Have a sneak peek at Chaos and Resurrection–the sequel to Chara’s Promise! Shhh. Don’t tell anyone that it’s here
On the United Federation of Nations starship Chara’s Promise in orbit around Providence, the fourth planet of the Beta Canum Venaticorum system.
Earth reference date, June 3, 2128.
The planet vaguely resembled Earth. It had a breathable atmosphere and was nearly ninety percent covered in water. It had two reasonably sized continents, a handful of island chains and two ice-covered poles each one extending to what on Earth would be the 34nd parallel, call it Charlotte, North Carolina in the north or Wollongong, NSW in the south. At nearly eighteen thousand kilometers in diameter, it was significantly larger than Earth, but a dearth of metals kept its mass near Earth normal. It was orbited by one moon slightly larger than Ganymede and two much smaller ones that orbited in a stable 2:3:3 resonance. Most importantly, it sat squarely in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone around the star Beta Canum Venaticorum, – Chara. Its official designation was Chara D but, to the settlers who would call it home, its name was Providence.
“Ellen, ease us into a geosynchronous orbit optimized for shuttle transport to West Bay,” Grace Randall ordered her chief pilot. Then the captain of Chara’s Promise turned to the communications station and said, “Mukai, get Commander McBride on the comm. I want to let him know that he’s going to have guests for supper.”
Cruz McBride had come to Chara D twice. The first time as mission commander for the initial survey team and the second as leader of the advance team that had spent the last eleven years exploring the planet and building two nascent settlements, West Bay Station and South Point, on the largest land mass.
Minutes passed while they waited for a response from the settlement. Finally, they heard a booming voice and a weathered, chiseled face appeared on the center holoscreen.
“Well Captain Randall, glad to see that you folks finally made it. It seems like we’ve had the porch light on for you forever,” McBride said.
“Randall smiled as she replied, “Call me Grace, Cruz. We’ve known each other too long for protocol. But leave that light on for a bit, at least until we land.”
“No worries, Grace. When can we expect to see you on the surface?”
“We’re parking the ship in orbit as we speak. Then there’s a bit of housekeeping to do before we launch a shuttle, so let’s call it five hours.”
“Just in time for dinner! How many are you bringing?”
“Six including myself. See you then. Promise Actual out.”
The landing gear doors on the shuttle swung open and the skids pivoted and locked into position. Slowly, the pilot dropped the last few meters and sat the bird down on a small landing pad near the edge of the settlement. As the thrusters went silent, the rear hatch dilated, the ramp extended to the pad, and Randall stepped into view. She watched as McBride and a woman companion left the control building and strode towards the shuttle. McBride’s right hand was out as he reached the top of the ramp in three long steps.
“Welcome to West Bay, Grace!” he said with a wide grin.
Randall met his hand with hers and replied, “Thanks. It’s been a long trip and it’s nice to see a friendly face now that we’re here.” Then Randall turned to the woman and said, “Hello, I’m Grace Randall, Captain of Chara’s Promise.”
The woman was tall and slender with dark short cropped hair and a slightly angular face. She carried herself with an easy air of confidence, a common trait for explorers who had grown accustomed to survival based on their own abilities.
“I’m Miya Yamazaki,” she answered. “I’m the resident farmer and social skills coach. Cruz should have introduced me, but after eleven years I suppose his etiquette skills have become a bit rusty.”
“Sorry, you’re right,” McBride agreed with laugh. “But, you can’t blame that lapse on the passage of time. My manners have always been lacking.”
Randall returned his smile and replied, “So I don’t get called to task along with you, let me introduce my team. This is Lieutenant Abbie Hollis, my security chief; Cat Kilrain, our science officer; Gavin O’Leary, our logistics officer; Alan Layton, our medical officer; and Bryan Meade, my chief engineer.
McBride made a mental note that Randall appeared to consider both security and engineering as being more tightly under her control than other ship functions. A captain keeping tight control of security was expected, but engineering, that said something. He just wasn’t quite sure what. “Let’s head back to the habiquad. There’s a meal and an evening full of conversation waiting.”
“Crikey, that was a ripper of a meal; the best I’ve had in years,” Bryan said as he pushed his chair away from the table.
“Are you planning to mention that to Cassie?” Abbie asked with a mischievous grin.
“Not likely.” Bryan answered.
“Cassie?” inquired McBride.
“She’s Bryan’s partner, and the ship’s horticulturist,” replied Randall.
“Well, we have an advantage that she doesn’t have,” interjected Miya. “Our crops are grown in soil. Say what you want about hydroponics, but there’s something about growing plants in dirt that just makes them taste better.”
“Speaking of the rest of the crew and the colonists, what’s the off-loading schedule?” asked McBride.
“First things first,” said O’Leary. “I have to assess the facilities completed both here and at South Point. When I’ve finished, I’ll put together a plan to unload equipment, supplies and essential personnel to ready the settlements for landing the colonists.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier and faster just to let them handle things by themselves? Weren’t they trained to do just that?” questioned McBride.
“Sure they were but, if we wake up nine hundred colonists tomorrow, can you feed and house them until they get everything built?”
“You have a ship full of supplies. Isn’t that enough?”
“We have a ship full of seeds, frozen embryos, equipment and raw materials. We need time to off-load and set up equipment, establish a food supply and build shelters. We’ll wake fifty or sixty key colonists in the first wave, but my guess right now is that we’re four to six months away from a complete debarkation.”
“I guess I got ahead of myself a bit, didn’t I?” McBride said diffidently.
“Not at all,” answered O’Leary. “Logistics is my area. God help us all if I’m ever put in charge of a survey team.”
Everyone at the table laughed and the conversation moved on until it eventually came around to the trip they’d just finished.
“We were worried for a while when we got the burst transmission about the problem with your A-drive,” McBride admitted. “That was some inventive rigging you did to get things right.”
The smiles faded from the faces of the Chara’s Promise crew members and a hush fell over the table. Randall finally broke the silence when she said, “Yes, it was inventive…and costly.” Then she rose from her chair and her crew did the same.
“We’ve had a long day, Cruz, and there’s a lot of work to do before we can start bringing anything or anyone down. If you’d be kind enough to show us the way to our billets, I think it’s time for us to get some sleep.”
Miya smiled and stood as she said, “Absolutely Grace. Follow me; we have rooms ready for you.”
By the time she returned, the station team had the table cleared and everything stored. As the others drifted away, Miya sat and gently placed her hand on McBride’s arm.
“I put my foot in my mouth a couple of times there, didn’t I?” he said.
“Oh, maybe once or twice, but not as often as you usually do,” Miya replied with an amused tone.
“Don’t worry about it. They’re tired and nervous, so are we. We’re all feeling each other out. Actually, I think it went rather well. They have a good team and I like them.”
“For the most part, I agree. Randall’s a bit puzzling though. She vacillates from friendly to somber a little too quickly for my taste. I can’t get a good read on her.”
“She’s the captain. You’re not supposed to be able to read her.”
“No, it’s more than that. I’ve been a captain and I know how to interact with someone who’s in a leadership role. There’s something else in play. Did you see her eyes when I mentioned the sabotage? I think I twitched a nerve there.”
“I’m not sure, but what I saw in her face was sadness, a deep abiding sadness that went straight to her soul.”
They sat without saying anything more for a few minutes until finally Miya leaned over, kissed him on the cheek and said, “Come on lover, let’s go to bed. Morning comes early and we’re going to be busy come dawn.”
McBride smiled, stood and they walked, holding hands, to their room. Starting tomorrow, they had a colony to build.
On Chara’s Promise in orbit around Providence.
Earth reference date, October 12, 2134.
It had been months since Bryan had roamed the corridors of Chara’s Promise. Most of the time, there was too much work to be done in West Bay for him to take the time to shuttle up to the orbiting starship. Occasionally though, he was able to sneak away, especially if he could concoct a convincing story that there was a good reason for a visit.
Promise wasn’t quite a ghost ship; there were always a handful of engineers or technicians on board monitoring the ship’s condition. Eventually she’d be dismantled and cannibalized for parts and materials for the colony but, until that time came, someone had to make sure that she dependably maintained her orbit around Providence.
After he docked and exited the shuttle, Bryan checked the personnel log to see who was on board. It was a busy day and there were over half a dozen entries. Two of them, Sayaka Onishi and Eli Parker were doing routine system checks. He wasn’t surprised to find Sayaka here. She’d had trouble making the transition to colonial life and took every opportunity to return to the only place she felt at home. He was a little curious that Parker was on board. The last he knew, she’d signed on as technical support for one of the survey crews scouting new station sites. That should have taken her off of the rotation roster, yet here she was.
He read the third name on the list twice in disbelief. The name was Grace Randall. It had been almost six years since Randall had left Promise for the last time. She’d been the first person to hit the ground when the first shuttle landed at West Bay and when the last shuttle carrying equipment down broke orbit, she was at the controls. Since then, she’d never returned. Bryan had asked her regularly to join him on trips to the ship, but she always declined. Once, during a late night conversation, she confided to Bryan and Cassie that there were too many ghosts on the ship for her, too many haunting memories. Yet, here she was and Bryan’s curiosity was piqued.
Bryan concentrated for a moment and mentally flipped the switch that engaged his neural interface. “Kate, are you there?” he thought as he attempted to contact the ship’s sentient computer system.
“Well, that’s going to go down in the annals of history as one of the silliest questions ever asked. I’m built into the ship, where am I going to go?” Kate replied.
“A little cranky today are we?”
“I’m not sure about you, but yes, I’m a bit peeved. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had someone to talk to?” Kate said with an edge to her voice.
“I know and I’m sorry. I just couldn’t get away.” Bryan replied apologetically. “There’s just so much work to do on the surface.”
“Hmmpf. I guess I know where I fit on your list of priorities…just below fixing fences and installing bathroom fixtures.”
“Crikey Kate! I said I was sorry. It won’t happen again, I promise. No more than two weeks between visits from now on.”
“Alright,” Kate said, accepting victory with good grace. “At least you’re here now. Have you heard from Cassie lately?”
“I have. She’s still healing from the surgery, but she’s doing OK. She told me to say ‘Hi’.”
“Surgery? What surgery?” Kate said with concern.
“Damn, that’s right. I haven’t been on board since it happened. She was on a recon mission a few weeks back and had a run in with one of those mountain beasties, one of the gray colored ones that look a bit like a small bear with an extra set of arms mounted like outriggers. She got a bit close to the paws on the end of one of those arms.”
“How badly was she hurt?”
“She was tore up fair. Damn bunyip laid a set of tracks down the side of her face with its claws. She’ll be alright, but she’s still got a ways to go before she’s mended.”
“My turn to apologize; I didn’t know.”
“No need to apologize, Kate. As small as West Bay still is, I didn’t find out about the accident for a few days myself. Since we went our separate ways, Cassie and I don’t run into each other very often,” Bryan answered as he opened the hatch between the docking bay and the corridor that led to the MCR.
“So it’s not just me you ignore, Cupcake?” Kate jabbed.
“No, I spread that around equally and , for the thousandth time Kate, please stop calling me ‘Cupcake’.”
Kate giggled at his admonishment and they talked as Bryan made his way to the Main Control Room. While he checked the ship system’s status, they spent nearly an hour catching up. He told her about the progress the colony was making on the surface and she gave him a detailed report on the condition of the ship. When they were done, Bryan thought, “I’m surprised that Captain Randall is on board. What’s she been doing?”
“Mostly making me nervous,” Kate replied. “She went straight to Seth’s cabin after she docked and she’s been there for almost eight hours.”
“Sitting on his bunk staring at the wall.”
“Have you been keeping an eye on her?”
“Eyes and ears. Sometimes she stands and paces for a bit, but so far that and sitting is all she’s done.”
Bryan pondered on that for a few minutes before rising from his seat and heading towards the doorway.
“Where are you going Bryan?” Kate asked.
“I’m going to go see the Captain. It seems like something’s on her mind.”
Bryan stood in front of the door to Seth’s room judging whether knocking first or just walking in would startle Grace the least. In the end he decided to just open the door and go in. As the door slide away, Grace’s gaze went from the floor to the face of her old friend. When she saw who it was, she feigned a smile.
“Is there no place I can go that you can’t find me?” She said. “You’d think that a starship in geosynchronous orbit would be outside your range.”
“I didn’t come looking for you, I just noticed you were on board and thought that this might be where you were,” Bryan replied with a hint of concern. “I was a little surprised to see your name on the personnel log when I docked. You’ve never shown much interest in returning.”
“I know, but today I felt the need.”
“Today is the eighth anniversary of when we left normal space on our trip to Providence. Eight years ago today was the last time that we saw Seth.”
The breath went out of Bryan as he realized that she was right on both counts. Eight years had passed since Seth had taken his place on that ill-fated repair mission and he had forgotten. Bryan moved to the small desk along the wall and sat down facing Grace on the bed.
Many moments passed before he finally said, “I don’t know how, but I did forget.”
“There’s no mystery there. Like nearly everyone else, you’ve moved on. Eight years is a long time to hold on to the past.”
“You’re too easy on me. A hundred years would be too short a time for that memory to fade, let alone eight.”
“Maybe,” Randall said pensively. “I suppose that’s why I came today.”
“No, to turn the memory on its ear.”
Bryan looked at Grace quizzically and asked, “What do you mean ‘turn it on its ear’?”
At that, Randall rose from the bunk and walked to the small viewport that looked out to the stars. “I’m going to change it, Bryan. I’m going to change the memory. I’ve spent eight years working it out. I’m going to go get him,” she said as she gazed at the stars.
“Seth, I’m going to get Seth.”
“That’s ridiculous Grace and Seth would be the first one to tell you that. It would be nice to bring him home; God knows we could all use the closure. But it’s not worth going twenty-six light years just to recover a body. Besides, you’d never be able to find him. We don’t have any idea what our insertion into N-dimensional space at three quarters light speed did to his vector or even if his MMP survived intact. It and he could be anywhere…or nowhere.”
Randall turned and her eyes flashed briefly with a hint of impatience as she said, “I had the ‘where’ figured out years ago. The automated distress signal that Chara’s Hope picked up just before they inserted gave me everything I needed to extrapolate his course and position.”
“It’s still twenty-six light years Grace. No one is going to let you take a starship twenty six light years to recover a body.”
“You still don’t get it, do you? I didn’t spend eight years just working out the ‘where’; I spent eight years working out the ‘when’. I’m not going back to recover a body. I’m going back to recover him. I’m bringing him back alive and I wasn’t planning to ask anyone for permission.”
Bryan sat up straight in the chair, stared at Randall and, somewhere in the back of his mind, heard Kate say, “Holy Crap!”
“What do you mean ‘when’? Are you talking about time travel?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes, but it’s more than that. If I have it worked out right, I’m going to be twisting and turning all ten space-time dimensions inside out.”
Suddenly, Randall sensed that the neural interface she hadn’t used in years had activated and from somewhere a female voice said, “Damn, now that’s what I’ve been waiting for. Count me in!”
Randall’s eyes locked on to Bryan’s and she could tell that he’d heard the voice too. Under the intensity of her stare, Bryan glanced away momentarily. When he looked back, he took a deep breath, cleared his throat and said, “Sit down again, Grace. We have a few things to talk about. I suppose that I should start by introducing you to Kate.”
In Washington, DC at the White House Cabinet room.
Earth reference date, October 12, 2134.
Tyler Allen, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of American States, walked through the open doors of the Cabinet Room and strode quickly to his place at the head of the table. He was two meters tall with salt and pepper hair and steel grey eyes that could stare straight to the soul of anyone he met. He stood behind his seat silently for a minute gathering his thoughts. Then he sat down, took a deep breath and said with a weary but commanding voice, “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, let’s start around the table. What’s today’s bad news?” Ann, you’re up first.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Anna Clay, the Domestic Security Minister. “It was a rough night. We had bombings in Philadelphia and Chicago and the riots in New York are threatening to spill out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan. The borough police and the DDF are containing the situation but, unless we give them some tactical latitude, temporary containment is all we can expect.”
“What kind of ‘tactical latitude’?” Allen asked cautiously.
“If the Domestic Defense Force is going to regain control of Brooklyn, then we need to give them permission to mount a full offensive. That means abandoning passive crowd control procedures and releasing them to use military surface and air drones. If that doesn’t work then we may have to widen their tactical options further.”
“Absolutely not!” Allen said as he rose to his feet and slapped the table with a closed fist. “We’ve already declared martial law in Brooklyn. Now you’re asking me to suspend Article Six of the Constitution. If I do that in the mood the populace is in, then we’ll have all out civil war.”
“Probably, sir. But at least it’ll be a war of our time, place and choosing. If you ignore Brooklyn and it spreads, which it will, then it’ll be anarchy and we may never regain control. At that point we lose the entire Constitution, not just Article Six.”
“Then we find a way to prevent it from spreading that doesn’t involve a wholesale attack on our citizens,” Allen answered. “Our immediate goal has to be to protect the majority without attacking the minority. What’s the evacuation status of the citizens who aren’t seditious?”
“Sir, if I may. That’s part of the problem,” interjected Ryan Kelly, the Treasury Minister. “We perceive the people leading and participating in these incidents as being subversives and dissidents. They may be dissidents, but they aren’t subversive and they aren’t seditious; they’re hungry, afraid and trying to do whatever they can to keep their families alive.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” boomed Allen. “I’ve been in office for five years and in that time we’ve only had one year with decent crops. I can’t remember how many times we’ve had to cut food rations. How do you grow crops; how do you feed the people with these unpredictable weather patterns and in this blistering heat?”
“Nine times, sir,” said Alyson Brewer, the Agriculture Minister, quietly. “Nine times in four years we’ve asked our citizens to eat less. Each time a series of storm cells, a flood or a drought has decimated our crops we’ve asked our mothers and fathers to feed their children a little less. Each time we’ve done that, they’ve straightened their shoulders, nodded their heads and done what had to be done. They can’t give any more sir; they simply can’t.” Brewer’s eyes focused on Allen’s and waited for his reaction. It soon came, but it wasn’t the fiery response she’d expected.
“So we’re back to that,” the Prime Minister said as he defiantly matched her stare. Then he took a measured breath, slowly dropped back into his chair and said, “You want me to reopen talks with that opportunistic vulture in Canada.”
“We don’t have much choice, Mr. Prime Minister,” offered Kelly. “Canada, Québec, Russia, Argentina and Chile are sitting on the largest food stockpiles in the world. Europe and China are taking everything they can from Russia and South America can barely feed its own, let alone export. Not that it makes much difference; we don’t have the cash or the credit to buy food from anyone now. That makes the trade deal with Canada the only decent play we have.”
“That’s not a decent play; it’s a draw to an inside straight. How are we going to sell Parliament on a deal that exchanges a one hundred kilometer wide strip of land from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic for a ten year supply of food?” Allen shot back.
“We can do it, Sir. It will be the most difficult political negotiations we’ve had since the Civil War, but the support is there,” replied Kelly. “If Parliament moves quickly on a Canada deal and the Vertical Aeroponics Farm Act then, by the time ten years is up, we’ll be able to meet all of our agriculture needs without help. With the proper spin, we can sell that to Parliament and the people.”
“So we make the deal and lose upstate New York and a third of New Hampshire and Vermont as a result,” Allen replied angrily.
“Yes, sir, we would,” Kelly conceded. “But damn it, we are running out of food! If we don’t solve that problem soon, we’ll be facing another civil war. I can guarantee that what’s left of the CAS after that war is over won’t be worth rebuilding. Canada has been landlocked on the east since Quebec seceded and took their eastern provinces along. They want this deal as much as we need it. Sometimes, all you can do is to make the choice that hurts the least.”
“You know, we’ll also be cutting Maine off from the rest of the country. How long do you think it will be before they secede and join Québec?”
“That’s a non-issue sir. Maine will do that eventually under any set of circumstances,” Ryan countered.
Allen and Kelly stared at each other for several long seconds, one with an icy glare and the other with the calm resolve of a man who knew he was right. Allen blinked first, sighed, and in a slightly subdued voice said, “Have your teams pull together the data and a list of discussion points. We’ll meet Wednesday afternoon to examine our options. What’s next? Ann, what about the terrorist bombings?”
Clay sighed, retrieved two briefings on her pad and, with a quick thought, transmitted the dramatic images of the destruction to the holoscreen at the center of the table. “Just as with the three last week, it appears that these two were coordinated; the blasts happened within thirty seconds of each other. But, there are peculiarities this time.”
“What kind of peculiarities? Allen queried.
“It doesn’t appear that they were looking for a high head count with these blasts. There were only three fatalities in Philadelphia and four more in Chicago. Between the two blasts, the number of injured is under thirty. The bombs were timed to explode when both sites were least busy but still had enough traffic to interest the media. That’s no small feat considering that the population and the media are getting languid about terrorist attacks.”
“So they were just trying to get our attention?” asked Allen.
“It appears that way. But that’s not the only thing that’s atypical. The bomb designs were totally different. My people think that one was Kidon and the other was Jundallah.”
“Are you serious? Are your investigators saying they believe that Jewish terrorists and Islamic terrorists have joined forces?”
“No sir, they aren’t ready to say that yet. It could be a coincidence. But they are starting to give the thought some credence. We’ve had sporadic intelligence over the past few months which support that conclusion, but this is the first time that we’ve had any physical evidence.”
Allen’s eyes flashed and one or two of the ministers involuntarily glanced away, in the same way a witness to an accident will close his eyes when he knows there’s nothing he can do to prevent the carnage.
“You’ve known about this possibility for months and this is the first time you’re telling me!” Allen shouted. “That’s a game changing piece of information and keeping it under wraps is outrageous.”
“Sir, they were minor indications that could be easily misinterpreted. We hid nothing from you. It’s not our job to bring you rumors and whispers. It’s our job to bring you facts,” Clay pointed out defensively.
“Bull shit! Your job is to keep me apprised of anything that affects the security of this nation. It’s my job to sort out the relevance,” Allen countered. “This meeting is over.” He glared at Clay and said, “I want you back here in thirty minutes with a full report on everything you have that supports collusion between the Kidon and Jundallah. Bring anyone you need with you. I want the rest of you back here at 1:00 PM to continue the daily briefing.”
With that, Allen rose and stormed out of the room.
As the door slammed shut Deputy Prime Minister Eric Hunt left his seat and made his way to Ryan. “Go after him Kelly. Calm him down,” Hunt implored.
“Do I look suicidal?” Ryan replied rhetorically. “Besides, isn’t that your job?”
“Maybe in a perfect world, but you know as well as I do that you’re the only one he still listens to.”
“There’s a big difference between listening to someone and heeding their advice.”
“You have to try. The opposition is within a gnat’s hair of putting together a successful vote of no confidence. This is not the time for Allen to be playing cowboy. If we’re going to maintain control of the government and get anything done then we have to do it as a team,” Hunt argued.
Ryan closed his eyes, arched his head back and took a deep breath. After a few seconds he opened his eyes, exhaled sharply, looked at Hunt and said, “Alright, I’ll try to rein him in a bit. But, he has a point. Clay should have briefed him better on the terrorist information.”
“Agreed and I’ll take care of that issue. Trust me, that won’t happen again.” Hunt promised with a nod. Then he turned and left the room on a power walk to Clay’s office.
“Good morning JJ,” Ryan said as he opened the anteroom door of the Oval Office.
“Is that a declarative statement or wishful thinking, Mr. Kelly?” the Prime Minister’s executive assistant replied.
“I’ll let you know in a bit,” Ryan bantered as he continued towards the Oval Office door.
“I wouldn’t go in there right now if I were you Mr. Kelly. That door closed pretty hard when he shut it.”
“I’m sure it did JJ, but I still have to go in.”
“Is your emergency contact information up to date?”
“I believe so. Why?”
“Just checking. Tell you what. Let me tell him you’re here first. I know I don’t usually do that with you, but…”
Ryan nodded and JJ called the Prime Minister.
“I don’t need anyone handling me right now Ryan. I’m pissed off and I want to stay that way for a while,” Allen growled through tightly clenched teeth as Ryan entered the room.
“I totally understand, sir. Far be it from me to interfere when someone who should know better is having a temper tantrum,” Ryan answered as he raised his hands palm first towards Allen.
“Calling me ‘sir’ when we’re alone and having a private conversation, are we? That’s a sure indication that I’m in for a lecture.”
“Not at all, sir. I would never presume to lecture the Prime Minister of our sovereign nation, even if he had overreacted in a monumental way before leaving an important briefing to go pout like a five year old.”
Ryan stood passively with his eyebrows raised slightly and his hands clasped behind his back while Allen glared at him through narrowed eyes. They held those poses for nearly half a minute until, for the second time that morning, Allen blinked first.
“Ryan, sometimes you can be an infuriating ass.”
“That’s certainly true, sir. It’s a trait that I inherited from my father; I occasionally find it useful.”
“Stop calling me ‘sir’ when we’re in private. I was the best man at your wedding for Christ’s sake.”
Ryan grinned slightly and then walked over to the sitting area and took a chair. “Alright Ty, let’s talk this out. Why did you come unglued on Ann like that? You know perfectly well that we don’t feed you all the little details. We never have and probably never will. If we did, then you wouldn’t get anything done.”
“Of course I know that, but this wasn’t a little detail. It was huge.”
“You’re wrong. If it was confirmed then it would be huge. It’s not confirmed. We share information with every intelligence service in the UFN and they reciprocate. If any of them had concrete confirmation that the Kidon and Jundallah were working together, even just a little, then the situation would have escalated and Ann would have briefed you on it. You have to know that.”
Allen dropped heavily into another of the chairs, laid his head back and watched the ceiling fan rotate for a minute before quietly answering, “Yeah, I know.”
Neither of them said anything for several minutes. Finally, Allen broke the silence.
“You know Ryan, most national leaders, whether they’re prime ministers or presidents, have one defining legacy that they leave behind when they’re gone. I’m close to the end of my time in office; I can feel it in the air and I’ve come to terms with that. But the one thing that haunts me is the thought that my defining legacy might be that I was leading when the last vestiges of the old United States of America faded away.
“Hmm, did you and I read a different history book? If memory serves, the United States ceased to exist almost a hundred years ago. Remember, the old ‘three nations from one’ scenario?” Ryan asked.
“This is the real world Ryan, not a sanitized textbook. The Liberated American States have never been anything more than a pipe dream filled with misguided idiots clinging to survivalist cult leaders and, for whatever reason, the international community never fully accepted the Independent United States as a legitimate offspring of the original.”
“I’m pretty sure that the folks living in the IUS could build a pretty good argument for their birthright.”
“They might argue the point, but if anyone did a paternity test, it wouldn’t come out very well. All but two of the original colonies stayed with the Commonwealth and we have Washington, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles along with all the history those cities hold. More importantly, we kept the lion’s share of the national wealth…or what was left of it after twelve years of civil war.”
“So, in your view, instead of three nations we got one nation, an ‘also ran’ and a self-imposed penal colony?”
“What do you say we just keep that hypothesis between you and me? Every once in a while I have to work with my IUS counterpart. It would make things easier if I didn’t have to explain your theory to her over dinner.”
Allen took a deep, quiet breath before answering, “I suppose your right about that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m right too.”
“In the short term, you probably are correct. But you know as well as I do that what we’re jockeying for is a survival position. Sometime in the next fifteen to twenty years all of the international alliances are going to disintegrate,” Ryan commented.
“It’s impossible to know that with certainty,” Allen countered.
“No it’s not. If you were a trained social scientist, I could prove it to you mathematically. The world’s economic and political collapse is inevitable and has essentially already started. What you and I are doing right here and right now is laying the foundation for rebuilding after the dust settles.”
“I can’t afford to think that far ahead. There are too many fires to fight today for me to worry about fifteen years from now.”
“Given. What happens fifteen years from now is my responsibility. But, you have to give me the tools that I need to do the job. I know the price you’ll pay if we cede that strip to Canada, but if it buys us the time we need to ensure long term survival then it’s a sacrifice worth making.”
“Can you promise me that the nation WILL survive?”
“No. But, if we do it right, I’m reasonably certain that mankind will. Do the deal with the Canadian prime minister. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
“For everyone except me. The government will collapse and I’ll be thrown out of office, maybe shot.”
“I don’t think they’ll shoot you. Besides, in a hundred years they’ll be calling you a visionary,” Ryan quipped.
Both men sat thoughtfully for a few minutes until Allen looked at Ryan and quietly asked, “Ryan, why did you stay behind when your father and sister immigrated to Providence? You could have had a spot.”
“I stayed behind because I knew that I could do more good here than there.”
“Do you ever regret your decision?”
“Sometimes. I’ll always miss Dad and Rachel. Once in a while, late at night, I think about having a family. If we’d gone along, Laken and I could have had children. Common sense won’t let us do that here.”
“Chara’s Destiny is leaving in a few months. I could pull some strings if you want. I still have a few favors I could call in.”
“Who would keep you out of trouble if I did that?” Ryan asked smiling.
“Does it make a difference? You’re not keeping me out of trouble now. You’re just making sure that I go out in a blaze of glory. Seriously, why don’t you and Laken think about it? This is the last train out of town for a long time, maybe forever. To be honest, I’m surprised that we were able to finish this starship. Politically, it hasn’t been easy.”
“No, I’m staying. Providence is doing just fine, but there’s a job to be done here.” With that, Ryan stood up and walked to the door. As it opened, he looked back and said, “Keep the emotions out of your meeting with Ann. She was just doing her job.”
Allen nodded agreement as Ryan walked out and the door closed.
“I see you survived intact,” JJ said as Ryan strode past her desk.
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Ryan answered with the hint of a grin as he continued on without slowing his pace.
On Chara’s Promise in orbit around Providence.
Earth reference date, October 12, 2134.
“A fully sapient artificial life form with no programming involved?” Randall asked after Bryan finished his explanation.
“That’s right, completely spontaneous evolution apparently caused by reaching a critical mass of neural connections in the biopacs and interconnected QPUs. Essentially, Kate is Promise’s living neural system,” Bryan answered.
“That’s just a bit clinical, don’t you think?” Kate said with a slightly offended tone.
“Is it possible to lock it out of our personal neural interfaces?” Randall bristled.
“Did you just call me an ‘it’? Bryan, she just called me an ‘it’.”
“Calm down, Kate. She didn’t mean anything by that. It was just a slip of the tongue.”
“Really! Is it possible to disable her tongue? After all, you did say that it was malfunctioning.”
“That’s enough!” Randall said in exasperation. “I don’t have time to waste talking to a computer. Bryan, unplug it.”
“There, she did it again.”
“Unplug what? Unplug the ship? I can’t unplug her; she is the ship,” Bryan said no longer trying to hide his aggravation with both of them. “Kate, I want you to calm down and…Kate. Kate? Great, now you pissed her off and she’s sulking.”
“Good. At least SHE is being quiet.”
“You’re not thinking this through, Grace. Kate can be a tremendous asset for us if we try your plan. You can’t believe how much easier it is to manipulate and control ship operations if she’s carrying the load.”
“She won’t be as much help as you think Bryan. We can’t take this trip in Promise.”
Bryan stared at Randall for a moment before saying simply, “Why?”
“A standard A-drive requires a tremendous amount of energy to create and control just one naked singularity. To pull this off, we have to manage an instantaneous spatial displacement and a simultaneous temporal displacement while matching velocity with Seth’s MMP on a specific vector. That requires balancing the forces from four singularities and managing string vibrations in multiple dimensions. Even if I ‘appropriate’ all the antimatter in both colony ships, McBride’s survey ship, and the drone supply ship in orbit, there isn’t enough to complete that kind of complicated insertion with Chara’s Promise.”
“So how are you going to go back?”
“I’m going to use the Tyson, and that takes your girlfriend out of the equation.”
“I’m not his girlfriend and why do you think using the Tyson means that I can’t go?” Kate said as she re-entered the conversation.
“You’re hardwired into Promise. There isn’t time or nearly enough physical space to move you into the small survey ship,” replied Randall.
“Who says that you have to move me? I’m quantum based, remember. All I need is a data link and about thirty seconds. That will be more than sufficient time to copy enough of myself into the Tyson’s neural network that I’d be able to handle that little puddle jumper. Give me another thirty seconds and you won’t be able to tell whether you’re talking to the copy or the original me.”
“If you’re half as complicated as Bryan says you are, it’s impossible for you to make that kind of transfer.”
“I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”
“You transferred your essence, your being, into another ship? When?”
“When Seth was…” Then Kate went silent.
When Seth was what, Kate?” Bryan asked as he reengaged.
Kate stayed silent for a time and then finally answered softly, “When he left the ship to fix the A-drive. I copied enough of myself to his Iruka that I could go with him.”
“Why did you do that?” Bryan asked.
“I don’t know; I just had to. I knew what he planned to do after he finished the repair and I didn’t want him to be alone.”
Bryan and Randall exchanged glances and then Randall’s gaze dropped to the floor. When she looked back up, her vexed look was replaced by a softer one, something akin to respect.
After a thoughtful pause she said quietly, “Maybe there is a place for you in this, Kate, but Bryan, what makes you think you’re coming along?”
“You need an engineer don’t you? Who here knows starship systems better than I do?”
Randall shifted her stance and folded her hands behind her back before responding. It was her signature captain’s posture and one that Bryan hadn’t seen in a long time.
“This is solo trip, at least on the outward leg. It would have been challenging handling ship operations by myself but, with Kate’s help, there shouldn’t be any problems.”
“Kate doesn’t have hands. If physical work needs done, that still falls on the crew and a crew of one isn’t enough,” Bryan argued.
“I’m not asking anyone to go along. Legally and ethically, what I’m planning is wrong and I won’t have anyone else answer for it. Past that, the odds of success and survival aren’t impressive, despite all the work and planning.”
“Then why go forward with it?”
“Because, it’s morally correct,” Randall said defiantly. “That’s enough for me to take the risk.”
“Then it’s enough for me too. The goal shouldn’t be to try; the goal should be to succeed. All three of us need to be part of the planning and all three of us need to decide what resources we need, including personnel, to achieve success.”
Randall stared at him for a minute before she pivoted and walked slowly back to the viewport. When she was in space, staring at the starscape allowed her to focus and sort out her thoughts. “Alright,” she said finally. “You and Kate, but that’s all.”
“Umm, excuse me Captain, but I’ve been evaluating all the scenarios and it seems that we need a few more crew members,” Kate offered.
“Why?” Randall asked in exasperation.
“Well, to provide full support for the mission, the optimum crew would include you, Bryan, me, a medical officer, a backup pilot, and at least one additional engineer.”
“Out of the question! There is no way we need a crew that big. You said that you evaluated all of the scenarios. How many?”
“Based on the astrophysics information that I gleaned through your neural interface, the equipment and supplies that we can ‘appropriate’, available team members and resources, and the mission parameters , there are forty- nine thousand, four hundred and eight likely scenarios and several million more that are either highly unlikely or simply variations on a theme.”
“How many scenarios ended in success?” Bryan asked.
“Success is relative, but if you mean how many end with the entire crew returning home alive, the answer is twenty,” Kate answered.
“How many of the twenty include bringing Seth home alive too,” Bryan asked.
“The answer to that would be—one.”