Copyright © 2015 Jason Sergi
Once again, this one’s for my readers.
The hole-runner shot silently from the other end of the wormhole; high above Ceres one moment, clicking into the tunnel-generator’s docking bay high above Titan in the next.
Heathcliff felt the pod give a hard shudder, the gravity pushing him slightly back in his travel harness as the tunnel-generator continued to spin. When he heard the retrorockets fire with a soft whoosh, the spinning gradually stopped, weightlessness returning.
They really need to put windows in these damn things, he thought to himself. At least then people would have something to look at while they waited.
Seconds later, the tiny recessed light in the travel pod’s curved ceiling flickered on and his harness released, the straps floating up over his head while the pod door swished open to reveal the tunnel beyond.
“Please exit the travel pod and make your way to the egress shuttle,” a pleasant androgynous voice spoke from hidden speakers. “Thank you for using Univerk Corps’ Tunnelways, the only provider of near-light space travel in The Home System. Good day!”
Yeah, Heathcliff thought as he pushed his way into the outer tunnel, they’re the only providers of near-light space travel, but that pleasant voice failed to mention that they’re also far from the safest. How many hole-runners are lost in a Standard year?
He didn’t have the numbers but knew he’d rather travel seven years on a space ferry than risk being lost forever in a wormhole after it snapped closed for no particular reason—none that he knew of anyway, and Univerk never stated the reasons, if any, to the mainstream media.
Unfortunately for Heathcliff, The Hydro Mining Consortium was exclusively contracted to use hole-runners to transport their employees to and from the outer solar system, and since this was his first gig with the company, he felt he didn’t have enough room to argue the point.
Even so, the money was good; better than his last job at Vespa Industries, so he figured the risk had to be worth the reward in the long run.
He exited the tunnel and floated down into the passenger compartment of the ferry shuttle, which was already filled with other people, none of whom he knew, but all either colony workers or resource miners headed to one of the nearby moonaughts or down to one of the colonies down on Titan.
Heathcliff made his way to an open seat and pulled himself down into it, securing the restrainer belt around his waist when he was settled.
Now all he had to do was wait, and then wait some more.
The shuttle was capable of holding a thousand souls, not including the pilot and copilot and the rest of the extensive crew, but the hole-runner held fifty thousand souls, which made for a lot of back and forth trips to and from.
The floors, rounded walls, concave ceiling, and the tunnel hatches of the passenger cabin were all carpeted in soft blue, as were the rows of chairs that cut straight lines across the flat floor, save for where the arms of the chairs were capped in chrome.
Blocky stations hanging from the cabin’s ceiling held rows of monitors which would be activated in transit for the passengers’ “enjoyment”.
“Stewards, please make sure all hatches are closed and that all passengers are secured within their seats,” that androgynous voice intoned over the cabin speakers. “Shuttle launch to begin in ten Standard minutes.”
The minutes dragged by as the maroon-uniformed stewards darted all around, checking hatches and making sure all was in order. Then the cabin lights dimmed and there was a deep rumble from the rear before the shuttle launched forward, the movement translating into the cabin vibrating a little, but that was about it.
Seconds later, the monitors in their blocky encasings flickered on, some showing the orange dot that was to be the shuttle’s destination, some showing the standard date and “adjusted” local time—19 April, 2195, 15:30—while others showed the shrinking form of the wheel-like tunnel-generator as it hung in the blackness, the hole-runner docked at its center.
The orange dot in the monitors grew rapidly larger; more of a proper ball now than just a dot, close enough now to see the sparkling globe of Yodo 60 orbiting above it.
The shuttle’s thrusters were swooshing away now as the gravity from Saturn tried to suck it off course.
Heathcliff kept his attention fixed on the monitors to avoid thinking about what would happen if those thrusters failed to do their job.
As the shuttle closed in on Titan, Yodo 60 became more defined on the monitor, looking like a child’s toy as it spun around the moon.
Yodo 60 was a moonaught, owned and operated by the multi-agency entity known as Galaxy Reach, whose goal it was to “Promote space exploration, colonization, and galactic resource mining for the betterment of Earth and her colonies”, as part of the so-called Century of Wonder.
Yodos 52 through 57 were hovering above Mimas, Enceladas, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, and Lapetus respectively. Yodos 58 and 61 were stationed above Saturn, 61 replacing 59 after 59 was sucked into Saturn with all souls onboard; the result of a catastrophic power failure, all perishing.
The moonaughts were named after Dr. Dennis Yodoroskenyavay, the Kazakh scientist who’d first come up with the idea for the moonaughts over a hundred and fifty years ago. And, like the others, Yodo 60 was used as a jump-off point/staging area for the various missions and projects being conducted by the various entities within the relative vicinity of Titan.
It was to be a five year gig for Heathcliff; five long years of not seeing his wife and daughter, but the money at the end of it would support them for a good five years after that; longer, if they spent wisely.
Besides, Christa would probably enjoy herself while he was gone, despite her saying otherwise; Isabel though…
The shuttle began to buck as the moonaught’s tractor beam reeled it in with precision guidance.
The tunnel-generator was but a glimmering speck on the monitors now while Titan was a gigantic, yellowish-orange half-circle. Above it, Yodo 60 was a silver-skinned moon itself, a spheroid bristling with tiered docking stations from top to bottom.
The ribbed curves of the moonaught filled the screens a second before all the monitors went suddenly dark. Several minutes later, there was a loud bang and then the lights in the cabin brightened to their original luminosity.
“Shuttle docking successful,” the androgynous voice announced. “Exit through the front egress hatch. Please allow the row in front of you to empty first before making your way out. Enjoy your stay at Yodo 60 and thank you again for using Univerk Corps’ Tunnelways!”
Heathcliff waited impatiently for the row in front of him to empty. He needed desperately to relieve himself and he was space sick to boot. Gravity, even the artificial kind, would be much welcomed to set him back to rights.
When his turn finally came, he floated to the front of the cabin and through the front hatch, then down a short tunnel and into the transition cabin within Yodo 60, joining the others who were already waiting in the large space, each holding onto the padded rails, their feet firmly attached to the adhesives of the right wall.
Heathcliff floated over and held on tight to the rails as well, where then he studied the advertisements that flickered from the screens along the walls and ceiling as he waited for the gravity to kick in.
The commercials promoted everything and anything, from moonaught bars and taverns, pawn stations, theaters, grocery departments, souvenir shops, recruitment posters for The Republic Earth Navy and Marine Security Fleet, to one that pleaded for the reader to: “Support your local firing squad! Executioners you can trust! Inquire on how you can help or sign up for a bond at Deck Y Block 23. Ask for Charles B.”
Space crime has been running rampart for near on fifty Standard years now, if not longer, and while the spaceways were policed and adjudicated by the R.E Navy, The High Government had privatized all non-Earth prisons ten years prior. Space crimes carried slightly higher penalties than those on Earth, so murder, rape, mutiny, theft, and even tampering were considered capital offenses that qualified for the death penalty, but it was up to the convicted to pay for how they were imprisoned and ultimately executed, if the latter was to be their sentence. And if they didn’t have the credits, they usually got what they paid for, which was often painful and...messy.
Gravity suddenly returned, feeling to Heathcliff like a leaden cloak had suddenly been draped across his body, sliding from his head down. He grabbed the rails tighter as his legs trembled with the sudden need to support his weight and he gagged violently, though-—thankfully—nothing came up.
Others weren’t so lucky and they proceeded to empty their stomachs onto the cabin floor, adding to the old, faded stains already decorating it from transitions past.
The front hatch was then opened and the throng allowed to file through and down a short passageway, with Heathcliff right behind them.
At the end of the passageway, the passengers had to show an intake officer—this one dressed in a gray unitard, her chestnut hair up off her shoulders in a towering bun, her blue eyes looking bored behind her black-rimmed spectacles—-their boarding passes and ID’s, and then they were made to wait in the next cabin over for their luggage to come down a chute to land on a turning carousel.
Heathcliff’s luggage consisted of a small black hard-shelled case with wheels on the bottom. It contained three outfits, each nearly identical to what he had on now: treadless boots, (the hard rubber worn and cracked), gray poly-breeches over polyester underwear, a black polyester sleeveless shirt, and a gray poly-nylon jacket. All he would have for the next five Standard years; if he needed something extra, he’d have to buy it on the moonaught.
When he arrived at his cabin, it was much of what he’d expected it to be: small, windowless, a lone recessed light in the ceiling, a thin-cushioned bunk, a storage locker set into one wall, horizontal vents in the baseboards whooshing in breathable air, and a closet-sized bathroom with a mirror, commode, and a stand-up shower.
The silver plaque with gold letters next to the bathroom door stated that water for bathing would only be activated once a week for thirty minutes while the commode water would be activated six times a day and six times at night.
The green light next to the shower indicated that it was ready for use so Heathcliff quickly undressed and prepared himself for a much-needed wash. Space travel, no matter how long or short, always left him feeling dirty.
Three Standard days later, Heathcliff was aboard the mining vessel MV Selk with the two other members of his crew. Together they had launched from Yodo 60 a few hours earlier and were now heading for a target by the name of AF-8600, a debris field of metallic fragments. The top brass weren’t too sure where the debris had come from but the theory was that it had originated from within The Kuiper Belt, most likely the result of a collision between two larger bodies. The field was now currently floating along the outer edge of Saturn’s orbit.
Heathcliff knew the brass didn’t give a damn as to where the debris field had come from; all they cared about was that the preliminary scans had suggested heavy amounts of iron-nickel deposits and they wanted them soonest so they could process them down on Titan and then sell the product for profit to the mining colonies that were scattered across the saturnian moon.
The colonies were always in need of basic resources; it took massive amounts of material and energy to harvest the considerable quantities of water ice and natural gas from the moon’s surface, then to process and ship it to Earth for consumption.
The MV Selk was a two hundred meter long tube that tumbled end-over-end through the vacuum. The vessel’s fore-section was where the pilot, crew, and engineers were stationed and who dealt with the daily operations of the craft; behind that were the crew quarters and behind that was the mining section, with the last hundred meters dedicated to material storage. Once full, the aft section would separate from the main vessel and fly itself autonomously back to Yodo 60 for processing, the company sending out a fresh empty one to replace it and so on.
The current job was scheduled to take sixty Standard days. If Heathcliff and the crew weren’t done by then, the company would send a new crew out to finish the job at a loss to the first.
The crew leader was a corpulent man with a foul mouth named Braulio Valdez. He was fifty-six years old and, according to him, he’d been with the company for over fifteen Standard years but blamed his lack of education and his love for space mining as his reasons for not ascending the corporate ladder.
The other senior man on the crew was Heathcliff’s age at thirty. A black, brick house of a guy with bulging muscles—-even his eyebrows had muscles!—-named Jonathan Bika. He was a quiet yet respectful guy who quietly played chess with Valdez each night, while Valdez cussed and spat with each wrong move he made.
And then there was Heathcliff, there to replace the last guy, who’d died while mining a rogue asteroid not too far from where the target debris field now stretched.
Heathcliff kept to himself for the most part, save for mealtimes when everyone ate together or not at all. Other than that, he was on his bunk, staring up at the ceiling of the sleeping cabin and dreaming of home, Christa, and of course, little Isabel.
The loss of gravity told Heathcliff that the Selk had leveled out. He and Jonathan were then strapped into the crew compartment of the colossal M.E.R.C.V (pronounced merkiv, the acronym standing for Mining Excursion and Resource Collection Vehicle) to await disengagement.
Heathcliff had gotten his first glimpse of the debris field earlier in the day; an oddly shaped chunk of rock about half a kilometer in length and perhaps half that in overall width, the surface oddly pale in color, though that could just be some anomaly of the outer solar system. This was his first true venture into the outer system, after all, and neither Boss Valdez nor Jonathan had seemed to care about the strangeness of the rock and they were both outer system vets.
Heathcliff, now dressed in a bulky vacuum suit and MMU, floated in the weightless nothing of space. Very far to his right hung the peach-colored ball of Saturn, its rings looking fake in the blackness of space, its moons spinning sluggishly about it like sparkling jewels.
To his front was the M.E.R.C.V; the giant, four-legged, multi-level craft with a cannon-like laser-cutter and vacuum portal bulging out from its underside, and a long tether—looking like a beige, cosmic anaconda—running from its top hatch to connect amidships to the MV Selk far above. A tube running through the center of the M.E.R.C.V allowed material to flow up through the tether after it’d been cut with the laser.
It was the exact same type of craft Heathcliff had been familiar with at his last gig in the asteroid belt.
A few hundred meters below spun the oddly pale, oddly shaped asteroid, the rest of the debris field marching out behind it for a hundred and fifty meters, rocks of all sizes, ranging from head-sized boulders to objects as large as small hills.
Heathcliff lowered himself about fifty meters to better scout out an initial landing site for the M.E.R.C.V. He found a spot that seemed generally flat and then directed Jonathan down.
“Lower one hundred meters, slow. Shift left thirty meters, slow. Lower to land.”
He watched as the ungainly M.E.R.C.V used its rockets and thrusters to maneuver itself into position, touching down flawlessly on the rock.
“Miner 3, good landing,” Jonathan called up. “Standby. Mining commencing. Spot me when I’m close to the edge.”
“10-4, Miner 2,” Heathcliff said, then watched from his safe vantage as the laser-cutter sparked red and the craft began to strip away the first layers of material, sucking it up to be sorted autonomously before then being sucked the rest of the way up into the tether and finally into the storage holds of the MV Selk. The waste material would be jettisoned after each sort once it’d been blasted to dust by the internal grinders.
Heathcliff only had to call down minor corrections once in a while but other than that, his duty would be pretty light until they had to jump to the next rock.
A glare from below suddenly glinted off Heathcliff’s visor, getting his attention. He looked down to see something reflective sparkling across the surface of the asteroid Jonathan was working on. He maneuvered lower by a dozen meters to get a better look, and even with the distortion of his visor he could clearly see that an eye had been painted on the asteroid’s surface; a blue eye with a black slit down the center. It was definitely artificial, had to be.
And as he looked along the fresh cut, he saw other paintings and symbols as well, sweeping runes in gold and red, and eyes of orange and black, with green and violet slits for pupils.
It was definitely something he’d never seen before in his entire mining career but there were laws to be followed and potential rewards to be reaped.
“Um…Miner 2?” he called over the radio.
“What, Miner 3?”
“We have an anomaly on the surface of the target rock. It looks to me like several eyes and other designs painted across the surface.”
“Standby, Miner 3.”
The laser-cutter winked out from below the M.E.R.C.V as Heathcliff continued to study the designs; strange designs for a strange chunk of rock.
“Miner 3?” Jonathan called over the radio.
“Go ahead, Miner 2.”
“Boss Valdez don’t care about painted rocks. We keep mining.”
“10-4.” Heathcliff shrugged in his suit. It wasn’t his problem. He’d done his job by telling his superiors what he saw; if they didn’t care, then he didn’t care either.
But as the M.E.R.C.V continued to strip off layers of rock and metal, Heathcliff saw more paintings, intricate scenes off all colors: blue triangles, golden birds, winged beings covered in fire, and as the laser-cutter blasted away a piece of metallic rock, he swore he saw the suggestion of a carving with rounded edges and bulging sides.
“Miner 2, there’s more paint…and possibly statues that you’re peeling away from the target. I think it might be important to the scientists back on Yodo 60. Space Law states that we are to report any anomalies and to collect samples if possible. I’m asking permission to go down for a sample.”
“Goddamn it, Miner 3, standby!” Jonathan yelled. A few seconds later he came back over the com. “Boss Valdez says hurry up and collect a sample but he doesn’t want to hear any more about it after that or he’ll dock your ass. Exact words.”
Heathcliff acknowledged the order and then maneuvered down to the M.E.R.C.V, opening up a side panel to retrieve the manual extraction tools.
He meant to get as much of a sample as he could, if for no other reason than for money—-what else? He’d heard many a time about scientists paying big dough for rare finds out in the vacuum.
Hopefully, this would be one of them so he could finally retire from this shit job.
He maneuvered down to the surface.
The specimens from debris field AF-8600 were laid out across several recessed tables. The miner who’d cut them must’ve had a poor hand since the specimens were so jagged and disorganized, ranging in size from pebbles to the size of large melons, but there were a lot of them, perhaps a hundred all told, and even the amateurish way the specimens had been handled did nothing to dampen the excitement Dr. O’Hare and the rest of the scientists on his study team felt as they lorded over the rocks and metal, using thick gloves to handle them with precise care.
Many of the objects were covered in intricate symbols that’d been done with some kind of reflective paint, etched onto the pale stone; others were bits and pieces of larger statues, the depictions looking like something that could’ve come straight from an ancient Japanese Dogu collection: decorated figures with bulging eyes and torsos, while the painted symbols could’ve been a bizarre dialect of ancient Indian Sanskrit, but other statues were so mind-bending as to have been made from some as-of-yet developed technology, with metal and stone intertwined and bending in such ways as to look fused, but try as they might, O’Hare and the rest of the team could find no welds; the objects seemed to all be of a single piece.
“These look to be from an ancient civilization,” Dr. Zimmerman suggested, the recessed lights of the cabin gleaming off his bald pate despite his tanned scalp. “Perhaps ejecta from the vicinity of Alpha Centauri, or even as far away as Epsilon Eridanus!”
“It would’ve taken a massive impact indeed to have sent a debris field of that size into space,” Dr. Sanders said in his gravelly voice, holding up a silver chunk before his spectacled face. “An impact of such magnitude would have created more ejecta than just the hundred or so meters the miner described in his report.”
“Yes but if it had to travel four plus light-years, through the shooting galleries of both the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt, surely the majority could have been lost in between.”
O’Hare could believe that scenario, but he decided to take it a step further. “What if it’s the remnants of a destroyed world?” he suggested. “If an impact could send out this much survivable ejecta, then why not an entire planet?”
“We won’t know until we investigate further,” Dr. Antoinette said, both arms crossed over the ample breasts bulging from beneath her gray unitard as she stared down at the objects. She was the team lead, O’Hare her second. “Dr. Sanders, I want you to head up the analysis of the specimens; find out what they are made of, look for organic material, discover all that you can.
“Dr. O’Hare, I want you to organize an excursion party. Find out AF-8600’s track of origin and trace it back; try to find out if there’s any more debris coming our way.”
“What about funding?” Dr. Sanders asked. “None of this is in our current budget.”
“I’ll take care of that with The Directory,” she said. “Once they read my report, they’ll be stuffing credits down our throats by the barrel full.”
“Does anyone know if any of the original debris field is still intact?” O’Hare asked. It would be nice to have an accurate starting point.
“No,” she said. “The original debris field was recycled after being mined over the course of the last two months. Why are we just getting the material now? Ask the peons who work the mine fields. All they left us was this here and two month old coordinates.”
“So there’s a possibility that more debris could have come before it?”
“That’s for you to find out,” she said in that haughty tone of hers, the one she took when she felt she was having to spell out something obvious to her lessers.
O’Hare found the tone more than a little sexy. He found Dr. Bianca Antoinette more than a little sexy all around, but he kept that to himself; she was way out of his galaxy.
“And what of the miner who salvaged these specimens?” he asked, tempting fate and hoping for more haughtiness.
“What of him? He was doing his job as a miner as it pertains to The Space Laws,” she said, turning to walk towards the egress hatch. “If this discovery amounts to anything, perhaps we’ll name a star or an asteroid after him…maybe a comet. But worry not about him; we here have more important work to do.”
O’Hare couldn’t argue that as he watched her swaying hips sway themselves from the cabin.
With one last look at the specimens, he cleared his throat and left the cabin as well, leaving Zimmerman and Sanders behind as he made his way to organize an excursion crew.
One week later, O’Hare was up in the command cabin, staring out the viewport of an unnamed star-shaped excursion vehicle.
He and his small crew had just reached the approximate coordinates where the debris field had last been seen, but all O’Hare could see now was blackness and the sparkling of stars in the far distance.
He turned to the radar engineer. “Do you see anything out there?”
“Radar is picking up several thousand micrometeoroids in a ragged field a few hundred meters ahead but nothing worth mentioning,” the man said. “There’s a suggestion of something about ten thousand meters to the front, on the same track as the micrometeoroid field; could be another debris field. Infrared is showing something at the center of the anomaly but that’s very faint.”
“Make for that point,” O’Hare told the pilot.
Two hours later, the excursion vehicle approached the first of the outward debris field, a blanket of pale asteroids about two kilometers wide and stretching maybe eight or ten kilometers out.
The sight of it through the viewport made O’Hare’s heart race with excitement.
“Begin collection,” he told the tractor operator, not taking his eyes away from the viewport.
He knew that not all of the field could be collected with this one trip but most of it should fit within the holds, which was good because, even with the naked eye, O’Hare could see the twisted balls of dull metal, chunks of statue, and the strange metallic paint that sparkled in the lights of the excursion vehicle.
“Ah, doctor?” the radar engineer said.
“Yes? What?” O’Hare said, not wanting to be distracted from his study.
“I have something big coming our way. Definitely metal…and definitely big.”
“Is it a vessel, one of ours?”
“No, the signatures don’t match anything I’ve ever seen.”
“How far out?”
“Twenty-four kilometers and closing.”
“Continue monitoring it and let me know the second you find out what it is; in the meantime, we continue to work.”
Three hours later, the radar engineer spoke up again.
“Ah, doctor, said object is coming in close. Ah, close enough to see with the naked eye unless my gear is messed up.”
O’Hare squinted his eyes through the viewport. A bright star, still a good ways out, was pulsing toward the excursion vehicle. It was definitely metal from the glint, and as the radar engineer so eloquently stated, it was big.
“Pilot, head for the radar target dead ahead,” he said. “How fast is it going and are we in any danger of collision?”
“Object is heading inbound at forty-one thousand kilometers an hour,” the pilot answered. “No immediate danger of collision. We have time to maneuver away.”
Turning back to the radar engineer, “What’s the size and makeup of the object?”
“The object is approximately one hundred and seventy five meters in height, fifty meters in width at its widest point; it seems to be made primarily of metal, perhaps a titanium-lead alloy over-shell with the strong suggestion of a carbon fiber under-shell. There’s a strong possibility that it is artificially piloted, and a strong suggestion of the utilization of liquid propellants; definitely a construct, definitely not natural, in my opinion.”
O’Hare’s heart was pounding all over again. He addressed the tractor engineer.
“Stop what you’re doing and lock onto that object; slow it down and bring it closer so we can examine it safely.”
“Yes, doctor,” the tractor engineer said. “I have a lock. Good lock. Slowing from forty-one, thirty-five, twenty, eighteen, fifteen, thirteen, ten, eight, five, nine hundred, five hundred…”
And then O’Hare saw the object as it scudded through the debris field like an omnipotent goddess…and it was spectacular.
The object was fashioned to look like a humanoid woman; her skin from head to feet was a silvery blue, her face strong and fierce, the eyes a midnight black, silver hair flowing from her scalp down to broad shoulders. Her legs were parted like scissor blades, her torso marred with dozens of holes and circular ports, her breasts well-defined. Her arms were thrust over her head as if she was trying to quiet a crowd and from her back fanned a pair of large silvery sails, looking like wings and her…an angel.
“Try to raise her—ah its crew, if any,” he told the com-officer. “Send out a formal greeting and try to discern their purpose.”
After several minutes the com-officer said, “There’s no reply, doctor, though the craft seems to be emitting a signal. If so I can’t find the frequency, or perhaps the signal is encoded.”
“All right”, O’Hare breathed. “Let’s break off from the field now and tow it back to Yodo 60 for further analysis. If there are any changes in its frequencies or signs of danger, I want to know immediately.”
“But it’s too large to fit within any of our leased bays back on Yodo 60,” the tractor officer said.
“Then it will have to be disassembled. Somebody built it, we can take it apart.”
Though the thought of taking that angel apart wasn’t one he cherished.
Several weeks later, the commission was set to make its report to The Directory.
Most of the science team was comfortably seated within a large conference cabin in Yodo 60, food and drink before them. A wall-length monitor on one wall projected the nine member Board of Directors of The Directory, all of whom were seated on plush sofas or overstuffed chairs, dressed in their three-piece Earth suits, a picture window behind them streaming in filtered sunshine and the blue of the terrestrial atmosphere.
O’Hare was currently pacing the conference cabin’s blue-carpeted floor, excitedly announcing the commission’s findings to The Directory and the higher ups of the science team.
Which included Dr. Antoinette, of those in attendance.
The “space angel” had been towed back to Yodo 60 where the engineers had expertly disassembled her, bringing her piece-by-piece into the science bays. O’Hare and his crew had then gone about deducing her secrets while the rest of the science team examined the other artifacts O’Hare had collected on the excursion.
The angel had been unmanned, and initial findings suggested that she was a probe of some sort, since she’d been filled to bursting with multi-band radars, antennas, receivers, and sensors, and the empty cavities found within her torso may have once held atmospheric sub-probes. Her calves held thruster ports and her eyes held navigation cameras and computers. The sails on her back were made of a familiar aluminum alloy and the basic software contained within her data banks wasn’t alien at all but written in a variation of Clojure Plus, with some programs utilizing qubits for the more advanced commands.
What writing and numbers that’d been found printed on her components were all far from alien as well, being virtually identical to both Standard Tongue and the Natural number system. It was because of this that the software engineers were able to decode and decipher many of her internal programs with basic hacking techniques.
The mystery still loomed as to when and where she’d been manufactured, but extensive research and traces of the serial numbers stated that it hadn’t been Earth or her associated colonies. From those same serial numbers, the commission found that she may have been one of many like probes that’d been constructed thirty Standard years prior with the model name Crystal-1000, all made by a company that may have been called Farreacher, which was also stamped on many of her internal parts.
O’Hare had a vague memory of a program by the name of Farreacher and that it had something to do with the discovery of Crystal X; a distant planet of “intelligent bacteria”, but otherwise holding nothing of value or substance for Earth and her colonies.
A database search of the program had turned up scant information: The Farreacher Program had been run under the auspices of a now-defunct entity by the name of The United Space Agency. A list of probes and satellites that had been utilized and manufactured by the agency had accompanied the entry but to images. A series of space probes did have the model name of Crystal, the series running from I to VIII, but there was nothing about a Cystal-1000.
Once the software engineers were reasonably sure that the navigation codes had been cracked, they were able to track her origin going back from where O’Hare and his crew had picked her up in the debris field. Unfortunately, her track disappeared from known star charts soon after the orbit of Pluto.
On the other front, the runes and hieroglyphs could not be as easily cracked as the software. Even so, both debris and the Crystal-1000 probe were thought to be from the same place, wherever that was.
When he was finished, O’Hare quieted and waited anxiously for The Directory’s response.
“Interesting,” Vice-Chairman Walsh said, a black cowboy hat on his head and a fat cigar smoldering at the corner of his flabby mouth. “I think I stand with the rest of the Directors when I say that the requested funding will be granted for further investigations.”
The other eight gave their affirmatives.
“Since it was initiated there,” Chairman Infanger said, “the science team of Yodo 60 will remain as heads of the project. However, we will order an explorer probe from Yodo 95 to investigate the last known point of the Crystal-1000 and track its origin from there. Of course, all findings will be deferred to you of Yodo 60, though we of The Directory want all relative results as soon as they are processed. This will all remain strictly classified until further notice. Good work, team. Keep it up.”
Smiling ear-to-ear, O’Hare left the conference cabin and hurriedly rushed back down to the decks where the Crystal-1000 awaited.
“A what?” O’Hare asked, dumfounded.
“A white hole,” Dr. Donavan repeated from Yodo 95, via the vid-com. “The probe’s findings were rather specific. I’ve sent the still images to your email, along with the encryption key. Ejecta is pouring from the anomaly and scattering in all directions. None of us here have ever seen anything like it.”
“Then how are you sure it’s a white hole?”
“What else can it be? Besides, it’s not my opinion alone; the majority of my science team feels the same.”
“All right, I’ll pass your report on to The Directory. Thank you, Dr. Donavon, I’ll keep in touch.”
The monitor blinked out and O’Hare sat back thinking, the air vents in his personal office whispering away, the lights dim. A white hole. That in and of itself would be a thing to behold, but one spouting ejecta like the kind we have below decks, well…that was something else entirely.
The plot was thickening, to be sure, and O’Hare was overjoyed to be one of the individuals involved who would unravel it.
The Directory ordered another probe to survey the area where the suspected white hole may exist. Over the ensuing months, more ejecta was collected and brought to Yodo 60 for examination. Everything from massive lumps of twisted metal, chunks of pale stone, both metallic and stone statues, Crystal probes, and even large sections of what seemed to be spacefaring craft: tiered decks riddled with metal bulkheads and long slats of anti-radiation shielding.
Many of the recovered Crystal probes were too damaged to attain information from but O’Hare had been able to put together a computer simulation program that could assemble the complete catalog of debris into possible structures (up to and not omitting planets) and what the program came up with was a massive space pyramid, capable of supporting upwards of three hundred million souls and, with the right formula of power and fuel, could traverse the vacuum of space indefinitely.
To O’Hare’s mind, that was a generation ship by any definition; a construct that only existed in theory in modern times. And if they could exist, then perhaps maybe whoever had made them also contained the technology to make a white hole-like portal.
Neither O’Hare, nor the rest of his crew, was certain or not if they were receiving one structure or many different structures all at once. Nevertheless they remained steadfast and continued to analyze them and send their findings to The Directory in the hopes that someone somewhere at some point could crack the riddle.
And then a fragment of video was found on a lone, partially intact data drive. It projected a fleet of gargantuan, blue-skinned space pyramids, thousands of Crystal probes hovering all up and down the length of the fleet. And then, from the darkness, a bright spark, like that of a nearby star, appeared within the center of the fleet, only the star seemed to be moving upon an elongated track.
A rogue star? O’Hare thought as he watched the video with the others.
And then the star became very bright and the image went blank with nothing more to follow.
O’Hare didn’t like what those images entailed as his mind flailed across every wild scenario.
Signing the drive off as urgent, he sent it—along with his comments—express to The Directory.
Chairman Infanger stood before his colleagues on The Directory. The greater science team and department heads were present as well.
The expansive conference hall held sky-blue drapes hanging from tall windows, and ceiling fans hanging from black rods circulated the damp air of the day. The walls were decorated with paintings, portraits, and pictures of Galaxy Reach’s vast accomplishments, from its fragmented years when it’d been an unimportant group of relatively small aerospace companies, to what it was now under The Directory.
“And lastly,” Infanger was saying, “as part of this congress, Dr. Amarok is here to speak on the latest revelations from Project Titan.”
He sat down and Dr. Amarok took his place. The other man was wearing a white button-up shirt secured by a red necktie, and while his black hair was cropped short and brushed neatly to the side, his black beard was a wild tangle of knots and curls that fanned out to either side of his face.
But despite his eccentric appearance, Infanger knew the man was as competent as most and the perfect man to lead the Earth operations of Project Titan.
He listened in as the man spoke.
“Using the suspected white hole as a base, we have used interstellar triangulation to locate what we believe to be its corresponding black hole, located at 12-39, +12-50 of The Virgo Cluster.”
“That far?” Director Bremen asked next to Infanger, sounding surprised. “How do you know this is our black hole?”
“Several reasons,” Amarok said in his gruff voice. “As we all know, once a black hole forms it punches a funnel into the fabric of space-time, with the tip of the funnel opening at the other side of the puncture. We studied how the information was spewing from the white hole, calculated all nearby gravity wells, and theorized that the ‘bridge’ between opposing holes must have an S-shape, or perhaps a zigzag pattern. From there we plotted in all directions, finding possible targets and then picking out the most likely.
“We are relatively certain that this black hole is ours due to its location, and to the fact that this black hole was artificially made.”
This caused a lot of talk amongst those in the hall. Infanger quieted everyone with a terse command.
“Go on,” he told Amarok. “Expand on this.”
“For one, every charted star within the cluster is still intact. We’ve been over the charts a hundred times to make sure. Secondly, the radius of effect, given the size of the black hole, is generally untouched; which means something or someone had to have controlled the alleged gravitational collapse of whatever body was used for the event. In short, given all the information coming through from the white hole, we believe that whatever made the black hole, and thus the white hole, may have been a weapon of some sort.”
More grumbling from around the hall.
“Anything else, Dr. Amarok?” Infanger asked.
“No, sir, that is all.”
“Thank you, you may sit.” He stood and addressed the hall once more. “Suggestions, ladies and gentlemen?”
“If what Dr. Amarok and his team have derived is true, then The High Government must be notified,” Vice-Chairman Walsh said from his chair, tumbler of whiskey in one hand, smoldering cigar in the other. “It is clear, I think, that there is a war going on between at least two parties; at least one of which has technology so advanced as to have fleets of generation ships and a weapon capable of creating black holes. It is also clear, I think, we of Earth and her associated colonies do not want to have contact with either of them just yet.”
“I agree,” Infanger said. “But The Directory and Galaxy Reach must appear to be in control of the situation to keep the bureaucrats from squawking about how the military should take over such duties. What solutions shall we present to The High Government?”
“We need time to prepare,” Dr. Carter said, standing up and still dressed in her white lab coat. “We must further study the artifacts coming from the white hole, unlock their technology, and then suggest that The High Government bring its standards up to or surpass those of these mysterious combatants so that we can sufficiently defend ourselves, or at least match them, if we are ever to meet.”
Many within the hall agreed with her.
“Yes, but in the meantime we are in danger of early contact if the white hole remains open,” said Dr. Bretsky. She stood up as Dr. Carter sat back down. “There may be other purposes other than simple destruction for which these beings use these alleged black holes; perhaps they have found a way to use them as we do wormholes. I believe the white hole must be closed immediately to prevent us from being caught unawares and unprepared.”
“Seems impossible off the top,” Dr. Jenkins rasped. He was old and infirm and stuck in a hoverchair, so no one in the hall expected him to stand. “From what we know it’s all but impossible to even approach a white hole; how are we to close one?”
“By closing the black hole,” Dr. Bretsky said, staring defiantly at Jenkins and the rest of the hall.
“The black hole is sixty million light years away!” said Dr. Sprattler in his high-pitched voice, his scrawny form practically leaping from his chair. “We would never reach it in any reasonable amount of time!”
“How about a wormhole?” Dr. Carter suggested.
“Same difference!” Sprattler shot back. “Tunnel-generators cannot move through tunnel-generators. And in this case, given the enormous distance, multiple generators would be needed for such a feat.”
“I meant a parallel wormhole,” Carter said.
That caused the hall to explode in excited chatter. Infanger sat back in his chair as he thought about the possibility. Parallel wormholes were a theory that’d been cooked up by the scientists over at Univerk Corps, stating that they could use a single, modified tunnel-generator to generate a wormhole that, during its creation, would be attracted to an adjacent wormhole; i.e. a natural formation or one that’d been manmade. The generated tunnel would follow alongside the existing wormhole and open up close to the other end of said host. Lab tests have proven such could be done in theory, but such had never been attempted in full-scale as of yet.
“Suppose we do get there,” Infanger said, breaking up the arguments that were erupting like solar flares all over the hall. “How do we go about closing the black hole?”
“The military,” Carter said. “Surely they have something that can close a black hole; perhaps sending something into it that would sever the link between holes.”
“But without the benefit of the established wormhole, will the one we generate remain open and undamaged?”
There were no definite answers, just more solar flares; some quite abrasive and personal.
“Silence!” Infanger yelled, the hall instantly quieting, all who had been standing hastily taking their seats. “Without a sure way to get whatever crew the military sends there back, if possible to get there in the first place, then neither The High Government nor the populace at large will be very supportive of any plan we put forth. Find a way to get the potential crew back and I will formulate the report to send to The High Government. That’s all for today, ladies and gentlemen. I believe we all have some very important work to do. Get to it.”
Captain Juliana White stood on the bridge of her aptly named ship, Star Pusher, as it docked within the center ring of the modified tunnel-generator.
Star Pusher was a Galaxy Class warship, a black sphere of carbon shielding that bristled all over with both kinetic and energy weapons. The thrusters hidden within the recessed ports of her skin made her highly maneuverable in any direction, suitable for asteroid deflection or Space Law Enforcement.
Juliana had always preferred the latter mission, but close-impact asteroids were a fact-of-life and she dealt with the duty like the officer she was.
“Com established with Tower, captain,” Ensign Jacobs, her com-officer, informed her. “They want us to shut down all unnecessary power and kill all thrusters until egress from the wormhole.”
“Make it so,” she commanded a bit tersely.
It was an honor that she’d been selected for this mission—this unprecedented mission, as Rear-Admiral Shoemaker had described it to her—but she was nervous, in part due to the groundbreaking nature of the event, but more so due to her fear of failure.
Being a part of something like this had been her dream since she was a little girl, and for years she’d boasted to her fellow officers that she could and would top them, much to their scorn and jealously, and she’d stepped on their backs to climb the ranks. Now she had her chance to prove her words with action, proving that she was worth every bar and eagle she’d ever received. Success meant a sure shot to the admiralty; failure meant years of being held back and ridiculed.
“Tower says they’re ready, captain,” Jacobs said.
“All stations go?” she asked the bridge. When all stations reported back in the affirmative, she addressed Jacobs. “Tell Tower to commence.”
She looked back out the viewport. Yodo 95 was out there somewhere, along with Neptune and his brood of icy moons. She’d hoped to get a glimpse of them while she was out here but it wasn’t to be; time had not allowed it.
The tunnel-generator began to spin and her ship with it; the sudden influx of gravity made her want to retch.
“Release in five seconds, captain!” Jacobs shouted through gritted teeth.
Thanks for the warning, she thought sourly. “Bridge, prepare for release!”
And then one second she was looking out over the familiar starfields of the outer solar system, and in the next she was in a different galaxy altogether, the starfield blurring and then still again in half a second, the new starfield completely foreign to her and dotted with boiling red stars.
“Com offline, captain,” Jacobs said.
“Navigation offline,” Lieutenant Devers, Juliana’s nav-officer, called out from his station.
That was to be expected. It would take some time before the nav computer learned where it was, and communications probably wouldn’t work at all without any usable freqs within sixty million light years.
That last made her feel somewhat alone and vulnerable but she forced herself to focus on the job at hand.
And first thing she wanted to do was to stop Star Pusher from spinning before she puked.
“Pilot Deville, right the ship! Lieutenant Ademak, check all weapons and make sure the pulsar bombs are ready and primed! Ensign Melrose, check for bogeys.”
“Yes, captain!” came all three in unison.
Once the black hole was located, the pulsar bombs would be launched toward the event horizon. From there the fuse-timers would self-activate and then hopefully detonate the bombs once they were within the singularity, collapsing the tunnel beyond and closing the black hole and subsequently the white hole with it.
After that, all Juliana had to do was find the entrance to the wormhole and then slip her way back in and back to The Home System.
Easy as pie.
“Captain, bogies!” Ensign Melrose screamed. “One O’clock High and three O’clock High! Closing in fast!”
Juliana shot a look out the viewport to see four fast moving craft, each looking to her like double-bladed daggers as they spun through the vacuum.
“Charge weapons!” she ordered. The targets were moving too fast for kinetic weapons, she could tell that just by looking at them. “Get a lock on each and prepare to fire. Keep com open on scan in case they try to talk with us first. Hold fire until they make their move, then fire at will.”
But then she saw the eight golden streams of energy spinning from eight blade points, all squiggling towards her ship.
Before she could command Deville to evade fire, the energy beams struck and then, a fraction of an instant later, both Captain Juliana White and Star Pusher died painlessly on the outer edge of The Virgo Cluster.
“The plan has obviously failed,” General Heidelberg said, turning to the rest of the Joint Chiefs, the clasps fastening the ribbons to the left breast of his overcoat digging annoyingly into the skin beneath, his silken undershirt offering little protection. “The wormhole has been closed and the white hole remains open. Captain White is most likely dead and her crew with her. The question now is: what do we do next?”
“I think it’s obvious that Captain White was ambushed,” Admiral Lucia said. The ancient man stood smartly in his white navel uniform. “The know-it-all scientists of Galaxy Reach and Univerk say that nothing cosmic has happened so I think it’s clear that we are dealing with a hostile power. We should have sent a larger force, as I had originally purposed.”
“Be that as it may,” Air-General Walden said, crossing his thin legs as he spoke. “What we should have done didn’t happen. Now is the time to do whatever we can so we don’t have any repeats of whatever has happened with Captain White. I think it’s imperative that this alien force is dealt with once and for good with a swift, precise, and violent action. It’s clear they cannot remain free, not while we are so vulnerable.”
“Agreed,” said Heidelberg. “I say we hit them with everything we got. Take out as much as we can and then close the damned holes. By the time they are strong enough to threaten us again, we will be ready.”
“Agreed!” the chiefs said as one.
“Good. Now let’s make a plan, gentlemen.”
Yodo 60 was packed with armed soldiers, Marines, and security forces. Heathcliff didn’t know what was going on, only that he wasn’t working or making any money.
The High Government’s Space Dangers Committee had evidently put a halt to all vacuum projects, which included mining, among other things.
The scientists of Galaxy Reach had all but ignored him after he’d given them their space junk. Not a thank you email, not even a single credit; no appreciation whatsoever.
And to make matters worse, he and the other nonessential residents of the moonaught had been forced to sleep in unused passageways and maintenance bays, since their rooms had been commandeered by soldiers and Marines.
Now he was staring out a tinted viewport at all the warships hovering around the moonaught and high above Titan. He’d never been good with military stuff so he wasn’t sure what each craft was called or what their purpose was, but there were hundreds of black-skinned spheroids, and others that looked like long energy cannon attached to square platforms; he also saw dozens of rod-like craft that he recognized as tractor and repulsor craft, and then there were the mighty flagships he recognized from TV: the dreadnaughts; colossal wheels edged with silver sails and bristling with massive kinetic cannon and long-barreled energy guns.
Earlier that morning in the mess cabin, he’d overheard some loudmouthed engineers complaining about how difficult the modifications to the tunnel-generator were going. Heathcliff didn’t know what could be done to the machines to make them work any better, nor did he know if all that was going on was because of what he’d brought the scientists at Galaxy Reach, all he knew was that, if it was, then he wished he’d kept his eyes closed and his big mouth shut.
At least then I’d still be working, making money, and not stuck sleeping in a passageway.
Sighing, he turned from the viewport. Perhaps he could get a job on one of them ships out there—never hurt to try, especially when you were broke.
O’Hare sat shivering in his seat on the bridge of The Lode Tracker, a cargoship deployed to aid the armada. He wasn’t cold, only petrified. He was far from a soldier but The Directory wanted a science liaison onboard each vessel to aid the military in any way they could. O’Hare didn’t mind the duty so much, he only wished he could perform it from the safety of Yodo 60.
The Lode Tracker’s skipper, a feisty woman by the name of Captain Barbara Moor, was sitting in the captain’s chair as calm as you please, her white uniform impeccable, looking as if she and her crew weren’t about to fly through a very unstable wormhole only to possibly face an unknown, but provably hostile, enemy on the other side.
The Lode Tracker was one of many like vessels whose primary jobs would be to set com-beacons so that the armada could be in constant contact with HQ back on Earth, and apparently to avoid whatever had happened to a ship called Star Pusher during the first go through.
The cargo vessels’ secondary duties would be to resupply the warships of the armada during the coming battle.
“Fleet wants all vessels in formation, captain,” the com-officer said. “Deployment in one Standard hour.”
“Very good,” Captain Moor said. “Tell Fleet that we are heading into formation now. Commander Harrison, make it so.”
“Yes, captain,” said the two in unison.
O’Hare sat back in his seat, still shivering as the cargoship maneuvered into position.
Commodore Kyle Mikain stood proudly on the bridge of his dreadnaught, Callisto’s Kiss, as he peered out over the massive fleet, which was slowly melding its way into formation.
Callisto’s Kiss would be the first through the wormhole, the first to make contact with the enemy, and the first-—god willing—-to fire upon the enemy.
What an honor!
The rest of the vanguard would be converging simultaneously onto a single grid point along with him, blasting through hundreds of different tunnel-generators, ranging from as far away as the orbit of Jupiter to the orbit of Pluto. Once the vanguard was through, the rest of the fleet would follow.
It was to be an unparalleled assault, to say the least, and the risks were palpable. Sending so many safely through so many “unfixed” wormholes will be a feat unto itself, and Kyle knew it wouldn’t go as flawless as these pencil-pushing scientists claimed. There would be losses—perhaps even astronomical losses.
But Kyle didn’t fear death, so long as he died doing his duty in a fearless manner.
For his entire career he had waited for such an opportunity, never thinking it would ever actually arrive. What were the chances? But arrive it had. His days of asteroid bumping over Jupiter and living in squalor on Yodo 37 were over; now he would do what he’d trained his entire life for: war.
For the thousandth time he ran the plan through his mind. The vanguard would punch through, weapons charged and ready, blasting anything that didn’t have a High Government issued call sign. The dreadnaughts would secure the lodgments as the smaller Galaxy ships fanned out to screen and scout the grid perimeter, and to escort the cargoships as they laid the first of the com-beacons. The sleek utility corvettes would come next, using their advanced sensors to search for the first of the black hole’s gravitational field. Then the rest of the fleet would arrive and Callisto’s Kiss would join the other dreadnaughts as they went about destroying as much of the enemy as they could before falling back to The Home System once the call went out.
A great honor, to be part of the vanguard, but not half so great as the one granted the crew of The Midnight Scorpion, the sapper craft that would arrive once the grid was secure and then guided by the corvettes towards the black hole; from there, the sappers—whose craft was built to look like its namesake, with eight modified Crystal probes rigged with pulsar bombs attached to its legs—would enter the black hole.
Once passed the event horizon, the call for the rest of the fleet to fall back would go out; the tunnel-generators would fire flares to denote the openings of the wormholes and then the fleet would fall back while The Midnight Scorpion continued on to release their perfectly timed bombs, before then exiting through the white hole and back into The Home System, the bombs exploding behind them, collapsing both holes and winning the battle.
It would be a day long remembered within The Home System and beyond for many Standard years to come.
The call to advance went out over the radios and Kyle smiled.
“Advance!” he commanded, then sat in his chair as Callisto’s Kiss nudged herself towards the waiting tunnel-generator.
Vice-Admiral Darren Thorinthrall stood tall in his ivory-white uniform upon the grand bridge of the dreadnaught Omega Centauri. Far below hung the orange satellite of Titan, with its own satellite, Yodo 60, spinning around it.
He watched as the ships of his Grand Armada entered into the nearest of the modified tunnel-generators, looking like a miles long silver-and-black snake of death.
Even from this far distance he could pick out the insignias on several of the flagships: the blue-white star of The American Fleet; the green star outlined in gold of The Gran Columbia Fleet, the crossed cannon of The Eurasian Fleet, the multi-colored hands of The African Fleet, and the solid white circle of The Luna Fleet, and all were under his direct command, as were the associated Space Marine battalions and the armies of Republic Earth. Hundreds of thousands of lives and he was responsible for getting them all back to their families alive and unharmed.
It was to be a tall order.
“This is Umbriel Fleet, upper quadrant, dreadnaught Solar Storm reporting!” a frantic voice cried over the open-com. “Wormhole traversed successfully! Beacons are in place! Heavy enemy contact! Heavy friendly casualties! We are still establishing lodgments! Repeat, lodgments not yet established!”
More frantic voices began to fill the concave cabin of the bridge, all reporting pretty much the same thing.
As his under officers took care of responding to the various reporters, Thorinthrall turned to Rear-Admiral Bronson. “Raise Fleet on the vid-com. Tell him the battle has commenced.”
O’Hare held the arms of his chair in a white-knuckled grip as gravity pushed him down then oscillated sickeningly between G’s and weightlessness.
The bridge of The Lode Tracker was alive with activity: orders being shouted, reports being relayed, officers running to and from the bridge. The com-beacon had been successfully deployed and activated almost immediately after exiting the wormhole. Now the ship was acting as a tender, racing from ship-to-ship, resupplying them—-usually under fire—-then breaking away and heading for the next ship in need.
The Lode Tracker was buffeted hard again by a nearby explosion. O’Hare squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to see anything and only wanting to wake from this nightmare, but, at another hard jolt to the cargoship, his eyes opened onto the harsh reality of their own volition to peer out the viewport.
Outside in the vacuum, with the anomalies of The Virgo Cluster all around, the battlefield was a silent dance of grace, colors, and death.
The enemy darted all around in swarms of fast-moving craft that looked like double-bladed daggers with white blades, golden hilts at their centers; they spun clockwise at odd angles, shooting energy beams from their points, the bright yellow beams scrawling across the vacuum to smash Republic corvettes, cargoships, and dreadnaughts with equal ease, turning them into crumpled chunks of molten slag.
Larger enemy craft—like giant golden birds with delta-shaped wings stretching out from thick cylindrical bodies, which were themselves mounted with long tubular engines that spewed green gas out over T-shaped stabilizer fins, their fore sections holding blue portholes for eyes; the long pointed beaks below the portholes fired burning projectiles which transformed dreadnaughts into sparkling plasma—were present as well.
But the enemy had been bloodied too, O’Hare had seen.
The gargantuan wheels that were the dreadnaughts punched through the golden skins of the enemy craft with kinetic weapons, turning them into green suns after they crumpled in on themselves, and squadrons of corvettes led equal numbers of dagger ships into the waiting tractor traps, the opposing beams ripping the enemy crafts apart while the repulsors threw them off course until a Galaxy attack ship could blast them to nothing with their vast arrays of weaponry.
Though, it seemed, for every one enemy craft Republic ships killed, they lost five of their own.
Some of the “golden birds” O’Hare saw out the viewport floated harmlessly in the vacuum, their lights dark while others had long, boxy troopships attached to their hulls like parasites as they were boarded by battalions of Space Marines whose job it was to collect intelligence while chipping away at the enemy.
The cargoship was jolted hard by another impact and something loud smacked across the bridge overhead, making the lights flicker momentarily.
“What the hell was that?” O’Hare screamed in a panic but no one answered him.
“Captain, we have casualties below deck!” the com-officer said.
“Dr. O’Hare, go see to them,” Captain Moor ordered without taking her eyes from the control panel before her.
O’Hare’s eyebrows rose in confusion. “Oh! I’m sorry, captain, but I’m a science doctor, not a med—”
“That wasn’t a question,” she snapped, fixing him with a cold stare of death. “Go tend to the wounded or I will throw you bodily from this ship and out into the vacuum. Got it, doctor?”
Cursing under his breath so she wouldn’t hear him, O’Hare unhooked his harness and floated towards the egress bulkhead.
Too bad Dr. Antoinette wasn’t there to see him acting the damned bloody hero now. Instead, she was safe back on Yodo 60 with Zimmerman, Sanders, and all the damned others!
Commodore Mikain ignored the smoke irritating his nose. The engineers had been unable to locate its source but smoke was the least of his current problems. Most of the Callisto’s Kiss was a collapsed ruin, her bulkheads imploded in the vacuum, killing all who’d been unfortunate enough to be within. But what parts of her that were still intact were keeping both her and his crew alive to continue the fight.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the golden bird-like ships that were the problem so much, but more like the little dagger bastards, who would whittle away with their lasers and then take off before the gunners could get a bead on them.
“Commodore, Vice-Admiral Thorinthrall is on the vid-com,” the com-officer shouted. “He wants a sit-rep ASAP!”
Cursing, he spun on his heels and walked across to the opposite end of the bridge. Doesn’t the man know I’m busy?
The Vice-Admiral appeared on the screen. Kyle saluted crisply and waited for the return salute before dropping his.
“What’s the situation over there, commodore?”
“We’ve lost many, including Virde and Andromeda Fleets, which were lost when their wormholes closed but the battle is not—” another series of impacts threatened to take him off his feet. Embarrassed, he steadied himself and continued. “The battle is not lost yet, admiral.”
“Nor is it won, commodore. When can The Midnight Scorpion deploy?”
“The corvettes have detected the gravitational pull of the black hole but we have not made as big a dent in the enemy as would be ideal.”
“To hell with the enemy!” the admiral shouted, spit flying around his silver beard. “I want those holes closed! You have one Standard hour to do what you need to do. I will deploy The Midnight Scorpion then regardless.”
The screen went dark and Mikain turned to take his position back on the bridge.
“I want all craft to focus on those golden birds,” he told the com-officer. “We have one Standard hour to win this battle; let’s give it all we have.”
As his orders were relayed across the assault fleet, he peered back out the viewport to glare at the spiraling enemy formations.
Who are you? He thought to himself. What are you after? He didn’t have the answers but he thought that the fate of Earth somehow lay with them, and that if the enemy weren’t thoroughly destroyed, then Earth and all its colonies would be.
Gunnery Sergeant Candace Prusak floated within the zero gravity deployment bay with the rest of her platoon. Every Marine around her was dressed in black combat-suits and helmets, concise combat MMU’s on their backs and battle-vests packed with energy cells and loaded magazines strapped across their chests. Black energy rifles were slung over one shoulder, assault rifles over the other.
She looked up passed floating Marines to see the back of her husband, Norman Prusak. Like her, he was a Gunnery Sergeant, the crossed golden Garands centered between three golden chevrons and two rockers, all outlined in red, stuck out sharply from the dark bicep-guards of his suit.
She’d married him straight out of boot camp, where they’d first met; him from Warsaw Province, Eurasia, her from a very small village in Philippine Province. No two people could ever be more different, with him two and a half meters tall and pale as paper, and her a little taller than a meter and a half, and as dark as milk chocolate, but nor could any two people be more in love, in her righteous opinion.
Together they’d been deployed all over Earth, helping to quell the revolts in Quebec Province, Old Texas, Ossetia Oblast, and Brazil Province. From there they’d fought in the long War of The Republic, when the delegates of the High Government had split ranks and fought factionary against themselves and, several years after that, Candace and Norman had been transferred to The Space Complex—which was situated five hundred kilometers above Republic Earth—to join The Space Marines and to add another chapter of adventure to their lives.
“Thirty seconds!” came the call over her headset.
She looked over to her lieutenant. The kid was only twenty-two with large bronze bars running down each arm. This was his first space deployment; and what a deployment it was. When she noticed that he was close to hyperventilating behind his visor, she used a gloved hand to toggle the dial at her waist, switching to his private-freq.
“No worries, sir,” she said, trying to be soothing without “unmanning” him. Many men, especially officers, took offense to what they saw as being “coddled” by a woman. But that was one of the reasons she loved Norman; he held no such discrepancies. “You’ll do just fine. Just remember your training.”
“Yes, thank you, sergeant,” he gulped, seeming to calm a bit.
Norman turned and winked at her through his visor. She winked back and blew him a kiss. He pretended to catch it before turning back around to calm his own platoon leader.
She held onto the wall rail as the troopship banged into the side of the enemy craft. Only then did she feel the flutters in her stomach.
The deployment door rose up to reveal the golden skin of the enemy ship. A demo sergeant floated over to it, fastened a rectangular charge, then quickly floated away as the charge blew inward with a muffled crump and a flash of blue fire and gray smoke.
“Go! Go! Go!”
The advance company floated first into the enemy craft, Candace and Norman among them. Passed the breach she saw that the walls and bulkheads of the enemy ship were all curved and layered in multi-colored lights that strobed dizzyingly. She heard muffled alarms going off all over and felt the remnants of a gravity field; what remained of it made her feel as if she were walking through Moon Colony after a few too many.
Something her and Norman had done a time or two in their day.
She brought her energy rifle up, primed and ready as a figure dressed all in dull gray metal—save for its head which was covered in some sort of translucent dome that didn’t look quite solid—stepped from a hidden passageway. The being stood three meters tall, the face ghastly heavy with a wide square chin, fat lips, a broad square nose and massive, almond-shaped eyes which glared at the intruders with raw hatred beneath thick black brows. The skin beneath the translucent dome was pale and a strangely curled cap sat its head above a thatch of thick black hair.
The being lifted a long-barreled weapon. Candace didn’t see any projectiles fire from it but she did hear a series of electric pulses and then watched in horror as six members of 1st Platoon disintegrated like sugar in hot tea.
She’d heard of anti-molecular rifles, but only in fiction. What she’d just witnessed here could only have been such, though, she knew it!
“Fire!” the call went out; she thought it was from Norman.
She watched as his platoon lifted their energy weapons and fired, but the red bolts bounced harmlessly off the enemy’s armored body to crackle along the lighted walls, shorting them out. She fired her own weapon, aiming straight at the dome. She watched as four perfect energy balls careened into the transparent cover, flashing white, and then imploded into a gory mash of boiling death.
More beings came down passages and through hidden bulkheads, long-barreled weapons raised.
“Aim for the heads!” she called over the com as her target slowly fell to the floor.
And then Candace and the rest of the company were firing in all directions, killing enemies and being killed in turn. When the current firefight ended, the rest of the battalion was allowed in and then the Marines spread out through the ship in force, like a deadly plague, striking at the enemy with a vengeance.
Down one strobing passageway, Norman sidled up beside her. She nodded to him, smiling, and he smiled back, ruggedly handsome as ever, and then both continued on with the good fight, searching for the enemy, eager to dispatch them so they could board the next ship, and keep on until the threat was displaced.
The walls of the cargoship vibrated incessantly as it was in the process of supplying yet another warship.
The wounded were laid out on a bay floor, held down by makeshift straps so they wouldn’t float up, injuring themselves further. O’Hare had them organized from least to most injured. The neighboring bay held the dead, which there were thankfully few of.
Most of the casualties had broken bones from being thrown around, but some had burns from scorching gas or from being electrocuted by energy surges. Those were the worst, with skin hanging from faces and limbs like moldy lichen drapes.
All of the wounded needed genuine medical help, but there were only the basics on this ship and O’Hare didn’t know the first thing about medicines and only the fundamentals of human anatomy. His strengths lay in physics, history, and figuring out the cosmic workings of the universe.
The walls stopped vibrating as the cargoship pulled away from the warship.
“You’re needed on the bridge, Dr. O’Hare,” someone he didn’t recognize called over to him.
Relieved, O’Hare floated around, giving last-minute instructions to keep the casualties still and then he floated back towards the bridge. Anywhere else was better to be, as long as it was away from the globs of floating blood and the moans of the wounded.
Once on the bridge, Captain Moor pointed out through the viewport and said, “All right, scientist. What are those?”
His gaze followed to where she was pointing to see dozens of Crystal probes—these fashioned to look like both men and women—scudding through the vacuum.
Needless to say, he was quite surprised.
“They’re Crystal probes, captain,” he said. “Like the ones we found—” But then he watched as the probes fired on the enemy with energy blasts, and knew then that they weren’t probes at all.
“Whatever they are,” Captain Moor said. “They seem to be on our side.”
O’Hare could only nod and continue to watch.
Commodore Carlos Menendez stared shocked out the viewport as Callisto’s Kiss folded in on itself as it spun, glowing violently in the vacuum, and then explode in a sphere of charged gas.
It wasn’t the first dreadnaught he’d seen die in such a way since battle had been met, but none had been worse than seeing Callisto’s Kiss go in such a way.
“Raise Omega Centauri,” he told his com-officer. When Vice-Admiral Thorinthrall appeared on the monitor of the vid-com, he said, “Sir, Commodore Mikain and his ship have perished. As I am next in rank I’m requesting new orders from you, sir.”
“You’re in command now,” Thorinthrall said. “Order the fleet back to their entrance vectors and standby for the flares. I’m deploying The Midnight Scorpion. When the fleet sees the flares, retreat back to The Home System, copy?”
“Yes, sir.” He turned back to the bridge. “Put me on all-com,” he told the com-officer. “Attention Fleet. This is Commodore Menendez of the dreadnaught Jovian Storm. All ships are to disengage the enemy and head for their entrance vectors to await the flares. Once the flares are fired, you are to retreat back through the wormholes. Godspeed and good luck.”
He looked back out the viewport to where the remains of Callisto’s Kiss were now but a mere cloud of flashing plasma.
A mighty armada had invaded this grid coordinate just hours ago. Now, but a small fraction remained. Menendez only hoped that it was all worth it in the end.
Candace lifted her rifle and fired at the being in the bulging white suit. These weren’t as deadly as the beings with the broad faces and gray armor but they had the annoying ability to somehow press Marines into the floor, making them easy prey for the dome-headed beings. And these were much more freakish-looking with their crescent head crests that arched above what might have been helmets fixed with red nose-pieces, black slits for mouths and eyes holes, though these could’ve been their real faces for all she knew.
Another vertical slit cut the things’ fat bellies and it was those where she thought their invisible restrainer beams came from—-it was also the sweet spot which killed them instantly once hit.
She fired her assault rifle—-the energy weapons being next to useless on these guys—-and the being crumpled in on itself, spraying out green globs in all directions and floating to the ceiling like a dead fish in a brackish lake.
Her lieutenant and most of her platoon had been vaporized over the course of the fighting; the survivors having since been melded with another company that had been likewise shattered.
Norman was up ahead with a squad of other Marines. He was clinging to a bulkhead with one hand while firing his energy rifle with the other, the Marines around him doing the same.
She made her way in that direction, checking her vest to see how much ammo she had left along the way.
All down the passageway hung crumpled broad-faced beings and deflated white beings, all interspersed with globs of floating gore. She passed it all by with a focus only for Norman and potential danger. The stuff floating all around couldn’t hurt her now.
“It’s a friggin Cyclops!” PFC Menkins suddenly screamed over the com.
She looked up passed Norman and the others to see a group of incredibly tall beings with vase-like bodies plated in dull gold atop narrow legs; pairs of skinny blue arms, each ending in large golden gauntlets, sprouted from the torsos. The heads which rose from the top of thick blue necks were golden balls bristling all over with spikes around a green glowing circle at the center of their “faces”.
“Calm down!” she told the panicked Marine. “Fire and look for the sweet spot. The others all had one, these will too.”
In an instant the first of the new beings was sparking with outgoing rounds, but then something huge struck the ship from the outside, jarring it askew.
“What the hell was that?” someone shouted over the com. “Mama!” screamed another.
Then the ship was being pummeled repeatedly by an invisible force.
The golden beings retreated back down the passageway, but not before one of them released a series of ricocheting beams from its lone “eye”. Candace heard several marines scream out in pain, saw others float up lifeless to the concave ceiling or sink limply beneath the body of a comrade.
“Colonel!” she heard Captain Giovanni shouting over the com. “We’re getting hammered! Unknown origin! How’s your sector?”
“Same shit here, captain,” Colonel Davis answered. “Standby.” Candace heard the freq change. “Control, Battalion here; we’re getting hammered from the outside. Can you see what it is?”
“Copy, Battalion; an unknown force of…ah, giant metal…people are assaulting your ship. Control recommends full evac immediately.”
“Copy that, Control. Prepare to receive evac.” Switching freqs. “Ladies and gentlemen, this battle is over. On to the next. All units head back to the breach, scan your sectors, don’t let your guard down; Semper Fi!”
Candace waited for Norman to float to her before turning to head back. But before she turned all the way, she noticed his face all scrunched up behind his visor. She switched to his personal freq.
“What’s wrong, Gunny?” she asked.
“One of those last beams nicked me,” he coughed. “I’ll be fine, let’s go.”
But she stopped him with a hand to his chest, saw now the globs of blood and gas spewing from the rent in his suit. She instantly reached up for his med kit but it was gone.
“Used it on a private,” he gasped. “Jerk died anyway.” He smiled down at her painfully.
She’d used hers as well at some point. She looked around for another one.
“Forget it,” he said. “I’ll find a corpsman back on ship. We gotta get outta here stat.”
She nodded and together they headed for the breach and the waiting troopship.
Colonel Davis was already there, supervising the evac.
As Candace and Norman took their places, waiting for the junior NCO’s and enlisted to evacuate first, there was a sudden, jarring series of thunderous explosions from above, and the breach where the troopship had been anchored to the enemy ship was violently ripped away, along with a good portion of the outer hull, separating with a shrill tearing, and then troopship and several hundred marines were sucked out into the vacuum, including Colonel Davis.
“Everyone, hold on to something!” Candace cried over the com as she heard bulkheads collapsing by the dozen behind her, the sound like a giant trying to unclog a toilet with a plunger.
She struggled to wrap one arm around the nearest stable object while using her other arm to hold onto Norman.
The Midnight Scorpion passed effortlessly though the wormhole and into the chaos of the battlefield beyond.
Everywhere Captain Zaheer looked he saw Republic ships in various states of damage, most surrounded by clouds of glowing debris.
Most vessels were all in the slow process of moving towards their entrance vectors. He also saw enemy craft and others, looking not unlike the “Crystal Bombs” that were hanging from the legs of The Midnight Scorpion, twirling and firing on one another by the thousands.
That was just as well, he thought. At least they wouldn’t be focused on us.
“I would not be thinking it would be this quiet,” Ensign Farrah said beside him, with that beautiful accent of hers. She was the weapons-officer for this mission and the only other member of his crew. “With all that seems to be going on, I was expecting nothing but loud chaos.”
“Yes, that is quite strange,” he said then toggled the radio. “Corvette 1, this is Midnight Scorpion ready for escort to target.”
“10-4, Midnight Scorpion,” said a woman’s voice. “Corvette 1 will rendezvous with you on grid coordinates 7A.”
“10-4, Corvette 1. Enroute to 7A.” He then brought the grid map up on the HUD and began maneuvering the ship towards the rendezvous point.
The Midnight Scorpion had never been intended to be a military craft. Her original mission was to grab onto rogue comets or asteroids and then move them to stable orbits. Her secondary mission was to tow disabled spacecraft to safety, using the tractor in her tail.
This, what they were doing now, was unproven territory, and he just prayed that he, Farrah, and The Midnight Scorpion made it back to The Home System in one piece.
The flare was glowing brightly from above the entrance vector point. The Lode Tracker was wallowing slowly towards it, having been badly damaged and working only on one thruster.
O’Hare watched from the bridge as ship after ship vanished into the wormholes beneath the flares and he envied them every one, wishing he was on one of them instead of this crippled tub.
“Emergency beacon coming from enemy ship, captain,” the com-officer said. “Possibly coming from our guys. It’s definitely our codes.”
“Ah, captain,” O’Hare said. “Our time is very limited. The wormholes will only stay open for so long. We must not divert, especially as slow as we currently are.”
Ignoring him, she asked the radar-officer, “Are there any other friendlies nearby that can help them?”
“Most ships are heading for the entrance vectors. None are closer than us, captain.”
“Then we divert,” she said.
“But, captain—” O’Hare pleaded, though she cut him off with a terse, “We divert! If our guys are on that ship and need our help, we will help them. Track that beacon and head for it.”
Knowing he was defeated, O’Hare sat back in his chair, trying to resign himself to the fact that he was a dead man.
I’m not even supposed to be here! he whined to himself though it didn’t help his situation in the least.
The ship in question was one of those golden bird-like vessels, tumbling end-over-end, spewing gasses and debris nonstop from several dozen gaping rents in its hull.
“Captain, there’s a unit of Marines stranded by a rent on the ship’s starboard side.”
“Tell them we’re on our way,” she said. Then, turning to her First Mate, “Get the EVA crew ready to help out, commander.”
“Yes, captain,” she said, then floated off, only to return a few moments later. “Captain, the EVA crew is down a person. They need a volunteer.”
Smiling, Captain Moor turned to O’Hare. “You just volunteered, doc. Go make yourself useful. Stat!”
Knowing that an argument was useless, he unbuckled his harness and floated from the bridge, back towards the EVA hatch, shaking in fear the entire journey.
When he arrived at the EVA port, there was a burly man already there to greet him, callused hand held out.
“Name’s Heathcliff,” he said.
“Dr. O’Hare,” O’Hare said, taking the rough hand and shaking it.
“My last partner had his skull shattered from a collapsing bulkhead.” At O’Hare’s apparent look of horror, Heathcliff continued, “Don’t worry, doc, I know what it’s like to replace a dead guy. It ain’t so bad.”
Heathcliff helped him suit up into a pressurized EVA suit and then to buckle on a bulky MMU. Then they both floated to the adjoining cabin, sealing the entrance hatch tight behind them.
“EVA GO!” came the command over hidden loudspeakers. The upper EVA portal opened and O’Hare followed Heathcliff up in a rush of escaping air.
The cargoship was in synchronized orbit with the enemy ship, matching its movements to avoid collision, tumbling end-over-end. Up above, about a hundred and fifty black-uniformed Marines were floating within the confines of a massively uneven breach in the golden hull.
Heathcliff and O’Hare approached the stranded Marines, using hand signals to communicate since the EVA suits were without radios, and then they proceeded to transport the Marines two at a time from the breach to the cargoship, a Marine hanging from each of Heathcliff and O’Hare’s legs, all that the MMU thrusters could handle.
Eventually there were only two Marines left.
Heathcliff was already bringing the next to last two back to the cargoship so it was O’Hare’s responsibility to get the last two. When he approached the breach for the last time, the two Marines, a man and a woman, seemed to be arguing with one another. The man was obviously wounded with globs of dark blood bubbling from a rent in his suit, but he was trying to make the woman go first, though she seemed to want him to go first, even though O’Hare could obviously take them both simultaneously.
He waved wildly with both arms, getting their attention then indicating that time was running out by pointing to his wrist.
The male Marine pointed a hard finger at the woman, then to O’Hare. Reluctantly, she grabbed onto O’Hare’s suited boot, but as O’Hare reached out for the man, the Marine disintegrated.
O’Hare reeled back in numb shock while the Marine hanging onto his leg began to struggle, trying frantically to unsling her weapon. He looked up to see an abomination of a broad-faced being lift some sort of long-barreled weapon from the breach, but her energy rounds took it in its shimmering head and the thing floated lifeless out from the breach and up into the vacuum of space.
Then she tried to jump back into the breach, but O’Hare reached down and grabbed her roughly by an arm before she could send them both careening out of control. She was small but strong and it took all his effort to hold on to her as he brought her struggling to the EVA bay.
Once safely back in the bay, the hatch was closed and the cabin was re-pressurized. Still shaking from the recent ordeal, O’Hare could only watch when the Marine ripped off her helmet and began to scream one word over and over.
“Norman! Norman! Norman! Nor..”
O’Hare looked up at Heathcliff, feeling helpless.
“Nothing you can do, doc,” the big man said. “These things happen in war, I guess.”
As her fellow Marines tried to calm her, O’Hare floated back numbly towards the bridge. He just wanted to go home.
Zaheer had stopped looking at the instrument panel long minutes ago, soon after they had stopped making any kind of sense.
All around The Midnight Scorpion, streaks of light shot passed the canopy, making a type of striped tunnel around the craft and ahead. Zaheer thought he could see images stretched out along some of those streaks but it was then that he stopped looking at them as well.
“Arm the weapons, please, Ensign Farrah,” he said, voice strained.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “The bombs are now armed and ready for release, sir.”
“That is well,” he said distractedly. “Do you think they will remember our names, Farrah?”
After a long pause she said, “I would certainly hope so. If not, then we must surely remind them. This work shall not come so cheap!”
He smiled at the joke. He knew he shouldn’t have asked such a thing; such a question was bad luck during times like this.
He blinked when he suddenly noticed a different, slightly familiar series of lights streaking by the canopy viewports.
“What was that?” he asked himself.
“I think it is the enemy!” Farrah said shakily, leaning forward to get a better look. “They are firing onto us!”
There were a series of rippling bangs from the back of the craft, but Zaheer was then distracted by the front of the craft as it began to stretch bizarrely out before him. It was a sensation he’d felt only one other time in his life, back in his younger college days when he’d been somewhat of a rebel. He and a few friends had experimented with LSD and hours later he’d sat watching as his hands floated out elongated before him, not unpleasantly so. This was like that, though on a much grander scale, and far from pleasant.
An alarm sounded from the control panel.
“Sir, one of the bombs has been hit!” Farrah screamed. “It is critical! It will explode premature!”
He looked at the timer on the instrument panel but, like everything else, it made no sense.
Are we inside the black hole yet? he wondered. Should we release the bombs?
“Captain Zaheer! We must jettison the damaged bomb! It is ready to go!”
He turned to her as reality unwound all around them. “Farrah, what god do you pray to?”
“My gods are many and live within the Earth!” she cried. “Why?”
He reached up with a hand like dripping paint and grabbed hers. “Then pray with me! My god is here! He will see us through! Release the bombs!”
She did as ordered and then, an instant later, the world was filled with pain and long streaking lines of burning light.
“Back in The Home System, everyone!” Captain Moor announced over the intercom.
Everybody cheered, with Heathcliff lifting up a female Marine and kissing her square on the lips.
O’Hare collapsed in unbridled relief and couldn’t stop the tears from running down his face.
I made it! I actually made it! He thought elatedly. Then, more importantly, I’m alive!
If this feat didn’t impress Dr. Antoinette he didn’t know what would.
Cheeks wet, he looked around smiling at the celebrating Marines and cargo crew. The only one not celebrating was the female Marine, the one he’d saved from the enemy ship. Instead of celebrating, she stared up at the closed EVA hatch with swollen, hate-filled eyes.
Vice-Admiral Thorinthrall stood on the bridge of the Omega Centauri, watching the various monitors as the armada returned, as battered as ever he saw it, and he was listening in as each checked in with their status reports.
Too many dead, he thought. Too many. The ranks will have to be filled out once more, but who would want to join after this?
He watched the monitor that was observing the white hole. Light and debris had been spewing from it nonstop for hours on end. Suddenly, it belched out a massive geyser of light and something shook the dreadnaught seconds later, which should have been impossible, as he understood such things, since the explosion was so far away.
Lights flickered and went out across the bridge. Gravity momentarily lapsed then returned, and then all the lights came back on as well.
“Situation report!” he called.
Some of the monitors on the bridge showed Saturn and its moons with lights dancing across their surfaces. Same with Neptune and Uranus and Jupiter.
“We’re good, admiral,” his First Mate declared. “No data lost and all systems are a go and fully functioning.”
“Admiral!” a young captain said. “The white hole seems to have vanished.”
Thorinthrall smiled. “Then I would call that a victory, ladies and gentlemen!”
The bridge burst into cheers.
“Raise Fleet,” he commanded. “I would give him my initial report.”
Admiral Lucia came up on the vid-com. “Hello, sir,” Thorinthrall saluted. “I am pleased to announce victory! The holes are closed, the enemy has been bloodied!”
“Admiral, what the damn hell is going on up there?” Admiral Lucia growled; not the expected response. “We got the goddamned Aurora-friggin-Borealis running from the North Pole to down past the equator!”
“An anomaly, sir! I assure you all is well.” He then relayed the bones of the details.
“Outstanding,” Lucia said. “I want the official report on my desk within the week. Also, find out who the heroes of the battle were, especially the crew who closed the holes. If there aren’t any, or if they can’t be found, make some, alive or dead it doesn’t matter. We need to give out awards and honors, hold parades—all that damn shit—so when we send the recruiters out the people will have something to sign up for.”
“The media outlets are already calling this The War of The White Hole. Got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed it does, sir.”
Still smiling, Thorinthrall turned and began issuing orders.
Two Standard days after the battle, O’Hare was on a video-conference call between his team and The Directory, as he relayed his version of events.
“…It was a gruesome sight; something I wish to never experience again. There hadn’t been the presence of any space pyramids, like the ones we discovered in the artifacts, but the Crystal probes are not, in fact, probes at all, but autonomous weapons. They came in great numbers to combat the enemy during the battle. Attempts to contact them were futile but they seemed to recognize us as allies. Also, I saw one of the enemy beings personally…and I believe they may have already visited Earth in the past…the one I saw resembled something very like the statues of Rapa Nui. Therefore, as part of my report, I’m suggesting such sites to be investigated further worldwide and extra effort be made to crack the runes we’ve collected. While the evidence suggests that both holes are, in fact, closed, I fear this is not the end of this enemy…nor the beginning.”
“Very good, Dr. O’Hare,” Chairman Infanger said. “We here have been discussing this at great length. We want you to return to Earth and become our Director of Operations.”
“Truly?” O’Hare gasped, shocked to his core. He’d always aspired to join The Directory but thought such a time was still decades in the future.
“Yes, Dr. O’Hare. The position is much deserved by you. We here will need your newfound expertise to plan for the future. Choose your successor for Yodo 60 and return immediately.”
“Yes, sirs! I will, and thank you so much!”
When the monitor winked out, his colleagues cheered and congratulated him as he broke down into tears once more, for the second time in as many days.
The only thing that could’ve made the event more perfect was if Dr. Antoinette had been there to see it; but alas she had been transferred to chair the science teams of Yodo 78. The chances of him seeing her again in the next ten years were slim to none. Though perhaps now that he was a member of The Directory, he could pull some strings to get her transferred to Earth.
Time would tell, he supposed, but now was a time to rejoice, for which he had many reasons to do so.
Heathcliff drunkenly walked the passageways of Yodo 60, a bottled beer in one hand and the credit account card he received from Captain Moor in the other.
He’d spoken to Christa and Isabel via video-com earlier that morning and he was alive, so it was shaping up to be a good day.
Work crews ran up and down the passageways, skittering passed Heathcliff by the score, surveying and repairing the damage done by whatever had hit the moonaught after the holes were closed. The same force had hit the armada too, which had caused no little concern on The Lode Tracker, but it only amounted to a power outage and had been quickly remedied by the cargo crew.
His old room, which had been occupied by Space Marines, was now occupied by several repair crews that’d been shuttled in from Earth, but he didn’t mind a bit. Life looked a lot less stressful after what he’d been through and sleeping on a passageway floor was far better than floating forever in the vacuum of space.
He passed by a brand new commercial monitor that had just been put up by a pair of uniformed Marines. The electronic scroll was full of colors and depicted a mean-faced man and woman couple, both dressed in black Marine uniforms with white garrison hats, their polished boots stepping on a golden bird, its tongue lolling out. Below them were the blood red words: “Remember Captain Zaheer and Ensign Farrah! They died for you! Now it’s your turn to live for them! Keep their memory alive while serving your government; talk to a recruiter now about joining the brand-new Midnight Scorpion Battalion, Space Marines! First to zoom, first to boom! Recruiting station located on Yodo 60, 18th Deck, 22nd Block. Ask for Sergeant Rochello. 20,000 credit sign up bonus for eight Standard years. Semper Fi!”
20,000 was a lot of money, Heathcliff thought drunkenly to himself. Not to mention Space Marines must get better base pay than miners did. Plus, enlistment would mean at least six months back on Earth for training; plenty time to see Christa and Isabel.
Throwing the empty beer bottle into a nearby receptacle, he turned around and made for 18th Deck.
As he walked, he thought, Maybe telling those scientists what I found hadn’t been a bad idea after all. I may have just found a new career opportunity; either way it can’t be worse than pounding rocks for the next five years.
And as he walked, he began to whistle. Life was good.