Posts tagged ‘war’

Rings of Fate S3xE8 – Survivors – Survivors

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

There was no fire to be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It broke her heart to see it destroyed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some indigenous lifeforms had come to inspect the new arrival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile Gerry backed away from the creature, inching slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a few minutes it stopped moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least the linkers would save their lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rings of Fate S3xE7 – Destiny – Heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sudden loud crack stopped their passion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading silently George slowly wrinkled his forehead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Inaugurations?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Someone has to do it. Who are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind him he sensed Alfred watching him perform his duties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What brings you to these smelly parts?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rings of Fate S3xE6 – Horizon – Disasters

Darkness surrounded Jake.

Darkness and unspeakable cold.

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

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

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

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

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

It was unlocked, inside were suits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Built to shield the individual inside from any radiation.

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

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

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

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

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

Another warning popped up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vacuum.

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

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

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

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

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

Another hour passed until he was finalky all suited up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rescue!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane thanked him.

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

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

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

“Enough to cause any problems? “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the navigation of Dusk and Dawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’ll impact any moment now.”

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

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

Suddenly a bright flash lit the room.

No sound, no shockwave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re taking evasive actions.”

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

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

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

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

Quickly only pebbles and grains were left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowed to approach velocity, the speed Horizon should have when approaching RV-p296, Dawn Horizon crawled through the outer regions of the 296 system, Horizon Dusk slightly ahead. Glad to see some improvement in Jake’s condition Jane returned from the infirmary to the command centre.

The better part of the last two weeks she had spent convincing Derek and alpha ring’s Governor that contacting the linkers was the right course of action. Governor Xiao seemed to be listening as well, but she was uncertain that she truly reached him, yet he appeared to be listening to her.

“Ma’am, Dusk has altered course.” Derek greeted her with a sullen face. “We have received reports from Dusk that acting Admiral Xiao has ordered the course alteration in order to propel Dusk with the Oriondrive to RV-p296.”

Jane closed her eyes. He was not listening. Letting put a deep sigh Jane sat down in her seat. “Contact them, ask for reasons.”

“They already gave them. They want nothing to do with the linkers, rather take their own chances.”

On the large view screen she saw the other part of Horizon move off to the side. The other part of her ship.

Her responsibility. Could she truly let them go off and take their own chances? How should or could she stop them?

Not with gun power. Harming or destroying Dusk was out of the question, besides Dusk had the fusion reactor, while dawn only had inferior fission reactors.

“I wish you the best, safe journey, and may the odds be in your favor.”

Weeks passed by, the detonation of Dusk’s propulsion nuke had not harmed Dawn. On the viewscreen Jane mostly saw her reflection, as it drew power that no one needed. Until they reached ES-p296. A beautiful multicolored marble in the velvet backdrop of space, with a stream of clouds rising upwards to the moon where theDEHumans had their station. “Open a channel.” Jane inched forward in her seat, the communication officer reported ready.

“This is Admiral Jane Mulgrew speaking, we request assistance in reaching RV-p296.” Long range sensors showed that Dusk had alread cleared that section of the solar system, would reach the colony in a year and a half, while Dawn would need an additional three years to cover the same distance.

Several minutes went by before Jane repeated her greetings and request. “Admiral. We are reading that you are fulky capable of reaching your destination by yourself. Utilisation of your Oriondrive is possible.” A young dark skinned woman with piercing green eyes appeared on the viewscreen.

“We would rather not detonate more radioactive bombs in this system.” Jane smiled, she recognised the woman as the granddaughter of Nye Charles.

Nameless as of yet.

“Those operating the other part of your ship were less concerned. Why should we aid you?”

“It is your fault that Horizon broke apart, without your kind interfering with the operations of this ship, beta ring would not have worn out and Horizon would still be whole.” For a moment the woman did not reply, but seemed to be thinking.

“We will aid you in reaching RV-p296. But that will be the end of it.” The line went dead. Feeling more intimidated than victorious Jane inched around the chair.

Something told her that there was a catch to the deal.

Sensor showed that one of the completed ships disengaged from the shipyard, that had grown since Explorer first mapped it, and took course towards Dawn. “Receiving a distress signal.” Communion officer Jovcenko stated dryly. “It’s Dusk. They seem to have run into a comet trail of some sort, they’re bombarded with millions of particles.” At first Jane wanted to dismiss it, the exterior of the rings was after all designed to with stand such damage, but Dusk was missing a deflection dish, her sealed tubes in the spine scooped up the particles, that went unhindered through the seals, which were not designed to sustain such bombardment.

Slightly opening her mouth Jane wanted to cuss. She wanted to yell out to Xiao and the people following him how stupid they were. “Raise the linkers, they could help them.” Gladly trading the travel time shortening aid of the DEHumans against the lives aboard the Dusk, Jovcenko tried to but was interrupted by Derek who was sitting at the nav console. “They’re breaking apart, their superstructure is failing. Several pods have broken away, many more are still anchored.” Jane looked over her shoulder, Matthias shrugged his shoulders. “Subgamma is still intact. Gamma is acting as a sort of shield against the micro asteroids.”

A sick shield filled with misery and death. “Distress signal is gone, their communication is dead.” Taking a little solace in the fact that gamma did not have an active reactor that now could contaminate subgamma Jane took a few deep breaths. “Contact the linkers. We need to mount a rescue.”

“Admiral. The speeds they are traveling with are making it difficult for us. The linkers alone might do it, we can’t. Suddenly increasing our velocity to match theirs would prove problematic at best, so even if the linkers can drop us off there, we srill have to catch up.” Matthias Lehner was standing, in his face was pure concern for the well being of the ship. And himself.

“He is right Admiral.” Startled by the sudden appearance of the Linker spokeswoman on the viewscreen, Jane hurled around. “Our projections show that 90% of that crew has died, or will die within the next hour. The open tubes permit the micro asteroids to penetrate the last corner of the ship. Unhindered by any form of shielding or atmosphere, they will soon have incapacitated the fusion reactor, plasma leaking from it will burn out the rear of the ship, destroying it entirely. We tried advising them to turn the ship around in order to have the shielding effect of the dish working to their advantage, but all attempts of communication were blocked from their end.”

Stomped Jane sank back in her seat. “If you want we can pick up all those who made it out of the wreckage using the pods.”

Slowly nodding Jane agreed. Numb she heard only the voices, but not the words. She felt as if she had failed as Admiral. She had lost beta, gamma and subgamma.

The ship of the DEHumans maneuvered itself in between subalpha and alpha rings. Derek reported an energy field being extended around them, but Jane did not hear him, even whennhe stated that their instruments showed them moving even slower than before, but at the same time their viewscreen showed them moving fast by ES-p296.

An hour later the Dawn Horizon approached what was left of Dusk Horizon. A few pods sending out distress calls, and a giant perforated dead husk of a ship.

Part of Jane’s heart was breaking to see that sort of devastation. “Linker shields are holding, reading no micro asteroids inside the shield.” Derek commented. Ever since their departure he had effectively taken over command. Still he hoped to get some reaction out of Jane.

“They’re pulling in the pods using some sort of energy beam.” Jovcenko had taken off his headset, as the beam was interfering with communication.

After a few moments the stray pods had all been gathered. Jane took a last look at the Dusk. As foretold by the linkers, a huge hole was in the rear section of subgamma by burning hot plasma. It had undone part of the dish. Still the materials were incandescent, the plasma had dissipated.

I should’ve shot at them. Disable the release mechanism for the nukes, keep them from going off on their own.

Two days passed, when a warning signal alerted her to return to the command centre. They had reached their destination. Jane could not enjoy that feast for the eyes however. Too many lives had been lost in order to reach it.

“This is where we part, Admiral. All debts are paid.” Nye Chales’ granddaughter spoke eloquently, and monotonous. Jane nodded in silence, notingnthat Horizon Dawn was put in a stable Orbit. Immediately landing procedures ensued.

“Commander Derek Harvey, please take over command of this vessel. I hereby resign my commission. Effective immediately. Notify the colony and their government. I will stand trial for my actions, if need be.” Turning around on her heel Jane left the command centre. Knowing that probably no one would file charges against her, she intended to do so herself.

This would not be a happy landing. At least for her.

Rings of Fate S3xE5 – Horizon – Separated

A soft bristling noise, like an atonal chime, kept Jane awake. Every time she dozed off, the noise woke her up again.

She tried to calm herself by recalling it was just small debris from the Dhrakal, the patriarchist Harpy ship the Horizon had destroyed. Occasionally a larger piece bumped against the hull, interrupting the chiming noise with a loud “dong”.

It had been that way for days now, thankfully the debris had kept the momentum of the Dhrakal, and onky slowly rushed against the hull of Horizon, instead of hitting her with the speed of a bullet, since the capacity of taking damage from impacts was significantly lower after the suicide impacts by Dhrakal’s fighter pilots.

Tossing sround on the bed she looked at Wolfgang, peacefully sleeping. Snoring from the other room told her that at least one of her children was fast asleep as well.

Giving up on the idea of sleeping that night, Jane slipped out of bed, got dressd and left the quarters. The big Admiral’s quarters were gone, taken out by a suicide pilot. Even if they hadn’t, she probably would’ve given them up to other families.

One couple from alpha had not only to take care of their own children since the attack, but of their nieces and nefews, since both the husband’s sister and the wife’s sister and their respective spouses had died in the attack.

Jane’s son Wolfgang junior had gotten away with a broken arm and a few scratches, her daughter hadn’t sustained any injuries at all.

Late night strolls always were interesting to Jane, as she turned up places she hadn’t expected. Laying her eyes on an open mess hall, that hadn’t been converted to a shelter for the now homeless, Jane sighed.

Exhaustion weighed heavily on her, she sure could use a dose of caffeine, or two.

Inside there were plenty of people, in uniform and in casual outfit. None seemed to take notice of her, for a change she was glad for that.

She got up to the vendor, who looked into her face, nodded before she could say anything, and served her a cup. The smell alone seemed to increase her pulse, she took the cup with a thankful nod and trod off.

“Mum?” Wolfgang seemed astonished to find her in the mess hall, he too held a cup of the caffeine laced drink. “Wolfgang. What are you doing here st this hour?” Teenage boys out after midnight, not uncommon, but she didn’t like it if it was her son.

“That noise. Constantly it sounds like a shower of nails on metal plates, occasionally interrupted by a bell being tolled by an evil sadistic hunchback in some tower close by!” He drank from the cup.

“Too many movies for you it seems.” Benind smiling she too took a sip, she had heard that Wolfgang had a blog somewhere in the Horizon net, where he published stories and poems, but had never found it, hearing these words from his mouth, she however knew that it must be good.

“Mum, it’s driving me insane. Can’t I sleep over at Jackie’s place? They live on alpha, in the wake of subalpha, no noise!”

Ah. The infamous Jackie. Jane wanted to meet that girl for what seemed like ages now. “If her parents agree, who am I to stop you? Obviously you can sneak out in the middle of the night without me noticing, although I couldn’t sleep either.” Winking she felt only little effect of the drink, longingnfor another one.

“Thanks.” He was stunned by her reply, apparently he had thought she’d be a little less linient.

“Now, young man. I believe there is a relatively quiet spot for you to rest your head, after all, it’s a school night.” She tucked her arm in his and pulled him out of the mess hall.

In the aft section of subalpha, in a crew bunk room she sent him to bed. Not very comfortable, and three men already slept in the other bunk beds, but compared to the constant bristling noise in their quarters, it was relatively quiet.

Pondering about the possibility of taking a bunk bed herself, Jane found herself wandering the hallway outside the command centre.

“Admiral! Didn’t expect to see you here for another four hours.” Julia Dimarco, night shift’s commanding officer greeted her.

“I’m just,” distracted by the bristling noise Jane looked around, seeming a little spooked, “wandering around.”

“Kept awake by that noise, Ma’am?” Just by looking at the other woman Jane knew that Julia was plagued by the same thing.

“Doc gave me tranquilisers. I must say, they work just fine.” The man at the post of the first officer said with a docile smile.

Suspecting that they had an effect on him even while awake Jane raised an eyebrow, but decided not to launch an investigation into that matter. A crew deprived of sleep was less functional than a crew that needed medication to sleep, even if that influenced their awake performance.

“Either way, I think I’ll try to get some sleep now.” Jane greeted them, turning on her heel.

“Ma’am?” Julia called her back as she almost had reached the door, over the bristling noise she had overheard the beeping of her console. “There is an incoming call from beta.”

Beta.

That could only be an engineering crew, since that ring was shut down completely.

“We have dismantled the suspensions in the faulty section.” Immediately Jane recognised the voice as Jake’s. “Better get me the Admiral.”

“I’m here Jake. Couldn’t find any sleep with the hailstorm of debris banging against the hull. What do you need me for?”

“Better take a look at this Jane.” Squinting her eyes at the small screen Jane sighed internally. Not enough sleep always had a negative, although temporary, effect on her eyesight, she laid the image on the large view screen. “What am I seeing here Jake?”

“The worse case scenario.”

The camera followed a trace of weakened material. For years on end the magnetic suspension of the unevenly rotating beta ring had worked on the material, wearing it out.

“We will attempt to patch this thing, but I nust say, I have little confidence in the success of that.”

Jane closed her eyes. For a short moment her exhaustion played her dreams before her eyes, she opened them gasoing for air, trying to snap out of it. “See what you can do, but don’t forget to take breaks and get some sleep in beween.” The line dropped.

Should she too pay a visit to the infirmary?

No, she decided, her shift began too soon. “If someone would be kind enough to go to the barracks and wake me up at 0530?” Whirling around on her heel Jane headed out of the command centre.

Sleep came easily. Simpky lying down and closing her eyes. No tossing and turning, later Jane attributed it to the lack of the bristling noise.

Deep sleep with confused and confusing dreams soon engulfed her mind, relaxed her body.

“Admiral?” Julia’s voice woke her from the hailstorm of images. “It’s 0530. I’m here tonwake you up.”

“Aye.” Jane grumbled, feeling less relaxed for a moment than a few hours before she rubbed her eyes. Light was stinging them.

Before the weakened material and shodded suspension had been detected, Jake had suggested a redistribution of mass from the alpha and gamma rings to beta, so the ship would resemble less a dumbbell, mass wise, and thus would be less vulnerable to wobbling if the gravitational tides of ES-p296 and its moons influenced the ship.

She had dreamt of that.

Pods that flew from the alpha and gamma rings to beta, but as they wanted to dock a magnetic surge flung them off into space. After which the ship began to woble until it broke apart.

“Thank you, any news from Mr. Khaku?”

“No, Jake hasn’t called again. I assume he’s too busy fixing the ship.”

Again thanking her Jane stretched. She needed coffee.

Badly.

Thankfully she accepted the lab produced caffeine drink from Julia, who had forseen the Admiral’s need for it.

Half of the day passed by without word from the engineering crew working in beta. Going through the fifth cup by noon, Jane decided to take some action, instead of waiting for Jake or his people to contact her.

Soon after sitting down in the maintenance cab the weightlessness set in. For once in her life the feeling of it didn’t make her sick, after a few minutes she arrived at the beta ring sections of the tubes, opened the hatches.

“Admiral! What brings you here?” Jake floated towards her cab from his. The tubes were pressurised, working in a spacesuit was not his speciality, and he soon enough would have to, in order to assess the damage on the outside of the spine, where the beta ring ended.

“Your lack of updates.” She smiled. Pointing at a box near her in a seat. “I brought snacks and coffee.”

“You’re a lifesaver Jane.” Jake entered the cab with little difficulty. Working in zero G for a long time now he had gained a lot of experience in doing so. “We’re working hard, but as I said, I have little confidence in the outcome. We also have to work on the putside of the spine. Let me tell you, the gardens are not as pretty as they used to be, without gravity.” Snickering Jane admitted she could only imagine.

“What else needs to be done?”

“Too much. We can repair a human’s broken spine with our technology, but for Horizon, it’sit’sa different story. We can patch it together, but that creates a blockade in the tubes. If we don’t, she’ll tear apart. On the outside, gardenwise, we would seriously weaken the sustainability of a stable gardening environment.”

Jane raised a hand, floating at the door of the cab, lookingnout at the work crewsin the tube. “Loosing the ability to travel through beta, and losing the beta gardens, or all of beta for that matter, is a small price to pay, compared to the alternative. I theory the ship could make it to its destination if it breaks apart, but it would take a lot of work.” She turned around lookimg at her chief engineer. “And luck.” Her mouth was a narrow straight line in her face.

“I’ve let you down before, Admiral, so you have no reason tontrust my words, but I believe we should separate the ship on purpose.”

Stunned Jane opened her mouth but found no words.

“We can patch her up, it is possible we go through the solar system relatively unscathed. But entering and maintaining a stable orbit with Horizon? The ships own inertia could tear off one section, breaking her apart and sending one, or both parts, into an unstable orbit, possibly into damnation.”

Still unable to find words Jane turned her head to face the tube again. “I am not prepared, or willing, to tear this ship, this crew apart. At least not yet. We will cross that bridge when all else fails.”

Drinking his coffee from a sack with a straw Jake nodded. “As you wish, Admiral. I’ll install special sensors, that measure the stress the spine is under. That way, we’ll know when it’s time to, cross that bridge.”

Slowly the door of the maintenance cab closed. Jake had disembarked with the food and coffee for his crew.

Jane was alone again.

Alone with her thoughts, and memories of the nightmare. Doors opened, revealing the hallway outside. People wandered by, the doors closed.

A nagging thought kept Jane seated. The thought that she was being irrational. The possibility of Horizon breaking apart was very real.

Admiral Grienberg would’ve severed the ship in half at the blink of an eye if it meant saving it, while trying to keep it patched together, like a badly sewn on trouseleg, could spell disaster for one or both parts of the ship.

Jane didn’t notice the cab moving again, traveling to it’s default position in a recess in the tube network, as she was following the other nagging thought.

It could spell disaster. Not necessarily meaning it would.

It was quiet in the cab.

Sitting in its waiting position, it was sealed off from sounds reaching it, by the vacuum in the tube. Soon Jane dozed off.

Jake looked at the work he had completed. Satisfaction filled his chest, heaving with every breath he drew.

Slowly his gaze wandered down the tube. There was a lot of work to be done, his satisfaction withered, exhaustion replaced it. Too much work.

He need more hands.

More hands than the engineering crew could provide him with.

More hands than were on the ship. And those weren’t qualified.

“Maybe we should use automated welders?” Stefanie, his colleague and love of his life followed hia gaze. “We could modify the maintenance cab, or cabs, to do it. Scan after them to find spots that need special attention, and go oly on those manually?”

Wrinkling his forehead Jake exhaled audibly. “Maybe, get to work sweetie, go forth and make us a welding bot.” Winking at him she pushed off in the direction of the rear of Horizon. Modifying a maintenance cab would take her a few hours.

He returned his attention to the walls. Maybe he could modify the device that was used to clean and maintain the exterior of the spine inside Beta, so the artificial light could shine brightly, to a similar end?

Basicall it was a huge ring, moving slowly across the spine. Cleaning was fully automatic, but there was room for peple there to replace faulty parts? A warning chime from the front of Horizon drew his attention.

After a few moments the gate opened, slowly a maintenance cab floated in, stopped right behind the gate.

Curiously he continued staring at the door, until it finally opened.

“What do you need to do, to separate the ship?” Jane appeared in the open door.

Actually, Jake had not prepared any detailed plans for that, as the Admiral dismissed the idea right away.

“Cutting it apart at the joints of beta is the best course of action I guess. Keep a bit of beta around for the rear to act as deflector.”

“Prepare what you can, we’ll do that.” In her voice a tone of regrett was unmistakable, but Jake didn’t pick up on that. “Aye. I’ll have it ready as fast as I can.”

After the Admiralhad left again, Jake contacted Stephanie, informing her of the change of plans, and that she needed to outfit the maintenance cab with something more powerful.

With a feeling of dread Jake entered the control room inside the subalpha ring. Ever since the launch, the entire ship had run on the main reactor in subgamma. A giant fusion reactor.

For successful separation the forward section needed to provide for their own power. Each of the five rings had come with a backup power reactor.

Fission reactors.

The consoles in the control rooms were littered with switches, buttons and instruments, none of which were a digital display on a touchscreen like the rest of the ship, in case of a power failure, they needed to remain operational.

“Maybe we should reconsider. I might be wrong about the breaking apart theory.” Quesy he refrained from powering up the control panels. “You may also be right.” Jane closed her eyes. For three weeks Jake had worked hard to prepare everything for the separation.

From the beta ring he had taken the laser canons, designed to shoot debris, later used to shoot harpies out of the sky. Dived into four sets, one was set in the ring structure around the spine inside the beta gardens, aiming forward, to cut through the spine, as the ring slowly turned.

The others were in the tubes just outside alpha. So they could cut away the spine there. From inside the central tube in the affected areas, all people in cryogenic chambers had been revived and situated.

There was no going back now.

“Do it. That’s an order.” Jane grumbled, seldom had she to tell people that an order was an order. If she had to, she hated it.

“We still need names. We won’t call it Horizon fron and back, are we?” Trying to win some time Jake still hoped there was something that would allow him to not push that button. “Well, sticking with the name of Horizon, let’s go with Dawn and Dusk. Now, fire this thing up.”

Not musing at all in that moment Jane urged for the activation of subalpha’s reactor. Already, in the nights of constantly hearing the bristling of debris, she had deciddd on the names, agreed on them with the governors.

She was just glad there was no Harpy ship around that could get hit by a stray laser beam. Right after the beta ring was shut down, the ambassadorial ship disengaged and positioned itself at a safe distance, Ambassador Hylia was on subalpha.

“Aye Ma’am.” Hesitantly Jake pulled the lever. Fully automated the system came to life. Pumps engaged, fuel was lowered out from casings. After a few minutes the system was fully operational. “We will have to wait for the system to reach operational levels, but this looks good.” A sigh of relief from Jake, was mostly a good sign.

“Of course it does, the people who built this were no amateurs.” Stephanie commented, the situation they were in was unforseen, thus the people who had built the Horizon were not to blame for the broken spine in, and around beta. “I did a little reading, but I need verification, we are having a Thorium reactor here, not the kind of reactor they used on earth?” Jane wandered down the rows of control panels. She had no idea what any of these controls did, or showed.

“Well, not entirely. Subalpha and subgamma have Thorium reactors, alpha through gamma have conventional fission reactors. It was believed that for some unforseen reason there might be the need to make more nukes, which could relatively easily be made by using those kinds of reactors. The more stable reactors were reserved for the heart and the brain of the ship.”

Mildly unsettled by those news Jane nodded. The governor would not be happy about having a reactor under his chair that was possibly a timebomb.

Suddenly beeping signals from one console alerted Jane, rushing to the station Jake and Stephanie checked the instruments, then the contol panel. “This is a display of beta’s reactor!” Jake cussed, he checked the other consoles for the reactors on the other rings. “Alpha and gamma have begun working as well. It must be some sort of fail safe, if this reactor is turned on, the others follow.”

“Subgamma is dead. Probably because the fusion reactor is still up and running.” Quickly Stephanie returned from the subgamma panel to the beta panel. “Pumps aren’t working. There is a pressure build up. Failsafe is not engaging, shutdown is unresponsive.”

Jane had joined them at the control panels. “How much time do we have before it goes critical?”

Shrugging his shoulders Jake could only guess. “An hour? Maybe a bit more.”

Throwing her hands in the air Jane turned around to the door. “Time to cut the ship in two?”

“Two hours, if we hurry.”

Of course. “Get to it, now.”

Nodding Jake sent Stephanie to do it, as he remained at the controls to try and win some time. “I will lose comtrol over the reactor when the lines are severed.” Although the wiring was in the center of the spine, Jake knew that the spine would not hold out long against the lasers, cutting would continue after the spine was severed to cut away most of beta ring, so Dusk Horizon would not carry a lot of dead weight in front of it, on a weak spine.

Terrified he looked up from the control panel. “Fuck! The reactor is in beta’s aft section!”

“Mulgrew to Gruber, abort separation, but stand ready.” A swarm of engineering staff entered the room, taking the controls, Jake stepped back, Jane mustered him.

“Dusk Horizon will have to deal without a deflector.” He took out a tablet punched in amfew commands, while rushing out of the room. The hallway outside the reactor control room was dusty, as it was seldom in use. Srill there was a tube entrance, a cab was waiting for Jake, Jane followed on his heels.

Over the glasses she had been informed by Stephanie that the modified cabs had moved from their position to just outisde gamma, and began firing their lasers, cutting off gamma and subgamma. “What are you intending to do?” Jane asked as they entered the spine, lost gravity.

Jake remained silent for a few moments until the cab came to a stop and opened the doors to a hallway, still there was no gravity.

“Buying you some time. Now, I have realigned the lasers in the maintenance cabs, the ring is another bargain, they’re fixed in position, but the cabs can be retrieved and will go to their original positions.” He plunged himself out of the cab, leaving Jane paralysed.

“Good luck, Jane.” Doors closed and the cab moved away automatically.

“Good luck, Jake.” She finally mumbled as the cab entered subalpha again.

Devastated Stephanie awaited the Admiral in the command centre, where the controls for the maintenance cabs had been rerouted to. “Status?” Jane took her seat, grinding her tears. She had known Jake for years, and knew that, what he was doing, was suicide. Still, she had more lives to consider than just his,

Upon leaving the cab, she had sent it back to where Jake had taken off, with the express order to only leave if Jake was inside.

“He is working the manual controls.” Her fist officer Derek commented, as Stephanie sat in a corner sobbing.

“Admiral!” Jake’s voice yelledout of the speakers. “Some of the fuel rods have begun melting, I can’t contain the situation, sorry.”

“Get your ass in the cab.”

“But if I release the water into space there is a chance to prevent a catastrophe.” Glancing to Derek who shook his head Jane grew angry. “Jake, listen, the venting pipes are jammed, you jeed to get back. I parked the cab where you left it, get back. Now.”

Silence filled the line to Jake for a moment. “I can do it Admiral. By releasing the contaminated steam into the hallways and direct it into the gardens.”

Again Derek shook his head, Stephanie jumped to her feet. “No! Jake, that’d be your death!”

“You know sweetie, my favorite classic SciFi movie? At the ending?” Jake’s voice trembled, by a look at her display Jane saw that the maintenance cabs were moving into position again, cutting Jake off from a way back.

“Don’t, please.”

“I must. My life is a small price to pay, for the lives of all of you.” Derek stated that the lasers had been turned on remotely from Jake’s tablet. “Who knows, my love? We’re amongst the stars, and if this was science fiction, I could return. No one truly dies in science fiction.”

Instead of a repky Stephanie sobbed, sinkingnto her knees at Derek’s console.

Maintaining his professionalism Derek informed Jane that Jake had successfully vented the steam into the hallways and gardens.

Which made Stephanie sob harder. “It’s getting quite hot in here. Admiral, I’m switching to wireless, the spine should be severed soon. If radiation interferes too much, let me just say, live long and” transmission ended.

Static filled the line, for a few moments there was not a word uttered in the command centre. Except for Stephanie’s sobs, the bristling noise of debris and the static noise, the room was filled with silence.

“There is too much interference, Admiral.” Slowly coming to terms with what just had happened, Jane nodded.

“Radiation leaks detected!” Woken to action Jane looked up from her console. A stream of vapor shot out from the beta ring’s center.

“Reading multiple fissures on beta’s aft section.” The engineer replacing Stephanie, Matthias Lehner, stated dryly.

They had waited an hour.

An hour without word, or sign from Jake.

“Get it out from in between Dusk Horizon and us.” She finally sighed, the remote comtrols for the pods remaining on beta, would soon be affected by the radiation too.

Simultaneously the pods fired their engines, without disengaging from the superstructure, pulling the beta ring away, thrusters had been aligned sonthe pods wouldn’t try to pull the ring in various directions, breaking it apart, thus creating a new debris field.

Farewell, Jake. You did fine. “I’ll be in my quarters. If anyone needs me, wait for tomorrow’s shif to tell me. Unless the ship is on fire.” She winked at Derek, who took her seat.

Inside her quarters she was greeted with just the bristling noise, but otherwise silence. Her family was not home, feeling blissed, she sat down.

Opened her tablet, flipped through her library, until she found a book she wanted to read. Something that would take her mind off of Jake and his sacrifice.

Light reading.

After a few pages her mind drifted off.

Jake’s last words to Stephanie haunted her mind. Curious she wanted to know which movie it was that he was referring to. Could she ask Stephanie?

Deciding against it she used her Admiral’s privileges to gain access to Jake’s viewing habits on the on board movie databases.

Mirrored systems were stored on all rings, hence it was no problem that his former quarters were on subgamma, on the now Dusk Horizon.

Soon she found what she had been looking for, turned her attention to the screen in the room, loading the movie.

It was in the middle of the night when Jane was gently awoken by her son. “I didn’t know you watched Star Trek.” He smiled. “Normally I don’t.” Jane stretched. “What time is it?”

“Three in the morning. Dad sent me since you didn’t show up at aunt Maggie’s, remember?” Actually she had forgotten.

The family wanted to sleep there since she and Wolfgang jr. couldn’t sleep at all, and Wolfgang and hptheir daughter slept only badly. “Couldn’t sleep there either?”

Her son made a painful face. “Not after dad woke me.”

Typical for her man, not to come over himself but wake up and send his son. “You look horrible Mum. What’s up?”

“Friend of mine is MIA, probably dead by now.” Calmly Wolfgang sat down too, turned the movie back on. “Wanna talk about it?”

Suspiciously Jane squinted at her teenage son. “You’re the weirdest, yet kindest teen I know of.”

“You’re the one who raised me, so whose to blame for that?” The grin in his face was loveable.

“Nice try young man. There’s not much tonsay. He was on beta trying to contain a catastrophe, succeeding in doing so, but also to his presumed demise.”

Wolfgang glanced over to the movie. He connected the dots. “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. He watched Star Trek.” Slowly Jane nodded. When did her son watch this? Had she missed it?

How could she?

“In that respect mum, he’s a true hero, and if he truly is dead, and not floating out there in a sealed container, he deserves to be remembered with all honor.” He yawned, got up.

Cupping a hand behind his ear he pounted at the walls, winked and went to bed.

Thinking about his words Jane watched the movie again, without dozing off this time, so she could see the ending.

“Scan for faint energy emissions in the beta wreckage!”

Stomped by the sudden order Derek looked at the Admiral with awe. Her hair was a mess, she looked as if she either hadn’t slept the night before, or hadn’t dressed and brushed that morning.

Or both.

“Ma’am?”

Explaining she had an epiphany from watching the movie that Jake had been referencing, she again ordered him to scan for the faint signs of an active cryogenic chamber.

“Got something, it barely registers through all that radiation.” With a wrinkled forhead Derek turned to her. “Now we need to get him out.”

Rings of Fate S3xE4 – Horizon – Confrontations

It was a quiet day on Horizon’s command centre. Admiral Jane Mulgrew liked those days. But didn’t trust them.

On a normal day there would be something. One of the two governors being a pain in the neck, jurisdictional disputes that needed settling, Harpy ambassadors complaining about something, or informing her of something else.

Ever since Hylia had passed away, with the express wish to be cremated on Horizon, and treated like a human, as she was part of the ecosystem on board, as she had put it, there was a permanent ambassador from the Harpies.

Jane had soon seen the pro’s of that.

Now Horizon had access to Harpy transponder signals, like the human IFF signals, in order to weed out any potential patriarchist ships approaching.

There was a ship docked at what remained of beta, functioning like a sensor beacon, boosting long range scan capability of Horizon.

According to the treaty she had helped draft, there was to be no exchange of technologies, especially from the Harpies to the humans, but using the harpy ship to function as an extension to Horizon’s sensors was within the treaty regulations, and even suggested by the matriarchy.

“Ma’am?” Jane felt a glimmer of hope that the quietness would find an end as her first officer approached her. “Next week’s duty roster.” Derek Harvey handed her a tablet. Hope faded away.

“Thank you.” She sighed, looked over the tables and nodded in approval. “And the ambassador asked for a confirmation on dinner plans.” Hope found a nice little corner to hide and disappeared completely. “Tell her that I will be joining as suggested by her office.” A group of twenty five Harpies resided on the beta ring.

Part of the garden was redesigned to their needs, their offices and quarters adjacent to them. Guards of both species stood at the entrance to their section, to ensure that nothing went awry.

Including methods to ensure the absence of any cloaked suicide patriarchists.

“Hey, anybody up for a little problem solving?” Jane sat in the mess hall munching on her lunch when the chief engineer sat down at her table, ending her lnch hour of solitude. “Any time Jake.” Shoving her lunch aside Jane was glad that her hopes had found a way out of their hiding spot, in form of the chief engineer, Jake Khaku. “We soon will enter the solar system, I’ve been doing a few calculations.” He tapped his glasses, sending her some data on her glasses. “When we will start slamming those breaks, we might encounter a wobble, due to the missing mass mid ship.” The displayed ship on her glasses started to wiggle.

“Up to a critical point.” The displayed Horizon broke apart, alpha and subalpha flying on in an odd angle to the previous heading, gamma and subgamma in another.

Although her hopes for variety had fulfilled, what broke the monotony made her long for monotony again.

Staring through the virtual devastation of Horizon at Jake, Jane knew where this was headed. And she knew she would have a hard time selling the yet unproposed idea to the governors. “You said we might encounter this problem?”

“If we redistribute mass we definitely won’t.”

“I’ve been Admiral some time now, why hasn’t anybody ever come to me, or my predecessors with this?” Jane turned the display off. Knowing Jake, Jane could imagine what the answer would be before he even opened his mouth.

“Because it is a possibility. It might not happen at all, but I have reviewed our course, and it takes us damn close to the Jovian monstrosity we call ES-p296. The gravitational tug we can get from that might set in motion the wobble, since we’re slowing down, we’ll be in that gravitational sphere longer, and there’s the moons!” He paused, lowering his voice. “We shouldn’t risk it. Before we enter the heliosphere of the system, we should redistribute the mass.”

“You know, Jake, that’s easy in simulations, but the governors would want to roast me on an open fire and feed me to the harpies if I suggested it?” Tucking a strain of hair behind her ear she looked to her plate, somehow she found she wasn’t hungry anymore. “You can deal with those people? These pencil pushers want to live, and they want to arrive in one piece, don’t they? If we do not redistribute, there is the chance we might not arrive. Alive, in pieces or otherwise.”

Telling him she’d need more data, especially to present the governors with some evidence, Jane got up from her seat, left.

At least it wasn’t a dull mundane day any more. The display showed again the possible outcome of the gravitational tugs from ES-p296 and its moons.

She would have Derek draft a small memo to the governors about the subject. Convincing them to either give up parts of their rings to form a new beta ring, or share jurisdiction, even if it was for just the two years they’d need to complete their journey once inside the solar system, would not be easy.

Especially if there was a chance it might not come to the catastrophe at all.

As usual the Harpy quarters were damp, and not lit as brightly as Jane was used to. Ambassador Hylia sat at the small table they set up for receiving guests. At first there had been some confusion, regarding the name of the ambassador, but apparently Hylia was a popular name, and after the humans began referring to her “Ambassador Hylia” and called the other one “Horizon Hylia”, confusion quieted down.

“Thank you joining me this evening.” Computerised words reached Jane’s ears. “It is my pleasue, Ambassador. To what do I owe the honor of this meeting?”

There never was just a casual dinner with ambassador Hylia, it always had a purpose. Flashing her teeth in a harpy smile Hylia took up a piece of fish. “There is reason to assume that Horizon is in danger.” I knew there was a catch. “From what source?” If you say structural imperfections, I just have all leverage I need to get the governors to agree to redistribution of pods.

“Patriarchists.” Stopping for a moment while chewing on a piece of sushi, Jane looked the ambassador dead in the eye.

For decades there had been no mention of them. Not once had a spy or saboteur been apprehended, or detected. “Why’s that all of a sudden?” Jane finally found words again.

“They are losing everywhere else they engage us. Your ship is the only thing they know we protect, and that is vulnerable. With your permission however, we would like to bring in a warship.”

Squinting at the harpy at the other end of the table Jane knew that one was already in range. It shadowed Horizon, somewhere barely outside sensor range. Although that is boosted by the harpy ship docked on beta, the ship following them probably had better sensors than the small ambassadorial ship. “If I refuse that might spell disaster for my ship, let alone the diplomatic consequences in case we make it through this alive. Correct?”

Again Hylia displayed her smile. “Why would we punish you? We would proteft ourselves, meaning we all would leave, but if you survive any potential encounter with the patriarchists, we wouldn’t be cross with you.”

Lie. “In any case, ambassador, your warship would be more than welcome to follow this ship around and protect us from those who wish to harm us.” She toasted the ambassador with a glass of water.

With Horizon’s Hylia, she had once discussed alcohol amongst harpies, discovering that they liked to drink fermented beverages, but only in moderation, and with close friends. If it hadn’t been fermented, juices of any sort were only a drink for the juvenile, the senile and celebrations.

Or to survive, if clean water was unavailable, but plenty of fruit.

Only minutes after leaving the ambassadorial quarters did the call reach her that a harpy ship appeared alongside the ship, so her assumption that it had been shadowing Horizon waiting for it to be called in was confirmed.

Quickly she left beta, heading for her quarters. Sushi, or raw fish dishes served by the harpies, didn’t quite agree with her, but still she didn’t want to risk a diplomatic faux pas by denying it.

Why Ambassador Hylia couldn’t find taste in prepared food, even the stemcell grown lab meat, like Horizon’s Hylia had, was an issue that puzzled Jane.

Perhaps the ambassador sensed her dislike for raw fish, and it was only served at these dinners? “Honey I’m home!” She tweeted as she entered her quarters. Immediately her perpetual boyfriend Wolfgang greeted her back, their teenage children were no where to be seen.

For once she felt glad over that fact. “The kids are staying with my parents, in case you’ve been wondering.” A benign smile on his lips Wolfgang explained leaning in the door to the toilet.

“Thank you.”

“What’s new?” He nodded understanding her current condition, as she always came home like this from a dinner with the ambassador.

“Harpy warship to starboard, patriarchist threat, potential structural failure following a wobble. You know, business as usual.” Laughing through her pain she cringed.

“Oh, that old hat again.” Wolfgang was uneased by these news, but since Jane wasn’t, he played it off as cool too. “Explain that wobble to me though.” His curiosity got the best of him.

There was a menacing trait to the harpy ships, Jane had to admit, as she looked at the sensor data gathered of their protector.

Although built for space, and battle in space, they were sleak, aerodynamic vessels, odd angles to refract sensors, unless they were moving slow, or in relation to the scanning source, not at all.

Unlike the Horizon, and her sister ships, the harpy warships had intricate paint jobs on their exterior, increasing their menacing look. Each one was different, individual.

Reflecting the biological neuro circuits controlling them, each ship was an individual, both in exterior design and in regard to their mind.

“With that thing here, there isn’t a thing daring to attack us.” Derek commented seeing her study the ship. “You might be a bit too young to remember, but the li kers made short progress with these ships. The patriarchists use the same technology, the same design. They surely would dare to attack. Although, I must say, they surely would go for her first, giving us plenty of opportunity to shoot at them.”

The smug expression in her first officer’s face vanished. “Way to kill the mood, Ma’am.” Winking he retreated to his post.

She watched him leave for hia console. It was ages that she had spent at that station. It also seemed like ages since she last had worked there.

Shaking off the nostalgic feelings, she looked at the ship to their starboard. Her name was Farkahl, and according to the information that Ambassador Hylianhad released to her, the Farkahl had seen plenty of battles, and always was victorious.

Since the brain operating the ship was capable of learning, and possessed a strong will to survive, onky the first few battles were won by her crew, soon the brain took over. She wanted to live, wanted to win, wanted to conquer.

A true warrior.

Once Jane had spoken with Horizon’s Hylia about the brains on the harpy ships. She wanted to know how they were made, how they first came to be.

The latter was beyong the old Hapry’s knowledge. Brains in ships had been in use for so long, no one could remember who first implemented them, where the brains first came from. Since Harpy specific medication worked on the brain matter as well, it stood to reason that it had been a harpy donating her brain, or parts of it.

“When a ship is ready to procreate it will form a series of ovuli, and sacks of seed. Another ship, ready for procreation must be found, and the two will exchange their seeds and ovuli. The then fertilised ovuli are taken to special facilities in our shipyards. Where they will, sooner or later, be implemented into a ship. That can either be a new one without a brain, or one wherein the brain had died.”

Recalling those words made Jane shudder. Just the thought of being an incorporeal brain implanted into the husk of one that had died before gave her the creeps.

Her eyes kept studying the Farkahl. This magnificent warrior surely was a prime specimen for cultivating new ship brains.

Other than the ship to starboard, it was another quiet day. Followed by another.

After a week of quiet days Jane began to suspect that the ambassador was more interested in showing presence than actual concerns from patriarchists, after all the DEHumans had long range sensor capacity beyond what Horizon could ever hope to achieve, especially with their shipyard ahead of them. It was possibly even greater than what the Harpies had at their disposal.

As suspected, the governors were not keen on the idea of transferring pods to beta. They each engaged a corps of scientists and engineers to investigate Jake’s scenario. Again Jane believed it was due to the Harpy presence on beta, even her proposal of shared jurisdiction was dismissed.

Their xenophobic distrust of Harpies was hard to overcome, all Jane was left with was to hope their scientists came up with the same conclusions as Jake, if that didn’t happen she could force them, by temporarily overruling them. A step she was prepared to take if it meant bringing the ship safely to its destination, even though she didn’t like that option.

Sitting strapped into the chair of the cab Jane travelled to subgamma, shenwanted to speak to Jake again, when she noticed a bump in the weightless ride.

“Computer! Halt.” She turned her glasses on. “Location.”

“Beta ring, section 22.” That was shortly after a siphon section. “Analyse cab log for anomalies in the magnetic field guiding the cab.”

A field anomaly was displayed on her glasses. When she asked the computer to analyse the cause for the field variation she got an error.

Saving the findings to her glasses she continued on her way, and had the tube locked, as there were two additional tubes tu be used.

Exiting the tube network Jane found herself in a chaotic mess of engineering staff running around. “Admiral!” Jake’s voice cut through the jumbled noise of dozens of people talking and arguing.

“I didn’t expect to see you here at times like these.”

Confused Jane looked around. “Times like these?” Barely having spoken these words her glasses started buzzing, it was Derek calling her from the command centre.

Another Harpy ship had joined them, on the backboard side, but it was a matriarchy ship, so the alarm had been cancelled, still the engineering crews were abuzz. “They believe a patriarchist attack is imminent. Better get back up here.” He closed the line to instuct cews, as battlestations needed manning if that attack was to take place.

“Jake, I need to get back up there. Before I leave, there was an anomaly in the magnetic field in tube 2, between sections 22 and 21.” Promising her to investigate the matter Jake saw her off, before returning to his duties.

Again there was a bump in the ride, although she had the faulty tube closed off, looking into the matter whilenwaitingnto arrive at subalpha she found a few reports had been filed concerning that section in the last half hour.

Before she even left the tube network her glasses began buzzing again. It was the ambassador, probably to inform her of the latest developments concerning the patriarchists.

“Admiral, there is no reason for concern, the Valhak is here to assist in the possibility of a patriarchist attack on your vessel.”

“I know.” Although the alarm had been cancelled, still the hallways were filled with people, heading to, or from, battlestations. A few men and women in pressure suits rushed by, heading to the combat vessels. “We are merely preparing for the same eventuality, besides, I would’ve liked to be noted before hand.”

As she entered the command centre Jane was greeted with a rare sight, a sight she had hoped to never see. Simultaneously alarm sirens began to blare, the hectic in the hallway outside the command centre increased.

Not only where the Valhak and the Farkahl on the screen, but also another Harpy ship. The latter was on an intercept course.

Before anyone could give orders the two harpy ships flanking the Horizon opened fire on the new arrival.

“Ready the fighters. Gun control, lock target, wait for my command!” Jane sat down, since the assumed patriarchist ship hadn’t been shooting at them, she didn’t want to draw fire on the Horizon by also firing on the Harpy ship.

“That is the Dhrakal accoring to its transponder.” Derek yelled over the noise of several people talking and stating readings of their sensors.

Access to a database of Harpy ships, both friendly and hostile ones, also disclosed that the Dhrakal was very successful warship, matching the Farkahl.

“The only very successful ship the patriarchists have I presume, since they loose on all fronts with the matriarchy.” Jesting Derek looked back at the main viewscreen.

To his horror did he find the Valhak was damaged beyond fighting capabilities. Shields and armor virtually gone, weaponsystems inoperable. Now the patriarchists concentrated their fire on the Farkahl. Both ships dodged enemy fire, or were only grazed by it, returned fire. “Lock on their weaponsystems, and open fire when lock is confirmed.” Stern faced Jane gave the order she had hoped never to give, but with the two warships engaged in a deadly dance of fire and return fire, it was onky a matter of time until the Horizon was going to be hit.

“Dhrakal deployed fighters, Valhak and Farkahl are as well!” Most of Valhak’s fighters were unmanned and functioned as shield around the ship, only small percentage of them were manned and engaged on the enemy fighters.

“Keep ours ready for launch.” Since the DEHumans came and took almost all of the beta ring with them these fighters hadn’t been launched in ernest. Testruns from time to time, to ensure the engines were still working, the pilots had been properly trained.

But not in full ernest.

Lasers were discharged from Horizon, the Dhrakal and its crew were taken by surprise, as they cut through their defenses and directionally enforced shields strikingnright at the weaponsystems of the Harpy ship.

“Reading little damage, they redirected their shields to block further hits from us.” Derek barked the results as if he had truly believed their technology was a match for the Harpies.

Sarisfied with their results Jane watched as the shots fired from Farkahl penetrated the shields hitting the weapons of the patriarchists. “Perfect.” She allowed herself a victorious smirk, but the battle was far from over, as the advancing fighters concentrated on both the Harpy vessel to starboard andthe Horizon herself.

“Launch.”

Like a swarm of flies rising after being disturbed, two dozen, small one-man vessels flew out of the sides of Horizon’s subalpha and subgamma rings. Changing heading to face the oncoming enemies. “Remember to track your IFFs, I want no friendly fire!” Reminding the pilots of their responsibilities Derek switched their com lines over to flight control in an office two corridors away, as neither he, nor the command centre were equipped or capable of handling all the small ships at once.

“They’re dodging our fighters!”

It was the navigation officer yelling on top of her lungs, she was panicking.

Jane rushed over to her console and stared at the displays.

She was right.

The patriarchists fighters cunningly outmanoeuvred the fighters from Horizon and her protectors, heading straight for the human ship.

“They’re too fast for a proper attack, even with their fancy technology.” Derek stated, he knew what that meant, but didn’t want to believe what his instruments and common sense told him.

“They’re on a suicide run.” Jane stood up straight, the fighters were moving too fast for a weapons lock from the lasers, but still the gunners kept firing at the swarm of incoming fighters, taking out most of them.

Glad that the laser canons had been converted to manual firing instead of the tedious automatic firing, Jane returned to her station. “All hands, brace for impacts.” She barked into her station, screaming out of every communication device on the ship.

Only moments later there were the reverberating sounds and shakesnof impacts. Anfew had hit the forwad facing dish, designed to with stand a nuclear explosion an asteroid impacts, but some made ot to subalpha and alpha.

“Casualties, damage, asap!” Jane clenched the armrests of her chair, the sudden shaking of the entire room, half the ship in fact, unsettled her more than she had thought.

Another wave of the suicide fighters was on their way, both friendly Harpies and Horizon fighters had cleared the area around and beyond them, to avoid being hit by Horizon’s lasers.

Again the gunners fired in the general direction of the incoming enemies, taking out a lot of them. Memories of being stuck inside a cab that had been propelled into space came to her mind. As the fighters struck and the ship shook again around her, those memories faded away, making way for reality.

“First wave killed twenty people, thirteen missing, sixty four injured. Eight pods on subalpha, seventeen on alpha shot to pieces. Waiting on reports from scond wave.”

Digging her nails deep into the armrests Jane regretted her next decision already. “Ready the dish.”

Derek looked at her with an empty expression. The dish had at its center an opening through which the nuclear bombs were to be released in case they needed to use the front as as the new propulsion dish.

These bombs were too slow to be used as a weapon, but during her years ascending the ranks and being Admiral, Jane had helped developing an attack against targets in front of the ship.

“Are you serious?”

“They have a clear path now, they can ascend to ballistic velocities now. Unopposed. But so can we.” She growled those last words.

Deep in the bowles of the ship the tubes of the central spine were cleared of traffic. An extension of the tube, reaching all the way to the dish and the now opened lid, was opened to that tube.

From the alpha ring a spare cab was released into the central tube, and brought to incredible speeds by the magnetic fields.

The sphere shot out of the front dish of the Horizon, through the vast emptiness between her and the Dhrakal. Quickly a group of fighters descended on it, just as the others regrouped for another attack. “Just as planned.” Jane had a smug expression as the fighters dove into the path of the spherical cab. A bright flash filled the screen, as it subsided the fighters and the cab were obliterated. Already the next cab was shot out of the dish. “We may be considerably low tech, when compared with our enemies here, but sometimes the primitives can be as deadly a foe as the highly developed.” The second cab crashed into the Dhrakal, again it lit up the entire screen.

A giant hole was torn into the side of the Dhrakal, leaking atmosphere and other matter from inside.

From the far side of the ship a series of pods were hastily shot into space. Right away the harpy fighters from Farkahl and two of Horizon’s fighters went to intercept, and retrieve.

Secondary explosions began to rock the Dhrakal, it would not be long until the ship disintegrated.

“Was it really necessary Admiral?” Ambassador Hylia sat at the table in her quarters, a video link to the command centre displayed Jane sitting in her chair.

“To put nuclear bombs on the cabs before ejecting with ballistic velocity? No. But it won us the battle, and you have one survivalist enemy warship off your hands.” There were Harpies and human fighter pilots being treated for radiation burns, as they had been too close to the detonations.

Before the ambassador had called, Jane had received communiques from the commanders of the two Harpy ships, commending her on the outcome and the technique of the battle. “Another question, ambassador. Surely you know what your people retrived from the escape pods, do you?”

“Of course, why do you ask?” Blinking, and twisting her mouth Jane pressed at the display on her station.

The image at Hylia’s end changed from the Admiral to a hangar. The hangar on subgamma where the fighters landed, the hangars on subalpha where unusable after the attack, what fighter couldn’t land at subgamma, had, had to dock on the skeletal remains of the beta ring.

Two escape pods were in the hangar. From one a kicking and screaming harpy man was dragged out, the other just sat there.

Open and waiting to be looked inside.

Jane’s voice came on over the image. “That was four hours ago, after they landed. Look what we found in the other escapepod.” The image enhanced. According to the treaty between Horizon on human behalf and the Harpies, spoils of war belonged to who ever could claim it. That was valid for patriarchists and DEHumans equally.

Barely able to contain her satisfaction, Jane watched the expression on Ambassador Hylia’s face freeze. “I suppose you know what that thing is. Just know, that I know as well.”

Hylia’s mouth snapped shut, she ground her teeth. “What do you want for it?”

Two victories for the price of one battle, Jane couldn’t help but smile. “Nothing. We will give this thing to you freely. Just remember our act of goodwill.” We can’t use ovuli, she know, butbshe also knows we dould let it spoil there in the hangar. Hylia squinted her eyes at the Admiral. “Fine. Anymore,” Hylia stopped talking, looked around in an uneased manner. “Admiral, there is something wrong, are we still under attack?”

Checking with Derek who shook his head Jane glanced away for a moment. “No, ambassador, debris is still not impacting on the ship, although I suspect that, that will happen soon.” Jane wanted to add that she would be glad for any help in clearing a path for Horizon, but then she saw what Hylia had felt before.

A noticeable shudder went through the beta ring.

“Ma’am, pilots still on beta, and beta personnel report report vibrations.”

Jane closed her eyes. “Ambassador, I recommend you vacate beta ring immediately.” Suggesting the Harpies stayed on board, Jane also felt comfortable if they left entirely.

She got up and went to the bunk room next door, upon the door sliding close behind her she locked it, tapped her glasses, calling Jake.

“It is as I feared, your magnetic field anomaly was just the first sign of trouble.” Jake’s face was filled with worry, the screen didn’t flatter his looks either.

“What do we do now?” In the same video conference were the governors from alpha and gamma. Ambassador Hylia stood next to Jane in the conference room.

“Nothing Admiral. We can only try damage control. Shut down beta’s rotation, the uneven weight distribution is taking its toll on the suspension. We can try and fix that, but that’s it, we can’t replace it.” He went on to elaborate that the mass of the harpy ship Farkahl had added to the problem. His idea of redistribution of mass would not have worked with a broken suspension, he admitted begrudgingly.

“See what you can do. Save this ship.”

Why hadn’t anyone ever raised the issue of uneven mass distribution on beta? If it would solve anything Jane would’ve put everyone involved in that disaster under house arrest. “To th defence of my predecessors, and my own, in theory it should pose no problem.” Jake was distraught. “It doesn’t matter now. See that you can save what can be saved. Work out a possible worse case scenario and how we can still bring this ship, this crew, to the destination of this journey.” With a push of a button Jake was cut off from the conference call. “Governor Xiao, in case of a critical failure, I hereby give you the order to take command of the aft section of Horizon, see that you get all of your people to RV-p296.” The tone of her voice was stern, so much so that the aasianman just nodded without any words. In critical situations she had, afte all, the power to overrule the governors, and give them orders.

“Alright. With that out of the way, let us hope and work together, so that we may never have to arrive in parts.” The governors agreed with a nod and dropped outnof the conference, leaving Hylia and Jane alone in the room.

In silence the two watched the life feed showing the beta ring slowing down and stopping entirely. “We should’ve calculated our mass in relation to the beta ring.” The Harpy said finally. “It would’ve happened eventually. Now we must see that we fix this problem.” Jane turned around and looked at Hylia. “Care for some fish?”

“I must admit, Admiral. I hate fish. I pnly ate it with you because you don’t like it either.”

“Thought so.” Jane smiled. “Roasted meat then?”

“Gladly.”

Rings of Fate S3xE3 – Explorer – Settlement

Dry cold air ventilated through the seemingly endless corridors, creating small drafts, dead leaves that hadn’t been collected on time, were caught in the drafts, slowly moving across the floor with a sxratchy noise, until dropped in a dead end of the currents.

Gingerly Anna O’Neill followed the leaves. Her eyes widened in jpyous anticipation as she saw the heap of leaves in a corner. Gathering up speed she hopped right in, displacing all of them.

Life was fun.

Dean watched her with joy, he had taken two days off of his duties as Admiral. Ever since Diana’s death almost two years ago, he spent as much time as possible with her. During the ever so slowl decrease in velocity as they approached RV-p296, he had much time to think about his cabin.

Preliminary scouts of the land had revealed the south of equatoria to be not only uninhabited, but also a lush land of rivers, lakes, forests and steppes.

Perfect for settlement.

Main colony would set up on a triangle of land at the coast, that was separated from the rest of the continent by two large rivers to two sides. He pined for living on the tip of said triangle, where the two rivers split.

Construction of the settlement had begun, carried out by the drones that had been sent ahead. Once in orbit, the Explorer would disassemble.

The rings alpha, beta and gamma, were comprised mostly of detachable units, mthat would be piloted down to the surface, to be used as housing in the colony. “Daddy!” Anna ran up to him, grabbing his hand, she pulled him along to another pile of leaves further down the hallway.

Never had there been so many leaves in the hallways. But the bioengineering departments concentrated their efforts on the preparations for the landing, and the separation of the lunar colony.

Although the ship, and the other ships, would stay in orbit, a lunar colony was going to be established. Mining on the moon was not damaging the environment of RV-p296, so once it had been established that there was a moon, plans for a moon colony followed.

It needed to be autonomous, which was the reason for the neglect of old foliage in the hallways.

RV-p296’s moon was a potato shaped rock, the planet snatched up as a moon some when during its primordial years.

To acclimate Explorer’s crew to the current temperatures on their future home, the cooler air was blown through the air vents.

Not being used to that sort of weather, or any real weather at all, Dean took solace in the fact that it was soring on southern Equatoria, and after their landing, summer was going to follow.

“Admiral.” A man greeted him with a slight salute, he was casually dressed, but also to be adapt to military greeting. Probably reading Dean’s confused expression the man stopped. “Sorry, that I didn’t introduce myself properly. I’m Admiral Theobald Kingston.” He stretched out his hand.

It dawned on Dean.

That man was one of the people who had been put into cryogenic suspension on earth, and were currently being revived for the impending colonisation of RV-p296. “Ah. Amiral.” Dean shook the thick black hand offered to him. “Three generations, and you hadn’t come up with a better name for our new name than the scientific catalogue number?” The other Admiral jested.

“It hadn’t come up.” Dean raised his eyebrows, he nodded towarss his daughter. “If you’ll excuse me, I have urgent leaf trampling business to attend to.”

Smiling benignly Admiral Kingston nodded. He was a military adviser only, no real jurisdiction, chosen solely for his expertise in military questions.

Since the crew had successfully managed to get by without his advice in the past, especially the situations with the DEHumans, he was not needed, therfore he was out of uniform. But he wanted to be needed. Wanted to lead, not necessarily in military operations.

He had made a decision in the last few hours. After almost a week out of the cryo sleep, he had learned so much, and made a decision, he never thought possible back on earth.

Docking clamps released, the metallic noise reverberated throughout half of the ring. Twenty seven colonisation vehicles dislodged, five of the pods from subalpha followed. Using the momentum from the rings rotation the vessels aligned like a string of pearls against the blackness of space, as they headed out towards the potato shaped moon.

One of the ships carried a small thermonuclear reactor to power essential systems once the colony was set up, and solar panels should fail.

From the Ericsson logs they had gathered enough knowledge to keep the essential systems and food supplies up and running.

“Good luck on that moon, Admiral.” Dean mumbled watching the ships move off. “Thank you, and the same for that planet.” Came the reply over the radio from Admiral Theobald Kingston.

Soon, Dean thought himself, the colony will be dug in, to escape the radiation, they’ll be set up and running. And he will be their governor. What of me? I’ll be at the riverside fishing. When I look up in the sky, I will see that moon, know of the problems of a leader, chuckle and turn my gaze on the water again.

“Deep in thought, sir?” Lucy approached, a tablet in hand. Wordless she handed it to him.

Colonisation would commence in less than two weeks, but until that there were still issues to be dealt with.

At least new problems he never have had to deal with. Seed distribution was amongst them.

Blinking for a long moment Dean shook his head. “Denied. All of it.”

“Sir?” Lucy shifted her weight to the other foot.

“The drones have identified and planted food crops on Equatoria. Food we bring with us can, and will, only be grown in the gardens of this ship, or the sister ships, and in controlled, closed environments on the surface. We will not introduce foreign species to the ecosystem down there. At least for now. Regulation for colonisation, article 41, ammendment alpha 33, from half a year ago. Look it up. The ruling bodies of all three ships agreed upon this. In fifty years, there is to be a reevaluation.”

Stunned Lucy staggered back to her station, checked the mentioned regulations.

“Greetings, Admiral.” Frail, like her thin voice, Nye Charles greeted Dean.

She was working!

She was approaching the age of 108, and still, she was working. When asked why she wouldn’t enjoy her retirement, she’d answer that retirement was for old people, and she didn’t feel old.

Of course there was a time when she felt old, and felt as frail as she looked and sounded. After discovering that her son, a linker, was on a habitable moon in the system, and had braught one of his daughters there too, for example.

Or when the Explorer flew by their colony.

Every day Nye would stand at the door to the command centre, until Dean let her in. Then she was found inside every day.

Relentlessly Explorer sent calls tomthe moon, registered activity, even the graviton beam was running. The ships in the bay were built.

But no one answered their hails. Much to Nye’s disappointment.

But she soon caught herself, concentrated on her daughter, grandchildren, greatgrandchildren. There simply wasn’t enough room in Nye Charles’ life to feel depressed for a long period of time.

In some way, Dean was glad to see her working again at that age. It meant she was doing fine. “Doctor Charles.” His eyes were smiling as much as his mouth.

“I just came here to see how we are doing, and how you are.” He looked the old lady in the eyes.

“I am as fine as can be, and we are doing perfect.” She directed his attention to a screen, it was an aerial view of the prepared settlement. All that was missing, were the landing crafts, space was left out in between paths. “All necessary things have been laid out. Wiring, plumbing, walkways.” She enhanced a portion of the view at the river fork. “Your track o’ land is ready as well.” She handed him a tablet, a file was ready to be transferred to his devices. “Hit send, and you’ll be a happy man.” The old woman smiled playfully through her wrinkles. “What is it?”

“A list of all edible aquatic life in those rivers.”

Laughing he hit send.

His eyes fell back on the screen. There it was. His future home. A long track of walkway led up to it.

Underneath that road were cables, wires and pipes, he knew. Although the landing craft and the smaller pods were capable of functioning autonomously, cleansing water, recycling waste water and other waste, generating electricity through solarpanels, it still was hooked up to a centralised system, so there was a redundancy system in case the central system ever broke down.

“When will you settle?” Nye leaned down on the table in front of them. “Oh, I don’t know. Once the whole of alpha, beta and gamma have sat down on Equatoria, my successor is sworn in, governments of the rings have been disbanded, and a new government on the colony is established. It’ll be a while. But until then I will just have to either phone it in, or go back and forth.” Anna would be sitting at that river with him in less than two weeks. Moira was also eager to live near the rivers, in a quiet corner.

Their marriage nearly broke apart after Diana’s death, but they got through it, somehow.

Upon return to the command centre Dean noticed a few dozen messages. From the look at the titles he gathred that all of them were regarding to the seeds. “Lucy, find me someone to explain these people that there will be no seeds, if they don’t read the protocols from the settlement meetings, it ain’t my damn fault.”

“Sir, before you were Admiral, did you read the protocols?” She flashed a smile, which he reflected, knowing she was right.

“Butni knew that when a order, or deny of request was issued, it had a reason.” He winked, as she started drafting a reply to all of the messages.

A silent dance of gravity. Nye watched the main screen as the Explorer reached its final position for the landing procedure. It was almost all she had dreamed off those last few years. “I believe it should be your honor, Doctor Charles.” Dean made an inviting gesture towards his chair.

Thanking him Nye shuffled to it, sat down. “All hands, prepare for first landing wave, on my mark.” She glanced over to Lucy, who nodded.

“Mark.” The camera changed, it was a whisker camera viewing the ship from the side. An even more gracious dance began, as one by one, landing crafts disengaged from the rings. Lined up like pearls on a string they moved away from the mother ship, heading towards the planet. Probe control had mapped out the best approach vector, where they ought not to be seen by the natives on the other continents.

Gazing upon the world below Explorer from this close she felt as nervous as she had when she boarded the ship and saw Earth for the last time from Orbit.

Clear blue oceans, scattered clouds, the colors of vegetation varying from green hues to bright brown tones where the steppes and deserts were.

“I can’t wait to set foot on it.” She sighed with a smile. If only Jacob was there with her. Or at least Jason.

What sights had his eyes beheld since his departure with the linkers? A world as welcoming as this? An entirely different view must’ve greeted him.

She remembered what the moon looked like with it’s red hue, only having clouds where subterranean heat evaporated water.

Obviously the Orion’s home planet was different than that moon, but still she imagined it similarly.

As she stared at the crafts entering the atmosphere the face of her granddaughter popped to mind. The young woman hadn’t had a name. Or did she? At least she knew of none.

“Sir?” Lucy looked up from her console, she was the only one who hadn’t been watching the main screen. “We have company.”

Immediately everyone stared back on their own panels, screens and instruments. Following their example Nye looked at the Display in Deans station. “It is of unknown design, but based on what we know about the linkers, it’s them.” Chief of security Ben Toryama stated. Not hearing Dean say that they probably just were seeing them off, Nye touched the display. She liked to thinknthat Jason was on that ship. And her granddaughter. “I’m here.” She whispered, unheard by the others in the command centre. “Open a channel.” She lifted her head. Confirming her order by looking at Dean, the communication officer did so after the Admiral nodded in approval.

“I do not know if you are on this ship my son, or you my granddaughter, but I do know that what makes you, you, is somewhere in that collective consciousness.” Biting back a choking sob Nye wiped away the tears from her eyes. “I soon will be landing on the planet. Probably I soon will be dying. All that I wish for now that we have arrived at our destination, is to see my family again. At least on a screen.”

The face of a redhaired young man appeared on the screen. “We regret to inform you that the biological,” he paused, cleared his throat, “that the people you are referring to, are not aboard this vessel. Your request is taken under consideration regardless.” The transmission ended.

Barely daring to take a look at the old woman’s face Dean turned, found a broad smile. “I believe I at least will refeive a picture.” She mused, heaving herself out of the chair.

On that occasion she told the Admiral it was too comfortable, he, or his successor should replace it with one you stayed alert in.

Nye was sunken in thought as she left the command centre, not hearing the chatter amongst the crew.

Walking more like a remote controlled robot Nye wandered through the hallways, sat down in a cab after reaching the tube entry. She exited at the entrance to the gardens where Jacob had taken her on their first date.

Following their path back then, she wandered the garden. I wish you were here, my love. Since that first day she had been granted access to the garden, much had changed. In that year there was only enough fruit for a raffle. Two years later there had been enough for everyone.

They had children. Later those were allowd to play in the garden.

A cat rushed over the path, it was pressed down low.

Presumably it was hunting. Nye followed the cat with her eyes. After a few meters she lost track of it.

Longing for closure to Jason and his family, Nye continued her walk, sunken in memories of her family when her children were young.

“They just sit there and watch. Are they studying us like we studied the natives, or are they evaluating our threat, or prospecting conquest?” Ben Toryama mumbled, staring at the small image of the linker ship. It still kept its distance. Didn’t move away, didn’t send any messages that Explorer could tell.

Nothing.

“It’s just like the harpies. If they wanted us dead, we’d be dead. If they wanted to force their link upon us, we’d all be part of that collective. Nothing we could do about it.” Dean replied, his face rested on his left hand.

“First wave has successfully touched down.” Communication officer stated. Dean turned away from his chief of security. “Put ’em through.”

“Admiral! It was a bumpy ride, but we’ve made it all in one piece, guiding trajectories worked perfectly. We have successfully touched down in our allotted spots.” Came the voice of a man from the speakers. Dean knew him only briefly, he once had been a pilot who was trained on earth for reentry.

During the last two years he had trained others in simulators, but Dean hadn’t been part of those classes. “Glad to hear Colonel. We’ll send the second wave soon. How’s the air?”

“Nice and fresh, nothing compared to what we’ve been breathing on that ship of yours. There are scents I can’t even begin to describe, and there is wind!” There was almost a boyish ring to the Colonel’s voice as he mentioned the wind.

“Keep the doors open, second wave will be down soon.” He neglected to tell him about the ship that was shadowing the Explorer. If their sensors hadn’t detected it, there was no reason to concern the people on the surface. With a jod Dean gave Lucy the order to let the second wave move on out.

Like an onion, the Explorer’s rings were comprised of several layers of ships, peeling off one by one those ships koved on out towards Equatoria.

The pilots had not much to do, all systeks worked automatically, but in case something went awry, each vessel had a pilot assigned to it.

Dean wandered through the hallways, only a few more landing waves were due until settlement was complete. Only the most basic crew remained on Explorer, they would rotate with crews on the surface in three month schedules.

Already the hallways were empty and a certain tranquillity filled the ship. “Doctor Charles?” He rang at Nye’s door. After a few moments the door slid open, revealing Franziska Hardwick. She was going to accompany Nye to the surface, together with Jeannine.

“Admiral!” Joyous like a young girl Nye approached him from the back of her quarters. “What brings you to my humble quarters?”

Slowly Dean handed her a tablet he had been clutching to his chest before. “A parting gift.” Intrigued Nye looked at the screen. Almost immediately tears shot to her eyes. “We received it twenty minutes ago. It seems that even in their collective mind, there is still the need for closure.” Dean winked.

Trembling Nye looked up from the picture to the Admiral. Thanking him silently as she was at a loss for words. Her attention went back to the picture.

In the center was Jason, to hisnleft and his right were two women, in one she recognised Daria, his girlfriend, and the one that got him into becoming a linker. In front of thw three were four younger people. Two men, two women.

One of which she recognised as the granddaughter of hers working on the Jovian moon. She was holding two infants. There were two oldr children in front of the other granddaughter, and eachnof the men had two children as well. All were dressed in grey colors, functional, without any decorative elements. “My family.” She whsipered, gently placing a kiss on the picture. Now she could settle on RV-p296 with her daughter’s families, knowing that Jason and his children, and grandchildren were thriving and safe.

Heavy ruttling walls and ground were surrounding Nye as the ship descended through the atmosphere down from Explorer.

After the ruttling stopped she turned to her side, a window opened up to high altitude view over the ocean and costal region of equatoria. Previously closed, but after the dangerous bit of the reentry the blocking lid was retracted into the wall.

A beautiful glistening ocean greeted her from below, while the ship was in a calm approach towards the settlement site. Lush green forests spanned the area aroundnthe delta.

Another rumble went through the ship as it touched down on its designated spot.

“Come on mum.” He daughter, an elderly woman herself now stretched forth her hand to help Nye get up from the seat. All she saw was the tiny girl holding out a hand to get her help walking her first steps. “On my way sweetie.” She gently squeezed Joan’s hand.

A gentle cool breeze rolled over the settlement from in land, carrying with it scents that Nye couldn’t identify, all blooming fragrances, ever so gentle in their nuances. Jacob would’ve loved it.

Around Nye were her daughter, her grandchildren, and Jeannine’s little children. Carefully as she once handled her infant children, she took out the tablet with Jason’s family picture on it.

All she had dreamed off, finally falling into place. “I believe it’s time for a family picture?” Former Admiral Franziska smiled at Nye, holding the picture into the camera Nye stood surrounded by her family in front of the ship that just had brought them to their new home.

“Sir?” Lucy slowly approached Dean. It was onenof his off days with Anna. They sat fishing in subalpha’s garden. “It’s my day off!” Not quite angry, more annoyed he didn’t even look, earning a passionate “Shh!” from his daughter.

“I believe this can’t wait, sir.” She handed him a tablet over his shoulder which he took. His expression got sad as he read the message. There was the image of Nye, surrounded by her family, hokding the picture that Dean had brought her.

》Admiral Dean O’Neill. After this image had been taken, Nye Charles sat down and watched her great grandchildren play in front of the house until she fell asleep. A sleep she didn’t wake up from. Please forward the image along with our condolences to the linkers. Sincerely Franziska Hardwick, Admiral.《

“What is it, daddy?”

“A message i have to relay to some friends.” Regaining his form he smiled.

“Nye Charles, PhD. The first human born and raised on earth, to live through our long exodus, witness every moment of it, until its end at our new home. Beloved Mother, Grandmother, Greatgrandmother. She contributed more to our journey, our understanding of the universe and our new home than anyone else. She was also the first human to die on our new home world. We have gathered here, on this beautiful day, to bid farewell to an outstanding woman who had an impact on all our lives, for three generations aboard the Explorer, and the fourth, growing up here and now.” A hastily constructed podium stood in front of Dean, who had the doubtful honor to hold the speech. According to the rules of settlement her body was to be incinerated, as to not contaminate the planet with any pathogens or bacteria from the body.

“It is not to be taken as a bad sign that Nye Charles has lft us so soon after setting foot on this planet. But a sign that we are home. Nye Charles had two goals left in her life. Closure to her entire family, which she achieved the day before she left, and landing in our new home. She achieved that as well. We are home. She knew, and peacefully fell asleep.” Dean took a step to the side, and unveiled a shoulder high stone, it had Nye’s name and profile engraved on it. “Let this remind us all that we are home, here.” The gathered people, family and friends, coworkers and people who have had dealings with her, began applauding.

A ship flew by overhead, it was smaller than the colonisation pods, it was a pod from subalpha. Behind the stone was the river, on thenother side a thick forest, there the ship opened one of the doors, released ashes.

Nye’s ashes.

“Touching, yet uplifting, words, Admiral.” Joan Charles thanked him, after the ceremony. “Just like she would’ve liked it.”

Charles nodded, but soon left them.

He wandered up to the end of the road. It took him quarter of an hour to navigate the corners, alleys and major streets. The majority of alloted spaces were still vacant, as Horizon and Destiny, together with Kismet, were still due to arrive.

Most of the time it took him to his destination was consumed walking up the narrow, straight road to his alotted spot.

Standing over the empty lot where his small military pod should land was Jeannine. She stared out into the distance of the river.

“What brings you to my corner of the woods?” Dean stopped next to her.

A sad smile appeared on her face. “I helped my gran to prospect the land, she made it look like she helped me, but it was her work. She was head of the whole operation from the beginning.” Knowing Dean nodded, his hands in his pockets.

“I’m glad she’s dead. Not because finally I can shine, if it was just that, she could live for another hundred years.” Dean’s expression darkened, there was something on the metaphoric horizon he didn’t like. “Why’s it then you’re glad?”

“The planet can’t properly feed us.” Jeannine turned to him, tears ran down her face. “The probes had not detected this, they scanned for nutrients in general, not analysing thoroughly enough to tell us this, but nothing on this planet produces, or uses Lysine.” She paused for a second seeing the Admiral’s confused expression.

“It’s an amino acid. We need it to survive, to live. If she had known, her heart would have been broken.”

Slowly Dean felt the relief that Jeannine had mentioned take hold of him too. “Food supplements?” He asked looking out over the waters too.

“Aye. We’ll issue the report tomorrow.” Wioing away the tears Jeannine turned away to walk back to the settlement center. “Doc? Draft something else for your report.” Puzzled she glanced over her shoulder. “An agricultural exclave.” He needed not elaborate in detail. The volcanic islands on the far side of the planet, isolated from the natives and larger ecosystems, were the only possible spot on the planet for such an endeavour.

“Aye, might take an additional day or two.” Acknowledging this Dean just nodded, without looking at her.

Surely the governors would want to put the blame on him, and the provisional government of the colony would do the same.

Since he intended to end his career sooner or later anyway, he didn’t dread their blame. It only meant he could land sooner. Settle down sooner.

He looke at the blue sky, the bright yellow sun.

No. There would be absolutely no problem in being accused of something career ending in the lysine case.

Rings of Fate S3xE2 – Explorer – Virus

Doctor Francesco Mitrioni sat at his desk innthe infirmay of the subalpha ring on Explorer. He was devastated, and read through the report from his colleague in the gamma ring hospital again.

“What’s up Frank?” Friends since birth, Admiral Dean O’Neill stood in the frame of the door. He hadn’t heard it opening. “Is it Thursday again?” Francesco looked up, onky realising then howndark his office was, compared to the hallway outside.

“Yup. 1930, as usual.” As the door slid close behind Dean, Francesco could finally see his face, read the concern in his expression. “You seem like you saw a ghost, so what’s going on?”

Again turning towards the screen Francesco shook his head. “The first death of a man from meningitis. Normally the implant should detect, and counteract the virus that caused it. In this case, it didn’t, although it was working. Dr. Khan is on the case, but he sent me his records.”

“Does this mean we’re not going bowling?” There was no real bowling alley, onky virtual bowling, but still someone had thought itnwould be nice to live the spirit of old, and had built a whole bowling rink for virtual bowling in a disused storage compartment.

Complete with seats and all, with several bowling lanes.

“I’m probably reading to much into this, the mans implant surely was faulty.” Francesco winked, turning off the screen. “Let’s go bowling.”

There was absolute silence in the morgue. The lights worked with out a flicker, nurses andnother staff had turned in for the night, the nightshift staff were tending to the needs of the living. If someone should happen to die, they’d bring the body in, and store it.

Doctor Rajesh Khan was grateful for the silence. It let him think as he examined the body of the meningitis victim.

In three generations of using the implant to combat viruses and other infections, along with birth control and health status, they still hadn’t eradicated the virus that caused this. Standing over the body that was lying on the autopsy table, he mused over that fact for a moment, shrugged it off and began. “Autopsy report on patient Alexander Xaver Fritzens.” He ran the scanner over the torso. “Internal organs show no abnormalities, except the to be expected signs of stress from running a high fever. Coagulation of blood is normal for the time, bodily fluids show no signs of abnormality either. Moving on to the head.”

A beeping noise made him stop. “This is odd. The implant is still active.”

Recording on hia glasses not only his words but also a video of his findings, directly streamed to his workstation, he commented on all he did or found.

The brain looked as to be expected in such a case, at least on the scan. Although he had worked on dead bodies during his education, opened them, held organs in his hands, he was genuinely glad that he had a scanner at his disposal.

An autopsy was not something he enjoyed. Putting the scanner back where it belonged he wandered over to a desk, sat down. Already there was a transcript on the screen. All that needed to be done was editing.

“Alright, let’s do this before I call it a day.” He mumbled to himself.

A soft thud behind him startled the doctor. As he looked around the well lit room, there was nothing out of the ordinary.

With a racing heart he went to his deceased patient, ran the scanner over him again, still found nothing outnof the ordinary, other than the still active implant.

Hoping that no one was pranking him he returned to the desk.

After he had corrected a few words there again was that thud. Unable to suppress a terrified shriek Doctor Khan shot o his legs again, looking around the room.

He saw something that terrified him even more than the thud. Alexander Xaver Fritzens’ arm moved, or at least twitched.

It bolted up, fell back on the table, creating the thud that he had heard before. “Resuming recording of autopsy in the meningitis victim. I had just witnessed the subjects arm jolt upwards and fall to the table. Three times this had happened so far, I suspect neuro-electric discharges in the brainstem.” Again the arm jolted upwards, but the other one followed, both arms stayed up.

Breathing rapidly Rajesh stared at the body, glad to be recording, otherwise he would be called delusional. Thudding the arms slammed against the table. “I,” he stammered, reaching for the scanner, not daring to look away from the body so his recording wouldn’t miss a thing. He couldn’t reach it, so he turned to look.

“Your turn Frank.” Dean sat down on the bench, drinking a sip of water. Francesco just got up when his glasses started beeping and vibrating.

“I thought we had the evening to ourselves?” Dean picked them up and held them in Francesco’s direction. “Dr. Khan?” The doctor raised his eyebrows, accepted the call.

“Calm down! What happened?” Dean watched and listened with the interest of someone whose game just got interrupted. “He bit you? What do you me…” Now the interest in the Admiral got earnest.

“The body, gotnoff the table, and bit you? Yes, please send the recording to me asap. Get the implant to identify any pathogens right away.”

As his friend put down the remote to bowl, Dean got up too. Not saying a word the two men left, gesturing the man who ran the place to cancel their game.

After the call ended Francesco watched the footage that he had received. Wordless he handed the glasses to Dean, who also watched.

For a few minutes theybstood outside the infirmary. “So, quarantine?”

“Not yet.” Francesco replied with a concerned face, walking inside. “Just see what you can do.” Replied Dean turning to head for the command centre.

Although a quarantine would not be orderd as of that moment, he still felt he would be needed there.

“Lucy! What joy to find you still here.” Heading for her station in the comand centre Dean smiled genuinely glad. “There is a situation developing on gamma, do me favor and see that you know everything about a possible quarantine. Restrict travel from and to gamma already, we can’t be too careful.” He kept his voice low as to not unease any of the other officers, some of which had friends and family on gamma.

Wide eyed she stared at him. “What kind of situation?” She gathered her composure, her family had lived on gamma, but her sister moved to beta and her parents to alpha, still it bothered her somewhere deep inside.

“A man who had died from meningitis and was clearly dead, rose from the dead and attacked the doctor. Now, we both have seen plenty of the old movies and TV shows, see that we can quarantine gamma at the push of a button, or two.” He mumbled, still in a hushed voice.

Quietly complying with the order given Lucy still felt uneasy with the situation.

Menacing beeps rose from the com console, the nightshift com officer turned to the Admiral. “It is a priority call sir, for your eyes only.”

Surprised Dean rushd to the small ready room and answered the call there. Over the years the purpose of that room had been changed several times. From a small meeting room, to a bunk room, to storage, to a meeting room again, then it was left empty, repurposed as a bunk room. Ideas had been tossed around to grow some food in there, but in the end, it was left empty again until Dean made it into a recreational area. During breaks staff from the command centre could relax, listen to music and play games.

He was well aware that some used it to play with one another and no game involved, but as long as they didn’t make a mess of it, he didn’t bother.

“Doctor Khan, I presume?” Dean looked a distressed man with dark skin and sweat beads on his forehead. “Yes, Admiral. I have dire news. It seems that I have contracted the disease. It is yet uncertain whether it was the attack, or during the treatment of the patient. I recommend you implement a quarantine regardless, I have transferred all my findings to Doctor Mitrioni, somehow the implant is not fending this one off. Several more cases have appeared.”

“Get well Doctor, we will do our part to contain this.” Dean jumped from his seat, rushed next door and gave Lucy a nod.

Only a few seconds later the alarm sirens all aboard the Explorer started ringing. “All hands, attention. Gamma ring has been quarantined, all personnel redently having been on gamma, please report to your quarters, or the nearest infirmary. I repeat, gamma ring has been quarantined.”

It was an eerie feeling wandering the hallway from the command centre, but Dean needed to see Francesco, it had been an hour since they last saw each other, and already events had developed beyond their last conversation.

Normally on a Thursday night at that time the hallways were a buzz with people, but since the announcement, it had quieted down.

Outside the infirmary however he found a que of people. Most were wearing makeshift face masks. They all seemed either terrified or aggravated.

“Are any of you truly sick?” Dean stopped at the que prompting them to turn around and immediately after recognising him assume composure. “If you haven’t been to gamma, haven’t been in contact with anone who was on gamma in the last two days, get the hell outta here! This is no time for hypochondriacs!” Half of the que saluted and shuffled off at various speeds. It had been the aggravated crowd mostly that was just standing there hoping to get a clean bill of health.

Once inside the infirmary the que continued, again Dean told them to leave if they had no real reason for concern, and eased the nurses and doctors work.

“Frank, these people are nuts.” Dean entered his friends office, finding Francesco going through some data.

“Rightly so. The implant isn’t working against that virus. On the contrary.” Looking over his shoulder to the door Dean wished he had stayed in the command centre. “Don’t tell me the implant is getting infected too.”

“Not per se. But sort of. At least in this one incident it was. I don’t know what had happened exactly, but the implant completely ignored the virus, and later tried to bring the brain dead body back to life by jolting the nervous system.”

“Why did he bite Doctor Khan?” Francesco shrugged shoulders. Both had seen the footage recorded.

The corpse jolted from the table and bit clearly in the hand of Dr. Khan with which he held the scanner over the body. Afterwards he fell back on the table.

“Accidental reflexes?”

“In any case,” Dean agaij looked over his shoulder at the door. “If anybody else dies of this, we should remove the implant. Can’t have infectious zombies running around on this ship.”

Francesco laughed at his friend’s words. “They’re not running. Jolting maybe, but not running.”

Dean smirked, “Don’t want any Jolters either.”

From Deans quarters, which he shared with his wife and two daughters, none of which had left the rooms since the announcement, it was onky a short walk to the command centre. On that short walk Dean had encountered not a single person.

Where normally dozens of people walked by, exercised, brought or retrieved reports, there was not a single sould to be found.

Training grounds in the gardens, deserted. Recreational facilities, including Dean’s favored bowling place, abandoned.

“What the?” He looked around the empty command centre. Only Lucy was at her post, the others, all but missing. “They routed access to their stations to their quarters, all stations at ready, sir.”

“This is ridiculous!” He punched a few buttons on his console after walkimg over to it. “Listen here you hypochondriacs! Everyone not showing up for duty in fifteen minutes faces court martial! Now, you don’t have to fear execution like in the old days, but permanent house arrest. That includes landing on 296! None of you will set foot on that planet, if you won’t have the guts to set foot on your posts! Got that?” He turned to Lucy.

“At least you are here!”

“Bob is having a cold, sir. I kinda thought I’m safer here.” She winked, indicating a joke.

Waving her off he asked for a Sit rep from gamma. “Three people have died from meningitis last night, and they all showed signs of activity after their demise.”

Lounging in his chair, his head redting on his left Dean listened carefully, concerned, but still somewhat disengaged he raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t I recommend them to remove the implants after death?”

“That’s the thing, sir. They did. Although sick himself Doctor Khan continued his work, and found that the implants have taken on a concerning attribute of the virus.” She handed him the tablet. Dr. Khan had taken fever dampening medication, since the implant wasn’t working properly.

“They are making copies?”

“Just like they would if a woman gets pregnant, they form one implant in the fetus, only here they form in various locations in the body. In patient zero they were right next to each other, in another there were five, in another there was one in the leg. All faulty concerning the virus, but otherwise working copies of the original, oddly enough they copied the unique ID number, something that normally shouldn’t happen.”

Looking at the data himself Dean found himself searching for his implant, on the back of his right hand.

Slowly he became suspicious. Was that meningitis a late revenge from the linkers? Something they hid in the ship, or that they slipped in during the brief indirect contact after their base on ES-p296-2 was discovered?

“Do me favor, see how Nye Charles is doing, and check on her family as well, and former Admiral Franziska Hardwick.” As he finished his sentence thendoor opened letting in Jesus Montoya, his com officer, and the elderly frame of Admiral Franziska Hardwick also appeared in the door. “She looks fine, sir.” Lucy’s statement was accompanied by a wide smile.

“Admiral. What brings you here?” ignoring hisnfirst officer Dean greeted his predecessor. “I thought you might need a hand up here.” The old woman grinned playfully, she had missed the command centre every day since her retirement.

Inviting her in with just a gesture Dean had no objections. “Sir, your requested checks show that all are in perfect health.”

Gaining also Franziska’s attention Lucy lowered her head again. Quickly Dean explained his concerns, which Franziska completely understood, but could’ve dismissed right away, as she too had heard of the odd behaviour of the virus, and checked on Nye first hand.

“Still it might be the linkers, they could’ve hid the virus on gamma before they left.” Dean had left the former Admiral tonsit in his chair, as he manned navigation. Apparently the officer who normally had that post didn’t value setting foot on RV-p296. “That’s right ma’am.” He felt taken back a few years when he was first working navigation, then under the former Admiral. There was one Admiral in between the two, she had retired and he was promoted. Sadly Admiral Sheila Dunston didn’t seem like she was working in her retirement, as she was not seennor heard of much since her retirement.

“It might also be a natural mutation. Evolution at work right before our eyes.” He said having cut of the remote controlling station at the quarters of the officer. “It might, perhaps, Admiral, you should talk with your chief medical doctor?” Franziska winked, reminding him that he was the Admiral in charge, not her.

“I’m a doctor, not a programmer!” Francesco threw the tablet on the table. He was tired, hadn’t slept at all since the outbreak. “How the hell am I supposed to fight this thing?”

“Perhaps you should become a programmer?” Trying to lift the spirits with his jokes Dean leaned back, to avoid being hit with something, as hisnold friend tended to become quite passionate and physical when stressed or enraged.

“Not funny, Dean.” Francesco pointed at a display in the wall.

Displayed was the que outside the gamma hospital. It was going halfway through the the ring. Francesco put in another feed.

“This was the third victim of last night.” A man in the que broke down, hastily people ran away from him, once he jolted upwards, spewing a spray of mucus out. A few times he twitched, until one man ran towards him.

Forbidden by regulations the man drew his gun, switched the laser on and fired at the dead man’s head, severing it in two, then again disconnecring the limbs.

Horrified Dean fell silent. “Get me a programmer, before they starthey start shooting at anyone with a running nose or so much as a headache!”

After the incident at the gamma ring hospital Dean had all communication lines with gamma restricted. Surely plenty of people had filmed the incident, and surely more than enough of them tried to get that video out of gamma.

It had been too late, as Dean discovered. The same footage that Francesco had shown him soon was all over the news, and soon people all over Explorer were spooked and close to panic. As a precaution he ordered the retrieval of all guns, the laser units were disabled and handed back out.

A curfew was posted, for all civilians, and non essential personnel.

“It is our duty to uphold the functionality of this ship.” Dean stood in front of his nav officer Oleksander Filipow. “Your misconduct, your cowardice, can not be tolerated. However,” he smiled, “I can not blame you. You did come forward and showed up today. Therefore your punishment will be for a tribunal to decide, once this situation is over, in the mean time you will be demoted a rank. Report to your post.”

Dakuting the man turned on his heel and hurried off. “Harsh.” Lucy commented, low enough for only him to hear.

“Yeah. I think that demotion will be enough. Unless he does something else stupid.” Waving her to follow Dean marched off the command centre, after a few turns they reached the barracks.

Suited in full body armor and combat helmets was a small portion of the security force. After the first encounter with the Harpies on Horizon the fighting forces on all the ships was increased. Even after the two species had reached a peaceful solution, there were still the patriarchists.

“Alright, you know why younhave been assembled. Riot control. You have to ensure that nothing on board this ship happens, that shouldn’t be happening!” A few eyebrows were raised, was the Admiral trying to be funny again?

“See that the curfew is obeyed, people can, and will, go to the infirmary, but other than that, well, you know.” His words were also transmitted to other security teams all over the ship, restrictions in travel inside the ship meant that now the rings were isolated from on another, except in true emergencies.

With a salute he dismissed them and turned with Lucy to head back to the command centre, when a nerdy looking man in his late forties, flanked by two strapping guards approached him. “Franz Hardwick reporting as ordered.” He was obviously a civilian, but at least he knew how to stand in front of the Admiral, surely his mother had something to do with that. “You’re going to head to the infirmary.”

“I’m healthy. And not a medical doctor.” He quickly reacted, seeming almost panicking. “I know. But your expertise is needed there, you see the virus interacts with the programming of the implant, and that’s where you come in.” Dean had his arm on Franz’ back, patting him kindly, like he would a friend. “You can be a hero!” He added, clearly striking a cord with the man. From Franziska and Franz’ documents he knew that he was single, and a loner. A walking cliché almost.

“A hero? Me?”

“Yes, now get to it.” Dean shoved him in the direction of the infirmary.

As the man, still flanked by the guards, walked off, Dean mused for a short moment why he knew so many people whose first name began with an F, but dismissed it.

“We have a problem, Sir. The Virus seems to have jumped rings, the quarantine was too late.” Rotating around to face Lucy, Dean moaned. “Where?”

The face that she made, made him cringe. “It’s everywhere, isn’t it?”

“Except subgamma. I took the liberty of locking it down. Nothing can reach subgamma physically now.”

Devastated by the ill news Dean rubbed his face. “I need to make a statement. What do the governors say?”

“Nothing really, they’re turning to us for information.”

Typical! Stern faced Dean marched on to the command centre. About everything these pin headed mouth breathers fight me, and now they want information and help!

Lit only by a display the room was drenched in cold blueish light, Francesco leaned in his seat. Over the couree of the day he had left the confines of his office to help treat people who either felt sick, or truly were sick.

Then he talked with doctors from various rings, they managed to develop a vaccine, but until it was ready for use there was a long way ahead of them.

The programmer, Franz, had made little progress. Apparently the implants analysed the virus, deemed it as a normal strain, released normal antibodies, and then went haywire. Franz hadn’t gotten behind that part yet. He assumed it was the a software glitch, that made the implant reproduce, and later try to resuscitate a brain dead individual by jolting the nervous system.

One suggestion of his was to deactivate the reproductive algorithms in the implants, which would mean that children would need to be implanted at birth. Somehow Francesco wasn’t too fond of that idea, but he wouldn’t dismiss it right away.

About twenty minutes before he had sat down to draft his report of the day, he had received a shocking video call from his colleague on alpha ring.

There had been this twleve year old girl with severe epilepsy in his clinic. When she had a spastic attack, some other patients thought she was jolting.

They had beat her to death.

Still the page for his daily report was empty.

Glad that there was no footage of the actual incident, he still couldn’t get the mental image out of his head.

A snoring woke him from thought. On the other desk was Franz, haunched over the table, fast asleep.

Perhaps they should tackle the algorithms for resuscitation in case of brain death or heart failure?

Again Franz snored, but sat up one heartbeat later. “I’ve got it! We need the make up of the new strain, and feed it into a new subroutine. That should keep new infections from happening!”

“And the already infected?”

“Uhm.” Snipoing his fingers he paused, rubbed his eyes, looked from the ghostly image of Francesco back to his screen. “A temporary fix would be deactivating the algorithms for reproduction, and resuscitation. But that won’t heal them.”

Francesco yawned, sat up straight and stretched. “Your idea might work, actually. Fever dampeners, and the update might gove the implant the time it needs to fend off the virus. Combined with the deactivated algorithms, this might work.”

Other than energy and data, each ring was functioning on its own. Dean took comfort in knowing that they could do that. Theoretically each pod was a life spending habitat on its own. He took comfort in knowing that, too. Sub alpha was now segmented, pods that were not afflicted by the virus had been sealed off, their inhabitants hopefully secure. Pods with afflicted people. That included the command centre.

In the ready room he had just laid down a member of the nightshift crew, who had broken down with a high fever at the end of his shift.

Lieutenant Lynch.

“When will your solution be ready?” Francesco administered a fever dampening drug to the man. “Soon, I hope. Franz is confident he can roll out the updates by tomorrow evening.” Grumbling Dean acknowledged that information, checking his gun. Like all others on Explorer it had no functioning laser at the moment, but he theorised that enough charged darts might overload the implant if Lynch should die and turn.

Through the open door he heard the alarming ring on the console at his station. Someone answered the call. “Oh, Admiral?” It had been Franziska. “You should come down to the infirmary!”

“Crap!” Francesco sprang to his feet, hurrying outnwith the Admiral. After a few moments the two arrived at the infirmary. A group of off duty personnel stood outside, they had their guns drawn, threatening the guards posted outside the infirmary, who in turn had their guns drawn. A few twitching people around told the two that the situation had already escalated.

The darts fired at the guards bounced off or stuck in the armor without harming the wearer, while most of the attackers were without auch protection. “Hey!” Dean yelled, not wanting to believe what he saw. A dart whizzed by him, the shooter was hit by a blow from the guards.

“Admiral O’Neill!” A distraught dictor from the infirmary squeezed through the guards protecting him from the mob. “It’s okay Doctor, return to your work.” turning from the man to the others, who for some reason had stopped fighting. “What the hell is wrong with you people? Do you think they can develop a cure faster if you start rioting?” He glanced behind the guards. “They have sick people here, for crying out loud! If you are down with a heavy fever, asking yourselves whether you’ll see the light of day again, would you want a noisy violent mob at your bedside? That aside, do you think you’ll stay healthy much longer if you go to where the sick people are?”

Not eaiting for anyone to reply Dean turned to the guards. “Disarm these people and throw them into the brig!” Voices grew loud that they needed a weapon in case they needed to defend themselves, but still they surrendered their weapons, after the Admiral asked them what they needed was a lawyer, not a gun, to defend them, and that medical attention in the brig was excellent.

Securing his gun in his pocket Dean left the scene, in his stomach he felt a load of anger he couldn’t possibly hope to overcome.

The vibrating glasses in hismpocket didn’t help him, especially after he saw it was his wife Moira.

In critical situations she tended to be really easy to panic. “What is it hun?”

He pause in between paces. “Diana’s sick?” He felt his blood rush faster, a cold sweat formed all over his body. Every fiber of his being tensed up.

“I’ll be there asap.” He grabbed Francesco by the elbow, a glance into Dean’s eyes told the doctor everything he needed to know. “Of course.” He smiled calmly.

Clearly struck by the concern on the doctor’s face Dean felt the urge to punch a wall. “How long has she been like this?”

“She dame down with the fever two days ago, and”

“Two days? And you’re phoning me today? My work and stress still allow me to be a man, and father!” Moira replied with a gaze that could freeze the raging fires of a star. Dean didn’t even get to ask why she hadn’t contacted the doctors.

Meanwhile Francesco administered a shot of the fever dampener, and continued his scan. “The implant has already multiplied, I’m reading four of them.” Still his expression grew darker. Amongst his dark prognosis for Diana O’Neill, he was also astonished how quickly the implants made a copy of themselves.

“I gave her a cocktail of fever dampening drugs, vitamins, antiviral agents and hope.” He tried smiling convincingly, failed miserably at that. “That bad?” Moira clutched her hands in front of her face, glad that she had left her other daughter with her sister. Francesco bowed his head.

Dean shoved him aside, went to the bed of his daughter. Gently he caressed her head. “Daddy’s here my little angel.” He kissed her forehead, tears welded up in his eyes. “I will always be here when you need me.” He hated himself for not having been home those last two days. When that crisis was over he would resign, spend more time with his family. “Frank?”

“Dean?”

“Get to work.”

Unable to walk at a normal pace to the infirmary, Francesco found himself running as fast as his legs would carry him. He almost ran over a bunch of people in front of the infirmary. Quickly regaining his posture he hurried inside. “Please tell me you are done!” He pleaded as he almost hit the door which was sliding away too slowly for his liking. “Thanks to the sequencer, I have the complete viral strain in the system, and I’m ready to beta test it. What’s the hurry?”

Catching his breath Francesco told him of Diana.

Only moments later Francesco was running again, to his disliking he had to inject Diana with a new implant, as the old implants wouldn’t accept the new programming once they were corrupt.

Again, he found the door was opening too slow as he stormed in Dean’s quarters. Moira sat at the door to the kids room, Dean at the side of the bed.

Both were crying. An almost tangible sense of sadness filled the rooms, overwhelming Francesco. Dean wasn’t facing his daughter anymore. He still held her hand but he was crying silently, facing the door. “She stopped breathing. I tried giving her mouth to mouth, but she wouldn’t come back.” Whimpering he told his old friend what had happened in those fifteen to twenty minutes he had been gone.

Now Francesco too felt tears welding up in his eyes. “We better,” he gestured with his hand, the injector in it. “Yeah.” Dean sobbed.

With shaking hands he took the device that Francesco pulled out from his pocket. It deactivated the implants in Diana’s body, so Dan wouldn’t have to see his daughter jolt up, spew mucus, or scratch him with the hand he held.

Silently gliding the device over her, Dean also turned his implant off following a silent nod from Francesco.

The doctor then gave a new implant to the Admiral.

Later Moira would receive one as well. Production would begin by the next day, to provide everyone on Explorer with a new implant.

But Francesco couldn’t feel glad for that.

He had failed rescuing his best friend’s daughter. He knew that Dean felt as if he had failed Diana, as did Moira for not bringing her to the infirmary.

Solace came to him in the fact that others wouldn’t have to go through that experience. That Dean’s other daughter, Anna, was safe, and safer after she had received an updated implant.

Contrary to what Dean had intended, he remained Admiral, as the outskirts of the target solar system were reached. Not two years down the road, the Admiral would become more or less obsolete. Dean hungered to settle down, near a lake, or river, and teach Anna, all about fishing.