Space is a safe place to run to in times of trouble. It is always quiet, sterile and untouched by man. In time of war, it is an escape.
Wars were supposed to stay contained to certain boundaries. Problem is, a dictator started this. So a stray missile fired of-world becomes a galactic event and containment becomes impossible. Little worlds like Embus, Oriana, Listrum, Ytterium, and others that no one remembered become top news items and discussion topics in the Galactic Senate. When the first battle occurred on Embus III, it was too late to contain. The army destroyed them. Their Treslian leader, Qualis loved the victory photos of him as he stood over the piles of mutilated bodies on the Earth colony. These photos reached the Republic, commented on, criticized and surmised. On April 3rd, 2146, the Cruiser Hood departed from Mars colony to strike the Treslians forces. They were destroyed two solar days later. Earth colonies were in turmoil and indecision. They questioned the protection of being a colony. It was a time of remorse and recalibration. The multi-Trillion credits spent on the Galactic Laboratories was also questioned, argued, and debated since their mission was protection and prevention of hostile takeovers.
The Treslians demanded immediate surrender and all worlds to submit to them or suffer the same fate. Many supported the passive approach including the Earth mega-states. A response was needed before more died. The Earth Task Force, Halifax Class Republic Ship Calgary remained in orbit to face a threat with limited crew. The government response was urgent requests for a weapon that could even the odds.
“U.S.S Frigate Canterbury to Unidentified Transport, you are in government controlled, Terran space, please identify. “, Captain Thomas said.
The heavy transport executed a slow turn to port, lined up with the wormhole and paused.
“Damn, that ship is beat up,” The Operator said.
Spinning around, the weapon’s officer removed his headset and tossed it on the console.
“She’s operating with only one reactor out of three. She’s a derelict.”
Thomas glared at him, he turned back to the console. The comm center activated, the Moltog’s Operator’s image filled the screen.
“This is the Martian vessel Moltog, on route to K-5 with supplies and passengers,” the operator said in a monotone voice.
The Controlled tapped his hand terminal, swept aside the duties list and scanned the ship list.
“Authorized?” Captain Thomas said in a library tone,
“Yes sir,” he said.
He pressed the communications channel again.
“Roger that, you’re on my schedule,” Thomas said.
“What do you flyboys do for entertainment out here? It’s boring as hell,” The Moltog said.
“Oh, we have our ways, you are cleared to continue. Hold at the A24 wormhole, then proceed. Do you copy?”
At that moment, the long range panel on the Canterbury sensors turned red and alarmed.
“Captain, we have a Treslian ship that just appeared on our scopes, 14,000 clicks out.”
Spinning around, Thomas locked eyes with the operator, “how the hell did that happen?”
“It’s the Valok,look at her weapons, she’s a damn predator.”
“Thought they said this was a cold war,” the weapons officer said. His panel illuminated. He whipped his head around.
“They’re firing torpedos,” he screamed.
“Evasive 1-delta now, 7 G turn, push it,” Thomas yelled.
The Catebury’s engines thundered at 110%, she swung in a wide turn, engines illuminated the small moon they parked by. The crew were pinned to their seats. She reached sublight speed in a few seconds, crossed to the dark side of the moon and scanned the approaching torpedos.
“It’s going to be close,” Thomas said, gripping the bulkhead.
The torpedos flashed by them trailing a blue flame and continued in a sweeping turn. Thomas staggered for an instant, eyes wide, his heart pounding in his chest.
“What tha…?” He said.
“Captain, the weapons lock wasn’t on us, it’s on the Moltog,” he said.
Thomas dived to the comm panel, pressed the button and spoke with a command voice.
“Moltog, evasive maneuvers now,” he warned.
Moltog started to creep forward.
“They’ll never make it,” the operator said.
Thomas’s face was tense, his eyes open as the torpedos made a gradual arc and struck the Moltog midships, a blinding flash of blue light flooded them and the ship was reduced to a huge debris field. The Volak casually entered A24 and disappeared.
“She’s gone sir,” the weapon’s officer said.
Thomas collected himself, he looked around the bridge at each person, took a deep breath and looked at the cloud of debris that was once the Moltog.
“Gentlemen, we aren’t done, give me some distance.”
“Shock wave will impact in twelve seconds,” the Operator said.
Turning to the weapons officer, Thomas spoke, “what were those weapons?”
“I don’t know, haven’t seen them before.”
“Great, new technology, look at the weapon signature,” he said
Thomas leaned over his shoulder and studied the data.
“Each weapon was 100 Giga Ton, forced implosion, IR signature guided.”
‘Treslians couldn’t have developed them,” Thomas commented.
“So, where did they get them?” The Operator said.
Thomas rubbed his chin, studied the screen.
“Helm give me more distance, three quarter speed, Shields up, aft,” Thomas said.
The shock wave arrived two seconds later peppering the ship with pieces of debris that skipped off the hull of the cruiser. The ship shook as it rode the wave.
“Captain, we have some penetrations on the secondary deck from debris, nothing serious.”
“Send repair crews,” Thomas said calmly.
The debris passed them, Thomas released his grip and looked at the crew.
“I want to know what those weapons were,” Thomas commanded.
“Guess it’s not a cold war any longer,” the Operator said.
“No, it’s not,” Thomas said.
Titan Offices, Defense Agency.
“Captain Malaka here, what can I do for you?”
“Captain, I have bad news,” Thomas said.
Thomas settled in his cabin, leaned back in his chair and waited for her response. The ship chattered echoed behind him. He held his breath slightly. Her image fluttered on the screen. She wore her Galactic Navy dress uniform, her ribbons filled her left side and glittered in the holograph.
“What happened? Are you still on station?”
She leaned on the desk and glared at him.
“Yes ma’am, we are still patrolling at Ceres.”
Circling her cluttered desk, she picked up a glossy red hand terminal, flipped through a message list and spoke to him without looking up, “So, what’s the problem?”
“Captain, the Treslians attacked a transport using a new weapon.”
“Thomas, this war is a stand-off. They don’t have new weapons.”
Pausing, he took a long breath, stared at the 3-D display and coughed, “they do now.”
“Send me the data, what’s the status of the transport?”
Thomas’s muscles tensed, “it was destroyed.”
Malaka raised her eyes to meet his like a large bore cannon.
“What did you say?”
Clearing his throat, he stood erect, “The destroyed ship was a Martian Transport.”
“I know what it was,” she yelled.
Thomas looked down, pushed a green hand terminal out of the way, and then looked back up.
Malaka rubbed her eyes with one hand, sighed and turned away from him. She glanced at the red hand terminal, tossed it on the desk and turned around.
“Thomas, you will gather all the data you can. This is a priority. We need to know what this is. Am I clear?”
“Yes Ma’am,” Thomas said.
“I will make notifications.”
Albuquerque Complex Spaceport, August 2146, Earth.
The holo-message flashed red for critical action. It called all researchers to K-5 by secondary travel means immediately, followed by a government closure of the Spaceport except for official travel. He had thirty minutes to leave, David was hungry for news. Despite the urgency, David Matthews packed in an unhurried, methodical fashion. He blanked out all the activity and noise in the house to focus on this. He folded clothes and placed in the coal black bag, organized the bathroom toiletries, and aligned them for a second time, he repositioned his shirts, placed his heavy leather coat on top and checked the arrangement. His wife, Martha walked in with a worn out look, dropping laundry on the bed. At 38, she looked older than she was but younger in other things like sense of humor. She was the same girl he married 10 years earlier but he wasn’t. Oreillians age differently and usually hide those subtle changes. He turned, retrieved his cold coffee and drank the bitterness, then turned to her.
“Got that travel message?”
“The one you don’t need?” She said, her tone sharper than usual.
Martha’s jaw was tight, her face drawn up. She straightened her shirt and brushed lint from one corner. Turning, she retrieved the red hand terminal document, handed it to him, picked up her access pad and read the news again. She shook her head in a slow fashion like laundry hanging in the wind. She retrieved a sweater, pulled it around her and crossed her arms, locked her gaze on him as he read.
“Gotta see when we leave,” he grinned at her.
“should’ve known before,” she scolded him.
The retinal rehab allowed him to read without glasses but out of instinct, he grabbed them, then sat them down. Martha’s shoulders drooped and she shook her head as she watched him. Opening drawers, she grabbed the laundry and began folding it, and putting it away. She had the room perfectly arranged from the rustic wood cabinets to the southwest paintings on the wall. This disturbed her peace. David noticed her annoyed, then blank expression. He picked up family pictures from the bed stand and sat them on top of the clothes, held his wife’s picture and smiled.
“You know, your hair is getting darker with winter coming,” David said.
“Hair?” She said, “You’re worried about my hair?”
She glanced in the mirror, David noticed the slight gray appearing on her temples and grinned.
”I like the color,” he replied.
“I need a drink.”
“Except you don’t drink,” David said.
The cool wind blew the white, sheer curtains against the small sunset orange lamp in the room. Martha looked out the window at the Sycamore leaves that played along their manicured walkways. The house matched a minimalist approach. For a moment, the center stage stone pond played a soft melody from the dripping waters.
“You might consider a wine instead,” he mused.
Martha didn’t smile or say a word. The silence was broken by their son’s scream as he chased their dog in the backyard. She watched her son and daughter for a moment playing in the leaves. At four, any game involving chase was fun and their dog provided hours of it, their daughter was the same way. He might have worried about neighbors but the two houses beside them were vacant. David laid out his white laboratory tunic, measured the distance for name tag placement with his scarred hand. He stopped and rubbed the scar for a moment. Martha sighed and walked back into the hallway, crossed her arms, and looked at him. A military transport passed overhead blanking out all sound for a moment. She looked up.
“Dad could take you,” she said.
“Oh, that looks good, Oriellian shows up with Cop.“
She grunted and watched him pack.
Never cared about clothes before,” she said.
Martha slipped out into the hallway, combed her daughter’s feathery blond hair back past her grayish ears and, whispered directions to her, she nodded and smiled. David pulled the test results from his pocket and hid them under a shirt, gave her a weak smile and thought about his old job. This one would be better. Maybe I don’t hide who I am. At least, he told himself that would be true. But he knew he’d better not screw it up. He had months to adjust.
David lowered his voice. “Different place.” He finished folding a shirt and sat it down in the case.
“Bet It won’t be quiet," she teased.
“No, probably not, but that’s ok.”
David was sure that Martha got that from her dad who always had to get a dig on on him about something. He knew he wasn’t her first choice, he’d called earlier to ‘check in’ and offer to help.
“We can go on here for a while longer, they’ll move us soon, I know it, or we’ll ask your uncle for a job.” Martha said.
“Uncle Hugh’s an ass, rather have this job, besides, if you get lonely, Kirk is down the road. He already said he’s do minor chores for you.” he said.
She nodded and smiled.
“Never told me what Hugh does.”
“No idea, worked for my father at one time.” David answered quickly.
“Yeah, haven’t heard from him either,” she smiled.
Martha sighed and looked toward the children’s room. David watched her and knew it would be her responsibility to care for them. He glanced at her.
“You’re a single parent now,” he said “for a while, but you have family around.”
“There’s Kirk down the street,” she mumbled.
She took off her wedding ring and placed it on the counter, and turned back to David with a frown. David caught the look and remembered how she eyed the young police officer. Changing the subject, he tried to put it out of his thoughts.
“Calgary’s up there,” he filled the silent moment, “supposed to protect us.”
“One ship, yeah, not gonna help,” she muttered.
David shook his head, “yeah, very human.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” he said, “look this has been a bloodless war so far, no need to jump to conclusions.”
He went back to his suitcase and looked at its worn, canvas sides. It had seen trillions of kilometers in travel and so had he. The news played on the nearby monitor, Martha increased the volume. The newscaster read the report with his face tight and his jaw jutted out:
“This is no longer a cold war, The Maltog was attacked and destroyed. All lives were lost.”
Martha turned back to David with a smug look.
“I warned you,” she remarked tossing a small towel back into the adjacent bathroom.
David shook his head, looked at her, “Don’t worry, we’ve time.”
“How do you know?” she said.
He stayed silent. Martha watched the monitor again, saw the gray again and smirked. She turned back.
“That’s why you took the job, isn’t it?” She pressed.
“We were called in early, besides it’s more money,” he said.
“That’s not it,” she straightened the southwest quilt spread and looked at him.
K-5 Laboratory, Secluded moon.
“Jack, I have some disappointing news.”
Jack Reynolds gave him a disinterested look, thumbed through the glossy gray hand terminal and looked up. He brushed dust from his khaki jumper and flopped back into his chair.
“Yeah, I’m used to disappointment. What now?”
“Your transport won’t be there.”
“Been late before, when will it arrive?” Jack said still reading.
Ben sighed, walked to the front of his desk and sat down.
“Not coming at all,” Ben said.
Jack’s eyebrows shot up and his mouth opened wide. he dropped the hand terminal like it was red hot, placed his hands on his hips and glared at him.
“Senator, can we reschedule it? Our reactors are critical, one is already down, they are failing, we might have 2 months before we won’t be able to operate.”
“You’ll have to wait,” Ben said under his breath.
“Jack, they were all lost. I’m sorry, this has become a shooting war.”
Ben buttoned his dress coat and waved his hand like a stop sign in front of him, “You don’t have to worry about that.”
Jacks allowed himself to smile for a moment, picked up a red hand terminal and read it. he looked at the screen and met Ben’s look.
“I heard that there is a certain person coming to K-5, is that true?”
David’s government hand terminal vibrated and released a short, high pitch tone. David checked it. His transport was leaving soon.
“gotta go,” he said.
Martha shook her head and walked back toward the table, “we don’t get a break, I hate this place,”
“It’ll sell,” David said as he adjusted his watch.
She looked at the children playing. The clouds parted for a moment and the sun illuminated the adobe brown room. Warmth replaced the coolness of the room. She ran her hand over the books on the shelf.
“Wanna take some of your hand terminals?” She asked without turning.
David thumbed through the stack of the multi-color glass terminals.
“They’re dusty,” she said.
“If I have time to read,” David said, and watched his kids play in the yard.
“Then I don’t have to dust them,” for a moment, she had that mischievous smile on her face. David watched her toss them before. David selected two explosive formulation references, tucked them in the side of the travel case, looked up and smiled.
“A little light reading, “ he said.
He tapped one, ran his fingers over the polycarbonate material, activated the holo-matrix and watched the molecules float over it, then tucked it in his pocket.
“Running away doesn’t fix your anger.” she said as she straightened and centered the stallion sculpture on the bed night table. She brushed the light dust off the top made a face.
“I’ll deal with it.” he smiled.
“Sure, like everything else, running away,” she frowned.
David reached out and stroked her soft cheek, her lips quivered for a moment.
“Not running away.”
David closed the bag and walked out, glanced at his watch. The Order allowed two transports a day down to the National Complex hub while the Calgary provided protection. David had a few minutes to go. The Order was the new government that came into power 1 solar year ago. Their viewpoint was security at the expense of freedom. The travel restrictions were one small part of the government changes since the threat started. David walked out to their covered porch, just at that moment, an explosion of blackbirds lifted from the green Oak in their yard, filled the sky and landed in the neighbors tree. Blackbirds were common birds in the early Albuquerque winters.
This town has been a booming Spanish Town for centuries starting with the railroad in the 1880s. The Villa De Albuquerque had become the modern transportation hub and industry center before the war erupted. Now it was a stop-over for the Order’s travel program. The Order annexed it as a Federal area after the first Treslian conflict. A program questioned for its expenditures. Two miles east, the Old Town Plaza had become a tent city of refugees awaiting passage to other planetary systems. The multi-color tents decorated the area like a Sarabi blanket. Thousands hoped they would be next to leave.
He looked at the cotton clouds that crept over the Sandia Mountains out of the west. Martha appeared behind him on the steps of their flat roof, light sand colored Adobe home behind him. She pulled her light jacket around her and shivered for a moment. David looked up and shielded his eyes from the bright sun. The spicy fragrance of roasted chilies drifted in the wind as was natural for this time of year.
“It’ll be here soon,” she said.
David looked at his chronos device he had set to standard Order time three minutes before. Autumn was starting. He sighed.
“In 32 minutes.”
“Not what I mean," she said.
David turned, “Huh?”
Martha pointed up, “Winter’s almost here, I wonder what Titan is like.” She wrapped her jacket tight around her, surveyed their multiple color, granite rock yard and sighed.
“God, what a mess, we need to rake,” she said.
David looked at his bag again as the cool breeze flowed over him. Martha held her hair as it went by. She pulled her hair to look at it, sighed and looked at David. He was busy with his bag.
“I should take a different coat,” he said out loud, as he dug through the bag.
“You’re not listening again,” she said, she stepped off the porch and toward him.
“I’m going, that’s it.”
“No one’s trying to talk you out of it," she said.
“Yeah? just you and your old man.” David stared at her. She grimaced.
They were silent as the next wave of leaves went by. She looked at him, put on a smile.
“You’ll be ok?” She asked.
“Yeah, restless, ready to start,” David said.
The wind blew a parade of golden leaves by them again, Martha leaned and held her hair. David smiled painfully at her. He’d miss her, he looked away, then smiled when he heard his son’s yell from the back yard. He was glad he got that dog despite the pile of city red-tape.
“So, what’s new?” she looked him in the eye, her own brown eyes were watery.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, by the way, tell your Dad thanks for the dog, he’s a good Cop,” David said.
“Cutting me off again,” her lips quivered.
“Anyone else here?”
The gray, government 12-passenger transport vehicle descended from cruising altitude of 300 meters and pulled up to his gray adobe house and interrupted his thoughts. The driver stepped out in his grungy white uniform and waved. The ship was marked: Warren Industries. Martha looked at him. Her face was tight.
“War’s not stopping,” she said.
“Understand something,” David said with a lowered voice.
“I need to do this.”
“David, there’s more to this.”
He drew a breath and turned to glance at her.
She smiled, “Yeah, you should know about intuition.”
The noise of the transport grew. Turning to the transport, David patted his pocket for the stylus he always carried. Although out of date, he preferred it. He put on a half grin and looked at Martha.
“There’s no Perps here, look, got to go,"David said, he reached out and touched her soft face. She rested her head on his shoulder and then pushed away.
After the sting of an argument, there’s no way to unsting no matter how much he tried or complained. Her father’s retirement paralyzed their relationship. He was prideful enough not to admit to the issue.
He grabbed his bag, gave her a quick kiss, and jumped on the transport. Martha waved with no energy as it lifted off and sped away. She walked back into the house, lit a candle and looked at the clock.
K-5, Reactor Power Units.
“Can you fix ‘em?” Jack Reynolds said as the watched the reactor operator stare at the holo-controls for the system.
“I don’t know, it could be anything, could be the superconductors, whatever it is, we’re losing power,” Brian Stanley said as he wiped his hands on an oversize rag.
“What’s the time frame?”
“I’d give it ten days.”
Jack turned to look through the transpoglass radiation barrier, scrubbed his grayish hair and turned suddenly on him, “Brian, you told me a couple of months,” Jack said.
“Didn’t know it was this bad, feedback systems aren’t responding as I thought.”
“Fuel is burning unevenly, I’m getting gamma flux levels way above design.” he pointed at the blue display board that showed fuel temperature, pump status and all the workings of the reactor.
Jack studied the board, shook his head slowly. Brian pointed again.
“Somehow, the coolant water is becoming contaminated. The cryo-pumps are not operating as they should.”
“Not sure, spectra shows that fuels is decaying faster than it should,”
“Good guess. the question is why,” Brian said.
The driver settled in his seat, and powered the system up. The turbines started to whine as the revolutions increased. David dropped his bag beside him and clipped his belt on. The blackbirds circle again and re-settled in his tree. David focused on them as they chattered.
“I’m Daniel, where ya goin’?” The driver said.
“Downtown to start,” David answered.
“Yeah, I mean the end.”
David sighed, “God, I hope not, It’s called K-5.”
The Driver released a long whistle, “You don’t say.”
“What?” David said
“Know it. lotta accidents, Workin’ for Wagner right?”
“Ummm, watch yourself, funded by Warren industries, right out of Titan, there’s questions about who really owns that.”
David rolled his eyes.
“Can we get going? I don’t want to be late.”
“Sure buddy, just talking, Let me finish the story.” Daniel said.
The transport lifted, moved south along the umber river valley. The trees were like tall brushes dipped in shades of yellow and red, dripping paint on the Basque floor. David lost himself in the colors. He would miss this, at least part of it. Daniel started again.
“Yep, my brother worked there last year. Transferred from Sandia National Complex,” The driver pointed towards the mountains and glanced at him in the small mirror.
A loud thump sounded as the transport brushed a cottonwood tree top.
“Mind watching your flying?” David scolded.
“Sure, well, he asked a question about budgets and he didn’t come back. Mom said he was at Titan, living in tent city near the Kraken lake, haven’t heard a peep from him since, we lit candles for him the other night.”
The shuttle passed through a low cloud bank and neared the city center. David removed his travel ticket and studied it for a moment. It was limited to travel on that day. He wondered if he’d make it. The ship shuddered as it passed through turbulence. David stared out the window at the sand-colored houses below. May not see this place again.
He checked his watch again. The ship descended and leveled. The driver continued.
“Yep, we’d like to know. We haven’t heard a word. I’m on the system, I’m a fed contractor.”
The driver looked back and winked at him. David nodded.
“That’s too bad,” he said.
The transport made a hard-left turn that make David’s stomach twist, the ship straightened and passed over the multi-colored tent city. They fluttered like a giant flag in the wind.
“Poor bastards, been here for months, betting it will be a while until they get moved.”
David wasn’t listening, he was thinking how K-5 might be a bad story for him.
The transport sailed over the old train station and settled down hard at the Roadrunner transportation station. It was broken down, adobe bricks cast aside everywhere, door hanging off its hinges, playing a sad song in the wind. Robinson Park was deserted. Not a police officer was in sight, good they’re on the job, David thought. It had been ten years since the station had been shut down to transition to the government system. Some thought the heart of the town stopped beating when the train quit running. David was not so dramatic, a town has to grow up sometime.
“There you go,” Daniel said.
“Thanks,” David replied, he handed him 5 credit tip.
“Hey thanks!” he saluted and jumped back in.
The Transport zoomed off and David stood there looking over the town plaza. The air was cool and the sun played through the cottonwood trees. David shivered for a moment.
“Well, this is it,” David said out loud.
David grabbed his bag and took a couple of steps.
“Where’re all the people?” David said out loud.
On any day, there were hundreds of citizens waiting to leave because of the war. The Royals had already left months earlier. Now it was the common folks waiting their turn. The news covered it 24 hrs a day. It was an eerie quiet. David tried to relax. There was no around to answer his questions. He would have to discover all the unknowns on his own. Just as he was in his twenties, he would have to depend on himself. In the back of his mind was an uneasiness rippling below the surface but he couldn’t nail it down. David blew out a breath and walked to the series of small benches along Robinson Park. A pile of trash paper swept by like a wave flowing down the street. This was the pickup spot, he remembered. Trash blew by followed by leaves.
“Damn, don’t they clean up?” David said.
David walked between the benches until he found one that was close to meeting his neat and organizational nature, brushed the dust and leaves off one seat and leaned back. A flock of Canada geese flew overhead and toward their winter nesting places along the wetlands of the Rio Grande. They stayed in formation and made a slow, sweeping turn among the rushes and brush. He heard them honking as they settled down in the warm, foamy waters. The earthy smell of chilies roasting flowed over him again. He turned and saw the smoke rising from a fire on 8th street.
“That time of year,” he said, closing his eyes.
He drank in the quiet. He could rest in it. The transport could take its time. In a few hours, all this quiet would change, he would be submerged into the 24 hour per day laboratory environment, an environment he wasn’t sure he could handle.
But his quiet was interrupted by the noisy arrival of another traveler a moment later. A forest green personal transport with silver trim pulled up, and children poured out like ants along with one thin, black haired man with rumpled clothes who carried two over-stuffed bags. The children broke into games of chase around him and thru the park. They shouted at each other and explored the terminal area. His face beamed with excitement as he visited with each child, touched their faces and kissed them. He composure changed to a serious look when he reached the tallest one.
“Khodi, take care of mom,” Adrona charged his oldest son.
He was tall, slender and wore a bright green tunic and gray pants. He nodded his head as his father spoke.
“Yes Dad, I’ll be with you soon.” he said and bowed.
Adrona’s face turned hard, “Khodi, focus on your studies, take care of the family, they’re your responsibility now.”
Khodi walked back to the car, helped his mother get out. With effort, a tired woman wrapped in a bright purple sari extracted herself from the vehicle, eased over to him and waved the kids away. She met with him, wept with her head on his chest.
“I won’t see you again," she said.