cannot be removed isn’t working in your favor either.

Donning a more genuine smile than before the young woman nodded. “Surely we can contribute to your society in a meaningful way. We retain knowledge of our common consciousness. We still actively think, and work on problems when we sleep, unlike you.” She took a step back as Benjamins glasses vibrated, spooked by the unusual sound.

Quickly he answered the call from Csilla, telling him that the meeting with the governors was set for an hour from then.

“There is one vital thing we must do before you can begin the long journey to becoming part of our society.” He smiled a painful smile. “You must have names.”

As Benjamin had predicted, hells fury awaited, and washed over him in the conference room, in thenfor, of governor Egger. The other governors were equally displeaser with having linkers on bord, but as usual it was Egger who was furious, yelling and red like a tomato.

“Governor, I not only understand your outrage, I had shared the same mistrust towards the linkers as you.” Ben tried a little diplomacy, “When they arrived I had them shackled and led to detention cells. They are, however, not linked. The program we have in place thanks to our Harpy allies,” he nodded towards Commander Ony, who was still aboard to learn about the elusive silicone aliens from their database, in light of the current development he had her inckuded in the meeting. “prevents them from doing so. I see no chance of them overcoming this obstacle, otherwise Harpy networkers would’ve done the same.”

He prepared for another rage filled series of claims and assumptions not based in reality from Governor Egger, but found him silent. Perhaps he was gathering strength.

“In a certain sense, these people are children, discovering life as an individual for the first time. We have an opportunity here. To test our humanity, it is our duty to give them the chance to live life as nature has intended for them.”

“They threw their natural development out the window the moment they linked!” Governor Egger jumped up, apparently he had needed the moment to rest. For a split second Ben wondered if the governor would have a heart attack one of these days.

“They chose not. It was their fathers and mothers. By the same logic you are applying, you could say we have jo business to live on RV-p296, as we should’ve followed our natural way and die with earth. But we never left earth, we were born on the way to our new refuge.” Shaking his head Benjamin sighed, rested his hands on the table. “Governors, Commander, Prince Hassan. We can’t close our eyes to the problem we inadvertently created. The linkers very existence, our cause. Those linkers wanting to leave their collective mind, also our cause. We a re obliged to help them.” With another sigh he took seat again. “Of course, I understand your concerns, and I assure you that every precaution will be taken to contain the threat. Their access will be limited, they will not have permission to set foot on the colony, unless the implants are one hundred percent inactive.”

Governor Egger gasped for air, by the way his veins stuck out Benjamin knew he was about to launch another shout, when Governor Jones from beta interrupted his colleague. “I want to meet them, or one of them. I was givennto understand the spokesperson for the linkers is among those who we have in detention?” Confirming both the information and t0his request with a nod and few words Benjamin got up. Csilla left and returned moments later, with the descendant of the Charles’.

“I am Anne Charles.” She greeted the room, a feignnsmile on her lips. She felt uncomfortable, clearly, but still tried to fit in.

“Are you truly committed to becoming an individual?” Jones played with his glasses on the table. “Affirmative.” She replied, insecurely she looked tonthenside where Csilla pursed her lips.

“Yes, I am. All of us are committed. Your stranded crew members showed us life as an individual, I want to experience it as well. The others too.”

Csilla nodded, in the hopes to bring Anne to a stop.

Gradually the air in the conference room had thickened, almost becoming tangible. After hours of talking to Anne and evaluating the idea of reintegration the meeting was adjourned. Except Governor Egger, all present were for the integration of the former linkers.

Pinching his nose Benjamin was relieved after they all had left. If that was not going to end in a disaster, he would be very surprised. Not because the linkers would do something sinister.

But because the governor would do something stupid.

“Sir?” Csilla entered the room. “Anne is back with the others.” Thanking her he got up.

“Why am I filled with doubt?”

Not quite catching on Csilla came closer, gently the door closed behind her. “I had the opportunity to talk with her, sir. She seems to be truly interested in becoming an individual. To be honest, I think this will be a tremendous victory. It could very well be a prime example for reintegration of former linkers.”

Benjamin shook his head as he turned to the door. “Not her and the linkers are the cause for my doubts,” he pointed to the door, “it’s Egger. He isn’t alone in his convictions. I fear most people are filled with hostility towards the linkers, and it is us I have doubts in. Xenophobia is deeply anchored in our genes, we fear what we do not understand. We attack what we fear. Just look at our history. Immigrants, and minorities were always met with suspicion and hostility.” He wandered around the conference table to the back of the room. A door there opened upon his approach, leading into a small room, it was a small storage space for presentation and seminar material. One of the Admirals had a small server put up in there as well, to play through scenarios with programmers without affecting the mainframes. “We like to think of ourselves as these enlightened beings that have overcome their primal xenophobic instincts. Races and cultures of human people that were at each others throats for countless millennia are living peacefully side by side on this ship. We have made peace with the Harpies, we are avoiding contact with the natives on our new homeplanet to allow them to thrive without interference, we now even successfully encountered a truly alien race and reached a peaceful understanding with them. But when it comes to the linkers we fail.” He lowered himself to lean on the table. “Because it is too close to home, not as in spacial, but emotional. They look like us, talk like us, they are us, in every biological way. We could be them. We could become them, and that frightens people, and especially Governor Egger. And out of that fear we disregard our humanity, we revert to Xenophobic tendencies, and attack. When all the linkers want is to live as they please. Now some of them desire to live like us. And I fear that they won’t be able to, because our society doesn’t want to integrate them. That is what makes me doubt in the success of this enterprise.”

Csilla looked at the Admiral, and then began to clap. “You should’ve said that during the meeting. Maybe shame Governor Egger into agreeing.” She sat on the table with one butcheek, facing the Admiral on the ither side. “But we can’t change human nature. If wr couldn’t bring ourselves to it in all these decades, we won’t in the remaining years. All we can do, is set a prime example. Help make the fear of the linkers fade away into obscurity.” She smiled.

Making a disgruntled sound Benjamin pushed off from the table and continued his walk. “People like Egger aren’t so easily swayed, sadly.”

Dismissing her he left too. His mind was uneasy, and he needed some time to think.

Like his predecessor he found solace in the garden, scheduled for a rainy afternoon, the paths and paved ways were clear of any activity that might distract him.

Of course, his analogy with the rooting branches had some downsides, he concluded. If the group of linkers he had on bord were to root as individuals, that was fine. But what if they were to root as a new collective mind?

He shook his head sitting under a pear tree. That would make no sense. They would’ve overpowered Destiny, turned off the communication network, thus disabling the counter program, and taken over. Concluding that the linkers were not a communist regime that got rid of any fre thinkers by eliminating them, or keeping them from leaving the collective mind, he looked up to the spine.

Still rain poured down.

The buzzong noise of his vibrating glasses disturbed the relative silence of just water pouring on the leaves around him. “Yes, Csilla?” Without looking he knew who called. Somehow George had always known not to call him when he was in the subalpha garden, and their children knew as well.

“We pulled the plug on Egger, but he had this public service announcement running a few minutes ago.”

Feeling his intestines tie into a tight knot Benjamin prepared himself in a second.

“Dear fellow Destinians, as you might be aware, there has been a terrible incident with the ship Horizon, after their rear section got abandoned, a band of struggling aurvivors was left stranded on the linker moon. Those brave souls were followed to Destiny by a pack of the linkers, who seek to undermine our society, and sow the seed of linkship among us, or at the very least steal our DNA by prostituting themselves. I oppose movements aboard this vessel to integrate these creatures into our society, attempts to enable their wretched plans. I call forward those of you who support this opposition of madness, we must impeach those in power who want to deliver us into the hands of the linker threat.”

Sitting in his office, obviously quite mad that all communication from and acdess to his offices had been shut down, Governor Egger was drumming his fingers on the desk. Out side the room he was in was the office of his secretary, four men with guns stood there. Outside that another dozen were standing guard. He had gathered them in advance, but now they were sitting ducks as he was.

Unbeknownst to him a group of several hundred people had gathered outside the isolated offices, in support of him, who were boxed in by groups of people in opposition to the Governor.

Surrounded by his own armed guards, more than the governor could amass in the alpha ring police force, Benjamin paved a way through these bulks of people.

Backed by the other two Governors he had a warranty for Egger.

Disturbed by the noise outside Egger looked up from hia desk. Prior he had given the men outside the order to shoot intruders, now he had doubts whether he should have done that. To his relief the men outside did not follow his command, after a few angry shouts they surrendered.

Only minutes later thendoor to his office was opened. Twenty guard streamed into the door, making it seem much smaller in a moment.

Then the Admiral followed. Stoic, as so often. “Governor Egger, I hereby place you under arrest for citing an uprising, and calling for civil disobedience and unrest. Possibly resulting in a conflict, as the armed guards in your offices prove.” He displayed a warranty on his tablet that he threw on the desk.

“You do know that this sort of conduct makes me and my claims seem much more legitimate in the eyes of the public?”

Ben raised but one eyebrow. “That is why we have a group of reporters here, following our every move, broadcasting live.” One of the armed guards tipped his helmet. A camera was mounted on it, henhad missed that before.

“Those people were born into a life they did not chose. They however chose to live our way of life, and instead of giving them a helping hand you want to punish them for what they were born as.” Benjamin leaned forward, resting his hands on the governor’s desk. “There is a term for someone like you: racist. It is you who the people of Destiny need to be weary about. You are the step in the wrong evolutionary direction, Governor. Human kind has evolved past petty racism. We do not fear or hate other simply because they were born differently. That, and only that, is our approach to new races and cultures. You are but a relict from the past, soon to be forgotten.” Turning to the nearest Sergeant Ben gave him the command to take the Governor into custody.

Yearning for a quiet afternoon with George, Benjamin took a deep breath turning to the camera. “As you saw and heard, the Governor himself said it was claims, not facts, that he had stated. The oh so peaceful governor had his police force guard him. One guard even confirmed that they had the order to shoot. I think it is timemfor all of us to return home, spend a quiet evening with our loved ones, or alone if you need time to think. Our past instincts can not continue to lead us into the future. They can not come with us to RV-p296. These instincts need to remain with our ancestors, in earths tomb, and remembered only by history. We are not the people that have left earth any longer.” He walked a few paces towards the door, most of the guards around him had already left. “If the natives were to see us, and knew how we arrived, they would call us gods, or sky people in the very least. Although we are going to land in a remote part of the planet, uninhabited by the natives, we should act like sky people. Benign and enlightened. If we are wronged, we forgive and do not seek vengeance. If someone seeks help, we aid, and do not condone the actiona that led them there, or in the current case, the actions of their parents and grandparents, that led them there. This is Admiral Benjamin Fuller, signing off for tonight.”

Gently the hand caressed Benjamin’s temple. “Moving speech you gave there.” George commented after watching a replay of the life stream. “I hope people are as enlightened as you want them to be.”

“They accepted a black homosexual Admiral. They’ll accept former linkers in their midst.” Ben smiled. His look fell on the two children on the couch, fast asleep.

All the trouble he had gone through so far, the heirs, the silicone aliens and now the linkers, was for them. So their future would be just as bright as he always hoped it to be. They should never have to grow up in a world with racism, or Xenophobia, in it.

Men like Egger soonernor later would twist and turn people’s perception of reality in a way that one day the natives on RV-p296 would be feared, hated and hunted eventually.

Such was not the world he wanted the twins to settle on.

He and George had adopted them before he had been Admiral, after their paremts untimely end in an accident. Then he had vowed, to himself mostly, that he would do all in his power to lead them into a bright future deserving of them.

Satisfied with his efforts he got up.

“We should bring them to bed.” He donned a benign smile, slowly walking over, George behind him.

Civil unrest due to Governor Egger’s public announcement quieted down over a few weeks, Benjamin worked hard to paint an optimistic picture of the linkers that had come aboard. Together with the Horizon survivors he continued work on teaching the linkers how to function as individuals.

Much to his dismay the implants could not be deactivated completely.

They were too embedded in brain functions, to be turned off, without reverting their owners to an early developmental state, from where they’d have to slowly learn to grow up again.

A step he was jot prepared to take. Instead the program prohibiting them from linking was directly inserted into the implant.

According to the task force he had drafted, that was done in a way they could not remove the program again.

It puzzled him a little in the beginning how the linkers should learn individuality, if they were always in the company of someone. Over time he realised that they were alone in their minds.

Tasked to engage in non productive activities, such as watching movies or doing art, they soon began to show emerging personalities.

Which was grat way to show the public, and the provisional government on RV-p296, their progress in becoming individuals.

Over time he also discovered that the climate controls had begun to simulate the seasons on Equatoria.

A circumstance the linkers and the survivors from Horizon had actual experience with, and could show the others how to react, since he and all others born on Destiny never had experienced any changes in climate.

Some time after Equatoria was chosen as the landing site, the climatic conditions of it were programmed into the comouter, and the automated system designed to get the crew settled in with their new home kicked in, letting them experience the climate in the colony.

Of course, everyone had forgotten about it, so the first time it began to get colder the tecnnicians were called in droves, tomfix an apparent problem, which was none at all.

Elections on alpha were held three times in the remaining time to get to their destination. The first was a tie between two candidates. The second saw a winner, but she was soon voted out of office by the population on alpha as she was seen as unable to get things in her jurisdiction done.

Finally the planet began to appear on the viewscreen of both Destiny and Kismet, clearly visible out of the windows as well. A grea senee of accomplishment filled Benjamin upon that sight. Lie Fah at navigation was staring at his console with a stern expression, concentrating on his task of establishing a stable geostationary orbit above Equatoria.

The other ships came into view. Shining as if polished Explorer first drew the attention of the new arrivals. The rings were barren, when compared to Destiny’s, but the hallways interconnecting the pods thag once had been there were dismantled, so the entire ship was slimmer.

Then Ben’s eyes fell upon a stumpy shadow of a ship.

Horizon. Or what was left of it, now called Dawn Horizon. “Welcome to RV-p296, Admiral, Prince.” A friendly face appeared on the screen, immediately Ben looked at her with surprise. Jane Mulgrew greeted him? “Didn’t you want to retire?”

“I had intended it, yes. I even went so far as to launch an investigation into my own actions, but allas I still am where I was when I arrived, the chair of an Admiral.” She looked around herself. “And Dawn Horizon is doing fine these days.”

“With all respect to your ship Admiral, she looks rather small.”

“Looks are deceiving.” Jane smiled. Of course she had heard of the aliens in the outer regions of the system cleaning up behind the beta ring disaster, butnshe chose not to comment on it at that moment.

Benjamin drew breath to say something when the communication officers on Destiny, Kismet and Dawn Horizon stated that they were receiving a signal.

“Where is it from?” Ben looked to his side. Since it could be originating from Explorer, the surface, the moonbase or the linker moon, the silicone aliens or even the Harpies shadowing them for Commander Ony, he wanted to know the origin first.

“The place we came from.” Csilla spoke now, instead of the communication officer, who was obviously too stunned to speak.

“From a certain Doctor Kurt Braun, chief scientific administrator of the colony of Mars, sent a few months ago.”

Rings of Fate S3xE9 – Destiny – Silicone

In hours the vast distance between the Destiny and the unknown vessel at the edge of the solarsystem was covered by the probe, that had been shot out at incredible speeds. Within moments the the probe fired its engines in order to decelerate, and began taking ckoser readings and pictures, immediately transmitting that data back to the mother ship.

Radiation lingered in the vacinity of the ship, trailing from a bunch of wrecked icy asteroids in the diatance. Admiral Benjamin Fuller knew that the radiation must’ve originated from Horizon’s beta ring.

The probe returned the faint signal from another terran probe, originally sent out to monitor the further path of the radioactive wreckage. “It is inside the alien vessel.” Hia first officer Csilla Gere noted with astonishment in her voice.

Ben was not as surprised. Who ever this ship belonged to was just as curious about them, and the radiation, as they were about the supposed aliens.

After reading the reports of his predecessors, and other ships Admirals, he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. It could be DEHumans in that ship, or, and that was his favorite theory for non aliens, time traveling humans from the future.

“Send out hails relayed through the probe.”

“Reading another vessel.” Navigation officer Lie Fah took his attention off of the unknown ship. “It’s a harpy ship, coming from RV-p296, ambassadorial ship, by the name of Alakah.”

Benjamin looked at the display to his right, the Harpies did not try to interfept the alien craft, but kept a steady course for them, until reaching the Destiny.

“They’re hailing.”

The face of a harpy appeared on the main screen in the command centre. She seemed curious, as far as anyone in the room could read harpy expressions. “Admiral Fuller. On behalf of the matriarchy we welcome you to your new home system, and congratulate you, and your crew, on your achievements.”

“Thank you Ma’am. Might I be so bold and ask you for some information?” Intrigued the harpy, by the uniform she wore a commander, not an ambassador, nodded.

“Can you tell us something about the vessel that is lying idle just outside our course?” Csilla cleared her throat, drawing Benjamins attwntion to the small screen on his console, where only their probe was displayed, but no ship of any sort.

“What ship Admiral?”

Confused he looked to Csilla, who only shrugged.

“Hold on.” He smiled at the harpy.

Pressing a few buttons on his console he replayed the sensor data from the probe and noticed that they did onky vanish from sensors a few microseconds after the harpy ship appeared in range, much like the cloajing technology the harpies used.

“Sending you our previous sensor data.”he commented hisnfurther actions, frantically typing buttons.

The commander waved another harpy over, in hushed voices the two talked.

“A representative will be sent to you as fast as possible.” The harpy nodded into the camera, and turned off the transmission.

A so called beak flyer departed from the Alakah towards the Destiny, albeit cloaked itself, soon making contact with the subalpha ring, and one of the few docking ports, after signalling on a lowrange frequency for docking permission.

Greeted by the Admiral himself the commander introduced herself as Ony, and immediately asked to be brought to the command centre. From there they observed the beak taking flight again and returning to the Alakah which then sent departing greetings and left.

Benjamin assumed that she just maneuvered out of sensor range and then shadowed them from a safe distance. “Why the secrecy of your arrival?”

“Because they distrust us.” The harpy smiled, reaching up at one of the controls on a panel, putting the area back on screen where the strange ship had been lying.

At once the ship seemed to materialise.

“A long time ago one of their vessels brought the ckoaking technology to our attention, by crashing into one of our ships. Sadly these creatures can not survive in our environment, they died once exposed to our environmental standards. Since then, they avoided us. We rarely found any more than mere sensor echos.”

Benjamin had looked from Ony to the screen, studied the ship on display.

Readings indicated that they ignored the attempts of communication with them. “What else do you know of these beings?”

“They are entirley different to us, or the natives on your new homeworld.” Should Ben ask about RV-p296? He felt he should, but that would rob him of seeing it for himself. “They are based on silicone, as our kinds are on carbon. They dwell in entirely different environments. What is an inhospitable place for us, is a paradise for them.”

Letting out a whistling breath of air, Benjamin leaned back in his seat. Scientists had theorised about life based on silicone, but never thought it possible.

Curious he looked to the anxious Harpy tp his left. “And you are here because of?”

“Scientific curiosity, Admiral.” Flashed dagger shaped teeth made his skin frawl, although realiaing it was a smile he felt uncomfortable.

“Well, in that case, we better try and call them again.” He gave a nod to Csilla, who then tried to contact the aliens once again.

With negative results.

“Perhaps we should send them a series of simple signals.” Clifford Truman sighed, he was a linguistics expert, who had helped perfecting the auto translation programme that helped communicate with the harpies. “Aince they live a completely different environment than we do, our forms of communication are surely as alien to them as can be. Sound in their atmosphere is changed, our voices will be a distorted mess. If we can send them simple signals, thats different.”

He pushed a tablet over the table, showing it to the Admiral. There were numbers written on it. 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 23, and so on. “Prime numbers?”

“It shows we are not just baboons.”

“We built a space ship, sent a probe. I guess they know we are not simple baboons.” Benjamin rose his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth.

Nodding in agreement Clifford took the tablet back. “Still, math is the go to method of communication in this situation.”

Shrugging his shoulders Benjamin nodded to the expert, goving him a go. Still he had not reverted the office back to the ready room for all of command centre staff.

It was funny to him that each Admiral on each of the ships utilised that room differently, in the original floorplans there surelys had been a certain designated use for that room.

“Admiral!” A man barged into the room, immediately he recognised the infuriated man as the governor of the alpha ring. “Governor Egger, what brings you to me?”

“Nothing pleasant, I can assure you that.”

By the expression on hia face Ben had gathered as much. “It is about the heritage programme.”

With a sigh Ben leaned back. “Which has been scrapped. All records of it have been permanently deleted. So what is still fuelling your rage?”

“That inbred blue bloods can reach government offices unstopped, or at least without people knowing who they are!” Spittle flew from governor Egger’s mouth.

Remainjng calm Benjamin closed his eyes for a second, he heard the door to the command centre open, Csilla and the other officers came looking if everything was alright. “These inbred blue bloods were of no concern to you several days ago. I am dead certain that it would be of no concern for you if you yourself would be an inbred, blue blooded heir of some title.” He smiled calmly, but the corners of his smile gave away the boiling rage underneath his calm demeanour. “The way you barged into this office, the way you behave in fact, is almost as if you were an inbred wielder of totalitarian power. If you ever behave like that on this part of the ship again I will have you detained for misconduct. If you bring upmthe topic of the heirs again, I will have you arrested for breaking topsecret information. Now get out of my office before I consider having you detained already!” He raised his voice, as he himself rose out of his seat.

Governor Egger had turned an ashen complexion.

“Good day to you Governor.” Csilla calmly complemented him as he stumbled past her.

Watchimg the door from the command centre to the hallway cloee behind the governor Ben knew it was not the last time he had heard of the governor.

In silence the probe positioned itself where the front of the alien ship was assumed, and began flashing a powerful light.

“How long are we going to try this?” Benjamin observed from the command centre the progress of the endeavour. Ony sat on a stool, normally used in a kindergarten class, also observing. “We should try the prime numbers up to 101. After that,” Clifford pushed a few buttons on Csilla’s console, splitting the main viewscreen in half. On one side the actual events were displayed, on the other he had a series of maneuvers on display. “this is a good try.” Benjamin studied the displayed maneuvers.

“Basic math still. I guess they know we are capable of that.” Shushing him Ony wanted to observe the events on the other side of the screen, although nothing happened except the probe flashing.

“After that, I thought of playing around the intensity of the light, so we can display different atoms. A brighter flash followed by a weaker one for hydrogen, and so on.” Csilla pushed a few buttons herself, showing that the probe was capable of using a few light sources at once, so the way they represented atoms could be a little less cryptic. Thanking her he began devising a new way to represent his plan. “If there’s any change, let me know.” He got up, careful as not to trip over Ony in her seat he maneuvered out of the command centre, but not without looking at the baseball of his great grandfather.

Directly searching out the fastest way to get to his husband, who was holding a lecture on gamma, Benjamin took a seat in the cab.

The encounter with the governor was still fresh on his mind. It was beyond him how the governor could be so persistent about the heirs, even though it was resolved that not even they themselves would ever learn who they were.

Save for one of course. “Locate Jonathan Carlisle.” Benjamin stopped the cab and redirected it to the beta ring, where Jonathan was working.

To Benjamin’s relief had Jonathan not told his family of their ancestry yet. Although Ben had meant for him to do just that, he urged the young man now to postpone it, until Governor Egger was no longer an issue for the heirs.

Satisfied Benjamin continued to his husband.

An outside view on the situation with the silicone beings, might bring fresh wind to his mindset.

“Did you hear the good news?” George asked instead. “That Hummington fellow is planning to open a museum. A real museum, with real exhibits, not just the virtual ones we have today.” Excitement in George’s voice was almost tangible.

“Of course I have heard. Opening a vault of undisclosed historic artifacts, and opening a museum, has to pass by me.” Maybe I should forget about the silent alien spectators for a while?

Excited like a little child George inched around. Not even once asking why Ben had come to him, after a few moments Ben didn’t mind. The excitement was almost contagious, and he couldn’t help but feel happy himself.

A localised narrow beam of light hpwas projected against the probe that performed a dance of lights in fro of the ship, displaying atoms. The reflection of that light, received by the unknown vessel, told its inhabitants of frequencies and technology of the probe and the creatures that had sent it.

“Commander!” Csilla and Ony both raised their heads to the origin of the word, Clifford. “There’s movement.”

Clearly the ship began motioning towards Destiny and Kismet. “Tell Kismet to stay calm.” Csilla mumbled, uncertain for a moment whether she was speaking clear enough.

At a relatively calm pace the ship moved up to thw two terran ships, running its scanners. With a nod to the communication officer she told him to signal the Admiral.

“We can’t tell what they are bombarding us with, but it seems to have no ill effects.” Csilla reported to Benjamin about the alien scanner as he entered the command centre. Still a narrow intense beam of red light, almost like a laser, was directed at the point the aliens were scanning.

Calm, yet with efficient pace, the beam wandered across the ship.

After reading most of subalpha and alpha the beam stopped. “Send the signals again. Let them know what we are made of.” Benjamin told Clifford, who obliged gladly.

This time it was signal lights on Destiny that did the talking, not the probe and its limited lights.

After a while, when the sequence had just begun repeating a warning signal began beeping, all eyes were punned at the view screen as signal lights on the other ship began flashing. Much like Destiny andnits probe, the alien ship began signalling.

“It’s their chemical makeup.” Ony commented, knowing that from the dead aliens the harpies so long ago had found.

Benjamin watched in awe. It was a first contact situation, one that should not go down like the first contact with the Harpies.

“Doctor Truman, please continue conversing with our friends out there.” Benjamin smiled. “Aye sir.” enthusiastically Clifford saluted, although not a military member himself.

As the communication went on Benjamin was relegated to a mere spectating position. He could onky imaginenwhat was going on that other ship. Was there a scientist at a station figuring out how to communicate with the carbon creatures? Or did they have a preset routine for the off chance of encountering aliens?

They seemed to have a protocol for the Harpies.

“What if they can detect Ony?” He raised his eyebrows, causing the Harpy commander to turn to him in an alarmed fashion. “Pardon me?” The computerised voice of the automated translator did not carry the offense she felt properly.

“You said they crashed into one of your ships. As so often in the history of civilisation they might believe you actively wrecked their ship, which is why they hide once they catch a glimpse of you. But now, one of your kind is sitting on a technologically inferior ship.” He winked with a slight smile. “Just a theory.”

Ony turned back to the main viewscreen. “If they have offensive weapons I do not know about it.”

Both watched the back and forth between Destiny and the aliens in silence. “You think they might do something to your ship?”

Benjamin shrugged his shoulders. It was difficult enough for members of one species with different cultures running into one another. The first encounter with the Harpies showed how difficult it was for members of two species, with common physiology, to get along. But two species that would die in the perfect conditions for the other, first contact would be even more difficult.

“I hope they will not.”

Again an alarming beep disturbed the mesmerising peace and tranquillity of the light show on the screen. “Something is in our computers, they’re downloading all of it!”

Somewhat alarmed Benjamin looked at his console. By the time he had most of the contents of their databases had been copied already.

“We’re receiving something. A database it seems.” Puzzled communication officer Trebuchet looked up from his console. “It’s massive!”

Alarmed Benjamin jumped fro, hissesat, almost colliding with commander Ony, who grabbed him by his trouser leg. “Perhaps a cultural exchange?”

Nodding Ben rushed to Clifford. “Isolate the computer systems this information is saved into, if it contains a virus, I don’t want it to spread.” Thinking about incidents with linkers he was weary of strange programmes and data in the ships computers.

“I had to delete information in alpha’s core, isolating it.” Trebuchet stated his efforts. After about two more minutes the exchange of data was finished.

Next to Benjamin Cliffird began going through the redeived data. “Hastily converted information, to be compatible with our kind of computer. It seemsmto be history and arts at first glance. And linguistics!” He smiled, noticing unmistakable wave patterns.

“Still, keep it isolated, I don’t want any bad surprises.” Benjamin left the station that Clifford was working at. “I believe you were right, Commander.” He conjured up a smile as he glanced down to Ony.

After a glance to the baseball, Benjamin went to his office. Although originally he wanted to convert it back into a ready room for all of the command centre crew to enjoy, he began to see the benefits of an office for himself. Still, it had to be done, or else the command centre officers would be unhappy about it.

“Csilla. Please see if you can get hold another expert who could help us in deciphering that database.” Speaking over his shoulder before the door closed, he wandered towards the desk. I’m going to miss this. His gaze fell on the picture someone had drawn on the wall, some when in the past decades.

A colorful planetary nebula.

If it weren’t for George and their adopted children, he’d sign up for deepspace exploration.

Although that program was in its infancy, the proposed deepspace exploration program was supposed to put people in suspended animation, and shoot them in small vessels out into the galaxy, towards POIs.

Like the people in the cryogenic chambers in the spine of Destiny. Sometimes the duties of being the Admiral were taking their toll, and he began to dream.

The door signal rang, drawing him back to reality. “Enter.”

“Bruce Kane, computer science, reporting for duty.” Benjamin turned to the door, looked down. Only slightly taller than a harpy a man stood there. “You must be the specialist I requested.” He tried covering up his surprise at the height of the man, by acting casual.

“I certainly am not the circus midget you had nightmares about, sir.” Witty.

“We have redeived a transmission from aliens, who are supposedly based on silicone instead of carbon, like we or the harpies.” Or any other life that we know of. “A massive database, and I want you to work on it.”

With raised eyebrows Bruce stepped closer. “I feel honored that you show that much confidence in my abilities. Is there any additional information you can gove me?”

“Doctor Truman already identified linguistic aspects of the database, or at least he thinks he has. I was given to understand that apparently it was hastily converted to be compatible with our computers.”

Bruce lowered one eyebrow. “So it’s a glitchy mess of jumbled information? Perfect, can I get started?”

“Of course you can, I don’t know why you were sent in here in the first place.”

A slick smile appeared on Bruce’ face. “That was because I wanted to. As long as people only see my work, they get a certain impression of me, I want to leave my personal impression instead.”

Reflecting that smile Benjamin folded his hands in front of his face. “As long as you do what you do whole heartedly, is there a more personal impression to leave than the one left by your work? Now, please do get started.”

Hours went by, in which Benjamin pondered about the silicone aliens, how they must be feeling sifting through the data they lifted from Destiny’s databanks.

Occasionally he requested an update from Bruce or Clifford. But all they could tell him was that the information contained in the database was very hard to decipher. Whether that was ude to the converting bit, or because of the entirely different form of life that gave them this information, neither could tell.

Long after his shift had ended, Benjamin left the office. He greeted the nightshift politely, noticed that Cliff was still at his station. Bruce probably too, somewhere else on Destiny.

Tired by the events that had taken place during the long ahift he turned homewards, eager to cuddle with his husband and fall asleep.

“Most of what I have been able to decioher tells me this is mostly cultural, a few scientific discoveries and theories, that could not be utilised to influence our technological development in any way, and more cultural entries.” Bruce pushed a tablet over the table to Benjamin.

Next to him was Ony who admitted that she had helped him, since linguistics was not up her alley, she had parted from Clifford’s side.

“Well, we can’t expect them to send us weapons technology, or reactors we could use to traverse the universe with unforseen consequences. We have a similar situation on RV-p296, we are trying not to influence the natives in any way what so ever.”

Both nodded in sync.

“Continue with your efforts.” He leaned back and studied the list of things that Bruce and Ony had deciphered. “Sir?” Csilla entered as Bruce and Ony left.

“The have hijacked our computer again.”

At once Benjamin was on his feet, storming the command centre. Just when he wanted to believe the aliens were friendly, they did something like that.

“What are they doing?” He asked into the room, addressing no one in particular.

“They took over reactor controls for alpha through gamma.” Csilla replied ealking by his back toeards her station, Clifford had been sent to an office down the hallway by the nightshift.

“To what end?” He sat down, looking over his shoulder to his first officer.

“To jettison it.” Came an emotionless computer voice from the directionnof the main view screen. With a nod the communication officer confirmed Benjamins inquiring gaze, they also had tapped into the communication network.

“The residual radiation, and debris in the outter rim of this system show that a ship, much like yours, had lost control over one of the primitive, secondary reactors in your ships. Although we try not to intervene with the development of other species we feel obligated to restrict the danger you, or rather, your reactors, pose.”

Scratching his head Benjamin turned to Csilla, who was as lost as he was. “We pose a danger to ourselves, or our recently diverged line of species on a moon in the system. But that would be our own undoing, not yours.”

Hissing the door to the command centre opened, Benjamin did not see Bruce entering the room, the algorithms devised by him and Ony had continued working on the data during their absence from their temporary office.

Nervous and excited he sped to the Admiral’s side, handing him a tablet.

It was a starchart, at first glance it did not make a lick of sense to Benjamin. “There you are mistaken Admiral.” The dull voice came from the view screen. Reaching up to the tablet, Bruce enhanced a portion of the chart, it showed a G type star with two rocky worlds, one habitable for humans, one a fiery hell close to the star, and two gas giants. The larger one had a bunch of moons, one of which was habitable for humans. “That is here Admiral.” Bruce explained, further enhancing a moon around the other gasgiant.

“Is that?”

Bruce merely nodded, visible to Benjamin from the corner of his eye. “We also maintain a colony in this system.” What had taken the aliens years to investigate the destruction of Horizon’s beta ring? “I see now.” He lowered the tablet.

Both the voice and the information on the tablet revealed that the colony had no ships of their own, a standard procedure. Colonies were obscured from visibility and sensors by the cloaking technology the harpies had obtained through one crashed vessel, thus the chance of them being detected and attacked was practically zero.

Natural desasters that could destroy the entire colony were a threat, but most of those could be detected on time and help could be called in.

Some of the radioactive debris was on a collision course for the colony, the ship had been busy gathering that debris and rendering it harmless.

Benjamin saw that their concerns were genuine, but also in case of an emergency, Destiny would be left with only two thorium reactors, one in subalpha and one in subgamma. “From our data you can clearly see that we need those reactors in case our fusion reactor fails. We, and the people on the second planet of this system are last of our people. Our native system was destroyed,”

“If you pollute your new home with radiation, your kind has met an end. This vessel will remain in close proximity to assist you in case your energy requirements change drastically, since we are responsible for changing your setup. Once you have arrived, however, that will be no longer our concern.”

With that the communication ended, and control over the system was returned. Csilla stated that the reactors had been jettisoned, and were dragged by an energy field towards the alien ship.

Although understanding the reasoning behind the aliens words, and in support of such measures, he felt as if he had failed an important part of his duty to the ship.

“It is outrageous! How could you let these aliens steal integral backup parts for the operations of our ship?” As usual it was Governor Egger who did the yelling.

“Governor, I understand your concern and dismay at the current situation, but what would you have me do? Fire our weapons at a massively superior force?”

“Horizon did that. They stood their ground!”

“And paid dearly. Half of their crew is dead, or missing, a small group of survivors stranded on the linker moon, they have numerous cases of radiation poisoning, most of which were treatable. How would you feel, if push came to ahove, to sit on a nuclear fissoon reactor, Governor? Ask your Governor Jones from beta, how it feels if just water is seeping through the roof, now imagine deadly radiation from the floor, if something went awry.”

Clearly the governor had not realised where the reactor had been exactly in the ring, as he again went pale.

“But I plan to rectify this situation, I have tasked the engineers to find other energy sources for the rings. I was assured that we had the resources to build another thorium reactor, and perhaps a small yield fusion device, but I can not guarantee either of that. For now, we are left with what we have, and we can only hope we never need to find out if we can rely on the promise of the aliens.”

Would the governors want him to resign? Benjamin mused as he studied their faces on his screen. If so they would free him of a few burdens, it would be more of a favor, than a punishment. “I move that the Admiral remains in office, the journey ahead is a short one.” Governor Jones spoke calmly with a smug smile on his lips.

He must’ve seen the desire to retire in Benjamin, otherwise he would’ve moved forward to see Benjamin out of office. Especially after the incident with the water reservoir, and the Admiral’s way of dealing with it.

“I second that, Governor Nyong from gamma sighed. Most of the resources to build another thorium reactor were already on her ring, thus she was little concerned about losing a potentially dangerous reactor, that was only there if the fusion reactor went offline.

Clearly overruled Governor Egger was grinding his teeth and ended his participation in the video conference.

After friendly greeting the governors Benjamin too left the conference and reclined in his seat.

“Csilla?” His first officer appeared in the door after a few moments. “Please, can you get the guys who made this into my office, to come in again and revert it to the common ready room?”

Nodding with a bright smile on her lips she went back out into the command centre. Meanwhile the aliens had retreated to continue on their mission of cleaning up the mess the Horizon had left behind.

Not after negotiating a deal with the harpies, so they wouldn’t disappear into nothingness any longer every time they detected a harpy ship.

Commander Ony had resolved to remain on Destiny, as she still wanted to work with the database left by the aliens, a circumstance Bruce was glad about.

Still, her ship would continue to follow Destiny. Although bereft of their secondary reactors Benjamin felt quite safe. Their new home seemed to be a part of space that was a busy corner.

Silicone aliens, Harpies, linkers and their ever present companion the Kismet were all there, in case a crippling failure of the fusion reactor were to occur.

Although still burdened by his responsibilities as Admiral Benjamin entered the command centre with a feling of refreshment. “Let’s decelerate, and pick up Horizon’s stranded crew members.” He smiled into the room.

It would take a feew months until that would happen, but still navigation officer Lie Fah let out an enthusiastic “Aye, aye sir!” before beginning the deceleration progress.

Rings of Fate S3xE8 – Survivors – Survivors

Smoky darkness surrounded Kanitha. Her lungs stung with every breath she drew, still she suddenly was wide awake. Something, a micro asteroid had impacted and ruptured an airtank near her. Automatic seaking processes had dealt with the leak, but not the fire. Disorientated she looked around.

There was no fire to be seen.

But smoke. Lots of smoke. Just asnher grandmother usedntonsay, wherenthere is smoke there is fire.

At least some sort of fire, she figured. A moan of agony came from the other end of the room. “Sutherland, is that you?” Unless someone else had entered the room before she passed out there was no other option than it being Sutherland.

“No it’s not me.” He coughed. In the smoke he was difficult to make out but he rose against the faint back glow of emergency lights.

Crawling on all fours she made her way to him. “Either something caught fire or it’s the fusion reactor leaking plasma.” Every word hurt in Kanitha’s throat, her eyes stung as if pierced by needles. “We need to get out of here. Regardless of what causes this smoke.” Agreeing on that Kanitha turned for the door, Sutherland right behind her.

Attempting to open the door Kanitha was surprisednwhen it didn’t open. Something prevented the mechanism from working.

That could only mean that either outside plasma had built up and would burn them, or that there was an atmospheric leak. Although all electronics were offline the engineers who had built Horizon were wise enough to inckude purely mechanical safeguards into the doors. From her pockets she fished the glasses, which she used as flashlight. In a corner of the door there was a small mechanical indicator. “Door is locked for good.”

Desperate she turned around. Panic began to crawl up her spine. “There is a maintenance shaft behind that panel.” Sutherland waved her to follow, he too had out on his glasses, used them as flash light.

Reluctantly Kanitha turned hers off, to conserve energy. Who knew when they’d be able to charge them again?

The maintenance shaft was accessible. The way up however was blocked by a bulkhead, presumably for the same reason the door was locked. Plasma or loss of atmosphere.

“It can onky go down from this point on.” Smoke from the room was wobbling past them, quickly the two entered the shaft and closed the access panel again. After several moments they enjoyed less poisonous air.

For a few minutes the two climbed down before a battery operated warning chime sounded beneath them, between to prongs where Kanitha had been climbing a moment earlier a bulkhead door slammed shut. She swallowed hard. “We better hurry up, what ever is happening, it spreads like wildfire.”

Muttering “agreed” Sutherland continued his descend. Threendecks later they found a dead end in form of a closed Bulckhead door. Since it was a lot cooler than above they assumed that atmosphere had been lost higher up, and decided to exit the shaft.

Opening into a room similar to the one they had just left, Sutherland and Kanitha eagerly inhaled the clean air that greeted them.

“Now what?” Kanitha got to her feet and made her way to the door.

“Now we see that we get out of here. Maybe find others. We hope for Dawn Horizon to pick us up, or the linkers. Maybe even the harpies! For goodness sake, we turned over that ship egg. They owe us.”

The hallway outside was empty, and dark. At least there was no smoke, or immense heat. Kanitha turned on her flashlight, thinking like her before, Sutherland turned his off.

A feeling of uneasiness got hold of her as she looked down the hallway. “Se whether this tub can fly, I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She took a step out in the darkness.

Whioe Sutherland got to work, the door slowly closed behind her. “Hello? Is there anybody?” Only three steps away from the door Kanitha felt even uneasier than before. Dark hallways scared her. Especially if all she wanted was to get away.

But prior to that moment she had never faced such a situation. Biting down her fears she went on. At another door she tried to open it, but it was locked. Since there was no heat she assumed it was due to a leak in the hull of that pod.

Weak kneed she went on. A sudden noise from behind her startled her, shrieking she whirled around, found Sutherland in the cone of light from her glasses.

“Pod’s not going anywhere. Micro asteroid went through the propulsion system.” Suddenly feeling better with Sutherland at her side, Kanitha just nodded and pressed on.

After a few minutes of walking down the corridor they met another dead end.

“Tube access point seventeen, subgamma.” Sutherland read the emblazoned plaque next to the door.

“Jackson, is it possible that the momentum is getting lost?” Kanitha felt lighter, but she didn’t know whether it real or an after effect of the smoke.

“It is. I thought it was the smoke getting to my head.” The two went back to the next intersection. “We should try and find a way further down. The further we get away from the center the more likely that there will be undamaged pods.”

Wanting to repky Kanitha took a breath, but paused as they heard an odd sound from down the hallway. The way they had come incidentally.

“Run!” She urged, turning in the way and running. Moments later a thunderous noise filled the air, and for a second she was drawn back by strong currents. Then an emergency bulkhead closed behind them, closing off the newky created vacuum.

“What the hell was that?” Jackson Sutherland rubbed his arm that was brushed by the slamming bulkhead.

“The superstructure is failing, although momentum is getting lost, the mass of the pods, and the uneven mass distribution of the burnt out fusion reactor and its surroundings must have a negative impact on it.” Kanitha tried the adjacent doors to the hallway they were in, with no luck.

All were locked due to no atmosphere behind it. A terrible thought came to her mind. Somemof these pods, if not most of them, were launched.

They sat in a failing superstructure with no means of escape.

Hissing. Doom spelling hissing led Kanitha through the corridor lit only by her flashlight. Sutherland followed her closely, until they found the source ofnthat hiss. A air conditioning unit leaking almost pure oxygen into the hallway. Glad it was not a decompression leak Kanitha sat down next to it. “As long as there is nothing to light this up, were not going to suffocate or die right now.” She leaned her head against the wall.

“There are escape pods.” Sutherland too sat down.

“Where?” With a frowning expression he pointed upwards. “Near main engineering. Battery operated, cryogenic escape pods. We wouldn’t be able to go to RV-p296, but dash 2 is close by.”

Reclining against the wall Kanitha made a dismissive gesture. “Main engineering is more of a furnace right now. Even if the plasma has leaked into space by now, the secondary fires it started will still rage, the metals will be hot for days on end. We can’t hold out that long either.”

Slamming his fist on the ground Sutherland got up. “Listen here, I don’t wanna die in this corridor. The pods are either broken, or they left. We have this one chance, and I’d rather die trying to make it there, than wait for death here.” He spun around on his heel and walked away.

For a moment Kanitha was tempted to let him walk into his own undoing, but then got up too.

Ascending through a narrow staircase, filled with dust and debris, decades upon decades of neglected use had left in it, Kanitha noticed a light a few decks above them. It was not the menacing glow of molten metal or plasma from the reactor, but the shiny glow of a flashlight. “Hello?” She couldn’t resist the urge to yell to them. As much as she valued Jackson Sutherland as company, she was hoping for further survivors.

“Hello!” A man returned her call. “How are things up there?” Sutherland asked while taking two steps at a time, a task that became increasingly easy. “Hot, but we’re holding up.” The voice of a woman.

So they were at least two. Kanitha figured. Upon reaching their level Kanitha saw three women and two men. They were huddled together next to an air duct.

“Behind that door, fires of hell.” One of the men commented. He was a civilian.

When things went from bad to worse much the civilian population was transported to subgamma, so they could hold out there. Kanitha feared that most had died anyways.

“We’re on the wrong deck anyway.” Sutherland noted upon seeing the door, pointing up. “Up there is just more of the same.” Francine Harris, an engineering colleague of Kanitha wrinkled her forehead. “We know. We camenfrom one deck up originally.” Sutherland sighed, glancing up the stairs. No fires or glowing metals to be seen.

“Near engineering, there are supposedly emergency pods. Battery operated cryogenic pods. We could reach the linker colony and live.” Kanitha tried to sound optimistic.

For a few moments the five looked puzzled until they got up in unison. “What are we waiting for then?” Gerry Polanski smiled, stepping on the first step of the stairs.

As foretold by Francine temperature increased by each deck they ascended. Hopes to find the lifepods intact, or at all, was decreasing as the temperatures rose. “This is it.” Jackson stopped. “The door is almost hot enough to set someone or something touching it ablaze. No chance I’ll be going through there.” The civilian, Nepumo Ricosta, took a step back. “Perhaps we can patch up one of the pods on a lower level?” Maria Trinidad, an Ensign, suggested with little hope shining through her tone.

“Not here.” Jackson poimted at the door. “There!” A door, almost hidden inside the wall opposite of the exit, halfway up to the next deck, said “Lifepods” on it, in tiny, dust covered, painted letters.

Quickly the party rushed up the stairs, Sutherland opened the door, which was surprisingly not locked due to decompression behind it.

Kanitha and he surmised that the emergency life pods were in a specially sealed and shielded compartment, so the micro asteroids rushing through the spine did not harm it. In addition the molten reactor in front of the pod chamber provided a dense shield of immense heat, vaporising any micro asteroid passing through.

The room was dimly lit, but in stark contrast to the rest of the ship, it was lit. Onky a few meters from the door the room ended, with a ladder leading up and down.

“I see only four pods, we’re seven people!” Nepumo shrieked.

Now Kanitha knew where she had seen him before. He had a broadcasting show on the Horizon net. “There are four more below, and four above us. I suspect there are again some another deck lower, and higher. But the ones I see, are plenty for us.” Jackson returned from the ladder.

He began drawing up the sensor data the poda could collect with the built in sensor arrays. “Alright. There’s only these twelve, and we have to fill them bottom up.” A rumble went through the ship, suddenly weightlessness set in. “Molten structure ground up against the suspension. Gravity’s gone.” Kanitha calmed the nerves of the others.

As long as the simulated gravity was there, heat was rising upwards, melting the materials it met. Now that was gone. An alarm sounded, and the access dor alammed shut from inside the wall. “Apparently, this is our last stop on Horizon. Air pressure in the staircase is gone.” April Wallner, commented checking the sign at the door.

“Alright, Maria, Francine, Gerry, take Nepumo down there and get ready, enter your pods, I’ll program the coordinates for ES-p296-2 from here.”

“Wait, why can’t we wait on Dawn?” Gerry stopped the others from doing as Jackson had told them to. “Surely they received the distress signals. They will come pick us up. Or the pods launched from Dusk already.”

With a sigh Jackson shook his head. Telling them would not ease their concerns, he knew. He entered a few commands into the console in front of him. “Dawn Horizon got picked up by the linkers. I saw it in the sensor logs, they rushed here, while we hadn’t even met in that staircase, they had arrived here.” A video was on display.

Dawn Horizon appeared, a foreign shaped ship between subalpha and alpha. Within moments they collected all the pods that were sending out distress signals and after a short time the entire group of ships disappeared again.

Silence befell the room. “I don’t mean to be an ass here, but what the fuck?” Gerry pushed away from the display.

“It’s over, man. They abandoned us!” Nepumo panicked. Attempting to slap him proved difficult for Kanitha, but she managed. “They didn’t know we’re here, or still alive for that matter!”

For a moment the others stared at the display. “Forgive my saying so, but what if we hijack one of those?” April enhanced the image on the display. An inert landing pod floated in space. “There is no apparent damage, we can scan it from here for confirmation that it is still working, if not we go with the escape pods for the linker moon. If it is we can bring this thing to the moon with us.” Intrigued Sutherland raised hia eyebrows. He held o to the wall of the pod next to the display. “Sensors show it is fulky operational, it got torn off the superstructure, with the docking clamps and part of the superstructure, so it is fully operational, and undamaged.” Frantically typing away at the display he programmed the escape poda to dock with the landing craft, while Gerry, Maria and Francine brought Nepumo to the pods on the lower deck, and began boarding them.

Minutes later all were in the escape pods. Through a tiny view window they saw how the air vanished out the entire room as the doors opened to allow the pods to escape.

The bottom four were ejected, veered off on their course to the inert landing craft. The next three were lowered automatically, and ejected, also began taking course to their destination.

From outside damage to the Dusk Horizon was looking even worse than fro, the inside. Just two decks above their last position a giant hole was gaping, incandescent and fatal to the ship. It spanned over several decks, when it decompressed, a stream of plasma had shot out, hitting the dish, eating away much of it.

Occasionally there were minor explosive decompressions, and explosions when the fires ignited an oxygen tank.

Kanitha watched, not realising that she wept. The devastated wreckage she was watching had been her home all her life. She was in the engineering crew, the ship had also been her work, her efforts, her ingenuity.

It broke her heart to see it destroyed.

Only at that moment did she realise another loss. Her sister! Her nefews!

Carl Olafson! Sobbing violently now, she closed her eyes.

Docking with the landing pod was automated, every one of them came with docking ports for eight escape pods, before landing in an atmosphere they had to be ditched however, or else they risked burning up.

Jackson looked around the vessel. It was a standard military landing craft. All systems were operational, batteries were running at over 90%. “Salvage the batteries from the escape pods, on that moon our solar panels will take a long time to charge anything.” He went aroundnto inspect for an algae processing plant, but found it missing, which meant they’d have to find edible stuff on the moon asap.

Hoping biochemistry worked differently on the moon than on RV-p296, so they wouldn’t miss vital amino acids, he returned to the cockpit.

“Anyone with any landing training here?” Laying in a course for the moon was the easier part of the eacape from the wrecked Dusk Horizon, landing it was another bargain.

“First we have to get there, we worry about landing this tub then.” Gerry mumbled, he felt incredibly hungry. “There are emergency rations.” Francine knew the look on his face, she pointed to a closet in the cockpit.

With a disdainful frown he shook his head. “I need to get even more hungry to eat that.”

Thrusters engaged on the ship, it swayed away from the Horizon wreckage. “We need to break the momentum, currently we’re only slowing down on our path towards the inner solar system, it’ll take a while. We should get to work with those batteries.” Kanitha left her seat and wandered back to the pods. Finding Jackson already at work at his escape pod, and April at hers. Nepumo sat in a corner too terrified to do anything.

Compelled to do the same she shook her head and got to work.

Several hours of deceleration later the craft finally began moving in the direction of the linker moon, most of the survivors had fallen asleep. There had been a few breakdowns, mourning for lost friends and family. At least Gerry could take solace in the fact that his wife and children were safe and sound aboard Dawn Horizon.

Just as Gerry had predicted, the rations were edible, but far from tasty. But to sustain themselves for the days of flight there was no other option.

“Approaching ES-p296-2.” Kanitha had taken the pilot’s seat. Noe of them, including the ensigns, had any flight experience, education on landing procedures was only slowly rolling out, when disaster struck. “Signaling emergency to the linkers, we don’t want them to think we are here to spy or invade their territory.”

The mostly red hued surface of the moon appeared before them. The vastly grown shipyard at the end of the elevator tether standing out like a thorn in the moon’s side.

Sweaty handed Kanitha typed commands to bring up the automated landing. “This thing can only do so much, I still need to guide it down.” Kanitha looked up at their destination. “Where do we want to set it down folks? Near the linkers, or further away?”

Jackson came up to her side, lookimg at the screen then at the instruments. “Since we depend on them in case our efforts to survive fail, and need them to make contact with Destiny when they fly by, I’d say not too close, but also not too far away.” Confirming sounds and nods from the others followed.

Trying to ignore her sweaty palms and shaky fingers, Kanitha entered a few commands, coordinates and then reluctantly took the steering. With a faint metallic click the pods they had arrived in disengaged.

Pressed in her seat by belts Kanitha had never been shaken ao violently as during the first phase of atmospheric entry. This part of the landing sequence was fully automatic, but in truth there was nothing even the computer could do during entry. Flames licked up from the heattiles beneath the ship. Scared Kanitha closed her eyes, thought about the people she had lost on Horizon. Carl.

Suddenly the shaking stopped, thrusters engaged, Kanitha snapped out of her memories of Carl, put her hands on the controls again.

Onky a few meters above ground, giant red, leathery leaves rushed by beneath the ship, animals took refuge or flught from the potential predator in the skies.

Thrusters had slowed the ship down, kept it floating until it reached a clearing. There the computer aided in settlingnthe ship down, after Kanitha had to steer it over the trees.

Thrusters went offline, and into cool down after they had touched ground.

“Welcome to the moon colony of indifference, where we will sit and wait for the bus to arrive. Estimated time till arrival of said vehicle, about five years.”

“Three actually. Destiny plowed through the solar system on orion drive, they shaved two years off their trip.” Nepumo had his wits back, after days in the confinement of the pod.

Giving him a look that said without words what she thought of his witty reply, Kanitha got up and walked to the airlock that led outside.

Taking a deep breath she closed the inner doors behind her, knowing her comrades stood at the window, eagerly peering outside.

The outter doors opened letting in a stream of cool air. It was crisp, moldy, and although only a few hours on foot from the linker ground base and their industry, the air held a freshness and quality that Kanitha had never known before.

Gingerly she placed her steps outside. Soft ground, covered with a mossy growth, greeted her feet. On the ship the ground in the gardens had never had that quality to it. Although there were patches of grass and walkways, there was no moss covered clearing, that was both soft to the step and yet after a centimeter or two turned harder. She looked up. The sky had the tiny weak glow of the sun in the far distance, barely any warmth came from the sunshine.

It was by now common knowledge that the linker moon had it’s warmth from inside, which also allowed for a strong magnetic field around the moon to keep the atmosphere from being blown away by solar winds.

Threatening almost, the shadow of the shipyard in stationary orbit loomed to the north east. Something was traveling up the tether. Silently and as ominous as the space based shipyard itself.

She felt cold. If they were to live outside their pod, they would need to find clothing firewood. On the edge of the clearing she saw movement.

Some indigenous lifeforms had come to inspect the new arrival.

Hopefully nothing carnivorous. Waving to the others to join her, Kanitha turned to the pod.

Jackson and April stepped outside, Gerry and Nepumo followed. “Oh yes. That is some fresh air.” Nepumo commented, took images with the camera on hia glasses.

Presumably for his vlog, once they returned to civilisation. “I’ve set one pod up there to emit an emergency signal once every month, starting in two years.” Jackson had left the battery of one emergency pod intact.

“Guys? We should probably seek help from the linkers.” Gerry turned around a few times. He held a tablet in his hand that was equipped with a few extras, currently he was analysing the air. “Or get some breathing equipment.” The magic and wonders of the scenery around them blended away into the background as they all gathered around him. “According to these readings there is a spore abundant in the air, that has some hallucinogenic properties to it. At current levels, nothing dangerous, but if we’re exposed to large enough quantities,” he looked around. Pinching the base of her nose Kanitha lowered her eyes. “Take a reading close to the ground.” A warning began to beep as he did so. The moss! “It is possible we stirrd up those spores when we landed. A reading close to the edge of the clearing should provide an answer.” Jackson pointed to the east.

After saluting Gerry started walking. All the while his eyes fixed on his screen.

“There.” Something lowered itself out of the red leaved tree. The presumed plant had probably a dozen leaves, not more. Like the others that were visible around them.

From the ground the creature that Kanitha had observed stood up.

It had six appendages, stood on four to look. There was a thick purple fur on its body, and extremities. Fur color had evolved to blend in with the trees.

The only question was, to hide from predators, or to sneak up on prey? Pressing against the red hued stem of the plant, it became difficult to make out the creature. “Readings are lower here!” Gerry yelled. “Up there is a thing, better watch out.” Jackson replied waving him back.

We should’ve landed right next to the kinker colony. “We should get inside. We have guns inside.” Kanitha urged Jackson, who nodded in approval for her to go and get one.

“Have you ever shot one of those things before?” He asked before she left. “I’m an engineer. Harpies aren’t a threat anylonger, and I’m only twentytwo. So, no, I haven’t. But I learn pretty quickly.”

Meanwhile Gerry backed away from the creature, inching slowly.

The doors to the airlock opened, Kanitha sprung inside. There was a weapons locker in the airlock, where she took two guns and hurried outside again. “Run!” She heard Nepumo yell. Looking in Gerry’s direction she sawnthe creature leapt from thentrunk of the tree, shot across the mossy ground towards him.

Kanitha reached Jackson, handed him the second gun, while yelling for the others to go back inside.

In one swift motion the freature had jumped in Gerry, brought him to fall into the moss. It bit him in the shoulder, when suddenly several small darts lodged themselves in its body.

Twitching and in aginy the creature let go of Gerry, who scrambled away from it, and found himself running the distance towards the pod.

Rising again the creature shook off the shock received from the darts, it looked after Gerry, but saw he was too far away at the others.

Instinctively the creature ducked away and ran back to the forest, disappearing in between the trees. “That thing will be back.” Jackson grumbled. From the corner of his eyes he noticed more movement in the forest. “Back inside. Now.”

Kanitha and he reached the airlock, Gerry leaned against the doorframe, blocking the doors until they arrived. Other creatures like the one that had attacked Gerry emerged from the forest, undoubtedly drawn in by the noise and the scent of blood.

“Alright, we’re surrounded by hostile wildlife. Suggestions?” At the console right inside the airlock Kanitha checked the systems of the pod. “Not enough power to make it away to the linker base.” She turned to the others. “If we won’t use an ounce of power, in about four days the ship will have generated enough through solar to make it.” Knowing that was no option she still felt obligatedmto mention it. “Batteries won’t help it, just fyi.”

“So we have to impact the local environment even more by killing these creatures.” Nepumo sounded content with that.

“Maybe we can eat them?” Gerry cussed while April applied a bandage to his injury. The thought of having to keep eating the rations was almost as unbearable as the pain.

“They appear to be moving off.” Francine was watching a diplsay showing the outside, several cameras allowed for a 360 degree coverage around the pod.

“Maybe they too are susceptible to the spores?” Kanitha also looked at the display, but turned it off after few moments. “We have to conserve power. Turn off everything that might drain energy and is not essential.”

Sun was about to set, ushering in a dark and icy night, hence it was decided to leave the heating on, but set to a bare minimum.

Kanitha had volunteered for the first shift, of holding watch. Through the windshield she could still see outside, without wasting any energy.

Light, reflected off of the other moons, lit the forest. There was no light from the mother planet, as it was on the other side of the moon, always stayed there.

Wondering what sight that would be she kept staring outside. Mists rose from the moss, covering the clearing with an eerie blanket.

In the mist she could see the predatory creatures move around, but onky at the edge of the forest, always in the trees.

She figured that the mist was laced with the spores, and that leaving the pod now, would be a stupid idea unless she wore protection.

“No signs of our lion lizards, except them monkeying around in the trees.” Kanitha reported to Jackson as he began the next shift.

“Gerry is unresponsive. Running a high fever. Either the bite of the,” he paused recalling what Kanitha called the creatures, “lion-lizards is poisonous, or the spores entered the wound.” Neglecting to tell him that the bite would be venomous, not poisonous, Kanitha nodded.

The moment the creature but Gerry, she somehow doubted he’ll survive it. Hearing about him being unresponsive only deepened that assumption. “We need to get to the linkers. They can provide us with shelter, protection and food.” Her voice was low, but sharp.

Rubbing his temple Jackson sat down in the other seat in the cockpit. Henknew she was right, but he had objections. Before he could reply hpthey were disturbed by movement outside. Shielded from soundmthe two only had their eyes to go on.

Through the fog bank a creature darted across the clearing towards the pod, and jumped at the windscreen.

Trying to hold with its claws it couldn’t get a hold, slowly it sank down and fell into the mist. There was no movement of it running back.

Quickly Kanitha brought the sensors online, took a reading of the ship’s hull and found no breaches. Barely outside the creature was moving around in an erratic manner, going thisnway, then another.

After a few minutes it stopped moving.

In silence Kanitha and Jackson exchanged a long look. “First thing in the morning.” He said, turning off the power hungry computer, displays and sensors.

Although the fog had cleared in the second half of the night, Kanitha still had strpped on a breathing mask that filtered out the spores. A few meters from the windscreen she found the creature. It was dead, but still rather warm. It too must’ve run a high fever in the last moments of its life.

Close to where Gerry had been attacked by the first creature, she found the tablet he had been using before. Taking readings of the dead creature she felt a tight grip on her heart.

According to the readings the spores had affected the neuro chemistry of the creature, just like the warning messages said, but then had taken its lungs as perfect grounds to grow in. From the snout of the creature moss was growing outwards already.

Alarmed and terrified Kanitha fled back to the pod. “Watch Gerry closely!” She yelled at April throwing her a breathing mask, she herself went to wake Jackson.

“Sutherland, the spores infected the creature, grew in its lungs and devour it as we speak.” Dazed, since he just woke up, Jackson looked at her. Itntook him a moment to realise her words.

“Gerry?” Kanitha shrugged her sholders, closed the doors to the room. “We haven’t established any form of command chains yet, but we need to find a consesus now.” She hissed as low as she could with the tension on her mind. “It is a very likely that we are already infected to a certain degree, we might be able to cleans ourselves with what we’ve got. We surely dragged spores with us in here, we could also cleanse the ship. But, what next? What should we eat? Rations are diminishing rapidly. We have but one alternative.”

Grinding his teeth Jackson lowered his head. “Alright, call up the linkers.” Thanking him Kanitha left the room, informed the oers of the decision, if anyone was against it she’d put it up for debate. To her relief no one had any objections. So far, ever since the Dusk Horizon ran into the asteroid shower, they had gone from one bad situation into a worse one.

At least the linkers would save their lives.

“We do not have an atmospheric vessel ready to take you from your present location to the base. But we will hold the door open for you.” Confronted by either the unwillingness, or actual inability to help them Kanitha still found herself thanking the woman with the dark skin and green eyes that just had spoken with her.

Devastated she turned around to face the ither horror in human form, her colleagues’ aggravated faces. “Breathing gear, every weapon you can grab, rations and tablets. Get your move on!” Kanitha barked. Never had she taken command of any groupmof her fellow engineers, Sutherland was as surprised as the others when she shouted her commands.

Noon drenched the clearing in a clear bright, yet cold light, the doors opened to the airlock, releasing Kanitha, Sutherland, April and Nepumo. Francine turned back. Maria stood in the airlock, shaking her head. “We can’t leave Gerry here. He’ll die!”

“He’ll die anyway! Don’t stay behind.” Arguing Francine stretched out her hand. Kanitha passed her by. “You stay here, you will die. Along with him, once the moss grows out of his mouth and nose. Do you want that, Ensign?” For a moment Kanitha saw resistance in the other womans eyes. The question who gave Kanitha command hung unspoken in the air, lnhering like a predator in the shadows. “No Ma’am.” She finally gave in to Kanitha’s glare. “Move out.” Kanitha growled.

Looking back herself Kanitha felt guilty and dirty for leaving Gerry behind. In case he would snap out of it they left him with provisions for three days and a radio to signal for them to get him, or give him directions on how to reach them.

Still, she could not back away now. Determined to survive and get the rest of the group to safety she stepped out of the airlock and closed the doors behind herself.

Breathing with the respiratory aid was a new experience for the entire group, ezcept Kanitha who had gotten used to it since examining the lion-lizard. She was the vanguard of the group as they headed out towards the base of the linkers. In her left she held the tablet with which she occasionally took readings of the air and plants they passed, in her right she held a gun. Set to fire the darts, but with a flick of a switch she could turn it into the deadly instrument she knew it could be.

Behind her was Jackson, carrying two guns, followed by Nepumo, April and Maria, with Francine as the rearguard. Each of them had at least one gun, and each carried rations for two days. Through the densely packed stems of the trees at the edge of the clearing they soon entered a forest that was not as dense. Only at the edges, where light was more abundant, did the plants grow denser.

“Do you hear that?” Kanitha looked around following Jackson’s question. “No air conditioning, no ever so faint engine, no nothing. Just wind, leaves, water.” He pointed at a creek that ran through the forest.

“Stalking predators, us trodding through the forest, spores that would fester in our lungs and kill us.” Nepumo replied in a bleak tone.

Shrugging Kanitha looked around, walked towards the creek. For a moment she stopped, taking readings of the air. “Spore free.” She took the breathing mask off. Curious about the water she held the scanner into the creek. “Minerals, water, nothing harmful.” She smiled gladly, taking another good look around, and a glance on her tabket again. No sign of any predatory creature. Puttingnthe tablet away she took a sip of water with her hollow hand.

“There is no comparison to the water we had on Horizon. This is really good water.” She smiled benignly.

Standing up she looked around, all the time ready to fire at any lion-lizard that might be charging at them. One by one the others tried the fresh water. Water that had not been through a refreshment, and refinement plant numerous times, but that had gone through nature’s own recycling circle. “How much longer do we have to walk?” Nepumo was tired. As they all were.

“Two hours? Maybe three.” Kanitha crossed the creek, the cold wster that entered her boots felt refreshing, although it may have been a badnidea, she couldn’t h3lp but enjoy it.

After a while the forest grew even less dense. The trees were older, further apart, taller and their leaves were bigger. Dead logs were lying on the ground, all rotten through the years. As some trees grew larger they took the light from smaller trees and that killed them. “Do you hear that?” Not that again. “No. What is it now?” Annoyed Kanitha didn’t stop to listen. “There is a hum.”

Stopping now to listen Kanitha too noticed the hum. It was almost electric, but they were too far out to be at the linker base already. As she looked at her tablet her palms began to sweat, and she found herself caressing the trigger of her gun for reassurance.

“There’s a lifeform. Several lifeforms. Two O’clock.” She had picked up that form of giving directions from old movies and TV shows, apparently so had the others as they all looked in the according direction. Slowly they advanced towards the spurde of the hum.

Twenty meters later they found a group of bug like creatures, the size of a person’s head, sitting on a dead log, they danced around, flapping flightless wings, producing the hum.

From a safe distance the group watched for a few minutes. “Mating rituals? I heard that animals do that sort of thing.” Nepumo whispered, recording a video on it.

“Maybe. It might also be that one pack of them wandered into the territory of the other pack and they’re about to fight. Maybe they’re communicating. Bees on earth communicated to others in the hive by dancing and buzzing.” Francine was also recording.

Not wanting to test any of the theories Kanitha retreated, urged the others to do the same.

While wandering on Francine and Nepumo discussed what these creatures might have been. Birds, mammals, insects, or something they had not onown all together. Paying no mind to their chatter Kanitha kept a close eye on the tablet, soon they’d leave the forest again, if there was more moss, and subsequently spores, she wanted to know.

Breathing masks on their faces the group stood infront of a large metallic wall. It stretched to either side of them for as far as the eye could see. Dusk was already setting in, beneath their feet was moss, Kanitha felt panic slowly taking a hold of the group. “Dusk Horizon survivors to DEHuman base. We have arrived at the perimeter, please advise on proceeding further.”

Static. About to repeat her word Kanitha looked to the side, paused. A light emanating from an opening in the wall drew her attention. A door! “Let’s hope we won’t end up as part of the common consciousness.” She sighed. More to herself than the others who had a similar thought. “Even if, after all we’ve been through, I’m sure we’d find a way out.” Jackson laughed, following her.

Rings of Fate S3xE7 – Destiny – Heritage

Gently, in the rythm of a deep peaceful breath, the waves swayed back and forth. Worried Jonathan Carlisle looked at the image on his screen. The noise of the swaying waves from the speaker filled the room.

What had caused the water to sway like this? Usually the water was still, perhaps a little disturbed if some was pumped in, or out, of the storage tank. But never in his career had he seen it sway.

Asking senior colleagues provided him with the same answer, it had never swayed like that. “Has it quieted down?” Petronella Adamova popped her head in the room.

“A little, but not by much.” He said, looking up to her beautiful blue-green eyes. “Damn.” She entered the room. “An hour, and still swaying. What could cause that?”

Shrugging his shoulders Jonathan looked at the display. A sudden warning sound of displacement, and then the display went on. He didn’t know more than that either.

“Guess I’ll go diving today.” Petronella sighed staring at the screen. “Please, tell me it has quieted down when I arrive.” She winked leaving the room.

Nodding he watched her leave. He couldn’t help but feel incredibly aroused at the thought of her diving in the water reservoir he was watching.

Concentrating on the water again, he asked himself how she was going to determine the cause for the swaying from inside the water.

“That was an invitation, in case you missed it.” Petronella came back after noticing he hadn’t followed her. Quickly he sprung to his feet.

Washing up against the reservoir walls the water made a thundering noise in the access port. Intertwined, almost naked, the two were locked in a passionate kiss. Diving equipment was laid out neatly at the side of the access door, their clothes strewn around.

A sudden loud crack stopped their passion.

Out of breath the two looked around. “I guess my dive has just been cancelled. Come on.” She pulled him with her towards a ladder.

Quickly the two hurried down the metal steps and walked down the corridor. “Treatment plant to the right, reservoir to the left.” Jonathan mumbled.

Suddenly he bumped into Petronella who had stopped abruptly in front of him. “We should be leaving.” She pointed down. Through the floor, a simple metal walkway, a bulge on the reservoir wall was visible. “That’s why it kept sloahing back and forth!” Sudden clarity over the cause conjured a smile on his lips. “Yeah, and if that thing breaks we have problem.” Pushing hom back to the ladder she planned the nest steps.

Hurrying back to the office the two only gathered their clothes, but didn’t stay to get dressed. Luckily no one was in there to notice them.

“Drain the reservoir, engage water treatment systems in the pods.” She pushed him to his workstation, quickly he got to work.

“Sounding alert in the garden, raising pond levels.” She informed him of her actions, then took her glasses from her blouse. “Admiral Fuller please.”

Slumped in the chair the tall muscular man looked aghast at the presentation on the briefing room screen. “The main water reservoir on beta essentially broke. Luckily there is no rupture, or else the water flow would’ve trickled outwards to the rings, flooding hallways and staircases.” Technician Petronella Adamova summed up her report. At her side was Jonathan Carlisle, who had held half of the presentation.

After reading the reports from Horizon, Admiral Benjamin Fuller was only left with one question. Why always beta?

Water had been rerouted to storage facilities on the individual pods, the levels of the ponds and lake on beta had been raised in order to drain the reservoir.

Somewhere in that presentation the two mentioned that luckily the reservoir had not been filled completely, or else the deformation of the tank would’ve probably caused an immediate rupture.

Ben did not inquire why that was. “What are we going to do now?”

Reluctantly Jonathan and Petronella exchanged a glance. “There’s not much we can do, sir. Repairs of the reservoir will take up months, and then it won’t be able to handle the amounts of water it used to.” That was in the presentation we just gave you. Jonathan maintained a dry smile. “Sonwe are going to have to live with raised levels of water in the garden? The biologists gave me to understand that some of the trees near the bodies of water can not survive with the current levels.”

Scratching his head Jonathan looked at the screen behind him. “That water could be transferred to other rings. Luckily it is not like we are short on it.” If the reservoir had ruptered, we would be.

“In that case, please do transfer the amounts of water necessary to return the garden to its former state, and get to work on the repairs. Even if it won’t return to its former capacities, that way at least the water now in the ponds and lakes will be back in the ring they belong to.” He nodded with a broad smile.

As usual when Benjamin returned to his station in the command center the first thing he did was, look at the baseball that was standing on a wallpanel in the corner of the room. It had belonged to his great grandfather, who had been a passionate player.

“Sir, there is an automated message in the system. It is adressed to the Admiral in charge, to be read two years before arrival on RV-p296.” First officer Csilla Gere handed him a tablet. For some reason she did not like to use glasses, claiming that it disconnected people from their surroundings.

“From the cultural heritage foundation of earth.” He read aloud, raising his eyebrows. Csilla shrugged her shoulders, turned away back to her station.

Rather intrigued by a letter from the past, dated at a time when his great grandfather was still swinging the bat, he read through the lines.

“Gere! Bring up the passenger list of the cryo department. See if you can find a certain gentleman by the name of Alfred Hummington.”

“Positive. He’s in the cryogenic segment here on subalpha.”

“Prepare for revival.” He turned the display on the tablet off and left the room.

From the command center he walked down the hall to the tube, entered a cab after waiting for a moment, pondering the implications of the letter and Mr. Hummington’s tasks. Benjamin’s husband would not like that he was about to spend less time at home with him an their adopted children. On alpha he wandered towards the lecture he knew that would be held by George Fuller.

Either thenstudents didn’t notice him, or they didn’t mind that the Admiral was attending the last few minutes of their class.

“Hey sweetie.” George smiled after class was dismissed. “Hey.” Ben smiled back. “I came here because of ill news.” He waved with the tablet. Frowning George sat down behind his desk. “Work?”

Sitting down on the desk Benjamin turned the tablet back on. “Sadly, yes. But unusual work.” Wordless he handed the tablet with the opened letter to his husband.

Reading silently George slowly wrinkled his forehead.

“That will be interesting. You could’ve called.”

“And miss seeing you? No chance.” Winking hentook the tablet back into his hands. “No word about this to anyone. In fact you never saw this letter.”

Without words George conveyed to his husband that he didn’t know what he was talking about, then sent him off before the next lecture was due.

“Sir, Mr. Hummington is revived, and ready. Repairs on the reservoir have commenced, but the technicians say damage is more extensive than initially thought.” What a greeting, ‘Good morning’ would’ve sufficed. “Thank you Gere. Join me in the infirmary, will you?” He turned on his heel, a short glance to the baseball.

Alfred Hummington was an elderly man, with a trimmed mustache and greying, reclining hair. The way he behaved said that he was british, even more so when he spoke. Benjamin was astonished, over the last generations aboard the Destiny dialects have watered down, never had he encountered a living breathing human being with such a distinct dialect.

“What will you be doing exactly, now that you are awake?” Benjamin sat down in the uncomfortable chair that was at Hummington’s bedside, Csilla was left to stand.

“Inaugurations mostly, Admiral. My duties also encompass an inventory of a few items in a sealed compartment on the subgamma ring, but the inaugural duties take precedence.” A bit confused Benjamind looked to Csilla, who only shrugged her shoulders. The letter spoke of heritage, history, cultural important work to be done in order to preserve those cultures from oblivion.

“Inaugurations?”

“If the people involved are willing of course. We, well, I, know that the ruling body of the new colony is strictly democratic, yet, several people had approached the heritage foundation with explicit wishes.” What a non-answer. “Whom will you be inaugurating?”

“Heirs to the thrones of england, thailand, norway, japan, belgium. Shall I list them all?” Benjamin felt as if his jaw had dropped.

Uncomfortable with the thought of having royalty back in their society, he exhaled. “To what end? There will be no monarchy. Not even a purely representative one. The heirs you speak of, have no domains. No court. All you would do, is raise them above the others, and then they’d have an uncomfortable clash with reality. That they are just humans, like everyone else. No privileges, no court, no domain. No thrones.”

For a moment Alfred paused. “I see your point. But, don’t they deserve to know about their heritage? Where they came from?”

“They do. But why isn’t that information on their records?”

With a sigh Alfred sat up straight in his bed. “To do exactly what you said. So they will not be pampered royals without courts, domains, rules and thrones, but ordinary humans. Still their grandfathers and grandmothers had been placed here, because they, as much as you may dislike it, are part of our culture.”

It was Benjamin who had to pause for a moment. “Alright! You can get to work with the inventory of the sealed compartment, and you can start talks with the descendants of your heirs, but do not inagurate them. Do not tell them of their secret heritage!”

It would be a long session with the governors. Or several.

One thing he disliked about being the Admiral was the politics involved with that position. But, he had gathered from the journals and logs from other Admirals on Destiny and the other ships, he was not alone in this. They all disliked the political hick hack with the governors.

As he had predicted, the news of royalty was not agreeing well, or at all, with the governors. After four hours of talks with them, hisnorders to Mr. Hummington stood. He was not to reveal to the heirs their true heritage.

Sitting in the ready room, currently functioning as his office, he drafted a report on the subject to the colony. The provisional government, about to begin reelections as soo as Destiny and Kismet arrived, would not like those prospects either.

A motion, proposed by the governor of alpha, would furthe emphasise not to reveal the identities of the heirs.

Following a rule from earth, Austria, members of their former royalty were prohibited from taking any political offices, governor Egger had proposed the same. Benjamin was to include both governor Egger’s suggetion, and his own recommendation to keep the identity of thenheirs a secret, even from themselves, in his report.

“I have a soggy ceiling.” Governor Jones was furious. The backdrop of the video revealed him to stand in the hallway outside his office. “A soggy ceiling?” Csilla worked hard to maintain a straight face. The Admiral was in his office again, going over the rules and regulations of settlement, with a duo of lawyers, concerning royalty.

“There was supposed to no leakage from that water reservoir!”

The door to the command centre opened, Benjamin entered, a twisted smirk on his lips, telling Csilla that he had heard the governor through the closed door. “Governor, I am deeply sorry to hear about your misfortune, but perhaps you should tackle the issue with your maintenance department. Although I had been briefed on the situation, since it poses a concern for the entirety of Destiny, the reservoir falls into your jurisdiction, your people. We are however grateful for the update on the progress of things, and will send complimentary towels.”

“Towels?!” With a hand gesture Benjamin told Csilla to turn off the transmission. “If he calls again, tell him that the towels are underway. And please, do send twenty of them to the esteemed governor.”

Snickering to himself he left again to continue working on the legal issues.

“Apparently the reservoir isn’t the only thing damaged.” Jonathan mumbled, more to himself. In his hand he held a tablet and a sensor in the other. Influenced by the bulge in the reservoir, a pipe had been displaced, caused a small fracture in it so wasewater was leaking out of the treatment facility. Following the draining of the reservoir the treatment plant had been shut down, as water treatment was turned over to the individual pods, butnthere still was plenty of water, treated and untreated, in the system.

Directly beneath the facilities were the offices of the governor, enclosed in the ring’s own structure, not a pod.

Wanting to take a look with his own eyes Jonathan looked over the railing. Letting out a whistle he wrinkled his forehead. No wonder the governor had a soggy ceiling.

Turning to the ladder he sighed, knowing he would have to go down there, take more readings, possibly assess the damage first hand.

Slowly he descended towards the waste water. In his rubber pants he was safe from direct contact with it, but only to a certain degree. Besides his nose was offended by the smells of it. “Jonathan Carlisle?” A thick british accent asked from high above.

“Down here.” Already up to his knees in the waste Jonathan replied, not all payimg attention to the source of the voice, as he was taking readings, and readied a telescope stick to probe the murky water physically.

The noises from above told him that the owner of the voice was having issues with the smell. As everyone would, as he had when he entered.

But he fould keep his spirits, by simply thinking of the governor and his enraged face, especially when two ensigns showed up carrying towels. “How can you work in this stench?”

“Someone has to do it. Who are you?”

A gentleman came into view, but stopped before reaching the dirty water. Jonathan blinked, for a moment he thought there must be something in the water that clouds the mind. Outside of movies and TV shows, he had never seen anyone wearing a suit.

“Forgive my manners, my name is Alfred Hummington, I’mI’ma representative of the CHF, and I conduct a survey. Your name came up in my raffle, and here I am.”

Again staring at the tablet in his hand, Jonathan lowered the telescope stick into the water. There was a sensor at its tip, taking readings of the ground. In addition he could feel any anomalies. “You picked both a bad time and a bad place for your survey. Still,” he looked back up at the man on the ladder. “how may I help you?”

“The cultural heritage foundation, may or may not have placed heirs to terran royal families aboard this ship, how do you feel about the thought of bringing the fact of their heritage to their, and everyone else’s attention?”

Baffled Jonathan blinked again, as if that could help him comprehend the question better. “I’d say, that it is not a wise decision to bring that to everyone’s attention. But maybe these heirs themselves should be informed about their origin.” With that he ran the stick a little further along the ground, looking at his display again. “Why do you believe that the public shouldn’t be informed?”

A little annoyed Jonathan dropped his shoulders. “The general public is proud of what we have achieved. Democracy and a society without any money. Even a purely representative monarchy could threaten our accomplishment. Sure, there are those who would support that. But I wouldn’t want to be part of a society that reverts to old archaic standards purely out of nostalgia and sentimental feelings of keeping our cultural heritage alive. We once had slavery as part of our culture, we ditched it. We had racism as part of our culture, we ditched it. Xenophobia, religious zeal, death penalties, colonialism, we got rid of all those cultural traits. A culture is like a species, it needs to evolve. We have outlived the kings and queens of old. Besides. There is no throne, no domain, all we’d be is kings and queens without a rule. Just the name and title, a few who see glory in it, a lot who’d hate us for it. They’d bar us from offices, and if push comes to shove, from elections too, restricting the monarchs to doubtful public figures with limited rights. So no, thanks, but I’d rather continue wading through this mess than endure any of that.”

Stunned, close to leting go of the ladder which he clung on to, Alfred watched Jonathan return to his work. “You, uh, you,” he stuttered.

“I know? Yes. Grandma told me all about it, despite the oath of secrecy she had to take. But since she was dying,” Jonathan trodded onward taking readings. “Besides, Mr. Hummington, you’re not exactly covert. Your appearance gives you away as a man who was born and raised on earth, and your raffle explanation, a thin disguise.”

Lowering himself another step, Alfred studied the royal heir in the waste water. Even an heir to a title such as king, denied that heritage.

His mission was doomed he felt. “Perhaps our endeavour was in error. Other heirs I have spoken to, who don’t know, and didn’t see through the disguise of my survey, spoke out against the idea as well.”

Not taking his eyes off the readings he took Jonathan muttered an agreeing sound. “Not that I’m not grateful, you know? After all, I would not be alive today, if it weren’t for your efforts, but the cause, is a lost one.”

He smiled for a moment over his shoulder, continuing to trod through waste water. The floor underneath the murk bulged downwards, soon Jonathan stood to his thighs in it.

Behind him he sensed Alfred watching him perform his duties.

Somewhere in the bulge Jonathan stopped. “Is there anything else I might do for you?”

Slowly the elderly gentleman shook his head. “No. I believe I have a storage compartment to sort through. Make an inventory of things and design a museum.”

Wishing him good luck Jonathan stepped deeper into the murk. With a sudden yell he disappeared, water streamed after him through a hole that the man had unwillingly created. Shocked by the sudden incident Alfred jumped into the water and hurried to the hole. “Are you alright sir?”

Below Jonathan sat on the destroyed desk of the governor, water pouring down on him. A furious voice was audible fro, inside that room. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m fine, thanks for asking.” Jonathan growled at the governor, looking up he nodded at Alfred. Being King would have one perk to it. I could stick it to this pinhead.

Ben was astonished to see Mr. Hummington so soon, he had said that he wanted to conduct the fake survey with the heirs, which should take up some time. Now he was back inhis office a mere day later, and he reeked. The once expensive suit was ruined, and apparently so was the mood of him. “What happened to you?”

Alfred looked down on himself. “A mishap in the sewers.” Was the short reply, Benjamin connected the appearance of Mr. Hummington with the conplete faikure of the ceiling in the governors office. “However, I came here to tell you that I, on behalf of what once was the CHF, am cancelling the royal heritage programme. I had the pleasure of takking with a few of them so far, and none were interested even remotely in bringing back royal families.”

Glad to hear it Benjamin still raised an eyebrow. “Some, but not all of them? Do not misunderstand me here, I am as relieved as can be, but you should follow up on your mission, even if that means that you get negative answers all the time.”

Looking at the chair at the desk in the makeshift office of the Admiral, Alfred politely asked if he may sit down.

“It would be of little consequence if I follow it through or not. One of the heirs made it clear that he wasn’t interested, although his grandmother had revealed the secret to him. Thinking of it as archaic and outdated for a society that has evolved past that.”

Leaning forward Benjamin folded his hands before his face, resting it against them. “He knows?”

“Yes. His grandmother had revealed it to him on her deathbed. I only confirmed her story with my survey.” Looking discretely at the garments the Admiral was wearing Alfred felt uncomfortable with the thought of having to wear something like that from now on.

“Has he revealed his secret to anyone else?” Softly Alfred shook his head. “Not that I know of. Why?”

Shrugging his shoulders Benjamin leaned back again. “So, if you are not going to follow through with the inaugurational programme, what will your duties be now?”

Handing the Admiral a tablet Alfred rose again, he had been careful as to not spoil the chair or the desk, but he couldn’t help that little flakes of dirt fell off his trousers.

“Turning part of your ship into a museum. Once we have arrived of course. I need to go through the inventory first, of course.”

Nodding in approval Benjamin handed the tablet back. “We will prospect suitable spaces. Now, would you care for a change of clothes?” Smiling broadky the Admiral rose, with a few types on the tablet on his desk, he cancelled the appointment with the lawyers, as it seemed moot now.

No matter how much soap he used, the stench of the waster water that had poured down on him didn’t seem to go away. Frustrated Jonathan sat down in a chair in his quarters, nothing but a towel around his thighs, he was dripping.

Perhaps the stench had washed off, and he only smelled it because his brain told him so? Looking at his wrinkly fingers he pondered for a moment.

Nothing about his resolution had changed, he still was against bringing back royalty, even though his grandmother’s claims had been verified. Should the other heirs be told?

He decided to ask someone who was not affected by the question on a command level, or a political level. Or a personal level.

“Another booty call?” Petronella grinned into the camera. After all it was well past midnight. “I would never say no if that is what you want, but in truth I have a question.”

Yawning and checking the time Petronella shrugged her shoulders, telling him she’d be at his place in a few minutes. Enough time to take another shower.

Governor Egger marched up and down his office. His forefathers from Austria had banned members of their former royal family from any political offices, after the monarchy fell apart. Although the initial plans of the CHF was dropped, he still felt obligated to push the issue forward.

Royals should be banned fro, political offices, or the position of Admiral in his opinion. The anonymity was an issue for him. “You wanted to speak to me?” Alfred entered the office.

“Yes.” Governor Egger offered the man a seat, he had envisioned him to be wearing something other than normal civilian garments. “It is about the royal heirs.” Having figured as much Alfred nodded, before the Governor told him about his idea.

“The identities of the heirs is a secret, dear Governor, and it will remain this way.” Eloquently spoken Alfred was lenaing forward to get uo when the Governor rose his hand. “Why are you insisting to keep this a secret? A day ago you wanted to bring them into public, inaugurate them.”

“I was given to understand that their exposure would would diminish their live’s quality, career prospects. You yourself serve the best argument to keep it this way. If they do not know who their ancestors identities, there can be no harm in them eventually rising to be governors, Admirals, or what not. Your, slightly racist motion to bar them from offices, despite their current anonymity and oblivious state, is the best argument to keep them anonymous.” Alfred stood up. He straightened his garments, as he would’ve with his suit, old habits.

“Don’t underestimate public demands and their power.” Governor Egger growled, still sitting. “Oh, I am not Governor, this is why I have deleted the list of names. It can’t be hacked, found or retrieved. It is lost. The Admiral has taken steps to eliminate all records from the databanks that could give them away due to my steps to identify them. Good day.” Aggravated the governor watched Alfred walk to the door where he stopped. “Oh, and the participants of my survey were sworn to secrecy by the Admiral, not to reveal the dontents of the survey, nor that they participated in it. So please, do not bother trying to call them out.”

With a sharp hiss the door closed behind Alfred, as if to mock the governor even further.

A mask sat on Jonathan’s face, to protect him from the bright light of his welding. Behind it he did not see much of his surroundings, except the welding he ws working on. Sitting on a scaffold he worked on one of the pipes that had ruptured the waste water facility. Below him other men worked on the floor, to shield the governor’s office from any further accidents.

He listened to some tunes on his head gear, so he took no notice of the other workers being sent out.

“Mr. Carlisle?” Shocked at the sudden tap on his foot from below he let out a sudden scream. “Admiral?!” Short on breath and holdingnon tight to the railings of the scaffold Jonathan needed a moment to get over the sudden burst of Adrenalin.

“What brings you to these smelly parts?”

With a smile Benjamin climbed onto the scaffolding too, and sat down next to Jonathan. “You actually.” Jonathan, meanwhile out of his mask, looked at the pipe with a bland expression. “So Mr. Hummington told you. Am I now being handed my list of restrictions?”

“No.” Benjamin smiled, lookimg at the pipe, secretly inspecting the work. “I came to ask whether your sister knows. Or your cousins?”

Jonathan sighed in relief. “Gran wasmlying on her dathbed, and made me promise not to tell anybody, except them. Once she was dead however, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Out of fear theyd dismiss it as either something I made up, or something she dreamed up.” Seeking a sentiment of understanding in the Admirals expression Jonathan turned to look at the tall black man at his side.

“I feel divided about this subject matter. On the one hand I completely understand you. On the other, I have a baseball sitting in the command center, I look at it every day I walk into that room, it belonged to my great grandfather. It will go to one of my nefews, or my adopted children once I die. I take pride in that heritage, although he was no major league player, nor is it a special ball from his best game. You should take enough pride in that heritage of yours to entrust your family with it.” Looking at Jonathan now Ben raised an eyebrow as his smile dimmed a bit. “But don’t spread it outside your family, or else some governors will hand you a list of restrictions, sooner or later.”

After the talk about heritage, Benjamin informed himself about the extent of the damage, and how soon normal operstions in the beta water reclamation cycle can resume.

The fact it would take probably the rest of the journey to patch it together again, was one that he disliked, but couldn’t change. Even afternthat, beta water reclamation would never be what it once was, unless the entire system was deconstructed and rebuilt from scratch.

A feat that could only be achieved once they were at their destination and had access to raw materials.

Still feeling uplifted, Benjamin walked into the command centre, glancing to the basball in the corner, smiling even a bit more.

“Sir? We are reaching the deceleration point.” Csilla looked up from her console. “Perfect! Just in time. Anything new?”

He loinged in his chair a moment later, as Csilla discretely cleared her throat, directing his attention tohis console.

Sensors had picked up a foreign object relatively close to their course.

Size and composition suggested it was a ship. But none that they could identify. “Care for a closer look?” He wrote a short text message back, not to draw the attention of their colleagues in the command centre.

Moments later a probe launched from subalpha, taking speed and headed directly to the strange vessel.

Rings of Fate S3xE6 – Horizon – Disasters

Darkness surrounded Jake.

Darkness and unspeakable cold.

He had postponed the cryogenic cycle until his air was almost depleted. Now all he could do was wait. Wait and hope that Horizon, one of the two Horizons, would detect the faint energy signature. Or else he’d remain in the cryogenic chamber indefinitely.

Lying in the narrow space of the chamber he recalled his desperate fkight to the chamber.

“…and prosper.” satisfied with his dying words he looked at the console. The line was dead.

Cursing he turned around, several times. The reactor was no longer posing a threat in terms of exploding, at least for now. There was still the issue of hydrogen gas in the reactor chamber. For now it was too thinly spread to pose any threat, all the water vapor circling around beta’s interior would sooner or later settle.

In his desperate turns around the reactor control room he stopped as his eyes fell on a dusty cabinet. Intrigued he pushed himself off from the console, floated over.

It was unlocked, inside were suits.

Although there was no gravity, simlated or otherwise, he could tell they were heavy. Radiation suits!

Holding the suit in his hands his glance fell on the door. Slightly the lights dimmed. Batteries were running low, radiation was interfering with the electronics holding the door in place, the reactor was not producing an ounce of energy.

Quite ungracefully he slipped into the suit, managed to seal it. That took most of an hour, but he had no other choice.

Even if it should prove futile, he had nothing better to do. Should he be curling up into a ball and contemplate his life?

No, he definitely wasn’t going to do that, even though at times, in frustration over the difficulties he had with the suit, he thought about it.

With use of a heavy mechanical wheel he closed the valves releasing the contaminated steam into the hallway outside the control room. The suit protected him, but only that much, he still would drop dead after a few minutes in that stream.

A thud went through the entire ring, a few moments after he had opened the door. They’re finally moving it out from in between the Horizon parts.

Lights flashed before his eyes. Lights that weren’t there.

Frowning he pushed on. He knew that meant that high energy particles were leaking into the suit, reacting with his eyes.

On his head the glasses went crazy. Linked with his implant they alerted him to dangerous levels of radiation.

Navigating the hallways in dimming lights and no gravity was more like navigating a maze.

At an intersection he paused for a moment. One way led to the gardens, the other to the tube. Either direction would take him to the center of the ring, to what was left of the spine, where the cryogenic chambers were.

Those functioned on their own battery power, and were built to last.

Built to shield the individual inside from any radiation.

He followed the way to the tube, found the doors open, and the cab sitting inside. The steam had been routed to the gardens, but since the dors to the cab were wide open he knew that it had also entered the cab. There was no way to power the intense and power hungry magnetic fields that moved the cab through the tubes.

Left with no alternative he turned around, took the turn to the gardens.

“Glasses, I hope you are still operational.” With a few simple commands he turned them into a detector for the contaminated steam, which undoubtedly floated around the gardens in smaller and bigger clouds.

With displeasure he noticed a metallic taste in his mouth, a radiation warning messge kept blinking in the upper right corner of his glasses.

Lights in the gardens were turned off even before the beta ring was disconnected, from the small guid lights at the entrances he still got enough light to see the gardens in their weightless state. Trees and other growth was, through their roots, connected to the ground, but since the ring was moved put of position, inertia had dislodged the waters in the garden. All the ponds and small lakes now floated in the air.

Another warning popped up.

The suit’s air supply was almost gone. Having no time to marvel at the mysterious beauty of the dark, weightless garden he aimed for the access point to the spine.

His glasses adviced him to take another route as they detected, and displayed, a ckoud of contaminated water in his path.

There were several of those, displayed as green specs floating around. Once he was airborne, he had no way of avoiding them, so he was left with no choice but to guess their movements and try to avoid hitting one.

Releasing that vapor into the gardens had created drafts, that had not settled down yet.

If wasn’t for the drafts, the shifting clouds of contaminated water, and the blobs of water from ponds and lakes, Jake would’ve felt at peace, floating upwards to the spine.

Flashing and beeping the suit infor, ed him that the internal air supply was depleted, with a hiss a valve opened letting in air from outside.

Now he was even more afraid of the drifting clouds of radioactive vapor, as it would seep in through that valve and sborten his life even more.

Hoping to approach the spine before vapor hit him he closed his eyes, the glasses would vibrate and beep if a cloud would approach him, so there was nothing left for him to see. He could not avoid it even if he saw it floating towards him.

Proximity alert tore him out from his silent prayers to what ever diety, or supernatural energy was out there. He opened his eyes.

Cold, lifeless and barely lit, the surface of the soine took up all of his field of vision. He latched on to it. Carefully, as not to push himself off again, he handled towards the access point.

With a sigh of relief he closed the hatch behind him. The valve had closed automatically, as he had entered a low pressure region.

Hastily he opened the suit to breathe. Desperation grew in his mindset.

Not fifty meters from the cryogenic chambers, he faced a nother obstacle.

Vacuum.

The tubes were not pressurised, and they couldn’t be sealed, so pressuring them was out of the question, even if the systems were operational.

For the tasks he had to perform in the last days and weeks he had to work with the ship’s schematics a lot, and had saved them to his glasses and his tablet. Grateful for that fact he opened them, because the memory core of the beta ring was surely anything but operational.

In case the population of the rings was killed the ship had, had the cryogenic chambers, with a crew of people to populate RV-p296. Those had to have had access to environmental suits, in case of catastrophic environment failure.

It took him a little while to get oriented in the almost completely dark room. Night google function on the glasses was helpful against the dark, but still it was tricky.

In a locker he found what he had been looking for.

Another hour passed until he was finalky all suited up.

Only then did he release the the hatch that opened to the transport tube. He was near a siphon, and in the distance he saw the faint glow of the stars in open space.

In the other direction a cloud of vapor, highlighted on his glasses as radioactive. Carefully he navigated his way to the siphon, pondered for a moment whether he should jump outwards, but decided against it. There was no telling whether he’d be found on time before the suit’s air ran out again.

Instead he managed to board the cryogenic tube, through an airlock.

He passed by a few of the chambers, not wanting to be in the forward sections where space debris could impact and kill him inside the chamber, not wanting to go too far back and end up eradiated he stopped somewhere at the end of the first third.

There was an atmosphere, and it was at breathable temperatures, still he decided to remain in the suit, but turn of the internal supply of air.

“Please be out there, please be looking for me.” He sent a silent whispered prayer to Horizon. Any Horizon.

After some time recalling his flight he felt the exhaustion weigh down on him. Worn out, by all that happened, and all that was happening still, sleep caught up to him.

Light, uncomfortable sleep in a chamber, that could easily turn out to be his coffin.

A loud noise went through the narrow chamber, tearing apart what ever dream Jake had been in. Was it the rescue?

Again the sound tore through the darkness. He tapped on his glasses, but got no response. The radiation must’ve worked its dark twisted magic on the electronics, making them little more than dead weight on his face. A light shone through the narrow window.

Rescue!

He wanted to yell, but his lungs felt heavy, even without gravity, all he could manage was a whimper.

Like in a feverish haze he saw the hatch open, arms and hands reached inside, pulles him out.

People. Normal people. They bore Horizon’s ID on their suits, but he couldn’t make out the names. Dragging andnpushing him through the narrowness of the tunnel they kept talking, but he understood less than a few words.

Drunken, or feverish did not even come close to how he felt.

“We have him. His implant is cold, I suspect he is beyond our medical capabilities.” Sergeant Colm Becket pushed Jake from behind. At the end of the tunnel was a maintenance cab waiting. It had been dragged with a pod to the spine of beta, inserted, and guided towards the airlock at the end of the cryogenics tube, where it docked. With the cab they brought Jake to the pod, leaving the cab inside the beta wreckage.

“How is he?” Admiral Jane Mulgrew stood over the bed where Jake was lying. “Bad. I’m agraidnthe sergeants assessment was quite correct. Reading massive tissuendamage due to radiation poisoning. I’ve given him some drugs to ease the pain, and a new implant. But from here on out, it’s a waiting game.” Doctor Mysagi spoke with a lowere voice. At Jake’s side was Stephanie, his spouse.

“Is there nothing you can do?” Her voice trembled.

“We have given the new implant explicit instructions, and uncorrupted genetic material from his quarters to work with, but I’m afraid some of the damage is irreversible.” The doctor replied.

Jane thanked him.

“Hang in there. You fought bravely to survive. You won’t die on a sickbed now, would you?” She gently touched his hand.

If he would’ve been awake he would’ve replied that he did not intend to, but that this battle was not all his to fight.

“Admiral, there is another problem to be dealt with.” Matthias Lehner, Jake’s replacement in the command centre approached her as she returned. “Chief engineer Khaku turned off the valve to the reactor, to flee the control room. Part of the released steam had found its way to the spine and vented to space, but there still is some water trapped within the reactor.”

“Enough to cause any problems? “

Matthias weighed his head. “Yes and no.” On his console, normally the station of the first officer, he opened up a schematic display of the beta ring.

“It is not enough to be split into hydrogen and oxygen and blow up. But it isn’t enough to cool the unstable mass of reactor fuel. More and , ore of the rods will melt and collect in the reactor. Until it becomes critical. Since he closed those valves there is no way for the immense heat to escape, the reactor walls and all other walls arpund it act like a dampening layer.”

Clenching the top of the console Jane tried to process the information. “Meaning inadvertently he turned the reactor into a ticking bomb?”

Glad he had not to spell it out Matthias nodded. Giving Derek, her first officer, a gesture with her hand she told him to continue moving the beta ring away.

“Admiral! That might not be wise. There’s no way of telling how much of the material has already amassed. Any further bumps might cause the mass, if it is already critical, to”

“What else is there to do? Beta is currently travelling at the same speed as we, if we slow down we have it ahead of us. Once it blows, we get showered with radioactive debris. If we move it out, it might blow now, or it won’t. But if we try and succeed it’ll blow someplace else, where we won’t get showered with radioactive crap from that ring.” She furiously lashed at him in a verbal manner. “Derek, proceed, but onky steadily.”

Calming herself down Jane sat in her chair. Apologising for her ill manner she rubbed her temple.

Only slowly the thrusters in the pods on beta engaged. Ever so gently the dead and contaminated ring inched away from the two parts of Horizon. As it reached a certain distance the cloud of contaminated steam trailing behind the severed spine became visible from Dawn Horizon, only visible before due to the whisker probes and Dusk Horizon.

“There goes our greatest failure in this endeavour.” Derek sighed watching the ring move away further. So far. Jane added mentally. “Send a whisker out to trail it, if that thing blows up, I want every bit and piece of it tracked, and their trajectories calculated. We cannot contaminate this solar system. There are people depending on it.”

Firmly held in place with bolts a maintenance cab sat in the opening of Dawn Horizon’s spine. Behind it a regular cab had just dropped off Jane. There was a window in the cab allowing for her to see outside. Originally meant for a quick damage assessment without pressurising the tube, or squeezing into a space suit, it now served as a panoramic window.

In the distance Dusk Horizon followed the ship with the same speed. Thinking about the stunt the ship and her crew had just performed mad Jane a little sick.

Cutting out part of the ship, while travelling at incredible speeds, and moving that part out from in between the remaining parts of the ship, still while travelling at incredible speeds.

From the perspective of someone aboard the Horizon, there was no motion. The ship was relatively stationary. But in truth, they sped through the universe, and just had cut out the middle of the ship.

Jane could not help but feel as if she had failed.

Her task was to bring Horizon to its destination, not cut the ship into three pieces, abandon one of these pieces and bring home the remaining two separately.

The newly released whisker probe took a swing by between the two ship parts. Probably because the officer in charge wanted to show off. It was there only for the briefest of moments, following beta at matching speed.

Displeased with the entire situation Jane turned away, her cab was still waiting. Two years of living on a separated ship were ahead. Somehow she doubted she could be happy on the surface. She’d file for a renewal of her term as Admiral, Dawn Horizon as her residence and jurisdiction.

“Admiral to the command centre!” Derek sounded unusually bossy. If her term as Admiral was not renewed, she’d suggest him as her successor, if he wanted to. “On my way, what is it?”

“Trouble.” On the upside, traveling from one end of the ship tonthe other now took less time.

Derek sat in the chair at her station, while Dr. Lehner monitored the beta ring and the readings of its reactor. Without saying a word Derek pointed at the screen. Jane looked intensely. “We reached the outer rim of our new home solar system.” Derek commented, informing her that he had already set in motion the chain of commands for slowing down, but that they first needed to move Dusk and Dawn apart on an axis in a right angle to their course, to avoid a possible collision.

“Were we faster than anticipated, or did we just forget to look where we were over the trouble with beta?” Angered by the new bad news Jane shooed Derek off her station and seat. “I guess the latter Ma’am.” He sighed standing beside her, since Matthias still occupied his station. A group of icy asteroids, or would be comets, were ahead, slightly to starboard of their trajectory.

“Admiral! Those things lie directly in the path of beta.” Matthias was close to panic, he was concerned what an impact on beta might set in motion. Breaking was out of the question, gradually slowing it down would take too long. “Increase beta’s velocity. Perhaps we can navigate it around that?”

Reluctantly Matthias followed that order, if the increase was gentle enough there might be no problem.

How did we miss that? There are people constantly watching space before us, andnthey saw nothing? Grinding her teeth Jane ordered the navigation officer to move Dawn vertically to the trajectory, and Dusk to do the opposite.

While the two vessels began moving apart, they also started the process of slowing down. Sweat beads formed on Jane’s forehead as she watched her navigation officers work. Mostly because Dawn was a little more efficient im slowing down than Dusk, she began sweating.

“Hold it at this level for now. And wait until Dusk has matched speed, or moved to a safe distance!” She advised, as she feared a collision between the two Horizon ships, with unforeseeable, yet catastrophic consequences.

Alpha and Gamma rings were rotating, the two rings would grind each other apart, and everyone aboard. Although Dawn had stopped slowing down, Dusk approached still, all of her thrusters at maximum to slow it down.

“Damn it, I could reach out from alpha and do a paint job on gamma!” She commented her frustration.

Only gradually did the second half of the ship slow down enough to leave a growing gap between the rings. Equally slowly did they diverge from one another.

“Resume breaking process, advise Dusk Horizon to turn 180 degrees, so they can slow down more efficiently.” Tension fell off of her as she slumped back in her seat.

With a curious expression she turned her head to Matthias, who looked up from his instruments, slowly shaking his head.

The course adjustments to beta would have no effect, still it would crash into the asteroids. “Attempt to slow it down.” She sighed, hoping for the thrusters on the few remaining pods on beta to perform miracles.

With a weary head Jane sat down in her quarters. Gradual slowing of beta had commenced, but the outlook was bleak. Neither the course correction, nor the slowing would do much good. All they could hope was that beta would impact but not explode. Perhaps the reactpr would breach and be cooled.

Still there was the issue of tracking the bits and pieces of contaminated material on the further journey through the solar system.

Wolfgang junior was still in a class and her daughter was in the infirmary, helping as nurse, although training to become a medical doctor.

“How’s your friend doing?” Wolfgang, her spouse, served some snacks.

“As far as I know, he is still in critical condition.” Grateful reaching for the snacks she pondered what Jake would do concerning the beta ring.

And the navigation of Dusk and Dawn.

Presumably not much. There was nothing they could do at the moment. Even ambassador Hylia seemed perplexed with the situation. Beta was a ticking timebomb, and the harpies wouldn’t go near it.

She was given to understand that the ambassador was very uneasy about the thermonuclear reactors in alpha and subalpha.

“What else is weighing you down? I think you did perfect with the whole slowing down business. And there’s nothing to be done about beta.”

“I know, but had we paid more attention to what was ahead of us, we could’ve sent beta off in another direction and wouldn’t need to worry now.”

Massaging her shoulders Wolfgang argued that it was no use to cry, or argue, over spilled milk. The situation now existed, it could not be undone.

Two weeks passed in which Dusk and Dawn continued to slow down, while the beta ring only decreased its speed minimally. Since Dusk had to turn around it had been a bit faster than Dawn, so what was once the rear was no infront of the bow.

Jane had ordered the civilian population, and all off duty, and non essential personnel to the centers of the rings, wher they would be shielded against any radiation emanating from beta, if it were to blow up.

Seated at her station she was glad that at least Derek was with her. He had manned the navigation panel, since his station was still reserved for engineering.

A circumstance he would have to live with for the rest of their journey.

“It’ll impact any moment now.”

Nodding Jane fastened her seat belt. A task she had never thought to be doing whil not about to land on Equatoria.

Cameras, both on the exterior of Dawn, and in the whisker probes were fixed to the location of the impact. By now both the asteroids and beta were indescribably tiny dots on the screen.

Suddenly a bright flash lit the room.

No sound, no shockwave.

Just the light. “That was the event we were dreading. Beta was hit a few seconds before that.”

“May the universe show mercy and fling that which is harmful to life away from it.” Jane let go of her tight grip on the armrests.

Meanwhile Derek stated that the radiation leveks he was reading were nothing the ship couldn’t handle. “I just wouldn’t eat anything grown on the outside of this ship.” He smirked playfully.

“I wouldn’t in any case.” She replied with an equal smile.

An alarm began beeping in the navigation panel, drawing their attention back to the situation. “Slightly radioactive, nothing to be concerned,” shocked Derek paused to draw breath. “It’s an asteroid, heading towards Horizon Dusk, estimated impact in a few minutes!” The explosion must’ve released tremendous amounts of energy to fling a piece of rock and ice that fast out of its orbit into their path. “Reading smaller pieces of ice and rock traiking behind it, no imminent danger from those, but this could derail Dusk.”

Derail. Clenching the armrests again Jane fought the urge to scream in anger. What a nice euphemism for impact and bring off course, perhaps destroy.

“They’re taking evasive actions.”

“Won’t be enough.” Jane replied, alarm sirens began blaring on the entire ship, the computer was still operating as if the ship was still whole, detected the incoming object and alerted Dawn and Dusk of the impending impact.

With a few commands Jane killed the alarm, as it hindered her in thinking.

“Why do I get the feeling that thia voyage, on this ship, is cursed?” Automatic locking lasers began shooting at the speeding object, with little effect. The asteroid was both too compact and too big for the lasers to have an effect. If I can get my hands on the engineer who built this ship, I will “Admiral.”

Jane looked at the big screen, a harpy ship had appeared out of no where, their weapons seemed to have more impact on the object.

Quickly only pebbles and grains were left.

“You can thank us later.” Hylia stood in the door to the command centre.

“Ambassador, I’m glad to see you here.” I doubt your people would’ve sent a ship to the rescue if you weren’t.

Also taking a seat and buckling up Hylia pointed at the screen. “I am told you have bigger issues at hand than this tiny rock.”

Both Jane and Derek looked at the view screen that dominated the wall. “I believe she’s right. Some other rocks are now on a collision course. They pose no threat right now, but,” Derek stopped, shaking his head. “They will soon.” Jane finished his sentence.

Governor Xiao, acting Admiral of Dusk Horizon, was quite pale in the video frame. At his side was Sergeant Harrison, acting first officer. His complexion was equally devoid of color. “Gentlemen, we have to find a way around this. If we slow down too much to avoid getting hit, our journey through the system will take up more time than measly two years. If we do not slow down enough, we hit these rocks.” At her side was Derek, who had no good news either. “I’m open for suggestions.”

“We could always ask the Harpies for help.” The governor wrinkled his forehead while raising his eyebrows.

“We could, and we have. Problem is, they cant fit us in their ships, they can’t extend their propulsion field around any of our ships. And although their weapons would prove effective against the asteroids, the following shower of fragments would be too overwhelming for our canons, and still damage our ships.”

Slowing down enough to let the asteroids pass and subsequently gather new momentum by exploding nukes was out of the question as the shockwaves would bring the other ship off course, and expose them to a new source of radiation.

“Can’t the harpies later on push us? Or pull us?” Xiao rubbed his temples.

“They might, but it is questionable whether our structural integrity could withstand that.” Jane only had seen a simplified version of specifications for a tractor beam, as the SciFi fans would call it, but what she had seen made her doubt it would be any good. Individual pods might get torn out of their docking, and the dish was designed to with stand pushes, not a continuous pull.

“We dould, and should, slow down.” Derek closed the protection lid of his tablet. “Following that Dusk and Dawn should move apart as far as possible, and coordinate a simultaneous detonation to bring us back up to speed.” Bothe the Governor and the Admiral looked at him with a doubting expression. “We will take your proposal under consideration.” In order to use the nukes as propulsion, both Dusk and Dawn would have to turn 180 degrees, a maneuver neither the Admiral nor the Governor wanted to perform, again.

“I have a question, it might be a dumb one, but what if we accelerate a cab, or nuke, out of the spine, so it will be far ahead of us, and bomb the asteroids, in essence, bring them on another course?” Sergeant Harrison raised a question that Jane had neglected to think about.

It was a plan. She admitted to her self, but it would mean that they would have to track another set of debris through the solar system, and potentially spell doom for RV-p296, or the Jovian moon the DEHumans sat on.

The linkers. “We could ask the linkers for assistance. They built a graviton emitter to extract minerals from ES-p296. Aurely they ought to be able to propel us towards our destination once we have slowed down.”

Met with stone cold faces from Governor, Sergeant and her first officer, Jane squinted her eyes. “Gentlemen, detonating the asteroids creates more debris. Using the nukesnto bring us up to speed again will cost time, resources and might be catastrophic in itself, as the shockwaves could create unknown hazards for either one of our ships, possibly both, and maybe the colony. Evasive actions only make sense if we slow down too. The linkers, owe us, it is because of them we have had the unstable beta ring. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, for now, let us slow down.”

Still the others were reserved, but agreed that slowing was the best course of action to the issue at hand.

Slowed to approach velocity, the speed Horizon should have when approaching RV-p296, Dawn Horizon crawled through the outer regions of the 296 system, Horizon Dusk slightly ahead. Glad to see some improvement in Jake’s condition Jane returned from the infirmary to the command centre.

The better part of the last two weeks she had spent convincing Derek and alpha ring’s Governor that contacting the linkers was the right course of action. Governor Xiao seemed to be listening as well, but she was uncertain that she truly reached him, yet he appeared to be listening to her.

“Ma’am, Dusk has altered course.” Derek greeted her with a sullen face. “We have received reports from Dusk that acting Admiral Xiao has ordered the course alteration in order to propel Dusk with the Oriondrive to RV-p296.”

Jane closed her eyes. He was not listening. Letting put a deep sigh Jane sat down in her seat. “Contact them, ask for reasons.”

“They already gave them. They want nothing to do with the linkers, rather take their own chances.”

On the large view screen she saw the other part of Horizon move off to the side. The other part of her ship.

Her responsibility. Could she truly let them go off and take their own chances? How should or could she stop them?

Not with gun power. Harming or destroying Dusk was out of the question, besides Dusk had the fusion reactor, while dawn only had inferior fission reactors.

“I wish you the best, safe journey, and may the odds be in your favor.”

Weeks passed by, the detonation of Dusk’s propulsion nuke had not harmed Dawn. On the viewscreen Jane mostly saw her reflection, as it drew power that no one needed. Until they reached ES-p296. A beautiful multicolored marble in the velvet backdrop of space, with a stream of clouds rising upwards to the moon where theDEHumans had their station. “Open a channel.” Jane inched forward in her seat, the communication officer reported ready.

“This is Admiral Jane Mulgrew speaking, we request assistance in reaching RV-p296.” Long range sensors showed that Dusk had alread cleared that section of the solar system, would reach the colony in a year and a half, while Dawn would need an additional three years to cover the same distance.

Several minutes went by before Jane repeated her greetings and request. “Admiral. We are reading that you are fulky capable of reaching your destination by yourself. Utilisation of your Oriondrive is possible.” A young dark skinned woman with piercing green eyes appeared on the viewscreen.

“We would rather not detonate more radioactive bombs in this system.” Jane smiled, she recognised the woman as the granddaughter of Nye Charles.

Nameless as of yet.

“Those operating the other part of your ship were less concerned. Why should we aid you?”

“It is your fault that Horizon broke apart, without your kind interfering with the operations of this ship, beta ring would not have worn out and Horizon would still be whole.” For a moment the woman did not reply, but seemed to be thinking.

“We will aid you in reaching RV-p296. But that will be the end of it.” The line went dead. Feeling more intimidated than victorious Jane inched around the chair.

Something told her that there was a catch to the deal.

Sensor showed that one of the completed ships disengaged from the shipyard, that had grown since Explorer first mapped it, and took course towards Dawn. “Receiving a distress signal.” Communion officer Jovcenko stated dryly. “It’s Dusk. They seem to have run into a comet trail of some sort, they’re bombarded with millions of particles.” At first Jane wanted to dismiss it, the exterior of the rings was after all designed to with stand such damage, but Dusk was missing a deflection dish, her sealed tubes in the spine scooped up the particles, that went unhindered through the seals, which were not designed to sustain such bombardment.

Slightly opening her mouth Jane wanted to cuss. She wanted to yell out to Xiao and the people following him how stupid they were. “Raise the linkers, they could help them.” Gladly trading the travel time shortening aid of the DEHumans against the lives aboard the Dusk, Jovcenko tried to but was interrupted by Derek who was sitting at the nav console. “They’re breaking apart, their superstructure is failing. Several pods have broken away, many more are still anchored.” Jane looked over her shoulder, Matthias shrugged his shoulders. “Subgamma is still intact. Gamma is acting as a sort of shield against the micro asteroids.”

A sick shield filled with misery and death. “Distress signal is gone, their communication is dead.” Taking a little solace in the fact that gamma did not have an active reactor that now could contaminate subgamma Jane took a few deep breaths. “Contact the linkers. We need to mount a rescue.”

“Admiral. The speeds they are traveling with are making it difficult for us. The linkers alone might do it, we can’t. Suddenly increasing our velocity to match theirs would prove problematic at best, so even if the linkers can drop us off there, we srill have to catch up.” Matthias Lehner was standing, in his face was pure concern for the well being of the ship. And himself.

“He is right Admiral.” Startled by the sudden appearance of the Linker spokeswoman on the viewscreen, Jane hurled around. “Our projections show that 90% of that crew has died, or will die within the next hour. The open tubes permit the micro asteroids to penetrate the last corner of the ship. Unhindered by any form of shielding or atmosphere, they will soon have incapacitated the fusion reactor, plasma leaking from it will burn out the rear of the ship, destroying it entirely. We tried advising them to turn the ship around in order to have the shielding effect of the dish working to their advantage, but all attempts of communication were blocked from their end.”

Stomped Jane sank back in her seat. “If you want we can pick up all those who made it out of the wreckage using the pods.”

Slowly nodding Jane agreed. Numb she heard only the voices, but not the words. She felt as if she had failed as Admiral. She had lost beta, gamma and subgamma.

The ship of the DEHumans maneuvered itself in between subalpha and alpha rings. Derek reported an energy field being extended around them, but Jane did not hear him, even whennhe stated that their instruments showed them moving even slower than before, but at the same time their viewscreen showed them moving fast by ES-p296.

An hour later the Dawn Horizon approached what was left of Dusk Horizon. A few pods sending out distress calls, and a giant perforated dead husk of a ship.

Part of Jane’s heart was breaking to see that sort of devastation. “Linker shields are holding, reading no micro asteroids inside the shield.” Derek commented. Ever since their departure he had effectively taken over command. Still he hoped to get some reaction out of Jane.

“They’re pulling in the pods using some sort of energy beam.” Jovcenko had taken off his headset, as the beam was interfering with communication.

After a few moments the stray pods had all been gathered. Jane took a last look at the Dusk. As foretold by the linkers, a huge hole was in the rear section of subgamma by burning hot plasma. It had undone part of the dish. Still the materials were incandescent, the plasma had dissipated.

I should’ve shot at them. Disable the release mechanism for the nukes, keep them from going off on their own.

Two days passed, when a warning signal alerted her to return to the command centre. They had reached their destination. Jane could not enjoy that feast for the eyes however. Too many lives had been lost in order to reach it.

“This is where we part, Admiral. All debts are paid.” Nye Chales’ granddaughter spoke eloquently, and monotonous. Jane nodded in silence, notingnthat Horizon Dawn was put in a stable Orbit. Immediately landing procedures ensued.

“Commander Derek Harvey, please take over command of this vessel. I hereby resign my commission. Effective immediately. Notify the colony and their government. I will stand trial for my actions, if need be.” Turning around on her heel Jane left the command centre. Knowing that probably no one would file charges against her, she intended to do so herself.

This would not be a happy landing. At least for her.

Rings of Fate S3xE5 – Horizon – Separated

A soft bristling noise, like an atonal chime, kept Jane awake. Every time she dozed off, the noise woke her up again.

She tried to calm herself by recalling it was just small debris from the Dhrakal, the patriarchist Harpy ship the Horizon had destroyed. Occasionally a larger piece bumped against the hull, interrupting the chiming noise with a loud “dong”.

It had been that way for days now, thankfully the debris had kept the momentum of the Dhrakal, and onky slowly rushed against the hull of Horizon, instead of hitting her with the speed of a bullet, since the capacity of taking damage from impacts was significantly lower after the suicide impacts by Dhrakal’s fighter pilots.

Tossing sround on the bed she looked at Wolfgang, peacefully sleeping. Snoring from the other room told her that at least one of her children was fast asleep as well.

Giving up on the idea of sleeping that night, Jane slipped out of bed, got dressd and left the quarters. The big Admiral’s quarters were gone, taken out by a suicide pilot. Even if they hadn’t, she probably would’ve given them up to other families.

One couple from alpha had not only to take care of their own children since the attack, but of their nieces and nefews, since both the husband’s sister and the wife’s sister and their respective spouses had died in the attack.

Jane’s son Wolfgang junior had gotten away with a broken arm and a few scratches, her daughter hadn’t sustained any injuries at all.

Late night strolls always were interesting to Jane, as she turned up places she hadn’t expected. Laying her eyes on an open mess hall, that hadn’t been converted to a shelter for the now homeless, Jane sighed.

Exhaustion weighed heavily on her, she sure could use a dose of caffeine, or two.

Inside there were plenty of people, in uniform and in casual outfit. None seemed to take notice of her, for a change she was glad for that.

She got up to the vendor, who looked into her face, nodded before she could say anything, and served her a cup. The smell alone seemed to increase her pulse, she took the cup with a thankful nod and trod off.

“Mum?” Wolfgang seemed astonished to find her in the mess hall, he too held a cup of the caffeine laced drink. “Wolfgang. What are you doing here st this hour?” Teenage boys out after midnight, not uncommon, but she didn’t like it if it was her son.

“That noise. Constantly it sounds like a shower of nails on metal plates, occasionally interrupted by a bell being tolled by an evil sadistic hunchback in some tower close by!” He drank from the cup.

“Too many movies for you it seems.” Benind smiling she too took a sip, she had heard that Wolfgang had a blog somewhere in the Horizon net, where he published stories and poems, but had never found it, hearing these words from his mouth, she however knew that it must be good.

“Mum, it’s driving me insane. Can’t I sleep over at Jackie’s place? They live on alpha, in the wake of subalpha, no noise!”

Ah. The infamous Jackie. Jane wanted to meet that girl for what seemed like ages now. “If her parents agree, who am I to stop you? Obviously you can sneak out in the middle of the night without me noticing, although I couldn’t sleep either.” Winking she felt only little effect of the drink, longingnfor another one.

“Thanks.” He was stunned by her reply, apparently he had thought she’d be a little less linient.

“Now, young man. I believe there is a relatively quiet spot for you to rest your head, after all, it’s a school night.” She tucked her arm in his and pulled him out of the mess hall.

In the aft section of subalpha, in a crew bunk room she sent him to bed. Not very comfortable, and three men already slept in the other bunk beds, but compared to the constant bristling noise in their quarters, it was relatively quiet.

Pondering about the possibility of taking a bunk bed herself, Jane found herself wandering the hallway outside the command centre.

“Admiral! Didn’t expect to see you here for another four hours.” Julia Dimarco, night shift’s commanding officer greeted her.

“I’m just,” distracted by the bristling noise Jane looked around, seeming a little spooked, “wandering around.”

“Kept awake by that noise, Ma’am?” Just by looking at the other woman Jane knew that Julia was plagued by the same thing.

“Doc gave me tranquilisers. I must say, they work just fine.” The man at the post of the first officer said with a docile smile.

Suspecting that they had an effect on him even while awake Jane raised an eyebrow, but decided not to launch an investigation into that matter. A crew deprived of sleep was less functional than a crew that needed medication to sleep, even if that influenced their awake performance.

“Either way, I think I’ll try to get some sleep now.” Jane greeted them, turning on her heel.

“Ma’am?” Julia called her back as she almost had reached the door, over the bristling noise she had overheard the beeping of her console. “There is an incoming call from beta.”

Beta.

That could only be an engineering crew, since that ring was shut down completely.

“We have dismantled the suspensions in the faulty section.” Immediately Jane recognised the voice as Jake’s. “Better get me the Admiral.”

“I’m here Jake. Couldn’t find any sleep with the hailstorm of debris banging against the hull. What do you need me for?”

“Better take a look at this Jane.” Squinting her eyes at the small screen Jane sighed internally. Not enough sleep always had a negative, although temporary, effect on her eyesight, she laid the image on the large view screen. “What am I seeing here Jake?”

“The worse case scenario.”

The camera followed a trace of weakened material. For years on end the magnetic suspension of the unevenly rotating beta ring had worked on the material, wearing it out.

“We will attempt to patch this thing, but I nust say, I have little confidence in the success of that.”

Jane closed her eyes. For a short moment her exhaustion played her dreams before her eyes, she opened them gasoing for air, trying to snap out of it. “See what you can do, but don’t forget to take breaks and get some sleep in beween.” The line dropped.

Should she too pay a visit to the infirmary?

No, she decided, her shift began too soon. “If someone would be kind enough to go to the barracks and wake me up at 0530?” Whirling around on her heel Jane headed out of the command centre.

Sleep came easily. Simpky lying down and closing her eyes. No tossing and turning, later Jane attributed it to the lack of the bristling noise.

Deep sleep with confused and confusing dreams soon engulfed her mind, relaxed her body.

“Admiral?” Julia’s voice woke her from the hailstorm of images. “It’s 0530. I’m here tonwake you up.”

“Aye.” Jane grumbled, feeling less relaxed for a moment than a few hours before she rubbed her eyes. Light was stinging them.

Before the weakened material and shodded suspension had been detected, Jake had suggested a redistribution of mass from the alpha and gamma rings to beta, so the ship would resemble less a dumbbell, mass wise, and thus would be less vulnerable to wobbling if the gravitational tides of ES-p296 and its moons influenced the ship.

She had dreamt of that.

Pods that flew from the alpha and gamma rings to beta, but as they wanted to dock a magnetic surge flung them off into space. After which the ship began to woble until it broke apart.

“Thank you, any news from Mr. Khaku?”

“No, Jake hasn’t called again. I assume he’s too busy fixing the ship.”

Again thanking her Jane stretched. She needed coffee.

Badly.

Thankfully she accepted the lab produced caffeine drink from Julia, who had forseen the Admiral’s need for it.

Half of the day passed by without word from the engineering crew working in beta. Going through the fifth cup by noon, Jane decided to take some action, instead of waiting for Jake or his people to contact her.

Soon after sitting down in the maintenance cab the weightlessness set in. For once in her life the feeling of it didn’t make her sick, after a few minutes she arrived at the beta ring sections of the tubes, opened the hatches.

“Admiral! What brings you here?” Jake floated towards her cab from his. The tubes were pressurised, working in a spacesuit was not his speciality, and he soon enough would have to, in order to assess the damage on the outside of the spine, where the beta ring ended.

“Your lack of updates.” She smiled. Pointing at a box near her in a seat. “I brought snacks and coffee.”

“You’re a lifesaver Jane.” Jake entered the cab with little difficulty. Working in zero G for a long time now he had gained a lot of experience in doing so. “We’re working hard, but as I said, I have little confidence in the outcome. We also have to work on the putside of the spine. Let me tell you, the gardens are not as pretty as they used to be, without gravity.” Snickering Jane admitted she could only imagine.

“What else needs to be done?”

“Too much. We can repair a human’s broken spine with our technology, but for Horizon, it’sit’sa different story. We can patch it together, but that creates a blockade in the tubes. If we don’t, she’ll tear apart. On the outside, gardenwise, we would seriously weaken the sustainability of a stable gardening environment.”

Jane raised a hand, floating at the door of the cab, lookingnout at the work crewsin the tube. “Loosing the ability to travel through beta, and losing the beta gardens, or all of beta for that matter, is a small price to pay, compared to the alternative. I theory the ship could make it to its destination if it breaks apart, but it would take a lot of work.” She turned around lookimg at her chief engineer. “And luck.” Her mouth was a narrow straight line in her face.

“I’ve let you down before, Admiral, so you have no reason tontrust my words, but I believe we should separate the ship on purpose.”

Stunned Jane opened her mouth but found no words.

“We can patch her up, it is possible we go through the solar system relatively unscathed. But entering and maintaining a stable orbit with Horizon? The ships own inertia could tear off one section, breaking her apart and sending one, or both parts, into an unstable orbit, possibly into damnation.”

Still unable to find words Jane turned her head to face the tube again. “I am not prepared, or willing, to tear this ship, this crew apart. At least not yet. We will cross that bridge when all else fails.”

Drinking his coffee from a sack with a straw Jake nodded. “As you wish, Admiral. I’ll install special sensors, that measure the stress the spine is under. That way, we’ll know when it’s time to, cross that bridge.”

Slowly the door of the maintenance cab closed. Jake had disembarked with the food and coffee for his crew.

Jane was alone again.

Alone with her thoughts, and memories of the nightmare. Doors opened, revealing the hallway outside. People wandered by, the doors closed.

A nagging thought kept Jane seated. The thought that she was being irrational. The possibility of Horizon breaking apart was very real.

Admiral Grienberg would’ve severed the ship in half at the blink of an eye if it meant saving it, while trying to keep it patched together, like a badly sewn on trouseleg, could spell disaster for one or both parts of the ship.

Jane didn’t notice the cab moving again, traveling to it’s default position in a recess in the tube network, as she was following the other nagging thought.

It could spell disaster. Not necessarily meaning it would.

It was quiet in the cab.

Sitting in its waiting position, it was sealed off from sounds reaching it, by the vacuum in the tube. Soon Jane dozed off.

Jake looked at the work he had completed. Satisfaction filled his chest, heaving with every breath he drew.

Slowly his gaze wandered down the tube. There was a lot of work to be done, his satisfaction withered, exhaustion replaced it. Too much work.

He need more hands.

More hands than the engineering crew could provide him with.

More hands than were on the ship. And those weren’t qualified.

“Maybe we should use automated welders?” Stefanie, his colleague and love of his life followed hia gaze. “We could modify the maintenance cab, or cabs, to do it. Scan after them to find spots that need special attention, and go oly on those manually?”

Wrinkling his forehead Jake exhaled audibly. “Maybe, get to work sweetie, go forth and make us a welding bot.” Winking at him she pushed off in the direction of the rear of Horizon. Modifying a maintenance cab would take her a few hours.

He returned his attention to the walls. Maybe he could modify the device that was used to clean and maintain the exterior of the spine inside Beta, so the artificial light could shine brightly, to a similar end?

Basicall it was a huge ring, moving slowly across the spine. Cleaning was fully automatic, but there was room for peple there to replace faulty parts? A warning chime from the front of Horizon drew his attention.

After a few moments the gate opened, slowly a maintenance cab floated in, stopped right behind the gate.

Curiously he continued staring at the door, until it finally opened.

“What do you need to do, to separate the ship?” Jane appeared in the open door.

Actually, Jake had not prepared any detailed plans for that, as the Admiral dismissed the idea right away.

“Cutting it apart at the joints of beta is the best course of action I guess. Keep a bit of beta around for the rear to act as deflector.”

“Prepare what you can, we’ll do that.” In her voice a tone of regrett was unmistakable, but Jake didn’t pick up on that. “Aye. I’ll have it ready as fast as I can.”

After the Admiralhad left again, Jake contacted Stephanie, informing her of the change of plans, and that she needed to outfit the maintenance cab with something more powerful.

With a feeling of dread Jake entered the control room inside the subalpha ring. Ever since the launch, the entire ship had run on the main reactor in subgamma. A giant fusion reactor.

For successful separation the forward section needed to provide for their own power. Each of the five rings had come with a backup power reactor.

Fission reactors.

The consoles in the control rooms were littered with switches, buttons and instruments, none of which were a digital display on a touchscreen like the rest of the ship, in case of a power failure, they needed to remain operational.

“Maybe we should reconsider. I might be wrong about the breaking apart theory.” Quesy he refrained from powering up the control panels. “You may also be right.” Jane closed her eyes. For three weeks Jake had worked hard to prepare everything for the separation.

From the beta ring he had taken the laser canons, designed to shoot debris, later used to shoot harpies out of the sky. Dived into four sets, one was set in the ring structure around the spine inside the beta gardens, aiming forward, to cut through the spine, as the ring slowly turned.

The others were in the tubes just outside alpha. So they could cut away the spine there. From inside the central tube in the affected areas, all people in cryogenic chambers had been revived and situated.

There was no going back now.

“Do it. That’s an order.” Jane grumbled, seldom had she to tell people that an order was an order. If she had to, she hated it.

“We still need names. We won’t call it Horizon fron and back, are we?” Trying to win some time Jake still hoped there was something that would allow him to not push that button. “Well, sticking with the name of Horizon, let’s go with Dawn and Dusk. Now, fire this thing up.”

Not musing at all in that moment Jane urged for the activation of subalpha’s reactor. Already, in the nights of constantly hearing the bristling of debris, she had deciddd on the names, agreed on them with the governors.

She was just glad there was no Harpy ship around that could get hit by a stray laser beam. Right after the beta ring was shut down, the ambassadorial ship disengaged and positioned itself at a safe distance, Ambassador Hylia was on subalpha.

“Aye Ma’am.” Hesitantly Jake pulled the lever. Fully automated the system came to life. Pumps engaged, fuel was lowered out from casings. After a few minutes the system was fully operational. “We will have to wait for the system to reach operational levels, but this looks good.” A sigh of relief from Jake, was mostly a good sign.

“Of course it does, the people who built this were no amateurs.” Stephanie commented, the situation they were in was unforseen, thus the people who had built the Horizon were not to blame for the broken spine in, and around beta. “I did a little reading, but I need verification, we are having a Thorium reactor here, not the kind of reactor they used on earth?” Jane wandered down the rows of control panels. She had no idea what any of these controls did, or showed.

“Well, not entirely. Subalpha and subgamma have Thorium reactors, alpha through gamma have conventional fission reactors. It was believed that for some unforseen reason there might be the need to make more nukes, which could relatively easily be made by using those kinds of reactors. The more stable reactors were reserved for the heart and the brain of the ship.”

Mildly unsettled by those news Jane nodded. The governor would not be happy about having a reactor under his chair that was possibly a timebomb.

Suddenly beeping signals from one console alerted Jane, rushing to the station Jake and Stephanie checked the instruments, then the contol panel. “This is a display of beta’s reactor!” Jake cussed, he checked the other consoles for the reactors on the other rings. “Alpha and gamma have begun working as well. It must be some sort of fail safe, if this reactor is turned on, the others follow.”

“Subgamma is dead. Probably because the fusion reactor is still up and running.” Quickly Stephanie returned from the subgamma panel to the beta panel. “Pumps aren’t working. There is a pressure build up. Failsafe is not engaging, shutdown is unresponsive.”

Jane had joined them at the control panels. “How much time do we have before it goes critical?”

Shrugging his shoulders Jake could only guess. “An hour? Maybe a bit more.”

Throwing her hands in the air Jane turned around to the door. “Time to cut the ship in two?”

“Two hours, if we hurry.”

Of course. “Get to it, now.”

Nodding Jake sent Stephanie to do it, as he remained at the controls to try and win some time. “I will lose comtrol over the reactor when the lines are severed.” Although the wiring was in the center of the spine, Jake knew that the spine would not hold out long against the lasers, cutting would continue after the spine was severed to cut away most of beta ring, so Dusk Horizon would not carry a lot of dead weight in front of it, on a weak spine.

Terrified he looked up from the control panel. “Fuck! The reactor is in beta’s aft section!”

“Mulgrew to Gruber, abort separation, but stand ready.” A swarm of engineering staff entered the room, taking the controls, Jake stepped back, Jane mustered him.

“Dusk Horizon will have to deal without a deflector.” He took out a tablet punched in amfew commands, while rushing out of the room. The hallway outside the reactor control room was dusty, as it was seldom in use. Srill there was a tube entrance, a cab was waiting for Jake, Jane followed on his heels.

Over the glasses she had been informed by Stephanie that the modified cabs had moved from their position to just outisde gamma, and began firing their lasers, cutting off gamma and subgamma. “What are you intending to do?” Jane asked as they entered the spine, lost gravity.

Jake remained silent for a few moments until the cab came to a stop and opened the doors to a hallway, still there was no gravity.

“Buying you some time. Now, I have realigned the lasers in the maintenance cabs, the ring is another bargain, they’re fixed in position, but the cabs can be retrieved and will go to their original positions.” He plunged himself out of the cab, leaving Jane paralysed.

“Good luck, Jane.” Doors closed and the cab moved away automatically.

“Good luck, Jake.” She finally mumbled as the cab entered subalpha again.

Devastated Stephanie awaited the Admiral in the command centre, where the controls for the maintenance cabs had been rerouted to. “Status?” Jane took her seat, grinding her tears. She had known Jake for years, and knew that, what he was doing, was suicide. Still, she had more lives to consider than just his,

Upon leaving the cab, she had sent it back to where Jake had taken off, with the express order to only leave if Jake was inside.

“He is working the manual controls.” Her fist officer Derek commented, as Stephanie sat in a corner sobbing.

“Admiral!” Jake’s voice yelledout of the speakers. “Some of the fuel rods have begun melting, I can’t contain the situation, sorry.”

“Get your ass in the cab.”

“But if I release the water into space there is a chance to prevent a catastrophe.” Glancing to Derek who shook his head Jane grew angry. “Jake, listen, the venting pipes are jammed, you jeed to get back. I parked the cab where you left it, get back. Now.”

Silence filled the line to Jake for a moment. “I can do it Admiral. By releasing the contaminated steam into the hallways and direct it into the gardens.”

Again Derek shook his head, Stephanie jumped to her feet. “No! Jake, that’d be your death!”

“You know sweetie, my favorite classic SciFi movie? At the ending?” Jake’s voice trembled, by a look at her display Jane saw that the maintenance cabs were moving into position again, cutting Jake off from a way back.

“Don’t, please.”

“I must. My life is a small price to pay, for the lives of all of you.” Derek stated that the lasers had been turned on remotely from Jake’s tablet. “Who knows, my love? We’re amongst the stars, and if this was science fiction, I could return. No one truly dies in science fiction.”

Instead of a repky Stephanie sobbed, sinkingnto her knees at Derek’s console.

Maintaining his professionalism Derek informed Jane that Jake had successfully vented the steam into the hallways and gardens.

Which made Stephanie sob harder. “It’s getting quite hot in here. Admiral, I’m switching to wireless, the spine should be severed soon. If radiation interferes too much, let me just say, live long and” transmission ended.

Static filled the line, for a few moments there was not a word uttered in the command centre. Except for Stephanie’s sobs, the bristling noise of debris and the static noise, the room was filled with silence.

“There is too much interference, Admiral.” Slowly coming to terms with what just had happened, Jane nodded.

“Radiation leaks detected!” Woken to action Jane looked up from her console. A stream of vapor shot out from the beta ring’s center.

“Reading multiple fissures on beta’s aft section.” The engineer replacing Stephanie, Matthias Lehner, stated dryly.

They had waited an hour.

An hour without word, or sign from Jake.

“Get it out from in between Dusk Horizon and us.” She finally sighed, the remote comtrols for the pods remaining on beta, would soon be affected by the radiation too.

Simultaneously the pods fired their engines, without disengaging from the superstructure, pulling the beta ring away, thrusters had been aligned sonthe pods wouldn’t try to pull the ring in various directions, breaking it apart, thus creating a new debris field.

Farewell, Jake. You did fine. “I’ll be in my quarters. If anyone needs me, wait for tomorrow’s shif to tell me. Unless the ship is on fire.” She winked at Derek, who took her seat.

Inside her quarters she was greeted with just the bristling noise, but otherwise silence. Her family was not home, feeling blissed, she sat down.

Opened her tablet, flipped through her library, until she found a book she wanted to read. Something that would take her mind off of Jake and his sacrifice.

Light reading.

After a few pages her mind drifted off.

Jake’s last words to Stephanie haunted her mind. Curious she wanted to know which movie it was that he was referring to. Could she ask Stephanie?

Deciding against it she used her Admiral’s privileges to gain access to Jake’s viewing habits on the on board movie databases.

Mirrored systems were stored on all rings, hence it was no problem that his former quarters were on subgamma, on the now Dusk Horizon.

Soon she found what she had been looking for, turned her attention to the screen in the room, loading the movie.

It was in the middle of the night when Jane was gently awoken by her son. “I didn’t know you watched Star Trek.” He smiled. “Normally I don’t.” Jane stretched. “What time is it?”

“Three in the morning. Dad sent me since you didn’t show up at aunt Maggie’s, remember?” Actually she had forgotten.

The family wanted to sleep there since she and Wolfgang jr. couldn’t sleep at all, and Wolfgang and hptheir daughter slept only badly. “Couldn’t sleep there either?”

Her son made a painful face. “Not after dad woke me.”

Typical for her man, not to come over himself but wake up and send his son. “You look horrible Mum. What’s up?”

“Friend of mine is MIA, probably dead by now.” Calmly Wolfgang sat down too, turned the movie back on. “Wanna talk about it?”

Suspiciously Jane squinted at her teenage son. “You’re the weirdest, yet kindest teen I know of.”

“You’re the one who raised me, so whose to blame for that?” The grin in his face was loveable.

“Nice try young man. There’s not much tonsay. He was on beta trying to contain a catastrophe, succeeding in doing so, but also to his presumed demise.”

Wolfgang glanced over to the movie. He connected the dots. “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. He watched Star Trek.” Slowly Jane nodded. When did her son watch this? Had she missed it?

How could she?

“In that respect mum, he’s a true hero, and if he truly is dead, and not floating out there in a sealed container, he deserves to be remembered with all honor.” He yawned, got up.

Cupping a hand behind his ear he pounted at the walls, winked and went to bed.

Thinking about his words Jane watched the movie again, without dozing off this time, so she could see the ending.

“Scan for faint energy emissions in the beta wreckage!”

Stomped by the sudden order Derek looked at the Admiral with awe. Her hair was a mess, she looked as if she either hadn’t slept the night before, or hadn’t dressed and brushed that morning.

Or both.

“Ma’am?”

Explaining she had an epiphany from watching the movie that Jake had been referencing, she again ordered him to scan for the faint signs of an active cryogenic chamber.

“Got something, it barely registers through all that radiation.” With a wrinkled forhead Derek turned to her. “Now we need to get him out.”