Posts tagged ‘implants’

Rings of Fate S5xE6 – Denta Draconis – Attacks

Again warning beeps from her tablet alarmed Serena, the sludge on the other parts of the Endeavour II had stopped spreading and instead ate their way inward through the hull. Determined Serena took the fastest route to the main engineering room, not without stopping by the chemistry lab. A faint thunder echoed through the hallway, followed by an alarm.

She needed not look at her tablet to know what had happened.

A hull breach.

 

By the time she reached the engine room at the rear end of the Endeavour II, several more hull breaches had thundered through the ship. The crew was in a frenzy, scrambling to contain the situation. Some tried making their way to the escape pods. Small chambers with a cryogenic unit inside, capable of keeping them alive for some time. “Everything ready?” Captain Frankson stood at the main console of the engine room.

“As ready as can be.” An access hatch was hidden below the workstation, it led to an excape pod.

A one man escape pod.

Blaring sirens alerted the crew as the computer anounced a catastrophic chain reaction to be in process, designed to obliterate the Endeavour II.

“Get to an escape pod.” Frankson smiled, banking on Serena not knowing that there was one beneath their feet. “They’re either blocked off, infected, or already gone.” Without showing any emotion Serena drew a gun, shot the powerful laser directly through Frankson’s heart. “Sorry for that, besides, a Captain has to go down with his ship.” She reached for the hidden switch to slide the workstation aside.

Just as she was about to descend the ladder the door to the engine room opened. Still significantly shorter than when the intruder had introduced himself, Nineteen entered the room. Furiously he approached her as he realised whom he had surprised in the engine room. Everyone else whom he had met along the way was dead now, all the intruding sludge had met up with his remains to give him a new capable body.

Hastily Serena dived down the ladder, the adjacent hallway was barely high enough to stand. It’ll do. After a few paces she stopped, as anticipated Nineteen dropped down the ladder as well, noticing the gun in her hand. “That thing is useless against me, as you might have guessed.”

A dirty smirk appeared on Serena’s face. “I know.” She took up a small flask, it seemed to consist of metal. With one finger she popped open the flask, raising her gun.

Pouring the content into the beam that emerged from the gun, a modified graviton emission. Almost immediately Nineteen screamed in rage and something similar to pain. “Fluoroantimonic acid.” She hissed. By now she had produced a breathing mask from a bag that she had also taken from the chemistry lab.

“Destroys almost everything, even your nanites.” She had covered the flask again, watching the acid work its way on Nineteen. “You may think that mankind can easily be overwhelmed, and for most of these mundane people you’d be right. But not me, not my kin. You will lose!”

 

Footage was displayed on the large screen in the briefing room, showing the exterior of the Endeavour II, as seen from one of the escape pods. Violent explosions tore through the hull, consuming the ship, until the antimatter containment was ruptured, another violent reaction later everything the feed showed was empty space.

Horrified Alexandra Wenzel looked on, glancing to the people around her. Genetically modified people, the lot of them. Most were as shocked as she was.

“All survivors of the Endeavour II catastrophe are being debriefed as we speak.” Admiral Friedhelm Bauer walked in front of the screen. The XO of the Colonial Bureau of Intelligence was stern as usual, causing Alexandra to question his genetic status. Was he a modified human as well? Or was he just a cold hearted asshole?

Maybe both, she surmised.

“Testimony from the first officer, Serena Kaur, reports a heroic death from Captain Frankson, who had stayed behind, ensuring the escape of his crew, and the destruction of Endeavour II. Apparently the sludge people can be harmed, or destroyed by using Fluoroantimonic acid, a tactic the Captain used to delay the intruder, an individual calling himself Nineteen.” The feed behind him jumped forward, displaying more violent eruptions in the debris field, by their nature it was easy to deduce their cause.

Antimatter weapons.

Appalled Alexandra wanted to object, but seeing the debris of the linker ships being slowly transformed into more sludge, it seemed like the only viable option.

“That happened less than two days ago, so far no new activity has been spotted on the scene.”

Something that Claire, a former linker, once had said casually, came to mind. “The collective mind wants to understand, incorporate the sludge. Destroying it would not do that.”

Eventually the collective mind will have to realise that the sludge can not be incorporated into the DEHuman existence. Watching the energies ebb away after all matter in the debris field had been obliterated Alexandra made a mental note to tell the colony she came from never to piss off both the CBI or the genetically modified humans. It dawned on her why the crew of Horizon, especially Admiral Mulgrew, objected against mankind using antimatter. Apparently the first question that came to the human mind, once a technology has been discovered,was how it could be turned into a weapon.

Surprisingly it took this long until antimatter weapons were utilised.

 

After the short briefing by the Admiral, the people in the room were left to ponder again. Alexandra sat next to Leonie Braun, the genetically modified grand daughter of Leopold Braun who had founded the programme with his wife Tracy. To her other side was Ranjeet Kaur, a mildly attractive man with green eyes and dark skin. “This is a troubling development.” He noted. “Now the sludge will undoubtedly perceive us a threat.”

Agreeing with him Leonie looked at a star chart. “RV-p296, Mars and Ericsson are capable of mounting a defense utilising antimatter weaponry. I’m worried about PK-p222.” Glancing at Alexandra she paused.

“I’d worry about all the systems,” Alexandra replied dryly, not willing to start a debate about the decision of PK-p222 not using antimatter, as it was hardly the time, nor her place as just a shift commander, “they can chose to appear in such overwhelming numbers and so close to the colonies and other installations, that there is no room to safely use the antimatter, or sufficient quantities of Fluoroantimonic acid.”

Seeing her point Ranjeet nodded, also not willing to chime in to yet another discussion about the benefits of antimatter use. “We need other strategies. The energy field used to contain Nineteen for example.”

“Forget it.” Another voice mixed into the discourse. Through the door came a woman, elegant, but with a stern expression. From the files Alexandra had been able to study about the Endeavour II, it was first officer Serena Kaur. But why was she out of uniform?

All of a sudden it struck Alexandra like a bolt of lightning had hit her.

She was an operative placed aboard the Endeavour II. Perhaps even a long time ago, purposed to expand the experience of the highly intelligent people from Denta draconis alpha. “They are adaptive towards that energy field. Although it is highly effective, we would have to alter the frequency with every third shot. Using it as an offensive weapon would result in us running out of available frequencies pretty soon.” Casually she flung a tablet on the table, it showed the data collected during her encounters with Nineteen. Hastily Leonie read through the data, while Ranjeet greeted his wife.

“He adapted an immunity to the modulation, but is this communicated to the other entities? Their capability of communication is limited. All they are is a collection of nanites. They have no link between one individual and the next like the DEHumans.”

Serena regarded the other woman with a judging gaze. “As far as we know, that is a theory that would require testing. If the other individuals get to those destroyed they can figure out the frequency, and adapt to it. The way I see it we would need to safely contain two specimen, blast one repeatedly with the same frequency until it has adapted, and then try to hit the other. Do you know of a way to pull this off?”

Alexandra listened to them without bringing in her own ideas, as she, quite frankly, had none. “No. I don’t.” Leonie conceded.

“Why don’t we try it another way?” An idea popped into Alexandra’s mind, it troubled her that she was participating in a conversation with people who were a multitude of her IQ. “We equip two vessels with this as an offensive weapon, send them to two different locations, and have one blast a ship full on, neutralising every Digitalys individual on board, then the other tries with the same modulation.” The expression on Serena’s face changed, looking at Alexandra as one would look at a child that tried to participate in a conversation between adults, making a totally inadequate proposal.

“And where would we find two of their ships separated sufficiently? We don’t know where they are at in the first place, let alone two locations.” The way she spoke was matching her expression.

“It is a valid proposal.” Ranjeet jumped to Alexandra’s defense. “Just not feasible at the moment.”

 

In amazement Alexandra read the report from Ericsson. Installations of antimatter weaponry, reenforced shielding, energy emitters and Fluoroantimonic acid containers had been built there. Far below ground of the frozen planet the QEN was set up, a backup of all data in the colonies. What she was unable to read with her clearance, she pieced together, many officials and their entourage, had relocated to the depths of Ericsson. In secret of course, with detailed recreations of their original homes and locations, to fake it in any transmission.

 

Similar preparations were made elsewhere. But they had to be less apparent, as the majority of the population in the colonies was to be kept in the dark concerning the severity of the situation. News from Alexandra’s home colony of PK-p222 were discouraging.

PK-p222 was somewhat pacifistic in nature, the only thing standing between it and an invading force was Horizon. Unlike Mars and RV-p296 or Ericsson, there were no weapons platforms in orbit, or on the ground.

Horizon had received several upgrades over the years, but none anywhere close to what the other colonies had. Eight weeks had passed since Endeavour II had met its ultimate fate, and no sign of the Digitalys people. Probes sent to Digitalys were destroyed, but whether it was due to active or passive defenses was uncertain.

“Miss Wenzel?” Only one person in the universe caled her that, overjoyed Alexandra jumped from her table, embracing Paul, her fiancé. After a long passionate kiss she noticed the weary look in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Emotionless he handed her a tablet. “Missing persons reports.” He remarked.

Quickly she read through the lines of names. “Half the staff of the Sunset inn? How?” In her efforts of concentrating on the armament of the colonies that information had passed her completely, although she kept a close eye on Claire, the former linker that had drawn the attention of CBI to the threat posed by the sludge from Digitalys.

He tapped on the tablet, opening a a different set of data.

Turbulence records from the orbital atmospheric surveillance system. “This is consistent with a ship leaving the atmosphere.” Wide eyed she looked at him after realising what she had been looking at. Without words he told her to swipe to the side.

Energy emissions of the space arpund PK-p222, matching the time of the turbulence, shortly after, there was a spike consistent with a ship engaging its antimatter drive.

Immediately she understood the implications. Claire had mentioned undercover agents of the DEHumans in the colonies. Women who slept around gathered fresh genetic material from regular humans. “The bureau had followed that lead from Claire, suspected a few of them to be in the,” musing for the right term he blinked, “adult entertainment of the sunset inn and other such locations.”

Rather worried Alexandra turned back to the tablet. Although remaining in the cover of their uniquely cloaked ships the departure of these individuals seemed too abrupt. “There is something going on. They didn’t leave because the bureau was on to them, they left due to other reasons.” She returned Paul’s tablet and went back to her desk. What else had slipped by her while she concentrated on the Digitalys problem? “Nothing unexpected from the linkers.” Massive ship building operations at ES-p296’s moon, as was to be expected, nothing that would warrant the presence of a bunch of women carrying genetic information. “Unless,” as he sat down opposite of his fiancé. “they have plans for a new colony somewhere.”

“Something they hatched after the incident with the sludge. So the location would be truly a secret.” He finished her thought.

“We can chart the likely positions while we go on our next assignment.” Finally unveiling the true reason for his presence. “Harpies?”

Taken aback by stunning surprise Paul kept silent. “It’s the Harpies, right? The Digitalys question is their fault, so we are finally catching up with them.”

“You’re good. Sure they didn’t upgrade your genes while here?” With a wink he made it clear that he was only joking.

“No I think they laced my food with enhancing things.” She winked back, somewhat glad to finally be leaving the station again.

 

In the cabin Alexanda entered, were already several people waiting for them. Ranjeet, Serena and Leonie as well as Admiral Bauer.

Originally Alexandra had hoped for some time alone with Paul, and maybe a pilot to ferry them. By no stretch of her imagination had she thought to be traveling with these other people. Except for Serena, none of the genetically modified people had ever left the station.

But it was of course obvious that the somewhat paranoid bureau would never allow the Harpies to learn the location of the station.

 

Moments after disengaging the ship activated its main engines hurling them across vast distances. Alexandra liked the feeling when the engines worked their way, and conventional travel became as if one were to compare the speed of movement a Ghoti on land had with the speeds a ship had in flight right after atmospheric entry.

Within moments the distance to the station could only be measured in lightyears and their ETA was not such as to warrant an uncomfortably long flight. That was at least some silver lining.

 

Somewhen during the journey the Admiral announced that they would meet up with a delegation of the Harpies while en route to their destination, which puzzled Alexandra, as she had been under the impression that they would meet with them at the destination, but still she was looking forward to finally meet a Harpy.

The docking procedure was only a brief experience. Stopping, docking with the massive and impressive ship, of which Alexandra saw nothing, disengaging, resume previous heading.

Having read about the Harpies, Alexandra knew she would deal with creatures who had evolved from dinosaurs, and that they were only about as tall as her hip.

Seeing the Harpies that entered the ship left an impression of not having been prepared for that encounter. Their height was as described, but never had the musky, almost leathery odor been mentioned. Their guttural speech drove instinct driven shivers down Alexandra’s spine.

Immediately the automated translators sprung to action, revealing only chitchat among the alien like descendants of earth.

 

As soon as the new guests had settled in they joined the already present humans in a briefing room. “We are currently headed to a top secret facility, Denta Draconis gamma, where a fleet of automated vessels is under construction, designed for one purpose. Eradication of enemy targets. Construction of said fleet had begun several years ago, upgrades to the systems in use are under way since first contact with the sludge.” Admiral Bauer yapped away while Alexandra bit her lip. Gamma. That meant that somewhere out there either a beta station had been destroyed, or floated around undetected.

What else were the CBI files and the genetically altered hiding?

“What kind of weaponry are we talking about?” A Harpy asked, who would introduce herself as Jayla. The Harpies had maintained a continuous presence on RV-p296, the translation programmes had advanced in their complexity, evolved past monotone voices. Nuances and intonation were fleshed out.

“Antimatter torpedoes, multiphase energy beam weaponry, and as a last resort the fluoroantimonic acid. If a vessel is boarded the ship will release the acid inside and on the hull before initiating a self-destruct sequence while maintaining a certain distance to the enemy vessels, in order to take them down as well.” Clearly there was shock in Jayla’s eyes as the Admiral explained the capabilities of the ships.

Inside the Harpy’s mind the same paranoia the CBI harboured for everyone, played out scenarios of the humans attacking the Harpies, with the exact same ships they would use against Digitalys.

“Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Glad that it was not her who had to ask this obvious question Alexandra anxiously waited for the reply to the Harpy’s inquiry.

“Extreme circumstances require extreme measures, ambassador. Your people spawned the sludge on Digitalys, but you haven’t fought it yet. I have.”

A momemt of silence ensued the statement made by Serena, the only human who had fought against the Digitalyans one on one. “There is a possibility,” the ambassador bowed her head, “we could try and alter the programming of the nanites.”

Such an attempt had been made by the original creators of the nanotechnology, but it had failed. Technology had developed further since then, the ambassador’s proposal had some merit.

“We could try that, but how to ensure it replicates from one individual to the next?” Serena stood up from where she sat. “Their ships are solid, not nanites, they communicate not via a data link, although they can if need be.” Unless Nineteen communicated with the sludge on Endeavour’s hull, he sent no signals of any kind. It would’ve been easy for the Digitalyan to call the sludge around the ship to aid him in conquering Endeavour II.

Whether there was a range limit to his signal, or because he was confident he could conquer the ship alone, even Serena didn’t know.

“We could try and trigger a cascade update. So that it replicates in the immediate vicinity.” Ranjeet suggested, remaining seated.

Back to ship by ship elimination. Worried Alexandra reclined.

Noticeably the ship slowed down, to approach speeds. “We have arrived.” The Admiral beamed proudly as the screen sprung to life.

 

What appeared on the screen was taking Alexandra’s breath away. Forming a shape like an enormous cube, an uncountable armada of ships hovered readily around a lunar object that orbited a gas giant. Obviously the creators of the station had taken a cue from the linkers, as a constant stream of matter was flowing from the gas giant to the station.

“Thanks to advances in technology we are able to extract many materials from that body and its parent body.” Alexandra could imagine where those advances in technology came from, the genetically enhanced people and the database from the alternate time line.

In the same amount that pride seemed to ooze out of every pore the general had, suspicion and fear emitted from the Harpies.

They were very well aware that these could also be used against them. How the humans were able to raise such a vast fleet in a, relatively,short amount of time, was beyond them. “Let’s go in, shall we?” He smiled pressing a button ordering the pilot to land at the station. Unlike ES-p296-1 gamma had no breathable atmosphere, or any atmosphere. It was a lifeless rock landscape. For a brief moment Alexandra felt the vastly lower gravity as they crossed over to the station.

“This is the control room for the fleet.” Admiral Bauer stopped the delegation at a door, the transparent windows on the large door granted a view inside. Several hundred pods stood inside, each with a comfortable looking chair, VR goggles and controls for the ships. “You have enough pilots for all these?” Jayla raised a valid question.

Other than half a dozen people they had not seen a single individual since their landing. “Yes. Obviously we don’t need them here right,” he was interrupted by his glasses beeping frantically, an alarm siren began chiming. Alexandra felt a nudge in the side, Paul raised his tablet, it was tied in with regular colonial channels.

“They’re attacking the linker moon.” Paul hissed, showing her the alarming news.

As predicted they had appeared too close to the orbital platform to use any antimatter weaponry. Linker ships around the shipyard offered fierce resistance, as well as the station itself. Energy beams were exchanged, a bright unnatural flash filled the screen, only moments after the linker ships withdrew. The orbital platform had initiated an antimatter explosion, tearing itself apart, but also a huge gap into the lines of the attacking forces.

While large ships from the lunkers swooped in, taking on several smaller ones, presumably docking and retrieving individuals from them, smaller vessels plunged into the enmies, initiating the same self-destruct, plucking apart the force that had attacked them.

Others had gathered around the tablet, Paul even had knelt down to show the curious ambassador. Footsteps drew their attention. In groups of a dozen men and women rushed through the hallway, yelling for the visitors to make way, as they ran into the control room, manning their stations, after a few minutes the entire room was filled.

Creeped out by the fact that the men and women looked eerily similar to one another, Alexandra peeked through the window in the door.

They also wore identical uniforms. One from each dozen had a higher ranking, obviously the leader of the group. “This is a perfect opportunity to witness the armada in action.” The Admiral waved them to follow him. “I don’t want to be the buzz kill here, but the attack is over, sir.” Paul showed the tablet to the Admiral. None of the ships that had attacked the linker moon were left in a threatening position. Those that had still the capacity to leave did so, while the others were destroyed by powerful explosions.

A new batch of ships appeared on the screen. They were a squadron of the unmanned vessels they had seen upon arrival. Quickly the ships rushed towards the remaining ships. “We still need to test those weapons.” The Admiral smiled, explaining the presence of the ships. Swiftly the ships fell upon their prey, blasting their beams, neutralising every Digitalyan on board.

“Scanners show that every individual has disintegrated.” Smug faced the Admiral stared into his glasses.

Although not part of the force that did it, or even enabled this victory, Alexandra felt pride.

 

“A crippling blow was dealt to the Digitalys fleet, but they will regroup, rebuild and return in greater numbers.” It seemed that all what was going on in the bureau was meeting after meeting. Why she still was present had eluded Alexandra. Obviously now the genetically modified people had gathered their own experiences, they had no more use for her.

Of course she had seen too much to be returned to her post.

That frightened her. “I motion to post two squadrons at least around every colony. They need to be on rotation.” Trying to contribute to the cause, to validate her presence, to keep herself useful to the bureau, or who ever ran the fleet, Alexandra pointed at a screen. “Contact shift commander Nguyen on Horizon, to clear the presence of them at PK-p222, so their presence remains both a secret from the population, and still can serve their purpose.”

Nodding in acknowledgement the Admiral went on to explain that undoubtedly the Digitalys fleet will be equipped with powerful shielding against future exploits of their weakness.

“A torpedo.” Paul blurted out. “One that can be fired into their ships, past their shielding, then, instead of blowing up, it releases a blast of the energy field.”

Smirking Serena looked at the agent. “I think we can work with that.”

Is brainstorming, tossing around ideas, all we are going to do? “I believe that we should warn the population. Perhaps gather volunteers to either serve or start another colony, off the records.” A scorning gaze from the Admiral was Alexandra’s reward for voicing her ideas. “Mankind’s role as the perpetual refugees needs to stop. Neither the bureau nor the admiralty or ruling bodies of any of the colonies are willing to yet again pack up everything and move to an undisclosed, or yet undiscovered portion of the universe. We will make a stand where we are at currently.” Rearranging his tablet on the desk Admiral Bauer looked down shortly. “Concerning your proposal for people to volunteer, we have more capable pilots than ships at the current moment. Advantages in quantum entanglement remote controlled gear ensure that we will not be short on manpower in that department. All that aside, the populations are informed as much as they need be.”

Feeling scolded Alexandra coldly nodded.

“She has a point, your people should stow away a portion of the population with a suitable large genepool some place safe that is not known by large portions of your people.” Ambassador Jayla rode to Alexandra’s rescue.

“Denta Draconis stations are off the records, well armed and house suitable amounts of genetically diverse and advanced people.” Was the Admiral’s short and pointy reply.

Again Alexandra guessed that there was at least one more station she had not seen yet, although the Admiral’s use of the plural was suitable for two stations as well.

 

After the meeting they were free to follow their tasks. Serena and her husband began working on a design for the torpedo that Paul had suggested, together with Leonie Braun.

Paul was following the Admiral, working on mapping out staging areas for the squadrons. Next to the regular colonies, Mars, Ericsson, RV-p296, and PK-p222, there was the issue of the smaller less known Fronteer Colonies.

Left alone to explore the station by herself Alexandra wandered into the tube network. The display that was designed to show the available destinations confirmed her suspicions that the bureau had taken designs from the linkers. There was a shaft leading through the moon, but it was off limits to her clearance, other destinations included a laboratory for genetic research. The gamma station apparently was designed with complete independence in mind, in case something happened to alpha.

Left with a limited choice she decided to pay the local gardens a visit. As most of the gardens she had seen, either herself or in images, it was filled with plants that once had been native to earth. An artificial sky and sunlight, the lingering sweet smell hung heavy in the air.

Other people took recreation from these, but somehow Alexandra felt only boredom upon entering the garden. It was just that. A garden, designed and cared for by people. Food plants, decorative ones, oxygen providing and companions from a long lost home.

Sitting down on the moist ground underneath some tree Alexandra could not name if her life depended on it, she took out her tablet.

Although her security clearance was not the highest, she still had access to some data, and surveillance equipment.

A live feed delivered by a long range surveillance probe aimed at the linker base showed the battlefield. Linker ships flew around, picking up bits and pieces, delivering them to a large vessel that she’d describe as a portable space station. At least twice as big as the station that once had been at the other end of the tether for the space elevator. Comparing an Orion-class ship with this vessel, was as if one were to compare a canoe with an aircraft carrier. Now it all comes out, all the ships that were kept a secret from the other side, all the weapons hidden away, they all came out now. Pondering about this humongous beast and the remote controlled fighters, as well as the genetically modified humans, she asked herself again what other secrets awaited the light of day.

A group of children walked by her on one of the paths of the garden. Interested eyes looked at her. One of them stopped.

It was a little girl, dark hair, almost black. She was dressed like the other children, and most of the adults Alexandra had seen so far on the gamma station. Her curiosity drove the girl to walk up to Alexandra. Big brown eyes looked at her from a round face that lacked imperfections. “Hello.” Mustering Alexandra she stopped in her tacks. “You’re new here.”

“Yes I am.” Surprised at the lack of childlike sluggishness of speech, Alexandra replied. “I am Alexandra Wenzel, and I am here to help in a difficult situation with my experiences.” Hoping not to give away too much to an innocent young spirit Alexandra went on with her introduction.

“My name is Samira, and I am in school.” No doubt in an advanced class like all of the genetically modified people. “You’re sitting underneath a cherry tree.”

Oblivious to that fact Alexandra looked up the stem. Neither ripe fruit nor blossom would’ve given that clue to her. “It seems that I am, but I just wanted to sit down under a tree.”

Pondering the girl looked up the tree too. “It’s not forbidden, but I wouldn’t like the moist ground.” Stating that, Samira turned away.

Something about Samira’s outfit was different than that of most people, Alexandra reflected as she walked away. Everyone had a name tag, so the girl’s introduction was sort of moot. Unlike on the last station that Alexandra had been visiting they wore uniforms, the grey name tag bore a greek letter, but that of Samira had a different one.

 

Pushing that observation aside Alexandra got up after a few minutes, as Paul was done with the deployment plans, which immediately went into effect.

He too came walking down the path, from the direction the children had wandered in. “Four groups, twelve ships each, per colony. Including PK-p222.” He proudly announced to her as they approached one another. That was twice the number she had suggested. With that kind of protection the colonies were safer, a wave of relief washed over her. “Deployment has already commenced, they’re at their position as we speak.” Which means we’re not that far away from most of the colonies, or that they had already some ships parked somewhere out of sight.

“Glad to hear.” She tucked her arm into his as they paced down the path. “What do you know about these stations?” Perhaps he could reveal some information that he jad kept from her previously, despite him agreeing to full disclosure. “Nothing really. I was as surprised as you must’ve been.” About to ask another question Alexandra barely had enough time to draw breath as the ground shook. It was a minor tremor, but noticeable.

Immediately it was followed by another and a blaring siren.

As quickly as possible the two ran for the nearest exit from the gardens, had to get their bearing in the maze of tunnels and hallways.

Paul had taken out his tablet, trying to access the com network to find out what was going on, while being led around the base by his fiancé.

“No broadcast, but I have external sensors.” Not stopping to look at his tablet Alexandra kept pushing on. “It’s them!” Paul exclaimed, his voice a terrified shriek. His manliness had evaporated away in the face of danger, with a sigh Alexandra pushed that observation away too. Another ground shaking, paired with growlimg thunder and dislocated explosion noises almost threw her off her feet.

Around a corner Alexandra found the group of children from earlier, they stood next to a badly injured Serena. “Samira, let me through.” Alexandra pushed the girl away gently. How did the woman on the ground get injured that badly?

“It was a trap!” Spittle flew from the once sensual lips of Serena, bowing up to speak with Alexandra. “The sludge, it must’ve entered my body through my lungs, it formed a special device and activated, functioning as a homing beacon, before we could remove it.” In Serena’s left hand Alexandra now noticed a scalpel. “Preserve, ” not able to finish her sentence another tremor and explosion followed her last word.

“Come!” Alexandra jumped to her feet, grabbing Samira with one hand, and Paul with the other, who had the sense of dropping his tablet and grabbing another kid, the rest followed suit.

 

In the tube cab Alexandra had Samira tell the cab to bring them to the far side of the moon, if the bureau had any sense, they had a hangar there with some ships.

“This will take a few minutes.” Samira explained. On the panel Alexandra saw that artificial speed was engaged, as relying on gravity alone would take them around fourty minutes. “Better than to stay in the warzone.” Paul stood in front of the entrance, still holding the child with one hand. He was petrified.

Best to leave him that way for now.

After a few minutes the cab slowed and soon after the doors opened. Immediately the alarm ring in the corridor filled the cab, but there was no shaking, no signs of the attack. What there was however were three women and a man, hiding behind a desk, weapons aimed at the tube. They had hurriedly set up the barricade when they saw the tube was engaged. Visibly relieved not to be facing an enemy they left the relative safety of their barricades.

“We need to move quickly,” Alexandra skipped any introduction, or lengthy explanations, “the sludge has attacked. Is there a hangar?”

The leading woman of the group had some resemblance to Samira, but seemed not attached to her. “The production line hangar, this way.” Sherina, according to her name tag, took the lead. Paul moved as if he was remote controlled by Alexandra’s hand, dragged by her, a pace behind.

 

After a short while they reached the production line hangar. In many rows the remote controlled fighters stood, in various stages of completion. “How many people can fit in one of these?” Pausing for a moment Sherina counted the group. Six adults and five children. “If we squeeze tightly, we can fit all in one. But none of us are pilots!” She seemed distressed.

“I can fly.” Alexandra tiredly sighed. Paul could as well, but in his state of shock he was of no use. There was a cabin with two bunk beds, a table that was welded to wall and floor, a lavatory and shower combined as well as two tiny closets, enough to hang a jumpsuit, a jacket and store a pair of shoes, each. Then there was the cockpit, one seat. In case the remote control failed, they had designed these ships for two pilots who would take turns.

Immediately Sherina and her colleagues tucked the children into the bunks, which had a safety feature, while Paul was seated at the table, along with one of them. The other three would take the floor or the lavatory. “Disable the remote control unit.” Samira shouted from the bunk she was tucked into.

Once inside the cockpit Alexandra looked around, the unit with the remote control systems inside was not hard to locate, brutally she yanked the plating open, figuring she had no time for fiddling around with screws.

Removing the chip was just an obligatory, but easy, task. Confirming her suspicions by looking at the sensor data, she established that they would not be leaving the hangar in a conventional manner. “Buckle up back there!” Several different warnings began beeping and howling as Alexandra readied the antimatter drive. Worried she looked outside, the countless other ships, just sitting there.

Another warning began chiming in to the chorus of the previous ones as she readied an antimatter missile. A fraction of a second before she jumped the tiny ship out of the hangar the missile launched.

Alexandra was grinding her teeth as the drive disengaged just above the Denta Draconis gamma station. They had turned themselves into missiles, infiltrating our base while dealing damage to it. The exterior of the base was covered in writhing silvery sludge. She had only fractions of a second until the ships from Digitalys detected her, aimed and fired.

She knew. There was no time for thinking about the lives that would end prematurely due to her actions. No time for contemplating the losses.

Just barely enough time to set off two more missiles, one aimed at the base to ensure the complete annihilation of the remote controls for the ships already stationed at the colonies. The other to set off a chain reaction in the remaining fleet of ships.

 

Again the drive disengaged not far from where Alexandra had started it, she needed confirmation on her actions. Whether she had succeeded, or whether she best hightail it back home, pick up as many people as possible and leave. The moon was by now nothing more than a ball of glowing magma, the antimatter explosions had eliminated much of it, and the rest had been superheated by the very same explosions.

The ships on the other hand were not done exploding yet. One blew up, setting off the ones around it, and so on.

Again a warning lit up with an according beep. “Weapons lock detected.” The drive engaged, bringing the ship with the last survivors from the Denta Draconis Gamma stations away.

Rings of Fate S5xE5 – Endeavor II – Encounters

Lights were dimmed on the bridge of the Endeavour II, deep space reconnaissance vessel. Captain Frankson stared at the display.

“There has been no change to yesterday.” He remarked. “Or last week.” The Endeavour II had been ordered to hold position near the debris field left behind from the encounter between the DEhuman fleet and the unknown aliens.

For a week they had sat there, unmoving, just running long range sensors, repeatedly.

Over and over again they returned the same data.

Metallurgical analysis of the debris. Chemical analysis of the debris. Energy signatures from the debris. Bio scans revealed thousands of dead humans.

Linkers, all of them, but no life. No artificial movement.

Just inertia, parts that were adrift and crashed into one another, a game of billiards in space.

The major parts, chunks bigger than their ship, stayed where they were, with smaller debris bouncing off on them, crashing into them, disintegrating upon impact.

“Let’s see what this stuff is made of, from up close.”

His science officer, Serena Kaur, a slender and tall woman with dark skin and ravenous black hair, let her fingers fly over the console before her. “Another probe?” She asked, almost bored.

“No.” Giving a nod to his navigation officer, Lieutenant Cassandra Cole, he braced for the arguments from his fellow crew.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, sir, finally!” Cassandra breathed in anticipation, the dull task of staying in position was more taxing than the maneuvers she’d have to pull off to avoid crashing into any of the debris.

Earning a scolding look from Serena, the Lieutenant put in the commands into her console, motioning the ship forward.

 

The slender ship glided through space, far from any light source the shiny hull reflected only faintly the distant stars as dots, flickering with the changes of the hull.

Previously sent probes had revealed the same as the long range sensors. Analysis of the materials and matter in the debris field.

Any residual pockets of antimatter from the propulsion systems had, immediately after the deatruction of the ships, interacted with the matter around. Annihilating everything it came into contact with in violent explosions, along with itself.

There was no energy detectable anywhere.

“Reading a whole lot of nothing.” Serena stated, she was slumped into her chair. Although she would’ve proceeded with more caution than Captain Frankson, she had not expected anything else than what they found so far.

“Wait.” She sat up, her fingers once again flew over her console. An image appeared on the viewscreen, depicting a humanoid shape. “This is odd, reading only metallic compounds in this person.” A search light on the exterior cast a powerful beam on the body.

Indeed it had a metallic shine on its skin, no signs usually associated with explosive decompression. “Take a closer reading of it.” Intrigued by the unusual and unexpected find Captain Frankson leaned forward, waiting for the display of the data. “No temperature to speak of, organs like a human, but all composed of this weird stuff.”

“Is that a scientific term? Weird stuff?” Not reacting to the Captain’s reply of her initial readings, Serena kept staring at her own display.

Like the others she shrieked as the body on the display flung its eyes open.

A silent scream followed. The body flailed its extremities in a vain effort to reach closer to the ship. Fully alert Cassandra halted the forward motion of the Endeavour II, still a good ten meters away from the flailing thing.

“Put some distance between us and that thing.” Feeling his heart pounding up to his throat, Captain Frankson settled back in his seat after having jumped from it.

Gladly complying with that order, Cassandra reversed the thrust, not averting her eyes from the horrific picture on the viewscreen.

“It is heating up, roughly 30 degrees Celsius and rising.” Serena commented on what she read. The data streams on the viewscreen showed that there was something else going on in the creature. “What’s that, pressure?” Spinning his head round to his science officer Captain Frankson’s face was contorted grimace of terror.

Before Serena could comment on it, the head of the body popped off shooting towards the Endeavour II, silvery liquid streamed behind it, freezing in the vacuum of space.

Within seconds the head traversed the thirty or so meters between Endeavour’s hull and the body, impacting with a barely noticeable sound.

“Get me external!” Frantic Frankson rushed to Serena’s console. She too acted frantically in her typing the console blindly, all the while keeping a fixed eye on the display above.

“There!” She gasped. Where the head had impacted a puddle of silvery mass was stuck to the exterior of the hull. It seemed to be liquid, although it wasn’t reading as such.

By now they all had understood what the thing they had discovered was.

“Sir!” Cassandra called for his attention, pointimg at the main viewscreen. On her own she had turned the search light around a bit.

There were large chunks of debris, their preliminary analysis had determined those to originated from a linker ship. It was covered in the same silvery sludge as the impact site on Endeavour II. Gently the surface was writhing in the light.

“We walked right into a trap.” The Captain surmised the situation. “Not necessarily, ” taking a moment Serena looked at the data from the main viewscreen, comparing it with the data on her own. “This thing we have here is trying to board the ship, it isn’t spreading, the stuff out there is.”

Feeling powerless Frankson sat down in Serena’s seat. “That’s why the blobs have left the site as well. Their ships and crews can regenerate, even use the opportunity to increase their numbers.”

Shaking his head he woke himself from the train of thought. “Seal off the affected area, once that head has eaten through the hull it will probably be a full sized person again.”

Serena nodded in agreement, pushing the buttons to do so.

“Orders are to attempt capture of the entity, sir.” Communication officer Hu looked up from his console.

“Capture! Who gave that idiotic order?”

“Admiral Friedhelm Bauer from the CBI.” Only hearing that name and agency invoked an urge to strangle someone or something in Captain Frankson.

“Fine, we’ll try and capture it. If it proves to be difficult, I want you all to be prepared for immediate emergency separation.” Since the glory days of Phoenix engineers had seen the advantages of a ship that could detach parts. In case of an emergency the crew could still use part of the ship to escape, sort of like a lifeboat, capable of housing all of the people aboard. Frankson’s sister always had mused how different history would’ve been if naval ships of the past had had the same capabilities. Titanic hit the iceberg, detached from the affected sections and sailed on with all the crew and passengers.

Until that day he had never given that a lot of thought, but now they had hit an iceberg, that had the potential to destroy the Endeavour II.

“Prepare the reactor on the bow section to overload on command.”

About to settle for a difficult mission he wanted to go and have a drink, call it a day for now. “Sir, I’m afraid that plan has no future.”

“Why Serena? Comming forward as a sleeper agent for the CBI?” he turned back, a jesting expression on his face, what he saw on her display, however made the jester disappear as his blood seemed to freeze over. A multitude of slowly growing blobs of the silvery sludge was dotting the hull. “Tiny impacts of debris as we moved through the debris field, they carried the nanites to the Endeavour. We can separate, but it won’t do us any good.”

Frankson’s face hardened, there was a spiteful gleam in his eyes. Would Admiral Bauer somehow manifest on the ship, he would take a slow and painful death to the CBI admiral. “Rig all the reactors, I want a self-destruct if need be.”

 

Cool breezes flowed over the lake, as usual. Curious Claire watched a fat, almost amorphous, Ghoti lie on the lake shore, taking in the warm sunshine.

Dmitry had finished his work on establishing the infrastructure for his Ghoti farm, and had put some of the creatures in the lake from a nearby river. Three had tried wandering over land back to the stream. One had succeeded, hopping, and rolling across the fields and through the forest, while the other two were attacked by PK-p222’s predators.

Those had also drawn their attention to a small clearing in the broad valley of rivers further to the north.

They had stumbled upon the half eaten remains of the phoney guard who had been planted by the CBI.

The big black dots the Ghoti had for eyes, jerked upwards. A droning buzz lay in the air, immediately followed by the appearance of the slightly beaten ship shift commander Alexandra Wenzel had inherited from her parents.

Ungracious the Ghoti slumped itself back into the water and soon swam away, while the ship circled the lake once, landing on the farside of the water.

Like expected by Claire, and Dmitry who had joined her coming from the house built into the lake, Alexandra exited the vessel. For a change she was alone, no new guard.

Petra Xhu, the guard posted by Alexandra personally, also came rushing to the lake shore. “To what do we owe this visit?” Dmitry was a bit defensive.

“Bad news, I wanted to deliver personally, before the CBI does something ill advised again.” Bearing a benign smile Alexandra greeted the assembled, waving a tablet in her left hand.

“Sludge?” Almost wincing Claire stared at the device.

The last to arrive at the lake shore was Doctor Antonius, the psychiatrist tasked to help with Claire’s transition from DEHuman to normal human. “I’m afraid so.” The data she was about to show Claire and Dmitry was directly from the CBI, unofficially siphoned off by Alexandra’s fiancé, Paul Dekowitz.

 

It always sank her heart to confront Claire with things from her past. Barely left behind her time as a linker, she was always reminded of what had happened to her then. Alexandra took solace in the fact that once the sludge has been sufficiently dealt with, the young woman would be of no more interest to the CBI or mankinds struggle for survival.

Claire’s enhanced eyes widened in shock and terror seeing the carnage of the short battle, followed by the transmissions from Endeavour II.

“They must use a field oscillating in the EM spectrum, beyond gamma rays. That can halt the sludge, but not for long.” She had an expression of guilt on her face, obviously she was thinking of her involvement in the case of the sludge.

“Beyond gamma rays? We know of nothing beyond gamma rays.” Alexandra tried bogging her down with technical issues, more to get information out of her, than to keep her mind from wandering too far into a guilt laden territory.

“I can not recall the specifics.” The guilt laden eyes closed, a concentrating expression appeared on Claire’s face.

With her left she began rubbing her head. “No, I can’t remember it.”

Gently Dmitry put his hand on Claire’s back, between the shoulder blades, a pleading glance in his eyes looking at Alexandra.

“It’s alright. We’ll figure it out, thank you.”

 

Not staying much longer after briefing Claire on the newest development, Alexandra sat in her ship, the autopilot took her back to Horizon, her mind was with the problem posed by the current development.

How would the crew of the Endeavour II get out of that mess? A short bump disturbed her thoughts, about to dismiss it as turbulence, she suddenly realised that she already had left the atmosphere. Her brows formed one continuous beam above her eyes, glancing on the displays. Nothing had hit the hull, there was nothing that could cause turbulence.

Her eyes stopped searching the controls as her gaze fell on the speedometer.

She had stopped.

“Back here, shift commander.” A flickery image of Admiral Bauer showed on the large screen in the back of the dockpit. “To what do I owe this transmission, Admiral?” It was her turn to sound defensive.

A sly, mirthless smile twitched on his lips. “We deliberately fed your fiancé the information you got. You are a calculated factor in this equation.” Something about his speech was unnerving. Although the bureau was known for being cold and distant, he had gotten even colder.

“Then this is to receive the information I have gathered without needing to go through Paul?”

“In a sense, you see, we bugged your tablet. We have the information already. But you seem to be resourceful, I contacted you to make an offer.”

One I can hardly refuse, isn’t it? “Let me guess, work for the bureau as an informant?”

“In a sense. This situation is a delicate one, the threat posed by the sludge is an enormous one.” A set of coordinates appeared on the screen below Admiral Bauer’s face. “Go there, everything will be explained.”

Leaving her with just the coordinates the ship resumed its course to Horizon. Baffled, albeit curious, Alexandra raised her eyebrows.

Those coordinates were near a failed star, a brown dwarf. That posed a problem. With the antimatter free technology available in the system it would take a long time to reach it. Trade ships came through the sector, loading their goods on to fusion drive cargo trawlers which then ferried the freight, and passengers to PK-p222.

Her only chance was to either hijack a freshly docked ship from someone who had immigrated to PK-p222, or steal antimatter for her own ship.

Both posed a high risk, and whether what ever she’d find was worth the effort was unclear.

I’ll ask Paul.

 

Captain Frankson wore an environmental suit, his face a mask of stern concern. All sections around the impacted head were sealed off, and void of any atmosphere. A finger tip sized area on the hull a few meters away was already showing the shiny metallic sludge.

“Kaur! Suggestions?” Next to him Serena, stepped forward, her tablet tied in with the internal sensors. “CBI suggests a variation of an EM field, however, I don’t see how we could make that happen.”

Showing him the data that had just been received, she took another reading of the mass. It was growing on the inside. “What ever its intentions are, it has a sense of self preservation. Externally the hull is fully intact, unlike with the small droplets elsewhere which are eating away on the hull, but not progressing inward.”

Turning away he gave her orders to try and work on the EM field, even if that meant burning some midnight oil.

 

“I have never heard of any place there.” Paul’s words rung in Alexandra’s mind, following her like a comet’s tail as she navigated her way through the maze of corridors. Behind each door was a ship, most had already dumped their antimatter into the Horizon, to harness the power for both Horizon and the colony.

Most, but not all. It wounded her to take another ship than the one entrusted to her by her parents, but it was easier to take one of the others than getting antimatter into hers.

Override protocols were not hard to come by, thanks to Paul’s access to the CBI network. Unbeknownst to her a few of the ships docked were fully equipped, and not going to dump anything, thought as emergency transports for high ranking officials from the colony. Ironic, she thought, a colony sworn to avoid using antimatter, yet the governor and local Admirals had antimatter fueled ships waiting for them in orbit in case they needed to go anywhere really fast.

An old timey saying about rats leaving a sinking ship came to mind.

The interior of the ship she chose was spartan. The cockpit designed for one person in mind, with a passenger compartment consisting only of four seats. There was a restroom and small storage capacity. Definitely not for long flights.

After sealing off the entrance, and overriding the docking clamp controls, she put In the coordinates from her tablet.

Swiftly the ship disengaged and took flight, an autopilot kicked in, apparently the CBI had anticipated which ship she was going to take.

Impressed, but uneasy, Alexandra leaned back and watched the computer navigate away from Horizon.

No attempts of contacting her were made, or the ship simply had turned off the communication systems.

After half an hour of undisturbed flight the ship activated its main engines.

 

“Containment field is active. I strongly advise against coming closer to it than a meter. These rays have unknown, but surely lethal effects on the human physiology.” Quarantine protocols had been engaged, immobilising the Endeavour II, condemning it and her crew to stay just outside the debris field. External sensors revealed that the sludge was working away on the chunks from the other ships, transforming more and more of the masses into more of their kind.

“Test it.” Sitting on the edge of his seat Captain Frankson stared at the tablet in his hand. He was trying to find the right words, drafting a farewell message to his exwife and more so to their daughter.

“On?” Serena’s voice was distant, not only due to her speaking over the intercom, but also in tone. “One of the tinier spots, our visitor, a chunk of linker ship, I don’t really care. Test it.”

Returning his full attention to his tablet he didn’t register the annoyed “Aye, sir.” Serena replied him.

 

A forceful shudder went through the deck as Serena fired a beam at one of the smaller intruding spots, emitted from one of the shield emitters. Sparks flew like harmful fiery rain, lights flickered.

Not without effect though, flaking off like silvery snow the targeted sludge dispersed into space. “It worked sir, however, we blew out relays all over the ship, the emitter used is broken beyond repair,” pausing Serena checked the camera feed showing the mass. Some of it began writhing again, “and the mass has not been fully neutralised. As suggested, it may work as a temporary shielding.” Not waiting for a reply Serena noted in the ship maintenance log a schedule for replacing the broken emitter.

Whether that would ever be going to get done was another question.

A soft chime from her tablet drew her attention to a new set of data received.

 

As was planned the ship dropped back to normal propulsion upon arrival at the designated coordinates. In the distance the brown dwarf emitted heat and not much else. Unlike the data from stellar cartography suggested, there was an object orbiting the almost star.

A sphere, not much bigger than Horizon, with long tendrils, some of which were occupied with docked ships, was placed in orbit around the brown dwarf.

Intriguing. Is that ours, or theirs? Still Alexandra could not regain control over the ship, as it steered towards the object.

By the blinking guiding lights she deduced that it was of human origin. Regular human, never the less.

As elegantly as the automated controls had dislodged the ship from Horizon, it docked it with one of the tendrils, wich turned out to be long docking poles.

Standing at the door of the airlock, Alexandra had armed herself, and was waiting for them to reveal what was behind it.

“Welcome, shift commander Wenzel.” The door opened, revealing a man with dark skin and contrasting green eyes. “This is a top secret location. Any mention of these coordinates to individuals not cleared will ridicule you, as we monitor any and all approaching ships and can simply move away if we choose to.” Despite his words he displayed a friendly expression, his lips even formed a friendly smile.

“Thank you for welcoming me. Where exactly am I, and who are you?”

Not changing his expression he made an inviting gesture. “Denta draconis alpha. My name is Ranjeet.” Following the man to an elevator Alexandra hoped to be seeing the ship, and more so, Horizon ever again, as an uncertain feeling took hold of her.

 

The ride in the cab was a short one, delivering the two to a deck where the hallways were much broader than what she had ever seen. Ranjeet guided her to an office, where Admiral Bauer was awaiting her.

“Please, take a seat.” He pointed to a chair at a round table, two more people, women between the ages of thirty and fourty, sat there. One was a blond tall woman, with skin the color of snow, her eyes a watery blue, the other was a stark contrast, dark skin, almost black, her hair black, and dark eyes. Both looked at her with a certain curious interest, as one would look at an interesting piece of technology, or an intriguing specimen of some foreign species.

Immediately Alexandra caught a strange vibe from those two. “I have invited you here to explain where our brainwork is done.” Not wasting time to explain her presence on the oddly named station, Admiral Bauer sat down, a pleased expression on his face while Alexandra too took a seat.

“The bureau has founded this station twenty years ago. The programme leading up to this has been running longer, ever since the Phoenix returned from the alternate time line, with their databases.”

“You’re genetically modified humans, aren’t you?” A knowing glance was exchanged between the two women, the blond one nodded.

“Not all of us.” The other said in a reserved voice, as if she was about to reveal a secret to a toddler. “But many are.” Ranjeet said. “We safeguard the parts of that database that mankind should not have.”

Bewildered Alexandra leaned away from the table. For all she knew the parts of the alternate time line database that mankind wasn’t deemed ready for, weapons and dangerous technologies, mostly, had been deleted.

“Do not be confused, it was my mistake.” A man who appeared to be in his fifties stepped into the room, some features about him seemed familiar. Familiar like one is familiar with some portrait of a man who has long died. “Allow me to introduce myself, I am Doctor Leopold Braun.”

That’s where Alexandra knew him from, he had some resemblance to his father, Kurt, a well known figure from mankinds past. It was him who had deleted the database parts he thought mankind was unfit for. “There was an unedited copy of the database on my tablet, and that of my wife, Tracy.”

Some pieces fell into place now. Tracy Braun, a geneticist, Leopold Braun, a man like his father, genius but borderline mad.

“You have been led here to understand the validity of the bureau’s strategies and theories. These people are the best and brightest in the universe.” Bauer rattled down a text he obviously had studied.

“Your think tank here surely has all the expertise in the known universe, but they have no experience.” She turned around to see the offended faces of the geniuses around. Genetically enhanced to be smarter than the rest of mankind.

A dangerous thing, she thought. “Who of you came up with the scenario of Claire being a beachhead for a linker invasion?” The blond woman raised her hand, shyly.

“Next time you have such a bright idea, go to one of the ships docked outside, fly to PK-p222, and talk to the supposed beachhead. Surely your fears would be doused by what you’d find, what you’d experience.”

“That’s why we have recommended to bring you here.” Ranjeet spoke up. “We do realise that we lack experience. You do not.”

Doubtful Alexandra squinted at him. “Now I shall be your source for experience? That’s not how it works, you know.”

“We know.” The blond woman now stood up, a name tag dangled on her belt. Leonie Braun. “But until we can make our own experience, we need you.” Despite the wishes of the bureau of having you tucked away, and me silenced? Alexandra raised an eyebrow, an ever watchful eye from Admiral Bauer on her.

“Let’s cut to the chase here.” Alexandra sighed, resting her arms on the table again. “What are the plans for Endeavour II, and the sludge in general?”

 

Satisfied with her efforts Serena looked over the strengthened relays, and emitters. It would be enough to keep the intruder from proceeding onwards, unless he went through the wall. Which would take him some time, but he would be able to do it. “I tied the engines into the energy relays, we can stop the intruder from progressing further if need be.” From the murmured sound on the other end of the line she took that the Captain was still occupied with his farewell letter.

A warning beep on her tablet drew her attention, she turned around, looking at the wall where the intruder was forming, his back was still attached to the wall. After reading that hull integrity was not compromised, the area had been repressurised. Warning her of the intruder becoming more and more independent of the wall the tablet had rung, but what Serena found when she turned took her breath.

Mouth gaping wide open, staring at her with bright silvery eyes the intruder formed silent words. “Captain, the intruder is lucent, and soon will detach from the wall. I recommend you come down here asap.”

 

With a stern expression Captain Frankson studied the creature before him, only the fingers and feet were still attached to the wall. Silently speaking without any apparent form the intruder wriggled around, arching his back.

His silvery skin glittered in the light of the room, his equally slivery-beige clothing bore no markings, or decorations.

Finally he yanked himself free of the wall with an audible moan of relief. Instinctively the assembled stepped back a little upon seeing this. Serena kept her hand poised over the button on her tablet to activate the forcefield if need be.

“I am Captain Frankson, you have boarded the Endeavour II, deep space reconnaissance vessel. Please state your identity and intentions.”

Shaking off a momentary confusion the intruder rose to his full height, which was about the same as a martian human, towering above most of the crew of the Endeavour II.

He stared at each of the people before him with an almost unbearable intensity. “You are unlike the others, you speak to communicate.” His voice was calm, but raspy, as if he had smoked for a large portion of his life time. “My name is nineteen, as I was the nineteenth to spawn from our primordial state.” Serena guessed he spoke so well after the sludge had taken the information of human languages from the linkers that had fallen victim to it.

“Why are you attacking this ship?” Frankson tried to sound calm, but in truth he was scared. Scared enough to kill the intruder and try to flee with the life capsules in deep hibernation.

“I have not attacked your ship. But I believe to know what you are referring to.” He blinked, the first time Serena had seen him do that. “Spread of the other sludge has halted, sir.” Came the message from the bridge. Somehow Serena knew that the sludge would not come off, as the intruder would only get rid of that if he determined Endeavour II, and in extension mankind, as no threat.

“There was an attack by people very similar to yours, they were all linked however, acting as one consciousness. They gave us our new form and knowledge, but they also attacked us. A strong desire to tame us, control us for their purposes is nested deep within their mind.” Eloquently, yet anger and determination shining through, he lay bare what had happened, and more precisely how the sludge people saw the linkers.

“Are you out for revenge?” Serena could not help but ask, hoping the answer would be something positive, expecting a species of machines to be above such feelings.

“We seek new grounds, more knowledge.” Fast learners, he’s lying! “We also wish to find our creators.”

He stepped closer, causing the others to inch away, and Serena to almost touch the command to activate the field. “You must understand, that we are reasonably cautious about you! Those who gave you your new shape and means to seek out new grounds, they are technologically more advanced than we are, you made short process with them.” Frankson warned him to step closer. A smug smirk appeared on his lips. “We are thinking at the speed of light, a feat only a machine could achieve, your kind, and those who are so similar to you, only think in the speed of chemicals. Your anatomy is hindering you from achieving our level of thought.” He looked the Captain up and down. “Biological life is inferior to our form of life. And although it was biological life that birthed us, and molded us, it is we who are now the dominant species.” Again he stepped closer. “You and your achievements will be remembered.” He lunged forward, caught in the field as Serena activated it.

Instantly much of him fell to the ground in a glittery dustcloud, causing him to tumble over and lie still on the ground.

“We best get this field of yours working on all of this stuff.” Frankson stared emotionless at the pile of dust before them.

Moaning and crying what was left of nineteen twitched and tried to move, his remaining body was in a state of being sludge again, trying to compensate for the lost particles.

“The other sludge is on the move again.” Serena noted, as the amorphous nineteen jerked upwards, now a good deal shorter, he charged for the field again, quickly Serena altered the frequency, destroying most of him. Only a blob of nanite mass remained behind the field while sparks flew from the over strained relays around them. “We’ve lost the field. Here goes nothing.” More than her words, did her expression convince Frankson to give the order to retreat from the deck. “Clean as much of the sludge off the ship as you can. Concentrate on the rear, I want to get out of here!”

For a moment Serena envied the first settlers who arrived at RV-p296 in the Orion class ships. Had something similar happened to them, they would’ve discarded the affected pods and moved on without them. Endeavour II had no such luck.

A murmur in the roommwhere nineteen had met his temporary fate cause Serena to look back. Already he had reformed his head. “Biologic life is inferior and will be purged!” Whistling with his windpipe and only a croaking whisper as he had no lungs to speak fluently, he quasi declared war on mankind.

And all other forms of life that was not like that of the sludge.

Rings of Fate S5xE4 – 222 – Secrets

Even from orbit a sunset was an amazing experience. More so, however, on the ground. At least for Alexandra Wenzel. Having spent the majority of her life in space, she was accustomed to the orbital sunset.

Although PK-p222, also known as Eldorado, or Paradise, was tidal locked with its parent star, had no sunsets, or sunrises, per se, if one flew in orbit around the planet, or in a similar vessel in or outside the atmosphere, the illusion of a sunset would be created.

“Welcome to the sunset inn, your room has been prepared for you. Have a nice stay!” Woken from thought Alexandra thanked the woman at the reception of the hotel, looking at the key.

A key!

It had taken her some digging through archives to understand physical keys, and how to open a door with them.

 

Situated on a mountain slope looking out towards the dayside, the sunset inn had all guest rooms facing to the day side. In the winter the sun stood low, half omitted by the horizon, in summer it stood a little higher. All the time the slope was drenched in a perpetual sunset. Or sunrise, depending on the season.

PK-p222 had only a minute change in seasons, unlike other planets, it was barely noticeable in most places, but on the mountain side of the sunset inn, it was.

Booking a room usually took half a year in advance, when Alexandra’s fiancé told her that they were spending their anniversary in the sunset inn, she was reasonably surprised.

Trying not to be too fascinated by the key, Alexandra walked to the lobby, her luggage was already taken care of. So she just looked around for her fiancé.

Paul Dekowitz stood at the bar taking a sip of some beverage, from a far Alexandra could not tell what it was, but she figured it was something alcoholic.

Everything in the sunset was made to look and feel like a grand hotel, it stood to reason they would serve replicas of ancient drinks.

“Paul, what is that?” She blew him a kiss, stopping also at the bar. Somehow she felt out of place. Every other guest was wearing evening wardrobe, she still wore her uniform.

“Whiskey, seven years old.” A broad grin on his lips. “If we still used money like they did in the time these hotels existed on earth it’d be expensive.” He wanted to explain how it was made, but Alexandra cut him off by saying she’d change into something more fitting.

 

Although they came as couple, they had separate rooms. It seemed a little more romantic that way, besides they were connect by a balcony and a door.

Quickly she got out of her uniform, folded it properly, took a quick shower, and then got dressed. A long dress with a slash on the side.

Doubtful she looked at the shoes. No way I’m going to wear these! She slipped into  polished flat shoes, instead of the dangerously high heeled ones that came with the dress.

After twenty minutes she returned to the lobby, finding Paul still at the bar. He had something else in his glass. “It’s a non alcoholic tea.” He explained seeing her look.

 

Not much later a man in a butler outfit appeared, he showed them to a window side table, where they would have dinner.

Landing site for the hotel was good deal further down, from where the guests were brought to the hotel with shuttle service. Caterpillar, full enclosed snow mobiles, made to look like old limousines.

 

The sunset inn was founded and operated by a group of history buffs who loved the grandios aspects of that era and environment. They changed their responsibilities weekly, to keep things fresh, and not fall into a hated routine.

Below the window where Alexandra and Paul were seated, a limousine pulled up. Out of the corner of her eye Alexandra saw a uniform.

A richly decorated uniform. Followed by another person in uniform. Only able to catch a glimpse of the two she still could tell it was an Admiral and a shift commander of Horizon. Immediately she felt as if they were there for, or because of, her.

Minutes passed in which she didn’t really hear anything that Paul said. Another one arrived at the entrance. Another Admiral left the opened door, followed by a woman in an uptight suit.

This time Alexandra had her eyes turned to the arriving guests. It was the governor of the colony!

Governor Kristen Handall.

The feeling of being the reason for the presence of these highly decorated officials subsided, but her curiosity was woken. She had spent the last two days preparing for her vacation, during her shifts none of these things had come across her desk.

Elegantly as was to be expected a waiter came to the table. Paul was about to place his order when the man leaned forward to Alexandra, asking her to come to the lobby.

Immediately she the feeling of the officials being at the sunset inn because of her returned.

Walking in a pace adequate to her surrounding, Alexandra made her way to the lobby, indeed finding the governor the two Admirals and Ngyuen Tapron, the shift commander there waiting for her. One of the Admirals was Admiral Norton, a local man, the other she was unfamiliar with.

“Shift commander Wenzel! Glad you could make it.” Governor Handall feigned a friendly expression.

“Governor, Generals, Nguyen.” Not saluting on purpose, as she was on vacation, Alexandra greeted them. “What gives me the honor of being summoned on my vacation? The first in two years, might I add.”

Almsot mechanically the other Admiral jerked forward, extending his hand. “Admiral Friedhelm Bauer, colonial bureau of intelligence.” Reluctantly Alexandra shook his hand, with the same artificial friendliness the Governor had shown her before, she claimed to be pleased to meet him, although the CBI was anything but sympathetic.

“We should go to the conference hall.” The governor felt curious eyes on them.

 

The conference hall was kept in the same style as the rest of the sunset inn. Wooden panels covered the walls, but they were probably not real wood. A carpet coverd the floor and a glass covered lustre hung in the center over an oval table, which provided enough room for twenty people.

The double wing doors were shut behind them, Alexandra sat down at the table, if they had the nerve to disturb her unannounced in her vacation, it was her right to determine where at the table they sat.

“We have come here because we knew you’d be here. There was not enough time to cancel your vacation, and we don’t intend to keep you long.” Bauer was speaking while the governor and the others sat down.

“What’s this all about?”

There was a glint in his eyes she could not place, as Admiral Bauer approached and sat down three seats down from her. “The incident three weeks ago.”

Immediately Alexandra knew what incident he was referring to. He could have just said the incident, and she’d have known.

“Claire.”

“Yes, the linker woman.” He folded his hands, inching around in his seat. “We are, of course, reading the reports concerning her development, and we come to the same conclusion that you have reached, that your Doctor Antonius has reached. This person poses no threat to us, or our security.”

Folding her hands as well, Alexandra leaned forward. “However?” Her glance fell on the big old style clock on the wall. Twelve minutes to eleven, she had already been gone from the table with Paul for close to twenty minutes.

“Our long range sensors have picked up unusual activity at the linker moon over ES-p296, and a long range AI probe sent into space has also detected unusual activities, this time however from an unknown source.” He nodded to Admiral Norton who sat next to Alexandra, a tablet was produced and given to her.

Grainy images showed vessels of an usual shape.

Spherical.

No details were visible, no definite size could be determined. “Didn’t the AI steer the probe closer?”

“It did, but we lost contact with it.” Norton spoke for the first time since Alexandra had met him that eve. “That was a few hours ago.” Bauer added, completing the picture.

Slowly Alexandra understood why they had no time to cancel her vacation. In her report she had included the details about Digitalys, and the linkers involvement in an experiment there.

Naturally they came to her. “We would like to question the linker as well.”

Raising her eyebrows in disapproval Alexandra looked at Bauer. “It is not recommendable to do so, but of course. I however, doubt that you’ll get any satisfactory answers from her. Back when the collective mind had any contact with the sludge, it was just that. Sludge covering the planet. Any advances they made, they made in the time since coming in contact with the linkers.” She pushed the tablet back to Norton, who put it back in his jacket.

“Claire Doe falls into your jurisdiction, and yours alone. That’s why I brought them to you.” Nguyen leaned forward, her hair tied to a neat knot on top of her head, slightly bobbing as she spoke.

“I know.” Winking to her colleague paired with a knowing smile, Alexandra then glanced at the clock. More than half an hour.

Paul would be furious.

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to return to my fiancé. After all I am on vacation, and this is our anniversary.” She got up, walked to the door.

 

Contrary to her assumptions, Paul was not angry, but surprisingly understanding.

Their meal was brought, and a relatively uneventful eve ensued. Yet, after their dinner she found herself staring out the window of her room.

Paul had turned in, their anniversary would be celebrated the following day.

Strangely she had not seen the Admirals and Governor leave again. In need of some fresh air Alexandra opened the door to the balcony. Immediately the cold air urged her to hug herself against it. Now she saw the balcony connected all rooms on the floor, but that there was no one else out.

Understandably, in the frigid temperatures. It was three in the morning, and although the sun shone, as it always did, a nightly silence lay over the sunset inn.

A few hundred meters lower than the sunset inn, drenched in the eternal night, the hangar was weakly illuminated. There was no sound of any transports comig or going, neither from the garage of the hotel, nor from the distant hangar.

Calm, peaceful night.

Alexandra walked a few paces to the balcony door of Paul’s room. He was lying on his bed, about to walk back to her own room, she noticed movement.

Movement not coming from the bed. His door was opened, someone walked into the room. A dim light went on at the nightstand, Paul got up. Finding herself at a loss for words, she saw her fiancé greet the late visitor. Admiral Bauer.

Apparently neither had noticed her presence, and as far as she was concerned, that should remain that way.

Up to that point she had assumed that Paul was just a regular crew member of Horizon, but the late visit by the CBI Admiral suggested he doubled as a spy.

Quickly she withdrew and went inside her room.

 

“…she’s probably asleep, sir.” Paul’s voice was apologetic.

“Your engagement to her puts a mark on your record, if her actions should in any way be hindering.” They were talking about Alexandra, obviously.

“I doubt her actions have any consequences for the bureau, sir. What brings you here anyway?” Was he not informed about the latest developments? Somehow Alexandra had doubts about that.

“You know what has happened at the linker moon, and the probe. I came to inquire personally.” The Admiral’s voice got closer to the door as he spoke, Alexandra held her breath, he tried to open it, found it locked, walked away again.

“What I found was an annoyingly lax way of handling potential security threats. In and of herself the linker woman could be a beachhead for potential invasion.” Angrily Alexandra closed her cold hands to fists. He had not seen Claire, her agony. She not only had been there after her landing, but also talked with her weekly, as part of her integration programme, devised by Doctor Antonius.

“Two possible scenarios have been developed by the professionals.” Bauer continued, the ensuing silence suggested he either showed Paul or handed him a tablet which held the information. “Sir, with all due respect, it’s late, and reading this much text,” genuinely sounding tired Paul sighed. If she hadn’t been enraged by him being a secret informant or agent of the CBI, Alexandra would have felt sorry for him, being dragged back to work in the middle of the vacation was annoying enough, but also late at night?

“Scenario one, the linkers have successfully managed to tame the sludge into their collective, preparing now for invasion, both by their forces amassing at ES-p296’s moon and the beachhead linker here. Either humans of biologic origin will become a thing of the past, replaced by creatures consisting entirely of nanites, or humans will be brimming with nanites. Scenario two, is what is being presented to us. The linkers accidentally ignited the spark of evolution in this stuff, and are increasing their forces to defend against it.”

Strongly suspecting that the specialists devising these scenarios were paranoid eggheads, Alexandra favoured the latter scenario.

Another sigh from Paul echoed through the door. “What’s my assignment, sir?”

As curious as him, Alexandra concentrated. “Keep an eye on your fiancé. She gets info, we need to get it asap. Other operatives have been put into place.”

That was all? Alexandra felt a little disappointed. She had hoped for something more spectacular.

 

How to handle the knowledge that your fiancé is a spy? Watching him take his breakfast, this time at a table further back from the windows, Alexandra had been feigning feeling unwell as he wanted to give her a morning kiss.

She had claimed that the late visit by the officials had made her feel unwell. Work seemed to never end, and took its toll on her, she claimed. Sadly that also meant to eat something out of her comfort zone for breakfast.

Oatmeal.

Confronting him would probably be disastrous. For his career, potentially hers, and their relationship.

Relationship. Could she maintain a relationship with him? “I thought, maybe we could go skiing today, if your health permits it?”

Realising she had to come back to reality from her absent minded state, Alexandra raised her eyebrows, uttering “Huh?”.

“Skiing?” A chance to be alone with him. Talk to him.

“Yes.” Forcing herself to chow down another spoon of oatmeal, she cleared her throat afterwards. “I’m beginning to feel better. Perhaps the empty stomach.” It was only half past eight, neither of the two had slept much, but still, both acted as if they had had a restful night.

 

An hour later they met outside their rooms, im full skiing atire. From the sunset inn a shuttle service ferried guests to the other side of the mountain, to a well lit skiing slope. Unlike the hotel, this was run by the government, in an effort to promote exercise. Ever since mankind had settled down again, abandoning the rigid lifestyle of a military run spaceship, unhealthy lifestyles were on the rise again.

 

“I saw you and Admiral Bauer last night.” Her and Paul were alone, halfway down the slope, no other skiiers in sight, let alone earshot.

If he was surprised he hid it well. “What are you talking about?” Well acted, honey. Well acted. “I heard your conversation. And I’m giving you a choice my dear. Tell me the truth, all of it. Or we are through.”

There was a small stop on the side of the slope, Paul gestured towards it. “There’s nothing illegal of my being a CBI agent. It is our mandate to accumulate intelligence, and official channels sometimes don’t give you all of it. If you heard what I said, you know that my feelings for you are genuine.” He kept his voice low, nervously looking around.

Before they had sat down to speak he had taken out a small cellphone sized device, activated a scrambling function, in case one of them was bugged.

“I know, and all I want is the truth, the CBI doesn’t need to know that I know.”

With a long sigh Paul looked into the distance. Far away from the brightly lit skiing slope the nightsky was in full glory. “I was placed here five years ago, the CBI was distrustful of the colony, as it was contradictory to its own doctrine. No antimatter, but in orbit hovers a space station housing countless ships with antimatter, generating power with said antimatter for both the station and the colony. Naturally we were curious what else the colony did that was against their mandate, or that of the fleet.”

With little satisfaction over the answer received, Alexandra still managed to fake a smile. “It’s a start. What are your plans concerning Claire?” Now Paul did react, he made a tortured grimace. “Do I have to?”

“If you desire to keep me, yes.”

Lowering his head Paul began to understand why agents and informants with a family were seen as a liability. “The guard on duty at her side, will be replaced by an agent, who will steer the psychiatrist to ask her the right questions. The CBI sees your orders as a hindrance to getting all the information out of her.”

Already knowing about that part Alexandra just nodded. “Thank you for your honesty.” She put her gloved hand on his. “Now we can continue our vacation.” Satisfaction was far away, but it was all that she could hope for. Unless she gave him drugs designed to make a subject talk.

 

The week of vacation went by without further incidents with the CBI Admiral, or the other officials, who left the sunset inn on the third day. Thanks to Paul she stayed up to date concerning the situation at the Ghoti farm.

Not much relaxation had settled in during the time at the sunset inn, but still Alexandra felt refreshed as they entered the hangar. Stepping out of the luxurious comfort of the shuttle service, into the hangar it felt like stepping through a time portal. From an opulent past into a functional futuristic time.

 

Returning to Horizon Alexandra found a report waiting for her. Doctor Antonius wrote that Claire had refused cooperation since the new guard had arrived, along with a few discreet, but pointing, questions to Claire. That was quick.

Looking to see what had been going on in her friends lives she put the report aside.

Later she decided that a little away mission to the Ghoti farm was warranted, to see how the CBI operative was doing on his mission, and maybe give Antonius a few hints on how to distinguish between the influence of the CBI and genuine medical advice, from the board of specialists supporting him in his task.

The very next day, she took her own ship, down to the surface. As shift commander she enjoyed that sort of liberty, as the Admiral was mostly to be found at the colony, and the shift commanders enjoyed free reign aboard the Horizon, during their shift, of course.

At her side she had one of the security guards she knew and trusted, she was to replace the phoney one sent by the CBI.

Sure, her actions would be noted by the CBI, perhaps they’d even take actions to prevent future actions of the sort, but for the moment, it was a necessity to her. Claire fell into her jurisdiction and her responsibility.

 

Outside her cockpit she saw Claire and Dmitry, sitting next to the door of his pod. Antonius stood in front of them arguing wildly.

The phoney guard was nowhere to be seen.

Intrigued she left the ship. Feeling the soft ground beneath her shoes she had to smile, who would’ve thought she’d be back on the surface so soon?

“Good, you’re here!” Antonius greeted her, he seemed distressed to a certain degree. “Not that anyone called me, or anything.” Alexandra returned the unexpected greeting.

“That guard you sent down here, he is a spy!” No shit sherlock. “What makes you say that?”

“We, I mean Dmitry and I, caught him communicating in secret.” Claire spoke up, remaining seated, her voice clearer than the last time Alexandra had spoken her, a few days before her vacation. “He used a coded signal, which I was able to decipher. When we confronted him yesterday, he ran off into the woods.” Almost casually she pointed behind the pod. That path would lead the agent to a vast valley with many rivers and lakes, much wildlife and thick forests.

Once the battery on his gun ran out, he’d be practically defenseless against the predators of PK-p222. “I suspected as much, that’s why I brought someone I can trust.”

Alexandra too sat down. Someone, presumably Dmitry, had built a chair that stood opposite of the bench.

“What was in that transmission?” Not wasting any time on pleasantries, she cut right to the chase.

“They suspect Claire here to be a beachhead for the DEHumans,” interestingly enough for Alexandra, Dmitry had not called them linkers, “and some involvement with the sludge. Any insights on that?”

“Maybe.” Antonius brought a glass of some tea out, handing it to Alexandra. “A long distance probe has detected unusual space crafts near the Digitalys planet. Also, there’s a staging going on at the moon base in the 296 system.” Constantly looking from one to the other, Alexandra gave them all the information she had, that was not classified as far as she knew.

An absent gaze appeared in Claire’s expression. “Staging you say?”

“Yes, the CBI fears that you are just the beachhead, turning some people here into linkers, before the others can arrive in greater numbers.”

Slowly Claire’s expression grew horrified. By the glances Claire threw in Dmitry’s direction, Alexandra could tell that the thought of turning Dmitry into what she once was frightened her. “Our, I mean, their, strategy works differently. By now the population of your colonies is no where near the number of units in the collective mind. If they would desire to invade, they would arrive in massive numbers. Let alone the fact that they have superior firepower, shielding, engines.”

Raising a hand to stop her from talking, Alexandra nodded. “I understand. The CBI doesn’t.”

Best to keep the CBI’s suspicions concerning a linker involvement with the sludge from Claire, if she reacted this shocked to the other suspicions of the CBI, Alexandra mused.

Dmitry stretched, getting up. “It’s time, I need to continue working, if you’ll excuse me.” He gently touched Claire’s hand, and nodded to Antonius. There was an unspoken invitation to Alexandra, asking her to follow him.

“There is something I need to talk with you about, alone.” Alexandra too got up, following him across the clearing. A beaten path led through the forest to the nearby lake.

Much had changed since her last visit there.

After Claire’s capsule had been retrieved, Dmitry had built a peer out into the water. A drone sat on the edge of the peer, manufacturing parts for a hut.

“CBI suspects that the linkers have, in essence, tamed the sludge.” Alexandra blurted out as they arrived at the crystal shore of the crystal clear water.

“I feared as much.” Dmitry Zalenkov shook his head, they were outside of Claire’s hearing range, if she had remained at the pod. A casual glance at his scanner, as if to check the time, confirmed that the two were alone.

“I can’t guarantee that there won’t be other operatives of the CBI coming here. You know that?” Feeling help- and useless Alexandra watched him walk out on the peer. The artificially constructed material was safe she knew, and boyant in case the pillars failed, but still she shied away from it, as her swimming skills were miserable.

“I know. If you suspect that another operative is here, just tell us.” Winking he waved her to follow him.

“There is nothing more the CBI can learn from her, at least concerning current intentions of the collective mind, or the sludge. She is disconnected.” Almost with a proud expression he turned to her as Alexandra walked down the peer. “Permanently.”

An intrigued expression from the shift commander asked all the questions, there was no need for words. “She had disconnected herself, but asked me and Antonius to fry the circuits in her implant that would enable her to connect, or enable the others to do so, or contact her.”

“That wasn’t in any of the reports! Why?” Kneeling down next to him as he checked the programming of the drone, which was an older, outdated version of the drones used to build and maintain the colony. Dmitry had repaired it after it fell into disrepair, and took it with him to build the Ghoti farm. “I felt it was something we should add later to verify her intentions of joining our society, right now, it would seem like a desperate attempt to paint a nice picture of her.” He kept the part of Claire’s agonising headache after the procedure, to himself. The countless hours of her screaming in agony, which they explained to the guard as normal, almost withdrawal like symptoms.

After checking the programming, amd seeming satisfied with it, Dmitry looked out over the lake.

“There are other things you should know about.”

 

Pale, almost lifeless, Paul hung over the dinner that Alexandra had prepared for them. His condition was not brought on by her cooking skills, which were actually quite good, but the news she delivered unto him. He would’ve been more shocked, had she told him about her initial plan of replacing the guard by one of the people she could trust. “That guy’s failure will make Bauer mad!” Although the news of Claire’s disabled connectivity was uplifting, he still was not in a high spirit.

He would weave the report for Bauer about the lost capability of connecting as Alexandra spilling that secret over dinner.

The other part was a lot more difficult to report. “And Dmitry told you this?”

“Claire had recalled that information only shortly after the guard vanished.” Smiling dreamily Alexandra recalled the scene that Dmitry described.

 

After confronting the phoney guard the man took out his weapon, threatened to shoot them if they pursued him and ran off, afraid that they already had contacted Horizon. Relieved to be safe Claire had embraced Dmitry, kissed him. Which had triggered the memory from other women in the collective mind of the DEHumans, left buried in her brain somewhere.

 

“So the linkers send out women in cloaked ships, who then turn up in various nightlife locations, seducing men, gathering DNA?” When Bauer repeated the intel it sounded ridiculous. “As it seems, yes.” Paul weakly smiled into the video conversation.

“As far as I understand it, sir, they have a contraption in the uterus keeping the sperm alive. Just plain DNA like envisioned for the clone programmes, seems to be less in demand. Besides, they want to maintain a certain diversity.” Admitting to himself that he would not object having his DNA stolen that way, compared to having his own cells forcibly removed from his body, Paul maintained his weak smile. “Did the linker woman disclose any details?” A dark shadow seemed to hang over Admiral Bauer’s face as he spoke those words.

“No, sir. Only that it has happened in the past, and that the linkers have mimicked the cloaking technology of the silicate lifeforms after witnessing it on their long range sensors. Apparently good enough to fool our sensors.”

The Admiral remained silent, but there was a glint in his eyes that told Paul that the CBI was interested in the very same technology, if they didn’t already work on prototypes.

“Thank you for the report, agent Dekowitz. Until next time.” The report of the fled agent had flown past the Admiral, or it semed that way at least.

After the transmission had ended Alexandra stood up from behind the console, slowly clapping. “Excellent performance.”

By now he had accepted his role as double agent, for the CBI on the one side, and for his fiancé on the other. A news broadcast for CBI agents arrived, causing him to shake his head. Worried Alexandra moved behind him, a video message popped open. “Field Agents, this footage was recorded by long range sensors, monitoring the staging at the linker base in the 296 system.” What followed was a grainy image of the dozens of ships that had gathered there, vanishing. “As clearly visible they have jumped away, defense had been put to high alert, as their destination was unknown at the time. A reassigned deep space exploration vessel however had figured out their destination.”

The ships appeared out of nothing, in relative close proximity to the foreign objects linked to the sludge from Digitalys.

An exchange of hostilities ensued. Awestruck the two watched. After only a few moments most of the linker fleet was destroyed, as were a few of the foreign objects. As sudden as the ships had appeared, they vanished again, only a brief moment later, so did the supposed sludge vessels, leaving behind a debris field. “Remember Agents, this is classified information.” Only about a dozen agents received this news cast, as it seemed relevant to their assignments. Shocked and terrified at the prospect of an enemy that can defeat the linkers as easily as they once handled harpies and human ships, Alexandra subconsciously reached for Paul’s hand, who returned the squeeze.

“We better prepare ourselves for the worst.”

Rings of Fate S5xE3 – 222 – DEHuman pt.6

From the night side the colder and moist air traveled through valleys and across plains. Rivers meandered, or streamed down the mountains and hills, supplied by the condensing moisture of the constant draft, and the melting glaciers.

Dmitry Zalenkov looked across the valley, red shrubs and grasses as far as the eye went. The majority of the colony on PK-p222, mostly dubbed Eldorado by the crew of Dawn Horizon, concentrated on the northern hemisphere at the twilight border. He had set up a site on the southern hemisphere, away from the buzzing colony. Four years ago they had landed on the planet.

Tucked away from antimatter and technologies too volatile for human hands. Former Admiral Mulgrew had been right.

 

Although they arrived with antimatter propelled ships, new arrivals were constantly showing up on the doorstep of the colony. The over use of technologies was driving the people into the arms of the colony that was not using them.

Dmitry remembered the news about the other time line that spread through the QEN, while they were still on their way to PK-p222. The colonists felt validated in their conviction. Only after they had established the colony and made that known, did a constant stream of new arrivals start.

Previously it had been assumed that Dawn Horizon went to another planet, in the domain of the Harpies, a plan which they had abandoned.

 

It was said that the data about the technological advances of the other time line had been deleted. Dmitry doubted that. Most people did.

Advances in science and technology, were piling up, empowering mankind further and further. Were they mature enough for those advances?

Again massive doubts.

Again massive droves of people arriving at Eden.

Masses that drove Dmitry to leave the colony and seek his peace in solitude on the southern hemisphere.

 

High above the Eldorado colony Dawn Horizon hovered in geosynchronous orbit. A wild menagerie of ships was docked at its rings. Only for a short time had they been empty. As the first wave of emmigrants from Equatoria arrived with their antimatter powered ships became a problem.

One by one they docked in orbit, generating power for both Dawn Horizon, now little more than a space station, and the colony, without replenishing their supply of antimatter.

Alerted by a nagging proximity alarm, shift commander in charge, Alexandra Wenzel took her eyes from the pages of the book she was reading on her reader.

Almost weekly a ship either came by, Eden was an accepted colony and commerce partner of Equatoria, Mars and Ericsson now. Or it brought new arrivals, some of which were not carrying an implant any more, and had to remain in quarantine on the Horizon.

“What’s it this time?” She asked the tall former martian, Colonel Steven Kelly.

“No IFF, it’s not one of ours.” Interested Alexandra got up from her seat. There were no Harpy ships scheduled for arrival in the system. “Is it in range?”

“Positive.”

With an engaging nod of her head she told Steven to hail the craft. “It’s not responding.” Sensors told the two that the unidentified ship traveled too fast for dockimg, or even entering orbit. “Reading an energy signature, some sort of transponder I guess.” It was not necessary to mention that the ship was powered with antimatter, except for Dawn Horizon, and it’s local vessels, everything out there was powered that way.

Explorer and Destiny had long been dismantled, replaced by new ships. Even Phoenix was outdated technology. Only difference being that it had been turned, partially, into a museum above Mars.

“They are not slowing down. On the current trajectory it will pass between us and Eldorado.” Additionally to the known data new results of the continuous scans revealed only one life sign aboard.

“It reads human.” Steven looked up with a dreadful expression in his eyes. All color faded from Alexandra’s face. “Linker? After all these years?” As a precaution Alexandra hightened the security warning level, lasers were armed, a tactical officer called to the command centre. Until that officer arrived, Alexandra would man that position. “The program is still active, no worries.” Trying to smile Steven had checked the communication systems.

“I’m not afraid of them turning us into linkers, but them blowing us out of the sky. That thing is probably a scout, if they read Eldorado and Horizon, they might come in and destroy us.” For decades no one had so much as seen a linker ship, or a linker. Their base on the ES-p296 moon was busy and active as ever, but no one had bothered to go near.

According to the linkers themselves they would not interfere with humans, or other primitive species as they phrased it. Still, what if PK-p222 held resources the linkes needed or wanted so badly they would annihilate Eldorado?

“If you destroy this thing, they might see it as an act of aggression, and retaliate.” Pausing her fingers from opening fire Alexandra pondered on the words of Steven. He was right of course. What could or should she do?

On their screens the two watched the foreign object shoot by in between the Horizon and the planet. “Something detached right before passing, heading down to the planet!”

“Crap!” Trying to get a weapons lock on the small object that had detached from the presumed linker ship Alexandra was glad to hear the tactical officer enter the command centre.

Again an alarm beeped, energy levels in the ship that had passed them by increased dangerously.

A bright flash filled the screen, and then disappeared together with the signature of the vessel. “It blew up.” Dazzled Steven checked his instruments. “The pilot however is on his way to the surface.”

“Am I still needed?”

“Take the weapons.” Ordering Germaine Duprois, Alexandra returned to her console, tracking the descending capsule. Perhaps they still needed to shoot at it, if any suspicious signals should emerge. Otherwise a ground crew from Eldorado would need to be dispatched.

 

Cracking thunder caused Dmitry to look skywards. A streak of fire headed across the sky, but it slowed significantly. As it passed by him in some distance he could clearly see thrusters blasting to slow the craft down and maneuver it.

It flew past Dmitry’s position, after about fourhundred meters it had slowed to a halt from its near horizontal movement and dropped vertically into the nearby lake. Now they can’t even use the port or the damn Horizon station anymore. Still sensing some sort of urgency Dmitry hurried to the lakeshore. Hurriedly he took off his shirt, slipped out of his pants. Just as he was about to dive into the icy lake, fed by glaciers in the shadows of the mountains, he noticed the waves.

Someone, or something, was swimming towards his position.

Only a moment later a head bobbed out of the ice cold water. Dark brown, almost black hair, and skin the color of snow. Hesitantly he still waded out a few paces.

Shivering, her lips pale, almost blue she reluctantly accepted his aid.

Awkwardly she got up, towering above him, taller by a little more than one head. “Are you alright?” Stupid question, she just had crashed into a glacial lake! He reminded himself. “Are you hurt?” Revising his question brought the same result, no reply.

Shivering she sat down in the warming sunshine, her lips trembled as she reached to her garments, peeling herself out of the soaked and cold synthetics.

Beneath the clothing her skin was even paler than in her face or on her hands, that was if it wasn’t red and somewhat raw looking. “Can I help you somehow?” Hanging his dry, and by comparison warm, shirt around her shoulders he got the first reaction from the mystery woman. A flinch.

“Does it hurt?” Careful he retreated, but kept his hands close to her shoulders to take off the disturbing shirt if It hurt.

“No.” So she does speak after all.

“We can’t sense you.” Almost as if she had just realised his presence she looked at him, studied his face. “We?” He feared a moment to have a mad woman at his hands, but then something even more terrifying occured to him. “Are you a link, err, a DEHuman?”

As if trying to comprehend his words she paused before replying. “We are, but hope to seize being that.”

Was it uncommon? After the encounter of Horizon survivors with the linkers on the moon of ES-p296 there was no linker ever coming forward desiring to turn into an individual. So yes, it was uncommon as far as he was concerned.

“Did that bring you here?” Worried that her landing in the lake might have caused some psychological trauma in the already unstable defectee, Dmitry kneeled down to look at her more comfortably.

“We were with child,” her using the plural was annoying to Dmitry, but as far as he knew, that was the same with those linkers who returned with the survivors from the moon, “but are not anymore.” That lack of emotion in her voice! Was she distancing herself from what had happened, or was she a normal linker?

Startled by something in his shirt the woman threw off the garment. Dmitry too noticed the vibrating communicator. Once he had glasses, but when he moved out here he decided to take a communicator that resembled a cellphone, it was able to handle the harsh conditions better. Slowly in a non threatening way he took out the device.

“Dmitry Zalenkov, hello?”

“Greetings, sir. Shift commander, Alexandra Wenzel of Horizon speaking. Please excuse this intrusion on your privacy, but we have detected your signal close to the estimated,”

“If you’re calling because of the linker woman, she’s sitting in front of me. Perhaps you should come here.” Feeling rude for interrupting her Dmitry wanted to spare himself the lengthy explanation, when it was bloody obvious why they had contacted him.

Questions about jurisdiction made themselves known in the back of his mind, but whether Horizon, or Eldorado were responsible for handling the crashed linker woman and her ship, was beyond him, and he sure did not want to bother to ask.

“A ship will be dispatched. Using your signal as a homing beacon.” There was an audble smile in the voice of the shift commander.

 

After going back and forth with the governor of Eldorado, Alexandra had received confirmation that Horizon, and therefore she, had jurisdiction of the crashed capsule. It was an unmarked, unregistered vessel, as Horizon was the official first address to turn to when arriving at PK-p222, it fell to Horizon to deal with new arrivals.

“Send down a small craft, they need to pick her up.” Halting for a moment Alexandra pomdered a moment. “On second thought, ready the craft at port alpha 1218, send a security detail there. I’ll go down myself.”

Knowing which ship she was referring to Steven nodded with a smirk, sending the orders out, while the small ship powered up.

Capable of atmospheric flight, even gliding capabilities with its aerodynamic design, it was the ship in which Alexandra had arrived, together with her parents, when she was twelve. Even back then she had already picked up how to fly it. Later in life she pursued a career in Eldorado’s forces, some of her closer friends suspected it was to be close to the ship, her closest link to home.

The same applied for Steven, he had come to PK-p222 only a few years later, the ship he and his parents had come to Eldorado however was down on the surface, doubling as their home. Still, he had been impressed by the Horizon, its design and sturdy technology.

 

Shivers had stopped, slowly the linker woman had warmed up in the constant shine of the sun. Dmitry had run to his home, a former pod from Horizon, and brought her some dry clothes.

She had answered some of his questions, one had been whether he should put the one piece she had discarded, out to dry. It was a dry, but some what harsh no. Followed by the request to destroy it. When he touched it, he noticed that it already was bone dry.

The ensuing conversation revealed that it was more than just clothing. It doubled as an artificial skin, grafted onto her own epidermis. It withstood high pressure and even ballistic impacts to a certain degree, transferring nutrients from the surrounding atmosphere, through the skin into her body. She had taken it off, less because of it soaking with water, and more to get rid of a piece of her past.

It had been an hour since she had crawled out of the lake, and Dmitry looked to the sky. There was yet no sign of the ship that should get her. “Would you like to come to my home?”

An almost sentimental look appeared on her face. “We have spent our lives in an artificial environment. Although all of us shared in the experiemce and the memory of open spaces of our colonies, it is a new sensation for us.” Still having trouble following her when she talked in the plural form, Dmitry understood what she was trying to say.

“You mean, it is a new sensation for you, although you have seen what others saw.” She looked at him, slowly coming to terms with his words.

Only now did he see that her eyes had the strangest color. An arctic blue with silver metallic streaks in them. Where those contact lenses, or was it grown inside her eyes?

“We can go to your home, but we will remain in the open.” She rose to her feet, glancing down on him. Her height suggested that she had been living in low gravity, or at least grew up in low gravity.

Still unanswered was his question whether she had lost her child, or if it was born and remained with the other linkers. Dmitry did not want to push the issue, or any of the many question that had popped to mind.

He considered himself a simple man, after all, he wanted to start a Ghoti farm in that lake not far from his home. Whether his questions or actions could mentally harm or break the vulnerable mind of the linker woman was beyond him. Specialists should determine that, and take over any further questioning.

Once they arrived, that was.

The nameless woman sat down on a bench that he had built, from the bone like structures left behind when one of the tree like growths died and had decayed. The former pod sat on a clearing of an otherwise dense forest on the sunnyside of a small hill. In the distance the lake glistened in the sun, and the small stream of melting water that came down the mountains in the greater distance. Ice from the dark side of the planet accumulated on the nightside, the glaciers grew, flowed slowly to the ground, winding with the mountains, reaching the day side, melting.

Sooner or later the water evaporated, and the cycle began a new.

Dmitry liked that, and the taste of Ghoti. Hence his desire to start a Ghoti farm, it was a delicacy in Eldorado, out here, it was abundant, but if farmed, it would ensure a constant supply of quality Ghoti.

“Why did you land here?” He brought out some water, and a few slices of algae bread. Common food, but tasty, at least for his tongue. “We wanted to leave the common consciousness.”

“Let me rephrase that, why didn’t you land at Eldorado port or dock with Horizon? It would still be this planet.”

“It was our intention, but we were in a hurry, and had simply overshot it.”

A low hummimg noise became audible, startled the nameless woman jumped to er feet, dropping the glass of water she was holding. “Relax.” The cavalry has arrived.

A sleek ship, almost shaped like a stereotypical paperplane, hovered into view, its landing gear extended. A wave of relief visibly washed over the woman, she sat back down.

On the other side of the clearing the ship sat down, it was painted in a dark aquamarine, which once was a shiny finish, now it had dents in it. Judging by the state it was in, Dmitry guessed it had not only been once in use by the Equatorians, but also that it had sat docked to Horizon for quite some time. Micro asteroids and other impacts up there had left their traces on the hull.

After it had sat down a hatch opened, extending a small stair with three steps. Immediately four armed men and womem exited the vehicle, took up position around the exit. Only after they gave an ‘all clear’ did their commanding officer show up.

Alexandra walked down the steps of the craft, directly behind her a man with messy hair, and deep wrinkles in his face.

If Dmitry had to spot a shrink, that man was one. “Dmitry Zalenkov, I presume?” Alexandra greeted him, wearing a friendly, albeit fake, smile.

“Whom did you expect? Doctor Livingston?” The smile crumbled, what remained was at best an attempt at a smirk. Apparently she did not understand that reference.

Dmitry couldn’t blame her, it was rather historic. “Yes, none other.” He added, refreshing her friendly smile.

“Then this, I presume, is the crashed woman?” As if she wasn’t there Alexandra pointed at the nameless woman, some shaking had returned to her extremities and her lower lip. Not due to the cold winds from the night side, but anxiety.

“Yes, she is.” Dmitry felt the need to correct the officer, although a linker, the nameless woman was a person and deserved to be treated as such. Especially if she was to be integrated into society.

The man with the messy hair shoved himself between Alexandra and the two people sitting in front of the old pod. “My name is Doctor Antonius. Zachary Antonius.” Over pronounced and slow spoken he introduced himself, clearly addressing the woman.

“She is a linker. Not insane, nor slow of understanding.” Again Dmitry felt a need to correct what was said. Earning a punishing stare from the shrink, Dmitry got up, only to feel the nameless woman’s hand reaching for his arm.

“Please, don’t leave me.” Surprised by the first use of a singular concerning herself, Dmitry nodded, then turned his face back to the guests.

With a small gesture of his head he made the shrink understand that this had been a first. “I will not, you stay here, I need to talk with these people.”

 

“We can’t take her away now.” Doctor Antonius spoke to Alexandra, standing somewhat between her and Dmitry, who had his back to the woman. “For the first time in her life she had used the singular for herself now, that is a remarkable step in her development. She is beginning to realise her status as an individual.”

Nodding in agreement Dmitry said nothing, watched the eyes of Alexandra as they narrowed. Obviously she wanted to take the linker with her. As long as it was not determined safe, she posed a threat, both she, and the colony’s government wanted her in a controlled, safe environment.

“Why won’t you leave a guard and the shrink here with us? My pod is capable of accomodating four people. Once it is safe to bring her to Horizon, we will contact you.” Striking for a compromise Dmitry abandoned all hope to return to his endeavours of building his Ghoti farm any time soon. In a weird way he felt responsible for the crashed woman. “Alright. A guard, myself and the doctor.” Extinguishing any protest from Dmitry before he could voice it with an angry gaze, Alexandra turned away to inform the  guards.

 

“These people, they will stay here for a little while, just like you will.” Dmitry sat down pointing at the guards and Alexandra, the doctor stood at the edge of the forest talking with someone over his glasses, presumably he had to cancel a few appointments.

Slowly the woman nodded.

“Do you have a name?” Asking the most obvious question only now seemed a bit odd to Dmitry, but he knew that linkers had no names. However, it was possible that she had chosen one in the meantime. “No. Do I need,” she stopped mid sentence. Realising, or remembering from some dark corner of her once shared memory that in a non joined society of individuals everyone had a name. “No. Not yet.” Her attempt at a smile was weak, facial expressions were not necessary in a collective that was conjoined in the mind, operating as one consciousness.

“We’ll find one for you.” He showed her an honest smile, turning his attention back to the ship. The stairs were just lifted back up, Alexandra and a woman in uniform and armor walked away as the engines warmed up again.

“They will return in an hour to bring us supplies, we need a bit more than what you can provide.” Was she talking about fresh underwear? There was plenty of food and drinkable water. Just nodding Dmitry decided not to linger on that question.

 

Spending the day outside his home, being mostly unproductive in respect to his Ghoti farm, had left Dmitry filled with energy. Not that there was any transition between day or night, the sun always stood in the same position in the sky, as the planet rotated as fast as it was revolving around the sun.

Bit it became late concerning the time. Well past, what was once designated midnight he went back outside. After the ship had come and dropped off the ominous supplies, three bags, suggesting he was right when he assumed it was underwear and other garments, it got quiet. Doctor Antonius had tried speaking with the linker woman, starting off his therapeutic sessions with her, but ultimately had to give up as she did not respond.

“You’re still up?” Wondering at the name less woman’s unchanged position on the bench, Dmitry too sat down.

“We do not require as much sleep.” Her speech sounded sluggish. “We process information differently, our bodies need the rest every thirtytwo hours, then we slip into hemispheric sleep, resting our bodies but remaining mentally active.”

Making a brief sound of acknowledgement Dmitry reached for some water. “But you’re not connected anymore. Your ability of processing information is therfore impaired. You need sleep. Natural sleep.” He winked, taking a sip from his glass.

While sitting alone she apparently had practiced her expressions, as she flashed him an honest, albeit tired, smile. “There’s something I feel compelled to do.” She rose to her feet, awkwardly stumbling away from the bench, as exhaustion worked on her mind and body. She walked a few paces, turned into the wind.

Cool breezes from the night side of PK-p222 played with her hair, she spread her arms, opened her hands and spread the fingers, wiggling them.

Gone was the dull, passive expression of someome who had never had emotions, let alone knew how to express them. Replaced by a peaceful, calm and gentle smile.

In an instant it changed however. Dmitry could swear that he saw how a metaphorical dark cloud went over her face, twisting the peaceful gentle smile into a hard, agonised frown.

With that she fell to her knees, prompting Dmitry to run to her side. As he reached her she was sobbing uncontrollably, crying.

Gently he cradled her, triying to calm her, all the while wishing he knew what she had remembered, or thought of in that moment.

Woken by the sudden outburst of audible emotion Doctor Antonius came out the pod, stopping dead in his tracks.

“Our child,” she sobbed, “it has terminated. Within the boundaries of our womb we have driven it out!” Slowly her hands wrapped around her stomach, as if she could cradle the child she had lost.

Her agony driven sobs and cries drove Dmitry to tears as well. “Everything is well now. You are safe.” He assumed that it was not her who had killed the child, but the collective consciousness of the linkers. Too intertwined was her concept of a self with that of the collective to make that distinction, at least verbally.

 

“What drove you to come here?” After sobbing for a while she had grown more silent.

“We once had been lost to the others. A power failure had cut us off.” By the way she spoke Dmitry figured she was half asleep, or in the hemispheric sleep she had mentioned before. A feat mostly achieved by animals. “We formed anew, once we returned to the others we were not one again.” Had a disconnection from the collective mind caused her to defect?

She jerked for a moment, but remained in her semi conscious state. “Our new life, we wanted to bring it away, raise it without the haste, the rigid life. We realised the missing love, the missing fun.” A tear formed in the eye Dmitry could see, rolled out onto her nose, from where it fell to the ground. “But it was terminated by the others.” A clot formed in Dmitry’s throat.

So that was what drove her. To protect her child she wanted to leave, for which she got punished. In the most dire way.

Again she jerked, in the meanwhile Doctor Antonius had reached the two, with a few gestures he signalled Dmitry that she probably switched to the other hemisphere.

“They punished you for leaving the collective?” Gently caressing her Dmitry had to bite back the tears that wanted to flow from his eyes.

“No.” Her expression grew distant again, the logical part of the brain seemed to be the active one now. “It was terminated during decontamination after a mission, to ensure termination of foreign technology. We left to ensure any future life in our womb would not suffer the same fate.”

What technology could warrant that sort of decontamination? Although Dmitry thought it best to let her rest at ease he had to inquire.

“Unable to handle, we underestimated the foreign technology.” With a gasp she jerked back to life. For a moment she looked around in a bewildered manner.

“The sludge, it is not here?” A chill went down Dmitry’s spine, Antonius seemed t be taken aback. “No.” Stammering Dmitry put his hand on her shoulder to calm her. For her it must’ve seemed like a dream remembering the events that had cost her child its life. “There is no sludge here.”

Trying to move, her movements still were sluggish. “You are correct, Dmitry. I need to sleep.” There couldn’t have passed more than an hour since she broke down, yet she seemed not rested at all, obviously she needed to rest like a regular human being. “There’s a bed,” Dmitry was silenced by the nameless woman laying her head to rest in his lap.

“Outside will be my bed, please stay with me.” Suddenly she seemed afraid, as if she herself was a child, afraid of both the dark and of being alone in it.

It did not take long for her to fall asleep, exhaustion saw to that.

 

“What is the sludge? You seemed to know what she was talking about.” After a few minutes of her sleeping Doctor Antonius figured it was safe to talk in a hushed voice without waking her.

“I hope I am mistaken, but if my Harpy history is correct, we, or the linkers, or both, are in trouble.”

Now it clicked with the shrink, as he too grew pale. “Digitalys? That sludge?” Hissing sharply the Doctor inched back from the sleepimg woman and Dmitry, the latter softly stroking the woman’s head, to keep her calm in case she heard the hissing doctor.

“I hope I am mistaken, but I know of no other foreign technology that would warrant a fear of sludge.”

Retreating to the former pod Antonius reported to Alexandra what had transpired on the clearing. As was to be expected, she too became nervous, as soon as the woman would wake up she wanted more answers.

 

Unable to catch sleep himself, it was Dmitry’s turn to feel exhaustion weigh him down, as the nameless woman woke again.

“Good Morning.” He managed an honest smile and kind expression. Momentary confusion on her eyes, she clearly was unfamiliar with sleep. “Sadly, there are a few questions we’d like to have you answer us.” He had hoped to go easy on her, but the revelation on the sludge topic was sounding like urgent business.

Alexandra had prepared procedures to quarantine the entire area, to keep any potential threat from nanites at bay.

“You can ask anything.” Glancing suspiciously past the returned Doctor, to Alexandra and her guard, who were talking amongst themselves at the pod, her features hardened. “But they can not.”

“When you fell into hemispheric sleep, you revealed information on foreign technology and asked about the sludge. Can you elaborate?” The doctor asked, she turned to face Dmitry, who nodded gently.

Slightly bowing her head, as if about to apologise for bad behaviour, the nameless woman took a deep breath. “Approximately three weeks ago a ship was dispatched to investigate existing technology concerning further advances in nanotechnology, as our own vantages in that realm had turned to a dead end. The planet designated Digitalys by the Harpies was our destination. Four days in, the ship had gone silent, after retrieving some of the sludge, now covering the entire planet five kilometers deep, another vessel was dispatched.” She spoke without emotional intonation, almost invokimg the impression she read it off of some imaginary display.

“You were on that second ship?” Dmitry asked, trying to bring some emotion to her. Simply recalling the incident was not going to help her solve her emotional trauma with it, he needed not to be a psychiatrist to understand that.

“Negative. We were on the first ship.” Did her recalling those memories plunge her back into the plural view of herself as part of the collective? Dmitry feared that the little progress that had been achieved so far, was melting away. “After retrieving the sludge, we noticed signs of adaptation to our presence. At first the material attempted to consume all forms of containment, ultimately failing with our energy fields of containment, but turning all consumed materials into new nanites. The material began exhibiting signs of intelligence, by mimicking faces of the units involved in the study of it. On day four the material had found a way to breach the barrier, eating away at the controls designed to contain the material, thus setting all of it free.” Her eyes were empty, as if she was talking in her sleep, or under hypnosis.

Antonius was clearing his throat, he figured It best to snap the woman out of her trance like state, but he did not get to say anything as Alexandra put her hands on his shoulder, slowly shaking her head.

“When the second vessel arrived and retrieved all lives from the first ship, those units not affected, got exposed to radiation, strong EM pulses and contained within a stronger barrier of containment fields, until definite proof was evident of no further contamination.” Blinking a few times she turned her gaze back to Dmitry, her expression changing from absent to normal.

“What happened to the other ship?” Equally fascinated as horrified Dmitry could not help but ask the obvious.

“It was plunged into the planet’s atmosphere, where it burned up. Perhaps some technology, especially the sludge, survived reentry. Further studies of the technology is suspended until better ways of containment can be devised.”

Uncertain she glanced to Alexandra, who stared at the woman in a cold manner. “Doctor, Mister Zalenkov, I need to leave. Report to me as soon as she is ready for a full debriefing.”

“Wait just a minute!” Jumping to his feet with more agility than he himself had anticipated, Dmitry raised his voice. “She poses no threat to our safety, unlike many of the colonial new arrivals, she carries an implant eliminating disease, she has no technology that is in violation of our laws, and she has wronged no laws. On what basis do you want to interrogate her?”

“I’m a member of an enemy faction. It is standard procedure.” The nameless woman rose to her feet next to Dmitry. Seeing the knowing, yet still saddened, expression on the face of the woman Alexandra closed her eyes.

None of them had gotten much sleep last night, the new situation had caused a lot of tension and stress, was she really heartless? “Alright,” she flung open her eyelids, as if she could fling her worries away with that, “the guard will be replaced, an immigration officer will come here in a few days. Doctor, you’re staying too.” Squinting her eyes at the nameless woman she sighed, knowing she’d have to a few questions herself for those orders.

“You will have to report weekly, and your movements are going to be restricted.”

“I don’t want to move around. I don’t want to spend time in crowded environments. All our,” pausing for a second she bit her lip, “my life I was in a dense crowd. From the moment my brain formed in the womb, I was in a dense crowd of thoughts, disembodied voices in the mind, constantly there.” It was her time to close her eyes, a benign smile appeared on her lips. “Unlike here. It is quiet here, and yet, I do not have to be alone.” She looked to Dmitry.

Still somewhat distant Alexandra looked the strange woman up from head to toe. “You need a name. My transport will arrive in an hour, I expect a name by then.” She had to maintain an image of discipline, almost barking orders at them.

“Claire.” She blurted out, stepping closer to Alexandra who had turned to leave. “We, pardon, I want to be called Claire.”

Barely noticeable nodding from Alexandra followed that declaration. It was a step closer to individualism. An important one, she assumed, which would later be verified by the doctor. Giving herself a name, defining a self.

 

“I have a question of personal interest, Claire.” Alexandra stood at the opening of the pod, on the clearing the ship she had arrived in, had just landed minutes earlier. “Why did you discard your ship and ejected?”

A shiver of discomfort went through the pale woman. “The others, they tracked the ship with long range sensors, I am certain of it. Long range sensors have difficulty picking up an ejection, so I flew the vessel close to the planet and ejected, setting my vessel to self destruct by engine overload. To the long range scans it would seem as if I was unable to stop at my landing point.”

“Will they look for you?” An intense feeling of discomfort formed in Alexandra’s stomach.

“Not anymore. They would’ve tried to, just for defecting, which is seen as an act of malfunction, that needs to be investigated and resolved.” Claire explained from her seat in front of the pod. Claiming to understand, Alexandra found a few nice words for her good bye to Claire and Dmitry, flashing the good Doctor a look that told him to never miss a report, while a new guard replaced the other one.

Carrying that intel about the sludge to us, might be another reason for your kin to look out for you. Gazing out the cockpit window Alexandra watched the scenery shrink away during vertical ascend, and then pan around.

“Shift commander Alexandra Wenzel to Horizon, run all possible long range scanners, in all directions you can think of. There might be linkers out there.” Or worse.

Rings of Fate S5xE2 – Phoenix – Time pt.3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“I’m reading an atmosphere. Breathable.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proximity alert.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

That was their home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rings of Fate S5xE1 – Phoenix – Time pt.2

Regina looked to Kurt, devastation in her eyes. The scientist shook his head in disbelief.

“Check the date with theirs, perhaps this is a mistake and we overshot it.” Regina’s hopes banked on the humans out there referring to RV-p296 as earth, and that they traveled too far, into the future.

“The date’s is alright.” Kurt grumbled from Rich’s station, who was pale as chalk in his chair. “We need to turn the QEN off.” He pressed the buttons to do just that. If the Phoenix could link into the network of the people out there, they could do the same.

By the first glimpses caught by Rich, and now Kurt, they were technologically more superior than anything Kurt had ever seen.

Perhaps rivalled only by linkers and of course Harpies.

“Kohaku, lay in a course for an empty patch of space, far away from any POI we know of, perhaps that’ll be a place where they are not. I’ll be supplying you with some antimatter asap.”

Regina had sunk into her chair as well as Rich, pale and devastated, she could only nod in agreement when Toryama looked to her for confirmation of Kurt’s orders.

After a few minutes a signal beeped on Kurt’s console. “We’re out of the worst, attempting to make our fuel.” All the while Kurt flashed angry glances to Regina.

She noticed, but could not react.

 

“Nothing close by.” Kohaku Toryama sighed, it had taken hours to reach necessary levels to engage the engines. “Good.” In the meantime Regina had recovered enough from her shock to resume her duties as General.

“I know now why this has happened.” Rich too had recovered, sitting slumped in his chair, he had studied the database they lifted from the QEN. “It’s our fault.” He added, as the main viewscreen was not required at the time he put the information on that screen. “Japan had entered World War two, but surrendered very quickly. Not because they had any trouble in supplying the war efforts, but because they feared losing their most valuable possession.” An image appeared, it was grainy, age had not treated the image well before it was digitised. It showed some piece of metal in a staff.

“In a coastal shrine, a monk was put to rest. It is believed that he, or his predecessor, had found this piece in the wake of a tsunami. Only during the industrialisation of war had it become clear that the unique relict had more properties to it than just the assumed divine powers.” A clearer image was displayed. Regina gasped at the sight of it. “A piece of the electronics blown out from the lander?”

“Affirmative.” Rubbing his temple Rich got up, wandered around his console to the main viewscreen. “They surrendered, so this would not be destroyed, or fall into enemy hands should the war be lost. By the nineteen fifties they had developed technologies we know from the late 20th century. By the turn of the millennium they had, peacefully, conquered the world, and space exploration was in full swing. Martian colonies and settlements further out in the solar system.”

Quietly Regina listened on as he explained that the new earth, completely different than what they all had known from history classes, skipped the nuclear age for the most part. In her mind she was trying to figure out how earth could be saved from the devastating effects of the neutron star.

 

“…which then led to earth’s salvation. They sped it away, in essence.”

Suddenly alert Regina stared at the screen. “How?”

“Complicated, I don’t understand the science behind it.” Rich had sat back down while elaborating the differences between their timeline and the one they had found themselves in.

Discreetly Regina typed a message to Kurt on her console, soon after she received an automated reply telling her that he was not at his desk, but currently under way repairing systems that had gotten damaged in the time jump, and that he would read the messages as soon as he could.

“But they saved Earth.” Sighing he slumped back into his seat. “Because of debris they found from our pod.”

Sensing a philosophical debate around the corner Regina felt uncomfortable. It was exactly what she had wanted. Earth, and all its denizens were alive and safe. But it was almost exactly what Kurt had warned about.

They had not seized to exist, but the present they had returned to was not theirs. An entirely different world was out there.

“Ma’am?” Zhu sounded alarmed, almost panicked. “There is a ship close by.” Upon her command inputs the screen displayed the data she received on her console. “I believe it’s the Sakura.”

Cursing, Regina sat up straight. “Prepare thrusters, prepare main engines.”

“They could catch up to us, always.” Rich interjected.

 

A moment of silence passed. Regina felt the Adrenaline pump through her system. What should she be doing now?

If the Sakura got wind of who, or what, they were, what that meant for them and their existence, how would they react? How would human civilisation react?

If they learned that they lived only due to an accident?

An accident that the Phoenix intended to correct?

“Open the QEN.” For a moment she hinged her thoughts on the QEN. The quantum entanglement network worked because of quantum particles being entangled, but their entangled particle should be entangled with nothing in this time line. Could it be possible that there were now several particles entangled with theirs?

A headache announced itself.

“They’re gaining on us.” Zhu had managed to overcome her panic. At least in her voice.

“Receiving a radio transmission. It’s in Japanese, translator is working.” Doubling as communication officer Rich listened to his earpiece. “Apparently we are in a restricted zone, for safety reasons. They are demanding we accompany them out of the zone, and identify ourselves.”

Swallowing hard Regina nodded to him, taking up an earpiece herself, as it came equipped with a microphone.

“I am General Regina Marston, from the Martian ship Phoenix. Our vessel is limited in mobility as of now, but we will follow your instructions.”

 

A few minutes of silence passed, as the Sakura positioned itself slightly ahead of Phoenix. Somehow Regona was awaiting an alarm that they armed weapons, but nothing of the sort happened.

“Incoming video transmission.” A man of Scandinavian descent appeared on the screen. He had piercing pale blue eyes. “English? Interesting choice. What are you doing here?” In broken english he asked.

“That would be a very long story.” Offering him a full explanation and access to their database Regina ordered Toryama to follow the Sakura.

 

The message on his tablet puzzled Kurt for a moment. But only for that amount of time. Phoenix was in desperate need of his attention, he had no time to follow Regina down another rabbit hole of hers.

Knowing her, he figured that her sudden interest in the technical details of how earth was saved in this time line could mean only one thing. She wanted to duplicate the procedure.

Be that as it may, he thought to himself, right now we’re not even in conditions to correct the mistakes so far.

How she wanted to do that without harming the timeline again was beyond him. The damage they had caused, proved that tampering with the time line was dangerous and unpredictable.

“Is there a Doctor Kurt Braun in here?” Never had Kurt heard anyone speaking english as bad as the young woman that entered the auxiliary engine maintenance control room. Upon looking up he noticed that the woman was about his age, but had a rather young voice, dark almond eyes and black hair.

“Yes. That’d be me.”

With a broad smile she rushed to him, raised a tablet computer of her own. “Ishimura Kagome.” Along with her introduction she typed in a few commands on her tablet.

“I was assigned to help you in the repairs of your ship.” A monotone voice belched from the device as she began talking in Japanese. With all your advances you still have those monotone auto translators? “Although I am certain I can manage alone, with your help it will be completed much faster.” Equally monotone was the translation of his words.

From her he learned that the Sakura was guiding Phoenix away from the strange star, as it was considered a dangerous place, therefore in a restricted zone. Together with Captain Gunnarson she had arrived on a small ship.

There was a lot of anxiety in the crew of the Sakura, as scans of Phoenix had confirmed that it was the ship that had played a vital role in the salvation of earth.

 

“I theorise that, since we did not get annihilated, but rather ended up in your timeline, you and all you have achieved would survive too if we go back and undo what we have done.” Kurt sat at the control panel. He and Kagome had been talking about the incidents that had brought them together.

“Please forgive me for saying so, but isn’t that an awful risk to take for us? Thirteen billion people don’t want to end up washed away by the change of the past.” Stunned by that number of people, Kurt had to pause. “Aren’t you changing it by not permitting us to correct our mistake? Phoenix in this time line never got built, never journeyed back in time and lost the technology in the ocean. Thus preventing any of this to ever happen?” Now Kurt too felt a headache coming on.

“It seems you ave created a paradox Doctor.” Kagome smiled over to him from the other control panel. Slamming the buttons instead of touching them, Kurt kept quiet.

He had not created anything, he merely had not fought hard enough to prevent the paradox from being created by the careless actions of Regina.

“How is earth?” He tried to bring the conversation to another topic.

“Cold and Dark, but we’re working on relocation.” Kurt did not inquire further. A civilisation of humans, as old as the civilisation of humans he was familiar with, that could speed earth out of the way from a neutron star, would probably relocate the planet, not only its population. “It’s a shame we have to leave earth.”

“How so?” Now he was intrigued.

“It was feasible to give earth a nudge to get it out of the way and fling it out into the universe before the neutron star could destroy it, but we cannot relocate the entire planet. A small colony is all that will remain on our home planet.”

A nudge? Thats how you did it? “We have nothing of our earth, no small colony, only what our ancestors took with them. Seeds, soil and our fellow human beings.”

Unmistakably there was a sad undertone to Kurt’s voice, even he himself noticed. But the  earth that was lying out there, within arm’s reach so to speak, was not the earth his ancestors had left. It was a different earth, transformed by changes in history, prior to the neutron star.

“Why do you want to change it back?”

“As I said, we would not change it per say, but merely create conditions that would allow us to return to our time line.”

Kagome squinted at the scientist. Satisfied he slammed his hand on the console. “We’re done here, excellent work. But there is still more.”

 

Captain Gunnarson pinched his nose, his counter part rubbed her temples. The two had been arguing over the Phoenix’s future course. An armada of ships was descending upon them, estimated to arrive within hours. Science vessels, most of them, curious to study the rather primitive vessel from an acclaimed alternate universe, or time line.

In advance Regina had the majority of Phoenix’s systems disconnected from the network, so any hack via the QEN would only affect the connected systems which included a copy of their database, so the curiosity of the others could be satisfied.

“Your story sounds like science fiction. Time travel! For all we know this ship could’ve been built intentionally flawed and primitive, with falsified databases, so you could be taken for who you claim to be.”

“For what reason would we want to do that? Besides, Captain, you have a ship that is capable of travelling interstellar distances within hours, what takes us weeks. We live in science fiction!”

Again the two commanding officers stared at one another, battling with headaches. Neither could tell if it was exposure to some exotic radiation from the strange star, or from trying to understand implications of time travel. “Let us assume you tell the truth.” An asian man got up from his seat, as far as Regina had understood he was Gunnarson’s right hand man.

“You could go back in time and correct your mistake. The mistake that saved billions of lives. Thirteen billion people, soon fourteen, to be exact. Let us also assume that this would not spell the end for us, which the scientific community suggests it wouldn’t, since you’re all here and have not vanished into oblivion. Why would you want to return to a universe with only a few million people, strewn out on a few colonies, when you can stay here? Billions of people, earth and several colonies, soon a new new home world!” The picture he began painting was a tempting one, Regina had to admit to herself.

Still it was off. There was simply no place for her and the crew of Phoenix. Compared to the other humans in the galaxy they were primitives from their understanding of technology. “You, and your crew, would be treated as heroes! Your technology allowed for our salvation!”

Slowly Regina turned with her chair. “Are you scared, Mister? Because you sound scared. I think the consesus of your scientific community is not reassuring you.”

“Regardless!” Gunnarson slammed his hand on the table. His blond beard trembled a little. “Soon the other ships will be here, they won’t allow you either to return to the strange star, let alone attempt another time jump. Perhaps one day that might be granted, but until then your ship will be studied. First to validate your involvement with our past more thoroughly than our scans could, then to study your technology and your version of history. Until then, I am afraid you will have to stay.”

Surprised Regina stared at the tall blond Captain. His voice and demeanour told her that this decision was final.

And also, that it was not his decision.

With a nod she agreed to the terms.

For now, at least.

The two men took their leave, leaving only their engineering chief behind to keep working with Kurt on the repairs, but not without expressing their desire to meet the people involved with the landing on earth on their next visit to Phoenix.

 

Left alone to think about the situation Regina stared blankly at the wall, her feet on the table. The door sounded softly as someone entered. “General?” Doctor Maryjane Hutzinger made her presence known.

“Yes?” Unable to hide her annoyance with the disturbance, Regina did neither turn, nor take her feet off the table.

“We need to return, soon.” The, by comparison short, woman sat down next to Regina. “I have here two entries from their databases. One is the original that your first officer lifted from the Sakura while they had no idea who we were, or that we were even here. The other is one I took from the systems connected to the QEN.”

A tablet was pushed to Regina’s feet. “I already have a headache. Reading would make it worse. What’s your point?”

“They’re lying. They accessed the database and washed it clean.” Intrigued, but still feeling powerless Regina finally turned her head to the scientist. “They landed on RV-p296, just like the Equatorians did. The clean version does not mention anything about the natives. Not a word. The other one however,” Maryjane nodded to the tablet. From Phoenix’s own database the Sakura had accessed they knew that mankindn in the other time line had landed on RV-p296. Phoenix and her crew knew there were natives.

Hastily Regina read through the lines that had been redacted. “They slaughtered them?”

“More or less.” Maryjane flipped to another entry in the database. “They too encountered the Harpies. At first they suffered heavy losses, but soon they developed a weapon.”

Stunned Regina felt that everyone in the timeline they found themselves in should wear a goatee. “Biological warfare.” Disgusted the General straightened up her posture.

“Harpies and their ships share common DNA, they introduced a weaponised version of bird flu, delivered with tiny projectiles. It is assumed the Harpies had lost half of their fleet, and about a quarter of their population.”

Alarmed Regina inched to the edge of her seat, realising that they would never be let go. Mankind in this time line was not a group of people who let go of something they wanted or already had. Even the Equatorians avoided the natives of RV-p296, and those were refugees from a destroyed earth.

“They also deleted information concerning technology in the database. Perhaps to keep us ignorant of potential weaknesses, or to keep us from upgrading Phoenix to be a match for them.” Hearing this Regina guessed it was both of those reasons.

“Excellent work Doctor Hutzinger.” Getting up she handed the tablet back. “Set up a fake network of key systems connected to the QEN. In case they want to take us over, let them think they can.” Saluting Maryjane too got up, leaving the room shortly behind the General.

 

Lying underneath heavy parts of the ship was never a favourite of Kurt’s, especially while repairing things. Constantly he had the delusion or fear that dust, or something else was raining down on his face.

With Kagome assisting him he at least took comfort in the fact that she could always hand him tools if he needed them.

An hour ago the roles had been reversed, she had to unscrew a plate in order to change a fried circuit board. Now it was his turn.

After being stranded in the past for a few weeks he assessed the damages and could tell which ones needed replacement. So he had them made in advance, instead of patching things on the go until later on.

“I admire your ingenuity.” The dull monotone translator voice broke his concentration, however briefly. “The prefabrication of spare parts? I didn’t want to wait, again.”

Over the course of hours they had repaired and replaced circuits, and other systems that Kurt didn’t want to entrust to the engineering crews.

“Not only that, but the fact you have the capacity to fabricate these things, with your,” she stopped.

“Our what? Limited technology?”

“Yes.” He had not needed the translator to understand that.

Outside of the alcove in which Kurt was working another person approached. By the sound of the steps Kurt already recognised Regina.

In a dry, yet commanding tone she asked Kagome to leave the two alone. Slowly Kurt reappeared from underneath the conductor he was servicing.

“What’s it this time?” Incapable of hiding his frustration with the strange ideas she had in the recent past Kurt grabbed another screwdriver than the one he held in his hand, before he slipped back under.

“Do you see any way we can escape them?” Bowed down to him Regina spoke as quietly as possible, so no one could listen in.

“I should ask you, I was repairing the bloody ship.”

“Their technology, study it!” She hissed slipping a tablet into his pocket. “They are trying to whitewash their history, and keep us from studying their tech! They have commited genocide on the natives of RV-p296, developed biological WMDs against the Harpies, and I don’t know what other dark secrets they are hiding!” His forehead in deep wrinkles Kurt reemerged again.

There was no need to ask verbally if she was serious. Her gaze told him that she was.

Although shocked and appaled by the news, Kurt could not say he was that surprised. The exodus to Mars and especially to RV-p296 had made mankind in their timeline a little more humble. They understood survival, and letting others live.

Mankind in this time line had gotten a push in technology. A push they were not ready for. Plus they had all of mankind behind them as they ventured out into space.

Those advances in technology, and the reassurance of getting Backup whenever needed, made them arrogant, and dominant. Much to the disadvantages of the RV-p296 natives and Harpies. Although Regina explained to him that more peaceful movements have filled society and government in the last decades, he too was certain that they would not be let go from the grasp of the fleet that was coming towards them.

“In case you were wondering, Phoenix is ready enough to make a renewed time jump. Taking auxiliaries offline protected them, but I’m worried about structural integrity, especially the clamps holding the head and body together.” Wearing an expression that warned Regina from recless actions, as they could easily get stranded either in the alternate time line, the past or yet another changed timeline, Kurt went back under the conductor, replacing the circuit board.

 

Replacing the conductor circuits was the last of his actions, Kurt then retreated to study the database given to him by Regina. It was apparent to him that they needed to destroy the data in it as soon as they returned to their own time line, as to not turn into what they tried to get away from.

Overpowered for their own understanding.

In retrospect mankind was overpowered for their own understanding when the first atom bomb was constructed, what followed was an era of potential annihilation, due to mankind’s lack of maturity for the power they wielded.

 

“I can’t find a weakness we could exploit.” Throwing the tablet on the table in frustration, Maryjane got up. “Me neither, but there is intriguing stuff in here.” Leaning on his left hand, Kurt scrolled through the database with his right. “Too bad we can’t,” he stopped, narrowing his eyes to mere slits. “An EMP could blind them long enough.”

Putting on an inquiring expression Maryjane reached for her tablet again.

“They skipped the atomic age, they also never had the Orion-class ships in use, ever. Propelling those with the nukes creates and EMP, an EMP that our technology is shielded against. Phoenix doesn’t have that form of propulsion, but we have the same shielding around most of our systems. If we shut down the spearhead and navigate from the ring section, we can get away!”

Staring at the screen herself Maryjane cursed herself for not noticing that little detail, but the intricate workings of the ships that had brought mankind to the stars were not her speciality.

 

“Receiving a hail from Sakura.” Rich nervously drummed his fingers on the casing of his console. “Ignore it.” Replied Regina, biting her fingernails, a habit she had parted with in her late teens, but now picked up again. The fleet was twenty minutes away. Well within hailing distance. “They’re trying to open a channel through a hack in the QEN.”

“Open it then.” Coldly calculating the deceit Regina lowered her hand.

“Our operative on your ship hasn’t called in as scheduled, please elaborate.”

“Bogged down with work, I suppose?” All outgoing signals had been scrambled on Regina’s orders, Kagome had been taken into custody. After questioning her it was revealed that neither Sakura, nor any of the other ships would bargain for her safety or return. There was hence no reason to try that.

“Are you sure? We can’t contact her either.” Captain Gunnarson’s expression hardened. “She and Doctor Braun are working in heavily shielded areas of the ship, perhaps that shields your communication attempts?”

Fifteen minutes until arrival of the fleet. All vital systems of the spearhead, which lacked the EMP shielding, were ready to be shut down. “I will give them a call so she contacts you, it might take a couple of minutes.”

The first of the ships came into visual range. Impressed by the majestic vessels, that resembled flying fortresses, capable of decimating Phoenix in the blink of an eye, Regina turned to Rich. “As soon as they’re all in range, punch it.”

Simply giving her confirming nod he continously watched the distance of the approaching ships. “You might want to have them come a lot closer in order for this to work properly. Most their systems work on optics, but the interconnections are vulnerable.” Regina had forgotten that Kurt and Maryjane were listening in over an open com line, preparing everything for the coup.

“Alright,” grumbling she nodded to Rich, who returned the nod. “they will be in for a surprise.”

 

Majestic ships, designed with an aerodynamic asthetic in mind, slowed into positions around the Phoenix. For a brief moment Regina felt as if they had some heroic role. As if they were giving them an honorary parade, not one to ensure the small and inferior ship stayed where it was supposed to.

“Rich, do it.” Regina said. Most of Phoenix’s crew had taken refuge in the ring sections, only the bridge crew and some other essential personnel remained.

“They’re calling again, trying to force a channel on us.”

“Let them see darkness.” Smug faced Rich Bauman followed that order, although they themselves would be affected too.

After he pressed the displayed button the bridge went dark, gravity, created artificially, too went away.

“I completely had forgotten about the gravity.” Regina grumbled, a flashlight in her hand, while awkwardly trying to buckle her seat belt with the other.

Already buckled in Rich shrugged it off, as he had thought of it.

 

The blinking position lights on the other ships went dark, as went the lights out in the few windows there were. In the auxiliary bridge in Phoenix’s alpha ring, Kurt watched the display of primitive ingenuity overcoming much more developed adversaries.

“We follow the procedure laid out.” Colonel Oskar Drake announced the obvious, the navigator pressed the buttons that had been preprogrammed with the maneuvers necessary to get Phoenix away from the armada and back to the strange star.

Within moments the ship performed a jump away from both armada and star, before turning around at the fastest way possible, rocking all people aboard Phoenix around. Then again the engines engaged, bringin Phoenix to the assigned coordinates.

“I’m reading a ship on our tail, they have armed their weapons.” The sluggish dialect of the region on Mars where the officer obviously came from made it sound like ‘weapins’, Kurt noticed, with a refreshing reminder of home, was it the Olympus Mons dialect the man uttered.

“Distance?”

“Out of range.” The officer replied, Kurt looked at his console. They still needed a few minutes. Originally it was the plan to jettison the lifepod with Kagome in it at the last possible second, but it was worth a try. Even if they did not stop to collect her, they at least would slow down to get a good reading of the lifepod, if only to ensure that Phoenix was not hurling bombs in their direction.

A possibility they had both considered and prepared.

With the touch of a button the small lifepod got ejected from the beta ring, immediately dropping out of the wake of Phoenix.

“They’re slowing, marginally, resuming.” Damn. Like that the lifepod was pushed out of the way of their pursuer by their powerful deflector field.

“Prepare the wake stoppers.” The Colonel turned to Kurt, who saluted sloppily paired with a sigh.

Although he thought the actions of mankind in this time line were wrong, he still had a hard time doing harm to other people. Imagine them as evil aliens. Just imagine them as evil aliens. He pressed a few buttons on his console.

Tiny lifepods disengaged from beta, flung into their pursuers path. Filled with a container of highly corrosive acid, acid that had to be suspended in a magnetic field and artificial zero gravity because it would also eath through the container. The magnetic field holding the acid in place would react with the field created by the pursuer’s deflector, pass through and spill the acid on the ship’s hull, creating damage to force them to either stop or slow. “Do we know which ship we are dealing with here?”

“It’s the,” Kurt had to pause. Was it poetic? “Ronin seven.” A Samurai warrior without a master, undoubtedly, those were romanticised in this timeline too. The sensor readings from right before they started their grand escape, revealed that the Ronin seven had been sitting in the shadow of another ship, shielded by it from the effects of the EMP.

“It is working!” A victorious glee was in the voice of the woman reporting.

“Good.” Colonel Drake replied, without the gleeful tone, just like Kurt he disliked the idea of harming other humans. “ETA?” He turned to Kurt.

“A few more minutes. Everything is set to go.” The release valves on the antimatter containment chambers were ready to be activated on the press of a button, they just needed to reach the position they had before.

 

Once again Kurt stared at the image on the viewscreen.

The main bridge had once again power, and was in control of the ship, but he remained on the auxiliary bridge with it’s crew, just in case they were required to take control again.

 

In variations of blue, dominated by the deeply saturated indigo of the oceans, the waters of earth welcomed Phoenix. Mossy and pine green colors played out on land where the icesheet was not covering the ground, framed and intermittent by patches and strips in brown and beige.

“We have the course of the lander on record, starting the operation.” The messages of what was going on the bridge did not faze Kurt in the least. He kept on staring at the ancestral home in front of him.

Yes, he had to admit to himself, it would be great to save it, but at what cost? The gruesome nature of mankind could not handle technology that far beyond their understanding. Somewhere in the nicked archive he had glimpsed the term linker. While the operation to retrieve the lost technology was underway, he retired to his quarters to read up on that.

 

Inside his quarters he found relaxing darkness, the air was somewhat stale, but that too was reassuring and relaxing for a change.

“Doctor Braun!” As the light went on, Tracy jumped from the couch. She wore a shirt that belonged to his son Leopold. Quickly she grabbed it by the hemline pulling it down to cover herself completely, Kurt turned around, facing away from her. “Sorry, I should have announced myself.” He mumbled. Behind him Tracy hastily dressed.

“No, sir, I should not have wandered out here barely dressed.”

Letting his shoulders hang he calmed her, she was not at fault, he barely spent any time in his quarters anymore, thus she could easily get the impression that he didn’t really live there anymore.

“Leo and I were reading that database, it got late and he fell asleep, I then went out here, and fell asleep later too.” A fully dressed Tracy edplained what she had been doing out in the living room. Knowing his son, Kurt did not need to ask how they procured the database. “What did you find in there?”

“We read on the linker war.” How convenient. He sat down on the couch, taking up the tablet that lay there. “They were defeated eventually, mankind has nicked the counter program from a defeated Harpy ship, and laced it with a virus.” Tracy sat down next to him, obviously still nervous about her previous state. “Turning them back?”

Knowing the answer he still had hoped to hear that, that was the case.

“No. Committing genocide on them.” her voice became dampemed by a sudden onset of sadness. “They had programmed the Virus to send out a message using the infected host, they then counted the incoming messages. Eight million, six hundred thrity five thousand, four hundred twenty five people were murdered. Remotely, in cold blood.”

More linkers had died than there were overall humans in their own timeline’s present.

“Tragic. But all the more reason to fix our mistake.” Tracy wanted to reply when a screeching alarm went off.

Kurt’s glasses rang.

“Come to the bridge!”

Rings of Fate S4xE10 – Dawn – Journey

Four weeks after secession.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a warp drive.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

All aboard the Dawn were committed.

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

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

 

Eight months after secession.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eight months and three days after secession.

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

“Reading a gravity wave on approach.”

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

Harpies? Must be. “Evasive?”

“Impossible.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eight months and three weeks after secession.

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

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

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

“Put them through.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nine years, one month and six days after secession.

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

A girl named Abbigale Konrads. Now Mulgrew.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derek had been right. It was pleasant.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Commander Yarrak, we came to assist you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolfgang followed her gaze.

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

Life, tasks, and opportunity.

Rings of Fate S4xE9 – Phoenix – Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping his actions Kurt had to sit down.

 

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

Devastated Kurt stared at the console.

Inside his mind everything was flying around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Too see if there humans.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Five hours, twenty three minutes. Kurt stretched.

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

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

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

“Harpies!” Regina shot upwards next to him.

“What?”

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

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

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

 

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

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

“What for, if may ask, General?”

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

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

Only after Adamovic had left did he speak up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We could save billions of lives!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Negative, this is the optimal altitude.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Spears were readied, knives drawn.

 

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

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

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

 

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

Moaning Regina let her head sink to the console.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad?”

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

“Pa!?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Widened search pattern?” Kurt rose his eyebrows.

“Nothing.”

“Slower, lower flybys?”

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

Not asking verbally Kurt just turned his eyes on Regina.

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

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

He wanted to go home.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“We are good to go.”

“Beginn.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They friggin’ saved earth!”

Rings of Fate S4xE8 – Phoenix – Strange

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

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

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

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

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

Including him.

Now was such a time.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Moments later the antimatter drive engaged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurt and Regina had gone there, supposedly unseen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No cantina, no food from the cantina.

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

Nutritional, maybe.

Good, no.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Including and especially Kurt.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither was suited to care for an infant.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A soft bump went through Phoenix.

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

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

Comfirming he nodded, disappeared back inside his shared cubicle.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“I’m,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Prepare thrusters.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door behind the two men opened.

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

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

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

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

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

Many did not react to his commands.

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

Kurt turned back to the console, but stopped abruptly.

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

 

Earth.

Rings of Fate S4xE7 – Equatoria – Phoenix

Insect like creatures chirped in the night, seemingly paying homage to the shining moon above, as the heat of the humid summer day slowly lifted from Equatoria.

Admiral Benjamin Fuller wiped the sweat from his brow. Shore leave was all fine and dandy, but did it have to be in the summer? Most of the time it was summer in Equatoria, unless the Monsoon rains came.

The only noticeable change in seasons on Equatoria, as it was lying almost directly on the equator of RV-p296.

He did not know whether it always felt like this on the colony, but it seemed, whenever he, his husband and their children came, it was hot, humid and not a breeze lifted the heavy air.

Although enjoying the time away from the duties of an Admiral, outside the rather sterile, although lived in, environment of the Destiny, he was glad that a Sergeant had appeared at the door of their home on Equatoria in the middle of the night.

“There is a development, sir.” He saluted after the door had closed behind Benjamin. “All command crews have been alerted, shoreleaves have been annulled.” Sergeant Kušenkovic handed him a tablet with a message on display, it was locked with a security clearance only highest ranking personnel and officials held.

Dismissing the sergeant Ben opened the message after he was alone again.

 

“I am General Regina Marston, aboard the Phoenix. This message is rerouted through the martian quantum entanglement communication network. I call upon the colony of Equatoria. Four years ago the government of Mars has lifted the ban on antimatter technology, enabling the completion of the once secret Phoenix project. Our vessel has been en route towards the Equatoria for the better part of the last four years, and we hope that we are greeted as the long lost brothers and sisters that we are.”

George will be furious, Benjamin glanced over his shoulder at the door. Amidst the humid and still very warm atmosphere, he felt a chill and went back inside. After General Marston’s greeting, was the written summoning to an emergency conference with the senators and presidents.

Equatoria had elected to have three presidents running the colony, so that these three could always oversee one another. There would be less abuse of political opportunity and power. In addition it was in honor of the three ships that mankind had arrived in. Kismet had still the heirs to the titles of emirates it had come from, their portion of the colony was governed by said heirs.

Of course, they would be included in the meeting as well, Ben assumed.

 

“Can we permit a vessel, built by humans, with the same technological level as us, using antimatter in our vicinity?” President Julia Mgabe, flanked by her fellow presidents,  stood at the conference table. “That’s what this boils down to. Nothing else.”

“We can’t really prohibt them from coming here, can we?” Admiral Mulgrew did not bother to stand up.

Her history, and that of her ship, gave her enough authority to not having to stand up in front of the presidents. “We could at least tell them that their antimatter storage compartments have to be emptied before entering orbit.” Newly appointed Admiral Gabe May from the Explorer interjected.

Passively following the conversation Ben rolled his eyes. This discussion was fruitless in his eyes, as they were underpowered. They could threaten with military action, subsequently blowing the Phoenix up, ending countless lives, perhaps threaten their own safety in doing so.

It showed in the eyes of the presidents, and Gabe. They were secretly eager to see the Phoenix. To see it could be done, that the technology was within reach. They wanted antimatter technology too.

The opportunity to equip a ship and head out into the universe, traversing from one star system to the next within a few years, instead of decades, or generations, was too alluring for them. He himself could not deny the fact that this was tempting.

“They did show their capabilities with Antimatter when the MISR appeared on our doorstep. They also demonstrate it is safe for use by comming here. Isn’t it conceivable that they can handle it? That our ban on antimatter research and technology is one born out of fear? While true, if handled wrong, it can be a destructive element, they used it right, handle it right.” Benjamin slowly rose to his feet. “I can see your hidden desires Presidents, it is the gateway to the future. We here have a simple life, our desire to create new technologies so we can leave is low, as our situation is a lush one. Theirs is a desire born out of necessity. Imagine their situation. Holed up in underground bunkers, grossly limited freedom of movement. While similar to the hardships we were born into, our confinement had an end, theirs did not. Unless they invented new technologies, or reinvent them. And they succeeded! It is my opinion that we not only lack the capabilities to prohibit them from reaching Equatoria with all their achievements in hand, but also that we lack the grounds for it. We allow the Harpies to come here, who also use the same technology, far more advanced, I admit, but basically the same. We couldn’t keep linkers from comming here, and they possess the same technology. So why would we ban our martian brothers and sisters from entering our domain, when we allow others?” The air conditioning in the conference room worked effortlessly, combating the humid heat from outside, much to Benjamin’s relief.

“In short, what I am saying is, we can’t forbid them entering Orbit with their antimatter. We can ban it on the surface, but that is it.” Seing a hint of delight in his words in the eyes of the presidents gave Benjamin a chill. Had he said and done the wrong thing?

A quick glance to Jane Mulhre told him that she seemed to think so. Her ship had met a terrible fate, without antimatter involved. The volatile nature of it would increase the deadly yield of similar accidents by an unimaginable amount.

“Who seconds the motion to allow the Phoenix entering Orbit?” President Mgabe raised her hand. Followed by the other two Presidents, the ambassador from the former Kismet crew and Gabe. “I will not vote.” Ben said. “Seeing as I am torn on the subject, I could not cast a vote for or against with a clean conscience.”

Sceptical glances came from Mgabe and Gabe. Jane still looked at him with an angry expression. “Gentlemen, Ma’am,” Jane got up, began walking to the exit. “it is decided then. We will allow the Phoenix to come here. With me the only in opposition to the idea, it is settled.” Without further greeting she left.

A stale feeling of regret and guilt hung over Benjamin’s mood like an ominous thunderstorm of antimatter.

 

Communication with the once battered Horizon resumed normally, but Jane remained out of reach, once Benjamin was back on Destiny.

Most of the crews on Destiny and Explorer had been under heavy rotation since they reached RV-p296, but the Horizon crew pretty much stayed the same. There was a special bond, tieing them together. Unlike the other crews they were a family that had survived the worst. No planetary eden, or promise of such, could tear them apart.

After arriving, they disbanded for a short time. Jane had filed an investigation into her own actions, wanting to atone for her choices.

Ultimately she was found not guilty, and reinstated as Admiral of the Dawn Horizon.

Over the course of the years a new dish was installed in the rear of the ship, landing pods returned from the surface, as most of the former Horizon crew longed for Jane’s rule. Within two years the Horizon crew was more or less back together.

A development Ben found a little odd at the time, now he felt it was concerning. If Jane was planning something sinister for the Phoenix, her crew would join in, as they were loyal beyond doubt to her.

“Picking up a signature.” These words called Benjamin back to reality.

With a nod he gave the command that it should be put on the screen. A ship, smaller than his own, appeared. Two rings, and a shovel head.

They were travelling at speeds the Destiny could match. “They’re within hailing range.”

Benjamin again nodded. This time not giving a command, but acknowledging the fact he was informed of. After Admiral Mulgrew had left, it was decided that Gabe May would be the one talking to them first. “Keep an eye on the Horizon.” He mumbled. Eyeing the ship on his display carefully.

Unlike the other two ships, the Horizon was fully equipped. She had all her pods, not the skeletal empty hallways leading to nowhere, like his ship did in the alpha through gamma rings. Of course, Horizon only consisted of alpha and sub alpha rings. New pods were constructed, but far from reaching numbers that would complete the Explorer and the Horizon.

“She’s breaking orbit!” Phillip Jenkins, his navigation officer yelled. “Crap!” He quickly punched the console. “Jane! What are you doing?”

Jane Mulgrew’s face appeared on the tiny screen. “Do you want to hear an odd bit about true democracy? The first places where everybody who would have to bear the consequences of a decision, was empowered to vote on said decision, were pirate ships. In true pirate fashion, I let my crew vote. Just like me, they are against the idea of antimatter in the hands of humans. I agree that destroying the Phoenix is not an option. I do not want to end any lives, or risk contamination of our new found home with weird radiation, or blobs of antimatter. So we decided to leave.” Not giving him the chance to argue with her, Jane cut the line again.

Slamming his fist against the panel Benjamin looked back up at the main view screen. Accelerating the short ship moved further away. “Explorer is arming lasers, they’re targeting the Horizon.” Seymour DiAmano, his first officer, stated. “Horizon is also arming her lasers, targeting the Explorer.

This isn’t happening. This is just a nightmare. “Target Explorer canons, fire at will.” Benjamin heard himself say. The next seconds went by as if time had slowed down.

Explorer opened fire at the thrusters on Horizon, to which they returned fire at the canons on Explorer, taking out a few of them.

The Destiny’s own canons opened fire on the canons on Explorer, creating more damage in their weaponsystems. “We’re being called by Admiral May.”

“Let him hear static. If anyone asks we had computer glitch acting up.” A knowing smirk on his lips Seymour nodded, while the Horizon moved further away, without being fired upon any longer. Instead Explorer turned towards Destiny, the remaining lasers reaiming at Ben’s ship.

“Stand down all canons.” Ben sank in his chair. This would be the end of his career, he knew.

“Dawn Horizon is out of weapons range. Explorer advancing, still hailing.” Intensely staring at Benjamin, Seymour held his finder poised over the button to reply to the hails. “Answer them. Get a security detail up here. You need to make an arrest.”

Reluctantly, but relieved he pressed the button.

A moment later the weaponsystems of Explorer shut down. Surely they were scanning for Horizon too, finding it had gone too far out be pursued.

 

The presidents had convened again. Phoenix was stil a day out, so Benjamin had the undisturbed attention of them and Gabe.

“Admiral Benjamin Fuller. You are being accused of mutiny, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty.” What else could I say? “Seeing as there were no orders from my superiors regarding Horizon, I am innocent of insubordination, and mutiny as well, as Admiral Gabe May is not my superior officer.” The ambassador from the Kismet crew was present, Seymour sat in the witness stand.

A few senators and the press were present at the trial, that had been called in quite a rush. “Regardless, you ordered to open fire on the Explorer, is that correct?” Mgabe raised another question. “I ordered a lock on the Explorer canons, with the addition to fire at will.” They made it easy for him to avoid federal charges. The hearing was live streamed into the network to a broader audience. To convict him based on what they asked and what he replied would be harder with each passing moment.

President Mgabe knew as well. Did he see intent in her expression? She did not want to convict him of these crimes!

Merely wanted him out of the office of Admiral. “Why did you give that specific order?” She looked down to her computer display for a moment, then back up at him.

“Prior to Horizon’s defection I contacted Admiral Jane Mulgrew. She informed me that she had asked her entire crew to vote on whether or not to leave. They elected to do just that. When Explorer aimed their guns at the Horizon, I gave that order. So they would not destroy, damage or hurt the Horizon and her crew.” He paused looking at Gabe for a moment, who was staring at him with an intense glare. “We are not a totalitarian regime that keeps a group of its citizens, or denizens, from leaving, by shooting at them. We are not a union that needs to be held together by whatever force necessary. Horizon did not so much defect, than secede. We were all born and raised on these ships. You can’t help but agree that they are much more than just mere means of transportation or orbital weapon platforms. They were homes, and still are. Hence, this is not a defection, but a secession, an act that can’t be seen as something we must prevent by force, but one that should give us pause, and reflect upon what had led us there.” Benjamin slowly looked around the court room. Some of the people present nodded in agreement with him. “My order to fire at the weapons of Explorer was an act of peace. To prevent unnecessary hostility between ourselves. Really we should investigate why an Order had been given to fire upon a peacefully leaving vessel.”

Folding his hands behind his back Benjamin straightened, making himself appear taller.

“However, I accept full responsibility for the actions taken, and will take my leave. A dishonourable discharge from the service, and a permanent ban from boarding any terran or equatorian vessels.” Again some of the people nodded, a few seemed shocked and outraged that he proposed such a thing.

Julia Mgabe looked to her fellow presidents, who nodded in agreement. “It is settled then.” The three presidents rose.

“Admiral Benjamin Fuller, this court is accepting the fact that you acted out of loyalty to the human race and the democracy we are trying to uphold. Still, your actions were not suitable for an officer of the fleet. Therefore you are discharged without honor, a permanent ban on boarding any and all space faring vessels that belong to our domain. Dismissed!”

Retirement. Finally. George will be so happy to hear that. The kids will be even more thrilled. Benjamin had to concentrate not to smile.

“What?” Gabe May jumped to his feet. “What about him enabling the theft of valuable property of the colony?”

Julia turned her glance towards him. “Admiral May, the court is going to recess, after which your acts of unrest will be subject to a court hearing. As former Admiral Fuller had stated, Horizon is not property, but a territory that had seceded. Their pods were the ones they had arrived in. Horizon’s people are not being abducted, although we will try to communicate with them im order to verify that. Your actions endangered lives. Former Admiral Fuller’s actions were unacceptable, but simply a reaction to your unacceptable actions.” All color faded from Admiral May’s face.

With quite some satisfaction Benjamin realised that Gabe had ended his career as much as he had ended his. “Everything I did was for the well being of the colony! That cannot be a crime!”

“Admiral May. You are hereby under arrest. Your intentions are not being questioned, but your actions, how you intended to put your intentions to work.”

Still fighting the urge to smile Benjamin could not help but think of an old saying. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

 

After the session had been adjourned for recess, Ben was free to go, as his testimony was on record.

He returned to the former pod where he and his family lived when on Equatoria.

“Admiral?” A woman approached him from a side alley, she held a tablet in her hands, but wore clothes that looked like she worked with plants. “Not any more, how may I help you?” A kind smile appeared on her lips. Without further words she handed him the tablet. It was an old model, and had seen better days.

A text message was on display.

From Jane.

 

Ben, I wished we had parted on better terms.

Claudia will bring you this message, she is one of the few Horizon citizens who elected to stay on RV-p296, but otherwise she is loyal to me.

Call me paranoid, but it had always been my suspicion that things with our government are awry. Even if it is just their eagerness to get their hands on technology we are not yet ready to handle. Antimatter is too dangerous for us to handle.

We may have evolved past the limited horizons that we had when we set out from earth, but we are not yet capable of seeing past our own desires and convenience. The seeder movement constantly fighting to get terran crops on RV-p296’s soil is a prime example, it could and would spell desaster for the native species of RV-p296, yet they persist, and gain momentum. Sooner or later the rules and regulations will fall, and they will have their way. What that will mean for our new found home, is beyond even my imagination.

And that is a bleak one.

Despite all this, I had never tuly intended to secede, up until now. You may be right about the Phoenix, but still. Are we ready for antimatter? I think not.

Our leaders are just as blindly grabbing what ever new technologies come their way as corporations were in our history: barely understood, underdeveloped technology is taken and used without ever even considering what the consequences are, or might be. Investiagtions in existing technologies with a lot of potential are discontinued, because they seem outdated.

Dawn Horizon has two state of the art fusion reactors, and I am confident they can get us far, we have fully equipped gardens and facilities. Do not worry about us. Worry for yourself.

Love, Jane.

 

Reflecting the kind smile Ben handed the tablet back. “Thank you.” Claudia nodded and turned to leave. “Where is she going?”

“I do not know.” Benjamin could see in her eyes that she was lying. She knew, but she would not tell.

Probably for the better, if the subject ever came up in an investigation, he would not have to either lie, or tell on his friend.

 

Again the insects chirped, they began when the sun was setting, and continued on well into the night. Benjamin had seen plenty of old movies to know that such behaviour was also common place on earth.

George was, just as he had predicted, relieved over his loss of employment. No more would he have to share his beloved husband with Destiny. Since they already had been on a long shore leave on Equatoria, most of their personal belongings were already down on the planet, George would gather the rest in the upcoming days.

A disturbing feeling of dejavu overcame Benjamin when he again met with a man in uniform who appeared at his doorstep.

“What is it now? I’m not an Admiral any longer.”

“The Phoenix has entered orbit, a certain Doctor Kurt Braun expressed his eager wish to meet with you.” Sergeant Killroy saluted, immediately assumed a less official posture when he remembered that Benjamin was no longer a superior officer.

“Tomorrow.” Ben nodded, turning back around.

Finding it odd that Doctor Braun wanted to meet him of all people, Benjamin sat down in the living room. Questions of quarantine began bubbling up in his mind. The original crews arriving at RV-p296 were pretty irresponsible themselves. Although the implants sheltered them from most pathogens, they still could’ve brought some diseases with them. Common cold could travel with local wildlife, migrating animals to the native intelligent species and wipe them out.

Since the populations of the three ships were isolated from one another for generations, Horizon could’ve brought a batch of viruses with them the Explorer crew could not handle.

He found it remarkable that none of these things happened. Was Phoenix and its crew also clean enough? After all, they were separated from them too. What if they brought something?

Then again, shouldn’t the crew of Orion either have fallen victim to new illnesses, or passed some along to the crew of Explorer?

 

Some time during the morning Benjamin was awoken by George. Apparently he had fallen asleep pondering about viruses, pathogens, so called super bugs, and quarantine procedures. “Good morning sunshine, late night pondering gone on into the early hours?”

Enjoying the tender embrace of his husband Benjamin leaned back, for a kiss.

“Just thoughts not leaving my head, I even dreamt of viruses and sickness.” Making a face filled with questions best left unanswered George stood up. “I’ll get our stuff in the afternoon, after lecture. The kids will spend the day at school, so you can kick back and relax.” Vacation over already? “Then I will just enjoy the humid heat, right after I’ve met with Doctor Braun.” He almost had forgotten the scientist from Mars, explained it to George in quick words.

 

“As long as you’re not joining him on the Phoenix, have fun.” George grabbed his tablet and left after breakfast.

“I won’t honey, definitely.” At least I would not do it without you and our children. Quickly he cleaned up kitchen and living room, took a shower and left to meet Doctor Braun.

 

Meeting the scientist in a public cafeteria had been the Doctors idea. Since he had no knowledge of the layout of Equatoria, other than simple maps, he did not know much about anything in the colony.

Benjamin was astonished at the height of the man. He himself was not a short fellow, but this man towered over him. “Human growth had evolved for gravity of earth. RV-p296’s gravity is almost the same. But Mars is significantly less. At least from growth rate perspectives.” He pointed at a few other people significantly taller than the people of Equatoria, clearly having noticed Benjamin’s wonder.

“I see.” Ben smiled, pointing at a table. “Shall we take a seat?”

After sitting down Ben could not help but ask why Kurt wanted to see him.

“Curiosity, mostly. Yours was the first non martian face I have ever seen. Other than what we had on record I mean.” Flashing the man a friendly, and somewhat flattered, smile Benjamin took a sip of his tea. “And I was given to understand that our arrival had caused some turmoil? You lost your position?”

They were quickly inaugurated on what happened. Their sensors probably told them most of what had been going on, just needed to fill in a few gaps. “Yes, Admiral Jane Mulgrew adamantly protested letting the Phoenix come here. Nothing personal, mind you, just she doesn’t trust antimatter.”

“After what had happened to her ship with the, let us say, conventional technology, that does not surprise me.” Kurt had, had access to the reports sent to Mars via the MISR, so he knew all about the Horizon and her fate. “Since her protests in the senate fell on deaf ears, partly due to me, she decided to leave.”

It would take a while to tell him all of Jane’s reasons, could he trust the visitor? “But truth be told, antimatter technology was just the tip of the iceberg that made her form that decision.” Since Kurt already knew about the colony’s predicament with the local plant life producing no lysine, and the policy for non indigenous crops, Benjamin just had to explain what the seeder movement was. A brilliant scientist like Kurt undoubtedly connected the dots.

“Are the gardens in the Orion class ships your only source for lysine? Because then I could understand why Horizon was fired upon.”

“No, they’re not. They were for the first two years, after that most of our lysine crops were farmed on the moon base, and much of it comes from laboratories.”

 

A moment of silence passed between the two.

 

“Shall we catch up to Horizon? She is travelling slow enough for us to do that.” Kurt stirred his cup of tea. Herbal tea, made from plants found on RV-p296.

Ben did not know.

A decision like that was not in his power anymore.

“Take that question to the presidents, if it was up to me, I’d say let her go. Jane is an intelligent woman. She and her crew know what they are doing.” A sudden itching feeling of doubt, and curiosity overcame Benjamin.

A small spark of hope that his security clearance had not been deleted yet made him yearn for a terminal. “We should turn to lighter subjects.” Another broad smile from Benjamin. “How is life on Mars. Reading about it, or hearing in audio logs, is one thing. First hand stories, another.”

 

After several hours of chatting with Kurt, Ben returned home. He had gotten a message from his husband that he was now going to Destiny gathering their stuff, and that Benjamin should not wait with dinner. Their children were still at school, so Ben had the entire afternoon for himself.

And the computer.

Much to his satisfaction in most systems the security clearance had not been deleted yet, so accessing data was not a hassle.

Something that Kurt had said bothered him. Horizon was slow enough for them to catch her.

Although she had been patched together again, Horizon was sort of a broken ship. Stable enough for slow travel, but she would never again reach her top speeds. Reaching another solar system, even the closest one, was not a question of three generations, but of at least twice that number. So where was Jane taking her?

All ships had been outfitted with quantum entanglement communication devices, after Kurt had revealed their functionality to the colony. Accessing Horizon’s database was therefore not that difficult.

When he read through the maintenance logs he stopped in awe.

 

Due to her lower mass and size, Horizon had been equipped with a new prototype engine. It functioned similarly to the drive on the Ark-class ships, or the MISR, but without antimatter to fuel the energy requirements, the efficiency was greatly reduced.

A line from her letter on Claudias tablet came to his mind “Dawn Horizon has two state of the art fusion reactors, and I am confident they can get us far“.

Although the spine of Horizon could no longer bear the shocks of the explosions pushing the ship forward, Horizon was faster than anything else Equatoria had to offer.

He leaned forward again, depositing a short message to Jane in the Horizon database, advising her to change security codes, unless she wanted to get hacked and stranded in space.

Now he knew why Gabe wanted to stop Horizon. He probably had hoped to gain command over the sturdy little ship himself.

Reflecting on the facts he just had uncovered Benjamin leaned back again. Surely there were plans to install similar engines in the other Orion-class ships. But Horizon’s extensive damage and the work required to restore her to a functional state were the perfect opportunity for installing it covertly.

 

Carefully redacting his traces in the system before logging out of the networks, Benjamin spent the rest of the afternoon haunched over the computer. Constantly asking himself why so many things in their supposed utopian society were covert operations.

Phoenix on Mars? Secret.

MISR? Secret.

Horizon’s new engine? Secret.

What else was being kept under covers? His trust in humanity began to wane. Jane, the one person he would’ve thought not to be involved in black ops, was aboard a ship with a secret engine. It also showcased why she so vehemently opposed antimatter. They had other, less dangerous, technology. It was experimental, but in time it could surpass its limitations. “You hypocrite.” He snared at the blank screen. Had she herself not written that underdeveloped, untested technology was rolled out?

Now she rolled on such underdeveloped and untested technology through the universe, with Horizon’s destination still unknown to him.

 

The door opened, half startled that it might be a security detail taking him in for questioning because they did notice his activities, Ben jumped from his seat. “Hi dad!”

“Are you early, or did I forget time?” A wave of hot and humid air rolled past the children, waltzing over him, seemingly washing away all the sinister, secretive things that lay brooding in the dark of political hickhack. “You forgot.” Charlie grinned, standing in the door, an invite to play with them on his face.

Time to enjoy life. Benjamin walked towards the open door. Time to enjoy life indeed.