The Second Age of Man
To Save a Planet
They circled the planet as Juno quietly asked, “Is Abner and his crew ready for this, Commander?”
“At your command, Captain.”
“Very well, let’s kill those five.”
Juno began the ruse by speaking into the com-link monitored by Fleet.
“Abner, return to formation immediately!”
“There’s a crew remaining on the planet, Captain, we’re going to recover them. We will join you in orbit,” Abner replied.
“Abner, you can’t do it alone. We will recover them after the quakes subside!”
“No time, Captain, it’ll be safe enough.”
“Return to formation immediately, Lieutenant!”
“Abner …” she repeated after a few seconds.
Again, she called, “Abner…!”
Fleet interceded, as she knew they would. “Is there a problem, Argo?” Juno waited to reply.
“Captain Juno, Commander Jacob, is there a problem? Should we dispatch a rescue crew?” A nervous Fleet communications officer asked.
“You’re three days away, Fleet. There’ll be nothing left by the time a crew arrives. We have a crew left on the planet. Abner’s gone to retrieve them, Sir,” she replied, as she signaled Eve to cut communications with Fleet.
“Penelope, this is it! Let’s get The Savior ready for departure. Are her links activated?”
“Aye, Captain, receiving telemetry from The Savior and its probes; the computers are storing the data into the separate database. We will maintain the link until they’re out of range.”
“Captain Abner, are you ready for departure?”
“Ah … yes, Captain. Thank you. We will never forget this.”
“Godspeed, Savior. We’ll maintain a link as long as possible.”
“Farewell, Argo,” Abner said, as he plotted the prescribed course and set speed at plus-four. The five crewmen set off on a direct path to Eden as the Argo made one final orbit around Cyprus.
“Plot course for Fleet and leave orbit at SNS.” Juno ordered.
“SNS, Captain?” the pilot asked.
“Space normal speed, Lieutenant! We have some time to kill before we return to Fleet.”
“Helm, I’ll be in my ready room. Commanders, if you will join me, please,” she ordered as she left the helm.
She entered her ready room and said, “Computer, privacy: Juno alpha one!” The commanders followed her in.
“Space normal speed, Juno?” Jacob asked.
“Yes, let Fleet sweat a little before we reopen the com-link. Besides, there is an accident taking place on the planet, remember? We can’t get too far away from the planet, we’re recording the accident.”
“We are?” Jacob said, surprised.
She ordered several other people to her ready room and said, “Make yourselves comfortable, there’s food and drink for everyone.”
She sat at her console and watched as the planet slowly faded from view; Penny, Tel, U and Lee arrived and stood by her console. Without turning she said, “At ease, and thank you for coming, are Rachel and Esther coming?”
“Yes, Captain, they’re setting The Savior’s links and recording the accident.”
“Very well,” she said, “relax, people, no one is in trouble here. You can cut the tension in the air with a knife, is there anything wrong?”
“We just don’t know what we’re doin’ here, Juno, we got a ship ta fly, y’know.”
“And very well trained crews to do it, Jacob,” she interrupted. “Relax, please. All of you relax.”
“How can you relax, Captain, this is the largest conspiracy I’ve ever been involved in. If Fleet finds out, they’ll have our heads.”
“How many people have you told about this, Tel?” she asked, trying to reason with him.
“No one, Sir, there’s too many people involved as it is.”
“Then there should be no problem, Tel. The only people that know about this, besides Abner and his crew, are in this room.”
“But you and Jared are officers. You’re part of Fleet. We’re not used to confiding in officers,” Lee stammered.
“Waitaminit, Lee,” Jacob interrupted. “This was Juno’s idea and Marcus knows about it.”
“What! We’ve got to change course. Let’s go with Abner; Marcus’ll have guards waitin’ on us.”
“To do what, U? Arrest his children for conspiring against Fleet.” Jacob said.
“Relax, people,” Juno interrupted, “As soon as Esther and Rachel arrive, we can talk about this.”
“Ain’t nuttin’ ta talk’bout, Cap’n. Our fate’s sealed; Fleet’ll have our heads. Caligula and Herod will see to that!” Tel said, frightened.
“Esther; Rachel; how much longer?” Juno called out on ship’s intercom.
“Almost there, Juno, relax. This had to be done, couldn’t be helped.”
“I am sorry, Rachel. These people are getting antsy. Please hurry.”
“We’re all antsy, Captain. This doesn’t happen often,” Esther said, as they walked into the ready room.
“How can you be so calm, Esther?” Lee asked, as she walked to the terminal and inserted a holo-disc into it.
“Watch, Lee,” she said, as the screen came alive with grainy images of a shuttle and a glider being incinerated by the lava flow. They sat amazed, as the horrendous accident played out in front of them. People ran from the lava and entered the glider as lava caught up with them. The people jumped onto the roof of the glider and tried to leap into the shuttle’s open cargo bay from the top of the glider. Abner’s voice could be heard telling them to hurry as a splash of lava engulfed the front of the shuttle and it dropped into the flowing lava and suddenly, the screen went blank.
“How did we get those images?” Penny asked, as the rest sat amazed.
“Thank you, Rachel,” Juno said. “Does Fleet know about this, yet?”
“Only the time lag to them remains, Captain. We’re transmitting as we speak; we need to start flooding the link with related chatter. We should be hearing from them in a while. That’s how much time we’ve got to get ourselves together. Everything has been routed into this room only, Captain. The crew has no idea what’s happening in here.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the only time that they can catch us in this ruse. Our physiological responses will be monitored by Fleet. Esther has disabled the visual monitors; Fleet can only hear our reactions to this disaster as they watch what you’ve just seen. When this is finished we’ll talk about it, not before. Let’s give Abner a good send-off.” She signaled Rachel and said, “Computer, synchronize and adjust time factor to current transmission and begin transmitting.”
“Abner, hurry the lava is almost to the glider…” Rachel called out.
“Get on top of the glider and jump into the cargo bay, we’ve got time.
Hurry up you guys!” Abner’s prepared reply filled the room.
“Argo six, you don’t have enough time, get back to the ship.” Juno said.
“I can’t leave them, Cap’n.” Abner replied, with a trembling voice.
Jacob yelled, excited, “You don’t have time, Abner! The lava is moving too fast.”
They continued calling out as they watched the scene play out, until the screen went blank.
Fleet’s response was swift, “Argo, can you replay the projection for us.”
“We’re a little busy here, Fleet! Let us get our crew calmed down and we will file the report,” Juno said, as she signaled Rachel to sever the connection once again and return to private mode.
“Do ya think they bought it, Cap’n?” Lee asked.
“If you were on the mother ship, would you, Lee?” she asked.
“I think so, Cap’n. Distance is on our side. It’s hard to tell what they saw and heard. By the time they get the physiological transmission and blend the holos together … we might’ve gotten away with it.”
“Jacob, please make a quick check of the helm while I check on Jared and, the rest of you, relax, have something to eat.”
He held the door open for her as they walked out of her ready room.
Jared was walking out of sick bay as she arrived. “How’s your team, Jared?”
“Fine, sis, I’m sorry. They caught us by surprise and by the time I woke up, you and Jacob were there. Is everything all right?”
“I am glad you’re not hurt, Jared. Please join us in my ready room. We have some things to discuss before we head home—as much as you can call a ship home, that is,” she said, dreading the trip to more stale air and sleeper bays.
“I’ll change and join you right away, Captain.”
Juno walked in saying, “At ease, people, you don’t have to snap to, every time. We’re friends also. Penny, do we still have a link to The Savior?”
“I’m sure, Captain, we don’t have the reach of the mother ship, but The Savior should still be in range. Their first course correction is not set until a few hours from now.”
“Transmit their accident to them for me and inform them that their cover is set. They shouldn’t have any problems from Fleet.”
“Is it wise to contact them, Cap’n?” Lee asked.
“Do you trust Penny’s ability, Leander?” Juno asked, sarcastically.
“‘M sorry, Cap’n, it’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that things are going too fast. There’s a knot in m’stomach that won’t go away.”
“I understand, Lee, but you need to trust us.”
“Your father knows, Captain. I am not used to trusting officers.”
“My father would show you the knot in your stomach, if he was not informed about something this big, Lee. He had to know, I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, but believe me when I tell you, Marcus is on our side, so long as we don’t violate protocol.”
“But we are, Juno,” Ulysses said, “this goes against everything Marcus stands for.”
“Captain Marcus stands for truth and honor, first, “Jared said, as he walked in the room and heard the statement, “then, he stands for Fleet, but only when they’re right, you’ll learn that as we go.”
“What do you mean ‘as we go’, Jared? We’re done with this ruse.”
“We’re not out of this until Abner clears Eden with his family. All that remains to be done is our eternal silence. We have to live with this on a daily basis and keep it from Fleet and everyone else. Do not make light of this, people, we have betrayed Fleet. They’ll not take kindly to this treachery, should they ever find out. I am more worried about Caligula and Herod finding out, than the fact that my father knows. With him we stand a chance, Herod will arrange an accident for you, and Caligula … it’s hard to say what Caligula would do, but it wouldn’t be pleasant for any of us. Marcus is our best protection, trust me.”
When Jared paused, Juno continued, “We need to set our minds straight before we return. What we’ve done is treason, but it was the right thing to do. That alone must sustain us. There’ll be no public rewards for this, people. Each of us must comfort himself with the fact that Abner and his crew will be with their families. If there’s mistrust among us, we shall surely fail!”
Silence filled the room as they sat and thought about their actions. Juno calmly stood, opened a bottle of wine and filled twelve goblets. She raised her glass and said, “To the Savior and its crew!”
One goblet remained on the table. Telemachus said, “You poured one too many, Juno.”
“That’s Abner’s, Tel. May he find a planet quickly.”
“I have a ship to fly, Cap’n,” Jacob said, “Enough festivities; can we get out of crawl mode, Sir?”
“We fly SNS until Fleet is satisfied with our transmissions. I hear the new navigation system can get us home rather quickly, once Fleet is satisfied. I am anxious to test it.”
“Fine!” Jacob said, “If we’re gonna crawl through space, I’m gonna take a nap. Let me know when you need a real pilot at the helm.”
“Thank you all for your cooperation. Let’s get back to a daily routine as soon as possible,” Juno said, as everyone left her ready room.