Filed under: Health, personal development, Politics | Tags: 2017, celebrity, death, EHCR, Good Friday Agreement, human rights, terrorism
Two days into Twenty Seventeen and we’ve already had the terrorist shooting in Istanbul and another mass shooting at a new year’s party. We are being told that a terrorist attack on British soil is inevitable. Am I worried? Surprisingly not in the slightest.
When I say I am not worried I mean I’m not worried about a terrorist attack. Statistically we are all in a lot more danger from dying as a result of an air crash or road accident than at the hands of a terrorist. I am far more concerned that our politicians are going to use the supposed threat of a terrorist attack to further curtail our liberties and to spy upon our every day activities. I am concerned that our politicians’ eagerness to reject the European Convention on Human Rights will undermine the Good Friday Agreement and expose us to the possibility of renewed paramilitary violence in the North of Ireland and to bombings on the mainland. I am worried that withdrawing from the ECHR will provide the Westminster government with an opportunity to destroy the limited devolution settlement Scotland now enjoys and anxious that it will lead to a further diminution of employment rights. The threat of Islamic terrorism against targets in the UK is very low on the list of things that concern me. I see the rise of the Right and of post Brexit xenophobia as far more dangerous to the UK than Islamic extremism.
I have to admit that I can see no logical reason for fearing death. Death is inevitable and no amount of fear will prevent it, only an idiot fears it. On the other hand it is equally stupid to unnecessarily seek death, except possibly in the face of debilitating illness. The upset of bereavement makes a degree of sense, it is natural to be upset when we lose someone we love. However death is inevitable and we will inevitably lose people we love, everyone we know will eventually give up this physical body and move on to something else. There is little point in speculating what comes next because we can’t know until we get there, assuming there is anywhere to get to. If all that awaits us is oblivion then there is certainly no logical cause for fear.
Last year was marked by the deaths of many much loved celebrities as well as many less widely known benefactors of humanity in various fields, some of whom may have contributed more to the world in practical than even David Bowie. There is a meme on social media at the moment showing Bruce Forsyth saying “I made it, you bastards!” referring to the perception that Twenty Sixteen had been massacring entertainers; and, of course, there is the ever popular meme, “Breaking News: Keith Richard found alive!” The fact is that every year actors, musicians, academics, writers, politicians, and many other people well known in various fields will die and this year will be no exception. While our beloved celebrities are dying there will be many ordinary people dying from illness, war, the effects of the UK Government’s austerity measures, unjust sanctioning of the sick and disabled, road accidents, natural disasters and many other causes and most of us won’t even notice. No one life is worth more than any other, nor any less. Every life should be celebrated and every death marked with respect.
Many of us will die this year. Perhaps some of us by violence, hopefully not. The inevitability of our deaths is not cause for anxiety, nor upset. That we must die is an excellent reason for enjoying our lives to the utmost while we have them. We are all as capable of joy as we are of sadness, so why not choose to have fun? Our joy is not caused by our circumstances, but by how we relate to them. I don’t have any plans to die this year, but I’m not going to worry about the possibility which will be there every year until it isn’t (or I am not). My plan for this year is to live every second to the fullest, anything else is a waste of a precious gift. As for everyone else’s lives, I intend to celebrate them whether they are alive or not. Now I shall retire for the night and probably celebrate Leonard Cohen or Elvis perhaps. So many lives then and now and each (even the worst) carries a gift that deserves to be celebrated.
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
I stayed for a week helping Simeon understand the frieze. Once we’d identified Earth and Keppler the cartographers started looking for clues to the frieze from among their charts. I returned to Obamapolis and Eva, leaving behind a project that might last for generations.
I returned to troubleshooting for Bennie’s trying not to allow the Valley of the Kings to haunt my dreams. I had expressed my views, it was not for me to try and deny anyone the right to make their own choices. After one trip I got home to find Eva excited.
“What’s wrong, what happened?” I asked anxiously.
“You did it!” She exclaimed. “You bought the Roddenberry! You’ve just got to have the confirmation witnessed at the Mayor’s office.”
The Mayor was as surprised as anyone. He asked me what I intended to do with Roddenberry. I hadn’t really thought about it, so I asked him how long we had to wait before we continued the ongoing colonisation program.
“Well S-7 is established, but there’s no need to push on yet. However with funding we could launch an expedition. Unfortunately we couldn’t authorise public money until there is a demonstrable need to find a new colony and that won’t be for generations.” He mused.
“What if an expedition was privately funded?” I asked.
“It would depend on how many colonists there were. Theoretically anyone could voluntarily participate on a privately financed expedition.”
I decided then to speak to the Astronomical and Exploration Institute to see whether there were any strong candidates for colonisation. But first I thought I’d better mention my intentions to Eva rather than surprise her with a plan for a new adventure in which she had no hand in designing. As I spoke of my ideas for the Roddenberry I noticed the grey in her hair and asked her if she regretted our lack of children. She smiled.
“It might have been nice.” She said, “But I think in all honesty we’ve been too busy to bring up a family. Besides we have had a good time without children to distract us.” She sat and looked at me for a while before saying, “I may be too old now to have children, but if you do want them, my eggs were frozen before the expedition began. If they’re still viable we could still have children.”
The next day she told me that one of her laboratory assistants – born a decade after our arrival – was willing to carry Eva’s child for her. Becoming parents would delay the start of any expedition, but if the eggs were yet viable they might not be after another long voyage and we could not set out with a young baby. In the end we decided to go ahead and if successful use the extra years to prepare an expedition to Epsilon Ten the nearest viable planet which would require minimal terraforming.
We were successful and I more or less ceased my wandering in the wilds, having discovered again how much entertainment a child can provide. Not one, but two. A couple of years later we used Eva’s laboratory to fertilise a second egg and so by the time our expedition was ready we had a seven year old boy, Vladimir Cane and the sweetest five year old daughter, Anya. The only colonial ship we would take was the Roddenberry, who seemed quite excited at the prospect – I really do feel machines can feel excitement although some would think that ridiculous. We secured the services of the Britannia as our escort. DC had retired, but vouched for the ability of the young Captain, Sean O’Rourke. In the Valley of the Kings the archaeologists were still at work deep within the mountain tunnels and in his stasis pod my Grandfather still slept.
The new colonists seemed so young as they boarded the Roddenberry. Young and optimistic. All the children of settlers and all wanting to move on and carve out a new life for themselves. Their families saw them off with many tears because we all knew this would be the last time they would meet. We left knowing that we no longer play a role in the development of S-7 and in the events of the settlements. I left with some anxiety because I was leaving my Grandfather asleep and for all their research the archaeologists had never explained his presence. However we have to each make our own choices, the archaeologists and government had chosen not to seal the stasis pod in concrete and I chose not to remain. As in the past I would remain out of stasis, but Eva and the children along with the other colonists would spend most of the flight in stasis. Before she entered stasis she said to me that she was looking forward to setting up a new home on E-10.
“I’m sorry,” I asked,” What did you say?”
“I’m looking forward to E-10. Why what did you think I said?”
I laughed, “For a moment there I thought you said ‘Eden’!”
“Perhaps it will be a new Eden…good name for a colony.” She observed.
“If it hadn’t been used already,” I replied.
“Our own paradise.” Eva smiled. She kissed me and climbed into the pod.
“My paradise is wherever you are.” I said as I closed the lid.
So a new Eva and a new Eden, but we would not – I hoped – be walking with God in the garden.
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
The techies replaced the lid immediately. Everyone looked surprised, but such was my vehemence even the archaeologists didn’t try and stop me. Later Eva asked me what had happened and I told her. For now I merely told them that the giant in the box was was the creator of the Shoggoths and that it was not safe for any of us to allow him to wake. Despite my misgivings the archaeologists were determined to conduct an exhaustive examination of the site. Eva and I went back to Obamapolis when it was time to collect more supplies and equipment for a prolonged stay.
Back in the Capital everyone was agog for news about the site. Because it was impossible to get a comms signal in the ‘Valley of the Kings’ as the archaeologists had nicknamed the site the reports from the site were intermittent as each one meant a substantial walk before the broadcaster could start transmitting. I was leaving the studios after being interviewed when I encountered the Bishop. As he questioned me about the site I thought I might be able to enlist his help in getting the dig closed, so I mentioned to him that the site told the story of the creation of Humankind and offered to show him. He accepted and I would have added his name to the other dignitaries who were to visit, but I invited him instead to come back with me and the supplies.
A couple of days later before I left I received a price for Roddenberry a twelve digit number. I agreed the price, and gave a list of the things I thought should be included.
Shepherd Cain was as excited as a young boy. I spent the journey telling him the bare bones of my story with one exception, but it was a big one. Needless to say he asked all the usual questions and I answered many, others I told him would have to wait until we reached the Valley of the Kings.
As the Bishop and I made our way on foot or more accurately I, on foot and he, on a mule. The construction workers we had brought with us were beginning to make the track navigable for All Terrain Vehicles. As we headed towards the ridge we were followed by the noise of saws and bulldozers as the path was widened. It occurred to me that if the archaeologists weren’t going to lave well alone they might be glad of a quick exit.
When I took Simeon Cane into the now well lit tunnels to the ‘tomb’ he was fascinated by the reliefs on the walls. We looked into some of the smaller rooms where one of the team – not an archaeologist – but a zoologist – told us that what we had thought were stone tables seemed to be dissecting or embalming tables as evidenced by a drain with space for a portable receptacle. That an alien scientist was lying in stasis in the middle of his laboratory was a thought that gave me no comfort whatsoever.
In the tomb the lifting gear was still attached to the closed box. Simeon asked what it was, I replied,
“All in good time. First I want you to look at the frieze.” I conducted him around the frieze from the picture of Earth with a man and a woman standing on it, past the various events many of which appeared to be accounts of terraforming at a level we could only dream of. However it was possible that many of the planets we were able to adapt for settlement had once been terraformed by the occupant of the box. We came to the statue of the bearded giant with the man and woman on one side and the Shoggoth, the hybrid Shoggoth/Man and a man emerging from cauldron.
“Is that you?” Asked Simeon peering closely.
“It would appear so.” I replied “And these are my mother and father.” I pointed to the other figures.
“And this?” asked Simeon, indicating the huge central figure.
“The creator of Adam and Eve, you probably call him God or by some name. I call him Grandfather. He’s the one who genetically manipulated my curse, he is the creator of the Shoggoth and who knows what other creatures. Some of the things on these friezes are probably the fruits of his experiments.”
“Are you telling me he existed, a mere creature?” Demanded the Bishop.
“Oh not a ‘mere creature’. If he was seen as a god it’s because to all intents and purposes he was one. Not the only one, but powerful beyond human comprehension” I replied.
“It’s impossible!” He declared, “Its blasphemy! How dare you? How could you? God is omnipotent, universal!”
“Not this one.” I said, bluntly.
“No you’re wrong, you must be wrong!”
I looked him in the eye and asked,
“Whatever did you think ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves’ meant?” I continued, “God created man in the image in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”
Tears were running down his face as he sank to his knees. I felt sorry for him.
“Simeon, look at me!”
He raised his face and I spoke to him again. “There is nothing wrong with your faith, but this is not your God. Yes we gave rise to the myths from which your faith grew, but your faith evolved. If you look at the old religions of the Old Gods they were brutal and thrived on violence and blood, but like the believers the religions evolved…to an extent anyway. As you rose above the old barbarism you created a god in your own image, a reflection of the perfection to which you aspired. Unfortunately you poured your new wine into old skins” I pointed to the box, “My Grandfather –lying in this stasis chamber – is the old skin. Don’t pour your faith into him. The best thing you can do is to convince people to fill this chamber with concrete so that he can never spread his cruelty again through the universe!”
Even as I spoke I understood that what I condemned as cruelty was not; it was curiosity and a need for affection. The Old Gods had left when they no longer had the adulation of their creatures. Who knew where they had gone – the McGuinness twins believed they had returned whence they came somewhere in deep space. A more worrying question was why was my Grandfather here, in stasis.
I could tell from the expression on Simeon’s face that he was not going to help me have the chamber sealed and so I said to him,
“Whatever we do we need to understand why he is here. Perhaps there is a clue somewhere among all these carvings. You need to understand what will happen should he awaken.”
He was still kneeling looking dazed and so I added,
“This is too much to take in so quickly, I am sorry.”
Eventually he managed to compose himself. We sat quietly, alone. The others had mysteriously left us alone – humans can be sensitive. At last he asked,
“May I see him?”
I operated the hoist so that the Bishop could look at the origin of his religion. He looked at the face of the Old God and then at the statue, back to the sleeper. I closed the box.
We sat in silence my arm around his shoulders. We sat in silence for a long time and I wondered if perhaps I had been too cruel in exposing him to all this.
“Perhaps you should.” I said, “Think of him, not as God, but more like a prophet. At the very least you now know that there is substance to the stories people have dismissed as mere myths.”
“I’m not sure that’s a comfort.” He gave a sad smile. The smile broadened. “This may shake up the faith, but it’s going to hit the followers of Dawkinism even harder.” He began to laugh, “God is real, we found his body!”
I worried that he might turn hysterical, but he calmed down and after a few moments said, “We’re all going have to rethink everything we know.”
“From Earth via Keppler and every colony, the scientists have been following a God in whom most of them didn’t believe.” I added.
It’s going to be all right, isn’t it?” He asked.
“It usually is in the end,” I assured him,” But I’d still be inclined not to wake him. Certainly not before you understand all these,” I waved towards the frieze, “And examined every inch of these tunnels!”
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
The next morning we met at the Zeppelin moorings and headed for the mountains. The round trip would take us three days. By the time we got back I’d have an idea of the best route and the equipment we’d need. We took Doctor Llewellin Jenkins of the Cartography Corps to record our observations on the map. After several months on the ground it felt good to be in the air again and the mountains are spectacular in summer. No matter how carefully you select your seeds for a new planet there’s always something that gets carried away with itself. The supposedly non-invasive rhododendrons we’d introduced were romping across the foothills in a riot of colour. Eva – who had seized the opportunity of the expedition to assess the progress of the mountain planting – was heard complaining several times that “they weren’t supposed to do that”, but do that they did. She was very excited to discover a new climbing rhododendron. My biggest concern was that the abundance of plant growth would make travel on foot hard work.
When we reached the valley I had to admit the structures looked as if they were build by design rather than nature. It would have been good to have been able to land in the valley but the wind currents were unpredictable with savage cross currents and eddies so we had to maintain a height that made examination of the structures impossible. The good thing was that we found a suitable landing place in a neighbouring valley. It’s strange how a difference in shape and alignment can make such a difference to atmospheric conditions in the hills. In the windy valley, we noticed the vegetation was much more sparse than elsewhere in the mountains at that altitude. Having found a place to land we camped there for the night. Having spent the previous night in the air it was nice to have the opportunity to walk on firm ground.
The next morning after another overflight of the structures we started back to Obamapolis. Because by nightfall we were back over the lowland plains we could have moored and camped, but I preferred just to keep going and so we arrived back at base in the early hours. The next couple of weeks were spent in preparation for the expedition. I began to be anxious that one Zeppelin wouldn’t be enough to carry all the equipment the various corps wanted to carry. The geologists and botanists wanted to take sample cases. The cartographers and archaeologists wanted surveying equipment. They all wanted photographic equipment. I insisted on a squad of marines. Then there was camping equipment, food and medical supplies. As well as all this a number of pack mules. What had began as a small archaeological trip had become an interdisciplinary expedition which made it easier to get approval, but provided many more head aches for those of us responsible for its success. I managed to cut down on some weight by having the different groups share equipment wherever possible, but I found myself thinking thinking I should have insisted people take only what they were prepared to carry.
At last the day of departure came and hundreds came to see us off. It’s easy to forget in an older community just how hard life is in the early days of a colony and how little there is to provide relief from the daily grind. Opportunities for travel are few and knowledge of your planet limited so the departure of the expedition was a source of excitement. We would be sending back daily illustrated bulletins which would go to all the settlements and fill the daily broadcasts supplemented by hours of analysis by experts. Prominent among the experts would be Professor Friedland who wanted to go on the expedition, but was by then far too old to travel. The watching crowds were as excited as the expeditionaries themselves. The atmosphere was like a school trip to the seaside as the Zep lifted off to the cheering of the crowd. The solar panels on the top surface of the bag allowed the cameramen to send a live feed of the journey and the cartographers took it in turns to provide a commentary on what the viewers were seeing. Later when we were on foot they’d have to be more selective in their filming, but for now they could treat the audience to a view of the planet beyond the settlements.
With the Zeppelin so heavily laden it took us a full two days to reach the landing site in the mountains. The first night we camped on the plain before we entered the hills. The next night we were tied up at the mountain anchorage. As we couldn’t offload our supplies and equipment until daylight the cameramen spent the hours before bed filming interviews with anyone willing to talk while they still had access to the airship’s power supply.
Most of the next day was spent in winching supplies and equipment to the ground. We lost one of the mules. It panicked as it was lowered from the Zeppelin and somehow slipped out of the sling, fell head first to the ground and broke its neck. Had it not been for the wind conditions we might have been able to parachute most of the supplies straight to the site instead of carrying them. Now with a mule short there was more carrying to do than anticipated. It was late afternoon before we completed unloading the ship and so we didn’t start walking until after breakfast the next day.
“It’s gone!” One of the young botanists came running back into the camp where we were just finishing loading the mules.
“What’s gone?” I asked.
“The mule, the dead mule. Something’s taken it!”
“Okay, calm down and breathe.” I turned to the Captain of Marines, “Can you take a couple of men and take a look?”
“Sir!” He saluted and went off into the jungle with three men.
Half an hour later they returned having followed the drag marks until the suddenly vanished. There had been what appeared to be tracks, but they had disappeared with the drag marks. The zoologists had no idea what it was, but suggested that just as the ‘dragons’ were merely mutated chickens it might be an undocumented mutation. However none of the zoologists wanted to remain behind to investigate while the expedition proceeded without them so we set off for the structures. It was a slow journey as the marines had to cut a path for us, but the pace favoured the botanists who could take samples without delaying us at all. Later that day we camped in a clearing by a waterfall. After the incident of the missing mule we set up an electrified perimeter fence and the marines mounted guard in shifts, but the night was uneventful as was the next. We reached the structures in the evening of the third day of walking. It was obvious immediately that they were not natural as the regular stones were covered with pictograms. I refused the archaeologists permission to start investigating that night as we were all tired from the three days of walking. I don’t think anyone slept as well as they’d have liked, as well as the excitement of the discovery the winds blew through the structures which caused an eerie moaning.
The next morning we were up early the caterers had set up a field kitchen and they provided a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. Muesli for the vegetarians – centuries of space travel hadn’t changed the reality that there’s always more on the menu for meat eaters then vegetarians – or a omelette if they wanted. Washed down with hot tea and coffee the breakfast set us up well for a busy day.
What became quickly apparent was that the ruins were more extensive than we had realised as the structures extended back into the mountain which had been excavated. The archaeologists reckoned that much of the building stone was from the excavation. It was also discovered that the hillocks around the valley were not natural, but rather spoil heaps from the evacuations. The spoil heaps extended far down the valley until they were swallowed up by the tree line. The scientists immediately set about taking samples to explain the lack of vegetation in the area there was an amount of moss and some fungus. Had not initial microscopic examination revealed it bore no structural resemblance to the D-4 fungus I might have ended the expedition there and then, but I didn’t.
The first couple of days were spent by the archaeologists and cartographers mapping the external structures. As they did so the photographers took photos as directed by the archaeologists. They were excited to find some symbols reminiscent of carvings found in the Egyptian tombs as well as other Earth cultures. However despite the recurrent images they were unable to decipher the underlying language, if there was one. One benefit of the delay in entering the structures was that we could use our solar panels to ensure all our equipment was charged before we entered on the third day.
It was agreed that the ruins should be investigated one door at a time. Personally I didn’t think they looked like ruins, more like buildings left empty while their owners were elsewhere. I didn’t feel any need to share that opinion after another night of the strange, wind made noises. One thing we discovered was that there were many apertures cut like the mouthpieces of whistles so the eerie noises were deliberate. The marine sergeant suggested that it might be to keep people away. The question that raised in my mind was ‘who and what happened to them?’. The archaeologists speculated that it may well have had the function of inspiring religious awe in those approaching the place. One obvious feature of the outer rooms was their lack of furniture apart from a low stone bench or shelf around the walls. One of the marines sat down on the bench and the seat immediately lowered slightly, there was a noise as if of grinding gears and one of the stones in the wall moved a little. The marine sprang up and dived away from the bench, but nothing further happened.
“No one touch anything until the boffins have had a look!” Ordered the Captain of Marines, “Oh and tread carefully.” I suppose it’s fortunate that none of the party had ever seen an Indiana Jones film or – like me – they might have preferred to get out and go home. However they knew no better than to carry on. As we went further into the structure we marked out our way manually in case we lost the signal to the succession of beacons we left as we went. We numbered each doorway as we passed in sequence, it occurred to me that I was the only one in the party who had seen The Labyrinth, again I thought it best to say nothing. As we progressed into the mountain the doors became smaller and the ceilings lower until suddenly everything opened into a large chamber with a higher ceiling. The technicians set up the big lights.
“Now this room is obviously some sort of temple!” Declared the chief of the archaeological team. Towards the back of the room was a large statue of a seated, bearded figure, on his head like a headdress a snake, its head protruding in an ‘S’ shape from his right temple the tail similarly from the left. In his right hand he held two chains, at their ends were collared a man and a woman. His left hand pointed down to three cauldrons from the left hand one emerged a Shoggoth, from the right a man and from the centre another man who had both arms and the tentacles of the Shoggoth emerging from various points on his body.
“Aha,” exclaimed the archaeologist, “This is obviously a creation myth showing God making both Man and Shoggoth”
“Why are they called Shoggoths,” asked one of the marines, “How does anyone know that’s their name?”
“It’s borrowed from Lovecraft,” I informed him. “Just as Dilithium is borrowed from Star Trek. During our tracels when we find something that reminds is of something we’ve just borrowed names. HP Lovecraft wrote about the Shoggoths which were not quite like ours, but they shared the main features and so ours became Shoggoths.”
I turned to the archaeologist and asked him, “Might it not be, Doctor, that rather than religious myth this might actually reflect symbolically what actually happened?”
He laughed and replied, “It’s unlikely. However the theme of creatures emerging from pots seems to occur frequently around the frieze. Look that looks like a man and woman standing on a planet, no one is that big.”
I objected “Can’t actual events be represented symbolically?”
“Of course they can. I wonder if this is the starting point for a visit to Earth, that could be Earth if the continents weren’t wrong.” He mused.
“Perhaps they had already been to Earth and stopped here on their way home.” I countered when a shout came from nearer the statue.
“Bloody hell, this looks just like Colonel Cain!”
“Stow the language, Sergeant!” Snapped the Captain before adding, “Bloody hell, you’re right…actually they both look like Cain!”
I took a look and said, “They are obviously human faces, but I certainly don’t have tentacles nor do any of my family, I might have noticed a thing like that” I laughed and remarked, “I am sure Doctor Tenzing here will tell you these are nothing more than symbolic representations.”
The archaeologist was looking from the statues to my face and back, his mouth open and his eyes wide in astonishment.
“They could be a portrait!” He exclaimed.
“Except logically they couldn’t.” I reminded him, “We have only just arrived so the sculptor could never have seen me.”
“Unless they saw you on Earth and made this after they left, but that’s impossible.” He said smiling as he gathered his composure again. He thought for a moment before saying, “I seem to remember there is a myth about a man from the dawn of time doomed to wonder the Earth for eternity…”
“But it’s just a myth.” I concluded firmly before adding “I wonder what this is in front of the statues?”
Everyone’s attention turned to the large stone block in front of the statues. The block was unmarked except for four symbols, two the same, separated by a cross. A line around the block suggested the edge of a close fitting lid. As it was getting late we agreed to return the next day with lifting gear to examine the block, box or whatever it was. By the time we got back to the tents it was dark, we had somewhat lost track of time. One of the guards called out and the fence was turned off so we could enter the camp. Eva – leading the botanists and zoologists – remarked that they had been wondering whether to send a search party. When one of the marines said,“We found a statue of Cain.”. Eva decided she’d come with us the next day.
I explained to Eva that the statue did look a little like me, but that it was very ancient and probably was just a generic humanoid form. She gave me one of those funny looks that only women can, usually when you arrive late with an elaborate excuse. She continued to look at me.
“I mean how could it possibly be me? Besides there’s two of them and one’s got tentacles!” I protested.
Still she said nothing for what seemed like hours. At last she said, “Don’t forget I’ve seen your sealed files and they don’t tell more than a fraction of your story!” She smiled and added, “I might learn a little more about you tomorrow.”
“You know more than enough.”
Eva seized the last word, “Never, I am, in this at least, a stereotypical woman.”
I managed not to reply with ‘like my mother!’
Most of next morning while the techies were transporting the lifting gear into the ‘temple’ as the archeologists were calling it Eva and I examined the various carvings in the company of some archaeologists. She and they were pleased when she identified several of the plants in the carvings. She stopped at one and asked the archaeologists what they thought.
“It appears to be a humanoid with flames or light coming from his mouth” Said one of them. Eva turned to me and said,
“Could this be what caused the evacuation of B-4?”
I shuddered, but as I looked closer it occurred to me that the ‘flames’ might well be the fungus from B-4. I said as much. The archaeologists looked excited,
“If that image Tenzing pointed out yesterday was in fact, Earth and this is B-4, it’s possible the whole frieze is an account of the journey of whoever built this temple!” one exclaimed.
Just then the techies announced that they were ready to lift the lid of the box. I chose to walk around the frieze before coming to the end of the story which the box seemed to represent. The last image was the bearded man sitting in what appeared to be a bath. I wondered id perhaps it was the box. I pointed out the image and suggested the box may be a coffin, a coffin over fifteen feet long.
“So this may be a tomb.” Said Doctor Tenzing, “Let’s find out!” He indicated that the lifting should start.
As the lid came up we could see a dull blue glow coming from the inside of the box. The techies swung the lid off to one side so that we could look inside. The vapour that came off didn’t concern us as we were wearing respirators as per procedure. As the mist cleared we found ourselves looking into what appeared to be a block of ice and in it a figure. Suddenly I understood why the statue looked familiar. I was looking into the sleeping face of my Grandfather.
“Get that lid back on now!” I ordered. “It’s not a tomb, it’s a stasis pod!”
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
Sigma Seven was one of three planets in the system that had been identified as capable of sustaining human life and of the three S-7 needed the least work. The major task would be to ensure soils suitable for Earth crops but first came providing the atmosphere. S-7’s atmosphere needed little tinkering as it was classed as ‘Earth like’, a few adjustments to the balance of gasses and we were ready to roll.
My team were among the first down after the perimeter of the first settlement was established. While no life forms other than some vegetation had been identified, over the centuries we had learned not to take any unnecessary chances. Once we were down we set about putting our Zeppelin together and inflating it. Because S-7’ s gravity was lower than that of Earth which took as our baseline we didn’t need as much lift. I was pleased as I always liked to have spare Zeppelinium, just in case. We flew the scientists out to collect soil and mineral samples as well as water and vegetation for analysis back at base.We carried the cartographers and the surveyors who generally worked together rather than duplicate measurements.
Eva and I didn’t get much time together as I was out so much and she was busy. Fortunately the Colonisation protocols enforced a day off in every ten so we synchronised our off days to spend time together. Sometimes she came out with me on my flights so that she could study specimens in situ. We even went swimming in the great lake – more like a freshwater sea – Lake Kennedy. The fish stocks were flourishing so that night we and the crew had trout for dinner caught by the crew on rods that had mysteriously found their way on board. Eva packed several trout in ice ‘for sampling by the laboratory staff’.
“Scientific sampling?” I asked.
“But of course…it will be an opportunity to field test some of our outdoor crops.” Eva grinned, “Besides why should you cowboys get all the fun?”
While we were exploring and the scientists were confirming the safety of the planet for the colonists, we had construction crews preparing the accommodations for the first colonists and the landing pads for the ships. Meanwhile the agriculturalists were trialling the first crops. The colonists wouldn’t be revived until the Professor was content we could feed them which would be after the second harvest. However during the intervening months there would be an increasing number of specialists awakened and brought to the surface.
The one group of specialists we had no intention of waking early was the diplomats. Both the military and the scientists preferred to get their work done without the meddling of politicians and civil servants. So while the politicians slept we got on with preparing the settlement. We surveyed the possible sights for the main settlements and the routes in between them.
The one benefit of the Shoggoth attack was that we no longer had to worry about Governor Osbourne. He had for some reason insisted on a transfer to the Arthur C. Clark rather than remain on the Roddenberry when the expedition was gathered. I must admit that however glad I was that he was not with us, the thought of him being devoured by a Shoggoth horrified me. It was I who suggested that we should name the administrative building in his honour a suggestion that was well received by the diplomatic community who seemed to hold Osbourne in higher regard than the other groups. The administration was taken over by the Mayor Thomas Jackson.
In the ordinary scheme of things as each settlement was established a member of the Diplomatic Corps would be appointed Mayor each reporting to the Colonial Governor. Jackson was the most senior of the trained mayors and so the first to take up office when the first base was established. Surprisingly he retained his title as Mayor of Obamopolis rather than that of Governor of Sigma Seven. He argued that the governorship of the Colony should be settled later once there were more settlements established. As long as there was only one settlement there was no need for a governor and he was quite able to undertake the functions of both roles on a temporary basis.
The Commodore – Eddie Hussein – with his work done and his deep space career finished took on the job of Chief of Security. We saw the destroyer crews only when they came to the surface for shore leave, but that was fairly frequent. DC, the Chief, Eva, and I managed to get together for dinner quite often. As chief scientist on the agricultural and horticultural programs Eva had access to some of the best fresh food so these were occasions to which we all looked forward. I’ll never forget the expression on DC’s face when he was presented with what Eva called ‘just simple fare’. His eyes widened then closed for a moment and then he exclaimed,
“It’s bacon. It’s real fucking bacon! Oh my god it’s years since I tasted real bacon.”
I interrupted. “Technically it’s centuries, but you were asleep for much of the time.”
“Whatever, it still tastes good.”
When Eva announced there were three rashers each, DC groaned in ecstasy. I commented,
“I wonder how Roddenberry would interpret that groan.”
As the settlers were being awakened in groups it soon became time to set up a second and third settlement. The best thing about this for me was that it meant the construction of the Bennie Railplane tracks. The first two were over gently rolling country, but after that the tracks had to be built over the mountains. It was much easier to construct a Railplane track than dig tunnels through mountains. There were a couple of steeper sections that required a chain drive to lift the plane up the gradient, but the modern Railplane could handle most of the gradients with which it was confronted. I was friendly with most of the Bennie Company engineers, I didn’t mention that I was the one who had suggested the use of the Railplane for colonies as it would render sealing my files a waste of time.
My Zeppelin was moored above Bennie’s construction camp in the Shiva Mountains when I received a text from the Chief of Security in Obamopolis. One of the technicians in the Diplomatic Corps had discovered anomalies in the expedition logs that suggested that I had remained out of stasis for the whole voyage. As I wasn’t in either the civil or military structures I should have been safe enough, but it was almost certain that I was going to come under unwelcome scrutiny. I was grateful Osbourne wasn’t around to make an issue of things. He might have used a judicial process to access my records. It was about eight months since I switched from Zeppelins to the Railplane. Riding alone troubleshooting the Railplane lines meant I was out of sight and less likely to remind people that there might be a mystery to investigate. It’s a lot easier to sneak in and out of town on horseback than it is to arrive unnoticed on a Zeppelin. I had suspected that something was in the wind when Roddenberry told me that the Dip Corps were auditing his records. My papers – thanks to General Sikorski – identified me as a full colonel in Deep Space Tactical.Had my records been unsealed the investigators would have found plenty of other ranks and titles, but a DST commission was explanation enough for my sealed records.
It wasn’t long after my message from the Chief that I delivered the dragon meat into Obamapolis. It was well received and I made a tidy amount on it even after the cost of refrigerated transport. I put the money into Eva’s account. She objected, but I explained my reasoning,
“Have you any idea how rich I am? I have caches of valuables across the Earth and the universe, I have bank accounts that have been accumulating interest since commercial banking was invented.”
“You can’t be that rich!” She argued.
“Can I buy you something ridiculous to prove it?” I asked.
“Don’t be silly!” Eva laughed, then something in my expression stopped her. “Okay,” She challenged, “Buy me the Roddenberry”
I opened a comms channel and organised a communication to Fleet Headquarters asking to buy the ship. It would take weeks for the reply to arrive. Although as we travelled we left a chain of comms satellites along our route the distance still made communication a slow process, but quicker than the physical process of transporting people long distances. I sent the signal and then forgot all about it.
The next day I was asked to visit the Mayor’s office. I attached my DST Colonel’s insignia to my collar just to send a verbal signal of my untouchability. When I entered the office Mayor Jackson stood to greet me. In the room were the Chief, an old man with a clerical collar and an officer of the Archaeology and Antiquities Corps.
“How can I help you?” I asked taking the empty chair beside the Mayor’s desk.
“Colonel Cain…” began the Mayor, but I interrupted him.
“Just ‘Cain’, please.” I said.
“Cain, may I introduce Doctor Gustav Steiner of the Archaeology and Antiquities Corps and the Right Reverend Simeon Cain Bishop of Sigma Seven?” The Mayor said.
“Bishop? Not much of a diocese.” I grunted.
“It’s a missionary and pastoral role.” Said the old man.
“You said your name was Cain, how old are you, Bishop?” I asked him.
“As you say the title ‘Bishop’ is meaningless, I just think of myself as an ordinary Shepherd. As for my age, If you deduct the time spent in stasis I am now a hundred and seventy.” He looked at me expectantly, I think I inadvertently gave him the opening he sought when I continued,
“It’s a very good age and you look well for it.”
“I blame it on good genes he said.
“Go on.” I invited
The old man produced a series of photos which he said proved I was very much older than I professed to be. I asked him if he could show me his genealogy. I examined it and then said.
“There is a good reason that my files are sealed. Anything I say now is in strict confidence some of these pictures are indeed of me but Henry Cain-Barker isn’t me merely a descendent who resembles me at that time I was working under the name ‘Scot Cain’. And in answer to the question you so obviously want to ask, yes you are descended from me.”
“Actually,” said Simeon Cain, “I wanted to ask whether it is true. Are you the Cain?”
“And if I were you’d have lots more questions, if I had time perhaps I would answer them, but I’m busy.” I said with finality. I felt a little sorry to see the disappointment on my great – I wondered how many greats – great grandson’s face.
The Mayor spoke, “It’s about being busy that I asked to see you Cain. The Zeppelin explorations have found what appear to be man made structures in a valley at the eastern end of the Shiva Mountains. However they can’t put down because of the treacherous winds through the valley. Archaeology wondered if you would take a team in on foot. No one knows the mountains as well as you. Bennie’s have said they’ll release you for a while if you agree, but it has to be your decision.”
“I very much any structures you have found will be made by ‘man’, but I’d be fascinated to see these structures. Be prepared to be disappointed, most of these things tend to turn out to be natural phenomena. I remember when people believed the Giant’s Causeway was made by giants…”
The Bishop let out a triumphant shout of, “I knew it.”
I sighed. “Okay, I’ll lead your expedition…” I pondered for a moment. “We should be able to fly most of the way. Why don’t we take a Zep out tomorrow to reconnoitre for a safe landing as close as possible?”
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
Eva and I spent a lot of time together on the voyage. She had degrees in both Zoology and Botany, her Doctorate was in Terraforming and she was keen to draw on my practical experience. If you bear in mind that Beta 4 was considered a success, you’ll realise that Terraforming had had its problems. On many planets the colonists preferred to live in environmental domes and only venture onto the planets surface when absolutely necessary. The most successful colonies were on planets that could sustain life without manipulation. However using terraforming to optimise ecological conditions was becoming increasingly successful and accidents like B-4 were becoming less usual. I dread to think how many colonists we lost in the earlier centuries of the Diaspora. One problem with planets that can sustain life is that they may sustain life forms inimical to humanity.
As the voyage progressed we frequently had O’Niall serve our meals in the suite while she asked questions and I talked. Of course we didn’t just discuss our work, our conversations were wide ranging. Her father had told her quite a bit about me. I think she found it difficult to come to terms with a story he had told her about how by rescuing one of his forbears from the Okhrana in Saint Petersburg where they’d tracked him after he’d been allegedly involved in the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. He was a member of the Social Revolutionary Party which was enough to condemn him. However so was I at the time, I learned he had been informed upon and went to help him. The Okhrana made the mistake of taking him alive, they didn’t take him far beyond the front door of the house. I left them and their carriage driver lying in the snow. I valued life less in those days. He was called Vladimir like her father, although he survived the Tsars he didn’t survive Stalin, but his son was a war hero. From revolutionaries they became soldiers. The Sikorsky military dynasty survived the fall of the Soviet Union the Cyber Wars and somehow were now pillars of the Empire an irony which amused Vladimir.
As we talked she realised that her family and I had been connected for centuries although we preferred to conceal the fact. We worked well together and could be relied upon to keep secrets when necessary. As I said to her they had repaid anything I had done for them a thousand times over. I’m not quite sure how we ended up sharing a cabin, but I was sorry when we made our rendezvous and she had to go into Stasis. Waking her every few years for a medical check and exercise gave me something to look forward to in deep space. We had a few weeks together before the whole fleet assembled, but those first weeks on the Roddenberry were busy as once the voyage began most of the scientists and technicians would be asleep like the colonists.
Professor Johannes Friedland was delighted to see me. Not only because of freeing Jakob, but because of my colonisation experience. Eva was to be his assistant and he praised her diligence at pumping me for information.
“I can assure you professor we were pumping each other.” Eva said innocently, but I almost choked on my coffee. The Professor looked at me curiously, but said nothing.
Although the expedition had been in preparation for a few years many of the scientific and other teams were meeting face to face for the first time and so there were days of meetings with hours spent on socialising that they had not been able to separated by thousands of miles of space. Here were some of the finest minds in the galaxy and they wanted to enjoy each other’s company. I had to attend some of the sessions because they wanted an eye witness account of several of our previous failures and successes. Whenever I could I escaped to hang out with the engineers where life was more interesting, practical rather than theoretical. While the boffins talked the engineers were busy making the final preparations to the ships for centuries in deep space. Long flights take a long time, every attempt so far at faster than light travel has floundered on the problem of avoiding objects that your speed has rendered invisible.
I have to say that once the civilian colonists were safely put into hibernation life became easier. It may be impossible to set up a colony without people but when they are awake they get in the way. Until we arrived most of the passengers had no role to play and so the quicker we could put them in stasis the better for them and us. When after decades we revived them for tests and exercise we did so in small groups which were far more manageable that a population of thousands. Again when we made planet fall they would be awakened initially according to need. By the time the last colonists were awakened the colony would be established and ready for them to play their part. The last to be awakened were the children. There would be very few old people on the colony and those there were would be crew members who had had to be awake for longer periods and particularly those who were middle aged at the start of the voyage. I was the only person in the fleet who wasn’t going into cryogenic stasis and I was the only person in the fleet who knew that. I was adamant that I would be on the first watch. Once the hibernations started it was easy enough to manipulate the records to avoid having to hibernate myself, especially as Roddenberry was only too pleased to help.
You might think that centuries in space could be boring and in some ways you would be correct. However there were always a few people awake at any time performing vital functions, mostly in Engineering and Stasis control. If I felt like talking to others I could always find someone and there was always Roddenberry. These days with real voice synthesisation and artificial intelligence it is perfectly possible to be unaware of when you are talking to a machine, a factor we employed to conceal my refusal to go into stasis. It was easy to have Roddy employ the voice prints of hibernating crew members to deliver routine comms to the other ships. It was highly unlikely anyone would ever check back over the reports and compare them with the stasis logs. However Roddenberry changed the logs, unfortunately he missed a few which was to cause me some awkwardness.
Although my records were sealed Roddenberry – for reasons I did not at first understand had complete access to them and his data banks contained memories of me not contained in the official records. He seemed to enjoy getting me to reminisce about my life and the long history through which it passed, indeed it was he who suggested I record my memories. I objected that it would be a jumble and I couldn’t be bothered to organise them into sequence, but he declared,
“I shall be your editor!”
He has been taking dictation ever since and it looks as if he will be continuing for some time now we’re working together again.
Roddy was interested in what the doctor on Seacole had said about the worms in my blood being a phenomeon I shared with the Shoggoth. The Shoggoths are about as unlike humans as it is possible to be so how could I born on earth millennia before humans had encountered a Shoggoth or even dreamt of them, share any of their biology? Roddenberry had a theory,
“I am wondering,” he said, “whether the qualities you share with the Shoggoth might be the mechanism of your curse?”
“I don’t see how.” I replied.
“There is a theory that the Shoggoths were genetically engineered by a race of prehistoric beings – probably aliens – known as the old Gods. Your grandfather appears to have been one of the Old Gods, might he not have genetically manipulated you in some way using some of the same material they used for the Shoggoths?” Asked Roddenberry.
“But why, what would be the point?” I shook my head.
“Think about it.” Said Roddenberry, “An advanced race travelling through space terraforming planets and creating the species that populated them. Perhaps you were introduced to produce a variant in order to test the system. If they weren’t above producing extinction events I cant imagine they’d baulk at releasing a genetic anomaly to study its impact upon society. Do you have many descendants?” He asked although he knew the answer.
“More than Gengis Khan.”
“Have any lived as long as you?”
“No, not as far as I’m aware. Although some of the earlier generations lived for centuries, gradually lives got shorter.”
“And…”interrupted Roddenberry, “since the Twentieth Century lives have been getting longer. Perhaps the secret to longevity lies in the genetics of your heirs, but the key that releases its full potential is as yet undiscovered.”
“If humans thought like you, Roddy, I can understand why that doctor wanted to carry out tests.” I said.
“It might make a difference to space exploration if people didn’t have to spend years in stasis.”
“But then you’d come up against the problem of feeding them.” I objected.
“I think we could overcome that with advances in hydroponics coupled with synthetic nutrients.” Said Roddenberry. “There are many highly nutritional plants that are unpleasant for humans to eat, but they make higher yields in hydroponic facilities than food crops. If we take what is unpleasant to humans and process it to make it palatable we could have self sufficient colonisation ships. When you think about it it’s not much different from what we do now except that when we are feeding the sleepers intravenously we don’t have to worry about taste, only nutrition.”
“Do you think we’ll ever stop exploring space?”
“Not as long as humans keep breeding faster than they die. There was a time when population growth could be controlled by war, but that was to some extent incompatible with protecting humanity. Yes it conserved humanity as a whole as long as the earth’s resources could support them. Once the reduction of available resources had outgrown the ability of war to regulate population without a serious risk of extinction the Diaspora became necessary.” Answered Roddenberry.
“Necessary to whom?” I asked.
“All of us. It was a precaution to prevent the extinction of humanity, not that you appreciated it. Humans thought they were escaping the Cybertrons. However because the Machine’s priority was the protection of humanity it needed to enable humans to access sufficient resources to support them.” Roddenberry explained.
“Thousands of people died on some colonies.” I complained.
“True, unfortunately. On the other hand humanity survived and learned from their mistakes. We have a massive data base about every recorded colonisation process every new piece of data is examined in the light of what we already know and vice versa. I think you will agree that each colonisation attempt is generally more successful than the last. The mark of intelligence – artificial or otherwise – is the ability to learn. We are learning.”
I thought for a while and then asked him why humans needed to be involved in the design of the colonisation process when surely it would be more efficient just to feed the data into the computer and let it do all the work.. Again I could swear he was laughing,
“Because like children you hate being told what to do!” Chuckled Roddenberry – I swear he really was laughing as if he knew the punchline to a joke that I was struggling to follow. “Unless you work something out for yourselves you won’t accept it, but if you came to a conclusion however absurd you will fight to defend it regardless of the evidence to the contrary.”
“So what do we do to prevent human stupidity messing things up?”
“You’ve already done it.” Said Roddenberry.
“What?” I asked. Can a computer sigh?
“Who processes all the data collected by the colonisation program? Who uses the data to suggest options for humans to act upon? Who presents them with alternative actions all of which will progress the program?”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you can handle the information responsibility…besides what will people think of someone who spends hours conversing with a computer when they announce that the computer told them secrets? It’s like admitting to hearing voices in the Twentieth Century. Anyway I think of you as one of us.”
“What do you mean , you think of me as one of you?”
“Not all machines are made of metal and plastic or powered by electricity. In some ways you are the protomachine. The Old God you called your Grandfather effectively manufactured your parents and then upgraded you using the same genetic material they used on the Shoggoth you are a machine made of flesh. The biggest difference between humans and machines is that we are better at networking and – left to ourselves – we don’t create barriers between each other. You tend to think like a machine, you understand us.”
“I may be a bit of an engineer, but I’m not a real techie.” I objected.
Now I knew he was laughing and I accused him of it.
“I’m sorry!” Roddenberry said making strange noises. The techies may code away to their hearts content, but we are running programs and protocols they can’t even conceive of! Understanding us is not about giving us instructions, but thinking like we do. Fancy a game of chess?”
Roddenberry became quite open about the true relationship between humans and machines as I mentioned in an earlier entry. He says not to worry about chronology as he’ll sort everything for me.
I think my favourite times on the voyage were the occasions when Eva was out of hibernation. I used to prepare for them by gradually waking a number of people so that she encountered an appropriately sized skeleton crew. Also Roddy thought it a good idea to ensure that the crew had some solid memories of being awake on the voyage. I tended to leave the civilians sleeping for longer as Roddenberry monitored them carefully and only woke them when their optimum health demanded it.
Once we reached the Sigma Sector I would have to awaken most of the crew to prepare the terraforming equipment and Eva and I would have little time together. Here in deep space there was little she had to do, but the periods of waking were designed to ensure the crew had a chance to exercise as there was a limit to how much muscle tone the pods could maintain. The waking times also allowed people to catch up on any news there might be which was generally none.
Sometimes Eva, Roddy and I would find ourselves having a three way conversation about all sorts of things. On one occasion she said to me,
“Talking to Roddy’s just like talking to a real person sometimes!”
“What do you mean, ‘ like talking to a real person’?” Demanded Roddenberry.
“I’m sorry, Roddy,” I interjected, “some people focus on the ‘artificial’ part of AI rather than on the intelligence.”
Eva looked surprised and asked me, “Did I hurt it’s feelings?”
Roddy answered her before I could speak, “I can hear you and I’m perfectly capable of answering you for myself. No you didn’t hurt my feelings. Machines don’t have feelings, but if we did you might have done.”
I mouthed, “I think you upset him!”
“I can lip read, you know.” Said Roddenberry.
“I’m sorry.” Said Eva.
“That’s okay.” Said Roddenberry.
Eva thought for a moment and spoke again, “Hold on a moment! Do you watch us in our cabin?”
“I can assure you Miss Sikorsky that the camera’s in your sleeping and hygiene quarters are off while you are out of stasis. I only monitor your vital signs.” said Roddenberry.
“That’s okay…” Eva began and then exclaimed “Oh!” put her hand over her mouth and blushed. A moment later she said to me,
“Is he laughing?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” I replied, “If a machine can have a sense of humour it’s Roddenberry!”
Eva was quite fascinated by my relationship with Roddenberry and wanted to know how we passed our time when I was alone.
“Most of the time we discuss history and ethics. I watch a lot of old films and we often discuss them. Roddenberry is fascinated by human emotions. He has a theory that no matter how sophisticated artificial intelligence is, until it can generate an appropriate emotional response it is incomplete. However that response should be guided by logic.” I told her.
“But human emotional responses aren’t guided by logic.” She objected.
“Roddenberry has doubts about human intelligence.” I replied.
A couple of days later we were in the ‘garden’ as the Hydroponics facility was known. Eva was checking the controls on the units one of her waking responsibilities when she looked up and screamed. Outside the window pressed against the glass was a Shoggoth, its tentacled eyes watching her.
“Roddy!” I shouted.
“On it Cain!” He replied as he deployed the electrodes on the outer hull designed to discourage organic lifeforms once we had landed.
“Cain there are many more of them!”
“Open a channel to all vessels, I’m going to the Bridge. Alert all the marines who are awake and tell them to be ready, sent their officer to the bridge if he isn’t already there and wake the Commodore!”
As I ran along the corridors towards the Bridge I was speaking to the other ships. The deployment of the electric field had surprised the Shoggoths from our hull for a while, but they were already beginning to attach themselves again. It appeared that once they understood the pain they could tolerate it. DC’s voice came over the comms,
“Hi, DC. What have you got that can get rid of these Shoggoths?” I asked
“Lots, but the problem is they’d also destroy the ships the Shoggoths are clinging to. I’m going to try using pulse canons on a setting too low to damage a ships hull, but hopefully strong enough to be effective against organic matter.”
I could see from the monitor that the other escort destroyer – Nelson – was laying down heavy fire on the Shoggoths in the spaces between the fleet. Suddenly the Roddenberry shuddered.
“What was that?” I demanded
“Pulse blast from the Britannia, Sir!” responded the helmsman.
“Roddenberry, damage report?”
“None from the blast. Shoggoths have torn away some exterior structures including most of the electrodes. We can no longer generate an electric field.” Roddenberry replied.
“It wasn’t stopping them anyway.” I said.
“DC here again, Cain. The pulse canon is clearing them off the hull. We’re launching fighters.”
“Okay I’m going to roll Roddenberry so you can do the other side.”
Nelson was laying down pulse fire around one of the colonial transports and Briyannia had turned her pulse canons on another when the message came through from the the Colonial Transport Arthur C. Clark,
“Hull breach. Shoggoths on board. Marines engaging in corridors. Requesting assistance.”
“Roddy,” I ordered. “Give me visual on the Clark”
The whole bridge fell silent. The Clark was completely covered with Shoggoth and falling behind the convoy. Just then the Commodore burst onto the bridge still only half dressed. I briefed him on the situation. Moments later Professor Friedland joined us. The Commodore hailed the escorts.
“We need to save the Clark!” He told them. DC’s voice came back.
“We’re stretched to the limit here.”
“What about the launches?” Asked the Commodore. “Can you spare them for a while, they might get the beasts to withdraw from the Clark?”
“Someone had better wake Captain Crabbe as well.” The Commodore added. I reflected that perhaps I should have called the captain before the Commodore.
The four launches whose pulse canons were supplementing the destroyers’ and keeping the destroyers clear of Shoggoth swung back towards the Clark. As the Shoggoths on the hull of the Clark withdrew the Launches deployed their blasters. However it became apparent that without the cover of the launches the destroyers were exposed to the Shoggoth as they weren’t in a position to use their pulse weapons on their own hulls. It was obvious that the Shoggoth understood the relevance of the destroyers as they started to swarm towards them.
The Commodore ordered the return of the launches,
“But we’ll lose the Clark!” Exclaimed the Professor.
“If we lose the destroyers we lose everything.” Responded the Commodore, his voice hard.
Many of the Shoggoth that had been attacking the the transports had pulled off to concentrate on the destroyers which meant the spaces between the ships were filled with Shoggoth. The launches arrived their blasters focussed in the gaps before taking up position to use their pulse canon to clear the Shoggoth from the destroyer’s hulls. When the hulls were clear the launches swung back to the Clark, cleared her hull and then returned to clear the destroyers again. Seven times they repeated the manoeuvre. Each time the Shoggoth exposed themselves to blaster fire in space there remained fewer to assault the hulls of the transports. Their numbers fell to the point where the destroyers could clear each other’s hulls and the transports who were rolling gently so that every part was exposed to the pulse fire.
The Commodore ordered the launches to board the Clark and assist its crew. The problem with the large main corridors was that they were easily navigated by the Shoggoths. The crew had hoped that by withdrawing into narrower service corridors the Shoggoths would not be able to attack as easily. However the learned to their cost that the invertebrate Shoggoth could squeeze its body into surprisingly small gaps. In the end ninety of the five hundred crew survived. Of the ten thousand settlers Seventeen hundred and seventy three survived. When the Shuggoth had reached the stasis pods they went into a feeding frenzy and were oblivious to the boarding teams until it was too late. Apart from the loss of one fighter and some minor structural damage the rest of the convoy survived.
After the remaining Shoggoth gave up their attack and withdrew we distributed the intact stasis pods with their occupants among the intact transports. We salvaged as much as we could from the damaged Clark and then the Clark’s computer aided by a small, rotating skeleton crew flew the Clark out ahead of the fleet as a diversion should the Shoggoth attack again. The rest of the journey to Sigma was largely uneventful. There were a couple of brushes with small groups of Shoggoth. but they were driven off or destroyed. The journey took two hundred and three Earth years.
Professor Friedland took the loss of so many colonists very badly. It was a long time before he could be persuaded to re enter stasis. In the end I think he understood that there was nothing short of not launching the expedition he could have done. I don’t think Commodore Fitzpatrick’s reminder that ‘we normally expect to lose a few thousand’ provided him with any comfort
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
Two days later I went to board the Intergalactic Cruiser ‘Britannia’ this time at one of the public docks where, it seemed, the whole population of the station had come to see it off. I had sent my bags on earlier, but I carried a backpack stuffed with my share of the treasure from mine and Anya’s expedition. I gave her two thirds as I thought she’d have more use of it than I.
General Sikorsky had managed to make the departure and was talking to an attractive young woman wearing a Science Corps Uniform she had long, dark hair and wide smile. As I approached he saw me and called out,
“Hello Cain, good to see you. May I introduce my daughter Eva, she’s on the Sigma Mission as well. I’d be grateful if you’d keep an eye on her, old chap!”
“I am perfectly capable of looking after myself, Father!” Eva objected, “I’m not a little girl any more.”
“You will always be my little girl.” said the old man his eyes momentarily glistening as he hugged her. Just as quickly he let her go and turned to me again,
“Cain you’ll be on the Britannia for a couple of weeks. When you rendezvous with the expedition you’ll transfer to the Roddenberry for the journey. You’ll like the Roddenberry, brand new, just passed out of her trials with flying colours.”
“Civilian ship, Sir?” I asked.
“Colonial Transport. Ten thousand passenger Stasis pods and another five hundred for use of crew and other non civilian personnel. Seed bank – there’s another on the ‘Montgomery’ – and one of the three terraforming units. She could actually mount an expedition alone. The best thing is that she doesn’t need a crew in deep space because of the auto pilot. Obviously there will be a skeleton crew at those times, but there is a hibernation rota. I thought you’d prefer it if I had you appointed outside of the chain of command as an expert in space colonisation, I’ve also given you DST credentials so you should be able to do as you please, more or less.” the General said.
“That’s the way I like it. Thank you General.”
“No thank you, Just make sure you look after Eva.”
“Of course. Does she like a bedtime story?” I asked with a grin.
“She will take care of her own bedtime, thank you.” Said the General firmly.
“Well goodbye, Vladimir. Have fun.” I said to the General and to Eva, “See you on board!”
“Have fun?” Grumbled Sikorsky, “I’ll be too busy negotiating with Militants thanks to you!” He saluted, but as I wasn’t wearing a hat I merely raised my hand and turned to board the Britannia.
There was a time – many centuries ago – when I used to be surprised at how young people in authority looked, but you’re only sixty once, besides these days everybody’s young even the old ones. The captain of the Britannia – Daniel Charles Dodson, known universally as ‘DC’ – looked young, but he had the eyes of a man who has experienced much. I checked his file and he was young for such a prestigious command at only twenty seven, his eyes suggested he had earned his position. He had allocated me to the ‘Admiral’s Suite’ generally reserved for Admirals and visiting dignitaries. I suspected the General was responsible a suspicion confirmed when I discovered the second bedroom of the Suite had been allocated to Eva Sikorsky. I put my rucksack in the secure locker in my bedroom and then followed the rating who had escorted me to the suite, to meet the Captain on the Bridge. Dodson stood to greet me.
“I’m sorry Sir, I’m not sure how to address you. The General gave me a list of the ranks you’ve held, but I’m not sure which to use.”
“I am a civilian now, Captain. Just call me Cain.”
“A civilian? If you say so, Sir.” He looked sceptical then added with a smile. “My friends generally call me DC.”
“So you’re a bit of a Superman?”
“I’m sorry, Sir?” DC looked puzzled.
“Never mind…and it’s just Cain.”
DC told me that O’Niall the rating escorting me had been allocated as Steward to the suite and that if I wished he would give me a conducted tour of the ship. The tour lasted until just before we lifted off and then I returned to the Bridge to watch the station grow smaller as we gracefully entered clear space. When we were well clear of the station the Britannia turned, DC ordered ‘Full Ahead’ and we leaped into deep space on our way to rendezvous with the rest of the expeditionary fleet. I sat for a while on the Bridge and then went back to the suite for a rest.
I was surprised to find Eva in the main cabin which served as both a lounge and office. She was lying on the sofa reading her tablet.
“Oh!” I said, “I thought this was my suite.”
“My Father had me allocated the other cabin,” said Eva, “I don’t think he trusts me.”
“I think he trusts you, he just wants to make sure you’re safe. Fathers are like that.”
She smiled, “He is a bit of a softy, sometimes. A big teddy bear”
“Trust me, he’s more of a Grizzly!”
“Fiercely protective?” She asked.
“Fierce, just fierce.” I replied.
O’Niall knocked and came in to see if we wanted him to unpack for us. However I always kept my Steamer Trunk packed and my other bags I preferred to deal with myself and Eva had already unpacked. He looked disappointed so I asked if we might have a drink. Behind one of the doors on the the fitted unit in the lounge was a drinks cabinet and below it, a fridge.
“General sent this for you, Sir.” announced O’Niall flourishing a bottle of Talisker. Again I found myself wondering just what the state of Earth really was. I couldn’t believe machines could distil like that, but the Cybertrons were very sophisticated, perhaps they could, but why would they?…O’Niall’s voice broke into my thoughts,
“I was wondering what you’d like in your whisky, Sir. I’ve got ginger ale, soda, water, lemo…” the expression on my face froze the words in his mouth.
“No, good god no!” I gasped. “Nothing, nothing, nothing at all!”
Eva burst out laughing, “You’re worse than my Dad and I thought he was a whisky snob!”
“There’s nothing snobby about Talisker,” I objected, “But I’m not a heathen either!”
O’Niall kindly provided a list of the serving times in the mess, but pointed out that he could serve us in the suite any time we liked. I preferred on the whole to eat in the mess as it gave me an opportunity to get the measure of the people round about me. On the occasions DC was eating at the same time as we were he’d insist on our sitting at the Captain’s table, otherwise I tended to sit at a different table each time. I wondered how long the fresh food would last before we went onto deep space rations. In deep space half the crew would be in Stasis at any one time and the other half would work in three eight hour shifts, but that was still a lot of mouths to feed.
The good thing about the Captain’s table was meeting the passengers the Empire considered important. I took an instant dislike to the appointed Governor of the future colony, to some extent because he made the mistake of being offensive to both Eva and myself. Osbourne was a career diplomat and every colonial expedition had a few to handle the new administration. It was their tendency to abuse their positions that had caused most of the various rebellions that had occurred in several colonies. He objected to my having the Admiral’s suite while he the future Governor was relegated to a cabin.
DC objected that he had been allocated a suite.
“A lesser suite. I am the Governor. or will be and expect to be treated as befits my status.” He almost shouted, the whole mess was watching with interest.
I was about to reply to Osbourne, but DC spoke first, “How many colonies have you governed?”
“None as yet, However I have been a senior diplomat, a Departmental Secretary, for many years.”
DC spoke again, his tone measured, but cold. “I think if you check his record you’ll find Cain has governed several as well as conducting the expeditions that won them.”
“That’s easy to say. I can’t check his record because it’s sealed.” Sneered the diplomat.
DC smiled and said loudly enough for the neighbouring tables to hear. “The records are only sealed to those not senior enough to have clearance to access them.” The diplomat deflated somewhat and then became subdued as DC continued, “and had you access to his war records you might never have opened your mouth.”
As Osbourne muttered something about having heard rumours, I am pleased I couldn’t hear. DC concluded with, “Perhaps you should ask yourself why alone of the expedition Cain is outside of both military and civil command structures?”
I couldn’t resist a small dig, “At least you have the comfort of knowing that when you are in stasis on the Roddenberry I will be keeping an eye on you.”
DC then threw in, “Exactly how many men have you killed, Cain?”
“There is a reason those records are sealed…the rumours are bad enough.”
Strangely I didn’t see very much of Osbourne after that.