Posts tagged ‘implant’

Rings of Fate S4xE5 – Mars – From Ashes

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intrigued Regina nodded with raised eyebrows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begrudgingly Regina looked at the tablet.

Slowly she understood.

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

Good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Our scientific head of construction says otherwise.”

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

“Doctor Fineman.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, it had the touch of underground bunker.

Everything on Mars had that.

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

Until he saw footage from the ships.

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

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

Within his reach almost.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Rattling grew less intense.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Rings of Fate S4xE4 – Mars – Resolve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The ship.

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

The cult had used children to investigate the ship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living quarters.

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

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

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

Horrible stench reached his nose.

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

It was feces!

“Hello?” He shouted. No reply.

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

Leopold would find it of something should happen to him.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still he’d be married.

 

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

On Mars they were a rarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re here.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The woman with the brown curls did not even flinch.

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

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

“We could easily annihilate your civilisation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the eyes of the detainees Kurt saw relief.

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

“Maya, Honey?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Maya and the others were allowed to live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, he smiled, sleep.

Rings of Fate S4xE3 – Mars – Resolution

All sorts of cables, and wires were leading from the ancient ship. If Kurt had to guess, he’d wager that the former settlers had tried to refuel the ship.

“Doctor? The linkers?” Stewart Dixon tapped Kurt lightly on the shoulder. Giving him an approving nod Kurt turned, tapping Erika Olafdottir on the shoulder to signal her to follow too.

Through the mostly dark hallways of the long abandoned Valles Marineries settlement,  their path would lead them back to the tubes. The ride back to the colony would again consume half an hour or more, until he was back at his trashed lab, perhaps another thirty minutes.

 

They would have to skip debriefing. While they drove to the abandoned settlement, the linkers had manufactured a dozen or so replicas of his connector for the quantum entanglement device.

One of those would surely fit, they were running calculations for it when the group around Kurt entered the Valles Marineries settlement. Maybe he should ask Stu whether they could send another team to the lab, equipped with space suits, since he had damaged those in the airlock.

“How good are these suits?” He turned to Stu who sat next to him while Erika piloted the cab. “They are neat if you have to cross through hostile environments, but I wouldn’t say they’re good replacement for a full environmental suit. Why?”

“Could you go into vacuum with it? For a short period?”

Stu shook his head. “The helmet is not that tightly sealed, we didn’t take gloves, boots or oxygen with us. Why do you ask these questions?”

Quickly Kurt explained the situation with his lab, the linkers and the connector he had hidden. “Stewart Dixon to command, come in command.”

Curious Kurt watched Stu signal the command centre of the police force. He ordered a cab sent to the lab with full environmental suits, afterwards he instructed Erika to go to the lab instead, their mission wasn’t over yet.

“Olympus Mons top most three levels are inaccessible at the moment.” Erika looked up from her tiny display, at the same time Stu was contacted by command, who informed him of the same issue.

 

Kurt’s tablet revealed to him that Leopold was still in the new segment of the colony, strolling around, information on the transponder near him revealed that Tracy Morgan, a childhood friend of his, was with him. Relieved that his son was safe Kurt looked up ahead.

Not too soon, as Erika had engaged a full stop. In the tube ahead another cab was sitting in the way, blocking their path. Erika cussed, as she examined the cab ahead for a moment. It was without power, and by the looks of it, the emergency bolts were engaged, effectively locking it in place, so that pushing it out of the way was impossible.

“Henriksen, Scully, with me. The rest give us cover.” She barked, opening a tiny door behind the seat under which the controls were hidden.

The three exited the vehicle, inched towards the other cab. At least there was pressure in the tube. Thankful for that circumstance Kurt took up his tablet again. Tied in with the usual network again he checked on Leopold again.

 

“Why do you believe that the information is shoddy?” Leopold glanced to Tracy. Her corkscrew curls bounced as she walked. “Because politicians lie all the time, so I don’t believe in the story of some weird technology linking people’s heads.”

“Minds.” He corrected her. Up to that point he only had told her that there was an incident in his father’s lab, not what he had seen.

“Whatever. Listen, my dad’s gonna be furious if I’m not home by 2200, so, I gotta split. See ya tomorrow in school?”

“Tracy, I’ve seen two people murdered today. Whether you believe the president, or not. Just be cautious. Okay?”

Tracy stopped dead in her tracks. Doubtful she stard at Leopold. “You’re making this up. To impress me or something.”

“I swear, I saw them. In my dad’s lab.” The usual playful demeanour in his expression was gone. “Pa said that Mum had struck him down, he assumes she’s a linker.”

A signal from his tablet drew Leopold’s attention. A message from his father.

For a moment Tracy observed him reading it, growing pale. “Tracy, go home, and be weary of anything out of the ordinary. Okay?”

He turned around, he needed to go to, where exactly? Home? “What happened?” Tracy grabbed his hand, sending an electrifying pulse through him. “They found the implants with the transponder signals of my mum and others. Rigged to function outside the human body.” A new form of terror began to grow in Leopold.

His mother was out there. Not Valles Marineries out there, but around the corner out there. Untraceable.

So were the others who already got chipped with the new implant. He, or Tracy could be grabbed from behind a corner, chipped and get lost in the collective mind.

A paranoid sensation got hold of him, he began to tremble. “Come with me, Leo.” Tracy sighed, firming her grip on his hand, pulling him with her, and back to reality. “My dad will surely lose his mind, but if you stay on the couch, I guess it’ll be fine.”

Not feeling very reassured Leopold followed her, slowly calming down from his paranoid fear.

On the fourteen minute walk to her quarters they saw groups of police roam the paths, hallways and gardens. Occasionally they spoke with people at their quarters doors. Overheard bits and pieces of the conversations always were about missing people from those families. Either the police inquired about them, or the people stopped them to ask about their missing relatives.

In the hallway outside Tracy’s quarters they met a group of four policemen. They saw Tracy and approached. Immediately he felt a wall of ice and fire hit him. By the way Tracy reached for his hand again, he guessed that she felt similarly. “Tracy Morgan?”

“Y-Yes?” She stammered, tightening her grip on his hand.

“We’re here to inquire about Robert and Cindy Morgan.” Clenching Leopold’s hand tightly Tracy replied that those were her parents. “They failed to pick up Spencer Morgan from daycare, we were informed. Do you know their present wereabouts?” Suddenly pale herself Tracy just shook her head. “We have informed Doctor Jules Morgan to take care of you and Spencer until the wereabouts of your parents are cleared.” The police man who had led the conversation turned to Leopold with an inquiring look. “Leopold Braun, son of Doctor Kurt Braun. Any news about my mother, Doctor Maya Braun?”

Another of then officers looked on his tablet, shook his head. “Sorry kid.” Hurrying on the officers left the hallway.

 

A quiet moment passed. “Now do you still believe it’s all lies?” Slowly Leopold inched towards the locked quarters. A small warning sign was displayed on the access panel. If anyone tried to open the door, the police would be alarmed.

Turning around to look at her, Leopold noticed that Tracy was crying. “Hey, I’m sure they’re fine.”

Sniffing and sobbing Tracy stepped closer. “How? They’re in that collective mind link thing. Or they’re dead. There is no way to track them. How can they be fine?”

 

Leopold suddenly felt the same pain for his mother, who had always been there for him. Fighting the tears he took a deep breath. “Listen. As far as I understood that collective mind thing, their memories, their love for you and Spencer, is all preserved. For as long as the link remains, even if their bodies have died. In a perverted sort, they have become immortal. If we can fight the linkers from taking over, there is a chance we can get them back. If we can’t, we’ll all end up in the link, and be together forever.” He grabbed her by the shoulders.

Kurt’s lab came back to mind. If any of them had any chance of seing either of their parents again, it was there.

Not inside. Not for anything in this world or another would Leopold set foot inside the lab again. “We could go to my father’s lab.” He let go of her shoulders, looking down the hallway. “To what end?”

“See my mother or your parents maybe?” Without explaining his assumptions further he grabbed for her hand and pulled her away from the locked door.

 

With a few wires, exttracted from the inactive cab, Erika had rigged some primitive welding tool. Noisily one of the bolts fell to the ground.

After jamming the cab the linkers had gutted it, making it inoperable, in addition to immovable. Drawing power from the mainlines in the tube Erika made sure they wouldn’t run out of juice to finish the job of cutting off the bolts.

“That’s the last one.” She yelled back. Progress would be slower now. Someone would have to remain in the inactive cab while they pressed on at snail’s pace. If they jammed one cab there was no telling if they hadn’t left more obstacles. Closed bulkheads, more cabs, mines.

“Let’s hit it.” Stu barked back, one of the men climbed inside the inactive cab, he had his gun and his radio ready. Meanwhile Kurt grew more and more concerned. Leopold and Tracy had left the main settlement, headed for the old colony. He was reassured that the upper most levels were under lock down, but knowing the resourcefulness of teens, they would find a way, and Leopold surely was determined enough to go there.

Slower than anticipated the cab moved forward, pushing the other one. “Why didn’t we cut those with the lasers?” Stu pointed at his gun.

“It would’ve drained the batteries. Do you want a confrontation with the linkers, without juice?” Kurt replied instead of Erika who was piloting the two cabs, paying attention to the display in front of her and the image on her HUD from her colleague’s headcam. “Intersection coming up.” Relieved she slowed the cab, her colleague jumped over. The inactive cab kept moving towards the intersection, remotely Erika manipulated the magnetic fields in the tube to pull the other cab in the tube they wouldn’t be taking.

Picking up speed the hatch closed, taking away the wind Kurt found refreshing. “Reinforcement is on the way to your lab, they have the materials requested.” Not having time to feel relief Kurt just nodded it off and returned his attention to his tablet.

Leopold and Tracy were at the original colony. A maze of tunnels, ladders and ramps, half forgotten. “Don’t go to the lab.” He punched in a message to his son, hoping that their signals wouldn’t vanish from the screen in some tunnel not tied into the network.

 

“Why can’t we take the tube?” Tracy felt uncomfortable climbing the ladder ahead of Leopold, less because she was afraid he might look at her behind, but because someone or something might be waiting for them at the upper end. “Do you want to see your parents, or be taken into custody and handed over to your uncle? I’m pretty sure that the police have locked down the upper levels.”

Not replying she kept on climbing. “You’re looking at my ass, aren’t you?”

“I’m tempted, but at the moment distracted by the circumstances.” He replied a little short on breath. How far have they climbed already? Looking at his gadgets was of no use, as the wireless network was not extending into their current location.

It was definitely too long ago that he had played in these tunnels, a few years ago he would’ve known exactly where they were.

“Once we’re up there,” Tracy paused as the reached the top of the ladder, orientating in a dimly lit narrow hallway, “what’s the plan?”

“I don’t know yet.” Leopold admitted, pointing down the hallway, after a few meters they entered another vertical shaft with a ladder, leading up. The same thought he had when he explored these hallways and shafts as a kid, returned to his mind. How did the settlers who came to Mars deal with these narrow spaces?

 

With a hiss the doors to the cab opened, a team of policemen and women awaited the arrivals outside, two of the waiting people were already in spacesuits.

Kurt began suiting up, together with Erika, while the bulk of the team already began advancing on the lab.

After a few minutes Kurt heard frantic calls from the radio. An ambush!

It did not take long for the group around him to catch up to the others. Several people, uniformed and civilian alike, were lying strewn in the hallway, with scorched holes in clothes and flesh. Clearly the linkers knew how to aim, and those back in the Valles Marineries settlement just were decoy, deliberately aiming badly.

Although resenting the idea of firing a gun, Kurt picked one up. Some primal instinct made him feel safer with a weapon in hand.

“Do you know how to shoot?” Erika crouched next to him. “Aim, pull the trigger, hope it isn’t a friend you’re hitting.” Kurt replied with a thin voice.

“That about sums it up.” Erika was not going to deny him the use of a gun in their situation. Finding cover behind a corner Kurt heard shouts from Stu, who ordered the linkers to stand down, or be taken down.

In return the linkers ordered Stu to retreat, as they only wished to be themselves and connect with their brethren. “Stop firing!” Kurt yelled, stepping around the corner.

Behind him he heard Erika say something, but it drowned in the noise.

There was no shooting as Kurt stepped around the corner. The doors to the airlock leading to his lab were at the far side of the corridor. He noticed that the spacesuits were missing. A strange satisfaction took hold of him at the realisation that some linkers had bought it due to his trap.

Why these linkers were much more hostile than the ones he had read about in the reports was beyond his comprehension. Perhaps because they were not yet tied in with the collective mind, and recruited from a less utopian society.

Martian history was a constant struggle against the environment, the odds and sometimes other humans. The ideals in martian society were different to those aboard the ships that had left Earth all that time ago. “Take cover, Braun!” Stu barked back at him, but somehow the linkers had stopped firing.

“Kurt.” Behind another corner a woman emerged. Maya! Fighting the impulse to run to her and embrace her Kurt remained where he was.

“Four of us were killed by your actions, why?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Kurt sighed inching closer. “To stop, or at least delay you.”

“We can’t be stopped. Right now we are inside the lab.” A hint of a smug smile played around the corners of her mouth. “And then what? Will you leave, or will you bring your people here? And what is to become of the rest of us?” Still inching closer. For a change he was glad he didn’t have had the time to don the gloves. The haptic sensation of the gun in his right hand behind his back was reassuring, wouldn’t even remotely feel the same with the clunky gloves. “That is up to you. Join us, and we all can enjoy the spoils of victory.”

That was not his wife talking anymore. It was her mouth uttering these words with her voice, but it was not her. “Somewhere inside that collective mindset of yours are the memories, emotions and thoughts of all the people incorporated into your kind. Do you know what you have done? Do you feel the guilt? The pain? Quirin and Alexandra, you killed them. These men and women here, did they have friends, loved ones or family amongst your ranks? Does any of this cause any reaction inside your collective?”

Maya did not flinch. Nor did the other linkers.

“If I had to draw comparisons to biology here, you’re acting like a cancerous growth. You kill the host, not grow from it. Once you are connected to the others, they will make you see, and feel the err of your ways.”

Awkwardly smilimg all of a sudden Maya nodded. The other linkers dropped their guns. “You are correct, Doctor Braun.” A group of twenty linkers got up from behind their covers, hands raised above their heads. “We hand you over those biological units who have committed acts of violence or murder against your people.” Maya too raised her hands. “This could have been avoided if you hadn’t disconnected the quantum entanglement device from the network.” She blinked.

“I know.” Kurt felt the heavy burden of that guilt weigh down on him. “But still. None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t sent that program and implant.” Maya’s face became blank.

Hastily the police behind Kurt rushed to apprehend the surrendering linkers. “What now Doc?” Stu held Maya, now cuffed, waiting for others to take her away. “We can’t let them get away.”

“Why not?” Kurt gave the man the pistol he had collected. “Those who killed are in custody. Those who didn’t commit any crimes are free to go. Their only crime is the fact that they were assimilated into a collective. If I understand it correctly, by their own free will, or otherwise their collective would’ve died down.” He looked at Maya, who should’ve known better than subject herself to the implant. “He speaks the truth. Almost. Some of those now in the fold, aren’t volunteers. That is part of the reason for their violent behaviour.” Maya spoke with a voice that was distant, not at all in touch with her surroundings. It was the collective mind that was speaking, Kurt had to remind himself. “However, once they were tied in with the others, and now with us, they have become instantly blissed with the closure the link provides.”

“What can we do? Stop them? In a short time there will be a linker ship arriving, taking those with them, or landing great numbers of their own. The only thing we can do, is hope to remain unscathed.” Turning to Maya he felt a deep pain in his heart. “And hope that we get back what is ours.”

Showing no emotion what so ever Maya raised an eyebrow. “We have no interest in Mars and its resources, we had, and still have, an interest in broadening the spectrum of our genome. By this incident we have procured enough, but if you are willing to contribute more, we are open to negotiations.” Stu looked at her with an expression of disgust and anger, but was stopped from replying by Kurt.

“I think not.” The scientist said in a thin voice, close to tears. Biting back the tears he closed his eyes. All too much did he want to kiss her, feel her embrace. But it was no use. That was no longer Maya, no longer his beloved wife.

“Use of your communication device will be returned to you upon our arrival.”

 

The lights ahead were out. Reluctance to go on had taken hold of both Tracy and Leopold. It didn’t help that the wireless still wasn’t in reach.

“We need to go on.” She fumbled around her pockets, pulling out a phone and switching on a flashlight.

The air was dry, dusty and stale, motes of dust danced in the light beam from Tracy’s phone. Leopold wished he had thought of that, following her to another hallway.

“We’re at the old air refinement plant. Or where ot used to be.” He pointed out a dusty sign on the wall. “I’m getting a weird feeling.” Tracy replied. “As if we’re the last people on Mars.” She squeezed his hand. “Im scared.”

“Me too.” Leopold admitted, now taking the lead. “But staying in these tunnels isn’t helping. We can’t hide down here forever.” After a few more turns, passing by doors that had been welded shut, they reached what he remembered to be an access point.

 

Outside the air was fresh, not dusty. They emerged in a small dead end corridor, next to a garden facility. “Three levels to climb. But we’re almost there.” He didn’t notice the buzzing of incoming messages from his tablet.

Why the old tunnels had been abandoned was obvious to both of them. The narrow nature of them was creating a claustrophobic experience, the darkness of the volcanic rock was only adding to it.

But both thought it had been a much better idea to seal them off than collapsing them, or filling them with something. “Where do you think my parents are?”

Hopefully not in the lab. “Probably at the lab, where I’m hoping to find my mother.”

Ahead a creak sounded through the hallway, startling them, quickly Leopold pulled Tracy inside the garden, and hid behind a raspberry bush.

Two men walked by, they did not look inside the garden, in their faces Leopold noticed the absence of all emotion. One of them carried a device, which looked like it had been crafted together from various parts in a haste.

After a few moments they heard the access hatch they had just come out from, open. “They’re gone.” Tracy hissed, Leopold quickly gestured her to be quiet.

Only now did he think of his tablet. Although the wireless network was not extending into the old tunnels and corridors, if they had their regular implants, proximity alone should be enough to show their location.

Only noticing that his father wrote him, but not the contents of the messages, he quickly brought up the scanner. With hand gestures he told Tracy to stay where she was, then crept out of the room, following the hallway to the hatch.

The two still had their transponder implants, and moved down the way that he and Tracy had come, but stopped. They went sideways, if Leopold had to guess, they entered one of the rooms, presumably the room once housing the air refreshment and recycling plant.

Seeing that they remained there, he sneaked back to the garden.

“Alright, let’s go.” He glanced down on the tablet, found that the two were either gone, or he had moved out of reach. They were not in range of the wireless, which was good for Leopold and Tracy.

 

Horrified Tracy gasped for air. After using a series of stairs to get to the level of the lab, they stumbled out into the hallways, littered with bodies of the dead and wounded.

One could distinguish between linkers and non linkers. The former were sitting there, clutching a wound, but otherwise unmoved by pain or consequences to the injury, while the latter moaned with pain and seemed utterly disturbed and astonished ton findn the two youths standing there.

At the entrance to the lab stood a group of policemen arguing, and barking commands into the radio. Uncertain whether those could be trusted, or were assimilated, Leopold and Tracy stared at them from the distance.

“What the hell are these two kids doing here?” Stu’s voice thundered through the hallway, drawing all attention to Leopold and Tracy.

Two of the men around him raised their guns, out of concern that they might be linkers. “I was looking for my parents, and she, well, for hers.” Stuttering and nervous Leopold explained who they were, and why they were present at that location.

Stu’s expression grew concerned after hearing their names.

“Your father’s inside.” He pounted at the airlock doors. “Your mother’s in custody for murder.” Relief washed over Leopold, both his parents were alive, he tightened his grip on Tracy’s hand. Stu nodded to another officer, who went through his tablet and then shrugged. “Miss Morgan, we sadly have no information on your parents.” Stu confirmed.

Feling as if she had been struck in the stomach by a heavy blow Tracy sank to the ground. “That doesn’t mean they’re dead! Perhaps they’re in the tunnels like the others?” Leopold tried comforting her, drawing Stu’s attention.

“Tunnels? Others?” Unwillingly his hand went to his gun in the holster.

“On our way up we went through the old tunnels, upper most entrance is three levels down from here. We saw two guys carrying a device into the tunnels, I suspect they brought it to the old air reclamation facilities.”

Suddenly growing pale Stu reached for his radio, calling for Kurt to come outside. A few minutes later the called scientist showed up in the airlock, a group of officers already proceeded to the old tunnels. “Leo!” Kurt tore off his helmet as quickly as possible, embracing his son.

For a moment the two took comfort in the embrace. “There’s a thing, in the tunnels, the linkers brought a thing into the tunnels.” letting go Leopold stammered.

Upon Kurt’s look to Stu the officer nodded in confirmation, over the radio he had received confirmation of a device in the former air reclamation room.

 

Finally out of the spacesuit Kurt enjoyed the relative freedom, although he felt a little chill. Outside the entrance hatch to the old tunnels stood an officer with his phone working as a relay, since the radio was tied into the wireless, and wouldn’t reach the old tunnels. Stu had both Leopold and Tracy taken to a safe location.

In the narrows of the old corridors and tunnels the chill that Kurt had felt before intensified, although the air was stale and thick with dust. There goes my freedom of movement. He followed the instructions given to him by the officer at the entrance.

Soon he reached the group of officers at the door to the old air reclamation room. Inside was othing but the device described by Leopold, and a series of pipes, one of which was hooked up to the device by some hose.

Concerned he kneeled down next to the device. Some of the parts used to conjur up the device were familiar, he had seen them before. But where?

“Two fugitives were seen running off. We apprehended them.” An officer behind him said. “Does that mean they’re gunned down, or are they in custody?” A familiar voice behind him caused Kurt to look over his shoulder.

Erika.

“They’re alive. Why?” There was a trace of hostility in the man’s voice that Kurt could only understand all too well. The linkers were a threat, and dangerous. Keeping them alive when they posed as enemies was a gamble with fire.

“Bring them here, we need to know what this thing does.” Erika too entered the room, kneeling down next to Kurt and device.

“Belt.” He nodded to the hose, indicating that she should seal the hose with her belt. Taking it off the tube would be just as dangerous as keeping it on.

Erika jumped to her feet hurried over to the hose. “Ziptie.” She said, earning a “Even better.” from Kurt who investigated the device.

It struck him, where he had seen some of the parts before. “This creates implants!” He gasped standing up and inching back. He longed for the spacesuit.

“He is correct.” One of the men who had brought the device there was pushed into the room. He was injured, had a swollen eye and a dry blood trail from on of the corners of his mouth. “Why?” Erika shouted over her shoulder, she and Kurt just had kneeled down to the device again.

“Genetic diversity. We have all the diversity there is from the others, but your people are even more different.” He spoke calmly, although he had an injury related speech impediment. “His link to the others must be running over the radio. Tell your guy to shut it off.” Erika hissed.

Not paying any attention to them Kurt examined the device. It was active, but he couldn’t figure out where to turn it off. “Power source?” He glanced to Erika, who handed him a screw driver.

Looking for any screws he noticed there weren’t any.

“Get on the air!” He yelled over his shoulder to one of the officers. “Tell them to shut down any and all air vents in the mountain.”

Quickly one of them hurried off, since the relay device had been turned off, disconnecting the linker from the collective. He began expressing his pain and discomfort. “The Ziptie will contain the situation for now, but eventually the hose will burst, releasing the implants into the air of this room, from where they will spread through these old pipes into the entire mountain, all of the Martian colony.” Kurt sat up straight in front of the device. He would’ve loved to dismantle it, study the technology behind it.

“Get the environmental suits, these pipes need to be sealed shut. All of them.” He assumed that there must be limitations to the device. It couldn’t run for ever, pumping out gros amounts of implants that could be inhaled.

“Why don’t you blow it up?”

“Because, officer, not everything can be blown up to render it harmless. There surely are hundreds already in the tube,” Kurt was interrupted by the captured linker snickering fiendishly. “Try hundreds of thousands. We have devised nanotechnology to change the implants already in your bodies, reprogram them to our specifications.” His voice was a mixture of cackling and groaning, in between his amusement and his pain. Laced with a desire to rejoin the link. “Even worse.” Kurt mumbled, more to himself than anyone listening.

 

“Leo?” The one word message on his screen unsettled Leopold. His father never called him Leo, despite him insisting on it. “Yes?”

He hands shook, suddenly he felt a rush of adrenaline wash over him.

“Get into the archives, I know you know the access codes. There is a lot in them, search for ‘suppression program’. Once you found the actual program, load it onto your tablet and release it into our network.” Feeling caught and concerned at the same time Leopold glanced at Tracy and her uncle in front of him. They watched him with a mix of curiosity and concern. Telling them that it was his dad would cause them only to ask more questions he wasn’t able to answer. “It’s Mark, my cousin, asking about Mum.” He lied with a smile, while already accessing the data his father had instructed him to. Controlling his reactions to the sheer amount of data suddenly available to him, he typed in the search string.

Several logs showed up, from various commanders of the ships in the distance, their subordinates and other people.

In the log of an Admiral he found what he was looking for. An actual link to an actual program. It loaded surprisingly quick into his device.

“How do I release it?”

 

“Excute iot” Kurt packed his tablet away. Typing with the thick gloves was a pain. Half the letters were either wrong or didn’t type. “Alright, we need to seal these. Behind him the door frame was covered. Thick sheets of plastic. No one without an environmental suit or a hasmat suit was allowed inside.

Although he’d have more freedom in a Hasmat, Kurt doubted that it was as effective as the spacesuit against the nanites.

His skin crawled at the thought of nanites. Microscopic machines that could reprogram other system or cells and DNA.

Two men were working with blowtorches on the pipes, sealing them off. Wireless reestablished, the police and the senate were painfully aware of everything that happened.

Kurt noticed that the hose was already bulging, they had enveloped it in another tube made from a transparent polymer. But that would not contain the nanites for long.

Clumsily he raised his hands, in them was a coil, mounted at the end of a pole. His hopes were to eliminate the threat by zapping the device and its product with a strong magnetic pulse. If that didn’t work, his hopes were that the nanites would still be kept in check by the magnetic field of the coil. “All pipes sealed.” Erika turned to him, waving the men in the hasmat suits outside, as her faith in them was equal to Kurt’s.

“Alright, trying option number one.” Kurt sighed into the voice activated microphone. The lights in the room flickered.

The original Doctor Braun had decided on the volcano as landing site for a number of reasons. One was the existence of the lava tunnels. No one had to dig to find shelter, the shelter was already there. Another was the properties of the tunnels. Or rather the rock around them. Shielding the inhabitants from radiation, and magnetic fields.

Outside the room the pulse did no damage.

 

Suddenly the few LEDs on the device, some of which were only visible due to reflections on other parts of the machine, went dark. “It worked, Doctor!” Erika exclaimed joyfully.

For now it did. “Indeed. Now I’m setting the trap.” Putting in another power cell from a shielded container, he carefully placed the EMP devive on the ground, next to the swollen hose, on a different setting than before he reactivated it, so that a constant magnetic field was produced. As he had hoped, the bulge in the hose moved to the device. “This room needs to be sealed, a constant power supply to the coil needs to be established.” A man in a Hasmat entered the room, carrying a cable from outside. “We anticipated your request, Doctor.” At the use of the plural Kurt felt tension rising in his spine, but relaxed as the officer in the hasmat suit plugged in the cable to the device, and checked the connection, nodded in approval and left.

With a pop, unheard by Kurt and Erika the hose burst open, an almost liquid blob of silvery sludge burst out and aligned with the field lines of the emitted field. How long will those be active? “We need to seal off those pipes outside the room, the old parts of the colony need to be completely cut off. Pipes, tubes, hoses and tunnels. I don’t want some kid playing in these tunnels and stirring up the nanite sludge in a few years.”

 

It was painful for Kurt to watch. Maya was thrashing around her cell in agony. She had withdrawal symptoms. As he had instructed, Leopold had released the program. None of the linkers was connected, unless they were really close to one another. Their need for closure now, was a dead give away. Huddled together in groups of two, three or more they were easy to spot. Those in custody did not have that luxury.

Still they faced a much brighter future. President Kinsey pardoned them, and would release them to their people once they arrived.

Seeing her in the agony of withdrawal still hurt Kurt. For an hour he had tried talking to her, with no effect.

She paused then, asked to be linked with someone, but after being denied, broke into her thrashing again. At least Leopold had not seen her like that. “I estimate that your people will soon arrive, by then I will be working on the wreck.” He neglected to tell her that the MISR had been retaken with the same program that inhibeted linker communication,  and was en route to RV-p296. Apparently the linker ship that had communicated via the relay, was also the one coming to Mars.

“I love you.” He whispered towards the bars, leaving.

Rings of Fate S4xE2 – Mars – DEHuman pt.5

As usual morning’s routine had it, Doctor Phelps checked his implant. The first generation of martians didn’t have them. Most of the second generation didn’t have them, as many who had been sent to Mars in cryogenic chambers were thawed, and not implanted.

Third and fourth generations, and the currently born fifth generation, all had the implant, to limit their reproduction, as resources on Mars were limited.

There had been protests against this violation of human rights, but they quieted down, especially after the Valles famine. In the second generation, a group of seddlers had split, and established their own colony in Valles Marineries, and due to overpopulation, many starved. Their empty dwellings still stood as a grim reminder of how the system protected the colony.

Phelps knew it was sort of paranoid and hypochondriac to check his implant daily, but since he had access to the technology to do so, he was not harming or bothering anyone.

Except his own sanity perhaps.

Vital signs checked out, no threats to his health detected. No infections, viruses or other pathogens. Satisfied he reclined in his chair.

There was an additional entry in his files. A new technology.

“Enables the wearer to monitor bodily functions, and release treatments without additional equipment. Increases cognitive responses, direct communication with compatible technology.” He mumbled.

Intrigued he studied the specifications for the implant described on his screen. To his surprise there was no author to the spec sheet.

“Doctor Horowitz.” He instructed his phone. Moments later the called responded. “Levi, have you seen the new implant specifications in the network? Check them out asap, tell me what you think.” The call ended after these few words, afraid to have woken his friend and colleague he fought the urge to ask other colleagues.

One of them must’ve been the author. Regardless, he decided, I’m testing this thing.

 

“I was contacted by the DEHumans.” Kurt Braun stood again in the halls of the senate, but with only president John Kinsey and senator Adele Farrington present. “While distracting me with a proposal they downloaded something into the system, and I’m afraid it replicated through the network.”

Both the politicians had a neutral expression. There had been no reports of unusual behaviour of technology so far, even though the incident that Kurt was reporting on was a little more than a day ago. “Since then I took the workstation connected with the communication device off the network. But I fear the damage is already done.”

“What proposal?” Adele interjected. Since nothing had been reported she didn’t think the situation to be drastic. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? A potentially dangerous program is loose in our networks, it might be a virus, or something equally sinister!”

Merely raising an eyebrow Adele sighed. “I got you. But we have nothing of the sorts reported or detected. So, what was the proposition?”

Giving up, Karl gave a short version of the proposal by the DEHumans, of providing free transport to RV-p296, in exchange for fresh genes, before he left. He felt beteayed, but running a semi legal operation he couldn’t expect much else. Neither the president nor the senator were his friends. Aggravated and with considerable unease he proceeded to the tube. What if the virus, if it was one, had a basic understanding of things, an awareness, and it avoided detection?

In any case, he preferred to manually drive the cab that arrived. It might have seemed paranoid, but with all that he knew about the linkers, the cab could drive to a remote section of the tubes, cut off all communications and slowly suffocate him if he couldn’t get the doors open.

The ride took a little longer, as he had to manually negotiate the transfer clearances, but within quarter an hour he arrived in his lab.

“Any news?” He had tasked his assistants with decoding the downloaded program. “Not much. It contains some sort of specifications for a chip, but we haven’t had much success regarding the funtions of it.” With a knowing expression in his eyes Qurin looked up from his monitor. He too had read about the DEHumans and their methods, he too had a hunch at what the chip would be for.

“Keep on investigating.” Kurt mumbled, turning on his heels, leaving again. From the lab he turned sharply to the right. After a few meters he stopped in front of a door. It had a handle and a keyhole, in addition to the electronic locks.

Quickly he produced the key, opened the door and pulled it into the lock behind him. With a flick of a switch he turned on the light in the chamber. It was a closet really, but behind the backshelf a ladder was concealed, which he climbed down.

He had come that way before in the last twenty four hours. Manually disconnecting the communication device from the network, but also the computers controlling the dish, sweepers and lights. A few of the domputers down here had been left in their own small network, without any connection to the outside. Out of curiosity he decided to see whether something had happened.

To his surprise he found the lights in the computer room were on, something that should only happen if someone was inside.

“Maya?” Kurt looked at his wife with curiosity.

Startled she turned around, obviously she had not heard him approach. “Yes?”

“What brings you here?” On the monitor behind her he could clearly see the schematics for an implant, a cold fear grasped for his heart. “My studies,” she replied calmly, “you cut off the computer from the network, so I had to come to the computer.”

Reminded that his wife’s studies in medical science were also on the small cluster of computers in that room he relaxed. “Can you tell me what that is?” Pointing at the screen she turned back to it. “You should know, I told you about the linkers, and the transmission I received.” Looking at the data on the screen he concluded that the linker virus had sought out medical machines to deposit the information about the implant in. In one swift motion he took out his phone, dialing Quirin, to instruct him to simulate a medical computer for the program to reveal its data.

“You should call the president.” Maya said, looking at him from the corner of her eyes. “He’d be interested in getting this stuff and using it for his own agenda.” Grumbling, Kurt paced over to another screen. He had a backup of the communication computer running, for obvious reasons.

The real communication computer was currently even disconnected from the entanglement device, but the test machine had a simulated environment.

A cold shudder ran down his spine.

The DEHuman virus was attempting frantically to send a message out, presumably telling of the progress of the spread, the location of Mars based on constellations, time of jettisoning from the solar system, speed and direction.

It meant he would have to rebuild the software for communicating via the quantum entanglement device from a backup he had kept offline. The fine tuning would cost him some time.

“Did the president say so?”

Confused Kurt looked up, glanced over his shoulder, then shook his head. “Not in such words, no. But his demeanour told me all I needed to know.”

“Perhaps he should know that he can’t control this?” Again Kurt felt compelled to look at her but felt a sudden blow to the head.

 

“Pa!?” Leopold’s voice rang through a heavy, thick blanket of pain and numbness. Kurt felt a tug on his shoulder. He tried opening his eyes, saw the contours of his thirteen year old son’s face.

Blinking.

The image cleared up. With a moan he reached for the back of his head, all the while Leopold kept talking. Relief that he finally woke up, regret for coming down here, justifying it with him missing and Maya not replying to any calls. “I’m alright. I think.” Kurt sat up and leaned against one of the machines.

It struck him almost as hard as his head was struck before. The silence.

No cooling fans were running.

As if struck by lightning Kurt jolted up. “Help me, is anything here running?” Immediately the aftereffects of being struck down set in, causing him to sit back down.

Gratefully he thanked his son for the office chair he had wheeled to him. “Nope. Everything’s down, other than the lights.” Confused Kurt looked around, he was rummaging throgh his pockets, found his tablet and phone gone. “What time is it?”

“Seventeen hundred. Why?”

Cursing Kurt attempted to stand up again, he had been lying on the floor for seven hours. Perhaps his exhaustion had also a role to play in it, after sleeping for four to five hours a night ever since he had sent out the first message, this blow presented his body with an opportunity to get some much needed rest.

“Where’s your mom?”

“That’s why I came here, I found the spare key in the fake rock under the coffee plant. Your access code is the same everywhere, so I got in. Mom is not returning any call. Records show she left for,” he paused with a hint of fear in his eyes and voice, “the abandoned outpost in Valles Marineries.”

The icy grip of doom got a hold of his mind and heart again. The reviewed technical specifications for the linker chip. “Call Quirin Kerry, my assistant and,”

“He’s dead. At least according to the computer.” Leopold interrupted his father. “Alexandra Kensington too. I already tried raising them. The doors to your lab won’t open, if the decompression indicator at the airlock door is to be trusted, they probably died from exposure.” Tightening around his heart, the icy feeling of fear intensified, a knot formed in his stomach.

“Is anyone still alive and returning calls?” Kurt sighed, finally getting out of the chair, striding to the door. He couldn’t possibly take Leopold with him. But leaving him was out of the question as well. “Come.” He reached for his son’s hand. Something he hadn’t done in years, but unike normal circumstances, Leopold took the hand. Both seemed to remember time when Leopold was still a small child and gladly walked at his father’s hand.

Together they left the hidden part of Kurt’s lab, heading to the airlock doors that Leopold had mentioned.

Inside the airlock Kurt opened a locker that Leopold had neglected to notice before. It had been a long time since Kurt had donned a space suit, and Leopold had never been in one. Still they began the long an tedious procedure.

 

As was to be expected, the lab was quiet, other than their own respiration and blood flow, they heard nothing. Behind the door was Alexandra, she had tried opening it, in her last moments alive, but had died in doing so.

There was a tiny crack in the porthole window. Quirin’s lifless, mangled body lying beneath it, was proof that he had tried sealing it with his body so Alexandra could escape.

He turned to the computers they were supposedly working on, waved Leopold to join him. Screens were black, upon turning on, they showed what he had caught a glimpse on in the computer room below.

Had his wife, or whoever was responsible for trashing the lab, intended for him to die too? Originally the two rooms shared the same ventilation, but a pressure valve to keep the other room from decompression in case of an emergency had saved his life.

There was an active network connection, Leopold pointed out to him by tapping on an icon in the task bar. Startled Kurt rushed to his workstation.

The quantum entanglement device was not connected, he had taken the unique connector and put it in his pocket, but after Leopold found him, he neglected to check if it was still there.

By the mess between the computers and the device he could tell that someone had attempted to connect it.

But then left.

Something was stuck to the port of the connector, carefully Kurt leaned in, took a cable and scraped it off with it. Careful not to lose the material he just had found he unhooked the cable and got up.

Leopold stood at the airlock door as Kurt came back from the computer, clearly the young lad just wanted to leave and forget everything that he had seen in his father’s lab.

 

“What happened in there?” Pale and shaky Leopold peeled out of the suit. “A tragedy, and a betrayal.” Hastily Kurt stripped out of bis suit, he needed to see if he still had the connector on him.

Maya had been going through his pockets, taking phone and tablet, but had she also taken the connector?

A wave of relief washed over him as he felt the connector touch his fingertips. To be sure he pulled it out, eyed it carefully, put it back. Burried between two handkerchiefs.

“Where to now?”

“The president?” Kurt finished getting out of the suit, not without carefully picking up the cable. Without the helmet he could identify the material better.

Playdoh like material, Maya, or who ever, had taken a print of the port, so they could make a connector of their own, without proper wiring it would take them a few attempts, however. And due to the lack of an atmosphere in the lab they would need to come in, try, fail and leave again. In one fluent motion he picked up the helmet of his suit and bashed the screen in. Repeated that with Leopold’s helmet.

At the locker in the airlock he proceeded to prick the suits one by one with the shards, even those he and Leopold just had ditched on the floor.

He would not make it easy for the linkers.

 

Just as the last time he was riding a cab, Kurt took manual controls. After they left the upper most level and passed through the level where they lived, Kurt picked up regular traffic.

Whether it was paranoia or caution, he didn’t know, but he avoided all stops. As far as he was concerned, no one could be trusted. In the tube outside the senate he slowed the cab. Gazing out the window and the glass walls of the tube.

A few people walked in the hallway, they spoke. Would linkers speak? No. He decided. The woman who had spoken with him clearly was not accustomed to speaking. At the usual station at memory lake the cab stopped, let them out, Kurt returned automated controls to the cab. “Pa?”

“Go, look for her.” Kurt winked, sensing his son’s desire to check on his girlfriend, if one could call her that. It was amazing to Kurt how quickly the young lad seemed to have recovered from the gruesome images in the laboratory, now only wanting to see his girlfriend. Perhaps it was the rather pleasant change in location, or the fact they were not the only living, breathing and speaking humans around. He waited until Leopold was gone, to get out of his shoes and cramp up his trouser legs, swing over the railing around memory lake and wade out to the island in the middle.

Halfway hidden inside a bush was a thigh high ferris wheel. Old style gondolas, the once famous landmark of Vienna. The gondolas were the right size for the connector.

Quickly he returned before someone could see him.

Before one of the linkers could see him.

Slipping back into his shoes he ignored the soggy feeling, nothing visible gave away that he just had waded out there.

 

“The president is currently unavailable, Doctor. You need an appointment.” A stereotypical secretary greeted him. “Then how about Senator Farrington?”

Looking at him with disbelief the secretary slowly shook her head. “You must refer to Senator Farrington’s office for an appointment with the senator.”

Grinding his teeth Kurt sighed in annoyance. When they wanted to speak with him he had to have an open schedule, if he wanted to speak to them, he needed an appointment. “Tell the president, that I, Doctor Kurt Braun, wish to speak with him about the MISR program.” She took notes. “Now. Tell him now. Perhaps the president’s schedule magically opens up if he hears this.” He was aware that he sounded cazy, borderline dangerous, but he already had the reputation of being a borderline mad scientist, so he didn’t care.

Typing angrily at light speed she sent the message to the president, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“Let the man through, Laura!” The door behind her opened, framing the president like a painting. A few men and women in police uniforms and suits left the room as he welcomed Kurt.

“What’s the rush? One of these days you might scare Laura into calling security.” Jesting the president complimented Kurt in.

“I’ll make it short.” The door just had closed.

“My lab has been trashed, there’s no atmosphere in there, and until I replaced the porthole window, there won’t be any in the near future.” The playful smirk on Kinsey’s lips vanished in an instant, together with all color from his face. “Don’t worry, the device is safe, but soon they will try to hijack it, to contact the others.”

“They?” Previously Kurt had thought that all color had vanished from that face, but now the president grew even more pale. “Don’t tell me these DEHumans are on the lose?”

Nodding slowly Kurt told everything he knew. Maya had reviewed the specifications for the implant, probably had tried it out on herself, out of curiosity. It was reasonable to assume that other medical computers in the martian network had been gifted with the same innovative new technology, and that others had been implanted as well.

After all, one disconnected linker would not do anything harmful, except trying to get others to participate in the link.

Sitting on the visitor couch the president nodded repeatedly, while Kurt spoke. Never having been to the presidential office Kurt noticed that it was a little more luxurious than what normal people could enjoy. Bamboo floor, a hemp rug. A woodendesk, but it could also be bamboo, Kurt was no expert in furniture. Bamboo grew like weed, a good resource.

“Can they be brought under our control?” Pulled back into the present Kurt shook off the thoughts about the interior design of the office. “What do you mean, brought under control? They are a collective mind. There is no superior brain involved anywhere. We can not control them, they do that themselves. Once they can access the quantum entanglement device, they and their cousins over at the 296 system will link.”

“We control access to the device, don’t we?”

Squinting his eyes a little Kurt felt the same power his great grandfather must’ve felt. The president wanted the power the ‘borderline mad scientist Braun’ held. “I control access to the device. For now. But they will overcome the obstacles I’ve put in their way. Soon.” He pondered for a moment, he had read most of the reports received from MISR. From almost nothing the DEHumans had constructed a fleet of ships, colonies, technologies beyond the grasp of unaltered mankind.

Suddenly his expression grew darker. “What’s in Valles Marineries?”

Distraught the president looked up. “Abandoned dwellings, pressurised probably, with their agricultural equipment still running, they had their own geothermal vent drilled. But they lacked the food, most starved and those who didn’t, came crawling back. Why?”

Suspicions that, that story was not the whole truth about the Valles Marineries settlement grew in Kurt’s mind. “Listen, my wife is presumably a linker, my son said she was travelling there. So I need to know what else is there. The linkers wouldn’t go there, even one alone, if there wasn’t some benefit to their goals!”

Scared, the president looked up from the couch to Kurt.

 

“A fusion reactor, and a particle accelerator, I am told.” Although not equipped with a fusion reactor, that was nothing the normal colony couldn’t provide the linkers. There was a particle accelerator at the base of Olympus Mons, thats how the antimatter for the MISR was created.

Kurt paced up and down the presidential office. But there were safeguards in place to prevent the crearion of such, temporarily Kurt had taken those out of commission, but they were in place again. Were there such safeguards in the other one too?

“Probably not, they’ll use their geothermal energy to power the accelerator, and drain the fusion material to use that as a makeshift containment chamber.” He pondered aloud.

To what end where they creating antimatter? Were they planning to build a ship?

“We need to go in.” Kurt stopped. Turning to the president who was still sitting in his spot on the couch. “What?”

“What ever it is they are planning to do, we need to go in, and stop them.”

“We don’t even know how many there are! A handful, a dozen, or thousands!” Looking at the time on the clock above the door Kurt shook his head.

“There’d be reports if thousands of people went missing in such short time, or got implants. I figure there aren’t more than a hundred.” Looking at the president with enthusiasm Kurt felt tension rising. His idea involved him going in too.

With his lab exposed to vacuum, his wife among the linkers and his life’s work to blame for the situation, he felt obligated. Besides, if they had already started doing some of the work he suspected, who else but him should evaluate their motifs?

 

An hour had passed, Kurt was rushed to the police chief who mounted a small strike force, Leopold was put under protection. Meanhwile a clearly pale and devastated President made a public service announcement not to get any new implants, and if some doctor is offering it, he should be reported.

Over the radio Kurt overheard that several people reported their friends or loved ones getting such a new fancy implant under one pretense or another.

“Computer shows that about a hundred and fifty people have left for Valles Marineries.” Stewart Dixon, the officer in charge of the strike team, informed Kurt.

Sitting in a crammed cab, dressed in a semi environmental suit with armor elements, surrounded by twelve bulky men in similar outfits and guns, Kurt felt very uncomfortable. But it was his idea. “So tell me again, what are we going to face here?” Stu asked, making every man in the crammed room turn their head to face Kurt. “Humans. They have implanted themselves with a chip that allows for them to link their brains together, they are potentially dangerous, already two deaths can be attributed to their actions.” The cab slowed down to a crawl, soon an electric engine started moving the vehicle forward, the automatic transportation field had stopped working.

“ETA 30 minutes!” The woman in charge of navigating the cab barked over her shoulder. Moments earlier it had been a third of that time.

 

Half an hour of pondering about the ulterior motifs of the linkers in Valles Marineries later the cab finally docked with the local stop. The pilot decided to seal the dock, as she was not certain about the pressure in the tube, the cab had passed a few airlock shutters, which opened for them, but also closed behind them.

Since the tubes should always be pressurised, there was no pressure indicator in the control panel, which was conviently hidden beneath one of the seats.

The door opened, releasing them out into the dark entry hall of the Valles Marineries settlement. Old displays were hanging on the walls, the last image the so called E-Paper displayed was still visible. “Universal knowledge, peace and love.” Underneath those words a black and white depiction of mars, and a crown of leaves.

The people living here were also sort of cultists, Kurt remembered.

Guess your loving mother universe abandoned you in your moments of hunger. His attention soon was drawn to a tablet in the dirt.

It was active, and was running calculations, tied into a network obviously, as the speed at which these complicated calculations were performed, was higher than this tablet should be able to.

Kurt knew.

It was his tablet.

With a few taps he disconnected the tablet, and looked into the history of the files viewed. There was quite some activity, especially in his details of the device and its attachments.

Glad that he did not keep the information for the connector in the tablet, but had drawn them out on some paper which he later had burned, he put it into his pocket.

There was no need to review the calculations that were on display.

A short glance had been enough for him to recognise them. “They’re doing what I was afraid of.” He turned to Stu, who nodded once. Inching further onward with his gun ready.

“This locates most of them in a lower level.” The female police woman, now acting soldier, reported to Stu with a modified tablet in her hand. It picked up on the transponder signals of the normal implants.

“Anyone on this level?” Stu asked over his shoulder, a flashlight pointed in the direction his gun was aiming. “Negative, sir.”

Still cautious the men lowered their guns and proceeded onwards to a stairwell leading to the lower levels. Somehow Kurt doubted that the famine in the Valles Marineries settlement was the true story behind the downfall of the settlement. If they had the knowledge and resources to build a fusion reactor, a particle accelerator, and all that, they sure as hell had the resources to manufacture plenty of food.

And if it was algae in crammed plantations.

“I’m reading two people below us.” Immediately Stu shoved Kurt behind himself, raising the gun again, as did the others.

Not a moment too soon, as laser discharges struck the walls around them. The linkers on Mars were apparently not good at aiming. Kurt couldn’t blame them though, it was almost pitch black, and they only saw what was in the light of their flashlights, those lurking In the dark must’ve been blinded by the sudden bright light, and in the dark one could easily loose his aim.

The armed men returned fire, after a moment or two, the attack seized. Giving them the clear with a nod, the woman looked up from her tablet. Kurt had never gotten her name, and now it was too dark to read her name tag.

Cautiously the group proceeded onward, on the lower level they found the two bodies. A man and a woman. She wore a nurse’s outfit, and he had the looks of a man who had fled sickbed. Perforated by several laser blasts the two were lying lifeless on the stairs, guns in hands. A stern determination still on their faces, no agonised masks of death like Kurt had expected, but only stern determination.

Surely they were still out there, in the linked common consciousness, disembodied minds, thoughts and memories.

It gave Kurt a strange solace to know that although their bodies were dead, they were unharmed somewhere out there.

During their transfer to the settlement Kurt had told the others about the linkers and their nature, in the faces of some of the men who had fired, he saw the same spark of solace he felt.

“There are two more on the entrance to the next level, where the others are.” Erika Olafdottir hissed, in the light of a flashlight Kurt had finally caught a glimpse of her name tag. Guns ready the group proceeded onwards, as expected the next two guarding linkers were firing at the intruders with the same inefficient aim, and were overwhelmed just as quickly.

Behind the door to the level was a long hallway, the lights were on, making it easier to spot an ambush, but also to be targeted by said ambush. A moldy smell dominated the hallway, coming from the adjacent rooms. One door was open revealing what Kurt had suspected. Algae plants. Several of them. And they were active, so the famine was a ruse. Why would the government lie though? Was it just because the settlement was run by cultists, or was it because of something different?

“Most are dead ahaead, in a large room.” Crouched, trying every door along the way, finding the rooms empty, as foretold by Erika’s scanner, the men proceeded onwards.

A strange feeling grew in Kurt.

Something was wrong. He just couldn’t tell what exactly.

 

Behind the door that Erika had pounted out was a large messhall, overturned tables, stools strewn around the room.

Immediately the people around Kurt sought cover, but nothing happened. Left standing as the only one Kurt looked around the room. The messhall was just fake, at the far side of the room he could make out torn down fake walls, with the control room for the accelerator behind them.

But no people. “Get down you fool!” Stu hissed angrily.

“There’s no one here.” Kurt replied, baffled he wandered behind one of the overturned tables, picked something up. “Erika? Tell me if one of them is moving towards your position.” He paced towards her. “Affirmative!”

Peeking over the edge of the table behind which he had sought cover, Stu stared at Kurt. “The transponders. They removed them, rigged them to remain ‘active’ and placed them here.” Kurt eyed the rice corn sized implant and walked to the back of the room.

The implications of that discovery were, that all around them the linkers could be lurking without being traceable.

Somehow Kurt doubted that was the case, the guards with their horrible aim, but still active implants were there to throw them off.

Behind him he heard Stu bark out commands, to set up a a perimeter, and check for signs of the linkers.

Erika joined Kurt, she had ditched the tablet and walked next to him, with her gun drawn. “They’re not here. You won’t need that.” He stepped into the control room.

It began to dawn on him why the outpost was shut down. It wasn’t the famine, which was either grafted onto the situation, or it actually happened because everyone in the settlement was too busy to grow food, or check if it was poisonous.

 

Since the supposed rescue teams had been there extracting the last so called survivors, children mostly, the linkers were the first people in the Valles Marineries settlement. No one bothered to turn off the machines, check why they had suffered a famine, or what else was lying in the settlement. Someone knew, back then, but neglected to pass the information on. The facility was just abandoned, forgotten and the access restricted.

 

“Where are they if not here?” Erika also looked down the glass windows to the accelerator, growing quiet all of a sudden. “At my lab, contacting their friends. They made all possible versions of the connector I suspect. But then there’s this beauty.” Intrigued he leaned on the dusty control panel gazing down.

 

Glistening in the dim light, was the nose of a ship, it had a vague similarity with a pointy beak. The metal it was constructed from had an old look to it, but was still not oxidised and fused with the surrounding rock. “Once this is over, I need a metallurgist, and an army of engineers, excavators and the entire library from the device.”

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.

 

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.