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]
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
Holy Mother of God…you’ve got to go faster than that…
USNSF Hyperion 12 August 2107
Lost in time, unforgiving 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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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. 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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]