The Company Wars Chronicle

Part One - Page One

 

 

A room was forming around her; her work area in the research complex: but it couldn’t be, it had to be another dream. Moments before she had been talking to Santouri and now she was back where… the scream of the air raid siren filled the air as it had when she had… died. Rhea stumbled as the blue circle under her feet evaporated.

She was going insane; this was then; but then was days ago. What had Santouri said: ‘not time travel, more a pause as time passes on’. Time; she had none left if she didn’t want to die a second time

Her lab coat fluttering behind like a superheroes cape she rushed up emergency stairwells and along corridors before emerging onto the roof. Even amongst the array of antenna and masts the cannon emplacement was easy to see, and like everywhere else it was abandoned, all about her was quiet.

In the distance she could see tracer fire, and looking hard a group of dots moved quickly through it. She squinted her eyes against the bright light and saw one was larger than the others: it would be the cruiser. The cannon still did not move.

In a hundred heartbeats it would be upon her, and the building beneath her feet: along with the entire academic and security staff hiding deep underground, would evaporate in an inferno. The thought froze her for precious moments before she ran to the emplacement. There was no security lock, she was thankful that no one had ever conceived an enemy using it against the facility.

Entering the bunker she saw the bodies; two militiamen. They had never suspected death would come from behind. She needed to be shocked at the sight later; she had no time for emotion now as she looked at the mass of equipment; and for a moment was overwhelmed by it all.

Good afternoon professor.”

The disembodied voice took her by surprise and she anxiously looked for where it had come from.

Isla professor… Integrated Systems and Logistics Assistant?”

Isla… Yes Isla?”

Professor may I remind you that this area is restricted to military personnel.”

I know.”

The voice seemed to sigh, “Then professor?”

The cannon has been shut down.”

Yes professor, in the circumstances a strange request but performed with the correct procedure.”

There’s a cruiser coming?”

My information is that the facility is not the focus of the attack.”

That information is wrong. I want you to prepare to begin firing.” Rhea almost demanded.

Professor it is the duty of members of the military to operate this weapon, not academic staff.”

I know.” She snapped impatiently. “But they happen to be dead.”

Yes professor; I have reported their demise.”

Rhea felt a scream of frustration would not be out of place. “I can’t believe this is happening?”

Professor the circumstances are unprecedented.”

I don’t have the time or patience to debate with you Isla; activate the weapon.” The words were only half screamed but it did feel better.

Professor I have to remind you again that not only do academic staff not have the authority to request this cannons activation, this area is restricted from them.”

Then I’m asking in my capacity as a D.S.D agent.”

In that case if you have the activation code?”

I don’t have it.”

Professor then I am unable to comply with your request.”

Rhea was silent for a moment, and then she remembered and dug her hand into the coat flap and bringing out a small box. She placed it against the control panel.

What... is… that?” Isla's voice was drawn

Suddenly the cannons controls began to light up.

You are over-riding my… My?” Isla’s voice had a helpless tone

Rhea flicked open the manual firing control and gripped the joystick. A three-dimensional image of the cruiser appeared on the targeting screen. It glowed in false colour, showing the force field lines as they fanned out and around the spaceship. It seemed complete, not a fraction of the smooth hull showed the mark she had been told to look for. She hit the cannons scanner.

Isla’s composure seemed to have returned. “Locking on with a target beam is inviting retaliation?”

That’s what I want?”

You’re going to target the sensors?”

Don’t ask me why Isla; I’m working from instructions.”

You are aware the cruisers shield modulates the sensors so that they are constantly moving with the field?”

Are they?”

And that it is impossible to determine where, when and by what dimension the gap in the shield will be when it releases its missiles?”

Isla; you are not helping.” Rhea pressed another control on the box and the false colour image began to strobe. With each flicker a tiny black cross, moved across the surface of the field.

What’s that?” said Isla. “It is chaotic randomness. The volume of calculations required to see the pattern in real time is enormous.”

But in answer to Isla’s words a small white cross hair appeared. In the subsequent frame the sensor took its place.

The amazement was clear in Isla’s voice. “Professor what technology is this?”

Alien,” said Rhea without any hesitation.

We have nothing remotely capable… In coming... they know the cannon is activated.”

In…” Rhea had been so focused on the cruiser she had forgotten the missile. For an instant she froze.

Nine to impact.“

A chill ran through Rhea as she remembered she still had the button. She felt panic rise.

Eight.”

Where was it? Her mind was blank. Quickly she pressed her hands over each flap.

Seven.”

It wasn’t there; it had been in her top left. She almost beat her chest grasping and feeling for the small button.

Six.”

It still wasn’t there. Her eyes slowly rose and looked at the dot. It wasn’t a dot anymore; she could see it clearly, a missile heading straight for her.

Five.”

Her mouth opened; this was it, this time there wouldn’t be anything left to repair, only a shadow.

Four.”

The missile roared overhead



Breathing heavily Cassana stumbled into the entrance of the field shelter. The pale circle on the floor was impossible to avoid; but he tried. What it was, or what it represented was a mystery, but there in the middle was the button. Realization took only a moment before Cassana half turned to look over his shoulder. There was barely time for a single word, “No…”



Rhea saw the initial explosion with her own eyes. It was deep a red that disappeared into a growing, billowing white cloud. It rolled across the ground towards her at breakneck speed. Then the door to the cannon slammed shut and the sight was gone. She turned to the screens as they clouded over.

Unthinkingly she was about to ask Isla what had happened, but then a wall of flame filled her view and the temperature rose sharply.

Santouri had warned her that even outside the detonation area there would be an effect. She expected the heat but it kept rising. The moist air was turning to steam and the material of the lab coat stiffened and crisped. There was a sharp crackling as the chemical exposure tag failed. Her skin began to tighten and her breath became impossible to breath. Then almost as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone and the mist faded.

What was revealed was just a surprising. Again she was about to blurt out that something was wrong before she realized the force field pattern was still there. It just occupied the entire screen.

Her mind was behind her hand movement as she grabbed the joystick, and it only caught up by the time the aimer had swung up to the left side of the screen following a line of disappearing crosshairs. Almost on instinct she fired at the moment the cruiser disappeared from view. There was no time for disappointment. The grinding crash that shook the building evaporated that feeling.

This time she spoke. “What’s happ…”

The ship brushed the emplacement. It is destroyed?” said Isla in triumph.

.

At some time the building had completely retracted into the ground and as Rhea stepped out at ground level she could see the grounded: smoking, cruiser was still mostly intact. She stood looking about: everywhere there was desolation. There were fires burning not far from where the spacecraft had crashed, she didn’t know if they were from it or the missile. Everywhere else everything was quiet: everything was still: it seemed impossible that such a short time ago chaos reigned. Then it began again…

The all-clear sirens began to wail and in several locations massive slabs of reinforced metal slit into sections and opened like flowers in a mad giants garden.

Military vehicles pouring up out of the ground shattered the illusion. There were militia transports and every type of mobile weapon: everyone but three circled the still quiet spacecraft, they headed straight for her. Rhea was glad that it had not been destroyed. She hoped that there were few casualties, but hope was replaced by uncertainty as she saw the three vehicles stop short of the emplacements perimeter.

Militiamen poured out, each brandishing a weapon, and they were all pointed in her direction. She nervously put her hands in the air as a small group of officers ran towards her.

Professor Rhea Victoria Thain?” One said harshly as he got close.

Yes… That’s me,” she said weakly.

The voice was demanding and unfriendly. “Take off your coat: one arm at a time, leaving the other in the air.”

Her anxiety increased but with difficulty she did as she was ordered

Turn around: slowly.”

She did and became aware that they were staring intently at her body. She knew they were scanning for any bulge that would betray a weapon, but that wouldn’t be everything they were examining. The thought embarrassed her, and she turned back to them feeling flushed.

I’m sorry professor,” said a woman striding up from behind: who appeared to be the senior officer. “But you are not in an area where you are authorized to be… Would you explain why you were not in the bunker?”

I… I was finishing some very important work… There wasn’t… time?”

It is a serious contravention of military rule not to go directly to the bunkers when the siren sounds; you know that?”

Yes…” she said meekly trying to put on her most innocent smile and wishing it had been a male officer: she had a much better rapport with men. “It was very important work… To the Alliance…” She added hoping it made the point.

Yet you are in a cannon emplacement?”

I… I…” She couldn’t explain why.

The officer looked over to the cruiser. “How you accessed the cannon is for some other to determine, but it seems whatever you did, you did with good result.”

She wanted to smile and say ‘I shot it down’ but she knew it wasn’t really her.

Your records don’t indicate you have ever been instructed in such a weapons use; can you tell me how you did that?”

I…” she couldn’t, well not in a way that didn’t tell them everything. “I just grabbed the aimer thing and pressed the red button?”

That’s it?” The woman muttered obviously not convinced.

It happened so fast I don’t remember…”

So professor, you ignored a compulsory evacuation signal to come up here, to a restricted area, entered an even more forbidden cannon emplacement, activated a weapon that your records show you having no operational knowledge of, and brought down an enemy warship in a way that…” The woman glanced back over her shoulder towards the wreck. “Probably caused the minimum of casualties,” she looked at Rhea suspiciously. “You did all that but don’t remember how?”

Rhea tried to smile again. “ Not really,” quickly followed by, “Other than it is a citizens duty to do whatever they can to defeat the enemy?”

The woman would have probably laughed had she been the kind of a woman who laughed.



The Company Wars Chronicle

Part One

The Beginning or End of History

By Alan P. Ellis

Sometimes one lifetime is not enough

Copyright 2013. Copyright in all media and in all forms remains the property of Caelin Day pty ltd (aus). Any reproduction in whole or part is conditional on the written permission of caelin day.

The probe was beyond tired. So far beyond that if a machine could conceive an end to existence, then it was at the moment of death. It’s once bright surfaces were now pitted and punctured through countless impacts with meteoric grains of dust; and blackened through eons of exposure to cosmic particles. What was left of its once precisely directed antenna, now turned aimlessly in a slow pirouette that had lasted beyond any collective memory. No one knew. No one cared. It was a forlorn speck, invisible and lost in the immensity of space, along with any recollection of the ancient civilization that had sent it on its journey.

In their time, both machine and people had flourished. Both had risen in their ways to reach out in a flowering of space exploration. First around their own planet: then others in their system. The tiny probe had been the culmination of the brightest brains the planet could bring together. This little spacecraft had been their signal; their declaration that they were reaching at last for the stars, and now; not that the builders would know, the little craft had finally made it to the edge of the galaxy itself.

Once launched it began” and continued far beyond expectation, to send back information about their closest neighbors that filled its makes with awe. Both scientists and the planets inhabitants rejoiced at what it discovered, but as is always the case with a new toy, eventually it becomes familiar, and in time forgotten. So as it reached out into the void between the stars, its work no longer exited or inspired, and its makers moved on to another, brighter child. No matter how well it had lived up to what was asked of it, the probe had done its job, and memory of it passed into history.

The probe didn't notice: how could a machine care as it continued the task that had been asked of it, so each time it passed a rock in the depths of space; or a fluctuation, or an anomaly: or in time each star, then once more it would announce the discovery; sending back its findings to distant, unhearing, ears. As long as energy fed though its fine wires, it sought and proclaimed, and would it over and over until its power source drained the last dreg of radioactive emission. That time had arrived and now it was almost dead. Now nothing but weak, random particles of decay came from its tiny generator. But that was enough; just, for the ultra-sensitive detectors on the Ikaban III, to signal an alarm.



Though the central security building was one of the grandest structures in the dome, Alexi’s mind was far too occupied to even give it a glance as he strode across the open courtyard towards the imposing portico. All that was on his mind was that it was early; too early to be anywhere but in his quarters, and that wasn’t even considering that it was his first morning back on Terran after two consecutive tours of duty on the frontier. He muttered to himself that he; no…they; the crew deserved better than this after what they had been through.

The click of his heels on the tiled walkway seemed to drill sharply into his brain, reminding him that last night was supposed to have been a quick gathering. It was always the same at the end of a tour; everybody patted each other on the back, said what a great job they had done, and then quickly went their separate ways. As commander it was expected that he shout the first round before melting away as serious celebrations began. But it hadn't turned out that way, instead of leaving once he had seen them relax, he had felt the need to stay, and stay; and stay. Now he was paying for it. His head felt thick, his body felt tired. He desperately needed a Krill tablet; not being woken with a summons to come immediately to Ellis’s offices. That was the last thing he needed.

Why do they keep the place so cool’, he muttered, his finger adjusting the thermal valve secreted under the uniform lapel. Immediately he felt more comfortable, though he often wondered how much of that was in his mind.

Outside the weather shield he could see the snow; deep and endless up into the foothills, and on over the peaks of Telic Naile. Bad mood or not, he begrudgingly admitted, it did look remarkably beautiful. Especially with the green high forest trusting out of the blanket of white. At times such as this it puzzled him why the ancestors had chosen Terran to colonize, when they had all the other warmer planets to choose from. Still another half a revolution and they would have left the white dwarf that was the binary partner of Sol, and be back in the warmth. Then there would be an explosion of growth. Rainforest vegetation in the coastal regions and baking deserts up on the tablelands. Once more the heat would take over, banishing the cold to the other end of the season. Thinking about it, actually he could see why they had chosen Terran; he smiled to himself.

Good morning commander.” The voice surprised. No not surprised, startled him back to reality.

Good Morning Isla,” he replied to the electronically induced sound from his ear implant.

Director Ellis has been informed of your arrival.”

What mood is he in?”

Have I your confidence commander?”

Alexi wondered for a moment who such an attractive; and he had to admit appealing tone of speech, had once belonged to. He put out of his mind that apparently each individual heard what appealed particularly to him: or her. “Of course Isla.”

Then he is rather grumpy.”

Oh.” That he didn't want to hear. “Any reason?”

Not that I can divulge commander.”

I see… you don’t know.”

Yes I do commander,” the voice sounded faintly offended.

And you're going to keep it a secret?”

I have to commander. You know very well to not do as I am bid would go against the rule of my existence.”

Yes I know, but even to me?” He tried to sound hurt.

You put me in a position where my friendship goes against my duty commander.”

I see. And which shall win?”

Is there any doubt?”

Alexi sighed deeply, in mock rejection. “I suppose I will have to live with being no more than a cast away, and ignored ex-friend.”

Commander I doubt you would ever consider yourself as such.”

No Isla,” he grinned, feeling his mood rising as he looked towards at the first rays of sunlight, glinting off the mountaintops. “And neither do I imagine you would do anything wrong, even for a moment.”

Isla giggled, “Ah commander, you never know what surprises the day holds?”

Don’t tell me, you're waiting for the right processor to…” Alexi stopped and shook his head; what a start to the morning, he was flirting with a series of induced vibrations in his inner ear.

Commander?”

Yes.”

Actually, If I look over my parameters. Director Ellis did not specify that I was not to reveal he is not alone.”

Who is he with?”

A professor Thain.”

Thain… No… means nothing to me.”

An anthropologist, at the astro-history faculty of the college of SeeSay, on Tiber Anwen.”

Oh,” he said with mock enthusiasm. “That sounds very exciting.”

Commander…” The voice was slightly scolding. “In our culture not everyone requires the life of a soldier to fulfill their ultimate achievement.”

No. I’m sorry, you are quite correct; somebody has to do all the boring stuff.”

There was no reply. ‘Damned processors’, he muttered silently. Sometimes they were like being joined; you had to be careful with every word or you were always upsetting the other half. His mind suddenly wandered to her.

It had been this time during last freezing, when they had agreed to separate. It still hurt a little. He had really thought they would be partners for life, but relationships had never been his strong point, and it didn't look as if that was going to change. Thankfully it had been reasonably amicable. What he hadn't expected though was that she would leave after the agreement had been voided, and go back to live on Reigan, taking their three beautiful children with her. He hadn’t, and still didn't want them to go. Yes, practicality it was the best thing for them, but that didn't mean he had to like it. His mind drifted to their faces. It had been a long time since he had felt their embraces. ‘Yes’, he decided, ‘When I've finished with Ellis, I’ll comlink Reigan and ask if I can visit, of course assuming Zaara will give her permission’.

He was in front of the building now. It was set at eight levels above ground, being as there was little chance at this time of the turn that of one of the violent tropical hurricanes would sweep in from the ocean. Though if one did it wasn’t really a problem; it was common knowledge that within twenty parts the whole structure could descend below the surface against nature, or even quicker if under threat of attack by a Carroll warship.

The door was opening. Isla may not be communicating but was still doing what was required.

He walked onto the inner sixth level. Immediately the noise of birdcall came to his ears. Long slender trunks of Polly wattle vine reached up to the roof of the atrium. There and lower down swarmed flocks of brightly colored parrots. A primate sat on a branch at his level watching him suspiciously.

Over the balustrade to his right, six floors down was an indoor lake. He could just make out the reds, and pinks of flap fish swimming close to the surface. It was all very soothing and peaceful, but Ellis was waiting, and the vator door was opening for him. He stepped inside. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Sorry. I don’t know what you're referring to commander?” The reply was half curious.

Everybody has their place. Everybody has their duty, and just because I find it of little interest, I should not belittle them.”

No you shouldn't commander.” The voice bore a slight chastising tone. “None are greater, or less useful than another in our society. That is what makes us different from the Carro...”

This professor...” He interrupted.

Thain?”

Thain,” he repeated to himself, “Yes... What has astrohistory got to do with a destroyer’s officer?”

We are all a product of our roots commander.”

It’s too early to be cryptic Isla.”

I wasn’t. I was merely pointing out that we are the sum of our communal experience.”

I realize that. But there's nothing from the past where I live. I cruise a warship. Fighting on the frontier, protecting the colonies, the future is all that I'm interested in.”

Many have said and thought the same throughout the history of humankind, and found that the highway to one's destiny is learned on the by-roads of the past.”

Your not going to tell me anything else before I face Ellis, are you?”

No commander.”

The vator stopped and the door slid open. He stepped into the outer office. It was empty, except for Alana sat before her screen, entering something into her workstation. She looked up from behind the desk; lifting her hand as she did; deliberately pushing with her index finger at the bridge of a pair of antique spectacles that were the current fashion. The lenses seemed to hang magically against her forehead. “Commander,” she beamed with obvious pleasure. “How nice it is to see you again.”

And for me to see you Alana.”

How do things look on the frontier?”

Not as nice as they look from where I stand right now.”

Commander,” she blushed. “You know I'm almost a partner.”

All the more reason to tell you, before it’s too late and Andor claims his prize.”

Suddenly a booming voice assaulted his ears. “Is that you Commander?”

Alexi hadn't noticed the door was partly open. “Yes director,” he answered formally.

Then come through, and stop harassing my secretary. She has enough to do without you interrupting her.”

Director Ellis is waiting to see you commander Davanoff,” said the silently laughing girl.

Alexi shook his head as he walked towards the heavy door. He pushed it fully open.

Ellis was standing alongside a large ornate chair. Another was across to his left, and between them was a high backed couch, all upholstered in the same brocade material. They formed a semi-circle before a timber fueled fire, burning in the large open grate set into the wall opposite.

To Alexi’s left was the panorama of the snow-covered mountains. The window was floor to ceiling, and wall-to-wall. As a first impression it appeared the building had no external wall, and many visitors stayed well clear, for in the unaccustomed it caused a distinct feeling of vertigo. Here they were far above the weather shield, and even Alexi had a momentarily feeling of warmth on his right and cold on his left. He quickly turned the thermal valve off. “Director?”

Come in commander,” the voice was barely warmer than the snow. “And shut the door.”

Alexi back stepped; closed the door and then strode silently across the carpeted floor. He had forgotten the third person in the room. Indeed he still couldn't see anyone hidden behind the high back of the couch. It wasn’t until he came alongside it, that he saw her. It hadn't crossed his mind it could be a woman. Now he wondered why.

She was striking. Long black hair, a perfectly formed face. She was dressed in the latest Terran suit. Alexi knew that from a magazine he had seen lying on some wardroom table recently. She was standing now and offering her arm. “Commander.”

Their fingers clasped about each other’s wrists, she felt cool. “Professor Thain,” Alexi said half as a greeting, half with incredibility.

Isla,” muttered Ellis to his side disapprovingly. He stared vaguely into the air. “Shut down surveillance on my area.” Then he looked back at Alexi. “You can let go of the professor’s hand now commander,” he grumbled.

Alexi realized it was only he who continued the grip. He dropped his arm to his side.

I see you already know all about the professor.” Continued Ellis.

No… Well...” Alexi looked at her. “Only that you are an anthropologist from the astrohistory faculty, at SeeSay.”

Nearly right commander,” she smiled.

Alexi looked at Ellis slightly confused. Isla was rarely wrong.

The man grunted and spoke. “I take the wise precaution of not disclosing everything I do, even to Isla. But Professor Thain...”

Director.” She interrupted him. “If we are to work together it would be much easier if I dropped my formal title.”

As you wish,” Ellis said as he sat down in a single chair.

My name is Rhea.” She looked at Alexi.

Alexi.”

Yes… I do know,” she smiled and his heart missed a beat. She sat down again. “As you surmised, I am from SeeSay, and from the college of astrohistory. But I am afraid from there on all else becomes a little blurred. I have an office and a workroom in the anthropology faculty, but I am not an anthropologist.” She looked at Ellis, as if seeking his approval.

He nodded at her, and then looked at Alexi. “Sit commander.” He demanded.

Alexi walked to the other chair under Ellis’s stern glare and sat as Ellis spoke again. “I should not have to remind you commander but you are bound by the secrecy act.”

Alexi saw no reason to respond, but by the way Ellis looked at him he knew he was expected to. “Yes director.”

There are Carroll spies everywhere; even amoung our friends; the smallest piece of information can become the part that solves a puzzle.”

Yes director.”

We suspect that the Corporation have information of what we plan. It is imperative that they do not find out anything that will aid them?”

I understand that director; if they do it will not come from me or my crew.”

Ellis looked back at Rhea. “Carry on professor.”

She looked directly at Alexi. “My position at SeeSay is actually a cover. I work for the D.S.D.”

For a moment Alexi was dumbfounded, and equally impressed. The Department of Scientific Defense was one of the most secretive organizations within the Alliance. There was only one acknowledged office; that was here on Terran, and it employed no more than a dozen people. Of course it was common knowledge, or rather common gossip, that their research facilities were spread throughout the planets, but this was the first time, even with the rank he held, that he had ever had official confirmation the organization existed outside the department’s headquarters, never mind met one of its operatives. Alexi realized he had frozen half seated. He quickly sat and sank into the soft cushion.

She seemed amused. “I take it you know of us?”

Err… Yes. Well kind of.”

Which means you have listened to rumors?”

Well… yes, but when secrecy is necessary rumours fill the void.”

To all our advantages. Rumours keep everybody guessing, including and especially the Carroll corporation.”

Alexi nodded. “I include myself in that group; truth known I haven't a clue what you do, other than I probably owe my life to suggestions; ideas, and weapons that you have come up with.”

Do not give me credit personally Alexi. I’m no more than a contributor,” She winked at him. He hadn't the foggiest idea what it implied. “My personal expertise is in liquid ferroceramics...”

Suddenly it came to him. “Your that Thain!!!” he said out loud interrupting her mid-sentence.

She stopped and looked at him in surprise. It had been at the back of his mind since he had heard Isla say the name. But the stern and very dowdily dressed woman the newscasts had shown receiving the Alliance Star of Bravery bore little resemblance to the one before him now. “Rhea Thain… your… that Rhea Thain?

Rhea tried to hide it but knew she was blushing. “It wasn’t quite like all the propaganda would have you believe.”

Professor I certainly hope it was exactly as has been portrayed.” Ellis's gruff voice interrupted. “Now can we get on with the business we are here for?”

They fell silent as he took the conversation over.

What the professor was about to tell you commander: before you interrupted, is that composite metals and their derivatives are her area of specialization. And the reason she is here is that there are none better.”

Rhea looked at Alexi. “Flattering, but not entirely true director. There are many people who…”

Ellis brushed of her diffidence. “Professor, modesty is all well and good, but by my information you come recommended as the best, and that’s who I want.”

I was about to say my equal director. I did not intend to imply any were better.”

Then please carry on.”

Rhea suddenly seemed less comfortable. “Commander, future composites are where I am, but we can still learn a lot from analysis of the older and past metals.”

Alexi smiled and thought to himself. 'I've already been here'.

She was looking at him puzzled, “Commander?”

... Please go on.”

As I was saying. I find it personally interesting. I suppose some would class it as a hobby, researching old, rare and disused metals and ores.”

And an ideal cover at SeeSay University.”

It fits in quite nicely.”

But where do I fit into all this?”

You don’t yet,” said Ellis abruptly. “Please continue professor.”

In my capacity I have direct access to all Alliance research projects. Recently one of our deep space mining vessels located a probe.”

Alexi stared at her curiously. “Probe... What? A drone?”

Call it what you like, but yes. It was way out in the void area. Heading for Beta Prima, in another hundred thousand turns. Anyway, they were testing deep rock spectrum equipment and had the full range turned on, and there you are, they picked up radioactive decay in the middle of nowhere. They surmised it was an exotic asteroid at first, but the emission was too pure, so they were instructed to send out a scout. And there it was; a probe.”

Alexi looked at a loss towards Ellis hoping for some clarification, but the man sat expressionless.

It was of tremendous, but limited scientific interest,” continued Rhea. “And in due course it found its way to SeeSay, where I requested permission to undertake an analysis of the metals….” She hesitated seeing his expression. “There is something you find curious commander?”

He tried to look serious. “You said there was an emission: it was from the probe?”

Yes… The research was all done in the emissions laboratory. Its power core was Ranium, does that stir any memory?”

Vaguely. I've never come across it, but I seem to remember from college that it’s very dangerous and volatile: isn’t it?”

Handled the wrong way, most certainly.”

If I recall correctly, it's said it would be the first generated clean power that an emerging civilization would come across.”

I suppose that depends on the interpretation of clean your using. Anyway the metal parts themselves were corroded almost beyond belief. Wherever it had come from, it had been alone in space for many thousands of turns. Its composition was intriguing; basic and impure, yet a fresh perspective as if someone had been working from an entirely new set of rules.”

So it wasn’t Alliance?”

She looked at him puzzled. “Alliance?”

I was making the assumption that it was something from our ancestral Alliance?”

No it was most certainly not one of ours; ancient or not.”

He realized he was mistaken. “Then it was a Carroll probe?”

There was almost a smile on her face.

He looked at Ellis confused.

Rhea spoke again. “No, it wasn’t anything from our own past?”

Professor, I don’t wish to question what you have just said, but it has to be from our or the Carroll’s past?” he said in an uncertain way, unable to imagine an alternative.

That is a fair assumption.” Rhea said as if to accommodate his opinion. “But it was neither. I just said that whoever had created it was going down another technological path. It was all extremely interesting…” Her tone of voice changed. “…But my excitement over its manufacture was nothing compared to what was attached to the side.” She paused a moment, but Alexi showed no anticipation. “There was a small golden plaque. The surface was almost degraded clean, but in our laboratories we were able to reconstruct what patterns or symbols had once been engraved there by examining the stress marks on the sub layers, and we found that the makers had identified themselves.” She looked at Ellis, again seeking his approval, then back to Alexi, and straight into his eyes. “Have you heard of the planet Earth?”

They both looked at him, and he at them. Nothing was said. At last he shook his head and started to laugh. “Yes I know about Earth.” And he did. It was required reading in grade school, under legend’s and fantasies. When a little older he had sat through an elective class on the myth, bored out of his mind. So he did know about Earth, but if it hadn't have been for his awakening interest in the opposite sex; particularly for a girl named Juliana he wouldn't have had a clue.

Earth, the home planet of the ancestors! They had destroyed it with wars, and contamination before they were driven off as its temperature climbed past human tolerance. The stories said they had lived for a few generations in massive orbiting satellite cities called arcs, before they gave the planet up as lost and set sail in a convoy to colonize another star system. Then at some time there had been the diverging, and the arcs - there were supposed to have been sixty of them, split into two factions. One founded Terran and became the Alliance; and the others colonized Plar as the Corporation’s headquarters. They had been at war ever since. “Earth...”

They both stared at him without speaking.

...Are you serious?” He said disbelievingly.

Neither replied.

His reply was far less humorous as he realized. “You are serious?”

Commander,” Ellis at last spoke, sitting forward in his chair. “When you come through that door everything; every... thing… that is discussed; is serious.”

Yes Dire….”

... And if you think this is some kind of entertainment venue, you can walk right back out of here.” His voice firmed. “Right; now.”

I am sorry Director…” Alexi turned to the woman. “Professor. I meant no disrespect.”

That is debatable commander.” Snorted Ellis. “You are well known for your attitude, sometimes it borders on near arrogance. I tell you this; that there are those in the inner sanctum who argued against you being chosen, to the point of implying that you are dangerous to your own side.”

Director...” Alexi blurted out defensively.

Your loyalty is not under question at this time commander. I accept that. It is how you have occasion to use it.” Ellis grunted as he relaxed back into the cushions.

Alexi,” said Rhea softly into the tense atmosphere. “I know the existence of Earth is relegated to mystics and fringe cultures, and I will readily admit that I too, until recently didn't give the stories too much credit. Each culture needs its legends, we have ours, and strangely or not, it is the same as the Corporations. But we could quite possibly have had a mutual origin with or without it being on a planet on the other side of the galaxy... and before you say it, yes it was very convenient that the arc carrying humankind's entire history was lost. Neither do I know where the remaining arcs; or any trace of them are, or proof that anything in the legends ever existed. It is up to one to believe, and I did not; not until I opened that crushed little spacecraft. Now I know Alexi, Earth does… or did exist.”

Her words were so passionate, so spoken from the heart that Alexi was unable to reply. At last he mumbled a few words. “Professor… Rhea... I‘m sorry. I do not doubt your sincerity. I plead that you are right, and our culture can have had such an origin, rather than being the planet hoppers we know ourselves as. Yes I want to believe, but I can’t. I am a soldier. I must believe what I see for myself.”

That’s enough,” snapped Ellis. “I’ve heard what I want to hear from both of you.” He stood up and walked to the hearth, reached onto the mantelpiece and took a smoking pipe from the shelf. Only the crackle of the fire echoed around the room as he stuffed a small wad of brown shredded leaf into the pipe's bowl. He bent down and lit a taper from the flames and drew deeply. “Well commander?”

For a second Alexi thought he was about to be dismissed.

“… Are you prepared to do what you claim?”

Claim? Director I don’t know what is being asked of me. As I have said I am a soldier. With all due respect, history is, well at least this kind of history, is of no use to me on the bridge of the Warrior.”

Well, that’s where you are so very wrong commander. More wrong than you realize. Our future lies forty thousand turns in the past, and the ship you command is one of the very few that can ensure us any future at all.”

I still don’t understand.” But Alexi lied. He knew what was about to be said, but his heart refused to accept it until he heard the words.

Damn it commander are you thick? I want you to return to the beginning of our history.”

I’ll do it.” Came the immediate and abrupt reply.

What…. Yes…. Well good. Then it is settled.” He looked at Rhea. “Two parts did you say professor?”

Yes.”

Then there is only one more thing. Commander this mission could be far more dangerous than it sounds. I want every single member of your crew to volunteer.”

There will be no problem director. There’s not one of them that haven’t already put their life on the line. When I tell them they will fight for the chance…”

That’s the point, they are not to know.”

Not to know…. Not to know what director?”

Nothing commander. Nothing at all. I want every one of your crew to volunteer to blindly follow you.”

But regulations require my 2.I.C has to be informed?”

Not even your second in command will be told.”

Alexi was a military man he understood security, but their lives depended on logistics. “I understand director, but the Warrior needs appropriate data and adequate fuel, and the crew need suitable provisions.”

Not your navigator, not your engineer, not even whoever it is who runs your canteen. Nobody commander.”

It was a direct order and he tried to hide his displeasure. Even under the condition he had no doubt they all would leap at the opportunity, but his command ran a little differently to that. Yes he was ultimately in control; that was beyond question, but his door was always open. It was what made him... him. What had he been called during his last appraisal? ‘Erratic’. Yes he was, if a good idea came up in a briefing and it wasn’t his, or what he would normally do, he still used it, and on occasion with spectacular results. The Corporation could vouch for that. But this was different; they had a right to know.

Well commander?” Pressed Ellis.

I will put it to my crew as you order director.”

Ellis looked at him coldly as if weighing the answer as defiance. “Do what you want. Tell them what you like, but nothing that will indicate why, what or where they will be going. Understand?”

Alexi nodded sullenly.

Ellis looked at Rhea. “You can give it to him.”

She opened an attaché case laid beside her chair, and took out a green pouch

The other?” said Ellis.

It’s inside,” she handed it to Alexi.

Alexi unclasped the catch. Green was for scientific projects. Inside he saw a data tablet and a smaller red pouch. He looked up at Ellis.

The Green folder contains all the loading and departure information for an exploratory trip to PengisIII,” said Ellis. “Ruins were found there recently, and being as it is in the forbidden zone a warship will seem appropriate for carrying civilians. Basically it says you’re to go in for a quick investigation of the site.”

And the red?” Asked Alexi

When you get to the point designated as limit of last survey, you will contact SeeSay and inform them that you are about to enter uncharted Pengis space. They will tell you to commence the survey. At that point you will open those sealed orders and change your heading to that described in those documents. From that moment you will personally ensure that no further communications leave your vessel. Once done, and not a moment before, you can inform your crew you are about to enter Tachyon space.”

Time travel?” Alexi gasped before he had chance to think.

Ellis grunted. “And how else were you expecting to get there commander?”

Alexi felt compelled to point out the obvious. “Director as a commander it is not for me to question a mission, but…. time options are against the articles of warfare.”

No it is not for you to question orders commander, but as long as you follow a strict secrecy regime, the Corporation will never know; anyway by your reputation, I doubt another transgression would seem to bother you too much.”

Again Rhea came in as peacemaker. “Alexi. Earth is a long way away, even using the closest folds in space-time. Even at light speed it could take many turns to get there. The director tells me that your spacecraft has been into Tachyon time and your back here now.”

Yes. We have bored past the barrier, but purely as a test.” He glanced cautiously at Ellis before continuing. “I assume that it has been revealed to you that the Warrior is one of the few craft that has the hull integrity to attempt such a feat. But it wasn’t outlawed for no reason. There is a distinct chance of disintegration, and for the odds of ending up in another universe?” Alexi opened his arms wide.

She looked at him. “I know the risks. I am prepared to take them.”

Her words surprised him. “You?”

I'm coming with you. Didn't you understand that?”

Well no. I expected a few science officers but?”

I am.”

Of course. I'm sorry. There is so much to consider.”

My party will be small; myself and four others.”

Five, plus the Warriors crew. You know the accommodation arrangements?”

That it is not designed for that many people? I have been told.”

He didn’t look forward to sharing the Warrior with civilians, especially being as at least one of them would be D.S.D, but he tried to sound cooperative. “I'm sure we can manage, though all of our accommodation will be cramped.”

More than you think commander,” said Ellis, “You will also be taking a considerable amount of specialized equipment.”

I see… That’s why the two parts?”

Time for your ship to be stripped of everything, but essentials.”

It is a warship director. I believe everything already has been taken to that level,” he smiled weakly.

That we will see.” Muttered Ellis. “Very well commander. Go, do what is necessary.”

Alexi stood. “There was one thing?”

And that is?”

Tachyon time. I am greatly concerned that my crew will not have the opportunity to consider its consequences before…volunteering.”

We are at war commander. Each time you lift off could be the last. You know that, and they know that. It is something you have already accepted. It is up to you to carry the gravity of the situation to them however you like. But I will warn you that the Warrior will go with your crew, or replacements. With you as commander: or with another. Is that clear?”

Yes Director.”

Ellis looked threateningly at him. “…And any person who happens to find out the destination before you depart will be shipped off to do duty in the furthest mining colony I can find, until you return. Is that clear?”

As crystal Director.”

Ellis looked at the timepiece on the wall. “I will allow you until after the mid meal to make arrangements and inform you’re crew to be back on the seventeenth. Any that are not back will report to fleet administration for reassignment… including yourself.”

Some will have arranged shuttles to their home planets; that is not much time for them to change their plans.”

Then go commander. More time passes even as we talk.”

Alexi walked back to the door. Part of him was bursting with excitement at what lay ahead. He was ready to go now, and he was certain the others would be with him, if only he could tell them. He had never lied to them before; yes he had bent the truth, but not the outright lie he felt he was now faced with. It sat heavily on him. They all could die and not even in a blaze of glory. They would just pop out of existence, and no one would ever know. What the hell if the Corporation found out. They didn't want a burnt cinder any more than the Alliance did. He passed his hand over the door activator and pulled it open; then stopped and turned. Ellis was leaning down towards Rhea. Alexi spoke hesitantly. “The inner sanctum?”

Ellis looked up. “What about it?”

Another commander was considered?”

You are commander of the vessel. Protocol determines that you be considered first.” He went to speak to the professor again but Alexi persisted.

I was spoken against?”

Prove me wrong commander.” Ellis said dismissively as he bent back towards the woman, turning his back on Alexi as if to end the conversation.

Alexi closed the door behind him.

Walking through the blast doors and onto the gantry rail Alexi leaned forward to gaze down at the Warrior. A feeling of pride swept through him. It was always the same. She was his. His alone, how could Ellis have threatened to put someone else in the command seat?

The flowing shape of the sleek saucer showed it was built for both atmosphere and deep space, but those seductive lines were the only thing that pleased him. Around and about it the scene was chaotic. Crates and packages were strewn across the service bay as if a cyclone had been through. Technicians and mechanics jostled for entry: or exit, from the hull; even including the emergency pod. Alexi doubted she: he thought of the Warrior as female, had ever had as many souls on board since she came out of assembly: though that wasn’t that long ago. He ran his hand loosely over the rail and started down the gantry steps.

The voices didn't get louder as he descended, they just became clearer from the clatter and hum of machinery; above them all was the voice of Claries as she demanded and cajoled workers and machinery to their tasks. He had no need to ask, the Warrior was in capable hands, and tonight the adventure would begin.



There was no sensation of movement, other than through the solar shield they could see that the Warrior was slowly lifting off the service floor. Above them the heavy landing bay doors were almost retracted into the ground.

This was it’ thought Alexi, ‘up and off into the wild blackness, to... Well who knew where?’ It did trouble him slightly. Of course on a tour of duty he never knew where they would actually end up. Even pre-academy he had piloted with his father, underage, unqualified, and illegally on a couple of explorations to the forbidden areas. But this time it was different. They really were going out into the unknown. He wondered how she felt; he turned in his chair, nodded to Claries, and looked back towards Rhea. “Professor would you like to give the command?”

Me... Oh... What do I say?”

He smiled to himself. “What comes to your mind?”

Err... Let's go,” she smiled stumbling over the few words, unsure of what was needed.

That'll do.” Already they were moving forwards, and upwards towards the gaping hole in the roof. As the spaceship emerged he looked out beyond the mountains towards the final rays of the setting sol. His eyes lifted slightly to the wide view of their rear presented on a screen above the solar screen. “Number one?”

Claries barely looked up from her workstation. “All systems going mainstream commander. Engines seventeen percent standard drive. Climb rate eighty-five degrees.”

He looked around at the darkening landscape. Terran, when would they see it again. “What did you say before professor?”

Me? Let's go. Was that…”

She needed no answer, with barely a feeling of movement the landscape suddenly dropped below the screen. Outside the dark mountains rapidly became the pitch-blackness of outer space, peppered as it was with many billion specks of light and the white planet shrunk away behind them.

Alexi stood. “You have the ship number one.” He looked down at the seated woman. “Well professor we are on our way. There's nothing for us to do now but wait until we are ready to commence the survey. Can I get you some refreshment?”

No thank you commander. I have much still to do, and right now I need to talk with my associates.” She stood and briskly left the cabin.

For a few moments Alexi stood wondering if he should follow. A guest refusing invitation from the commanding officer was not normal protocol on a warship, but considering she was a civilian, and a scientist at that, maybe she didn’t understand. He decided to take refreshments alone. It was not a wise decision; without a distraction, his doubts began to trouble him. Maybe it was a response he had evolved to counter the unpredictability of conflict; but he liked to run the ship and his life in a regulated way, and events were not working out as he had hoped. He found Rhea a very attractive woman: though of course as commander he couldn't be overly obvious and show his feelings, but since their first meeting he had thought a lot about her and was looking forward to their being forced together on the Warrior. They were both in charge of their respective commands, and maybe in a close working relationship something more could develop? Maybe later back on Terran something even more intimate? Right now that didn't look likely, in fact since she and the other scientists had come aboard, she had almost gone to the point of being dismissive of him. Yes she was engrossed in her work, and apparently had been from the moment the first equipment had arrived on the Warrior, continually attending to some problem or another.

Occasionally she had come for advice, but each time she had seemed to get frostier. So okay an affair was out of the question, but was friendship too much to ask? He shrugged it out of his mind and walked along the narrow; now narrower corridor to the canteen, and opened the door. Three crew members and two scientists were sitting around the table set in the center of the room. The crew huddled at one end and the scientists at the other. So it wasn’t just him. There was a divide already established between the civilians and his own. It was not good, no one knew what was going to happen and they needed to act as a team, He was commander, he couldn't allow things not to flow, even though at his own level he was having the same problems.

It wasn’t his or their making; military and civilians never mixed. It was one of those paradoxes peculiar to the human species. Nobody liked the idea of war and killing, even he if the truth was known, but without an armed defense Terran would have centuries ago become a subsidiary of the Carroll Corporation. Maybe when they all knew what the mission was about it would be different?

The thought suddenly came to him, ‘did the scientists already know?’ It couldn't be just a general survey party, surely that would be wasteful to send simple archeologists rather than planetary specialists. And if they were specialists would their specialty be the same on PengisIII as on Earth? For a moment Alexi was irrationally angry. Had they been picked for their expertise, and knew what was expected of them, yet it was deemed that his crew was less than trustable. Alexi pushed another doubt to the back of his mind. He was falling into the same trap that all the others seemed to be.

Kale,” he said loudly to the central crewmember. Kale was systems analyst. Usually a position of some tedium, for the Warrior generally looked after itself: but not always. Those times, especially in battle, Kales job became colossal. A system off line rendered the Warrior weak, or at worst helpless. That had never come to pass; to Alexi’s mind Kale was the best. “Our guest's requirements are not causing you any problems?”

None that are of any concern Alexi.” He spoke casually, and without any regard that he was talking to his commanding officer; there was no need. Here in the canteen, was the unofficially acknowledged, non-rank area aboard the Warrior. In this small room the lowest to highest ranks would speak their minds, or air their grievances. Alexi had made it clear to every member of the crew that anything went in this room, but outside he expected total commitment. And it had worked, as a team they flowed around any problem like mercury... apparently until now.

A young blond woman was moving her seat making room for Alexi. Kat was weapons officer. She was short, by a head and more than Alexi. Petite; and without being unkind, plainly attractive. Yet probably the most deadly female Alexi had ever met.

The image of a woman behind a gun often didn't sit right on the female gender. It was assumed women’s nurturing, maternal, and preservation instincts would always be stronger, and to a point that was true. Kat had a side so soft and caring that she had gathered a reputation for being an easy meal, or home to any stray creature in the system. But like their casual approach to each other in this room, when she sat in gun bay command, she was a different person; nothing came in the way of her destroying the enemy.

There had been rumors of mistreatment by the Corporation on her birth planet before her sister had smuggled her out. She never spoke of what had happened, or of her family.

Alexi sat between her and Grunt. It was a nickname the second woman wore not with pride, but as more of a statement. Her real name was Wendy. She was the complete opposite to Kat. A tower of a woman, and as strong as any man aboard. Wendy had done her training on fleet freighters, and had worked up to leading engineer. A fellow crewman, drunk in a bar one night had provoked her, laughing to his friends about the noises she made when wrenching open a reluctant bolt or fitting. He lived to regret it, but only just; she lost her position, and almost her freedom. As it was she was reduced in rank, and now was assistant engineer. Since her problem Wendy demanded that all aboard call her Grunt off duty. She claimed it was part of her punishment for not holding her temper, and every moment she needed to be reminded of that. Alexi didn't believe that was true, and he could see a good side to her demotion, it was selfish, but now he had two first class engineers. Alexi thought again how lucky he was to have these people as part of his crew.

Number three with two?” said Kale getting up and stepping a couple of paces to the dispenser.

No. Five with three,” answered Alexi.

Bad orbit, eh?”

Bad four orbits.”

The trip didn’t go too well?” said Kat sympathetically.

Yea, it was great,” he said unconvincingly. “It…just didn't work out exactly as planned.”

She knew enough to ask no more. “How are the girls?”

Terrific. Really good.”

They'll be growing up?”

Yea, a turn away from them, and they seem to have grown ten.” Alexi didn't really want to talk about them so he looked across to the scientists. They were talking quietly between themselves. “No problems with your team?” he enquired of the men.

One, Ferguson Alexi vaguely remembered. He was the smaller of the two; though that was marginal, his main difference was that he appeared more wiry than the second, spoke. “Should there be?”

The question had been more formality than concern and the reply took Alexi by surprise. “If there is I need to know if it will affect the ship?”

Everything is adequate commander. Obviously we would have preferred more room for more equipment, but apparently we have already overused our allowance.”

We are all making sacrifices.” Alexi tried not to sound sarcastic.

Quite so, still I suppose we shall have to wait until the main thrust arrives.”

Main thrust?” echoed Alexi, his interest suddenly aroused.

Until we can organize a major expedition. The ruins will have to be properly excavated.” The man was suddenly standing. He pushed at his companions shoulder. “If you will excuse us. We have work to do.” They quickly left the room.

What was all that about?” Alexi looked at his fellow crewmembers.

Who knows?” said Kale placing a steaming mug in front of him. “They’re a weird lot these scientists.”

Maybe so, but until we get back to Terran… were all going to have to live together.”



It was three hours later that Alexi had chance to talk to Rhea alone, or as close to it as was possible. “I need to know something?”

Go ahead and ask.”

What's the main thrust?”

He was watching her eyes as he spoke. It was imperceptible, but the twitch told him all he needed to know.

The what?”

The main thrust.”

Is it something to do with your engines?”

Her reply annoyed him. “Professor this ship and my crew are at your disposal, but I won't accept putting either at risk.”

Her reply was sharp. “Isn’t that the point of a warship?”

No, the idea is to know what’s we’re up against so there is no risk”.

Well I’m no mystic so I can’t help you.”

I don’t need help, just to know what’s going on.”

Has this got something to do with my work? Or is it some kind of machismo kick you expect as commander of this vessel?”

Against all he knew he let his annoyance get the better of him. “Don’t let's start playing games. Something is going on that I don’t know about, isn’t it?”

Nothing is ‘going on’.” She said firmly, as they stared hostilely at each other. “So is there something else? Or can I get on with my work?” she almost snarled.

Are you going to tell me?”

Tell you what?”

One of your scientists referred to the main thrust, I want to know what he meant?”

Then you should ask him: is that it; are we finished?”

No were not professor, though it seems there is nothing further for us to discuss right now.”

She strode away, leaving him as angry as he had been in ages.



From a distance PengisIII was as uninspiring as Alexi had expected, consequently he took little interest above a cursory inspection. “We are the limit of the last survey.” He said to Rhea stood beside him.

She nodded noncommittally.

It seems it’s time to revisit our directions.”

Apparently so.”

He looked at his second in command. “Inform SeeSay that we are about to enter uncharted Pengis space, then lock the communications console and join us in my cabin.”

Claries looked at him in surprise. “Lock communications commander?”

Yes; it seems or mission is to change and we are now under a secrecy veil.”

Her curt nod of understanding, merged with a continued look of curiosity.



Alexi opened the small safe, put in his hand and withdrew the red satchel. He turned to face Claries coming through the door. He waited until she had shut the door. “Number one. There are some changes to our orders.”

She looked between him and Rhea

Sit down, this may take some explaining.”

She sat alongside Rhea on Alexi’s bunk. Together they looked much the same. Age, build, Claries hair was maybe a little redder. Both striking women: both at the pinnacle, or close to it, in their respective careers, and both very driven personalities.

His second in command listened without the emotion, or the frivolity that Alexi had displayed as he had been briefed on the probe and its implications. She looked at the red pouch. “That’s where were going?”

Yes.” He dropped it on the bench to his side. “I wanted you to know before the rest of the crew. I'm afraid it’s not much before, but I owe you priority.”

I understand.”

I hope you do. These last two parts I have felt guilty of betraying yours and the crews trust.”

It was not of your making or choice commander. In any case we... and I speak for everybody on the Warrior; will go wherever we are needed. You don’t have to explain or remind us of our duty.”

I know. I never doubted. I just wish I could have told you before.”

She looked at the satchel. “Well commander, then let us delay no longer.”

The command deck was packed. It was never designed for this many people at one time. Alexi faced a stunned silence. He had tried to look at everyone's reaction as he announced their destination but it had been impossible.

Everybody, or almost everybody, other than the two scientists from the previous meeting: who seemed a little bored; showed some kind of reaction. “Isn't that very dangerous?” one asked meekly.

Alexi gave a glance to Claries. “Abbot,” she whispered.

Yes Mr. Abbot. It can be, but the Warrior has tunneled on test before.”

But what's the other side. I mean what's there?”

Alexi almost sighed. “I can't answer that.”

Can’t answer.” The scientist said indignantly. “What, it’s some kind of military secret?”

No. I can’t answer because I don’t know.”

You don’t know?”

In theory yes, but not by experience.”

But you said this ship had been there?”

It has. We all have, but it was a controlled exercise. We tunneled, entered Tachyon space, and them immediately dropped back out.”

Observations must have been made?”

Yes and they were given to the directorate.”

And you didn’t look at them?”

The data collectors were sealed, but to all intents and purposes the other side appeared to be the same as this side.”

But you don’t know?”

This is not a suicide mission. There are extreme dangers, so I won't deny or hide them, but there theoretically is no reason why the Warrior will not be able to tunnel safely.”

But right now we don’t have a choice do we?” pressed Abbot

At this point no. This briefing is to inform you, not to get your approval. You all have given that when you signed up. I realize that some of you are not accustomed to deep space travel, but my crew are competent to undertake tunneling, and cope with any contingency…” ‘Well almost any contingency’ he thought. “…That may occur. If any of you would like clarification of anything related to this ship, I'm happy to talk to you individually. If anyone has questions about the purpose of our mission I suggest you talk to Professor Thain.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw her shoot him a look of disapproval. It gave him a satisfied feeling. “Now unless anyone has any more questions, the crew needs to begin preparations?”

Commander.” Alexi turned to Claries as the deck began to clear.

Lieutenant?”

Claries watched the last of the scientist leave as she spoke. “Commander, I would like to ask you something about the mission: rank neutral?”

Alexi quickly looked around the room. “You can number two, but you already know as much as I do?”

Then if I can ask for your opinion?”

I don’t have an opinion; it’s a LOR mission?”

Yes but we’ve never had a Locate, observe and report like this before?”

And are unlikely to ever again.”

It just it seems pointless: I don’t mean pointless, it will answer one of the greatest questions our society has, but what will it achieve?”

Alexi smiled; the answer was self-evident. “It will answer one of our most puzzling questions?”

Earth: if it exists, was victim to runaway greenhouse; pressure at its surface would crush the Warrior. Lead would melt in its heat; there will be nothing left to explore, do we really want to know that?”

The answers we seek are not always the ones we want to hear?”

Then why the scientists; why all the equipment. The Warrior is already equipped to observe and report?”

Alexi nodded; it was something he had wondered too. “Maybe they suspect the myths are wrong?”

And what if they are; what if our ancestors are still there. What do we do, land and say hello?”

Is that what you are thinking, or are you speaking for the crew?”

I am one of the crew.”

Alexi drew in a breath before he answered. “We are soldiers; we do not have the luxury of knowing what the sanctum knows, or intends. We can only add to what ever it is?”

And if it is first contact?”

You have seen the sealed orders; if Earth put up a sign saying welcome; we are not authorized to make the first move. So you can put everyone’s mind at risk: LOR; locate, observe and report is what our mission is and what it will be; though.” Alexi smiled. “Maybe if we prove both us and the Corporation are one they will come to the negotiating table and end this war. If what we are to do will achieve that then it will be the most successful mission we have ever undertaken.”

Claries nodded. “Thank you commander.”

You are welcome number two.” Alexi watched as Claries returned to the command chair: his mind in turmoil.

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