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Chapter 31: Archaeology
December 1, 2016, 22:18
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

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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!”

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Chapter 30: Sigma Seven
December 1, 2016, 02:04
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

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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.”

Eva blushed.

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?”



Chapter 29: Electricity Is In My Soul
November 30, 2016, 01:26
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Writing | Tags: ,

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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?”

“Fuck off!”

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,

“Britannia here!”

“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?”

“Okay Sir,”

“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



Chapter 28: Eva
November 29, 2016, 00:43
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

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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.



Chapter 26: D18X
November 26, 2016, 23:56
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

 

The General was still on D18X. I began to suspect the station was more than the Dilithium processing plant it appeared to be. I wondered how coincidental my first encounter with General Sikorsky had actually been. I hadn’t batted an eyelid at the number of military vessels docked at, or coming in and out of the station. It is obvious that something of such strategic value would be protected and that there were military vessels among those docking to have their fuel rods replaced was hardly remarkable. The activity on D18X would be the perfect cover for the comings and goings of Deep Space Tactical.

I had moved Anya’s stuff into the other cabin so that she could share it with her fiance. My cabin felt empty, no Anya, no cats. You might thing I would be used to being alone, I am, but it’s amazing how quickly you can get to enjoy company. The voyage was surprisingly uneventful after the past few weeks. Still I was glad when at last we were directed to a dock away from other vessels and not overlooked by public areas. Before we left the ship Anya donned her headscarf and glasses wrapping the scarf around her face. She put on a bulky combat jacket too. I asked her what she was doing.

“I’ve put so much work into building my cover as an out and out baddy it would be a shame just to throw it away now.” She said.

“Life will be quieter without you.” I responded and added, “Actually the journey here was very quiet.”

She laughed and caressed my face, “I had finished building my cover. We had fun, didn’t we?”

“We did.” I smiled, “I shall miss you Anya.”

“But I’m just one of hundreds and the memory will fade. You are special and I will remember you as long as I live. Which, let’s face it, may not be long.”

I think she may have had a tear in her eye as she walked away.

Once I had stowed my stuff in the room allocated to me a young officer came to escort me to the General. I tried to engage her in conversation, but all she would say was that the General wanted to talk with me. As I entered his office Sikorsky stood and walked to his antique cocktail cabinet,

“Can I offer you a drink?” He asked.

“Do you have anything resembling whisky?”

“I have a genuine single malt, from Earth.” He replied, showing me the bottle.

“How old is it?”

“Well it’s aged for twenty years, so I suppose it’s nearly two hundred years old. It’s quite beautiful.” Sikorsky sniffed his glass as he passed mine to me. All I could think was that if it was only two hundred years old it had been distilled long after the Diaspora. Were there still humans on Earth, still distilling whisky? I said nothing. I suddenly realised the General was talking to me.

“… I don’t know whether to be pleased or angry with you Cain. I guessed from your intervention about the grenades that it was too late to contain the stealth tech even by destroying the launch. However were it not for your data package we would have been still sitting around the planet when the militias attacked using our own cloaking technology. Now at least we have a negotiating channel open, we may be able to reach some sort of deal with the Militias…”

“It’s only Alabama.” I interjected.

“Where Alabama leads the others tend to follow.” Said the General that’s why the government was so determined to shut them down. Fat lot of good that did anyone, but now perhaps we can do with kindness what we failed by force. Once we knew they’d shared the tech it was easy enough to sacrifice the ship, but of course, I couldn’t let that old fox Oldman know that. What do you think?”

“I think the Empire would do well to get Oldman on side.”

“Oh really, why?” Asked the General.

“The last thing he said to me.”

“What was that?”

“He said, ‘Cain, I think your data transmission made a success of the negotiation.’ I don’t know how he knew I’d sent one or why, if he knew I was going to, he didn’t stop me!” I smiled.

General Sikorsky looked stunned and then started to laugh.

For some time we just chatted about the old days – the old days to men like Sikorsky and Oldman, recent history to me – and his friendship with the Senator. After a while he got his mind back onto business. It seemed Friedland’s intelligence confirmed that the people of Alabama were tired of the long stand off which augured well for the upcoming negotiations.

“Oldman says he would be happy for you to be there.” Said the General.

“I think it’s time I moved on.” I said, “Is Professor Friedland’s mission going ahead now his son is safe?”

“Well if you’re absolutely sure you won’t join the negotiations there’s a light cruiser leaving D18X in two days to join the expedition. I shall confirm your berth.”

“How’s Anya, Miss Jog?” I asked.

“Young Friedland is happy to have her back. However she thinks that her current status as the Empire’s number three most wanted fugitive might be useful to DST and I agree. Beyond that I can tell you nothing except that she says she enjoyed working with you and she’ll miss you.”

“Yes, I suppose it was fun…in a sort of adrenaline fuelled panic way. Personally I prefer a little less excitement. Now if you would have my records sealed apart from the most recent ones, by the time we reach Sigma no one will know who I am.” I said.

“As agreed.” Responded the General and gave the order to seal all but the last forty years. When the console requested his authorisation Sikorsky typed in a code, turned to me and said,

“All done! I don’t suppose we’ll meet again after you leave. I know we won’t. I’ll try and say ‘Goodbye’ but if I don’t see you before you go, ‘Good luck!” He shook my hand.

“Thank you Sir. And good luck with the negotiations.”

“Above my pay grade I’m afraid. They’ll be led by an Imperial Ambassador, but I’ll be in the party.”

As I reached the end of the corridor I looked over my shoulder to see the General still standing in the doorway. As I rounded the corner he turned away, back into his office and for a moment I felt as if I could see the huge weight of responsibility he bore sitting upon his shoulders like the Old Man of The Sea.”



Chapter 25: Redemption
November 26, 2016, 00:17
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel | Tags: ,

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As we headed out into deep space Anya laid in the course to Alabama Colony that the General had given her.
She explained that it would take us through the Alabama space patrolled by the DST Destroyer ‘Black Op’.

“Oh come on! You can’t expect me to believe DST named a ship ‘Black Op’, it’s a bit bloody obvious?” I objected.

Anya shrugged, “It’s one of very few overt vessels we use when we need to be seen taking an interest…what are you laughing at?”

“The idea that for you covert operations are so normal that when you act openly it’s worthy of remark,”

Anya smiled, “It’s a funny life…Anyway.” She continued, “Black Op’s been briefed about us theyl pursie us to the atmosphere and rough the Bug up a bit…”

“Better not touch my tail!” I interrupted.

“No, that’s my job. As I was saying the damage will look a lot worse than it is, Captain Veevee is a bit of a specialist at creating the illusion of serious battle.”

The few days to Alabama passed quickly and enjoyably. We spent a day riding beside the Valkyrie meteor shower, enjoying its rainbow colours . When we first saw it Anya asked where the cats were, because they might enjoy the sight. When I came back to the cockpit she asked,

“Did you find the cats, where are they?”

“You could say they’re ‘building their cover’” I replied.

Anya looked puzzled for a moment then her eyes widened and her hand flew to her mouth,

“Oh! Really?”

I nodded, “Still we’ll have hours of the Valkyries, they won’t miss it. Time for some Wagner I think!”

A couple of days later we encountered the ‘Black Op’. Anya had a list of compartments to seal off because they were the ones Veevee would hit.

“Is he that good?” I asked.

“Much better, don’t worry.” Anya replied.

The Black Op and her two armed launches attacked us and the fire fight was spectacular. Anya discharged most of our weapons and deliberately hit nothing. However the DST craft were targeting each others missiles which caused explosions which may well have been seen from the planet without a telescope. We took several hits as arranged and I took the Bug spinning into the atmosphere while flipping it tail over nose several times before righting it. I went into the Selma Spaceport far too fast and almost sideways on used the vertical thrusters to lift us clear of the runway over the Spaceport buildings and put the Bug down her nose in the car-park and her tail in the field.

“Bloody hell!” Exclaimed Anya, “I didn’t know you could fly like that!”

“Would it help if I said, ‘Neither did I’?”

“Bastard!” Laughed Anya.

“I like this Bug. Okay she’s not a Spitfire, but she handles as well…better in fact.”

Sirens were approaching bringing with them a fire truck, ambulance, and security cars. I sprang the airlock and we tumbled out. The cats ran into the bushes – funny how all public facilities have bushes – and disappeared.

While the medics checked us out for injuries, the fire and rescue team checked out the bug for damage. We had a few bruises and the Bug some nasty holes. However they confirmed they were fixable.

Then it was the turn of the Spaceport Security to question us. The moment Anya removed her combat helmet the Security Chief recognised her.

“You’re Anya Jog!” He exclaimed his cigarette fell from his lips, but he appeared not to notice. I removed my helmet,

“And I am Cain.”

The Chief went white. “My grandpappy was with you in the Rock Run uprising, he died thirty some years ago. They called called him Beauregard Hadfield.”

I thought for a moment then replied, “Left handed, chain gun, steel plate on his skull?”

“That’s him. I’m George Armstrong Hadfield.” As he held out his hand he added. “I loved that old man!”

I smiled, “I’d have thought him pretty unlovable, but good to have on your side in a fight. He was a mean, bad tempered old bear, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him!”

The Chief rubbed his ear, “You don’t need to tell me that my left ear’s twice the side of the other ‘cause of his backhanders! So what are you doing here?”

“Got Swamp Fever medicine to trade and Jog’s looking to hide up for a while.”

“You won’t get the price you would have done last year.” Hadfield said.

“Why not, don’t you still have Swamp Fever?”

“Oh yeah, but we got our own blockade runners now.”

As the Chief spoke a long black launch suddenly appeared overhead and settled on the runway. It was followed by two more.

“You’ve got cloaking tech!” I exclaimed. “Even the Empire hasn’t got that”.

“They do,” said the Chief, we got hold of one of their ships and fetched a couple of White Coats from Muenchen to reverse engineer it. Now we’ve got three.”

“Well done!” I said, the admiration in my voice wasn’t feigned. “Pity with the blockade you can’t get into space to assemble Cruisers and such.”

“No we can’t,” agreed the Chief, “but while the Empire’s blockading us they’re not watching others who can. Soon we’ll clear this blockade and they won’t see us coming!”

“I was going to ask you what the plan was, but you can’t tell me and if you can, you shouldn’t.” I said.

“You’re right, I’ve probably said more than I should’ve.” Agreed the Chief.

“Still what’s done is in the past and can’t hurt anyone. Where did you steal the ship?”

“Right here on Alabama. One put down a few miles out of town. None of us saw it coming, but my cousin Henry saw it appear and rushed back to tell me. Anyway they came into town in disguise, asking questions and we ambushed them on their way back to the ship. Waited until they told the folks on board to open the doors before we hit them then we had one group rush the ship and the other open up on the landing party.”

“Stupid!” I exclaimed.

“What do you mean stupid?” Demanded Hadfield.

“Not you, the Empire. You know out there they call you rednecks and think you’re stupid? They definitely underestimated you, serves them right.”

Hadfield grinned, “Grandpappy said there was no love lost between you and the Empire!”

“I have my reasons, don’t talk about them, Beauregard knew them. What did he die of anyway?”

“Old age, mostly. I don’t think the drink helped. You’ve heard of chewin’ tobacca? We called the stuff he made in his still ‘Chewin’ Whiskey” it was as thick as Turpentine, but Turps tasted better!”

“I suppose Agnes has gone too?”

“No, Grandma’s in a home now. I’d tell you to visit, but she don’t recognise anyone even family. Ma and Daddy would be pleased to see you, why don’t you and Miss Jog come to dinner?”

“We’d love to, aren’t there formalities to go through first?”

The Chief turned to one of his men, “Bobby, do the paperwork on Cain and Jog, what you can’t fill in I’ll do tomorrow.” He turned back to me, “Tomorrow we’ll sort out your repairs as well.”

“You could’t install a cloaking device while you’re at it?” I asked with a smile.

“You wish!” He chuckled.

While we were talking the Bug had been lifted onto trolleys and was being dragged to a hangar. I stopped them for a moment and Anya and I grabbed some of our stuff before joining the Chief at his car.

During dinner as he relaxed the Chief became quite informative. His mother and his wife had laid on a good spread and the drink flowed freely – unlike Turpentine. While Agnetha – his mother – and Sue discussed Twenty First Century war poetry the George and I talked about the Empire, and wars, and revolutions,

“So,” I said, “when you took the stealth ship, you killed all the Imps in the ambush?”

“Hell No! We got most of them in jail. Killed a few, couple died later, but most we patched up and locked up.”

“Did they tell you why they were here?”

“Nah, they’re DST so it’s just name, rank, and number.”

“You could have tortured them.” I said.

“No point, they wouldn’t have talked and if they did they’d have lied. Better to keep them whole in case we need them to trade.” The Chief replied.

We stayed at the Hadfield house and went into town with George in the morning. It was he who suggested I might want to see the prisoners and took us to the Jail. The warder presented the Chief with a clipboard with the names of the prisoners and their cell numbers. He showed it to me as I looked at it I said to him,

“I think I might have found you a trade.”

“How do you mean?” George asked.

I pointed to a name on the list, Jakob Friedland. “If that’s who I think it is, his father’s Professor Johannes Friedland. I think he’d pay to get his son back.”

After we’d spoken to the prisoners the Chief was beaming.

“That’s a piece of luck you spotting Friedland on the list.”

“Not really, his father’s heading up an expedition to Sigma Seven so the name was in my mind. A couple of months ago I’d have missed the connection. Now you need him to contact his commander so you can start a negotiation.”

“I’ll just have to clear it with the council first.” Said the Chief.

Anya and I went for lunch and she finally spoke after being silent most of the morning.

“I can’t believe you did that!” She said, angrily.

“Did what?” I was unsure what her problem was.

“Betrayed Jakob.”

“Look at it like this, we might get Jakob released without bloodshed and he can report back whatever he’s learned to the General. It’s too late to prevent the spread of the cloaking technology. The best we can do is cut our losses and make sure Sikorsky knows as soon as possible before the Militias employ it against the blockade. A blockade that, by the way, seems pretty futile now. Perhaps it’s time for a different strategy. Who knows opening a negotiation over the prisoners may perhaps improve relations between Alabam and the Empire.”

That afternoon we found ourselves in the colony’s main broadcasting studio while Friedland opened a channel first to the Black Op who relayed the signal eventually to the General. Once the General came on Friedland told him he was handing the microphone to the Foreign Secretary.

“Hello General Sikorsky,” said the tall, silver haired gentleman. Joseph Oldman here.” Again the distance punctuated the conversation with irritating delays, but Oldman didn’t seem the sort of person to be irritated by anything, he came across as a kind old grandfather.”

“Hello Colonel,” Sikorsky’s voice came over the speakers, “How are you?”

“Well, thank you, Vladimir…” I could see the surprise on everyone’s face, “but it’s not Colonel any more, it’s Senator, but I suspect you knew that. We seem to have caught some of your people and it has been suggested that you may be prepared to deal for their return.”

“What are you looking for, Joseph?” Asked the General.

“I think, at the very least, the removal of the blockade and a cessation of the Empire’s interference in our affairs. We would like to be allowed to go about our business without interruption.”

“How did you know we might negotiate?”

“It was suggested to us that you would be prepared to pay for Friedland.”

“By whom, may I ask?”

Oldman smiled, “Of course you may ask, Vladimir.” He looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I grimaced, but nodded. Oldman continued, “we have a smuggler, name of Cain, who identified him.”
“If Cain is with you, I’d like to know what happened to my fragmentation grenades.” Said the General sounding angry.

“I sold them General, to people who would make better use of them. Besides a weapon like that should be shared,” I laughed.

“Damn rebels!” Snarled Sikorsky. “Joseph?”

“Yes Vladimir.?”

“I’ll negotiate, but not in front of Cain.”

At a signal from Oldman I left the room, but I left the door slightly ajar and continued to listen. The General suggested a partial relaxation of the blockade in exchange for his men and their ship. I told Hadfield I was going to see how my own ship was doing and left. The Bug was coming on nicely as I stowed my bags. The repair crew confirmed that all they really had to do now was to paint over the repairs, so I told them not to bother and if they gave me a minute I’d come and sort out payment. The moment I was alone I transmitted a data package and then took out a couple of the platinum ingots and put them in my pockets. In the office I checked to see whether they were prepared to accept a credit transfer. As I expected they weren’t when I told them the only other thing I had was a platinum ingot they said it would do nicely.

“What about change?” I asked.

“Sorry the price is one ingot.”

“Isn’t that a bit steep?”

“Supply and demand, I’m afraid. I don’t see, you’ve got a lot of choice. Besides we don’t give change, company policy”

I handed over the ingot and got a receipt. The foreman grinned and asked,

“What, no tip?”

I was still chuckling when I got back to the studio. Anya was waiting for me.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Two stubborn old men negotiating, utterly tedious. It looks as if the senator is gradually beating the general, but its a slow process,”

I stuck my head round the door and asked Hadfield too. He told me things were going well, the general had become more cooperative once I was out of the way and in the end had more or less accepted the Foreign Secretary’s demands. I heard Oldman summing up,

“So Vladimir. You will lift the blockade and send an Embassy to negotiate trade between the Empire and Alabama as well as a non-aggression agreement. When those talks are finished the negotiators will leave taking with them your remaining men. In the meantime as an earnest of good faith we will release young Friedland, yes?”

“Yes, at least I’ll be able to get the Sigma expedition under way…Are you sure I can’t have my ship back too?”

“I’ll tell you what, Vladimir. We’ll put your ship on the table in the negotiations. I think that’s fair. You should come too, we can talk about old times.”

“Do you know Joseph, I might, but I might just shoot you.”

“You tried that before.”

“Third time lucky.” Laughed the General. “Sikorsky out.”

When the Senator saw the expression on my face he explained that he and the General had been at staff college together.

“We were friends until we ended up on opposite sides at Rock Run. Come on Cain I’ll buy you a drink.”

Selma had one decent hotel, The Winchester and that’s where we went, Anya came too.

As we entered the hotel the doorman made to stop Anya, but Oldman intervened and said,

“The young lady is my guest!”

The doorman looked embarrassed, “I’m sorry Senator, I didn’t realise!”

“It’s okay.” Oldman turned to us and explained, “I’m afraid they’re not used to people of colour round here. Me, I don’t mind. Had a whole regiment of Sikhs at the Battle of the Andromeda Line, bloody good fighters, glad of them. However the Confederate flag they fly everywhere round here isn’t an affectation it’s more a symbol of their faith.”

As we sat down the Senator asked me what exactly I was up to.

“I’m sure I don’t understand.” I replied.

He smiled, “Vladimir insists I send Friedland with you. You identified the boy and suggested the negotiation, after you left the room, the negotiations suddenly went more smoothly. You play a long game Cain, I know your reputation. However whatever you did it seems to be working out well for everyone.”

“I suppose I prefer to find a peaceful path to resolving problems” I said.

“Just as well you didn’t think that way at Rock Run.”

“I did, it just wasn’t practical.” I smiled.

Before we left Jakob Friedland was delivered to the Bug. I closed the door behind him. As he came into the cockpit Anya threw her arms round him and kissed him…she continued to kiss him and he was obviously kissing her back. I coughed. Anya pulled away and said,

“Oh I’m sorry Cain, I should have mentioned, Jakob is my fiance.” I must have looked surprised because she laughed and gave me a hug. “I still love you, too.”

I thought for a moment and then said to her, “Lay in the quickest course back to the General.”



Chapter 24: Seacole
November 25, 2016, 01:15
Filed under: Health, Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

20160105_172354

 

From the Captain’s Log, Scourge of Space.

‘Lieutenant Cray’s party returned in Launch One after making a search of the Bug piloted by Cain. No trace was found of Jog although women’s clothes were found in the cabin. As per instruction Cray had not mentioned Jog and so did not confirm the clothes were hers.

He has reported a small case of platinum ingots on Cain’s possession worth about 20,000,000 Imperial credits, perhaps more.

Cray reported that his party had successfully placed a tracker on board the bug. Unfortunately when we activated the tracker it registered in our own crew’s quarters and was discovered in a canister of tea in the possession of Private Usha Bahadur. Cain had given her the tea.

Cray was at a loss to explain how Cain had removed the tracker as he had been with Cain the whole time and there was no one else on board.’

“I wonder if they’ve found their tracker yet.” I said scratching Little Fluffy’s head.

“It’s just as well you had the cats watching them.” Said Anya.

“It’s just as well humans don’t think of us as people!” Growled Muffet

“We do!” Objected Anya.

The cats had followed the soldiers as they searched and as the squad drank tea Fluffy had demanded to be fussed and dropped the tracker into my hand. When I discovered that one of the soldiers came from Jeelong an opportunity for disposing of the tracker occurred to me. Perhaps it might have been more sensible just to leave it in space, but nowhere as amusing.

Seacole was one of the largest hospital’s in Imperial space sitting at the junction of what was indisputably Imperial controlled space and the Outer Planets where the Imperial writ held less sway. Seacole was – by treaty – a neutral facility open to all, However in practice not everyone could avail themselves of the facility particularly if like Alabama they were effectively blockaded. In Alabama’s case the Imperial blockade was supported by many of the Independents which made it harder for the besieged planet to get support from the other militia planets. The Empire had expected the blockade of Alabama to bring about its surrender decades ago. but they reckoned without the stubbornness of inhabitants.

The people of Alabama tended to be dismissed as rednecks throughout the Empire. The truth is, they like their ancestors from old Alabama,Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia were bred to hardship and had learned over the millennia to survive hardships that would break ordinary people. It was said of them that the people of Alabama could get a crop off a cliff face. Despite the embargo the colony managed to feed itself on what it could grow and what it could smuggle. Unfortunately the people had more or less killed off the smuggling business because of their deep suspicion of outsiders, A lot of smugglers had never made it back from Alabama and that tended to disincline others from going,

If the Empire had expected the annual Swamp Fever to break the people of Alabama they had been disappointed. Every rainy season the Fever killed thousands, but every time the Empire had tried to invade on the back of the plague they had been frustrated by the guerilla fighting of a population where everyone learned to shoot as soon as they could hold a gun. The blockade never stopped the spread of guns, in the absence of imports the people made their own..

What with the swamps and the mountains Alabama wasn’t an easy planet to travel across. The locals either travelled by mule and horse or by Skimmers. These were effectively a cross between a hovercraft and a jet plane capable of hugging the ground at high speed or climbing to altitudes of thousands of feet. They were also highly manoeuvrable as they needed to be to navigate the New Appalachian mountains.

After a few attempts the Empire had given up trying to subdue the planet. They continued to try and starve Alabama into submission, but no one really expected it to ever happen.

One of the good things about Seacole is that while our presence would inevitably be reported to every government with a spy on the station, no one would interfere with us while we were there; not officially at least.

“So how many of DST went missing on Alabama?” I asked Anya as we waited in our room on Seacole for our tests to come back. Every arrival went through a mandatory health screening and we were no exception.

“Just six of our best,” she replied. “they were supposed to land undetected, analyse the general situation and get out. They never made their rendezvous.”

“I’m not sure what the problem is, surely even DST accepts it will incur some losses.

“The DST doesn’t leave people behind if there’s a chance they might be alive. However the big problem is that they were using one of our new stealth ships. It has the nearest we’ve ever got to a true cloaking technology. We know the rednecks are using it, because they’ve been showing up on other militia planets, we need to ensure they can’t share it.”

“Sounds to me as if their necks aren’t as red as people like to think!”

“Either way, it’s my job either to get the ship back or destroy it.” Declared Anya.

“Of course, you couldn’t have told me. This is what I hate about authority always lying, never straight. Worse still I keep falling for it! What if I refuse to help?”

“It’s my mission I can do it alone. The General expects me to do it alone.” Said Anya.

“Damn it,” I groaned, “I’ve come this far, I might as well see the damn thing through!”

She smiled and climbed into bed, I joined her.

The next morning after breakfast had been brought to our room a doctor and a nurse came to visit with our results. Anya was, they said, one of the healthiest specimens they had seen, but they would like to examine me further.

“Why?” I asked.

“We have discovered something in your blood we have never seen before and we’d like to study it.” I must have shown interest because the doctor continued, “You appear to have microscopic worms in your blood. However one moment they are there and the next moment, not. It is as if they flick between existing and not existing.” Answered the doctor.

“And you’ve never seen anything like it before?”

The doctor looked uncomfortable, paused, and then she replied, “We once found something not entirely dissimilar in a Shoggoth we dissected”.

“Perhaps I’m a Shoggoth!” I lifted my hands in front of my head and waggled my fingers, the doctor did not look amused, the nurse looked uncomfortable, but Anya looked ill.

“Don’t!” She snapped. “I’ve seen them up close…” she brought up her breakfast.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”

“No. You didn’t! I had them crawling all over that pod. Looking at me. Some of those tentacles have eyes, some are mouths. They were trying to get the pod open…” Anya began to cry. I didn’t know what to do, so I sat and held her, waving the doctor and nurse away.

After some time she calmed down.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered.

“No, I’m sorry. I was stupid.” I insisted,

“What do you mean, ‘was’?” She asked with a smile. I relaxed

“Lock the door!” She commanded.

A couple of hours later we showered and went to meet Sikorsky’s contact. To my surprise it was the doctor who had visited us earlier. She had, she told us, got the supplies ready for loading, Rather than waste time we had them loaded there and then.

“Right,” I said when the transfer was complete, “we’d better get clearance and get off.”

“I would like to study you further.” Said the doctor.

“I’m sure you would.” I replied.

“May I?”

“We’ll see.”

I could see the disappointment in her face as she watched us leave. We both knew I was never going to let her run further tests.