Posts tagged ‘Kismet’

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.

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Rings of Fate S4xE6 – Phoenix – Ericsson

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

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

Young love.

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

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

Except in the new segment.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kindly, Doctor.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the moment lasted only shortly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone had that victorious, smug grin on their lips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again he rang the door.

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

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

Another five minutes passed with no answer.

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

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

 

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

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

“Did you have any luck in playing it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

All fully automatic.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

After fifteen minutes the show was over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Rings of Fate S4xE5 – Mars – From Ashes

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intrigued Regina nodded with raised eyebrows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begrudgingly Regina looked at the tablet.

Slowly she understood.

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

Good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Our scientific head of construction says otherwise.”

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

“Doctor Fineman.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, it had the touch of underground bunker.

Everything on Mars had that.

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

Until he saw footage from the ships.

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

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

Within his reach almost.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Rattling grew less intense.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Rings of Fate S4xE4 – Mars – Resolve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The ship.

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

The cult had used children to investigate the ship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living quarters.

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

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

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

Horrible stench reached his nose.

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

It was feces!

“Hello?” He shouted. No reply.

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

Leopold would find it of something should happen to him.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still he’d be married.

 

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

On Mars they were a rarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re here.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The woman with the brown curls did not even flinch.

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

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

“We could easily annihilate your civilisation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the eyes of the detainees Kurt saw relief.

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

“Maya, Honey?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Maya and the others were allowed to live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, he smiled, sleep.

Rings of Fate S4xE3 – Mars – Resolution

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maya did not flinch. Nor did the other linkers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Stu’s expression grew concerned after hearing their names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Erika.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why don’t you blow it up?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“How do I release it?”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside the room the pulse did no damage.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Rings of Fate S4xE2 – Mars – DEHuman pt.5

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

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

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

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

Except his own sanity perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cold shudder ran down his spine.

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

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

“Did the president say so?”

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

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

 

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

Blinking.

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

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

No cooling fans were running.

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

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

“Seventeen hundred. Why?”

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

“Where’s your mom?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then left.

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Where to now?”

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

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

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

He would not make it easy for the linkers.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Quickly he returned before someone could see him.

Before one of the linkers could see him.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurt knew.

It was his tablet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if it was algae in crammed plantations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A strange feeling grew in Kurt.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Rings of Fate S4xE1 – Mars – Contact

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

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

It was a massive data transfer.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Now he was receiving his reply.

Anxiously he turned to the monitor behind him.

Still not finished.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Trouble with girls.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They turned to one of the small port holes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

But he knew he preferred black rock over grey rock.

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

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

 

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

After a short while the cab began slowing down.

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

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

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

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

Memory lake. Some people dubbed it.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

They needed time to think, Maya was and always has been, a vital part of his life, and work. While constructing the machines needed to create the antimatter for the probe, she also had been his partner in crime.

“Eat something.” She pointed at a bush of raspberries, already enjoying some of the deliciously sweet fruits.

Not feeling like eating anything he just shook his head. “Can you believe this?” After reassuringly looking around the small garden he finalky spoke.

Except the large city cavern they just had left, none of the gardens on Mars were big. But the one near the top of Olympus Mons, was probably the smallest. Only a dozen families lived up there. Scientists and their families, mostly, also a few of the assistants.

“She wants more antimatter created.” Munching on a handful of berries, Maya replied. Kurt just nodded. He was nervous.

A thought formed in his mind, bringing him back to caution. Senator Farrington might be laying out a trap. Detailed plans for antimatter creation with his signature on them might be a way for her to prosecute him.

Still, he was going to make those plans. Without any traceable link back to him. Everything involved with the MISR wasn’t linked to him, just as black projects are.

 

Again Kurt was woken by an alarm, driven to his lab by curiosity. Another transmission from the MISR. Just as the last time, Maya slept through the noise, so he was alone in the lab. How long has he slept? Pondering as he stared at the monitor he anticipated another month old message.

The monitor instead displayed footage from the on board surveillance. A ship was approaching the relay. By the way it looked he deduced it was not from the colonists. Quickly going through what he had learned of the other space ferrying races in his head, he surmised it must’ve been the DEHumans.

As they approached the image began to flicker, data transmissions of all sorts reached his end of the communication line. Suddenly the face of a young blonde appeared, with a noticeable red light the camera above his screen told him, he was also seen. “Greetings. I am Doctor Braun.” He stammered, half asleep and surprised.

Apparently the young woman was studying him. “We are the DEHumans. Our sensors have detected this communication device. To our knowledge the humans do not possess the technology for quantum entanglement communication, or safe antimatter conduct.”

“The humans you stem from, yes. We had time to sit down and develop this technology. There were no threats from aliens, or digital enhancements.”

Semingly intrigued the woman squinted her eyes. Kurt assumed that the collective mind behind her was estimating how well Kurt would add to their collective mind.

“All this, and you sent just a communication device?” Smirking sheepishly Kurt studied her face as she spoke. “You might not judge the value of one’s life as an individual does, your thoughts and memories are shared and distributed, death has little meaning to you. But as we are slowly beginning to understand antimatter we tread with caution.”

“The value of one biological entity is highly valued among us, the genetic diversity of the DEHuman race depends on each entities survival.” She raised eyebrows, but in a manner that told Kurt that she was not used to do so.

“How noble.” He cleared his throat. “Did you contact me to exchange cultural views, or is there any purpose to this call?”

Again there seemed to be a momentary pause, her expression seemingly froze. “Where is Mars?”

Aha. So that’s the secret. “I do not know its present location, or the precise direction. The orbital speed should be on record.” They must’ve intercepted the original transmission. Probably the reply from RV-p296 as well. “Why do you ask?”

“Curiosity. We might be able to offer you a way out of the underground dwellings. A transport to Equatoria, or you and your people could join us.” Assimilation. “What do you want in return?”

An awkward pause ensued his question, the collective mind was searching for a way to reply. “Why assume our offer has a prize?” Something he had read in a report popped into mind. They had told Admiral Mulgrew that the debts to humanity had been paid when they delivered them to the colony. “Because we are separate species, and you have no reason to interfere with a primitve species like ours, unless you saw a gain for your people. So what’s the prize?”

“Genes.” She displayed a playful smile, also obviously something recalled from the collective memory. “Not to clone you.” She added with her smile vanishing. Our genes, I believe they want our sperm and ovarian cells. “I will relay you most unusual proposition to our government. But I must tell you that I doubt there is going to be an agreement.” In fact I will speak against it, if I am foolish enough to even forward this.

“Please see that you do.” The nameless woman said monotonous. The transmission ended, again the image of the DEHuman ship hovering motionless near the relay returned.

Leaning back in his chair Kurt pondered his options.

Forgetting this ever happened was surely an option. Somehow he doubted that it was a wise option. The relay was defenseless, they could blow it out of the sky, and it would take some time to replace it.

Senate and president needed to be informed. To what end however? He leaned back forward to monitor, mouse and keyboard.

A nagging thought surfaced as he touched them. “What if?” He whispered, opening a transfer protocol.

Massive amounts of data had been loaded while he and the woman were talking. He went through the code for a moment, but couldn’t understand it.

Heat rose to his face as he came to the realisation that the DEHumans had loaded something, that was probably already spreading out into the network.

Devastated he looked up and out to the porthole window, lights began to flicker in the crater.

Somehow he knew that this was just the beginning.