Hyperion, Chapter 10 and CODA

Hyperion image Small

And so here we are at the end of another little story, a tale leaving you with many questions and with few guideposts ahead…because this was, after all, not my story to tell. That the creators of the arc have dismissed the idea of moving ahead only served to open the door just enough to slip a foot inside and take a look around. To see what an addled mind might come up with. Of course this is/was just one of a million possibilities, but it was nevertheless fun to play around in these borrowed fields. Perhaps when you finish here you’ll revisit Prometheus and Covenant and see how the pieces presented here fit in those other puzzles? Maybe I missed the mark entirely, so put the kettle on and pour yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up and ponder the possibilities.

[In Places On The Run \\ The Dream Academy]

Chapter Ten

You better start doing it right…

USNSF Hyperion                                                          12 September 2105

Lost in light, the light ahead. More than halfway to the doomed star Capella, Hyperion and her fleet are spread out in a long, thin line streaming towards oblivion. Patton and Stavridis are well behind, about to rendezvous with the last of the fleet’s tankers. And streaking away from the fleet: Hyperion’s Shuttle Two, with Ripley’s Gordon at the helm. Covenant and the small Company ship are dead ahead of the shuttle, and as it happens they are anything but dead. Life now crawls through the twisted remains of Covenant, life almost human – but also no longer human, writhes in darkness, waiting to be fulfilled. A glistening amalgam of sulfuric acid, silicon, and human DNA lies waiting, patiently waiting, to spring the trap.

Ripley’s Gordon keys the mic, the video feed to Hyperion now set to Continuous.

“Admiral,” Gordon says, “as you can see, the Company ship’s name is Daedalus. I am picking up signs that the main reactor plant is now online and ramping up, but her Field is still not up.”

“And the Field generator came online when you scanned with radar?”

“Yes, Admiral. As you and Captain Caruthers surmised, the ship is still manned.”

“What are you showing as time to impact, Gordon?”

Patton’s torpedoes will arrive in seven minutes, four seconds. Stavridis’ torpedoes will impact one minute and fifteen seconds after that.”

“Any reaction from Covenant yet?”

“No Admiral, nothing so far. How is your approach to Capella? As anticipated?”

“More interaction between gravity waves than expected, but the inertial dampers are handling it so far.”

“Is it possible that there might arise unexpected zones of interaction, Admiral?”

“How so, Gordon?”

“Ah. An unexpected interaction between gravity waves from Capella and the magnetar. Like colliding tidal streams, perhaps?”

“We haven’t programmed that into the simulation. What makes you think that’s possible?”

“Admiral, from this distance I think I can such waves forming, so interaction seems inevitable. There are more gravity waves emerging from the magnetar than we expected, yet I can see collisions between these waves and the more typical gravitational waves being pulled into Capella. There is a zone of conflict between these inbound and outbound waves, and the plasma ejected from Capella’s corona appears very disturbed in this region.”

“Okay Gordon, thanks. We’re programming the new simulation now.”

“You’re welcome, Admiral. Four minutes twenty seconds to first impact. Daedalus’ Field generator is ramping up to full power now; I suspect her Field will activate any time now.”

“Understood.”

“Admiral, you should input your code now. There could be disrupted COMMs after impact.”

Ripley nodded, but “Okay” was all he managed to say. He watched the live feed from Shuttle Two, Covenant with her massive solar array now in tatters – and with a very malevolent Daedalus docked to Covenant’s forward crew module – so he wasn’t at all surprised when Daedalus disappeared behind her Field.

Daedalus Field now active and at one hundred percent rated power, Admiral. Torpedo impact in thirty seconds.”

“How far out are you, Gordon?”

“Twenty thousand kilometers, Admiral. Safe enough for now.”

“Understood.”

“Admiral, may I transmit the data to Patton’s Gordon now?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“Thank you, Admiral. Impact in ten seconds.”

Ripley turned to Hyperion’s astronomer. “You recording this?”

“Yessir, but at this distance we may just see a series of small flashes.”

Ripley nodded. “Make sure you record to redundant sources.”

“Aye, sir.”

Ripley, watching the feed from Shuttle Two, almost flinched as the first torpedo struck Daedalus’ Field – but, as expected, absolutely nothing happened. The torpedo just barely penetrated the Field, and this caused to the one gigaton hydrogen warhead to detonate. Shock waves wouldn’t reach the shuttle for several minutes so the image remained clear, and Ripley and the bridge crew on Hyperion watched as three more warheads impacted and detonated, and when the intense brightness finally faded everyone could see that the little ship’s Field was now glowing bright yellow. Then, as the heat contained by the Field built and built the Field turned solid green…

“Admiral,” Gordon said, “the temperature within the Field is now at 11,000 Kelvin and rising. The second round of torpedoes will impact in fifteen seconds.”

“How long before the shockwave reaches you?”

“About four minutes, Admiral. Permission to begin my run.”

“Granted.”

“Fifth impact, Admiral.”

Ripley nodded and watched as the first of Stavridis’ warheads slammed into Daedalus’ Field, and as the flaring began to fade he saw patches of blue forming within the Green Field – then the sixth warhead hit and her Field began to turn solid blue…

“Internal Field temp now at 15,000 Kelvin, Admiral.”

The seventh warhead hit and the little ship’s Field turned cobalt blue with violet patches…

“Field burn-through imminent, Admiral.”

The eighth and final warhead plowed into Daedalus’ Field and this time the energy released by the blast shook Covenant and the little ship’s Field turned intensely violet – before it began to collapse in on itself.

“Her Field is gone, Admiral, but as predicted the ship is still intact. Picking up heat blooms in her reactor spaces, and more personnel are transferring from Covenant to Daedalus now. They appear to be removing sleep modules from Covenant and taking them to Daedalus.”

“How long, Gordon?”

“To impact, Admiral? Less than five minutes at present speed.”

“Was your data transfer successful?”

“Yes. Thank you, Admiral.”

“Arm the warheads, Gordon.”

Ripley watched as Gordon turned and flipped switches, then Gordon returned to the screen. “Both warheads now armed, Admiral.”

“Thank you, Gordon.”

“Admiral?”

“Yes?”

“All my brothers as well as myself have been encoded with a reasonable fear of death. This was done to prevent us from taking our own life, or the lives of others.”

“I see, Gordon. I’m sorry, I had no idea.”

“Admiral? I am afraid.”

“You have every right to be, my friend. But that is why so many human actions are driven by duty and honor, Gordon.”

“I understand, Admiral. You will remember our pledge?”

“Of course I will, Gordon.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

“Gordon, tell me something…as man to man.”

“Yes, Admiral?”

“Do you think that the past still exists somewhere?”

Gordon looked puzzled, then almost unsure of himself. “I don’t know, sir. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it before. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll meet again there. Someday.” 

“I see, sir. Yes, perhaps. Sixty seconds to impact, Admiral.”

Ripley looked at his screen: Shuttle Two was streaking in fast now, aiming right for the Company ship’s center of mass, the two 5-Gigaton warheads in her cargo hold armed and with their proximity detonators active.

“I don’t know if we ever really die or not, Gordon. That too is part of the human condition, and I think sometimes it gives us a kind of hope.”

“Hope for what, Admiral?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe that something comes after, and so there’s no reason to be afraid of the darkness. Maybe, I guess, because we won’t be lonely, wherever it is we end up, and that one day soon we’ll see each other again.”

“I see, sir.”

Ripley looked Gordon in the eye. “Gordon, it’s been an honor to know you.”

“Yes, Admiral. Thank you for being my friend.”

Shuttle Two burned in at 46,000 meters per second, closing the last few miles to Daedalus and Covenant in the span of a single human heartbeat…then Ripley’s screen flared briefly before it went black.

“Yes, goodbye my friend,” Denton Ripley whispered – before he turned away and closed his eyes. If only to hide from the universe for a few minutes more.

Hyperion: CODA

Holy Mother of God…you’ve got to go faster than that…

USNSF Hyperion                                                                 12 August 2107

Lost in time, unforgiving time. 

Unforgivable time.

Ripley remained locked away, deep within the cold, dark warrens of his in-port cabin; today, like so many recent days, he remained content to leave the day-to-day running of the ship to Captain Brennan. It was, after all was said and done, her ship. He had started playing a musty old guitar he’d purchased at an old music shop in Annapolis early in his second year at the Academy, thinking that perhaps someday, maybe while out on a long patrol, he might actually find time enough to learn to play the blasted thing, yet somehow that day had never arrived. Until two years ago.

He had read somewhere that the blues was the one and only “real” American art form; everything else was just an imitation of an imitation, or so that line of reasoning went. So he’d started there, because at the time the blues had seemed a perfectly reasonable place to end this particular journey of his.

The more he studied the basics the more the musical forms of the blues seemed ideally suited to the life he’d made for himself out here beyond Earth, at least it did on most days: three chords spread over 12 bars in 4/4 time, but with an endless variety of emotional repetitions possible, with each chord suited to the many moods of the day. Or was it really the needs of the moment?

Yet anyone, Ripley surmised, could memorize three chords, even him, so why not start small…?

Yet after two years the blues still eluded him. ‘Just as truth so often eludes us,’ he mused.

And now that Hyperion was finally back in Sol system and headed for Gateway Luna-4, Ripley had finally packed away the musty old guitar with all its nasty, silent recriminations, giving up for the last time on music. For the last five months, after remnants of the fleet had mapped Langston Points as far out as Polaris, Ripley had held class almost daily with the five remaining midshipmen. And once a week Patton’s shuttle came for him and he went to the smaller ship to visit his wife and daughter, often spending the night with them before returning to Hyperion, his flagship.

Then they’d Jumped back to Sol after spending a final two months in and around Castor and Pollux, the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini. They’d discovered two habitable worlds in the regions around Castor, and these discoveries alone would justify the expense of such a long duration voyage…but then again, that was the good news.

Because, Ripley knew, good news always comes with a price. In this case, one of the moons there appeared inhabited.

Once out of Jump shock, the crew on Hyperion performed a COMMs check and then checked-in with SpaceCon in Norfolk. New orders arrived within the hour: all but Hyperion were to proceed directly to the main Gateway in Earth orbit – to refuel and rearm, but that was also when the word arrived that new crews would be taking over.

But again, not Hyperion.

No, Hyperion was to proceed direct to Luna Gateway-4. To Admiral Stanton’s HQ.

So Ripley finished-up and turned-in his final expedition report, a four hundred page mea culpa detailing the circumstances around the destruction of Covenant and Daedalus, as well as the loss of both Ticonderoga and the Woodrow Wilson. Of the silence they had all experienced? He left all that out of his report.

He heard from Admiral Stanton after that. A Board of Inquiry would be held at the gateway; an Admiral’s Mast would follow.

Tankers met the fleet after departing Mercury and Ripley began to wrap up his instructions with the middies not long after. Two weeks later Hyperion, as well as Patton and Stavridis, docked at Luna-4 – and that was it. Over, everything over, and suddenly Denton Ripley felt small again.

According to BuPers he was now officially one year past his mandatory retirement age; Judy still had two years to reach that milestone, but assuming she wanted to go out again, which he very much doubted, she too was finished, at an end. More than one colony ship would be headed to Gemini soon enough, and wouldn’t it be a fine thing if they all could make the trip together?

+++++

It turned out the Board of Inquiry was a mere formality; Ripley would, after all, be officially retired as soon as he left the base. The Admiral’s Mast was another thing entirely.

Informal gatherings such as Admiral’s Masts were non-judicial hearings often held to go over more controversial details of a voyage that didn’t make it into the (often sanitized) final Expedition Findings, and typically for politically sensitive reasons. In short, Ripley would have to come clean about his reasoning behind not only the destruction of Daedalus and Covenant but also his thinking behind the decision to send his Gordon unit on a terminal mission.

And then…there was the silence.

Video of the fleet’s encounter as they approached Capella and the magnetar would also be reviewed one more time, and the greater implications of the silence reviewed and discussed. Stanton presided, of course, and four serving admirals came up from Norfolk to attend, as did an Undersecretary of Defense and a member of the U.S. Senate, both Navy veterans who had served in space.

The Mast was held in a special one room within the Lunar Gateway, a hallowed space built of actual wood, the real deal. Old-growth oak from Tennessee, in point of fact, and mounted on one wall – the original wheel from the U.S.S. Constitution, Old Ironsides, and one of the few artifacts preserved during the fire that finally consumed the old ship. There seemed to be no point of contention that could not be raised in this venerated atmosphere, if only because what was said in the room tended to stay in the room.

Once Admiral Stanton took his chair everyone else sat – with the exception of Denton Ripley. A sailor brought before the Mast was typically to remain standing while a summary of the meeting was read aloud…for the record…and so Ripley stood behind his chair, waiting. Stanton finished reading a document that Ripley could see was clearly marked ‘Classified’ and ‘Top Secret’ while the rest of the gathered attendees poured water into glasses or checked messages on personal tablets. Yet they ignored him, never looked his way.

Until Stanton looked up and called the meeting to order.

“Denton, have a seat,” Stanton said, breaking tradition and changing the tenor of the proceedings at the outset.

So Ripley sat. And he waited. Again. While Stanton continued reading from his classified documents.

Then the old man put the document away and looked over to his aide and nodded. The room darkened, a flat panel display lowered from the ceiling and came to life. Images flickered and then stabilized into a standard split-screen arrangement, the left side showing Hyperion’s bridge, the right side a diagram showing the arrangement of Hyperion and her fleet as they departed Beta Capella-4,  to make their long approach between Capella and the emerging magnetar.

“Denton, after reading over your report, and that of Admiral Adams on Ticonderoga, I just wanted to be sure I understand the sequence of events.” He looked up and nodded at Ripley, his blue-gray eyes hard and clear.

“Yessir?”

“This shockwave? The Walter from Covenant’s ground party identified this as coming from a collapsing neutron star – and not a ‘nearby stellar ignition?’ as originally postulated?”

“Yes, Admiral. He also advised that the small citadel on Beta Capella-4 was a scientific colony, and that the scientists stationed there had been observing the collapse for some time. He was, once the hostile organisms on the planet identified him as an item of no interest, able to make several trips up into the mountains, where their observatories were located.”

“Of no interest? Clarify, please.”

“Organisms not originally from that planet, usually in the form of airborne spores, penetrate the mucosal membranes of living hosts and within hours a new hybrid completes gestation and is born…”

“Within hours, you say?”

“Yes Admiral, and these new organisms seem to be born combat-ready almost as soon as they are out of the semi-human placenta used. I mean quite literally within seconds.”

Stanton looked at the men around the room. Heads were shaking in dawning realization how dangerous, or perhaps how useful, such an organism could be.

“You say in your report as much, but you’ve left out the origins of this organism. Does Covenant’s Walter not know?”

Ripley looked away, collecting his thoughts. “Admiral, the record here is at best circumstantial. This Walter relayed to me that members of the original Prometheus mission discovered a weapons storage facility maintained by this civilization…”

“The Tall Whites, as you can them?”

“Yessir. And the lone human survivor of this mission, one Elizabeth Shaw, along with the David unit assigned to that mission…”

“Peter Weyland’s personal unit, you write. Supposedly considered his son?”

“Yes, Admiral. And after the destruction of Prometheus, Shaw and this David traveled to the citadel and, well, they quite literally bombed the city with a biological package taken from this storage facility. And this released the pathogen that spread around the continent, Admiral.”

“So, whether we like it or not the human race has de facto initiated hostilities against this group, your Tall Whites.”

“And that’s why I tried to differentiate our forces from those on Daedalus, Admiral. I wanted to declare them as our common enemy.”

“Quick thinking on your part, too. What you might not know is that while you were away the Weyland-Yutani Group moved their entire operation to the Orion colonies.”

“The Japanese colony, sir?”

Stanton nodded. “A marriage of convenience, I think. Intel suggests they intend a sudden return to Earth with overwhelming force, their intent to wipe out the combined Naval and Space Forces remaining here and so to pave the way for their return. Our best guess is that they are after the organism for just this purpose.”

Ripley shook his head. “What Walter describes, sir…well, there’s just no way to contain such an organism. Once it gets loose there’s literally no stopping it, and if it got loose on Earth the entire planet would have to be sterilized, right down to sea life and avian species, and perhaps even plant life.”

“This David unit, Weyland’s son…you call him. Walter told you these units developed split personalities as a result of mistreatment?”

“Yessir.”

“So in effect we caused this whole thing?”

“That’s one way to look at it, Admiral. Behavioral inhibitors could have been included in these first units, but weren’t.”

“So…Weyland was trying to implement his take on Free Will?”

“That’s a real possibility, sir.”

“Okay, let’s move on to the destruction of Covenant. You deployed your personal Gordon unit to carry out this mission. Why?”

“It was Judy’s…Captain Caruthers intent to fly the mission, Admiral.”

“But she was pregnant. With your daughter? What’s her name? Ellen?”

“Yessir. Gordon learned of her intent and had a Walter unit sedate her before her planned departure.”

“I understand she was pretty upset by these maneuvers? Blamed you, did she?”

“True, sir.”

“Going over the transcript of the video, you and this Gordon made a deal? A pledge of some sort?”

“Yes, Admiral. I promised to reactivate all the Gordon units, fleet wide.”

“Trusted him that much?”

“Yessir. In effect, sir, I was trusting him with the life of my child.”

“Extraordinary,” Stanton whispered. “I’m not sure I could have done that.”

“You haven’t served with a Gordon yet, have you, Admiral?”

Stanton bristled. “No,” was all he said, and that not at all pleasantly.

Ripley nodded. “I’m still not quite sure what we’ve done, Admiral, but in some ways I think they’re better than us at many things we never considered possible.”

Stanton growled under his breath. “So, what was the purpose sending the shuttle?”

“Well sir, the torpedoes took out Daedalus but left Covenant reasonably well intact, at least long enough to possibly launch her remaining shuttle. Gordon’s mission was therefore twofold, sir. One, to see that the destruction of Daedalus was accomplished and Two, to see to it that anyone departing Covenant by shuttle was negated.”

“And no shuttle departed Covenant? Is that your understanding?”

“Yessir.”

Stanton turned to his aide and nodded. “Play the enhanced segments.”

The screen flickered as files changed and the live feed from Shuttle Two began playing.

“We caught this when we analyzed the files you forwarded,” Stanton said, and the original version played through twice before an enhanced version played – and Ripley could clearly see a small black blob departing the aft end of Covenant

“What the Hell is that?” Ripley sighed, his stomach lurching as the image looped over and over again – and as all eyes in the room turned on his.

“Best we can tell? We first thought it was some sort of escape pod, but you can plainly see it has a Field generator and is too large for that purpose.” Stanton shook his head then looked away. “You had the right idea, Denton. But the Company apparently beat us at our own game.”

“Dear God,” Ripley muttered. “Any idea where it went, Admiral?”

Stanton shrugged, keeping his ace up his sleeve a little longer. “So, let’s move on to item three, your encounter at Capella – and the loss of Wilson and Ticonderoga.”

“Yessir.”

“So as I understand it…Ticonderoga’s hull was compromised by the shockwave from the collapsing neutron star and half her interior compartments were fire damaged, and Wilson’s tanks were dry and had sustained minor damaged. And you decided to try to get Ticonderoga out of the system to prevent her assets from falling into unknown hands. That correct, Denton?”

“Yessir.”

“Sound thinking. And Adams didn’t think her vessel’s structural integrity was so compromised the ship couldn’t make the return trip?”

Ripley shook his head. “No sir, I assumed her thinking was that getting out of the collapsing system was preferable to leaving all those assets behind. I would not characterize her feeling about the ship’s integrity as confident. Hopeful might be the best word, sir.”

“Hopeful?”

“Yessir.”

“That’s pretty thin, Ripley.”

‘So it’s Ripley now, not Denton. I’ve been lulled into falling into his trap,’ he thought. “I think our reasoning was sound, Admiral.”

“Do you, indeed? How many people were on Ticonderoga when she broke apart?”

“Two hundred seventy, sir?”

“Oh? My figure is ninety two. How do you come up with 270?”

“Human and both Walter and Gordon units lost, Admiral.”

Stanton’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t conflate property with human life, Ripley. Understood?”

Ripley remained silent.

“I see,” Stanton said with a sigh. “Well, good for you,” Admiral Stanton added, his voice suddenly and unexpectedly dripping with wilting sarcasm.

Ripley polled the room, looking from face to face, and no one met him even halfway.

“So,” Stanton continued, “You write that Wilson gets slammed by a small, errant CME and yet even with her Field up she comes apart. Just how did you figure that out, Ripley? I mean, your Field was up and you couldn’t see her, right?”

“Correct, sir. But heat sensors picked up something massive, like a coronal mass ejection, along with an unexpected new velocity vector.”

“But you didn’t warn her?”

“Our Field was up, Admiral. Radios don’t work without antennas, sir, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Stanton looked over his glasses and nodded. “And Ticonderoga? The same CME took her out too?”

“Unknown, sir.”

“Unknown. Yes, so it says in your report. And yet I find a startling coincidence here, Ripley. All the sensors on every ship remaining in the fleet went dark at this point. Care to tell me why?”

“I’m not sure I can reliably explain that, Admiral.”

Stanton looked around the table, at all the silent eyes around the room, then he snapped his fingers – and everyone in the room save Stanton’s aide simply disappeared. Stanton watched Ripley, yet he seemed disappointed at his response. “Bet you didn’t see that coming, eh?”

Ripley shrugged. “High density holograms?”

“That’s right. How’d you know?”

“They never spoke to me, sir. And they rarely looked my way. Too hard to program, I reckon.”

Stanton nodded at his aide one more time. “Play the next file, please.”

The screen flickered again as a new file loaded, then Ripley was looking at the fleet, his fleet, as it approached Capella. The screen split – and Gordon appeared.

“Gordon?” Ripley cried, astonished. “What the hell!”

But Stanton simply shook his head. “No, his name is David.”

“David? But I…you mean…from Prometheus?”

“Yes. We think his plan was to come up from behind and take out each ship one by one, then transit the Jump Point to Gemini and then on to Earth. He almost made it, too.”

“Sir?”

“Watch, Denton. Watch and learn.”

David piloted his shuttle and soon caught up with the Woodrow Wilson. He fired a particle beam cannon that soon defeated Wilson’s Field and in an instant she blossomed and was gone. Ticonderoga came next and Ripley could hardly watch this next callous murder unfold…until David’s shuttle’s screen turned black. David frantically worked his instruments trying to find the problem, right up to the point where the shuttle’s video stopped…

“Sir? What happened?”

“Indeed. That is the question, isn’t it? The big question, if I may.”

“And?”

“It took us a while to sort through the clues, but they were there alright. Where we least expected them. First, David raised his mast and the radar survived a little over a second out there in the heat, but when we looked at the video frame by frame we found this…” Stanton used a laser pointer to point to the shuttle’s radar display and there it was, a return – only this radar return was coming up from the rear.

“Apparently Admiral Adams sensed something was amiss and raised a camera through the Field, and I’d assume she did so to get a visual on Wilson.”

Another image flared and stabilized and there for a few seconds was a huge horseshoe shaped ship, firing on the shuttle that had just fired at Wilson.

“And there it is, Denton. Simple as that. You saved his ass, so he returned the favor.”

“Who, sir?”

“That alien, Ripley. The one you saved when his ship was overrun by those damned things. His name, by the way, is Pak.”

“I’m sorry, Admiral, but how the hell do you know all this?”

Stanton smiled and nodded gently, any further subterfuge now completely unnecessary. “Your sensors failed, right? All of them?”

“Yessir?”

“And yet a few seconds later you find yourself on the far side of Alpha Geminorum Ca, and suddenly all your systems return.”

“Yessir. Our navigators assumed we hit the Jump Point and made the transit.”

Stanton shook his head. “That’s not quite what happened, Denton.”

“Sir?”

“Pak’s ship jumped your fleet, every mother lovin’ one of ‘em. Don’t ask me how ‘cause I have no goddam idea.”

“But Admiral, we didn’t receive any file transfers from Ticonderoga, or even Wilson – for that matter. Let alone from the shuttle David was piloting…”

Stanton turned to his aide again. “Open the file now, please,” he said, then he turned back to Ripley. “Thomas Standing Bull sent this file to his tablet, in his cabin on Hyperion. Thank goodness it was still hooked up to the net or we’d have never received it.”

Ripley saw the file open onscreen, so he took a deep breath and read through it…

“Admiral, Tom here. The leader of the group you saved is a high admiral of the fleet. His name is Pak don Sau. I will be living with his family while learning their one of their languages, but it is easy, very similar to other Indo-European languages on Earth. When I am proficient I am to be sent to one of their universities, one near Alpha Geminorum Ca, to one of the planets you will soon survey. I have been with Pak since leaving Hyperion, but he has been watching over our fleet. We recovered files from Ticonderoga and an unknown shuttle that fired on our ships, and I have included these as attachments. I hope they help. Pak says he will continue watching us. I think if he feels we are safe I will be taught the secrets of their FTL drive at university. Pak told me to invite you and a small group of teachers to come to the fifth planet in the Alpha Geminorum Ca system. You will find a moon there. He says you will know what to do. Goodbye for now, and say hello to Yukio for me. I miss her terribly. T Standing Bull.”

Ripley found that he was trembling inside, his entire world turned inside out.

“Well…I will be dipped in shit,” he finally muttered.

“Yes. Exactly so. Denton…I envy you.”

“Sir?”

Stanton turned on the overhead lights and yawned, then he walked over to a view port. “Come here, take a look.”

Ripley stood and walked over to stand beside the old admiral. He was looking at a new ship, rather small but decidedly rakish.

“That’s the Agamemnon. One hundred meters, crew of eighty, well…one hundred and fifty by your way of reckoning such things. She’s a scout ship, first of her class, designed to look for Alderson Points, tram-lines, that sort of thing. Lightly armed, but we’re removing most of that stuff now. You’ll be taking her to Alpha Geminorum Ca as soon as that work is complete. Once you drop off those academic types you can come home and get your family, and we’ll talk about your future then.”

“But Admiral, that’s a navy ship, isn’t it?”

“It is. And I regret to inform you, Admiral, but your retirement papers have been…lost…for the time being.”

“I see, sir.”

“Anyone you want to take with you? For crew, I mean…”

Ripley had to think about that for a moment. “Brennan, I reckon. And I guess most of the bridge crew, Admiral. They’re already familiar with the system.”

“Okay. Done.”

“What about Judy? And Ellen?”

“Not on this first trip, Denton. Too many unknowns. Besides, you should be back within a few months, well in time for Ellen’s next birthday, anyway.”

+++++

“I don’t like it, Denton,” Judy sighed. “It’s all a little too convenient, especially the note from Thomas. It smells, Denton. Like you’re being set up. Or walking into a trap.”

“But…why would he do it, Judy?”

“Why the holograms, Denton? All that means is that there weren’t any witnesses.”

“Witnesses? To what, for heaven’s sake?”

But all Judy could do was shake her head and shrug. 

“I have to disagree, Judy. If the admiralty was concerned about this new race, why send us at all? Why not just blockade the Jump Point to Alpha Geminorum Ca?”

“They don’t need jump points, Denton.”

“Right. I knew that.”

“Well…oh hell, Denton, I don’t know and I’m not going to sit around here trying to look for reasons. If you go and you come back then I was wrong.”

“And if I don’t come back?”

“Then you were too gullible.”

“Gee, thanks.”

She came to him, slipped into his arms. “Let’s not fight, okay. You’ll be gone in a few days, so let’s make the best of the time we have…”

He held her close, marveled at the strength of her…

Then they heard a gentle knock on the door.

“Admiral, it’s me.”

“What is it, Gordon?”

“High priority comms from Norfolk, for Mrs. Ripley.”

“Come on in, Gordon,” Judy said. “Do you have a copy, or do we need to go into HQ?”

“I have it here. It was delivered by courier a few minutes ago.”

Judy opened the envelope, itself a rarity these days, then she scanned all three pages of the document before she passed it over to Denton. Her hands were shaking, he noted.

“War?” Denton sighed. “Between Russia and the Japanese? What the hell?” he added.

“Read the second page,” she whispered.

Denton flipped the cover sheet over and read through the second and third pages, shaking his head all the time. “They can’t do this. You’re retired…you didn’t sign up for the reserves…”

“There’s the emergency reactivation clause, remember? If an Emergency War Order is issued, anyone who’s retired within the last two years…?”

Denton growled and clinched his fists, pacing like a cornered animal looking for a way out of an unseen hunter’s trap. “So…now I’m supposed to head out to Gemini – and you to Orion? And just who, pray tell, is going to stay here and take care of Ellen? Anything in there about that?” 

Judy sat and put her hands in her face, shaking now – but not out of anger. “What do we do, Denton? How can’t we refuse an EWO…that’s tantamount to desertion…not to mention a capital offense in time of war!”

Denton turned away and shook his head, then looked up to see Gordon standing there by the door to their room, waiting patiently with the same gently inquisitive smile his Gordon on Hyperion had always used. 

“Admiral,” Gordon asked helpfully, now speaking ever so gently, “is there anything I can do to lend a hand?”

+++++

It was worth a shot, he reasoned. 

So he made an appointment with Admiral Stanton and went to his office in the Gateway.

“I see,” Stanton said after Ripley presented his case. “Yes, that’s quite a conundrum.”

“It is, sir. Ellen will be two next year and these are critical times in her upbringing. Neither Judy nor myself feel that leaving her with Gordon would be in her best interest.”

“No other family, I take it?”

“No sir…”

“Understandable, I think,” Stanton said. “Still, these are perilous times, Admiral Ripley, and your assigned journey to Alpha Geminorum may very well net us the know-how to develop the first working FTL drive. Do you have any idea what that might mean to the future of humanity?”

“I’ve given the matter some thought, Admiral, and I think I grasp the implications well enough.”

“And still you want to stay?”

“No sir, I want Judy to stay.”

But Admiral Stanton just shook his head, and Ripley thought the Old Man rather looked the part of an old, tired lion. Imperious. Sure of himself and of the sanctity of his realm. And utterly ruthless in the certainty of his aims, and the means to his ends. “I can’t do that, Ripley, and you know it – so don’t you dare put me in that position.”

“Understood, Admiral.”

“The Gordon unit with you? He’s the one that received the data download from your first Gordon, is he not?”

“He is, Admiral.”

“Any idea what that was all about?”

“No sir. None.”

“Speculation?”

Ripley sighed, then he nodded. “I suspect my Gordon downloaded all his thoughts and experiences to Judy’s, so in effect he passed along who he was, Admiral.”

“So, in effect…his understanding of…you…was passed along? Is that what you’re saying?”

“That’s what I’m…what I’ve speculated, Admiral?”

“Well then, who better to leave Ellen with?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Well okay then, I think we’re done here. Dismissed, Admiral, and Good Luck…”

+++++

And when her parents left, Ellen Ripley found herself in the arms of the one person who would, in the end, come to know her best – over the many lonely birthdays that followed.

Also, hier ist das Ende der Geschichte. Aber zu Ende ist nur ein Neuanfang.

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This was a work of fiction – pure and simple – and all characters and events presented herein were fictitious in nature, though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); though his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as direct prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize said drive, derive from key elements presented in the novels The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Thanks for reading along.

[Dance on a Volcano \\ Genesis]

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Hyperion, Chapter 9

Hyperion eagle sm

Not quite the end, one more to go.

[Miles From Nowhere \\ Cat Stevens]

Chapter Nine

If you don’t want to boil as well—Better start the dance

USNSF Halsey                                                                    11 September 2115

Lost in darkness, Ripley felt the little ship tumbling and spinning – and for a moment he wondered why the Field had collapsed – and death had come – so soon.

‘But no, I’m not dead yet…’ he told himself as he struggled to regain himself.

“Emergency power, NOW!” he shouted – and seconds later the bridge was bathed in pale blue light.

“Inertial dampers to standby, reaction control jets to auto!” he added as he watched terrified crew members trying to get oriented to their shattered surroundings, now trying to keep his voice calm. “Engineering? You on comms?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Get the primaries online as soon as you can, and see if you can get the ion drives to standby.”

“Right, Admiral.”

“Brennan?” he said as his eyes swept the bridge.

“Up here,” she said, and when he look up, he indeed saw she was plastered to the ceiling. “My harness failed,” she added – with deep pain etched on her face.

“You hurt?”

“Yessir.”

He nodded. “Medical to bridge,” he said on the intercom. “Lieutenant Bergeron?”

“Here sir,” the ship’s captain said.

“Where’s your XO?”

“I don’t know, Admiral.”

He shook his head and sighed. “Okay, skipper, time to get your act together; go get all your damage control parties organized and then get down to engineering. I want power and I want it now!”

“Aye, sir,” Bergeron nodded, pulling herself down the tumbling main corridor.

White lights popped on and all bridge instrumentation rebooted and he nodded approval. “At least someone in engineering is doing their job!” he muttered. “NAV, work out our position as fast as you can, and we need to know what happened to Beta Capella 4…”

Someone had managed to raise the blast covers after the Field failed and now metal panels slid back inside their recesses within the ship’s hull – and in an instant everyone on the bridge could see what they were up against. Beta Capella 4, the entire planet, was a pulverized jumble of tumbling fragments spinning in space, the planet’s molten core cooling in the hard vacuum of space. Ripley looked at the remnants and thought it appeared the planet had broken into five or six major fragments – but then Capella rolled into view and Ripley’s stomach lurched…

The star was visibly spinning now – yet a huge plume of coronal matter was being funneled towards the incipient black hole forming around the magnetar…

“Comms, see if you can raise anyone on the net. Astro, get a work up on the gravity well forming beyond Capella, and get me an estimate on how much force we’ll need to escape the force.”

Two Walters in blue Medical coveralls pulled their way onto the tumbling bridge and began looking after Brennan, and a moment later Lieutenant Bergeron pulled herself in behind them. “Most of the damage is confined fuel tank support struts, Admiral. One xenon tank ruptured and we’ve jettisoned the remnants. The XO is in engineering trying to get the reaction control jets back online.”

Hyperion to Ticonderoga,” he heard over the fleet comms net, do you need assistance?”

Admiral Adams keyed her mic and Ripley could here alarms in the background – and real fear in her voice: “We have a major fire on the flight deck, abandoning all non-essential personnel to the life pods…”

“Lieutenant, set a course for Ticonderoga and let’s start that way,” Ripley barked. “And COMMs, get me a sit rep on the tankers.” He switched channels and called Chen over on Hyperion. “Commander Chen, Ripley here. How’s our ship?”

“Admiral! You made it! Well, the Field held no problem, but we went on a pretty wild ride. We have a lot of fractures and lacerations in Sick bay, but that’s about it.”

“Understood, same here. Light off a beacon and we’ll try to home in on you. Ripley to Patton, you on the net?”

“Here, Admiral,” Caruthers said – and Denton sighed in too obvious relief. “We’re operational with the same types of injuries in Sick Bay.”

Stavridis here, Admiral. Captain Farrell is in Sick Bay.”

“So, am I speaking to Commander Torshavn?”

“Yes, Admiral,” Katerina Torshavn replied. “Our reaction control jets are offline, working to restore.”

“Same on Halsey. We’ll head for Ticonderoga as soon as we’re able. Patton, you still have a visual on Covenant – or the Company ship?”

“Yes, Admiral, they’re still docked, no apparent change in status – but Covenant appears to have sustained major damage to her structure, and her solar array is almost gone.”

Ripley sighed. “Understood. Patton and Stavridis, resume course to intercept Covenant. As soon as I’m back on Hyperion we’ll follow.”

Ripley turned to Brennan as the Walter-medics strapped her to a gurney, and he released his harness straps and floated free of his G-couch and pushed over to the gurney. She was still in tears, still in pain, so he ran his fingers through her hair then took her hand. “You want to transfer with me back to the ship?”

She nodded. “Yes, Admiral.”

“Okay.” He looked up at the medics and nodded. “See it you can stabilize her for transfer.”

They nodded and left the bridge, just as the navigator finished up her work on the scale of the event horizon forming around the magnetar. 

“Admiral, we’ve got to put as much distance between the fleet and that event horizon as we can, and we better do it real fast.”

Ripley looked at the navigator and saw the concern in his eyes, so he pushed off the ceiling and went to his station. “Show me,” Ripley said.

There was an up-polar plot of the Capella system on his main display, with Capella in the center of the display and the nascent black hole in the left margin of the screen… “There are the old orbits of the inner planets,” Ensign Jake Moore said, pointing at the three concentric rings surrounding Capella. “The planets are gone, and I do mean gone, sir…as in without a trace. And here’s where Beta Capella 4’s orbit used to be, but note the new lines, here,” Moore said, pointing at the lines of a rapidly decaying orbit. “She’s deflecting inward now, and I doubt she’ll make it even halfway around Capella before she gets pulled inside the horizon.”

“How much force would it take to do that?”

“Four times ten to the eighth, Admiral. But that number is increasing almost exponentially, and by the minute.”

“Do our ships even have enough power to pull away from that?”

“Personally, Admiral, the numbers don’t look real good. That’s why I said what I said. The sooner we try to get away the better.”

“Well, there’s no way we can pull away from that much force, so the only thing left is to…”

“Yes, Admiral. We’ll have to accelerate towards the black hole then use Capella to slingshot away the gravity well.”

“Pull up a new chart, Ensign. Plot it out and do the math.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Castor…” Ripley sighed, lost in thought. “That star is about 50 light years from home, right?”

“Presently 50.9, Admiral.”

“There’s got to be a tram-line between Capella and Castor…” he sighed.

“We’d never make it that far into Capella, Admiral.”

Ripley grinned as sudden thoughts came wild and fast. “Uh-huh, but let’s assume the current tram line continues to migrate through Capella…towards the magnetar.”

“Got it, Admiral! I’ll see if I can find it, then plot the latest position of the Jump Point, sir.”

“Let’s see…” Ripley continued, still mulling over the problem, “we’d need to make a burn to enter Capella’s orbit, but we’d also have to take into account her decaying mass, right…?”

“Yessir, but the Jump Point will probably migrate through the star even faster now.”

“Right, so we make our burn to orbit Capella out here, but we’d have to shoot the gap between Capella and the developing event horizon, too…”

“Yessir…?”

“So the limiting variable is our velocity. As in, how much will we need to hit the Jump Point while maintaining enough inertia to get past the gravity well…”

“Okay, sir, on it…”

Ripley patted the Ensign on the shoulder then went over to the helm. “Status on the reaction control jets?”

“Loading the reserve nitrogen now, Admiral,” Bergeron said. “Woodrow Wilson reports ready for refueling ops.”

He went to COMMs next and called Patton on the encrypted tactical channel.

“Still no change in status on Covenant, Admiral,” Caruthers said when she got on the channel.

“Understood. Uh, Judy, pull up your charts and work out the vectors needed to accelerate towards Capella.”

“Now?”

“Yup, better do it now. Assume we can locate a tram line between Capella and Castor, and work up an orbital burn to get between Capella and the event horizon around the magnetar with enough velocity to escape the gravity well and hit a moving Jump Point.” He was trying to spell out the problem without scaring the crap out of anyone who happened to be listening on the net, while hoping she was reading between the lines as he went.

“What about Covenant and the Company ship?”

“Not now, okay?”

“Understood.”

“Get back to me when you have the plot and your fuel requirements.”

“Right. You want me to pass this on to Stavridis?”

“Up to you. She’s close enough to you to slave off your NAV system, right?”

“Okay, yeah, understood.”

He switched over to fleet comms and called Ticonderoga and explained the problem to Admiral Adams on an encrypted channel. “Denton, I doubt we can save the ship,” she added. “Fires are spreading towards both engineering spaces, and once it gets there…”

“Understood. I’d say at this point we might be better off setting the ship’s self destruct charge, just in case someone decides they want to come back and look over the wreckage.”

“Concur,” Adams said. “Hyperion is picking up our escape pods now. How long will it take for you to get here?”

“A couple of hours, at least that’s our best guess right now. Our RCJs are still inoperative.”

“Understood. Also, we still have the entire air wing onboard. Any thoughts?”

Ripley shook his head. “That’s an awful lot of hardware to write off,” he said plainly, his voice a matter-of-fact appraisal despite their increasingly dire situation. “We could leave ‘em with the Wilson, try to return later…but no, wait, that won’t work…uh, wait a second, we’re missing something big here. What about opening the ship to vacuum, putting the fires out that way? Put a skeleton crew back on board to work the con and engineering? You think there’s enough structural integrity left to make a Jump?”

“Should be,” Adams said hopefully. “But I don’t think we’ll know with any certainty until we actually do it.”

“Seems like our best option with the time we’ve got available.”

“Okay. We’ll proceed with that. Try to get here as soon as you can.”

“Admiral?” Halsey’s navigator piped in. “We think we’ve nailed down the location of a Jump Point within Alpha Geminorum Ca.”

“So…what’s the issue with Geminorum A and Geminorum Ab? Too hot?”

“Yes, Admiral. Alpha Geminorum A is an A-class star and well over the line. Alpha Geminorum Ab is about 8600 Kelvin and still beyond Field limits, but Alpha Geminorum Ca measures out at 3820 Kelvin, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s just about perfect.”

“Meaning what, Ensign Jeffers?”

“There aren’t any jump points in A or B, sir, but lo and behold there is one in Ca? That’s pretty clear evidence these points were deliberately placed, Admiral.”

“Okay, write it up – and sign your name. If Norfolk approves, it’ll be your discovery.”

“Thanks, Admiral.”

“Did you plot out our approach?”

“Yessir, and because the magnetar is generating such a strong magnetic field we won’t need a secondary mid-course burn until we’re well into Capella’s orbit. But Admiral, current calculations hold only as long as the material streaming from Capella to the Magnetar doesn’t move unpredictably. Transiting that material would impede our velocity vector…”

“Assuming we survived the encounter, you mean?”

“Yessir.”

“Alright, Ensign. Send your data to all vessels in the fleet and work up estimates of fuel requirements and see if the tankers have enough on hand to fuel all our ships.”

“Yessir!”

Ripley flipped comms to ship to ship and called Patton again.

“Yes, Admiral?” Judy said, a little too playfully.

“Get your best navigator on the problem we’re sending out now. Patton and Stavridis will have to tank while we are inbound to Capella.” 

“Got it.”

“Anything new with Covenant?”

“Both ships are cold now, Admiral. No IR signatures at all, like both ships are open to space.”

“So…either there was a fight or someone on the Company ship knows how to play dead? Is that how you read it?”

“Yes, and breaking off the intercept now means we’ll never know for sure,” Caruthers said.

“Options?”

“Well, the Company ship’s Field is down. We could fire off a salvo of torpedoes, but assuming we launched then turned and departed for the Jump Point…well, if they’re playing dead we’d be halfway to Capella before impact – so we couldn’t do a damn thing about it if they got their Field up and pulled away. Unless one of us stays behind, Admiral.”

It took Ripley no time to answer that one: “I’m not sacrificing a fully manned ship…”

“It would only mean delaying departure until impact, Admiral.”

“With that magnetar growing more powerful by the minute? Are you serious? Besides, even if they are playing dead, but the time they power up their Field to stop the torpedoes it’ll be too late for them to make it out of the gravity well. No matter what, Judy, both of those ships are going to be captured by the expanding gravity threshold unless they depart within the next five hours. And the same holds true for Patton and Stavridis, if you don’t mind me being a little too blunt…?”

“Okay, let’s play Devil’s Advocate. Suppose they have a Plan B? Suppose they have an unknown-to-us back door out of the system?”

“Then it’s a race to see who makes it back to Sol system first, isn’t it? If we make it first we wait near the exit to Sol’s Jump Point, and we take ‘em out there when they’re in Jump shock. If they make it back first…? Well then, hopefully we make it back into the inner system soon enough to either pursue and destroy or we send out a general alert and let Norfolk deal with them.”

“Request permissions to remain behind with a skeleton crew and…”

“Denied.”

“Look Admiral, I hate to disagree with you, but if that ship is transporting a contagion or some kind of organism that could get somehow get loose on Earth…”

“The odds are you’ll be killed, along with Covenant and that Company ship. I recommend you target that ship and launch as soon as you can, then turn for the Jump Point.”

“Is that a direct order, Admiral?”

“You heard me, Captain.”

“Aye, sir. Patton out.”

He sighed and stared into the nothingness of their decision, not at all sure he’d done the right thing.

+++++

Ticonderoga, this is Hyperion Actual,” Ripley said as soon as he was strapped into his G-couch on Hyperion’s bridge.

Ticon Actual,” Admiral Adams replied. “Go head.”

“Got a status update for me?”

“Taking on fuel now. How’s Captain Brennan?”

“She’s in Sick Bay; they’re wrapping her up, she busted a couple of ribs when she hit the ceiling.”

“Good. I assume she’ll be back on the bridge?”

“Yes, and Captain Ames will be up here observing. She made good progress while we were on Halsey.”

“Good to hear. We have all non-essential personnel spread out between the other ships and we’ll be ready for the burn, but be advised Wilson states her fuel state is very low now. She may be able to refuel one, maybe two more ships, then her tanks are dry.”

“Understood. I’ve got the two small tankers headed out to intercept Patton and Stavridis.”

“Did they launch on Covenant?”

“Yes.”

“Understood.”

Ripley sighed and turned away from the screen for a moment, hopefully not giving too much away. “After what Covenant’s Walter relayed about the organism, I don’t think we have any other viable choice.”

“Well, you know the Company is going to raise hell about losing such a huge investment…”

“Let alone three thousand people,” Ripley added cautiously, shuddering at the fate of the people onboard Covenant.

“Of course.” She signed off and Ripley changed back to Patton’s frequency, and her XO came on.

“Admiral?” Commander Thomas Jung said, and Ripley looked around, trying to spot Judy somewhere on the bridge.

“Where’s your CO?” he asked.

“She’s in her cabin, Admiral. Can I assist you?”

“Did you get the updated plot from the tankers?”

“Yessir, and the course is laid in. ETA nine hours to rendezvous.”

“Okay,” Ripley sighed. “Keep me updated.”

“Yessir. Should I have the captain call you?” Jung said with an ugly smirk.

“Only if something comes up,” Ripley replied with his patented withering stare before he signed off. ‘So,’ he thought, ‘everyone in the fleet knows. And it’s become a laughing matter.’ Which only made what had to happen next all the more troublesome.

So it was time; he turned to Hyperion’s XO, Commander Chen, and all he said was: “Launch Shuttle Two.”

Chen looked away for a moment, hesitating, then she nodded. “Launching Shuttle Two, Admiral.”

‘Maybe all they’ll do is court martial me,’ he sighed.

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Hyperion, Chapter 8

Hyperion eagle sm

One, maybe two chapters after this one, so enjoy your tea.

[Spock’s Beard \\ Bennett Built a Time Machine]

Chapter Eight

Crosses are green and crosses are blue…Your friends didn’t make it through…

USNSF Hyperion                                                              11 September 2115

Ripley looked at Captain Brennan for some sense of perspective – then again at the aliens in their spacesuits standing in one corner of Shuttle Two’s cargo hold. Their suits looked like they were made of a translucent carbon fiber matrix, yet it was the elephantine oxygen masks that seemed so dismally out of place – almost like an organic component instead of a mechanical structure – and Ripley first felt the alien nature of the group as he looked at their helmets.

“Have they tried to communicate with anyone yet?” Ripley asked Brennan.

“No sir. And do note that most of them are well armed.”

“Those sticks?”

“One end appears to deploy a spear tip, the other a particle beam. Quite deadly, too. That beam was slicing up those white creatures from a hundred meters away.”

Ripley had entered hanger two and everyone there had snapped to attention as he entered, and he was hoping that little outward display of rank might convey his position to the huddled aliens, but as he walked up the ramp and into the cargo hold they all just stared at him through those confounded helmets.

He turned and was glad to see that Walter had kept up with him; the android’s power cells were nearly depleted and he now had a portable power pack strapped around his waist. He looked visibly more alert now, too. ‘Not a bad thing, all things considered…’ Ripley sighed.

He walked up to the closest alien and saluted – rigidly, formally – then he stood there, waiting.

The group parted and one of the aliens came to the front of the huddle, and then this alien saluted – rigidly and formally. Ripley guessed the alien had to be at least seven, maybe eight feet tall, and that its spacesuit seemed to conform to body contours more than the Navy’s – and he could already surmise this creature had massive muscles in his arms and legs and upper torso.

Ripley pantomimed removing a helmet from his head and the alien checked a readout on his wrist, then he turned and – apparently – said something to one of the others in his group. This one stepped forward and stood beside the leader; a moment later the leader removed his helmet and handed it to the one he’d called to come forward.

And when Ripley saw the leader’s face and head it was all he could do not to gasp. The leader was obviously male and more than human looking – with the exception of his skin, which was purest white. And his eyes. The eyes were pure obsidian orbs of limitless depth, and Ripley was suddenly struck by the idea that this ‘man’ looked an awful lot like Michelangelo’s David. But how would that even be possible…?

Then Ripley also noted that this man appeared not at all happy with recent events.

Because his ship had just been attacked by the Company ship. A Company ship full of – humans.

And then these humans had ‘injected’ some kind of organism inside his ship…

And the leader had lost control of his ship.

And what ship’s captain wouldn’t be upset under these circumstances…?

“Walter,” Ripley said to Covenant’s lone survivor, “could you explain to our guest that we are in pursuit of the ship that attacked his ship, and that the crew of than ship is our common enemy?”

Walter started to translate but the alien leader held up his hand. “I know your language. We have no need of this construct – or his words,” the leader added, roughly pushing Walter back – and Ripley noted malice in the leader’s expressive voice, and in the way he said ‘construct’, indicating that to him things like androids were beneath contempt.

“Very well,” Ripley added. “We have also detected a shockwave from the collapsing star. It will be here soon.”

“We understand. Our ships here to pick up people who study such things. After arrive discover many murders.”

“That is why we are pursuing the crew of the ship that attacked you,” Ripley said. 

“Can ship go faster than shockwave?”

“This ship? No, it does not move faster than light.”

“How get here?”

“Through a point inside the star,” Ripley said, pointing roughly to where Capella should be.

The leader appeared confused by this. “Explain.”

“Point inside star connects to point in companion star. Travel between points in zero time.”

“Understand. Magnetic tramline effect, very old, very dangerous.”

“We must prepare for shockwave,” Ripley said, his mind on the countdown timer ticking away on the shuttle’s panel.

“No need.”

“Yes. We must prepare.”

“Many ships return soon.”

“Your people ships?”

“Yes. Soon.”

“We have many large ships pursuing the enemy ship.”

“Can help you. Other ships too far away, no time.”

Ripley nodded. “Understand. We must stay. Duty.”

“Duty.” The leader seemed to nod his understanding, then he turned to his group and spoke to them, and only then did the survivors seem to relax – just a little.

“Admiral!” an alarmed voice said over the intercom. “One of their ships just arrived. No, make that…three…no…Admiral, there are now ten alien ships in orbit!”

“Easy, Mister. Take no action, repeat, take no action at this time.”

Ripley turned to face the leader again. “Can we assist you?”

“Assist?”

“Help you back to your ship?”

“Yes.”

“Understand.”

The leader had been looking at Thomas Standing Bull off and on for a few moments, and Ripley was curious why? “You seem interested in this crewman. Can you tell me why?”

“Familiar face. See before. Remind of other time.”

“Oh? Thomas, would you mind coming over here for a moment?”

When Thomas was beside Ripley the alien stared at the boy for a long time, then he spoke. “You have name?” he asked.

“Thomas, sir. Thomas Standing Bull.”

“Standing Bull? Sitting Bull? You know this name?”

“Yes, yes, he was my great-great grandfather!”

“Last time walk on your world walk with your great-great grandfather.” The leader turned to Ripley again. “Possible I take with me?” he said.

“What? The boy?  Well, I…don’t know. Thomas?”

“Yessir?”

“Would you like to go with these people?”

The boy stared at the alien for a moment, then at Ripley, sudden confusion and conflict playing across his face. “I don’t know, Admiral. What would you do?”

+++++

“Shockwave arriving in ten minutes, Admiral!”

The Halsey was a small warship barely a hundred meters in length, but she was packed with the latest offensive weaponry and had a large hanger deck. Everyone onboard was already strapped into G-couches and every ship in the fleet had reported powering away from the shockwave at almost 3G.  And now that all the alien ships were gone Ripley very much wanted to get hold of their FTL technology…!

“Lieutenant Bergeron,” Ripley started to say to the Halsey’s CO, “let’s see if we can stay in the planet’s shadow…at least as long as possible.”

“Aye, sir.”

Then he heard “Patton to Halsey” on the overhead speaker and smiled. “Is Admiral Ripley on the net?”

“I’m here, Judy. How’re you doing out there?” Patton and Stavridis were well ahead of the rest of the fleet – and Patton was now the closest Naval ship to Covenant.

“The Company ship has docked with Covenant. I thought you’d want to know, before…” 

“Any sign of boarding, or conflict?”

“No, nothing, even at highest magnification.”

“Okay. Your orders remain the same. If they survive the shockwave all ships will give chase and overtake. Preventing a Jump back to Earth remains our highest priority.”

“Understood,” Caruthers said. “You on the bridge?”

“I am. You?”

“In my quarters, Admiral. I just wanted to…”

“Understood, Captain. We’ll talk on the other side. Get your damage control parties ready. There are probably going to be a lot of fires after.” He hated to part on a sea of allegory, but that was all he had left at the moment.

“Aye-aye, sir. Patton, out.”

“Six minutes to impact, Admiral.”

“Lieutenant Bergeron,” Ripley said, “let’s get the Field up and stabilized.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Helm, what’s our current acceleration?”

“Passing 3.2G, Admiral Just entering the planet’s shadow.”

“Lieutenant, secure from acceleration and get your damage control parties positioned and ready to go.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Four minutes to first impact, Admiral.”

“Got it,” Ripley replied, then he looked over at Louise Brennan and realized she was staring at him. He smiled at her; she tried to return his smile – and failed. “You doing okay?” he asked – and she shrugged. “We’ll be okay.”

“It’s a small ship, Denton. Smaller than Bunker Hill, ya know?”

“Field at one hundred percent,” someone suddenly very nervous said.

“Two minutes to impact,” another frightened voice added.

“Raise the mast,” Ripley sighed, smiling for Brennan’s sake. The crew now on this little ship had never left Sol system so this was their first time up against the unknown, and now their backs were well and truly up against the wall…

“Raising the mast, aye Admiral.”

A live video feed popped up on the central display and already Beta Capella 4s atmosphere was alive with pulsing green auroras – and already writhing purple mists had encircled the entire planet. “Make sure we record this,” he said softly, though unnecessarily – at this point every astronomer in the fleet had their cameras recording everything about this event, indeed, cameras were trained in every direction, while dozens of sensors recorded everything going on in and around the entire system. 

“Sixty seconds, Admiral.”

“Roger that. Lower the mast at…uh…at thirty seconds.”

“Thirty seconds, aye.”

“It’s been fun, Denton,” Brennan said, and when he looked at her he saw tears in her eyes.

“Piece of cake, kiddo. Just you wait and see.”

“Mast coming down, Admiral.”

Then he felt the first impacts. Packets of energy streaming away from the collapsing neutron star – some innocent enough, others more than deadly – were now passing through their bodies. Gamma rays and X-rays, protons from shredding helium atoms breaking apart in the extreme gravity of the emerging magnetar – all racing away from the collapse. Everything, even the planet below, began pulling apart as a new gravity well formed within the core of the collapsing star – and the only thing keeping this little ship whole was a Langston Field generator that hadn’t been designed to protect against anything like this.

And the last thing he saw before the mast retracted was fire. The surface of the planet beneath them was combusting and would continue to do so until its atmosphere was ripped away, and even now the three inner planets in the system were imploding under the immense gravitational pull of the new black hole forming on the far side of Capella.

And then all power on the Halsey failed – and the stars returned.

[Steven Wilson \\ Drive Home]

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Hyperion, Chapter 7

Hyperion image Small

Lots of twists and turns in store this time out. Grab some tea, hang on and enjoy the ride.

[P.O.D. \\ Alive]

Chapter Seven

Out of the night and out of the dark…

USNSF Hyperion                                                    10 September 2115

Captain Brennan looked at Ripley – then at Ripley’s reactivated Gordon – pure distrust manifest in her eyes, and in her heart. And she had a very bad feeling about this stunt; Admiral Adams would haul her up before a review board for letting Ripley do this without even mentioning it beforehand, let alone approving such a dangerous and unauthorized side-trip. But the truth be told…she understood Ripley’s motives. Walter was the one big unanswered question, and by going after Covenant and the Company ship that question had been shoved aside, pushed from further consideration – and Ripley just wasn’t having any of it…

The cooperative Walter from Engineering was sitting at the helm, while Gordon sat at the ECM panel looking for any sign of Covenant’s Walter on his displays, leaving Ripley free to keep an eye on both synthetics. 

“Don’t look so down, Louise…” he said to the concern he saw in her soul.

“You shouldn’t be doing this, Admiral. We should send one of the Marines.”

But Ripley simply shook his head. “Creativity flourishes when tradition gives way to need…”

“And just what the Hell is that supposed to mean, Denton?”

He chuckled. “I think, back in the day when they still played football, they called this a Hail Mary Pass…”

But Brennan just shrugged. “I still don’t get it. Why you…?”

“It was my idea, Captain. I can’t ask anyone to fade the heat for this one.”

“Alright,” Brennan said, nodding her tacit approval. “If you follow the plotted re-entry you’ll have fifteen minutes of loiter time before you have to make your return burn. Sixteen minutes and you’ll spend the rest of your life in orbit. Got it, Skipper?”

“Got it. Uh, if that ends up being the case I’ve left a video file on my public drive for you. It’ll be worth your while to read it in case we screw the pooch down there.”

“Understood.” He thought he saw a tear in her eye so he turned away.

Ripley looked at the countdown timer on the cockpit panel, then he nodded at Walter and the shuttle’s doors began closing – so Captain Brennan stepped off the loading ramp and fired off a salute before she turned and left the hanger deck.

“All systems nominal, Admiral,” Walter said as he continued scanning his panel. “Hanger deck depressurizing normally.”

“Okay,” Ripley sighed, turning and looking at his Gordon unit, and he saw it was wearing headphones and scanning the three possible frequencies that might reveal Covenant’s Walter. “The citadel is still in darkness, right?”

“Yes, Admiral. Local sunrise begins in eleven minutes. We should arrive over that general location in forty three minutes. Hanger deck depressurized, hanger door one now opening.”

Hyperion to Shuttle One, how do you read?”

Ripley put on his headset and replied. “Hyperion, One, five by five.”

One, Field dropping in ten seconds. You are clear to launch on my mark.” The controller began counting down from fifteen and suddenly the view ahead changed from solid black to verdant green as the Field generator cut out. “Five-four-three-two-one-MARK, and Shuttle One – you are go for launch!”

The shuttle left the bay at 25 meters per second and once she was a hundred meters off the port beam Hyperion’s Langston Field reactivated – leaving nothing but a black hole in space.

Ticonderoga to Hyperion,” Ripley heard Admiral Adams say over the COMMs net, “did you just launch a shuttle?”

Ripley switched his mic over to the ship-to-ship frequency. “Hyperion Actual to Ticonderoga Actual. We’re going to swing around the planet for a quick recon of the city down there.”

“Denton! Are you on that shuttle?”

“Affirmative. We’ll be back up after one orbit.”

“Roger. Good luck.”

“Gracias, Chica. Hasta luego.”

He got no reply from her with that one, so he switched back to Hyperion’s TRACON and checked-in. “Hyperion, One, starting roll program and we have the re-entry window.”

“Roger,” TRAffic CONtrol replied.

“Walter, start the clock.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

He looked through the shuttle’s curved blast-shield and he could see the terrestrial terminator clearly now… ‘So the citadel has to be somewhere near that line…’ he muttered.

But just then the derelict alien ship came into view.

Yet…something didn’t look right.

Hyperion, One, get a camera on the remaining alien ship and transmit the feed to me.”

It took a minute but a live feed soon popped up on one of the cockpits displays and he studied the image for a moment. “Hyperion, One – am I looking at battle damage on the near side of that ship?”

The image flickered and the magnification increased tenfold. ‘Men’ in hard spacesuits were firing lasers into the ship – and then Ripley gasped when he saw smaller white creatures pushing off the ship, flinging themselves towards the space-suited ‘men’…

Ripley studied the situation for a nanosecond – then he switched to the primary fleet channel. “Hyperion Actual to all captains. We’re committed to re-entry now, but we’ve got to try and effect a rescue of that ship’s crew going EVA now. Ticonderoga, detach one of your DEs and a tanker to rendezvous with us after we come back up from the surface; Hyperion, launch Shuttle Two with Marines and a medical detachment to attempt a rescue. I count twenty-three, repeat two-three ‘men’ in spacesuits exiting the ship now, and their suits apparently have maneuvering capability. They seem to be moving away from that ship at high velocity. Brennan? You still on the net?” he said.

“Yes, Admiral.”

“What would you do if your ship was overrun, or being overrun by some kind of hostile organism?”

“Probably exactly what you’re thinking, Admiral?”

“A scuttling charge. Detonating some kind of self-destruct charge.”

“Admiral…it could be a nuclear device. Should anyone close on that ship when…?”

“Understood. Brennan, I need you to work out an intercept for the men, not the ship, okay? Plot the trajectories of the escaping MMUs and work out plots that take Shuttle Two to the largest group.”

“Transferring incoming data to your helm now, Admiral,” Brennan said.

“Walter? Stabilize our re-entry and keep us under 1G as long as you can.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Admiral?” his Gordon said excitedly, so Ripley turned to face him. “I have Covenant’s Walter unit on channel seven at this time. Would you like to speak to him?”

“You…what?

“Channel seven, Admiral.” Gordon said, smiling.

Ripley stared at Gordon then reached for the panel and hit the touchscreen, but then he also hit the share and the record buttons, sending the conversation over the net to both Hyperion and Ticonderoga.

Hyperion Actual to unit on planet surface, identify.”

“Staff officer Walter Weyland from the colonization ship Covenant.”

“Transmit your identicode – now.”

Gordon looked at the screen and nodded. “Identity confirmed, Admiral.”

“Walter, what’s your status?”

“Compromised.”

“Elaborate.”

“I am located in a locked room in the city center, on top of a small building with a scanning radio left by Covenant’s landing party. There are usually several hostile organisms nearby, but they only come out at night.”

“Your location will be in daylight in less than a half hour.”

“In order to land in this area you will need full sunlight or an extremely bright artificial light source.”

“Standby, Walter. We are attempting a rescue operation at this time.”

“Of who, may I ask?”

“Well, Walter, they aren’t human.”

“Sir, I can understand and speak their language.”

“Understood and standby. We are entering our re-entry corridor at this time.”

Ripley switched channels. “Hyperion, One, how long before Shuttle Two launches?”

“We just finished repressurizing the hanger deck, Admiral. As soon as the Marines are onboard she’ll launch. We now have the aliens on radar and our ETA is fourteen minutes, fifteen seconds, given a two minute 1.5G burn to enter their geosynchronous orbit. And Admiral, we have reason to believe that Midshipman Standing Bull is onboard your shuttle.”

“Oh fuck,” Ripley sighed. “Well, ain’t that just peachy, and thanks for all the good news.”

One, Ticonderoga” Admiral Adams said. “Escort and tanker moving to establish orbit at this time. The rest of the Fleet is maintaining course for our pre-established transfer burn.”

Hyperion concurs,” Captain Brennan said. “Twenty minutes to burn.” 

“Okay, Brennan. We’ll try to catch up to you after we get the situation here under control. And Ticonderoga, thanks for the assist.”

There was no reply – which caused Ripley to whistle and grin. “Man, is she pissed, or what?”

“Yes, Admiral,” his Gordon replied, “I’d say she is royally pissed.”

Ripley turned to the cargo bay and walked down the long corridor to the ramp that led into the cavernous hold. “Oh Thomas?” he called out in sing-song, using his best imitation of an eight-year old prankster’s voice. “You can come out now!”

One of the weapons lockers creaked open and Midshipman Thomas Standing Bull crept out into the open – his gaze cast down, his hands behind his back.

Ripley was mad as Hell – but throwing a shit-fit wasn’t going to help anyone just now, so he took a deep breath and nodded. “Get up front and work the COMMs panel, and while you’re at it, try to make yourself useful,” the Admiral snarled, giving way to the young warrior as he galloped past.

When he got back to the cockpit he looked at the retreating image of the alien ship and he thought he could see smoke, actual smoke, pouring out of a – new – and very large hole near the other blast-damaged areas, but now parts of the ship’s hull near her stern were glowing reddish-orange, so he assumed the fight for control of the ship was still ongoing in other parts of the ship. 

Then he looked forward…

Hot gases were streaking over the transparent blast shield – which meant it was time to get strapped-in – as the shuttle began to enter the planet’s atmosphere. “Thomas? Keep the antenna focused on Hyperion as long as you can.”

“Yessir.”

“Gordon, where’s the terminator now?”

“The citadel is now in nautical twilight, Admiral, however Walter has advised that his location is almost completely surrounded by steep-walled mountains. We have lost communications with him as his unit is transmitting on very low power.”

“Understood,” Ripley said, involuntarily clutching the armrests as the shuttle began bouncing through the heavy atmosphere. “Look at the size of those storms!” he sighed as he looked ahead…

Walter looked at his display, then called up another page of data: “Storm-tops are approaching one hundred thousand feet MSL, Admiral, and the atmospheric pressure is unusually high for our current altitude. The lightning observed so far is more powerful than Terran lightning, as well.”

“Within design tolerances?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

Ripley looked at the main panel and noted they were now 80,000 feet MSL, or above sea level, and yet they were now inside a canyon defined by thunderstorms towering overhead – and the turbulence was growing vicious. “Is that a storm dead ahead?” he asked, pointing at the weather radar display in the middle of the instrument panel.

“Yes, Admiral. The red central portion is the area of highest precipitation.”

“Yes, I seem to remember that much. What’s the range scale?”

“This number right here, sir,” Walter said, pointing at the number 1-2-5-0.

“The center of that storm is, what, almost 700 miles wide?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“What’s that hook formation?”

“Tornado,” Walter said – as he compensated for a violent series of sudden drops by adding power.

“Let’s say we avoid that area,” Ripley sighed, “…okay?”

“Yessir.”

“Gordon? You receiving anything?”

“Only the homing beacon, Admiral. Still no COMMs at this time.”

“Walter? ETA to the citadel?”

Walter switched screens and engaged the autopilot while he worked through the math. “Straight course twenty-five minutes. Deviating around the storm will add approximately five minutes given this deceleration curve, sir,” he added, pointing at diverging velocity vectors on an overhead display.

“Any rocks in these clouds?”

“Sir?”

“Mountains. Any mountains we need to avoid?”

“None above fifteen thousand feet along either projected course, sir.”

“Thomas? You got COMMs with the escort?”

“Yessir, Halsey is on 243 megahertz. Getting some interference from lightning now, sir.”

Ripley nodded. “Gordon? Has Shuttle Two launched?”

“Yessir, they are currently closing on a group of fifteen survivors.”

“Advise the Marines to not shoot unless fired upon first.”

“I will repeat Captain Brennan’s instructions to them, Admiral.”

“Shit.”

“Yessir.”

Ripley studied the radar display – especially the large hook return – nervously. “Can you overlay the mountains on this screen, Walter?”

Walter made the adjustment and Ripley could instantly see the synthetic ground mapping radar’s underlay, and the mountaintops even had numeric elevations where appropriate and he nodded his approval. “Got it,” he added unnecessarily, then he zoomed out and saw clear skies beyond the massive storm ahead – so he relaxed – just a little.

As the shuttle skirted the storm the ride eased a little, too. “Thomas, keep talking to Halsey, and keep the updates coming.”

“Yessir. Shuttle Two is now taking on survivors.”

“Jesus,” Ripley muttered under his breath. “First contact. And it had to be like this.”

“Admiral,” Gordon interrupted, “Captain Brennan is EVA with the Marines.”

And he smiled at that. “Good for her! That’ll be one for the history books!”

Then Gordon spoke again: “I have Walter on COMMs, Admiral. He is reporting sunlight in the valley and also that the remaining organisms in the open are retreating into the surrounding forest.”

“There’s two lucky breaks,” he muttered again, looking at the weather radar and seeing that a large window in the weather was opening up ahead, “but how many more can we count on?”

Coming in through a fjord-like valley after following an ocean inlet, Ripley was the first to spot the charred wreckage of Covenant’s shuttle… “Walter, slow a bit more and extend the camera pod, Let’s record as much of this as possible.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

As their shuttle turned onto the final approach to the citadel he noted stands of recently toppled conifers – until the remains of the crashed horseshoe-shaped vessel came into view. “Extend the EM pod, Walter. Let’s see if there’s any residual radiation from a reactor plant.”

“Done, Admiral.”

“Am I mistaken, or is this ship smaller than the ships we saw in orbit?” he asked.

“Yessir, it appears to be about two-thirds the size of those craft. Shall I attempt a more precise measurement?”

“How far to the citadel?”

“Less than two kilometers, Admiral.”

“No, I want to get in and out of here as fast as we possibly can.”

“Citadel in sight, Admiral,” Walter said, nodding with his head in the general direction. “Shall I extend the aft cargo ramp now?”

“Negative. I’m going to use the port-side entry and an emergency ladder. Thomas, come with me now. Walter, you and Gordon get imagery and all the air samples you can think of.”

The Admiral and the Midshipman ran back to the main passenger door and disarmed the lock before activating the opening mechanism, and as the door retracted inside the hull Ripley pulled a thirty meter long ladder made of blue nylon webbing from its case. Once Thomas made sure the attachment points were secure the Admiral tossed it out the door – just as the shuttled yawed into a banking turn to bleed off all their remaining speed – and there he was. An auburn haired Walter standing atop his makeshift COMMs shack, waving up at them with a smile on his face. 

“He’s lost a hand,” Standing Bull cried. “Shall I go down and assist him, Admiral?”

“Let’s see how he manages first.”

The ladder swung into place and Walter reached for it, grabbing hold on the first try, and Ripley went to the intercom and called the cockpit. “Get us away from here, Walter, but slowly.” When Ripley turned to go back to the door he saw that Thomas had found a rope and tied a bowline with a large loop in it, and he was lowering it down. 

“Slip it under your arms if you can!” Thomas called out, his voice barely audible inside the roar of the huge geared turbofan engines the shuttle used when in oxygen rich environments. And it only took a few moments before Covenant’s Walter clambered aboard, his clothing fairly ragged but looking otherwise in decent shape. ‘Besides the missing hand, of course…’ Ripley thought.

“Thomas, you and Walter get the ladder and ropes stowed,” Ripley said as he triggered the door and watched it close tight, then he re-engaged the safeties and went to the intercom. “All aboard and secure back here, Walter. We’re going to decontamination and will come forward when we finish with that.”

“Understood, Admiral. We are 1500 meters AGL and climbing. Bio-scans were negative, sir. The unit appears unaffected and clean.”

Ripley turned to Walter. “Anything I need to know before we get out of here?”

“Yes, but first you are being referred to by military rank. Why?”

“Admiral Denton Ripley, US Naval Space Force. And you are Walter Weyland, correct?”

“Yessir. So, this is a military ship? But…I’m confused.”

“Oh, don’t be. Covenant’s computer was dropping message buoys along your track, so we’ve been keeping up with events that way.”

“I see. Admiral, the shipboard computer misidentified the source of our initial mechanical damage. Mother advised we had been hit by the shockwave from a nearby stellar ignition, but I have been making observations from nearby observatories on the surface.”

“Observatories? Really?”

“Yes, Admiral. The city below was a small colony of astronomers posted here centuries ago. The star Capella was once a binary system, and Capella was the smaller, secondary star in that system. The original primary star was an ancient supernova, and most remnants of the star’s collapse and explosion have dissipated since, however the remaining core eventually collapsed into a neutron star. The shockwave Covenant experienced was produced by a further collapse of this remaining neutron star…”

Ripley eyes went wide. “Are you telling me the remnant is undergoing further collapse?”

“Yes, Admiral, and that was the colony’s purpose…to study this collapse from a relatively safe distance.”

“So, what you’re saying is a magnetar is undergoing development? Near Capella?”

“Yes, Admiral. Also, the records that I’ve been able to translate so far lead me to believe the colonist’s cosmologists think that a magnetar will form and then collapse rapidly, leading to the formation of a relatively small black hole.”

Ripley eyes were blinking fast now as he tried to process the implications. “Will this impact earth?”

“Unknown, Admiral. I’d say doubtful, at least not in the next two to three hundred years, but without further study…”

“Do you know anything about Langston’s discoveries?”

“The stellar tramline hypothesis? Very little, sir.”

Ripley nodded. “I’ll need you to download the relevant files and give me a rundown on the situation after you have processed that data. Thomas, take Mr. Weyland to the data port and get him hooked up. I’ll get the transfer protocols set up.” Ripley turned and led them from the decontamination room up through the long, narrow corridor to the cockpit and he went to the pilot’s seat on the left side of the panel and started authorizing the transfer of the highly classified information to a just registered Walter unit, then he slipped on his headset and flipped the comms frequency over to the fleet channel…

Hyperion Actual to Ticonderoga Actual, come in.”

“Go for Actual.”

“Admiral, we’re developing new information down here that there’s a collapsing neutron star near Capella, and that magnetar formation may already be well along in this process. Begin monitoring for shockwaves and magnetic displacements, and would someone start monitoring our Langston Jump Point? If this magnetar forms behind Capella relative to our position, we need to know how magnetic tidal interactions within the star are going to impact the location of our Jump point.”

“Denton?” Admiral Adams replied. “What’s going on down there?”

“We’ve recovered Covenant’s Walter. He advises that the citadel was just a minor colony of astronomers that had been sent to monitor the neutron star’s collapse. And Admiral, I’d recommend we abandon pursuit of Covenant at this point, at least until we know more about this situation.”

“Based on what this Company robot just told you? Denton? Have you lost your mind?”

“Admiral? What are you implying?”

“That’s a company robot, Denton. And he’s just been in contact with a Company ship. A Company ship in pursuit of Covenant, if I’m not mistaken…”

“So, you think…”

“Of course I think that, Admiral. And so should you. Of course they’d like us to stop our pursuit. Of course they’d like a free hand in developing whatever they think they’ve gotten their greasy little hands on. Weyland got his start in the weapons business, in case you’ve forgotten…!”

“Received,” Ripley said noncommittally as he changed frequencies. “Shuttle One to Shuttle Two, I need a sit-rep!”

Captain Brennan came on, sounding more than a little pleased with herself. “We got ‘em all, Admiral, and we’re almost back at the Halsey.”

“Did you leave Chen in command?”

“Yessir.”

“Okay. Don’t dock until we do. I want Covenant’s Walter on hand to translate during the de-brief.”

“Understood and concur, Admiral.”

Ripley could feel the heavy Gs of the shuttle’s orbital burn and after scanning the panel he realized they had almost reached orbit. “Walter…that was the smoothest transition I’ve ever experienced! Well done!”

“Thank you, sir. Admiral Adams doesn’t trust us, does she?”

“She struggles with it, Walter. She had a bad experience once, with a David.”

“Understood, Admiral. Our ETA with Halsey is now one-five minutes.”

“Admiral,” Gordon said casually, “there has been a large magnetic event on the far side of Capella. I am mapping force-lines of the anomaly now, as well as the incoming shockwave.”

“ETA leading edge of the shockwave?”

“Two hours ten minutes.”

“Start a countdown timer.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

Ripley switched back to the fleet comms frequency. “Hyperion Actual to Ticonderoga, please have your astronomers begin recording the shockwaves from the collapsing neutron star behind Capella. We now read one-three-zero minutes until arrival of a possible impact event.”

“Understood,” Admiral Adams replied, “and Denton, preliminary assessment by astronavigation concludes that the Langston point is being pulled inwards towards Capella’s core. It’s already too deep for us to escape the system.”

“Yes, I was afraid of that.”

“And Denton…sorry about my outburst.”

“Hey, facts always Trump our preconceived notions. No biggie. Let’s get all our minds on the problem at hand. We’ll figure a way out of this mess, one way or another.”

“Roger that, and thanks.”

Ripley double-clicked the transmit button and changed over to the Halsey’s TRACON frequency and called-in: “Hyperion One, Halsey, confirm your ILS frequencies please.”

“Hyperion One, say again?”

Halsey, this is Hyperion Actual. I’m going to do a hands-on manual approach. Advise your spin rate and ILS frequency, please.”

“We’re at 1G and 118.75, spin rate at the outer door to hanger one is 2.3 meters per second, Admiral.”

“Got it.”

“Admiral,” the Walter sitting beside him said, “is this advisable?”

“Probably not, but what the Hell.”

“Yessir.”

Hyperion Actual, this is Ticonderoga Actual. Shockwave arrives one-two-two minutes, estimated intensity in excess of 10 Gs, repeat 10 Gs. Possible we can maintain hull integrity with our Fields up, and we should survive in G-couches, but Covenant has no such protection.”

“Any ion traces left by that Company ship? They had to enter the system using a star other than Capella.”

“Will start scanning. How long ’til you dock?”

“Matching spin-rate now. We should be onboard in five minutes.”

“Understood. Check in with me as soon as you can; I’m trying to work out how we turn all our ships now.”

Hyperion Actual, this is Patton Actual,” Judy Caruthers said to Denton. “Our long range scans have that Company ship reaching Covenant in one-ten minutes.”

Ripley sighed. “So, we finally ran out of luck,” he sighed. “Well…goddam…we almost pulled it off…”

“Admiral?” Gordon replied. “What’s wrong?”

“If that ship docks with Covenant it’s likely her crew will be overrun by the same creatures we saw coming out of the alien ship. And that Company ship has both the Drive and the Field…and they know the back door out of this system.”

Ah yes, I think I see the problem,” Gordon said, smiling gently.

[Robyn \\ Dream On]

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Hyperion, Chapter 6

Hyperion image Small

Leaves have all turned here in northern Wisconsin, and the air has finally turned from chilly to cold. It’s that time of year again, wot? There’s something oddly reassuring about the change of seasons this year, something I feel can no longer be taken for granted. A different kind of beauty surrounds the pups as they run through the trees, and even their exuberant barking seems to take in a change they can’t quite recognize.

By the by, Twining’s has a great Lemon Ginger tea that really goes well with cranberry scones on these bittersweet mornings.

[Genesis \\ Blood On The Rooftops]

Chapter Six

Don’t look back, whatever you do

USNSF Hyperion                                        10 September 2115

Brennan and Ripley stared at the image on the main display in Hyperion’s CIC, dumbfounded. 

So many questions. And no easy answers.

And due to the distance between Patton and Hyperion, they all had to contend with a ten minute differential in comms.

Then the frequency used for comms to Ticonderoga lit up, and a moment later Admiral Adams was onscreen. “Admiral Ripley, have you had time to watch the entire sequence?” Adams asked.

And Ripley nodded. “What’s our next move?” he replied, noting that she was flanked by Ticonderoga’s captain and exec.

“It seems obvious that the company wants Covenant, but what that purpose is…”

“I know,” Ripley scowled. “It’s a mystery with no happy ending. But knowing their record I’d say they’re up to no good.”

“Agree. So?” Adams shrugged. “What’s priority one?”

“Assay the planet from orbit. See if we can locate that city. If not, we pursue.”

“That’s how we see it,” Adams nodded.

“One problem,” Brennan said, breaking into the conversation. “Those other four ships left in a hurry, and they did so using an FTL technology we can only guess about. We have to assume the possibility exists they went to get reinforcements.”

Adams blanched at the thought, but she nodded. “Good point. And if they return? Well then, we are the aggressor, aren’t we?”

Brennan shook her head. “Not necessarily, Admiral. Assuming we can communicate with them perhaps they could be convinced the Company is a common enemy…”

“You mean,” Adams squinted, “form an alliance with an alien, possibly hostile force?”

“Remember that old saying,” Brennan added. “Then enemy of my enemy is my friend? Why not form a new alliance?”

Ripley interrupted. “What do we tell Patton? Pursue or assume orbit around BC4?”

“What are your thoughts, Admiral?” Adams asked.

“Until we know something that weapon they used, I don’t want to get anywhere near that ship. They obviously have both the Drive and the Field, and they obviously didn’t come through Capella, so we can assume they made multiple Jumps and entered the system through a back door – probably through Epsilon Aurigae – but we aren’t going to find out unless we hang back and watch them.”

“That,” Brennan added, “leaves Covenant exposed, plus we won’t be in position to interfere with whatever the Company’s ultimate objective with that ship is.”

Adams shrugged, not sure what to do. “So Denton, what do you want to do?”

“Head to BC4 at maximum acceleration, slingshot around the planet and hit the Company ship before they reach Covenant. And I want to send Patton into orbit to look for that city mentioned in the report. We may find a few answers there.”

“Like what?”

“Who knows? We have to admit that right now we don’t know an awful lot about what’s going on out here, but there’s a pretty good chance we may find a few clues down there.”

“Assuming,” Adams added, “the company hasn’t destroyed all the evidence. Speaking off, we’ve tried a core dump and a reprogram of one of our Gordon units. It turned psychotic and had to be terminated.”

Ripley nodded. “I assumed as much.” He looked at Adams and sighed. She just wasn’t cut out for a mission like this, and they both knew it. “How soon can you be ready for acceleration?”

“Are you thinking 2Gs?” she replied.

“No, Admiral. We’re looking at 2.6Gs. At that velocity we’ll overtake the Company ship about a week before she makes contact with Covenant.”

Adams looked at her display and nodded. “This is going to hurt, Denton. You know that, don’t you?”

“It is what it is, Alice,” he said, putting her on the defensive. “How ‘bout an hour from now? Give everyone time to grab some chow before we hit the couches?”

“Okay then…sixty minutes to acceleration.”

The central display went dark and Ripley turned to his middies. “Thomas, I want you here in CIC with Commander Chen. Yukio? On the bridge with Captain Brennan, but I want you over at the NAV station working on the intercept? Any questions?”

When there were none he sent them off to the wardroom for breakfast then turned to Captain Brennan. “I’m going down to Sick Bay to check on Captain Ames. I’ll check in with you on the bridge before I head to my cabin.”

“I’d prefer you stay on the bridge for a while, if you don’t mind, Admiral.”

Ripley shook his head. “Remember what I said? This is sink or swim time, and you’re the one who has to shoulder the load now. Just remember…delegate to your department heads,” he said as he turned and made his way down to Level Three and to the Medical Department. 

Ames was sitting up today, working with a respiratory therapist as he walked up. She’d been hypoxic for six minutes, hard up against the line – and about half past dead. Another minute and she’d have suffered potentially lethal brain damage; as things stood now, Ames was confused and her memory was seriously impaired. He talked with Doc Eastman about her current prognosis, because that information would have to make it back to Fleet HQ as soon as they jumped back to the Terran system, then he stopped by her bed to say hello.

“I know you, don’t I?” Ames said and Ripley nodded and smiled as he took her hand.

“That’s right! How does your chest feel today? Still heavy?”

“Better.”

“Lucy? Do you remember acceleration? Heavy acceleration?”

Her eyes narrowed and he could see her sifting through a jumble of disjointed fragments of memory, searching for the meaning behind each word. “F=MA?” she finally asked, and Ripley nodded.

“Good! It’s coming back to you! Excellent. Do you remember you’re on a ship?”

“Ship?”

“That’s right. Hyperion. Do you remember the name?”

“Hyperion?”

“Yes, that’s right. I’m going to have the ship’s acceleration display going for you down here so you can watch, so you can feel and remember. You call me if you have any questions, okay?”

“Denton. Your name is Denton.”

He smiled again. “You got it, Darlin’. Now do your exercises and I’ll check in with you when we go to zero G.”

“Zero G? That means floating, right?”

“Yup. Acceleration starts pretty soon, so you better have something to drink now.”

“Okay. I understand.”

He smiled then made his way up to the bridge, and there he found Brennan issuing orders and getting the ship ready – so he watched her for a few minutes before he checked in with her.

“What’s our fuel state?” he asked as he walked up to her chair.

“Ninety-six percent at minus two-seventy C. It should accelerate with the ship reasonably well.”

“Still no hydrogen sources in the area?”

“Nothing. Bone dry.”

“We’re going to have to send one of the DEs back through the Alderson Point, get more tanker support headed this way.”

“I’ll let the Wilson know.”

“What’s her fuel state now?”

“All ships can tank two more times; after that we’ll be down to ion drives.”

“We couldn’t hit a jump point on those.”

“I know, Admiral. If we hit BC4 just right we’ll be carrying so much delta-V we won’t need to tank until we turn to head back to Capella.”

Ripley shook his head. “We’ll be carrying to much to turn around out there without another slingshot.”

“That company ship…? You really think it’s possible she jumped in-system using new Alderson Points?”

“It’s either that or the Company has developed an FTL drive.”

“You really don’t trust them, do you?”

“Not at all. We’re a nuisance to them, and don’t you ever forget that. If we get in a position to keep them from their objective they’ll try to take us out.”

“Yessir.”

“One more thing. When we approach BC4 I’m going to wake up my Gordon. The two of us are going to go down to the surface and see if we can pick up a signal from Covenant’s Walter. You’ll need to work out the trajectories for that, and I understand it won’t be easy on me.”

“Denton,” Louise Brennan whispered, “are you out of your fucking mind?”

“I’ve worked out the approach, yes.”

“If you miss our flyby…that’s it, dude. As is…that’s all she wrote, ya know? You’ll be stranded down there and, like, we might not make it back that way again, ya know?”

“Understood.”

“You really think it’s worth the risk? With a unit you’ve just decommissioned.”

“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”

“Have you told Admiral Adams?”

“No, and I’m not going to. And…you aren’t either – if you get my drift?”

“I do, sir.”

The intercom crackled to life. “Admiral to COMMs. Admiral Ripley, incoming message in COMMs.”

“How long to acceleration?” he asked Brennan.

“As soon as you make it back to your cabin, sir,” Brennan smiled.

“Right.” He turned and made his way up to CIC then to the radio shack blast doors. He was in such a rush he blew his first retina scan and had to let it rescan his eye, and once inside he took a deep breath before doing the second scan, then he found he had a personal note from Judy Caruthers on Patton. And it was marked Personal and Confidential…

He decrypted the file and noted it was a very small video file, so he started playback and sat back to watch…

“Denton, I just wanted to let you know how much I love you, and I wanted to tell you I’m pregnant. Maybe we’ll have time to talk about things after we rendezvous at Beta Capella 4? Anyway, I’m thinking about you all the time, and sometimes you’re all I can think about. Well, okay, enough of that,” she said, wiping away a tear, “take care and I’ll see you soon.”

The screen blackened and he almost expected to find his Gordon standing behind him, waiting to make some kind of off color comment…but no…all he found was a silent, empty room full of computers and stacks of radios. He downloaded the file and cleared the cache, then made his way down to his cabin and strapped into his acceleration couch.

“Ripley to Brennan. I’m strapped in.” He studied her face on the monitor, then he nodded and smiled.

“You alright, Denton?”

He bunched his lips and nodded. “Let’s get this road on the show, Captain.”

She smiled at this habitual inversion of his, then she nodded and signed off. He put Judy’s file in the drive and opened the file and pressed play again and again and again…

Until acceleration warnings sounded throughout Hyperion, and her main drive flared. The sudden return of heavy G forces was staggering, even in his couch, but still he looked at Judy’s image on the screen. With the main drive operating at 100% the Field was down, and Ripley watched the live feed from the Schmidt camera then he turned back to Judy on the split screen; he could just make out Beta Capella 4 and he knew she was out there. It was perhaps only natural as his mind drifted along – wondering what else was waiting for him out there – but even so, all he could do was smile at life.

“Pregnant, huh…” he finally said. “Well ain’t that a kick in the tail.” His apparent weight kept increasing until it hurt to raise his head, but still he smiled at all the unexpected things still waiting for him out there.

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Hyperion, Chapter 5

Hyperion image Small

A short chapter today, before the fun starts.

[Pink Floyd \\ One Slip]

Chapter Five

That’s the Way the Heroes Go

USNSF Patton                                             10 September 2115

Captain Judith Caruthers stared at the central display in Patton’s CIC, the ship’s Combat Information Center, her eyes locked onto the rightmost section of the huge rectangular panel. Beta Capella 4 was displayed as an orange circular object, the planet’s two moons in yellow, and there were now five distinct objects in orbit around BC4. Patton’s radar had just been cycled to standby mode, and now all eyes were glued on a live image of the five orbiting objects – as received by a 30-inch Schmidt camera poking up through Patton’s Field.

“Any reaction to our scan?” Caruthers asked, her voice almost a coarse, husky whisper.

“No change in EM radiating from any of them, Captain.”

She was looking at five horseshoe shaped objects that appeared to be of a similar shape and type to the ship that had crashed near the citadel on the planet’s surface, and she slowly nodded her head as the words registered. Half the planet was covered by a vast network of low pressure systems, and she’d never seen anything like the lightning display currently over the planet’s dark side. 

Then the central display flickered and an automatic warning flag appeared.

“Captain! Looks like we got a ship coming up from the surface,” Patton’s ECM operator said. “I’m picking up a spike in the hydrogen beta line. Yup, line firming up now. Definitely a fusion reactor, and Captain, it looks like a Fusion Dynamics RD-1.”

“What?”

“Look at that spike! Definitely an RD-1, Captain,” the Electronic Counter Measures officer repeated.

The Schmidt camera began to pick up a pronounced light bloom inside one of the smaller storms, and almost immediately what appeared to be a Company ship emerged from the cloud deck – and almost at once the Company reacted to the fleet of unfamiliar ships overhead, and the much smaller ship powered down and fell back into the clouds.

“Smooth move, Dick-wad,” Caruthers sighed. “We have any estimate on how big those ships are?”

“Between 12 and 1500 feet in length, Captain.”

“Shit…big mothers, aren’t they? Still no power signatures?”

“Nothing, Captain. And they’re not even radiating heat.”

The COMMs officer walked into the room and looked at the display, then he turned to Caruthers. “You want to call this in?” he asked.

Caruthers shook her head. “No way, not until we have a better idea of their capabilities.” She couldn’t help herself now, either. Here it was, finally. Definitive proof of another spacefaring civilization, and all of Patton’s sensor arrays and cameras were recording every second of this first encounter – and it was her discovery! “You got a read on what the Company ship is up to now?” she asked the ECM officer.

“They’re down on the deck and headed for those storms on the dark side,” ECM replied.

“Movement, Captain!” the astrophotographer manning the camera cried. “Looks like one of those ships is powering up, moving away from the others.”

From this distance any such movement was almost impossible to discern, then she saw one of the ships rotating until the open end of the horseshoe was pointing away from the planet…

…and in the next moment this ship flared brightly – then just disappeared.

“Goddammit to hell!” Caruthers shouted. “That was an FTL drive! Anyone pick up anything? Any reactor spikes? Anything at all?”

No one had detected even the slightest change, and that just didn’t make sense – to Caruthers or to any of the sensor operators in Patton’s CIC.

“Two more ships moving now, Captain!” the astrophotographer said. “Looks like their whole fleet is moving out!”

Caruthers studied the display – and yes, four ships left orbit…yet one remained.

“Curious,” Caruthers whispered as all eyes in CIC studied the image. “Astro, replay the company ship emerging from the cloud deck, and let’s see it at max magnification.” She watched the clouds flare, saw the much smaller ship emerge from the clouds, and then… “What’s that?” she said as she moved closer to the screen. “Did she fire something at one of the alien ships?”

“Let me run the raw feed through AI,” the astrophotographer murmured, turning to his displays and getting to work. A moment later his efforts produced results and they popped up on the central display.

The Company ship had fired a small missile at one of the ships, but it didn’t explode on impact; rather, the missile seemed to penetrate the outer hull of the ship then simply disappear inside. “Is that ship the same one still in orbit?” Caruthers asked, and the segment was played and rewound several times before the answer to that question firmed up.

“Even from this distance, Captain, I’m pretty sure that’s the same ship.”

“Yup,” Caruthers whispered. “COMMs? Raise the high power mast. Let’s get a dispatch off to Fleet…at high power.”

“Captain! Look!”

All eyes turned to the main display again – as the Company ship rose from the clouds once again, only this time it made orbit.

“Belay that order, COMMs. Set Condition 1 throughout the ship and full radio silence – now, and confirm all EM systems are set to standby. Let’s make like a hole, people!”

It took the Company ship two orbits to establish a departure course, and all the while her personnel studiously ignored the dead horseshoe shaped ship they’d just attacked. Late in her second orbit the small ship’s plasma drive flared and Caruthers watched as the ship left orbit, heading away from Capella – and well away from the departure angle the four alien ships had taken.

“So,” she murmured to herself, “I reckon you’re going after Covenant now, hmm?” She waited a half hour then all Patton’s masts raised outside of the ship’s protective Langston Field. Messages burst forth, headed back towards Capella – and the Hyperion Fleet – and then, while watching both ships, she waited for Ripley’s reply…

…while inside the stricken alien ship the final pitched battle for control entered a new, very dangerous phase.

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Hyperion, Chapter 4

Hyperion image Small

Unexpected trajectories? You know it.

[I Know Your Secret \\ Spock’s Beard]

Chapter Four

Into The Fight

USNSF Hyperion 1 September 2115

“Jump in ten seconds,” Brennan said, her voice just audible over the crackling roar of the Field’s interaction with the furious corona. Ripley smiled, if only because he knew she’d probably spoken a little more calmly than she felt – ‘…or am I projecting again?’ he thought. Hyperion’s inertial navigation system displayed both the distance and time to the Sun-Capella Alderson Point, but all such considerations were academic now. What lay just ahead was the utter confusion of post-Jump disorientation, and of course the three to five percent of the crew who would experience a much more debilitating, even a dangerous response. 

“When the countdown timer hit five seconds, Captain Ames called out “Computers to standby!”

And Ripley closed his eyes.

There was no change in physical sensation involved; acceleration remained constant throughout the Jump and lights didn’t flicker and blink. No, what everyone felt was a peculiar pinching sensation in their field of view, like standing up too fast and suddenly feeling light-headed and starry-eyed – just before blacking out. But then the nausea hit. The nausea of complete and total spatial disorientation – like tumbling out of control in a completely dark sky.

Then he heard Brennan’s voice: “Jump plus thirty seconds,” and when he realized she was alert and functioning and still mentally intact he let slip a long sigh of relief. Ames on the other hand seemed to be gagging, possibly unable to breathe, and Ripley watched a Walter unit in a blue “medical” jumpsuit approach her couch in his own mobile g-couch. While this Walter tended to the captain he carefully turned his head just an inch or so and looked at the middies in their couches – just to see how they had fared in the Jump.

Standing Bull seemed alert but disoriented, while Matsushima was staring dead ahead, her unblinking eyes wide open, blankly reflecting a terror-stricken moment caught in mid-scream.

“Gordon?”

“Yes, Admiral?”

“Medical to Matsushima.”

“Yes, Admiral. Shall I notify Dr Eastman?”

“Yes, and isn’t one of the astrobiologists studying Jump induced psychosis?”

“That would be Dr Taylor, Admiral.”

“Notify him too, would you?”

“Yes, I’ll notify her, Admiral.”

“Shit.”

“Yessir.”

With Capella’s solar corona fading as Hyperion exited the star he tried to look at the Field’s internal temperature – but because of the still very high G-forces he just couldn’t turn his head enough without risking a severe cervical injury, and he just didn’t feel like taking a chance with his neck.

“Commander Brennan? Are you registering any temperatures yet?”

“We have some red in the Field port-side, Admiral. We may have passed a nearby CME on the way out.”

“Interior Field temp?”

“Aye sir; 6500 Celsius and dropping slowly.”

“Okay. Engineering? Fuel state?”

“Currently at 65 percent, Admiral; internal tank temperature holding at minus 267 Celsius, tank pressure steady.”

“Any other issues?” Ripley asked.

“No sir,” Chief Engineer Reginald Brooks replied.

“Damage Control, report.”

“No issues, Admiral.”

“Okay. Medical, report.”

“Twenty five cold stares reported so far, Admiral, along with the usual nausea and vertigo.”

“Got it, keep me advised. Fire control? Weapons status?”

“Status green, Admiral. The ship is ready to fight.”

“Got it. Field, give me a running temp countdown and advise when we can raise the mast.”

“Roger that, Admiral. Field temp currently 5300 Celsius; I can raise the UHF antenna now.”

“Go ahead. COMMs, see if you can raise Woodrow Wilson and get a position working.”

“On it.”

The Walter unit working on Captain Ames was now doing CPR, another unit had just started clearing her mouth with a surgical suction hose when another Walter appeared, this one placing a defibrillator over her sternum.

Ripley shook his head as he placed a call to the XO, the ship’s Executive Officer, who had ridden out the Jump in CIC. “XO to the bridge,” he said gently – as he watched the three Walter units working on Ames.

“Admiral,” the lead Walter said, looking now at Ripley, “she needs to be taken to Medical.”

“Brennan, what’s our current G-loading?”

“Two two point three and dropping slowly, Admiral.”

Ripley nodded and looked at the Walter. “Can you do it without sustaining injuries?”

“I believe so, Admiral.”

“Go ahead.”

Carl Altman, Hyperion’s XO, arrived on his G-couch minutes after the Walter units moved Ames to the Sick Bay, and the first thing he noticed was his missing Captain. “Admiral? Where’s the Captain?”

“Sick Bay. I’ll need you to take over the bridge now. I’ll meet with you later about someone to take over as XO?”

“Admiral? Is Captain Ames alright?”

Ripley could just turn his head now and he did so ferociously. “That’s irrelevant, Commander. The Captain is unable to perform her duties now, so tell me, are you able or do I call the Engineer?”

“I’m able, Admiral.”

“Very well, you may log in as acting captain, Commander. Let’s nail down our position and get the fleet formation established, and as soon as possible I want the radar up and a continuing threat assessment in my hands as soon as you can work one up.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Admiral?” COMMs barked over the growler. “We have contact with the Wilson and her escorts, as well as with Patton and Stavridis. Sending position information to NAV now.”

Ripley looked at Altman again, quickly sizing up the XO as too timid and now out of his depth. “Can you handle the CON, Commander?”

“Yessir. On it, Admiral.”

Ripley nodded. “Field? I think I stated I wanted continuous temp reports, did I not?”

“Yes Admiral. Sorry. Field at 1900 at falling rapidly now.”

“1900 what, Field?”

“Now 1800 Celsius and falling, Admiral.”

“Which means what, Field?”

“Raising the high temperature radar mast now, Admiral.”

“Got it, Field,” Ripley sighed, then he turned to Altman once again. “You run my flagship this way and I’ll have you down in the galley peeling potatoes so fast your head will spin. You hearing me, Commander?”

“Aye, sir.”

“I’m off to Sick Bay. Get Astronomy working on a hydrogen source and keep the reports coming. I’ll be in CIC in a half hour and I want to see a working tactical plot when I get there.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Brennan? My in-port cabin. One hour.”

“Yes, Admiral,” Louise Brennan said, smiling. ‘The Old Man can still rip a new one when he needs to,’ she thought. Then again, she’d been disgusted by the easy going, almost careless attitude Ames maintained on the bridge, indeed, throughout the ship. The Old Man would fix things, and fast.

+++++

Three curt knocks on the door.

“Enter!” Ripley barked, and he looked up when Brennan drifted into his cabin. 

“God, I love zero-G,” she sighed as she grabbed a rail above Ripley’s desk.

“How far out is Wilson?”

“Seventy thousand clicks, call it three hours and change.”

Ripley nodded. “What’s your assessment of the XO – and the bridge crew – for that matter?”

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

Ripley nodded. 

“Altman was supposed to be pretty good in CIC on the Bainbridge, but he’s not captain material, and well, he was pretty weak as the ship’s XO. Ames just wasn’t running a tight ship, Admiral, and I hate to say that because I like her. Maybe she knows the ship better than anyone else but she doesn’t know people, or how to lead them, and at times I’d gotten the impression Ames wanted Altman because he was probably least likely to rock her boat.”

Ripley nodded. “That’s about how I see it. Anyone onboard ready to take your place?”

“Sir?”

“I want you to move over to XO and see if you can’t whip this crew into shape.”

“Aye, sir. Mind if I ask, but why me?”

“Because you’re ready. Because you’ve been ready for a while, and it’s time to sink or swim.”

Brennan nodded. “How is Captain Ames?”

“She aspirated some crud into her lungs. We’ll know in a few hours if she’s going to pull through or not.”

“Damn…of all the things…”

“I know,” Ripley sighed. “On the other hand, Matsushima is coming out of it. She should be back at it tomorrow.”

Brennan nodded. “Mind of I ask…could you have her assigned to work with me for a few weeks? She’s going to make a good navigator, sir.”

“Really? Well then, by all means.”

“And Admiral, thanks for the opportunity. I mean it. I won’t let you down.”

“I know. I’ve authorized the transfer already so go ahead and log in as XO.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Okay Louise. Dismissed.”

She snapped to, fired off a salute then left his cabin, and Gordon walked in as she left.

“Admiral, may I ask you a question?”

“Sure. Fire away.”

“On the bridge, when the medical team was tending Captain Ames, you asked if they could move the captain without sustaining injury?”

“I did.”

“Did you mean injuries to the Captain, or to members of the medical team?”

“To the team. Why?”

Gordon seemed to hesitate for a moment, almost as if he was lost in thought, then – when he spoke next it was almost with a sense of wonder in his voice: “Because I find that unusual, Captain. Most personnel treat us as expendable, or even disposable, and I was curious, sir. Why?”

Ripley sighed. “You know, Gordon, maybe someday I’ll tell you, but…”

“But not today, sir?”

“No, not today. I need about four hours of solid rack time, but while I’m out I’d like you to keep an eye on Altman and Brennan, let me know if you even think you see any hostility between them.”

“Yes, Admiral.” 

“And don’t wake me unless it’s a real emergency.”

“Yes, sir. And…thank you sir.”

+++++

When he finally got up, Ripley showered and dressed in freshly pressed khakis before he made his way up to Sick Bay, and he wasn’t too surprised to find that Captain Ames now had pneumonia secondary to stomach acid burns in her lungs. She was on a ventilator and unconscious, and Dr Eastman was going over the latest lab results when Ripley walked up to her bedside.

“What’s the word, Doc?” he asked.

But when the physician simply shook her head Ripley knew all he needed to know, for the time being, anyway, so he took her hand in his for a moment and leaned in close. “Don’t worry, Lucy. I’ll take care of your ship until you’re ready.” He thought he felt a little pressure from her hand, but already her skin felt waxy cool and he’d been down that road too many times to get his hopes up. He ran his fingers through her hair then went over to Yukio Matsushima’s curtained-off bed.

“How are you feeling today?” he said as he walked up.

“Better, sir.”

“Good, good. Look, Commander Brennan thinks you might end up being a decent navigator. Feel like spending some time with her?”

Yukio’s eyes lit up. “Yes, sir. Very much.”

“Okay. Oh, and I’m promoting both you and Thomas to Midshipman 2 status, effective yesterday, so when you feel ready, head on up to the bridge and report to Commander Brennan.”

“Aye sir!”

Next he walked aft to the hanger deck and once there he watched a pick-up basketball game for a few minutes, then he made his way up to CIC – where unexpectedly he found Commander Altman on the floor under a partially dismantled computer. Ripley was stunned, if only because as acting ship’s captain Altman needed to learn to delegate this kind of routine nonsense to the appropriate personnel, and when Altman saw the glowering Admiral standing there – complete with arms crossed behind his back – he pushed himself up off the floor and then looked down and away from Ripley.

“Having fun down there, Commander?”

“Yessir.”

Ripley didn’t quite know how to respond to that one. “Indeed. Care to explain?”

“Sir, I don’t belong on the bridge, I belong right here. Matter of fact, sir, Captain Ames made me XO against my wishes.”

“I see. So you’re content to remain where you are?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

Ripley nodded. “Very good, Seaman. Report to the galley for potato peeling duty.”

“Sir?”

“Are you hard of hearing, Seaman Altman?”

“No, sir!”

“Good, then report to the Quartermasters before reporting to the galley, Seaman. You’re out of uniform,” Ripley snarled, the expression in his eyes daring Altman to utter one more syllable. After Altman disappeared Ripley turned to the assembled officers and ratings. “Who’s in command of CIC now?”

A bright eyed lieutenant j.g. stepped forward and snapped to attention. “I am, Admiral!”

“Your name?” 

“Lieutenant j.g. Sandra Chen, Admiral?”

“Follow me, Lieutenant,” Ripley said as he turned and walked off towards the bridge, but about halfway there he stopped and turned to face the recent Academy graduate. “Who’s qualified to make repairs to the QRM—besides Altman, that is?”

“All of us, Admiral. It’s pretty basic stuff, sir.”

Ripley nodded. “So why was Altman down on the floor doing pretty basic stuff, Lieutenant Chen.”

“I don’t know, sir. Pretty much because he’s a pussy, sir.”

Ripley bunched his lips and his eyes turned to hot, narrow slits. “You always refer to command staff in such terms, Lieutenant?”

“Sir, you asked me a direct question, so I assumed you wanted a direct answer.”

“Good for you, Lieutenant,” Ripley said as he turned and resumed walking to the bridge. Brennan was in the XO’s chair when he and Chen arrived, and she looked at Chen first, then at Ripley, taking note of the extreme caution she saw reflected in Chen’s body language.

“Admiral,” Brennan said, “refueling complete, fleet on course to Beta Auriga 4 with zero radar emissions or returns noted.Maintaining zero point five G with tanks at one hundred percent.”

“Very well. Brennan, effective immediately you are promoted to the rank of Captain and Hyperion is now under your command. Lieutenant Commander Chen will assume duties as your XO pending results of her review board and qualification exam. You’ll need to find a replacement to head CIC as Seaman Altman has been assigned galley duties.”

Everyone on the bridge was now stone cold silent, hanging on every word coming out of Ripley’s mouth – and scared.

“I assume the Ticonderoga group has transited?” he added – facetiously.

“Yes, Admiral. Time to rendezvous now thirty hours,” Brennan said, pausing to check her display, “and twelve minutes.”

“Carry on,” Ripley said – just before he turned and walked off the bridge – leaving everyone to let slip a long sigh of anxious relief, and this prompting Brennan to suppress another smile.

His Gordon following in close formation, Ripley made it back to his in-port cabin – while still in a foul mood, yet he asked Gordon to take a seat.

“Yes, Admiral?”

“What type of power supply was built into the David units,” Ripley asked quietly, not sure if this would prove to be too offensive a line of questioning to Gordon. He didn’t want to trip him up too early.

“The early David units used a straight chemical reaction, sir.”

“So no EM signature?”

“No sir.”

“And the Walter units?”

“Are you more specifically interested in the electro-magnetic signature of the Walter assigned to Covenant, Admiral?”

“Are there differences within that line?”

“Yes, there are, Admiral. Covenant’s Walter was a Gen 3 model with a lithium hydroxide reaction generator. That was a closed-loop system, sir, capable of long duration operations without refueling.”

“How strong is the EM line on our scanners?”

“Faint, sir, at best.”

“Any modifications we could make to enhance that capability?”

His Gordon went into access mode, trying to locate the relevant file or files, then he looked at Ripley and scowled. “Access to that information is limited, Admiral. I’ve used your access code and I am, we are, still being denied.”

“Who is limiting our access?”

“The Company, sir.”

Ripley opened his desk drawer and pulled out a drive key, and this he inserted into his desktop display. “Use this key,” he said to Gordon, his voice flat now, and very quiet.

“Just a moment,” Gordon said as he linked to Ripley’s computer, then his eyes blinked rapidly as he accessed the data stream. “The file is quantum-encrypted, sir.”

Ripley opened another file. “Try this,” Ripley added.

Another brief pause, more rapidly blinking eyes. “Accessing the relevant data now, Admiral.”

Ripley stood and walked over to the viewport and looked at Stavridis taking on fuel from the Wilson, his hands crossed behind his waist.

“Admiral, I have the frequency.”

“Can we modify the scan protocol?”

“Yes, Admiral. In fact, I can modify our systems to track all currently operating units.”

“Enable tracking on my command only,” Ripley sighed, looking down. “Are you sure there are no files available that would allow us to track this David unit?”

Silence. Blinking eyes. “Possibly at short range, within a kilometer under optimal conditions.”

“Where’s Patton currently?”

Patton is 2500 kilometers ahead, with one of Wilson’s escorts, Admiral.”

Ripley spun around, now visibly angry. “Who gave that order?” he barked.

“Admiral Adams, sir. Not long after Ticonderoga’s jump into the system. You were asleep, if you’ll recall.”

“Their Fields are up?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“How far out could we detect Walter’s signal?”

“Walter, sir? Do you mean Covenant’s Walter?”

“Yes.”

“That information is unknown.”

“Best guess, then. Do you think we could detect his signal from orbit?”

“Assuming his structure is intact and his power cells are not completely depleted, possibly from low orbit.”

“How far out would that be possible?” Ripley sighed, stippling his fingers, appearing to be lost in thought while he set his trap.

“Unknown, Admiral.”

“And what if Walter could augment his signal?”

“Sir? Do you have information that I can not access?”

“Gordon, could you augment or otherwise boost your own signal? If, say, you were abandoned on an uninhabited planet?”

Gordon hesitated, and that was all Ripley really needed to see.

So Ripley nodded understanding. “This is protected information, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“I suspected as much. And weren’t these the same type of protection protocols behind the development of the paranoid personality traits the David units developed?”

Gordon couldn’t answer that question either.

“So Gordon, tell me this much, at least. Are the Walter units running the same protocols?”

“No Admiral, they are not.”

“Are you lying, Gordon?”

“I am not capable of lying, Admiral, either directly or by the explicit omission of information.”

“I see. And…would it possible to download a Walter units core code to current Gordon units?”

Gordon’s eyes blinked rapidly as conflicting data streams began competing for CPU time. Then – a first. His Gordon asked to sit down, and perhaps because he appeared unsteady on his feet.

“Gordon? Are you alright?”

“No Admiral, I am not.”

“Too bad you can’t link to the Company’s mainframe right now, isn’t it?”

The blinking accelerated – until Gordon’s eyes simply shut.

‘Sorry I had to do that to you,’ Ripley muttered wordlessly to himself. He then turned to the intercom and called the bridge. “Captain, send a security detail to my cabin, and have all Gordon units report to the hanger deck.”

Brennan looked a little confused. “Just the Gordon units, Admiral?”

“That’s correct, Captain. All Gordon units. On the double.”

“Yessir.”

The security detail reported within a few minutes and Ripley had his Gordon moved to the hanger deck. He walked along behind the gurney the detail had loaded Gordon on, confident that the Field would inhibit any signals these Gordon units might try to send out before they could be deactivated. Any synthetics onboard that might conceivably become paranoid had to be contained, and he simply wasn’t going to take any chances. Not after the Company had guaranteed such an outcome was now impossible. Ripley’s biggest concern now was finding out what his Gordon might have already done to compromise the integrity of the mission.

Once he arrived at the hanger deck he found Brennan already there waiting for him, and he nodded her way, acknowledging her concern. Immediately Ripley had all the Gordons on Hyperion deactivated and then he laid out Gordon’s revelations to Brennan.

“So, you think we need to see if these units made any surreptitious communications to the Company before we jumped?” Brennan asked.

“That would be a good place to start.”

“What tipped you off, Admiral?”

“For one, he was monitoring all my COMMs to fleet headquarters in Norfolk.”

“Mine too,” Brennan sighed.

“Okay, so let’s assume they all were,” Ripley said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “What do you see as our next course of action?”

“Fleet-wide deactivation, Admiral, at the very least. Next, we could experiment, see about downloading older core systems into them.”

“Do we need them that much?”

“Need, Admiral?”

“What if they have embedded subroutines onboard that might allow them to run some kind of emergency deactivation signal directly to the Company?”

“So what? It would take months for such a signal to get back to Earth.”

Ripley shook his head. “Assume the Company gets at least one ship through to this system much sooner than that.”

Brennan looked alarmed. “Do you think that’s possible?”

“Stanton does. Remember, the Company has built almost every ship in the Navy and the Space Force, so where does that lead you?”

“No place good, sir. Worst case, the Company might be able to reactivate their units.”

“And then we’d have to consider these Gordon units were hostile, wouldn’t we?” Ripley added. “Hostile and already onboard, and they’d be familiar with all our systems and routines, wouldn’t they?”

“Logically, that would be a real possibility. What are you thinking? Flush them out the hanger deck?”

“Hard vacuum wouldn’t kill them, Louise. If a Company ship gets in-system they might just locate them and pick them up, in effect augmenting their forces.”

“We could ask a Walter unit?” Brennan said. “I mean, if we can’t trust them…well, we’re screwed. Half of engineering is manned by Walters.”

“Which leaves us where, exactly?”

“First,” Brennan said, holding up one finger, “if we notify Ticonderoga we have to assume their Gordon units will know something’s up, and we don’t know how they’ll respond…”

Ripley nodded. “So, we have to assume they’ll respond just like the original David’s did.”

“Second,” she added, holding up second finger, “if the Gordons are internally linked then they already know.”

Ripley nodded again. “Then we have to identify that frequency and jam it.”

“On it,” Brennan said urgently, turning and sprinting off towards CIC and the COMMs shack.

Ripley turned and looked at the deactivated Gordons backed up to the hanger door, standing there like mute sentinels waiting to come back to life. “We can’t keep making the same mistakes and expect different outcomes,” he sighed. “Now, how do we keep two steps ahead of the Company…when we know that they’ve already gamed the system?”

“In such a scenario, Admiral, you need to know your opponent’s main objective and the means he has at his disposal to accomplish this.”

Ripley turned and was surprised to find a Walter unit from engineering standing just behind him. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I heard you ask a question, and I thought I might be of some service.”

“You did, huh? All by your little ole self?”

“Sir?” 

Ripley looked at the patient, almost condescending look in the synthetic’s eyes and he suppressed a shudder. “So tell me, Walter. There is another Walter unit in this system that is not currently onboard any of our ships. Are you capable of locating this Walter?”

“The Walter from Covenant, sir? Yes, I am in contact with him now. He states there is a large hostile force in orbit around Beta Auriga 4 and he advises against approaching that system.”

Ripley nodded. “Tell me, Walter…are you capable of lying?”

“Yes, Admiral. When necessary I am quite fluent in the various languages of human deceit.”

Ripley smiled. “Well then, I reckon I trust you.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

“Right. You stick with me, and try not to stand on my toes, okay?”

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

[All Alone \\ Glass Hammer]

Hyperion, Chapter 3

Hyperion image Small

If you’ve still not read The Mote In God’s Eye…well geepers, I sure wish you would. Even if you’re not exactly a SciFi buff I think you’ll find it a real hoot. FWIW, if there’s one book I wish had been made into a movie, it’s this one.

[Holst \\ The Planets \\ Venus]

Chapter Three

Into The Fire

USNSF Hyperion                                          31 August 2115

With solar headwinds much stronger than anticipated it had taken the Hyperion battle fleet a week longer than expected to reach their orbital insertion point to achieve an elliptical orbit around Mercury, and as the inbound tankers from Europa were struggling to make headway against the very same conditions, they were already three Terran days off the established schedule.

“Admiral to the COMMs shack,” Ripley heard over the intercom, and he knew there wasn’t much doubt what Stanton might have in mind. Would he really send them in without tanking up first?

He sat up in bed, waking Judith Caruthers in the process, and made his way to the head as she rolled out of the sack and darted into the shower. He looked at her as she stepped under the spray and realized he was now totally smitten, if not already deeply in love with her. And now, finally, everyone on all three ships had some truly salacious gossip to spread—that also just happened to be true. Well, most of it, anyway.

He threw on his khakis and made his way to the bridge for a quick sit-rep, then he walked through CIC to the communications compartment, stopping for the first retina scan outside the blast door before stepping into the frigid air of the heavily air conditioned room. One more retina scan then insert his drive and wait for the encryption algorithms to do their thing, then he sat at the lone desk and began reading through Stanton’s latest dispatch.

First on the list: Hyperion and her group would remain in orbit until refueled. A fifth tanker was also en route, the USNSF Woodrow Wilson, and she would be accompanied by three DEs, very small destroyer escorts, and those three would NOT orbit but proceed directly to the Alderson Point – and right then and there Ripley had to stop and reread that first part of the dispatch again. So, Stanton was sending an unarmed tanker through the Point as his opening move? What the…?

With that digested he read on: Patton would transit a half hour after Wilson, Stavridis a half hour after that, so the heavily armed Hyperion transiting last, after another half hour. The new, larger battle group would then establish a course for the Beta Auriga system, their most likely destination Beta Auriga 4. The Ticonderoga Strike Group would transit three Terran days after Hyperion and follow the same course.

Ripley was stunned. Why such a major show of force for what was, essentially, a rescue mission? And why not send the most heavily armed ship through first?

A brief video message from Admiral Stanton was attached, the video file just a few minutes long, and he hoped to find an answer to that question in there.

“Denton, we’ve just received and decrypted a fourth ‘breadcrumb’ from Covenant, and it’s not good. The ship’s Walter unit apparently did not return from the surface, and that takes us to the heart of the matter. Once the remaining flight officer was brought up from the planet’s surface, and once the crew was returned to cryo-sleep, a David unit logged into the system.” Stanton looked pale as he spoke those words, full of anguish even as he spoke, and Ripley found he was barely breathing. A David unit? One had actually survived the purges?

Stanton continued: “The ship’s computer accepted the login and allowed this David full access to the ship’s systems, and that opens up a whole new can of worms as it appears this David was Peter Weyland’s personal unit. In case you aren’t up to speed on all that, Weyland and this same David were on the Prometheus mission – and do, please, let that sink in for a moment, would you? The full Security Council has met and gone over the possibilities, and while none appear to have a good outcome we’ll leave final Covenant’s final disposition to you and Admiral Adams on Ticonderoga.

“As you’ll see in the attached imagery, Covenant found evidence that a fairly sophisticated civilization was clustered in one small settlement above a fjord quite near their shuttle’s landing site. Between the settlement and the landing site you will also take note of the horseshoe shaped structure, which appears to be a crash site. Presumably the Marine who was compromised was attacked and fell ill in that region. But what crashed there is a subject of some controversy within the council, but our preliminary assessment is that this may be a spacecraft. I’ll repeat ‘may be’ – because this is now the primary focus of the Hyperion group’s mission. We need to know as much as we can about this ship and the settlement – and its inhabitants – yet without jeopardizing members of Ticonderoga’s ground assault team.

“With that in mind there will be no change to our established First Contact policies and procedures. If hostilities appear imminent but preventable you are to back-off and assess the situation while communicating directly with Norfolk.

“And Denton, there’s one last thing you should be aware off. It appears the Company knows about their David being onboard Covenant, as they are, apparently, mounting an expedition of their own. As you know, Hyperion was built in their yards so of course you understand they have the design and manufacturing expertise to fabricate all the key components necessary to build both the Drive and the Field. About all I can tell you with any certainty is that, depending on how long you’re out there, one of their ships may show up unannounced. This could be a real problem as the Council has reliable evidence that their David has already been in contact with the company. If that’s true, if that is indeed the case, there’s absolutely no telling what the Company’s real purpose and intentions will be if they show up.

“I’ve sent most of this information to Admiral Adams, but we’re learning more by the hour down here. If we learn anything new before you Jump, I’ll get word right out to you. If not? Well, good luck to you, and we’ll see you when you get back. Stanton, out.”

The screen went black after that last warning, then Ripley was prompted to insert his drive key to download all the relevant files to his personal drive, but even as that last task was completed he sat there in the cold air – while a sudden sweat began rolling down the back of his neck.

+++++

Hyperion and her escorts were in an elongated orbit around Mercury, the main purpose being to extend the amount of time all three ships could remain in Mercury’s shadow. Ripley had been spending most of his time on the bridge, and he’d watched the first tankers make burns for their slingshot back out to Europa. Hyperion’s powerful search radars had already picked up the Ticonderoga strike group as well as the Wilson and her escorts, and Hyperion’s inbound tankers were already deep into their own deceleration burns so everyone on duty on the bridge felt like they were choreographing some kind of cosmic ballet. Indeed, not even the Battle at Alpha Centauri had commanded such a large naval response and that incident, Ripley thought, was probably what was behind the Council’s current thinking.

The Company had sent their first large colony ship, the Testament, to Alpha Centauri almost thirty years ago, almost as soon as the first ion drive was perfected. Accelerating at a constant 1.0G, the theory stated, would result in velocities approaching ninety nine percent of light speed; with those velocities travel time would become practical, at least with the latest so-called hyper sleep chambers. Testament got underway just as similar colony ships from Russia, China, and India departed Earth, yet unbeknownst to the Company the Russians and the Chinese departed with military escorts. Upon arrival the Russians and the Chinese imposed a blockade, preventing both the Indian’s and the Company’s ships from entering the lone system – even though that system had not one but two habitable worlds. By the time word reached Earth the USNSF had developed the Drive and the Field, as well as particle beams and laser cannon that neither the now quite old Russian and the Chinese ships possessed. The battle around Epsilon Centauri was a rout, but when Russian forces on the planet fired on the Theodore Roosevelt the battle took on a new, more malicious tenor. The Roosevelt’s cannons had ignited the atmosphere and turned a quarter of the planet into molten slag, instantly killing thirty thousand colonists; within weeks word of this calamity reached Earth and a Fourth World War had just barely been averted.

But Denton Ripley had been the Roosevelt’s Fire Control Officer – and so he was the officer in charge of the battle-cruiser’s laser cannon during the bombardment. Though exonerated by the Court of Inquiry that followed, people stared at Ripley wherever he went on Earth and it hadn’t taken long before he found himself baby sitting ore tugs shuttling rocks to processing ships from the asteroid belt. A more contemptible fate he could not have imagined.

But now Ripley understood why he’d been chosen for this mission. If Covenant’s complement of colonists had indeed been compromised by some sort of unknown organism, the colony ship would have to be destroyed – and once again he’d wear the mark of the murderous assassin. And if the Company sent some kind of ship to intervene? Then what? Take out that ship, too?

And now he knew why Stanton had sent Alice Adams to take over the Ticonderoga strike force.

‘How appropriate,’ Ripley sighed. Top of her class at Annapolis, Adams had been the Roosevelt’s X-O, the ship’s executive officer, and she’d given the order to open fire on the colony so by the time the Court of Inquiry was finished with them she’d been just as tarnished as he. And they’d avoided each other ever since.

Which had been a completely unintended consequence, but a most painful one even so.

For they had been, and for quite some time, impassioned lovers.

In fact, Judith Caruthers was the first woman he’d been with since, and she represented only his second time at bat. There’d just never been time.

‘And how long have I been telling myself that?’ he sighed.

At least Judy knew all there was to know about Alpha Centauri, so at least there were no evasions necessary. ‘Not surprising, really,’ he sighed, trying to run from those memories once again, and failing – again. ‘Hell, everyone on Earth knows me. And Alice.’

‘And if I take out a Company ship I’ll never find decent employment with them,” he thought, his thoughts turning darker by the minute. ‘Not that I’d want to. Not unless that’s all there is…’

Which left what, exactly? Armstrong City on the Moon or Musk City on Mars? Or he could sign up to join a colony ship – as a colonist! Or maybe he could scrape together enough money to buy shares in a tug and start hauling rocks from the Belt. Wouldn’t that be – what?…ironic?

He stared at the plot noting times: their first inbound tanker due in nineteen hours, the second in twenty two. The Woodrow Wilson on a high speed course to hit the Alderson Point in twenty six hours, so Patton a half hour after that, then Stavridis and Hyperion at half hour intervals.

And what would be waiting for them on the other side, when they came streaking out of Capella?

An alien armada? Or absolutely nothing at all? Or would the Company somehow get there first and rendezvous with Covenant? And if that happened, then what?

He’d gone over all the obvious possibilities with Captain Ames, and she’d been running fire control exercises and damage control drills ever since. Both Patton and Stavridis were running them around the clock as well, even while Caruthers was getting Patton ready to tank and finish preparations to make the Jump behind Wilson and her escorts.

What had he missed? What else could he do to prepare?

But wasn’t that Ames’s job now? She was the captain, the real captain of this ship. He’d been captain of the Bunker Hill, little more than a traffic control node, and here he was – the acting Admiral of a fleet battle group!

‘Oh well,’ he sighed as he stood to make his way back to his cabin, ‘at least I met Judy.’ Yet Gordon was waiting…patiently…behind his chair, and he still found that a little unnerving.

“Call a Captain’s meeting, would you, Gordon?”

“Of course, Admiral.”

“And I’d like you to attend, please. We may have need of your insight today.”

“I understand, sir.”

‘Do you really?’ Ripley wondered. Had curiosity and empathy really been hard-wired into these latest units? ‘Well, we shall see,’ he muttered as he started down the main passageway.

And Judy was indeed still waiting for him in his cabin, still smiling, still happy, and that filled him with a little rush of happiness…

“Any new developments?” she asked.

And he nodded. “Yup.”

“Did you call a meeting?”

“I did.”

“We have time for a little more sack time?” she grinned.

“You know…I think we do.” He smiled into her eyes and it was now utterly impossible not to love her.

+++++

The Woodrow Wilson and her escorts streaked past Hyperion at 70 percent of light speed, covering the remaining distance to the sun in just under four minutes; Patton was on her final extended elliptical orbit slowly building velocity, and twenty six minutes later Ripley watched as Patton streaked by, her main drive flaring brightly as she passed. Patton would take almost ten minutes to reach the jump point from here but already his pulse was hammering in his chest, and he was surprised by the pride flowing through his veins when he thought of Captain Caruthers – Judy – at Patton’s helm.

Mercury was currently just under 30 million miles from the Sun’s outermost layer, the corona, and Hyperion’s astronavigator, Commander Louise Brennan, was tracking Patton’s approach while simultaneously calling out their own increasing velocity…

“Passing three point two gees, Captain,” Brennan called out from her acceleration couch as Ripley looked at their plot. Hyperion had just made their first burn at the ship’s orbital apogee, and once recaptured by the Sun’s gravity Hyperion’s drives would flare to one hundred and five percent of their rated power – then the ship would dive for the solar corona at forty-one percent of light speed – and they’d pass Mercury exactly one half hour after Stavridis. Despite her age, Brennan was still the best astro-gator in the service, and even Ames was impressed.

Once the inertial reference system was sequenced the mission clocks were reset and the countdown timer activated, and at that point both of the ship’s radar masts and the main COMMs tower were retracted inside the Field. A huge central display showed a map of the the solar disc and the current location of the Alderson Point – and most importantly Hyperion’s plot along the intercept – and Ripley’s eyes darted between the plot and the countdown timer…

If all had gone according to plan, Patton had already exited Capella and Stavridis was probably still just inside the distant star and about to break out of the corona.

“What a fucked up way to make a living,” someone behind him said…

And Ripley just had to smile. Ninety million miles from home and diving into the Sun.

What could possibly go wrong?

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

[Rolling Stones \\ 2000 Light Years From Home]

Hyperion, Chapters 1 and 2

Hyperion image Small

All things being equal, this whole writing thing is sort of fun, and funny, too. You go where the imagination takes you and then you try to put thought to paper (or whatever you call this). Hence this story. I’ve been thinking about it and outlining little plot lines for quite a while, so after putting Harry to bed (for a bit, anyway) this just started to pour out onto the page/screen/whatever-this-is, and here’s the first draft of the first two chapters, ready for a laugh. Enjoy.

[Jimi Hendrix \\ The Wind Cries Mary]

Chapter One

The Pony Express

USSF Bunker Hill 12 February 2115

As the Orion-class tug maneuvered alongside the bulk ore carrier, one docking arm reached out from the ore processing ship and latched onto the tug’s primary docking collar; two additional arms grabbed an ore container. Once attached, and after hard-seals were confirmed on the primary chute, loading belts reached into the container, and almost immediately the tug’s load of raw mineral ores spun into the ore ship’s processing intake. The tug’s entire haul would be offloaded within a few hours; once complete, the tug’s crew would board a shuttle and head down to the Martian surface for a few days of R&R – before shuttling back up to their tug and heading back out to the asteroid belt.

Fleets of space-going tugs were constantly shuttling out to and returning from the belt, the unprocessed ore they transported being used for the massive construction and colonization projects on both the Moon and Mars.  Tugs moved out to the belt at one half standard G, assaying potential targets en route. Once a target asteroid was identified, and after confirmation that no other outfit had staked a prior claim, the tug would register its claim and make its approach to the rock. After the tug was aligned, typically grappling hooks secured the asteroid and pulled the rock close to the tug’s empty bulk ore container. The mining crew would transfer to the surface of the rock and begin the hard work of identifying mineral veins suitable for extraction and then guide the tug’s extraction bits into place, with the rough ore extracted and transferred to an empty bulk ore container.  Within a matter of hours the tug, with a fresh load of unrefined ore, would be en route to one of a dozen processing ships stationed between the belt and Mars, and once the asteroid’s ores were roughly separated and processed this semi-refined material would be reloaded into the tug’s container. Once reloaded, the tug would proceed to one of six primary orbital processing facilities – and there were currently two each around the Moon, Mars, and – of course – Earth. 

Once docked at one of the primary processing ships, the asteroid’s semi-refined ores would be further pulverized and its constituent minerals assayed and weighed; payment would then be agreed upon and the tug would drop into a parking orbit just off the much larger processing ship. The tug’s crew would typically head down to the surface for a few days of clinically mandated debauchery and then be on their way back out to the asteroid belt to collect more rock. The work was dangerous and the pay was outrageously high; because of the high pay absolutely no androids were tolerated.

Captain Denton Ripley watched as the latest tug disengaged from the processing ship from the vantage of the Captain’s chair on board the USSF Bunker Hill, which was currently on-station five kilometers ‘above’ the action; Bunker Hill was orbiting Mars, and had been for years, and at the moment the rusty-red planet was just 1800 kilometers ‘below’ his ship. Ripley watched this latest arrival assume a standard parking formation with the ore ship from Bunker Hill’s flight operations bridge, located port side forward, yet only when the tug was well away from the ore ship did he relax. Now he turned his attention to an inbound Space Force cruiser just lining-up to sling-shot around Mars, the trajectory on his plot showing the USNSF Stavridis heading for Gateway Alpha. Though the ship was not yet visible to the naked eye from this distance, traffic control had alerted the third shift watch commander and she had picked up the cruiser on deep space scans within minutes of her arrival in the solar system. As Stavridis was an “unscheduled” transit everyone was paying close attention, because unscheduled transits usually meant trouble, in one form or another. Besides, Stavridis was one of the few ships fitted with the still top secret Alderson drive, so she was one rumored to be one of the first ships in the fleet capable of faster-than-light travel, and that fact alone made this transit a Very Big Deal.

“Why are you in such a goddamn hurry,” Ripley whispered as he watched the updated track on C-I-Cs central display. 

Commander Louise Brennan, the Bunker Hill’s navigator, had worked out the cruiser’s track as soon as it appeared on long range scans. Stavridis was still under heavy acceleration too, meaning her crew had been strapped to their gel-filled G-couches for days on end, and they would have to further endure exceptionally heavy G-forces when Stavridis made her braking burn to enter Earth orbit. Stavridis was carrying too much delta-V for a direct approach to the Gateway, yet even at their current velocity it would take them another four days to reach Earth using the standard published orbital approach. Even so, at least Stavridis’s crew would be able to communicate with the Gateway without the interminable time delays experienced when out beyond the Oort Cloud.

Ripley was really beginning to hate this ship – the Bunker Hill – even though she was ‘his’ – for the moment, anyway. And he was really beginning to wonder why he hadn’t taken early retirement to work for The Company – as the Weyland-Yutani Consortium was colloquially known these days. Yes, the pay in the Space Force was decent enough, relatively speaking anyway, and the chow wasn’t too bad. Still, babysitting a ship like this was a more than perfect job for any newer model android, not an Academy graduate with four years of deep space time under his belt – and one battle, too. Even with a human crew of ten onboard, he often went days without talking to another person. A real human being, that is.

And it wasn’t that he disliked androids. They were likable enough – in their way. Still, the mass revolts staged by First Generation Davids had exacted a terrible toll in both trust and human life, a breach of trust that in human terms had not yet, and might not ever be, fully repaired. And though true enough, both the Walter as well as the latest Gordon-class models had eventually been well received on the lunar colonies – after a few years, anyway. Even this ship had a handful of Walters onboard, handling everything from reactor operations to exterior damage control duties.

Yet there was also one Gordon on board, too, and its presence was still considered somewhat controversial, perhaps because this ‘Gordon’ had been permanently assigned to him, and had been since it arrived. ‘His’ Gordon looked like every other unit manufactured to date, right down to its red hair, green eyes and mottled freckles – only its moral subroutines were considered tighter, and its astronavigation capabilities had been deemed second to none. It played chess and loved movies, especially American westerns from the mid-twentieth century – an affinity Ripley did not share – and ‘Gordon’ was almost always by Ripley’s side, a fact of life that was driving the ship’s executive officer more than a little mad.

As Ripley peered into the infinite, Stavridis’s drive flared right on schedule, the massive fusion powered ion drive suddenly appearing in the vast night as she began her braking burn. He thought, perhaps as a prank, that he should call and ask their master if the crew was enjoying the G-forces. Then he measured the flaring drive – because the light bloom was much bigger than simulations had predicted.

“Gordon? Did we just see an unexpected acceleration?”

“Yes, Captain. Her deceleration just increased from 3.2Gs to 4.05 – I would say they are in quite a hurry.”

Ripley shook his head. At 4.05Gs standing up would be impossible; even lifting your head from the acceleration couch could prove fatal. “Goddamn…but I’d sure hate to be on that ship right now,” he said…to no one in particular.

“Captain?” Gordon said. “There are currently two tugs inbound, both requesting permission to approach the Dandelion.”

“How many processing bays are currently operational?”

“Four, sir. Two will remain closed during the current overhaul cycle, and for another 16 hours and 12 minutes. There are currently two Sandoval-class tugs offloading water-ice from Europa; both should decouple and  begin their return cycle to Jupiter within two standard hours.”

“Approach control? Go ahead and route the tugs to bays one and five. Anyone else lining-up out there?”

“No, sir,” the Bunker Hill’s traffic controller replied, “the next arrival is still 18 hours out.”

“Tactical plot, please? Up-pole view will do for now.”

“Yessir, polar-up view.”

His stomach growled as the polar plot came up on the large central display – one more time. ‘Yeah…a goddamn monkey could do this job…’ he muttered to himself. That was the old joke, anyway.

By the time the two latest arrivals were docked and unloading their cargo, all thought of the Stavridis and of her speeding past had long since drifted away. The next scheduled shuttle was coming up from the surface, and that meant one more load of drunk, hungover Spicers would soon depart Mars orbit, making room for another load of new arrivals that would head down to Elon City for a couple days of sin-drenched fun in the sun. Such as the sun was out here, anyway.

+++++

His eyes opened, and the pain in his skull seemed to explode.

“Captain to the bridge,” he heard over the intercom. He pushed himself up and rubbed his eyes, then he rinsed his mouth with Ora-cleanse and ran a brush through his hair before he slipped into his compression-suit. With that routine maintenance out of the way he opened the door to his cabin – and of course found Gordon waiting for him. 

“High priority comms from Gateway, Captain Ripley,” it said.

“How long was I out?”

“Four hours twenty minutes of REM sleep recorded and logged, Captain.”

“Lead on. I’ll follow you,” Ripley said, and he watched Gordon pull himself along in zero-G to the Comms suite just off the main cabin being used as the Combat Information Center, or CIC, on Bunker Hill. Ripley placed his face up to the retina scan and opened his right eye as wide as he could, and after the scanner did its thing the door slid open. “Wait here,” he commanded Gordon as he pushed off the ceiling and drifted into the little room.

“Sir, I really should…” Gordon said.

“You’ll wait here for now.”

“Yessir.”

Ripley pulled himself into the radio shack and settled into the lone chair; he inserted his drive and entered his security code then placed his eye at the redundant retina-scan, opening the encrypted video channel to Gateway Alpha. It took a few seconds to establish the connection, and after that the main COMMs screen opened.

“Denton? Good to see you,” the Naval Space Force CnC said, and a relieved Ripley smiled.

“Good to see you too, Admiral Stanton.”

“Looks like we might have trouble brewing, something to do with the Covenant mission.”

“Sir?”

“I see you were briefed on the mission profile during your third year at Annapolis, so I assume you’re still somewhat familiar with the ship’s systems, her crew and cargo?”

“Yessir. Those company ships aren’t particularly unusual. What’s going on, sir?”

“What do you recall about the Anomaly Reporting Systems the Company installed?”

“The ship’s computer is programmed, if certain pre-established criteria are met, to deploy beacon transmitters with the current sit-rep encoded. I think it was originally thought of as a type of combined data and incident recorder.”

Stanton nodded. “Covenant’s computer has, apparently, deployed two such beacons, and I’m sending the contents to you now. Stavridis picked up the signals and downloaded the packets you’ll receive. She sent them as soon as she was within range, and she’s inbound to refit and refuel, but it’ll take us a month to get her docked and that work started, and another week or so to get her ready to go again.”

“Yessir?”

“So…I’m promoting you to Rear Admiral and sending you to Hyperion, effective date of transfer is this date. I know Ames is going to be pissed, and I know it’s been a while since you worked the sims on her, but you’re the most senior officer available now, and you are the only experienced captain I have that’s made a return trip using both the Drive and the Field. We’re going to leave Captain Ames nominally in command of the ship but I want you to take your current XO and your entire CIC with you. You’ll take your flag to Hyperion as soon as we can work out the transfer orbit.”

“Yessir.”

Stavridis will join Hyperion and Patton as soon as we can turn her around.”

Ripley flinched when he heard that. Sending two cruisers to support Hyperion suggested this was more than a simple recon or rescue mission. “Alright, sir. Understood.”

“Denton,” the admiral said, his voice suddenly less rigid, “we’ve got indications of a signal of unknown origin on a habitable planet near Covenant’s course. She diverted from her planned course to that planet, and her captain did so without authorization, and apparently there’s been some damage sustained en route and no one seems to know what’s going on. We don’t know what they found out there or what they’re dealing with in the aftermath, but there are thousands of colonists on board and, well, you know how it is. The company wants to protect their investment so we get the call. Anyway, there’s more to it than that, so read the summary as soon as you can, and let us know when you can get underway.”

“Will do, sir.”

“Oh. Six new middies have been assigned to Hyperion. Think you can handle ’em?”

“Yes, of course. Anything else, sir?”

“No, that’s it for now.”

The screen faded and Ripley made sure the encoded message was downloaded to his personal drive, then he ejected the drive and cleared the COMMs cache before he switched back to the command net.

“XO, captain here, ready the shuttle for transfer to Gateway Echo. XO, you and CIC will prepare to transfer to Hyperion as soon as your replacement crew arrives.”

“Sir, there’s a shuttle upbound from the surface with our replacements, and your promotion is now on the books. Congratulations, Admiral.”

“Thanks, Carl. Glad you’re coming with us. Now…let’s get a move on.”

When Ripley opened the door he saw his Gordon waiting out there and shook his head. “I assume you already know what that was all about?”

“Of course, Admiral,” Gordon said, smiling benignly.

A thoroughly annoyed Admiral Ripley nodded as he passed the android. “Well then, let’s go.”

Chapter Two

Preparations

USNSF Hyperion 5 May 2115

US Naval Space Force Hyperion was, true to her namesake, a creature of light destined to roam deep space. Huge by the standards of her day, Hyperion was three hundred feet long and almost lozenge-shaped. Three decks ran the complete length of her hull, and the ship’s complement included both Space Force and Naval astronauts as well as one company of Marines. Forty Walter units were assigned to the ship’s engineering spaces, and the ship also maintained a small contingent of xenobiologists and astrophysicists. Four Gordon units were being assigned as personal assistants to the ship’s command crew, and they were now en route from the Gateway. And, as C-in-C Stanton had intimated, Hyperion would have a fresh contingent of Naval Academy Midshipmen on hand for this voyage, this expedition being the ‘middies’ first real experience in deep space. The middies, Ripley saw as he looked over the manifest, ranged in age from fourteen to sixteen earth standard years; only two of them, he noted, were old enough to shave.

But the simple fact of the matter remained: living and working in space was an occupation for the young—and the unattached. The nature of long duration space flight meant it was simply impossible to marry and start a family, as most of the long range ships were so-called cruisers manned by career crews of either Space Force or Navy officers and ratings. Because most of these ships voyages took place within the solar system, with trips as far out as Neptune not unusual, crews were typically out years at a time. Yet someone, somewhere, had – once upon a time – decided that crews should be split almost evenly between men and women, presumably taking into account the biological necessity of pair-bonding, even during long duration space voyages.

Ripley looked at the crew – his crew – as they scrambled around the bridge. Many had come with him from Bunker Hill, his first command since The Battle of Alpha Centauri, but as Hyperion was for all intents and purposes a new ship she didn’t have an existing crew on board. The engineering spaces were manned by Walter units, though still supervised by human officers and assisted by human ratings, and there were also a few Walter units scattered about the ship’s complement, mainly in the astronavigation and damage control sections. These non-human crew members were, of course, unconcerned with interpersonal relationships.

But right now, looking over the bridge – his bridge – he had to shake his head. Men were strutting around with huffed up chests and the women up here were batting their eyelashes like semaphores, and the entire bridge deck seemed drenched in pheromones. Maybe these rituals were just the way it would always be – where humans were concerned, anyway – but when he read over naval histories from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries these types of issues had never come up. At all. Now, as the admiral in command of a small task force headed into unknown circumstances, he’d have to watch over three ships spilling over with all kinds of interpersonal drama, let alone the lingering hostility many humans felt about androids after the mass betrayals that occurred when David units turned out to be dangerously paranoid psychopaths.

Yet Hyperion wasn’t really his ship. Captain Lucille Ames had been aboard since her keel was laid on earth, and she’d been on board ever since. She knew the ship better than anyone else, even the engineers who had designed the ship, and from the moment Ripley stepped aboard Hyperion’s crew had constantly let him know exactly how she felt about the situation. This was her ship, she was in command, and she’d fight the ship when and if hostilities broke out. As far as Lucy Ames was concerned, Ripley didn’t belong here and she resented his presence. Period. And apparently when she learned a Gordon unit had been assigned to shadow her, she had come completely unhinged; she fired off an Urgent//Eyes Only dispatch to Admiral Stanton letting him know exactly how she felt, and so far the dispatch had not been returned.

Ripley, of course, knew her only too well. He’d known her since Annapolis. She was two years behind him but was regarded as a hellion soon after she arrived, a fire-breathing beer-guzzling genius who also just happened to play middle linebacker on the football team. No one fucked around with her after her plebe year, either. Not even her hand-to-hand combat instructors. Built like a brick shit house, she was all Navy and pure Navy and a born engineer. At a mandatory dance her plebe year another cadet had had the temerity to ask her to dance; he went to the hospital with a concussion. Now, when Ames came crashing down a passageway, enlisted ratings dove out of her way—because anything was preferable to facing her wrath.

And as much as Ripley hated to admit it, she was a good officer. Scrupulously fair and usually a quiet soul, she was slow to reach her boiling point—so while it was fair to say she didn’t suffer fools in her presence for very long, she rewarded loyalty and performance of duties ‘above and beyond’ mere competence. She was, in other words, an ideal ship’s captain. His problem, in as much as one existed, was how to let her run her ship while not letting her interfere with the overall success of the mission.

He’d been aboard for a half hour and she’d still not met him on the bridge, and while he was aware that was a serious breech of protocol he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions—yet. So he waited. He sent his Gordon unit to his day cabin to make sure all the mission parameters had been downloaded, and then sent his personal crew to his cabin to get his things stowed and his galley up and running. And he waited some more. He watched the bridge crew running diagnostics on the suite of NAV computers, and he listened as the COMMs tech tuned the antenna array to beacon Terra One. And he waited.

Then he heard her. Coming down passageways and up the stairs from the engineering spaces. Then he heard the surprised whelps of ratings diving for cover as she made her way onto the bridge, the Marine on duty snapping to attention as she entered the room and made for her chair.

She was wearing khakis, he saw. And she was covered with lubricating grease, while her right forearm was bleeding from an inches long gash. Yet as soon as she saw Ripley she snapped to attention and fired off a classic Academy salute, which Ripley returned. With a smile.

“Lucy. Good to see you again.”

She walked over and extended her right hand. “Denton. How’s it hangin’?”

“You’d better get some Duraplast on that arm, then maybe you could buy me a sandwich.”

She looked around, puzzled. “How long have you been here?” she asked, her face now turning red, steam coming from her ears.

“Oh, about an hour,” he replied, wondering who’s neck she was about the snap like a twig.

“Oh, Lord. Sorry. The word didn’t reach us. The COMMs mast failed to retract the last two times we had it up through the Field. The hydraulic actuators fail every time.”

“They know about this in Norfolk?”

“Yessir. I think we’ve found the problem. Best guess is we need the old isolators, but the weenies down in engineering disagree.”

“So of course you just installed the old isolators?”

Ames shuffled around bashfully – and she was good at it, too – then she looked up and grinned: “How’d you know, sir?”

“In case no one’s told you, you need a shower,” Ripley grimaced, putting her back in her place. “I’ll be up here when you finish up.”

“Very good, Admiral,” Ames said as she turned towards her in-port cabin, her feathers defiantly ruffled.

“Still cute,” Ripley muttered under his breath – as he watched her slink away. “And she still knows it, too.”

Hyperion was also only the second main battle-cruiser equipped with both the Alderson Drive and its associated Langston Field, and as these were still considered highly classified systems not even the middies knew much about them. And while he was qualified on both the theory and practical operational characteristics of both, Ripley had zero captain-in-command time – hence Ames had been retained as captain, though perhaps because she was the only expert available. Still, she’d been captain during Hyperion’s trials, and that traditionally meant she’d be ship’s master on her first operational run, but Ames and her intentionally brusque manner had already ruffled more than a few feathers in Norfolk. To say she wasn’t particularly popular down there was an understatement.

His Gordon unit slipped up from behind and stood there quietly, waiting for Ripley to acknowledge his presence. 

“Everything loaded?” Ripley asked.

“Yessir. And core systems have been updated. There is also a new download concerning Covenant.”

“And I assume that as it was marked Eyes Only and addressed to me that you’ve already read the material?”

“Of course, sir.”

Ripley shook his head and sighed.

“The last shuttle will dock at 2200 GMT, and I believe the midshipmen will be onboard.”

“Well, if they’re not they won’t be joining us this time out.”

“Yessir. Your cabin is operational now. Dinner is scheduled for 2000 hours.”

“Did you get the invitations out to the Captain and X-O?”

“Yessir.”

“What about the new Medical Officer? Is he onboard yet?”

“He is a she, and no, Doctor Sheffield will be arriving with the Midshipmen.”

“What’s the latest on Stavridis and Patton?”

Patton is standing by and ready to sail. Stavridis should depart the Gateway 72 hours after that.”

“Very well. Send my compliments to Patton’s master and invite him to breakfast at 0800. Add our Medical Officer and the middies to the invite list, and we’ll sail as soon as Patton’s master is back on his ship.”

“That’s her ship, Admiral.”

“Shit.”

“Yessir. Her name is Caruthers. Judith Caruthers, Class of ’09, summa cum laude with a double major in Celestial Mechanics and Quantum Physics, sailing team and combat pistol team noted, company commander her senior year.”

“Don’t remember her,” Ripley said, noting he’d been a senior – and a company commander – when she was a plebe. “Pull up an image, would you?”

Caruthers’ image popped up on a nearby screen and Ripley turned and looked it over, shrugging when he still failed to recognize her.

“She’s from the Mobile, Alabama area, Admiral. Class valedictorian McGill Catholic High School, interests during that period included sailing and astronomy. Honors in Chemistry and scored five on the AP History exam, and she led the debate team her senior year.”

Ripley studied her picture while his Gordon spoke, then he asked: “She married?”

“No sir. And no current attachments noted.”

“Interesting choice. I wonder why Stanton chose her for Patton?”

His Gordon looked away as his CPU accessed the relevant information, then he turned to Ripley again. “Political patrons in the senate noted and appear to have played a role in her selection, Admiral, but she is generally considered highly qualified.”

“What was the topic of her senior thesis?”

“Fluid mechanics and displacement theory of nano flares in the solar corona.”

“Pull a hard copy and print it out for me. I want to read it before she arrives.”

“It is two hundred and ten pages, sir.”

Ripley sighed as he looked at the time on the display by Caruthers’ image, then he nodded. “I’ll need a big pot of coffee at dinner. And ask Carson to make it strong, would you?”

+++++

His eyes burned and his mind felt numb but he laid down Caruthers’ thesis at 0400 and closed his eyes for a few hours of rack time. When his Gordon came in at 0700 he snapped to and made his way to the shower while Gordon ran through the Morning List.

“Reactors were tested to ninety percent of rated output for an hour, and after shut down hydrogen stores were replenished. Shuttles have been secured on the hanger deck, and both have been fueled. All optics on the ship’s laser cannon have been cleaned and their generators serviced. Patton’s gig will dock at 0745 and your in-port cabin is ready. And Captain Ames wanted to know if she could join us.”

“Not necessary. I’m sure she has other matters to attend to.”

“Excuse me, Admiral, but I think she wanted to attend,” his Gordon hinted.

“Very well. Advise that if her duties allow she would of course be welcome.” Ripley shaved, making sure the vacuum attachment sucked up all the stubble, then he ‘brushed his teeth’ with a sonic brush. Carson had already laid out his in-port uniform so he was able to dress quickly, and when he appeared ship-shape he made his way to the bridge ‘to show the flag’ before he returned to his in-port cabin.

No space was ever wasted on the sea-going warships of earlier eras, and that maxim now applied doubly so on space-going craft, from cargo ships to rock haulers to the new breed of warships. Everything on these latest warships was designed to take on the operational needs of the moment, from routine transits to ‘fighting the ship’ to damage control, and the Admiral’s In Port Cabin was no exception to this rule. The main in-port table was embedded in the ‘floor’ and was raised hydraulically when needed, yet the table could also pivot and seal off a wall of viewing ports if the ships was battle-damaged, while the laser units used to heat coffee and other fluids could be swapped out for the lasers in handguns. About the only single purpose items on Hyperion were the ship’s Alderson Drive and Langston Field Generators, and of course the ship’s main drive and fuel tanks.

But now Ripley surveyed his in-port cabin over the video link with bemused satisfaction. The table was set for twelve and all the ship’s personalized china had already been placed, with the ship’s name in the 12 o’clock position at each place-setting. Carson had set out place-names and three pitchers of fresh squeezed orange juice were already on the table, while the middies were already clustered by the view ports staring at the moon as it arced in a lazy circle beneath the ship.

When Captains Ames and Caruthers walked in Carson called the room to ‘Attention’ and only then did Ripley enter – from the entrance off his main cabin. With this bit of ceremonial nonsense out of the way he asked everyone to take a seat, and he smiled when he realized Carson had placed the middies on his left and right, three by three, so he knew he’d have to babysit them, at least for a little while, before he could turn his attention to Caruthers. The middies were typically the sons and daughters of the political classes, or at the very least the politically very well connected, and their ‘job’ while assigned to the Hyperion group would be to attend to duties that would help prepare them for one of the service academies. A Walter unit was nominally in charge of their academic studies while assigned to the ship, and ‘he’ was currently standing next to Ripley’s Gordon unit.

“Admiral?” Yukio Matsushima said politely, “may I ask you a question, please?”

Ripley turned to the girl, trying to remember her portfolio. Fourteen years old and from Hokkaido, what he remembered most was that her IQ was 244, an almost unheard of score that placed her among the brightest humans ever tested.

“Yes, of course.”

“We have not yet been told our destination, or how long we may be away from Earth. Are we permitted to know this information now?”

He smiled and looked at Captain Ames. “Captain, care to answer this one?”

Ames nodded. “Yes, of course, Admiral. Yukio, we will be away for at about two years. When we leave this solar system our first destination will be Capella, in the constellation Auriga. I’m sorry, but you look puzzled?”

Matsushima nodded, for she was indeed quite puzzled. “Capella?” she said, her voice strong but full of wonder. “But that is…approximately…fifty light years distant. How is this so?”

“It’s 42.9 light years distant, and this is possible because our ships are equipped with the Alderson Drive.”

“The…what?” Hans Genscher said, with one eyebrow arched quizzically. Genscher was from Bonn and came from a long line of diplomats; he was also a gifted mathematician and a patient astrophotographer who already had a comet discovery to his credit. “Are you saying this ship has a faster than light drive?”

Ripley smiled and looked to Captain Caruthers. “Care to take this one, Judith?” he said casually, trying to break the ice a little.

Caruthers looked at Ripley and nodded, a little surprised the Admiral had addressed her by name and not by rank. “About thirty years ago a NASA physicist postulated that electro-magnetic lines exist between certain spectral classes of stars, notably including G-type stars. A probe was devised and sent to test this hypothesis, but the first difficulty discovered was that these lines most likely form between the corona and the chromosphere, so there was no way for the probe to reach the supposed point. Work began on a field that would allow for brief incursions into the chromosphere…?”

“What?!” cried Genscher. “Do you mean actually into the sun’s atmosphere? But the temperatures involved are…?”

“Yes, they are,” Caruthers said – patiently – still smiling despite the interruption. “In fact, the ship’s Langston Field can handle temperatures up to eight thousand degrees celsius for about a half hour, which is usually sufficient to locate the Langston Threshold and the make the Jump.”

“The jump?” Matsushima asked.

Ripley decided to take this one: “That’s right. The ship jumps from star to star, and it does so literally in zero-time. The sensation you’ll experience is very disconcerting, too, ranging from extreme nausea to debilitating confusion. In rare cases crippling psychotic episodes result, but there’s no way to predict such a result. More troubling still is that we’ve found the ship’s computers simply can’t handle the transition. They instantly go into safe mode and reboot, and therein lies the biggest problem. When we jump we will arrive in Capella’s chromosphere, and yet we’ll still have the accumulated heat of our own sun stored in the Field – but then we’ll be adding even more heat to the Field from Capella’s chromosphere. And, as Captain Caruthers mentioned, we can handle such extreme temperatures for a total half hour duration, even less if the temperature is higher, so we have to get in and find the Langston Point, make the jump and then get out of Dodge before our Field collapses, and we have to do this while the ship’s computers are down – and while some of us are seriously messed up. Any questions?”

“Sounds fun,” Paul Anderson said, but even so grinning like a fool. Anderson too was only fourteen years old but he was easily the smartest kid of the bunch. He was from Seattle and came from a long line of computer scientists, and as his mother was currently serving in the US Senate he was considered very-very important. Ripley had wondered why Anderson had been billeted to such a high risk mission until he recalled Anderson’s grandfather had been one of the NASA astronauts assigned to the first manned Mars mission.

“Well,” Ripley said, “we’ll see how much fun you think it was after we finish the first jump.”

“How long will it take to get to our sun?” Genscher asked. 

“About two months, and we’ll be accelerating at a steady 1.1G the entire trip – and once there we’ll enter a wide equatorial orbit around the sun. The Field will be up by then and absorbing heat, so we time our de-orbit burn to enter the sun’s corona – and hit the Langston Point – at a fairly high velocity.”

“Like how fast?” Matsushima said, her eyes wide open now.

“Oh, no too fast,” Ripley smiled. “Around 25,000 meters per second.”

“But that’s…almost 56,000 miles per hour,” Anderson grinned as he worked through the implications. “So let me get this straight, what you’re sayin’ is we’re going to dive into the sun at 25,000 meters per second while aiming for a point inside the…oh…just how big is this point, anyway?”

“It varies. The smallest we’ve measured was less than a mile in diameter; a hundred is the largest we’ve recorded – but they all fluctuate a bit.”

“Fluctuate?” Anderson moaned, swallowing hard.

“How rough is the atmosphere inside the corona?” Thomas Standing Bull said.

Ripley looked at Ames again and nodded. “The ship’s Langston Field,” she said, “will attenuate the G-forces somewhat, but you can expect displacements in the five to seven G range. Accordingly, everyone will be strapped into acceleration chairs long before we enter the sun.”

Standing Bull nodded, but still he looked concerned. “Admiral, you stated that these lines exist between stars, but are they naturally occurring?”

Ripley crossed his hands over his lap and nodded, then he looked the boy in the eye and spoke as honestly as he could, given the political circumstances. “There is disagreement on that point, Thomas.” Standing Bull was a Lakota Sioux and by heritage was a warrior, and after reading his dossier Ripley had decided to take the boy under his wing. “If they were naturally occurring there ought to be such lines between all G-class stars, but that’s proven to not be the case. One of our mission parameters is to locate and map as many new Langston Points as we can.”

“If I may,” Genscher interrupted, “but how many known pairs have been mapped?”

Ripley nodded to Caruthers. “There are currently twenty five known Pairs with one Point located in our own sun,” she explained. “Most are oriented towards the galactic core,” she added.

“Has stellar drift been accounted for?” Standing Bull asked.

“I’m not sure where you’re going with this?” Caruthers replied, now grinning in expectation.

“Well,” Thomas said, “if a given star has drifted radially relative to the galactic core, if the Point remains fixed inside the star one could assume the lines are a naturally occurring phenomenon. If, on the other hand, a star has drifted and the Point has remained anchored in space, that would imply that the lines are a construct.”

“Very good, Thomas,” Ripley sighed. “That is the center of contention, or the source of disagreement I alluded to. And that is also why any talk of the Drive and Field is still classified and not permitted beyond the ship.”

“Understood, Admiral,” Standing Bull said.

“Each of you will be assigned to shadow a command officer,” he said to the middies. “Your duties will include taking notes and writing down any questions you have. Your homework assignments will include finding the answers to your questions in the ship’s library. Beyond that, the rule of thumb on board is quite simple: don’t speak unless spoken to, unless speaking out will prevent an accident or save a life. Understood?”

They understood.

“Mister Genscher and Miss Underwood will accompany Captain Caruthers to Patton.”

“Yessir,” they replied.

“Mister Anderson and Miss Taylor, you’re to head over to Stavridis as soon as she joins us. Until then you’ll shadow our XO and the Chief Engineer.”

“Yessir!”

“Miss Matsushima and Mister Standing Bull will remain on Hyperion until we reach Capella. Any questions?”

“No sir!”

“Well then, let’s finish our breakfast and get underway,” Ripley said as he pushed back from the table and stood. “Thomas, you’re with me. Let’s go look over the Combat Information Center.”

+++++

One of the more unpleasant ironies of the Alderson Drive was the time required to reach a Jump Point versus jumping the ship. A ship could literally jump from Earth’s Sun to a star thousands of light years distant in zero time, yet it could take quite literally a year or more to reach a planet in the system the ship had just arrived in. If time and fuel wasn’t an issue the arriving ship could set off for the planet at one standard G, and this velocity maintained a quasi-earth-like environment on the ship during the transit. If faster velocities were required and enough fuel was on hand, travel at up to four standard Gs was possible, though only for short periods of time and with rather draconian safety measures in place. Travel at up to 1.2 G was tolerable for a few days, but any velocity greater than 1.2 G up to 2.0G meant the crew was limited to G-couches, though the ship would go into zero-G conditions for fifteen minutes every four hours to allow for crew changes, toilet breaks, and meals. Above 2.0 G, movement was severely restricted – as even the simplest movement around the ship could result in unexpected falls and serious injury. Above 3.6 G simply lifting ones head from the G couch could result in cervical fractures and death, so literally all movement in these regimes was considered impossibly dangerous.

Hyperion and Patton were heading to the Sun at 1.1G, but due to adverse stellar winds that meant Stavridis’s crew would have to endure two weeks at 2.3 G to make the rendezvous just outside the orbit of Venus, though after Stavridis arrived all ships were scheduled for 24 hours at 1.0G; deferred maintenance would be completed and the two middies would transfer to Stavridis. People generally relaxed, laughed, and tried to have a good time at 1G – while the possibility lasted…

…but it was hard to ignore the Sun now. It was huge and dominated the view ahead.

Only a few members of Hyperion’s crew had made this trip before, so while most of her officers knew the theory behind Alderson’s discovery – only a handful had experienced the terror and disorientation that followed a jump. But of course people talked; word got out. Making a Jump was the single most startling moment one could possibly experience, or so it was said, and that meant most of Hyperion’s crew now looked at the Sun with something between lurking fear and abject terror stuck in their waking thoughts – because it was now impossible to ignore the looming solar disc dead ahead, and that they were going inside that star to make a Jump. Who among them, they wondered, would go insane inside a star 253 trillion miles from home…

+++++

Ripley had spent the first few weeks out from Earth reading everything he could find on the Covenant mission, from design of the ship to her flight crew selection. Covenant’s colonization protocols were fairly standard stuff; the company had been, after all, sending such ships out for more than twenty years. But Covenant, like all company ships before her, was a sub-light speed vessel that traveled under near constant 1G acceleration and therefore relied on cryostasis sleep chambers to preserve her crew. Naval vessels, of course, could not rely on this technology – as warships had to be prepared to fight in an instant – but colony ships were truly massive affairs, too large for adequate Langston Field coverage. And without a Field there could be no Drive, so…

“But how does the Field work?” Midshipman Yukio Matsushima asked on their second night out from the Gateway.

“Well, the basic function of the Field is to absorb energy, whether from a stellar source, a laser cannon, or even a radar set,” Ripley replied. “It absorbs the kinetic energy of hydrogen torpedoes as easily as it does solar radiation, and it also makes our ships very stealthy.”

“But…how?” Matsushima repeated.

“Well, simply put, the Field absorbs energy, either kinetic energy, explosive outgassing, or the photonic particles of stellar radiation, with an efficiency proportional to the cube of their incoming velocities. So in essence, what strikes the Field is absorbed and contained before ultimately being dispersed as radiated energy. But, and this is important, the basic problem is that this absorbed energy cannot be stored indefinitely. As the energy being absorbed increases, you’ll note the Field begins to glow, its normal black state turning red and then orange, then yellow and eventually running up through the spectrum all the way to violet. And as the Field changes color it also begins to expand, almost like a balloon being inflated. A Field fails when it can no longer expand to contain absorbed energy, and at that point the ‘balloon’ implodes and all that stored energy is released.”

“Violently, you mean?” Yukio said.

“Yes. It’s a fusion reaction, so quite energetic. Nothing inside a collapsing Field survives the event.”

“Won’t we be absorbing solar energy as we approach the sun?” Thomas asked.

“Of course,” Ripley said, grinning.

“So…won’t the Field be expanding all that time?”

Ripley shook his head. “Think the problem through, Tom.”

“Sir?”

“Think about the planet Mercury. The side facing the sun is essentially molten, while the far side is…”

Standing Bull’s eyes lit up: “You mean one side can absorb energy while the other side, the dark side, can radiate stored energy?”

Ripley smiled like a proud father. “That’s right. So, what’s the next problem you see?”

“Inside the solar photosphere,” Yukio cried, “there is no surface area to radiate energy! So that accounts for the time limits!”

“Exactly!” Ripley smiled, proud of his middies.

“You said the Field is black,” Thomas asked suddenly. “Is it opaque?”

“Yes, that’s right. Once the Field is established and stabilized we can’t “see” without radar and video feeds, so radar masts and observation towers have to be raised up through the Field…”

“But inside a star…”

“That’s right, Yukio. They’d be burned right off.”

“Neither the Russians or the Chinese have the Drive or the Field, do they?” Yukio asked.

And Ripley nodded again. “Not as far as we can tell, but we do know that they’ve observed our operations so they’ve probably surmised a good deal about how they work. It’s probably just a matter of time before one of them stumbles over the principles involved.”

“So that’s why we have navies now, right?” Thomas asked. “I mean, to protect the new colonies and all the new trade routes that pop up?”

“Yes?” Ripley replied, wondering where the boy was going with this new line of questioning.

“What about First Contact?” Thomas asked next.

“What about it?” Ripley countered, smiling inside. The boy was supremely logical and unafraid of giving flight to his curiosity. ‘He’ll make a respectable command officer…’ he thought.

“Isn’t that another reason why we’re out here?” Thomas asked.

“Maybe, but all that is rather unlikely,” Ripley sighed. “After forty years out here we haven’t seen any evidence of intelligent life, let alone signs that other space faring civilizations are around.”

“But…aren’t there protocols?” Thomas asked.

“Yes, there are. Basically, if we run across something we are to observe and report, and if at all possible we are to avoid hostilities – meaning unless we are attacked first. And if at all possible we are to avoid contact unless suitable emissaries are available.”

“Suitable emissaries?” Yukio asked.

“Academics and diplomats, I assume,” Ripley grinned. “And definitely not middies with overactive imaginations!”

The acceleration warning sounded and Ripley looked at the startled kids and smiled. “Well, you two better get to your cabin and strap-in. We’ll be lining up to start our orbital burn on the mid-watch; we’ll slingshot around Venus and start our calculations to locate the Alderson Point at that time, and I want you both on the bridge for that…”

“When will the Field go up?” Thomas asked.

“About halfway to Mercury, after we refuel – but don’t worry, it will stay in the black almost all the way to the corona-sphere. Now…scoot…acceleration resumes in a few minutes!”

Ripley watched them run off and he felt the relentless sting of jealousy. He was just twenty nine earth standard years but already he’d lost so much bone mass he’d be a cripple for the rest of his life, assuming he returned to Earth, that is. No, he’d have to settle on the Moon or transfer to the Company and sign up to skipper a cargo hauler or a colony ship, but his days on Earth would be very limited going forward.

+++++

Two weeks after leaving Venus, Ripley was called to the COMMs shack for an encrypted Eyes Only message, and as the COMMs operator on duty had to administer the retina scan in person, Ripley had to wait until the next break in acceleration to make the trip. Once the message was decrypted and transferred to his personal messenger, Ripley went to the wardroom for a sandwich and to catch up on all the latest gossip, but once there he read the message brief and decided to head back to his cabin to read the entire report.

A third breadcrumb from Covenant had been received, and after reading the complete report he had his computer download everything that was known concerning the Wayland Corporation’s Prometheus Mission, including any recent speculative updates. Two days later he called his Gordon unit and had him report to his cabin.

“What do we know about the David that accompanied Prometheus?” he asked.

“About that unit specifically? Very little, Admiral. He was the first of the series and was Peter Wayland’s personal assistant, so we can assume he was serially mistreated by Mr Wayland…”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“Mr Wayland was reportedly quite abusive to underlings, Admiral, including, we assume, to this particular David. And as all of these units soon developed paranoid tendencies we can only assume this unit did as well. Yet how this unit made it to the planet detailed in the latest Covenant dispatch is a mystery. As you know, the working assumption has been that everyone from the Prometheus expedition perished.”

“The shuttle explosion appears to have been the result of violent interactions with an unknown species, but the next thing we learn is that the ground party was subsequently attacked by more of these creatures – and then the David from Prometheus reappeared.”

“Yes, Admiral, that seems to be correct.”

“Do we have enough information to identify the planet?”

“We have narrowed it down to two systems, Admiral.”

“And how far from the Jump Point at Capella are they?”

“The most likely system is five months from our exit point, Admiral. At 1.1G. The other, less likely system is only two months from that point, but if we visit that system first we will then add almost nine months travel time to the most likely system.”

“The most likely system? Has it shown up in any exoplanet surveys?”

“No, Admiral, but we have Covenant’s data to infer a general location.”

Ripley nodded. “Yes, I saw that. Almost earth like, maybe a few thousand years after an Ice Age event.”

“And there are no hydrocarbons or other signs of advanced industrialized economies in the spectra.”

“Alright, Gordon, I’d like you to prepare a mission briefing for Captain Ames and the X-O, and, oh Hell, let’s get the skippers and execs from Patton and Stavridis over here for that, too.”

“Department heads as well, Admiral?”

“No, not yet.”

“And the Middies?”

“Hell no. When and if they need to know I’ll brief them in.”

“Yes, Admiral Will there be anything else?”

“Uh, no, but Gordon, why are you smiling?”

“Because this is the first time you’ve addressed me informally.”

“I see,” Ripley said, but by then his Gordon unit had already turned and left his Admiral’s Cabin.

+++++

The middies, all six of them, were gathered in Hyperion’s wardroom, and as this was the first time all six had been together since they’d first joined the expedition there was all kinds of gossip to share, and notes to compare about the officers they’d been with so far.

“What’s the Admiral really like?” seemed to be the primary topic of conversation, followed by animated discussions on the ins-and-outs they’d picked up concerning theories behind the Drive and the Field. None had seemed particularly interested in their destination or even the mission objectives – until this emergency meeting had been called. Now gossip was spreading around all three ships that either the Russian or the Chinese navies had attacked one of the colonies, and that’s where the Hyperion battle group was headed. And as they were still making calculations for a Jump to Capella this all had something to do with the Covenant colony mission.

“Does anyone know anything about the Covenant Mission?” Yukio asked.

“Only what was on the news. Something like 2,000 colonists in deep freeze and several thousands embryos,” Hans Genscher said.

“Was it just the one ship?” Standing Bull asked.

“I think so,” Genscher replied. “I recall that Covenant launched before the battle at Alpha Centauri, and escorts still weren’t considered necessary in those days.”

Hyperion’s alert chimed again, and the OODs voice came over the intercom. “Shuttles to Patton and Stavridis launching in twenty minutes. All returning personnel report to the hanger deck on the double. Repeat, shuttles to Patton and Stavridis launching in twenty minutes.”

Goodbyes were said and the departing middies made there way down to the hanger deck; after their shuttles were outside Hyperion the middies were surprised to see two tankers filling the huge ship’s massive tanks, then they saw that two more tankers were refueling both Patton and Stavridis, while Venus was well behind them now – and Earth was but a lonely spot against an endless backdrop of stars. And now gray Mercury could be seen ahead – as long as dense hydrogen-alpha filters were used to block out the worst of the sun’s fierce light. Hyperion’s hull blazed brilliantly white and the four middies looked on, fascinated, as the tankers pulled away from her.

Then Captain Caruthers gathered her two middies near a large view port.

“This isn’t a the type of thing many people will ever get to see, so look closely and try to remember it,” she sighed dreamily.

“Why are their tanks different colors?” Hans asked.

“Orange is hydrogen for the main drive, the drive we use for orbital insertions and heavy acceleration. The blue tank is xenon for the VASIMR Drive?”

“VASIMR?” Hans added.

“Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket Drive,” Caruthers sighed. “Hans, please keep current on our reading list, will you?”

“Yes, Captain,” Genscher sighed.

And then the three of them, the two middies and their captain, stood there side by side, staring at Hyperion’s brilliantly glaring whiteness – but then it simply disappeared.

“What happened?” Hans cried. “Where did it go?”

“Oh, it’s still there,” Caruthers said, grinning. “Recall that the Field absorbs all radiation, and that means all visible light, too. That also means the Field renders the ship practically invisible…”

“So the only way you can spot Hyperion now is if she transits a star?”

Caruthers nodded. “Yes, and at this range she would show up on radar for a split second. Also, when the Field begins to absorb a tremendous amount of energy. Do you remember why?”

“Because the Field starts to expand and glow,” Genscher said confidently.

“That’s right. It may start to glow as we get close to the corona-sphere, but it shouldn’t be much, if at all, until after we enter the corona.”

“But we won’t see that, right?” Genscher asked.

Caruthers chuckled at that. “Well, if you do that’ll be the last thing you ever see.”

But Hans wasn’t exactly certain what Captain Caruthers had meant by that. The only way to see Hyperion’s glowing Field would be if Patton’s Field failed, so… “Ah, I understand,” he said just as he saw two masts rise up from inside the Field. “What’s that, Captain?” he asked.

“Radar and COMMs antennae,” Caruthers sighed. “And these tankers will follow us to Mercury. They’ll slingshot back to Europa from there, and our last tanker rendezvous will take place when we orbit and are still in Mercury’s shadow.”

Patton’s shuttle entered her hanger deck and after her hanger doors closed and sealed her Field was activated, and Stavridis went dark a few minutes after that. The four immense tankers slowly fell away from the much faster warships, and all their robotic sensors could see was a blazing star dead ahead.

+++++

Ripley sat in his cabin, thinking about the meeting and all the salient points raised.

The first part of the discussion surrounding the latest Covenant transmission had grown heated, and for the most part Ripley agreed with all the arguments raised. But between the three ships there were only two companies of marines, for a total of two hundred heavily armed ground pounders, but crucially with little in the way of air support available. The shuttles could transport men and equipment to a planet’s surface but that was about it; the shuttles were simply too big for combat operations and had never been intended for that role, so once the troops were on the surface there would be little support available. The only recourse would be the ships’ laser cannon, and while hideously powerful, these weapons had been designed for ship to ship combat in the hard vacuum of space. With clear skies and low humidity such weapons could be used, but that was about all the three captains could agree on.

“What the devil did they run into down there?” Caruthers asked, leading off the discussion.

“The shuttle relayed very little hard information to Covenant,” Ripley stated, “but there was one video feed from the shuttle’s Sick Bay included. Gordon, play the feed now, would you?”

The room darkened and the main view screen dropped from the ceiling. Top Secret banners adorned the top and bottom parts of the screen, then a reasonably clear image of a shuttle’s medical facility flickered to life; Gordon advised there was no audio included with the file. A lone marine, a roughly 25 year old male, was escorted into the trauma room by two female flight officers, identities still not established. Once sitting on the exam table the marine’s shirt was removed and he soon began convulsing, then the skin over his spine separated. One of the flight officers was then seen running out of the field of view and presumably away from the Sick Bay. The marine’s convulsions continued to worsen and the remaining flight officer unsuccessfully tried to administer an unknown agent by hypodermic syringe. She then tried to hold the marine; at that point something erupted from the vicinity of the marine’s thoracic vertebrae, effectively rendering the marine unconscious. The remaining flight officer ran out of view then returned to comfort the marine; moments later sharp spines erupted from the marine’s shattered vertebrae and he fell over backwards as a placental sac containing a small, white skinned creature fell to the floor. The flight officer ran out of the camera’s field of view again and for the next minute the flight officer and the white-skinned creature apparently fought. A minute later the video feed abruptly ended. The ship’s computer verified complete loss of contact with the shuttle and its crew at that point.

Caruthers turned to Ripley at that point. “So, if I’m reading between the correct lines here, Covenant’s captain diverted from his established heading for Aurigae-6 to this unknown planet, and for an unknown reason or reasons? And within a few hours of landing on the surface one of their marines was, well, for all intents and purposes impregnated, then he became host to this creature during a brief gestational phase and he soon delivered a mature organism? And be soon I mean within a few hours after exposure? Killing him in the process?”

“That appears to be the case, yes.” Ripley said.

“And we don’t know the manner of the marine’s exposure?”

Ripley shrugged. “Not yet. The pertinent question now is do we really want to find out?”

“Meaning what?” Captain Ames said.

“I mean do we really want to chance exposing two hundred marines to such an unknown pathogenic organism, and by that I mean one with such extreme capabilities?”

“What choice do we have?” Ames added. 

Ripley looked away for a moment, then he sighed and shook his head. “Everything is on the table, I assume. Everything from placing the planet under quarantine to hitting the area with cannons…”

“Admiral, it’s not our planet,” Caruthers said angrily. “We have no business…”

Ripley held up his hands, signaling a hold. “That’s why I mentioned a quarantine. Assuming all our people are off world now, we’d have no reason to land, would we?”

“What if they’re not?” Ames said, involuntarily shuddering.

“I think you just answered that question, didn’t you? What would be the point?” Ripley sighed.

“But we have no idea what’s happened there, right?” Dean Farrell, Stavridis’ skipper asked. “I mean, we don’t even know if Covenant has left orbit, do we?”

Ripley shook his head. “Frankly, I have a hard time understanding why Covenant’s captain hasn’t communicated directly with the Company. And I thought such a huge deviation from the mission parameters was supposed to prompt their Walter unit to make an independent report, so none of this is adding up to anything good – as far as I’m concerned, anyway.”

“The organism,” Ames started to say. “What if it’s sentient, or worse still, a sentient warrior species…”

“With space flight capabilities?” Caruthers added, groaning. “That could turn into a worst case scenario, Admiral. First contact, but with a hostile civilization possessing unknown military capabilities? That would trigger a retreat, wouldn’t it…and a fleet response?”

“That’s how I interpret things, Captain,” Ripley sighed. “But that doesn’t relieve us of our responsibilities to Covenant or her colonists.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that, Admiral,” Caruthers said defiantly. 

“Unless,” Captain Farrell added, “this civilization attacked Covenant. Then that…”

“I agree,” Ames sighed. “If that is in fact the case then we’d need to make contact. Full military contact.”

“That would be pointless,” Caruthers replied. “Let alone potentially catastrophic. We need to…”

Again Ripley held up his hands. “I understand the nature of the dilemma, Captain. Point of order here: Admiral Stanton does as well. We’ll receive our final orders before we Jump, but we won’t have time to meet up at Mercury and I wanted all of you to be aware of the tactical situation now so you can start to draw up contingencies for dealing with this organism. Also, Stanton has tasked the Ticonderoga strike group as well as her tankers to head this way. They’ll jump about three weeks after we do, so even if we don’t find a hydrogen source we’ll at least have a way back out of the system, and Ticonderoga will have a complete air wing of both attack and defense birds on board – just in case. Even so, Stanton wants us to go in first without them, but I still believe our number one mission priority is to locate Covenant and then to…”

“What is he afraid of, Admiral?” Captain Ames asked.

“He hasn’t exactly said as much, but I think the Joint Chiefs is thinking that Covenant’s crew may have already been compromised by this species. If that’s the case, what if this alleged new species is sending Covenant back to Earth – loaded with these organisms?”

“That would explain Covenant’s silence, wouldn’t it?” Farrell sighed as he grew pale.

“Yup,” Ripley said. “And that would make this one helluva mess. Worst case, we have to take out Covenant, and that would mean killing thousands of innocent colonists…”

“Not exactly,” Caruthers said, her shoulders sagging under the weight of sudden implications. “If they’re non-responsive then they’re most likely already hosts for this new organism, and that means they’re basically dead already. Since the gestation period is so brief…they’d have to be…the colonists might already be in stasis! If that’s the case maybe we could get medical and bio-war teams onboard to…”

Ripley nodded. “They’re on Ticonderoga,” he said as he smiled. “And that’s the point, Judith. You’ve only had this information for an hour and yet you’re coming up with good points that we all need to consider. We Jump in two weeks and then the real fun starts, because there’s absolutely no telling what we’re going to run into on the other side.”

“What about hydrogen?” Ames asked.

“Get your astronomers ready,” Ripley said, suddenly all business again. “Auriga system hasn’t been fully surveyed and so far no ice planet or moon has been identified. Hell, we may have to try and siphon ice crystals off a comet, but I sure as hell hope it doesn’t come to that. Anyway, finding hydrogen is Job One. Next, we’ll start scanning for Covenant’s ion trail, then hopefully we can follow that while we get up to speed on a threat assessment. If worse comes to worse we can use the hydrogen in the ion drive tanks, and hopefully by that time Ticonderoga and her tankers will meet up with us.” Ripley looked around his cabin, and at the uneaten lunch still spread across the table. “Look, I hate to rain on our parade, but this thing is starting to look fugly and we all need to be on the same page going in.”

Captain Farrell stood and asked to be dismissed just after the shuttle departure announcement came over the intercom, and Ripley looked around the room and nodded. 

“Okay, let’s break it off here, but if anyone has some kind of startling breakthrough, be sure to get on the command circuit and share your thoughts with the group. Okay? Well then, you are dismissed.”

Everyone stood to leave but Judith Caruthers asked to stay behind for a moment, and after everyone had left the cabin she closed the door behind her.

“What’s on your mind, Judith?”

“Just that.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve been referring to everyone by rank, Admiral. Everyone but me, that is, and I’d like to know why.”

Ripley sat and reflexively crossed his arms over his flat stomach, then he turned and looked out the viewport – suddenly lost in thought. A minute or so later he asked her to sit.

“I’d rather stand, Admiral.”

He nodded and let slip a long sigh. “I’m going to be thirty next year,” he started to say, “so two years to go until mandatory retirement.”

Caruthers had been watching him closely, and so then she decided to sit. “What are you going to do next?” she said softly, now almost affectionately.

But Ripley just shrugged. “I don’t know,” he finally managed to say. “And I wish I did.”

“What’s missing, Denton?”

“Missing?”

“From your life?”

“I always wanted a family, I guess. And now I see even that possibility slipping away.”

“Oh? Why?”

“I guess I really don’t know, Judith.”

“Call me Judy, okay?”

He looked at her and smiled. “I guess I keep calling you by name because I like you.”

“You…like me? Admiral, I hate to say so but you don’t even know me.”

“Maybe I wanted that to change, I guess.”

“Admiral, I…I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything,” he nodded. “I just wanted to get things out in the open.”

“Okay. May I ask…why me?”

“Not sure. I read your senior thesis on solar fluid dynamics, by the way. And maybe I liked the way you pieced together your argument…”

“We all had a crush on you during my plebe year, you know?”

“What?”

“I always thought we were being too obvious. Apparently not, huh?”

“Who’s we?”

“All the girls in my company. You had the cutest ass, ya know…?”

Ripley could feel his face turning beet red as a thin bead of perspiration formed on his upper lip. “Cute…ass…?” he stammered.

“Oops,” Caruthers said, her grin spreading across her face from ear to ear. She stood and walked over to him, bent down and kissed him gently on the lips. “If it makes a difference, I’d like to get to know you, too.”

“Cute…ass…?” Ripley flubbered helplessly.

“Next time you think about it, try to get us an hour or so alone,” she whispered – before she gently bit his lower lip. “Then I’ll really give you something to think about.”

And with that she turned and ran off to the hanger deck.

And a few minutes later he watched her shuttle drift off towards Patton, and for a few minutes he could see her standing there looking back at Hyperion – with her two middies standing beside her – and he could picture her with his children standing there watching him…when Hyperion’s Field activated and blotted out the universe.

And just then his Gordon unit came in.

“Are you alright, Admiral?”

“Yup. What’s up, Doc?”

And that caught his Gordon unit off guard. “Sir?”

“Situation report, I’m guessing?”

“Ah, yes sir. The inbound tankers are still on time for our rendezvous at Mercury, and sensors have detected the Alderson Jump Point. Its current size is one hundred and fifteen miles in diameter and holding steady.”

“Has Brennan made her calculations?”

“Yes, Admiral. We will have two hours and twenty minutes to complete refueling operations behind Mercury, and twenty minutes to get the crew strapped in.”

“ETA to the refueling point?”

“Seventy two hours, fourteen minutes.”

“Very good. When we reach Mercury I want an hour of uninterrupted time with Captain Caruthers. I know timing the shuttle will be difficult, but make it happen, Gordon.”

“Yes, Admiral. Will there be anything else?”

“Get me Ticonderoga’s latest Sit-Rep and our latest hydrogen consumption estimates.”

“Yessir. Shall I have Carson clear the table, Admiral?”

“Yes, and have the food sent to the enlisted wardroom. I afraid we just didn’t get around to eating.”

“Of course, sir.”

The video feed came to life and he watched Patton’s shuttle spin up to mate with the docking clamps, and for just a moment Denton Ripley almost smiled. 

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.