“As near as I can figure,” Marcone said to the officers seated at the conference table, “it had something to do with the phase drive.”
“That’s a safe assumption,” mused Hellor.
“The reaction of the dimensional shift as we entered the vortex probably threw us across the dimensional spectrum,” Marcone continued undaunted. “At some point we must have entered a region where time was either irrelevant or inverted. There’s really no way to tell, all of the scanner data was wiped out.”
“No chance of getting back?” Yanex asked. He already knew the answer, but the question needed to be posed.
Marcone shook his head. “Just the standard way, wait it out”
“Well,” Yanex stated to the assembly of his top officers, “I suppose it really doesn’t matter how it happened, it happened, we’re here, and we need to deal with this. What are our options?”
“Sir,” Marcone jumped before anyone else could speak, “There is only one real option. We can’t do anything to change the time line. We must withdraw undetected.”
“I differ, sir” announced Hellor. “If we allow this future to unfold we’re going to be extinct in a hundred cycles.”
Marcone did not welcome the challenge. He smirked at the Major as he spoke to the General. “We are outfitted for a colony, sir. We should establish a distant base and start over. By the time of the accident we could have a fleet built, or at the very least have a strong position for our people to fall back to.”
“With all due respect to the Colonel,” which in Hellor’s opinion was very little, “it’s foolish to think that we could be in any shape to deal with the Krix after starting over on some distant planet. It takes almost four cycles to build one of these ships from start to finish, and that’s with fully outfitted resource and construction facilities. On a virgin world, we’d be starting from scratch. We’d be lucky to repair and maintain this ship, never mind building another.”
“Commander,” Marcone started forcefully, “we cannot change the course of the future, we would be eradicated. It would cause a paradox that could have far reaching consequences.”
“How do you know that?” Hellor asked. “To my knowledge there’s never been such an event.”
“And this is why, no one wanted to risk the outcome. Research into time travel has been forbidden for this very reason,” explained Marcone.
“What data is there on time travel?” Yanex asked.
“Hardly any, sir,” Marcone responded. “If anybody did try something like this, they kept it to themselves.”
“Commander,” stated Colonel Tollyn, “it might be prudent if we attempt some kind of limited experimentation. We might be able to measure any change on our history files.”
Marcone disagreed. “That may not be a valid test. Our data and memories could be changed to reflect the paradox. It’s too risky.”
“Commander,” called out Hellor, “I agree with Colonel Marcone, it’s all or nothing. We run and try to save ourselves, or we take action.”
Hellor knew just the right words to fire up the General. Run and hide was distasteful to both of them. Yanex listened to his officers argue a bit longer before closing the meeting. He needed to think over a decision of that magnitude. He needed a drink.
Yanex stood alone in his quarters gazing out the window at the beauty of the stars as the ship approached Saturn. Time was running out. He had barely three hours to make the biggest decision of his career, indeed his entire life. His entire species could be saved or erased by his next action. How he wished it was not his choice to make.
He was a relatively simple man. Everything had always been a matter of black and white to him. The enemy was clear and evil, there was no doubt there. Any action he took against that enemy, no matter how heinous, was justifiable. There was never any doubt as to which side of the right and wrong line he stood. The end would always justify his means.
Recently things had become a bit murky for him though. The line was not always so clearly defined. Dealing with those delicate Earth egos and politics had proven a problem for him. Commanding the Oronos had put him in a spotlight, one that magnified every minor mistake. Still, there wasn’t any job he’d rather have. There was no place he’d rather be than in the COC during the heat of battle.
As the current situation became clearer to him, Yanex recalled a strategy game he’d played as a boy. He’d saved the game at several points in his computer as he went along. That way if he didn’t like how things were going he could go back to an earlier point and make changes in his favor. Was it that simple? Is that all he had to do here? The thought occurred to him that he had cheated, but how wrong would it be to cheat against the Krix? It didn’t register with him that in the game, despite his efforts, things didn’t always turn out quite the way he wanted.
The last of his private stock stood on his desk. Having been securely wrapped in his clothing drawer, the bottle had managed the trip through time. He couldn’t imagine there being a more profound moment in his life in which to enjoy it. The fact that a paradox could end his existence the moment he made up his mind also occurred to him.
As it was the last of his Aultrian liquor, and possibly the last in existence, (unless someone else had a hiding spot) it would be wrong to drink it alone. He sent for the only friend that he had onboard, albeit an old and strained friend.
“Enter,” Yanex called out at the door’s chime.
“You sent for me, sir?” Marcone stepped in.
Yanex held out a second glass for the man and motioned at the nearby couch. It had been far too long since the two men had spoken as friends. Yanex filled both their glasses before banging the bottle on the table before them and dropping into the oversized cushions himself.
Marcone savored the aroma of the dark liquid before taking his first sip. “It’s been some time since I’ve had such a fine malt. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
“It’s been too long for a lot of things, old friend.” Yanex gulped down his own glass, then reached to refill it.
“This is a tough one,” Marcone said of their situation.
Yanex nodded in agreement. “I can’t help but wonder, just how much of an accident was this?”
“What do you mean?”
Yanex leaned forward. “We could have been thrown back ten, twenty, even a thousand cycles. Hell it’s a miracle we survived at all. But we’re here, now. Three cycles before the Gorrick encounter the Krix. Why?”
“You don’t think this was intentional, do you? Cromwell had no idea what he was doing.”
Yanex stood and walked back to the window. “I’m not talking about Cromwell.”
“Some divine intervention perhaps?”
Yanex thought long before answering. He didn’t look away from the view.
“Have you ever prayed, Marcone?”
“I regret to say, I’m not a very religious man.”
“Neither am I, although right now I wish I was,” Yanex said slowly. “But, I have prayed.”
“I’m sure a lot of people have.”
“Maybe all those prayers have finally been answered.”
“You mean we were meant to travel back in time? I find that hard to believe.”
“But it happened” insisted Yanex as he turned from the window. “Think about it. This wouldn’t be the first time the course of human existence has been tampered with. After all someone, or something, seeded our civilization on Aultra and Carmella.”
Marcone took another sip of his drink. “I can’t dispute that, there’s hard evidence. But, to presume that there’s some God like entity or supernatural force watching over us, I can’t believe that.”
“How much do we really know about the universe?” Yanex asked. “Our knowledge of the universe is infinitesimal. Wouldn’t we be as Gods to some primitive race?”
“Some advanced alien then?” Marcone said. “Something that’s been with us throughout history? We would be as toys to it. Powerless to resist whatever destiny it has in store for us. That can’t be true. Why would it let us come to this then?”
“I don’t think it works that way,” Yanex responded after a moment’s thought. “We have our own free wills. Either way, if the human race has been given a second chance, who am I to deny it? Our duty is to the survival of our race, by whatever means necessary.”
“I don’t agree that this is an acceptable course of action,” stated Marcone. “However, I will stand fully behind you, whatever your choice is. There’s just one thing I ask you to think about. Once you start down this path, there’s no stopping. We can’t turn back, or start over. You’ll have to live with the outcome.”
“I tend to think that any outcome is preferable to the one we left.”
The distant sun was a murky ball through the gases of Saturn’s upper atmosphere. It slowly became brighter as the darkened form of the ship adjusted course to avoid a collision with the planet. Now at her normal cruising speed, Oronos had her engines shut down and was back to a forward posture. Once past the plant, the outgoing light particles would slow the ship even further. As she approached Saturn a spectacular sunrise was occurring while the ship moved into full view.
“Full exposure in one mayda (fifteen minutes),” Lorran announced from her station.
Marcone sat at the Command Station, dreading the sight that was unfolding on the main view screen.
“Notify me immediately if you pick up a directed scan of any kind.”
“Yes sir,” she responded to the obvious.
The General’s absence and lack of action had left them little recourse. Firing the engines would surely draw attention. However they could still escape. A momentary sighting of an unknown vessel probably wouldn’t have that great of a historical effect.
“Commander on station!” was called out by one the soldiers. Yanex walked casually down to the main floor. A glassy hint to his eyes told of his indulgence, however his steps were steady as he strolled the room. He nodded at some people and took a silent stock of his command before heading to his seat.
Marcone stepped aside with, “Operation stat’s are unchanged, sir.”
Yanex just smiled as he sat. He shifted about some and made himself comfortable. With his arms lying lazily on his lap, Yanex watched the rest of the unusual sunrise. The chatter of the COC was in his ear as he donned a headset. There was a strange look of contentment on his face. His path was now clear to him. He knew what he was to do.
“We have a confirmed visual lock on the Attragone,” Lorran reported.
“Any sign of activity?” Marcone inquired as he paced the floor.
It struck Marcone suddenly that nothing had changed, nothing he could recognize. The ship and crew were still there, his memories remained intact; although if something had been erased he might not realize it. The war still ran its terrible course in his memory. Maybe they would fail. Or, maybe the past for them would remain unchanged as they shattered the future. It would become some bizarre nightmare of an Alternate Future that would never happen. Lost in thought, Marcone almost missed the General’s subtle wave calling him over.
“Kind of appropriate isn’t it?” Yanex leaned toward him to utter, “a new day dawning.”
“Yes sir,” agreed Marcone. It did seem to have an irony to it.
“Lieutenant Nather,” Yanex called out, “Tie me into ship wide communication.”
After a brief introduction, Yanex’s voice sounded in every corner of the massive ship. It echoed in the long empty corridors. People stopped what they were doing to hear their fate.
“Our primary mission has been, and will always be, to ensure the survival of our race and way of life. This is paramount and must be accomplished at all costs. As I’m sure you are all aware, we find ourselves in a rather unique situation. The event at the Battle of Carmella has placed us in an unparalleled strategic position. We have the opportunity to affect the outcome of the next century in immeasurable terms. The next actions this ship takes could forever change the tide of destiny.
“That is if we are to take action. I’m sure that many of you are concerned about the possibility of a great cataclysm resulting from a paradox. I am deeply concerned about it myself. However, lack of action will just as surely bring about our demise as well. Given the choice between the unknown and certain, I choose the gamble of the unknown.
“Therefore, under the provisions of the Grand Alliance Charter adopted from the old republic, I hereby assume complete command of all forces, consisting of this ship and its noble crew.
“Nothing less than full commitment to this operation will ensure its success. This ship and crew will now embark upon a three-phase mission.
“First, we will establish contact with the nation of Aultra and its leaders and provide them with a full and compete warning of the devastation that lies ahead of them. To this means, we will give them all available data on the Krix Empire.
“Second, we will aid our brothers and sisters in the great struggle that will come by providing them this ship, its crew, technological advances, and all of the information and assistance they will need to build an even greater fleet than the one we ourselves served.
“Third, we will defeat the Krix and ensure the survival, growth, and continued greatness of our race, by whatever means are necessary.”
As the applause subsided, Yanex stepped to the front of the COC.
“Major Ratoe, lay in an intercept course with the Attragone.”