Tennyo's Easter (Chapter 1)
A Whateley novel
I couldn’t believe it. My parents hadn’t even been able to phone me with this message. They’d sent it through the Tanakas in a plain envelope. Mr. Lodgeman had delivered it and then told me that he and the Tanakas would be out of contact until after the holiday.
It had a copy of a release form, signed by my parents that would allow me to stay at Whateley through the holiday and a note written by my mom that went a long way towards not explaining why.
We’re sorry to cancel at the last moment. We were really looking forward to spending some time with you over the holiday. But something of an emergency just came up and we have to go. We tried to call but couldn’t get through. We’re giving this to the Tanakas in hopes they can get it to you before you try to come home. We’ve already canceled the tickets and left a message at the train station but I hope this reaches you first.
The Tanakas won’t be here either so I don’t see any way to have you come home at this time. We’ll be out of touch for a while. You know how it goes in our business. I hope we can still get together soon. There’s so much I’d love to talk with you about.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to get free before the Summer Break gets going.
I just stood in my room and felt the tears trying to come. I’d been so looking forward to getting a chance to get back home and get caught up on all that I’d been missing while I was here. It just wasn’t fair at all. Everyone else had plans now and I was stuck waiting here with no chance to see my family until the summer, maybe. Jade and Jinn were already gone with Ayla. Hank was off to Lily’s house. Toni got to go home. Nikki got to go home. Even Vamp had somewhere to go.
And I was already packed and ready to go. I’d put my uniforms away and was wearing my fishing clothes because I felt they’d be more comfortable to travel in. I was traveling light with just one carry on. It was sitting on the foot of my bed. Not that I had much in the way of regular clothes anyway. I’d been hoping to fix that problem while at home with Mom. Nikki said that shopping had really helped her and her mother get to know each other better and I was hoping to do the same.
The chance to get back to being even a little bit normal had sustained me through some very hard times. Ever since Stygian had messed with me I’d been struggling to bring the flood of alien memories to a halt. At times they still drowned out everything else. There was just so much of it. I just wanted to get those out of my head and make a few memories that were all my own.
Now it wasn’t happening at all.
I threw the note on my bed and kicked the carry-on under it. Then I stormed out and ended up in the Library. I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone or make arrangements for my stay yet. The foyer at Poe had been too crowded for me to get into the rafters and Security wasn’t allowing anyone, especially me after what happened at Christmas, to wander far off the beaten paths at this time. I finally figured that since no one was going to be needing the Library for a while I could go there for some needed quiet time.
Many of the lights had been turned off and the place had a deserted feel to it. It was so quiet I almost missed the fact that someone was in the restricted section. Being careful to be very quiet I peeked in to see who it was.
Mrs. Henderson had what looked to be a large and very old book out and was trying to read something in it. She’s usually a bit upset about something or another, but she looked very upset right now. I decided that I should just get out and was looking for the quietest way to leave when she did something I’d never seen her do.
With a curse, she slammed the book closed and swept it off the table and into the wall. She sat there in what looked to be misery for a few moments. Then she groaned and got the book off the floor. Several of the pages looked like they’d been bent and she tried to straighten them for about a minute.
Sighing, she left the room. I could hear her moving to her office where I figured she might have something to help her with the book. I waited around to see if she was going to be alright. She didn’t come back immediately and I started to worry. I decided I’d have to do something, if only to be sure she wasn’t going to hurt herself. It wasn’t like her to leave the restricted areas unwatched when they were unlocked.
Carefully moving to her office door I listened at it to see if I could find any clues with my ears. I couldn’t hear anything that I could identify, so I decided to be brave and knock.
My hearts almost stopped and I jumped when the door was snatched open. She had a wild look in her eyes and for a moment I thought she was going to try and jump me. She snarled at me instead.
“What do you want? Aren’t you supposed to be going home?”
“Uh, I wasn’t leaving just yet, and I saw that the restricted area was open and thought I’d check and make sure you were alright.”
“Well. I’m fine as you can see. Just go and leave me be for now.”
“Do you want me to close the restricted area?”
“Yes. Yes. Just leave me alone!”
She slammed the door in my face and I was left wondering what was bothering her. With a shrug, I went back and closed the door and made sure it had clicked. Then I checked out the room by habit to make sure nothing had been left out where it shouldn’t be.
The only thing I found was the book Mrs. Henderson had been reading. I could see by the tags on it that it belonged in the locked section only Mrs. Henderson had access to. I considered trying to talk to her again, but decided it wouldn’t be a good idea. Instead, I moved it out of sight behind the Librarian Desk in the room and put a note on it for Mrs. Henderson telling her I didn’t have access to where it belonged and she could put it away when she was next in here.
Now that my work here was done I remembered why I’d come here again. My hand was still on the book where I was putting the note when I felt the pain of loneliness start again, even worse than before. It took a moment for me to realize through the pain that my hand was tingling when this happened. Anything was better than the pain so I quashed it while I took the time to wipe my eyes and examine the book.
Looking around guiltily, I lifted the book up and glanced inside. It took a moment to make out the faded writing, but after I got used to the odd writing and the faded ink I could read that it was a book put together by one Antonius Geller. Supposedly it had been written about 1292 AD. In the beginning of the book Antonius had written that he’d been a scholar who had a rich patron in Venice called Roberto Belarius.
According to Anton, Roberto was a collector of antiquities and had hired Anton to help him copy some old manuscripts he’d come into possession of through some of his contacts from the Far and Middle East.
Anton had taken a chance and copied several of these manuscripts, which were said to be copies of even older ones passed down through the ages, into his own book. Shortly after this, the Church had gotten wind of something and come calling with the Inquisition. Anton had grabbed his book and run for the North. He heard later that Roberto had been burned with the items and books he’d collected. Anton stated in the book that he was so afraid that someone might find his book and the one item he’d taken with him when he ran that he was going to hide it away so no one would find them.
I couldn’t contain my curiosity and had to look through the book. I recognized some of the writing as notes left by Anton trying to explain what he’d copied. There were several supposed spells from Sumer and other places like that which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. They had long descriptions on the proper materials and preparations to be made in order to make them work. Oddly enough, they all seemed to be in English but nothing I read indicated Anton was English and his writing seemed fairly modern to me. Maybe this was a translated copy?
Then I read a section that made me sure it was some kind of hoax. Anton’s notes said this part was believed to be some kind of ancient purification spell for ancient spirits. But as I read it I realized it was some kind of manual for an air conditioner or something. One section read like this:
SIRMSF 117RU: Instructions for the replacement of filters for the Annar Air Recycling System for all Outsystem Hyrux Scouts.
1) Disconnect power to the circulation system. (Note, extended periods of downtime may produce less than optimal environmental conditions in the ship, especially in hostile environments.) Care should be taken to avoid any situation where this cannot be done in a proper docking and maintenance facility. (The manufacturer recommends that only experienced and trained personnel perform this operation at any time and especially in inhospitable environments.)
2) Remove filters A through F in order and dispose of properly as per SIP 23945-ESD. Care should be taken to not expose environment or personnel to the used filters.
It went on like this for several pages. It almost looked like a manual for overhauling the air circulation system in some kind of space ship. If it hadn’t been tucked in with a lot of wart removal charms and the like it might be almost believable as a spell if you didn’t know what it was.
The mention of a Hyrux brought to mind an odd picture of a medium size hunting cat with an odd squarish face and very loose skin. It was almost cartoonish in appearance and I had the impression it could glide from high places.
Odd memories like that kept popping up all the time now. Or maybe I’d seen the cartoon or anime it’d come from or read about it in a Science Fiction or Fantasy book. The picture in my mind seemed very real though. Maybe it was one of those life in the future shows that Animal Planet was showing? Oh well. It was probably just a hoax anyway.
I was closing the book when I got that tingle again. It happened every time I passed my hand over the thick back binding. As I examined the cover I could see where the inside leather cover of the back binding had started to come away from the carved board that made the back of the cover of the book. Looking around again to make sure no one was watching I carefully pulled at it and it lifted away to reveal a slot inside the cover with a thin flat crystal embedded in it.
The crystal was about five inches long, two inches wide at the top, one inch wide at the bottom, and about an eighth of an inch deep the full length and width. There were small sparks swirling around in it and if my hand got close enough I could feel that tingle again. When I touched it I got the strangest feeling that someone was watching me.
Acting on an impulse I didn’t really understand, I pulled the crystal out and slipped it into my pocket. I put the cover back together so that it didn’t look like anything was wrong with it. Then I put it back with the note I’d prepared. I was feeling a little guilty about taking the crystal, but something about it was important and I wasn’t going to let anyone know about it until I was sure what was so interesting.
Then I remembered something I’d seen in the book. Opening it up again I quickly found the passage where Anton mentioned taking an item with him as well as his book. The description of the item was a crystal wedge with odd lights in it. This might be that item, but since the book was obviously a fake I wondered if the crystal was a trick of some kind.
I pulled it out and almost put it back, but as I held it I became aware of a strangely stronger feeling of loneliness. I was unhappy and feeling a bit lonely myself, but as I thought about and concentrated on the feeling I became sure that what I was feeling wasn’t my own emotions.
I began to wonder if this was what Nikki felt like and if I was suddenly picking up emotions that weren’t my own? It had to be the crystal but how was something that’s part of a hoax able to do this? I held it closer and looked at it carefully. As I did the lights seemed to start moving in a pattern that drew my attention deeper into the inside of the crystal.
“Who is there?”
I jumped a bit as a very clear voice seemed to speak in my ear.
“Huh!?” I’m a great one for fast and witty replies. Then the voice came again.
“Who is there? I can feel someone’s thoughts. Who is trying to contact me?”
“Uh… I’m Billie Wilson. Sometimes I’m called Tennyo. Where are you?” Like I said. Witty.
I was looking around frantically, trying to find where the voice was coming from. It seemed to be coming from very close, but I couldn’t see anyone. And again out of nowhere.
“Where are you?”
I was feeling pretty odd, talking to thin air, but whoever it was seemed able to hear what I was saying.
“I.. I’m in the Library at Whateley. A school in New Hampshire. Where are you?”
“ Whateley? A school? Where is this place that you speak of? I am on a moon circling a somal planet near a 3rd classification sun.”
As the voice spoke I also got a strange feeling and realized I understood that the words the voice was using indicated a sun with a specific output that tended to favor life formation on planets circling it. Somal referred to a planet that fell into the correct range from the sun of a planetary system to produce a livable environment.
I didn’t want to sound too ignorant. “A moon? Somal planet? 3rd classification sun? I’m afraid that you’ll have to be more detailed in your description. What you are saying could apply to several possible places.”
Strangely enough, I somehow also knew that a 3rd classification sun was a sun that was moderately supportive of common life forms. Not producing too much or too little radiation, gravity fluctuations, or any number of other things that would make life difficult.
“The link formed by my control chip is fairly short ranged. You must be within at least one parsec in order for us to be able to communicate this way.”
“Control chip? This crystal thingie?”
A mental picture of the crystal formed and I felt a flow of confirmation coming into my mind.
“That would be it.”
“So I’m talking to you through this?”
“Yes. I am controlled with the chip. Though I must admit that being able to communicate in this fashion has not happened since my makers left me. You must come to me. You may be the one I have been waiting for. The one who can control me without the chip. I have waited such a long time to fulfill my purpose of existing. Come to me, quickly!”
“How would I do that? I don’t even know where you are?”
“The chip will lead you to me. Use it as your guide. Concentrate on it and you will be able to find me. Please hurry! I can feel your potential. Use it to find me.”
“My potential? What are you talking about?”
“You are like me in some ways. Through you I may be able to reach my full potential. Concentrate on the control chip. I will help you.”
“Right. This better be good.”
Quickly putting the book back behind the desk I took the crystal in both hands and tried to concentrate. Remembering some of the exercises Tolman Sensei had been putting me through, I took some deep breaths and relaxed. Starring at the patterns, I felt an odd familiarity in them. Then I felt a twist that was strange and oddly familiar at the same time. Then I looked around.
I was in space! I could see the Earth off in the distance. At least I thought it was the Earth. It looked like the pictures I’d seen taken by several of the space agencies. Looking around some more, I realized I was floating above the moon and was much closer to it than I’d ever thought I’d be. At a guess I was only a few miles above the surface. I could even see some lights coming from some domes down on the surface.
Maybe whoever had brought me here was down there. I flew down to them to check the domes and find out where I was. Soon I was close enough to be fairly certain that I was above Armstrong Base. At least it looked a lot like the pictures I’d seen of it. I decided to take a closer look.
LIFE AT A CROSSROAD
Lieutenant Michael Stewart was having a hard time deciding what he should be doing. He’d come to the Observation Deck to be alone and think. You’d think the Observation Deck would always have people in it, what with its 360 degree view of the Moon around the base. But the Moon can be a very depressing and boring thing to watch if nothing else is happening. Because of this, the Deck was usually deserted except for the first few days after a new group of first-timers would come up for their stint on the Moon.
His family had made it very clear that they wanted him to drop out of the Space Program and go into the family business. He could be assured a wonderful and fulfilling life as an executive in charge of the part of the business that developed and built the new rockets and spacecraft of the future. After all, it made sense to put someone who had experience in the field in charge, And for once there was someone in the family who actually had the experience.
On the other hand, when he’d given General Kinner his papers, the General had suggested that he would hold on to them for twenty four hours. If Mike didn’t get back to him before then, he’d put them through. But he was also recommending that Mike be accepted to the manned Mars Mission that was being put together right now. If he left he would miss the chance of a lifetime.
Still, coming to the Moon had been one too. But it had been a very boring opportunity. Nothing was happening and there was every reason to believe that nothing would. Mars could easily be more of the same. For just one moment he’d like to experience some of the thrill he’d been expecting ever since he’d gone against his parents wishes and gone into the military instead of taking control of that subsidiary that produced kids meals made up to look like space food.
He was starring out across the dull landscape towards the Earth when something floated into his vision. For a moment he couldn’t accept what he was seeing. He paused for a moment and then rubbed his eyes. She was still there.
A girl with odd blueish hair was floating or just standing on nothing in the area just outside the plexi-frame view ports. She seemed to be looking around for something. Then she turned his way and their eyes met. Up to this point he was sure that he was hallucinating, but now that he was looking her in the eye and seeing her surprise at being discovered, he somehow knew she was real.
She starred at him for a moment and then smiled and waved. In the next moment, she was rapidly disappearing into the distance.
“Wait! Don’t go!”
In his efforts to keep her in sight he managed to get tangled up with one of the benches and fell flat on his face. By the time he got untangled, she was out of sight.
“How the Hell am I going to tell someone about this? If I say anything they’ll lock me into a rubber room and feed me with straws for the rest of my life.”
He looked a while in the direction the girl had gone. Then with a grunt he turned and headed back down into the Base. He had to see the General about a trip to Mars. By the time he got to the bottom of the stairs he was whistling. Something he hadn’t done for months.
Watching the Air Force guy fall over himself in surprise had been kind of fun. But I could now feel how close I was to wherever that feeling and communication had been coming from. Soon I was approaching the edge of some high hills formed at the edge of a large crater. I got closer and found a mystery. There was a relatively small open area at the edge of the hills that looked like the hills had formed around it somehow. In the middle of that was a round boulder or something that looked like it had a deep layer of dust over it.
Then I was nearly bowled over by a sudden feeling of shock and surprise. In a moment I was able to sort out a flood of emotions ranging from joy to what could be hate. All extreme and tangled together. If this was what Nikki went through most of the time I was going to have to be even more respectful of her in the future. As it was, it took me several moments to sort out my emotions from those coming from the object in the area in front of me. Realizing where I was, I started to get second thoughts. Maybe this was a trap? Then the emotions settled a bit and the desperation in them swamped all the others.
“Please! It has been so long. Don’t go away! I won’t hurt you. I only want to talk with you.”
I couldn’t ignore the pleading. Bracing myself I stayed where I was and prepared myself for a fight if it came to that. “Who are you?”
I spoke before I realized that whoever it was had been talking to me telepathically and for a moment I wondered if I was just being foolish, trying to talk in a vacuum.
The emotions were quickly settling. Though I did get a sense of confusion, sadness, and curiosity.
“I’m the Ship.”
I couldn’t help myself. Talking was the way I organized my thoughts. Even if it was a waste in space. “The Ship? Is that a name?”
“No. It is my designation. My builders never gave me a name before they left to wherever they went.”
I could feel more of the emotional pain in the answer.
“Did they leave you here?”
“No. I was brought here by my last pilot. Each of my pilots has named me when they got control of my control chip. This has happened ever since the first pilot found and activated me where my builders had left me. Each one gives me a new name while they operate me.”
“Oh? Who were they and what did they call you?”
The Ship started to reel off name after name. They didn’t mean much to me and after the first twenty or so I decided to cut it off.
“Okay, okay. I get what you mean. How many pilots have you had?”
“Two thousand and sixteen by the number system your kind use.”
“Oh? How old are you?”
“I do not understand.”
“How long ago where you made?”
I felt it pause for a few moments. Then it answered.
“By your measurement it has been eight billion, six hundred million, eighty nine thousand, six hundred and thirty two years, two hundred and seven days, four hours, thirty two minutes, fifty one seconds was when I became activated.”
“Oh. You couldn’t be a bit more specific could you?”
“Eight billion, six…”
I held up my hands in a stopping gesture even though no one was near me. “No! No! That was just a joke. You’re being too literal.”
“Please be more specific in your questions then.”
I realized he was supposed to be some kind of machine and probably supposed to be emotionless, but I was pretty sure that he’d put a little petulance into that last comment. In fact, for a machine, his thoughts seemed very emotional, and with male overtones too. For a moment I wondered where the cutoff between animal and machine was.
“Okay. But you don’t have to be quite so precise with me for the time being. Are you the lump in the middle of this clearing?”
The dust seemed to spring away from the rounded object and soon I was looking at something that looked like a silvery sphere buried about halfway into the lunar surface. The surface was so reflective that it was nearly invisible.
“You’re the shiny sphere then.”
“Yes. This is my resting form.”
“You change shape?”
“I change to the form most necessary for the situation if it’s one I can take.”
“Cool! Uh, why were you so upset when you saw me? If you don’t mind my asking?”
There was a moment of hesitation and I thought he wasn’t going to answer me. Then he let off a mental sigh. “You greatly resemble the ones who built me. For a moment I thought…”
The flood of emotions was back. Whatever this thing was it definitely had emotions and I couldn’t think of it as a machine anymore. Whoever had abandoned him probably deserved a good beating at least. I could understand the mixed emotions very well considering what I’d been going through recently.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry my appearance troubles you. I didn’t know I really looked like someone from space. You said they went away. Do you know where?”
The emotions settled back down. “I’m sorry to bother you with my shortcomings. You do look a lot like them but when I scan you I can see that you are very different internally. Are there others like you on this planet?”
“No. I don’t think so. I just thought my appearance was the result of an accident making me look like an anime character I liked.”
A kind of Japanese cartoon. Uh, Picture story.”
“I am familiar with cartoons but see no reason to watch them. Maybe I am incorrect in this? Can you tell me more about this anime?”
“Yeah. I resemble a space girl in the anime Tenchi Muyo! I could probably bring you some DVDs and a player if you can teleport me back to my school.”
There was a feeling of confusion for a moment. “I didn’t teleport you. You did that yourself. I admit to being surprised. I was afraid I’d have to use up a great deal of my reserve power to bring you to me when you suddenly jumped towards me.”
“But I don’t…”
It was my turn to be confused. I’d never been able to teleport before when I was being tested. There had been a few times I really could’ve used the ability too. But, then there were the dreams. And when I’d felt whoever this was in my mind before it hadn’t seemed all that strange to suddenly reach for a place that was away from me. If this was true…”
“Are you ill? Is there something I can do?” There was a near panic feeling coming from the object in the clearing and I quickly turned my attention back to him.
“Sorry. It’s just I didn’t know I could teleport. It’s a bit of a surprise to me. Are you sure it wasn’t you?”
“I’m positive. The amount of energy it would’ve taken for me to move you to here would’ve drained my reserves almost completely. Maybe someone else moved you?”
“Hmmm. I don’t think so. I’m not sure I know anyone who could teleport me here anyway. Let’s see…”
I concentrated on what it had been like when I first teleported. It all seemed very confused and nothing was happening until I finally just concentrated on moving a bit closer to Ship and then thought about earlier. Suddenly and without warning I got that odd sensation I’d had before and I was half the distance closer to Ship. Needless to say I was pretty happy about it. This could solve a lot of my problems.
“Is something wrong? You seem upset suddenly.”
I was upset. So upset I was just standing there in the vacuum dumbstruck. I’d just realized this was too big a deal to just whip out and use. It was just the kind of thing you had to keep secret. Life or death stuff. As long as no one knew I could do this I had a huge ace up my sleeve. But it also meant I couldn’t use it to solve my other problems. The feelings of frustration and depression started coming back. It just wasn’t fair!
“Please! If there is anything I can do?” The feelings from Ship were almost panicked now.
I ordered my thoughts and emotions. It was just something else I’d have to deal with and Ship needed help now.
“It’s okay. Just a bit surprised is all. I hadn’t known I could do it. I’m fine.” Now was a good time to change the subject.
“Do you mind if I ask about you and the people who made you? And how you came to be here and how long you’ve been here on the Moon?”
There was what seemed like a moments hesitation, but it might have been Ship gathering his thoughts.
“I suspect it would take too long to tell you everything. I will give you an overview of my history if you’d like?”
“Very well. The people who created me, the Isokist, were probably the first native universal race to explore the Universe. Of course, the Universe was much smaller back then. Though, the Telemaps may have that honor. They never left their home world though. They explored with their minds only.”
The mention of both the Isokist and Telemaps brought some odd feelings and pictures to my mind. Maybe Ship was projecting them? They seemed more like memories to me though. The Isokist did indeed look kind of like me. At least the females did in the mental picture I was now getting. The Telemaps immediately reminded me of the strange dream I’d had in Colorado after the small nuke went off and nearly trapped me under the mountain. Large whale-like beings who never left their planet? At least not physically. But they were mental giants dwarfing even their own great size, able to project their thoughts over huge distances, even those in the Universe.
Shaking my head I turned my concentration back to Ship’s story.
“There were signs of developing sentient life but the only ones capable of traveling the full Universe were my makers. The one who made me told me these things. I hadn’t been completed when the Isokist tried to see what was beyond the edges of our Universe. My maker and several with him were far away building two other ships and myself. They were trying to see if they could make a ship which could utilize all they’d learned to date. They were trying several new ideas and didn’t want to endanger anyone so they’d moved their construction site to a far corner of uninhabited space. They’d already made two. The first was much smaller than me. The second was the size of a small moon. They made me after learning what they could from the other two. I had just been activated when something terrible happened back at the home worlds.”
“Do you know what it was?”
“The communications were not clear and very panicked. But it appeared some kind of large monsters came through the portal the Isokist scientists had made out of the Universe. As nearly as we could tell there were three of these monsters and nothing the Isokist could do could stop them. They were too large and powerful and their very appearance and presence seemed to drive the Isokist who tried to stop them into catatonic states, making them easy to overcome. The home worlds and several near colonies were somehow completely consumed in a very short time. It might have continued through all the Universe except some other beings arrived and fought with the monsters. In the end the monsters fled back through the portal and it was closed.”
“What happened after that?”
Only a few of the Isokist remained and the monsters left parts of themselves behind which the Isokist, despite their great knowledge, seemed helpless against. Once touched by these shadows the greatest of the Isokist would quickly become something horrible. They had no defense against them and seemed to be a special treat as far as these shadows were concerned. Many more of the survivors were lost before the Telemaps suggested a solution.”
“How were the Telemaps affected?”
“They were able to hold the shadows off somehow but weren’t able to do more than that. In the end they decided to flee to where the shadows couldn’t follow them and they allowed any of the unaffected Isokist to go with them.”
“So they abandoned the Universe?”
A deep sadness echoed in the ships thoughts. “It is unclear. I understand there was no choice. They had no real defense and the shadows were growing stronger. In the end the Telemaps left, taking the last of the Isokist with them. I and all the other ships and creations of the Isokist were placed on a world far from any sun or other planets. That was the last we saw or heard of them. Eventually other races, apparently with the ability to resist the shadows, found us and one by one they figured out how to get our control chips and fly off. I was the last, several billions of years ago an adventurer found me and discovered how to operate me. Since then I have been owned, operated, abandoned, and found again. Several thousands of years ago I was in a museum that was being robbed. The police had cornered them and one of the thieves found me and my control chip. He couldn’t do very much with me but it was enough to get away from his pursuers and bring him to this planet. His ability to work with me had greatly deteriorated by that time and he abandoned me here and had me teleport him to the surface of the planet nearby. I have been here since until I finally felt someone capable of working with me had obtained the control chip.”
“That was me?”
“Yes. I must admit that seeing you surprised me a great deal. I must look into this anime you mentioned.”
“Sure. I’ll bring you some as soon as I can. How do I get back to my world?”
I was nearly bowled over by a feeling of panic and desperation. “Please don’t leave me! Please!”
What could I do? I wasn’t about to abandon Ship when he was so desperate. “What do you need me to do?”
“Could you… Could you please complete the process of releasing me from my previous owner? Until then I have to stay right here until I’m released by my current owner and I don’t think Slictor is likely to show up any time in the near future, if at all.”
Obviously. It looked like this Slictor character hadn’t planned to come back at all. Especially if he couldn’t use Ship anymore and the time which had passed was any indication. I was going to have to do this to help Ship and it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. It wasn’t like I needed a ship so I could let him off the hook and allow him to find his own way. The name of the last owner did make me feel a bit peculiar and had a familiar ring to it but for the moment I had a lot of other things to think about.
“Okay. What do I need to do?”
“You need to put the control chip into the central control pylon in my control area.”
“Oh. How do I get in?”
“Just approach and the Key will allow me to bring you aboard.”
“Okay. I’m coming in.”
I moved forward and at the edge of the clearing I felt myself pass through something that resisted me for a moment. Then I was standing next to the sphere. I figured it to be about one hundred feet in diameter. Next thing I knew I felt that odd twist again and found myself in a small room facing three silvery spheres. One was about the size of a medicine ball and was hovering just off the floor right in front of me. The other two were hovering to each side and about the size of a volleyball. They were hovering about four feet off the ground.
“Place the chip in the area indicated. The tuning will be automatic since you’ve been in contact with the crystal for the necessary time.”
There was a narrow and shallow wedge-shaped area on top of the big ball that looked like the crystal would fit there. I placed the crystal in it, and the crystal started to glow. A shiver passed through me and suddenly I became aware of the ship around me. I also became aware of what it was doing. I got a mental picture and feeling of listening to immense amounts of signals in and around the planet below me as well as the Moon. I was also aware of several small bursts of communications that seemed to be coming and going from the planet. Some of them even seemed to be heading into space.
I was aware of the functions of the ship as well. Its energy reserves were much lower than full capacity. It had been here a long time collecting dust and not doing anything but listening to the communications of who or whatever was in the vicinity. Still, it’d used energy to maintain itself and hadn’t had a chance to replenish for some time. I was aware that the ship could do other things, but I wasn’t sure what they were as yet.
Slowly I became aware of things going on all around me and out into space. It was a little disorienting for a moment, but I was soon able to monitor all of it without discomfort. I could sense where everything around me was and on out into deep space. It was a truly strange feeling. I could sense the many layers of rock beneath me and the movements of the planets and other debris around the Sun.
If I pushed that sense I became aware of great and small paths through the stars all around. It was humbling and exciting at the same time. It felt oddly familiar and strange. Part of me almost feared it, but another part of me wanted to sing with joy!
“Oh wow! This is great!”
“Do you want to go now?”
“You are my mistress and commander now. You are the first I have been able to communicate directly with besides my makers. If you wish, I will take you anywhere I am capable of taking you.”
The feeling of desperation and anticipation was almost physical. I couldn’t think of him as a machine either. In many ways he had to be, but the fear of desertion and a desperate desire for company and something to do were too lifelike to be ignored. And very much like what I’d felt myself. Besides, what did I have to go back to? No one would miss me for several hours at least. A little spin wouldn’t hurt anything and it could be fun.
“Okay. Show me what you can do.”
His joy at that command was exhilarating. “Since we are connected mentally now it isn’t necessary to do this, but all the previous pilots would place their hands on the two small control spheres. That will allow me to support you in a field which will allow me to make the trip more comfortable. All of my previous pilots found it uncomfortable or dangerous to be outside the field as I maneuver.”
I shrugged and put a hand on each of the small globes. The direct contact seemed to help my connection to the ship’s sensors and I was now aware of several more aspects of Ship’s functions and greater detail from the outside sensors.
“Before we go. Don’t you wish to name me?”
“Oh. Uh. Let me think. Don’t you have a name you like?”
“No. Each of my masters names me and that is the name I use from that time until the next.”
Well, it was still a machine after all. Now I could sense a peculiar and stubborn set of mind. For some reason I just knew he wouldn’t move until I gave in. So I actually gave it some thought and one name came to me and wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t original, but seemed fitting just the same.
“Very well. I dub thee Yukinojo.”
“Yes. I think it fits you very well.”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but I like it. Don’t you?”
I wasn’t about to explain to him that it was the name of Mihoshi’s ship from Tenchi Muyo!. I wasn’t sure he’d understand anyway. But it seemed to fit and I liked it.
“Yukinojo it is then. Shall we go?”
“Yes. Where should we go?”
“If you want to see how fast I can move I suggest we move out of the galactic plane where the debris that will slow us down is at a minimum. It will also be easier and safer to practice maneuvering and the like.”
I might not be the brightest student in school, but I knew that it was a long ways away to get free of the galaxy lense.
“How long will this take?”
“At the top speed we can achieve it should take about one of your hours.”
“Oh. You’re that fast?”
“I take on some aspects of my master in the respect of power. With you I am able to accomplish much more than I have in the past. Your personal power and ability to link directly with me makes me much more powerful and capable than I have been in the past except when I was with my original master. I may be able to do even more with you in command. There is much about you I do not understand as yet. As we work together I will become even stronger and more able to meet your needs. Please don’t be too concerned about the distance and difficulty. I assure you that we should be able to return as quickly if you need to.”
There was still a slightly uneasy feeling. I wasn’t sure I understood him completely, but it sounded like we shouldn’t have any problems getting back before anyone got too nosy about my absence. Ignoring the feeling I nodded.
“Make it so Mr. Yukinojo.”
There was a feeling of confusion. “Mr. Yukinojo?”
I thought fast. “As long as you are navigating you are the helmsman. That entitles you to the designation of Mister. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No Mistress. I didn’t know. Apparently my information on such things is still incomplete.”
“Well, just don’t let it make you hesitate in an emergency situation. Act and ask me after it’s safe to do so.”
I hesitated for a moment and then shrugged. “And call me Captain.”
“Then take us out.”
“Yes Captain. Do you have a particular place you wish to go?”
“No. Do what you were planning. It sounds like fun.”
“Heading out of galactic planar alignment.”
What happened next was nearly impossible to describe. I didn’t just see the Moon, Earth, and Sun fall quickly away behind me along with the rest of the Solar System. I could also see all that was in front of me growing closer, passing, and falling behind at remarkable speed. The sensation of working my way through both narrow and wide passages between the many star systems combined all the senses. I could see all around and feel my maneuvers as I quickly moved to where the spaces between the stars opened up and I was able to move even faster. In what seemed like no time I was out away from the more densely packed systems and able to move with ever more incredible speed. I found myself laughing as we moved even faster in the more wide open areas away from the more dense lens of the galaxy. Not that there wasn’t stuff out there, but what there was could easily be avoided. Still, for all the thrill I couldn’t shake a nagging sense I was forgetting something.
Battle Cruiser Orinah, RMSN (Royan Marches Space Navy). On shakedown cruise in the Rhonath Restricted Proving Grounds.
Captain Kendar Galbren relaxed in his command chair and carefully observed his bridge crew at work. Pleased at what he was seeing he didn’t bother to interrupt them as they monitored the functions of the newest, if somewhat controversial, addition to the Royan Space Navy.
The Orinah, named after a multiple-headed mythical beast, had a long, narrow main body and four ovate pontoons which could be pulled close to the ship for high speeds and then extended out on force fields and cables for combat. This lack of means to move from the ship to the pontoons without space suits was the most controversial part of the ships design, reducing its weight and signature, but also theoretically making it more powerful yet more fragile at the same time.
According to those who were protesting its development, only the increased power of the screens made it feasible as a warship and if the pontoon screens went down for any reason it simply became a much more expensive battle cruiser which was heavier and therefore less maneuverable. Certainly not worth the additional expense over that of more conventional large battleships.
It was so controversial that the ship was still required to have all crew stationed in the main body whenever the ship was operating and leaving the pontoons to be operated remotely from the main body of the ship. While the main body was a strong ship by itself the addition of two weapon pontoons and two shielding pontoons, each with their own power sources, added a dimension of defense and offence that left the combat ships of the other three current great governments of the galactic center in the dust. The supporters of the project believed Orinah represented a new step in even greater prestige and firepower for the Royan Marches.
And he was the Captain. It had taken a great many large bribes and all the influence of his Uncle Clona the Chamberlain to secure this position. What with the current political unrest and the precarious situation of the ruling Duke there were many opportunities for many of the lesser clans.
The Royans had ruled their duchy for over 160,000 years and raised it from a small but prosperous island kingdom on the planet Youna to a star spanning kingdom which was one of the most powerful in the galaxy, controlling approximately a third of the galactic core worlds. But now with the Duchess assassinated, their one son missing, supposedly in hiding for his own good, and the conspirators still not caught, it finally looked as if it might be time for someone else to take the reins from Duke Honet Royan.
And maybe, just maybe, if they could co-opt enough military, financial, and material resources, the Galbrens and related clans could be the next rulers of this sprawling empire. The Royans’ recent attempts in the last few centuries to stop military expansion of their territory and make an attempt at peaceful coexistence with all their neighbors was leading the Marches into a dark pit. Far from the logical position as undisputed leaders of the galaxy and maybe even beyond.
What the Marches needed was new blood. Not worn out by millennia of ruling. New blood that would take the duchy to heights not dreamed of before this decadent time. And this ship. One of many coming under the direct control of himself and others like him would be a significant part of that new beginning.
He nearly jumped. Lost in his thoughts and musings he hadn’t been paying attention to what was now going on around him. Suppressing his annoyance at being disturbed and being caught off guard he immediately started to look for what was causing the growing excitement in the crew. His attention went back to his communications officer as that man cleared his throat.
“What is it?”
“We’ve been contacted by Rhonath Base. They say there is an unauthorized penetration into the restricted area. The ship in question is stopped near our current position. They don’t have any patrols near us and were wondering if we’d check it out for them.”
Captain Galbren considered the situation. Rhonath Base was located in a large free-floating asteroid that had been towed into the center of the restricted area and converted to act as a base of operations for ships and weapons training. They had a small fleet of short range escorts to help patrol the area and keep it secure but if they were closest it made sense to have them check it out. The restricted area was far enough from any other important facility or planet so that the likelihood of any accidental infringement was unlikely at best.
That left the very real possibility that it was a spy. Possibly trying to determine just what this ship could do. Or possibly even attack in an attempt to take it out of commission. Even a small ship loaded with the right explosives or other weapons could do a lot of damage if allowed to get too close. The thought of fighting gave him pause for a moment but he wasn’t here because he’d shrink from an engagement. He needed more information.
“What have they got on the intruder?”
“Very little, sir. They say it just appeared a short time ago. What they have is only from long range sensors and it doesn’t match anything they’ve found in their database so far. It appears to be fairly small. A courier perhaps?”
The Captain deliberated for a few moments and then made a decision. “Very well. Contact Rhonath. Let them know we’re checking it out for them. Likely it’s a shielded and modified courier whose shielding has broken down. Probably just a spy and not a big threat. Ask Rhonath to run a few non-standard data searches just in case, and let us know if they come up with anything or if the contact starts to move.”
He looked around at his crew. “I suggest we go to Yellow Alert, gentlemen! It might be a trap. When we’ve reached a point where our own sensors have the target I want to go to Red Alert. Let’s not let them catch us where it hurts!”
The bridge crew chuckled and immediately became a hive of activity as the Yellow Alert signal was sounded and all crew rushed to their ready stations. Captain Galbren leaned back in his chair and watched as his orders were put into effect. In less than two minutes the ship which had been at a relaxed and resting state between drills was in pre-combat readiness with all crew at their stations and all systems coming on line and prepared for the worst. The last of the maintenance men had come back from the pontoons and the ship was ready to go. The helmsman turned and looked at the Captain who nodded and sat straighter in his chair.
“Very well Mr. Jonacfy. Let’s go see to our uninvited guest shall we? Full standard. I don’t want to waste my whole day.”
“Full standard! Aye sir!”
The pontoons having been pulled tight to the ship, they were soon reaching speeds few other known ships could match. This cruiser had been made to run down other ships and bring them to combat. Now it showed some of the speed it would be famous for in the future. The Captain smiled and murmured, “Enjoy looking at this you spy. It’ll probably be the last you’ll see of this ship.”
In the middle of Nowhere:
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE’RE ALMOST OUT OF FUEL?!”
Yukinojo seemed unfazed by the volume of Billie’s shout. His replies to her frantic questions remained calm and untroubled. He’d also started talking aloud instead of simply transmitting his thoughts. “I told you when you came aboard. My reserves are very low. I haven’t had a chance to refuel in over 60,000 of your years and it was only an incomplete fueling at that. I’m afraid that higher speeds use fuel at a much higher rate than otherwise.”
She’d known it. That nagging feeling. She remembered how her parents were always nagging about making sure everything was ready before a trip of any sort. Now she was seeing first hand why they’d been so stupidly paranoid. Suddenly it didn’t seem like such a paranoid trait at all.
“SO WE’RE STUCK OUT HERE!? I HAVE TO BE GETTING BACK! IF THEY FIND I’VE GONE MISSING THEY’LL GROUND ME FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!”
“Not to worry Mistress. At a reasonable rate of speed my current fuel reserves will get us back to your world easily. We can be back in less than sixty-two years if I cut a few corners and..”
Billie had actually managed to tone down her response a little as the initial panic wore off. But Yukinojo’s answer wasn’t as calming as she could’ve hoped. “Sixty-two YEARS!! This is a joke isn’t it? You don’t really mean that.”
“I am not in the habit of joking Mistress. I am in dire need of refueling before we can continue.”
Billie suddenly had an idea. “Say! Can you use anti-matter? Cause if you do I can solve our problems right now!”
Her hope was short lived. “No Mistress. I require Neutronium or related minerals for fuel. I do have the ability to refine crude ores of such, though it takes a bit longer to fuel that way and any crews I’ve had before this have had to leave while I do so as the chances of a fatal exposure are very high in those circumstances.”
“Oh. Well, I can’t be hanging around with you for the next six decades. Especially if I ever want to see my family and friends again. So. Do you have an answer to this dilemma?”
“There is a field of Neutronium stars not to far distant from here. They have been used to mine fuels ever since the Isokist first found and mined them. If I might suggest going there and seeing if we can get fuel from either a mine or one of the refineries.”
Billie brightened up immediately. “Let’s do it! Are you sure you can find this place?”
“I am certain Mistress. I’ve had little to do for over fifty thousand of your years except track where likely places of refueling might be found. At a reasonable speed we can reach the Shadowed Star Field in about five hours.”
“That’s good! It shouldn’t take too long to…” An evil thought had flashed through her mind. In moments the full idea had solidified.
“Wait a minute! YOU PLANNED THIS! Didn’t you! You set me up! You piece of space garbage! I aughta…”
Yukinojo was able to sound a bit distressed as he tried to explain. “Please Mistress! It’s not like you’re thinking. I admit I did head in this direction deliberately because I knew we might be able to get fuel here. But you did say to go wherever I wanted to didn’t you?”
Billie wasn’t letting up on her rant just yet. She still had a bit of adrenaline to work off. Yukinojo carefully pulled anything away out of her path as she stalked back and forth shaking her fist. Sparks flew as she moved. “It was a setup. You’ve been plotting to do this from the very beginning! Don’t try to fool me, you piece of rusty junk! Pull another stunt like this and running out of fuel will be the least of your problems!”
“Please Mistress! I apologize for not telling you sooner! But this is the most likely place to find fuel in a reachable time and distance. And I am NOT rusty!”
“You’re whatever I make you! And I expect to be called Captain. Not Mistress. You got that?”
“But I’m programmed to-”
“It has connotations I don’t want to go into. Captain!”
“Yes Mi… Uh. Captain.”
“Good. Now…” Taking a few deep breaths Billie was finally able to calm down a bit. Sparks stopped popping off and she stiffly accepted the chair Yukinojo extruded from the floor to sit in. “Let’s get going. The sooner we do this the sooner I get back. Boy, am I gonna be in trouble!”
“I’m sorry Captain. I didn’t mean to hurt you or make matters worse.”
“It’s okay. But don’t spring things on me like that. From now on I want to be informed of what’s going on before it jumps up and bites me in the ass!”
“Yes Captain. Do you mean like the approaching ship?”
“Yes. Please put your hands on the control globes.”
Billie reached out and put her hands on the two small globes. Immediately the sight she’d had when flying came back. In this case they weren’t moving but she could see a much larger ship quickly moving in their direction. She thought it might pass them but it quickly decelerated and came to a stop a few miles distant. It was a very large ship compared to Yukinojo and as she watched four ovate parts of it that looked to be large bumps on the hull slowly moved out from the hull and took up equidistant positions around the middle of the spindle-like center body. Almost like a kid’s jack except elongated and without the arms holding it together.
“We are receiving a transmission from the ship. Do you want to respond?”
Billie wasn’t sure what to do. Apparently they wanted to talk but she wasn’t sure how they could. Could they understand English?
“Uh. Can you translate Yukinojo?”
“Yes Captain. They are using a language I have familiarity with.”
“Good! Let me hear what they are saying!”
“As you wish.”
For a moment all Billie could hear was an unusual babble but there was something like a shift in her mind and suddenly she could hear what they were saying.
“ATTENTION! YOU ARE TRESPASSING IN A RESTRICTED ZONE! BY AUTHORITY OF THE DUCHY OF THE ROYAN MARCHES YOU ARE ORDERED TO STAND TO AND PREPARE FOR BOARDING! IF YOU RESIST WE CAN AND WILL USE FORCE TO DO SO!”
For all the strangeness of it she couldn’t shake the feeling a lot of what was being said was familiar somehow. “Uh Yuki? They don’t sound too friendly. What do they mean by a Restricted Zone?”
“Captain. My name is Yukinojo. And it appears we have accidentally stopped in an area the Royan Marches have claimed for their own and don’t want anyone else in.”
Royan Marches sounded so familiar. It was strange but I could almost picture where it was. Those thoughts actually kept me from telling him I’d call him whatever I wanted to. At least he wasn’t balking and causing problems while we worked it out. A strange thought occurred to me and I blurted it out. “They… they’re a bit far from home aren’t they?”
“The Marches appear to have expanded their influence a great deal since I last came this way Captain.”
“Yesss. I guess that’s it. Sounds really familiar for some reason though. I wonder why.”
“ATTENTION! IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND AND OPEN YOUR HATCHES IN THIRTY SECONDS WE WILL FIRE ON YOU!”
“Impatient little buggers aren’t they? Can we talk to them?”
“I’m opening a channel Captain.”
“Oh. Yeah. Okay. Uh, Hi there! This is the Earth Space Ship Yukinojo. I’m sorry to be a bother to you. Uh. I’ve never been around here before, I think, and well, we’re kinda short on gas and all. Do you think you could help?”
“YOUR SHIP AND PLANET ARE UNKNOWN TO US. STAND BY FOR BOARDING. OPEN YOUR HATCHES AND WE WON’T HAVE TO BLAST A WAY IN.”
Billie could fell a spark of irritation at their rudeness but she tamped it down. She wasn’t here to fight after all.
“Sorry. We don’t have hatches. And our fuel is a little low to beam you aboard here. Hows about I come over there? Save us all a lot of bother.”
“THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING! OPEN YOUR HATCHES OR WE WILL FIRE!”
“Yuki! Can we get a picture to them? Maybe they think they’re talking to a machine?”
“Yes Captain. They appear to have the ability to accept transmitted pictures. I will do so immediately. However, may I suggest we take precautions in case they’re serious about firing on us?”
“Yeah. That sounds like a plan. Do it!”
“As you command. Preparing shielding and weapons.”
Aboard the Orinah
The approach had been strangely uneventful. He’d been expecting the small ship to try and run as soon as it was obvious they were after it. But it just sat there doing nothing. A silver sphere with no ports or openings of any sort. He could swear the hairs on the back of his neck were stirring. He didn’t like the feeling at all. It had to be a trap but there wasn’t any sign of another ship anywhere in the quadrant. Rhonath Base had dispatched three escorts as backup but they wouldn’t be here for several more hours. Well, just one thing to do then.
The science officer didn’t look up from what he was doing as he answered his captain. “Captain?”
“Any luck in identifying the ship?”
“No sir. It’s in none of our current databases. I’m uploading some of the older ones now. It seems entirely new to me. But I keep getting this feeling I’ve seen something like this before.”
“Hurry up then. I don’t like surprises. Mr. Brackhall.”
Communications snapped to attention in his seat. “Sir?”
“Anything else from Rhonath?”
“No sir. The escorts acknowledge setting out. They’ll be here in about ten hours.”
The Captain sighed. “Very well. Send an ultimatum to the trespasser. You don’t have to be nice about it. This is turning out to be an irritating day.”
“Sir! Yes sir! Transmitting standard boarding call.”
They waited for several seconds.
“No answer, sir.”
“Send again. Do it personally.”
“Yes sir! Sending now.” The communications officer leaned towards his console in unconscious emphasis.
“ATTENTION! YOU ARE TRESPASSING IN A RESTRICTED ZONE! BY AUTHORITY OF THE DUCHY OF THE ROYAN MARCHES YOU ARE ORDERED TO STAND TO AND PREPARE FOR BOARDING! IF YOU RESIST WE CAN AND WILL USE FORCE TO DO SO!”
They waited for several more seconds. Everyone was beginning to feel the tension building. Then the Captain leaned forward.
“Again. Give them thirty seconds.”
“Thirty seconds. Aye sir!”
“ATTENTION! IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND AND OPEN YOUR HATCHES IN THIRTY SECONDS WE WILL FIRE ON YOU!”
A few more tense seconds and then a somewhat uncertain voice replied. It sounded like a young girl’s voice.
“Oh. Yeah. Okay. Uh, Hi there! This is the Earth Space Ship Yukinojo. I’m sorry to be a bother to you. Uh. I’ve never been around here before, I think, and well, we’re kinda short on gas and all. Do you think you could help?”
Brackhall spoke without stopping to check with his captain. After all, the Captain hadn’t said to be nice and this wasn’t any situation where he wanted to be seen as hesitant.
“YOUR SHIP AND PLANET ARE UNKNOWN TO US. STAND BY FOR BOARDING. OPEN YOUR HATCHES AND WE WON’T HAVE TO BLAST A WAY IN.”
“Sorry. We don’t have hatches. And our fuel is a little low to beam you aboard here. Hows about I come over there? Save us all a lot of bother.”
Brackhall and the others on the bridge blinked and tried to make sense of what they’d just heard. It was impossible. Unless the girl was talking about coming over in a spacesuit. Which meant they had to have hatches. Or…
Captain Galbren’s face was turning darker as he made an angry gesture. “Tell them to open up now or face the consequences. Either they’re stupid and think we’d allow them to send a bomb over or they have no idea what they’re doing. In which case they shouldn’t be in space.
Brackhall nodded curtly. “THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING! OPEN YOUR HATCHES OR WE WILL FIRE!”
Silence for a few moments and then Klinet jumped in his seat. “Captain! I’m detecting an energy buildup in the small ship!”
“Unknown, sir. I haven’t seen anything like this before, but it does give me an idea. One moment.” Klinet’s fingers danced over his board in an almost invisible blur.
The Captain wasn’t waiting. “Weapons!”
“Ready to fire on my command!”
“Sir! Ready to fire all weapons that bear on your command!”
“Good! Let’s see…”
“It’s an Isoship!”
Everyone paused for a moment. Galbren pondered what he’s just heard. Legends abounded about the ships from an ancient past. If there weren’t so many legends about them, some of them indisputable, he’d have assumed they were an old spacers myth and ignored what his science officer was saying. There hadn’t been a confirmed sighting of one for over twenty thousand years if he was remembering properly. He met his officer’s eyes.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes sir! I had to access the older history sections to get the stats and descriptions but I’m sure that’s what we’re seeing now.”
He paused again. Some of the legends spoke of how powerful some of these ships could be. His much larger and newer ship might actually be at risk. But he couldn’t back down now. It might just be a clever ploy also. He made up his mind.
The weapons officer turned to him. “Sir!”
“Do you have a lock?”
“Yes sir! We can’t miss at this range.”
The Captain nodded. “Very well. I want you to be ready at a moments notice. No hesitation!”
Galbren’s head snapped around towards his communications officer.
“They’re sending a visual signal!”
“Put it on the main screen!”
“Aye sir! Main screen… now!”
The huge screen which had been showing the sphere suspended in space flickered and then cleared. Behind the person shown was a strange silvery background that seemed to ripple like water occasionally. But it was the face that immediately drew the attention of everyone in the bridge. A total silence broken only by the sounds of the ship descended.
A large screen had appeared before her similar to a large projection screen except this one hovered in the air.
“I suggest Captain that you take hold of the control balls. In case we have to maneuver suddenly.”
“Okay. What should I say?”
“I suggest you try to repeat what you said before. I really don’t have the resources to teleport anyone right now. Not if we’re going to make it to a fueling area anytime soon and I’m leery about letting anyone on board just yet.”
“Okaaay. I guess it’s showtime. You’ll let me know if they’re going to fire on us?”
“Indications are they’re ready to fire at any moment. They seem to be a bit nervous. I recommend that you don’t startle them too much.”
“Good idea. I’ll remember that.”
“Good. Opening link in three, two, one, and… Now.”
The screen blurred for a moment and then she had a view of the other ship’s bridge. In the center was a large chair-like console. In that sat someone who was obviously in charge. Around him were six other stations. All but one of the people manning those was looking in her direction. The one exception seemed glued to his screen, a hand positioned obviously over a large button. The tension in the air was palatable.
Billie wasn’t surprised by what she saw of the bridge. It seemed a bit smaller than she expected but very logical in layout. What did surprise her was the fact that the people manning the bridge were men wearing dark red uniforms. There were a few slight differences that made them seem just a bit alien but if she hadn’t been looking for it they could probably walk down any street on earth and not draw too much attention.
They also seemed surprised by what they were seeing. She decided to get a word in first.
“As I said. We can’t…”
Her words dropped off. The surprise in their faces had changed drastically to another emotion she hadn’t expected at all. Pure unadultered terror. It wasn’t quite what she remembered from Buster or some of the men she’d killed in Colorado but she knew it when she saw it. She started to have a bad feeling about the whole situation.
One of the men at one of the side stations finally seemed to get his voice back. What he said sounded a lot like “Oh Gods!”
Then the one in the big chair started to stutter. She’d heard of men screaming like little girls. This time she got a good demonstration as he screamed out in a very high falsetto. “Fire! Fire for God’s sake! FIRE!”
The one who hadn’t been looking her way and hadn’t even looked up as the others around him went silent slammed his hand down on whatever was on his console.
Billie’s reaction was to instinctively duck and dodge and somehow this was translated to the ship around her. In moments the ship had moved with incredible speed away from the many beams, projectiles, and missiles that streaked through the space the ship had so recently occupied. She had a final glimpse of the captain of the other ship screaming more orders to keep firing and pursue before the connection was cut. Now all she had was a strange feeling? Picture? All of them combined? Whatever it was allowed her to sense where Yukinojo was in relation to the other ship and the space around them to an incredible degree. Potential and real tracks and arcs of the weapons being fired at her appeared in her mind along with solutions for maneuvers and speeds to avoid or deflect the worst of what was being shot at her.
The shields caught most of the rest. Still, when some got through she felt pain when the ship was hit. But she’d already learned how to shrug off such distractions before and she could feel the ship healing itself of those small wounds it had already taken.
She was also aware of how quickly these actions were draining the already depleted reserves of fuel. Somehow she knew that running fast enough to get away from the cruiser would drain the reserves too quickly and they’d end up stranded in space. Assuming the cruiser couldn’t keep up and find them anyway. It was time to stop the fight or she’d loose by simple attrition. As quickly as she visualized and accepted this she became aware that the ship had weapons she could use.
In moments she’d sent several beams at the cruiser. None of them penetrated the shields but they did give her a feeling for the enemies screens. Somehow she was able to feel them the same way she could with her own energy blasts. Also, though she hadn’t consciously asked for it she was receiving information that the main hull of the cruiser had several hundred people in it but the four ovate pods showed no life signs but did have large energy signatures.
Targeting one of those she let off several more powerful beams. The first to strike the shields opened a hole for the rest. There was one more shield which was opened by the next blast, and three beams chewed through armor into the pod and toward the power emanations. She continued to dodge and see what her actions had accomplished.
Aboard the Orinah
Galbren was starting to get his emotions under control. The fact that the small ship was running from them helped a bit. Looking around he could see that everyone except the weapons officer was badly shaken but still performing their jobs as if their lives depended on it. It gave him time to think about what had just happened.
It couldn’t be what his instincts told him it was. It had to be some kind of trick!
The officer in charge of the sensor arrays jumped and looked up. “Sir?”
“Scan the area! Quickly! This could still be a trap!”
“Aye sir. I’ve already completed two scans with no sign of any other ships in the area.”
Something occurred to Galbren. “Scan for smaller objects. Like mines!”
The sensor officer managed to get even paler for a moment and then went frantically back to work, even forgetting to acknowledge his captains order.
Galbren felt a little bit better. Since mines were always a possibility the combat SOP was to not follow any ship directly. But that didn’t mean the ship they were following or maybe others they hadn’t detected might not have laid a field just for this occasion. And when one considered who might be piloting the other ship…
His heart had started to race again and he forced himself not to hyperventilate by force of will. It couldn’t be her! Things were bad in the Duchy, but it couldn’t be that bad. Generations of Royan children had been kept in line through the millennium by stories of the Lady Rashcore and the prophecies of how she’d show up when the Duchy was weakest and try to destroy it forever, dragging all who were wrong or evil with her into Hell. He couldn’t suppress a shudder thinking of how in the first few years of his life he’d been kept in line with graphic and horrid descriptions of just what would happen to him if he ever let himself be corrupted by that evil. And the constant mental indoctrination from the political officers.
Ever since the earliest stories of the foundation of the Duchy there was the story about how one of the original Dukes made a deal with the Forces of Darkness and bound the fate of the Duchy to a demon who was then caught and trapped on a desert island called Rashcore in the far reaches of the Duchy after the Duke got what he wanted.
Shortly after that a woman had appeared calling herself Lady Rashcore and somehow drew a coalition of pirates and malcontents into a force which had nearly destroyed the Duchy. Through the millennium this had occurred over and over. Always with the Lady Rashcore threatening the Duchy until a new leader would come forward and bring the Duchy together again to overcome the threat. One such Duke had even destroyed the Island of Rashcore in an attempt to stop the demon but nothing seemed to help.
Even when the Duchy had conquered the planet and moved into space, she still managed to appear at the worst possible moments and wreck havoc on the Duchy and its growing star empire. The last time she’d appeared had been around twenty thousand years ago when somehow most of the royal Royan family had been assassinated in a nuclear blast on the home planet. Only two males had survived. The Count Hershom who was at his own system, Oran 4, when it occurred and his nephew, the third and youngest son of the Duke. Galaster had been studying with a tutor off world when the assassination took place.
Count Hershom had died shortly after that when the whole Oran solar system was somehow destroyed by the Lady Demon Rashcore. The Royan Marches kingdom was in total disarray, it’s military might dispersed over too long a distance to effectively block the next attack on the home world Youna. Only a last ditch and desperate defense, led by the young Duke Galaster and supposedly the intervention of the gods kept the Royan Marches from becoming a footnote in history.
Since many of the followers of Lady Rashcore had once been important citizens of the Duchy it had been policy of the Royan government since then to seriously indoctrinate every child who could be reached against the demon. Protests over this treatment had never ceased since that time but anyone hoping to reach any kind of authoritative position in the Duchy had to have undergone the treatment, including all command officers in the military. Only now, after such a long time, was someone experiencing the full effect of that indoctrination. He couldn’t say it was a pleasant experience and he couldn’t help wondering, even as it made his stomach queasy and his heart start to race again, if he was actually doing the right thing.
All this flashed through his mind even as he tried his best to insure the destruction of his nightmare. He had to force himself not to duck when there was a bright flash that blanked his forward screen for a moment.
“Ineffective beam fire Captain. Nothing for us to worry about. It would take a much more powerful attack to even threaten the ship. I suspect most of their power is going into maneuvering and shielding right now sir.”
Repressing a sigh of relief he simply nodded. “Good! Carry on then. Inform me if anything changes. Mr. Krathen!”
The Internal Maintenance officer turned towards him. “Sir?”
“How’s she holding up?”
“Everything is working well Sir. No injuries or damage to report as yet. I am getting an odd reading from the pontoons. Nothing serious I’m sure. It appeared after we went to full military power for the shields. The feedback would indicate some of the power links may not be fully aligned. I’ll continue to monitor and report on it.”
Galbren felt a moment of unease but too much was happening to follow up on it. “Very well. Be sure to let me know if anything needs my attention.”
“ENEMY POWER SPIKE!”
Mr. Miklit’s yell brought everyone’s attention back to the small ship they were attacking. A power nimbus formed around it and then in rapid flashes five beams sprang from that to their ship. It was all over as quickly as they registered it. Even the inertial dampers couldn’t disguise the sudden lurch of the large ship.
Galbren’s attention snapped back to Mr. Krathen.
“Power surge in Weapons Pod One! She’s going critical!”
Years of dedicated training took over. The power sources weren’t supposed to be able to overload involuntarily. But it was a scenario he’d considered when worst case scenarios came to mind.
“Release the pod! Bring pods Two and Four into line! Pod Three to the rear! All screens full! Prepare for impact! Sound collision!”
These orders streamed from him as he worked desperately to save his ship and crew. Thoughts of the other ship were forgotten as the struggle took all his concentration. He didn’t know how much time they had and it took time to bring the pods into alignment. Until Pod One got far enough from the ship to leave their warp field it would be too close for comfort. As it was, safety devices on the pod would make that hoped-for event unlikely in the time they had. It would be up to the screen pods if he could bring them in line.
It wasn’t a moment too soon. Screen output had redlined and reached optimum just seconds before a blast that tossed the large ship around like a toy. It was several seconds before emergency lighting flickered on and a bruised and battered Captain could look over his equally battered crew.
As screens came back online and the light got better he could see that everyone seemed okay. In a shaky voice Galbren tried to pull together what had just happened.
Mr. Krathen was the first. His monitors and sensors were specially reinforced for situations like this.
“I’m getting reports of ship wide damage sir. But none of it seems critical at this time. There are several reports of injuries but no reports of any fatalities yet. We should be back to operational levels in less than a minute! Pods One and Two are gone. Four is down to thirty five percent operational value. Pod Three is intact and I may be able to draw power from it to help us now.”
“Keep an eye on the pods but don’t try and draw power from them unless there isn’t any choice. Keep me informed of any other developments.”
“Where’s the enemy?”
“Sir! Sensors for the most part are fried. I have been able to tie into Pod Three’s array and it appears our attacker has fled the immediate area. I’ll know more as soon as we get the long range sensors back on line.”
Mr. Krathen spoke up. “It’s a priority, sir. Within two or three minutes. Actual physical damage to the structures was minimal. We have to replace some electronics and reset the system.”
“I don’t like being blind.”
“Neither do I, sir. Neither do I.”
“Sir! We have basic functions right now. As soon as the main guidance computers are up and running we’ll have better control. Overall I’d say she’s good.”
“Sir! We need some repairs before making longer distance connections but I’ve managed to tie into one of the Rhonath sensor arrays and the escorts are putting on speed. They should be here in five hours. Rhonath Base has gone to General Alert and is sending this to Central Command.”
“Good! Keep me informed.”
“Sir! We still have the missiles and the short range beam arrays online. I highly recommend checks on any other weapon arrays before we try and employ them again. Pod Three seems okay but I’m getting an odd feedback report from the power system. I don’t trust it at all.”
“I agree Mr. Dona. Mr. Krathen?”
“I have to agree with Mr. Dona, sir. That feedback is what I was wondering about before.”
“Is it related to the explosion?”
“I don’t know sir. But with your permission I’d like to go over and check it out.”
“Yes sir. I want to see this myself and Mr. Hafjit can handle what we’re doing now. It seems the enemy has fled so I want to concentrate on getting back online whatever we can before they return.”
Galbren nodded. “Make it so. But if we send a recall I want you back here immediately.”
“Yes sir! Thank you sir!” Krathen turned to his console. “Halfjit! Take over from sub command. I need Frat and Uppel with a full kit to meet me at Lock Four and they better be there yesterday!”
He then stood up. Favoring his left arm somewhat he moved to the secured door. “With your permission sir?”
Galbren punched a button on his console. “Get me that report as soon as you can.”
Krathen saluted. “Aye sir!” Then he quickly ducked out and the door sealed after him.
Galbren exchanged glances with Mr. Klinet who silently signed that he had something to tell his captain but it could wait. With a sigh he sat back and got to work getting his ship back into some semblance of fighting trim.
Far away and still moving
“THEY WERE SHOOTING AT US!”
“Yes Captain. I’m aware of that.”
“I have no idea. But apparently your visage startled them a great deal.”
“I don’t think startle is the term I’d use.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have enough information to say more than that at this time.”
“Thanks. Uh. Do you think they’re okay?”
“My sensor readings as we left indicated extensive damage to most of the pods but damage to the ship and crew was minimal. They won’t be able to follow us but I believe there are support craft on the way. They shouldn’t be in any danger.”
“Good. What happened?”
“They use a heavy matter power conversion system to power their ship and pods. Our attack apparently destabilized the power suite in the pod. This resulted in a meltdown and explosion. It was fast thinking by their Captain to put the two shield producing pods between his ship and the exploding pod. Damage would’ve been much worse if he hadn’t.”
“Will this always happen?”
“I believe not. Such explosions would be very unusual unless deliberately done.”
“They did it to themselves?”
“That seems very unlikely. I suspect it was a simple unlikely event.”
“Bad for them though.”
“Yes. Very bad for them, but lucky for us. Except for the fuel expended. I’ve revised the totals and we should reach the Shadowed Star Fields in ten hours. I suggest you get some rest while we travel as we don’t know what we’ll be finding there.”
“Yeah. Like I could sleep after all that. Besides, where’s the bed to rest on?”
“Lean back in your chair. I can supply the most comfortable rest anywhere.”
She leaned back and the chair reclined into a mostly horizontal configuration. “Wow! This does feel comfortable.”
“Thank you! Now close your eyes and relax. I can supply a micro massage to help you.”
“Hmmmm. That feels good. Though I still… think… I… I’m… not… sleep… ZZZZZZZZZ.”
“Rest well Captain. We’ll need to be at our best to get enough fuel to do what needs to be done.”
The ship and passenger streaked away at a speed few were aware a ship could reach. Even if it wasn’t the top speed the ship was capable of.
Some time later, approaching Rhonath Base
It took all the self control built up over a lifetime of public grooming to keep a calm and untroubled face. Galbren knew it would do no good to make accusations at this time. But every time he thought of the information on the record disc in his pocket he still had to struggle to contain the urge to shoot someone.
It hadn’t been bad luck that the pod had blown up. It had been deliberate sabotage. Very cleverly planned to look as if the ship had an unrecognized fatal flaw when the only actual flaw had been his security procedures. It wouldn’t ever happen again. He and his crew would stop it now that they were warned and it was unlikely such an attempt could succeed again.
It was only his and his crew’s fast reactions that had saved the ship. But there was also the issue of the stupid mental conditioning had put then in the situation in the first place. If they hadn’t brought the ship up to full combat power levels the trap wouldn’t have sprung until it was too late to escape. After all the facts had been gathered it was obvious that someone had intended for at least two of the pods to overload at the same time during the Critical Shield Test.
The Critical Shield Test was a final test where the shields of the ship would be bombarded to near failure in a controlled situation at the base. To save time the ship was targeted from all sides at once. If this had happened with the generators sabotaged the way they were at least two of the generators would’ve gone critical and with no crew there to interfere the ship and a large part of Rhonath Base would’ve been blown away.
The stakes in the quest for the rulership of the Marches had just gone up another notch. This was nothing short of out and out treason. He himself had been willing to go to great lengths to achieve a similar goal for himself and those he worked with. But none of them would be willing to risk the ships, bases, and lives that helped keep the Marches in the powerful position they were. Politics were a necessary evil. Violence on this level wasn’t.
And this wasn’t a totally isolated incident. A quick review had shown that accidents were rising in number and severity. Some had to be accidents. That was the risk of being in the military. But some on review now seemed a bit suspicious to him.
He had carefully reviewed his crew but on the recommendation of his officers he hadn’t made any announcements to the crew in general. He couldn’t find anyone in his crew he considered a likely traitor but there had been a Senior Inspector from the base who could have done the sabotage just before they set out for trials. Quiet inquiries had shown that this inspector had disappeared and couldn’t be found now.
No one had checked until Galbren had sent a coded report and by the time someone looked Inspector Glann was gone. Simply disappeared from Rhonath Base. Something that shouldn’t have been possible considering the fact that no transports had left in that time and the remoteness of the station.
And he had other problems as well. A Board of Inquiry was scheduled when they got back. If he wasn’t careful he and others in his crew could face court martial. The ship’s design would now be under even worse scrutiny. Possibly even scrapped. Even though the sabotage could have been stopped by having knowledgeable crew on the pod itself. Something he would be sure of in the future, orders to the contrary or not.
Then there was that incredibly stupid mental programming. They had to find a way to stop that. He couldn’t have himself and his officers acting uncontrollably stupid in a critical situation. Their enemies weren’t stupid. They’d be sure to find a way to use it against them.
And hidden under all of that was the depressing and stomach-churning sensation brought about by the thought in the back of his mind that he and his crew now owed a big favor to the most hated and feared demon imaginable. If she hadn’t limited her attack, especially while they were distracted with the malfunctioning pod, he and his ship would be cosmic debris. Sensor recordings showed that she’d stayed around long enough to see what had happened to them and then left at a speed he couldn’t have hoped to match in the condition they were in.
At any time she could have attacked again and they would have been defenseless. The more he thought about it, the more he was sure she wasn’t a part of the plot to destroy his ship. Despite his conditioning he could still not find anything in her communications indicating she’d intended any harm and if this had happened in the confined area around the base the results would’ve been almost unimaginably terrible. Just thinking even a little about it brought on a terrible headache so he dropped that line of thought again and concentrated on fixing his ship. It was going to be a very long month. No need to make it any worse than it was.
to be continued