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Excerpt for The Diaspora: A Last Ark novel by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Diaspora

A Last Ark Novel




Ross C. Miller

Skye Run



This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any specific person or place in this book is purely coincidental and unintentional.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without expressed permission in writing from the publisher.


All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2017 Skye Run


SkyeRun.com

http://facebook.com/SkyeRun

SkyeRun@Outlook.com


Primary cover image from Dreamstime.com

Additional cover image by RC Miller

Cover Design by RC Miller

Cover Construction by RC Miller


First Edition


ISBN: 0692946454

ISBN-13: 978-0692946459 (Skye Run)


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Author’s note:


I use ellipses to show hesitancy, uncertainness, qualifications, amendments to statements, and additions to what they just said. Some people can talk in a constant string. …their verbal punctuation, however, is questionable, at best. Most people can’t. While many people don’t tend to think while they’re speaking, my characters do. That’s the way I write what they’ve said.





“The world is a strange and wonderful place. We are only limited by the patterns of thought that we lock ourselves into. …or allow others to lock us into. Keep the concepts of God and Consequences well in mind and firmly in place. Then … toss off the chains.”

--Ross C Miller


“I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.”

--Morpheus


CONTENTS


Foreword


Prologue


Part 1 - Bread and Circuses

1878, October 12 – Princeton University

1930, May 22 – New York Governor’s Mansion

2006, February 3 – United States Senate

2077, March 16 – Location Classified

2079, June 23 – Central Park, New York City

2095, October 12 – Gov. Central, Unity City

2099, December 31 – Media stream

16.8.3.7U (2116, Nov. 2) – Planet Unity, Admin HQ


Part 2 - Dilation & Curettage

167.7.2.8U – Unity Mining Colony, Ganymede

169.1.6.2U – Unity Mining Colony, Ganymede

181.6.5.8U – Ganymede

181.8.0.4U – Ganymede

181.8.1.2U – Ganymede


Part 3 - Checks & Balances

2563, April 3 – Redemption Colony.

463.2.5.7.4U Gunship 4.cG2

2563, April 3, 4:27 – Atrahasis Cavern

463.2.6.2U – Unity Command

2563, May 15 – Atrahasis, AS-12

477.3.5.8U – Special Task Force Command

2563, December 17 – Atrahasis, AS-12

2563, December 20 – Atrahasis, AS-12

2573, July 30 – Atrahasis, AS-12

487.7.2.9U – Seeker 3sb9

487.7.4U – A.I., processor core

2587, June 30 – Atrahasis, AS-12

489.9.2.7.83U – Seeker 2hs8

2592, September 17 –Atrahasis, AS-12

2596, January 24 –Atrahasis, AS-12

2598, June 30 –Atrahasis, AS-12

495.3.7.2 – Unity Command

499.9.9.9.9.3 – Live Stream from Unity Command

2604, July 12 –Atrahasis, AS-12

2667, October 5 –Atrahasis, AS-12A


Part 4 - Hell & High Water

4247, December 21 – Timothy, AS-12A9S

Date and time, unknown – Modified Gunship 7s92

4248, January 7 – Timothy, AS-12A9S

7 Rain Cycles – Modified Gunship 7s92

Landfall +4 Cycles – Timothy, AS-12A9S

23 Rain Cycles – Timothy, AS-12A9S

29 Rain Cycles – Timothy, AS-12A9S

36 Rains – Modified Gunship 7.s.9.2


Epilogue


The Wilson Concurrence


About the Author



Foreword


The Diaspora, while a complete story in itself, is the beginning of a series. This story sets up the universe and conflict. I should be able to drag and drop an enormous amount of my Grey Squadron fiction into this universe’s future, thousands of years after this story ends. That future will be a time when the conflict remains, but the original circumstances may have been blurred so far as to be nearly unrecognizable. …or not, depending on where the story chooses to go. My books tend to go in different directions than what I originally had in mind.

But, that’s okay.

Makes writing a whole lot more fun. And this one was certainly fun! After it took its turn, I really had no idea where it was going to go to get where I wanted it to end up. …even if it got it there at all.

I do, however, like to ground my stories with a lot of historical fact. So, I do a lot of research. Sometimes that research turns into chains that really surprise me.

The state of things … the news concerning not just our country, but also the entire world … as I began my first draft of The Diaspora, gave rise to a great many questions. The most poignant one is just simply Why? This book is purely speculation, presenting only one single possible answer. It attempts to project one possible future it all leads to, from a specific point in the past, which is also just my own fiction sprinkled with various related facts to hard-link it to specific times.

As I worked on the second, third and fourth drafts, I kept hearing things in the news that I’d already written about in this book. That doesn’t necessarily make this story prophetic of the path the future will take. It only just starts to move this story into the Horror category. …at least for me it does. If Nostradamus enters into the equation anywhere, then it certainly hasn’t helped me in any way, shape, or form with my lottery tickets or the investments I’m making in my 401k. So … I’m thinkin’, definitely no Nostradamus here.

Anyway. The past may be written in stone, but the future isn’t necessarily so. The thing that makes the future most variable is our own freedom of choice – our free will.

While this story is fiction, as I’ve already pointed out, the reasons behind the speculation do exist. Unity is possible. …but not at the exclusion of people who disagree with those trying to force its existence. Exclusion in any form is, by definition, contradictory to any kind of unity. Unity is, and must be, for all. Double standards – anyone’s – only, and very clearly, show the deceptions of the people pulling the strings of their puppets. As long as the truth can be dictated by the media, rather than all the media reporting just the facts without bias, then unity of any sort will continue to be impossible, regardless of how much force is used to put it in place.

Nature loves a balance. We see it all the time when we look at the real world. When a predator starts over populating, its normal prey food-source population declines. When the number of prey decline, the population of predators must decline, as well, until the number of the prey rises again.

Basically, it translates to a real-world application of the every action has an equal and opposite reaction thing.

Polarization only allows an extreme to make its way forward. When an extreme of one sort exist, the opposite extreme will appear to counter it (i.e. the Media takes a Liberal bias, then Fox News takes the Conservative; the Liberals gain power, then the Tea Party appears to counter them, etc., etc., ad nauseam). Whether the equal and opposite reaction is any kind of effective countermeasure, or not, in providing an equitable solution is debatable. But it still will exist. Personally, I believe that it doesn’t actually ever balance when people are involved, simply because, at some point, the which came first question always pops up, and then you get a spiral of action vs counter-action.

Regardless of which came first, the chicken or the egg, get rid of the first extreme, which directly caused the appearance of the second, and the second will become marginalized. It will fade away, being unnecessary as long as the first extreme remains gone. The real problem is correctly identifying the first extreme. …which is always complicated by the spiral.

Back to the questions that arise because of current events, the question isn’t so much why, as it is when. Once we know the when, then we find the who, and then the why falls even more into place, even more easily. On the other hand, plenty of people have other theories, and they’re no better than mine. …certainly, no worse, either.

All of that being said… It doesn’t seem that I’m capable of writing warm and fuzzy. …or short. If you’re looking for warm and fuzzy, then this definitely isn’t a book you want to read. If you feel that you have to agree with the premise, then my premise should be pretty clear, and I’d just as soon you didn’t judge the telling of the story on just that.

The Last Ark – this suggests that God is involved. But then God is involved with all my books to some degree or another. If you don’t mind being pushed outside of your comfort zone … far outside … then you may want to give Diaspora a shot.

For that matter, if you don’t mind being pushed far outside your comfort zones, give all of my books a fair reading. The Horseless Horsemen trilogy is pretty dark, and I’m told that it’s pretty intense. The Puppy Tales is hard to read, though. It’s mostly written in a chat room format.

The Puppy Tales is humor - a bunch of short stories that, for the most part, are a story about telling a story. It’s very different from the rest of my books. There’s one chapter that tends to really weird people out. But, I consider that a Total Win.

I write to entertain. But I also write hoping people will think and consider the possibilities, which may very well be directly opposed to everything they hold as truth. That being said, I hope you appreciate this story, and that I can entertain you for a time.


September 2017



Prologue


4247, December 21, 8:27am – Timothy, AS-12A9S


“Aft shields are down!” Christopher called from the systems console.

He hit the manual release, deploying the straps that would hold him in his chair if they lost the mockgrav. …which he was fully expecting would happen. Everyone on the bridge got a warning light on the side of their consoles. It was the same warning that was sent throughout the ship. It meant that everyone might want to get belted in quickly, as well.

“What in the name of God was that?!” Jack, at the maintenance board, was very concerned. He didn’t get rattled easily. But he was justified. Nothing had ever hit the Timothy like that before. He’d never seen anything like it. More angry than anything else, Jack was incensed that someone was trying to damage his ship.

“What did they just hit us with?!”

That wasn’t a solid projectile. Just energy! According to the readings, it only grazed the shields and then continued on.”

Simon’s information from the external observations board at the second, remote bridge caused another rash of voices. The two bridges were constantly connected, but the remote bridge could take over, if the primary was damaged.

“Rerouting power couplings. Balancing shields! Diverting power from non-essential systems!” Christopher didn’t need to be told. This was his job. “The backup generators are on line. The worm-drive is not responding!” He really didn’t need to announce all of it, but it helped him think about what else he needed to, or could, do.

The ship’s power was only loosely connected in one large grid. Most of the time, very little was connected. It was strategically better to have entire divisions run from their own separate power sources. …for exactly this type of occasion. …so everything didn’t go down if one thing was damaged. All the systems could easily be brought into the grid to support the shields. The non-essential system generators were straining under the new load. Considering the priorities, most of the ship’s environment and housekeeping systems could temporarily be considered non-essential. …if the shields took a major hit. …as they just did.

Even though the mockgrav was a primary system, because the shields were part of that system, the two could be separated. The power to the ship’s simulated internal relative gravity could be completely diverted to the shields. The backup redundancy was in place to save their lives. So far, except for this one, momentary disruption, it had worked just fine.

And under the circumstances … I don’t think I’m going to complain about this once.

Discipline wavered. Voices spoke over top of each other from damage reports coming in. The ship had bucked like wild horse. Everyone not already sitting … and even half of those who had been … were thrown to the floor. They were scrambling to get their feet under them and back to their stations.

If they survived, Medical was likely going to be very busy for a while.

“PEOPLE! I NEED INFORMATION! NOW! GET STRAPPED IN!” Karen shouted over the pandemonium.

“I don’t know what they’re using, but if they hit us with it again, we’ll be dead in the water!”

Ships were ships to the engineering crew. Having no power to move the ship, it didn’t matter what was surrounding them. It was all the same. Jack knew the ship. If he was worried, then the danger was probably being understated.

“A weapon like that can’t exist on a ship that size!”

Apparently, Christopher, it does.” Simon didn’t normally have a lot of patience with statements denying the obvious. “It must be a new thing we haven’t heard about yet.”

Karen didn’t bother to respond to Christopher’s last quip. He knew the systems, but up until now, all they’d had were drills. This was their first face-to-face encounter with a Unity ship. Evidently, the generators to power the weapon must exist on a ship that size. The only real question she needed an answer for was how they could avoid getting hit with it again. A direct hit would fry everything the Timothy carried and leave them drifting, if it didn’t just atomize them on the spot.

“I’m not getting anything from Ai!”

Ai’s internal components are the most fragile. The surge appears to have fried them, so it looks like we’re not going to be able to ask it anything for a while. It may have had time to jack in over there and update. But I’m not going to bet the farm. I’m ejecting both backup cores, now.”

A door slid open on the side of Karen’s command chair base. A cylindrical unit slid out on a tray, and then dropped into a container with a handle. The container sealed itself, and then sat waiting.

“Everyone! Stay focused! No mistakes, or we’re all dead!” Karen knew the stakes. …and there weren’t any that were higher. It was an unbelievable coincidence that they dropped out of the worm-tube at the same time, and in the same area as a Unity Gunship.

Did they have something to do with that? Do worm-drive disruptors exist?

She had to find a way to save the Ark.

“Nothing like a little pressure.” Matthew, at the helm, was always the one with something to say.

The damage reports were pouring in and scrolling up the side of the main screen. They were also on the screen at Jack’s console.

They’ve fallen back!” Simon called out from the remote bridge.

“Fallen back? What’s their speed?” Karen asked.

Inconsistent with what it was before. They’re farther behind us than they were before they fired that thing. They’re going a lot slower and their hull lighting appears to be flickering.” Simon added.

“Newtonian physics?” Matthew asked. The farther away the Unity ship was, the less difficult it would be to avoid the weapon. …not that it would likely resemble anything close to easy.

“Either that, or firing it sucks every bit of power from that ship, like Ai told us about the old G-4s. Probably a combination of the two.” Christopher was thinking furiously. Just like everyone else. Any information he might come up with, lacking Ai, could save their lives.

There’s no friction out here, they can’t slow down due to lack of power. It has to be a Newtonian reaction.” Simon stated.

“They’re not a whole lot smaller than we are. That gun must kick like a mule!” Jack was aghast imagining a force that could have an effect like that on a starship. The hull stress must be horrendous!

“They probably can’t turn and fire at the same time. It would throw them way off course, they’d have to correct, and that would put them farther behind. Is there any way we can use that?” Karen tossed the question out there. Even though they had no direct experience with Unity tactics, she trusted her team.

And she trusted God. But God wouldn’t carry the entire load. People died. Good people. Sometimes it was just your time.

We can’t just sit here and be happily oblivious.

“Considering the Newtonian physics, it’s possible that the amount of lateral stress could seriously damage them if they fired during a turn.” Jack tossed his thought into the mix.

It was a suggestion that required the right conditions to exist. Unity was probably well aware of them, though. They would avoid those conditions.

Whatever that was, we’ll be floating debris if we don’t get out fast. The additional time we just gained isn’t enough. “Give me a report on that system!” Karen was desperate for options.

I can’t!” Simon answered. “It won’t read! There’s too much free energy. It’s even interfering with the outrévid. What’s on the screen isn’t what we’d be looking at if we could see it directly.”

“How much time do we have?” Karen needed answers.

“Given all known power regeneration rates for their G-4s, forty-three seconds, minimum. But that’s not a G-4.” Christopher offered, knowing the consequences of how wrong he could be. “I wouldn’t bet the farm on twice that much, though.”

“Transition time?”

Nine seconds at this distance, assuming constant velocity for both ships.” Simon always had the numbers.

“What’s the lag?”

The sensing equipment could only see what got to them, when it got to them. Distance was a factor there, too.

Three seconds.”

Fractions of a second had no meaning. They could be accurately measured to nine decimal places. Those places couldn’t accurately be acted upon, though, except to the first. And even that one was iffy.

It would take a full ten seconds for the ship to completely vacate the space that it took up.

That cuts it very fine. “Port roll! Time!”

“Twenty-seven seconds!”

“Cut forward thrust to five percent at T-minus six. Give me a full power pivot toward that system at T minus four, and then best speed at T minus two!”

No one questioned Karen’s last order. It was an extremely dangerous maneuver, and they all knew it. …but it was the only chance they had.

If we can’t read anything about that system, then Unity probably can’t either. If they can, then it won’t matter anyway.

The upside was that cutting the forward thrust let them pivot faster. The down side was the pivot gave the aft end of the ship far more exposure to being hit, if Unity anticipated their move correctly. …and if all of the opposing stresses didn’t tear the ship apart to begin with.

“God help us all.” Karen was down to that one single option. …and it wasn’t a good one.

“T minus nine …eight …seven …Mark one!”

Cutting the forward thrust let them glide, instead of the continuous acceleration.

In space, they could either conserve energy by gliding and take longer, or arrive far sooner by constantly accelerating up to the halfway point, and then constantly decelerating for the second half of the distance. …neither of which had any effect, whatsoever, on the internal gravity of the ship, which was entirely supplied by the mockgrav. Although, with a continuous 1G thrust, throughout, they could save energy by shutting down the internal mockgrav system entirely. On the other hand, it would take them far longer to get where they were going.

“Mark two!”

In any event, at this very moment, energy conservation wasn’t even close to Karen’s main concern.

“Mark three!”

The lateral pull of centrifugal force, because of the powered pivot, nearly overrode the mockgrav generators. The increase in velocity when the engines went to full power only stressed those generators even farther. It was a maneuver that none of the shipyards ever tested because they’d found that most of the older ships couldn’t survive it. The structural stresses … particularly if the maneuver overtaxed the mockgrav, which it almost always did … ripped those ships to pieces. Rather than try to build a ship and a mockgrav system, both completely sturdy enough to handle those stresses, it was just decreed standard operating procedure to avoid that maneuver entirely.

Don’t do it. Ever. Period!

It had been that way for millennia.

But I have no other choice. We’ll surely be dead if I don’t. A near zero chance of survival isn’t as low as no chance at all.

The timing was the key. If they could get far enough around in those two scant seconds, then the acceleration stress might not hit the critical level.

Hopefully, Unity will think it just as suicidal, and they’ll aim slightly in the opposite direction to compensate, thinking it’s a feint. …and overcompensate by doing so. But either way, we’re just as dead. The only chance we have is that system.

Sparks flew from Christopher’s board, and even more alarms went off.

The lap-clamps that weren’t already engaged flew up and over. They were self-guiding using inertia and spring coils, coming from under the chairs on both sides. The clamps attached themselves to each other in the middle, over the person’s legs. Then the spring coils tightened the belts, locking them snugly in place, to keep the crew from floating out of their chairs while the rest of the brace harness engaged. An unoccupied chair wouldn’t fire the clamps, but in anything less than a quarter-G, the clamps would be triggered automatically as soon as someone was in it.

The jolt from the energy weapon hadn’t been near as severe this time, but their shields were already compromised.

The backup generators went out.

“It just barely grazed us as it went by! All we have is the engines, and barely that. All the rest of the non-essential and secondary systems are down. They’re not coming back up until the generators can reset themselves and charge the system!” Christopher crossed himself.

Luke at the environment and medical console reported that his board was down.

Jack’s board was down, too. And he was extremely not happy about it. Slamming his fists down on the console wasn’t exactly a proper CPR procedure for anything that wasn’t actually alive to begin with. …and he decided afterwards that it didn’t really make him feel any better, either.

“Get everything into the engines that you can!”

As they broke through the edge of the energy-system boundary, what seemed like a massive static electricity charge made each strand of their hair separate from the rest, and made them all stand straight out. Not one person could resist the urge to rub their arm or scratch their head to relieve a small area of the itch the charge caused to cover their entire bodies.

Outrévid is out! We’re flying blind!”

Simon’s board was completely down now, too.

“Will a probe do anything?”

No, sir! All we’re getting is static, and that’s all we’d get from the probe, if we got anything at all.”

“Wonderful. Helm. Stay on course.”

This order wasn’t questioned either. Without shields, they were just as dead if Unity hit them again, as they would be if they happened to ram anything in this … this …whatever this was.

“I’ve lost navigational control!”

“Engines just went off line!”

“Captain?!”

“It doesn’t matter!” She flicked the emergency switch for the in-ship comm. “Brothers and Sisters. We are in the hands of our Lord. May he have mercy on us all.”

With a small burst if static, the comm went out.

“There’s a planet! I got a very minimal reading before the outré went down. It seemed to be between M and L Class. I didn’t have time to get anything more definite. The free energy density in this system is massive! It didn’t appear there was anything between the planet and us. It looked like there might be a moon on the far side but it’s one-twenty out from our approach. Hard to say, though. I couldn’t really tell anything but that it, or something, was there.”

“Is anything working at all?”

“Mechanicals only. All electricals are out. Mockgrav is down.”

“Anything on why? The first hit only took part of the shields. It didn’t take unrelated equipment.”

“Nothing. It doesn’t seem to be a specific failure in any of the systems. There’s just no power to run anything.”

“Open the shutters a little, and let’s see what’s out there.”

Matthew and Jack pushed off their chairs toward the walls. When they got close enough, they grabbed the rails and swung around to make contact with the walls. Newtonian laws demanded that they try only to gently divert their direction, rather than grossly affect it. Injuries under these circumstances were common and easy. Once they were stationary, they cranked the wheels holding the window barrier shields closed. The center opened slightly.

Matthew went to the opening.

“There’s a planet. One. There’s a moon on the far side. One. That’s all I can see.”

The planet was so hazed out from the energy sparkles, it looked only marginally better than what they were able to see on the screen before everything went dead.

After a few seconds of looking very closely, Matthew reported, “We’re being drawn between the planet and the moon, I think. I can see the movement relative to the planet. I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t seem like there’s any change in our velocity.”

“No acceleration, Matthew?”

Matthew was at a loss. He always had the math. But he didn’t have access to those particular numbers right at the moment. With the energy haze making it hard to see, even with a naked view, it still didn’t tell him as much as he’d very much prefer.

He looked around the bridge before he answered the captain.

“Confirmed, as far as I can tell. Movement appears to be steady and constant. I don’t believe it’s a gravity pull that’s taking us there. If there were any change in our velocity, all this stuff,” he motioned at the floating items inside the bridge, “would be all moving in more or less the same direction. Aft. We’re just moving steadily, as if we were going … just … gliding … on an even keel.” As he dodged a diagnostic pad, he added, “These things are floating randomly, suggesting the macro-movement remains consistent.”

“Perigee?”

“On this course,” Matthew began, as he continued to look out the viewport. This was back into an area he was confident about, again. “We’ll be going between the planet and the moon, and we won’t crash directly. Depending on the planet’s gravity, we might circle twice, spiraling in, and then dig a very long trench if the atmosphere isn’t thick enough to burn us up before then. But that’s my best guess without the computer, and without knowing more about that planet. If we land in water, there’s a definite very small chance that we could survive. If it’s uneven rock, it’ll grate us like cheese. Sand would be okay, except for the climate heat implied, and all of it around the ship turning to glass from the additional heat of the hull. All in all … I’d rather have water.”

Karen pressed the talk switch for the sound-powered comm system. “Proceed to the life-pods. This is not a drill. Get the word out on all decks. Proceed to the life-pods. This is not a drill.”

The sound-powered system was a carryover from ancient times when the battleships humans built were powered by fossil fuels, and they travelled the oceans. When electrics failed, as they sometimes did for whatever reason, the sound-powered system had always served its purpose well. In-ship communications were absolutely vital, so there had been no reason to abandon that particular system.

“This is the captain. Abandon ship. This is not a drill. All hands abandon ship. Repeat. This is not a drill. All hands abandon ship.”

A rash of clicks came from the speaker. Everyone throughout the ship near one of the system boxes was signaling that they understood and accepted the order. They would all organize the people left in their sections, and they’d all proceed to the pods as quickly as they could with the mockgrav out.

It didn’t matter what the conditions were on the planet. It didn’t matter what they found down there. It didn’t matter what lived there, if anything. They just had to launch the pods before the ship reached a speed that would either throw the pods back into space, or fire them straight at the ground.

It didn’t even matter if the atmosphere was acid. …although an M-Class had a nitrogen/ oxygen atmosphere and water in liquid form. An L-Class was livable, but would have a more primitive ecosystem. Uneven rock was a definite possibility. Mountains or raised volcanoes were likely.

The exodus point is plenty easy enough to calculate with a wide margin, even by hand and not being Simon or Matthew.

Karen glanced at Matthew, still lingering at the front viewport briefly before he and Jack closed the shutters again. Karen chuckled silently while she was unlatching Ai’s backup from its base.

Leave it to Matthew to be touristing at a time like this.

At least, Unity will be in the same boat … as it were … if they’re lucky enough not to crash steeply, or go by it entirely. Hopefully, they just won’t be on the same side of it as we are, and it will take them time to find us again.

Lord, we are in your hands, as we always are. Your will be done.

If they managed to land, Unity would have to carry on their war from the ground. They didn’t care for ground wars. Nobody did. Ground wars were always more difficult. …and far more messy, being that the two sides of any war were very seldom equipped equally.

On the ground, though, casualties can’t be had so cheaply for them, even though collateral damage can. Unity has always been cowards, preferring weapons that can kill us from a distance.

The claxon that told the crew to head to the lifepods began blaring weakly. Everyone aboard would understand that the difference in the alarm's strength would mean it was just that much more imperative they get to where they needed to be that much more quickly.


*****


2147.9.6.2.1.1U – Modified Gunship 7s92


“Their shields are almost down, Captain.”

The bridge was a large open room with blank walls. Twenty-seven people sat in chairs that were widely and evenly spaced. Each person wore a helmet over an enclosed hood that covered their face. The thin gloves they wore fit loosely over other gloves that were connected to their suits. The outer gloves had a number of metallic discs attached to both sides of the fingers, hands, and wrists. Their controlled movements in the air manipulated machinery and other equipment only that person could see. A number of things, such as the main viewport, were common to all, but non-existent outside of their hoods.

“Fire again, as soon as you can!” O.7s92.138 was impatient. It wanted the battle over now. The longer it took, the greater the chances their long-time enemy would escape.

“Charging, Captain!”

“What is that system!”

“Unidentifiable, Captain. It is an anomaly, and has only been previously known to exist because of the inability to observe anything on the far side. It was assumed to be a black…”

“Captain, they are starting a roll to port.”

“They cannot be heading for the anomaly!”

The Captain was incredulous. Either the ship ahead was starting away from the system, or it was a feint in that direction to begin a maneuver … one of the very few … that had been proscribed ever since starships were built. Every captain that ever had been knew about it, so they would not ever attempt to use it. The training ran through three-dozen possibilities. In none of those scenarios did the starship ever succeed in completing the maneuver with the least disastrous result being just major damage and loss of life. And that was from only one of the scenarios. All the rest ended in complete destruction.

All Meloristassi captains were under strict orders to execute with extreme prejudice any other captain found to have attempted it successfully. That was just how dangerous the maneuver was. …and just how proscribed it was.

“They will never survive the thrust from a port roll!”

“Computer!” O.138 called, signaling the artificial intelligence for its observations and opinion.

There is a forty percent probability the Rajinistas will skirt around the anomaly, consistent with their port roll, attempting to draw us into the anomaly as a short cut to reach them sooner. A two-point-eight percent probability exists that they will head directly toward the anomaly, which is approximately triple their chances of surviving the maneuver. All other directions carry equal near zero weight. They have nowhere else to go.”

“It is not in them to throw their lives away. They want us to shoot at where we think they are going. If they end up going straight or completing the roll, we could miss them entirely if we target their position toward the anomaly. Then they would have enough time to sling around that thing, and it could take us years to track them again! Throw it straight down the center!”

The probability of a hit, even just a glancing blow, is close to fifty-fifty.”

The artificial intelligence gave its opinion unrequested. The computer’s capability of independent action was extremely limited, but its capacity for intuitive thought was immensely helpful.

“Five centimin to firing. … four … three …”

“They are starting to turn toward the system!”

“They have cut their engines! We have to turn!”

“Recalculating firing vector.”

“NO! JUST FIRE! NOW!!”

The time lag between what they were seeing and the reality of the Rajinistas position would not show if this was just a feint or not, until it was too late. With their engines cut, reversing the pivot and shooting off in the other direction was less dangerous than the angle of heading for that unreadable system. Readjusting to fire where it looked like they were going could result in a complete miss. Depending on the direction they took, the telemetry blackout could allow the murderers to escape.

or turn back and fire on us.

The forward monitor flashed as the ball of energy left the launcher port. The ship would have thrown them if they had not been harnessed tightly into their chairs. Between the weapon taking all the energy from the ship for nearly two decimin, and the back-thrust of the firing mechanism launching that amount of concentrated energy, the ship bucked. If they were going slowly enough when they fired the enerjectile, the ship could even go backward until the engines kicked in again. They would be completely vulnerable for that entire time.

But the Rajinistas had always run. They never stood and fought. They only attacked without warning. Their only tactic was deceit. There was too much proof … too many Unity ships that had been destroyed … to expect otherwise.

The screens over the crew’s eyes immediately darkened when the enerjectile was fired, the personal protection system of the biosuits preempting any possible malfunction from the primary view feed.

Until the power was back up, they were all blind. There was no video feed. There was no light. There was no enhanced digital reality. All they could do was sit and be patient. Until the power was up, the ship had no active controls.


*****


All the reality overlay control systems came back up first as the backup power generators strained to compensate for the primary systems’ needs.

“They have gone into the energy field. Their shields are down. It is possible they survived the maneuver. There is no evidence of debris.”

“Fire a probe! I want to know what is in there!”

“Probe launched.”

“Probe has entered the energy field, Captain. I am receiving nothing but static.”

Ai confirmed the lack of information back from the probe.

“FOLLOW THEM!! I WILL NOT ALLOW THEM TO ESCAPE! THERE WILL BE JUSTICE!!”

The ship turned, and went into the energy field at an intercept angle to the Rajinistas last known trajectory.

“All systems are going down!”

“CATCH THEM! FIRE AT WILL!!”

“The enerjectile system is disabled!”

“Telemetry minimal!”

“Shields offline!”

“Engines offline!”

“Navigation offline!”

They are the last of their kind. We have hunted them down to this last one ship. We are the only humans left who can catch them, and they will not escape me. I will chase them in space, in the air, and on the ground. I will chase them on foot, and on the nubs attached to my hips, if my legs are useless. I will chase them until I have no next breath to take, and I will spit that last breath on their dried bones.

“Give me information! A.I.!!”

“Ep…mm…rch…”

“All powered systems are nonfunctional. The A.I. appears to be malfunctioning.”

The voice was barely heard.

It being useless now, the computer interface tech took its outer helmet off. With the reality overlay system down, it was effectively blind while continuing to wear it. The biosuit’s sensory receptors flickered. They were mostly biomechanically powered supplied by hundreds of micro-servogenerators at all the joints. After putting its helmet in its cradle, it removed the over-gloves and put them on their posts, next to the helmet.

O.138 and the rest of the bridge crew removed their gloves and helmets, as well. Although their reality overlay was gone, they could still observe baseline reality as it existed through the lenses in their biohoods.

They sat in a mostly empty room. Everything throughout the entire ship was electronically controlled from here through the digital reality overlay system, which had several multi-level redundancies built into it. Complete failure of the system was impossible. It would take what effectively amounted to the complete destruction of the ship to cause enough damage to lose that system.

It is good that our biosuits are completely powered by movement, recycling and revitalizing everything that is emitted or ejected from our bodies. The suits reconstitute everything from skin cells and air to liquid and solid wastes. All of it is biomechanically accomplished. We only need to replace the vitapacks every hectomin. Consequently, our entire bodies are entirely contained within the suits. They serve as complete life support and climatic control systems. We live and die in these suits. The only time we are ever out of them is while we are growing, when we change to a larger suit. There are special sterile chambers specifically designed for that. Before we emerge from them, we grow in smaller versions of those chambers.

Another near impossibility, even less probable than the virtual ship controls failing, is for the biosuits to become damaged. There is no existing danger to the suits, as living and working conditions were modified long ago to assure that no such thing could ever happen.

That had required a certain amount of effort to accomplish.

Attitudes had to be adjusted.

Many attitudes. …sometimes forcefully.

And while we were at it, we took care of some of the other attitudes that needed adjusting.

The Rajinistas had called it programming, and refused to submit. That was when they finally left Unity.

But malfunctioning attitudes kept cropping up.

Science found a way to overcome all those old-human defects and weaknesses. Using cloning and gene-modification techniques, the perfect genderless human specimen series were created. After developing the biosuits, all harmful outside influences, including all physical contact with other human beings, were removed from the equation. All diseases were eradicated.

By making everyone the same, and thereby preserving unity, all mental, physical, and emotional aberrations were removed.

The government ran instruction and information sequences that would give people the knowledge they needed to do whichever job they were given on a random basis.

except for the warship captains. We have all come from a single person, who greatly advanced the cause of unity.

All of our advancements and modifications have increased our life spans greatly. We have been able to spend hundreds of gigamin without having to relearn things because someone did not have the time to bring their research to fruition.

Everyone was productive. Everyone was happy. Everyone worked for the enhancement of our civilization. Everyone wanted to be where they were, doing exactly what they were doing.

Everyone was controlled.

We created the perfect civilization.

The Rajinistas could never be trusted. They always resisted. They resisted every bit of sanity we tried to make them see.

We knew they would be back again. We knew they would continue to fight us. That was why we had to hunt them down.

Many of us went to the ships. Many of us stayed on Unity. …as many as the planet could support, under the conditions the Rajinistas left us. They had already ruined our world. But, that was not enough for them. When the ships needed to return, all we found was devastation. Total devastation. What little air that remained was not even breathable. It was Unity’s half-teramin anniversary. There was going to be a massive step forward in the war, and then a celebration to match.

The Rajinistas killed our entire planet on that night.

But, we lived. On the ships, we lived.

We chased them.

Our ships have been destroyed, one by one, as were theirs. Now there are only these two ships. Once these Rajinistas … these perversions … these vermin … are exterminated, we will be able to take a planet, finally. We will live in peace. We will tend to the one and only true human calling. Science. …and the acquiring of all knowledge about everything.

But, we must first survive this.

And then, they must be destroyed.

“Can we fire? Straight in on their last known trajectory.”

“There was a partial charge, Captain. If it is still intact, we might be able to launch it, accessing all the manual overrides. The problem is, we cannot control it. The guidance system is gone. The highest probability is that it would destroy us before the enerjectile is able to exit the tube.”

“Then we sit and wait. We need this ship to stay alive. If the ship lives, we live. If the ship dies…”

“They win.”

“No! They are in the same shape we are. Worse! Their ships are not built like ours. They do not have the biosuits. They are dead. We can glide right through the anomaly. We will be alive on the other side. Once we are out, everything will power up again. We win. There can be no other outcome.”

The conditioning of the bridge crew kicked in. They all nodded in unison. No one even thought to comment that nobody won if everyone was dead.


*****


4247, December 21 9:02am – Timothy, AS-12A9S


“The pod isn’t ejecting!” Matthew was worried, and he sounded it.

“Stay calm. Try it again.” Karen suggested with an even voice. “Use the manual release.”

“Yes, sir. The manual is jammed. It’s not moving.”

It was impossible that the manual release could fail. It was only a simple mechanism that didn’t really require all that much force. From what Karen understood about the manual release, there weren’t all that many moving parts.

“Can you see anything? Did the rest of the crew get away?”

Matthew unbuckled his harness and stood to look out one of the tiny viewports. The thick windows were very small. Looking out at an angle distorted everything. He checked a few of the windows, climbing around the people still harnessed.

“No, sir. All the pods that I can see are still attached.”

“Can you see where we’re going?”

“Right now, it looks like we’re about to go between the planet and the moon. I can’t tell which we’re closer to. I think the planet. I can see the edge of a land mass, water and clouds. Even though there’s a lot less haze around the planet, it’s impossible to figure our velocity or rate of decent.”

“Then we’re stuck here. Regardless of what happens next, the pods are the best chance we have. We’ve done this drill a thousand times. Still, a drill is just a drill. Let’s hope no one panics and decides to blow their hatch inside the ship, yet.”

Who knows how many Unity ships were out there that we didn’t have time to see? The chances of Unity being here were slim to none. Our only strategy has always been not to be found and to stay alive. We’re just an Arkship. Most of our ships aren’t even that. They never even took prisoners. They only killed us. …and every star system they’ve ever found us in.

I don’t understand them. We’ve found a few of their ships, over the years. Most of the destruction was internal, not external.

Their own science has always been their enemy. They couldn’t be satisfied with just having the ability to do something. They actually had to do it. …all of it. …all the time. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Seems they should have learned that lesson hundreds of times over. It’s always slapped them in the face.

How long have we been in here? I’ve got to focus. Once they’ve been locked down, the pod doors can only be opened from the outside, unless we blow the hatch off from in here. They weren’t designed to be locked down, and then not jettisoned.

There’s a full complement of pressure suits in the floor. We’re stuck in here until we crash. This is going to be a long wait, regardless of how short it is.

“We’re closer to the planet, Captain. You’re not going to believe this. Take a quick look for yourself. You should have some time before we dig into the atmosphere and it starts getting rough.”

Karen unbuckled her harness and moved up to the little window as Matthew moved out of the way.

“…good God…”

This planet couldn’t exist. No planet ever looked like this one did.

From what she could see, there was a single continent. It took up about two-thirds of the middle of the surface. The land mass was a solid stripe, straight across the middle. All of the land was dark green and unbroken, except for a dark grey strip covering about a tenth of the land, that cut through the center … again, for lack of a better term, call it the equator … of the continent, paralleling the land-ocean border. The dark grey appeared to split the continent into two seemingly equal halves.

The top and bottom … for lack of better terms, since that’s where they were from Karen’s point of view … looked like water. The land-ocean boundary appeared to be smooth. There was no evidence to suggest that the land didn’t wrap around the entire planet in the same fashion. There were no ice caps. …which kinda made sense, since there was no sun that she could see. So, no part of the planet would be any colder than any of the rest of it.

A solid band of clouds was becoming visible. …except that the cloud band seemed to run from the center of the top ocean, straight to the center of the bottom one, perpendicular to the center grey belt. The two cloud bands would’ve joined to make a single one, if they hadn’t stopped at the center, over the grey strip.

It was fascinating. Highly improbable. …but fascinating.

All of that improbability, though, would appear to mean that this planet, very likely, must have been engineered. The planet and its biosphere were engineered … created … and caused, somehow, to function in exactly this fashion.

To Karen, the obvious question was…

So … who created it?

The immediate subsequent obvious question was…

and where are they?

The ship bucked as it skipped off the atmosphere once.

Karen and Matthew sat down quickly and buckled themselves tightly into their harnesses.

“Either that planet is smaller and denser than I thought. …or a heckuvalot bigger.”

The ship hit the atmosphere again. The air shrieked as it slid along the hull, reminding them of how long a smear across the land they could make. …if they didn’t just pound straight down into it.

The rest of her pod-mates stayed harnessed and quiet. Everyone had their own thoughts to tend to. They didn’t ask about the planet. They’d either find out soon enough, or it wouldn’t matter.


*****




Part 1


Bread and Circuses



1878, October 12 – Princeton University


“This meeting is called to order.”

Thomas twice rapped his knuckles soundly on the center desk in the front row.

The group of young men sat at the wood and wrought iron desks. Their neckties and woolen vests didn’t make any of them look uncomfortable. Rather, they looked comfortable enough that they might have been born in their suits. Their bowlers and thin white linen gloves were arranged neatly in front of each of them on the desks.

The gaslights were turned low, casting multiple shadows in the dimly lit room.

“Excuse me, Thomas,” Percival Somers interrupted. “I was under the impression that this wasn’t to be a formal meeting. Should I be taking the minutes?”

Thomas stood at the front of the classroom. This wasn’t a class. It was a small gathering of some of the brightest students at Princeton. Thomas was most elated that they had agreed to come.

“You needn’t take the minutes, Percival,” Thomas answered wryly, “but you may certainly take all the notes you want. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you’ll wish you had, if you don’t.” He looked around at the rest of the small group of young men. “In fact, I would suggest the same for everyone. Such is the import of what we do tonight.”

Most of the young men pulled up small stacks of paper, their pens, and bottles of ink from their bandoliers. Dipping the points of their pens in the ink, they were prepared to write.

“I have asked you here tonight, specifically you, because you are all in my Liberal Debating Society. In my efforts to organize this small group, I searched for the finest minds available here at Princeton. We are all mentally astute and quite nimble in our pursuit of reason and truth. This being the case, I have a new proposition, about which I would speak with you. And I would ascertain whether you would desire to take part in it.”

He paused for their reaction.

“Don’t keep us breathless, Thomas! Tell us!” Robert Stanwick pulled at the right side of his moustache, making sure the curl was in place.

“Hold on to your hats, gentlemen. You are about to lose that very breath!”

Thomas was enjoying drawing the moment out. What he was about to tell them was so far outside the realm of normal human concepts and acceptance that they would, quite literally, be gasping to recapture their wind.

“We are in a unique position, my friends,” Thomas began. “We can determine the destination of the United States, and set it on that course for the next millennium, and farther.”

As he suspected, the breath whooshed forth from a number of them.

“Once that course is set, the entire world will follow. I have the foundation of the plan, already, which I have been steadily making progress on for these past ten years.”

Thomas knew what they were thinking. World conquest was an old concept. While they may have been successful for a few brief moments, historically speaking, all Empires had always failed quickly, including England’s, which was currently in that very process. Since time immemorial, history was filled to the brim with like failures.


“Thomas, old boy. You are saying that this group … the people in this room, right here, right now … can actually rule the entire world…?” Percival raised his eyebrows, tilted his head slightly, and scratched at the thin mutton chops he’d started growing.

Percival was shrewd. He looked younger than he was, which was quite deceiving, and he used that unintended fact to gain every advantage that he could while he was actively debating. He had an incredibly keen mind, and he could find the weak spot in an opposing team’s argument, most often by pursuing the implications of what they said. He would focus on their point, somehow managing to agree with them, and then actually use that weakness to make them end up arguing against point they had originally stated.

In Percival’s mind, Thomas’ statement about successful world domination was nearly as ridiculous as saying the streets would soon be filled with automobiles. …which happened to be another claim Thomas had made on a number of previous occasions.

Filling the streets with automobiles is entirely preposterous. The vibrations from the wheels on the cobblestones are enough to jar one’s teeth loose. Automobiles will never be popular unless they make the roads out of goose down!

This small group ruling the entire world was insanity to the same degree.

“Not so much us, specifically. No, Percival. But, this group, completely aside from the debate club, and its future members … Yes! We can. We, here, can point out the direction. We can show the path. The people who form this specific group in the generations ahead can ensure the country remains on that course. All we … us here in this room, now,” Thomas gestured to include the whole group, “needs must accomplish is a list of reasonable and workable tactics, and set an approximate timetable. Our task at hand is to define those tactics in a general all-encompassing stratagem.”

Thomas had been prepared for a multitude of conceptual objections. It had been very much like preparing for a formal debate against a very top-notch team.

“Surely, you are joking, sir.”

Percival was incredulous. To even consider something of this magnitude was even more impossible than trying to think in terms of twenty years into the future.

Everything is always changing. Nothing ever stays the same for long. Sometimes it changes rather quickly. A millennium…? Unthinkable!

“And just exactly what direction is it that you want us to point out for the world, along with those future members?”


“Global unity, gentlemen.” Thomas rapped his knuckles on the desk for emphasis. “Global unity! Think of it! A completely united world. Everyone. All of mankind working together in harmony for the benefit of the entire world. Complete world peace. The end of ignorance, poverty, starvation, and war. Total. Global. Unity.” Although he was talking to everyone in the room, his enthusiastic statement was delivered directly to Percival.

Pens were scratching furiously on paper. They would be taking notes on what was said, along with jotting down questions they would raise at the appropriate moment. That was the debate team tactic, and it was exactly why he had formed the debate club to begin with. …to find the exact people he would need to set his idea in motion.

“Global unity…” Warren Smythe commented noncommittally. Warren was a very serious young man, and he spoke up for the first time. “A lofty goal, indeed, sir.” He leaned forward. All of his attention was on Thomas. He definitely wanted to hear more. “Do you have any kind of a timeframe in mind to achieve this level of unity?”

“An excellent question, sir! Most excellent!”

Thomas could see that most of them had already accepted the concept and were already thinking as fast as they could about what might be required to achieve the goal. They knew him. They knew that he did extremely little without a very good reason. He was the head of the debate club for more than just the mere circumstance of having begun it.

“We are not talking mere years or decades, gentlemen. Or even just a few generations. The timescale involved might be a thousand years, or more. Or it could be just a few centuries.

“The ultimate success of instituting global unity chiefly depends on a number of things, gentlemen. How well the future members of this group understand what we are attempting. How dedicated they are to be making definite progress in that direction. The things that must be done to see it put in place. What the conditions are that exist at the time, and what they will bear. It may be that decades are required between each step.

“Change, gentlemen. A great many things must change. Those changes will not be small. Fundamental change. Fundamental. Yes. But, as always, change will be resisted. The resistance to any steps that needs must be taken will be absolutely crucial to the timing of taking them.”


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