The Second Age of Man
“Rachel, can you and Esther create another disaster holo showing the Exodus One and the two loose shuttles drifting into the gravity of that binary system and make it disappear?”
“We should have enough data stored so that if we add some convincing voice overlay, like we did with Abner’s disaster, Fleet could believe it happened. All we need are some images at the proper angle; the binary system’s brightness would make it a really impressive display, Juno.”
“How much time do you need? We don’t have much of it, if we want to make this convincing—”
“We have preliminary displays set up, Captain,” Esther replied, smiling. “We understand the urgency of the situation.”
“What’s the status of the prison—crew? Any signs of breaking them?”
“None. They’re tight-lipped mutes,” Jared replied.
“Has anyone tried speaking to them as if they were part of our crew?” Rachel asked.
“In that uniform you don’t stand a chance, Rachel,” Jacob replied.
“What if I get out of the uniform, Jacob? Will that give us some advantage?” She smiled deviously.
“I don’t know what you have in mind, Rachel but we’re out here pretty much on our own, so there is a bit of latitude to our shenanigans. You got somethin’ in mind?”
“Just talking to them, Jacob, like human beings not like soldiers. They think they’re prisoners. What gave them that idea?”
“So you wanna invite ’em to dinner or something?”
“Not a bad idea, Jacob, but let’s get out of the uniforms and dress casual. Let them be the only ones in uniform.”
“Standing in a room full of captain and commander insignias is a little scary, unless you’re used to it, like we are.”
“These men are used to High Command insignias; captains are as cheap as sergeants in those circles.”
“Has anyone tried to read them?”
“No, telepathy only gives you an intuitive sense, not any kind of mind reading ability. If any are telepaths, they can mask it better than Marcus.”
“So what? We have them over for dinner and gain their trust. That’s your big idea.”
“Yes, unless you’ve got a better plan, Jacob.”
“Give me an hour with one of them. I can get through—”
“We want them alive—”
“And they will be, but they’ll be on our side, too.”
“Y’all work on making them disappear and I will take care of the communications with them.”
“What are you going to do, Jacob?”
“I am gonna appeal to their senses, Juno, that’s all.”
“You’re gonna lie to them aren’t you?”
“Do you want them on our side or do you always wanna worry about them?”
“I want them to serve the right side, Jacob!”
“They are serving the right side, Juno, just ask ’em. It’s all they know. You gotta show them they’re on the wrong side. So long as you got them isolated they’re not gonna trust us. I wouldn’t, and neither would you. They feel like they’re prisoners. They’re no different. Trust me.”
About an hour later, Jacob appeared in the ready room followed by six people. He walked through and went into the bridge. The six people were amazed at the facilities on the bridge. Their ships were of the old design; a bridge with screens rather than windows was something they’d never seen. They started comparing The Argo to their ship and before long, they had a point of commonality with Jacob. That’s when he dropped the news on them.
“We have three of these ships, how many armed prowlers do you have?”
“There were twelve—”
There was silence on both sides. Juno was shocked at the answer and the soldier that blurted out the reply was slapped on the back of the head.
“It’s all right. You can trust us. We’re on the same side. I told you, the only thing different is that the high command lied to both of us. They told you Fleet never launched or maybe you are lying and it is your cover story in case you’re captured. But it is certain that they kept your existence from us. That’s over. We know about you now and you know about us. The problem now is, what are you gonna do about it? We wanna tell them that both the prowlers were destroyed and hide you from them as they hid you from us. How would you feel about being a ghost ship with us? We have no other agenda than to make sure The High Command follows the compact we all signed.”
“So we are not your prisoners?”
“No, our problem is that we have to know where your loyalties lie before we give you your ship back, or keep you hidden and take your ship and use it with our own crew. We’d like to have you with us. It would be a huge tactical advantage for us if they didn’t know about you.”
“There is conflict brewing among the remaining eight ships. We were lucky this time; they pulverized a moon. That’s three of their ships that have been lost. As far as we can tell, they have one or two more. The others are ours. They told us the Fleet never launched and we were on a long range mission to find materials for the new planet, which they found close enough to Eden to simply move the population without using the sleeper ships.”
“Excuse me, Commander Jacob; the captain would like to know if you and your friends would like to join her for dinner.”
“Yes, I am sure they would like something to eat.”
He took them into the ready room where a banquet table had been set. The six crewmen were impressed with the layout of the banquet.
“It’s been a long time since we saw a meal like that. Is this planet food?” a lieutenant asked.
“And you are?” Rachel asked.
“I am Deborah, Caleb to my right, Midian to my left, Gideon, Simeon behind us and Reuben with his mouth open. My bridge crew, I am Lieutenant in charge of third shift operations on The Exodus One. I am told there are two more crewmembers in sickbay. Do you know who they are?”
“No, they’re as tight-lipped as the rest of you. You’re among friends.”
“You threatened us!”
“They asked you to slow down for your own good. You threatened them.” Jared said.
“How did you slow our ship down?”
“It wasn’t easy, lady! But we got it done.” Ulysses smiled. “I am U, that’s short for Ulysses, Penny over there managed to get into your navigation computer and access Fleet links—”
“We —The Exodus One— have no Fleet links, there is no Fleet, hence, no links. I don’t know what you are trying to pull or where you came from, but we’re not that easy to fool, fool!”
“Easy there, lady. There is a Fleet and you’re right, your ship has no Fleet links, which is what made it hard to stop the damned thing before it pulverized another moon like your idiot partner ship—”
“That was not our partner ship. They were trying to take ours over as they did the one that pulverized that moon. They had us all dead to rights, that is why we jumped in suits and separated—”
“You ripped a hole in your ship separating at that speed. Don’t you guys know any better?”
“What did you want us to do? The Benjies are trying to take over and rule the planet—”
“The Benjies? Who the hell are they?” Ulysses asked.
“Benjamin’s tribe! They are trying to take over the senate on our new planet—”
“Well, somebody’s been spoon feeding you sheep dip. I can see that!” Ulysses said.
Deborah leapt at Ulysses and put a chokehold on him, which he quickly reversed on her. “Easy there, lady, we don’t want no trouble. Don’t start nothin’ you cain’t finish!”
Gideon and Caleb leapt at Ulysses who had Deborah’s collar folded under his elbow.
Lee and Jacob were on them before they took two steps. Juno said, “Why don’t we quit horsing around and have some dinner before it gets cold. U, I think Deborah can sit over here, next to you.” Juno pointed to a place at the end of the table to the right of the captain’s chair. Ulysses led Deborah to the corner of the table and released her gently. An exchange of looks said, This is not over by any means.
Juno smiled as Ulysses bowed to Deborah, “It is over, young lady. We don’t run ships with our tempers. You attacked U. He protected himself so it ends there. We’re all friends.”
“You sound like Athena, my professor back on Eden.”
“She was my mother,” Juno said sitting down while looking into Deborah’s powerful stare, which immediately softened.
“Was? Athena is dead. How? Benjies got her?”
Jacob sensed a powerful sadness in Juno and forced a thought into Deborah’s mind “Leave it be!”
“No—” was Juno’s only answer as Jacob also placed a thought in her mind. Good, now concentrate in the commonality, little girl. Juno looked at Jacob, shook her head, and rubbed her ears, which told Jared that she was ready to blow.
“What is this Benjies war you keep talking about?” Jared asked as Juno glared at him for the interruption.
“Where have you been, people?” Caleb asked looking around the table.
“Obviously not in the same world in which you’ve been flying blind, yanking locking clamps and deploying escape pods at close to plus eight—” Jacob answered.
“Is that how fast we were going? No wonder that moon pulverized; too bad, those Benjies didn’t feel a thing then. They just blended in with the debris. And who’s flyin’ blind? You’re the ones who’s got all your windows painted black.”
“There were people in that ship, not dogs or cattle, you know,” Penny said.
“They’re just Benjies: shepherds and farmers. It’s not like—”
“The Fleet launched, you idiot! You’re the one who’s been kept in the dark, not us. And here you are eating our food and talking foolishness. We put all that prejudiced garbage aside. We’re twelve tribes looking for a new planet, alone in the galaxy, or so we thought, until we found you talking hateful trash.”
“Speaking of spoon feeding sheep dip, if you people think Benjies are not involved in this, you’ve been fed a big healthy dose of it also,” Caleb said.
“I am hungry. Y’all keep arguin’ while I eat. I’m gonna eat as I listen. You’re welcome to join me. How ’bout you, Cap’n? Food’s gettin’ cold,” Jacob said ignoring Caleb’s comment and piling food onto his plate.
Without saying a word, Gideon and Caleb stood and went to the plates. The rest followed suit and there was a silence while they loaded their plates. The crews from The Argo, Promise, and Freedom sat scattered strategically, forcing the six newcomers to sit between two other crewmembers and separating them from their tight united formation. Juno smiled at the subtlety of the motions by her team.
With the crew of The Exodus One separated, the conversations were led to different topics by the teams as Jared, Jacob and Juno listened to all of them. In a few minutes, the topics began to blend and it became a single group conversation.
At a point where Juno felt she could open the subject, she said, “So, we need to make your ship disappear into that binary system that has it trapped in its grip. We are doing everything possible to make it look like she is holding her own. But if we don’t let it go pretty soon, we’re going to have to apply more power and we’re going to be discovered by our external influence.”
“What are our options?” Deborah asked openly.
“Either way you are dead. It’s just that our way you’ll never be heard from again,” Juno replied seriously.
“You’re not kidding, are you,” Caleb said.
“No, I am deadly serious. Our way, we can use your voices in the holo-projection we’ll send Fleet. Your way, you’ll be our prisoners until we can find a place to deposit you where you won’t reveal our plans and either way, we get The Exodus One. We’ll just have to create another accident to make a full crew disappear. You decide. You can be full partners in this venture, or you can watch through force fields and out of contact with everyone but your guards.”
“We get The Exodus One?” Deborah asked.
“It’s your ship still. But not for long, we don’t have a lot of time.
“Captain, may I speak with you,” Jared’s communications officer chirped in privately.
“Is there a problem, Commander?”
“An anomaly, Sir. We don’t know what to make out of it.”
“I’ll be there in a moment, Commander.”
Jared stood, whispered something to Juno, and walked out of the room.
“Problems, Jared?” Jacob asked.
“Don’t know yet, I’ll let you know as soon as I know something,” he said from outside the room making a hasty dash to the communications console.
“What is it commander?”
“Remember when we passed that pulverized moon’s debris field?”
“What about it?”
“The computers picked something up. We discounted it as part of the magnetic disturbance an event like that causes—”
“Get to the point soldier,” Jared said impatiently.
“Looking back at it with more time and nothing else to distract us, I think there might be someone back there. It may be too late since escape pods and space suits have a limited air supply, but we may want to go take a look, just in case—”
“Jacob, come to the bridge double time, please."
“On m’way, Sir!” Jacob gave Juno a look and she nodded.
“What’s up, Captain?” he said walking into the bridge of the Jericho.
“You saw the other ship crash into that moon. What are the odds someone survived?” Jared asked.
“Slim to none, Sir. Why?”
“We were reviewing our records of the trip and came across what could be a signal. The area is really magnetically disturbed because of the sudden shift in status. However, Commander, I can’t explain this signal.” The communications tech played the snippet of tape.
“Damn!” Jacob said. “It’s been more than two days; they have to be out of air by now. I guess we need to go get the bodies, anyway. We owe them that much.”
He stepped away from the com console and contacted Juno telepathically to let her know that he was taking a shuttle to the pulverized moon planet.
“See that the Captain gets home, please, Commander. I’m gonna go check it out.”
“Let’s just take The Jericho, Jacob. We can make much better time—”
“What about our guests, Sir?”
“Our crews know what they’re doing. We could be there in a fifth of the time it would take a shuttle to travel the distance.”
“You’re right, Jared; I’ll go tell Juno and the others, you start heading that way. I don’t need to tell you to hurry, do I? Let the other ships know what’s happening so they don’t get worried. Get Esther and her geology team to look at the probes and charting computer recordings of the explosion on a split screen. We were runnin’ a skeleton crew so everything got sent directly to the database.”
Before long, the bridge of The Jericho was filled with lead teams from the four ships.
“The bad news is that the explosion ripped most of the atmosphere from the planet,” The science officer studying the data reported. “However, that comes with good news; what remained surrounding the planet were the heavier gasses, less noxious to humans.”
“What exactly are you saying here, Lieutenant?”
“The Argo’s data shows several escape pods jettisoned out of the rear of the ship a few seconds before the impact—”
“That would have to be some of our people. Benjies wouldn’t be trying to leave their own ship. They had no idea of the situation on The One,” Deborah interrupted the science officer.
“So they jettison out hoping you’re winning and will come back for them. I wonder if they sent a message—in the condition your ship is in, it would take longer to search its database than it would take to search the planet,” Jared said.
“I am sorry, please continue, lieutenant,” Deborah said in a much friendlier tone.
“I’d hate to have been in one of those pods; it must have been a rough ride. The explosion cleared the planet’s atmosphere of oxygen depleting gases. If they made it to the planet with the escape pods intact, according to the data I have been able to gather from The Exodus One; the old model escape pods had oxygen extractors built in. Our models were changed to conserve space and lower the weight requirements. It is possible someone could have survived—”
“What else do we know about the planet?” Juno asked as Deborah and her crew watched the proceedings more anxiously.
“Just what we learned as we passed by at more than plus eight, combined with The Argo’s charting computer data gathered at pretty much the same speed, Captain. We did not launch any probes. We discovered the signal accidentally, studying the survey records the ship’s charting computers do automatically; it is standard protocol.
“How much longer,” Caleb asked as Ruben elbowed him on the ribcage.
“My brother was on that ship,” Caleb said pushing Ruben against the wall.
“And your brother made it off the ship right before it flew into a moon. Wake up Caleb!” Ruben answered shoving Caleb back into a console.
“As you were, Gentlemen!” Jared ordered as Lee and Jacob got between them.
“Don’t get your hopes up, Caleb. It may just be an empty escape pod sending out the automatic signal. We don’t know anything more than that,” Jared said.
“We’re approaching the system, magnetic turbulence is increasing, Captain. It may be best if our guests go to the observation deck,” The science officer suggested preventing another outburst from the observers on the bridge.
“Security, please escort our guests to the forward observation deck.”
“Might as well put out a few exploratory probes and do a thorough search of the area. It isn’t every day we run into one of these situations in nature. Let’s take advantage of these events,” Jared said looking at his science officer. “Let’s get as much information as possible so we have something to share with Fleet.”
“The planet is mostly water, Captain. I see a few landmasses but we’re too far away to be accurate. The loss of gravitational influence the moon had on the water surfaces of the planet is causing severe ecological disturbances. If anyone managed to make it to the planet’s surface, their survival would be by the grace of The Creator.”
“Send a probe directly into the planet to get samples of the water; program it to omit recon orbits. We may be a lot closer to water than our original target. Communications, advise The Promise to start heading this way after dropping off whatever personnel the other ships may need to hold The Exodus One in place,” Jared ordered knowing that The Fleet was desperate for water.
“Juno, we need something definite from The Exodus crew before we get to the planet. According to our long-distance scans, the planet is mostly water. I’ve dispatched a probe to test the water and The Promise is on its way to the planet. We may have to make a hasty retreat if we let Fleet know about a water planet. This is too close to the rest of our ships, let alone the mysterious Exodus One.”
“I don’t want to push Deborah too hard and give the impression that I am desperate. We’ll just have to play it by feel as the situation develops further, Jared.”
“We don’t have a lot of time here, sis. This is all new ground. We’ve never been this close to a natural disaster this large. We have no idea what is going to happen next—”
“I get it, Jared, but if we pressure them, they may tighten up rather than turn to us. Let’s see what we find on the planet. Do you think there could be survivors from that ship?”
“Can’t tell from the fly-by scans, the data is too compressed; we have several crews here and on The Argo working on extracting the data now. We’ll have to wait until we get there.”
“As Jacob says, little brother: shake a leg, then!”
“Captain, there is a ring of debris forming around the equator of the planet, it is also about 50 percent water—”
“Send every probe we’ve got out there and get the other ships to dispatch as many probes as they have available. Use navigational probes if we have to. A couple of days is a long time but not in the context of geological events. This is more of a geological opportunity than we gave it credit for originally. We have to record as much of this in the short time we will be here!”
Jared what’s going on? I can feel the ship accelerating and probes leaving, Juno asked.
You can feel it? How? Rather than reply, Jared simply opened his mind and allowed his thoughts to his sister.
She stumbled back.
Jacob caught her.
“That was intense,” she sighed.
Nice job, little brother, but warn her before you dump your thoughts into her, and focus them a little better. I got some of that and there ain’t no tellin’ who else, Jacob sent a narrow beam thought to Jared.
“Jericho, we’ve sent all exploratory probes The Promise has on board and the other ships report the same. All information is being routed to The Argo’s database and forwarded to The Seven.”
“Jericho,” Esther broke in from The Argo. We have four science techs looking at the incident on isolated screens. It is incredible the amount of data that was recorded in such a short time. Recreating the complete incident in real time is proving difficult. We show four escape pods that made it out of the explosion; two were too close to the ship and were sucked back into the impact vacuum, impossible to tell what happened to them. However, the four that left six seconds earlier, were shot at or sucked into the planet by whatever forces were influencing the situation at almost light speed. A fragment of moon was also shot into the planet at incredible speed. We can’t tell whether the planet’s gravity or the force of the explosion accelerated the pods, perhaps a combination of both. From the recordings only, it appears that the planet went through some very sudden changes. Geologically speaking, the impact advanced the planet’s evolution a few thousand years in seconds. I am surprised Little One and his crew are not around here. We’ve taken the liberty of dispatching all our geological probes to the planet—”
“Thank you, Esther, we’ve just ordered as many probes as could be spared to the planet, so you’re ahead of us in that regard.”
“This incident can keep several geologists busy for quite some time. We believe the moon fragment was large enough to crack the outer crust of the planet but we have nothing visible on the planet until the explosion ripped the ionosphere and several layers of atmospheric gasses out. We need to be there. We need real-time data. This is already more than two days old, an eternity in geological time—” Esther found herself accompanied by Lilith in a surreal environment. “You are here!” she said.
“You cannot go there, but you can peek in from this side. Your people are there,” Lilith said pointing at a landmass near the impact point. “You cannot reveal how you acquired the knowledge but some of those people are needed further into your timeline. You must get to them before the water becomes solid. It is the only way we have of slowing down this process. In thirty rotations, the planet is not going to be very friendly to your kind. You are right, Esther. The impact and destruction of that satellite advanced the process severely. We are trying to slow it down but we must be careful lest we crack the globe.”
“It is beautiful!” Esther said, mesmerized by the view. She thought she saw three ships passing by her, but discounted it because she understood that she was in the corridors of time with Lilith.
“Yes, but there is no time.” Lilith said. “Make whatever notes you need in order to let your people know where to concentrate their search so I can return you to the same instant before it passes. We don’t want a larger rip to develop.”
“Esther! Esther, please respond.”
“I am here, Jericho. What happened?” she said a bit confused.
“We lost you for a second.”
“I am sorry. I was looking at the point of impact. You need to concentrate your search to this area,” she said sending a data burst with the information she gleaned by looking directly into the planet with Lilith’s help. The coordinates may be wrong because of the geological disturbances on the surface, but they will be close to this area, Jericho.”
She signed off and began arranging the end of The Exodus One by letting it go into the binary system. When everything was ready, they created a similar ruse to what they used to make Abner disappear and sent it off to Fleet. With nothing holding them there anymore, the three ships headed toward The Promise and Jericho, more importantly, as far as Esther was concerned, the rapidly evolving planet.
“Jericho, we’re on our way to you. All three ships; we have taken steps to solve the situation here. We’re getting information from the probes closest to the planet and we need to hurry. Have you reached the planet yet?”
“We’re deploying shuttles, Argo. How long before you arrive?”
“We are breaking speed records. We should be there in less than two hours. As soon as possible, go to the coordinates I sent you. Start looking there.”
“Will do, Argo.”
Esther pushed the helm crew. The closer The Argo came to the planet, the more information she was receiving, not only from her probes, which were programmed to her specifications, but also from other probes that were circling the planet in a systematic pattern. The probes orbiting the planet sent information that she could interpret faster than any other geologist. As she reviewed the information she thought she heard an echo of Lilith, “Yes, but there is no time. We don’t want a larger rip to develop.”
“Can you get any more speed out of these coils,” she pressed.
“No, Commander, we are fighting some horrendous magnetic disturbances. The coils are operating at one hundred percent.”
In a flash, they were at the planet.
“What just happened?” a very confused navigator asked.
“I don’t know. The computers recorded some sort of quantum jump, like time disappeared for an instant,” the pilot answered. “We just covered an incredible amount of space in a very short time but I can’t tell you how. The other ships report the same thing but they can’t make any sense out of it either.”
Lilith’s rip! I did see three ships pass us! It was these three ships! Esther thought. Although she would never be able to explain it to anyone, even Juno, who had also been in those corridors with her and Little One, would not understand.
“Argo! What the—! How did you get here so fast?”
“It must be the magnetic disturbances interfering with our chronometers. All this is new and fascinating. I just hope the computers are recording all this. It is going to take months so review a few hours’ worth of recordings,” Esther, who knew the answer, made a logical explanation for the rest. “How is the search going?” she asked.
“Nothing yet, but there is an awful lot of caves and crevices to look into.”
“Use the medical computer, look for body heat signatures and faint heartbeats,” she suggested.
“Half our equipment is sending false information—”
“It is not false information, they’re magnetic echoes. Think of the gravitational changes that have taken place around here in the past few days. Analyze the signals, find a pattern, and program the computers to ignore the echoes,” Esther suggested as she loaded another recording into her computer.
After a few seconds, she paused. “Jericho, I have new coordinates for you,” she reported as she sent the data burst to them.
“This puts them close to the impact crater, Esther.”
“I know. That’s the information I am getting from your recording as the Jericho passed by here. I am comparing it to The Argo’s. But The Argo’s vantage point is not very good; they were still too far away and veering away from the flash of light. You do realize what has taken place around here in the past three days, don’t you?” Esther once again lied because she could not reveal how she got the information; no one would believe her.
“You are right, Esther,” The Jericho reported. “We are getting some very faint readings. We are sending a medical shuttle out there, thanks.”