Proofread by R.L. Campbell
“What is happening with my ship?” Captain Armon mumbled to himself. He stood on the bridge studying the readout on a large digital display. He did not expect or receive a response. The other officers on deck were all ready working it out according to their stations.
The problem was on the minds of every member of the crew, ‘what would cause startech to fail?” For three months the ship was on course with all operations usual. Then, without warning, the startech pushing them through space stopped.
“Captain,” Captain Siv said as he approached his commanding officer.
“Yes, Mr. Siv. What have you got for me?” Captain Armon replied.
“Sir, since our stop, travtech department reports a communications loss with three-hundred ports. Like Andearaius, these three-hundred planets seem to have stopped existing,” Captain Siv reported.
The term ‘stopped existing’ may be a harsh phrase, but from their perspective in space their departure port of Andearaius had vanished. Visual capabilities aboard Uvervakia were limited. Only four other interplanetary spacecraft existed, and none of them carried observation technology, otherwise known as obstech. All five bore similar missions, visit ports the main Watcher Federation had lost communications with and report.
“Where?” Captain Armon asked. He had not needed to ask, he was sure he already knew the answer. Various planets had been loosing all communications for about five rotations now. There appeared to be no pattern to the failures. No desperate messages of distress, and each one was scattered throughout the galaxy with no known connection.
“Random,” Captain Siv said, “Just like the rest, random. It’s the number that concerns me though. Three-hundred in just twenty-four sol-cycles.”
Twenty-four sol-cycles. They had been adrift in space for almost one full luna. Established procedure for this mission was to wait for forty sol-cycles. If Andearaius could not get the startech operational in that time, they would be forced to evacuate the ship. Of course, as long as travtech remained operational, personnel could leave the ship at any time with the captains approval.
“That concerns me too, Mr. Siv,” Captain Armon said. He now studied the map of the galaxy showing three-hundred new red dots among the one-thousand-two-hundred other planets the Watcher Federation had lost travtech and comtech with. “That many this quick will cause a panic.”
Captain Armon turned toward the communication officer. “Lieutenant Izar, hail Roderus.” Without waiting for the lieutenant commander’s response, Captain Armon walked to his command chair and sat down. His nondescript jumpsuit bunched up a bit, and he adjusted it.
Captain Siv followed and took his position at the console along a wall to the right and away from the captains station. As he sat, mindtech launched the console, displaying readout after readout of data from the various departments under his command. His hands folded in his lap as he used his mind to control the system.
“Captain, no response from Roderus,” Lieutenant Commander Izar announced, “and, I am no longer receiving transponder signals from any of the other ships.”
Five interplanetary ships, the first of their kind in known history had launched from three different planets in five different directions. Roderus from Fanceara, and Hendry from Malgas both had been reporting on schedule since Uvervakia, and the other two ships from Andearaius, Hymelskia and Paskia, had all reported adrift in space when the startech on Andearaius failed.
“Travtech now reporting lost communications with half of the Watcher Federation, including all necessary startech planets required for mission completion, Sir.” Captain Siv declared.
“Travtech, contact Pangea, request evacuation,” Captain Armon ordered. “Navtech, calculate course for Pangea.” Pangea was their backup plan. If all else failed, an impossibility he had been assured, his new orders were to evacuate to the Zealot’s home world and plea for assistance.
The idea of pleading with the Zealot leaders elicited a strong sense of trepidation. He had been raised on the doctrine of science, not religion. According to the Zealots, science was just a method their god granted disbelievers so they could understand the knowledge of god.
“Course set,” Lieutenant Commander Hesper said from the navigation control station. “All startech planets go for push.”
“Do it,” Captain Armon ordered. The ship lurched for an instant as the startech beams struck and the inertech drive engaged. Of course, nobody would be able to see it, but outside the ship, a time dilation bubble formed around the ship. There was no technology involved, just the phenomenon of speed.
Spaceship travel was fascinating. Who would have thought you could push a spacecraft through space? But then, nobody ever thought it would be necessary. Travtech had never failed before.
“Captain, we are being hailed by one of our startech planets,” Captain Siv announced. “It’s distorted and hard to copy, but it sounds like they’ll have to disengage the startech.”
“All stop,” Captain Armon ordered. “Open signals.”
A three dimensional image appeared in the middle of the bridge. A man standing before a glass wall. The image was indeed distorted and transmission artifacts pixelized the man at times.
“Ah, Captain Armon,” the man in the image said. “I’m sorry, we can no longer assist with startech. Our planet is undergoing a very unusual planet-wide weather anomaly. Our atmosphere has become too humid.” The man jolted as the building he was in shuttered violently. The lights dimmed and the window behind him turned black. “I’ll have to take cover and wait out the stor-“
The transmission ended.
“Travtech reports we have lost all communications with that planet,” Captain Siv stated.
“Captain, Navtech confirms,” Lieutenant Commander Hesper said. “No other viable sources for startech to resume trajectory to Pangea.”
“Any response from Pangea?” Captain Armon asked, shifting in his seat.
“Pangea standing by for evacuation,” Captain Siv replied.
“All hands abandon ship,” Captain Armon ordered. It was a daunting order, but under the circumstances it was all he could do. Without startech to push the ship, it could take thousands of rotations to reach the nearest planet.
All bridge officers stood from the stations and proceeded to the travtech arch to the rear of the bridge. As the lower rated lieutenants approached it, the travtech arch glimmered and a large room appeared beyond it. Beyond the arch a single digital sign glowed. It read “PANGEA LANDING PLATFORM 45”.
The two clerks exited first being the lowest rated bridge members. Then two lieutenants passed into the arch and entered the room on the planet. But, before a third could exit the ship, the travtech arch flashed and the room vanished, leaving the bridge’s plain wall behind it.
“Report,” Captain Armon said. His head was tilted in thought. None of them had seen anything like that before. “And Status. Did anybody else get off the ship?”
The remaining bridge crew returned to their stations. All around the bridge, mindtech displays lit up.
“It’s bizarre, Captain. All stations reporting functional, but crew are reporting inoperable travtech arches throughout the ship,” Captain Siv stated. “Half the crew was able to disembark safely and we still have communications with Pangea.”
A ship-only travtech disruption? They were still 21 sol-cycles away from the travtech’s forty-five-cycle energy reserves depletion. They hadn’t used it that much since going adrift. This was scientific insanity. None of them were trained for this many failures. Travtech, all tech was as constant as life and death itself.
“I now have confirmation that two travtech arches aboard are functioning normal, sir,” Captain Siv continued.
“Luckily for us, these ships were designed with removable wall panels in certain places,” Captain Armon said. “When you’re dealing with the unknown, as we are in times like this, it’s best to prepare for every possibility. What did the ancients call them, Winders?”
“Sounds right,” Captain Siv said as he stood up and walked over to an accessible portion of wall. “Or, wind-something. Something about wind anyway.”
“Actually, captains, the word I think you’re interested in is windows,” Lieutenant Rachealla, the Zealot Relations liaison officer, said, as she stood. “The correct word is doorways. It’s similar to a window, they are both holes in a wall, but you can only go through a doorway. They still have many in Egyptea. I have even been through some. It’s kinda like using a travtech, without thinking about where you are going. Only, without any way to block it, like it’s constantly connected to one single destination.”
Egyptea, the capitol of Pangea. Captain Armon did not think the liaison officer was a Zealot, but she did know how to deal with them. She was there in case the mission turned sour, which it had. He was glad she was there, the thought of dealing with the religious always nauseated him. Not to the point of vomiting, but like the uneasiness in the stomach associated with nervousness and anxiety.
“Are you from Pangea Lieutenant?” Captain Armon asked.
“No, but I have negotiated with the Adamites there, sir,” Lieutenant Rachealla replied.
“Adamites?” Captain Armon asked.
“The Church of God refers to it’s planetary branches, or subdivisions if you will, after the name of the respective planet’s patriarch, or first inhabitant,” Lieutenant Rachealla explained.
“I see, and are you a Zealot yourself?” Captain Armon asked. “I only ask because a person is not made a liaison officer to Zealot Relations, without a great deal of knowledge, and indeed you seem very knowledgeable.”
“Thank you sir,” Lieutenant Rachealla said. “I have been investigating the Church of God,” she emphasized it’s correct name, “for a few rotations now. After these last several sol-cycles, I intend to commit and be baptized as soon as I can.”
Captain Armon only nodded. So she wanted to be a Zealot, but why? Did she know something about why the planets were dropping all technological ties with the rest of the galaxy? Were the Zealots behind everything?
“It’s right here, but only I don’t know how to activate it,” Captain Siv said, referring to the removable panel. “Nothing I think seems to work.”
“I believe,” Captain Armon said as he lifted his hand toward the wall, “that the idea is it’s manual in nature. Have you tried touching it?” He placed his hand, palm flat, on the wall.
Captain Armon slid his hand to the side and stretched out his other hand, placing it on the wall in the same manner and began feeling the wall. Captain Siv did the same and it was not long until they had identified the edges and confirmed neither of them found any switches or buttons.
“We may need to put something in the seam to work the panel loose,” Captain Armon suggested. “Anybody have something thin enough to slide in and strong enough to lever the panel out?” He looked from one officer to the next. They all returned his solemn expression and shook their heads and shrugged.
“Actually, I think we all have something,” the engtech officer spoke up. He reached to his cuff and slipped off the cuff-clasp. It was comprised of two flat circular discs that utilized magtech to pinch the cuffs together.
“Good thinking Lieutenant Commander Dabbs,” Captain Armon said reaching down to his own cuff-clasp.
The jumpsuits they all wore were plain white, with no distinction for gender or officer rate. Even the cuff-clasps were white and unnoticeable. The cuffs and collars were straight and stiff having a thin plastech insert about as wide as the wearers palm, and as long as was needed for the fit. Another hidden plastech insert wound around the waist and was adjustable according to individual comfort.
Captains Armon and Siv used their cuff-clasps and plastech cuff inserts to pry open the panel. The panel came away from the wall in a single piece and was slid out of the way by the other officers. The hole it produced was wide enough to admit two abreast and extended forward about one pace. It was just high enough that nobody would have to duck.
The two captains each walked up to the panel on the other side. With each on one side of the panel, they pushed gently and the metal panel fell free with a loud twang. They stepped out into a long room perhaps four men wide. Not bothering to move the fallen panel, they motioned the other officers through.
“Woah, that was strange,” Lieutenant Commander Dabbs said as he walked into the room.
“I know, it really weirded me out the first time I walked through a doorway,” Lieutenant Rachealla said smiling at him. “The freakiest thing is, every time you look back at it, the bridge will always be there.”
“That is so strange,” Captain Siv said, looking back at the bridge. “It just doesn’t go away.”
“Alright,” Captain Armon said. “Everybody pair up. Use your cuff-clasps and plastech inserts to open these, ah doorways. We need to get everybody out of their stations and to the working travtech arches.”
The officers fell into pairs according to their officer rating system and began opening doorways to the rooms. It was a quick affair and as their numbers climbed, the effort took less time. Within half a sol-cycle the entire ship was opened with doorways, and all rooms accessed and verified. It was a large ship.
Still, by the end of the sol-cycle, travtech reports were showing over three-quarters of the Watcher Federation non-responsive. Hundreds of thousands of planets, no longer connected to the known technology services.
‘Are you still out there?’ Captain Armon wondered as he pondered the situation. He sure wished he knew what was going on, and he knew the others did too.
“It’s a beautiful day here on Pangea.” Captain Armon heard somebody on the other side of the travtach arch. “I think I see a wedding in that central clearing.”
“Better watch out for those clouds, it looks like we’re in for a bad thunder storm.” Another voice said to the first.
Captain Armon looked through the crowd exiting the ship onto Pangea platform Three. He could see the observation display his crew was looking through. It was getting dark out there. The display flashed.
“Halt!” Captain Armon yelled.
The crewmen about to step through the travtech arch jumped in surprise and turned to look at the captain. Through the arch, Captain Armon was aware of everybody disembarked on the platform turning to look at him. The observation display went black behind them and the travtech arch flashed and the Pangea landing platform was gone leaving a blank wall in its place.
“Bridge crew to the bridge!” Captain Armon ordered. “All other personnel assemble in the cafeteria.” He turned away as his orders were repeated behind him.
The bridge crew started off together toward the control deck and the bridge. What was happening? Who can help us if the Zealot’s headquarters is lost?
“Send out a comtech transmission to all planet ports,” Captain Armon said. “Whatever is happening to these planets, it’s affecting the weather. Report that we have confirmed planet wide storms with severe raining.”
As they entered the bridge, the officers went straight to their stations and the mindtech displays lit up once again. That is, all officers except Lieutenant Rachealla. She knelt down and mumbled to herself for a brief moment. When she stood, Captain Armon noticed strings of tears trickling down her cheek.
“Lieutenant Rachealla,” Captain Armon said. “I cannot shake the feeling that you know more about what is going on out there than I do. Please tell me, what do the Zealots have to do with all this?”
“Sorry Captain Armon,” Lieutenant Rachealla said. “I only suspect what’s happen.” She paused but Captain Armon just looked at her, so she went on. “I think God is cleansing the worlds. Like a planetary baptism maybe.”
“You think your god is killing a galaxy of men, woman, and children?” Captain Armon was aghast. A god would kill everybody on a planet? An entire galaxy? The notion was absurd. “I thought your god was meant to save everybody, not destroy them.”
“I can only tell you my opinion,” Lieutenant Rachealla stated. “The Church preaches baptism cleanses the soul and prepares the way to the future. It is done by full-body immersion. Some prophets preach that even the planets themselves must be baptized.” She paused again for a long moment as the bridge considered her words in silence. “What technology can you think of that would explain rain storms that cover an entire planet.”
“Comtech,” Captain Armon said. “Send out the lieutenant’s theory to all available planets. If the scientists accept our data, maybe they and the local Zealots can work out a way to save themselves.” He stood and paced in thought for a moment.
“I want full reports on all ship systems,” He announced to the bridge crew. “I want a list of all planets not yet affected by the phenomenon. Let the crew members in the cafeteria know about Lieutenant Rachealla’s theory and that we will join them in ten minutes for a ship-wide mission update.”
Ten minutes later, the bridge crew was sitting before the remaining ships personnel. How many were there? Perhaps eighty in all? Had those who had left been drowned? The sorrow weighed heavily upon their hearts. Captain Armon stood before them.
“Ladies and gentleman, here is our status,” Captain Armon began. “All startech is inoperable. There remains only two-thousand working ports still available in the entire galaxy.” This garnered a stunned murmur in the cafeteria. He gave them a moment to settle down, then continued. “The nearest planet to us is Pangea. At our current speed, we will arrive in forty centuries.”
This time, it was an uproar. The bridge crew cringed at the vocal exclamations. They had not expected that. This would be rough news to handle. The knowledge of the fact that they would all die on this ship without ever seeing a sky or field again, or loved ones. It was unimaginable.
Captain Armon stood his ground nodding at them. He gave them a few minutes to vent, then motioned for them to calm down.
“As of this moment, Uvervakia, is assigned a new mission,” Captain Armon declared. “Her new mission is to journey to Pangea, our closest planet, to evaluate the situation and establish communications with any and all Watcher Federation planets. It is the unanimous opinion of this ships command that, assuming the worst, we will arrive when mankind has had a chance to rebuild society and will be technologically capable of reviving all our technology services.
“If any of you wish to leave, you may do so now. Be advised, that we believe all planets not effected with the observed weather phenomenon that appears to be casting these planets into unusually high humidity, will do so, if not in the next few sol-cycles, then in the next five rotations.”
When Captain Armon stopped, not a single man or woman stood to leave. Perhaps more of them were familiar with the Zealots prophecies than he had been.
“Effective immediately, Uvervakia is a generational ship.” Captain Armon concluded and left the cafeteria.