“Thanks, Gordon, let me know whether anything changes. Nadir out,” he said glancing at Paul and motioning him to sit. Nadir stands and goes to a cabinet a pulls out some vodka and holds it up for Paul to see.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Paul said.
Nadir begins pouring a glass. “After some reflection,” Nadir said. “I’ve decided you had no choice but to destroy that Garan Destroyer.”
Nadir places the glass and bottle on the desk should Paul require a refill. I guess that’s the closest to an apology I’ll get, Paul thought.
“It does buy us fourteen weeks without Garan interference,” Paul said, picking the glass up.
He sips his vodka while looking at Nadirs wrinkly face sitting opposite him again. The gristly grey hair and stubble, and those soulless black eyes that looked right through you.
Nadir sits back crossing his arms. “Even so, what we face is an impossible task.”
“Sir, respectfully, we can get far enough from here with thrusters alone if we have to,” Paul said. “All we need do is to gather the raw materials from Earth before the Garan’s arrival. Given the technological level of the Garan’s in this century, once we’re past Saturn, they won’t be able to track us.”
Respectfully, Nadir mimics in his mind laughing to himself. “You’re the reason we’re in this mess, Major. Your reckless acts always end in death, and I don’t want to die like Colonel Abdul.”
Paul’s head jolts up staring at Nadir with narrow eyes. “How the hell do you know about that?”
“I have my sources. Some in the Corps think you should face a court-martial for what happened.”
Paul grimaces. “People who don’t know the facts but only rumors, no doubt.”
“Major, whatever made Command order us to leave Bolaris so undermanned, has now placed our entire future at risk. How the fuck do you do it? How is one man such a colossal fuck up?”
Nadir sits back raising his hands into the air shaking his head.
Paul finally understands what worries Nadir. The danger that Ship, and its thirty-fourth century level of technology, could fall into the claws of the Garan’s of this universe. They can never let it happen. It would spell doom for thousands of worlds. They’d have to destroy Ship, and themselves, if they couldn’t escape the Garans. Paul quickly fills his glass with vodka and gulps it. The silence hangs uncomfortably as they contemplate the stakes. Paul knows Nadir is right; they’re in this mess because of him.
Eventually, Paul said, “So what do we do now?”
Nadir put his hands on his face rubbing his eyes with an audible sigh. What DO we do, he wonders? I have no fucking idea. The Keeper has never felt so afraid in his life. Nadir slumps back in his chair letting Paul’s question hang. The answer is one he can’t stomach to say, or Paul to hear for that matter. True defeat, he thought, the powerlessness to change one’s destiny. At moments like this, all anyone can do continue one-step at a time. To contemplate the bigger picture will paralyze us.
“We do…” Nadir finally said with a shrug, “what needs to be done.”
“I know I probably don’t need to remind you, but we do have a saboteur on board,” Paul said.
Nadir suddenly appears older, if that’s possible, as he digests that. “I haven’t forgotten.”
“It’s a pity alcohol has no effect on Keepers,” Paul said, “because now would be the time to get rotten drunk.”
“Getting drunk never solves anything, Major. We need a plan, not hangovers.”
“OK, do you know a twenty-second-century spaceport where we can pick-up a cheap, second-hand qdrive by any chance?” Paul said flippantly.
Nadir chuckles. “I’m afraid the nearest one would take us about a thousand years to reach using thrusters.”
Paul laughs grimly. “Blakey seems adamant he can build a qdrive on Ship.”
“Theoretically, it can be done.”
“Yeah, and kill us in the process. There’s a reason the EMC build qdrives far from any populations.”
“Have we any alternatives?”
Paul thought for a moment. “Looks like I’m going planetside then,” Paul said.
They can’t use a qdrive from a shuttle, as it’s too small to generate the gravity required in proportion to Ships size. While they can theoretically enter the void in a shuttle. The psychic and physical connection between Ship and Keeper navigates the void and the exit at a preferred destination. Without that, they could enter the void in a shuttle but never be able to exit.
At least I don’t have to be the one to tell the rest of the crew about what’s coming, Paul thought.
The next morning they’re all sitting in the D deck mess hall eating breakfast when Colonel Nadir arrives to brief them. As he goes to the head of the table, they stand to attention.
“At ease, continue your breakfast,” Nadir said calmly, sitting.
The rest of the crew take their seats once their commander does. Nadir notices his crew looked dispirited, and a few of them are possibly nursing hangovers. Goddard looks like he made good his promise of getting rotten drunk last evening, Nadir thought, Gordon as well.
Nadir maintains a sharp posture and a set jaw. “The problems before us look insurmountable,” he said to the crew, “like a mountain we can’t climb. A Keeper I admire said to me once ‘The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away the small stones.’ That’s what we have to do here if we’re gonna have any chance of getting away before the Garan fleet arrives. It means we’ll have worked at it one small stone at a time.”
“Yeah, but once you remove all the small stones, that leaves the big ones,” Blake said and grimaces pushing his bowl of porridge away.
“Gordon, you were positive we could build a new qdrive last night. Why are you having second thoughts?”
“I was running some maths through the computer simulator last night. Looking at how we’ll be able to process the materials here on Ship, as opposed to the qdrive space factories. The computer calculated an eighty-nine percent chance of failure, sir,” Blake said.
The others around the table move in their seats uncomfortably, sighs and moans heard. Nadir raises his hand making them quiet.
“Listen, what we’re about to do is going to be risky, even to the point of death. I assure you there isn’t any other way,” Nadir said.
“Maybe when the time comes, those of us not needed on Ship can seek a safe distance in a shuttle. Just in case,” Barrett suggests.
Dexter sneers at Barrett. “All of us should be here on Ship when the qdrive is started. That way, if it blows up our knowledge and advanced technology die with us.”
Barrett sticks her nose in the air. “You should stay on Ship, I agree. Some of us here can blend with people on Earth if the worst happens.”
Paul said sarcastically, “I’m sure you’ll do well as a Garan cow, Captain. So please, be my guest.”
“Enough!” Nadir shouts, making them all look at him. “There’s going to be many difficulties ahead, but we need to overcome this one first. If we can’t work together, we’ll surely fail.”
They all glumly stare at the table, knowing what Nadir said was true. After a silence, Nadir turned to Captain Blake and asks, “Gordon… Is there anything else to report from Enginelab?”
Blake glances at the Lieutenant with a slight smile. “Lieutenant Huang’s plan to retrofit some sensor hubs from a few Warbird’s is sound, but it’ll take her a few weeks to finish.” He turns to Nadir. “The old qdrive is ready to be removed and dumped. I’m still to discover why the communications hub isn’t working. Frankly, it has me baffled. The power generator is working fine, so we’ll have full thruster power available for when we reach Earth. Defensively, no qdrive means disruptors are gone, but…” Blake gives Paul a sly grin, “torpedoes are obviously working.”
“We’re not going to Earth,” Nadir said, making everyone’s head snap and look at him. “I’ve decided we’ll land on the dark side of the Moon, in a crater. Earth has primitive tracking technology, so an orbit of Earth is out of the question.”
The crew nod unenthusiastically, but it was a sensible plan especially if they’re still here when the Garan fleet arrives. It might buy them some time to get away.
Nadir turns to Barrett, asking, “Captain, do you have any intelligence updates?”
Barrett hit her Palmcorder speaking unemotionally as she stares at it. “Yes, sir. The Garan Destroyer destroyed twenty cities. The loss of life and casualties is in the millions. There’s been a planet-wide panic, with riots and looting all over. Martial law has been declared across the planet, and the local military is clamping down to get control.”
“What do they think destroyed the Garan Destroyer?” Blake asks.
“They think it was one of their nukes.”
“Their nukes aren’t worth a pinch of shit.”
“That’s an understatement,” Dexter said.
“Thanks, Captain, but it’s time to brief you on the plan,” Nadir said.
He tells them about the plan to send Paul and Barrett to Earth to get the raw materials needed to build the qdrive. The crew left on Ship will be preparing and building it. The night before, Nadir and Barrett had thought of a plan he knows is risky. Everything we do from now on is risky, he thought bitterly, so why should this be any different.
“Captain Barrett, will you tell the others what we discussed last night,” Nadir said.
She nods. “Yes, sir. I scanned Earth’s scientific knowledge to see whether that can help us, or if they’d been any advances toward unified string theory; when I came across this,” she said. From the center of her Palmcorder, a three-dimensional image forms of a man around fifty. He appears bald on top with sandy blond hair, blue eyes, and portly.
He looks like my father, Paul thought. The image disappears, and Paul stares at Barrett waiting for the next part. However, she continues to gaze at him silently. The Greeter realizes they were all staring at him.
“What?” Paul asks throwing his arms up.
“Looks like you have a relative,” Blake said and snickers.
“What does this man have to do with your plan?” Lieutenant Huang asks.
“He’s Professor Richard…” Barrett begins.
“Richard Starr … Omigod, I learned about him in High School,” Huang roars with wide-eyes. “He unified String Theory.”
“There’s only one problem with that,” Barrett said. “Professor Starr is dead.”
“What?” Blake said shaking his head. “But the history books say…”
“Professor Starr was in Sydney at a convention when the Destroyer vaporized the whole city to ashes. There’s no possibility he’s alive, I’ve been searching for him.”
“Do you think this is our fault?” Huang asks no one in particular.
“No,” Dexter said. “But the coincidence is amazing. We’re here, the Professor’s dead, and we have a man who looks like him in our crew.”
They all stare at Paul taking that in.
“But we’re here by accident,” Nadir said. “Are you saying that our races timeline actually depends on us helping Earth at this time?”
“It’s possible,” Dexter said. “But one thing is for sure, if we don’t help them, then that will change the timeline, and most likely we’ll stop existing.”
“Oh fuck…” Paul suddenly shouts finally realizing what’s happening. “You’ve got to be kidding? How am I supposed to pull off pretending to be a Physics Professor?”
“The physics you learned at the Academy makes you a Professor by this Earth’s standards,” Dexter said, then breaking into a wide grin at the thought of Paul being a physics Professor.
“Yeah, but my Academy days were quite a while ago, I can’t say I remember much of it,” Paul said, shaking his head.
“I disagree, you figured out everything going on since we got here before anyone else,” Barrett said. “I think you underestimate yourself.”
“Talk about an ambush,” Paul shakes his head in disgust.
Lieutenant Huang clears her throat. “If you don’t do this Major, Earth will fall to the Garan’s, and our future will be wiped. We’ll be wiped.”
“Do the authorities on Earth know Professor Starr is dead yet?” Nadir asks Barrett.
“No,” she said shaking her head. “Everything is a mess down there, so we have a chance to insert the Major before they figure it out.”
Paul said, “OK, let’s say it works, and we succeed in convincing the Professors friends and colleagues I’m him. Which I doubt. We’ll need more than a boring equation to convince them to give us plutonium for our qdrive.”
Lieutenant Huang smiles. “You forget Professor Starr was the one who reverse engineered the Geodetic Field Manipulator the Australian armed forces captured from a Garan raiding party, it saved the human race.”
Dexter nods. “That’s true, this is all a fascinating coincidence, I must say.”
“Yeah, but the Garan Destroyer wasn’t vaporized in the historical accounts, so we have changed some things,” Nadir said. “The GFM won’t be reverse engineered … The human race will lose.”
“Yes,” Dexter said nodding. “So we’ll just have to have our Professor Starr invent the thing to make up for it.”
“The moment we unveil any new technology some military meathead will try to take over, making it harder for us,” Paul said screwing his nose.
“Well that’s what we want, idiot,” Blake said rolling his eyes. “They need it to repel the Garan’s.”
“They don’t know an invasion is coming at this point,” Barrett said. “I have to agree with the Major here. He may come under enormous pressure from Earth’s Governments once the technology is unveiled. It’s different getting such technology while at war than when there’s peace. Some will see the GFM as a chance to increase their power over others.”
“What you’ll have to do on Earth will be difficult, no doubt,” Nadir said. “Just as what we have to do on Ship will be difficult.”
“We’ll do our best to uphold our end, Colonel,” Paul said looking at Barrett who nods.
“Major, report to Medlab12 this morning so your appearance can be adjusted. You’ll need a few days to heal.”
“You mean a few days for Blake to give me shit about it,” Paul said noticing Blake’s smile.
“I’m sure Gordon will be too busy to notice,” Nadir said. Then to the IO, “Captain Barrett, you’ll need to organize identification.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
“Anyone have anything else to add?” Nadir inquires.
“Yeah…” Blake said gruffly. “I notice you haven’t mentioned anything about the sabotage of the qdrive, the sensor and communication hubs, and the torpedo incident.”
Nadir turns and gazes at Paul as if to give him the floor. However, Huang got in first.
“It has to be someone sitting here, right?” Huang asks looking around her crewmates.
They watch Paul intensely as he searches for the right words to say.
The Greeter clears his throat. “I hope the saboteur realizes that working with us, for now, is in their best interest too,” he said steadily. “If they want to survive the coming invasion, and maybe get home, continuing to meddle with Ship will make that impossible.”
Paul gazes at Nadir to indicate he has finished discussing it.
“Well, you have assignments for the day. I suggest you finish breakfast and get to work,” Nadir said.
Colonel Nadir stands, and the crew does as well. The Keeper looks like a frail old man as he stands there contemplating his crew. Like an old soldier, haunted by the memories of past campaigns wondering how soon his end will come. As if to contradict the image, Nadir turns and walks vigorously to a patch of Ships flesh, and melds into it.
They sit in silence and begin eating the remains of breakfast. Paul glances around the remaining officers wondering who the saboteur could be. He has three days to try to find out and plans to do just that.
This is an excerpt from this book, buy the whole eBook to read it all. Approx. 23,000 words