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