by TCC Edwards
Prelude – Rogue Scientist
The elder scientist examined the alien vessel. As his claws explored its hull through the tactile interface, his Five Minds marveled at the design of the ship’s five great rings. Tiny pins in the interface pocket tapped against the soft shell of his palms, conveying the shape and scope of the ship. His ship’s A.I. followed the readings with analyses of the ship’s design.
Rotating rings for gravity simulation. Design suggests long-term life-support capability for large number of beings. Engine emissions suggest Helium-3 fusion reactors providing thrust and electricity. Spectral and thermal signatures suggest pressurized nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere. Hull and interior comprise metallic alloys and graphene …
He directed the readings to his Third Mind, allowing the more analytical part of him to catalog the data. His First and Second minds looked at the more immediate problem – figuring out just how this ship had appeared instead of his target, and what he needed to do next. It is clearly not the weapons carrier. Somehow, the capture process brought this ship here instead – which means the weapons carrier has reached its destination. I must devise new objectives – this mission is forfeit. The mission – his final song and greatest act. The act that could protect his wayward family of rogues and dissidents. Would he go to the Next Plane with his opus so twisted in its final verse?
Perhaps not. There is yet time before Transition.
Indeed, technology could extend his life somewhat and perhaps still help protect his kin and colleagues. Yet if he did not act quickly, the Alliance patrols would arrive before he could aid the lifeforms on board this lost alien ship. Their culture, language, identity – none of it would matter if the Alliance captured them first. The risk he took now was great, but he could ensure that their songs wouldn’t end here. The Kryannian raised his upper arms, placing all four of his clawed hands in readout pockets in the overhead control panel. His First Mind quickly sorted the information, feeding data to his other Minds.
As his Third Mind continued analyzing the composition and nature of the ship, his Fourth concentrated on the mission failure. What happened with the capture attempt? Was the capture redirected by an external event? He doubted this line of inquiry would assist the residents of Base 472, but it was worth the attempt. That thought led him to another – what of Base 472? The Alliance patrol ships were all around the sector and it wouldn’t be long before they found the hidden base. He set his Fifth mind on the task of contacting his mate, the Kryannian overseer of Base 472. The inhabitants must be informed of the failure to capture the weapons. All defense platforms must prepare for an Alliance attack.
With his other Minds set on the pressing issues, the scientist focused his First and Second on the strange vessel. A ship full of innocent beings, torn from their intended destination, their ship stripped of power by his capture procedure. The design was clearly not of the Controllers or any Alliance species – the scientist could scarcely imagine the Controllers flying such a craft in the last two hundred cycles. It is far too simple. It looks more like they’ve recently discovered the jump drive and retrofit it into a sublight ship design.
Could that explain why they are here? Their drive is new and untested? But that didn’t fit with the known data on jump drives. If a jump drive suffered a malfunction, the ship simply didn’t jump. It continued its sublight motion until the crew configured their drive and tried again. Before the scientist’s capture device, no ship had jumped anywhere but its preset coordinates, not in millions of simulations and trials. But for my device to work, I have to know precisely where my target is, its intended destination, and the exact instant of transition between departure and destination. The scientist had known none of these data about the alien ship. Yet, it was here. The device, his calculations, the coordinate data – something was at fault. A design flaw, perhaps, or interference of some kind?
Perhaps this problem is best put aside. It is more important now to ask what can be learned about these beings. Is there any way to assist them?
The alien ship would have no power for many long moments thanks to his device. If any on board relied on cybernetics, they would be incapacitated – or dead. The survivors would be lost in the dark, like hatchlings stumbling through the caves on their way to sunlight. The Kryannian clicked his beak at the old memory – a return to his birth, so close to his death. Was there time left to help? He had to find out. The computers in his control pod could draw on the results of 500 cycles of contact with alien species. The most effective method was also the crudest – analyze the alien ship’s computer systems, hack in, and decipher the aliens’ language. The Alliance favored such methods, and it was hard to deny the results of their hacking technologies. His ship, hastily constructed from stolen Alliance blueprints and parts, had the equipment needed for the brute force methods, but he would have to get closer. He ordered his capture vessel to approach the alien ship, focusing its scanners on the ship’s computer and communications systems. At the same time, his long-range sensors searched for signs of Alliance patrols – if they found him now, all his efforts would be for nothing.
Chapter 1 – Outset
William Flynn held his breath as the Shepard vanished, taking with it the woman he loved. He reached into his pocket, again grasping the jewelry case inside. He felt its solidity, its reality, as if its presence could assure her safety. He would stand before her on the surface of a new world as he opened this case. She knew it was coming, but she would smile in amazement all the same.
A subtle beep emitted through his earpiece, reminding him that the largest audience of his career was watching and waiting. The view through his VR visor, provided by one of five drones floating around the colony vessel Tereshkova, still showed the space where the colony ship had vanished. An audience of billions on Earth, Mars, and Luna were watching that empty space with him now. Flynn stretched the moment a second longer before he willed the visor to play the next part of his prerecorded narration.
“And with barely a visible flash,” he heard his own voice say through the earpiece, “The Shepard is gone! Unfortunately, we can’t see the wormhole it opened, but it is out there, now collapsing to microscopic size. It will remain intact just long enough for the ship to send us a quick OK.”
The view from the drones faded out as Flynn willed his visor to switch focus. The glass of his visor became transparent, indicating that he and his audience could see the real environment around him. As he stood from his tight chair, he felt two clunks as the magnets in his boots automatically activated. He panned his view around the cockpit, taking in the array of panels and controls. The tightly packed space wrapped around and above Flynn. The Captain, Joseph Konev, sat above Flynn, on what was the ceiling from the reporter’s perspective. The burly, bald captain caught a floating tablet, and tapped its screen a few times before tossing it back. Flynn followed the tablet as it floated and was deftly caught by a darker skinned and more muscular officer. This officer winked as Flynn centered him in the visor. The officer slipped the tablet into a holder on his arm, and turned and sat properly in his seat. Once he was in position, he turned his head back to Flynn.
Ready? Flynn mouthed to the officer.
The officer nodded, and Flynn began his live commentary.
“As you can see, we’re now in the cockpit, where Communications Officer Esan Green sits ready to receive confirmation. Officer Green?”
“Thank you, Mr. Flynn,” Green smiled generously as he spoke, “You know I saw your reports on Hephaestus Colony – you really captured the struggles our families have faced.” A message flashed on Green’s console, and he kept talking as he turned to check it. “Oh, there it is! That’s the OK from the Shepard. They sent us a short video – I’m putting it on screen.”
“There you have it, viewers,” Flynn said to his audience, “Not only have we received the OK from the Shepard, we have video from that ship. Let’s watch as the video is played on the main screen here in the Tereshkova.”
“Hey, Billy!” Flynn’s heart leapt as her face filled the screen. He was glad his audience couldn’t see his ridiculous smile. She winked as she continued speaking, “Hello again to everyone watching. This is Darya Fitzgerald, and … we made it! Everything is A-Okay here in the Tau Ceti system as we head toward the fourth planet.”
Her image abruptly vanished, replaced with a view of the dull gray lunar surface looming outside the Tereshkova. Flynn looked again to Green, who offered an apologetic shrug.
“There’s no more, sorry – that’s all they could send before the wormhole closed.”
Flynn stammered for a moment, but then felt the weight of the visor on his face – and with it, the weight of billions of viewers and his best shot at eternal stardom.
“Thank you, Officer Green,” Flynn said, “That’s just enough to let us know that everything is on track.”
Flynn then cued his next narration, and his prerecorded voice continued, “I’d like to remind viewers that there will be further reports from Tau Ceti after this live broadcast. Once all ships are safely docked above Gaia Frontier, the jump drives will be modified to send back regular video, audio, and text updates.”
His heart jumped at the mention of Gaia Frontier, where his a new home awaited for him and Darya. She’s alive. Relax. Stick to the script. The reassuring thoughts played over in Flynn’s head as he panned the view back to the captain. Captain Konev’s smirk betrayed a hint of contempt for the camera and the reporter on his ship, but the look was quickly replaced by a professional, well-practiced smile.
“All right, viewers, here is Captain Josef Konev,” Flynn said, “Sitting in the best seat in the house. Captain, is our ship ready to join the others in the Tau Ceti system?”
“Indeed, Mr. Flynn, all reports are positive,” Konev said, “Officer Park in Engineering informs me that the drive is prepped and that all systems are go. Our navigator, Officer Clarke, is taking us into position.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Flynn looked around the cockpit, continuing his running commentary, “I’m panning around the small cockpit here, where we see Officers Green and Clarke strapping in for the jump. This reporter will soon have to join them, but first, let’s hear from Officer Clarke at the helm. Hello, Helena!”
“Long time, no see stranger,” Clarke addressed the camera with a slight southern drawl, “Darya sure looks happy – you taking good care of her?”
“Just doing what I can,” Flynn said. Flynn smiled, glad Helena had brought Darya into their rehearsal for this broadcast. Some reporters might think it unprofessional, but Helena had convinced Flynn to leak a few personal details. This isn’t like the Mars Landing or the first jump drive; you can’t avoid being part of this story. Helena was right. He was glad that she, as Darya’s closest friend, was the one to ask after her.
Flynn nodded at Darya as he continued, “For viewers who don’t know, Helena here is the youngest cadet ever recruited for a mission such as this. Ms. Fitzgerald and I had the pleasure of interviewing Helena when she first flew test missions for the Ulysses Corporation – been while since then, huh?”
“Yeah, just a while. You propose to that lady, yet?”
Flynn chuckled slightly, unprepared for the question even though she had asked him to include it. What the hell, he thought. Two young reporters cover the jump to a new colony, and get married once they arrive? If Flynn or Darya didn’t report it, somebody else would soon enough. “There might be something in the works regarding that…”
“Excuse me, Mr. Flynn,” Konev’s voice cut him off.
Flynn jerked back to the captain. Konev scowled as he joined his fists together, miming a seatbelt. Flynn nodded slightly. “Of course.” He turned back to Helena and said, “Thank you, Helena. The Captain has reminded me that I must now take my seat.”
Flynn sat again, exaggerating his hand motions so his audience wouldn’t miss the seatbelt. He played the next narration and heard his voice say, “As a safety precaution, all transmissions will be cut, so that the ship’s systems can focus on conducting the jump. I am allowed to continue recording, so the remainder of our broadcast will be made available after the jump has completed and we are safely at Gaia Frontier. Your live feed will switch over to my good friend and colleague Shen Heng on the Yang Liwei. This is William Flynn, signing off this live broadcast from the Tereshkova.”
Flynn’s visor slowly darkened, mimicking the fade to black that the audience would see. A well-groomed Chinese man faded into view as the visor showed him the current live broadcast. “Thank you, William Flynn. I am Shen Heng, reporting for the Galactic Observer from the Yang Liwei …”
The broadcast cut off as Flynn switched from live broadcast to recording.
“This is William Flynn, reporting for Galactic Observer Media from the Tereshkova,” his voice said, “This begins the pre-recorded portion of our broadcast, which we will send back once we have arrived at the newest Ulysses colony, Gaia Frontier.
“It is currently thirty seconds to jump. I’ve taken my seat in the rear of the cockpit as we accelerate to jump velocity. The screen now shows the star Tau Ceti among the countless lights visible from this vantage. Like the Apollo program two centuries ago, Ulysses Aeronautics and Spaceflight Development is adding another incredible achievement to human history. This fleet will shortly become the first to colonize a planet outside our Solar System.”
Officer Green then turned to the camera and gave a thumbs-up. The screen on the console before him showed large red numbers counting down.
“We have final countdown!” Flynn said, “10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”
The view outside the window shifted. The lunar surface and the stars around it were gone, replaced suddenly by a silver capsule set against a star-filled canvas. In that first instant, it was a tiny silver pill, like the nanobot-filled capsules given by doctors for internal checkups. Flynn thought it could be the Shepard or the docking station above Gaia Prime, somehow presented as the strange capsule by a glitch in the viewscreen’s rendering software. He dismissed the thought quickly as the object grew in size, filling the view directly ahead of the Tereshkova.
“What the hell is that?” Clarke exclaimed, just before Flynn could ask the same.
“We’re heading straight at it,” Konev said, “Evasive maneuvers!”
“Emergency thrusters are firing, but we aren’t turning fast enough to avoid it.”
“Brace for impact!”
Flynn’s visor went dark. On pure instinct, he peeled the visor off, but his vision blurred. His head pounded, and he could no longer understand the world around him. What was this tight place? What was the shiny thing in front of them? It wasn’t moving now – that was good, right?
His hand went to the box in his pocket. Yes, the box is good. She will like it. But who was she?
The world was going black around him, but only she mattered now. Darya. Yes, what a nice name. Was she okay? An image of a red-haired woman filled his mind. She winked at him, and his last conscious thought was Will I see you again?
–End of Part 1 —
Copyright 2015-2017 TCC Edwards, all rights reserved.
Part 1 last updated on 2017-03-27