Another free short - check it out andlet me know what you think - the below is the inspiration for Universe One - if any of you guys checked it out.
Commander Seres stood straight and proud on the flight deck of the Icaran. He was a tall man for his caste, well over two and a half metres, with an athletic build, a shaven head and – despite the years of hard service – a face that was craggy rather than ravaged by war and time. The life of a dog soldier had been good to him and his exploits had earned him the respect of the Icaran’s crew and their agreement to his leadership.
It was only a small transport and research vessel connected to a larger city ship but it held three hundred men and women and even a few children, all under his command. It was a position he had never hoped for in the early days but now, after a decade in charge, he had grown into the habit of salutes and respect without having to earn it in battle with someone, or something. The men and women he saw every day were more than his battle brothers from a former life: they were friends, and they were family. Leadership was sometimes lonely but he could, through the framework of the ship’s hierarchy, form lasting relationships with both the young and the old like himself. It gave him a sense of satisfaction he had never had in a battle group; the sense that he could be part of the next generation.
The flight deck was gunmetal grey, the flooring a steel meshwork on top of rivers of cables and pipes that regulated the thousand systems the crew relied on for air, food, energy and their transport across the galaxy. Long and thin, the deck’s edges were lined by consoles where the crew controlled the various parts of the ship. Three technicians on either side and the two pilots at the head, at the tip of the craft’s fluid angularity. Its shape seen from above was reminiscent of the flying lizards that Seres had spent time swatting from his food on a primordial planet years before.
The pilots moved deftly in their tasks. Genetically enhanced to improve their reactions and control the three hundred metres of space ship: wired into the engines and steering as well as each other. One knew instantly what the other was doing; although they could turn the systems off when not aboard, it was vital that if something befell one pilot during active service, the other knew. The skill of these men was beyond value, their brains unconsciously controlling the rapid movements and minute course changes required along any flight path.
Seres stood just behind them. He had always found their type fascinating. Unlike many who had been enhanced genetically either before or after birth, they showed no physiological difference to other mortals. He himself had been gifted a developed skeletal structure, the ability to shift his size and probably still his shape if he concentrated hard enough on the task, as well as his abilities as a soldier. Even when, after seven hundred years, he had finally retired that portion of his life, he kept the size and musculature he had become so very used to. In contrast the pilots looked just like any other men; the only change was in their minds, their processing power dramatically enhanced to give them the ability to control a million tons of fast-moving cruiser. Connections made and fused in an organic computer that matched even the greatest minds of humanity. Seres had been told the rumour that their actual intelligence, their cognitive powers outside the realm of the flight deck, was lessened slightly. He thought it had some merit, pilots being often the last to click when an idea or a joke was being batted around, although their position prevented any attempt to take advantage of that loss of social pace. They were treated with respect. And in any case with their training it didn’t matter.
As long as they did their duty by the crew and the ship, Seres didn’t care.
The jump through the dimension drift was going without a hitch. With the latest anti-matter engines aboard the ship could halve the time it took to drift to their next port of call. It was a luxury at last to have no reliance on inhabited star systems or the power capacitors of the colonised stars, the reserves being enough to voyage for over three years before the habitual refuelling at any one of a thousand ringed planets to have begun the production of refined antimatter.
He paced between the rows of computer terminals that lined the path to the cockpit proper where the two pilots sat. Technicians monitored the gravitational pull of the objects in real space, as they called it. Real space didn’t seem to be the best way of describing the universe that they lived in. They lived in ten dimensional space time rather than three dimensions that were visible to the human eye. Although this was the only other element they could traverse through, and even then at great care. Seres didn’t like to dwell on it, but every drift into the blackness of the dimension jump left him thinking of those who went away and never reappeared. The darkness of space travel was a painful step into the unknown that he did not like to endure for long. The view screen at the front of the ship revealed nothing but the blue glow of the space-time bubble around the ship, effectively giving them a zero mass.
It was nearly impossible to see into the dimension drift, although occasionally he thought he saw shadows at play behind the energy that shielded them. Shapes and patterns that his eyes and mind turned over and tried to make sense of, but never could. At any rate, without the bubble they would immediately be expelled, most probably in a billion pieces. Although gravity was experienced in this dimension, energy could not be, thus the need to remain within the bubble. He had gone through a phase of having the computer simulate the star systems they were passing on the view screen, but in the end he would always turn it back to the blue glaze.
His presence on the flight deck was in order to be one of the first to see the star they were travelling to. It was his relief, his moment to exhale and briefly to assume that he and his crew were safe again, at least until the next foray into the unknown. Like a swimmer coming up for air, he was suffocated by the confines of the dimension jump and longed for the colour of the universe proper.
‘Coming out in five, four…’ the co-pilot began. Seres listened to the rest of the count with his eyes closed opening them only when the Pilot remarked ‘oh dear’. He was sorely disappointed with what he saw.
Watching from a distance the crew of the Unnamed watched the ship pop into their dimension and immediately career off course towards the danger they had just narrowly avoided. The captain ran a gnarled hand through his shock of erratic white hair and exchanged a smile with Stephen.
‘I see them’ the anxious call. Alan’s tweed coat flapping. There was anxiety in the rag tag crew of misfits. They had escaped one disaster and had launched themselves into yet more peril.
The craft they were watching had come out of its dimension jump too close to what it thought was a star. The black dwarf had too much pull and the miscalculation would cost them. By all rights they would be sucked in without hope of escape.
‘There must be a way?’ Nikola muttered in his clipped Balkan tones.
‘There always is’ said the tall Austrian.
‘OK but how Ludwig’ Alan blurted.
It had not always been so, life had changed. Alan recalled only a few days before an air raid had been continuing without respite. 1940 was not a good year to be in
under the kitchen table continuing to work, the note books out in front of him
he had felt the ground shake and realized there was a strike nearby. With the
failure at London
it was only a matter of time before the inevitable invasion. The only thing
standing in the way was the air force at the moment; they numbered a few
thousand men and the fighters they could get off the production line. He
doubted they could save the nation without the hundred thousand troops captured
in Dunkirk .
Regardless of the dire situation he had a responsibility and would finish it
regardless of the irritation of high explosives. Another explosion erupted too
close for comfort. France
‘Shit’ Alan had fallen flat and waited. The noises moved off. The bomber’s first strike obviously. He shone the flashlight at the kitchen, a few broken panes of glass and a mug he liked were in pieces, but the rest of the house seemed fine. He stayed put and continued to work. The numbers in the notebooks dancing in front of him. His mind whirred and he played with the possibilities of the codes and the codes within codes that could be the secret to unlocking the elements he had before him. He needed something more logical than his own brain to achieve this, and certainly something that did not react badly to being kept up at all hours by bomber plans or fear or an impatient Prime Minister. If only he had got the train when he could instead of waiting around to see that blasted lawyer. A sale of a house in war time should not be that much of a deal, it was no where the Germans would want to bomb, yet to sell he needed far too much approval, it seemed an honest waste of the lawyer’s brain power, his money and both men’s time.
He had kept watch a short while before realising the ridiculousness of his vigil. He could see only the faintest glow of the fires through the blacked out, taped up windows. He switched the flashlight back to the papers he was working on and continued to cogitate. The bangs and thunder grew ever distant, from his flat in
he felt the direction was to the East. The docks were getting a hammering
again. The supplies being loaded in the Thames were minimal now but it was
still a place of high population. The people there would be the ones to suffer.
We could always build more boats, but not more people. That took a while. Westminster
He turned back to the numbers, irritated that his thoughts kept turning to the people, to the men and women, to the friends, although he had few, his manner and his shy approach to others kept people at arms length. He focused. He would get the numbers. But he would not get out from under this table. He rolled his jacket up and lay down; placing it under his head he held the notebook aloft, flashlight shining at it. He tried flashing the light on and off, moving the book, flicking the pages. He lay the book on his chest and switched off the light, trying to think. Fear of the dark, fear of the next bomb to drop made his heart race, but he scolded his brain and turned it back, working through the numbers in his mind, moving them, manipulating them, seeing the code. He pulled his pencil to the back page he knew was blank and in the dark wrote for three minutes before resting again and drifting off to the rumble in the distance.
Another Crash and a shriek. This time far too close.
Alan crawled from under the table to find the house keeper on all fours by his side. Tartan skirt rucked to her thighs and a bag of potatoes spilt and rolling across the floor.
‘What are you doing sir?’ she squawked, hurriedly rolling her skirts to cover the blotchy, limbs.
Alan helped the matron up. The short round woman looked cross for a minute before becoming a mother. She dusted him down before herself. She slapped the grime out of his lapels especially, before coming too close to his backside for comfort.
‘I’ll let you dust that down. Have you been under that damned table all night again sir?’ she enquired while finishing to brush the worst of the grime from her skirts.
‘Yes Mrs Havelock’ said Alan, ‘although I believe it has paid off this time.’
‘Jolly good sir’ she said, leaving her enquiry at that. A religious devotion to duty meant that Mrs Havelock had never asked a single question about Alan’s work, only that he worked for the Prime Minister and that if captured by Nazis she wanted no more information in her head than she needed. ‘I will not put you in danger by making conversation’ she had said.
Alan liked it this way, he was not able to speak with people easily and his nervousness at the ‘park’ had been treated as a sort of joke, despite his breakthroughs. When he did want to converse with his housekeeper in London he was only occasionally able to start conversations that did not fly in the face of Mrs Havelock’s national security rules and regulations.
He looked down in his hand at the notes he had made during the last few minutes of the night. The rest of numbers on the sheets no longer swam or moved. They were pinned between his own notes and figures, trapped in his mind by a set of rules that explained them, or at the very least allowed them to be explained. Maybe, just maybe they could start to pre-empt the raids, get the fighters in the air before they hit the Dover Cliffs. It would be the only way.
He turned to Mrs Havelock and started to ask a question, wanting to share his triumph in as low key way as he could, she waited expectantly, but he could not find the words, it was always the words that failed him.
He held up the red notebook like a referee sending off an unfortunate player and simply said, ‘Gotcha!’
The ship shook violently under Seres feet and the expected star did not appear on the view screens before him. Nothing but a darkness against the stars. There was immediate panic as the Icaran was bombarded with what felt like asteroids; the lesser energy shields absorbed most of the impact but from the displays to his left Seres could tell they had suffered at least one breach. A massive jolt hit the port side of the craft slowing it to minimum power, sending a young girl in a blue jumpsuit flying from her station to land on the floor at Seres’ feet. He hoisted her up with his massive arms and sat her down again as a parent would a child. She immediately went back to her work as if nothing had happened. In the whole experience Seres would reflect later that she had been the best of his command crew, simply because he did not notice her fear while the others were yelling or calling for information or help.
‘Calm!’ he barked. The noise stopped immediately. Seres stood straight, running a hand over his shaven head.
‘Where are we?’ he asked the pilot, yelling the length of the ten-metre flight deck.
‘Exactly where we’re supposed to be,’ the rapid nasal response came back.
‘Then where are the star and the planets?’ a technician wailed, standing and pointing at the shadows ahead of the ship.
Seres took a step and placed his hands on the nervous technician’s shoulders, his massive paws gentle on the technician’s neck, and leaning in, he whispered kindly in his ear. The tech, through fear and a feeling of calm exuded by his captain, ceased wailing and slumped into his chair, his eyes focused on his own screen, not wanting and not daring to look back up at the monster before them, getting ever closer.
The space-time bubble had remained functional at its lesser extent. It was a failsafe to allow them to ride through just such a possibility. The shell surrounding the ship protected it from the bulk of any physical damage, although the concussion was still felt across all eleven decks of the craft and according to the readouts had obviously caused a tear in the cargo bay. Thankfully, the habitation decks had not been affected. Nevertheless the possibility of what they were seeing was not something any of them had prepared for.
‘There,’ Seres said. ‘Enlarge the centre section of the screen.’ Before them lay the star they had expected to see, black against the deep forever of space: no more the bright red giant but burnt beyond recognition.
‘Black Dwarf!’ Seres yelled over his shoulder. ‘Black Dwarf!’
December 1926, how the hell did it get to December? Ludwig Witgenstein looked at the calendar page for a few moments. Sat at his desk in the forward command post he was used to more comfortable situations than this. He liked to have music and at least one book around. But he was here and had to make the best of it. An adjutant walked in and snapped a salute.
‘Yes?’ Ludwig asked.
‘The three prisoners are ready for their interrogations Colonel’ the moustache growled. He was a short man but effective in the current climate. Ludwig had responsibility for intelligence in the Northern front push against the communist insurgents who had taken hold of the Prussian, Polish border. He did not relish the action but it needed doing. The government was not strong and with the attempted coup by the Spartacists managing to almost derail the entire democratic process the year before it was vital that ay remnants of the disease of communism was removed. Ludwig had noting against the communist ideology, but he had his orders. They needed to know where the bastards would hit next, and more importantly how to get hold of their leader, the almost messianic blank.
‘I’m coming’ said Ludwig. He pulled his overcoat on. The snow was not too deep, but the temperature had plummeted to well below zero. He had a habit of picking up stupid illnesses on campaigns. He had managed to get ill twice in the Great War, in between claming his medals. Artillery factory to western front he had fought alongside men who he would not normally have looked twice at. His time in
had given him a respect for
knowledge, but his time on the fronts next to what he had always regarded as he
scum of the earth had given him greater respect for people’s capacity for
bravery. He had led by example, charging guns and showing utter calm under the
most intense fire. The military Merit and Silver medal were followed by two
Iron Cross awards for the Battle of Bapaume. At 37 he was the youngest full
colonel in the reformed Greater German Army after the Stalemate agreement was
Walking outside for the first time in two days the air struck Ludwig making him glad of his scarf and gloves. He whistled to himself a Mozart theme as he strolled along the cobbles of the half decent Polish town. It was early morning and the population was still not up and out. Their presence had sent many of the men running for the hills and many of the women, fearing the deserved reputation of the troops locked their doors and only scurried too and from their hovels when absolutely necessary. The Seargent led him to the barn holding the captured men. Ludwig was dismayed when he walked in They were hardly prepared. The men, having been left alone with the prisoners had decided to have some sport. All three tied to wooden kitchen chairs liberated from a nearby house, one was on his back, coughing and probably choking on his own blood; one was receiving the attentions of an overzealous private and one, still left alone was screaming at the soldiers watching and laughing to help his prone friend.
The very presence of ‘the colonel’ in the barn sent the men into a quiet reflection. Only the aggressive guard, still slapping the face of the battered and bruised man failed to notice.
‘Corporal’ said Ludwig. The man stopped immediately. He turned and faced his commander.
‘Sir’ he saluted.
‘What happened?’ Ludwig asked.
‘It just seemed to start sir’ the man trembled as he spoke.
‘You had orders to watch them?’ Ludwig asked, his calmness building the tension in the others around him.
‘Sir’ the soldier stood ramrod straight.
‘You have disobeyed an order’ said Ludwig. The words provoked a gulp of expectation from the men in the barn. Disobeying an order could result in the death of a soldier, summary execution or even being shot out of hand was not unusual.
‘Be thankful’ said Ludwig, ‘that I have use for you Private.’ The man almost wet himself in relief. The immediate demotion and probable loss of a months pay was like winning a lottery. ‘Now get out of my sight. Sergeant, please educate the Private on why he does not beat defenceless men.’ The moustache frogmarched the still trembling Private outside. The man would appear later with a face black and blue, teeth would be missing and his nose broken, however his eyes and his hands and his feet would remain untouched. The Sergeant knew the value of an extra rifle and Ludwig knew he would gain the man’s loyalty for a short while as he now owed him his life.
Ludwig turned to the one man left untouched by the disobedient soldier’s ministrations.
‘Young man’ he said, ‘do you speak German?’ There was no movement, Ludwig continued, ‘French? English? Dutch? Russian?’ Ludwig rattled off the names with fluency watching the man’s expression. His eyes flickered as he said Russian. Ludwig transferred to the language immediately.
‘Listen carefully’ he said in a close whisper, ‘the man I just set outside was punished for attacking your friends. I have no intention of hurting you or allowing you to be hurt if you help us. However I have every intention of killing you if you do not. Do you believe me?’ The man nodded slowly.
‘Excellent’ said Ludwig, ‘I have one question then, where is the weapon’s cache?’
‘I am just visiting my…’
The man had no time to finish his sentence, as Ludwig pulled a pistol from his belt and fired the gun next to his ear. The bullet buried itself in the floor, the man screamed.
‘Bear in mind’ Ludwig said, ‘that I have no problem killing you, I am trying to stop a civil war in this area, expel the communist menace and hopefully save Germany from falling into the same ravaged state as Italy. Now, shall we try again?’
‘I er’ the man stammered.
‘Do you believe in God young man?’ Ludwig whispered in the ear he had not deafened. ‘I used to, and then I saw the terrible things that could happen to believers and non believers alike. I used to carry the gospels around with me. I used to recommend passages to my men. But it was all a placebo, a drug that worked only if you believed it would. Be of no doubt my young friend, there is no God, but even if there is a some subtle hint of hope in your heart, some element of you that still thinks that he may reach down and save you from this bullock freezing barn; be clear that God, if he exists, does not give one fuck about you, me or this wretched country. We are alone suckling at the teats of the gods we create for ourselves. For you it is this wretched politic, for me it is my duty to the people around me.’ Ludwig looked behind him to the men who had entered the barn. ‘Believe me young man, my god is a vengeful god and it will have its sacrifice. Now, where is the weapon’s cache?’
The ship shook violently again as the picture loomed before the whole flight crew.
‘Sir, we have a gravitational issue,’ the pilot said. ‘The star is pulling us in.’
‘It can’t be,’ said Seres. ‘We arrived just where we should have.’
‘No, sir,’ the co-pilot explained. ‘Gravity permeates the dimension jump. Because of the explosion and subsequent shrinking of the star, no doubt we were pulled into space further along than we should have been. We’re ... we’re effectively inside the previous sphere of the star, sir.’
Silence greeted this terrifying prospect. Seres strode to the front of the ship and knelt between the two men, their hands still moving and eyes rapidly blinking as they fought to take control of the ship.
‘Give me the worst,’ he said softly.
‘Crash and explode,’ said the pilot bluntly. Visibly straining, he was sweating, making minute movements as the processors controlling the ship fired his synapses.
‘The best?’ asked Seres.
‘A similar first part, I don’t think I can stop it. We’re going to have to risk a landing, and then possible survival on the surface of the star for up to a month given the power we have available.’
‘Possible once we go down,’ answered the pilot. ‘We can try to calculate for a drift going through the planet. If we attempt it now and fail we lose all power, no controlled landing and probable death for all aboard.’
‘There are four, sir, they hold seventeen people each. The rest of the ship is designed to function as autonomous life rafts, but they would fail to escape from the gravity well of the star.’
‘Then we go for the best possible course,’ said Seres, standing up. Their odds of survival if they tried to break free now were low. They could try to jump back into a dimension drift, but without precise calculations they might find themselves lost, stranded or dead. There was no way to control the ship through the precise manoeuvres. He took a step back. ‘I’ve always wanted to walk on the surface of a star,’ he muttered.
Then, ‘all available power to the gravity field,’ he yelled loudly over his shoulder. They were going to need it.
The pilot fired a series of thrusters to try to steady their descent. The space-time bubble had burst by now, and recreation of it was probably impossible and would certainly have cost the ship most of the power that remained in reserve. Seres was concerned but he had got out of tighter spots than this. He stood upright in the middle of the deck. His knowledge of flight mechanics was minimal; the only thing he could do was be a leader right now. The right example and the right figure for adversity. That was the best he could be. He reached for the communications array for the ship and when he spoke, his voice was clear and firm.
‘Icaran,’ he said, ‘prepare for crash landing. Brace for impact, brace for impact. ’
As his command reverberated around the ship, Seres kept his eyes fixed on the surface of the scarred rock they were heading towards. The surface loomed black under the ship’s strong landing lights. The craft stuttered, the pilot fighting against the ever-increasing speed as they sped towards the massive ball of black, its surface filling the whole view screen until the pilot pulled up at the last moment. The ship’s pointed prow miraculously did not dig in, the hull bumping along the impacted carbon surface with minimal debris. With the force shields acting as a cushion against an otherwise fatal impact, they finally slid to a halt.
‘Fucking Einstein’ Nikola Tesla grumbled at the newspaper he had just read. He threw it at the pile of papers he had been reviewing, taken from the library just the day before. 1918, a war on and there was still news of the German genius on every page. He wasn’t that special. He sipped gain at his rough coffee and stared out of his basement window at the feet of a hundred people passing every moment; his New York home, his palace in the new world, his prison of obscurity. He managed another gulp before the bitter cud at the bottom of the cup touched his lips. He spat it back out and looked again at the paper. The maid he employed for an hour a day moved behind him, placing things in order, the pieces of the puzzles he created for himself, the papers and pieces of metal in tidy piles for Tesla to get cross about later and reorganise in a flurry.
‘Something in the paper’ she asked.
‘That blasted German’ said Tesla. ‘And his curved space’ he threw the paper down, ‘it’s nonsense, space cannot be curved, there’s nothing in it! It’s like saying that God has properties we can see and feel.’
‘Sometimes you can feel God’ the girl said meekly, ‘I go to church every Sunday and my mother says that…’ Tesla cut her off.
‘Not like that’ he said, ‘those aren’t properties, they aren’t length and width and weight, those are attributes that you feel, your interpretation of the words of the hymns, of the prayers of the priests sermon, that isn’t properties, you aren’t feeling God, someone is making you feel that way, not God.’
The maid gave up quickly and continued to scrub down the kitchen area of the apartment. Tesla went back to his notes. The pile of unfilled patent applications on his table. His inability to go forward was a crippling disability. He had arrived in the states years ago and now with the deaths of those closest to him he was alone again and tinkering in the basement of this building wit the ideas that had intrigued him as a young man before he had started to work for the Ford company. His income from the shares he had been given was enough to survive as a man of leisure, to a point, but his half formed plans and unformed ideas on the nature of the universe plagued him. He would be better to spend his final few years socialising, making talk, seeing opera or maybe returning to his homeland, but the pain in his mind, the gaps he wanted to fill were more of a draw. He yearned to be able to satiate the hunger he felt for those missing pieces. If only he had the confidence to push himself out of his building, maybe to the university. Maybe just to talk to someone.
He looked over the papers again. Plans for motors and coils, an interest in magnetic fields that he was sure could power greater amounts of energy, the ideas he had about wireless energy and field emission sat next to aborted plans concerning a hundred other ideas. He poured himself another cup of coffee. Today he would not think about these things, he would not regret, he would simply take solace in thoughts about his latest interest. He got up and walked towards the machine in the corner of the room. A small turbine using three magnetic fields as well as that of the earth itself it had been turning slowly for a week now. The power generation was feeding into the light bulb, glowing dimly atop the self directly above it. The energy field feeding directly into the element of the bulb. No wires. Tesla smiled.
He moved towards it and for a moment wondered. It was one of those ‘what if’ moments and Tesla made the adjustments to one of the Magnets and stood back. The maid came back in, bustling in her childish way, picking things up and putting them down. Tesla watched her as she cleared away the breakfast she had made him. He was filled with disgust at that point. She was young and innocent, able to do so much and yet she would accomplish, like him, so very little. He breathed heavily, trying to shake the melancholy from his mind. Wishing he wasn’t sat making wishes but rather doing something, pushing forward. She looked up and smiled at him, he eyes caught the bulb on the shelf.
‘That’s interesting’ she said.
‘What is?’ Tesla asked.
‘Your bulb’ she said, ‘it’s getting brighter.’
‘Gravity got the better of the last section of the land, sir, I’m sorry.’ The pilot turned around, anxious not to have displeased his captain. Seres just smiled.
‘You have done the impossible, Haft. We are alive,’ said Seres. He looked out at the desolate waste of the landscape, wondering again how far he had come and what the chances were of survival to the next refuelling stop. He soon returned to his default position. They were stranded, with little hope of any rescue. He would order a distress beacon to be sent up, but the chances of anyone hearing it within a thousand years were slim. In cases like this it was up to the leader to show that life could continue, and the world was not as scary as it perhaps suggested itself to be. But then Seres took a long look through the view screen at their captor and realised they were dead. They just did not understand that fact. The black dwarf star should not be here. The chances of something like this occurring were infinitesimally small over a million years. Seres had been to this system before, albeit a thousand years before, but this now carbon heavy star should not be able to exist. The power drain and forced fusion as well as immediate cooling would require an event of such barbarous negligence that no human or indeed any other species would be capable. He was worried for his crew and for the ship. The circumstances were beyond dangerous and dire; there was little chance they would ever be able to find a way off this cold chunk of stellar ash. He almost smiled to himself; he now had the luxury to be as brave as he could ever be, with no consequences other than the inevitable. He turned to his crew with a flourish.
‘Is the gravity shield extended around the ship?’
‘It is, it is,’ said the calmed technician, ‘but it can be pushed out by a further five hundred metres with little effect on the power reserves.’
‘Excellent,’ said Seres. He paused. ‘Who wants to go for a walk?’
Much to his delight the waif he had placed back in her seat during the turbulence was the first to stand up. He walked to the exit, throwing his arm around the girl as he went.
‘Let’s go then,’ he suggested. He was even starting to believe his own confident lie as he took five strides towards the exit. He could feel the incredulous stares of his crew at his back. If he believed he was a dead man, maybe he could use that for just long enough to convince them they could live.
The weather was hot. The final day of the three day game between
and the M.C.C. at Lords was proving a dull affair, petering out to a draw. The
M.C.C. already ahead by a handful of Runs with just twelve overs before the
game would be called. Cambridge University
Stephen looked down the wicket at the batsman again. His hand gripped the red ball firmly, his right hand, index and middle finger flexed, feeling the subtle give of the red leather. He ripped the ball, it fizzed in the air and he caught it again. A show, a pantomime for the man at the other end. He was not fast, he was not going to crash a bouncer into the man’s head, but he was dangerous enough.
Stephen’s bowling action was a simple one. He did not run but rather walked with rhythmical pace. His arm swinging up, pointing at the batsman before windmilling round as he delivered the ball. Twenty two yards of flat dusty pitch on the fourth day. Cambridge were in a rut, but if he could just get this one man out, this irritating groundstaff jock playing for the MCC he could give them half a sniff at a victory. The batting to come for them was weak, nine ten and jack on a pitch that was turning; he needed to get into those men. With twelve overs left in the day they could be skittled out, but this kid, this arrogant all rounder was blasting people all over the ground. He couldn’t win, but he was like a Leonidas, wanting to rage against the ever encroaching hordes. He had been in for two hours and had made ninety three. Light hair, his name was John, or Ian? Stephen didn’t care, he just needed him out.
Stephen took his first step and bowled. The ball tossed high, but undercut, the rotations dipping the ball at the batsman’s feet as he skipped down the pitch, his bat already through the shot the red ball turned off the pitch through the gap between bat and his pads. Bouncing high it was taken by the wicketkeeper who brought his hands down onto the stumps and missed. Stephen held his head in his hands as the batsman regained his ground laughing. The ball was tossed back to Stephen by an apologetic wicket keeper.
‘You owe me a pint’ Stephen said through gritted teeth.
‘Try again proffessor’ the fortuitous batsman called.
Stephen wound up again, his delivery in anger was wrong, too full, too fast the batsman’s eyes lit up and he sent the ball straight back over the bowler’s head seventy yards. The ball clattering into the pavilion steps, sending the dozing members into a fury, their slumber roused.
‘Wake up’ The batsman called.
The captain jogged over to Stephen. He was a young undergrad who was being pushed through a degree in land management on his way to captaining
‘Easy Prof’ he said.
‘Its fine’ Stephen reassured him. ‘Remember which one of us plays for
He skipper laughed. Stephen had gained his first cap last summer at the Oval. Taking three wickets in the second innings on a dusty pitch. It was his only game, finishing the doctorate taking priority, Stephen desperate to get it done before he was thirty.
Stephen wound up again. He looked at the batsman. The ball would turn past the edge, but his hands were too quick. The answer was to slow it down. He bowled his off break, fingers wrapping round the ball turning it into the batsman from well outside the off stump. He ball hit the turf, a puff of dust erupted off the surface. The batsman was again through his stroke too soon, not reading the turn right he watched in horror as the ball clattered into the stumps.
The batsman, out on ninety nine tucked his bat under his arm and strode off, nodding politely to Stephen as he went.
‘I’ll have to remember him’ said the captain.
‘Commander Seres?’ Juval, his second-in-command, came running down the corridor as the captain with his three volunteers for the star walk were making their final preparations. Even the waif looked ready for the adventure, buoyed up by the joking and playful men he had at either side. His medical officer and the chief science officer had both been keen and volunteered immediately after their youthful companion.
‘Change your mind, Juval?’ Seres smirked.
‘Hardly, sir,’ said Juval. ‘I value my life and the command of the ship. Should you be incinerated in a solar sinkhole, we have no way of knowing how deep the burnout of this star goes.’
‘This is the work of those bastards though, isn’t it?’ the science officer chimed in.
‘I don’t doubt it,’ said Seres, turning back to Juval. ‘Now what do you want?’
‘It’s another ship, sir,’ said Juval.
‘What, in orbit?’
‘No sir, it’s outside.’
‘Impossible,’ said Seres. ‘We saw nothing when we landed?’ He looked at the waif, Sypo, who shook her head in confirmation.
‘Well, it’s a good thing I’m dressed up then, isn’t it?’ he frowned. ‘How far away is it?’
‘About a hundred metres,’ said Juval. ‘It has extended its own grav field over ours, taking some of the strain from our engines.’
Seres raised an eyebrow. ‘Keep ours ready to take the strain back should they fail to continue their hospitality.’
He dismissed his executive officer with a wave and finalized his preparations. They made their way through the air lock system that extended out underneath the nose cone, the hydraulics bringing them down to the surface. The doors opened to a sea of black glass, the other ship in the distance almost invisible against the alien scene. Stepping outside the men felt the effects of the gravity shields take hold and keep them firmly within normal gravity. The batteries would not last long though. Seres kicked at the surface. Like tempered steel with a glassy sheen: no dust flew up, even in the false gravity. Across the desolation Seres could see from the other ship a singular figure striding across the surface towards him. The ship was human and modern in design, although the markings were unusual for a transport. It had obviously had some form of modification done as the engine block at the back was at least three times the size of his own ship’s, which was itself three times the size of the transport. Seres stoopd and waited for the man who seemed to gambol enthusiastically.
It had been a week since their kidnap, two days since their escape and ten minutes of a gentle stroll before he saw just how big the stranger from the crashed ship was. While he walked he thought about how to explain who he was. Surely in this universe there were stranger things than him. He was out of place, out of his own reality according to all reasonable investigation. A mad experiment by a scientist with too much time on his hands and a passion for the past. He, the others, all snatched from their own times by technology their captor didn’t understand, let alone him.
He had been at a party. It was going rather well, he had danced, made merry, then he suddenly felt like he could taste the colour blue and that was it. In an instant he was aboard a ship floating in the dead of space.
The others were the same.
People he recognised, some people he knew but did not know. Taken from their worlds and alternate earths to converge on this far distant time: ten thousand years later.
It had been easy enough to depart their prison. When you trap minds like that together they soon realise that a gilded cage is still a cage. But now what? A ship at their command they stumbled into this.
Their captors would have left the stricken people, but what good was technology if you didn’t use it to help your fellow man.
In the end that was all they could offer a universe that had forgotten Earth. A touch of humanity.
Seres marvelled at the bizzare terrain. The star had begun the process of turning into a black dwarf, a roaming lump of coal in space. Although black dwarfs would usually form over thousands of years some massive power drain had crusted the star completely. Seres guessed that it was no more than a third the size of an average planet, perhaps even as small as a moon. The problem was the gravity. Without the suits and the space time bubble extending from the ship to dull the effects they would all be much shorter; in fact, becoming part of the surface of the star. If the process went the wrong way this could get nasty. They had power to survive for a short while, but being crushed by a star collapsing in on itself to the extent it became a singularity would certainly not be how Seres would want to end his days.
The approaching figure, dressed in human gear, was shorter than he expected and the suit, designed for a man of seven or eight feet in height gave the unlikely appearance of a child in oversized clothing. The visitor came to a halt a few yards before Seres, flipped the face screen to clear, and now Seres could see the small man inside.
‘My name’s Albert,’ he said with a thick German accent, ‘and we’ve come to give you a hand’.