Breaking interstellar co.., p.20
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       Breaking Interstellar: Cosmic Lives Matter, p.20

           Michael Tobin
 
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  Chapter Nineteen: Queen Ann’s Revenge

  The alien message is sprawled in English across the overhead monitor. “We are the Naiad. This is our world. Carter has taught us much of your language. He needs help that we cannot provide. Far below this Beacon, he sleeps. You must descend through the ice to reach him. If you can do this, transmit one ping, or two if you cannot.” .... The message ends; basic, and to the point. All earthlings on the saucer are shocked at the revelation. Humanity, had searched the cosmos for extraterrestrial life, when all they had to do was look out their back door and find it in the yard.

  “He’s alive! ..... He’s alive!” Nyla exclaims euphorically, turning to the all-knowing commander. “Esty, please tell me we have enough fuel to make this rescue!”

  “I believe we do, Nyla.” The little gray responds, without knowing for sure. “But it will be close.... Jax, please send one ping.... and one ping only.”

  The response is sent. The beacon responds with an unbroken tone, that will guide. “Braxton, you and Magnus position the ship 25-miles above that signal.” She instructs. “Cooper, you and Toby keep an eye out for trouble. The first thing in any rescue attempt, is to never let your guard down. I’ll not believe these Naiad’s, until we see the truth in their words....

  Nestled within an electronic-fog, the saucer quickly eats up the distance from Jupiter to the small icy moon. As they get closer, the once tiny dot of light is transformed into a beautiful diamond in the void. It’s the largest moon in the solar system. At 3200-miles-in-diameter, and 8-percent-larger than Mercury, it’s no celestial slouch. Also, it’s the only moon in the solar system that’s known to have a magnetosphere. The icy surface glows brightly in sunlight, reflecting through blazing bands of dancing aurora. Subatomic solar-particles interact with the moons magnetic lines of force, creating hypnotic beauty. Magnus slows the ship, allowing it to home in on the signal. At proper altitude, a geostationary position is obtained. “Esty, we’re directly over the beacon now. Maintaining position at 25-miles.” He informs, dutifully.

  “Good work.” She praises, inputting commands to her data-pad. Above, the monitor zooms in on the spot where the signal is originating. An ancient structure with dormant exhaust stacks, appears on the icy surface. It’s not a particularly large structure, and is half buried within the frozen landscape. A desolate and lonely outpost that confounds her logic of why anyone would bother with such a place. Turning to her android companions. “Can any of you think of what would draw Carter to such a frozen wasteland?” She inquires, sincerely.

  “I couldn’t even pretend to come up with a reason.” Nyla answers frustratingly. “But, whatever the reason, they say he’s down there, and needs our help.” She shudders inside, at the remembrance of how Carter is deathly claustrophobic. She tries, and can’t think of a more horrible way for her good friend to end-up! Desperately buried under trillions of tons of ice and water, on a lonely moon so far from home. She begins to fear that there’s more to this mystery than meets the eye. No radiations from Earth or Mars, and a new menace terrorizing the galaxy. She suddenly pines for the old days back on Earth, when things were much simpler.

  “Well, he may or may not be down there.” Esty, postulates. “We don’t know for sure. However, I am willing to help you find out.” She turns to her pilots. “Braxton, I’m taking control for the next maneuver. Be sure to pay attention. I’m about to void the warranty on this ship in ways that might save your life someday.... if we survive.” She warns firmly, beginning a descent to the coordinates indicated by the Naiad’s, who call this icy-ball, home.

  Descending into the unknown, she fears for her wonderful ship. At this close-proximity with the moon’s icy surface, there’s little in the way of distinguishable landmarks. True depth perception at this point is almost impossible, even for the keen eye of an android. Esty monitors the descent via the data flowing in from the saucers automatic guidance systems. For the most part, it’s up to the autopilot to prevent a collision with the large moon. Soon though, it’s apparent to all on the bridge that the saucer has once again come to a relative stop. This time just 10-feet above the icy crust!

  “Okay everyone!” Esty, calls out. “This is what’s going to happen! I’m taking the ship further out of phase, but not completely. This condition will allow us to pass through the ice without physically contacting it, much like the mountain stronghold. Stray radiations will melt and boil any water touching the fog-layer surrounding the ship. Expect a few bumps, and hold on tight!” She looks around, seeing excitement where there should be fear! The bravery of her new crew makes her proud to call them shipmates! Even the Zenarawan’s seem eager, almost as if they sense something wonderful, below. They stay silent.... calmingly so.

  Steam, rocks the vacuum! .... Violent jets of vaporized gas, explode into the thin atmosphere above, as electronic-fog passes into the ice. The proud ship, sinks into a boiling maelstrom! Rocking, as it tries to stabilize against the energized gasses that outflow. All eye’s wide, even the stoic Gort can’t contain his anxiety. The icy crust is 30-miles-thick, and below that are hundreds of miles of liquid ocean, extending into ever-thickening layers of salinity. Nyla breathes deeply, knowing it’s the only way to prevent another time-out. Her circuits heat from the stress, but there isn’t another place in the universe she would rather be. Carter deserves only the best attempt possible. Reaching, she takes Wil’s hand, offering a smile that tells him she’s doing fine.

  Alarms, rock the bridge! .... They scream protest, as the ship travels lower. Toby reaches, cancelling the noise. “Esty.... Outer hull temps are increasing.” She warns.

  “I see that, Toby.” The gray commander responds. “It can’t be helped. They’ll stabilize, but keep an eye on it.” She bravely hides her fears. If truth be known, she had never put her pride and joy through such a harrowing ordeal. Partial slipstream or not, its always best to avoid these types of situations. Stealthily, the brave android watches the temps, hoping for the best. Lower they travel, now 6-miles-deep into the danger zone. Above, the icy-shaft through which they came, begins to freeze over, trapping them if something goes horribly wrong.

  Harper stumbles from the sleeping compartment. “Are we there yet?” He asks, while rubbing the growing knot on his head from yet another fall.

  “My circuits, Harper Williams!” Nyla exclaims. “Come over here and strap in!” She motions to one of the few vacant seats on the bridge.

  At a depth of 32-miles, the saucer breaks through the icy crust, plunging into the abyssal depths of Ganymede. Esty, allows the ship to continue along the same path that the coordinates indicated. Close to where they broke out of the ice, several Naiad vessels stealthily monitor. The saucer is easy to see, trailing tendrils of shimmering heat waves, the glowing disk sinks deeper and deeper. Esty begins to wonder just how far into the moons interior she’ll have to travel before encountering the target of the mission. Outside, darkness rules just beyond their artificial illumination. She daren’t turn on exterior lights just yet, instead relying on the sensitive navigation data that pours into her station. Sensors, notify of scanning-radiations coming from above. The sly commander realizes they aren’t alone in the inky depths!

  Soon though, they’re also being scanned from below, confirming her suspicions of others. She slows the descent, the objects below the saucer, become illuminated in a multi-colored, kaleidoscopic fashion. For Nyla, the view of the others, reminds her of the colorful chromatic displays of earthly cuttlefish, yet these we’re much more tentacled. Not unlike the slipstream monster in a way, she thinks. Looking closer, she sees that these Jovian creatures are not individual moon people, but ships. At close to 80-feet-long, they’re dwarfed by the alien saucer. Exclamations aplenty, flow through the bridge. Biologics and androids alike, notice the aberrations coming closer.

  Jax is first to put words to the anxious moments. “Well, this proves my theory! .... Ghosts come in many forms, and can even be found inside moons!”

  Est
y brings the ship to a full stop. They’re deep inside the danger zone now! A quick escape, would doom Ganymede and inhabitants to smithereens! She subconsciously holds her breath as the anxiety grows, but quickly realizes that she must breath regularly, to expel the body heat from her nervous CPU. Soon, the monitor shows the indigenous vessels moving to the side, allowing unimpeded passage. Not encroaching.... not being aggressive. Ships weapon systems seem happy, and don’t scream of threat. “How strange to find life inside a watery moon.” She wonders aloud, without realizing just what favorable conditions for life, this moon offers.

  The life forms within the Naiadian vessels are gelatinous and fragile, lacking solid skeletal structure. But human beings, even with skeletal strength, are also very fragile and delicate to a large degree. “Life finds a way.” Omari speaks up, knowingly. “Life finds a way.”

  Tina gets their attention with a surprising announcement. “Hey everyone! .... Raznalli says he’s made contact with others inside those ships. So, at least we know they’re not robots!”

  Now the senior Zenarawan is the focal point of the moment. All look to furry creature that rests comfortably in his seat, while in a trance-like state. Seemingly asleep, he has a peaceful look on his feline face. Eyeballs rolling back and forth under closed eye lids. Every now and then, a few twitches and whimpers, as if having a powerful dream. This continues for several minutes before Raznalli comes back, shaking his head as if to ward off disorientation. He relates to Tina what he had garnered from mind meld with the others.

  “Raznalli says it’s very difficult to communicate with the others. They become frightened and resist.” Tina informs, as she concentrates to understand what Raznalli reports. “What his probe found, is that those within the ships come from far greater depths. They only recently created methods to explore their upper atmosphere, after noticing strange activities taking place above. For them, this is the outer reaches of their known universe. Their efforts spanned many tens-of-thousands-of-years, to be able to reach the anomaly that is Carter’s facility. They know not, what lays beyond the crustal ice above.”

  Tina, slumps from the mental link, as Raznalli lets her mind loose. The process of extra-sensory communication can be taxing at times. Nyla moves across the bridge, taking the young woman’s hand, offering comfort. “Relax now, Tina.” She instructs softly.

  Esty, resumes the descent. Once past the Naiadian ships, she turns on exterior illumination. A series of cables are noticed, extending into the icy depths. Following this line for another 20-miles, and several layers of varying salinity, a complex comes into view. A few weak lights can be seen at one end of the structure, but other than that, it seems that nobody is home. The scene is eerie.... Reminding Jax, of an underwater haunted house!

  “That’s it! That must be it!” Nyla exclaims, then gets a grip once again. She mustn’t let her birth defect cause a time-out.... Not now .... Deep breaths....

  “I wonder what could have happened to bring Carter to such a miserable place?” Talia, inquires hypnotically at nobody in particular.

  “Well, you know Carter.” Omari reminds. “He can get himself into some pretty dicey situations from time to time. But, I can’t imagine him being alone out here, either.” He offers a possible twist, with no real answers.

  The airlock becomes obvious, extending out from the main structure for unfettered engagements. Esty, lines up the airlocks. Then, with extra finesse, she tweaks the ship further out of phase and eases into the structure in an other-worldly fashion. The water directly above, boils and swirls, as the byproduct-radiation escapes the scene. The many Naiad’s watch in horror, as it seems the two vessels have collided! Quickly, they realize they weren’t going to witness their first space disaster, but rather a melding of sorts. One that’s beyond their understanding.

  A warning from engineering. “Esty, outer hull temps climbing!”

  Against her better judgement, Esty puts them even further out of phase. This cools things outside, but it also puts everyone at greater risk of annihilation. If she goes too far, the out of phase condition will throw them beyond the ability to maneuver. It will throw them where they don’t want to go; completely into the slipstream! Slipping into the stream while in such intimate proximity to the mass of Ganymede will not end well. Anxiety climbs! A curious glance from Gort. He wonders, why take such risk....

  A wink in the direction of the grizzled warrior, calms his nerves. He ponders, that if Esty is to die this day, then it’s a fine day to die with her! “Good luck, commander.” He chirps & clicks.

  “Sorry Gort, but there’s no other way. Now, go with Nyla and Wil. Help them if you can.” To Wil’s dismay, she tosses her sidearm to the old pirate. He’s come to like the fierce-faced gray, but having an armed and dangerous one, will take extra getting used to! However, Esty finds strength from the support of her best friend, and that’s what truly counts. Tweaking the warp-bubble just right, she causes her mighty ship to inch forward, stopping as the saucers main hatch passes just beyond the facility airlock. Outside, heat-waves in the cold ocean, roil upward towards the icy-crust, making for anxious moments from watching creatures. Many nervous Naiadian commanders, second guessing their decision to get involved with saving Carter.

  “Esty, are you sure about this?” Talia’s angst, grows astronomically. “She tries to curl her legs into the seat with her, as the two masses from two differing laws of physics, merge into one. Everyone on the bridge is flabbergasted at seeing the ghostly melding. Parts of the underwater facility that have merged with the saucer, shimmer like phantoms in the shadows. Jax is beside himself with horror. Staring in speechless wonder, he now knows what it’s like to be a ghost. It’s a terrifying sight, which he hopes isn’t permanent.... yet.

  “Nyla, Wil, take Gort and go find your friend.” She instructs, adding. “Please don’t dilly-dally, as they say.” She works feverishly to maintain stability in unstable conditions. Turbulence is a constant, while heat-radiation rocks the local space-time continuum of Ganymede.

  Nyla opens the inner airlock hatch of the saucer. Three wide-eyed creatures enter and close themselves inside, protecting the crew. Androids and gray, instinctively hold their breaths when the outer hatch opens. To their surprise, they are not crushed by tons of water, but instead are subjected to a breathtaking view! Just beyond their faces, is the electronic fog! The interface between universes! With great bravery, the trio of explorers leave the saucer, making their way through the ghostly phenomenon which soaks their bodies in St. Elmo’s fire in passing. Upon piercing the fog, they enter fully into our universe, and stand inside a laboratory.... no sign of habitation. All, is quiet. Too quiet! Gort looks back, seeing a shimmering image of the bridge, as it exists in another realm. The brave explorers enter further, moving past a plethora of scientific equipment.

  “Is anybody home?” Nyla yells into the darkened compartment. “Carterrrrrrr!” Nothing.... At the back of the laboratory, they come to a passageway leading deeper into the complex. Now, a rhythmic-hum can be heard as they approach another room. Within, they see hibernation chambers, and both androids breathe a sigh of relief. “This must be it.” Wil says, matter of factly.

  Gort is on high-alert by this time, having drawn his weapon! Nyla places her hand over his weaponized appendage, begging with her eyes for him to re-holster. She melts his heart, and with trust, he places the powerful device back into his waistband. Upon entering the sleep-chamber, it’s quickly deduced that the facility was not a crowded place, as only six chambers occupy the room. Stepping to the first one and glancing within, takes Nyla and Wil’s breath away! Inside, they see a familiar face, but it’s not Carter’s!

  “Tina? .... Oh, my circuits! How can this be?” Nyla exclaims, gently touching the glass.

  “She looks as beautiful as the day we launched from Earth.” Wil can’t help but notice the peaceful tranquility on such a youthful face. Like himself and Nyla, she hadn’t aged a bit! And a human being, really ought to have aged consid
erably, after such a long time.

  Moving to the next chamber, they spy another old friend.... Carter! .... But, he wasn’t so peaceful looking. His fists are balled-up. There’s a perpetual grimace on his dark, handsome face. His blanket is torn asunder, and cracks in the shielding of his sarcophagus, spoke volumes about his uneasiness. His endless nightmares, endless tortures.... “Oh, the poor creature!” Nyla yells, making Gort jump. “We have to hurry! I’ll work with Carter, and you take Tina.” She orders firmly, motherly instincts kicking in full-steam.

  Gort, backs away to avoid injury. Moving further into the compartment, the gray warrior peeks into the other four chambers. Within, he sees the same kind of dust piles extending from jumpsuits, that he witnessed with so many of his shipmates back on Oberon Prime. These must have been biologic humans, he figures. Reflecting, he’s thankful he was able to be revived from his long slumber, and endless nightmares!

  With twin hisses, two chambers purge the exotic gasses from within. Electrical current flows to other areas of the ancient sarcophaguses, where electro-polymer muscles perk up from the extra stimulation. Appendages twitch, fingers flex, animation begins to take hold on both. Nyla and Wil quickly come to the conclusion that Tina has somehow been transmogrified into an android. It’s the only logical explanation for her well-preserved longevity. Each is on cloud nine, as their friends within, begin to stir!

  Carter opens his eyes first, gazing into yet another dream. But, somehow this dream doesn’t create madness. But rather, it seems to look a lot like Nyla’s smiling face! He ponders through foggy circuits. After blinking spasmodically, the friendly face remains. Now, he knows he’s died and gone to android heaven! .... The lid opens. And, like Dracula’s coffin, it screeches with a haunting protest!

  “Nyla? Is that really you?” He blurts out weakly. “I thought I’d never see the day!”

  Nyla can’t wait for him to exit the chamber, as she leans in and gives him a hug. “It’s really me, you big lug! Now, get outta that thing!” She pulls, to assist his egress.

  Next door, another lid screeches protest against movement. Tina is assisted from her still pristine chamber by Wil, who can’t get over how heavy she is. “My goodness, Tina! But they must have been stuffing you with space-cookies out here! You weigh a ton!” Not politically correct, but such a giggle he receives from the lovely android!

  “Oh, my God!” She hugs, like she hasn’t hugged before. “Wil! .... Nyla!” .... It quickly turns into a hug-fest. Love, lighting up the room. Then, Gort’s lovely face, breaks from the gloom, ending the gleeful reunion. Carter and Tina stiffen. A wolfman coming from the shadows couldn’t have stirred them more!

  “And who might this handsome one, be?” Tina asks, after regaining composure. Gort, having retreated back into the shadows after causing such a fright.

  “It’s okay, he’s with us.” Nyla interjects calm, as Gort is coaxed out of the shadows. “Carter, Tina.... This is Gort.” ..... “Gort, this is Carter.... and this is Tina.” She informs, using the gray’s own language, much to the shock of the recent sleepers.

  Carter feels that he’s still dreaming, but he approaches anyhow, with hand extended in friendship. But just then, the facility gives a might shake. All brace, against the heavy shock. Wil yells. “Fun time’s over, my friends! We must hurry!”

  “What of the others?” Tina and Carter ask in unison.

  Gort puts his hand on Wil’s arm, whispering the bad news.

  “Gort says they didn’t make it. Let’s go! There’s little time!” And with that, Wil leads the group back to the electronic-fog of the saucer. Beyond which, a non-corporeal Esty and crew can be seen looking in their direction through a shimmering light. Carter and Tina are sure this is all still a dream, but through the electronic-fog they shuffle, and into the airlock.

  Once again out of phase with this universe, and safe within the saucer again, the facility implodes violently! Spitting the saucer out, like a hot tamale! Almost collapsing the warp-bubble. Inertial-dampeners save the day for all within the de-phased fog layer. But, the implodination of the earthly facility, nearly causes the moon to go kersplinters! Shockwaves roll in every direction, shaking the Naiadian ships violently. Many reel with structural damages. A more catastrophic event, they have never witnessed! The reactor-vessel from the facility, boils water violently, as it sinks with protest into the abyssal depths, trailing a line of whimpering bubbles.

  Five lucky souls from the now destroyed station, exit the airlock and make their way to the bridge. “My circuits!” Talia yells maniacally, as they enter. “You were almost killed!” She runs forward to receive her crewmates, and old friends from Earth. The unexpected addition to the rescue, stuns the crowd good! “Carter.... and, oh my circuits.... Tina!” She hugs as best she can, as Esty tries to stabilize the saucer. After backing away from the debris field, everyone has a chance to catch their breath.

  A younger version of android-Tina unfastens her restraints and approaches. The bridge is so quiet, only the rhythmic-hum of the reactor can be heard. The young woman reaches, brushing her hand across a familiar-looking face. “How can this be? We’re nearly twins!” She exclaims.

  Taking the girls hands, the freshly rescued android, gazes lovingly into eyes that she never knew existed, until just then. “I’m guessing that your name might be Tina? Tina Feldman?”

  The shock is palatable. “Yes!” The shocked young woman nearly stutters.

  “Well, in that case, let me introduce myself.... I’m your mother! Or at least a mechanical facsimile of her.... You see, I’m an android. My CPU has your biological mother’s psychological imprints.” She stuns again, extending her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, young lady. My, you’re a pretty one!”

  Tina takes the pro-offered hand. It’s colder to the touch than a human’s, but she feels an inner warmth that radiates. “I have another mom!” She glances around the bridge, gleefully. “I have another mom!” She repeats excitedly. Turning, she collects Nyla, and they have a nice hug-fest! After the embrace, she guides her two surviving moms to the side of the bridge. It’s a strange turn of events for the young human, but such a wonderful surprise to have happen in this hell-hole of all places, she thinks.

  Wil quickly introduces Carter to Esty. However, the situation is rapidly nearing critical. They’re still deep inside dangerous territory, made more so, by destroying the station. Reaching Earth is paramount, and that fact is not lost on the diminutive commander. “We must go!” She expresses forcefully. Carter is seated next to a group of furry animals that he hadn’t noticed before. Wil introduces, but there can be little communication just then. Besides, two of the feline-looking creatures are immersed in a trance-like state, not even noticing the olive-toned android.

  “Esty.” Raznalli calls out. “Our water-friends, the Naiad, report much damage to their vessels after the implosion. They must leave immediately. I informed them that Carter and Tina are safe, and thanked them greatly. Also, they wish us luck.”

  “Thank you, Raznalli. If you can, also wish them luck. And tell them we’ll try to return someday, and exchange technologies if possible. Tell them this is not all to their universe, but too keep looking up, to see more.” She suspects that the Naiadian’s have never witnessed the glory of the milky way, or even that of the monster, their world orbits, providing them with life giving energies. Someday, the life forms that orbit Jupiter, will break free of their moon.... Esty hopes to be there, to help them figure out how.

  The saucer, slowly rises through a freshly created hole in the crustal ice of Ganymede. The violent action below, seemingly having no effect on the ships systems, except that fuel quantity is looking extra grim. The alien-android commander has never seen it so critical! “Braxton, I’ve calculated the next set of coordinates. Please review, and take us to the planet you call Mars. It will cost us fuel, but not much. We might get a clue of what to expect at Earth if we check that planet on the way.”

  Carter and Tina are in awe, as they
take in the alien bridge, and the crew. Many are young versions of their long-dead friends from ancient Earth. Above, the circular monitor captivates their senses. One side of which is plastered with the incredible spectacle of Jupiter, while the other has a bejeweled milky way splashed across it, adding stark contrast. They are so close to Jupiter, that the fullness of the banded planet doesn’t completely fit the screen. If the two bedazzled androids didn’t know better, they might think the bridge had no walls at all, and the vacuum of space held at bay, just an arm’s length away!

  Next to them, Braxton and Magnus are scratching their heads, as they contemplate an anomaly in Esty’s flight plan. Far be it for them to correct such a seasoned veteran, but she did charge them with review of the data. Braxton looks to his commander who sits smugly in the high command-position. He sees a quizzical and expectant look in her expression. “Esty, there seems to be an anomaly in our flight plan. This data will bring us out of the slipstream too early.” There, he committed himself to his findings. He hopes he’s correct, and that she doesn’t make him walk the plank.... or worse, be keelhauled!

  Esty chuckles euphorically, happy Gort didn’t ruin her test. She’s so proud of the way these young humans have taken to her species technology. “Very good, Braxton. And you also, Magnus.” She offers praise, where praise is due. “I was hoping that you would find my deliberate error. I just might have to promote you both, ahead of schedule.” Another fine chuckle. “Here’s the more accurate coordinates.” She transfers the data for their review.

  While the new coordinates are under review, Nyla asks of an old friend. “What happened to civilization, Carter?” She asks, incredulously. “This solar system is so quiet, you could hear an asteroid drop!”

  “My dear Nyla, I nor Tina haven’t a clue, as to what happened. All I know, is that a hundred-years after becoming imprisoned by the High Council, all visits from Earth stopped. No warning, no explanation; we were simply abandoned, to fend for ourselves. If not for the Naiad’s investigating a disturbance in the outer reaches of their universe, we would have died. Over the millennia, they effected repairs on critical systems, where we could not reach. They brought supplies, when our jailers brought nothing.” He takes a deep breath, calming his circuits. “But now it’s finally over.... We thank our lucky stars, it’s finally over! .... Thank you all, for coming to our rescue!”

  “Yes, thank you all. I don’t think we could have gone another 175,000-years!” Tina jokes.

  “Well, we’re not out of the woods yet.” Nyla responds cryptically. “In fact, we may have just rescued you from peaceful slumber, only to deliver you into another frozen predicament.” She explains about the fuel crisis, and the possible molestation of Earth by alien mechanical-aggressors.

  Carter sits taller, explaining. “All I can say, is that you sure didn’t wake me from a peaceful slumber! This is infinitely preferable!” All, have a laugh, as Braxton, Magnus and Gort finish inputting corrected data into the helm. The course is set, just a push of a button is needed....

  “Commander; the course has been plotted and set.” Braxton informs.

  “Very well.... All hands, prepare for the jump.” She announces on the intercom. “Braxton, take us into the slipstream!”

  Carter and Tina aren’t prepared for the blurring phenomenon that occurs while fully de-phasing from the universe. It takes their android breath away! Everything and everyone on the bridge becomes ghost-like, with lines of what used to be, streaming backwards in a smearing action. Above, the monitor flashes psychedelically. With Mars, not being very far away using this technology, the event is over, seemingly before it began. Where Jupiter once ruled the monitor, now a tiny ball of red, shines brightly. “Take us closer Braxton. Equatorial orbit of 500-miles.” Esty directs firmly. “Cooper, Toby, keep an eye on the scans.”

  The red planet quickly grows from the size of a cantaloupe, to that of taking up half the monitor, as the saucer travels only partially out of phase. Settling into high-orbit, the craft is nestled in a cocoon of illuminated electronic-fog, offering some protection against being scanned, but not much. What Esty and the crew see, in both the data and the monitor, leaves them speechless. The red planet is orbited by millions of tons of shredded debris, one chunk of which is recognizable to Nyla and her android friends, as the space station that they once called home. With its orbit in final decay, it will soon end its days as a flaming charcoal briquet.

  Below, places that were once mined by humans and android alike, is now pockmarked with deep gouges that mar the landscape. Whatever valuable resources the red world once had, has since been removed by an irresistible force. A force to be reckoned with! Everyone, now fears the worst for their next destination; the cradle of humanity. Esty is shocked at what she sees. Like the mining planet, this solar system has also come under attack. “Our enemy grows in strength and boldness.” She says, with great dread. “They are venturing much farther than ever, and doing greater damage too.”

  Wil, feels her dread. “Esty, we’ll find a solution to this threat.” He says in a reassuring way, adding. “Or die trying.” There comes a round of agreement from all on the bridge. Esty’s mood is lifted by the exuberance and bravery of her new shipmates. She notices that her posture has slumped, from the shock of the imagery below. As if the winds were taken from her sails.... She quickly corrects, sitting up like a commander ought to. Slovenliness, is unbecoming an officer!

  Nyla notices familiar landmarks below. “Cooper, please zoom the video to these coordinates. She spews forth a series of memorized numbers from ancient GPS data that the ships system had been programmed to recognize. The saucers surveillance system zooms to an area of the surface that’s riddled with craters. Some old, and some newer. After the video stabilizes, Nyla’s keen eyes notice a tiny crater within the sidewalls of a larger and much older one. “Well, it seems that Dylan Conrad, still sleeps with the Martians.” She points to the spot where an old enemy had met a violent end, after plunging from space. Mostly, the debris from impact is scattered over a wide area, and now covered with regolith. At the core of the partially filled crater, is the melted remains of SPS-Charlie, a once proud spacecraft that brought her and Wil to Mars, during the mission-launch phase.

  Wil is flabbergasted at seeing the grave of an old nemesis. “It seems like just yesterday we were chasing that maniac!” He exclaims, turning to young Magnus. “If not for your father, young man, we wouldn’t be here today.” Magnus perks up, quickly realizing Wil is speaking of Magnus Teach, who died many tens of thousands of years prior. Wil gives the young man a warm smile. Turning back to the commander, he asks. “Esty, does this ship have a name? I mean, a real name?”

  “No.... Only numeric nomenclature.” She responds clinically, offering a quizzical expression.

  “Well, I propose this day, that henceforth, we shall call this proud ship the ‘Queen Ann’s Revenge’, after the Teach family tree of infamy.” Looking back to Magnus, he relates. “Boy, did you know that you have a famous pirate in your family-tree? His name was Blackbeard, and he was the terror of the high-seas at one point in time. A real scallywag, from what I hear! .... He named his stolen flagship Queen Ann’s Revenge, and me thinks it’s a fine name!”

  Magnus had a suspicion of such a dastardly relation, but after so much time, the pirate’s exploits didn’t seem so shameful, but romantic, in a terrible way. “I’ve suspected as much, Wil. And, if Esty like’s the name, I like it too!”

  The lovely gray commander, puts it to vote. Not one dissenting word is heard, as unanimous approval meets her ears. “The ayes have it!” She exclaims. The thought of naming a ship in such a way is foreign to her, but she likes the flow of words. “From this day forward, this ship will be known as the Queen Ann’s Revenge!” The crowd goes wild! .... She makes a note to research this Blackbeard human, hoping to read about a kindred spirit.... Looking to Gort, she sees that he is pleased, but also reminding of the fuel crisis. “Okay everyone, we’ve seen all we need to see
here. Strap yourselves in. Braxton, plot a course for Earth. Bring us out of the slipstream on the dark side of the moon.”

  People scramble back to their places. Esty grows anxious about the fuel they may or may not find at Earth. While Braxton and others calculate a jump, she asks. “Carter, what can you tell me of a place once called the Grand Ledge Institute of Science? In particular, the research done their concerning exotic fuels.” .... Blunt, and to the point.

  Carter rolls his eyes, dredging old memories. “Well, I can tell you that Doctor Sawyer and his team had developed an exotic fuel which he theorized could be used to reach the stars. But he hadn’t yet developed the drive-system that could handle such power.”

  “Do you think he was able to store any usable quantities?” Esty inquires, with hope.

  “I can’t answer that question, Esty. I’m sorry, but I just don’t know for sure.” Sad tone.

  “Well, it seems there’s only one way to find out. And, seeing as we’re already in the neighborhood, we’ll just have to go look.” Glancing around, she sees only excited faces.

  “Commander, we’re ready.” Braxton announces, Gort nods his head, Esty doesn’t need to check the math.

  “At your leisure.” She instructs from the heights of her mighty throne.

  Braxton defers to the ships new namesake. “Please, Mr. Blackbeard, make it so!” He jokes, causing Magnus to smile wider than ever.

  “Argh, Matey! Don’t mind if I do!” And, the mighty Revenge dissolves into the slipstream, where she always feels more at home. Queen Ann’s Revenge, leaves the slipstream right on cue. Behind the dark side of the moon she cruises, not visible to Earthly scans. However, the term ‘dark side of the moon’ is a misnomer, as it’s really not dark at all. As they near the moons polar region, an ancient mining site can be seen on the surface. The habitats are coated with regolith, so it’s hard to tell where great age begins, and old battle scars take over.

  “Magnus, do you see that old facility down there?” Nyla, points to the barely discernable scratches on the landscape. “That was built and operated by your dear old father, Magnus Edward Teach. He and his crew, mined the moon of hydrogen, oxygen, helium-3, and many other minerals that made our journey possible. All that, and he was one of the bravest of human beings that ever lived! He selflessly saved hundreds of lives on the Martian space station, and quite probably the very missions to Oberon and Titania!” She says proudly. Magnus watches with wonderment, as the old facility slips past.

  “I see no fresh scars down there.” Wil reports. “Whatever happened here, happened long ago.”

  After finding no radiation-signatures emanating from Earth, the Revenge and her brave crew, sail forth in a leisurely fashion for the blue marble. At being only partially out of phase, they take a lengthy hour, to make the crossing. No full slipstream this time. Even so, Earth grows in size quickly. The once beautiful blue world, has rings of debris in late stages of orbital decay, and the polar regions show solid-white, extending much farther towards the equator than normal. “Oh, my!” Talia exclaims. “That can’t be good!” She points at what can only be, a ravaged planet suffering from the frozen clutches of another vicious ice-age....

 
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