Millennia ago civil war tore the Galaxy apart. Of all the worlds of man only 1 prison colony survived. Now an ancient Dreadnaught of the Confederation has found that world and vowed to take Humanity back to the Stars. But the descendants of the colony’s warders hidden in the shadows warn of danger. But who really are humanities friends, the one who promises to return them to the stars of those who have manipulated our history and civilisation from the shadows? The truth can only be found by a few brave souls as they search for answers that can only be found in the stars.
To the casual observer looking up at the night sky the space around us is quiet, calm and still. To the more professional star gazers looking through their telescopes observing the planets as they continue their eternal march round the sun, searching for comets and asteroids tumbling sedately through the solar system it is a cold and lifeless void. Even to those imaginative souls who scan the heavens searching for sign of life it seems we are alone. But unseen by those searchers, ancient eyes hidden within the depths of the outer planets watched and waited.
For untold millennia controlling systems of the mighty starship had watched as life on the third planet grew. They had watched impassively while its inhabitants crawled from the shelter of caves to claim dominion over the planet. Watched as civilisations rose and fell. Sometimes it had sent it’s avatars to guide and advise but mostly it watched and waited, as only a machine can, for the time when humanity reached for the stars.
Now, however, a new problem had arisen. Its key imperative had been to wait until the inhabitants of that world were ready then it would reveal itself and help them regain the stars the Confederation had lost so long ago but now its internal systems screamed a new imperative. Slowly the great vessel was failing; the vessels own capabilities to maintain itself were finally losing the ongoing battle with entropy. Keeping the wear and strain of the systems at bay, was becoming more and more critical. The sub intelligence responsible for ships maintenance argued that the vessel must leave its place of concealment. It must find a Confederation shipyard or key systems would begin to fail and the starship slowly but inevitably would die. The main systems argued back that since the Confederation had fallen there were no working yards. The systems could not resolve this dilemma alone but there were protocols in place. The systems must seek guidance. Central command must be awakened.
The entity, which called itself Angraman, felt awareness returning. His mind reached out searching the command systems data banks.
“Why have you awakened me?”
The control systems channelled the status reports directly into Angraman’s consciousness. “There is no choice, Angraman decided, the primitive’s were not ready but that might suit his purposes even better.
Slowly at first the starship drive systems awoke. Gently they moved the mighty vessel out of the stable orbit of the ringed giant where it had hidden itself for so long and headed inwards towards the planet known by its inhabitants as Earth.
Peter Singh usually enjoyed meetings with the King. As the first British Prime minister of Asian descent he saw it as a sign of just how integrated the Commonwealth had become and a measure of his personal success, of course the American’s had managed to elect a non-white President decades ago but it was still extremely rare for any developed Western power to elect someone of ethnic origin to its highest position but today he could really do without it. The past few days had been the most hectic he had ever experienced. First the earth shattering news that Alien life actually existed in the form of the massive space vessel currently in orbit around the moon. Then the ‘invitation’ for all of the world’s leaders to attend the UN in Geneva to actually meet the Alien’s representative, followed by the meeting itself which had only finished just a few short hours ago. Indeed, he’d just gotten off of the plane at Heathrow when the summons from the Palace had reached him. That had been just over an hour ago, he hadn’t even had time to stop off and change his clothes.
As his car pulled up outside the palace one of the Kings’ permanent secretaries was waiting to meet him. Singh watched as the secretary came down the steps he recognised him as the Kings newest junior secretary. Singh had to think for a moment before he remembered the mans name, Sykes? That was it James Sykes. Quite old for a junior secretary, he was tall and slim, dark hair greying at the sides but it was his eyes that Singh remembered most. They were a deep hazel colour but they seemed to notice and understand everything and there was a serene wisdom which seemed strange in one in such a junior position. This was probably why even though he hadn’t been at the Palace very long he already appeared to have been given more responsibility.
Singh’s thoughts were interrupted as his door was opened by one of his body guards and as he got out the secretary came forward. “Good evening Prime Minister, if you’d like to follow me his Majesty is waiting for you” Sykes greeted in a deep cultured voice which Singh reflected suited the older man
“Thank you Sykes” replied Singh as he followed the older man into the Palace.
Sykes led the Prime Minister to one of the Kings’ private drawing rooms. As he opened the door Singh saw this was not like one of the normal meeting rooms he had been in before. The room was richly decorated, the walls a rich cream colour were adorned with many paintings as well as photographs showing the Royal family at their leisure. The thick carpet was a deep crimson colour immediately across from the doorway was a large ornamental fireplace in front of which stood two sumptuous armchairs opposite a matching two seater couch. In the chair nearest the fireplace sat the King. Entering the drawing room Sykes introduced the Prime Minister and then stood to the side. As Singh entered the drawing room Sykes exited closing the door behind him. The Prime Minister bowed saying “Your Majesty”.
King George stood to great his guest and motioned him to the couch. “Good Evening Prime Minister, please be seated” he replied. As the two men took their seats the King continued “I presume as you wanted to see me so urgently you have something you need to discuss following your secret unscheduled trip to Geneva”
Surprised, Singh looked at the monarch. “As it happens your Majesty I do have a great deal to discuss with you. However I must confess to some confusion. I thought you wanted to see me. I received a summons from you as I arrived at Heathrow.”
At that moment the two men were interrupted by a gentle throat clearing cough. “I’m afraid that’s my fault gentlemen” a voice said. The King and his first minister both looked up shocked at the interruption. The speaker was an elderly woman standing at the door to the drawing room. By the lines on her weathered face and white grey hair Singh judged that she must be at least in her late seventies but her stance and demeanour belied her apparent age. The woman stood around 5ft 8 or 9 and her ramrod straight back and strong posture spoke of an inner strength and possible military background. The woman oozed power and confidence. She turned slightly and smiled at the secretary holding the drawing room door open and said “Thank you Jimmy that will be all for now but if you could just wait around outside to make sure we’re not disturbed that would be good”.
“Of course Briareus” Sykes replied closing the door.
Recovering first from the shock of the interruption Singh came to his feet saying “Madam I don’t know who you are but this is a private meeting. I insist you leave immediately or I shall be forced to summon security”.
Unintimidated the mysterious woman approached the two men saying, “Your Majesty, Prime Minister. I am fully aware this is a private meeting; after all I’m the one who arranged it. As for your summoning security Mr Singh I’m afraid I’ve taken the liberty of completely shielding this room so no communication of any sort can leave or enter.” Taking a seat for herself she continued “Now gentlemen please sit. We have a great deal to discuss.”
“Now listen Briareus or whatever your name is, this is outrageous” began the King. But the older woman interrupted him saying. “Your Majesty, you are about to hear a great number of things which are outrageous and impossible but unfortunately all too true so please let’s stop this useless protesting and get down to business. As for my name” the old woman smiled to herself and continued “Well my real name you would probably find difficult to pronounce. But you may call me Angela. Prime Minister it would probably make more sense for you to start by telling his Majesty where you’ve been for the past twelve hours and all about our visitor up there!” she finished gesturing up at the ceiling. Surprised the Prime Minister spluttered “How the devil do you know…”
“You would be very surprised to learn just how much I know about how many things” Angela interrupted “Now, time is wasting Prime Minister but for his Majesties benefit it would probably be best to start at the beginning.”
Singh looked to the King for some sign of support but he just shrugged so Singh retook his seat and began. “Well it all began a few days ago your Majesty, while you and the Queen were in the Solomon Islands, a number of our observatories picked up an object which appeared to be heading directly towards the Earth; the object appeared to be enormous, several miles in diameter at least. The first thoughts were that it was an asteroid; the scientists were frantically trying to work out how close to us it would come. Frankly we thought the worst, that a rock that size hitting the planet would be the end. Then to our amazement the object changed its course and instead of carrying on towards us it entered orbit around the moon. That was the first surprise, the second came yesterday. The object, whatever it was, is inhabited. Somehow whoever or whatever was controlling the object managed to hack into not only the main NATO communications network but also the Russian Federation, Arab League and Chinese networks. Their message was simple; they ‘requested’ that the leaders of the world assemble immediately at the United Nations where a representative of the Aliens would meet with us.”
“Requested?” Angela asked
“Well it was more of a summons than a request.” Sing admitted “We didn’t have much choice.”
Singh thought back to the events of so few hours ago. The United Nations building in Geneva was full to overflowing. Like its predecessor the massive conference room sloped down to the centre rather than stepped down like a university lecture theatre. Huge screens covered the walls and these currently showed the Secretary General and his advisors sat in the front row. It seemed that all the combined leadership of the world was present though in truth a number of smaller nations were absent and some were represented by ambassadors rather than leaders but among the attendees were the Presidents of America, Russia and China along with the assembled leaders of Europe, the Commonwealth a number of middle Eastern, Asian and African nations. The thought occurred to him that one well-placed bomb or missile and the planet Earth would effectively be leaderless. He nodded a greeting to the American President who looked like he was having similar thoughts.
The noise in the main conference chamber seemed to be increasing as the assembled leaders spoke amongst themselves then out of the very air three chimes sounded followed by strange high pitched humming noise. Singh looked around but could not see what had caused the noise. It was only when his assistant gasped that Singh looked down and there in the very centre of the chamber a glowing ball of light had appeared in mid-air. As he watched the ball increased in size and elongated. Slowly the light coalesced into the shape of a head.
The head was clearly human but enlarged many times. It reminded Singh of a classical bust of the Greek God Zeus or perhaps the Norse God Oden with its mop of hair and short beard. The head appeared to be looking directly at him. Afterwards when he spoke to several of his peers they all felt that the face looked and spoke directly to each of them regardless of where in the room they sat. Singh felt that they eyes stared directly into his very soul.
Then without any movement the head began to speak. Again afterwards all those present swore that the head spoke in their own native language.
“Greetings children of the Earth” it began. “I am Angraman, last of the great systems Confederation.” The voice seemed to pause for a moment before continuing “For eons I have searched the galaxy alone searching for others, searching for some remnant of my once mighty civilisation and now I have found you. Now my search is over.”
Although the expression on the giant face hadn’t changed all present felt as if it smiled paternally down at them. Gathering his courage the UN Secretary General stood and asked
“I’m sorry Angraman but we do not understand. You say you have searched for us for so long but why? Why have you been looking for us, what do you want of us?”
The entity calling itself Angraman paused to consider the question then replied “To fully answer that you must first know who you truly are, and your true origins.“ The giant head paused as if taking a fortifying breath. Then it continued. “Millennia ago the Galaxy was inhabited by the greatest civilisation ever known, The Empyrean Empire For centuries the Imperium ruled all the worlds of man but in its later years the Imperium became corrupt. It demanded complete loyalty of all of its subjects, strangling trade and independence. Then some twenty thousand of your years ago several worlds as one demanded their independence and the systems Confederation was born. However the Imperium was jealous of the Confederations success and moved to crush it. Between them the Confederation and the Imperium contained some three hundred star systems containing hundreds of worlds. The war that destroyed them waged for centuries. There were brief periods of peace but they did not last and war began again. I was a dreadnaught in the Confederations last great fleet and I am saddened to say I played my part in that war, the war that destroyed the race you have now come to call Humanity.”
King George sat in astonished silence as he listened to Singh’s account of the extraordinary meeting in Geneva but could not contain the questions that burned in his mind “What did he mean ’destroyed humanity?” he demanded
“We asked him the same question Sire.”
In the meeting chamber Angraman pondered the question then continued “At first the Imperium’s Navy tried to restrict trade routes between systems. Then as the war progressed fighting escalated, planets were invaded to unite systems or seize resources. This led to improvements in defences which made invasion impossible. Unfortunately as defences improved the weapons deployed against them became more powerful. Fleets clashed in space neither asking for nor giving quarter. Mighty star ships like myself died like so many exploding stars and whole worlds burned.”
Singh paused clearly overcome by the images provoked by his tale. Angela punctured the silence asking
“What did he say about himself and how he survived?”
Shaken from his thoughts Singh replied “Well he’s not a living biological being as such but the main computer of a vast space battleship. He told us that he had been taking part in one of the last battles of the war when he was severely damaged. So badly damaged, that his main consciousness went offline. For how long even he doesn’t know but when his consciousness returned he found himself drifting in space. The battle had clearly ended some time before. He found that he was surrounded by broken wrecks, all his crew were either dead or had abandoned ship. He tried to signal for help but no answer came to his calls. Slowly using remote controlled drones, scavenging what he could from the wrecks around him his automated systems began repairs. Eventually after what must have been years he managed to make sufficient repairs that he could try and return to his home port but when he got there he found it too had been destroyed. He told us that for centuries he has travelled searching all the worlds of the Confederation, then the worlds of the Imperium but all were dead or destroyed he then began extending his search until eventually he found us.”
“Did he say what his intentions are now he has found us?” the King asked
Singh paused for a few seconds while he considered his answer, then looking his monarch in the eye said “He told us he wants to resurrect the Confederation; he wants to take us back to the stars.”
Paul Scott opened the door to the drill hall and walked across the main hall to the office. The old wooden floor creaked slightly as he walked on as if in sympathy with the slight squeak coming from his left knee. His prosthetic leg was playing up in the wet weather and he found he was limping slightly. Although slightly annoying Scott considered it actually had some advantages as it served to remind some of the more boisterous cadets that Scott wasn’t just some sad old man playing soldiers (old at 35!) but had fought in the Commonwealth forces earning several combat citations and thanks to a genetically rigged camel spider IED, a state of the art robotic leg. Or at least it had been state of the art ten years ago.
He was due for a replacement any month now, the cadets joked that his new leg would have caterpillar tracks and built in rocket launchers. He told them it would have microphones so he could listen in to what they were saying and the toes would come off turning into remote drones so he could keep an eye on them.
Scott opened the door to the office and as he expected found his squad leader Sergeant ‘Spider’ Webb seated at the desk working on the laptop.
“Good evening Sergeant, anything interesting come in?” he asked
“Evnen Captain” Webb replied his West Indian drawl seemed even thicker than normal. “Email just come in from Division about da Queen Elizabeth trip.”
Quickly moving round to Webb’s side of the desk Scott said “let me see”
Moving out of Scott’s way Webb looked up a beaming grin plastering his face as he said “We got it sir”.
King George stared at his Prime Minister in silence. An old children’s book he once read told him he should believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast! Well so far he was half way there. He wasn’t sure how many more he could take.
“What do you mean “take us back to the stars?” He demanded.
“Precisely that your Majesty. Angraman told us that before making contact he had been watching us from within the orbit of the outer planets. His systems tell him that the Earth is being exhausted. He believes that soon the planet may not be able to support us, something that the green lobby has been saying for decades. He told us that although the worlds of both the Imperium and the Confederation were destroyed in the war, this happened thousands of years ago. Angraman believes some of these worlds may be habitable again or in a state that could be made habitable. Angraman or rather the vessel he is the controlling intelligence of is massive. He believes that even with his reduced capabilities he can transport up to twenty thousand colonists and everything they would need to one of these worlds and support them while they get the colony started. He believes it may also be possible to resurrect old Confederation installations and technology. If we can get some form of maintenance yard working we can fully restore him, he can then return and take more colonists out. Eventually he hopes to have transported enough people to not only reduce the Earth’s population to sustainable levels but resurrect the Confederation as well.”
All the while Singh had been talking Angela had sat calmly listening. Now as Singh finished his report she stirred. “Did Angraman give you any timescales or any idea from which countries these colonists would be drawn?”
If he was surprised by the abruptness of the question the Prime Minister chose not to show it “Well” he began “Angraman told us the Colonists should be drawn from various nation states. So as not to show any favouritism he said he would decide on which nations would be first.”
“And did he say which nations they would be?”
“Well he said if the first colonists were to stand any chance of resurrecting any technology those colonists should come from more advanced countries. He also said that they should be from across the world and ideological spectrum. So he chose American, Russian, Chinese and some European countries, France, Germany and Italy. He told us subsequent colonies would be drawn from other nations.”
Angela sat back nodding to herself. This was just too much for the King,
“Well Madam,” he began “We’ve answered your questions. Now I really must insist you explain yourself. Just who exactly are you and what do you know about all of this?” he demanded.
Angela sat up straight and suddenly any illusion that she was a gentle elderly lady was gone. Her piercing glare silenced both men
“I am The Briareus, Captain of the Heirs of Hecaton. Set in authority of the penal world Terra by the Last Emperor to guard the criminal dregs of the Empire. In short your Majesty I’m your Jailer.
Johnny ‘Jets’ Logan was a sixteen year old solidly built lad. His five feet nine inch height and broad frame made him at first glance seem a bit overweight but as the company boxing champion he was fit and strong with a litheness which belied his appearance. Logan’s friends all called him ‘Jets’ because when he left college he wanted to be a pilot in the RAF. He loved flying and already had a Glider pilot’s licence. As he hurried through the streets he wished he was in his Glider now because he could do with the extra speed. Normally he would be at the drill hall early. As senior cadet he liked to be there before all the rest of the troop arrived but today his dad had made him clean out his van so he was running late and a few of the squad had already arrived. About a dozen cadets were scattered around the drill hall chatting or getting a drink before parade started but Logan immediately spotted a group of five boys crowding round one tubby lad named Simon Smith. The cadets always called Smith Scanner because he always seemed to know what was going on with everyone in the unit. He was also the best radio operator in the unit and a keen astronomer. But just now Scanner had appeared to have drawn the ire of Geoff Clarke and his gang of friends. Jets didn’t need to see the worried glances some of the other cadets were giving the group to know there was trouble brewing. As the senior cadet it was his responsibility to stop any trouble before it started. He could see that the office light was on which meant the Captain and Sergeant Webb were already here. If any trouble started they would know immediately and it would be him that got it in the neck not Clarke. Jets made a quick decision and as he headed over to the group he heard Clarke saying in a loud voice.
“You are so full of shit Smith, you keep telling stories like that and they’ll lock you up, if someone don’t shut your mouth for you.”
“But its true Geoff” Scanner pleaded I saw it last night in my telescope a spaceship around the moon it was huge.”
Ah, so that was the problem Jets thought to himself. A couple of years ago at camp some of the older lads had played a prank on the younger cadets pretending to be Alien monsters. Clarke had not long been in the cadets and had fallen for the joke giving himself quite a scare. He’d had to endure quite a bit of stick for it and now reacted badly whenever he thought someone was trying to play tricks on him.
Jets could see that Clarke was starting to get really wound up so before he could restart his rant he interjected saying “I saw something about that on the news last night. Apparently a large asteroid passed close to the moon, that must be what you saw Scanner”.
At Logan’s interruption Clarke whirled round so didn’t see Smith open his mouth to correct Jets. Jets silenced him with a look then turned his attention to Clarke.
Clarke was a tall heavy set dark haired lad nearing six foot, a clear 3 inches taller than Logan. But where Clarke was big, Logan was solid.
Clarke stepped closer to tower over Logan, but Jets was used to dealing with people taller than him and refused to step back and be intimidated by the move.
“Stay out of this Logan, nothing to do with you” Clarke spat
“Scanner made an honest mistake and didn’t mean anything by it did you Scanner?” he replied calmly not taking his eyes away from the taller cadet.
“No Corporal, I didn’t mean anything” Scanner replied.
Just then Logan sensed someone had moved up behind him and to his side but he didn’t look round. Clarke had also noticed the movement. Sneering, he replied “Well the little prick should think before starting his fairy stories. Next time he could get himself into real trouble.”
Ignoring the comment Logan replied “It’s nearly time for parade, you’d better get yourselves ready, go on all of you, move!”
Clarke insolently hesitated for a moment; Logan continued to stare at him raising an eyebrow. Clarke looked over Logan’s shoulder and sneered again saying to his companions “Come on, we’d best get ready.” Clarke and his gang headed off to get ready, Logan turned to his right and sure enough standing there as he’d expected was Mike Reid. Mike was Logan’s best friend. Standing at six feet tall, his head shaved he looked every bit the Royal Marine it was his ambition to become.
Logan looked up at Reid who was watching Clarke’s retreating back
“Thanks for the assist mate but I had it covered”
Reid grinned down at his friend “Thought you might need a hand mopping up the mess when you finished” he joked. “Seriously though mate five to one are not good odds at the best of times”
“Five to two really, you’d have piled in as well wouldn’t you Scanner?” he asked
“Yeah course I would” the tubby boy replied nervously
“Even so” Reid began “Clarke may be a dick but he’s a hard bastard and a couple of his mates are no slouches either.”
Logan grinned at his friend saying “You do realise what you just said don’t you?”
Reid rolled his eyes as the three cadets headed off to get ready for parade laughing.
From the office Scott and Webb watched the whole scene on the monitor. Most of the cadets had no idea that the officers had cameras in the hall which was why some of them swore the officers had some sixth sense when they seemed to know what was going on even when they weren’t there.
“Dat could’ve been nasty” Webb began,” Good job Logan an Reid turned up when they did”
Scott nodded thoughtfully “Logan handled it well though, he was good choice for Corporal. If he keeps this up, I think I’ll need to have a chat with him about officer school. He could have a bright future that lad. Anyway let’s get going It’s about time to give them the good news.”
Logan was just getting the cadets organised when he noticed a couple of the girls were talking quietly to one of their friends “What’s up with Hampson?” he asked Mike quietly.
Mike looked over “She’s getting herself worked up over this Queen Elizabeth competition, it’s her Dad’s ship and she’s desperate for us to get it.”
“Ah right” he replied understandingly.” Sarah Hampson’s father was a Commander in the Royal Navy and had been on deployment for the last six months. “Well they’d better get a move on, it’s almost time for Parade.”
“I’ll go tell them.” Mike volunteered quickly. Jets watched him as he went and quickly spoke to the girls who got up and made their way over. Mike came first and got into place while the girls followed. Jets caught the look Sarah was giving Mike which gave him pause for thought. At that moment the office door opened. Making sure all the cadets were lined up in the required three ranks Jets turned and saluted the Captain.
“Parade ready for inspection sir” he announced.
Scott nodded and replied “Very good Corporal as you were.” Scott then addressed the company. “At ease everybody, now before we start tonight I have a special announcement to make. As you know the Navy’s oldest warship, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to be decommissioned next month. I have just received the following communication from divisional H.Q. ’To Captain Scott, Commander Number Two Company Commonwealth UK South East Region Combined Cadet Force.
It gives me great pleasure to inform you that due to the outstanding scores achieved by your unit in the recent set of regional exercises carried out by CCADET units around the country that your company has been selected to join the HMS Queen Elizabeth on her final voyage before decommissioning. Your unit and their families must report to Portsmouth dockyard on June 15th at 08:00 hours where they will join the Queen Elizabeth on her final journey.
Signed Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Ramsey.”
As he finished speaking the cheers that erupted from the assembled cadets were definitely undisciplined and contrary to proper decorum but as he looked at the beaming smile on Webb’s face it was he decided justified.