Emptiness… There is nothing except this, darkness & cold nothingness. That is unless you call phantom particles, coming in & out of existence every square light year for but a brief microsecond something. Where once the universe thrived with glistening stars & mighty black holes has thanks to those beloved laws of thermodynamics turned into an endless uniformity.
But there stands an oasis, a remarkable world. It is the last refuge of those who refused to leave to the unknown multiverse of the most advanced civilization to have emerged during the near eternity of time since that moment of creation.
Its citizens decided to take the form of the original species – humans. Speciefication had occurred over the infinity of time, caused by home worlds with varying gravitational pulls and atmospheres. However, as the era of black holes ended it was decided that the remaining should take one form & it was the only form that was easily agreed upon. For similar reasons an ancient, extinct language called English was resurrected from the dead.
The last remaining world called Europeous contains a massive population of 120 billion human cyborgs or ci-humans. It is surrounded by a sphere which contains its atmosphere & light shines from it unto the world below. It is a city world except for a great forest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Skyscrapers dot the skyline, joined up by walkways.
Lance7154N (Lance for short), a dark haired & pale skinned sixteen oscillation old of slim build awakens as the shutters of his cryonic capsule automatically open at the allotted time to let the artificial light from the biosphere shine through. He moves from side to side in the capsule cursing his luck, his limbs still tired. Nan bots flow through his blood making sure both body & mind are at their maximum efficiency. However, they let him feel tired, even sick to ensure that he conserves precious energy.
His room is austere containing only a plastic chair beside the capsule and a drawer where Lance kept his clothes. No posters are on the wall and the room lacks any personal touch. Instead the wall & two doors are a cold light blue colour.
Grudgingly he takes off his pyjamas & changes into his clothes; the white uniform customary to all inhabitants of this world. However, he still feels naked & light headed. He goes into the bathroom & looking into the mirror, puts on his Exoset, a large metal helmet that covers one of his eyes & plugs into the back of his bald head.
Immediately the holographic array appears before his eyes. His mind opens the “Schedule” folder & sees that he has a history class called “Beginning of Interstellar War & its Consequences in the First Period” starting in ten minutes.
Lance knew that the First Period related to the Stelliferous era , a period when stars still shone. It will be his first time studying such ancient history. He ponders what it would have been like to live in such a backward era, when life still needed nature to survive.
He pondered if he should use his transporter or instead go for a stroll through the walkways. He decided that instantaneous transportation would be too fast today as he detested waiting.
The walkways were quiet with only the occasional passer-by. He laughed quietly to himself, pondering that he was the oddball walker. He loved to look down at the side of the walkways to the floors below. He wondered to himself if they went on forever.
Lance reached his classroom with 34.5678 seconds to spare, his exoset keeping him abreast of every minute detail.
The class was being held in the usual auditorium A7789. It was a large lecture theatre & could hold 600 ci-humans, most of who were now zipping into their seats through transporters.
Lance could see the professor below. Old, ragged with long white dishevelled hair flowing out by the side of his exoset, he must have been over one thousand oscillations old.
Nervously Lance notices that Lucy is in the seat below him. She is tall with blonde hair and good feminine features. Lance has never directly communicated with her but it is her form that he uses for company when he is in the holographic array. He ponders what it would be like to actually touch her rather than merely have visual stimulation. Next oscillation he may discover during “Humanity & Relationships” class.
The class started with a white flash in the exoset. Immediately Lance senses the consciousness of the net. There are billions of voices, a hive in a netherworld. His senses close in on the Professor’s communications.
“You are here now but you shouldn’t be. This Universe should have died naturally a long, long, long time ago. But intelligence & ingenuity has long altered its course. The atoms that we are made of did not come from the moment of creation but rather from transmatterification.
The energy that fuels your exoset comes from cold fusion. We are all an artificial construct.
Even the “gravity” that is keeping our feet on the ground is invented – neuronisation.
But it wasn’t always so. There was a time when atoms from the moment of creation existed, energy was plentiful from stars & what’s called Newtonian Gravity existed.
Imagine what it would have been like to live during this period. You could stand on some planets’ surfaces and not even require a biosphere.
This is what you all know as the Stelliferous era , now I know that most students prefer the Degenerative Period or The Enlightenment but imagine what it would have been like to have to rely on natural occurring processes in the Universe.-“
Lance was entranced by what a wonderful Universe it must have been. To be free from everything having to be so precise, for the Universe to actually provide you with what you needed to survive.
“There was no need for oscillations, energy was abundant.
The Civilization from which we began started in very ancient times in an unknown Solar System in what is known as the Milky Way Galway. Galaxies were very large collections of stars with a massive black hole at their centres. The Milky Way Galaxy was just one among billions. It may be of interest to note that in the Early Stelliforous Period our ancestors would not have known the true extent of the Universe due to their limited technology & the speed of light.
It appears that Space colonisation and exploration began in four different solar systems in and around the same time in this Galaxy.
The four major species that came from these systems were to play a major role in the Early Stelliforous Era. These were Humans, Zeyons, Laftonians & Mullinarians.
You will learn about Humans & Humanity in separate classes & I will leave it till then.
The Zeyons were a fully robotic militaristic civilization. It appears that they turned on their biological creators, turning them into a slave class on their own world. They then began to search the cosmos in the search for resources obliterating anything that stood in their way.
Laftonian civilization was geared towards technological & spiritual progression. Although not well understood, their devout devotion to their God Loftus & the spiritual leader Lethus who gave Loftus’ directions, led to their name. Lethus appears to have survived for billions of years. It is speculated that he spent most of his life travelling at light speed, thus surviving for a very long and extended period.
Physically they were smaller but significantly stronger than the average human. This is because the homeworld of the species had a relatively strong gravitational force.
Mullinarians were an insect species. They came from a unique homeworld with an oxygen rich atmosphere, which led to their large relative size.
Physically they had six legs, two of which they normally used for object manipulation. Fully upright they stood at twice the height of the average human. They had a significant disadvantage in that even on habitable worlds; they needed biospheres to increase the oxygen content. This led to their colonisation efforts spreading more slowly.
However, they were superb at reproduction with each queen able to produce millions of eggs during her lifetime. Normally this ability was suppressed through contraception, but it was very useful when new worlds were prepared for colonization or at times of war.
Space Colonization generally occurs in four different phases
1. Different planets within the original system e.g. Pluto in the Martian system. At this stage colonization is carried out by planetary governments & then corporations. As the distances & journey time involved are short with relatively advanced ion drives, the colonizers are mostly selected by skill set. In other words they were specialists in engineering, mining, science and industry. The spaceships of this time were small but highly manoeuvrable.
2. Neighbouring Solar systems – Carried out by corporations for profit. Genetic selection of potential colonisers started to play a much greater role. In particular females who have a high probability of having large families were heavily selected for. These females have a genetic predisposition to pregnancy as their bodies would make them feel euphoric. The Colonisers originally would have been transported in “long ships”. These were large vessels built for endurance rather than agility. In the beginning when ion drives were used colonisers would have been transported in the form of frozen fertilised eggs, which would then be implanted into surrogate wombs on nearing the destination. This was due to the very long time it took to travel between stars.
Later with the invention of the Higher Gravity Drives, this became obsolete as it was advantageous to have fully grown humans on arrival.
- Frontier Exploration & Colonization – The inhabitants of the outer worlds then through a mixture of immigration and high birth rates then have their own populations to move outwards. They create their own “long ships” and repeat the process. Over a few hundred thousand years the number of inhabited systems vastly increased.
- Eventually the frontier would meet a barrier. Towards the centre of the galaxy there were impassable collections of neutron stars and black holes. At the other end of the spectrum, there were the massive voids between galaxies which were an impassable barrier for millions of years.
However, the most common barrier occurred when different species’ civilizations collided. Pressure would mount on the frontier as immigration & high rates of reproduction at each border would lead to agitation for war.
Later in your cells you will be doing your assignment, which is to read unaided by exoset, a ghost written account of the first interstellar war by Malthus. You will find your copies on the desks in front of you.
Malthus was the senior ion drive engineer for the Galthusian Army on the planet Martan. Martan was a frontier world whose star system was bordering Mullinarian space.
Martan did not require a biosphere & it had an atmosphere that was just barely conducive to human breathing with an oxygen content of 4%. It was tidally locked to its star, a small red dwarf. It had a mass similar to that of Earth in the original Martian system.
Unlike in the class today, all the inhabitants were pale skinned. This skin colour was selected for when the first colonisation ships departed because of the very poor luminosity of its star.
There were two other inhabited planets in the system – Phobos (the most outer planet) & Zenith (closest to parent star). However, these two planets had no atmosphere & the humans lived underground in small mining colonies.
It must be borne in mind that at this time there were no federations of stars & very few planetary governments. Martan itself had ten different regional governments. Prior to the war, although covering by far the largest area, the Republic of Galthusia would have ranked third in relation to military & economic might. It had a large central mountain range covering two thirds of its area. Most of the population lived in dense mega cities close to the sea.
Its economy was dependent on exporting mining products to neighbouring countries. Relatively speaking this was an unproductive agricultural planet as plant growth tends to be slow around Red dwarf stars.
The communications from the Professor then abruptly stopped. Lance then surveys his classmates rapidly transport out of the chamber.
The communications had only taken a few seconds. He lodged an entry in his exoset to the required reading in ten hours. He thought about how different & primitive ancient times were. He felt a strange emotion, possibly excitement thinking about it as he put his assignment, which looked like a few hundred pages into his inside jacket pocket. It seemed so dynamic compared to the austerity of his existence.
He had an hour to spare before his next lecture. Maybe brush up on his physics or play some 3D chess over the exoset. Chess was a useful way to whittle away the odd hour so he logged on.
Lance transports into his cell at the allotted time. The chess games & physics had left him uninspired. Chess was too predictable & the styles of his opponent’s play defensive and austere. He tried to play with ambition, maybe even risqué but he could not overlook the computations of his exoset enough to make it interesting.
The physics was still too simple. It bored him & he could do nothing but anticipate more advanced classes.
Maybe his assignment from his history class – “Beginning of Interstellar War & its Consequences in the First Period” will give him a measure of some intrigue. A video from his exoset plays in front of his eyes reminding him that it must be disengaged. It is a replay of his Professor stating that the assignment must be read the ancient way, exoset unaided.
Lance laughed to himself thinking that only in History class would he be given such odd instructions.
He opens the first page of his assignment…
Malthus, a thirty-year-old man of slight build with long black hair lies face down asleep on his double bed. Here he is the emperor, a destroyer of worlds. Nobody challenges his wishes & all the most beautiful women are his.
The room is a mess with clothes strewn across the room. His T5 laser lies on the table beside his bed. Then suddenly the serenity is destroyed by the sound of a loudly ringing alarm. Malthus wearily opens his eyes.
He picks up the alarm off the side of the table & it reads “Code 5”. It is coloured in a bright red and the searing sound continues.
Malthus now trembles, for he has never seen a “code 5” before. It was the highest alert of the Galthusian Army. He pondered if Martan would be the next planet devastated by a World War. Maybe Venetia or Aridia has launched a nuclear strike! He knew that tensions had been increasing in the last few months but it still seemed improbable.
He quickly turned off the alarm and began to dress himself. Peering out through his window he saw nothing except the usual red dust punctuated by the occasional island of plant life against the backdrop of the purple sky. It was a landscape that rarely changed. There was no night or starset, because the planet was tidally locked to its star & the vegetation growth was so slow, it felt like even the mountains changed more rapidly.
Deciding to skip breakfast he quickly grabbed his furry coat and his trusted journal; he would need the furry coat for the cold environment outside and the journal to record his experiences, which was a habit he got into when he was young. He knew that he must make it to Fortress Delta as quickly as possible.
There in front of him was the pride of his life – The Venetion T5 Rapid Movement Hover Motorbike or just “Jane” to him. She meant more to him than any woman ever could. Her long slender turbo thrusters & perfect handling led to her being a joy to drive.
He mounted her & pressed the ignition.
It rose off the ground & started to move forward. Slowly at first but it gradually accelerated to a great speed. Malthus appreciated the magnificent mountains around him as he quickly sped through the valleys. He pondered if this would be the last time, he would view such beautiful sights. Also, he regretted never leaving the planet to see other worlds & the various aliens that inhabited them.
Then as if to cheer him, he saw some chinews on the slopes of the mountains. Indigenous to this part of Martan, they were the huge herbivores of the ecosystem, with long necks & massive bodies. They had been in danger of extinction due to over hunting but conservation efforts had saved them from the brink. There was always hope Malthus thought.
It took him an hour to reach Fortress Delta. In front of him stood a sheer, red, dusty cliff face similar to what he had seen many times on his journey. However, he knew that this was one of many secret entrances to the fortress.
Dismounting his hover bike & removing his helmet, he called out the secret password –
Delta Omega Hornipheus 456794379pb.
A loud noise sprang from behind the dust & a small opening appeared. Malthus entered, pushing his hover bike just inside the entrance in to a waiting parking space as the opening closed behind him. In front of him there was a long dimly lit tunnel, clearly made of concrete. Malthus ran down the tunnel.
After running for 15 minutes, Malthus approaches a lift, which he enters. Pressing the down button, it swiftly brings him a further three miles underground.
As the lift door opens, he is hit with a barrage of noise. It is also much warmer so he leaves his coat on the hanger revealing his grey uniform.
Before him in a large dome like enclosure stood a bustling crowd of high-ranking soldiers, engineers & pilots. They were busy vociferously talking to each other. Monitors & computers covered the walls.
Malthus spotted his friend Socrates in the distance & Malthus quickly joined him. Socrates was a mid-ranking pilot with a penchant for liquor & prostitutes. He liked his liquor strong & his women middle aged though he himself was barely in his thirties. He was pale skinned, had long blonde hair and his white uniform was always exquisite.
Socrates was bristling with excitement and anticipation. He had always dreamed of a real war rather than doing the tedious training exercises. In truth he had never really settled on Martan, being from a neighbouring star system. He was a mercenary, hired because of his skill at atmospheric fighter flying.
However, after work he was always the centre of the party cracking jokes and drinking a voluminous quantity of spirits.
“What’s happening?” queried Malthus hesitantly.
“Man, you are not going to believe this. The Mullinarians have attached Venetia. Like seriously, the place is blown to shit. Its cities have been hit by nuclear warheads, not sure about its military installations yet” says Socrates with nervous excitement, “like shit man how the fuck did they do that?
“But why? – this planet’s gravity is too high & the oxygen content is far too low”, states Malthus assertively.
Then abruptly and in a sharp stinging voice –
Engineers to holding Bay 1
Malthus leaves his friend and joins his comrades in Holding Bay 1. Due to the sheer size of the base it takes 20 minutes walking down a dark dimly lit corridor to reach it.
Holding Bay 1 is one of 7 hangers that contain atmospheric fighters. The Zenith 12 is the mainstay of the Galthusian Air Corps. Although highly manoeuvrable & agile, it is not able to reach low Martan orbit.
The Zenith 12 is sleek, black with two wings, rear rockets and a scramjet underneath. There is seventy zeniths strewn across the hanger but they are interconnected by the conveyor belt that will bring each of them to any of the five launching sites.
The crowd gathers in the centre of the hanger in front of a podium. As the Senior Ranking Engineer, Malthus escapes the jostling & goes onto the podium where two generals stand. They are wearing the traditional green uniform but Malthus sees fear in their eyes.
One of them stands forward & shouts:
“Quiet. As you are all by now aware the Mullinarians have attacked Venetia. The first city was attacked approximately two hours ago. The Venetians have suffered considerable casualties but have started to launch a credible defence.
As things stand Galthusia remains neutral. The Mullinarians have stated that they were provoked by Venetia & will not attack on any other nation on Martan.
However, we must remain on high alert.”
At this point the other general nodded at Malthus to follow him and they walked into a side room, closing the door behind them.
It was a small and dusty room. The general sat down behind a desk which had a computer & old papers resting on it.
A table light shone onto the director’s face.
Malthus could now see that his face was covered in scars, with one very prominent scar running down the left side of his face all the way from his chin to the little grey hair that he had left on his head.
Then he spoke clumsily to Malthus “I hear you’ve worked with the, the interstellar X125 ion engine?”
“The XY124 interstellar y drive engine, sir”, said Malthus confidently.
“Was this during your time in Venetia?”
“Yes sir, at the Royal University Cambridgeon, Venitia city”.
The general then said solemnly “You have been assigned for a top secret mission. The Venetians have the only interstellar spaceship called “Meridith” currently on the planet. As you may be aware it contains the ion drive engine that you are familiar with. Seemingly, this ship was on the verge of being decommissioned due to a problem with its ion drive. All the elite Venitian Engineering Corps had been reassigned to a clandestine research project.
Fortunately three orbits ago, the Venetian Emperor Considine ordered it go into secure storage, while they waited on its successor from the Gutan system.
They now plan on using “Merideth” to reach the reach Ciesta system to request reinforcements. Unfortunately, it appears that all the other engineers who were familiar with this system died in the first wave of nuclear strikes on Venetia.
It should be clear you by now that Galthusia is not as neutral as officially stated. A permanent Mullinarian presence would not be acceptable for moral, political and military reasons.”
Then angrily he sighed “Martan is a human world. Ultimately we cannot concede it to another species.”
Then regaining his composure “Your mission is, with the pilot of your choice to fly on a Zenith 12 to the Venetian base where Merideth has been stored and to make her capable of interstellar travel.
Who do you wish to be your pilot?”
“Socrates, from Elite Squadron X”, Malthus said nervously.
“Go to holding Bay B, he will be waiting for you there. Be ready to depart in ten minutes.”
Lance finally took his eyes off the pages. He was entranced by the excitement of it all. Nothing exciting ever seemed to happen to him. It seemed his life was filled with nothing but intellectual conquest.
His heart throbbed with thoughts of nuclear bombs, war, Mullinarians and interstellar travel. He pondered how such a thrilling universe could turn into such a boring one and if the humans or even the Mullinarians realised how fortunate they were.
He reaches for his exoset, places it on his head and inserts the cable into the connection in the rear of his head. He is one again connected to the array. He decides to do a scan of what has happened since he was last connected.
Through a myriad of headline he subconsciously selects the headline “Oscillations getting longer due to increased energy capture”.
The concept of an oscillation is based on the old concept of measuring the length of time it took a planet to orbit its star. However it is different to previous Eras in the past because there are no stars to orbit. It refers to the period when the power is turned on over the planet Europeous. Night refers to when the power is greatly reduced. The cyborg population enters capsules which freeze their bodies, entering them into a cryonic state.
A three dimensional video by the Europeous Energy Corporation plays before Lance’s eyes –
It begins by explaining that Europeous consumes a vast amount of energy when it is fully operational and then continues… However, the Universe unlike in the past when civilization could naturally evolve has no natural energy source. Therefore it is necessary to almost completely shut Europeous down & let it recharge its batteries through a process called “Void Energy Capture”. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. However, as every Europeousian knows the void of space is not completely empty. Phantom quantum particles of matter and antimatter come in and out of existence countless times every split second. Even though individually their effect is negligible, it was the gravity that they created which drove dark energy that led to the lifeless universe that currently exists.
In “Void Energy Capture”, through the use of advanced physics, spectrum quantum electro entanglement we separate the matter & the anti matter components. The matter component is changed to energy through fusion while the anti matter is flung into the vast void of the Universe.
Naturally, this method of generating energy is extremely slow. Each “oscillation” lasts 5 trillion years. Of course, in a largely frozen empty Universe time has almost become a conceptual idea.
However, the Europeous Energy Corporation is delighted to inform its customers that each oscillation is becoming 2% longer.
Lance is fascinated and ponders how they could be making such huge energy gains with each oscillation. He has heard about the Europeous Energy Corporation previously. They only the employ the best & the brightest, that they’re employees tend to be quirky even by Europeousian standards and that they are zealous in their zeal about energy production.
Lance is then startled by a mail message from Zoe 452. It flashes before his eyes on the exoset. It simply reads “meet me at 45847 423865 354 6:24”. He is intrigued. It is unusual for him to receive a message but it is exceptional for him to receive a personal message sent only to him. Normally, it would be a global message set to every citizen of Europeous.
The first three numbers relate to a set of coordinates on Europeous. Never before has another human requested to meet him at a certain location. The idea was both absurd & perplexing. Instant communication through the exoset made one’s location irrelevant. However, Lance’s curiosity is sparked.
He runs a search for Zoe 452 through his database. It turns out that she is in his class “Beginning of Interstellar War & its Consequences in the First Period”. Maybe she wishes to discuss the book he is reading. This would be troublesome for Lance as he would like to let the story unfold rather than hear about the ending from a third party.
He decides to look up her picture on cosmicface. It has a photo of every ci-human on Europeous, constantly updated each time the exoset is activated. She is a tall female with the telltale clear complexion of a cyborg with brown hair protruding from her exoset.
A strange quiver goes through his spine as the thought goes through him that she is almost as pretty as Lucy.
In order to calm himself he accessed the advanced physics course on his exoset to keep his mind occupied. The thought of the meeting had completely gone out of his mind, replaced by quantum dynamics when a message displayed in front of him – “Time for Meeting – Do you wish to automatically transport or cancel?”
With trepidation his mind selected the option of automatic transportation.
Startled, he found himself in another person’s cell. It looked almost identical to his, except that the cryonic capsule and chair were in the opposite part of the room to his.
Zoe 452 was sitting in her capsule and directed him to sit on the chair beside her, which he did.
Feeling awkward he enquired why his presence had been requested.
“It is something I hacked into,” she said in a monotone voice while looking vacuously at a bare wall. She then continued, “And I wish to discuss it with someone.”
Hacking was a serious offence and Lance pondered what to say. In the end, his natural curiosity won out and he nervously enquired about what she had found.
“I will send the file through to your exoset”.
Lanced accessed the file and then played it. He was startled. Before him in a 3-D holograph, there were two naked middle aged bodies, in a capsule rocking back and forth against each other.
After just few seconds, he stopped the program.
“Where did you get this?” he asked incredulously.
She replied that she had hacked into the main public server and had found many other similar occurrences. It was the ancient form of human reproduction and seemed to be a pleasurable experience.
“And why did you show this to me?”
“Because I thought we could try to do it”, she said in the same monotone voice, except this time looking straight into Lance’s eyes.
Lance could feel his heart pounding and knew he was breaking out into a cold sweat. His mouth seemed to be jammed closed and he could feel himself trembling.
Unsure what to do, he panicked and did an instant transport back to his own cell.
After a while he could feel himself returning to normal. He went over what happened again and again in his mind. He felt himself getting aroused thinking about the naked woman he had seen and wondered would Zoe 452 really have gone through with it. Would he have been able to go through with it?
For hours these thoughts ran continuously through his mind. He resolved that he would learn more about this ancient form of human reproduction and seize the next opportunity if one ever arose.
In order to get his mind off what had happened he decided to return to reading about Malthus` exploits.
Socrates cheerfully greeted Malthus. “What have you got me involved in?”
“Well you always said that you wanted a bit of excitement” Malthus gleefully retorted. “Where do I sit in this thing?”
Socrates pointed to an enclosed area behind the cockpit for the pilot. He was full of excitement as he carried out his last minute checks which were more important psychologically, than a real attempt to make technical improvements.
Malthus climbs up the Zenith 12. He finds that the seat is surprisingly comfortable and has a wide viewing angle. There are also different screens coming from cameras placed all over the plane. To the left and in front of him there are various controls, presumably so that he could take control if something were to happen to the pilot.
Socrates enters the cockpit. A moment later Malthus hears Socrates voice over a speaker.
“Now I know you’ve never flown before but as an engineer who has regularly worked on these babies, I presume you’re familiar with the procedure for take-off. But I’ll go through it anyway because sometimes I think you’re a dumbass.
In about one minute, the Zenith 12 will be transported to the launch pad by the conveyor belt. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride but nothing too exciting. After 30 seconds on the launch pad the rear rockets engage. They bring us through the launch tunnel. When we reach a certain altitude these rockets turn off and the scramjet comes into play.”
Malthus feels a jolt as the conveyor belt starts. It is quite bumpy. He begins to feel nervous. Although he has worked on many planes, spaceships and understands how they all work, he has also read about all the major aviation disasters. He tries to put these thoughts to the back of his mind and remember that he is in the hands of an excellent pilot.
He puts on his belt and helmet and surveys the rest of the Hanger Bay. None of the other Zenith 12s are being prepped for launch.
They reach the launch pad. Malthus can hear his teeth clattering together as he tries to ready himself for launch
“Here we go-o-o!” shouts Socrates as the rockets ignite & propel the atmospheric fighter through the launch tunnel, which has been carved out of the mountain.
In just a few moments, Malthus finds himself in the clear purple sky. Then everything goes quiet as the rockets are turned off and the Zenith 12 gracefully glides through the air. A couple of seconds later, the roar returns as the scramjet ignites.
“Have you thrown up yet?” Socrates teases as his love of flying becomes fully transparent.
“Don’t worry about me, just concentrate on the flying” Malthus replied jokingly.
Malthus could see the mountainous terrain of Galthusia beneath him. He started to think back to the lectures he attended about ion drives. He was always top of his class and was confident that he could fix any problems with the Merideth.
Soon the mountainous terrain of Galthusia gave way to the undulating slopes of Venitia. The increase in vegetation was noticeable but still quite sparse.
They could see plumes of smoke rising to the heavens in three different directions.
Socrates roared “I think there is a city ahead, I’ll take us to a lower altitude to have a closer look.”
On the outskirts of the city, they could see charred bodies, destroyed buildings and crumpled cars. The devastation increased the further they went. At the centre of the city there was nothing except a huge crater, which is where the nuclear bomb must have detonated. The mood turned sombre between Malthus and Socrates as the horrors of war sunk home. Malthus tried to console himself with the fact that at least it wasn’t a Galthusian city.
They continued on their journey and they saw more plumes of smoke rising into the sky but this time subconsciously decided not to have a look.
On some of the roads they flew over, they could see long lines of hover bikes exiting the remnants of the large towns and cities. Occasionally they came across impromptu settlements of refugees.
Eventually, they could see their destination in the distance. It was darker now as this part of the planet was only in constant partial sunlight. It was close to the dark line where the planet faced away from its star.
The difference in temperature between the two planet faces created powerful winds, which Malthus could now feel rattling the plane.
The military base where the spaceship “Merideth” was secured was in one of the few Venetian mountain ranges.
One of the mountain ridges started to open revealing a landing area and hanger.
“I’m going in!” roared Socrates.
“Remember not to come across as being happy about the war. These people have lost friends and family,” Malthus said earnestly.
“I will, don’t worry” replied Socrates.
The screens in front of Malthus showed that the landing gear had already been deployed. He could feel the plane rapidly decelerating as they went in to land. He wasn’t as nervous about landing as he had been about take-off, for he had learned to trust Socrates` flying if not his candour.
The plane gently touched down and came to a halt.
As Malthus got out of his pod and onto the tarmac, he could see a woman surrounded by four Royal Venetian Guards in their customary full body and head red regalia and armed with archaic sub machine guns. As they approached closer, he could see that the woman was quite attractive, of slim build, brown hair down to her shoulders and a freckled face. She appeared to be in her late twenties. There was also a mole above her upper lip, which gave her a distinctive appearance.
“Oh yeah” he could hear Socrates whispering in the background, part of his primitive mating ritual.
Malthus could hear the hanger bay door closing behind them and noticed that there were only two other planes, neither of which were military.
“My name is Princess Rosaleen (the Emperor of Venetia had recently decreed that he and members of family were to be treated as Royal. Prior to the war he had two sons and three daughters.) You must be Malthus (shaking his hand) – I hope you truly can fix the Merideth. It may be Venetia’s and maybe even this world’s last best hope,” the young woman said.
“I will try my best. Please bring me to it immediately.”
It soon became clear that this was a scientific rather than a military base. As they walked through it, they passed several researchers and a multitude of computers.
Then they entered a new hanger and there it was in all its magnificence – “The Merideth”. It was a large ship and some of its laser cannons could be easily seen.
Space piracy was a huge problem in frontier space and pirates often showed no mercy to crews. Therefore, every spaceship had to be its own fortress as the chances of receiving outside assistance when under attack in the vastness of space was minimal.
“Please leave me alone now,” Malthus said and the others left him.
For the first time today, he felt unbridled joy. Engineering was his forte and it was what he felt most comfortable doing. His general had stated that the problem was with the ion drive. Malthus had studied this ship and knew that on this spaceship the ion drive consisted of three ion thrusters.
Ion thrusters only work in space. The idea behind it was to shoot out ions to make the spaceship gradually go faster and faster through the use of electromagnetism, which required a huge amount of power. Eventually the ship would reach a substantial fraction of light speed. The power was produced by a nuclear fusion reactor on the ship. Hydrogen was the gas used to create ions.
The crew area of the ship consisted of five chambers. The main one was towards the front of the ship where the navigation and fixed frontal cannons were. The central chamber was used to store the cryonic capsules. The maximum speed of spacecraft was still sub relativistic, so journeys between the stars took years and cryonic capsules were used to overcome the problem of crews wasting their entire lives in one spaceflight. The central chamber also served as a conduit to the remaining three. These were reserved for combat, with each one having fully rotational cannon. This led to the ship having a sound defensive option, no matter which angle it was attacked from.
Malthus decided that he would carry out a full maintenance check of the ship to make sure it was space worthy and then try to fix the ion thrusters. It would prove to be a major undertaking. Fortunately, the required specialist testing and repair kits had been left beside the ship.
As the days passed Malthus got updates on the progress of the war from Socrates and Princess Rosaleen. The two of them gave the same account of the war but in very different tones. Socrates` tales of war were as if they were great adventures whereas the Princess was understandably sad about the destruction of her country.
She also felt far more empathy for her father, The Emperor of Venitia. Seemingly his last known position was an underground military base, ironically close to the border with Galthusia.
Her father was considered a tyrant to every Galthusian. He had kept a firm grip on power through fear and was suspected of carrying out thousands of state sponsored murders. It was also suspected that he had other clandestine families, other than the official one that the Princess was a member of.
The Emperor was originally a well-respected senior general in the military, which served a democratic government. Twenty years previously, there had been a tense stand – off between Venetia and Galthusia over a disputed territory. Threats were exchanged between the countries that they would launch a nuclear strike and obliterate the other. This was a good pretext to seize power. Originally, he was hailed as a hero, but soon his form of rule became clear.
The Princess however would only speak of him in the highest regard. To her he was both a loving, doting father and also a brave leader trying to save his beloved country against a ruthless, evil enemy. She had no idea why the Mullinarians had gone to war with Venitia.
Malthus thought it best not to contradict her as he thought it pointless upsetting her when it was clear that his reign was coming to an end. There were already reports of splits in the command structure of an already diminished army.
Socrates however it seemed would rather argue with her. He told Malthus about how he had told her that her father was a murderous bastard but that she had staunchly defended him. Later she had come to Malthus with tears almost coming from her eyes. Malthus consoled her by holding her in his arms and he felt a strong attraction. But she seemed to sense it and quickly left.
Worryingly Socrates also informed Malthus that he was worried about the allegiance of the four Royal Venetian Guards. They were mercenaries from a region loyal to the Emperor but they had not been paid for a long time.
What had started as a bit of drunkenness with Socrates was turning into rowdy behaviour and constantly looking for payment from the Princess. She now seemed to spend most of her time trying to avoid her own guards. Malthus was concerned about this because he presumed the Princess was depending on one of these guards to fly her on the Merideth.
The Mullinarians were continuing to bombard Venitia. To Malthus` horror they had even begun to attack some of the humanitarian camps just inside Galthusia`s border.
There were also reports that the Mullinarians had launched a ground offensive. They were using exo skeletons and breathing apparatus to survive what for them was an alien, toxic atmosphere.
The good news was that the remnants of the Venitian forces were having some success against these units through guerrilla tactics. With the Mullinarians in full control of the sky, there was no point in using any other method. The Mullinarians had insufficient body armour and the breathing apparatus held on their backs was very vulnerable to laser & bullet fire.
It took Malthus a full 13 days to carry out all the necessary work to the Merideth. He had to fix four major problems, all of which could have derailed the mission to Ciesta. There was a fault with an electromagnet for one of the ion thrusters; another thruster was at an incorrect angle; there was a problem with one of the cryonic capsules and a key mirror had to be replaced for one of the front laser cannons.
Malthus now felt both a huge sense of relief and contentment at having done a good job and he patiently waited for the Princess to come in with his lunch. He had yet to explore any other area on the base and didn’t want to get lost, having worked flat out. That was his official reason anyway. Unofficially he wanted to saviour his last moments with the Princess before she had to leave on the Merideth.
Minutes passed by but there was no sign of her. Disappointed, he decided that he would have to go and make his own lunch.
He left the hanger bay and found himself in a maze of corridors and rooms filled with computers. To his surprise there didn’t seem to be any scientists whereas they were plentiful when he arrived.
As he continued up one of the corridors, he heard a woman scream. He was sure it was the Princess and his pace quickened.
He heard her scream again and the sound of men roaring. He reached the room where it was coming from. Gently pushing the door open, he peered in and saw a horrific sight.
Socrates was curled up on the ground while two of the Royal Venetian Guards were taking turns to kick him. Malthus could tell that he was suffering a major beating. Close by, the other two guards were holding up the Princess between them. One of them was holding up her upper body while fondling her exposed breasts. The other was holding up her legs and trying to pull down her trousers. She was jostling, trying to get free and sobbing only intermittently trying to cry out for them to stop.
Malthus could see that the Royal Guard’s sub machine guns had been left carelessly in various places on the floor. One of them was near Malthus. He had received some basic weaponry training when he joined the Galthusian Army and was certain that he could use it.
He gently knelt down and crawled in to the room, taking cover behind desks and computers. He could feel his heart beating and his body perspiring but he concentrated solely on the task in hand and firmly put thoughts of his own safety out of his mind.
Reaching the gun, he stood up and opened fire on Socrates attackers first. The bullets ripped through their bodies and they fell to the ground.
Simultaneously the Princess` assailants dropped her to the ground and ran towards Malthus. Without hesitation and constantly firing he turned towards them and watched as the bullets ripped through their bodies and blood gushed onto the floor.
He stopped firing as they fell backwards onto the floor.
Gently and shaking he placed the machine gun on the ground and ran towards Socrates. He held Socrates badly bruised and cut face up and could see that fortunately he hadn’t lost consciousness.
“What took you so long?” Socrates said half-heartedly, trying to get his badly damaged face to grin.
“Seriously, I owe you one.” he continued.
Malthus gently put his head back on the floor and walked over to the Princess. She had pulled her pants fully back up and was sobbing hysterically. Fortunately, although she was quite bruised it was apparent that they hadn’t beaten her quite so badly.
She tried to speak but it was impossible to understand her while she was crying. Malthus put his arm around her and tried to soothe her, telling her that she was safe now and that everything would be fine.
After a few minutes she gradually calmed down. Malthus then asked her was there any medical equipment on the base. She led him to another room where there was a first aid kit and they returned to Socrates.
Malthus began by trying to clean his face of the smears of blood and dirt from the Royal Guards shoes. Then the Princess held Socrates upper body up while Malthus put a bandage around his ribs. It was obvious from his yelps that Socrates had at least one broken rib.
The Princess told Malthus what had happened. A few hours previously one of the scientists had approached her and informed her that her Royal Guards had gang raped a young female staff member and because of this they were leaving the base.
As the hours passed, she grew angrier and decided to confront the Guards with Socrates over what had happened. However, the Guards turned on them and said that they were now entitled to rape her too because they hadn’t been paid. Socrates was trying to protect her but it was four against one. Fortunately, the guards were not aware of her routine of visiting Malthus so he was able to launch his surprise attack.
It soon became clear that there was now a major problem. The Princess informed them that one of the Guards was to pilot the Merideth to Ciesta. Considering how the Venetian forces were in disarray and how isolated they were in this part of the country; how could she possibly find a pilot to bring her to Ciesta?
Socrates popped up and stated that he could fly her there. Of course, if Socrates went there was no way they were leaving Malthus behind.
Socrates however warned Malthus that a trip to Ciesta, which was nearly 6 light years away, would take sixty years. Though he wouldn’t age substantially due to the cryonic capsule and the effects of relativity, if he ever managed to return to Martan, everybody he would have once known would be dead.
Malthus then informed them what the general had said. That Galthusia was not neutral and it would not allow a Mullinarian presence on the planet. He considered it to be his duty to do everything he could to make sure that the mission succeeded.
They agreed that all three of them would meet up in an hour at the Merideth. Malthus would help Socrates to get his spare clothes while the Princess could go and spruce herself up.
Malthus had to help Socrates walk and even then, it was very slow with Socrates having to put one of his arms around Malthus` shoulder for support.
Malthus and Socrates were the first to reach the Merideth. Malthus was anxious to try and get the severely weakened Socrates into the cryonic capsule as quickly as possible to stop his condition deteriorating further.
After just a few moments, the Princess appeared. She looked fabulous and was wearing a long red dress. Apart from a bruise on the right side of her face, you wouldn’t know she had been through such a traumatic experience.
They entered the Merideth and Malthus pressed the red button on the wall and the loading bay door closed behind them.
Malthus led them through the ship to the frontal chamber where the navigation controls were. Though beaten and bruised, Malthus could feel Socrates` excitement as he let him down to the main navigation chair.
The controls consisted of a semi spherical blue controller, a lever and various buttons. Malthus knew that Socrates experience of flying spaceships may extend to mere simulations, but he was the only chance that they had left.
Malthus and the Princess sat down in seats behind Socrates. Socrates queried how they would get the spaceship out of the hanger. The Princess advised him that the doors would automatically open once the ship had left the ground.
Malthus could hear the boosters firing up. The ship was now rattling and Malthus could feel the Princess` hand on his. They briefly looked into each other’s eyes and Malthus smiled trying to reassure her.
They could see the hanger bay open and could feel the ship going forward. Soon they were in the sky. Socrates then roared back to them that they were flying to the dark side of the planet before trying to leave the atmosphere. This was to try and avoid any Mullinarian presence in orbit.
Malthus could feel the ship turning and heading into the darkness. All went quiet for a minute, then they started hitting turbulence and the spaceship rattled more. Malthus would never have ventured that he would one day visit the dark side of the planet.
It was strange going from a purple sky to a perfectly dark one and he wondered what it would be like at ground level. Then the ship started to ascend and the auxiliary thrusters kicked into gear. As they gained altitude and left the atmosphere, Malthus started to see more and more glistening stars, until they were finally in space.
The ship was quiet now as the ion drive began to kick into gear. It would very gradually accelerate the ship to one tenth the speed of light. Malthus now enjoyed weightlessness for the first time in his life and took to doing summersaults through the ship. There was a ladder like system suspended in the middle of each chamber so that they could easily float to where they wanted to go by pulling themselves along.
Socrates logged the journey to the main inhabited planet in the Ciesta system, Coosan into the navigation system. He advised his companions that they would have to make three stops to fuel depots along the journey to collect hydrogen fuel for the ion drive and that it would be a good idea for one of them to come out of cryonic stasis each time to make sure the automatic refuels ran smoothly. Unfortunately, all three of them couldn’t come out of stasis as they would use up too much valuable oxygen.
Malthus volunteered and was told that the first fuel depot was in orbit around the inner planet Zenith, the second was in orbit around Phobos and the third was in interstellar space.
Then abruptly red warning lights started to flash, the ion engine turned off and the auxiliary thrusters reignited. The sudden thrust sent Malthus hurtling towards the rear of the ship and whacked him up against one of the cryonic capsules and the back wall in the second middle chamber. Fortunately, he didn’t hit his head but all the rest of the left side of his body. For thirty seconds he wondered what had happened and then just as suddenly the auxiliary thrusters turned off and the ion drive turned on. He now warily began to float through the air back up to the navigation chamber.
“What happened, Socrates?” Malthus enquired bemusedly.
“Are you ok?” the Princess interjected in a concerned tone.
“Yes, I think so.” Malthus replied.
“You’re not going to believe this, man” said Socrates bewildered.
In the screen in front of them, a very large asteroid whizzed by, heading directly for the dark side of the planet.
Socrates continued “The ships emergency avoidance system had been kicked into operation to ensure the ship didn’t collide with the asteroid. That asteroid is a monster. The ship’s computer indicates that it is six miles wide. It will totally devastate the planet.”
Within just a few seconds they could see a flash of bright light as the asteroid entered the atmosphere of Martan and pummelled it from space. They could see a white cloud racing across the atmosphere of the planet.
“What are the odds on the happening?” Socrates said in earnest.
Malthus relied, “Don’t the two of you that this was no random occurrence? The Mullinarians must have wanted to invade the whole planet from the beginning. This was their plan from the beginning. It must have taken a few years to put that asteroid on a collision course with Martan. They targeted Venetia first because it was the only country with an observatory on the dark side of the planet that could have given advance warming about what was about to happen.”
The Princess began sobbing and some of the tears floated across the air, hitting Malthus` cheek.
Trying to motivate his friends Malthus continued “We must continue on our mission. Some humans will have survived this asteroid strike, we are their only hope. Also, we must warn other human worlds about what has happened. They might be next.”
With renewed resolve the three crew members floated back to the cryonic capsules in the middle chamber.
First into a capsule was Socrates. The others looked on as his clothes & face turned a light blue as he entered stasis. Malthus hoped that it would protect his injuries.
The next to go in was the Princess. Her apprehension was apparent to Malthus but he tried to soothe her by telling her about the safety record of the capsules. She looked into his eyes and gently kissed him on the lips before closing the door & entering the big freeze.
Malthus felt light headed and suddenly upbeat after the kiss. For a few moments he forgot about the pain in his rib and the destruction of Martan.
As he closed the door to his capsule, he wondered if this would be the last thing he would ever do. In just one second, he could feel a chill running up through his extremities and then rapidly lost consciousness.
The next thing Malthus remembers is feeling very tired, then being able to move one of his toes and finally trying to open his eyes.
They quickly closed again when a bright light penetrated through. Eventually he managed to waken up, he could see that the other two were still frozen and he remembered that he had arranged to leave stasis to ensure that everything went smoothly at the fuel depot.
He floated towards the navigation chamber and immediately had to dim the screen as the stars intense light shone through. He sat into the navigation chair and tied the belt so that he would remain in the same position. There was still an hour to go to the rendezvous point. He could feel a small force pushing him forward in the seat, so he knew the ship was gradually decelerating.
He began to think about the mission. He wondered if the Galthusian Army were fighting the Mullinarians or if they had already been decimated. With a tinge of sadness, he thought about the Royal Guards he had killed. Sure, they were not good men but they might have had wives or children.
Then his mind drifted to the Princess, her beautiful body and endearing personality. He had felt something for her from the first moment he saw her. But would it be possible for a woman of such prestige and beauty to love him?
A lot of the time, he didn’t think of anything at all but spent his time biting his nails & then watching the pieces float off.
Gradually he could see Zenith, a small scorching world in the distance.
Then a piercing shrill sound broke the silence. The thought that it was indeed worthwhile coming out of stasis after all popped into Malthus` mind.
A 3-D holographic display appeared before him and a dirty, ragged face of a man appeared.
“Identify yourself.” the man said in a formal tone.
“This is the Merideth – we will be refuelling in orbit.” Malthus replied.
“Zenith’s long-range sensors indicate that there are six ships two days behind you. This has not been approved and we have not had a communication from Martan in two orbits. Are they escorting the Merideth? They will diminish the fuel supply to critical levels and we are not expecting a supply ship for a further eight orbits.” The man continued exasperated.
Malthus` heart pounded. The Mullinarians were on the way. Six ships would be too much for the Merideth. He quickly extrapolated that the Mullinarians could not have discovered their mission so quickly and that it was an invasion force to capture Zenith and its resources.
Malthus replied with anguish in his voice, “I come with bad news. The Mullinarians have attacked Martan. Most if not all the human forces on the planet are destroyed. Does your base have any weapons with which to defend itself?”
The man looked stunned and replied forlornly, “This is a mining & research facility, not a military base. It has some light cannons to fend off any potential pirates but nothing to combat six Mullinarian battle ships.
The whole base has only a population of 4,000 persons, very few with any military training and there’s definitely not enough laser rifles to arm all of them.
With your ship maybe we could hold off two or three of them.”
Malthus knew that he could not risk the entire mission on a hopeless cause. They were as good as dead and he had to think militarily. No individual battle was worth sacrificing the war for.
“I’m afraid the Merideth is not in a position to provide assistance.”
Malthus could see the revulsion in the man’s eyes as he threatened with indignity, “You think you can save your pretty ass as we get slaughtered. There are women & children on this base. You will help us or we will blow the fuel depot.”
Malthus knew he couldn’t let them blow the fuel depot. The Merideth reaching Ciesta was the last remaining hope for Martan. A sinister thought then entered his mind and no matter how he tried, it wouldn’t leave.
“Ok, we will help you,” Malthus replied.
“Good to see you have some sense.” the man replied vindictively.
Malthus gained a steely determination as the depot & Zenith drew closer & closer.
He informed the base that a limited number of people could transfer to the ship in case all hope of winning the battle was lost. He knew that this would distract people and most importantly draw people away from the bases laser cannons.
Malthus just hoped that the Princess would never hear about what he was going to do. He ordered the ship’s computer to automatically dock with the fuel depot and refuel, before continuing on its trip to Phobos. However, there was a time delay entered of two minutes.
Malthus now left the navigation chamber and floated to the cannon chamber facing the planet. It felt like you were outside the ship because you were in a glass like transparent enclosure. He strapped himself in & took control of the weapon. The weapon controller was quite sophisticated consisting of a monitor where you could magnify in to the target. You could also set the laser to different strengths. The laser itself was beside the controller’s chair but extended out beyond the ship.
Anxiously Malthus surveyed the base on the planet. He needed to destroy their cannons even if this led to them being defenceless against the Mullinarians. He could not allow them to destroy the fuel depot before the Merideth was refuelled.
He surveyed the terrain below him and pinpointed where the bases main cannons were. Fortunately, he could see that they were dug in to the side of a mountain. He would target the terrain above them, hopefully causing a landslide which would cover their turrets.
Now was the time for action. He pressed down on the button & the laser began to fire. There was no noise as it was buffeted by the vacuum of space. But Malthus could see the impact through his monitor. Large plume of smoke were rising up from Zenith`s weak gravity.
The Merideth`s thrusters then engaged moving the ship towards the fuel depot. The lasers kept firing and Malthus locked in the targeted area. Once the ship stopped accelerating, he took off his belt and returned to the navigation chair.
He could now easily see the fuel depot to his left. It was slightly longer than the Merideth and cylindrical in shape. It was a bright yellow colour.
A shrill once more went through the ship. Malthus decided he should listen to the incoming message.
The holographic image was grainy this time and the haggard man who was now pleading, difficult to decipher.
“Please stop firing”, he begged. “There are women and children on this base!”
“Do I have your guarantee that you will not target the fuel depot or the Merideth?” Malthus demanded.
“Yes, yes, we would never harm a fellow human.” The fear was now audible in his voice.
Malthus reckoned that the Merideth`s lasers should by now have caused enough damage to stop the base’s cannons being able to fire for a while. He was not sure how much weight he could place solely on the guarantee. However, he made sure that his last shot hit and destroyed the inter-planetary communications array. He did not want news of his deviousness reaching Phobos.
He accessed the basic controls for the laser cannons from his navigation chair and switched them off.
Nervously he waited as the Merideth refuelled. He could only imagine the pandemonium down on the base but he knew he did what needed to be down. He looked out at the stars and wondered how things came to this.
Each minute that passed seemed to take an hour and he grew more nervous as the time passed.
Twenty minutes had passed and the Merideth nearly fully fuelled when Malthus saw the first flash of blue light pass by the ship. His heart almost stopped as he realised that the base had opened fire and then it began to beat rapidly as he floated back to the firing chamber.
He quickly strapped himself in and tried to zoom in on his target. However the dust had turned into an impenetrable haze obscuring his view. Due to the planet’s weak gravitation pull, it had yet to fall back to the ground.
Then he felt a jolt and saw the bright red flash of the ships shield. Fortunately, the next few shots missed their target. Malthus then realised that they were shooting blind, probably based on where the fuel depot should be in or orbit.
He decided to do something similar and inputted co-ordinates from his first attack back into the targeting array. He set the lasers for maximum strength and suspected that the shot would be off target due to the Merideth having drifted in space but he was satisfied with the result when the blue flashes of light stopped whizzing past.
Large plumes of dust were now enveloping the southern hemisphere of the planet where the base was located.
Malthus stopped firing and floated back to the navigation chamber. The Merideth had refuelled and was beginning its disengagement from the depot. Malthus knew that if he left things to the ships computer, the ion drive would shortly kick in & the Merideth would begin a very slow acceleration away from the planet.
Malthus was wary of the ship coming under fire especially if he was in stasis in the cryonic capsule unaware of what was happening. He strapped himself into the seat and ignited the auxiliary thrusters for four minutes before switching to the ion drive.
He was too nervous to immediately go back in stasis and instead spent a few hours looking out into space. It was indiscernible that the spaceship was moving at all.
Malthus` mood grew dark as he thought about what he had done. He wondered how many people had died on the base by his hand. Feeling remorse, he started to float from one chamber to the next.
Eventually as the hours passed and the chances of the ship coming under further attack became remote, he once again entered the cryonic capsule.