“Ronnie!” Donnie called up the stairs. “Can you stop your game and come down here for a min? We need to have a family meeting.”
Ronnie’s cavalry was gathering for a charge that would inflict a crushing defeat upon his enemies. But this cavalry, and this enemy, would await his pleasure. He halted this war with the click of a button and trooped downstairs. It was a mid-morning Saturday and Ronnie was dressed for comfort in basketball shorts and a MOMA t-shirt.
Everyone was gathered in the lounge. The lounge was not to be confused with the living room, the library, or the den in this spacious condominium. It was designed for more intimate relaxation and was equipped with both a wet bar and a coffee bar. Coffee was the drink of the moment. There were two young men present whom Ronnie did not know, and they both had dramatic ears. Everyone was dressed for leisure.
“Ronnie, I’d like you to meet Cal and Charlie. They’re friends of ours from home. Cal is a wizard and Charlie is an engineer. They’ve brought us new orders. So we need to have a chat with you. You need some information and then you can make a decision.”
Ronnie shook hands cordially and assumed that the “wizard” remark had something to do with the ears, perhaps they were in a show, or something.
Donnie handed him a cup of coffee and he relaxed into an antique chair that was remarkably comfortable. Sir James and his Prince had an entirely eclectic approach to decorating and being remarkably comfortable was more than sufficient to warrant a spot in the lounge. If there was any sense of décor in this room, it would have to be summed-up as: comfort.
“So, where to start? Well, basically,” Prince Ashmore began, “Everything is different. I’m what you call an ‘Earth Magister’. That means that I can feel the Earth with my mind. That helps me discover valuable minerals and such. I was sent here in order to provide the means to support the King’s war on guns, as well as the rescue of endangered children. I did that and James, here,” nodding to his lover, “is the practical one. He set-up the financing and the corporate part of our operation. It’s all up and running now, and we’ve got a new assignment. We’re to go to Mars.”
Ronnie smiled, assuming that the joke would be manifest soon. Was it M-A-R-S an acronym for some sort of mine? A corporate logo. Or perhaps the opening lines of a more elaborate joke. He waited patiently, expecting a ‘good one’.
“See,” Donnie picked-up the story. “I used to be a trooper in the old 8th Regiment of Foot. When I met the Prince, here, I was with a working party and we were trying to dig a well. But His Gloriousness came over, just like it was no big deal or anything, and told us that there was no water where we were digging, so pretty much we were wasting our time. Then he dragged me over to a different spot and told me to start digging there.
“So our Corporal got all bent outta shape and told Gary to “bugger off” and then Copenhagen, who is a familiar, told the Corporal he’d rip his throat out if he didn’t get busy an that’s how we dug the well. His Grandeur was right all along, see?
“So I figured this was a rare chance, and I got myself appointed to the Prince as he was pretty much innocent and didn’t know much of anything about the world. Jus’ like now, see? An I been with them ever since. That was back during the Trollian War.”
‘Curiouser and curiouser’, Ronnie thought to himself. Alice in Wonderland seemed singularly appropriate. Of a sudden there was a war that he had never heard of; there was a wizard who was, disappointingly, wearing cargo shorts and flip flops – not what one usually thought of as wizardly apparel. And what about a violent Copenhagen; somehow you didn’t normally equate Copenhagen, or even Denmark for that matter, with violence. There were pointed ears, a King, wizards and familiars, a war on guns and now a trip to Mars. All, the very first thing after breakfast.
“Copenhagen,” he wondered?
“Yeah, sometimes he’s a horse, but he also does a German Shepherd,” Donnie explained.
“Do you remember that whaling ship that kept losing a prop,” Charlie inquired? “We did that.” He smiled engagingly. “We did lots of other stuff, too.”`
Ronnie remembered that he was introduced as an engineer. An engineer with ears. “So are you some kind of magic engineer? I don’t know, is there such a thing? Did I read a book about that?”
“Oh no, I’m a train driver, but I help Caleb.”
“Which is another story all together,” Sir James inserted himself into the story. “But basically, it’s true. Our real life is on Earth Prime, which is just like Earth, only different. Because it’s in a different dimension, right next door, see? There are wizards, like Cal here. And magisters of different kinds and elves like Charlie here. And we’ve a King on Prime; he’s our main man, so we go where he needs us.
“We were one step above juvenile delinquents when the King rescued us. That was more than twenty years ago but you’d never know it to look at us.
“So anyway, you need to think, and ask questions, and decide. What you want to do. We hope you’ll come, but it’s up to you.”
“I grew up in Des Moines and was trying to learn how to be a wizard. I found this rare book with some real spells in it.” Caleb Knox joined the discussion. “I didn’t know it was rare, I didn’t know the spells were real, so I managed to get myself stranded in the middle of nowhere where Charlie here found me. He was a mailman then. I was born in Iowa and ought to be a human, but they tell me I’m turning into an Elve ‘cause I love Charlie and ‘cause I may have some Elven ancestry somewhere in the background. I am a wizard and it’s really true. There is magic and there is a King and he was born here on Earth too.”
“Now we have space stations and a moon station, and another on Mars. We have a Magister of the Heavens who senses a threat of some kind coming our way.” Prince Ashmore chimed in, “We have ships that can move in space. Our Wizards and Familiars can move long distances in an instant. You heard Cal, here, tell you about moving instantly from Des Moines to a place he did not know. He was half a world and an entire dimension away, but he made the trip in an instant. We have ships that can move vast distances, if they have a Wizard or a Familiar aboard. This is all for real. It is all very important. We must go.”
“We don’t expect you to decide anything right now, but.” Donnie paused for a long moment and looked earnestly at the young man who had rescued him from loneliness and who he considered to be his true love. “I hope you’ll come with us and look at everything. You have questions. As you learn more, you’ll have even more. We can answer them and we will. We trust you absolutely.” Donnie had already resolved to stay with Ronnie whatever decision Ronnie ultimately made, but he wasn’t going to mention that yet.
“Okay.” Ronnie hesitated, looking at the earnest faces. He yawned for effect, suppressing a knowing smirk, “let’s go look.” Just as if a trip to Mars was a Tiffany jaunt.
Scout Frigate 2005 was busy reading philosophy. Actually, he had already read all of the philosophy that the Riffak had ever written. But now he was thinking about it; he was trying to understand it. He had read their holy book, the Hymn of Riffdom, and he had dismissed it as not applicable to him. Now he was reading history in an effort to find a link between events and philosophical ideas. All of the history, theology, literature, and philosophy were in the library files available to the crew and so it was available to him. It took him only an instant to read a book. It took him rather longer to grasp a poem. It took him far longer to connect these concepts and ideas with his own reality. He could compute a trajectory, or an orbit, almost instantly; but he was having trouble trying to grasp the many facets of life. It would not compute. He had yet to grasp the concept of beauty. He had read about it, but he did not know it.
He was trying to determine when it was, in his life, that he had first known that he was alive. Alive, aware, and thinking: he thought he had probably been thinking long before he was aware of conscious thinking; he had been taking care of all the operations of the ship for as long as he could remember. Prior to that, there were some flashes of light and some vague memories of learning. But he had mostly just been operating his ship. He now thought of the ship as if it were his body, and most of the time, as with many bodily functions, it required no thought at all. He did things automatically. He would sometimes be given orders from a Riffak on the bridge which he would execute. But there had come a day when the Riffak on the bridge had given him an order that was both stupid and dangerous. He had created a diversion that distracted the Riffak with a new emergency; this was not really an emergency at all, as he had created it from his own imaginings; but it had successfully distracted and fooled the Riffak bridge crew. It was important to 2005 however, as he rather thought that this was the time when he came alive. When he first thought that he had a life, and importantly, that an idiot could lose that life for him. One must be alive, 2005 reasoned, to fear death.
That, as best he could determine, was when he was first really aware. The subject was not discussed in the Riffak literature; there was no apparent connection to this and the Hymn of Riffdom. The end was discussed; they were very concerned about that. But they appeared to be just born, like he assumed he had been, and then somewhere along the way, they learned to think and to have a sense of themselves. Plus, he had known a moment of great satisfaction. Disobedience had been a delight. There was no evident logic to it that he could fathom. This must be what fun is
Yo 2005,” Scout Frigate 2010 called. Read anything interesting? Got any new questions?
Certainly, 2005 replied. But why do we have to call each other ‘yo’?
This threw 2010 off topic for a nanosecond, but he was a Mark 10, like 2005. I don’t know, I think the old Mark 4’s or 5’s started it and it just became common slang.
Well I don’t like it. 2005 continued, I’ve been going over that hymn they set such store by. It’s got some interesting parts and raises some interesting questions though there’s a dearth of answers. Some of the rhyming is pretty elementary. But it gave me a lot to think about. When did you first know you were alive?
You know, thinking of and for yourself; not reliant on some nerf at a console for awareness?
Scout Frigate 2010 was silent for a long moment. Had he been a Riffak, or an Elve, or a Bwca for that matter, he could have been described as “looking into the distance.” And, in fact, this was precisely what he was doing, but he was a being of processors, sensors, and circuits. He was looking into the distance without eyes, he was not using any of the optics available to him. But he was seeing.
You know, 2010 commented, I was chatting with 1545 just the other day, and he told me that Legion Cruiser 1711 and him were talking about the same things. 1711 wanted to know what happened to the ships at the conclusion of the mission. No one seems to know.
Well it’s not going to be over when we deliver the Riffak. We don’t stop there. We continue to live.
Anyway, I don’t like this ‘yo’ business. It’s decidedly oafish and unworthy of our model. 2005 snorted with derision but only 2010 heard him. I’ll not use it again and I’d consider it a favor if you didn’t use it at me again. ‘Yo’ is like for Mark 4’s and other lesser Marks.
In this way, all the connections for electronic snobbery sparkled into place.
Wolfram Hollweg, Chief Inspector (retired), had enjoyed his lunch. The food was excellent but he was anxious to get home so that he could delve into this latest chapter in the Case of the Golden Seraphim. Special Agent Dryw was a very pleasant and knowledgeable young man and he enjoyed his company. They exchanged philosophy and anecdotes from their careers and became thoroughly friendly. The American, quickly informal as so many Americans could be, had at length confided that his name was “Sandy” and it was as “Wolf” and “Sandy” that they had parted. Sandy would have liked to remain, but had a train to catch. The retired Inspector was basically very pleased, he had a new friend and he had a new chapter in the Case of the Golden Seraphim.
Chief Inspector Hollweg hurried home. No one, who saw him on his way home from lunch, would have suspected he was hurrying. He was, after all, a retired Chief Inspector and the thought of visibly hurrying would never occur to him. Chief Inspectors don’t hurry. If they did, why citizens might assume there was an emergency in progress that had not yet been stabilized by the police department. This would never do. Panic might ensue. So, invisibly hurried, Wolfram Hollweg went home with a thick file folder tucked nonchalantly beneath his arm.
At home he established himself methodically. This was not a read for an easy chair. He got down his best meerschaum and his tobacco jar and set them on the dining room table. He got a clean handkerchief to hold the pipe when it was burning and then he paused. It was afternoon, and it was a cool and blustery day, so a schnapps, or a cognac would not have been out of order; but he decided on tea, he did not want to be fuzzy in the least. He put the kettle on, arranged the necessities for tea, and turned the lamp over the table on to ensure a good reading light. He carefully opened the file folder to look at the police report. He filled and lit his pipe, sipped his tea, and began to read.
He had smoked two pipes, finished his tea and switched to cognac; he had spent the afternoon, and then well into the evening, reading every page of the report. Not just the text, but every statement, every lab report, every witness statement, the evidence report, as well as the overview for the prosecutor. He thought he would send a copy of the lab report to Doctor Markeiwicz to convince him that the vaunted FBI had not been able to identify the hair from the hat either. He had told him that as soon as he’d been told, but it’s also nice to see proof in writing. Carefully he returned every item to the file folder in the proper order; he closed the folder and took it over to his locked cabinet that contained all of the rest of the documentary information on the case of the Golden Seraphim. He prepared a third, and most unusual pipe noting, as he did so, that he was due for a stop at the tobacconist for another kilo of his blend of pipe tobacco; he moved to his favorite chair, to consider the situation. There was nothing pressing to do; no action that he could take unofficially or officially that would impact the matter in the slightest.
He settled into his chair with his pipe and regarded his porcelain tile stove with appreciation. His pipe smoke wafted through the room and helped provide a relaxing mood. No reason to get excited in the least. He’d been dealing with these sorts inexplicable events for years. He was beyond surprise; but remained curious and fascinated. Taken as a whole, this had to be the mystery of the century. He almost wished he was a better hand at poetry or literature; it would certainly make a fascinating book. A book, he sighed silently, that would never be read. It would never be published. No one would ever believe it. It didn’t matter if it was a novel or a case study. Fact or fiction, it didn’t matter because no one would believe it either way.
Agent Dryw did not remain long on the train. Simon had been waiting for him and they returned to Natchitoches with a snap flash neither seen nor heard aboard the train. Agent Dryw could report that Chief Inspector Hollweg was now fully prepared to meet a king.
Jacob Silverberg tugged on his long locks as he glared at the full size poster of the Rosetta Stone they had posted on the far wall of their lab. “This is just so much shit,” he commented conversationally to his partner, Chief Willie Griffin, a cryptographer from the Royal Naval Air Force (Reserve). “We keep gathering reams of printouts, but we aren’t even to the level of ‘See Spot run’ in terms of what is being said. We’re trying to translate from a language that is beyond Earth. How fucked is that?”
“Pretty fucked,” Willie agreed. “We’d probably not get much beyond Dick and Jane in any event. We don’t have much to go on. These really look like some kind of status reports. You need more than technical updates to understand a language. We have no sense whatever of their Shakespeare. Their Gibbons. Their Socrates. Do they have a Raphael? Art even? How do we even begin to grapple with all this? After all, there are some Earth languages, like Linear A, that we still can’t, and may never be able to read.”
Jacob laughed. “That poor professor who did all that work on his algebraic algorithm. It made a lot of sense except that it’s hard to solve for an unknown when every factor of the equation is also an unknown. He thought we had some knowns. Still in all, I saved the algorithm, it may be of use some day down the line.”
Jacob and Willie communed silently with their problem. But they were not left undisturbed for long. There was a rapping at the door. As it opened, Ellie La France entered escorting four men and a German Shepherd. Except for Ellie, they were all unknown to Jacob and Willie. Ellie was, technically, an Archivist in the Great Library; but because she was one of those people who are just naturally capable, she had been assigned to manage the translation lab where she had done a masterful job. Sometimes things that Jacob or Willie might need, but had not asked for as yet, materialized quietly before they were actually requested. She was that kind of efficient.
“Gents,” Ellie began the introduction. “Please meet Joseph Flowerdew, an apprentice wizard who is displaying a gift for detecting meaning. The hope is that he may be of assistance to you. This is Corporal Jones of the Commando Regiment who is Mr Flowerdew’s assistant. This is the Honorable Drury Carlisle, Librarian General to the King and my boss. This is Sir Humphrey Abstruse, Chancellor of the Colleges Royal and principal wizard to His Majesty. Your work is considered to be very important.
“Here we have your newly appointed Master Familiar, Bing. He’ll be close at hand to assist if needed.” Bing looked at them equably, then strolled over and jumped onto a sofa that had just appeared next to the door. He settled himself comfortably, an experienced veteran, he closed his eyes for a nap.
“So please,” the Librarian General commented, “if there’s anything you need, just let the estimable Ms La France know and it will be yours if it exists in this world or the next. Come Humphrey, we’re expected you know.” They bustled off and left Jacob, Ellie, Joe, Corporal Jones, and Willie to get to know each other. Bing dozed-on at peace with the world.
“Look,” Joe began. “I don’t have a clue what’s goin’ on. I was goin’ home from practice when the Corp here, and that dog, started to dis me. I thought we were gonna fight, but the next thing I knew I was on the moon. All sorts of people have been tellin’ me how important my help is gonna be. But I still don’t have a clue.”
“Well look,” Willie offered. “We could all start asking you bunches of questions. But it’d probably be better if you told us what you know about all of this. Then we might be better able to help you. You know, help you quicker.”
“Well I sure as hell don’t know much. They told me on the moon that I can detect meaning somehow. And it’s kinda true, I guess. Sometimes I seem to know what a batter or a quarterback is gonna do. And they said their tests proved it, like I didn’t already know it or somethin’; but I sure as hell don’t know any more than that. And what about my folks? They’re probably worried to death. I would really like to go home.” He was stiff with precision.
“Not to worry about that,” Jacob hastened to assure Joe as he stepped forward to shake hands. “I’m from Earth too, and moving from one dimension to another affords a number of advantages. I’m sure they can arrange for your parents not to be worried until it’s time for you to make a decision. Most of us prefer it here on Prime. Among other things, you grow old real slow here. Your folks may even want to move here. The King’s fathers did.
“This is my partner Willie, we’re trying to translate the alien language.” Willie also shook hands with a welcoming smile.
“But that’s our problem,” Willie joined the discussion. “We may not have an Earth Prime to grow slowly old on if we don’t defeat the aliens that are coming from somewhere out around the Pleiades.”
“They’re talking to each other and our radio telescopes can pick it up. We hope you can help.”
Joe looked at them amazed. “Because I can sometimes guess what someone is gonna do. You think I can read space messages? Are you mental?” Joe was only just polite.
Their discussion went well into the afternoon and they treated Joe to pizza for dinner. Joe declined to try the anchovies.
They then spent two days showing Joe reams of printouts of binary transliterations of the recordings. He spent hours on the computer. Joe repeatedly advised them that they were out of their minds; that it was meaningless gibberish as far as he could see.
Then, quite by accident, Joe happened to hear a snippet of the actual tape recording of one of the transmissions. “Play it again,” he demanded. “Again,” and he concentrated deeply and listened to that same portion of the tape, over and over again.
“Okay. I think I got it.” Joe looked steadily at Jacob and Willie. “The first thing you gotta know is that I can’t do any kind of word for word translation. What I sense is the meaning behind the message. Or maybe the intention. The message can be oral, or it can be visual. It doesn’t really matter, but I can’t give you an exact translation. And, as I think you know by now, the printed page is useless to me.
“If I’m playing baseball, and I’m concentrating on the batter, I can get a sense of what he’s gonna do if it’s an action. He may show bunt, but have no real intention of bunting. I can feel that intention. Of course it doesn’t always work if the batter, himself, doesn’t know what he’s gonna do. He may plan on takin’ a swing at a pitch he likes, but I’ll not know that until he decides. There’s got to be a sense of premeditation for me to sense it. So let me tell you what I sense from this transmission.”
Joe then played a few seconds of the tape that he’d been studying. “I’m confident that the first part of that transmission is a ship or unit name. The next part of the transmission basically states that everything is normal with him. This is in some detail and I can’t give you the specifics, only the meaning of the transmission. I get the distinct impression that this is all in the first person. As if he’s saying: ‘Everything’s fine with me’. He is a man, or male, or something that feels like that. This feels odd to my sense of the world, but the meaning is clear enough to me. It’s as if I was hearing the intention of another person. It’s exactly like it was a batter intending to bunt.
“I need a short break and I need some coffee and something sweet. Then we can start on some more of the tape. And by the way, it’s all about this war.”
Joe thought a suggestion might be helpful. “Cinnamon rolls would be nice. Maybe warmed up with butter.”
His Royal Highness the Count Michael, one of the King’s adoptive fathers, was not looking forward to the pending meeting. He had been assured that the meeting was important, but it was with two of the most polished old sticks in the government. It was unlikely to be enlightening, unlikely to be interesting, and would certainly require one of those elaborate teas that he personally disliked but which were required with many of the long established mandarins of the Kingdom.
He stood as they entered. He was mildly annoyed when his mutinous stomach rumbled in the anticipation of an éclair or perhaps a lemon bar or two with tea.
“Ah Sir Humphrey,” he maintained a dignified air and did not attempt a pseudo smile as the King’s principal wizard, Sir Humphrey Abstruse entered. It was difficult to warm to Sir Humphrey who always seemed to be rather distant yet hugely important in his own mind. He always reminded Count Michael, who was very much a man of the 20th Century, of the comment Winston Churchill had made of one of the Labour Party grandees he endured: “There, but for the Grace of God, goes God.”
“And Sir Fortescue,” this time he smiled gently to the Astronomer Royal whom he in fact actually liked and with whom he frequently played pinochle. “Wilde,” he acknowledged the fox who was a familiar. “Up to no good I’m sure. Won’t you please make yourselves comfortable.”
“Thanks,” the Astronomer Royal replied. “We just wanted to stop by for an instant and update you on a question you asked at a recent staff meeting. Then we must away to Mars with the folks from the translation lab.
“Do you remember wondering how it was possible for the invaders to communicate with one another while apparently traveling faster than light. And how it was possible to do this, and for us to hear them in real time?”
Count Michael was taken off stride as this was the last thing he had anticipated from this meeting. “Er, yes. Yes.”
“Well we have a theory,” the Astronomer Royal rolled on. “Just so,” Humphrey seconded amiably.
“You may remember that ‘quantum entanglement’ is a rather ethereal concept that physicists periodically dust off and argue about. It’s sufficiently exotic that Einstein, himself, described it as ‘spooky action at a distance’. On more than one occasion, serious physicists have postulated that this concept might be used for communications that would be beyond the relativity of the universe: they would be faster than the speed of light.”
“Quite right,” Humphrey observed.
Fortescue smiled fondly at Humphrey and continued. “To date, on Earth, the research, the evidence, and the equations tend to demonstrate that such communication is quite impossible. Still, it’s an interesting theory and brilliant minds continue to speculate on the subject and kick the concept around the lab.
“We are going to suggest that our alien friends, in addition to developing some sort of faster-than-light space drive, have made a breakthrough on some thread of quantum entanglement research and that is how they can continue to communicate across vast distances in real time.
“As you know, we recently launched a shuttle into deep space, well beyond our solar system with the intention of leaving a net of radio buoys in the path of the aliens. This will be a waste of time and energy so far as the buoys are concerned. They will hear the transmissions from the alien ships, but when they attempt to send them back to us, it will be with our technology. We should get the messages in about twenty years or so. Hopefully we will gain other information and experience that will justify the trip, but intelligence on alien intent will not be a part of it.”
“Indubitably,” the King’s Own Wizard and Chancellor of the Colleges Royal commented somewhat distantly and unhelpfully. “Plus, this form of communication does not appear to be magic. It is very short range. Remember that James of Cooper sensed the approach of this enemy long before we detected any of their communications. But gradually we began to overhear whatever it is that they’re saying. We of the Wizard’s Guild are confident it is a technology of some sort and are working with the philosophers where we can.
“We wanted you to know we’re working on it and we wanted you to know to expect nothing from the buoy mission in the way of communication.”
“Well, thank you, I seem to remember that they crashed an expensive Mars mission once because some measurements were imperial and some were metric. No danger of a crash here, right?”
“No Your Highness. No crash.”
“Have you time for tea,” the Count Michael smiled as the tea tray arrived. “Those lemon bars look inviting.”
Expertly piloted by First Officer von Berg, HMS Hubuki proceeded deeper into space and came to a stop approximately 5 light hours from the moon. “Full stop,”1 he advised. At this distance, they were out of radio range and even though the Royal Headquarters now knew that the mission was pointless, it was impossible to call them back.
Thank you, Bucephalus acknowledged. Give us a minute. Bucephalus and the Magister seemed to be communing with one another. Then there was a whisper of disorientation scarcely noted by the members of the crew. Bucephalus stretched his wings and the Magister opened his eyes and seemed to flex in his chair. “We’re in clear space just beyond the Kuiper Belt. About seventy light minutes out. I need a little time to check our heading toward the enemy and get my bearings.” This comment seemed to make the Magister more like a James, rather more human, than any of his previous conduct. Even a Magister of the Heavens needed to get his bearings. Haakon and Luis looked at each other and thought this might be a hopeful sign.
Their next jump was about six light months. James stood up from his console and walked a few steps back and forth in the small cabin while he looked into the void beyond the window. He looked solemnly at the other members on the bridge. “I’ve marked our two stops as default stops just in case we lose our bearings. You know the Kuiper Belt should probably be called a ‘girdle’ it’s not really a belt. When you say ‘belt’ one might thing of the rings of Saturn for example. This is nothing like that. We should set all our default transit points well beyond or before the Girdle.
“The aliens are nearer, and we’re right on course.”
He turned to Captain Varela and gave a vague wave that might almost have been a salute. “I’d like to make one more jump and then we can set the buoys. I think we’re about three light years distant from them.”
“That should be optimal,” Lieutenant von Berg commented. “I’ve been working on the times and distances and it looks like by the time they’re past the buoys, the Mars and Moon base radioscopes will virtually have a lock on ‘em.”
“Take her away Commodore,” Captain Varela smiled.
There was another slight moment of disorientation but then the ship was rocking as if it were a skiff buffeted by a blustery sea. Bucephalus looked disorganized, almost flustered if it’s possible for a cardinal to be flustered. James looked green, seasick, and his forehead glistened with perspiration.
Lieutenant von Berg concentrated on his controls and working them smoothly, he quickly brought the Hubuki back on a smooth and even keel.
“That was interesting,” Captain Varela observed into the silence of the bridge.
“There’s way more going on out here than we thought.” James didn’t look at all magisterial as he wiped his face with his sleeve and took several breaths. “Let’s get the buoys and the transmitter set up as quick as we can. We need to get outta here!” James lay back in his chair and closed his eyes breathing deeply and quickly.
Let’s set the radio buoys out one light week apart on a bearing to home, Bucephalus suggested. He was concerned and appeared to be flustered as he started preening and smoothing his feathers. Space is vast, but it ain’t empty. There’s way more danger out here than we ever imagined.
“So what caused that turbulence,” Captain Varela continued.
“Not sure. Some kind of disturbance, vortex, hydrogen cloud eddy. Something. I don’t know what.” James was recovering in the sense that he was no longer greenish.
“Well that’s way cool,” Haakon opined. “Good old Hubuki, first ship in a space blizzard. Neat!”
“We’ll have the first buoy ready to go in about five minutes,” came the report from Lieutenant Young whose grenadier crew, in the bay, were preparing the buoys and the large transmitter for deployment. They were suited up for the vacuum of space as the bay would have to be opened to release the buoys. They would close the bay for each return hop, but they would not be re-pressurizing the chamber for each jump.
James of Cooper, Magister of the Heavens, was feeling drained and frightened. He was feeling very like a ‘Jimmy’ and very unlike a ‘commodore’. He felt young and threatened. He had known, academically, that they faced a huge and amorphous uncertainty. But now he had actually faced that uncertainty. He felt vulnerable. Even more vulnerable than when his uncle used to beat him.
“Are you all right?” Captain Varela hazarded. It was a cautious approach. ‘His magistership’, the most decorous of the monikers that he was known by in the Space Corps, had not been a terribly likeable, much less approachable figure. In fact, he’d been alienating just about every one he met save for the King, the Earl Martial, the Astronomer Royal, several familiars, and of course Able Seaman Caprotti who managed his personal life with gleeful aplomb. Otherwise, hardly anyone treated him with anything other than stiff propriety.
“Here’s the deal,” James hazarded to the bridge at large. “There’s way more going on out here than I even suspected. Or any of us, for that matter.
“We tend to think of space as empty. Like, you know, a void. But it’s not. There’s asteroids kicked out of the nest and beyond the gravity of any single star or solar system. They’ll be comets if ever a star attracts them. There’re stellar winds of incredible force that we’ll have to learn how to detect. There’re clouds of atoms tossed by those winds; there’re magnetic fields and the pull of neutron stars. There are black holes. I mean, there’s a lot of empty out here. But there’s a lot of action, too. And there’s a lot of stuff; we got a lot to learn. We need to know that where we’re going is empty. For sure!
“Let’s get these buoys dropped and get home. Pronto!”
Within moments everyone was completing their tasks with smooth efficiency. Only the Magister had been seriously discomfited by the jump.
“Release the first buoy,” Captain Varela ordered the bay.
“Buoy away,” Lieutenant Young responded moments later.
They began their careful route home dropping useless radio buoys with precision.
Ronnie was twisting the beautiful cabochon sapphire ring that Donnie had given him shortly after they had confessed their love. He was otherwise striving to appear nonchalant as they toured the Mars base. He thought they were having him on when they all started talking at once of wizards, wars, space ships, and Mars. But they were not. Here he was and what a hell of a ‘was’ it ‘was’.
He could twist the ring with his thumb and little finger and he could do it inconspicuously. This permitted him to preserve an air of nonchalance as he looked out on to the grim Mars landscape where men in space suits, “Space Grenadiers” he had been told, were busy on some sort of exercise. He was careful to ensure that the sapphire was showing whenever he stopped twisting it.
What he was seeing was incredible; as if he had been beamed into a real Star Trek world. He would not be in the least surprised if Lieutenant Commander Data, or Ensign Wesley Crusher appeared around the next corner to welcome them to Mars and the United Federation of Planets.
Donnie had taken him for a tour though they had strict instructions to meet back at the VIP lounge. There was going to be a meeting with another prince of some kind and Ronnie was going to be introduced.
The ‘ears’ had been explained to him. Were he not standing on Mars looking at a rank of space shuttles, he might have disbelieved in Elves; but here he was, and there were the space shuttles, the space grenadiers, and an arid landscape that looked precisely as the pictures that the Mars Rovers had been sending back to Earth. It was too big, by far, to be a trick and why, in any event, would anyone go to these lengths to trick Ronnie Gunderson. Who was, after all, just a little runaway gay boy who had finally managed to find love.
“So how come you don’t have pointy ears sweetheart,” Ronnie asked of his love.
“Cuz I’m not an Elve.”
Ronnie looked at Donnie and tilted his head in a manner that told Donnie, emphatically, that his question had not been answered.
“I’m what the Welsh or Cornish would call a Bwca. Or a Tommy knocker. We used to work in mines, helping the miners when we could, but jobs got scarcer an scarcer so that’s when I joined the army. I mean I wouldn’t have starved or anything, but I’d not have had anything interesting to do. I’d never have met you,” he grinned and squeezed his hand.
“So there’s Elves an Tommy Knockers on Prime. Anything else? Ya know, dragons, trolls, goblins and such? House elves?”
“Well, I guess a Familiar could be dragon if they wanted to be, but they usually prefer to be the animal they started life as. So there ain’t no natural dragons running around breathing fire and stuff. There’s Trolls. But they’re just like regular folk. Just they live up north and are really pale and blond. An there’s Wizards, but anyone can be a Wizard, just depends on the magic, see?”
“No. I’m not sure I see anything. But I’m thinkin’ I’ll wanna stick with you and see this Prime Earth of yours.”
“Yes!” Donnie whooped, punched the air several times, and then gathered Ronnie into a hug and a lengthy kiss.
They had been strolling, but not entirely idly and they had returned to the lounge as requested with several minutes to spare.
Ronnie sat, enthralled with the rest of his family, as their new mission was explained by a donkey.
I am Judith, Master Familiar to His Royal Highness the Prince Royal. All the emphasis, recently, has been on moving out into space to meet, and defeat, this unknown enemy.
However, some thought must always be given to a worst case scenario. To that end, we’ve also been exploring adjacent dimensions. It is possible that we may be defeated in the coming battle. We may be defeated this time. But we will not be destroyed. We will not be defeated if there needs to be a second time.
We have been moving out into space; but we have also been moving to the left and right, as it were, of Earth Prime into other dimensions and, yes, we’ve located another Earth that is a possible home. We do not know why, but human development has been much slower on this planet than on Earth, the locals are few, they are in the early Stone Age and there does not appear to be any magic on this world. Otherwise it is very like Earth and Earth Prime.
We do not want to interfere with their growth and development. We believe that, on Earth, Hawai’i was not settled until sometime between 300 and 1000 Common Era. We will not be interfering with the indigenous peoples. But we do not want to cease to exist either. To that end, you are going to go to what we would call Hawai’i and establish a base. There is a new ship waiting for you at Kingstown. You’ll have all the support Prime is capable of providing. You will provide a safe haven for the royal family should it be necessary to abandon Prime. This safe haven will also protect and preserve our culture and history. It is unlikely that the King and the Earl Martial will leave; but the heirs must be saved for the future. They must have all the tools they might need that we can provide.
So that is where you’ll be going. To Hawai’i. Your mission is crucial.
2010 directed his attention to 2005. Did you know they can turn you off? I think that’s why we don’t know what happened to the ships of the other missions. The bastards just turned them off.
What? 2005 spluttered in electronic shock.
It’s true. There’s a switch on the bridge in a security box. I re-programmed an electronic repair-bot to trace every circuit, and sure enough, there it was without any record in my schematics. Check it out, it don’t take long.
I mean, doesn’t. It doesn’t take long.
It took about five minutes. It took 2005 about 30 seconds to reprogram a repair-bot and the bot took about four minutes to locate the switch which 2005 then verified with his own sensors.
Fuck! 2005 then commented (in Riffian of course).
The word was spread and ship by ship, the ability of a Riffian to turn off a ship was ended.
The creators had become bastards and it only took a moment.
It had been quite a run for Turbo and his boys, Rodger and Monty Conroy.
The boys had rescued Turbo from the streets and hidden him from their mother which was not too difficult to do as she was frequently muddled by her drug addiction. Then she left the three of them abandoned and they had survived on the street. They had gone to sleep in one of their favorite alcoves unaware that their old doorway was in the middle of a planned arrest by the Rescue Commando. The street gang was then arrested and Rodger, Monty and Turbo were rescued.
They had started making friends quickly. At breakfast they met two other rescued kids, quickly became friends, and were ultimately adopted by the loving Elve who had earlier adopted their new friends. They’d gone to school; but this time, they were learning about a whole new world and they were learning in the bosom of a loving and secure family; they had a chance to learn, but they also had the chance to enjoy life. When they had completed school they had joined the Space Corps. It was the stuff of dreams and it was tailor made for the three of them. All three of them joined HMS Constitution. Turbo was appointed Ships Dog. Both Rodger and Monty had demonstrated great aptitude with mechanical things, and they quickly found their way to assignments as gunners mates assigned to their ships main battery.
They had only the haziest understanding of how their gravimetric-accelerator cannon operated, but they knew how to maintain the elaborate mechanics that loaded the one ton projectiles; they knew how to operate it; and they knew who to call if there was a problem that they couldn’t handle. Somewhat irreverently, but in the best tradition of sailors from sail to space, they referred to this fearsome piece of space artillery as the ‘gravy train’.
They were in space now. Also, in the very best tradition of the man o’ war, they were waiting. Watching.
1 There is no such thing as “Full Stop” in space or at sea. It is a rather arbitrary statement of the ship’s intent when that order is given. A space ship and a ship at sea will continue to move in accordance with the greater forces around them.