Namazu sat in the Captain’s chair sipping tea.
She brought an 18th century teacup to her lips and closed her eyes, inhaling aromas of cinnamon and ginger. She stole a side-long glance to her right, checking for Hurin.
The Captain’s chair, at the foremost point of the bridge, was positioned at the end of a narrow span of floor, a gallery of sorts, connecting the Captain’s station to Navigation at the rear. Consoles lined each wall on the level below. From the upper walkway, one could look down to the other stations. The captain could see, at a glance, which station was manned and by whom. At the lowest level, two floors below, were connections to docking tubes and the shuttle bay, allowing visitors to enter the bridge upon arrival.
Large windows of transparent metals were cut into the front of the bridge, across from and on each side of the captain’s chair. At the rear of the bridge, on an elevated disk, was navigation, complete with hovering, spherical map.
Yesterday, after dropping subtle hints for weeks, Hurin came right out and asked Namazu to use the commander’s office instead of the captain’s chair. But Namazu preferred sitting here. She looked through the front window at the black emptiness of space. She seemed to be watching, looking for something. But there was nothing, just darkness and twinkling stars, like glitter thrown across black velvet.
Space was dry, sterile, and even holy to Namazu.
Focusing on the deep emptiness centered her.
Knowing the captain was watching her, she sighed and placed the teacup on the console. “Nothing,” she said. “Nothing out there, no ships, no asteroids.” She sat back in the chair and looked down at the floor. Sparkling dust had settled in joints between tile-like pads. Dust tracked in from Enuma, she thought to herself. An image of the hulking kurrunite asteroid came to mind. There was also nothing, after 14 years at the Transit, nothing to answer the biggest question she kept asking herself. Why am I here?
She had come to the Transit for one reason, a cryptic, short message from the Jovian Portal. She’d read it and reread it, trying to squeeze out more meaning. It read simply, “Timeline 496 is required to maintain human mission. No other timeline assures success. Tayamni presence is required at Perseus Transit to maintain timeline 496. Military response required.” That was it, the only reason she agreed to accept the promotion. 14 years later, she wondered whether her presence here had, for some unknown reason, already guaranteed success. Maybe she could go back home. Maybe she could go back to the only home she’d ever known, Earth.
She was not happy here. Not satisfied with the life of a commander, Namazu had been looking for Dusmanyu vessels behind every errant meteoroid.
She’d even taken a shuttle through a g-vortex. Like ancient, oceanic whirlpools, this peculiar feature of the Transit, a gravitational vortex, flung asteroids, comets, and even ships around like toys in a bathtub drain.
Ignoring warning buoys, she had flown into a vortex she nicknamed Scylla and Charybdis after the ancient six-headed sea monster.
G-vortices here were unpredictable, like a fluvial-bar where the mouth of a river meets the ocean. Her shuttle had been ripped apart. She barely had enough time to put on her helmet before starboard-casings blasted open shooting her into the whirling void. Gravitational forces flung her around like a rag doll.
After 20 hours, she was thrown free and activated a homing beacon.
She’d pursued the Dusmanyu to the far side of the Transit. But they eluded her.
Are they testing me? she wondered.
She looked forward, searching for something. She searched but didn’t know what for. Was she looking for a sign the timeline was preserved?
Extending outwards at an angle, from ceiling to floor, the window at the front of the bridge provided a view directly ahead and above the Captain’s station. At the level below her, two windows, separated by a metal beam, stretched across the entire nose of the ship. And, at the bottom level of the bridge, two windows of the same size were cut into the floor.
The ship turned to starboard, bringing another scene into view.
Looking directly ahead, Namazu saw a tan colored sphere. Half in sunlight, its atmosphere was sprinkled with diamonds. The sparkling objects were clustered mostly at the edges of the dark side. From this distance, they could have been ice crystals orbiting at a low inclination.
As the Khufu approached the sparkling shapes grew larger, until they could be distinguished. Entering a congested north-south orbit, one that would have been called Polar at Earth, the helmsman negotiated a junkyard of damaged vessels, space stations, and landing platforms. Each structure was crowded with refugees, governments in exile, and diplomats seeking protection. This junkyard orbited above the only habitable region of Kataru, a strip of green forests, high chaparral, rivers, and lakes. This once pristine orbit now teemed with cobbled-together ships, transport vessels, and refuse. There was barely enough room for the Khufu to squeeze through.
Lowering itself further, the ship reached a dazzlingly brilliant layer, devoid of orbital junk.
Namazu stood and walked to the railing in front of her. From here, she could look through all three sets of windows. She looked down. Directly below was the sunlit side of the planet, covered with an enormous whirl of haze. Brightly lit swirls spun out from a darkened eye; a hurricane of dust. The continent-sized sandstorm blurred all discernable topographical features while the other side of the planet lay in shadow. Only at the edges of that icy world, cast in perpetual darkness, could Namazu make out the white edges of glaciers.
She’d be sleeping now, she thought. She imagined Sagar sleeping on a platform, her head resting on a pillow.
Below was a reflection of light, like a sequin, moving over the dust storm. There lay their destination, the floating city in which her Primary, her wife, now lay. Sagar was Timeline Manager. It was her official duty to look for signs and to coordinate Temporal Portal messages, to warn of any undesired timeline changes.
The vessel continued to descend. With the spherical edges of Kataru moving out of sight, she saw a mountain range thrusting its peaks above the haze. In the distance, floating above shadows of the dark side, were clouds of another kind, white and fluffy cumuli.
The ship matched speed with the floating city, changing to an equatorial orbit, perpendicular to the orbit of circling junk. Directly below was the Twilight Zone, Ankida, the fertile strip circling around the entire planet.
It was here, according to legend, where The Nine first arrived.
This was the planet where Yasar, or Osiris, was murdered. It was here that Auset brought him back to life, and here where Seth, the God of Chaos murdered him a second time.
In ancient times, a shrine was built to mark these events so central to the history of all Genetically Compatible Species. The location of the shrine and the holy river, Annil, into which Yasar’s lifeless body had been cast, was down there somewhere under glaciers.
From this position, Namazu could see dust storms on the sunlit side as they were pulled to the cooler dark side. Habitable stretches of land and water, between day and night, were populated now by refugees.
Namazu pressed a control, and a holo-matrix materialized above her arm, the Holo-Ghost, as she called it, sometimes intentionally mispronouncing it as Holy-Ghost. It hovered, waiting for a command. “Dusmanyu status,” she whispered.
“Atmehytu communications have ceased,” a computer voice said, as a spherical map of Atmehytu systems materialized. Slowly, one by one, each of the eight planets was replaced by a red X on the holo-matrix. “Enemy communications increasing.”
The capital planet, Atmehyt, no longer existed. Once, an ocean planet with a small continent at its equator, it was now a burned-out cinder. Like Clysma, the Tlaloc home world, Atmehyt was now uninhabitable.
Atmehyt had been the last to fall in the far-reaching Union of Atmehytu systems.
The Dusmanyu were now focused on their next target, the Chava planet of Dilmun.
The Sol System, Earth, and Tayamni-Pa were also on the Dusmanyu menu.
As if answering an unspoken question, the map changed, showing a system of Chava planets. “Dilmun, presently under Dusmanyu occupation,” the computer voice continued.
The Chava members of her crew were making plans to leave the Khufu. They would go directly to Dilmun to fight. Human forces, scheduled to arrive in one Earth-week, would join them.
As Commander, Namazu’s role was limited to creating strategy, consuming reports, approving deployments, and overseeing scenarios.
In berths behind her, she heard shouting.
Alhalsu, in charge of security, stood quickly and headed to the back of the bridge. “Goddamit,” he grumbled. He lumbered in long, strong strides. A shock of sandy hair fell across his forehead and he pulled at his beard with annoyance. He was muscular with a ruddy, wind-burned complexion. He’d come with Kirashi to the Transit 15 years ago. “Damned Tlalocs are going to punch a hole in the hull,” he yelled.
“Too many,” Namazu whispered. Two hundred refugees, rescued from a convoy of transports, slept in shifts; 200 huddled in bunks intended for sixty. They would join the ever-more crowded refugee Zone below.
These particular refugees had been found by accident. Sagmir, serving with Namazu since the Tlaloc war, spotted refugee transports, camouflaged in an asteroid field. The leading vessel had enough air for one month. All were dead in one ship, half dead in another. The transports contained three Tlaloc species, but no warriors. Their de facto leader was Nantli, a Nonan, descended from snake-like creatures whose duties included caring for young. Namazu was scheduled to meet with him upon arrival.
A blinking light appeared on the console.
“Namazu here,” she responded.
“Commander,” a voice began. “A message from the Tutmose.”
She looked ahead and saw Sippar City growing closer.
“Admiral,” the voice began.
“Commander,” Namazu corrected, shaking her head. “Commander,” she whispered again with sarcasm, knowing the message had been recorded weeks ago.
“Taharqo here,” the voice said.
She nodded as if he stood in front of her. She recognized the voice.
“At least 20 Dusmanyu vessels orbiting Dilmun,” he paused, took a breath, and continued. “The weapon modifies the atmosphere…an alien gas. The scanner gives me a name in another language. They have not reacted to us...we borrowed a Chava vessel. Zimudar is Chava. They could be reading her DNA. Will report.” The message ended.
Namazu shook her head. Taharqo and Zimudar were at an enemy held planet. She sighed, wishing she were with them.
Sagmir and Amrita were the only Atmehytu still with her. When the Dusmanyu attacked the Atmehyt United Systems (AUS) most left to defend their home. Refugee vessels from AUS had been arriving at Kataru for months. It was reported that Agu, the pretentious captain Namazu dealt with during the Tlaloc war, remained on-planet.
As Commander, Namazu had three admirals reporting to her. She must remain at a safe distance from confrontation.
In a meeting with the Sut Resi, the council of allied leaders, she convinced them to allow her to operate rescue missions. Over time, this effort turned into a full-fledged refugee resettlement operation. The Khufu, the Tayamni flagship, her ship, was again, after just having been repaired, a scarred, disfigured rescue vessel.
The refugee mission gave her a reason to be near conflict. She claimed she engaged in battle to protect fleeing populations.
A year ago, Namazu received a flurry of requests from the AUS.
The Sut Resi did not respond when she notified them she was headed to the system. “Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission,” she’d whispered to Captain Hurin.
Now, safely on the flagship, sitting down again, she looked at the empty cup of tea, wondering whether she would have another. She was startled to see Hurin standing next to her.
“May I have my chair? We’ll be docking soon,” Hurin said.
“Sorry,” Namazu responded.
“You have an office,” Hurin responded.
Of medium height, with dark features and black hair, Hurin looked as if she could be Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or Native American. She pulled her lips into a pouting expression and looked at Namazu accusingly.
“I’m in the middle of a scan,” Namazu lied.
“There’s an empty chair at Navigation,” Hurin responded, gesturing to the back of the bridge. “Or your office...you have a console there.”
Namazu stood, muttering a curse. “This is my ship,” she complained.
“May I ask what you are scanning for?” Hurin asked.
Namazu turned quickly. “No, you may not,” she responded. She trudged back to Navigation where two men examined a hovering sphere. Sitting down brusquely, she tapped the console. Turning, she glanced back and saw Hurin still watching her.
Namazu could have commanded her to relinquish the chair.
They had worked together since first arriving at the Transit. Hurin was focused. She performed her duties by-the-book.
Namazu was tolerant of Hurin’s adherence to the Code, to rules and regulations. But Hurin, in turn, was annoyed at Namazu’s willingness to break rules and dismiss the Code.
Hurin knew Namazu secretly scanned for enemy vessels. She knew Namazu hoped to engage the Dusmanyu in battle. She also knew, in any battle with those formidable opponents, the Khufu would be obliterated.
A month ago, they were again at the Captain’s chair. Both standing, their focus fixed on a dying planet beneath them, ships streaking away from a burning atmosphere.
“There has to be a Dusmanyu ship. They always monitor,” Namazu stated emphatically.
“We are here for refugees,” Hurin countered.
“But if we find the ship…the weapon, we could…” Namazu began.
“We would do nothing,” Hurin said emphatically. “We can’t risk the lives of refugees. The planet is already destroyed.”
“We need information…the weapon ignites the atmosphere…” she began.
“We are not a battleship,” Hurin said. “Teams of scientists are working on this problem.”
Namazu moved to the console and sat in the Captain’s chair.
Hurin heaved a sigh. “I need the console,” she said. “I have to coordinate rescue.”
Namazu scanned ships in orbit and those rising from the planet’s burning surface.
“You’re looking for enemy vessels,” Hurin accused.
“I’m your commander,” Namazu whispered, focused on scan results.
“…hails from 18 refugee ships, Captain,” an Amelu announced from Communications. “Three vessels require immediate assistance.”
“Then command me,” Hurin snapped at Namazu. “Do you want to waste time looking for enemy ships or focus on refugees? We can help these people.”
Namazu was looking at the console.
“Command me,” Hurin shouted again. She reached down and grabbed Namazu’s forearm. “Command me or I will pull you out of that chair.”
Namazu’s right arm flinched. She did not want to strike her captain.
Hurin looked at her. “Let the record state,” she began, clenching her teeth. “I will follow the previous order unless I receive a new or contradictory one.”
“Incoming,” X14 shouted.
The Khufu was jostled, temporarily suspending gravity. Namazu grabbed onto the railing.
“…refugee vessel exploded,” he continued.