Chapter 8: Alternatives
Three years and ten days after the Vancouver Attack Portland, Oregon
Once the lights were on, it wasn’t hard to find the TV remote: it was placed carefully on the bed, exactly where a traveller checking in for the night would see it. Terri dropped her bags, picked it up and channel surfed, pausing when she recognised a famous mustached physicist.
”…thing I don’t get is that this… shield, barrier, whatever, is supposed to stop things from moving through it, right?”
“That’s right, yes.“
“It’s like a solid wall in space.“
“Exactly! In fact it effectively IS a solid wall in space, just made out of nothing but the same electrostatic repulsion that makes… this table solid, or my hand solid.“
Satisfied, she checked that the door was shut and the curtains closed, before she shrugged her jacket off, and hung it on the hooks by the door.
“…station get here then? Did it just warp through the wall? That’s not much of a wall.“
“So there are… it looks like there are two ways to get from A to B faster than light. The first one’s the warp drive mounted on Pandora, right? But the SECOND one was actually theorized by Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen in 1935…“
Satisfaction shifted to interest and she turned the volume up as she took advantage of the hotel’s expense by starting to fill the huge bathtub with the hottest water the faucet could provide.
“Wormholes, right? I think that was on Star Trek.“
She retrieved a few cosmetic essentials from her travelling case and soon a bath bomb was crackling and hissing in the water, and filling her nostrils with the scents of grapefruit and bergamot.
“…upshot is that when you travel through one of these things, the intervening space doesn’t matter. you just go from A to Z without passing through B, C, D and so on along the way!“
“So the barrier doesn’t matter to this thing.“
“Exactly. Now, the reason we can’t use it to get out is because these bridges collapse pretty much instantly unless they’ve got a field generator at both ends.“
The bath could be left to its own devices for the time being. Terri stood and stripped off her shirt. The garment had been sweaty and uncomfortable for the last couple of hours, and she sighed in honest relief as she was able to throw it into an undignified heap at the foot of the bed.
“…without somebody on the outside helping us get out.“
“Okay, now… there’s been a lot of talk about how our gravity is supposedly much higher than the norm out there…“
“So are we likely to be that much stronger than everything out there?“
“Okay, so, from what we’ve been told, Earth is both larger and denser than the average “temperate” world. Now, if you’re both larger AND denser, then that means you have more gravity, and in our case it’s about thirty percent higher than what we’re told is the average.“
Terri struggled out of her jeans as Bill Maher angled his head and made a skeptical tooth-sucking sound.
“Thirty percent doesn’t sound like that much to me.”
“Small changes can make a huge difference. If the Earth was just half as big again as it actually is, we would never have been able to launch rockets at all, let alone ones strong enough to carry space stations and people into orbit. Earth is probably pretty close to being about as big as you can get and still send crews of people into space.”
“What does that have to do with muscles?”
“Well, it might have tipped us over the point where evolution would select for one specific kind of muscle, or something like that. That’s not really… you know, I’m interested in it all, but the stuff I’m most interested in is astrophysics, and what these new technologies can teach us about things like dark energy.”
As the Real Time panel fell to discussing the politics of the situation, egged on occasionally by their host’s snide observations, Terri discarded her underwear and stepped into the bath, hissing and gritting her teeth as she gingerly lowered herself into the slightly-too-hot water.
She largely ignored the rest of the debate and the panel’s observations as she luxuriated in the feeling of too many hours of freeway travel being cooked away, emerging only once she was thoroughly soaked and relaxed.
”…finally New Rule, Rylee Jackson is not a sex symbol.” She arched her eyebrow as an assortment of dismayed noises emerged from the crowd. Maher basked in the controversy for a second, before launching into the meat of his closing statement. She sat on her towel on the end of the bed drying her hair, and listened.
“Business as usual on Earth…” she muttered.
“Unidentified vessel, you are entering private space. Halt immediately and identify yourself or you will be destroyed.“
Kirk halted immediately. The threat was, unbeknownst to the being that had made it, a hollow one: he had come in on a vector which provided him the option of boosting to FTL straight away in the event of aggression, and there wasn’t a weapon in the galaxy that could have caught them had he done so.
Still, it didn’t pay to antagonize the people you were there to see. Especially not when the people in question were a privateer band led by the self-styled “Space Babe Pirate Queen” of the Far Reaches.
Kirk had been aware of Jennifer Delaney for months. In fact, he knew quite a lot about her. The dead-end IT job in Belfast, the unfortunate fate of the crew of the starship Blue Encounter, and her…unique…deal with the Dominion who were turning a blind eye to space piracy in her particular case so long as she directed her attacks exclusively at the Celzi Alliance.
Privateering, it was called. A human concept, which was rapidly turning Delaney into a major player. More major than she herself suspected, probably.
It had certainly net her a private planet, in the form of Cimbrean. A total backwater in the heart of the Far Reaches, Cimbrean’s only valuable trait was its isolation. Even for the incredibly fast Sanctuary the nearest civilization was Gaoian territory, five days away. And the Gaoians were themselves still a peripheral civilization.
Given that isolation meant being vulnerable to pirate attacks or Hunter raids, Cimbrean’s remoteness should not have been a selling point at all. Still, it had somehow apparently attracted an enterprising corporate director with more money than sense who had decided that the place would make for an appropriately opulent private retreat.
Now, that private palace out in the middle of nowhere was the base of operations for the most successful pirate band in known galactic history. Kirk didn’t know the details of that story, and didn’t want to. Ideally, he would have preferred to leave Delaney alone—There was no damsel in distress here, the woman was clearly dangerous and if she wanted to return to Earth then she had the resources to do so herself.
But successfully returning twenty-one refugee abductees to Earth had come with a mission. Allied Extrasolar Command and the Global Representative Assembly had both identified a possible opportunity in Delaney, and it fell to Kirk as humankind’s only active agent outside the quarantine field to deliver the message.
They wanted to turn Cimbrean into the human race’s first colony.
The twenty-second refugee and the only one still aboard was Darragh Houston, a fellow Belfast lad who’d obviously been quite taken with the idea of the redheaded space pirate queen and had volunteered to stay on Sanctuary so that he could join Delaney. Apparently just seeing Earth again, from orbit, was good enough for him. Even Allison had gone back to catch up with some old friends and take a vacation. The ship felt badly empty without them.
More so, in light of that approach challenge. It was just as belligerent as he’d feared, and the presence of one skinny naive young man wasn’t really helping Kirk feel reassured.
Hopefully Darragh’s plan was more solid than his motives. “Complying, Cimbrean colony, Yacht Sanctuary, coming to full stop.”
“Sanctuary, state your business.”
“I have a message for Jennifer Delaney,” Kirk told them.
“There is nobody here by that name, Sanctuary,” the Cimbrean operator lied.
“Understood, Cimbrean. My mistake. But just on the off-chance that somebody of that name should show up in the near future, would you please tell her that Captain Kirk is asking: “What’s the craic?”
There was a long pause.
”…Sanctuary, you will hold position.”
There was a much, much longer pauser.
”…Sanctuary, you are cleared to land. Do not deviate from your assigned landing trajectory.”
“Thank you, Cimbrean. Proceeding to land.”
Beside him, Darragh laughed. “Told you our space pirate lass couldn’t resist that one!” he gloated.
Kirk chirruped a half-hearted, nervous laugh with him. “Just…be sure that she gets that letter.” he said. “A lot is depending on you, Darragh.”
“Aye, I will… hey, I’ll miss you, Kirk. You’ve been good to us.”
“You will be okay?” A couple of interceptors had come up to guide them in, and by their lines they were cut-down, repurposed Hunter vessels. They looked decidedly menacing.
“I think we all will, so long as this place stays below the Great Hunt’s radar.”
“Well, my next mission is to try and pull some strings in that regard.” Kirk said, as the Sanctuary nosed up and deployed its landing gear.
“Beats the feck out of me why you’re going against your own Dominion like this, man.”
The landing finished with a gentle bump.
”…because the Dominion only mattered to me when I didn’t understand it.” Kirk told him. “Good luck, Darragh. I will miss you too.”
“You too, mate. Be safe.”
He left, and Kirk was left to reflect on just how empty the Sanctuary would feel without any human occupants.
Hopefully, that would soon change.
Doctor Hussein could imagine the thousands of cellphones turned upwards to catch a glimpse of the ambassadorial shuttle coming in to land. The Provincial Capital had sold a prime plot of land on the mountainside to the Global Representative and had thereby become Africa’s answer to the UN in New York.
While an architect’s design had been selected and the groundwork for the Assembly building had already been laid, it would probably be nearly a year before it was finished, so for now the Global Ambassador’s office was rented in the Portside Tower. The building sadly was not equipped to handle the needs of an intrasystem shuttle, necessitating a hangar at the airport and a limousine commute under escort, flanked by burly black SUVs.
Fortunately, the limousine had been outfitted to handle a conference call with the ten highest-ranking Assembly members, so there was no interruption to business.
“The Gaoians are a definite ally.” he said. “They tried to approach me unofficially via Captain Jackson. As for the rest, while I think we have most of them sufficiently impressed and intimidated for the time being, the Corti ambassador has a very cool head. He will be the most difficult target for our aggressive approach, and his Directorate is easily the most politically powerful. He will probably be able to temper the reactions of the others.”
The British member was a floppy-haired man who had earned his position by cultivating a popular image as something of a buffoon, an approach which had declawed his aristocratic accent into a harmless eccentricity. In private sessions and meetings, however, he allowed his whip-smart side to come through, and right now was nodding thoughtfully.
“We still have a few tricks up our sleeves.” he commented. “It’d be a shame to use one of them so early, but if we need to…”
The Chinese member—once General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China—indicated his agreement. “These privateers have given us a wonderful bargaining chip, if we care to use it.”
The former US Secretary of State frowned, skeptically. “It’s early days yet, shouldn’t we hold on to that one for later?”
“That particular chip may be time-limited.” Hussein mused. “And if we are being aggressive, then we need to keep up the pressure.”
“It’s potentially dangerous to our agent…” objected the British member.
“We shall just have to trust him.” Hussein asserted. “In any case, no great gains are made without risk.”
“And if he succeeds, it will be the move most likely to disrupt the Corti ambassador’s cool….”
”…Or else render his cool irrelevant. As you say, Madame Chancellor. Shall we vote?”
There was a general show of hands.
“Then it’s settled. The next time our agent gets in contact, we’ll have him make the approach.”
Three years and twelve days after the Vancouver Attack
San Diego, California
Terri’s phone played the sound of a door opening just as she took the off-ramp down onto 17th Street, which was not encouraging. The noise came from a home security app she had purchased which told her if her apartment door was opened when her phone wasn’t at home.
She stopped on Logan Avenue long enough to grab the well-maintained Colt 1911 and her concealed-carry license from the lockbox in the trunk where she had hidden them under the spare wheel for the drive through Canada, then, heart pounding, finished the short drive into Grant Hill.
Rather than take the front door, she parked a little way from apartment and, with care, ghosted up the fire escape as quietly as she could. A quick glance through the bedroom window showed no sign of an intruder, so—praying that after a few weeks of her absence it would still slide up quietly —she opened the window. To her relief, it whispered open and she was able to step silently through onto her memory-foam mattress and from there fold her feet down onto the floor without making any noise.
The rest of the apartment was open-plan. She hesitated for a moment thinking about whether to enter slowly and quietly, or burst in and strike the fear of a loaded gun into any trespassers. The thought belatedly occurred to her that a camera and an app to watch it from her phone would have really helped right now.
“Fuck it” she whispered to herself, and went with the “burst in” approach.
She shouldered the door, crashed into the room, and, sensing his presence out of the corner of her eye, pointed her gun directly at “Mr. Johnson”, who was sitting on her couch, a gun of his own aimed at the front door. He had his right foot crossed onto his leg and his spare arm across the back of the couch, looking relaxed and arrogant.
That changed instantly when he looked up at her and his eyes dropped to her handgun.
“Ah. Well. This is awkward.” he said.
Suicidally, stupidly, he tried to shoot her anyway.
They were his last words.
Three years and two months after the Vancouver Attack
Earth-Luna L3 Point
“Mission Control, Pandora, checkpoint reached, over.”
“Five by five, Pandora. ESDAR says…0.2% deviation, over.“
“Roger, Control. PARANAV agrees zero point two, over.”
“ERB-2 is green, I have go code from the package: open the door, over.“
For the second time, Rylee reflected that jump drives really should look a little more impressive. She watched closely this time and saw a faint shimmer as the leading edge of the spatial distortion wavered the great dust fields of the Milky Way like heat haze, but that was about it. Otherwise, a space station materialized in front of her. This one wasn’t the elegant white needle of Embassy-172, but was instead a little more ornate and decorative. Less Minimalism, more Art Deco.
Communications were established as soon as they had injected correctly into the L2 point. “Jump complete. Our thanks, Pandora.” they sent.
“You’re welcome, Embassy. On behalf of the nations of Earth, welcome to Sol.”
“Thank you. The Celzi Alliance is honoured to be here.“