One, maybe two chapters after this one, so enjoy your tea.
[Spock’s Beard \\ Bennett Built a Time Machine]
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.”
“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.
“Yes. We must prepare.”
“Many ships return soon.”
“Your people ships?”
“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?”
“Help you back to your ship?”
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?”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.