“Commander on station!” was shouted as Gilderith entered the Command Center on the Attragone. With a sullen look, he walked silently to his chair on the raised platform in the middle of the chamber. Heads turned to watch the usually energetic man who moved with sunken shoulders and heavy feet.
Colonel Sella slipped out of his seat and stepped aside as he approached.
“Operational stats are unchanged,” she reported. “Strikers and a relief flight are holding in the hanger. The Alert Flight is still on station, but running low on fuel. Fleet Command advises caution and requests an update.”
Gilderith just shook his head as he took his seat. He slumped down and stared blankly at the console. Advising caution, he might have expected as much. You couldn’t get any vaguer than that. He only wished he could be there to see their faces when they got this story. “Let’s see them give some double meaning, cover myself, reply to this.”
“Sir,” Sella asked, “what happened over there? Who are they?”
“Human?” She glanced at the main screen then back. “How? Is there another human nation out there?”
Gilderith didn’t want to say any more. He knew that this was all going to turn into a big, ugly mess. The less Sella knew the better off she’d be. He only wished he had that luxury himself, but it was too late. The ramifications of what he knew hit him on his flight back. The shock hadn’t entirely passed, but he knew how classified this all would most likely become.
“Recall the fighters,” he finally said. “Stand down to second alert.”
“Yes sir.” Sella was not happy about being left in the dark, however she accepted that there must be a good reason for it. As much as she or anybody else didn’t like it, she would trust his judgment.
“I want to send a high security message to Fleet Command.”
“I’ll notify Communications,” she replied.
She thought she might try one last time before leaving to carry out his orders. She leaned in and whispered, “Are we all right?”
A general question that could have meant any number of things. Is the ship safe? Is the nation threatened? Is the galaxy going to come to a screeching halt? Are you all right? Gilderith mumbled a feeble, “No.”
Com’ Fleet Dispatch
UDT Attragone / General Gilderith
UDT Fleet Command / Marshal Zilldac
Direct Only Coded Level 1
We are faced with an extraordinary situation here. I have met with the commander of the alien ship, named Oronos. He, a Vice-General named Yanex (ID number not available), states that they are an Aultrian ship. He (VG Yanex) states that they have traveled back in time and is requesting a meeting with top officials, (civil and military) to warn us of a coming disaster.
I have grave concerns about the validity, as well as the ramifications, of this matter. That is why I have exceeded my authority in assigning a level 1-security code to this message.
My preliminary inspection of this vessel leads me to give some merit to this claim. Based on those observations, and its ability to deceive our scanners, I conclude that the ship is of an advanced design and potential threat.
I request detailed instructions on how to proceed from this point. Our present mission at this time is un-compromised.
Commanding Officer, General Gilderith
Fleet Command actually moved quite quickly on the message. Zilldac, the junior of the three top marshals that made up the command staff, took it upon himself to act. Although wary, he notified his military superiors, not the civilian council that oversaw them (spies took care of that), of the situation and sent the following reply. With the time it took the signal to travel through ex-space, it was just over a day before the reply was received. Perhaps the boldest Gilderith had ever seen, especially from someone as indecisive as Zilldac had been known to be.
Com’ Fleet Dispatch
UDT Fleet Command / Marshal Zilldac
UDT Attragone / General Gilderith
Direct / Only Coded Level 1-627 / 3490
You are hereby granted the following security authorization, 1-627 only. All matters under this code are in your charge, only. Any breach of this code shall mean the gravest of consequences.
You are to assume command of the ship Oronos, as of now addressed as Orion. You are to do so under the authority of your greater rank, by directive of this order and the body that has issued it. Obtaining control of Orion is your highest priority. You are to use all but direct force to accomplish this. All other assignments are hereby canceled.
If in the event you are unable to do so, we are prepared to negotiate for the procurement of Orion. In either event, you are to escort Orion to the Arkonus system under covert procedures and await further instructions.
UDT Command Staff / Marshal Zilldac
The two men read the most secret message in a small room off the Communication Sub-Section designated for security purposes. As disturbing as the contents were, they could not help but be amused.
“How long do you think it will take them to figure it out?” Colonel Marcone asked.
“They did randomly encode it,” stated Yanex. “That’s what those last three digits are in the security clearance.”
“I would think they should assume that we would have access to those same deciphering equations, and an updated version of that equipment.”
“It may not have occurred to them.” Yanex sat back in smug satisfaction. This was going to be easier than he’d thought. He had the potential to intercept and decipher just about any signal his intelligence systems could pull in. “I’d prefer they not find it out just yet, either.”
“Agreed, they’d be rather upset to find out that we’ve been eavesdropping.”
“If they change the encryption formulas we’ll lose this advantage.”
“We can communicate with Fleet Command directly,” said Marcone. “Our systems can adapt to the old formats.”
“No, we’ll earn their trust faster if we continue to use an envoy. Plus, we have this added bonus,” Yanex pointed at the monitor.
Marcone looked uneasy about the idea of playing some kind of espionage game.
“So long as it doesn’t come back on us,” he cautioned. Then he moved to the door.
Yanex wasn’t that concerned about them finding out about his intelligence gathering. It was just good tactical work on his part, and also gave more evidence to his claim. How else would he have that information? What did bother him were his own words to Gilderith. “The misuse of this data could be devastating.” He had to prevent his history files from falling into the wrong hands. As much as he was going to use them for good, others might want them for their own benefit.
“Colonel,” Yanex stopped him with. “I want you to establish a security lockout on all of the ship’s historical data base. I don’t want there to be any access to that information without my specific authorization. Is that clear?”
Marcone paused a moment. “That may not be possible. I can place all of the ship’s files in secured storage, but there are other records onboard, personnel databases, old style books, and people’s memories. We’ve got a few older people onboard. We’d have to sweep the entire ship to contain it all.”
Yanex thought a moment. The last thing he wanted to do was start persecuting his most trusted crew. “Just lock down the ship’s files,” he ordered, “we’ll deal with any other situation as it arises.”
“Arkonus,” Bogan complained as he dropped a heaping tray of real food on the table. He’d taken more than his share of the once precious commodity. “There was nothing there in our time, there’s probably less now.”
He joined his fellow Tyramma in the officer’s mess hall. The accommodations were better than the rest of the crew had, but the food was just the same. The General made sure, personally, that this fleet wide policy was upheld.
Aurora hardly looked up from her plate as she remarked, “You were expecting some kind of welcoming ceremony or something?”
“Yeah,” Bogan snorted, “actually I was. We’re here to save their asses. They could be a little grateful.”
“I think they have been more than generous,” Marcus gestured at the table covered with food, food that the crew of the Attragone would not be eating.
“I hate to agree with him,” Sands said, “but why are we going to Arkonus? There’s no repair facilities there, there never was.”
“The Fleet Command is probably just being cautious,” Marcus guessed. “Understandable, under the circumstances.”
“We should be on our way to Delphia,” Bogan said, “take out those bastards before they get Darcane.”
“In this shape,” Sands said, “we hardly made it back here. I heard we shouldn’t have even been on the Carmella mission in the first place.”
“Is it true,” Aurora asked of Sands, “they tried to order the old man to turn over the ship?”
Sands smiled and nodded. “Yeah, it was a beautiful thing. It was like the old man knew Gilderith was bluffin’. Said something about us still being part of the Alliance.”
“They want this technology,” said Marcus.
“Big time, Gilderith was already to come over and take charge. When the Commander shot him down, he turned around and blamed the Command Staff.”
“At some point he’ll have to give in.” Marcus reached to refill his glass. “We’ll have to put our fates in their hands.” It was a thought that did not sit well with any of them.
“What will become of us?” Aurora asked.
“That depends on how they decide to handle the ship.” Marcus didn’t mention how bothered he actually was by their going to a small mining outpost instead of a major center of population.
Sands wasn’t afraid to say it, he hadn’t been told not to. “They want to keep the Oronos a secret. With the war and all, they don’t want the Delphians to claim any of the technology.”
“Delphia would have a legitimate claim,” Marcus stated the unpopular fact. “A lot of races would. The Ittala Class was built by the Alliance, not just Aultra.”
“Yeah, well it’s going to Aultra,” said Bogan. “Damn Delphians are killing our people right now. When they take Darcane, thousands will be murdered. If we’re changin’ the future that’s one of the things that needs changin’.”
“Turning the tide of the present war will have a strong effect on the outcome of events,” explained Marcus, “but there’s a lot more going on right now. The political structure of our own government is very unstable right now. Losing this war nearly brought down the government. Especially so after the Emperor’s death.”
“So, what did the Emperor die of?” Sands asked.
“He died of being two-hundred and twenty cycles,” Aurora said.
“There was a long illness that they really didn’t go into, but he did die of natural causes.”
“He was one of the few people that died of natural causes around this time,” scoffed Aurora.
“Hey,” said Bogan, “who was the guy that they knocked on his door and blew his head off? Then tried to say it was suicide. Then they wiped out that entire family of that other politician. Great stuff.”
Sands remembered his earlier history lessons from training. The lessons had seemed to brush over these events, but he remembered them being linked to a plot to overthrow the government a few cycles after the Emperor passed.
“This is when the coup took place, isn’t it?”
“In a few cycles,” responded Marcus. “The plot was foiled when they found out that Empress Dyoney didn’t die by accident.”
“How did she die?”
“She was murdered by her own sister,” said Aurora. “How’s that? She then led the overthrow.”
“Yeah, yeah,” it was coming back to Sands. The whole dirty affair was not a big topic during his formal military training. “What was her name?”
A hand on his shoulder caught his attention. Major Russell stood at his side wanting to speak with him, alone. “Hey, Will, can we talk a minute?”
“Russell,” Marcus smiled and waved at an empty seat. “Join us.”
Russell declined. He patted a full belly to show that he’d already had his fill. It was the Colonel he wanted to speak with. He was insistent on privacy.
Sands agreed when he looked over and saw some of the other Earth officers standing nearby. They were annoyed that he was spending all his time with them, his alien friends.
“Hold this,” Sands said as he stood. He had become very interested in the topic. “I’ll be right back.”
His wish was not granted as he left. The subject was worked over then left as conversation went on.
Russell led the Vice-Colonel off into a secluded corner. There, Hammann and Wilson joined them. Both seemed a bit uneasy. Their eyes shifted about the room, their voices were hushed.
“What’s up guys?” Sands said without observing their desire for privacy.
“We’re leaving Earth,” Russell said softly, and in English.
Sands thought he knew the problem. He was also having a very hard time with the loss of his family. Not just the fact that they were gone, but how. He would try to be understanding. Try to explain things so it would go easier for them and the others.
“Yeah,” he said in English as well, “we’re on our way to meet with some representatives from the government.”
“Their government,” Hammann quipped.
“We’re gonna turn the ship over to ’em,” Sands explained with all the compassion he could muster, “then we can work on putting our lives back together. Well, can’t say as my life’s ever been in any kinda good shape, but we’ll make a new home for ourselves.”
“What about Earth?” asked Russell.
“Hey, ah, I’m sure, if it’s possible, you might be able to be settled back on Earth. If that’s what you want. I mean it’s pretty primitive there now, but its home right?”
“No, why are we takin’ the ship to Aultra, and not Earth?”
Sands thought a moment. He understood their loyalty toward their home. He hadn’t thought of it himself until then, but he did understand it.
“Listen, guys, our best chance to beat the Krix is to take this ship to Aultra and warn them. There’s no military base on Earth to work from right now.”
“Fuck the Krix,” Wilson spat out angrily, “what about the...”
Hammann shut him up with an elbow to the ribs. Russell waved a finger at him. Far too much had already been said. Russell quickly saw that there was no point in going on. He tried to back out of the hole he was slipping into without raising too much suspicion.
“We’re worried about what’s become of our families, our friends,” Russell shook his head at the floor in dismay. “This is all so confusing.”
“Hey man, believe me, I understand. But, our families haven’t been born yet. Shit, we haven’t been born yet. I know it’s hard to accept, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Sands looked from man to man. He didn’t seem to be getting through. “You know, you could still be born. You could still have that family, only without the war. Wouldn’t that be better for your kids?”
“I guess so,” breathed Russell. “Only I won’t be there.”
“It’s hard, I know, but our best bet to win the war is to go to Aultra. That way maybe Earth will never know who the Krix are.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Russell conceded, “I just need some time with this.”
“It’s okay,” Sands held out his hand, “I’m here if you need to talk.”
Russell shook his hand and thanked him. Hammann nodded in agreement. Wilson just stood there looking uncomfortable and baffled.
Sands gave one last word of encouragement as the three of them left. “Don’t worry guys, I’m gonna watch out for us. Everything is gonna work out.”
Sands felt that he’d handled that well. He felt good about it as he returned to his table and speaking Aultrian. Even Sterett would have been proud of him right then.
Once out in the corridor, well out of earshot of everybody else, the three men let their true feelings out, very carefully out. Their words remained hushed and in English. They were also on the lookout for monitoring devices.
“Chump,” Wilson blurted out, “I knew he’d be a waste of time.”
Hammann agreed. “Earth may not know the Krix, but it’ll know them. They’ll use that technology and have an even easier time of taking over Earth.”
“You got that right,” Wilson added.
“We had to try him anyway,” Russell stated in defense of his decision. “He’d of been useful to us.”
Hammann saw their chances slipping away. “Fuck him, let’s go anyway. This pig could go to ex-space at any minute. We can’t get off in ex-space. We’d be screwed.”
“No, we wait,” Russell ordered.
“We grab a couple fighters,” Hammann persisted, “jump ship and turn them over to our people. They’d be able to build more of them. We’d have a chance of fighting off the invasion.”
“Don’t be stupid! How far do you think we’d get? If they didn’t cut us down right away, they’d send the rest of the squadron after us. You think someone like Bogan, or that bitch Talya, would hesitate to blow us out of the sky?
“Even if we did get to the surface, they’d hunt us down. What do you think that other Aultrian ship is doing here? They’re probably already knee deep in our government. They’ve got an entire fleet now. They could walk in and take Earth right now if they wanted to. One of their cruisers could probably bomb our cities at will.”
“What the hell are we supposed to do?” demanded Wilson. “Just sit here and let them decide our fate?”
“No, we wait, bide our time. We’ll get back to Earth, somehow. Hire a mercenary ship or something.”
Russell patted his pocket where he kept the disk. He never let the disk out of his sight. Since long before the accident he’d been gathering information. Technical data, design specs, everything the UESC might want on that class of ship. He was sure that present day Earth would find the information even more useful and reward him handsomely.
“If we can get this to the right people,” he explained, “we can build our own fleet. How’s that sound?”
He played on the thirst for power that suddenly appeared in their eyes.
“How’d you like to command one of these pigs for yourself, huh?”