The long corridors were immersed in flashing red lights as the piercing alert klaxon sounded. In an instant, people were running to their battle stations. Heavy boots thundered down metal corridors. Pilots raced to waiting interceptors, which were parked diagonally along the flight-bay.
General Gilderith bounded into the Command Center, where the sinister image on the main view screen stopped him cold. It loomed ever closer. He had never seen anything like the alien vessel before. “Where the hell did that come from?” he muttered aloud.
“I got nothing,” called out the Sensor Officer. “All sensors, except visual, are not detecting it.”
“Range?” demanded the General.
“I can’t be sure,” responded the Weapons Officer, “I don’t have a size reference.”
“It’s big,” stated the Sensor Officer.
“Alert flight reports ready and standing by,” announced the Operations Officer from behind him.
Gilderith was hesitant to launch his fighters at the first encounter with what could be a superior race. The aliens might open fire on him if they thought that he was attacking them.
“Ship closing on my starboard side,” the Communications Officer broadcast on a wide band of frequencies, “this is the Aultrian Starship Attragone. Identify yourself and state your intentions.
“Not answering our hails is an act of aggression, Commander,” stated the Operations Officer as she stepped up from behind. A fact he was already aware.
“Escorting destroyers also confirm that they are unable to achieve a targeting lock,” the Weapons Officer reported.
They were defenseless. Gilderith knew if they were unable to target their main batteries there was a slim chance of hitting the intruder. He stared up at the zoomed in image of the ominous ship, which resembled a winged reptile diving at its prey. He suddenly knew how some small creature might have felt as it glanced up to see its death closing in. He didn’t like it; nor would he stand for it.
“Launch the alert flight,” Gilderith boldly ordered. “Hold them in a defensive pattern and ready the strikers.”
He stepped over to the Weapons Officer. “Try to target visually. Go to manual if you have to, but hold for my specific order.”
“We won’t get anything on the first volley.”
“No, but that’ll give you an aim point.”
The weapons officer thought a moment. The mammoth ship dwarfed their small fleet. With their midrange batteries he severely doubted they would be around long enough to get in a second shot, not that it would do any good if they hit the monster in the first place. “Yes sir, I’ll inform the others.”
One by one the ten I-37 interceptors, which were poised for just such an emergency, moved from their individual slots embedded in the flight-bay wall, turned toward the opening at the front of the long bay and raced out into space. Across the bay lifts lowered the larger attack ships. They were S-5 strikers from the 145th TSS squadron. Each pulled off the platform and positioned themselves in readiness as crews darted about them.
General Gilderith watched his computer screen as his tiny interceptors took up positions around his carrier. The data he was examining was a feed from the ship’s sensors and showed no sign of the huge ship that hung practically on top of them.
“Continue the hail, warn them off. Use the base line code.” A simple set of geometric shapes and mathematical problems any space faring race should be able to understand.
“Still no response.”
Colonel Sella, the Operations Officer, stepped over to him. “They may not be able to respond,” she stated and directed his attention to a large breach in the front, side of the ship. Different views of the vessel coming in from the destroyers showed even more extensive damage. Numerous creators blown in the ship’s hull were accented by one of two long side mounted structures which was missing its rear half. Some of the damage showed signs of repairs. Burned sections had been cut away, new plates half installed, while others were simply large open wounds.
“Looks like they’ve been through a rough one,” Sella observed.
“This looks like it’s happened over a period of time,” Gilderith added. “They’ve been doing work.”
“Who do you think it is, Delphian, Gorrick?” asked Sella
“There’s no way Delphia could have built something like that without our knowing it. The Dynasty has some big ships. Although nothing like this, I pray. They’re probably from beyond the frontier.”
“Warship,” Sella pointed at the monitor. “Those look like flight-bays. It’s a carrier most likely.”
“Commander!” the Communication Officer interrupted, “I’m receiving a transmission.”
Gilderith turned from his console ready to face the aliens. “Put them on the main screen.”
“There’s no visual, sir. I’m only getting data.”
“What is it?” Colonel Sella inquired as she leaned over the young officer.
“An ID marker,” he uttered. Each ship in their fleet placed an encoded identification mark on its signals for the purpose of authenticity. These long sets of numbers and word characters were randomly changed to keep them current. The series that was being presented confused the officer.
“An ID marker? Who’s!” Gilderith demanded.
Sella checked the information. “It’s accurate.”
“There’s more,” said the Communication Officer. “I’m getting current ID markers for every ship in the fleet.”
Gilderith turned back to the main screen. “All right, you know who we are,” he spoke to the image.
“How about we even this up. Put me on that incoming channel.”
“You know our language,” he called out, “and if you were going to shoot, you’d have done so by now. Can we put a stop to this game?”
“My apologies, General Gilderith,” boomed a deep echoing voice as the screen blurred and changed. The stone face of a gray haired man came into focus. “I just couldn’t resist. We mean you no harm. You can stand down.”
“Not until I know who I’m dealing with,” Gilderith said defiantly.
“I am Yanex, commander of this ship, the Oronos.”
“What is your nationality and point of origin?”
The man on the screen half smiled. “That’s a bit more difficult. I can explain all that when we meet, General Gilderith. There is a matter of much urgency we must discuss. Will you accept visitors?”
“Standby.” Gilderith waved for the channel to be closed as he turned back to his officers.
“Human,” he remarked.
“Appears to be,” Colonel Sella stated. “Don’t trust them, sir. It could be some kind of trick”
“I agree, Commander,” added the Weapons Officer. “They might try to slip in a boarding party.”
Signaling for the communication to resume, Gilderith shocked his crew. “It’s a better idea if I come there.”
“No sir, you can’t!” Sella cried out.
Gilderith waved her back angrily.
“As you wish, General,” was the reply. “We await your arrival.”
The main view screen returned to the image of the huge ship.
“I must protest, sir,” pleaded Sella. “You can’t risk yourself by going over there.”
“And I can’t risk everybody else by letting them come here.”
The Weapons Officer knew better than to try to change this man’s mind. “I’ll ready a shuttle and escort.”
“No escort, I go alone.”
Sella turned and began to storm off in frustration, but Gilderith stopped her with, “You have command, Colonel.”
“Yes sir,” she conceded.
“Inform Fleet Command of our situation and get orders.”
Com’ Fleet Dispatch
Command, UDT Attragone
UDT Fleet Command / Marshal Zilldac
Coded and scrambled
Sir, have encountered vessel of unknown origin. Crewed spaced craft of immense size and undetermined weaponry. Intentions are also undetermined at this time. Our situation is presently secure. However, COU is en-route to board and meet with an apparent human like leader. Requesting instructions and analyses of enclosed data.
Station Com’ Colonel Sella
“Attragone shuttle this is Oronos Flight Operations, you are clear to approach. Please remain on the transmitted flight vector.”
A request that General Gilderith had no intentions of adhering to. He instead piloted his tiny ship around the opposite side of the mammoth craft, a route that gave him his best possible view of the ship’s starboard side, which supported the majority of the heavy damage. Any fear of reprisal had been pushed aside by his curiosity and desire to discover any potential weakness in his opponent. He was not disappointed in what he saw.
The gapping chasm torn in the forward section of intruder would be a prime target for his strikers. Their missiles would surely find their way past the heavy layers of plate armor and strike at the core of the beast.
As he slowly passed along the ship’s side, he couldn’t help but wonder who had inflicted the devastation. The missing rear half of the starboard landing-bay sent a wave of unease through him. That one extension of the vessel was nearly the size of his own ship. One of the fleet’s line carriers, the Attragone couldn’t dream of taking one tenth of the abuse this ship had. The thought of what awaited him inside also worked on his imagination. Still, there was something very familiar about the design. Certain features and lines of this ship were not unlike his own. The more he looked, the more alike the two vessels became.
Then, as he passed beyond the tip the Oronos’ wing, he spotted it. Formerly a member of the fleet’s elite fighter pilot corps and an expert pilot, he had no problem swinging his shuttle around for a better view. Cutting his engines and using the maneuvering thrusters to spin about, he let momentum carry him toward the stern of the Oronos as he gazed in disbelief at the configuration mounted along the outer rear edge of the wing. Two portals mounted side by side that matched similar structures on the sides of his ship and a most every other ship in the fleet. They were Hilt docking ports (HLT - Heavy Lift Transports). Hilt transport ships were the nation’s primary means of surface to orbit cargo movements and inter-system deliveries. This alien ship not only had them, it had four of them. The opposite side was similarly configured.
Whatever apprehension Gilderith might have felt was gone. He wanted, no demanded, answers. How could such a ship have been covertly built and what was its purpose? His mind raced as he drifted further and further behind the ship. A full rear view of the Oronos stretched out before his rounded cockpit. The opening to the port-landing bay, the one that had been meant for his use, beckoned him.
“Attragone shuttle, are you having a problem? Do you require assistance?”
“No,” Gilderith answered the hail firmly. “Continuing on approach vector.”
Gilderith half expected to see the same interceptors lining the inside of the landing-bay as were parked in his own, there were none. Just the occasional piece of emergency apparatus and some other equipment stored well off to the sides. The texture of the inner walls also varied somewhat from his own ship. He took in as much as he could as his shuttle touched down and taxied down the long empty tunnel. Heavy reinforcing arches whizzed by like fence posts and his landing gear gently thumped on the regularly spaced tracks in the deck, which indicated large blast doors. His speculation of how badly damaged the ship was began to fade.
A different voice now fed him instructions. In compliance, Gilderith made a sharp right turn into narrower passage. The awareness of how deep he was proceeding into the heart of the ship was kept in check by his curiosity. He made the turn without hesitation, fully aware that he was moving further from his only apparent route of escape.
Directional lights mounted on the ceiling guided him into a large open chamber. There he discovered the fighters he’d been looking for. Three rows were lined up in the mostly empty bay. They were slightly smaller than his interceptors, however appeared to be much more advanced. Markings on their twin tails, in his own language, identified them as the 204th TIS, (Tactical Interceptor Squadron). Gilderith scrutinized those ships, as well as everything else he could see from his cockpit.
A small contingency of soldiers in gleaming chrome suits of high tech armor, along with a man and woman dressed in black uniforms, gathered to meet his shuttle as it came to rest near the rear of the bay, where the tunnels entered.
Gilderith jumped from his seat without hesitation. The weapon that he had debated taking remained strapped to his side. With the engines still winding down and the short gangplank still lowering toward the deck, the determined General launched himself from the shuttle. Called to attention by the male officer, the troops hurried to their positions and formed a gauntlet leading to the officers. Gilderith stopped just short of crashing into them and stood firmly with his hands on his hips.
“Sir,” the dark skinned man saluted, “welcome aboard the Alliance Starship Oronos. I am Vice-Colonel William Sands, commander of the 663rd TIS.”
Gilderith gave a quick and sharp return to his salute, but said nothing. Felling the tension, Sands introduced the attractive blond officer next to him as Major Talya. He was startled when the man reached out to grab his left arm. Gilderith released it after a quick inspection of the shoulder patch, an insignia similar to the one on his own arm, the mark of the Tyramma. There were changes in the uniform, but there was no doubt as to whom he was dealing with.
“Alliance huh? Who the hell are you people?” Gilderith demanded.
“We’re part,” Sands began to explain, “or rather were part.”
“Perhaps the Commander should explain.” Talya reminded him of his orders. She knew how much the Colonel loved to talk, and they were told not to say anything. Just bring him to the old man.
“Perhaps he should, Vice.” Gilderith knew the rank markings as well. They were unchanged.
General Gilderith was led into the terminal as a small towing vehicle backed up to his ship. There was silence as the three officers rode the transport tube to their destination. Gilderith took careful note of his path and the commands that got him there. Once out in the long interconnecting corridors, his examination was more overt. He went so far as to pull a small flashlight from his belt and shine it into an opening in the ceiling grate. He was interested in the actual distance between decks; it seemed overly excessive to him. There was over twice the space above the ceiling than in the corridor.
“This way, sir,” Sands urged.
“William Sands, that Nationalist?” Gilderith asked. “Or rather Earther from your skin tone.”
“We’re a multi-national crew, sir.”
Just then, one of a dozen Gorrick passed by. The brown skinned lizard was an enemy to the General, who nearly reached for his weapon.
They didn’t get much further before Gilderith came to a screeching halt again. This time he was looking at the floor where they intersected another corridor. He found air tight, no blast doors, leading into every corridor.
“You’re pretty heavily reinforced for being so far in.”
Without a better response, Sands simply said, “Yes sir.”
Stepping face to face Gilderith pushed, “This is no carrier, is it Vice? This is a battleship.”
“The Commander awaits, sir.”
“Yes, we don’t’ want to keep him waiting, do we?”
Midway down one of those corridors, they entered into a finely adorned office suite, complete with decorated walls and a receptionist. General Gilderith proceeded into the office at the end of the central hall alone. The face he’d encountered on the screen of his command center greeted him. The slender, broad shouldered, man stood to meet him.
Now here was yet another surprise. His adversary only wore the Aultrian rank of vice-general, one step below his own rank of general. Despite this fact, Gilderith stood before the desk and saluted the lower ranking officer. An act that was warranted by the fact that he was a guest on this man’s ship. It was an old Aultrian tradition of showing respect. We are on an Aultrian ship here, aren’t we?
Respect and tradition were greatly valued by both men. Yanex returned the salute with the superior version and offered him a seat.
“A great day is upon us, General,” Yanex stated as he retrieved two glasses from the shelf behind him, “will you celebrate it with me?”
He began fill them with a half empty bottle that was sitting on the corner of the desk.
“No thank you, General, Yanex is it? I never imbibe.”
“As you wish.” Yanex knocked off half his drink and stowed the bottle in a drawer as he sat. The other glass stood conspicuously empty between them.
“Let me guess,” Gilderith said, “they discovered this derelict and you’re a covert crew sent to run it, right?”
Yanex smiled and shook his head in a slow smug manor. “It’s better than that.”
Gilderith was in no mood to play guessing games. “Well, where did you get this ship?”
“The Oronos is no derelict, General. We’re fully operational.”
“Well,” Yanex confessed, “maybe not fully, but we are combat ready.”
Gilderith felt the implied threat in those words. Even if he, or his ships, were in any danger he was not going to back down. “Where did you get this ship, General?”
“It was built at the Cara Donna construction facility,” Yanex stated without emotion.
“Cara Donna? Aultra’s second moon? There’s nothing there that could build something like this.”
“Not yet there isn’t.”
“Yet?” Gilderith nearly came out of his chair, “What do you mean, yet?”
“There was an accident, at the battle of Carmella.”
“Carmella?” Gilderith knew the nearby nation to be a tenuous friend of Aultra.
“We were thrown back in time, ninety-four cycles. We’ve had to travel a great distance to get back to this region. We’ve only just recently learned about the time difference ourselves.”
“You expect me to believe you’re from the future?”
“Something is going to happen,” Yanex said, ignoring the question, “something terrible. And we’re going to stop it.”
“You traveled back in time to change the future?” asked Gilderith in astonishment.
“Our being here is an act of providence. One that I intend to take full advantage of.”
Yanex rose from his seat and strolled to the window. He was never very comfortable in one position. “There’s going to be a war, General. A long and bloody war. One that we will eventually lose.”
“The Delphians?” Gilderith referred to the struggle that they were presently involved in. The only other real threat to them was the Gorrick Dynasty.
“They’re called the Krix. Or at least that’s what the Gorrick called them. I think it means demons or something.”
“It means great evil,” Gilderith corrected.
“They never introduced themselves to us,” Yanex explained as he leaned back against the window. “Once they finished off the Dynasty, they moved against Delphia without provocation. That’s when the Alliance was formed, in 4253.”
“You don’t even know who they are?”
“We made numerous attempts at contact, but they weren’t interested in talking. They just sent wave after wave of automated ships to attack us. They wore us down after sixty cycles.”
“If you are indeed an Aultrian ship,” Gilderith asked, “will you submit to the authority of Fleet Command?”
Yanex paused for a moment, “Not as yet, I want to ensure that things are handled properly.”
“Things? What things?”
“General,” Yanex returned to his chair, “we lost this war long before the first shot was ever fired. Forming the Alliance was more an act of desperation rather than unity. I have no intention of letting that happen again.”
“You have no intention?” Gilderith didn’t like the sound of that. His skepticism was raging.
Yanex sat back. “My objective is to warn the civil government about the Krix. I have a wide base of tactical information that was previously unavailable. And yes General, I am prepared to join the fleet.”
He casually waved a hand about the room referring to the ship as a whole. “There’s over a hundred cycles worth of technology here. The Ittala Class Heavy Carrier was a combination of the technology of every planet that joined the Alliance. There’s nothing like it in this time. It was the single most powerful warship when it was built. When the time is right, I will turn it over to Fleet Command, with the provision that they will build a fleet of them.”
“And with your historical records you intend to win the war? Defeat this enemy we’ve never heard of.”
“Without the historical records.” Yanex had been giving that part a lot of thought. He felt that the history records were far too dangerous to be released.
“I’m very reluctant to release information on the future, particularly the near future. In the wrong hands that information could be very dangerous, and knowing a bit about this time period there are a lot of wrong hands around.”
That disturbed Gilderith. He didn’t like that a mere vice-general was trying to hold onto so much power. That’s what it was in his eyes, power. Knowing what was going to happen the next day, the next cycle. Gilderith could barely imagine the vast uses for that kind of omnipotence. However, he was sure there were plenty of people that could. He didn’t want to confess to this man he didn’t know, and certainly didn’t trust, his concerns about the upper levels of command. Concerns shared by many of his fellow officers.
Gilderith nodded slowly. “I’m forced to agree, General. But, I hope that you’ll understand how my report is going to be received. A ship from the future here to save us from a coming disaster. They might bother to investigate once they get done laughing.”
Yanex seemed somewhat annoyed. “This ship and its crew are proof enough. You need only arrange my passage to Aultra.”
“They’ll doubt you,” Gilderith said bluntly. “I doubt you.”
“Let me make this perfectly clear,” Yanex said sternly. “Aultra falls in 4312. After they’ve leveled every building with orbital bombardment, ground units will hunt down and kill every living thing on that planet. They take the bodies back to their world. Just like Darcane, Tainus, Delphia, and every other planet that stands in their way. There’s no negotiating with them. There’s no reasoning with them. The war is inevitable. It already happened. I am going to stop it from happening again.”
Gilderith saw the determination on the man’s face. He saw the look of resolve in his eyes. Despite having his own doubts, he was convinced of the man’s conviction. He’d seen it before, the kind of look that boarded on obsession, on madness.
“I’ll speak to Fleet Command. Try to set up some kind of meeting.”
“Time is of the essence, sir. There is much to do. The Dynasty will first encounter the Krix sometime in 4224. That’s in three cycles.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Gilderith said as he rose to his unsteady feet. As much as this man disturbed him, he was even more unnerved by what he had been told. He couldn’t decide whether to believe it or not. Certainly he didn’t want to. His entire outlook on the bright new future with his wife and new baby had been shattered. He almost resented this man for telling him this. However, he couldn’t take the chance of it all being true, as much as he didn’t want it to be.
The thought of what this man must have gone through crossed his mind as he reached the door. The damage to the ship was another testament to the terrible truth.
“The damage to your ship General, are you in need of medical assistance or anything?”
“That was a long time ago,” Yanex sighed. “We have some crew members in long term stasis, but they can wait until we get back (dare he say it?) home.”
Gilderith nodded and stepped into the doorway as it whisked open. He turned back one last time.
“You’ve been out for some time, how are you set for provisions?”
Yanex scoffed as he thought back to his last meal. He ate no better than anyone else on board did. “If I have to drink one more bottle of...”
“Say no more. If you’ll allow it, I’ll send over some supplies. We’re pretty well stocked.”
“I’m sure the crew will appreciate it, sir.”
The two men saluted each other once again and Gilderith’s first encounter with the future ended.
A thought occurred to Sands while he sat at the regular card game in a corner of the dayroom.
“Hey, it’s 2009. They haven’t torn down Fenway yet.”
“What’s Fenway?” Aurora idly asked.
“Fenway Park, in Boston. The city I’m from. They haven’t built the new park yet.”
Bogan raised the bet. “That the one where they skate around?”
“No, that’s hockey.”
“It’s the one where they hit a ball with a stick,” Aurora said.
“It’s not a stick, it’s a bat.”
“I’m gonna bat you if you don’t make a play.”
“Call.” Sands threw in more coins. Then scowled when she folded.
“Yeah, my grandfather use to take me to the new park when I was a kid. I think it’s was called the Tampon Center or some bullshit corporate name. Fucking corporations control the whole planet.”
“They did in our time,” Marcus said before throwing in his cards.
“I could go to a game. You guys should come with me. We can piss in a trough, like my grandfather did.”
Marcus said, “Maybe you’ll run into your grandfather.”
“I never thought of that. He’d be a kid right now. I wonder what would happen if I spoke to him?”
“Probably nothing,” Marcus stated. “If there was going to be a paradox it would have happened by now.”
Talya cursed as Bogan raked in the pot. “Doesn’t matter, the Earthers would never let us down there. The governments are still covering up that we exist.
“Besides, we’re going back to Aultra where we belong.”
“We aren’t going to warn Earth?” Sands asked.
A smile appeared on Bogan’s face as he started shuffling the cards. He watched Lazell walk by headed for her room.
“Looks like this is my day.”
“What’s up?” Sands asked suspiciously.
“I put contact cement on her door handle. Her silly ass will be stuck there all day.”
“This is getting out of hand,” Sands said. Then smiled. “Get it? Out of hand? Pun intended.”
“You know, if you just apologize to her she’ll leave you alone,” Aurora said.
“Apologize? I’m not apologizing to that twerp.”
Sands turned to her as the cards were dealt. “So why’s she fucking with me all the time?”
“She likes you. She thinks you like the attention.”
“Like the attention?” Sands said indignantly. “I still can’t figure out how she salted my coffee.”
“Right her up.”
“I write her up and I’ll be the biggest prick on this ship. I’d be an even bigger prick than Marcone. And she knows it.”
“Look, you want her to quit fucking with you? Stop being a prick.”
Lazell stuck her utility knife back in her pocket as she walked over to the bar and got some juice. Then she went over to the card game.
“Can I play?” she beamed.
Bogan barked, “No” over everyone else’s “Yes”.
She merrily dropped into a seat and dumped a large pile of gold coins on the table.
“Where’d you get all that?” asked Sands.
“You’re not the only people I rip-off at cards.”
Bogan cursed. “There goes my winning streak.”
“Afraid she’ll beat you?” Talya asked.
“No, she’s a fucking hex girl.”
“What’s the matter boob-bee, don’t you like girls?” Lazell cooed.
“I prefer women.”
“And you think women prefer you? I mean you’re basically an ogre. You’re stupid, and I don’t mean ignorant, you’re flat out stupid. Your ugly, you smell, and have all the class of a cluster lizard.”
“I don’t smell!”
He turned to Sands. “Do I smell?”
“You reek of the most the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable.” (Doctor Susie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.)
After losing the next few hands to different people Bogan got frustrated and went to see what went wrong with his trap. A facecloth hung over Lazell’s door handle.
He went to his own room a few doors down and reached for the door handle.
“Gee, didn’t see that coming,” Aurora mused.
“How do I get him loose?” Sands asked halfheartedly.
Marcus said, “Rubbing alcohol should do it.”
“Suppose I should go do that. In a while.”
Lazell sat bobbing her head to music only she could hear.